We’ve gotten through free agency and the NFL Draft. The camp will be opening soon so I thought I would put together a Ten Takes for the off-season so far. As always these aren’t going to be hot takes just thoughts, queries and ideas about what has transpired so far.
Post Free Agency and NFL Draft
1. It’s a Family Affair – It’s almost comical at this point. Being a legacy of a current Steeler player looks good on the resume. NFL bloodlines are something we know the Steelers look for and they are consistent. The Steelers now have four sets of brothers on the roster. The Edmunds’, the Watts, the Davis twins and now the Heyward brothers. What may be even more surprising is six of the seven rostered before this draft have played in regular season games for the team and all have played NFL games. If I am a younger sibling of a current Steeler I’m feeling pretty good about my future.
2. RUN-DDC – Najee Harris managed 1,200 yards behind a, let’s say, less than consistent offensive line. The team and front office has been pushing to improve the running game and they made hopeful strides in the offseason signing Mason Cole and James Daniels to play on the interior. Last season that had a least five guys play left guard, two at center and four play right guard. Hopefully they will get healthy Kevin Dotson back and with Daniels and Cole they will be able to solidify the interior offensive line and give Harris some legit holes to run through.
3. Livin’ on the EDGE – I was pretty confident the Steelers would have added an outside linebacker in the NFL draft. A young player to groom behind the starters but alas they did not. There are some interesting names in the mix though. Derrek Tuszka saw defensive snaps in fifteen games last season and averaged over 18 per game in the last six. Veteran John Simon was added late in the year but saw just one defensive snap. Genard Avery was added and has played inside and outside with 7.5 career sacks but just three total in the last three years. I think Tuszka sticks but this a position to watch as a potential add during training camp.
4. Into the Great Wide Open – There was a swinging door on the wide receiver room this offseason with many departures and arrivals. Four men enter, three men leave. They weren’t a huge part of the offense last season. They still needed players to make up for 138 targets, 79 receptions and the number one punt and kickoff return man. Added to the group were Gunner Olszewski, Miles Boykin, George Pickens and Calvin Austin III. There are so many moving parts on this offense that the spectrum of how well or how poorly this could go is extremely wide. Maximizing each player’s strengths will be keys to offensive success.
5. Auditioning for Roles – To follow up on the previous take I am most curious to see how they use Connor Heyward and Austin. I was unsure about adding Heyward but after talking with the other Depot folks I’m starting to see the possibilities other than him being a core special team player. He could be the third tight end or the third running back and line up virtually anywhere on the field. Austin played a lot outside in college but will probably spend more time in the slot. I also would love to see him coming out of the backfield. Put him in ten personnel with three other receivers and Harris on the field. He’ll be a handful for a slot corner, safety or even linebacker trying to cover him.
6. Flores Blooming – The addition of Brian Flores to be a senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach is a fantastic add. In his coaching history his has been and assistant on defense, offense and special teams as well as a safeties coach, linebacker coach and head coach. The Steelers have a new defensive coordinator with Teryl Austin taking over, his third stint as a DC (Detroit 2014-2017), Cincinnati 2018). Adding someone like Flores with his diverse experience will add another great mind as well as a sounding board for the defense.
7. Backed into a Corner – I’m worried about the cornerback depth on this team. Levi Wallace was added from Buffalo. Will he will mesh with the holdovers? Ahkello Witherspoon was a nice surprise last year but was essentially a seven game stretch. Cameron Sutton is the main slot guy who can play outside and he’s a steady player. After that? Justin Layne has never panned out. Arthur Maulet is a slot only and is better against the run. James Pierre fell out of favor. If Wallace goes down or Witherspoon doesn’t match 2021 there will be a big hole for offenses to exploit. This is another position to possible add in training camp.
8. Feel Free to Stick Around – There is always a bit of excitement and wonder with the undrafted free agent group. The Steelers have founds some good role players and this year’s group has some possibilities. At cornerback, Chris Steele was a highly recruited going into college but he didn’t live up to the hype and Bryce Watts is fast and has ACC experience. Jordan Tucker and Jake Dixon are interesting offensive line options. Tyree Johnson and T.D Moultry are pass rushers. And Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren are running backs with an eye on the third RB spot. All four position groups (CB, OL, OLB and RB) are ripe to add depth. Durant, Steele and Johnson would be my guess for the front runners.
9. Moore Confidence than You – As a fourth round pick thrust in to the starting role as the left tackle early into his rookie season. Dan Moore had some growing pains but improved throughout the season. I was of the same opinion or many of you that adding a tackle in the draft was just about a sure thing. Not to take his spot but for depth. None were drafted. Chukwuma Okorafor was re-signed and Joe Haeg is likely the swing tackle right now. It seems like that Steelers staff has more confidence in the tackles than most.
10. QB Quandary – A new era begins. As the saying goes, “You don’t want to be the guy that follows the guy.” You don’t want to follow the Hall of Fame player. You want to follow the guy that follows the guy that followed the HOF player. Will the three candidates please step right up? Mason Rudolph, Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett will reportedly fight it out in training camp. Who will get the majority of the reps with the first team? Chemistry will need to form quickly with many new players on offense. My gut right now says Trubisky will at least start the season as number one. Pickett will back him up and Rudolph looking for employment elsewhere.