Pittsburgh Steelers rookie minicamp has and and gone, and a renewed excitement fills the air. For the first time in a long time, some members of this year's draft class will be expected to contribute on the field right out of the gate. I know some will argue that the acquisition of Mark Barron will lessen the need for Devin Bush to start right away, but you don't go against normal team protocol and aggressively trade current and future draft capitol to move up to select an individual you don't feel is capable of starting sooner rather than later.
You don't go against conventional wisdom and select a wide receiver prospect from Toledo, with a gaggle of highly regarded Power 5 receivers left on the board, unless you feel certain you have found the proverbial diamond in the rough that will be able to see the field immediately. Those moments maybe limited to special teams at first, but the big play ability that peaked the Steelers interest should be evident from the start.
The Steelers selection of Justin Layne surprised absolutely no one, but his effectiveness on field and resulting extended minutes may end up surprising quite a few skeptics.
Finally, you don't draft workhorse RB Benny Snell Jr only to have him sitting on the bench or listed as a healthy scratch, especially when there were some tight end prospects the Steelers had showed interest in still on the board. Snell is a warrior who loves to compete and will make it very difficult for the Steelers to keep him off the field.
The remaining draftees are also talented young players who still have a lot to learn in order to become contributors. Nobody knows how long their development will take, but they shouldn't be expected to play meaningful minutes this season, though special teams may provide an avenue onto the roster.
Although there are no pads and no hitting during minicamp, that doesn't mean the reports coming out are without merit. This is the first opportunity to hit the field together as a team and start their introductions. You also only get one chance to make a first impression. Hopefully this first impression will confirm what we the fans have heard all along.
For example, we heard that Jarvis Jones was a highly productive college player with questionable athleticism. Minicamp came and went with little fanfare or glowing reports, definitely nothing to help ease those concerns. Same could be said about Bud Dupree and Artie Burns. Highly athletic but raw prospects. Minicamp only confirmed those reports.
On the flip side, it was widely reported that David Decastro was a draft day steal for the Steelers, a talented guard with excellent movement skills. TJ Watt was considered to have many of the same attributes as his superstar brother JJ Watt. Minicamp for those players was our first glimpse that those statements were accurate.
This rookie minicamp the most important thing I want to hear is no serious injuries. Next, it would be great to hear that a few early round draft picks flashed the abilities that made them early round selections in the first place.
Exceptional players behave exceptionally. The Steelers devoted an extreme amount of time and resources in scouting Devin Bush, and they obviously came away feeling he has special abilities and potential. His leadership skills and athleticism should be evident anytime he takes the field, even at a rookie minicamp. Anybody who has ever been in the presence of greatness can tell you the first time they recognized it. The initial reports about Bush at minicamp speak glowingly about his leadership presence and impact.
Diontae Johnson was a limited participant at the first day of minicamp, but hopefully he will have plenty of opportunities to shine over the next couple of days. I believe we would all feel a little better if the reports coming out are referencing his impeccable balance and acceleration into and out of his breaks and natural receiving skills. Though the expectations are probably unfair to put on any rookie receiver, if Johnson is half as good as the Steelers have made him out to be, he may prove capable of taking some of the burden off JuJu's shoulders.
Barring injury to a starter, Justin Layne will not be pressed into starting duty like Terrell Edmunds was last season. However, his athleticism, ball skills, and confidence seems to suggest an ability to contribute at some point this season. His ability to track the football is immediately apparent and greatly needed in the Steelers secondary. Who can forget Burnett being in perfect position to knock a pass away against the Raiders, at a key junction of the game no less, but he never located the ball?
Finally, it appears Benny Snell Jr has arrived at minicamp with a warrior's mentality and a huge chip on his shoulder. He doesn't feel he was drafted as insurance in case James Conner gets injured again. He came to compete and he plans on seeing the field. I wouldn't bet against him either. Minicamp isn't where a player like Snell will really shine. That will happen once the pads go on and start popping. During minicamp you just want to hear he is showing soft hands and is catching the ball well. Snell's presence should only elevate Conner's game.
So far I have been pleasantly surprised by all the positive reports of each player's exploits, and the way they have handled themselves during interviews. Believe it or not, it really does matter.