This week, there's an element of preparation being added to the preseason theme of evaluation.
The third week of the preseason has come to be recognized as the closest thing to an actual dress rehearsal for an NFL regular season game, and Coach Mike Tomlin indicated the Steelers will treat Saturday night's outing against the Indianapolis Colts that way.
"It's also a big week because we're doing more extended game planning than we've done to this point," said Tomlin, "and some of the guys who we've minimized in terms of play will play more. Ben will play. Antonio will play. William Gay will play. How long guys play will really be determined by how they perform and how the game unfolds. We'll play that by ear, but we're committed to playing our first wave to get a sense of their overall readiness, and then we'll work from there."
Other important elements being taught this week have to do with the players adapting to having to mix in real life with their jobs. For the new players, for the rookies, it's a new experience, completely different from the one on campus at Saint Vincent College.
"This week for us is a big week in a lot of ways," said Tomlin. "We've got to get used to the comforts of home and logistically what that encompasses working in this location under these circumstances and really trying to put together days that would simulate a regular in-season Wednesday."
In addition to Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and James Harrison, there are some other players who could be getting their first preseason game action of the summer. Ryan Shazier has returned to practice after missing a bunch of training camp with a hamstring injury; rookie Cam Sutton recently returned to the field after sustaining an injury in one of the first few workouts at Saint Vincent College; and Tomlin indicated that Landry Jones should get some snaps at quarterback after Roethlisberger is done for the night.
"It's a big week for Landry," said Tomlin. "It appears he's pushing toward game readiness. He had a good day (Wednesday), and there really were no negative consequences of that work today. It'll be an opportunity to get him in the stadium and play the quarterback position for us.
"The process is running its course. The sand is running through the hour-glass. Guys are going to make a move and state a case for themselves. They better get busy if they haven't already. There is a certain urgency to this time of year, and I think that adds to the excitement of this performance."
Tomlin also is using this week to teach the concept of expectations to the young players.
"I'm being very transparent about certain things I'm looking for in some instances, because it's also a good opportunity to teach guys expectation," said Tomlin. "James Conner, for example, played a good offensive football game for us in running for almost 100 yards, but he was JV as a special teams performer. I'm challenging him in a big way. We're expecting him to give us quality contributions in the special teams game when he's not playing running back. It's reasonable to expect that."
Just as it's reasonable to expect some guys to answer Tomlin's challenges, while others will fall off between now and cut-down day on Sept. 2.
"We're working with 90 guys and still working to establish roles and the division of labor and so forth, but the structure of these days are very much regular season-like, so they can gain some traction not only in terms of what can be expected here on a day to day basis, but they can also make plans relative to their own personal plans," said Tomlin. "A lot of guys are establishing routines at this juncture that simulate a game week – things that they do to take care of their bodies, things they do to prepare individually for these days and ultimately for the play. That's been some of our focus."