Nothing has been made easy by the COVID pandemic. Certainly not life in general. Bringing it to football, it’s made preparation harder, it’s made travel more difficult, it’s made evaluating the offense and defense a tougher challenge. Above all, from a football standpoint anyway, it’s made special teams the most unique of challenges. That’s what Mike Tomlin said talking to Movin’ the Chains Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on Sirius Radio Thursday evening.
“The toughest element of it has been the special teams,” Tomlin told the show. “You know, the four preseason games, the platform that the four preseason games provide a young guy in terms of showing his capabilities and really his ability to adjust to the speed of the game and the detail required to be successful at this level is revealed in those moments.”
Special teams is the path most young and fringe players take to either making the roster or carving themselves a place on it. That’s much tougher without any stadium work, though the Steelers have gotten creative in simulating things as much as possible.
“So we’ve done a heck of a lot more live special teams, practice work than we normally do in an effort to provide a platform for those guys that distinguished themselves. And we’ve been really transparent. And that’s the only way to be. We’ve acknowledged that this is difficult for those guys to make a way for themselves.”
That included at least one live tackling special teams session, something almost unheard of in a training camp. Something I’ve certainly never seen in all my years at St. Vincent. Special teams typically is run at half-speed, knowing there will be several preseason games to evaluate. Given the circumstances, the Steelers had to combine teaching with hitting all at the same time.
Tomlin pointed out what the Steelers have pointed out all summer. Every team is in the same position.
“It’s fair because all 32 teams are dealing with the same circumstance. So we haven’t spent a lot of time crying over spilled milk. We really just been working hard, trying to provide opportunities for young able-bodied and capable men to distinguish themselves. Surprisingly, man, it’s been easier than anticipated once you roll that ball out. You play football and football players revealed themselves.”
Players competing for the roster based on special teams include the likes of OLB Tuzar Skipper, who infamously was hardly used on those units last preseason before getting cut prior to Week One, signed in favor of special teams wideout Johnny Holton. Others include wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, cornerbacks James Pierre and Trajan Bandy along with safeties Marcus Allen, Antoine Brooks, and John Battle.