NFL Insider Speculates Why Steelers Rookies Aren’t Playing More Snaps

Mike Tomlin

Getty NFL insider Aditi Kinkhabwala speculated as to why head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing their rookies more early this season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 draft class arrived with a tremendous amount of hype — perhaps the most hype of any draft class in Steelers history.

But through three games, Pittsburgh’s rookies haven’t really lived up to their lofty expectations. Granted, they haven’t played poorly, but in general, the team’s rookies aren’t playing as many snaps as fans expected prior to the season.

While appearing on The Chipped Ham and Football Podcast, CBS Sports’ Aditi Kinkhabwala tried to answer why the Steelers haven’t been more willing to have their rookies play more early in the 2023 season.

“If you throw someone out there before they are fully, completely ready, before they’ve had the full benefit of the preparation that you can offer them, it can completely change the way they approach, attack, ascend in their career,” Kinkhabwala said. “So I think if you have a little wiggle room to allow someone to prepare, then that can only be a good thing.”

Put more simply, Kinkhabwala said, “You don’t get a debut back.”

Is It Time for the Steelers to Start Broderick Jones at LT?

The Steelers opened the 2023 season against the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Las Vegas Raiders. Those three teams have three of the best pass rushers in the NFL (at least among the ones not named T.J. Watt) — Nick Bosa, Myles Garrett and Maxx Crosby.

With that in mind, it wasn’t surprising to see the Steelers elect to start veterans Dan Moore and Chukwuma Okorafor at left and right tackle, respectively. Jones, who was the No. 14 overall pick, has dressed for all three games, but he’s played only 4 snaps on offense.

Kinkhabwala explained that with the Steelers winning, now isn’t the time to switch to Jones.

“If their feeling is that Broderick Jones isn’t that much better than the tackle that is starting, than either of the tackles who are starting, then maybe it’s worth investing in his development a little bit,” said Kinkhabwala.

“If the Steelers feel right now that they can win, not just get by, but they can win with someone else at corner, with someone else at left tackle, then why not? Why not let your guys get a little bit of seasoning.”

Otherwise, if the Steelers start Jones before he’s fully ready, she says then they are risking him struggling. Should that happen, then head coach Mike Tomlin will be faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to go back to Moore at left tackle.

Kinkhabwala argued inserting Jones in the lineup only to then remove him because of poor play could have a tremendous negative impact on his development.

The Athletic’s Mike DeFabo weighed the pros and cons with starting Jones in Week 4. DeFabo argued that Moore has improved each week. Moore only allowed 1 sack against the vaunted lineup of pass rushers to begin the season, and that came in Week 1.

However, the Steelers line overall hasn’t been great in pass protection. Pittsburgh has allowed 53 quarterback pressures, which is fourth-most in the NFL according to TruMedia.

Kinkhabwala Says Lack of Playing Time for Steelers Rookies ‘Is Not Permanent’

Without an opportunity, Jones hasn’t been able to prove he deserves more playing time. The same, though, can’t be said for Pittsburgh’s other rookies.

Cornerback Joey Porter Jr., who was the No. 32 overall pick, has seen his playing time increase every week, and he’s played well. His coverage on a fourth-down pass sealed the victory against the Browns in Week 2.

During Week 3, Porter held his own against Davante Adams, who torched the Steelers secondary for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Against Porter, Adams had 1 catch for 12 yards (on three coverage snaps).

Defensive tackle Keeanu Benton, who was the No. 49 pick in the second round, also flashed his skills against the Raiders. Benton recorded his first career sack despite only playing 21 snaps.

Still, Kinkhabwala implied patience is of the utmost importance for the Steelers rookie class. Then sooner or later, they will be ready for significant roles.

“Everything I’ve heard about these rookies, this is not a permanent situation,” Kinkhabwala said about the lack of playing time for the Steelers rookies. “At some point, those guys are certainly going to be pushing for more playing time.

“And at some point, it’s not going to be so close anymore. It’s not going to be an all things equal, let the young guys season. It’s going to be we have to play the young guy.”

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