Why The Spotlight Shines So Brightly On Steelers’ Rookies During OTAs
Specific roles have yet to be determined. But there’s reason to suspect this year’s draft class will be counted upon heavily sooner rather than later.
As Mike Tomlin has often reminded us over the years, OTAs are much more “football-like” than they are actual football, so any conclusions drawn from the three weeks of football-like sessions the Steelers wrapped up this week are dangerous at worst and deserving of an asterisk at best.
The same applies to Mandatory Veteran Minicamp next week.
Until the pads start popping in July at Saint Vincent College, and until the dress rehearsals are staged in August against Tampa Bay, Buffalo and Atlanta, it’s all much more speculation and interpretation than it is confirmation.
But that said, there have been indicators as to what the Steelers will want it to look like this season, if not on Sept. 10 against San Francisco then shortly thereafter.
It’s worth noting, for example, that little time was wasted in beginning to assess how left offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr. looks at right tackle.
Moore started to dabble on the opposite side last week, and that had an obvious ripple effect on No. 1 pick Broderick Jones, who also happens to play left tackle.
“Once he goes to the right I have to step up and play first (-team) left tackle,” Jones confirmed.
It was easy to envision Jones as the left tackle, Chukwuma Okorafor as the holdover right tackle and Moore as the “swing” tackle, the player who dresses to back up either side on game day, once the Steelers traded up to draft Jones 15th overall.
The question was how long would it take for things to shake out in such a fashion?
Would Jones be brought along slowly or would he be thrown into the deep end and expected to swim?
The Steelers beginning to toy with Moore on the right side as quickly as they did confirms they’re at least thinking about starting Jones sooner rather than later.
Moore, who has started on the left side the past two seasons, considers the periodic position switch significant.
“I mean, if they’re putting me there, then it must be,” he maintained. “I’ll just prepare for whatever.
“Whatever is needed, man, I’m the guy. I’m gonna do whatever they tell me to do.”
Cornerback Joey Porter Jr. also apparently wasn’t drafted to lead the band at halftime.
Porter was selected 32nd overall but is officially considered a second-round pick because of a technicality (Miami forfeited its first-round choice after running afoul of NFL policy).
But he’s being treated, at least initially, like a plug-and-play first-rounder.
“You can expect to see him on the field early and quite often,” veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson assessed.
That wasn’t a given initially. Troy Polamalu started zero games as a rookie on the way to the Hall of Fame.
No one is projecting Porter to Canton at present.
But like Jones, Porter could be in line for some significant on-the-job training.
Peterson also revealed to the media this week he’d begun playing not just exclusively as an outside cornerback but also inside in the slot, a development that might well have the same ripple effect on Porter that Moore moving to the right side has on Jones.
It was, likewise, easy to envision Peterson being more of a slot corner/slash/rover in the secondary at this stage of his advanced career, especially once Porter was selected.
Peterson might be exactly that if Porter can quickly earn the coaches’ trust outside.
“We’ll see,” Peterson offered.
Then he campaigned to play an inside, slot corner-type role.
“I feel like the inside guy is the most protected because you’re closer to the linebacker, you got a middle-field safety, so you’re basically just playing to your leverage,” Peterson theorized. “For the most part, just understand where your help is. For me, it gives me the ability to play even slower than on the outside. When you’re on the outside it’s you, the numbers and the receiver. I’ve done that for the most part in my career. And now, moving around and moving on the inside, it’s just helping me play a little bit slower.
“I understand the game. I understand coverages. I understand schemes. Now, it’s just all about putting me there to see how successful I am.”
Second-round nose tackle Keeanu Benton is yet another rookie who might be in line for serious playing time, even if he doesn’t start the season as a starter.
The rookies were heard from a year ago when Kenny Pickett and George Pickens quickly became starters, and DeMarvin Leal, Jaylen Warren and Connor Heyward eventually became significant contributors.
And it’s about to happen again, potentially.
Nothing is etched in stone just yet, but the Steelers are at least trending in that direction.