Who can help Steelers' pass rush? Remember the name: Farrington Huguenin
Not that long ago, the Steelers had the problem off too many viable options at outside linebacker.
Now, as they plan for the 2018 season, they're down to just two with NFL experience who are under contract, and one of those has an option due on his contract that the Steelers must decide on.
So after T.J. Watt — who just completed his rookie season — and Bud Dupree — who is entering his fourth season and for whom the Steelers have until May 3 to exercise his 2019 option at somewhere around $9 million — who can the Steelers turn to at what is one of the most important positions on their defense?
Remember this name: Farrington Huguenin.
The 6-foot-4 former teammate of Dupree's at Kentucky spent all season on the Steelers' practice squad. A former 3-4 defensive end in college, 2017 was a year in which Huguenin took on a new position — in mind and in body.
“I definitely learned a lot, and I transformed my whole body,” Huguenin said. “Especially being under (outside linebackers coach Joey Porter), he took the time to work with me. They invested in me. They saw some things that even I didn't think I could do.”
Huguenin weighed as much as 290 pounds in college, and after being signed as an undrafted free agent by the Miami Dolphins in 2016, he dropped to 270.
But the Steelers scooped him up days after their loss in last year's AFC championship and immediately told him they were moving him to outside linebacker.
“I dropped like 20 pounds as soon as I walked in the door,” Huguenin said last week.
He also adjusted to rushing from a standing position instead of with a hand on the ground. It meant developing coverage skills, too.
It's tough to evaluate Huguenin's progress after taking, typically, third-team reps at training camp and serving strictly on the scout team during the regular season. But teammates noticed the athleticism — his NFL-reported pro day broad jump and vertical jump were among the best for defensive linemen in his draft class — and the Steelers not only kept him around all season, they quickly gave him a reserve/future contract the day after this season ended.
“He's been doing good,” Dupree said. “He's dropped a lot of weight since he came here and gotten way better in space. He's gotten better on his feet. He was a down 3-4 inside guy, so coach (Mike) Tomlin and (Porter) did a lot of work with him and he's doing great.”
Huguenin played with two future NFL outside linebackers in college: Dupree and the Baltimore Ravens' Za'Darius Smith. He said he took reps at outside linebacker in college on occasion, “but I can probably count them on two hands.”
“But I was learning from those guys. I was always around it, so I knew kind of what to expect.”
What was a crowded outside linebackers room in December all of a sudden is much smaller. James Harrison was cut in December. Arthur Moats is an unrestricted free agent, and Anthony Chickillo a restricted free agent.
Though the team most likely will address the position in the draft and/or free agency, an opening appears to be there for Huguenin. Does he see a future for himself in Pittsburgh?
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “As long as I keep working hard and keep developing, I just see myself keep moving forward.
“I don't make (roster decisions). I just have to keep my head down and keep working.”