Training camp is right around the corner and like we have for the past few years, plan on being there for every single practice. Matthew Marczi has dutifully given us a low-down on most of the position groups already but with me going to St. Vincent in two weeks, I wanted to outline what I’m looking for from each player. We’ll start with the four quarterbacks on the roster.
Today, we’re the team’s edge rushers.
T.J. Watt: It was a highly successful rookie season for Watt, given all that’s on the plate of a 3-4 edge rusher in his first go around. You’re looking for Watt to take the next step as a pass rusher and if the left/right splits remain the same under Keith Butler, him switching over to the left should give him more opportunities. He will play on the strong side more often so the run defense has to continue to be strong and improve. And this is the time to start learning a great counter move too to sharpen up the arsenal. But he’s one of the only guys you don’t have to worry about and for that to be true of only a 2nd year guy, kinda sums up this group.
Bud Dupree: Oh Dupree. Talk about your make-or-break seasons. I still think bad health got him into trouble last year and off to a tough start he never really recovered from. But his issues are well-documented. He has to play stronger, be able to convert speed to power, and vary his rushes more than just outside speed rushes where tackles can sit and drive him upfield.
Again, if playing on the right side means he’s going to drop into coverage more often, that’s going to be something else for him. More zone dropping, more matching up on a tight end, running back, occasional wide receiver, and that’s not something he’s been totally comfortable with.
But the biggest thing is playing with more strength in his hands to create a worthwhile counter off his initial rush. Tackles have to be unsure of what he’s bringing to the table.
Anthony Chickillo: A guy I believe to be pretty much maxed up. I imagine Chick is going to have a strong training camp like he always does. And it makes sense. He’s a pass rusher with active hands and a lot of moves to win and definitely not a terrible athlete either. I care more about in-game, where he’s struggled, and a deep-dive into all his pass rushes last season showed some serious flaws in his game. A guy whose hands aren’t heavy enough, doesn’t play with the physicality you’d expect of a bigger like himself, and doesn’t have the natural fluidity in his hips and ankles to routinely turned the corner. I’m not sure how much of that changes now but to see more violence in his hands and on his punch would be huge for him.
Keion Adams: Adams is one player to get hopeful about in this group even if we the odds of a regular season impact are lower. He lasted only seven practices before having his season end early due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. What I remember most from last year was his quick first step but there’s so much more to becoming a successful pass rusher than just that. That means I’m looking for pretty much everything else but can he turn the corner and make that get off useful? If he can do that, you might have the foundation for an effective pass rusher.
Farrington Huguenin: Huguenin came out of nowhere in last year’s camp and did a pretty good job. I graded him a B- and here’s what I wrote at the time.
A player with a bit of experience and some intriguing athletic ability, he’s practice squad material. Like his get off and change of direction ability. Maybe faded a bit as camp went on but nothing about his game is terrible. Not the strongest at the POA but shows technique to keep his outside arm free as the force defender. There’s a little something there I’d like to see more of.
Looking for him to finish out camp stronger than last year but that’s reasonable to expect with a year under his belt in the Steelers’ system, especially knowing how brutal camp at Latrobe can be. For him to make the roster, which I don’t completely discount, it’s still going to have to come on special teams, so that’s going to be under the microscope more this year than last when he hasn’t much of a threat.
Darnell Leslie: He’s an undersized pass rusher who flashed in Cowboys camp last year. His ticket will be playing like a top-tier athlete, someone who can beat the tackle around the edge and make an impact on special teams. But his odds of making the 53 are going to be difficult, to say the least, and practice squad is much more likely. Maybe this year’s Huguenin.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: A semi-sleeper UDFA from Toledo, he’s drawn minor James Harrison comparisons for his MAC ties, stature, and number, given Harrison’s #92. He is a powerful pass rusher who can rip and bend the edge and I think he’ll have some measure of success that way in camp, which will draw headlines. I worry about everything else. He struggles to move in space, wasn’t asked to do much in coverage, and I think he could be a real liability on special teams because he’s not a great athlete outside of his ability to turn the corner. He might be one of those guys who “look” good in the preseason with 2-3 sacks but doesn’t make it because he’s not offering enough short-term value.