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Steelers Expect Big Things Out of Loaded Rookie Class



Steelers Joey Porter Jr.
Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joey Porter Jr. at practice, Aug. 22, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers have not been shy about their rookie class. Playing them early and often, guys such as Broderick Jones, Joey Porter Jr., Keeanu Benton, Darnell Washington, and Nick Herbig seem to factor into Pittsburgh’s plans. Though none of them may start the jump, most of them seem poised to make impacts across the field. The one who may not is Jones, who seems destined to start at one point this year or, at the very least, be the starting left tackle next year.

But the Steelers never gave free handouts to anyone. They go into the season with the entire rookie class, minus Cory Trice, who suffered a significant knee injury and will miss the year, on the 53-man roster. That’s a significant achievement, especially when most of those young players impressed in training camp and throughout the preseason.

“You know, there was a level of maturity, a level of football maturity that was exciting,” Tomlin said. “We didn’t scholarship anyone; they’ve earned their spots. And we expect contributions from those guys and increasing contributions as they gain more experience, and we push through this journey.”

After their final preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin noted that Benton, Herbig, and Porter Jr. would see roles early in the defense. And truly, why would they not see it? Despite two of the three missing practices and one preseason game, the three players impressed in their time on the field at practice and in-stadium.

“I don’t know if they’ve gotten enough reps, but they’ve gotten enough reps to where they’re ready to play and contribute, and we’ll see how it all plays out as the season goes on,” Austin said. “There’s always more reps we would’ve liked to give them, but with both of them missing a game they probably haven’t gotten what we’d like. But I think they’ve gotten enough to be out on the field and help us.”

On offense, Washington took steps throughout the preseason to the point where the Steelers felt comfortable enough moving on from Zach Gentry. Now in 12 personnel, Washington stands as the guy who will play next to Pat Freiermuth. He is a mismatch waiting to happen; the Steelers were even impressed with Washington and how far along he is as a receiver. The blocking aspect of the game was given when the Steelers picked him, but now Washington’s receiving ability in the red zone could pop.

“He physically looks like that he has an appetite and an attitude for blocking,” Tomlin said. “So, I’m looking forward to him being a big time help for us. And really, he’s been better in the passing game through this process maybe than we anticipated, which is also a plus.”

Jones, meanwhile, continues to grow alongside Dan Moore Jr. His progression from the start of training camp to now is notable. There were ups and downs in training camp and the preseason, as there will be with any rookie tackle. Moore seems to have taken a step up in his game and will be the starting left tackle and swing tackle. But that does not mean the team does not expect Jones to play at some point this season. They are starting to groom him for when that day inevitably comes; it will just be about when it does come.

Now, just a week before Week 1, the Steelers expect the rookie class to help propel the team to the playoffs. None of that will happen without the growth and experiences the young players will experience right away in the NFL. There will be rough moments, but by the end of the year, Tomlin and his staff hope the team is better because of that growth.

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