With the return of training camp comes one annual side effect: A increase in the number of injuries, as players return to pads and full contact on a day-to-day basis and the intensity increases both ahead of the regular season and, for some players, the cut-down process that will determine whether they’re going to be there for that Week 1 game.
Evidenced by tweets like this one from Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora from training camp Saturday, the Steelers are dealing with plenty of injuries through four days of camp.
Steelers have 15 offensive linemen on their roster. They finished with eight of them healthy and practicing today.
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) July 31, 2021
Offensive line is one of the hardest-hit positions thus far in camp, but far from the only one. Among other areas touched up by injuries are running back (Jaylen Samuels), tight end (Eric Ebron and Dax Raymond), and linebacker (Cassius Marsh). Following Saturday’s practice and ahead of a rest day for the players Sunday, Steeler head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the spate of injuries with the media.
“Excited about the work we had an opportunity to do here today, answering the bell, coming back out for a second day in a row carrying our pads, putting ourselves in competitive circumstances where we have to deal with some of the attrition things associated with this process. We were leaking a little bit in some areas, man, but it’s an opportunity for guys to show that mettle and rise up, and certain guys to put their conditioning on display,” Tomlin said.
“And that’s the thing about this process: One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. If somebody’s unavailable, it’s increased availability for someone else, provided they’re positioned to take it. And conditioning is an element of that.”
More famous examples happen in the regular season, where a Tommy Maddox goes down and a Ben Roethlisberger steps up and seizes the opportunity. But those moments happen on a lesser-seen and more frequent basis in camp. Already, some Steelers looked at as longer shots to make the roster have enjoyed success at camp in the absence of teammates. Injuries along the O-line to Anthony Coyle, B.J. Finney, and Zach Banner have allowed players like John Leglue and Dan Moore Jr. more time on the field. Eric Ebron’s injury has allowed Zach Gentry more time to look like one of the most improved Steelers this offseason.
A missing Jaylen Samuels has lessened the competition Anthony McFarland faces for reps. Cassius Marsh gone means Jamir Jones has had more time. And down the receiver depth chart, Rico Bussey and Tyler Simmons have earned praise from Tomlin and others in camp, while Cody White has been hurt.
It is very early in camp and just over a half-week in, but players have not been hesitant to step up and ring the bell when given the chance. Gentry and Bussey in particular have drawn attention and made it a more concrete possibility they make the final roster.
“We’ll see what the tape looks like and see who was able to make a positive of extra work under the circumstances. That’s a big component of it, as well,” Tomlin said. “Opportunities happen in this game, and you gotta be ready to seize it. There’s so many examples of that.”
The Steelers’ defense had several examples of players to follow through on opportunities in camp, all in the secondary: Mike Hilton, James Pierre, and Jordan Dangerfield all fought their way onto the team’s main roster early in their careers. Tomlin highlighted one other example of a player expected to start this season on defense, who had to fight for a roster spot, and then made the most of a chance when the man above him was hurt.
“How about [Robert] Spillane last year? Getting an opportunity to play an increased role and people got a chance to get to know him. That only happens if you’re highly conditioned and prepared for the opportunity,” Tomlin said, speaking of the projected starting inside linebacker alongside Devin Bush. “We cite examples like that. We take them through processes like this to prepare them and ready them for those moments.”