FRISCO, Texas — The Pittsburgh Steelers and 31 other teams were on hand for the first day of Shrine Bowl practices in Frisco, Texas. What occurred on Saturday, and what can be the takeaways for Pittsburgh and other teams in the future?
Pittsburgh LB Interest
There seemed to be a solid interest in the linebacker position for the Steelers specifically. Now, everyone meets with everyone here, but many guys are stating the Steelers were either very interested in them or, when you watch their movements during practice, the team keyed in on them. That tells me they came into this event wanting to hit that position hard.
Several players stick out to me as solid mid-round guys if they want to go that route. It wouldn’t hurt to add another young linebacker to the team, even if they address it in free agency. It’s just something I noticed and will note later in the NFL Draft process.
Defensive Back Talent for Days
Credit to the defensive backs on Saturday. Several guys from Frisco stood out positively on both teams’ secondaries. So, let me just run down a few players who stood out.
First, M.J. Devonshire out of Pitt played lights out. Regarding defensive backs, I’m not sure anyone had a better day than Devonshire. Having watched him from the time he came to Pitt to now, it’s not that much of a surprise. Devonshire is a sticky man coverage cornerback with exciting mirroring ability. But he has the deep speed to go with the burners and the length to disrupt guys at the line of scrimmage.
For Devonshire, the rep that stood out was against Holy Cross’ Jalen Coker (more on him later). It was the team’s competition period at the end of practice, and Devonshire stuck the much bigger Coker right out of his route with disciplined eyes and knocked the ball away. It’s not a surprise to see Devonshire play at a high level. But it reaffirms that he should probably go earlier than many people have him tabbed.
Meanwhile, Florida State cornerback Renardo Green looks like the type of versatile chess piece the sub-package-based NFL is looking for at this stage. He aligned at strong safety, slot, and outside cornerback. And he looks the part at all three spots. Green played at all three spots with the Seminoles, but his man coverage reps are dynamite. While lots of guys guess or have to read or react right off the jump, Green processes information quickly at the line of scrimmage and easily handles drills the one-on-ones.
His physicality, paired with the ball production, was more impressive to me than that. Many guys can play cerebrally, but they might not have the ball skills to back it up. Green does. Take it for what it is at that point, and play with the type of swagger and confidence you need to make it in this league. He did not lose on rep on film. To say he stuck out in a good way is underselling it.
The last guy I want to pull out and break down is Texas Tech safety Dadrion Taylor-Demerson. I would go to bat for him any day of the week. The mentality to be a vocal leader is there. Taylor-Demerson talks a bit of game on the field, but he does that because it’s who he is as a player. He’s rambunctious and plays with a ton of energy, but don’t let that confuse you by saying he plays too wildly. Taylor-Demerson has an impressive amount of discipline and football IQ to anticipate route concepts and jump on underneath routes.
This past season, he played over 600 snaps in the slot. When in man coverage, he has the similar calmness to anticipate what is coming, but when he is forced to react off the line, he has the speed to recover. On one play, Taylor-Demerson fought back into a go ball and never turned around, but expertly played through the hands for a pass breakup.
Those are just a few guys who stood out in that group, but Jarius Monroe and Qwan’tez Striggers played well, too.
Steelers Top LB Target?
I’m not Omar Khan, but if there was a guy among the group of the Shrine Bowl who I would target in this linebacker group, it’s Wyoming’s Easton Gibbs. And not just due to the logo but also because he has some similarities to Logan Wilson. Gibbs has a good burst off the line of scrimmage to fly downhill but has fluid enough hips to make the turns. In coverage, I think he’s got all the upside in the world. He can be that pole-runner in Tampa 2 if you want him to be.
Gibbs’ instincts are there, too. But his coverage reps are what stuck out. Against running back Isaac Guerendo, Gibbs initially lost off the line but recovered and mirrored him about 40 yards down the field on a corner route to contest it at the catch point. It was nearly freaky for a linebacker to do that, and a massive credit to his skills. I thought he was the most impressive linebacker out of the group for those reasons, and would like to see him more moving forward.
Steelers Punter Target?
Well, I’m not sure I would be finding the punter target the Steelers would want in Frisco, but Ryan Stonehouse was here just years ago, so I’m not against it. Ryan Rehkow, out of BYU, is electric. When you are a live, you can hear an inherent sound when these guys are booting it. Rehkow has that special type of sound in his boot. The amount of English he can put on his rotations to get it to die inside the ten-yard line is one of the more impressive things I’ve seen from a punter prospect.
A level of consistency about it made you buy into it. Now, it was against air, and I still want to see him against a live rush. But if Rehkow hits these balls like he did on Saturday, the Steelers should be very interested in his services this offseason. He put on an absolute show.
Two Impressive WRs
The Steelers could use a wide receiver this year, and I think they will dip into the group. Maybe they take someone from the Senior Bowl because that group looks sensational on paper. But two players that I can’t help but feel should be there but are not for now are Jalen Coker and Malik Washington.
Washington is a smaller, squatty type of receiver. But he has all the explosiveness and YAC ability someone his size should have. I’m not sure he has the outside capabilities yet, but I see the vision in the slot. He won almost all day on the receivers’ most diverse route tree. There’s a ceiling to the type of receiver he can be, but he role he plays, Washington checks a lot of boxes for teams that run a lot of the quick game or need someone who can house call a bubble screen.
Meanwhile, Coker is a little different. At 6-foot-3, Coker has smoothness and quickness in and out of his breaks like few have for his size. He separates with less-than-polished routes, and on top of that, Coker is a three-level threat who can house-call a pass on a five-yard drag or a twenty-yard dig.
His physicality is enticing, too. Coker can block better than anyone here in that room but doesn’t have the speed of Andrei Iosivas or the pure explosiveness out of breaks of a Puka Nacua, but his game has a Bohemian-style. By that, there’s an off-kilter, off-script rhythm that works. It’s not forced or detrimental but relatively smooth. Honestly, you could give me a guy like Coker on my team any day of the week. He’s got the goods.