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Steelers Stock Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers preseason game edition

Spread the good news far and wide; Steelers football is back, baby!

The Steelers played their first game of the 2023 NFL preseason Friday night in the sweltering Florida heat against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and emerged victorious.

There were plenty of positives throughout the contest to build upon, plus a few negatives to be addressed.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at whose stock is trending up or down in the first installment of the 2023 Steelers Stock Report series.

Stock Trending Up: Kenny Pickett

What a difference an offseason can make. Last preseason, Pickett was a rookie quarterback in the middle of a 3 man QB competition that really wasn’t one. Pickett didn’t see the field until Week 4, after not receiving any real reps with the first team starters during the preseason.

Needless to say, Pickett was playing catch up throughout the 2022 season, trying to find comfort within the offense, and chemistry with his receivers. He was the leader of one of the most anemic offenses in the NFL last season, unable to produce splash plays, or score consistently within the red zone.

Flash forward to Friday night against the Buccaneers. Pickett only played a single series, but what a series it turned out to be. He appeared to be in complete control of the offense. He was calm, cool, and collected. Pickett was quick, decisive, and accurate with the football; both within the pocket and out. His velocity has noticeably improved after an offseason of hard work.

Truthfully, it was only a single series to begin the Steelers 2023 preseason slate, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit it was quite the impressive first impression.

Stock Trending Up: George Pickens

Pickett only needed a single series to earn trending up status, but Pickens only need a single play. The most important aspect of the play wasn’t the fact it was a touchdown reception, or a splash play. Pickens had a few of those last season. What made the play special was the fact that the 2022 version of Pickens would have never scored on that same play.

Pickens ran a crisp route, secured the catch in traffic, and then proceeded to set up a helpless defender with some slick footwork. He euro-stepped towards the sidelines, then cut back towards the middle as he raced untouched into the end zone.

Rookie Pickens doesn’t run that route, or pick up those YAC yards through superior execution. The one trick pony is looking more like a thoroughbred by the day. His spectacular training camp performances carried over to his one opportunity Friday night. One huge message sent.

Stock Trending Down: Montravius Adams

As our faithful community already knows, I loathe negativity, so I don’t enjoy having to be critical, but honesty is required if truth is going to matter. The Steelers interior run defense was ineffective and unacceptable to start the game. I felt like I was watching the Steelers 2021 run defense all over again. A nightmare we would all love to forget.

Smack dab in the middle of the carnage was Montravius Adams. He repeatedly got blown off the ball and washed out of the play. I said it last year, and I will say it once again with emphasis. Adams is not a nose tackle. He is a quick twitch defensive lineman who has pass rush value, but struggles mightily to anchor against the run.

The Steelers already have two better nose tackle options in Keeanu Benton and Breiden Fehoko on the roster. Hopefully the Steelers give Adams an opportunity to compete at his natural position for a roster spot against Armon Watts and Isaiahh Loudermilk.

Stock Trending Up: Nick Herbig

When you write a pregame article about a talented young rookie who has been dominating training camp practices, you can only hope that the youngster continues that trend in his first preseason action. Nick Herbig definitely didn’t disappoint in his debut.

Nick Herbig is a whirling dervish of perpetual motion. Simply put, if you see Herbig engaged with a blocker for more than a fraction of a second, you better believe he is being held, and a yellow hanky should be on the way. The kid is honestly relentless, as I am incapable of providing a better word to describe him. Like a juggernaut of destruction.

Herbig didn’t get in the game until the second half, but he had the good fortune of matching up against a right tackle with NFL starting experience. Herbig dominated the matchup, to the tune of 1.5 sacks and numerous pressures in limited action. The hype is real, folks.

Stock Trending Up: Calvin Austin III

Sometimes the payoff is worth the wait. All CA3 believers have been mercilessly bombarded by the doubters since last year’s lost season for Austin. Why did we have so much faith in an undersized speed receiver to not only make the roster, but contribute in 2023? The easy answer was revealed Friday night, in spectacular fashion.

Speed kills, and Austin has it in abundance. Elite level speed. Just ask the Tampa Bay defensive back who got torched for the long touchdown. Talk about a mismatch. I could hear Vince McMahon’s theme song playing in the background. No chance!

However, Austin is more than just speed. He has exceptional elusiveness and short area quickness. His acceleration is stunning. Austin is a football player first, with instincts for the position, who happens to have track star attributes. Next thing on the agenda: Let’s see those kick return abilities.

Stock Trending Up: Inside linebacker depth chart

Once again, what a difference from last year at this juncture. The 2022 starters are gone. I for one say good riddance to bad rubbish. Long live the new collection of “Momma said knock you out” linebackers currently manning the depth chart.

The crushing hit by Kwon Alexander that was inexplicably penalized was the type of blow that hasn’t been seen around these parts for years. It marked the return of the Steelers legacy at the position. Not perfect, but always passionate. The baddest bullies on the block. You’ll know you played the Pittsburgh Steelers as you slowly descend into your ice bath after the game.

Alexander looks bound and determined to warrant starting consideration. Cole Holcomb looked comfortable and confident in limited action. Elandon Roberts just wants to hit someone on every play, and said after the game that it felt special to wear the black and gold for the first time. Mark Robinson looked as physical as always, but also more comfortable in coverage. That’s a good first step.

In conclusion, there were numerous other strong performances, and one well documented below the line one, worthy of mention from Friday night, but this article is getting pretty lengthy already. Put it this way, plenty of positives to focus on. Just the way I like it.

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