Ahead of the 2022 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers and second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada are making it very clear that they plan on moving third-year wide receiver Chase Claypool around the offensive formation quite a bit.
Through initial OTAs and now two days of mandatory minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, Claypool has moved around often within the offensive formation, working out wide, in the slot, and — as he revealed to reporters Wednesday — out of the backfield as well.
Following a rather difficult second season in 2021 that saw him struggle with some in-game decision making and overall production, especially down the field in contested-catch situations. Now though, a renewed focus and a step up into a semi-leadership role within the wide receiver room alongside Diontae Johnson following the losses of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and James Washington in the offseason has Claypool aiming for new heights in 2022.
Chase Claypool on the rookie receivers, Diontae Johnson, the quarterbacks, working out in the offseason and more. pic.twitter.com/tiXzBOpjI1
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Those new heights should be able to be reached with his versatility within the offense, something the Steelers are certainly embracing now after two years of keeping him mostly stuck on the outside in a boundary receiver role.
“Yeah, that’s why, like, based off some how things worked out I couldn’t be in the slot as much as I wanted or as much as they wanted me to be in the slot,” Claypool said to reporters Wednesday according to video via Steelers.com. “So, I just took it when I could get it. But now they’re really moving me all around. So it’s outside, slot, number three and running back too.”
That’s certainly a good development to hear, as Claypool profiles as more of a big slot than an outside receiver that wins vertically, which is what the Steelers tried to pigeonhole him into in 2021, leading to some serious struggles. Putting him in the slot, letting him be physical in his routes and as a run blocker, and having him closer to the ball itself should unlock some serious potential from Claypool once again, who made some great plays in the slot as a rookie on his way to 11 touchdowns in 2020.
Of course, that transition back inside in a new offense compared to 2020 will cause some bumps in the road along the way. For Claypool, the biggest obstacle is identifying the coverages in the slot, reading the linebackers and safeties to let him try and decipher what the defense is attempting to do overall.
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I think now that I’m in the slot, just working out, I’m just figuring out what the linebackers doing their zone coverage and safeties and looking at them kind of while I’m running the route. So just recognizing zones in the slot,” Claypool said to reporters, according to video via Steelers.com.
While he has experience with that on the boundary early in his career, a slide inside changes the viewpoint and the responsibilities for inside defenders, which Claypool is trying to work out now in minicamp in hopes of letting him hit the ground running in training camp in late July and early August.
“Yeah, when you’re wide out, it’s easier. Cuz the corner and safety basically tells you the coverage for the most part,” Claypool said. “When you’re in the slot, if you have like a Rover or something, you have to figure out. You just have to figure out who’s covering you maybe on the backside or if it’s right in front of your face, or something. So they disguise it a little more.”
Once he’s able to get down the diagnosing of the defenses part of his game in the slot, Claypool should be able to play freely with is impressive height, weight, and speed combination, which could prove to be a nightmare for linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field.