By Matthew Marczi
Now with the halfway point of the preseason finally breached, it is time for the next phase of roster development to begin. The Pittsburgh Steelers are now out of St. Vincent College and are back in their own homes in and around Pittsburgh. When they resume practices, they will be conducted at the South Side facilities, rather than on campus.
And with the change of scenery comes a change of objective, for the players, for the coaches, and for the evaluation process. With roster cuts set to begin just a week from today, 15 players will need to be ruled out of the competition for a roster spot, and now is the time to look for characteristics other than physical.
Bob Labriola spoke of this transition last week during one edition of Steelers Live on the team’s website. He talked to head coach Mike Tomlin about the differences between training camp and the return to Pittsburgh, and what changes from an evaluation standpoint. Describing the nature of training camp:
Up here [in training camp], it’s about evaluating people. Seeing what they can do. You’re trying to put guys into as many different situations as you can to try to figure out who your 53 are, then within those 53 how you’re going to break up the workload in terms of roles within the offense, or the defense, or on special teams.
The number one priority in the evaluation of a football player is, of course, whether or not he can play the game of football. And that is what gets done during the month or so that the team spends away at ‘summer camp’. They learn about who is a football player and who is just a guy wearing football pads. Introducing the live tackling drills this year was a part of that evaluation process as well.
Of course, the camaraderie and the bonding experience, the team unity that takes place away at training camp is also an invaluable team-building exercise that cannot be replicated at the team facility when everybody goes their separate ways back home at the end of practice that day.
Now is the time for the next level of team building, however, and part of that is determining which of the football players is also a professional, who gives the team specifically what it needs:
When the Steelers go back to Pittsburgh, the emphasis kind of shifts to being a professional. Preparation. Taking care of your body. The things that happen during the week, during the course of the regular season. If you’re on the scout team, do you give the first-team offense or the first-team defense a good look as it prepares to play whichever opponent it might be at the end of the week.
Now is when players learn how to fulfill the role of the scout team. Now is when they learn to study game tape at a professional level, preparing specifically for one opponent. Now is when the coaches see who treats their time in the league as a career, who dedicates their lives to the game. When the coaches are not holding their hand in training camp, who keeps their noses in the playbook; who stays in the weight room after hours? These are some of the questions the coaching staff will be asking from now through the end of the month, when the final cuts must be made.