If you view July 26 – the day Steelers players are to report to Saint Vincent College for the start of training camp – as the date of the premier of a feature film, then what's being seen this week at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex is the trailer for that summer blockbuster.
On Tuesday, the Steelers held the first of their three-day mandatory minicamp with an afternoon practice of a length very similar to what will happen during those many afternoons in Latrobe. There are similar workdays planned for Wednesday and Thursday of this week, and then the team's offseason program will have come to a close.
"And so I thought I would start by saying the work that we're doing out here really is just a continuation of what we've been doing, with a few caveats," said Coach Mike Tomlin at the conclusion of Tuesday's practice. "It's important that we progress during this developmental journey, and we take another step toward football-like work, which obviously will be awaiting us in training camp."
Tuesday's practice was composed of many of the same elements as a typical training camp practice, which often are characterized by Tomlin creating situations and presenting them to the players to see how they react in real time. Or as he referred to those situations following the workout – caveats.
"A couple of examples of that were we used the play-clock today," said Tomlin. "Acknowledging that component of the game, we're at the point in this development collectively where it's time to do that. We also introduced more situational football. We're not just snapping the ball as if it's first-and-10. It's possession down football, it's red zone, it's things of that nature in an effort to increase the learning opportunities and the teaching opportunities."
When asked to characterize the day's final on-field period, Tomlin labeled it "two-minute," which is one of his preferred ways to bring a training camp practice to a crescendo. Being that it's still minicamp, it was conducted without contact, but it did put players on both offense and defense in situations those individuals are likely to face, first in training camp and then in actual games.
"Two-minute," said Tomlin. "It's football-like, not football, because sometimes I control the drill in an effort to put them in circumstances. What I mean by that is during the second set there, that guy probably scored when he caught the ball on the 2-yard line, but I called it down to just make the offense work on a short field under those circumstances. And so these are controlled football-like environments. I know you want to identify winners and losers and write stories and so forth, but a lot of these scenarios are controlled by me, because I'm more interested in teaching and learning as opposed to evaluating."
Tomlin also wouldn't be drawn into any evaluations of his rookies even though he was asked specifically about rookie cornerbacks Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr. Porter, listed at 6-foot-2, and Trice, listed at 6-3, give the Steelers an unusual bit of size at the position.
"I think that story is going to be told with how they play," said Tomlin. "Length is an asset if you're clean, so they have to be penalty-free. They gotta know which way they're going, and so they're very much writing their story about what they're capable of being. I like their attentiveness. I like the attributes that they bring, but it's premature to paint a picture of where they are."
Player attendance always is a major component of a team's mandatory minicamp, and Tomlin was asked if everyone who was supposed to be present was in fact present.
"Everyone was here that I anticipated being here," said Tomlin. "I gave a couple of guys an excused absence for a variety of reasons. T.J. Watt wasn't here; Ryan McCollum wasn't here. I'm sure you guys missed T.J., and I'm sure none of you missed Ryan McCollum."