James Conner answered a question about the reluctant position for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His words, however, spoke of a big-picture goal for the 2020 season.
“We have to start fast,” Conner said last week on a video call with journalists. “We have to be ready at all times. We can’t warm it up. That’s our slogan. That’s what we’ve said: We can’t warm it up. ”
No doubt the Steelers warmed to it in each of the last two seasons, and these slow starts helped them miss the playoffs in back-to-back years. On the heels after a 1
Although the Steelers rebound both years and controlled their playoff fate until a late-season slide, if they had won multiple games in September, they might have weathered those December losses.
One way to avoid a repeat this season would be to start getting more repetitions in high season, training camp and pre-season. But in a year when the coronavirus pandemic has already eliminated on-site team training and with the possibility of training camp and preseason being delayed or shortened, how can the Steelers get such preparation?
It’s a question that hovers all over the NFL as the end of virtual organized team activities approaches.
“My only real concern is chemistry,” said All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is in his first offseasons with the Steelers. “This time right now is the time when we would spend a lot of time with teammates, not only in the dressing room but outside the dressing room.
“You learn about each other and life outside of football. During the season it is a little difficult to do that because you see each other 12 hours out of the day and when you go home you do not want to see them again. It’s big, but we can find a way to make it happen. ”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell cleared the way for coaches to return to team facilities Friday. Until players make the gap to join them, all contact is limited to film study and playbook analysis via video conferencing. It is possible players are not allowed in the team facilities until the training camp begins sometime in July.
“I prepare as if we were going back and getting on with things, as if we were going to a regular camp schedule and a regular pre-season plan,” Fitzpatrick said. “That would be the hardest thing (physically), so I will prepare for that. If they cut the pre-season in half or pushed it back a few weeks, I’m prepared. ”
For Steelers players who haven’t seen the inside of the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex since the day after the late December loss in Baltimore, the chance to return to their home from home may not come here soon enough.
“I’m super ready,” cornerback Steve Nelson said. “I just had the itch to get back there on the field. I don’t care if it is flagged football right now. There is no better feeling than going out with your guys and competing against other teams and similar things to undergo drills.
“The tough camp days build character. It builds struggle. It builds a lot of things – not just the football part. ”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in his recovery from right elbow surgery, has worked with some of the skill players who have returned to the Pittsburgh area. However, it is more difficult for defensive players to get the type of group that coaches needed to prepare for a season.
“Zoom meetings will only take you so far,” Nelson said. “As a veteran, I try to find ways to fight it as best I can.”
Working to the Steelers’ advantage, the locker room is packed with veterans. Unlike last year, when Devin Bush inside linebacker was drafted at No. 10 overall, no rookie starts are expected immediately. By offense, the Steelers will have new faces in a trio of free agents: guard Stefen Wisniewski, heelback Derek Watt and tight end Eric Ebron. In defense, every starter turns with the exception of the nose.
“Other teams have half their guards gone,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re lucky not to have it. I think it will give us an advantage. ”
Sports | Steelers / NFL