With all hands on deck, Steelers turn attention to 3-day mandatory minicamp (2024)

The voluntary portion of offseason workouts is over for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What stands between the 90 players on the roster and an extended break until training camp is the annual minicamp, which requires mandatory attendance and begins Tuesday at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Players who spent some of the past month taking European vacations, attending to their nuptials or working out at home will be back on the South Side for the final phase of the spring program.

Cameron Heyward’s return to practice last week and his commitment to attending minicamp removed the only potential holdout candidate from the equation.

Teams can conduct two daily practices totaling 3½ hours if one is done under walk-through conditions.

Before the players disperse until they reconvene at Saint Vincent College on July 24, here are five storylines to watch over the next three days:

1. Second helpings

Entering his third year and coming off a 1,140-yard season, George Pickens is the unquestioned top receiver on the roster. Since Diontae Johnson was traded the Carolina in March, the Steelers have searched for a viable No. 2.

When Pickens skipped several OTA sessions, the Steelers had to make do at both starting spots and used the occasion to look at some of the veterans signed in free agency as well as rookie third-round pick Roman Wilson and returning slot receiver Calvin Austin III.

With Pickens on hand for minicamp, the Steelers can again focus on the No. 2 spot. Van Jefferson, a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020, has the most production with 113 career receptions for 1,600 yards. Scotty Miller has been in the NFL since 2019, Quez Watkins was overshadowed by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith in Philadelphia, and former New Orleans Saints receiver Marquez Callaway is trying to rebuild his career after not accumulating any stats in three games last season.

Don’t discount Austin from trying to forge a bigger role in his third season. The wild card is Wilson, who caught 12 touchdown passes and averaged 16.4 yards per catch for national champion Michigan last season.

2. Taking what is left

At the NFL Combine, general manager Omar Khan reiterated that Broderick Jones was drafted to be a left tackle and “eventually, he will be a left tackle.”

The transition hasn’t taken place yet. At OTAs, Jones mostly remained at right tackle, the position where he started 10 games last season. The Steelers have shown no sign of displacing three-year starter Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle.

Moving Jones to the left side is contingent on the development of rookie first-rounder Troy Fautanu at right tackle. Fautanu is making a transition of his own after starting at left tackle in college.

Moore is on record as saying he isn’t comfortable playing right tackle. Until Fautanu proves he is ready to start, Moore likely will remain the starter on the left side heading into his fourth season, and Jones will continue to take his reps at right tackle.

3. Fields day

Russell Wilson is the starter at quarterback based on how the work has been divided up in spring workouts. The Steelers, though, traded for Justin Fields so they could see how the Chicago Bears’ former first-round pick adapted to their system.

For his part, Fields hasn’t given up on his quest to be a starter, and his role in minicamp will be worth monitoring. With a full complement of skill position players available, Fields can use the three-day session to show his grasp of the offense and state his case to be more than Wilson’s clear-cut backup — and a possible change-of-pace QB — entering training camp.

4. Rookie reinforcements

Fautanu isn’t the only rookie who will use the next three days to state his case for a larger role.

The Steelers used their second-round pick on West Virginia’s Zach Frazier with the thought that he would compete for the starting center job as a rookie. Veteran Nate Herbig, who has limited NFL experience at center, has taken many of the first-team snaps in spring workouts. Minicamp could bring more of the same, or it could provide Frazier a chance to elevate his play into a starting role.

Given the uncertainty at the No. 2 receiver spot, Wilson could emerge as another rookie starter. The rest of the class, however, isn’t being counted on to step into the lineup immediately.

Payton Wilson, the team’s other third-round pick, is behind Elandon Roberts and Patrick Queen on the depth chart. Payton Wilson can continue to take advantage of the playing time he is afforded because of Cole Holcomb’s ongoing recovery from a leg injury and become a viable third option at inside linebacker.

Guard Mason McCormick was drafted with an eye toward 2025 when James Daniels becomes a free agent. Logan Lee is trying to add an infusion of youth to an aging defensive line, and Ryan Watts is trying to find a role in the secondary.

5. Playing the slots

The return last week of Cam Sutton after a year with the Detroit Lions provides a logical option for the Steelers at the slot cornerback spot.

Sutton had a history of playing multiple roles in the secondary during his first six seasons, and that included the two years in which he was listed as a starting boundary corner. Sutton remained on the outside in his lone year with the Lions and took just 48 snaps out of 1,271 in the slot in 2023.

Until Sutton’s arrival, the Steelers had used former Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Josiah Scott in the slot. The Steelers also added undrafted free agent Beanie Bishop from West Virginia to see if he could help fill the role.

Joe Rutter is a TribLive reporter who has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since the 2016 season. A graduate of Greensburg Salem High School and Point Park, he is in his fifth decade covering sports for the Trib. He can be reached at jrutter@triblive.com.

With all hands on deck, Steelers turn attention to 3-day mandatory minicamp (2024)


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