The Steelers three-day minicamp kicked off on Tuesday, the only portion of the offseason program that is mandatory for the players.
But like OTAs, minicamp is practicing without the pads, without the same feel that you have in training camp.
“We still are not in pads, so it’s as much football as you can get,” said Joe Haden. “We have a lot more prep going into it, a lot more meetings, and a lot more install. It’s just doing everything we do during OTAs, just showing we have learned it, we know what we are doing and we have picked up the concepts. It’s basically the same, but we are in the building a lot longer.”
The only noticeable difference on the field was the presence of Antonio Brown, and it was a welcome sight for Haden.
“He makes us a lot better,” said Haden. “He does everything. With him and Ben (Roethlisberger) working together, you have a dude throwing the ball who has so much touch, and a receiver who is open. AB is getting open, that combination is good for me. I love having to cover him during practice, especially when we are doing ones vs. ones. You have no choice but to get better.”
Ready to hit: During the offseason, after having surgery on his shoulder, Tyler Matakevich set his goal to return to the field for the team’s OTAs. Not only did he do that, but he didn’t miss a single one, and is now feeling great during minicamp and has his sights set on training camp.
“I feel good. I am definitely feeling good,” said Matakevich. “I made it through the OTA process and now trying to carry that over into minicamp and training camp. It’s awesome. A lot of times guys aren’t out there with that injury. I am trying to do the right things and do everything I can to help this team.”
Matakevich underwent surgery on his left shoulder after the 2017 season ended, the result of an injury that initially occurred Week 6 of the season against the Kansas City Chiefs. It would limit how much Matakevich could contribute on defense, but he could still be a key factor on special teams.
Things went relatively smooth for Matakevich, until the Week 13 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Ryan Shazier went down in the first half with a spinal injury, and Matakevich was called upon to take the reps on defense. He thought he would be fine, but in the third quarter the shoulder popped out again.
He said he has some trepidation about delivering his first hit in training camp, but once things get rolling he knows it will be business as usual.
“You will definitely be a little hesitant the first few, waiting for that first hit you give,” said Matakevich. “You can’t think about it. You have to go out there and play your game and do what you have been doing. I need the next few weeks to get ready for camp, but I can’t wait to put the pads on.
“When you have your pads on, you are ready. You have just helmets on now. In camp you have everything on. It makes all the difference in the world.”
Coach Ryan: Ryan Shazier spoke out about his injury for the first time last week, but through all of this rehab he has been opening up to his teammates, who have been inspired by the approach he has taken.
“Ryan keeps his head high,” said Bud Dupree. “He is grinding every day to get back to normal. It’s a blessing to see the progress he has made. It’s crazy to see from when it happened until now. It lets you know he is really working, he wants to be there, and life is a blessing.”
Shazier was on the field for all of the team’s OTAs, and is out there this week for minicamp. It’s been a welcome sight for his teammates.
“It’s fun having Ryan out there talking,” said Dupree. “He is still talking trash like he is out there playing. It’s fun for him. I know it’s a good reliever for him to be out there. He turned into a scout. He is trying to be on that coaching side now.”
Cameron Heyward joked that he just hopes Shazier doesn’t get too tough on his teammates with that scouting eye.
“It’s good to see him out there,” said Heyward. “It’s not only good for us, it’s good for Ryan. We are always concerned about Ryan’s well-being. He is letting guys know what he feels.
“He has become a little scout. I don’t need him to become too much of a scout. He has done some good things on the field and he is getting guys ready.”