The Steelers OTAs will start on Tuesday morning as the team kicks their offseason training periods into high gear ahead of mandatory minicamp and later on, training camp in July. With the start of the entire team coming together for the first time after the NFL Draft, who are a few players to watch during OTAs this week?
Heyward immediately comes to mind as someone to watch because he is one of the only players on the roster that I think has a roster spot mostly locked up but does not have a sure position. How does the team split him between fullback, tight end, H-Back, and other areas of the field? The thing is that making Heyward just a traditional fullback is greatly limiting what he can do as a football player.
So, I am interested to see how the team moves him around during individual drills, and how they split his workload across positions as we start the offseason program. Matt Canada hinted that Heyward could make that move to fullback, but they how they use the fullback in the offense this season is one of the bigger questions I still have about the offense.
One of the more unheralded signings of the offseason is that of Keanu Neal. He is the presumptive Terrell Edmunds replacement, but they are different players who work in different areas of the field. With Neal having converted to linebacker and back to safety in his career, his role is going to be a versatile one. He will be a box safety, but what else will the Steelers ask of him, even in the OTAs period?
The team will start laying the groundwork for some subpackage football starting this week. Nothing will be in full bloom, but where Neal lines up in a mock dime package is one of the bigger questions I have at this point in the offseason. He could be the dime linebacker, but he could also be the dimebacker. Neal will be on the field, the question is just where. That’s something to figure out.
From a purely physical and athletic standpoint, I am intrigued by Hakeem Butler. The tape shows a good athlete at a rare size for the position, especially for a big slot that has unique traits. There is going to be a battle that will ongoing for that end of the roster wide receiver spot and Butler has as good a chance as anyone in that race because of his unique traits throughout his tape.
The first thing he has to do to acclimate himself is make Danny Smith his personal best friend. Then, the second thing he has to showcase is his catch technique and consistency. Those two things are some things that I am focusing on throughout the week as Butler takes the field at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first time.
The battle for the depth at outside linebacker will continue on throughout the offseason, but DeMarvin Leal is a riddle that needs to be solved. We have yet to get a definite indication of where he will play in 2023, or if he will work as a tweener between a 5-technique out to standing up on the edge. Leal played all over the front in 2022, but keeping him somewhat stationary in 2023 will be needed to aid his development.
Whether he starts off with Karl Dunbar or Denzel Martin is something to watch. Even more important is the techniques that the Steelers will be teaching him throughout the week to lay the groundwork for a second-year jump. Leal is one of the more fascinating players on the entire roster, and his development could have a huge impact on the team.
How much can you actually glean from seeing a kicker in practice? I don’t know, but I want to see how Chris Boswell is doing after a groin injury and rough second half of 2022. The team brought in B.T. Potter as competition for Boswell during training camp and the preseason. So, I want to see some of the kicks that he puts up over the week and where the power and accuracy of those are at this point.
There is no more mental-based position in football than kicker. It’s the ultimate mind game, and Boswell could have a combination of both a physical injury and a mental state where he let some things get away from him. An offseason reset could be the key to unlocking his consistency once again.