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Steelers Impressed by Rookie Keeanu Benton’s Debut



Steelers DT Keeanu Benton
Steelers DT Keeanu Benton at training camp Aug. 17, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Welcome to the NFL, Keeanu Benton. In 29 snaps in his debut, the Steelers rookie earned the second-highest PFF grade out of any rookie in Week 1, and the tape backed that up. Most of those snaps came after Pittsburgh lost its captain, Cam Heyward, to a groin injury, and he will miss up to eight weeks with that injury. Regardless, Benton is now set to step into a huge role.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is not surprised by what he has seen from Benton. He is what they thought he was a fantastic athlete who can play up and down the line. While he might only play at nose tackle and out to a 3-technique for now, there are big plans in place for Benton.

“He showed that he’s kind of what we thought,” Austin said. “He’s really powerful. He moves well. The things that he’s going to be inexperienced on are the blocking schemes coming at him, how those things affect him and how he should play. But I like him. I think he can play multiple positions along the line, but right now we want to try to keep him coming, so we may try to keep him a little bit where he is and let him grow that way.”

RELATED: Steelers Have Big Things Planned for Keeanu Benton

Benton has the Steelers’ eye, and Austin confirmed that. His heavy hands and burst off the line make him an intriguing player. Benton seemed ready to step up right away following Heyward’s injury. While he may not be the only player to step up, his 29 snaps in his debut illustrate that the Steelers immensely like him.

“Well, I thought for a first time I thought he did well. He’s active, he’s strong, all the things that we thought, and he did a pretty good job,” Austin said.  “I think in terms of rotation, I think he got a good amount of snaps. I don’t know if we’re going to be in a position to move him around to a bunch of places as a young guy. I don’t think that’s always effective. We’ll just kind of let him play out where he is and see where that takes us.”

He will remain mostly playing on the interior as a shade nose guard. That can expand to a 2i and 3-technique, where they did play him against the 49ers, so that should be in his repertoire. While that does not rule him out from playing other positions, Benton has to grow as a rookie and get his processing right before taking a big leap. He may even start against the Browns at nose tackle. Benton is one of their best players right now; they have to make sure they allow him to grow correctly, and Austin seems to recognize that.

For Benton, the leap is not too giant. He was forced to sink or swim right away, and while many others on the defensive line sunk, he did not. Expect Benton to take a leap the more he plays, and to play a lot right away given the team’s needs on the interior of the defensive line.

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