PITTSBURGH — The Steelers wrapped up their Offseason Training Activities on Thursday after three weeks of work at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. While it is still only June, there are some things that can be deciphered from the period known as OTAs. Only game film and training camp will give more information, but coming out of OTAs, here are some key takeaways that will be important to watch for the Steelers’ 2021 season.
Aggressiveness is a Priority for the Offensive Line
The Steelers offensive line is coming into the 2021 season with a bevy of question marks. It is no surprise that Adrian Klemm has completely changed what is expected from this unit.
First, it was the inclusion of more three-point stances. Second, it was the aggressive demeanor that Klemm displayed with his players both on and off the field. Kevin Dotson, B.J. Finney, Zach Banner, and Chuks Okorafor all spoke to the aggressiveness that Klemm is trying to instill. Multiple times across all four players the word “nasty” was used and Banner described the mentality as a “thug mentality”.
It is a question mark how this offensive line will hold up in both facets with so many new faces. However, it is clear this team wants to run the football and punish defenders while doing it.
Matt Canada’s Offense Is Going to be a Breath of Fresh Air
The Matt Canada offense is perhaps the biggest offseason storyline for the Steelers. At the college ranks, Canada’s patented offense has been highlighted by exotic motion, multiple formation shifts pre-snap, tempo changes, play action, and an array of different schemes to fit his personnel. It is an offense that has the Steelers excited.
Ben Roethlisberger signaled some of the change that will come. The offense will come with more reps under center, a lot more motion, rollouts, and a lot of different looks to sniff out what the defense will do to each look. Canada will shift as many people as wishes pre-snap in order to get different looks to specific formations.
The running schemes are similar to those at Alabama. Najee Harris specifically talked about inside zone, outside zone, duo, and power. It would appear the Steelers are moving to a more mixed, hybrid running scheme with plenty more zone than in previous seasons. Pat Freiermuth said that Canada does a great job of creating mismatches for the offense.
Lastly, there is a little bit of insight into how Canada prepares with his quarterbacks. Mason Rudolph detailed the Canada routine during each week of every week. Canada takes the Top 10 favorite plays of each concept, such as play-action, dropbacks, and more, and then creates a chart out of those favorite plays. It keeps the quarterback confident, prepared, and composed. It appears that the Canada offense is nothing like the Steelers have run before.
Devin Bush’s Return is Expected to be Significant
If there was one key storyline for the Steelers on the defensive side of the ball outside of position battles in the secondary, Devin Bush’s return would take the cake. Bush, who is returning from a Torn ACL, is looking to infuse athletic ability and more back into the defense.
Both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Robert Spillane believe that Bush will add a lot to the defense. From speed to coverage ability, they both agree that Bush is the key cog that the Steelers were truly missing down the stretch in 2020. For Fitzpatrick, he believes teams attacked the Steelers’ inexperienced linebackers in coverage without Bush.
Bush expects to be fully healthy for training camp but will still need some time to gain full confidence in his knee. However, if he can return to form, Bush would be a huge boon.
Najee Harris is Already Making an Impression on His Teammates
The Steelers’ first-round draft pick in Najee Harris already has a mountain of expectations on his shoulders. From even before the time Pittsburgh called his name on April 29th, Harris was thought to be the potential savior of the Steelers’ stagnant running game. While that has yet to be seen on the field just yet, Harris’s teammates are already seeing what makes Harris great.
Fitzpatrick called Harris an “exceptional player” who is going to make a big impact early and often. His quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, cites that Harris is a hard worker who had to be told by running backs coach Eddie Faulkner to go home because he was in the facility for so long. It is clear that Harris is already impressive to his teammates, and they expect lots out of him.
The Steelers Receiving Corps Rotation is a Big Unknown
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s comment that he wanted to move outside is a hot topic. Within that statement, he highlighted Ray-Ray McCloud as his backup in the slot. That certainly throws a wrench in the entire personnel grouping for the Steelers wide receiver rotation, which is already four wide receivers deep. After Smith-Schuster ran 88% of his routes from the slot in 2020, even a slight decrease would be significant.
However, it was further compounded by the fact that both he and James Washington noted that the Steelers receivers will be interchangeable. Unlike last season, where there were clearly defined roles for each receiver, this does not appear to be the case. Just how this changes the snap counts for each receiver is something that will have to be observed throughout training camp and the preseason. With so many talented options, the Steelers certainly have a tough question to answer in regards to this rotation.