The Pittsburgh Steelers have been fortunate in recent years to get substantial playing time, and even production, from their young players. Not by coincidence, they have also happened to have needed those contributions early on from players such as T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and last year’s first-round pick, Terrell Edmunds. They will probably need the same from Devin Bush, the inside linebacker for whom they traded up in the first round in April.
As for Edmunds, he wasn’t supposed to have the role that he ended up with, as we all know by now. He was to be groomed, even used as the dimebacker as a rookie while the veteran free agent addition, Morgan Burnett, lined up at strong safety. But a funny thing happened on the way to the ice bath, and the Virginia Tech alumnus started in his stead.
And now Head Coach Mike Tomlin is putting the pressure on him and the rest of the second-year players to step up this year. They could have as many as three starters and five significant contributors from the class in 2019, with Chukwuma Okorafor and James Washington in competition for starting jobs this summer.
“He’s putting the extra emphasis on guys like myself, James Washington, Marcus Allen, Jaylen Samuels, Big Chuks — just all the guys that came in my class. And even, just everyone, just coming out and trying to get better”, he told Jacob Klinger back in May. “And you can look at guys like James last year or T.J. or JuJu, guys that just took that next step and they’re in the Pro Bowl. So he just told us we got to come out, work. He’s making us go extra hard. So we’re just going out there and working”.
Klinger wrote that he has also exhibited signs of leadership and veteran understanding. Not long after Steven Nelson signed and got his playbook, the veteran cornerback was coming to the second-year safety to talk about plays and figure out their alignment together based on the personnel.
I don’t think I need to remind you how important communication and alignment are to the secondary, especially the Steelers’, as some of their biggest problems have been in that regard rather than in post-snap concerns.
Edmunds played a ton of snaps as a rookie already, including starting in 15 games and playing significantly in all of them. He never missed a snap due to injury and finished the year registering 78 tackles, one sack, one interception, and four passes defensed.
Now he is established, however. There is no more learning curve that will be accepted for him. He is a veteran with essentially a full season of starting experience under his belt. The training wheels are off, and while he is expected to continue to grow, he also has to carry himself both on and off the field as that experienced starter. So far, he seems to have done that.