Veteran NT Montravius Adams is playing arguably the best football of his career now in his third season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has played well enough to maintain a starting job over rookie Keeanu Benton.
It seems unlikely, though, that job will be waiting for him by the time he returns from the ankle injury that is causing him to miss his second consecutive game in a row. Adams himself readily admitted that the second-round pick could have been a day-one starter. He’d better feel that way if he’s picking things up from the rookie.
“I keep helping him with little things, and, honestly, I’ve taken some little things from him”, he told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “He’s got a couple of things in the pass-rush department that I’ve been trying to steal. I still don’t think I can do some of them. He’s a hell of a player, and he’s only going to get better”.
Of course, one player being a rookie and the other a veteran doesn’t mean that the more experienced player can never learn from the younger. Even in the outside linebacker room, Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt have acknowledged rookie Nick Herbig has some things in his game they can incorporate into their own.
The 49th-overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, Benton has played consistently well in whatever role has been assigned to him on whatever workload. He is nearing 300 defensive snaps played on the season and is likely to play even more than that over the final eight weeks.
Seeing a career-high snap count last week against the Green Bay Packers due to Adams’ injury, Benton also had arguably his best game with six tackles and multiple hits on the quarterback. He also had a batted pass, the first of his career.
“I’m just happy he beat up on Green Bay,” Adams admitted, who was drafted by the Packers in the third round in 2017, but was stuck behind Kenny Clark for playing time. “I couldn’t do it, but I’m so proud of him and happy that he did something for me”.
There are plenty of other teams for Benton to beat up on in his future as well, with the Cleveland Browns being the next item on the menu. The AFC North rivals, however, have a stout offensive interior, so this will mark a significant challenge, particularly against guards Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio.
There’s a good chance that by the time Adams works his way back from the ankle injury he’s dealing with, Benton will be the starting nose tackle. The Steelers’ first two draft picks this year have already taken on full-time roles over established veterans. In the event that happens, Adams will have plenty of opportunities to watch and learn how the rookie does it.