The Pittsburgh Steelers closed up shop on the workout portion of their offseason this Thursday.
While these sessions are mainly a good chance to get rookies and new members of the team used to the playbook, it also is a chance for players to set the tone for what is to come in 2019.
The Steelers started to implement their plans, and we got a peak into what they may be thinking for next season. With that in mind, what are some of the standout notes from the off-season training sessions?
DEVIN BUSH IS GOING TO GET EVERY CHANCE TO CALL PLAYS
When the Steelers drafted traded up for Devn Bush, it was apparent that his tested speed was going to be able to step in for Ryan Shazier. However, an underrated factor from losing Shazier was his play-calling prowess, and ability to get his teammates set. Bush went from a fast linebacker with some talent to a top tier player that the Steelers coveted because of his leadership and playcalling abilities at Michigan. However, entering the NFL there is an obvious question as to how fast he could get acclimated to the playbook and jump into the role as a play caller.
Bush immediately jumped into the role in rookie camp and showed that he was willing to be vocal, even if he did not have all of the language down.
“Right or wrong, I was just being vocal and trusting what I see,” Bush said. “I’ve got quite a bit to learn. I just have to know how to speak the language of the defense and get caught up on all my plays. … I know concepts about the style of defense that we’re trying to run, I just have to learn the language.”
Bush took his knowledge from there and saw it expand by calling plays with the starters on the first day of OTAs. Bush mixed in with Vince Williams, and Mark Barron throughout the sessions, showing that he fit right in with the two veterans who will challenge him for playing time.
The ripple effect of Bush calling plays will intrinsically make the rest of the defense better. Bush is showing that the jump may come even faster than the Steelers thought.
Going all the way back to Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, the Steelers have long tried to get two running backs on the field at the same time. With both backs adding passing game value, putting both on the field can create matchup opportunities. Of course, injuries, suspensions and everything associated with Bell put those plans on delay for most of his time in Pittsburgh.
Now, in 2019, it appears the Steelers are best equipped to use this formation, and they have also been the most vocal about seeing it happen. James Conner has talked openly about his teammates being competent to reduce his workload, and Jaylen Samuels mentioned that he has been on the field with Conner at the same time.
“We’ve had a couple sets where it was me and him in the backfield and I was motioned out,” Samuels said. “We’re just building off from there.”
Getting two pass-catching running backs on the field has been increasing league-wide, and now that the Steelers have the personnel to match, do not be surprised if we finally see action behind their lip-service.
DONTE MONCRIEF HAS EMERGED AS AN AB REPLACEMENT
Let’s contradict the headline from the start. One player will not solely replace Antonio Brown. When the Steelers lost the future Hall of Fame talent they added Donte Moncrief, drafted Diontae Johnson and still have hopes of a second-year breakout for James Washington.
Roethlisberger knows that he needs the combination of size, speed, and big-play opportunities that Moncrief presents to prove that he can still succeed without Brown. The two have connected early and often into camp, and Roethlisberger is looking to give Moncrief a career year with his most stable quarterback situation yet.
“I’m a new guy,” Moncrief said. “He’s trying to learn me, and I’m trying to learn him, so I’m coming out here and showing him the best routes that I have, so I can gain trust and make those tough catches.”
Roethlisberger noted that while he is looking forward to working with all of the new and emerging faces in this offense, Moncrief is one that consistently catches his attention.
“Just getting to see his work ethic, the type of person he is, his desire to be great, his knowledge of the offense already. … He’s in with Coach [Darryl] Drake every single morning, pretty much all day. You seen the desire and want-to-be-great, so I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and work with him so far.”
Moncrief is happy to work with Roethlisberger and the feeling is mutual. The two have connected on and off of the field and the hope is that this momentum will only grow in Latrobe. Johnson and Washington will get theirs, but right now all eyes are on Moncrief.
ARTIE BURNS IS ON THE BUBBLE
After the draft, one of the bolder takes from our 53-man roster projection was leaving Artie Burns off. However, as the days of OTAs have gone by, it has become more and more likely that he will enter Latrobe with his job on the line.
Steven Nelson has jumped in firmly with the starters across from Joe Haden and has been confident in his standing.
On top of that, Justin Layne was drafted in round three and has been strictly learning on the outside.
Both have lived up to expectations so far, and if they can carry momentum into Latrobe, the need for Burns on the outside starts to become very small. With Mike Hilton in the slot, and Cameron Sutton being able to play every secondary spot, Burns is going to have to prove he can play on special teams to make the 53-man roster, because five cornerbacks are currently safer than him.
SUTTON SMITH COULD BE A CULT HERO
Sutton Smith is a Yinzer’s perfect storm. A small-school player who was undersized and underrated yet consistently produced. Now, he is going to play every phase of the game to try to earn a roster spot. Smith put up strong combine stats, strong college production and still fell into round six. He is the classic bottom of the roster underdog.
Smith was a defensive end at Northern Illinois but was not afraid to play off of the ball at outside linebacker in the Steelers scheme. The Steelers went from seeing him transition to outside linebacker to transitioning him to the offensive side of the ball at fullback. Yes, you heard that right.
On top of that he is a special teams stud. Mike Tomlin was quick to point out his versatility and special teams prowess in his post-draft press conference.
“We are excited about his special teams capability, etched him close down in Mobile in that area,” Tomlin noted. “This is a conversion guy, a guy that played defensive end. So, their abilities to display their special teams talents and play like linebackers is important.”
Smith showed that on top of any role on special teams, as well as any role on the defensive side of the ball, he now is willing to play three ways.
“I’ll do whatever they need,” Smith added. “I keep saying that but it is the God’s honest truth right now.”
Smith has Tomlin’s attention, and has the ability to get on the field in a variety of ways. Smith is going to play an extreme number of snaps in the preseason, and his work ethic, hustle, and three-way prowess is going to have fans chanting for him to stick on the back end of the 53-man roster.