Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is calling the fray, fracases and flat-out brawls that seem to be happening within his team's training camp sessions "spirited."
It didn't seem to be as "spirited" last season. And I'm not referring to training camp.
That edge, that nastiness of a team, really starts with the offensive line. The defensive secondary fights back in their own way by bullying the receivers. Not that anyone is looking for a knock-down, drag-out fight, but they aren't afraid of getting into one, either. A team that's already blocking and hitting past the point of comfort is a team ready to knock heads on Sundays.
Don't underestimate the power of training camp brawls. For the most part, it's nothing more than clutch-and-shove between two guys before it's joined by most of everyone else with the coaches screaming for everyone to cool off.
People are upset afterward, but that level of intensity just increased. Everyone's focus is united. Large, hyper-competitive men were just challenged by the same guys fighting to prevent them from being successful.
And the coaches know they have their active attention. They can continue to push the players harder, they can let the emotion simmer a bit or they can enforce discipline, while quietly hiding the fact they probably enjoy what they just saw.
Veterans oftentimes mix it up with younger guys if practice isn't going the way they feel it should. Coaches know it's coming, much like referees in hockey, they see the enforcers squaring each other up. They aren't going to stop it until it's already been released. Rookie CB Andre Freeman and WR Derrick Williams mixed it up yesterday, and moments after it broke out, the veteran money players CB Ike Taylor and WR Antonio Brown got into it.
Maybe Brown was tired of Taylor jaw-jacking, but it's probably more because Taylor is used to mixing it up at the drop of a helmet after eight training camps with Hines Ward - a chief instigator both in camp and on Sundays.
The brawl vents emotion brought on by the level of competition, the heat and the simple concept of familiarity breeding contempt. These players are away from home, sleeping in uncomfortable beds after grueling physical and mental workouts, and they're tired of seeing the other guys across from them.
Sometimes, they just want to hit each other in a new way. And a little past the whistle, just to show the other one he got owned. It shows intensity, even if it boils over the side a bit.
The coaches can use it to their advantage, and if they do, we could be seeing the makings of one of the more competitive and feisty Steelers teams in a while.