2020 has been a unique year in itself, included in that uniqueness is the Steelers’ entire 2020 draft class seeing snaps in regular season games. The “next man up” mentality has more than run its course for the Steelers this year. Last Monday, against the Cincinnati Bengals, it was time for a 2019 draft pick to step up. Derwin Gray was a tackle out of Maryland drafted in the seventh round of the draft with the 219 overall pick. After spending all of 2019 and part of 2020 on the Steelers’ practice squad, he’s finally seeing some game action mid-way through his second season. Most of his snaps thus far were field goal and extra points, but he did see some offensive snaps in week six against the Cleveland Browns as well as week eleven against the Jacksonville Jaguars while both games were well in hand.
Monday, Gray finally was able to see his first meaningful snaps in the NFL, 16 offensive snaps to be exact. It looked like Pittsburgh was having an open competition at the left guard position mid-game, interchanging J.C. Haussenauer and Gray seemingly by the drive. While Haussenauer finished with 75 percent of the offensive snaps compared to Gray’s 25 percent, I’d argue the film leans in favor of Gray. Not only the tape, but also some of the cold hard stats, presented by Steelers Depot’s own, Alex Kozora, earlier this week:
Small sample size, I know, but YPC and run success rate with JC Hassenauer vs Derwin Gray at LG. #Steelers
Hassenauer: 2.5 YPC, 46.7% run success rate
Gray: 8.3 YPC, 50% run success rate
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) December 23, 2020
As Alex pointed out above, it is far from conclusive evidence when looking at a sample size of 16 snap. However, when trying to solve a Steelers run game that has been dreadful a large part of the season, it’s hard not to look at every avenue for a solution. Let’s take a look at some of Gray’s snaps against the Bengals.
The first thing that stands out about Gray compared to Haussenauer is his overall frame. According to the Steelers website, Gray stands at 6’4” 320 pounds compared to Haussenauer’s 6’2” 295 pounds. It’s one thing to have the size advantage, it’s a whole different discussion to actually use it. Gray does.
Watch at the snap, Gray has two linebackers in blitz posture over his gaps. He doesn’t look rattled, he shows off his limber feet and patiently takes the B-gap blitzer. While it’s a safety that ends up blitzing, Gray still shows off his strong hands to grip the Bengal up and then uses his strong lower half to push the blitzer safely out of the play.
Here’s a run play the Steelers run behind Gray. He gets a chip from the left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, and he continues the black to clear the hole for Benny Snell. The backside pursuit and linebackers eventually stack the play up but Gray does his job. The one thing he has to watch is getting his hands outside on defenders, this play and another play in this article could easily have seen a hold being called.
On this sweep play, Gray again gets some help from Villanueva, but does his job to pin the Bengals defensive lineman just enough to help Snell slip through for his biggest run of the game.
The one thing I love about Gray on this draw is it’s the first time you can truly see his meanstreak. He whiffs initially on his chip with Maurkice Pouncey, but quickly works up to the second level and eats up the linebacker. Not only is it a solid block, but you have to respect him finishing the play, blocking the linebacker almost to the goalline.
The play following the draw, Gray again shows his meanstreak. Watch as he keeps a wide base and keeps his feet and hands working throughout the play. Not much to say other than, great rep.
While this play is far from special, the reason I wanted to include simply so you can see the strength Gray has behind his 320 pound frame. While he comes out of the pass set higher than you’d like, you can still see him stun the defensive lineman back with his initial punch and bench press.
This turned out to be Gray’s last play of the game. Gray again shows great strength, getting under the defensive lineman and easily driving him off the line. This is the second play that I mentioned previously that could have drawn a holding penalty. There’s no reason to grab here at the end and ruin a great rep.
In the end, it’s much too small of sample size to draw anything from Gray’s game, but he definitely showed some potential. While it’s still up in the air if rookie Kevin Dotson will play against the Colts, if he cannot, I’d like to see Gray see some more snaps. We’ve seen enough of Hassenauer to know who he is.