“Winning” the spring only means so much. Which is to say, generally little. You have 31 other fanbases talking about how they have *the* sleeper that’ll take the league by storm. And as Mike Tomlin noted, we’ve seen players kick up dust during OTAs only to flame out once they get to Latrobe.
But we also know that in Pittsburgh at least, players and coaches have been able to identify talent from the get-go. It’s a topic we broached as the spring sessions began. Eli Rogers and Mike Hilton were identified before they made the 53 man roster.
So if you had to pick the next in line, it’s hard to ignore wide receiver Diontae Spencer. Time and time again, his name made its way in conversation. Most recently by ILB Vince Williams, the same way ILB Terence Garvin noticed Rogers several years ago. Williams mentioned Spencer’s name in recapping some of the players who stuck out to him in Teresa Varley’s article yesterday.
“The wide out, (Diontae) Spencer, he was killing it in Canada (in the CFL) and he was out here making splash plays,” he said.
Based on media reports, Spencer mixed in with the first-team throughout some of the OTA and minicamp sessions. While Tomlin placed an emphasis on giving the new/young players time and there’s natural mixing and matching at all positions, especially receiver, it’s still notable.
Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise to hear Spencer play well. This is an environment he should be thriving in. Though undersized, he’s a tremendous athlete who ran a 4.34 40 coming out of McNeese State, as we profiled shortly after he signed. Small, fast receivers like him better excel in shorts and shells.
Though he’s new to the Steelers and relatively green in the NFL, professional football isn’t foreign. He spent the last couple years in the CFL, breaking out in 2017 and following that up with a strong 2018 campaign. That included a 496 all-purpose yard performance with Ottawa two season ago, setting the league record. That gives him the upper hand to other rookies and new faces who haven’t experienced what it takes to play in the league professionally. How to take care of your body, how to train, how to eat, how to deal with the pressure of holding onto your job. No one gets cut in college.
Training camp, obviously, will be the real test. That’s what Tomlin alluded to earlier this week. When the pads come on, when the defense can hit back instead of pulling up with a two-hand touch as the receivers have peace of mind running over the middle. But expect Spencer to produce splash plays. Not only as a receiver but in the return game. If he does that, he’ll be in the mix for one of the final receiver spots. At the very least, he’ll be a lot of fun to watch this summer.