Pittsburgh Steelers: What Did We Learn from Minicamp?
The countdown to training camp has officially begun as the Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their minicamp with a short practice on Thursday. It concluded an important offseason in which the team is undergoing a transition with the loss of several key veterans and implementing a new offense.
The best news of minicamp was that there were no major injuries meaning that the Steelers will be heading into training camp at Saint Vincent College relatively healthy.
Beyond this, there were no major news stories and that is a good thing.
Of interest to many is how the rookies have progressed, but in reality there is no sense paying attention to minicamp phenoms as no one is wearing any pads. It is more important at this point of the year that the rookies are picking up the mental side of the game.
That does not mean that minicamp has concluded without any newsworthy items. Here are five things we learned from minicamp.
Hampton Continues the ‘Steeler Way’
Why are the Steelers a contender virtually every year? Just look at what Casey Hampton is doing.
Hampton is recovering from an ACL injury and took a pay cut to stay with the team, in what will likely be his last year, and yet he is helping the players who are going to take his place.
Veterans don’t have to help develop their replacements, but it is just how it goes in Pittsburgh. The rookies are developed at a slow rate as they sit behind an established veteran as they learn the Steelers’ system.
This year is a special case because while he wants to start the season, Hampton may be on the bench come the opening game meaning that Steve McLendon and rookie Alameda Ta’amu will man the nose tackle position until Hampton is ready to return.
Though he may start the season as a backup, Ta’amu has been a good student so far.
"He listens, he's willing to learn, but I don't judge guys until they put the pads on," Hampton said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
Ta’amu, who missed OTAs because he was finishing up school, finally arrived at practice this week and he has appreciated Hampton’s presence.
"To have him here, to be like a leader and mentor to me, is a good thing," Ta’amu said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
It will take time for Ta’amu to develop, but with coaches and a mentor like Hampton, he is in good hands.
Rookie Linemen Have to Earn Their Jobs
The top two draft picks finally arrived at practice this week and they were immediately inserted into the lineup—with the second team.
That shouldn’t be unexpected as the Steelers are not going to hand David DeCastro and Mike Adams the starting job.
"Those guys have a lot of catch-up work to do, so I'm going to give those guys a lot of work. Nobody just comes in and is handed a job," Kugler said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
Not that Kugler is against starting rookies.
"If they're the best guys, they're going to play. I don't have a fear of starting rookies if they're ready. If they're ready, they'll play. If they're not ready, they won't."
DeCastro will compete with Ramon Foster at right guard while Adams will compete with Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott on the left side. Marcus Gilbert could start on the left side as well.
Expect both linemen to continue to work with the second-team during the early part of camp. By the end of the first week, DeCastro should establish himself as a starter while the Steelers will likely make things a little tougher on Adams given the importance of the left tackle position.
Is Stevenson Sylvester’s Spot in Jeopardy?
While in Cincinnati, Johnson played in 58 games, including 12 starts. He was a solid special teams player and that will be the primary spot where he will help out the Steelers.
But he will also challenge for a backup role at inside linebacker. Rookie Sean Spence is all but assured a spot on the team after being drafted in the third round and has impressed during spring practices.
However, Stevenson Sylvester could be on the roster bubble. He played well in his rookie season on special teams and looked as though he could develop into a starter.
Sylvester’s second season was not as kind to him as he did not make the leap forward that you would hope for in a future starter.
Johnson is the type of veteran signing that the Steelers like to make. He is a low key signing who can contribute as a role player and will push Sylvester in training camp.
Pouncey’s Ankle is Feeling Good
How does Maurkice Pouncey’s ankle feel?
“It’s doing great so far,” Pouncey said (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). “It feels awesome—the best that it’s ever felt.”
That may be the best news of minicamp. How the team is picking up the offense and how the rookies are progressing are great to know, but the health of key members of the team is more important at this stage.
Pouncey came in as a rookie two years ago and quickly made an impression, earning the starting center role and made the Pro Bowl.
Last year his play suffered as his health never seemed right. It affected his performance all season and by the end of the year, it became evident that he needed surgery to repair it in the offseason.
So far so good on the route to recovery. Pouncey is the most athletic lineman that the Steelers have and he is very important to their revamped offensive line.
A healthy ankle for Pouncey will help give the Steelers a very powerful interior which should really boost the ground game and help provide more protection for Ben Roethlisberger.
Rainey Will Be Given an Opportunity to Contribute
Let’s not go without any rookie news. Chris Rainey was one of the hits of the past couple of weeks and the coaches are giving him every opportunity to showcase what he is capable of.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac, Rainey was working as the team's third-down back and they gave him lot of opportunities with the ball.
Rainey is a bit of a ‘do-it-all’ type of player as he can contribute to the team as a running back, as a receiver and on special teams either as a returner or as someone they have to block kicks.
As a fifth-round pick, Rainey does have his limitations, particularly being undersized, but he should at least give defenses something to think about.
The key will be for the Steelers to get him the ball in space and that should mean sending him out for passes. This will also help keep Roethisberger off the ground as Rainey could be a checkdown who has the potential to make a big play.
Who knows? With Rainey maybe the Steelers will start to throw screen passes again.
Besides the top picks, Rainey will be one to watch come training camp.
Follow me on Twitter @ChrisG_FC