Steelers

Rookie minicamp: Lolley’s five things to watch

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Devin Bush -- AP

The Steelers will get their first look at their draft class on the football field this weekend as they begin their rookie minicamp Friday.

And while the team obviously felt good about what it accomplished two weeks ago when it selected these nine players in the draft, there are times when draft picks set foot on the field and are better -- or worse -- than anticipated.

That said, there isn't a lot that goes on in these kind of settings that should overwhelm any of the young players. The coaching staff expects mistakes. What the staff doesn't want to see are the same mistakes made over and over.

Here are some things I'll be keeping an eye on this weekend:

Is Devin Bush the leader of the pack?

We know all about Bush's speed. Turn on a Michigan game from the past two seasons and you see Bush running sideline to sideline and closing on plays quickly. But the Steelers were equally as impressed with his leadership skills — he was Michigan’s team captain as a junior. That will be tough for the young man -- he's still 20 -- to show off once he's on the field with the veterans. But in this setting, with other rookies and first-year players, Bush should be a guy other players want to follow. That was obvious with Maurkice Pouncey right away. Will it be with Bush?

Diontae Johnson in the open field

Receiver Diontae Johnson ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. That's not exactly blazing. But when you turned on his tape from games at Toledo, you saw a player who was electric with the ball in his hands. He was that kid you played with growing up that nobody could tackle because he was always darting left and right. Yes, he did it mostly against MAC competition, but in this setting, he should stand out. After all, there is no tackling in rookie minicamp. Johnson should look special.

The new coaches

Defensive coordinator Keith Butler will now go back to working with the outside linebackers. And that's just one change in the coaching staff. Shaun Sarrett takes over as the offensive line coach from Mike Munchak. Does he continue to work these guys the way Munchak did? Or, do he and his assistant, Adrian Klemm, have some ideas of their own to bring to the table? How will new running backs coach Eddie Faulkner do with his new additions? How about Teryl Austin? His title is senior defensive assistant/secondary. But he's been a defensive coordinator. Will he float around or just work with the corners and safeties? There are some new dynamics there to be sorted out. The Steelers traditionally don't have a lot of turnover on their coaching staff, but they certainly did this year.

Sixth round surprises?

The Steelers had three draft picks in the sixth round and used them on linebacker Sutton Smith, defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs and linebacker Ulysees Gilbert. All three seem to have a clear path to earning a roster spot, even as late-round draft picks. Smith, a college defensive end, will start out lining up at outside linebacker. He's undersized, but consistently won (29 sacks the past two years) with a quick first step. Let's see it in the one-on-ones. Buggs played inside and out at Alabama. Can he play end and nose tackle here? Does he have a pulse? If so, can he show enough to beat out Daniel McCullers for a roster spot. Gilbert is the second inside linebacker the team drafted this year after Bush. Does his speed (4.48) show up on the field? Can he be a special teams ace to replace L.J. Fort?

Are there any interesting invitees?

Every year, the Steelers invite a bunch of undrafted and unsigned players to their rookie minicamp. And sometimes, they stick. Terrance Garvin was one such player in 2013 and has turned that opportunity into a six-year NFL career. Despite the money and time spent on the draft, guys slip through the cracks. Can any of this year's group show enough to get a contract offer? We likely won't know who the invitees are until Friday morning, but they will include plenty of local guys.

 

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