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Steelers Analysis

Steelers Training Camp Takeaways: Kwon Alexander Shines



Steelers LB Kwon Alexander

UNITY TWP., Pa. — The Steelers’ run at training camp in Latrobe is nearly over and will come to a close on Thursday for the team’s last practice there. However, Wednesday was a day when the Steelers got to learn a lot about what they had up front and the intensity of what the team can bring right away. One guy who brought that intensity was Kwon Alexander. What did we learn from Wednesday’s practice?

Seven Shots

First Rep: Najee Harris motions back into the backfield from out wide. He is the sidecar to Kenny Pickett’s right. Harris takes an outside zone carry and has some room, but Kwon Alexander reads it and knifes through the backside B-gap to make the tackle from behind. Defense 1-0.

Second Rep: Now, the Steelers offense wants to play bully ball. They call inside zone and run it behind James Daniels and Mason Cole. However, Montravius Adams does a great job of eating up the combo block so Cole Holcomb and Minkah Fitzpatrick can fill behind. Harris is stunned and stopped short. Defense 2-0.

Third Rep: Jaylen Warren is now with the first team. He motions into the backfield on a shack motion. He is off to the left side of Pickett. Warren takes the carry and gets a great block from Dan Moore Jr. to really spring him to the outside. He slips underneath Minkah Fitzpatrick and gets into the endzone. Defense 2-1.

Fourth Rep: Building off the last play, they run play action off the outside zone action. It is a levels concept with Pat Friermuth in the flat and George Pickens running an over route. However, the defense buzzes to both and shuts it down. Pickett, rolling out, fires back across his body to Diontae Johnson. The ball sails a bit on Pickett and hits off the hand of Johnson. It was more a bad throw than a catchable ball that was dropped. Defense 3-1.

Fifth Rep: Anthony McFarland is in the game for the first time. Darnell Washington motions across the formation to the right side. The Steelers call inside zone. Mark Robinson and Isaiahh Loudermilk do a great job to stack up McFarland but the entire left side of the offensive line in Broderick Jones, Kevin Dotson, and Kendrick Green push McFarland forward for the touchdown. Defense 3-2.

Sixth Rep: Warren is now back into the game. He shack motions from the outside into the backfield. Zach Gentry trades from left to right to create a strongside there. However, the Steelers run the opposite way, and right tackle Spencer Anderson puts down a ferocious down block on David Perales. Warren knifes to the outside on a jump cut and breaks Kenny Robinson’s tackle to walk into the endzone standing up. Tied 3-3.

Seventh Rep: Just like yesterday, Mike Tomlin wants both of the first team units on the field. So, out they come. Johnson goes in a yo-yo motion to identify the coverage. Pickens is off the ball to the boundary against Patrick Peterson. Peterson is walked up in press coverage. He throws a punch but Pickens bats it down and runs a great slant route to get open. Pickett finds his for the touchdown. Offense wins 4-3.

Receiver One-on-One Drills

Today, I took a break from watching all of the linemen’s one-on-one drills. The receivers had a very spirited group of one-on-ones that I enjoyed. Pittsburgh’s wide receivers and their defensive backs are getting chippy with one another, and that makes this rather fun to watch. So, let’s break this down.

– George Pickens is one of those guys that Mike Tomlin consistently talks about as visiting us from another planet. The man was dominant in this period. Unfortunately for James Pierre, he was on receiving end of some disrespectful plays. On one rep, Pickens dusted him on a slant with ease and took it for a touchdown. With Pierre on the ground, Pickens just pointed back at him menacingly. The next rep against him, Pickens held Pierre away at the catch point, and fading away made a great one-handed catch. Pickens won every rep in this period with ease. He continues his strong camp.

– I have some worries about Patrick Peterson in man coverage. It was always rather obvious that man coverage was going to be a shortcoming for him, and he seems to struggle to find the ball there. Diontae Johnson made a great toe-tapping grab on a slot fade against Peterson, but he would have had a chance at the play if he got his head around. We’ll see how that evolves. Peterson is obviously great in zone, but his chops for man coverage need to show up more consistently. Also, Johnson is a great route runner, so it could just be that. I do want to see more from this area to be convinced he can fully slide into the slot. He is a grizzled veteran and the tape last year is good. But they ran far more zone in Minnesota than man. With a guy like Joey Porter Jr., you will naturally run more man coverage. So, this is something to watch. I’m not raising alarm bells. It’s just something to put a dot on.

– Elijah Riley is a delight to watch. He is not the most talented guy, but his competition against Allen Robinson II today was great. He made a fantastic breakup against Robinson on his first rep by playing through his hands and knocking it out. They would seesaw back and forth, but Riley has plus ball skills and an appetite for the run game. That can take him far.

– I wanted to give a shoutout to Luq Barcoo. He drew a number of different guys but made plays on the ball, nabbing three pass breakups in the period. Barcoo, with some strong showings in preseason games, could begin to make a roster push. Though, for right now, he is in the practice squad after coming out of the XFL.

Linebacker vs. Running Back One-On-Ones

I ventured over to watch some of the linebackers and running back one-on-ones, this time it was with those guys in coverage. There were some competitive reps, but some guys stood out in a really good way.

– Kwon Alexander was the big winner of this to me as a linebacker. He got opportunities against the top three running backs and won two out of those tree. Anthony McFarland has shredded this drill in training camp and did burn Kwon Alexander again on a wheel route in this period. But then he tried an angle route on the next rep against each other and Alexander shut that down. He went up against Jaylen Warren and broke it up about 15 yards downfield on a flag route. Overall, Alexander is really starting to find his groove here.

– The newest running back to the team, Xazavian Valladay, looked good here, too. Mason Rudolph lofted a ball that was out of his reach, and Valladay laid out full extension to make a pretty grab. It was a pretty great play from a running back. His quickness and burst are evident. In the team run drills, Valladay ran hard and physically. I think he certainly has a chance to push through the noise and other guys that are in front of him to nab a practice squad spot.

– Jaylen Warren continues to have a steadily strong training camp. His routes are crisp and he has good hands. The guy is the quintessential do-it-all running back. Warren has some Austin Ekeler-like qualities in his game. I am excited to see where his development goes in year two.

– Greg Bell, another running back, is a player with good receiving chops. He is someone who has been around a few training camps and on a wheel route, he really turned on the jets to burn Tanner Muse for a touchdown on Wednesday. Overall, I thought this was a good day for Bell to show off what he could do in that area.

Kwon Day

Today was the day of Kwon Alexander. I am not putting that out there as a projection. He did all of those aforementioned things that I said above. But more importantly, Alexander played with the first team more today than he has all of training camp. The second thing is that with all of the safeties back finally, the Steelers installed their dime package. Who is the first team linebacker in dime? It is Kwon Alexander.

He is having a strong camp and it is clear to me why he had such success in New York last year with his limited role. Alexander plays with high-octane energy, but he is an absolute dawg in the running game. He’s the best coverage linebacker on this team, for what it’s worth as well. There is no doubt in my mind about that one. He continues to build a resume that is quite impressive.

Three Safety Set

Now that the Steelers have all of their safeties healthy, we have started to see the team seep in their three safety set. That is not new for the Steelers, but they love it against 12 personnel because of the physicality that guys like Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal bring to the table.

In dime, all three safeties were on the field. Neal and Kazee were the two-high safeties. Meanwhile, Minkah Fitzpatrick took over the dimebacker role. Patrick Peterson was the slot cornerback. It seems that is the variation that the team will be using in their dime packages. They should have a ton of flexibility to do as they wish on the back end with so many veterans to call from there.