For the rest of the preseason, we’ll give a recap, position-by-position, player-by-player of what I saw during the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp and preseason games. Let’s finish out the offense and tear through the offensive line.
Matt Feiler: Feiler the lone starter who didn’t get the Tomlin spa treatment. He practiced every year, getting shifted around from right tackle to right and left guard on days where DeCastro/Pouncey didn’t work. That probably wasn’t ideal for him, not letting him receive consistent work at RT (especially in games) but still, Feiler has locked down the right tackle job. Opened and closed as the starter.
He’s big, strong, and physical on all his blocks. Can occasionally get beat around the edge because he isn’t the greatest athlete laterally but it’s an issue that didn’t show up often. Just love his consistency for a guy who has been bounced around as much as he has. Nothing seems to bother the dude and he’s someone coaches trust to get the job done, no matter where it is.
Camp Grade: A-
BJ Finney: Really good camp for Finney. Which might seem like a no-brainer but he’s struggled in years past. Last year, we gave him just a C+. This year was different. He didn’t get overwhelmed at the point of attack by nose tackles, primarily by Javon Hargrave, that would allow penetration like he did before. It was his best camp, logging time at center and guard, and he’s the top backup at both spots.
Camp Grade: A-
Zach Banner: Kudos to Banner. A lot of guys in his shoes would be out of the league right now and their career over. In 2017, he weighed 420 pounds as a member of the Cleveland Browns. He bounced around the league, spent the start of the 2018 camp on the couch before the Steelers brought him in. He got his weight down, in shape, and for the second year in a row, seems destined to make the 53 man roster for the second year in a row.
Despite losing 80 pounds and getting down to *just* 340, he’s still the biggest dude on the field and dwarfs most pass rushers. His angles and strength in the run game makes him successful on his down blocks. His issue is a lack of versatility. He’s a right tackle only who struggled mightily on the blindside against Tampa Bay and hasn’t gotten any reps at guard. That should make him inactive on gameday but worth rostering if injuries strike. Props to him for turning around his career.
Camp Grade: B+
Alejandro Villanueva: A predictably A-ok camp for Villanueva, who missed a bit of time with regular rest and a shoulder issue, something he’s admitted he deals with every year, but he looks like he’ll be his regular Villanueva self. Good battles with Bud Dupree this year. No cause for concern with him.
Camp Grade: B
Ramon Foster: Like most of the starters, he didn’t practice a ton, getting regular rest and seemingly having at least one minor injury that kept him out an extra practice or two. Though a below average athlete at this stage of his career, his technique is impeccable and his size means you need a GPS to figure out how to get around him. Consistent, reliable, and a leader in the locker room. Always got a kick out of his one-on-one battles with Cam Heyward in OL/DL.
The “B” grade I’m handing out like candy to these vets is pretty much the default “veteran player who didn’t need to show much” output.
Camp Grade: B
David DeCastro: Welcome to the “B” club, David DeCastro. Another guy held out several days with “soreness” as Mike Tomlin coined it. Bummed he didn’t get to really square off with Stephon Tuitt in OL/DL like they do every year. Not much note other than recognizing like Pouncey, DeCastro is one of the top three at his position. Giving him extra rest was smart to ensure he’s ready to go Week 1. It’s always a long year for those linemen.
Camp Grade: B
Fred Johnson: His Florida tape was impressive and as soon as the team announced their UDFA class, I pointed to him having the most talent.
Fred Johnson, the guard from Florida, might be my favorite Steelers UDFA. Thought he could've been drafted. #Steelers
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) April 28, 2019
He began at right guard, where he primarily played in college but by the end, played every position sans center. He’s definitely not a tackle and you definitely don’t want him on the blindside, but the coaches trusted him enough to move around. He’s big, functions well in space, and is strong with a great anchor to support a lack of technique. His punch and hand use must improve and he opens his chest too easily along with some issues identifying stunts and blitzes.
Still a good chance to make the roster and there’s upside to be realized but he’s a ways away and didn’t play *as* well as some may claim.
Camp Grade: B-
Patrick Morris: Certainly some improvement over his rookie camp where he finished well below my expectations. But he’s still undersized, underpowered, and without great length, and he can get walked back too often. Shows up in the run game more than it does in pass, believe it or not. Decent athlete, good finisher, and again, have seen improvement, and he could be kept on the practice squad as the #3 center, but his NFL ceiling is a back-end player on the 53.
Camp Grade: C+
Derwin Gray: Definitely a big body in the mold of Ramon Foster. Fun to watch he and Banner line up next to each other and just tower over the defense. Strong anchor, hard to get around, and creates a push in the run game. Quiet stretch mid-way through camp and it took until the second week for him to get serious work as part of the 2nd team. Good practice squad material and I’m excited to watch him in the preseason finale.
Camp Grade: C
Chukwuma Okorafor: Fair to call him one of the bigger disappointments of training camp. Never gave Feiler the push for the right tackle gig like I thought he would and now there’s even the faint question of if he’ll be the swing man over Zach Banner. He probably will be, he’s better on the left side and I like him more as the tackle eligible linemen but that just shows Okorafor didn’t make the jump – so far – in his sophomore season.
Specifically, his hand placement was poor and he struggled to create power on his punch because of it. Chuks is a plus athlete who gets to his spot quickly but is still working on getting stronger and playing with consistent technique. Very much a work in progress.
Camp Grade: C-
Garrett Brumfield: Brumfield did a lot in camp. He was the ball-boy the few times Ben Roethlisberger and Pouncey did the crossbar challenge before practice. He played peacekeeper during practice, diffusing the situation when tempers got hot. And he was the QB in OL/DL, which was kinda annoying because he rarely got to you know, actually participate in the drill (can’t they have a coach do it? Or just a dummy?). Brumfield is an old-school player who looks to finish every block but snaps where hard to come by, he’s received just nine through the first two games, and he’s on the ground too much. Not big enough, not mobile enough, and is unlikely to stick past cutdowns.
Camp Grade: D+
Jerald Hawkins: To his credit, he has gotten better after shaking off some of the rust associated with him not playing since the spring of 2018. But it was as rocky a start as it could be, getting whooped repeatedly by speed and power by virtually every edge rusher he faced. Dude could barely get a hand on Ola Adeniyi that first week.
I do appreciate his effort and his awesome attitude, never outwardly getting down about his chances or situation despite hurdling obstacle after obstacle. A lot of dudes would’ve thrown in the towel. Not Hawkins.
I was hoping, best case scenario, to have serve as a possible trade candidate had he played well enough. But he’ll have to kill it the final two weeks to build up any sort of value and even though, he’s probably worth just a conditional 7th round pick. Maybe someone like Houston, if they don’t get Trent Williams will be desperate. Hawkins is getting traded as just depth anyway no matter where he goes.
Camp Grade: D+
Damian Prince: Spent all of camp as the 3rd string left tackle, save for 2-3 snaps when he flipped to the right side late in camp. Decent size but honestly barely saw him enough to give an evaluation. He was out there for every practice to his credit and I don’t think he embarrassed himself but just didn’t have the reps to stick around. Dude hardly even saw work in OL/DL. Sucks being a 3rd stringer and with the depth the team had at tackle, there was no chance to move up even when guys had days off.
Camp Grade: D+
JC Hassenauer: He suffered a knee injury mid-way through training camp and struggled even more than he was. Like Morris, undersized and lacks length, and far too grabby in pass protection. Don’t see a special trait in his game though he seems like a tough, hard-nosed linemen with some interior versatility. Got passed up by Derwin Gray after the first game as 2nd team right guard. Pretty easy cut.
Camp Grade: D
Maurkice Pouncey: Going to have to give him an incomplete for all the team missed with a possible back injury. Even prior to that, he was held out of a couple of practices and when he does work in full, never works in OL/DL and hasn’t for years. But you know who Pounce is. A top three center in football and a guy you’re going to miss when he hangs up his cleats.
Camp Grade: Incomplete