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The Steelers went into the 2021 NFL Draft looking for starters, and found one in Najee Harris

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/08/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Steelers entered the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in search of potential Day 1 starters at several positions. They exited the first round with someone who could be just that at running back in one Najee Harris.

Forgive me for talking in absolutes in my headline for this article, but I feel like it fits with the theme of the Steelers 2021 NFL Draft strategy.

You see, I believe most drafts have a strategy, a plan. If not, a team is probably doing it wrong (lots do).

The Steelers went into the 2018 NFL Draft looking for the next Ryan Shazier. They didn’t quite find that, but they did begin their love affair with the hybrid defender with the surprise selection of safety Terrell Edmunds in the first round. A year later was when Pittsburgh found its new Shazier when it went “all-in” and made an aggressive move by trading up into the top 10 to select inside linebacker Devin Bush in the 2019 NFL Draft. The 2020 NFL Draft, one that didn’t include a Steelers’ first-round pick because of the trade that landed safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, was clearly about finding adequate depth and possible future starters at various positions. As we sit here today, receiver Chase Claypool may not officially be a starter after the surprise re-signing of JuJu Smith-Schuster, but he sure does feel like one. Also, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that Alex Highsmith will get the first crack at taking over for Bud Dupree at outside linebacker. Meanwhile, Kevin Dotson is darn near a shoo-in to replace Matt Feiler at left guard.

That brings me to the 2021 NFL Draft and the Steelers’ theme heading into it: Starters. They needed starters at several positions, with some being more urgent than others.

While you could have made a decent argument that a few positions included strong in-house candidates—offensive tackle is a good example—it was hard to defend the depth and strength of others.

In addition to center, running back was clearly a position where some young, talented prospect could step in and be the man in the Steelers’ backfield as soon as Day 1. Therefore, when the Steelers quickly made Alabama’s Najee Harris their latest first-round pick last Thursday evening, you could see the logic in it. Could you see the potential pitfalls in it, too?

Of course, you could.

After all, Harris is not only a draft pick, he’s a draft pick who plays a position that has been severely de-valued over the past decade or so. But can you put a price on improving the Steelers ground game in the eleventh hour of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's career? I realize it is risky to use a first-round pick on a position that normally has such a short shelf-life, but unless or until extensive research is done on running backs and what makes some last and others fade by their mid-20s, we really have no idea who the next Adrian Peterson or Frank Gore will be.

Perhaps this isn’t the time for the Steelers to worry about the longevity of their first-round draft pick. I realize this is a silly take to some—and this is a take that I didn’t even consider having as I spent most of the offseason railing against the notion of drafting a running back in the first round—but if the Steelers get four or five Le’Veon Bell-level years out of a player like Harris before he hits the running back wall, wouldn’t that be worth it?

If it leads to some great playoff memories, sign me up.

You might say Najee Harris isn’t Le’Veon Bell, but Le’Veon Bell wasn’t Le’Veon Bell when Pittsburgh selected him in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. In fact, there were many—including yours truly—who didn’t think he was the right running back to take in that round.

The Steelers headed into last Friday evening’s portion of draft weekend—Rounds 2 and 3—in search of a center who could, well, center their line for many years. Alabama’s Landon Dickerson and Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey, the top two centers entering the draft, were still available and at the top of everyone’s wish list. Like running back, center was a position where the right prospect could come in and start from Day 1.

The Steelers didn’t land either Dickerson (he was drafted before 55) or Humphrey (they bypassed him to select Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round), but they did take Illinois center Kendrick Green in the third round.

While many were disappointed that the Steelers didn’t wind up with one of the top two centers, had they rolled the dice on either Dickerson or Humphrey in the first round, there would have been just as many questions as there are about the Harris pick. Many experts and wannabe experts spent months leading up to the draft stating that there was no center worth taking in the first round—including Dickerson (injury concerns) and Humphrey (no “it” factor). Like running back, center is often considered a position that doesn’t offer much first-round value.

That’s right, running backs aren’t usually valuable enough to take in the first round, while centers don’t normally offer great first-round value.

Wrap your head around that.

In summary, the Steelers were going to face many questions if they decided to use their first-round pick to address one of arguably their two biggest needs.

They did that with Harris, the top-rated running back according to most draft experts.

Could they have waited and drafted a running back in a later round? Sure, if you truly believe running backs are a dime a dozen. Could they have gotten better first-round value at another position? Certainly not at center, according to many.

All we know for sure is the Steelers exited the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft much stronger at the running back position than they were entering it.

Not bad, for starters.

NFL allows teams to take training camp away from their home facility

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/08/2021 - 5:30am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers fans could be returning to the hills of Latrobe, PA this summer for training camp.

The 2020 NFL season saw a lot of things many fans had grown accustomed to go away due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Home games were gone for many fans, and for the teams who still took their entire outfit on the road for training camp, that too was gone.

While the NFL has to yield to state regulations for home game capacity, etc. it is starting to relax some of the mandates they put on their clubs in 2021. They are starting with training camp.

Teams who travel away from their home facility, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the league has stated they will allow them to go away form camp, pending league approval. This per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network:

The NFL sent a memo to clubs today saying teams will be permitted to go away for training camp in 2021, subject to league approval, per source.

Last year, all camps had to be at club facilities and stadiums because of COVID restrictions. Now, another small step back to normal.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 7, 2021

For Steelers fans who have enjoyed the custom of flocking to Saint Vincent in Latrobe, PA to watch the Steelers practice might be getting their wish again in 2021. However, it should be noted the memo sent to NFL teams was not specific regarding fans being in attendance at these training camp practices. In other words, although the Steelers might be permitted back at Saint Vincent doesn’t necessarily mean fans will be allowed there to watch practices at Chuck Noll field.

The NFL will likely yield to state and local health departments when it comes to fan attendance, adjusting their policies with what is permitted at the state and local level for outdoor gatherings, etc.

This is still a developing story, but a sign that 2021 might look more normal compared to what 2020 provided. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Vol. 16

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 5:45pm
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There is always something to talk about when it comes to the black-and-gold!

It’s Friday again, so it’s time for the six pack of questions. It seems as if Jeff and Dave come to a consensus in cutting to the chase...

This week, I, Jeff, will be tasked with the questions up for discussion.

The rules are still the same...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

Procedural Note: Since the title feature has gone away, please feel free to leave your usual title as the first line of your response and even bold it if you can for the ease of others.

So here we go! With the formalities out of the way, it’s time to jump on in. Hopefully this party is exactly what you’re looking for on a Friday night. Here goes:

1. It’s our first Six Pack since the draft! Now that the dust has settled, what are your overall thoughts on the additions?

2. Which pick was the most surprising for you in the 2021 NFL Draft?

3. Alejandro Villanueva made some news this week with his comments as a member of the Baltimore Ravens. What was your take regarding the comments made?

4. The NFL schedule gets released this upcoming week. Try and predict which game the Steelers will open with, and which game they will end the season with. Please list opponent and venue.

5. Of all the draft picks, which was the best value, in your opinion?

6. I am a big golfer. I have been golfing since I was probably 7 years old. My father, brother and I are all single digit handicaps, and in the offseason I love to hit the links as much as I can. It has become even more special now as my kids are starting their own journey through one of the greatest games ever invented and joining me when I go golfing. It makes me extremely happy to see something which was passed down from my grandfather to my dad, to me and now continuing to my kids. What traditions/sports have you passed down from generation to generation?

Stay safe out there!

And it wouldn’t be a Friday night unless we said...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

We added some new shows and a new platform to our podcasts...if you haven’t checked out Jeff’s new morning show Let’s Ride, Bryan and Tony’s Steelers Retro Show or Dave’s Steelers Stat Geek, or even the new evening shows, give them a try by listening below!

Steelers release 2 players from their offseason roster

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 4:58pm
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

With their new signing on Friday, releasing two players puts the Steelers roster at 90.

It was reported on Friday the Steelers signed former New York Jets cornerback/safety Arthur Maulet to their offseason roster.

When the Steelers made the official statement of the player signing, they also included the announcement of the release of safety John Battle and cornerback Trevor Williams.

Steelers PR Department Courtesy of the Steelers PR Department

Undrafted out of LSU in 2019, John Battle caught on with the Steelers practice squad early in the 2020 season. Battle was signed to a Reserve/Future contract in January.

Trevor Williams went undrafted in the 2016 NFL draft out of Penn State, but was signed by the Chargers shortly after. Playing in Los Angeles for three seasons, Williams appeared in 37 games with 27 starts from 2016 to 2018. After brief stints in Arizona and Philadelphia in 2019 and 2020, Williams landed on the Steelers practice squad at the end of the 2020 season. While Williams’ NFL experience gave him a leg up on some of the other young players fighting for a roster spot, it appears the Steelers decided to move on from Williams before he had a chance to take the field in 2021.

Williams contract was in the top 51 for the Steelers this offseason, therefore his release will technically gain the Steelers $70k towards the 2021 NFL salary cap for the time being. In essence, the savings will be cancelled out once the Steelers sign their 2021 NFL draft picks as they will displace the player who moved into the top 51.

In addition to the signing of Maulet and the release of Battle and Williams, the Steelers also signed five of their undrafted free agents following the 2021 NFL draft. This per ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.

From the transaction wire, the Steelers officially signed:

-DB Shakur Brown
-DB Mark Gilbert
-DB Arthur Maulet
-WR Isaiah McKoy
-DB Lamont Wade
-LB Jamar Watson

Steelers also waived DB John Battle, DB Trevor Williams

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) May 7, 2021

If five of the Steelers undrafted free agents have officially signed today along with Arthur Maulet, the Steelers have three more undrafted rookie‘s who should be officially signing their contracts soon.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, draft breakdowns, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

10 reasons why the Steelers draft was just business as usual

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 2:30pm
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

For the moderate crowd, let’s take a look at some reasons why the Steelers draft should be looked at as an average one.

Over the last few days I’ve been digging into some reasons to love or hate the Steelers draft class (links below). But, if we’re being honest before they even play a snap, we as fans should be cautiously optimistic. Even if they were to hit on all nine of their picks, it would be highly likely the late round guys won't achieve their potential until a few years down the road. So with that being said here’s a moderate look at the Steelers 2021 Draft class.

10. They filled every position of need

It is an undeniable fact that the Steelers plugged up the biggest areas of weakness on this roster. Whether those players can live up to that potential will be answered in a couple months/years, but the Steelers have added a skill player at each of their biggest question mark positions.

9. They found some immediate starters, and developmental pieces

Even before training camp it is fair to assume Najee Harris will be the bell cow running back, Pat Freiermuth will be the number 2 tight end, Kendrick Green has a shot to be the day one starting center, and Pressley Harvin III should slot in as the punter. Past them Dan Moore Jr., Buddy Johnson, Quincy Roche, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and Tre Norwood will develop as backups, and one day crack the starting line up. Untapped potential is the name of the draft game, and it’s up to the Steelers coaches to turn these lumps of coal into diamonds.

8. The Steelers will be forced to rely on rookies earlier than normal

The Steelers almost always deploy all of their rookies as backups, and, if it’s at all possible keep them as backups until their second season. This year, with the amount of holes on the team they will have no choice but to start a number of rookies. That’s a lot of pressure to put on these kids. Hopefully they live up to the moment and don’t get crushed by it.

7. They still have a lot of depth concerns

Outside linebacker, corner, and safety are one injury away from being a catastrophic hole for the Pittsburgh Steelers. If they are wise they will move some money around to bring in some veteran backups to round out those positions. But as for right now the guys at those positions can't even afford to get a rest during the game.

6. This draft class will get better with time

This draft class has one of the highest ceilings when it comes to potential as a whole. No matter what these kids do in year one I'd be willing to bet they achieve more in year two.

5. The Steelers understand their picks better than anyone

Sure, it’s easy to say the Steelers overdraft some players. But, the Pittsburgh Steelers know who they want and they don't mess around when it comes to drafting them. You can tell by just how quickly the Steelers submitted their draft cards when it was their turn to pick. There was no messing around by Kevin Colbert and company, and the Steelers got everyone they wanted.

4. They selected a lot of high character people

At the end of the day, the community of Pittsburgh added nine outstanding humans. From top to bottom these guys are well-spoken, hard working, and dedicated to those less fortunate. Beyond the actual game, the city of Pittsburgh became a better place because of these players.

3. They didn't make any splash moves

The Steelers never really made the big sexy trade up, nor did they make a real surprising pick, or splash acquisition. Which, if you have followed this team for a long time you knew wasn't going to happen. So business wise this was a draft that maintained the stats quo.

2. The Steelers are trying to rebuild on the fly

This can be a dangerous game. On one hand, if you draft well you will maintain contender status forever. On the other, if you never fully commit to a rebuild and misfire on draft picks you could set yourself in the hole for an extra couple seasons. Thankfully, this team has a strong foundation but has to continue to hit on players, especially when the time comes to find Ben Roethlisberger’s successor.

1. The Steelers are a better team than they were before the draft

No ifs, ands, or buts about it the Steelers are a better football team than what they were just two week ago. They added talent, what they make of that talent is the fun part, but on paper this team is in a better place now,

But what do you think? Which side of the argument do you side with (Love, Hate, Business as usual)? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

Steelers reportedly sign a safety to add to their secondary depth

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 1:09pm
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have reportedly signed Arthur Maulet to their offseason roster.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some holes on their roster, even after the 2021 NFL Draft, and one of those areas which could be deemed as a hole would be the secondary. Most would point to the cornerback position as the biggest need, considering the team will be without Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson this season, but the Steelers have reportedly gone out and added a safety to their depth chart.

This report from Goal Line Football states the Steelers have signed safety Arthur Maulet.

Bringing the heat to The 412! Congrats Arthur Maulet on signing with the @steelers People will soon see pic.twitter.com/D4tWR2Q05Z

— Goal Line Football (@GoalineFootball) May 7, 2021

Radio station 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh also had the rumor on their verified Twitter page Friday:

The Steelers have reportedly signed free agent cornerback Arthur Maulet. He started in 5 games for the Jets last year. https://t.co/oVCe8oiG0G

— 93.7 The Fan (@937theFan) May 7, 2021

If the reports are true, and the Steelers did add Maulet to their offseason roster, what could they expect from him? What will he bring to the Steelers’ secondary?

Maulet played his college football at Memphis, and was signed by the New Orleans Saints as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2017. He spent time with the Indianapolis Colts before another stint with the Saints. However, he spent the past two seasons on the New York Jets’ roster. Maulet played in 11 games last season, with the following stat line: 5 starts, 1 INT, 29 combined tackles, 5 pass defenses and 1 QB hit. In 2019 he put up the following numbers: 12 games, 6 starts, 1 INT, 2 pass defenses, 1 fumble recovery, 38 combined tackles and 5 tackles for loss.

The value Maulet provides to the Steelers is experience at the safety position. The Steelers did add Miles Killebrew to their roster in free agency this offseason, but without Jordan Dangerfield back on the roster, the team was in need of another warm body to provide depth and play special teams. This seems to be what Maulet has done well throughout hsi career in the NFL.

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

The Steelers’ bye week could be the most important item on their 2021 schedule

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 12:34pm
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

As much as fans will look to when the Steelers play certain teams, when they don’t play might be more important.

The 2021 NFL schedule is set to be released next Wednesday, May 12, at 8 PM. With the expanded schedule bringing 17 games throughout the regular season, teams will still only have just one bye week during the regular season.

Teams are almost getting an additional bye week to start the season in the form of Week 4 of the preseason as it has been cut down to only three games for most teams. For those who may not know, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys each have an additional preseason game when they match up on Thursday, August 5, in the Hall of Fame Game. The game which will be removed from the preseason is where the regularly scheduled Week 4 preseason game would be played on Thursday one week before the NFL kickoff game. Now teams will have the extra week to reevaluate their players and recoup from their final preseason game before stepping on the field for the 2021 regular season.

What will be interesting to see when the schedule is released on Wednesday is if the NFL keeps their typical bye week structure ever since they expand into 32 teams in 2002. From 1999 to 2001 when there was an odd number of teams, there was at least one team each week with a bye. Now, the NFL could schedule as many or as few bye weeks as they wish. In 2020, bye weeks were scheduled from Week 5 to Week 13.

Unfortunately, as Steelers fans came to find out, rescheduling games because of the global pandemic caused both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans to have their 2020 bye week in Week 4. Although the Steelers continued to simply respond to whatever hand was dealt them by the NFL, having to play so many games in a row to finish out the season was very likely one of several factors which led to the Steelers late-season collapse.

I have never been one to buy into the importance of when the team’s by week fell. What was more important was using the bye week properly. Unfortunately, the Steelers could not properly implement their bye week in 2020 as it was thrust upon them the Thursday before their scheduled game. Although they did not have to play a game that week, they didn’t get to utilize the bye week in the typical manner.

After seeing how having such an early bye, and not really having one at all, affected the Steelers in 2020, one has to think that having an early bye with an extra game during the regular season is not a desired placement. Hopefully the NFL will not be scheduling bye weeks as early as normal seeing as how teams will be playing regular season games the second Sunday of January. If the league starts bye weeks in Week 5 yet again, seeing teams play 13 straight regular-season games much like the Steelers had to in 2020 is not something that they should intentionally schedule.

Looking at how the 2020 season panned out, it was two teams who had late byes who managed to pull off a Super Bowl run. The Kansas City Chiefs had their bye week in Week 10 which was in the middle of November. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the latest possible bye week as they were off in Week 13.

Yes, Tampa Bay had a bye in Week 13.

Their bye week was in December.

After their bye, the Bucs only had four more regular-season games. After losing two straight before the bye week to the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay went on to win their final four games of the regular season and their four playoff games in route to a Super Bowl victory.

To put the advantage of Tampa bye week into perspective, the Steelers also won eight straight games coming out of their bye. But instead of this leading to a Super Bowl victory, it led to the Steelers losing in Week 13, which just so happened to be the exact same week Tampa had their bye.

When the 2021 NFL schedule is released on Wednesday, looking at when the Steelers have their bye may be more important than when they face certain opponents. While it’s not impossible for a team to overcome an early bye, especially if they know it going into the season, it is more advantageous to get a refresher late in the season and then carry straight into the playoffs. So as anxious as I will be to see when the Steelers play in prime time or when they face-off against their AFC North opponents, this season I will first be checking where there is no game scheduled, especially since there is a 17th regular-season game, and hopefully the week number is in the double digits.

Adrian Klemm outlines how the 2021 draft shows what he wants from the Steelers’ line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers added two offensive linemen to their roster, and Adrian Klemm sees this as a step in the right direction for the guys up front.

When a coach is promoted to running a unit, it can bring with a lot of pressure. Pressure to deliver in every sense of the word. For Adrian Klemm, the new Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach, this is his first shot at being the man in charge of the big guys up front. And the 2021 NFL Draft was his first opportunity to bring in talent which fits his system.

With those two picks, he chose Kendrick Green, center/guard from Illinois, in the 3rd round, and Dan Moore Jr., offensive tackle from Texas A&M, in the 4th round. It was a glimpse into what Klemm wants to see in his offensive line.

But do these two player embody the future of the offensive line? Here is what Klemm had to say about the players, and why they were drafted by the Steelers.

“Just really excited about KG [Kendrick Green]. That’s a guy we had our eye on.” Klemm said. “We love the way that he plays in terms of what we have been talking about and in terms of changing our demeanor. Just the type of attitude that we want to carry onto the field, he embodies all of that. He has great leadership qualities. He was an alpha in that program, and he is just a tremendous player. He can do it all. The pulls, physical in the run game, pass protect, all those different things. I’m just really ecstatic to coach him going forward.

When you see a coach talk about “demeanor” and how the player drafted was an “alpha” in the offensive line room in college, those are pretty demonstrative terms to use when talking about the change you want to see up front. In fact, it was Green’s nastiness which caught Klemm’s attention.

“I think people like to say they can teach it, but I think it is inherently in you. Like some people just naturally have that—as a coach you can be demanding of it, but in critical moments of a game when man measures man, whoever you truly are is going to come out. If you have that dog in you, that wolf in you, you are going to continue to do that in critical moments of the game. I love it when I find a guy that I don’t have to bring that out of. He’s just naturally like that, he carries himself that way, he plays with that nastiness at that position. This is just a guy that can do that. We have a number of guys in our group that can do that. Even if they can’t do it, we are going to demand all they have and more and try to get all that we can out of it. I’m really excited about it and in terms of what we’re talking about doing here embodies all of that.”

To continue with green as a prospect, it was clear Klemm did his homework on the young man. He didn’t just rely on Zoom calls, meetings with coaches or pro day workouts. Instead, he went above and beyond and spoke with people around the program, all trying to get a feel if he is the right fit for the black and gold.

“It’s not just the things that I’ve heard from the coaches, I’ve talked to his coach and people around his program, but also the place he trains now I know the guy he works out for. And just talking to other guys he has played with in the past and just see him interact with people at his pro day and how people follow him. He had a commanding presence. When he walked in a room, he didn’t need to say much, he just came in and changed the energy in the room.” Klemm added. “Just talking to him. Some people are a little bit timid. He wasn’t. He just really embraced the moment. He was energized by the moment. There was no nervousness or anything like that. It goes beyond just the play. It’s just the way a man carries himself when he walks in a room and he just has that. He walks and he commands respect. It’s pretty impressive, I like it.”

As for Moore, his position, and demeanor, is different than Green. Tackles have to be more of a technician when it comes to protecting the edge. But don’t let that fool you, Klemm sees many of the same characteristics he sees in Green, in Moore.

“Yeah, I mean guys can be a certain way off the field and can turn it up on the field. This is a guy that is more than capable of being nasty, and playing physically, finishing, and all of those types of things.” Klemm said about Moore. “You hear some of the things Mel Kiper say talking about physicality, I mean, that guy has finished and pounded people in the dirt. You know, sometimes schematically what people are asked to do at the collegiate level or the NFL level, sometimes you can’t do certain things because it’s not within that scheme, but there’s plays that we’ve seen him finish guys off and do the extra, and take guys to the sideline and all that. It’s not flashes. He plays consistently at a high level with a high motor. I’m really excited about that. It’s always exciting when you don’t have to beg a guy to do those things. He does that naturally.”

Some view Moore as a project, but Klemm doesn’t see Moore as that, and lauded his NFL-readiness level heading into the 2021 regular season.

“You’re just looking for guys that are athletic, can do things they are asked of, show some physicality that show a high level of competitive spirit, that can play with poise, and just want to compete. Those are things you are projecting. Maybe it’s only a guy that’s played 12 games, but anytime you have something like this with these guys with 30 plus game starters in big time conferences, that is a positive. It’s not something you’re necessarily looking for, but it is a definite positive that you take into account when you’re evaluating these guys.”

Whether Green or Moore pan out as long term starters for the Steelers has yet to be seen. However, there is no doubt Klemm made it crystal clear what he looks for when he is looking to add players to the offensive front. Experience is key, and nastiness is never a bad thing. I think we can all agree the Steelers could use more of the latter to improve their running game in 2021.

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

Podcast: Where the holes in the Steelers’ roster reside after the draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC’s Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis talk news of the day and everything surrounding the Steelers. All of this while mixing in fun and frivolity like only they do.

The Steelers adressed many a hole in their roster during the 2021 NFL draft. But some of those aforementioned openings remain. Just where are the said holes? This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-Gold and there you have the topic for the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview with Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis. Join the triumphant trio as they combine the down all things Steelers and with shenanigans galore.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News of the week
  • Roster holes after the draft
  • Trivia

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Getting to know the Steelers 2021 UDFAs: Jamar Watson

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The outside linebacker from Kentucky currently has ample opportunity to earn a spot in a somewhat spacious position room.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected nine players in the 2021 NFL draft, they continued to adding to the roster with eight undrafted free agents. With many draft profiles focusing on those players towards the top and middle of the NFL draft, it is time to get to take a look at these other members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who will have just as much opportunity to make the roster in 2021 as those who were selected in the draft, despite the more difficult path.

Remember, some draft profiles for these players are quite harsh as they are looking at them as a draftable prospect. Taking a flyer on an UDFA is a completely different story as many times the potential the player shows is what lands them on an NFL offseason roster.

First on the list is outside linebacker Jamar “Boogie” Watson.

Jamar Watson Outside linebacker
Red-shirt Senior
University of Kentucky
6’3” 244lbs

Boogie Watson played four seasons at the University of Kentucky from 2017 through 2020. Appearing in 38 games, Watson had 107 career tackles with 28.5 tackles for loss. Watson also added an interception, four passes defensed, a fumble recovery, six forced fumbles, and 18.5 sacks. In his final year with the Wildcats, Watson played in 10 games with 40 tackles, 10.0 of which were for loss, 5.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception.

Current Steelers at the position:

Outside Linebacker

  1. T.J. Watt
  2. Alex Highsmith
  3. Quincy Roche
  4. Cassius Marsh
  5. Jamir Jones
  6. Jamar Watson
  7. Calvin Bundage*

*Played both inside and outside linebacker in college, actual NFL position TBD

Draft Profiles:

Although Watson was not necessarily included in draft profiles at some places, here was a breakdown of Watson from thedraftnetwork.com before his 2020 season:

PROS (+): There’s a little something here to work with. “Boogie” Watson is pretty diverse with his alignments and has been called into action both as an edge rusher in pressure situations and flexed out overtop of slot receivers and playing on the hash. He looks to have the athletic prowess needed to fill something of the same role in the pros — perhaps as a Leon Jacobs caliber prospect from a few years back out of Wisconsin. Watson has good burst when he’s queued up off the edge in pressure situations and against Louisville claimed several wins off the edge with both hand usage (cross-chop/rip) or dipping the inside shoulder to turn the corner. He shows competency in hand shedding techniques and will play off contact against softer offensive tackles and is capable of bullying skill players in perimeter game.

CONS (—): His successes against Louisville were cut down when tested with Mekhi Becton as compared to the Cardinals’ right tackle and every other possible blocker. He struggled with physicality against Tennessee as well in 2019 — so he’s going to need some added pop in his hands to be more effective stunning NFL offensive tackles if he’s going to play on the edge with any level of permanence. I don’t think he’s overly long and didn’t showcase ideal edge rusher length — so while his versatility is a plus, I don’t think he necessarily has a true home at the pro level unless he further develops his keys and processing in a stacked position to play off the ball.

Here is more recent breakdown following the 2020 season from si.com:

The leading sack artist in the SEC who elected to return in 2020, “Boogie” Watson displayed phenomenal effort and transitional quickness to give blockers fits in one-on-one situations. Watson has notable speed and works relatively well in space, even doing some admirable work in pass coverage. He shows some active hands and fights to maintain leverage on the front side of runs. Even with underwhelming length, he has shown the ability to hold the point of attack on the edge. That length, however, can cause some issues rushing the passer when working against longer tackles. He is purely a speed rusher with not much ability to convert speed to power. Watson has an ordinary athletic profile that limits his ability to pursue effectively from the back side. He’s a hustler who should provide solid depth.

Finally, here is a breakdown of Watson from NFL.com:

Overview

3-4 stand-up linebacker with a tendency of adding to his production against lesser-talented competition. Watson is a one-speed rusher with decent get-off and a couple of inside counter moves to work with, but he lacks the desired acceleration and bend at the top of the rush and doesn’t have a power move. He has enough athleticism to make some plays behind the line, but his lack of aggression and play strength are concerns as a potential NFL edge defender.

Strengths

Decorated high school basketball player.

Adequate upfield take-off.

Keeps feet moving through contact as a rusher.

Flashes some suddenness on outside to inside rush step.

Spin counter helps him slip around inside edge.

Accelerates through lateral block to enter the gap.

Has experience in coverage.

Weaknesses

Overmatched when taking on quality tackles.

Fails to show second gear approaching top of the rush.

Tightness in hips prevents true dip-and-corner action.

Unable to get off the ride when he’s being redirected.

Not as physical as he needs to be as run defender.

Rarely takes on pulling guards with proactive aggression.

Very slow finding his way off the block.

Film:

To finish off the breakdown of Boogie Watson, no evaluation is complete without film:

Film Room: Breaking down Dan Moore Jr. Part 1, Pass protection

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Looking at what the Steelers should get from their 4th round offensive tackle.

The Steelers started Day 3 of the NFL draft in a similar way they ended Day 2, by picking an offensive lineman that wasn’t one of the hyped up names of the draft. Kendrick Green gave the Steelers an interior lineman, and Dan Moore Jr. gives them a tackle. Moore Jr. was drafted 7 spots higher than Kevin Dotson was in 2020, and similarly to how Kevin Dotson was only started when injury forced him into the lineup, I expect the same plan to be in place for Dan Moore Jr.

This is going to be a longer film room because of that, and because we are looking at his play beyond what he brings right now, looking for positive and negative traits. Guessing at what can be fixed or improved in his game.

Moore Jr. was a starter for three seasons at Texas A&M, starting 36 straight games after making one start in his freshman season, a 19-17 win over Florida. His quarterback for all of his starts was Kellen Mond, and the Aggies were a pretty balanced run/pass team over his three years as a starter.

Let’s look at the tape.

Facing speed rushes

Dan Moore Jr. (#65) is the left tackle, just below the tight end to the top of the screen.

Right off the bat you notice his length. Moore Jr. has 34.5 inch arms, one of the few tackles in the 2021 draft class with traditional length at the position. You can see how it helps him cover for getting beat with speed here. That long arm keeps the edge rusher from turning the corner and getting to the quarterback. You’d love to see better footwork that wouldn’t put him in that position, but there’s a reason big tackles with long and strong arms survive in the NFL with less than stellar mobility, and it shows up here. While this play isn’t the prettiest, that length will help Dan Moore Jr. survive, buying him time to improve.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the bottom of the screen.

On this play Moore Jr. is able to engage earlier on the rush, you can see his length work in his initial punch to keep the rusher farther out, and then at the end he again drives the rusher too deep to be a threat. He gets off-balance at the end, lunging at his man, but at that point in the play we’ll take it.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the top of the screen.

His footwork wasn’t the fastest in the first two clips, and here he tries to get back quicker, and it lets the rusher cut inside of him and put a hit on his quarterback. One of the biggest areas Dan Moore Jr. needs to improve on is his feet on these speed rushes. That was mentioned in most scouting reports on him, and you can see it in the film.

His length was enough to get by in college, in the NFL he’ll need to improve his movement skills. On the bright side, that is true of almost every tackle heading to the NFL.

Facing power rushes

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the top of the screen.

Ouch. That’s pretty bad. The defensive end wins the first contact, driving Moore Jr. up even higher in his stance and knocking him off-balance, then discards him violently. That’s a bad rep. That was the worst I saw though, most of the time he does better. You will hear the label inconsistent applied to Dan Moore Jr., and you can see it right there, his technique isn’t just raw, he also shows lapses where he lets himself get too high and off-balance before contact.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the bottom of the screen.

This is a good rep. absorbs the first hit, uses a wide anchor to stop the rusher’s momentum, gets his strong grip in place and drives the defender where he wants him to go. You can see his right hand get into the defenders ribs and once he has him, the rush is done. One of the things that stood out in Dan Moore’s time at the senior bowl is that grip. When he gets a good grip on someone, their rep is over.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the bottom of the screen.

Here you see the most common result on film when Moore Jr. faces a good bull rush. His footwork and stance at initial impact causes him to give up more room than you would like, but once he gets his base wide he anchors really well, and again you can see that grip lock down the rusher.

With a look at Moore Jr. against speed rushes and bull rushes, let’s look at what I think he struggles the most facing, a good speed-to-power move.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the top of the screen.

The rusher starts up the arc like a speed rush, then turns into the tackle, converting that speed into a powerful first strike, hence the name.

The speed up the arc exploits Moore Jr.’s feet, and you can see him get higher in his stance as he moves to intercept. Because of that additional height in his stance, the rusher drives him back two big hops, and Moore Jr. is slightly behind his quarterback. That isn’t a top notch pass rusher, in the NFL they’ll be coming faster, converting to power better, and his quarterback will be toast. If Bud Dupree drives a tackle behind their quarterback like that, it’s a bad situation for your offense. If you look closely you can see he gets his arms clamped down on the rusher in that second hop. Those long arms and strong grip are going to be a weapon in the NFL, but he can’t give up that much room and rely on his grip to end the play like he could against the defenders he faced most of the time in college.

Other pass rush situations

Here’s some other plays to round out his pass blocking evaluation.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the left side of the screen.

Ouch again. Moore Jr. completely misses the stunt, and there’s a linebacker running down his quarterback. That’s not good.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the bottom of the screen.

Later in the same game he does better, but that’s not a well run stunt and he’s slow to respond. He’s going to need to work on stunts a lot in practice.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the top of the screen.

That’s not a bad spin move, the defender gets into his chest and tries to spin inside, but Moore Jr. keeps his right hand outside of the spin and counters the move nicely. If you look to the bottom of the screen you can see a spin move that works, before help from the guard shuts it down. It’s hard to see, but at the end of the spin #17 has hold of the tackles inside (left) arm. Moore Jr. pulls his arm back and jabs the rusher to keep his position and keep his hand free.

Those long arms can be quick as well as strong.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the top of the screen.

Hen Moore Jr. gets hold of the rusher’s wrist. This is in slow motion, and both their arms are a blur when they meet. Moore Jr. comes out of it with control of the defender’s wrist and just raises his arm, wrecking the rusher’s leverage and ending his rep.

Dan Moore Jr. is the tackle to the bottom of the screen.

Love this clip because it shows just how long Dan Moore Jr.’s arms are. He gets them fully extended and gets ahold of the defender’s jersey and again, the rep is over.

Conclusion

Dan Moore Jr. has a big time NFL tackle trait, and that is his arms. He shows a fantastic grip, and he’s fast enough with his arms to counter rush moves and get that grip in place. His arm-length is right where you want an NFL tackle’s arms to be as well.

Dan Moore Jr. also has flaws in his footwork and controlling his height and balance, especially against speed rushes. That’s the challenge for the Steelers coaching staff. Moore will never have feet like a Chukwuma Okorafor, but if he can get his footwork into the “good enough” category for NFL left tackles, his arms will make him a starter, likely at left tackle.

While relying on his arm length and grip was enough against college opponents, in the NFL he’ll have to grow into a more complete player, just like everyone else.

Stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for part 2 of this film breakdown on Dan Moore Jr., where I will look at his run blocking, and for all of your Pittsburgh Steeler news and draft analysis.

Undrafted WR Isaiah McKoy needs his intensity to match his potential

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

Could UDFA WR Isaiah McKoy be the Steelers next diamond in the rough from their secret talent pipeline known as the MAC conference.

There are few things in life that you can count on like the knowledge that the Steelers will select a wide receiver in every draft class. Not only do they always pick one, but they are extraordinarily successful doing so. The assembly line of talent keeps moving as the Steelers excel in identifying undiscovered talent and uniting them with their future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Going into the 2021 NFL Draft I fully expected the yearly occurrence to continue, even though the Steelers currently have their deepest and most talented receiving core in years, going five deep. Plenty of pundits felt the same way as yours truly. The Steelers would adhere to their annual tradition and select another talented young pass catcher, especially with JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington becoming free agents after the 2021 season.

There was no shortage of speculation about what type of prospect the Steelers might consider targeting. The Steelers already have a well rounded group: Smith-Schuster is physical and clutch, Diontae Johnson is perpetually open, Claypool is freakishly talented, James Washington has a knack for the dramatic, and Ray Ray McCloud uses his quickness in a myriad of ways. Kevin Colbert and company even picked up a couple of undrafted free agents while perusing through the pro day circuit, signing diminutive speedster Matthew Sexton and versatile Tyler Simmons. That's quite the smorgasbord of talented receivers.

If the Steelers were going to draft a receiver, what type of skill set would they be looking for that they didn't already have in abundance. Most of us armchair General Managers had the same idea, and the mock drafts reflected that common thought process. The Steelers only perceived need was someone who could take the top off the defense, so plenty of deep threats with exceptional speed were mocked to the Steelers in the middle to late rounds. Those expectations never came to fruition, and the Steelers failed to draft a wide receiver for the first time in years. Too much talent already on the roster, coupled with too many other needs without enough picks to fill them all.

Not long after the draft had ended, news started to trickle in reporting undrafted free agents that had signed with the Steelers. One such signing immediately caught my eye; Kent State wide receiver Isaiah McKoy. He had been mocked to the Steelers in plenty of sixth or seventh round scenarios leading up to the draft, causing me to peruse through what turned out to be a glorified highlight reel. What I witnessed was truly impressive, even if he was playing in the Steelers secret little pipeline of undiscovered hidden talent; the MAC conference.

McKoy looked like a receiver with above average size and playing speed. His long strides allowed him to easily overwhelm and get behind overmatched defensive backs with regularity. He looked like the exact type of receiver that might have some small chance at making the Steelers practice squad, considering the insane amount of talent on hand at the position. Especially if he could offer special teams value. Then I read his pro day numbers.

McKoy measured in at 6'2" and 200 lbs., so his apparent size and length where inline with his tape. Sadly the rest of his measurables were not, explaining the reasoning for him going undrafted. All his speed and explosion scores were below average. His 4.68 forty and 29" vertical were particularly puzzling. How could the wide receiver blowing past defensive backs so easily on film be the same guy who posted testing numbers usually reserved for moderately athletic inside linebackers? I adhere to the narrative that many players simply play much faster than they test, but a 4.7 deep threat possessing the big play potential displayed by McKoy is unheard of. I went searching for answers, and I have a theory.

McKoy appears to struggle with his maturity and decision making, which may have affected his pre-draft preparation. I came to that conclusion based on some concerns which show up on his tape. He drew two separate penalties on two similar long touchdown receptions where he started taunting the cornerback after the play, once by aggressively pressing the ball into the corner's midsection right in front of the official. This type of action screams immaturity and selfishness in my opinion, putting your moment in the spotlight ahead of your teammates by losing control and penalizing your team. This also helps explain his decision to only play four games then opt out of the rest of his junior season.

Somehow all that enthusiasm and intensity is nowhere to be found in his blocking. He lacks consistent effort and hustle on running plays and plays where he is unlikely to be targeted. This leads to a lack of focus and concentration, leading to plenty of dropped passes. This is most evident in the fact he does a solid job on contested catches, but struggles with the routine targets. His lack of effort and physicality will greatly impact his special teams value, which is his best chance of making the practice squad.

In conclusion, Isaiah McKoy shows more NFL caliber potential at times than his testing measurables would suggest. If he shows the maturity to take full advantage of the opportunity being given to him by the Steelers, McKoy could prove to be a pleasant surprise and make his way on the practice squad. It's definitely a long shot, but at least it's a shot.

Steelers announce official dates of offseason minicamps

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 6:00am
handout photo

The dates for rookie minicamp and mandatory minicamp have been made official.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are gearing up for the 2021 regular season, and a part of that preparation is when players come together to work on their craft. This means different events like Organized Team Activities (OTAs), rookie minicamp and mandatory minicamp.

As of Thursday, those dates are now set for the black and gold. This per Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Official offseason dates for the Steelers

Rookie Minicamp: May 14-16
OTAs: May 25-27, June 1-3, June 7-10
Mandatory Minicamp: June 15-17

— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) May 6, 2021

The first event up is rookie minicamp. This provides the nine drafted rookies, eight undrafted rookies and some rookie invites to come into Pittsburgh, get acclimated and show the coaching staff what they can do when given a chance.

In a typical year, OTAs are basically an extension of mandatory minicamp. The only difference is OTAs are not mandatory. This fact has made news this year as several teams, including the Steelers, have told their owners they won’t be showing up at OTAs this year.

There are several phases of OTAs, and they are currently in Phase 1 which consists of nothing more than workouts with the training staff. Here is a description of each phase, per the NFL:

Phase One consists of the first two weeks of the program with activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only.

Phase Two consists of the next three weeks of the program. On-field workouts may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a “separates” basis. No live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills are permitted.

Phase Three consists of the next four weeks of the program. Teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or “OTAs”. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.

There is the lay of the land, and while the Steelers did say they wouldn’t be attending voluntary workouts, several players have been taking advantage of the work with the coaching staff while some stay away from the team facility.

Throughout every stretch of the offseason, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Podcast: Why the Steelers draft class is for now, not later

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman brings an AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The NFL has become even more of a league of ‘instant gratification’ for most teams and the Steelers are no exception when it comes to that proposition. The Steelers’ 2021 draft greatly reflects that with the drafting of offensive weapons that could be plug-and-play guys. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • The “instant gratification” factor of Steelers draft strategy
  • Hart to Heart
  • and MUCH MORE!

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.

10 Reasons to hate the Steelers 2021 draft class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 2:30pm
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

With the positives comes the negatives, and here are some reasons why this draft stunk.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have finished the grueling process of the NFL draft. With any draft class you will find its biggest supporters and hardest critics. While it’s easy to fall in love with what the Steelers did, it is healthy to keep in mind that this class could come with its own flaws. If you’re a positive person (like me) you can find reasons to love the class from the link below, but for today’s exercise we will look at some reasons to worry.

10. Round one running back

The running back position has trended in a downward position since the start of the 2010’s. No longer are these players durable enough to command a second contract, so you’re investing a lot in player that will likely only give you 4-5 good years. If there was any position in the NFL that you could start an undrafted free agent on Day 1, its at running back. Just look at James Robinson last year for example. Bottom line is Najee Harris will need to be special to make it worth it.

9. Offensive line neglect

The Steelers had opportunities to round out their weakest position group much earlier in the draft than what they did. Instead, they will be forced to either give B.J. Finney quality snaps or use someone who was a collegiate guard at a new position in year one. Hopefully Ben Roethlisberger isn't running for his life or Najee Harris getting swamped in the backfield.

8. Reaching on nearly every pick

Of the Steelers nine draft picks only two would be universally seen as good value picks. Instead, the Steelers added a number of guys rounds earlier than what the should have. They better outplay what every media scout projected them to be, or Kevin Colbert and company will have to answer some tough questions a couple years from now.

7. No quarterback transition plan

Ben Roethlisberger is nearing the end, we know this. However, it looks like the Steelers might have to throw a rookie onto the field without any mentoring time from the Steelers current future hall of fame quarterback. A perfect world would see Big Ben handing the keys to a young guy much like Tommy Maddox did with him. As for now, there is no one who can pick Roethlisberger’s brain, hopefully Ben stays an extra year to teach an apprentice in 2022.

6. Traded a lot for a little

What was the Isaiahh Loudermilk deal all about?? The Steelers gave up a premium draft pick in the 2022 NFL Draft for someone who was viewed as an undrafted free agent. Not to mention next year‘s fourth round pick should come in a year were scouting gets back to normal, and make it easier to find quality prospects.

5. The rest of the AFC North had great drafts

The Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Bengals landed some big fish in the 2021 draft. All three teams took large strides into a positive direction and will field better teams this upcoming season because of it. Watching your divisional rivals have such success could make even the most casual fan have their stomach’s turn. Hopefully those teams didn’t distance themselves from the Steelers, or in the Bengals case close the gap.

4. Defense still has no depth

The Steelers are one defensive injury away from complete chaos in 2021. Outside of defensive line the Steelers have no depth anywhere else. Because of such glaring needs on the offensive side of the football the Steelers were unable to invest high draft capital on the defensive side of the football. The Steelers better invest in some free agents in the coming days to round out this roster otherwise they will be flirting with complete disaster.

3. Why would they make luxury picks

Did the Pittsburgh Steelers really need to invest their second round pick into a tight end, or use a draft pick for a punter at all? Both selections felt like picks a better team could afford to make. Even with the glaring holes on the offensive line and in the secondary, the Steelers chose to make these moves. Thankfully for the Steelers sake these two guys appear to be players who will make a large impact in year one.

2. Neglecting the secondary

The Steelers’ secondary took some heavy losses this off-season. After losing both Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson the Steelers definitely got worse at corner. Instead of investing other assets into the position,, they are giving Cam Sutton a well-deserved shot at the starting job but are not giving themselves a solid back up plan in case he fails. The Steelers next best option is undrafted free agent James Pierre who looks to be getting some big time playing time in the slot this season. Hopefully they gambled correctly.

1. The Steelers are the same team they were last year

Can we honestly say the Steelers roster is that much better than the one they rolled out to start 2020? Almost everybody they drafted is replacing an established veteran and cannot be assumed to be better than them as rookies. If the Steelers cannot get some substantial playing time out of this draft class they could struggle mightily in 2021.

What do you think? What scares you most of this year‘s draft class? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.

The Steelers’ fan base is shockingly optimistic about the 2021 draft class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 12:30pm
Knoxville News Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation polled Steelers fans and wanted to know their thoughts on the 2021 draft class, and they were shockingly kind.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ fan base is not just global, they are a rabid bunch. They are the ones who are always proclaiming the number of Super Bowl championships their favorite team has accumulated over the years, and the Super Bowl drought the team finds themselves in is one which can put fans in a bit of a lull.

When you grow up watching Steelers teams hoist Lombardi trophies, and then experience the pain and agony of wasted years, it can make even the most optimistic fans feel jaded and sour.

Just check through the comments here at this beloved establishment and you’ll see someone being critical of the team, even if the article was about the Steelers players going to a local children’s hospital.

It isn’t pretty, but it is the reality of the Steelers fan base.

With that said, when SB Nation sent out a poll asking fans for their grade on the 2021 NFL Draft class, I was stunned at the results. When I opened the email, I was fully expecting a grade of a C, with plenty offering a D or F. Instead, I saw something different.

Check out the results:

Is the Steelers fan base becoming, dare I say, optimistic? I shudder at the thought, but it was good to see fans see not just the first round pick of Najee Harris as the only pick to be excited for, but several picks have the chance of being extremely promising for 2021 and beyond.

When I saw the results of the SB Nation Reacts, it made me wonder if the readers here at SB Nation also agreed with the aforementioned poll results. So, I will put it to you. Let us know what grade you give the Steelers 2021 NFL Draft class in the poll below. In case you forget all nine players, here they are below:

Round 1: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Round 2: Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Round 3: Kendrick Green, C/G, Illinois
Round 4: Dan Moore Jr, OT, Texas A&M
Round 4: Buddy Johnson, ILB, Texas A&M
Round 5: Isaiahh Loudermilk, DT, Wisconsin
Round 6: Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami
Round 7: Tre Norwood, CB/S, Oklahoma
Round 7: Pressley Harvin II, P, Georgia Tech

Okay, now is your time to give your grade to the aforementioned draft class. Vote in the poll below, and be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

The Steelers may have found this year's James Pierre in Shakur Brown

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 11:30am
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The undrafted defensive back could be a player who has a shot at making the 53-man roster in 2021.

The 2020 undrafted free agent signings for the Steelers seemed as if it would be yet another weak year of signings for the team. However, others here at BTSC told me to keep an eye on this guy named James Pierre, a player who had not impressed me during the pre-draft process. I had snubbed him from my top 300 rankings and assumed that he would be released before the season began.

Looking at it one year later, I could not have been more wrong. Pierre’s playing time increased as the season progressed and players got injured, and by season’s end, he had seemed to have passed Justin Layne, a player that I was very high on coming out of college, on the depth chart. With Mike Hilton signing with Cincinnati and the Steelers choosing to release Steven Nelson, Pierre seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for the number three cornerback job.

Just one year after the Steelers found a steal in James Pierre, they may have found another undrafted gem at the same position. I was shocked, and somewhat disappointed, when the Steelers passed on Shaun Wade in the fourth round, but the most surprising thing was that the Steelers chose not to address the position until the seventh round when they selected Tre Norwood, who may be better suited as a safety. However, this situation may open the door for Shakur Brown.

Brown is an experienced cornerback who is savvy in zone coverage. He lacks ideal size and speed, but his high IQ and fantastic ball skills often overcome his deficiencies as an athlete. There is no denying that he will struggle if he is put on an island against a speedy receiver, but his excellent read-and-react ability makes him a perfect fit in a zone-heavy scheme. In just seven games in 2020, Brown recorded five interceptions and four passes defended. The video below shows each of his five interceptions this past season.

At 0:12, he displayed his ability to track the ball downfield and make a play on the overthrown ball. It looks as if the receiver is going to run something similar to a fade route, but the ball is thrown too long and to the inside. Brown capitalizes and picks the ball off. At 0:36, Brown is in zone and sees the receiver running a slant toward the middle of the field. Unfortunately for Indiana, quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. gave Brown too much time to break on the ball and make a play. Brown saw where Penix wanted to go, and he displayed those excellent read-and-react skills and came away with the interception.

Below is a video of the Michigan State defense against the Michigan offense. There are times where his lack of size and speed are evident, but two of his four passes defended in the 2020 season came in this game. At 5:47, Brown (#29) is in position to intercept a pass, but his 5’10” frame combined with a poor jump kept him from picking the ball off. However, at 10:03, Michigan quarterback Joe Milton did not make a great decision with the ball. He was targeting Giles Jackson on the play, but the safety was ready and waiting for Jackson. Milton tried to throw a line-drive pass to get it to him before the safety closed on the ball, but it was low enough for Brown to make a play. It was a poor decision to throw it in that direction in the first place, but nonetheless, Shakur had a better jump on this one and was able to deflect the pass.

As a tackler, he did a good job of lowering his pads and making a couple crucial tackles. His only mistake was in the 4th quarter when he was unable to wrap up Michigan receiver Cornelius Johnson. Brown took a poor angle, and Johnson was able to pull away for an additional ten yards. Putting that aside, Brown’s overall performance was solid in Michigan State’s 27-24 victory against their archrival. You can check it out below.

The thing that stands out to me is that his athletic profile has some similarities to James Pierre. At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Pierre ran a 4.59 in the 40, had a 33.5 inch vertical, and recorded a 7.02 in the 3-cone drill. There was no combine for Brown to participate in, but at Michigan State’s pro day, he recorded a 4.61 40, a 35.5 inch vertical, and a 7.08 3-cone drill. Pierre is 6’0” while Brown is about 5’10”, but they are both around 185 pounds. At the end of the day, Pierre might be an inch or two taller, but Brown has a little more production. Pierre may be slightly faster than Brown, but there is little difference between the two in that aspect.

James Pierre has the versatility to play inside or outside while Brown will likely be limited to the slot, but they play similar styles and have similar traits. Only time will tell as to whether or not these two prospects can become productive players, but if the Steelers are going to stick with their zone-heavy scheme, both Shakur Brown and James Pierre will have a chance to carve out nice careers in the Steel City.

Podcast: How rolling with Najee will turn the Steelers’ tide

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC breaks down what the Steelers’ draft needs from specific universities before the NFL Draft

Before the 2021 NFL Draft, BTSC welcomed correspondents from NCAA programs who cover players with ties to the Steelers. Now that the Steelers have nine new players, it’s time to get perspective on each from Bama, PSU, Illinois, Texas Tech, Wisconsin, Miami (Fla,), Temple, Oklahoma and Georgia Tech on “The Curtain Call”. This week, join Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict as they welcome Charlie Potter, beat writer for Bama Online 24/7 and Roger Patrick Myers of Roll Bama Roll to talk about Najee Harris from a Crimson Tide perspective.

  • News and Notes
  • Special Guests: Charlie Potter, beat writer for Bama Online 24/7 and Roger Patrick Myers from Roll Bama Roll
  • and MUCH MORE!

Michael and Geoffrey walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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Predicting the Steelers’ 2021 53-man roster: Post NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the conclusion of the 2021 NFL draft, it’s time to make our way-too-early predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster.

The kickoff to the 2021 NFL preseason is just about three months away. While numerous things can happen between now and then, it’s time to give our way-too-early predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster to begin the 2021 season. With no players actually setting foot on the field, it’s difficult to project who the bottom of the roster players will be. Regardless, BTSC co-editors Dave Scofield and Jeff Hartman will give their input onto their thoughts of who will make the roster come September.

Just like in 2020, it is still a 53-man roster. While last year some believed the roster was actually increased to 55 players, it was the possible elevation of two practice squad players who were eligible to move up to the roster each week without displacing any other players which had caused some confusion. Not that we’ve had a year to get used to it, hopefully there is no need to explain why it is a 53-man roster.

As always, we welcome you to join the conversation in our comment section below this article. Let your voice be heard and join in the black-and-gold conversation!

Offense

Quarterback (3)

Dave: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Josh Dobbs

Analysis: People may be shocked that I left Haskins off the list, but I’m not moving him in until I see what he can do in black and gold.

Jeff: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins

Analysis: The Steelers might have taken a flier on Haskins, but he also could represent the future of the position. No one thinks Dobbs is the future of the position for the Steelers, in fact, it really comes down to Rudolph and Haskins for that role, who are currently on the roster. Therefore, I see Dobbs as nothing but an insurance policy for training camp/preseason play in case Haskins stinks up the joint.

Running Back (4)

Dave: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels

Analysis: For some reason I just feel like Samuels gets another shot with Canada and Ballage ends up being the odd man out.

Jeff: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels

Analysis: Does anyone thing Ballage will actually make the team? I don’t.

Fullback (1)

Dave: Derek Watt

Analysis: Move along… nothing to see here.

Jeff: Derek Watt

Analysis: What he said...

Wide Receiver (5)

Dave: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud

Analysis: They rode with these five last year, and they’re all back for 2021. Roll it again.

Jeff: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Dionate Johnson, James Washington, Ray-Ray McCloud

Analysis: Barring an injury, this is their crew in 2021.

Tight End (3)

Dave: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Kevin Rader

Analysis: For some reason I really like Rader special teams contributions. If they keep a third tight end, I think it’s him.

Jeff: Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry

Analysis: Gentry missed the vast majority of last season with a knee injury, but he was a drafted player. For that reason, and that reason alone, I give him the nod over Rader.

Offensive Line (9)

Dave: David DeCastro, Zach Banner, Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, B.J. Finney, Kendrick Green, Joe Haeg, Dan Moore Jr, Rashaad Coward

Analysis: The only real questions come at the bottom of the list. I like the potential of Coward at guard more than Hassenauer and I don’t know that the Steelers need three centers.

Jeff: David DeCastro, Zach Banner, Chuks Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, B.J. Finney, Kendrick Green, Joe Haeg, Dan Moore, J.C. Hassenauer

Analysis: The drafting of Green gives the Steelers some depth on the interior of the offensive line, and I just don’t see Rashaad Coward sticking around.

Total Offense: 25 Defense

Defensive Line (6)

Dave: Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiahh Loudermilk

Analysis: As much as I’d like to leave Loudermilk out, the Steelers aren’t going to trade up for him just to cut him. Davis showed a lot last year, so I think it’s Buggs and Mondeaux that get pushed out. They could keep one more and cut a position somewhere else.

Jeff: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiahh Loudermilk

Analysis: I agree with Dave here, but I think they find a way to keep Buggs, I just haven’t figured out where I would create that roster spot this early in the game.

Outside Linebacker (4)

Dave: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Quincy Roche, Cassius Marsh

Analysis: I was really tempted to write TBD in the fourth spot, but I guess Marsh can stick around with the special teams contributions. If someone else comes along who is capable of taking the field, they move into that spot.

Jeff: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Quincy Roche, Cassius Marsh

Analysis: The only thing I would add here is an asterisk for a player to be added, because I think they will add a pass rusher before the start of training camp.

Inside Linebacker (5)

Dave: Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson, Ulysees Gilbert III

Analysis: I really feel it comes down to UG3 and Marcus Allen for the final linebacker spot as they will keep an extra one since they seem to be thin on the outside.

Jeff: Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, Vince Williams, Buddy Johnson, Ulysees Gilbert III

Analysis: The roster spot I spoke of along the defensive line could come from cutting ties with UG3. The kid just can’t stay healthy, but if he can he brings an athleticism to the inside linebacker position which could be useful.

Cornerback (5)

Dave: Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne, Shakur Brown

Analysis: Why not keep another UDFA to round out the group?

Jeff: Joe Haden, Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne, Shakur Brown

Analysis: Here is another position I could see an asterisk there to denote a player added to the roster. As much as I like Brown as a prospect, I could see him on the practice squad as the Steelers bring in a veteran to help the secondary.

Safety (5)

Dave: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Antoine Brooks Jr., Lamont Wade

Analysis: I put Killebrew here where I believe he belongs, and I went with Lamont Wade over Tre Norwood simply because I can’t see all nine draft picks making the roster.

Jeff: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Antoine Brooks, Tre Norwood

Analysis: The Steelers value their draft picks, almost to a fault. Norwood is a versatile player, who can also play cornerback, and this will equate to a spot on the roster. Mike Tomlin loves players who are versatile.

Total Defense: 25 Special Teams

Specialists (3)

Dave: Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Kameron Canaday

Analysis: Jeff gets his wish! You’re not going to draft a punter to not give him a job unless he royally screws it up.

Jeff: Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Kameron Canaday

Analysis: As much as I want to get excited about Jordan Berry not being on this list, I also realize the Steelers started the 2020 season without Berry, and he found his way back onto the roster. I won’t be happy until Pressley Harvin boots Berry out of a job permanently.

Total Team: 53

Film Room: Is Buddy Johnson a future starter at Buck linebacker for the Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 8:30am
Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Buddy Johnson in the 4th Round of the NFL Draft, but is he the future of the buck linebacker?

The Steelers selected Texas A&M linebacker Buddy Johnson with their second pick in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft last week.

The 6’1” 230 pound Johnson led the Aggies with 85 tackles in 2020. He also recorded four sacks and an interception and was named a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s best linebacker.

Johnson is an aggressive, downhill backer with a nose for the football. He will play the Buck (strong side) position in Pittsburgh, where he will initially be slotted behind Vince Williams and Robert Spillane on the depth chart. Johnson is a good tackler and, when he uses his hands, plays off of blocks well. His aggression can get him in trouble by putting him out of position, however, and he can get swallowed up at times by bigger offensive linemen.

While Johnson is not exactly a coverage specialist, he moves well enough laterally to stay with crossers and defend backs out of the backfield. He’s an upgrade over Williams and Spillane in this department.

For this film room, I’ve chosen Johnson’s final collegiate game, the 2021 Orange Bowl in which A&M defeated North Carolina 41-27. Johnson turned in a solid performance, making 10 tackles, recording a sack and doing a nice job in coverage. He displayed his trademark aggressiveness as well as some of the traits that could create problems for him in the NFL.

Let’s take a look.

On North Carolina’s opening drive, the Tar Heels were in a passing situation on 2nd and 12. They ran Mesh, a staple of just about every offense in America, which features two receivers crossing the middle of the field in close proximity to one another. The challenge in covering the crossers for the underneath defenders is, in zone, to communicate and trade off the routes (rather than chasing them); and, in man, to navigate the mesh without getting picked or rubbed by one of the bodies cluttering the area.

Johnson (#1, left inside backer) does this expertly. He appears to be playing a combo coverage with the alley defender on the running back and slot receiver. Johnson has whichever of the two goes in while the alley takes whomever goes out. Here, the slot comes inside, running the shallowest of the two crossing routes. Johnson locates him, pivots to run with him, avoids the referee and the high-cross from Carolina’s H-back and tracks the slot’s hip. He shows good awareness and lateral movement in helping force an incompletion:

Johnson is a capable pass defender, but his strong suit is defending the run. Later in the first quarter, however, we see a situation in which he can struggle in that area — disengaging from bigger offensive linemen.

Below, Johnson (right inside linebacker) attempts to fill a hole to his left to defend a one-back power run. Carolina’s right tackle, Jordan Tucker (#74), is a massive individual at 6’7-335. Tucker’s size makes him difficult for smaller players like Johnson to navigate. Johnson does his best to stay square and he tries to use his hands to punch and separate. But Tucker is simply too big. Johnson can’t get over top of him or shed quickly enough to stop the running back from escaping:

The same is not true in this next clip. This is one of my favorite plays of the game by Johnson. Carolina is running GT counter right at Johnson (right inside linebacker). The right guard pulls and kicks out the edge defender while Tucker, the big tackle, wraps to the backer. Watch how quickly Johnson diagnoses the play and gets downhill to fill the hole. Then, look at the two-hand punch he delivers to Tucker’s chest to jolt Tucker upright and create separation. Johnson finishes by shedding the block and assisting on the tackle:

This play shows that when Johnson uses his hands properly, he is a powerful player capable of handling the bigger linemen he will routinely see in the NFL.

Johnson’s reaction in the previous clip displays his ability to diagnose plays quickly. The same is true here. Johnson (right inside backer) again sees the run action and fills fast. This time, however, he’s a bit out of control as he approaches the line of scrimmage and is not prepared to take on the block of the left guard. It’s as though Johnson is expecting to blow the gap cleanly and is surprised when the guard gets to him. He is unprepared to use his hands and doesn’t have any sort of base that will allow him to fight the block. Johnson will have to be more fundamentally sound as an NFL backer so he doesn’t run himself out of plays:

Speaking of running, watch Johnson here. Aligned at right inside backer, he scrapes over top of a gap-exchange stunt that occupies Carolina’s H-back and frees Johnson to run to the football. Run he does, tracking down the quarterback on a zone-read play and finishing with a nice form tackle:

Johnson shows his lateral speed again on this 3rd and 5 play. You can see him circled in the pre-snap photo below, walked up in the B-gap as though he’s coming on a blitz:

At the snap, however, he peels off and picks up the running back in coverage. Because of the ground Johnson has to cover, the quarterback probably suspected this would be an easy pitch and catch for a first down. But Johnson shows good closing speed to track down the back and stop him short of the marker:

Here’s Johnson in coverage again. Aligned at right inside backer, he’s responsible for the release of the running back. This is likely an option route where the back reads Johnson’s leverage and breaks away from it. With Johnson moving laterally to his right, the back must have believed he could have beaten Johnson across his face. But Johnson balances up quickly, redirects and tracks the hip of the back. It’s another nice job by Johnson in an area of his game that’s supposed to be a weakness:

In watching Johnson’s film, I’m more concerned about his positioning against the run than I am about his pass coverage. This isn’t consistent with the scouting reports on Johnson. They all characterize him as a thumper against the run, which no doubt he is. But in the three games I watched to prepare this article (North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida), Johnson was rarely out of position against the pass. He did, however, have a tendency to bury himself by being overly aggressive against the run. Being a thumper is one thing. But you can’t do any thumping if you’re not in proper position first.

Here we see it again. Johnson, at left inside backer, follows the pulling guard on another one-back power run. Rather than staying square and scraping patiently, he gets across the ball too fast and is washed out of the play by a blocker:

This is an issue of which Steelers’ linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky seems aware. Olsavsky was complimentary of Johnson following the draft, particularly when it came to his aggressiveness, when he said the following:

“One of the first things I want to see is when you attack the line of scrimmage,” linebackers coach Jerry Olsavasky said. “We call that going down hill, and Buddy does that really well. You can tell he’s been around football for a long time. He feels comfortable moving with the run and attacking blockers. Blockers are more proficient in the NFL, but that just takes technique. The fact he attacks is very good. You can’t teach that.”

Olsavsky sees what we all do — a player who goes hard to the football. The line that caught my attention, however, is the following:

Blockers are more proficient in the NFL, but that just takes technique.

Olsavsky seems excited about Johnson’s willingness to attack. He should be. Johnson is the epitome of a “downhill” backer. But Olsavsky suggests that, while the effort is there, Johnson’s technique needs work and that some of the things he got away with in college will not fly in the pros. A few of these clips confirm this. Johnson will have to marry his desire with better discipline and technique to be an effective NFL run-defender.

In the end, though, the Steelers seem happy to have acquired an athletic Buck linebacker who is fast and physical. Johnson’s 4.57 forty yard dash clocked fifth among all linebackers who entered the 2021 draft. It allows him to make plays like the one below that neither Williams nor Spillane are equipped to do consistently:

Outlook

Johnson represents an athletic upgrade from Williams and Spillane at the Buck position. The fact he needs some technique work to hone his craft means it’s unlikely he’ll unseat either as the starter in 2021. But he could see reps when the Steelers want more speed on the field, particularly in the role Mark Barron occupied in 2019 as the Dime backer in passing situations. And he will certainly see playing time on special teams, where his speed and tackling ability will be an asset.

It’s hard to say whether Johnson can become a fixture at the Buck. Fourth round picks are rarely shoe-ins to become starters, and Johnson will need to use his hands more consistently and play with better discipline. However, if he can take over, he would pair with Devin Bush to give the Steelers an incredibly fast duo who can play sideline-to-sideline as well as any tandem in the game. While he is far from a finished product, Johnson shows enough potential for Steelers’ fans to be optimistic about his ability to be an impact player in Pittsburgh.

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