Pittsburgh Steelers: Early minicamp headlines

June 14, 2017

As the Pittsburgh Steelers begin minicamp, many headlines surround the team’s conquest for another Lombardi trophy.

Around the league, minicamps have begun to open for teams as they take another step closer to the 2017 season. Among those who opened on Tuesday include the Pittsburgh Steelers as they look to defend the AFC North division crown.

After an eventful offseason that saw Big Ben nearly hang his cleats up, Martavis Bryant reinstated and a whole lot of drug tests for James Harrison, the Steelers are more than ready to shift gears and hit the field.

Here are the early headlines of Steelers minicamp:

Jan 15, 2017; Kansas City, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell (26) smiles for the camera after the game against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. Pittsburgh won 18-16. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Le’Veon Bell won’t partake in minicamp…at all

The situation involving Le’Veon Bell and his contract continues to build up as we move to training camp. Bell is currently still recovering from a sports hernia surgery performed in March, and looks to be back at full health soon. Taking his injury and his desire for a contract into consideration, it would be reasonable to not see Le’Veon anytime soon.

However, Bell couldn’t attend this week even if he wanted to. As a player who has yet to sign his franchise tender, Le’Veon is not allowed to participate in the Steelers mini-camp this week. (Via Adam Schefter’s tweet)

Pittsburgh has until July 15th to reach a deal with its top back, and a failure to complete one will result in Bell seeing a $12 million salary for 2017. It’s in both player and team interest that a new deal is reached before the deadline, and hopefully Bell will be ready when training camp arrives.

Next: T.J. Watt and Alejandro Villanueva situations

Jun 13, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) participates during drills in minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Watt Living up to the Hype

Grasping professional football concepts can be challenging for newcomers to the NFL. Pittsburgh’s first-round pick T.J. Watt can’t relate. According to teammate Vince Williams, Watt “is the most ready rookie I’ve ever seen. Ever,” via Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network.

Watt has received much praise from coaches and players alike since his arrival to Pittsburgh, and looks to build off a strong string of OTAs recently completed.

More from NFL Spin Zone

Comparisons to brother and Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt have slowly begun to trickle in as T.J. prepares for his rookie season. If Watt’s immediate impact can replicate that of his family tree, the Steelers will be in business.

Alejandro Villanueva at camp, despite contract issues

Perhaps the less talked about contract situation involves one of the league’s best stories in left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, the former US Army Ranger who served three tours overseas before pursuing a football career. Villanueva has performed considerably well since his arrival in 2014, and believes his $615,000 tender isn’t quite the right price for his services.

Yet Villanueva isn’t conceited nor money hungry, which might explain why his situation has mostly received positive reactions.

“I’m very thankful to the Steelers and their treatment. They’ve always been very respectful. The only thing I can do is show that respect back” said Alejandro in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before Tuesday’s first practice.

It’s refreshing to see a player continue to work and practice while awaiting a new deal, regardless of player status or value. In due time, Villanueva will surely get the money he’s seeking. Yet for now, he remains patient and on the field, something every player in search of a new contract should take note of.

Next: The Wide Receiver group

Jun 13, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) participates in drills during minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Young pass-catchers eager to learn among crowded depth chart

Pittsburgh is mighty young at the wide receiver position, with eight players currently at the position who have three years or less experience. Antonio Brown, the second oldest receiver on the roster at a mere 28 years old, recognizes the value of his leadership and has taken the young guys under his wings, especially Eli Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Both Rogers and Smith-Schuster have gotten work as slot wide receivers thus far, and are expected to compete for playing time among an already stacked depth chart. Both have taken to Brown for their guidance.

Rogers tends to follow Brown around at practice and engage in learning the tricks of his trade whenever he can. It’s been well documented Rogers refers to Brown as an older brother, and continuously takes mental notes of almost everything Brown works on.

Similar to Rogers, JuJu Smith-Schuster takes notice of Brown’s work ethic and applies to his own. Smith-Schuster has long paid attention to Brown, even sharing an old direct message over instagram while he was still in college, asking Brown if he could share any tips. Now Smith-Schuster works next to him.

Next: NFL 2017: Ranking the 30 best tight ends

The Steelers have some tough decisions to make when it comes to their stacked depth chart in terms of play time. It’s a tough yet good decision to have considering the core of players at their disposal, and the willingness to learn in all of them.

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