Liking what he sees: The Steelers have almost two days of their rookie minicamp under their belt at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and so far Coach Mike Tomlin likes what he sees from the new crop of rookies.
"We're having a real good weekend," said Tomlin. "We are getting to know the players. The players are getting to know us as individuals, us in terms of some of the things that we hold near and dear, some cultural things. So, from that standpoint, we are really excited."
At this time last year, because of COVID protocols, there was no rookie minicamp, no chance to get that first look early on of the rookie class on the field. And while this is just a first introduction, with a smaller roster because of current NFL protocols, it's still a great opportunity for the coaches to get a feel for what they have.
"We've got a limited number of guys, so we are cautious about the amount of work that we put them through or the type of work that we put them through," said Tomlin. "All in all, it has been highly productive. Our goals are to get an assessment of conditioning and for them to have an opportunity to display their conditioning. To do some teaching and learning, to understand how they take in information individually and collectively. To deliver information to them, to utilize all our teach tools in an effort to get to know them from a teaching and learning perspective. We talk about some of the details associated with play at this level, whether it is rule changes relative to the college game or required detail relative to their positions to have success and usage, etc. We have done a real good job with that.
"Lastly, to foster some togetherness. To acknowledge that this is the ultimate team game and to expose them to some of the things that we hold near and dear in terms of team development or team cohesion development. It's been a good weekend. I like the energy and attention to detail of the guys. I'm sure bigger challenges lie ahead, but we are excited to be starting."
The team will wrap up minicamp on Sunday, but Tomlin expects to see plenty more of the rookies as the offseason progresses, which will close out with a mandatory minicamp in mid-June.
"By rule, we will be able to continue with these guys on Monday," said Tomlin. "That's our level of expectation and we look forward to it."
Looking out for No. 1: Many are expecting No. 1 pick Najee Harris to make a fast impact on the running game, and from the looks of the way he arrived for rookie minicamp, he is off to a good start.
"I think he is as highly conditioned as anybody out there and that is a great place to begin," said Tomlin. "I think he has a nice foundation from that perspective. He is a sharp guy. He is a football guy. You can tell he is passionate about football. He can articulate the game very well, so it's a lot to be excited about."
Tomlin said it's easier to see how he handles things because of the smaller roster of players for this year's minicamp, something that can be an advantage for Harris, and all of the rookies.
"He's getting an opportunity to work one on one with Coach (Eddie) Faulkner at the running back position and that provides plenty of opportunity for him to verbalize his knowledge and things of that nature," said Tomlin. "I think you teach a little bit differently when you don't have numbers. You talk as opposed to doing, an effort to preserve. He's had plenty of opportunities to display what I outlined."
Tomlin said multiple times that it's too early to fully digest how players, including Harris, will be used and fit in with the coaching schemes, especially offensive coordinator Matt Canada's offense, and that minicamp weekend isn't the time for that.
"We are just getting to know them and doing some introductory things," said Tomlin. "I think as the days and weeks continue to unfold and we get a sense of how they learn and the up-close perspective on their talents, those will be more significant questions. And I think the blending of the rookies with the veteran guys are a big component of that. When they are just working with the rookies, that is somewhat of a waste of time. Really, we are just looking at him in terms of just what they are doing relative to this group, the people we have in front of us now."