Steelers' Rookie Impressions Destined to Excite If Not Convince
“Football in shorts” won't solve the Steelers' kicking woes, but for a team on the rebound, the rookie workouts are an opportunity to take another step in the right direction.
The rookie minicamp the Steelers are staging this weekend on the South Side ought to inject another does of inspiration into an organization that’s still in need of all it can get.
But even the feel-good momentum that was first generated during last month’s draft can only take the Steelers so far.
Yes, we’ll get to see Devin Bush running around in a Steelers helmet and looking like the fastest thing to do so at inside linebacker since Ryan Shazier.
We’ll get to see if Diontae Johnson really does inspire reminders of Antonio Brown while running routes and catching passes, as the Steelers maintained right after Johnson had been drafted.
We’ll get to see running back Benny Snell and defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs, two players that at the very least ought to upgrade the depth at positions where rotations are relied upon to varying degrees.
And we’ll get to see the athleticism of Sutton Smith and Ulysees Gilbert, two run-and-hit fits who project as immediate contributors on special teams.
They’ll all be performing for the first time as Steelers, and it ought to be intriguing.
After all, what’s more fun than the first time you get to play with your new toys?
But the reviews will be relative, given that they’ll be playing what the coaches refer to as “football in shorts.”
The more definitive answers won’t begin to reveal themselves until the pads come on at Saint Vincent College.
In the meantime, here’s what else we won’t be seeing in the wake of a seemingly productive draft that potentially answered many but not all of the Steelers’ questions:
Mike Hilton faded late last season in a role at which he had once excelled. But free agent-signee Steven Nelson and draftee Justin Layne are both a better fit playing outside than in the slot.
Competition for free safety Sean Davis:
His first year at the position was unspectacular. He’ll apparently be granted the chance to be more impactful without having to fend off any serious suitors for his position.
The replacement for Jesse James:
Draft pick Zach Gentry has eye-catching size at 6-foot-7 and 248 pounds, but not much else about his still-developing game entices at first blush. James’ eventual replacement as a complement to tight end Vance McDonald may be on another team’s roster until final cuts are completed.
And last but not least …
Whether kicker has been fixed:
Last season’s non-playoff season will be remembered for, in no particular order, the turnovers the offense kept committing, the turnovers the defense kept failing to generate, and the drama inflicted upon the Steelers by running back Le’Veon Bell’s absence and Brown’s in-season eccentricities and late-season meltdown.
But all of the above wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much as it ultimately did had Chris Boswell not forgotten how to kick.
Boswell’s sudden and profound demise was arguably the most significant element of the decline from 13-3 to 9-6-1.
And it’s likewise the most critical aspect of the operation that needs to be repaired to achieve a different result this time around.
Boswell won’t be attending the festivities this weekend.
And we won’t begin to get an idea as to whether the kicking issues have been resolved until Boswell (or whatever kicker the Steelers ultimately opt to go with instead) lines up for a game-changing, 38-yard attempt on Sept. 8 at New England.
Until then, enjoy the highlights, the soundbites, the good vibes and the rosy projections rookie camp is destined to generate.
Nothing will have been settled by the time it ends.
But for now, given where they’re coming from, it ought to be more than enough to keep the Steelers’ newfound momentum headed back in the right direction.