By Jeremy Hritz
Day #1 of Steelers Mandatory Minicamp is complete, and day 2 is upon us. With so many news gems emanating from camp, and more to come over the next few days, we are going to provide a recap of the most significant items shared. Enjoy!
- TJ Arrives, Speaks – TJ Watt was in the flesh at Heinz Field yesterday and spoke to the media on a variety of topics, including being passed over for Defensive Player of the Year, a decline in holding penalties, Alex Highsmith, and a host of others. He was also asked about contract negotiations, and with humility, responded that he would not be publicly discussing this with the media. This is a good move, as it keeps the focus on the season ahead, and it is also no secret that the Steelers WILL break the bank for TJ prior to the upcoming season. Watt also discussed how he is driven to turn some of his big plays–sacks, tackles for loss–into splash plays that result in turnovers or scoop and scores.
- “Go Home, Najee” Confirmed – Running Backs Coach Eddie Faulkner confirmed to the media yesterday that he did tell Najee Harris to go home, the reason being is that Faulkner understands the importance of rest and breaks to avoid overtraining and burnout. Faulkner commented, “With him being the kind of guy he is and so engaged and always after it and always wanting to do drills and always wanting to be developed, sometimes I’m trying to help teach him–sometimes you gotta take a deep breath.”
- THIS IS A DIRECTIVE: RUN THE DAMN BALL!!! Offensive Coordinator spoke of the “directive,” a powerful word, that came down from Mr. Rooney to Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and then to him, that the priority and focus in the 2021 season must be running the football. Canada stated, “we want to be able to run the ball and we have to.” This reinforces the message we have been hearing in OTAs from players about the commitment to the rushing attack and physicality, and it is good to see that continuing at minicamp.
- 3rd OLB Still Unclear – Something I have been adamant about is the need for a tried and true 3rd OLB in the rotation, and while I am optimistic and hopeful for the youth on the team and for Cassius Marsh to elevate, you cannot rely on potential. Both Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler indicated yesterday that the 3rd OLB is not settled, implying they are still in the market for an edge rusher to spell Watt and Highsmith. I’ve been on record about how important the outside backers are to this team, and with an injury to either of them, a solid plan B must be in place.
- Canada Does His Best Randy Fichtner Impersonation – Just playing. However, Canada’s comments yesterday, if not read and interpreted appropriately, can be misconstrued. Canada said, “We’re going to do what Ben wants to do.” While many took this to mean that Ben will serve as the unspoken offensive coordinator, what Canada was communicating is that he is building the offense around Ben’s strengths and what he can do effectively. This is smart and responsive, and why I believe the offense will be much better in 2021. Canada will take this approach with all of the offensive players in 2021, capitalizing on their talents and what they do well, so they can exploit matchups against NFL defenses. No, Canada is not going to be a rerun of the Fichtner show, he is only sharing his offensive philosophy which should be exciting to Steelers Nation.
- Big Ben, Juju Injured? What? – There were many concerned yesterday that Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster were injured in practice, and social media lit up with “sky is falling” brilliance. Tomlin was asked about this in his press conference following practice, and stated “… if I thought something was significant, I would address it with you guys.” You have to wonder if out of an abundance of caution both Ben and Juju are held out of practice today. If that happens, brace yourself for the narratives to come.
This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding day # 1 of minicamp! Check back tomorrow for the highlights from day # 2.