The Steelers put a bow on the offseason on Thursday with their final practice of minicamp. The team won't gather together again until they meet up at Saint Vincent College for the start of training camp on July 27.
Coach Mike Tomlin liked what he saw this offseason, and said it built a strong foundation for the work that is still ahead of them.
"We just wanted to build and lay a foundation for our football team, to get in better shape, to learn what to do, to gain some detail and expertise relative to our positions and to understand certain elements of teamwork, things you can't get done unless you come together," said Tomlin. "From those perspectives it's been a very productive offseason. Now the work doesn't come to an end, the work begins. We challenge the guys in that way. They have four to five weeks to get in the best condition they can. That is all they can control at this juncture of the journey. There are things that lie ahead that are outside of their control. What they can control is their overall preparation and physical readiness. We have challenged them in that way and it's going to be fun to watch them meet that challenge."
And speaking of training camp, what Tomlin loves about that time of year is it's when football becomes football. For the past four weeks practices have been in shorts and helmets. No pads, no hitting. That will change once camp gets rolling.
"It's a significant element in the journey because you put pads on. Football is a game that is played in pads. All of the things that we have done at this point build to that. That is when we get the opportunity to play some football and see what some of these guys are about."
It will also be the first time the coaches get to see what this rookie class can do under fire, when the hitting starts. And Tomlin's best advice to them, come in physically ready to handle the challenge.
"It's just the unknown," said Tomlin. "Any time you are dealing with the unknown, as all rookies are, you burn more fuel doing things that other guys have a certain knowledge and understanding of. The best thing they can do is be in the best condition they can be in because they are going into uncharted water and that is just the nature of your rookie season and training camp."
More from Tomlin:
2017 minicamp is underway at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
On the message to the players that the road to the Super Bowl has to go through Pittsburgh:**
"I say things like that every year. I just want them to feel the urgency of every moment, these moments, now. These moments build to that. So, it's just a way of capturing that mindset and mentality that all of these days are important. There are consequences for all of these moments and days. If we want our dreams to unfold in the manner in which we envision them, we have to respect them."
Onthoughts about your team right now:
"I haven't thought a lot about it, to be honest with you. I am not the person that seeks comfort in that way. I just try to take advantage of the opportunities that are these days. Hopefully I feel good about them in February."
On second-year guys:
"That improvement largely shows once we put the pads on. It is reasonable to expect a significant jump for the same reasons when we were talking about issues that rookies face. There are no unknowns for those guys (second-year). They have been in Latrobe before. They know where these roads lead. So, it should be reflected in their readiness and in there play."
On sense of urgency this year based off of how last season ended:
"I don't think there is an increased sense of urgency in response to anything. 2017, man, there are enough challenges and opportunities that lie for this group. Some guys are new to us. They don't tote the baggage of year's past. We don't even approach it in that mentality. There will be urgency in Latrobe, because 2017, tells us that it should be."
On carryover from last season's AFC Championship Game appearance:
"You guys can write and talk about that but the reality is that we aren't anointed in any way based on what has transpired, just like anybody else we compete against. Everybody is undefeated right now. I just have that level of respect for this process. I want our football to as well."
On injuries potentially preventing players from practicing in Latrobe:**
"I expect everyone to [practice]. The bumps and bruises associated with now are just part of the process. Everyone has 5-6 weeks to be ready to rock and roll. We are really excited about getting everyone out there and get going."
On the Stanley Cup being at practice:
"That's Lord Stanley. That's a beautiful thing, isn't it? A lot of respect for what they've gone through and accomplished. Really appreciate them showing a token of their appreciation for our support by bringing it over and allowing us to get a little glimpse of it. Hopefully we represent Pittsburgh and Western Pa. in a similar way here in a few months."