While many players will have spent at least some amount of time this offseason getting together with a small group of their teammates in some capacity, no NFL team had the opportunity to come together this year before the start of training camp. Even now, just yesterday marked the first official true practice of the year, with helmets, beyond a simple walkthrough.
Under normal conditions, players would be in and out of the team facility nearly year-round. Rookies and first-year players would have reported for rookie minicamp a couple of weeks after the 2020 NFL Draft, with OTAs and then mandatory minicamp to follow over the course of the next month.
Instead, guys have been in quarantine, and have had to resort to finding creative ways to get their work in this year, whether that’s football drills or just basic cardio and weightlifting, with many gyms and other workout facilities closed, which they might have used independently.
So needless to say, there was a certain level of anticipation and enthusiasm about getting back into the building, something that Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner talked about yesterday with reporters. “I just feel like guys are excited to be back. Nobody on our team opted out”, he said
“It’s easy to talk about excitement and all that. We were just excited to get back. We’ve been out of football for a while”, he added. “It’s been a long offseason for us. Everybody on his team loves football and we love being around each other. That’s what it’s about, great teammates. I have great teammates here and we were excited to see each other back. So we’re just focused on taking it one day at a time and just coming together as a group”.
The fact that this is also a group that feels it has a lot to prove—Conner even in particular, after missing an extended amount of time due to injuries last season, limited to about half the number of snaps that he had played the previous year—only adds to the anticipatory atmosphere.
The offense as a whole is chomping at the bit to exorcise the demons of the 2019 season, which may have been called up via the injury bug, but manifested itself in many different ways, and resulted in the unit going from one of the most efficient in 2018 to least efficient just a year later.
Many of the players who have been interviewed since training camp opened have spoken about the brotherhood felt with everybody being back around each other again. These comments feel more like an extension of the same things they are saying specifically last year than annual clichés. Hopefully that’s a good sign about the overall culture within the team.