After the 2012 season Steeler Nation was left with a bunch of questions about Pittsburgh's 2012 rookies. Taking a look at the first week of the preseason the rookies have started to answer some of those question. We will start this off the way the rookie class started off...
David DeCastro OG, Round 1, Pick No. 24 Overall
DeCastro suffered a knee injury during the preseason last year. He spent most of the season rehabbing the injury but did get to play in the final three games of the 2012 season. After a rough game against the Bengals some people started to question whether DeCastro could live up to the pre-draft hype. After a full off-season and a new blocking scheme DeCastro answered that question against the New York Giants. It was a resounding yes.
In the first play of the game DeCastro had a difficult time with his footwork, tripped and was run over by a Giants linebacker. I had started to worry until the second play of the game. He controlled No. 97 Joseph Linval with ease pushing him back about three yard off the line. He didn't look back from there. He didn't allow a single pressure all day.
Despite the poor success of the attempted screens the Steelers ran, DeCastro was consistently out to the next level. He looked fast. His footwork was good but you could tell he was new to the scheme and it can get better. He kept his hands in tight and most importantly he look stronger than his rookie year. In the run game he drove Joseph at least 4 yards of the ball on multiple occasions. His highlight was a zone run on the offense's second possession at the 7:47 mark in the first quarter. He drove Joseph five yards off the ball on that play for a good gain by LaRod Stephens-Howling. Criticism of DeCastro would be for him fire lower off the line of scrimmage. He had some trouble with Giants rookie Johnathan Hankins because of this but won the battles in the end. This concern is understandable as his 6-foot-5 frame is on the taller end for an offensive guard. DeCastro also needs to work on his backside zone footwork which involve some of the hardest blocks in the scheme.
Mike Adams, OT Round 2 Pick No. 56 Overall
It is fair to say that Mike Adams struggled in last year's preseason. His footwork was poor, his hand technique wasn't much better and he seemed to lack understanding of who he was blocking. Adams had the opportunity to play RT for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012. While he looked athletic in run game he showed the same concerns as a pass blocker.
Adams opened the off-season as a RT. In the second week of training camp he swapped sides with Marcus Gilbert and never looked back. Against the Giants Adams showed that same athleticism in the run game and screen game getting to the second level nicely. As a pass blocker it was a complete 180 degree turn around. His kick slide was quick and he remained patient. He used his long arms to engage the rusher and kept his feet moving through contact. By my count he wasn't beat once as a pass blocker. Adams does have some things to work on as a blocker. His zone footwork needs some work as at times he struggled to get in front of the defender on the backside. He really needs to work on his pad level at the line of scrimmage. At 6-foot-7 this is something Adams will need to work on his entire career and Steeler Nation needs to accept he will likely never be a dominant drive blocker. He does bend naturally which encourages me to think he can improve some.
Sean Spence, LB Round 3 Pick No. 86 Overall
Spence didn't play in the first preseason game. His prognosis since injuring his knee last preseason has changed though. Spence is now expected to make it back on the field by as early as this season no later than next season. Nearly every ILB on the Steelers looked fast in the first preseason game and I'll attribute that to the Sean Spence roster effect.
Alameda Ta'amu, NT Round 4 Pick No. 109 Overall
Ta'amu was drafted after the Steelers traded up in the fourth round to get him. He came to the Steelers needing to forget what he learned in college and learn how to play as a 3-4 NT. Incidents with the law left Ta'amu released of his rookie contract but he would eventually re-sign for far less toward the end of the season. The team gave him a second chance at being a Steeler but brought in competition as a way of saying he will need to show improvement on the field if he wants to keep wearing the black and gold.
Ta'amu's first snap was rough. He came in attempted to pass rush and was push down to the ground. My first thought was that this is the same old Ta'amu narrow base and poor balance. His next play he was double teamed and pushed two yards back off the ball. On his third play, he over played his gap responsibilities resulting in a seven yard run for the Giants. On the fourth play of Ta'amu's first series he got into his groove. At the snap he fired off the ball got his hands on the inside of the center, extended his arms and drove the center back into the QB for a pressure. From then on Ta'amu would make a living on the Giants side of the line of scrimmage. His hand technique was far improved from last year. Ta'amu was also playing with a lower pad level. There are some concerns though. On at least two occasions Ta'amu was too aggressive and over played his gap. There were times in the game as well where Ta'amu reverted back to his narrow base. John Mitchell still has a lot of molding to do with Ta'amu but the potential is there.
Chris Rainey, RB Round 5 Pick No. 159 Overall
Chris Rainey reportedly was incredibly quick with his ability to change the channel after seeing how LaRod Stephens-Howling looks in this offense.
David Paulson, TE Round 7 Pick No. 240 Overall
The second of four seventh round draft picks, David Paulson was a favorite player of head coach Mike Tomlin in 2012. He was undersized and struggled mightily with his blocking but has natural hands and deceptive ability to get open. In the 2013 preseason opener Paulson showed some improvement in his blocking. He had a couple of good double team blocks with fellow TE Michael Palmer and the Steelers used him on a modified power play where he was asked to pull and he made some effective blocks. However Paulson struggled as a solo in-line blocker. He couldn't move the defensive end off the ball as the lead block on many of the zone plays, which isn't good. Look for a lot of two tight end sets from the Steelers in which they will run towards Michael Palmer's side more often than not.
Kelvin Beachum, OT Round 7 Pick No. 249 Overall
Beachum was the last of the four seventh round draft picks. He was seen as a player who would likely have to move inside. Beachum's intelligence shined in Latrobe last year. Due to injury Beachum had five starts at RT for Pittsburgh. In them he showed a good ability to mirror but needed major work on his hand technique as a pass blocker. In the run game Beachum was ineffective at moving his guy off the ball. Against the Giants you can see the work he put in with Tunch Ilkin has paid off. He was much better with his hands in his pass blocking. Beachum still struggled to really move his defender off the line of scrimmage in the run game.
2012 Undrafted Free Agents
Robert Golden looks like a different player from his limited playing time in the regular season last year. He looks instinctive and played fast. Reading David Carr's eyes he should have had an interception but dropped it like a true Steelers defensive back. He was fast to the ball as well hitting the receiver very soon after the catch and allowed very few yards after the catch.
Adrian Robinson continued his play from last season but looked stronger against the run this year. He is fighting Chris Carter and Alan Baxter for what is likely the last back-up outside linebacker spot. He seems to be in the lead but Baxter looks like he can rush the passer as well.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers Postgame News and Analysis
- Polamalu accepts blame for Cruz's touchdown
- "The Standard ... is the standard"
- Polamalu: Steelers lost camaraderie in 2012
- Dallas Clark is a tight end, Steelers need a tight end
- Bruce Gradkowski homecoming shows Steelers are stable with their primary back-up
- Steelers rookie report card after 18-13 loss to Giants
- Steelers back-up quarterbacks fail to impress
- Steelers emphasized short passing game in preseason opener
- Steelers Injury Report: Spaeth had surgery, Sylvester listed day-to-day
- Steelers Roster Bubble: Linebacker, running back got a lot more competitive
- LaRod Stephens-Howling shows he belongs
- Al Woods named Steelers Digest Player of the Game in loss to Giants
- Projecting the Steelers 53-man roster following loss to Giants in first week of preseason