LATROBE, Pa. – There is a saying that "misery loves company," but when it comes to training camp, Mike Tomlin loves misery.
During the first two days of on-field work here at Saint Vincent College, the weather started out hot and got hotter, and then on Friday, things started out wet and then quickly got a lot wetter. And not even the deluge that soaked players, coaches, fans, and one of the members of the Hall of Honor's Class of 2023 could wipe the smile off Tomlin's face.
Anticipating the possibility of an all-day Saturday rain, the Steelers had covered one of the three on-campus grass field overnight Friday, but by mid-morning it appeared as though there was going to be enough of a break in the precipitation to allow for the team to conduct the two-hour session that was part of Acclimation Day No. 4.
Before the practice began, under blue skies by the way, Tomlin was handed a microphone to welcome the crowd to the day's festivities that included the announcement of the team's Class of 2023 to be inducted into the Hall of Honor. One of those men, Aaron Smith, stayed for practice and was acknowledged by Tomlin to applause from the crowd, and then the session began. But shortly into it, the skies darkened, and shortly after that they opened, and the rain began. At one point, it might have appeared that the only sensible thing to do would have been to take a meteorological knee. But with no lightning in the area, the Steelers stayed where they were and toughed it out.
"Speaking of that, I just really love what transpired today," said Tomlin after the practice was over. "I love when we're faced with challenges, and today it came in the form of weather conditions. It's an important component of development. You get an opportunity to develop necessary skills that allow us to operate under these circumstances. You also get to show those skills.
"I called the group up in the midst of it and talked directly to them about it because I wanted them to feel it. Oftentimes when you get weather like we got today, it's difficult to stay on your feet, in the secondary for example, and we've got to do a great job of staying on our feet in conditions like this. The throwing and catching of the football on the offensive side and the commonsense adjustments associated with that component of play, such as the ball security component. On the flip side of that, there is the ball search opportunity on the defensive side in conditions such as this. And so that's what this process is about. We never complain about challenges that we get in team development. It is an opportunity for growth. And that's what today was about, and so we'll learn from it and hopefully, we'll perform a little better in some instances than we did today under those conditions."
The rain began pelting the team during a special teams period, and that's when Tomlin stepped into the group of players participating in his immediate area and made his point. Then, the work resumed.
"You know, we've got 17 regular scheduled opportunities, and all of them are important," said Tomlin in reference to an NFL regular season. "Weather conditions can't be a factor in terms of the quality of our play, and opportunities like this really give us an opportunity to make that point, to learn and grow and develop the necessary skills in order to make that reality."
One day after the offense posted a 5-2 victory during the 7-shots period, the defense turned the tables by that exact score.
On the first snap, George Pickens couldn't secure the pass from Kenny Pickett, and it fell incomplete. On the next snap, Pickett was flushed out of the pocket, couldn't find anyone open, and threw incomplete. On the third play, Pickett's pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
After Pickett threw a touchdown pass to Zach Gentry, Mitch Trubisky came on and threw a touchdown pass to Connor Heyward that got the offense within 3-2. But then Trubisky threw incomplete to Cody White to clinch the drill for the defense, and the final snap offered a diving catch by Gunner Olszewski that came up short of the goal line to make it a 5-2 final.
OPERATING UNDER CONSTANT PRESSURE
Trying to pass-block without pads is a thankless task, and Pickett and Trubisky both found themselves under consistent pressure through the bulk of the afternoon. During the other competition periods, there were more balls batted at the line of scrimmage, and it was a rare occurrence for either Pickett or Trubisky to be able to stand in a clean pocket and survey the field before deciding where to throw the ball.
With the offensive linemen unable to be physical in this padless practice, it became a war of quickness, and that will be a tough task for any unit trying to deal with the likes of T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Nick Herbig, and some others.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"DeMarvin Leal was taken off the field to be evaluated because he had a little difficulty breathing. We don't think it's significant. Damontae Kazee had an ankle injury of some description. He's being evaluated as well, maybe a day or two. Alfonzo Graham appeared to have a shoulder injury when he fell and hit the ground, and he's also being evaluated. Non-injury related, I excused Minkah (Fitzpatrick) for a few days, because he's dealing with a personal matter. He has been excused, and he has my support. A couple of other guys were limited by a variety of reasons, but that's just the minor things associated with this time of year as we continue to acclimate ourselves to this environment, the work, and the process."