As we’ve done for the past couple years, and with training camp right around the corner, we’re giving a preview of what to watch for from each position group when the Pittsburgh Steelers hit Latrobe. Matthew Marczi has reviewed the additions and subtractions of each unit but this post is for what I’m specifically looking for from each player during camp.
Moving onto the outside linebackers/edge rushers.
TJ Watt: Your expectations should be set high for him. Think he’ll have his best camp which yeah, I suppose is pretty easy to say coming off a 13 sack season. His hand use and ability to defeat blocks, as a pass rusher and run defender, perked up in a big way over the last six weeks of the season. This is a guy who can dominant every single practice. If he doesn’t get an “A” grade in my camp recap, it’ll actually be a little disappointing. He’ll really test that RT group battling for the starting job. Bring your lunch pail, Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor.
Bud Dupree: There isn’t a whole lot left to say with Dupree. I still have a little bit of hope simply due to the fact the injuries he’s played through – he’s a tough guy, even the biggest detractors should admit that – have hindered his ability to convert speed to power. So he needs to get through camp healthy, even if it’s an obvious point and applies to anyone.
Anthony Chickillo: Chick has a role and an important one as a backup the coaches trust and a core, above average special teamer. Keith Butler seemed to hint he’s the heavy favorite as the #3 this year but Ola Adeniyi is going to push him. At this point in his career, Chickillo is maxed out, not much unknown about who he is as a player, but remember his training camps are always strong. His ability to have a pass rush plan and win in multiple ways tends to give OTs fits one-on-one.
Ola Adeniyi: Big year for him. Already, we know he’s capable of getting after the quarterback and defending the run. Want to see that continue, of course, but the big question marks are everything else. How effective will he be on special teams? His squatty frame doesn’t lend itself to that area well but there have been plenty of “meh” open field athletes who have succeeded on special teams before. He’ll also have to show the ability to drop and work in coverage, getting depth, having a feel for routes are coming, and turning and flipping his hips. Good odds to make the team but this preseason will determine his role on gameday. Could range anywhere from the #3 seeing 20-25 snaps a game to being inactive.
Sutton Smith: Agree with Dave Bryan. Smith could create a lot of excitement over this next month. A lot. That doesn’t have to translate to regular season success but he’s an athletic, hair-on-fire type player that tends to thrive in environments like these. He’ll whoop some of the backup tackles off the edge in 1v1 and team drills. I don’t doubt that. But he’ll have to show consistency and the ability to set the edge in the run game. That could be an issue.
Expect him to play some fullback too, given there’s no one else on the roster and the backup TEs are tall and don’t work well in that role. He’s not taking Roosevelt Nix’s job but it’ll be fun to see Smith used as a legit, three-way player during August. Good odds he leads the team in preseason snaps.
Conditioning, then, will be critical. He’s not getting many breathers on there. And for a rookie, it’ll be an even bigger challenge. Let’s see if he’s up to it.
Tuzar Skipper: Teammate of Adeniyi at Toledo. Good size with some power and special teams value. He’ll have to root for Watt and/or Dupree getting off days, not sure if that’s actually going to happen, to let him pick up more reps. Special teams will be key for him to stand out. Make a splash play there but also be assignment sound. Be someone Danny Smith can trust.
JT Jones: Little bit of intrigue here. Jones flashed with Atlanta last year before spending time with the AAF until the league folded. Good burst off the ball that he’ll have to carry over into Latrobe. Very tough path to make it but he might not be an easy cut.