In any other year, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 draft class would have already completed a three-day rookie minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
But instead of getting face time with the team’s coaches: going over plays, doing on-field drills, and bonding with fellow rookies face-to-face, this year’s newbies have been utilizing FaceTime and taking part in Zoom video conferences, not unlike much of the rest of America.
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Steelers Rookie Chase Claypool Addresses Virtual Rookie Minicamp
And just like everyone else who is working from home, the coaches and rookies are coping with the challenges of trying to communicate via video conference.
“We have to troubleshoot every day because there’s always an audio issue or something,” said wide receiver Chase Claypool, the Steelers’ top draft pick this year, during a media conference call. “It’s definitely a unique experience.”
Claypool and his fellow rookies have been making the best of a less-than-ideal situation, using team-provided iPads to review the basics of the team’s playbook. The rookies have also been given access to several secure web sites, “that we use to get in and out of meetings,” Claypool said.
Compared to some of his fellow draft picks, Claypool is fortune. “I have a [personal] trainer that I’m lucky to have…. He has a pretty nice weight room setup in his garage so I have been doing that five days a week to stay in shape.” (This as compared to seventh-round pick Carlos Davis, who says he doesn’t have access to a gym, but works on conditioning and some “football stuff” on a field near his home.)
Meanwhile, Claypool has also attempted to take some of the route concepts he’s learned online and tried to work through them on a football field.
“The last couple Friday’s we’ve been going [out] and walking through some of the things I’ve picked up on … so I get an idea of how to do [them] on the field.”
Veteran Impact of NFL’s Virtual Minicamps
At the same time, veteran teammates have been reaching out to help from afar, including Ben Roethlisberger, who, Claypool says, has been leading a group chat while waiting for the opportunity to integrate the rookies into the offense. Never mind that using online tools to communicate might not be the most natural thing in the world for Big Ben, who has been in the NFL as long as Facebook has been in existence. (Roethlisberger was drafted in April 2004; “TheFacebook” was launched at Harvard University just two months earlier.)
Meanwhile, recently-retired left guard Ramon Foster—a onetime undrafted free agent—addressed the rookie class via video conference at the behest of Mike Tomlin, no doubt giving them advice on how to ready themselves for the rigors of the NFL.
Of course, veterans and rookies alike are expected to be prepared—physically and mentally—for the day when the team finally gets the opportunity to start practicing. No doubt the rookies have already heard Tomlin utter a few of the more common “Tomlinisms,” like: “It is what it is” and “We’re not going to make excuses.”
“Coach Tomlin [has] kept preaching that we’re not going to hold your hand through this,” Claypool said. “And that they expect us to be on top of things.”