Last Tuesday, at the start of OTAs (Organized Team Activities), Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he wasn't impressed with 'football in shorts.' As a fan who never gets to actually watch OTAs (or rookie camp, mini-camp or any "Steelers vs. Teachers" charity basketball games), I agree with Coach and don't really give a hoot what the players are doing when they're not actually wearing pads and smacking other players.
Even if fans were actually able to attend practice sessions such as OTAs, there probably wouldn't be a whole lot to be impressed with. And from a coach's point of view, while there may be things to evaluate, true impressions aren't made until training camp begins--Coach T is probably counting down the days until Latrobe just like the rest of us.
Having said all that, however, football in shorts may not be impressive, but man, it almost always makes news and gets people talking.
Take last year's OTAs, for example. Former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace, a restricted free agent in 2012, initially refused to sign the one year tender sheet the club offered him and, in an attempt to get a contract extension, decided to skip all of the offseason activities, starting with OTAs, and that angered a lot of people--including Tomlin. See, that's the thing about football in shorts, it may not be exciting or impressive, but if a player decides to stay home and watch TV in his underwear, his coach will get angry--it's kind of like your dad telling you to clean your room. Even if you do it well, he won't be impressed, but if you refuse to do it at all, WATCH OUT!
As for the other people who were angry that Wallace decided not to play football in shorts in 2012, most of them were the fans. Like Neal Coolong stated in this article, No. 17 quickly went from a face (best deep threat in the NFL), to a heel (one-trick pony with a lack of focus), even though his contract dispute didn't cause him to miss any regular season games, and he was still rather productive, despite not breaking up every interception thrown in his direction. As far as bad guys go, Wallace really had some 'Macho Man "crushes" Ricky the Dragon Steamboat's wind-pipe' heel heat on him last season, and it all started when he decided to skip OTAs. Generating that kind of hatred simply because he didn't play football in his shorts was quite impressive. But then again, Wallace is a wide receiver, and in Pittsburgh that's like Mr. Perfect, the late, great wrestler from the 80's and 90's, going from face to heel--in other words, it's just a matter of time and more familiar territory.
Speaking of former heel Steeler players, Rashard Mendenhall, the running back who often incited crowds at Heinz Field by using his signature "spin of doom," really cemented his legacy last season by staying home and eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles after being told he would be deactivated for a crucial late-season game against San Diego (I don't know what Mendenhall really had for breakfast on December 9th, 2012, but I can certainly picture him sitting there in his shorts, flipping through the channels on his TV, and saying, "Hey, the Steeler game is on. Cool."). Anyway, once news broke that No. 34 stayed home that day, you would have thought he sold the rights for the Terrible Towel to Rex Ryan. Mendenhall was labeled a "quitter" for not showing up at Heinz Field and standing on the sidelines in his team-issued winter attire. And after signing a deal with the Arizona Cardinals, he'll get to wear shorts year-round.
For many coaches, scouts and GMs, football in shorts may not be very impressive, but despite having years of college game tape at their disposal, so many of them base their draft evaluations on it. Last season, Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe saw his draft stock rise, along with his first professional paycheck, thanks to his display of football in shorts during the 2012 NFL Combine.
Jarvis Jones, the Steelers' latest first round selection, was supposed to be a top five pick in this year's NFL Draft, but he landed in Pittsburgh thanks to his less-than-impressive display of football in shorts during Georgia's pro day in March.
Years of productive pad-popping football in a conference like the SEC is nice and all, but a young prospect could potentially earn an extra million or two with an awesome week of workouts sans football pads at Lucas Oil Stadium in February.
Speaking of millions, with so much money invested in contracts these days, how a player conditions himself year-round is often news-worthy. Last year, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was saddled with injuries for a second straight season, causing fans, the media AND, most notably, an anonymous teammate to question his conditioning and accuse him of being overweight and out of shape.
Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' legendary strong safety, has often had his rather unique and outside the box offseason conditioning program called into question. Polamalu missed nine games a season ago due to a torn calf muscle, and as only Troy can tell it, "Time is not stale," and he continues to evolve his training program as he gets older--including attending OTAs for the second straight season.
What players like Woodley and Polamalu do to prepare this offseason could go a long way towards determining how healthy and productive they are during the regular season.
In conclusion, even though "football in shorts" isn't the most exciting thing in the world--especially for coaches and fans--people certainly are paying attention and taking notes--especially coaches and fans.