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Three Steelers Rookies Set to Make First Career Starts vs. Ravens



Steelers NT Keeanu Benton
Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Keeanu Benton against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 18, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

With a full-on youth movement, the Steelers will head into their rivalry game against the Baltimore Ravens. But it’s not due to their wishes, but rather because of injuries that the team has to turn to three rookies for their first career starts. Left tackle Broderick Jones, defensive tackle Keeanu Benton, and tight end Darnell Washington are all in line to start their first career games against the Ravens on Sunday.

For all three players, it will not be their first in-game action. Washington and Benton have played in rotations, while Washington has even pushed Pat Freiermuth for some snaps. Jones saw an extended look when Dan Moore Jr. suffered a knee sprain early in their loss to the Houston Texans. He has seen NFL speed for about a whole game sans the first drive, and head coach Mike Tomlin saw plenty of growth from Jones over his first extended game action.

“I think he’s been practicing really well,” Tomlin said. “I feel really good about what he’s done to tee up his performance from a practice perspective, the urgency he has, the quality of that play. He’s gotten his feet wet now. I thought the quality of his play improved over the course of the game. Oftentimes, when you get inserted into a game like that, you have to get on a moving train. You feel some of that, that was evident, he gave up pressure on his snap. But I thought he got better throughout and I think it’s reasonable to expect him to be reasonably solid with a week’s prep.”

Most pundits highly touted Pittsburgh’s draft in May. Pro Football Focus handed out an A+ grade. Notably not included in the list of starters is cornerback Joey Porter Jr., who is in a rotational role in the team’s sub-packages. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin noted that the team does not feel like Porter is there yet. They do not want to play him before they are confident he has the full menu of plays in his toolbox. However, it will be Porter’s time to enter the starting lineup at some point, just not against the Baltimore Ravens.

“No, not yet,” Austin said. “He’s working hard, I like the way he’s working. He’s making strides, but is he ready for a full-time look right now? I’m not sure I can say that I really feel great about that yet. But he’s working in the right direction, trending in the right direction, and at some point, we expect him to be out there.”

Still, the Steelers will see their young player sink or swim in extended looks against one of the AFC’s best teams early in the 2023 campaign. They will have to endure the rocky bumps that come with that rookie experience, but when the team has looked lifeless at times, the younger players learning is a move that makes the most sense.