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Despite Resting Starters And Not Tackling, Zac Taylor Confident His Team Can Protect The Football

What better way to prepare to play football than to actually play football? That’s the mindset that the Pittsburgh Steelers possess during training camp, with head coach Mike Tomlin now in his tenth season of conducting full live-tackling drills, something that other teams have emulated.

Tomlin is largely a consistent believer in preparing to play the real thing by playing in practice and the preseason, whether it draws criticism or not, as he received for keeping his starters in for the first half of the final preseason game.

In contrast, the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals and head coach Zac Taylor didn’t even play many of their starters during the preseason at all. They are not the only team to do it, and he may well have learned it from his former head coach, Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams—whose team was soundly defeated in their opener and who fumbled the ball and threw three interceptions.

I didn’t see it. I’m aware of it”, he said of the Rams’ Week 1 results. “The coaches have talked about it. We’ve stressed it all week. Our guys didn’t play in the preseason. They haven’t done a lot of tackling. We’ve prepared for that. We’ve gone over that. We can’t go over it anymore because we’ve done so much. Now it’s just for them to take care of the football and get the ball out”.

Taylor’s starters played little, if at all, during the preseason a year ago, and he did take that team to the Super Bowl. Could they have been sharper in the earlier portions of the season? Perhaps. But it does show that there is more than one way to prepare.

The Steelers have their way, rooted in older traditions, while the Bengals, led by one of the younger, more ‘forward-thinking’ head coaches, take a different approach. The two theories will collide this afternoon.

Now, it can’t go without mentioning that Pittsburgh has still gotten off to plenty of slow starts no matter how much tackling they do in training camp. They did manage to upset the Buffalo Bills in the road opener last season, even if it wasn’t pretty.

What sort of edge will the Steelers have from entering the season more battle-tested than their opponents? What have the Bengals been able to gain by keeping their starters out of live tackling until the real thing?

As talked about, both philosophies have already been in practice for a while now, and both have produced varying results, equally capable of leading to success or failure. What may work for one squad could be unsuitable for another. But here’s to hoping all that hitting the Steelers have done leads to a few forced fumbles, at least.

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