5 for Friday: Steelers are building the foundation

There aren't any fans in the stands, and largely doing the same drills over and over can surely get tedious.

But you'd have never known it by watching Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward walking onto the field for an OTA session earlier this week.

Heyward came out of the doors at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex like he was taking the field for the first time, yelling and carrying on like he was getting ready to play in the Super Bowl.

Not surprisingly, the Steelers' practice that day was a spirited session. It was fast-paced and crisp.

And that's not only because of the energy Heyward demands from his teammates, but from the competition head coach Mike Tomlin creates in his practices, even in these non-padded, offseason sessions.

As they always do, the Steelers start each practice with a competitive session of "Seven Shots,' where the ball is placed at the 2 and the offense and defense face off in seven attempts from there.

There are other competition periods, as well, and Tomlin does a good job of stoking the competitive fires with his players.

It's all about creating situations in which the players can experience game-time situations in practice so that when they get into games, reacting to those situations becomes second nature.

It's a big reason why Tomlin has never had a losing season. It's also a reason why players want to come to Pittsburgh and play for Tomlin.

"His teams are always prepared," said cornerback Patrick Peterson. "They have a winning season every year, so therefore he is giving his guys an opportunity, not just to win, but to get into the hunt. There's a whole new season when the playoffs start. Coach always has his teams very prepared and I'm just very excited to be a part of it."

That preparation starts during these sessions. And it continues through each week of the season.

Regardless of what some might think, the Steelers prepare the same way each week – whether they won or lost the previous week. That mentality is another thing players appreciate about Tomlin.

There might be some minor tweaks here and there depending on what's happening, but the energy in practices, the way things are approached, remains the same.

The foundation for those practices is what is being built right now.

• The Steelers' 7-2 finish to last season was built against a schedule of teams that finished the season 70-81-1, a winning percentage of .464.

The teams the Steelers play in 2023 had a winning percentage of .470 overall.

Now, certainly where a team finished the previous season has little to no bearing to where they might finish in the next season.

Does anyone, for example, think the Packers or Buccaneers are going to win eight games each this season without Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, respectively?

Maybe they will, but it seems somewhat unlikely.

Point is, the schedule the Steelers played in the second half of last season, the one they rolled through, is very similar to what they'll face the entire season in 2023.

• Many have been quick to pencil Broderick Jones into the Steelers' starting lineup at left tackle. But those people are forgetting that Jones has just 19 collegiate starts under his belt, and returning starter Dan Moore Jr. isn't going to just cede the job to the rookie.

Now, none of this means Jones can't win the job at left tackle. But that's exactly what he's going to have to do – win it.

The man who will line up at left guard, Isaac Seumalo, believes in Jones. But he also believes in the process.

"Broderick has got all of the tools and athleticism in the world. But obviously, offensive line is one of those things that takes time and experience," Seumalo said. "There are very rare guys that can come in and play right away. I think Broderick possesses those tools. Being able to know when to use each tool is the hard part of offensive line, it's knowing when to do something a certain way versus another way, understanding angles, understanding when I have the license to play a little more reckless as opposed to when I have to be under control.

"He's definitely an aggressive guy. Sometimes, you have to teach guys to hone that aggressiveness and foster it into a proper angle on a run block, how to use your hands a certain way. He's got all the tools. I'm excited to see him grow."

Don't be disappointed if or when Moore, the Steelers' starting left tackle the past two seasons, opens the season as the team's starter once again. It doesn't mean Jones failed or was a bad draft pick.

Moore arrived at OTAs bigger and stronger than he has been. And he's got two year's worth of NFL starting experience at left tackle. Beating him out won't be easy, even for a player as talented as Jones.

• Earlier this week – Tuesday to be exact – marked 100 days until the start of the 2023 NFL kickoff game between the Chiefs and Lions.

That might seem like a long way off, but in reality, it means we're about 60 or so days away from teams reporting to training camp.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

• It's amazing to think that just a year ago the Steelers were still wondering how things would go for them at quarterback with the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger.

This was a team that had precious little depth and big shoes to fill at quarterback.

A year later, the team believes it has found its quarterback in Kenny Pickett. And it also has, arguably, the best depth of any team in the AFC.

That's evident when you start looking at that offensive line.

Without getting too far into specifics, the second-team offensive line that the Steelers have lined up with at OTAs has included a player who is a first-round pick and four other players with more than 100 combined NFL starts.

That's solid.

That kind of depth might also be why the Steelers' OTA sessions have been so spirited. There's plenty of competition happening. And players know when they've got a pretty good team and when they do not. This team feels like it's pretty good.

Related Content