Steelers Throwback Thursday: Minicamp highlights 2017

Steel City Underground takes fans back in time to feature events, special moments, and historical times and players in the world of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Steelers Nation. Join us as we revisit these moments in our “Steelers Throwback Thursday” series.

Every year, when the Pittsburgh Steelers open up their first minicamps and training sessions ahead of official training camp, fans get their first opportunities to see glimpses of what the team might look like, and the players that could fill the rosters. In this “Steelers Throwback Thursday”, we look back at 2017.

If you’re having trouble remembering back that far (as I admittedly do quite often), as minicamp was underway for the Steelers, the NHL Champion Pittsburgh Penguins were enjoying the Stanley Cup. Also, a big-name linebacker was taking the opportunity to “prove” he deserved a contract, a current XFL safety was then predicted to have a big season by a coach (who was a former player), one rusher was holding out as another one was on the outside looking in, and Heinz Field was… well, not Acrisure Stadium.

Still not sure you can figure all of that out, or who was up to what? No worries, keep reading your way down memory lane.

Lord Stanley reactions

In reaction to the Penguins being world champions and earning Lord Stanley’s Cup (trophy), Cameron Heyward said, “We need to win ours this year!”

T.J. Watt earns his rookie contract

Outside linebacker T.J. Watt was selected by the Steelers in the first round (30th overall) in the NFL Draft that spring. At minicamp, the rookie had plenty of eyes and camera lenses on him. His feisty demeanor and athletic ability was a focal point as he competed for veteran James Harrison‘s spot at right OLB/EDGE.

On June 14, the Steelers signed Watt to a fully guaranteed, four-year, $9.25 million contract with a signing bonus of $4.87 million.

Watt was able to secure the starting position ahead of the first regular season game. He started in 15-of-15 games he played in his rookie season, and recorded one interception, seven pass defenses, forced one fumble, logged 7.0 sacks, made 54 combined (40 solo) tackles, had 10 tackles for a loss, and made 13 quarterback hits.

Watt would eventually switch to the LOLB spot with Bud Dupree at ROLB.

Harrison played in five games for Pittsburgh before signing with the New England Patriots and playing one game. Harrison left the NFL after that season.

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Carnell Lake makes Davis prediction

In the second round (58th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected former Maryland safety Sean Davis. As a rookie, he competed with Robert Golden for the starting strong safety and eventually was asked to play both nickel (in place of Senquez Golson, who was injured at the same time Artie Burns was) and strong safety in place of Golden. He improved and played in the Steelers’ postseason before being eliminated by the Patriots.

During minicamp, Carnell Lake – position coach in 2017 – told the media that everyone “should expect more out of him,” in regards to Davis’ sophomore season despite an off-season surgical repair of a torn labrum (shoulder).

Comparatively, Davis did improve in season two. He recorded three interceptions in 16 games (16 starts), had eight pass defenses, logged 92 tackles (71 solo), and added seven tackles for a loss. It wasn’t really a marked improvement, though.

In 2017, Davis only earned 1.0 sacks (compared to 1.5 his rookie season) and two quarterback hits (compared to four the previous year). Pro Football Focus gave Davis an overall grade of 35.5, ranking him 85th among all active NFL safeties that season.

Injuries in 2018 and 2019 haunted Davis in performance value, and in 2020 signed with the Washington Redskins (now Washington Football Team) in March but was released in September. One day later, the Steelers picked up his contract but he was no longer “the guy” Pittsburgh felt they could play as a starter.

After stints with the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, and New England Patriots, Davis landed in the XFL as a reserve for the Houston Roughnecks.

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Franchise tag and a look at the future at RB

After the Steelers lost to the Patriots in the playoffs, top rusher Le’Veon Bell was placed on the franchise tag (Feb. 27). It was a move Bell publicly addressed as being unpopular in his opinion.

Overall, Bell finished the 2017 season with a league-high 321 carries for 1,291 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns to go along with 85 receptions for 655 yards and two receiving touchdowns.

At that time, the “Killer B’s” were still together (Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown were the other member of that trio). It was the final season for that group, however.

Meanwhile, fans weren’t especially thrilled about the Steelers adding rookie James Conner in 2017 despite predicted outcomes.

When the Steelers utilized the franchise tag on Bell at the end of the season once again, ahead of the 2018 season, the running back was vocal on social media.

“I’m not going to settle for anything. I know what I do and what I bring to the table. I’m not going out here getting the ball 400 times if I’m not getting what I feel I’m valued at.” – Le’Veon Bell

Bell later walked the money/value talk back a bit as he began a Hip-Hop/Rap music endeavor, but refused to sign the franchise tag or attend team activities when negotiations fell apart in July. The running back missed the first nine games of the regular season and then was a no-show prior to his tender deadline of November 13.

His stint in Pittsburgh was over and Conner took over the primary ball-carrier role.

And finally…

A time lapse video of Heinz Field during minicamp was released. The Tweet didn’t really gain much attention from fans at the time, but when the Steelers were unable to retain naming rights, Acrisure purchased the rights in 2022 for Acrisure Stadium to the disgust of fans.

That led to the design of a very popular Tshirt as well as a slew of petitions by fans who wanted Heinz Field back. They got a gate and the red zone ketchup bottles, instead. It was the end of an era, and time lapse videos of that locale.

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