Six practices remain in the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 training camp but Sunday’s session wrapped up the longest stretch of work. Soon enough, with a game this week, the focus will rightfully move to the games and you won’t care much about what happens during training camp. Now that we have a decent body of work of camp, here are five Steelers having the best camp I’ve ever seen from them. This only applies to third year and older players, not sophomores making obvious jumps from Year One to Year Two.
BJ Finney – I’ve learned not to be worried about Finney when he has a rocky camp because the product we see when he spot starts is pretty good. But in the past, he’s been overpowered and overworked by guys like Javon Hargrave and Daniel McCullers, the latter simply being just too big and strong and the former equaling Finney in the leverage battle and running him backwards in team and one-on-one sessions. Last year, we have him a C+ camp grade and a C- in 2017, pointing to the struggles he has when he’s covered up by nose tackles as opposed to being uncovered as a guard.
But this year feels different. I’m not sure what it is. If he’s gotten stronger, playing with better technique and leverage, or simply gotten used to battling Hargrave and McCullers enough that he’s adjusted. But he’s doing a better job with his hands to re-punch when he does lose ground off the snap and has the ability to anchor and rebuff bull rushes. Linemen are admittedly hard to watch, especially interior guys like him, but it’s nice to say for once he’s having a strong August.
Matt Feiler – Like any good linemen, his camp hasn’t been loud but it’s been consistently excellent. Feiler possesses the combination of size and strength that makes him tough to go around and almost impossible to bull. His technique with his hands and his hips are top notch, never feeling out of control in the rush, even in the rare moment where he loses. And he’s been able to show the versatility that helped him originally make the team, logging time at both guard spots in addition to right tackle.
Not calling the battle with Chukwuma Okorafor over – yet – but it’s difficult to see him not starting come Week One.
Daniel McCullers – McCullers is dang near a lock to make the Steelers. How about them apples? Kudos to Big Dan for legitimately playing well and earning his roster spot, not making it by default. He’s played with increased physicality and tenacity and though I never considered him to be a lazy player, he seems to be straining to the end of plays now. In the past, he’d lean on guys and sorta loaf. Safe to say DL coach Karl Dunbar has brought the best out of him. You can see the difference the “right” coaching makes, Dunbar’s personality meshing better with McCullers than John Mitchell’s ever did.
Tyler Matakevich – It’s not been an overwhelmingly spectacular camp but a very good one for Dirty Red. His ability to take on blocks, disengage, and find the football have routinely been on display and overall, he’s been a reliable tackler. Some of that lack of speed gets exposed in the one on one coverage drills but the team knows who he is by now. Credit to him for carving out a valuable niche role as a 7th rounder. I still don’t want him within spitting distance of the defense though. But this camp has been good.
Cam Sutton – A clear winner of camp. One of my biggest issues with Sutton playing in the slot was his run defense. While he’s still a guy with a wiry frame, his aggressiveness and tackling have really improved. Mike Tomlin has praised him repeatedly during practice for putting his face in the fan. In coverage, he’s always around the ball, getting his hand in throwing lanes or capitalizing on tipped passes, like his interception early in camp.
He’s been versatile, playing inside/out, and looks to have the inside track on dime packages, though the team may scale those back to more obvious pass situations. Last year, they used dime more often than any personnel grouping and would run it on any down & distance including bizarre situations like on the goal line versus multiple tight ends.