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Training Camp Takeaways: Kevin Dotson Mauls the Defensive Line

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Coming off an injury and getting right into padded work is never easy, but Steelers fourth-round rookie guard Kevin Dotson did just that on Friday. After missing about a week with a minor knee injury, Dotson’s showing was impressive, to say the least. It seems Dotson did not miss a beat.

The pool report made sure to note his performance in detail. On one rep, Dotson moved Henry Mondeaux off his spot and out of his gap like it was nothing. Being labeled a people mover coming out of Lousiana-Lafeyette, Dotson proved that on a Jaylen Samuels touchdown run. Dotson flattened the opposing defensive lineman in front of him to open up a huge hole for Samuels. On a nice run by Benny Snell, Dotson worked a combo block with Zach Banner, climbed to the second level with ease, and took Robert Spillane for a ride.

Mike Tomlin noted Dotson’s absence from padded practice, but said that the Steelers will work to give the young rookie ample opportunities moving forward.

“Well, he’s been a part of us, and he has participated quite a bit through this process,” Tomlin said. “He’s just missed a lot of padded work, and hopefully, that exposure has been helpful to him. Also, during the time he was down, he hasn’t missed any meetings or mental preparations. I’m sure there’s an adjustment. It’s probably more of an adjustment given the fact that he has very little résumé to speak of, but such is life, things he has to deal with. We will work hard to give him opportunities to catch up and display his understanding.”

Dotson was lauded for his strength and violence coming out of college, and it seems that has translated over into practice to at least some extent. With him now back in the fold, it likely sees JC Hassenauer demoted down to the third interior lineman on the depth chart behind Dotson and top swing backup Stefen Wisniewski.

Devin Bush Displays Skills

From the live video feed, it was very easy to note the presence of one speedy linebacker named Devin Bush. Heading into his second season after a standout rookie year, Bush is looking to take another leap up to star status. With elite athleticism and coming into camp in the best shape of his life, he certainly looks to be doing that thus far.

The most impressive play of Bush’s day was when he ranged over from the backside of the formation on an outside sweep to meet James Conner for a tackle for a loss. Bush also made an impressive play on an inside run, as he scraped over the top of the defense, met Conner in the hole, and made a savvy tackle.

They were just a few plays, but Bush continues to prove that he has special skills that most linebackers do not have. For a Steelers defense that is planning to be elite, Bush will be a big part of that equation.

Steven Nelson Clamps Chase Claypool

Chase Claypool’s hype train in training camp has been enormous, for good reason, as he seems to make play after play each practice. But Friday he was on the receiving end of some great cornerback play. Maybe it was a bit of a welcome-to-the-NFL type of practice for Claypool.

On the live video feed, Steven Nelson faced Claypool twice, and on both got easy pass breakups. On one, he defended an end-zone fade beautifully. Claypool had no area to win in the catch point and Nelson got an easy pass breakup. In another team session, Nelson mirrored Claypool beautifully and got an easy pass breakup.

For Nelson, it was quite the night. Even in run support, Nelson shed the block and made a strong tackle on Conner on the perimeter. Nelson feels he is underrated and certainly played with a chip on his shoulder at practice.

Paxton Lynch Gets Zero Scrimmage Reps

While Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, and Devlin Hodges all got their fair share of reps in the team sessions tonight to varying degrees of success, Paxton Lynch did not see the field at all Friday night per the pool report. He was dressed, but the coaches simply never sent him in.

With a battle for the final quarterback spot on the 53-man roster, it goes without saying that this is not a good look for Lynch’s roster outlook going forward. It does not help that Hodges made a few good throws with accurate placement as well, thus only furthering his distance from Lynch. As of now, it certainly appears Hodges is the front runner to make the final team.

Mike Hilton Has a Day

While he has not been mentioned a ton just yet in training camp, it goes without saying that Mike Hilton, the Steelers’ feisty slot cornerback, is likely doing more than fine. So when he made a splash play Friday in the middle of the seven shots down at the end zone, it was no surprise that the man who willed his way onto the roster as an undrafted free agent would make a few plays in training camp.

On the video broadcast, Hilton jumped a pass in the end zone perfectly. Not only did he make a great play due to his ball skills. but he took it all the way back the other way for a touchdown. That was Hilton’s main call on the day. However, he did mention the improvements he was looking to make to his game as well.

“I know I’m on the shorter end, so I have to make sure I’m technically sound and the best I can be at my position to be able to make plays on the ball,” Hilton said. “That was something I really focused on in the offseason.”

Despite his unique skillset out of the slot as an elite blitzer and run defender, Hilton has proven to have value in coverage and likely will split his time in the slot with emerging cornerback Cameron Sutton as well.

 

Steelers

JuJu Smith-Schuster Asks Fans to Give him Space

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JuJu Smith-Schuster is experiencing the negative side effect of living so much of his personal life in the public eye. The Steelers receiver, who is looking for a new NFL contract, took to Instagram to ask fans to leave him alone.

This stems from allegations that fans are showing up to his family home in California while he is there. Obviously, fans have no right to show up unwelcome anywhere to stalk an an athlete or celebrity, but this is just another example of the polarization of Smith-Schuster’s career. While he’s received much criticism, most notably this past season, for his sometimes over-the-top behavior and seemingly prioritizing his brand at all times, he also has many avid supporters who would stop at nothing to defend one of their favorite players.

Smith-Schuster is set to be a free agent in March for the first time in his professional career. If the Steelers should try to bring back the receiver has become a hot debate among Pittsburgh fans, so much so Smith-Schuster himself addressed the situation during a live Twitch sessions with fans.

Even Smith-Schuster’s play on the field is often up for debate. He totaled 97 receptions, but for only 831 yards with an average of just 8.6 yards per catch, which is significantly lower than his average from past seasons, including 15.8 his rookie year and 13.1 in 2019.

When it comes to JuJu Smith-Schuster, it’s always best to just stay tuned.

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Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger

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Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.

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Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?

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The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.

That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.

Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.

The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.

Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.

He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.

“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”

Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.

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