He has opened the offseason program with a three-day minicamp, and this summer he's closing the offseason with a three-day minicamp. Coach Mike Tomlin admits there are advantages to doing it each way, but what he knows for sure is that either way is better than last year's way.
Last year's way was no minicamp because of the NFL lockout.
The Steelers began the voluntary portion of their offseason program – now known as Phase I by the collective bargaining agreement – on April 16. Phase II began on April 30, which was the Monday following the 2012 NFL Draft, and then Phase III started on May 21.
It's during Phase III when the players began to hit the field for OTAs, and the Steelers completed their allotment of 10 last week. Minicamp, which is mandatory for all rookies and for all veteran players under contract, began today and ends on Thursday, June 14. After that, it's pretty much, see you in Latrobe sometime in late July.
"When we had minicamp at the front end of the offseason, it was a way of jump-starting them, wetting their whistle if you will, for the offseason, gauging their level of conditioning," said Tomlin. "Where this minicamp is located, it's more of a finale. They need to display some of the things that we've talked about over the offseason. That is: learning the elements of football, displaying their conditioning, and showing the overall ability to finish. And then also building on the things we can't measure – the camaraderie, chemistry and the things of that nature."
The Steelers were on the field for two sessions on Tuesday; there are two scheduled for Wednesday and then one in the morning on Thursday. And Tomlin set a tone right away, because when a thunderstorm settled over the practice field towards the end of Tuesday's afternoon session, he took the players off the grass field and had them change their shoes so the session could be completed in the team's indoor facility.
"It is a different spin if you look at it from a minicamp perspective," said Tomlin about the timing. "Obviously we expect a higher quality of execution out of this one than we would at the ones that occurred at the beginning of the offseason, and if you measure the first day I think that's what we got. But we're not going to rest on that."
There was little rest for the three rookies who had been unable to attend any of the 10 OTAs because of their college's academic calendars. Because Stanford, Ohio State and Washington all operate on the quarter-system, David DeCastro, Mike Adams and Alameda Ta'amu were not permitted to participate in anything since the rookie orientation that took place on the weekend following the draft.
"Satisfied is not a good word for me," said Tomlin when asked to gauge his first impression of how the three rookies looked on their first day. "I'm comfortable with where they are and what they were able to display today. Obviously they're working on a limited time. They need to hurry up to catch up. The big thing I want them to keep in mind is the big picture. When it comes time to playing in a few months from now, this will be a distant memory. There will be some short-term discomfort, but we expect those guys to push through like the professionals they are."
Last week, offensive line coach Sean Kugler intimated that DeCastro and Adams would get thrown onto the field with the first-unit rather quickly to see whether they could show they belonged with that group.
"It will be a process," said Tomlin. "We will do things to put them in situations to see how they respond. I wouldn't read into it, particularly because it's football in shorts. We're going to put them in some situations against good people just for exposure and to learn more about them. That's down the line, when you start reading into what group they're taking snaps with. That's going to be more of a Latrobe kind of thing. Right now we're just trying to get to know them, put them in some uncomfortable situations, see how they respond."
There are some players who did not practice on Tuesday because of injuries, including James Harrison, Casey Hampton and Curtis Brown, and since Mike Wallace has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender he has not taken part in any portion of the offseason program.
"I focus on the guys who are working," said Tomlin. "We anticipate getting some guys back due to health or contract negotiations, or what have you, and those things will run their course and take care of themselves as they always do. Right now, I just ask everyone to remain focused on working with the guys who are here and have an opportunity to improve with this week's work.
As for Wallace specifically, Tomlin added, "Mike has always been a guy who has been in tip-top condition over 12 months of the calendar since we've had him. He's a sharp guy, and I'm sure he's working at the learning element of it. But there's no substitute for being here, and being around your teammates, and learning the nuances, and learning from other people's mistakes. Again, it's probably short-term misery. Hopefully there will be some closure to this and it will be in our rearview mirror at some point, but right now obviously he would be better served if he was here working."
And will the Steelers end up being better served by having their minicamp at the end of the offseason?
"I like a culmination of the work," said Tomlin. "I'm enjoying this process. I think you can ask more of them comfortably in this setting than when minicamp is placed at the beginning. The big thing is that as long as the playing field is level from a standpoint that everyone is getting similar opportunities, that's what is important."