Five Things We Learned at Steelers Minicamp: CB Depth, O-Line Concerns, Najee Harris

Cornerback competitions, offensive line concerns and some exciting punters - the Pittsburgh Steelers had a jam-packed minicamp.
Author:
Publish date:

PITTSBURGH -- Leaving Heinz Field on Thursday following three days of Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp, there was a sense - much stronger than the one leaving OTAs - that progress was made.

The second phase of the Steelers' offseason workouts ended with some light shined on younger players looking to make an impact and positions of need with real candidates to fill roles.

It's not over, and training camp, wherever it takes place, will leave us with more answers. But it's a start and a strong one considering the question marks this team has right now.

As we look back, scrolling through pages of notes taken over the three-day span, five things jump out.

James Pierre is the Outside Cornerback

Look, Pierre is forcing Cam Sutton to play the nickelback this season, but he will allow him to bounce inside at dimebacker. Sutton has never played the Mike Hilton role in the secondary, and the Steelers aren't looking for him to.

What they are looking for is someone to fill in when Sutton is moving around on the field. That'll happen more often than you think. And right now, Pierre is reliable enough to let Sutton play a role bigger than outside corner.

Pierre intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice during minicamp. You'd think that isn't too big of a deal during summer workouts, but it opened the flood gates for nothing but praise from his coaches.

"He's still developing. This is his first offseason," defensive backs coach Teryl Austin said. "I think there'll be a good jump with him and I'm hoping we've all of a sudden found ourselves a big corner for the future."

The Steelers need him to be a valuable piece to the puzzle this season. In the future, they'll need him to be a starter on the outside.

There is No Depth at Offensive Line

The Steelers worked with a mix-and-match offensive line throughout minicamp, with David DeCastro not in attendance and Zach Banner continuing to rehab an ACL injury.

So, outside of Chuks Okorafor and Kevin Dotson, it was a bunch of players looking to make the team - and three centers competing for a starting job.

While the offense tried to learn a new playbook, their quarterback spent most of his time in 7-on-7 drills running for his life. In a time where backups had an opportunity to prove themselves, reporters witnessed a group of linemen who probably won't see much of the field this season.

Pittsburgh better hope their starting five can handle the workload because there are not many options for relief in this group.

Slot Corner Options

The Steelers have three realistic slot corner options right now: Tre Norwood, Antoine Brooks Jr. and Arthur Maulet.

Norwood: The sixth-round pick has Sutton-like potential, and it's showing. He spent plenty of time taking first-team reps at safety and moved upfront to play slot corner throughout OTAs and minicamp.

"I think his draft description was very apt. He is that guy," Austin said. "He's a super sharp guy. Really impressed with how fast he picks things up. Right now, he's playing a little nickel and little safety, a little bit of everywhere. He handles it really well. I don't think it's too big for him."

Unless his smaller frame doesn't hold up as a tackler, Norwood is carving out a role for himself in this defense.

Brooks: The 2020 sixth-round pick spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. Therefore, we didn't get to see much of his ability on the field and everyone immediately assumed he was a locked-in safety and nothing more.

Fun surprise, Brooks is a natural slot corner who spent most of his time playing there in college. He's impressed his coaches and Austin believes there's a chance he competes for the starting job.

"He was listed as a safety but he basically played a nickel-type position," Austin said. "He was very productive there. That's where he's been working and what he's doing, and he's still got a ways to go, but I think the progress is coming.

"It's really important that we did have an offseason this year. That'll allow him to have the opportunity to win the job in there."

Maulet: The former New York Jet brings NFL experience as a starter that should help him feel more comfortable once this competition heats up.

Maulet has made his splash plays at minicamp. He's the biggest of the three and clearly has the NFL body after years in the league.

It's more about not losing the job for Maulet. If he can prove he's reliable on the field, the Steelers' best option is to have an experienced player over two guys without an NFL start. That's not as easy as it sounds, though.

Najee Harris is the Real Deal

Anyone who thought the Steelers wasted a first-round pick on a running back needs to see Harris on the field. Yeah, he looked incredible at Alabama, but he looks pretty impressive as a Steeler, too.

Obviously, his size stands out as soon as you look at him. His ability is what jumps off the board, though.

One-handed coaches, leading the running backs during individual drills, and constantly talking with coaches is all you saw Harris do during minicamp. This guy is young, and maybe a confusing offensive line is a concern for any running back.

It was definitely not a wasted pick by the Steelers, though.

This is Anyone's Punting Game

Pressley Harvin III should've had the punter position locked up the second his name was called in the NFL Draft. No one uses a pick on a punter without basically guaranteeing them the job.

Jordan Berry came to play, though.

There was nothing more exciting at Steelers minicamp than watching Harvin and Berry boot kicks down the field. Eric Ebron, Cam Heyward and Ben Roethlisberger were yelling the whole time. Every player on the field was drawn in. It was electric - seriously.

Even Mike Tomlin put a big smile on when asked about it before talking about creating diversity for young guys.

"That was their way of encouraging," Tomlin said, talking about Roethlisberger booing a poor punt from Harvin. "We've got to create adversity for guys so we can get to know them."

Everyone knows Harvin now.

Get your popcorn ready. This could be a show for the ages. 

Noah Strackbein is a Publisher with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

You May Also Like:

Andy Reid Responds to Le'Veon Bell Comments

10 Players Who Impressed at Steelers Minicamp

Dwayne Haskins Wants to Come Full Circle With Steelers

Mike Tomlin, Dwayne Haskins Focused on Relationship Before Football

What's Up With JuJu Smith-Schuster Not Practicing

Steelers Have High Hopes for James Pierre

Joe Haden: Cam Sutton Ready to Replace Two Starters

JuJu Smith-Schuster's Ulterior Motive Can't Alter Steelers' Plans

It's True, Steelers RB Coach Told Najee Harris to Go Home

Steelers Still Looking for Third Edge Rusher