Internal clock is off: If we were living in normal times right now, times not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Steelers would be preparing to take on the Dallas Cowboys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game tonight in Canton, Ohio in their first preseason game.
But, as we all know, these aren't normal times in our country, or in sports. So instead of getting ready for a game, Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff are in the initial stages of working with players during training camp, an acclimation period that is for conditioning and on-field walkthroughs only.
While it's not where they want to be, it's a far cry from where they were in the offseason, when all of the contact with the players was virtual.
"We are excited about getting the opportunity to instruct these guys in a physical way, in a classroom setting, different than the spring," said Tomlin. "We get the opportunity to show learning on our feet in a walkthrough setting. Also, we are getting an opportunity to display or improve conditioning. We have gotten a good sense of where the group is. Largely the veteran players are a highly conditioned group. They answered the challenge we presented to them in the offseason when we worked with them remotely, and that was for them to come in very good condition. That was the only thing they could control. We acknowledged that was the Jello that we couldn't get back in the box if you will, if they showed up out of shape. It takes 12 weeks to have any metabolic changes. That created the anxiety of working remotely in the offseason.
"It is unusual to be in the mode that we are in. those of us that have been in this business, we kind of have an internal clock. There are things you anticipate doing around Aug. 5 or so annually. The fact that we are not there is an adjustment. But we are working to manage our emotions, focus on the things we are able to do. We also continually acknowledge that we are not in any way behind because all of the other 31 teams are in the same place."
Keeping their distance: As laid out on Steelers.com before training camp started, Heinz Field has been transformed to host camp, with safety and social distancing a key factor in all of it. That included transforming some of the club space, including the massive West Club, into a team meeting room. With 80 players on the roster, though, Tomlin's plan is to utilize the space wisely and at times spread things out even more.
"We are doing different things. We are taking this conditioning period to try different things," said Tomlin. "We are all going into an environment now where you have some unusual considerations. For example, today in my morning meeting, I met with the veteran players in person and I had the assistants and rookies view the team meeting remotely, from other parts of the building, either form a hand-held device or in-house television monitors and tune in and participate in the meeting.
"That is normal procedure for us in 2020. We are not going to run away from it. We are going to try different things to become familiar with the technology at our disposal in an effort to have the best learning and teaching environment."
Ben is back: The talk of Steelers Nation has been how Ben Roethlisberger has looked since he resumed throwing at Heinz Field, and while it's still in a walkthrough basis, Tomlin likes what he has seen from him so far.
"I am extremely comfortable with where he is in the process," said Tomlin. "There has been great communication from him and the medical professionals through his rehab process. I did watch him throw. I didn't see anything that was alarming in any way. His velocity is excellent. Maybe his spiral could be a little tighter, I have seen it tighter, but nothing to alarm you in any way.
"We are going to continue to proceed appropriately with him in an effort to have him ready to go when we step into a stadium."