The Pittsburgh Steelers, through two weeks, have had the most aggressive pass rush in the NFL. And this hasn’t been surprising in the least, with a front four consisting of T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Cameron Heyward, and Stephon Tuitt, who have combined for five of the team’s 10 sacks so far this season.
Their skill has been crucial to the defense’s success so far this year, but it’s also been an asset to the offensive line, which is critical right now in particular as they have been breaking int two new players, including a new starting right tackle in Chukwuma Okorafor.
Back in August, during training camp, head coach Mike Tomlin talked about how important Watt had been in helping them make judgments about the state of the right tackle competition between Okorafor and Zach Banner, which the latter ended up winning.
After Banner’s injury, Okorafor is the man, of course, and Watt will continue to help him grow throughout the season—but so will the rest of the pass rushers, such as Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Alex Highsmith, the two backup outside linebackers, who play on both sides of the line.
“I feel like everyone here is good”, Okorafor said about the pass-rushers that he faces in practice. “If it’s T.J. Watt, Ola, Highsmith, everyone is obviously here because they’re good. You’ve just got to come out daily, whether it’s camp or on game day”.
Although it wasn’t perfect by any means, Okorafor did well in his first start of the season. Pro Football Focus, for example, credits him with allowing only one hurry during the game—he actually did better in this area than Banner did the week before.
Adeniyi is now in his third season and is seeing more playing time than he has in his first two years, when he has dealt with injury. Highsmith is a rookie third-round pick, and they have been on the field for a few dozen snaps combined so far, managing to notch a few pressures between them.
In terms of practice, however, the important part is that all of the pass rushers he faces at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex know how to use their hands and to set up their pass-rushing moves. Watt is obviously the premiere pass rusher and the rest take their cues from him, but seeing a variety of players is also a benefit.
Okorafor said that the Denver Broncos tried to throw a number of things at himself and Kevin Dotson as new faces on the right side of the line, but they generally did well with communication and handling pressure, but, as always, there are still things that can be improved upon. And that will come not just on the practice field but in the film room as well.