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Steelers defer due date of Chris Boswell’s 2019 roster bonus until after final preseason game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 10:45am

By moving back the payment date of his $2 million roster bonus in 2019, the Steelers kicker will have limited job security heading into training camp.

After an exceptional 2017 season that saw him voted to the Pro Bowl, it would be fair to say that no Pittsburgh Steelers player had a more disappointing year in 2018 than Chris Boswell. Kicks that had became routine were a monumental challenge for the young kicker last season, with Boswell converting just 65-percent of his field goal attempts and a disappointing 89.6-percent of his extra points.

If not for the sizable contract extension he had signed back in August, there is a good chance the Steelers would have parted ways with him mid-season, but instead opted to place him on injured reserve when a groin injury revealed itself.

Heading into the second year of his new five-year deal, many had assumed that the structure of his contract would still make releasing him challenging, especially in light of a roster bonus that was due to him just days after the new league year began in March. However, it would appear that the front office took steps to fix that obstacle earlier in the offseason when they significantly altered the date of when that bonus was due.

Steelers told K Chris Boswell they would delay his $2 million roster bonus, which was due in mid-March, till after the final preseason game in Carolina. If Boswell didn't agree, they would have cut him. Steelers want to see more before deciding to give him a chance at redemption

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) May 29, 2019

As per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other sources on Tuesday, the payment of the $2 million roster bonus that Boswell was due has been moved back until after the team’s final preseason game, a move that would save the Steelers a decent amount of money if they decided to part ways with the fourth-year kicker ahead of the regular season.

Prior to this move, cutting Boswell this offseason would have saved Pittsburgh just $1 million in cap space and left them with $6.8 million in dead money to account spread over two seasons, now those figures will change to $3 million in savings and $4.8 million in dead money.

For a young player clearly struggling with confidence. this move cannot have helped him prepare for a bounce back season, the specter of his looming release now hanging over him. And while the Steelers hesitation to make a binding commitment is understandable, the business of football is not always a palatable one. Forced to acquiesce to the request or be released back in March, the front office left Boswell with few options this offseason.

Whether he can regain his form in an environment that appears to have minimal faith in his ability to rebound remains to be seen, and some might argue that Boswell may well be better served playing elsewhere in 2019 with a clean slate.

Forget running back by committee, could the Steelers run two back offensive sets?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 9:35am

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a feature back team for years now, but could that all be changing in 2019?

The Pittsburgh Steelers love their running backs. They always have, dating back to Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis, and always will. But throughout almost all of those eras, there has always been a feature back. There were obviously others on the roster, but there was the running back, and then other backs.

But could the Steelers in 2019 not just go with a more running back by committee approach, but also run some two back sets? This would jog the memory of the older Steelers fans who used to watch Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier dice up defenses while standing near each other behind Terry Bradshaw.

Fans have been clamoring for this to go into practice for years, and according to Sarah K. Spencer of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the team is at least looking at doing just that with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels.

“We did a little bit of it [last season], but we didn’t really run it in a game, so I guess this year we’re going to try and put that a little more in the offense,” Samuels said, via Spencer. “I think that could be kind of special with me and [Conner] in the backfield. Me and him in the game, period. We’re just building on from that right now. . . . He’s more of a runner and a catcher, as well, but I can get outside and run routes, as well. To have that dual threat with me and him in the game, it could be really scary for defenses.”

This is an approach which could do more than just frustrate defenses, but also help keep Conner fresh and healthy for the duration of a 16-game season, something he has yet to do in his NFL career. Either way, Conner is expecting the team to do more than practice this two-back set in 2019.

“It’s something we’ve had in for a little while, but I think we’re going to use it a little more this year, and I’m excited about it because we’re both really talented,” Conner said. “So it kind of puts the defense in a mix of who they really want to pay attention to because he’s shown what he can do.”

The wild card in this scenario is rookie fourth round pick Benny Snell Jr. Snell, the former Kentucky product, is coming off an amazing college career, and is hoping to bring “Benny Snell Football” to the city of Pittsburgh.

Snell’s downhill style is a perfect compliment to the type of runners both Conner and Samuels are at the current moment. When you add Snell into the mix, you have to wonder if the Steelers could have even more variables in this multi-back equation than just Conner and Samuels.

The Steelers may have just opened up Pandora’s box heading into the 2019 regular season, and although the team may never run these two back sets as fans want, it will at least give opposing defenses something to think about as they approach a game vs. the black-and-gold.

Chris Boswell has no plans to change his approach after troubling 2018 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 7:53am

Vowing to prepare in the same way as he has done previously, the fourth-year kicker is hoping for better results this time around.

When Chris Boswell was unavailable to the media during the first week of OTAs, there were some fans and local reporters who took exception to his desire to remain out of the spotlight, but the beleaguered kicker appeared to be more than willing to speak on Tuesday when the Pittsburgh Steelers resumed their offseason training program.

Steelers kicker Chris Boswell stopped to talk to local media today after OTAs for the first time since his erratic 2018 season, and his sense of humor is still intact.

"This should be interesting," he said.

— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) May 28, 2019

Reportedly drawing a large crowd for the first time he has spoken publicly since the 2018 season ended, Boswell was keen to put his struggles of last year behind him.

Chris Boswell drew a big media scrum after OTAs Tuesday. Has his approach changed from 2018? "Next kick," he said. "I know I've got to be better than last year but I'm not even paying attention to last year." Boswell would not discuss the groin injury that landed him on IR at end

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) May 28, 2019

Preferring instead to focus on improving in 2019, it would seem that Boswell is not overly concerned by the competition he will face in rookie Matthew Wright this offseason, clearly aware that his job will be safe if he can recapture the form he had shown previously.

Chris Boswell on facing competition in training camp: "We've always had somebody and I approach it the same way. No matter who is out here, it's me versus me, it's not me versus anybody. As long as I can conquer that I should be pretty good."

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) May 28, 2019

Despite suffering an apparent groin injury that would result in him being added to injured reserve towards the end of the season, Boswell refused to use that as an excuse for his poor performance in 2018 when talking to reporters.

#Steelers kicker Chris Boswell says he won’t blame last year’s performance on injury. @937theFan

— Josh Rowntree (@JRown32) May 28, 2019

“Nothing to be even mentioned or brought up, I’m out there to do a job and I didn’t do that job to the best of my ability, and that’s all it comes down to.”

Vowing to prepare himself for the season in the same fashion that he has in past years, Boswell is also not willing to turn his back on the preparation that won him the job with the Steelers in the first place.

“No, I’m going to stick to what I did the last, you know, going into my fourth year here. It didn't work last year, but I’m not going to scratch everything. I’m here to do and job and I’m going to focus on that job and the next kick.”

Having seen his field goal completion percentage drop from 92.1 percent in 2017 to 65 percent in 2018, it would be fair to question if Boswell would even have a shot to prove the doubters in Pittsburgh wrong this offseason if not for the sizable contract he signed last August. If his form does not appear to have returned throughout preseason, the Steelers will have no choice but to eat the dead money associated with his release.

Chris Boswell speaks about focusing on his next kick, his approach to the 2019 season and more following today's OTA.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 28, 2019

Steelers OTA Recap, Day 4: James Conner talks two back sets, leadership and more

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 6:53am

Time to check in on what went down at the UPMC Practice Facility for Organized Team Activities.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were back on the practice field Tuesday for their second week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and as each sessions progresses, it is interesting to hear more from players who may have avoided the reporters in Week 1.

In this recap you hear from the likes of James Conner, Vance McDonald, Chris Boswell and even Mason Rudolph. To be clear, BTSC is not at the OTAs live, but simply follows along from those who are there and willing to share some of their insights on social media.

With that said, let’s get to some news:

  • James Conner spoke to the media Tuesday, and had some very interesting things to say about a lot of different things during his media session. This from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler:

Thought James Conner set a tone in his media session:

"I'm all for that" (multiple backs getting the ball)

"I haven't earned anything."

"It's important to be a good person and have good character"

"No players motivate us. We’re motivated by a trophy."

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 28, 2019

Motivated by a trophy. Now that is a novel idea for a team who has their share of trophies in their team headquarters. Let’s hope Conner is building the foundation for a new team, and a new mindset moving forward.

  • Mason Rudolph, the second year quarterback from Oklahoma State, realizes his goal in 2019 isn’t to beat out Ben Roethlisberger, but to be the primary backup over Joshua Dobbs. This was his first full offseason, and he has certainly taken advantage of the time by studying the playbook and knowing the ins and outs of the team’s offense.

Mason Rudolph on off-season playbook prep: “It allowed me about four months of deep dives and conversations with the coaching staff, hitting them up and studying. I enjoy that stuff. I can kind of get into a little bit of a nerd mentality in the offseason. It’s fun studying.”

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) May 28, 2019

As for Rudolph’s long-term future, he decided to not talk about that...

#Steelers second-year QB says he doesn't want to talk about his long-term future. More concerned about moving up from third-string to second string. Expects to get more reps w/the starters during OTAs and minicamp.

— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) May 28, 2019
  • Maybe one of the biggest news stories coming out of Tuesday’s workouts was none other than Chris Boswell meeting with the media. Boswell said all the right things, but still has to prove himself to the coaching staff before being given his job again in 2019.

See what he said, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Chris Boswell drew a big media scrum after OTAs Tuesday. Has his approach changed from 2018? "Next kick," he said. "I know I've got to be better than last year but I'm not even paying attention to last year." Boswell would not discuss the groin injury that landed him on IR at end

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) May 28, 2019

Chris Boswell on facing competition in training camp: "We've always had somebody and I approach it the same way. No matter who is out here, it's me versus me, it's not me versus anybody. As long as I can conquer that I should be pretty good."

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) May 28, 2019

Check out Boswell’s complete media session below:

Chris Boswell speaks about focusing on his next kick, his approach to the 2019 season and more following today's OTA.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 28, 2019
  • One of the players who has drawn a lot of attention this offseason has been Vance McDonald. The talented tight end has been very vocal about the team’s ability to make up for the lack of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell by being creative. This from Mark Kaboly of The Athletic:

Steelers TE Vance McDonald on the offensive firepower -- "I think we have the guys -- they don't necessarily have Brown and Bell on the back of their jerseys -- but if you can play the position, and do what you are asked to do make plays and we are going to do that."

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) May 28, 2019

Here is video of the interview, via Fowler of ESPN:

Vance McDonald expects the Steelers offense to get ‘creative’ in trying to replace Antonio Brown’s production.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 28, 2019

Mike Prisuta & Matt Williamson (@WilliamsonNFL) talk about the energy at OTAs, Chris Boswell and more following our fourth OTA.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 29, 2019

Checkin' in

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 28, 2019

Podcast: To all Steelers fans, I am not a hater

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 5:30am

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

If you are someone who has been listening to our flagship podcast, “Standard is the Standard”, you know all about my co-host Lance Williams. Williams’ extensive experience talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers gives him a very level-headed approach to the team.

In other words, he calls it like he sees it.

He is the furthest thing from a homer, unlike me, but throughout the years he has gotten a reputation of being a hater. A negative Nancy. A Debbie downer.

You get the picture.

But the one thing which fans don’t realize is that although he might not pour over NFL Draft notes, study OTAs news and pine over the latest camp darling, it doesn’t mean he is less of a fan, or a hater.

With that said, why don’t I let him explain himself regarding him being a hater...

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 how despite being a realist, he is not a hater.

Lance is the perfect man for the job, and delivers the goods in the latest show.

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
Google Play: CLICK HERE

Black and Gold Links: While James Washington is losing weight, Mike Hilton is bulking up for 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/29/2019 - 4:35am

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

With the 2019 NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season is fast approaching, and the news surrounding the black-and-gold is far from over. As the team now turns their attention to more offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp, there is no shortage of news.

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how as the Steelers prepare for the 2019 season, every individual player realizes their strengths and weaknesses. James Washington needed to add speed and agility, so he lost weight. Mike Hilton, hoping to gain power, has been on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Let’s get to the news:

  • As one man loses, another man gains. This is true for James Washington and Mike Hilton, but Hilton is on the gaining side of the ledger.

Bulked-up Mike Hilton hopes Steelers appreciate his work

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Hilton looked noticeably bulked up during the opening three days of organized team activities last week. The slot cornerback said he added 7 or 8 pounds of muscle onto his 5-foot-9 frame and he intends to play this season at close to 190 pounds. He is listed at 184 on the team’s roster.

“It was intentional,” Hilton said. “Especially coming off my (elbow) injury, I feel like if I get stronger, I will be able to handle that type of weight.”

The small player with the big role is practicing through the weight of a contract dispute of sorts. After two years playing major snaps at the increasingly important position of nickel defensive back, Hilton quietly declined to sign the the exclusive-rights free-agent tender the Steelers presented him in March.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • The Steelers’ wide receiver depth is being given the dangerous ‘P’ word attached to them — POTENTIAL.

Analysis: Breaking down receiving options

By: Dale Lolley, DPittsburghSports

Even without Mr. Big Chest, the Steelers still boast a receiving corps with plenty of potential.

Of course, in many athletic circles, potential is a dirty word, especially if you fail to live up to it.

That wasn’t the case with JuJu Smith-Schuster in 2018. Coming off a strong rookie season, Smith-Schuster had the potential to break out in his second season. He did just that, catching a team-high 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven scores.

But with Antonio Brown gone, the Steelers need someone -- or perhaps several someones -- to fill that void.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • P.J. Locke is making all sorts of headlines...

Undrafted rookie P.J. Locke chose the Steelers because he can make the roster

By: Michael David Smith, ProFootballTalk

Former Texas safety P.J. Locke didn’t get drafted last month, but he was a good enough player in college that as the third day of the draft was winding down, he got several offers from teams that wanted him to come in as an undrafted free agent. He told them all he wasn’t ready to sign just yet.

What Locke did instead was spend the Sunday after the draft researching NFL rosters to get a feel for which team he thought he had the best chance of making, given their needs on defense and the skill set he brings to the table. And then on Monday, the Steelers called, and they were one of the teams he thought would be a perfect fit.

“I had some offers on the table; I was kind of like weighing my options,” Locke told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I just didn’t want to make a decision real quick. I wanted to see what the best fit was me. And then, come that Monday. . . . As soon as they gave me the offer. I looked into it and I felt like it was the place for me.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

Good JuJu‼️#TDTuesday | @TeamJuJu

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 28, 2019

TTG! @iamkevingates

— James Conner (@JamesConner_) May 27, 2019

#100Days until Kickoff Let’s Get Ittt!!!

— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) May 28, 2019

Chronicles of not knowing how to swim

— Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (@Love_Ola_9) May 27, 2019

My heart jumped

— Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (@Love_Ola_9) May 27, 2019

Podcast: Steelers fans have to get past the Tom Petty prophecy this offseason

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 2:09pm

As the head Heartbreaker once said, “The waiting is the hardest part”. Join Tony and Bryan as they break down the offseason blues.

The waiting for the 2019 season has the hard part down to under two months. Join Bryan Davis and Anthony Defeo from BTSC as they share their thoughts afterwards for the extravaganza known as “Steelers Hangover”.

In case you are new to the show, you can check out a complete rundown of the show below:

  • Fact or Fiction
  • NFL happenings that effect Steeler Nation
  • and MUCH MORE!

Check out the show below:

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

Justin Layne feels like he is “getting there” within the Steelers defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 12:35pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately need a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball, and the hope is Justin Layne is the answer to their problem.

Of all the nine drafted players in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 NFL Draft class, Justin Layne might have had the most hype surrounding him. Sure, Devin Bush was the most discussed, but the general consensus is the trade up in the first round was a move to get an almost known commodity. On the other hand, Layne, a 3rd round pick, is brimming with up-side, but whether his game translates to the NFL has yet to be determined.

After one week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) under his belt, the Steelers’ rookie cornerback is starting to feel as if he belongs, and is learning the system.

“I feel like I’m getting there,” Layne told Hunter Homistek of DKPittsburghSports. “It’s like as soon as I started getting something down pat, we’re adding something else. But that’s just part of the game. I still got a long way to go, but I think I’m doing pretty good so far.”

Getting to the point where he is now hasn’t just come from individual hard work and determination. No, Layne has needed some help from his friends.

“[Working with Haden’s] been great,” Layne said. “Everybody’s unselfish. Everybody’s trying to help each other, help the younger guys. It’s been great.”

“Most of the time, I ask them questions, but they always, if I do something wrong or my eyes are in the wrong spot, they always come pull me aside and say, ‘Hey, you need to do that better, do that better,’” Layne said. “They’re always giving their little two cents but I just ask a lot of questions for the most part, and everybody is open.”

The Steelers’ secondary might not be a star-studded crew, but with the addition of Steven Nelson, they have a wealth of knowledge and experience at the position to help groom Layne into the player fans hope he becomes.

But don’t talk to Layne about being a starter, or making key interceptions at the game’s highest level. All he is focused on is getting better every day, and getting comfortable in his new city.

“I’m just trying to get better out there for the most part,” Layne told Homistek at the Rooney Complex. “I had some errors today, but I also made some plays. So I’m just trying to get in shape and try to adapt to the new system and everything.”

As of now, you have to wonder what the plan is for Layne within the Steelers’ system. While he is capable of playing both inside and outside, him being groomed to take over for Joe Haden would be a best-case scenario. The first job on the agenda for Layne would be nothing more than cracking the roster.

Just take a look at the CB depth chart he will have to overcome this summer at training camp:

Joe Haden
Steven Nelson
Mike Hilton
Cam Sutton
Brian Allen
Artie Burns

It shouldn’t be tough for Layne to fill the spot Coty Sensabaugh filled last year as the primary backup along the outside, but the main issue will be if/when Layne is ready for the NFL stage. There is plenty of time for him to get acclimated, and the preseason will be a good indicator of his overall readiness from the NCAA to the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Player Profile: Damian Prince

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 11:01am

Continuing our dive into the new faces who are trying to make a name for themselves with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019.

Damian Prince was one of four players signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers after their three-day rookie minicamp. The 6’3, 320 pound offensive lineman out of Maryland went undrafted and unsigned as an undrafted rookie free agent until the tryout. Prince attended the Indianapolis Colts minicamp the weekend before, but came away seeking a home.

Steelers seventh-round pick, Derwin Gray was the left bookend at tackle to Prince at Maryland. It is yet unclear if Prince will be kept at tackle or moved inside to guard during the offseason. Showing versatility on the right side will be the key to his chances to make the roster or the practice squad.

Prince was a five-star recruit coming out of high school and the No. 2 offensive lineman prospect. Like many blue-chip prospects, dreams of being drafted by an NFL team were dashed even after starting 33 games the past three seasons and 39 of a possible 43.

In 2018, Prince considered going pro but returned for his last season. Matt Miller had Prince listed as his No. 2 guard on his big board in 2017. Pro Football Focus listed him as their (tied) No. 4 offensive tackle before the 2018 season. So 20/20 hindsight, he should have made that decision instead of coming back his senior season.

So what happened to Prince in 2018 that sent him tumbling down draft boards? In 2018, he saw his fourth head coach not to mention his fourth position coach during his tenure in Maryland.

“Throughout those four to five years, each year taught me something about myself, not just as a football player but as a man,” Prince said. “There’s days when I walked into the building and they say, ‘You have a new offensive line coach.’ … It teaches you at the same time to be professional, and to not mix business with outside relationships. I feel like that’s important, going on to this next level -- whether that be the NFL or whether that be the business world.”

The passing of teammate and his former roommate offensive lineman Jordan McNair no doubt impacted Prince. McNair collapsed on May 29, 2018, and died two weeks later from heatstroke.

The accumulation of the above and the three games missed because of injuries led to a senior season that was not up to snuff for NFL personnel. Prince showed in previous years he has talent. Can he showcase that talent and make a mark with the Steelers is the big question mark. Doubtful any BTSC or Steelers fan expected Zach Banner to make the team, or even heard of him before mid-August.

Who is Prince competing against? Well, that depends do if the Steelers see Prince as a guard or a tackle, and who wins the starting right tackle gig. My take is he will be a guard while Matt Feiler was serviceable but replaceable at right tackle, but Feiler has the versatility to play on the interior. If Chuks Okorafor snares the right tackle job, the line depth becomes muddied fast and Princes’ spot would be difficult to get on a 53-man roster with the Steelers keeping their traditional nine offensive linemen. Zach Banner is nothing special except for being a mammoth of a man standing 6’8” and 360 pounds. B.J Finney with his guaranteed $3.095 million contract is the first interior lineman off the bench at any of the three positions. Another roadblock in the way of Prince is the fourth round, and former BTSC favorite and oft-injured Jerald Hawkins. Seen by many draftniks as an interior prospect, can he actually stay healthy and compete for a spot on the line?

My projection:

Prince’s only shot to make the roster is as a backup interior lineman. He has zero future as an NFL tackle. Delete his senior season and he has the pedigree. The Steelers keep at least two undrafted players and I would put Prince right there. I have never had faith in Hawkins at OT or OG to I expect him to finally flame out. Prince has the versatility that the Steelers crave. He will become a weekly inactive but still part of the 53.

NFL has opening discussions with NFLPA about a new labor agreement

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 9:30am

Preliminary discussions began last month over a new CBA agreement between the league and the players union

While the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is not due to end until after the 2020 season, it would appear that league officials have already begun preliminary discussions with their counterparts from the NFLPA.

As per a report by Kevin Draper and Ken Belson of the New York Times on Tuesday, NFL executives initiated conversations with the players union last month, holding two meetings that were surprisingly characterized as amicable given the animosity that has been evident between the two sides as of late.

Hoping to avoid the 136-day lockout that accompanied the last CBA negotiations in 2011, the earlier a deal can be agreed the better for all concerned. However, with NFLPA president Eric Winston actively still telling the players to prepare for a lockout as recently as February, those involved in these initial discussions understand that there is still plenty of work to be done at this stage. As New York Giants owner John Mara noted when talking to Jarrett Bell of USA Today last week.

“We’ve got a long way to go. There’s a willingness on both sides to have continued conversation.”

According to The New York Times report, the first meeting between the two sides was a chance for each party to lay out the goals they hope to achieve with the next CBA, with the players looking for an increase in their share of league revenue that currently pays them around 48 percent of the total.

Faced with re-negotiating their media contracts with their broadcast partners in 2022, the sooner the NFL can agree a long term deal with the NFLPA, the stronger their position will be in those negotiations in the minds of league officials. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell among those hoping for a quick resolution with the players union.

“I do hope it is sooner rather than later. I think there is great value to all parties, and most importantly our fans, that we get this issue resolved and move forward.”

With the NFLPA apparently also looking to agree a deal before Winston’s term as president ends in March of 2021, both sides have their own incentives to get an agreement done quickly. But with issues like marijuana, increasing minimum salaries and performance based bonuses expected to be sticking points for the players, while teams look for increased practice time and more mandatory training session, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. And as cordial as the discussions are right now, it would not be a surprise if past hostilities rear their head once again when negotiations begin to bog down.

It’s time we all stop reading negative things into positive Steelers quotes

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 8:02am

Steelers players—including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster—have been saying all the right things regarding the team, Antonio Brown, and the upcoming 2019 regular season. It’s probably best if we all stopped trying to spin these positive quotes into negative stories.

“Bullspit!” That’s what many people have been saying all week regarding Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s interview with KDKA’s Bob Pompeani last Monday.

You know the interview I’m talking about, right? The one where he said he was deeply sorry for his actions that caused the rift with Antonio Brown, the guy who, to quote Roethlisberger: ‘made me who I am.’

Roethlisberger said he and Brown were great friends, and that he’s so sorry things between them have gotten to the point where the receiver now has so much contempt for the quarterback, his former buddy, friend, pal.

Roethlisberger wasn’t sincere, was he? I sure didn’t think so when I discussed the interview with my really good friend, Bryan Anthony Davis, on our weekly podcast, The Steelers Hangover.

Obviously, unlike Roethlisberger, I’m genuine, so when I say Bryan is my really good friend, I mean it. But Big Ben and AB really good friends? Big Ben was being his usual disingenuous self. The whole part about Brown making Roethlisberger who he is today. Yeah, right, Roethlisberger, the man who earned his second Super Bowl ring while Brown was still at Central Michigan.

Give me a break.

Don’t get me wrong, as I told Bryan last Monday evening, I was really glad Roethlisberger took the high road and didn’t add any more negative fuel to the on-going fire that has been No. 84 since 2018 turned into 2019, but there was no way I thought the soon to be 16-year veteran quarterback was being honest with Pompeani.

What about the part where Roethlisberger said he reached out to Brown (“Tone”) several times since their rift began and was saddened by a lack of a response? Total bull, right? At least that’s what a really awesome new caller to our show said about that when he talked to Bryan and me last Monday night around 10:30 p.m.

Another person who, like the caller to the Hangover on Monday, didn’t buy Roethlisberger’s story, was ESPN’s Marcus Spears, a former NFL player who out and out called the Steelers quarterback a ‘liar’ regarding the health of his relationship with Brown toward the end of the 2018 season.

Moving on to receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and some of the things he said on Wednesday during OTAs. In a rather mature interview session with reporters (at least on the surface, hint, hint), Smith-Schuster said, among other things, that he’d sacrifice individual success for team goals. He also said he’d be available to reporters without restrictions in 2019.

Again, very mature. Or maybe it was all a dig at Brown, especially the quote, courtesy of the Trib’s Joe Rutter, where Smith-Schuster said, “I’m not going to be an a**hole.”

At least that’s what Steelers beat reporter Mark Kaboly from The Athletic inferred when he Tweeted another quote: “JuJu Smith-Schuster took the high road with most of his comments today but toss, IMO, a little dart at Antonio Brown: “'I will take 5 catches for 30 yards and win the game than have 10 catches, two touchdowns.'"

Kaboly quickly drew the ire of Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree who Tweeted:”Here u go tryna start beef fat boy leave the past alone.”

A bunch of people came to Kaboly’s defense after Dupree's rather tasteless—and very immature—comments to a reporter that he has to actually be around on a regular basis.

How dare Bud, right? Obviously, JuJu was going after AB with his comments, especially the a-hole part.

Speaking of insincere, that’s what I’ve mostly been up to this point regarding my opinion on the sincerity of both Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster.

Was Roethlisberger being genuine regarding his feelings toward Brown? Was JuJu covertly taking shots at Brown when he said all of those nice things on Wednesday?

Who cares?

It doesn’t matter what I think. It doesn’t matter what Mark Kaboly thinks. It doesn’t matter what Marcus Spears thinks. The point is, these two guys said all of the right things.

And while Dupree was rather crude and, quite frankly, stupid for his fat-shaming of Kaboly, he was right about one thing: what’s up with everyone trying to start beef out of thin air?

Haven’t Steelers players provided us with enough negative quotes in recent years to write an entire book? Haven’t the fans and the media been pretty darn adamant about these guys either staying off of social media or at least acting mature while engaging with others on various platforms?

When a player says something negative, we take it at face-value. We don’t bother to speculate. We don’t even try to spin it. “That fool was being negative,” we all say.

But when a player says something positive, we say he’s full of it? We call him a liar?

If anyone’s full of it, it’s the people—including yours truly—questioning the sincerity of Roethlisberger, of Smith-Schuster.

Finally, everyone has been dying for the Steelers to say the right things, to act the right way.

They have been lately. Let’s stop spinning positives into negatives.

“You’re In Steelers Country:” Paying tribute to the brotherhood of Steelers fandom

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 6:55am

The broad reach of Steelers Nation connects us like none other.

Recently, my wife and I packed our kids into the Family Truckster and made the twelve hour drive from our home in New Jersey to Asheville, North Carolina to attend the wedding of my cousin. Normally I’m not crazy enough to cart a six and a one year old on a road trip through half a dozen states. But I had always heard great things about Asheville and I was eager to check it out.

Asheville, for those of you who are unfamiliar, is a funky little town nestled in the shadows of the Appalachian and Smoky Mountains. It’s a destination for hippies, foodies, hikers, bikers, tattoo artists, bachelorettes, renegades, people who enjoy drum circles, people who want to people-watch and people who want to get lost. In short, my kind of place. It is replete with quality restaurants and you can’t throw a rock without hitting a brewery. We spent our time there feasting on jambalaya, tapas and craft beers with great names like Boojam and Napoleon Complex. We also toured the Biltmore Estate (George Vanderbilt’s ode to self-indulgence), did some backpacking and danced to a wedding band whose twenty minute medley of 80s hits covered everything from Run DMC to Rick Astley. Our kids held it together with a minimum of meltdowns, too. All in all, the trip was a great success.

This article isn’t a meditation on my family travels, of course. I could talk for hours about the Pomegranate-Infused Pork Spring Rolls we ate at a place called Zambra but outside of SNW, Hearts, Canuck and a few others, no one would care. This is a Steelers site and I have a Steelers story to tell. Specifically, a story about a man named Boots and the broad reach and unique brotherhood that is inherent in being a Steelers fan.

I met Boots at a gas station tucked away near an I-26 off-ramp at the Tennessee-North Carolina border. We had been on the road for eleven hours already and the final push was a beautiful drive through an eastern stretch of the Smokies. I tried to get to Asheville without stopping but the steep climbs were moving the needle on the gas gauge towards the bottom of the ‘E.’ I pulled off the interstate and drove for a mile before I found it - a lonely little station with a couple of pumps and a vending machine that sold what may be the last few cans of RC Cola on earth. An American flag hung in the window of the small office. And below the flag, this iconic banner:

I pondered that banner as I stood beside my car filling the tank. There is one just like it hanging from the porch of a home not far from us in Jersey. I’ve seen one in the neighborhood where my sister lives in Arizona, too. Now this one, on a remote road in the Smokies.

At first the banner simply made me smile. But then a man came out of the office, an older gentleman dressed in overalls and a mechanic’s shirt, and started to poke around under the hood of a car parked beside the shop. I finished pumping, replaced the nozzle and walked over in his direction.

As a teacher and a coach, I spend a lot of my day talking. The topics are things I am passionate about and I enjoy it a great deal. But it takes a lot of energy. Outside of my profession, then, I’m pretty much an introvert. I like to observe things and I’m not much interested in small-talk. I’m such a bad small-talker, in fact, that my wife scolds me for being rude to people who strike up idle conversation at social gatherings. “Make an effort,” she tells me. “At least try to pretend.”

I do try. I’m just not that interested in the weather or in community gossip or in pictures of people’s kids. I have my passions and when I find someone who shares them, or someone with an interesting story to tell, I’m happy to talk for days. History. Politics. Food. Music. Football. The Pittsburgh Freaking Steelers. The rest is just white noise.

The man saw me approaching and flashed a smile. “Can I help you?” he asked. He had a drawl, something like deep South with a little Appalachia mixed in, and wore a salt-and-pepper beard beneath a head of thinning gray hair. I noticed his hands immediately - thick slabs of meat with stubby fingers attached. They were the hands of the mechanic, the laborer, the steel worker. The hands of a Steelers fan.

“That your Steelers flag in the window?” I asked.

“Yes sir,” he said. “Six-time Super Bowl champs.”

I’m pretty sure I grinned. I noticed the name tag on his shirt. Boots. I’m sure I grinned again.

What ensued was a fifteen minute conversation that ended only after my wife laid on the horn a second time. Boots had been born in West Virginia, I discovered. He wasn’t much of a football fan as a kid because all his time was spent going to school or working at a nearby auto shop. When he got older, however, a young Nick Saban led the local high school to a state championship. That lit a passion in Boots. He never played the game himself but he started watching every chance he could. He’d drive up to Morgantown to watch WVU games at first. Then, when he had enough money to buy his own TV, he’d watch the pro team everyone in the area followed: the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was the late 60s, Boots told me, and the Steelers were pretty awful. “But then they drafted Mean Joe,” he said, “and all of that started to change.” Boots remembered watching the Immaculate Reception on an old black-and-white in a local bar. After the game the bartender opened the taps and instructed the room to drink until the kegs ran dry.

I told him about my first Steelers memory - the Cliff Harris altercation with Roy Gerela in Super Bowl X and Jack Lambert’s subsequent body slam - and how that had made me a fan for life. He said he’d gotten married and moved to Tennessee by then. He’d missed that game because his son was being born and the hospital only had a grainy transistor radio on which to follow it. His son died a few years later - he didn’t say how and I didn’t ask - but “the Steelers won their fourth Super Bowl that year. I think that was God’s way of letting me know my boy was ok.”

We talked about the current team, the recent draft and the Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown dramas. Boots, as you might imagine, was not a big fan of either. He liked Mike Tomlin, though. “The guy has them in the mix every year,” Boots said, “that’s all you can really ask.” I asked who his favorite player was. “I don’t have favorites now-a-days,” he said. “I’m an old man and they’re a bunch of kids. It feels kind of weird picking favorites fifty years my junior.” But for an all-time favorite no one would ever replace Mean Joe. “That guy started it all,” Boots said. “Without him none of this would have happened.”

I shook his hand before I left. His grip felt like a vice tightening around my knuckles. My wife was incredulous when I climbed into the car. “You don’t say two words to people at home,” she said, “but a thousand miles away you’re chatting it up like best friends with some stranger at a gas station.”

“He was a Steelers fan,” I told her. To which she simply said, “Oh.”

That’s the beauty of it, really. She understood. We’d been down that road before. From state to state, from one time zone to another, even in some of the foreign countries to which I’ve traveled, I find passionate Steeler fans everywhere I go. I would imagine that the fans of all professional sports franchises feel a kinship-of-sorts with one another. The time, money and energy we expend rooting for the same team creates a natural bond. But Steelers fans seem to have something deeper, something more like a brotherhood. The six Super Bowl victories certainly help. But so does the pride associated with being a Steelers fan. It’s as though their success has validated us in some strange way. As though, by rooting for them, we are successful too. When we meet our fellow Steelers fans along the way we might moan about this player or that coach the way all fans do. But we never seem to lament our fandom or regret our choice. We are proud to be Steelers fans. We are eager to share this pride when we encounter each other.

I’ve lived in southern New Jersey most of my life so many of my friends are Eagles fans. They have always been proud to root for “the Birds,” too, but their pride has been tinged with something like martyrdom, as though, in rooting for a perennially frustrating and unsuccessful franchise, their bond has been forged through mutual suffering. Much of that changed two years ago when they won the Super Bowl. Yet Eagles fans still seem destined to expect the worst. Rooting for them, it seems, is not an uplifting endeavor.

That has not been my experience as a Steelers fan. Despite the occasionally negative tone here at BTSC, my personal encounters with Steelers fans have been overwhelmingly positive. Sometimes I see people out in public wearing Steelers’ gear and I give them a shout. “Go Steelers!” They always hit me back with something positive. Other times the encounters are more personal, like my conversation with Boots. Those are more meaningful interactions. So often they validate my sense that our fandom really is a brotherhood.

It bothers me that I didn’t ask Boots about his name. Why Boots? It seems safe to assume that was not his given name. How, then, did he come to be known that way? For all of the things I don’t know about him, however, it is remarkable what, in our brief interaction, I did learn. His upbringing. How watching a young Nick Saban play high school football turned him on to the game. The impact Joe Greene had on his life. The fact that he had a son born on the day I became a Steelers fan. The fact that son passed away as a little boy and how Boots had come to cope with it. I learned all of these things from a man I never would have met had it not been for the banner hanging in the window of his office. You’re In Steelers Country. I suspect, now that I’ve written this piece, I will never forget him.

If that isn’t brotherhood, what is?

Podcast: When will the Steelers’ drama end?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 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 season is over, but the news is just starting to heat up. 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, including a fun game of “True or False!”

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Ben Roethlisberger speaks
  • The Steelers’ odds to have the best record in the NFL
  • Steelers Questions
  • 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
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: Could UDFA safety P.J. Locke break through to make the 53-man roster?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/28/2019 - 4:38am

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

With the 2019 NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season is fast approaching, and the news surrounding the black-and-gold is far from over. As the team now turns their attention to more offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp, there is no shortage of news.

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Undrafted Rookie Free Agent (UDFA) P.J. Locke is turning heads with his versatility at Steelers Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

Let’s get to the news:

  • The more you can do, the better you will be. This is true in many aspects of life, but also for those trying to man an NFL roster. Luckily for UDFA rookie safety P.J. Locke, he has versatility to boot. Can be make the 53-man roster.

Undrafted rookie P.J. Locke brings versatility to Steelers

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

P.J. Locke took a calculated gamble in the frenzied hours as the NFL draft wound down late last month.

While he wasn’t a top draft prospect by any means, as an experienced safety from a blueblood college program Locke had options as an undrafted free agent. But instead of pouncing on one of the offers he got during that crazy, meat-market Saturday for teams, prospects and their agents across the league, Locke took a step back.

“I had some offers on the table; I was kind of like weighing my options,” Locke said after an organized team activities session at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex last week. “I just didn’t want to make a decision real quick. I wanted to see what the best fit was me.

“And then, come that Monday…”

The Pittsburgh Steelers – unexpectedly – called.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • The Steelers need free agent CB Steven Nelson to show out in 2019, and the good news is he is settling into his new role with his new team.

Armed with biggest free agent contract in Steelers history, Steven Nelson settles in during OTAs

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Nelson said former Oregon State teammate Marcus Wheaton – a third-round pick by the Steelers two years before Nelson entered the league – gave a solid reference for what to expect from the organization during Nelson’s free-agency decision-making process.

“The organization’s past history, man, very deep rooted in football,” Nelson said last week. “The whole town is big on football, and I think the Steelers have a big tradition in football.”

Nelson joins veteran Mark Barron and first-round pick Devin Bush as key offseason additions to a Steelers defense that has finished among the top six in the NFL in yardage allowed each of the past two seasons.

“It’s very contagious,” Nelson said of the mindset among the defense. “Guys have high energy, guys want to be great, they want to win.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • If you are wondering about the status of James Conner entering his first year as the feature back from Day 1, his mind is just where it should be.

Conner: ‘I just go about my business’

By: Teresa Varley,

James Conner entered OTAs as the team’s No. 1 running back, but that isn’t changing the way he prepares. He is a regular at the voluntary practices, knowing there is always room for improvement and growth.

“The first rule of getting better is showing up,” said Conner. “With all of us being here, running the plays we are going to be in season, it’s going to help us in the long run.

“I want to knock the rust off, do some conditioning, and be around the new guys. A little bit of everything.”

Conner said he doesn’t look at himself as a leader, even though he is the most experienced running back in the group. But if others look at him that way, he knows he needs to step up.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

Compete on the field ✅
Compete on the grill ✅

Members of our defense brought their skills to the grill and competed in a steak cookoff.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 27, 2019

#MemorialDay holds a special place in our hearts.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 27, 2019

1️⃣Sunday closer to football.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 27, 2019

We remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. #MemorialDay

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 27, 2019

Impending suspension for Patriots TE Ben Watson will impact Steelers game in Week 1

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/27/2019 - 1:31pm

The Patriots latest addition at tight end a player projected to be a starter in 2019 will now miss the Steelers game in Week 1 due to suspension.

With the loss of Rob Gronkowski to retirement this offseason, it would be fair to say that the New England Patriots will not pose the same sort of challenge to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 as they have in past years.

Having personally dominated the Steelers on numerous occasions over the years, Gronkowski’s departure was something of a blessing for a Steelers team set to face New England on opening day, but the Patriots have done their best to replace him this offseason with some free agent signings at the position.

Former New Orleans Saints, Baltimore Ravens and Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson was coaxed out of retirement and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins was added during free agency, but it appears that the Patriots will not be able to field both new options when they host Pittsburgh in Week 1.

Revealing he has been hit with a four-game ban by the league for his use of performance enhancing drugs over the weekend, Watson will now be unavailable to New England when they take on the Steelers.

#Patriots TE Benjamin Watson announces on Facebook that he will serve a 4-game suspension to start the 2019 #NFL season. His statement is below.

— ig: josinaanderson (@JosinaAnderson) May 26, 2019

Unlike many of the excuses given by players to explain their use of substances from the league’s banned list, it would be fair to say that Watson’s reasoning seems reasonable to believe given his situation at the time. And much as it pains me to be supportive of any member of the Patriots organization, it would appear to be a relatively honest mistake in this instance, if his post of social media is to be believed.

Given his admission of guilt, it also seems highly unlikely that Watson will be appealing the league’s decision.

Agent of kicker Matthew Wright saw Steelers as ‘a good opportunity’ for his client

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/27/2019 - 11:35am

Rookie kicker Matthew Wright was encourage to chose the Steelers by his agent when they called on day three of the draft.

The opportunities for kickers in the NFL are relatively limited when compared to others position in the league, and for a young rookie prospect coming out of college, finding the right opportunity can be as important as having the talent to make it in the NFL.

Being signed to act as competition for an established veteran does not always end well for a rookie kicker, regardless of how well they perform. But if the agent of Matthew Wright is correct, his client may well have ended up in the perfect place for him this offseason.

Having seen Chris Boswell struggle in 2018, it was no surprise to see the front office add an extra option to the kicking group as an undrafted free agent. And for the former UCF product, the Steelers made perfect sense as the team to choose once his agent had made him aware of what a good opportunity the Steelers were for him. As per Chris Adamski of TribLive.

“I agreed to come here about midway through the draft on the third day actually. They called and me, and my agent thought there was an opportunity (with the Steelers), a good opportunity.”

With the release of Matt McCrane earlier in the month, that opportunity improved significantly, leaving Boswell as the only obstacle currently standing between him and a starting role in Pittsburgh.

However, despite being the challenger for Boswell’s job this offseason, Wright acknowledged that the returning veteran was actually helping him adjust to life in the NFL.

“He’s helpful with everything and in just learning how to be a pro out here and ‘every kick matters’ and just treating it like that.”

A career success rate of 78.1-percent with his field goal attempts speaks well of his consistency at UCF, but should it not work out for him in the NFL, Wright has a degree in aerospace engineering to fall back on much like new teammate Josh Dobbs. Not that he has had a chance to talk about it with him yet though.

“I haven’t talked to (Dobbs), If it comes up, it comes up. I’m not gonna (bring it up).”

UCF career points leader (375)
UCF career FG leader (55)
Career FGs: 55/71 (78%)
Career 40-49yd FGs: 22/30 (73%)

S/o @PSHEA22

— Matt Wright (@Mattyice717) January 13, 2019

Steelers Burning Question: What’s in a number change?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/27/2019 - 9:45am

The Steelers 6th round draft pick has switched jersey numbers.

Sutton Smith was as productive as any edge defender entering the 2019 NFL Draft. In his sophomore and junior seasons Smith put up 30 sacks and had 58.5 tackles for loss. During the draft process Smith was labeled as being undersized and many wondered if the success he had at Northern Illinois would translate to the next level.

Smith has went on record, saying he is willing to do whatever any team needs or wants him to do. So far in the early stages of Rookie Mini Camp and the start OTA’s, Mike Tomlin has taken Smith as a man of his word. The rookie has received snaps at both running back and as a full back.

Sounds familiar, one of Behind The Steel Curtains’ favorites, Roosevelt Nix took a similar path. Coming out of Kent State, another MAC school, Rosie was also an under sized edge defender that had his share of success in college. He bounced around with the Falcons and Browns before signing with the Steelers. He now finds himself making holes for James Conner and the Steeler offense, well that and blowing up ball carriers on special teams play...I did mention he was a fan favorite.

I was doing some browsing this week and came across how Sutton Smith switched from No. 51 to No. 42. It was verified by looking at the Steelers team page. What does it mean?

Does Rosie now have serious camp competition?

Is this a situation that position flexibility allows Coach Tomlin some maneuverability on the 53?

Is this just coincidence that Smith wanted No. 42 and it has nothing to do with reps at full back or even at running back?

Is it just Plan B, in the event of an injury?

Tell us what you think in the comment section and as always Go Steelers!!!!

2019 Steelers Draft: Height and weight doesn’t dictate the potential of Sutton Smith

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/27/2019 - 8:15am

To get to know the Steelers’ 2019 NFL Draft picks I reached out to their college affiliates to get to know them a bit more!

When any NFL team drafts new players, fans want to learn as much as they can about those particular prospects. What do they do well? What do they struggle with? How about their highlight reel?

For me, I like to talk to people who actually know them best, and this is one of the best aspects of working for SB Nation. After the Steelers selected their full compliment of players, I reached out to the writers who covered them in college to get to know them a little better.

In my opinion, these writers are the ones who watch them every play, every week for multiple years. So, today we hear from Steve Helwick from The Hustle Belt (SB Nation’s MAC website) as he gives us the lowdown on Pittsburgh’s first sixth round selection Sutton Smith.

See the interview below:

Steelers fans are beyond excited to see what Sutton Smith can do at the NFL level. Although undersized, do you see him being anything more than a special teams player/hybrid linebacker?

Sutton Smith is as dominant as a player that I’ve seen in the Mid-American Conference on the defensive side of the ball, with the possible exception of former Buffalo great Khalil Mack. His unparalleled pass rushing and run stopping abilities make him such a captivating prospect. Even though his size prevented him from falling in the first five rounds, I’d be selling him very short to say he’s just a special teams player/hybrid linebacker. Although I think he’ll initiate his NFL career by earning reps on special teams, Smith has enough talent to rise to a star linebacker role.

Some have said Smith can play both inside and outside linebacker. Is this something he did in college? And was he productive at both positions?

Smith played defensive end in college and was not used as a linebacker. He was as effective as any FBS defensive end, finishing in the top three in sacks and achieving All-American honors in consecutive seasons. In high school, he actually played running back where he rushed for over 2,000 yards and 32 touchdowns in his senior year. That running back speed and agility remain evident in his game as a pass rusher. He is undersized for an NFL defensive end at 6’1”, 238, (hasn’t been a drafted NFL DE this small since Greg Morton, 1977), so the Steelers will experiment with him in several different linebacker positions. I think he’ll be most effective as an outside linebacker, because providing Smith pass rushing opportunities outside of the tackles is where he can be most lethal. Pittsburgh should give him more of an Anthony Chickillo (also a collegiate defensive end) role than a Tyler Matakevich role in order to optimize his use on the field.

For what it’s worth, Matakevich similarly dominated the college game like Smith, winning the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award, but his build slipped him to the seventh round. Matakevich has only started one game in three seasons as a Steeler and has yet to receive a major role on the defensive side of the ball. For a team that has always valued the pass rush since the Dick LeBeau days, I expect to see Smith given more defensive snaps than Matakevich, but it’ll be interesting to see if the Steelers opt to place him in a similar position.

What would Smith’s strengths be as a player?

Smith really gains his advantage on the pass rush with his speed and acceleration. Oftentimes in college, he’d sack or pressure opposing quarterbacks just by blazing past opposing tackles on speed alone. He is adept at reacting and can time many of his jumps perfectly at the snap. Also, Smith has a knack for sticking with plays through the final whistle despite initial adversity. When he’s not stopping opposing running backs near the line of scrimmage, he can often be found downfield making a play which would normally be reserved for a linebacker or safety. That’s one of his qualities which cause many to believe he’ll become a special teams all-star in his first few NFL seasons. Lastly, with seven forced fumbles, six recovered fumbles, and two blocked punts in his last two college seasons, he creates a massive impact in the turnover game. Northern Illinois won a MAC Championship in 2018 with one of the nation’s worst offenses, and Smith’s ability to come through with home run play after home run play on defense was a vital part of the Huskies’ conference title run.

On the flip side, what would Smith’s weaknesses be?

Size is easily Smith’s greatest weakness in the NFL. It’s almost unheard of for an All-American caliber player to be recommended to switch positions upon entering the NFL. Even the undersized Kyler Murray, who measured around 5’10”, is retaining his quarterback role upon entering the league and will probably be a Week 1 starter. Smith isn’t as lucky in that regard. Playing a different position may be a learning experience for him, especially if the Steelers elect to place him in the middle of the field at inside linebacker. He’ll have to learn a different game rather than his college style of terrorizing backfields with a burst of speed around the edge. Pass rushing will be tougher at the NFL level with stronger and larger offensive linemen, so Smith will require more strength to shed blocks in order to become a force defensively.

What is Smith’s demeanor both on and off the field?

On the field, Smith plays much bigger than he is. At Northern Illinois, he played with the fire and aggressiveness of J.J. Watt. He seems like the type of player who is willing to work at a high level regardless of where he is inserted on the field. Even as the defensive star on the team, Smith still continued to give monstrous effort on special teams during his final season. The one play that comes to mind is from an early November game against Toledo, a de facto MAC West title game. Up 10-9 and struggling to make a mark on defense, Smith blocked a punt in the second quarter, immediately scooped up the football, and sprinted to the end zone to give NIU a first half advantage the team wouldn’t relinquish. Off the field, he additionally performed well at NIU, majoring in business in 3.5 years before declaring for the draft in December.

If you could sum up Smith into a word or sentence, what would it be?

To sum up Sutton Smith, I’d say he’s a low-risk, high-reward pick for the Steelers. Think of him as the Kyler Murray of defensive ends. He has a long list of strengths, reached the pinnacle of collegiate success for his position, but size and strength comparisons to other NFL players raise questions. The one thing Smith can affect is talent, and if he initially impresses at special teams, a solid NFL career may be waiting ahead.

A huge shout out to Steve for taking the time to answer my questions! Be sure to check back to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the offseason.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Player Profile: Diontae Spencer

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/27/2019 - 6:38am

Continuing to take a look at some lesser known players trying to make a name for themselves, and claim a roster spot, with the Steelers.

After going undrafted in 2014, Diontae Spencer took part in the Chicago Bears minicamp but left without a contract. He signed with the St. Louis Rams but was only on the roster from May to July.

After striking out to make an NFL team, Spencer went north to the Canadian Football League and signed with the Toronto Argonauts. In two seasons he racked up 107 receptions for 1,208 yards and six touchdowns. He accounted for 66 kickoffs and punt returns combined.

Spencer shined when he left Toronto for Ottawa before the 2017 season. While playing for the Ottawa Redblacks, he set the all-time CFL record for all-purpose yards with 496 in 2017. Of the 496 yards, 133 were receiving, 165 from kickoffs, and 169 punt return yards. Spencer ended the 2017 season with 70 receptions for 922 yards and six touchdowns. His return skills landed him a spot on the CFL-East All-Star squad with 70 punts and 25 kickoffs. Spencer ended up with 929 punt return yards and 607 kickoff return yards. Solid stats for a player who is 5-8 and weighs 163 pounds.

After the 2017 season, Spencer had a tryout with the Baltimore Ravens but he was not signed to a contract. The former McNeese State product instead resigned with Ottawa and landed on the CFL-East All-Star team once again. Despite catching 81 passes for 1,007 yards with seven touchdowns, he was selected for his return abilities. His combined punt and kick return yardage in 2018 was 1,664 yards with one touchdown.

Canadian Football League Stats

Year / Rec / Yards / TDs

2015 / 36 / 502 / 3

2016 / 71 / 706 / 3

2017 / 71 / 922 / 6

2018 / 81 / 1,007 / 7

Total: 259 / 3,137 / 19

Year / KO / Yardage

2015 / 27 / 555

2016 / 0 / 0

2017 / 25 / 607

2018 / 38 / 815

Total: 90 / 1977

Year / PR / Yardage

2015 / 6 / 43

2016 / 33 / 341

2017 / 70 / 929

2018 / 82 / 849

Total: 191 / 2162

At 27, Spencer will spend the summer living his dream while being a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Spence will need every bit of experience he learned in his time in the CFL along with his blazing 4.34 speed he showcased at his pro day in 2014 if he hopes to make the 53-man roster. To make the roster he will presumably have to do it as a return man. Two players may stand in his way. Ryan Switzer handled every return in 2018 except for two. Switzer’s numbers were not bad, but they were in the replacement level range, just outside of the top 10 average in both categories. Third round selection, Wideout and return man, Diontae Johnson role with the Steelers is yet to be seen. With his draft pedigree and college return stats, he will get plenty of opportunities to land either or both return gigs. If Thompson has a tough time transitioning to life in the NFL and Switzer continues to be middle of the road, Spencer could be that dark horse candidate to fill the roles. The CFL is not the NFL but if Spencer showcases his dynamic playmaking ability he showed in Canada the past two seasons, Pittsburgh may be left with some tough choices when the 90 man roster is cut down to 53 depending on if they keep five or six wideouts.

Black and Gold Links: Joey Porter admits Devin Bush can have an instant impact on the Steelers’ defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 05/27/2019 - 5:11am

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

With the 2019 NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season is fast approaching, and the news surrounding the black-and-gold is far from over. As the team now turns their attention to more offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp, there is no shortage of news.

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how former Outside Linebackers coach Joey Porter recognizes just how good Devin Bush can be for the Steelers’ defense, even as a rookie.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Joey Porter has done a lot of talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers, but not all of it was centered around Ben Roethlisberger. He spoke about how rookie first round pick Devin Bush can have an instant impact on the team’s defense.

Joey Porter: Steelers inside linebacker Devin Bush will ‘bring instant splash’

By: Kevin Gorman, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Porter appeared on the NFL Network and said the inside linebacker, who was selected No. 10 overall last month, finally will alleviate the loss of Ryan Shazier to a spinal-cord injury. Bush was working with the first-team defense this week at organized team activities at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in the South Side.

“I think he’s going to bring instant splash,” said Porter, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the Steelers who was fired by the team in January after four seasons as their outside linebackers coach. “He’s going to be a guy that can go out there and call the defense and makes the Pittsburgh defense not have to try to use so many people to try and create a Ryan Shazier. That’s what we did a year ago. We had a lot of different packages to try to make two and three people be Ryan.

“When you have a Devin Bush, you can leave him on the field. You know he’s a smart guy. His dad is a football coach. He’s been in football his whole life. I think he comes right into the system and does his job and makes a lot of plays and brings that nasty back to the defense.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Want to try and make some money on the Steelers? Place a bet on them having the year’s beset record will do the trick.

Steelers face 20-1 odds of having NFL’s best record in 2019

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

One gambling site thinks the Steelers have a better chance of achieving the NFL’s best record in 2019 than they do the worst.

According to, the Steelers face 20-1 odds of having the NFL’s top record in the regular season. That puts them in a tie for 10th among all teams. They face the same odds as the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.

To no surprise, the defending champion New England Patriots have the best odds, at 6-1, of getting the top record. The Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints are next at 7-1. The Miami Dolphins have the worst odds at 500-1.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • How is the new chemistry in the Steelers’ wide receiver room? According to JuJu Smith-Schuster it is “one point”.

JuJu: Chemistry in Steelers’ WR room ‘on point’

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

JuJu Smith-Schuster likes what he sees in his first official week as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 receiver.

”The chemistry is on point,” Smith-Schuster told reporters after Wednesday’s organized team activities session. “Everyone is on the same page. Everyone is communicating. There’s really no -- how do you say? -- drama in our locker room.”

The Steelers took the field with excitement about Smith-Schuster, who replaces Antonio Brown as the top option in the passing game. Quarterback and co-captain Ben Roethlisberger said he believes Smith-Schuster is ready for the “awesome challenge.” Co-captain Cameron Heyward said Smith-Schuster, 22, is a “great kid” who only wants to improve.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • For Ben Roethlisberger, this 2019 season isn’t about proving anything to anyone. It is about one thing — getting back to the playoffs.

Leading the way

By: Teresa Varley,

Roethlisberger has been voted by his teammates an offensive team captain 10 times in 15 seasons, including eight consecutive times. That doesn’t happen if you aren’t a leader. But he did say he did lack in leadership last year, failing to do what he sees a big part of his role as a leader is, and that’s lead the team to a successful season.

“When you are talking leadership, you are talking about relationships,” said Roethlisberger. “In this sport relationships change on a yearly basis because guys are here and gone. You have to do your best to realize what it takes for each guy to develop the best relationship you can.

“When it comes to leadership, we didn’t make the playoffs last year, we didn’t win our division. So I lacked in leadership. That is my job as the leader of this team to get us to the playoffs. I am going to need to focus my energy on how can I be a better leader to get us back to the playoffs.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

Steve Nelson talks about what attracted him to Pittsburgh, how he has been adjusting, and more.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 25, 2019

Always working.


— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 26, 2019

Wishing a #HappyBirthday to Greg Lloyd‼️

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 26, 2019


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