It’s the offseason, meaning the Pittsburgh Steelers are in shorts and shells. Which also means Justin Hunter is impressing with his rare triangle numbers, his blend of size, speed, and overall athleticism. That’s the report from Jeremy Fowler, who spoke highly of Hunter, beginning his second year with the team.
“Justin Hunter is doing it again, just like training camp. Hunter makes ridiculous catches in practice settings. His expansive reach, 6-foot-4 frame and a vertical that resembles an invisible stairway climb help him catch passes over — or on top of — the heads of defensive backs.”
This shouldn’t come as any surprise. Hunter has always been a practice warrior but it’s rarely translated to games and even during practices, have been overstated (his camp last year wasn’t as good as some made it out to be).
But Hunter’s “tools” are still at the upper level and if he rounds out his game, as Mike Tomlin challenged him to do, he can make a consistent impact on the roster.
“Like Coach T [Mike Tomlin] says, somebody’s going to find a certain trait in you — as long as you’re good at that trait, you should be around a while,” Hunter said. “As long as I build off that, I’m trying to sustain it.”
Hunter acted as a reserve receiver in 2017, playing only 65 snaps, most of which came after Antonio Brown missed the end of the regular season. He caught four passes for one touchdown and was mostly an afterthought and gameday inactive.
There’s a larger opportunity this year following Martavis Bryant getting shipped out to Oakland and the uncertainty of how well James Washington will perform, though the hope is he does well and grabs a top-three spot. But Hunter will have to do more than make the occasional splash play in Latrobe or on the practice field back in Pittsburgh.
That opportunity is opening up right now, too. Brown has missed all but two OTA practices and according to Fowler, Hunter is taking first team reps at Brown’s “X” wide receiver spot. If there’s a time to impress, it’s now. Odds are, this is his last shot to match production with his measurables.