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. Finishing out the offense with the offensive line.
Maurkice Pouncey: Pouncey was his usual stellar self, so much so you don’t pay much attention to him. It doesn’t help he’s in the middle of the action too. He also hasn’t participated in the OL/DL drills in years and gets the occasional day off from practice as he closes in on 30 years old. Of course, no complaints about him game.
Camp Grade: A-
David DeCastro: You can apply much of what I wrote about Pouncey to DeCastro, minus the OL/DL comment (DeCastro goes against Stephon Tuitt most reps). DeCastro did get his lunch handed to him by Fletcher Cox in Week One but that kind of ugly play is the exception, not the rule. He’ll be an All-Pro caliber player again in 2018.
Camp Grade: B+
Matt Feiler: Me comparing him to Ramon Foster during camp was probably a little out of left field but the more I watch him, the more I think it fits. Both 6’5, 330+ dudes who played tackle in college before (mostly) kicking inside at the NFL level. Ok athletes who aren’t great pullers but use their size and strength to kick out. Ditto in pass protection. He’s a tough guy to get around – even if you have a step, he can seal you off. He’s physical at the point of attack, an impressive run blocker with the ability to change direction and “steer” the defender out of the way, and ended up playing every spot but LT in camp. His work at center though…let’s just hope he never sees a snap there. Excellent camp from Feiler, now a lock to make the roster.
Camp Grade: B+
Marcus Gilbert: Nice bounce back camp for Gilbert, the starting linemen you wanted to see the most out of after a rocky 2017, marred by injury and suspension. Showed up in great shape, he’s one of the best looking OL in the league, while playing with power and lateral movement. His down block that sprung James Conner for a 55 yard touchdown stands out in my mind. He did have the occasional loss to Bud Dupree but for Steelers’ fan, that’s more good news than bad news.
Camp Grade: B+
Alejandro Villanueva: The story on the five starters will predictably be brief. You know who these guys are. It’s important for Villanueva to have a strong start to the regular season, something he hasn’t enjoyed the last two years, but it’s hard to know exiting camp if that’s going to change. He’s strong, mobile, and has one of the best chops of any offensive linemen in the league. A right shoulder injury, an annual one according to him, limited him in camp, but doesn’t seem to be a problem moving forward.
Camp Grade: B
Chukwuma Okorafor: In all, not a bad way to start a career. Things were ugly early on, thrust into the starting lineup after injuries along the line and he got whooped repeatedly by Dupree the first couple of practices. I think that was a blessing in disguise, helping to slow down the game by speeding it up. In the preseason, he’s played well, using his size and length to his advantage. That’s against lower competition but I think he’s making, at worst, a compelling case to be the swing man at both tackle spots, meaning the team doesn’t need to look outside the organization for help. Not perfect but better than expected for a player panned as a raw athlete coming out.
Camp Grade: B-
B.J. Finney: Finney’s play on Sunday’s seem to be much better than what he does in camp. Blame some of that on his lack of size and a defense that knows all his tricks. I agree with Dave Bryan he’s a better guard than center. Maybe that’s a reps thing. But he can get overpowered at the point of attack and doesn’t have the size of Ramon Foster or even Matt Feiler, making him easier to beat in pass protection. So not a great camp but the important thing to remind yourself is that when it counts, Finney plays at an above average level.
Camp Grade: C+
Patrick Morris: One of my top sleepers heading into camp, it’s fair to say Morris didn’t match my probably too high expectations. It was an ok camp and he ended up passing Parker Collins to become the team’s 2nd string center. His biggest problem is a lack of size and strength, too often struggling to hold the POA in the run game or getting walked back against bull rushes by NTs who tower over him. He can move laterally pretty well in pass protection and could still make the practice squad (though I have him off my last list). But he’s probably not the diamond in the rough I thought he could be.
Camp Grade: C
Jake Rodgers: Sort of an inverse of last year. In 2017, Rodgers started off slow but played well at the end. This year, he started off hot, legitimately dominating some of the OL/DL drills, even when matched on Dupree or Anthony Chickillo. Working 2nd team, he was the biggest beneficiary of Bryce Harris’ poor conditoning, was huge for him, getting reps he simply didn’t have last year. Rodgers faded a bit down the stretch and is coming off a pretty ugly performance against the Packers. Once thought he was a shoe-in for a practice squad spot. Now, I have serious doubts.
Camp Grade: C
R.J. Prince: A name that most Steelers fans don’t really know, there is a little something long-term with him. Great size, especially for a guard, and light on his feet, traits he showed at North Carolina. Awareness in stunt/blitz pickup is an issue, as is maintaining his base in pass protection. Too many penalties for my taste too. Mike Munchak gave him some mild praise during camp and it wouldn’t shock me if they kept him on the practice squad. But wouldn’t shock me if they let him go either.
Camp Grade: C-
Chris Schleuger: It’s always tough to be a third-string player. Just not many reps to go around, to make mistakes, to show coaches your talent. Cheek was in the same boat. Schleuger showed the tenacity I saw on tape at Northern Iowa and UAB but beyond that, he just didn’t stick out much. Country strong is about all I have to say. Don’t like his odds of making the practice squad. Maybe he can come back if there’s an injury.
Camp Grade: D+
Larson Graham: A pretty quiet camp here too. He got some second-team play after Foster’s injury but ended up being bumped down to third-team by the end, seemingly passed by Oni Omoile. A very bad sign if there ever was one. His calling card is versatility, playing all three interior spots, though none with any interesting fanfare.
Camp Grade: D
Joseph Cheek: A tough camp for Cheek. Not a great athlete, he struggled to secure the edge against speed rushes. No one seemed to false start more often than him either. While I’m sure he played both tackle spots, I think he mostly logged time on the left so he doesn’t even offer the typical versatility of any of the other OTs. One of the easier cuts for the team, I think.
Camp Grade: D-
Ramon Foster: Obviously, he’s earning an incomplete after suffering a bone bruise in his right knee very early into Day Three’s practice (the first tackling session). Leg got rolled up on and at the time, it felt like his season was over. Fact that it’s not and that there’s a good chance he’s ready for Cleveland is miraculous.
Camp Grade: Incomplete
Zach Banner/Oni Omoile: Lumping these two together since they were brought in late in the process. Saw a little more from Banner than I did Omoile, he’s an easier guy to watch too in position and size. He legitimately looks like he has his weight under control and I have a sneaky suspicion the team will carry him onto the practice squad for a longer look. His size and length sometimes allows him to seal the edge and shove the rusher upfield. But you’re holding your breath every snap and he gets beaten more than any tackle should. Omoile is small but I like his anchor and play strength, especially in pass pro.
Camp Grade: Incomplete