The most impressive players so far at Steelers training camp
Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is now heading into its third week – and the halfway point before its all over.
Over the first half of camp, which players have stood out? What lesser known names, additions, rookies, etc. are making their case to be a part of the final 53-man roster? Or who might be making a push for more playing time or a starting job?
Let’s investigate those players that have been the most impressive through the first weeks of camp.
George Pickens & Calvin Austin
Both rookie wide receivers are as advertised, continuing the Steelers tradition of finding incredible value at the position without using their first round picks.
Pickens makes everything look effortless. Anything thrown his direction is already becoming an expectation that he comes down with the catch, controlling the ball, winning contested passes, and/or getting both feet inbounds.
Like Pickens but in a different manner, Austin has all the tools of a star in the making. His route running, speed, and soft hands have been on display with all three quarterbacks in drills, often making incredible plays look routine as well.
Each of this year’s draft picks are going to battle for some significant playing time during the regular season.
When the Steelers signed Mitchell Trubisky in free agency and drafted Pitt’s Kenny Pickett in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, no one was giving Rudolph a shot at competing for Ben Roethlisberger’s starting quarterback job.
Now, it’s becoming debatable if Pickett will compete enough to make it a three-way competition, and others are questioning Trubisky’s consistency – which could lead to him ceding a starting role that was all but handed to him throughout offseason workouts.
Rudolph looks every bit of the part: calm, cool, collected, and competitive.
Part of that credit could be Rudolph having a full-time Quarterbacks Coach, Mike Sullivan, for the first time in back-to-back seasons. And while Mason’s peers may offer more mobility, he has shown that he can move around the pocket while also standing tall in it. His deep ball is the best of the group, and his accuracy and timing has been on point throughout.
Anyone who isn’t seeing him as having a legitimate shot at winning the job is too firm in their bias to realize how close he already is to possibly winning it. (He’s been that impressive thus far.)
A great quote from Steelers Nation Radio was to the effect of “Would the Steelers have drafted this guy if he had a different last name?”
That was a common critique following the draft, but anyone who has seen Heyward with their eyes during camp can clearly see how he instantly fits into Matt Canada’s offensive schemes.
Listed as a dual fullback/tight end, Heyward moves throughout the formation pre-snap and post-snap, he’s quicker than a hiccup to cover, possessing solid receiving skills and some pop to gain yards after the catch.
His role is so defined that there’s no competition with the Steelers other fullback, Derek Watt, and both have (and will) coexist together.
A former second-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 2018, Miller failed to stick with his original team and was considered a disappointment. He signed with the Houston Texans in 2021, before being released and picked up by the Steelers, who mostly relegated him to practice squad duty last season.
This year is a different story, where Miller looks like one of the sharpest receivers on the field: and yes, that’s also comparing him with Pickens and Austin too.
With Diontae Johnson’s prior “hold in” and an injury to Chase Claypool, Miller has seen even more snaps within drills and hasn’t disappointed. He appears to be in the best condition of his career and fights through every play, often making the play more than not.
If the Steelers keep six receivers following the preseason, Miller will be a lock to make the team. Otherwise, Pittsburgh has a tough call on who to keep.
Gentry was once believed to be a wasted pick, a developmental project that was selected out of Michigan in the fifth round three years ago.
Entering his fourth pro season, Gentry has become perhaps the best blocker of the tight end group while also exhibiting good hands to be a dependable target in the pass game.
Furthermore, the Steelers appear to be experimenting more with two tight end sets, which could see Gentry’s use escalate this season.
The later round gamble looks like its paid off.
If T.J. Watt can still surprise us, that should spell trouble for opposing teams.
Seriously, the guy is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and he looks even better now that he’s healthy this offseason.
After he was taken in the third round of this year’s draft, everyone was asking where Leal would play: is he too big as a 3-4 outside linebacker or too small as a 3-4 defensive end?
By the time minicamps rolled around it was reported that Leal had put on weight to play end, and once you see him with pads, he looks like a leaner version of newly retired Stephon Tuitt, who he may be gunning to replace.
Thought its often been in shorts and against second or third team competition, Leal has shown burst and disruptive moves to break through the opposing offensive line.
He could be yet another mid-round find for the Steelers.
Maybe one of the more under-the-radar signings around the league this offseason, Jack joined the Steelers and then nothing else was really thought of it.
More attention has been given to the quarterbacks, or even the cornerbacks, but fans should be paying attention to the changes at inside linebacker, where Jack looks like a veteran force already, and could have us making comparisons to James Farrior as one of the organization’s best free agent pickups ever.