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Steelers Post-Draft Roster Review, Part 2: Wide Receivers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/12/2022 - 7:15am
Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK

The NFL Draft is over and the Steelers have added many new faces to the roster. In this series, we’ll take a look at each position and what you need to know as the offseason rolls on. In Part Two, we’ll break down the wide receivers.

There has been a ton of turnover in the Steelers wide receiver (WR) room from 2021 to 2022. Gone are recent fixtures like Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster (Chiefs), Ray-Ray McCloud (49ers), and James Washington (Cowboys). Until the events in Las Vegas, only two pass-catchers were under contract who had any prior production with the team.

Those two players are 2021 top target Diontae Johnson and 3rd-year pro Chase Claypool, who has yet to really break out in the way the Steelers and their fans probably would have hoped. The remainder of the existing unit consists of roster hopefuls like Ricco Bussey, Anthony Miller, Steven Sims, Tyler Vaughns, and Cody White, as well as return specialist Gunner Olszewski and the newly acquired Miles Boykin after being waived by the Ravens.

Then came the NFL Draft, where the Steelers addressed the position early and often, with WR selection in Rounds 2 and 4 in the form of Georgia stud George Pickens and the diminutive, but dynamic, Memphis product Calvin Austin III. No Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (UDFAs) were added, so the Steelers head into the remainder of the offseason with 11 players at the position.

With so much young talent and potential in the room, the Steelers will look to field an explosive, game-changing unit for whoever starts under center in 2022. Like we did with the Quarterbacks in Part One of this series, let’s break down how this position could shake out for the regular season.

Preview Post-Draft Roster Reviews:

Player Breakdown

Let’s start with the known commodities. Diontae Johnson is suddenly the elder statesman and WR1 of the group with the departure of Smith-Schuster. His route-running prowess and quickness are well-documented, as are his, at times, questionable hands. He returns as the likely top receiving target in this Matt Canada offense.

The team’s real wild card is former 2nd round pick Chase Claypool, who has all the physical tools, but has yet to put it all together in the NFL. If he can figure it out, Claypool has the ability to be a top-tier wideout in the league.

The rookies both have real shots at quality snaps and production in 2022. George Pickens could have the same said about him as Claypool. All the physical tools in the world. Can he put it together? For Pickens, injury history is a concern, but the team seems very confident he is 100% healthy. Look for Pickens to be a major part of this offense early in the year. He has that kind of talent.

Austin III is such a fun prospect to watch and root for. A truly explosive and fast player, he has the ability to take the top off the defense or take it the distance on any given play. How Matt Canada envisions his role in the offense will play a major role in his year-1 success, but the Memphis product brings a lot to be excited about.

Don’t sleep on guys like Anthony Miller and Steven Sims making a run at significant snaps, let alone a roster spot. Miles Boykin brings a decent amount of experience from Baltimore, but likely finds more of a role on special teams. The Steelers did a good job of adding/retaining upside at the position. The group as a whole could be one of the league’s best and deepest, if all goes according to plan.

Depth Chart Prediction

Both Claypool and Pickens have the ability to be this team’s top dog at WR, and by the end of the season, I believe you’ll see one (or both) of them really established as a game-changing weapon on the outside. Claypool often has looked his best playing out of the slot (see vs. Philadelphia in 2020), while I see Pickens as more of a traditional “X” receiver. For now though, Diontae Johnson returns as the team’s most reliable and dangerous WR and could even be better in a fully-installed Matt Canada system that helps receivers find open space. Johnson in open space is a problem for opposing defenses.

Austin’s speed gives the Steelers the downfield threat they haven’t had in a long time, and should keep defenses honest any time he is on the field. Look for Austin to be used a lot in the jet sweeps and pre-snap gadgetry famous to a Canada offense as well. At his best, he has Tyreek Hill-like ability. Even if the Steelers don’t get that out of him in year one, he has a lot of upside as an all-around weapon on offense.

Outside of Gunner Olszewski, who likely takes over both kick and punt return duties, I like Anthony Miller or Miles Boykin as having the best odds to make the 53-man roster as speedy guys with special teams ability to round out the room. Sims makes sense in that thought process too.

WR1: Diontae Johnson

WR2: Chase Claypool

WR3: George Pickens

WR4: Calvin Austin III

WR5: Gunner Olszewski

WR6: Miles Boykin

Practice Squad: Anthony Miller, Steven Sims, Cody White

How do you see this room shaking out during the offseason? Who’s going to be the top target by season’s end? Let me know your thoughts in the comments and the poll below.

The NFL dominates everything, even on people’s birthdays

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/12/2022 - 6:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL continues to ruin birthdays with its annual schedule reveal.

Hey, it’s almost Thursday night, which means we get to see when every team in the National Football League, but especially your precious little Steelers, plays their silly little regular-season games in 2022.

Sure, you’ve known the who and where for months, but you’ve just got to know the when. Look at you, you’re all hopped up on the National Football League, and all it’s giving you is crumbs this time around.

And what do you do with those crumbs? You inhale them as if you haven’t consumed NFL news in months. “Oh, thank you, NFL, for revealing your schedule to me for free, even though I would have totally paid for the privilege of knowing the “when” part of your royal and totally divine dates and times. Do you have any other schedules you’d like to reveal to us, your gridiron sheeple, like maybe when your grounds crews cut the grass at your teams’ training camp locations?”

Hey, look, I just found a copy of the Steelers 2009 regular-season schedule in my desk drawer. They played teams at various times, days and locations that year. Who knew?

Anyway, as the title suggests, Thursday, May 12, is my birthday, and for the second-straight year, the NFL has decided to reveal its schedule on the very same day. You know, it used to be that I could get away from the NFL for a bit, as could my friends and family, and bask in the glow of my special day without Lord Goodell encroaching on it for his own glory and gratification.

It’s bad enough that Mom does that to me every few years with her “special day,” now I have the NFL coming in and slowly eradicating it from the memories of all of my fans altogether? Not only is Thursday my birthday, but it's my 50th. And as you may or may not know, that’s the age when red-blooded American male football fans not named Tom Brady stop fantasizing about scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl and start fantasizing about scoring the game-winning touchdown in their co-ed recreational flag football league.

Don’t you already have enough, NFL? You own everything. You’ve got Thanksgiving. You’ve got Christmas. You’ve got New Year’s. Heck, your most-recent Super Bowl fell on February 13, which means you practically own Valentine’s Day now (I suppose I should thank you for that).

You own all of March with your free agency. You own all of April with your draft. If an NFL player decides to not show up for OTAs, you own that whole week. Mini-camp takes away June. Training camp devours July and August. Before you know it, it’s September, and you’ve got your little disciples completely under your spell for the next six months.

Is there no birthday or holiday that is sacred to you, NFL?

What about Major League Baseball or the NBA/NHL playoffs? Do we even know who’s playing? No, because of your glorified college graduation known as the NFL Draft followed by the revealing of your “when.”

You are not going to ruin my birthday for me, again, NFL. I plan on eating cake and watching anything but your dog and pony schedule reveal. “But how will you ever know when the Steelers play in 2022?” you may be asking me.

I’ll just Google it 10 seconds later. I might be old and grumpy, but I still know how to use the Internet.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to try and remember why I was so angry when I first started writing this Steelers article.

2022 NFL Schedule Release: How to watch, streaming information, BTSC breakdown and more

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/12/2022 - 5:30am
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

All the information to watch or listen to the release of the 2022 NFL Schedule

The 2022 NFL draft is in the books and as fans patiently wait for minicamp, training camp, and the preseason, the next biggest event produced by the NFL is their annual Schedule Release Show. This year, the release once again comes after the draft on Thursday, May 12, 2022.

After a change in the schedule for 2021, teams now have 17 regular season games and three preseason games. After having a year to get used to the format, fans should be well aware the Steelers have one additional road game in the regular season but are set to host two preseason games. Additionally, both Christmas and New Years fall on Sunday this year making for some interesting scheduling late in the season.

So you don’t miss the action, listed below is the schedule for the NFL Schedule Release Show and the various places you can watch the announcement.

Be sure to check out the DraftKings Sportsbook for all the latest odds.

2022 NFL Schedule Release Thursday May 12, 2022
8 PM ET TV: NFL Network Online: Fubo (Click HERE to create a Fubo Account and stream the show), NFL.com, NFL app

Behind The Steel Curtain will be doing a live broadcast on the BTSC Radio YouTube channel following the announcement of the Steelers schedule. Make sure you subscribe to the channel HERE and turn on notifications to be alerted to the live broadcast.

Behind the Steel Curtain will publish the schedule as soon as it is made available. Additionally, a tracker of released NFL games will be updated throughout the day Thursday.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 05/12/2022 - 4:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website but have decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest three podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

With that being said and typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show.

The War Room: The Pickens is in, and how it impacts the Steelers receiver room

George Pickens was selected in the second round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and there’s plenty of excitement with some reservations surrounding the selection. Pickens has the on field skills, but how will this big personality affect the Steelers’ locker room? Check out BTSC’s Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matt Peverell in The Steelers War Room. Join Matty P. as he puts you in the mind of the Steelers’ decision makers.

Rundown of the show:

  • The potential impact of George Pickens
  • Much More

Check out the BTSC’s Aussie perspective and stay a while with Matty in The Steelers War Room.

The Steelers Curtain Call: Pickett to Pittsburgh for the win?

It’s the show where Geoffrey Benedict and Shannon White break down a black and gold off-season full of change in the manner in which they examine the enemy. Scenarios, questions and more will be pondered on the latest episode of the BTSC family of podcasts. This time around, Geoff and Shannon welcome Mark Bergin from Bleav in Steelers to talk Kenny Pickett’s arrival in the Steelers’ 2022 Draft.

  • News and Notes
  • A look at Kenny Pickett
  • Special Guest: Mark Bergin of Bleav in Steelers

Geoffrey and Shannon walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

The Steelers Stat Geek: Kevin Colbert’s legacy of rookie wide receivers

Many pundits always say that the Steelers can’t draft a cornerback, but nobody will say that about wide receivers. Kevin Colbert has a strong legacy of drafting men to catch the football. Who is the best of the bunch? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed by Dave Schofield on the Thursday episode of the AM podcast lineup, “The Steelers Stat Geek”. Join BTSC’s Editor as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Kevin Colbert and a long legacy of choosing wide receivers
  • Schools where the Steelers had the most success in the draft
  • and more geeky numbers!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Steelers complete second interview with Doug Whaley for GM opening

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 8:23pm
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue their second round of interviews with a Pittsburgh native.

With the 2022 NFL Draft in the rearview mirror, it means Kevin Colbert’s tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers is coming to a close. Who will replace the long-time General Manager (GM) is anyone’s guess. However, the organization is starting their second round of interviews to finally decide on who their next GM will be.

On Tuesday, the Steelers announced they concluded a second interview with one of the candidates reported last week, Ryan Cowden of the Tennessee Titans. Wednesday came and it was reported the Steelers concluded their second interview with Doug Whaley.

We have completed a second round interview for our General Manager position with Doug Whaley.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 11, 2022

Whaley first interviewed with the Steelers for the open GM position in the middle of March during the beginning of the NFL‘s new league year.

A former defense of back at the University of Pittsburgh, Whaley was the Steelers pro personnel coordinator for 10 years and worked directly under Kevin Colbert. Hired as the assistant general manager and director of pro personnel by the Buffalo Bills during the 2010 offseason, Whaley moved into the general manager position in 2013, a position he held through the 2016 NFL season.

After a season as a recruiter for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, Whaley was hired as the senior vice president of football operations for the XFL in November 2018. When the league folded in April 2020, Whaley was laid off but was later re-hired as the vice president of player personnel in November 2021 as the XFL moves forward in continuing their league in the spring of 2023.

It is uncertain at this time how many candidates the Steelers plan to interview in their second round. Without an official announcement from the Steelers, it is unclear if any of the internal candidates have been included in the current round of interviews.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps.

Getting to know the Steelers 2022 UDFAs: Mataeo Durant

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 2:30pm
Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The Steelers didn’t draft a running back in 2022, but may have found what they needed with UDFAs.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected seven players in the 2022 NFL draft, they continued adding to the roster with ten undrafted free agents. With many draft profiles focusing on those players towards the top and middle of the NFL draft, it is time to get to take a look at these other members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who will have just as much opportunity to make the roster in 2022 as those who were selected in the draft, despite the more difficult path.

Remember, some draft profiles for these players are quite harsh as they are looking at them as a draftable prospect. Taking a flyer on an UDFA is a completely different story as many times the potential the player shows is what lands them on an NFL offseason roster.

Next on the list is Duke running back Mataeo Durant.

Mataeo Durant Running back
Senior
Duke
6’1” 195 lbs

In four years with the Blue Devils, running back Mataeo Durant had over 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns. Durant had 2,562 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns along with 480 receiving yards in four receiving touchdowns. In his senior season, Durant had 1,241 rushing yards on 255 attempts with a 4.9 yard per attempt average with nine rushing touchdowns. Durant also was more involved in the receiving game in 2021 with 27 receptions for 256 yards and two receiving touchdowns his senior season.

Current Steelers at the position:

Running back

  1. Najee Harris
  2. Benny Snell Jr.
  3. Anthony McFarland Jr.
  4. Trey Edmunds
  5. Mataeo Durant
  6. Jaylen Warren
Draft Profiles:

There was not too much in the terms of breakdowns for Durant heading into the 2022 NFL draft. Here is a breakdown from si.com:

Pros:

Coyle: NFL caliber size running back with solid burst out of the backfield. Accelerates through the line of scrimmage and keeps his pad level low. Stays north and south as a runner, doesn’t waste movement moving horizontal, looks for a hole and hits it instantly. Stops on dime and accelerates well in the cut-back lanes. His vision is good, knives through the traffic well and gets to the second level. Does a good job finding cut-back lanes. Has homerun speed, will take big runs to the house.

Cons:

Coyle: Lacks power as a runner, has a hard time breaking tackles consistently. Needs to start using his off-hand more trying to gain extra yards. Not a slippery runner in space, goes down quickly after contact. Doesn’t show the agility to make players miss in space against second-level defenders. Foot speed isn’t there, doesn’t change direction as swiftly as other top backs. As a route runner, he wasn’t asked to do much out of the backfield, was used on swing routes and screen passes.

Summary:

Coyle: North and south runner that has home run hitting ability. Durant is a solid college back that should have an NFL future. His ability to find holes and hit them with speed will keep him in the eyes of NFL evaluators.

Here is another draft profile from nfldraftbuzz.com:

Strengths

Possesses quick feet and straight-line speed but doesn’t have the elite burst to be a constant big-play threat. Improving patience as a runner, following pulling guards and makes good decisions on his cut.

Shows a surprising burst to beat linebackers to the edge. Can plant his foot in the ground and explode, showing better straight-line speed than expected.

Does not possess top breakaway speed, though he’s rarely caught from behind.

Not truly explosive, but possesses enough speed to beat linebacker to the edge.

Doesn’t possess elite breakaway speed, but is fast enough to gain yardage in chunks when he finds a seam.

Weaknesses

Lacks size to be a true power back, will not move piles at the next level.

Does not always read blocks behind pulling guards. May not be big enough to move piles at the next level and has a tendency to bury his head too soon.

A tall, upright runner who lacks great power as a runner. Not a quick-twitch athlete and is forced to gear down too much. Not very loose throughout his frame; looks tight redirecting. Will dance and leave his feet instead of taking what’s there.

Offers little in pass protection and poor technique cut blocking, fails to do more than slow down blitzers by laying down in front of them.

Film:

To finish off the breakdown of Mataeo Durant, no evaluation is complete without film:

(WARNING: Videos could contain explicit lyrics)

George Pickens: The new Steelers DB slayer

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 12:45pm
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

George Pickens is the pick that excites me the most from the 2022 NFL Draft. He has the skills and aggression to become WR1 for Pittsburgh and a Top 10 receiver in the NFL.

We are more than a week removed from the 2022 NFL Draft, and the one pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers which excites me more than any other is pick No. 52, George Pickens out of Georgia. Pickens is an absolute beast and, in my opinion, would have been a 1st round pick had he not torn an ACL in 2021. He brings a massive amount of talent and promise to the Steelers wide receiving corps.

Pickens stands at 6’3”, 195 pounds and was born in Alabama, like previous Steelers legend receiver John Stallworth. With just his raw ability, Pickens has the potential to become the Steelers very own ‘DB Slayer’. Many suggest, and I’d agree, the Steelers got a steal getting Pickens in Round 2. Pickens provides excellent overall value, and given Kevin Colbert’s record of drafting top quality receivers there is every chance he could become an awesome pick up for the Steelers.

Now some have questioned Pickens’ attitude. Some have called him a trouble maker after his much publicized on-field fight in his freshman year against Georgia Tech, and his water bottle spraying antics against Tennessee. However, when you actually look into this guy he doesn’t seem to have a bad attitude. In an interview in his second year, after a fantastic individual performance, rather than speaking about himself, he praised his offensive line, his quarterback and coaches for helping him get to a position where he could perform as he just had. In addition, in 2021 after his non-contact ACL injury, rather than just concentrate on getting himself fully fit for the draft, Pickens battled back, and even though not 100%, played a part in Georgia’s run to the National Championship. To me, this does not seem like a player who has an attitude problem, Pickens seems like a team-first player with an edge, which is what you need to be in the NFL.

Of course Pickens has an aggressive nature to his play, but this aggression is what makes him what he is. A wide receiver who can win contested catches, someone who battles for extra yards, a receiver who fights to get in the end zone and someone who takes no nonsense from defensive backs. Pickens is in the perfect place to have this aggression channeled in the right way to make him one of the league’s Top 10 receivers. Mike Tomlin makes Pittsburgh a perfect spot for Pickens considering he is one of the best at motivating and focusing his players in the right way.

George Pickens’ stats are promising, to say the least. During his time in Georgia he averaged 14.8 yards per catch in 2019, 14.3 yards per catch in 2020 and 21.4 yards per catch in 2021, granted with only 5 receptions. Over his three years in college he racked up 1,347 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. Pickens played slot and outside receiver too, showing position flexibility which is something both Tomlin and Matt Canada truly value.

When you look at Pickens’ overall value, what is there not to like?

  • Fast and strong
  • Burst of speed which helps him overtake man-press coverage
  • Creates great throwing windows with his suddenness at the break point
  • Ability to high point the ball
  • Win contested catches
  • Elite catch radius
  • Vice-like hands
  • Physical when he blocks

Fans of the black and gold should be excited to see him making plays for the Steelers for years to come.

Pickens has all the skills necessary, if he can stay healthy and be used in the right way, to help turn the Pittsburgh offense into a dynamic one. With Chase Claypool, Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Calvin Austin III and Diontae Johnson, he is a weapon either Kenny Pickett or Mitchell Trubisky will love to target early and often.

I firmly believe George Pickens has the skillset and attitude to be a WR1 in the league and should be a welcome addition to the Steelers’ offense for years to come.

Steelers Burning Questions: Rookies, QBs and awards

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 11:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are gearing up for rookie minicamp, and there are a lot of questions which need answered!

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for their rookie minicamp this Friday, and it brings up several questions about key players, positions and the 2022 NFL Draft class as a whole. It’s time to ask the global fan base of the Steelers to chime in on what they think of these “burning” questions.

Below you will see a graphic which will allow you to vote on each question in a simple, and quick, poll. These results will be tabulated and then published in articles right here at BTSC.

Here is a quick rundown of the questions:

How many of the Steelers seven 2022 draft picks will make the team this season?

In case you forgot, here are the Steelers’ 2022 draft picks

Round 1: Kenny Pickett
Round 2: George Pickens
Round 3: DeMarvin Leal
Round 4: Calvin Austin III
Round 5: No Pick
Round 6: Conner Heyward
Round 7a: Mark Robinson
Round 7b: Chris Oladokun

Who will be the Steelers’ rookie of the year?

Who will be the Steelers’ starting QB in Week 1?

  • Mitch Trubisky
  • Mason Rudolph
  • Kenny Pickett
  • Chris Oladokun

Vote on these questions in the poll below, and be sure to sign up to receive all the SB Nation Reacts surveys which get sent out weekly! Feel free to explain your answers in the comment section below this article.

Welcome to SB Nation Reacts, a survey of fans across the NFL. Each week we ask questions of the most plugged-in Pittsburgh Steelers fans and fans across the country. Sign up here to join Reacts.

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DeMarvin Leal landed right where he wanted in the NFL, with the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 10:00am
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers 3rd Round pick was hoping he’d go to Pittsburgh, and he got his wish.

The Pittsburgh Steelers as an organization has a reputation, and for the most part this reputation is a good one. Every NFL team has their blemishes, but the Steelers have always been considered to be a gold standard organization in the NFL.

One of the benefits of this reputation is when players, both NFL Draft prospects and free agents, have the desire to play for the Steelers. Whether it be because of coaches like Mike Tomlin and Brian Flores, or other star players like Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, there are many players who view the Steelers as a marquee franchise where they hope to end up.

NFL veterans entering free agency have their choice of teams, but players entering the draft have to just hope they land on a team they find to be a good fit. For a defender becoming a professional, landing in Pittsburgh would likely be viewed as a dream come true. For Steelers 3rd round pick DeMarvin Leal, he was hoping he was drafted by the Steelers.

“It’s a dream come true and honestly, just pinch me because it’s just so unreal. I was excited because this is the place I wanted to come.” Leal said.

Was Leal’s desire to come to Pittsburgh because of Cam Heyward? Was it because of Brian Flores? No, it was because of Karl Dunbar, the team’s defensive line coach who attended the Texas A&M pro day.

“It was mainly because of Coach Dunbar that I was excited,” said Leal. “He’s an amazing coach. I definitely felt like our conversation. It automatically clicked and right away I felt like this is a place I want to play. This is the coach I want to play for.

“When we first talked, we hit it off, talked good ball, and he talked to my family, and I could tell they were interested as well. Talking to all the coaches at the Combine, a day full of meetings, he was special. I’m genuinely excited to be a part of the organization.”

The Steelers have long held the reputation for being a family organization. No, not just because the Rooney family still has controlling interest in the team, but because the owners down to the coaches want to cultivate a family environment built on trust. Clearly, Dunbar got that point across in their meetings together.

“We talked about each other, we talked about family,” said Leal. “We talked about our beliefs. I really liked that. He talked about his story, how he’s came about, how everything has worked out for him. That’s what made it click here. We weren’t just talking X’s and O’s. We were talking football yes, but we were talking family and everything and that is who he is about.

“He talked about what he sees me doing, how he’s going to be able to help me develop my game as well. It was unbelievable conversation, and I was excited from it and everything he said I was agreeing with. I was telling him, let’s do it.”

There are plenty of Steelers fans who wonder just what Leal brings to the defense. Some view him as a “tweener” without a genuine position to call home. He isn’t the typical size for a defensive tackle/end in a 3-4 scheme, but also doesn’t have the athleticism of an outside linebacker. However, Leal knows what he brings, and many of these are intangibles.

“I bring youth, confidence, I’m extremely disruptive and I’m smart on the field,” said Leal. “I am intelligent when it comes to what I see, my instincts and following those, so I feel like that’s something to bring to the table.”

But for now, Leal knows the job at hand is to put his head down and work. To listen to everything his coaches and teammates tell him to help him succeed at the highest level. Or as he calls it, being a “sponge”.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Leal said. “I want to be a sponge. I want to soak it all in, learn as much wisdom as possible from them guys. I am going to listen to them like big brothers. There’s always already a standard here. There’s already that culture. I want to be part of this and be trusted and the one way to do that is to listen to those guys.”

The Steelers certainly need an injection of youth into their defensive line, and Leal provides not only that but an option if the Steelers learn they won’t have Stephon Tuitt’s services next season. With the Steelers leaning more than ever on their sub packages, Leal’s unique size and skill set could be a great asset to the defense for years to come.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp.

Kevin Dotson is the Steelers elephant in the room

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 8:30am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers OG Kevin Dotson doesn't appear to be an ideal fit for the Steelers new offense, and absolutely nobody is talking about it.

Kevin Dotson is this season's Pittsburgh Steelers elephant in the room.

First, let me offer a definition for the phrase: a major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so.

Now that the meaning of the phrase has hopefully been clarified, I will attempt to convey my thoughts and observations on the matter. My reasoning, if you will.

Kevin Dotson was the Steelers’ best offensive lineman in 2021, by a wide margin, although it was a really low bar.

Dotson was a stabilizing presence for the two rookie starters playing on either side of him; left tackle Dan Moore Jr. and center Kendrick Green. Actually, Green's performance jumped the shark once Dotson missed some games late in the season due to injury.

So why do I feel Dotson has gone from being the Steelers best lineman to possibly the worst fit on the projected starting offensive line?

Dotson was a fourth round selection for the Steelers in the 2020 NFL Draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette, basically where he was projected to be taken. He was considered an exceptional run blocker; who was well versed in zone, gap, and power schemes. A powerful and physical blocker, he was lauded for his intelligence and feel for the game.

The reason Dotson fell to Day 3 of the draft is because of his limited athleticism and mobility more than anything, especially his lateral movement. This concern, coupled with a top heavy physique and a lack of knee bend, left many scouts convinced he was a great fit for a power blocking scheme, but less than ideal for a zone scheme, particularly for outside zone concepts.

I immediately assumed the Steelers were going to implement a more power based rushing attack with Dotson's selection, plus the promotion of Adrian Klemm. The Klemm experiment was an absolute failure, and the Steelers hired Pat Meyer as their new offensive line coach. Meyer's hiring, plus the Steelers commitment to fully install Matt Canada's playbook, would seem to suggest the team is moving to more of a zone blocking scheme.

All of the Steelers offensive free agency signings fit this assumption. Newcomers James Daniels and Mason Cole have proven capabilities in zone concepts, and there is hope that zone blocking will be an improved fit for newly re-signed Chukwuma Okorafor. Even second year linemen Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green seem like excellent fits for the change in philosophy. Their abilities, especially lateral mobility, fit the scheme. It only makes sense.

That's why I am shocked more people aren't talking about Dotson being less than an ideal candidate for the job moving forward. I thought maybe it was just me, so I reached out to two of my BTSC brethren, K.T. Smith and Geoffrey Benedict, for their opinions. Not surprisingly, we are all of a similar mindset. A couple of their observations were particularly informative and enlightening.

Both of my esteemed colleagues mentioned former Steelers standout guard Ramon Foster as a comparison for Dotson. Geoffrey Benedict went so far as to say anything Foster used to do, Dotson can do, only nastier.

K.T. Smith said he believes Dotson can be a good inside zone and gap blocker, coupled with his excellent power game. He acknowledged Dotson may struggle if the Steelers transition to a more outside zone team, due to the aforementioned balance and lateral movement limitations.

Basically, we were all in agreement in our evaluations.

There were unconfirmed rumors about the Steelers being more than a little displeased with Dotson in the early portion of training camp and the preseason in 2021. One prominent rumor suggested the issue was with his conditioning, but that was neither confirmed nor denied by the team. I heard a rumor from someone in the know that the Steelers were not upset about his conditioning, but with the focus of his training. He focused more on his power, but not enough on his footwork and lateral movement. Again unconfirmed, but it was obvious Tomlin was less than pleased with the situation.

The great news is the Steelers offense is going to be built around Najee Harris for the near future, and Harris is more of a inside zone runner. The Steelers will utilize their newfound team speed, multiple formations, and misdirection to exploit the edges of opposing defenses most likely. The mobility of all the new Steelers signal callers will assist the running game and in pass protection.

I should emphasize how I still believe Dotson will be able to adjust to the change in offensive philosophy, and continue to improve his game as a professional. He should be viewed as a starter moving forward, whether it be on the left or right side of the line.

That being said, I no longer feel he is the Steelers best offensive lineman. That distinction belongs to James Daniels, in my opinion. The Steelers are hoping both players find their footing in the new offense quickly, and form one of the best starting guard tandems in the NFL.

Steelers officially announce a second interview for general manager

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 7:15am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

After reports emerged last week that Ryan Cowden was getting a second interview, the Steelers made the announcement on Tuesday.

With the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up their search for a new general manager (GM) with Kevin Colbert stepping away from the position. Last week, it was reported the Steelers had two candidates they were bringing in for a second round of interviews.

As the process continues, on Monday it was reported Pittsburgh native Doug Whaley had a second interview.

On Tuesday, the Steelers announced they concluded a second interview with one of the candidates reported last week, Ryan Cowden of the Tennessee Titans.

We have completed a second round interview for our General Manager position with Ryan Cowden (Tennessee Titans).

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 10, 2022

Cowden was one of the first interviews with the Steelers for the open GM position during the first week of February.

Ryan Cowden spent 16 years in the scouting department of the Carolina Panthers before joining the Tennessee Titans in 2016. Cowden currently is the Vice President of Player Personnel for the Titans. Cowden got his start in the NFL with the Panthers in 2000 as a scouting assistant and was an area scout for seven seasons. He then became a national scout prior to moving up to assistant director of college scouting before moving on to Tennessee.

It is uncertain at this time how many candidates the Steelers plan to interview in their second round. Without an official announcement from the Steelers, it is unclear if any of the internal candidates have been included in the current round of interviews.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued coverage as the Steelers search for a new general manager and as Phase 2 of OTAs gets underway.

Steelers Schedule Tracker: All the latest news and rumors prior to the release

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 7:07am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers will receive their schedule on Thursday, but rumors are swirling. We track them...whether right or wrong.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and all 31 other NFL teams, will receiver their 2022 regular season schedules this Thursday. But that doesn’t mean rumors and leaks aren’t swirling around social media.

This article will keep you up to date on all the news and rumors surrounding both the Steelers and other games the league is announcing prior to the official release Thursday night.

For those who want to know, this is what we know for certain right now:

We now have 9 NFL games announced:

Week 2: Chargers @ Chiefs (TNF)
Titans @ Bills (MNF)
Vikings @ Eagles (MNF)

Week 4: Vikings-Saints

Week 5: Giants-Packers

Week 8: Jaguars-Broncos

Week 10: Seahawks-Bucs

Week 11: Cardinals-49ers

Week 16: Broncos @ Rams

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) May 10, 2022

For the first time ever, the NFL is trying to string out the release of the schedule leading up to the official release. Here is how they are going to unveil specific games:

For those wondering how "select games" are going to announced next week before the full NFL schedule next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET:
5/9: ESPN on Good Morning America
5/10: CBS on CBS Mornings
5/11: FOX on FOX & Friends
5/12: NBC on Today Show
5/12: Home openers at 6 p.m. ET

— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) May 5, 2022

The latest released game of the NFL schedule is a game sending Mike McCarthy and the Cowboys back to Green Bay to play the Packers.

More scheduling nuggets: Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys will travel to Green Bay in Week 10 to face the Packers on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 4:25 ET.

Full schedule will be released Thursday night, at 8 pm, on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/tAsuDP7BW6

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) May 11, 2022

Other than the above games, all the news, rumors and leaks you see in this tracker are not guaranteed to be fact. To be honest, most will probably be proven fiction when Thursday rolls around and the fans get their first glimpse at the actual schedule.

In the meantime, check out the rumors below, and feel free to chime in on those in the comment section below this article. For your viewing pleasure, the newest rumors/leaks will be placed first below the ‘Steelers Schedule News and Rumors’ header.

Let’s get to the rumors...

Steelers Schedule News and Rumors

NFL Week 2;

Jets @ Steelers, 1PM EST, CBS

— NFL Schedule Leaks (@NFLGameLeaks) May 11, 2022

NFL Week 4;

Steelers @ Dolphins, 1PM EST, CBS

— NFL Schedule Leaks (@NFLGameLeaks) May 11, 2022

NFL Week 13;

Saints @ Steelers, 1PM EST on FOX

— NFL Schedule Leaks (@NFLGameLeaks) May 10, 2022

NFL Week 14;

Steelers @ Eagles, 4:25 PM, CBS

— NFL Schedule Leaks (@NFLGameLeaks) May 10, 2022

NFL Week 16;

Patriots @ Steelers, 4:25PM, CBS

— NFL Schedule Leaks (@NFLGameLeaks) May 10, 2022

NFL SCHEDULE RUMOR

Steelers @ Browns Week 1

Steelers @ Ravens Week 10

Ravens @ Steelers Week 17 (4 pm)

Bengals @ Steelers Week 18

— NFL Schedule Release (@NerdingOnNFL) May 10, 2022 NFL Schedule Rumors

Confirmed Schedule Leak

Thanksgiving Night- Bills @ Ravens

Josh Allen will take on Lamar Jackson in Baltimore at 8:20pm ET on NBC pic.twitter.com/p0oKyvzU2X

— JACK SETTLEMAN (@jacksettleman) May 10, 2022

Full NFL Thanksgiving slate;

Commanders @ Lions (CBS)
Bengals @ Cowboys (FOX)
Bills @ Ravens (NBC)

— NFL Schedule Leaks (@NFLGameLeaks) May 10, 2022

NFL Week 10;

Saints @ Browns, 8:20 PM, Amazon (TNF)

— NFL Schedule Leaks (@NFLGameLeaks) May 10, 2022

https://t.co/rtUybNlDNO https://t.co/Kz2VVNBgTb

— NFL Schedule Release (@NerdingOnNFL) May 10, 2022

NFL SCHEDULE RUMOR:

Sources say the Broncos will open up their season with one of the following games:

Broncos @ Seahawks SNF

Broncos @ Raiders MNF

— NFL Schedule Release (@NerdingOnNFL) May 10, 2022

Modern technology has given die-hard NFL Draft fans more access than ever

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 6:00am

This is a great time to be alive if you’re into all things NFL Draft.

If you’re a mega-fan of all things related to the annual event, you’re probably content and totally full with the 2022 NFL Draft now officially in the books.

Haha, you’re probably not. You’ve likely already moved on to the 2023 NFL Draft and its potential cast of characters. You’ve probably started your research on every prospect, every position and every measurable imaginable.

I don’t blame you, either. I’d do the same thing if I were in your shoes. In fact, I was in your shoes way back in the late-’80s and early-’90s and was so obsessed with the annual NFL Draft, I literally could not sleep in the days leading up to the event.

Of course, back then, you didn’t have access to the Internet because it didn’t exist (at least not for domestic consumption). You had to rely on hard copies of draft publications to be produced by the handful of gurus of the day; Mel Kiper was one, and he certainly had a few predecessors and contemporaries, but only just a few.

I didn’t buy any of these hard-copy draft publications that consisted of big boards, position rankings and probably mock drafts. Why? I didn’t have any money. I did have access to the local newspapers in my area at the time—the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Press—who, if my memory serves me correctly, didn’t start to really cover the annual NFL Draft, and who the Steelers might possibly take, until maybe two weeks before it started.

I devoured every single morsel of draft news I could get my hands on. I also sat around each day waiting for the local sports report just to see what they had to say about the upcoming draft and which players I should expect the Steelers to be interested in. ESPN certainly had its fair share of coverage, but it wasn’t anything close to what it has become today when it doesn’t have to jockey with the rodeo for daily air-time.

You know how you love to watch and comment on the Combine, the annual pre-draft evaluation extravaganza held in Indianapolis and televised for an entire week every February?

I had no clue the Combine even existed back in the 1980s, when it was initially called the National Invitation Camp (1982-1984) before merging with rival pre-draft evaluation camps in 1985 and being rebranded the Combine, as per the event’s Wikipedia Page.

The Combine became an annual televised event, starting in 2004, but to be totally honest with you, I still didn’t really know about it until maybe 10 years ago.

What a time to be totally into the annual NFL Draft. Thanks to the Internet and social media, there is access to countless sites dedicated to covering the immensely popular event. If you so desire, you can learn about every single draft prospect, their measurables, who they visited with, who visited with them, what they had for dinner with the people who visited with them, etc.

You can use all of the info at your disposal to create your own big boards, positional rankings and, of course, mock drafts.

To reiterate, I’d be doing exactly that if I was young and/or totally into the NFL Draft in the information age.

Thanks to podcasts and blogs, you may even be able to interview prospective or actual draft picks yourself.

BTSC’s own Jeremy Betz and Andrew Wilbar, two aspiring draft gurus, interviewed Chris Oladokun, a quarterback from South Dakota State and the Steelers' final pick in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft, last week on their The Steelers Draft Fix podcast.

Holy shoot!

I couldn’t even fathom that back in the 1980s. That would have been like me interviewing Gordie Lockbaum, a versatile college star from tiny Holy Cross, who the Steelers selected in the ninth round of the 1988 NFL Draft.

I could have tried to arrange for an interview with Lockbaum by calling the Steelers’ offices, but they likely would have politely told me to get lost.

Now, you can simply hit a player up on social media, which may or may not work, but at least it works a lot of the time.

Today, I often mock and ridicule the extensive pre-draft coverage that seems to start the second the Steelers season comes to an end and doesn’t stop until well after the event is over (if it ever stops at all). But I’d probably flunk every class if I was in high school now and as into the draft as I was when I was a kid.

Therefore, aspiring young (and maybe even old) draft gurus, keep doing that research. Keep interviewing those players. Keep posting those big boards.

You never know where it could lead.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 05/11/2022 - 4:30am

Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website but have decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest three podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

With that being said and typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each broadcasted episode.

The Steelers Draft Fix: Getting excited about the Steelers 2022 Draft Class

There have been diverse reactions to the Steelers 2022 Draft. Some are apprehensive about the new Men of Steel, But others are starting to really get warm to the new players. Join Jeremy Betz and Andrew Wilbar as they sift through the 2022 Draft. All of this and more on BTSC’s Steelers Draft Fix.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Excitement levels are starting to rise when it comes to the Steelers’ 2022 Draft Class
  • and MUCH MORE!
The Scho Bro Show: The draft is over, so it’s time to get to work

The Steelers made their selections for new members of their team and there has been plenty to talk about. The chat does, however, need to cease and the Steelers need to apply their new finds to the game plan and get to work. This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of the BTSC family of podcasts, The Scho Bro Show with BTSC Editor Dave Schofield and his older brother Rich.

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the black-and-gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Time for the Steelers to get to work

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Let’s Ride: Is the Steelers defense good enough to be essentially ignored in the draft?

The Steelers offense needed an overhaul and got it during the NFL Draft, but the defense was hardly addressed. Is the defense that good to be ignored? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts, “Let’s Ride” with BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Analyzing why the Steelers barely focused on defense in the Draft
  • The Mail Bag
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Steelers make roster moves to get to their 90-man roster limit

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/10/2022 - 3:19pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers trimmed three players off their roster to get to the league mandated 90 players prior to minicamp.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had quite the successful offseason to date. After a very active free agency period the team added seven new players in the 2022 NFL Draft and ten undrafted rookie free agents shortly following the three day draft process.

Anyone who can do simple math knew the team, with their recent additions, had more than the league mandated 90 players on their offseason roster. Tuesday afternoon the Steelers trimmed their roster to get to the 90 player limit.

To get the roster to the league’s standards, the Steelers released long snapper Rex Sunahara and linebacker Tegray Scales. They also waived/injured cornerback Isaiah Johnson.

We have waived LS Rex Sunahara & LB Tegray Scales.

We have also waived/injured CB Isaiah Johnson.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 10, 2022

Scales is a player some fans might remember, and that is based on the fact he has spent some time on the roster in both 2020 and 2021, this in between stints with other NFL franchises.

The news of the Steelers getting to the 90-man roster limit comes with just days before the team’s rookie minicamp begins this Friday. The three day event, May 13-15, will likely lead to further offseason roster moves with tryout players being viewed as more valuable than some players who are on reserve/future contracts.

As we always say, the NFL offseason roster is fluid and will change throughout the rest of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), rookie minicamp, mandatory minicamp and training camp. With that being said, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the offseason.

Getting to know the Steelers 2022 UDFAs: T.D. Moultry

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/10/2022 - 2:30pm
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Not addressing edge rusher in the 2022 NFL draft, the Steelers added two players to the position group as undrafted free agents.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected seven players in the 2022 NFL draft, they continued adding to the roster with ten undrafted free agents. With many draft profiles focusing on those players towards the top and middle of the NFL draft, it is time to get to take a look at these other members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who will have just as much opportunity to make the roster in 2022 as those who were selected in the draft, despite the more difficult path.

Remember, some draft profiles for these players are quite harsh as they are looking at them as a draftable prospect. Taking a flyer on an UDFA is a completely different story as many times the potential the player shows is what lands them on an NFL offseason roster.

Next on the list is Auburn outside linebacker T.D. Moultry.

T.D. Moultry Outside linebacker
Red-shirt Senior
Auburn
6’2” 253 lbs

In five years at Auburn, Moultry appeared in 39 games where he had 70 tackles with 13.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Moultry‘s best numbers came in his second senior season of 2021 with 33 tackles with 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Current Steelers at the position:

Outside Linebacker

  1. T.J. Watt
  2. Alex Highsmith
  3. Derrek Tuszka
  4. Genard Avery
  5. John Simon
  6. Delontae Scott
  7. Tyree Johnson
  8. T.D. Moultry
Draft Profiles:

There was not much in the terms of breakdowns for Moultry heading into the 2022 NFL draft. Here is one breakdown from si.com:

Pros:

Rotational edge defender with a good first step and good burst in a straight line. Moultry possesses active and precise hands which he uses on quick double hand swipes. Understanding how to fight the hand fighting battle, he keeps low hands low and high hands high to defeat blockers. Playing with a high motor, he gets home late in plays based on effort alone. Moultry can drop into space occasionally as he keeps his feet moving.

Cons:

Lacking length prevents Moultry from attacking the chest of blockers and bull-rushing them. He also struggles to extend, stack and shed in the run the game. Moultry is slow timing the snap and does not convert his burst into power, lacking the necessary strength and decelerating before contact. Below average bend means he is unable to turn the corner on tackles. His hands lack violence to decisively beat blockers or knock them off balance. Moultry plays with high pad level which prevents him from winning leverage on opponents. He gets washed by double teams and is unable to absorb strikes from the side in the run game. When blockers latch on to him he lacks the violence to deconstruct. A below-average tackler, Moultry does not wrap up consistently. His processing and recognition skills are poor.

Summary:

Short and thick edge defender with good straight-line athleticism. Moultry understands hand fighting and plays with a high motor. He struggles to absorb and deconstruct in the run game and does not offer a power threat. Moultry projects as a camp 3-4 outside linebacker who has a chance of landing on a practice squad and will struggle to make a roster unless he can find a role on special teams.

Film:

To finish off the breakdown of T.D. Moultry, no evaluation is complete without film:

Cam Heyward selected as the PFWA 2022 Good Guy Award winner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/10/2022 - 12:38pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Heyward was chosen by the Professional Football Writers of America for cooperation with the media.

On Tuesday, the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) announced their annual good guy award for 2022. With other finalists such as Terry McLaurin of the Washington Commanders, Justin Simmons of the Denver Broncos, and C.J. Uzomah of the Cincinnati Bengals, this year’s award went to the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive captain Cameron Heyward.

Steelers' Cameron Heyward (@CamHeyward) selected as PFWA 2022 Good Guy Award winner https://t.co/2M5L9KuOkX

— Pro Football Writers (@PFWAwriters) May 10, 2022

The PFWA is a group which consists of accredited reporters from each of the 32 NFL teams with Mark Kaboly of The Athletic serving as the media member for Pittsburgh. The Good Guy Award, given annually since 2005, is for cooperation with the media.

Heyward is the second member of the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the award, with Jerome Bettis being the first recipient in 2005.

Heyward just completed his 11th NFL season, all with the Pittsburgh Steelers. A five-time Pro Bowler and three-time first team All-Pro, Heyward has 68.0 career sacks with the Steelers and over 500 tackles in 166 regular season games. Additionally, Heyward has seven forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 42 passes defensed, and two interceptions, both coming in the last two NFL seasons.

As for Heyward’s media availability leading to the award, it was described by the PFWA as follows:

Heyward did not miss a media availability during the 2021 season, and those on the beat locally in Pittsburgh said he never avoided a tough question as he offered open and honest discussions about everything from on-the-field issues to the impact of the retirement of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He was cited for consistently going “above and beyond’’ to build an honest rapport with those who cover the team.

A list of previous winners can be seen below courtesy of profootballwriters.org:

2005 – Jerome Bettis (Pittsburgh Steelers)
2006 – Tiki Barber (New York Giants)
2007 – LaDainian Tomlinson (San Diego Chargers)
2008 – Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers)
2009 – Kurt Warner (Arizona Cardinals)
2010 – Drew Brees (New Orleans Saints)
2011 – Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay Packers)
2012 – Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos)
2013 – Tony Gonzalez (Atlanta Falcons)
2014 – Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks)
2015 – Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)
2016 – Thomas Davis (Carolina Panthers)
2017 – Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals)
2018 – Chris Long (Philadelphia Eagles)
2019 – Chris Long (Philadelphia Eagles)
2020 – Eli Manning (New York Giants)
2021 – Philip Rivers (Indianapolis Colts)
2022 – Cameron Heyward (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Comparing the size of the Steelers’ draft picks to other players at their position

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/10/2022 - 11:30am
Photo by Daniel Dunn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Whether or not it’s a player they are replacing or competing against, how do the Steelers’ draftees stack up size-wise?

After the 2021 NFL draft, I tackled the question posed to me about if the Steelers specifically looked to draft players who were larger than the players they would possibly be replacing. While larger is not always better when it comes to specific positions, it was interesting to see how the height and weight of the Steelers draft picks compared to players who were recently with the Steelers or who they would be fighting for playing time. After doing so last year, I thought it would be interesting to specifically look at the size of the Steelers 2022 draft picks to see how they compare. If anything, it appeared the Steelers may be going in the opposite direction this season.

The biggest issue in tackling the question was getting a correct height and weight for the newly drafted players. I decided to trust my go-to source who hopefully has the most accurate information. Therefore, all heights and weights of every player listed are coming directly from Pro Football Reference and their player profiles.

So how do the newest Pittsburgh Steelers compare to other players at their given positions? I’ll give the data, but ultimately it will be up to you to decide. For multiple players drafted at the same position, I combined them for the comparison.

Kenny Pickett: 6’3” 220 lbs
Chris Oladokun: 6’2” 195 lbs Comparisons:
Mitch Trubisky: 6’2” 220 lbs
Mason Rudolph: 6’5” 235 lbs
Ben Roethlisberger: 6’5” 240 lbs

While neither Kenny Pickett nor Chris Oladokun have the height of a Ben Roethlisberger or Mason Rudolph, Pickett is at least in stride with the likes of a Mitch Trubisky making his size (apart from his hands) a non-factor. As for Oladokun, he’s a little light for an NFL quarterback and virtually the same weight as Tyler Huntly, the only quarterback to play in 2021 under a reported weight of 200 lbs.

George Pickens: 6’3” 200 lbs
Calvin Austin III: 5’9” 162 lbs Comparisons:
Chase Claypool: 6’4” 238 lbs
Diontae Johnson: 5’10” 183 lbs
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 6’1” 215 lbs

Although George Pickens does bring the height factor, it’s not that he is a “huge” receiver when it comes to his weight. As for CA3, Steelers fans were well aware of his smaller stature the moment he was drafted, but had he been a larger player he would not have been available in the fourth round.

DeMarvin Leal: 6’4” 290 lbs Comparisons:
Stephon Tuitt: 6’6” 303 lbs
Chris Wormley: 6’5” 300 lbs
T.J. Watt: 6’4” 252 lbs

I included T.J. Watt in this comparison because some Steelers fans aren’t exactly sure where the team is going to use DeMarvin Leal. On the lighter side for a defensive lineman, Leal would be on the larger side as an outside linebacker. The Steelers obviously have something in mind, even if it is a hybrid role, but fans may have to wait a while to see exactly the plans on the defense, whether it be utilization or weight fluctuation.

Connor Heyward: 6’0” 230 lbs Comparisons:
Pat Freiermuth: 6’5” 260 lbs
Zach Gentry: 6’8” 265 lbs
Derek Watt: 6’2” 234 lbs

Since he is listed on the Steelers website as a TE/FB, I went ahead and compared the younger Heyward to both positions. Seemingly an under-sized tight end, Heyward is likely to not truly fit into any position group if he is going to be utilized the way some hypothesize.

Mark Robinson: 6’0” 220 lbs Comparisons:
Devin Bush: 5’11” 234 lbs
Myles Jack: 6’1” 244 lbs
Robert Spillane: 6’1” 229 lbs
Buddy Johnson: 6’2” 240 lbs
Marcus Allen: 6’2” 215 lbs

Slightly on the smaller side when it comes to NFL linebackers, Robinson is within the parameters of what a rookie linebacker should be. He is bigger than converted safety Marcus Allen, if that means much. More than his size, his experience at the position will be a bigger factor.

So there’s the comparison for the Steelers draftees from 2022 and how they compare to other players when it comes to height and weight. It doesn’t seem that the Steelers got noticeably smaller with any of these positions, it does appear they drafted more than one hybrid player based on where they fall between multiple position groups.

George Pickens ready to bring his aggressiveness to the Steelers offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/10/2022 - 10:00am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ second round pick is ready to make his mark on the team’s offense.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and their global fan base, consider their 2022 NFL Draft class to be a success for many reasons. Outside of the selection of Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall selection, the pick of George Pickens in Round 2 was accepted by fans and critics alike.

Pickens isn’t your typical wide receiver. His size, speed, catching radius and high-pointing abilities have many salivating over what he could bring to the team’s near bare wide receiver cupboard.

Outside of Pickens’ obvious physical traits and abilities, the former Georgia Bulldog provides an aggressiveness, and tenacity, which has been lacking among the Steelers’ wide receiving corps for some time now. In fact, many would conclude the last time the Steelers had a receiver who willingly blocked and mixed it up with defenders was Hines Ward. If you are looking for someone more recent, maybe JuJu Smith-Schuster fits that bill. There is a chance Pickens is the next receiver to garner some of that attention.

When speaking with Teresa Varley of Steelers.com Pickens talked about the Steelers being a physical team, and how that meshes will with his overall style of play.

“They’re real physical. That’s really the biggest thing. Aggressiveness,” said Pickens. “That’s one of the biggest models of their game. That is really one of the bigger things in my game. I’m always physical. And I’m always finesse. You put those two together, you create a Steelers mentality like the receivers they already have now.”

Being more specific, Pickens said he isn’t just willing to block, but it’s something he looks forward to, labeling it a “thrill”.

“To be honest with you it’s a thrill,” Pickens said. “When you’re not catching the ball and you are out there, you don’t have a route, it’s a running play. The guy in front of you is the guy you’re blocking. Blocking really ups it more to where you can make it fun and more entertaining. Kind of push them to the ground, go get the safety and move around the field faster.”

For those who don’t know what kind of physicality Pickens brings to an offense, just watch this video compilation below of his time in Georgia.

The Pittsburgh Steelers officially have the best WR in the AFC North. pic.twitter.com/Wjn5Slr8Zi

— george pickens enjoyer (@PickensWRLD) April 30, 2022

What, or who, does Pickens credit for his overall aggressive mindset? How about the ridiculously competitive SEC.

“The competitive level at Georgia and in the SEC is so high,” Pickens recalled. “Half of the guys that were on the team last year were all drafted. I had 14 of my teammates just drafted. Practice every day was elite. Being in the SEC gets you the most prepared for this competition.”

With the excitement of being drafted on Day 2 by the Steelers, Pickens is ready to get to work. At this point, having him take his time and figure out the professional game might be the most challenging aspect of his game.

“After the emotions of draft day get going, you wish you could just play right now. But reality, I have to wait, figure out the team, the staff. Just take my time.”

Pickens now enters a team in desperate need of a player who can stretch the field. Can he fill that role in 2022? It all starts on Friday when rookie minicamp gets underway.

“Now, let’s get started.” Pickens said.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

FILM ROOM: Are the Steelers positioned to solve the problems that doomed the offense in 2021?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 05/10/2022 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Steelers do enough this offseason to put their offensive woes behind them?

With the 2022 NFL Draft in the books, the offseason is largely finished. The Steelers may still add a player or two in the late stages of free agency, but for the most part, their acquisitions are done.

It’s been an aggressive offseason for the Steelers, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. They made a bevy of moves in free agency to strengthen the unit, then added to them by drafting a potential franchise quarterback, a talented wide out and a couple of key role players. They also hired two new coaches — Frisman Jackson and Pat Meyer — and, by virtue of these investments, reinforced their committed to Matt Canada as offensive coordinator. All of this to improve upon a unit that finished near the bottom of the league last season in most meaningful metrics.

The big question Steelers fans have to ponder until the players put the pads back on is this: Have these moves positioned them to solve the two biggest problems that doomed the offense in 2021? In particular, will they now be able to:

  • Run-block effectively?
  • Execute a vertical passing game?

Here are some of the issues they encountered in these areas last year, and how their offseason moves may address them.

Run-blocking

Pittsburgh’s run-blocking woes have been well-documented. The Steelers were neither talented nor physical enough up front to consistently run the ball well. They’ve addressed their personnel by adding free agents James Daniels and Mason Cole, each of whom should upgrade the line’s interior. They will also get back a healthy Kevin Dotson, while Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green will no longer be rookies. From a talent perspective, the line should improve.

Personnel, though, wasn’t the only reason the line struggled last season. The Steelers made too many mistakes from an execution standpoint. Whether the issue was preparation, in-game communication or some combination of the two, the Steelers left too many defenders unblocked for the run game to succeed.

Case in point: here’s the second play on offense from the playoff loss last January in Kansas City. The Steelers have an inside zone run called to the right of their formation. It’s a good call against this defense, as there are six Pittsburgh blockers to handle the six Kansas City defenders in the box:

Typical blocking assignments begin with an identification of the middle linebacker — the “Mike,” who most fans know because quarterbacks are often heard shouting, “52’s the Mike!” on football broadcasts. The center will often point to the Mike as well. This is important because the location of the Mike, who is either the middle backer in a 4-3 scheme or the strong side backer in a 3-4 — sets the blocking for the line.

Most NFL teams use a count system for their blocking and pass protection rules. This is a man-based scheme that denotes the Mike as the player off of which they determine their blocks. Essentially, blockers count off of the Mike to find their assignment. Using a count system, the assignments on this play should have been as follows:

The Mike (circled) sets the count for the line. Here, he is #1 on the back side of the play.

The Mike is the first defender to the back side of the play. Therefore, the three backside blockers — the left guard, left tackle and tight end — should have blocked the Mike, the 3-tech and the edge defender. On the front side, the center, right guard and right tackle would then take the three defenders to the strong side. This way, all six defenders are covered.

The Steelers don’t do this. Instead, left guard John Leglue and left tackle Dan Moore both block out, with Leglue taking the 3-tech and Moore doubling the edge with tight end Zach Gentry. Meanwhile, center J.C. Hassenauer and the play-side linemen handle the play-side defenders. This creates a Red Sea effect, allowing the Mike to come unblocked through the parting. Running back Najee Harris is forced to bounce his run wide as a result, where he’s tackled for a two-yard loss.

The fact there were multiple communication issues like this last season suggests a problem with how the scheme was taught. Getting their unit to execute basic assignment responsibilities is a minimum requirement of any position coach. While the players cannot be fully excused, it falls on the position coaches to make sure they understand their rules and adjustments. These types of mistakes must be remedied moving forward.

The vertical passing game

A second area where the offense struggled involved its inability to throw the football down the field. Ben Roethlisberger’s yards-per-attempt was 6.2, which ranked 29th in the league. Part of the reason for Roethlisberger’s low number was the shoddy pass protection provided by his line, which forced him to get rid of the ball quickly. But there were other reasons, too.

This is the play immediately following the clip from above. It’s 3rd and 10, and the Steelers are in a 3x1 formation with the trips set to the field. Kansas City aligns in a 2-high shell. Their safeties are wide, indicating they will help on vertical routes from the outside receivers. The Mike backer is set deep, at six yards, suggesting he will drop into the “high hole” between the hashes, while the nickel corner and the Will backer man the hook-curl zones between the hashes and the numbers. This is classic Cover-2 assignment defense:

There are a few weaknesses in Cover-2 that offenses like to exploit. One is between the safeties in the middle of the field, which the Chiefs compensate for with the deep drop by the Mike. Another is in the flat, where corners can be stretched vertically by outside receivers to open up short routes into the boundary. Once a flat route shows, the corner will peel off to cover it. This opens up a third vulnerability, which is the area along the sideline between where the corner vacates to take the flat route and the safety rotates to pick up the vertical from the outside receiver:

The Steelers have the right call for this look from Kansas City. They run the flat-fade concept on both sides to try to exploit the holes to the boundary, and a divide route from slot receiver Ray Ray McCloud to split the safeties.

Look below at the execution of the routes, though. To the top of the screen, Chase Claypool fails to fight to release outside. He lets the corner force him inside, where he is funneled into the safety. Claypool should take this route as close to the boundary as possible. Instead, he’s tight to the numbers. This is a bad release on his part, because it destroys the spacing of the route.

McCloud doesn’t help the situation. Rather than cross the alley defender’s face and aim for the “KC” logo in the middle of the field, he releases outside as well. Now, his route and Claypool’s are compressed, making it easy for the safety to cover both. Routes like these are all about stretching a defense to create seams in the coverage. When they are not spaced properly, the integrity of the design is compromised.

On the short side of the field, Diontae Johnson does release wide, and there is a small window into which Roethlisberger can locate the football. But Johnson is just 5’10 and not well-suited to win on these types of throws. Roethlisberger makes it tougher on Johnson by sailing the ball high and wide. Still, it’s hard not to think a bigger target may have been able to make a play here:

So, while 3rd and 10 is difficult to convert, this play had a chance to succeed. It was the right call against Cover-2, but its success was compromised by poor route-running to the field and the Steelers not having a receiver into the boundary who was well-suited to make a play on the ball. Additionally, one could argue Roethlisberger would have been better off dumping the ball down to either of his flat routes. Both were open because Kansas City’s corners stayed with the vertical routes and did not peel. Dumping the ball to either receiver and letting him try to run for the 1st down may have been wiser than trying to fit in a tight throw to Johnson. Roethlisberger was often married to his pre-snap read in an effort to get the ball out quickly. This hindered the vertical passing game as well.

The inability to throw the ball down the field had a trickle-down effect. Defenses did not fear getting beat deep, so they played a lot of press coverage on Pittsburgh’s receivers to jam up the short passing routes. They also cheated their safeties to 7 or 8 yards off the ball, where they could fill quickly against the run. This often gave them a +1 advantage, meaning an unblocked defender, in the box. So, the run game suffered, too, for the lack of a vertical passing attack.

Can the Steelers solve these problems in 2022?

That was the bad news. The good news is the Steelers have methodically addressed their problems on offense this off-season, and acquired pieces that should help solve them.

Let’s start with the run blocking. The additions of Daniels and Cole will certainly help. Both are good technicians with considerable starting experience. The more important addition, though, should be Pat Meyer. Meyer brings a reputation as a teacher of the game to Pittsburgh. His predecessor, Adrian Klemm, seemed to have been a coach who emphasized physicality. That’s certainly important, but without the finer details of technique and communication, physicality is wasted. Meyer should be better at preparing his unit than was Klemm, which will, hopefully, reduce the number of blown assignments.

As for the vertical passing game, the Steelers acquired two receivers in the draft who are positioned to help solve that problem. Both Georgia’s George Pickens and Memphis’s Calvin Austin III are adept at stretching the field. The diminutive Austin (5’8-180) does it with blazing speed — he ran 4.32 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine — and could be formationed to match him against safeties who struggle with that type of speed.

Pickens is a different story. At 6’3”, with 4.4 speed and a huge catch radius, Pickens is an ideal deep threat. He excels at getting free from press coverage, like we see below. This outside release sets him up nicely for the back-shoulder fade ball, which he catches adeptly with his hands:

Pickens’s release technique is often subtle, but effective. The quick inside jab-step he takes elicits a similar step from the corner, providing space for the outside release. Below, he uses an arm-over chop to free himself, opening a nice window between the corner and safety for the quarterback to throw against Cover-2:

Then, at the catch point, Pickens is tremendous with his hands. He snatches the ball away from defenders, which is key when battling for contested throws:

Put it all together and the Steelers have two new receivers whose skill sets make them potential home run hitters.

The receivers are only part of the equation. Both Kenny Pickett and Mitchell Trubisky, one of whom will quarterback the team in the fall, are better deep ball throwers than was Roethlisberger at the end of his career. And the line, with better players and, hopefully, better coaching, should provide the protection to allow for a more vertical passing attack. Finally, with a more mobile player at quarterback, Matt Canada will be free to design boots, roll-outs and play-action passes from which he can threaten defenses vertically.

We won’t know for another four months if the Steelers have done enough to fix what ailed the offense in 2021. On paper, though, they seem well-positioned to improve upon their two biggest weaknesses.

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