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Updated: 2 hours 59 min ago

The Steelers should pay close attention to the 2022 NCAA QB class

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Steelers haven't drafted a QB in the first round since 2004 but that could change in 2022

The 2021 NFL season is right around the corner, but, despite being so far removed from actual game action, the Steelers need to start readying themselves for the 2022 NFL Draft. Of course, scouting departments do nothing but prep for each and every draft class 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, but this year will be a little different. The Steelers should be looking at any move necessary to land a quarterback in the first round of the draft.

The quarterback position is the most important spot in all of sports. Especially in today’s NFL where everything runs through the position. You're not a contender if you have a bad quarterback, but you will always be in the mix if you have a great one. Steelers fans already know the growing pains it took for the team to find their second ever franchise quarterback after Terry Bradshaw retired in 1983. With today’s style of play, waiting 21 years to find the next great one isn't an acceptable answer.

This is the time of year to get a jump on next year’s top prospects. The QB name that keeps popping up in my conversations with personnel execs? Ole Miss QB Matt Corral. Excited to study him!

— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 29, 2021

Regardless of Ben Roethlisberger returning for another season in 2022, I believe the Steelers need to address this position. The 2022 quarterback class is filled with guys with first round potential, but a good majority of them could use a redshirt year of sorts, much like Patrick Mahomes did sitting behind Alex Smith for a year. No fewer than 12 quarterbacks have a shot at being a first round pick next year. Of course those numbers will shrink and an unknown or two will join the mix, and it will be up to the Steelers to determine which of them has that elite trait.

Even if Mason Rudolph and/or Dwayne Haskins take another step and have a shot at starting for the Steelers, adding someone to the mix boosts competition and even allows the Steelers to regain draft picks by trading one of them away. Regardless of anyone currently on the Steelers roster today making it to next season, I would strongly consider the quarterback position to sit atop the Steelers’ draft board in 2022.

Spencer Rattler coming off a real off-season to prepare is scary pic.twitter.com/tdHScAzOjz

— Ruf / Writers (@OUupdatedSB) June 26, 2021

But what do you think? Should the Steelers put any extra work in watching draft eligible quarterbacks this year? Let us know why or why not in the comments below.

The Steelers Trifecta: Freiermuth, Gentry, and Gilbert

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 12:30pm
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Day 11 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, and Mark Gilbert

Welcome to the Steelers Trifecta! Over the 30 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 training camp, we will be highlighting three players every day in order cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s three players:

Pat Freiermuth Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Tight End
Age: 22
Year: 1
Height: 6’5”
Weight: 258
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 55, 2021
College: Penn State
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

There is little doubt as to the roster status for second-round draft pick Pat Freiermuth in 2021. The bigger question is how often he will be utilized early in the season and in what manner. Don’t be surprised if, in typical Steelers fashion, Freiermuth sees a gradual increase in snaps over the first four to six games of 2021. Although the Steelers needed depth at the tight end position this season, drafting Freiermuth also gives the Steelers one year to play alongside Eric Ebron before his contract is up in Pittsburgh in order to see if they have their next number one guy.

Zach Gentry Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Tight End
Age: 24
Year: 3
Height: 6’8”
Weight: 265
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 141, 2019
College: Michigan
Roster Outlook: Bubble
Analysis:

Unless something completely unexpected occurs, the most Zach Gentry is looking to do for the Steelers is to be the third option at tight end. Even if he does make the roster, the Steelers have only gone with two tight ends being active on game day quite often. But with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada perhaps using more players at the position, Gentry could show he deserves a spot on the roster and see the field.

Mark Gilbert Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Position: Cornerback
Age: 24
Year: 1
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 175
Drafted: UDFA, 2021
College: Duke
Roster Outlook: Outside looking in
Analysis:

Mark Gilbert is a very intriguing undrafted free agent from 2021. After his sophomore season at Duke, Gilbert looked to be a Day 1 or Day 2 draft pick when the time came. But after suffering a separated hip and an additional ankle injury, there are a lot of question marks around Gilbert’s body coming back to a point to play in the NFL. If so, this could be a great payoff for the Steelers picking him up after the draft. But until we can see if Gilbert can still bring the same game he did early in college, he’s a sizable mystery.

Be sure to check back everyday for anther ‘trifecta’ of Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Steelers All-Time, All-Rookie Team: Part 5, the Offensive Line

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

We continue to look at the best of the best of rookies throughout Steelers history. Today we focus on the offensive line.

And we’re back with part 5 of the Steelers All-Time All-Rookie team, in which we talk about the offensive line. Here’s how it works: I’ll include an introduction to account for some players you may expect to see, but who didn’t make the cut. Then I’ll list starters, backups, and others worth consideration — followed with a poll for Steelers Nation to weigh in.

The apologia for the sequence appears in the first article (here), but here are the ground rules:

The Ground Rules:

1 — I’m looking at the entire history of the Steelers/”Pirates.”
2 — The player must have begun his career with Pittsburgh.
3 — Only the rookie year will factor in; a great career is unnecessary.
4 — The poll and the comments section are open — have at it.

For past essays:

Part 1: Quarterbacks
Part 2: Running Backs
Part 3: Wide Receivers
Part 4: Tight Ends

Part 5: Offensive Line Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to take the O-Line as a whole (breaking it into three categories: tackle, guard, center). One thing you’ll immediately notice: it’s much harder to quantify offensive linemen than it was to pick runners or wide receivers. Especially in the old days.

Ultimately, I wound up looking at four elements:
— number of games started as a rookie
— success of the rushing offense
— number of sacks the quarterback took
— awards or attestations (like Pro Bowl or NFL All-Rookie team)
It’s an inexact science. My own memory is playing a role in the guys since about 1988 too, and that may not be perfect. So if you’ve got thoughts about anyone (before that era or after), this is the article where those comments probably matter the most. Hopefully the list still holds together, one way or another.

Offensive Tackle:

This was a surprise to me, but for all the great Steelers linemen over the years, there aren’t a lot of tackles worth noting. Especially not as rookies. Max Starks started no games and only dressed for 10 in 2004. Jon Kolb didn’t start a single game in 1969; nor did Tunch Ilkin in 1980. Larry Brown was a tight end still in ‘71. Gordon Gravelle and Chuks Okorafor were both close to the list, but ultimately didn’t do enough to get my attention. (They each started three games on the year, in 1972 and 2018 respectively, and didn’t otherwise stand out.) Then there was Alejandro Villanueva. Al was listed as being on the team in 2014, but played in zero games, and was not listed as being a rookie in 2015. So I’m making an executive decision and not including AV below.

Starters: Frank Varrichione (1955) Every photo of Frank Varrichione looks like he’s probably going to hurt you.

Started all 12 games as rookie
Team gave up 20 sacks (#4 in NFL)
#3 passing offense in NFL (though worst rushing team)
1 fumble recovery
Pro Bowler as rookie

Frank Varrichione was the #6 overall draft choice in the 1955 draft, and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, despite starting on the NFL’s worst rushing team. He also had one of the most “Mafia thug” faces in NFL history (I can only imagine that when he and Ernie Stautner lined up across from each other in practice, the whole rest of the team would take a step back).

In any case, Varrichione was a star from day 1, landing a significant contract for a lineman ($8,000/yr), and then exceeding expectations. He was eventually traded (surprisingly) to the L.A. Rams for defensive tackle/kicker Lou Michaels (who, in fairness, made two Pro Bowls for the Steelers). But he certainly earned his stripes in Pittsburgh before going.

A three-time Pro Bowler, who started every game for six years, Varrichione is probably the most decorated OT in Steelers history, and certainly the number one rookie tackle.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Being Rookie of the Year is exhausting work Marcus Gilbert (2011)

Steelers Rookie of the Year
Played in 14 games; started 13, on a 12-4 team
Helped stabalize O-Line for next decade

Marcus Gilbert is fresh in memory for most of us, as a steady presence at right tackle for eight years. A second round pick in 2011, Gilbert teamed with other youngsters like Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Ramon Foster to turn the Steelers O-Line from the team’s weakest link into its biggest strength in the mid-2010s. Though injuries ultimately derailed his career, costing him 20 games over his last two seasons, Gilbert was the Steelers rookie of the year in 2011.

Backups: Bob Gaona (1953) The artist who drew this clearly didn’t have an actual photo of Gaona, and just used John Wayne as his model.

Started all 12 games as rookie
#8 passing offense and #8 rushing offense in NFL
#7 overall offense in NFL
Team gave up 21 sacks on season (#4 in NFL)

Bob Gaona started all 12 games as a rookie, on a pretty middling Steelers team. Their offense finished in the middle of the pack pretty much everywhere (#7 or #8 in most categories, out of 12 teams), and the team finished 6-6. Still, walking into a starting job as a 22 year old rookie is never that easy. And the 1953 Steelers were hardly a powerhouse offense. When OL coach Walt Keisling was promoted to head coach in 1954, he kept Gaona in the starting lineup for the next four years. That’s a good sign, I think.

Marvel Smith (2000) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images George Gojkovich took a surprisingly large number of these photos. I almost never notice that stuff, but his name has come up over and over in these articles.

Played in 12 games; started 9
#4 rushing offense in NFL

Marvel Smith’s rookie year was rocky at first. He started the season’s first three games, during which the Steelers went 0-3. He was then inactive for four of the following six contests (during which, the team went 5-1). Smith finally worked his way back into the starting lineup over the final six weeks, which saw the Steelers go 4-2 and make a serious run at the 2000 playoffs, coming up just short. The following season, of course, he started 16 games on the 13-3 Steelers, who took the AFC’s #1 seed, and led the NFL in rushing. He was a Pro Bowler in 2004 and eventually collected two Super Bowl rings (starting in SBXL), before back injuries cut short his career. But one could see that Marvel was a legit player by the end of that first season.

Also Considered: Lou Allen (1950) Literally the only photo I could find of Lou Allen

Started all 12 games as a rookie
Steelers only took 10 sacks all year (#1 in NFL)
Steelers #10 in rushing and #10 passing

Lou Allen was one of three rookies starting on the O-Line in 1950, blocking for Joe Geri’s record setting season. This was not a good team, unfortunately, as they finished 10th in the NFL in both rushing and passing, out of 13 teams. Oof. Allen only lasted two season in Pittsburgh, leaving football after the 1951 season, after starting every game for two years.

Offensive Guard:

Guard is a tricky position to gauge. As we’ll see, some players shuffled between positions — more than one Steelers center started his career as guard, for example. Of the great interior linemen who have come through this town, the biggest omission here is going to be David DeCastro. Injuries cost DeCastro most of his rookie year, as he only dressed for four games, starting three. You might also be looking for Oliver Ross (starter in Super Bowl XL), but he started his career in Dallas. Meanwhile Chris Kemoeatu, Carlton Haselrig, Tom Ricketts, Craig Wolfley, Brian Blankenship, and John Reinstra combined to start only 10 games as rookies. Finally, Jim Clack and Sam Davis may have started four Super Bowls between them, but they only started one game, combined, as rookies.

Starters: Kendell Simmons (2002) Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images Kendell Simmons’ spirit animal is the Allegheny Mountain range

Started 14 games
Zero holding penalties as rookie
#9 NFL rushing offense (despite losing Jerome Bettis for much of year to injury)
Team allowed 34 sacks (#13 in NFL)
NFL All-Rookie Team

Simmons had an up-and-down career, thanks in large part to an ongoing battle with diabetes, but when he was good, he was very good. And his rookie year, starting 14 games at RG, he was pretty good. Injuries dogged Jerome Bettis that year, and the offense vacillated between Kordell Stewart’s hybrid game and Tommy Maddox’s downfield passing, but Simmons didn’t miss a beat as a rookie. He ultimately started both Steelers playoff contests in 2002, and was eventually named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team.

Brenden Stai (1995) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images I was better than you remember, folks!

Played 16 games; started 9
Zero penalties of any kind as rookie
Team ranked #12 in rushing (NFL)
Line yeilded 24 sacks (#4 in NFL)
Started Super Bowl XXX
NFL All-Rookie team

During this series, I’ve been musing a little about how these articles introduce me to players I otherwise didn’t know. But there are also players who I remember, but didn’t realize where as good as they were. Brenden Stai is one of those guys. I initially included him because I noticed that he started nine games as a rookie. Then I kept reading: “he committed no holds, false starts, or any other penalties all year... he started the Super Bowl as a rookie... he was on the NFL’s All-Rookie squad... Wait, who?”

Stai only stuck around in Pittsburgh for five seasons, and he never wound up in the Pro Bowl, but he did help the team keep winning through a big offensive churn — as the team went from Neil O’Donnell and Bam Morris, to Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis. Not bad.

Backups: Alan Faneca (1998) Alan Faneca, keeping one eye on his Lucky Charms from the sidelines.

Started 12 games as rookie
Zero holding penalties all year
#7 rushing team (NFL)
Team gave up 35 sacks (#10 in NFL)

Not every great Steelers player started that way. DeCastro’s rookie season was largely on IR, for example; and Mike Webster barely saw the field in 1974. But Alan Faneca stepped right into a starring role, starting 12 games for the Steelers in Jerome Bettis’s 1341 yard 1998 season. Faneca, as we all know now, wound up being one of the best to ever play the position — with six All Pro seasons and a Hall of Fame bust. But even as a rookie, he was the real thing.

George Hughes (1950) I’m pretty sure George Hughes stepped right out of an Archie comic for this photo.

Started all 12 games as rookie
#10 rushing offense in NFL (out of 13... yikes)
Steelers only took 10 sacks all year (#1 in NFL)
Two fumble recoveries

George Hughes was a 6’1” 225 pounder who made Pro Bowls at tackle and guard for the Steelers over his five year career. As a rookie, he lined up next to 2nd year Pro Bowler Bill Walsh (see below) and started every game on a mediocre team, as All Pro quarterback Joe Geri set a team record in rushing with 705 yards. (This was the same year Lou Allen started at tackle, see above.) Though he never played on a winning team, he was a sharp-eyed player, recovering seven fumbles in five years, including two as a rookie.

Also considered: Dermontti Dawson (1990) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Come on, man. I played center!

Started five games
#6 rushing team (NFL)
#4 rushing yards per carry (NFL)

Dirt Dawson played guard as a rookie, before moving to center, to replace the inimitable Mike Webster. Known for his quick feet and ability to pivot and pull, while still being a road-grader, Dawson’s experience at guard was probably really useful down the line. He started 9 games as a rookie, then bounced to center, where he was a six-time All Pro and eventually made the Hall of Fame (called by Bill Belichick, “one of the best players we ever played against”).

Kevin Dotson (2020) Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images Kevin Dotson, sporting the game’s jauntiest neck beard.

Played in 13 games; started 4
Only one holding penalty all year
Team was dead last in rushing yards
Team only allowed 14 sacks all year (#1 in NFL)

The jury may be out on Kevin Dotson’s career, but his rookie season was more impressive (I think) than most have given it credit for. Known as a run blocker in college, and thought of as a depth guy on draft day, he was pressed into service this past year for All Pro David DeCastro, and was probably the steadiest player on the Steelers O-Line — oddly playing remarkably well in pass protection. Legend has it that Dotson used to tell opposing D-Linemen what play his Tennessee Volunteers were about to run, just so that it would be more demoralizing when he pancaked them anyway. I don’t think he did that in Pittsburgh this year, but he did something right.

Ramon Foster (2009) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images If his football career hadn’t worked out, Ramon Foster had a backup plan as a doo-wop singer.

Played in 14 games; started 4
Zero penalties of any kind as rookie

Ramon Foster straddled two powerful eras of Steelers football, coming in at the tail end of the mid-2000s Super Bowl run (he started Super Bowl XLV at LG), and holding down the RG position on the explosive offenses of 2014-18. As a rookie, Foster started the season’s final three games, during which the Steelers went 3-0 and fell just short of the playoffs.

Terry Long (1984) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images I know it’s an extra neck bracing, but it looks like Terry Long is just cold and put on an extra scarf

Played in 12 games; started 7
#6 rushing offense in NFL
Line gave up 35 sacks (#6 in NFL)

Terry Long’s rookie season has the oddest stat line I think I’ve ever seen. He started seven games on a decent team, which is great. He also had one punt return for zero yards. And he fumbled once (which I imagine was on the punt return, because why else would he have the ball? Then again, what possible context could put a punt in the hands of a rookie OG?).

Whatever, the case, he started both playoff games for the upstart, underdog 9-7 Steelers — their dramatic upset of John Elway’s 13-3 Broncos, and their shootout loss to Dan Marino’s historic Dolphins in the AFCC. He also got the midseason start against the eventual champs, the 15-1 San Francisco 49ers, on Halloween — where the Steelers handed Joe Montana’s best team its only loss all year. That’s not a bad resume for a 4th round rookie from East Carolina.

Gerry Mullins (1971) Photo by James Flores /Getty Images Gerry Mullins models this page’s finest set of sideburns

Played in 14 games; started 5
Team averaged 4.2 yards per rush (#10 in NFL)

Gerry Mullins started at both guard positions, as well as tackle, over his career, picking up four Super Bowl rings in the process (he started all four title games as well). As a rookie, he played admirably on a mediocre team. Not really enough here to justify getting him onto the All-Time All-Rookie squad, but he’s worth a shout-out.

Center:

The Steelers have a rich history of centers, but a surprising number of them started inconspicuously. We already saw Dermontti Dawson as a guard. Ray Mansfield was still a defensive lineman in Philadelphia when he was a rookie. Jeff Hartings was originally a Detroit Lion. And Mike Webster was an undersized backup as a rookie, who started one game, snapping the ball to Joe Gilliam against the Chiefs in 1974. So who does that leave?

Starter: Maurkice Pouncey (2010) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images See, there’s George Gojkovich again. Did you notice that he took Terry Long’s photo too? That’s 26 years apart.

Started all 16 games as rookie
NFL All Rookie team
Pro Bowler
Stabalized Steelers offensive line when it was BAAAAAD...

In the late 2000s, the Steelers offensive line was in shambles, with center as probably the biggest hole. When the Steelers drafted Pouncey, the expectation was that he’d step in right away. But he did much better — starting 18 games as a rookie (counting playoffs) on the AFC champion. He cleared the way for Rashard Mendenhall’s 1215 yard season, stabilized the O-line despite Big Ben missing the first four games on suspension, and qualified for the Pro Bowl. A nasty injury in the AFC title game cost Pouncey the start in Super Bowl XLV, and it’s fair to wonder whether the Steelers would have won that tight contest if their rookie all-star had been available.

Backup: Bill Walsh (1949) 1949 seems a little late for leather helmets and no shoulder pads. Am I wrong about this?

Played in 12 games; started 9
2nd team All Pro as rookie
#2 rushing offense in NFL
Line yeilded 13 sacks (#2 in NFL)

I know. I want it to be the 49ers coach too, but it’s not. This Bill Walsh was a six-year starter at center, who made two Pro Bowls and three All Pro teams. He played during that transitional time, when some players still played both ways (Walsh did occasionally) and when the single-wing was the Steelers’ primary offense. (He also played at 6’3” 230 pounds, which would make him a running back today...) Walsh did block for a few of the guys we’ve seen on other lists — Joe Geri, Johnny Lattner, Fran Rogel — but he managed to slip into the dead-zone of early Steelers history, between Bill Dudley’s winning years and the Bobby Layne/Buddy Dial/Jimmy Orr winning years. That’s some bad luck, but those losing squads certainly weren’t the fault of the All Pro in the middle.

Next up: We’re on to the defense. Let’s start on the line. It’s gonna get ugly.

Podcast: How the Steelers can stop the “Presses” with a punter

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC broke down what the Steelers’ draft needs from specific universities before the NFL Draft and now they talk to the correspondents from the universities that boasted all nine of their draft selections.

It is very rare that Steeler Nation finds themselves elated with the team’s final pick of the college entry draft. However, the Steelers thrilled fans and media with their ultimate pick in the 2021 draft when they chose Presley Harvin III from Georgia Tech, a big guy with an even bigger leg. This week, join Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict to talk about the late draft addition of a punter with Nishant Prasadh of “From the Rumble Seat” and BTSC punting expert, Senior Editor Jeff Hartman.

  • News and Notes
  • Special Guest: Nishant Prasadh of “From the Rumble Seat” and BTSC punting expert, Jeff Hartman

Michael and Geoffrey walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

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

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Steelers to add a placekicker to offseason roster before training camp

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 8:56am
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to add an extra camp leg to their roster prior to the start of training camp.

The Pittsburgh Steelers usually carry two placekickers on their offseason roster to take pressure off the starting placekicker during training camp. In 2020 that kicker was Matthew Wright, but in 2021 the only placekicker the Steelers have on their roster is starter Chris Boswell.

It seems the Steelers are changing that as they are expected to sign kicker Sam Sloman, pending a physical. This per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network:

The #Steelers are expected to sign kicker Sam Sloman, pending a physical, per source. He kicked for the #Rams and #Titans as a rookie last season.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 1, 2021

Sloman played his college football at Miami University of Ohio, and was a 7th Round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 2020 NFL Draft. After playing in the Ram’s first seven games, Sloman was waived on October 27. He had converted 8-of-11 field goal attempts, with a long of 42, and was 18-for-21 on extra point attempts.

His next stop was with the Tennessee Titans when he was added to their practice squad. He was elevated to the active roster on January 2, 2021, for the Titans’ Week 17 game against the Houston Texans. He hit all five extra point attempts and both field goals, including the game-winner that deflected off the right upright from 37 yards away as time expired, with which the Titans won the division. He was moved back to the practice squad after the game and released in the offseason.

Steelers fans should know the addition of Sloman isn’t a threat to Chris Boswell, but fans should also remember Matthew Wright was called in to kick multiple times in 2020 for the injured Boswell. Having a reliable backup is important, and hopefully the Steelers have found that in Sloman.

With the addition of Sloman the Steelers will have to make a corresponding roster move. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding that roster move, and more, as the Steelers prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Steelers Vertex: Loss vs. gain at center

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers have a big question mark in the middle of their offensive line in 2021.

With changes in the Steelers roster from 2020 to 2021, we’re going to highlight players lost at a position and the production of the assumed replacement. This week we looking at the loss of Maurkice Pouncey at the center position. While rookie Kendrick Green is a viable candidate to land the center job, we will focus on B.J. Finney as he may be called on to start the 2021 season.

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 I’ve said many times before, statistics for offensive lineman are difficult to come by. When it comes to Maurkice Pouncey, his nine Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections highlight his career which spanned from 2010 to 2020. The only years Pouncey did not make the Pro Bowl where in 2013 when he only played eight snaps and in 2015 when he missed the entire season after being injured in the preseason.

Somewhere else to look for some data on Pouncey is his scores according to Pro Football Focus, but they may not paint a very accurate picture. In 2020 Pouncey had an overall score of 54.8 which landed him ranked 30th of 36 qualifying centers. In 2019 his grade was 51.5 where he ranked 33rd out of 35 players. These two scores were down significantly from the four previous years with scores all in the 70s.

Pouncey’s top grade came in 2016 at 78.1 when he ranked ninth out of 38 centers. His highest ranking was in 2014 when he ranked seventh of 40 centers with a score of 76.1. Even in the years Pouncey was selected All-Pro, PFF never placed him in their top five centers based on their specific scoring. Therefore the baseline for Pouncey may be skewed as he doesn’t seem to get much love from PFF.

When it comes to B.J. Finney, the biggest statistic is zero offensive snaps in 2020 between his time with the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals. For this reason, Finney did not have a PFF score for 2020. In 2019 he had an overall score 56.9 which ranked him 30th of 35 qualifying centers. In Finney’s previous seasons, he did not meet the minimum snap requirement to qualify in the rankings despite receiving a score. His best score came in 2016 with a 72.8 based on 299 offensive snaps. In Finney’s four years in Pittsburgh on the active roster from 2016 to 2019, he started 13 games and logged over 1,000 snaps.

So there are some numbers for both players, but we all know this comes down to the film.

The Film Line:

Maurkice Pouncey was a great center for the Pittsburgh Steelers for over a decade, and will be discussed as a potential Hall of Fame player. But the Steelers aren’t replacing 2014 Maurkice Pouncey, they are replacing the Maurkice Pouncey that was on the field in 2020. As players get older and collect wear and tear on their bodies, their quickness and power tend to fade. So the question is, how much did Maurkice Pouncey have left in the tank in 2020.

Week 2, third quarter, 14:53. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

Maurkice Pouncey is fantastic on this play. Watch #98 for the Broncos. He tries to move with the play, but Pouncey violently turns him and puts him right into Matt Feiler’s chest, not helping so much as winning Feiler’s block for him. He then moves to block the inside linebacker, and when that linebacker moves away from the run, he switches targets and takes out the safety.

That’s top notch execution. Maurkice Pouncey was still a force on inside zone runs, one of the reasons I loved him playing next to Kevin Dotson (driving #99 off the line), who was also fantastic on inside zone runs.

The problem with this run is James Conner cuts back, and is tackled by the lineman that Alejandro Villanueva is trying to seal out of the middle.

Week 2, fourth quarter, 12:03. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

Pouncey lands his block, slowing the defender down so Conner can get outside, but the great part of the play is his effort after his defender gets free and is chasing the play. Pouncey follows, playing to the whistle and it allows him to get a second block on his man and put him on the ground.

Week 15, fourth quarter, 11:23. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

Maurkice Pouncey was still one of the more athletic centers in the NFL last season, and he was still a dynamic puller. Pouncey has eyes on the middle linebacker while he’s pulling, and when David DeCastro makes that block Pouncey effortlessly changes targets and takes out the safety.

At the end of the play you can see Pouncey roll his ankle. Late in the season Pouncey was still giving his full effort, but the wear and tear of football took its toll.

Week 8, fourth quarter, 11:53. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

One of Pouncey’s weaknesses in recent years has been when he’s manned up on a bigger and more powerful defensive tackle. Here he’s facing Brandon Williams (#98) and while he gives ground, he’s in control of the block from the start and his quarterback is safe from Williams.

Also note the loop #48 runs, and how it affects the blocking. That’s Pouncey’s man if he comes up the middle, when he loops outside he becomes Feiler’s man. The only one who misplays the rush is Alejandro Villanueva, who helps against the linebacker, allowing the defensive end a free rush at his quarterback.

The Steelers brought back B.J. Finney, who backed up Maurkice Pouncey for four years, starting 13 games in that time. In 2019 he started 3 games at center when Pouncey was hurt, including the Steelers week 13 win over Cleveland.

2019 Week 13, fourth quarter, 2:32. B.J. Finney is the center.

Finney’s job on this play is to move the defensive tackle out of the run lane, and Finney does it, he gets the Browns tackle out of the lane and gets skinny to give Benny Snell room to gain yards. Finney isn’t a mauler in the run game, he’s no Kevin Dotson, but he can still move people when he needs to.

2019 Week 13, second quarter, 14:11. B.J. Finney is the center.

Finney isn’t the athlete Maurkice Pouncey was, but he can still get out on a pull and land his block.

2019 Week 13, second quarter, 13:37. B.J. Finney is the center.

B.J. Finney is a solid pass blocker, especially when he can work in a tighter formation. On this play the Browns are trying to overpower the A gap between Finney and David DeCastro, and Finney locks his arm with DeCastro like a game of red rover. Devlin Hodges gets himself in trouble by leaving the pocket on this play, when stepping up, or even escaping through the middle was a better option.

2019 Week 13, second quarter, 7:30. B.J. Finney is the center.

While Finney is very good working closely with his line mates, he isn’t as good in space, and here his movement with the slide leaves a big opening in the middle, and the linebacker is able to run straight at Devlin Hodges.

The Point:

Maurkice Pouncey wasn’t the same player in 2020 he was in his prime, but when he was healthy he was still one of the best centers in the NFL. The problem is he wasn’t healthy as often, and that hurt his performance.

B.J. Finney was a very good lineman in 2019, with few weaknesses and solid overall play. It’s why teams viewed him as a potential starter heading into 2020. While his 2020 season was incredibly disappointing, if Finney can get back to his 2019 level of play he should be a fine starter, and a good bridge to the day Kendrick Green can take over. Exactly when that day will be depends not only of the development of Green but also the play of Finney.

Podcast: Steelers restructuring, reward or remorse?

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 8:25am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap and player personnel situation every week in The War Room.

Join BTSC’s Matt Peverell for his solo show as he looks at possible future Steelers and examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation when it comes to personnel.

Check out the newest addition to the BTSC family of podcasts and stay a while with Matty in The War Room.

Rundown of the show:

  • The impact of restructures longer term on team performance
  • The AV of 1st Round draft picks at different positions and how various top tier Steeler draft picks have stacked up or exceeded these averages
  • An all too early preview of 2022 interior offensive lineman and names to look out for

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: Why Ben Roethlisberger will throw single-digit INTs in a full 17-game season

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 7:15am
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

In the new “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” series, we break down situations which could take place for the Steelers in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp to fine tune their skills. As we here at BTSC prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: Ben Roethlisberger will throw single-digit interceptions in a full 17-game season.

Seasons Roethlisberger has thrown single-digit INTs:
2005: 9 (12 Games)
2010: 5 (12 Games)
2012: 8 (13 Games)
2014: 9 (16 Games)

Why it will happen: In my opinion, the key to this prediction is whether the Steelers are successful in their attempt at running the football. If they can generate a running game, and when I say that I am talking about a running attack which is ranked near middle of the league or above, it takes a tremendous amount of pressure off Roethlisberger to have to always make the difficult throw. Roethlisberger has shown, as recently as 2020, he is more than capable of protecting the football, and if the Steelers can run the ball it should only assist him with making proper reads and delivering passes to a stacked wide receiver corps.

Why it won’t happen: When you look at the statistics above, Roethlisberger has only had one season in his career where he played in a full length regular season and had single-digit interceptions. There is a reason for that statistic, and it is how Roethlisberger can be careless with the football. In seasons where Roethlisberger played in every game, only happened four times, he averaged 14 interceptions a season. I excluded the 2020 season where he threw 10 interceptions because he was rested in Week 17. The thought of Roethlisberger playing in all 17 games, something Dave Schofield predicted wouldn’t happen in 2021, and throwing less than 10 interceptions seems far fetched.

Prediction: As much as I would love to suggest Roethlisberger will play a very clean brand of football in Year 18, I know better. Even with a running game, Roethlisberger always has, and will, gamble with down the field throws. He trusts his receivers to make plays, even when the coverage is solid, and sometimes those end up in the defender’s hands. The receiver used to be Antonio Brown, and now it might be Chase Claypool. Either way, if Roethlisberger plays in all 17 games, which is a huge if, I see him being around the 10-12 interception range in 2021.

Check out yesterday’s ‘30 Scenarios in 30 Days’ prediction:

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Najee Harris ranked in the top half of all starting NFL RBs, as a rookie

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 6:00am
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ prized draft pick is ranked higher than most expected in the latest rankings.

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a decision many NFL fans disagree with when it comes to the NFL Draft.

They drafted a running back in the first round.

When the team selected Alabama product Najee Harris with the 24th overall pick, many fans were skeptical. Why were they skeptical? Because their thought process is you can find value at the position later in the draft. Players like Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry and plenty others were not first round running backs. Suddenly, the general consensus is players like Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott aren’t worth the first round tag.

It makes for an interesting debate, and one Steelers fans are hoping pays off for them in 2021. NFL Network’s Maurice Jones-Drew, a former NFL running back himself, ranked all 32 starting running backs in the league. You might be shocked where he has Najee Harris ranked, but let’s take a look at the players who were listed before Harris:

Maurice Jones-Drew’s RB Rankings

1. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
2. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
4. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
5. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
6. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
7. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
8. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
9. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
10. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
11. Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
12. J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
13. David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
14. Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
15. Austin Eckler, Los Angeles Chargers
16. Najee Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers

“The Steelers have finally found a new bell cow in Harris, who has a similar skill set to Le’Veon Bell. One of the best backs to come out of the draft in quite some time, Harris will be at the center of the Steelers’ offense as a versatile weapon who’ll take a ton of pressure off an aging Ben Roethlisberger If the Steelers do make one final Lombardi Trophy push with Big Ben under center, the rookie will play a huge role in their success.”

If you want to see the rest of the rankings, click HERE.

So, what do you think of these rankings? Is it absurd to consider Harris, who hasn’t carried the ball once as a professional, higher than some players who are already established runners in the NFL?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Podcast: Have Steelers’ “Decembers to Remember” become forgettable?

Thu, 07/01/2021 - 4:30am

The Oracle Dave Schofield shares his thoughts in the AM platform with the classic stats show with the Co-Editor of BTSC.

For most of the past decade, the Steelers seemed almost unbeatable in the final month of the season. Since 2018, the 12th month of the year equaled “Seasons Beatings”. How often did the Men of Steel finish strong an falter in the end? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • 10-year trends of how often the Steelers’ seasons fall through in the end
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Dick LeBeau reflects on presenting one of his “sons” into the Hall of Fame

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by: 2013 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a heavy presence in Canton, OH this summer, and a large contingent will be excited to see Dick LeBeau present Troy Polamalu for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The town of Canton, Ohio is not far from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Just over two hours by car, to be exact. For this simple reason it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone how Pittsburgh Steelers fans invade Canton whenever one of their favorite players or coaches is to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As someone who has family in Canton, they always talk about the Terrible Towels which are seen everywhere the week of induction when a member of the Steelers is inducted, but I don’t think anyone can prepare for what is about to unfold this summer.

This summer, with two classes being inducted together thanks to COVID-19, the Steelers will have the following individuals inducted into the Hall of Fame:

Class of 2020
Troy Polamalu
Bill Cowher
Donnie Shell

Class of 2021
Bill Nunn
Alan Faneca

That is a lot of black and gold which will be on display both August 7th and 8th when they all receive their gold jackets and unveil their busts. With enshrinement just over a month away, all players and coaches who are being inducted have selected who will be presenting them at the ceremony. Bill Cowher will have Art Rooney II, Alan Faneca chose Hines Ward, but the most notable was when Troy Polamalu selected former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to present him.

When LeBeau heard of Polamalu being a first ballot inductee he was excited to just be there to watch his prized pupil get the recognition he deserves, but when Polamalu asked him to present him it meant a lot to the Hall of Fame player/coach.

“I am very honored. I can tell you that,” LeBeau told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I was so thrilled and happy for Troy when he got selected. I thought it would be unbelievably great if I was there just to see it. It was just so important to me that Troy go in, and that he got in with the first opportunity that was available to him. I had been telling everyone for five years that Troy would go in on the first chance he had because he was that great and certainly deserves it.

“Troy has a lot of people in his life. I would have understood wherever he went. I was over the moon when he did call and say he would like me to present him.

“Our players were like my sons. You saw it, you know personally how close we were as a defense. It’s going to be great putting your son in there.”

LeBeau doesn’t just appreciate, and love, all of his players, but he recognizes now just how perfect the tandem of Polamalu and LeBeau were at that time. It was a match made in football heaven.

“I think there are many situations like that on that defense where we were so close to each other,” said LeBeau. “They were extremely talented and were so successful. That 2008 defense, I don’t know if anybody will put numbers up like that ever again. It was such an honor and a blessing to be a part of that.

“I think in the situation with Troy, his particular talent and ability matched up perfectly with the way I like to attack on defense. I think it was just a perfect union.”

LeBeau is beloved by everyone who ever played for him, and he reciprocated that appreciation and love for all of his players. It makes the moment presenting Polamalu even sweeter. How sweet? Sweet enough where he will be as happy unveiling Polamalu’s bust as he was when he unveiled his own when he was inducted in 2010.

“I couldn’t think of a happier moment. It will be ever bit as happy as when we were unveiling my bust,” LeBeau said. “I think there may be some more Steelers off of that group going in there one day.

“The popularity of Troy was nationwide, probably worldwide, but I can’t substantiate that. I do know he was famous and well known and a favorite player of people across this country. That is where great, great stars end up. They end up in the Hall of Fame of their sport. In Troy’s particular case, he is every bit as good a man, husband, and father as he is a football player. That is a great combination.

“I can’t wait for it. That is one of the neatest things about getting to be there, have the honor to be there by his side, is to see his friends and teammates. I know when I went in in 2010, the franchise took the whole team there and they all sat back in the left together. I couldn’t look back there at them. I would have started crying.

“It’s going to be so neat to be back in that arena and see the guys that were there when I went in, now there to support one of their own who is going in. It’s going to be great. A family reunion without a doubt.”

It will certainly be a family reunion in many ways. Not only are the Steelers having all of the aforementioned individuals being inducted, but you can imagine all of the other players who will be in attendance. It is expected many of the players from the great 70s teams will be there to usher in Shell, as will the great players of the 90s and 00s to see Coach Cowher, Polamalu and Faneca get inducted as well.

This weekend in August will be one to remember, and LeBeau being an integral part of it just seems to fit.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

The Steelers Trifecta: Edmunds, Finney, and Fitzpatrick

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Day 10 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Trey Edmunds, B.J. Finney, and Minkah Fitzpatrick

Welcome to the Steelers Trifecta! Over the 30 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 training camp, we will be highlighting three players every day in order cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s three players:

Trey Edmunds Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Position: Running Back/Fullback
Age: 26
Year: 4
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 223
Drafted: UDFA 2017 (Saints)
College: Maryland
Roster Outlook: Doubtful — Veteran Practice squad option
Analysis:

The Steelers running back room will be dominated by the usual names. Najee Harris will be the bell cow, Anthony McFarland will be the change of pace guy, and either Benny Snell Jr. or Kalen Ballage will be the short yardage back. Heck, Jaylen Samuels could even be a wing option, and Derek Watt is entrenched as the Steelers starting fullback. Trey Edmunds has faced these odds of making the team before, and was a player that was routinely cut and re-signed depending on injuries and roster transactions. I anticipate 2021 will be much of the same for the lesser known Edmunds brother.

B.J. Finney

Position: Center/Guard
Age: 29
Year: 6
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 318
Drafted: UDFA 2015
College: Kansas State
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

The Steelers offensive line is very much in transition. They will have a brand new starting five combination, and while the interior three spots look to come down to Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, and Trai Turner, B.J. Finney will be the top backup behind all three of them. Finney may even have an opportunity to start early in the year before Kendrick Green is ready to go. It is also worth noting Finney struggled mightily on both of Seattle’s and Cincinnati’s offensive line in 2020 so don’t hold your breath we will be getting the same player we remember.

Minkah Fitzpatrick Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

Position: Safety
Age: 24
Year: 4
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 207
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 11, 2018 (Dolphins)
College: Alabama
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

What is left to be said about Minkah Fitzpatrick. You could argue he could push T.J. Watt as the best player on the team, or maybe even argue him as the best safety in football. All in all the Steelers dealing for Fitzpatrick completely changed this team for the better. If the Steelers are able to move Fitzpatrick around more as the years go by, and his turnover totals pile up he could be another player that hoists the defensive player of the year award. He will also be an integral piece on another Steelers Super Bowl run.

Be sure to check back everyday for anther ‘trifecta’ of Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Don’t look for a T.J. Watt contract extension before training camp

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The downtime of the NFL ofseason between minicamp and training camp does not often bring contract extensions from the Steelers.

Not too long ago I wrote an article here at Behind The Steel Curtain giving three acceptable examples of the very limited breaking news which could occur between Steelers minicamp and 2021 training camp.

There was a flurry of news last Thursday between the Steelers not returning to St. Vincent College, releasing David DeCastro, and signing Trai Turner. Still, all three of the items listed in my previous article are still standing. But in the comments, a fourth item was brought up which I felt the need to address. It was an extension for T.J. Watt.

This was specifically left off of my list for good reason. The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t generally do contract extensions during the downtime between minicamp and training camp.

There are actually four main times when the majority of the Steelers contract extensions get signed. The first is in March before the start of the new league year or slightly after it begins. The second time is during OTAs and minicamp when players are officially back at the facility for the first time. The third most common time when players are signing their contract extensions is when they report to training camp. Lastly, the very end of the preseason at the beginning of September is the last-ditch effort to get a contract extension signed.

To come up with these dates, I went back and looked at all the transactions on the Steelers website as far back as 2012, which is all the farther they go. Additionally, I looked up some big-name players and the dates in which they signed their contract extension with the Steelers. Almost everything falls within these for time periods.

For example, Ben Roethlisberger generally gets his deals done in March. In both 2008 and 2015 Roethlisberger signed his extension in March. In 2019 Roethlisberger’s extension came in April, but the reworking of his contract in 2020 also came in March.

Maurkice Pouncey is another player who generally got his deals done prior to training camp. In 2014 Pouncey’s extension came while the team was still doing OTAs, and his 2019 contract was signed in March before the start of the league year.

Another example of contract extensions signed during OTA/minicamp was in 2002 when Alan Faneca, Kimo von Oelhoffen, and Tommy Maddox all signed their deals in early June.

On the other end of the spectrum, there has been a lot of contract extensions worked out after players reported to training camp, with many times things going right up to the start of the season. David DeCastro deal in 2016 came the second week of September much like Stephon Tuitt in 2017 and Joe Haden in 2019. Troy Polamalu signed his extension in 2007 right after training camp began, but his famous deal in 2011 came in September right before the Steelers left for their Week 1 matchup.

The only exception which could give Steeler fans some hope of a deal with T.J. Watt coming before the Steelers return for training camp comes courtesy of Cam Heyward. No, it was not his 2020 extension which was signed in early September last year. Instead, it was his 2015 contract extension which was signed in the middle of July about a week before training camp began that season.

So it’s not impossible for the Steelers to work out a deal with Watt in the coming weeks. It’s not that they have some rule that they won’t do it much like they do when it comes to contracts during the season. Instead, it’s a history where it’s not generally the time the two sides get together. If wanting to estimate when this deal is likely to be done, I would put my money on early September before the regular season begins.

That is, if a deal gets done before the 2021 season.

Podcast: Will the Steelers have any first-time Pro Bowlers in 2021?

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 11:00am

In the spirit of brotherly love, siblings Dave and Rich Schofield break down all things surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Steelers have their share of stars that have received plenty of accolades, including Pro Bowl selections. The there are those valuable players that haven’t received national due. Who is ready to take that next step and earn at least a Pro Bowl nod? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Players that could finally be Pro Bowl bound

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

With his option declined, Terrell Edmunds is out to prove his worth in 2021

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 10:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers declined Terrell Edmunds’ 5th year option, and now the safety will have to prove his worth heading into free agency.

There are times when you feel for players like Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds, who most had projected as a Day 2 draft pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, had no choice in the Steelers taking him in the first round.

Fans have expectations for first round picks, and rightfully so, and often times Edmunds’ game has left a lot to be desired. This is one of the main reasons why it wasn’t a slam dunk the Steelers pick up Edmunds’ 5th year option this offseason. Once the deadline came and went, Edmunds joined just Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns as the only players to have their options declined since the option came into existence.

In case you didn’t know, fans should understand there was more to this decision than just Edmunds’ on field performance. When the team traded with the Miami Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick, they were then in control of his 5th year option as well. Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) the price of the option varies depending on the success of the player. In this case, Fitzpatrick’s option was more expensive than Edmunds’. To complicate matters, the first ever drop in the NFL’s salary cap made this a very difficult decision, and the Steelers chose Fitzpatrick’s option over Edmunds.

How did Edmunds find out about the team not picking up his option? Head coach Mike Tomlin called him personally and told him.

“Coach (Mike) Tomlin called me personally and told me they weren’t going to pick up my fifth-year option this year,” Edmunds told reporters during mandatory minicamp. “He told me that doesn’t mean business is over, but just stay motivated and come out and do what I can.”

There is no reason the Steelers can’t sign Edmunds after the season. If he plays well, and the two sides agree on the terms of a contract, they will have exclusive negotiating rights with the former Virginia Tech safety until the new league year begins.

As for Edmunds, he isn’t ruling out the possibility of a return to the team who drafted him in the first round.

“I would love to come back to Steelers Nation. They are the people that gave me the opportunity to come into the NFL, made all of my dreams come true. It is still open. Maybe next year we can make something happen. I am just coming in every day, working hard every day, keeping my head on straight, and give 100 percent every game. Everything is on a whole new level. You have to bet on yourself, double down on yourself and just do hard work.”

While that sounds great, you have to understand the situation from a player’s perspective. Certainly, there is some loyalty to the team who drafted them, but they also are likely to want to test the open market and see what their worth might be to other organizations.

In the meantime, Edmunds is focused on having his best season with the Steelers in 2021, and he believes the team has had a great offseason so far with work in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp.

“I think it was good we all came together,” said Edmunds. “We lost some guys. Just to have new guys in those roles feel comfortable with the calls and adjustments, that is a big thing for our chemistry.

“Right now, we are keeping everything the same. It worked last year. Everyone was in good position. If it’s not broke don’t fix it. Minkah (Fitzpatrick) said that the other day and we want to stick to that.”

If Edmunds has been anything, it has been reliable. If he is able to take that durability and combine it with better ball skills, he could very well price himself out of Pittsburgh when the 2021 season comes to a close. The Steelers hope he is a big contributor this season, but would also realize it could mean them losing a former first round pick.

That was the gamble the organization took when they chose to decline Terrell Edmunds’ 5th year option.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 regular season.

Offense in Focus: Using the power run game to set up big plays

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When Matt Canada has a successful rushing attack, his offense really opens up.

This article got shelved for almost a month due to some technical issues with uploading longer gifs to articles, like long TD runs. Those issues are fixed now, so welcome back! If you need a refresher, the previous articles are linked at the end of this article.

This is the fourth part in our look at Matt Canada’s offense at his various college coaching jobs. Today we again look at his time at the University of Wisconsin, when his offense was defined by the run game, and his three future NFL starting running backs.

In the last part, we looked at a play action pass, and today we are going to look at how his strong run game set up big plays, specifically from misdirection. We’ll start like we always do, with the initial formation.

Another heavy set with two running backs and one wide receiver, this time aligned in single back with both tight ends to one side, Melvin Gordon lined up at wide receiver is the only difference between this formation and a traditional single back set.

This formation is heavily leaning to the bottom of the screen, with both tight ends and a back lined up as a receiver, they are showing power to that side. Now let’s move on to the motion.

Nothing elaborate, just balancing the tight ends. I love the linebackers moving and pointing and talking, you can tell the motion is in their heads, they are thinking about how players may move, and while they don’t mess up reacting to the motion, they are moving around and thinking, they aren't chomping at the bit to attack the play, they are thinking, it’s a small victory for the offense, but small advantages can lead to big benefits.

The inside run game that was the workhorse for Matt Canada’s 2012 offense has the defense crashing the middle. The counter runs (and shovel passes) from wingbacks and tight ends has Nebraska’s #42, the linebacker on the play side, watching the man who motioned to his side as the ball goes right past him. The only one defending Melvin Gordon is the deep safety that takes over man responsibility for Gordon.

Check out the main part of this play from a different angle.

There’s one player defending the actual run here. Melvin Gordon is more than a match for a safety, and he’s gone for a touchdown. This touchdown is created by several factors.

First and foremost, the inside run game was strong enough that teams had to pay serious respect to it. One of the contributing factors in the Steelers run game falling apart was David DeCastro’s injury in week 5 and his return had him not playing as well. When Dotson and a healthy DeCastro were playing with Maurkice Pouncey, the threat of a jet sweep was real, because teams had to work to defend inside runs. When the inside run game fell apart, so did the threat of a jet sweep.

Second is the motion and various threats from wingbacks. Second tight ends and fullbacks are almost always the least dangerous weapons on the field, and defenses can put their weakest defenders on them, or use that defender to help other places. Matt Canada turns that on it’s head by attacking teams with that position, wing back counters, passes, and lots of motion make the defense pay special attention to a player they normally would pay the least to, and that shows up here in a big way. The linebacker staring down the #2 tight end is the player in the best position to help the safety shut down the jet sweep, but he doesn’t even realize what is happening, because he has to watch his man, the #2 tight end who came to his side in motion.

The previous three parts of this series focused on the motion Canada uses to make teams think before running plays, even basic run plays, and how he uses the #2 TE or FB (typically as a wing back) as a playmaker when the defense is focused on more traditional threats.

While all of that can be called window dressing for a pretty standard college offense, it isn’t just sizzle, it is manipulation. Forcing defenses to think about a player that they are used to ignoring with little risk, makes the better offensive weapons harder to contain. If you think of the way Antonio Brown’s gravity could make Coby Hamilton a target worth throwing too at times in 2016, Matt Canada’s offense would be like Todd Haley moving Cobi Hamilton around a lot, finding creative ways to get him the ball and gain yards, causing the defense to divert fewer defenders to Antonio Brown.

The Steelers have been collecting versatile depth weapons like Jaylen Samuels, Derek Watt and Anthony McFarland for years, and drafted Pat Freiermuth this season. The options for versatile H-backs and wingbacks are on the team. The changes on the offensive line this summer have resulted in them replacing key parts of one of the most effective pass blocking lines in the NFL with mauling interior run blockers. Building a power run game with Najee Harris has been a major focus in the Steelers offseason, and the success or failure of that focus will be an enormous factor in the success of Matt Canada’s offense in 2021.

Previous Offense in Focus articles

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: The Steelers will hold opponents to under 20 points a game

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In the new “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” series, we break down situations which could take place for the Steelers in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp to fine tune their skills. As we here at BTSC prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: The Steelers will hold opponents to under 20 points a game

Steelers points surrendered per game:

2020: 19.5 ppg
2019: 18.94 ppg
2018: 22.5 ppg
2017: 19.25 ppg
2016: 20.44 ppg
2015: 19.94 ppg
2014: 23.0 ppg
2013: 23.13 ppg
2012: 19.63 ppg
2011: 14.19 ppg
2010: 14.5 ppg

Why it will happen: Just look at what the Steelers generally do on defense. This is their calling card. While many are really down on the Steelers going into the 2021 season, they are forgetting that there is a lot of this defense still intact as well as the return of Devin Bush. Every loss the Steelers defense had from 2020 was a calculated loss, meaning they knew what their alternatives were while making their decisions and chose not to keep certain players. Seeing this defense completely fall off a cliff this year would be a surprise.

Why it won’t happen: The Steelers went from one of the easiest schedules in 2020 to the most difficult one for 2021 based off of last year‘s records. But not all things are created equal simply looking at records. For example, the opponents the Steelers played last year and do not play this season actually gave up less points on defense than the new teams they will face in 2021. But when looking at points scored per game, this is where it actually shows the difficult task at hand for 2021. The Steelers new opponents for this coming season averaged 26.86 points per game while those opponents from 2020 they do not face this season only scored 22.19 points per game.

Prediction: This is a tough one. While the number of 20 is not historically unreasonable for this defense, they are taking on some pretty prolific offenses in 2021. This statistic may ultimately determine the success of the 2021 Steelers, but getting below 20 might not be the standard for success. If this defense carries the way and wins the “strength on strength” matchups week after week, they could keep their average under 20 points. But against some of the teams they are playing, keeping them under 20 may not be the case but yet they still can pull off a victory. To ultimately make a decision, I’m going to have to say the defense is still impressive and the driving force behind winning games, but they give up over 20 points a game.

Check out yesterday’s ‘30 Scenarios in 30 Days’ prediction:

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

6 reasons I’m glad Steelers training camp won’t be held at Saint Vincent College

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 6:00am
Handout Photo

You might have a few reasons why you’re disappointed Steelers training camp won’t be held at St. Vincent College for the second year in a row. However, I have six reasons why I’m glad!

In news that I never thought would be so incredibly disappointing to people before the advent of social media, the Steelers announced last week that they won’t be conducting their annual training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. for the second summer in a row.

I think the reason has to do with the facilities at St. Vincent not being up to snuff in terms of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol.

Anyway, below is a quote from Steelers team spokesman Burt Lauten, last week, shortly after the decision was made:

“We are disappointed we won’t be holding our 2021 training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. We were prepared to safely host training camp on campus with fans, but unfortunately, our plan was not approved due to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.”

While Lauten might be disappointed with the decision, and while many Steelers fans share in that feeling, yours truly is happy.

I have six reasons why.

  1. I’m under less pressure to go now. Being a Steelers writer, people are always asking if I’m going to camp. “Are you going to camp?” they’ll often ask. Now I have a convenient excuse for not going and can even feign disappointment. “Darn it!” I’ll say while stomping my foot. “Maybe next year.” Don’t get it twisted. It’s not like I hate watching the Steelers do stuff, you see. It’s just that, well, I’m from Pittsburgh. Pittsburghers don’t like to cross bridges to get to the other side of town, let alone drive 40 miles. And what about the tolls I’ll have to pay to and from Latrobe? Who has a million dollars just lying around, burning a hole in their pocket in this day and age?
  2. I can avoid sitting on that awful grassy hillside. I hate that hillside. You ever try to sit on that hillside at St. Vincent College and watch practice? You spend half the time trying not to slide down onto the field. Do you think I want Cam Heyward kicking my butt for stepping into his football octagon? I’d be fair game the moment I hit the end zone. I suppose a trip to training camp would be a little more tantalizing if I was guaranteed a seat in the bleachers at Chuck Noll Field. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened since 2009—my first camp experience. Since then, it’s been nothing but butt sliding on that hillside.
  3. I don’t have to pretend like I know what I’m seeing as I watch Pat Freiermuth catch a pass or Chukwuma Okorafor block a dummy—or even one of those inanimate objects that linemen hit to perfect their blocking techniques.
  4. I don’t have to worry about some college kid waving a sex toy at me as I sit in traffic on Route 30. This actually happened to me on my way home from a trip to training camp back in 2016. As I sat there waiting for the light to change, I looked over at the car to my left and saw this kid waving...well, let’s just call it a weird-looking yardstick. Why he did that, I do not know, but I did make sure to keep my gaze straight ahead until I got back onto the Interstate. Anyway, since someone waving a sex toy at you in traffic is something that only happens once every five years, there’s a good-to-great chance I’ll experience that again, this summer. Therefore, I must avoid Route 30 at all costs.
  5. As per Lauten, fans will be allowed to attend select training camp practices held at Heinz Field—camp practices will be split between Heinz Field and the team’s facilities on the South Side of Pittsburgh. This is great news! Not only is Heinz Field much closer to me than St. Vincent College, but the stadium has zero grassy hillsides to sit on. I plan on parking my car in the West End of Pittsburgh and walking over. You might be asking, “Well, what if these select practices are only open to season-ticket holders?” “Darn it!” I’ll say while stomping my foot. “Maybe next year.”
  6. I can avoid the usual dirty looks I often get from other Steelers fans in attendance at St. Vincent when I step in front of little kids so I can be first in line to get JuJu Smith-Schuster’s autograph on the way back to his dorm room. We’ve become soft as a society, and I blame participation trophies.

Podcast: Beware the bogus reports during the Steelers 2021 offseason

Wed, 06/30/2021 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman leads the way with his AM studio show on the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

An inside source reported in January that T.J. Watt was disgruntled and wanted the team to ship his stuff back to the Dairy State. That was debunked. Now another anonymous report has surfaced that the Steelers’ interest in Trai Turner was due to Kevin Dotson being out of shape and not initially because of David DeCastro. That story is being debunked already. But it is still out there. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Note
  • The Live Mail Bag
  • 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

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Will Alex Highsmith make Steelers fans forget about Bud Dupree?

Tue, 06/29/2021 - 2:00pm
handout photo

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be looking to get some major contributions from Alex Highsmith in Year 2.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are known for their defense, but more importantly sacking the quarterback. After leading the league in sacks in 2020, the biggest question surrounding the black and gold pass rush is whether Alex Highsmith can fill the void left when Bud Dupree jettisoned for the Tennessee Titans via free agency.

Highsmith had a stellar rookie season as the No. 3 pass rusher, but saw extensive experience when Dupree was lost for the season with a torn ACL. That experience has people excited for what Highsmith can do in Year 2 with a full year under his belt.

Prior to the start of mandatory minicamp, T.J. Watt spoke with reporters and was asked about Highsmith filling the gap left by Dupree, and if he would be able to step up and take attention away from his side of the defense.

“I don’t know if I can say exactly when, even when it was Bud and I, they were sliding to either one of us, chipping and everything,” said Watt. “It was carryover from when it was Bud and I. We were seeing a lot of chips and slides.

“Alex is a really talented pass rusher himself too. If guys want to slide my way and chip and everything, he is going to have one on ones on the backside and I am very confident he is going to win the majority of those battles too. I don’t think there is a way you can totally protect both of us at one time.”

Watt has been with Dupree since he entered the league, and leading up to 2020 the duo was one of the best in the NFL. But that doesn’t hinder Watt’s excitement to working with Highsmith on a full time basis.

“I am really looking forward to working with him and continuing to work,” said Watt. “The last five or six games we had together last year gave us a real good look at how we gel together and things we can improve on collectively. That starts with camp here and getting the communication with him and the whole front five. I am excited to get to work with these guys again.”

When assessing what Highsmith does well, and where he might struggle, is up to interpretation. There is no denying his pass rushing repertoire is far and away better than Dupree’s when he was entering his sophomore season in the NFL, but Highsmith’s ability to stop the run will be key within the defense.

Watt points out it isn’t so much about stopping the run or pass rushing moves, but consistency across the board.

“I think the big thing is pass rush,” said Watt of what Highsmith brings. “He has a great repertoire of moves already coming off his rookie year. He can spin, he can do his ghost move, he is developing more power in his game. I think that is a real high positive. I also think he handles the run well. It’s just a matter of being more consistent for the both of us. I think that is the biggest challenge of being an NFL player, trying to be consistent week in and week out. I have said it time and time again. Anybody can have a great game. It’s about putting together great weeks and a great season. That starts with being here at minicamp.”

As for Watt, who is coming off another season where he was arguably snubbed for the Defensive Player of the Year award, his goal in 2021 is to provide more splash plays for the defense. Whether it be sacks, forced fumbles or interceptions, game changing plays is where he is focusing his attention.

“I just want to be the best possible player I can be, not just for myself but for the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Watt. “I want to make splash plays. The big thing for me is noticing the plays I didn’t make last year, wishing I could have converted on some forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, sacks, tackles for a loss. There is a lot of good from last year, but there is a lot of stuff I can continue to improve on. That is why I love this game so much. You are never at your ceiling. I am just trying to get better each and every year.”

So, bringing things full circle, will Highsmith be able to make Steelers fans forget about Bud Dupree? Maybe, to an extent, but I don’t think anyone is expecting Highsmith to completely erase Dupree. If Highsmith can simply take a step forward in his progression, the Steelers’ defense will continue to be one of the best in the league.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

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