The Steelers' summer at Heinz Field is just about over, and next week they will move their training camp operations from the North Shore to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side of the city.
With this being the second straight training camp at Heinz Field because of COVID, Coach Mike Tomlin believes the team has accomplished much of what it typically looks to get done in a "normal" training camp. This summer, the Steelers have worked on red zone, two-minute, running backs picking up blitzing linebackers, linebackers covering backs and tight ends out of the backfield, among other things. There's one thing they haven't worked on so far and may have to build it into the repertoire.
Handling crowd noise.
"We're excited about playing a home game in Heinz Field in front of our fans," said Tomlin about Saturday's 7:30 p.m. game against the Detroit Lions. "It's been a long time since we've been able to do that and feel the energy and emotion that our fans provide, and we want to work to entertain them in this venue. That's an exciting thing, not only for some new players but some guys who have been here who hadn't experienced that. We got some second year players, guys like Chase Claypool and others who hadn't had that experience, so we're really excited about playing at home and playing in front of our fans on Saturday evening."
When a preseason consisted of four or five games, the third one often was referred to as the dress rehearsal because that was when teams typically took the longest look at their front-line players. While Tomlin didn't provide too many specifics about his plan for the utilization of personnel, he did say Ben Roethlisberger will see his first action of the preseason and that "all who are healthy will have an opportunity to play in the game."
Whether that includes Cam Heyward, Joe Haden, and Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn't something Tomlin was interested in committing to some 48 hours before kickoff, but he did indicate Dwayne Haskins and Mason Rudolph would follow Roethlisberger in some order; he said both Jordan Berry and Pressley Harvin III would see time as both punters and holders for Chris Boswell; that recently acquired Joe Schobert would play with the first-team defense; and Stephon Tuitt isn't ready for a full return to action.
"It's just another good step in our development individually and collectively," said Tomlin. "This will be the third stadium that we've stepped in, we put together some semblance of planning and strategy relative to this game, and so it's reasonable to expect an increased level of execution. The fact that this is the third time that they've been in the stadium, I think that's also a reasonable expectation.
"More than anything, we just want to see them gain football intellect that's really born out of playing the game – the twists and turns, the ebb and flow. Fluidity is important for us, being engaged in the game on offense, defense and special teams. Things such as 11 men on the field and fluidly moving 11 on and off the field and recognition and play clock things are important to us as well."
While Tomlin indicated Schobert would play with the first-team defense, he said he didn't see any need to give his recently acquired inside linebacker extra playing time in order to speed up the process of him learning the schemes and getting comfortable with his teammates.
"We're gonna play (Schobert) with the first group," said Tomlin. "I don't know that it's needed to play him any more than that. He's proven quickly that his football intellect is on a professional level; he's adapting quickly and gaining detail; and playing with people and communicating and working to play together are things that will be continually addressed with him. It is not going to get solved on Saturday night. We're going to give him some game exposure with the first group and go from there."
Another bit of speculation Tomlin shot down was the notion that Haskins deserved some playing time with the first-team offense since he largely had been on the field with reserves through the first two preseason games.
"Not in this particular instance, no," said Tomlin about having Haskins with the first-team offense. "The emphasis for this outing, as it pertains to the quarterback position, is getting Ben his first in-stadium exposure of the preseason. And then we'll go from there."