Training Camp Takeaways: JuJu Smith-Schuster Looks Season Ready
After nothing short of a rocky 2019 season, JuJu Smith-Schuster needs to bounce back in a big way in 2020. With a concussion, toe injury, and knee injury all slowing him down on top of losing Ben Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster seems like a player primed for a rebound season. Despite being somewhat quiet throughout training camp thus far, Monday perhaps marked Smith-Schuster’s best day of training camp.
The pool report detailed a dazzling performance from the leader of the Steelers receiving corps. To start off the day, Smith-Schuster caught a three-yard touchdown from Mason Rudolph.
In the no-huddle drill, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster four times on one drive alone. In a two-minute drill, Smith-Schuster caught two passes for chunk plays from Roethlisberger. He capped the drill off by catching a six-yard touchdown.
All in all, it was an impressive showing for Smith-Schuster. After posting a career-low in receiving yards last season and now stepping into a leadership role in a young wide receiver room, all eyes will be on him.
Smith-Schuster is obviously in the last year of his contract and working for a big payday as well on the open market if it is possible. With him now expected to move into the slot more in 2020, Smith-Schuster’s strengths of physicality and fluidity for his size should show up for the Steelers.
Chase Claypool’s Hype Train Won’t Stop
There has been a ridiculous amount of hype for Chase Claypool coming out of training camp, and Monday was no exception to that rule. Claypool had yet another standout day for the Steelers as he tries to quickly earn playing time despite a shortened offseason.
The highlight of Claypool’s day was a big touchdown over James Pierre. On a fade in the end zone, Claypool skied over Pierre and dragged both of his feet in bounds to make the catch for a touchdown. Working on his connection with Rudolph, Claypool also caught two big chunk passes from Rudolph on the day per the pool report.
While it is yet to be seen if the hype will translate to Sundays, it seems Claypool is earning more playing time through his strong camp performance.
Kevin Dotson’s Shaking Off the Rust
On Friday, Kevin Dotson had a ridiculously good day run blocking for the running backs, especially on the goal line, where he pancaked an opposing defensive lineman on a Jaylen Samuels touchdown. On Monday, his impressive trend of answering the bell after being thrown into the fire continued.
Dotson’s first rep in the one-on-one pass blocking drills was a definitive loss, but afterward, Dotson bounced back to go on a long winning streak per the pool report. Dotson did not lose another rep in those drills, thus showcasing his ability to adjust with ease. Dotson specifically credited his readiness to his work ethic and training over the offseason.
“I knew that some people were going to be home just chilling, one of those people that just sits at the house, not self-motivated,” Dotson said. “I just knew that I can’t be one of those guys if you are going to be in the NFL. I kind of took that to heart and trained as hard as I could. Even when I didn’t have weights or something like that, I would do some type of prison workout type of thing, doing pushups. I know people saw that video of me pushing cars. I was just trying to find anyway to get better.”
While he is unlikely to get much playing time this regular season, Dotson does have a chance to improve and step into a big role next season.
Derek Watt a Tight End?
One of the more intriguing and interesting developments of Monday was the blurb in the pool report that noted Derek Watt took some reps at tight end. With the Steelers planning to run some more two-tight end sets, it stands to say Watt could be involved in that since he is such a good blocking. However, Mike Tomlin will not commit to calling him anything other than just a fullback.
:[Derek] has been playing exclusively F or fullback for us,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes, that position is not always in the backfield or behind the quarterback, but that’s what he plays for us.”
The quote showcases they are more than likely interested in Watt’s blocking abilities, but the games will have to reveal that. Around the league, fullbacks like Kyle Juszczyk have become big components in the passing game, and Watt could potentially have more impact there than expected.
Ulysees Gilbert III is Coming Into His Own
Ulysees Gilbert III has been one name to watch all of camp. With the departure of Mark Barron, Gilbert III stands to fill in some of his snaps in the sub-packages as a coverage specialist on the Steelers defense. With zero meaningful NFL snaps in a regular-season game, Inside Linebackers Coach Jerry Olvalsky seemed to praise Gilbert III for how he has looked thus far.
“He’s done a very good job of learning both spots,” Olvalsky said. “He’s done that out there on the field with the calls and things like that. He has a long way to go just in general because of last year, but I like his trajectory.”
There seems to be some reluctance from Olvalsky about throwing Gilbert right into the fire early in the season, so it may be more Vince Williams early on, but as the season ramps up, expect Gilbert to get more snaps.