Mike Tomlin is an individual who loves to talk. He is a wordsmith who has mastered the art of saying everything, while saying nothing at all. Throughout his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tomlin has developed an ability to talk around questions very few have ever mastered as well as him.
For all of the times Tomlin is able to give answers which seem to come out of right field, there are certain situations throughout the NFL calendar where Tomlin is as predictable as time itself. One of those moments is when the team breaks their mandatory minicamp and players go out on their own before reporting to training camp in late July.
It is during this time when Tomlin’s talk turns to one thing, and one thing only — conditioning.
Tomlin has been doing this long enough to know when players are out on their own, they usually fall into two categories. Those who take care of their bodies and are prepared for the job at hand, and those who don’t take such a meticulous approach and fall behind when camp begins.
In typical Tomlin fashion, he used the media to send a message to his players.
“Now we’ll begin the independent portion of preparation.” Tomlin said after Thursday’s minicamp workout.
“As we get into the offseason, some of the messages that we’ve left these guys with is physical conditioning precedes anything else. It kind of starts there. That’s the one element of it that they can control regardless of their level of experience, or exposure to professional ball, or what we do here. They show up in great shape, they’ll position themselves to perform well. And so that’s some of the messaging that we’ve talked about.”
And there it is.
Every year, the Steelers have players who show up in what they perceive to be great shape only to find out their level of conditioning isn’t nearly what it should be to succeed at the NFL level. This is often why some players take a huge step forward in their second season. Think of players like Le’Veon Bell and James Conner.
When players think of being in the NFL, they often feel as if they need to be as big and strong as possible. While strength is a necessity at the professional level, being able to utilize that strength throughout a four quarter game, and 17-game regular season, is the ultimate test. Hence why Tomlin stresses conditioning every year at this time.
The physical transformations of players hasn’t just been at the running back position though. Tight end Zach Gentry most recently had coaches and fans talking prior to the 2021 season when he came into camp actually looking like an NFL tight end and not a former quarterback. Everyone has been talking about Najee Harris’ ridiculous physique this offseason, and Pat Freiermuth has put in work in the weight room this offseason to build his upper body strength.
Players who have spent a year with Tomlin typically know what is expected, and they also know he would never steer them in the wrong direction. Either way, Tomlin looks back at the spring which is now in the rear view mirror and sees it as a positive.
“It’s been a good spring for us.” Tomlin recalled. “A lot of opportunities to teach and learn. Obviously, the next time we come together in official capacity it’s going to be compete time. And I’m sure we’ll all be excited about that.”
I feel as if I can speak for all Steelers fans when I say July 26th, the date players report to Saint Vincent College for the first time since 2019, can’t come soon enough.