Labriola On

Labriola on 2015's Camp Tomlin

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • And the whole "ready or not" approach is especially applicable this summer when applied to the opening of Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College. That's because Labor Day is the latest it can possibly be, and the NFL regular season schedule hinges on where Labor Day falls. That means extended summer vacation for every NFL team, except the Steelers and Minnesota Vikings.
  • In 2015, Labor Day is Sept. 7, which means the regular season opens the following Thursday, which happens to be Sept. 10 and the game happens to match the Steelers against the defending champion Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
  • So counting backwards, that means the first week of the NFL preseason falls on Aug. 14-17, which means teams most teams will be reporting to training camp somewhere in the July 30-31 window.
  • Not so for the Steelers and the Vikings, the teams designated to appear in the Hall of Fame Game. Because that game will be played at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 9, the Steelers and Vikings both open their training camps on Saturday, July 25.
  • On average, that means six more days of training camp for the Steelers and the Vikings. Six more days to acclimate the rookies and any other new additions to the group, six more days to install what might be a new offensive and/or defensive system. But also six more days to beat up bodies belonging to your players of stature.
  • To the graduates of old-school NFL camps, occasionally giving guys a practice off coupled with CBA-prohibited two-a-days equals country club atmosphere, but the days of players using training camp to get into shape are over. Today's training camps need to be competitive and physical without being punishing.
  • To steal a line from Bill Cowher, "there's a fine line." Walking that line is going to fall to Mike Tomlin, who has shown himself willing to accommodate veterans – once even getting a big laugh from the media when he listed the reason a player missed the day's practice as "a contusion of the birth certificate." And also understand there's an element of luck to any successful walking of that fine line during a month-long training camp.
  • Staying healthy also keeps players on the practice field, and there are a bunch of Steelers who are going to need that time together to hone their crafts as individuals and as parts of a unit. The four names who roll off the tongue immediately in that respect are Jarvis Jones, Shamarko Thomas, Ryan Shazier, and Cortez Allen. And all of them have some history of minor injuries during a training camp.
  • Mike Mitchell is another example of a player who was set back by what will be called a training camp injury even though his pulled groin initially happened in the days leading up to him reporting to Saint Vincent College last July. The Steelers' only big signing of free agency in 2014, Mitchell spent the first two weeks of camp on the physically unable to perform list. Bet on Mitchell being highly motivated to use 2015 to erase 2014 from Steelers fans' perceptions of him as an NFL safety.
  • All that stuff about the importance of getting home from Latrobe in good health is mentioned knowing that Tomlin is going to run a physical and competitive camp. The Steelers will be housed at Rooney Hall on campus for 29 calendar days during which they will conduct 18 scheduled practices, with 16 of those in pads. And even though there has been no announcement, I strongly believe there will be live tackling, for at least one competitive period, in every padded practice.
  • Well, maybe not live tackling during every practice. But in a dozen of them at the very least.
  • A camp competition fans will waste too much time watching and/or worrying about is the one for the No. 3 quarterback job. It's either going to be Landry Jones or Tajh Boyd, because any notion of Devin Gardner and/or Tyler Murphy emerging as some roster-saving slash just doesn't seem real. That's the kind of stuff you try in June, but come August coaches have a tendency to shy away from long-shots. And long-shots at quarterback is what Gardner and Murphy are because there was no serious interest in either at that position during the months of the run-up to the 2015 draft.
  • There's also a chance that nobody wins the competition for the No. 3 quarterback job and Tomlin decides to go with two on the 53-man roster, with maybe a No. 3 candidate carried on the practice squad. Fans sure would be in favor.

Fifty years of Steelers football at Saint Vincent College.

  • But if you're not going to keep three quarterbacks on the roster, who is going to be the 53rd player? If he's a down-the-road type of prospect, a guy who's going to be inactive every week, then since quarterback is the most important position on a team doesn't that point to the 53rd guy being a quarterback?
  • Unless, the 53rd guy is also somebody who gets a helmet every weekend and contributes to the team. That sounds like the description of a special teams ace who otherwise wouldn't be considered for a roster spot based on position play.
  • Ross Ventrone. And I'd be in favor of Ross Ventrone in a situation where the alternative is a No. 3 quarterback just to have a No. 3 quarterback.
  • Training camp practices don't do justice to individual abilities on special teams, because there's never any tackling during those drills. Preseason games are a different story. Preseason games are when guys win, or lose, roster spots based on special teams play. And there are as many jobs lost this way as there are jobs won.
  • With the opening of training camp, hitting will be introduced into the football the Steelers coaches have been teaching this offseason. Once the threat of violence is present, the sport changes. Some players blossom. Others don't.
  • In some of the darkened rooms where video is watched and evaluated, that's called shrinking. If "A League of Their Own" taught the world that there is no crying in baseball, this training camp will prove that there is no shrinking in football.
  • Not if you want a roster spot on the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers.
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