Things were buzzing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday, the first day back at the practice facility for the Steelers since breaking camp last week.
"I think it's easier," said Maurkice Pouncey of being back. "You feel like you are more at home, relaxed and comfortable. You have to love training camp too, the chemistry together. I know you are there long hours, but in the end it's worth it."
Coach Mike Tomlin always welcomes going away to camp, but at the same time knows how valuable being back in their familiar surroundings is.
"It's good to be back here at the South Side and continue with the team development process," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "To get back in the comforts of home and allow the guys to familiarize themselves with the services and facility provided here for them in terms of staying available in preparation."
With a Sunday night game against the Tennessee Titans this week, it allows the team to get back not just in the comforts of home, but in a routine that mimics the regular season. While Monday served as a bonus day, the rest of the week will play out like a regular season week would and there is a lot to be said for that.
"We are going through a simulation week this week, like a lot of teams," said Tomlin. "It's good because we have a Sunday game. We as a staff can develop plans relative to the schematics. It will be a good exercise for all of us coaches and players, as we prepare to travel to Tennessee. We are also faced with an opportunity to play in a road setting for the first time this year. We have a lot of respect for that in the National Football League. We'll be doing some things in preparation to highlight that in an effort to prepare the guys for what it's like to be in a hostile environment."
One good thing is, it will be the veterans who step onto the field first. The third preseason game is always the one where the starters see the most playing time, and getting back to a regular schedule as they prepare for it definitely helps.
"You get more into a routine," said Cam Heyward. "I am trying to use this week to really game plan, take care of my body as I would during the regular season. It's about showing the younger guys how to do it as well. In a college season, they have 12, 13 games. When you get to the league, it's 16 games and then you have playoffs on top of it.
"It's a change of pace, a level of physicality you have to prepare for. Whether it's on the field, taking care of your body, making sure you can prepare on the field. Or off the field going over game tape, looking at your mistakes, trying to correct it for next week.
"You just want to prepare as much as possible. You are not just setting yourself up, you are setting the standard for the younger guys. I just want to make sure they know the tempo and how we do things here so they are well prepared to go out there on Sunday."
While some players might not like the preseason, Heyward is one who sees the value in it not just for the younger guys, but even for himself as he goes into his ninth season.
"I need it. I feel clumsy without it," said Heyward of preseason play. "I have to be out there. I need to get the feel of things. It helps me."
Being flexible: Tomlin has been a long proponent of position flexibility, and with the roster cut down day looming in less than two weeks, there has never been a more important time for young, and veteran players, to show they can do more.
"I think the versatility of all of the guys," said Tomlin. "Position flexibility has to be an element in this thing, particularly when you are talking about adding quality depth. You can turn 53 men into 60 if you have good position flexibility and that is what we strive to have."
That versatility certainly hasn't been limited to one side of the ball or the other, or to just one position or another. It's been up and down the board.
"It's major," said Pouncey. "You have to be able to play more positions. The more you know, the more you are able to do. You understand football more."
He said it:
- Heyward was asked if anyone has stood out to him so far through training camp and two preseason games. His answer should have everyone ready to step it up a notch this week.
"No. Not yet," said Heyward. "We still have some time. Hopefully nobody is counting their eggs yet. Everybody is vying for an opportunity to make this team and I am doing the same."
- Rookie Sutton Smith said he returned to practice on Monday after missing time in camp and he is willing to play wherever the coaches ask him during the next two preseason games, including fullback where he got some work in OTAs.
"Wherever they want to put me in, it doesn't matter to me," said Smith. "I am just a football player. I am here to help the team."
The Steelers prepare for the preseason Week 3 matchup against the Tennessee Titans