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Mike Tomlin speaks to the necessary progression of the Steelers rookies

At his press conference Tuesday, Mike Tomlin gave mixed reviews when asked about several rookies

Pittsburgh Steelers v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

It was only week one of the NFL season, but for several key players on the Steelers it was their first game in the National Football League. The Steelers saw two major contributors on defense who played their first game. First-round draft pick Devin Bush played 53 plays on defense and former AAF player Kam Kelly, who started for the injured Sean Davis, was on the field for all 70 of the defensive snaps. On offense, Dionte Johnson logged 24 snaps in his NFL debut. To round out the rookies, Ulysees Gilbert III lead the Steelers in special teams snaps with 23.

While many Steelers fans have their own opinions about the quality of play from the rookies on Sunday, it is always helpful to know what their head coach thought of the performances. In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked to evaluate the play of Kam Kelly in Week 1.

“0-1. He’s got some work to do. We’ve got some work to do. All of us.”

Even though Kelly had seven tackles on the night from the free safety position, it was the Patriots receivers ease in getting past the Steelers last line of defense which was the biggest concern. With all three of New England’s touchdowns being passes of 20 yards or more, one of which was 58 yards over top of Kelly, the Steelers secondary should register a failing grade collectively.

As for a couple of the players drafted by the Steelers in 2019, Tomlin was asked to comment on the growth of both Devin Bush and Diontae Johnson.

“It was a solid start in terms of their ability to contribute to our efforts and some of the production opportunities that they had in the game. But we expect those guys to grow and grow in a big way and be more significant contributors and have more detailed efforts and contribute more. It’s reasonable to expect that to occur week-to-week.”

Coach Tomlin then took this opportunity to speak about the Seahawks rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf and compare his progression to that of the Steelers rookies.

“But I’m sure Seattle was feeling the same way about D.K. Metcalf, who had an opportunity to contribute to their efforts a week ago and make a few plays for them. We better not expect his contributions to remain the same this week. His role and the expansion of his role is going to grow and grow week-to-week potentially at the early stages of this thing. I think that’s the traction that we all are trying to find with our talented young people at this stage of the journey in the national football league.”

While it was difficult to call any performance overly impressive in the 33-3 loss on Sunday, Devon Bush did lead the Steelers’ defense in tackles with 11. As for Diontae Johnson, he had three receptions on five targets for 25 yards.

Coach Tomlin did not address the play of Ulysees Gilbert III on Sunday as he did not see the field on defense. It should also be of note that Gilbert did not register any defensive statistics in his time playing special teams.

While an outstanding performance is to be desired in an NFL rookie’s first game, it is really just a baseline for improvement. Week 2 should be interesting to see how the rookies improve and if they are beginning to trend in the proper direction. As the season progresses, both Bush and Johnson should see increasing roles with the Steelers and hopefully increasing production.