Bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring the last several offseasons. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
Jaylen Samuels – Improve Pass Protection
Yeah, we all knew what the answer was here. You could argue him needing to slim down is just as big of a need – and it is, so much so that Samuels has basically already admitted it – but the pass protection is a big deal for a guy who will see action on plenty of passing downs.
We knew it was a concern coming out of NC State, where he hardly had any responsibilities, functioning as a receiver when the Wolfpack went to the air. And on a baseline level, there is something to work with. He has size, willingness, and improved as the season went along, especially with his football IQ and identifying blitzers.
Still. 2018 was bad. We have Samuels pegged for three sacks allowed, the most I think I’ve ever charged a Steelers’ running back. Let’s review two of them here.
Week 16 against the Saints. Sees the linebacker blitzing into the B gap. Meets him but drops his eyes upon contact, letting him run through and take Ben Roethlisberger down. Just poor technique and the NFL will make you pay for it.
The week prior to New England, it was a recognition issue. Late blitz up the A gap. Samuels doesn’t see it, goes to run his route, and Roethlisberger is immediately dropped.
But there were negative plays that didn’t end in sacks and were easier to miss in the moment. Another one against New England. Taking on Dont’a Hightower up the middle. Samuels is trying but can’t stay square and the linebacker blows through.
And against versus New Orleans. Little tougher to see, the aerial view was the best look at it, but you see cornerback Eli Apple run him over, even if it didn’t bother Roethlisberger’s throw.
If Samuels wants to be part of the rotation with James Conner in 2019, he’ll have to keep earning the coaches trust and improve in that area just as Conner did from his rookie to sophomore season.