With Pads On, Adeniyi Shines at Steelers Camp

OLB nearly dominates famed backs-on-backers drill

Josh Rowntree
July 28, 2019 - 9:07 pm

A year ago, Steelers outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi began to make a name for himself due to his likeness to former pass rusher James Harrison.

After all, Adeniyi wears Harrison’s number 92, plays the same position and went undrafted out of an Ohio-based MAC school. He even rocks a dark visor on his helmet, just like Harrison.

A year later, Adeniyi has again turned heads and drawing those comparisons.

The Steelers put pads on for the first time since their Week 17 win over Cincinnati last season, a long awaited moment for many, especially Adeniyi, who had his rookie season heavily impacted by injury.

The highlight of the padded practices is the backs-on-backers drill, in which linebackers try to rush the quarterback, and it is up to running backs and tight ends to stop them. 

“It was definitely fun,” said Adeniyi, who went eight times in the drill and stole the show, coming close to dominating anyone who stood in his way. “The first day you put on pads, we all knew what was coming, so to be able to go out there and show what I can do is pretty good.”

At the end of the drill, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called for Adeniyi to face rookie running back Benny Snell.

Adeniyi won, but Snell made him work for it. 

Then Tomlin told them to go again. Similar result. 

And again. And Snell, made the third and final go the most competitive of the bouts. 

“I feel like I have him a pretty good look, as best as I could,” Snell said. “Ola’s a great defender. He has a lot of good moves.”

“He’s a young guy and he’s working up,” said Adeniyi, suggesting that he may taken all three battles. “(Snell) did good things out here, too… He was waiting for this day to come. Benny Snell got my attention.”

The swagger — and somewhat braggadocious demeanor — of Adeniyi really drives home those correlations to Harrison. But Adeniyi is not too welcoming of that kind of talk. 

“Yeah, I hear it,” he said. “I’m trying to make a name for myself. I don’t want to be compared to him. He’s one of the greats. I want my name to be a household name.”

Perhaps it will. But first, Adeniyi needs to prove that he can beat first string tackles and running backs, not rookie backups. Those chances will come. 

“I’m just being patient, Adeniyi said. “I’m going to do whatever I need to do just to get that opportunity. I’ll be ready for it.”

A year ago, Adeniyi, who was born in Nigeria, played high school football in Texas and pro ball at Toledo, was injured in the Steelers’ final preseason game. Due to the team’s lack of depth at outside linebacker at the time, he seemed a lock to make the 53-man roster. 

While he physically was unable to be a part of the team, he made sure to handle the mental aspects of the game as much as he could.

“I don’t think it slowed me down at all because I was in the meeting rooms there every day,” he said. “I didn’t miss a meeting. I was in there, learning. Since I couldn’t be out there, the most I could do was just learn the playbook and just sitting in the meeting rooms.”

Up next might be the opportunity to show more. Starting outside linebacker T.J. Watt has been dealing with a minor hamstring issue since the start of camp, so a spot could be open for Adeniyi to make an impression with the first team this week.

Needless to say, his confidence won’t change.

“Same as it is now,” he said. “I’ll just go in and play my heart out.”

Hear more from Ola Adeniyi below.