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Steelers Rookie DL Shines in Emphatic Fashion vs. Raiders



Steelers Keeanu Benton
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Keeanu Benton (95) celebrates after sacking Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

LAS VEGAS — Steelers rookie defensive lineman Keeanu Benton has kicked at the door during training camp and the regular season. The rookie saw an opportunity to step up meaningfully when Cam Heyward went down. He flashed against San Francisco when Heyward went down and, since then, has continued his ascent. Benton played most of the second half against the Raiders, and the Steelers were better off for it.

Benton needs more playing time. Not only is he a solid run defender, but this kid has real pass-rush potential. He used his patented club-swim move to notch his first career sack tonight. Benton also drew a hold just a few plays later on a play where it looked like he might have had another chance to bring down Garopollo. Between the quick first step and the hand usage, Benton’s flashed a ton of impressive reps in limited usage. Pittsburgh has indicated they wish to bring him along slowly, but it doesn’t seem like that can be the plan for much longer.

Breaking down that sack, Benton went into detail about just what he saw. The center liked to be a two-hand puncher, and that is where Benton saw the mark open up for his club-swim move. That move has afforded Benton many wins over his football career, and it did once again.

“Yeah, you know, I knew that move would work at some point,” Benton said. “I saw that guy on tape and knew he was a two-handed puncher. If I could bat down those hands and catch him overextending, I felt like I could make a play off that.”

So far in his career, Benton has played nose tackle, but the team has started to branch him out into a 3-technique. They believe he can play as far down the line as a 5-technique, but Benton focuses on what he can do now. With the nose tackle position, Benton looks to make it a high-upside position in the mold of Javon Hargrave, and so far, he has done just that.

“I feel like I’ve been able to hold my ground,” Benton said. “Not crazy different from college. I feel like I still have a feel for where to anchor my weight at and kind of how to transfer their weight into the other offensive lineman. …

“I feel like I had to come to that (mindset) in college. That it’s not me making the play directly, but I’m still making the play by taking two players and letting my linebackers go free. I find joy in that, as well, just being a part of this team and being part of the overall defensive scheme.”

While he may find joy in being a plus-run defender, and he is, the pass rush part of his game makes the upside with Benton pop. He continues to prove that the Steelers should trust him as a defensive lineman who can make some impressive plays in tough spots.