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Black and Gold Links: Steelers trying to find a role for dynamic rookie Anthony McFarland

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 05/03/2020 - 5:00am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/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 Steelers will now be tasked with the challenge of finding a role for rookie RB Anthony McFarland.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Anthony McFarland is dynamic, but the Steelers have to find a way to use him.

Steelers seek niche for rookie RB Anthony McFarland as James Conner retains starting role

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

With the six players they added in the NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers provided depth and competition equally on offense and defense.

Three picks were used to address positions on each side of the ball, and the order of those selections indicated no immediate starters will be required from the group.

That is particularly true at running back, where James Conner will retain his starting job for the 2020 season, which is how general manager Kevin Colbert predicted it on numerous occasions heading into the draft.

While many fans and analysts thought the Steelers would take a running back with their second-round pick, it wasn’t until the third day of the draft and the fourth round that Maryland’s Anthony McFarland Jr. came off the board. A wide receiver and outside linebacker were the Steelers’ first two priorities.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The Steelers have all 10 of their Undrafted Rookie Free Agents under contract.

Steelers round out undrafted free agent class by signing Baylor DE James Lockhart

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

James Lockhart, a defensive end from Baylor, became the final member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ free agent class to sign his contract, finalizing his deal Friday.

Lockhart is the 10th undrafted free agent to sign with the Steelers in the aftermath of the NFL Draft last weekend.

A redshirt senior, the 6-foot-2, 263-pound Lockhart began his college career at Texas A&M but transferred to Baylor after two seasons. As a senior, he had six sacks and 31 tackles.

For his career, Lockhart played in 43 games, making 16 starts.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Are the Steelers one of “10 or 11” relevant teams?

Which are the 10 or 11 relevant teams?

By: Mike Florio, ProFootballTalk

Saints coach Sean Payton said over the weekend that the NFL has only 10 or 11 relevant teams at any given time. If he’s right (and he is), the challenge becomes identifying the 10 or 11 relevant teams.

It’s easy to peg six or seven of them. It’s harder to identify the last few, at the exclusion of others that are close to being in the group of relevant teams.

My own list consists of these no-brainer franchises: Chiefs, 49ers, Patriots, Ravens, Seahawks, Saints, Eagles, Steelers, Packers. That’s only nine; the last spot or two could go to the Rams, Cowboys, Buccaneers (as long as Tom Brady is there), or Vikings, or the Bills, Colts, Texans, or Titans.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

The Steelers have an offensive plan ready to unleash on the NFL

The Steelers have all of their UDFA players under contract

Should the Steelers sign Andy Dalton?

Get your BRAND NEW Chase Claypool jersey!

Chase Claypool...the next Megatron?!

  • Social Media Madness

A look at what's to come #SteelersDraft | @ChaseClaypool | @highsmith34 | @AnttMacc_ | @kdd7696 | @TwanDoee | @_KING_LOS__ pic.twitter.com/EBV0CLN8Py

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 2, 2020

Multitasking

( : @TeamJuJu)pic.twitter.com/MrnvJ95O0h

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 2, 2020

Refused to be denied @TeamJuJu pic.twitter.com/t1yaRVvx6c

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 3, 2020

The Steelers have devised a master plan to improve their creativity

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 11:45am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Based on a under the radar coaching hire, and their focused approach to free agency and the draft, I wholeheartedly believe the Steelers have outlined a specific plan to maximize the remaining Roethlisberger years.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a one to two year plan. They have fully committed to making that plan come to pass this season. The Steelers went from being a league leading offense, especially in the red zone, to near the bottom in one season, and all the blame can't be placed solely on Big Ben Roethlisberger's season ending injury.

The loss of talent was obvious. After losing a transitional talent at WR prior to the season, many established starters at skill positions started dealing with nagging injuries in Ben's abscence, resulting in an overwhelmed offensive line wearing down under the pressure to carry a talent deficient offense. While the subpar QB play happens to be the most obvious culprit, it was definitely not the only one. This was all to evident to the Steelers decision makers, and they have taken calculated steps to correct the problem.

After further review, these decision makers devised a plan of attack. They were dealing with some severe time constraints. The career of future HOF QB Ben Roethlisberger is coming to an end, and the finish line is coming into view. The Steelers appear comfortable in Ben's recovery progress thus far, crucial for them to confidently implement the aforementioned plan moving forward. They devised the plan believing their franchise QB will be able to return to the field and pick up where he left off, only with a new and improved throwing arm.

That being said, the question remained. What were the greatest areas of need on offense; and how could they best be addressed within the Steelers time constraints, limited draft capital, and minimal cap space? A notable shift to modern NFL trending offensive designs was required.

The modern game is all about creating favorable mismatches all over the field, more so than ever before. Look no further than the Baltimore Ravens offense for evidence of the success of forward thinking. John Harbaugh was being discussed as a potential coaching causality not so long ago, then he went all in gambling on uniquely talented Lamar Jackson and the unconventional offense he could provide. He had nothing to lose at that point, and he ended up hitting the jackpot. The Ravens offense is unique for the NFL, with many multifaceted formations, constantly creating matchup problems for defenses.

The Kansas City Chiefs offense does the same thing, although in a different way. Speed kills, especially if you know how to use it, and Andy Reid can do just that. What a difference one Super Bowl title can make for a coach. HC Andy Reid was the best coach of his era who just couldn't get the job done when it counted most. Undoubtedly the QB Whisperer: he molded Donovan McNabb into a MVP, and made ultra conservative Alex Smith a productive starting QB, now he has nurtured the supremely talented Patrick Mahomes to an MVP trophy of his very own. Finally the underrated offensive mastermind Reid has achieved the Holy Grail, the Lombardi Trophy. He has to feel a tremendous sense of relief, and this should only unlock the capabilities of his offensively gifted creative mind. NFL defensive coordinators beware.

Enter Matt Canada stage right. His official title is QB Coach, but it's not difficult to see the intent behind the hiring. The Steelers did the same thing on defense the season prior, getting DC Keith Butler some assistance by hiring Teryl Austin. Austin is the secondary coach officially, but his impact was felt across the defense last year. I expect a similar impact from Canada's acquisition this year. Canada is a renowned offensive mastermind.

The Steelers not only focused on strengthening their areas of weakness, but apparently focused on procuring talent that could easily be implemented quickly, important considering the aforementioned time constraints of Ben's looming retirement and the expected impact of COVID-19 on training camp and practice time. Qualities like speed and exceptional size have no need to be coached up. They can be utilized immediately in specific roles by a creative mind, and I feel the Fichtner/Canada duo fit that description.

The Steelers have added weapons to their arsenal this off season, and they might not be done if the price is right. They went shopping and found what they could afford. Ebron, Claypool, and McFarland create mismatches whenever they walk onto the field. The game changing, big play creating speed and size they provide was nowhere to be found last season.

Some obvious shortcomings have been addressed. Now it's up to Big Ben and the Steelers coaching staff to see what they can do with it.

The comparisons for Chase Claypool show the sky is the limit for the Steelers WR

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 10:25am
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ top draft pick is drawing comparisons to some freakish receivers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers might not have had a first round draft pick, but the fan base is certainly excited about their top draft pick, Chase Claypool. The wide receiver from Notre Dame is a monster of a man. 6’4”, 230 pounds and runs an astonishing 4.4 40-yard dash.

As is the case with the entire NFL Draft process, when prospects are added to rosters people immediately want to attach comparisons (comps) to the player to give fans an idea as to what they can expect from their latest draft pick.

Pertaining to Claypool, the comparisons have been impressive, to say the least. He has been compared to everyone from former Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant to none other than “Megatron” himself, Calvin Johnson.

Chris Simms, of NBC Sports and ProFootballTalk, did a detailed breakdown of why he thinks Claypool has more traits similar to Johnson than anyone else in the 2020 NFL Draft class.

Check out the breakdown here:

For Steelers fans, when it comes to Claypool and Bryant’s measurables, just see how close they are:

Martavis Bryant

6’3 3/4” 211 lbs 4.42 40-yard dash

39” vertical

124” broad jump

Chase Claypool

6’4” 238 lbs 4.42 40-yard dash

40.5” vertical

126” broad jump

Needless to say, when it comes to the physical aspects of the game, Claypool should have no problem fitting into the NFL from Day 1. However, that isn’t to suggest his game is perfected. He still has work to do going against NFL defensive backs, and he will have to prove himself as a true deep threat before he gets the respect most are expecting of him during his career.

What do you think of the comparisons for Claypool? Do you think Bryant is a better comp, or do you think Johnson is actually a legitimate comparison? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes leading up to the 2020 regular season.

Art Rooney II got his wish: The Steelers’ run game will be much improved in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Does Pittsburgh have the pieces for a good run game this year? Let’s take a look.

Back in January, Steelers’ Team President Art Rooney II mentioned in an interview that he wanted Pittsburgh to “…be a team that can be more consistent running the football.”

That quote was blown out of proportion in a big way, convincing many people (including myself) the Steelers would go with an offensive lineman or a running back with their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to appease Mr. Rooney.

One Chase Claypool later, and I realized we were wrong. The Steelers passed on some talented lineman and running backs at No. 49 to grab a wide receiver, seemingly defying what the Team President had mandated.

Despite not addressing lineman or running back until the fourth round, the Steelers’ 2020 run game can still be much improved from what we experienced a year ago.

First of all, having Ben Roethlisberger back will empty the box of extra defenders this year. When James Washington gets behind the defense, the ball will finally be delivered to him on time, and defensive coordinators know that, too. The Steelers’ aerial attack might actually frighten some defenses in 2020, which will help open up the run game.

This isn’t Duck Hodges anymore.

Speaking of the passing game, the aforementioned addition of Chase Claypool will help the run game, as well. While Claypool’s presence obviously makes the Steelers’ wide receiver core more dangerous than it was before, he also loves to block - and is pretty good at pancaking defensive backs.

Want to know how good runs turn into great runs? The wide receivers block into the secondary, allowing the running back to get past the last line of defense. Claypool isn’t the only great blocking wideout on the Steelers, either. James Washington and Juju Smith-Schuster have each showed off their prowess in Hines Ward’s specialty, as well.

After Big Ben clears out the box, and Claypool and co. clear out the secondary, the Steelers drafted the perfect player to take the play into the end zone: speedy running back Anthony McFarland. Even though McFarland isn't the J.K. Dobbins, or Cam Akers, that many fans wanted, he provides the perfect compliment to the Steelers’ power-oriented running back room. McFarland has 4.4 speed, and slashed through a highly-regarded Ohio State team in 2018 with 298 rushing yards, including multiple explosive runs. Much like Chase Claypool, McFarland’s physical abilities alone add a new dimension to Pittsburgh’s offense and running game.

Sticking with the draft, the Steelers added Louisiana guard Kevin Dotson with their second of two fourth rounders. Dotson is a road grader on the offensive line, who might need to fine tune his pass protection in the pro’s, but will be clearing huge openings in the opposing defense for years to come in Pittsburgh. He’ll definitely help the run game at some point, even though it might not be right away.

Dotson was PFF’s highest ranked run-blocking guard last year, as well as an AP All American.

He also likes to pull trucks around in his free time.

Stefen Wisniewski was added before the draft as a possible stopgap at guard if the rookie is unable to start. His specialty is pass-blocking, but is more than capable of starting. Don’t be surprised if he’s a minor upgrade over 2019’s Ramon Foster.

If the team isn’t confident in Dotson or Wisneiwski starting, there is also the possibility that Matt Feiler starts at guard this year. Feiler played right tackle quite well last year, but is an excellent guard as well. He would most likely be the best option for jump-starting the run game in 2020.

Earlier in the offseason, the Steelers signed fullback Derek Watt, who happens to be Steelers’ star T.J. Watt’s brother and an excellent special teamer. He also plays his listed position quite well.

BTSC writer K.T. Smith wrote an article on how James Conner will benefit from quality fullback play, and that can't be stressed enough. Even though some stats might not perfectly reflect that logic, there’s no doubt that Conner prefers running behind a lead blocker.

Another BTSC writer, Geoffrey Benedict, did a great breakdown on how Watt will help the Steelers’ running game here. Whatever your thoughts are on fullback usage, it can’t be denied that Watt will help as a blocker, and even be occasionally used as a runner. He also looks to be more available health-wise than Roosevelt Nix was last year.

Maybe James Conner can learn a thing or two.

And, in the end, that might be the biggest factor in how the Steelers’ run game plays out in 2020. The pieces are there, but if they can’t stay healthy, it doesn't mean much.

Even though the Steeler fanbase can get overly frustrated with Conner’s injuries - it’s not like he’s trying to be that way - the question marks surrounding his health put the Steelers’ 2020 run game’s success in doubt. Still, I firmly believe that if Pittsburgh’s front office knew that Conner’s injuries would plague the rest of his career, they would of brought in another starting-caliber runner this offseason.

Or maybe the team likes Benny Snell a lot more than we thought.

I found an interesting stat on Pro Football Reference when looking at the Steelers running backs’ rushing numbers: Trey Edmunds, who definitely isn’t a speedster, and probably won’t even make the final roster this year, had the longest rush of any Steelers player in 2019. His 45-yard scamper was 20 more than the nearest competition. Edmunds didn’t do much else that season, but he still managed to provide the biggest running play of the entire year.

That goes to show that it doesn't take a All-Pro running back to have a good rushing attack. Trey Edmunds followed a pulling David DeCatstro and Maurkice Pouncey through a gaping hole in the defense and ran hard. It isn't that complicated. Good blocking covers up a multitude of sins, including major deficiencies in talent.

So, a James Conner injury might not be the end of the world for the Steelers’ rushing attack.

Even though Pittsburgh didn’t add any big-name, high pedigree players in an obvious attempt to fix the run game this offseason, there was still a clear plan in place.

Mr. Rooney and the rest of Steelers Nation will be treated with a much improved run game in 2020.

The Steelers have all of their undrafted free agents under contract for 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 7:00am
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

It took the Steelers less than a week to get their entire group of undrafted rookie free agents signed

In a matter of hours after the conclusion of the 2020 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced they had agreed to terms with 10 undrafted rookie free agents. In a time when signing contracts has become much more complex than before, the Steelers managed to get all 10 players under contract in less than a week.

When it comes to undrafted rookie free agents, they are free to sign with any team after the conclusion of the draft. With many NFL hopefuls just looking for a team to give them a chance since they were not selected in the draft, contract negotiations are minimal. But until a player signs on the dotted line, technically they are fair game to join any NFL franchise even after agreeing to terms with another squad. But if a player wants to sniff around after agreeing with one team, there is a good chance they could end up with no deal from anyone. With that said, it is in the best interest s of both sides to get the contract signed as quickly as possible.

With none of the Steelers new UFA’s expected to have a contract more than the minimum, there is no salary cap implication as none of these players would move into the top 51 salaries on the team.

The focus on contracts now turns to the Steelers draft choices. With the length and amount of each contract pretty much locked in due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the only negotiations which will really come into play for rookies are the structure of the contract and any signing bonus.

The complete list of rookie undrafted free agents and when the Steelers officially signed them can be seen below.

We have signed LB Leo Lewis and DB James Pierre.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 28, 2020

We have signed DB Trajan Bandy and LB John Houston.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 28, 2020

We have signed DE Calvin Taylor and P Corliss Waitman.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 28, 2020

We've signed DT Josiah Coatney.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 30, 2020

We have signed FB Spencer Nigh.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 30, 2020

We've signed C Christian Montano.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 30, 2020

We have signed DE James Lockhart.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 1, 2020

Get your first Chase Claypool Steelers jersey right here!

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 6:00am
Fanatics

Chase Claypool has declared his jersey number for the Pittsburgh Steelers...time to add this jersey to your collection!

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t have a first round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, but that doesn’t mean the fan base isn’t excited about the team’s top draft pick.

With their top pick, a second round selection, the Steelers took big-bodied wide receiver Chase Claypool. The Notre Dame product is known for his ridiculous size, speed and strength. All attributes which will make him an instant hit with the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base.

So, with Claypool destined to be a hit for the black-and-gold, why not get your hands on the rookie’s jersey for the 2020 season?

Just this week, Claypool took to his Twitter account to show he won’t be wearing his No. 83 which he wore in college, but is going to be donning No. 11 for the Steelers.

New threads.. New number.. New beginnings. #1of1 #8plus3 #SteelerNation pic.twitter.com/AtcQKQ9Ds3

— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) April 29, 2020

Get your hands on Claypool’s first Steelers jersey by checking out the details below!

Details: Since this is a special-event item, the No. 0 will serve as a placeholder and the jersey will not ship until Claypool has officially signed and selected his number.

Podcast: Why the Pittsburgh Steelers should sign Andy Dalton

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 5:30am

In a brand new show titled ‘Yeah, I said it’, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback depth leaves a lot to be desired, and because of that some feel it would be wise for the team to look for a veteran backup to add to the team. Yes, even Andy Dalton.

This is where the newest BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Standard is the Standard’, Lance Williams talks about why the Steelers getting Andy Dalton isn’t a bad idea.

Time to deliver the goods on the latest show.

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!

Check out the audio below:

Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below:

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

Black and Gold Links: Kevin Dotson is living his NFL dream with the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 05/02/2020 - 5:00am
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 Steelers 2020 NFL Draft pick, Kevin Dotson, is living his dream with the black-and-gold.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Growing up being a Steelers fan, and getting drafted by them, is a dream come true for Kevin Dotson.

Lifelong Steelers fan, college All-American guard Kevin Dotson living his dream

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Kevin Dotson had already been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan while when he was in kindergarten, the team drafted Ben Roethlisberger. Sixteen years to the day later, Dotson too became a Steelers draft pick.

When Dotson heard his name called in the fourth round last Friday, he knew it meant he could play for his favorite team alongside one of his favorite players.

“It’s going to be crazy because in my mind, I’ve always thought of (Roethlisberger) as like someone I’d never meet, being one of the legends,” said Dotson, who was an All-American guard at Louisiana. “I never thought I’d be blocking for him. So, this is going to be one of those dreams you get to play with people that you’ve always looked up to for your entire life.”

Dotson was born and raised, and went to high school and attended college in Louisiana. He had an uncle (Alvin McKinley) who played six of his nine NFL seasons for the Steelers-rival Cleveland Browns, and another uncle (Dennis McKinley) who played for the Arizona Cardinals.

Despite it all, this Ragin’ Cajun insists his family was more aligned with the Black-and-Gold than the fleur-de-lis.

Dotson has old internet logs and a shrine of a basement to prove it.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The NFL is planning on the 2020 season to go off as scheduled, despite concerns over our coronavirus.

NFL plans to play full season despite coronavirus uncertainty

By: The Associated Press

The NFL is planning to play a full season though it’s uncertain what that will look like.

League spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday that since January the 2020 schedule was intended for release after the draft. It is planned for release by the end of next week, with the date for the kickoff game Thursday, Sept. 10, concluding with Super Bowl 55 on Feb. 7, 2021 in Tampa.

But the league is planning several contingencies because of the coronavirus pandemic that could lead to everything from a delayed start to a late-winter Super Bowl.

“The schedule will come out as normal, but we’re doing reasonable and responsible planning as we always do, inside of game operations,” league executive Troy Vincent told The Associated Press on Thursday. “Based off of what we are learning from the medical community and how people are handling this domestically and abroad, we are being deliberate with reasonable and responsible planning about what can work in our environment and what we can incorporate to protect the health and safety of all involved.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • ESPN to re-air a legendary game in Le’Veon Bell’s career.

ESPN to re-air classic Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell Monday Night Football ‘walk-off’ win

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

There have been plenty of Pittsburgh Penguins and Pittsburgh Pirates classic games broadcast since the start of the coronavirus shutdown of live sports. Now, a recent memorable Pittsburgh Steelers game will be shown nationally on ESPN.

The network, in conjunction with the NFL, announced Thursday that it would re-air five “Monday Night Football” classics starting this coming Monday and through June 1. The fourth of such games, on Memorial Day, will be the Oct, 12, 2015, Steelers win at the San Diego Chargers.

The dramatic ending featured Steelers coach Mike Tomlin eschewing a tying field goal to instead go for it from the Chargers 1-yard-line in the final seconds of regulation. Le’Veon Bell scored on the play — barely — after showcasing his patient style in waiting for the moment to squeeze through a mass of bodies at the line.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

The Steelers depth along the interior offensive line is still bad

Chase Claypool is anything but a one-trick pony

Everyone can get behind Kevin Dotson at guard

A scouting report roundup on Antoine Brooks

The NFL schedule is slated to be released next week

  • Social Media Madness

Scoop ✔️
Score ✔️@_Dbush11 | #fbf pic.twitter.com/BfWdyV8eXn

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 1, 2020

Torpedo @donnie_shell pic.twitter.com/NJeLBm0NXA

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 1, 2020

#OTD in 2015, we selected @Bud_Dupree with the 22nd overall pick in the #NFLDraft! pic.twitter.com/7dNJJkLfQW

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 30, 2020

A young Troy ready to dominate the league.@tpolamalu | #TBT (2003) pic.twitter.com/7Pct43PB8B

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 30, 2020

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions: Offseason, Vol. 17

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 5:45pm
Photo by Elliott Brown/E and P Phtography/Getty Images

There is plenty to talk about regarding all things black-and-gold!

Several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night Open Thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring it back to Friday night — with a slight twist.

I liked the Saturday Six-Pack theme, so I decided to just take the six questions and move them to Friday night. Say hello to Friday Night Six-Pack of Steelers Questions and open thread!

The rules haven’t changed...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

That’s it! With that out of the way, it’s time to get this party started. Hey, don’t act like you’ve never done a little Friday night drinking. Here goes:

1. Of the Steelers 6 picks from the NFL Draft, which was the most disappointing for you? And why?

2. After the draft, what is still the biggest area of need on the Steelers’ roster?

3. If in 2020 Ben Roethlisberger gets injured and misses 4 games, how many games could Mason Rudolph win if the following games were on the schedule:

vs. BAL
at CIN
vs. HOU
at DAL

4. Would you bring back Mark Barron if it was on the cheap?

5. Should the Steelers go out and get a veteran backup quarterback, or roll the dice on who they have on the roster?

6. What were your thoughts on the 2020 “Virtual” NFL Draft?

Stay safe out there, and hopefully you use BTSC the same way I do — as a getaway from the madness.

No matter what, always remember...

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

The NFL deserves a lot of credit for pulling off the 2020 virtual draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 2:15pm
Photo by NFL via Getty Images

We needed something, anything, in a sports sense to help get us through this ongoing pandemic. The NFL, with its virtual production of the 2020 draft, gave us what we needed.

It was hard to imagine how the 2020 NFL Draft, one that would be done virtually, would actually go upon commencement.

Judging by the few Zoom get-togethers I had engaged in during the first five weeks of the pandemic-induced shut-down, I envisioned many technical glitches, people talking over one another, spontaneous bathroom breaks and dogs—lots and lots of dogs.

I also pictured a production with little-to-no personality.

I was wrong on just about every front—well, except for the dog part thanks to Bill Belichick who demonstrated yet another area of his genius—finding a dog that can not only oversee a draft war room, but also keep track of data on multiple computers at once. Brilliant! (What other coach thinks about these things?)

Seriously, though, ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in virtual drafts (as of last weekend), did a great job. The event really had a professional feel to it, one that even included in-studio hosts. ESPN also had a virtual host who was joined by four analysts for a Zoom-like five-person panel, where they talked about each draft selection as it was announced. And despite the fact that all five guys were likely at their own homes, they managed to wear suits and ties—no word on whether or not anyone was wearing sweatpants, though.

Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, hunkered down in his secret volcano lair, did a great job announcing every pick of the first three rounds over a two-day period. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the commissioner even managed to come off as somewhat endearing—even if it was in a “middle-aged dad trying to do the latest dance” kind of way.

The only aspect I didn’t like all that much was the thing they did where Goodell would try to interact with each team’s fans as they sat in their homes in front of their laptops dressed in their favorite squad’s attire. Could they see Goodell as he said “Let’s go” right before announcing their team’s pick? (I’d put an exclamation mark after “go,” but that would be misleading.)

I also wasn’t all that crazy about the huge family/friends gatherings that most draft prospects had as they waited for their names to be called. Did they all undergo testing before entering these homes?

Maybe that’s none of my business.

All-in-all, it was a great event. Sure, I saw the many memes and Tweets making fun of ESPN’s apparent need to discuss as many tragic life stories as possible, but that’s always going on—ESPN’s need to do that, and the need for people to make fun of it (it was nice to know some things were business as usual for all parties involved).

Speaking of business as usual, I’m assuming things will be back to normal a year from now—including how the NFL and its broadcast partners cover the draft.

If that’s the case, those fans that were sitting in front of their computers with their faces painted, wondering whether or not it was time to boo Goodell, can actually attend the 2021 NFL Draft in person and let him have it without the hindrance of a seven-second delay.

But that’s next year, when things are (hopefully) back to normal.

As for this year, when things clearly are not.......

Great job pulling off the 2020 virtual draft, NFL.

We needed something. You gave us all that you could.

The Steelers offense now has even better players to use my favorite personnel grouping

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 12:26pm
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

I love when coaches can scheme mismatches, and this particular personnel group leaves defenses in trouble no matter what they do

It doesn’t take a football expert to know the Steelers offense struggled in 2019. Dealing with a plethora of injuries, the personnel the Steelers had on the field had them limited in some of the things they were able to do. While being able to overcome injuries is part of life in the NFL, sometimes the players available just don’t make it possible to line up in certain formations.

There is one particular personnel grouping I am intrigued by because, if you have the right players on your team, it can become very difficult to defend. I like to collect my “Catch–22” grouping. I affectionately call it this because, if implemented properly, a defense will have trouble defending a given play no matter what defensive set they choose to respond with. But the real reason I like to call it this is because it is 22 personnel, when a team has two running backs, two tight ends, and one wide receiver on the field.

In order to use this grouping to really gain an advantage, the personnel available is of the upmost importance. To show how much difference the personnel makes, in 2019 the Steelers only ran nine offensive plays out of 22 personnel while using the formation 53 times in 2018. Unfortunately, the Steelers just didn’t have the right personnel healthy in order to utilize the grouping effectively.

One obvious missing piece from this formation was full back Roosevelt Nix who only appeared in three games in 2019. Another thing missing was two genuine receiving threats at tight end to have on the field together. But the most important missing piece of all was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who could quickly read the defense and adjust their formation to take advantage.

To give an idea as to why I like this personal grouping so much for the Steelers, here is an example from 2018 where I outlined a specific play against the Cincinnati Bengals. I’ve talked at length about this play for more than a season, but I think it goes to show how the Steelers can use their personnel to take advantage of a defense. By having two tight ends and two running back’s on the field, the Bengals brought in a run-heavy defense. How the Steelers took advantage was by lining up in the shotgun with an empty back field to find a mismatch and gain 22 yards on the play.

When a team can bring in a run-heavy personnel package which also is a good receiving threat, the defense has a decision to make. Are they going to get the proper run support on the field, or are they going to try to take advantage with a good pass defense? Of course, some teams can do both things with their defensive personnel, but not many are in such a good situation.

In 2019, the Steelers liked to bring in a run-heavy personnel package quite often. Unfortunately, they ran almost exclusively out of the formation. And when they did not, they had offensive lineman Zach Banner going out for a pass. Ultimately, this is not the ideal situation to confuse the defense. Even going with a run-stopping defensive package, the passing threat wasn’t enough to take advantage.

In the play I outlined in 2018 against the Bengals, the five position players on the field for the Steelers were:

RB: James Conner
FB: Roosevelt Nix
TE: Jesse James
TE: Xavier Grimble
WR: Antonio Brown

With this personal group, the defense countered to stop the run. But with all the Steelers’ options being capable receivers, they took advantage via the pass. Should a team respond to this formation to defend the pass, then the simple solution is to pull the running backs into the backfield and run the football.

Now imagine using this formation for the Steelers in 2020. Let’s look at this particular lineup even though some players could be exchanged:

RB: James Conner
FB: Derek Watt
TE: Vance McDonald
TE: Eric Ebron
WR: Chase Claypool

The first thing to note is the only player who is the same is James Conner. I’m not sold he is the best player to be in this formation, but it is unclear exactly how the Steelers will implement players such as Jaylen Samuels or Anthony McFarland Jr in 2020. So, for now, I stuck with Conner.

Additionally, I decided to go with Chase Claypool as a wide receiver. With his size and willingness to block, there is a potential for him to almost act as an additional tight end on the field. But at the same time, his ability as a wide receiver cannot be overlooked.

So if you were an NFL defensive coordinator, how would you respond seeing this personnel group on the field? Do you line up with a heavy package to stop the run, do you put extra defensive backs to stop the pass, or do you hope to match it with your base defense?

If a team goes with your base defense, Ben Roethlisberger could make the decision either way as to whether or not to set up to run or pass. But based on the other answers, you simply just run your offense to do the opposite of what the other team is preparing for.

Some may point out that Eric Ebron is not known for his blocking as a tight end, which I understand. But imagine putting Ebron on the end of the line of scrimmage with Claypool lined up as a wing or “H-back.” I would hope between the two of them they could secure the edge. Of course, Claypool is just a rookie and we have yet to see how his blocking will translate to the NFL. If it doesn’t, simply substitute JuJu Smith-Schuster or James Washington into this position as they have booths shown they are willing to stick their nose into someone’s chest to deliver a block.

It’s difficult to say if the Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner will implement this personnel package in 2020. He seemed to like it in 2018, so if the Steelers have the right players I don’t see why they wouldn’t use it at all. Just imagining what the Steelers could do with these particular players on the field together, it helps to realize how much the team weas lacking in 2019. With Ben Roethlisberger making the decision and executing the play, and these particular players able to do multiple things, I have to believe these sort of personnel groupings would bring a smile to any offense of coordinators face as the creative juices begin to flow.

Even after the 2020 NFL Draft, the Steelers depth is poor: Interior Linemen Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 10:55am
Photo by Rob Leiter via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers starting roster might be solid, but their depth is simply poor. Especially along the offensive line.

With the meager signings in free agency, Steelers’ Nation should have known that no matter how things panned out in the draft, interior offensive line depth would still be an issue. Fans need to keep their fingers crossed that injuries and poor play do not rear their ugly heads in 2020 or the season could repeat the 8-8 finish of the 2019 season— or worse.

(Most websites that have the Steelers depth charts are not up to date or are a complete mess. So I will use a combination of Ourlads and spit balling on top of that.)

The Steelers brought in Stefen Wisniewski to fill the void left by the retirement of left guard Ramon Foster. The 31-year-old veteran brings versatility to the offensive line with starts at center and left guard throughout his career. In 2019, the nine-year pro had a smattering of plays at right tackle to showcase his versatility. Playing on his fifth team, Wisniewski has not started 16 games at left guard since his rookie season in 2011. This is a concern because of the depth behind him if he cannot hold up for a whole 16 games due to the loss of backup interior linemen B.J. Finney. If Wisniewski goes down or would get benched, it is highly likely the Steelers would move right tackle Matt Feiler to left guard. While Feiler has played guard, I dislike the idea of creating a hole at right tackle. (More on this later.)

Who is his direct backup? Ourlads has 2018 seventh rounder Derwin Gray. Gray did not play for the Steelers in 2019 and was stashed on the team’s practice squad. He has an uphill battle to even make the roster in 2020. Kevin Dotson the Steelers 2020 fourth round pick may have the inside track to back up the left guard position even though he was primarily a right guard in college. Could an undrafted rookie free agent step up and snare the spot? This is a must watch situation in training camp and preseason with players with no NFL experience competing for the backup gig.

Right guard David DeCastro had arguably his worst seasons as a pro in 2019 in terms of run blocking and pass protection. The five-time Pro Bowler will enter his ninth season with the team and fans hope he can regain his dominant form with unproven depth behind him. I scratch my head why Ourlads has offensive tackle Zach Banner as his direct backup. I believe he will remain on the outside and they would move Feiler with Dotson as the primary backup at both tackle positions. Could Gray stick his nose into the competition?

Center Maurkice Pouncey was a shell of his previous All-Pro years in 2019. His struggles were not limited to run and pass blocking but also with snapping the ball. If Pouncey were to go down, or get suspended again, the line line could be thrown into complete chaos. It is hard to see J.C. Hassenauer making the squad, let alone getting the starting nod over Wisniewski and his vast experience as an NFL starting center. Hassenauer spent most of the 2019 season out of the league but spent five weeks on the practice squad and one week on the active roster. Steeler fans do not want to go down this slippery slope of hypothesis if Pouncey, the former 2010 first rounder, misses any significant time.

Here is my view on the current depth chart if an injury or benching would occur. It is not a conventional depth chart, but I would say this is realistic. (I left camp bodies out until they prove otherwise to be more.)

LG: Wiśniewski, Feiler, Dotson, Gray

C: Pouncey, Wiśniewski, Hassenauer

RG: DeCastro, Feiler, Dotson, Gray

The interior of the offensive line has to play better as an unit to have any semblance of offensive success in 2020. What scares is me is a lack of proven talent or even high draft picks behind the starters. I also detest even thinking about moving Feiler, arguably the team’s best offensive linemen in 2019, out of position in case of issues. In the past, the Steelers have done a wonderful job of finding diamonds in the rough in undrafted rookies. Could this be the year they land another one and brush my concerns about the interior aside? I sure hope so because I dread thinking about what a long-term injury to any of the three starters would mean for the 2020 season.

Be sure to check back here at BTSC for the next break down as we take a look at the offensive tackle depth chart.

Kevin Dotson: A Steelers fourth-round pick everyone can agree on

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Louisiana guard Kevin Dotson: The Steelers fourth-round pick everyone loves to love.

How often do you make a negative comment about a recent Steelers draft pick, only for someone to rebut you and have their comment turn green? (That question is obviously for the BTSC regulars reading this.)

Disagreements about who the Steelers just drafted are about as American as mom, apple pie and Mel Kiper’s astonishment that one of his “Best Available” is still on the board.

But I’m guessing nothing mentioned in the first paragraph took place after the Steelers made Louisiana guard Kevin Dotson their second fourth-round pick (135, overall) of the 2020 NFL Draft on Saturday.

Yes, while the gloves came off when discussing the second-round pick, third-round pick, first fourth-round pick and the rest of the selections, Dotson’s drew universal praise. That’s right, if there were comments made that turned green, they likely were because everyone else agreed with said comment and how awesome the Dotson pick was.

I know I was excited. Oh, not right away, but the second I watched a clip of him talking in a charming manner, I was hooked. Admit it, so were you.

As for the rest of the stuff—his durable play in college, his technique, his accolades which included All-Sun Belt Conference and AP All-American honors—only heightened my—and your—love for the selection.

From what I’ve read, Dotson is the proverbial road grader that loves to get out there and maul defenders during running plays. As for passing plays, he’s always looking to deliver a quick blow to his opponents. That’s sometimes to his own detriment, unfortunately. But that’s where coaching comes into play, right? If Shaun Sarrett, his new professional offensive line coach, can teach Dotson to move and strike without breaking the string (Rocky reference), he’ll become a very dangerous person—or at least have better balance.

And that’s just the on-field attributes to the now very dear Kevin Dotson. What about the personality stuff, you know the things that will endear him to Steeler Nation before he even sets foot on a practice field? I’m talking about his life-long fondness for the team that just drafted him. Also, what about his former work as a bouncer? How about the thing he did where he pulled a truck for exercise?

That stuff has already been mentioned and written about countless times—including by me. But it’s still worth bringing up yet again.

As a fourth-round pick, I’m not sure if Dotson is eligible for the Isaac Redman Award. But with his personality that seems to be oozing with charisma and fun, he is a serious candidate for the JuJu Smith-Schuster Please Help Me Find My Stolen Bike Rookie Award.

He’ll get my vote.

Any fourth-round pick that draws universal praise from the fans and media should run for king of the world.

However, if he can win the starting left guard job sooner rather than later, I think that will be almost as good.

All hail Kevin Dotson.

He or she who objects can forever hold your peace.

Steelers Film Room: Chase Claypool is not a one-trick pony

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Part one of our two part series on Chase Claypool.

When a wide receiver measures 6’4”, 238 lbs and runs a 4.42 forty, people immediately think of a deep threat. And his film shows plenty of big plays downfield, but Chase Claypool isn’t just a deep threat. Today in part 1 of a two-part series on the Steelers 2nd round pick, we’re going to look at Claypool blocking and in shorter routes. I’ll be breaking down the routes he ran and showing what he does well and what he needs to improve on. Let’s get to it.

Blocking

You may have seen some highlights of Claypool throwing monster blocks, driving CBs backwards and essentially body slamming them. Those were mostly from 2017, when he was a depth WR and ST guy. You don’t see many of those in 2019, and that’s fine, because while they may be fun to watch, I’ll take good, smart blocks over just smashing people.

On this play Chase Claypool is lined up to the bottom of the screen.

This isn’t the easiest assignment, Claypool’s job is to cross the safety’s body and keep him out of the run play to the right side. He does a great job.

Claypool is the WR to the top of the screen.

Again Chase Claypool is asked to dig out a safety, and this one is even better. #20 has a good shot at getting to the RB before he crosses the first down line, but Claypool meets him and knocks him backwards, and the RB gains 6 yards before first contact. That’s a pretty good shot Claypool delivers.

Chase Claypool is the WR to the bottom of the screen.

This play is a double screen that the Fighting Irish ran a lot. It requires Claypool to deal with 2 defenders very quickly, driving the CB back with one arm while finding and blocking the LB covering the RB. The right tackle slips out to block for the screen, and there’s no one for him to block. It drew the entire middle of the defense to Claypool’s side of the field, leaving room for a solid gain on the other side.

Claypool adds another really good blocker to the WR room. Like both JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington he was asked to block safeties and line backers in college, but Claypool did it better than either of them.

Chase Claypool didn’t just block on screens though, he was a good target for a screen pass as well.

Claypool starts this clip just off screen to the bottom.

The Cavalier’s defense plays this screen really well, Claypool is in trouble in his own endzone but is able to power through for a four yard gain to give his team some breathing room.

Quick outs and hook routes.

When you are a serious deep threat and defenders back off the line of scrimmage when facing you, you need to be able to make them pay with quick routes for solid yards.

Chase Claypool is the third WR from the top,

That’s a nice smooth cut on the out route, and a good job turning up-field to get a few extra yards. You will hear that Claypool doesn’t play as fast as he times, or that he doesn’t play with urgency. That’s not hard to explain. A 6’4”, 238 lb man can’t start to sprint and cut like that. Chase doesn’t run full speed on most routes, but you can see the point where he accelerates on most of his routes. Here he cuts out and takes off, look at how rounded his turn up-field is compared to his cut outside.

Claypool is second from the bottom on this play.

Claypool was solid on the out routes, so I wanted to show this failed play. Here you can see Claypool’s lack of quick twitch as his team mate is pushed into his path, but not by much. Claypool can’t avoid him, and can’t recover after the contact and the throw is incomplete. This is what you get with someone his size. You can’t be that big and move like Diontae Johnson.

Another tool against off or bail coverage and against zone defense is a hook. On this one Chase Claypool is the 2nd WR from the top of the screen.

Claypool does a nice job of getting off the quick bump from the CB and finding the gap in the zone, he also does a nice job of coming down with a high pass through contact for a big 4th down conversion.

He’s the WR to the top of the screen.

Great job against bail coverage, gets the CB backpedaling, plants his foot and turns for an easy 6 yards. What he does afterwards to get 13 more yards is fantastic. He’s a nightmare for smaller corners to take down, and he basically throws a punch as he spins off the initial tackle. fortunately it takes a lot to get called for unnecessary roughness when you have the ball.

Chase Claypool is the WR to the top of the screen on this play.

It’s hard to see on this one, but the CB starts off of Claypool, and engages him physically in the middle of the route, when Claypool turns the CB is all over it and should have picked this one off.

Engaging Claypool physically in the middle of his route seemed like the most successful tactic to defending him, it will show up more in the second part of this series, but when he faced better CB talent and they engaged in the route he struggled. He isn’t an instinctive hand fighter.

Slants and crosses

The Steelers used a lot of crossing routes in 2019, especially with Mason Rudolph at QB. Notre Dame used them a lot as well, and Claypool was a frequent target.

Chase Claypool is the WR to the top of the screen.

Claypool showed a good sense of speed control, acceleration after the catch and his usual aggressive and powerful running on these crosses. He loves throwing elbows and forearms into defenders.

Chase Claypool is the WR to the bottom of the screen on this play.

Here Claypool turns his head to find the defender he’s gong to hit before he secures the ball. Focus drops are a problem for Claypool, although his hands issues are overrated in my opinion, you get more drops if you get your hands on balls that other WRs wouldn’t even touch. Focus drops like the one above are a problem, but I wouldn’t rate the problem as serious, hopefully someone sends him a jug machine.

The last route that we’ll cover in this article is the slant route.

Chase Claypool is the WR to the right side of the screen.

This is my favorite route for Chase Claypool, he uses his frame well, squaring his shoulders to the throw, making it hard for anyone to come over or around him to play the ball. There’s no jukes to start the route, just a quick hop and accelerate into the middle of the field. This route was one of Calvin Johnson’s deadliest routes, because you either had to defend him with heavy inside leverage or have a line backer sit on the slant to defend it. Chase Claypool isn’t Calvin Johnson, but he can run a power slant, and at his size and speed, it should be a route that defenses have to respect if Claypool and Ben Roethlisberger get it rolling.

Claypool is to the bottom of the screen.

The thing that made the slant so deadly for Calvin Johnson is he would drag defenders and break tackles and turn a hard to defend 5 yard route into 20+ yards regularly. Here Chase Claypool turns a quick slant into 23 yards, albeit against Duke. He wasn’t doing this against better defenses. Love the outside release fake, you don’t see it a lot from Claypool, it’s nice to know he has experience using it.

Chase Claypool is the WR to the top of the screen.

Ouch. The play design doesn’t do Claypool any favors here, the safety is able to tee off on him and light him up. Still you’d like to see him hold onto the ball there like Hines Ward, maybe pop up with a big smile, then 3 plays later go knock that safety into next week. But I digress; the main thing to take away from this one is there weren’t a lot of negative plays on slants.

Conclusion

Chase Claypool is a viable NFL WR without running a single deep route. This isn’t a Martevis Bryant or Sammie Coates, it isn’t even Mike Wallace. Chase Claypool runs a ton of routes, and brings intelligent route running to all of them. he needs to work on the mechanics of route running, like almost every single rookie WR, but he is already competent at running the route tree.

Part 2 will cover what everyone is excited for, the deep routes.

2020 NFL Draft: Scouting roundup on Steelers safety Antoine Brooks Jr.

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

Looking at what analysts were saying about the Steelers 6th round pick.

The Steelers selected their second Maryland Terrapin of the 2020 NFL Draft with the 198th pick. Antoine Brooks played line backer, safety and slot corner in college,something that comes up in his evaluations.

Lance Zierlein for NFL.com

The Good

Alpha personality on the field
Built like a brick mailbox
Pursues with good leverage
Comes to balance as open-field tackler
Squares and scrapes laterally to maintain tackle positioning
Former quarterback with intriguing pre-snap recognition
Potential to be a star cover man on special teams

The Bad

Needs to play with improved discipline as a pro
Gets outside the structure and freelances at times
Questions about where his best position fit is
Tightly bound with sticky hips to open and run
Lacks prototypical length to challenge throws
Will have issues covering man in space

The Verdict

He’s either a versatile defender or one lacking a clean positional fit depending on a team’s assessment and scheme. He’s played in a variety of spots over the past two years, but hip tightness and lack of length do show themselves when matched in man coverage. Brooks offers middle-round value as a split-safety capable of box duties and should offer an upgrade on special teams coverage.

Matt Miller for Bleacher Report

The Good

Big-time hitter who ran the Maryland defense and will impress coaches with football IQ, toughness and willingness to fight through traffic to make tackles. Will press and shut down receivers and tight ends at the line of scrimmage. Violent hitter when he zeroes in on the ball; was an effective corner-blitz operative.

The Bad

Lacks ideal build at 5’11”, 220 pounds; could be seen as a nickel linebacker or strong safety. Short-area quickness is limited; not much burst out of cuts and stiff hips on transitions. Plays backyard football too much and has to be better at sticking to assignments, especially in coverage.

The Verdict

Brooks is a tweener, but the NFL is moving toward more positionless players on defense. If he’s unleashed him in the slot, he could wreak havoc on quarterbacks and tight ends from off the edge. Brooks isn’t a classic rangy safety, but he’s the answer to quick quarterbacks and offenses that throw short, dump-off passes that need to be covered.

Kyle Crabbs for The Draft Network

The Good

He’s more of an impact defender when tasked with working in the intermediate or shallow areas of the field. . . Really, really nice (tackling) skills. Gets off of blocks consistently and comes to balance and hits his moving targets with consistency when he’s looking to slash into horizontal challenges.

The Bad

Squatty build doesn’t afford him a lot of length to extend and challenge the ball at the catch point. . . Haven’t seen a great deal of hip hinge in coverages to play with needed swiftness to cover ground as a deep defender. . . Doesn’t look to have great deep range or ability to impact vertical shots.

The Verdict

Nickel linebacker? Yep, he can do that. Nickel slot? For sure. Special teams? He should be great there, given his effort, tackling skills, block deconstruction and his baseline athleticism. . . Antoine Brooks Jr. projects best as a nickel sub-package defender in the NFL. Brooks Jr. brings a strong presence off the edge as a D-gap run defender and blitzer and pairs it with good short area quickness and stout tackling.

Pro Football Focus

PFF listed Antoine Brooks Jr. on the short list of best tackling safeties in the 2020 NFL Draft in their Safety Superlatives article that is linked above.

They had more to say about him, as a 2018 LB. . .

Antoine Brooks Jr. led all B1G linebackers with 27 QB pressures this season. pic.twitter.com/6WeoMx8sG8

— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 29, 2019

and as a 2019 safety.

Antoine Brooks: Highest-graded run-defending safety in the NFL Draft pic.twitter.com/V7XbiBxZIz

— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) February 24, 2020

If you look at all that and think, if he’s a great tackler, can create pressure on the QB, and be a top run defender at safety. . . shouldn’t he just be a LB? You aren’t alone.

With the 198th overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers select...

Antoine Brooks Jr., S, Maryland pic.twitter.com/5dcqn3hUP5

— PFF (@PFF) April 25, 2020

If you read the small text to the lower right, you see that PFF thinks Brooks Jr. is bets suited for playing linebacker in the NFL.

There’s disagreement over Antoine Brooks Jr.’s ability in man coverage and deep half zones. But everyone sees him as an elite run defender and blitzer from the slot. He’s projects to be a special teams standout, and if he can develop he could either replace Mike Hilton in the slot or even Mark Barron’s role covering TEs in the future. Tackling and leadership should make him a special teams fixture on the roster whether he can play on defense or not.

Podcast: Why Pittsburgh Steelers fans are living in their fears

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 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:

  • Why Steelers fans are living in their fears after the 2020 NFL Draft?
  • Steelers Trivia
  • NFL Draft Breakdown: Carlos Davis, DT, Nebraska
  • 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.

Editor’s Note: The audio will be released around 9:00 a.m. ET

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

Black and Gold Links: Developing a rookie class “virtually” is something the Steelers will have to master

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 05/01/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Scott Taetsch/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 Steelers will have to develop their 2020 rookie class “virtually”.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Developing a rookie class virtually is not ideal, but at least the entire NFL is all in the same boat.

Steelers face challenge of developing rookies during ‘virtual’ offseason

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

If Randy Fichtner can do it, by his admission, anyone can.

The most challenging offseason program in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers officially began Monday. Normally, that would have meant dozens of players shuffling in and out of UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the first formal work of 2020.

But amid the coronavirus pandemic, nothing is normal. And the new plan seems anything but formal.

The South Side facility’s weight room and fields aren’t filled with players taking part in strength and conditioning activities. Instead, players will be looking into phones or setting up iPads in their living rooms and basements.

For a 56-year-old football lifer such as Fichtner, this can be jarring.

“I’m an older generational, noncomputer, no iPhone, so it’s probably going to be more difficult on me,” the Steelers offensive coordinator said. “But I’m excited about that challenge.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • What a story about one of the Steelers’ rookies...

How a Steelers rookie saved the life of someone he never even met

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It was probably just a spam call. Christian Montano saw a New York area code on his phone that he didn’t recognize.

Now a Steelers rookie free agent, Montano was in his apartment near Tulane’s campus when the phone rang. The offensive lineman was anticipating his grad transfer year with the Green Wave.

Before Montano hit ignore, he remembered what the date was: Feb. 2, 2019. It was a year — plus one day — after the procedure.

Montano guessed who might be on the other end of the line. He was given a heads up that a call may be coming soon.

This wasn’t going to be a robot with a prerecorded message or a shyster trying to scam him.

It was the person Montano never knew. The person who may not be alive without him. The guy Montano could only refer to as “recipient” up until now.

As soon as Montano answered that call, all these months and years after the process began, this person would have a voice. A story. And a name.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The COVID-19 crisis has hit home for one member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The fight of their lives against COVID-19

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

The video Christian Scotland-Williamson posted on his Instagram story one day last month was heartbreaking.

It was simply gut wrenching to watch, and nobody struggled more with seeing it than Scotland-Williamson himself.

It was something that broke his heart. Something that hurt him deeper than anything ever has in his life.

But it was something he felt he needed to share. Because while it hurt to the core, while he cried like he never has in his life watching it, he knew in his heart he had to post it.

It was a video of his mother, Hazel Scotland-Williamson, 60, laying in a hospital waiting room, struggling to breathe, an oxygen mask over her face aiding somewhat, but not nearly enough as you could visually see how much she was suffering.

She had been lying there waiting for six hours in the hospital in their hometown of Northeast London, England, waiting to have a chest x-ray to see if the symptoms that had her feeling so horrible were the beginning of COVID-19.

But despite the obvious struggle she was going through, despite how she was suffering, after the x-ray she was simply sent home.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

It seems the Steelers are comfortable, still, with their backups QBs

An awesome film room on Steelers rookie Kevin Dotson

A scouting roundup on Kevin Dotson, offensive guard

Chase Claypool has claimed a number, and it wasn’t what everyone expected

Did the NFL did too good of a job with the virtual NFL Draft?

  • Social Media Madness

Anytime the Steelers talk about Chase Claypool they talk about his physicality.

Here’s a little view of that physicality at the line of scrimmage as he dismantles this press coverage attempt.

pic.twitter.com/47K30Lxp1m

— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) April 29, 2020

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert discusses the team's approach to addressing the quarterback position.

@FanMorningShow | @937theFan pic.twitter.com/N4ApYIaNL3

— RADIO.COM Sports (@RDCSports) April 29, 2020

New threads.. New number.. New beginnings. #1of1 #8plus3 #SteelerNation pic.twitter.com/AtcQKQ9Ds3

— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) April 29, 2020

The 2020 NFL schedule is still expected to be released next week

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/30/2020 - 2:25pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Contrary to other reports, the NFL plans to move forward with the release of the 2020 regular-season schedule

Only one week removed from the first day of the 2020 NFL draft, fans are still looking forward to the offseason progressing as normal as possible. The next item on the agenda is the release of the NFL schedule for 2020.

Usually announced the week before the draft, the NFL released a May 9 deadline weeks ago as to when the schedule will be made known to the public. A recent report from ProFootballTalk.com stated the NFL was considering delaying the schedule release for a variety of reasons. Issues such as being able to stick with the original start date, ticket sales, and uncertainty as to whether or not games will be played in front of a full stadiums were reasons to delay the announcement.

But according to NFL spokes person Brian McCarthy, the NFL has no plans to delay the release of the schedule, or the opening of the 2020 NFL season.

Should be out by May 9th as we've said. Kickoff slated for Sept. 10 and the 101th season concludes w/ Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Feb. 7, 2021. https://t.co/8YizywybGJ

— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) April 29, 2020

A delay in the kickoff weekend to the NFL season at this point would be considered somewhat premature as other professional sports are hoping to resume their seasons well before the NFL typically begins. Understanding things may need to change at a later date, the NFL is pushing forward with their plans until adjustments must be made. It was even rumored the schedule will be developed in a way in which it could be adjusted should those circumstances arise.

As for when fans can expect the schedule to be released, although the final date of May 9 is given, it could come several days earlier. The NFL usually does not announce well in advance any kind of schedule release show. Instead, there generally a specific date and time given with just a few days notice. If the NFL sticks with their normal day of the week for the release, there is a possibility the date could be as early as Thursday, May 7.

Regardless of when the schedule release show takes place, Behind The Steel Curtain will have the Steelers 2020 schedule, as well as week-by-week breakdowns, in anticipation of the upcoming season.

Steelers fans give the team’s 2020 draft class a passing grade

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/30/2020 - 12:25pm

Pittsburgh Steelers fans were happy, but not ecstatic, with the team’s 2020 draft class.

The 2020 NFL Draft is in the rear view mirror, and fans around the globe are now assessing who their favorite teams have added to their roster. Will the draft picks become big-time players? Will it be what is necessary to put teams over the top and become Super Bowl contenders?

That has yet to be determined, but for the Pittsburgh Steelers fans, they are studying the six new players the team drafted this past weekend.

A recap of the draft class:

Round 2, pick 49: Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame

Round 3, pick 102: Alex Highsmith, OLB, Charlotte

Round 4, pick 124: Anthony McFarland Jr., RB, Maryland

Round 4, pick 135: Kevin Dotson, OG, Lousianna

Round 6, pick 198: Antoine Brooks Jr., S/ILB, Maryland

Round 7, pick 232: Carlos Davis, NT, Nebraska

With no first round pick, how does the vast Steelers fan base view the most recent additions to the roster? We here at SB Nation asked fans what grade they would give the draft class, and Steelers fans seem to agree when it comes to the overall group.

The latest FanPulse results certainly paint a pretty accurate photo of how fans truly feel:

A ‘B’ grade certainly seems to be the most consistent, outside of the rogue fans who gave the group a failing grade, but the biggest question on everyone’s minds is whether this group will be able to make an instant impact in 2020?

Will Claypool, McFarland or Highsmith be able to step onto the field and contribute? Or will the Steelers’ rookies be considered more as projects?

What grade would you give the Steelers’ draft class as a whole? Let us know in the poll below, and feel free to explain your grade in the comment section!

Do you want to be a part of the BTSC Steelers FanPulse? It is easy to sign up for, and takes mere minutes a week. Simply click HERE and fill out the appropriate information!

The Steelers only have one thing to do to appease the fan base: Win

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 04/30/2020 - 10:55am
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Between free agents, draft selections, and variety of other things, fans and media have a lot of opinions while it is only those of the Steelers and how it relates to success on the field which really count.

It’s the NFL offseason, and everyone has an opinion. Whether the Steelers should have kept a player they released or released someone they decided to hold onto, or whether they looked into a certain free agent or didn’t look at a particular player, most fans have an opinion one way or the other on how the Steelers are conducting business. Of course, when it comes to the NFL draft, it happens as well. I admit, there was at least one draft pick which I thought was highly questionable. But in order to attempt to truly evaluate the decision, I had to do my best to realize what the Steelers were thinking.

Pretty much everybody who calls themselves a Steelers fan has become an armchair GM at some point. This goes from the fans, to the media, to possibly even players. Almost everyone has an opinion. If our opinions don’t agree, it’s okay. And even if our opinion is not what the Steelers do, then they have a plan otherwise. And if the Steelers do what we suggest, it doesn’t give us a reason to gloat because we are “right.”

But sometimes we do take it too far.

It is not the Steelers job to satisfy the happiness of the fan base with every move they make. The most obvious reason is because this is impossible. While many fans feel the Steelers need to upgrade their quarterback room, just as many either feel confident with the current situation or realize that any upgrade is not going to be enough to win a championship should Ben Roethlisberger not be available and should therefore spend their resources elsewhere. So regardless of the move the Steelers make, someone is not going to be happy.

What takes it too far is when fans blame the Steelers front office for being “reckless” or “stubborn” simply because they aren’t making the moves that they want to see. Are these really the attitudes which keep the Steelers in contention year after year? Or is it perhaps the Steelers front office knows so much more than Steelers Nation as a collective group could ever claim to know?

I think we all know what the real answer is to that one.

Heading into the draft each season, everyone has an idea of what they want the Steelers to do. Of course, it’s difficult to judge what the Steelers will do because if the other NFL teams knew it they would make moves in order to grab players before the Steelers. So, as fans, there’s nothing wrong with having fun and speculating who the Steelers should draft. The biggest problem is when we fall in love too much with who we think the Steelers should take and not with who they actually end up choosing.

I know a fair share of Steelers fans who really wanted the running back out of Ohio State— J.K. Dobbins. When he was available for the Steelers at pick 49, Many were giddy as they patiently waited to hear the name. But it didn’t happen. Instead, the Steelers went with Chase Claypool. Not only were those who were completely sold on Dobbins devastated when the Steelers did not take him, when he went to that putrid purple team instead, the heartache was multiplied tenfold. How could the Steelers do this to their fan base?

Once again, it’s a very simple answer: The Steelers have a plan to maximize the draft as much as possible in order to make a better team which produces more wins.

Does the team sometimes make a questionable moves that we are not sure about? Absolutely. Does this happen often during the NFL draft? Probably more than any other time. I, for one, went on record as saying if the Steelers were going to add a running back in the draft, they should do it early and make sure it is an upgrade. The last thing I felt the Steelers needed to do was waste some of their precious 2020 draft capital on a position which would just get lost in a crowded room. When the Steelers did not draft a running back on Day 2, I was fairly confident the position was not going to be addressed in this year‘s draft. To my surprise, the next pick the Steelers made was Maryland running back Anthony McFarland Jr. Needless to say, my knee-jerk reaction to the pick was not favorable. But having to ask myself what the Steelers were thinking, I started to make sense of the situation. Perhaps the Steelers felt this player was an upgrade. Or perhaps they believed it was a player bringing something different to the table. Perhaps this was the player they ultimately like the best at the position and did not reach for him early as they addressed other needs. I’m not exactly sure what it was, but the Steelers had a plan.

Just to close the book a little on McFarland, I believe he is the biggest high-risk, high-reward player they drafted. Based on his 2018 tape against Ohio State, he has the makings to be a great running back. But he could easily not pan out at all. Only time will tell.

The only thing the Steelers can do to make the entire fan base happy is to win football games. Yes, I’m sure we all know someone that would not even be happy when the Steelers win. If that’s the case, that’s the kind of person we don’t need to take much stock in their opinion. I understand if sometimes in a victory fans might not be satisfied with everything that came about. There’s a lot of times the team itself is not satisfied with a win. But a win is a reason for all the Steelers nation to be happy until they move on to the next game.

If the ultimate job in satisfying the happiness of the fan base is winning football games, then the Steelers front office has to do everything they believe possible to win games. It really doesn’t matter what we think the team needs in order to get better.

The NFL is a business and teams have to operate under the salary cap. Some things are possible, but not everything we want can happen. I didn’t think there was any way the Steelers would be able to sign Eric Ebron, but somehow they pulled it off. There are other moves that the fans would like which did not or will not happen. J.K. Dobbins did not get drafted by the Steelers. They did not sign Jameis Winston as a back-up quarterback. It didn’t happen. It’s time to move on.

Yes, it is fine to have our opinions of what the Steelers can do. It’s what makes the offseason so much fun to interact with our Steelers brethren. But we have to realize that none of us really know what needs to be done in the Steelers front office. If one of you do, I’m really looking forward to seeing your name on the short list of candidates for general manager when Kevin Colbert decides to finally hang it up.

All I’m trying to do is put things in perspective. It’s great to have our opinions. But when they don’t come to fruition, we have to realize that those employed by our fantastic franchise are doing what they ultimately believe will give the Steelers the best chance to win a championship in 2020. So whether our opinions end up being right or wrong, the best thing we can do is be civil about it, move on, and continue to cheer hard for the black and gold.

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