Steelers throw out new-look offense on Day 1 of OTAs


NFL: AUG 07 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even though it’s still May, the Steelers took to the field on Tuesday to prepare for the 2022 season.

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off their first day of OTAs for the 2022 offseason. With the workouts still voluntary, it will be another three weeks until players are required to show for mandatory minicamp. Regardless, there were still a number of reports coming out as the Steelers held their first team periods of the offseason.

As a quick reminder, here is a breakdown of Phase Three of the offseason workouts according to steelers.com:

Phase Three (May 23-June 17): Teams may conduct a total of 10 voluntary Organized Team Activities, OTAs, during this phase. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted. The team’s mandatory minicamp takes place during this time.

It should also be noted that Tuesday marked the first day in which Pittsburgh media were allowed in the locker room in more than two years. Because of this, we were able to get some reports with how players were utilized on their first day of team practice.

As another reminder, these workouts are in shorts in the month of May. As head coach Mike Tomlin described following the session, decisions are not going to be made when it comes to personnel at this time. Additionally, exactly which players were present has yet to be disclosed and could also be a factor in how the teams aligned in the huddle.

When it comes to the quarterback position, Jim Wexell of the Steel City Insider reports via Kevin Dotson that Mitch Trubisky took the first snaps at quarterback in Tuesday’s practice.

Exactly how much Steelers fans want to read into Trubisky starting off a quarterback is up to them. While it is interesting to note as it is the only information available at this time, there is a lot that can happen between now and September in regards to the quarterback position.

There was more information which Wexell reported from Kevin Dotson which included who started the day at the three positions of the interior offensive line. According to Dotson, he received the first reps at left guard with James Daniels at right guard and Mason Cole at center.

As for where this left 2021 starting center Kendrick Green, it was reported by Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Green took reps at guard on Tuesday.

While it is interesting to see Kendrick Greene playing guard, nothing was stated at this time that he was exclusively playing at guard.

According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, Kevin Dotson admitted he expected there to be a competition between him and Kendrick Green for a starting position.

It should also be noted that during these workouts in 2021, the Steelers did not alawys have Kevin Dotson running with the first team. While felt he was in the Steelers doghouse, others believed it was for motivational purposes so he did not become complacent in his second season with his role in the offense.

At this time, there was no report as to how the Steelers began their team period with the offensive tackles. With both starters from last season in Chukwuma Okorafor and Dan Moore Jr. still on the roster, it would not be surprising if both players stepped into the same role assuming they were present at the voluntary workout.

One last interesting note about the Steelers offensive line during their first day of OTA‘s, Chris Adamski also reported that Kevin Dotson acknowledged James Daniels as taking the role as leader of the offensive line.

While it is exciting for Steelers fans to get these reports during the team period, putting everything in context is also important. Although the information is intriguing, it is also not necessary to overreact at this time. There is still a lot of preparation for the 2022 NFL season before the Steelers take the field, even for a preseason game.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued coverage of Steelers OTAs.

5 other Steelers who could be deserving of new contracts before 2022


Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

While much discussion has been about deals for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson, there are other players the Steelers could extend before Week 1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed into Phase Three of the offseason. With 10 sessions of OTAs followed by three days of mandatory minicamp, the full 90-man roster will come together in the middle of June for the first time of the 2022 season.

Even though the Steelers have their roster together for now, there is still the possibility of additions. In 2021, the Steelers added two more players, one following minicamp and another during the preseason, who wound up as starters for the season. But these are not the only moves the Steelers can make.

As is often the case with the Steelers, negotiations for players who are entering the last year of their contract can take place throughout the offseason. The Steelers have a policy of not negotiating deals during the season, so a self-imposed deadline of the start of the regular season will be the cutoff point for any new contracts.

While there has been much discussion about possible extensions for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson this offseason, there are some other players on the roster who could lock themselves in with the Steelers beyond 2022. With that in mind, here are the top five players who could surprise Steelers fans and sign an extension prior to Week 1.


Chris Boswell

For a lot of Steelers fans who pay attention to these things in the offseason, this player is not a surprise. While he hasn’t been discussed as much as the other two players mentioned, Chris Boswell is the most likely candidate on this list to end up with an extension. Additionally, unlike the situation with Minkah Fitzpatrick, saving money against the salary cap may not be the goal when it comes to Boswell‘s new deal.

If the Steelers were to extend Boswell for two more seasons beyond 2022, the Steelers could simply give him a a minimum base salary for 2022 and a $6 million signing bonus, the same he received with his last contract, and the 2022 cap hit would remain relatively the same. Of course, the Steelers could give more of a signing bonus or more years when it comes to Boswell. The bottom line is, it would be wise for the Steelers to lock him in farther into the future.


Cam Sutton

While it’s unclear at this time exactly where Cameron Sutton is going to fit into the Steelers secondary from a starting cornerback standpoint, he is the only one of the three main players who is in the last year of his contract. Signing a two-year deal last offseason with three void years added on to help with the decreased salary cap in 2021, Cam Sutton is set to count $2.1 million against the Steelers’ salary cap next season while not on the roster. Were the Steelers to extend Sutton, it is my understanding that the $700k each season through 2025 from the void years would simply stay there as a prorated bonus along with whatever else he would have with his deal. So if the Steelers are wanting Sutton beyond this season, getting the deal done now helps to spread out the issue created last offseason.

If the Steelers and Suton were to come to an agreement where he would still get paid the same amount in 2022 that he is set to earn while getting him under contract with a base salary for the next three years, they could actually save over $2 million on the salary cap for 2022. In doing so, Sutton would carry a prorated bonus of $1.4 million for the remaining three years of his contract on top of whatever base salary they would negotiate. To me, the base salary over those next seasons would be the biggest point of negotiation and the ultimate determination of whether or not Sutton would get an extension.


Stephon Tuitt

Before you bust out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out for a moment. First of all, I would not even dream of offering Tuitt an extension until he joins the team on the field in full capacity during a minicamp and training camp. If Tuitt is back and appears to be the player that he was before missing the 2021 season, getting him under contract beyond 2022 would not be a bad idea.

First off, Tuitt also has three void years on his contract which kicks in next offseason. If he were to get extended, the $4.755 million which would come due next offseason would be spread out over the other three years should the extension go that far. Additionally, Tuitt’s cap hit could be greatly reduced this year with an extension so much more than it would with the release because of the void years. While releasing Tuitt would only save $4.295 million on the salary cap while carrying close to a $10 million dead cap hit, extending him for three seasons and merely giving him this year’s salary as a signing bonus would save almost $6 million against the cap.

Much like Cam Sutton, the biggest issue with a Tuitt extension would be his base salary for those additional years. Unsure of what the Steelers are going to be getting from Tuitt, even if he appears to be back and better than ever in training camp, it’s still an unknown until he plays in actual regular season games. Perhaps collecting his salary last season while not playing a down could weigh into Tuitt not pressing for above maximum value in an extension. But these are all big hypotheticals and there would be a lot to work out for this to happen.


Derek Watt

Do I have to mention the torches and pitchforks again? I know the topic of Derek Watt’s salary is a point of contention among many Steelers fans. The biggest issue with his contract at this time is the amount of dead money the Steelers have pushed forward by restructuring his contract last season, even though it wasn’t for a large amount. But even if the Steelers only added one more year to Watt’s contract and paid him no new money than what he would be set to earn this coming season, it could save an additional $815k. The biggest thing with Watt would be his base salary in additional years and how many years the Steelers would add. For each year the Steelers would add on, the more cap savings for 2022.

As for the subject of paying a fullback this amount, make sure you check out the upcoming episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast this Thursday.


Joe Haeg

Offering an extension to Joe Haeg is more of a “take it or leave it” type of situation. Going into his seventh NFL season, Haeg is the most years of service of any offensive lineman on the Steelers roster. Showing he can fulfill the swing tackle position as well as play guard if needed, the Steelers might not want to head into the 2023 offseason with any questions about Haeg’s future with the team. While it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for the Steelers to do so, it also wouldn’t be the end of the world if he were to just play out the last year of his contract.


So there are the five most likely players other than Minkah Fitzpatrick or Diontae Johnson who could sign a contract extension before the start of the 2022 regular season. Even though there are more players that are entering the last year of their deal, such as Devin Bush, Mason Rudolph, and Tyson Alualu, these three players didn’t make the list for various reasons. Devin Bush would have no reason to sign an extension at this time after the Steelers did not exercise his fifth-year option as his entire 2022 contract is already fully guaranteed. Mason Rudolph is unlikely to want to sign with the Steelers with their current quarterback situation unless a lot would change and be much more in focus in his favor by the end of the preseason. As for Tyson Alualu, the factor of age and coming off of an injury would make a deal before he plays another game pretty unlikely.

So what do you think? Do you believe any of these players listed above will get a contract extension? While I am one who is under the impression that Minkah Fitzpatrick will sign an extension and Diontae Johnson will not, feel free to give your opinion on those two players as well.

Getting to know the Steelers 2022 UDFAs: Chris Owens


Alabama v Arkansas
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Steelers land a player who started at all three offensive line positions at Alabama.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected seven players in the 2022 NFL draft, they continued adding to the roster with ten undrafted free agents. With many draft profiles focusing on those players towards the top and middle of the NFL draft, it is time to get to take a look at these other members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who will have just as much opportunity to make the roster in 2022 as those who were selected in the draft, despite the more difficult path.

Remember, some draft profiles for these players are quite harsh as they are looking at them as a draftable prospect. Taking a flyer on an UDFA is a completely different story as many times the potential the player shows is what lands them on an NFL offseason roster.

Last on this list is Alabama offensive lineman Chris Owens. The list will take a slight change in the coming days to cover the players added following rookie minicamp.


Chris Owens

Offensive lineman
RS Senior
Alabama
6’3” 305 lbs

After a red shirt season in 2016, Owens only appeared in three games in 2017 at guard as he was a reserve offensive lineman. In 2018, Owens appeared in 13 games as the reserve center and tackle while playing on special teams. In 2019 Owens made four starts while appearing in 11 games and even played some tight end occasionally. Owen started another three games in 2020 while appearing at 11 games before starting 13 games his final season, 12 of which were at right tackle and one at center.


Current Steelers at the position:

Guard

  1. Kevin Dotson
  2. James Daniels
  3. John Leglue
  4. Nate Gilliam
  5. Chris Owens

Center

  1. Kendrick Green
  2. Mason Cole
  3. J.C. Hassenauer

NOTE: Both position groups were included and all centers are also guard capable, and several guards are center capable. As for Owens, played all three positions (center, guard, tackle) in college and does not have a position designation on the Steelers website.


Draft Profiles:

There was more adequate information in the terms of breakdowns for Owens heading into the 2022 NFL draft. Here is a breakdown from thedraftnetwork.com:

Alabama right tackle Chris Owens has worn different hats along the offensive line. Owens assumed the backup position at center, guard, and tackle. After starting as a reserve, he became a starter at the beginning of the 2019 season. This versatility bodes well for finding a place on an NFL roster. Owens is a powerful and stout offensive lineman. He’s at his best when triggering vertically in the run game. He will displace defenders and open lanes for his running backs. His strong latching ability allows him to turn and seal defenders. He has a solid kick slide in pass sets, but struggles with agile and twitchy rushers. As a result, Owens projects best as a guard where he is battling in a phone booth instead of on an island in space. He has a few technical errors to correct that will help his transition at either OL position. He strikes his opponents with wide hands outside of their frame. His hands land on the outer shoulder pads—this can result in penalties in the NFL. His punch timing can be late and quicker rushers counter easily. Owens can develop into a starting guard and operate as a swing tackle.

Ideal Role: Developmental guard or swing tackle

Scheme Fit: RPO-centric passing offense, power/inside zone run concepts

Here is another draft profile from nfldraftbuzz.com:

Strengths

Anchors well and plays with the low center of gravity and natural bend to seal the inside lanes. Has violent hands with hustle to close off bubble screens and lead to flatten linebackers. Nasty demeanor and highly coachable.

Plays with appropriate wide base and intelligence, instincts and agility to seal the edge. Aggressive extending with power to punch and looks comfortable in space.

Solid positional run blocker who flashes the nasty demeanor and killer instinct scouts covet.

Awareness is above-average for his limited experience. Sells trap block and can turn to seal. Fluid getting to and adjust at the second level.

Anchors against larger defenders in the middle; resets hands to maintain distance. Athletic enough to help on nose tackle then pick up twist or late blitzer. Mirrors quick interior rushers. Looks to help the center when uncovered.

Weaknesses

Needs to work on his technique in pass protection, using more consistent leverage and continuing to move his feet.

Loses leverage battles and plays with high pad level. Can be late off the snap.

Needs to prove his worth in a straight-ahead running game.

Flashes the ability to move his man with his hands, but is not yet consistent in this area.

A short-area blocker with limited range and doesn’t consistently get to the second level. Will play undisciplined at times, especially in space. Lacks a finishing attitude.


Film:

To finish off the breakdown of Chris Owens, no evaluation is complete without film:

(WARNING: Videos could contain explicit lyrics)