Yesterday I was reminded about what a uniquely strange training camp we are about to experience. Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner partook in a virtual press conference and shared some of his insights concerning this year's offense.
At one point in the presser, he spoke enthusiastically about backup quarterback Paxton Lynch and the intriguing battle for the 3rd position on the depth chart, presumably with last season's feel good story Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
While that all sounds well and good, there is a proverbial fly in the ointment. Any decisions concerning roster spots and positional battles will be decisively more difficult without even a single preseason game on which to help base your final decisions.
That's where newly acquired quarterbacks Coach Matt Canada comes into play, especially on the offensive side of the ball. His presence and influence will shape the Steelers QB depth chart.
My distinguished colleagues K.T. Smith (CHISIP) and Geoffrey Benedict have been writing articles praising his football knowledge and potential impact on the Steelers offense before the ink even had a chance to dry on his contract, and I have been impressed by what I have been able to learn about the man from their writing.
Canada's greatest opportunity for impact, at least initially, will be in the quarterback room. He wasn't hired with Ben Roethlisberger in mind. At this point in his Hall of Fame caliber career, Roethlisberger doesn't require the services of a position coach as much as his young understudies. Not to say I don't believe Canada will be able to assist Ben in his return to prominence; because I believe he will make a positive impact on Roethlisberger, only that he wasn't the emphasis of Canada's hiring.
Canada has some raw talent to work with in Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, and Paxton Lynch. All extremely unique in their own right, but desperately needing Canada's guidance and expertise if they are to develop into NFL caliber quarterbacks.
What difference can a quarterback coach actually make? Look no further than Canada's own past achievements for an example. While employed as a offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Panthers in 2016, Canada worked closely with quarterback Nathan Peterman and helped him perform like a bonafide NFL caliber QB prospect. Sadly, Peterman has never been able to duplicate that ability thus far in his actual professional career. I feel certain that Canada's influence played a large role in Peterman's collegiate success.
The Steelers can only hope that Canada will be able to help the quarterbacks currently on the depth chart tap into their yet unrealized potential like he did Peterman.
Under Canada's tutelage, Rudolph may learn to read the field more rapidly, trust what he sees, and pull the trigger with conviction and confidence. Oftentimes, a quarterback's self confidence is influenced by the aggressiveness being displayed within the offensive game plan and grounded in their relationship with the coaches. This relationship can make a huge difference for a talented young signal caller, similar to the relationship between 1980's Oakland Raiders standout Jim Plunkett and Head Coach Tom Flores. Plunkett went from being one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history to being a two-time Super Bowl champion. Coaching, and a change of scenery, played a large role in his success.
Canada's instruction could help Hodges learn to overcome his physical limitations by enhancing his mental capabilities to their full capacity, enabling him to further his career as a professional, even if his ceiling turns out to be a quality backup. Guys like Frank Reich and Don Strock enjoyed successful careers, and impressive career earnings, as a trusted backup. Not too shabby if you ask me, but first he has to hold off the challenge of Paxton Lynch.
This is where I feel Canada's influence will have it's greatest impact. Lynch is a former first-round pick who, thus far in his NFL career, has draft bust written all over him. Lynch has the prototypical size and arm talent necessary to be a starter in the NFL. Questions remain about his mental acumen and work ethic. This is where Canada enters the equation.
Can he do for Lynch what he once did for Nathan Peterman? Can he unlock the mental aspect of Lynch's game, combining it with his obvious physicality, turning him into a successful reclamation project? If he can, it would prove beneficial for the Steelers moving forward into the post Ben Roethlisberger future, and just might earn Canada the title of QB Whisperer. You may laugh, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid currently holds that distinction in my opinion.
Although the end result remains to be seen, you can feel certain that the Steelers quarterback depth chart will have Matt Canada's fingerprints and influence written all over it.