What is the secret of success in the NFL? There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure. There are no substitutes or shortcuts at the highest level of professional football. Talent definitely is important, but everybody is talented in the NFL. You get back what you put in, and that is revealed on the field, where there is no place to hide.
For example, Diontae Johnson lead the league in dropped passes last season by a rather large margin. It was so bad at one point around midseason he was actually benched, during a portion of the schedule when the offense was really struggling and his abilities were desperately needed. He eventually worked his way back onto the field, with a renewed focus resulting in substantially more reliable hands.
There were multiple reports during the off season about Johnson's workout regime, focusing specifically on improving his hand eye coordination. He put in alot of hard work and dedication to improving at his craft, and the results speak for themselves. Last I checked he had the most targets in the NFL for any player without a single dropped pass. Hard work requires time, patience, and persistence. No substitutes.
The 2021 Steelers rookie class have been working hard to adjust and improve at the NFL level, and the results are beginning to show on the field. Let's see how each young man performed on Sunday against the Denver Broncos in a much needed home victory for the good guys in Black and Gold.
RB Najee Harris
Hard work is it's own reward, and it is starting to pay off big time for Harris. He finally started to reap the fruits of his labor on Sunday, taking out four games worth of pent up frustrations from a glaring lack of support by his teammates on the Broncos defense, who were a top 10 unit against the run coming into the contest. It was easily the best performance of his young career, especially in the running game, and he would have definitely padded his already career high total if he wasn't forced from the game late in the fourth quarter with what was later reported as severe leg cramps.
The speed of the NFL game is obviously slowing down for the extremely talented young runner, as he continues to display improvement in patiently setting up his blockers before identifying and exploding to daylight, breaking tackles and dragging defenders along the way. His renowned work ethic recalls pleasant memories of past Steelers legends, as he takes his place as the focal point of the Steelers offense.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Freiermuth had a strong performance against the Broncos, although you could hardly tell it based on the stat sheet. He ended the game with 2 receptions for a grand total of 7 yards. However, both where diving or sliding hands catches with a high degree of difficulty, and both resulted in key first downs to keep those drives alive. The importance of each successful conversion shouldn't be overlooked.
He contributed greatly to the Steelers breakout performance running the football with his blocking, and he did a solid job in pass protection as well when called upon. The season ending shoulder injury sustained by JuJu Smith-Schuster comes at a very inopportune time for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, just when they were finally starting to successfully attack the middle of the field. That positive trend must continue, and Freiermuth seems like a perfect candidate to soak up increased opportunities.
C Kendrick Green
Green was granted another tough on the job training seminar from the stout Broncos defensive line, lead by crafty veteran Shelby Harris. Yes, the same Shelby Harris that intercepted a late fourth quarter pass from Ben Roethlisberger to seal the victory for the Broncos in 2018. Times best forgotten. Thankfully, Ben didn't throw him the ball again, while Green and company kept his contributions to a minimum.
You can see Green improving by the week as he gains a better understanding on how to play the position, and how to carry out his responsibilities. On one particularly impressive play, he quickly disengaged from a combo block to easily reach the middle linebacker, whom he proceeded to bulldog down the field through the whistle. The frustrated defender at no point had a chance at impacting the successful running play.
Those reoccurring instances displaying his athleticism, explosion, and tenacity are a beauty to behold. The converted defensive lineman/offensive guard still has plenty to learn, but his improvement each week suggest he is doing just that.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
Moore has been the most pleasant surprise of the 2021 Steelers season for this appreciative fan. He has been an even bigger revelation than last season's unexpected diamond in the rough, Kevin Dotson.
Moore was forced into duty far earlier than expected due to injuries to his more experienced colleagues, probably before he was honestly anywhere close to being ready for such a promotion. The young man has held his own, despite some inevitable struggles, through shear will and a fighting spirit, something he first displayed at training camp. Consider me impressed.
Playing LT in the NFL means often being left one on one against some of the best athletes walking the planet. The same could be said about young cornerbacks like James Pierre. The difference is Pierre misses on an assignment and the worst thing that could happen is the opponent scores a TD. Moore misses on his responsibilities, and your season could potentially go down the tubes, along with your franchise QB.
Moore has done an excellent job thus far, based on all the aforementioned parameters. He continues to show steady improvement by the week.
ILB Buddy Johnson
Another healthy scratch for the youngster. Expect that trend to continue barring unforeseen events force otherwise.
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk
Loudermilk only saw 9 snaps on defense, where he failed to crack the stat sheet. He did his job by tying up blockers, and even helped collapse the pocket on a couple of occasions. He actually made a nice play on Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater which was negated by penalty.
He continues to perform as both advertised and expected. He may assume a spot on the inactive list once Carlos Davis returns soon from his injury. Especially with Henry Mondeaux looking impressive against the Broncos, earning more minutes moving forward.
DB Tre Norwood
Arthur Maulet has been seeing the lion's share of the minutes, but that isn't a reflection on Norwood's performance those far this season. He has settled nicely into the rotation, and has been reliable when called upon. Maulet's usage has increased recently due to the weekly matchups.
The Steelers actually only utilized 4 CBs against the Broncos; Haden, Pierre, Maulet, and Norwood. That was mainly due to the Broncos heavy run personnel and their limited healthy options at receiver due to injuries.
If the Steelers can play with a lead more often moving forward, I expect Norwood to have an even bigger impact. As Tomlin said in Tuesday's press conference, the moment never seems too big for Norwood. Quite the compliment from a coach not known for hyperbole.
P Pressley Harvin lll
One common area where most rookies struggle is with consistency. Harvin hasn't been the exception to the rule sadly. The difference between Jordan Berry and Harvin is the fact that Berry is a veteran who struggles with consistency, suggesting that he is who he is, and that wasn't going to change.
Harvin is a talented rookie who has struggled somewhat in the early going, but bounce back performances like Harvin's against the Broncos suggest that the future is incredibly bright for the youngster.
He was only called on to punt twice, but they were skyrockets in flight, much to Jeff Hartman's delight. Consistency will come, but the kid definitely has a powerful leg.