The Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills earlier in the week reached an agreement to hold mutual practice sessions during training camp over the next two years earlier this week, which should certainly add an interesting dynamic to the proceedings, not only for the organization and the players, but also the fans and those who cover the team.
The Steelers used to hold joint practices with the Washington Redskins in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but have not had such an arrangement with any other franchise in the intervening years until now.
As part of the agreement—pending league approval, which should not be an issue—the Bills would travel to Latrobe this summer to attend the Steelers’ practice sessions, while the Pittsburgh would return the favor for the 2015 offseason by traveling to Buffalo’s training camp facilities in western New York.
Head coach Mike Tomlin installed live tackling sessions to his regular drills last summer in a move that he insinuated was an effort to instill some contact experience in what was a young roster in his eyes.
Perhaps the opportunity to practice against actual opponents, rather than people that you room with for several weeks and worth with year-round will have its own unique benefits that Tomlin is seeking after a second consecutive .500 record.
There will, however, be some familiar faces as the Bills roll in to Saint Vincent College, as Bob Labriola pointed out on the team’s website.
Most significantly, Bills general manager Doug Whaley held a variety of positions within the Steelers’ scouting department over the years, so “he has an understanding of how each franchise conducts its training camp”, as Labriola put it.
The players, however, may also find some familiar faces as well. Among the former Steelers on Buffalo’s current roster is guard/center Doug Legursky, who spent his first four seasons with the Steelers. He started a career-high 11 games for the Bills last season.
Kraig Urbik, one of the Steelers’ three third-round picks in 2009, would be the Bills’ other starting guard. While he washed out in Pittsburgh after just one season, in part thanks to Legursky, he turned his career around with the Bills and started every game in 2013, with 13 starts in each of the prior two seasons.
Those aren’t the only names that should ring a bell, however. The roster also includes former Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon, as well as two former undrafted free agent defensive linemen in Corbin Bryant and Ikponmwosa Igbinosun. The former was a college teammate of current Steelers defensive end Brian Arnfelt. Punter Brian Moorman also spent last offseason with the Steelers.
On the flipside, new Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats spent the first four years of his career with the Bills.
The two teams also happen to frequently meet during the preseason, as recently as 2012. The Steelers defeated the Bills in the regular season in 2013, which was the first victory of a second-half 6-2 turnaround just to finish with an 8-8 record.