It almost feels like yesterday, the Steelers were coming into Saint Vincent College, checking in for their first day of training camp. Each year with these training camps, we come with different expectations.
We hope the players who have become vital to the team’s success stay healthy.
We expect the second and third-year players are ready to take the next steps to becoming established players.
Lastly, we are anxious to see which UDFA, or free agent players, emerge as camp revelations.
All in all, it’s an occasion that we await for every year, and when it comes to an end, there is a sense of emptiness and anticipation knowing the regular season is around the corner. During the days and weeks I spent getting updates and reports from different sources, I believe it is appropriate to share some conclusions I have made based on weeks of notes and post-camp summaries.
So once again, let’s go!
Mike Hilton Should be the winner of the Isaac Redman Award
When Mike Hilton was signed back in December, my first impression was that this guy was not going to be just your ordinary free agent signee. After watching some film on him before camp (I neglected to make my film study on him), I saw a player that played much bigger than his height suggested; he was physical, not afraid to support the run, and had decent ball skills.
Coming into this camp, I knew he had what it took to make the practice squad, but I had no idea he was going to be good enough to make fellow Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson look irrelevant. From everything I followed, he was by far the most consistent camp performer. Everyday, there was a new report of him getting a pass deflection, or an interception. He came to make a name for himself — and he did.
What Hilton did in the Giants game was a reflection of what he had been doing throughout training camp up until that point. Following the Giants game, he never became complacent with his success, as he continued getting better which each practice. Hilton has earned his spot on the Steelers 53-man roster, and should be the runaway winner of the Isaac Redman Award.
Darrius Heyward-Bey is likely not going to make the roster
Yesterday, during one-on-ones, Heyward-Bey dropped a catchable pass.
A couple of days before, a pass intended for him was intercepted by cornerback Coty Sensabaugh.
The day before that, he dropped another ball thrown to him by quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
It seemed that every time I read a report on Heyward-Bey, it always involved him dropping a pass, or not fighting to make a catch. As much as I admire Heyward-Bey for his special teams play and veteran leadership, he is still a wide receiver and his primary job is to make catches.
A year ago, when the Steelers receiving corps was relatively weak, he could have afforded to make a few drops. This year’s receiving corps is as strong as it has ever been, and the margin of error for a receiver wanting to make the roster is slim to none. As much as I would like to say that he will be on the Steelers 53-man roster, I believe that it would take an incredible showing in these upcoming preseason games to make that happen.
Joshua Dobbs is likely to surpass Landry Jones as the No. 2 quarterback
For Joshua Dobbs, this training camp has been one where he had the opportunity to discover his limitations, and reinforce his strengths. For Dobbs, nothing ever comes easy, and perhaps the reason for this is because that is the only way he knows how to play.
If there is one thing that can be said definitively about Dobbs, is that he has a resilient nature in him that few other players possess. Take, for instance, receiver Justin Hunter. In Friday’s practice session, he had a pass broken up by cornerback Greg Ducre. Rather than let it go, it impacted him the entire session; so much so that head coach Mike Tomlin made a remark about his body language.
Dobbs is a very different story and we saw shades of it during the Giants game.
In the practice session on August 17th, during the two minute drill, Dobbs started it off by throwing two near-interceptions. Instead of letting it impact him, he came right back and started completing passes. He ended 7-for-10 with a touchdown pass to Eli Rogers at the tail end of the drill.
For whatever reason, he is able to process his mistakes and correct them, rather than allow a mistake to take over him. He is not perfect by any means, but I believe that he is someone that has what it takes to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup in the near future.
Tyler Matakevich has the skill set to be a starting linebacker
Tyler Matakevich is someone that has surpassed everyone’s expectations of what a seventh-rounder should look like. Matakevich was among the best all around performers in camp, so good that I almost wondered if he was ever going to make a mistake.
All the reports I read about him spoke of him making bone-crushing hits, timely goal-line stops, pass deflections in coverage, and, of course, chants of “dirty red” coming from the crowd after each big play.
As we found out during camp, Matakevich is a linebacker capable of playing both sides which is small example of his versatility. He is an incredible player with an incredible football mind, and is a much better athlete than people give him credit for. In my eyes, the Steelers have 3 starting-caliber linebackers with Matakevich on their roster.
Other notable camp performers:
- Antonio Brown - Simply the best wide receiver the NFL and he made it look too easy throughout camp.
- T.J. Watt - Watt was the main story the first few days of training camp, and had a great showing in his first NFL preseason game against the Giants. Displayed his ability to rush the quarterback, a high motor, and the ability to make tackles from different ends of the field.
- Artie Burns - Was the only cornerback in camp able to go step-for-step with Antonio Brown. His performance in this camp was exponentially better than last year. I expect Burns to have a breakout year.
- Coty Sensabaugh - Had a rough start but continued to get better with each practice; was noted by ESPN Senior Writer Jeremy Fowler as a favorite for the No. 3 or No 4. cornerback spot.
- Martavis Bryant - His reinstatement came in the later portion of training camp, but it took only two practices before cornerbacks found out how dominant a receiver he is.
- Justin Hunter - Though struggled the last few days, no one can deny his performance during the first two weeks of camp.
- Greg Ducre - Ducre did not get the attention he deserved, but throughout camp, won most of his one-on-ones, and was able to come down with his share of interceptions.
- Eli Rogers - He was not spectacular, but made all the catches he needed to make; had a small number of drops.