PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the NFL’s longest gap of the year as they take a break from workouts until training camp at the end of July.
That’s okay, though. Everyone deserves some vacation time, and the Steelers gave us plenty to talk about for the next month and change.
Pittsburgh entered their three-week training period with a ton of questions. They answered some of them – like what the quarterback battle will look like – and added new insight to some we didn’t know we had.
Everyone looks good in helmets and shorts, but sometimes you can see who’s ready to be a star simply because they’re built as one. 10 players stood out in major ways at mini camp this year. And we’re starting with the rookie who’s shined the brightest amongst the pack.
Pickens will remain at the top of this list until proven otherwise. The Steelers got themselves a star in the making with their second-round pick. If he’s anywhere near as good in pads as he is in shorts and helmets, he’s going to make 31 teams very upset they passed on him 51 times.
Olszewski came to Pittsburgh with the “he’s only a return man” narrative. Maybe that changes once the season starts, but right now, he’s a wide receiver – and a damn good one.
X’s and O’s gurus have told me he might not be as smooth once the pads come on so we’ll wait and see. He’s been the most impressive player on the field, though. My entire notebook is filled with plays he was open on.
Even outside of his impressive one-handed goal-line catch in a two-minute drill, Heyward has shown up at mini camp. Working strictly at tight end, the younger brother to Cam is doing everything he should, leaving little room for his big bro to yell at him.
And Cam is always making sure Connor knows what he did wrong.
His size seemed to hold him back in the NFL Draft, but he has the ability to make plays. He’s continued to show that throughout camp.
Miller is fighting for what could be his last shot to make an impact in the NFL, but he’s looked like a veteran. Someone who wants to be first in line during drills and show younger guys how to handle themselves.
Miller’s name has been mentioned by every receiver when talking about what they’ve been impressed by this offseason. I also caught wide receiver’s coach Frisman Jackson giving him some love a few times throughout mini camp.
The Steelers will be looking for that sixth receiver. Miller is a candidate.
You ask any player on the Steelers defense what they think about Myles Jack and the answer is positive. This guy has stepped into the leadership role within the group and has shown what he’s capable of when it comes to controlling the middle of the defense.
Jack and Devin Bush have some serious upside if they click this season. But even if people are going to continue doubting the resurgence of Bush, Jack is a guy to be excited about.
Witherspoon remains the Steelers CB1 this offseason and simply feels like someone who understands they have an opportunity to be great here. Last season, he said he found his swagger in Pittsburgh, and when I asked him about that this summer, he said it hasn’t gone anywhere.
Here’s why he’s able to keep that swagger with the Steelers:
“Just letting me be me,” Witherspoon said. “As a corner, that’s all you can really ask for at this level. It’s a tough job. Just let me go through my challenges, let me go through my ups, my down, like I am, and not how you want it to look or how you expect it to be, or how you see somebody else do it. It’s just the respect that they have for my being and who I am as a person, and it just feels good.”
The trio of Witherspoon, Cam Sutton and Levi Wallace is going to be overlooked until the season hits.
The Steelers best edge rusher piece to this point is likely Tuzar Skipper. The once preseason All-Pro is back for his third stint with the team and looks bigger, faster and smoother than anyone else behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
There’s not really a lot of angst about what Skipper is capable of doing. He’s shown this team that he can shine when having to earn his place. What the Steelers should hope for is that he’s capable of providing quality reps in-season this time around.
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“You guys timing punts?” long snapper Christian Kuntz asked a few media members during practice. “Not this year? You should be.”
Harvin and I talked about shoes in the locker room after practice this past week and before I walked away I asked how he was feeling this summer. He simply said he feels a lot better.
You can see it.
The second-year punter dealt with a ton last season, losing his father and grandmother during the season. This year, he has a big smile on his face when walking around and his punts are looking just as good as they did last summer.
While it’s tough to get a grip on defensive lineman during helmets and shorts, Loudermilk has stood out because he’s beefed up. Last summer, he was weighing roughly 285-pounds. This year, it’s more 310-pounds – and it’s noticeable.
The second-year defensive tackle has filled in for Cam Heyward on days he was excused and seems ready to take on a bigger role this season. The Steelers need someone to add depth to this group and Loudermilk is poised for that job.
Even though I just said it’s hard to judge defensive lineman during this time of year, Adams did impress while on the field. He battled a few balls down during two-minute drills and really appears to be the same guy he was last season.
He won’t start over Tyson Alualu this season, but he and Loudermilk will play a major role in keeping this group strong when the older veterans are off the field.
Adams seems like he found his home here and he’s usually all smiles on the football field.
Bonus: Zach Gentry
Can’t believe I almost forgot about Gentry. The Steelers backup tight end has been developing – and there should be a ton of props to Pittsburgh for believing in what could be with this guy. In year four, he looks like a player ready to contribute in big ways to this offense.
He said it himself, now that he can control his size, it’s a whole new game. You see that. There aren’t passes that throw him off or situations where he feels uncomfortable.
He and Pat Freiermuth look like the tight end duo Pittsburgh has been looking for for year.
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