Injuries are one part luck, one part planning. There’s no question the injury Gods – knock on wood – were kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers this summer. Unlike so many other teams, the Bengals losing CB Trae Waynes, the Browns losing, well just about their entire defense, Pittsburgh came through the other side relatively unscathed. No serious injuries.
Attribute part of that to the effort the players put in prior to camp. According to Mike Tomlin, appearing on Sirius’ Movin’ The Chains, the group showed up in great shape to maximize this last month of action.
“They were really accountable in terms of level of conditioning that they came into the circumstances with,” told hosts Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller. “There’s a lot of angst from a coaching perspective when you’re working remotely and things of that nature. I give our team credit. They answered the bell. They largely came in and great physical conditioning.”
Unlike every other offseason (with the exception of the 2011 lockout), there was no minicamp, no OTAs, no chance to see the team in person prior to training camp. No chance for Tomlin to, in-person, make his annual “show up in the best shape of your life” speech. For young guys, there was no way to gauge the level of conditioning needed when making the jump to the NFL. But it seems overall, most players heeded Tomlin’s advice and followed the plan set forth by trainers and strength & conditioning coaches.
Including top two rookies Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith. Both reportedly had excellent camps and no question showing up in great shape is part of that. Both were considered hard workers out of school. Claypool was a true four-down player, remaining as one of Notre Dame’s gunners last season. Highsmith was an underdog, misplaced as a base end before transitioning to outside linebacker in 2019. The fact both were seniors, another year older, another year wiser, probably helped.
Still, Tomlin recognized showing up for camp ready to go doesn’t mean the team can crank the dial to eleven once the regular season begins.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s ready for 75 snaps Week One. You know how it is. You can have four preseason games and you’re still pretty winded in Week One at the early stages of this thing. So I think we’re all all going to dip our toe in that water together. But I like where they are in terms of what we’ve challenged them with from a physical conditioning standpoint so far.”
Out of the gate, expect more rotations at positions that tend to see it. That includes running back, a mix of James Conner, Benny Snell, rookie Anthony McFarland and whoever the fourth running back ends up being. Claypool can spell James Washington at the Z while Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron will likely split snaps at tight end.
Defensively, there’s plenty of d-line depth with Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, and Isaiah Buggs. Alex Highsmith or Ola Adeniyi will rotate in for TJ Watt and Bud Dupree, too, while using sub-packages like their dime defense is a way to give Vince Williams snaps off.