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The Steelers defense is replacing from within in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Knowing what they already have in a player bodes well for the Steelers when filling in the holes on the starting defense.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking at replacing a fair amount of starters for the 2021 season. On offense, the Steelers have lost four starters on the offensive line, and technically Vance McDonald started the most games a tight end so he would be a loss of a starter as well. Add in James Conner at running back and the Steelers are down six starters on the offensive side of the ball.

When it comes to the Steelers defense, whether or not they lost two or three starters all comes down to perception. In recent years, the slot cornerback has been considered more of a starting role with the evolution of the NFL. If also counting this is a lost starter, the Steelers have three starting positions on the defense which will need replaced.

Although the new starting positions are not completely set in stone, as technically the old starting positions aren’t either, there is a pretty good indication in Steelers Nation who the possibilities are to fill in these roles. While on offense they used the combination of the NFL draft, players already with the Steelers, and free agents, the defense appears to strictly be promoting players that were part of their 2020 squad.

Does this give the Steelers new starters for the season an advantage? Although I don’t know if it gives the players themselves any edge, it gives the Steelers organization much more certainty due to the familiarity.

Any time the Steelers sign a free agent, they have a pretty decent indication of what the player can do based on their NFL experience. Will they be able to fit in the Steelers locker room and produce in the way they had in other places? Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

When it comes to the NFL draft, we know how uncertain things can be regardless of the round selected. While the Steelers have not completely missed on most of their first-round draft picks, it really is a wildcard throughout all the rounds as to whether or not a player will pan out.

But if a player has already been with in the Pittsburgh Steelers organization, whether on the 53-man roster or the practice squad, the Steelers have a much better indication of what a player brings to the table. For example, while much of Steelers Nation is falling in love with James Pierre based on his very limited sample size from 2020, the Steelers have a much better indication of what they can get out of Pierre after seeing him work in practice throughout the entire year.

The fact the Steelers are choosing to likely go with players who have already been on the team to replace their defensive starters, it means they like what they had for the cost it took, especially in the cap-strapped 2021 offseason. When it came to Bud Dupree, although the Steelers made it clear they would like to keep him on the roster, they knew the price was simply too high and were ready to roll with Alex Highsmith. As for the two cornerback positions the Steelers need to fill, they basically made the choice to move on from these players rather than losing them otherwise. The Steelers could have chosen to give Mike Hilton a deal instead of Cameron Sutton, but they chose to lock in Sutton for the next two seasons. As for Steven Nelson, it was completely their call to release him as a salary cap casualty.

When it comes to replacing the two cornerback positions, player such as Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, and Justin Layne will likely get the first crack at the positions. When it comes to slot cornerback, safety Antoine Brooks may even get into the mix. All of these players are ones the Steelers are familiar with from 2020.

Of course, there are some new players who could get into the mix in regards to the sub-package players. Between seventh-round draft pick Tre Norwood and UDFAs Shakur Brown, Lamont Wade, and Mark Gilbert, they could earn a spot even though they were not with the Steelers last season. Adding some low profile signings such as Miles Killebrew and Arthur Maulet, there’s still a possibility the starting job could be snatched by one of these players. But the Steelers were ready to make their moves before they had all these players, so if they are the ones who end up in a starting role it will be because they outperformed the players the Steelers already had good indication of what they could do.

If you’re still uncertain about the Steelers having a good indication of what they have when they are promoting from within, Tyson Alualu fit this role in 2020 and had a good season in his first year as the Steelers starting nose tackle.

As I’ve said over and over again, sometimes Steelers fans just need to trust that the organization knows what they’re doing. The fact that the players on defense who are in line to take over starting positions in 2021 are ones the Steelers are already familiar with is a good indication that they are confident in their abilities. But just like anything else when it comes to projecting how things will work out for the 2021 season, it will all come down to production on the field.

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: 4 Steelers rookies will have an immediate impact in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In the new “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” series, we break down situations which could take place for the Steelers in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp to fine tune their skills. As we here at BTSC prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: 4 Steelers rookies will have an immediate impact in 2021

Why it will happen: On paper, this seems pretty obvious. Just look at the Steelers’ draft picks from the 2021 NFL Draft and it isn’t difficult to see how the team could get immediate contributions from four rookies. Let’s take a look:

Najee Harris, RB
Kendrick Green, C/G
Pat Freiermuth, TE
Pressley Harvin III, P

Those players right there are four who could have an immediate impact on the Steelers in 2021 starting in Week 1. But could there be even more?! If Dan Moore Jr. beats out Joe Haeg for the swing backup role, he would be a contributor in jumbo packages. Buddy Johnson should be a special teams demon as a rookie, and that certainly is a contribution. Tre Norwood, the Swiss Army Knife, could see time in sub packages. You get where I’m going with this. The scenario states four rookies to have an immediate impact, and I don’t see it being a stretch to foresee this happening.

Why it won’t happen: On paper, this seems pretty obvious, but that might be jumping the gun a bit. Sure, we all assume Friermuth will have a role opposite Eric Ebron, but what if he is used sparingly? We all believe Kendrick Green will be the center by season’s end, but the scenario is for an immediate impact in 2021. Most of the Steelers fan base are rooting for Harvin to beat out Jordan Berry, but nothing is set in stone. If any of these scenarios come to fruition, suddenly the number four gets dwindled down quickly. The only lock in this scenario is Najee Harris, other than that? It will be a wait-and-see game.

Prediction: The more I learn and study the Steelers 2021 NFL Draft class, the more I like the group. They should have contributors throughout all nine drafted players, and this isn’t even counting undrafted players. I don’t see a way the Steelers don’t have Harris, Freiermuth and Harvin as impact players in Week 1. My only hesitation is Green beating out B.J. Finney to start the season at center. Will the Steelers have four impact players from the rookie class in 2021? No doubt. Will it be in Week 1? I hope so, but I’m leaning towards three in Week 1, not four.

Check out yesterday’s ‘30 Scenarios in 30 Days’ prediction:

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

Off-Season Argument: Najee Harris and the Late Season Collapse

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 7:00am
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

What’s been causing them the last three years? And is that time over?

There’s a new narrative in Steelers Nation, born over the last three years, but often discussed as though it’s a long-term problem. It says that the Pittsburgh Steelers tend to collapse in the late season.

This is built upon a real observation. The past three seasons, the Steelers were in position for deep playoff runs, before bottoming out in the closing sprint.

That’s a disturbing trend, and three years is enough consistency to take it seriously. Professional wet blankets like Mark Madden have noted it more than once, but so have more mainstream writers, like Gerry Dulac or USA Today’s Jarrett Bell. It’s becoming troubling for those of us who trust the team.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. In fact, the five years prior to 2018, the story was quite different:

Some years a team finishes strong and some years it doesn’t — that’s not terribly unique. But the consistency of these trends is remarkable. This was a team you could count on to start cautiously every year, and then finish like tigers. And now it’s a team you can count on to dominate at mid-season, but then close with a whimper.

So what changed?

We might be tempted to blame Ben Roethlisberger’s passing, since his two seasons of highest passing attempts came in 2018 and 2020 (he led the league both years). But don’t forget that the 2019 team suffered a similar fade, despite finishing 26th in passing attempts. Moreover, the Steelers were in the top 10 in attempts three times from 2013-17, and top 5 in passing yards every one of those years except 2013. So it’s probably not the passing game that’s the issue.

Maybe the problem was the defense, which trailed off in the season’s final month in 2020. That doesn’t really hold though either. The defense from 2013-17 averaged 12th in points and 14th in yards, while from 2018-20 they averaged 8th in points and 4th in yards. In other words, they are consistently stronger today than they were in those previous years. In particular, the Steelers have been the NFL’s best team (by far) at getting sacks and forcing turnovers for the last couple years — two areas in which they were quite inconsistent for the previous five or six. These metrics matter, but they clearly aren’t the answer.

The offensive line might also factor — after all, the 2013-17 stretch was coached by OL savant Mike Munchak, and was probably the strongest unit on the team. There’s some merit here, but let’s remember Munchak was still the line coach in 2018, and his line featured three Pro Bowlers, but the team still endured a 1-4 streak down the stretch. (I have to also acknowledge that the Steelers were the NFL’s best team from 2008-11, and fielded a spectacularly bad offensive line.)

So what’s been the problem? Well, there are two figures who arrived right around 2013 and left in 2018.

First was offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who was hired in 2012. His offense was comfortably in place by 2013, and he was let go after 2017, while Randy Fichtner was promoted to OC in 2018.

Second was Le’Veon Bell, who was drafted in 2013 (and backed by DeAngelo Williams in 2015-16). Both were gone as of 2018.

Haley’s influence on the offense was mixed at times — I always thought he crafted a great game plan, but called a mediocre game in real-time — but the overall results were hard to miss: the Steelers became an offensive powerhouse during Haley’s tenure. But they also nearly lost their Hall of Fame quarterback to retirement after six years under Haley’s stewardship. I suspect there will be a lot to say about the transition from Fichtner to Matt Canada in 2021, but I’m not sure I’m the guy to say it. I simply don’t feel like I have enough info on Canada yet to gauge.

However, the influence of Le’Veon Bell is a little more in my wheelhouse.

Learning from 2013 Harry E. Walker/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The running back position has been devalued over the last decade or so. In fact, Bell’s miserable failure at “resetting the market” three years ago contributed to burying the position, financially. (He’s not helping his cause by trash-talking Andy Reid either.) But that doesn’t mean that runners are truly interchangeable, or unimportant to winning.

In 2012, the Steelers fielded the NFL’s #1 defense (1st in yards, 1st in passing, 2nd in rushing, 6th in points). They were still outstanding. They started that season 6-3, but Big Ben was injured in an overtime win over Kansas City, and missed the next three games, during which the Steelers sputtered to 1-2. When he returned, he wasn’t 100%, and the Steelers lost three straight close games, in which they committed seven turnovers and didn’t rush for 100 yards in any contest. Their top runners that season were Jonathan Dwyer (623 yards) and Isaac Redman (418 yards). Ben threw 26 touchdowns on the season, against only 8 interceptions, and their backup QB situation was probably the strongest in the league, with Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich holding clipboards. Couple that with the powerful defense and veteran leadership, and this team really ought to have been able to weather an injury to Big Ben. And yet...

Flash forward to 2013, after Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert committed to Le’Veon Bell in the 2nd round of the draft. Bell was injured in the preseason, and missed the first three games of the year. The Steelers went 0-3 during that stretch, averaging 51.7 yards rushing, led by Felix Jones, Dwyer, and someone called LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Once Bell joined the team in week 4, the season took a particular turn. The final 13 games saw the Steelers at 8-5 (for an 8-8 finish that nearly made the playoffs). In fact, their 6-2 second half was nearly 8-0, as Emmanuel Sanders dropped a potentially game-tying 2-point PAT in the final seconds of a loss to Baltimore, and Antonio Brown heartbreakingly stepped out of bounds on a Stanford-band conclusion against Miami. In other words, this team finished like a freight train.

I want to stress: Le’Veon Bell didn’t tear up the league in 2013. The Steelers averaged 94.5 yards rushing during his 11 games in uniform, which is hardly a league-leading number. Moreover, the Steelers passing game was more-or-less the same, averaging 258.7 without Bell, and 249.3 with him. The defense, meanwhile was actually worse in the winning stretch, with the rushing D almost identical (115.3 to 115.6 ypg), and the pass defense regressing tremendously (182.7 yards given up before Bell arrived; 230.6 yards given up after).

In other words, adding Bell was not akin to the Broncos adding Payton Manning, where they were suddenly an historic offense and Super Bowl favorite. Bell didn’t become Eric Dickerson and the Steelers didn’t become a run-first team. Rather, the Steelers suddenly had a running game that the defense had to respect, and that could deliver when needed. Bell could protect a lead, picking up first downs against a stacked box; he could convert third and short on the ground (or mid-level distances in the air); and defenses had to respect the line, freeing up big-play masters like Antonio Brown and eventually Martavis Bryant.

You can see these tendencies play out over the ensuing years.

In 2014, during a 27-24 win over Tennessee, Bell carried 33 times for 204 yards, on a day in which Big Ben was sacked 5 times and only threw for 207 yards. Two weeks later, in a rout over Cincinnati, Bell rushed for 185 yards, while also catching 6 passes for 50 more (and three total touchdowns), allowing the Steelers to turn a 4-pt fourth quarter deficit into a 41-21 victory.

In 2015, with Michael Vick under center during Roethlisberger’s injury stretch, Bell took the direct snap on the game’s final play against San Diego — a make-or-break moment, in which the Steelers needed to make that yard or lose. Of course, he made it. DeAngelo Williams later played the role as well. You might remember the 38-35 week 9 victory of Oakland for Antonio Brown’s 17 catch, 284 yard receiving performance. But Williams was a significant part of freeing up the passing game, as he rushed 27 times for 170 yards and 2 touchdowns.

In 2016, the Steelers averaged just 90.7 rushing yards over their 4-5 opening stretch. After consecutive losses to Baltimore and Dallas, in which the team rushed for 36 and 48 yards respectively, they recommitted to rushing, and went on a nine game winning streak (counting two playoff contests) in which they averaged 143.8 rushing yards. You might thnk the highlight was the playoff run, in which Bell set the Steelers playoff rushing record against Miami, then broke it the next week at Kansas City. But I’d point to the 27-20 week 14 win in the snow at Buffalo. Ben was off that game, hitting just 54.1% of his passes for 220 yards and zero TDs against three INTs. Brown only caught 5 passes that day for 78 yards. But Le’Veon Bell rushed 38 times for 236 yards and all three touchdowns.

Bell (or Williams) wasn’t the centerpiece of the team in most of these examples. It’s been Big Ben’s offense since about 2007, and Bell played alongside all-timers like Brown as well. But the running game didn’t have to be the centerpiece. It just had to be for real; it had to be ABLE to get the job done. In those years, Ben didn’t have to do it all and Bell didn’t have to do it all. There just had to be the threat.

The Slide... Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When Bell refused to report in 2018, the Steelers marched forward with James Conner, who played admirably that season, rushing for 973 yards and making the Pro Bowl. But Conner’s output was inconsistent.

During the 2018 opening stretch, in which the Steelers went 7-2-1, the team surpassed 100 yards rushing six times, going 5-0-1 in those games. During their 2-4 closing stretch, the only 100 yard game that the Steelers posted was in their 17-10 upset win over New England, in which Jaylen Samuels rushed for the only 100 yard game of his entire life.

Looking more directly at those losses, the Steelers dropped a 24-17 clunker at Denver in which Big Ben passed for 452 yards, but James Conner could only muster 53 yards on the ground. The Steelers held a 17-10 lead midway through the third quarter, but couldn’t hold the lead.

Then there was the 33-30 home loss to the Chargers the following week, in which the Steelers led 23-7 at the half, and then managed to lose on a last second field goal. They rushed for just 65 yards on the day, despite holding a double-digit lead for nearly the entire third quarter.

You could see this potential early in the season as well. In week 4, the Steelers lost 26-14 to Baltimore. The halftime score was 14-14, but the Steelers were shut out in the second half, while the Ravens kicked four field goals. James Conner rushed 9 times for 19 yards on the day (other Steelers carried twice for zero yards). One wonders whether opposing coaches recognized that they didn’t need to respect the running game after performances like this.

I won’t go through 2019 and 2020 with that detail, but let’s say that the same trends hold. In 2020’s 11-0 start, they averaged 99.1 yards rushing, surpassing 90 yards on the ground seven times. In their 1-4 conclusion, they averaged 52.2 yards rushing per game, never reaching 90 in that whole stretch. Meanwhile, the passing game was more-or-less the same (247.5 in the opening run; 256.2 in the closing).

2019 is even more pronounced: the team opened 1-4 and closed 0-3, but went 7-1 mid-season. During that 7-1 stretch, they averaged 111.9 yards rushing, including all five 100 yard games the team recorded. During those 1-7 bookends, they averaged 69.5 yards on the ground. (The passing yards are, stunningly, the same again: 184.1 when they were winning; 188.5 when they were losing.)

What does this all add up to?

I don’t think this is quite as simple as, “we have to run more!” Ben Roethlisberger was probably the best passer in the NFL in 2014-15, routinely throwing for 400+ yards and recording six-touchdown games back-to-back in ‘14. If he wouldn’t have gotten injured in 2015, I suspect both he and Antonio Brown would have broken all-time single season records.

Moreover, it’s not a big surprise that the running game will look better when the team is winning. Winning teams do things well, after all. And you bleed the clock when you’ve got a lead.

Instead, I think the implication is that the running game has to be a legitimate threat. You don’t need to become “a rushing team.” And you don’t need some particular number of carries or yards. But you need a runner that you can lean on when you need them; a guy the defense has to take seriously. A “decent” back who “can play in the NFL” is fine off the bench, but it isn’t enough for a team with championship aspirations. You can win plenty of games with James Conner, Benny Snell, Jon Dwyer, or Fitzgerald Toussaint, but if you want to get over the hump, you’re going to need a Le’Veon Bell (or DeAngelo Williams in a pinch).

And in 2021? Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are a million reasons to like Najee Harris. He’s a down-to-earth kid who hasn’t forgotten who he is, and is remarkably generous at giving back. (I absolutely love his draft-day story.) He’s also already a legendary worker with a highly productive record and a wildly flexible skillset. He’s going to be fun to root for.

But perhaps most importantly, he appears to be a back that opponents will have to take seriously. Whether he sets rookie records or leads the conference in anything is immaterial. He looks like the real thing as a back. And given that the Steelers have a first-rate defense, one of the league’s best kickers, a Hall of Fame quarterback, a deep and talented stable of pass-catchers, and a scrappy young offensive line, the biggest hole remaining appears to be behind Big Ben. If Harris is the guy he looks like, this might be a fun season after all.

No pressure, kid. Go Steelers.

A stream of consciousness Steelers article

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t have much to say about the Steelers. Oh, wait, I guess I do. Here is a stream of consciousness article about them.

It’s early July as I’m typing this actual sentence, and I figured it would be cool to just sit down and write my thoughts on the Steelers (and other things) as they come flooding into my brain. Truth be told, not much Steelers-related stuff (or stuff of any kind) is flooding through my brain at the moment, but maybe that will change once I start.

—On Thursday, I talked to a guy who said that he read some publication where a writer stated the Steelers would be lucky to win five or six games in 2021. Pretty bleak, even for 2021 Steelers predictions. Nevertheless, it’s yet another “expert” who isn’t giving Pittsburgh much of a chance this year.

—Is it the depth?

—What if depth never really becomes much of an issue thanks to the Steelers being relatively healthy in 2021?

—Speaking of depth, are other teams hoarding really great players and using them as backups? Isn’t depth an issue for pretty much every team? There is a salary cap in the NFL—and it’s lower than normal in 2021.

—The late Sam Wyche, a former NFL head coach and football analyst, once said that when he watched the film of every team in the league before the start of a season, he could pick out the handful of squads that were going to be really good and the few that would no doubt be really bad. As for the other two dozen or so teams, they were all literally a handful of plays, calls and/or bounces away from finishing anywhere between 6-10 and 10-6. Simply based on their roster composition, the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers figure to be one of those teams that’s a few plays, calls and/or bounces away from finishing anywhere between 7-10 and 10-7 (I had to update the math based on the evil 17-game schedule). Therefore, it seems a bit disingenuous to say the Steelers will be awful. Will they be great? I doubt it, but the whole writing them off thing is just silly.

—I gained a great deal of respect for Wyche once I became older and realized that opposing coaches are human, too.

—Same for late Marty Schottenheimer.

—I didn’t gain a ton of respect for Jerry Glanville over the years, but I always thought he was pretty funny for a head coach—at least for a guy who used to coach his teams to play dirty, anyway.

—The Steelers just have too many decent skill-position players to be horrible.

—Maybe Ben Roethlisberger will fall off a cliff in terms of his physical abilities in 2021, but it doesn’t seem all that likely.

—What if Chase Claypool makes a mega leap in his second season?

—Thanks to the release of David DeCastro last week, the offensive line will be a totally new unit in 2021 (more or less). Therefore, to completely write it off based on 2020 results seems short-sighted.

—Most people just say that Chukwuma Okorafor was terrible in 2020, but they don’t offer any evidence as to why.

—I have no doubt Dejan Kovacevic has a legit and reliable source within the Steelers organization who told him that at least one prominent figure is unsatisfied with second-year guard, Kevin Dotson, due to his conditioning.

—This doesn’t mean Dotson is out of shape. So why would someone be unhappy with him? To quote Tony in the original Rocky movie: “Some guys, they just hate for no reason, capisce?”

—If I was DK and had that kind of source who had that kind of nugget, I would have reported it, too.

—The defense figures to be really good again in 2021. Will it be as dominant without Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson? I don’t know, but I also don’t know that it won’t be.

—A returning and healthy Devin Bush should make a huge difference in the middle of the defense in 2021.

—Bush may have created a distraction when he took to Twitter on Thursday to say that TikTok is useless and anyone who uses it is lame (not his actual word). So, in other words, Bush created a distraction by using one form of social media to claim that another form of social media—-one used by several of his teammates—was essentially a distraction. That’s kind of amazing.

—Bush was no doubt clowning and ribbing his teammates when he made that statement. These guys aren’t dumb, and they all have each other's phone numbers. I’m sure the stuff that gets texted back and forth between players is 10 times crazier than what's posted about one another on social media.

That’s all I have for today. There may not be much Steelers news, but I’m glad that I could give you my stream of consciousness. So, you have that goin’ for you, which is nice.

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Vol. 24

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 5:45pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

The rules are still the same...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

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

1. Earlier Friday the Steelers official Twitter account posted a photo of Alex Highsmith and talked about him going into Year 2. I posed the question on my Twitter account, and I’ll ask the same question here. OVER/UNDER for Highsmith sacks in 2021: 7.0

2. If you are a betting individual, who do you bet on starting at center for Week 1 at the Buffalo Bills? Kendrick Green or B.J. Finney?

3. With the money the Steelers have left over from the DeCastro release, which position would you want them to target from the following positions?

OLB/EDGE
CB
Offensive Line

4. Which rookie will have the biggest impact in 2021?

Najee Harris or Kendrick Green

5. Of the running backs vying for a spot on the 53-man roster, which player is the odd man out, and why?

Najee Harris
Benny Snell Jr.
Jaylen Samuels
Kalen Ballage
Anthony McFarland

6. In the United State the 4th of July weekend is one of the biggest grilling weekends of the year. What is your favorite thing to throw on the grill and serve up at a gathering?

BONUS: Speaking of Independence Day, when it comes to celebrating do you take in fireworks? Do you set off fireworks of your own? What are your plans?

Stay safe out there!

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

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

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

Carlos Davis following the same “recipe” to take a huge step in Year 2

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 7th round pick is ready to take another step forward in his development.

NFL teams, and especially the Pittsburgh Steelers, expect a lot from the players who are entering their second season as a professional. With a year under their belt, the step forward in their progression should be sizable. But what about a player no one had any expectations for as a rookie in 2020?

That would be the category Carlos Davis, drafted in the 7th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, would fall into.

As a 7th round pick, most view the selection as nothing more than a glorified undrafted rookie free agent (UDFA). As Dave Schofield always says about 7th round picks, they are UDFAs teams don’t want to have to battle other teams to sign them. So, when Davis made the roster, people were surprised. Without a preseason, no one knew what to expect from the former Nebraska Cornhusker. Then, when Davis was getting a helmet on game days over Isaiah Buggs, people took notice.

It all started with Davis’ “recipe” for success leading up to his rookie season.

“I got a little help because if you get drafted, your coach can speak to you personally over the phone,” Davis told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I was able to talk to Coach Dunbar. We would go over the playbook, go over the install. I would go to the park and have my girlfriend help me run through the plays. She was familiar with the playbook. She doesn’t understand it like I do, but she knows the calls. She would record my videos that we would send to Coach Dunbar. He would ask who was in the background, is that your coach. I told him yes, she was until I get with you.

“I told her to not be sensitive. If she sees something wrong, call me out. Even if we are running plays and I couldn’t get out quick enough, she would let me know. That was huge. My brother and I used to do everything together. To have my girlfriend do it as I prepared for the biggest stage, I trusted her, and it went well. It was new and I liked it. I wasn’t afraid to have my girlfriend help me.”

What was it like for the rookies in 2020 with no in-person minicamps or Organized Team Activities (OTAs)? It was unique, to say the least.

“I was doing a lot of drill work,” said Davis. “Coach Dunbar would have us send videos and stuff to him. I just took it really seriously. I knew how to train myself, so that part was easy for me. I knew what it took to get into shape and be in the best possible shape for me. When I got there finally for camp, I was 310, and then I got down to 290 pretty quick and stayed there the whole season.”

The weight loss is usually something which takes rookies time to figure out is necessary at the professional level. It isn’t about being bigger and stronger, it is about being in great shape, highly conditioned. However, Davis realized, and accomplished, this on his own. How did he do it, you ask?

“I was eating a lot better,” said Davis. “A lot of clean food. Vegetables, seafood. It started to shred off. I will eat anything if it helps me, even if I don’t like it, so it wasn’t hard for me.”

Davis completely changed his life the moment he was drafted by the Steelers. He would go to sleep every day at 8 p.m., stayed after practice every day and was the last one to leave the weight room. Coaches took notice, and Davis learned exactly what it takes to not just make the team, but to succeed.

“You learn a recipe,” Davis said. “What works for you, what doesn’t work for you. I have been doing it for so long. I know what works for me, so I stick to that. I add in stuff I like. Coach Dunbar sent us drills to do. I did the stuff I liked and the stuff I didn’t like because I knew it was going to make me better.”

Davis was able to gain some valuable experience his rookie season, and after being inactive for the first seven games of the regular season, became an active member on game days and started to register tackles. It all leads to him spear-heading his role on the team in 2021, and how he can improve.

“The game is a lot faster,” said Davis. “When I think, I play slow. So really just fine tuning the playbook and being in the best shape I can be. Plus, pass rush and run blocking, just learning blocks. I am going to do that with my college coach this offseason. We run the same blocks where I went to school as in the pros. I am going to learn more blocks and how to play them.

“Like Coach Tomlin told me before I left at the end of last season, we expect you to be better than you were last year. That is what I took as far as the experience. I have one year under my belt. I am going to use that. Stuff I didn’t do well last year, I know what to work on to please my coaches and everyone around me. I know what to do better. I feel like the experience is going to make me better.”

There is a battle raging along the Steelers’ defensive line. Not for the starting positions, but mainly for the backup roles. Davis proved he is worth a roster spot, but his jump in 2021 could be a pleasant surprise for the Steelers and their fans.

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

The Steelers Trifecta: Gilbert III, Green, Haden

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Day 12 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Ulysees Gilbert III, Kendrick Green, and Joe Haden

Welcome to the Steelers Trifecta! Over the 30 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 training camp, we will be highlighting three players every day in order cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s three players:

Ulysees Gilbert III Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Position: Linebacker
Age: 23
Year: 3
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 230
Drafted: Round 6, Pick 207, 2019
College: Akron
Roster Outlook: Bubble
Analysis:

This is likely to be the last stand for Ulysees Gilbert III. The often injured linebacker is quickly dropping down the Steelers lineup and with younger guys coming in and veterans maintaining a high level it is not looking good. If you can recall even when UG3 was on the Steelers active roster Mike Tomlin refused to give him a helmet for games. The writing is on the wall for the 2019 sixth rounder and he’s going to have to prove everyone wrong for a job on this team.

Kendrick Green Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Center
Age: 22
Year: 1
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 315
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 87, 2021
College: Syracuse
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

In a normal year the Steelers would sit Kendrick Green for at least a couple of weeks before turning the keys to the starting Center job over to him. However, this is no normal year and I fully expect Green to be given every opportunity to win the Steelers starting gig during the preseason. The Steelers have had a long lineage of great center play and they will be asking Green to carry the flame. While he is slightly undersized his viciousness and tenacity more than make up for it. This rookie will be fun to watch in 2021.

Joe Haden Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Cornerback
Age: 32
Year: 12
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 175
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 7, 2010 (Browns)
College: Florida
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

Joe Haden has been a staple of the Pittsburgh Steelers for half a decade. His on field play, leadership, and off-field work have made him one of the most beloved players across the league. And while he may have lost a fraction of his foot speed he maintains his status as one of the best corners in football. The day Joe Haden is no longer a Pittsburgh Steeler this team will be instantly worse and I genuinely hope the Steelers are able to work out one more contract with them so he can retire as a member of the Steelers and hopefully as a Super Bowl Champion.

Be sure to check back everyday for anther ‘trifecta’ of Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

4 reasons why Chuks Okorafor could take a big step in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Okorafor taking huge strides in 2021 may not be expected, but would certainly be welcomed.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is in a huge transition going into the 2021 NFL season. Only one starter from 2020 is returning this year in Chukwuma Okorafor who started 16 games including the postseason. Taking over in Week 2 after the season-ending injury to Zach Banner, Okorafor didn’t blow the doors off of anyone with his performance last season. But is there a reason to think Chuks can vastly improve for 2021?

The following are four reasons why I Chuks Okorafor could take a big step in his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Notice the emphasis on the word ‘could.’ While his play on the field will ultimately be the test, these are some factors which may lead to a better performance. Whether or not these things translate onto the field remains to be seen.

Age

Sometimes we forget that Chukwuma Okorafor is only 23 years old. Yes, he’s going into his fourth season in the NFL, but Chuks will not turn 24 until after the Hall of Fame Game in August. As he is continuing to mature, Steelers fans often do not realize that, other than the two players drafted in the 2021 NFL draft, Okorafor is the youngest player on the Steelers offensive line. This isn’t just about the players who are starting, it’s all of the offensive linemen on the entire 90-man roster. Even 2020 rookie Kevin Dotson is older than Okorafor as he has already turned 24.

When Chuks was drafted, he was pegged as a developmental player. One of the biggest reasons was because of his age. But after three seasons in Pittsburgh, sometimes we forget that he is still learning and growing and has the potential to take a big step even in his fourth season.

Position

While the Steelers drafted Okorafor in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft, he was pegged as a developmental left tackle to be specific. Playing left tackle at Western Michigan, Okorafor his yet to play at what is pegged as his natural position. Of course, being a swing tackle, Okorafor should be prepared to play either position. But finally getting a shot to play a position in which he was an All-American his final year of college could help give him a boost in his performance.

Coaching

This category is a bit of a mystery as it could go in either direction. Having some coaching changes on the offense may bring out the best in the fourth-year tackle. With assistant offensive line coach Adrian Klemm being promoted to take over for Shaun Sarrett, it appears there may be a shift in philosophy and mentality along the unit. Bring in an assistant offensive line coach who has years of experience in the league in Chris Morgan, perhaps it’s a change which can bring out the best in a player like Okorafor. Add in some differences in the overall offense due to a change in coordinator, and perhaps there could be a better fit with what Okorafor will be asked to do in 2021.

But just as likely as these things could help the Steelers young left tackle, it could be just as likely that they set him back or don’t make any difference at all. It truly is a wild card.

Contract

It has to come into it a little bit that Okorafor is in a contract year. Set to become a free agent following the 2021 season, this will be the chance for Chuks to show both the Steelers and 31 other NFL teams that he is a capable starting tackle in the league. If Okorafor cannot rise to such an occasion, it may show that he doesn’t have a future where a starting job will be set in stone for him at the top professional level.

So there are four reasons why Chuks Okorafor could make a jump in performance in 2021. Do you think these factors will lead to improved play, or do the Steelers pretty much know all they’re going to get from their fourth-year tackle? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: Ranking the Steelers’ Rookies in order of importance

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 11:00am

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

The Steelers have experienced a large amount of turnover since the end of the 2020 season. Because if this, rookies will be counted upon even more this season. Who ranks highest in order of importance for 2021? This is just one of the subjects that will be discussed and speculated on in the latest edition in the flagship show of the BTSC family of podcasts.

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News of the week
  • Ranking the Steelers’ Rookies in order of importance
  • Trivia

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Could Clemson Andrew Booth Jr. be the future at cornerback for the Steelers?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 10:00am
Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers will be in the market for a cornerback in the 2022 NFL Draft, and we break down the prospects who will be available.

Cornerback is a position that varies so much from year to year. Evaluating a player at this position a year early makes it truly challenging, especially if the corner does not have much experience. However, the primary goal of these breakdowns is to familiarize you with prospects eligible for the 2022 NFL Draft and to wet your appetite for what is ahead this fall. This is exactly why today’s prospect breakdown features Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth Jr.

Widely viewed as a five-star recruit out of high school, Booth was the highest rated prospect in his class that signed with Clemson. He played his high school ball in Georgia, starting three seasons for Archer High. During his years in high school, Booth racked up 162 total tackles, 44 passes defended, 13 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles. He also contributed as a receiver on occasion, recording 557 yards and 4 touchdowns on only 22 receptions. Booth proved to be a difference maker on special teams as well, as evidenced by his three punt return touchdowns.

His performance as a junior made people take notice, as he was given the honor of being first team all-state. Not only was Booth selected to be a team captain in 2018, but he was also named the county defensive back of the year and Region Specialist of the Year. He has only started four games and played about 400 snaps during his time at Clemson, but after seeing Booth perform better than any other Clemson corner down the stretch last season, many people expect him to be in the first round conversation by the time we get to next April.

What stood out to me the most in Booth’s limited snaps last season was his ability to create splash plays. One thing that separates solid corners from elite corners is that elite corners can create turnovers when they are needed most. Booth has tremendous ball skills and instincts, and he does an excellent job getting good position against opposing wide receivers, forcing them to the outside and putting himself in better position to intercept the ball. Booth is not afraid to get his nose dirty as a run defender either, as he plays with great pursuit and has a non-stop motor. I also love the way Booth uses his length. He is only 6’0”, but he uses his long arms to irritate receivers at the line and swat balls away downfield, making his moves at the perfect time. This play below against Miami is a perfect example.

There are “athletic plays” and then there is this!

@andrewbooth21 pic.twitter.com/fvJeyiQhFH

— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 11, 2020

Booth has superb athleticism and rarely gets beat over the top, even when he plays close to the line in man coverage. In the small sample size last season, not only did he display the speed, quickness, aggression, and physicality needed to play close to the line in press coverage, but he also displayed the instincts and awareness needed to play softer coverages off the line. This stat below shows how well Booth held up in coverage downfield last year.

Lowest passer rating allowed on throws 20+ yards downfield in 2020:

1. Andrew Booth Jr., Clemson - 9.0
2. Coby Bryant, Cincy - 14.6
3. Ahmad Gardner, Cincy - 26.5
4. Derrick Canteen, GA Southern - 26.9 pic.twitter.com/GGew8JqQDH

— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 22, 2021

Again, it was a limited sample size, but it is difficult not to get excited about what is in store for Booth this season as he becomes the team’s top corner.

When it comes to areas Booth could improve in, improving his spacing in zone coverage will likely be high on the to-do list in 2021. He could also afford to strengthen his lower half a little more, as he occasionally struggles keeping himself planted while attempting to make a tackle in the open field. I have seen worse tacklers, but diving less and taking better tackling angles in 2021 will turn him into a complete, well-rounded player and a potential top ten prospect. His lack of experience shows at times, and being the number one cornerback for Clemson will be a much more challenging role, but after what he put on tape last season, there is no reason to believe that he will not show tremendous growth and become an elite corner this fall.

As previously mentioned, there is not a ton of film on Booth, but one game that stood out to me was his impressive performance against Virginia. We are going to look at four specific plays that should give fans a reason to get excited about watching the rising star this fall.

Booth is not able to be seen at the beginning of this first snap, but he is aligned below the screen.

We cannot see what happens at the beginning of the play, but I love how Booth is never afraid to get a hand in the way of a receiver to break up a pass. Timing is a difficult, yet important part of pass breakup attempts. Booth not only anticipates when the ball is going to arrive, but he also anticipates when the receiver is going to make his move for the ball. He times this one beautifully and gets his hand in the way to break up what could have been a big gain.

Booth is at the bottom of the screen in the clip below.

Booth is in man against tight end Tony Poljan. Again, Booth’s ball tracking skills are on display. I also love that he plays aggressive without getting too handsy with the receiver he is going up against. Despite being mismatched against a 6’7” tight end, he gets into good position and gives Poljan no extra room to work with. It looks as if Booth is about to overrun the play, but when he senses the ball being thrown and the tight end beginning to turn his body, he turns around and gets his hand in front of Poljan to swat the ball away. I love corners that get good position against bigger receivers and tight ends. It helps them overcome the size mismatch, and it gives the receiver less room to work with. Booth displays excellent situational awareness and instincts here, forcing the incomplete pass.

Booth is the far right corner on this one.

When receiver Terrell Jana stacks behind fellow receiver Lavel Davis, Booth switches his assignment and matches up against the 6’7” Davis. Booth gets his hands on him within the first three yards of the route, but Davis is able to extend those long arms and create a little early separation. This pass should have been caught, but Booth does what he can given the size mismatch. Davis uses those long strides to keep the little separation he gained earlier in the route, but Booth hangs close and gets in position to make an immediate tackle in the event that Davis catches it. Davis is unable to secure it, and the pass falls harmlessly to the ground. Again, this should have been a completed pass, but I liked how Booth was unafraid to match up and get physical with a receiver that was seven inches taller than him. His aggressive playing style may have allowed Davis to push him off ever so slightly and create that little bit of separation, but his ability to hang close in man coverage and make the receiver earn every inch of separation is something that only true lockdown corners can do.

Here is the last play. Booth is below the screen.

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables spices up the play calling here and calls for press bail coverage. It looks as if Booth is in man, but right before the snap, Booth begins to back away from the line of scrimmage and turns his head toward the backfield. He displays fluid hips as he moves while keeping his eyes on the quarterback the entire way, and the quarterback does not read this one well at all. The ball is thrown a little too far to the inside, Booth keeps Lavel Davis to the outside, and Booth is able to come away with an amazing one-handed interception. The instincts and ball skills needed to keep the receiver out of this play and make this catch are not found in every cornerback prospect. Booth has a chance to be special if he can improve the technical issues in his game that are likely due to his lack of experience.

NFL Comparison: Marlon Humphrey

This is a lofty comparison, but in terms of both size and playing styles, I see a lot of similarities that Booth shares with Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Humphrey measured in at slightly over 6’0”, 197 pounds at the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, and Booth is currently listed at 6’0”, 195 pounds. Humphrey was a very physical cornerback coming out of Alabama, and he consistently displayed fluidity in the hips and start-and-stop quickness. These traits allowed Humphrey to excel in man coverage and make splash plays in zone coverage. Booth has displayed those same abilities and, in a limited number of snaps, had similar success. Humphrey is one of the best man coverage corners in the NFL, but he has also become very comfortable playing farther off the line of scrimmage and playing with his eyes on the quarterback. There is no denying that Booth is more comfortable in man coverage at this point, but he has shown flashes in zone and will only improve in that area with more experience. Humphrey may seem like an unrealistic comparison, but outside of Derek Stingley, there is no cornerback in next year’s draft with a ceiling as high as Booth’s.

How would he fit with the Steelers?

A lot will likely depend on how much Booth grows as a zone corner in his first full season as the starter, but I love his aggressiveness, athleticism, and instincts. He would be the most athletically gifted corner that Teryl Austin has been given to work with since Darius Slay, and in the event that Keith Butler were to retire and Austin were to take over as defensive coordinator, perhaps the Steelers would not be quite as zone-heavy. If Booth proves to be reliable in zone coverage this season, Steelers fans should have no concerns about his fit with this team. Unfortunately, if he shows too much improvement in zone, I am not sure the Steelers will be able to draft him unless they are picking inside the top ten. Booth has already displayed his ability to cover receivers on an island. If he can improve his spacing in zone, he may be a top ten pick next April.

But what are your thoughts on Booth? Do you think he is a first-round talent? How well do you think he would fit with the Steelers? Be sure to share your thoughts on Booth, the Steelers, all things NFL Draft in the comment section below!

Tre Norwood's NFL dreams hinge on his impressive versatility

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 8:30am
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers rookie Tre Norwood could potentially replace the versatility lost from the defensive backfield depth with Cameron Sutton's promotion to starter status.

Sometimes the most frustrating part of a conversation is what you didn't say, or even get the chance to say. In those instances, you are left only with regret and without an outlet for your response. Let me provide a little backstory to help clarify my ramblings.

Monday night on our BTSC podcast, the Steelers Hangover, one of the topics of conversation was discussing various Steelers players who we believed had a real opportunity to exceed expectations in training camp and the preseason enough to surprise the fan base by bursting the proverbial bubble and making the Steelers final roster. Our knowledgeable audience never fail to deliver, and they mentioned plenty of possible candidates.

One possibility mentioned was none other than Steelers rookie DB Tre Norwood, a sixth round selection out of Oklahoma. Mike Tomlin called him a swiss army knife of a defender after his selection on the third day of the 2021 NFL Draft. My distinguished cohosts on the podcast, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo, discussed his talents and chances for a few moments as I waited anxiously with baited breath. I had a lot to say about Norwood actually, a young man who I believe has a real opportunity to make the roster. Sadly, the conversation shifted in a different direction and I was left with an opinion and nobody to share it with. This article is my opportunity to confess my opinion and support for Tre Norwood, and my belief in his Steelers future.

I watched multiple games of Norwood's collegiate career with the Oklahoma Sooners, mainly when they played my home state WVU Mountaineers. As a Mountaineer fan, I mainly scan opposing defenses each game looking for potential mismatches that I feel WVU can exploit. I usually am able to rather quickly identify mismatches in the other direction, defenders the Mountaineers need to focus some extra attention to or avoid altogether if at all possible. Norwood definitely fell into the second category.

Norwood lined up all over the Sooners defensive formations in his career. He started out as mainly a boundary corner early on in his career, where he showed solid athleticism and a certain swagger that belied his experience. After he returned from a ACL injury that caused him to miss a year, he appeared to lose some of his short area quickness and long speed. That is expected for many players returning from that injury, one that often requires a couple of years to completely recover from.

Norwood relied even more on his superior intelligence and instincts to make up for any loss in athleticism that he was still in the process of recovering. His unique ability to recognize and diagnosis offensive concepts allowed him to stay a step ahead of the opposition. His knowledge and understanding of the Sooners defense allowed him to play multiple positions in the defensive backfield, although his lack of physicality limits him to free safety consideration only.

The one aspect of Norwood's skill set and intangibles that stands out the most is his ball hawking ability. He appears to recognize tendencies on the fly, and the special timing needed to take advantage of the opportunity. He trusts what he sees, and reacts accordingly. That only happens after hours of film study and a certain level of confidence that comes along with it.

Nobody knows how these abilities will transfer to the professional level, with the steep increase in talent and difficulty, but I like Norwood's chances more than most for a few reasons. Norwood was drafted due to his impressive versatility. Mike Tomlin admitted no less in his draft day comment. The Steelers love to have depth players capable of backing up multiple positions. One of those players, Cameron Sutton, has been outstanding in this role for a number of seasons as he patiently waiting his opportunity at a starting position. Now that Sutton has been penciled in as a trusted starter, his valued versatility and multi positional depth needs to be filled. I believe that the Steelers have Norwood in mind as a possible replacement.

The second reason I believe that Norwood is the man for the job I gleaned from a post draft comment made by his father in an interview. His father spoke about how Norwood was still gaining confidence after the injury and how his athleticism was gradually returning. If, and it's a big if, Norwood is able to return all the way back to his pre knee injury form he may just have the requisite athleticism; coupled with his impressive intangibles, needed to become a sixth round bargain capable of not only making the roster but also an impact on the field on defense.

Late round draft picks and undrafted free agents often make NFL rosters and continue their professional dreams because they do one thing exceptionally well. Others survive by bringing superior versatility to the equation. Tre Norwood maybe the rare exception that fits both descriptions. A ballhawk with uncommon versatility. I believe that was the Steelers plan all along.

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: The Steelers will have an offensive player make the Pro Bowl in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 7:15am
Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

In the new “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” series, we break down situations which could take place for the Steelers in 2021.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for the 2021 regular season, but before the real games begin, the team has to head to training camp to fine tune their skills. As we here at BTSC prepare you for the start of camp, we give you a series called “30 Scenarios in 30 Days” which gives you a Steelers scenario every day leading up to the start of camp.

It is simple how it works. We provide you the scenario, reasons why it will or won’t happen, and then our prediction for what we think will take place.

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: The Steelers will hold opponents to under 20 points a game

Steelers offensive players to make the Pro Bowl:

2020 (2): David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey
2019 (2): David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey
2018 (6): Antoinio Brown, James Conner, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alejandro Villanueva
2017 (7): Le’Veon Bell, Antoinio Brown, David DeCastro, Roosevelt Nix, Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, Alejandro Villanueva

Why it will happen: The Pittsburgh Steelers have some pretty dynamic young players, so the chance that one of them could step up and have a Pro Bowl season is not a stretch. Whether it’s one of the young wide receivers or the Steelers shinny new running back for 2021, thinking one could step up and be recognized is not a huge stretch. Add in Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Eric Ebron who have been to there before, and there are plenty of possibilities to earn a Pro Bowl selection in 2021.

Why it won’t happen: Over the last two seasons, the Steelers had the same two offensive players be the only one selected to the Pro Bowl. With no more David DeCastro or Maurkice Pouncey on the roster, you have to go back to 2018 to find someone who is still a member of the Steelers offense to be selected. With no player jumping out on the offensive line and the chance of the ball being spread around to the plethora of receivers, it’s hard to find someone who will break through. It’s also difficult for a rookie to be selected in their first year, so both Najee Harris and Pratt Freiermuth have an uphill battle. If I just had to pick one player to make the Pro Bowl right now from the Steelers offense, it’s difficult to have one player who would be a safe bet.

Prediction: While I was extremely tempted to say the Steelers will have an offensive player make the Pro Bowl in 2021 because someone’s going to do more than expected, I ultimately changed my mind. I’m actually sort of rooting for the Steelers to not have an offensive player make the Pro Bowl. Why would I do that? When looking into the past players chosen as a member of the Steelers, the last time they didn’t have a player for the offensive side of the ball selected, and the answer was in 2008. So the last time the Steelers didn’t have an offensive player make the Pro Bowl, they also won the Super Bowl. Maybe I’m just being petty, but I prefer one bowl over the other.

Check out yesterday’s ‘30 Scenarios in 30 Days’ prediction:

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

How my family recently brought out the true Steelers fan in me

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 6:00am
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Memories. Those are what fuels my love and passion for the Steelers. My family is a big part of that, and those folks recently helped me realize how excited I am for the start of the 2021 campaign.

I was talking to my cousin while at another cousin’s high school graduation party on Sunday when we got on the subject of Steelers second-round pick tight end, Pat Freiermuth, from Penn State.

We were discussing what I felt was Freiermuth’s cocky attitude and how I thought the Steelers needed that kind of arrogance at the position for once. In fact, I said something along the lines of, “We need one of those cocky Travis Kelce types on our side for a change, someone who can cause headaches for the opposing defense instead of the other way around.”

Just to clue you in, the takeaway from my previous paragraph was that I said “we” when discussing the Steelers. I said, “our side,” too. I can’t remember the last time I said “we,” “us” or “our” when talking about my favorite professional football team. What’s next, am I going to start saying “yinz,” Pittsburgh’s word for “y’all”, and something that hasn’t unironically been uttered by yours truly since about the age of 20?

I often give people a hard time for their use of “we” when talking about the Steelers in a comment section or on social media. “‘We’ didn’t give JuJu Smith-Schuster a new contract,” is an example of something I may have smugly said to a person or two in the recent past.

Maybe that’s because I’m out of touch with what it means to be an actual Steelers fan these days. I guess that’s where family comes into the mix. Those folks often remind me of what’s so special about following a sports team with all of your heart and soul. After all, memories are really my fuel of choice when writing about the Steelers. It’s what drives me.

If I had to rely on stats, grades and rankings to power my love for the game of football, I may have switched to another entertainment option years ago.

Family is basically what does it for me and thinking back to those times as a kid—and let’s be real, even as an adult—when I acted totally uninhibited around family members as I watched a critical Steelers’ game reach its climax.

I didn’t care what anyone thought, and nobody seemed all that interested in giving me a hard time about my pacing (always pacing) when all was said and done. They knew because they were feeling it, too.

Sports just does that to you when you really, really care.

Anyway, there’s a certain point every summer when a very real and exciting realization hits me out of the blue: football season is right around the bend.

I never know what will trigger this brief feeling of total euphoria. It could be the smell of freshly cut grass, the sight of an empty high school football field or even a random commercial that includes some famous NFL Films tune from back in the day.

But the reason I get so excited by the thought of the upcoming NFL season is because of the great Steelers memories that come flooding back into my mind at that very moment.

Remember January 10 and how miserable you felt after the Steelers 2020 campaign came to a crashing halt at the hands of the Browns in the wildcard playoff game at Heinz Field? Not only were those Super Bowl hopes dashed, but one of your favorite pastimes would have to be put to bed for a long time.

Six months until training camp. Seven months until the preseason. Eight months until the start of the 2021 regular season.

Yuck!

Here we are, though. It’s June 28 as I’m typing this sentence. We’re so close to the start of the next Steelers season.

It was my family that triggered my excitement for the upcoming football season this time around. To reiterate, I’ve made a lot of great Steelers memories with those folks over the years.

I can’t wait to make some more in the not-so-distant future. Here ‘we’ go, Steelers, here ‘we’ go!

Podcast: The Steelers reliance on youth in 2021 is both promising, and frightening

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 07/02/2021 - 4:30am

Jeff Hartman leads the way with his AM studio show on the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The Steelers are relying on plenty of young players to step to the forefront in 2021. As exciting as it is, a youth movement brings a lot of question marks. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Note
  • Hart to Heart
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

The Steelers should pay close attention to the 2022 NCAA QB class

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 2:00pm
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Steelers haven't drafted a QB in the first round since 2004 but that could change in 2022

The 2021 NFL season is right around the corner, but, despite being so far removed from actual game action, the Steelers need to start readying themselves for the 2022 NFL Draft. Of course, scouting departments do nothing but prep for each and every draft class 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year, but this year will be a little different. The Steelers should be looking at any move necessary to land a quarterback in the first round of the draft.

The quarterback position is the most important spot in all of sports. Especially in today’s NFL where everything runs through the position. You're not a contender if you have a bad quarterback, but you will always be in the mix if you have a great one. Steelers fans already know the growing pains it took for the team to find their second ever franchise quarterback after Terry Bradshaw retired in 1983. With today’s style of play, waiting 21 years to find the next great one isn't an acceptable answer.

This is the time of year to get a jump on next year’s top prospects. The QB name that keeps popping up in my conversations with personnel execs? Ole Miss QB Matt Corral. Excited to study him!

— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) June 29, 2021

Regardless of Ben Roethlisberger returning for another season in 2022, I believe the Steelers need to address this position. The 2022 quarterback class is filled with guys with first round potential, but a good majority of them could use a redshirt year of sorts, much like Patrick Mahomes did sitting behind Alex Smith for a year. No fewer than 12 quarterbacks have a shot at being a first round pick next year. Of course those numbers will shrink and an unknown or two will join the mix, and it will be up to the Steelers to determine which of them has that elite trait.

Even if Mason Rudolph and/or Dwayne Haskins take another step and have a shot at starting for the Steelers, adding someone to the mix boosts competition and even allows the Steelers to regain draft picks by trading one of them away. Regardless of anyone currently on the Steelers roster today making it to next season, I would strongly consider the quarterback position to sit atop the Steelers’ draft board in 2022.

Spencer Rattler coming off a real off-season to prepare is scary pic.twitter.com/tdHScAzOjz

— Ruf / Writers (@OUupdatedSB) June 26, 2021

But what do you think? Should the Steelers put any extra work in watching draft eligible quarterbacks this year? Let us know why or why not in the comments below.

The Steelers Trifecta: Freiermuth, Gentry, and Gilbert

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 12:30pm
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Day 11 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, and Mark Gilbert

Welcome to the Steelers Trifecta! Over the 30 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 training camp, we will be highlighting three players every day in order cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s three players:

Pat Freiermuth Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Tight End
Age: 22
Year: 1
Height: 6’5”
Weight: 258
Drafted: Round 2, Pick 55, 2021
College: Penn State
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

There is little doubt as to the roster status for second-round draft pick Pat Freiermuth in 2021. The bigger question is how often he will be utilized early in the season and in what manner. Don’t be surprised if, in typical Steelers fashion, Freiermuth sees a gradual increase in snaps over the first four to six games of 2021. Although the Steelers needed depth at the tight end position this season, drafting Freiermuth also gives the Steelers one year to play alongside Eric Ebron before his contract is up in Pittsburgh in order to see if they have their next number one guy.

Zach Gentry Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Tight End
Age: 24
Year: 3
Height: 6’8”
Weight: 265
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 141, 2019
College: Michigan
Roster Outlook: Bubble
Analysis:

Unless something completely unexpected occurs, the most Zach Gentry is looking to do for the Steelers is to be the third option at tight end. Even if he does make the roster, the Steelers have only gone with two tight ends being active on game day quite often. But with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada perhaps using more players at the position, Gentry could show he deserves a spot on the roster and see the field.

Mark Gilbert Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Position: Cornerback
Age: 24
Year: 1
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 175
Drafted: UDFA, 2021
College: Duke
Roster Outlook: Outside looking in
Analysis:

Mark Gilbert is a very intriguing undrafted free agent from 2021. After his sophomore season at Duke, Gilbert looked to be a Day 1 or Day 2 draft pick when the time came. But after suffering a separated hip and an additional ankle injury, there are a lot of question marks around Gilbert’s body coming back to a point to play in the NFL. If so, this could be a great payoff for the Steelers picking him up after the draft. But until we can see if Gilbert can still bring the same game he did early in college, he’s a sizable mystery.

Be sure to check back everyday for anther ‘trifecta’ of Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Steelers All-Time, All-Rookie Team: Part 5, the Offensive Line

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 11:30am
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

We continue to look at the best of the best of rookies throughout Steelers history. Today we focus on the offensive line.

And we’re back with part 5 of the Steelers All-Time All-Rookie team, in which we talk about the offensive line. Here’s how it works: I’ll include an introduction to account for some players you may expect to see, but who didn’t make the cut. Then I’ll list starters, backups, and others worth consideration — followed with a poll for Steelers Nation to weigh in.

The apologia for the sequence appears in the first article (here), but here are the ground rules:

The Ground Rules:

1 — I’m looking at the entire history of the Steelers/”Pirates.”
2 — The player must have begun his career with Pittsburgh.
3 — Only the rookie year will factor in; a great career is unnecessary.
4 — The poll and the comments section are open — have at it.

For past essays:

Part 1: Quarterbacks
Part 2: Running Backs
Part 3: Wide Receivers
Part 4: Tight Ends

Part 5: Offensive Line Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to take the O-Line as a whole (breaking it into three categories: tackle, guard, center). One thing you’ll immediately notice: it’s much harder to quantify offensive linemen than it was to pick runners or wide receivers. Especially in the old days.

Ultimately, I wound up looking at four elements:
— number of games started as a rookie
— success of the rushing offense
— number of sacks the quarterback took
— awards or attestations (like Pro Bowl or NFL All-Rookie team)
It’s an inexact science. My own memory is playing a role in the guys since about 1988 too, and that may not be perfect. So if you’ve got thoughts about anyone (before that era or after), this is the article where those comments probably matter the most. Hopefully the list still holds together, one way or another.

Offensive Tackle:

This was a surprise to me, but for all the great Steelers linemen over the years, there aren’t a lot of tackles worth noting. Especially not as rookies. Max Starks started no games and only dressed for 10 in 2004. Jon Kolb didn’t start a single game in 1969; nor did Tunch Ilkin in 1980. Larry Brown was a tight end still in ‘71. Gordon Gravelle and Chuks Okorafor were both close to the list, but ultimately didn’t do enough to get my attention. (They each started three games on the year, in 1972 and 2018 respectively, and didn’t otherwise stand out.) Then there was Alejandro Villanueva. Al was listed as being on the team in 2014, but played in zero games, and was not listed as being a rookie in 2015. So I’m making an executive decision and not including AV below.

Starters: Frank Varrichione (1955) Every photo of Frank Varrichione looks like he’s probably going to hurt you.

Started all 12 games as rookie
Team gave up 20 sacks (#4 in NFL)
#3 passing offense in NFL (though worst rushing team)
1 fumble recovery
Pro Bowler as rookie

Frank Varrichione was the #6 overall draft choice in the 1955 draft, and made the Pro Bowl as a rookie, despite starting on the NFL’s worst rushing team. He also had one of the most “Mafia thug” faces in NFL history (I can only imagine that when he and Ernie Stautner lined up across from each other in practice, the whole rest of the team would take a step back).

In any case, Varrichione was a star from day 1, landing a significant contract for a lineman ($8,000/yr), and then exceeding expectations. He was eventually traded (surprisingly) to the L.A. Rams for defensive tackle/kicker Lou Michaels (who, in fairness, made two Pro Bowls for the Steelers). But he certainly earned his stripes in Pittsburgh before going.

A three-time Pro Bowler, who started every game for six years, Varrichione is probably the most decorated OT in Steelers history, and certainly the number one rookie tackle.

Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Being Rookie of the Year is exhausting work Marcus Gilbert (2011)

Steelers Rookie of the Year
Played in 14 games; started 13, on a 12-4 team
Helped stabalize O-Line for next decade

Marcus Gilbert is fresh in memory for most of us, as a steady presence at right tackle for eight years. A second round pick in 2011, Gilbert teamed with other youngsters like Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Ramon Foster to turn the Steelers O-Line from the team’s weakest link into its biggest strength in the mid-2010s. Though injuries ultimately derailed his career, costing him 20 games over his last two seasons, Gilbert was the Steelers rookie of the year in 2011.

Backups: Bob Gaona (1953) The artist who drew this clearly didn’t have an actual photo of Gaona, and just used John Wayne as his model.

Started all 12 games as rookie
#8 passing offense and #8 rushing offense in NFL
#7 overall offense in NFL
Team gave up 21 sacks on season (#4 in NFL)

Bob Gaona started all 12 games as a rookie, on a pretty middling Steelers team. Their offense finished in the middle of the pack pretty much everywhere (#7 or #8 in most categories, out of 12 teams), and the team finished 6-6. Still, walking into a starting job as a 22 year old rookie is never that easy. And the 1953 Steelers were hardly a powerhouse offense. When OL coach Walt Keisling was promoted to head coach in 1954, he kept Gaona in the starting lineup for the next four years. That’s a good sign, I think.

Marvel Smith (2000) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images George Gojkovich took a surprisingly large number of these photos. I almost never notice that stuff, but his name has come up over and over in these articles.

Played in 12 games; started 9
#4 rushing offense in NFL

Marvel Smith’s rookie year was rocky at first. He started the season’s first three games, during which the Steelers went 0-3. He was then inactive for four of the following six contests (during which, the team went 5-1). Smith finally worked his way back into the starting lineup over the final six weeks, which saw the Steelers go 4-2 and make a serious run at the 2000 playoffs, coming up just short. The following season, of course, he started 16 games on the 13-3 Steelers, who took the AFC’s #1 seed, and led the NFL in rushing. He was a Pro Bowler in 2004 and eventually collected two Super Bowl rings (starting in SBXL), before back injuries cut short his career. But one could see that Marvel was a legit player by the end of that first season.

Also Considered: Lou Allen (1950) Literally the only photo I could find of Lou Allen

Started all 12 games as a rookie
Steelers only took 10 sacks all year (#1 in NFL)
Steelers #10 in rushing and #10 passing

Lou Allen was one of three rookies starting on the O-Line in 1950, blocking for Joe Geri’s record setting season. This was not a good team, unfortunately, as they finished 10th in the NFL in both rushing and passing, out of 13 teams. Oof. Allen only lasted two season in Pittsburgh, leaving football after the 1951 season, after starting every game for two years.

Offensive Guard:

Guard is a tricky position to gauge. As we’ll see, some players shuffled between positions — more than one Steelers center started his career as guard, for example. Of the great interior linemen who have come through this town, the biggest omission here is going to be David DeCastro. Injuries cost DeCastro most of his rookie year, as he only dressed for four games, starting three. You might also be looking for Oliver Ross (starter in Super Bowl XL), but he started his career in Dallas. Meanwhile Chris Kemoeatu, Carlton Haselrig, Tom Ricketts, Craig Wolfley, Brian Blankenship, and John Reinstra combined to start only 10 games as rookies. Finally, Jim Clack and Sam Davis may have started four Super Bowls between them, but they only started one game, combined, as rookies.

Starters: Kendell Simmons (2002) Photo by Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images Kendell Simmons’ spirit animal is the Allegheny Mountain range

Started 14 games
Zero holding penalties as rookie
#9 NFL rushing offense (despite losing Jerome Bettis for much of year to injury)
Team allowed 34 sacks (#13 in NFL)
NFL All-Rookie Team

Simmons had an up-and-down career, thanks in large part to an ongoing battle with diabetes, but when he was good, he was very good. And his rookie year, starting 14 games at RG, he was pretty good. Injuries dogged Jerome Bettis that year, and the offense vacillated between Kordell Stewart’s hybrid game and Tommy Maddox’s downfield passing, but Simmons didn’t miss a beat as a rookie. He ultimately started both Steelers playoff contests in 2002, and was eventually named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team.

Brenden Stai (1995) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images I was better than you remember, folks!

Played 16 games; started 9
Zero penalties of any kind as rookie
Team ranked #12 in rushing (NFL)
Line yeilded 24 sacks (#4 in NFL)
Started Super Bowl XXX
NFL All-Rookie team

During this series, I’ve been musing a little about how these articles introduce me to players I otherwise didn’t know. But there are also players who I remember, but didn’t realize where as good as they were. Brenden Stai is one of those guys. I initially included him because I noticed that he started nine games as a rookie. Then I kept reading: “he committed no holds, false starts, or any other penalties all year... he started the Super Bowl as a rookie... he was on the NFL’s All-Rookie squad... Wait, who?”

Stai only stuck around in Pittsburgh for five seasons, and he never wound up in the Pro Bowl, but he did help the team keep winning through a big offensive churn — as the team went from Neil O’Donnell and Bam Morris, to Kordell Stewart and Jerome Bettis. Not bad.

Backups: Alan Faneca (1998) Alan Faneca, keeping one eye on his Lucky Charms from the sidelines.

Started 12 games as rookie
Zero holding penalties all year
#7 rushing team (NFL)
Team gave up 35 sacks (#10 in NFL)

Not every great Steelers player started that way. DeCastro’s rookie season was largely on IR, for example; and Mike Webster barely saw the field in 1974. But Alan Faneca stepped right into a starring role, starting 12 games for the Steelers in Jerome Bettis’s 1341 yard 1998 season. Faneca, as we all know now, wound up being one of the best to ever play the position — with six All Pro seasons and a Hall of Fame bust. But even as a rookie, he was the real thing.

George Hughes (1950) I’m pretty sure George Hughes stepped right out of an Archie comic for this photo.

Started all 12 games as rookie
#10 rushing offense in NFL (out of 13... yikes)
Steelers only took 10 sacks all year (#1 in NFL)
Two fumble recoveries

George Hughes was a 6’1” 225 pounder who made Pro Bowls at tackle and guard for the Steelers over his five year career. As a rookie, he lined up next to 2nd year Pro Bowler Bill Walsh (see below) and started every game on a mediocre team, as All Pro quarterback Joe Geri set a team record in rushing with 705 yards. (This was the same year Lou Allen started at tackle, see above.) Though he never played on a winning team, he was a sharp-eyed player, recovering seven fumbles in five years, including two as a rookie.

Also considered: Dermontti Dawson (1990) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Come on, man. I played center!

Started five games
#6 rushing team (NFL)
#4 rushing yards per carry (NFL)

Dirt Dawson played guard as a rookie, before moving to center, to replace the inimitable Mike Webster. Known for his quick feet and ability to pivot and pull, while still being a road-grader, Dawson’s experience at guard was probably really useful down the line. He started 9 games as a rookie, then bounced to center, where he was a six-time All Pro and eventually made the Hall of Fame (called by Bill Belichick, “one of the best players we ever played against”).

Kevin Dotson (2020) Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images Kevin Dotson, sporting the game’s jauntiest neck beard.

Played in 13 games; started 4
Only one holding penalty all year
Team was dead last in rushing yards
Team only allowed 14 sacks all year (#1 in NFL)

The jury may be out on Kevin Dotson’s career, but his rookie season was more impressive (I think) than most have given it credit for. Known as a run blocker in college, and thought of as a depth guy on draft day, he was pressed into service this past year for All Pro David DeCastro, and was probably the steadiest player on the Steelers O-Line — oddly playing remarkably well in pass protection. Legend has it that Dotson used to tell opposing D-Linemen what play his Tennessee Volunteers were about to run, just so that it would be more demoralizing when he pancaked them anyway. I don’t think he did that in Pittsburgh this year, but he did something right.

Ramon Foster (2009) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images If his football career hadn’t worked out, Ramon Foster had a backup plan as a doo-wop singer.

Played in 14 games; started 4
Zero penalties of any kind as rookie

Ramon Foster straddled two powerful eras of Steelers football, coming in at the tail end of the mid-2000s Super Bowl run (he started Super Bowl XLV at LG), and holding down the RG position on the explosive offenses of 2014-18. As a rookie, Foster started the season’s final three games, during which the Steelers went 3-0 and fell just short of the playoffs.

Terry Long (1984) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images I know it’s an extra neck bracing, but it looks like Terry Long is just cold and put on an extra scarf

Played in 12 games; started 7
#6 rushing offense in NFL
Line gave up 35 sacks (#6 in NFL)

Terry Long’s rookie season has the oddest stat line I think I’ve ever seen. He started seven games on a decent team, which is great. He also had one punt return for zero yards. And he fumbled once (which I imagine was on the punt return, because why else would he have the ball? Then again, what possible context could put a punt in the hands of a rookie OG?).

Whatever, the case, he started both playoff games for the upstart, underdog 9-7 Steelers — their dramatic upset of John Elway’s 13-3 Broncos, and their shootout loss to Dan Marino’s historic Dolphins in the AFCC. He also got the midseason start against the eventual champs, the 15-1 San Francisco 49ers, on Halloween — where the Steelers handed Joe Montana’s best team its only loss all year. That’s not a bad resume for a 4th round rookie from East Carolina.

Gerry Mullins (1971) Photo by James Flores /Getty Images Gerry Mullins models this page’s finest set of sideburns

Played in 14 games; started 5
Team averaged 4.2 yards per rush (#10 in NFL)

Gerry Mullins started at both guard positions, as well as tackle, over his career, picking up four Super Bowl rings in the process (he started all four title games as well). As a rookie, he played admirably on a mediocre team. Not really enough here to justify getting him onto the All-Time All-Rookie squad, but he’s worth a shout-out.

Center:

The Steelers have a rich history of centers, but a surprising number of them started inconspicuously. We already saw Dermontti Dawson as a guard. Ray Mansfield was still a defensive lineman in Philadelphia when he was a rookie. Jeff Hartings was originally a Detroit Lion. And Mike Webster was an undersized backup as a rookie, who started one game, snapping the ball to Joe Gilliam against the Chiefs in 1974. So who does that leave?

Starter: Maurkice Pouncey (2010) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images See, there’s George Gojkovich again. Did you notice that he took Terry Long’s photo too? That’s 26 years apart.

Started all 16 games as rookie
NFL All Rookie team
Pro Bowler
Stabalized Steelers offensive line when it was BAAAAAD...

In the late 2000s, the Steelers offensive line was in shambles, with center as probably the biggest hole. When the Steelers drafted Pouncey, the expectation was that he’d step in right away. But he did much better — starting 18 games as a rookie (counting playoffs) on the AFC champion. He cleared the way for Rashard Mendenhall’s 1215 yard season, stabilized the O-line despite Big Ben missing the first four games on suspension, and qualified for the Pro Bowl. A nasty injury in the AFC title game cost Pouncey the start in Super Bowl XLV, and it’s fair to wonder whether the Steelers would have won that tight contest if their rookie all-star had been available.

Backup: Bill Walsh (1949) 1949 seems a little late for leather helmets and no shoulder pads. Am I wrong about this?

Played in 12 games; started 9
2nd team All Pro as rookie
#2 rushing offense in NFL
Line yeilded 13 sacks (#2 in NFL)

I know. I want it to be the 49ers coach too, but it’s not. This Bill Walsh was a six-year starter at center, who made two Pro Bowls and three All Pro teams. He played during that transitional time, when some players still played both ways (Walsh did occasionally) and when the single-wing was the Steelers’ primary offense. (He also played at 6’3” 230 pounds, which would make him a running back today...) Walsh did block for a few of the guys we’ve seen on other lists — Joe Geri, Johnny Lattner, Fran Rogel — but he managed to slip into the dead-zone of early Steelers history, between Bill Dudley’s winning years and the Bobby Layne/Buddy Dial/Jimmy Orr winning years. That’s some bad luck, but those losing squads certainly weren’t the fault of the All Pro in the middle.

Next up: We’re on to the defense. Let’s start on the line. It’s gonna get ugly.

Podcast: How the Steelers can stop the “Presses” with a punter

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 11:00am

BTSC broke down what the Steelers’ draft needs from specific universities before the NFL Draft and now they talk to the correspondents from the universities that boasted all nine of their draft selections.

It is very rare that Steeler Nation finds themselves elated with the team’s final pick of the college entry draft. However, the Steelers thrilled fans and media with their ultimate pick in the 2021 draft when they chose Presley Harvin III from Georgia Tech, a big guy with an even bigger leg. This week, join Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict to talk about the late draft addition of a punter with Nishant Prasadh of “From the Rumble Seat” and BTSC punting expert, Senior Editor Jeff Hartman.

  • News and Notes
  • Special Guest: Nishant Prasadh of “From the Rumble Seat” and BTSC punting expert, Jeff Hartman

Michael and Geoffrey 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.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Steelers to add a placekicker to offseason roster before training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 8:56am
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to add an extra camp leg to their roster prior to the start of training camp.

The Pittsburgh Steelers usually carry two placekickers on their offseason roster to take pressure off the starting placekicker during training camp. In 2020 that kicker was Matthew Wright, but in 2021 the only placekicker the Steelers have on their roster is starter Chris Boswell.

It seems the Steelers are changing that as they are expected to sign kicker Sam Sloman, pending a physical. This per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network:

The #Steelers are expected to sign kicker Sam Sloman, pending a physical, per source. He kicked for the #Rams and #Titans as a rookie last season.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 1, 2021

Sloman played his college football at Miami University of Ohio, and was a 7th Round draft pick by the Los Angeles Rams in the 2020 NFL Draft. After playing in the Ram’s first seven games, Sloman was waived on October 27. He had converted 8-of-11 field goal attempts, with a long of 42, and was 18-for-21 on extra point attempts.

His next stop was with the Tennessee Titans when he was added to their practice squad. He was elevated to the active roster on January 2, 2021, for the Titans’ Week 17 game against the Houston Texans. He hit all five extra point attempts and both field goals, including the game-winner that deflected off the right upright from 37 yards away as time expired, with which the Titans won the division. He was moved back to the practice squad after the game and released in the offseason.

Steelers fans should know the addition of Sloman isn’t a threat to Chris Boswell, but fans should also remember Matthew Wright was called in to kick multiple times in 2020 for the injured Boswell. Having a reliable backup is important, and hopefully the Steelers have found that in Sloman.

With the addition of Sloman the Steelers will have to make a corresponding roster move. Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding that roster move, and more, as the Steelers prepare for the 2021 regular season.

Steelers Vertex: Loss vs. gain at center

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 07/01/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers have a big question mark in the middle of their offensive line in 2021.

With changes in the Steelers roster from 2020 to 2021, we’re going to highlight players lost at a position and the production of the assumed replacement. This week we looking at the loss of Maurkice Pouncey at the center position. While rookie Kendrick Green is a viable candidate to land the center job, we will focus on B.J. Finney as he may be called on to start the 2021 season.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

As I’ve said many times before, statistics for offensive lineman are difficult to come by. When it comes to Maurkice Pouncey, his nine Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections highlight his career which spanned from 2010 to 2020. The only years Pouncey did not make the Pro Bowl where in 2013 when he only played eight snaps and in 2015 when he missed the entire season after being injured in the preseason.

Somewhere else to look for some data on Pouncey is his scores according to Pro Football Focus, but they may not paint a very accurate picture. In 2020 Pouncey had an overall score of 54.8 which landed him ranked 30th of 36 qualifying centers. In 2019 his grade was 51.5 where he ranked 33rd out of 35 players. These two scores were down significantly from the four previous years with scores all in the 70s.

Pouncey’s top grade came in 2016 at 78.1 when he ranked ninth out of 38 centers. His highest ranking was in 2014 when he ranked seventh of 40 centers with a score of 76.1. Even in the years Pouncey was selected All-Pro, PFF never placed him in their top five centers based on their specific scoring. Therefore the baseline for Pouncey may be skewed as he doesn’t seem to get much love from PFF.

When it comes to B.J. Finney, the biggest statistic is zero offensive snaps in 2020 between his time with the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals. For this reason, Finney did not have a PFF score for 2020. In 2019 he had an overall score 56.9 which ranked him 30th of 35 qualifying centers. In Finney’s previous seasons, he did not meet the minimum snap requirement to qualify in the rankings despite receiving a score. His best score came in 2016 with a 72.8 based on 299 offensive snaps. In Finney’s four years in Pittsburgh on the active roster from 2016 to 2019, he started 13 games and logged over 1,000 snaps.

So there are some numbers for both players, but we all know this comes down to the film.

The Film Line:

Maurkice Pouncey was a great center for the Pittsburgh Steelers for over a decade, and will be discussed as a potential Hall of Fame player. But the Steelers aren’t replacing 2014 Maurkice Pouncey, they are replacing the Maurkice Pouncey that was on the field in 2020. As players get older and collect wear and tear on their bodies, their quickness and power tend to fade. So the question is, how much did Maurkice Pouncey have left in the tank in 2020.

Week 2, third quarter, 14:53. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

Maurkice Pouncey is fantastic on this play. Watch #98 for the Broncos. He tries to move with the play, but Pouncey violently turns him and puts him right into Matt Feiler’s chest, not helping so much as winning Feiler’s block for him. He then moves to block the inside linebacker, and when that linebacker moves away from the run, he switches targets and takes out the safety.

That’s top notch execution. Maurkice Pouncey was still a force on inside zone runs, one of the reasons I loved him playing next to Kevin Dotson (driving #99 off the line), who was also fantastic on inside zone runs.

The problem with this run is James Conner cuts back, and is tackled by the lineman that Alejandro Villanueva is trying to seal out of the middle.

Week 2, fourth quarter, 12:03. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

Pouncey lands his block, slowing the defender down so Conner can get outside, but the great part of the play is his effort after his defender gets free and is chasing the play. Pouncey follows, playing to the whistle and it allows him to get a second block on his man and put him on the ground.

Week 15, fourth quarter, 11:23. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

Maurkice Pouncey was still one of the more athletic centers in the NFL last season, and he was still a dynamic puller. Pouncey has eyes on the middle linebacker while he’s pulling, and when David DeCastro makes that block Pouncey effortlessly changes targets and takes out the safety.

At the end of the play you can see Pouncey roll his ankle. Late in the season Pouncey was still giving his full effort, but the wear and tear of football took its toll.

Week 8, fourth quarter, 11:53. Maurkice Pouncey is the center.

One of Pouncey’s weaknesses in recent years has been when he’s manned up on a bigger and more powerful defensive tackle. Here he’s facing Brandon Williams (#98) and while he gives ground, he’s in control of the block from the start and his quarterback is safe from Williams.

Also note the loop #48 runs, and how it affects the blocking. That’s Pouncey’s man if he comes up the middle, when he loops outside he becomes Feiler’s man. The only one who misplays the rush is Alejandro Villanueva, who helps against the linebacker, allowing the defensive end a free rush at his quarterback.

The Steelers brought back B.J. Finney, who backed up Maurkice Pouncey for four years, starting 13 games in that time. In 2019 he started 3 games at center when Pouncey was hurt, including the Steelers week 13 win over Cleveland.

2019 Week 13, fourth quarter, 2:32. B.J. Finney is the center.

Finney’s job on this play is to move the defensive tackle out of the run lane, and Finney does it, he gets the Browns tackle out of the lane and gets skinny to give Benny Snell room to gain yards. Finney isn’t a mauler in the run game, he’s no Kevin Dotson, but he can still move people when he needs to.

2019 Week 13, second quarter, 14:11. B.J. Finney is the center.

Finney isn’t the athlete Maurkice Pouncey was, but he can still get out on a pull and land his block.

2019 Week 13, second quarter, 13:37. B.J. Finney is the center.

B.J. Finney is a solid pass blocker, especially when he can work in a tighter formation. On this play the Browns are trying to overpower the A gap between Finney and David DeCastro, and Finney locks his arm with DeCastro like a game of red rover. Devlin Hodges gets himself in trouble by leaving the pocket on this play, when stepping up, or even escaping through the middle was a better option.

2019 Week 13, second quarter, 7:30. B.J. Finney is the center.

While Finney is very good working closely with his line mates, he isn’t as good in space, and here his movement with the slide leaves a big opening in the middle, and the linebacker is able to run straight at Devlin Hodges.

The Point:

Maurkice Pouncey wasn’t the same player in 2020 he was in his prime, but when he was healthy he was still one of the best centers in the NFL. The problem is he wasn’t healthy as often, and that hurt his performance.

B.J. Finney was a very good lineman in 2019, with few weaknesses and solid overall play. It’s why teams viewed him as a potential starter heading into 2020. While his 2020 season was incredibly disappointing, if Finney can get back to his 2019 level of play he should be a fine starter, and a good bridge to the day Kendrick Green can take over. Exactly when that day will be depends not only of the development of Green but also the play of Finney.

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