There used to be a time that when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a pass rusher, his conversion was a major project. 4-3 college ends who almost never stood up, played on their feet, or moved backwards. And if you found one of those guys, it was like uncovering a Holy Grail. In today’s college football landscape, those guys are a lot easier to find. And even “defensive ends” like sixth-round pick Quincy Roche have quite a bit of experience playing with their hand up.
“I stood up a lot at Temple,” Roche said via a Zoom call provided by the team. “Stood up a lot at Miami. Put my hand in the dirt some but I’m comfortable for the most part because I’ve done it before. My position was tight at defensive end but I was doing all kinds of things. Had all kind of packages and I always stood up. So I’m comfortable.”
That much was obvious in just watching a couple of his games. Defenses in college have become more versatile and varied to combat all the different looks offenses present. Rarely today are fronts static and that allows players like Roche to move around and play with his hand up or down. And that makes his projection easier.
Roche didn’t seem to drop into coverage a lot in school, especially at Temple where the team relied on his pass-rush abilities. But he does have some experience there as a zone/flat dropper. Even moving backwards and covering won’t be brand new to him.
Truth be told though, Steelers’ pass rushers don’t cover much these days. Last season, Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt dropped less than 10% of the time. Compare that to Watt as a rookie, who did it 36% of his snaps. Some of that is dictated by what the offense is doing. If they’re in a Twin WR set, oftentimes the strongside OLB will walk out and cover. But the Steelers have focused on letting their pass rushers get after the QB and maximize their talent.
Roche will be in the mix be one of the team’s top backups behind Watt and sophomore Alex Highsmith. With depth thin at the position, Roche’s top competition will be Cassius Marsh, plucked off the Colts’ practice squad last season. Marsh struggled, though, especially against the run. The team’s run defense as a whole degraded throughout the year as injuries piled up.