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Keeanu Benton Believes Pittsburgh Can Help Him ‘Develop Into A Great Pass Rusher’

The Pittsburgh Steelers have done a nice job of taking care of both sides of the football through the first two days of the 2023 NFL Draft, though considering they don’t have much left, that was pretty important to accomplish.

After going offensive tackle in the first round on Thursday, Pittsburgh used two of its three day-two picks on the defense. That included both of their second-round picks, the second of which was Wisconsin defensive lineman Keeanu Benton, the first player at the position the Steelers have drafted higher than the third round since Stephon Tuitt in 2014.

Though Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Friday during his post-selection press conference that they would likely start Benton off at nose tackle, he spoke of a higher upside that would allow him to play a high volume of snaps. Benton also believes Austin and the Steelers can get the best out of him to round out his game.

“I feel like my run game is mainly the big thing that a lot of people see”, Benton told reporters, via transcript provided by the team’s media department. “But I feel like in Pittsburgh, I can develop into a great pass rusher. Like I said, kind of get notes from Coach [Karl] Dunbar, who’s a great coach, and Cam Heyward”.

Dunbar has run the Steelers’ defensive line for the past several years after taking over from John Mitchell, and virtually every lineman who has passed through that room has had high praise for him. He is also a very hands-on position coach in the scouting process. One would imagine his opinion on prospects is highly valued, and Benton seems to be one player he liked a lot.

As for Cameron Heyward, well, he is who he is, a perennial Pro Bowler coming off his second consecutive season of 10-plus sacks. Despite being well on the wrong side of 30, he continues to play at an extremely high level, but the retention this offseason of Larry Ogunjobi and the addition of Benton should help take some weight off his shoulders.

Though not the role of instructor, even if that’s a hat he’s always been willing to wear gladly. After all, he’s a team captain. And there are certainly some things that Heyward, a man of his size, can pass on to a rookie like Benton about becoming a more effective pass rusher.

That’s a transformation Heyward himself made over the course of his career, though the Steelers opening up the scheme to provide their defensive linemen better opportunities to get after the passer as much as anything accounts for his increased sack totals in the back half of his career.

With the game becoming increasingly specialized and played a good percentage of the time in nickel or dime packages, Benton should be able to thrive in the long run while playing primarily between the three-tech and the zero. Eventually he may be asked to work at five as well, though not before he demonstrates a proclivity for the role.

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