The 6 Biggest Takeaways from Steelers Rookie Minicamp
Rookie minicamps have started across the NFL, signaling the official start of the league's offseason programs.
In all reality, rookie minicamps are just extended versions of the NFL Scouting Combine for individual teams, but it does serve a purpose. Players start to get the feel of their new facilities and playbooks and finally interact with their new coaches.
A minicamp will hardly ever define the career of any player, but it could be a launching point for some guys who weren't drafted or who were taken late. It also shows how far some guys have to go before they'll be NFL ready.
Let's check out some storylines we've learned from the end of Steelers rookie minicamp.
Le'Veon Bell Is More Athletic Than You May Have Thought
When the Steelers selected former Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell in the second round, most people were very interested in seeing the 230-pound back's power.
But in practices that feature only shorts and shells, Bell has shown everyone another side of his game that you may not have expected to see.
Here's what Trib writer Mark Kaboly had to say about the rookie back:
During a scramble, Oklahoma rookie quarterback Landry Jones flung the ball awkwardly in the flat to Bell, who plucked the ball out of the air with one hand. Later on, Bell showed some nimble feet when broke through the line of scrimmage and made a move on safety Andrew Taglianetti that almost broke the ankles of the rookie safety out of Pitt, who is on a three-day tryout with the Steelers. Very impressive so far, but let’s be honest here. He’s not being judged against NFL-caliber competition yet.
With the Spartans, Bell certainly played more athletically than his frame would suggest, catching 78 passes at his career in East Lansing, 67 of them in the last two seasons.
Bell may be the Steelers' best opportunity at a true three-down back in quite some time and they can't squander this opportunity. He could be the team's feature back to open the season.
Landry Jones Has a Long Way to Go
Unlike Bell, it's been a pretty inauspicious start for Landry Jones' Steelers' career.
By most accounts, Jones struggled through the teams rookie mini-camp especially with his accuracy.
Now, his passes looked a little more crisp than Friday and he actually did complete a few during 7-on-7, but it also wasn’t pretty at times. Two passes in particular where awful by Jones. First, he tried to dump off a pass to diminutive USC running back Curtis McNeal after going through his progressions, but instead, he threw the ball right into the belly of WVU rookie linebacker Terrence Gavin for an easy score. Later on, Jones badly overthrew tight end Jamie McCoy across the middle that was intercepted by Pitt cornerback Jarred Holley.
Jones did progress as the week went on and looked more comfortable as the team began to move him out of the pocket. Mike Tomlin gave him a vote of confidence, saying he liked his attitude and his work in the classroom, but noted that he's still a work in progress.
It's a little concerning to see Jones struggle against competition that consisted against guys that'll most likely never play a down in the NFL, but there's a long way to go before he sees the field. I'll be more concerned if he hasn't advanced come preseason.
Carnell Lake Loves Him Some Terry Hawthorne
With the start of rookie minicamps is always going to come the praising of late round picks or undrafted guys who could be looked at as potential steals 10 years down the road.
For the Steelers, the guy garnering the most praise may be fifth-round pick Terry Hawthorne.
Hawthorne, who was once considered to be a future first-rounder, fell to the Steelers late in the draft and, by one very distinguishing account, could be a future franchise cornerstone.
Behind the Steel Curtain has this quote from Steelers DB and former safety great Carnell Lake on Hawthorne:
He is fast. What I like about Terry is that he has a lot of upside potential that I see in him. I think he has all the physical tools. He is big. He is fast. He doesn't mind tackling, and he can play press coverage well, kind of in the same way as an Ike Taylor.
Lake went on to rave about the potential Hawthorne possesses and that his ceiling is very high. From a guy like Lake, that's pretty high praise for a guy who hasn't even thrown pads on yet.
Special Teams May Never Be the Same in Pittsburgh
One of the areas the Steelers have struggled in for years has been their special teams unit. Whether it be in coverage or the return game, Pittsburgh hasn't found the ideal mix of players to get down the field and make plays on special teams.
But that could all be changing very soon.
By all accounts, the Steelers rookies have stepped up big-time in the special teams game and are making waves with coaches. Two of the guys who really stood out on the field were fourth-round pick Shamarko Thomas and sixth-round pick Vince Williams.
From Behind the Steel Curtain:
Thomas and sixth-round linebacker Vince Williams in particular—about what they showed in special teams. New coach Danny Smith is said to be really promoting an aggressive and turnover-creating unit.
Another guy whose name has been tossed around a lot is returner and former Utah receiver Reggie Dunn. Dunn averaged over 50 yards and scored four touchdowns on his 10 kick returns last season and has shown exceptional speed and burst.
With Chris Rainey out of the picture, it leaves an opportunity for Dunn to make this team. Thomas will certainly see some time on defense and will be on the roster, but Williams' special teams prowess could push him onto the team.
UDFA Offensive Linemen Have a Chance
For the first time since 2003, the Steelers didn't take an offensive lineman at any point in the 2013 draft. But with so much youth and a lack of depth across the offensive front, it opens the door for some of the undrafted free agent linemen in camp to show their stuff.
The biggest name the Steelers brought in from the UDFA process is Mike Golic Jr., son of former defensive lineman and current ESPN radio host Mike Golic.
Golic has experience playing for one of the better teams in college football in 2012 and was a leader for the Golden Domers in the process. He's got the ability to play both guard and tackle, something the Steelers need from their offensive linemen.
Another name to watch is San Diego State guard Nik Embernate who has affectionately been come to be called "Embernasty" by his teammates.
A 33-game starter for the Aztecs, Embernate is one of the nastiest dudes around. Just take this quote from Behind the Steel Curtain:
"If I hear a quarterback call that play in the huddle," Embernate said, "I've already got in my mind that I'm going to take that dude and slam him into the dirt, and as he's trying to get up, just not let him get up. Try to inflict a lot of pain on him.
"That's what this game is all about - not to the aspect where you want to hurt somebody, but you're going to try to knock somebody out. You've got to play physical."
Think he fits the Steelers mold?
With Doug Legursky still perusing the free-agent market and the lack of depth behind two very young and inexperienced tackles, Pittsburgh may need to add some offensive linemen who can contribute immediately.
Jarvis Jones Is Ready to Learn
It's pretty clear Jarvis Jones wanted to come to Pittsburgh. From day one, the outside linebacker had raved about how well he fit with the Steelers and what he could learn from the franchise.
He stuck to that mantra in minicamp.
Jones didn't make any waves on or off the field and did show up to camp a little lighter and leaner than many had expected, but it's what he was saying that we're mostly talking about.
According to a tweet from Dejan Kovacevic, Jones as very candid with the media about his abilities to come in and play right away:
"I asked Jones if he feels he can/should start right away: "Man, that's a long way off. I'm a kid out of college. Lots to learn." #Steelers"
It's nice to see Jones has his feet on the ground and his head in the right place. I would have liked to heard a little more praise for the first round pick out of minicamp, but I'll be more concerned if it's more of the same when they strap the pads on.