By Jeremy Hritz
The Steelers wrapped up training camp at Heinz Field yesterday, on a rainy Western, PA afternoon, and took one step closer to the conclusion of preseason preparations for week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. Cuts started this week, as the team slightly trimmed their roster from 90 to 85, and will do so again next Tuesday, going from 85 to 80 before dropping all the way down to 53 on August 31st, 12 days prior to their regular season opener. While practices will continue, and there are still two exhibitions yet to play, the team now begins to shift more into the strategic/game planning mode, working towards drawing final conclusions about who stays, starts, get time in subpackages, which plays are their bread and butter, and conceptually, how they will manifest their identity on the field through personnel and play calls.
With camp now behind us, here are the 5 stories that were surprising to me emanating from the practice field and preseason contests.
ILB Room Play and The Signing of Schobert
I was very optimistic about the play of the inside linebackers heading into camp, and I believed that Robert Spillane in his second season would progress in his game and serve as a nice compliment to Devin Bush. I was also encouraged by the depth at the position with Vince Williams still on the roster, and confidence that Ulysses Gilbert III would take another step in his development. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Williams retired, Spillane has underperformed in pass coverage throughout camp, as has Gilbert, who has also showed a lack of physicality in stopping the run, and the team traded for Joe Schobert from Jacksonville. Wow, that is a lot of activity. While it doesn’t look as it did at the start of camp, and my forecast was completely annihilated, the position is in good shape, though there is some concern, regardless of what is being said by the coaching staff or the player, that Bush is not fully healed and back to full speed. The defense needs a high-level of performance from the inside backers in order to continue their dominance.
Dwayne Haskins More Than QB3
Heading into camp, the biggest question surrounding Dwayne Haskins was whether or not he could make the roster and beat out Joshua Dobbs for the 3rd quarterback spot. Haskins responded, and almost through his own will, opened the door on the competition for the backup quarterback spot. While Mason Rudolph is still set (as of now) as the #2, it is pretty impressive that Haskins has performed as well as he has in practice in and preseason games, and should he have another solid showing on Saturday, QB2 could very much so be a reality. A very nice surprise on the cheap for the Steelers organization.
Pressley Punts His Way Into Our Hearts
Pressley Harvin was a fun draft pick, and his booming leg intrigued Steelers fans everywhere. The biggest question was whether or not he could punt with consistency to create a real battle with Jordan Berry for the starting spot. Well, that is exactly what has happened, and barring a nose dive over the next few weeks, Harvin should be the starter come week 1 against Buffalo. Harvin has shown the ability to get massive hang time and to directionally pinpoint his punts, giving the Steelers a weapon on special teams that will pay dividends for both the offense and the defense on special teams.
Jazzed Up About Jamir Jones
Who? Heading into training camp, discussions around the outside linebacker position were focused on Cassius Marsh, Quincey Roche, and Jamar Watson for the 3rd/4th spot in the rotation (not factoring in Melvin Ingram). And while Marsh and Roche have played well, Jamir Jones an undrafted guy out of Notre Dame has made much noise in practice, and also in the preseason contests. With a sack in each of his first two preseason games, Jones has been consistent as well in camp practices, and he is forcing the coaching staff to take a long and hard look at him and his potential value to the team. Should he play well on Saturday, he has a very good chance at the 53, and it seems like the practice squad is a slam dunk. A nice find for the Steelers scouting department.
The Growth of Dan Moore, Jr.
If there is one offensive lineman who has continued to get better from OTAs, to minicamp, to training camp, it is Dan Moore, Jr. Showing the ability to attack the second level, which is invaluable in springing running backs for big gains, Moore is continually improving and now appears to be the backup tackle at both the left and right positions. There have also been rumblings that possibly by midseason, Moore could work his way into the starting lineup should Chuks Okorafor not play up to the standard. I did not anticipate Moore to develop as quickly as he has, and while still is not where he needs to be, he is a promising player who should contribute to the offense sooner rather than later.