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Ben Roethlisberger says his kids won't play contact football before fifth grade

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Sun, 06/17/2018 - 1:47pm

It’s become a Father’s Day tradition for Ben Roethlisberger — leading hundreds of grade school-age children through intensive football instruction.

On Father’s Day, I reflect on how my Dad helped me turn a passion into a career

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 06/17/2018 - 12:35pm

Happy Father’s Day to all the black-and-gold Dads out there raising their kids right...being Steelers fans!

On Father’s Day, I think about my own father, like most who are reading this article. Whether your father is alive or has passed on, everyone’s father has impacted all of us in one way or another. Some never knew their father, some were absent and some were integral parts of their lives.

For me, I learned a lot from my Dad. From a young age, I learned about how important hard work and responsibility is. I will never forget when I was 16. I had saved my money to buy my brother’s 1986 Mazda 626LX for $1,000. It was made very clear to me how my parents were not going to give me a dime for this vehicle. I remember my dad saying, “You buy this car, you buy all of it. The gas that runs it, the insurance policy which is required as well as any repairs which need to be made.”

Of course, as an idiot 16-year-old, I agreed without hesitation. I’ll never forget climbing behind the wheel of that car, and just beaming with pride. I drove that thing as if it were a Rolls Royce, and then after a month of having the car the exhaust blew. After telling my dad, his response was classic, “Hope you can afford this car.”

I drove the car for awhile longer sounding like monster truck before saving the money needed to have it fixed. It was a valuable lesson I plan on passing down to my children.

Things are rarely given to you in life...you have to work hard to earn it.

My father epitomized hard work. He hated his job, but showed up every day to do his job — no matter what. He didn’t cut corners. He put in his time and is now enjoying retirement. But my dad also was the picture of passionate, especially towards sports.

He still shows off a low single-digit handicap in golf, but his love for all things black-and-gold always stands out in my mind. My brother and I were raised to love the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins unconditionally. It was also my father where I got my love for superstitions. He has a playoff terrible towel, an original, which only gets unveiled for those precious games in January and February.

Quick side note: my dad still blames himself for the 2005 Jerome Bettis fumble vs. the Colts and giving everyone a heart attack. His playoff terrible towel was located below the television, where it always sits untouched until victory is earned, but when Joey Porter sacked Peyton Manning my father grabbed that thing and started whipping it around the room as if he were paid to do so. We all know what happened next, but in his mind, his early celebration was the cause of the fumble, the tackle and the missed field goal.

You may be reading this wondering where I am headed with this article, but it’s really easy to connect the dots. I learned work ethic from my dad, and my passion for Pittsburgh sports. These two things have gotten me where I am today — running this awesome website/community.

Never in my wildest dreams growing up did I ever imagine myself getting paid to write about the Steelers, let alone making enough money for my wife to stay home with our four, soon to be five, young children.

I realize I’m blessed to have a father like mine still in my life. So many have been deprived of such a simple thing but, if you’re a father out there, do your part in molding your children the right way.

Teach them how to work hard, and show them there’s only one football team in the NFL...

The Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers have a new “Combat Catch” receiver, and his name is James Washington

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 06/17/2018 - 10:01am

The Pittsburgh Steelers love players who can make catches in high traffic areas. James Washington is certainly one of those players.

A few years ago the Pittsburgh Steelers had a receiver who was dubbed “Combat Catch Cobi” by Jim Wexell of SteelCityInsider. That receiver was Cobi Hamilton, and he was given this nickname for his ability to make tough catches in high traffic areas.

If the ball was in Hamilton’s vicinity, even with defenders draped on him, there was a good chance he was coming down with the football.

While Hamilton has moved on from the Steelers and bounced around the NFL, the team has a new “Combat Catch” player, and it is rookie wide receiver James Washington.

Although the “Combat Catch” nickname doesn’t rhyme with James like it does with the name Cobi, Washington’s statistics in college certainly show he isn’t afraid of contested catches. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he led the NCAA in passer rating when facing contested catches.

James Washington can make plays in traffic! #SteelerSpotlight pic.twitter.com/tW4fJBUhUX

— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) June 15, 2018

Some scoff at anything PFF related, and this is understandable on many levels, but what this shows me is Washington is anything but a “one trick pony”, as Mike Tomlin likes to say. Washington was one of the best deep threats in college football in 2017, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he can’t do other things.

Think back to when the Steelers drafted Mike Wallace out of Ole Miss. Tomlin gave him the “one trick pony” nickname because he struggled to do anything but go routes. Wallace had blazing speed, something Washington doesn’t, as his 4.54 second 40-yard dash indicated at the NFL Scouting Combine, but what he lacks in speed he makes up for in play making ability.

In other words, Washington is a more complete receiver coming out of college. Just another reason to be excited about what Washington brings to the Steelers, even in his rookie season.

Mike Tomlin’s challenge to his team: Show up to camp in the best shape of your life

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 06/17/2018 - 8:06am

Members of the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone their separate ways, and Mike Tomlin left them with a simple message.

Organized Team Activities (OTAs) — Done

Mandatory Minicamp — Done

Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp at Saint Vincent College — July 25th

You can imagine this is what many young players’ calendars look like currently. And the task at hand now is to stay healthy, safe and out of trouble during the next month before heading to Latrobe, PA, for Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. But Head Coach Mike Tomlin left his young players with another message — show up to camp in the best shape of your life.

Every year, you see rookies who most likely feel they need to be bigger and stronger before heading into the professional ranks; however, what the game dictates today is for players to be conditioned, and sometimes that means losing weight — not gaining it.

James Conner is the perfect example of this.

After the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine, Conner showed up to offseason workouts thinking he was in shape and ready. What happened were soft-tissue injuries which kept him off of the field.

Fast forward to this year’s offseason workouts, and all reports state Conner looks like a different man. Leaner, faster and better conditioned. Sometimes it takes players a season to understand this. It took Le’Veon Bell a season, and his game picked up tremendously in his sophomore season.

What Tomlin is trying to avoid is losing the year before the players finally “get it.” You can listen to what Tomlin told his players, as well as what he expects of Bell whenever he returns, plus his thoughts on the wrapping up of minicamp.

Listen to the full interview in the player below:

Pleased with the result of OTAs and minicamp, Coach Tomlin looks forward to #SteelersCamp. pic.twitter.com/bi9lrIDTTw

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 14, 2018

If you could change one moment in Steelers history, what would it be?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 06/17/2018 - 6:32am

You have been grated the ability to go back and change on event in Pittsburgh Steelers history...what would you do?

We have now entered the dog days of summer where there is no NFL news of the good variety until teams report to training camp. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, that training camp starts on July 25th, so I decided to think of some creative ways to pass the time.

Recently, SB Nation put out an article asking readers if they could change one play from their favorite team’s history, what would it be?

Even for the team with the most Super Bowls in NFL history, there are plenty of moments which could be changed.

But what if you could only pick ONE??

Go ahead and let us know what play you would choose in the comment section below, and be sure to explain your decision. It doesn’t have to be the most significant play in the world, but it could be one which just stands out in your mind.

You could go with a significant play like Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble in Super Bowl 45, or you could always choose a play like Ben Roethlisberger’s interception against the Patriots in the AFC Championship when Jerame Tumane was open in the flat, the pass was just underthrown.

Who am I kidding, all of the plays suggested will likely be of the significant variety. So, with that in mind, let us know what play you would change!

JuJu Smith-Schuster prefers the slot, which is great news for James Washington

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/16/2018 - 11:56am

Expected to have a big second year, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s flexibility might equate to big things for rookie James Washington.

The Pittsburgh Steelers shipping Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders did more than just rock the fan base, it shook up the team’s wide-receiver depth chart. Once considered the most complete receiver group in the NFL, the Bryant trade meant the team would be relying heavily on younger players to step up.

One of those players is second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. Coming off of a season where he nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark, Smith-Schuster is being asked to show off his versatility in 2018 by being able to play both the slot and the outside receiver positions. While Smith-Schuster was able to play both positions last year, if he had the choice of which position to play, he would pick the slot.

“Whatever it is they want me to do,” Smith-Schuster said Wednesday during Steelers mini-camp.

”I have been playing inside and outside.” Smith-Schuster told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

”I like playing inside. I just like the physicalness of using the body. It’s part of my game.”

Smith-Schuster is certainly more than capable of playing both, but his superior blocking skills, and willingness to go to those “dirty” areas on the football field have more of an impact than where he lines up on any given play. In fact, this has a direct impact on the team’s second-round pick James Washington.

Washington, a superb deep-threat who thrives on the outside, would see more playing time with Smith-Schuster in the slot, compared to the alternative.

Offenses in today’s NFL are anything but standard. Antonio Brown, Smith-Schuster and possibly even Washington are capable of playing any wide-receiver position on any given play. This ability helps the team utilize matchups and find success in a multitude of ways. But if Washington is only capable of mastering one position during his first year as a professional, having him on the outside opposite Brown, with Smith-Schuster being in the slot, would be the best-case scenario for the young receiver out of Oklahoma State.

Yes, the team lost Martavis Bryant, who’s still a tremendous talent brimming with potential, but the team’s offense is far from lost without him. Smith-Schuster’s flexibility and willingness to play the slot gives the Steelers plenty of options and potential matchups on any given play.

It’s a win-win for the Black-and-gold.

If the Steelers’ main goal is stopping the run, Jon Bostic should be their man at ILB

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/16/2018 - 9:45am

The Pittsburgh Steelers want to stop the run in 2018, and the stats show Jon Bostic is more than capable of doing the job.

There’s no secret what the Pittsburgh Steelers want to focus on defensively in 2018.

Better tackling and stopping the run.

The team struggled to do both with any type of consistency last year, and it ended up costing them a rematch with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

Turning the page to the upcoming season, the team, and especially the defensive coaches, haven’t shied away from telling the players, media and anyone with ears the team is planning on making tackling a huge priority this preseason. They’ve already prepared their players for more live-tackling drills — this when Pittsburgh is already considered to do the most live tackling drills of any NFL team.

Nonetheless, sometimes it isn’t all about drills or practices. Tackling is very much a “want to” thing, and when Ryan Shazier left due to injury, the team failed to find a suitable replacement during the season.

But the man they brought in as a free-agent acquisition might just be the answer to their run-stopping problems — that man being none other than Jon Bostic.

Check out this statistic from Pro Football Focus (PFF):

New #Steelers LB Jon Bostic received the highest run defense grade of his career last season at 84.0. That ranked 18th among all linebackers! #SteelerSpotlight

— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) June 12, 2018

While many will look at 18th in the league among all linebackers and think it’s far from what the team needs, compared to Sean Spence, L.J. Fort and a banged up Tyler Matakevich, it’s likely to be a huge upgrade.

At the same time, the realistic fan understands the amount of time Bostic — or any other inside linebacker for that matter — spends alongside Vince Williams will be minimal with the team’s focus on sub-package football. But you have to wonder if Bostic isn’t the player who can remain on the field during those sub-packages with the speed to cover and the ability to stop the run at the same time.

Regardless of statistics and throughout offseason workouts, it seems as if the Steelers are determined to give Matakevich a shot at the starting role considering he has been practicing with the starters throughout OTAs and minicamp. Nonetheless, who leaves training camp as the starter, and who begins training camp as the starter, are two completely different things.

Todd Haley proclaims Browns’ QB room to be possibly the best he has ever been around

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/16/2018 - 7:47am

The Pittsburgh Steelers former offensive coordinator made some rather silly comments recently about his new quarterbacks in Cleveland.

A coach has to stick up for his players, right?

Well, until that coach says something which seems so idiotic it leaves you shaking your head.

That is exactly what newly hired Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley essentially did when he proclaimed the Browns’ new quarterback room to be one of the best, if not the best, he has ever worked with.

Here is the direct quotes from the Browns’ official website:

“This is probably one of the best – if not the best – quarterbacks rooms, in general, that I’ve had,” Haley said Thursday.

I get it, Haley can’t come out and say something to the tune of, “This quarterback room certainly pales in comparison to the one I had in Pittsburgh.” But at the same time, he could have certainly spoken about his quarterbacks in Arizona, with Kurt Warner, and in Pittsburgh, with Ben Roethlisberger, and given them a little more credence than he did.

After all, a group of Tyrod Taylor, Drew Stanton and rookie Baker Mayfield is hardly anything to get excited about, but Haley disagrees.

“The group, in general, is what I’m excited about. I think that it’s an intelligent, intelligent group, with ability to throw the football and make plays with their legs, some of them. When you have that, I think that good things happen. Competition is created in the room, even though they’re working hard together to help each other and get better as a group.”

Steelers fans will read these quotes and both chuckle and shake their heads, but you can’t really be angry with what Haley said — even if you despised every second Haley spent in Pittsburgh as the play caller. With a new team, he has to show faith in his players, and these comments do just that.

So, while Haley is getting pumped over the Browns’ new quarterback situation, Steelers fans should be excited about their quarterback situation with Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs and the future with Mason Rudolph.

Can Stephon Tuitt morph into the ultimate Man of Steel?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 06/16/2018 - 5:45am

The Steelers need Stephon Tuitt to rebound after a season riddled with injuries in 2018.

As the Steelers get ready to prepare for their first full season without Ryan Shazier, everybody knows the expectations. They will be without the dynamic playmaking ability of No. 50. As the leading tackler prior to his devastating spinal injury, Shazier helped set the tone for his team

Many wonder if the defense will elevate to championship form, or whether they’ll take a step back. Stephon Tuitt has been an anchor on the defensive line, and this season he’s feeling the expectations. A year ago, he signed a five-year $60 million dollar contract. His injury-riddled, 2017 season began during the season opener against the Browns when he injured his bicep. Then, in the middle of October, he sustained a lower-lumbar sprain and, finally, a more recent elbow injury heading into the Divisional Round playoff loss to the Jaguars. He managed to get three tackles in the game, but he was never truly healthy. Now, the expectations are much higher as he looks to be a key contributor in turning things around for the defense.

Interestingly, Tuitt has a huge appreciation for superheroes, especially one of his favorites from the Avengers. “I feel more like Thanos (the movie’s villain). He’s a superhero to me,” said Tuitt. He claims that his arm is now fully healed from a year ago. He was only available for 12 games last season.

His career average in tackles per game has been more than 3.5. He seemed to set the bar high last year by aiming for double-digit sacks in his career while playing in only 11 more games, but instead he produced 25 tackles and three sacks. “To be honest, I’m not upset about it. I’m not sad about it anymore because it made me a better man and made me a better football player.” His torn biceps limited his ability as he struggled to push and pull.

Despite Tuitt’s absence during the season, the pass rush was able to produce a franchise-high mark of 56 sacks. Only Tuitt knows deep down inside what he can contribute. His mindset going into 2018 (his fifth season) to be a revenge tour. “He wants to prove not only to everyone else, but himself,” said Defensive End, Cam Heyward. “He wants to be a guy that guys play for and to have a great season - and we expect that out of him.”

“Expectation” is definitely the key word going into this year — not just for Stephon Tuitt, but for the entire defensive unit to capitalize on their championship window! I’ve got to believe that if Tuitt can be at full strength this year, he’ll have an impact in the tackling department. The Steelers ranked 30th in that category, which was the lowest since 2014 when they finished 26th. If there’s one person who can restore order to the defensive front, it’s got to be Stephon Tuitt because, as we all know, Cam Heyward can’t do it all on his own!

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Edition, Vol. 21

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 5:53pm

Ugh...the offseason continues. Here We Go.

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. Martavis Bryant might be getting suspended...again. I doubt anyone is surprised, but do you think the Steelers had any idea about this before the trade with Oakland?

2. When all is said and done, what does the QB Depth chart look like heading into Week 1 (Obviously Ben Roethlisberger is QB1)?

3. I answered this question in one of my latest podcast (video is below), but wanted to know what you think. Which rookie will have the biggest impact in 2018. Not the brightest future, but the biggest impact on the team in some way, shape or form?

4. Rank the following wide receivers in Steelers history from best to worst:

Yancey Thigpen
John Stallworth
Lynn Swann
Hines Ward
Antonio Brown
Santonio Holmes

— Don’t ask why Thigpen is in there...he has always been a favorite of mine, and was really good on some really bad teams.

5. This weekend is Father’s Day. If you are like me, it was your father who was responsible for your love affair with the black-and-gold. Feel free to use this space to tell a story about you “old man” and what he has meant to you, and your love for the Steelers.

6. Although the NHL and NBA seasons are over, this weekend is a pretty solid sports weekend. What are you watching? World Cup? PGA US Open?

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Ron Cook: As Martavis Bryant's saga gets sadder, the Steelers' decision looks smarter

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 3:38pm

I thought Jamie Dixon was a bad hire. He became the winningest basketball coach in Pitt history. I said Jim Rutherford was too old and too washed up for the Penguins. He built consecutive Stanley Cup winners and is headed to the Hall of Fame.

The Steelers ABCs: The Integration of a team

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 10:35am

In this edition of ABCs, we play a round of “What They Are; What They Could Be”

Integration

It’s too early to say if I love Terrell Edmunds or if I’m merely infatuated with the concept of Terrell Edmunds—or, more specifically-- what Terrell Edmunds could be. What Terrell Edmunds is presently is a prodigiously gifted athletic wunderkind who also happens to play safety; what Terrell Edmunds could be is a jack-of-all-trades defensive hybrid who singlehandedly fixes the Pittsburgh Steelers’ chronically-bad secondary while correspondingly filling the gaping void left by Ryan Shazier in their scant linebacker ranks.

That’s a lofty demand to place on the shoulders of any player, let alone a rookie whose status as a legitimate first-round prospect is debatable and more probably outright contentious (Lance Zierlein, for whatever his opinion is worth, pegged Edmunds as a third- or fourth-round prospect and someone who “could become” an NFL starter. In other words, Edmunds isn’t entering Pittsburgh with the same level of decorum as, say, Troy Polamalu. Such trivial constraints will do little to placate my enthusiasm. The prospect of Edmunds becoming a Day-1 impact player—the kind of dude whose jersey you‘d buy—is very exciting! He’ll be afforded the opportunity to do so, presumably. By virtue of a defensive exodus maybe five or so years ago, the Steelers have long abandoned the whole defensive rookies need to play sparingly or not at all strategy in favor of throwing these poor lads right into the hellfire. Edmunds, much like Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, and T.J. Watt, should be featured prominently in his inaugural season. In fact, Pittsburgh’s defensive brain-trust ought to be in the lab as we speak formulating all kinds of innovative and radical sub-packages to accentuate Edmunds’ talents, whatever those particular talents may be.

Of course, I‘m blithely and irresponsibly spitballing. OTAs just wrapped, and we won’t have a super firm idea of what Edmunds is and is not capable of until training camp at the earliest. In the meantime, it’s fun to speculate.

The integration of Pittsburgh‘s other, similarly distinguished newcomers should be less unpredictable, but intriguing nonetheless. We can reasonably assume that Morgan Burnett, for example, probably won’t make a ton of splash plays (he has nine career interceptions, 10 career fumble recoveries, and 7.5 career sacks, so he’s good for maybe three a season) but will provide a steady, veteran presence in a defensive backfield that could desperately use this quality. Just like we did with Edmunds, let’s identify what some of the various newcomers to the Steelers currently are and make some incredibly premature and potentially libelous predictions about that they could be:

Jon Bostic

What he is: A middle linebacker, more or less a Vince Williams clone, whose career to this point has been marred by injuries.

What he could be: The best middle linebacker on the team. “Tackles” can be a kinda murky, not-telling-the-entire-story statistic, but Bostic registered 97 of them in 14 games with the Colts last season, which speaks to a) his ability to be in the general vicinity of the football and b) his ability to actually make stops. There’s a million variables to consider here, sure. Can Bostic cover tight ends and running backs? Can he remain healthy for an entire season? Is he more instinctual or more reactionary, etc. But Bostic‘s signing is the kind of under-the-radar move that might really enhance Pittsburgh’s overall defensive capabilities.

Mason Rudolph

What he is: Rookie quarterback, providing first-round fanfare and a third-round price tag.

What he could be: Pittsburgh’s primary backup. (We’re thinking short-term on this, so we’ll keep the heir-apparent talk on ice for the moment.) Assuming the No. 2 role will require Rudolph to outperform both Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs during the next two months, this shouldn’t be too hard, since it will involve simply outperforming both Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs over the next two months. Ben Roethlisberger is currently in the midst of an unparalleled stretch of good health, but it probably behooves the Steelers to groom a semi-capable backup in the event that a hangnail or ruptured buttcheek causes Roethlisberger to miss two or three games. Jones presently fills that role, but Rudolph’s superior arm talent and athleticism makes him an undeniably more-enticing option, and his current lack of familiarity with the system (or whatever) shouldn’t prompt the Steelers to summarily bury him in the depth chart.

Jaylen Samuels

What he is: A versatile halfback. Somewhere between Le’Veon Bell and Will Johnson on that particular continuum.

What he could be: A bulkier, less speedy version of what Dri Archer should’ve been. There’s a lot to like about Samuels’ game, because he is, to borrow one of Jon Gruden’s goofy idioms, a Football Player. The issue is that, while Samuels is good at catching the football and carrying the football and blocking other players and knowing how to do various stuff on the field, he isn’t overwhelmingly awesome at any one of these things, which is precisely why he wasn‘t picked until the fifth round of the draft. And in light of his status as a fifth-rounder, he‘s a long-shot to even make the roster.

But. But! Samuels could make the roster! The Steelers will probably keep three running backs (maybe four, but probably three), with the no. 3 (or no. 4) back serving primarily as a special-teamer. Samuels’ versatility makes him a prime special teams candidate, and the Steelers will sure take all the special teams help they can get.

Nat Berhe

What he is: Special teams ace, depth safety.

What he could be: A really, really good special teams ace. I don’t know if there’s any empirical evidence to support this or if its purely perceptual, but Pittsburgh’s special teams units are stunningly mediocre and oftentimes very bad. By signing Berhe, the Steelers have taken a step to address this issue.

Quadree Henderson

What he is: A former Pitt standout whose one-dimensional skillset places his professional ceiling about waist-high.

What he could be: Dante Hall! A concept that I‘m completely incapable of wrapping my head around is that Antonio Brown has been Pittsburgh’s primary punt returner for essentially the duration of his career. The Steelers have recognized the absurdity of this trend, and they’ve tried to amend it by using Jacoby Jones (no, you did not dream this; Jacoby Jones did once play for the Steelers), Eli Rogers, Markus Wheaton, Demarcus Ayers, and God knows who else I’m forgetting as punt returners, but to no avail. Henderson, as it stands, is not a threat to actually make the roster as a wide receiver, but he—one of the most prolific return specialists in NCAA history—is very much in line to carve out a niche as a kick and punt returner.

James Washington

What he is: A productive, decorated receiver who provides credentials similar to those of JuJu Smith-Schuster.

What he could be: A less-dynamic, but infinitely more productive version of Martavis Bryant. This feels like it should be a layup, given Washington’s pedigree and the Steelers near-unparalleled run of success in developing receivers. At the moment, Washington (whose ceiling would seem to be higher than that of the erstwhile Eli Rogers) projects as the primary slot receiver, where his downfield shiftiness and ability to make difficult catches in traffic should enable him to contribute mightily in his rookie season.

How the Steelers go about integrating the aforementioned players—and the extent to which they plan on utilizing them—will become clearer once training camp kicks off, but thinking about the best-case scenarios is a fun way to pass time during the interim.

To reach Super Bowl LIII, the Steelers’ offense must live up to its advance billing

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 9:15am

Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense might have looked unstoppable on paper, but it frequently misfired on the gridiron.

The faithful of Steelers Nation certainly had no reservations about opining on the touchy topic of why the Black-and-gold failed to scale the mountain last season in their quest for an elusive, seventh NFL title. Among the many reasons cited, the one I believe rings truest points the finger at a Steelers’ offense which, despite the 13-3 regular-season record, clearly fell short of the lofty heights foreseen during the 2017 preseason. So here we are again, standing at the threshold of a new Steelers’ season — only this time with a new offensive coordinator, plus an additional weapon in the person of second-round pick, James Washington.

But based on this offense’s historical tendencies, as well as what happened in 2017, it’s probably wise to temper our euphoria with a little reality check. For all of its undeniable talent, Pittsburgh’s offense managed to average only about 25 points per game last season, despite having had what most would consider a very favorable schedule. Furthermore, at least three of Pittsburgh's regular season wins last season (Week 10 versus Indianapolis; Week 13 versus Cincinnati; and Week 14 versus Baltimore), surely would have wound up in the loss column if Rooney U. hadn’t staged 4th-quarter rallies to pull out those victories.

Pittsburgh scored 11 unanswered, 4th-quarter points against the Colts in Week 10 to escape with a narrow 20-17 win. The following week versus the Titans, the final 40-17 score obscures the fact that, while the Steelers dominated play, they scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter after mostly sleepwalking through the first three quarters.

Again, in Week 13 versus the Bengals, the Steelers blanked Cincy 13-0 in the fourth quarter, winning the game by only three points (23-20). Finally, in the wild 39-38 win at Heinz Field over the Ravens in Week 14, the Steelers outscored Baltimore 19-7 in the final quarter to snatch a razor-thin victory.

So before allowing ourselves to become too giddy at the prospect of an offensive juggernaut this season, it might help to recall this offense scored 30 points or more last season in only five regular season games. Given the team’s significant and still-unresolved issues on the defensive side of the ball, it’s no secret that the Steelers' offense will need to compensate by delivering a substantially stronger and more consistent performance this year than it did in 2017. In particular, the nagging and long-standing tendency of this offense to inexplicably stall for extended segments during games — allowing their opponents to remain within easy striking distance — must be resolved if the Steelers hope to claim another championship. While we applaud those 4th-quarter comebacks as evidence of the team’s resilience, it’s a risky proposition anytime you’re unable to put an opponent away before the final quarter -- or even the final two minutes. As the Steelers found out the hard way when they fell so far behind the Jacksonville Jaguars in the early stages of their 45-42 playoff loss last January, your luck eventually will run out when you rely too much on staging late rallies.

In the past, substantial blame for the Steelers’ under-performing offense has been flung, like a sack of rotting fish, onto the doorstep of the incumbent Steelers’ offensive coordinator. But given the annoying quirks of Bruce Arians and Todd Haley in play-charting for the Black-and-gold during the past 11 years, perhaps it’s simply been too easy for fans to ignore other explanations for the offense’s failure to live up to its advance billing. But with the advent of the Randy Fichtner Era, it appears the central strategy these days is to give Ben Roethlisberger broader authority to determine the Steelers’ weekly plan of attack. If this turns out to be the case as the 2018 regular season unfolds, we might witness one of two possible scenarios:

Scenario No. 1 — If the Steelers’ offense meets expectations by running roughshod over and through opposing defenses in 2018, Roethlisberger will become an even bigger hero to Steelers Nation than he already is. And if Ben further proves he can run a more potent and consistent offense all by himself than either Arians or Haley achieved during their tenures, everyone might start wondering why the team ever bothered to retain this tandem of widely criticized OCs during the past decade.

Scenario No. 2 — If, on the other hand, the offensive inconsistencies persist, or perhaps worsen, No. 7 might find himself on the hot seat in post-game analyses even more frequently than Fichtner.

Big Ben always has distinguished himself for resourcefulness on the field, so my hunch is he’ll be a smash in taking on what looks like a significantly expanded role in the Steelers’ overall offensive planning. And if we’re honest, most of us probably would admit to thinking — at any number of points during the Arians-Haley Epoch — we’d have preferred to see the team simply toss out their scripted plays and let Ben call the plays himself. But I also respect the theory that maybe — just maybe — No. 7 shares some significant responsibility for the uneven showing.

The upcoming 2018 regular season is intriguing in many ways — none more so than in the opportunity it presents to perhaps answer these nagging questions about the whys and wherefores of the Steelers’ offense. As usual, Steelers Nation embarks on this new campaign with great and glorious expectations. Perhaps this time around, though, wintertime will find the faithful better satisfied with the movie’s climax — instead of heading home once again with the feeling we’ve seen this all before.

Report: Raiders fear disciplinary actions await WR Martavis Bryant

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 7:49am

While it is unsure what discipline awaits, this isn’t a good sign for the Oakland Raiders.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, during the 2018 NFL Draft they decided to part ways with wide receiver Martavis Bryantto acquire a 3rd round draft pick. After all, with Bryant being a 4th round pick himself, it certainly seemed like a great deal for the black-and-gold.

On top of the tangibles on the field, Bryant’s off-field issues certainly had to make pulling the trigger on this trade easier. After being suspended for an entire year due to violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, one more slip up could have him seeing Josh Gordon-type treatment.

Luckily for the Steelers, and not-so-lucky for the Raiders, reports are suggesting more bad news could be coming for the former Clemson wide receiver.

This per Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

The Raiders fear potential NFL discipline might be imminent for wide receiver Martavis Bryant, sources said Thursday, inciting internal uneasiness at the conclusion of an otherwise encouraging spring workout program.

Multiple team officials declined comment as they left for a weekslong break before training camp, but they acknowledged the club is awaiting final word on the situation. It is believed to pertain to the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

While this could be nothing more than rumors, or bad sources, the news is spreading throughout the Raiders’ locker room.

Word of possible league discipline has reached various corners of the locker room.

Bryant practiced Tuesday and Wednesday. He did not participate in Thursday’s conclusion to minicamp.


It is unlikely the Steelers knew about the impending discipline on Bryant when they made the trade with the Raiders on Day 1 of the draft, but this news, if true, certainly does make the trade look even better than it did on draft day.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this story, and others surrounding the black-and-gold this offseason.

With minicamp done, the Steelers are looking forward to a break (sort of)

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 7:00am

Some Steelers took more personal time than others during voluntary organized team activities, but after minicamp came to an end Thursday, everyone on the roster will get a nearly six-week break.

Steelers Minicamp Recap Day 3: Mason Rudolph shows tremendous promise in final workout

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 6:56am

Minicamp is over for the Pittsburgh Steelers and, in extensive reps, Mason Rudolph showed a thing or two.

The offseason workouts started with Mason Rudolph, and the minicamp workouts fittingly ended with Mason Rudolph.

Before Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Rudolph was peppered with questions regarding Ben Roethlisberger’s comments made about the team selecting him in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

On the final workout of minicamp, Rudolph impressed during team drills.

“Mason’s been everything we’ve asked, for sure,” Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Throws, obviously, a nice ball. The physical things are all there. Obviously, mentally and learning is an acquired taste; that’s going to come through reps, physical reps, in-helmet perspectives, things that you’re not going to get and it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Rudolph, who never lacks confidence, thought his first time through OTAs and minicamp was a success.

“I was really happy. I think I had a great minicamp.” Rudolph said.

With Roethlisberger taking the final minicamp practice off, Rudolph was able to run the 2-minute drill at the end of practice. And don’t worry, Rudolph said Roethlisberger has been extremely helpful throughout the offseason.

See what he had to say, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN:

Steelers rookie Mason Rudolph, who ended camp on a touchdown pass, discusses what he's learning from Ben Roethlisberger and ‘taking strides mentally.' pic.twitter.com/EE5XyDJK85

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 14, 2018

Some suggest Rudolph has looked good enough to possibly push Landry Jones for the top backup spot on the team, but that won’t happen until the Steelers get to Latrobe for training camp on July 25th.

Speaking of training camp...let’s take a look at other news surrounding the Black-and-gold after minicamp wrapped up:

Tomlin expects Le’Veon Bell to be ‘ready’

Mike Tomlin was asked about Le’Veon Bell, and his absence, and Tomlin’s answer was brief and concise, “He needs to be ready.”

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects Le’Veon Bell to be ready for 2018, can’t wait till training camp. pic.twitter.com/azAgaXfc9k

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 14, 2018

Players talk

Mason Rudolph, Terrell Edmunds and Cameron Heyward look back on the offseason program, talk offseason plans, building toward the upcoming season and more. pic.twitter.com/sRfEYEO5EC

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 15, 2018

VIDEOS

Pleased with the result of OTAs and minicamp, Coach Tomlin looks forward to #SteelersCamp. pic.twitter.com/bi9lrIDTTw

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 14, 2018

PHOTOS

Last day of minicamp, everyone dismissed off the field and there’s #Steelers LB TJ Watt, hitting the sled all by himself. pic.twitter.com/56870HzoEJ

— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) June 14, 2018

How else would you dress for the last day of minicamp? pic.twitter.com/7zwpPU8Im5

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 14, 2018

School is out for the summer. Last minicamp practice is in the books. #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/Hd8FPWiIkJ

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) June 14, 2018

Martavis Bryant reportedly facing another NFL suspension

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 6:49am

The decision to trade Martavis Bryant already is looking like a great move by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, and it has nothing to do with the development of Mason Rudolph.

Answering the burning questions surrounding the Steelers heading into training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 5:53am

There are a lot of questions surrounding this 2018 Steelers team, and we have answer.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sportswriter Ed Bouchette holds a weekly chat in which he takes questions from the general public. If you’re unfamiliar with Bouchette, he’s definitely an interesting character. He’s known for breaking important Steelers news and also for his snarky and colorful comments. This week’s full chat session can be read here.

Most of Bouchette’s answers to fans are one-liners. It’s hard to glean useful information from that, so I decided to expand on questions he takes with answers of my own. The chat lasts around a half-hour, so I cherry-picked some of the questions. For a bit of fun with this, if you put BTSC at the end of your nickname there — and your questions get answered — I’ll include your questions in next week’s article. Better make it good — don’t want the BTSC faithful to chide you.

...

Question: Hello Ed, Do you think Jaylen Samuels will make the 53 man roster? I am interested to see if he can do as well in the NFL as he preformed in college. Your thoughts.

Bouchette: He intrigues me as well. They will keep three halfbacks and a fullback. Assuming Bell and James Conner, the third spot will come from him, Fitz Toussaint and Stevan Ridley. Training camp will determine that but I do like Samuels’ chances

Flip: It‘s not a guarantee that Steelers’ fifth-round picks make the final 53-man roster. There have been a few during the past 10 years who haven‘t made it. For example, during the 2014 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted defensive back Shaquille Richardson in the fifth round. For varying reasons, Richardson did not make the final regular-season roster.

Jaylen Samuels has to stay healthy and show his usefulness on special teams in order to make the final roster this season. Steven Ridley has zero ST value. His chances of making the roster are nearly nonexistent unless Pitt decides to carry four running backs, which rarely happens. Veteran Fitz Toussaint does have ST value and, as I view it, is Samuels’ main competition for the third running back spot. Samuels’ versatility does help his cause.

Working against Samuels are his glaring inexperience as a running back in college. He only had 78 carries in his senior year at North Carolina State. But Samuels’ 78 receptions and his ability to return kicks will be his biggest assets as he looks to make the roster. “Swiss Army Knife,“ as fans have affectionately called him (though I prefer “Pedestal Guy“ because fans are holding him in such high regard), has a better than 50 percent chance of making the final 53.

...

Question: Do you really see Big Ben playing for five more years?

Bouchette: It depends on how he does over the next four. Thirty-five used to be the age in which QBs declined. Now we have several over that age performing at top level. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Flip: It‘s hard to see Ben Roethlisberger playing for five more years. Just a year ago, fans were questioning his heart for football as he floated talk of retirement. In 2017, Big Ben remained healthy and played a full complement of games — something he had not done the previous two seasons. Can he avoid the injury bug that has plagued him throughout his career and may prevent those competitive juices from flowing? I believe injuries are going to end up sapping the love of the game from him. As the team should remain largely intact the next couple of years, I believe that retirement will not happen before 2020.

Might his skillset diminish before then? I don‘t think that‘s what will eventually cause him to seek his next career. Roethlisberger had his fourth-most-productive year of his career in passing yards last season and appears not to have lost any arm strength. I don‘t think it‘s out of the question that he plays through the 2020 season, but 2022 is questionable at best. All those hits are going to catch up with him eventually.

...

Question: Most exciting rookie to look for during training camp?

Ed Bouchette: The quarterback, Mason Randolph

Flip: Randolph? (I chuckle and think of “Trading Places.”) Clearly, he’s referring to third-round pick Mason Rudolph. Two schools of thought collide here about whom fans are most anxious to see. The “win now” crowd is more anxious to see what Terrelle Edmunds and James Washington will bring to the table in 2018. The “looking to the future” crowd is eyeing Rudolph and eagerly searching for any clues that hint he might eventually be the next face of the Steeler franchise.

I’m part of the “win now” crowd and I’m looking forward to seeing Washington in preseason. The way I see it, he’s the most likely candidate to see the highest volume of snaps compared to the other rookies. Washington’s college tape is tantalizing. In the highlights I’ve viewed, he always seems to be torching the coverage. The question I want answered is whether he’s really that good and fast, or were the Big-12 defenses that bad?

...

Question: Does yet another one-and-done this season put Tomlin on the hot seat?

Bouchette: You need to read up on your Steelers coaching history. Start with Chuck Noll.

Flip: Mike Tomlin is only the third head coach Pittsburgh has had since 1969 — the Rooney family is not in the business of changing head coaches willy-nilly as their forefathers did in the 1940s and 1950s. Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll was on a long leash, even late in his coaching career despite making the playoffs only one time during the last seven years of his career. The Rooneys treated the legend with the respect and dignity that his long tenure deserved, and Noll left the Steelers on his own accord.

Tomlin has missed the playoffs only three times during his 11-year coaching career. For a number of Steelers fans, though, making the playoffs isn‘t enough. Winning the Super Bowl is the only outcome that’s acceptable year in and year out. But I don’t think current Steelers’ team president Art Rooney II sees things that way. Winning the Super Bowl might be a team goal every year — but for him, winning isn’t everything. No doubt he had that virtue instilled in him by his grandfather, “The Chief,” Art Rooney, Sr.

Fans may grumble about unforeseen playoff losses or media-driven drama and ignore the past Super Bowl win and the number of playoffs wins Tomlin has under his belt, but he doesn’t have the league‘s second-highest regular-season winning percentage because he‘s a failure.

...

Question: I hear Watt and Dupree are switching sides, is that true?

Bouchette: They have in practice, yes. It may not be permanent, but they may switch on and off during games

Flip: This is going to be a major story heading into training camp: Is the switch just a gimmick, or is it a legit change? Former first-round pick Bud Dupree was a disappointment last season, and he hasn’t shown the skill set that landed him in the first round in 2015’s draft. Could a switch be beneficial to him?

On the flip side (no pun intended), will 2017 first-rounder T.J. Watt feel comfortable enough to switch to the other side without a drop in production?

...

Question: I read articles from other Steeler websites that use your article as a basis for theirs. Is that OK with you or are they “cheating?” Seems like they’re getting around the rules by a technicality.

Bouchette: That’s what bloggers do who cannot or will not get their own stuff. It’s the way of the world. We used to call them “columnists.”

Flip: I‘ve made it abundantly clear why I do these — Bouchette doesn‘t use his vast knowledge and perfect platform to provide fans with useful, valuable information. Snarky comments and one-sentence answers to legitimate questions leave not only me wanting more, but no doubt other Steelers fans who also read his chat.

Ray Fittipaldo, filling in for Bouchette for the weekly Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chat, did a chat a couple of weeks ago that I never went through and commented on as I do with Bouchette’s chats. That‘s because Fittipaldo’s answers to questions posed by fans were complex and informative. I don’t write about Asked and Answered by Bob Labriola at Steelers.com, either, and it’s for the same reason. These other reporters/journalists actually give fans useful information, and usually more than one line of it.

I cherry-pick questions from these chats because I find it interesting to get the pulse of what Steelers fans are interested in, give my spin, and bring conversation to BTSC. I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as any of the gentlemen listed above. I will, however, give more informative answers and will only answer valid questions (Bouchette answers some far-out questions that have nothing to do with the Steelers during his sessions).

Writing for BTSC is a fun hobby for me, but it’s just a hobby. I know my place in the writing world. Unlike Bouchette, for me writing isn’t a career. If these weekly-chat breakdowns were the only thing I wrote for BTSC, he would have a valid point. How great would it be if bloggers received access and were able to gain information for their valued readers without having to sift through the internet to find scraps of information?

So, here I’m throwing down the gauntlet for Bouchette: Give out more useful information during your chat and put these weekly articles of business. The team’s fans would appreciate it.

While Bouchette’s answers are off the cuff, fans would appreciate these sessions if snarky answers were tossed out and replaced with relevant ones that showcase 45 years of knowledge. I‘m a simple blogger who‘s never even been to Pittsburgh, but I care what readers think and provide actual answers to the questions posed.

Do you read or participate in the chat sessions? What’s your opinion of the sessions?

Joey Porter’s Year 2 goals for T.J. Watt: Don’t think, just play

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 1:51pm

The Steelers’ outside linebacker coach was impressed with T.J. Watt’s rookie season, but knows he has more to give in his second year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers demand a lot out of their outside linebackers, and the same can be said about their outside linebackers coach. Former player, Joey Porter, has been heavily criticized for not being able to get the most out of his players, and in 2018 he has been given a depleted depth chart in 2018 on top of that.

Porter’s 2018 group, currently, consists of Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo and Keion Adams. Those are the only players who have spent some time, and very little in Adams’ case, in a Steelers training camp. That won’t deter Porter from having high expectations for his players in 2018.

In a recent media session, Porter talked about a lot of things: expectations, how the game has changed since he played, the switching of sides for Dupree and Watt, but spent a long time talking about expectations for the team’s top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

According to Porter, last year Watt spent way too much time on the field thinking. This is typical for a rookie, but his goal for the former Wisconsin Badger is to stop thinking so much, and just play. This could, and probably should, be a natural progression for Watt after his rookie season.

When you think about it, so much changes for a rookie in the NFL. No longer having to worry about classwork, they can provide 100-percent of their attention to the game of football; however, with that comes the unknown of the regular season. Rookies don’t truly know what to expect until they hit the field in their first live game action. The game is faster, and they realize their goals of getting bigger and stronger were likely considered a waste of time.

In Year 2 is when there is no unknown about expectations. You know what a 16-game regular season looks like. You know how to alter your training and how to take care of your body. Also, you know the team’s systems and which allows you to play at a much higher level.

This is the hope for Watt, as Porter outlined, and if he can take his game to the next level it will only benefit the team in the long run.

Check out Porter’s entire media session in the player below:

OLB Coach Joey Porter talks about Bud Dupree, T.J. Watt, the depth of the OLB group, preparing for the season and more. pic.twitter.com/LdzxqbTr5b

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 14, 2018

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