With just seven days remaining until the Pittsburgh Steelers hold their first open, public practice, I’m giving you seven things to be looking and/or listening for as the Black and Gold hit the fields of St. Vincent College.
Beware the Camp Phenom
It happens nearly every year. One player in particular makes a play here and makes a play there. Fans start to notice and then the social media comments about said player increase more and more until we have a full-blown superstar on our hands. Wide Receivers Justin Brown and Justin Hunter come to mind as recent examples of this. You must caution yourself. What guys do in practice and in preseason games isn’t always the best indicator of what they will do when the games matter.
How You View the Kicking Competition Isn’t the Same as the Coaches
If you go to Camp and notice that Chris Boswell makes 5 of 10 kicks from outside 40 yards while his main competitor Matthew Wright knocks in 8 of 10 from the same distance don’t assume anything. If Boswell misses a coupe of PATs while Wright makes all of his, don’t assume anything. Wright has to beat Chris Boswell and he has to prove it by more than just making kicks. Can he kick it high when necessary? Can he place it where Danny Smith tells him to? Making kicks is huge, obviously, but there’s more to it than that and Boswell knows he has an advantage but he must take advantage of it.
Missing Practice Doesn’t Always Mean an Injury
We are often inclined to think that because a player is not participating in certain drills or in a practice altogether that he must be injured. That is not always the case. While Mike Tomlin will usually tell the media what is going on with said player or players, sometimes a day off is all that it is, especially with veterans. Even a slight twinge or tweak of a muscle can result in a day off. Therefore, don’t get alarmed by a day off here and there.
The Best Camp Battle to Watch is Likely at Right Tackle
If you love individual drills and watching individual players during practice than you need to pay close attention to the right tackle spot. Matt Feiler knows it is his to lose but he’s also not dumb. He realizes the Steelers would love to see Chuks Okorafor take that job. That in and of itself will be fun to watch but add in Jerald Hawkins, who knows he’s on perhaps his last chance and you’ve got the makings of a great competition.
The Other Best Camp Battle to Watch is at Wide Receiver
Here’s what we know. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the number one wide receiver but he can play the X, the Y and the Z. What you should be paying more attention to who is seems to be the number two guy. Some believe James Washington will take it while others think Donte Moncrief will be the guy. However, the depth chart is by no means set in stone after that. Rookie Diontae Johnson will no doubt have something to prove as will Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer and several others. Kick and punt returning, participation on other special teams’ units as well will go a long way towards deciding who makes the roster.
A Message for Autograph Seekers
If you’re there in part to get your favorite Steelers’ players autograph on a hat or ball or jersey or wherever, keep in mind that if they don’t get to you it isn’t personal. There really is a strategy to getting players to come over to you but you have to remember there are dozens of others around you with the same goal. If the player doesn’t sign it’s likely because he’s already sign a ton. He may have a meeting to get to or he may have treatment to get to for a lingering issue. Or maybe the player just doesn’t want to sign anymore autographs. Don’t take it personally. It’s life people.
The Other, Other Best Camp Battle to Watch is at Quarterback
Quarterbacks are always fun to watch simply because they are among the easiest players to see isolated on a consistent basis. You can visibly see when a QB is accurate and when he isn’t or when a receiver is doing much to help the QB out. As I’ve written before, the backup quarterback job is Mason Rudolph’s to win. Josh Dobbs is a terrific young man but Rudolph, who was drafted in the third round and graded my several experts as a first rounder, has to take the reigns of Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. You might ask “why?” and that’s a fair question. It has more to do with just draft status. When you’re drafted that high there is an expectation that you won’t just be the backup but that you’ll eventually be the starter. There’s never been any such pressure leveled on Dobbs who has struggled with many of the same issues in the pros that he did in college. This is not to say Rudolph wasn’t without his flaws coming into the NFL but after a full season under his belt of meetings, film study and taking a lot of snaps when Big Ben sat during the mid-week he has to elevate to the backup. Don’t just watch their throws though. Keep an eye on their confidence. Watch their body language. See how other players react to them. Those items are bit as important.
Whether you’re going or not, these are seven things to keep in mind as the Steelers hit Latrobe.