Welcome to the first Steelers mailbag, and as we enter training camp, all eyes are on Ben Roethlisberger and his arm. However, there are still other noticeable questions around the Steelers roster. In this mailbag, I’ll dive into the curious case of a player that is Terrell Edmunds his 2020 outlook and more items surrounding the Steelers roster.
Will playing all year next to Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2020 help Terrell Edmunds grow?
This is one of the more loaded questions that have to be answered this season. Edmunds is considered by most of the fanbase as a disappointment at this point in his career. So, to set the context for my answer here, I have to consider what I think of Edmunds.
The answer is that this is a guy who has been painfully average but took a step in 2019. However, the physical tools are astounding for Edmunds, and that is his real strength. Additionally, I believe the game is getting slower for him. His instincts took a noticeable leap last year, especially after Fitzpatrick joined the team. Part of that could have been a mentorship or just great film study, but regardless it was encouraging. Edmunds does a lot of things on the Steelers defense, and that versatility is a valuable tool.
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However, Fitzpatrick can only do so much in terms of helping Edmunds develop. For Edmunds, the stability and communication skills that Fitzpatrick has naturally makes things easier. However, the key areas Edmunds must improve on are his ball skills, tackling consistency, and coverage discipline. Fitzpatrick can only do so much to help his development in those areas.
As far as those three things go, that is on Edmunds to do the hard work. All Steelers fans know that Edmunds has only forced two measly turnovers in his first two seasons. That has to change. Against the Cardinals and the Jets, Edmunds allowed touchdowns because he could not get his head around. In man coverage, he has to read the hips of the receiver’s better instead of playing a guessing game. Simply put, he must understand his leverage and work through the receiver. There were flashes, but it is inconsistent.
As far as tackling goes, he missed 14 tackles or 12% of his attempted tackles (103 tackles out of 117 attempts). That number is too high and has to get better. Edmunds is a player who ducks his head instead of seeing it through the ball carrier, causing him to lunge and miss tackles. For Edmunds to take the next step, he must improve on a technical level throughout his process.
Can Alex Highsmith be the primary rotational pass rusher by the end of training camp?
The current global situation has perhaps hit Alex Highsmith the hardest of all the rookies. He missed valuable minicamp and offseason training activities that would have aided him heading into training camp. On top of that, with a streamlined training camp and no preseason games, he may have an even harder time carving out a role here.
Listen, I love Highsmith’s skillset. He has fantastic burst, a growing arsenal of pass rush moves, and impressive flexibility for an outside linebacker. He is also the heir to Bud Dupree. It seems the Steelers will want to see Highsmith this season, but that is a late-season idea.
With two years of experience and adequate reps last season, I expect Ola Adeniyi to be the primary rotational pass rusher to open the season. Adeniyi himself certainly has upside and a chance to prove himself by stepping into that role, perhaps stalling Highsmith for some time. The circumstances just were not kind to Highsmith and have potentially doomed him from getting significant early playing time outside of special teams.
What is the most intriguing training camp battle?
The Steelers appear to have fewer key battles than most teams. The majority of the Steelers’ battles are for guys that are on the roster cusp. However, there are two battles that are extremely intriguing. Those are the battle for the last spot at running back on the roster and the starting right tackle job.
A tough battle to start at right tackle
That right tackle spot is probably the most impactful just because it is a starting spot. Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor have both put quality play on tape. Banner was solid last year when asked, and while he might not be the best mover, he is not detrimentally slow or stiff, and he is strong. Make no mistake; Banner is a people mover.
As for Okorafor, he is a quick-footed, athletic tackle that has tools for days. After a rough preseason last year, Okorafor played well against the Rams and Clay Matthews last season. Whoever wins, I still believe will be a decent NFL level tackle, and it may just come down to scheme fit, in which case Okorafor gets the nod.
The final running back spot
That running back spot is extremely intriguing. Jaylen Samuels and Kerrith Whyte are the two that were expected to be duking it out there, or so I thought. The Steelers signing of Wendell Smallwood throws another wrench into the situation. Samuels is the favorite, thanks to his experience, but he has proven to be a far better pure receiver than runner. Not particularly dynamic in any fashion, Samuels will have to prove himself to be better as a pure runner, especially with his vision.
As for Whyte, he was explosive when given a chance and could be the Steelers’ kick returner. He may have an uphill battle with Anthony McFarland on the roster, but his flashes were undoubtedly impressive. As for Smallwood, he is a scatback with good patience and viable receiving ability. As for who comes out of camp with a roster spot, it all depends on who proves themselves in training camp. Still, it is an intriguing one because whoever wins this very well could see rotational playing time.