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Steelers swap cornerbacks, sign Jermaine Ponder and release Derrek Thomas

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 3:04pm
Photo: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

After only 5 days, the Steelers one again change up their cornerback room

The Steelers signed free-agent cornerback Jermaine Ponder just before Tuesday afternoon’s training camp practice.

We have signed CB Jermaine Ponder and waived/injured CB Derrek Thomas.@BordasLaw TRANSACTION: https://t.co/78EkrLivu7 pic.twitter.com/9HyNiU4xso

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 6, 2019

Ponder played collegiately at St. Frances University. His senior year, Ponder appeared in all 11 games for the Red Flash, recording 25 tackles and an interception. Signed this offseason as an undrafted free agent by the Cleveland Browns, Ponder was released Saturday in or to sign defensive tackle Tracey Sprinkle.

The 6’1” 200-lb defensive back had a fairly impressive pro day this past offseason. Ponder ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and measured in with a 40-inch vertical leap. With game statistics which did not jump out from a player coming from a small conference, it was Ponder’s measurables which drew the attention of a few NFL teams as they rushed to sign undrafted rookies.

It will be interesting to see if Ponder can get up to speed in order to find any significant playing time in the Steelers first preseason game Friday night at Heinz Field. With only two practices to get acclimated before the match up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ponder will definitely be ““jumping on the moving train” as Coach Tomlin likes to refer to players joining the team at this point in training camp.

To make room on the roster, the Steelers waived/injured cornerback Derrek Thomas who was just signed to the team on August 1. In his short time with the Steelers, Thomas most notably had one interception in practice.

Steelers Training Camp 2019: Live news and updates 8/6

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 1:17pm
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are back, and training-camp practices are underway! Follow along with BTSC as the players start to hone their skills and prepare for the 2019 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and the rabid fans awaiting their chance to watch the Black-and-gold, are prepared for training camp, and that comes with the first day of actual practice. The Steelers are finally back to practicing, and Practice 10 of camp is here!

If you’re stuck at work, or at home, follow along with those on the scene at Saint Vincent College for the best pictures, video and news coming straight from the practice field in Latrobe, PA. Don't miss a minute of the action!

Today's practice is at 2:55 p.m. EST, and is open to the public. Take a look at the training camp schedule below and, as always, follow along with live updates in the Twitter feed below.

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ESPN sees the battle at right tackle as the Steelers biggest position battle to watch

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 11:38am
Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have several positions up in the air as the 2019 regular season approaches, but ESPN believes one trumps them all.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers set for their first preseason game this Friday vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there are certain position battles which are starting to heat up. Some have been talked about for months, while others have a new sense of purpose after a full week of training camp has come and gone.

What are some of the position battles the Steelers will have this entire preseason? Here is a list of a few noteworthy battles currently taking place:

Backup Quarterback

Right Tackle

Inside Linebacker

Slot Cornerback

Backup Running back

Wide Receiver

Kicker

These are just to name a few, and the Steelers are lucky the majority of their training camp battles are not for starting positions, but mainly as depth. It still begs the question of which of these battles is considered the most intriguing. The battle which could have the biggest impact on the 2019 team.

According to ESPN, the answer to that question resides in the battle for right tackle, the only starting position vacant along the team’s offensive line.

Right Tackle

Matt Feiler has the inside track after 10 starts a year ago and a strong training camp. But Chukwuma Okorafor turns 22 just before the first preseason game and has excellent feet, which helps offset the occasional camp struggle. Expect the Steelers to mix lineups throughout August to maximize competition between the two. -- Jeremy Fowler

There is no debate the Steelers camp battle at right tackle isn’t important, but would you say it is the biggest battle facing the team this preseason? Would you have listed another camp battle higher? Who will win the aforementioned camp battles?

This is where BTSC separates themselves from the competition. No one has a better, more knowledgeable, community than us here at BTSC, and we want to hear what you think about the battles coming up for the black-and-gold. So, if you haven’t before, create an account and make your voice heard in the comment section below! Trust us, you won’t regret being a part of this tremendous community!

Report: No expected problems between Steelers and Joe Haden for new contract extension

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 10:05am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers and CB Joe Haden seem to be nearing a deal for him to stay in Pittsburgh for another three seasons.

It isn’t really breaking news how the Pittsburgh Steelers and Joe Haden are looking to get a new contract done before the start of the season. It isn’t really news how the team wants to keep Haden in Pittsburgh for the next three seasons, meaning a two year extension. But what is news is how the team isn’t looking at a contract extension, but a new deal for Haden.

This per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

#Steelers have begun talks with Joe Haden about a new contract, likely a three-year deal that will reduce his $11.9 million cap hit this season. They don't expect a problem. NT Javon Hargrave is next at the checkout counter.

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) August 6, 2019

Note how the new contract would allow the Steelers to cut down Haden’s $11 million dollar cap hit in 2019 to create more space for the team this offseason.

As an example, if the Steelers were to get Haden for a $5 million dollar cap hit this season, rolling all extra money into a signing bonus, it would save them $6 million on their current cap situation. Combine that with the near $4 million they saved restructuring Stephon Tuitt’s deal earlier this offseason and the team then adds $10 million in salary cap space as the regular season approaches.

What will they do with that money? It could be used in case the team needs to sign a free agent before the season, but if that never happens the money will roll over into the next season’s salary cap.

If Haden cashes in, and it is expected he will sooner rather than later, he will reach some rarefied air for cornerbacks in NFL history.

Joe Haden's next deal will surpass Darrelle Revis ($124.2 million) among cornerbacks who have earned more than $100 million in their career. The only other to earn more than $100 million is Champ Bailey ($102.75 million).

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) August 6, 2019

Some might not think Haden is worth all of that money, but if the Steelers believe he has three good seasons left in him, he would be the cornerstone of the secondary moving forward.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for their first preseason action this Friday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Heinz Field.

Dravon Askew-Henry hopes to live up to his hometown pedigree

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 8:40am
Photo: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

As a kid, the Aliquippa native watched future NFL players while dreaming of joining their ranks

Mike Ditka. Tony Dorsett, Ty Law. Darrelle Revis.

These are some of the ten players who have reached the NFL from the city which lies only 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. Aliquippa, Pennsylvania has produced an unusual amount of NFL players for a city with a population less than 10,000 people. Professional football is not the only claim to fame to the borough-turned-city, as basketball start “Pistol” Pete Maravich and Moon River composer Henry Mancini both were raised in Aliquippa. But for Steelers’ rookie Dravon Askew-Henry, being from “The Quip” just gives him more determination to make the most of his opportunity to land a job in the National Football League.

In an interview with The Tribune Review’s Kevin Gorman, Askew-Henry talked about the NFL players from Aliquippa and what they meant to him growing up.

“I look up to them guys. They set the bar high for a kid like me from Aliquippa,” Askew-Henry told Gorman. “I was in the stands watching them play high school football. I always wanted to grow up and be like that. Ty Law going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is all the motivation that I need.”

Askew-Henry then expanded his thoughts on how his hometown has shaped him as a player.

“Coming from ‘Quip, I feel like we just breed differently there. I’ve definitely still got a chip on my shoulder and just about all the odds and where this road is going to take me, I don’t look forward. I live for today, for this moment.”

An undrafted rookie free agent signed by the Steelers in 2019, Askew-Henry played collegiately at West Virginia University in Morgantown. A full-time starter his first two season at defensive back, Askew-Henry suffered a severe knee injury before the beginning of his junior year. Initially under the belief he was on the fast track to the NFL as a high draft pick, Askew-Henry had to fight back to earn his playing time the remainder of his college career.

“I came in and started as a freshman and expected to be three-and-out but, unfortunately, it didn’t go that way,” Askew-Henry explained to Gorman.

After not getting his name called during the NFL draft, Askew-Henry took little time to sign with the Steelers. With safety being ruled a position of need by the Steelers in the 2019 offseason and the team failing to add to the position via free agency of the draft, Askew-Henry was one of two safeties signed by the Steelers in the days following the NFL draft.

It still would be considered somewhat of a long shot if Askew-Henery were to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster come September. But earning a spot on the Steelers practice squad is definitely a path Askew-Henry could find himself on for the 2019 season. If given the opportunity, Askew-Henry already has experienced what it is like to fight for playing time and is prepared for the challenge of being an Aliquippa product.

“I’m just trying to get the tradition going and I’m proud to be playing here in my hometown. … I’m hungry. I’m going to continue to do what I’ve got to do every day to prove that I belong here and I deserve to be here.”

Askew-Henry is scheduled to get his first chance to carve out a name for himself this Friday at 7:30 P.M. when the Steelers take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 1 of the NFL preseason.

Why Sean Davis might be the most important player on the Steelers’ 2019 defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 7:38am
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 defense is a collective unknown, but Sean Davis very well might be the most important piece of the overall puzzle.

Count me among the many who were thrilled when the Steelers traded up in the first round of April’s NFL draft to select Michigan’s uber-talented Devin Bush. The need to draft a do-it-all linebacker has been glaring since the awful injury to Ryan Shazier in December 2017. Twenty-some games of scuffling to replace Shazier’s production created a fair amount of anxiety among the fan base. Although it’s too early to know for sure, the initial reports from training camp suggest Bush could be a collective dose of Prozac for the black-and-gold faithful.

If Bush can be a reasonable facsimile of Shazier this season, a prominent weakness will have been fortified. For this reason, it is tempting to call Bush the most important player for the Steelers defense in 2019. That’s a heavy burden to hang on the shoulders of a rookie, however, no matter how broad they may be. Besides, as important as it is to fill the Shazier void, there may be another position group who will be even more integral to the success of the defense: the safeties.

The duos the Steelers have employed on their back end since the Ryan Clark-Troy Polamalu pairing ended have been mediocre at best. When Clark was allowed to walk in 2013, the Steelers signed Carolina Panther free agent Mike Mitchell to replace him. Mitchell is a polarizing figure around these parts but, in fairness to him, he was put in a difficult position from the start of his tenure in Pittsburgh. A fierce hitter but marginal in coverage, Mitchell was asked to play free safety and to patrol more ground than he was capable of while Polamalu was used in his Tasmanian Devil-meets-Ronnie Lott role. Clark was a natural free safety with a deep understanding of Dick LeBeau’s complicated blitz and disguise schemes and thus knew how to compensate for playing with a non-traditional partner at safety. Mitchell was not. In short, he was lost next to Polamalu. The fact that Mitchell’s arrival coincided with Polamalu’s physical decline made matters worse.

Following Polamalu’s retirement, Mitchell was paired with a host of players. Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen and Sean Davis all started opposite the veteran at various times between 2015-2017. The first three were patchwork players at best while Davis, a second round pick who played cornerback his senior year at the University of Maryland and was getting reacquainted with the safety position, had a steep learning curve. Mitchell, meanwhile, lost a step or three and was not resigned when his contract expired after the 2017 season.

This prompted the Steelers to draft Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds in the first round in 2018 and to pair him with Davis. Edmunds, like Davis, had a lot to learn and started slowly. By mid-season, however, he had progressed significantly. The Steelers expanded his role to include reps at the box safety position they had initially prescribed to free agent signee Morgan Burnett. They even included Edmunds on some six-man blitz concepts. Edmunds flashed as a box player while steadily improving his skills on the back end. Many in the organization are now confident he can become a playmaker at safety in the mold of Polamalu.

Davis, meanwhile, has had an uneven tenure in his three seasons in Pittsburgh. Like Mitchell, Davis has suffered from circumstances beyond his control. Whereas Mitchell had unorthodox and unreliable partners at safety, Davis has been a victim of instability. Following his season at corner at Maryland, he played free safety as a rookie for the Steelers, slid over to strong safety in his second season and then back to free safety last year. Technically, that’s four position assignments in four years. It’s hard for any player, let alone a young one transitioning from college to the NFL, to master his craft when the requisite skill set and mental assignments keep changing. Throw in the fact that Davis has had just one season to develop chemistry with Edmunds and has been asked to anchor the back end of a defense that has been weak at inside linebacker in his time here, thereby increasing the demands on the safeties, and it is understandable why he has struggled at times.

Still, Davis has struggled. And those struggles have affected the outcome of games. The example people often point to is his hit on Joe Haden last season that jarred an interception out of Haden’s arms into the hands of the Chargers’ Keenan Allen for a momentum-changing touchdown in the 33-30 home loss to Los Angeles last season. I won’t fault Davis for that play, however. He was being aggressive as a cover-1 help player and just happened to arrive at the football as Haden did. That was a fluke play. Those things happen.

More problematic have been plays like this one:

Here, on a crucial 3rd and 7 in the 4th quarter of the crushing week 14 loss in Oakland last season, the Steelers are in a man-under two-deep look against an empty set from the Raiders. Davis is the safety to the top of the screen. I won’t swear I know how the Steelers are coaching Davis to read this play, but traditionally the free safety must work inside-out here, protecting the easiest throws like slant and working late to harder ones like corner and sideline routes. The alignment of the widest receiver to the trips should tell Davis that he is likely running some sort of inside cut since he is too wide to run anything else. Once the middle receiver goes inside, Davis should look to jump the slant from the outside receiver.

Instead, he inexplicably widens with the bench route from the tight end, who is covered well here by Morgan Burnett. This is a bad read by Davis, who runs himself out of what could have been a pass breakup that would have forced a field goal or even a game-changing interception. The Raiders would go on to score two plays later and inevitably win on a subsequent last-minute drive.

The play above might not look like a devastating error. It’s not. But it does demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of how the position should be played. Davis should know what to expect there based upon the situation, the alignment and the post-snap release of the Raiders receivers. The fact he jumps the route he is least responsible for is problematic.

Speaking of fundamentals, Davis’s tackling is a work in progress as well. Watch him here, aligned as the single-high safety, on this touchdown run in last December’s game against the Saints:

Too often we see Davis in poor position to make sound tackles. Here, in what is a bit of a recurring theme, his head is on the wrong side of the ball-carrier and he does a poor job of wrapping up. Tackling 101 instructs a defender to do a few basic things: chop your feet, get low, keep your head up, get you chest across the ball and wrap up. Davis literally does none of these. He takes long strides into the ball-carrier, compromising his balance; his head is down and on the wrong side; he doesn’t lower his center of gravity to create force to use at impact; and his “wrap” at the end is more of a lunge than an attempt at a tackle. This is poor tackling at every level of football.

It may sound as though I’m being harsh on Davis. I don’t mean to. I’m not here to bury him for mistakes like these since, in fairness, he has not yet had the positional stability nor repetitions to become great at what he does. And, depending on how much stock you put in things like PFF grades, Davis is coming off of his best season in 2018. His 69.8 grade put him in the middle of the pack at the safety position but was a significant upgrade from his score of 47.3 in 2017. That’s progress, which is always the goal in young players.

Still, Davis produced just one interception last season. Coupled with his occasional struggles in coverage and run support, he was neither steady nor impactful enough to be the player the Steelers need. With a year under his belt as Edmunds’ partner, and with the opportunity to play the same position two years in a row for the first time since his sophomore and junior years in college (and, from a motivational standpoint, let’s throw in the fact he’s playing for a new contract), Davis needs to make a leap in 2019. How he progresses, in fact, could either hold this defense back again or take it to the next level.

Here’s a quick look at how Davis’s development could impact the defense.

SCHEME FLEXIBILITY

If Davis improves as a true free safety, the Steelers will have the freedom to play a number of coverages and coverage disguises. Coverage disguise was the recipe they used to frustrate Tom Brady in their 17-10 win over the Patriots last season. Rolling from cover-1 to cover-2, or cover-2 to quarters, or masking cover-3 by showing cover-1, or any combination of the above appears to be the direction in which the coaching staff is headed.

As I wrote about last week when discussing the transformation of the defense the past few seasons, Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin are building more of a hybrid situational unit these days and relying less upon the Steelers’ traditional base schemes. To do this, they need a free safety who can communicate those disguises to the rest of the secondary and who can execute a variety of coverages. This will be especially true of Davis if the Steelers are to continue playing cover-1, something they’ve done with increasing frequency the past two seasons. A free safety who can make the right reads in man-coverage schemes provides underneath players the freedom to press a little tighter and be a little more aggressive with receivers off of the ball. And a free safety who is a reliable tackler and can insert himself for blitzing linebackers would likely encourage the staff to dial up more run blitzes. In short, the more security Davis offers on the back end, the more aggressive and deceptive the Steelers can be in their defensive approach.

TURNOVERS

Every coach in America preaches the importance of winning the turnover battle to his team. The results support that wisdom. Last year, the top seven teams in turnover +/- all made the playoffs, with the Super Bowl champs finishing fifth. In 2016 and 2017, it was ten of the top twelve with the champs finishing fourth and third, respectively. The Steelers produced just fifteen takeaways in 2018, which ranked 30th in the league, and their -8 turnover differential put them 28th. They did not participate in the post-season.

Davis, for his part, generated just one pick last year as he acclimated himself with a new playing partner and got reacquainted with the responsibilities at free safety. Edmunds had just one interception as well. The Steelers will have to get better production in this area from their starting safety duo in 2019.

A failure to generate interceptions is a product of several things. Scheme, positioning and an inability to catch the football are the most common culprits. Davis seems to have suffered most from positioning issues last season. Even in 2017, when he had a career-high three interceptions, two came on poor throws by the quarterback where Davis actually trailed a receiver. He has not shown great instincts on driving on footballs in the air or on anticipating routes.

Then again, how can we fault him when he’s been bounced around the defense like a Superball? It is said that familiarity breeds contempt but it also breeds competence as, in this instance, a player learns to recognize things faster and understands what to look for. A more comfortable, more confident Davis who can anticipate and react faster, and who gets himself into better position as a result of knowing his playing partner, will likely lead to an uptick in turnover production.

THE IMPORTANCE OF GREAT SAFETY PLAY

About that playing partner. The Steelers haven’t had a #1 and #2 draft pick as their starting safety duo since… ever? The closest I could find was the brief pairing of Anthony Smith, a third round pick in 2006 who is best remembered for trash-talking Tom Brady and then having Brady eviscerate him for it, and Polamalu, the top pick in 2003. Point being, the Davis/Edmunds duo represents the greatest amount of draft capital the Steelers have ever invested in the position. The talent is there. What will it take for the results to catch up?

Above all, it will take familiarity. Safeties work together in a fashion that is similar to offensive linemen. They must know where the other will be, who/what the other is responsible for and how to make adjustments in real time. In a defense like Pittsburgh’s, where the push for disguise and versatility means a good deal of fluidity, the most important thing the safeties must do is communicate. They must call out coverage adjustments based on formations, shifts and motions or even the pre-snap alignment of receivers. They must trade routes with each other and with the corners as receivers move through zones, or must read the quarterback’s eyes and anticipate his throw to provide help over the top. They must fit off of each other in the run game depending on whether they are a front-side fill or backside pursuit player. They are the back end of the defense. They must understand where the other is and must never get run behind.

If they can’t do these things, big plays occur. How impactful are big plays to a football game? A recent study by Sport Source Analytics showed that in 2018, 64% of college Division I teams scored a touchdown on a drive where they had a play of 20+ yards. Conversely, drives that failed to produce a play of 20+ yards resulted in a touchdown only about 20% of the time. These are college numbers but the point applies to football at every level: producing big plays leads to points; stopping them denies points.

According to Sharp Football Stats, the Steelers ranked 12th in the league last season in preventing explosive pass plays but just 20th against explosive runs. The run number is partially a product of sub-par inside linebacker play but tackling issues at safety contributed too. Safeties, more than any position group on the field, must protect against the big play.

Davis, as the free safety and the veteran of the duo, will command the most responsibility for improving on these numbers. His job will likely be made easier by the fact that Edmunds will be more comfortable this season. Davis will be able to worry more about his own responsibilities and less about getting Edmunds lined up correctly or into the right coverage. A more capable Edmunds should translate to a more capable Davis, as the maturation of the former allows the latter to narrow his focus. The value of this to the defense could be significant, as both players find that the familiarity they have in their second year together makes them faster, more instinctive players. When it comes to big plays, a single step can make all the difference on a football field. Often that single step is the product of a clearer mind.

The Steelers must have a good deal of faith in their young safeties to develop in all of these areas - Davis in particular- since they made no effort to fortify the position in the draft or free agency, save for the signing of AAF alumnus Kameron Kelly. The depth chart behind Davis and Edmunds is thin to say the least. That could speak volumes about what the staff anticipates from its starters.

For all of these reasons, Sean Davis could be the most important player on the Steelers defense in 2019. With the return of a stout defensive line and upgrades that appear to have solidified our linebacker and cornerback positions, the play of the safeties presents the biggest question mark for the coming season. Edmunds looks like a burgeoning stud. Davis? We shall see. There is no doubt the fourth year pro is a tremendous athlete with great physical skills. He is certainly capable of being the rangy, instinctive free safety the Steelers need. How far forward will some much-needed stability and familiarity allow him to leap in 2019? The answer to that question will have a significant impact upon the team’s success.

The confidence and belief in Donte Moncrief is a great sign early in Steelers training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 6:27am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The confidence and belief in Donte Moncrief, the veteran receiver the Steelers signed in free agency, is already apparent early on in training camp. This is great news for a team that sorely needs to find someone to play opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2019.

It’s probably not very wise to get too worked up over the news that comes out of Steelers training camp on a daily basis (although, we sure do try).

However, if the reports about Donte Moncrief, the veteran receiver Pittsburgh signed as a free agent this past offseason, are true, it might actually be cool to get excited over the possibility of him taking the bull by the horns and claiming the number two receiver spot opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster as his own.

It’s obviously very early, and it’s certainly no surprise that a six-year veteran would quickly emerge as the early favorite for a very crucial role in Pittsburgh’s offense in 2019.

Given more time and more reps this summer, perhaps second-year receiver James Washington will ultimately win the job and be the true deep threat the offense has lacked since before Martavis Bryant’s year-long drug-related suspension.

But it sure is nice to have a player like Moncrief around just in case Washington needs more seasoning.

Moncrief didn’t arrive in Pittsburgh with a resume that jumped out at you. He wasn’t a highly sought after free agent. But with 200 career receptions for two different teams, he screams professional. In fact, if Moncrief were a veteran baseball player, he might be best described as a “professional hitter.” A professional hitter in baseball terms is someone who doesn’t necessarily lead the league in batting average or home runs, but he gives his team one quality plate appearance after another over the course of a 162-game season.

Quality: that’s the impression you get of Moncrief when you hear his teammates talk about how he goes about his business. That’s the impression you get when they talk about the confidence and belief they already have in him.

Here’s a guy who played with Andrew Luck and not surprisingly put up quality numbers. Not great numbers, mind you, but quality numbers—including 64 receptions for 733 yards (both career highs) in 2015. Moncrief put up those numbers even though Luck missed over half the season with injuries.

Moncrief somehow managed to catch 48 passes for 668 last season despite playing with the Jaguars and their anemic air attack.

If Moncrief can put together such a quality and very professional stat-line while catching passes from Blake Bortles, surely, he can approach or surpass his aforementioned career year catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger.

That’s all the Steelers really need from their number two receiver in 2019. Someone who will catch 60-70 passes for 700-900 yards. Those numbers won’t get a receiver voted to the Pro Bowl, but they sure would help take the heat off of Smith-Schuster.

Moncrief certainly has the physical attributes one would want in a receiver--including size, speed and physicality.

And just to show you how much of a professional Moncrief really is, he immediately began developing a rapport with his franchise quarterback during offseason workouts.

If nobody else steps up and takes the spot away from Moncrief this summer, at least it’s comforting to know the position of number two receiver will be in the hands of a true professional in 2019.

Podcast: Is it business as usual for Mike Tomlin, or has he changed?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 5:30am

Join Bryan, Tony and Dave for the Steelers news of the week in the latest episode of the ‘Steelers Hangover’.

With Steelers players having more than a week to train, there has been a lot of talk about the new attitude of the team. It leads one to wonder if that extends to Mike Tomlin. Join Dave Schofield, Bryan Davis, and Anthony Defeo from BTSC as they share their thoughts on the differences this camp offers already as opposed to past years. It’s the extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”.

In case you are new to the show, you can check out a complete rundown of the show below:

  • The week that was for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Latrobe.
  • Will we see a new Mike Tomlin this year?
  • and MUCH MORE!

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: Offensive Lineman Fred Johnson turning heads in Steelers training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/06/2019 - 4:34am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to the gridiron this week when they reported back to training camp. With practices underway, the news surrounding the black-and-gold is just starting to heat up. As the team returns from their summer break, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until training camp starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how an unknown offensive lineman, Fred Johnson, is turning heads throughout Steelers Training Camp.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Everyone thinks the Steelers’ offensive line is set, but there might be a player who is bound and determined to wreck those fan predictions.

Mammoth guard Fred Johnson hard to miss at Steelers training camp, gets shot at tackle

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Fred Johnson might be the tallest guard who’s ever attended a Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. And in what might have been a sign of just how much Johnson intrigues the Steelers, they even threw him into the proverbial fire at tackle, too.

For the 2-minute drill simulation at the end of Saturday’s practice, Johnson was told to play left tackle.

“That was the first time this camp I was at tackle,” Johnson said afterward.

An undrafted rookie from Florida, Johnson has generally been the second-team right guard during camp this far. At 6-foot-7, he’s impossible to miss, particularly at an interior position (no other Steelers guard or center is listed as taller than 6-5).

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Mike Tomlin has his shortcomings, but the Patriots dominance isn’t one of them.

Tim Benz: Patriots dominance isn’t part of Mike Tomlin’s shortcomings

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It’s been 11 days since Mike Tomlin signed a contract extension to coach the Steelers through at least the 2021 season.

Since then, several arguments have popped up supporting that decision by Steelers ownership. Others have been highly critical.

Both sides make a strong case.

I wouldn’t have done it. But it’s not my money. It’s Art Rooney II’s money. If someday between now and then he wants to fire Tomlin and doesn’t care about the payout, so be it.

However, there is one defense of Tomlin’s extension that I have heard advanced a few times recently that I can’t accept.

Some have said that Tomlin’s postseason shortcomings should come with an asterisk because he has endured the bad luck of coaching in the AFC against the Patriots at the height of their dynasty.

In other words, there’s an assumption that the Steelers’ past eight seasons would have ended later in the playoffs, perhaps with another Super Bowl win or at least another appearance or two, if the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick reign had never occurred.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Pro Football Hall of Fame is expanding their classes, and this could benefit several Pittsburgh Steelers who are Hall-worthy.

Mark Madden: These Steelers could benefit from Hall of Fame expansion

By: Mark Madden, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

In 2020, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct a one-time-only class of 20 new members to commemorate the NFL’s 100th anniversary. Ten senior-era players will be included.

Nine players from the Steelers’ dynasty in the 1970s are enshrined in Canton.

Does this decision open the door for more?

A survey of my Twitter followers (2,941 voting) suggests defensive end L.C. Greenwood deserves a spot.

A very informal poll of Pittsburgh football media also chose Greenwood.

But one of said media put it best: “None. Seriously.”

I concur. Nine is plenty. Enough already with the Steelers of the ’70s.

It would be better if safety Troy Polamalu made it in his first year of eligibility, or if Alan Faneca made it after missing out the last four years despite being the best guard of his generation.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

.@_Dbush11 takes a golf cart ride with @Missi_Matthews, where they talk about #SteelersCamp, being around teammates all the time and more. pic.twitter.com/z02tN9tzTX

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2019

Take a look inside the living spaces of some of our players who have been at #SteelersCamp for a number of years. pic.twitter.com/snvwS8ToyZ

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2019

It was a night full of fun at @HeinzField!

Check out some of the highlights from #FamilyFest, presented by @GiantEagle. pic.twitter.com/gZ06KRF7dU

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2019

Just running routes with my son, Boujee pic.twitter.com/HUAxek5dEq

— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) August 5, 2019

Just a kid from @CityofMuncie who has been #blessed beyond belief! @JamesConner_ bout to go crazy this year! Just wait! ⏳ pic.twitter.com/5DL5j0a5si

— Eddie Faulkner (@coachfaulk) August 5, 2019

Pittsburgh Steelers fans, join Behind the Steel Curtain FanPulse

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 2:18pm
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Show off your knowledge by joining the BTSC FanPulse!!

We are considered the voice of the fan here at Behind the Steel Curtain and we talk every day about how the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing--whether they’ll win their upcoming game or how Steelers fans feel about that awful call from the referees. Now we’re starting a new polling project that will pull together the insights of the most *plugged-in* Steelers fans. If that describes you, then SIGN UP HERE to join me and other *knowledgeable* fans (including some of the BTSC contributors) on our project called SB Nation FanPulse.

If you sign up, you’ll be among a hand-selected group from Behind the Steel Curtain who answer quick polls each week developed by SB Nation. We want to build the definitive poll of *informed* Steelers fans, and that includes you. Your votes will be anonymous — though if you join, you’re welcome to tell anyone you like. The results of each poll will be published by BTSC, and may end up on SBNation.com also along with the results from other team sites.

Ready to sign up as a Behind the Steel Curtain FanPulse participant? CLICK HERE.

2019 Steelers Depth Chart Prediction: The Offensive Line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 1:22pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Taking a look at who will make the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster along the offensive front.

Can you believe that preseason is under a week away? Hard to actually wrap our collective heads around that but it is here. With the preseason and season quickly approaching there are many battles taking place in training camp that will presumably last into the preseason. While four positions along the offensive line are set in stone, the right tackle and backup linemen positions are not so clear.

The Steelers know what they have in right guard David DeCastro, center Maurkice Pouncey, left guard Ramon Foster and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. The quadruplets have 13 Pro Bowls between them and are viewed as the anchors of one of the best pass-blocking lines in the NFL.

The Steelers organization liked what they saw out of Matt Feiler over the 2016 and 2017 seasons that the team traded away right tackle Marcus Gilbert in 2018. In 10 starts Feiler held his own and was not a liability but he did not make the Pro Bowl either. That is something that is not expected out of an undrafted rookie free agent picked off the scrap heap from the Houston Texans in 2017. Fans and coaches have high expectations that he can keep the progression going in 2019 but will he and will he win the starting gig? To answer that, we need to check out the competition at right tackle.

Former third-round draft pick, Chukwuma Okorafor was viewed by most draft “experts” to be a project coming out of Western Michigan. The 6’6 320 pounder played sporadically until late November when he was called upon to start for an injured Feiler. Okorafor did not give up a QB hit beside the lone sack he gave up but he gave up four pressures. While not a stellar outing, he was not an embarrassment either. He will need to take his game to the next level to be considered for the right tackle job or swing tackle.

Jerald Hawkins had Steelers Nation salivating when Pittsburgh drafted him out of LSU in the fourth round in 2016. The 6’6 305 pounder was showing well in the preseason but a shoulder injury ended his season during the preseason. In 2017, Hawkins was merely depth while playing in five games with 48 snaps. Expectations were running high for Hawkins heading into 2018 only to be dashed again when he suffered a torn quad in OTAs. In early June, he was placed on injured reserve, again ending his season before it started. The upcoming season is a make or break season for Hawkins. Do fans put a lot of emphasis on reports he is struggling in training camp or do you want to see him in the preseason to make up your own minds? Either way, he has an uphill battle for playing time let alone making the roster.

Former USC Trojans Zach Banner was a surprise addition to the 53-man roster in 2018. The massive tackle at 6’8 and 360 pounds might have made the team but did not play an offensive or special team snap. Did he make enough progress to earn another spot in 2019?

The last offensive tackle who is seeing consistent time is Damian Prince. He is a player to monitor in the next week to see if he can bypass Hawkins for second string snaps. (If you are not familiar with him, here is a writeup I did on him.)

The backup interior linemen’s spot is B. J. Finney’s to lose. At $3.095 million, he already is an expensive backup. If you view him as a left guard, his cap hit is the 14th highest in the league, eclipsing starting Steelers left guard by $400,000. That is the price the Steelers put on Finney when they assigned him the second-round tender for 2019. Finney has proven his versatility with nine starts while playing in 43 games the past three seasons. Finney is an expensive insurance policy but the team may also see him as the future at left guard. Past effectiveness should mean he would be the first interior linemen off the bench in 2019.

After Finney, the waters get very muddied. Patrick Morris spent the 2018 season on the team’s practice squad and fans would think that he would be the top reserve in an injury occurred. Or is he with 2019 seventh-rounder Derwin Gray that player? Darkhorse J C Hassenauer spent seven weeks in 2018 on the Atlanta Falcons practice squad, did that time give him a leg up on the others? Fred Johnson and Garrett Brumbsfeld anything more than camp bodies?

Will there even be much attention paid to the right tackle battle or is there even a true battle that will go on? Is that battle between Feiler and Okorafor or could another stick their nose into the battle? How many offensive linemen will the Steelers keep?

Depth chart

LT — Alejandro Villanueva

LG — Ramon Foster

C — Maurkice Pouncey

RG — David DeCastro

RT — Matt Feiler

B.J. Finney — Backup C/G

Chukwuma Okorafor — Swing Tackle / Extra TE in jumbo packages

Zach Banner — Backup Tackle

Damian Prince — A way too early prediction, but Jerald Hawkins has been that bad in camp.

Offensive prediction

(23, I did not list Roosevelt Nix on offense as he will be listed elsewhere.)

Quarterbacks

Ben Roethlisberger

Mason Rudolph

Joshua Dobbs

Running backs

James Conners

Benny Snell Jr.

Jaylen Samuels

Wide receivers

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Donte Moncrief

Eli Rogers

James Washington

Dionate Johnson

Diontae Spencer

Tight ends

Vance McDonald

Xavier Grimble

Player to be determined...

To qualify for the postseason in 2019, the Steelers must outscore their opponent in the 4th quarter

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 11:35am
Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers 2018 point margin in the 4th quarter was their lowest since 2009

There is one way and one way alone to win a football game on the field: score more points than your opponent. It doesn’t matter if the team has more time of possession, turnovers, sacks, or any other statistical category. If the score isn’t in your favor when the clock reaches zero, your team isn’t victorious.

The combination of scoring points and getting defensive stops is of the upmost importance, especially at key points in the game. In 2018, the Steelers were tied or had the lead in the fourth quarter in 14 of their 16 games. The fact the Steelers lost four of those games while tying another raises questions about the Steelers quality of play closing out each contest. And since points and point differential are some of the greatest statistics for measuring success, the Steelers giving up more points than what they scored in the fourth quarter for the 2018 season has to be an important issue.

The bottom line is this, the Steelers gave up 32 more points than what they scored in the fourth of their 2018 games. It is only the third time since Mike Tomlin became coach in 2007 the Steelers were a negative point differential in the final quarter of games. The other two seasons, -13 in 2013 and -38 in 2009, are also years the Steelers did not qualify for the post season.

So every time the Steelers are outscored in the fourth quarter for the entire season since 2007 they have missed the playoffs. Inversely, there was one season the Steelers missed the playoffs but had a positive fourth quarter point differential. In 2012 the Steelers scored 91 points in the fourth quarter, which just so happens to be the exact same total as 2018. The difference is the 2012 Steelers only gave up 70 fourth quarter points. In fact, the Steelers held their opponents scoreless in the fourth quarter seven times and to only three points in three additional games while going 7-3. If it wasn’t for two big fourth quarter comebacks in 2012, the Steelers point differential would have been negative. Outscoring the Giants 14-0 in Week 9 to win 24-20 and the Bengals 10-0 in Week 13 in a 23-20 victory helped to overcome other shortcomings in the forth quarter which led to an 8-8 record.

Getting back to 2019, the Steelers need to get into the positive differential in forth quarter scoring if they wish to get back to the playoffs. While being in the positive doesn’t guarantee a post season birth, remaining in the negative appears to be too much to overcome. With totals of +41 and +40 the two seasons prior to 2018, it is not an unfamiliar situation for the team. But in order to get there, both sides of the ball need to do their part.

Entering the 2018 season, the Steelers had averaged 114 points scored per season in the fourth quarter since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach. In 2018 they only scored 91, which was 23 less than their average. As for the defense, they surrendered 91 points per season on average, but gave up 123 which was 32 more than usual. So the entire team needs to do their part in order to improve this statistic.

I realize fourth quarter point differential is not a perfect statistical measure. Sometimes an opponent begins the quarter already in scoring position which can skew the results slightly. Even though it might have it’s flaws, there is no doubt teams emphasize finishing games strong and gutting out victories. If the Steelers focus on dominating the end of the game on both sides of the ball, both the victories and point differentials will fall in line.

Win two tickets to the Steelers vs. Buccaneers Week 1 preseason game on BTSC!

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 10:28am
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We are giving away two tickets to the Week 1 preseason game at Heinz Field!

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are set to square off this Friday at Heinz Field, and we here at Behind the Steel Curtain want to send two fans to the game for FREE!!

Of course, we need a way to figure out the winner, but first let’s get to the logistics.

This giveaway is to anyone who can, or is willing, to go to the game on Friday night. Below are the details on the game:

Date: August 9, 2019
Place: Heinz Field
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
Opponent: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As Deputy Editor Dave Schofield and I thought about how to deliver this news, and how to deal with the contest, the one thing I thought of was how of the thousands of people who read BTSC, but never become part of our community. They never create an account and become a part of the discussion.

You see tons of commenters every year say, “I’ve followed the site for years, but finally started to comment.” I want to draw more people out of the wood work with this contest, so here are the details.

  • Must have an active account with BTSC
  • Must be able to attend the game
  • Tickets are not to be sold or redistributed
  • Must have someone 18 or older to accept the tickets

Let me just reiterate how you HAVE TO BE ABLE TO ATTEND THE GAME before even considering entering the contest. There is nothing worse than someone claim tickets, and not be able to attend. Especially when there are others who would like to, and would, go to the game.

Now for the contest itself. As you most likely know, Mr. Schofield is a numbers guy. He looked back and found ONE number from last season, and you have to try and guess what statistic this number is pointing to. We wanted to make sure this was difficult enough, but not so difficult we didn’t get any responses.

If you are completely stumped, and there isn’t a correct response, we will release a hint the following day to help you along. When the first correct response is received, they will be the winner of the contest!

Want to take a stab at winning the tickets? Email Dave Schofield at stlrsuperfandad@gmail.com to submit your answer and your BTSC account. If you don’t have an active BTSC account, you will not be considered for the contest.

Here is the number, and the first hint:

88

Hint: This is a 2018 offensive statistic

4 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin after the Steelers’ Family Fest Sunday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 9:22am
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Tomlin answered questions from the media following the Steelers’ ninth practice.

Following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Family Fest practice at Heinz Field on Sunday, head coach Mike Tomlin briefly took questions from the media. While still on the field as players signed autographs, Coach Tomlin was asked questions about specific players in regards to their recent play. This list isn’t to suggest these players were the only ones who stood out, but more so about how Tomlin answered the questions.

T.J. Watt

Only 1️⃣ hand needed for @_TJWatt pic.twitter.com/RFNDobYlim

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2019

It was the most anticipated return of the 2019 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After being placed on the preseason PUP list after tightness in his hamstring following the teams run test the day players reported to camp, T.J. Watt made his preseason debut at the Steelers Family Fest. With high expectations for 2019, Watt’s return is a welcomed site for Steelers players, coaches, and fans.

Before taking questions, Coach Tomlin offered up a little information on Watt.

“T.J. Watt was ready to go so we worked him a little bit tonight and will continue there and get him on this moving train.”

Coach Tomlin was then asked how good it was to see Watt on the field after being out all of training camp.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t see him. He did some individuals. He did the prescribed work. I was really focused on some of the competition things. He’s ready to go, and its good to have him back.”

James Conner

James Conner goes in for the score on the first goal-line play. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/2jLpZjVRMx

— Blitzburgh (@Steel_Curtain4) August 5, 2019

Although only entering his third season, James Conner has been getting the veteran treatment in some situations in training camp. While still continuing to get some work, Conner has been held back to a limited role in a lot of team activities. Earning his first Pro Bowl in 2018, Conner is the most experienced running back on the Steelers outside of fullback Roosevelt Nix.

Coach Tomlin was asked if he knows what Conner can do and if it’s the reason he is giving so many reps to the young guys.

“He falls in ‘give the reps to the young guys,’ not necessarily the first part of that. Everybody is going to get the opportunity to sharpen their sword and show what they’re capable of doing. We’re more interested in getting to know some of these other young guys right now. There’s going to be plenty of opportunities for James to sharpen his sword. We broke him out in short yardage and goal line. They’ll be other opportunities as we more forward. But we thought it was more important with the bulk of the work coming with some of the young guys later on this week when we step into this stadium, we thought it was important to give those guys the situational work here tonight.

Sean Davis

Sean Davis is out of uniform and not practicing after taking part in warmups earlier.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 4, 2019

It has been a week since Steelers’ safety Sean Davis left practice with a dislocated finger. Although his absence has allowed the Steelers to get some young players additional work, Davis is a key player in the Steelers secondary alongside Terrell Edmunds. Entering the final year of this contract, Davis will be eager to get back on the field to make sure he is prepared to start the regular season in five weeks.

Coach Tomlin was asked if Davis was getting close to returning to practice.

“I don’t know. I’ll have an update for you, I’m sure, soon.

Chris Boswell

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin fist pumps kicker Chris Boswell after making a 54 yard field goal during evening practice at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh. @PittsburghPG @PGVisuals @PGSportsNow #SteelersNation pic.twitter.com/7yYKMN34Ec

— Peter Diana (@peterdianapghpg) August 5, 2019

Of the players remaining form the 2018 Steelers, Chris Boswell is coming off of the most disappointing year. A Pro Bowler in 2017, Boswell only connected on 65% of his field goal attempts in 2018. Add in five missed extra points, Boswell entered training camp fighting for his job after the team differed his $2 million roster bonus. To his credit, Boswell has yet to miss a kick in a full team setting so far in 2019.

Coach Tomlin was asked about putting Boswell in pressure situations to kick during practice.

“We’re just getting started with exposing him to some pressure. I think one of you guys asked how we can create it in a training camp or team development-like setting. You saw examples of it tonight.”

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

Coach Tomlin addresses the media following #FamilyFest. pic.twitter.com/l8HR3tb17G

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2019

Steelers 2019 Training Camp Recap: Nagging injuries piling up, but not time to panic

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 8:15am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers were back on the gridiron for another training camp practice, and we’ve got the recap for you!

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had over a week of training camp practices under their belt now, and while there are times it is still considered “football in shorts”, the team has had plenty of news coming from these workouts.

Sunday evening marked the Steelers’ annual Family Fest practice, where patrons could pay a small fee to enter Heinz Field and watch their favorite football team in their home environment up-close-and-personal.

What fans got to see Sunday was some short yardage work, and plenty of injuries. The Steelers injuries are mounting, but this is no time to be concerned. With Week 1 of the preseason on the horizon, the only injuries which are worth noting are for those players whose football lives are on the line. Other than that, fans shouldn’t be worried about anything long term, yet.

Take a look at the injury list after the Family Fest workout Sunday:

Injury updates per Coach Tomlin after #FamilyFest: Diontae Johnson (groin), Maurkice Pouncey (“minor injury”), J.C. Hassenauer (knee),
Artie Burns (groin).

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 5, 2019

These injuries go along with T.J. Watt (hamstring), Sean Davis (finger) among others who have missed some practice time with nagging ailments.

There was other news coming from Family Fest, so let’s get to it...

  • Boswell’s first Heinz Field reps since 2018

Chris Boswell was back at Heinz Field for the first time since 2018, and you have to remember he didn’t even finish the year at Heinz, that was Matt McCrane. So, everyone in attendance was anxious to see what Boswell did when put to the test.

DKPittsburghSports’ Dale Lolley had his rep-by-rep workout going in both directions at the ‘Big Ketchup Bottle’.

Facing the closed end of the field:

Boswell from 37, good #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2019

Boswell from 39, good #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2019

Boswell misses from 51 #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2019

Towards the open end of the stadium:

Now, into the open end, Boswell from 33 is good #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2019

Boswell from 42 is good #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2019

Boswell from 54 finishes strong, good #Steelers #dkps

— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) August 5, 2019

Not bad at all, but again, these results should be taken with a grain of salt considering there was no pressure involved, other than the fans watching with baited breath to see if the team’s wealthy kicker has regained his form.

Seven Shots

Don’t look now, but the defense finally won a Seven Shots period!

Defense wins seven shots at @heinzfield 4-3.

Dobbs goes 1-4 with a TD to Grimble, but good PDs from Edmunds, Kelly and Allen.

Rudolph 2-3 with TD to Washington and Switzer. Layne had good coverage on a stop on Washington. #Steelers #dkps

— Christopher Carter (@CarterCritiques) August 4, 2019

The biggest news was the return, albeit partial, of T.J. Watt off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, which was covered in a stand alone article on the site. You can read about it in depth HERE.

The Steelers are off from practice Monday, and will return to Saint Vincent College for open practices Tuesday and Wednesday, but Thursday’s practice is closed to the public as the team will be preparing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday at Heinz Field.

VIDEOS

Coach Tomlin addresses the media following #FamilyFest. pic.twitter.com/l8HR3tb17G

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2019

Only 1️⃣ hand needed for @_TJWatt pic.twitter.com/RFNDobYlim

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2019

@drm_12 pic.twitter.com/RJttlbeDse

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2019

Moments like these.@JamesConner_ pic.twitter.com/nN956BzlBk

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2019 PHOTOS

Always making the fans happy. pic.twitter.com/ScFvUkjhbj

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 5, 2019

You never know who will show up @heinzfield. Fun to see @chadwickboseman here talking with @RyanShazier and @JamesConner_ at Family Fest. pic.twitter.com/WjAU9Cncki

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 4, 2019

Ken Griffey Jr is in the house. And 12-year-old me is mad at Current Me for not talking to him. pic.twitter.com/TpFPRCz3nn

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 5, 2019

Report: Joe Haden and Steelers “making progress” on two-year contract extension

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 7:03am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The proposed contact is believed to keep Haden in the Steel City through the 2021 season

On Sunday night, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported Joe Haden and the Pittsburgh Steelers were making progress on a two-year contract extension.

Steelers and corner Joe Haden are making progress on a two-year contract extension, per source. Both sides have exchanged proposals. The two-time Pro Bowler is due $10 million in the last year of his deal, and the team could rework that year and extend him through 2021.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 5, 2019

While the length of the contract would be what many have expected, the larger question was if Hayden would be receiving an extension or an all-new three-year deal. If the report holds true and Haden is given a two-year extension, a likely scenario would be for almost $9 million of the $10 million Haden was due in 2019 being converted to a signing bonus and spread out over the length of the contract. If this is the case, Haden’s cap hit for 2019 would fall from almost $12 million currently to about $6 million.

The other looming question with Haden’s extension would be his yearly salary over the final two years. Carrying about $3 million of dead money into 2020 and 2021, some would expect Haden’s yearly income to be slightly lower than the $9 million he averaged over three years when he initially signed with the Steelers in 2017. Although it would be nice to see the Steelers get a bit of a discount for the 30 year-old veteran, Hayden would probably still want at least $7 a season for the two years of his extension.

While age will definitely become a factor over the life of is contract, Haden was the only Steelers player in 2018 to have multiple interceptions. Haden will turn 31 before entering the extension phase of his new contract if the two sides are able to make the deal. In 2018, there were only 11 NFL cornerbacks age 31 or older, three of which who had multiple interceptions: Josh Norman (3), Brandon Carr (2), and Johnathan Joseph (2). Although it used to be common for cornerbacks to occasionally put up big numbers in interceptions past the age on 31 (Ty Law had 10 in 2005), the numbers have dipped more in recent years.

It is entirely possible Hayden could take a lesser salary over his final two years with the Steelers, Of the cornerbacks listed earlier who were over 31 in 2018, Josh Norman is due over $11 million dollars next season according to overthecap.com. As for Brandon Carr and Johnathan Joseph, they are due to be paid $6 million and $4.5 million respectively in 2019. If Haden realizes the market for cornerbacks over 30 may not be fantastic, perhaps he settles for a slightly lower contract than the one he signed in 2017.

All the factors involved with a Joe Haden extension are merely speculation at this point. As Steelers fans know over the past several years, “making progress” can still be a long way from a player signing on the dotted line. Hopefully both sides can come to an agreement on deal that keeps Haden happy in the Steel City without putting the Steelers in too much financial hardship for years to come.

Chris Boswell’s camp performance is encouraging, but he still has to prove he can do it when it counts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 6:30am
Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Kicking well at training camp is one thing. But until Chris Boswell proves he can kick to his past standards during the regular season, he won’t truly be over the hump.

The early word out of Steelers training camp is that kicker Chris Boswell, the man who struggled mightily a season ago, is back to his old Pro Bowl self.

He has yet to miss a field goal or extra point try (as of this writing, anyway), and he’s even nailing kicks from 50-yards plus—and with room to spare.

After missing on only 10 of his 105 field goal attempts, and on only three of his 102 extra point tries between 2015-2017, Boswell went 13 for 20 and 43 for 48 in each category last year.

Therefore, the fact that he’s coming through in clutch situations—including some “time running down” drills— out at Latrobe is rather encouraging.

It also says something that Boswell looks to be back to his old self despite being pushed by Matthew Wright, an undrafted rookie from UCF.

Unlike recent years when Pittsburgh signed kickers in the offseason, Wright didn’t come to training camp to act as an extra leg or to get some exposure for possible employment elsewhere. He came to town with a decent to better chance of taking Boswell’s job.

That, alone, is a fair amount of pressure, especially for the profession of NFL kicker, where the supply of legs normally far surpasses the number of job openings.

Training camp or not, all eyes have been on Boswell so far in camp. Any miss would be scrutinized and dissected, not only by the fans and the media, but by his coaches.

Speaking of pressure (perhaps the ultimate pressure), Boswell even agreed to defer his $2 million roster bonus until the end of the preseason (he likely didn’t have a real say in this matter—he either had to “agree” to this or get cut before camp even started).

The scrutiny of his coaches, legit competition from another leg and the prospect of losing out on $2 million. That is quite a bundle of pressure Boswell has stared down thus far.

Of course, training camp is one thing, but an NFL stadium is quite another story.

Boswell will get to see how he performs inside one of those stadiums this Friday night, when the Steelers take on the Buccaneers at Heinz Field in the first preseason game of 2019.

If Boswell performs up to his past standards, not just this Friday but throughout the duration of the preseason, the smart money is on him keeping his job and his roster bonus—no matter what Matthew Wright does.

Having said that, until Boswell proves he can ace his regular season kicking tests (the only tests that matter), it will be hard to believe he’s truly back to his old self.

Yes, what Boswell is doing at camp right now is awesome. It shows that his mechanics are on point, and that he hasn’t lost any leg strength. You don’t have to be an expert to know that so much of what goes into kicking a football accurately is mechanical—approach, kick and follow through. As an avid bowler, I can tell you that one little glitch in my approach, release and/or follow through can be the difference between a 100 or 200.

So, if Boswell’s season-long struggles in 2018 stemmed from mechanics that may have been compromised following a critical overtime miss at rainy Cleveland in Week 1, he’s probably clear of his problems.

But what if Boswell’s season-long struggles were mental and stemmed from that aforementioned critical miss in Week 1?

That’s a whole different animal and a dragon that Boswell may not truly slay until his first critical field goal try of the 2019 regular season.

We’ll have to wait and see on that, but at least Chris Boswell’s right leg is alive and well.

As for his career with the Steelers? He still has a few more tests to ace—including a big final exam in September.

Podcast: Gauging the progress of the Steelers after one week of training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 5:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is just starting, and the news is really starting to heat up. With a surge of Steelers news, 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 flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Updates on Training Camp
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams 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: Daniel McCullers making his annual push to make the 53-man roster

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/05/2019 - 4:30am
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to the gridiron this week when they reported back to training camp. With practices underway, the news surrounding the black-and-gold is just starting to heat up. As the team returns from their summer break, we continue to provide you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over until training camp starts!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how despite fan outrage, Daniel McCullers is making yet another push to make the team’s 53-man roster in 2019.

Let’s get to the news:

  • There are few players who can get fans as bent out of shape as Daniel McCullers. The ‘Shade Tree’ has taken up a roster spot every year since he was drafted, and it looks like 2019 will be no different.

Dan McCullers used more, shows versatility in 6th Steelers camp

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Big Dan is no longer just the big man taking up space in the middle of the defense.

In his sixth Pittsburgh Steelers training camp, Dan McCullers is being used more often and getting more reps than he typically did in his previous five. While his time at nose tackle gradually has decreased since he was drafted in the sixth round in 2013, McCullers seemingly is getting more reps than ever in the nickel defense at Saint Vincent.

“I am out in the nickel more, playing more, working on getting the plays down flat,” McCullers said last week from training camp.

“(Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar) says, ‘You’re doing well,’ and he’s putting me in there more and letting me get more reps. So my thing is just keep doing good and getting as many reps as I can.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The AFC North seems to be much more than a two horse race in 2019, or maybe it won’t be...

John Steigerwald: Measuring Steelers, Browns, Ravens delusions

By: John Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

ackson was the starter and never threw more than 25 passes in that stretch, with no interceptions in his last five games. He ran the ball 129 times in those seven starts. After a terrible first half in the wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, he finished strong with a chance to win at the end.

Ben Roethlisberger averaged 47 passes in his last seven games, including two losses when he threw more than 50.

Steelers fans and many in the media seem to be convinced the Steelers will be better without one of the best wide receivers in the league and his 104 catches, 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns. They’re even more convinced that they’ll be better without Le’Veon Bell again.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Some players aren’t just trying to make the 53-man roster, they are realizing this might be the end of the road for their professional careers.

In 2nd camp with Steelers, WR Tevin Jones getting look

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Though Tevin Jones began Pittsburgh Steelers training camp toward the bottom of the wide receivers depth chart and getting scant reps, in recent days the big and athletic receiver has been opening eyes.

At 26 and his fourth NFL training camp, Jones has been with the Steelers for 19 months. It shows.

“I’m a lot more comfortable, and everything’s pretty much slowing down a little bit,” Jones said Saturday from Saint Vincent. “I am glad just to be in the same offense a second year because I’d been on different teams (in 2016 and ’17 after going undrafted). Now I feel a little more comfortable at different positions.

“I’m trying to go out there and give it all I got.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers are a brotherhood, and this isn’t news, but Steven Nelson is experiencing this for the first time.

Nelson explains ‘brotherhood’ early in camp

By: Hunter Homistek, DKPittsburghSports

“It’s a beautiful day, man,” Nelson said. “A great day for Steelers football.”

The new guy already embracing ‘Steelers football’? Yeah, that’ll work. Nelson brought up the topic unprovoked, so I rolled with it, asking him exactly what he’s feeling as a Steeler thus far. After all, he’s had only OTAs, minicamp and a short stint here at training camp to adjust.

But he’s feeling the love and the chemistry.

”Man, it’s taking its course,” Nelson said. “It’s been fun, man, just being around the guys, being around the atmosphere. It’s a good thing, to have on this black and gold.”

Nelson was telling me about that chemistry with the team back in May at the Rooney Complex, too, so that came as no surprise. But it’s not just about “fitting in” for a new player. It’s about evolving and growing and learning every day. To that end, Nelson feels comfortable with his current position.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Social Media Madness

Ken Griffey Jr is in the house. And 12-year-old me is mad at Current Me for not talking to him. pic.twitter.com/TpFPRCz3nn

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 5, 2019

Always making the fans happy. pic.twitter.com/ScFvUkjhbj

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 5, 2019

You never know who will show up @heinzfield. Fun to see @chadwickboseman here talking with @RyanShazier and @JamesConner_ at Family Fest. pic.twitter.com/WjAU9Cncki

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 4, 2019

Out here enjoying #FamilyFest‼️@RodWoodson26 pic.twitter.com/iG9eIuNL2j

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 5, 2019

T.J. Watt officially removed from PUP list and will practice tonight at Steelers Family Fest

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 08/04/2019 - 5:32pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When the Steelers enter Heinz Field tonight, Watt will be in pads for the first time in 2019.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have announced T.J. Watt has officially been cleared to return to return to practice. Watt was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list after experiencing tightness in his hamstring following the team’s run test the day players reported to Latrobe. During the preseason, a player can be placed on the PUP list as long have they have not participated in any practices and can return at any time. If Watt would have remained on the PUP list into the regular season, he would not have been eligible to return until after Week 6.

Good news for fans attending #FamilyFest at @heinzfield tonight: T.J. Watt passed his physical and will return to practice tonight.

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 4, 2019

Entering his third year for the Steelers, Watt led the team in sacks with 13.0 in 2018, earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Adding 68 tackles, 12 of which were for loss, and 21 quarterback hits, Watt has emerged as one of the Steelers premier young defenders. For 2019, Watt was listed at #93 in the NFL’s Top 100 Players list.

Watt also faced a similar injury which cost him a lot of practice time early in training camp last season. Being very cautious with the injury, Watt returned during the preseason and was able to play in all 16 games in 2018. With Watt looking to be the Steelers most dynamic playmaker in 2019, Coach Mike Tomlin has not been in a rush to get him back onto the practice field before he was ready.

It is unclear if Watt will be available for Friday night’s preseason opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field. With a scheduled off day on Monday, Watt is should be thoroughly evaluated as to how his hamstring responds to tonight’s workout. Even if healthy, there are certain to be a large number of first-string players not participating Friday night.

In his absence, players such as Anthony Chickillo and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi have both worked with the first-team defense. While Chickillo has also missed some time due to minor injuries, Adeniyi has turned some heads with his camp performance to date. As Watt works his way back into his starting role, both players are certain to still receive first-team reps.

Steelers Family Fest is in it’s third year as a part of the preseason activities. It is an annual practice held at Heinz Field.

T.J. Watt has been removed from the Active/PUP List.

MORE: https://t.co/56Ji14uleV pic.twitter.com/cRQlpBXOof

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2019

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