For the rest of the preseason, we’ll give a recap, position-by-position, player-by-player of what I saw during the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp and preseason games.
Flipping over to the defense with the defensive line.
Cam Heyward: Like always, an excellent camp for Heyward. It’s remarkable how durable he and other key members of the Steelers’ starting d-line is. Heyward got one rest day but beyond that, brought his lunch pail to every other practice. He’s still the team’s strongest defensive lineman and probably the strongest player on the entire team, offense or defense. He consistently beat up Rashaad Coward at the POA, got into the backfield, and was generally a havoc for the Steelers’ offense. That carried over into the Lions’ game where the only way Detroit stopped him was by throwing him to the ground.
Really no complaints about his play. He’s not perfect but one of the players that’s hardest to find any sort of criticism against.
Camp Grade: A
Tyson Alualu: Somehow more of an Ironman than Heyward, Alualu never missed a practice or a rep this summer. Watching him, you’d never know this was a 34-year old. His play was stellar and he challenged Kendrick Green along the interior, winning with power/long-arm. But Alualu has also flashed his quick hands and athleticism, even working on a spin move this summer.
While it’s one of the few stats I don’t have tracked, but Alualu also probably led the d-line in batted passes this summer, doing so in practice and once during the Lions’ game.
Being able to bring him back when it seemed like Jacksonville was going to rip him away was such an underrated moment. Steelers would be in a much worse play without him.
Camp Grade: A-
Chris Wormley: We didn’t hear nor talk much about Wormley this offseason but it was a good camp, his first true offseason with the team after getting traded in the midst of the pandemic a year ago. He saw first-team reps at LDE with Tuitt out and played well, even if we generally didn’t note a particular play he was making. Wormley has prototypical size, length, and is stout at the point of attack. He’s not a tremendous athlete but flashes quick hands; one swim move against the Eagles was highly impressive. He can play either end spot or kick to three tech in sub-package. Solid vet depth.
Camp Grade: B+
Isaiah Buggs: Buggs ran second-team nose tackle the entire camp and did well. Mike Tomlin offered valuable insight into his play, noting he liked Buggs better against the run but that he needed to improve as a pass rusher. It’s hard to gauge how much better he got in the pass game because he saw so many reps at nose tackle and not as many as a sub-package DT. Just seven pass rushing snaps as a DT this preseason. Compare that to Carlos Davis, who has 43 entering Friday’s finale against Carolina.
Buggs play showed he was stout at the point, got off blocks, and got into the opposing backfield. It felt like he was more consistent than year’s past too. His play has warranted a spot on the 53 but this team will have tough decisions to make there.
Camp Grade: B
Carlos Davis: Davis is a little Javon Hargrave-like. A wide body and big lower half who sorta runs with some funky forward lean, he’s a plus athlete with great burst and snap off the ball. As Tomlin noted, they like him better as a pass rusher than run defender. Davis certainly had no issue getting after the QB with two pressures in the first three games and several other ones that were near-pressure. He’s also gotten work on special teams, kick coverage and punt block/return, giving him additional value on gameday beyond being a backup nose tackle/#5 DL.
But like Buggs, he didn’t see much action in the role the team needs to see him in. He logged just 12 snaps as a base, 3-4 defensive lineman and only eight of those came at nose tackle. That makes the evaluation here a bit tougher. I’ve kept Davis on my 53 but I can’t write his name in pen.
Camp Grade: B
Isaiahh Loudermilk: Loudermilk had a good camp. Teammates and coaches noted the need for him to get stronger which is natural for any rookie, especially one who weirdly decided to drop a bunch of weight in the draft process, slimming down to 270 pounds before presumably getting into the 290-300 range for camp this year. Loudermilk got stuck on blocks but improved his hand use throughout camp and did a better job disengaging, though that area of his game could still need work. He’ll have to keep his pad level down and learn how to take on double-teams better, something Karl Dunbar reps nearly every single day.
But Loudermilk has a relentless motor and got better as camp went on. A good start for him, though I’d make him a weekly inactive assuming he makes the 53-man roster.
Camp Grade: B-
Henry Mondeaux: The forgotten man of this defensive line battle, it’s hard to etch a spot for him on the 53. Mondeaux is an impressive athlete who could probably slim down and play tight end or fullback if he really wanted to. And he was the OG of d-lineman running down kicks, which he’s still done this year. Though he’s a ball of energy, it isn’t always channeled well and his actual play along the defensive line was just average.
Crowded along a deep defensive line, his odds of making the 53 are slim. Someone worth keeping on the practice squad especially for that special teams value.
Camp Grade: C+
Abdullah Anderson: Anderson was part of the first wave of cuts. His odds of making the 53 were slim to none even if there were injuries. Anderson was an energetic pass rusher and great hand fighter who worked hard to stay clean on blocks. Anderson had two pressures and a QB sack in only 11 pass rush snaps.
He worked hard in general, always putting in extra reps on the side throughout practice. But this is the NFL – working hard isn’t always simply enough. Was surprised to see him part of the initial cutdown but thems the breaks.
Camp Grade: C
TJ Carter: I’ll give him this. I’m shocked he’s stuck around the roster as long as he has. Given his lack of play time and below average physical traits, I thought he was a shoe-in to be among the first five cut last week. He survived that wave and Tuesday’s second wave of an additional five cuts. I really couldn’t tell you why. Carter has some functional strength at the point of attack and a little bit of versatility, playing up and down the line. In 13 defensive snaps in three games, he’s played all five defensive tackle spots (LDE, LDT, NT, RDT, RDE). He should play a good bit in the finale though I can’t imagine he sticks around and lands on the Week One practice squad. Not with the depth they have. But they sure like him more than I did.
Camp Grade: D
Stephon Tuitt: Tuitt did not practice in training camp. In fact, he’s yet to practice at all. He was on the field most days and occasionally went through individual drills, suggesting he’s not injured, though it’s impossible to know if there is a physical issue at play or if this is a matter of the grieving process after the death of his brother this offseason. It still sounds like he’s expected to play Week 1. But at this point, I can’t be 100% confident in believing so.
Camp Grade: Incomplete