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3 days of instruction, not evaluation

It can accurately be called an introduction, because it's the first time the vast majority of them have been inside the building, but what's happening this weekend at the Steelers' practice facility isn't so much an exposure to professional football, because of who's in attendance. Or more accurately, who's not in attendance.

Rookie minicamp began for these 55-plus hopefuls and wannabes on Friday and by the time it ends tomorrow they will have gone through five on-field sessions and probably twice as many meetings. Coach Mike Tomlin sees value in that.

"We are football junkies. We love it all," said Tomlin. "It's good to be out here on the grass and kind of start the process for 2015. It's always exciting when we get the new draft picks and free agents. As a coaching staff, we go through changes during the course of the offseason, and this is the first opportunity for us to take the grass together. So there are a lot of things to be excited about in circumstances like this, and I generally believe that we all are."

There was no lack of energy among the participants, but without the veterans on hand, the on-field perception these players are getting of NFL football is skewed.

A cornerback who was a draft pick might line up and successfully cover a wide receiver attending on a tryout basis, but does he understand how different the experience is going to be when the receiver opposite him is Antonio Brown? A safety might anticipate a pass route and be able to make a play on a throw by an undrafted rookie quarterback this weekend, but what happens when the ball is coming out of Ben Roethlisberger's hand?

Steelers' rookies take the field for Rookie Minicamp.

That's why evaluations at this stage of the process are difficult to provide and largely meaningless if they are. Tomlin understands this, and so he uses this weekend for other things.

"We are taking an instructional approach to this camp, just giving and receiving the information and seeing how people learn," said Tomlin. "We are watching how people control their bodies and how they move, and we are laying a foundation for our football team, individually and collectively. It's been good thus far. The attention to detail has been good by all the guys. They are working extremely hard.

"They are doing a nice job of not only working hard but working smart, and they are observing our approach to practice in the year that we are in. Of course, it's helmets only, so from that standpoint it's been a highly productive weekend. There are not a lot of evaluations at this point. Obviously, you guys know that I am not into evaluating football in shorts."

But he is into pointing out to them the opportunity being presented this weekend, and telling the story of a guy who once was one of them who took full advantage.

"We don't care about what means you use to get here," said Tomlin about what he has told these players. "If you are on the grass and you are in a helmet, you have an opportunity. Not only do I hope they feel that way, but we can cite examples of guys who are a part of our team and program who have come in under similar circumstances.

"I told the guys that we met Terence Garvin a number of years ago at a tryout camp just like this. And he stood out. And he's still here. That's the great thing about football – it's as fair as it gets."

STEELERS NOTES: Bud Dupree will attend Sunday's sessions after missing Friday and Saturday to participate in commencement exercises at the University of Kentucky. Anthony Chickillo was on the field on Saturday after missing Friday's session.

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