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Steelers Minicamp Takeaways: Russell Wilson Impressive, CB Plan Revealed

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson stood out in a big way on Wednesday during the team’s mandatory minicamp.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Russell Wilson
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson at the team's mandatory minicamp, June 11, 2024 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Another day in the books at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex as the Pittsburgh Steelers took the field for their second mandatory minicamp practice. However, most of this was about the offense, with a smattering of defensive takeaways since the assistant coaches gave some insights into players across the board.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Russell Wilson

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Russell Wilson at the team’s mandatory minicamp, June 11, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

RUSSELL WILSON ENGINEERS A TWO-MINUTE DRIVE

Mandatory minicamp means the introduction of situational football, including the two-minute drill. On Tuesday, Russell Wilson failed to engineer a touchdown drive. But he expertly handled it on Wednesday. Wilson confirmed the drive, and throughout the drive, he threw it to seven different receivers, topping it off with a touchdown to Calvin Austin III up the seam.

That was the end of Wilson’s day, which went along with his best day yet in a Steelers uniform. Though he has lost some of his natural speed, Wilson’s arm is live, and the deep ball is elite. He connected on four deep balls all over the field on Wednesday, including two honey-hole shots outside the numbers.

Wilson shrugs off any concerns about his arm deteriorating at 35 years old. And that is because it is not. His deep ball remains dazzling. Wilson has displayed consistent accuracy, especially in the deep portion of the field, and he is fostering a connection with Austin and George Pickens.

Austin and Pickens each caught a pair of touchdowns, and Wilson has extended an invitation to Pickens to head out to San Diego for more one-on-one work after the minicamp concludes. Pickens confirmed he is working more in the slot, while Wilson has developed an affinity for Austin, who he says is ‘always open,’ which explains his high target rate and success throughout the Spring.

Regardless, Wilson had his best day so far with the team and appeared to be getting much more comfortable with those around him and Arthur Smith’s offense.

Pittsburgh Steelers Cam Heyward

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward at the team’s OTAs sessions, June 4, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

CONFIDENCE IN CAM HEYWARD

There has been plenty of speculation about what Steelers defensive captain Cam Heyward will look like when he gets back on the field in 2024. In 2023, Heyward played through a groin injury and sports hernia. That speculation intensified when Heyward sat out of most of the OTAs while looking for a new contract extension.

You can count Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar among those who think Heyward is poised for a return to form.

“I think if he’s healthy, he’s gonna be good,” Dunbar said on Wednesday. “He’s out here running around and doing some good things. I know everybody talks about his age, but I think Cam is built for this. He does a great job talking care of his body. He’s under contract. He’s going to be here, and I know he’s going to be the player he wants to be.”

Donte Jackson

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Donte Jackson at OTAs on May 22, 2024. — Ed Thompson/ Steelers Now

JPJ + DONTE LOOK TO COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER

Still, under the radar, Donte Jackson is one of the more significant additions to the team, especially in what the Steelers hope is a refurbished secondary. However, Joey Porter Jr. and Jackson have vastly different body types and skill sets. Porter wants to be walked up on the line and play press man coverage while Jackson looks to play off. That is what defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and secondary coach Grady Brown say will happen.

“First, he fits in well. I think he’s a real pro,” Austin said of Jackson. “He goes about his business. He asks good questions. He does the things that a good pro will do, and I think the way he’ll fit in because he does give us a different type of cover guy than Joey(Porter). Joey’s going to be a line of scrimmage, tall, get his hands on people. Donte’s going to have the ability to play off and can really run. So, hegives us a little bit of a nice matchup in terms of coverage and some flexibility because he has played and done some things inside. So, I like where he fits that way. And so, I think it’s good for us. You know, we’d like to have guys that can do multiple things in a secondary and he fits that.”

So, what is the plan for Jackson and Porter? Brown says that regardless of body type, as long as Porter continues his ascension, he will take the number one guy. However, they will not fit Jackson into the pressman coverage philosophy and could play some half-field coverages.

“If Joey continues his direction, I want him against the top guy regardless of body type,” Brown said. “And he wants to get up and press guys. But Donte might not do that and could play off. We’re not going to push guys out of their strengths.”

Mark Robinson

Steelers linebacker Mark Robinson during an OTAs practice on May 21, 2024. — Ed Thompson/ Steelers Now

HEADY PLAY

Cole Holcomb is not yet back to practice — though head coach Mike Tomlin did give an update on his status on Wednesday — and fellow veteran Elandon Roberts also missed Tuesday’s session, leaving Patrick Queen with Mark Robinson in one team period. Robinson has been the forgotten man in the Steelers’ linebackers room. Still, he is having a solid third professional summer and looks a lot more intuitive at the position that he started late in his football life.

On Wednesday, he sniffed out a shovel pass to Pat Freiermuth near the goal line so well that the two players collided as they closed on the ball. The two exchanged friendly words after the play.

“He’ll be alright,” Robinson said with a smile. “I barely touched him. He was just talking a little trash. It’s all love, though.”

Pittsburgh Steelers TE Darnell Washington

DARNELL WASHINGTON VS. DAVID PERALES

It’s an odd excerpt, but I had to throw this one in here for the sake of the play that made everyone spout some oohs and aahs on Wednesday. On a play-action pass, David Perales tried to bend the edge against Darnell Washington, but Washington caught him and threw him about five yards back into a row of coaches. It was impressive. Perales acknowledged that Washington got the better of him but that he learned a lesson.

“He got the better of me today,” Perales said. “I have to get my hand timing right. You know, if I fire too early or late, I show my move, and that can happen.”

Steelers Aaron Curry

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker coach Aaron Curry against the New England Patriots, December 8, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

LINEBACKERS — SUPERHERO POWERS

Steelers inside linebackers coach Aaron Curry is one of those players turned coaches, and he has an understanding of what it takes for a linebacker room to come together ideally. When you boast a room of Patrick Queen, Payton Wilson, Elandon Roberts, and Cole Holcomb, any inside linebackers coach would feel good about it. And while splitting up those duties could be challenging, having that talent is a blessing.

Curry refers to each of the players as having their own ‘superpower’ that they can be coached to, with Queen after the three-down ability, Wilson’s athleticism sticking out, Roberts’ fearlessness and leadership, and Holcomb’s steadiness all notable attributes that complement one another. Curry believes the room’s fabric compares favorably to that of Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright’s Seahawks rooms.

“Each guy as their own superpower,” Curry said. “It’s my job as a coach to find that superpower and let them use it to the best of their ability. We have four guys with different strengths. We are going to find the best role for each player.”

It’s hard not to be excited about that room if you coach them. And the Steelers should find it easy to fit the puzzle pieces with all four of them in the rotation.