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94th East/West Shrine Game: News, updates and open thread

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 2:16pm

Join the conversation during the East/West game!

The college football all star season is upon us with the playing of the 94th Annual East/West Shrine game. The game will be played on Saturday the 19th in St. Petersburg Florida at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The game can be seen on NFL Network.

Players of Interest East Offense

85 WR DaMarkus Lodge - Mississippi 6’2” 204

78 OT Tyree St Louis - Miami 6’5’ 315

East Defense

6 Derek Baity Jr. - CB Kentucky 6’3” 188

2 Delvon Randall - S Temple 6’1” 215

40 Khalil Hodge - LB Buffalo 6’1” 235

28 Michael Jackson Sr. - CB Miami 6’1” 205

91 Jordan Brailford - EDGE OK State 6’3” 250

West Offense

4 Brett Rypien - QB Boise St 6’2” 202

2 KeeSean Johnson - WR Fresno St 6’2” 199

West Defense

31 Montre Hartage - CB Northwestern 6’ 195

45 Landis Durham - EDGE Texas A&M 6’3” 255

49 Derick Roberson - EDGE Sam Houston St 6’4” 250

27 Andrew Wingard - Safety Wyoming 6’ 214

T.J. Watt talks improvement, and the disappointing Steelers 2018 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 1:58pm

For T.J. Watt, the 2018 season was a wake-up call.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had high hopes for the 2018 season. After a 13-3 2017 season in his rookie season, T.J. Watt was ready for bigger and better things in 2018 — especially a deep playoff push.

None of that happened as the Steelers plunged to mediocrity after a six game winning streak dropped their record to 7-2-1, only to finish the season with a 9-6-1 record. Throughout the 2018 season one thing became evident — Watt has the look of a cornerstone player on the defense.

When he was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, some experts viewed the pick as a reach. However, when Watt produced 13 sacks in 2018, the first outside linebacker to reach double digit sacks since James Harrison did it almost a decade ago, the future looks extremely bright for the former Wisconsin product.

As the Steelers moved away from marquee names from those legendary 2000s defenses, they struggled to find players who could fill those monstrous shoes. When James Harrison, James Farrior, Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and even Brett Keisel all left, what ensued were several failed attempts to fill those spots.

Until Watt happened.

Watt has the look, and is now showing the improvement and production, of the next great Steelers defender to wear the black-and-gold.

After the season, Steelers.com spoke with Watt about the 2018 season, how disappointing it was, and where Watt goes from here. They do these type of interviews every season, but Watt gives thoughtful, and candid, answers to shine some light on where the defense goes from here.

Check out the interview below:

T.J. Watt recaps a humbling season, the art of the strip-sack, growing and learning as a defense and being more motivated than ever. #FaceTime pic.twitter.com/XFC230VxF9

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 14, 2019

The 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers WRs: Brimming with unfulfilled potential

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 12:32pm

The wide receiver group for the 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers Super Bowl team was the deepest and most underrated in team history.

I don't know if you have heard, but this off season for the Pittsburgh Steelers has gotten off to a rather tumultuous start. No need to revisit all the hoopla of the last few weeks as it has no bearing on this article. I will say that there has been alot of speculation concerning what the Steelers roster will look like going into next season, especially at the wide receiver positions. That got me reminiscing about all the great receivers who have donned a Steelers uniform.

This years tandem of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith Schuster was the best in the league, but not the best tandem in team history. That distinction still belongs to Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

When I started to identify the most underrated receivers in team history my mind immediately recalled the 1995 Super Bowl team and their impressive receiver group. They were a diverse collection of talent and they went five deep. That is what made them so special, their depth. There hasn't been a team since that could match it.

The group was lead by Pro Bowl stud Yancey Thigpen. Thigpen was the complete package, everything you could want in a receiver. He possessed size, speed, strength, and a excellent set of hands. He could over power a defender who attempted to jam him on his release, and he had enough speed to make them pay on the deep ball. Thigpen had a lot in common with Louis Lipps, another talented Steelers receiver who played about a decade earlier. The only thing that hindered them from ranking even higher on the list of Steelers greats was the shoddy play of their quarterbacks. I would have loved to have seen them play with a QB the caliber of Bradshaw or Ben.

The other starting receiver was a more fluid situation. It could change from week to week, often based on the opponent and the corresponding game plan. If the team was going to utilize a run heavy scheme, per usual, they would start youngster Charles Johnson due to his superior blocking skills. If the game plan called for a more aerial attack, they would start KR specialist Ernie Mills for his ability to stretch the field.

Charles Johnson was the Steelers first round pick in 1994 from Colorado and obviously was expected to be the next Steelers great. While that plan never came to fruition, he was a solid professional who developed into a well rounded receiver. He was the poster child for a player who could do a lot of things well, but no one thing great. Although he was never quite able to justify that first round selection, he was a tough and durable competitor. High character teammate as well. Made more than his share of clutch catches during his Steelers career.

Ernie Mills was a former third round selection in 1991 out of Florida who had been a classic underachiever up till the 1995 season. He had always flashed more potential than production, but that season he found his groove. He displayed a nose for the football, a knack for getting over the top of the defense, and a tendency to find himself open in the endzone. Ernie caught 8 touchdowns on only 39 receptions. That was by far the best season of his career and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Steelers. He never approached those numbers again in his career, but he was a difference maker that season.

The fourth receiver on the Steelers depth chart was a third round selection in 1993 out of Georgia named Andre Hastings. He was a possession receiver who did his best work out of the slot. He was an accomplished route runner who excelled on third downs. Not blessed with great speed, he was a shifty runner who racked up yards after the catch. This ability also allowed him to be a effective punt returner. He could have been a WR2 on alot of teams at that time, especially those who relied on a more aerial attack, and he would go on to prove just that later in his career. That season he was the consummate professional and always produced when called upon. His contributions that season should not be overlooked.

That is an impressive group of receivers right there, but what makes this group really stand out as the greatest group in Steelers history, maybe league history, is the player who didn't even want to be a receiver. A player so physically talented he could excel at multiple positions on the football field, even if he had never played the positions before in his collegiate career. His name was Kordell Stewart, but everybody called him Slash. He had been drafted in the second round of the 1995 draft out of Colorado as a QB. He had made it known he only wanted to play QB, but consented to being utilized as a multi purpose weapon to attack opposing defense due to his intense desire to see the field. Slash took the NFL by storm. Slash wasn't just a great athlete playing QB. He had a great throwing arm, the size and running ability of a RB, and the speed and agility of a WR. The threat of his mere presence on the field scared defensive coordinators to death and opened up the complete playbook for the Steelers. Slash would eventually give way to Kordell as the Steelers honored their promise to play him at QB, but I have often wondered what would have happened if he would have stayed at WR, or as the one and only Slash.

As we are all too aware, that 1995 season ended in utter disappointment for our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers and all of Steelers Nation. I will forever hold a certain level of disdain for one Mr. Neil O'Donnell and picture him in my mind sitting in a secluded cabin somewhere deep in the woods, laughing fiendishly, all the while tossing obscene amounts of money into the air he received from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. I apologize for getting off point, forgive me. The pain is real, brothers and sisters.

I believe the 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers assembly of wide receivers is the best in team history and is underrated and underappreciated. They may just be the best group ever. What do you think? If not, who do you think was better?

Chukwuma Okorafor preparing for rehab after successful offseason surgery

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 11:30am

The Steelers rookie posted pictures confirming surgery on Friday, the second player to announce they had undergone a medical procedure this offseason.

While most players will be able to enjoy the rest and relaxation that comes with the opening few weeks of the offseason, for some it can be the start of a painful part of the year. For those who were dealing with injuries significant enough to require postseason surgery, it is often the time they will be scheduled to go under the surgeons knife.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it would appear that one of those players is rookie offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor in 2019 after he posted a picture of himself in a hospital bed following surgery on Friday.

Surgery was a success now time to recover pic.twitter.com/PDHRGx9fpD

— Chukwuma Okorafor (@Chuks__76) January 18, 2019

Although there has been no official word on the procedure he had done, it seems reasonable to assume from the photograph that is was related to his right shoulder. It is also worth noting that the rookie tackle missed some time during training camp with a shoulder problem and was mentioned in an injury roundup by Mike Tomlin after a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers as needing evaluation for a shoulder issue.

View this post on Instagram

All Gods Plan #roadtorecovery

A post shared by Chukwuma Okorafor (@chukss) on Jan 18, 2019 at 11:50am PST

With Okorafor reporting the surgery was successful, hopefully he can be fully healed by the time training camp opens in July, even if he is still limited during OTA’s that can begin as early as April 15.

The rookie lineman is not the only name to have undergone surgery this offseason after wide receiver Ryan Switzer confirmed he had received ankle surgery earlier in the month.

Much better today. Glad I had it man. I was battling through that ankle all year. https://t.co/XMmsYXI8xO

— Ryan Switzer (@Switz) January 6, 2019

Antonio Brown donates six heated football benches to his former college worth over $100,000

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 10:00am

For once there is some positive news to share about the Steelers star receiver this offseason.

While Antonio Brown has been in the news on an almost daily basis for all the wrong reasons since the Pittsburgh Steelers season ended, it is perhaps telling that an event from this week that paints him in a positive light has gone largely unreported after he made a generous donation to his alma mater.

Central Michigan University announced on Friday that they had been given a major gift from the Steelers star receiver, a donation that came in the form of six new Dragon Seats heated benches valued at $105,000. A gift University Director of Athletics Michael Alford was extremely grateful to receive.

”I want to thank Antonio for this generous gift. Right after we announced Coach McElwain’s hire, Antonio and his team reached out to see what they could do to help make our program better. I know this is a product that Antonio really values and helps him during games, so it was a natural choice when deciding on a project that will have the biggest impact on our student-athletes.”

Sentiments echoed by CMU’s new head coach Jim McElwain.

“Being able to have a top-of-the-line product that is used by most NFL teams is a huge asset for us and will help our players perform at their best. It also means a lot for Antonio to invest in the success of our student-athletes and help them flourish just like he did during his time at CMU.”

Brown was just happy to be able to support the college that helped him become the player he is today.

“These benches really help me stay loose and ready to perform no matter the conditions and I am excited to see how they help current and future Chippewas succeed. CMU will always be a special place for me and I am happy to be able to give back.”

And having spent more than enough time in the cold on the sidelines in Michigan, Brown is acutely aware of how much these heated benches will improve the players game day experience during the winter.

View this post on Instagram

Such an honor to be able to donate six heated Dragon Seats to my alma mater @cmuathletics ! I recall my days being surrounded by only one heater in the middle of winter games freezing with my teammates! Dragon Seats are the only manufacturer of heated football benches used by the National Football League. What an honor to be the first to give to my alma mater ! Excited about the future of CMU Football the Championship Culture ! "With Coach McElwain taking over the program, I wanted to do something that would help the players perform at their best," These benches really help me stay loose and ready to perform no matter the conditions and I am excited to see how they help current and future Chippewas succeed. CMU will always be a special place for me and I am happy to be able to give back." Honored #FireUp #Boomin #Browntown #CallGod #ABliveyourvisionFoundation #CMU

A post shared by Antonio Brown (@ab) on Jan 18, 2019 at 8:12am PST

If not for his recent troubles in Pittsburgh, it is likely you would have already seen this story reported by multiple outlets at both a national and local level by now, especially in light of the attention given to his more obscure social media posts. But at the time of writing, it is interesting to note that there has been far less coverage of this donation that there was for a tweet he made earlier in the month that merely included an emoji.

The NFL sure does love when a plan comes together for Conference Championship weekend

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 8:52am

Conference Championship weekend has worked out exactly how the NFL envisioned. No matter who wins this weekend, the NFL can't lose.

The 2018 season has proven to be a success story for the NFL, a result that probably came as a complete surprise to many prognosticators. The NFL's marketing department was faced with a dilemma. After decades of utilizing highlight reels of knockout collisions to advertise their product, they were no longer able to capitalize on the raw brutality of the professional game because of pending lawsuits pertaining to CTE claims and their corresponding commitment to the Heads Up program. The league quickly implemented a new gameplan to entertain the masses, because that is what the NFL is at it's core. A multi-billion dollar entertainment entity.

So the rules committee created new rules designed to not only improve player safety but increase the level of difficulty for defenses all across the league. If you are no longer able to pull them in with the promise of cringe worthy violence, offer them the opportunity to witness mind blowing statistics and near constant scoring. That should be enough to keep the casual fan entertained and all the fantasy football crowd glued to their devices. At first glance, you would have to say "Mission accomplished" .

Anytime the top four seeds are getting ready to duke it out in the conference championship games, it legitimizes the importance of the regular season. When the four remaining teams just so happen to be the top four scoring teams during the regular season, it confirms the leagues commitment to increase scoring and their belief that increased scoring would equate to winning for the franchises able and willing to adapt.

Now your final four contenders are a deserving and diversified group. All four franchises have lifted the Lombardi Trophy at some point in their history and each team is being lead by a innovative HC and a franchise QB. The quarterbacks are particularly interesting.

On one hand you have the old GOAT, Patriots QB Tom Brady. A proven champion on multiple occasions, he is the alpha dog of the group. Nobody beats Father Time, but Brady seems to be giving him a pretty good run for his money. Every team in the league is waiting not so patiently for the inevitable decline in his game or for a chink to show in his armour. While Brady failed to have one of his MVP type seasons, he has had his usual moments of brilliance and was spectacular last week against the still shell shocked Chargers. Brady reminded me of Lebron James this season. Kinda bored with the grind of the regular season at this point of his career, but now energized since the post season is upon us. He seems recommitted to winning another Super Bowl, and while I sure hope he doesn't, I wouldn't bet against the man.

The other old dog of this group is everybody's favorite, Saints QB Drew Brees. Brees might just be the nicest guy in the league and is impossible not to like. The only time you can feel ok rooting against the man is when he is playing against your favorite team. I think it would fall outside the bounds of common human decency any other time. The Saints were the odds on preseason favorite to reach the conference championship game and they haven't disappointed. Brees is one of two individuals with a legitimate shot to take home NFL MVP honors this season, and it would be well deserved. He is still playing at the top of a Hall of Fame career and the all time passing yardage leader wants desperately to add a second Super Bowl title to his already impressive resume. He is surrounded by the best collection of talent he has ever had at his disposal, on both sides of the ball, and must be considered the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Brees has never lost a home playoff game to my knowledge, but he will have to overcome a rash of injuries to his offensive line to keep that streak alive.

That leaves us with two young pups trying to earn their place in the pack. Los Angeles Rams QB Jerad Goff and Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes have both taken the first stepping stone necessary to become a championship QB, winning your first playoff game. You can never win the whole shebang till you win that first playoff game. That proves to be the most difficult step for many young QBs, and their confidence will often skyrocket after achieving the milestone.

That confidence should serve Goff well as he leads his Rams into hostile territory to attempt to knockoff the team with the best record in the NFL this season. Goff enjoyed a breakout season last year, his sophomore campaign in the league, but he took his game to another level this season. Goff appears to have a very calm demeanor and remains cool under pressure, reminiscent of Hall of Fame great QB Joe Montana. That is truly high praise indeed, but that is who he reminds me of. Not a bad guy to pattern your game after.

That leaves us with likely 2018 NFL MVP Mahomes, who has enjoyed a truly magical season in his first season as a starting QB. He put up numbers not seen since a young Dan Marino tore through the NFL during his second season, and Mahomes lead the league in touchdown passes by a wide margin. He displayed a midus touch, in that everything he touched turned to gold. He is absolutely fearless, whether it is throwing no look passes or throwing with his left hand after escaping the sack. For Mahomes magical season to have a Cinderella ending he will have to first knock Brady out of the playoffs and off his throne. No small task indeed, but at least the game is in Kansas City.

No matter what happens in the games this weekend, this season has been a rousing success for the NFL and their future looks bright. It really couldn't have worked out much better if they would have planned it this way. Wait a second...you don't think?

Steelers fans, who are you rooting for in the Conference Championship Round of the NFL Playoffs?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 7:36am

The Steelers are out of the race, but don’t think fans don’t still have a strong rooting interest.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans, like almost every NFL fan base, are a rabid bunch. They love the black-and-gold, and at times love to hate the black-and-gold. However, when the Steelers aren’t a part of the equation, for whatever reason, the fans develop a strong bias for, and against, certain teams.

With that in mind, as the Conference Championship Round of the NFL Playoffs is about to kickoff tomorrow, I wonder who the majority of Steelers fans are rooting for in the games on Sunday. This isn’t who you think will win, but who you want to win.

There is a big difference there between the two.

As an example, I root against the New England Patriots for a multitude of reasons. Their cheating past, them constantly being a thorn in the side of the Steelers and ultimately because I get sick of hearing about them.

Call it petty, but I call it truthful.

I also was pleased when the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Los Angeles Rams last weekend. Why? I can’t stand their fan base, and don’t want either the Patriots or Cowboys to win a sixth Lombardi trophy to tie the Steelers in this category.

So, with that said, who are you rooting for in the games Sunday? Vote in the polls below, and always feel free to let us know why you you are rooting this way in the comment section below.

AFC Championship NFC Championship

A letter to Philip Rivers from a Steelers fan: You had two jobs to do, Philip...two jobs

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 5:51am

I’ve never liked Philip Rivers, the Chargers obnoxious veteran quarterback, but I was forced to cheer for him several times in recent weeks.

There’s only two things I hate in this world. People who hate other people they don’t really know and Philip Rivers.

Speaking of Rivers, the Chargers quarterback, NC State alum and a person who was so heavily coveted by former Steelers head coach—and fellow NC State alum—Bill Cowher leading up to the 2004 NFL Draft, Cowher almost did the unthinkable and not draft Ben Roethlisberger after Rivers went fourth, overall, I actually found myself cheering for him several times down the stretch of the 2018 regular season and into the playoffs.

Why would I do something so disgusting, so against my moral fiber? Rivers is just so darn obnoxious, a person who called LaMarr Woodley fat before Steelers fans thought it fashionable to do so.

Even an ex girlfriend of mine, someone who once thought a Pirate hit an inside the park home run because the ball went off the foul pole and landed back on the grass of PNC Park, knew of my contempt for Rivers way back in the day—”Rivers, isn’t that the quarterback you really hate, honey?”

Yes, my dear, it was....and still is.

So, again, why would I allow myself to root for such a man?

Simple: Rivers played a huge role in two things Steelers fans find near and dear to their hearts: the Steelers making the playoffs and the Patriots not winning the Super Bowl.

As Pittsburgh struggled down the stretch of the regular season, I think most fans took comfort in knowing the Ravens, the team closing in fast on first place in the AFC North, had road games remaining against both the Chiefs and Chargers to close out the year.

Two weeks after narrowly losing at Kansas City in overtime, the Ravens found themselves in Los Angeles to take on a Chargers team that had just defeated the Chiefs at Arrowhead and had a legit chance at the number one seed in the AFC.

The game took place on the night of December 22, 2018. It was a Saturday, and I was having some beers with a friend at Riley’s Pour House in Carnegie. I was so nervous about this game, I didn’t even allow myself to look up at the screen and hoped my fellow Steelers fans sitting at the bar wouldn’t ruin the evening with bad news.

They did. You know what they said? “I love how the Chargers have no interest in beating the Ravens and helping the Steelers out.”

Yeah, because the Chargers would much rather go into the playoffs as the fifth seed, have no home games at all and play three weeks in a row just to make it to the Super Bowl than have to deal with those totally dangerous—except against the Raiders—Steelers in the postseason.

Moving on.

After the Ravens defeated Los Angeles and Pittsburgh lost to the Saints the next day, I finally accepted that the handwriting was on the wall with regards to the Steelers making the playoffs (well, there was that strange week when I and many other Steelers fans rooted for the Browns).

But the consolation prize was cheering on the Chargers in the playoffs for some reason, mainly because they were taking on the Ravens and Patriots in back-to-back games.

As I watched Los Angeles easily dispose of the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on Wildcard Weekend (hmmm, maybe there was something to that whole not wanting the Steelers in the playoffs theory, after all), I found myself screaming things like, “Come on, that was roughing the passer, ref!!!!” And the quarterback I was sticking up for wasn’t Big Ben, it was Philip freakin’ Rivers.

Last week, I enlisted Rivers help in taking care of the seemingly annual task of preventing New England from capturing a sixth Lombardi trophy, thus allowing Steelers fans to continue to win most Internet arguments.

Unfortunately, Rivers and the rest of the Chargers played so terribly against the Patriots in the divisional round at Gillette Stadium, my friend got disgusted at halftime and made me watch a show called Fringe (that Anna Torv is a real looker).

Now I feel gross, gross for cheering for a man I’ve always had contempt for.

Never again, never again will I do such a thing....unless it helps the Steelers make the playoffs in 2019, of course.

Black and Gold Links: When it comes to coaches’ contracts, they aren’t the same as player deals

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 01/19/2019 - 4:47am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the Steelers fan base saw their interest rise when Art Rooney II said they hadn’t talk about a coaching extension for Mike Tomlin. But as was pointed out in the Tribune-Review, coaching contracts simply aren’t the same as player contracts. They don’t count towards the salary cap, and carry no dead money, or anything else like that. With that said, it makes all this coaching contract stuff sort of null-and-void.

Let’s get to the news:

Tim Benz: Steelers extending Mike Tomlin would mean nothing for his future

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

If you are someone like me, you embrace the idea of a Steelers head coaching change.

And if you are someone like me, you would have preferred to see Mike Munchak get the job. But that ship has sailed.

That’s not going to happen. It was never going to happen. Tomlin would have had to go 0-16. The whole team would have had to fail to show up for practice before the Bengals finale. And then maybe — maybe — Art Rooney II would’ve considered firing his coach.

But probably not. Perhaps he would’ve at least acknowledged that his team is a “circus.”

Despite plodding through six of the last eight seasons without a playoff victory, it’s safe to assume Rooney will give Tomlin a contract extension.

That’s just what the Steelers do. Or better said, don’t do.

Rooneys don’t fire coaches. Since Chuck Noll got hired in 1969, we’ve come closer to seeing a president — or two or three — impeached and removed from office than we have seen a Steelers coach fired.

Traditionally, Steelers head coaches tend to get a contract extension two years removed from the end of their deal. Tomlin’s is up in 2020. So, by Steelers standards, he’s up now.

If Tomlin doesn’t get an extension this year, in the Rooney universe, he’s entering a make-or-break campaign. The way the Steelers tend to do things: two years out becomes the de facto lame duck year.

And Rooney won’t let Tomlin languish in that “uncertainty.” Or, better said, that Steeler-coaching interpretation of the word.

”Those things we’ll get to sort of later in the offseason,’’ Rooney said of a new deal for his coach. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Which bridge? There’s a lot of them in this town. And they are often under construction.

Much like Tomlin’s defense.

But when Tomlin does inevitably get his contract extension in the upcoming months, I’m not going to get bent out of shape about it. Because it really doesn’t matter.

It’s not like Tomlin’s salary counts against the cap. It’s just Rooney’s money. And he has plenty of that.

Heck, he just gave Ryan Shazier $8.7 million out of the kindness of his heart. And, because he’s a good person, he’s probably going to keep paying Shazier for the foreseeable future.

For as loyal as Rooney is — and he is — he’s still a businessman. Just understand, Rooney’s loyalty to Tomlin is in the dollars. Not the years.

(For more, click the link in the headline...)

Art Rooney II: Steelers tried to extend Mike Munchak before 2018

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

A conversation between Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II had with Mike Munchak in December may have been a clue into his offensive line coach’s future plans.

Munchak left the Steelers last week after five seasons to accept the same job with the Denver Broncos. Munchak cited family reasons; his daughter and granddaughter live in Colorado.

Last month, Rooney said he and Munchak “lamented” working in a city different than where their grandchildren lived.

“Maybe that was a precursor of things to come because he went out and did something about it,” Rooney II said in an interview with 93.7 FM.

Munchak departed when his contract expired despite Rooney’s efforts to get him to stay in Pittsburgh. Rooney said he also tried to extend Munchak’s contract before the start of the season, so he couldn’t become a free agent.

“He preferred to do it his way,” Rooney said. “I don’t know how long he was thinking about trying to do this. Obviously, it was important to him at some point to get back to the same city as his daughter and granddaughter. … He has a right to make the decision on when he wants to pull the trigger on a contract.”

(For more, click the link in the headline...)

Steelers: No trade talks for Antonio Brown yet, haven’t spoken with WR

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

The Steelers are “not closing any doors” on Antonio Brown’s future but remain disappointed that they haven’t spoken to the All-Pro receiver since the season ended, according to team president Art Rooney II.

The team has not officially begun trade discussions involving Brown, who was benched in Week 17 for skipping a walk-through. Brown also had a flare-up with a teammate during the week. Asked whether Brown could return to the team if he shows contrition, Rooney said he’s open to options but added, “There aren’t many signs out there that that’s going to happen.”

”I’m not gonna sit here and disparage Antonio,” Rooney said during an interview with a group of local reporters Wednesday. “You have to remember he’s been one of the most productive receivers in the league for a long time now. He’s helped us win a lot of games over the last few years. Was it always done the way you’d like to see it done? No. But I don’t think he was a major distraction to the team up until the last weekend of the season. The proof is in the pudding for the most part.”

The lack of clarity and communication over what changed with Brown in Week 17 is concerning, Rooney said. Brown hasn’t publicly commented on his situation but has removed his team affiliation from his Twitter bio and is using social media to flirt with the San Francisco 49ers as a potential trade partner.

”I would have liked to have the opportunity to talk to him and understand where he is. Maybe that happens at some point,” Rooney said. “I’m very disappointed in where we are and what happened and don’t have a lot of good explanations for it as we sit here today.”

Brown took to Twitter again Wednesday, saying the Steelers “feel indifferent about me” and that he is keeping track of comments from the team, teammates and fans to “show me how they really feel!”

(For more, click the link in the headline...)

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Edition, Vol. 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 5:39pm

There is plenty to talk about regarding all things black-and-gold!

Several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night Open Thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring it back to Friday night — with a slight twist.

I liked the Saturday Six-Pack theme, so I decided to just take the six questions and move them to Friday night. Say hello to Friday Night Six-Pack of Steelers Questions and open thread!

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

  • I’ll ask at least four questions strictly related to the Steelers.
  • The rest of the questions could be about anything.
  • Be respectful.
  • Have fun talking about the Black-and-gold.

That’s it! With that out of the way, it’s time to get this party started. Hey, don’t act like you’ve never done a little Friday night drinking. Here goes:

1. List your winners for Conference Championship Round Weekend (straight up):

KC vs. NE
NO vs. LAC

2. Today is the anniversary of the 2008 AFC Championship game between the Steelers and Ravens at Heinz Field. What was your favorite moment of that game? And if you were there, please describe the atmosphere!

3. The Steelers left a lot out on the field in 2018. What was the WORST play of the year, in your opinion?

4. Likewise, the Steelers also made some tremendous plays in 2018. What was the BEST play of the year, in your opinion?

5. If the Steelers part with Antonio Brown, how high does receiver become on their offseason needs list?

6. Who is the most important player on the Steelers’ defense moving forward?

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Yeah, I said it: Why the Steelers shouldn’t extend Ben Roethlisberger

Steelers Burning Question: Who is more hated, Le’Veon or AB?

Steelers Preview: Breaking down the Offensive Line Depth chart for 2019 and MORE!

10 Things I Think I Thought while experiencing another Steelers-less weekend

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 1:43pm

Another weekend and the wait for the Steelers to return seems like an eternity.

Weird that though our season has ended, my thoughts have not. Here are ten of them:

  1. Given all the drama we went through through the season, one could almost pretend the season continues, since the drama does. Perhaps we could call it As the Stomach Turns, or The Bold and the Boomin’. Seriously, is this ever going to end?
  2. One down, one to go in the Lombardi elimination sweepstakes. I may just tune into the Chiefs/Patsie game, that’s how confident I am it will go our way. I will enjoy watching them lose. Which reminds me, who was it who boldly went out on a limb and predicted it would be the top two seeds in each conference? The same one who predicted Franco would play the hero against the Raiders in 1972, that’s who.
  3. I am grateful for the internet and the democratization of communication that it has wrought. I get to write about the Steelers, without having to outperform Ed Bouchette, Gerry Dulac or Bob Labriola. I hate, however, that the same tool gives voice to sundry tools piping in on our drama. Everyone has an opinion, including me. But now everyone’s opinion has an outlet. Everyone’s a theologian. And everyone’s a sportswriter.
  4. I want to share a whole thought in praise of Bud Dupree. During our opening four games he looked pretty bad. But he really turned it around. He may not be the next Greg Lloyd/Joey Porter/James Harrison, but he, to borrow a baseball term, was worth at least one win against replacement.
  5. Which reminds me, the 1974 draft is not the standard. It was a shocking outlier, never seen before or since. Before draft season begins in earnest let me encourage you to take a look at various draft classes since you’ve been paying attention to football. Not just the Steelers, but all teams. It will remind you what a crapshoot the whole thing is. As I like to say, there are far more busts in the draft than there are in Canton.
  6. Here’s a challenge for someone with too much time on their hands. See if you can construct a team of 6th round or later picks that are active that could beat a team of first rounders who are still playing, somewhere. I’ll start. Tom Brady at QB, AB at wide receiver. On the first round team, let’s go with Johnny Manziel (Canada is playing, sort of) and John Ross. See how it works? Crapshoot I tell ya.
  7. Never had the least interest in fantasy football. Don’t come @ me.
  8. Five years from now we may be terribly glad to have drafted Josh Dobbs or Mason Rudolph. Neither, I suspect, will end up in the Hall of Fame. One of them, I hope, will win a Lombardi. We have great reason to hope in the future after Big Ben. We shouldn’t automatically assume it will be the 80’s all over again. It may well be the 90’s when we had some excellent teams, led by non- HOF QBs, O’Donnell and Stewart.
  9. For all you Tomlin haters out there- if you want a lesson on quarterback coaching malfeasance, see Cowher and Stewart. The Chin destroyed Slash. That man could flat out play.
  10. And those of you wondering how I came to have such a beautiful wife, it’s because of something we haven’t experienced in the Jordan Berry era- I out-punted my coverage.

Pittsburgh Steelers Offseason Wish List: Inside linebacker

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 11:45am

In this series, we examine Pittsburgh’s most pressing offseason needs.

If you’re anything like me, you’re 1,000 percent over the ceaseless onslaught of acidic (and largely redundant) Antonio Brown narratives, which have violently pervaded the innermost reaches of our broader consciousness and metastasized into, like, pure vitriol and contempt. The abruptness with which Antonio Brown went from occasionally ill-tempered, but generally amiable superstar to most hated athlete in the city is stunning, and at this point the most expedient recourse may be a clean split.

But I don’t wanna talk about any of that because a) Brown can’t be moved until March, so any discourse regarding Brown from now until then will be thoroughly rooted in conjecture and b) Antonio Brown is my favorite Steeler ever, and I want him to come back. In the meantime, I’d like to discuss some other things I want, starting with a rangy, explosive, amorphous middle-of-the-formation defender with a skill set that’s multifaceted but mostly analogous to the one possessed by a box safety or modern inside linebacker. Functionally, what I’m seeking is a Ryan Shazier proxy.

I came to this realization sometime during the third quarter of the Steelers’ come-from-ahead loss to the Chargers back in Week 13—a loss that was heavily abetted by defensive coordinator Keith Butler’s unwavering commitment to a doomed game plan that involved deploying L.J. Fort in coverage against Keenan Allen, a near-consensus top-five receiver. In another universe, L.J Fort, thanks to his uncommon blend of size and athleticism, is a lockdown defender, one just as capable of flattening running backs as he is negating the impact of even the league’s most prolific vertical receiving threats. Three years ago, L.J. Fort was this unheralded, 23-year-old, diamond-in-the-rough linebacker with a high ceiling and a starter’s pedigree; today, in our current universe, L.J. Fort is, at best, a core special teams contributor. Also, he’s somehow 29 now. “L.J. Fort” is more of a concept—a suggestion, rather, of what the modern insider linebacker should look like—than he is a tangible entity.

Anyway, getting back on track, the Chargers scorched Pittsburgh’s defense and Allen feasted omnivorously on a rich diet of curl routes, out routes, and go routes. Presumably, Butler made the decision to put Fort on Allen because using middle linebackers to cover wide receivers—particularly larger receivers like Allen—is not a novel concept. However! Unlike, say, the Bears, the Panthers, or the Seahawks, the Steelers do not have apt personnel to do this effectively. (Of course, the Steelers knew this before the 2018 season even started, which makes the fact that they did only the tiniest quantum imaginable—namely, scooping Vince Williams clone Jon Bostic off the Colts’ trash heap for the hilariously low price of $2 million per season—to fill the gaping aperture left behind by Shazier inexcusable. It took the Steelers 11 games to finally come to the obvious conclusion that Bostic is a wholly redundant commodity, which is in itself a damning indictment of the collective aptitude of Pittsburgh’s defensive brain trust.) Williams is a nice inside linebacker, easily the best one on the Steelers, but he’s in possession of a skill set that’s not particularly diverse; he’s a solid-enough tackler and he can defend the run, but that’s basically it. Bostic, likewise, which is probably why he’ll be cut this offseason. Fort is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, but the Steelers’ linebacking ranks are so unbelievably scant that they honestly probably have little choice but to sign him back. Also, Tyler Matakevich is still here, I guess, but he sucks. That’s pretty much the whole squad! The Steelers absolutely have to improve this room during the offseason.

This is the part of the blog where I’d normally launch into a thing about drafting a stud inside linebacker or splurging for one in free agency, but a cursory overview of upcoming unrestricted free agents or the top-rated collegiate prospects yields come grim results. As it stands, LSU’s Devin White is the only inside linebacker prospect generating any significant buzz (he’s a near-consensus top-10 prospect, so unless the Steelers would liquidate some standing assets to move up, it isn’t likely they’d be in a position to draft him, anyway), and most of the elite upcoming free agents—including C.J. Mosley and Kwon Alexander—will probably wind up re-signing with their current teams. It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that, hey, lots and lots of teams are interested in employing nigh-positionless field generals, and teams that find these kinds of players rarely allow them to hit the open market.

Deone Bucannon, most recently of the Cardinals, checks all the boxes for multidimensionality and playmaking ability, but he’s been victimized by injuries and schematic changes over the past couple of seasons. Most likely, he’ll be a free agent in March. I think the Steelers ought to do their homework on him. He’s only 26, he’s demonstrated that he’s a capable and versatile NFL defender (in his second season, Bucannon played safety and linebacker, registering 109 tackles, three sacks, and four forced turnovers), and, most importantly, he could come reasonably cheap.

The Steelers defense has pressing needs across the board—the defensive line is top-heavy, but devoid of depth, the secondary is a leaking diaper, and you can never have enough pass rushers—but I think adding playmakers who can force turnovers and play numerous positions is a great place to start.

Bruce Gradkowski shares his thoughts on Antonio Brown drama - ‘If there’s a different side to the story, just come out and say it’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 10:25am

While the former Steelers quarterback has great respect for Antonio Brown’s work ethic, it is clear he was not a fan of his time keeping.

If you are a former Pittsburgh Steelers player who has not been invited on a national television or radio show to discuss Antonio Brown recently, you probably have to wonder where your media career is going. Following on the heels of Ryan Clark, James Harrison, Emmanuel Sanders, Bruce Arians and Plaxico Burress, Bruce Gradkowski was the latest former Steeler to be called upon to share his thoughts about his former teammate.

As the backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger from 2013 until his release midway though the 2016 season, Gradkowski spent a lot a time working with Brown during his time in Pittsburgh. And while clearly a fan of his work ethic on the field, it would appear he felt AB could have improved on his off-field behavior when he appeared on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday.

What does Former #Steelers Quarterback @BGradkowski5 make of the Antonio Brown drama in Pittsburgh?

"No one doubts AB workout ethic on the field but when this stuff starts coming to light there is something more going on."

AUDIO pic.twitter.com/FolNW4g8PJ

— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) January 17, 2019

“AB does what he does. Sometimes he’d come in late for meetings. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know if he’s in the wide receivers meeting room on a Saturday morning, but people knew how to work with him. When AB was on the field, guys loved him. He has a fun personality, you thought nothing of it. But then as it continues to happen, it’s annoying. It’s annoying the teammates because your planes not leaving because you’re waiting on a guy and different situations like that through the years.”

“Now, there’s got to be something deeper than just him not showing up. He loves the game too much and the one thing for AB is being on that field playing. The coaches would try to give him days off during training camp because of his feet sometimes and his legs. He didn't want days off. So for me to see him just not show, and not show for practice and then the game, that's where I’m kinda like “man. what is going on over there?” What’s he really trying to say and what’s the inside noise that we don’t even know. Look, I’m not in that locker room now, so I’m not knowing the whole story. I just see what I’ve been through.”

“And No one doubts AB’s work ethic on the field, but then when this stuff starts coming to light, you know there's something more going on. Whether it’s that feud between AB and Ben, which look, a quarterback and receiver you always get into it. All receivers have it in them, and that's what makes these receivers great is they want the ball and to be part of the game, but it got to this point that surprised me it’s so bad over there.

If he is to be traded, while Gradkowski believes Brown could be worth as much as a first, he appears to have concerns about how this latest protracted drama will impact team interest.

“You'd love to see Art Rooney get a first for AB, but like you said, with the age coming in as a factor. Now all of a sudden as AB continues to push back at guys on Twitter, Emmanuel Sanders and stuff like that. It’s like look, if there's a different side to the story, just come out and say it, because the more you're kinda pushing back and just complaining on Twitter, the more other teams are seeing, like man, do we really want this drama in our locker room. So now, even though a team will like you on the field, they’re at you know, it’s not worth a number one to us.”

Gradkowski's revelation that being late for meetings was something of a regularity for Brown are disappointing to hear, but sadly not surprising given his well publicized inability to to turn up for public appearances anywhere near close to their start time.

Like some fans, he also seems to believe that something more significant must have happened between AB and the team over the last few weeks of the season to provoke such an extreme reaction. His call for Brown to tell his side of the story, if such a thing exists, is something many would echo.

As hard as it is to understand what could possibly have occurred internally that would warrant sitting out the final game of the season, Brown obviously thinks differently. But without knowing what that it, the Steelers troubled receiver really cannot expect too many people to have sympathy for him.

Breaking Down the Steelers Team Needs: Part 6, Safety

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 9:12am

Part 6 of our series on the Steelers’ team needs. There should be room for a 3rd player to complement Davis and Edmunds.

Moving on with the series:

This may be Part 6 of this series but that doesn’t mean Safeties are an especially low priority. Yes, Sean Davis has found his home at Free Safety. Hooray! But there is limited depth behind him. Yes, Terrell Edmunds looks like he will grow into a real winner at Strong Safety. Hooray! But he seems most at home in the box, Davis doesn’t do well there, and the backups are all pretty limited. Safety isn’t exactly a ‘concern’ but there is definite room for improvement.

Consider this: The Chargers stuffed the Ravens’ vaunted rushing attack by playing Big Nickel all game; i.e., replacing one of their normal ILB’s with a Safety in order to add speed and range in the middle of the field, with extra coverage ability for the situations where Lamar Jackson actually tried to throw. The Steelers play the Ravens twice each year and would love to have that in their arsenal, but may not have the high quality #3 Safety they’d need to do it. The Steelers also lack rangy depth at Free Safety behind Sean Davis.

OTOH, when the Chargers tried that against New England, the Patriots used a power rushing game up the middle that gashed L.A. for its lack of a true linebacker. Thus the Steelers should be justifiably cautious about viewing Big Nickel as an answer to too many woes. But on the third hand there is Bostic, who is actually quite good as an ILB for running plays, and L.J. Fort, who is pretty good as an ILB for coverage-heavy situations where a Safety may be too small. Doesn’t that mean that Big Nickel would fill out the triad of sub packages and allow the best of all worlds by simple substitution? Then there’s the fourth hand, which points out that offenses can audible out of play calls at the line if the Steelers get in the habit of tipping their defensive calls by installing too-specific packages. And on the...

Wait. I ran out of limbs a few sentences ago, didn’t I? Never mind, the bottom line is always the same. It comes down to utilizing schemes that best utilize the players on your team, drafting for quality and flexibility, and then adjusting for the current week’s matchup. So let’s start by examining the current talent on the roster:

  • FS Sean Davis. Grade: “Solid Starter.” After several years of struggle Sean Davis finally found his niche and played quite well throughout 2018 as the Steelers’ center fielder. The team did not produce as many interceptions as you’d like but there didn’t seem to be a lot of missed opportunities either. It may not be his fault.
  • SS/NICKELBACK Terrell Edmunds. Grade: “Starter With Star Potential.” 2018’s 1st round pick played quite well for being so raw, and showed a definite upward curve as the season went on. He could be truly special if he makes the Sophomore leap that fans expect. OTOH he doesn’t seem to have the range you want for a Cover 2 Safety, might be wasted if asked to play that role, and “potential” is just another word for “hasn’t proven a thing just yet.” Hopes are justified, and even some expectations, but keep the salt shaker handy.
  • SS/NICKELBACK Morgan Burnett. Grade: “Spot Starter Likely To Retire.” Morgan Burnett was a star in Green Bay until the injuries piled up. I was a big fan who actually noticed across the conferences whenever he went down, and suffered every time another multi-week stay on IR got announced. His arrival in the Burgh thrilled me, especially when - reduced as he was by age - the results looked exactly like the solid bridge we needed to give Edmunds time to mature. And then the visits to IR began to pile up. Again. And I suffered even more acutely. So don’t get me wrong: Morgan Burnett still has playing ability, and a lot of it. But he severely lacks when it comes to availability, and that is a major problem. No one should be surprised if he retires, and if he stays we can expect no more than an 8-10 game contribution.
  • SS/NICKELBACK Marcus Allen. Grade = “Unknown but probably a Backup.” Marcus Allen made the 53 all year. Impressive. He didn’t get on the field except for a few special teams plays. Not so impressive. What does that really mean? I could not tell you, but I can say that his draft stock fell in 2018 because of a limited athletic ceiling that will limit him to playing in the box. That hasn’t changed.
  • NICKELBACK/SS Jordan Dangerfield. Grade = “Journeyman Defender, Special Teams Ace, and Quality Locker Room Presence.” Just like always. Dangerfield’s hidden asset is a lot of football class. He plays with true, veteran savvy and has such an intimate knowledge of secondary play that it lets him react a little quicker than his more physically talented colleagues. Retired players like Arthur Moats testify that Dangerfield ably serves as a “playbook tutor” and on-field coach in addition to everything else. He is a good, solid Steeler. But he also has real physical limits that get particularly stretched when he’s asked to backu up in a Free Safety role.

The pattern is clear. Pittsburgh has several Safeties who excel at run support but a lack of depth when it comes to center field range. Consider: when Sean Davis couldn’t answer the bell in week 17 (the Bengals finale), there was no backup who could just step in. Pittsburgh responded by playing three Safeties in basically equal snap counts: Morgan Burnett, Jordan Dangerfield and Terrell Edmunds. If Burnett does indeed retire, or has one of his many missed-for-injury games at the same time as Davis, the hole could turn out to be crucial.

Pittsburgh also suffered from a distinct lack of interceptions in 2018, which is a sin that usually gets assigned to Safeties. Thus conventional wisdom suggests that adding a center field ballhawk might help in that regard. I am not so sure it’s fair to blame the lack of INT’s on this particular position in this particular case. I don’t remember a lot of missed opportunities. But it is a point that needs to be floated nevertheless.

So am I predicting that our Steelers will certainly target a Safety in the 2019 draft? Well... maybe. The class isn’t all that good, either at the top or in BPA bargains later on. There are certainly a few names who’d fit in well and provide good value. They are listed just below. But fans are cautioned that simple rarity is likely to push their draft value up to the point where other positions will boast a clear BPA advantage when Pittsburgh is on the clock. Here is a list of prospects drawn from the draft BTSC Big Board that Nick Farabaugh and I have compiled so far: [fn]

  • 1:15 SS/FS Deionte Thompson, Alabama. 6’2”, 196 lbs. The #1 Safety in the draft and it isn’t particularly close. Thompson is excellent playing in the box, excellent when asked to play center field, excellent coming downhill to make a tackle, excellent in coverage, and a genuine leader of men in the secondary. He, Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds would give Pittsburgh (I can’t resist it) excellent depth and flexibility for years to come. Big Nickel could easily turn into the Steelers’ favorite package!
  • 2:12 FS Nasir Adderley, Delaware. 6’0”, 195 lbs. A tremendous small school prospect who projects to be a very good center fielder and maybe a hybrid FS/CB, but won’t be much use in the box. His calling cards are tremendous range and some of the best ball skills in the draft. Showed good processing speed too even if it was against lesser competition. He and Juan Thornhill are the targets that Steeler Draftniks point to when they dream of a Cover 2 sub package player who will also be able to push/back up Sean Davis.
  • 2:12 SS Taylor Rapp, Washington. 6’0”, 212 lbs. He’s shown all the assets you want except the range to play center field. His coverage skills are good enough for TE’s, RB’s and quite a few WR’s; he takes good angles toward tackles in space and in run support; and he packs a truly nasty attitude when he arrives on the scene. Taylor Rapp is everything that Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield are, except better. But weren’t we hoping to get a Cover 2 guy to free Terrell Edmunds up for a Nickelback role?
  • 2:12 FS/SS Juan Thornhill, Virginia. 6’1”, 195 lbs. A ballhawking safety with excellent range, great hands and a surprising adeptness at playing the box. Drops because he’s not the best guy for covering the slot, but he would be ideal in the Cover 2, sub package role described above and would also serve as quality prod and/or depth player behind Davis.
  • 2:24 SS/FS Jaquan Johnson, Miami. 5’11”, 190 lbs. He’s a bit on the small side but only physically. Jaquan Johnson is one of those do-everything team leaders and overachievers who just make plays while floating all other boats that much higher. If his body holds up he will be an inevitable fan favorite and secondary anchor for whatever NFL franchise he lands at. But that’s not a small “if” for this kind of living missile. He would be right up there with Adderly and Thornhill if he was two inches taller and 10-15 pounds more solid.
  • 3:01 SS/FS Johnathan Abram, Miss. St. 6’0”, 215 lbs. Great size and speed, willing to mix it up, and able to bring the lumber when he gets there – but also likely to miss the tackle completely and has sometimes been a hair slow to read and react to what’s going on. Interviews will matter a lot, especially since the Steelers would see him as a backup and special teams guy with upside potential. Here is an early January scouting profile.
  • 3:01 FS Ugochukwu Amadi, Oregon. 5’10”, 201 lbs. The descriptions remind you of Sean Davis as a prospect: ‘A cover Safety who’s just a hair short of being able to move outside to Corner and will excel in special teams until he breaks into a lineup.’ A fine Day 2 prospect who’d fit what the Steelers need.
  • 3:01 SS/FS Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida. 6’0”, 207 lbs. He’s got boatloads of physical talent, range, and was a vastly improved player in 2018 who suddenly learned how to tackle and also take angles. Still inconsistent but now worth serious Day 2 consideration, especially since he has some coverage chops as well as center field range. Here is an early January scouting profile from Jon Ledyard.
  • 3:01 SS/FS Darnell Savage Jr., Maryland. 5’11”, 195 lbs. A savage hitter (pun fully intended) who is exceptional in the box – almost like a mini-linebacker – but a bit vulnerable in coverage. Plenty of speed and suddenness to play center field too, excellent ball skills, and what seems to be a high football IQ. This nice December scouting profile concludes that his ideal role would be as the sort of Cover 2 Safety Pittsburgh actually needs.
  • 4:01 FS Mike Bell, Fresno St. 6’3”, 203 lbs. Long even for someone of that height, with solid speed, decent coverage skills, and no particular flaws except a lack of aggressiveness and a big unknown when it comes to ball skills.
  • 4:01 FS Jalen Thompson, Wash. St. 6’0”, 190 lbs. Another Safety who’d fit Pittsburgh well as a backup, Thompson lacks only that special ‘extra’ that turns a Safety into a Corner, and that special ‘oomph’ that lets a Free Safety excel closer to the box. He’d also rate higher if his tackling was anything better than awful, but that’s also something a coach can fix.
  • 4:16 FS/SS Marquise Blair, Utah. 6’2”, 195 lbs. One of the more intriguing developmental projects of the draft, Blair is a height/weight/speed project who seems to have a number of significant but coachable flaws in his game. He is eager and physical in the box but takes inconsistent angles and tackles with inconsistent technique. Seems to have great range but doesn’t look good in man coverage. Very aggressive but tends to play too deep as a center fielder. You get the idea. Watch for news from the Senior Bowl, and potentially for a splash at the Combine.
  • 4:16 Marvell Tell III, USC. 6’2”, 195 lbs. All the physical talent you want but he takes terrible angles, isn’t a particularly good tackler when he arrives, and people report a tendency toward lackadaisical play. Interviews will make a big difference.

Bottom line: It’s a pretty thin crop, especially with the clear #1 returning to school. But there are prospects to watch for, particularly on Day 2. We have several young men graded as excellent value even for the pick at 2:20. Rinse and repeat for the pick at 3:20. But will they be available in light of the supply and demand issues? In my mind the answer will have to be “No” unless the F.O. (a) thinks it has missed out on the targeted ILB’s, (b) thinks that makes it wise to really emphasize a Big Nickel package instead, and (c) is willing to forego the talent available at Corner or Wide Receiver.

[FN] For those who don’t know, we organize the BTSC Big Board by a grade called “Highest Value”. An HV of 1:20 means the player is a reach for the Steelers at any point before Pick # 20 overall but good value at any point from the end of the 1st on. Getting that player in the early 2nd would be fine, while getting him at 2:12 would almost be a steal. Yes, this system results in a certain amount of grade inflation for positions of need because we are talking about the “highest” grade rather than where a player is expected to go; but it’s balanced by never, ever pushing a grade up because of need. Players with the same HV# are more-or-less equivalent and organized alphabetically.

Mel Kiper Mock Draft: Steelers try to replace Ryan Shazier in Round 1 of 2019 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 7:53am

It is mock draft season, and the ESPN expert has a surprising selection for the black-and-gold.

The NCAA College Football season is over, and with the NFL season winding down the attention slowly turns away from the play on the field, to the characteristics and intangibles off the field.

Yes folks, it is mock draft season!

While mock drafts are nothing more than lofty projections for teams, the analysis of diagnosing team needs can be a valuable one.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some glaring needs on their football team, and most reside on the defensive side of the football. Below is an early ranking of the Steelers’ top three needs which could, and probably should, be addressed in the upcoming draft:

1. Cornerback
2. Inside Linebacker
3. EDGE Rusher

While there certainly are other team needs, including running back, most would agree the team should have a very defensive oriented draft class while looking at their current roster. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. agrees when he selected a pass rusher to the Steelers in his first mock draft of the year.

Check out what Kiper said about the selection:

20. Pittsburgh Steelers

Devin Bush, LB, Michigan

The Steelers tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks this season, but the weakness on defense was at inside linebacker, as they struggled to replace Ryan Shazier. The phrase I keep repeating about Bush is “perfect for today’s NFL.” He would be a great fit as a three-down linebacker who never has to leave the field. At 5-foot-11, Bush is undersized, but he should test well at the combine.

...

If you are like me, and don’t follow college football closely, you aren’t familiar with many of these prospects. I utilize the mock draft process to learn more about prospects, and in this case Jaylon Ferguson.

Here is a quick synopsis of Bush as a player, thanks to The Draft Network:

Football Intelligence – Higher level IQ player, involved in numerous concepts (gap exchanges, scrapes, gap fits, etc.) in the run game. Disciplined team player who does well to execute primary responsibilities. Can be influenced by false keys and can be slow to re-adjust.

Tackling – Explosive pop in the pads, booming hits have come from either filling an interior gap or from scraping to the boundary and carrying speed into tackles. Off-tackle reps can be compromised on occasion by over-scraping and getting out of his fit on the ball.

Block Shedding – Does not possess the needed length to effectively stack blocks once having conceded a hand fit on his frame. Does offer a compact punch and pop to create a fleeting moment of separation. Will take the lazy route and work underneath of blocks if working without an angle.

Competitive Toughness – Plays with a great effort level. Has chased down plays off the back end after coming untouched off the second level. Chippy player, can be a bit of an instigator on the field (MSU 2018 incident). Physical power is present but ability to leverage and hold vs. OL is not a strength.

Lateral Mobility – Has the required range to play any position on the second level vs. the run. Short area quickness is essential to step laterally into a gap and get out of the teeth of a combo block for plays vs. power concepts. Smooth moving in all degrees.

Coverage Skills – Fairly raw, although usage down the stretch in 2018 featured more time in space (PSU 2018). Effective shooting into the flats to pick up backs in man coverage. Patient shallow defender in zone to hold water and break on throw. Turn and run coverage will be work in progress.

Gap Shooting Ability – Explosive first step, is a dynamic second level defender who is capable of disrupting behind the line of scrimmage courtesy of blitzes or when stepping to fill vs. a down block. Trusts his speed and can actually get even better and working down into gaps earlier for splash plays.

Feet/Change of Direction – One of the most dynamic linebackers in the class, has terrific ability to dart through short spaces or scrape laterally and slide a gap to slip a block. Has great speed through all angles and is smooth when planting to drive forward and work into the play.

Flexibility – Free moving defender who makes the most of a shorter than preferred frame. Tilts and carries speed as a blitzer to turn the corner and flatten quickly to diminish angles to the passer. Will show strong hip mobility when needing to hinge open and scrape laterally into the sideline.

First Step Quickness – Terrific burst off of the line. Secondary acceleration on delayed blitzes is dynamic and one of his best weapons on the field. Will close ground quickly and trusts mobility to continue to carry speed into the ball carrier/quarterback.

...

More from the Draft Network:

Devin Bush is a player who is set to benefit from this new era of play in the NFL. Bush’s mobility experience in numerous types of responsibilities against the run and upside as a 3rd down defender (blitz ability and potential in coverage) set him up for an impact role. Traditional reps thumping into interior gaps vs. OL takes Bush away from strengths, however. He should be utilized primarily in a gap penetration scheme with a strong DL.

...

It is at this point where Steelers fans can debate the prediction, but also the team needs moving forward. Let us know what you think of the selection, as well as the areas of need, in the comment section below!

Maurkice Pouncey named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-AFC team

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 6:42am

The Steelers center picked up another postseason honor for his efforts in 2018 this week.

After a 9-6-1 season that ended with the Pittsburgh Steelers missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013, postseason honors have been in short supply this offseason compared to years past. However, there is still one name on the roster who continues to be recognized for his outstanding efforts this season.

The only Pittsburgh player honored by the Associated Press in their end of year awards when he was named as a second-team All-Pro selection for 2018, Maurkice Pouncey was once again the only member of the team to win Pro Football Writers of America honors earlier in the week when he was named to their All-AFC team.

Maurkice Pouncey was honored by the Pro Football Writers of America, selected to the 2018 PFWA All-AFC team at center for the second-straight year.

MORE: https://t.co/SXvYXl5TAL pic.twitter.com/ZBGsikDlIG

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 15, 2019

Arguably the league's best center for most of his eight years in the NFL, Pouncey has also been nominated to the Pro Bowl seven times and named All-Pro five times. He also won this same honor from the PFWA in both 2011 and 2017. In 2018, PFWA All-NFL honors went to Jason Kelce of the Philadelphia Eagles, an award Pouncey last won in 2011.

Set to enter his final year under contract in 2019 and still being only 29-years-old, it should be expected that the Steelers will discuss an extension with Pouncey this offseason.

The full press release with the All-NFL, All-AFC and All-NFC teams can be found here: https://t.co/cpdjJKV3Wq pic.twitter.com/Y0fXO6UmRg

— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) January 15, 2019

Podcast: Previewing the 2019 Steelers Depth chart — Offensive Line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “The Steelers Preview” show, we break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-gold from the week that was.

As the Pittsburgh Steelers season is over, and while the team isn’t playing anymore, it doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to discuss — so it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading into the offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Black-and-Gold News
  • Position Breakdown: Offensive Line
  • Conference Championship Weekend predictions/ Fantasy Football suggestions
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Bryan Anthony Davis walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: The time when Art Rooney II speaks, yet says nothing at all

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 4:28am

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how on Wednesday Steelers Team President Art Rooney II spoke to the media, went on KDKA in Pittsburgh and even joined the crew at Steelers Live. He did a lot of talking, but what might be the most notable is how he said very little.

Maybe he is learning from Mike Tomlin, or vice versa, but those who were hanging to every word waiting for something significant — were left hanging.

Let’s get to the news:

Tim Benz: Art Rooney II’s take on Steelers ‘circus’ is pure ‘nonsense’

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II had his annual season-ending powwow with the team’s local print outlets Wednesday.

He made one comment that was so far from true, it couldn’t see the truth with the Hubble telescope.

Rooney was asked about the perception that his team is a circus and full of distractions.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s nonsense,” Rooney said .

I’m told he actually made that statement with a straight face and with no fingers crossed.

This year alone, the team’s helicopter-ridin’ star wide receiver skipped practices and meetings — twice — and was sent home for the season finale. He mocked the coach on Instagram with a former team icon, too.

In between those moments, Antonio Brown set a new land-speed record on McKnight Road, threatened a reporter, accused another of racism, threw another sideline tantrum and was in the news for throwing furniture off a balcony.

That team icon — James Harrison — has been on a crusade to undermine coach Mike Tomlin’s authority. Yet he was brought back to Heinz Field for the Super Bowl XLIII 10th anniversary celebration and was given a standing ovation on Rooney’s field.

Another team legend — Rocky Bleier — declared he was “done” with the team on Facebook, then recanted. The starting quarterback openly questioned the draft and criticized his receivers on a few occasions.

All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell seemingly welched on an assumed plan to play on a franchise tag, tied up $14.5 million in unpaid cap space and then spent the next few months intermittently mocking the club, laughing at his absence from it and flirting with other organizations.

Meanwhile, his teammates ripped the running back and raided his locker in front of the media.

On the field, the kicker who signed a five-year contract extension in the offseason had a season-long meltdown, and the team blamed an X-ray machine for a loss against the awful Oakland Raiders while gagging away a 7-2-1 record to miss the playoffs.

After that, valued offensive line coach Mike Munchak jumped ship for the same job in Denver, and outside linebackers coach Joey Porter was fired.

Following Porter’s dismissal, reports — from someone who works for the team’s website, radio network and flagship station — were that Porter “was trying to pit the defense against the offense in a divisive manner.”

That was just in 2018.

(For more, click the link in the headline above...)

Steelers brace for ‘tough’ reality of losing top talent

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

No need to tell Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II about the difficulties of finding transcendent talents.

He has seen three absurdly good players -- linebacker Ryan Shazier, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell -- lead his team to victories only to leave the lineup, potentially for good.

When asked about losing top-15 players such as these, Rooney acknowledged the obvious with the trade discussion around Brown: Talent prevails.

“That’s one reason why we haven’t made any decisions on Antonio yet,” Rooney said in a Wednesday interview with a small group of local reporters.

Loose translation: All-Pros are really hard to find, no matter how difficult. That’s why any exchange for Brown must produce serious draft capital. And the Steelers are hemorrhaging top talent. As a result, this offseason is shaping up to be a test of mettle for an organization that must strengthen the roster on the fly.

The loss of Shazier to a severe spinal injury in late 2017, coupled with Bell’s yearlong holdout and the seemingly inevitable trade of Brown, are nearly impossible to replace on the surface. Shazier wants to continue rehabbing for a return to football, and the Steelers plan to help him with that, but he’s not in the plans for the 2019 roster.

To be sure, the Steelers are good enough to win games without those players. And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s due an extension this offseason, gives Pittsburgh a chance in every game.

With a little creativity, they can be right back in contention.

They have $27.72 million in salary-cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. They can create more with roster cuts and restructuring the final year on Roethlisberger’s deal.

”We have a lot to things to evaluate,” Rooney said. “Having a little extra cap space always helps, that’s for sure.”

Rooney said the Steelers feel good about their running-back lineup with “two good, young players” in James Conner and Jaylen Samuels. The Steelers haven’t made a firm decision on whether to place the franchise tag on Bell for a third consecutive year, but Conner made a Pro Bowl in his first season as a starter and Samuels is a natural pass-catcher. They can roll with those two players if Bell’s situation has become too explosive.

”We feel like we’re in pretty good shape there,” Rooney said. “The linebacker position is still something we need to address. It’s a challenge, no doubt about it.”

(For more, click the link in the headline above...)

Uncertainty remains after Art Rooney II addresses Steelers offseason plans

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In the wake of a nightmare collapse for his team, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II held his annual meeting with Pittsburgh-area beat writers.

Joe Rutter was our representative for Trib. He joined me for our podcast.

Rooney said one thing in particular that I couldn’t believe. I shared my thoughts on that with Joe.

We also tackled Rooney’s view of an extension for head coach Mike Tomlin.

LISTEN: Recapping Art Rooney’s meeting with Steelers reporters

The owner also discusses the future — or lack thereof — for Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh and the state of the coaching staff.

Le’Veon Bell’s status is still uncertain. And the team has no idea what it is going to do about Ryan Shazier.

Aside from that, it sounds like everything is under control.

Analyzing the cap implications of the Steelers potentially signing Ryan Shazier

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 2:10pm

Ryan Shazier will technically become a free agent this offseason, but the team can keep him on board without breaking the bank.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to pick up Ryan Shazier’s 5th year option, they thought they were locking up one of the most talented inside linebackers in the game before he would be eligible to hit free agency. What they didn’t know was that 5th year option would be viewed as a Godsend for Shazier after he was left motionless from the waist down at Paul Brown Stadium in December of 2017.

Shazier got his money, as 5th year options are guaranteed in the case of injury, and the Steelers even gave it to him in one lump sum. This gave Shazier, and his family, his yearly salary up front, to possibly help pay for any additional services necessary for his rehabilitation, but also could have helped the Steelers from a salary cap standpoint moving into 2019.

It was no shock when Art Rooney II took to multiple platforms Wednesday to talk about how the Steelers will try to work out a deal with Shazier, who becomes a free agent this offseason, so he can remain with the organization and continue his rehabilitation.

But at what cost to the team’s salary cap? I know, it sounds horrible, but the Steelers are a business and every dollar needs to be accounted for when it comes to the salary cap. According to Ian Whetstone, who contributes to SteelCityInsider and is a genius when it comes to the NFL Salary Cap, his best assumption is the team won’t owe Shazier that much to keep him in the fold.

Assuming that he again lands on PUP all year, $473,000.

— Ian Whetstone (@IanWhetstone) January 16, 2019

What about the team deferring all Shazier’s money to him early last season? Did that have any significance? According to Whetstone it did.

I think it very likely was a big part of the reason, yes.

— Ian Whetstone (@IanWhetstone) January 17, 2019

The good news here is if these numbers are accurate, it would be very reasonable for the Steelers to give Shazier a one year contract, paying him the league minimum, and allowing him to continue to train and rehab his injury.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the rigors of the 2019 offseason.

T.J. Watt is headed to the Pro Bowl in place of Jadeveon Clowney

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:53pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have another player participating in the annual All-Star game next weekend.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a very talented roster, and for the second straight year they will be sending a handful of players to participate in the Pro Bowl. This year, they have had two players added to the roster as injury replacements.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is ironically replacing Antonio Brown after Brown claimed an injury would keep him out of the game. And now outside linebacker T.J. Watt is headed to Orlando in place of Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans took himself out of the All-Star game due to injury purposes.

T.J. Watt has been named to the 2019 #ProBowl.

MORE: https://t.co/jLf5GOe3lz pic.twitter.com/ndNKJT5SBn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 17, 2019

It isn’t as if Watt didn’t have the numbers to get himself to the Pro Bowl anyway. He had a career year in both sacks (13), tackles (68) and forced fumbles (6).

This isn’t the first honor Watt has received this season, as he was also named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors in Weeks 1 and 5 of the 2018 season.

Watt will join Cameron Heyward, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Alejandro Villanueva as the Steelers’ representatives during the Pro Bowl.

The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.

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