The Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to kick off their 2020 season in under a week, visiting the New York Giants to kick off this year’s slate of Monday Night Football matchups for the NFL. They do so, like everybody else, having had no in-stadium football experience under their belts since last season.
For the first time, the league dispensed with the preseason altogether this August, as part of measures agreed upon between the NFL and the NFLPA to protect players and other personnel against unnecessary exposure relative to the Covid-19 pandemic that has loomed over professional sports, and really almost every aspect of our lives, for the better part of the year.
In fact, not only was there no preseason, there were no Spring workouts, either. No OTAs. No minicamp. All teams had this year was a truncated training camp, featuring a ramp-up period that saw meaningful practices only begin late in the second week of August, and a total of 14 padded practices.
Those are the conditions for all 32 teams under which the 2020 season will begin, and within that, it is expected that there will be complications, including the likelihood of there being an increase in the risk of injury as well as the need for rotational play to give players some rest as their bodies condition themselves to the rigors of an NFL season.
“We’re ready for that. There’s an anticipation relative to that”, head coach Mike Tomlin said during his Tuesday pre-game press conference. “But oftentimes, that’s dictated by total number of snaps. Meaning, if we’re getting off the field effectively on defense, then fatigue sets in differently than if you’re not. We’re prepared to do it where necessary, but we also understand there are certain in-game things that are gonna dictate whether or not it is necessary”.
It’s not uncommon even under normal circumstances for teams to rotate a bit more in the early stages of the season due to players still playing their way into peak shape. We’ve also seen Tomlin rotate players more for early-season games played in warmer climates, though they won’t really be an issue this year. Their first road game is against the Giants, and they play in Tennessee in Week Four in October.
Given his comments, though, perhaps we can expect to see early contributions from the rookie class, from players like Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith. Isaiah Buggs along the defensive line and Chris Wormley may get more action than normal. The running back position may not feature James Conner as a bellcow as much early on as he will be later in the season.
But the fact that we even get to talk about this is just exciting in itself. There have certainly been times this offseason in which it seemed very realistic we may not have a football season to complain about this year. Now, let the bellyaching commence.