The Steelers training camp will start in just three days, with the team reporting Wednesday morning. That means there will be a lot to watch and see as the team gathers in Latrobe for the next few weeks preparing for the 2023 NFL season. What are things to watch at camp this year?
Kenny Pickett’s Development
This is the most important story of training camp. There is simply more important than seeing the areas in which Kenny Pickett takes a leap and develops. Reportedly, his arm looks noticeably stronger and could be something that allows him to really open up the offense this coming season.
However, I’m more intrigued to see what he does inside the pocket, specifically the ability to stay within it and not drift into pressure. When he has stayed in there and read what the defense gives him, he has largely been there. There is not a smoothness to his game yet at the NFL level, but with growth we should start to see that, too. Seeing as Pickett is the future of the team, his development is paramount.
Who Plays Dime LB
The dime linebacker position is one of the greater mysteries that the Steelers have on their roster. Sure, it could be Keanu Neal. But we do not have confirmation on that just yet. It makes sense, but is this a competition between Neal, Cole Holcomb, and others? It’s been a position that has been a black hole for the rotation of players that have come through it.
Considering how important defensive communication is in those subpackages and the fact that the dime linebacker controls that, this is an important specialized position. We will not find this out until later in training camp, but it is one of the more important things to check off.
Can Alfonzo Graham Continue Momentum
The RB3 competition is going to be one to watch in this training camp. It should be a blast between Anthony McFarland, Darius Hagans, Jason Huntley, and Alfonzo Graham. But Graham is the fascinating player that stands out in that list because he had a fantastic spring. Right now, McFarland is the rightful favorite in this race, but if Graham can continue his ascent, it’s possible he could be the surprise undrafted free agent of camp. Do not sleep on Graham.
Will Matt Canada Make Offense Changes
This is the fascinating storyline of the Steelers training camp. We know Matt Canada’s offense at its essence but Mason Rudolph hinted during OTAs that there are some new things in the offense. But what does that entail? The team failed to create explosive plays in the passing game and ignored the middle of the field. Could they rectify that?
Pickett is in year two and that could give Canada some confidence to expand the playbook in new directions. Every good offensive coordinator evolves their scheme each year, and Canada has largely kept the same things in place in his leap from the college game to the NFL. Let’s see if this is real or just smoke from the spring.
How Versatile is Patrick Peterson
We have heard this all spring since he signed, but Patrick Peterson is going to play all around the defense. The question is how versatile is he going to be. If it stops at throwing him into the slot, that’s fine, but they will need to have answers elsewhere if that takes place. Peterson could play in the slot, work as the dimebacker, and basically fill the proverbial Cam Sutton role.
That would be an adjustment but condense Sutton’s roles into one person which is a rare thing in the NFL today given its hyper-specialization at the defensive back position. Peterson’s role affects a lot of competitions elsewhere across the roster, so seeing where he plays and how well he does it will be important for the Steelers.
Are Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Ready to Play Now
Speaking of cornerbacks, how about the ‘avatar cornerbacks’ as dubbed by Mike Tomlin? Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice both had praise heaped upon their shoulders during the spring, with those guys making plays throughout the sessions, but the question remains just how ready they are to take on a big role and start right now.
Levi Wallace is coming off a strong year and should not be discounted just because the team brought in two talented young cornerbacks. Their progression and how quick it comes along with determine just how versatile the Steelers can be in coverage, especially with some questions about the communication of the units overall.
Will the Steelers Work More Tight End Multiple
This is one of the under the radar storylines of camp. But with Darnell Washington back into the fold, the ideas with 12 personnel and 13 personnel are all over the place for this Steelers team. They could really do a lot of fun things and create mismatches for teams that they could not a year ago.
I’m not sure it instills itself right on the outset, but if they are going to make it a goal to be tight end multiple, the installs and fruits will start to show up here in Latrobe. When the team had an uptick in 12 personnel last year, it was an obvious storyline from last year that the team embraced.
Is Nick Herbig an EDGE
The Steelers are starting rookie Nick Herbig at outside linebacker but the team needs to decide if Herbig is really an outside linebacker or needs to move off-ball and play a hybrid role. Granted, there is no rush to do this, but Herbig seems to project as a guy who fits off the ball more in the mold of a guy like Joe Schobert.
His length and weight make him an intriguing sub-package edge rusher, but Herbig lacks true three down ability to play that style and hold up against the run in the AFC North. But it will be up to outside linebackers coach Denzel Martin and the staff to see where Herbig is on in his developmental cycle.
How Close is Mark Robinson to Playing
The Steelers inside linebacker room is a safe one. It has a defined floor but there’s not that much upside in it aside from Mark Robinson. A young heat-seeking missile, Robinson is a fascinating player that just has to play more under control. Right now, he plays with a reckless abandonment that is both good and bad for the team.
However, the reports out of the spring were promising that Robinson could be turning the corner and be in-line for some legitimate playing time. The team needs to see what he can be trusted to do and where he could fit into the rotation in a room that still leaves a lot to be desired.
Can Broderick Jones Start Week 1
The last is one of the most important things on the menu. Broderick Jones was drafted to be the team’s future left tackle, but is he ready for that role now? He and Dan Moore Jr. will have the most important battle on the roster that will determine how the team should play their first few games up front on the offensive line, especially with a tough row of players that the they will face on the outset.
Jones is athletic but raw with his technique. He could very well struggle early on, and that’s fine and understandable. But the Steelers offense needs to be prepared to do whatever needs to happen in order for Jones to feel as comfortable as possible in his rookie season.