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Mike Tomlin can't wait for Steelers training camp: 'I'd go tonight'

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 1:22pm

After three weeks of offseason training activities and three days of minicamp, the Steelers will not convene again as a team until players and coaches report to training camp July 25 in Latrobe.

For Tom Bradley, it is back to the basics for the Steelers’ secondary

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 11:49am

The Steelers’ new secondary coach isn’t overlooking the fundamentals as he starts to piece together the team’s revamped secondary.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be sporting a revamped, and largely new, secondary when the 2018 season officially gets underway at training camp July 25th. This isn’t just with the personnel on the field, but also in the coaching staff.

Tom Bradley takes over where Carnell Lake left off, and brings with him a wealth of defensive knowledge, just not at the professional level. However, don’t look at this as a negative. Mike Tomlin spoke this offseason about how Bradley’s time in college football helped him become a better communicator and teacher.

This will be key as Bradley takes over a new, and young, secondary. Outside of veterans Joe Haden and Morgan Burnett, the Steelers’ defensive back half is made up of nothing but young players: Artie Burns, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Terrell Edmunds, Marcus Allen and Sean Davis.

Bradley will have his work cut out for him, and his first order of business will be focusing on the fundamentals.

“When you’re a college guy, if you’ve been in college all those years, you have to start off sometimes with 17-year-old old kids, so you have to start off with fundamentals,” Bradley told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ve already had that problem here — I assume they know something just because they’ve been in the league a while. So we’ve gone back and done a lot of basic things. It’s a lot of fundamental work.”

This should be music to the fan base’s ears considering the lack of fundamentals the secondary had put on the field under Lake. Poor angles, horrible tackling technique and a lack of communication regularly left players vulnerable. Bradley is in charge of rectifying this situation, but isn’t worried about the youth he has in this area of the field.

“I’m very excited what we have going with the guys back there,” Bradley said. “The older guys have done a great job helping the younger guys get better. Even today, when I said to Terrell, how’s it going, he said, ‘It’s starting to slow down a little bit, coach, it’s starting to slow down a little bit.’ I think we’re on track.”

In the back of Bradley’s mind, and likely coming down from Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler, is always tackling. The importance of the secondary, often times the last line of defense, being able to bring down the ball carrier.

“Anytime you’re playing defense, there’s always things you want to eliminate. Eliminate big plays and missed tackles, you got a chance to be pretty good.”

Throughout his transition from college coordinator to professional position coach, many have wondered what the difference will be for him moving to the pros. Bradley suggests the change will be more for how the players handle their jobs rather than his coaching.

“When you’re in college, you’re hesitant to make as many different calls and changes because you don’t have the time to work on it because they got school and a lot of other things going on,” Bradley said. “Here, when you have them all day, you can add to the repertoire of the things you’re doing.”

All reports from players are things are going well with Bradley so far, but the real challenge, and litmus test, will be when the team gets on the field and has the opportunity to actually put his teachings into practice.

Steelers Minicamp Recap Day 2: OLB rotation more calculated than once thought

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 10:13am

The Steelers decided to move their OLBs around, and it might be more complex than originally thought.

During the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs), news was made when it was announced the team was moving both T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree around along the defensive line.

They were letting Dupree, who usually rushes from the defense’s left side, play on the right, and shifting Watt from the right to the left.

When this was reported, most just assumed it was the team giving themselves the flexibility to move the two bookend pass rushers around in specific sub packages. The same narrative of flexibility was written when Dupree announced the team had even practiced having both Watt and Dupree rushing from the same side of the defensive front.

However, after Day 2 of the Steelers’ mandatory minicamp, comments by outside linebacker coach Joey Porter cast the team’s decisions as much more calculated than originally thought.

See what was said, per Mark Kaboly of the Athletic:

Joey Porter really didn't agree with my assessment that T.J. Watt is a very good cover linebacker. He asked me to name a play. I said the Jordy Nelson play. He then rattled off a handful of times he got beat. There goes my narrative. @TheAthleticPGH

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 13, 2018

Bud Dupree's move to the right has everything to do with him missing some sacks last year because the quarterback saw him coming. Steelers feel Dupree has done everything to get to the QB but hasn't finished. This will, they think, will help. @TheAthleticPGH

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 13, 2018

While the team is still aiming to give themselves as many options as possible whenever the defense lines up, they clearly think Dupree can, and will, be able to succeed from the right side of the defense.

In regard to Porter’s comments about Watt’s coverage skills, I would chalk this up to a coach keeping his young defender in check. If Porter were to say how Watt has acclimated himself well, and although improvement is necessary, is far better than they expected, you can’t help but wonder if those words might impact Watt’s preparation.

Watt has work to do on all aspects of his game, but his play in space last year was a work-in-progress. Considering Watt’s well-known work ethic, I would certainly imagine 2018 will show improved skills in all facets of his game.

Now it's time to check on other news coming out of the Steelers’ second day of minicamp:

Youth Served at QB Thursday

Thursday will be a day to keep an eye on for a lot of reasons for the Steelers. Not only is it the team’s final day of minicamp, and last workout before training camp, the team will be getting a long look at both Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph exclusively during team drills.

Mason Rudolph said he and Josh Dobbs are scheduled to run most of the offense in Thursday's Steelers minicamp. 'Looking forward to tomorrow,' he said.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 13, 2018

Let the competition begin...

Eli back in the building

After suffering a torn ACL in the season-ending loss to the Jaguars last season, Eli Rogers was at the team’s UPMC Rooney Sports Complex and spoke to Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Eli Rogers was at the Steelers UPMC Rooney Complex on Wednesday and said he is hopeful to be re-signed. Said his knee injury is progressing well.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) June 13, 2018

While Rogers did not receive a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) tender from the Steelers, he is hopeful to be re-signed when he shows he's healthy enough to play. If healthy, Rogers would be a welcome addition to the team’s wide receiver depth chart.

Tackling...yes please!

The Steelers tackling has been...well...not very good the past few years. No game sticks out more than the playoff loss to Jacksonville at Heinz Field last year. Missed tackles, poor angles and horrible run fits were the ongoing theme of 2017, and not just in the playoffs.

Keith Butler spoke to media and told reporters he is planning on practicing tackling more in training camp than they have in years past.

Lingering affect from Steelers' 45-42 loss to Jaguars in playoffs: Defensive coordinator Keith Butler says they will practice tackling much more in camp

— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) June 13, 2018

What is ironic about Butler saying this is how reporters like Peter King always talk about how much tackling the Steelers do at camp compared to other teams — yet their tackling still isn’t very good.

Either this will help, or perhaps resemble banging your head against the wall over and over again.

Not all drama for AB

Antonio Brown made waves Tuesday when he talked about why he had missed eight of the team’s 10 OTAs. He blamed the media and talked about his overall lack of freedom. When fans and media heard these words, there wasn’t a lot of sympathy headed Brown’s way, but it should be noted not everything Brown does is about him.

Brown, who's a partner with Campbell’s Chunky Soup, helped box up meals at the Pittsburgh Food Bank and he'll help provide food for those in need this year.

Below is what Brown posted of the event on his official Twitter page:

Glad to team up with @CampbellsChunky, @SpaghettiOs and @CampbellSoupCo to donate 5000 servings of soup to deserving families in the @steelers community. Thank you to the @PghFoodBank for helping us make this a reality! #FootballIsFamily #SoupSquad #Boomin pic.twitter.com/vTBCWrnJZY

— Antonio Brown (@AB84) June 13, 2018 VIDEO

JuJu Smith-Schuster speaks!

JuJu Smith-Schuster is eager to take on his second season in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/kic3msUU8s

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 13, 2018

X-Man

Here’s an example of why Xavier Grimble will be in the Steelers’ tight end rotation once again. Power. pic.twitter.com/30oIrWBcoD

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 13, 2018

Coach Tomlin Recaps Day 2

Coach Tomlin addressed the media following day 2 of minicamp. pic.twitter.com/E1ma5euaqA

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 14, 2018

Ron Cook: Terrell Owens' snub of Canton is par for the course

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 9:48am

Terrell Owens made dubious history this month when he announced he won’t attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony Aug. 4, when he will be among eight legends of the game to be honored. It is believed this is a first for any athlete in any of the major Halls of Fame.

JuJu Smith-Schuster added to the list of Steelers ‘walking wounded’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 8:12am

The Pittsburgh Steelers are working hard in minicamp, but several starters are resting some nagging injuries.

It might just be minicamp, but sometimes injuries which happen early in the preseason, or in the offseason, can linger. Fans might remember Mike Mitchell’s groin injury, suffered in the early stages of training camp his first year with the Steelers, lasted the entire season and eventually needed surgically repaired. The same story could be told regarding Bud Dupree’s groin, which required sports hernia surgery after it never improved during training camp, nor with adequate rest.

These soft-tissue injuries can linger, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone the Steelers are being extra cautious with these type of injuries as the team wraps up minicamp Thursday. While the team doesn’t have to report any injuries, players will often explain when they weren’t participating in drills due to injury.

Whether they report the exact nature of the injury depends on the team and player. With that said, it's time to check on the walking wounded for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Per Joe Rutter and Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Morgan Burnett

Safety Morgan Burnett confirmed he didn't take part in the first day of minicamp Tuesday because of injury. The veteran offseason acquisition downplayed the significance of the undisclosed injury, though, saying he “was fine.”

Bud Dupree

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree said he took reps in 7-on-7 drills Tuesday but that he had aggravated a shoulder injury last week during organized team activities.

Per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN:

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Smith-Schuster, 21, the NFL’s youngest player to record 1,000 total yards in a season, is limited in Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp with what he calls a “frustrating” knee injury.

Smith-Schuster won’t disclose the nature of the injury but plans to be a full participant for training camp, which opens July 26. The Steelers have sidelined Smith-Schuster for all 11-man work in organized team activities and minicamp.

”Just something that’s been bothering me over time,” said Smith-Schuster of the injury. “Kind of just adds up and lets me know, ‘Yo, I need to get it checked out.’ We got it checked out.”

Those are some pretty significant names to be listed on the team’s pseudo injury report, but the hope is them being held out of workouts are purely precautionary.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes coming out of minicamp!

Steelers bet $9 million on Bud Dupree's move to blind side

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 7:40am

The Steelers picked up the fifth-year option on Bud Dupree’s rookie contract last month. Barring an unforeseen change of heart, the Steelers will pay Dupree more than $9 million in 2019 unless they can come to terms with him on a long-term contract before then. The bottom line is they believe in Dupree’s talent and are showing more faith in him than they did Jarvis Jones, the 2013 first-round pick whose fifth-year option was declined.

Steelers Throwback Thursday: Jerome Bettis’ final Steel City "Bus run"

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 6:40am

BTSC relives the final Pittsburgh home game of Jerome Bettis’ career, a New Years Day battle that led to much more.

With Doc Brown’s permission, I’m trading in my orange vest and skateboard for a black No. 36 jersey and a Terrible Towel. As I approach the same number of mph that adorned the jerseys of Lynn Swann, Andre Hastings and Courtney Hawkins...I smile, knowing the period to which the Delorean is ushering me. It’s an era when the nation was trying to figure out why another second -- a leap second -- was added the day before to the time for the first time since 1998, King Kong was tops at the box office, and the number one song in America was “Don’t Forget Us“ by Mariah Carey.

Meanwhile, in the City of Steel, the calendar was reading 2006...but the professionals that made playing football locally their primary source of income were intent on extending 2005 a little bit longer. Their derailed season was back on track and the “four game season” that Bill Cowher had proposed after a near-diastrous three-game skid in November and December was coming to a close.

The opponent that day was the 6-9 Detroit Lions. The Lions defense was besieged by injury, but the team was full of pride and looking to end their season on a high note. The Steelers were in need of a win, or a Kansas City loss, to sneak their way into the playoffs as a sixth seed. Weeks earlier, it looked like a long-shot, but on this perfect, 38-degree day...it was nothing but a new year and new hope on the North Side.

It was also believed to be the final game at home in the storied career of Jerome Abram Bettis. Although the Steelers typically only announce starters, Bettis headlined the intros to the boisterous delight of the black-and-gold-clad crowd. Bettis wasn't the only legend the Steelers were honoring that day, as Joey Porter orchestrated the defensive players to wear throwback Lions jerseys in tribute to their Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau, who played for Detroit.

After the visitors did nothing to start the game and punted, Clint Kriewaldt pancaked Casey Fitzsimmons to free Antwan Randle-El who blazed 81 yards to the end zone to open the scoring at 7-0. Dick Jauron’s team was not going to lie down though, as QB Joey Harrington (3/4 for 56 yards on the drive) overcame James Farrior’s second sack of the season and engineered an eight-play scoring drive that concluded with an 11-yard toss to Bernard Pollard. The score was seven a side.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Meanwhile, in Missouri, a Lawrence Tynes kick made it Chiefs 3, Bengals 0.

Later on, in the quarter after the Steelers' first drive amounted to nothing but a Chris Gardocki punt, Joey Harrington faced a 3rd-and-13 deep in his own territory. But the embattled quarterback scrambled to his right, pump faked and found running back Sean Bryson, who was running deep on the play for 63 yards. Two plays afterwards, Corey Schlesinger scored from a yard out to make it 14-7 in favor of the road dogs.

Over in the Midwest, Shayne Graham’s FG tied it for the Bengals against KC. Were the resting Bengals going to lend a helping hand?

Special Teams continued to aid the Steelers. Dan Kreider made a key block to free Ricardo Colclough as he returned the ensuing kickoff 63 yards. With :21 remaining in the opening quarter, Jerome Bettis bulled his way in from two-yards out for his seventh TD of the season. The score was now tied at 14.

Elsewhere, KC took the lead over Cincy when another Tynes field goal made it 6-3.

After twice trading punts, the Lions were in the midst of a solid return by Eddie Drummond. But Ricardo Colclough hit the former Nittany Lion, causing him to cough up the rock, and Brett Keisel pounced on it at the Detroit 37. From there, Willie Parker took over with three runs to get the Steelers down to the five. Then Jerome Bettis continued his super mission with a scoring jaunt from the five. JB’s second score made it 21-14 Steelers, just inside the 2-minute warning.

Meanwhile, scoreboard watchers saw the Chiefs extend their lead with Larry Johnson’s first TD of the game, a 49-yard sprint. KC 13-Cin 3.

The Lions quickly went on the move with a screen for the first down by Paul Smith. But Troy Polamalu stalked the ball carrier from behind and punched the pill loose into the waiting arms of Aaron Smith at the Detroit 25. It wouldn’t pad the lead though, because two plays later...Roethlisberger got picked-off. The lead at halftime was seven, however Kansas City led 20-3 in their game when Johnson scored again.

To start the third quarter, the Steelers went on a steady diet of Willie Parker (33 yards on five carries in the drive) to get them into Lions' territory. Then Roethlisberger finally connected with Hines Ward (shut out the entire first half) for a 40-hard hookup to the four. It was Hines’ 119th consecutive game with a catch. The catch made it become time to ride “the Bus” again. Four yards later, Bettis was celebrating in the end zone and the crowd was vociferously begging him to stay. More on that later, I promise. Steelers 28 Detroit 14.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Joey Harrington, who was presumably playing for his football career, would not go away. To cap off the next drive of 12 plays, the former top-three pick overall connected with Roy Williams for 15 yards and a score. With 5:38 left in the third, the score between the ketchup bottles read Steelers 28 Lions 21.

Winning the game was becoming mandatory when news came in that Kansas City’s Larry Johnson scored for a third time to make the score 27-3 over the Bengals. The Steelers could not afford a letdown against the Lions and needed to put the game away to advance to the postseason.

True, the Steeler lead was back down to seven, but Pittsburgh found their championship swagger in the season’s final stretch and answered right back immediately. To finalize a drive that featured mostly Willie Parker again and a 43-yard collaboration with Heath Miller, No. 7 ran for seven around the right side and extended the lead to double-digits again. Jeff Reed’s XP made it 35-21 with 49 seconds to go in the third.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

It would stay that way, as the fourth quarter featured mostly punts. Ben threw an interception to Andre’ Goodman inside Detroit real estate, but nothing came of it except another punt. The Steelers received the punt with 4:56 left and proceeded to drain Detroit of their timeouts and run out the clock. It was a good thing too, because KC had won 37-3 and the Steelers would have been eliminated with a loss. The win was harder than anticipated, but gave them a ticket to the dance that would ultimately result in a trip back to Motor City -- this time minus the Lions. The rest is pretty amazing history, but you all know that.

At first glance, this game seemed like just another season finale before a playoff run. In the scheme of things, this contest probably doesn’t rank in the top-6 games of the 2005 season. But the win and the Heinz Field send-off to Bettis helped continue the magical run, culminating in the Steelers’ return to the Super Bowl podium. The fan tribute to their beloved “Bus” seemed to add fuel to his hope of a homecoming farewell.

For me, this game ranks as the setting for one of the most important moments of my entire life. I was dating a woman in Hagerstown, MD, for just a little over six weeks. She wasn’t a fan of football at all. Never had she even watched a game on television until she met me. She began to watch on her own in order to relate to me more. Because of my sometimes ridiculous fanaticism, she was afraid that I’d view her as a jinx during that 3-game losing streak that threatened the season. I had gotten a hold of two ducats for the game and asked her to go with me.

We were having a good time and she was following along the best she could, when something poignant happened. Bettis found his way into the end zone for the third time and the crowd erupted into a chant of “One more year”.

No. 36 smiled wider than a Casey Hampton tuxedo and raised his helmet to acknowledge the crowd. I looked over to discuss the significance of the moment to my date, but I didn’t need to. Her eyes were full of joyful tears, as she was waving my Terrible Towel. She grabbed my hand when she noticed the same tears pouring from my eyes. That very moment, I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life and have a family with this woman. Not because of the Steelers or football or the fact that I just wolfed down a Pittsburgher from Primanti Brothers...but because this woman was so moved at a crowd’s appreciation for something that she knew was important to me and that I loved so much.

Thirty-five days later, the Steelers won the Super Bowl. But on that first day of 2006, I won way more than anybody else in Heinz Field or Steelers Nation. I shared my Steelers with Jennifer and felt assured that I had my partner through Super Bowl glory or 0-16. Now, I call her my wife of eleven years and the mother of my children. Football didn’t bring us together, but it helped merge our two hearts into one.

Thanks Bussy.

Karl Dunbar feels right at home with the Steelers

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 6:30am

When Karl Dunbar was hired as the Steelers defensive line coach in February, he recognized plenty of the faces he saw around the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. They were team employees who have been around since his playing days in Pittsburgh.

Podcast: Breaking down the Steelers offseason with Chris Carter

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 5:35am

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

The 2018 NFL Draft is over and so are OTAs, and, believe it or not, there’s lots to talk about heading into a big week of offseason news for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Take a look at the rundown for the first episode of the new show Steelers 1-on-1.On this show Jeff Hartman interviews someone to talk about all things Pittsburgh Steelers. Today’s guest was none other than Chris Carter of DKPittsburghSports.com

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Overall thoughts on the offseason
  • Of the 2018 NFL Draft class, who will make the biggest impact?
  • Should fans be pleased, or disappointed, with the Steelers’ offseason so far?
  • Some training camp battles to watch this summer
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, walks 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 our BlogTalkRadio page. If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below. Be sure to follow us on iTunes by searching The Standard is the Standard.

The show is sponsored by Frank Walker Law, the top criminal defense firm to call in western Pennsylvania and West Virginia and home to one of the nation’s top-100 ranked trial attorneys in Frank Walker. For his PA office, call 412-212-3878 or to reach his WV office call 304-712-2089. You should also check out his website frankwalkerlaw.com to see how he can help you in your time of need. Frank Walker Law: Real Talk, Real Experience, Real Results.

Steelers new secondary coach Tom Bradley will stress tackling, fundamentals at training camp

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 5:54pm

Tom Bradley never played or coached in the NFL, which was perfectly fine for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Terrell Edmunds not in any rush to sign his rookie contract

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 1:55pm

The top draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers remains the only player of the seven who were drafted who is still unsigned.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFLPA and NFL owners, rookies signing their initial contract as a professional has become nothing more than a formality. Depending on what round the player was drafted, they are immediately slotted into a pay scale which can’t be negotiated. But that doesn’t mean the entire contract can’t have some negotiations. Players can negotiate signing bonuses as part of their contract, and more often than not players will wait to see what other players sign for to give them some leverage in negotiations.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, 6 of their 7 rookies have all signed their rookie contracts — except Terrell Edmunds.

The team’s top draft pick isn’t holding out of workouts or anything like that, but said he is going to take his time signing his contract.

“I’m not even worried about it,” Edmunds Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Tuesday. “I know it will get done one of these days. It’s not going to change anything about my game. I’m still going to be out there trying to put my best on the field.”

More from Rutter regarding how NFL rookies can leverage some more cash from the team:

Edmunds’ brother, Tremaine, who was drafted No. 16 overall by the Buffalo Bills, signed his four-year rookie contract exactly a month ago. He got a signing bonus worth nearly $7.3 million and almost $12.7 million overall.

With rookies holding little leverage, Terrell Edmunds can expect a deal a little higher than what the No. 28 player in 2017 received. Taco Charlton got a $5.433,556 signing bonus and a $10,028638 total contract from the Dallas Cowboys.

Selected two picks later than Charlton, Watt got a $4.873,504 signing bonus and a $9,258,568 deal.

As for Edmunds, he is staying out of negotiations. Rather, leaving that up to his parents and his agency to get him the best deal possible.

“You can definitely negotiate a little bit, but I try to stay out of that,” Edmunds said. “I let my parents take over and let my agents handle it. I’ll just make the final say-so with everything.”

When will he sign a deal? The Steelers would likely want to get everyone locked up by the end of minicamp (Thursday), but there shouldn’t be a concern of this turning into a Joey Bosa situation for the Chargers last year where he sat out of practices due to his stance on the contract situation.

A deal will likely be done sooner than later.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they press through minicamp and start preparations for their 2018 training camp at Saint Vincent College.

Keith Butler vows more tackling practice in Steelers training camp

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 1:22pm

The hangover of losing to Jacksonville 45-42 at home in the Steelers’ only playoff game last season persists. As much as it haunts their defense, it motivates them.

JuJu Smith-Schuster on recovery from knee injury: 'I'll be ready'

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 12:42pm

Steelers second-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has a knee injury that has prevented him from participating in any of the team’s practices this spring, but he fully expects to be ready to play when the team reports to training camp July 25.

Randy Fichtner embraces the pressure that comes with being the Steelers’ offensive coordinator

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 11:47am

Being the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers is not an easy job, but Randy Fichtner is ready to roll with the new gig.

Being the offensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers is anything but easy. Every fan across the globe always criticizes ever decision made.

They need to run more no-huddle.

Why are they so pass-happy?

Just run it right down their throats!

Essentially, unless you go undefeated, and the offense averages 30-points a game — fans aren’t happy. In Pittsburgh, new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner embraces this pressure which comes with his new promotion.

“No doubt. I would say that, specifically here, and I’ve always said this: You’re the true fan and you’ve been with us the whole time, from birth and all that and you buy a ticket to the stadium and you have never wavered, then you have the right,” Fichtner told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

If checking off the above boxes means you have the right to criticize, then Steelers fans clearly know their rights to bemoan play-calling. But after replacing the polarizing Todd Haley, most fans just want to know what to expect from this new Fichtner led offense.

To sum it up...Fichtner is willing to do whatever it takes to win the football game.

“You may average 70 plays in a game,’’ Fichtner noted. “One week you might throw it 40 times and you run it 30; one week you might have to throw it 50 to try to win a game. It’s going to be about trying to win a game. ... Whatever it takes.”

It is highly unlikely the team’s offense changes that much from Haley to Fichtner, but there are certainly areas, like the red-zone, which could see the most dramatic changes in scheme, design and overall execution. Nonetheless, no one is tipping their hand as to what the operations might look like when the team rolls into Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 25th to start training camp.

So, fans who are waiting to see what Fichtner’s plans are for the black-and-gold, you will have to wait, but if you are wondering if Fitchtner will allow Ben Roethlisberger to run a quarterback sneak in short-yardage situations...it doesn’t sound too promising.

“We’ll have to find out that,” Fichtner said. “I don’t want to see him get touched, to be honest with you.”

Maybe Fichtner’s offense will be more like Haley’s than anyone thought...

Check out the media session below:

OC Randy Fichtner discusses his new role, #SteelersNation, his relationship with Ben Roethlisberger and more. pic.twitter.com/0nN5kggPex

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 13, 2018

New Steelers secondary preparing for 2018 ‘Splash Party’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 10:36am

The once-maligned unit could be primed for a breakout season in the turnover category.

Over the last few years, there have been times when the Steelers’ secondary looked out of sorts, confused and out-manned. But the Steelers’ front office has bolstered the secondary with a mix of youth and experience in efforts to take that ‘Stairway to Seven.” I believe this infusion of talent will make a huge splash in 2018, in more ways than one.

First, let’s recap the construction of the 2018 Steelers’ secondary.

2015: Secondary talent

In the opening game of the 2015 season, the secondary left Rob Gronkowski running free on several occasions en route to a 28-21 loss. It wasn’t the fact of the Steelers’ defenders simply getting beaten — it was a matter of them getting lost.

The secondary that night comprised Will Allen, Mike Mitchell, and young corners Cortez Allen and Valentino Blake (with veteran William Gay).

For the night, Rob Gronkowski had five receptions for 94 yards and a whopping three touchdowns.

The Steelers shook that opening game off, advanced to the playoffs and went on to virtually shut down Peyton Manning in a road Divisional Round game. If not for an untimely fumble (Fitzgerald Toussaint) while leading late in the fourth quarter, who knows what might have transpired in terms of post-season success. But the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs that evening in Denver.

2016: Secondary infuses youth

There was no doubt the Steelers had one of the best offenses in the NFL with the Killer B’s of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. The defense, however, and especially the secondary, was still in a state of flux.

The transformation to today’s Steelers’ secondary began in earnest with the 2016 draft. The Steelers drafted Artie Burns (CB) of the “U” and Sean Davis (S/CB) out of the University of Maryland with their first two selections. Both players received baptism by fire and started early and often. Sean Davis even played a little slot corner through injuries and eventually settled in at Safety.

These tweaks, additions, and experiments seemed to work well, in that the defense, and mainly the secondary, began to complement the Steelers’ offense wonderfully.

That was until the AFC Championship game against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. This talented, athletic but woefully young secondary of Mitchell, Davis, Burns, and Ross Cockrell was shredded into confetti by Tom Brady, to the tune of 384 passing yards and three touchdowns. The passing game still destroyed the Steelers’ secondary. This loss was chalked up to the youth of the secondary. While Ross Cockrell had been touted as an extremely intelligent player, his on-field production slipped and he would no longer be a Steeler after this fiasco.

Although the move was kept relatively quiet, the Steelers acquired Slot Corner phenom Mike Hilton in his rookie year and stashed him on the practice squad to prepare for the 2017 campaign. But he never hit the field in 2016.

2017: Who’s gellin?

The 2017 Steelers went 13-3 and were one bad call away from home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Nonetheless, the Steelers earned a first place bye and a Divisional Round home game. This year they drafted Cam Sutton (CB) From Tennessee in the third round and project-CB Brian Allen from Utah.

This secondary rebuild was strongly aided by the Cleveland Browns virtually gifting the team perennial all-pro (CB) Joe Haden — cutting him just before the start of the season. In non-Steeler fashion, they jumped on the opportunity and signed Haden, out-of-town, to a lucrative 3-year deal. Unfortunately, Haden broke his leg late in the season. While he did return to play late in the season, the missed time negatively impacted the gelling process that the secondary was going through.

The 2017 Steelers defense was, bend-but-don’t-break as they gave up a ton of splash plays to offenses all year long, but the team kept winning. This was compounded by the loss of Ryan Shazier to a horrific spinal injury early in the season. The entire team rallied around Shazier; they cried for Shazier; and they played hard for Shazier. They truly “Shalieved,” on all fronts. Nevertheless, they still need to improve the secondary to win a Super Bowl.

They learned this the hard way in a 45-42 loss to Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars where a secondary in which they’d invested two high-round 2016 draft picks, plus two mid-round draft picks, still needed refinement.

Bortles kept key drives going in this game with huge third-down conversions and then hit a back-breaking deep shot late in the fourth quarter to set up the TD which helped seal the win.

Back to the drawing board

In a move that shocked all NFL Draft prognosticators and insiders alike, the Steelers drafted (CB/S/LB) Terrell Edmunds of Virginia Tech in the first round. They bypassed Ronnie Harrison of Alabama, who most analysts ranked higher than Edmunds and Justin Reid of Stanford.

Pittsburgh always tries to draft “Steelers,” so I trust them with the Edmunds pick here. Also, they’ve had tremendous success drafting college Juniors. Google them, there are too many to name in this column. Furthermore, Terrell’s Dad, Ferrell Edmunds, has an NFL pedigree, as he starred for years as Dan Marino’s go-to tight end.

Safety Mike Mitchell, who also was considered a “Steeler,” was released in the offseason but has seemingly been replaced by another free-agent acquisition and veteran, Morgan Burnett. Burnett seems to be a temporary-but-talented stopgap measure at safety, while the young safeties, also including Penn State’s Marcus Allen (fifth round) mature and develop.

Thus, going into the 2018 season, 2016 picks Burns and Davis are seasoned and have played in four playoff games. The 2017 draft pick, cornerback Cam Sutton is expected to see the field more in 2018 after enduring injuries last season. Project-CB Allen is making strides, and we should keep in mind that the last project player at CB was Ike Taylor. Burnett (S) has seen countless playoff games in Green Bay, while young safeties Edmunds and Allen will simply get in where they happen to fit this year and, ideally, play bigger roles going forward.

Just do it with flexibility

The secondary players mentioned in the previous paragraph are all uber-athletic and flexible. Collectively, these interchangeable parts will allow the Steelers to play better/stronger/faster against the 4-wide receiver sets that have haunted them in the past.

They might play with 2-4 safeties at times, with Edmunds or Allen playing Monster-back (hybrid safety/linebacker). This incredible infusion of young talent gives Pittsburgh the depth and pieces they need to continually and aggressively blitz unsuspecting quarterbacks, while stuffing the run and finally — covering Gronk.

They’re set now to make continual splash plays of tsunamic proportions!

Antonio Brown goes on insane rant, makes a pretty decent point in the process

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 8:48am

Brown voices his displeasure with his treatment by the media and makes a rock-solid argument in the process.

Sooooo...this happened:

Antonio Brown spoke to the media before our first minicamp practice. pic.twitter.com/mfgq73w1cy

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 12, 2018

If your current situation isn’t conducive to watching movies, the Tweet-length summary of the above-embedded video is that Antonio Brown is pretty well vexed by the chronic, undeviating attention paid to him by the Pittsburgh media. This is understandable! As I’m sure those of you who live in and around Pittsburgh can attest, a sizable contingent of our the local sports media is very critical, very poisonous, and very much set in their ways. (I’ll refrain from naming names, but anyone within 50 miles of Pittsburgh who’s picked up a newspaper, watched the local news, or (gasp!) listened to talk radio can probably draw their own conclusions.) But scalding-hot sports takes are valuable currency in these here parts, and the reporters are the merchants; so, if the best offensive player on the team indicates that the second-best offensive player on the team ought to show up for practice, or if the best offensive player on the team posts some potentially contentious and vaguely confrontational stuff about a former coach on Instagram, or if the best offensive player on the team, in a fit of frustration, Bobby-Knights a water cooler, they’d be mad not to write about it.

Now, this is the part where I’ll pause to indicate that a) the local reporters and sports personalities—or whatever kind of sobriquet they prefer (I don’t get paid to know these things)—are, for the most part, just doing their jobs and b) Brown is a professional football athlete who’s been playing the game long enough to know full well how this whole media thing works. Despite what the Penguins may have led you to believe, the Steelers are still the biggest show in town. So any news offering the community a glimpse into the general goings-on surrounding the team or, in the case of Brown, into the life of a legitimate NFL superstar and household name, will be consumed with ravenous and insatiable hunger.

I would argue that Brown has largely been a Company Man, more or less playing along with the media proceedings and adhering to a script that contains overtures of both organic straightforwardness and tightly-regulated PR-speak. This despite a few of what might be characterized as “slip-ups” (e.g. the aforementioned water-flipping tantrum against Baltimore, the Facebook Live fiasco during the 2016 playoffs, and that time he skipped a few practices because he was ostensibly irked about his contract). But Tuesday’s overly verbose—let’s call it a diatribe—portrayed Brown in a light we haven’t seen to this point. He was visibly frustrated and completely exasperated, as if, in that particular moment, he decided to unfurl eight years of pent up anger and indignation.

Included in Brown’s stream of consciousness—which clocked in at more than seven-and-a-half minutes—was the implication that NFL players are not “free” to speak their minds or cultivate individualized personas. This is a good point! In Roger Goodell’s wettest dream, I imagine his ideal version of the NFL would be a self-contained autocracy, a league in which players and coaches are all soulless, insipid stiffs, and where politics and activism are outlawed entirely, nobody questions why former players keep committing suicide, and owners rake in mountains of capital. But I digress. In his opinion, Brown has felt like a prisoner to these constraints. While he’s emerged as a volcanic, dynamic, once-in-a-lifetime talent on the field, he’s been a relatively anonymous figure off of it, especially when compared to some other contemporary (ahem) “big personalities” like Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Odell Beckham Jr. When Brown’s “personality” has shone through, he’s been criticized or told to “grow up.” I keep referencing the water cooler thing because it’s an easy target, but that entire calamity yielded an unrelenting bounty of thermonuclear takes about Brown’s temperament and maturity and whatever else, but precisely zero takes about Ben Roethlisberger failing to notice what would’ve been the easiest touchdown of his career. An even easier target would be Brown’s social media presence, which I suppose could invite the ”he’s brought this upon himself” argument since Brown is very active on Twitter and Instagram and he does post links to the very same workouts that he believes are overly publicized (this latter point is bogus, by the way, since working out in private and posting it on Snapchat is completely different than working out and having a bunch of fans and media people mulling about). I vaguely recall someone on this very website declaring that the Steelers should ban their players from using social media—that’s the exact kind of sentiment Brown is hoping to avoid.

The fact that Brown’s comments are going to lead to a vast catalog of news stories and think-pieces (including this one) proves his point. But at the moment, I’m not sure if Brown’s “rant” has done anything to tangibly alter the AB paradigm. Make no mistake, it would be so, so neat if Brown pulled back the reins on some of the lessons that Pittsburgh’s award-winning public relations team bestowed upon him and instead incorporated some reckless and breezy indifference into his routine when addressing the media. Be free, Antonio. Care less what they all think.

The mostly likely outcome is that Brown’s coaches and veteran teammates and maybe even some front office personnel will have some sort of sit-down with Brown in an attempt to placate his frustration. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy yet another drama-free summer here in the Steel City -___-

From Larry Fitzgerald to Antonio Brown, new Steelers WR coach Darryl Drake has been 'blessed'

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 7:53am

There are NFL assistant coaches who can go their entire careers and not coach a Hall of Fame player. Then there is Darryl Drake. He spent the past five seasons coaching Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who very likely will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer once he retires. In his new job with the Steelers, Drake inherited Antonio Brown, who very well could do the same.

Antonio Brown’s odd offseason continues

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 7:05am

As the Steelers wrapped up their first of three minicamp sessions, no one was talking about football.

The life of an NFL player isn’t as easy and breezy as many might assume. Some heavy burdens are placed on the broad shoulders of these men who play a brutal game for a living, and sometimes the weight of those demands might become too much.

This offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers has been relatively quiet (I just knocked on wood for those superstitious readers out there), but one player has seemed “off” on more than one occasion. It shouldn’t surprise anyone this player is the same one who puts himself out there most often on several social media platforms.

None other than Antonio Brown.

When a player as prolific as Brown is as active as he is on social media, you’re given a front-row view into his life. The workouts, the meals, the family — everything. After a while, a player can feel as though he lives in a fish bowl, with everyone peering in. But again, that’s a self-imposed impression.

Brown could just as easily not be so active on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, but he’s building something bigger than the Steelers and football. At least for him, he’s building a brand. If you’re like me and you follow AB on almost all of those platforms, you’ve noticed some very strange behavior going on the past few weeks. Let’s just say the man is dealing with some stuff off of the field.

Regardless, though, this has never stopped Brown from showing up and being his best on game days. Yet, that’s exactly what happened after the team’s first two Organized Team Activities (OTAs) workouts, when Brown didn’t show for the final eight sessions. Even though they’re voluntary, this was very unlike Brown. On the first day of minicamp, Brown showed up and did a lot of talking.

Take a look at some of his media session Tuesday:

Antonio Brown spoke to the media before our first minicamp practice. pic.twitter.com/mfgq73w1cy

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 12, 2018

Rather than try to decipher what Brown said to reporters, you can take a look at what they posted after the media session regarding why Brown missed OTAs, who’s to blame and other tidbits from the All-Pro receiver:

Antonio Brown on why he skipped final 8 OTA sessions: "I needed little personal time for myself to get my mind right. The game requires a lot of mental happiness, the older you get the more you think about what is important."

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) June 12, 2018

Antonio Brown: "I started to think what's important. Am I playing football to make a lot of money or am I playing football to take care of my family? Those are some of the decisions I think about when I come in here every day."

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 12, 2018

More AB: “I took a moment to get my mind right [during OTAs]. It’s not even serious. It’s not even mandatory. It’s volunteer. You guys create a story about how I don’t want to throw with rookie QBs. It’s all about you guys making people a marked man when it’s not even like that.”

— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) June 12, 2018

AB:"I am constantly under pressure. Can't go anywhere and work out by myself, fans meet me at the field. Can't do anything normal. You guys write about me every day and my mom and kids see it so we have to deal with these types of things and I start to think ... am I really free?

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 12, 2018

Here's AB on Le'Veon's situation: ou guys write about it and say 'Oh, AB says to show up. I just say the first rule of getting better is show up. I didn't say he got to show up. He's got his own business." #Steelers

— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) June 12, 2018

So, there’s a lot to digest here, and none of it really even revolves around the sport of football. After the media session and practice, Brown explained himself in further detail to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Antonio Brown clarified his media position to ESPN while serving at a local food bank on behalf of Campbell’s Chunky Soup. pic.twitter.com/zF1BqVynLS

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 12, 2018

The team did practice today, and there wasn’t much actual news coming out of the session...not after Brown spoke prior to practice. Nonetheless, take a look at some other stuff that went down after Minicamp Day 1.

VIDEO

Coach Tomlin recaps our first day of work at minicamp. pic.twitter.com/6Ytbw2qi3a

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 12, 2018

PHOTOS

A Ben Roethlisberger tradition: Throwing without a helmet during individual drills. The helmet goes on once the 11-man action starts. https://t.co/gF54HdTCm3 pic.twitter.com/4NaC2LHto0

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 12, 2018

James Saxon on Le’Veon Bell’s absence: ‘We can only coach the people that we got here’

post-gazette.com - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 06/13/2018 - 6:00am

Tight End Xavier Grimble lay sprawled out, both hands behind his head in front of his teammate’s locker. All offseason, that locker, draped with No. 26 jerseys, has been free space, a perfect place to lay rest with no present threat of interruption.

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