One down and two to go. The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers preseason has begun and their initial game against the Seattle Seahawks is in the books. That means it is time for the triumphant return of the BTSC Steelers Rookie Review articles. Based on the information gleaned from the recently concluded training camp, plus the universally successful rookie debuts against the Seahawks, this is shaping up to be an exciting season in the Steel City.
Here are some observations and insights about each of the Steelers rookies debut performances.
Even the harshest critics would have to admit, Pickett looked nothing like a bright-eyed rookie signal caller getting his first taste of live NFL action. He appeared calm, cool, and collected. He seemed comfortable from his first snap, making his pre-snap reads, then quickly transitioning through his progressions. Not only did he showcase his mobility, he keep his head up looking downfield for a potential big play in the process. Matt Canada didn't call anything too elaborate, choosing instead to simplify Pickett's NFL christening. That allowed Pickett to confidently deliver the football, with striking accuracy and pace. In the first game, his first game-winning touchdown drive is in the books. That’s quite the beginning.
Seldom has a much ballyhooed debut actually lived up to the hype, much less exceeded it. In my opinion, Pickens surpassed even my most optimistic expectations. We Steelers’ fans tuned in to catch a glimpse of Pickens extraordinary body control and athleticism, but we were privileged to witness much more. He is a far superior route runner than I was expecting, showing an impressive physicality and spacial awareness for any receiver, much less a rookie making his debut. The great ones make it look easy, and Pickens looked like he barely broke a sweat. Every journey begins with a single step and that first step was a doozy.
Leal has enjoyed a solid camp, based on all reports. He finds himself in an ideal situation for a third-round selection. The Steelers appear deep and talented along the defensive line depth chart. This reality takes the pressure off Leal to contribute immediately, especially as he continues to hone his craft and identify a position. That being said, Leal appears ready to contribute now if needed, sooner rather than later. He looked powerful and disruptive against the Seahawks on multiple occasions, barely missing his first professional QB sack on one notable occasion. It's still extremely early in his development, but his potential was easy to see.
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Austin ended up being a last minute scratch for the Steelers, missing the game due to a foot injury suffered at the previous practice. His absence turned out to be the only disappointment for the rookies on the night. We were all waiting impatiently with bated breath for our first glimpse at the elite game changing speed possessed by the diminutive offensive weapon. Austin's absence was a sobering dose of reality for the faithful. All the speed and elusiveness in the world is meaningless if he lacks the durability to stay on the field. Hopefully the injury isn't of the lingering variety, and he gets back on the field soon.
Heyward came to the Steelers with the reputation of being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none persona. He was renowned for being both tough and versatile, an old-school competitor. What he lacked in athleticism he made up for with heart. A funny thing happened in the early stages of training camp however. Heyward proved to be a much better athlete than anticipated, with better speed and strength that belies his every-man physique. All of those attributes were immediately on full display against the Seahawks. He gained easy separation on seemingly shocked defenders, then made multiple impressive hand catches to secure the football, including one of the full extension variety. His well rounded skill set will make him a versatile weapon in Matt Canada's offense.
Robinson has above average athleticism and aggressiveness, which he displayed early and often at training camp. Based on the eye witness reports, he was actually stronger in coverage than anticipated, possibly suggesting that his greatest perceived weakness won't be as debilitating as originally feared. That being said, Robinson looked like a incredibly talented but extremely raw prospect against the Seahawks last Saturday night. His inexperience appeared to make him hesitant, doubting what he saw playing out in front of him. That muted his natural instincts, and hampered his aggressive nature on multiple occasions. However, when he was able to recognize his responsibility, he was effective on those occasions. He even made the defensive play of the game, a game-changing strip sack late in the fourth quarter. Robinson needs to show improvement this week against the Jaquars to keep any real hope of a roster spot alive.
Oladokun was shutout of live action drills during camp leading up to the first preseason game, so it came as no surprise when he saw zero snaps against the Seahawks. The Steelers are obviously very serious about their three-headed quarterback competition, and there simply wasn't enough camp reps to spare for Oladokun to be included. However, that apparently changed after the Seahawks game. Oladokun actually got to participate this week at camp, which leads one to believe that the Steelers hierarchy are close to settling on a depth chart at the position. It's anybody's guess if he will see any game action during the preseason. If not, he's a strong practice squad candidate.
This is a first for yours truly. Since I started the weekly Rookie Review articles last season, I have focused solely on the Steelers draft class. However, Jaylen Warren has earned recognition in this forum through his extraordinary training camp performance. He continued that upward trend against the Seahawks. Warren is a legitimate threat to earn the backup running back position. He is the ideal change of pace substitution for bruising bell cow Najee Harris. Warren is a powerful and determined runner with contact balance and a low center of gravity. Warren is vertically challenged, but definitely not diminutive. He is a better receiver and pass protector than the pre-draft evaluations suggested, a huge contributing factor in him going undrafted. He was both quick and decisive against the Seahawks. If he can improve his ball security, I believe he makes this roster.