Before Pittsburgh Steelers second-round pick Keeanu Benton strapped on the pads to play football, he was squeezing into a wrestling singlet. In a media session following the first day of rookie minicamp, the defensive lineman broke down how his experience as a wrestler has helped him become a better football player.
“On the wrestling mat, it’s more of you can’t blame anybody for what you’re doing out there. It’s your fault. You’re going one-on-one, there’s going to be a winner, there’s going to be a loser. And I don’t like to lose. I think that translates over because you do have one on ones. You gotta win your one-on-one matchups in the NFL,” Benton said via video posted to Steelers.com.
Benton said he began wrestling with his best friend in sixth grade before he began playing football in eighth grade. That wrestling background is something he believes helped him as a football player, and at Wisconsin he said he would use the wrestling room for conditioning and workouts. He also took the defensive line room, in addition to the outside linebacker room, led by fellow Steeler draft pick Nick Herbig, there.
Benton laid out exactly what parts of his game are stronger due to his wrestling background.
“I feel like I can leverage a lot better,” he said. “And then just hand placement. Not a lot of people can grab wrists and stuff like that and know their aiming points with their hands, but I feel like that definitely helps.”
Benton said he wrestled at around 275-280 pounds, and going up against bigger opponents, as he does on the football field, clearly helps him on the field. His hand placement and usage are among his best traits. Knowing how to gain leverage from reading guys like you have to do in wrestling also helps him control the line of scrimmage and make plays in the backfield.
“I feel like I can wrestle on the football field,” he said. “I can underhook and throw somebody, I can slam people when I want to, and I also like to hit.”
Benton’s physicality and aggressive nature will play well in Pittsburgh. His size and traits are ideal for a Steelers defensive lineman, but his attitude is what might set him apart. Just listening to him talk, it’s clear he’s a calculated, smart football player. Having the attitude of just loving to hit and throw guys around is something you love to see and hear.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Benton develops into an early fan favorite. He provides much-needed help along Pittsburgh’s defensive line, joining a defensive line that includes Cameron Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi, Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts. The big knock on Benton was a lack of pass rush ability, but he did have 4.5 sacks last year at Wisconsin and he said he believes the Steelers can turn him into a great pass-rusher.
There’s a lot of upside with Benton. Even if he doesn’t drastically develop as a pass rusher, he’s someone who will control the line of scrimmage and eat up blocks. If he isn’t making plays himself, he can take up space and let linebackers or others come in and make plays. Working with Teryl Austin, Karl Dunbar and Mike Tomlin can only be a good thing for Benton’s development, and with his wrestling background and moves to work with, he could end up looking like a steal.