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Predicting which Pittsburgh Steelers players will change their jersey numbers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 09/01/2021 - 9:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If a player wanted to switch a jersey number, now is the time to do so.

The NFL cut deadline is officially in the rear view mirror. One of the lesser talked about points about this time of year, is how after 37 players are released, as many as 37 jersey numbers become available. Meaning rookies, as well as late addition free agents, will have another shot at switching up their uniforms before the digits get locked in at the start of the regular season. Additionally, the issue of players wearing the same number will need to be resolved as this isn't something the NFL allows players to do unless every other uniform on the roster has been accounted for.

So which Pittsburgh Steelers players will be forced to switch their number? Which want to change on their own? The following is a prediction on exactly this.

Joe Schobert

Joe Schobert straight-up told us that he will not continue to wear the number 45 immediately upon it being assigned to him when he landed in Pittsburgh. His previous uniform numbers do not help when it comes to guessing what number he will switch too. In Jacksonville Schobert wore 47 (unofficially retired), In Cleveland he wore 53 (Kendrick Green), and in college Schobert wore 58 (unofficially retired). But we can draw some conclusions.

Current Number: 45
Available Numbers: 57, 50, 10
Number Prediction: 57

57 blends together Schobert’s number in Cleveland and Jacksonville. It makes the most sense out of anything still remaining.

Trai Turner/Buddy Johnson

Both Turner and Johnson wear the number 51. While Turner’s historical number is 70 it is one of two officially retired number (Ernie Stautner) so this one comes down to the rookie. Johnson also wore 51 in college so this one is another difficult choice.

Current Number: 51
Available Numbers: 5, 50, 15
Number Prediction: 15

Switching the 5 and the 1 just seems the most simple move for Johnson. The NFL’s new number rule allows Johnson to keep something familiar on chest just not in the same order.

Pat Freiermuth

This is one circumstance where Freiermuth wore 87 in college, was drafted and it wasn't available and took 88, but now 87 is available again. Will he switch back?

Current Number: 88
Available Numbers: 87
Number Prediction: 88

I think Freiermuth is doing everything possible to ditch the Baby Gronk moniker and wearing the same number as Rob Gronkowski wasn't helping him achieve that. Freiermuth instead opts to create his own legacy in his own number.

Jamir Jones/Derek Watt

Similer to Turner and Johnson, Jones and Watt are in identical numbers. Again, the rookie will have to find new digits, as Derek Watt is already entrenched on this roster.

Current Number: 44
Available Numbers: 4, 40, 14
Number Prediction: 40

Jones keeps his numbers in the 40’s and settles on the next best thing. In my opinion 40 is that next best number for him. If Joe Shobert moves on from 45, it is another number which could also come into play.

What do you think? Will there be other players who change their numbers? What numbers do you think the players listed above will end up settling on? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Stock Report: Whose stock is rising, or falling, after the loss to the Panthers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 09/01/2021 - 8:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Taking a look at what direction Steelers stock is trending after their preseason finale loss to the Carolina Panthers.

The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers are a team in transition after multiple player retirements and free agent losses during the offseason. They now have plenty of new faces in new places, both on the field and in the coaching staff. That is an uncommon occurrence for one of the NFL's most stable franchises.

Their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger is returning for what very well may be his final NFL season, maybe not. Regardless if it is or isn't, the Steelers have no intention of going softly into that dark night. The Steelers don't rebuild, they reload. Kevin Colbert and company did their best to do just that this offseason, mainly through the draft. I have been impressed with the results thus far.

Friday night's preseason finale road loss to the Carolina Panthers was both ugly and meaningless, but it did help resolve some questions where the Steelers still needed clarity.

Steelers Stock Up: Extraordinary draft class

Kevin Colbert has no need to buy a lottery ticket, because he has already hit the jackpot with back to back draft classes of legendary proportions. I predicted prior to training camp that every member of the Steelers 2021 draft class would make the final roster, and I still believe that statement to be true. I can't remember the last time that happened with a Steelers draft class, or any where in the NFL for that matter, but I have to believe it is extremely rare.

Najee Harris has every attribute needed to be a future NFL star, down to the work ethic and personality. He is the type of player that makes those around him even better, especially the offensive line. Isn't that the definition of a superstar? He can turn a missed block, that would have resulted in a two yard loss last season, into a four yard gain through his explosive power. The offensive linemen are going to love this young man.

Pat Freiermuth looks like the long awaited answer at TE1 for the Steelers. His blocking has been better than advertised; though work remains to be done, he obviously has the potential and attitude required to improve in that regard. His reputation for reliable hands has proven accurate, and his rapport with Roethlisberger grows by the day.

Kendrick Green is both raw and inexperienced at center, but his athleticism and nasty demeanor is impossible to ignore. He started training camp down on the depth chart, but that was merely a formality, as I predicted. Green is the future for the Steelers at the position. Expect both steady improvement and inevitable growing pains from the young stud.

Dan Moore Jr. has exceeded all expectations, my own included. More physical and aggressive than advertised, he has honestly been the Steelers best tackle during camp. Not sure that is a good development honestly.

Buddy Johnson is an old school inside linebacker with a warrior's mentality. A tackling machine who loves contact. Think young Vince Williams, with better speed and athleticism. Future starter.

Isaiahh Loudermilk seems determined to make me eat my words after being extremely critical of not only his selection, but the Steelers trading future draft capital to do so. He looks like he may just prove worthy of the investment. He is strong and disruptive, and could be dangerous if he ever learns what he is supposed to be doing.

Quincy Roche making the roster isn't a certainty at this point, he is actually my biggest concern of all the draft picks, but he should be. He has shown an impressive arsenal of pass rush moves and counters at a position of great need around the league. Roche most likely won't survive the practice squad, but Cassius Marsh probably would. Easy decision in my mind. Practice squad may be his only avenue if extra depth is deemed necessary at other positions of greater need however.

Tre Norwood has shown superior instincts and intangibles, with the versatility to play any secondary role. He possesses average athleticism, and his physicality is a work in progress, but he is already the backup free safety with the potential to do more.

Finally, Pressley Harvin is a larger than life personality with a big leg, a gaggle of nicknames, and a ton of talent. He has been the answer to many prayers that have been lifted up by the Steelers faithful.

Even after such a disappointing performance against the Panthers, the Steelers 2021 draft class has to put a smile on every Steelers fans face.

Steelers Stock Down: Uncertain depth charts

There are two sides to every story or situation. The fact that every draft pick this year has a real possibility of making the final roster says alot about that roster.

The Steelers have been blessed with experienced veteran rosters for years. The Steelers believe in stability and they take care of their own when possible. This offseason of change was oftentimes out of their hands and beyond their control. Retirements and free agent losses happen to every franchise each year, but there were extenuating circumstances for the Steelers, starting with the pandemic resulting in a unexpected decrease in the salary cap. Terrible timing for a organization hoping for one more championship run for their aging franchise QB.

Kevin Colbert did a masterful job of reloading the roster with young talent, as I mentioned earlier, with the key word being young, as in unproven and inexperienced. There is only one way to become proven and experienced, and that is by playing. There is no other way, and there are bound to be growing pains. Patience will be required.

There is uncertainty up and down the depth charts at a few positions. Left tackle is the biggest question on the offensive line. Based on camp and preseason performances alone, Dan Moore Jr. would undoubtedly be the starter. The Steelers have proclaimed Chukwuma Okorafor as the presumptive starter, but he has been underwhelming thus far, having honestly done nothing to win the position. If he gets first dibs as the starting LT, it is based solely on experience, as he has done nothing to earn said position. His performance against the Panthers was more of the same.

The other starting position still up for grabs would be at slot corner. If training camp and the preseason has taught us anything, it would be that my initial prediction of a slot by committee approach has merit. No single player has every single attribute that the Steelers value in a slot corner, but there are multiple players that are interchangeable according to matchups.

Cameron Sutton has the coverage skills to shadow speedy slot guys, while Miles Killebrew has the strength and tackling prowess to matchup with size on the interior. He is also a outstanding blitzer. Tre Norwood is in the process of learning to play the position, and he possesses the football IQ to be a fast learner.

While it's true that the Steelers don't have a proven performer at these positions, the cupboard is hardly bare at this point.

In conclusion, another Steelers training camp and preseason is in the books. No major injuries to speak of, our first glimpse of a foundation stabilizing draft class, and better clarification at a few notable areas of concern. All in all, I would say things went pretty much according to plan.

4 Steelers who could end up on Injured Reserve Wednesday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 09/01/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

If the Steelers feel like a player could miss the first week of the regular season, going on the Reserve/Injured List may be the best bet.

The Pittsburgh Steelers announced all their cuts to get down to the league mandated 53-man roster by 4 PM on Tuesday. While this is the first time the Steelers are at 53 players, it is likely not the roster they will have for Week 1 in Buffalo. Between scouring the waiver wire and looking for a free agent, the other factor would be players the Steelers feel need to land on the Reserve/Injured List (IR).

Putting a player on IR is not the dreaded designation it once was, as long as the player has spent one day on the 53-man roster. All players placed on injured reserve before 4 PM on Wednesday cannot return to the teams who gave them the designation unless they had reached an injury settlement and it is three weeks beyond the final settlement date. If there was no injury settlement, the only way these players would be able to play this season would be to pass a physical and be released by the team to sign elsewhere.

If a player is on the 53-man roster but is placed on injured reserve after 4 PM Wednesday, they would be eligible to return in 21 days. Rather than being the eight weeks it used to be years ago, having IR as a much shorter term gives teams options for players who may not be ready for Week 1 of the season. If a player goes on IR on September 1, they would be eligible to return to practice to start preparation for Week 3 of the NFL season. In essence, because every team is basically starting off with a bye week due to less preseason games, players would realistically only have to miss two games.

For this reason, there are several players who are currently on the Steelers’ 53-man roster who could end up placed on IR Wednesday afternoon. I’m not saying these players will definitely be there, as the Steelers might not make any moves when it comes to injured reserve. But if the Steelers do have to go this route, these four players are the most likely candidates.

Zach Banner

I outlined Zach Banner’s situation in an article on Tuesday and how he might just need a little bit more time with his knee before he is ready to play 100% of the snaps on offense. Banner playing only 12 snaps in the preseason is not a good sign along with the fact he did not even travel with the team to Carolina to get treatment, according to head coach Mike Tomlin in his post game press conference. The Steelers have also been exercising other options of trying players at different positions on the offensive line was reported on Monday when Chuks Okorafor got some snaps at right tackle with Dan Moore Jr. filling in at left tackle. A lot of signs point to a possibility of Banner not being ready to go for Week 1, and if it is in doubt, having one more additional week to get ready to return isn’t the end of the world.

Possible Roster Replacements: B.J. Finney, Rashaad Coward, outside signing

Stephon Tuitt

Missing OTAs and minicamp due to the tragedy that struck his family, Steelers’ Nation’s hearts go out to defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt. Unable to practice throughout training camp and the preseason, we’re not sure when Tuitt will be ready to take the field. The other interesting fact is Mike Tomlin continues to lump Tuitt’s name in with other players when he talks about dealing with injury. Whether to it has a physical injury he’s working through or simply needing time as he goes through the grieving process with his family due to the tragic loss of his brother, there is a chance he will not be ready to go on September 12. With the Steelers keeping eight defensive lineman on their initial 53-man roster, this gave another indication that Tuitt may be heading to injured reserve once the time has come. Since the Steelers have already made the move of keeping the extra defensive lineman, the most likely roster replacement would come at a different position.

Possible Roster Replacements: B.J. Finney, Rashaad Coward, outside signing

Anthony McFarland Jr.

Although he hasn’t been talked about much in regards to having an injury, Anthony McFarland was the other player mentioned by name by head coach Mike Tomlin following the Carolina Panthers game as to those who were left behind to receive treatment. If McFarland isn’t ready to go for Week 1, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Steelers place him on IR and bring another running back onto the roster. Then again, McFarland could be perfectly fine and ready to go against the Bills.

Possible Roster Replacements: Trey Edmunds, outside signing

Marcus Allen

Seeing a player leave the field due to injury in the final preseason game is one of the more disheartening things in the NFL. When it’s the last of the meaningless games, they will always be questioned if the player should have even been on the field. But with linebacker Marcus Allen, he was getting some valuable reps against Carolina before suffering a leg injury. If it is the type of injury which could be nagging, it would make sense for him to move to injured reserve to start the season. Additionally, Allen is in a very similar situation as Stephon Tuitt where the Steelers were already carrying an unusually large amount of players at his position for the initial 53-man roster.

Possible Roster Replacements: Outside signing (likely a CB), Arthur Maulet (if healthy)

So those are the four players that would be most likely to land on the Reserve/Injured List should the Steelers place anyone there on Wednesday. As for the possible roster replacements, they are generally made up of players who were not required to pass through waivers and were on a minimum contract. These players are the easiest ones to release on roster cut down day with the club informing them they want to sign them the next day as a player goes on IR. Players such as B.J. Finney, Rashaad Coward, Trey Edmunds, and Arthur Maulet fit in this category as players who could return. While there are some others who also fit into the category like Cassius Marsh, it’s a little less likely that he fits what the Steelers are trying to do.

With the Steelers keeping so many defensive lineman and skimping on the offensive side, it would make sense if Stephon Tuitt goes on the IR that it would be an offensive lineman who would be added in his place. For players such as Zach Banner or Anthony McFarland, replacements would likely come at the same position. To finish off, chances are if Marcus Allen would end up on IR it would be the opportunity to add another player in the secondary.

So what do you think? Do you believe any of these four players could end up on injured reserve Wednesday afternoon? If so, what’s the corresponding roster moves the Steelers could possibly make? Make sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Steelers All-Time All Rookie Team: Part 9 Safeties

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 09/01/2021 - 6:00am
Look out, Joe — that’s a torpedo with your name on it... | Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Part 9: Safeties

We’re winding down the Steelers All-Time All Rookie team. Today, part 8: the safeties. The first seven essays are linked below, but for those who missed them, here’s how it works: I’ll include an introduction to account for some players you may expect to see, but who didn’t make the cut. Then I’ll list starters, backups, and others worth consideration — followed with a poll for Steelers Nation to weigh in.

The Ground Rules:

1 — I’m looking at the entire history of the Steelers/Pirates/Steagles/Card-Pitt.

2 — The player must have begun his career with Pittsburgh.

3 — Only the rookie year will factor in; a great career is unnecessary.

4 — The poll and the comments section are open — have at it.

(Side note: I can’t figure out how to let everyone vote on multiple players, so the poll is just for the top rookie safety, I guess. Oh well.)

For past essays:

Part 1: Quarterbacks
Part 2: Running Backs
Part 3: Wide Receivers
Part 4: Tight Ends
Part 5: Offensive Line
Part 6: Defensive Line
Part 7: Linebackers
Part 8: Cornerbacks

And now, on to the safeties.

Safety:

As per usual, there are a number of familiar and impressive names that you won’t see listed below. The most obvious is Minkah Fitzpatrick, who (as most of us know) started his career with the Miami Dolphins, just three years ago. Not a Steeler rookie means not on this list. Ryan Clark played alongside Sean Taylor in Washington as his career opened, so he’s out as well. Some of you probably remember Chris Hope as well (starter on the 2005 Super Bowl champion). Hope was a Steeler, but was mostly a special teamer in 2002, making no starts and registering very few stats as a rookie.

Two Steelers safeties went into the Hall of Fame this year (that’s got to be the first time that’s ever happened), but neither of them are below. Troy Polamalu was a first round draft pick in 2003, but he couldn’t crack the starting lineup his rookie year, and recorded zero takeaways all season. (He did record 2.0 sacks, which is kind of impressive, but he really did practically nothing else.) Meanwhile, Donnie Shell was an undrafted rookie in 1974 (the greatest rookie class of all time in any sport). But he finished the year with one start and one pick — he wouldn’t become a regular starter until his fourth season.

So who does that leave? Let’s see:

Starters: Paul Cameron (1954) Does this guy look 22 to you? I’d swear he was 40 in this shot.

One year wonder
Led Steelers with 7 interceptions (team rookie record, #7 in NFL)
#4 in NFL in INT return yards (118 yards)
Also three fumble recoveries (10th in NFL)

Paul Cameron is the definition of the “one year wonder.” In 1954, he ranked #7 in the NFL with a gaudy 7 interceptions, placing behind such legends as Night Train Lane, Emlen Tunnell, and Tom Landry. With his three fumble recoveries, the rookie wound up with 10 (seriously TEN) takeaways in only 12 games. Somehow he didn’t make the Pro Bowl that year.

The 1954 Steelers were a deeply mediocre 5-7, and Cameron (who must have seemed like a star in the making) didn’t come back for season #2. That’s right — a college star who played like a rock star his rookie season, simple retired after that. The 50s seem like the beginnings of the modern era (in the NFL), but this is still a side-job for a lot of these guys...

Darren Perry (1992) I was going to make a joke about Perry wearing Minkah Fitzpatrick’s number, but Fitzpatrick wasn’t actually born when this photo was taken. And now I just feel bad.

Started all 16 games on AFC’s #1 seed
Led Steelers with 6 interceptions (#7 in NFL)
Added 61 tackles and a fumble recovery
NFL All Rookie team

This one surprised me a little. I had Carnell Lake penciled into this role before I looked at numbers. (And I didn’t even remember Darren Perry at first.) But goodness – on a team featuring Lake, Rod Woodson, Tim McKyer, Deion Figures, and DJ Johnson, Perry led the Steelers in interceptions as a rookie with six. SIX! The only Steeler to record six interceptions since the millennium is Troy Polamalu, and he’s in the Hall of Fame now. Perry had a decent career, including starting in the Super Bowl the next season, and did some coaching in Pittsburgh for a while. But his finest season has got to be that rookie campaign.

Backups: Carnell Lake (1989) Lake and Perry were both DB coaches in the last 20 years. Both were better players.

Started 15 games, plus two playoff games, on storybook 1989 team
Transitioned from college linebacker
Recorded 1 interception and 1 sack
6 fumble recoveries (#1 on Steelers; #3 in NFL)
Also #2 on Steelers with 2 forced fumbles, #4 with 70 tackles
AFC Defensive Player of the Week (wk 6, revenge win over Cleveland)

Carnell Lake is one of those players who I quietly maintain deserve Hall of Fame consideration. He probably doesn’t have the INT numbers, but despite being a converted college linebacker, he was a five-time Pro Bowler — twice at free safety, once at strong safety, and twice at cornerback(!), where he was also an All Pro in 1997. For a linebacker. Crazy.

Lake’s rookie year, he started 15 games (again, despite undergoing a significant position change). Part of the 1989 squad that lost its opening game 51-0 at home against Cleveland, then 41-10 in week 2 (to division rival Cincinnati), Lake helped steady the secondary as they made the most improbable playoff run in team history. He was even AFC defensive player of the week in week 6, as the Steelers got an unthinkable revenge win against the Browns, 17-7 in Cleveland.

Thomas Everett (1987) Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images I don’t know why, but I’m really glad that Thomas Everett left Dallas before SBXXX.

Played in 12 games, started 9
3 interceptions (tied with Delton Hall for #2 on Steelers)
Added one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries
NFL All Rookie Team

Thomas Everett is remembered in NFL annals as a part of the first two Cowboys Super Bowl squads in the 1990s, but he started his career with five years in Pittsburgh. Part of a promising young secondary (alongside Rod Woodson, Delton Hall, and the previous entry, Carnell Lake) Everett was a solid player on an inconsistent and improving team.

As a rookie, Everett played in all 12 non-strike games, starting 9, recording five takeaways and a forced fumble, while making an impressive 72 tackles. He joined Hall on the NFL’s 1987 All Rookie team (which, crazy, didn’t include Woodson), and stayed in the starting lineup for the rest of Chuck Noll’s coaching career (before being replaced by Darren Perry, of all people). That’s high enough praise for me.

Mike Wagner (1971) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Holy crap, George Gojkovich took this picture? I used photos of Maurkice Pouncey that he took earlier. Man, is this guy like 100?

Started 12 games as rookie
Two interceptions for 53 return yards (#2 on team in yards)

Mike Wagner was, of course, a part of another young Steelers defense that rounded into shape a couple years after his arrival. An 11th round pick in the same draft that brought Jack Ham, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes, Wagner stepped right into the starting lineup in 1971. He would eventually lead the NFL with 8 interceptions in 1973 (while also recovering five fumbles), make two Pro Bowls, and take home four Super Bowl rings.

As a rookie, both of Wagner’s interceptions went for long returns, prefiguring his big-play ability (for the next four years, he had at least 75 return yards in INTs or fumbles). And despite being one of the unsung Steel Curtain members, he makes my team.

Also considered: Terrell Edmunds (2018) Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Terrell Edmunds always looks bigger than I expect him to.

Played all 16 games, started 15
One interception for 35 return yards, and four passes defensed
Added 78 tackles, 3 QB hits, and one fumble recovery and 1.0 sack
#2 on team in INTs and tackles

Terrell Edmunds wasn’t supposed to start as a rookie. He was tabbed as a project out of Virginia Tech, to sit behind veteran free agent pickup Morgan Burnett (remember him?). But Burnett was made of glass, and Edmunds eventually started 15 games, finishing second on the team in tackles. He was also second in interceptions, but only snagged a single one. It’s hard to remember now (since the Steelers have been the best team at creating takeaways in 2019 and 2020), but this team was allergic to INTs. So I can’t really give a ton of credit for that.

Sean Davis (2016) Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Good luck, Sean. I don’t know why it never quite worked out.

Played in all 16 games, starting 9, on AFC Runner Up
Started all three playoff games
One INT, 5 passes defensed, one fumble recovery
70 tackles (#4 on Steelers)
Added 1.5 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 4 QB Hits

Sean Davis is an enigma to me. He always seemed pretty solid — a decent coverage man, a good tackler, and a guy with decent hands; more polished than his draft-mate, Artie Burns (who wasn’t bad early on either). But something never quite came together. He eventually became expendable when (after a season-ending injury in 2019) the Steelers traded a #1 pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick (arguably the best safety in the NFL). But his first few years, including his rookie season, weren’t bad at all.

As a rookie, he started nine regular season games, and all three playoff contests (which includes the ugly loss to New England, but also two powerful victories against Miami and Kansas City). That seems appropriate to me: pretty good, but not quite good enough. He’s a Colt now, but had some promise in Pittsburgh for a couple years.

Willie Daniel (1961) This guy’s face could be a hood ornament. I feel like it could knock through brick.

Played all 14 games, starting 13
#2 on Steelers with 3 interceptions
76 yards on INT returns (#3 on team), plus one fumble recovery

Willie Daniel’s best season might be his first. He started 13 games and recorded four takeaways for a mediocre team. He was a part of an uneven squad, featuring young talent like Mo Pottios and Buddy Dial, and old-timers nearing the end, like Bobby Layne and John Henry Johnson. That creates a pretty small window to go for the gold, and the Steelers couldn’t get over it. Daniel showed plenty of promise at the start, though.

Tony Dungy (1977) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Is it just me, or do Dungy’s sideburns look like they’re fake? Like, they’re not quite attached to his mustache or his hairline. Who are you trying to fool, Tony?

Played in all 14 games in middle of 1970s Super Bowl run
Tied for 4th on the team with 3 interceptions

Tony Dungy isn’t really All Rookie material (honestly, he’d be behind Polamalu and Shell) — which is why he’s in the “also considered” section. But I wanted to highlight his presence in this superstar defense. Dungy learned more from Chuck Noll than people usually admit. His Tampa-2 defense was really just a recreated Steel Curtain — complete with a star interior lineman (Joe Green / Warren Sapp), athletic rangy linebackers (Jack Ham & Jack Lambert / Derrick Brooks & ex-Steeler Hardy Nickerson), a hard-hitting safety (Donnie Shell / John Lynch), and at least one star corner (Mel Blount / Ronde Barber). It’s almost man for man.

Of course, the Steelers versions were better across the board, but still..

Anyway, Dungy only stuck around for two years (somehow leading the team in INTs in 1978), before becoming the youngest coordinator in the NFL when Noll brought him back in 1984. And he used to have hair.

Last round coming: special teams and coaches. Stay tuned. The season is about to begin...

Podcast: At what point will the Steelers’ antics stop??

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 09/01/2021 - 4:30am

BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman presents his AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The Steelers have some players that continue to make news with antics that make the fan base type ‘SMH’. When will this chicanery cease or is not that big of a deal? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the flagship morning show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The Live Mailbag
  • Much More! Thanks

Jeff Hartman of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

The Pittsburgh Steelers official 53-man roster to start the 2021 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 3:10pm
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Reports have been trickling in over the last several days, but here is the first version of the Steelers 53-man roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 53-man roster has just been released! While there is still a chance the Steelers could make some adjustments at a few positions, questions about who would make the cut and who would be looking for employment elsewhere have now been answered. As we know, this roster could be very short-lived as the team prepares for its Week 1 matchup.

Players are listed by position group and are in no specific order. Players current numbers are listed but could be changed.

So what do you think of the Steelers decision for the roster? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below. As always, make sure you stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued breakdown and analysis of the Steeler’s 53-man roster, as well as breaking news, commentary, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!

Offense

Quarterback (3)

  • Ben Roethlisberger #7
  • Mason Rudolph #2
  • Dwayne Haskins #3

Running Back (4)

  • Najee Harris #22
  • Benny Snell Jr #24
  • Anthony McFarland Jr. #26
  • Kalen Ballage #29

Fullback (1):

  • Derek Watt #44

Wide Receiver (5)

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster #19
  • James Washington #13
  • Diontae Johnson #18
  • Chase Claypool #11
  • Ray-Ray McCloud #14

Tight End (3)

  • Eric Ebron #85
  • Pat Freiermuth #88
  • Zach Gentry #81

Offensive Line (8)

  • Chukwuma Okorafor #76
  • Zach Banner #72
  • Kevin Dotson #69
  • Trai Turner #51
  • Kendrick Green #52
  • Dan Moore Jr. #65
  • Joe Haeg #71
  • J.C Hassenauer #60
Defense

Defensive Line (8)

  • Cameron Heyward #97
  • Stephon Tuitt #91
  • Tyson Alualu #94
  • Chris Wormley #95
  • Henry Mondeaux #99
  • Isaiah Buggs #96
  • Carlos Davis #73
  • Isaiahh Loudermilk #92

Outside Linebacker (4)

  • T.J. Watt #90
  • Alex Highsmith #56
  • Melvin Ingram III #8
  • Jamir Jones #44

Inside Linebacker (6)

  • Devin Bush #55
  • Joe Schobert #45
  • Robert Spillane #41
  • Buddy Johnson #51
  • Marcus Allen #27
  • Ulysees Gilbert III #54

Cornerback (4)

  • Joe Haden #23
  • Cameron Sutton #20
  • James Pierre #26
  • Justin Layne #31

Safety (4)

  • Minkah Fitzpatrick #39
  • Terrell Edmunds #34
  • Miles Killebrew #28
  • Tre Norwood #21
Specialists

Placekicker (1)

  • Chris Boswell #9

Punter (1)

  • Pressley Harvin III #6

Long Snapper (1)

  • Christian Kuntz #46

Offense: 24

Defense: 26

Specialists: 3

Total: 53

Steelers are hopeful to have Stephon Tuitt in Week 1, but nothing is certain

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 2:04pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are holding out hope they will have their talented defensive lineman back for the start of the regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been missing something this training camp and preseason, and it isn’t T.J. Watt. While Watt holds out hope for a new contract prior to the Week 1 game vs. the Buffalo Bills, Stephon Tuitt hasn’t participated, but for unknown reasons.

Fans all heard about the devastating hit-and-run accident this summer which killed Tuitt’s brother, but outside of that tragedy there isn’t much known about Tuitt’s situation. All that has been said about Tuitt, publicly, is the team is hopeful he will be ready for the start of the regular season.

Here is Keith Butler on Tuitt:

8/17/2021

“Boy, I hope so. I really hope so. I think he will be. We don’t want him to go out there and get hurt and we lose him for another four weeks or something like that. We want to make sure he’s in shape and ready to play when we play our first ball game.”

8/25/2021

“It’s not a problem. He’s here all the time. He’s always in the meetings and stuff like that. When is he coming back? When we need him to come back. Does he need to come back and get in shape and stuff like that? Sure, he does. But we’re not concerned about it right now. Hopefully, next week we’ll get him back. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”

When Mike Tomlin was asked about Tuitt’s return, his answer was simply they were not willing to put a timetable on his return to the field.

Monday, after practice, Tuitt’s defensive teammate Tyson Alualu spoke with the media and said he expects Tuitt to be ready for Week 1.

Tyson Alualu says he expects Tuitt to be ready for Week 1

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 30, 2021

It should be noted Tuitt has not participated in any preseason game, or even full practice since the team reported to training camp. The mystery behind Tuitt’s absence is what has most scratching their heads.

No, the tragedy which took place with his brother is no mystery, but is he injured? No one is saying, but the hope is he, and Watt, will be returning to practice sooner, rather than later.

In the meantime, Tuitt’s absence has given more repetitions to players like Chris Wormley and Isaiah Buggs, something which hasn’t been taken for granted.

“Just to get those reps day in and day out and continue to build on what I did the day before and the preseason games beforehand is important because I didn’t get that time last year, and I think it showed during the season.” Wormley said about not just getting repetitions, but staying healthy this preseason.

If there has been one consistent throughout this time, it has been the fact the Steelers organization, and Tuitt’s teammates, remained at his side and having his back.

“Stephon is a work in progress, you know he’s going through what he’s been going through.” Isaiah Buggs said after the preseason finale vs. the Carolina Panthers. “He’s been at the club everyday, he’s been with us everyday he’s been working with us every day and he’s a work in progress. Stephon is our guy. We love him and we are ready for him. He’s our guy.”

The Steelers’ defense is vastly different with Tuitt in the starting lineup, compared to the alternative, but it goes without saying the Steelers are willing to take a patient approach to his return. Regardless of the reason.

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

Podcast: Are the Steelers in a confidence or a panic room to start the season?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 2:00pm

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White look at the week that was and the Steelers going forward.

The Steelers were 3-1 in the 2021 preseason, showing signs of brilliance and weakness at different junctures. Is their confidence or a state of panic as the regular season opener is less than two weeks away. Are the Steelers in a confidence or panic room to start 2021? In this show, Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran trio as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show

  • News and Notes
  • Confidence or panic in Pittsburgh?

and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

Part 1

Part 2

Tre Norwood hoping to improve upon his first playing time at slot CB

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 11:30am
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The latest member of the Steelers to get a shot at the nickel CB role is hoping to see more time there in the future.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrapped up their 2021 NFL Preseason, but there are certain areas of the team which are very much a mystery as the team prepares for the regular season. One of those areas would be within the team’s secondary. To be more specific, the slot/nickel cornerback role.

Everyone knows Joe Haden has his side of the field locked down, but who plays opposite Haden is anyone’s guess.

Is it Cam Sutton?

Will James Pierre play outside, allowing Sutton to move inside?

Will Pierre and Sutton only swap positions in the dime defensive sub package?

What about the nickel? Who is destined to play the slot?

That last question is one no one, not even defensive coordinator Keith Butler knows at this point. In case you missed it, here were his comments on the position prior to the team’s final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers last Friday night in Charlotte, NC.

“You’ve got a bunch of DBs in there, we’ll see how they do.” Butler said of his current personnel. “If we’ve got anybody that’s a good blitzer, we’ll stick them in there in nickel and stuff like that. We want to pressure. We just don’t want to dadgum play blasé football. We want to get out there and get a good eye for people. We find a guy to do that, the better off he’s going to be.”

Friday night it was Tre Norwood’s turn to try his hand at the slot position. To Norwood’s credit, he played all defensive secondary positions at Oklahoma, but this was his first shot at playing inside at the professional level.

Overall, he thought it went well.

“It went well, my first time this entire preseason.” Norwood said of his first reps at the nickel cornerback position. “It felt good to be on the inside getting some action, getting to do it in a live game. We did it in practice this week but being able to get out there, doing it in a live game, I felt comfortable with it. It’s something that I like to do.”

Norwood’s overall stat line wasn’t mind blowing. He registered 4 total tackles, with 2 solo tackles, but his Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades were abysmal.

Run Defense: 66.0
Tackling: 22.4
Pass Rush: 54.1
Coverage: 31.7
Overall: 36.2

Say what you want about PFF grades, but it is clear there is room for improvement from the rookie defensive back. Nonetheless, Keith Butler’s comments on Norwood, and his football IQ, show the team isn’t going to let his first, and only, play in the slot dictate any future repetitions at the position.

“Oh, he’s a very smart young man. A very smart young man. He’s smart enough. He’s like Cam Sutton.” Butler said. “They’re smart enough to play more than one position. My thing with all of them is they’ve got to make themselves valuable. How are you going to make yourself valuable? You make yourself valuable by playing special teams, by playing nickel, by playing safety, by playing corner. You play a lot of different positions. If you can do that, you make yourself valuable to the team. And the more valuable you make yourself to the team, the best chance you’ve got to make the team.”

Maybe the slot isn’t the best spot for Norwood, but he certainly follows the motto of “the more you can do”, and it is paying off. Norwood is an essential lock to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster, and this as a 7th-round draft pick. Overall, Norwood has been pleased with how his first professional preseason went.

“I felt it went really well.” Norwood commented about his first preseason. “I was just excited to be out there playing ball and taking strides each and every game. Learning, that’s the biggest thing with the preseason and camp, learning and taking those steps and getting better each and every day and each and every rep. I felt like I did that.”

While Norwood didn’t light the world on fire in his debut in the slot, he is the latest player the Steelers have thrown at the position to see if they will stick. If/when Arthur Maulet’s ankle heals, you would expect him to have the first shot at the nickel position, but Norwood’s experience now gives them another player to utilize there if need be.

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

Podcast: A Steelers nickel’s worth in the secondary

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 11:00am

Join BTSC’s newest podcast, From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor for weekly study of team and individual play.

Most of the roster spots for the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers have been decided by the Steelers’ organization. But the secondary seems to be still in flux and possibly undecided at the nickel corner. The film shows specific things regarding each candidate. Welcome to From the Steelers Cutting Room Floor. Join BTSC’s Geoffrey Benedict for weekly player analysis as it pertains to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • The state of the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary
  • and MUCH MORE!

Geoffrey walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

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You can listen to the show in the player below.

Is Zach Banner ready to go for Week 1 of the NFL season?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

With very limited snaps in the preseason, Steeler fans should possibly be concerned about Banner’s availability.

This is a subject I’ve been contemplating for days. In fact, I even used it as one possible theory when predicting my 53-man roster for an article at Behind The Steel Curtain on Monday as well as Jeff Hartman‘s Let’s Ride podcast.

Is Zach Banner ready to go for Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season?

I have been shaping my thoughts on the subject for quite some time. After winning the right tackle job for 2020 only to get injured towards the end of his very first game, Zach Banner had a long road ahead this past offseason as he recovered from ACL surgery. By all indications, he appeared as if he was good to go. The Steelers even signed him to a new two-year contract starting in 2021. Everything seemed to be coming along in an appropriate manner.

Then as training camp wore on, I started to get slightly uneasy about Zach Banner’s status. Both he and Devin Bush seemed to be “rehab buddies” as they were coming back from the same injury. It was no surprise neither player saw the field in the Hall of Fame Game, but when Week 1 of the preseason rolled around, Bush was on the field while Banner was still on the sidelines.

Even though Zach Banner’s injury occurred five weeks prior to Devin Bush’s, it doesn’t mean that he would be five weeks ahead in the process. Without knowing the exact details of the injury and extent of the surgery, they may not be as exact as some believed.

Additionally, the use of one’s knee is not the same for every person. Being a big person myself, much like Zach Banner, the everyday use and wear on my knee is not the same as someone of a smaller stature. The bottom line is, to line up Zach Banner and Devin Bush exactly might not be the best idea.

Then came Week 2 of the preseason. Steelers’ fans expected to see every starter who was available on the field seeing some action, and Zach Banner was out there with the rest of the Steelers offensive line as well as starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Thinking Roethlisberger could get a quick hook in the game while the line continued to work on some things, it was actually Zach Banner who exited the game one drive before Roethlisberger and only logged 12 snaps.

Still, there wasn’t any huge red flags. The Steelers may have just been easing Banner back into things.

When the final preseason game came around, not only did Banner not see the field, he was one of the players listed by Coach Tomlin in the post game press conference who did not even travel to Carolina but stayed behind in Pittsburgh to continue with treatment.

This was a point where I began to become concerned. My worst fears about the situation started to creep in my mind that Banner, who played well with his limited action this preseason, may either not be ready for a full load of snaps or possibly even had a setback in his lone preseason appearance.

I threw the idea out as part of a crazy way to keep 10 lineman on my final 53-man roster prediction. But it was highly questioned and I made sure that I spun it is being just a crazy theory.

Then Monday happened.

Although I had already shaped this idea about questioning how ready for the season Zach Banner may be, there was an interesting report out of Steelers practice. This per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor:

Outside of the extra curriculars at today's Steelers practice, something to watch:

-Okorafor took reps at right tackle today, while Dan Moore Jr. was at left.

-Zach Banner did not practice& Tomlin said he'd give an injury report next week. Banner didn't travel vs. Panthers.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 30, 2021

Still, this could not be a big deal. Perhaps the Steelers are still taking it easy with Zach Banner and saving him for next week’s actual game preparation. In doing so, it didn’t hurt to get some snaps for Okorafor on the right side as Dan Moore Jr. has felt much more comfortable playing left tackle and his preseason tape backs it up. I actually thought about this being a possibility before, but the fact Okorafor had not played right tackle for any preseason snaps made me think this might not work.

But how concerned should we be about Zach Banners availability to start the 2021 season?

If we get the news this week that Banner has landed on the Reserve/Injured List, it’s not something to completely panic about. With the new IR rules, he could return in three weeks. Still, that’s three weeks where the Steelers would not have the players they expected to start on the offensive line which already has many fans concerned.

If Zach Banner is not ready to go, I do not fault him at all. He’s been working hard. He’s been doing all he can to get back on the field. But he suffered a very significant injury. Both Banner and the Steelers would be much better served if a few more weeks would get him closer to full health rather than have him playing injured throughout the year.

Hopefully all this talk is for nothing. Hopefully Zach Banner is ready to go and in regular-season form on September 12. But if he isn’t, it’s not a bad idea right now for the Steelers to be preparing for Plan B.

Shakur Brown is a cautionary tale for getting too excited about UDFAs and late-round picks

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 9:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Shakur Brown became a story long before he should have been one. Hopefully, for his sake, the UDFA out of Michigan State will go on to surprise us after all.

The Steelers began the difficult task of trimming their roster to 53 on Saturday afternoon when nine aspiring NFL players were released not long after the preseason finale against the Panthers on Friday night.

Cornerback Shakur Brown, a Michigan State product and the crown prince of Pittsburgh’s crop of 2021 undrafted free agents, was one of the nine to get an unwelcomed visit from the Turk.

There was so much hype surrounding Brown, he of the great PFF grade. Not only did Pro Football Focus grade Brown favorably for his production at the collegiate level (82.2), but the site even ranked Brown as the fifth-best undrafted free agent signing.

“How Shakur Brown can make the Steelers roster and contribute in 2021” may have been a headline you read during the offseason. One of the ways Brown was expected to contribute was as a slot corner and someone who could be the next Mike Hilton, a fellow undrafted free agent who came out of nowhere to make Pittsburgh’s roster in 2017 before quickly ascending up the ladder as one of the top slot corners in the league.

People were flabbergasted that Brown, who was projected to be drafted in the third or fourth round, didn’t get selected by any team.

Based on Brown’s rankings and grades, he really should have been drafted.

But he wasn’t, and he didn’t do anything in his rookie training camp or preseason to warrant making the Steelers final 53-man roster.

How could Brown not get drafted? How could he fail to make a splash in his first training camp and preseason? He is likely missing something in his game or his physical attributes, which was why he went undrafted in the first place—coaches and scouts may not be perfect prospect evaluators, but they’re still pretty darn good at it.

Will Brown ultimately wind up on another team’s 53-man roster one day and go on to have a productive career—maybe even with the Steelers?

It’s too soon to say, but maybe Brown will act as a cautionary tale about hyping up future UDFAs and late-round draft picks before they even set foot on a professional football practice field.

Actually, it won’t stop people from hyping up future underdog players. How could it in this day and age? With so many football sites, football analysts and football podcasters out there in the modern world of the 24/7/365 news cycle, we know everything there is to know about an undrafted free agent or late-round pick before he even shows up to his first rookie camp. We know who his college coach was and the system he played in. We dissect him. We prod him (not literally, of course).

We write and talk about which players will surprise us during training camp and the preseason. Surprise us? How can we know who will surprise us ahead of time? I get it, it’s simply a vehicle to discuss these underdog players, but it sure does take the fun out of being surprised.

I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised by Hilton.

The same can be said for offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum (seventh round, 2012 NFL Draft), Chris Hubbard (UDFA, 2013) and Matt Feiler (UDFA, 2014). None of these hogs will likely make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but they not only beat the odds by going on to have long NFL careers; they all signed lucrative deals that should set them up for life.

And I didn’t see any of it coming.

That’s the way it should be with underdog stories. You should be blindsided by someone beating the odds, not anticipating it months in advance.

Shakur Brown became a story long before he should have. For his sake, hopefully, he will go on to surprise us, after all.

FILM ROOM: Dwayne Haskins was better than it seemed against the Panthers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 8:00am
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers fans may not want to hear it, but Dwayne Haskins wasn’t as bad as everyone thought vs. the Panthers Friday night.

Most Steelers fans who watched the team’s final preseason game at Carolina on Friday night came to the same conclusion: the team stunk, and it’s time to put the varsity on the field.

Among those who were widely criticized for their play was quarterback Dwayne Haskins. Haskins was tapped to run the offense for the entire first half in what some pundits billed as an opportunity to pry the backup job away from Mason Rudolph. By most accounts, Haskins squandered that chance. In five first-half drives, the offense produced 56 total yards, 3 first downs and more turnovers (1) than points (0). Haskins went 3-9 for 24 yards, fumbled a shotgun snap from center and threw an awful interception.

While the results were certainly ugly, a more critical inspection reveals that Haskins didn’t play nearly as poorly as the numbers suggest. Mistakes from his teammates, particularly his receivers, torpedoed much of the offense. Haskins certainly bears some of the blame, but the narrative about his performance would be much different had his teammates backed him up.

For a closer look at what transpired, let’s go to the film.

The Steelers received the opening kickoff. A run on 1st down picked up a yard. Then, on 2nd and 9, they had Haskins execute a sprint-out concept to his right. Specifically, they ran “Smash,” a high-low route to the boundary. It was a nice call by coordinator Matt Canada for a few reasons. It got Haskins on the move, where he is often more comfortable than he is standing in the pocket; and it gave him a simple half-field read which minimized the thinking in his progression.

Unfortunately, the play was poorly executed. Here it is in full before we break it down:

The problem began with the blocking. Right tackle Dan Moore Jr. and tight end Eric Ebron had a double team on Carolina’s edge defender. Their job was to flatten the edge by preventing penetration. This would provide Haskins a clear view of the routes as they developed and would allow him to square his shoulders towards the line of scrimmage as he threw. But, as you can see in the image below, Moore and Ebron failed in their assignment, forcing Haskins to pull up and throw prematurely:

The second problem occurred when receiver Chase Claypool failed to work back to the sideline out of his break. In the NFL, receivers rarely get open simply by running past defenders. The greatest separation they create is often in the space between the break point and the catch point. This is where they have the biggest advantage over the defender. The receiver knows where he’s going, the defender does not. Therefore, if the receiver bursts out of his break, he can gain ground as the defender is forced to react.

Unfortunately, Claypool did not work away from the defender. He just pivoted and stopped. Had he worked back, Haskins could have taken him more towards the sideline with the football. While Haskins missed slightly inside on the throw (likely a product of having to pull up too soon on his sprint-out), the coverage was tighter than it should have been because of the way Claypool stalled out of the break:

Pittsburgh’s second drive was hamstrung by a similarly subtle error. Canada began with another seemingly easy throw for Haskins. It was a timing route to the wide side of the field to receiver James Washington. With Carolina showing soft corners, a quick hitch should have been an easy pitch and catch. The throw fell incomplete, however, on what seemed like a bad ball from Haskins:

I can practically hear the howling from living rooms throughout Steeler Nation: “Come on, Haskins, make the throw!” However, while I cannot swear I know this to be true, my reading of this play puts the onus for the incompletion on Washington. Here’s why.

Most hitches are four-step routes. That’s exactly what Washington ran — a four-step hitch with the break at seven yards. However, because the Panthers gave a pre-snap blitz look, an adjustment was necessary. This route needed to be shorter to compensate for the fact Haskins had to release his throw quickly. Watch how Haskins caught the snap, pivoted and threw. There was no drop. This tells me he made a sight adjustment to the blitz. Washington did not. He ran his normal hitch at seven yards. So, while the throw from Haskins came in short and behind Washington, and while many fans probably blamed Haskins for the resulting incompletion, Haskins was throwing to where Washington should have been. Washington’s failure to adjust was likely the real culprit.

While Haskins could be absolved for the shortcomings of the offense on the first two drives, the mistake he made on the third was inexcusable. On 1st down, Canada dialed up a play-action bootleg that had Derek Watt, who aligned as an H-back on the left side of the formation, sneak behind the line before flashing out into the right flat. He was wide open for what should have been a positive play to start the drive. Haskins simply had to dump him the football. Instead, this happened:

Haskins failed to square up and had to throw across his body. He missed high and inside. It was a throw that underscored everything Steelers’ fans fear about Haskins: too inaccurate, too erratic, not fundamentally sound.

Fortunately, the defense bailed Haskins out and Carolina, despite great field position, missed a field goal. The Steelers took over and, on 2nd down, Haskins did this:

Much of the intrigue around Haskins involves his ability to make plays like this one. This is a play neither Ben Roethlisberger nor Mason Rudolph can make at present (Note: please don’t write in the comments that I’m suggesting Haskins is better than Roethlisberger. I am not. I’m simply saying he possesses an ability to make plays out of the pocket that exceeds Roethlisberger’s at this point). While Haskins will need to improve his ability as a pocket passer to be considered a viable starting candidate, his improvisational skills are significant.

Unfortunately, his teammates let him down again a few plays later. Scrambling out of the pocket on 3rd and 12, Haskins set his feet and threw a laser into the chest of receiver Ray Ray McCloud at the Carolina 23 yard line. McCloud dropped it.

From this angle, you can see that the throw had great velocity but was also accurate. It hit McCloud in a perfect spot despite a small window and the presence of four Carolina defenders. Once again, a drive was derailed with a mistake from a receiver.

After a muffed punt from returner Matthew Sexton led to a Carolina touchdown, the Steelers took possession again. On 1st down, Haskins seemed to jump-start things with a beautiful throw up the left sideline that hit McCloud in stride. McCloud lost track of the boundary, however, and his toe hit the chalk as he came down on his second step for an incompletion:

This was a big-boy throw from Haskins that could have generated some momentum for the offense. The Steelers did manage to overcome McCloud’s error and moved the ball across midfield. But the mistakes resumed. On a 1st and 10 from the Carolina 47, Haskins was forced to scramble out of the pocket for a short gain when a blitzer (#43) came unblocked off of the left edge:

Running back Benny Snell Jr. appears to have recognized the blitz late and failed to pick it up off of his play-fake. Haskins saw it immediately, however. You can see how quickly he was prepared to get the ball to his hot receiver, tight end Zach Gentry, who is circled in the image below. But Gentry didn’t see the blitz either and was late turning his head to locate the ball. With no time to look elsewhere, Haskins had to bail. He shrugged off the blitzer then reversed field, doing a nice job of making two yards out of a play that should have been a sack.

This drive came to an end two plays later when, on 3rd and 9, Haskins had to scramble again when left tackle Chuks Okorafor got beat in pass protection. His throw fell incomplete and Carolina went on a long drive to essentially close out the half. A frustrating evening for Haskins appeared to be over.

In the 4th quarter, however, Josh Dobbs, who succeeded Haskins at QB, sustained a toe injury that forced Haskins to re-enter the game. Haskins led the Steelers on their only touchdown drive of the night, taking them 75 yards in 6 plays while executing a no-huddle tempo. The score itself, which came against players who are unlikely to make Carolina’s final roster, was insignificant. It spoke well of Haskins, though, as he was able to re-focus, make the necessary mental adjustment and take the team down the field.

CONCLUSIONS

I’m no Haskins apologist. I recognize his limitations and his need for development. You can see it in the simplicity of the route concepts Canada ran for him. Half-field and underneath reads, mostly. Not much in the way of structured downfield throws. He is moving Haskins along slowly.

As things currently stand, it seems valid that Mason Rudolph should remain the backup to Roethlisberger. Rudolph is the safer pick. That said, Haskins is an intriguing talent and a great fit for a Canada offense. Between he and Rudolph, I believe Haskins has the higher ceiling. Nothing I saw from him against Carolina persuaded me otherwise. Yes, I saw him make a terrible throw that resulted in an interception. Yes, I saw him struggle with some reads when he was in the pocket. Mostly, though, I saw him make sound adjustments, scramble effectively and put the football on the money. I loved how he bounced back from his interception to make some of his best throws of the night. And I loved his attitude when he re-entered the game in the 4th quarter. He could have sulked at having to mop up. Instead, he used the reps to get better. That’s a sign of a player who is maturing.

How different might things have gone had his receivers executed their responsibilities correctly, or had there been any sort of a run game to keep the offense on schedule (7 of their 9 runs in the first half went for 3 yards or less), or had the line provided better protection and allowed Haskins to breathe? These are fair questions and should factor into our evaluation.

We still haven’t seen Haskins play behind Pittsburgh’s best talent. Until we do, I’m unwilling the write off the young man. I think he has great potential. I don’t know if he’ll realize it or not. But, at some point, I’d like to see the Steelers give him an honest chance to try.

5 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin after Monday’s practice

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Steelers head coach spoke briefly to the media after practice on Monday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have concluded their preseason schdule but are still operating in traing camp mode. Waiting to start their Week 1 game prep until practices next week, head coach Mike Tomlin once again spoke to reporters following practice on Monday. Even though it was fairly brief and little was said/released about the skirmish at the end of practice, there was still enough to look at the players mentioned by Coach Tomlin during his media time. Remember these are current players where a specific question was asked during the Q&A period.

Dan Moore Jr., Chuks Okorafor, Joe Haeg, & Zach Banner

There was some shuffling around of the tackles in practice on Monday with Dan Moore Jr. getting snaps at left tackle and Chuks Okorafor sliding over to the right. Coach Tomlin was asked if this option was something he was experimenting with for Week 1, and in his response he also brought up tackles Joe Haeg and Zach Banner.

“He’s versatile. Dan Moore is versatile. Joe is versatile. Everybody really plays right and left other than Banner. And so, we’re just going to keep working our versatility in an effort to put our best available group together, and we’ll determine at a later date what that is.”

Coach Tomlin was asked a follow up question about if he is more comfortable with Moore on the left side than the right side.

“I hadn’t assessed it in that way. Really. I’m just giving them days to work on both sides and then at a later date we’ll assess what works best for him. And if we need him, then obviously we’ll use him.”

Stephon Tuitt

Steelers fans are still patiently awaiting to hear if defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt will be ready for the Steelers first regular-season game on September 12. Coach Tomlin was actually asked about the health of Zach Banner, but his response also mentioned Tuitt.

“I’ll give you guys an injury report next week. On Banner, Tuitt, and others that you’re going to ask about.”

A replay of Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen on the Steelers YouTube channel HERE.

Are the Steelers getting the last laugh in the NFL Draft?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers were heavily criticized for their 2021 draft class, but are the Steelers getting the last laugh?

It’s way too early to take a victory lap, but perhaps Pittsburgh’s oft-criticized decision to pass on drafting an offensive lineman in the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft is turning out to actually be a good thing.

Haven’t we all heard the constant moaning throughout the NFL media world that the Steelers failed miserably in not addressing their offensive line early in the draft? That drafting a running back in the first round is just so stupid in this day and age in football. Is the Steelers’ brass ignorant? Do they not know what the heck they are doing?

Yes, the Steelers were roundly condemned for blowing it. You could not pull up a draft grade without it mentioning that the Steelers didn’t address the offensive line.

First, they did. I would say that in each year’s draft, the first four rounds are the most impactful draft picks. Obviously, each descending round brings more and more question marks. The Steelers were hardly given credit for spending two of their first four picks on offensive linemen.

Somehow, that was deemed fairly meaningless by many pundits.

But, if you paid proper attention to the drafting process in the 2021 class, you would have been aware of positional strength and weaknesses. This happens every year. In 2021, it was widely considered that this was a deep offensive line class.

It’s funny, but you can often learn something from playing fantasy football. This year, workhorse running backs are scarce (they usually are), as are top end tight ends (again, they usually are). Wide receivers, on the other hand, are plentiful. So, it is sound strategy to secure one or two top running backs very early in your fantasy draft, as well as a tight end, and then secure still quality wide receivers later. If you went wide receiver in your first three rounds, all would be great players, but you’d have pretty much zip at running back. Same goes for top end tight ends.

If you can still get good quality later, why not take studs at other thinner positions early? Well, that’s what the Steelers very well may have accomplished.

So, the Steelers draft a workhorse potential stud in Najee Harris in the first, then come back in the second round and secure what is considered widely a future star in the second-rated tight end in the class. I’d argue that Florida prospect Kyle Pitts is a wide receiver in tight end clothing more so than a true get-down-and-dirty tight end, but that’s neither here nor there.

Then, in the third and fourth rounds, they drafted their two linemen, Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. More on them later.

In this draft class, there were considered only three jewel running backs – Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams. Trey Sermon was a clear step down, then there were the Michael Carters of the draft, who were more satellite, committee type backs.

The Steelers picked Najee Harris in the first and secured their potential stud running back. Then, by early in the second round, all of the quality running back prospects were gone. After that, only complimentary backs with warts were left. This was a definite need. If you didn’t think the Steelers were in need of talent at running back, then I’m not sure what you were watching last season.

In the second round, Pat Freiermuth falls to the Steelers. By early in the third round, Boston College’s Hunter Long is taken by the Dolphins, and pretty much all of the top tight end prospects are gone.

With the Steelers having skillfully acquired two fantastic prospects, they then turned to the offensive line, the dire area of obvious need for the team.

Of course, the top-rated offensive linemen have already been picked. No debate. However, this was, again, a deep offensive line draft. They picked Kendrick Green. Going by the opinion of draft grinders, I saw no one who hated this pick. In fact, you had to love what you read about the guy. A high motored mauler.

As of now, he apparently has won the starting job. Of course there are bumps, but I believe any offensive line rookie, sans Penei Sewell, would probably have bumps. Overall, you have to like what you’ve seen so far, and the word coming out of camp on him.

I recall as Dan Moore Jr. was being drafted in the fourth round that it was said that in a “normal” year, he’d be a second-round pick. Film grinders like Greg Cosell said they loved his tape. Well, going into the final exhibition game, he has been the darling of Pro Football Focus this preseason as its top-rated offensive lineman and is pushing to start alongside Green.

I’ll leave it there and allow others to grind their tapes and offer opinions on them.

But, remember, if the Steelers had punted on Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth and picked two offensive linemen instead in the first two rounds, sure, they would have drafted two top line prospects, but there would have been zilch in high quality running backs and difference making tight ends left. Who knows who they would have picked, but the Steelers’ running back room and the tight end room would not be exuding the excitement it is currently.

Whether these two offensive line prospects continue to grade out well and, more importantly, perform well, remains to be seen. But, as of right now, if you listen carefully, you might hear some laughter coming from the Steelers’ front office.

Podcast: What the Steelers need to consider on cutdown day

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/31/2021 - 4:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 53-man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers needs to be finalized by 4 PM on Tuesday and the front office has different avenues that they can take to be the best possible Men of Steel that they can possibly be. But there are some very important things to consider. Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck on the latest edition of The Live Mike as he helps Steeler Nation navigate through the 2021 offseason and beyond.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Things to consider by the Steelers when crafting the 53-man roster
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael Beck of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Men of Steel.

Check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Steelers reportedly part ways with veteran punter Jordan Berry

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/30/2021 - 5:14pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

It is being reported the Steelers will go into a season without Jordan Berry punting for the second straight season.

On a day when plenty of Pittsburgh Steelers roster cut rumors are swirling, the latest might be the most significant. On Saturday the Steelers released nine players, officially from their offseason roster. Monday they have reportedly already notified three players they will be released. They are: LB Jamar Watson, LS Kameron Canaday and WR Rico Bussey. There is a fourth player who has also reportedly been told he won’t be on the team’s 53-man roster, and that is punter Jordan Berry.

Source: #Steelers are releasing punter Jordan Berry after six seasons with the team. Rookie Pressley Harvin III won the job.

— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) August 30, 2021

Berry has punted for the Steelers for six seasons, but fans of the Steelers, especially those who think the Steelers are better without Berry, know in 2020 they started without Berry after signing Dustin Colquitt. That experiment only lasted five games before Berry returned to the team to finish out the season.

Will Berry be lucky enough to have rookie Pressley Harvin III flounder, so he can find his way back to the roster? Only time will tell, but as of Tuesday there is a chance Berry could be picked up by another team considering he had a strong preseason.

Berry now joins the following players as the most recent cuts:

TE Marcus Baugh
RB Tony Brooks-James
CB Shakur Brown
WR Anthony Johnson
S Lamont Wade
WR Matthew Sexton
CB Lafayette Pitts
DT T.J. Carter
OG Malcolm Pridgeon
LB Jamar Watson
LS Kameron Canaday
WR Rico Bussey

The Steelers had practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday and again on Tuesday prior to cuts needing to be made official, so more news and notes could be coming over the next 24 hours. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers, and be sure to follow the 53-man Roster Tracker below:

Steelers releasing Rico Bussey, but hope to get him on their 16-man practice squad

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/30/2021 - 4:28pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are going to part ways with Rico Bussey, but they hope it isn’t for long as they hope to get him on their practice squad.

The Pittsburgh Steelers rumors are swirling as the team prepares to cut their roster down to the league mandated 53 players. After releasing nine players Saturday, the team has already reportedly cut ties with two players on their roster.

Those two players were linebacker Jamar Watson and long snapper Kameron Canaday. You can now make that three players who are reportedly being released Monday, and the next player to go is wide receiver Rico Bussey.

This per Brooke Pryor of ESPN:

Steelers are releasing WR Rico Bussey, per source.

He’ll be part of Pittsburgh’s practice squad if he clears waivers.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 30, 2021

Bussey was somewhat of a camp phenom after making several acrobatic, and amazing, catches during open practices at Heinz Field. While the team is planning on cutting Bussey, it is reported the team wants to bring Bussey back on the 16-man practice squad if he clears waivers.

Bussey now joins the following players as the most recent cuts:

TE Marcus Baugh
RB Tony Brooks-James
CB Shakur Brown
WR Anthony Johnson
S Lamont Wade
WR Matthew Sexton
CB Lafayette Pitts
DT T.J. Carter
OG Malcolm Pridgeon
LB Jamar Watson
LS Kameron Canaday

The Steelers had practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday and again on Tuesday prior to cuts needing to be made official, so more news and notes could be coming over the next 24 hours. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers, and be sure to follow the 53-man Roster Tracker below:

Steelers make change at long snapper, release Kameron Canaday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/30/2021 - 4:22pm
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are making a specialist change by going with Christian Kuntz over Kameron Canaday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are slowly getting their roster to the league mandated 53 players. After cutting nine players this past Saturday, the team has already made two more reported cuts Monday.

The first was to an undrafted free agent linebacker out of Kentucky, Jamar Watson, which wasn’t a surprise, but the other reported release was to a player who has been on the roster the past five seasons. That would be none other than long snapper Kameron Canaday.

This per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network:

Cut-down day affects specialists too: The #Steelers are parting ways with long snapper Kameron Canaday, source said.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 30, 2021

The release of Canaday means the team is prepared to go into the season with long snapper/linebacker Christian Kuntz.

Canaday had missed the team’s final preseason game after reportedly being ill prior to the game in Charlotte, NC vs. the Carolina Panthers. Will this release be the first of some changes within the Steelers’ specialists? Chris Boswell will be the placekicker, but if Pressley Harvin III beat out Jordan Berry the team could go into 2021 with two-thirds of their specialists being new.

Canaday now joins the following players as the most recent cuts:

TE Marcus Baugh
RB Tony Brooks-James
CB Shakur Brown
WR Anthony Johnson
S Lamont Wade
WR Matthew Sexton
CB Lafayette Pitts
DT T.J. Carter
OG Malcolm Pridgeon
LB Jamar Watson

The Steelers have practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex both Monday and Tuesday prior to cuts needing to be made official, so more news and notes could be coming over the next 48 hours. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers, and be sure to follow the 53-man Roster Tracker below:

Steelers continue to trim their roster, release LB Jamar Watson

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/30/2021 - 1:28pm
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ roster is now down to 70 after the team reportedly cut ways with Jamar Watson.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going about trimming their roster to the league mandated 53 players differently than they have in the past. In the past, the team has waited until the deadline to get their roster cuts released, but this year the team has started releasing players days ahead of the deadline.

The NFL has told all teams to have their roster to 53 players by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, and the Steelers already made nine players cut official over the weekend. You can now make that ten total players with reports now of the team parting ways with linebacker Jamar Watson.

This per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN:

Steelers have released LB Jamar Watson, per source.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) August 30, 2021

Watson was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Kentucky following the 2021 NFL Draft, and although was able to make it through the first wave of cuts, seems to have been given his outright release.

Could Watson be a practice squad candidate? That has yet to be seen, but the Steelers will have to complete their roster cuts before they can consider bringing back 16 players to make up the expanded practice squad roster.

Watson now joins the following players as the most recent cuts:

TE Marcus Baugh
RB Tony Brooks-James
CB Shakur Brown
WR Anthony Johnson
S Lamont Wade
WR Matthew Sexton
CB Lafayette Pitts
DT T.J. Carter
OG Malcolm Pridgeon

The Steelers have practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex both Monday and Tuesday prior to cuts needing to be made official, so more news and notes could be coming over the next 48 hours. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers, and be sure to follow the 53-man Roster Tracker below:

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