It will not be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin work in their first OTA session, which, needless to say for the regular readers here, will be a significant occasion, and will include a lot of firsts with respect to the level of football activity and public access to players and coaches that we will be exposed to. It’s basically the appetizer leading up to training camp.
One of the most exciting things to look forward to about the OTA sessions is to begin to hear reports about the developments of the young players on the roster, particular those who are expected to play an important role for the team in the following season, a bigger role than the year before.
This is especially true of players heading into their second season, which is when players are expected to show their most substantial growth from one year to the next. Their rookie season is filled with a lot of thinking and learning and processing, not to mention conditioning and training. It all starts to come together the next year.
One of the players I expect most are looking forward to seeing especially will be second-year defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, whom the Steelers made a third-round draft pick last year in the 2016 NFL Draft. While he instantly became their starting nose tackle, the position doesn’t log a lot of snaps, and he only began to play more due to injuries later in the year.
Thinking about Hargrave had me tracking backward and thinking about what Bob Labriola said about the small-school product recently on a live segment conducted for the team’s website. While he didn’t spend a lot of time recapping his rookie year, he largely focused on his future and what he brings uniquely to the team.
“Javon Hargrave in the middle of the defensive line is a guy who can give the Steelers defense some pass rush”, he said, “and that’s not a usual, typical skill that you find in an interior defensive lineman”. The Steelers tried to find that in Steve McLendon, but he never quite became the mainstay pass-rusher they were hoping for.
“When you get one who can give you that”, Labriola continued, “they’re extremely valuable because so much of football on the defensive side is played in sub-packages now”. He explained that “instead of having to hustle guys on and off the field, especially interior defensive linemen when you go from run-down situations to pass-down situations, or from run-based personnel to pass-based personnel, you can just leave Javon Hargrave on the field and he’s able to contribute in both of those situations”.
This is precisely the sort of skill set that the Steelers were looking for when they drafted Hargrave, and he gave enough glimpses of that skill set during his rookie season to get people excited, including three sacks. But he still has much more room to grow, and that is exciting.