Today marks the start of the Pittsburgh Steelers OTA schedule for the 2021 season. What exactly does that look like, from the fans’ perspective? While outsiders have never had access to the practices, this is the first time that OTAs have even been conducted in two years. Much has seemingly changed since then.
This time around, it’s not even about the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather about labor concerns. The Steelers were among the majority of NFL teams whose players issued a statement through the union remarking that at least a subset of their locker room would not be participating.
While we have since learned that there have been player-to-coach dialogues that have led to some modifications of the offseason program (as has also happened in the vast majority of camps around the league), we’re still figuring out what that will look like.
From a blogger’s point of view, my main interest is in whether or not we are going to get the opportunity to witness interviews with players and coaches during this time. Fans were provided access to interviews during rookie minicamp. I would assume the same will apply here with the veterans, but you never know. For all we know, they negotiated away media obligations for voluntary activities.
As far as how it will look on the field, from the sounds of it, we should expect to see individual and position drills, at least for the first week or two of OTAs. Brooke Pryor of ESPN reported that there will be no 11-on-11 drills, though they could incorporate some 7-on-7 work.
The emphasis will be on instructional work, getting the new players up to speed. Perhaps that will include the presence of the veterans, who can better assist the rookies and young players within the confines of position drills, rather than in other contexts.
What will we learn over the course of the next few weeks? Not much, as is typical. But it will be interesting to see how the lack of 11-on-11 work will affect the reporting when it comes to analyses of which players are standing out, as some players tend to ‘flash’ more in those types of settings rather than in individual drills.
Perhaps the most concrete thing we can hope for is to hear from some veterans about how things are shaping up from a schematic perspective, which obviously applies much more to the offensive side of the ball than the defensive this year.
After all, they have a new offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, quarterbacks coach, and tight ends coach, and even their wide receivers coach is heading into just his second year with the team. Their running backs coach is heading into year three, with the potential for an increased input in the offense.
Getting the opportunity to hear from players about the changes that they see from last year, I expect, is the most valuable resource we can hope for over the course of the next several weeks. We of course have our hunches about what will take place. It’s important to have confirmation, as well.