Steel Study Sunday Steelers Wrap-Up: Mason in 2022, Malik Makes Them Wait, and Reflections on OTAs

By Jeremy Hritz 

OTAs wrapped up this week, and the Steelers now set their sights on next week’s mandatory minicamp scheduled from June 15th through the 17th. This will be the first opportunity we get to see the entire 2021 squad together on the field, and we get one step closer to training camp on July 21st. In reflecting back on this week, here is a review of Steelers news and thoughts.

Mason the Starter in 2022?

Mason Rudolph made it very clear he wants to stay in Pittsburgh, and he wants to be the starter post Big Ben-era. This drew some criticism from the fan base, as the consensus seems to be this is a bad decision. However, we should to keep in mind that Rudolph has shown growth and progress during his tenure with the Steelers, and with an additional year of experience, he may be prepared to take the reins in 2022. Will he be an elite QB? Highly doubtful. But he is capable to leading the team to a winning record and making it into the postseason. What he can do from there remains to be seen. With the offensive talent on this team in 2022, Rudolph can be more than serviceable at the position, and his one-year extension says all you need to know about how the Steelers perceive his future. What could be the wrench in these plans? The emergence of Dwayne Haskins

Juju: Big Ben Is “My Quarterback”

Juju Smith-Schuster spoke to the media this week and harkened back to Tony Romo/Terrell Owens days when he called Roethlisberger “my quarterback,” and one of the primary reasons he wanted to return. On a one-year deal, Juju understands the importance of this season and for producing big numbers so he can capitalize on the massive increase in the salary cap coming in 2022. While Juju says he is open to returning to the Steelers, he will likely get a more lucrative offer somewhere else and be overpaid. More importantly, the Steelers would have to want him to return. The development and growth of Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, or even James Washington, who will be a free agent as well, could push the Steelers in another direction. 

Malik Hooker Does Not Sign

Former Colts safety and Pittsburgh native, Malik Hooker, left without a contract, and has said that he will wait until closer to training camp until he signs with a team. Hooker also indicated team fit is very important to him, as he believes his deal will be in the territory of the one-year, prove-it variety. While the Steelers could use depth at this position, I do believe they need to prioritize a stable veteran at outside linebacker to serve as the number 3 in the rotation. However, in reading between the lines, the pursuit of Hooker may indicate the Steelers are not satisfied with their safety depth.

Le’Veon Bell Bashes Andy Reid

In typical Le’Veon Bell fashion, he was quoted as saying he would never play for Andy Reid again and that he’d retire first before doing so. This continues his rash of pointing the finger at the teams and management he has played for, instead of pointing the finger at himself, for the precipitous fall of his career following the departure from the Steelers. Pittsburgh deserves credit with the Bell situation for recognizing that his trajectory was on the downward arc and cutting bait without investing money in which there would not be a return. It’s easy to forget this decision, but further evidence shows that the Steelers are insightful and intelligent in their business decisions.

Random Steelers Thoughts and Reflections From the Week

It’s easy to be lulled into believing this year’s version of the Steelers will be a playoff-bound team due to the optimism of the players that is being highlighted in the media. We have to temper that enthusiasm with the understanding that there are still several unanswered questions that if are not satisfactorily answered could result in a less-than-desirable year…

Big Ben is saying all of the right things and showing all of the right things in OTAs, and he appears to be approaching this season very much in the moment. Does he know, for a fact, that this truly is his last season, and this is the reason for his immersion in the experience?…

Speaking of Steelers QBs, the team is only one injury away from the start of the Rudolph era, and two injuries away from possibly the Haskins era. Crazy right?…

I’m interested in seeing what influence Najee Harris has on the other running backs on the team. In other words, how does the chemistry amongst the backs develop, how are the other carries distributed, and who will offer the most effective change of pace? If Harris is who believe he is, there’s a very good chance he elevates the entire group…

After a few weeks to chew on the schedule, I have the Steelers finishing 10-7, as the schedule is simply brutal; however, if they can land a game or two against one of the contenders they will play, they are capable of winning 11-12 games. While their record may be worse this year than 2020, they can still be a better team…

I can’t emphasize enough the impact that injuries have on teams and their success, which is why I believe depth at OLB is needed. The Steelers need to have a healthy season at their key positions to stay in contention, as we have seen how injuries to star players, can damage chances…

I haven’t heard much out of OTAs about the UDRFAs, but I’d love to hear an update on Calvin Bundage, as he has a unique skill set with experience at both ILB and OLB; hopefully, we get some information on these underdogs this week in minicamp.

That is all for this week, Studians! Remember, Mandatory Minicamp begins on Tuesday, and we are getting ever so close to training camp! Thank you for following The Steel Study! We truly are grateful! 

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