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Podcast: It’s not always sunny in Pittsburgh

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/05/2020 - 5:30am

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

With Ben Roethlisberger back and presumed to be throwing pain free, a top five defense returning mostly intact and exciting newcomers having joined in the offseason, their is plenty of optimism in Steeler Nation. Some are even talking Super Bowl. But fans must remember that plans go awry and it”s not always sunshine, rainbows and cookies in Pittsburgh. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast “Let’s Ride”. Join BTSC Co-Editor Jeff Hartman with his new show, “Let’s Ride” as he discusses this burning question and breaks down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • It’s not always sunny in Pittsburgh, PA
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: The offensive personnel grouping where the Steelers dominate

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 08/05/2020 - 4:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. With the scheduled start of training camp now behind us, it looks like we’ll have to wait until opening weekend to see the Steelers take the field. Just because the NFL has cancelled the preseason doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how the Pittsburgh Steelers run the 00 offensive package better than anyone.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Which offensive package do the Steelers run better than anyone? That’s right...5 WRs.

Picking the NFL’s best offenses at every personnel grouping for 2020

By: Matt Bowen, ESPN

00 personnel (5 WRs)

Why it works: With five wide receivers on the field, opposing defenses can expect empty formations. But with only a five-man protection scheme, defenses can bring pressure and force the quarterback to unload the ball quickly.

The team that ran it the most: The Steelers ran 17 snaps of 00 personnel, with 15 of those snaps coming in the first two weeks of the season, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was healthy. After that? Just two snaps for a total of 1 yard. Outside of the Steelers, only five teams lined up in 00 personnel: the Cardinals, who registered four snaps, along with the Bears, Miami Dolphins, Buccaneers and Patriots with one snap apiece.

The team that ran it the best: During those first two games of the 2019 season, Roethlisberger completed 7 of 15 passes for 38 yards in 00 personnel. Remember, the ball has to come out hot here. However, with the limited snap counts across the league for 00 personnel, the Steelers are the only team that registered viable numbers here.

The team to watch in 2020: It has to be the Steelers. Over the past two seasons, Pittsburgh has run 49 snaps out of 00 personnel, with the Bills and Cardinals checking in at No. 2 with four snaps apiece. And the personnel is in place for the Steelers to at least show some five-wide-receiver looks in 2020 with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Ryan Switzer and rookie Chase Claypool.

To read the full article, click HERE (ESPN+)

  • Ike Hilliard hasn’t had a lot of time with his receivers, but he is getting a grip on the job at hand.

Catching on quickly

By: Mike Prisuta, Steelers.com

Ike Hilliard has had success working with rookie wide receivers in the NFL previously, but never under the pandemic-influenced restrictions teams have been forced to work around this season.

So be it, the Steelers’ new wide receivers coach reasons.

“Every year is the same for me,” Hilliard emphasized. “I’m not going to make any excuses. We’re going to get these guys ready to play. These kids are extremely talented, it’s just our job to get the most out of them.

“We’re not gonna make any excuses about how much time we missed in the offseason on the grass or any of those things. We’ve worked virtually, we’ve worked hard. We have to now make sure that when we do get real snaps we maximize those and we get the most out of those players on a snap-by-snap basis. It’s gonna be no different this year. These young men are going to be productive and we’re all going to be proud of the product we put on the field.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Best, Worst and Sleeper QB values for fantasy

By: Adam Rank, NFL.com

Anybody who has played fantasy football over the years knows the basic tenants of the game is to wait on a quarterback. It’s one of those common knowledge things we’ve all known since birth. Kind of like how you to look both ways before you cross a street. Don’t swim after eating. And Han shot first. Like, everyone knows these things.

What I would like to do today is to use that in practice. By looking over average draft position of quarterbacks, I have found the best, worst and sleeper values at the position. And look, every draft is different. There are some leagues where the managers won’t take a quarterback in the first eight rounds. And then I have home leagues where three quarterbacks go in the first. But this, again, is based on current ADP and can be used as a rule of thumb moving forward.

Let’s get started.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

The Matt Canada effect is in full swing in Pittsburgh

Big Ben talks about his elbow injury

The NFL, NFLPA have come to terms heading into the 2020 season

Ike Hilliard is using Ben Roethlisberger to get his WRs ready for 2020

Why the Steelers’ red-zone defense is paramount next season

Is Alex Highsmith the next Chad Brown??

  • Social Media Madness

That’s Lombardis with an s. pic.twitter.com/GB0QM3cnya

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2020

Let's capture this moment @TeamJuJu | #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/e7h8YP4x3X

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2020

Yesterday’s sunrise pic.twitter.com/tNJxpDaZGj

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2020

A beautiful sight to see!@_BigBen7 pic.twitter.com/PkLB32GJNt

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2020

Back at it

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2020

Training Camp: Sights and sounds from Tuesday’s practice at Heinz Field

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 6:48pm
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Veterans are back, and we have some photos and video from the workout Tuesday.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 Training Camp is weird.

There is no way around it.

The coronavirus pandemic forcing the team to stay at Heinz Field is just one of the oddities about this year’s training camp. The pads haven’t gone on yet, players are still in the acclimation process and reporters aren’t there to see what is going on yet.

In other words, we, the fans, are reliant on others to get news as to what practices look like, even if they are walk-throughs, and video of players going through the motions.

The Steelers have been releasing more information to the public to help the fan base feel as if they are on the hill side at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, and while it isn’t the same it certainly is a welcome sight.

Below are some images and video from the day that was at Heinz Field. Everything from pictures and video from practice, links to interviews with Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Canada and some links from articles you may have missed from the day that was here at BTSC.

Photos

Ben is back #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/fp7f4Iz4IU

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2020

Couple of shots from today's practice feat. Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Eric Ebron and JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Ben Roethlisberger was expected to throw half as much as he did yesterday, and is planning on taking tomorrow off

(pool photos via Karl Roser / Pittsburgh Steelers) pic.twitter.com/UHVj8Zfjsg

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2020

Ben Roethlisberger gets some work Tuesday in the strength and conditioning phase of Steelers training camp at Heinz Field: Photos courtesy of Karl Roser, Pittsburgh Steelers pic.twitter.com/AZJvae04m0

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) August 4, 2020

'We have a great defense, and I’m excited about that group. That was one of the big reasons I was excited to come back, was to play with a group like that.' - @_BigBen7

: @steelers pic.twitter.com/SjpNZNaVHA

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 4, 2020 Video

Footage of Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey (pulling a move by practicing in sunglasses. Respect) and Eric Ebron from today’s workout at Heinz.

: Alec Balenciaga/Steelers pic.twitter.com/8SpmnxQp4a

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2020

#SteelersCAMp | @CamHeyward pic.twitter.com/5DMbaprFTc

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2020

.@Ebron85 looks REALLY good in Black & Gold pic.twitter.com/u7t7y4Otau

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2020

Nailed it @MaurkicePouncey | #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/Pkjj5Q7bQL

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 4, 2020 Interviews Article Links

Ben Roethlisberger talks about the elbow injury which had bothered him for years

Matt Canada talks about how he has been preparing for 2020 during his year off

Strange times will cause for strange roster moves

Ike Hilliard leaning on Roethlisberger to get his wide receivers ready for 2020

Hilliard has high praise for his young wide receiving corps

Win a signed James Washington football in the BTSC 100k Facebook giveaway

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 6:00pm

In celebration of reaching 100,000 followers on Facebook, we are giving away an authentic signed James Washington football.

Once again it is time for another giveaway courtesy of behind the steel curtain. This time, our contest is being run in celebration of reaching 100,000 followers on Facebook. That’s right, it’s the BTSC 100 K Facebook giveaway!

The prize this time is a signed football by Steelers wide receiver James Washington. The ball comes with a certificate of authenticity from the NFL.

So how does one enter the contest? Well, since it was due to Facebook the contest came about, Facebook is where the contest will be held. On our contest Facebook post (which is linked below), perform the following actions:

1. Like the Facebook post
2. Share the Facebook post
3. Comment on the Facebook post tagging 2 friends

In order to be eligible to win the prize, you must like and follow the Behind The Steel Curtain Facebook page.

Enter the BTSC 100k Facebook Giveaway! In celebration of 100,000+ followers on our Facebook page, we are giving away a...

Posted by Behind The Steel Curtain on Tuesday, August 4, 2020

And that is all! The contest will run through Friday at 6 PM EDT on a winner will be chosen. So in case you have not already, make sure you like and follow Bt SE on Facebook as well as all of our other social media platforms. And as always…

GO STEELERS!

With the NFL’s new training camp protocols, roster moves could be surprising

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 3:00pm
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Some long-shot Steelers could be playing their way towards a roster spot in training camp, and we’ll have no idea.

NFL training camps are a lot different than usual in 2020, and you can probably guess why.

The list of changes is a long one, and besides new health and safety requirements for the players and coaches, 2020’s edition of NFL training camps will affect fans’ experiences as well. Practices are closed to the public. The preseason is cancelled. And there’s countless other changes that will keep team secrets away from the public eye until Week 1.

BTSC writer Flip Fisher wrote a great article on Sunday detailing what the media coverage of Steelers training camp is going to be like. In the article, he noted that there will be an extremely limited group of reporters and photographers allowed at camp, but chances are they will be members of the Steelers’ own media team.

Having reporters at practice is a good thing, but since they will be reporting on the same team they’re employed by, coverage probably won’t be as full of journalistic meat as it would be otherwise. There will probably be some controversy at some point, but it remains to be seen how much will be reported to the public.

And, with the preseason cancelled, fans will be relying solely on the Steelers’ small coverage team and coach Tomlin’s notoriously vague press briefings to form opinions on players. We won’t be able to see them play in person until the regular season, after the roster has been cut down to 53 players and they have signed their 16-man practice squad.

We may not know a lot about the position battles at the bottom of the roster, and “camp phenom” stories, which are usually quite popular this time of year, might go unnoticed.

Take Tuzar Skipper, for instance. The undrafted free agent (UDFA) was last year’s camp darling and preseason hero who impressed in practice and was unstoppable in the preseason. All of Steelers Nation was rooting for him when it came time for roster cut-downs, and when he made the final 53 it was a special moment. Skipper’s success made a great story, and even though he was later waived, picked up by the Giants, and then found his way back to Pittsburgh in time for this year’s camp, he’s remained a fan favorite despite his nontraditional journey.

The Steelers have historically had success with undrafted athletes like Skipper, with many of them making a much larger impact, such as Ramon Foster and James Harrison.

But what if there hadn’t been a preseason last year, would that have affected Tuzar Skipper? We don’t know if he would have impressed enough to make the final roster without it, but assuming he had (and there will be UDFA’s across the league this year that do impress enough in camp), would fans have known about it? At best, some Steelers columnist might have added a sentence somewhere along the lines of, “he had a good practice today”, in an article, or he might have received a shout-out from a coach in a press conference. But, without watching him blow up offensive lines in the preseason or practice ourselves, we might not have thought much of it. When he made the roster it would have been shocking and probably garnered a lot of “fire Tomlin/Colbert” comments from armchair GM’s.

When Skipper made the roster in 2019, it was still considered a “surprise” move despite his well-known preseason success. It looks like 2020 will redefine that term.

The narrative of no preseason hurting the chances of UDFA success is still very much true, but there will be some surprising camp success stories throughout the NFL regardless. Even in the case of non-UDFA’s, a big-name free agent signing somewhere could go full-Donte Moncreif with his new team and be cut. All fans would see is the roster move, and not the reasoning behind it, which could lead to some massive surprises between now and September.

When it comes time for roster cut-downs this year, there’s a chance we could see some surprises with the Steelers. If news breaks of a James Pierre, Calvin Taylor, John Houston, or any other “no name” player making the final roster we would be shocked, and even more so if a popular name was cut to make room for the newcomer.

No preseason doesn’t necessarily mean those with a small shot at the final roster won’t be able to defy the odds and make it. There will be some that do, but we may not find out about them until much later.

As fans we love roster surprises, but we generally are able to form educated guesses by watching the preseason or reading training camp recaps beforehand. In 2020, we’ll just have to wait and see while making the best of the limited information we get.

When final cuts come, we’ll just have to trust that Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and the rest of the Steelers organization know best.

And we’re so good at that, right?

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Wendall Smallwood

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 1:45pm
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Continuing with part 72 of our 90ish-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man (now 80-,man) roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at one of the newest members of the roster:

Wendell Smallwood

Position: RB
Height: 5’ 10”
Weight: 208 lbs
College: West Virginia
Draft: 5th round, 153rd overall in 2016 (Eagles)

2019 Stats (Washington Football Team)

15 Games played
22 Attempts
81 Rushing Yards
9 Receptions
64 Receiving Yards

Contract remaining

Expires in 2021
$825,000 salary cap number (.4% of total cap)
$0 Dead money
$825,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Possible, but unlikely. The Steelers don’t typically carry four running backs but considering their depth it appears they will stray from tradition. The final of the four running back spots could conceivably end up going three different ways. Jaylen Samuels has to be the favorite to win the spot as the incumbent but trailed off as the season progressed, Kerrith Whyte Jr. showed off his explosive ability, and Wendell Smallwood is the new guy on the block that has contributed for other organizations. Chances aren't in Smallwood’s favor but I can envision a scenario where he makes this team.

2020 projection

Let me start by saying I don’t think Smallwood will actually make this team, but I’ll give you a break down as if he does. As the fourth runner I don’t really see Smallwood receiving many snaps, Anthony McFarland Jr. will get the majority of passing down snaps, Benny Snell Jr. will play a lot of the short yardage snaps, and James Conner will play the part of the every down player. The cupboard will be bare for Smallwood, but he’ll get snaps whenever injuries inevitably occur. The fourth running back will need to pick up some special team snaps as well.

Projected stats:

12 Games played
9 Attempts
33 Rushing Yards
5 Reception
38 Receiving Yards

Summary

The Steelers running back room is currently sitting in an interesting spot. On one hand they still have an every down back that's possibly nearing the end of his tenure, but on the other hand they have two youngsters with contrasting styles that are primed to take over the position. The 2020 season feels like a transition year for the spot that will see James Conner concede the spot to the duo of Snell and McFarland. But then there's this other story line in which three players are duking it out just to remain in the NFL. Whoever wins the final spot probably features more prominently as a third runner in 2021, just don’t expect a lot from that person in 2020.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett -Cut
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney -Cut
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry
Ulysees Gilbert III
Derwin Gray
Joe Haden
J.C. Hassenauer
Quadree Henderson -Cut
Dewayne Hendrix -Cut
Cam Heyward
Alex Highsmith
Mike Hilton
Devlin Hodges
John Houston
Anthony Johnson
Diontae Johnson
Jarron Jones
John Keenoy
Tyree Kinnel -Cut
Christian Kuntz -Cut
Justin Layne
Leo Lewis
James Lockhart
Paxton Lynch
Dan McCullers
Vance McDonald
Anthony McFarland Jr.
Henry Mondeaux
Christian Montano -Cut
Alexander Myres
Steven Nelson
Spencer Nigh
Chuks Okorafor
James Pierre
Maurkice Pouncey
Kevin Rader
Dax Raymond
Ben Roethlisberger
Mason Rudolph
Jaylen Samuels
Tuzar Skipper

Matt Canada spent his year away from coaching studying the game

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 12:28pm
Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

In an interview with Pittsburgh media on Tuesday, Canada discussed what he did in 2019.

Training camp is underway! Although the Steelers don’t take the field for an official team practice for almost another two weeks, having players on the field for workouts and meetings has the process of the 2020 season underway. One of the added joys of the team gathering together is increased media availability of both players and coaches.

After Ben Roethlisberger spoke with the media Tuesday, new quarterbacks coach Matt Canada was available for questioning for the first time since joining the Steelers in January.

Transitioning to the professional ranks after holding various positions in the NCAA such as quarterbacks coach, offensive coordinator, and interim head coach, Canada spent 2019 away from coaching while waiting for his next opportunity.

So what did Canada do with his time away? According to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor, a combination of work and play.

Sounds like Matt Canada enjoyed his year away - got to go to parents' weekends for his kids, took his wife on a trip, celebrated his parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Says he went to some NFL, college camps.

"I thought it was a great year of growth as a coach, as a person."

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2020

As most know, the life of an NFL or NCAA coach can be very demanding on one’s family. Putting in long hours every day throughout the season and beyond can take its toll. Naturally, Canada used his time away to do some family activities he may not have otherwise had the time and opportunity to do.

But football was not out of the picture.

Canada also spent time diving further into the game at both the college and professional levels. According to Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley, Canada split his time in dissecting both the college and pro games.

Matt Canada said he spent time studying college football in the morning and the NFL in the afternoon when he took the year off from coaching in 2019.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 4, 2020

It still remains to be seen exactly how much the time spent studying increased Canada’s football knowledge and could impact his coaching, or even the level of influence Canada will have on the Steelers’ offense in 2020. While some look at Canada as the “offensive coordinator in waiting” others are not ready to crown Canada’s influence on the Steelers offense in any way.

Most importantly, Canada is happy to be a part of the Pittsburgh Steelers and seems to be focused on making the team as competitive as possible while building towards winning championships.

Matt Canada said he is 'really blessed' to be with the Steelers and knew both Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner while he was at Pitt and would talk with both often.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 4, 2020

Stay tuned to BTSC as coverage of interviews from players and coaches continue.

Roethlisberger opens up about lingering elbow injury which ended his 2019 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 11:10am
Photo: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ franchise quarterback opens up about the elbow injury which worsened in 2019, ending his season and requiring surgery.

As Ben Roethlisberger stepped in front of a camera for a virtual group press conference, the first time talking to reporters since his season ended in Week 2 of the 2019 season, he admitted he felt nervous.

He has answered questions a million times in his career, but 2019 was the first year he was sidelined for the remainder of a season due to an injury. Once Roethlisberger got comfortable in this unique setting, he opened up about his elbow, mainly how the injury had bothered him for years.

This from Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Ben Roethlisberger’s first words with the media in 10-plus months, talking about his elbow injury Week 2 last season pic.twitter.com/MbNF2QdSSt

— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) August 4, 2020

After Roethlisberger was lost for the season last year, several of his offensive linemen told media this wasn’t a new injury. How it was something the quarterback had been dealing with for a long time.

But no one had heard it form Roethlisberger himself...until now.

In the game against the Seahawks in Week 2 at Heinz Field, Roethlisberger detailed what it felt like, and how he knew something wasn’t right. This is per Brooke Pryor of ESPN:

Roethlisberger said he dealt with the elbow injury for a couple years, but it was never serious to do anything about.

Said on the deep attempt to JuJu v Seattle he felt a different pain and discomfort "it was shooting down my arm. I knew something was different at that moment."

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2020

Even though the injury ended his 2019 season, Roethlisberger did not feel like he was finished with his NFL career. This per Missi Matthews of Steelers.com:

I've had no set backs and it's felt really, really good - Ben on throwing 2-3 days a week

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) August 4, 2020

Monday was an important day for Roethlisber. As veterans reported to training camp for workouts and walk-throughs, it was the first time he has put his arm through a regular practice. Sure, he had thrown a couple days a week leading up to training camp, but nothing like the workout he went through at Heinz Field.

The result? He woke up Tuesday feeling “great”.

#Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger says, “My arm feels really good. I threw a lot of balls yesterday.” Waking up today? “It feels great.” Says he’s been throwing more this offseason than usual. But still... he will have a “pitch count” during this unusual camp.

— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) August 4, 2020

It is now when the medical personnel, and coaching staff, will have to monitor Roethlisberger moving forward. Clearly, the surgery was a success, and his rehabilitation has been positive to date. However, working him back and getting his arm ready for the rigors of a regular season are two completely different things.

In fact, when asked Roethlisberger spoke about why no one within the Steelers organization ever called the injury a Tommy John surgery. Why? Because, according to Roethlisberger, there is no name for the surgery he underwent last year.

Roethlisberger on the exact surgery: "I'm not a doctor and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night ... there's no real name for it. It's not a Tommy John."

Says he tore three flexor tendons off the bone. They reattached it. Says never happened to QB to this magnitude

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) August 4, 2020

This offseason many compared Roethlisberger’s injury to the injury Jale Delhomme suffered while he was quarterbacking the Panthers, but Roethlisberger made it seem as if his injury truly was unique in every way.

The good news here is how all reports coming from the doctors, coaching staff and now Roethlisberger are just that — good news. If this trend continues into the 2020 regular season, it is safe to say the Steelers should be considered more contenders than pretenders as they set their sights on a seventh Lombardi trophy for their trophy case.

Podcast: Can more UDFAs stick around with no preseason?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Q&A” show, Dave Schofield and Tony Defeo explore the possibility of the Steelers sneaking UDFAs onto the practice squad.

With no preseason games in 2020 due to Covid-19, the theory among many is that veterans may have an advantage making the Steelers 53-man roster. There are plenty of talented undrafted free agents on the Steelers roster. With a larger practice squad and no preseason games to have other teams notice players, could the Steelers cut players and still feel secure that they can retain them? This is the inquiry that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Q&A Show. On this show Dave Schofield, filling in for Bryan Davis, and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran duo as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Can more UDFAs stick around with no preseason?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Dave and Tony 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!

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

NFL, NFLPA agree to terms on CBA side letter in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 9:45am
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL and NFLPA have done what many thought they couldn’t do...get a deal done heading into the 2020 regular season.

There are a lot of similarities between Major League Baseball and the NFL. Both organizations will be/are going to compete outside a bubble. The league and owners had some major differences of opinions heading into the season. Protocols were put in place to help keep staff and players as safe as possible.

With the similarities out of the way, now for the differences.

Unlike baseball, the NFL and NFLPA have been able to find middle ground on a multitude of topics from preseason games, acclimation periods, testing protocol and more leading up to the 2020 season. MLB was put in a holding pattern for the majority of the summer, but the NFL is ready to start on time after the league and union came to terms on a side letter for their current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and playing during a pandemic.

As Tom Pelissero of NFL Network states, the deal is done. Game on.

Review now complete. Deal is done. https://t.co/qNAYMhboWk

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

This is exciting for football fans, even the skeptics who don’t think a season is an actual possibility, but there is more to this letter than the two parties saying games will be played as scheduled.

No, there are a lot of details which need to be dissected and digested so fans know what to expect in the coming days/weeks.

Information on players who choose to opt-out, and the deadline for this decision to be made:

NFL players were just notified the deadline to opt out of the 2020 season is 4 p.m. Thursday — and the annual drug testing window opens Friday, per sources.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

Only two ways an NFL player can opt out of the 2020 season after the 4 p.m. ET Thursday deadline:

- New diagnosis he has a high-risk condition

- Player’s family member dies, is hospitalized or otherwise moves to a medical facility because of COVID-19 or related condition

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

When drug tests, and how it will change under the current CBA, will begin:

Normally, NFL players are drug tested the first two weeks of training camp. This year, the window is Aug. 7-17, so a bit of a grace period.

Remember: Under the updated policy on substances of abuse, players can be fined, but no longer suspended, for positive drug tests.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

NFL players can be disciplined for breaking league/club rules as what the league calls “High Risk COVID-19 conduct”. The fines can be heavy, and are meant to keep players in a bubble as much as possible during the season.

The NFL Management Council just sent clubs an updated discipline schedule, including fines and suspensions for “High Risk COVID-19 conduct,” such as going to clubs, bars and house parties without PPE.

No longer labeled High Risk in the final deal: Church. pic.twitter.com/0lntiBNZYS

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

Other potential fines for violating NFL-NFLPA protocols, after written warning for first offense:

- Refusal to submit to virus testing: $50,000

- Refusal to wear mask, PPE or tracking device, or maintain social distancing during team travel: progressive discipline up to $14,650

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

One sticking point for the NFLPA was a stipend for players if they opt-out, or if games are lost due to the coronavius pandemic.

Another big item resolved late in NFL-NFLPA negotiations:

Any player defined as higher-risk --including undrafted free agents and players who didn't earn a credited season in 2019 -- qualify for the same $350,000 stipend if they choose to opt out of the 2020 season, per source.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

With the massive amount of testing these players and coaches are undergoing daily, you have to wonder what would happen if a player is diagnosed right before a game? What options will the team have?

What happens if a player is diagnosed with COVID-19 or quarantined on the night before or morning of a game this season?

The NFL will permit clubs to elevate a practice squad player with notice to the league office up until 90 minutes before kickoff, per source.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

The list of players who have, or will, opt-out of the 2020 season is long, and if a player opts out they are helping their team as it pertains to salary cap space.

NFL teams are about to gain tens of millions of dollars in cap space.

The management council informed clubs that signing bonus proration -- not just unearned salary and bonuses -- will be removed from the 2020 cap immediately upon notification a player is opting out, per sources

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

Expanded practice squads were already going to be a part of the NFL in 2020, but they are taking things a step further this season to help fill out rosters if one or more players test positive.

Several roster changes we’ve discussed are now official for 2020:

- 16-man practice squad (up to 6 with no limit on accrued seasons)

- Protect up to 4 P-squad members each Tuesday

- Starting 4 p.m. ET Sept. 6, unlimited players can return from injured reserve, after 3 weeks

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 4, 2020

It hasn’t been pretty, but when you look at the negotiations of a league like MLB, it has been smooth sailing. The players had demands, and the owners caved on some big issues to make sure they have a product on television in 2020.

Game on.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for all the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the upcoming 2020 regular season.

Ike Hilliard improving his receivers by picking Ben Roethlisberger’s brain

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers new wide receivers coach is looking forward to getting to know Ben Roethlisberger’s preferences.

On Monday, new Steelers wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard spoke with the media for the first time since being hired this past February. Fielding questions from Steelers reporters, Hilliard discussed his stable of young wide receivers as well as a variety of other topics.

One question which was brought up specifically was if Hilliard has been able to spend much time with Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

“There is never going to be enough time for me to spend with the quarterback and trying to pick his brain in regard to what he likes and what he wants” Hilliard explained. “If nothing else, just making sure the young men are where they are supposed to be when he is ready to throw the football.”

In most cases, the key to an offense’s passing game is having the quarterback and receivers all on the same page. When the quarterback reads the coverage, he knows based on a particular read how the receiver should react, depending on the play which was called. If the receiver does not make the same read, the likelihood for success on the play drops. The quarterback goes through their progression and seeing a receiver not respond in the way the quarterback anticipates usually has the passer quickly moving to the next read. Depending on the play, a quarterback sometimes already makes the throw in anticipation of the receiver reacting in a certain way. When the two players are not on the same page, fans can often see an interesting discussion going on between the two players.

It seems Hilliard realizes the best way to prepare his young receivers for the season is for him to also understand exactly what quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is reading and thinking when diagnosing an opponent’s defense. Of course it is important for the quarterback and the receiver to have the mental connection, but having the coach get on board as well will only benefit the entire receivers room.

In a way, it’s like having the answer key to help study for a test.

One thing Hilliard brings to the table as the Steelers wide receivers coach is someone who has ‘been there, done that.’ Selected by the New York Giants as the seventh overall pick of the 1997 draft out of the University of Florida, Hilliard played 12 years in the NFL both for the Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With over 6,000 career receiving yards and 35 touchdowns, Hilliard never reached a 1,000 yard season but did have eight scores in 2000 with the Giants.

But Hilliard is not worried about his players focusing on his NFL career.

“I don’t think those boys are interested in watching me play,” he confessed.

Instead, Hilliard is focused on turning the Steelers young receivers into the most successful unit they can be. There is a lot of potential in the wide receivers room, and Hilliard is tasked with tapping into it as much as possible. If Hilliard is going to help his players understand the mind of Ben Roethlisberger, he will have to do the same.

“I am looking forward to diving in and spending a bunch of time with the quarterback and hopefully we can all get accelerated to where it needs to be so we can be the best offense the league.”

Welcome to Steelers Nation, Mr. Hilliard. We hope so too.

Film Room: Defensive red zone excellence will be paramount in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 7:15am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Steelers’ defense was tremendous in 2019, and their success in the red-zone was a major reason why.

Often, when fans and pundits discuss football schemes, they focus on broad concepts like “systems.” They talk about whether a team runs a 4-3 or 3-4 defense or whether they use the Air Raid or West Coast offense. These are interesting topics and worthy of discussion.

The real work of a football staff, however, is not in deciding what system to use but in knowing how to employ their system situationally. Any loyal BTSC reader knows, for example, that although the Steelers continue to base out of a 3-4 defense, they are in a 2-4-5 configuration far more often. Why is that? Because the increased use of 11 personnel by offenses makes the 3-4 impractical as an every-down defense. By putting a third receiver on the field, 11 personnel creates mismatches in the passing game against the 3-4. So, like many teams, the Steelers use the 2-4-5 with its extra coverage player because it’s a sound adjustment to the situational use of 11 personnel by modern offenses.

Game-planning the red zone is one of the most important situational strategies a staff must devise. The difference between a touchdown and a field goal (or, potentially, no points at all) from that area of the field often determines the outcome of a football game. Seattle, for example, went 11-5 in 2019 and ranked in the top five in red zone touchdown percentage. Ten of their eleven wins were decided by eight points or less. There is no doubt their red zone scoring capability was the difference in several of those wins.

The image below shows Pro Football Focus’s four best teams in the NFL in 2019 at defending the red zone. The Steelers finished second in the PFF rankings. This is more evidence of how the defense carried the team to the brink of a playoff berth despite an offense crippled by the loss of Ben Roethlisberger. The reasons for their red zone success are the focus of this article.

The red zone, which is generally defined as the area from the +20 yard line to the goal line, is treated as a separate situation for good reason. The field shrinks in the red zone for both the offense and the defense. Vertical concepts become less practical due to the lack of space. The width of the field remains the same, however, inviting horizontal schemes by the offense. Some coaches prefer a less nuanced approach, opting to load up on big guys and try to smash their way across the goal line. It is a game-plan unto itself. The teams who master it are often the most successful.

The Steelers were effective on defense in the red zone last season for a variety of reasons. They did a nice job mixing and disguising their intentions. They took away the middle of the field in the passing game, forcing teams into lower percentage throws outside the numbers. And they tracked the football and tackled well, an essential element in an area of the field where every yard is crucial.

In their 27-3 victory in week four, the Steelers held Cincinnati to just three points on three red zone trips, including a turnover on a strip-sack and a fourth down stop. On Cincinnati’s first red zone possession, the Bengals got tight end Tyler Eifert matched up on linebacker Mark Barron in the slot. Barron covered Eifert well but quarterback Andy Dalton made a nice touch throw to the back of the end zone that Eifert could have caught. He dropped the throw and the Bengals settled for a field goal.

The next time Cincinnati visited the red zone, they went back to this matchup. On third down, they got Eifert (bottom of the screen) in position against Barron. This time, however, rather than play Eifert solo, the Steelers helped on him with safety Terrell Edmunds. Barron did a good job getting underneath Eifert while Edmunds bracketed him over the top. The double-team forced a near-impossible throw from Dalton for an incompletion.

Besides the coverage adjustment, these two GIFs demonstrate how aggressively the Steelers defended the middle of the field. In the first GIF, Edmunds and fellow safety Minkah Fitzpatrick both looked to attack crossing routes. Edmunds jammed receiver Tyler Boyd (83) as he cut inside while Fitzpatrick sat at the goal line looking for a seam or cross from the other side. In the second GIF, Fitzpatrick cut off Boyd’s path as he worked horizontally.

Here’s another red zone clip from the same game. Dalton threw the fade here to the top of the screen presumably because he liked the matchup of 6’5 receiver Auden Tate against 5’10 Joe Haden. Haden did a great job closing to Tate’s near hip and riding him into the boundary to make this a difficult connection.

But, in the middle of the field, the Steelers again attacked the crossing routes, this time with Barron and Fitzpatrick. By taking away the crossers, they forced Dalton into difficult throws the Bengals could not convert.

(Side note: notice how, in both this clip and the previous one, Fitzpatrick quickly diagnosed the in-breaking route and, rather than simply tracking it, broke in front of the receiver to cut him off. He “jumped” the routes and played for the interception because he knew there was no chance of a double move once the receivers broke flat. Fitzpatrick’s situational awareness and his anticipation and reaction skills are some of the best I’ve ever seen from a safety).

The following week, against Baltimore, the Steelers turned in another strong defensive red zone performance. Baltimore finished fourth in the league with a 65% red zone touchdown percentage but the Steelers held them to two scores on five red zone trips.

Here, in the first quarter, Baltimore had 1st and 10 at the Pittsburgh 12 yard-line. Understanding the effectiveness of Baltimore’s zone-read scheme, which gave quarterback Lamar Jackson the opportunity to hand off or run based on his read of an unblocked defender, the Steelers executed a gap exchange stunt with outside linebacker TJ Watt and slot corner Mike Hilton. Hilton came from the open alley, where he had no coverage assignment, and blitzed inside Watt to the C-gap while Watt feathered outside into a contain position.

Jackson read Watt and, realizing he could not keep the ball, gave it on the inside run to tailback Mark Ingram. Hilton's stunt drew the block of the fullback (86), leaving Watt unblocked to fall back inside and make the tackle for a short gain. By disguising gap responsibilities, the Steelers accomplished two things: they muddied Jackson’s read so he didn’t feel comfortable pulling the ball and attacking the edge, where he is most dangerous; and they freed up their best defender to make a play on the ball-carrier.

On the next play (2nd and 8), the Steelers ran a similar gap exchange by swapping Watt and linebacker Devin Bush. Watt did a tremendous job fighting the down block of the tight end and creating penetration. He closed down the B/C gaps while also getting a piece of the pulling guard, disrupting his path as he climbed to block Bush. Bush then used his athleticism to make the guard miss as he ducked inside to tackle Ingram for a one-yard gain.

On third down, Baltimore threw incomplete and had to settle for a field goal.

It wasn’t coincidence or good guessing that prompted the Steelers to call those gap exchange stunts. In their previous four contests, Baltimore had run the ball on 24 of 34 first and second downs in the red zone. With a situational run rate of 70.5%, defensive coordinator Keith Butler took a calculated gamble the Ravens would keep the ball on the ground and stunted accordingly. The resulting success was a product of good football by the men on the field but solid scouting and play-calling by the coaching staff, too.

Later that season, at Arizona, the Steelers turned in another strong performance, permitting the Cardinals just one touchdown in three red zone trips. Two plays from that game stood out for the Steelers’ ability to get to the ball-carrier and tackle well.

Arizona trailed 10-0 in the 2nd quarter when they found themselves with a 1st and goal at the Steelers’ three yard line. They aligned in a bunch formation to the left and ran a jet sweep concept into the bunch.

The photo below indicates the jet sweep action. All of the Pittsburgh defenders ran hard to the ball on this play, but the two players circled in the photo, corner Steven Nelson and linebacker Vince Williams, were particularly excellent tracking the football.

Watch the angle Nelson took to clear the clutter and maintain outside force position, preventing the ball-carrier (Christian Kirk) from turning the corner. And watch how Williams immediately recognized a seam to the football and charged through it to track down Kirk, eliminating a possible cut-back in the process:

Here’s a better angle of Williams stampeding to the football:

That’s just great defense. It’s a good example of what Williams brings to the Steelers — effort, passion, leadership — and why the coaching staff considers him so valuable.

On second and goal, the Cardinals attempted to get their athletic young quarterback, Kyler Murray, into space on the zone-read concept referenced earlier. Arizona’s line blocked to their right while Murray read an unblocked Mark Barron to his left. Barron, indicated in the rectangle below, chased the back, prompting Murray to pull the football and go. But Minkah Fitzpatrick (circled in the photo) was having none of that:

I can’t be sure if Fitzpatrick was spying Murray here or if he simply recognized the pull on the zone-read incredibly fast (I suspect the former but would not be shocked by the latter). Either way, he came from the middle of the field to fill the alley in an instant, taking a perfect angle to the ball and tracking Murray’s inside hip. Even when Murray stutter-stepped in an attempt to break Fitzpatrick down, Minkah stayed on balance and in position to make the tackle.

Great read-recognition, tracking of the ball-carrier and sound tackling forced Arizona to settle for a field goal. It was an important stand in a tight game the Steelers eventually won, 23-17.

Whether the Steelers can repeat the red zone success their defense enjoyed in 2019 this coming season remains to be seen. With nearly all of their key players back and another year in the system for new additions like Bush, Fitzpatrick and Nelson, it is reasonable to expect continued success.

The bigger question is, can the offense reclaim the form that made it one of the best red zone teams in the league in 2018? That is the subject of next week’s article.

Alex Highsmith has the potential to be Chad Brown 2.0

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 6:00am
Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Steelers rookie LB Alex Highsmith bares a striking resemblance to former Steelers standout Chad Brown.

Quick question for our faithful BTSC community. Have you ever experienced a hauntingly familiar feeling about an individual, but have absolutely no idea why that is? That was my initial reaction after seeing rookie Alex Highsmith celebrating with his family after being a third round selection for the Steelers, and I had no clue as to why. Finally the answer came to mind this week.

Steelers training camp kicked off this week with players reporting for duty, and COVID testing. Nothing about the initial process has a familiar feeling to it. No dorm rooms and sweltering summer days on the practice fields of Latrobe. Instead of scores of fans watching intently from the hillsides hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite player or newcomers, we fans are left scouring the web for any tidbits of relevant information.

This reality left me watching virtual interviews and scrolling through the limited photos available. This is where my deja vu kicked in big time.

There were multiple photos of Steelers rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith in his Steelers practice jersey, and I had to take a double take. Suddenly it all made perfect sense. Going all the way back to his draft night, something seemed strangely familiar whenever I saw Highsmith on the screen. Finally, after seeing the photos of him in his practice jersey, the answer was more than apparent.

Alex Highsmith bares a striking resemblance to former Steelers standout Chad Brown, both in appearance and athletic ability.

Both athletically gifted linebackers are almost identical in their listed measurements, although Brown was two inches shorter according to his profile. Both men possess position versatility, able to play both the inside and outside positions.

Chad Brown began his Steelers tenure as a inside linebacker, a valued member of the Blitzburgh defense. He was a starting ILB in the Steelers Super Bowl XXX loss to the Dallas Cowboys in 1995, before moving to OLB after Greg Lloyd went down with a season ending knee injury early the next season. That just so happened to be the first Pro Bowl season of his career, the first of three. He accomplished two All Pro seasons, one as a inside linebacker and one manning the outside. Brown was the epitome of positional versatility. Just a solid, well rounded defender and player.

Highsmith is cut from the same cloth. A former walk on, nothing has been given to the young man. He has had to fight for every accolade and accomplishment. His character and work ethic was on full display throughout his collegiate career as he utilized the weight room to transform his physique into one worthy of a NFL third round draft pick. He saved his most dominant performances for the elite competition. Fully aware that defeat was inevitable, Highsmith left every ounce of effort on the field of battle, earning the upmost respect from the opponents. Look no further than Dabo Sweeney and the Clemson Tigers for confirmation.

Highsmith played both inside and outside linebacker for the Charlotte 49ers during his time there, excelling at whatever task he was given. In a day and age where players balk at the suggestion or enter the transfer portal when asked to put their team first by playing out of their preferred position, possibly affecting their draft value negatively, Highsmith willingly accepted the challenge and carried the defense to the best of his ability. Very admirable in my opinion. Reminds me of Terrell Edmunds collegiate experience in many ways actually, but I digress.

Highsmith's explosive first step and superior bend make him a natural edge player. Couple that with a non-stop motor and relentless pursuit and you have potentially a difference maker flying off the edge for the Steelers defense. Chad Brown was a eerily similar defender while in Pittsburgh.

The third round pick loves being a Pittsburgh Steeler and couldn't be happier to be in the Steel City. He realizes the huge step up in talent he is about to experience, and the enhanced difficulty all rookies will have to endure due to the loss of practice time and preseason games because of COVID-19. But no worries, Highsmith has faced long odds and difficulties before, only to emerge triumphant in the end.

Alex Highsmith has shown a tendency to excel on the football field regardless of position, to get the job done even against the most gifted opponents. Chad Brown was the same type of player during his tenure in the NFL. If only the Steelers could be so lucky and catch lightning in a bottle yet again with Highsmith.

Podcast: Ben Roethlisberger throws, now what?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 5:30am

Jeff Hartman returns to the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of our newest offering “Let’s Ride“.

Steelers fans aren’t used to an off-season like 2020. Indeed it seems like a lifetime on top of an eternity on top of an eon, since the black-and-gold engaged in meaningful action. The same could be said for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The veteran quarterback finally threw in at practice in front of coaches and a full comliment of teammates. But what does that mean and what’s next? This is the inquiry that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast “Let’s Ride”. Join BTSC Co-Editor Jeff Hartman with his new show, “Let’s Ride” as he discusses this burning question and breaks down all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Ben Roethlisberger throws, now what?
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: Mike Tomlin remains the leader the Steelers need heading into 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 08/04/2020 - 4:30am

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

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. With the scheduled start of training camp now behind us, it looks like we’ll have to wait until opening weekend to see the Steelers take the field. Just because the NFL has cancelled the preseason doesn’t mean we stop providing you with features, commentary and opinions to tide you over throughout the offseason!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Mike Tomlin, despite his failures, is just the right man for the job entering 2020.

Let’s get to the news:

  • The Steelers’ fan base is growing weary of the lack of a seventh Lombardi trophy, but Mike Tomlin is still the man for the job.

Players would ‘run through a brick wall’ for Tomlin

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

The 2020 Steelers offseason was like no other.

Just weeks before players would have reported for offseason workouts, a global pandemic hit like a ton of bricks, with COVID-19 shutting down the country for months.

The normal clanging in the weight room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex grew silent. The laughter in the locker room was nonexistent. And the zip of a football as it soared from the quarterback’s hands to a waiting wide receiver was silenced.

Classroom instruction, film study, and one-on-one instruction all became virtual, done from the comfort of player’s homes across the country on iPads rather than vast screens in large classrooms.

In the midst of it all, as players were gaining their footing on handling the new offseason and the pandemic was allowing for the opening of some aspects of the nation, the country was rocked again.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25 sparked outrage in the country. Protests were held in major cities and small towns, calling for change, calling for justice, calling for an end to systemic racism. In a matter of minutes, the pandemic took a back seat to social justice issues that deserved the attention it was receiving.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Ranking the NFL’s top 10 QBs for 2020: Who follows Patrick Mahomes?

By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN

Create your own shot. The top quarterbacks must be able to make plays outside of the pocket in today’s game, making Drew Brees and Tom Brady outliers in 2020.

They are still top-10 quarterbacks in their 40s, but the grip is slipping, and you can see it with the results of this list. Mobility, athleticism and throwing on the run are qualities prioritized by all teams now, which explains why four of the league’s top five quarterbacks use those traits as a weapon. Aaron Rodgers is the rare late-30s quarterback who can still pull off that routine.

The pass rushes are too good, the secondaries too sophisticated for quarterbacks to drop back and wait five seconds before throwing. Another thing evaluators prioritize when evaluating QB greatness: universal skill sets. Which quarterbacks truly could play for any team, in any system? Many of these players fit that description.

This year’s top-10 quarterback list features a few surprises, a few legacies cemented, the Dak vs. Wentz debate settled, and an incredibly tough call at the 10th spot.

To read the full article, click HERE (ESPN+)

  • The story behind the movement which got the NFL to actually adhere to the NFLPA’s wish list.

The Story Behind #WeWantToPlay

By: JC Tretter

NFL training camps are finally here and chances are, you have read more about side-letter agreements, IDER plans and testing protocols than you have about actual football. But without those things finalized, there would be no football to talk about.

During the past four months, your Executive Committee, Board of Player Reps and NFLPA staff have been hard at work, developing and fighting for protections for all players. If we are going to complete training camps — and more importantly, a full NFL season — we need everyone involved in the game of football to: 1.) accept that football is going to be different this year and 2.) be equally committed to upholding the safety protocols.

The negotiations of the past several months demonstrate what a strong, cohesive union can accomplish. Each win stemmed directly from our ability to stand together and not back down from our demands, earning us protections on health and safety, contracts and macro-economic issues.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

New WR coach Ike Hilliard sings the praises of his young WR corps

Bart Scott throws some major shade at Troy Polamalu

Minkah Fitzpatrick could have done more in 2019, but wait till 2020

Do the Steelers have the best secondary in the NFL?

With no preseason, how will we know if Mason Rudolph has progressed?

An unlucky 2019 can turn into a fortunate 2020 for the Steelers

  • Social Media Madness

Claypool taking in the view at Heinz Field. #Steelers pic.twitter.com/BU7F6GFXRj

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 3, 2020

Hey there, @_TJWatt #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/VE4UlpaZw7

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2020

✌️ #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/dOG8qtO1sL

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2020

On a mission #SteelersCamp @_BigBen7 | @CamHeyward | @JamesConner_ | @Bud_Dupree pic.twitter.com/nnnkYKDnUH

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2020

Steelers activate Arrion Springs off the Reserve/COVID List, release him

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/03/2020 - 3:53pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers activated CB Arrion Springs off the Reserve/COVID List, and released him immediately after.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers made several moves yesterday to get their their training camp roster down to 80 players, they have activated cornerback Arrion Springs from the Reserve/COVID-19 List only to release Spring from the roster.

We have waived DB Arrion Springs after he was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 3, 2020

Springs is one of several players who sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2020 XFL season. A member of the LA Wildcats, Springs finished the season with 16 tackles and an interception in five games.

Springs entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2018 out of Oregon but has yet to appear in an NFL game. In two seasons, he has appeared on the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.

Springs was the first player of the Pittsburgh Steelers to be placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List this season exactly one week ago. As players are eligible to come off of the list, the Steelers will be forced to make other roster moves in order to keep their number at 80 players. In this case, it was the player coming off the list was released.

Justin Layne, Jalen Samuels, and James Washington are now the other Steelers players currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers as the team continues its training camp at Heinz Field.

And we are live!

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/03/2020 - 3:20pm
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Coral, our new commenting platform.

Hello, all. Andrew Losowsky here again with some good news.

Today, we’ve launched our new commenting platform, Coral, on this site. You can try it out below, or on any article here.

As we said Friday, we now have features that have been on our wish lists for years. And it works great on phones. Coral is being used by more than 150 sites around the world, and this version contains dozens of features and customizations that the team has created especially for SB Nation fan communities.

Same rules apply as before: Be respectful, don’t be a jerk, and help us out by reporting problems — but it’s a different kind of experience. We’ve written an FAQ to cover most of the common questions about how the system works, and we know you’ll let us know below what you think.

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be adding more features and improvements, as well as migrating over your old comments. As we do, we’ll be watching and listening to your feedback (and sometimes, responding to it). This site is great because you are.

Thank you for being here. Come fan with us.

Steelers Burning Questions: Sophomore Jump, or Slump?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/03/2020 - 3:00pm
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Will these second year players step up, or fall back?

There is always excitement about the incoming draft class and how each prospect possibly fits into the Steelers’ particular scheme. The BTSC staff, as always, has done an excellent job of producing such content. Just as the rookie class has impact on the future of the team, there is one particular group that always draws my attention.

The Sophomores.

You know, those second year players who are slated to make that big jump in production. But you also have to wonder if it will resemble a slump, more than a jump.

Let’s take a look at the players entering their second year, both from the 2019 NFL Draft, and those who went undrafted:

2019 NFL Draft

Devin Bush
Diontae Jonson
Justin Layne
Benny Snell Jr.
Zach Gentry
Isaiah Buggs
Ulysees Gilbert
Derwin Gray

Notable UDFAs

Duck Hodges
Tuzar Skipper
Robert Spillaine
Kerrith Whyte

Question 1: If you could pick one of the second year players to make a significant jump, what player would benefit the Steelers the most with that jump?

Question 2: Can, or will, Benny Snell develop into a feature back at the NFL level?

Question 3: Is next year’s starting running back on the roster?

Question 4: What will Diontae Johnson’s stat line look like in 2020?

Question 5: Is there a player from this lass, drafted or undrafted, that no one is talking about that ends up being a significant contributor?

Let us know your answers in the comment section below, and be sure to keep checking back to enjoy the conversation!

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Tuzar Skipper

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/03/2020 - 1:45pm
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Breaking down every player one-by-one alphabetically on the Steelers current 90-man roster

Continuing with part 71 of our 80-part (Give or take 10...) series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s check out second year, back-up linebacker:

Tuzar Skipper

Position: OLB
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 246 lbs
College: Toledo
Draft: UDFA in 2019

2019 stats

6 Games played (all for the New York Giants)
3 Tackles
0.5 Sacks
1 Fumble recovery
1 QB hit

Contract remaining

Expires in 2022
$675,000 salary cap number (.3% of total cap)
$0 Dead money
$675,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Probable. The Steelers currently only have six outside linebackers on its current roster. Those being: T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith, Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, James Lockhart, and Skipper. The organization typically brings nine total linebackers with them into the regular season, and only three inside linebackers are locks to make this team (Devin Bush, Vince Williams, and Ulysees Gilbert III). If the Steelers end up cutting James Lockhart then Skipper will be a virtual lock on the main roster.

2020 projection

The overwhelming majority of outside linebacker snaps will be given to Watt, Dupree, and 2020 third round pick, Alex Highsmith. Skipper, and fellow Toledo alum Adeniyi will be asked to take a special teams based role, as well as a few defensive snaps here and there. I don’t expect much out of Tuzar as a pass rusher but he can make an impact in other ways.

Projected stats:

14 Games played
10 Tackles
0 Sacks

Summary

The Steelers outside linebacker group is one of the strongest units not only on the Steelers team, but in the entire NFL. T.J. Watt will again flirt with the Defensive Player of the Year award, Bud Dupree can again put up double digit sacks, Alex Highsmith can leave a strong impression in his rookie season, and both Tuzar Skipper and Ola Adeniyi can provide solid depth, and special teams snaps.

Moving in the 2021 season, Skipper could find himself as the organizations third outside linebacker and will be called upon more heavily on the defensive side of the football. Skipper needs to put up a solid sophomore campaign to prove himself worthy of the promotion.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett -Cut
John Battle
Jordan Berry
Saeed Blacknall
Breon Borders
Chris Boswell
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Isaiah Buggs
Devin Bush
Deon Cain
Kam Canaday
Chase Claypool
Josiah Coatney -Cut
James Conner
Anthony Coyle
Jordan Dangerfield
Amara Darboh
Carlos Davis
David DeCastro
Christian DiLauro
Kevin Dotson
Bud Dupree
Eric Ebron
Terrell Edmunds
Trey Edmunds
Matt Feiler
Minkah Fitzpatrick
Zach Gentry
Ulysees Gilbert III
Derwin Gray
Joe Haden
J.C. Hassenauer
Quadree Henderson -Cut
Dewayne Hendrix -Cut
Cam Heyward
Alex Highsmith
Mike Hilton
Devlin Hodges
John Houston
Anthony Johnson
Diontae Johnson
Jarron Jones
John Keenoy
Tyree Kinnel
Christian Kuntz -Cut
Justin Layne
Leo Lewis
James Lockhart
Paxton Lynch
Dan McCullers
Vance McDonald
Anthony McFarland Jr.
Henry Mondeaux
Christian Montano -Cut
Alexander Myres
Steven Nelson
Spencer Nigh
Chuks Okorafor
James Pierre
Maurkice Pouncey
Kevin Rader
Dax Raymond
Ben Roethlisberger
Mason Rudolph
Jaylen Samuels

Ike Hilliard has high praise for the young wide receiving corps

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 08/03/2020 - 12:30pm
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

The new wide receivers coach is still getting acclimated to his new surroundings, but he likes what he sees from his young wide receiving corps.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a spot to fill on their coaching staff heading into the 2020 season, and it was the vacant role of wide receivers coach after the death of Darryl Drake almost one year ago.

Ray Sherman filled in for Drake during the 2019 season, but Mike Tomlin made it clear he was never the long term answer with the role. This offseason the organization decided to bring in former player, Ike Hilliard, as their new wide receivers coach.

Hilliard had achieved a lot during his time as a player at both Florida and in the NFL, but has also shown he is very capable as a coach at the professional level too. Hilliard spoke with the media for the first time since being hired this offseason during a group Zoom call, and he spoke highly of the receivers he will be coaching soon.

‘Thrilled’ was the word Hilliard used to describe his feelings about coaching this group of young wide receivers, but there were some receivers he had specific praise for as training camp is just getting started for the veterans on the team.

“Chase (Claypool) is going to play a lot and is going to be good.” Hilliard said when referencing the Steelers’ top pick from the 2020 NFL Draft. He went on to say how he isn’t concerned with Claypool’s ability to play catch up after an offseason which saw nothing but virtual workouts.

After just being placed on the Reserve/COVID List, Hilliard loves what he sees from third year receiver James Washington. He described Washington as a “freakish” athlete, and the type of player the team absolutely “loves” having on their roster.

As for two of the more electrifying receivers on the team’s roster, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, Hilliard said “[JuJu] looks great. He’s worked incredibly hard. ... Diontae needs to continue to grow, detail his work, and mature, things of that nature.”

Again, when Hilliard speaks to players they know he has been there, done that. He has the resume as both a coach and player to immediately gain respect. Nonetheless, he has been making a good impression on his young receivers from the start.

“What I really enjoyed about it was the first time he called he didn’t call to talk about football,” James Washington told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “He called to talk about family and try to help me understand the kind of person he is. Coach (Darryl) Drake was one of my favorite coaches. The thing about him is I feel like Coach Ike is kind of like Coach Drake.

“He seems like a family man first, and then a football coach. I feel like he really cares about the player. He wants the best for us. He isn’t just there for the job. He wants to make sure we are good men and good players.”

Trust is a tough thing to develop, especially when you don’t have the ability to meet with players in person, relying on technology to build a rapport.

“The first impression was really good.” Washington added. “I have a lot of faith in him and I am glad to work for him.”

Hilliard will have his work cut out for him in Pittsburgh. Getting the most out of a unit of Smith-Schuster, Johnson, Washington, Claypool, Deon Cain and Ryan Switzer gives Hilliard plenty of weapons at his disposal to take the receiving corps to the next level in 2020, and beyond.

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