The Pittsburgh Steelers are back on the field to kick off OTAs, which run from Tuesday through Thursday this week. The schedule will repeat for the rest of the month and into mid-June, when the team will hold its three-day mandatory minicamp before breaking until training camp.

Though it’s still football in shorts, and there isn’t as much to evaluate, there are still plenty of storylines to watch for this week and the upcoming others.

O-Line Dance

For events on the calendar like these, I’m focused more on who is lining up where as opposed to who is doing well, especially in the early going. We know that during rookie minicamp, first-round OT Troy Fautanu lined up exclusively at right tackle after playing left tackle at Washington.

That trend figures to continue Tuesday. If so, how is the rest of the front five impacted? If Fautanu is working first-team right tackle, then that must mean Broderick Jones is flipping to first-team left tackle. Where does that leave Dan Moore Jr.? Could he begin working as a swing tackle? He’s not comfortable at right tackle, but he also has few reps there, so of course, he’s uncomfortable.

Another alternative? Fautanu begins as second-team right tackle, with Moore and Jones running with the 1s. Or perhaps Fautanu is second-team left tackle, though that seems less likely.

At center, does Zach Frazier immediately jump in with the starters as Maurkice Pouncey did in 2010 (although that initially came at right guard, ceding spring reps to Justin Hartwig)? Or will Nate Herbig get the veteran nod in the middle while Frazier earns his keep? I also want to see how second-year Spencer Anderson is being used. Ditto with the guy I’m keeping an eye on, OT Dylan Cook, who played some guard late last summer.

Voluntary Absences

We know Cam Heyward won’t attend any of the Steelers’ OTA sessions until he receives a new deal. That story’s been covered enough, and assuming he’s asked, Mike Tomlin will likely brush the question off. But will anyone join Heyward by skipping out?

There are several starters entering the last year of their deal. RB Najee Harris had his fifth-year option declined and is set to become a free agent after 2024. He did attend voluntary workouts in Phase One, making it more likely he attends these practices, though it’s possible he does very little or zero on-field work. Both sides have an interest in protecting him. TE Pat Freiermuth is a likely extension candidate, but there’s been little chatter about the two sides actually hammering out a new deal. The tight-end market has gotten hot over the last 12 months, and Freiermuth was plagued by injuries all throughout 2023.

Don’t forget about RG James Daniels. No market is hotter than the guard market, and Daniels is still just 26 and in the prime of his career. If there’s a time to push for a long-term deal, it’s now.

Absences aren’t always immediately known, and making snap judgments can be dangerous. Sometimes, players don’t show up one day but will attend the next or alternate weeks, as Ryan Clark recently outlined. So make this something to watch over the next few weeks instead of days.

Slot Roulette

While wide receiver has been the hot-button issue, slot corner remains as vacant as any spot on the team. There’s understandable buzz about UDFA Beanie Bishop, who has a great opportunity to soak up reps over these next few weeks, even if the team eventually adds a veteran.

Who else will get a chance? Practice squader Josiah Scott, who played a significant number of snaps in 2021 for the Philadelphia Eagles, should see some time. As could recent signee Anthony Averett, an outside corner but someone who would do well to showcase versatility.

Team Health

Evaluating how well someone is performing is difficult when it’s football in shorts. But simply knowing who is or isn’t practicing can be an important starting point. CB Cory Trice Jr. wasn’t eligible for rookie minicamp, but he seems to be progressing after tearing his ACL last summer. Will he be a full participant, limited to individual drills, or still protected and not practice at all?

There still aren’t many details on the specifics of the knee injury LB Cole Holcomb suffered, but needless to say, it was tragic. Don’t expect him to practice in full, and it’s most likely he isn’t working on the field in any capacity, but we can still create some baseline for him heading into training camp and a possible place on the Reserve/PUP list. The inside linebacker room at large is one worth watching, with free agent splash signing Patrick Queen, rookie Payton Wilson, and third-year Mark Robinson desperately trying to gain the coaching staff’s trust.

Wide Receiver Separation

You can take that literally and figuratively. While evaluating individual play, especially from veterans, won’t tell you much in practice settings like these, the wide receiver battle truly begins now. Calvin Austin III, Van Jefferson, Quez Watkins, and Scotty Miller are all bunched up on the depth chart. Not all four are going to make the 53-man roster. Maybe only half of them will. These guys need to make as many positive impressions as possible.

Expect the group to be rotated in and out of the starting lineup, similar to slot corner in training camp last year (when Duke Dawson, Chandon Sullivan, and Elijah Riley all shared time there). But anyone who can stand out now will have a small leg up heading into camp.


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