By Matthew Marczi
Head coach Mike Tomlin elected to throw it old school this training camp by widely incorporating live tackling drills in practice for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Aside from perhaps a couple of extra bumps and bruises, it seems that the new-old strategy was a great success; I say ‘was’ because, as of today, the tackling stops.
Tomlin spoke to reporters yesterday in preparation for the team’s second preseason game on Monday against the Washington Redskins, and as Bob Labriola Tweeted, he revealed to the Steelers Digest scribe that “there will be no more live tackling in practice once the team leaves campus and returns to Pittsburgh.”
That is all fine and good by me. Introducing the full-contact drills was a tool with which to forge an identity and to help better evaluate the talent in camp within a more limited and regulated framework. It was not a drill that must be carried out consistently throughout the season, which would take its toll on the players throughout a grueling 16-game schedule, plus the preseason and postseason.
Speaking to the media, Tomlin also sounded like he got out of the drills what he was hoping to see, which was a greater opportunity for young players to demonstrate their abilities and to stand out.
“We want to increase the avenues to evaluate men, or increase the avenues in which people can distinguish themselves. When you are playing tackle football, it does that. The opportunities to impress are very few and we are just trying to increase them with how we work.”
Now that the offseason resumes back home in Pittsburgh, the next phase of roster evaluation begins, which relies more on the mental rather than the physical nuances of the game. Outside of the preseason exhibitions, of course, the time to showcase one’s physical skillset has already passed.
Chances are, if you have not already stuck out in some form or fashion from a physical standpoint, you are not going to do so now, marginalizing the value placed by Tomlin on the live tackling drills.
Labriola Tweeted out another most relevant bit of wisdom that Tomlin communicated to him yesterday: if a player is healthy enough to play in the second preseason game and doesn’t see any action, he can expect to be cut when the time comes.
Such a statement truly reveals the extent to which the live hitting has run its course. If the team feels that they know a player well enough by the second preseason game such that they don’t even play him in the game, then they already know that he will not make the team. There is no need to watch a fifth-string cornerback bang into a sixth-string running back for another two weeks to decide that neither player will make the team.
As for whether or not he will continue to utilize live tackling drills in future training camps as an evaluative measure, Tomlin hedged on the issue when questioned. “I just try to give each individual group what I think they need to be ready," he told reporters. “I felt like that is something this group needed. I can’t forecast what the next group will look like, let alone what they need. I thought it was appropriate for this group.”