These next three days will be the first look at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 rookie class. It’s fun to hear about the highlights, how fast Devin Bush is, quick off the ball Sutton Smith appears to be, and whatever other rookie turns heads, the team has a different, less enthralling take on rookie minicamp. Sitting down with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews, Pro Scouting Coordinator Brandon Hunt explained what the team is keying in on this weekend.
“The main thing we want to see is we want to see shape, we want to see competitiveness, how they respond to a new environment,” Hunt said. “We want to see how they’re going to interact in adverse situations. Because it’s not going to be as clean as some of the situations they were in in college. Just see how they react and respond to coaching. We want to see who is going to step up, who is going to potentially have that wide-eyed look.”
By “shape,” Hunt is referring to a player’s conditioning. It’s one of the mantra’s under Mike Tomlin. Dick LeBeau read the Steelers’ The Night Before Christmas each year. Tomlin’s equivalent is his “be in the best shape of your life” speech. Getting them into camp and through a full practice at NFL speed helps gauge who is in better shape than others.
Coaches will never openly admit it but you can sometimes get a feel if you made the right pick or not. Director of the Senior Bowl Jim Nagy, a former Seattle Seahawks scout, recounted the story of the team immediately realizing their 3rd round pick was a mistake.
Rookie mini-camp is an exciting time for NFL staffs but there are some “oh, crap” moments where teams immediately know a player they just drafted isn’t what they thought he was. I was with a team once that took a skill player in Rd. 3 and we knew right away it was a bad pick.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) May 4, 2019
While Nagy never confirmed the player, it’s believed he was referring to receiver Amara Darboh, 3rd round pick in 2017 who lasted just one season with the team and never resurfaced anywhere else. Similar was said about former OT Jason Smith, the 2nd overall pick by the Rams a decade ago.
“When he arrived in St. Louis, he was not the guy who was at Baylor that all his coaches and everyone swore by,” then Rams GM Bill Devaney told Yahoo last month. “We did not get the same Jason Smith.”
And of course, the goal is for everyone to stay healthy. Odds are, and history is pretty strong, some team is losing a top pick to injury. In 2017, Chargers’ wideout Mike Williams suffered a back injury that basically robbed his rookie season. In 2015, Dante Fowler tore his ACL on the first day of rookie minicamp and missed the rest of the season. And back in 2010, Tampa Bay 2nd round pick Brian Price suffered a nasty hamstring injury that shelved his rookie season. His time in the NFL didn’t end up working out.
Bottom line. Have everyone come in good shape, leave healthy, and be open to coaching along the way. That’s a successful rookie minicamp and strong foundation to get the group ready for the rest of OTAs and training camp, where the season really begins.