Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger won't stop talking about retirement. Running back Le'Veon Bell continues his holdout, while his backup, rookie James Conner is sidelined with a shoulder injury. Injuries are also mounting in the secondary, foiling, at least briefly, the team's plans to fully install a more man-coverage-centric approach to stopping the pass. Receiver Martavis Bryant remains in a holding pattern, while waiting for April's conditional reinstatement to become a full clearance to practice with his team.
But none of that has dampened the Steelers' good vibes this summer.
The team is having fun in training camp, just months after the team saw their 2016 season end on a disappointing note via an AFC Championship loss to the New England Patriots. Though reaching the AFC Championship for a second consecutive season is something certainly on the Steelers' minds, the team has a work-and-play approach, one in which solidarity comes not just from being in a Pittsburgh uniform but enjoying everything that entails.
As is customary around the league, a few Steelers players made grand entrances to training camp this year. Wideout Antonio Brown arrived in a chauffeur-driven vintage 1931 Rolls Royce. Meanwhile, linebacker James Harrison went a little bigger, showing up to the first day of training camp in a fire truck.
Harrison's summer of fun hasn't stopped there, likely as a way to help cure boredom as the 39-year old veteran isn't among the Steelers requiring a heavy dose of practice reps this summer. On Sunday's Family Fest, held in Pittsburgh's home stadium of Heinz Field, he and Roethlisberger opted to swap uniforms, with Harrison hitting the field in Roethlisberger's No. 7 and Roethlisberger in Harrison's 92.
Perhaps it is the potential that the 2017 season could be the last for both Roethlisberger and Harrison. Maybe it's a renewed focus on the history of the franchise, spurred on by the death of Steelers owner and chairman Dan Rooney in April and the presences of Steelers alumni Ike Taylor, Kendall Simmons, Charlie Bath, Alan Faneca and Hines Ward in training camp, with the former three interning with the scouting department and the latter two with the coaching staff.
The contract extension given head coach Mike Tomlin late last week could certainly help with morale, knowing that there is no concern of Tomlin's 2017 being spent anywhere near the hot seat. But whatever the cause, the Steelers are having a much more relaxed time than the goals they want to achieve and challenges they must overcome might indicate.
This "football is fun" approach could be the change in tone they need to carry them to a Super Bowl this season. And even if it isn't, it's certainly a great way for the players to navigate a grueling part of the year.