For the rest of the preseason, we’ll give a recap, position-by-position, player-by-player of what I saw during the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp and preseason games. We’re moving on over to the defensive line.
Cam Heyward: Consider Heyward one of the five guys in camp you didn’t need to hear a thing about, joining Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and a couple others. Heyward was his typical impactful self, blowing up the run, getting pressure as a pass rusher. Iron sharpening iron, a great OL going against a great defensive linemen. Helps make B.J. Finney a better player too, considering how often he saw him after Ramon Foster’s knee injury. He practices nearly every day, kicks butt, and then does it again the next.
Camp Grade: A
Daniel McCullers: Give it up for Big Dan. I would’ve bet good money that by this time in the preseason, we would be talking about who was replacing McCullers. Instead, we’re discussing how McCullers can help the team during the run defense. Mind. Blown.
But it’s all well deserved, even if it took us five training camps to get here. Truly think hiring Karl Dunbar made the difference, a softer (though no less demanding) tone than John Mitchell. McCullers is playing with more power, consistency, effort (to be clear, however, he never was a “lazy” player in my mind), and even showing some fire in his belly. I was genuinely excited he got into a fight with Parker Collins during one practice. He’s gone from someone who didn’t deserve a spot to a guy who is playing like a backup nose tackle. For McCullers, I sincerely mean that as a compliment. Kudos to him.
Camp Grade: B+
Stephon Tuitt: A fine camp for Tuitt. The elephant in the room for him is finishing plays and his missed sack turned touchdown against Green Bay wasn’t a great feeling to have. But in a camp setting, there isn’t much to learn at this point. Turn those pressures into sacks and he’ll join Heyward in that “elite” category.
Camp Grade: B+
Tyson Alualu: Lot of interest last year in finding out who the Steelers had when they brought Alualu in over from Jacksonville, Now, you just expect him to play at a high level for a backup spot. He’s made the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 look easy. Playing a little bit of nose tackle this year in some sub-package groupings but he’ll in that backup role. Strong depth in case of injury.
Camp Grade: B
Javon Hargrave: A very weird camp for Hargrave. On his own merit, a fine one. He dominates OL/DL like few do, working over poor centers and guards (to be fair, he never goes against Pouncey). But it felt like he was in the doghouse for some reason, repeatedly bumped to second team and running behind McCullers. With all of Keith Butler’s talk about upgrading the run defense, maybe this means something. I still expect Hargrave to be the starter, a good one at that, but it was an unusual journey to get to this point. At least, one I didn’t expect.
Camp Grade: B
L.T. Walton: More of the same from Walton. A clogger against the run and a high-motor player, packaged in a below average athlete and pass rusher. He didn’t work at nose tackle this year like he did in 2017 but he’s also gotten enough reps to feel comfortable in that evaluation. McCullers earned his time too.
Camp Grade: B
Lavon Hooks: Quietly, a decent camp. Same old Hooks but you’re getting a Walton-esque run stuffer, mostly without the nose tackle flexibility. I’m not sure if the guy has practice squad eligibility left, looking into it more, I don’t think he does, but if he can squeeze out one more year, he’s someone worth keeping around. Used as third team RDE at Latrobe.
Camp Grade: B-
Joshua Frazier: A very quiet camp. Someone who did show what was reported in college. A quick first step and strong punch. You saw it in small quantities, maybe one rep in team drills, a little more in 1v1 when it’s easier to see these things, but his performance felt like anything more than a practice squad contender. That’s where his best odds are of ending up though if you read my latest roster prediction, I don’t discount cutting him outright. Three nose tackles is sorta like carrying two fullbacks. In this era, you don’t need it.
Camp Grade: C+
Casey Sayles: Of the “other” defensive linemen, Sayles was one name who seemed to catch my eye the most, though that doesn’t always perfectly correlate with excellent play. A high motor player whose tough against the run and shows the ability to disengage from blocks. But you’re looking at a limited upside player who doesn’t offer much, or really anything, as a pass rusher. He did run third team LDE in camp, soaking up many more reps than the several of the other “unknowns” at the bottom of the depth chart.
Camp Grade: C-
Kendal Vickers: Vickers sometimes, I don’t want to say flashed, but sparked. Like a Sparkler. A good energy player with ball awareness and nose tackle/end versatility, he also ran 4th team during the entire preseason. Batted down a pass along the goal line, moved a little better than the other guys he was working with, but it’s still a tough spot to be in. I doubt he’s signed to the practice squad but if there’s an injury mid-season, maybe they bring him back.
Camp Grade: D+
Greg Gilmore: Ugh. One guy I touted as a sleeper to make the 53, I couldn’t have been more off base. Gilmore has the look and size and…that’s about it. Fourth team nose tackle, as useless a title as “Assistant to the Regional Manager.” Barely enough reps to even offer a worthwhile evaluation. Likely he is cut outright.
Camp Grade: D
Parker Cothren: Running out of things to say. 4th team LDE, sometimes got work in nickel. But very limited snaps. Lacks hand use, the ability to work off blocks, and a below average athlete. Just…blah, all around. One of the easiest cuts to make on this 90 man roster when they get down to 53 in a little more than a week.
Camp Grade: D-