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Training Camp Takeaways: Derek Watt Continues to Expand His Role

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PITTSBURGH — The calls for Derek Watt to take on a bigger role in the offense have been plentiful.

It was a record on repeat in 2020 as fans asked why Watt was not on the field more, even as the Steelers struggled down the stretch.

Matt Canada is known for using a fullback heavily in his offense. That much is always clear and known. Still, Mike Tomlin made it know that Watt had to earn his way into the offense. Canada might want Watt to be a big part, but it was going to be earned.

On Tuesday. Watt showed off why he should be that guy. It started off in the one-on-one drills when Watt ran a quick hitch route against Calvin Bundage. Watt snagged a one-handed catch outside of his frame to the oohs and aahs of the crowd watching on. However, his biggest play on an under-center play-action play from Dwayne Haskins.

Watt ran a deep over route. Haskins found Watt wide open but sailed it a little bit over his head. Still, Watt made an excellent one-handed catch and nearly took it to the end zone before being undercut by Tre Norwood. On another play-action, Haskins found Watt breaking open on a flag route.

Overall, it was three plays to build upon the wheel routes that Watt has already been involved in. The route tree is as diverse as the one that Kyle Shanahan employs for Kyle Juczczyk, so it will be interesting to see how much of this comes to fruition in the season.

SEVEN SHOTS

Seven shots is a daily set of players from the two-yard line, featuring the Steelers No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense for three plays, No. 2 offense vs. No. 2 defense for two plays and the No. 3 offense vs. No. 3 defense for two plays.

🏈: The Steelers opened up in an empty formation, three by two, with a stacked look of Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris to the backside on the two side.

They tried to create a natural pick and Harris ran a quick slant. However, Alex Highsmith read it and got the interception off Ben Roethlisberger. Just a better play by Highsmith to read that it was coming.

🏈: On the next play, the Steelers went trips with Johnson isolated to the backside of the formation. Pat Freiermuth was isolated to the strong side of the formation on the boundary. JuJu Smith-Schuster was in the slot. Haden tried to mirror Johnson, who attacked Haden’s leverage as if he was going for a fade. However, once Haden turned his hips, Johnson cut right back inside and got the touchdown on a slant.

🏈: The Steelers yet again went empty set on the goal line. Roethlisberger sent Harris out wide. The defense buzzed around and there seemed to be all kinds of traffic. However, pre-snap, Freiermuth was isolated on strong safety Miles Killebrew. The ball went to Freiermuth through the traffic for a touchdown.

🏈: The Steelers isolated James Washington to the weak side against Justin Layne. Mason Rudolph scanned the field, however, it was tight coverage by Layne. He batted it away and it falls incomplete as the defense tied it up.

🏈: The Steelers got into a condensed bunch set with Anthony Johnson, Kevin Rader, and Rico Bussey. Isaiah McKoy was lined up the weak side at the X-receiver position. Rudolph found no one open to the bunch set, so he scanned back to the opposite side and hit Trey Edmunds in the flat for a touchdown.

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🏈: The Steelers worked into empty as Haskins got his first rep of seven shots. It was Bussey in the slot with Samuels on the outside. The Steelers worked Samuels back to the middle of the field on a quick in route. Meanwhile. Bussey sprinted to the back pylon on what looks like a simple clearout route by design. Samuels got wide open for the touchdown.

🏈: This time, the Steelers had tight end Marcus Baugh put to the outside by himself against Mark Gilbert. He was clearly Haskins’ first read. However, Gilbert was airtight on Baugh and picked it off.

OFFENSIVE LINE VS DEFENSIVE LINE HIGHLIGHTS

Kendrick Green stood out as the star of the lineman one-on-ones. First, he faced a hungry and willing Tyson Alualu’s bull rush. However, Green stood his ground and showed off great core strength and balance. That was an impressive rep against a guy who was spectacular in 2020.

However, Green’s battle against Isaiah Buggs may be even more noteworthy. Buggs won the first rep, no question about it. Green lunged forward and Buggs simply swam over the overzealous Green. Still, Green’s next two reps were impressive. After Buggs attempted to bull rush him, Green anchored down beautifully. He completely stonewalled Buggs. After that, Green got in Buggs’ face. On the next rep, Green was working half-man. Buggs tried to get around him, but Green got his hands inside and threw Buggs to the turf. Yet again, Green got right in Buggs’ face. He seems to be a nasty tone-setter.

Highsmith went up against Dan Moore once again. It was all Highsmith on Tuesday, however. The first rep was a ghost move where Moore simply had no answer. The second was a rip and dip as Highsmith zoomed right on past Moore. The team period today was better for Moore, but he does not appear to be quite ready to step into the role he has consumed thanks to injuries. Highsmith thoroughly outclassed him.

Cassius Marsh continued to make a strong case to be the fourth outside linebacker on the team. Facing Aviante Collins and John Leglue, Marsh won all three of his reps with a rip and dip combination and a cross chop-rip combination on Leglue. Since returning from his injury, he has put together some nice days.

ATTACK THE MIDDLE

The Steelers were one of the teams that most infrequently attacked the middle of the field in 2020. That fact was clear as day when they were using Smith-Schuster as a glorified running back. Still, after Randy Fichtner was canned, Matt Canada needed to bring in some type of ability to attack that part of the field.

They are employing a variety of play-action passes to attack that part of the field. Deep over routes and posts are becoming excessively frequent. Digs at about 15 yards of depth are there, too. The route tree to the middle of the field up the seam is expansive. That is the biggest, most important thing. They are showing a desire to attack the middle of the field past ten yards.

THE PUNTING COMPETITION CONTINUES

The Steelers did punting drills, and it certainly felt as if Pressley Harvin III won the fight against Jordan Berry. This has been a competition that has swung like a seesaw in the past months. Harvin easily has the bigger leg, but Berry had the consistency. On Tuesday, it seemed as if Harvin finally had the whole thing together.

Harvin downed a gorgeous punt that hung in the air for about five seconds. It allowed Johnson more than enough time to work down the field and snag the ball inside the five-yard line. On another punt, Harvin booted a cannonball from the seven-yard line of his own end zone to the opposing 18-yard line. All of his punts averaged around five seconds of hang time. Berry’s were significantly less at around 4.2. A second of difference can mean that much. Harvin won on Tuesday.

JUSTIN LAYNE’S NEW TECHNIQUE

It has been no secret that Layne has struggled throughout the first portion of training camp. However, the good news for Layne is that the Steelers have to still love his potential. The physical tools are all eye-popping, and that is why Layne is still around aside from his fabulous gunner abilities.

Previously using lots of step-kick and jump and jam techniques when up on the line, Layne had struggled. However, Grady Brown is taking Layne under his wing. Today, they were working extensively on the inch technique. It seems to have Layne playing better, as he was in a zone today. With three pass breakups, Layne has made some plays as it stands. If the new technique can give him a comfort zone, maybe Layne can figure this thing out.

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