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Steelers Searching Hard for Diamonds in the Rough



Steelers Rookie Minicamp

The Pittsburgh Steelers cast an extremely wide net when it came to finding talented players to round out their roster ahead of the 2023 season. For the team’s rookie minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex this weekend, the club invited 33 tryout players out of the 51 total that participated in the camp.

Other teams, such as the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans, invited only a handful of tryout players to their rookie camps.  Not only did the Steelers bring in a large quality of bodies to the proceedings, they brought them in from all sorts of angles.

The Steelers had All-American Texas Tech discus and weight thrower Gabe Oladipo; Hunter Johnson, who was a five-star quarterback in high school but topped out in college as a backup at Clemson; 30-year-old former Baltimore Ravens tight end Nick Boyle, attempting to make the team as a long snapper three-year L.A. Rams vet Bryce Perkins at quarterback, a kicker from a tryout camp in Mexico and all-XFL center Mike Panasiuk.

Of the more-traditional invitee types, the Steelers searched far and wide to find potential NFLers. They invited two players that had attended New York Giants camp last week and didn’t get an offer. A half dozen came from HBCUs, several more from other FCS school, and two from Division-II programs.

“I think the thing that you look for when you’re talking about a tryout guy is the things that you can’t coach,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “The pedigree related things. The things that they bring and if it’s above the line, meaning if it’s at a professional level, then you consider them. I think that’s where we start first. And so, you look at movement, speed, body control, the ability to drop their weight, change of direction, things of that nature, per their positions. So really, it’s a lot of pedigree related things from an evaluation standpoint. 

The HBCU players were extensively scouted by Steelers general manager Omar Khan, who was the only NFL GM to attend the league’s HBCU combine in person in his hometown of New Orleans. That led to several of those players getting Steelers rookie camp invites.

“There were a lot of quality players that got his attention and our attention, and we wanted to take a further look in some instances and maybe do some business in some instances,” Tomlin said.

The Steelers have fully embraced the idea of spring pro football being a catalyst to add to their roster. The club has already had players like Kameron Kelly and J.C. Hassenauer matriculate from spring leagues to the Steelers’ 53-man roster, and they plan to continue to comb those leagues for prospects.

Players from the XFL can’t be signed until May 15, when the Steelers are expected to sign wide receiver Hakeem Butler, who played with the St. Louis BattleHawks this spring. The USFL season runs through mid-June, at which point those players are eligible to be added to NFL rosters.

“We just utilize all the ball at our disposal in an effort to acquire talent,” Tomlin said. “And we respect what those leagues are trying to get done and in terms of exposing and preparing guys and developing them. And so, we just want to do our part in the ecosystem, if you will.”

The Steelers have five open spots on their 90-man off-season roster, so it seems likely that some of those tryouts that the team drew in from all over the sporting landscape will finish this weekend with their future well in hand.