5 hot topics to continue monitoring during Steelers OTAs

Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers, Steelers / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

As the 2024 OTAs begin for the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are a lot of questions for the team to answer before they take the field in Atlanta on September 8. With new quarterbacks, coaches, and draft picks, these OTAs will be a proving ground for a lot of the roster.

But what are the most pressing issues and the biggest questions for the Steelers during OTAs? Here are the top five hot topics to continue monitoring through June 6.

1. Who takes hold of the quarterback position?

During the 2023 season, the Steelers received below-average quarterback play from Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky before turning to Mason Rudolph, who led a charge to the playoffs. With Rudolph departing for Tennessee in free agency, Trubisky released and Pickett traded to the other side of the state, the quarterback room was left wide open.

Enter Russell Wilson and Justin Fields.

Wilson, after being released by the Broncos following an up-and-down couple of seasons in Denver, signed with the Steelers for a veterans minimum in March. A couple of days later, the Steelers traded a sixth-round pick to the Chicago Bears for Fields, a former first-round pick. Both Wilson and Fields needed a change in scenery entering the 2024 season and they got it. Now both will compete for the starting quarterback gig in Pittsburgh.

This question won't be answered during OTA's. The competition will linger into training camp, preseason, and the regular season as well. But OTA's will provide the first big opportunity for both quarterbacks to make their case for the starting spot and will definitely be something to watch closely.

2. Which wide receivers will step up?

The Steelers surprised a lot of people when they traded Diontae Johnson to the Carolina Panthers for Donte Jackson in March. Johnson had taken a lot of flack from fans for his drops and interesting decisions with the ball after catching it. But Johnson was a solid WR2, a great route runner who complimented George Pickens well. With him gone, the Steelers wide receiver room looks very thin.

Pickens will slot into the WR1 spot and has all the talent to succeed in that role, given good quarterback play. But who will join him in making a difference at that position? Roman Wilson, the Steelers third-round pick out of Michigan, seems like a good bet to do so.

Wilson projects to be a slot receiver for the Steelers, whose speed, route running, and YAC ability give him all the skills needed to contribute right away. Outside of Wilson, the rest of the room lacks pedigree. Calvin Austin III, Quez Watkins, and Van Jefferson seem like the next group up, with none of them fitting the typical WR2 mold.

The Steelers could always make a move for another wide receiver via trade, but until that happens, this is the room currently and it will be very interesting to see who steps up to support Pickens at the wide receiver position.

3. Arthur Smith's new system

When the Steelers hired Smith to be their new offensive coordinator, the move was met with pessimism from fans. Smith was the head coach in Atlanta before being fired in January and took a lot of criticism for his usage (or lack of) of his position players like Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson. Entering this season, it'll be a fresh start for Smith and the Steelers offense.

The Steelers' offensive woes the past few seasons have been well documented, with former offensive coordinator Matt Canada's system drawing the ire of fans, media members, and former players alike. The Steelers have built an offense predicated on running the ball and should've used more play action off of that. Canada didn't like running play-action concepts, but Smith does.

During his time in Tennessee as offensive coordinator, the Titans' offense succeeded at a high rate due to running the ball well with Derrick Henry and utilizing play-action concepts off of that. In 2019, the Titans attempted 116 pass attempts off of play action, according to Pro Football Reference. Last season, the Steelers attempted 66 passes off of play action.

That aspect of Smith's system will be one to watch during OTA's. It's hard to imagine the Steelers offense being worse than it was in 2023 and Smith's system will be a big determining factor in that. Getting our first look at that during OTA's will be a big topic of discussion.

4. Inside linebacker situation

The Steelers have been trying to replace the production of Ryan Shazier for 7 years now. And entering 2024, they may have the room to do so.

The addition of Patrick Queen from the rival Baltimore Ravens is a huge signing for the team. Elandon Roberts returns as well and Cole Holcomb is on the road to recovery from a gruesome knee injury suffered last season. Payton Wilson, a third-round pick out of North Carolina State, has first-round talent if he can stay healthy in the NFL. Heck, even Mark Robinson returns, though he could be looking for a new home if everyone else plays well this offseason.

All of this is to say that the Steelers may have an underrated inside linebacker room this year given how the group played last year through numerous injuries and the additions of Queen and Wilson. OTA's will give us our first look at Wilson in the NFL and a chance to see how he gels with the rest of the defense.

Steelers fans should keep an eye on the inside linebackers at OTA's, as their performance will be a big factor in how the defense as a whole plays.

5. Who will step up to be CB2 opposite of Joey Porter Jr.?

This question may seem like it has an obvious answer, as the Steelers traded for veteran cornerback Donte Jackson this offseason. Jackson has 14 career interceptions and has started 76 games. However, the 2023 season was the only season of Jackson's career without an interception and he received a 64.3 PFF grade, ranking him 64th out of 127 qualified cornerbacks last season.

Jackson was an average cornerback last season and he isn't getting any younger. The rest of the cornerback room is full of questions.

Anthony Averett is a veteran who's bounced around a couple of teams, posting 3 interceptions in 2021 with the Ravens. However, he didn't make an NFL roster last season and was cut twice. Cory Trice Jr. was a seventh-round pick out of Purdue last year. He impressed in offseason workouts before tearing his ACL in early August, adding to a litany of injuries for him. Darius Rush, Thomas Graham Jr., and Ryan Watts have minimal to no NFL experience.

The Steelers need Jackson to step up and man the CB2 position on the opposite side of Joey Porter Jr. If he doesn't it could be a long season for the back end of the Steelers' defense.