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.
Concluding the offensive side of the ball with the offensive line.
Kevin Dotson: Bit of a weird camp for Dotson, at least the start, though maybe we all read too much into the situation. Dotson didn’t work for the first several practices with what was eventually deemed an ankle injury. The team brought him along slowly. There’d be days where Dotson would dress in pads but only do minor work on the side and he ran second-team when he did return, unlike Okorafor and Banner, who jumped into first-team reps as soon as they get cleared.
But a mauling performance versus the Eagles got him back into the starting lineup and he hasn’t looked back. Dotson may struggle a bit out in space but he’s a tenacious run blocker with great anchor in pass pro. Strong chance he’s the top lineman on this team this year.
Camp Grade: B+
Dan Moore Jr: Moore is a good case study to why you shouldn’t overreact to how some guys start camp. Just like Steven Nelson in 2019, Moore had a difficult start but got a lot better throughout. He became more comfortable in pass pro, getting beat by speed less often, and playing to his athleticism. He was fun to watch get out into the flat on screens, pushed his weight around in the run-game, and played with a chip on his shoulder. Maybe too much of a chip – I don’t think any Steeler has gotten into more camp fights than Moore, who sparred with Cam Heyward on a regular basis.
Moore has been cross-trained at right tackle over the last week. Again, there was a learning curve, once getting whooped by UDFA OLB Jamar Watson on three consecutive reps in OL/DL. But he settled in and held his own versus Detroit at his new position. Moore is a good athlete with experience, size, and he’s a hard worker. That’s a foundation coaches can work with. He could get the gameday hat over Joe Haeg and has potential – though it’s still just that – as the starting tackle next season.
Camp Grade: B+
Trai Turner: To his credit, Turner was the only non-rookie starter practicing out of the gate. And despite the occasional new-guy vet day off Mark Barron-style, Turner was healthy and available. He’s physical, big, and plays with a definite edge in the run game and pass pro. Dude is going to pick up some slabs this year.
Athletically though, he’s limited. At this point in his career, he’s a lumbered who struggles getting to the second level on zone/combo blocks and won’t be an asset in the screen game. And I worry about that. In this system, these big guys have to move. It’s why they drafted Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. And Turner sticks out as the guy who doesn’t fit. He’s their best fallback option after David DeCastro’s release but I worry he’s going to have his struggles. Overall though, his camp was fine.
Camp Grade: B
Zach Banner: The team was careful with getting Banner back out on the field and to an extent, have continued to limit his reps. He played just two series against the Lions, the first lineman to the bench, and the team even held him out of most if not all two-minute drills in camp, ostensibly so he wouldn’t have to run downfield in a hurry-up offense. Understandably, he’s still wearing a knee brace.
When he practiced and played, he was fine. It was good to see him out there, a long way back after last year’s ACL tear just over three quarters into the season. He certainly made his presence felt in the run game and I’m a lot happier to have him at RT this year to be one of the key run blockers – Okorafor didn’t get the job done last year (granted, nor did the rest of the line). There was one play in camp that stuck out to me. I don’t know who it was against but on a run right side, Banner swallowed up his guy and promptly pushed him a good five yards to the side.
Banner is close to getting an incomplete grade because of his limited practice time and his slow entry into the season, but it’s just enough to offer a letter here. What he did do was solid.
Camp Grade: B
Kendrick Green: A somewhat polarizing rookie, there’s been a lot of good. But there’s also been bad. Traits-wise, he’s the most athletic lineman on the team and it isn’t close. He moves like an in-his-prime Maurkice Pouncey and honestly, I think he’s more athletic than that. Green is a natural mover and can easily get out into the second and third level in space. He can pull too, something Pouncey did well for the bulk of his career. Green also brings nasty to this offensive line Adrian Klemm and company have been searching for.
But he’s very much rough around the edges, an underclassman who didn’t have much experience at center in school. A lack of size, length, and importantly, technical limitations, have caused him problems. I think he’s done a better job in the NFL than at Illinois for staying on his feet and keeping his base. But defenders give him fits with bull and long-arm rushes; Green has struggled to win those reps early, allow defenders into his chest, and walk him back.
He’s going to start this year and deservedly so. He’s had the occasional mental mistake but he’s been better there than maybe I expected. But there will be high and low moments this year. Count on that.
Camp Grade: B-
B.J. Finney: Finney had a fine camp. It was easy to forget about him at times, to be honest. He worked along the interior, more guard than center, and I don’t have many complaints. Nor do I have a lot of praise here either. It sure sounds like he’s doing much better than he did a year ago, quickly flaming out of Seattle after the pandemic disrupted his offseason training.
He’s a bit on the roster bubble, fighting with J.C. Hassenauer, but if they hold onto Finney, I won’t be upset about it.
Camp Grade: B-
J.C. Hassenauer: Similar to Finney, I didn’t spend a lot of time watching Hassenauer this summer. Part of that is due to a knee injury he suffered, causing him to miss a few practices. But he returned and finished out camp. Part of that is getting lost in the middle of the action.
His size and athleticism are average to below but he has 300+ snaps from last season at his back, making this camp probably easier on him. He also plays with a tough-guy, physical demeanor that I’m sure is endearing to coaches. He’s gotten the most center reps behind Green and it seems like the team’s pegging him to be their backup center. He also has guard versatility though I’d only be comfortable playing him at the pivot.
Camp Grade: B-
John Leglue: He’s far from the most talented player but he wins the award for Mr. Versatility. Leglue had been a tackle in his career but wound up playing there, guard, center, and even long snapper this summer. He has good size and some power in his hands. Athletically, he’s just average, and his ceiling isn’t high. That’s why he’s done all he can to increase his versatility. And I give him a lot of credit for that. It’s a smart strategy. I think it’s enough to keep him on the practice squad
Camp Grade: B-
Joe Haeg: Billed as a swing tackle when signed over from Tampa Bay, he saw work at both tackle spots this camp. I don’t believe he was used as a 6th lineman/tackle-eligible though I don’t think that was used much of all this summer. Haeg is an above average run blocker with leg drive and gets a push but he struggled in pass pro, getting whooped by Melvin Ingram on a couple of spin moves in OL/DL. Even assuming he sticks on the roster, he’s here for just one season and primarily for his run blocking and versatility.
Camp Grade: C+
Rashaad Coward: Props to this guy for his availability. I don’t think anyone on this entire roster, 1-90, took more reps than Coward did. He logged first-team reps for the first-half of camp until Dotson was deemed ready and there were days where the lines got thin in which Coward got work on the first and second-team, a rarity to see in camp. That’s a testament to his conditoning, training, taking care of his body (die, sleep, recovery, etc), doing the little things to be out there and attack each day.
But there’s a difference between availability and talent. Coward did the first part. Less so the second part. To be fair, he faced Cam Heyward in many situations, a tough matchup for anyone. Heyward ate his lunch, routinely winning at the POA with the elite strength he has. Coward struggles to stay square in pass-protection and too often is turning his body to the defender and not his QB, causing him to open his hips and allowing the defender through. He’s not the most coordinated, balanced player who has energy but is trying to figure out technique and consistency.
He has size, some athleticism, and finish, but he’s very much a developmental guy as a former defensive lineman. Coward isn’t ready to be next-man-up and if he makes the 53, he should be a weekly inactive.
Camp Grade: C-
Chukwuma Okorafor: Okorafor missed the first half of training camp with an unknown injury, a “nick” of some sort. But he came back and got healthy with the rest of the line. His camp play was up-and-down, having his hands full with the Steelers’ EDGE rushers, especially Alex Highsmith and even Cassius Marsh, who had one of the top reps of camp against Okorafor. Okorafor’s play against the Eagles was better than I initially thought; his performance against the Lions was worse than I initially thought.
There’s some context worth pointing out, Okorafor playing consistent snaps at left tackle for the first time in college. So there’s some rust to knock off. Though Okorafor’s summer wasn’t great, it’s enough to hold off rookie Dan Moore Jr. to start the season. But if Okorafor struggles the first month in, Buffalo will be a great test Week One, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team turn to the rookie. 2021 is a massive year for Okorafor, entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Camp Grade: C-
Chaz Green: Green was a veteran add signed right before camp opened up, the forgotten add when Melvin Ingram was formally announced. Green has been…ok, largely working as a third-string right tackle. He missed two days of practice for unknown reasons. Green has size, some power and anchor, but struggles to seal the edge and though he showed versatility prior to Pittsburgh, he was strictly a right tackle this summer. He could be kept on the practice squad but his ceiling is low and let’s hope he never plays on Sunday.
Camp Grade: C-
Aviante Collins: A good athlete who played guard and tackle prior to Pittsburgh, he was strictly a left-tackle with the Steelers. Collins saw a fair amount of reps early on with Okorafor working his way back and he’s a fluid athlete who can mirror moves laterally. But he waned a bit as camp went on and struggles to hold the point of attack and power in general. Yesterday, he was released during the second wave of cutdowns from 85 to 80.
Camp Grade: D+
Malcolm Pridgeon: Signed mid-way through camp. Has some size at guard that’s evidently worth keeping around, surviving both wave of cuts, but snaps have been hard to come by and there’s no special trait in his game really worth mentioning. Balance and sticking on contact are two of his problems.
Brandon Walton: One of the summer’s first cuts, released during that initial roster trimming from 90 to 85. Listed as a tackle, he was strictly a guard and I can see why the team moved him inside. He looks smaller than listed and was simply overwhelmed at the point of attack. Outside of a decent showing against a worn down Eagles’ defensive line, he looked like the worst offensive lineman on the field. No surprise to see him as one of the first to go. He wasn’t as bad as Emmanuel McCray, the Steelers’ camp lineman who struggled more than anyone I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t far off.
Camp Grade: D-