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Labriola on T.J., L.T., Dobbs

Posted Aug 4, 2017

It's been a good start for T.J. Watt and L.T. Walton, and a promising one for Joshua Dobbs.

LATROBE, Pa. – Ready or not, here it comes:

* For T.J. Watt, so far, so good.

* One of the questions that hangs over the heads of all rookies is, “Does he get it?” And “it” can represent any number of individual things that all eventually fall under the umbrella of knowing how to be a professional. Nutrition, rest, practice habits, fighting through the mundane so as to get something out of the time being spent here.

* Watt doesn’t have it all figured out, not by any stretch, but he’s also not as clueless as some newbies appear to be during their first week in an NFL training camp.

* I remember Kevin Greene consistently making the point that when it comes to rushing the passer in the NFL, the guy doing it has to establish at some point some level of physical dominance over the guy blocking him. In other words, if you’re not willing to lower your shoulder and try to run a pass-blocker over once in a while, none of your other moves will have a chance to work.

* Backs-on-backers was an early part of the first day in pads, and in his first repetition in the drill. T.J. Watt aimed for the spot between the two numbers on the front of the blocker’s practice jersey and went for it. Boom. When he would later come back with a move to try to get around a different guy, the message he had sent with that initial charge helped the move work.

* One of the mistakes young pass-rushers tend to make is that they’re always trying to win with finesse moves, they’re trying to win by playing basketball on grass, in a manner of speaking. Watt arrived here with some moves, which will be enhanced by a level of understanding of hand usage that belies his inexperience, but what will help him just as much, if not more, is a willingness to run through a blocker to make the opponent respect his power.

* There have been seasons where defensive line depth has been an issue for the Steelers, but based on what has happened during the first week here, 2017 doesn’t look like it will be one of those.

* The starters are set. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt at defensive end, with second-year pro Javon Hargrave at nose tackle. Those players at those positions have been established since the end of the 2016 season, and then in the offseason the Steelers signed unrestricted free agent Tyson Alualu, a former No. 1 pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

* Alualu didn’t participate much during the on-field portion of the offseason program because the Steelers were being cautious with a minor injury, and the strategy paid off because he hasn’t missed a session since arriving here for training camp. Maybe over-drafted by the Jaguars, Alualu looks to be a very nice addition to this defensive line. He is versatile and adds some oomph as a pass-rusher.

* But the best surprise so far has been former sixth-round pick L.T. Walton. The Steelers were forced to play him in spots last year as a defensive end following the season-ending injury to Heyward, and by the end of the season they were beginning to believe they had something in Walton.

* During the offseason program, Walton has learned nose tackle, and this added versatility has increased his value while also making him more dangerous competition for a roster spot. And during a recent training camp practice, Walton showed he has range as well as position-flexibility when he sprinted into the secondary to lay a hard hit on a receiver out of the backfield following a completed pass.

* With Senquez Golson again watching from the sideline, this time with a hamstring injury, rookie Cam Sutton has been seeing time as a slot cornerback, and another guy who could be taking advantage of the situation is veteran Coty Sensabaugh. Signed as an unrestricted free agent, Sensabaugh has been noticeably combative in coverage.

* Guys like Sensabaugh and Alualu and wide receiver Justin Hunter have flashed during this initial phase of the process, but it’s going to take some time before it becomes clear whether what they’re really exhibiting is anything more than simple professional experience. As Mike Tomlin has said about Hunter, “I think we remember that although he’s new to us, he’s going into his fifth year in the National Football League. It shows from time to time.”

* One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. So says Tomlin often about the give-and-take of training camp injuries, and rookie quarterback Joshua Dobbs has found himself on the receiving end of a significant increase in practice repetitions since Landry Jones has been sidelined with what was described as an abdominal injury.

* Like most rookie quarterbacks, Dobbs has been wildly inconsistent, but on the plus-side that description contains enough examples of good things to keep it interesting. There have been some good decisions and some nice throws, but invariably there also have been some ugly ducklings and what-was-he-thinking moments as well. Add it all up, though, and it spells p-r-o-m-i-s-e.

* Which is what this phase of the process is all about.