The Pittsburgh Steelers were one of only a few teams in 2020 who did not have any players choose to opt out of participating in the upcoming season over concerns relating to the coronavirus, with around 70 or so players in total having done so—more than 10 percent of those players coming from the New England Patriots alone.
And it’s not as though they didn’t have candidates whom one would believe would give consideration to the idea of opting out. As a cancer survivor, many believed that running back James Conner might be one such player, but he insists that he never considered opting out, having gotten assurance from his doctor that it would not be an issue.
Cameron Heyward is another who has acknowledged that he at least had the conversation about it. As a larger player who also suffers from asthma, he understands that he would be at higher risk than most others in the NFL, and he also has a family to consider. However, to a man, everybody chose to come in and play for the team in 2020.
“I think by our guys not opting out, it shows you the love of football these guys have and the willingness and the understanding that the Steelers are going to take care of them”, defensive line coach Karl Dunbar said about that decision. “I think that was the thing binding to everything we were going to try to do here in Pittsburgh”.
Training camp was the first time since March that players and coaches were even allowed to be in the building together, in what has been the most unconventional offseason since World War II birthed such abominations as the Steagles and the Carpets (a not-so-affectionate name for Card-Pitt, the 1944 union between the Steelers and the Cardinals).
“I think the challenge in this thing over the offseason was not seeing the players and having to learn how to become a computer guy”, Dunbar said in referring to managing virtual meetings. “I’m a hands-on guy, on the field, on the grass kind of guy. Becoming a computer guy, now, I can communicate better with my kids who are off at college. I did a lot of Zooming this offseason. That’s the fun part about it”.
While life has dealt us an unfavorable hand with the Covid-19 pandemic, there are hopefully some of us who may have learned to make something good out of all of this. There are things that teams have learned through this offseason process that they should be able to continue to use even beyond these pandemic conditions.
One new feature that we saw this year that I definitely hope continues into the future is the use of virtual prospect visits, something that a number of personnel directors spoke favorably of. That’s just one example of a potential hidden positive.