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Mike Tomlin: Rookie Agenda Hasn't Change, Expectations Have

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin isn't ready to evaluate his rookies, but is following his development process as much as possible during a unique offseason.

PITTSBURGH -- Rookies have practiced in their new home - Heinz Field - for roughly 48 hours now. As Steelers players begin to enter the first stages of training camp ramp up, the latest members of the organization are taking the field to work on strength and conditioning. 

For Mike Tomlin, phase one of the NFL's training camp period doesn't involve much football. For now, teams are preparing their players for football contact and testing them for COVID-19. 

But as the Steelers enter Heinz Field looking to get as much work in before Week 1, Tomlin and the coaching staff are sticking the course and preparing their rookies as they would any offseason - with some adjustments. 

"I don't know that our agenda relative to their development changes," Tomlin told media on a zoom call Thursday. "The time in which we have to develop them, and the access to them is what's different. There's a different urgency, and there's an acceleration of the process if you will, but in terms of the boxes we need to check with them, the ways we get to know them and things of that nature, that is unchanged.

"We also have to acknowledge in this environment that they'll probably be less of a finished as they step into regular season stadiums in 2020, then they are in normal circumstance. But that won't be exclusive to our rookies, that will be global. So it'll be prudent to all of us globally to be thoughtful, particularly in the early stages of the season, about what we ask our young guys to do because of those circumstances."

So far, Tomlin is focusing more on assuring his players are ready for physical practice before evaluating them. He said none of his rookies have "impressed him," but that's only because of the short time he's gotten to spend with them in person. 

"I don't know if I've been uniquely impressed to this juncture. I don't know that they've had an opportunity to based on what it is that we're doing," Tomlin said. "We're thoughtful about working our way into this training camp for two specific reasons; the National Football League has been very thoughtful about it. We want to control the COVID environment as we bring people together, and minimize the impact potential of that as we get started. And also, we want to have an emphasis on conditioning. We acknowledged that we been working remotely all offseason.

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"So to this juncture, it hasn't been a lot of football. It's been a lot of teaching, a lot of conditioning, and things of that nature for those reasons."

Those first steps as players return are essential, though. Tomlin and the coaching staff are getting to teach their newest players in person for the first time in their NFL careers. 

It's a later process than usual, but one with the same steps a typical offseason would now that teams are back in their facilities.

"The working we're doing right now in person is obviously very different than the virtual work," Tomlin said. "The physical cues that you pick up as you communicate with people when you're in the same space; the body language, there's more opportunity for feedback, for the players to express understanding, to get further clarification. For you, as a teacher, to feel them and get a sense of their overall intake. We're working in a very different environment. There's a sense of urgency because of the challenges and the circumstances that presented, and we're just pushing our way through that."

As of now, Tomlin is impressed with what his rookies have shown at Heinz Field. 

"I feel good about the level of physical conditioning that I've witnessed thus far," he said. "In terms of the mental readiness, it just hasn't been a lot of opportunities to display that in this juncture. We're not breaking the huddle and playing football and executing assignments. Often times a guy can articulate what it is you taught him, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he can execute. So we've observing judgment in terms of some of those things until we get an opportunity to watch them execute a lot of the things that we've instructed. Not only this week but even dating back to the very beginnings of this process that we've started virtually."

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.