PITTSBURGH — The Steelers minicamp week continued on Wednesday as the group got together for the second day. However, as it winds down and the team begins to look towards training camp, what can we learn from what we’ve seen on the field thus far?
Darnell Washington Stands Out
If there was a star of the practice on Wednesday, there was no question who it was. It was rookie tight end Darnell Washington. You might hear that a lot simply because of the hype cycle. But Wednesday was the best that Washington looked from a receiving perspective of his game. No, there were no startling change of direction drops at his size, but his size and surprisingly full route tree are being utilized right now.
One play that stood out was an out-and-up route that Washington ran and caught for a touchdown down the field. He confirmed that he caught two touchdowns on Wednesday, including that up and out. There are ups and downs for all rookies, but Washington is starting to feel more comfortable.
“I feel like I have a full route tree,” Washington said. “At Georgia, I ran a lot of different routes in practice. If I had made a practice highlight tape, it would look like I had 2000 yards. But when the game happened, those plays were not called, or Brock Bowers is doing Brock Bowers things out there. But I feel like I have a lot of upside.”
Washington has the blocking upside, and he is not going to have that elite change of direction. But if Wednesday’s practice shows some things, he has some easy roles that he can fit into right away.
Versatile Running Backs
The Steelers’ running backs have versatile skill sets this year. Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland, and others all have capabilities as receivers and runners. At Steelers minicamp and OTAs, it has been no secret that the team is juggling how to get all of their talented guys involved. Running Backs coach Eddie Faulkner thinks there are a few ways they could be used from different alignments.
“I think they’re all versatile,” Faulkner said. “They’re smart. There’s some things that one guy does better than the other and that’s part of coaching, getting them into those situations. I think they’re all very functional in each facet of the game.”
This team could run some multiple back sets to really get things going.
Anthony McFarland Impressing
One of those versatile backs is Anthony McFarland. Now with the team for the fourth year in a row, McFarland is looking to carve out a role for himself. He’s a different player from Harris or Warren, but McFarland has unique receiving chops and speed that are startling from the other guys. That is part of how they want to use him.
“He has a different skillset than [Harris & Warren]. … It makes it fun for schematic purposes. You can do some things mismatch-wise. Ant Mac is a really good route runner. Getting him into 1 on 1 situations with backers, that is different,” Faulkner said.
That route-running part is interesting. It means the Steelers could find different areas of the field to really utilize McFarland. They have tried working him outside in the past during games, but it never really churned into a stint on the roster. Sometimes, that was derailed by injuries, but McFarland’s uniqueness does make him intriguing. He’s shown good hands and routes so far at minicamp, so this seems to track.
Another Pickett 2-minute Drill
Hey, another day, another successful two-minute drill for Kenny Pickett. When talking with multiple offensive players, they confirmed that he engineered another successful drive for a touchdown. Two of the key players highlighted from that drive by both Pickett and others were Washington and Calvin Austin III.
But it was the calming presence of Pickett that led them down the field. Washington, Austin, Allen Robinson, and others have seen quarterbacks get jittery and panicked in that spot. But not Pickett. He seems to have a moxie about him that allows the guys to wrap around him.
Markus Golden Finds Home
I’ll tell you one guy I’m really impressed by so far. That’s Markus Golden. He’s new and proven. The tape says what he can be, but there’s no denying his presence is felt so far at the Steelers minicamp. Golden might not be the best athlete ever, but he’s got that veteran savvy and a variety of moves. I love his attitude as well. It’s to hunt quarterbacks and on the defensive side, he wants to help his young guys.
“I want to affect the quarterback in any way I can,” Golden said. “Part of that is sacks, but it’s pressuring them, too. Affecting the quarterback is anyway I really can is how you can honestly make an impact. I go out there to hunt quarterbacks.”
Really, I think the Golden signing is going to be a great move when we look back on it. He did not cost that much and he meshes in with this team about as well as you can imagine.