The Pittsburgh Steelers will wrap their three-day rookie minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Sunday, and here’s what we learned from the three-day session that will serve as a taste of real football until OTAs begin in two weeks.
Mike Tomlin took a more supervisory role to the proceedings, choosing to float around and observe more than doing a lot of hands-on coaching.
But that was not the case for his assistants, especially those that have one of the team’s top draft picks in their position groups. Every time you looked for Broderick Jones, it seemed that Pat Meyer was right there next to him, giving a pointer or a tip, or grabbing the bag and demonstrating a technique himself.
The same could be said for Grady Brown and Joey Porter Jr., Karl Dunbar and Keeanu Benton and Alfredo Roberts and Darnell Washington. Those top picks, for whom making the team is largely a fait accompli, got some serious coaching on technique over these two days.
Now it will be the responsibility of those players to take that coaching home for a week and come back to OTAs better prepared to compete with the seasoned veterans at their positions.
“It’s an opportunity for us to give and receive some information,” Tomlin said. “To see how they learn. To work on some presentational things from a coaching collective perspective. And so, there’s a lot of little things that are getting done that make this an important weekend.”
For many of the top prospects, that involved detail work like hand placement, footwork and positional alignment — all things that can be worked on by those players in their own time before OTAs get started.
VETS STAND OUT
It’s easy to dismiss players that have done nothing in their career other than hang onto the fringes of an NFL roster. That it, until they practice alongside those with far less experience, just coming out of the college ranks.
Take, for example, Steelers guard William Dunkle. Dunkle — who goes by Bill — joined the team mid-training camp in 2022 after being cut by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of San Diego State.
Dunkle spent the entire 2022 season on the Steelers’ practice squad, and never really seemed to appear to challenge for much of anything in terms of making noise to make the roster.
With the Steelers bringing in guards Isaac Seumalo, Nate Herbig and seventh-rounder Spencer Anderson in addition to returners James Daniels, Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green, Dunkle’s odds of making the 53-man roster this fall seem to be near zero.
So no one came to rookie camp excited to see Dunkle. But he was one of the best-looking linemen in the bunch, even standing next to first-round pick Broderick Jones.
It served as a good reminder of how much even bottom-of-the-barrel NFL players grow so much over the course of a season, and that at this stage in the game, even the least-tenured of the vets are playing at a higher level than the highest-rated rookies.
This applies to the veteran tryout players at the camp, as well, with quarterback Bryce Perkins and center Mike Panasiuk standing out as been-there, done-that guys. But it doesn’t mean they’ll get a shot, just because they’re ahead of the game right now.
CURRY BRINGS THE HEAT
The rookie camp was our first chance to see new Steelers inside linebackers coach Aaron Curry do his work up-close and personal.
Curry represented something of a departure from Tomlin’s typical hiring paradigm, in that he’s a young former player earning the role of full-time position coach for the first time. Usually, the Steelers prefer to hire more-experienced coaches.
Curry showed the positive upside of hiring a younger coach, as his voice could be heard echoing throughout the indoor practice facility on Saturday, despite Curry only having three players — all in camp on a tryout — to work with.
It’s clear the young coach will bring plenty of energy to the staff, and players seemed to respond well to his messaging.