Get ready for the real 'dog days' of summer.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their OTA sessions, the focus then turns to the team's mandatory minicamp that will take place next Tuesday and will last three full days. It is after minicamp wraps up that the NFL season hits the brakes and comes to a screeching halt.
After minicamp breaks there are no organized team activities until the team reports to training camp July 25 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
Before fans start to dread those long days until the Steelers return to business, there is still plenty to look forward to at next week's minicamp.
- All players are expected to be present. This will be most beneficial for the Steelers' secondary where Troy Polamalu is expected to return to town and work with newly acquired safety Mike Mitchell for the first time, but it will also mean veteran Ike Taylor will report and round out the secondary. For Mitchell, it will be his first time working with Polamalu, and as Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, Mitchell is ready for their first meeting, "It's really hard to get to know a guy from phone conversations and text messages, so I look forward to seeing him in person and seeing how he works. I'm in my playbook every night studying my butt off so when he gets here we'll both know the defense."
- The youngsters will still have a chance to show the coaching staff what they are capable of doing. We all know that Ryan Shazier has been inserted into the starting lineup since day one, but how will other players like Stephon Tuitt and Dri Archer do as the intensity gets cranked up by the coaching staff? Also, this will be Jordan Zumwalt's first appearance since rookie minicamp, and to see how he adapts to the Steelers' system and the NFL will be worth watching.
- Position battles will continue to develop. Although they won't be as intense as training camp, position battles like the one going on at the wide receiver position are worth noting. With the Steelers possibly keeping five receivers on their 53 man roster, the battle for those spots will be one of the more competitive on the team. Who works with the starters, who impresses and who disappoints at minicamp will be a glimpse of the possible results at who makes the team and who doesn't.
- With such youth and speed inserted into the lineup, wrinkles that both coordinators Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau might deploy will be exciting to see and hear about. LeBeau has already had Ryan Shazier lining up across All Pro wideout Antonio Brown, and Haley has been using Dri Archer as his own personal weapon in the offense. These variations will show how vanilla the schemes will have to be with such young players, or how dynamic they will be as young NFL players still get accustomed to the pro game.
- Ongoing contract negotiations. Stephon Tuitt is the last rookie to put his John Hancock on a Steelers' contract, but he isn't the only player who will be thinking about contracts. Cornerback Cortez Allen, quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger and outside linebacker Jason Worilds are all hoping for new deals. Whether those deals get done before the season is doubtful at best, but worth watching.
Enjoy minicamp, it will be the last Steelers football you'll see for a while. Welcome to the 'dog days' of summer.