PITTSBURGH — Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says he believes the “day is coming” when NFL teams can resume face-to-face instruction, but he doesn’t know when that day will be.
And in the spirit of “competitive fairness,” he believes all facilities should reopen at the same time, even as some states’ loosening of restrictions could theoretically allow certain facilities to open earlier than others.
“I prescribe to the approach of competitive fairness within our game, and that is everybody gets an opportunity,” Tomlin said in a conference call with reporters Saturday. “Our game is extremely competitive. It’s one of the things that make football at this level so attractive to our fans. I’m committed to preserving and protecting that, and so all teams getting an opportunity to start on the same footing is a core element of that.”
The NFL recently sent a memo to all 32 teams that laid out protocols for the gradual reopening of team facilities. The league wants teams to be ready to implement the first phase of that plan by May 15.
In the memo obtained by ESPN, there was no mention of the NFL policy that previously stipulated no facilities may reopen unless all 32 facilities were eligible to do so.
“There’s a couple of things that we’re committed to adhering to, and that’s the global approach of the National Football League in regards to football ops and how important competitive fairness is in our game,” Tomlin said. “We all got to get started on the same footing in that regard. Then, also, respecting our local government and the guidelines they prescribe individually in terms of workplace safety.
“Those are the two key components for us. We’re in a wait-and-see mindset, and we’ll be ready to go when both boxes are checked.”
The first group allowed back into team facilities would include no more than 50% of non-player staff and up to 75 people per day. The only players allowed to return would be those rehabilitating injuries before the closures.
The second phase of reopening would allow for players to return, according to the memo, but it is unclear whether they would be allowed to practice on the field.
Both masks and social distancing of at least 6 feet will be required for all employees in the facilities, and gloves are highly recommended, according to the memo.
The Steelers held virtual rookie minicamp this weekend, assembling their draft class and undrafted free agents in online classrooms beginning Friday for team and position-group instruction.
“The evaluation of their ability to absorb information, their retention of the information is probably the most significant difference from working in this setting,” Tomlin said. “It’s much more difficult to get the feedback, to get a feel if somebody is receiving the information when you’re working remotely than it is when you’re dealing with somebody in an intimate space. It’s not about the material or the amount of material that we can give; it’s about the tools of evaluating what they learn, how they learn and reinforcing what we give them is the most challenging element of the circumstances.”
The first phase of the virtual offseason is set to conclude May 15. Teams can resume on May 18 and continue through June 26.