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4 players ready to shine during Steelers padded practices

The first week of the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is officially in the books

Thankfully, multiple players stood out from the pack during these glorified football in shorts sessions. I can’t even count how many times I have heard that phrase from well intentioned fans trying to downplay the early training camp success of many of the Steelers newcomers.

Honestly, people. Nobody is suggesting that we should start fitting the standouts for their gold jackets a week into camp, but it’s important that the players who are perfectly suited to excel in a football in shorts scenario do just that during the early stages of camp.

Players with superior athleticism and mobility should flourish in these settings, and thankfully many did. A player with Calvin Austin’s speed and elusiveness should flourish with less resistance. Diontae Johnson should thrive when he doesn’t have to be concerned about full contact. No reason to run backwards during the first few days of practice.

Tuesday marks the first day of padded practices at Steelers training camp. Now it’s time for the more physically imposing and ultra intense mindsets to steal the show. Make no mistake about it, the playing field has been leveled for all participants. Now it’s time to see who’s fortunes will rise, or fall. Hopefully the early camp standouts will continue to shine, in real football situations.

Now let’s take a quick look at some players destined to standout during the padded practices.

Darnell Washington

As I mentioned prior to the draft, Washington wasn’t the best tight end in the 2023 draft class, but he was the perfect TE for the Steelers. The Steelers want to play ground and pound, ball control football on offense. Everything will play off of their punishing rushing attack, behind a much improved offensive line. The Steelers run blocking must be effective and efficient. That’s where Darnell Washington is destined to shine.

Simply put, Washington was the best run blocking TE in the draft class. Based on his size and athleticism, he is potentially a dominant run blocker. His receiving ability is relatively raw, but he will definitely be a handful once he gets the ball in his hands.

Washington stands to benefit the most from the physicality of the first week of padded practices. Nobody should be surprised to hear about Washington’s dominance as a blocker during the second week of camp.

Mark Robinson

Robinson has enjoyed quite an eventful offseason. He was the only ILB to survive the offseason position purge. Many thought he was in line for a starting spot, but then lost faith in him when the coaches suggested he would be ready to compete for a starting spot…next year. That makes total sense for a talented young player blessed with physicality and intensity, but lacking in experience. Robinson appears destined for a spot in the rotation, behind his more experienced colleagues. The rest is up to him.

Robinson’s aforementioned physicality should shine bright during the early padded practices session, particularly in everyone’s favorite back-on-backers drills. As I wrote in my last article, Robinson is noticeably bigger and stronger than last training camp. These physical improvements should be most evident during these one-on-one matchups.

Robinson also needs to bring the pain during team sessions, showcasing his mobility and pursuit ability during scripted series, especially during running plays. He needs to display substantial improvement in pass coverage. The same could be said about running mate Elandon Roberts, but Roberts is a proven professional, something that Robinson strives to be. I honestly believe that Robinson has the potential to be a more complete player than Roberts in the future, but only time will tell.

Keanu Neal

Neal is the ultimate box safety, and finds himself with a franchise in desperate need of one. He was brought to be an experienced replacement for Terrell Edmunds. Like Edmunds, Neal doesn’t produce many splash plays, and he plays more like an undersized linebacker trapped in a strong safety type body. Neal lacks Edmund’s speed, which limits him in pass coverage, but he is extremely physical.

Another player with functional mobility, but superior physicality. Starting to notice a trend yet? Neal should start to make his presence felt this week when the pads start popping. Neal’s experience should prove vital for communication in a partially revamped secondary.

Breiden Fehoko

The early reports on Fehoko coming out of training camp were easily predictable. Fehoko is an extremely strong interior defender, who requires a double team. His powerful presence destroys blocking schemes and closes running lanes. Fehoko must have felt like an extremely large spectator during the football in shorts sessions, but now he is free to impose his will as an anchor in the middle of the Steelers defensive front. Fehoko is a defensive specialist, and his specialty has been desperately needed in the Steel City for a few years now.

In conclusion, don’t be surprised if you hear about the exploits of these distinguished gentlemen early and often during this second week of training camp. Just remember you heard it here first.

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