PITTSBURGH -- As 16 rookies enter Heinz Field preparing for their first-ever training camp, there's a significant concern for how players at young ages handle having to isolate themselves for the safety of their team.
Players ages 21-25 who have just signed what is likely the largest paycheck of their young lifetime may not be necessarily adapting to the idea of having to limit their social gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, the Steelers have placed two players - Justin Layne and Arrion Springs - on the reserve/COVID-19 list because they've either tested positive or are quarantining due to being in contact with someone who has the virus.
For head coach Mike Tomlin, he's addressing the matter to his young players about the situation.
"You message it thoughtfully," Tomlin told media on Thursday. "You use catch-phrases ... What you're talking about is conduct that is detrimental, and that's a term that's used often in our business and appropriately so. Because in this COVID environment, if you're not exercising discretion and being thoughtful about how you move, that is detrimental to your cause and to us collectively. So that's the messaging that I'm delivering to those guys. We got to conduct ourselves accordingly. There's been a lot of work to position ourselves to be where we are right now. It's one fail all fail in this environment, so we're going to continue to package the message that way and be very transparent. It is that - it's conduct detrimental to their efforts and ours."
The team's concerns outside of players contracting the virus all follow the same path. Tomlin and his coaches need to prepare 16 rookies for their first-ever NFL game with 14 padded practices and no preseason games.
"The live opportunities and looks are really framed by the collective bargaining," Tomlin said. "In this environment, we all have perimeters. We get 14 padded practices. We all globally get those. If we're smart, we're going to utilize those padded practices to evaluate or utilize those padded practices to teach, to get to know people. Just live action is just a part of that. We've done that in the past and probably even more so in this environment for obvious reasons. Not getting an opportunity to have preseason games and such, we want to have an understanding of what we're going to get from people as we go into New York in the opener, and the only way to do that is to put them on the ground, spot it, and play football, so that's what we intend to do."
As the team begins their ramp-up period to the next stage of training camp, Tomlin is prepared for whatever the next six weeks have in store. A unique experience for everyone, it's going to be a learning curve for Tomlin and the players involved.
"I think we're going to all discover that," Tomlin said on the challenges of the offseason. "I've been in the league 20 years, I've never been in a situation like this where we're going into without the opportunity to have preseason games. I feel like I have an understanding of the issues of what's required and the process we need to take our guys through in order for them to be ready. But I think all of us collectively are going to be feeling our way through some degree there, and possibly [have] issues be revealed to us along the way. We got to have a hardcore plan but we also have to be light on our feet and thoughtful, particularly about the things we ask inexperienced players to do as we divvy up and define roles, it's just going to be a component of it."