Pittsburgh Steelers: Early Rookie Progress Reports
We are still very early in the evaluation process, but the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to have a rare group of rookies on their roster. With three months to real live football, there is no time to waste for these youngsters if they want to become something rare in Steelers lore.
Rare, because tradition says that rookies don’t start. This has always been a testament to the depth of this team as well as its ability to keep players in-house. Oh, but the times they are a-changin. Between the missed draft picks and vacating free agents, there is plenty of room at the front of the line for rookies who are ready to roll.
Let’s update the progress on a few of these potential starting rookies as the first round of OTAs draw to a close. Keep in mind, if a rookie isn’t mentioned, that likely means nothing has been reported yet.
Full Speed Ahead for Ryan Shazier
All news is good news for rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. The second NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called his name, Shazier was penciled in as the starting inside linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons.
Shazier’s best weapon is his speed. He might be the fastest linebacker the Steelers have ever had on their roster. This will help him as the other parts of his game come together. He has already shown the humility you want from a young player as it pertains to his defensive coordinator. Shazier gushed about coach Dick LeBeau in a radio interview on 93.7 The Fan (via CBS Pittsburgh):
It’s amazing to talk to him, to pick his brain,” Shazier said. “He’s an amazing coach. He’s a hall-of-famer. He’s had some of the best defenses. I’m just trying to do everything I can to learn from him.
At this point, all things point to Shazier being that starting inside linebacker, and if he stays on course, is a front-runner for defensive rookie of the year.
Dri Archer Is MIA...Sort Of
The hope was that this first round of OTAs would be an opportunity for Pittsburgh’s coaching staff to get a first real look at running back/wide receiver Dri Archer. Archer is as explosive a player as there is in the entire draft. His speed and agility in the open field are unreal, and he is exactly the type of player this offense has been looking for.
However, up to this point, the Steelers haven’t been able to get much of a look at Archer. He was dismissed from OTAs due to illness, so his grand debut will have to wait.
Oh, but there was a bit of controversy. After being excused from OTAs, Archer did report to the NFLPA Rookie Premiere. The Internet was abuzz with speculation about Archer’s absence. Thankfully, Steelers public relations boss Burt Lauten put all minds at ease on Twitter:
Dri Archer was selected to attend the NFLPA Rookie Premiere & his attendance is mandatory by the CBA. He was excused from @steelers OTAs.— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) May 30, 2014
So, while progress has been negligible at this point, rest assured that when Archer is finally on the field, everyone will get to see just what a special player he can be.
Stephon Tuitt Looks Big
You had to know when the Steelers essentially cleared the cupboards of defensive linemen that the draft would be a spot where they hoped to reload. And so they did with second-round pick Stephon Tuitt.
There is a real possibility that had Tuitt not battled injury in the 2013 season, he’d have been a virtual lock to be a first-round pick. Nonetheless, at pick No. 46, the Steelers hope they got themselves a real steal.
Unfortunately, there has been little to report on Tuitt of any interest. However, he’s included here because of this tweet sent out by Scout.com’s James Wexell:
This is particularly interesting for a couple of reasons. First, because when the entire predraft process was going on, I echoed this same sentiment. I am all for big defensive ends in a 3-4, but that 300-pound mark is dangerous.
Secondly, the weight could be less of an issue if the Steelers play more 4-3. And this is something I fully expect to see in 2014. The 6’5”, 304-pound Tuitt could find himself inside in a much more expanded role in those types of sets.
Daniel McCullers Looks Really Big
As if it weren’t enough that the Steelers opted for the fastest man in the draft in Archer (4.26 40-yard dash, per NFL.com), Pittsburgh also went with the largest man in the draft in defensive tackle Daniel McCullers. McCullers is a 6’7”, 352-pound mass of humanity. And he just oozes NFL potential.
However, the main criticism of McCullers as a potential nose tackle has to do with his leverage. If McCullers is able to find his way into the rotation as a 0-technique tackle, it will be quite an accomplishment. Being as tall as he is, getting low enough to the ground is still a challenge. Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller gave this observation about McCullers predraft:
When Daniel McCullers did the circle drill at the Senior Bowl, he couldn't touch the ground.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) April 2, 2014
And even now, with the first round of OTAs in the books, McCullers is still learning to play lower to the ground. Fans just assume that because of his size and power, his spot on this roster is assured. Nevertheless, the progress of McCullers could be another sign of a move toward more of a 4-3 look. Stay tuned.
Martavis Bryant Shows Growth
Sometimes no news is bad news. That might be the case with wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Wide receiver promises to be one of most heated positional battles this offseason, with six players vying for four spots.
With a race like this, you would have expected news—hopefully good—about the rookie Bryant. For all of his physical tools, Bryant is a very raw route-runner and struggles with concentration. If his hope is to crack the starting lineup, he’s going to need to work hard. However, in an article on OrangeandWhite.com, he seems to have already won over his position coach:
We had him here for a visit and we bonded then,” said Richard Mann, who has seen his share of NFL receivers. “We didn’t know we were going to get him. We didn’t think we were going to get him, but we got him, and I’m delighted.
A polished Bryant is a weapon this team hasn’t seen since the peak of Plaxico Burress’ career. Let’s hope he can continue to progress and stay in the good graces of his coaches.
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