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Steelers Rookie Camp Takeaways: Wilson’s Speed, Watts’ Debut

The Pittsburgh Steelers took the field for their second day of rookie camp. What happened and what can we learn from it?

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Pittsburgh Steelers CB Ryan Watts
Pittsburgh Steelers CB Ryan Watts rookie minicamp, May 11, 2024 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie camp went into its second day on Saturday. Often, the first day of this is eventful. But on the second day? It’s time to start yearning for OTAs because that is where the real nucleus of the team comes together, and things can be learned from those sessions. Still, what can we learn from the second day of the rookie minicamp?

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Roman Wilson

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Roman Wilson at rookie minicamp, May 10, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Roman on the Inside and Outside

Where is Roman Wilson going to play? Well, the Steelers rookie camp gave one answer for Wilson—he’ll do a little bit of both. But in reality, Wilson will play as a slot, and his outside reps will be slotted into a few categories. First, he will be able to be the Z out of stacked sets and condensed formations, where they can get him free over the middle of the field. Second, he will have to work in motion to get him a running start to take care of his struggles against press coverage.

“I’m just playing wherever they tell me,” Wilson said. “That’s inside, outside, we’re doing a little bit of everything right now… we are working on route details. You know, playing low, footwork, pumping my arms, getting out breaks to create separation, and all of that.”

Wilson noted that he wants to sharpen his route-running tools and that the details are a little raw right now. There is plenty of time, and he also acknowledged the press coverage struggles. But he focused today on pumping his arms and quickly getting in and out of his breaks.

I just noticed how quickly he eats up ground in short areas. The explosiveness he has off the line of scrimmage is incredible. There were veterans in the Steelers rookie camp who did not have the same level of burst that he does. The 4.39 speed is impressive at the NFL Combine, but the instant acceleration is more impressive. And that speed is no fluke.

“I’d probably say 50-50 it’s natural and 50-50 just working hard,” Wilson said. “I’ve been working with a speed coach since, like, sixth grade. Being fast comes natural but being who I am now, it’s definitely hard work.”

Pittsburgh Steelers RB Jonathan Ward

Steelers tryout RB Jonathan Ward at rookie minicamp, May 10, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

‘Old Man Hands’

If you are trying out at a rookie minicamp, whether you are a veteran or some undrafted free agent hoping to earn a contract, you must make yourself known as unique. It seems like running back Jonathan Ward, who has been in the NFL since 2019, is doing that. Running backs coach Eddie Faulkner has liked Ward, and videos like this showcase why.

“The older you are, the less time you have in the league,” Ward said. “At the same time, it’s just football. Coming out and sharing the gems that I’ve picked up over the years with the younger guys, it’s just a blessing. And that also gives me an advantage too because you get a little bit of a player and a coach in the same aspect.”

According to Ward, Faulkner told him he had ‘old man hands’ after that strike. Ward is a 6-foot, 202-pound running back rom Kankakee, Illinois. A Central Michigan alum, he started his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2022. He played in 14 games as a rookie, mostly on special teams, and then another 13 games in Arizona in 2021, when he saw his first real offensive action, rushing for 33 yards on nine carries and catching three of four targets for 34 yards.

Ward noted that throughout the day, he lined up as a returner, gunner, and at the wing on special teams, so there is a lot of versatility in his game. That could earn him a contract if done correctly.

Watts Sticks Out

Ryan Watts was back in town after graduating from Texas on Friday. The one thing that sticks out immediately? Wow, he is massive. If you think he does not fit in with the current ‘Avatar cornerbacks,’ well, that would be wrong. On the height scale, Watts will rival Joey Porter Jr., Cory Trice, and Darius Rush. And it seems like he has something to prove, judging by his draft call.

“I’m ready to go right now, Coach,” Watts said in the video. “You got a pissed off player.”

He has some real snap coming downhill in his transition. I think there is some hip stiffness, so I understand why the move to safety might have to occur naturally, but Watts has physical tools for the position, which is rare. I’m interested to see if they move him around and keep him slotted in at cornerback throughout the offseason. He could be a fascinating mover around the formation.

What Tomlin is Looking for in Players

Mike Tomlin talks after the conclusion of rookie minicamp, but I find it interesting how the team decides which players they want to sign after two walk-throughs. There is not a lot of physically intensive work that displays physical attributes. It is more about mental retention of the playbook and what the team can learn about how a player ticks. If you are looking for physical attributes, conditioning is the most important in these situations.

“I’m looking for a lot of things, to be quite honest with you. How people learn. How people take in information. How they retain information. Some physical things; how their body works, levels of conditioning. Things that are really critical in terms of getting to know these guys and building a program individually for them to get them ready for Latrobe,” Tomlin said.

Guys like Ward check this box. Marquis Williams, who put a sticky note on Danny Smith’s computer after beating him to the facility on Friday, also had a trick to stand out. But with positive retention, high conditioning, and showcasing coachability. All of that is what will get players signed this weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers OT Troy Fautanu

Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Troy Fautanu during rookie minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Friday, May 10, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

OL Versatility

Keep learning about the Steelers’ offensive line at rookie camp, and the more they want to go into the offensive line’s versatility. Troy Fautanu is playing on the right side, and so is Mason McCormick. But they might be looking to play all around the offensive line. There is no concrete plan for anyone there just yet. And that’s fine. McCormick can play three spots, and Fautany can maybe play five. If you are a team that says they value versatility like Pittsburgh does, these guys are the type of players to scout and hone in on. So, it seems like that philosophy is taking shape.

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Edward Carmichael
Edward Carmichael
May 11, 2024 7:59 pm

as a true Steelers fan, the Steelers secondary is crowed now what I want to know is Ryan Watts going to play slot CB or safety I already know that Cory Trice Jr. will be the other starting CB and how will they use Darius Rush