Today is August 17, 2020, which is probably more significant in the NFL than in the rest o the world generally. Under the Covid-19-dictated reality in which we live, August 17 marks the beginning of the ‘Contact Integration Period’ portion of training camp for NFL teams, which lasts until the beginning of the regular season.
NFL players just received this email breaking down how this unique training camp will work: pic.twitter.com/UoCwXxialO
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 25, 2020
So what is the Contact Integration Period? It’s probably exactly what you’re thinking. It’s as normal as training camp is going to get. Between now and the start of the regular season, teams will now be permitted to engage in live-contact drills, and they may have up to 14 padded practices during this window.
Expect many more teams than usual to incorporate live-tackling drills into their training camp curriculum, because without preseason games, it’s the only time players are going to have a chance to do any tackling before their next tackle attempt actually makes a difference in the middle of a game.
As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin reintegrated live-tackling drills into training camp several years ago, at a time in which it was rarely done anymore—it had been some time since even Pittsburgh did it, well before Tomlin’s time. In that regard, the Steelers’ training camp will be no different than the usual.
To their credit, they have become one of the better defenses in the league over the past two seasons in terms of tackling efficiency, missing a smaller and smaller percentage of tackles. They allowed among the fewest yards per play last season, and you can bet that tackling efficiency played a role in that.
Without the opportunity to work on any tackling during an in-game setting, which is what the preseason provided, teams will be left with only this Contact Integration Period to allow their defenders to bring ball carriers to the ground, so because of that, we should expect it to be a pretty widespread practice throughout the league.
As far as what concerns what the Steelers allow for us to see, that remains unclear until we actually see it, and Alex Kozora will try to break it down further than I will here. They may not start live-tackling drills right away, but we will eventually probably see highlights of, for example, the backs-on-backers drill.
This is the final phase before real football begins, and with the live contact, it’s also an important step in measuring the viability of a football season during a pandemic. Large bodies smashing into other large bodies is the primary concern about spreading the coronavirus within the NFL. If the league comes out of this without any outbreaks, that should be reason for optimism about a relatively clean season overall, as the reserve/Covid-19 list now stands at just 16 players leaguewide.