By Jeremy Hritz
Training Camp, especially for the Pittsburgh Steelers, is magical. Even more so when it takes place at the fabled St. Vincent’s in Latrobe. After a hiatus due to COVID-19, camp returned to its rightful home, and the team has been in the throes of preparation for the 2022 season exactly where they should be.
This past weekend, Steelers Nation geared up for the much anticipated Friday Night Lights practice; unfortunately, Mother Nature and her waterworks had different plans. Instead, the team did an indoor walkthrough at a local high school to ensure the day was not completely wasted in terms of preparation.
Even though the Friday practice was rained out, the Steelers still managed to knockout two quality practices that I had the opportunity to observe. This much can be said, there is great enthusiasm from the players and coaching staff, and even though it is still early in the camp process, the team gave the impression they were truly enjoying the work. Optimism and enthusiasm breed success, and if they can sustain such energy, quite possibly it could translate into a productive and successful 2022 season.
In wrapping up my thoughts on my camp visit from this past week, I am offering up my take on each position, including the coaching staff, in terms of what stood out the most, and what was most notable. As the Steelers have Sunday off before they begin preparation for their first preseason contest against Seattle, here are my conclusions, though early, on the team so far.
Coaching Staff: Active, very active. Mike Tomlin is super engaged with this team, ensuring he is checking in with all positions, encouraging players, offering criticism, and challenging them to elevate their game. At one point during special teams practice as players were going through a punt-block drill, he repeated to players, “This is where technique and opportunity meet!” And when there was a particularly spirited battle between players, he would call to “Run that back!” It’s easy to see why he is so loved by his players.
Quarterbacks: Mitch Trubisky is still learning the offense, as is Kenny Pickett, and he has a tendency to go directly to the check down. He did throw some beautiful deep balls, though. Pickett showed improvement and is gaining confidence. One thing that stood out was his ability to place the ball in the tightest of spaces: accuracy. Mason Rudolph still looks too flat-footed to me, and again, I will be surprised if he is not traded for at least a 7th rounder before camp is over.
Running Back: The Steelers are witnessing solid camps from both Anthony McFarland and Jaylen Warren. At this point, both are in great shape to make the roster. Bennie Snell is the same Bennie Snell, but he will still be the #2.
Wide Receiver: I am impressed by the wide receiver room: Calvin Austin, Gunnar Olzewski, Anthony Miller, and Steven Sims all flashed during practice. Lots of energy from this group, and they are all supportive and encouraging of each other when a big play is made. Olzewski is the Steelers’ version of Varsity Blues “Tweeter.” Hard decisions that will have to be made at this position.
Tight End: This is the group I was most impressed with, and Pat Freiermuth wasn’t even on the field. Name a tight end, they did well. Really excited to see what this unit produces. And Zach Gentry, just an outstanding performance across the board. Connor Heyward is going to be a playmaker, write it down.
Offensive Line: Dan Moore was outstanding, and I expect a massive jump in performance from his this season. Kevin Dotson was aggressive and physical. Kendrick Green did not show much, and was repeatedly driven backwards.
Defensive Line: Didn’t see much here, other than Cam Heyward dominating, and Isaiah Loudermilk, looking much bigger than last year, being a force in one-on-ones.
Inside Linebacker: Not a great showing from my perspective, and a lot of work to be done in coverage from both Devin Bush and Myles Jack. There were also some missed tackles in open space that cannot happen if this team is to improve against the run this season.
Outside Linebacker: Alex Highsmith looks poised for a breakout year, and TJ Watt is just an absolute stud. Derek Tuzska struggled with setting the edge against the run and relies on speed for his rush. Genard Avery is squatty and thick and loves contact. Delontae Scott has garnered the attention of the coaching staff and showed well in the run and in rushing. A lanky edge, he has a real shot at the 53-man roster.
Cornerback: I was not super-impressed by this group. Lots of plays surrendered. But, still early in camp.Carlins Platel made some plays, but would then take a step back. Inconsistent group.
Safety: Same as cornerback. Not much to write about, and somewhat of a lackluster performance. The offensive won the weekend in terms of the passing game
Specials: Chris Boswell was nailing, and I mean NAILING every kick from every attempted distance. Nick Sciba has had a nice camp and has made an impression. Pressley Harvin can still boom, but the inconsistency is still there. Better, but still work to do.