Now that the 2017 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp has concluded, we’re recapping everything that went down over these past 16 practices. We’ll break down each play, position-by-position, with final winners and losers at the end. Moving onto running back.
Fitzgerald Toussaint: A solid, if unspectacular camp. He embraced the backs on backers the first day, with one really good rep against Ryan Shazier, earning praise from Mike Tomlin. Toussaint ran hard, tough, and does well to fall forward at the end of runs. Looked a little slimmer and quicker. Decent out of the backfield but not great. Steady is a good word to describe him. Also didn’t fumble once, the only back with substantial carries not to (unless you count James Conner).
Camp Grade: B
Knile Davis: Gotta say, I was impressed with him. Showed a little bit of everything. Good size, power, running through a Tyson Alualu tackle on goal line sticks out in my mind. Burst and the ability to create, I think more than anyone else in camp, and caught every single pass out of the backfield. Tough and gets square in pass pro, pretty much on par with Toussaint.
Not sure what Toussaint does better than Davis. And Davis is slightly more explosive with better lateral agility and has a better shot to create noise in the return game while having the size/toughness Danny Smith demands from the position.
Camp Grade: B+
James Conner: His camp is a bit of an incomplete. Got hurt on the third day of practice and didn’t return to team until very late and then wound up bowing out again. He looked good the few times he got his hands on the ball. Like his vision, power, and lateral agility. His hands were impressive out of the backfield, a bit of an unknown because he didn’t catch the ball often at Pitt. Made one of the best plays of camp, reaching out over his head to haul in an errant throw in the flat from Bart Houston, then juking Jordan Dangerfield to rip off a touchdown.
He was also one of the most successful backs in backs on backers, grading out the best, and showed impressive ball security. The injuries put a damper on things but when he was healthy, everything turned up Milhouse.
Camp Grade: A-
Terrell Watson: “Nightmare,” as Tomlin coined him. One of the surprises of camp but someone I knew had an NFL resume and some serious talent. Watson was a poor-ish man’s Davis. Has more power, and really came on the scene and separated himself from the others now behind him by scoring three straight times in the famous goal line drill.
But Watson also showed good enough hands out of the backfield for a big back. He lacks top end speed and doesn’t create like Davis but he does offer a little more explosion than the 230 pound guy he is. Was impressed with his pass protection, both in recognition and ability to keep his eyes up and shoulders square. Ran well against the New York Giants and Tomlin made it a point to note his special teams work as well.
Would really be surprised if he didn’t make the practice squad. Consider it a lock.
Camp Grade: B+
Brandon Brown-Dukes: Ugh. Had some hope for him going into his second year with the team, though he’s been yo-yo’d on and off the roster 11 times in his Steelers’ career. But he failed to do anything to separate himself and warrant a longer look. Watson quickly passed him up, leaving BBD as the #4 back, getting the table scraps.
Predictably, as a guy about the size of me, he got toasted in backs on ‘backers and barely saw targets in the passing game. Had only two catches going into the final three practices and I don’t think he added much to it. Root hard for the PSAC guys but honestly, one of the easiest cuts there is. He’s lucky the NFL dumped the 75 man cutdown. He’d be on that list.
Camp Grade: D-
Trey Williams: He’s a curious case. An intriguing start to camp but then I believe a hamstring injury derailed that early momentum. Dressed for every practice but spent at least a week not getting any burn in team period. He’s the twitchest back on the roster with stop-start ability and burst to hit through the hole. Crossed over Bud Dupree and L.J. Fort on back-to-back runs in one-on-one. The skillset makes him a return candidate and you could see some kick/punt return work this preseason, giving him a small boost of value.
But with him being so limited, and size working against him, he’s just going to have to hope to put on good tape in the 4th game so he can latch on somewhere else. Or at the least, hang around the workout circuit.
Camp Grade: D+
Roosevelt Nix: Didn’t need to really see anything from Rosie. Lead blocking was solid and he got a little bit of use out of the backfield but did have at least two drops, based off my notes. Always a stand out in backs on ‘backers too. No one messes with Rosie.
Camp Grade: B