As the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers had their first day of practice for training camp at St. Vincent College on Wednesday, we were also graced with a media session from head coach Mike Tomlin. For that reason, it is the glorious return of the “players mentioned” article after a nearly 6-week absence since minicamp in June. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period, although there were two key players mentioned in the opening statement. For that reason, those players will be included.
One of the big questions coming into training camp this season was if Diontae Johnson would participate in practice as he is hoping to get a new contract. Coach Tomlin was asked if Johnson not doing any of the team stuff on Wednesday is of concern on the first day of camp.
“Absolutely not. You guys know me. I acknowledge that he was less than 100% participant, and we’ll continue to manage the circumstance. But right now, my energy and focus is on those that are participating. And I think that’s the appropriate mindset to have. From time to time, you get in a setting like this. You manage situations, circumstances, and people, but largely my energy is devoted to those that are working in the larger body, and that’s where I’m at with it.”
Coach Tomlin was as a follow-up question if it was something that was his decision for Johnson not to participate.
“It was not, no.”
With the Steelers announcing Minkah Fitzpatrick is dealing with a non-football injury, his absence will create an opportunity for others to get playing time. Coach Tomlin was asked what he saw from Damontae Kazee who is on the field in place of Fitzpatrick.
“Just as you’ve said, this is the first practice wearing helmets. He is a veteran, he’s a ‘been there, done that’ guy and I’m appreciative of that. That’s why we went out and acquired him, but not a lot happened today on that front.”
Myles Jack, Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, & Mark Robinson
I think this is a record. Although three players were mentioned in the question, Coach Tomlin referenced another six players for a total of nine in one answer. Coach Tomlin was asked about the rotation at inside linebacker with Myles Jack, Devin Bush, and Robert Spillane and if it’s something that would stretch into the season. In his response, Coach Tomlin brought up additional linebackers Buddy Johnson and Mark Robinson as well as cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, Cam Sutton, and James Pierre.
“I am into those things, and oftentimes we do this to largely give everybody the opportunity to be ready and to show what they’re capable of and to divide the labor up. And so, when we have a lot of guys at a position, sometimes we’ll work a pair and a spare in the first group in an effort to see more guys, like Buddy Johnson, for instance. We do it at corner, with [Ahkello] Witherspoon, Levi [Wallace] and [Cam] Sutton. We work those guys exclusively in group one so that you get more of an opportunity to see JP [James Pierre] in group two. It’s not necessarily about the three guys that are working in group one, sometimes you’re just thinning the herd to make sure that the guys in the second and third group aren’t sharing reps. Because they got a lot to learn and a lot to show us and the more opportunities that they get are significant. And so I think it probably represents that...him working with that first group, we have exposure to him. We know what he’s capable of, and those others that you mentioned more than anything, it thins the herd so Buddy Johnson, Mark Robinson and guys like that can learn and show what they’re capable of.”
In a follow up to the previous question about rotating players in training camp, and the interior offensive line came up as well. Coach Tomlin was asked if he is taking the same approach at left guard with Kevin Dotson and other players.
“Exactly, you can apply that analogy to many positions.”
One player who has turned a lot of heads this offseason with his body development is tight end Zach Gentry. Coach Tomlin was asked if Gentry is coming along developmentally and physically in a way to tinker with him a little bit more at tight end this year.
“We’ve been in that mode.”
Mike Tomlin’s media session can be seen HERE on the Steelers YouTube channel.