2023 Steelers Season Recall: Training Camp Begins

Steel City Underground presents our 2023 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.

In the late summer of 2023, the Pittsburgh Steelers once again descended onto the campus of Saint Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania for another edition of training camp. As players arrived, there was a buzz that this year’s Steelers team could finally turn the corner and be a playoff contender.

It’s crazy how things change within less than a year. Compared with where the Steelers were last July and August, the team looks different this March – and the 2024 NFL Draft hasn’t happened yet!

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Among the storylines that were headlining camp last year was Kenny Pickett getting a full offseason with the first-team quarterback reps. Last season, as a rookie, Pickett wasn’t earning the first-team reps, and there was a defined pecking order of plays spread among a three-way quarterback competition including Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph.

Last year, Pickett was taking most of the plays, leaving Trubisky a clear second and Rudolph an even more distant third on the depth chart. Casual observers noted progress with Pickett and anticipated him as capable of being the Steelers’ franchise quarterback.

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There was a lot of buzz surrounding the rookies as well. Offensive linemen are difficult to notice during most of the camp drills, so a lot of the fans’ attention shifted from first round pick Broderick Jones to the 32nd overall pick of the 2023 draft, Joey Porter Jr.

As a second-generation Steelers player, and a highly anticipated one at a position the team traditionally failed at drafting (cornerback) fans were excited to see how Porter fit in the pros. He was quickly welcomed by second-year receiver George Pickens, and the two would battle back-and-forth throughout camp, each making big plays.

Day after day, Porter lined up on the supposed “WR1” and didn’t back down.

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While the most some fans would get to see of Broderick Jones was his massive size, the crowd in Latrobe would be treated to some pop plays from third-round rookie TE Darnell Washington.

Washington, who towers over most of his competition at 6-7 264 lbs., actually looks bigger in person. He was quickly nicknamed “Mount Washington” after a downtown Pittsburgh landmark that overlooks Acrisure Stadium.

Washington, who prided himself on being a “sixth” offensive lineman on the field, fared well in camp drills, staving off pressure from T.J. Watt and also hauling in passes from different quarterbacks.

The inside linebacker room was also overhauled with free agents Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, and Kwon Alexander all getting their time to shine. But it was a few of the usual camp sleepers that were getting their fair share of attention too.

One of those players was free agent veteran Allen Robinson, who was acquired from the Steelers in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams during the offseason. Second-year receiver Calvin Austin, who missed all of the 2022 season due to injury, also took some of the spotlight, as the pair appeared to combine with Diontae Johnson and the aforementioned Pickens to create a formidable receiver group.

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Safety Tre Norwood had a surprisingly under-the-radar camp as well. Sandwiched on depth chart between All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick and veterans Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal, he would appear to be a distant option for playing time, but with Fitzpatrick and Kazee both having missed time throughout camp, the spotlight had been on Norwood, who received a ton of snaps in their absence.

Norwood held his own against the likes of Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, and others, and appeared to be a lock for the bottom half of the roster as the team’s fourth or fifth option at the safety position.

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Finally, the biggest story out of the early stages of training camp was about a labeled “draft bust” who suddenly turned into a fan favorite: Kendrick Green.

Green, who failed to live up to expectations as a center or guard on the offensive line, transitioned into playing a number of backfield roles, including tight end and fullback. Green’s athleticism was showcased, throwing blocks, catching passes, and yes, even running the football in short yardage situations. It was an impressive showing for someone with his physical size.

It appeared that offensive coordinator Matt Canada found a new role for Green and he was totally embracing it: as were the fans. So much so, that the energy given off while the big guy rumbles has been an infectious positive during camp with both sides of the team embracing Green’s “comeback”.

Unfortunately as we now know, a lot of these stories made for non-stories one year later. Canada was fired during the season, Green was traded before it even began, and Norwood failed to make the team. But of course, the biggest change is that none of the three quarterbacks listed at the beginning of this article are with the Steelers heading into the 2024 proceedings, giving credence to the saying “NFL stands for ‘Not For Long'”.

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