Regardless of the size at which he played in college, new Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sutton Smith was a hand-in-the-dirt defensive end for Northern Illinois, which means that, while he is well-verse in playing the role of edge defender, he didn’t do a ton of work that separates 4-3 defensive ends from 3-4 outside linebackers, the latter of which will be his first role in Pittsburgh.
The first time he really got to show what he could do away from the line of scrimmage was in his participation in the Senior Bowl, and he did more linebackers drills at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine, followed by his workout at his Pro Day, so the team has gotten multiple looks at him in that regard.
But that’s one thing. Putting him through the ropes on your own field is another, and that is what this weekend, in part, is going to be about for Smith as he gets acclimated to not just a new city, and a new level of football, but a new position as well.
“I can move in space. Everybody knows I can”, he told reporters yesterday. “Being able to display it today was good”. Still, even while he knows that he will have to do that, and wanted the opportunity to show that it’s in his repertoire, his primary focus is still on getting after the passer.
Will that be his primary function for the long term? That’s still yet to be seen. Pretty much everybody who has talked about Smith with the Steelers since they drafted him have discussed the possibility of him actually playing inside linebacker, which doesn’t necessarily provide a ton of opportunities to get after the quarterback from the edge.
His college tape already shows, though, that he knows how to do that. He has the speed, he has the bend, and he has the repertoire. The real question is whether or not he has the strength to hold up against NFL-bred offensive tackles, rather than the MAC competition he faced on the perimeter, not many of whom see time at this level.
Regardless of what the plans are for him in the future, whether he plays outside linebacker or inside linebacker or just ends up being a primary contributor on special teams, those are all questions for a later day.
For now, these rookies are just appreciating the fact that they are opening a new chapter of their lives, and also simply just getting back on the football field for the first time in several months. Football in shorts is still football, even if the pads are a long way off.
“It was awesome. It was a good day today just being on the Steelers’ field and being able to run around again”, Smith said, and you can imagine that just about every player participating in this week’s rookie minicamp had a similar reaction.