UNITY TWP., Pa — The Pittsburgh Steelers training camp continued onward with their agendas looking toward the first padded practice on Tuesday. However, before that, there was an eventful day on Sunday. What can we take away from the day when the youth shone through?
First Play: 3×1 set to the right side with Najee Harris in motion from the sideline to the backfield. George Pickens and Allen Robinson II to the same side with Pat Freiermuth detached from the offensive line. Pickett steps back to pass and fires to a wide-open Pickens in the back of the endzone. The secondary busted the coverage and looked confused. Offense 1-0.
Second Play: Pickett motions Freiermuth across the formation to create a 3×1 condensed set to the boundary side. Levi Wallace comes inside to match against Freiermuth. Pickett takes three steps and fires it towards Freiermuth but the ball is broken up by Wallace. Tied 1-1.
Third Play: Steelers come out in a 2×2 set and stay that way. Two tight ends on the field for 12 personnel. No one gets open at first, so Pickett has to scramble with Nick Herbig applying pressure behind him. Pickett evades the pressure and fires it into the endzone for Zach Gentry who catches it for the touchdown. Offense 2-1.
Fourth Play: Same set up as the second play but the Steelers run it to the field aide with a stacked look backside out of empty. Warren motions into the backfield from the stack. Pickett steps back to pass and hits Freiermuth for the touchdown in the endzone on the out. Offense 3-1.
Fifth Play: Mason Rudolph comes in with Mitch Trubisky having a day off. Cody White runs a slant route off the pick play. Kenny Robinson is robbing the middle of the field and picks it off. Either Rudolph never saw Robinson, White carried the slant too vertical, or there was a miscommunication on ball placement. Offense 3-2.
Sixth Play: Rudolph looks for Connor Heyward on the same play that Pickett and Freiermuth hooked up on for a touchdown, but Heyward has to go to the ground and drops it. Tanner Muse got a hand in there for the pass breakup. Tied 3-3.
Seventh Play: The Steelers call a sprint out to the boundary side of the field. Gunner Olszewski runs a sail route to the back pylon and Rudolph on the run throws it his way. Duke Dawson has great coverage and Rudolph sails it over Olszewski’s head for an incompletion. Defense wins 4-3.
Mike Tomlin made it a point to go out on Sunday and find out what he had in some of his young players. With many veterans getting the day off, Broderick Jones, Joey Porter Jr., Cory Trice, Nick Herbig, and Keeanu Benton all got some significant tread that they would not have received otherwise.
So, let’s talk about how it went. Jones went up against Alex Highsmith and had some nice reps but some plays where he looked flat-out silly. He is learning that athleticism can not take him all the way to the promised land in the NFL. He has upside, but Highsmith’s ghost move got him today. It’s his first time experiencing it. So, some early struggles are noted.
I thought Joey Porter Jr. did well for himself today. He ran stride for stride with Calvin Austin III on a wheel route and broke it up with his length getting in there. The ball may have been just slightly underthrown by Kenny Pickett but the ball itself was not a bad one. He got toasted by Diontae Johnson once. That was his one rough rep of the day, otherwise, Porter hung in well.
Trice had some good and bad. Against the twos, Trice looked solid. But George Pickens cooked him on a play where Trice simply mistracked the ball. It allowed Pickens to make a 40-yard catch down the sideline. Trice is growing into his role and his fluidity is notable.
Herbig’s pass-rushing chops are real. I just have questions about his mass on run-heavy downs. We won’t start to know that until Tuesday when the pads come on and the run periods start to showcase themselves. But Herbig has answered most questions about his pass-rush chops.
Spencer Anderson worked at three different spots, playing right tackle and both guard spots today as well. He got to rep against some higher-up defensive linemen and looked good while doing it.
Pickett is Sharp
A day after I said Kenny Pickett looked a little off, he came out on Sunday and had his best day of Steelers training camp. Everything was synced up for Pickett on this day. On one play, he hit Cody White before he even came out of his break on a glance route between two defenders. It was a great case of moving off the first read and still being on time and trusting the schedule of the offense.
Pickett’s deep ball is not elite but what I love about it is that he gives his guys a chance to make plays. The deep ball has enough air and good ball placement to where Pickett can give his offense chances at explosive plays. Meanwhile, his out-of-structure ability was on display, making multiple plays off-script and off-balance.
This year, Pickett looks more comfortable and poised. Training camp is like something he has done a hundred times. I’m not predicting Pickett to be anything. But he does look better than he did a year ago, and since this is a practice in shorts, that’s all you can ask for at this point.
Shifting the OL
The offensive line had about twenty different shifts today with some of the guys getting veteran days off and so they were rather bad. Regardless, it wasn’t as much about that as much as it is about what the team tried. Nate Herbig worked at center. Anderson played three spots. Jones got first-team left tackle reps while Dan Moore moved over to right tackle to get some experience there. Kevin Dotson shifted to both guard spots. Ryan McCollum played left guard while still manning center. It was interesting to see the stuff the team threw at the wall up front today.
I will say that it carried over to other spots as well. Miles Killebrew repped at inside linebacker, for example. Elijah Riley shifted back to some true safety. Connor Heyward even took a snap at running back. This team basically did just about everything you could possibly ask with switching things around.
Patrick Peterson the Mentor
Patrick Peterson is a mentor to Porter Jr. and Trice, and on Sunday acted as the assistant to secondary coach Grady Brown and assistant secondary coach Gerald Alexander. He took the young guys off to the side multiple times to walk them through some technique things they can work on in order to sharpen their games. Obviously, the team hopes Peterson can be a great boon to their success, but his locker room mentorship with their two young cornerbacks is about as important as anything when they made the decision to sign him.
There’s Another Kenny
Kenny Pickett is not the only Kenny at Steelers training camp. Free safety Kenny Robinson is there, too. And he’s a Pittsburgh native who played his college football at West Virginia. Robinson made a number of plays today, including two interceptions and one in seven shots.
“I was appreciative of the playmaking from Kenny Robinson today, another guy who had an opportunity to rise up because of the short lines,” Tomlin said.
With Damontae Kazee injured and Minkah Fitzpatrick excused from Steelers training camp, he is one of the guys stepping up to flash his abilities. Mike Tomlin made particular note of him as a playmaker, and anytime you get on the field as a player and catch the attention of the head coach, good things are going to happen.