By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
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After 4 long months, Phase Three of the NFL offseason is finally here and this is about as close to real football as we will get until Training Camp kicks off. While OTAs are far from “real football” and are more about getting acclimated to how a typical football day goes under Mike Tomlin, players (particularly young players and new acquisitions), get the opportunity to participate in plenty of 7-on-7s, 9-on-7s, and 11-on-11 drills non-live contact drills.
Even though battles are won during training camp, OTAs give us our first chance of seeing how things could shake out and seeing what players have been doing during their time off during the winter and spring. Make no mistake, however. The competition starts now for players to make impressions with their coaches, so be sure to follow OTAs closely.
So what did we see during Day 1 of Steelers OTAs?
New & Improved Martavis Bryant Looks to Give the Steelers Offense a Lift
After missing the 2016 season due to a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Martavis Bryant had two choices: continue down his path of self-destruction and jeopardize his future in the NFL or get help and change his life for the better; on and off of the field. Luckily for the Steelers (and more importantly for Bryant), it appears that he has picked the second option. Bryant stated at practice today that he is a different person and that he is aware that this is his last chance. Bryant is on an extremely short leash, undergoing drug testing three times per week and meeting with a counselor two times per week to continue working on his sobriety, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Not only is Bryant improving in his personal life, his improved passion for football could not go without notice today. After playing at 215 lbs. in 2015, Bryant reported to OTAs today weighing 225 lbs., putting on 10 lbs. of muscle during intense workouts over the course of his suspension. What does this mean for the Steelers’ offense? Bryant could be an even more dangerous threat for Ben Roethlisberger. By adding size without compromising his tremendous deep speed, Bryant could be the type of Julio Jones-esqe receiver that makes the Steelers offense explode next to All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown. This could also give the Steelers plenty of more options with Bryant in the offense, especially when you consider the depth behind Brown and Bryant.
Wow. NFL defense look out.
— Zach Metkler GZSR (@GZSports_ZM) May 23, 2017
Martavis Bryant talks about what it has been like rejoining his teammates after missing an entire year. pic.twitter.com/jGyamcU51H
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 23, 2017
Senquez Golson Goes Through Drills After Missing 2nd-Straight Season
While it should be taken with a grain of salt, 3rd-year corner Senquez Golson went through drills today with the team today, making it appear that the Lisfranc injury that caused him to miss the entire 2016 season could finally be behind him. In two seasons with the team, Golson has yet to take a single snap in real game action, as he also missed his rookie season with a shoulder injury. After selecting Artie Burns in the 1st-round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Cameron Sutton in the 3rd-round and Brian Allen in the 5th-round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and signing Coty Sensabaugh in free agency this year, this training camp could very well be a make-or-break experience for the former 2nd-round pick out of Ole Miss. Golson was widely praised out of college for his ball-hawking skills and superior athleticism, but his injuries have stalled his ability to get anything going in the secondary. While Golson’s status with the team will be something to monitor this summer, it is always good to see a previously injured player making strides towards getting back into action.
— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) May 23, 2017
Le’Veon Bell Only Steeler Not Present For Day 1
The only Steeler not present at the first day of OTAs was running back Le’Veon Bell, who was reportedly absent while he continues to recover from his offseason groin surgery that was caused by an injury against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Rumors will likely circulate that Bell’s absence was to make a statement about wanting a new contract after being assigned the franchise tag this offseason. However, it is important to remember that OTAs are completely voluntary for players and Bell is no exception to that. Ben Roethlisberger expressed that he wished that Bell was present, but also admitted that he knows no chemistry will be lost whenever he does decide to return.
While it certainly would have been nice to see Bell at least present at practice, this will likely be long forgotten once training camp comes around.
Ben Roethlisberger Remains Quiet About Future Past 2017
After leaving the Steelers and fans in limbo about his immediate future in 2017, Big Ben ultimately announced that he will play in 2017, easing the minds of everyone. All is good now, right? Well, not so fast. When asked today during interviews about retirement rumors and his future beyond 2017, Roethlisberger did everything in his power to avoid giving anything concrete, which should be expected. Roethlisberger, now 35, will likely spend the remainder of his career playing year-to-year, meaning that fans should get used to this until he does ultimately hang-up the cleats.
What’s important now is that Roethlisberger is “110% committed” for the 2017 season with the mission of bring home Lombardi Trophy #7 for Pittsburgh and #3 for Big Ben.
Ben Roethlisberger said ‘110 percent’ committed to Steelers. Asked about seriousness of retirement: ‘What, did you think I was lying?’ pic.twitter.com/1VL3I7GuS1
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 23, 2017
Rookie T.J. Watt Gets Reps With the 1st-Team Defense
While Rookie Minicamp is nothing but a crash-course for 1st-year (and some 2nd-year) players and hardly an indicator of future success in the NFL, T.J. Watt impressed throughout by displaying two extremely important traits as a 1st-round pick and an EDGE rusher: his hands and his ability to be a student of the game as a quick learner. Just as during minicamp, Watt put both on display, grabbing the attention of a former 1st-rounder: Bud Dupree. Dupree was reportedly impressed by Watt, stating that his “learning curve is great” and that he also received some reps with the 1st-team defense. While this is just “football in shorts” (as Mike Tomlin always says), getting Watt as many reps as possible is imperative and Dupree says he looks forward to helping Watt transition to the pace of the NFL. Some people, however, believe that Watt will have a slow start to his career:
— NFL (@NFL) May 21, 2017
Hopefully this does not happen, as the Steelers could use their 1st-rounders services sooner than later. While Watt still has a long way to go to prove that he deserves to be the starter ahead of James Harrison, any chances he gets with the 1’s should be a good sign for the young player. Watt’s progression will be an exciting one to watch this offseason.
Steelers Seem to be Relatively Healthy Heading Into Phase Three
Multiple Steelers underwent procedures during last season and this offseason, but it appears that the Steelers are primarily healthy on all fronts heading into OTAs. As previously mentioned, Senquez Golson was a participant in practice today, going through drills and showing that his Lisfranc injury should finally be behind him. Earlier today, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler also reported that safety Sean Davis had surgery this offseason on his shoulder and that he should be good for training camp. While this might have meant for live contact football, it was still nice to see Davis participating in some drills. Vince Williams also underwent offseason shoulder surgery but was seen partaking in drills during practice, which is important considering his place as the Steelers new starter next to Ryan Shazier. Also on the defensive side of the ball, Cam Heyward was back at seemingly full strength after tearing his pectoral muscle last season. Heywards presence on the defensive line will be extremely important for the Steelers moving forward.
One thing that was not noted as much as you would have expected was the health of receiver Sammie Coates. After suffering finger and groin injuries that lingered throughout the 2016 season and substantially inhibited his ability to perform, Coates seemed healthy and fully participated in all drills. This season will be important for Coates, especially with the return of Bryant and the Steelers’ 2nd-round selection of JuJu Smith-Schuster. With a receiving group that will feature Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, and likely JuJu Smith-Schuster, the window is quickly closing for Sammie Coates to solidify his place in the Steelers’ offense. If healthy, though, he could make it hard for the Steelers to part ways with him.
Martavis Bryant working a route drill, catching multiple passes, followed by Sammie Coates in the order. pic.twitter.com/43U8zQgiUN
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 23, 2017
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