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A level-headed news-discussion site with a sense of history and community https://cdn.vox-cdn.com/community_logos/47293/steel_curtain_fave.png 2022-08-08T14:19:59-04:00
Updated: 17 min 10 sec ago

Fantasy Football Profile: Diontae Johnson

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 9:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Everything you need to know about the Steelers WR as a Fantasy Football prospect.

Questions abound for the Steelers top weapon on the outside in 2022. How will the Steelers uncertain Quarterback (QB) situation affect Johnson’s production? Was his incredible volume over the last two seasons a product of Ben Roethlisberger’s play style, or is he just that good? Can he continue to outshine the two more physically gifted Wide Receivers (WR) on the team in Chase Claypool and George Pickens?

Diontae Johnson is a difficult eval this offseason, but hopefully we’ll be able to get some gauge on how he is bonding with his new QBs in the Steelers’ new-look offense fresh off signing a new 2-year extension with the club. We do know that Johnson is a talented player and one the best pure route runners in football. This all sets us up for a wide range of results in 2022 for the Steelers top receiver.

Player Profile

Age: 26
Experience: 4 yrs
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 185

2021 Fantasy Stats:

Receiving: 107 REC/1,161 YDS/8 TD

Rushing: 5 CAR/53 YDS/0 TD

Points/Rank: 274.4 PPR/WR8

2021 Review

Johnson picked up where he left off in 2020, leading the Steelers in targets, receptions, yards, and receiving TDs in 2021, and establishing himself as a top 10 WR in PPR fantasy leagues. Although his efficiency was well below average, he boasted elite volume and consistency over the course of the season, finishing with 10+ targets in 12 of 16 games played, and scoring 15+ PPR points in 11 of 16 games played.

The Steelers offense was hampered by poor offensive line play and regression from Ben Roethlisberger, the combination of which limited the passing game to quick, underneath routes and all but eliminating the threat of intermediate and downfield throws. Despite this, Johnson excelled as a YAC artist and PPR monster.

2021 provided both a fantasy breakout year and a “what if” season for Johnson, who hopes to gain from what should be a much more complete passing game with younger options behind center and an OL that should be much improved on last year’s moribund group.

2022 Outlook

Johnson’s measly 6.9 yds/target in 2021 were easily the worst of any WR who reached 1,000+ yards receiving. Johnson was truly a volume-based WR1 in fantasy football in 2021. That will likely change significantly in 2022 when considering the change at QB and the development of other receiving options on the roster.

No matter who ultimately ends up behind center, whether that’s Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, or Mason Rudolph, the offense should look starkly different than the dink-and-dunk attack of the last two seasons, where Johnson really excelled.

The other issue going against Diontae from a fantasy perspective, is the improved depth of the receiving talent on the roster. Chase Claypool is looking to make the leap this season and capitalize on the tantalizing talent he has flashed at times the last two years. He’s joined by two rookie playmakers in George Pickens and Calvin Austin who are quickly making their mark in Training Camp as potentially valuable pieces of the offense. We haven't even mentioned the expected improvement of Tight End Pat Freiermuth and the receiving ability of Najee Harris that will also defer targets away from Johnson.

It is highly probable that Johnson comes nowhere close to his 169 targets from 2021, and despite his obvious talent and current status as the team’s WR1, Diontae must improve his efficiency to have any chance of maintaining the production that made him a top 10 PPR fantasy WR in 2021. Johnson is currently being drafted as the WR15 according to FantasyPros.com consensus rankings. I like him in that range, but there is risk if he cannot maintain his high target share or improve his efficiency.

Projected Fantasy Stats

Receiving: 90 REC/1,00 YDS/ 5 TD

Points/Rank: 220 PPR Pts/WR19

The Steelers work out 3 more running backs on Friday

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 7:30am
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Steelers still continue to look into other options at running back

The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted three running backs on Friday for workouts as they continue to look at other options for their 90-man preseason roster. This per Aaron Wilson of the Pro Football Network.

NFL workouts @PFN365 pic.twitter.com/sGmERlf9cj

— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) August 5, 2022

The Pittsburgh Steelers currently have six running backs on their 90-man roster. But with Najee Harris missing practice recently after getting his foot stepped on this week, along with Master Teague just joining the squad recently, the Steelers feel the need to continue to build their reserve possibilities. Here is a brief description of each player the Steelers worked out:

Jalen Richard

Undrafted in 2016 out of Southern Miss, Jalen Richard signed as an undrafted free agent with the Oakland Raiders. Making the 53-man roster every season of his career, Richard played six seasons with the Raiders and appeared in 87 games with two starts. Rushing for 1,333 yards on 264 attempts and four rushing touchdowns in his career, Richard had another 1,590 receiving yards on 191 receptions and three receiving touchdowns. in 2021, Richard started the season on the Reserve/Injured List and missed four games. Appearing in 10 games in all last season, Richard only had 40 rushing yards on nine attempts and 72 receiving yards 12 receptions.

Wayne Gallman

Selected out of Clemson in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft by the New York Giants, Wayne Gallman played four years in New York. Appearing in 53 games with 14 starts, Gallman had 1,444 rushing yards on 338 attempts with nine rushing touchdowns. Gallman also added 80 receptions for 498 yards and two receiving touchdowns with the Giants. His most productive year was in 2020 where he started 10 games and rushed for 682 yards on 147 attempts with six touchdowns. Gallman signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 2021 but failed to make the team. Days later, Gallman signed with the Atlanta Falcons where he appeared in six games with 28 rushing attempts for 104 yards and one reception for 21 yards. Released by the Falcons following Week 13, Gallman was claimed off waivers by the Minnesota Vikings. Appearing in two games, Gallman returned one kick for 7 yards and had no other stats.

JaQuan Hardy

Undrafted out of Tiffin University, the Dallas Cowboys signed JaQuan Hardy following the 2021 NFL draft. Not making the initial 53-man roster, Hardy was signed to the Cowboys practice squad and was elevated in Week 14 and Week 15. Hardy was also elevated in Week 18 as the Cowboys were resting many of their starters for the playoffs. In Week 18, Hardy had three carries for 26 yards and a touchdown after only having one carry for 3 yards in the previous two games. Signed to a futures contract following the 2021 season, Hardy was released in the middle of July ahead of Cowboys training camp.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued training camp coverage as the Steelers continue their preparation for the 2022 NFL season.

Why the NFL’s trade deadline falters in excitement, and why fixing it is daunting

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 6:30am
Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

General managers sure love making trades at any point except late October and early November.

Late July and early August are conventionally part of the dog days of summer; the weather warms as the season progresses into its final stages. Students’ anticipated return to school is just about the only awakening from a continuum of summer.

In terms of sports, though, such a time frame is a contrast from the accustomed harmony. While NFL teams enter their first days and weeks of training camp, what ultimately steals the show is MLB’s trade deadline.

For some, baseball’s trade deadline can supersede the optimism of Opening Day or the grandeur of the postseason. For a period of two or three days, the world constantly refreshes social media to try to keep pace with a flurry of moves. This year’s August 2 deadline hardly disappointed, with stars such as Juan Soto, Josh Hader and Luis Castillo being dealt to contenders until the mere seconds of the buzzer.

Fast forward nearly three months, and the NFL will enjoy its own version of the trade deadline, except with far less pomp and circumstance.

Last season’s November 2 cutoff for teams to make trades did little to drum up excitement. Only six deals were consummated right around the deadline, the most notable of which was the Broncos sending Von Miller to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Rams. Other names swapped include Melvin Ingram (one Steelers fans may rather forget), Charles Omenihu, Kary Vincent Jr., Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and Daniel Brown.

If many of those players don’t ring a bell, you’re not alone.

The 2021 NFL trade deadline is emblematic of the flaws within the league’s desires to have a firm end date for mid-season trades, one that typically results in less significant and/or under-performing players being shopped.

Before delving into football-specific reasons behind a lull in exchanges, it’s important to distinguish between several crucial structures between the NFL and MLB.

For one, most baseball trades are buoyed by prospects, who play in the minor leagues. The NFL has no such equivalent; the closest element is the practice squad, but such players aren’t exactly viewed as future stars (and can be poached by other teams, anyway).

It’s also key to understand the framework disparity in how players fit within their organizations in the two sports. In baseball, a team like the Padres can trade for Soto without asking him to radically alter his approach of walking and hitting at an elite rate. Conversely, football players are contingent upon the schemes that their coordinators/coaches run and have to become acclimated to playbooks. In other words, it’s not as simple to pull off deals in a binary sense in the NFL.

In regard to foundational barriers to a trade deadline in the NFL, possibly none stands out more than the date of the cutoff itself.

The deadline is almost always the Tuesday before Week 9, which serves as a relative midpoint in the season — something standard of most professional sport trade deadlines. The issue is that the NFL’s sample size of games prevents teams from having a clear picture of playoff projections.

By last year’s November 2 deadline, 21 of 32 squads were within three games of a .500 record. With teams having played just seven or eight contests, there is little perspective for understanding how a unit will perform the rest of the season, let alone in paramount months like December and January.

Take the 2021 Cardinals. Kyler Murray, Kliff Kingsbury and the Birds started 7-0 and looked like a bonafide contender entering the deadline. The team would finish 4-6 down the stretch and lose in horrific fashion in the Wild Card Game.

Another great example is last year’s Ravens. Baltimore sat 5-2 but lost Lamar Jackson for much of the rest of the season, ending 8-9 on the outside of the playoff picture — despite leading the AFC North by November 2.

In other words, injuries and stretches can affect an NFL team’s season like few other sports.

Aside from the inherent difficulty of assessing a team’s quality by Week 9, NFL executives generally do not seem inclined to look at the future around the midseason point. Rather than concentrate on expiring contracts or draft picks, general managers and other personnel appear more concentrated in the present season and how they can maximize a roster without racing to March.

Speaking of the spring, that’s when we tend to see deals, especially those of a greater magnitude, become finalized. This offseason, the Broncos (unofficially) traded for Russell Wilson on March 8; the Browns tentatively acquired Deshaun Watson on March 18.

Those dates fit the conventional cycle of the start of the new league year, free agency and the draft, a period in which GMs are heavily focused on their roster construction and leveraging their assets. From a football perspective, it’s most logical to determine how to improve a team once the full glut of free agents, trade offers, draft prospects and positioning of picks are laid out.

By the end of the preseason and cut date in late August, front office members typically have a solid understanding of how their roster appears and the nature of the season in store; as such, the weeks just before kickoff can be a hotbed of deals. Last August provided a whopping 24 trades, including the Steelers adding Joe Schobert from the Jaguars on August 14 and the Rams nabbing Sony Michel on August 25.

Moreover, NFL studs tend to hold more gravity than MLB stars, meaning trades are more so driven by football players than executives.

In the cases of Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jalen Ramsey, Baker Mayfield and more, the player’s desire to seek a new landing spot created ripple effects in front offices that led to them being dealt. Even with “softer” hold-ins, Deebo Samuel, DK Metcalf and Diontae Johnson have put pressure on GMs to propose larger contracts in short order. While MLB players can veto trades via no-trade clause, as the Padres’ Eric Hosmer did by eschewing the Washington Nationals, baseball owners and executives may be less inclined to follow the requests at the behest of players.

For as much as baseball execs value their prospects highly, NFL leaders hold their draft picks even closer to their chests. Consequently, football GMs are likelier to retain picks by forgoing money, a strategy which manifests itself in free agents.

A byproduct of rosters being finalized is a pool of recently released available players, many of which are seasoned veterans. Teams frequently take advantage of such stragglers, adding them during the season. The 2020 Buccaneers did so with Antonio Brown, while the 2021 Rams signed Odell Beckham Jr. Most importantly, mid-year acquisitions do not have to come at the expense of draft stock.

It’s clear that the NFL’s trade deadline has an assortment of undermining factors, but how can it be improved? That question has few immediate answers.

One solution could be moving the deadline to late August or early September as squads are finalizing their roster makeup. This shift follows the more logical pattern of pre-existing trades and would create MLB-style havoc by forcing GMs to make a quick-thinking decision, either going all in or risking a futile season. At the same time, such a departure ruins the nature of a midseason trade deadline.

A far less practical suggestion is to urge NFL executives to take a page out of MLB personnel’s playbooks and utilize the halfway point as an opportunity for substantial change. Even if a team is four games under .500, why not roll the dice on a star on an expiring contract? The problem is that pro football guides have inculcated the need to wait until the end of the season with free agency and the draft around the corner.

The NFL’s trade deadline has generated the movement of high-stakes players in the last three years, like Ramsey, Marcus Peters, Zach Ertz, Emmanuel Sanders, Leonard Williams, Yannick Ngakoue and Carlos Dunlap. Yet until the league reconciles the institutional and mental hurdles of its late October/early November cutoff, MLB’s trade deadline will continue to sprint to victory.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Sat, 08/06/2022 - 5:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the BTSC website, but we’ve decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest two podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

Nonetheless, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show.

Here We Go, The Steelers Show: Steelers Training Camp in all of its’ glory

Camp is in session and the Steelers are engaged in their mot compelling preseason in years, Join Bryan Anthony Davis and Kevin Smith for Here We Go. The BTSC duo break down the Steelers like no one else does as Coach Smith, from St. Vincent College, and BAD talk about the glories of being back in Latrobe, his experience there and the Diontae Johnson extension.

Check out the rundown

  • News and Notes
  • Kevin Smith from Latrobe
  • and MUCH MORE!
BREAKING NEWS: Steelers release their first depth chart of 2022

The Pittsburgh Steelers have released their first depth chart of the 2022 season. Even though it is required by the NFL to do so, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will say to take it with a grain of salt, it still gives a starting point as the Steelers enter into the 2022 preseason.

Steelers Friday Night Six Pack with Tony: Diontae’s contract inferno has been extinguished

All that and more on this episode of Steelers Six Pack With Tony with veteran BTSC podcaster and writer Tony Defeo.

Checkout a rundown of the show:

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!
State of the Steelers: St. Vincent Sight Seeing

For a Steelers fan visiting Latrobe to witness training camp, the experience is full of sights and sounds that you just don’t get by reading all about it. Texan Daniel Jay made the pilgrimage from the Lone Star State and gives his own eyewitness account of the 2022 Men of Steel. That’s the latest topic of discussion from Daniel Jay on the State of the Steelers. Join Daniel for the latest new offering from the Behind the Steel Curtain family of podcasts in addressing the State of the Steelers.

Checkout a rundown of the show:

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • Daniel Jay visits Latrobe
  • Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Steelers 2022 Training Camp Tracker: Friday night’s practice cancelled

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 6:11pm
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers were planning on hitting the field at Latrobe Memorial Stadium for Friday Night Lights, but Mother Nature had other plans.

As they continue their second week in Latrobe for 2022 training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers are headed to Latrobe Memorial Stadium for their “Friday Night Lights” practice. Or so we thought...

After being forced to hold training camp at Heinz Field the last two seasons, the Steelers are back in Latrobe for four weeks before breaking camp the day before their second preseason game.

When it comes to the training camp schedule, it is much more known than it was the last two years. The Steelers will continue with practice tonight and are also scheduled to hold practice tomorrow. The team is not scheduled to practice on any Sundays, but all other days of the week will see practice of some kind. For those hoping to attend practice at St. Vincent, make sure you reserve your free tickets through Ticketmaster.

Check out the information below as the players hit the field in preparation for the 2022 season, starting with some player interviews before practice if available. If any additional information or reports become available, they will be updated below. Posts will come mostly in chronological order with new updates at the bottom.

Lightning, thunder, dogs, cats falling from the sky here in Latrobe

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2022

Chase Claypool has his pads tonight. Looks like he is ready to return — if the Steelers actually practice.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2022

The Steelers are on the buses ready to depart for Latrobe Memorial Stadium, but heavy rains and lightning in the area has Friday Night Lights delayed.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) August 5, 2022

Tonight’s Friday Night Lights practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium has been cancelled due to inclement weather.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2022

For the 3rd consecutive autumn, no “Friday Night Lights” for Latrobe https://t.co/PmymiPNOzk

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 5, 2022

breaking: saint vincent has installed moats between its practice fields pic.twitter.com/eQdA8FTLk7

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 5, 2022

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Training Camp Vol. 2

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 5:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There is always something to talk about when it comes to the Black & Gold!

It’s Friday again, so it’s time for the six pack of questions. It seems as if Jeff and Dave come to a consensus in cutting to the chase...

This week, I, Dave, will be tasked with the questions up for discussion.

The rules are still the same...

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.

Procedural Note: Since the title feature has gone away, please feel free to leave your usual title as the first line of your response and even bold it if you can for the ease of others.

So here we go! With the formalities out of the way, it’s time to jump on in. Hopefully this party is exactly what you’re looking for on a Friday night. Here goes:

1. Diontae Johnson got his contract extension which has him with the Steelers for the next three seasons for $39.5 million. Do you think it was a good deal, a bad deal, or somewhere in between?

2. Chris Boswell also got an extension this week. Where would you rank Boswell at this point in his career when it comes to the Steelers best kickers of all time?

3. The Steelers have their “Friday Night Lights” practice tonight at Latrobe Memorial Stadium. When it comes to watching football— any football, either in person on TV— do you prefer day games or games under the lights?

4. Diontae Johnson is the only member of the Steelers 2019 draft class under contract for next season. Which of the other members of the 2019 class still with the Steelers do you think will be with the team next season (knowing there is still a season to be played)?

  • Devin Bush
  • Justin Layne
  • Benny Snell Jr.
  • Zach Gentry
  • Ulysees Gilbert III

5. Of all the news coming out of training camp so far, what has you the most excited at this time? The most disappointed?

6. You just won an ‘all expenses paid’ trip for four to Pittsburgh for the Steelers home opener. Who are you taking with you?

Stay safe out there!

And it wouldn’t be a Friday night unless we said...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

We added some new shows and a new platform to our podcasts...if you haven’t checked out our full lineup of morning, noon, and evening shows, give them a try by listening below!

Steelers release their first depth chart of the 2022 season

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 4:17pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers released their first depth chart of training camp, but drawing any conclusions is a whole other story.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have released their first depth chart of the 2022 season. For anyone who has been listening to head coach Mike Tomlin about the initial depth chart in years past, Steelers fan shouldn’t put too much stock into this list at this time. But, it is a starting point and does give an indication as to what the team was expecting for the 2022 season.

While names on this list are bound to change over the course of the Steelers three preseason games, here are the players listed as the starters on offense, defense, and special teams with some additional notes given below.

To see the official Steelers depth chart, click HERE.

Offensive Starters

WR — Diontae Johnson

LT — Dan Moore Jr.

LG — Kevin Dotson/Kendrick Green

C — Mason Cole

RG — James Daniels

RT — Chuks Okorafor

TE — Pat Freiermuth

WR — Chase Claypool

WR — George Pickens

RB — Najee Harris

FB — Derek Watt

QB — Mitch Trubisky

Offensive Notables:

  • Two players are listed at the guard position with the Steelers not acknowledging Kevin Dotson or Kendrick Green as a frontrunner.
  • The quarterback depth chart goes Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, Kenny Pickett, and Chris Oladokun.
  • Rookie Calvin Austin III is buried at the fourth wide receiver position behind Diontae Johnson with the second and third team players being Anthony Miller, Cody White, Myles Boykin, Gunner Olszewski, and Steven Sims.
  • Connor Hayward is listed as the third tight end behind Freiermuth and Zach Gentry and ahead of Kevin Rader and Jace Sternberger.
  • At running back, Benny Snell Jr. is listed second behind Najee Harris followed by Anthony McFarland Jr. and Jaylen Warren.
Defensive Starters

LOLB — T.J. Watt

DT — Cameron Heyward

NT — Tyson Alualu

DT — Larry Ogunjobi

ROLB — Alex Highsmith

LCB — Levi Wallace/Ahkello Witherspoon

RCB — Cam Sutton

FS — Minkah Fitzpatrick

SS — Terrell Edmunds

LILB — Devin Bush/Robert Spillane

RILB — Myles Jack

NICKEL — Arthur Maulet

Defensive Notables:

  • Both the left inside linebacker and the left cornerback position have two players listed as a starter.
  • The three players on the second team of the defensive line are Isaiahh Loudermilk, Montravius Adams, and Chris Wormley.
  • Seventh-round draft pick Mark Robinson is the last inside linebacker listed on the fourth team.
  • Chris Steele is listed as the next player behind Wallace and Witherspoon at left cornerback while James Pierre is listed ahead of Justin Layne backing up Cameron Sutton at the right cornerback position.
  • Damontae Kazee is listed as the reserve strong safety with Tre Norwood being next in line at free safety.
Special Teams Starters

LS — Christian Kuntz

K — Chris Boswell

P — Pressley Harvin III

KR/PR — Gunner Olszewski

Special Teams Notables:

  • Calvin Austin III is listed as the second KR/PR.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they press on through training camp and prepare for the 2022 regular season. To listen to a special podcast, check out BTSC editor Dave Schofield in the audio player below.

Steelers Burning Question: Which position depth concerns you the most in 2022?

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 2:00pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Of the Steelers positions which might be lacking in the depth department, which one causes you the most concern?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are almost two weeks into training camp, and the usual camp injuries have tested the team’s depth at certain positions.

With players like Pat Freiermuth, Chase Claypool, Najee Harris and Levi Wallace missing practice time, it has put lesser known players in the spotlight. This has also had me asking myself which positional depth has me the most concerned heading into 2022.

So, I decided to ask you, the fan base, what they think is the most concerning position depth on the roster heading into 2022?

Here are the candidates:

Running Back

We all know Najee Harris is the real deal, but what about the players behind him? Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Warren? There certainly is cause for concern when you think about the possibility of Harris being lost for any stretch of time.

Pass Rusher

Call them an EDGE defender, a pass rusher or an outside linebacker, the team doesn’t have much behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. It is to the point where, unlike 2021 with Melvin Ingram, the Steelers have to be praying for the health of Watt and Highsmith.

Offensive Tackle

The organization did a lot to bolster in the interior of the offensive line, but on the outside? Not so much. Dan Moore Jr. enters Year 2 while Chukwuma Okorafor starts the first year of his new 3-year contract. Outside of that duo, players like Joe Haeg, Chaz Green and Trent Scott are there to fill out the rest of the depth chart.

Cornerback

The cornerback position is one where there are a lot of players, but not a lot of proven depth. Levi Wallace is a new face to the cornerback group, but players like Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet, Cam Sutton and James Pierre will have to find a way to replace Joe Haden. Not ideal.

Other

Have another position which concerns you more than the aforementioned positions? Let us know what position that would be in the comment section!

Let us know which position you vote for in the poll below, and be sure to explain your vote in the comment section below! Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of training camp and the preseason.

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NFL. Throughout the year we ask questions of the most plugged-in Pittsburgh Steelers fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to participate.

Please take our survey

How much does the Steelers run defense need to improve in 2022?

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 1:00pm
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

After giving up the most rushing yards in the NFL last season, and the most in franchise history, how much of an improvement will be enough?

As the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 NFL season rolled on, their ability to stop the run continued to be an issue. Although they were in the top 10 in the NFL when it came to run defense early in the season, the Steelers saw themselves slowly falling to the bottom of the league after having four separate games where they gave up over 200 yards on the ground. By the time the regular season was over, the Steelers and surrendered 2,483 rushing yards on 498 attempts during their 17 games.

It was only the fourth time in franchise history the Steelers gave up over 2,000 yards in a season, and only the second time since the NFL merger. The last season the Steelers had surrendered more than 2,000 rushing yards was in 1989 when they gave up 2,008 yards. So to say that the Steelers inability to stop the run was at an all-time low, it has the data to support the statement.

But how important is it for the Steelers to fix the run defense in 2022?

When it comes to a new season every year in the NFL, the goal is always improvement. The Pittsburgh Steelers should not simply be looking to get better at stopping the run, they should be looking to be better on defense all around. They should also look to improve on offense, and on special teams. Improvement is always the goal.

When it comes to the Steelers record-setting season in rushing yards surrendered, how much did it affect their success? Obviously giving up a lot of rushing yards is not a good thing, but as much as I like to analyze various statistics the only one that ultimately matters is the number in the win column. And even though the Steelers gave up a lot of rushing yards, it wasn’t always at the cost of victory.

Looking at the four games the Steelers surrendered 200 yards rushing or more, they ended up going 2-1-1. The Steelers were victorious over the Tennessee Titans in Week 15 as well as the Baltimore Ravens in Week 18, the game in which the Steelers gave up the most rushing yards during the 2021 season. While the Steelers did fall in Week 14 to the Minnesota Vikings when they surrendered 242 rushing yards, they also tied the Detroit Lions when they stacked up 229 yards on the ground in Week 10. While the loss and the tie to teams who did not make the postseason in 2021 are very undesirable, taking down the eventual number one seed in the AFC as well as a division rival while still surrounding 200 yards in a game made for an interesting feat.

When it comes to the Lions game, it’s a bit of an anomaly as Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out due to going on the Reserve/COVID-19 List Saturday evening before the 1 PM kickoff on Sunday. But even in that game, the Steelers only surrendered 77 passing yards on the day.

So in today’s NFL, can a team still be successful while surrendering a lot of rushing yards throughout the season?

Although the Steelers were the 32nd as a team when it came to rushing yards in the NFL in 2021, they were 9th in the NFL when it came to passing yards surrendered. So even though the Steelers gave up a lot of rushing yards, holding down the amount of yards a team put up through the air was beneficial last season. So if the Steelers are to vastly improve in stopping the run, what will also be important is to not have a drop off in their pass defense.

Another interesting way to look at the Steelers giving up so many rushing yards last season is by looking at the number of teams they faced who were at the top of the NFL for the entire season when it came to rushing. The Steelers faced four of the top six rushing teams in the NFL in 2021 for a total of six games as they played both the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns twice since they are in the same division. So part of the reason the Steelers likely gave up a lot of rushing yards was because they were playing some of the top rushing teams. What’s even more interesting is the Pittsburgh Steelers went 6–0 in those six games facing the top six rushing teams.

Breaking it down even more, the Steelers played nine games against teams that were in the top 14 in rushing in the NFL in 2021. What happened to those nine games? They were the nine wins the Steelers had last season. The highest ranked team in terms of rushing yards in 2021 who the Steelers lost to were the Kansas City Chiefs who were ranked 16th. So the Steelers were 9–0 against the top 14 rushing teams in the NFL last season and were 0–7–1 against the bottom 17 teams in terms of rushing yards in 2021.

There are a number of theories that could account for this anomaly. Whether it be the Steelers gave up too many rushing yards to teams who don’t typically run the ball well or whatever explanation one may want to give, it does go to show that stopping the run is not the end-all it once was in the NFL. For example, if a team is leading by four points with less than a minute remaining in a game and must get a stop, are fans worried about being ranked last in run defense or are they thankful that their team is prepared to stop the pass?

So where do the Pittsburgh Steelers go from here? How much emphasis should they put on stopping the run in 2022?

Personally, I want the Steelers to get better at all aspects of a game, and stopping the run is an area that has a lot of room for improvement. But one thing I would not do is to ‘sell out’ to stop the run. Even giving up yardage last year, the Steelers still managed to win games through effective pass defense. They should not be complacent with being last in the league in rushing yards, but going from the bottom to the top does not have to occur in order to find success. It’s much more important in the pass-happy NFL for teams to have a good pass defense and seeing the Steelers falter in this way would likely cause much more harm.

Next season, I expect the Steelers to perhaps struggle to stop the run once again. Do I think they’re going to be giving up 200 yard rushing games? I surely hope not. Do I think they’re going to surrender a significant amount of yardage? I do. And it all comes down to the matchups.

Last year the Steelers had six games against four of the top six rushing teams in the NFL. In 2022, the Steelers have eight games against the top eight teams when looking at the 2021 rushing statistics. Not only do the Steelers still have two games against the third-ranked Baltimore Ravens as well as two more against the fourth-ranked Cleveland Browns, the Steelers also play the number one rushing offense of 2021 in the Philadelphia Eagles as well as the number two rushing team from last season in the Indianapolis Colts. While 2022 is a new year and these teams may not be the rushing juggernauts they were last season, all we have is last year‘s data to go on at this time.

So do the Pittsburgh Steelers need to improve their run defense for 2022? Absolutely. As I said before, teams always want to improve in everything moving forward.

How much do the Steelers need to improve their run defense for 2022?

This answer could be simple or complex. But to give my simplest answer that I can…

Enough to win games.

This was the topic of the most recent Steelers Stat Geek podcast, which can be heard here:

Updating the Steelers’ salary cap situation following the Diontae Johnson contract

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 11:30am
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Where do the Steelers sit with the cap after their most recent contract extension?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are chugging through 2022 training camp and are about a week away from their first preseason game. While there cold continue to be some swapping of players throughout training camp, there is always the chance something else changes things whether large or small. As reports come in of these deals well before they are official, even after pen is put to paper it can sometimes take some time to know the exact financials within the contract. Relying heavily on reliable salary cap websites such as overthecap.com or spotrac.com, when they are able to report a player’s contract numbers over the specific years I then update the salary cap situation with a more precise number.

Before getting into Diontae Johnson, there are a couple other items which need to be taken care of. During the last salary cap update, there was a report of Jeremy McNichols contract from Spotrac. After that report, a conflicting report from Over The Cap (OTC) had McNichols being in his fourth NFL season, not third, and therefore qualified for a veteran salary benefit. When the contract went on the total for the NFLPA site, it did not change the Steelers amount, which would agree with the OTC report. So the discrepancy of $70k is still out there, but it’s not nearly as important now that McNichols is on the Reserve/Injured List. What ultimately will happen now is whether or not McNichols has an injury settlement or how things play out with him going on IR, so his salary has now been taken off of my list below for the time being. If there is an injury settlement, that amount could be thought of by fitting in the category of “in-season expenses.” As for the addition of Master Teague, he did not land in the top 51 of salaries.

The other person to discuss is the contract of Chris Boswell, but his numbers have not been reported by a credible source in order to get a full breakdown. It has been reported that Boswell has an $8 million signing bonus, so based on his $1.6 million prorated bonus from his new extension, plus $1,683,334 in dead money from the previous contract, we know that Chris Boswell will count $3.283,334 plus his base salary for the 2022 salary cap. In the past, it would be assumed that Boswell‘s base salary was the minimum as this was how the Steelers have structured things. But after seeing the structure of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s deal, plus what you will soon see with Diontae Johnson, the Steelers aren’t necessarily dropping to the league minimum as a base salary for the first year. If they do give Boswell the league minimum for a player with his years of service, which is $1.12 million, the Steelers would save $545k on the salary cap. If the Steelers gave Boswell a bigger base salary, something such as $2 million, he would count $335k against the salary cap as he would then have a bigger hit that he would have been scheduled before his extension. So while we don’t know the exact number, this is a pretty safe range when it comes to Boswell and that he will fall in there somewhere which doesn’t affect the salary cap in a huge way whether it’s going to be a gain or a loss. In fact, the Steelers may have purposefully structured the deal to keep him right around the same cap hit for 2022.

Finally getting on to Dionne Johnson, his contract comes with a $17.5 million signing bonus. Dividing that up over the three remaining years of his contract, it carries a prorated bonus of $5,833,333 per season. Adding on the $283,357 in dead money from his signing bonus with his rookie deal, the only remaining factor was Johnson‘s base salary. According to OTC, Johnson has a base salary of $1.5 million for 2022, giving him a cap number of $7,616,690 for 2022. With his previous amount being 3,073,357 before his new deal, Diontae Johnson is costing just over an additional $4.5 million against the 2022 salary cap.

Although it doesn’t apply when it comes to a contract extension because players were already on the roster, I’ll still leave the reminder of roster displacement in case anyone is looking over some of the older signings. To determine how much a newly signed player changes the Steelers’ salary cap space, their cap number must be adjusted due to roster displacement. As a reminder, roster displacement is taking into account only the top 51 contracts for a team count towards the salary cap during the offseason. As a larger contract comes on the books, it bumps a smaller contract out of the top 51. Therefore, it’s only the difference in those contracts that increases the salary cap number.

Here is the approximate breakdown of the Steelers salary cap space based on their recent moves by my own calculations. The numbers are strictly the salary cap hit for each player in 2022. Players who were released, were given a tender, or had their exact salary reported are indicated below and the precise numbers are known.

(NOTE: Unless indicated, reported salaries displaced a $825k salary.)

Steelers salary cap space heading into free agency: Approximately $28.8 million

Dwayne Haskins: Tendered $2.54 million salary; After displacement++: -$1.715 million
Miles Killebrew: Reported $1.5175 million; After displacement: -$0.6925 million
Arthur Maulet: Reported $1.535 million; After displacement: -$0.71 million
Mitch Trubisky: Reported $3.66 million; After displacement+: -$2.765 million
Mason Cole: Reported $2.556666 million; After displacement+: -$1.661666 million
Chuks Okorafor: Reported $4.333333 million; After displacement: -$3.508333 million
Robert Spillane: Tendered $2.433 million salary; After displacement: -$1.608 million
Marcus Allen: Tendered $2.54 million salary; After displacement: -$1.715 million
James Daniels: Reported $4.166666 million; After displacement: -$3.341666 million
Levi Wallace: Reported $2.5175 million; After displacement*: -$1.672317 million
Montravius Adams: Reported $1.7675 million; After displacement+: -$0.8725 million
Zach Banner: Saved $5 million salary; After displacement: +$4.175 million
Myles Jack: Reported $4.75 million; After displacement*: -$3.90139 million
Joe Schobert: Saved $7.834 million salary; After displacement+: +$6.939 million
Ahkello Witherspoon: Reported $2.5175 million; After displacement+: -$1.6225 million
Gunner Olszewski: Reported $1.5825 million; After displacement+: -$0.6875 million
Genard Avery: Reported $1.0475 million; After displacement+: -$0.1525 million
Karl Joseph: Reported $895k; not in the top 51: -$0
Miles Boykin: Reported $2.54 million; After displacement++: -$0
Terrell Edmunds: Reported $1.1875 million; After displacement+: -$0.2925 million
Damontae Kazee: Reported $1.0475 million; After displacement+: -$0.1525 million
George Pickens: Reported $1.22767 million; After displacement+: -$0.33267 million
Trenton Scott: Reported $895k; not in the top 51: -$0
DeMarvin Leal: Reported $0.943072 million; After displacement+: -$0.048072 million
Bryce Watts: Released with $10k in dead money: -$0.01
Tuzar Skipper: Reported $895k; not in the top 51: -$0
Stephon Tuitt: Saved $9.05 million salary; After displacement+: +$8.155 million
Minkah Fitzpatrick: Reported $8.124235 million; Replaced $10.612 million: +$2.487765 million
Kenny Pickett: Reported $2.557801 million; After displacement+: -$1.662801 million
Larry Ogunjobi: Reported $8 million; After displacement+: -$7.105 million
Doug Costin: Reported $825k; not in the top 51: -$0
Jeremy McNichols: Reported $965k; After displacement+: -$0.07 million
Master Teague: Reported $705k; not in the top 51: -$0
Chris Boswell: No report yet
Diontae Johnson: Reported $7.616690 million; Replaced $3.073357 million: -$4.543333 million

Estimated salary cap space: Approximately $9.8 million

*The salaries displaced by these two contracts were $845,183 (Tre Norwood) and $848,610 (Pressley Harvin)

+A $895k contract was displaced

++Displaced by each other, giving no change to the cap

So where does this number compare to those reported by the major salary cap websites (at the original time of publishing, before any potential updates)?

According to overthecap.com, the Steelers are $9,795,599 under the salary cap. OTC has everything on their books at this time, except the Boswell contract and any change with McNichols. With all things reported, we have the exact same dollar amount.

Another credible salary cap website is spotrac.com, which has the Steelers at $12,881,076 under the cap. Spotrac has the above contracts, except for Chris Boswell and Diontae Johnson, and has McNichols on the IR. Spotrac also has Miles Boykin’s prorated bonus incorrectly counting for the Steelers instead of it sticking with the Ravens. Spotrac does not have the offseason workouts counting against the salary cap at this time either. Additionally, Spotrac counts the potential dead money hits of players outside the top 51 salaries in their totals.

I updated how much I believe the Steelers will need to still have when the regular season rolls around, which is much as an additional $13 million. Come September, the Steelers need to account for all 53 players on the roster, sign their practice squad, and have some carryover in order to do business throughout the year. But there is one more expense that will likely add to the $5 million the Steelers hoped to take into the season (in years past). If the Steelers elevate players from the practice squad, they must receive a full game check. Taking this into account, along with significant increases in league-minimum salaries of players who could be added to the roster if another player is injured, the Steelers will likely want to carry an additional $2 million to $3 million, increasing what I had estimated before to be about $10.8 million up to approximately $13 million. Also remember, this needed amount could go down depending on the salaries of the players who do not make the roster, assuming there is not too much dead money.

Based on this number, the Steelers are about $3.2 million shy of what they will likely need for the 2022. If the Steelers feel they need more money against the 2022 salary cap, a restructure of T.J. Watt’s contract could give more than $17 million if the Steelers chose to do so. Also, the Steelers could do a restructure for a lower amount once they have an idea of what they could need, and that restructure could wait until after they cut down to 53 players.

Does something not make sense? Curious about any of the specifics? Leave your questions in the comments below and I will check in and do my best to answer them.

15 thoughts and observations from my first visit to Steelers training camp

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 10:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Plenty of thoughts and observations after my visit to Thursday’s training camp practice.

I checked another item off of my football-related bucket list when I visited Steelers’ training camp on Thursday. Here are 15 thoughts and observations from my time in Latrobe, with some “awards” thrown in for fun at the end.

1. LATROBE

Latrobe is an amazing setting for training camp. The campus is idyllic, with beautiful brick buildings amid rolling hills framing pristinely manicured grounds. I’m a sucker for a newly-mowed football field, with the scent of fresh-cut grass in the air. When I got my first glimpse of the practice area, I felt like Kevin Costner’s character in “Field of Dreams” surveying his creation in the corn. A special moment, for sure.

2. PRE-PRACTICE SIGHTS AND SOUNDS

Before practice formally began, players assembled in small groups to work specific skills. The QB’s repped play-action fakes then booted out and mimicked throws to imaginary receivers. The OL worked on reach steps (Kevin Dotson doing his in a tan-colored bucket hat). WR’s did their warm-ups by throwing and catching rugby balls. The DL looked like they were practicing martial arts, honing their hand play with lots of waxing on/waxing off. LBs and DBs walked through some coverage responsibilities, likely working on communication.

3. LORD OF THE MANOR

Mike Tomlin strode through the team during the stretching period like the Lord of the Manor. There was no question who the boss was, as Tomlin slapped players five, joked with some, bent to whisper private thoughts with others. At one point he was laughing with Alex Highsmith and Chris Wormley, who appeared to be talking trash with some of the offensive linemen. Tomlin slapped Highsmith on the back, then trotted over to say something to Robert Spillane, after which Spillane gave him a fist bump. It was easy to see how much Tomlin enjoys this early-season process, and why he remains, fifteen years into his tenure, one of the best head coaches in the business.

Coach Tomlin (center) holding court during the stretching session

4. COACH T AND THE D

As head coach, Tomlin has a vested interest in every player on the team. But make no mistake about it — he is partisan to the defense. That’s where he spent most of his practice time, monitoring the linebackers and defensive backs, and when the players came together for 11-on-11 team periods, Tomlin mostly stood with the defense. He is a defensive guy at heart, and it’s hard for him to conceal that fact.

5. STARS ON THE SIDELINES

This practice lacked star power. On offense, there was no Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth or Chase Claypool. On defense, no T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Larry Ogunjobi or Tyson Alualu, and no 11-on-11 reps for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace. It would have been nice to see the big names, but it also provided plenty of opportunity to assess the younger players, whom I will get to shortly.

6. DJ IN THE SPOTLIGHT

One high-profile player who did participate was Diontae Johnson, fresh off of his contract extension. He received the biggest ovation of any player who was introduced as he came down the hill onto the practice field. Johnson was out early, too, and must have caught 100 balls before practice started. His participation was limited, but in the live routes he did run, he looked fantastic. His stop-and-start and change-of-direction abilities are different than anyone on the roster. He was un-coverable in one-on-one drills and made some nice leaping grabs in team sessions. Johnson looked ready to go, even with the missed practice reps during his “hold in.”

7. SHARPENING THE AXE

One of my favorite historical quotes, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, is this: “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.” Football practice is just that — the sharpening of the axe. Training camp in particular, since that’s the time a team does the bulk of its sharpening. The Steelers did a lot of that on Thursday, paying great attention to fundamentals.

The wide receivers, in particular, focused on details. They drilled route running, coming out of breaks and stalk blocking. I loved the energy of new receivers’ coach Frisman Jackson. He was coaching constantly, never passing up an opportunity to instruct, correct or encourage. At various times I heard Jackson say (or yell), “Eyes up,” “Get your head around,” “Run him out of there,” “Feel the boundary.” That last comment referenced a route by Cody White where he came out of a speed cut too quickly and nearly ran himself out of bounds before the pass arrived. Jackson impressed me on Thursday as much as any coach on the field.

8. RECEIVERS IMPRESSIVE

Jackson’s group was impressive, too. Johnson looked excellent. Anthony Miller made some nice catches and absolutely dusted Arthur Mallet on a wicked double move when he feigned an in-cut then burst up the seam and caught a nice ball from Mitchell Trubisky for a would-be touchdown. Cody White looked good high-pointing the football. The rookies who have garnered so many accolades the past few days — George Pickens and Calvin Austin III — were relatively quiet, but already look like veterans. And Gunner Olszewski, the return specialist and occasional slot receiver, had a good day, too. He made several combat catches and looked fast running jet sweeps. The Steelers have a deep receivers room with Johnson, Claypool, Pickens, Austin, Miller, White, Olszewski and Miles Boykin. Two of those players will not make the roster, although all eight seem NFL worthy. If I had to guess the two cuts right now, I’d say Boykin and White.

9. MORE GUNNER O

Olszewski was by far the most impressive of the return men. He looks so natural catching punts, like there’s a magnet in his chest drawing the ball to him. The really impressive part, though, was what happened once he fielded the punt. In a pseudo-live return drill, his ability to find a cut, make a defender miss and then accelerate was unparalleled. Before today, I thought keeping Olszewski and Austin III was redundant, and that the rookie would displace the veteran. After today, I don’t see how Olszewski gets cut. He possesses a skill as a returner the Steelers need, and he impressed me enough as a receiver to make him useful there as well.

10. SEVEN SHOTS

The first team period of the day was the Seven Shots drill, where the offense has seven chances to score with the ball at the 2-yard line. The defense won the drill, 4-3, getting nice plays from Cam Sutton, who broke up a flat pass that could have been a pick-six, James Pierre, who denied Boykin on a fade ball, and Alex Highsmith, who blew up a run block by Cody White to help snuff out a toss sweep to Benny Snell Jr. The offense got one touchdown pass apiece from Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph and Kenny Pickett. Trubisky hit Pickens on a slant, Rudolph found a wide-open Jace Sternberger on a pick route and Pickett made what could have been the throw of the day, dropping in a perfectly-placed ball at the back pylon to White with heavy pressure in his face.

11. QB BATTLE

Pickett had a strong day. He was accurate and appeared decisive. He’s been accused at various times throughout camp of holding the ball too long, and also of getting rid of it too quickly (go figure). Thursday, he did neither. He is likely becoming more comfortable with the offense and the speed at which things are happening. He was probably the best quarterback of the day.

There was nothing remarkable about either Trubisky or Rudolph. No big mistakes, nothing eye-popping. If this had been a game, both would have earned “game-manager” labels. All things considered, that’s not too bad for what is likely to be expected of them, at least early in the season.

As for the passes the QB’s were executing, it was lots of quick throws, play-action passes and bootlegs. In other words, pretty much what we’ve been expecting from Matt Canada. There was a period dedicated to “choice” routes, where a receiver settles down at the linebacker level, then bursts away from an imaginary linebacker based on the movement of a coach. Austin III was lightning quick bursting away from the “LB” in this drill, although his size is not ideal for these types of routes. Zach Gentry was the opposite — slow to stop and start, but a huge target. As each player broke away, Frisman Jackson yelled “Burst!” Did I mention I was impressed with Jackson?

12. OTHER STANDOUTS

Sternberger, the third-year tight end formerly of Green Bay, had a great day. He made several tough catches, including a beauty on an out-and-up against Spillane where he went high in the air, twisted around and snagged the ball over his shoulder. Sternberger is listed at 6’4-250 but looks smaller. He runs routes like a receiver and has soft hands. He may not stick, but he looks like he can play in the league.

Anthony McFarland had a solid day taking reps in the absence of Najee Harris. McFarland was especially effective as a receiver out of the backfield, where he had several nice grabs and dusted Devin Bush in one-on-ones. He made some nice cuts on inside zone runs, too, and showed a willingness to square up and run hard between the tackles.

Carlins Platel made some nice plays at cornerback, especially in the run game. The Steelers had him in the slot at times where he knifed in to make several tackles in 11-on-11 sessions. Platel, a rookie free agent from South Carolina, is having a nice camp and could be a practice squad candidate.

And DeMarvin Leal, in whom I have high hopes, absolutely destroyed John Leglue and then Kendrick Green in back-to-back pass rush reps. Leal is very quick off the ball and uses his hands well. He got inside on Leglue and from there drove him back like he was a child, prompting a celebration from his fellow defensive linemen. Leal vs. Leglue has become one of the testier battles in camp. Leglue plays with an edge, and Leal has a motor. They were fun to watch.

13. JET, JET AND MORE JET

The Steelers ran dozens of jet motion plays, in both group and team sessions. In one group period, the following players all carried the ball on jet sweep: Austin III, Olszewski, McFarland, Pickens, Boykin, White, Steven Sims, Tyler Snead, Tyler Vaughns, Connor Heyward and Derek Watt. Yes, Heyward and Watt. Likely, Canada was just practicing the timing of the play. But the fact nearly every eligible running back and receiver on the roster was getting reps means we should expect it to be run in almost any situation.

14. TRENCH REPORT

While the defensive line got the better of the offensive line in 1-on-1 sessions, the OL afforded itself well in the team periods. McFarland and Snell both had success running between the tackles, particularly on inside zone plays. The line was doing a nice job getting hip to hip on its initial double-team and staying on the double until the linebackers showed. This looked to be a significant improvement from a technique standpoint over last year’s line, which did a poor job on combination blocks. Pat Meyer’s group spent a lot of time working double-chip technique in the group periods. On Thursday, against backups on the defensive front, that instruction paid off.

15. ODDS AND ENDS

Tuzar Skipper had the hit of the day, flattening Jaylen Warren on an inside run that drew “Ooohhs” from the crowd. Isaiahh Loudermilk and Jake Dixon had some good battles in one-on-ones, with each getting the better of the other at times. Kendrick Green looks athletic at guard. He can get out and pull. But, as his rep versus Leal showed, he still struggles with power at the point of attack. Devin Bush didn’t make a single play that impressed me, and he got beat in coverage a few times. You can’t put too much stock in one practice, but it wasn’t a great day for No. 55. Myles Jack, on the other hand, looked solid. He has fluid hips and covers a lot of ground. Arthur Maulet impressed at times. He has a spot on this roster. The question is, where?

And now for some awards:

Matt Canada Ridiculous Shift Award

To the play the Steelers ran in pre-practice where Dan Moore Jr. moved from his left tackle position out to wide receiver and proceeded to block for Calvin Austin III on a quick screen.

Cranky Fan Award

To the older gentleman in a Joe Greene jersey who ripped Kenny Pickett after Pickett completed a pass. Pickett slid left in the pocket, found a clean lane in which to throw and then hit White on an in-cut about 15 yards down the field, prompting applause from the crowd.

“What?” the gentleman said. “I’m supposed to be impressed by that? He had a wide open lane to throw, no pass rush, he put it low and the receiver had to fall down to catch it. But go ahead, clap like he’s Joe Montana.”

Enjoy the Kenny Pickett Era, sir...

Not Your Grandfather’s Offensive Lineman Award

Remember when linemen were big fat guys? Or at least big and burly? That’s not the case anymore. As evidence, check out this photo I took of Chuks Okorafor, who is listed at 320 pounds:

Okorafor is the most svelte 320 I’ve ever seen. He’s in great shape, and it shows in his exceptional lateral movement. The question is, will he be powerful enough to knock a 3-tech off the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 1 when the Steelers need to make a yard?

Magnitude “Pop Pop” Award

Only fans of the irreverent and wonderful T.V. show “Community” will get the Magnitude reference. But this award goes to the player whose performance “popped” the most on Thursday. Or, put differently, the guy who, for whatever reason, most stood out.

There were several worthy candidates for this award. Pickett, Miller, Sternberger, Olszewsky, Maulet and Leal all had good days. But the winner is Anthony McFarland, whose shiftiness, pass catching and open-field running got my hopes up that this could be the year he puts it all together and becomes the third down back this team has lacked the past few seasons.

Sign of the Apocalypse Award

To the skies over Latrobe, which darkened quickly, exploded with bolts of lightning and caused the Steelers to wrap practice about 15 minutes early. My wife and I dragged our kids to the car moments before the clouds burst, then sat inside listening to the rain pelt the roof while excitedly recounting our day.

I can’t wait to go back.

Training Camp Recap, Day 8: A day to get key players back on the field

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back at Training Camp, and it is time to check out what went down during the latest practice!

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back at Saint Vincent College for the first time since 2019, and fans have descended on Latrobe, PA in hopes of catching a glimpse of the 2022 team.

What went down during the latest training camp practice? That is where this article comes in. Check out all that was said, as well as photos and videos from the day’s workouts.

Here we go...

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of questions marks across the roster, and it will take every practice and preseason game for the coaching staff to find a way to get answers to those questions. There were a lot of storylines to come out of Thursday’s practice, and we highlight some of those below:

7 Shots

With the pads back on, the Steelers offense was looking for a rare victory over the defense. Even without T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward for the second straight day, the offense was unable to reach that goal. However, it was closer than it had been, losing 3-4.

7 shots:

Mitch Trubisky 1/4 - last rep, McFarland didn’t turn around to see the ball and Cam Sutton nearly had a pick.

Mason Rudolph 1/2 - TD to Jace Sternberger

Kenny Pickett 1/1 - throw was a little late but he got a nice one to Cody White for the score

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

As you see above, the Steelers gave Kenny Pickett one, and the final, play of the drill. It resulted in a touchdown pass to Cody White. It was a pretty sweet play, and you can see it below:

KP8 with the dime!! #Steelers #RideorDieCrew pic.twitter.com/Fg24h1hiXU

— Jeff Hartman (@JHartman_PIT) August 4, 2022

Welcome Back DJ

With Diontae Johnson signing a new 2-year extension, it meant he was back at practice. And he made his presence felt with some big plays, especially in one-on-one drills.

Diontae Johnson didn't miss a beat in one-on-ones. Got deep on his first attempt. Then just did a start-stop to shake the corner. Tight ends really did well.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 4, 2022

QB Shuffle

The quarterback shuffle/rotation continued Thursday, this time between Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. Kenny Pickett still hasn’t seen any first team repetitions outside of 7 Shots this training camp.

Mitch Trubisky appears to be taking all first-team reps today while Mason Rudolph and Kenny Pickett rotate second and third team every two reps.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

Don’t forget Ant Mac

Throughout Najee Harris’ injury, the signing of Jeremy McNichols and even Master Teague III, Anthony McFarland has become the forgotten running back. Finally healthy, for now, McFarland has been putting in some great performances in practice. Thursday was no exception.

McFarland with a nice burst on a jet sweep. Splits his blockers and beats a defender to the inside. Nice run.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 4, 2022

Anthony McFarland has had a couple of nice one-on-one reps against Myles Jack and Devin Bush getting down the field and making tough catches.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 4, 2022

Ball security issues

Speaking of running backs, the main job for these players is to protect the football. The unit had an issue with that Thursday with two separate backs putting the ball on the ground in different situations.

Jaylen Warren carries but Justin Layne punches the ball out and it hits the turf. Can’t afford fumbles. The first of camp.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 4, 2022

Benny Snell heads to the edge but is stripped by Ahkello Witherspoon.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 4, 2022

Minkah back...sort of

Minkah Fitzpatrick came off the NFI (Non-Football Injury) List Thursday, and although he was back he wasn’t a full participant in practice. This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, considering the goal is to have Fitzpatrick 100% healthy when Week 1 rolls around.

Minkah Fitzpatrick was in pads at the beginning of practice, but is back out of pads watching the defense during team drills. He’s been activated from the NFI list, but not a full participant today.

— Chris Halicke (@ChrisHalicke) August 4, 2022

OLine Updates

During these training camp practices, often times the offensive line gets overlooked unless something awful happens. Here are some updates from the hogs up front after Thursday’s workout.

Khalil Davis beats Kendrick Green in back to back reps. Just pushed him back into where the quarterback would be.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 4, 2022

Dan Moore is these one-on-ones

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 4, 2022

Dan Moore with back to back wins against Genard Avery in one-on-ones

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 4, 2022

Practice Cut Short

The Steelers practice Thursday was scheduled to have one last team period, but Mother Nature had different plans.

Mike Tomlin says they have respect for lightning, so they cut practice about 11 plays short.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

Injury Update

You can add a new name to the injury list, and that is cornerback Cam Sutton. Sutton left practice with a lower body injury, as Mike Tomlin labeled it, but most would consider it to be a knee injury. The severity of the injury is unknown at this time.

Cam Sutton is being evaluated for a lower body injury, Tomlin says. They don't know the severity. Also had a few heat-related illnesses.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

Mike Tomlin Post-Practice Press Conference

Coach Tomlin spoke with the media following Day 8 of #SteelersCamp. pic.twitter.com/B4Kjxix3TW

— Steelers Live (@SteelersLive) August 4, 2022

Diontae Johnson Media Session

.@Juiceup__3 addresses the media about his new three-year contract: pic.twitter.com/cNGzKL0L5n

— Steelers Live (@SteelersLive) August 4, 2022

Video

Pat Freiermuth on getting back on the field: pic.twitter.com/NBFT3G68ax

— Steelers Live (@SteelersLive) August 4, 2022

Master Teague III on playing for his childhood team: pic.twitter.com/kOURE2hZyj

— Steelers Live (@SteelersLive) August 4, 2022

Chase Claypool on the slot, all the Notre Dame guys in the WR room, etc pic.twitter.com/754urtKMYd

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 4, 2022

Is cereal a soup? pic.twitter.com/0wRWDD2Z7E

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2022

He’s baaaaaaack@minkfitz_21 pic.twitter.com/UEdrQlU53P

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2022

Photos

Caption this pic.twitter.com/OWAq5fWoKZ

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

Najee Harris grabbed a staff photographer’s camera and began taking pics of the crowd, within which were several individuals trying to get his attention. He even asked for them to do The Wave pic.twitter.com/1LCMDzyHM4

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 4, 2022

@minkfitz_21 is back!! @Stateofsteelers @btsteelcurtain @steelers pic.twitter.com/SM7WDVDn0w

— State of the Steelers (@Stateofsteelers) August 4, 2022

@Juiceup__3 ready to practice. Congratulations on contract pic.twitter.com/zPehpmcyuu

— State of the Steelers (@Stateofsteelers) August 4, 2022

7 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin following Thursday’s training camp practice

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 7:15am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking to the media following practice each day of training camp, the Steelers head coach answered a few questions about specific players.

As the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers continue to practice for training camp at St. Vincent College on Thursday, we were also graced with a media session from head coach Mike Tomlin. For that reason, it’s time for another installment of the “players mentioned” article. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.

Diontae Johnson

After getting a two-year contract extension, Diontae Johnson was a full participant at practice on Thursday. Coach Tomlin was asked about getting Johnson back doing team activities.

“He’s a significant piece. He’s done a good job of staying connected throughout the process. His train left the station today. I imagine there’s not going to be much of a transition in terms of him getting up to speed. I know he was excited about work today and I’m sure he’ll have an opportunity to tell you guys and expand upon that.”

On Johnson’s first play, he caught a deep pass. In a follow-up question, Coach Tomlin was asked about Johnson’s work ethic that allowed him to not miss a beat stepping into team activities.

“He’s been working, you guys have seen him work. And so, we’re not surprised by that.”

In a later question, Coach Tomlin was asked about Johnson not being a big or lightning-fast receiver and asked what makes him so good.

“He’s got game. Skill relative to the position, he has at a high level. He’s got ridiculous body control. And I just think that those are significant components of determining dominance at that position, probably more so than the things that are measurable that you mentioned.”

Benny Snell Jr. & Najee Harris

The Steelers have already made two changes at running back after reporting to Latrobe. Coach Tomlin was asked about Benny Snell with where he has grown the most and where he can carve out his niche in the backfield. In his response, Coach Tomlin also brought up Najee Harris.

“You know, he’s done a really good job of understanding NFL conditioning and that’s gradually improved over the course of his time here. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that. He works hard in offensive periods. And in particular, when a guy like [Najee Harris] is down, he gets an opportunity to really show his capabilities. But at the same time, he doesn’t wane in regard to his special teams responsibility. That’s why I mentioned his conditioning, because you think of his expanded opportunities as an offensive player, but as a coach, I look at a guy taking expanded offensive reps while at the same time maintaining his special teams responsibility and that is impressive.”

Steven Sims, Tyler Vaughns, & Tyler Snead

After talking about special teams in the previous question, a number of wide receivers who are trying to find their way via special teams were brought up. Coach Tomlin was asked what he thought of Steven Simms, Tyler Vaughns, and Tyler Snead.

“They’ve had their moments. I really think that story gets told once we start getting into stadiums.”

Levi Wallace

Despite only being mentioned as having an illness, Levi Wallace has not been participating in practice for some time. Coach Tomlin was asked if there was a physical ailment with Wallace or if he is simply ill.

“He’s just ill.”

Mike Tomlin’s media session can be seen HERE on the Steelers YouTube channel.

There was never a guarantee the Steelers would sign T.J. Watt during his 2021 hold-in

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

T.J. Watt’s contract drama of the summer of 2021 was just that: Dramatic. There was never a guarantee the Steelers would guarantee Watt the better part of $100 million. Watt’s situation may have been even more controversial than Diontae Johnson’s recent contract issue and training camp hold-in.

“It was a slam dunk that a deal would get done.”

“It was a foregone conclusion.”

“Totally different situation.”

Those are just three things said about T.J. Watt and his training camp hold-in and contract negotiations of 2021 whenever anyone dares to compare it to Diontae Johnson and his recent training camp hold-in and contract negotiations of 2022.

Do people ever use the Time Traveler function on their Google machines? In the case of Watt’s 2021 contract drama, they wouldn’t have to set the controls back that far to see that, not only was there drama but there were no guarantees that Watt and the Steelers would agree to anything.

Why were there no guarantees? Because, up to that point in their history of negotiating contracts, the Steelers had never agreed to guarantee money beyond the first year of a veteran deal. And we weren’t talking about chump change, either. Watt reportedly wanted close to $100 million in guaranteed money. This was a major sticking point and something the media and fans spent many days and weeks debating in the months leading up to training camp. The debates never stopped once the players convened at old Heinz Field for training camp last summer.

Watt, much like Johnson this year, decided on a “hold-in,” meaning he didn’t practice with the team in any meaningful way and didn’t appear in preseason action.

That’s right, this “foregone conclusion,” this “slam dunk” of a contract extension dragged on for so long, that it looked like it would never get done.

The Steelers were so used to doing business the Steeler Way, that there was growing concern that Watt would have to play the 2021 season on his fifth-year option and...?

Would the Steelers be forced to franchise tag Watt prior to the 2022 season? Would this lead to another Le’Veon Bell situation, where Watt either delayed the signing of the tag or simply didn’t sign it at all?

“I’m going on vacation. Hopefully, Watt will have a new deal by the time I get back.” These were the kinds of things Steelers fans spent the entire summer saying on social media. It was a major concern for them, where most sided with Watt and demanded that the Steelers get this done.

#Paytheman!

The Watt situation was the number one talking point on social media, on talk radio and on places like Behind the Steel Curtain.

Watt’s teammates—including Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward—went public and pleaded with their bosses to get Watt signed to a new deal.

However, not every teammate was on board with Watt’s hold-in. During the reporting of that now infamous and, by all accounts, ugly fight between Minkah Fitzpatrick and Chase Claypool near the end of last year’s training camp, it was said that Watt screamed something at Claypool, and the second-year receiver retorted: “You’re not even practicing with the team!”

There were even some fans who weren’t on board with Watt’s ongoing hold-in, and they felt he should suck it up, join his teammates at practice, and prepare for Week 1 against the Bills.

Just how long did Watt’s contract talks last?

Here is a link to a headline from Pro Football Talk titled: “T.J. Watt, Steelers pushing their contract negotiations to the brink.” Why was the word “brink” used in the title? Because this article was published on September 5, 2021—or just seven days prior to Pittsburgh’s regular-season opener against the Bills.

I’ll provide a snippet from the article just to add some texture to the Watt drama from last summer:

“The “no contracts once the season starts” rule complicates the Watt situation in a different way. He didn’t hold out. He showed up, and they’ve allowed him to not practice or play in the preseason. Since they won’t (unless they break their own rule) do new contracts after the season begins, there’s no benefit to either side to letting him skip games while talks continue. The talks simply won’t continue.”

That’s right, speaking of the Steeler Way, they have a habit of shutting down contract negotiations once the regular season starts. “Even for Watt?” was a reasonable question, but nobody could predict how things would go.

Again, this was a week before the Steelers' 2021 regular season was set to kick off in Buffalo.

You know how it turned out, of course. Watt and the Steelers finally agreed to a record-setting contract worth $112 million with an unprecedented $80 million in guaranteed money, a deal that wasn’t finalized until three days before the start of the season.

Yes, Watt is more valuable than Johnson. Watt is arguably the best edge rusher in the NFL, a commodity that’s very hard to find. Johnson, who surprisingly agreed to a two-year contract extension on Thursday to the tune of over $36 million—with $27 million of that guaranteed—is simply a very good receiver, a commodity the Steelers don’t seem to have a hard time acquiring.

But Watt was also a commodity that was very hard to retain in 2021. A failure to break from team philosophy and guarantee Watt the better part of $100 million may have driven a wedge between the Steelers and their star player. This wedge could have led to a franchise tag designation and further hard feelings that may have forced Pittsburgh to make a major decision about its best player.

Slam dunks are easy. Foregone conclusions don’t cause the kind of stress that Watt, the Steelers and their fans endured in the summer of 2021.

T.J. Watt’s training camp hold-in of 2021 could have very easily been the start of an ugly divorce between him and the Steelers. The fans may have ultimately been forced to choose sides for real and would have likely sided with the team (they usually do in the end).

Finally, T.J. Watt’s contract drama from last summer may have been a little different than Diontae Johnson’s was this summer, but it wasn’t as different as your memory is telling you.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Fri, 08/05/2022 - 4:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website but have decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest four podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

With that being said and typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show.

What Yinz Talkin’ Bout: Camp Conspiracies

What Yinz Talkin’ Bout is the conversation about the Steelers social media conversation. Hosts Kyle Chrise (@KyleChrise) & Greg Benevent (@GregBenevent) expose the hottest and most toxic takes on the internet. This week, Steelers fans can’t contain themselves over the QBs... in all the wrong ways. DJ can’t catch a break from cheapo fans. And corners of the web are coming up with their own conspiracies.

Rundown of the show:

  • Toxic Takes
  • DJ (before the deal)
  • Fans on the QBs
  • Much, Much More

Take a deep dive into the world of Steelers social media from a yinzer perspective as BTSC proudly presents a very unique show that highlights “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout”.

BREAKING NEWS: Steelers and Diontae Johnson agree on two-year extension

The Pittsburgh Steelers and wide receiver Diontae Johnson have agreed to terms on a two-year contract extension. For the latest news and numbers check out the breaking news podcast where BTSC Editor Dave Schofield breaks it all down.

The Steelers Preview: Why the Diontae Johnson extension is better news than you think

Not everybody is thrilled about Diontae Johnson’s extension. But if you look closer, it’s a great deal for both parties, but even more the Steelers. This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts, The Steelers Preview. With Jeff Hartman off, Bryan Anthony Davis and Dave Schofield combine all things Steelers with shenanigans galore.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News of the Week
  • The Diontae extension
  • Trivia
Let’s Ride Friday: The wrath of Khan continues with Diontae Johnson contract

The Pittsburgh Steelers new General Manager struck again by signing Diontae Johnson to a very team-friendly two-year extension. Jeff Hartman, BTSC Senior Editor, talks about this, and more, on the latest episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The glory of not being expected to do anything
  • Hart to Heart
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Steelers 2022 Training Camp Tracker: Tracking Thursday’s practice

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 1:56pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are hitting the field at St. Vincent College in Latrobe to prepare for the 2022 season.

As they continue their second week in Latrobe for 2022 training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting back on the field at St. Vincent College for practice.

After being forced to hold training camp at Heinz Field the last two seasons, the Steelers are back in Latrobe for four weeks before breaking camp the day before their second preseason game.

When it comes to the training camp schedule, it is much more known than it was the last two years. The Steelers will continue with practice today before heading to Latrobe Memorial Stadium tomorrow for their Friday Night Lights practice. The team is not scheduled to practice on any Sundays, but all other days of the week will see practice of some kind. For those hoping to attend practice at St. Vincent, make sure you reserve your free tickets through Ticketmaster. For the Friday Night Lights practice, information on tickets can be seen HERE.

Check out the information below as the players hit the field in preparation for the 2022 season, starting with some player interviews before practice if available. If any additional information or reports become available, they will be updated below. Posts will come mostly in chronological order with new updates at the bottom.

Chase Claypool on the slot, all the Notre Dame guys in the WR room, etc pic.twitter.com/754urtKMYd

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 4, 2022

QB1? pic.twitter.com/TLQVWfMw83

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) August 4, 2022

Diontae Johnson celebrating his new contract with a sandwich in the St. Vincent cafeteria (via Marcus Allen’s IG) pic.twitter.com/EFamunySwS

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

Master Teague III on playing for his childhood team: pic.twitter.com/kOURE2hZyj

— Steelers Live (@SteelersLive) August 4, 2022

Diontae Johnson is on the field early catching a little pre practice

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) August 4, 2022

Diontae Johnson is in pads and ready to go on a very hot and humid day at SVC. pic.twitter.com/h8BoKzMpcF

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 4, 2022

Beautiful day in Latrobe pic.twitter.com/VCIJQy0P7s

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

Doesn't look like Claypool, Freiermuth or Harris are practicing again today. But Diontae Johnson is in pads, as expected.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 4, 2022

Steelers have officially activated safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the NFI (non-football injury list). He hasn't practiced yet this training camp.

— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) August 4, 2022

Diontae Johnson catching passes in individuals as he prepsfor first full practice with Steelers. pic.twitter.com/wmWJzuz21t

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 4, 2022

7 shots report: Trubisky 1 for 4, Rudolph 1 for 2, Pickett 1 for 1

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 4, 2022

7 shots:

Mitch Trubisky 1/4 - last rep, McFarland didn’t turn around to see the ball and Cam Sutton nearly had a pick.

Mason Rudolph 1/2 - TD to Jace Sternberger

Kenny Pickett 1/1 - throw was a little late but he got a nice one to Cody White for the score

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2022

Minkah Fitzpatrick returns to practice, activated from NFI List

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 1:53pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After missing the Steelers’ first 7 practices, Fitzpatrick is back from his wrist unjury.

In a release by the Steelers PR Department just prior to Thursday’s practice at St. Vincent College, Minkah Fitzpatrick has been taken off of the Active/Non-Football Injury List and has returned to practice:

Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick returned to practice Thursday (Aug. 4) and has been activated off the Non-Football Injury List.

Placed on the NFI list last Tuesday when the Steelers reported to training camp, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin stated Fitzpatrick suffered a wrist injury in a bicycle accident while he was on vacation. A video of Tomlin speaking on the subject last Tuesday can be seen here courtesy of Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Mike Tomlin on Minkah Fitzpatrick going on the Non-Football Injury List pic.twitter.com/iKUY4hWhVI

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) July 26, 2022

In his absence, Steelers free agent signee Damontae Kazee has stepped into the role at free safety and performed nicely according to reports. Getting some extra work from Kazee was an advantageous byproduct of Fitzpatrick’s time on the sidelines. But now with his return, perhaps the Steelers can see the best way to implement their safeties throughout their secondary.

Fitzpatrick is looking for a bit of a “bounce back” season in 2022 as last year was his first with the Steelers where he did not make either the Pro Bowl or First-Team All-Pro. Signed to a new contract in June which made him the NFL’s highest-paid safety, Fitzpatrick is now locked in with a Steelers long-term through the 2026 season.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

Steelers and Diontae Johnson agree on a two-year contract extension

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 11:29am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Diontae Johnson have come to terms on a new two-year extension keeping him under contract through 2024.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and wide receiver Diontae Johnson have been at an impasse for the entire offseason. The team had its priorities, in terms of contract extensions, and Johnson clearly wasn’t one of those top priorities.

After watching teammates Minkah Fitzpatrick and Chris Boswell get new contracts, Johnson continued to wait for his turn. During this period, Johnson watched other receivers around the league, like DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel, get handsomely rewarded for their skill sets.

Yet Johnson had to wait.

When the Steelers reported to training camp, Johnson took a page out of T.J. Watt’s 2021 schedule and decided not to participate in any team drills until a new deal is done. Well, fans can expect to see Johnson back on the practice field fully as it the two parties agreed on a two-year contract extension.

This per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network:

The #Steelers and WR Diontae Johnson have agreed on a two-year, $36.71 million extension, source says. The sides worked last night and this morning to end his hold-in with a shorter deal than we’ve seen from others that allows him to be a free agent again after the 2024 season.

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) August 4, 2022

According to Adam Schefter, the deal gives Johnson $27 million dollars in guaranteed money.

Steelers new two-year extension for WR Diontae Johnson is worth up to $39.5 million and includes $27 million guaranteed, per source. pic.twitter.com/wSjrKZDNJD

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 4, 2022

Since being drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2019 NFL draft. Diontae Johnson has seen an increase in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns each year of his three-year career. In 2021, Johnson was added as a Pro Bowl replacement after putting up his first 1,000 yard season where he had 107 receptions on 169 targets for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns.

Johnson has been a tremendous asset to the Steelers offense throughout his career, but doesn’t come without his warts. Mainly in the form of dropped passes. Nonetheless, Johnson staying within the Pittsburgh organization gives them some consistency at the wide receiver position. Consistency they haven’t had in a long time. In fact, outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster’s one-year contract in 2021, the last receiver to get a second contract with the Steelers was none other than Antonio Brown.

It should also be noted the speed at which some of these contracts have been done, and how this could be a direct link to new General Manager (GM) Omar Khan. At this point, it is unlikely the Steelers re-do any other contracts prior to the start of the regular season.

UPDATE: The Steelers have officially announced Diontae Johnson’s contract.

We have signed WR Diontae Johnson to a new three-year contract. @BordasLaw

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2022

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of training camp, the preseason and the start of the season.

Steelers Vertex: How much of an upgrade does Mason Cole give at center?

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 10:02am
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Steelers free agent center has been inserted into the starting lineup since Day 1, but what can fans expect this season?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have finally reached 2022 training camp. As the team prepares for the 2022 season, there seems to be a lot of hope resting on new center Mason Cole, especially after 2021 starting center Kendrick Green made comments about not wanting to play the position. But does Cole provide enough of an upgrade to help improve an offensive line that struggled in 2021? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

As is usually the case, statistics are not the easiest thing to come by for offensive lineman. For Mason Cole, after being drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, he started all 16 games as a rookie and played every snap for the season at center and was the only player on the Cardinals to do so.

The biggest reason Cole started every game his rookie season was because the Cardinals lost A.Q. Shipley for the season when he tore his ACL in training camp. With the return of Shipley, Cole was allocated to a backup in 2019 where he started two games at guard and played 211 offensive snaps. In 2020, Cole was back as the starting center where he played 14 games after missing two early in the season and logged 914 offensive snaps.

During the 2021 offseason, the Cardinals traded Mason Cole to the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth-round draft pick. With Minnesota, Mason Cole started seven games in reserve duty from Week 9 to Week 15 before being placed on Injured Reserve for the final three games due to an elbow injury.

During the 2021 season, Mason Cole played 472 snaps and, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), gave up two sacks, both of which were in his final game of the season against the Chicago Bears and may have happened after his injury occurred. In his career, Cole has been charged with giving up seven sacks according to PFF.

When looking at his PFF grades, Mason Cole had an overall grade of 69.7 for 2021 which ranked him 13th of the 39 qualifying centers, 21 spots ahead of Steelers center Kendrick Green. Additionally, Cole had very low marks in his final game of the season, one of which he may have been attempting to play through injury, and it severely affected his scores. According to PFF, Mason Cole had his best game of the season in San Francisco in Week 12 where he had an 84.6 overall grade with an 85.9 run blocking score and 79.0 pass blocking score. His next best game was against the Steelers in Week 14 where Cole had an 82.8 overall score, an 83.9 run blocking score, and a 55.2 pass blocking score. On the 2021 season, Cole had a 75.2 run blocking score but only a 44.1 pass blocking score with a low score of 14.7 against the Green Bay Packers.

When looking at Mason Cole‘s overall PFF scores, his best marks in both overall grade and run blocking were in 2021. As for pass blocking, Mason Cole has had more of a struggle with three of his four seasons with scores in the 40 with the lone exception being 2019 where he scored a 63.3 in a season he only started two games.

All of this talk of snaps and scores show a little bit of the picture, but the film should bring some more clarity.

The Film Line:

Mason Cole played both guard and center in 2021, but we are going to focus primarily on his work at center. We’ll start with one of the ugliest reps he put on film all season.

Vikings vs. Packers, 3rd quarter, 0:08.

Mason Cole (#52) is the center.

Watch Cole’s feet on this play. He is getting driven back and doesn’t find his anchor. He is walked back into the pocket before being cast aside for the sack. This matchup with 2022 Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kenny Clark was one of Cole’s worst games of the season. It also points to one of Mason Cole’s biggest weaknesses.

Vikings vs. 49ers, 1st quarter, 11:03.

Mason Cole (#52) is the center.

From the broadcast angle you can see how quickly Mason Cole is driven backwards on this play. Watch the ball at the snap, and the nose tackle across from Cole. The defender times up the snap and gets a good hit on Cole before he can set his stance after the snap.

Cole has a similar weakness to most centers in the NFL, when he’s facing a better defensive tackle lined up in a zero or 1-tech alignment (over the center or between the center and guard) he will often get driven backward. Cole gets in further trouble when he fails to recover and anchor after losing the first contact.

Compare those two clips to a play where he is facing a defender who isn’t lined up right on him.

Vikings vs. 49ers, 1st quarter, 14:23.

Mason Cole (#52) is the center.

On this play Cole has time to get into his stance and he does a great job absorbing the rush and anchoring. His quarterback has plenty of room to step up into the pocket.

One thing that shows up a lot when he is losing first contact is Cole getting to one side of the defender to steer them instead of just trying to stop their push.

Vikings vs. Packers, 4th quarter, 1:33.

Mason Cole (#52) is the center.

You can see Mason Cole trying his best to steer Kenny Clark to the side here. It doesn’t work great against Clark, but it is something that shows up a good bit. It isn’t the worst strategy when you have a mobile quarterback. If Kirk Cousins could have taken off to the left side of the screen, Cole’s block would be helpful.

Mason Cole isn’t a powerful blocker, and he doesn’t have the best anchor. To be fair, I did show clips from some of his worst games here. Cole was only credited with 2 sacks in 2021, and only 7 sacks across his 39 career starts. Dealing with powerful 0 and 1-techs is a weakness, just not one that shows up as much when Cole is facing average defensive tackles, and he has ways to compensate for it.

It is also important to note that Mason Cole’s strength isn’t in pass blocking, but in the run game, and specifically zone plays like split zone and outside zone.

Vikings vs. 49ers, 3rd quarter, 10:33.

Mason Cole (#52) is the center.

This isn’t an easy block. The combo block isn’t the best, but Mason Cole gets his man and slows him enough to keep his defender out of the run lane. The guard helping him fails to get off the block and find his man, so there’s little gain here, but this play shows how well Cole does on blocks where he has to slow a defender’s lateral movement.

Vikings vs. Bears, 1st quarter, 1:07.

Mason Cole (#52) is the right guard.

Here’s a clip of Mason Cole at right guard. On this play Cole keeps control of his defender, and his block is good enough to allow Dalvin Cook to run to either side of Cole. As the left tackle loses his block, Cook cuts back and still gains a good chunk of yards.

Mason Cole was added because he is a good fit in these zone runs, and the Steelers were desperate to improve the execution of these blocking schemes.

Vikings vs. 49ers, 1st quarter, 11:40.

Mason Cole (#52) is the center.

Mason Cole also does a great job on screen plays and misdirection plays. Here he is able to get wide quickly and find the right player to block to help secure a first down. The Steelers love athletic centers, and Mason Cole has the mobility to do the job the Steelers want.

The Point:

It is easy to fall in love with big, mauling lineman that move defenders out of the way, and it is easy to look at those first few clips and declare that Mason Cole is not that kind of player. But Mason Cole wasn’t signed by the Steelers to be a Kevin Dotson, he was signed to help the Steelers implement the scheme they want to run. He has the physical tools and experience to do just that. He will struggle against better defensive tackles lined up over him, and the Steelers will have to compensate for that. But if that is what it takes to get the run game and Matt Canada’s offense going, the Steelers will take that trade off.

When comparing Mason Cole to 2021 starting center, Kendrick Green, there are some of the same concerns, such as anchoring, fans saw last year. But with Mason Cole, the Steelers get more NFL experience and a player willing to play the center position, something Green has stated during training camp before backing off his remarks. With part of what makes a good center being able to diagnose a defense and communicate, hopefully this is an area, one which is difficult to critique, which will benefit the Steelers more in 2022.

Training Camp Recap, Day 7: Offense sees must-needed improvement

Thu, 08/04/2022 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back at Training Camp, and it is time to check out what went down during the latest practice!

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back at Saint Vincent College for the first time since 2019, and fans have descended on Latrobe, PA in hopes of catching a glimpse of the 2022 team.

What went down during the latest training camp practice? That is where this article comes in. Check out all that was said, as well as photos and videos from the day’s workouts.

Here we go...

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of questions marks across the roster, and it will take every practice and preseason game for the coaching staff to find a way to get answers to those questions. There were a lot of storylines to come out of Wednesday’s practice, and we highlight some of those below:

7 Shots

The Steelers’ offense saw improvement in the 7 Shots drill, but still wasn’t able to claim victory. A dropped pass by George Pickens was the back-breaker, but some needed improvement by Mitch Trubisky and the offensive unit.

Defense just barely wins 7 shots on a controversial final call. Connor Heyward thought he had it on a shovel pass, but official ruled he was touched down short of the line.

Trubisky: 1/3
Rudolph: 2/3
Pickett: 0/1

Trubisky’s TD to Miller breaks a 4-day scoring drought for 1s

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 3, 2022

Offense wins seven shots 4-3. More interestingly. Three attempts for Trubisky. Three attempts for Rudolph with second unit and one for Pickett. Pickett had been 2 on Monday and Tuesday.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 3, 2022

No Pads, Vets Off

The Steelers didn’t wear pads after back-to-back days with them on, and they also started given some veterans the day off. Two leaders in particular — Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt — were given the day off.

Looks like Cam Heyward and TJ Watt are getting a break today. Montravius Adams and Derrek Tsuka are playing the 1s in the first team period.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 3, 2022

Trubisky Rebound

As stated earlier, Trubisky looked much better, and it could be noted some of the success also had to do with two of the defense’s game wreckers, Watt and Heyward, not participating. Nonetheless, reviews of Trubisky’s game were much better Wednesday, and this is a positive sign.

The offense looking much more crisp today. Mitch Trubisky has looked much better. Decisive with his throws. Has a couple of runs that were good gainers, as well. Ball is coming out on time.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 3, 2022

Pickens Praise

Despite his dropped pass in 7 Shots, George Pickens has again been making plays when given the opportunity. The play which made reporters take notice was a nice catch over Cam Sutton in the team’s one-on-one drills.

Nice nab George Pickens in a one-on-one drill. Caught it over Cam Sutton and stayed inbounds on his tip toes. His body control continues to be impressive — especially for a guy his size.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 3, 2022

QB Shuffle Continues

Trubisky got the first team reps early in team sessions, but Mike Tomlin decided to shuffle up the rotation giving Mason Rudolph getting some first team reps. Tomlin said repetitions would be distributed, and this is a sign of this happening.

The QBs have been rotating throughout skill groups in this period. Doesn’t seem as defined as previous periods with distinct 1s, 2s and 3s. https://t.co/xZRf1sMsJE

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 3, 2022

ILB Update

Earlier in camp there was some debate as to who would be the team’s starting inside linebackers. It was assumed it would be Devin Bush and Myles Jack, but Robert Spillane started throwing his name into the mix. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Jack and Bush are at the top of the order, with Spillane staying in the mix.

Teryl Austin said the pecking order at inside linebacker remains Myles Jack and Devin Bush followed by Robert Spillane. But said Spillane is keeping himself in the mix.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 3, 2022

It’s a mentality

Spillane spoke to media before practice, and reiterated what Mike Tomlin says about physicality. When fans/media talk about camp fights, that is the type of physicality Tomlin isn’t going to go against. As Tomlin always says, better to say “whoa” than “sic ‘em”.

Spillane on the intensity of padded practices: "Coach Tomlin always says, you'd rather say 'WHOA!" than "Sic 'em." And that's his way of saying he wants hungry dogs out there. He'd rather have to pull your leash and tell you to calm down a little bit, than have to rile you up."

— Mike DeFabo (@MikeDeFabo) August 3, 2022

Boykin Stepping Up

Miles Boykin has had a rough camp at times this year. Dropped passes has been the theme, but it is good to see Boykin finally put together a good practice Wednesday. With Chase Claypool still nursing his shoulder injury, and Diontae Johnson’s hold-in going strong, Boykin is getting plenty of chances to prove his worth.

Miles Boykin having a nice practice today. His hands have been great and he’s getting some nice separation at all three levels.

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) August 3, 2022

2 Minute Drill

The Steelers did their two-minute drill for the top two units, and there was success with the starters. Mitch Trubisky orchestrated a scoring drive with the top offensive unit, while Mason Rudolph’s drive stalled at the 7-yard line.

Trubisky leads a touchdown drive on his two-minute drill. Threw a TD to Pickens to end it. Mason Rudolph couldn't get the second unit in. Had shots to Steven Sims and Kevin Rader in the back of the end zone that were incompletions.

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 3, 2022

Mike Tomlin Post-Practice Press Conference

Coach Tomlin on adding in situational football: pic.twitter.com/Rh2DJz1yjI

— Steelers Live (@SteelersLive) August 3, 2022

Video

The reigning NFL defensive player of the year talked today pic.twitter.com/7sfojEPvnp

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 3, 2022

Robert Spillane believes he can be an every-down player.

And by “every down,” he means base, nickel, dime, goal-line…. offense, special teams, the halftime show… pic.twitter.com/L2g67wLooZ

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 3, 2022

Diontae Johnson taking part in individual drills so far. Not sure if #18 will do it all OR will hold in continue #Steelers pic.twitter.com/imPaVdjtDi

— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) August 3, 2022

QBs are working on handoffs, then rolling out and throwing to Najee Harris. Doubt Harris practices today, but he’s still staying involved.

Chase Claypool and Pat Freiermuth also not practicing. pic.twitter.com/tmfm4xIEsC

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 3, 2022

Kenny Pickett rifles one over the middle to Tyler Snead. pic.twitter.com/wMGRH3kVPe

— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) August 3, 2022

Kenny Pickett with his beat throw of the afternoon. Fires back shoulder down the sideline. Like to see him look down the field. pic.twitter.com/Qhk8qVNZu1

— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) August 3, 2022

Gotta figure out how to get 8 now https://t.co/kC4IkN9zTb

— Anthony Miller (@AnthonyMiller_3) August 3, 2022

Good receiver drills by #15 Cody White, #89 Gunner Olczewski and #84 Tyler Snead #Steelers pic.twitter.com/RLWobUKaZ9

— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) August 3, 2022

Photos

@Mtrubisky10 pic.twitter.com/dLuGCbHodY

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2022

Mason Rudolph working with the first team offense. #Steelers @937theFan pic.twitter.com/dOjV1Ou95k

— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) August 3, 2022

Ahkello Witherspoon vs George Pickens jump ball.

Witherspoon flagged for PI. #Steelers @937theFan pic.twitter.com/Dm5CnRz7ID

— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) August 3, 2022

Another BIG Crowd at ⁦@MySaintVincent⁩ for #Steelers Wednesday Training Camp pic.twitter.com/fz8D1u6VT9

— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) August 3, 2022

Last guy on the field today? Minkah Fitzpatrick. He pivoted side to side catching consecutive passes from staffers a while after practice finished.

Would guess he’ll come back relatively soon from that NFI wrist injury. pic.twitter.com/2V5XIv1DET

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 3, 2022

New #Steelers Special Advisor to Art Rooney Dave Morehouse arrives at #Steelers Camp. Morehouse had a excellent career with #Penguins advancing their brand pic.twitter.com/CltlvmL3QN

— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) August 3, 2022

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