The NFL’s top priority, at least second to making as much money as they can and retaining as much control as they can, is keeping the trains running on time, so to speak. There are few things they can tolerate more than a disruption to their schedule, and it took a pandemic to throw last year’s offseason off-track.
Of course, it’s not the only thing that can result in a disruption. Owners refusing to give in to union demands derailed the 2011 offseason, which resulted in a lock-out until training camp.
While the reasons were different, the rookie classes had some similar experiences in their offseason program. That includes Pittsburgh Steelers second-year receiver Chase Claypool, who acknowledges that there are things he missed out on last year that he expects the rookies this year to benefit from, perhaps especially off the field.
“I think it’s great in terms of installing plays and getting the timing down and just communication”, he told reporters last week of the offeason program and getting together in-person. “Being around some of the younger guys. I know when I came in as a rookie, I didn’t know anybody, so it was kind of hard to talk to people about some things, like what’s going on with the offense, or just sit down and eat with them, just because you don’t want to intrude. So I think it’ll be good for the rookies once it comes time for the season, they’ll be comfortable with everyone and there’ll be more chemistry”.
While players ‘gathered’ together virtually over Zoom for meetings during the offseason, for a lot of players, the first time that they saw their teammates face to face was when they reported for training camp. Claypool even spent a lot of the quarantine period in Canada with his family.
In contrast, the Steelers have had their entire rookie class, including the college free agent signings, in-house throughout the past month, from rookie minicamp through OTAs and now, beginning this week, the mandatory minicamp that takes place before the break.
One of the most overlooked elements of transitioning from the college level to the pros is the significance in life changes it brings. It can be much harder to go through that transition when you’re trying to do it virtually.
It’s hard to get settled, to be comfortable. Anybody can function much better in dealing with significant life changes when they can feel comfortable in their environment and with their peers. That’s why you hear so many veterans talk about wanting to be here at this time of year for the new guys.
Claypool and his draft class didn’t get that. The Steelers lucked out in getting strong performances from them on the field, anyway. Fortunately, this year’s draft class won’t have that concern. Guys like Najee Harris have already ensconced themselves in both the offense and the culture of the city. A far cry from June of 2020.