After a training camp full of padded practices featuring live tackling, and two preseason games, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is viewing Sunday’s preseason finale against the Detroit Lions at Acrisure Stadium as one final opportunity for the black and gold to “spar” ahead of the regular season.
Tomlin, entering his 16th year as head coach of the Steelers, really leaned into the boxing analogy Sunday morning during his discussion with Steelers.com writer Bob Labriola. Following a rather physical training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Tomlin and the Steelers are treating Sunday’s matchup as one final tune-up in the ring before the regular season in hopes of the black and gold being ready to go physically when the football is kicked off in Cincinnati on Sept. 11.
“If you’re going to box you need to spar, that’s the reality of it all, and on Sept. 11, we have a boxing match,” Tomlin said to Labriola, according to Steelers.com. “And so today is our last opportunity to spar. We’re going to get some rounds in if you will, to make sure that we’re fight ready. I’m just a firm believer in that. Not only in words but in action.”
The Steelers will play their starters for much of the first half — if not all of the first half — against the Lions Sunday, which matches up with what Detroit head coach Dan Campbell is going to do with his players. That will allow the Steelers and Lions to get one final tune-up, or sparing session, in ahead of the regular season in a real game-like setting — or as best as one can be created in the preseason.
That can be a bit nerve-racking from a fan’s perspective as key players playing in a meaningless preseason game, and seeing extended action, could lead to a negative outcome from an injury perspective, but under Tomlin the Steelers don’t liv in their fears when it comes to that. They haven’t all offseason and aren’t going to star now.
How long key guys play remains to be seen. Obviously, Tomlin will be a little bit more selective with reps for guys like T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson and more, but for the most part the projected starters are going to play, and play a lot in an effort to be ready to go for the Sept. 11 opener on the road against the Bengals in a true boxing match in AFC North play.