By Matthew Marczi
The 2013 edition of training camp, and in particular the padded practice portion of the proceedings, really opened up with a bang. Or rather, a series of bangs, spread out throughout the past week or so. More bangs than have been a part of a Pittsburgh Steelers training camp since Chuck Noll patrolled the sidelines.
And with that series of bangs followed a series of bumps and bruises, or training camp “nicks”, as head coach Mike Tomlin is inclined to refer to them, “associated with this time of year”.
There is no question that the physical nature of this edition of training camp has made its mark on the roster, both for better and for worse. Young players are getting the opportunity to showcase themselves in live fire drills, opportunities to put themselves on display in front of the coaches that they otherwise might not have.
With those opportunities, however, come injuries, and the Steelers have certainly had their fair share of injuries. While not all of them should be contributed directly to the live tackling portions of these practice sessions (Cortez Allen’s injury, for example, occurred before the padded practices began), a number of them most certainly have come as a result of the full contract scrimmages.
Joining Allen on the sidelines over the last few days due to injury are players such as Curtis Brown, Terry Hawthorne, Le’Veon Bell, Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Adrian Robinson, Nicholas Williams, Matt Spaeth (who had his knee drained), and DeMarcus Van Dyke. Should it be surprising that the linebacker and cornerback positions have suffered the largest amount of casualties due to the increased contact?
During the Sunday edition of Steelers Live on the team’s website, hosts Bob Labriola and Mike Prisuta talked about the physical nature of this past week of practices and the tone that it has set in training camp. Prisuta at one point said that the point has been made; I think I agree.
The point has been made. The tone has been set. The players are hungry and understand what it takes to make 2013 different from 2012. Perhaps it is time to start dialing down the physicality of practices as we approach the beginning of the preseason, which started last night with the Miami Dolphins taking on the Dallas Cowboys.
The Steelers play their first preseason game against the New York Giants on Saturday. How many more full contact scrimmages will take place between now and then? The coaching staff must determine whether the increased chance of injury is outweighed by the potential growth some of the young players can achieve during those drills.
Another Tomlinism applies to iron sharpening iron, but iron can only be sharpened to so fine a point until it breaks. As valuable as these training camp snaps might be to the growth and development of the back half of the roster, and for integrating new elements of the offense, they are still snaps that do not count.
Nor do they fully replicate game-like scenarios. After all, that is what the preseason games are for. And now that the preseason is just around the corner, it seems appropriate, to me at least, to start to tone down the physicality to preserve the players’ bodies.
It is all fine and good to learn and grow from a live tackling drill, but it benefits nobody when you are missing practices due to injury. Look at Curtis Brown; he got the opportunity to enter the starting lineup in the nickel with Allen out, but now he is with Allen on the sidelines watching Josh Victorian, Buddy Jackson, and Ryan Steed.