The NFL has been the only major league in the United States to attempt to begin play or to resume play without some type of warm-up exhibition periods, a decision that came about for a variety of reasons but ultimately came down to NFLPA-driven concerns about player safety amid unnecessary exposure in a game that necessarily requires that large men slam into one another dozens of times.
While the league and union ultimately agreed upon this as the best course of action going forward, that is not the same as saying that they determined there would be no consequences for that decision. The preseason, after all, exists for a reason, even if not everybody cares to watch it. And the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular are a team that values what the exhibition period brings.
“I do worry without the preseason football that the level of our game will be different”, general manager Kevin Colbert admitted when speaking to Kevin Clark recently for The Rings. “I value the preseason games for all of our players. The returning player, the starting-caliber player, they usually get a game or a game and a half worth of preseason football, which I know is important for their timing and their readiness”.
“Then, of course, the younger guys, they haven’t seen some of this, they don’t understand what NFL football is like”, he continued. “Even when you play preseason, it’s not the same as the regular season, and now we’re going to go from intrasquad-type games to Monday Night Football and we are going to learn about ourselves in a hurry in a new environment. That is not unique to us. It’s unique to everyone in the league”.
Imagine being a rookie and the first time that you step into an NFL stadium for a game experience is in primetime on Monday night—and on top of that, it comes in a stadium that is without fans. But it’s not even about the surreality of it all. It’s about adjusting directly from a practice setting to a full-speed, live-bullets professional assignment.
How will rookies in particular handle the transition? The Steelers are fortunate in that they are not relying upon any immediate performances from their young players, and in fact, they only have six rookies in total on the team, and one first-year player in J.C. Hassenauer who did dress for the season finale a year ago.
Meanwhile, teams are probably questioning how their roster decisions were forged by the lack of a preseason this year. How might things have been determined differently if they were able to get their roster into some exhibition games and against other opponents? It’s moot now, but it will shape how the season plays out all the same.