The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 training camp will get underway on Thursday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe and while there are a lot of things to be excited about when it comes to the team’s rookie class, there should be even more excitement when it comes to the large group of second-year players on the roster as those players will all be expected to make significant jumps in their second season in the NFL. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear exactly one full year ago when it comes to his expectations for second-year players.
“I’m always really consistent about what I expect from a second-year player. I expect a significant jump”, Tomlin said last year during his first training camp press conference. “And it’s reasonable to expect that. They’ve been through this process in totality. They understand the culture that we’ve built here, what’s expected from them and how they potentially fit in it”.
This year’s group of second-year players that are currently expected to make the 53-man roster obviously includes several members from last year’s draft class. That group also includes one notable undrafted free agent the team signed last year. With that, below is a look at this year’s group of second-year Steelers that will be expected to make significant jumps in 2019.
S Terrell Edmunds – If not for safety Morgan Burnett starting last season off injured, Edmunds, the team’s first-round draft pick last year, wouldn’t have had to start right out of the chute at one of the two safety spots and thus could have been brought along a bit slower. Not only did Edmunds have to start right out of the chute for the Steelers as a rookie, he wound up playing the second-most amount of defensive snaps on the team in 2018 as only fellow safety Sean Davis had more. Edmunds’ head was obviously spinning at times last season on his way to registering 78 total tackles, an interception and a sack. He was forced to learn on the fly and thus didn’t have a much fuller grasp of the defense until late in the season. He wasn’t able to play up to his expected speed because he was having to think quite a bit. With 16 games underneath his belt and a full offseason to get himself even better conditioned for an NFL season, Edmunds will be expected to make a significant jump in 2019. He’ll likely be asked to interchange safety positions some in 2019 and cover even more down low in the box. His now perceived complete understanding of the defense should allow him to play up to full speed and thus result in some big plays being made.
The Steelers safety depth chart isn’t very deep at all ahead of camp starting and while there will obviously be a lot of eyes on rookie inside linebacker Devin Bush and his ability to significantly impact the defense in 2019, Edmunds needs a lot of eyes on him as well. If Edmunds doesn’t make a significant jump in 2019, the roars related to the Steelers seemingly over-drafting him will be loud enough to break car windows.
WR James Washington – Washington’s 2018 rookie season wound up being extremely disappointing as last year’s second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State wound up registering just 16 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown despite playing a little more than 47% of all offensive snaps. At the very least, Washington, who was even benched for two games during his rookie season, ended his first NFL campaign on a very positive note as 8 of his receptions and 140 of his receiving yards came in the team’s final four games. He even had a few deep pass receptions late in his rookie season and that’s something he was known for doing quite a bit of during his very productive college career. In his second NFL season, Washington is likely to play quite extensive in personnel groupings that require three or more wide receivers with him getting most of his reps at the Z position. With wide receiver Antonio Brown now gone and with wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster now expected to get most of the attention from opposing defenses in 2019, Washington should have a lot of opportunities to win down the field against average and below-average cornerbacks. He needs to be the team’s field-stretcher and also become a better extended play option for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
While with the Steelers, Brown, who mostly played the X position, made more than his fair share of explosive plays with several of them ending in touchdowns. He won at all three levels on the field and quite often on extended plays. Washington now needs to take up some of that slack created by the departure of Brown. Like all of the second-year Steelers players on this list, Washington should be better conditioned than he was last season. It’s already been reported that he’s dropped some weight and is faster because of that. We saw last year during the preseason the kind of things Washington can potentially do in the NFL on a weekly basis. Now we need to see him do those same things and more on a consistent basis in the regular season. This year’s regular season.
T Chukwuma Okorafor – The Steelers young second-year tackle out of Western Michigan wound up playing a lot more than most thought he would during his rookie season. That was mainly a result of tackle Marcus Gilbert missing a lot of last season due to an injury.
While Okorafor wasn’t chosen to be the player to replace Gilbert at the starting right tackle last season, as that distinction went to Matt Feiler, he did see a decent amount of offensive snaps as an extra tight end. Okorafor, however, did make one start later in his rookie season due to Feiler being banged up. He was provided a lot of help in that game against the Denver Broncos, however, and with good reason because of him having to square off quite a bit against their premier edge-rusher Von Miller. With Okorafor being a third-round draft pick, the expectation is that he should beat out Feiler this summer for the open starting right tackle spot that was created with the offseason trading away of Gilbert. It will be really disappointing if he’s unable to do that. Assuming he does win that starting spot, Okorafor will be expected to make even more significant improvements as the 2019 progresses. He’ll easily be considered the weakest link on the Steelers offensive line until he proves otherwise. That proving needs to happen quickly.
QB Mason Rudolph – Obviously, nobody reading this post wants to see Rudolph have to play any meaningful snaps during the 2019 season because that would mean that something happened to Roethlisberger. That said, the Steelers will always be one snap away from having their number-two quarterback being on the field. Will Rudolph be the Steelers number-two in 2019? That should be the expectations due to the team spending a third-round draft pick on him in 2018. The Steelers maintain that they had a first-round grade on Rudolph, who like Washington, played his college football at Oklahoma State. The Steelers also drafted Rudolph just one year after they selected their other backup quarterback from last season, Joshua Dobbbs, in the fourth-round in the 2017 NFL Draft. Dobbs beat out Rudolph last season for the right to back up Roethlisberger and a repeat of that better not happen again. If it does, the Steelers shouldn’t be thrilled at all by that. Rudolph should get plenty of playing time during the preseason along with Dobbs. He needs to very visibly be the better of the two quarterbacks in those four games.
S Marcus Allen – Allen’s 2018 rookie season was essentially a red shirt one after being selected in the fifth round as the Penn State product spent all but two games on the inactive list. Not only did Allen play just less than 20 defensive snaps during his rookie season, he only logged 12 special teams snaps as well. In his second season in the NFL, Allen should be expected to dress for every game. Can he be the team’s dime safety this year? That’s what the early expectations seem to be when it comes to what Tomlin has said this past offseason. He’ll likely be expected to be the first safety off the bench in some instances during his second season and be a core special teams player to boot. We know so little about Allen as a Steelers player to date due to him being inactive most of his rookie season. At the very least, Allen should be expected to be a special teams demon for the Steelers in 2019 and the team certainly could use another one of those. We’ll learn a lot more about Allen over the course of the next six weeks. Hopefully that learning about includes several significant plays being made by him.
RB Jaylen Samuels – Nobody would have dreamed after Samuels was selected in the fifth-round last year that he would go on to see a significant amount of playing time during his rookie season. However, thanks to running back Le’Veon Bell deciding to sit out the 2018 season, Samuels wound up becoming the main backup to fellow running back James Conner as the season progressed. After Conner went down injured late last season, Samuels was thrust into the starting role. While the Steelers only managed to win one of the three games that Samuels started late last season, the North Carolina State product didn’t disappoint in his playing time as both a runner and a pass catcher. Samuels’ rookie season ended with him having registered 256 rushing yards and 199 receiving yards. He also scored three touchdowns as a rookie and all three came via receptions.
Samuels played almost 24% of all special teams snaps last season and that percentage might increase a little in his second season. He will also likely be the backup to Conner at the start of the 2019 regular season and see a series or two of offensive action on a weekly basis. His patient running style and receiving ability should make for a nice compliment to Conner, who doesn’t need to be overworked in 2019. Samuels is primed for a bigger statistic line in his second season as a result of lot more meaningful playing time.
OLB Olasunkanmi Adeniyi – If not for a hamstring injury that he suffered last year during the preseason, Adeniyi probably would have seen some meaningful playing time on defense as the year progressed. After all, last year’s undrafted free agent out of Toledo really represented himself well in the exhibition games not only as a pass rusher, but as a run defender as well. However, the hamstring injury Adeniyi suffered resulted in him spending a good portion of 2018 on the team’s Reserve/Injured list and that of course resulted in way too many missed practices and him falling way behind the proverbial fast-moving train.
By the time Adeniyi was finally activated to the Steelers 53-man roster in 2018, he only found himself on the field for 9 defensive plays in total in the remaining games and he played zero on special teams to boot. Adeniyi’s second season in the NFL figures to include him being able to push to become the team’s primary backup outside linebacker. Currently, Anthony Chickillo seemingly has that honor. A solid 2019 training camp and preseason by Adeniyi could change that, however. If Adeniyi can’t overtake Chickillo in the next six weeks, he should be able to finally accomplish that goal by the middle of the 2019 season. In addition to pushing for a higher spot on the Steelers outside linebacker spot in 2019, Adeniyi, like all backup linebackers on the Steelers, will need to become a special teams contributor quickly and thus warrant being given a game-day helmet every week. Adeniyi doesn’t have a lot of experience when it comes to special teams so it will be interesting to watch him perform in that phase of the game over the course of the next six weeks.
A very solid showing in 2019 by Adeniyi could result in him being a starter a year from now. While that’s a seemingly significant jump to make in 2019, it’s a seemingly achievable one just the same. He has a lot to play for this season.