With the team’s 2018 OTA practices now behind them it appears as though the Pittsburgh Steelers plan on using their second of two fifth-round draft picks this year, running back Jaylen Samuels, exactly like he was used during his four years at North Carolina State and that means lining him up at various spots on the field.
“That’s why they drafted me,” Samuels said Thursday at the conclusion of the Steelers final OTA practice of 2018, according to 93.7 The Fan. “When they drafted me, they told me that they was going to be doing a lot of different things with me like N.C. State was. They’re not going to pigeonhole me to just doing one thing like running the ball. So, that’s what I’m doing now. They got me playing in the slot, playing the F position, being able to move around, motion around, catch passes out of the backfield, out of the slot. So, I’m just going to keep working at it, learning the playbook as I go and just get more comfortable.”
With starting running back Le’Veon Bell once again not attending OTA practices this year he’s not able to help teach the younger running backs on the roster. Even so, Samuels said Thursday he’s been able to pick the brains of the other experienced running backs on the team’s roster while also receiving instruction from his position coach.
“It’s going good,” Samuels said when asked to gauge how his learning process has gone thus far. “You know, it’s a lot of stuff that’s being thrown at me now that I’m learning the running back and the F position, which is the slot. So, I’m just trying to get in my playbook everyday or learn from Coach [James] Saxon. Everyday come out here and learn from behind these vets like Rosie [Nix] James [Conner] and Fitz [Fitzgerald Toussaint] and [Stevan] Ridley. So, just trying to learn everyday and get better.”
Because he’s learning to be the Steelers jack of all trades, positionally speaking, Samuels, who rushed for 1,107 yards on 182 carries during his college career, in addition to registering another 1,851 yards via 201 receptions, was asked how he goes about dividing up his day in regard to learning so many positions.
“Well, I just try to learn from it as concepts,” Samuels said. “If I learn it as concepts, then I learn what everybody else is doing and it makes it easier for my job. That’s kinda what I did in college because they had me playing all over the field. So, I learned it as a concept and not as one position.”
Is there an advantage to learning it that way? Samuels believes so.
“Yeah, I think it is just to show the versatility,” Samuels said. “Whenever somebody goes down and they need me out there, I can hop in and play as fast as the person before me was. So, just show that versatility, being able to catch and run the ball as well.”
Earlier last week Samuels admitted that pass blocking is definitely something he’ll need to improve on the most at the NFL level because he wasn’t asked to do much of that during his four years at North Carolina State. Unfortunately for Samuels, however, he’s going to have to wait until training camp to show that pass protection is an area of his game that can be trusted in as hitting and heavy contact isn’t allowed during OTA practices. Samuels let it be known on Thursday that he’s looking forward to proving at Latrobe that he can handle the pass protection element of his position.
“I feel like I’m a very physical guy,” Samuels said. “We haven’t been able to show that these last couple of weeks without pads, but once training camp comes and we get to pass on, then I can be able to show the coaches the physicality with the pass blocking, the running.”
In addition to Samuels needing to show his physicality as a pass protector during training camp, he’ll likely need to show it on special teams as well while at Latrobe and during the team’s four preseason games. On the surface, Samuels appears to be on track to be, at worst, the Steelers No. 3 running back this year and his position flexibility could result in Bell ultimately not having to play as many snaps as he did in 2017. If you remember former Steelers running back Mewelde Moore, who played four seasons in Pittsburgh from 2008-2011, it sounds like Samuels is being groomed to play a role similar to what he did.