The marshmallows have been mostly roasted. The songs have been sung to tedium before the crackling fire.
Yes…we’re approaching the end of the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers camp and everyone is feeling…well a bit campy.
Why not? Every team in the league is a contender, despite where the football pundits place them in their preseason rankings, and the Black and Gold are no exception.
Now it’s time for the one game that really matters…before the games that really matter. That’s the third game of the preseason.
For those who have paid hard money to attend the Steelers preseason games, they probably asked the same question posed by Antonio Brown’s son, “Where’s Roethlisberger?”
No worries. Big Ben Roethlisberger and the starters will be lacing their cleats against the Tennessee Titans and should be expected to play a full half before passing the baton to those vying for their professional football lives.
What kind of team do the Steelers have this year? It will come to light under the big lights.
Yes, it’s WAY too early to panic, but it’s certainly not too early to rub the lamp and hope a genie comes out. Will this be a magical season?
Much will be revealed in Sunday’s third preseason game against the Titans. What’s at stake? Let’s Spin it to find out.
The Mean Truth
There is so much enthusiasm in the air as Steelers Nation is just plain giddy over their new toys in the form of this year’s 2019 NFL Draft selections. Unfortunately, not to go all Ebenezer Scrooge on the unbridled joy, but it’s critical to point out: The rest of the league got a draft as well. Which means that every team is getting younger, faster and more exciting at this time of the year. Not just the Steelers. Sorry.
The only way you win in the draft is if your collective selections score considerably “above the mean”. The teams that REALLY nail this are probably going to benefit from this accomplishment for playoff seasons to come.
With this in mind, how have the Steelers performed in this year’s draft? Is there enough there to replenish the voluminous voids left behind by the Elvises who have left the building this year?
Yes…yes…it takes years to know the true results of a draft…blah…blah…blah talking heads…but we’ll have a good idea following the Titans game this Sunday.
I Can’t Drive 55
One thing we’ve already discovered as early as the first game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And that is, first rounder Devin Bush was definitely worth the picks exchanged to move up in the draft. Based on his NFL premiere performance already, he’s positioning himself as a prime Defensive Player Of The Year candidate.
Bush certainly won’t be obeying any speed limits when it comes to his play on the field. He is fast! And he also didn’t seem to be overly engulfed by the jumbo sized linemen glaring at him each play.
Put this one in the bank, Hank. The Steelers got their next defensive super star.
Getting On The Dan Wagon
The scales have finally come off of the eyes of most of Steelers Nation as they are seeing the light…or more appropriately the solar eclipse in the shape of Big Dan McCullers. He sure can push the pile, can’t he? Uh…yes…he always could. The only thing he couldn’t do was get a break in his first few seasons in the league. He definitely wasn’t former defensive line coach John Mitchell’s type of guy
With defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, he’s getting an opportunity to express himself and the team would be well advised to more actively leverage his unique talents during the regular season. Admittedly, McCullers is a one trick Clydesdale. Don’t hold your breath in waiting to see his new patented spin move. But, he definitely has the ability to lift up the play of everyone around him if given the appropriate reps this year.
As far as those who have lambasted McCullers every season since he came into the league…swearing he would never make the roster…all is forgotten and forgiven. Welcome aboard the Dan Wagon. He’s fun to root for.
We only got to enjoy a few snaps from JuJu Smith-Schuster against the Kansas City Chiefs and none of those were shared with a player wearing the number 7 on his jersey. So there was little to be learned, and there is still plenty of which to be concerned.
If you’re to believe the press, our beloved JuJu is already being fitted for a gold jacket. There is no question he has a megastar personality.
But, we have yet to know what kind of number one receiver he will be in the NFL and this Sunday’s game may begin to reveal that truth.
Not only has JuJu never drawn much double coverage, he didn’t often attract the opponent’s number one corner. Which had me worrying when I was watching him play those few downs against the Chiefs. What if he can’t beat the top cornerbacks in the league one-on-one? If the shut out corners of the NFL are able to shut him down, or at least handle him single-handedly, then this offense is going to collapse.
Juju won’t have to beat double teams for the Steelers to be successful, but he’s going to have to at least draw them. All eyes should be on Smith-Schuster this Sunday for critical clues. He’s blown away every other expectation in his career thus far. There is no reason why he won’t amaze us again.
But, make no mistake. This is a major step up in class.
For your rookies and second year players, the best you’re going to hope for is a flash of brilliance here and there. The plays are too new. The reps are too few. The players they are playing with are too unseasoned. And even the opposing teams are sloppy and scrappy.
But, what you can see early on in a player’s career are those special moments that flash here and there. Something that shows that given time, and development, this player could be a major performer in the NFL.
So who’s flashing? Well, of course, there is the aforementioned Bush. But, I also like what I see from second round draft pick Diontae Johnson. In the little he’s been able to show, he looks quicker and more dynamic than those around him. There is a hint of…dare we say it…early Antonio Brown.
Who else? I think you’ve got to give it to third round pick Justin Layne. Not because of anything spectacular he did in either of the first two preseason games. But, instead, it’s because of the distance he traveled between game one and game two. Against the Buccaneers, he looked like he had a “please kick me” sign on his back. Yet, only one game later against Kansas City? He had the look of an NFL cornerback. That’s some rapid growth.
Lastly, the Steelers need to be pleased with what they’ve seen so far in sixth rounders Isaiah Buggs and Ulysees Gilbert III. Nothing revelatory yet, but they do have the appearance of players who belong on a 53, and that’s always an accomplishment this far down the draft.
The Band Is Tight
Over the past few years, there seems to be a large shift in how Coach Mike Tomlin approaches the preseason. There was a time, not too long ago, where you got the impression he saw it more as a contractual obligation, rather than a critical time to build a championship team. This was in stark contrast with his first couple of years of coaching when his veteran players complained practices were too intense.
It seems as if Coach Tomlin has resolved once again to take every minute and every moment of these practices, scrimmages and preseason games to get iron sharpening iron. The sparks have been flying and this year, you can really see the results.
No, this is not a team that is drowning in super-stardom, at least not yet. With Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant serving as high profile former employees, this isn’t the Galactica the team used to be.
Yet, the Steelers are playing surprisingly tight for this early in the year. By tight, I mean, band tight. And tight is good in a band. It means everyone is in tune, the singer is on key, no broken strings on the guitars and the drums are in proper beat.
The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers look like…a team…a unified team. The band is looking tight and let’s hope it will make for beautiful music this year for its fans.
One of the big reasons the band looks tight is the backup quarterbacks for the Steelers have been rock solid. Mason Rudolph is looking like the quarterback of the future for the team and despite some erratic play, Josh Dobbs is showing big play ability.
The pleasant surprise has been the undrafted quarterback from Samford, Devlin Hodges who is playing so well that fans are clamoring for the Steelers to trade away one of their slingers to make room for him on the roster. To be clear; however, you can’t win Super Bowls with a team full of undrafted quarterbacks.
It’s never happened, and never will.
Folks, one of the key reasons the Steelers are playing well so far, without Big Ben spinning a single football, is that the team invested in draft picks for both Rudolph and Dobbs. Those were not wasted picks. They were the assurance of future depth. Even though they can’t tackle, they can’t block, and most likely can’t help the team today, you have to keep drafting quarterbacks, and you have to draft them high.
What does Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans mean? It’s means it’s Show Time. By that, we mean, show us what you got Steelers.
For teams to go far in the playoffs, they’ve got to get off to rocket starts. And that rocket takes off in just a few weeks.
Free agency. Draft days. Camps, trainings, and preseason coaching. It’s all added up to this.
You want to know what the season is going to look like in 2019? Watch this game and find out.