Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp: Week 2 Stock Report
As Pittsburgh Steelers training camp winds down, so does the time for unproven players to make their mark.
For some, initial impressions have been stellar. Dri Archer’s first NFL touch served as a microcosm of what he brings to the table. Sean Spence’s first game action in nearly two years far exceeded expectations.
Of course, not every player has earned glowing reviews. Former second-round pick Mike Adams has continued to underwhelm. And potential stud receiver Martavis Bryant looked like anything but in his NFL debut.
Where do these players and others stand as they embark on Week 2 of the preseason? Read on to find out.
In the 2014 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers used their first offensive selection on a player who could add a dimension to their offense not seen in some time. The surprise was that it wasn’t a big, physical receiver.
Instead, Pittsburgh added a diminutive speedster with game-breaking potential in Dri Archer. Archer wasted little time before flashing his big-play ability. In fact, just three plays into Pittsburgh’s preseason opener, Archer notched a 46-yard catch and run.
"I gave him trouble," Miller said with a laugh about Archer getting tackled by Amukamara. "I thought he should have scored."
SB Nation’s Rebecca Rollett also shared an anecdote indicating what Archer adds to Pittsburgh’s offense. In this instance, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pump-faked toward Archer and froze the defense, leading to an easy touchdown elsewhere.
The mere fact that Sean Spence suited up for an NFL contest would’ve been grounds enough to land him on a list such as this. The fact that he actually logged a start and played well is downright astonishing.
As most of you well know, Spence suffered a catastrophic injury in 2012’s final preseason game, just before the onset of his rookie season. In the game Spence suffered a torn ACL, LCL and a dislocated kneecap, putting his football future in serious jeopardy.
Spence isn’t yet out of the woods, nor will he be until he proves his body can hold up to the rigors of an NFL season. That being said, his first game action provides ample room for optimism.
Starting for an injured Ryan Shazier, Spence flashed the instincts and athleticism that prompted the Steelers to make him a Day 2 draft pick in 2012. As reported by SB Nation’s Neal Coolong, Spence recorded four tackles and three quarterback pressures.
If Spence continues along this path he may force the Steelers into finding a spot for him in an increasingly well-stocked linebacker rotation.
Martavis Bryant’s NFL debut couldn’t have gone much worse. The potential-laden receiver out of Clemson showed he had a ways to go with two muffed punts, one dropped pass and a fumble in crunch time, per orangeandwhite.com’s Kerry Capps.
Of course, many acknowledged after the selection of Bryant that the mental part of his game would take time to catch up to his physical gifts. To Bryant’s credit, it wasn’t all bad. He managed to get open downfield and drew a few pass interference flags in the process.
As a whole, though, Bryant’s debut performance will not cut it when the games count. All he can do now is move forward and try to improve upon his lackluster showing as camp winds down.
According to ESPN.com’s Scott Brown, Bryant’s doing exactly that. Brown wrote that Bryant excelled in a red-zone drill at a recent practice and also managed to pull in a scoring catch against coverage from both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu.
It’s no secret that Bryant has the skills to dominate at football’s highest level, it’s just a matter of him applying himself in the same manner that his more limited teammate Antonio Brown has.
Optimism was high when the Steelers spent a sixth-round pick on mammoth nose tackle Daniel McCullers. The 6’7”, 352-pounder may not look the part of prototypical, stocky nose guard, but his gargantuan frame alone could afford him the opportunity to dominate.
Of course, there’s a reason McCullers slipped to the final day of the draft. As his NFL.com draft profile details, McCullers had issues both with exploding and staying low out of his stance.
Nevertheless, Pittsburgh felt it could fine-tune McCullers’ game and spent a late-round flier on him. Results have been promising thus far.
As ESPN.com’s Scott Brown wrote, McCullers has become defensive line coach John Mitchell’s pet project through camp. The report went on to state that both Mitchell and head coach Mike Tomlin have seen steady improvement from McCullers through camp.
In his first dose of NFL action, McCullers more than held his own. As analyzed by Steelers Depot’s Matthew Marczi, McCullers managed to shed the block of Giants second-round center Weston Richburg on several occasions. It should be noted that Richburg got the better of McCullers on some snaps as well.
It’s been an interesting couple of seasons for Mike Adams. The 2012 second-rounder took home the team’s Rookie of the Year Award after a season in which he started six games and showed a lot of promise as a road-grading right tackle.
Unfortunately, Adams has faced his fair share of adversity in the months since. An ankle injury prematurely ended his rookie season, he was stabbed in a carjacking incident and a failed attempt at protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side saw him supplanted in the lineup by seventh-round draft mate Kelvin Beachum.
Now, the question isn’t whether or not he’ll be a Week 1 starter, it’s whether he’ll even make the final 53.
ESPN.com’s Scott Brown faced this question in a recent edition of his Steelers’ mailbag. Brown’s take was that Adams should make the team as he’s still on a rookie deal and his top competitor for the role of swing-tackle is Guy Whimper.
Supposing Adam makes the team this year, he’s still playing on a contract set to expire in 2015. That leaves little for him to prove he’s a starting-caliber tackle in this league. The arrow may be pointing down, but if offensive line coach Mike Munchak’s takeaways from Adams’ preseason debut, per Brown, are any indication then he’s not yet a hopeless case.
“The more he played the better he played,” Munchak said of Adams. “I thought it was a good, solid start for him. He’ll continue to get better at what we’re doing.”
As the quarterback of the most successful Pittsburgh teams in decades, Ben Roethlisberger’s role as a Steeler legend is virtually indisputable. Years of quality play have earned Roethlisberger the right to bypass media scrutiny during training camp.
That doesn’t mean he’s been absolved of all criticism, however. In fact, former Steelers teammate Emmanuel Sanders said that his new quarterback, Peyton Manning, is a “far better leader” than Roethlisberger, per NBC Sports’ Michael David Smith.
Let’s not grab the pitchforks and light the torches just yet. This is akin to the “LeBron James isn’t Michael Jordan” argument, he’s still a heck of a player in his own right. Still, it’s curious that a four-year teammate of Roethlisberger’s would change his tune after just a few months with Manning.
Except, of course, Sanders wants to appeal to a new fanbase and praising his new teammate and one of the all-time greats, is a good start.
Nonetheless, Roethlisberger admitted hearing that from Sanders “hurt”, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette. It had to help some that teammate Antonio Brown went to bat for his quarterback, as mentioned in the linked article, after the news about Sanders broke.
Regardless of what Sanders thinks, what matters for Roethlisberger is leading his current teammates to the best of his ability.