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Offseason Program

Football-like revelations

The series of football-like activities the Steelers completed last week were far from definitive.

But that's not to suggest nothing of importance was gleaned from three weeks of OTAs and three days of Mandatory Veteran Minicamp.

In no particular order of importance, here are 8 observations/slash/revelations that resonate:

Take a look at the best photos of the 2021 Steelers minicamp at Heinz Field

-Second-year pro Antoine Brooks Jr., a sixth-round pick last season who played in four games as a rookie (29 defensive snaps), is first in line to replace Mike Hilton as the "nickel" cornerback.

-Brooks will have to play a physical game and demonstrate an affinity for blitzing if he hopes to pick up where Hilton left off, as will anyone who aspires to wind up in that role. The names are changing but not the way the Steelers intend to play defense. Slot blitzes became a signature of Hilton's but the next man up will also have to have that club in his bag.

-The initial plan is for Cameron Sutton to play outside in Steven Nelson's old spot, not bounce back and forth between outside and inside, as Sutton did last season. The Steelers know what Sutton can do no matter where he lines up. How he's ultimately deployed will depend mostly on the perceived reliability of the other options inside and outside.

-If Sutton ends up having to play inside in sub-packages, either as the nickel or in the six-defensive backs "dime" role he fulfilled last season (Sutton was tasked with handling that even when opening a game outside in place of either Nelson or Joe Haden), the expectation will be that either James Pierre or Justin Layne will be capable as a sub-package outside cornerback. Both are perceived as good enough if it comes to that assuming both continue to make the necessary progress in a timely fashion at training camp.

-JuJu Smith-Schuster will play outside wide receiver more than in the slot, as he desires, if it's determined that gives the Steelers the best chance to win games. Where and how Smith-Schuster will be utilized, and everyone else, for that matter, will depend first and foremost on achieving the desired outcome, not adhering to a specific play, formation, scheme or philosophy.

-Najee Harris' Najee Harris' only apparent flaw, other than an understandable overall lack of NFL polish, is his work ethic doesn't have an off-switch. In addition to honing his multi-faceted craft, Harris needs to learn to relax. Good problem to have.

-Ben Roethlisberger attributed his inconsistency and acknowledged below-the-line-at-times play late last season to "feeling worn down." That sounds like something the Steelers would want to prevent from happening again if possible, and something that will be worth monitoring as the upcoming season progresses as much if not more than Roethlisberger's surgically-repaired right elbow.

-Two-time, First-Team All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick isn't resting on his laurels, and instead intends to do even more. His stated goal is to assert himself as a leader this season. Fitzpatrick has been doing so initially by emphasizing the need to build a strong foundation through attention to details such as fundamentals, an invaluable example in a transitioning secondary.

Take a look at the best black and white photos of the 2021 Steelers minicamp