Before the 90-member Pittsburgh Steelers roster can enjoy a six-week absence from football before the start of training camp, there remains an unfinished business on the offseason schedule.
Unlike anything that has happened since mid-April, attendance is no longer voluntary.
The team’s mandatory three-day minicamp, which begins Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, stands in the way of this extended break.
While the Steelers have received a strong turnout from veteran players over the past two weeks of organized team activities, one couple – namely wide receiver Diontae Johnson and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick – have only made brief appearances . Defensive end Stephon Tuitt has decided to retire rather than return for a ninth season in the NFL.
With a full roster in hand, coach Mike Tomlin and his staff can continue working on the fundamentals this week before ramping up the activity next month when the pads roll out at training camp.
No starting jobs or roster spots will be won based on what happens this week, but some issues might become clearer after the three-day session. Here are five:
1. Who takes on a bigger role in defence?
Tuitt’s retirement has created an opening that may not be filled by a single player. Chris Wormley is the logical choice to return to the starting role he held last year during Tuitt’s absence.
Wormley, however, hasn’t practiced during OTAs due to a minor injury and is unlikely to take the field until training camp. That gives more reps to second-year defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk, whose playing time increased last year.
The Steelers could also turn nose tackle Tyson Alualu on the outside and use Montravius Adams in the middle of the 3-4 lineup. Third-round rookie DeMarvin Leal should also benefit by getting snaps that would go to more established players.
2. Will the quarterback rotation stay the same?
Mason Rudolph may have the advantage of second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system management experience, but free agent signee Mitch Trubisky got most of the first-team snaps during OTAs. . Rudolph ran with the second team, much like he did throughout his tenure with the Steelers. First-round rookie Kenny Pickett confirmed he was third in the pecking order.
Given the investment in Pickett, the Steelers could expand his role by starting in OTAs when a full set of wide receivers is ready. How snaps are distributed will be an ongoing storyline throughout the summer.
3. Which player made the biggest leap in his second season?
As rookies, Najee Harris rushed for 1,200 yards and Pat Freiermuth caught 60 passes, including seven for touchdowns. Because they were first- and second-round picks, expectations were high.
Further down the scoreboard are Kendrick Green, Dan Moore Jr., Buddy Johnson and Loudermilk.
Moore has a chance to start at left tackle for the second year in a row. The Steelers waited until May to bring in an experienced tackle, signing four-year veteran Trent Scott to provide competition. After the Steelers signed two veterans to play inside, Green is no longer at center and will have to drop Kevin Dotson at left guard if he wants to start again this season.
The Steelers would like Johnson to take on a bigger role at inside linebacker behind starters Devin Bush and Myles Jack. Loudermilk is pushing for a starting spot at the defensive end.
As for the other members of the 2021 draft class, Tre Norwood has played in a third of all defensive snaps as a subset defensive back. The Steelers backed punter Pressley Harvin III through an uneven rookie season, but brought in Cameron Nizialek for the competition.
4. Who has game time on the slot machine receiver?
In losing three wide receivers to free agency, the Steelers also lost their two most experienced options in the slot: JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud.
The Steelers drafted 5-foot-8 Calvin Austin III in the fourth round as a potential option. He’s one of a handful of shorter, faster receivers on the roster, joining Anthony Miller (5-11, 199), Gunner Olszewski (6-0, 190), Steven Sims (5-10, 176) and Tyler Snead (5-7, 174).
Although Chase Claypool is the size most suitable for the outdoors, he said he wouldn’t mind having more reps in the lunge if it could help him take advantage of shifts on the court. Second-round pick George Pickens is also an option if Claypool and Diontae Johnson start on the outside.
5. Which undrafted free agent will make a good impression?
Five years ago, Mike Hilton went from undrafted free agent to slot corner contributor. He is coming off a Super Bowl appearance with the Bengals after signing with Cincinnati in free agency.
Players who have made the roster in recent years as undrafted free agents include James Pierre and Tuzar Skipper. Others to take the undrafted route to eventual positions on the 53-man roster include long snapper Christian Kuntz, center JC Hassenauer and defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux.
Who will be this year’s phenomenon? A few contenders are running backs Jaylen Warren from Oklahoma State and Mataeo Durant from Duke. The Steelers have an opening after failing to bring back Kalen Ballage.
TD Moultry appeared in a school-record 59 games at Auburn and could be on the roster of outside linebackers where the Steelers are looking for depth behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. On the offensive line, Jake Dixon is trying to become the second former Duquesne player to earn a roster spot. He’s 6-6 and could be a project for new post coach Pat Meyer.
Joe Rutter is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .