Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: Full-contact special teams work
The Pittsburgh Steelers ran full-contact special teams plays with live tackling on Friday during their scrimmage. This is the first time that we have ever seen this in any Steelers camp. I don’t know if other teams are also doing this, but it wouldn’t be surprising.
The reason for it is obvious, of course. Like the rest of the league, Pittsburgh doesn’t have any preseason games through which to evaluate their special teams talent. So the best way to do that in lieu of having actual games to play in is to simulate it as much as you possibly can.
Ordinarily, even teams who do typically to live tackling, such as the Steelers, would avoid carrying that over into special teams work. Special teams plays carry a greater risk of injury, and the value of practicing these plays is outweighed by that risk.
But this would seem to be a more significant offseason for the Steelers than most in terms of special teams, when you take into consideration the amount of turnover that they have experienced, not just over the past offseason, but the past two. While they parted with such mainstays as Tyler Matakevich, Anthony Chickillo, Roosevelt Nix, and Sean Davis this year, the year before, they also lost other significant players like L.J. Fort and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Oh, and then there’s that whole matter of figuring out who is going to be return men. Even at punt returner, you have Diontae Johnson, who took over midway last season, but he also showed that he still needs some work, especially in terms of mechanical consistency. And who’s going to return kicks? Ray-Ray McCloud, whom they just signed?