With No Opt-Outs or COVID-19, Steelers Begin Practicing in Pads

TJ Watt

Getty Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt.

Today the Pittsburgh Steelers and most of the rest of the NFL take the next step towards game action by putting on the pads for the first time. That’s good news, as is the fact that the Steelers head into the next phase of training camp at full-strength, having had no opt-outs, no new injuries, and no players on the COVID-19 list. The Steelers haven’t had a player on the COVID list since August 13, when Jaylen Samuels was activated to the roster.

Entering the regular season, Pittsburgh would also appear to have an advantage over most of the rest of the NFL in terms of continuity, as the organization has had precious little change since last season, returning the same head coach, quarterback and coordinators, not to mention the overwhelming majority of its starting lineups. That’s one reason most analysts envision the Steelers earning a post season berth in 2020, along with two other teams from the AFC North.

Mike Tomlin on Simulated Game Play

But to do that the Steelers are still going to need to successfully navigate the COVID-19 environment—and integrate the team’s rookies and a handful of veteran free agents, including tight end Eric Ebron and defensive lineman Chris Wormley.

Without any preseason games, it will more important than ever for rookies and young players to show they can handle game-like situations, which head coach Mike Tomlin wants to try to create using “simulated game play.”

“When I’m talking about creating game-like circumstances, I’m talking about getting an opportunity to evaluate situational awareness, things that you don’t often do in a practice setting, boxes that often get checked in preseason stadiums, such as a guy’s ability to move from playing linebacker to left guard on the punt team and knowing when to take the field and being engaged in transitional things like that. Or guys being down-and-distance aware as the ball moves and the chain moves because often times in a practice setting the ball does not move, or the ball moves in a very scripted way,” said Tomlin.

“There are certain things that happen in simulated game play,” he added. “There’s a certain awareness, things displayed that are part of the evaluation process that we have to work to create, and I’m not necessarily talking about a guy responding to a moment and rising up in it. I’m talking about professionalism things, awareness things, things that are common in in-game play that aren’t necessarily common in a controlled or a practice setting.”

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Steelers Offering Virtual Autographs

Meanwhile, one can also expect the Steelers to continue offering virtual autographs after some training camp practices, with Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner having already held virtual autograph sessions in the past few weeks.

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