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If you don’t want to hear what James Harrison thinks, don’t interview him

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/15/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

No matter what you may think about James Harrison, when he speaks he always has something interesting to say.

It’s been a while since I’ve had a sports fix of any kind. When you’ve been in a country where team sports have been totally shut down for going on two months, well, that makes it quite difficult.

But I did just listen to the recent Going Deep podcast on Barstool, where the hosts, Steven Cheah and former Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon (BTW, Willie is damn good as a podcast/radio-type person) interviewed former Steelers outside linebacker, James Harrison.

In terms of pandemic sports fixes, it was my The Last Dance (I don’t get ESPN).

Full disclosure: I just listened to it before sitting down and writing this. So I’d like to share my impressions as best I can without direct quotes (although, they’re quite easy to find on the Internet machine).

Below are my thoughts:

  • Harrison is clearly the Jack Lambert of the modern era. He’s going to tell you what he thinks and how he feels about each and every subject. Only difference, Harrison is obviously more willing to share his thoughts about his playing career, whereas it’s hard to say where Lambert even is these days.
  • The love Harrison had (and still has) for legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was quite apparent throughout this interview. In fact, the love the entire defense—the Steelers team, as a whole, really—had/has for LeBeau was/is remarkable.
  • As Harrison put it, there was never an issue with LeBeau’s famed 3-4 zone-blitz defense—if the defense got beat, it was on the players, not the scheme.
  • Harrison, an undrafted free agent in 2002, talked about the huge chip he developed in 2007. This was due to the new head coach, Mike Tomlin, releasing Joey Porter, which led to Harrison believing he would immediately step in and be the starter at right outside linebacker. Only problem, Tomlin’s first two draft picks were Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. Harrison had to battle with Timmons throughout the early days of training camp. Timmons suffered an injury during camp, missed several weeks and was moved to the inside after Harrison spent those weeks being the James Harrison we would soon come to know and love. In my opinion, it was perceived slights like this—much like with Hines Ward, who often talked about how hurt he was when the Steelers used first-round picks on receivers early in his career—that drove Harrison to get the most out of his abilities and perhaps become the stubborn and rebellious figure he was throughout his NFL career.
  • Deebo being Deebo, he wasn’t shy when sharing stories about the hard-partying the players did during his early years with the team—he repeatedly cited 2002-2006. He talked about how the players would go out just about every night and drink until practically the next morning. However, the commitment to team was still so strong among the players involved that showing up on time for weight training, meetings and practices was never an issue. What really popped for me was that these were Bill Cowher’s teams (in case you don’t know, Cowher is the guy in the meme saying he’s going to come back and straighten things out). Does this mean Cowher didn’t have control over his players? Not really. After all, they appeared in two AFC title games and won a Super Bowl during this time. What this tells me is professionals really can separate work and play.
  • However, Harrison talked about ultimately wising up and taking care of himself a little better. Perhaps, not coincidentally, this occurred right around the same time he elevated his play to the point of being voted Defensive Player of the Year in 2008—score one for the “Football 24/7” crowd.
  • I think my favorite part of the interview was Harrison’s recounting of his 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII. As most fans know, Harrison was supposed to blitz on the play. However, he realized at the last second that he would never get to Kurt Warner in time to even disrupt his throw. Therefore, he faked a blitz, which helped free up Woodley, who was rushing from his inside (the replay shows it was actually Timmons). As Harrison told it, as soon as he intercepted the pass, he thought it would be clear sailing to the end zone. Obviously, that was rather ambitious for a big, burly outside linebacker. Maybe Deshea Townsend thought so, too, which may have been why he was practically trying to rip the ball out of Harrison’s grasp. The funniest part was Harrison saying, “Get away from me and go block somebody!” I don’t know if Harrison actually said this during the run-back, but it would have been perfectly reasonable for a defensive back to ask for the ball in that situation (those guys are the lightest and fastest players on the defense); for him to refuse to do it and yet still manage to take it the distance, well, it doesn’t get any more James Harrison than that.
  • Harrison talked about how he became the poster child for the league’s war on head shots—a battle the NFL took up with great enthusiasm starting in 2010. The way Harrison put it, he didn’t have any intentions of cleaning up his act—even if he did get fined $225,000 that season. The most interesting aspect of that part of the interview was Harrison’s admission that opposing players would come to him and offer to pay his fines for helmet hits. In other words, they were more willing to endure a concussion than a knee injury, because they felt like that was a bigger threat to a long career. I’m not sure if that sentiment is still a popular one among today’s players, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised.
  • Harrison talked about going to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to contest his fines with general manager Kevin Colbert by his side. According to Harrison, Colbert was just as rebellious and contentious during this meeting as Harrison was. Harrison said he didn’t win this appeal, but that Tomlin handed him an envelope soon after—the implication being that this fine was covered by the coach or team. I thought that was an interesting revelation by Harrison, especially when you consider the lukewarm nature of his relationship with Tomlin.
  • But maybe the relationship between coach and player was much hotter when the player was one of the coach’s top stars. Years later, when Harrison was repeatedly brought back after briefly retiring, may have been when things truly started to cool between he and Tomlin. Harrison signed a one-year deal to play for the Steelers in 2017. But much like a decade earlier, Pittsburgh went outside linebacker in Round 1 and selected T.J. Watt with the 30th pick. As Harrison put it, he was promised a certain number of snaps that season—40-60 percent—but barely registered any thanks to the team going younger at his position. Watt and Bud Dupree were the starters and remained the starters the entire year. As is well known, Harrison did whatever he could to get cut in 2017—sleeping in meetings, faking injuries and going home if he didn’t dress for games—accusations he fully admitted to during the interview. When it comes to this part of Harrison’s career, I’ll never agree that he did the right thing by basically forcing his way off the team. Harrison was offered a contract to be a Steeler in 2017. And unless the amount of snaps he would get were written into the deal (newsflash: Nobody does that), he wasn’t justified in acting the way he did. Older players get pushed out by rookies all the time—promises or no promises. It’s the circle of life in the NFL. Harrison wouldn’t be the first veteran to think he had more left to give in the twilight of his career.
  • Harrison touched on the close nature of the Steelers locker room early in his career, and how that seemed to change in 2011 or 2012. Of course, that may have just been a generational perception of someone who was approaching his late-30s and trying to bond with 22-year olds. Harrison also mentioned how the guys would go out and party 25-30 at a time during his early days, and how that dwindled down to two or three by the end. Was that a sign of a lack of team closeness, or just life for a professional athlete in the social media age? After all, a player can’t even pretend to drink a shot on Twitter without people going nuts—imagine if half the Steelers football team was spotted at a club in 2020.

Finally, if you haven’t taken the time, give the interview a listen. It’s linked in the second paragraph. Say what you want about James Harrison, but the man is always entertaining and insightful.

Podcast: Predicting the Steelers 53-man roster, post 2020 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/15/2020 - 5:30am

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

The 2019 season is now over, and with the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the offseason, it is time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show Jeff Hartman, Dave Schofield and Bryan Anthony Davis break down all things Steelers leading into the offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Predicting the Steelers 53-man roster, post 2020 NFL Draft?
  • Steelers Trivia
  • NFL Draft Breakdown: Antoine Brooks, LB/S, Maryland
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, Bryan Anthony Davis and Dave Schofield walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

The After Party podcast will be published in audio platform after 3:00 p.m. ET, and the audio can be found below:

There was no party this evening...it will return next week!

Black and Gold Links: Steelers rookies are preparing to jump on the “moving train” of offseason workouts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/15/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 NFL Draft is officially over. After finishing last year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, have another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how how the Steelers’ 2020 rookies are preparing for life in the NFL without having the hands-on experience.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are like all other 31 NFL teams who are trying to get their feet wet without being able to physically go through the rigors of their new lives.

Rookies are getting ready for football

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

Steelers rookies embarked on Day 2 of the team’s virtual rookie minicamp on Saturday, and the most important aspect for all of them is getting an understanding of the playbook while they are working from home.

“Going through an experience like this I think it’s just a matter of time, how much you can soak in from the coaches,” said safety Antoine Brooks, the team’s sixth-round pick from Maryland. “It’s how much can your brain absorb, a lot of information from the coaches and can it stay there.”

His former Maryland teammate, and now current Steelers teammate, Anthony McFarland also knows that picking up the playbook is the most important aspect of what has become an odd offseason due to restrictions because of COVID-19. McFarland knows that they can’t fall behind just because they are learning on their iPads instead of in person, and he is doing his part to make sure he stays on top of everything.

“I don’t see it as behind. Ultimately everyone is in the same boat, you can’t do too much,” said McFarland, the running back taken in the fourth round. “Everybody is doing virtual. I don’t see it as being as behind. Being in the NFL they expect you to still come into camp, know the plays, know where you are lining up. At the end of the day you can’t fall behind. You really can’t fall behind. I don’t look at it like that. I feel like everybody is in the same boat across the league. You have to get in the playbook every day, not just in meetings, but after meetings.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Speaking of rookie camp, what does it look like in the virtual sense?

Rookie minicamp in a virtual world

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

The cold, raw, rainy weather in Pittsburgh, a day more reminiscent of November than May, would have made for a miserable day for the Steelers to hold their rookie minicamp.

But given the alternative, it might have been a welcome respite for the team’s rookies.

The Steelers held their first day of rookie minicamp on Friday, all of it in a virtual world. The on-field drills that have become the norm were completely replaced by virtual meetings, with the players together for their first time to get a look at the playbook.

“I want to get a good grasp on the playbook after this,” said second-round pick Chase Claypool. “Obviously you can’t get the whole playbook in a few days. Just a good grasp on the concepts, the terminology. That is what I learned today, those basic things, and we are going to progress as days go on.

“It’s definitely different. We have a couple of different websites that we use to get in and out of meetings that has information and stuff. They were able to supply me with an iPad that has some of the basic terminology and stuff, but not the entire playbook. It’s kind of hard to dissect it that way. That is what this rookie minicamp is for. It’s definitely a unique experience.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Odds set for ‘MNF’ booth. Antonio Brown is actually on the board.

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Football fans can actually bet on who will be the next color commentator in the “Monday Night Football” booth.

By some stroke of insanity, former Steeler Antonio Brown is on the board via Sportsbetting.ag.

With odds of 100/1.

I know. I thought they’d be greater when I read the headline, too.

Would you bet $100 on Antonio Brown becoming the next “Monday Night Football” announcer? I wouldn’t. But I might pay $10,000 to make it happen.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

The state of the Steelers OLBs with Tuzar Skipper

Kevin Colbert is still perfectly fine with the Steelers’ QBs

2 members of the Steelers made PFF’s Year 2 breakout list

What would a new deal for CB Mike Hilton look like?

Continuing the breakdown of Alex McFarland, Part 2

  • Social Media Madness

Passed Physical. Running and cutting with no pain finally. I promise u this gone be something to watch. ✌

— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) May 14, 2020

Juju spending some time at Ben’s house #Steelers #HereWeGo pic.twitter.com/pnyhnmGb8l

— AroundThe412 (@AroundThe412) May 14, 2020

.@AnttMacc_ is excited to be a Steeler!

Full : https://t.co/XC2zSy6kY2 pic.twitter.com/As8Z10XS3f

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 14, 2020

Don't blink @3williethadude9 | #tbt pic.twitter.com/37iMN4Sayd

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 14, 2020

Podcast: The state of the Steelers OLBs, exclusive interview with Tuzar Skipper

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 2:05pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In the latest episode of the BTSC podcast, “The Live Mike” we give you the latest injection of black-and-gold news.

The 2019 season is long gone, and with the Pittsburgh Steelers now in the offseason, it is time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Live Mike. On this show BTSC contributor Michael Beck breaks down all things Steelers leading into the offseason.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • The state of the Steelers OLBs
  • Interview with Tuzar Skipper
  • Interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Joe Rutter
  • Interview with the Steelers Fan of the Week
  • and MUCH MORE!

Mike Beck walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold. Be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the audio in the player below:

Kevin Colbert continues with his confidence in the Steelers’ quarterback situation

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

In an interview with Mark Madden on 105.9 the X, Colbert explained the Steelers’ curent philosophy at the QB position

On Wednesday afternoon, Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert joined radio host Mark Madden on 105.9 the X. Madden and Colbert discussed numerous issues with the Steelers, ranging from preparation to for this year‘s draft to the Steelers current situation at a variety of positions.

One particular position Madden inquired of Colbert was about the Steelers quarterback situation. Madden brought up how numerous media organizations are continuing to talk about the Steelers quarterback position and a possible addition whether it was through the draft or free agency. Madden asked Colbert directly if the Steelers ever intended to change anything at the position this offseason.

“No,” Colbert replied, choosing not to mince words. The Steelers GM then went on to explain their philosophy at the quarterback position and how it has evolved throughout Ben Roethlisberger‘s time in Pittsburgh.

“Look, throughout Ben’s career this whole situation has changed and I’ve spoken about it. When Ben was a young player, we chose to have more experienced players behind him. As he matured and moved along in his career, we always wanted to have a young, ascending player. We’ve done that with Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs. And now with…”

In one of the more comical moments of the interview, Colbert struggled to remember the name of the Steelers current back up quarterback— Mason Rudolph. With some help from Madden, Colbert made light of the situation.

“Don’t tell Mason I forgot about him,” Colbert laughed.

With the interview going out live across the airways and available through various platforms, I can safely include the quote without feeling I have breached the confidence of the Steelers front office.

Colbert continued to discuss the Steelers’ depth at quarterback both for the 2019 season and how it is shaping up to help the team in 2020.

“In Mason’s situation, we felt good about what he was able to do last year, as well as Devlin (Hodges). Those two guys were put in a tough situation. They made the best of what they could do. Again, we talk about Mason’s record was 5-3 and Devlin’s record was 3-3 as starters. Could we have won more? Could we have won less? Sure. There was all kind of different factors that went into that. But we were comfortable with it last year and we’re comfortable with it this year.”

Although Colbert seems to acknowledge the Steelers offense was quite anemic at times in 2019, he also appears to understand that replacing a Super Bowl-winning quarterback is not an easy task for a young player to step in and thrive. When employing a quarterback the level of Ben Roethlisberger, especially at this point in his career, it is difficult to not have a huge drop off to the next player. The gap in production on the depth chart is not necessarily a reflection of the other players as much as it is the excellence of Ben Roethlisberger.

Colbert went on to discuss Roethlisberger‘s return and the Steelers expectations for the 2020 season.

“And we’re even more comfortable in really believing that Ben will come out of this in a more healthy manner and maybe even as a better player. Sometimes you take a full year off, and sure they’ll be some rest, but with his years experience that won’t be too big of an issue once he gets up and running in a practice setting. He’ll have a year of rest on his legs and his body and we’re comfortable that his arm will recover and he’ll be who he was and maybe even more than.”

With the return of Roethlisberger, Colbert is hopeful the other young quarterbacks on the depth chart can continue to grow, including former first round pick Paxton Lynch.

“But in the meantime,” Colbert concluded, “We hope that Mason and Devlin continue to show some improvement as well as a guy like Paxton Lynch who has first-round talent. We didn’t really get to see him because we got him later last year.”

The Steelers have not wavered in their confidence in the quarterback room for 2020 throughout the NFL draft or free agency. As long as Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and playing, the back-up position can be used to help grow and develop a young quarterback. Should Rothlisberger be unable to play for an extended period at any point in the season, don’t be surprised if the Steelers look to free agency to help the position at that time.

The entire interview between Mark Madden and Kevin Colbert can be heard on iHeartRadio.

Mark Madden's interview with Kevin Colbert on 105.9 the X. #Steelers https://t.co/0wKLesUaMC

— Blitzburgh (@SteelBlitzburgh) May 14, 2020

The Steelers have 2 players on the PFF list of players to break out in Year 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 11:05am
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

PFF gives two Steelers sophomores high praise as they head into Year 2 of their NFL careers.

What exactly would be the definition of a break out season? As it pertains to the NFL, it would be when a player takes a huge step forward in production on the field. While some rookies burst onto the scene, several take some time to get acclimated to life in the pros. Pro Football Focus recently released their list of Year 2 players who could make a splash for their respective teams.

For fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you will be proud to know they have two players on the list! None other than inside linebacker Devin Bush and wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Check out what they had to say about the tandem, and why they made their list:

WR DIONTAE JOHNSON, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Diontae Johnson had 680 receiving yards and five touchdowns as a third-round rookie last year, so you could make the case that he’s already broken out. But when you consider what the quarterback situation was like in Pittsburgh with no Ben Roethlisberger, you will soon appreciate how much more there is to come. Johnson is an extremely slick route-runner and was regularly open only to see the ball miss him completely. He snagged 91% of the catchable targets thrown his way and broke 18 tackles after the catch, second among all rookies. Mason Rudolph (53.0) and Devlin “Duck” Hodges (45.8) each posted lowly PFF grades, so if Johnson gets a full season of quality passing play from a healthy Roethlisberger, we could see him evolve into one of the better receivers in the game.

LB DEVIN BUSH, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Again, depending on how you measure these things, you may believe Devin Bush has already hit the ground running in the NFL. He led all rookie linebackers with 84 solo tackles and 22 assists (by PFF’s more accurate, double-checked count), but his overall grade was just 62.9. This is in large part due to the onerous responsibilities the Steelers place on their linebackers, which can expose them to consistently tough situations. Bush acclimated well in his first year, and so well, in fact, that with a full year in the system, he could kick on and look like one of the best in the league in 2020. Bush surrendered five touchdowns in coverage, two more than any other rookie linebacker, and was also penalized twice as much as any other first-year linebacker. But the plays he did make suggest he could develop into something special, maybe as soon as Year 2.

Some people love PFF, and others can’t stand their metrics. Either way, I believe most would agree both Johnson and Bush have all the makings of stars in the league, and Year 2 might be the year the switch gets flipped on and they begin to perform at a high level.

What do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2020 regular season.

Let’s Make A Deal: A new contract for Mike Hilton

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 9:45am
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

If the Steelers and Hilton were to come to deal this offseason rather than play under the Restrictd Free Angent tender, what would it look like?

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 offseason has progressed appropriately since the beginning of the league year. With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, the Steelers were able to restructure contracts, offer tenders, use the franchise tag, sign free agents, make their draft selections, and get their undrafted rookie free agents under contract. With a focus on getting their draftees under contract in the coming weeks, the Steelers will also be looking to sign some players to either a new contract or a contract extension.

While some of these new deals may not come until the summer, it’s not out of the question for player representatives and the Steelers to be working on something now. With that said, which Steelers going into the last year of the current deal are likely to be given a new contract before the 2020 season begins?

Rather than focus on all the players, let’s tackle one at a time. With each player, it will first be determined if they should receive a new deal along with how much would be a fair contract to both parties. This exercise is meant to just be fun and speculative as we all get to play general manager and salary cap guru for a day. The biggest question with the remaining players is if a contract would be better before this season or next offseason.

If you wish to give a basic contract answer without diving too deep into numbers, simply skip over the italicized section. If you are the kind of person who would like to see how the contract would affect the salary cap, here it is...

Coming up with an exact contract can be tricky. Rather than get into roster and work out bonuses or different amounts per season, we’re going to estimate the salaries as simply as possible. For whatever deal the player gets, the first year will have all but $1 million put into a signing bonus which will get spread over the life of the contract. For example, if a player were to sign a three-year contract for $10 million per year, the first year would have a $1 million base salary and a $9 million signing bonus. Therefore, the bonus would be spread out to $3 million over each season where the player would count $4 million dollars for 2020 and $13 million for the other two years.

One other factor which needs to be considered is if the player brings any dead money from the previous contract. To account for this in a simple manner, throw it into the salary cap hit for the first year of the players deal. Using the above example, if a player had $4 million in dead money on their last contract, the salary cap hit for their first year would be $8 million.

After looking at a deal for: Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, and James Conner, now let’s see what kind of contract Steelers’ fans would like to work out with Mike Hilton now rather than play the 2020 season before making a decision.

Mike Hilton

Age: Turned 26 in March
Years: 4, including practice squad
Draft: Undrafted
Previous Contract: $645,000 as an exclusive rights free agent
2020 salary cap hit: $3.295 million (2nd round tender)
Dead Money: None

Here are the top contracts average per year (AYP) at the cornerback position according to overthecap.com:

Darius Slay: $16.683 million
Byron Jones: $16.5 million
Xavien Howard: $15.05 million
James Bradberry: $14.5 million
Patrick Peterson: $14.01 million

There is no reasonable belief Hilton would be worthy of a top-end contract. What gets tricky is there is no official designation of a “slot” or “nickle” cornerback in the NFL, so we’ll look at two different things to help put more perspective to where Hiltion lies among other NFL corners. First, Hilton ranked 44th among all qualifying NFL cornerbacks in 2019 according to Pro Football Focus (which is a debatable process for players in the secondary, so keep that in mind). Here are the players under contract beyond their rookie deals who ranked closely to Hilton:

34. Chris Harris Jr.: $8.5 million
39. Patrick Peterson: $14.01 million
41. Jimmy Smith: $3.5 million
46. Trae Waynes: $14 million
49. Mackensie Alexander: $4 million
52. Malcolm Butler: $12.25 million

The other issue to consider is Hilton does not play position which he’s considered an “every down player.” Playing only in defensive sub packages, perhaps another gauge would be looking at the number of snaps Hilton played (671) in 2019. Here are the players under contract beyond their rookie deals who played between 650 and 690 snaps at cornerback last season:

655- Jonathan Jones: $7 million
659- Michael Davis: $3.295 million (RFA tender)
676- T.J. Carrie: $1.0475 million
683- Pierre Desir: $3.75 million

Notes: While it seemed wise for the Steelers to give Hilton a second-round tender as a Restricted Free Agent, signing Hilton beyond 2020 may also come down to Cameron Sutton (who will be featured later). 2020 could turn into a year where both players show their worth to the Steelers in order for only one to get a contract beyond this season. This issue was recently covered on BTSC by Shannon White, which can be viewed HERE.

So now it’s deal time! Perhaps the first question should be a completely different game show: Deal or no deal? Should the Steelers look to sign Mike Hilton before the 2020 season? If so, what should the deal look like? Please leave your response with the number of years and the average salary per season in the comments below.

Next time on Let’s Make A Deal: Chris Wormley.

The Pittsburgh Steelers announce dates and times for their 2020 preseason schedule

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 9:26am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Although the opponents and weeks were previously known, game dates and times have now been set

One week ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to announce their entire 2020 regular-season schedule. At that time, the preseason games were also announced by week with the exact date and time still to be determined. The wait is now over as the Steelers announced today the information for their preseason games.

Our 2020 preseason schedule has been announced!

MORE: https://t.co/xi8cL64TlG pic.twitter.com/273hDGnMT0

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 14, 2020

Not included in the announcement is the Hall of Fame Game scheduled for Thursday, August 6, 2020 in Canton Ohio against the Dallas Cowboys. Both the NFL and Hall of Fame are still hoping to hold the game when scheduled, but being each team’s extra exhibition game could make the contest expendable if conditions have not progressed enough due to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, the Steelers Week 2 contest against the New Orleans Saints at Heinz Field had already been announced to be Sunday, August 23 at 8 PM as part of a national broadcast on FOX. The Steelers other three preseason contests will all be covered locally on KDKA-TV.

The Steelers first game scheduled at Heinz Field for 2020 will be Week 1 of the preseason on Friday, August 14 at 7:30 PM against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although unsure if he will even dress for the game, it will be the first game for new Buc’s quarterback Tom Brady.

For Week 3 of the preseason, the Steelers are scheduled to travel to New York to face the Jets on Friday, August 28 at 7:30 PM. The game will come 18 days before the Steelers are scheduled to travel back to New York to face the Giants to open this season on Monday Night Football.

For the 18th straight season, the Pittsburgh Steelers will finish up the preseason facing the Carolina Panthers, this time in Charlotte. Kickoff is set for 7:30 PM on Thursday, September 3, 2020.

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

Film Room, Part 2: Anthony McFarland is the Steelers new weapon X: 508 yards in 8 days.

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

A deeper look at the final three games of Anthony McFarland’s 2018 season.

In part 1 of this film room series on the Steelers 4th round pick Anthony McFarland Jr. we looked at the start of his college career, and saw on tape the tools and skill set he would showcase in back to back 200 yard rushing games.

It is important to note that Maryland’s incredible depth at RB was running thin by week 10 of 2018. Starter Ty Johnson would attempt to return against Indiana but only get 5 touches before being forced to end his season. His backup from 2017 was out, along with several other runners that had produced to this point. Maryland was down to McFarland and Tavon Fleet-Davis, one of their main receiving and rushing wing backs as reliable options at RB. That set the stage for an Anthony McFarland focused offense that would put up yards but ultimately fail to win a single game.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

This is how you take advantage of your offensive line clearing a big hole for you, you break some tackles and flip the field. McFarland hits the hole fast, and then gets low real quick to get through two defenders, here’s a zoomed in look at it.

His ability to get low quick and the balance coming out of his spin move are both impressive.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

The run game success has the defense focused on all the movement and pulls Matt Canada is throwing their way and they forget to cover Anthony McFarland on this route. A nice adjustment to an under thrown ball by McFarland for the 2-pt. conversion.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

This is the Matt Canada effect. Look at the alignment of the defense. Indiana is so worried about outside runs that the closest non-lineman to this inside run is 7 yards away at the snap. Credit McFarland for seeing the defender coming to fill the nice big lane to his left and taking the smarter route. While there is a DE to meet him, the momentum is all in McFarland’s favor and he drives for 6 yards after contact.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the wing back to the bottom of the screen.

And here we see why teams get so focused on outside runs. A well run wing back sweep takes two steps before the snap and, if the runner is fast enough, the edge doesn’t even need to be blocked. #9 for Indiana starts moving with McFarland, and ends up pushing him out of bounds after a 14 yard gain on 4th and inches. All McFarland needed to do was evade the edge defender on this play, and he does it with quick reflexes and great balance.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

The impressive part of this play is McFarland’s hips. He can sidestep and keep his shoulders squared up-field, and he is able to turn his hips quickly to get outside, and then turns back up-field quickly and accelerates.

Against Indiana Anthony McFarland ran for 210 yards on 29 carries. That yardage wasn’t from big chunk plays, McFarland had a lot of 7-15 yard runs in that game. The big runs would come the next week against the #9 team in the nation, Ohio State.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Less than a minute into the game, and McFarland puts the Terrapins up a TD. Big plays like this one always involve the defense messing up, like the safety that was up too far on Willie Parker’s 75 yard Super Bowl run. In this situation the outside defender is #3. He takes 2 steps with the wing back’s motion, and with a double team taking out the DE, it’s a clear path for McFarland to score.

And for those of us who prefer to judge speed on the football field, it takes 8 seconds for McFarland to run 80 yards once he hits the 20 yard line and accelerates. He’s plenty fast.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

The Buckeyes aren’t going to get beat outside like that again. . . and similar to Indiana they commit too heavily outside and McFarland takes it B gap, where again he has one tackle to avoid, and he does. Brendon White (#25 OSU) took over safety for this game because he was their most sound tackler, but it wasn’t enough on this play. McFarland is nearly tripped up, but is able to jump out of the tackle. The impressive thing is when he lands he is squared up and explodes forward. Notice the DE’s on this play, against Iowa and Michigan State the DEs were key to thwarting Matt Canada’s offense, Ohio State’s DEs were losing battles in this game, and McFarland ran all over them.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

On this play #86 gets penetration, doesn’t commit outside or inside, and is able to shed the block to stop McFarland for no gain to bring up 3rd and 2.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Matt Canada calls the same exact play on third down. This time #86 is blocked, and McFarland gets #25 to bite on an outside fake, and he’s in the secondary before you can blink. This run combines his two best skills I talked about in the first part of this series, he is running laterally, and uses that wicked jump cut to get past the line, but this time he lands squared forward and explodes with his straight line speed. It’s my favorite run of this game.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the wing back to the bottom of the screen.

Look at the defense focused on the RB, and it’s 2 blockers and 3 defenders to the play side. McFarland throws a little fake to get the safety to commit to the first gap, then turns on the speed to blow past Chase Young for 8 yards. Anthony McFarland sees the field and sets up his own success consistently. He doesn’t just follow blockers, he runs defenders into them.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the wing back to the top of the screen.

At this point in the game Anthony McFarland had more carries in 8 days than he’d had the 5 games before that combined. It was noticeable in a few of his runs, he didn’t have the same burst at the end of the game, but with the game on the line in overtime, he delivered again. The end of this run is the best part, he runs straight at the DB, and when he changes direction at the 6 yard line, it lets him carry the momentum, and he gets the ball to the goal line.

After a huge two week run, 508 yards and 2 TDs on 50 carries, doubling his yards and TDs for the season, Maryland would struggle mightily against Penn State,running for just over 2 yards a carry, with McFarland rushing 6 times for 12 yards.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Penn State’s DE’s were a big factor all game long, on this play the right side gets sealed off by Yetur Gross-Matos (#99 PSU) and McFarland is forced to evade defenders in the backfield, he still gets 6 yards on this play, but he was fighting just to get that much.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Shareef Miller (#48 PSU) is able to seal the edge while the LB’s take away the inside lanes, and Gross-Matos runs down McFarland from behind.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is the RB.

Yetur Gross-Matos dominated this game, again shutting down a run to the left. This is a phenomenal job of defending the edge. Check it out from a different angle.

Gross-Matos forces the run outside, and has the athleticism to get to McFarland and bring him down for a loss.

The Takeaway

I wanted to focus a little more on the scheme for this part of the series, because the Steelers brought in Matt Canada and Anthony McFarland, and those two combined to dismantle Ohio State and nearly pulled off the upset. The 340 yards Maryland ran for in that game is the second most Ohio State has given up in the last 20 years, the 7.8 yards per carry was also the second most allowed and 4 rushing TDs is tied for the most rushing TDs against Ohio State since 2000.

With Canada on the Steelers staff, we may see some of his influence in the offense going forward. Canada’s run schemes at Maryland were fantastic for attacking teams with pass rush oriented edges like Chase Young, and created big play opportunities against less disciplined defenses. In 2019 the Steelers saw some of the highest numbers disadvantages in the box in the entire NFL. Canada exploited those situations in college, we may see variations show up in the Steelers playbook.

The other takeaway from this film room is that while McFarland dominated when he finally was relied on as a workhorse RB, he also struggled under that kind of load. Late in the Ohio State game and in the Penn State game he didn’t have the same acceleration as he did when his legs were fresher.

In part three we will look at the 2019 season, look at how he was affected by injury, how his game evolved and I’ll give my thoughts as we approach his rookie season.

Steelers fans shouldn’t count out Devlin Hodges just yet

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh cult hero and quarterback still has a chance to find a spot on the Steelers’ 2020 roster

With the addition of Paxton Lynch to the Steelers’ roster, the No. 3 quarterback spot on the depth chart has become a subject of intrigue for many fans.

Lynch’s athletic ability and powerful arm led him to be a first round draft choice in 2016 by the Denver Broncos, and while his talent hasn’t necessarily diminished, he was never able to put it all together in the NFL, being released by the Broncos, and later the Seahawks, en route to Pittsburgh.

Despite being a consensus first round bust, Lynch’s talent and pedigree has kept him in the NFL as a tantalizing pipe dream of a prospect, with hopes that something will finally click for him and allow him to live up to his first round billing.

Fans have embraced Lynch’s potential as well, with many already penciling him in a spot on the Steelers’ final roster in 2020.

But are we forgetting about Devlin Hodges?

The duck-hunting Samford product had a vastly different experience entering the NFL, missing out on any draft fanfare and instead making his way into the Steelers’ training camp as a undrafted free agent in 2019.

Hodges beat out Brogan Roback for a spot on the 90-man roster and played well in the preseason. However, he was waived during roster cuts in August, only to find his way onto the Steelers’ practice squad, and then 53-man roster, following an injury to Ben Roethlisberger.

Hodges found himself starting after an Earl Thomas hit knocked Mason Rudolph unconscious versus the Baltimore Ravens in early October. The rookie quarterback impressed in limited playing time despite the loss, and started the next week at the Los Angeles Chargers in place of an injured Rudolph. Hodges led the team to a win, and resumed backup duties to Rudolph in the following weeks against the Dolphins, Colts, Rams, and Browns.

Mason Rudolph was benched against the Bengals in week 12, and Devlin Hodges made a reappearance - rallying Pittsburgh back to a victory and two straight wins in the following weeks.

“Duck” Hodges’ strange blend of underdog, redneck, quarterback, and the newfound savior of Steelers football made him an instant cult hero, and “Duck Mania” was at full strength leading up to a prime time home game against the Buffalo Bills in week 15.

Unfortunately, Hodges’ signature poise came crashing down against a stingy Bill’s defense in a low-scoring loss, and he didn’t recover, being benched for Mason Rudolph the following week versus the Jets.

The NFL wasn’t done with Hodges, however, as Rudolph injured his shoulder against New York, thrusting Hodges back into a starting role. Duck played slightly better, but failed to make an impact, leaving Pittsburgh winless in their final two games against New York and Baltimore.

Hodges’ abysmal end to the season left a sour taste in many fans’ mouths, but his brilliance earlier in the season shouldn’t be forgotten. Duck sparked some life into what had become a dull team under Mason Rudolph, and managed to lead the Steelers back into playoff contention. He had his share of struggles near the end, but many quarterbacks had a difficult time against the Bills and Ravens in 2020, and the Jet’s defense certainly wasn’t a joke, either.

2019 was Hodges’ first year in the NFL, and he was still learning to play on the NFL level like every other rookie signal-caller. However, due to Hodges’ below-average athleticism (for an NFL quarterback, that is), the fact that he is still developing seems to have been lost on many fans, but Duck hasn't reached his ceiling quite yet.

We may see a much-improved Devlin Hodges in 2020.

Paxton Lynch, on the other hand, entered the league four years ago as the 26th overall pick by Denver. Over a three year stint with the Broncos, Lynch slowly fell further and further down the depth chart, being overtaken by the likes of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, Case Keenum, Chad Kelly, and Kevin Hogan.

Throughout his career in Denver, Lynch enjoyed the occasional start, mainly due to the injuries of those ahead of him. He played in his last regular season game in 2017, but underwhelmed for the most part, leading to his release less than a year later.

The Seahawks swooped in and signed Lynch a few months later, and despite a solid preseason, he was cut in favor of Geno Smith during final roster cuts.

Lynch found his way to Pittsburgh’s practice squad in 2019 following the Roethlisberger injury in September, and then was promoted to the active roster after Rudolph’s injury.

What’s interesting to note is that Lynch, who had been with the team for nearly 15 weeks, might of had a chance to overtake Hodges on the depth chart during December, but never did. Hodges’ poor showing against the Jets, paired with Rudolph’s injury, could have led the Steelers to start Lynch versus the Ravens in their week 17 game, but they stuck with Hodges.

There’s the possibility that the Steelers were trying to save their offense from yet another quarterback change, or maybe Lynch wasn't fully acclimated to the system yet, both of which are valid reasons - however, after nearly an entire season, were the Steelers still higher on Hodges than they were on Lynch entering a pivotal game at the end of the year?

We may never know, but it’s clear that the Steelers had enough confidence in Hodges to lead them into one final game that season.

It’s ironic that Lynch and Hodges, who are the polar opposites of one another, are both in the same spot job-wise at this point in their careers. Lynch is a tall, athletic first round pick who has never been able to assimilate into the next level, while Hodges, the undersized UDFA with questionable arm strength, has managed to defy the odds thanks to his mental game, not necessarily his physical gifts.

Both of their career paths will converge this year as they battle for the #3 quarterback slot behind Mason Rudolph.

There’s no doubt that Lynch’s athleticism will be a tough opponent for Hodges, but Lynch has been beaten out by less exciting prospects before. Chad Kelly was 2017’s Mr. Irrelevant (the closest you can get to being a UDFA without actually being one), and managed to beat out Lynch in Denver, while the Bronco’s signing of Kevin Hogan, a fifth round pick who hasn't done much in the NFL, was what ultimately pushed Lynch off of the Bronco’s roster.

All of this isn’t to slight Paxton Lynch, but to show that he isn’t some unbeatable obstacle for Devlin Hodges in 2020. It won’t be surprising in the least if Lynch manages to claim a spot on the roster this year over Hodges, but it’s important to remember the fight is far from over.

All Devlin Hodges has done since entering the league is defy expectations: from simply making it into an NFL camp in 2019, to finding his way into the preseason, and then the 53-man roster, and finishing off the year by holding his own as a starter in the biggest football league in the world.

Devlin Hodges has proved us all wrong before.

And he might just do it one more time.

Podcast: Who is the most overrated member of the Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 5:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is over, and although there are no more games, the news is still ongoing. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC flagship podcast The Standard is the Standard. On this show Jeff Hartman and special co-host Lance Williams break down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Who is the most overrated member of the Steelers?
  • Diagnosing the issues with the Steelers using statistics
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman, editor of BTSC, and Lance Williams walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Black and Gold Links: 2020 rookies might be special teams contributors more than anything else

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/14/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 NFL Draft is officially over. After finishing last year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, have another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 rookie class might be seen more on special teams than anything else this season.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie class might not be very big contributors in 2020, outside of special teams.

Steelers top picks likely to be seen more on special teams than offense/defense as rookies

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It’s an annual rite of spring for the Pittsburgh Steelers: Coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert sit down for remarks to the media about their newest top draft pick. And while this year’s gushing over superlatives and complimentary scouting reports were not about a first-round pick but a player taken No. 49 overall in the second round, something about their remarks was a little bit different, too.

When speaking about the virtues that stood out the first time they watched Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool in person, it wasn’t Claypool’s proficiency or abilities at his given position that caught their eye.

“The work he did on the special teams,” Colbert said, “really stood out in the (Senior Bowl) practices.”

A few minutes later, Tomlin likewise relayed how much Claypool raised their eyebrows at the winter’s most prestigious college all-star game, played annually in Mobile, Ala.

“His physicality really captured (our) attention… regardless of what drill he was in down in Mobile,” Tomlin said. “Whether it was a special teams drill, or whether it was a wide receiver-DB blocking drill.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Mason Rudolph is now considered a Top 10 backup QB in the NFL. Yes, you read that right.

Rudolph pushing top 10 of the No. 2 QBs

By: Dale Lolley, DKPittsburghSports

As we’ve seen throughout this offseason, most fans only focus on the backup quarterback situation on their own team, failing to take a look around the league to compare other teams’ depth charts.

The bottom line is that there just aren’t many teams out there who can survive losing their starter for an extended period of time as the Steelers did in 2019 with Ben Roethlisberger.

Don’t think that’s the case? Well, we’ll take a look at the 32 backup situations around the league.

I’ve taken the liberty of breaking the backups around the league — as they figure to stand heading into the 2020 season and then ranking them in their groups.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Updating all the changes on the Steelers’ 2020 offseason roster.

Roster Recap: So many changes

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

It’s been a unique offseason for the Steelers and the entire NFL, as well as a unique time for the entire world.

During it, though, the Steelers organization has been keeping busy, with one of the main things building the 2020 roster over the last few months.

The changes have been fast and furious, and sometimes tough to keep up on. This roster recap will bring you a look at changes that have been made to the roster, from veteran free agent signings to the NFL Draft and everything in between.

The Steelers added some new faces to the team during the free agency period, signing three unrestricted free agents and also pulling off a trade for a division rival. The team acquired defensive Chris Wormley and a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft from the Baltimore Ravens in a trade and sent the Ravens their fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The team also signed tight end Eric Ebron, fullback Derek Watt and offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski.

A new class of rookies emerged via the NFL Draft and the signing of undrafted rookie free agents. The draft picks include second-round pick Chase Claypool, third-round selection Alex Highsmith, fourth-round picks Anthony McFarland and Kevin Dotson, sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks and seventh-round selection Carlos Davis.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

Tom Brady already more valuable than Ben Roethlisberger?!

How the Steelers will handle the nose tackle position in 2020

Why is everyone so focused on Big Ben’s weight, and not just winning?

Some young QBs could make the Steelers early 2020 schedule much easier

Mike Hilton vs. Cam Sutton...who wins?

A position the Steelers should target in free agency

  • Social Media Madness

Order #5539. Your is now ready for pickup.@_Dbush11 | @minkfitz_21 pic.twitter.com/qbcQcAfg9W

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 13, 2020

Making good things happen @Juiceup__3 pic.twitter.com/t1bHgnBK8g

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 13, 2020

My @joehaden23 pic.twitter.com/xcuT1RpSC6

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 12, 2020

Tom Brady is already worth more to the Buccaneers than Ben Roethlisberger ever was to the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 2:36pm
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

How much more is Tom Brady worth to his new team, the Buccaneers, than a returning Ben Roethlisberger is to his old team, the Steelers? THIS MUCH MORE.

You’ll have to excuse the click-bait headline and the dramatics right out of the gate.

But can you really blame me for thinking that Tom Brady, a man who has likely already seen his best days and will be 43 by the time he plays another meaningful down, is worth more to his new team, the Buccaneers, than Ben Roethlisberger, a quarterback who won’t be 39 until weeks after Super Bowl LV, has always been to his current team, the Steelers?

By simply signing Brady, along with acquiring Rob Gronkowski, the once totally beaten into submission tight end who retired after the 2018 season but was coaxed off the couch by TB12, Tampa Bay is already one of the favorites to win Super Bowl LV.

As for Pittsburgh, despite the presumed return of Roethlisberger, who missed most of 2019 after undergoing major elbow surgery, the best it can do is the middle of the pack. Who has better odds? How about the Colts, a team that just signed 38-year old Philip Rivers, a quarterback who never met a Super Bowl he wanted to attend while playing his prime years for the Chargers. I would have also accepted the New England Patriots, whose new A.D. Brady quarterback is named Jarrett Stidham, a newbie with a career stat-line—two completions in four attempts for 14 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception—that may actually embolden Mason Rudolph to troll him on Twitter.

What about those all-important to the ratings prime-time affairs? I’m talking about the five-star match-ups the Steelers are always a part of because they’re in them? The Steelers, a team that had five original night games scheduled before the 2019 season, and a flexed one added later in the year when Roethlisberger was already long-gone, only has four this season. That’s right, the team with the national following, the team with the returning franchise quarterback, the team that generated excellent prime-time ratings for NBC last December with Devlin Hodges as its quarterback, the team that should actually be a contender this year if Roethlisberger is healthy, the team that almost always gets the maximum number of five prime-time games, only gets four.

As for the Buccaneers, a team that only had the mandated Thursday Night Football prime-time match-up in 2019, they get five. That’s right, the networks think America is willing to tune in to see the Bucs five times in 2020, provided—and I’m only assuming this—there are enough close-up shots of Brady screaming at his teammates to “Let’s Go!!!!!”

You ask your typical national expert what he or she thinks of Brady, who is closer to 45 than he is to 40, going to a new team with a new system, they like his chances.

As for what they think of Roethlisberger, again, still in his late-30s, returning to his old team with the familiar offensive system and the fresh out of the box dominant defense? That’s worth 10 wins.....maybe. Not only that, but they were pleading with Pittsburgh to sign Jameis Winston or (and this could hurt) Andy Dalton just in case Big Ben gets another big boo-boo.

To sum it up, the 2020 Buccaneers with 43-year old Tom Brady under center: Super Bowl contenders. The 2020 Steelers with 38-year old Ben Roethlisberger returning to his old team with a clean bill of health: Meh.

So there you have it. Stay tuned for next offseason’s edition of this article, when I tell you how much more valuable the Jaguars are than the Steelers after Aaron Rodgers moves to Jacksonville.

Mike Tomlin gives some insight into the Steelers’ plan at nose tackle for the 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 12:35pm
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the departure of Javon Hargrave, the Steelers are searching for answers to solidify the center of the defensive line

The Pittsburgh Steelers are returning almost every starter from their 2019 defense. Leading the NFL in both takeaways and sacks, the Steelers defense made great strides last season and is looking to improve even more in 2020. The only major loss from the defense was nose tackle Javon Hargrave who left to join the Philadelphia Eagles.

One of the many questions facing the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason has been what the plan will be at nose tackle for 2020. The Steelers did make a trade with the Baltimore Ravens for defensive tackle Chris Wormley, but it is unclear if Wormley was meant to be a replacement at nose tackle or provide depth at the other positions on the defensive line. The Steelers also added a player in the 2020 NFL draft in Carlos Davis, but it wasn’t until the the seventh round. In fact, many have been speculating as to what the plan is for the Steelers at nose tackle for the 2020 season.

In a teleconference phone call over the weekend with Pittsburgh media, Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked specifically about the nose tackle position.

“There’s no question that we have some candidates,” Tomlin stated. “Obviously, that’s a position that was manned by Javon for a number of years. Last year, he was backed up by Dan McCullers— he’s still on the roster. We’ve added some young men. In this process, we have some veteran guys that are nose capable like Tyson Alualu. So we’re comfortable with the men that we have to work with.”

Before Tomlin was finished answering the question, there were already several things to unwrap. First, specifically saying Tyson Alualu is able to play the position if needed may give the biggest indication of the Steelers’ plans to begin preparation for the season. In 2019, four of the Steelers’ defensive linemen were ranked in the top 11 in the league according to Pro Football Focus. So even after the loss of Javon Hargrave, the Steelers still have three players— Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Tyson Alualu— who could man the three positions on the defensive line at the same time. Getting the best players on the field is key, so if Alualu is an option it would be wise to use him in this role as long as he continues to produce.

Coach Tomlin also discussed other players they currently have the roster who could fill this role. Although not mentioned by name, both Chris Wormley and second-year player Isaiah Buggs are players who would fit the description. Additionally, Tomlin did specifically mention Daniel McCullers as being the back-up nose tackle in 2019. But as Tomlin continued to answer the question, it seems a player such as McCullers would not necessarily fit the mold of what the Steelers are hoping to get out of the position.

“We’ll sort those guys out and allow those guys to establish themselves within the position,” Tomlin continued. “We’re not opposed to adding to that position if we come across a capable man between now and then. We’re comfortable with where we are. The big thing is, like what Javon displayed, it’s best when you have a nose that is versatile in today’s game. It’s just not a lot of opportunity for those guys to have impact if they’re nose only.”

Even though he is technically the “next man up,“ Coach Tomlin‘s explanation of the needed versatility of a nose tackle does not give much of a ringing endorsement for McCullers. With Javon Hargrave being a player who could play node yet also play defensive tackle, the Steelers have several players on the roster who seem to fit in this category. If this is the route they are taking, is this finally the year where Daniel McCullers is the odd man out?

Coach Tomlin went on to reiterate some of his earlier points about versatility at the nose tackle position.

“That’s what added value to Javon‘s portfolio and his performance and career with us. He was also a capable sub package rusher. You’ve got to be versatile. We have some candidates. Within those candidates are guys that are capable of doing other things because that’s just the nature of the position in today’s game.”

So while Coach Tomlin is still open to adding the right player to the Steelers roster to fill out the nose tackle position, his continued statement about versatility goes to show how the Steelers have transitioned in their thinking when it comes to the middle of the defensive line. With the nose tackle being utilized only around 30% of the time on defense, it is of much more benefit if the player who takes those snaps is also able to play at other places along the defensive line.

So should the Steelers initial plan and nose tackle be Tyson Alualu after his solid 2019 season? Should the Steelers go with the true nose tackle Daniel McCullers? Or will the Steelers use a combination of players depending on their opponent to exploit the best matchup possible on the inside? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

A Letter from the Editor: Why Ben Roethlisberger winning should be the talking point, not his weight

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 11:05am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

While Steelers fans are disgusted with Ben Roethlisberger’s weight, the question I ask is, “Why?”

When it comes to the human body, and the way it looks, I tend to look at things through a different lens than most. As a certified personal trainer for the past decade, plus some, I have learned that when it comes to athletes, performance matters...not looks.

I bring this up because Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been absolutely ripped to shreds by the black-and-gold fan base, and the national media, when it comes to his weight.

But let’s not pretend this is something new.

The only thing new about the latest body weight allegations is the beard Roethlisberger has been sporting since his season ended in Week 2 of the 2019 regular season.

Roethlisberger has always been a large human being, hence the nickname “Big Ben”. His 6’4” frame holds 240 pounds, and while he didn’t always weight 240, he has never been a quarterback people labeled as trim, ripped or even well-conditioned.

However, before going any further, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking every quarterback who laces up the cleats on Sundays is the picture of perfect conditioning. Did we forget about Tom Brady’s NFL Draft photo coming out of Michigan?

I have the body of draft day @TomBrady and I dont know how to feel about that pic.twitter.com/qzYO04DI6r

— Doughboy (@MillsAuston) May 12, 2020

Or how about this gem of a photo of Peyton Manning after he was accused of using Performance Enhancing Drugs.

I'm as shocked about this PED allegation as you are, but I think we can all admit Peyton Manning has the body for it pic.twitter.com/I4awiXbmQa

— Tyler Stafford (@tylercstafford) December 27, 2015

Every sport has their position specific players. Think of pitchers in baseball. CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon looked more like bar flies than world class pitchers, yet they were able to get the job done for a very long time.

Now back to the crux of this conversation.

Roethlisberger has never been the Brady Quinn type quarterback with six pack abs and ripped arms, but you know what he does have? Success. He always has had success, yet fans, and media, continue to bash him for his physique.

I am not going to lie, I have poked fun at Roethlisberger worrying more about golf in the offseason than getting his body prepared for the upcoming regular season, but the one thing I never could knock Roethlisberger on was him winning. And this is confusing with the narrative surrounding him entering the 2020 season.

The talk should be about his elbow, being able to make all the throws, and ultimately being able to lead the Steelers to victory on a weekly basis. History has shown us he can do this at 240 pounds, regardless of the optics.

So, with that said, I tend to focus more on Roethlisberger as a winner, and less about him as a cover model for Men’s Health magazine. Which by the way...he has already done that in 2006:

After all, him winnning games is all that matters. Even if he keeps the beard and the extra layer around his midsection.

Just win baby!

The battle between Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton may come down to an either-or situation

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 9:30am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Steelers CBs Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton will be fighting for the same things this season: playing time on the field, and for some hard fought job security off the field.

Sometimes all it takes is proper motivation applied at just the right moment. Bud Dupree's breakout performance last season is the latest example of the validity of that statement. Dupree went from being a solid starter to a impact defender seemingly overnight. He went from being a pass rusher who picked up a large majority of his sacks due to missed assignments or having the QB flushed into his area by some exceptional teammates, to an impact performer who joined those teammates as an elite contributor at his position. He finally played like the player we all knew he could be. So what changed and why?

There are obviously more than one answer to those questions. Familiarity with the system and a clearer understanding of his responsibilities within that system, the underrated impact of a more hands on approach from LB guru Keith Butler, and an significant uptick in the surrounding talent definitely all played a role. However, we should never underestimate the motivational impact of any player fighting for their next contract, roster spot, and financial future. It has a tendency to bring out the best in a individual.

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have a number of these situations playing themselves out on the field this upcoming season, which I believe bodes well for the immediate interest of the franchise, but for this discussion we will focus on the slot corner position and the two men presently manning the position; Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton.

They share a position, a locker room, a meeting room, and hopefully a special bond as teammates. They also share the stark reality that within this seasons expected intense competition for playing time they are actually competing for something more, something that may come down to an either-or situation. Their next contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers and maybe even a little job security in the process.

We presently live in the intriguing world of the hybrid defender in the NFL universe, and I am admittedly a huge fan. If we could take the individual skill sets of Hilton and Sutton and somehow morph them into a single player, we quite possibly could have the prototypical slot corner.

Slot corners are becoming an ever increasing valuable commodity in today's NFL. Back in my younger years the NFL was a power running game, the proverbial three yards and a cloud of dust mentality. The first defender off the bench to see the field in an obvious passing situation was basically your third best cornerback, not quite good enough at that point to unseat one of the starters. Now your slot corner is basically another starter, seeing starters minutes consistently, and have utilized their unique abilities to become a specialist on the field.

Usually due to size and speed constraints, they are often not an option to spell a starter on the outside, but the opposite end of the spectrum holds true also. Most outside corners don't have the specialized skill and mindset to thrive on the interior.

The Steelers presently have two viable options at slot, and both bring totally different abilities to the equation. The origin stories for both Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton are well documented and known by Steelers Nation, therefore this article will focus on what they have become at this point of their development.

Mike Hilton is pound for pound one of the most physical players in the league. His aggressive style and fundamentally sound tackling prowess belies his diminutive stature. He is able to accurately diagnosis the play happening in front of him and quickly close to make a play, all while maintaining the integrity of his assignments. He has the football IQ necessary to avoid the behemoths nearly twice his size looking to annihilate him, and the requisite durability to remain on the field. He is accomplished at the delayed blitz, when properly timed and disguised. That has been an issue in recent seasons honestly.

That is all the positives, which adds up to quite the resume. His struggles in pass coverage is the only real negative, but it's a big one. Although blessed with short area quickness, Hilton lacks the length and long speed to excel in many potential matchups. A lack of ball awareness also limits his effectiveness in coverage.

That brings us to the Cam Sutton portion of the show. Sutton has the draft pedigree of a third round selection, maybe a slight leg up in the competition. The Steelers have struggled to identify secondary talent this decade, and at least Sutton has kinda panned out. Sutton was drafted where he was based mostly on his coverage abilities and collegiate experience at both corner and safety. His football intelligence and versatility were admired by scouts.

Sutton's coverage abilities have been his calling card thus far in his NFL career. The most descriptive word for his coverage skills is smooth. His footwork, change of direction, and instincts are usually seamless. Although he lacks Hilton's physicality, he possesses superior size and ball awareness. He has carved out a niche in the Steelers sub packages, but is hungry for more.

The Steelers seemingly are eternally facing difficult personnel decisions every off season, and next year promises to be no different. Both Hilton and Sutton are established contributors, and desperately desire another contract and perceived job security that goes with it. The Steelers hierarchy appears to be more than happy sticking with the single year contracts, especially in light of the motivational factor it creates and the slew of high priced stars they are blessed to have on the roster. In the end, those individuals will always take precedent in any decision.

So who will ball out this season and earn that next contract? Will Hilton defy the odds and win again in the end, or will Sutton's draft pedigree and versatility be the difference? Is it even possible that the Steelers figure out a way to keep both?

Only time will tell, but I am sure all of Steelers Nation looks forward to the opportunity to find out. Please case your vote in the attached poll and share your opinion in the comments below.

Facing young QBs early could translate to a fast start for the Steelers in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers could benefit from facing two young quarterbacks to start the 2020 regular season.

Getting off to a fast start is important in the NFL. How important? Since 1990, teams that started the season 2-0 made the playoffs 63% of the time while teams that started 3-0 qualified at a 76% clip. Conversely, teams opening 0-2 made the post-season just 12% of the time while teams that started 0-3 were essentially eliminated.

The Steelers started 2-0 three times in the previous decade: 2010, 2016 and 2017. Each time they went on to win the AFC North and qualify for the playoffs. The 2010 and 2016 teams made it to the AFC championship game and the 2010 squad advanced to the Super Bowl. A fast start is significant, then, with both league and team history showing it to be a harbinger of success.

So, when the Steelers’ 2020 schedule came out last week, I immediately looked for their opening opponents. What I found caused me to channel my inner Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons.” A devious grin crept across my face while I drummed my fingers together and muttered, “Excellent.”

At the Giants and home versus Denver.

The Giants were 4-12 last year while the Broncos went 7-9. Their 11 combined wins represent the lowest victory total from the previous season of the Steelers first two opponents since they opened 2008 against the Texans (8-8) and Browns (4-12). Playing teams that were bad the previous year does not automatically translate to success, of course. Teams can improve significantly from one season to another and, as most fans understand, the Steelers have not been immune to playing poorly against weaker competition in the Mike Tomlin era. Still, the Giants and Broncos represent a fraction of the challenge that was last season’s New England-Seattle opening slate. The Steelers will need to play well to start 2-0 in 2020. Unlike last season, they will not have to be perfect.

Nor should we expect them to be. Ben Roethlisberger will probably need some time to shake off the rust of his lost 2019 campaign. The Steelers are incorporating several newcomers into the offense as well, including free agent signees Eric Ebron and Stephen Wisniewski and top draft pick Chase Claypool. Until the offense comes together, the Steelers should ride their highly-ranked defense. That unit finished in the top 5 in the league in most meaningful categories in 2019 and returns largely intact. Better yet, the quarterbacks the Steelers face in their first two contests, New York’s Daniel Jones and Denver’s Drew Lock, are a far cry from the Tom Brady-Russell Wilson duo the Steelers opened against last season. With the Giants and Broncos up first, the defense should put the Steelers in position for that coveted 2-0 start.

We as fans know plenty about Brady and Wilson. What about Jones and Lock, though? What do they do well? Where do they struggle? And how might Keith Butler and the defensive staff attack the two young signal-callers? Let’s take a look.

2019 Recap

Jones and Lock are each entering their second seasons and followed similar paths as rookies. Both supplanted veteran quarterbacks in mid-season to assume the starting job. Jones took over for Eli Manning in New York in week three while Lock succeeded Joe Flacco in Denver in week twelve.

Jones won his first two starts before dropping nine straight. He finished 4-10 as a starter. Lock was better, going 4-1 in his five starts, although his final QBR of 48.2 was 25th in the league and more than five points lower than that of Jones (53.6). Both players had flashes of greatness and periods where they played like overmatched rookies. Jones threw 24 touchdowns against 12 interceptions but achieved those favorable numbers via three huge games. Against Washington, Detroit and the Jets, Jones combined for 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. In his other 11 starts, his touchdown to interception ratio was 11:12. Jones played just two defenses that finished in the top 10 in DVOA against the pass (New England and Minnesota). In those two games he went 36-69 for 343 yards with two touchdowns, four interceptions and QBR’s of 29.9 and 16.6. The Giants were outscored in those contests 63-24.

Lock’s sample size is small at just five starts but he was up and down as well. He put up big numbers against two of the worst passing defenses in the league (Houston and Detroit), going 47-60 for 501 yards and four touchdowns. But he struggled against the Chiefs and Chargers (36-58, 342, 2/2) and was ho-hum (177 yards) against Oakland’s 31st ranked pass defense. Lock faced just one defense (KC) ranked in the top half of the league in passing DVOA and his 2020 opening-day opponent, Tennessee, finished 21st. The Steelers finished third. Lock has never faced a defense like Pittsburgh’s.

The Giants and Broncos both went to work this off-season to help their young quarterbacks and improve their poor passing games (Denver was 27th in the league in passing DVOA while New York was 26th). The Broncos added a ton of speed on offense by signing free agent running back Melvin Gordon and drafting receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler. The Giants beefed up their offensive line with the addition of draftees Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart and free agent Cameron Fleming. Both teams should get better on offense as the 2020 season progresses. But, with no OTAs due to the pandemic and little time this off-season for the new additions to work with Jones and Lock, the Pittsburgh defense will present a daunting challenge so early in the season.

What do Jones and Lock do well?

When we consider the strengths of each quarterback, we can start with the fact they are both mobile and can extend plays. Jones is the craftier of the two and resembles a young Eli Manning at times. Lock is more of a cocky gunslinger with elements of Brett Favre or even a young Roethlisberger to his game (these are stylistic comparisons only - neither Jones nor Lock are playing at a level anywhere near Manning, Favre or Roethlisberger at this point in their careers).

Anyone who can picture the famous David Tyree “helmet catch” from Super Bowl 42 can probably see Manning twisting and turning in the pocket like a whirling dervish before launching the throw Tyree improbably caught. Manning had a penchant for making unconventional throws like that — off of his back foot, feet not set, elbow out of the throwing slot, etc. Jones makes some of those same throws. He does a nice job moving in the pocket and putting balls on the money with pressure in his face. In the GIF below, from his first start last season against Tampa Bay, he did just that - sliding to his left to avoid the rush before making an off-balance, pinpoint throw to receiver Sterling Shepard:

Jones is also effective on the move and, in a limited sense, as a runner. The Giants incorporated some zone-read concepts into their playbook but Jones is by no means Lamar Jackson. Mostly, his effectiveness came on improvised scrambles when the pocket broke down. Take this run for the game-winning touchdown in that Tampa Bay game:

This was a gutsy decision by Jones. The Giants were trailing by six and had 4th and goal with just over a minute to play. Jones recognized Tampa’s man coverage and, with crossing and flat routes emptying the middle of the field, wasted no time taking off once he found a seam in the pocket to his left (in fairness, the Bucs made it easy on Jones by running a terrible scheme; the right defensive tackle twisted from the B-gap all the way across the face of the center with no corresponding twist coming from the left side. Meanwhile, the right edge rushed up the field. With the man coverage and no backer spying Jones, there was a chasm for him to run through). Still, it’s a good example of how Jones is willing (and able) to use his legs when the situation warrants.

Like Jones, Lock can make throws from a cluttered pocket. To do so, he relies less on pocket awareness and more on his considerable arm strength. Take this example from last season against the Texans. Lock ripped a throw off his back foot to the inside receiver wheeling up the sideline from the twins alignment at the top of the formation. The ball traveled forty-five yards on a line and dropped in just before the half-field safety arrived. It was a heck of a throw, one that few quarterbacks could have made. It was dangerous, too, given the high degree of difficulty. Lock has a gunslinger mentality, no doubt.

Lock is not a runner-by-design either but, like Jones, can threaten defenses with his legs once a play breaks down. Here he is improvising off of a flea-flicker. With no one open down the field, Lock takes off and runs. He’s no speed demon but is capable enough as a scrambler that defenses must be accountable at the second level when Denver throws the ball:

More so, his mobility makes him effective on roll-outs and bootlegs, something the Broncos did fairly often last season. With Jeudy and Hamler complementing last season’s top pick, tight end Noah Fant, I’d expect Denver to play to their strengths by mixing vertical concepts that capitalize on Lock’s arm talent and the speed of his young receivers with pocket movement that gets him away from interior pressure and lets him throw on the run.

Where do Jones and Lock struggle?

Neither quarterback was particularly good last season against the blitz. Jones hit on 61 of 113 throws (54%) for 651 yards and a pedestrian 5.2 yards per throw. He was also sacked 10 times at a rate of one per every 11 attempts. Lock was sacked just twice, or once every 21.5 attempts, indicating a tendency to get the ball out quicker. His yards per attempt was better too (8.4). His completion percentage was terrible, however, as he hit on just 20 of 43 throws (46.5%). Lock, true to his nature, often looked for big plays against the blitz while Jones was more cautious and made safer throws. Jones’s tendency to hold the football and take sacks may have been an indication of the Giants more conservative approach while the Broncos let Lock swing for the fences.

When New York traveled to New England last season, the Patriots played a heavy dose of cover-1 and threw a variety of looks up front at Jones, frustrating him into a 15-31 outing with three interceptions. Here they gave him an amoeba look with defenders milling around the line of scrimmage before the snap. Jones knew the blitz was coming, if not from where, and seemed to pre-determine his throw to receiver Cody Lattimore at the bottom of the screen:

As you can see, the throw was nearly intercepted by corner Stephon Gilmore. Throwing at Gilmore, one of the league’s best defenders, was a mistake. But failing to read the fact that Gilmore had inside leverage on Lattimore prior to the snap, thereby nullifying the slant, was worse. Gilmore jumped the route and had a pick-six if he held on to the football. Jones needed to check out of the slant or throw elsewhere in this situation. Often, against the blitz, he was not ready to make these checks.

Now here’s Lock in Denver’s season finale against Oakland. The Raiders gave Lock a similar look to what New England showed Jones in the previous GIF. Lock correctly diagnosed the blitz and motioned in his tight end for max protection. The Raiders brought heat and Lock uncorked a low percentage deep ball for an incompletion:

This is the big difference between Jones and Lock. Jones wants to make the sensible play by throwing the high percentage slant. Lock wants to hit the home run. The latter is what likely prompted the Broncos to draft Jeudy and Hamler, both of whom are deep-ball threats. The Steelers will have to account for these stylistic differences when considering blitz packages for each opponent.

There are other notable weaknesses as well. Jones was more accurate against zone coverage than against man. Likely this is because zone schemes provide voided areas where quarterbacks can throw receivers into space while man schemes do not. Against man coverage, quarterbacks have to be more precise with ball placement. Jones’ poor performance against New England featured a host of misses against tight coverage, including this interception. It is clear he is more comfortable throwing into the softer, cleaner feel of a zone.

Lock suffers from impatience. Rarely on film do you see him sitting in the pocket progressing through his reads. He prefers to grip it and rip it. He took just five sacks in his five starts as a result (Jones took 38 in 14 starts). But his quick release can cause him to be fooled by what he thinks he’s seeing from a defense.

Take this example from Denver’s game at Kansas City. Lock believes he has single coverage, as evidenced by the image below (all 11 KC defenders are visible in the photo):

However, as we see in the GIF, the Chiefs rotate late to a cover-2 look. Lock doesn’t see it and has already decided to throw the deep out to the inside receiver at the top of the formation. This is a good decision versus man but a terrible one against cover-2. It nearly results in an interception:

Unless Lock progresses in terms of reading coverages, he will likely struggle with the myriad looks the Steelers will present him.

How might the Steelers defend Jones and Lock?

In a word, aggressively. But it should be a different style of aggression for each quarterback.

The way to get to Jones is to pressure his receivers and to blitz him from every conceivable angle. The Steelers have four months to tweak and disguise their favorite blitzes from last season and to borrow from the ones that were most effective against Jones. They should show him some of what he’s seen and some of what he has not. They should play heavy doses of man coverage and dare Jones to throw over the top. With a Giants’ offensive line that could include two or even three new starters, it might be a return to Blitzburgh on opening night.

As for Lock, disguise will be the key. In next week’s article (teaser alert!), I will break down how the Steelers disguised their blitzes and coverages in 2019. Keith Butler, who was once criticized for being far too vanilla with his schemes, has become a master of disguise now that he has the parts (Devin Bush, Steven Nelson, Minkah Fitzpatrick) to get creative. The Steelers should show Lock every pre-snap look in their playbook and should mask and rotate coverages with abandon. When they blitz, they need to get into the faces of Jeudy and Hamler to disrupt their releases and protect against the deep ball. They need to make things as uncomfortable as possible, both physically and mentally, for the young Denver skill players.

A strong defensive effort against these two inexperienced quarterbacks could catapult the Steelers to their first 2-0 start since 2017. From there it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. But if history is any indicator, exciting things may follow.

The Steelers should dip their toe in the free agent market, just for not what you expect

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 6:30am
The Steelers defence is still in need for depth help. But with limited draft picks they’ll need to look to the free agent market for reinforcements. | Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Adding a veteran to compete with Jordan Berry should be a priority before the beginning of training camp.

Jordan Berry rebounded after a brutal 2018 season, but his rise back hit a snag as the season drug on. While he was still middle of the pack in most statistical categories, below average isn’t a good thing when stats are as cut and dry as kicking is concerned.

While I don't necessarily think Berry should get the boot, I think adding someone other than a UDFA would light a fire under the Aussie punter. At worse Berry gets beat out by a superior player and the team moves on with a better special teams unit.

Lets take a quick look at where Jordan Berry stacked up against the rest of the NFL in 2019:

Net average: 40.9 [Tied 24th]

Average Punt: 45.5 [18th]

Punts inside 20: 24 [Tied 19th]

Inside 20%: 32.4% [32nd]

Here are a couple names that could come off the street and compete with Berry.

Dustin Colquitt

The 38 year old long time Chiefs punter is coming off a Super Bowl in Kansas City but found himself out of a job when the team cut him in April. If he wants another kick at the cat he could come play for his father, Craig’s, Former team whom Colquitt won 2 super bowl rings with. While not the kicker he once was Colquitt could push Berry just enough that either player could find their game.

Matt Bosher

The long time Falcons Punter battled a groin injury that limited him to only 3 appearances in 2019. But has been a career 45.7 yard average punter and is a 6 years Colquitt’s junior. If healthy, Bosher could be a player that forces Berry out of town altogether.

Pat McAfee

Yes, you read that right. The Podcasting, pro-wrestling commentating, possible Monday night color-commentator would be and interesting name to throw into the mix. While McAfee hasn't punted since 2016 but is still just 33 years old. While it seems nearly impossible that the 2x Pro Bowl punter would leave his cushy desk job he does hail from Pittsburgh and retiring young could still leave him with an itch to give it one more go. If the Steelers did turn to McAfee, however, it would almost certainly mean the end of Jordan Berry’s tenure with the Steelers as McAfee isn't getting lured out of retirement just to get cut at the end of training camp.

What do you think? Should the Steelers bring in some competition for Jordan Berry outside of Corliss Waitman, UDFA out of South Alabama? Tell us why or why-not in the comments below!

Podcast: What will Anthony McFarland’s role be in the backfield in 2020?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest BTSC podcast, our Steelers ‘Stat Geek’ breaks down the numbers surrounding the black-and-gold.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 season is officially over, and the news is still ongoing. With a surge of Steelers news, it was time to get back on the airwaves and discuss the Black-and-gold.

Take a look at the rundown for the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Stat Geek. On this show deputy editor Dave Schofield and his brother Rich break down all things Steelers stats, and also answers questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Where Anthony McFarland fits into the Steelers’ backfield
  • Stats, stats and more stats
  • Close look at the Steelers’ goals for 2020
  • Steelers Q&A

Dave and Rich walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-gold.

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

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on 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.

The Stat Geek Q&A which will publish at 3:00 p.m. ET audio below:

Black and Gold Links: The new “virtual” offseason will be tough on new coaches as much as players

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/13/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 NFL Draft is officially over. After finishing last year 8-8, the Steelers, and their vast fan base, have another long offseason awaiting them. Just because the games are done doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the new “virtual” offseason will be equally as challenging for new coaches.

Let’s get to the news:

  • New players will have a challenge getting acclimate to life in the NFL without being in the facility, but new coaches will struggle too.

New assistants Ike Hilliard, Matt Canada face unique challenges prepping Steelers rookies

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The two new faces on the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff for this season work with the skill positions on offense.

It just so happens two of their first three draft picks play skill positions on offense.

In the midst of this peculiar offseason, relationship-building between coaches and players isn’t conventional. Trust needs to be built, personalities need to mesh and messages need to get across not face-to-face but over smartphones and laptops.

Thanks in part to a preexisting connection, the Steelers’ most important rookies on offense say they are off to a good start in establishing rapport with their coaches.

Matt Canada and Ike Hilliard were hired as quarterbacks coach and receivers coach in January and February, respectively. Though each worked at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for several weeks, like the rest of the league’s coaches, government and league edict have since limited them to working from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

On The Line: Returning from inactivity dangerous for athletes young, old

By: Ramon Foster, DKPittsburghSports

When Dejan Kovacevic asked me to be a part of DK Pittsburgh Sports a few months ago, while I was still playing for the Steelers, I honestly thought it was one of those empty proposals that people tend to give out to continue to carry a conversation.

So, when I logged onto my Twitter a couple weeks ago and got a direct message from Dejan, I left him on ‘Read’ for a couple days before I decided to reply back.

Why?

Getting into the sports media world can be tricky for a former player. You have to deal with the current issues along with the issues that could peel back some layers in the past.

In DK’s proposal to me, he stated I could give you guys my perspective on how I see things, and that there’d be no parameters on what topic I could write about. Well, I don’t know if he knows this, but this could be a rollercoaster ride for him and this site. Because I’m hoping to give you guys a look into the perspective of a Pittsburgh athlete through words, so that we all can enjoy the game, the mindset and show how similar we all really are.

With that out of the way, I turn my attention to the 2020 NFL offseason.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Chase Claypool is one of the few Pittsburgh Steelers whose jerseys are hot-ticket items.

Rookie Chase Claypool has only Steelers jersey among top 140 sellers on NFL site

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers remain one of the NFL’s most popular franchises. That, though, is not currently reflected in the league’s jersey sales.

Only one Steelers jersey was among the top 147 sellers listed on the NFL’s official apparel website Monday. That was of rookie receiver Chase Claypool, whose black (home) No. 11 was listed as the 39th-best seller. The next-highest selling Steelers’ jersey on nflshop.com was a black No. 55 of second-year linebacker Devin Bush. It ranked 148th.

The list includes myriad jersey styles: each team’s dark- and white- colored, many teams’ third jerseys, plus former players, throwbacks and women’s- and children’s-style jerseys.

For obvious reasons, rookies and players who changed teams dominate the top of the list. Recently drafted Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s new No. 1 has the top two spots (aqua No. 1, white No. 2), and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady has Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10. Brady signed with Tampa Bay in March after 20 seasons with the New England Patriots, and the Buccaneers also coincidentally revamped their jerseys this offseason.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

Chase Claypool is considered a “steal” of the 2020 NFL Draft

It is good to see sports starting to return...

A tremendous film review of Steelers rookie Anthony McFarland

Is J.J. Watt coming to the Steelers an inevitability?

What would a new contract for Matt Feiler look like?

  • Social Media Madness

Week 5, 1980#Steelers #Vikings
Bradshaw 16-28-236-1-1
Kramer 18-36-214-1-5@francoharrishof 22-102-1
Brown 15-46
White 3-72-1@Lynn88Swann 6-107
23-17#Steelers pic.twitter.com/PRdCrZgmwk

— Old Time Football (@Ol_TimeFootball) May 12, 2020

My @joehaden23 pic.twitter.com/xcuT1RpSC6

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 12, 2020

Rooney & Rooney#Pittsburgh #Steelers

(Colorized by OddPittsburgh via https://t.co/cS99ziQftE) pic.twitter.com/Meu8L7T4w4

— Odd Pittsburgh (@OddPittsburgh) May 11, 2020

Our games at @heinzfield! pic.twitter.com/XWlqRuSwal

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 11, 2020

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