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Steelers Training Camp Takeaways: Washington Dazzles, Diontae Impresses



Steelers TE Darnell Washington kenny Pickett

UNITY TWP., Pa — The Pittsburgh Steelers training camp was back on the field in pads on Wednesday, and there was plenty to take away from the session at large. What happened that can be gleaned from the overview of the Steelers training camp session in Latrobe from Chuck Noll Field?

Seven Shots

First Rep: The Steelers come out in a condensed set to the right of the formation. Allen Robinson yo-yos back and forth on the left side to reveal man coverage. Diontae Johnson runs a pivot route but the right side is playing trap coverage. Patrick Peterson nearly decapitates Johnson and it falls off his hands. The defense is up 1-0.

Second Rep: George Pickens is in the slot but runs a zipper motion back and forth across the formation to become the outside receiver. Pickens runs a sail route while Robinson cuts to the pylon in the flat. Pickett throws it to Pickens, who wins off the line against Levi Wallace. He toe taps but the second foot is out of bounds. Defense 2-0.

Third Play: The Steelers came out in basically the same formation but to the other side. There is no motion this time, Pickens stays in the slot and runs a post-corner route. Pickett looks for him and he has a step toward the pylon but throws it behind him incompletely. Defense 3-0.

Fourth Play: The offense false starts. But they run the rep again. Anthony McFarland gets the inside zone handoff. However, Breiden Fehoko and Isaiahh Loudermilk swallow up all of the double teams. Kwon Alexander comes flying through like a missile and stuns McFarland short. Defense 4-0.

Fifth Play: Mitch Trubisky steps back to pass and looks Darnell Washington. Washington runs a fade route against Miles Killebrew with Tre Norwood working over the top. Somehow, Washington catches it and taps the toes in bounds for the touchdown. Defense 4-1.

Sixth Play: 3×1 formation with Gunner Olszewski in the slot. Olszewski runs across the formation from left to right to balance the formation. Trubiksy steps back to pass and Olszewski runs a choice route with the slant option here. He separates from Elijah Riley and gets the touchdown. Defense 4-2.

Seventh Play: Last play for this session of seven shots at Steelers training camp. Trubisky slides to the right and tries to find Cody White peaking behind Chapelle Russell. But Russell has good coverage along with Kenny Robinson and White lets the ball fall to the ground. Defense wins 5-2.

RB vs LB One-on-Ones

For today, there were some one-on-ones, but the notes were more about coverage. Since there were no backs-on-backers, the linebackers really honed in on coverage while the running back worked route running in timing. This drill is naturally slanted to the running back’s favor, so keep that in mind with these notes.

– Anthony McFarland was the best player in this field. His route running is crisp and his agility really sticks out in a good way for a running back. His first two routes were wheel routes where Kwon Alexander and Tanner Muse simply could not keep up with his long speed. They turned into touchdowns. His battles with Alexander reached an apex, but McFarland won all three times. The last time, he put Alexander on skates and caught a ball on a pivot route. Alexander gave him a prompt handshake afterward.

– Chapelle Russell was the surprise winner of the linebackers. He won all five of his reps and had some good pass breakups, including a great rep against Najee Harris. Russell stuffed that texas route. Later, he made a pass breakup on a wheel route intended for Darius Hagans. Russell really made himself known in coverage.

– Similarly, I thought Cole Holcomb looked pretty awesome here. He broke up a wheel route for Harris stride-for-stride and won 3 of his 5 reps. Overall, Holcomb is a guy who has it tough sometimes with what is asked of him, but I can’t say I’ve seen him cower in the face of that. He’s played well.

– Don’t worry, Harris made a number of plays, too. On one play, Kenny Pickett made a perfect bucket pass to Harris, who toe-tapped down the sideline on a wheel route. That was a great play, and it stood out in a great way from Harris’ perspective of body control.

Linemen One-on-Ones

Yet again, this is my favorite camp drill. So, I was back at it again to see what was going on with the big hogs in the trenches. Let’s talk about some of these:

– Nate Herbig is a certified hoss. I have no other way to describe him other than that. His strength at the point of attack stands out in a huge way. Herbig really plays at a high level when it comes to that power and it stood out against DeMarvin Leal, who they think is luckily okay. But Herbig is a bad guy you don’t want to meet in a phone booth.

– Alex Highsmith is dominant in these. Has he really leveled up again? T.J. Watt seems to be taking things a little bit easy and Highsmith has been the best player out there. He won all three of his reps today. I can’t say enough about what Highsmith brings to the table as a pass rusher.

– Nick Herbig stands out in a good way, too. Man, his flexibility is a weapon. Herbig is not a guy to be messed with on speed rushes. What I didn’t expect was for him to have such an array of pass-rush moves that he could draw from on the power side of things. That opens up a lot of his speed options even more. There are some Anthony Barr vibes here.

– I continue to be impressed by Isaiahh Loudermilk. He’s adding moves to his repertoire and legitimately has a bull rush that is to be contended with right away. Loudermilk is trying to add more power moves to see his game, and that is still a work in progress, but I now think he has a base to work off of as a pass rusher. That’s a good thing.

These Linebackers Crush

My biggest takeaway from today was the linebackers, man. These guys put out some absolutely bone-crushing hits. It has come from the whole room. From Elandon Roberts to Mark Robinson to Kwon Alexander to Chapelle Russell, they forced fumbles at a high rate. Alexander has stumped running backs at the line of scrimmage at least five times since yesterday in pads. Russell forced a fumble in that manner today.

Nick Kwiatkoski had the best rep of the day in that regard at Steelers training camp. Unblocked on a rep, Kwiatkoski ran through the A-Gap and destroyed Darius Hagans, causing a fumble. There’s a certain tone-setting factor this room has that last year’s absolutely lacked. They have an identity as tough players that will kick your teeth in right now.

Diontae Dazzles

Diontae Johnson had a great day on Wednesday at Steelers training camp. He put an exclamation point on it with a toe-tapping one-handed grab during the 7-on-7 period. But for the whole day, he ran crisp routes and made some tough catches in traffic that he probably would not have made a few years ago. That stuck out in a really good way from Johnson.

Lastly, I just love his body language. Johnson looks like a leader out there. He is mentoring George Pickens. Whenever a young receiver falters, Johnson is there to pick them up. Allen Robinson II can do that, too, but I think Johnson’s underrated in that ability. Also, he looks to be focusing on getting upfield right away when he catches the ball now. I haven’t seen him run backward since the first day of camp.

Washington Impresses

With the pads on, Darnell Washington is here to make a statement. The massive tight end made the leaping touchdown in seven shots, but his blocking is ferocious. The Steelers run to his side more often than not and somehow, the defensive end is moved out of the gap and there is somewhere for that running back to go. It is one of the craziest things I have seen from a rookie tight end.

We’ll see where the receiving production goes from here. That will take time, I think. But Washington is a guy who has some easy roles right out of the gate. He worked in 12 personnel with Pat Freiermuth today. That is a look the Steelers should use a lot this season.

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