The Pittsburgh Steelers rarely expect much from their rookies, but that philosophy is beginning to change.
Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert started while players such as Mike Wallace and Cortez Allen made significant contributions during their rookie seasons.
Now the Steelers are getting younger players onto the field faster and the early returns on this year's draft class indicate that this trend should continue.
With just over a week of training camp under their belts, the Steelers’ 2012 rookie class has made an early impression and here are some thoughts on each player.
A little over a week into camp and David DeCastro is not in the starting lineup? Sound the alarms!
For one of the safest picks in the draft, it has been a surprise to some that DeCastro has not been named the starting right guard yet.
DeCastro was projected to be the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson by a number of draft analysts—including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.—and he has not dominated.
That isn't much of a problem as DeCastro has had a solid camp. He just hasn't shown enough to overtake Ramon Foster—yet.
But there is some value to rookies playing behind a veteran, especially prior to the first preseason game.
This provides more incentive for the rookie to continue to compete and develop rather than get comfortable with a starting job. It will also enable the rookie to see how a veteran prepares for a game.
However, it is easy to look back at Maurkice Pouncey's rookie year and be underwhelmed with DeCastro.
Pouncey was a highly rated prospect at center that was expected to compete for a starting guard spot as a rookie. There was concern whether or not he could handle all of the duties of a center.
After just a few days it became clear—Pouncey was the best center on the roster.
He quickly earned the starting job and has not looked back.
I talked to him the other day. I said, ‘How you doing? Evaluate yourself.’ He said it’s different. I said what do you mean? He said it’s tough. I said what’s the tough part, the mental or the physical? He said, ‘The mental part I got. The physical is a lot tougher. These guys are really good.’
It has been evident that DeCastro does need to get the physical part down. He has—at times—struggled in 1-on-1 blocking drills, but has performed much better in team drills.
DeCastro appears to be very comfortable when the mental aspects of the game, and with experience, he should come around.
Expect DeCastro to be named the starter by the season opener.
Mike Adams had first-round talent and the Steelers were fortunate to draft him in the second round.
So far, that investment is paying off as Adams has looked pretty good in camp and has moved into the starting lineup at left tackle. Via Times Online:
“Coach (Mike Tomlin) told me that I’d have my shot, and so far, that’s the way it’s been,” said Adams. “It’s been that way for the past few days now.”
Adams moved ahead of Trai Essex, which isn’t particularly a surprise.
Essex is a decent backup, but is not a player who you want to protect the franchise quarterback’s blindside.
Adams has not been physically overmatched and has been getting practice against the speed rush by matching up against Chris Carter.
He has had a number of very good battles with his former Ohio State teammate Cameron Heyward as well.
But just because Adams has earned the starting job now, he still must continue to improve. Max Starks is lurking in the background and once healthy, he will compete with Adams to start at left tackle.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider reported that Sean Spence was impressive during offseason workouts, but it has not carried over into training camp.
Spence continues to run with the second team and is a bit of a long shot to earn playing time early in the season unless he flashes during the preseason.
While Spence has displayed some of the football IQ that made such a good prospect, he has not stood out.
Spence does communicate a lot with his teammates when out on the field and has shown the ability to drop into coverage.
He has also read and reacted well to the ground game and has not looked out of place.
But with the dependable Larry Foote ahead of him, Spence will have a hard time making an impact early on.
Regardless, he will be one to watch once the games start. That is when linebackers can truly make an impact.
Steve McLendon better be prepared to get a lot of snaps until Casey Hampton returns, because as of now, it does not appear as though Ta’amu is ready to make an impact.
Ta’amu will command the occasional double-team with his natural size and raw power, but he has been slow off of the ball and is not very explosive.
While it was a nice thought to believe that he could come in and contribute early, it has become clear why he fell to the fourth round.
Defensive line coach John Mitchell has to tear down Ta’amu’s technique and build it back up to fit the Steelers way.
This is a long process and it will take Ta’amu time to learn and adjust to the professional game.
Chris Rainey looks like he could be a late-round steal.
The coaches are putting Rainey all over the field with the clear goal of getting the ball in his hands.
Rainey has worked as a returner, a running back and as a receiver.
He has flashed his speed and quickness in nearly every practice and he looks very comfortable with the offense.
Rainey has also been held out of blocking drills, which may hinder his chance of being the third-down back.
Despite this, Rainey will get plenty of opportunities to touch the ball and showcase his playmaking abilities.
Toney Clemons is a physical specimen with good size and speed.
Throughout camp, Clemons has been able to get open with decent route-running ability and good speed. He has made some tough receptions, including a couple of leaping catches over defenders.
The major problem with Clemons, though, has been his hands.
Clemons has been plagued with dropped balls in nearly every practice.
The potential is there, but Clemons must become more consistent.
David Paulson runs very well and is making the most of his opportunities.
Recently, Paulson has had an opportunity to work with the starters and he has made a couple of receptions.
If the Steelers needed a pure receiving tight end, Paulson is a player that they could develop as his blocking needs a lot of work.
Paulson will need to add some weight and strength if he wants to be a well-rounded tight end.
Though he may not make the roster this year, Paulson has shown that he has room to grow and could develop into a quality backup.
Terrence Frederick has been largely invisible during camp.
That may not be a bad thing since he hasn’t given up any big plays. On the other hand, he has rarely made any plays.
At the end of the first week of camp, Frederick did knock down a pass, which was an encouraging sign.
Any ability of a defensive back to play the ball is important, particularly since the Steelers’ defensive backs have struggled in this area recently.
The fifth cornerback spot is still wide open and Frederick has just as good of a chance as anyone to earn that spot on the roster.
Kelvin Beachum has position versatility and a bit of a mean streak.
He has had the chance to get a lot of work on the offensive line and has looked decent.
Of course he is not nearly as polished as DeCastro and Adams, but Beachum is one of the better looking late-round offensive line prospects that the Steelers have had in recent years.
If he performs well in the games, Beachum will have a shot at a roster spot. If not, he is a prime candidate for the practice squad.
There is some clear potential and it will be interesting to see where Beachum takes it as camp continues.