By Jeremy Hritz
It’s a great day to be alive as a Steelers fan, am I right? Training camp rolls on, and the first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys is under a week away. Life is good.
News and nuggets continue to fly out of camp, and in today’s Study Notes, I try and give an overall update of camp as of July 30th. Lots of players making noise and showing out in a positive fashion, increasing the optimism that has existed since the draft back in April.
Let’s get started.
TJ Extension Close?
TJ Watt has yet to practice in training camp, and should we be worried? The straightforward answer is no. The Steelers opened camp early this year because of the Hall of Fame Game, and there is plentiful time for Watt to prepare and get into game condition prior to the season opener against Buffalo. Additionally, Watt and the Steelers are in negotiations to finalize a mega-deal for the elite outside linebacker, and the last thing he wants to do, and the organization wants to do, is expose him to the risk of a nonsensical injury in the opening, trivial days of training camp. I am forecasting this deal will be finalized sometime by the end of next weekend.
Dwayne Doing His Job
Speaking of optimism, since signing Dwayne Haskins in the offseason, fans have been eager to see what he can do in a Steelers uniform, and the first few days of camp have been promising for the third-year signal caller. While it is still very early, and he has yet to take a snap in a preseason game for the team, he has connected on some big throws, demonstrated more mobility in the pocket than expected, and tossed a few touchdown passes, including hitting rookie Rico Bussey after exploiting a busted coverage for a score, to close out practice on Thursday. If Haskins can sustain this type of play, the 3rd QB spot is a lock, and Joshua Dobbs will become a footnote in Steelers history.
Speaking of Bussey…
Bussey has been having a nice camp early on for an undrafted rookie free agent out of Hawaii. Yesterday, Bussey was on the successful receiving end of two long passes from both Haskins and Dobbs, and also brought in a pass that bounced around before being secured, demonstrating his ability to focus in on the football. Can he make the roster? It’s going to be highly difficult with the depth that exists in the wide receiver room; however, if he can continue to make big plays and show up in the preseason games, he will give the Steelers a problem they will be happy to have. You can find the study I did of Bussey back in the spring HERE.
Harvin and Berry Even
The competition between Pressley Harvin and Jordan Berry is underway in camp, and while Harvin has nailed some boomers drawing the comparison to Ray Gay by Mike Tomlin, the reports surfacing are that Berry has been the more consistent of the two. If this persists, you have to wonder if the Steelers would bet on the potential and the powerful leg of Harvin over Berry and commit to developing him, as opposed to sticking with Berry who has been average at best during his career.
Pickin’ On Norwood
Tre Norwood, rookie safety out of Oklahoma, had two interceptions on Thursday, returning one for a score. Great production to see from the 7th round pick this early in camp.
Offensive Line Uncertainty Continues
The offensive line, the position with the most questions prior to training camp, continues to be an enigma, as injuries plague the unit, and the projected starting lineup has yet to take a snap together. While still early, if there is a position where the Steelers need to see growth, it is the offensive line. While the depth is getting action which is good for experience and cohesion, the team needs to get Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner back on the field for reps. Also worth noting, Kevin Doston was back participating in practice yesterday lightly, but he was running with the second team. Is this normal protocol when returning from injury? Or, could this be pointing to the report from earlier this offseason that the coaches were dissatisfied with his conditioning?
Stephen Denmark, a length cornerback had a nice showing in Thursday’s practice. Mark Gilbert, one of the UDRFA CBs, continues to get reps ahead of Shakur Brown, and while he has had his downs, he has also made a few plays as well. Dan Moore, Jr. has underperformed early on and has been dominated by Alex Highsmith on multiple occasions. Mason Rudolph drew the ire of Tomlin yesterday when he threw short of the goalline with no time remaining. Situational football that Tomlin expects a veteran like Rudolph to understand.
Steelers Weekend Schedule
Friday, July 30th – Friday Night Lights Practice @ Heinz Field, 5:00 PM
Saturday, July 31st – Steelers Fest @ Heinz Field, 1:30 PM
Sunday, August 1st – NO PRACTICE
What’s Ahead on the Steel Study?
Be on the lookout for Study Sessions through the weekend, a new podcast on Saturday, and more coverage of training camp. Next week, I will have extensive coverage of the first preseason game against the Cowboys, so stay tuned!