First test comes for Steelers rookies with team's three-day camp
First test comes for Steelers rookies with team's three-day camp
By Alan Robinson
Published: Thursday, May 15, 2014
They've got to start somewhere. For the Steelers' nine draft picks, nine undrafted rookie free agents and 20 tryout players, that somewhere is the three-day rookie camp that starts Friday.
The Steelers will gather an uncommonly large number of players — 52, including 14 first-year players — to review their playbook, go through drills and begin learning their system.
The question, of course, is how many will be around by the time the Steelers make their final preseason cuts Aug. 29.
There already was an internal buzz to see picks such as linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, kick returner-running back Dri Archer and wide receiver Martavis Bryant in uniform — even if there won't be any veteran players around.
Given the Steelers' roster situation, it's a group that likely will be asked to provide multiple starters, in addition to the quality depth that was lacking at several positions during the 8-8 seasons of 2012 and 2013.
But what the Steelers really have can't be determined until they start practice, and that first step will be taken Friday on the South Side.
“I think they (the rookies) have a chance to start — if they earn it,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “There have been some years where we've had an extremely strong unit, and that makes it a tough nut to crack. We'll see what this unit is made of.”
Once the rookies begin blending in with the veterans during the four weeks of organized team activities that begin May 27, the Steelers can start figuring out if, for example, Tuitt can compete to start at defensive end, and if Bryant is polished enough to push Markus Wheaton at wide receiver.
This weekend's camp will allow the Steelers to get their first extended look at their two intriguing sixth-round picks — Jordan Zumwalt, a UCLA linebacker whose on-field aggressiveness has been called Steelers-like, and 352-pound nose tackle Daniel McCullers.
Zumwalt will be expected to contribute on special teams immediately. McCullers will be a project, and a big one.
“He goes to the Senior Bowl and does some things, which make you really say ‘wow,' ” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “He's a nice, big guy to work with. Big guys are hard to come by these days.”
The first-year players, some of whom were on the practice squad last season, include Justin Brown, the former Oklahoma and Penn State receiver who was a sixth-round pick last year, and former LSU punter Brad Wing.
Among the 20 players invited to camp is former Jeannette High running back Jordan Hall, who followed much-publicized teammate Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and ran for 1,568 yards and 14 touchdowns there.
Shazier: 'The information is flying at you'
Steelers' rookies get their first taste of minicamp.
After months of preparing for the draft, waiting to see where football would take them, Steelers’ rookies finally got a chance to show what they could do on Friday during the team’s first rookie minicamp practice.
“It was a good first day out here on the field working with the guys,” said defensive lineman Daniel McCullers, selected in the sixth round. “We try to work through the plays, get through the plays and get into the rhythm of the game. It was a pretty good first practice, but we’ve got a lot of room for improvement.”
Everyone knows the importance of first impressions, but at the same time there is an understanding that the plays they are running were just presented to the rookies minutes before they hit the field.
“The information is flying at you,” said number one pick Ryan Shazier, the linebacker out of Ohio State. “You just learned a little bit of it not too long ago and now you are going out there trying to digest it and play. It’s kind of fast, but it’s going to help us.
“It’s good to have this time. The veterans know what they are doing. We are out here trying to learn and get a little grasp of everything before we are out there with the older guys.”
Receiver Martavis Bryant, the team’s fourth-round pick, has an opportunity on offense with the turnover at the position, but for right now he just is looking to get comfortable with things.
“I was just trying to work, get used to it,” said Bryant. “It was a first-time experience for me. It went pretty well. I just need to go and watch film and work on getting better.”
The players will have minicamp practices on Saturday and Sunday as well, continuing to learn as much as they can in a short window.
“There is a lot to learn,” said Dri Archer, the speedy running back/receiver selected in the third round. “It’s a whole new playbook. You have to learn different terminology, different rules. I feel like I am picking up a lot.
“We all have been waiting for this day for a long time through the draft process. We all have to show what we can do today.”
Hall of Famer
Bryant, Steelers rookies adjusting to NFL
PITTSBURGH -- How happy was Ben Roethlisberger that the Steelers drafted a tall wide receiver?
He waited all of 10 minutes after the Steelers selected Clemson’s Martavis Bryant in the fourth round of the draft before calling one of the newest additions to the offense.
That Roethlisberger called so soon even caught the 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bryant a little off guard.
"Yeah, I was [surprised] to be honest with you but it was a good experience for me," Bryant said Friday after the first practice of Steelers’ rookie minicamp. "He asked me when I was coming out here and I told him I report Monday."
Two days later Bryant was among those working with Roethlisberger at Steelers’ headquarters.
Nothing better encapsulates the whirlwind the Steelers' newest draft picks have experienced in the last week than Bryant receiving a call from Roethlisberger and catching passes from the franchise quarterback less than 48 hours later.
Everything continued to move at warp speed for the rookies as they practiced for the first time this morning. They will also drill later this afternoon.
New city. New team. New system.
All of it can be overwhelming, especially when the rookies have had less than a week to learn a new offense or defense before practicing under the watchful eyes of their new coaches.
“So far it’s been a wild experience with all the interviews, all the testing and learning the plays,” said mammoth defensive tackle Dan McCullers, a sixth-round pick. “It's been tough, it's been crazy but I'm slowly getting used to it. Hopefully I'm going to progress and get better every day."
"I'm not trying to rush because when you rush you mess up so I'm just taking it day by day," Bryant said. "This is a new start for me and I want to make a great impression. I just want to come out and work hard and get better every day."
i really like that pic of peezy addressing the rookies
McCullers: 'I am getting settled in'
The Steelers young players got a taste of what defensive assistant coach Joey Porter is going to bring to the table during the team’s rookie minicamp, witnessing the same intensity he showed as a player in his coaching style.
“He’s real intense,” said first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier. “He is bringing the intensity. It’s amazing to have such a great veteran like that, a guy who has such a tradition here in Pittsburgh and the NFL be one of our coaches. It means a lot. It’s going to help us inexperienced players.”
Shazier said that he has taken note of the strong tradition at linebacker, and hopes to follow in the footsteps of the great players before him.
“Pittsburgh is known for their linebackers, and what they have done,” said Shazier. “I just want to add my name to that list and be one of the great Pittsburgh linebackers. I just want to continue to learn and do what I can in this playbook.”
* * *
While Porter was working with the rookies along with the coaching staff at the beginning of minicamp, he had to leave early and for good reason.
Porter headed back to Colorado State University, where he recently earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts, for his graduation ceremony on Saturday night. Porter, who ended his college career at CSU in 1998 before being drafted by the Steelers, set his goal to graduate and did just that.
"It speaks volumes about Joey’s commitment that he finished what he started and earned his degree," said CSU Head Coach Jim McElwain. "That was the goal when he came back last summer to work with our team and gain experience as a coach, to work toward completing his degree. He poured a lot into our team last season, and we’re excited he has built on that experience now as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s even more rewarding to see Joey now as a graduate of Colorado State University."
* * *
Daniel McCullers, the 6-7, 352 pound defensive lineman, definitely looks the part of someone who can stuff the run up the middle, playing at nose tackle his entire time at Tennessee, even though he has the flexibility to move to end.
“I can be a physical nose tackle that a defense needs,” said McCullers. “I can control the center, help my linebackers make plays. I feel like I can do a good job.”
McCullers said the biggest challenge for him starting off with the Steelers is not going to be the physical aspect of the game, but the mental part, learning the plays and adjusting.
“The physical part you did your whole career,” said McCullers. “It’s just mental now, learning the system. There are a lot of smart players. You have to learn all of the defense. It’s a mental game.
“I am getting settled in to it. The process is going good overall. I am excited for it. Hopefully each day I get better and more acclimated to the system.”
5 things we learned from Steelers 2014 rookie minicamp
By Neal Coolong on May 18 2014
The Steelers wrap up their 2014 rookie minicamp Sunday, and a good amount of answers have been given to short-term questions. Those only lead to more interesting questions to ponder over the remainder of the offseason program.
Rookies were given their jersey numbers
Who knows if they will stick long-term, but seeing Ryan Shazier in Larry Foote's No. 50, Stephon Tuitt in Aaron Smith's No. 91 and Jordan Zumwalt in LaMarr Woodley's 56 makes it all somehow seem real to me. Each year new players are brought in and many will wash out. Something seems right about this class, long-term.
Dri Archer's role is a compelling storyline
The Steelers mentioned some thought about using Archer as a fullback and an H-back as well as a tailback and a slot receiver. That speaks directly to the likely reason he was selected (much to the chagrin of a large portion of Steeler Nation). Pittsburgh will look to put defenders into conflict with a player who, as one-dimensional a player as he appears to be, will present a significant mismatch with most defenders, even at the NFL level. Using him in a fullback role keeps him a step closer to the line of scrimmage, but forces a defense is cover the Steelers' fullback probably with a safety or nickel defender, which will create a significant advantage for the Steelers in their passing game.
Martavis Bryant is getting Mike Tomlin's rookie hazing
It should give Steelers fans a feeling of optimism to learn coach Mike Tomlin is digging into a rookie wide receiver. When he challenges them for whatever reason (in Bryant's case, he said it was over him "getting tired"), it usually means he's worth challenging. Bryant appears to be full of confidence, which is a good thing, and Tomlin appears committed to challenging that confidence, which is also a good thing.
Dan McCullers running to the ball isn't necessarily literal
The Steelers' sixth round pick mentioned how he was being told constantly to run to the ball. That likely doesn't entirely mean keep sprinting to the football as a means to increase his speed and improve his conditioning (although both are benefits of such discipline). What that means is finding better angles around blockers to get to the ball carrier. Finding more efficient ways to use his hands and leverage to get to the ball carrier. Although the Steelers reportedly want McCullers to shed a few pounds from his 352-pound frame, if he's going to make the team he's going to have to start shaving feet off his pursuit angle as well as his backside.
Jordan Zumwalt started on the outside, remains on the outside
His chances aren't the greatest of making the team, but long-term Zumwalt has a great physical make-up to stick around the roster. He's being told to learn both inside and outside linebacker positions, something, judging by the lack of depth at both positions at various points the last two years, can cement his spot for years to come (along with a primary special teams role). Considering the investment in linebacker the last two years, he may just be on the outside looking in for now. He's one to watch come training camp, though, because he played four years in college as if he could get cut tomorrow, there's no doubt he'll bring the same passion and intensity to the preseason.