Phase 3 of the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason program will get underway on Tuesday with the start of the team’s annual OTA sessions. These volunteer practices will include a lot of football in shorts taking place and once again, no hitting is allowed. The next three days will produce several talking points to begin moving us along to start of training camp in late July and below are five of several possible and most interesting storylines to watch for as the Steelers annual OTAs kickoff this week.
Ben finally speaks – While Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has now finally held his first real media interview with Bob Pompeani to discuss all that’s transpired since Week 17 of the 2018 regular season, you can bet he’ll be asked to speak more on several topics such as comments made this offseason by former teammates of his, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell, this coming week. Roethlisberger will also likely be asked his thoughts on the potential of the Steelers offense moving forward, his future playing plans after signing a two-year contract extension several weeks ago and what he thinks about a few of the offensive rookies the team drafted this year. The hope is that Roethlisberger can answer all pertinent questions about the past by the time the team wraps up their first week of OTA practices so that all of that sort of stuff can be put in the rear view mirror in hopes that the organization can have a drama-free summer. Here’s to Roethlisberger being able to get it all out of his system these next few days in whatever fashion he deems to be acceptable so that it all can be quickly digested and discussed fully by nexrt Monday.
Statuses of the recovering – There’s probably a good chance that not all of the Steelers players currently under contract will participate fully in the team’s first set of OTA practices of 2019. We already know of a few of a few players who have already undergone offseason surgeries such as wide receiver Ryan Switzer (ankle and Chukwuma Okorafor (shoulder) and there could have been a few others that went under the knife that might not yet be ready to resume practicing. It will also be interesting to see if rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson, one of the Steelers two third-round draft picks this year, is finally able to start practicing fully during OTAs after being limited during the rookie minicamp practices. Perhaps head coach Mike Tomlin will update the overall health of his team come the end of the week if asked the right kind of specific questions by the media.
Watt level of Bush hyperbole? – The Steelers first-round draft pick this year, linebacker Devin Bush, as one would hope, reportedly had a strong showing during the team’s annual rookie minicamp. Bush appears to already have a good grasp on the defensive concepts the Steelers want to run and all he needs to do moving forward is pick up the language and continue to make the calls better. Just a few years ago the Steelers exited their initial set of OTA practices with a a lot of praise being given to then-rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt in regard to how quickly he was picking up the defense. At that time the notion was given that perhaps Watt would wind up being a a big Week 1 contributor for the Steelers to start his rookie season and that ultimately came to fruition. Watt even started in Week 1 of his rookie season and 14 more games in 2017. The Steelers certainly would like Bush to play a lot of defensive snaps sooner rather than later during his rookie season and thus it will be interesting to see if the Michigan product receives the same level of kudos from coaches and defensive teammates during his first week of OTAs that Watt received just a few years ago. Separating the hyperbole from these forthcoming comments about Bush might be tough to do, but we’ll try to do just that.
More contract extension talks? – The Steelers have already signed Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey to contract extensions so far this offseason and a few more of those could materialize by the time the team’s 2019 regular season gets underway. During this first week of 2019 OTA practices, it will be interesting to see if a few Steelers players such as cornerback Joe Haden, safety Sean Davis and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave are asked to comment respectively on if any contract extension talks have taken place so far this offseason.
First meaningless pecking orders revealed – While it’s certainly not advisable to read way too much into which player is working with what string unit during the team’s annual OTA practices, that sort of information is fun to track and discuss just the same. While most of us could probably draw out a close facsimile of what the Steelers offensive and defensive depth charts will likely closely resemble come late July, there always seems to be a surprise or two once things get underway in Latrobe at the start of training camp. Throughout the first week of OTAs it will be interesting to see if there are any pecking order surprises that surface.