The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 OTA practices will get underway on Tuesday, and the next two weeks will include six sessions in total. These sessions mark the start of the third phase of the NFL offseason program, and essentially that means football in shorts can commence. Teams may conduct a total of 10 voluntary Organized Team Activities, OTAs, during this third phase, and no live contact is permitted. 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted, however.
With the Steelers OTAs about to begin, this primer includes a look at seven main questions that we hope to get answers to in the next six days, and thus prior to the team’s mandatory minicamp getting underway.
Will Stephon Tuitt offer his presence as a present? – New quarterbacks and all, the OTA status of Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt is currently the biggest question mark ahead of the team’s annual OTA sessions getting underway next week. While the OTA sessions are not mandatory in nature, one would think that Tuitt would be present for them this coming week on the heels of his missing the entire 2021 season. The Steelers have reportedly had some sort of dialogue with Tuitt during the offseason, and those discussions have been painted as positive. Even so, it does still sound like there is some question as to whether or not Tuitt will indeed be part of the 2022 team. June 1st is coming fast and that is relevant when it comes to dead money being able to be deferred until 2023. If Tuitt is not present at OTAs this next week, the talk about him possibly never playing another down in the NFL will continue.
Who’s on center first? – The Steelers certainly addressed their needs on their offensive line during the offseason, the team still did not draft a player to play up front. The two main pieces that were added in free agency were James Daniels and Mason Cole, both of whom can play all three interior positions on the offensive line. Who will be the first-team center when OTAs get underway this week? Might it be second-year player Kendrick Green, who had a miserable rookie season? Will it be Cole? Will Daniels be the new right guard, replacing the outgoing Trai Turner? About the only thing we think we know for sure right now is that Dan Moore Jr. will be at left tackle and that Chukwuma Okafor will be at right tackle. That’s it when it comes to this rebuilt 2022 Steelers offensive line.
Some secondary guessing as well? – The Steelers’ secondary has a lot of pieces back from 2021 thanks to the team re-signing cornerback Ahkello Weatherspoon and safety Terrell Edmunds. Even so, the team added free agent cornerback Levi Wallace during the offseason and safety Damontae Kazee. Obviously, cornerback Cameron Sutton and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick are back, but within that, one must wonder if the former might be headed for more of a slot role in 2022. Who will be the nickel and who will be the dime to get things rolling at the start of OTAs? Will Fitzpatrick even be present with him due to a lucrative contract extension later this summer?
Slotted slot for OTA openers? – Gone from the team are the Steelers’ two main slot wide receiver options from 2021, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud. While the Steelers did draft young wide receivers George Pickens and Calvin Austin III several weeks ago, both mainly played outside throughout their college careers. Sure, Austin is best suited to be the future starting slot wide receiver for the Steelers sooner rather than later, but odds are good he will not have the top spot right out of the chute. The Steelers still have veteran wide receiver Anthony Miller on the team, and quite honestly, he might be the team’s best true slot option at the start of the offseason. If not him, maybe we’ll finally see wide receiver Chase Claypool kick inside as a big slot. Miller, by the way, did play with new Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky in Chicago so there is that component to consider.
Can Pickett push early? – The Steelers claim that there will be a full-blown competition for the starting quarterback job throughout the offseason and that first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett will be included in that. While the gap between Pickett and Trubisky probably isn’t too terribly big to overcome, the former will need as many reps as possible during the offseason to prove that he’s the best player for the job come Week 1. Can Pickett at least exit the first two weeks of OTAs as a legitimate threat to Trubisky? We shall see. The Steelers know what they have already in fellow quarterback Mason Rudolph so there’s not much to be gained by giving him a ton of reps as the offseason progresses. If Pickett wants to be the Steelers’ Week 1 starting quarterback, he needs to push hard right out of the chute during OTAs.
Edge depth chart question marks? – The Steelers lack depth at the outside linebacker position as they get their OTA sessions started. Sure, the team has TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith as their starting duo, and there’s nothing shabby about that. Behind those two, however, are a ton of question marks. Veteran Genard Avery was signed during free agency, but he’s certainly not an established edge rusher or run setter. The team also just recently cut veteran John Simon. Further down the outside linebacker depth chart sit Derrek Tuszka and Delontae Scott, two part-time carryovers from 2021. Even further down the depth chart are a few undrafted rookies.
Can any undrafted create a draft? – The Steelers’ original group of 10 undrafted free agents signed this year is already one short with defensive back Bryce Watts now being on the Reserve / Injured list. Of the other nine players, two are running backs in Mataeo Durant and Jaylen Warren. Durant, by the way, along with tackle Jordan Tucker, received the largest signing bonuses among all undrafted rookies this year. The Steelers also did not draft a running back this year, and they have yet to show any signs that they might re-sign veteran running back Kalen Ballage. With young running back Anthony McFarland Jr. not a lock to make the roster this year, and with Benny Snell Jr. probably only hanging on due to his special teams ability, a player like Durant sure seems to have a chance at sticking on the Week 1 53-man roster this year. In addition to Durant, the Steelers have some interesting young edge rushers in Tyree Johnson and TD Moultry worth paying attention to once OTAs get underway. If either can play on special teams, there’s a chance that one of them might stick around on the 53-man roster past the preseason, as well.