5 players to watch heading into Steelers OTAs | TribLIVE.com

5 players to watch heading into Steelers OTAs

Joe Rutter
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to pass in the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, in Cincinnati.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers convene Tuesday at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first of 10 OTA sessions, they are expected to have 91 players on hand.

Here are five who will be in the spotlight over the next month:

1. Ben Roethlisberger. It won’t just be what Roethlisberger says when he arrives for OTAs – he hasn’t spoken to the media horde since the end of the season – it will be about how long he sticks around this spring.

Last year, Roethlisberger showed up for the first OTA session and then missed the next seven because of a previously scheduled family vacation. This apparently upset Antonio Brown, who also left town after seeing that his quarterback wasn’t practicing with the team.

This year, with Brown playing in Oakland, Roethlisberger can use OTAs to build a rapport with newcomers Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson and tight end Zach Gentry while continuing to develop chemistry with second-year receiver James Washington.

2. James Washington. He is expected to take Brown’s spot in the starting lineup. Washington was one of the pleasant surprises of offseason workouts and training camp last year when he rarely missed a pass. That continuity didn’t carry over into the regular season, and Washington struggled until finding his footing in the final month. OTAs will be a chance for Washington to show he is deserving of a spot alongside starter JuJu Smith-Schuster.

3. Devin Bush. The first-round draft pick was barking out signals on the first day of rookie minicamp, an indication of how quickly he began digesting the playbook. Whether he gets to remain on the field with the first team will bear watching as OTAs progress. Last year, the Steelers deferred to a veteran and had Tyler Matakevich working with the first-team inside linebackers at OTAs. It wasn’t until training camp that newcomer Jon Bostic got his chance. As they begin a second year without Ryan Shazier, the Steelers might not want to take their time indoctrinating their shining new start into their system. Mark Barron is this year’s version of Bostic, but the Steelers didn’t take Bush with the No. 10 overall pick to have him play with the backups.

4. Artie Burns. The former first-round pick lost his confidence as well as his starting job last year, and the Steelers, as expected, did not pick up his fifth-year contract option. Veteran Steven Nelson was brought aboard to start opposite Joe Haden, and the Steelers used a third-round draft pick to take Michigan State’s Justin Layne. Where does that leave Burns? That question will become clearer as OTAs progress.

5. Bud Dupree. The Steelers picked up Dupree’s fifth-year option at $9.2 million last spring, and it became guaranteed in March. That’s a significant investment in a player who needed four seasons to accumulate 20 sacks while fellow starter T.J. Watt reached that number in two. The Steelers like the other things Dupree does at outside linebacker, such as dropping into coverage, but he was drafted in the first round to rush the passer. This will be his last chance to turn his potential into production.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Steelers
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