Lionizing the Steelers: Training Camp 2016

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

You’ve probably read by now that the Steelers will engage in joint practices with the Detroit Lions prior to their pre-season game on August 12th.

I think this is a great idea. It is surely more fun for the players to have an actual opponent. Admittedly, some of the players are pretty good at making their teammates into opponents, as the frequent training camp fights between Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor attested. But it must be more satisfying to best someone you don’t have to see the in the locker room every day.

Not everyone is a fan. The Detroit Press reported after the announcement:

While Lions coach Jim Caldwell appeared lukewarm to holding joint practices in the past — he dismissed the possibility of doing so last summer when asked at rookie minicamp — new general manager Bob Quinn comes from an organization, the New England Patriots, that routinely practiced with opposing teams during camp.

The Patriots have held practices with another team every year since 2012 and are scheduled to practice with the Chicago Bears this summer.

The Lions last held joint practices in 2000.

Given the overall results since 2001 of the Lions (78-162, two playoff appearances, both of which resulted in a loss in the wild card round,)  and the Patriots (182-54, made playoffs 13 of 15 years, six Super Bowl appearances, four wins,) I think the smart money says to listen to the new general manager. And happily, they did.

I had the pleasure of watching the joint Steelers/Bills practices in 2014 in the company of the peerless Ivan Cole. We would come back from camp exhausted and put together a sort of dual stream-of-consciousness narrative for Behind the Steel Curtain. Here’s a sample:

Long before practice officially began, the two teams began running warm-up drills on separate fields. We could smell blood in the air, though, as the players sniffed at the cage bars from time to time. However, the advent of the strength and conditioning drills calmed the flames, as the mind-numbing dullness of them got the players back to a point where they could consider putting them on the same field…

If you’ve ever been to training camp at St. Vincent College, forget everything you’ve ever learned. This was on a completely different order of magnitude. The difference is between eavesdropping on a practice and being in close quarters to a war zone. A hundred and eighty angry young men on one football field, with double the coaches, is an almost unimaginable sight to behold. The screaming, the cursing, the anguished cries of their women—and we haven’t even gotten to the actual hitting.

Every drill took on a seriousness that was beyond what you normally expect in Latrobe. In fact, even the preparations for the drills which took place wore a much more serious aspect. The drills themselves were pretty much the standard drills we see every practice. But the intensity with which they were run could not possibly be reproduced in an ordinary practice environment. This idea is pure genius.

If this doesn’t make you want to drop everything and book your trip to Latrobe, I can’t imagine why you’re still watching football. And the real genius of this idea is, neither the Bills nor the Lions are traditional foes of the Steelers. This being the case, I would think that despite the intense atmosphere in which the practices take place, it’s unlikely injuries will occur due to malice aforethought, or at least more so than the danger which always lurks beneath the surface.

On the other hand, can you imagine what it would be like were, say, the Bengals to be the opponent? I’m guessing few would be left unharmed, even as the coaches stood by impotently wringing their hands.

As you have probably worked out by now, this isn’t so much a commentary as an attempt to get you prepared for the first ever meet-up for this site. Ivan will be there. I will be there. How about you?

More details will follow closer to the actual event. 

 

 

 

3 comments

  • Love the idea of joint practices. Who wouldn’t? Gives each team a chance to go up against new opponents in a fairly controlled environment.

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  • Couldn’t agree more concerning the difference of a joint practice. Under normal practice conditions there is a buffering effect of knowing that beyond the very serious business of professional survival that you are in company of people who . are collectively in pursuit of the same goal. This is what made the Antonio Brown/Ike Taylor battles so amusing and alarming. They would have these moments of amnesia where they seemed to forget that they were teammates, get into a brush war and draw entire position groups into the fray before cooler heads would prevail.

    In joint practices there exists little beyond the relatively etheric notion of the NFL Brotherhood or the realpolitik of mutually assured destruction that might discourage any posture short of all out war. The number of participants is doubled, the testosterone levels are off the charts. The tone of the coaches is noticeably more hostile. In intra-team competition there is a win/win aspect to things. Your failure is the success of a teammate. This is more win/lose. Plus there is issue of turf. You’ve come to my house to show me up in front of my family and friends? Not just no. Hell no!

    One of the more interesting moments in the joint effort with Buffalo came on the second day. Things had gotten rather chippy the first day, and Mike Tomlin was on the far practice field where the Steelers defense and Bills offense were going at it. Given the culture of the Steelers defense this would seem to be a wise move, as there might be a real potential for atrocities being committed. However, there was no accounting for Cody Wallace, a disciple of the Conrad Dobler (a real sweetheart of a guy) school of offensive line play. Whatever Dr. Wallace did inspired the entire Buffalo defense to charge the field en mass. Order might have been quickly restored if it were not for the determined efforts of Brown, a disciple of the Hines Ward school of peaceful coexistence to take a firestorm and ramp it up to nuclear. This was beyond entertaining.

    At this point it would be difficult to overstate the possibility of a Bengals/Steelers (or, God forbid, a Ravens/Steelers) joint practice throwing civilization back to some pre-Stoneage condition. Let us just focus for the moment on Vontaze Burfict. You will recall that it was Burfect who was pancaked and molested by Willie Colon on national television a few years back. An action that seems a lot less over the top given current events. Perhaps it is the lingering effects of this humiliation that motivates his one man crusade to destroy the Steelers. Who knows? Now imagine a joint practice scenario involving Burfict and Dr. Wallace. Or Alejandro Villanueva, who, besides being an exceedingly large man, is, literally, a trained killer (Army Ranger).

    Do you think, if something unfortunate occurred, that there would be jury in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who would convict Villanueva? And how would you control Joey Porter or Mike Munchak? Would Missi Matthews shank someone from the Bengals PR department?

    No AFC North joint practices.

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    • cold_old_steelers_fan

      That Missy “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” Matthews? I could see it, with a sharpened toothbrush into a kidney.

      j/k I like Missy. It has been fun watching her confidence grow over time as she gains experience. As long as she doesn’t let it go to her head (which I haven’t seen yet), she is a fine counterpoint for Labs, Prisuta and Woofley.

      Like

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