By Jeremy Hritz
What an entertaining, intriguing, and productive day of camp for your Pittsburgh Steelers here in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Despite the dense, and nearly unbearable humidity, the team put in a good day’s work before practice was halted because of lightning. The day was kicked off by the signing of Diontae Johnson, a move that eliminates unnecessary distraction focused on contract drama, and then at 1:55 pm sharp, the work began.
Here are my notes, observations, and some early conclusions following today’s practice:
- There is definitely a different feel with this year’s team. Maybe it is the departure of Ben Roethlisberger, maybe it’s the changes to the coaching staff. Whatever this intangible is, this Steelers team just feels different. What does that mean in terms of performance, or wins and losses? I’m not sure.
- I observed the quarterbacks’ performance throughout practice, and it was a mixed bag. There were some quality plays, but for the most part, the output was uneven. Mitch Trubisky threw a nice deep ball that would have went for a score to (Diontae) Johnson during a competition period, but then struggled on a simple throw to the flat that could have been pick-sixed. Mason Rudolph showed confidence in his decision making, but still looked pocket-illiterate, without a good feel for the pressure around him. Kenny Pickett attacked the middle of the field and had a penchant for short routes, but I did not see much zip on his ball. He did throw a touchdown strike early in seven shots that shows the potential he has. It’s not that any of the quarterbacks had bad days, as they had their moments; it’s just that it was, meh.
- Chris Oladokun, who has not had any snaps so far this camp, got some repetitions, and again, they were just OK. Nothing deep, just short passes, and not the most accurate.
- Connor Heyward is a playmaker, and while I was not tracking his statistics during practice, it seemed that he caught everything thrown his way. Even when well-covered, he found a way to make the catch, and I am excited about his potential contributions to this team.
- Jace Sternberger, tight end who the Steelers signed this offseason, made some spectacular catches, though discussion amongst those who cover the team today said he has also had his fair share of drops throughout camp.
- Both Gunnar Olzewski and Steven Sims looked solid returning punts. The drills weren’t live contact, but both players have the speed and burst needed to splash on special teams.
- Dan Moore had a solid day of practice, anchoring against pass rushers, and getting on the move and out in front of ball carriers. He should make a big jump this year. Conversely, Kendrick Green who is competing against Kevin Dotson for the starting left guard spot, once again showed a tendency to get driven backwards. Only one day of practice, so I’m not reading too much into it.
- Anthony McFarland, who I have been critical of and skeptical of making the roster had an outstanding day, breaking off a massive, what would have been touchdown run, in addition to securing two catches that required tremendous focus and concentration. His speed was on display, and if this can be recreated this season, he will add much value to the offense.
- I wanted to see more of rookie Jaylen Warren but was not as impressed as I thought I would be. He fumbled which did not help his cause. He did make a nice block in pass protection to bring his overall performance to even. While I’m talking running backs, Bennie Snell also fumbled, although out of bounds. Snell looked like, well, the same old Bennie Snell. The Steelers could truly use an upgrade at #2.
- I didn’t focus as much on the defense as I did the offense, but was able to make a few observations. Devin Bush gave up a few big pass plays down the field, one of them to McFarland that I mentioned above. The Steelers need him to clean this up, as spotty pass coverage hurt the defense last year. Myles Jack had similar struggles covering the pass today, which hopefully can just be chalked up to a bad showing. The team does not need a repeat of the Joe Schobert experiment from 2021.
- Cameron Sutton, Justin Layne, and Akhello Witherspoon were all toasted at one point during today’s practice. Not necessarily confidence-inspiring. Carlins Platel, undrafted rookie out of South Carolina, made some decent plays today in the slot, and he seems to have a good chance to land on the practice squad. And props to Sutton for a nice break on a Trubisky throw in the flat that was almost picked.
- TJ Watt did not practice, so Derek Tuszka got several valuable reps at outside backer. He showed explosion in his rush but not so much in setting the edge against the run.
- Overall, the day was another part of the process of building a hopefully playoff-caliber team, and while it wasn’t the prettiest, it had its moments. Thankfully, one practice will not make or break the 2022 Steelers. There are positives to build on, and definitely areas to improve. That work will continue tomorrow night for the Friday Night Light’s practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium. Be sure to check back in tomorrow for full coverage of the event!