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Steelers OTAs Takeaways: Fields Takes Step, Two Sleeper DB Impress

Justin Fields and Russell Wilson step to the forefront while some sleeper defensive backs stand out in a big way.

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Pittsburgh Steelers QB Russell Wilson Justin Fields
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields at OTAs on June 4, 2024. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — Thursday was the last day of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason training activities. Over nine sessions, Pittsburgh has made strides from where it was when it started the process, from installing the offense to experimenting with chemistry with one another.

But interestingly, the last day of OTAs seemed pretty eventful. What is usually a day for many guys to fly out of Pittsburgh and hop on a flight instead seemed like a chiller, laid-back day to look ahead towards mandatory minicamp. That is generally not the vibe from this day, but it was necessary, nonetheless, especially when the quarterback position is involved.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields at OTAs on June 4, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

MIXING IT UP

Russell Wilson started OTAs with what Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called “pole position” as the team’s No. 1 quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he’s monopolized the reps with the team’s top unit.

The Steelers have shuffled the deck a good bit throughout OTAs, with Wilson and Justin Fields taking snaps from centers Zach Frazier and Nate Herbig and all of the team’s wide receivers working with all of the quarterbacks.

“All the receivers have been rotating in pretty good with our reps as quarterbacks, so I think we’re getting that connection, whether that’s routes on air, plays against the defense, stuff like that, so I feel like I’m getting a good amount of reps with everybody on the field to build that connection, for sure,” Fields said.

The team hasn’t always done it that way. Sometimes, things can be pretty disciplined. When Kenny Pickett was with the third team in the spring of his rookie year, he barely threw to Diontae Johnson and the rest of the first-teamers.

The Steelers sure seem like they’re preparing Fields to be more than just a by-rote backup to Wilson.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Nate Meadors

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Nate Meadors at the team’s OTAs session, May 21, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

SLEEPER DBs TO KNOW

One thing that people always ask me is what sleepers are standing out at OTAs. I will give you one standout and another player to watch because of the competition. The standout is a little-known defensive back, Nate Meadors. Meadors’s week during these last three days of OTAs was impressive. On Thursday, he made a phenomenal ranging pass breakup on a corner route out of Cover 2. To cap it off, he had two other pass breakups and an interception throughout the week.

If there is a sleeper defensive back, and I would not count Beanie Bishop in this because he feels a little overexposed for that role, Meadors would be my pick. He came out of college as a press-man cornerback and switched to safety in the NFL, where he learned most of what he knows under the influence of Harrison Smith during his time in Minnesota. Meadors has flashed excellent ball skills and physicality for his size. He can play all over the formation, from cornerback to slot cornerback to both safety spots. So, at the very least, Meadors has upside and versatility to add to his case.

The other player I would like to point out is Thomas Graham. Graham has been fine throughout his first three weeks with the Steelers but is in the slot cornerback competition. He confirmed that on Thursday, and so, along with Bishop and Josiah Scott, Graham feels like another key name to know on that wheel. Cam Sutton is likely to win the starting slot cornerback job, but since the Steelers have spliced that job up in the past and Sutton could be facing a suspension, these players are guys to watch.

Graham played with the Cleveland Browns last year and came out of Oregon as an inside-out versatile player. Given Bishop’s strong performance so far and Scott’s experience, he still has a climb to make the team, but he is a name to know when training camp comes around, and that slot cornerback job becomes something to watch closely.

Pittsburgh Steelers OT Broderick Jones

Pittsburgh Steelers OT Broderick Jones at OTAs, May 21, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

NO BAD BLOOD

The Pittsburgh Steelers have an ongoing tackle battle, but Broderick Jones, Troy Fautanu, and Dan Moore Jr. support one another. Jones and Moore are willingly mentoring Fautanu, who they say is taking strides over the last three weeks of OTAs. And it exemplifies the competitive fire that the team expects from that room, but it’s not a competition that has bad blood.

“We help each other as much as possible,” Jones said. “Me and Dan hang out all the time. He comes over to my house all the time. Yeah, we know it’s a competition. Everybody knows it’s a competition. Coach lets us know it’s a competition. But at the end of the day, I don’t feel like we look at it [negatively]. There’s no bad blood between [anybody].”

Moore has helped Fautanu significantly off to the side after every practice, which is notable. Jones has the recent experience to work with that Fautanu can take to heart. All of that will lead to the possibility that Fautanu can start in Week 1, and the support from others in the room is a huge reason why it’s a nurturing environment for a rookie tackle still learning.

Pickens

Steelers WR George Pickens celebrates a catch over Joey Porter Jr. at training camp, Aug. 1, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

READY FOR ROUND 2

At last season’s Steelers training camp, the marquee matchup on most days was the battle between top wide receiver George Pickens and rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr., with the youngster picking the biggest and baddest of the Pittsburgh wide receivers, challenging him regularly, and winning more than his fair share of their one-on-one battles.

This year, it’s a bit different. Porter is no longer the new kid on the block. But he’s not giving up his training camp battles with Pickens just yet.

“It’s the same: We’re gunning for each other every day we get a chance to,” Porter said. “And I’m looking forward for training camp. I know it’s gonna be spicy so I’m ready for it.”

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Jaylen Warren

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Jaylen Warren at the team’s OTAs sessions, May 21, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

ANOTHER TOP BATTLE

In a running backs vs. defensive backs open-field tackling drill, Jaylen Warren and Minkah Fitzpatrick got matched up in a battle of top performers on Thursday, with the star safety getting the last word. 

“He got me the first time,” Warren said. “I got him the second time. He was trying to not even go a second time. I was like, no, run it back. One to one, then we run it back for the tie-breaker, and he got me.”

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Less Tomlin
Less Tomlin
June 7, 2024 4:18 am

You guys mentioned in your camp video series that the defense is dominating. Having DBs nobody heard of showing out probably says more about the WR depth than anything.

Edward Carmichael
Edward Carmichael
June 7, 2024 8:45 am

as a true Steelers fan, as I see it I hope both Nate Malik Meadors and Thomas Graham Jr. get a chance to play in some downs to show their skills but the preseason is too short

Jesus Christani
Jesus Christani
June 7, 2024 12:07 pm

Good take on Meadors… I’m sure he received some good coaching and tips from Coach Flores, as well…