It's been a while since Coach Mike Tomlin addressed the media, so when he did so on Tuesday morning via a zoom call, you knew there would be a lot to come out of it.
Tomlin actually broke some news, including who would take a of few the first snaps at a few roster spots when camp opens, as well as revealing some news about players testing positive for COVID-19.
The first bit of news that came from Tomlin was that Matt Feiler would get the first snap at left guard, a spot vacated when Ramon Foster retired, and Tyson Alualu would get the nod at nose guard after Javon Hargrave left via free agency.
"With the lack of opportunity for learning in the offseason and teaching, we're acknowledging as a staff we have to make some quick decisions and then roll from there," said Tomlin. "I've talked to Matt Feiler, he is probably going to take the first snap at left guard, and Ty (Tyson) is going to take the first snap at nose guard. We'll work from there.
"We don't have time to mess around in this environment. We lost 900 snaps like everybody did with the virtual offseason. You've got to give the benefit of the doubt to people that have been here, at least as a basis to begin. That is the way we are going to begin the training camp process, knowing that the process is going to be an abbreviated one. Those that have experience and have been a part of this thing are probably going to have a leg up as a basis to begin.
"We are going to start with Matt Feiler at left guard. Those young tackles in Zach Banner and Chuks (Okorafor) have been here and have played. So, the combination of those guys provides the most experience for us and that is probably the appropriate place to begin. The same thing with Tyson. Tyson is a veteran football player that has been here, that knows how to play the game. He and Dan (McCullers) are going to start, but he'll probably take the first snaps based on the things I have talked about relative to current circumstances and we'll go from there. We are going to have a hard-core plan but be light on our feet to be ready to adjust based on what we see."
Tomlin also revealed that two players have tested positive for COVID-19. They haven't been at the team's facility at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as the NFL has shut down player access to that since March, and actually happened earlier in the spring. Both went through the proper protocols and have recovered and are back working out on their own.
"We have had two positive tests," said Tomlin. "It's guys that are not in our facility. They have gone through the appropriate protocol and are back to work. I'm talking about dating all the way back to the spring of this thing there have been two incidents on our football team."
With so much talk about sports getting started, with the NHL, NBA and MLB all working on returning to play, Tomlin's outlook for the NFL playing in 2020 and starting on time in September, with the team's first game on Monday, Sept. 14 at the New York Giants, is a positive one.
"I'm hopeful. I am always an optimistic person," said Tomlin, who also said he expects to play preseason games. "I have been a part of the process. When you are a part of the process, I sit on committees, I've had intimate conversations with logistical people and professionals. There is probably greater comfort when you are part of the process than when you are on the outside, so it allows me to be optimistic about both things."
More from Tomlin:
---> Tomlin made it clear that he and the organization would fully support the players in the message they choose to send in relation to injustices that are happening in society and has encouraged the players to use their platform thoughtfully and with class.
"As an organization and a staff, we have focused our energies on supporting our players and their wishes and establishing structure and support to the things they want to say and do," said Tomlin. "We spent a lot of group time talking about the on-going issues, the platform they have and how to best utilize it and how to do so thoughtfully. Our position is simple. We're going to support our players and their willingness to partake in this, whether it's statement or actions. You know my position, I've stated it in the past, that statements are good, but impact is better, particularly long-term impact. Those that have a desire to participate in a positive way, they are going to be supported by us. All we ask is whatever they say and do, they do so thoughtfully and with class."
--->Tomlin hasn't had the opportunity to see Ben Roethlisberger throw in person yet because of the shutdown of facilities to players due to COVID-19, but he is optimistic about what he has been hearing from others regarding the quarterback's progress.
"It's hearsay because I have not witnessed his workouts," said Tomlin. "I have communicated with him consistently throughout. He's comfortable and pleased with where he is. Some of the people that have had an opportunity to work out with him have been impressed and are pleased with where he is. The medical experts are comfortable with where he is in the rehabilitation process and the overall trajectory of his readiness for 2020. Those things being said, I'm comfortable with where he is."
---> The Steelers will hold training camp at Heinz Field this year, and Tomlin said he is comfortable with the amount of space available, including locker room and dining areas. He said one of his concerns is protecting the grass playing field at Heinz Field, and as a result the team might hold some of their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as well.
"We are facing some new challenges. We are doing training camp at Heinz Field," said Tomlin. "I have a walk thru or two in the near future over there just to check the overall readiness. I have toured the facility and made some logistical plans. I feel really good about Heinz Field being a good venue for us to execute our camp and preseason. It checks a lot of boxes. The grass surface is great. There is ample space to apply social distance guidelines that are going to be prescribed to us by the NFL. You know me. I am saddened by the fact that we can't go to Saint Vincent College and Latrobe. I am a training camp lover. I think there is intangible value in going away to camp. That is something that is outside of our control here in 2020. We aren't going to waste a lot of time worrying about things that are outside of our control. We're going to have a hard-core plan, but we are going to be light on our feet. We are going to make necessary adjustments and continue to develop our group. We are excited about doing it at Heinz Field."
---> It's not how any coach would want an offseason to play out, but for what it's worth, Tomlin was pleased overall with the work that was accomplished during the team's virtual offseason.
"I feel good about the work that we have been able to get done in a virtual offseason," said Tomlin. "The players have probably been more comfortable with the platform than the coaches. Although, there has been a lot of growth in that area over time, it has been productive. We have had an opportunity to look at a lot of video, to do our normal install process and to really have the normal interactions that you have with guys in the spring, at least from a teaching standpoint.
"We weren't in a physical presence, and there was some angst regarding that. As a teach tool, you lose a little of the physical feedback when you are instructing, when you are sitting in the same room as people. Largely, the participation was great. The attentiveness was great. We feel like we were able to get a lot done. We weren't able to get physical work done, so there is some anxiety associated with that. And I think those are the two critical points about this virtual offseason that are areas of concern as we potentially head into the preseason and training camp scenarios. And not only for us, but problems for all of us globally is we are concerned about their overall physical conditioning.
"The spring work provides us a lot of work in that area. There's just under a thousand or so snaps if you look at OTAs and minicamps in a normal spring. And those snaps not only allow guys to learn what to do in the game, detailing their work, but also allows them to really start the process of physical conditioning and preparation. That level of conditioning is lost. I don't want to underscore that. That is significant. We have concerns in that area, as I am sure everyone does. And then the physical reps are a teach tool and it levels the playing field once we get in training camp for new guys or young guys. Learning is going to be a significant element of this process, of this evaluation process that we are going to get into. Those who are slow learners, who lack the normal repetitions that you get in the spring are going to be working at a disadvantage. By the same token, those have been here and know what to do are probably working at a distinct advantage in this environment. We have been very transparent with our guys in an effort to talk about what is significant about this environment relative to normal ones in an effort to give everybody an opportunity to put their best foot forward and to come as prepared as they can come. And so, I think those are the two critical elements of the discussion in that regard. Physical conditioning and those who are new to the process and new to us and not having an understand of what lies ahead. There is some anxiety there and then the learning aspect like I talked about."