UNITY TWP, Pa — The Steelers’ training camp schedule took a step up in intensity as the pads came on for the team on Tuesday. That means there’s a whole new set of drills and takeaways that we can talk about right out of the chute. Who stood out and what could we takeaway?
First Rep: The Steelers come out in a condensed 3×2 formation with everyone in-line. They motion Freiermuth into an H-Back role. Pittsburgh runs inside zone and hands it off to Najee Harris. Keeanu Benton does a great job to beat the double team and stack, but Harris is too powerful and falls into the endzone. Offense 1-0.
Second Rep. Second play, nearly the same formation, but the boundary side is spread out in 11 personnel while Freiermuth plays traditionally in-line. Harris shifts over to the other side. He gets the inside zone carry and Leal and Ogunjobi wrap him up, but again he falls into the endzone. Offense 2-0.
Third Rep: Freiermuth split out wide with Diontae Johnson in the slot. Pickett gets the snap and turns immediately to Freiermuth and tests Patrick Peterson on the fade route. It’s a solid throw but Peterson makes a great play on the football and knocks it away. Offense 2-1.
Fourth Rep: Steelers training camp continues to see Nick Herbig makes plays. Benton makes an appearance here beating Mason Cole with a hump move. Pickett is flushed out of the pocket and simply has to sail this one out of the back of the endzone, incomplete. Tied 2-2.
Fifth Rep: Mitch Trubisky is now in the game. Cody White motions across the formation and into the slot to make it a 3×1 formation. Elijah Riley shows blitz and backs off, but he ends up coming. Screaming off the edge, Riley forces Trubisky to his left. He throws in the direction of Zach Gentry but it sails over everyone. Defense 3-2.
Sixth Rep: The Steelers run a duo play with Darius Hagans as the running back. The defensive line largely eats him up, with Isaiahh Loudermilk making first contact. However, Hagans uses his strong frame and busts into the endzone for the touchdown. Tied 3-3.
Seventh Rep: The end of seven shots for the first padded day at Steelers training camp is intriguing with Connor Heyward in the backfield. Trubisky play fakes it to Heyward, but pressure from Toby Ndukwe forces Trubisky out right. He throws the comeback to Dez Fitzpatrick who drags the toes but Fitzpatrick can not stay in-bounds. Defense wins 4-3.
George Pickens Dominates
Alright, let’s get to the highlight of today. Of course, George Pickens is the story around Steelers training camp right now. He’s been great. But today, he ratcheted things up to another level. He’s a viral moment waiting to happen, and that’s what he did when he made an unreal one-handed catch over Joey Porter Jr.
Every rep George Pickens goes against Joey Porter Jr: 🍿🍿🍿pic.twitter.com/fy36VvuJX3
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 1, 2023
The thing you knew he could do that. More encouraging is the diverse route tree he is running and separating one. He looks like he is finding soft spots in zone coverage. Moreover, Pickens looks like a guy who is running in-breaking routes at a high level. I still have questions about his outside routes such as nine routes and comebacks, but he has more shake in his game on those inside-breaking routes over the middle of the field. If that continues, keep an eye out for Pickens to really make some serious noise this season.
Backs on Backers Highlights
Okay, let’s go over some backs on backers highlights. This event is one of my favorite things of the Steelers training camp. It’s the type of thing that separates the men from the boys. Gusy that step up here always has a leg up, for example, this is where Jaylen Warren really made his name known first.
– Darnell Washington looked good here. He stonewalled T.J. Watt not once but twice. The first time was the cleanest rep. Watt tried to ghost move Washington and Washington got his hand under him and squared him up in front. The second time Watt came to power and Washington stood him up. Alex Highsmith and Nick Herbig got Washington later with two ghost moves, but his reps against Watt are notable.
– Elandon Roberts and Mark Robinson pancaked new running back John Lovett on back-to-back reps in dominant fashion. I’m still not sure if Lovett knew what hit him when it happened. Robinson dominated this entire period. Roberts did mostly the same, including another one where he cracked Anthony McFarland back with a thunderous impact.
– Speaking of McFarland, I thought he was much better than you would have thought. He’s a speed back, but he’s feisty. His hand usage looks to have greatly improved. This was a solid showing for him, and he continues to run away with the RB3 spot.
– Nick Herbig and Connor Heyward had a good rivalry going here. But Herbig won four out of the five reps. Herbig is a sick pass rusher. I have no doubts about it, and his bend is something that sticks out on every pass-rush rep I see him going for. He even flashed a long arm on Heyward and buried him in the ground. Heyward largely did not look great today there.
– The best running back, to no surprise, was Jaylen Warren. The man just has no fear and punches people in the mouth. I thought the rest of the room disappointed.
– Shout out to depth linebacker Chapelle ‘Deuce’ Russell. He faced mostly depth guys, but won just about every rep I saw him take. The one time they put him up against Heyward, Russell pulled out a swim move that looked extremely effective.
One-on-One Linemen Notes
Okay, same thing as above but for the offensive and defensive linemen. As a big guy myself who played guard, this is my favorite drill of training camp.
– It was a perfect 4 of 4 for rookie left tackle Broderick Jones. Man, he looked great. His feet were quick and efficient. He anchored well against Markus Golden’s bull rush not once but twice. And then on his last rep, he came out against Toby Ndukwe and buried him into the ground with a snatch-trap move after Ndukwe tried to hit him with a long arm. Count me fully in on Jones for today’s praise.
– On the other side, Armon Watts showed off some nice things. His club rip and cross-chop are notable. But he’s got some real juice. Watts won most of his reps with those two moves. He has more pass-rush upside than a lot of other guys in the depth room of the defensive line.
– James Daniels dominated the matchup against Larry Ogunjobi. I can’t say that’s much of a surprise given what Daniels has done in pass protection over the years. He is steady with his technique and was great in that department a year ago.
– The best lineman out there was Isaac Seumalo. Seumalo had a great day in the run game and went perfectly in the one-on-ones. He’s probably the best lineman on this team. Seumalo simply is steady and has great hands.
– Rookie Keeanu Benton has a great frame. But you can tell the pass rush plan is not there yet. He had some fantastic reps and on the other side of things, he had somewhere he looked like he was flailing around. The run defense is great, I just need to see the plan come together a little more.
The Sleeper of the DL Room
I like Breiden Fehoko. No one is talking about him, but the man just eats up double teams. He never really made a tackle today, but man, he allowed other guys to run free when out there. The run defense never became leaky with him out there, and there is an easy role to see him filling.
Fehoko’s got little to no pass-rush upside. I’m okay with that in the AFC North. Sometimes, you need to stop the run and just sell out for that. That’s why I think Fehoko will make this football team. He just checks a lot of boxes you look for in a good nose tackle.
Kenny First Team
No, this isn’t about Kenny Pickett. It’s about Kenny Robinson. With Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee out, Robinson made his impact felt. On Sunday, he had two picks. On Tuesday, he ran with the first team defense. That’s a great accomplishment for a guy who came into this camp on the roster fringe. The thing is, Robinson dill well with it, breaking up two more passes today.
I’m not really sure where the team goes with Robinson from here. But he has done more than enough to warrant a serious look at things as training camp continues.