Connect with us

Steelers Analysis

Steelers OTAs Takeaways: Arthur Smith’s Impact, New Position Change

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a new offensive coordinator in town in Arthur Smith who seems far more detailed than his predecessor.

Published

on

Pittsburgh Steelers Arthur Smith
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Arthur Smith during OTAs on May 21, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The second week of OTAs is not nearly as eventful as the first week. The first week is usually not that eventful either, but the Pittsburgh Steelers had a colorful first week because there is so much ‘new’ around the team. Heading into the future, the stories will be about those new players meshing. But this week, the story evolves into roles and how coaches lay the foundation for the rest of the Summer. Tuesday’s session was no exception in learning about coaches and the inside mechanics of the Steelers’ work.

Pittsburgh Steelers OC Arthur Smith

Pittsburgh Steelers offensvie coordinator Arthur Smith during the 2024 NFL Draft at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on April 27, 2024. — Alan Saunders / Steelers Now

The Low Down on Arthur Smith

I didn’t go into today thinking I would come out of it writing about Arthur Smith as the main topic for these takeaways. Then, everyone started talking about Smith and what he brought to the table in detail, making it hard to ignore. Connor Heyward outright said that Smith is the key to ‘unlocking’ the team’s potential offensively. The other two words I keep hearing are ‘detail’ and ‘accountability.’

Smith is way more vocal in practice than Matt Canada, which has pros and cons. The one thing I know that Smith is better at than Canada is that he is already explaining the nuts and bolts of a play to his personnel. Former Steelers tight end Jace Sternberger appeared on the Locked On Packers podcast last year to describe the differences between Canada and Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, from whom Smith draws a lot of influence. The explanation of any given play to players is key for buy-in and the understanding of what is going on.

“When I got there, the playbook, the details, it was night and day,” Sternberger said. “The details on the assignment were nothing. It was literally like five yards, you’re running a stick. I’m taking school tests every week [on the playbook]. It’s not little answers where Matt Canada, it’s like, oh I have a five-yard slant or I have a corner route. Green Bay, it’s, hey I have a five-yard slant, if it’s press, I have to give time to let the inside guy run his fade. You have to give three or four coaching points every assignment.”

Smith follows the LaFleur line of thinking here. He details the ‘why’ and ‘how of everything. I asked multiple players about that, and not only does he explain a play in detail against different looks, but he holds everyone accountable for knowing their role in explicit detail. Again, something minor but essential here.

“I just think he’s made everyone super accountable, which I think starts with the players but it’s good to have from the coaches as well. I think he’s been consistent with his message,” Isaac Seumalo said.

Also, you ask some of the defensive guys about facing this offense. I had a few players directly compare Smith’s offense to that of a Kyle Shanahan or Sean McVay offense, which makes sense since Smith takes a ton of ideas from LaFleur, and that offense is part of that branch. Smith’s offense has unique qualities in how he uses motion to switch strength and weak sides, though.

This whole excerpt is to say there’s a buzz about how different Smith is from other guys in the past here. Based on his tenure in Atlanta, it does not mean this will work out, and he will even be good, but there is a lot of new and different. That’s what Mike Tomlin wanted to do with this hire. He did that.

Pittsburgh Steelers Spencer Anderson

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Spencer Anderson at the team’s first OTAs session, May 21, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

A New Guard

One piece of information took me by surprise today. The Steelers have moved Spencer Anderson to guard and center full-time this season. He told me that he was playing almost exclusively on the interior this year and did not work much at tackle. That raises many questions, most notably, why was that the plan? Did they see Anderson more as an interior player, or did they like the tackle depth they have?

Regardless, there is a rut on the interior as it stands. There seems to be a clear five players that will make the roster at guard and center, but maybe if Anderson shows enough, he will earn a spot on the 53-man roster once again. Could that open up a trade for Nate Herbig? I would not discount it, especially if the team is high on Anderson.

They could want Anderson to work more at that spot, too. He likely already profiled as an interior guy for most of his career, but his five-spot versatility is part of a huge selling point. My guess is he can retain that tackle versatility if needed, but the team is looking for a long-term spot here, which is likely at guard. So, let’s see how it plays out. It makes a Dan Moore Jr. trade less likely if they like Anderson on the interior and certainly places some pressure on Dylan Cook to take a leap.

Pittsburgh Steelers SS DeShon Elliott

Pittsburgh Steelers safety DeShon Elliott during OTAs at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on May 23, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

DeShon Elliott to Help Minkah

Out of all the signings the Steelers made this offseason, it is okay if you forgot about DeShon Elliott, but he could become one of the team’s most pivotal signings. But Elliott profiles to become a massive part of this team’s identity defensively, namely because he is the key to unlocking Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is probably an elite free safety and strong safety. Still, he played in the latter role a season ago, and it took away the unpredictability of Fitzpatrick’s alignment in each play. More than that, it wore his body down quickly.

Elliott can play deep or in the box as a slot-heavy player, and I expect the interchangeability to resemble Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds as a duo. Having Damontae Kazee in the fold will also help their three safety nickel packages. But they needed to get Fitzpatrick back to being a ball-tracking hawk all over the field, which offenses have to account for, and they certainly lacked that at times a year ago.

Elliott should bring that much-needed stability into that room alongside Fitzpatrick and allow the All-Pro safety to get back to his quarterback-haunting ways on the back end of the secondary. The secondary was a huge reason that the Steelers were 21st in yards allowed per game a year ago, and they should be better this season, but there is even more room for growth with Fitzpatrick’s skill set being used properly.

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Najee Harris at the team’s OTAs session, May 28, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Skinny Najee?

At the start of OTAs, a lot of talk around Najee Harris, other than the contract situation, was about his supposed weight loss that would add more explosiveness. Tell me if you’ve heard that one before from around the NFL. You probably have at some point. OTAs are most of these guys ‘best shape of life’ season. So, I wanted to see if there was something to it. Last year, when Jaylen Warren showed up ripped, there was merit to that, and I think it showed on the field during the season when he was more explosive.

I do think Harris looks a bit quicker. But I doubt it will lead to him suddenly ripping off 50-yard touchdown runs with consistency. Harris’s strength will always be that he is a big back who runs extremely hard and, more often than not, runs low so that he can churn out a lot of hidden yardage.

I expect him to hit explosive runs. However, he has proven he can do that in the NFL already. It’s not a foreign concept for Harris to rip off a 25-yard scamper from just breaking three tackles in succession. He has that rare trait. So, I do think that Harris is a bit slimmer this year, and it will probably help his game, but I would think it helps him more in short areas to make sudden cuts, especially in a one-cut, outside zone scheme, more than it will him to break 70 yard touchdowns.