PITTSBURGH — The Steelers began an awkward set of practices on Saturday, where they have three practices until the cut-down date. Pittsburgh did release eight players on Saturday, but they still got to work at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex to sharpen themselves before Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. What did the team go over, and what were they learning during these interesting three days?
Tomlin Mentoring Pickett
Mike Tomlin will not sit back and see if his quarterback pans out. So, the Steelers head coach dove headfirst into his mentorship with Kenny Pickett, hosting extended meetings every morning with the second-year quarterback one-on-one in Tomlin’s office. These meetings were not so much about on-field developments as leadership and intangibles. Each day, Tomlin intentionally constructs a schedule of what he and Pickett will discuss to help Pickett get better.
“Experience has taught me to anticipate it and better than that to cultivate it. So, you know, we talk openly about it during the course of team development, he and I met every morning,” Tomlin said. “To start a day we talked about a variety of things, leadership, things that come with being him. I want to be a part of his growth and development. I’m not going to sit on the side and hope that it happens. It happens in the ways that we need or want it to. And so, we’re intentionally constructing it. ”
How does Tomlin cultivate that idea? He treats Pickett no differently than a second-year running back, defensive back, or another position. There may be anxiety about the prospect of young quarterbacks and their development. Still, the veteran coach sees little difference in coaching up a quarterback into year two than in developing those other positions.
“Not from my perspective. This teaching, this learning is creating urgency and focus,” Tomlin said. “Too much is made out of the quarterback position sometimes in discussions such as this. Just teaching and learning.”
Matt Canada noted that Pickett looks like the offense’s leader and that all the players now follow him with the respect and admiration of a starting quarterback. There is ownership and confidence in him. The leadership part of the equation does not always come naturally for quarterbacks, but Pickett has picked it up quickly with some help from his head coach.
Allen Robinson Making a Difference
Take it from defensive coordinator Teryl Austin: the veteran presence of a wide receiver on the offensive side of the football can be annoying for a defense. When the Steelers added Allen Robinson to the room, they were looking for a player who could give them leadership and significant contributions as a big slot receiver. Austin has seen the impact of Robinson on the offense just from a casual observer’s point of view.
“I think Allen (Robinson) in the slot is a big difference,” Austin said. “You know, you have that third quality guy in there so you know, they can kind of go a little bit, you know, other places. So, for us when we kind of feel that in practice and so, that would be kind of a couple of things off the cuff.”
Canada sees a similar level of growth when it comes to the offense around Robinson. Sure, the savvy veteran who can be a possession reviewer and red zone threat is important, but more so, the communication hub that Robinson brings into the wide receiver room might be just as important. Now, Robinson will stand in the slot and call out coverages and other things that he, as a receiver, sees to a young quarterback like Pickett.
“I think he’s a super-talented player,” Canada said. “He’s a veteran, you know, an experienced guy that comes in and leads and he’s done a really good job for us and everything we hope he’d be so far.”
Robinson should help this offense mesh better. Getting George Pickens and Diontae Johnson a mentor like Robinson can also help both players. Expect Robinson not to run up the stat sheet but be a player who can help as much off the field as on the field.
Don’t Buy Into Fool’s Gold
Najee Harris wants no one to buy into the Steelers’ preseason hype. Harris is cautiously optimistic, having already experienced what it is like coming off a year where the team goes undefeated in the preseason. Still, he feels there is almost too much hype around what the Steelers are doing.
“Offense has looked really good, best since I’ve been here,” Harris said. “But now we got to focus in on the regular season. That’s really what matters most. Not looking too much into the media and social media and how good they’re saying we are, staying focused and not buying the fool’s gold.”
There is a staggering confidence level in the Steelers right now. But that type of mentality that Harris talks about is the right approach. Do not put the cart before the wagon. The preseason was fun but not something the Steelers should crown themselves with. It should just be a tool to build that confidence.
Slot CB Fun
Elijah Riley and Chandon Sullivan had a competitive back-and-forth battle with one another. The competition ended up a spirited one with little bad blood at all, according to Riley. Sullivan and Riley helped one another, and their skill sets work off one another to create a duo that filled the room’s void.
“I feel like I’m a downhill, stick your nose in the run type of guy, he’s got the cover skills,” Riley said. “We’ve been able to trade lessons, whether rushing, coverage, or anything. It’s been an iron-on-iron completion. There’s no bad blood, which I enjoy. I’m a team guy. I love that we worked with each other and pushed each other rather than pushing against each other.”
As a result of the push from each other, Riley and Sullivan are primed to make the roster. So, it likely turned out not to be two dogs, one bone situation, and instead, a spirited competition that made both players better from the outset.