PITTSBURGH — Rookie minicamp is just the first step in the barrage of practices that the team will face on the road to the regular season. As such, most of it is a base-level understanding of things where the nitty-gritty is not truly woven into the fabric of the camp at large. Still, there are always a few things to take away from minicamp, no matter how small they may be. Here are some takeaways from the first day of Steelers training camp.
Kenny Pickett’s Presence is Different
There is something about Kenny Pickett’s presence that almost brings a calming effect to the entire team. Pickett is not rattled by anything thrown at him in practice and routinely takes on the leadership role. The demeanor is one of business but one of a veteran for a guy who is coming into the league as a rookie. Pickett is already commanding the respect of teammates, with multiple of his teammates coddling him for advice already.
There are few things to take away from a quarterback in the middle of rookie camp, however, the way they carry themselves with their demeanor is one of the few things that can be taken away. That was a very specific strength that Pickett carried with him in this first practice. It was like it was just another day for him. For a rookie quarterback, being a calming presence already for the team is always a positive boon.
Timing a Big Emphasis for Pittsburgh Offense
With the Steelers having a new quarterback and two new receivers, there are a lot of moving parts in the offense that are new. Matt Canada’s offense is one based on rhythm and timing, however, so developing chemistry and timing is incredibly important for his offense to work as intended. Coming out of the first stages of minicamp, it is clear that timing is going to be an emphasis for the Steelers in this short period.
That goes from anything such as jet sweeps and getting the handoff exchange correctly in that area. It extends out to the obvious three-step drops on hitches that require the correct beats and rhythm. The final step on that is even the correct timing on the mesh of a read option. The Steelers are emphasizing early on that timing has to be a basis of the offense. It was something that was missing at times last year, and they are working on that early in the off-season workouts.
Local Products and Steelers Connected Players Earning Opportunites
The Steelers brought in six players from local colleges. Kenny Pickett, Tre Tipton, and Chase Pine from Pitt, Jake Dixon and Leandro DeBrito from Duquesne, and Tavin Harville from Robert Morris all attended rookie minicamp. There is a renewed emphasis on that but rarely do all three Pittsburgh area-based teams have a representative at rookie minicamp. Dixon was signed to an undrafted free agent contract while Pickett was the team’s first-round draft pick. There is an emphasis on giving local products a chance to prove they can do something with the opportunity. There are others that are local products that left town for other colleges, like Beaver Falls graduate Donovan Jeter, who was signed to an undrafted free agent deal.
However, there is a fabric of Steelers connections to this as well. Connor Heyward, Cam Heyward’s brother, is the most obvious of that crop. He is working at tight end. However, Damani Staley, Duce Staley’s son, and Gavin Greene, the son of the late Kevin Greene, are also in attendance at the minicamp. The Steelers are trying to pay it back up front to the local products and those that are connected with former Steelers. It is a nice gesture, and maybe, one of the guys will pop.
Running Backs Competiting
There is a serious battle going on between the young running backs at minicamp. Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren both have the leg up as guys who were signed. Even on simple handoffs, it certainly felt like these guys were putting just a little extra juice into some of the reps. However, Charles Williams from UNLV is on a tryout basis. However, he is someone to watch. A source told Steelers Now that there are people within the organization who like the potential for the young running back.
The Steelers have a need behind Najee Harris. It will be interesting to see if any of those three can step up and take the job. Durant has the game-breaking speed, but Warren might be the best all-around back. If there is a bet to make, keep a very close eye on Warren, who can do a lot of things well, and looked good on Friday.
Versatile Connor Heyward
No rookie truly knows just yet where they will play, but Connor Heyward, may already have an inkling. The rookie noted that the Steelers are trying to use him wherever he can help from tight end to fullback to H-Back, the rookie seems to fit into all of those spots. That is all in addition to special teams, where the younger Heyward may see his impact extended to the most this season.
Still, he will try to find his footing and defined his role moving forward. His path to the roster likely runs through superior pass-catching over Derek Watt, and more importantly, the special teams ability that he provides. That will be the most important thing for Heyward as he moves forward.