The Steelers defensive line struggled mightily yesterday. Cam Heyward went down with a groin injury, and Larry Ogunjobi essentially played on one foot. That all comes together to create a lousy storm of circumstances, but the Steelers got one promising thing from the game — rookie Keeanu Benton looks just like he did in the preseason.
Benton looked like the best defensive lineman the Steelers had on Sunday. Now, maybe take that with a grain of salt for what you wish, but Benton’s run defense and flashes of burst from a shade and even out at three-technique came across on the film on Sunday.
Here’s a little taste of what Benton brought to the table yesterday. The hands and pass rush plan go slightly over the place, but the natural athleticism and raw technique are all there. Benton certainly gave the 49ers some trouble, and Pittsburgh started playing him far more in the second half once they got a bit of a hold on the 49ers offense.
Benton is tons of fun… I'm used to my Steelers NT looking like Casey Hampton and sitting at the LOS. New era in Pittsburgh pic.twitter.com/8wrWIt6kiw
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 11, 2023
He is in the model of a Javon Hargrave far more than he is a Casey Hampton. Benton looks like the Hulk in his build, with broad shoulders and a stout lower half that gives him natural power. A former wrestler, he understands leverage and angles, maneuvering his way past offensive linemen by softening those angles and playing with good pad level. Coming out of Wisconsin, he sometimes struggled with that pad level, but it’s looked fine so far in Pittsburgh.
For the day, Benton earned an elite 86.1 PFF grade. Take that for what it is worth, but it blew every other player on the Steelers defensive front out of the water. His run defense held up from a gap-to-gap perspective for enough reps that he should play more. Benton is ready to go and start next week. Montravius Adams gives it his all, and the effort is admirable, but Benton looks like the better player right now.
He’s a younger guy, so there will be ebbs and flows to all of this, but make no mistake, it’s better to live with that than trot out veterans who keep underachieving. Pittsburgh should have seen enough from Benton to embrace and cultivate those talents for the future. He has earned that right after a great summer and is flashing like he did in the season’s first game.