I don’t know if it technically counts as Mike Tomlin’s annual “be in the best shape of your life” speech, maybe that’s coming later this week, but Tomlin harped on the importance of conditoning as a building block as the Steelers are just about a month away from training camp and effectively, the start of the regular season. Tomlin stressed that matters more than anything X’s and O’s or technique-wise that’s occurring at Heinz Field during the three-day, mandatory minicamp.
Tomlin spoke with reporters after practice.
“General conditioning is always where we start,” Tomlin said. “Making sure that we walk out of here with an understanding that physical conditioning precedes any other discussions. And the best thing that the guys can do between now and training camps is ready themselves in that way.”
You can have all the physical tools, you can have the intellect, you can have all the ability. If you lack the conditoning, it doesn’t really matter. The great players in football history are often the most highly conditioned, the same guy at the end of the game as they were at its start. Jerry Rice wasn’t the biggest, strongest, or fastest, but he was always the most well-conditioned player on the football field. Antonio Brown made plays at the end of games because when his opponents tired, Brown didn’t. Ditto with James Harrison.
Quality conditoning also helps protect players from soft tissue injuries. Pulled quads or hamstrings that can linger and take weeks to fully recover from. Pull a hammy at the start of training camp and it might be two or three weeks before you’re back in team drills. Valuable time last and for players on the roster fringe, it’s pretty much a death sentence.
As Tomlin framed it, OTAs and minicamp are about learning and teaching.
“This is football-like, not football,” he said. “It’s drill work. And so we’re teaching and learning and getting an opportunity to compete, but it’s a controlled sort of way that evaluations are fruitless. I can spend time trying to and get a litmus but those opinions may change quickly once we get in real football circumstances here later in the summer. I reserve that judgement. I’m really focused on the teaching and the learning and how they communicate.”
Once the team breaks on Thursday, it’ll be up to the players to follow their training schedule and stay in great shape before getting ready for training camp. That means having a good diet, getting plenty of sleep, and knowing when to let your body rest, an underrated key for players — especially rookies — yet to endure an NFL season (and now that it’s 17 games, it’s new territory for everyone).
Because presuming the team heads back to Latrobe, there are going to be plenty of hot, dog days of summer. It doesn’t matter how fast you run or strong you are if you’re puking in a bucket on the sidelines.