We haven’t gotten many opportunities just get to get much first-hand knowledge of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie minicamp that was held over the weekend. Frankly, a lot of that probably has to do with the fact that most reporters aren’t going to be particularly interested in how anybody outside of a high first-round pick is going to look like under those circumstances.
The closest thing I’ve come in getting some takeaways from the weekend came in Ray Fittipaldo’s recent chat session, in which he offered some first impressions about a number of the Steelers’ draft picks from April’s big event.
Of Sutton Smith, the Steelers’ first of three sixth-round picks and the only outside linebacker taken, he said that the Northern Illinois product “was impressive rushing the passer”, calling him quick, and a player he’ll want to watch closely in training camp to see how his size translates to padded practices.
He also noted that Akron inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III, another sixth-round draft pick, was fast as well, in addition to first-round pick Devin Bush, of course. The only thing that he had to say about fifth-round tight end Zach Gentry is that he is tall and he looked okay running routes, but he was more concerned about getting a look at his blocking in training camp.
I’m a bit surprised that he didn’t offer any observations on fourth-round running back Benny Snell, who seems to have the most outgoing personality within the rookie class. Running back is also one of the easiest positions to have an opinion on in shorts. He didn’t comment on Diontae Johnson, either, but the third-round pick spent rookie minicamp only running individual drills. Justin Layne and the rest not mentioned also went without comment.
The next opportunity for these players, and the rest who participated over the weekend and remained on the roster, will be a week from today when the Steelers get their first of 10 OTA sessions underway. They will join the veterans of the roster at that time and will see the level of competition—not to mention the pace—pick up dramatically.
The Steelers have had some success in recent years in getting their rookies on the field, but outside of Bush, there are no clear probable paths for any of the other draft picks to see much playing time in 2019. Johnson may have the best shot, but they are six-deep at least at wide receiver, so he will have to stick out.
Hopefully the beat writers will have something more substantial to say during OTAs as far as early evaluations of the young players go. Not just the rookies, but perhaps even more importantly the second-year players such as Terrell Edmunds and James Washington, who could, or should, play huge roles in 2019.