Do Steelers OTA’s Reveal Mike Tomlin Developing a Soft Spot for Rookies?

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin detests anointing rookies. It’s just not his thing. Tomlin is of the firm belief that rookies must earn their stripes in the NFL.

  • Just how far will Tomlin go to make that point?

Back during the 2010 training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a rookie sensation. Word was that he was clearly out playing the incumbent starter, a Super Bowl XLIII starting veteran to whom the Steelers had signed to a 4 year contract just 10 months before.

  • That meant little to Tomlin.

To avoid anointing the ascending rookie, Tomlin developed a pre-season starting rotation that included Johanthan Scott “competing” with Flozell Adams for the starting right tackle position. You might remember the rookie in question, his name was Maurkice Pouncey, who went on to not only oust the starter Justin Hartwig, but he pushed him off the roster entirely.

As Steelers Digest Bob Labriola pointed out at the time, Flozell Adams was never in danger of not getting the starting job, but Tomlin didn’t want to leave any appearance that Pouncey was being handed the job.

The Times Are They a Chang’in? 

Fast forward to 2014. The Steelers shock all of the pundits in the 2014 NFL Draft by selecting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier with their first round pick. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger will have to wait 4 rounds to get his tall receiver, and fans will have to wait longer to get their corner.

  • Yet, some things go according to plan, as Tomlin declared regarding Shaizer and 2nd round pick Stephon Tuitt:  “It’s [starting] not something that’s going to be given to them, They’ll be given an opportunity to earn it.”

Of course a coach is supposed to say that on draft day. But watch what coaches do, not what they say. Almost as soon as the Steelers drafted David DeCastro in 2012, then offensive line coach Sean Kugler was on the phone to Willie Colon, informing him that the oft rumored move from tackle to guard was happening.

  • Steelers OTA’s are in full swing, and Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin didn’t wait a single snap to replace Vince Williams with Ryan Shazier in the first team defense.

The move itself has little more than symbolic value at this point. OTA’s are, as Tomlin loves to preach, “football in shorts.” Perhaps this is linebacker’s coach Keith Butler’s way of introducing the playbook to Shazier via baptism by fire. Perhaps come training camp at St. Vincient’s in Latrobe, Shazier will indeed be forced to win the starting role in the trenches.

But for now it’s a change of tune if not in fact a change in song on the part of Mike Tomlin….

…And for those of you who’re into reading things into “Football in shorts,” Shaizer closed the loop on this story by knocking down Pouncey during OTA’s.

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