Assessing Big Ben in new offense, Washington’s frustrations, and depth chart insight
PITTSBURGH — We’d love to tell you how Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks ahead of his 18th NFL season. Alas, he has done very little in the two times we’ve seen the Steelers in person this week.
Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has taken few reps in training camp
Roethlisberger didn’t play in the Hall of Fame Game and took just a handful of 11-on-11 snaps during Sunday’s practice here at Heinz Field. He did take part in seven-on-seven and one-on-one reps, but was merely a spectator during the practice-ending two-minute period.
On balance, our sense is the Steelers believe keeping Roethlisberger healthy and fresh is more important than getting him experience in Matt Canada’s offensive system. Canada took over as Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator this offseason after the team parted ways with Randy Fichtner.
Roethlisberger should have a comfort level with Canada’s coaching style; the latter served as the former’s position coach in 2020. But there could be some early bumps unless Roethlisberger’s workload goes up soon.
On Sunday, he was a bit off with his accuracy on a couple of passes. But he was his best when targeting JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s back in Pittsburgh on a one-year deal after catching 97 balls for 9 touchdowns last year. Expect those two to connect a bunch again this season.
Steelers’ QB depth chart unchanged following Hall of Fame Game
Meanwhile, the Steelers’ quarterback depth chart was unchanged Sunday from the first preseason game. Behind Roethlisberger, the rotation went Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins, and then Josh Dobbs.
Haskins did challenge defensive backs vertically more Sunday than he did in Thursday’s checkdown-filled performance — including a bomb down the left sideline that would have been a touchdown if Tony Brooks-James hadn’t dropped it. But Haskins also had some shaky moments, including when he airmailed a running back on a swing route.
WR James Washington appears buried on the depth chart
If wide receiver James Washington truly does want out, it’s hard to blame him. He was working with the backups again Sunday and seems buried deep on Mike Tomlin’s depth chart (and perhaps doghouse).
Washington could only watch as Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and even Anthony Johnson received first-team reps ahead of him.
ESPN reported last week that Washington informed the Steelers he wants to be traded over playing time. Mike Tomlin on Friday disputed that report, saying Washington “has not” asked to be traded. That could technically be true if it were Washington’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, who made the request.
But here’s what is indisputable: Washington would be justified in feeling frustration over his role. He’s caught no more than 44 passes in any of his three NFL seasons and was on the field for just 44 percent of Pittsburgh’s offensive snaps in 2020.
Steelers’ top three draft picks could all have an immediate impact
There’s a decent chance the Steelers’ top three draft picks all play significant roles. Najee Harris, the draft’s 24th overall pick, will of course start and could have over 400 touches from scrimmage.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth, the Steelers’ second-round pick, seems to be in the team’s plans at tight end in 2021, even with Eric Ebron and Zach Gentry in the mix.
And Kendrick Green, taken in Round 3, has a shot to win the center job.
That’s all good news for a franchise that needs its young players to step up after salary cap constraints limited Pittsburgh’s aggressiveness this offseason. The Steelers trimmed more than $30 million off the cap ahead of free agency. And yet, they still had to make some tough budgetary decisions that could impact their performance this fall.
Devin Bush trending in the right direction
The Steelers are playing it safe with star linebacker Devin Bush, who tore his ACL 11 months ago. He did very little Sunday, and it’s hard to see the Steelers subjecting him to the preseason over the next three weeks. But he is trending in the right direction.
“[He’s] doing great,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Working hard. Getting better everyday. Excited about getting him back on the grass.”