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Steelers Minicamp Takeaways: UDFA QB Gets Chance, Unheralded WR Shines

The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their time at mandatory minicamp, and John Rhys Plumlee got a chance to show off.

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Pittsburgh Steelers John Rhys Plumlee

PITTSBURGH — The final day of mandatory minicamp has passed, which means the Pittsburgh Steelers will go on hiatus for six weeks before reporting to training camp in Latrobe on July 24th. However, the final day of training camp still gave plenty of looks to players, including ones who might not get as much run on other days. That means they can stamp an impression on the coaches and teammates before heading off on the six-week hiatus.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB John Rhys Plumlee

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback John Rhys Plumlee at the team’s OTAs, May 30, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

JOHN RHYS PLUMLEE GETS HIS CHANCE

Most of the time, fourth quarterbacks struggle to get reps. Case in point: look at Chris Oladokun back in 2022. Oladokun got near zero reps throughout the entire off-season program despite being picked in the seventh round, and following that, he was out of the organization. However, that is not true for undrafted free agent John Rhys Plumlee. Plumlee is not only getting reps; he is getting a significant amount of them with time to prove what he can do.

Granted, some of that is the versatility that Plumlee has proven to be able to do. He stated that he is working not only as a quarterback but also in a wildcat quarterback fashion, on special teams coverage units, and as a returner. That’s certainly a bit Taysom Hill-like, but Plumlee is getting run, and that is more than what many players can say to this point.

On Thursday, he took a quarterback draw for a touchdown in seven shots. Then, to top it all off, the Steelers allowed him to engineer a two-minute drive. On the first play, he tear-dropped a ball down the sideline for a 45-yard gain to Deuce Watts in the middle of Cover 2. Pittsburgh did not end up converting the touchdown chance with Plumlee under center, as he said the team started sending some Cover 0 his way. But he was grateful to get the chance.

“Would have liked a better result, obviously, but just grateful to get a chance to show what I can do,” Plumlee said. “It felt good getting out there in a football-like drill.”

Plumlee feels like a versatile weapon the Steelers are trying to figure out, but it does feel like he will end up cashing this opportunity into a practice squad spot.

Pittsburgh Steelers Darnell Washington

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Darnell Washington at the team’s mandatory minicamp, June 12, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

WASHINGTON MOSSING DUDES

One of the more fun themes of this year’s mandatory minicamp has been Darnell Washington missing defenders all over the place. Washington expects this to be a big year for him, and a lot of that is tied to red zone usage, where he believes he could see an uptick in his usage. Washington caught a touchdown at minicamp over four different starting defensive backs, including Minkah Fitzpatrick.

I do not anticipate Washington suddenly becoming a high-usage target in the passing game, but he might be the type of player who catches 25 passes in a season, and seven of them go for touchdowns. So, expect red zone usage with Washington to increase, for good reason. He has excellent hands and is naturally a massive target that the team can point to in a moment down in the red zone.

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Dez Fitzpatrick

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick at the team’s mandatory minicamp, June 12, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

STEELERS TWO-WAY THREAT

The Steelers do an open-field tackling drill, where backs and receivers catch a pass and turn upfield, running in an enclosed space along a sideline. One defender tries to force the ball carrier out of bounds without allowing a cutback. It’s all about angles and moving in open space for offensive and defensive players alike.

It’s a popular drill among the players, as the skill position guys try to bust out a move to make someone on defense look foolish and gain the bragging rights that accompany that feat.

Thursday at minicamp, wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick passed on his opportunity and took turns in the defensive line, making a stop every time. Why? Because while Fitzpatrick has had a very strong spring in a jumbled wide receiver room, he knows that his most likely path to the 53-man roster involved being able to play every phase of special teams.

So to Fitzpatrick, the chance to show off his tackling ability was more important than trying to make a defender miss. He did well, too, going three for three in the drill. But unlike most competitors, he was unwilling to name his victims.

“I got a couple of them,” Fitzpatrick said.

So he at least still has a soft spot for his offensive brethren.

Pittsburgh Steelers OT Troy Fautanu

Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Troy Fautanu during minicamp on June 11, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

SURPRISES WILL COME

It’s easy at this time of year for rookies to start to feel themselves a little bit. They are in practice for about a month and might have an idea of what the NFL is like in practice settings, but until the pads come on, so much more will come at them. Mike Tomlin does not want any of the rookies getting complacent before training camp because he knows surprises will be on the way for those players.

“I don’t tell them a whole lot to be quite honest with you. It doesn’t matter what I tell them. They’re still going to be shocked and surprised at times, and there’s going to be a period of adjustment. It’s just what comes with it,” Tomlin said.

Guys like Troy Fautanu and Roman Wilson already have experienced some welcome to the NFL moments. They should expect more in Latrobe in a month.

Pittsburgh Steelers OLB Kyron Johnson

Steelers OLB Kyron Johnson at practice on Jan. 3, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

UNDERSIZED AND READY TO MAKE AN IMPACT FOR STEELERS

On days like this one, where nothing will stick out as the big headline, I like to roam around and talk to some of the more unheralded guys on the roster. I caught up with Kyron Johnson. He is in his second season with the team after joining the practice squad in the middle of last season, and while he is an edge rusher, you would not expect that when looking at him.

Johnson says he weights just 235 pounds this year, but the Steelers are not worried about it. He pointed to guys like Bryce Huff, Nick Herbig, and Haason Reddick as inspirations. Reddick, who he played with in Philadelphia, even told Johnson that he could be unique with his get-off and explosiveness.

Johnson does have an excellent get-off and is mainly a speed rusher. When talking about this last roster spot at outside linebacker, that seems to be a commonality. Between Johnson, Jeremiah Moon, and David Perales, these guys have some real pop off the line. However, Johnson is the type of eccentric player in Year 3 who could be someone to watch because the athleticism is dynamic.