Veteran Leadership Playing Key Role In Preparing Rookies, Tomlin Says

Alex Highsmith, T.J. Watt

Every single Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft pick this year have played snaps on their respective side of the ball. From top pick Chase Claypool to 7th rounder Carlos Davis and everyone in-between. Sometimes that’s been earned for strong play, sometimes it’s been necessary due to injury. Regardless of reason, the rookies have stepped up under the most difficult of circumstances. Speaking to that fact Tuesday, Mike Tomlin praised the veterans for preparing this group of young guys to take the field. 

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the quality leadership we have from our veteran players,” Tomlin told reporters via the team site. “Who do a really good job embracing our young people. Not only helping them in terms of schematics and X’s and O’s but way of life things. How to take care of your body and things of that nature. We have a really good culture here in that regard. I would imagine if you asked the rookies they would echo the same sentiment. The veteran support that get is significant in terms of allowing them to answer the challenges of playing.”

Chase Claypool has made an impact for most of the season and has taken hold of one of the Steelers’ starting jobs. That included another multi-touchdown performance in Sunday’s win over the Bengals, giving him nine touchdowns this season, tied third most by a Steelers’ rookie in team history. If he hits 11 scores, he’ll tie the record held by Franco Harris and Louis Lipps.

Third rounder Alex Highsmith has perked up, overtaking Ola Adeniyi for the third OLB spot, notching his first sack and interception in recent weeks. Fourth rounder Kevin Dotson has played well when David DeCastro’s been hurt while Anthony McFarland has flashed his speed. 6th rounder Antoine Brooks Jr. made his defensive debut against the Bengals while 7th rounder Carlos Davis has held his own as the d-line depth has been tested by injuries to Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu, and Isaiah Buggs.

Top to bottom, this class has impressed as much as any year before. Despite no rookie minicamps. No spring OTAs. No preseason games. A weird, wacky year that’s changed practice schedules, meetings, travel plans. For Tomlin, that’s thanks to veterans at their position. JuJu Smith-Schuster in the receiver room. Bud Dupree and TJ Watt at outside linebacker. James Conner in the backfield. Most of the starting offensive line, Joe Haden in the secondary and Cam Heyward along the defensive line.

Such veteran leadership doesn’t exist on every single team. Some vets aren’t helpful to rookies, viewing them as guys brought in to threaten their job and roster spot. But the Steelers have proven to be a selfless group, a sentiment echoed by players past and present. It’s making this team better and one reason why they’re the NFL’s lone undefeated squad.

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