The Steelers’ three-day mandatory minicamp starts with practice on Tuesday at Heinz Field and Steelers Now will have full coverage from the first mandatory portion of the offseason. Here’s a primer on what to watch for from Heinz Field this week:
WILL EVERYONE SHOW UP?
Despite threatening a boycott of all offseason activities earlier in the spring, the Steelers players mostly showed up during the team’s three weeks of organized team activities.
But the Steelers did not have full participation, and with players like T.J. Watt looking for a new contract extension this offseason, they might not get to that point during minicamp, either.
Patriots cornerback Stephen Gilmore, who is also looking for a new contract, is not participating for New England. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who wants to be traded, is also not expected to attend.
Watt spoke with the media on Tuesday morning and appears set to attend. Unlike OTAs, minicamp is mandatory, and the Steelers could punish any player that chooses not to show up for the three days of workouts.
STILL NO HITTING
After three weeks of OTAs with 7-on-7 only and no contact, get ready for three more days of no contact.
Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds confirmed on Tuesday that there will be no hitting during the three-game minicamp. The closest to real football the Steelers might get would be some 11-on-11 drills, which didn’t happen during OTAs.
HOW WILL LINE SHAKE OUT?
The Steelers have a new-look offensive line for 2021, with Chukwuma Okorafor moved to left tackle, Zach Banner returning from injury at right tackle, Kevin Dotson elevated to starter at left guard, and J.C. Hassenauer, B.J. Finney and third-round pick Kendrick Green jockeying to replace Maurkice Pouncey at center.
Through three weeks of OTAs, that group has worked out together under the tutelage of new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, talked about being tougher, showed off the new zone blocking scheme and generally done and said all the right things.
But with OTAs limited to 7-on-7 this year by agreement of the team, that unit has also yet to be a part of a team drill.
It’s awfully hard to win or lose a starting job or impress or fail to impress when blocking against practice squad linemen holding a pad off to the side.. If any of that is going to happen between now and the start of the 2021 season, the first chance for it to happen will be at Heinz Field this week.
FIRST LOOK AT NEW-LOOK OFFENSE
Much like the re-worked line, the entirety of the Steelers’ offensive playbook is new with Matt Canada taking the helm of the offense, and this weeks’ minicamp will be the first real test to see how all of it works together.
When he was at Pitt, Canada relied heavily on pre-snap shifts and motions to give his offense a leg up on the defense. But it was a carefully choreographed series of movements, that after Canada left Pitt, the Panthers were never able to replicate, despite keeping the playbook intact.
That means that we should get a sense of how much Canada’s NFL offense will look like the college version of it and how well the players are implementing it pretty quickly.
With 2020 starter James Conner gone in free agency and incumbent backups Anthony McFarland, Jr., Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell Jr. not doing a ton last season to warrant significant consideration this year, first-round pick Najee Harris has been essentially written into the starting lineup already for this fall.
But of course, late-first-round rookies, even ones that come from big-time programs like Alabama, aren’t always ready for the rigors of NFL duty.
There’s nothing in his history that suggests he won’t be up to the task, but there’s a reason the Steelers have historically backstopped their first-round picks with veterans as a fallback. The salary cap and the flock of backups still under contract prevented that from happening this year, so there’s a lot riding on Harris making a smooth transition to pro ball.