And so it continues! Looking at the players mentioned in Mike Tomlin’s press conferences carries on as the team returned from their second off day since padded practices began. As is usually the case, these players are not always ones Tomlin brought up himself but are specifically players about whom Tomlin was asked questions.
Alex Highsmith & Chase Claypool
With no first-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL draft, the Steelers made two selection on day two with wide receiver Chase Claypool and outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. Coach Tomlin was asked about his two highest-drafted rookies and how they have looked going against more veteran competition.
“To be succinct, they’re proving that they belong. Both guys have kind of distinguished themselves in some JV competition if you will. Over the course of this camp process, they’ve got more opportunity against known veteran guys. And really, they don’t appear to be out of place in that company. So far, so good. As they continue to prove themselves, that will increase and thus the growth process for those two and others. But those two you mentioned specifically are one of the ones I’m thinking about when I’m talking about guys that have had an opportunity to ascend and are taking advantage of it.”
Later on, Coach Tomlin was asked his reaction to a nice catch Claypool had in the end zone.
“All my reactions are thoughtful, and I imagine you know that about me. It’s by design whether it’s positive or negative or constructive or encouraging. I just try to be what they need me to be at any given moment and he’s included in that. I really don’t know what specific play you were talking about because he made a couple of them, which is a good thing.”
Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner & T.J. Watt
The biggest camp battle for the Steelers in the eyes of most people is for the starting right tackle position. For both Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor, this often means going against T.J. Watt in practice. Coach Tomlin was asked about the reps the players receive against Watt, specifically with Banner as Okorafor missed practiced with a groin injury.
“Watt wot a lot of them, but Watt won a lot of them versus Chuks as well. Watt is a handful for one man on NFL playing surfaces. But what a great opportunity for those young right tackles vying for that spot. There’s no guesswork in terms of where they are—in terms of overall global readiness. Watt is one of the very best in the business and they get an opportunity to sharpen their sword against it every day.”
It was a very welcomed sight to see All-Pro guard David DeCastro in pads for the first time in 2020 training camp. Coach Tomlin was asked what it means to have DeCastro back, specifically for the two young guys fighting for the starting job next to him at right tackle.
“They’ve got to stand on their own two. Obviously, DeCastro is a seasoned veteran and the communication and the understanding and things that he brings, but they don’t always have control over who they play beside. I’m more concerned about the quality of their play at their position.”
Speaking to the media before practice, Minkah Fitzpatrick mentioned he expects the Steelers defense to produce even more turnovers and sacks than in 2019. Coach Tomlin was asked about what improvements he would like to see from Fitzpatrick this season.
“Just the cohesion that comes with being a full participant in the developmental process. The skill development. He got on a moving train a year ago, so we’re more concerned about assignments and things of that nature. We had an opportunity to really focus on the skills relative his position. He and I specifically have been talking a lot about tackle selection and the types of tackles that he selects based on circumstance. But Minkah has got a desire to be great. He brings a professional approach to his work every day, and so I’m just excited about having an opportunity to come alongside him and aid him in that process.”
Coach Tomlin was also asked another question about whether or not Fitzpatrick is going to be moved around or kept as more of a “center field” player.
“Minkah is a versatile guy. We’re committed to utilizing all this talents. We’re going to make those decisions based on game planning week-to-week. One of the things that a guy that’s multi-talented like him provides us is big-time versatility and we’re excited about exploring that. But we’re not going to tip our hand.”
Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen here: