Nowadays when you scan across the league, it is rare for teams to pack up and make the venture away from their own practice facilities to endure the football unity builder known as training camp. I still remember the days as a youngster in my hometown of Carlisle, PA where, during my summers off from school, I’d head over to Dickinson College to watch the Washington Redskins players come pulling up in their luxurious sports cars to begin preparations for the season. I still remember like it was yesterday when owner Dan Snyder would arrive on the field in his personal helicopter or locker room jokester LaVar Arrington, who’s been known to launch a pie in the face of a teammate or two.
As any NFL fan probably would, I attended as much as I could until the team left town a few years later. The Steelers are one of a select few teams who still travel to host their training camp, doing so at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA much like they’ve done for the past 50 years. Mike Tomlin finds the foothills of Pittsburgh at the small liberal arts college to be a home away from home for the team as it looks to build cohesion, chemistry and unity as it looks to defend and build upon their 2014 AFC North Division title.
“I like the sanctuary,” Tomlin said, according to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “We minimize a lot of the things in our life. We get singularly focused on football for a short time and that is great for me.”
From the arrivals of players in tractors like former Steeler Brett Keisel or in customized Rolls Royce’s like the one driven by Antonio Brown this year, it’s a time for players to put everything from their outside lives on the back burner as they enter the most grueling aspect of the NFL season, where a precious few roster spots are up for grabs in the intense, mid-summer heat. And as previously mentioned, while a lot of teams travel far and wide for their respective camps, Tomlin wouldn’t have it any other way than the quiet, tranquil hills of their present site.
“Continuity is invaluable,” said Tomlin, according to Varley. “Having an extended relationship with Saint Vincent just eliminates a lot of issues associated with training camp.”
This year, some of the major issues of the team will center around the status of a defense in a major transition, led by brand new defensive coordinator Keith Butler. There exist major question marks regarding it, one of which involves Shamarko Thomas’ ability to attempt to fill the cavernous shoes left by the retirement of Troy Polamalu. Others include the pass rush and whether Jarvis Jones will be ready to break out, Bud Dupree‘s impact or what to expect of a Pittsburgh secondary that was often labeled as the Achilles’ heel of the team. The time for answering these questions is upon us as the waves of Range Rover’s or Cadillac Escalade’s descend upon the campus.
“We know the drill, we know how the ground is laid,” Tomlin said. “We have a great, long-standing relationship with that university and you feel it the whole time you are there.”