Lessons from Past Steelers OTA’s – When “Football in Shorts” Does Yield Insights

Phase III of the Steelers 2015 off season workouts begin today, which are officially titled “Organized Team Activites” or just Steelers OTA’s. In the past Mike Tomlin has thrown cold water on drawing conclusions based on OTA’s, calling it “Football in shorts.”

  • And he’s right. There are real limits to what coaches, let alone fans, can learn from “Football in shorts.”

Fans are going to want to assessments on the Steelers 2015 draft class, they’ll progress reports on Bud Dupree, Senquez Golson, Sammie Coates and the rest of the crew. Unless any of those men get injured, there’s unlikely to be any meaningful news or insight on those players coming out of Steelers OTA’s

Yet looking back, past Steelers OTA’s have in fact given fans useful insights about the season to come — as well as plenty of false flags.

Steelers 2014 OTA’s & Minicamp – Shamarko 3rd on Depth Chart, Sean Spence Healthy

During OTA’s In 2014, Steelers Nation learned that Sean Spence had recovered enough to make a run at a roster spot after spending his first two years on IR.

 

Fans also learned that Shamarko Thomas, then going into his second year, was behind Will Allen on the depth chart at safety, something which remained constant through training camp all the way up to the Steelers playoff loss vs. the Ravens.

Steelers 2013 OTA’s & Minicamp – First Look at Le’Veon Bell and Shamarko Thomas

A photo of 2013 minicamp featured reserve cornerback in 2011 3rd round pick Curtis Brown wearing an ice pack, a development that foreshadowed his final summer at St. Vincents. Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review also told us the Le’Veon Bell ran with power, and that Landry Jones struggled passing. He also told us that Shamarko Thomas looked strong in gunner drills, and for whatever question still surround Shamarko as a safety, he’s played well on special teams.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s & Minicamp Polamalu Present, Wallace AWOL

In 2012 the big news out of Steelers OTA’s and minicamp was who was there – and who wasn’t. Following the departure of veterans like Aaron Smith and James Farrior, Troy Polamalu made a point of attending OTA’s to add leadership. However, Mike Wallace was absent, signaling his hold out. 2012’s OTA’s also featured the introduction of Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense to Todd Haley’s system, and Ben’s admonition to the rest of his players to “not get frustrated” again signaled things to come.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s were also when we learned that Todd Haley had “officially” restored the fullback position to the Steelers offense, as David Johnson would make the switch.

Yet, Steelers OTA’s in 2012’s and mini-camp also contained their share of false flags, as Dale Lolley reported how strong rookie 5th round pick Chris Rainey looked while adding that Baron Batch looked fully recovered from his ACL tear. Rainey disappointed on the field before disappointing off the field, while Batch was never the same.

The other big “News” of 2012 OTA’s was Kordell Stewart’s decision to “retire” as a Steeler.

Steelers 2010 OTA’s & Minicamp the Roethlisberger Suspension

There were no OTA’s or mini-camp in 2011 thanks to the NFLPA’s lockout. In 2010 there wasn’t a lot of “news” out of OTA’s and/or minicamp as Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension dominated coverage, although word was rookie Jonathan Dwyer looked strong. The big insight came from Dale Lolley, who signaled Kraig Urbik’s rise on the depth chart (which the Steelers unfortunately could not take advantage of.)

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp 2009 – Hill’s Demise, Mundy’s Rise Foreshadowed

The Steelers 2009 OTA’s and minicamps provided Steelers Nation with a mix and match of insight and false flags. Max Starks was absent and, tellingly, second year man Tony Hills did not take his place. Ryan Mundy also got extensive work, foreshadowing the Steelers efforts to groom Mundy as a future starter. (he never got there in Pittsburgh, but Ryan Mundy’s put up decent numbers in New York and better numbers in Chicago.)

However, Dale Lolley also opined that the 2009 Steelers showed a fire missing in 2006, an observation which ultimately did not carry over into the regular season.

Steelers 2008 OTA’s & Minicamp – Mike Tomlin Cautions Against “Football in Shorts”

Steelers OTA’s in 2008 provided Mike Tomlin’s “football in shorts” comment when asked about the development of Dallas Baker. The spring practice sessions also revealed that Anthony Smith still hadn’t learned anything, as evidenced by an over the top display following an interception. Dale Lolley, again offered some solid insight on the rise of Darnell Stapleton, who would start for the Steelers following Kendall Simmons’s injury vs. Baltimore that coming fall.

Also, it was Lolley who gave Mewelde Moore some of the love that the rest of the press covering the Steelers missed – and this is something that Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower missed when it critiqued the members of the Steelers media for ignoring Moore.

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp – 2007 All Eyes on Faneca and Tomlin

The story in Steelers OTA’s and Mini-camp in 2007 was the Alan Faneca situation. Faneca was decidedly unhappy about not getting a contract extension from the Steelers, and went very public with his grievances.

  • Everyone wanted to see how rookie head coach Mike Tomlin handled the situation, and the record shows he handled it well.

One false flag came from Dale Lolley, who described Dan Sepulaveda’s punting as “awesome” something that didn’t translate to the field of play. He also singled out the Steelers interest in undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Clement, a kid who never made the team, but for some reason was a magnet for search visitors during Steel Curtain Rising’s maiden season.

[Quick note on sources. After 2012 Google is not very helpful in returning meaningful results for the queries “Steelers OTA’s” and/or “Steelers Mini-camp” even when limiting queries by date. Thankfully Dale Lolley has a site index archive that is searchable by date. Kudos to him. He gets the back links, for what they’re worth.]

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