On Thursday, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler summed up what everyone has been saying about the Steelers offense thus far at OTAs and minicamp: the offense looks good, really good.
Fowler, who has been on hand to watch each of the team's first minicamp practices, praised Ben Roethlisberger and his group of emerging young receivers, in particular second year man Martavis Bryant, who pulled down eight touchdown passes last year.
The question mark is the defense, and what they need to do in order to match the level of the Steelers' offense.
"Ben Roethlisberger has been dealing, slinging the ball all over the place," Fowler said. "That’s a good thing and a bad thing for the Steelers. It’s a good thing because the offense is clicking. It’s a bad thing because the defense has been behind for most of OTAs. Really, the best day the defense had is the day Ben Roethlisberger got a rest day and sat, and Laundry Jones played. There’s a shift here that needs to happen in mini camp when the defense starts to catch up."
In order for this to happen, Fowler said that at least two of the Steelers young high draft picks from the past several years needs to elevate their games to star status. Fowler alluded to 2015 second rounder Senquez Golson, 2013 first round pick Jarvis Jones, 2015 first round pick Bud Dupree, 2014 first round pick Ryan Shazier and 2014 second round pick Stephon Tuitt as the young players whose growth will be vital to the team's success as a defense this fall.
Fowler also specifically mentioned the secondary and its importance to create an identity during minicamp. Fowler thinks it will be an identity of toughness, centered around the abilities of Antwon Blake. Despite only having one start under his belt, Fowler tabbed the 5'10'' Blake as the lynchpin of the Steelers' secondary.
"(Blake is) emerging," Fowler said. "Antonio Brown told me that when he goes up against Blake, Blake is a fierce competitor; he’s trying to strip the ball. He’s physical. That’s the kind of attitude the Steelers defense needs on the back end. They want to be that, but they have to start showing that. I believe Blake will be a catalyst for that."
To summarize, Fowler is impressed with the Steelers offense while the teams young defenders and the secondary as a whole will need to elevate their level of performance in order for the team to surpass the success they achieved in 2014. While this isn't groundbreaking news, what one should take away from this report is Fowler's stress that these improvements on defense should start to develop now, in the midst of minicamp. Hopefully, this does occur in the following week, which will give the defense some momentum heading into training camp later this summer and beyond.