Tomlin warily eyes 2020 season
The Associated Press
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are united heading into the 2020 season. Yet even with every member of his team opting to play this fall, that doesn’t mean Mike Tomlin is certain his club — or the NFL at large — will be able to navigate without any complications the next five months in the middle of a pandemic.
Asked on Thursday about his confidence level in the league avoiding what’s happened to Major League Baseball — which now has enacted stricter measures designed to stem the spread of COVID-19 — the NFL’s third-longest tenured head coach offered a blunt assessment.
“I don’t know that I’m extremely confident,” Tomlin said. “I respect the challenges that these circumstances have presented to other leagues, some of which we’re witnessing. I think we’re all proceeding with caution and working extremely hard not to become part of that. … We’re working our tails off to adhere to it and hoping that is enough, coupled with, obviously, personal decision making that needs to be exhibited continually by our guys throughout the course of this.”
Tomlin is hoping to lead by example. The coach who has regularly espoused the sanctity of training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania is getting creative in dealing with the safety guidelines set out by the NFL. On Thursday, that included holding a team meeting where he addressed the veterans in person as rookies and assistant coaches watched remotely while scattered about Heinz Field.
Yeah, it’s weird. But as Tomlin is quick to point out, it’s weird for everyone, not just the Steelers. His message to his team during the shutdown that forced the NFL to turn all of its normal offseason activities virtual has been “control what you can control.” That included making sure they took care of their bodies in the interim. The early returns have been promising.
“We acknowledged that (arriving out of shape) was the JELL-O that we couldn’t get back in the box, if you will … because it takes 12 weeks to have any real metabolic changes,” Tomlin said. “We’re all aware of that. That created the anxiety of working remotely in the offseason. So far, so good.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger came in lighter than in well over a decade. Just as importantly, his surgically repaired right elbow appears to be just fine.
“His velocity is excellent,” Tomlin said of his 38-year-old star. “Maybe his spiral could be a little tighter. I’ve seen it tighter but nothing to alarm you in any way.”
The Steelers are still a couple of weeks away from putting on pads. The roster will certainly be in a bit of flux going forward, though Tomlin expects the rush to sign players will be more like a trickle given the current climate.
“As the COVID environment is changing daily, I would imagine so is our information and even our policy,” Tomlin said. “The things that we are working under today may not be the things that we are working under as we push into the season. But that is the circumstance today and that is why you have to be thoughtful about forecasting where you need to fortify your depth and so forth. Because it will take a few days and an effort to get thoughts or plans into action in regard to the acquisition of players.”
Final totals in
A total of 66 players have opted out of the 2020 NFL season due to the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half of them linemen.
Twenty offensive linemen and 11 on defense opted out before Thursday’s deadline. Players with a medical opt out will receive a $350,000 stipend, while those voluntarily opting out receive $150,000 as an advance against future salaries.
No team has come close to New England in losing players for the upcoming season, which begins Sept. 10 with Houston at Super Bowl champion Kansas City. The Patriots, already minus several stars who left in free agency — including, of course, Tom Brady to Tampa Bay — saw eight opt outs: running back Brandon Bolden, offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, safety Patrick Chung, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, tight end Matt LaCosse, wide receiver Marqise Lee, offensive lineman Najee Toran and fullback Dan Vitale. Hightower, Cannon and Chung were key contributors in recent seasons.
Cleveland was next with five players skipping the season: defensive tackle Andrew Billings, tackle Drake Dorbeck and guards Drew Forbes, Colby Gossett and Malcolm Pridgeon.
Only three teams had no one opting out: the Steelers, Falcons and Chargers.
“Those are not easy decisions to make as a player, especially when you love the game,” said Broncos safety Justin Simmons, who will play this season. “But family will always come first.”