The Pittsburgh Steelers well underway with the offseason workouts at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the heart of the offseason, where hope springs eternal following a few months of pretty significant changes, in terms of both departures and arrivals.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will Jaylen Samuels successfully make big strides in his pass protection?
Believe it or not, there are few things more important for a running back if he wants to earn a regular amount of playing time than being able to master the art of pass protection. This frequently consists of not only diagnosing but stopping blitzing linebackers, which can be a daunting task, and is one of the reasons the Steelers love running the blocking version of the backs-on-backers drill.
This is one area in which Jaylen Samuels struggled during his rookie season, of which he is well aware, because he has talked about wanting to work in improving in that area on a number of different occasions this offseason. He knows that to get more playing time, he has to be able to be trusted to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright. He was responsible for a couple of sacks last season in his relatively brief playing time.
While the Steelers are talking about getting him on the field at the same time as James Conner, if he wants to spend much time actually in the backfield on passing downs as the line running back on the team, he’s going to have to show that he has made some very meaningful progress in his ability to pass protect from last season.
I don’t doubt that he will be able to do that. Since arriving in Pittsburgh, he has in my opinions consistently impressed with the way in which he carries himself and the drive behind his playing that he has talked about.
But believing he can and will do it, and actually seeing him do it, are significantly different things, and pass protection is something that isn’t just about having the willpower to do it. You have to be skilled, intelligent, and strong. It’s not an easy thing to do well, which is why players even like Adrian Peterson, who never mastered it, spent their careers coming off the field on third downs in passing situations.