Now that we have two preseason games in the books, it’s easy to start seeing the development of some players. That’s been especially true this year for the Steelers, as many veterans have yet to suit up for a game due to injury or, in the cases of some, a simple lack of need to get them playing time and risk injury. It’s given coaches the chance to get extended looks at some players, and for the fans, we can start to get an idea of who has a realistic shot at making the team.
For the Steelers, the starting offense is pretty much already set in stone, so the coaches have been giving potential backups a lot of opportunities to see actual playing time. Here are three observations of the offense after week two. Not surprisingly, none of them have anything to do with starters.
Joshua Dobbs had a rough game, but he understands the position very well
Dobbs’ stats so far in the 2017 pre-season have been anything but stellar. Let’s be honest, though: if you expected anything better than this, you were fooling yourself. He has the physical and mental tools to be a very good quarterback, but he’s exceedingly raw in a number of ways. There was, after all, a reason he wasn’t taken until the fourth round.
But it’s when you watch the little things where you see he gets it. He pretty much gets it all. There is just something about him that makes me feel it’s just going to be a matter of time and repetition, as well as some work with Quarterbacks Coach Randy Fichtner to improve some known mechanical issues, before he comes into his own. Future franchise quarterback? Probably not. Strong backup? I’m almost certain of it.
Again, it’s the little things. For instance, when he hit Martavis Bryant for a 23-yard completion early in the second quarter, he did two things that scream “veteran”: for one thing, he looked off the safety. And then, when he turned to Bryant, he identified the situation quickly and threw a little high and to the outside shoulder when the corner had inside leverage. The only one who had a shot at the ball was Bryant.
Two plays later, he throws to Darrius Heyward-Bey. It wasn’t a great pass, and was almost on the ground when it got to Heyward-Bey, but the way he keyed the pass off the defenders was a veteran move. Cornerback Damonte Kazee saw running back James Conner run a short out route and immediately charged him, leaving Heyward-Bey running a skinny post under a huge cushion from former Steeler C.J. Goodwin. He timed the throw for the moment Kazee cleared out of the lane, and would have likely had a solid completion had the throw been higher. Like I said: lots to work on, but a lot of promise in Dobbs’ ability to quickly diagnose a play after the snap.
James Conner has some things to work on
Conner had a slow start, then acquitted himself well as the game wore on. He’s always been a bit of a grinder, and I don’t expect that to change as a pro. He ended up averaging nearly five yards per carry, which is an extremely solid debut.
But there were definitely some negatives. He had two terrible drops as a receiver, and in both cases, he turned his head upfield before the ball got to his hands. That’s a huge no-no. But it’s also not at all uncommon for rookies who are trying to make plays to impress coaches. In particular, had he caught a third-down pass just after the two minute warning in the first half, he had a chance to turn a grab just one yard past the line of scrimmage into a 20 or 25 yard gain, if not more.
The other issue comes from a few easy ankle tackles that took him down. Specifically, three in the first half. On further review, the first — on Conner’s first career carry — wasn’t an ankle tackle at all, and was pretty close to being able to be called intentional tripping by the defender, as he threw his right leg out into Conner’s path. The other two, though, come down to a combination of balance, technique and anticipation. One of the reasons why fellow running back Le’Veon Bell is so hard to take down by the ankles is that he runs with high knees — i.e., his feet get good clearance, especially when rounding a corner. Conner is currently using his knees to slow down, and not enough of his hips, which generates small, quick steps, but makes him very susceptible to ankle tackles. He needs to get his rear-end lower and bend more at the waist when turning upfield, using his entire lower body as a shock absorber, and allowing him to get his feet up higher with each step.
B.J. Finney looked much better this week
Finney, a former college center, looked solid filling in for Maurkice Pouncey in 2016, but appeared to struggle at times last week against the New York Giants. Against the Falcons, though, he looked great. One play that really stood out came in the second quarter, when the Falcons ran a delayed stunt. Finney quickly identified the looping defensive lineman and was able to stand him up at the point of attack.
It’s a fairly small detail to notice, but in a game when the starting offense looked bland and disinterested, it’s nice to see Finney took his lumps from last week and turned them around. Should any of the interior linemen go down in 2017, it’s comforting to know the Steelers have someone of Finney’s caliber waiting to jump into the lineup.