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3 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin at Friday’s press conference

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 9:05am
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Tomlin addressed the media and answered questions following the Steelers practice at the UPMC spots complex

Following their practice on Friday, head coach Mike Tomlin addressed the media and answered questions in his scheduled weekly press conference. Coach Tomlin offered up some information as well as being asked about specific players. This list isn’t to suggest these players were the only ones who stood out in recent team activities, but highlights players about whom Tomlin specifically mentioned and ones where he was asked questions.

Ben Roethlisberger

Did you know Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked more times (501) than any active quarterback. And is third all-time behind Brett Favre (525) and John Elway (516). But, in the past 3 years, no fulltime starting QB has been sacked fewer times than Roethlisberger (62).

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) August 22, 2019

It has been the trend since the 2016 preseason. Ben Roethlisberger has only seen action in the third preseason game over the previous three years, playing for no more than three offensive series. With the third week of the preseason finally upon is, many had assumed Roethlisberger would get the nod to start against the Tennessee Titans. What was once an assumption became a certainty, barring unforeseen circumstances, when head coach Mike Tomlin noted Roethlisberger’s status during his opening statement.

Coach Tomlin addressed the quarterback situation and Roethlisberger’s estimated participation before he began taking questions.

“Ben will play. We don’t have a specific detail of division of labor at this point in terms of quarterback participation beyond that. Who’s going to play, how long they’re going to play. Our energy right now is just that first group and Ben, and getting those guys in the game and getting some exposure there and hopefully get some success and move on from there.”

James Washington

Ben Roethlisberger wants his receivers to pick up on hand signals and subtle indicators before the snap. I asked James Washington how that’s going for him. #Steelers @937theFan pic.twitter.com/ThxejWkuj6

— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) August 21, 2019

Even though James Washington has put together two straight high-quality performances so far in 2019, they will soon be forgotten if Sunday night brings a lackluster stat line. Washington performed admirably in the 2018 preseason as well, but failing to establish a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger during the regular season left Washington with only 16 receptions on 38 targets for the season. With Roethlisberger already complimenting Washington on his offseason growth and his work ethic both mentally and physically in training camp, seeing some cohesiveness between the quarterback and receiver on Sunday would go a long way.

Coach Tomlin was asked about Washington’s desire to be a more complete receiver in his second year.

“That just comes with being a second-year guy. This is not his first lap around the track. He’s done these things before and I think it’s reasonable for him, and for us, to expect growth in all efforts.”

Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

Steelers OLB Ola Adeniyi had surgery this morning per his social media account. No information provided by the team yet. Adeniyi had a tremendous 3 weeks at Saint Vincent for training camp.

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) August 16, 2019

A week has passed since Ola Adeniyi posted and then removed the information about having surgery on his social media account. In the time since, the Steelers have yet to acknowledge anything about the situation. Coach Tomlin has gone as far to not include Adeniyi in any discussions about players being ruled out of Sunday night’s game.

Coach Tomlin was asked if he could provide an update on Adeniyi’s injury.

“I hadn’t asked. I’m sure we’re going to provide some clarity there and all. I’ll provide you guys some detail as it becomes required.”

Other News & Notes

Mike Tomlin said first units will play in the third preseason game against the Titans. He did not disclose how much Ben Roethlisberger will play. Won't rule anyone out due to injury. A few will be game-time decisions.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) August 23, 2019

Tomlin said he will leave "the light on" for any injured players to get on the field against the Titans. Joe Haden, though, said a few minutes ago that he doesn't expect to play. He has only done individual work this week as he recovers from ankle contusion.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 23, 2019

Said the Titans secondary will be a good challenge for the new Steelers WR corps.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) August 23, 2019

The place kickers and punters will each play a half. They had been alternating kicks.

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) August 23, 2019

Mike Tomlin’s full media session can be seen here:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media prior to our game vs. the Titans. https://t.co/DCnhWzoxjm

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019

Ryan Switzer may be a lock to make the Steelers roster, but we will know for sure Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 7:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Switzer hasn’t participated or produced much so far in Steelers 2019 preseason action. What does that mean? If he gets a long look this Sunday night in the Steelers dress rehearsal preseason game against the Titans, it might mean he’s already a lock to make the team.

Where has Ryan Switzer been so far this exhibition season?

Yes, while James Washington dazzled, rookie Diontae Johnson intrigued and Donte Moncrief fumbled during the Steelers first two preseason games, Ryan Switzer was shockingly quiet—we’re talking one catch for one yard quiet.

Even Eli Rogers, the man who once held the slot receiver role before suffering a torn ACL in the last game of the 2017 season and was quietly written off by many this offseason after only playing in three games in 2018, essentially looked like his pre-injury self while catching two passes for 31 yards against the Chiefs last Saturday.

But Switzer, to reiterate, has just been quiet.

What does that mean?

Honestly, it’s hard to predict roster outcomes based on things that take place during training camp and preseason games.

Last summer, for example, a lot of people—including yours truly—assumed veteran backup quarterback Landry Jones was safe to make the roster, despite his lack of participation in August football (a departure from previous preseasons) and the fact that Josh Dobbs, the then second-year third-string quarterback, had seemingly made huge strides from his rookie season.

Conversely, many people—again, including yours truly—assumed Jordan Berry, who had mostly unimpressed as a punter up to that point in his Steelers tenure—was doomed for the cutting room floor last summer after being outperformed by Matt Wile in exhibition action.

Obviously, if you’ve been paying attention, the opposite thing happened in each of those aforementioned examples.

Again, these things are hard to predict and/or read anything into.

Take Devin Bush as another example. Was a reported shoulder injury serious enough to hold him out of the Chiefs game, or are the coaches already confident enough in his abilities as a professional inside linebacker, they’re erring on the side of caution as it pertains to his health?

We don’t really know for sure.

Which brings me back to Switzer. We know of the affinity quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has for him, and when the franchise quarterback likes you, that tends to carry a lot of weight.

Is that enough?

Has Switzer seen limited action so far this preseason because the coaches are confident in his ability to contribute to an offense that still figures to be explosive despite the departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell? Does the team already have huge plans for Switzer in 2019? Have the Steelers seen enough of him already—including in 2018 after arriving in a trade right before the start of the season, as well as his work at training camp—that they’ve felt it necessary to get longer looks at other receivers with futures that aren’t so set in stone?

We may get some more definitive answers on Sunday night, when Pittsburgh travels to Tennessee to take on the Titans in the third preseason match-up, unofficially known as The All-Important Dress Rehearsal Game.

Roethlisberger figures to play a few series, same for every other healthy veteran on both offense and defense. If Switzer is heavily involved in the action during Roethlisberger’s time in the game, that might tell us all we need to know about the security of the former’s roster spot. If he’s not heavily involved, I don’t really know what that all means. Obviously, it’s not as if Switzer has a Moncrief-type resume where there’s enough of him on tape as a receiver to know what he’s capable of, this despite his one catch for one fumble stat-line in the 2019 preseason.

And as far as being a return specialist, well, it’s hard to imagine Diontae Spencer not making the roster as a punt returner after his first two preseason performances this summer.

We have to assume four receivers—JuJu Smith-Schuster, Washington, Moncrief and Johnson—are locks to make the team. As for the other two or three spots? It’s hard to say. Do you go with six or seven? If it’s six, has Spencer truly done enough to make the team? Has Rogers already been written off? What about Johnny Holton as a possible replacement for Darrius Heyward-Bey on special teams?

If you keep seven receivers, how would that affect other positions, such as inside linebacker and safety?

If they decide keeping seven would mean parting ways with someone from another position they deem worthy of sticking around for the sake of upside, how much do they value Spencer’s return abilities vs. Switzer’s rapport with Roethlisberger?

Ryan Switzer’s participation on Sunday could be very telling for his immediate future with the Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers receivers remembering Darryl Drake in their own way

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 5:57am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

While the Pittsburgh Steelers move on with their preparations for the 2019 season, all the receivers are remembering Darry Drake in their own way.

When you lose a coach, it hurts. Period. There is no way around that, but when you lose a coach the way the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers did in the midst of training camp, it is a tall task to get back to normalcy.

To be honest, it will take a long time for most of the player until not seeing coach Darryl Drake is the new norm, but in the meantime players are remembering their beloved coach in their own way.

For a player like Donte Moncrief, who was signed by the Steelers as a free agent this past offseason, although he only knew Drake for a short time, he felt the need to get hooded sweatshirts made with one of Drake’s favorite sayings on it:

“Block out the noise.”

JuJu Smith-Schuster knew Drake longer, and too felt the need to pay homage in some way. Smith-Schuster had wristbands made with some of Drake’s quotes. The one he loves the most?

“Don’t choose good when great is available.”

These are touching tributes to a man who meant a lot to the young men he coached. Not just in Pittsburgh, but across the country. After Drake’s passing, players across the football landscape paid respects to the man, more than the coach.

Check out this cool video produced by the Steelers organization about the receivers who now have to move on without their beloved coach.

Coach Drake's words of wisdom are sticking with the wide receivers. pic.twitter.com/3qXA61dTRn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019

Steelers News: Count T.J. Watt into the group of Steelers starters who wants to play a lot Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/24/2019 - 4:47am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to the gridiron with the NFL preseason upon us. With exhibition games underway, the news surrounding the black-and-gold is just starting to heat up. As the team prepares for the coming season, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until the season starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how some starters, including T.J. Watt, who don’t just want to show up and play a series, but want to play a lot in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Steelers’ starters will see their starters for the longest period of time this Sunday night when the team plays the Titans in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason, but some starters wouldn’t mind playing more than the usual quarter.

Steelers’ T.J. Watt looking for extensive playing time against Titans

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

T.J. Watt played almost the entire first half of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ second preseason game, and he’s looking forward to suiting up against the Tennessee Titans in the dress rehearsal for the regular season.

After missing the entire 2018 preseason schedule with a hamstring injury, Watt isn’t about to pass up a chance to take some snaps, even in an exhibition game.

“I didn’t have the preseason last year, so to be able to have it this year is big for me,” Watt said Friday. “I feel like I’m able to go out and try different things.”

Watt led the Steelers with 13 sacks in 2018, so missing the preseason didn’t impact his play at outside linebacker. Still, he wants to expand his arsenal of pass-rush moves and believes this is the time to do it.

“You can’t be afraid this time of the year to try stuff and put yourself out there and try stuff that might not look good on film,” Watt said. “You just want to try to figure out who you are and always try to adapt your game. I’m always trying new stuff, and I feel like the preseason is a great time for that.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • In case you didn’t know, William Gay has been a coaching intern for the Steelers this season, but not on defense — offense.

Energetic ex-Steelers DB William Gay standing out as coaching intern — for offense

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The call came out during a training camp practices earlier this month from a fan lining the practice field at Saint Vincent.

“Big play Willie Gay!”

While standing along the sidelines of Chuck Noll Field, William Gay briefly turned around and said, “Naw, Coach William.”

After 12 training camps as a player, Gay’s transition from “big play Willie Gay” to “Coach William” is complete. At age 34, and a year and a half removed from his final meaningful game as a reliable, cerebral cornerback, Gay was hired by the Steelers in June as a coaching intern.

“He’s out here giving back his wisdom that he learned throughout his time in the league playing football,” said Artie Burns, his teammate in the Steelers secondary for three seasons. “It’s good seeing him out here. He always was that type of guy, giving out knowledge and stuff like that.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Do players actually value the preseason? It depends who you ask. Ask Ben Roethlisberger and his answer won’t be a resounding ‘YES!’

Ben Roethlisberger sees “some value” to playing in preseason

By: Josh Alper, ProFootballTalk

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn’t say for sure that he’ll be in the lineup against the Titans on Sunday night, but he’s “pretty sure” that he’s going to see his first game action of the preseason.

There’s been a lot of debate about the value of playing starters like Roethlisberger in preseason games this summer and Roethlisberger weighed in on that question while speaking to reporters. He acknowledged there’s “a line to walk” when it comes to risking injury, but said he thinks there are benefits to seeing game situations in the summer.

“There is, I think, some value because every game counts in the NFL,” Roethlisberger said. “In all the other major sports, you can get away with losing some games and you can kinda warm up to it because the season’s so long. In our season, you can’t really afford to do that so to get out there and get the game speed stuff is beneficial.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Mike Tomlin’s weekly press conference

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media prior to our game vs. the Titans. https://t.co/DCnhWzoxjm

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019

.@missi_matthews sat down with @RamonFoster to talk about the offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger, Diontae Johnson and more. pic.twitter.com/KG92KAbcda

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019
  • T.J. Watt and Joe Haden post-practice media session

.@joehaden23 & @_TJWatt spoke to the media about practice habits, health, creating turnovers and more. pic.twitter.com/h8jAnfD7QI

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019
  • Social Media Madness

@tpolamalu | #TBT pic.twitter.com/OYVPXXGb2J

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019

Sunday. #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/p8v1T7r1by

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 24, 2019

Fridays with Switz! Thanks so much to @Switz, wide receiver of @steelers for a special visit today! pic.twitter.com/RRLZmc0Wr3

— UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh (@ChildrensPgh) August 23, 2019

Favorite athlete? First jersey number? LeBron or KD?

Get to know @Juiceup__3 in this episode of #Steelers Fast Play.

: @PALottery pic.twitter.com/Ru8OHR1suD

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 24, 2019

Honorary Co-Captain @ZBNFL is here at South Fayette for the Week 0 matchup against Upper St. Clair pic.twitter.com/1ZaFZjqqrc

— Steelers Youth FB (@SteelersYouthFB) August 23, 2019

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions: Preseason Week 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 5:45pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

1. The Steelers are done with training camp...who are you most excited to watch vs. the Titans in Preseason Week 3?

2. How long should the starters play this Sunday night, if you were in control of these decision?

3. We talked about this on the Steelers Preview podcast the other night (you can listen to it below), and I brought up the Steelers’ approach to the aggressive two-point conversion. A few years ago Tomlin was known for going for it a lot, but this trend has slowed down over recent years. Do you want the Steelers to be aggressive with the conversions, or just play it safe with Chris Boswell?

4. Of the drafted players, which one is in the most danger to not make the team? Marcus Allen, Jerald Hawkins, Daniel McCullers or Brian Allen?

5. Would the fact the Steelers open the season on the road in Foxboro change the way you handle the starters in the preseason? Please explain your answer.

6. Caption the photo below:

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Despite Mike Tomlin’s comments, Joe Haden not expecting to play Sunday night vs. the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 2:35pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The veteran CB will likely be shut down for the preseason as he recovers from his ankle injury.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up for their first road trip of the 2019 preseason, and their third game of their slate of exhibition games. The third preseason game is viewed as the “final dress rehearsal” for players, and the Steelers are looking to get as many starters on the field as possible.

During Mike Tomlin’s Friday press conference he said he would “leave the light on” for any player dealing with an injury. But one player who would fall in the injured, and isn’t expecting to play, is veteran cornerback Joe Haden.

This from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Rutter:

Tomlin said he will leave "the light on" for any injured players to get on the field against the Titans. Joe Haden, though, said a few minutes ago that he doesn't expect to play. He has only done individual work this week as he recovers from ankle contusion.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 23, 2019

While fans want nothing more than to see their starting defense available against the Tennessee Titans in Week 3, holding Haden out of the game, and likely the entire preseason, will only ensure he is fully healthy when the games start counting in Week 1 when the Steelers travel to play the New England Patriots in Foxboro.

Haden isn’t the only player dealing with an injury who is hoping to get on the field Sunday night. Diontae Johnson has an undisclosed injury, Zach Gentry returned to practice after missing Week 2 and Sutton Smith is ready to make his NFL debut Sunday night in prime time.

These are just some of the injuries throughout the Steelers’ roster, but the majority of the starters will be suiting up Sunday. This includes players like Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro who have yet to play this preseason.

Mike Tomlin answered these questions, and more, in his weekly press conference. You can see Mike Tomlin’s complete press conference in the video below:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media prior to our game vs. the Titans. https://t.co/DCnhWzoxjm

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019

Mike Tomlin mum on No. 2 QB heading into preseason Week 3 vs. Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 12:56pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

In his weekly press conference, Tomlin would give no indication as to the quarterback depth chart for Sunday or the regular season

In his weekly press conference Friday afternoon, Steelers head coach Mike Tomin refused to give any indication as to the quarterback progress for Sunday night’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Tomlin did state that no players will be ruled out from participating in Nashville, and specifically mentioned that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will play in the game. As for which quarterback will take the field once Roethlisberger’s night is over, Tomlin made it clear they were not disclosing the information at this time.

“Ben will play,” Tomlin stated to the media members in attendance. “We don’t have a specific detail of division of labor at this point in terms of quarterback participation beyond that. Who’s going to play, how long they’re going to play. Our energy right now is just that first group and Ben, and getting those guys in the game and getting some exposure there and hopefully get some success and move on from there.”

When fielding a question about being ready to say who the number two quarterback will be, Tomlin jumped in to answer before the question had been completed.

“You guys can ask me every day. I’m not. I’ll let you know when I am.”

There has been a lot of speculation among media and fans in regards to the leader for the back-up quarterback position. So far in the preseason, Joshua Dobbs has completed 11 of 18 passes for 180 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The Steelers 2018 third-string quarterback Mason Rudolph has completed 15 of 23 passes for 168 yards while throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Although believed to be fighting solely for the third quarterback position, Devlin Hodges has impressed many of those following the Steelers as he has gone 10 of 18 passes for 117 yards and a couple of touchdowns.

Regardless of statistics, Mike Tomlin is not ready to give any indication as to where the rest of the players stand behind Ben Roethlisberger. When asked specifically about the second quarterback coming into the game on Sunday and if he was ready to state who it would be, Tomlin gave the same answer as before.

“I’m not.”

While all three players have done enough to deserve to take the field on Sunday, there probably won’t be enough snaps for all of them to see action. When asked which quarterbacks will get playing time regardless of the order, Tomlin still was not ready to give any indication as to his plans for Sunday.

“Again, I’m not making any bold predictions about participation after that first wave because a lot of what happens depends on the quality of play and time of possession related things.”

With no specific depth chart coming from the Steelers, many were hoping the order of play in Sunday’s game would help to bring some light to the situation. Coach Tomlin dismissed the idea of Sunday’s quarterback progression being an indication of the current regular season depth chart when asked if inferences should be taken based on which player takes the field first.

“No, you should not.”

As much as Steelers’ nation wants clarification on the quarterback depth chart for 2019, the only option left is to draw our own conclusions based on in-stadium play. Make sure to tune in Sunday night as the players try to make the most of their opportunity to grab the back-up quarterback position.

In the words of Coach Tomlin, “Get your popcorn ready.”

Mike Tomlin’s full press conference can be seen here:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media prior to our game vs. the Titans. https://t.co/DCnhWzoxjm

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 23, 2019

Steelers and Titans to again debut NFL gimmick camera angle in Preseason Week 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 10:20am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans will debut a new technology this Sunday night during their preseason game on NBC.

Two years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers hosted the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football, but it wasn’t just another game with Color Rush jerseys. During that contest the NFL debuted a new camera angle called “Sky Cam” where the primary camera angle was elevated behind the quarterback, rather than along the sideline.

This gave the game a more video game feel to it, compared to the standard viewing experience for fans. Other than the cameras catching more comments/audibles from quarterbacks, like Ben Roethlisberger’s famous ‘DILLY DILLY’ audible, most fans couldn’t stand the camera angle.

Here we are, two years later and the NFL is preparing another camera angle gimmick during another Steelers vs. Titans game, this time in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason on Sunday Night Football. This time fans will see a sideline view NBC crews are calling “High Sky”.

This from Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Instead of using the traditional sideline camera angle, NBC will implement the “High Sky” camera as the primary play-by-play angle. The camera will be positioned at the line of scrimmage and 50 feet above ground. The angle will take viewers through the snap of the ball.

The telecast, with announcers Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya and rules analyst Terry McAuley, will be a prelude to the first Sunday night game of the regular season when the Steelers visit the New England Patriots.

On paper, this new idea sounds a lot better than the sky cam version, considering it will still be a sideline view, and should give fans a better glimpse of all 22 players on the field during the game.

What do you think of the idea? Sound good, or just another gimmick by the NFL to try and lure in new viewers? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below! Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Titans in Week 3 of the preseason.

Ben Roethlisberger on preparing with the Steelers young WRs: “This week’s been exciting.”

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 9:15am
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In a Q&A session before Thursday’s practice, Roethlisberger was asked several questions about his receiving corps

Before practice on Thursday, Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fielded questions from the Pittsburgh media. One of the topics discussed through multiple questions was the relationship and expectations Roethlisberger has with his current group of wide receivers. With JuJu Smith-Schuster being the only current Steeler with more than 100 completions from Roethlisberger, the fact Smith-Schuster is only entering his third year in the league shows the lack of history the receivers have with their Super Bowl winning quarterback.

With the Steelers treating this week as much like a simulated game week as possible, the young wide receivers have been open about the anticipation of playing with their starting quarterback. Roethlisberger was asked about his excitement with working with his receivers in preparation for the game on Sunday with the Tennessee Titans.

“It’s been fun. This week in practice has felt a little different. Maybe it’s part being back here and part knowing I’m going to play a little bit. So I’ve kind of had a little ‘juice-bolt’ or whatever you want to call it to kind of get you going. This week’s been exciting so far knowing your going to get some reps and get out there with the guys and have some fun. So I definitely feel what they’re feeling.”

With such limited playing time by some starters in the preseason, many young receivers do not get to build the important relationship with their quarterback. Roethlisberger was asked if he wanted to get some time with the younger players, specifically Diontae Johnson and James Washington.

“I am going to try and get on the field with as many of them as possible. I think we’re going to try and rotate receivers in. So I think everyone will get a little bit of time because we want to be able to play that way this year. We don’t want to just have guys be on the field and wear themselves out. I’m emphasizing that when we do our two minute and we do our no huddle. If you need a quick breather, just take one. We’ve guys who can step up and step in and be ready to go.”

Getting as much work with each receiver is more important than ever for 2019. Of the 5,028 passes Roethlisberger has completed in the regular season and playoffs, almost 20% of them were to players who were on the 2018 roster but are no longer with the Steelers. If Le’Veon Bell were also to be included in that number, the percentage would rise to over 25%. Of the players currently on the Steelers roster, they comprise less than 10% of Roethlisberger’s career completions. With such a lack of familiarity between Roethlisberger and his receivers, the Steelers have a lot of quality work to get accomplished on Sunday.

One of the biggest needs to establish between a quarterback and his receivers is good communication and understanding of each other. Roethlisberger was asked how he communicates his expectations with the new players.

“It’s communicating during practice. It’s doing what I’m about to do as soon as I’m done with you guys. I’m about to go watch seven-on-seven with the receivers and break down every play and tell them this is what we think, and talk and just letting them know what I see, what I think. And them also communicating with me what they saw, why they did this, what they expect from me on a particular throw. Just constant communication, I think that’s huge.”

In 2018, James Washington had a strong preseason only to find himself struggling to get on the same page with Ben Roethlisberger. Working hard in the offseason to come in to camp lighter, faster, and stronger, Washington has stepped up his game in hopes of accomplishing the second-year jump many players wish to see. Roethlisberger was asked what he thought of where James Washington is this year as opposed to last season, especially from a mental standpoint.

“I think he took great strides, because physically obviously everyone has seen what he’s done in terms of losing weight but getting stronger. I think he’s got a little bit faster. But mentally, you don’t see the mistakes. You don’t see the confused looks sometimes, which any rookie is going to have that. It doesn’t matter what position they play. So you come in, you give him a hand signal, you tell him what to do and he’s doing it. And I think the biggest thing that people wouldn’t know is it’s not just at his position. I can move him to other positions and he still doesn’t skip a beat. So to me it just shows all the hard work he put in this offseason.”

It will be interesting to see how much game action Ben Roethlisberger will get with his young receivers on Sunday night. While the need for in-game is experience is great, the need to enter the 2019 healthy and injury free is even greater. Hopefully Sunday night shows familiarity is something the Steelers have worked out already in training camp and they are already prepared to hit the 2019 regular season running.

Roethlisberger’s session with the media can be seen here:

.@_BigBen7 talks about playing in the preseason, working with the new pieces on offense, this week's practices and more. pic.twitter.com/PTQYF0geXr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 22, 2019

The Steelers 2018 NFL Draft class is poised to make a big second year leap

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 8:09am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Looking at the 2018 draft class and what they have done this preseason.

Last season the 2017 draft class had several players take big steps forward in their second season, with T.J. Watt leading the team in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles, JuJu Smith-Schuster leading the team in receiving, and James Conner leading the team in rushing, and all three making the Pro Bowl. This year the Steelers are looking to several of last year’s rookies, the class of 2018, to take a big step forward in their second year. So far, in this preseason, they are doing it.

Terrell Edmunds – Edmunds has played a lot of roles in this preseason, manning up on Tyreek Hill and Mike Evans on the opening plays of the first two games, playing deep safety in cover 1 and even lining up as a Will LB in certain defensive sets. In the first two games he has been targeted in coverage once, a switch where he picked up the receiver while Hilton blitzed against Tampa, a pass he broke up in the end zone. No other passes have been thrown his way, or even in his vicinity when he’s been playing zone. QB’s looking his way end up following their progression away from No. 34. He has some solo tackles and good run fills, with only one missed tackle on a play where he sniffed out a screen but couldn’t wrap up the receiver, but his interference bought time for others to get there and the play gained 2 yards.

Edmunds draws comparisons to Troy Polamalu, largely due to his athleticism, the position he plays and the team and fans both looking for an increase in splash plays, but Edmunds reminds me of a different Steeler Safety, Carnell Lake. Lake didn’t create a lot of splash plays, but he was very good and incredibly versatile, a key component of the great defenses of Cowher’s early tenure. Edmunds needs to show that he can be that type of player for the Steelers, a mismatch-canceling DB who can do whatever is asked of him in the regular season when the games count, because he’s already showing he can do it all in the preseason.

James Washington – After a forgettable rookie campaign James Washington has been the heart of the Steelers’ passing offense this preseason. His stat line is impressive: 8 receptions on 10 targets for 162 yards and a TD. Rudolph and Dobbs have a combined 152.1 passer rating when throwing to James Washington, and a 68.4 passer rating on passes to everyone else. Washington accounts for four of the six 20+ yard passes Rudolph and Dobbs have thrown; Johnny Holton and Eli Rogers had the other 2.

I know that Washington’s stats last preseason were also impressive, but almost all of that was in the second half of games and his stats from the first half of those games, 2 receptions on 6 targets for 8 yards, were not good. Those stats reflect his stat lines in the first half of the season when he had 7 receptions on 19 targets for 66 yards and 1 TD in 7 games. This year’s stats are mostly in the first half and are much more reminiscent of his impressive step up in December of last season when he had 8 receptions on 13 targets for 140 yards. Once you look below the surface you see that last year James was over-matched against NFL talent, but stood out among the bottom of the depth chart players. This year he is standing out while facing NFL talent.

The growth from James Washington is real, and the only remaining thing we need to see from Washington is him playing with Ben. I don’t have any worries about Ben and James producing. Ben and James didn’t produce for most of 2018, but they were finding it in December. James is creating more space than he was last season, and showing the hands he’s always shown, and Ben will throw to anyone if they get open and catch the ball.

Mason Rudolph – He’s clearly winning the QB battle with Dobbs, and has shown a lot of growth from his rookie year in his poise and footwork, and that translates into better passes. The big question for Rudolph is can he have success throwing to WRs not named James Washington. Rudolph has completed 14 passes this preseason, and while only 4 of those were to James Washington, the 4 to Washington account for half his passes longer than 6 yards. Starting the second game with JuJu, Donte Moncrief and Eli Rogers as his receivers, Vance at TE and James Conner at RB he completed 3 passes on 7 attempts for 14 yards, he took a sack and threw for one first down. It is clear he still has great chemistry with James Washington, but we need to see him build chemistry with other receivers or our passing game risks becoming very predictable if Rudolph has to take over.

Chukwuma Okorafor – He’s been getting a lot of snaps in the preseason, and getting them early in the games. It is clear the Steelers are investing in him a lot and intend for him to play a bigger role this season. I can’t do any better at evaluating Chuk’s performance than CHISAP did in his piece earlier this week. He covers his growth, struggles, potential and what we need to see from him still, so with nothing substantial to add to it, I suggest you go read it if you haven’t already.

Marcus Allen - Marcus played better in the second preseason game, but it is telling that it came at the end of the game. He entered the game on defense for the second drive of the 4th quarter. He made his presence felt, forcing a fumble and playing much better in coverage. The fourth safety spot still seems up for grabs, it will be important to see if Allen can make the 53; if he doesn’t, it won’t be a good sign for his career at all.

Jaylen Samuels – After a rookie season spent mostly watching the action from the bench Samuels took over for James Conner against Oakland where he collected 92 yards, then exploded for a huge game against the Patriots with 172 yards, almost 44% of the team’s total offense. This preseason, in limited touches, he has been very productive. Samuels has gained 47 yards and a TD on 6 carries and added a catch for 9 yards. He’s looked quicker and much more comfortable as a RB, like he’s more than ready to take some of the load off of Conner and give the Steelers a 2-headed monster at RB.

This is important because while Conner ranked 11th in carries and yards and 8th in yards per game, the Steelers as a team ranked 31st in carries and yards despite ranking 5th in total offensive plays. If we are going to run the ball more this year, we will need to give a good number of carries to our second RB. The Steelers were 80 carries (5 runs a game) away from 10th in the league in rush attempts, if Jaylen Samuels can get even 100 carries we can bring greater balance the offense and reduce the wear on Conner. And while we’re used to Tomlin using one back around here, in the 6 years Tomlin coached the Steelers before Bell was drafted the Steelers had multiple 100 carry backs 4 times, and time lost to injury only accounts for 1 of those seasons.

All we really need to see with Jaylen is him getting the opportunity to produce. I think he’s earned it and will get it.

Joshua Frazier - The last pick from 2018 is the only one not on the roster currently. After failing to make the Steelers roster he spent time on Detroits practice squad and was in the AAF before an injury ended his hopes in that league.

While only one of the seven draft picks from this class is a lock or even a favorite to start, four players from this draft look to start the season as top reserves and aside from Rudolph who we hope doesn’t need to play, should all see a good number of snaps.

While the Steelers’ 2018 draft class is highly unlikely to rival what 2017’s class did in their second year, there are several players poised to make increased contributions to the Steelers this year. If the 2019 season is going to have a better result than 2018 did, the growth of the 2018 draft class will play a significant part in the improvement.

It’s hard to say whether the pass interference penalty against Diontae Johnson was good or bad

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 6:33am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Is it a good thing that NFL officials appear to be less likely to overturn calls involving pass interference even though such plays are now open to replay challenges and reviews in 2019? After the penalty against Steelers rookie receiver Diontae Johnson last Saturday wasn’t overturned, it’s really hard to say.

If you’re a Steelers fan who was feeling lots of angst this past offseason about the NFL’s decision to subject pass interference penalties or possible pass interference penalties to potential replay challenges by head coaches, you may have said, “Yeah, right!” to the notion that the on-field call (or non-call, as the case may be) would be factored more heavily into the final decision.

And if you were a Steelers fan who watched Mike Tomlin challenge the offensive pass interference penalty called against rookie receiver Diontae Johnson on what should have been the first of two second-half touchdown receptions in a preseason game against Kansas City on Saturday, you may have said, “Huh?” when the infraction wasn’t overturned.

I mean, I know Tomlin has quite the losing streak going on replay challenges, but if there was ever a time for it to end (at least, unofficially), it was at Heinz Field on Saturday, in a preseason game, on a play that seemed to be tailor made for what the new rule was implemented for.

The penalty against Johnson seemed to be about as phantom as the two defensive pass interference calls against cornerback Joe Haden last December 23 in a devastating Week 16 loss to the Saints. Speaking of New Orleans, that call against Johnson last Saturday appeared to be as egregious as the non-call on what looked like the most obvious defensive pass interference in NFL history in the final seconds of the NFC Championship Game between the Saints and Rams.

Los Angeles benefited from the non-call and went to the Super Bowl. The Saints were totally screwed in front of the entire football world and sued the NFL (or, at least their fans did).

If you’re not going to overturn a call like the one against Johnson, what does this tell us? If the on-field ruling is given greater importance when determining pass interference than it is when trying to figure out if a receiver made a catch, is this the league’s way of telling fans that pass interference really is the ultimate judgement call?

If so, then why make this change at all?

I suppose the bright side to all of this is perhaps not having to worry as much about the officials placing every incomplete pass under a microscope in the final two minutes of a half or game, when such plays are open to automatic review.

As I’ve said a few times, I don’t want to have to hold my breath every time the Steelers defense forces an incomplete pass on fourth down inside of two minutes. Maybe I will have to hold my breath, but I’ll do so with the knowledge that the original call is likely to stand.

Right?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out over the course of the 2019 regular season.

I can only hope the Steelers walk away from this new rule totally unscathed in 2019.

That is, of course, unless they totally benefit from it at some point.

Podcast: Previewing the Steelers Preseason Week 3 game vs. the Titans

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 5:30am

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

The 2019 season is upon us!! With the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the preseason, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Steelers Stat Geek
  • Steelers vs. Titans Preview
  • The ever popular Either/Or segment
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

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

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

Black and Gold Links: Ryan Shazier more than willing to show Devin Bush the way at ILB

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 4:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to the gridiron with the NFL preseason upon us. With exhibition games underway, the news surrounding the black-and-gold is just starting to heat up. As the team prepares for the coming season, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until the season starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Ryan Shazier, despite not being able to play football right now, is more than willing to help others, mainly Devin Bush, how to play the ILB position to the best of their abilities.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers needed athleticism at the ILB position since Ryan Shazier’s injury, and they found it in Devin Bush. However, Shazier has been the one to show Bush the ropes.

Ryan Shazier happy to show teammate Devin Bush the ropes in the NFL

By: Bret Gibson, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In his first NFL action, Steelers linebacker Devin Bush collected 10 tackles in the first half of the team’s opening exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Nothing to this game, right rook?

But when teammate Ryan Shazier offers advice, the 10th overall pick in the draft must be all ears.

Shazier, who has missed playing time because of a serious spinal injury suffered against the Bengals in 2017, has worked with the rookie from Michigan during summer camp.

“A lot of times he might ask me some questions when things might go on in meetings. Sometimes we might watch film together,” Shazier said Wednesday on NFL Total Access. “I had some great leaders when I played and I’m just truly thankful for the player I am because of the insight they gave me. So sometimes I give him some insight. I don’t know if he’s listening to it or not, but I just kinda try to give him the insight I wish someone would’ve gave me.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Get ready for a new camera angle to enjoy, or hate, this Sunday night when the Steelers play the Titans.

NBC to use ‘High Sky’ play-by-play camera for Steelers-Titans game Sunday

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Steelers’ preseason game Sunday night in Tennessee will offer a different viewpoint for television viewers.

Instead of using the traditional sideline camera angle, NBC will implement the “High Sky” camera as the primary play-by-play angle. The camera will be positioned at the line of scrimmage and 50 feet above ground. The angle will take viewers through the snap of the ball.

The telecast, with announcers Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth, sideline reporter Michele Tafoya and rules analyst Terry McAuley, will be a prelude to the first Sunday night game of the regular season when the Steelers visit the New England Patriots.

Kickoff against the Titans is at 8 p.m.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Everyone has their way of coping with loss. For JuJu Smith-Schuster, he chose to get custom wrist bands made in honor of Darryl Drake.

JuJu makes wristbands to honor late coach Drake

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

JuJu Smith-Schuster can remember his late receivers coach every time he checks his left wrist.

The Pro Bowl receiver addressed the death of Darryl Drake for the first time Wednesday, and he displayed the wristbands he made in his honor.

Drake was preparing for his second season with the Pittsburgh Steelers before his death on Aug. 11.

“Usually he says a quote to us every day, and the last quote he said to us was, ‘Never choose good when great is available,’” said Smith-Schuster as he read from one of two black-and-gold wristbands. “And obviously that means don’t settle for less, don’t be satisfied with what you have now. When great is out there, go achieve it. He will always be in memory of not only this team, but in my heart to everybody he touched.”

Smith-Schuster plans to make wristbands for the Steelers’ receivers.

The other wristband read “Shut Out the Noise,” a message the receivers displayed on black hoodies before Saturday’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, courtesy of veteran Donte Moncrief.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

.@_BigBen7 talks about playing in the preseason, working with the new pieces on offense, this week's practices and more. pic.twitter.com/PTQYF0geXr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 22, 2019
  • Social Media Madness

Coach Tomlin speaks about today's practice, the young players' development and more. pic.twitter.com/X8SfnzGVBF

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 22, 2019

HAPPENINGNOW: @RyanShazier just surprised 15 young athletes with a back-to-school shopping spree at Dick’s Sporting Goods in Monroeville. Each child gets $100 to spend on new athletic gear and equipment @KDKA pic.twitter.com/GDndhziSZP

— Rachele Mongiovi (@4RacheleM) August 21, 2019

Focused. pic.twitter.com/RIpfTMEpTW

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 22, 2019

How to watch Steelers vs. Titans: Time, TV Schedule, and game information

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/23/2019 - 4:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

All the information needed to watch or listen to the Steelers third preseason game this Sunday in Tennessee

It may not be football that counts, but Week 3 of the NFL Preseason is the closest thing to the real deal fans can get. The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to continue their 2019 preseason on Sunday night when Mike Vrabel, Marcus Mariota, and the rest of the Tennessee Titans host the Steelers in Week 3.

This will be the first and only chance for Steelers fans to see all of the healthy first-team players before the regular season kicks off two weeks later. With the Steelers working through a simulated work week in preparation for Sunday night’s game, for about a quarter fans will get to see a preview of what to expect in 2019.

Ben Roethlisberger has started he expects to start the game but is unsure how many series he will see. Players such as Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Joe Haden, and Vince Williams who have not participated in preseason games in 2019 will get a chance to see their first action if they are deemed healthy enough come game time. Can rookies Devin Bush and Zach Gentry get back on the field after missing Week 2? Will Steelers’ former first-round picks Bud Dupree and Artie Burns continue their strong showings form last week? Will Steelers fans finally get to see Sutton Smith in stadium?

All of these questions will be answered throughout the rest of the team’s preseason. Get all the information you need so you can enjoy the Week 3 showdown below:

Preseason Week 3:

Game: Pittsburgh Steelers vs, Tennessee Titans

Date: Sunday August 25

Kickoff: 8:00 P.M. ET

Venue: Nissan Stadium, Nashville

Weather: Live weather update

TV Channel: Broadcast nationally on NBC Sunday Night Football with Al Michaels and Chris Collinsworth as commentators and Michelle Tafoya as the sideline reporter. Check the national broadcast map to see if the game is on in your area.

Online: NFL Game Pass offers live out-of-market NFL Preseason games and replays of every game during the season with a paid subscription. NFL Game Center will update the action on a play-by-play basis. The NBC Sports mobile app on Apple or Andriod will carry the game live for anyone who is subscribed to the NBC Sports channel. A login through your TV provider may be required. The game is also scheduled to stream live in some areas on the Yahoo! Sports app.

Radio: Steeler Nation Radio with Bill Hillgrove, Tunch Ilkin, and Craig Wolfley. The broadcast will be live on WDVE 102.5 FM and WBGG 970 AM in the Pittsburgh area or check the list of Steelers Radio Affiliates. Viewers can listen anywhere in the world online via Steelers.com, but the Steelers Official Mobile App does have geographical restrictions.

You can also follow Behind the Steel Curtain on Twitter or in the game thread article to catch all of the highlights. Be sure to check back with BTSC after the game for our post-match roundup, and subscribe to BTSC Steelers Radio on YouTube to catch The Steelers Post Game Show with Jeff Hartman and Lance Williams.

JuJu Smith-Schuster sees quality development between Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 3:16pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The battle for the Steelers’ backup quarterback job is just heating up.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have quite a preseason battle on their hands at backup quarterback. The ongoing tussle between the incumbent backup Joshua Dobbs, and the challenger Mason Rudoph has the fan base split. Some are rooting for Dobbs to hold down the fort, lauding his dual threat capabilities. Others view Rudolph as the heir to the Steelers’ quarterback throne after Ben Roethlisberger retires.

Either way, fans are hoping this battle is something which only impacts the preseason. Why? Because any playing time these two players will see during the regular season means Roethlisberger is missing time, and we all can agree the Steelers’ best chance of winning it all in the near future revolve around No. 7 staying healthy.

Nonetheless, the team’s new No. 1 wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster sees plenty of growth and development happening between both quarterbacks. When asked if he has noticed any difference in Rudolph and Dobbs this year, here was his response

“Dobbs is always running. He can run with those legs. Mason, as you know, he just throws dimes. It’s two quarterbacks who have been here last year and we’ve watched them just grow over a period of time. They’re always competing and doing the right things.”

Throughout the preseason, both Dobbs and Rudolph have shown flashes of brilliance, and moments of the struggles playing quarterback at the professional level. But if you look closely, you will see Rudolph has taken some huge strides from Year 1 to Year 2. This isn’t to take away from Dobbs’ ability, but the main knocks on Rudolph were typically his lack of mobility, slow processing, lack of arm strength and struggles being under center.

Throughout two preseason games, Rudolph has shown better mobility/pocket presence, an ability to go through his progressions quickly, increased arm strength and no fumbles that plagued him as a rookie. In other words, he is coming into his own as a quarterback.

Dobbs’ calling card is still his dual threat ability. When things break down, he will tuck it and run. This isn’t a bad thing, but there are times when Dobbs might have more time to hit a player down field, but instead his instincts to run take over. Through two preseason weeks, Dobbs has turned into a boom or bust type quarterback. Whether it is a long run, or a big passing play, the next throw could be an ugly miss, or an interception.

Two different quarterbacks, two different styles and two players all aiming for the lone spot behind Ben Roethlisberger. Who will win the battle? Only time will tell, but expect Dobbs to enter the game on Sunday night after Roethlisberger leaves, considering Mike Tomlin tends to go back-and-forth between Dobbs and Rudolph when it comes to when they enter the game.

If we all agree it is still an open competition, who do you think has the lead in this race? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Tennessee Titans in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason.

Steelers sign OLB Jayrone Elliott to their 91-man preseason roster

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 12:20pm
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the season ending-injury to Lavon Hooks, the Steelers use the vacated roster spot for depth at outside linebacker

The Steeler have signed former Green Bay Packers’ outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott to their 91-man roster on Thursday.

We have signed LB Jayrone Elliott & waived/injured DE Lavon Hooks.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 22, 2019

Out of the University of Toledo, Elliott signed as an undrafted free agent with Green Bay in 2014. Over three seasons with the Packers, Elliott appeared in 38 games and tallied 47 tackles, one fumble, one interception, and four sacks. Traded to the Dallas Cowboys at the end of the preseason in 2017 for a seventh-round draft pick, Elliott only lasted two games on the roster before being released by the Cowboys.

Elliott signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2018, but failed to make the 53 man roster. With three accrued NFL seasons, Elliott was no longer eligible for the practice squad. Earlier in 2019, Elliot signed in the off-season with the Miami Dolphins but was released prior to training camp.

In his four years at Toledo, Elliot amassed 70 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Elliot also tallied 16 sacks in his career, nine of which came during his senior season in 2013.

While he joins former Toledo Rockets Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper, and Diontae Johnson on the current Steelers roster, Elliott had already entered the NFL before any of his fellow former Rockets had arrived at Toledo.

Elliott joins the Steelers after the unfortunate season-ending Achilles injury to Levon Hooks who was waived/injured on Thursday. Once Hooks clears waivers, an injury settlement will be forthcoming from the Steelers.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for all your latest news on injuries, roster changes, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

Calculating Ben Roethlisberger’s playing time in his 2019 preseason debut

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:29am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Roethlisberger is set to start in his first game of the season in Tennessee Sunday night

Of all the games in the preseason, Week 3 is the most anticipated when it comes to Steelers’ fans. After seeing most of the team participate in the first two weeks, Sunday night in Tennessee will be the first and only action for Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, 2019 will be the fourth year in a row where Roethlisberger has only played in one of the four preseason games.

So how much of Ben Roethlisberger can we expect to see against the Titans? Will he only play a series, or will it be the entire first quarter? As much as we would like to know, I’m sure Mike Tomlin is not completely set on exactly how the playing time will pan out when it comes to Roethlisberger. But one thing we can do is look at Roethlisberger’s playing time the previous three seasons in order to get a feel for how things might progress for the Steelers quarterback in Week 3 of the preseason.

Here are some key statistics for Ben Roethlisberger in the preseason since 2016. In all three years it was Roethlisberger’s only action, and each game occurred in Week 3.

2018

3 drives

24 plays

7 points scored

11/18 for 114 yards

1 touchdown

10 first downs

2017

2 drives

16 plays

3 points scored

6/9 for 73 yards

0 touchdowns

7 first downs

2016

2 drives

19 plays

14 points

12/17 for 148 yards

2 touchdowns

8 first downs

Hopefully by looking at these statistic, we can get a better feel as to what Steelers’ fans can expect Sunday night. Of the three games listed above, only in 2018 did Roethlisberger play past the first quarter. The element of time is not a large determining factor because the length of the opponents drives becomes a big part of the equation. If the Titans get the opening kickoff and have two time-consuming drives their first two possessions, the Steelers may not start their second series until the second quarter.

One of the more surprising things which stands out from these statistics is that Big Ben played an extra drive in 2018. After the first two series, Roethlisberger had thrown a touchdown, run 16 offensive plays, and had passed the ball 13 times with 8 completions. Yet only two plays into the second quarter, Roethlisberger came in for a third drive which ended with the Steelers turning the ball over on downs. Since it was the most recent game of the group, it could show a trend to keep Roethlisberger on the field for a little more work.

Based on the games from the previous three preseasons, it is safe to say Roethlisberger will play at least two series. Depending on the number of plays, a third series is a possibility if the first two drives were less than 20 total plays. Obviously the point of each possession is to put the ball in the end zone, but the points scored by the Steelers with Roethlisberger in the game will have little or no bearing on the number of drives he plays.

The number which will help the most in determining how many drives Roethlisbeger will orchestrate on Sunday is the number of plays run. If the Steelers go three and out their first two drives, Roethlisberger will probably see the field a third time. If the third opportunity also does not produce a first down, four drives would not be out of the question. If any drive is shortened by a turnover or a quick score, it would most likely add another series to Roethlisberger’s night. A range of 15 to 25 plays will probably be all we see from Big Ben regardless of the number of series he is leading the team.

With taking the number of plays and drives into consideration, I would like to see Roethlisberger on the field for two series in which the team produces points while running about 20 total plays. If the Steelers score quickly on one series, I would not be opposed to Big Ben getting one extra drive on the night.

When Coach Tomlin makes the decision on Sunday to remove Roethlisberger from the game, it will be based on a balance of snaps, series, and effectiveness. While we can speculate all we want, until we see the production from the first unit the situation will be very fluid. If you had to bet on anything, the safest route would be Roethlisberger coming out after halftime without pads.

4 players mentioned by Randy Fichtner in his interview on Wednesday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:55am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Fichtner sat down with Steelers’ reporter Missi Matthews during Wednesday’s practice

In an interview with Missi Matthews during their practice on Wednesday, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner answered questions about several of the Steelers’ offensive players. The players outlined are ones Coach Fichtner was specifically asked about in regards to their play so far in 2019 and expectations for the game on Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger

Nothing official as of yet but Mike Tomlin Told me Ben Roethlisberger is, “readying himself just like everyone anticipating to play,” for Sunday nights dress rehearsal game in Nashville. #Steelers

— Chase Williams WPXI (@chasepwilliams) August 21, 2019

Finally taking the field for the first time in the Steelers 2019 preseason, Ben Roethlisberger will see limited action on Sunday. Coach Fichtner was asked why they needed to see Roethlisberger at all for such a small sample in the preseason.

“I don’t know if it’s that we have to see him, it’s that the group has to come together. They all want to be together. They practice together. We put a lot of good work in the spring. These guys want to compete. They really want to play. So we getting him in a good situation where he can start the game, prepare all week like it’s a real game because it is a real football game when we get to kickoff, and at some point we’ll pull him. And then we’ll start pulling some other guys.”

James Washington

Now Washington is making tackles on special teams. He does it all. #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 18, 2019

One player specifically involved in a lot of conversation in regards to his play this preseason is wide receiver James Washington. Coach Fichtner was asked about how 2019 will be different for Washington after he had a strong preseason last year which did not carry over into the regular season.

“I’ve seen it developing. I’ve seen a better conditioned athlete, a much knowledgeable player at his position now. I don’t see the angst of maybe not knowing or cutting it loose because you’re not sure. He’s very sure right now. He’s very confident in what he’s doing, and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

Joshua Dobbs & Mason Rudolph

Dobbs' night is over. Devlin 'Duck' Hodges enters the game with 10:10 left.

QB comparison:
Dobbs: 6-11, 95 yards, INT; 1 rush, 5 yards
Rudolph: 10-15, 77 yards #Steelers

— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) August 18, 2019

With the competition for the role of back-up quarterback heating up, some believe one player may hold an advantage over the other at this point. Whether you believe Mason Rudolph or Joshua Dobbs is in the drivers seat is irrelevant as the Steelers have given no indication as to which player is the front runner. Coach Fichtner was asked about if it was truly a competition between Dobbs and Rudolph for the back-up quarterback job.

“I think we were pretty open about that communication from the spring. It is an open competition. I’m trying the make sure that equally they get put in situations with the first group, with end of half situations, for potential of two-minute drives, of end of game situations, coming out at the end of the halftime and starting a third quarter. So, uniquely, we plan for these guys to have the reps and obviously we evaluate every week.”

Fichtner was then asked what he has seen for both Dobbs and Rudolph.

“They’re both different types of quarterbacks. Josh (Dobbs) is very mobile and he’s not afraid to break it down with his legs. He’s made some really big plays for us. Mason (Rudolph) has done a nice job improving in the pocket passing, the pocket movement, delivery of the football, and making better decisions. I told them in the beginning that protecting the ball will be as important as anything so it’s something that we have to continually do and they know that. I think they’ve done really a good job in the competition because they help each other, too. And they’re good professionals, they’re both trying to get better for the good of the Pittsburgh Steelers first, and then for them second. And I’m proud of that.”

Randy Fichtner ’s full interview can be seen here:

.@missi_matthews sat down with Coach Fichtner to talk about @_BigBen7, @JamesWashington, the battle at backup QB and more. pic.twitter.com/vgWHdZipha

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 21, 2019

Steelers officially name Ray Sherman interim Wide Receiver coach for 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 9:26am
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers had to replace Darryl Drake for the 2019 season, and they did so with former offensive coordinator Ray Sherman.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt a horrible loss during training camp when wide receivers coach Darryl Drake passed away. The team was reeling, and Mike Tomlin knew he had to fill Drake’s position at some point, but when would the time be right?

The time was right Thursday morning when the Steelers made the official announcement Ray Sherman would be filling in as the interim wide receivers coach for the 2019 regular season.

We have named Ray Sherman interim wide receivers coach for the 2019 season.

MORE: https://t.co/Xf7v0DOXJB pic.twitter.com/XjlHlnw2bx

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 22, 2019

It should be noted Sherman was with the Steelers for the duration of training camp, and wasn’t brought in just to coach the wide receivers. This made the transition to coach much easier for not only Sherman, but the wide receivers as well.

If you are an older Steelers fan, you might think to yourself, “I’ve heard the name Ray Sherman before.” That is because he was the Steelers offensive coordinator in 1998, and before that was the running backs coach at Purdue when offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was a student assistant in 1984-85.

Sherman hasn’t coached since 2015, but will try his best to fill the vacant position left by the late Darryl Drake. Will the Steelers retain Sherman at the end of the season? That has yet to be determined, but the team can now move forward with Sherman officially named as the wide receivers coach for at least 2019.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday night in Week 3 of the NFL Preseason.

Stock Report: See whose stock is rising, and falling, heading into Preseason Week 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/22/2019 - 8:35am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 in meaningless games in 2019, and we want to see whose stock is trending up, and down, heading into Week 3 of the preseason.

I’m gonna preface the stock report with a couple hundred words about erstwhile Steeler Antonio Brown, so I figured I’d give you, dear reader, the opportunity to skip this part lest I be accused of peddling clickbait or whatever. Or you can read it. I’m fine regardless.

Those of you who stuck around are by now intimately familiar with the ongoing saga between Brown, the NFL, and the Oakland Raiders—no matter how hard you tried to avoid it. Believe me, I know. The crux of the whole ordeal is Brown’s steadfast insistence on using a helmet that has been disallowed by the NFL for failing to adhere to whatever arcane and nebulous standards comprise the league’s mandated “equipment requirements.” In protest, Brown skipped a bunch of practices but seemingly relented after finding a newer version of his preferred model thanks to a shrewd crowdsourcing effort via Twitter, only to sulk once again when that model failed a baseline safety test. Mercifully, an armistice was apparently reached Tuesday, with Brown reporting to practice, certified helmet in-hand, two days after the Raiders—who were purportedly in Brown’s corner at the onset of these proceedings—publicly called him out, implicitly threatening to go nuclear if he wasn’t “all-in”.

Putting aside the absurdity of tightly regulating a piece of equipment that is virtually useless when it comes to preventing concussions—such warnings are literally emblazoned on the backs of helmets—and that the NFL is an evil, draconian enterprise, Brown came away from this whole thing looking like a chump. This was unavoidable. Indeed, by choosing to die on this hill, Brown was left with two options: putting his money where his mouth is and holding out a la Le’Veon Bell (staging a holdout to protest what is and what is not permissible equipment, thereby forfeiting many millions of dollars, would’ve been real dumb), or making his hangdog return once his employer turned up the heat. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

My hot take is that Brown, emboldened by his daring exodus from Pittsburgh, became overconfident. Not only did he manage to break free from a situation that he perceived as being unfavorable (while under contract, no less), he secured an even more lucrative contract from his new team. You pull that off, then you’ve shifted the paradigm. If Brown can strong-arm his former employer into trading him at below market value and eating $21 million to boot, why wouldn’t he think that he could finesse his way into playing the 2019 season in his preferred 10-year-old helmet or a friggin’ catcher’s mask if he wanted? A very sick part of me is kinda bummed that Brown’s endeavor proved fruitless, as this incredibly stupid controversy ultimately became just the latest example of NFL management exercising its omnipotence over its workforce, but the front-facing part is thankful that if Brown’s gonna spend the year moping, it’ll be on a sideline 3000 miles away. I’ll also allow that I was about 99 percent sure that Brown was gonna stage a veritable holdout, get traded to the Patriots for a seventh-round pick as a result, and then pace the league in yards, receptions, and touchdowns on his way to claiming Super Bowl MVP honors. I would’ve died.

(Oh, one more thing: speculating about Brown’s mental health is gross and inappropriate. We should not make light of brain damage or mental health issues because it fits neatly into the narrative.)

Stock report!

Quarterbacks

Mason Rudolph, Stock Up: Last time we checked on Rudolph, he’d thrown a pair of touchdowns against Tampa Bay and exhibited the kind of poise that generally isn’t inherent to second-year quarterbacks, especially ones with limited in-game experience. He didn’t throw any touchdowns against Kansas City in his second outing of the preseason but did look mighty comfy in the pocket and even made a handful of good throws. Look at this laser-guided missile that he fired directly into the mitts of James Washington:

What a dime by Mason Rudolph! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/7emVKV10LY

— SteelVideos (@SteelBlitzburgh) August 18, 2019

Dez Bryant was right: this feller can play.

Josh Dobbs, Trending Very Slightly Down: The competition for the backup quarterback spot is probably tighter than Mike Tomlin’s letting on, so any hiccup is going be magnified, expounded upon, and likely overblown (which is what I’m going to do right now). Consider the following play, on which Dobbs sailed a pass over the head of a wide-open Diontae Johnson into the arms of Charvarius Ward:

Chiefs DB Charvarius Ward intercepts Steelers QB Josh Dobbs in the end zone, and returns it all the way near midfield pic.twitter.com/2MxvhJcC3B

— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) August 18, 2019

Note the field position and time on the clock: this should’ve been guaranteed points.

This isn’t to suggest that, because Dobbs made one critical error, Rudolph has surpassed Dobbs on the depth chart. Dobbs, much like Rudolph, delivered a laserbeam pass of his own to Washington and, unlike Rudolph, converted a 3rd-and-5 on the ground in which he sent no fewer than three Kansas City Chiefs to the infirmary with liquified ankle bones. Dobbs’ stock is only “down” because of the interception.

Running backs: No movement

It was nice to see James Conner grease the wheels a bit, but I am of the mind that he, along with Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and any defensive player of relative note should be sequestered to a hotel room during the remaining preseason games. Jaylen Samuels scored a touchdown, and I genuinely hope that Tomlin and Co. utilize him frequently this season, whether that be out of the backfield, as the H-back, with his hand in the dirt, or lined up on the outside. This is a baseless love affair and I won’t apologize for it.

Receivers

James Washington, Stock up: Here is a thoroughly stupid and pointless but nonetheless fun fact: James Washington ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards through two preseason games, which is due in large part to the fact that six of his eight receptions have gained 20 or more yards. I certainly don’t fancy myself a highly-proficient Xs and Os Football Knower, but I’d reckon that Washington’s noteworthy stat-line probably has a thing or two to do with his newfound penchant for getting wide-open:

First play from Josh Dobbs, throws a beautiful deep ball to James Washington. #Steelers #SteelersNation pic.twitter.com/Av4iIliFbV

— Tommy Jaggi (@TommyJaggi) August 18, 2019

Washington has, conservatively, two full strides on his man on the above-referenced play.

Being that it’s the preseason, any big-time expectations for Washington or what he could bring to the Steelers offense ought to be tempered. With that said, the departure of Brown frees up somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 targets, so Washington should have plenty of chances to eat this season. It’s worth bearing in mind that the no. 2 receiver on the Steelers last season accumulated more than 100 receptions and 1,400 yards.

Donte Moncrief, Stock down: Moncrief’s entry on this list has less to do with his singular contributions—which were kinda grim: one reception for one yard and fumble, yuck—and more to do with Washington emerging as a capable secondary receiver and Diontae Johnson looking like a dude who belongs in the lineup.

Diontae Johnson, Stock up: Johnson scored one touchdown that was called back thanks to a dubious offensive pass interference ruling and another that was allowed to stand despite the ball maybe kinda squirming around a bit too much as Johnson Completed The Act Of Surviving The Ground or whatever. I’m sure all Steelers games will be devoid of controversy henceforth!

This is the part where I’ll disclose that, in my opinion, legislating—or more accurately attempting to legislate—pass interference is a hilariously retrograde policy, one that eschews immediacy and simplicity in favor of agonizingly thorough frame-by-frame overviews of sequences that are literally impossible for a human person to perceive in real time. Even if you confine the discussion of instant replay to objectively evaluable instances—Did the receiver’s foot make contact with the back line?; Did the ball break the plane before the knee made contact with the ground?—you’ll still find that the parties responsible for reviewing and adjudicating the replays can be error-prone. The National Football League existed for almost 100 years before anyone determined the mechanisms that comprise a valid catch, for Godsakes. It’ll take at least another hundred for us to aptly define the parameters for reviewable pass interference. This rant is over.

Offensive/Defensive line

Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, and Jerald Hawkins, Stock down: If you see any one of these guys playing more than a handful of snaps in the regular season, something has gone horribly awry. Okorafor in particular could not impede a toddler’s escape from a phone booth.

Linebackers: Stock up

Devin Bush showed all the he needed to show against Tampa Bay; I’m fine leaving him on the shelf for the reminder of the preseason. The same can be said for T.J. Watt, who nearly pressured Chad Henne into throwing an interception, and Bud Dupree, who contributed a pair of sacks and is hopefully finally getting around to having that breakout campaign we’ve been waiting on for the past four years. Ulysees Gilbert III had another solid game and appears to be on the inside track to making the final roster. These are all promising developments.

Secondary: Stock up

Joe Haden, our golden god, will eventually make his triumphant return. In the meantime, Artie Burns of all people has thrived in Haden’s stead. Burns generally approaches tackling with the hesitance and indecision of a seventh-grader sheepishly requesting a potty break in front of a packed classroom despite having already soiled their pants, but he put some of those concerns temporarily to rest by making a great form tackle on Tyreek Hill early in the first quarter.

I am as guilty as anyone of ripping on Artie Burns, but I’m sincerely happy to see that, barring a total disaster in the coming weeks, he’ll safely make the 53-man roster. Here is a wonderful article by Jeremy Fowler that outlines Burns’ assumption of primary fatherhood duties following the incarnation of his own father at a South Carolina prison. Among the many delightful vignettes is one that details how Burns moved his two teenage brothers with him to Pittsburgh after he was drafted. Both enrolled in Pine-Richland High School, which is widely considered to be among the topmost public schools in the entire state. Say what you will about Burns’ abilities; the NFL could use more dudes like Artie Burns.

Also, apparently Cameron Sutton has been killing it at camp and Mike Hilton, who will tackle a bulldozer if needed, is open to playing some free safety. That gives the Steelers seven warm bodies to man five open secondary slots. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Tomlin and Keith Butler play around with the lineups a bit early in the season.

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