The Pittsburgh Steelers have had six players test positive for COVID-19 so far in the past several weeks, including three in just the past week, with Joe Haeg, then Robert Spillane, and before them a week ago today, T.J. Watt. Haeg and Spillane are currently the only two on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
Of the six, Watt is the only one who hasn’t had to miss a game. But he’s not the first one to be unable to practice all week before playing their next game. It’s the third time that’s happened, first to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, then to safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, and finally to Watt, in each of the past three weeks.
All of them have turned in significant performances. Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes and led a fourth-quarter comeback, even if it fell short. Fitzpatrick recorded his first interception in over a year, and added another one a week later. Watt set a new career high for sacks in a single game with 3.5.
So what does this mean? Do elite, veteran players simply not need practice, if they can perform at a high level without it? Will Watt be practicing this week the way that he normally would be when healthy? “Yes”, head coach Mike Tomlin answered with a mixture of exasperation and bemusement. “And there won’t be music, either”.
The latter was a reference to a comment that his second-year wide receiver Chase Claypool made last week. When asked about remarks from teammates about practice habits and his suggestions for improving them, he said that they could play music—though one can’t be entirely sure if he was being genuine or facetious.
Either way, his remark due forceful and immediate backlash, with Cameron Heyward quickly coming out and saying that he hoped that he was joking. Tomlin was asked about it last week, and said little more than that it would be he who would be setting the practice schedule.
Perhaps it was a message to Claypool. Perhaps it was just in fun, or in annoyance. Perhaps it was a message to the whole team, saying to them that, just because they ended their losing skid doesn’t mean the work to improve is over. There will be no dance party.
And there will be no extra rest than there normally is for veterans and high performers. Watt himself said that if he could have the week over again, he would have wished he could have practiced. While away from the team, he had to run around in his backyard to try to retain his conditioning.
Of course, it ended up working out, and fortunately none of the players in question, that we know of, had any significant effects from the virus, which is the best news of all of this.