PITTSBURGH -- Without being able to step onto the field at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in Southside, the Steelers are spending Organized Team Activities at home, by themselves.
It's an unusual offseason for everyone, but for the players trying to train for the 2020 season, it's a bit of a challenge. Instead of working at team facilities, or even working together, for the most part, players are asked to spend their spring training by themselves in order to be ready for whenever the season does happen.
“This whole pandemic has been crazy. I have been just staying to myself, still trying to get in the work," Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson told reporters last week. "I am getting through it. The rest of the guys on the team are doing the same thing as well. I am just staying out of the way and staying ready.”
That's the reality for these players. Right now, they're working as much as they can through iPads and laptops, without knowing much about when anything will change.
Johnson said he's spending time at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's house training. Still, he's doing so thinking he may not return to an actual football field until later in the summer.
"I've just been staying to myself. I'm staying ready, trying to get ready for camp or whatnot, whenever that is," Johnson said. "Hopefully that's soon. I'm just ready to get back, get to work with the guys because I miss it every day. Just sitting at home not being able to do much, it kind of gets old. I think about it every day and I miss it."
Johnson said that for now, he isn't sure when the team will return to their facilities. "Probably in July," Johnson guessed as a possible return to date.
He doesn't expect the team to head to Latrobe for training camp and hasn't heard much about what or when things will begin to return to normal. Meaning players need to stay ready while staying apart.
“Right now, I’m a very self-motivated type of guy,” Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said during Week 1 of virtual OTAs. “So, for me, it’s not too big of a deal. I’m training just as hard as I would be, if not harder, as if I would be in the facility. I’m doing everything I can to stay in shape and, when I get back, make sure we hit the ground running.”
There is a concern, though. Like Johnson, Fitzpatrick is heading into his second year with the Steelers. A team that has plenty of younger talent and new offseason pieces, not being together is putting a major hold on developing relationships.
Still, the team remains confident. Johnson said his goal is still to win a championship with his new-old quarterback, Roethlisberger. Fitzpatrick believes the Steelers still have one of the best defenses in the league.
It's just a matter of when this team can rejoin and begin to prove it.
“I feel like the only real concern for our team is just chemistry,” Fitzpatrick said. “This time right now is a time where you’re spending a lot of time with your teammates, not just in the locker room, but outside the locker room… You’re learning about each other, learning how each other think, and just about life outside of football. During the season it’s kind of tough to do that, because you see each other 12 hours out of the day, you don’t want to go home and see them again. The chemistry part of it is big, but we can find ways to make it happen.”