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The Steelers have released guard David DeCastro

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 3:14pm
Photo: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with All Pro guard David DeCastro.

The news which broke Thursday afternoon shouldn’t shock anyone. Throughout the offseason, and some might say even back in 2020, David DeCastro and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been “off”. With reports of the Steelers bringing in Trai Turner for a free agent visit, and DeCastro possibly considering retirement, the Steelers put all those rumors to bed by releasing the All Pro guard.

This per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network:

The #Steelers released veteran guard David DeCastro.

— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) June 24, 2021

You might be wondering what happened to have the Steelers decide to release DeCastro, especially when he would be called upon to be the rock along the offensive line? According to Mike Garafolo DeCastro has been having issues with his ankle and is having it reevaluated.

DeCastro has been having his ankle evaluated recently, sources said. He’s had issues with it for quite some time. Had surgery on it before last season. He’s evaluating his future. https://t.co/pzokwBJ3CT

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) June 24, 2021

This proves DeCastro was indeed playing injured last season, but it also seems DeCastro is at a crossroad in his career. Continue to deal with the ankle injury, or call it a career.

This news will carry significant implications across both the roster and the salary cap. DeCastro was a candidate to possibly see a contract extension to lessen his cap hit in 2021; however, after his release it gives the Steelers financial flexibility, but hurts to offensive line. Although DeCastro will have a $5,547,500 dead money hit for 2021, he will carry an $8.75 million dollar savings. After roster displacement, the Steelers will have an additional $7,946,624 toward their salary cap at this time.

Needless to say, the team now has a gaping hole at right guard which will need to be filled. Will it be with a free agent, like Turner, or in house?

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

The Steelers have a pair of players projected to have huge seasons in Year 3

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 2:00pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PFF projects these Steelers third year players are expected to make a big impact in 2021.

There are few websites on the internet who are as polarizing as Pro Football Focus (PFF). Not that the writing is poor, or the takes are awful, but it is based around their grading system. There is a lot of confusion surrounding their grading, and many fans find them to be too far fetched and almost made up.

Either way, with the bad, there is some good. PFF does put in a ton of analysis to their work, and are very thorough with many of their analytical articles...not their grades.

Recently, PFF put out an article with a list of players who are entering their third year in the league, who could have big seasons. Of course, I wanted to see if the Pittsburgh Steelers were represented on the list, and they were in a big way. Of the eight players listed by PFF, the Steelers had two players on the list.

They were: WR Diontae Johnson and ILB Devin Bush.

See what was said about both players, and why they were put on the third year breakout player list:

WR DIONTAE JOHNSON, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Diontae Johnson is too good at too many things to avoid a huge season for long. He has already been reasonably productive and looked like Pittsburgh’s best receiver in 2020, but consistency and a struggling Steelers passing game have at times held him back.

Johnson gets open as well as any receiver in the NFL, which is a great starting point for success. Over his first two seasons in the league, he has been charted as open on 46% and 48% of his targets — that is 6-8 percentage points higher than the league average. If Ben Roethlisberger can improve on an unconvincing 2020 season and give the Steelers passing game some more teeth, Johnson will be open and looking for targets.

His numbers last season should have been significantly better — a league-leading 14 drops left a lot of meat on the bone. But drops are a volatile data point that come and go by season, and Johnson is unlikely to be burned as badly in that area going forward.

LB DEVIN BUSH, PITTSBURGH STEELERS

You could certainly argue that Devin Bush hit the ground running in the NFL and that his absence last season highlighted how good he already is. But the Steelers ask a lot from their linebackers, and his PFF grade hasn’t caught up with the ability he showed during his rookie season.

Bush had an overall PFF grade of 62.9 as a rookie, only earning a grade above 70.0 in tackling. He missed only 10 of his 116 total attempts.

He was solid in coverage, allowing a passer rating of 105.3 into his coverage, which sounds high but is almost exactly league average for targets against linebackers.

There is no doubting Bush’s talent, but 278 snaps in an injury-shortened campaign in 2020 did little to show any improvement over that rookie season. A pronounced step forward within the scheme this year could result in Bush’s down-to-down consistency and production meeting his highlight-making skills.

For both Johnson and Bush, the Steelers are banking on them having big seasons in 2021 at their respective positions. If Johnson can leave the dropped passes in 2020, there is a good chance he eclipses 1,000 yards receiving and leads the Steelers in targets and receptions. Likewise, if Bush can remain healthy he will step up and be the athletic cog to the Pittsburgh defense which should remain dominant.

Big seasons await these players, and the hope is PFF is right on the money.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

The Steelers Trifecta: Brown, Buggs, and Bundage

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 12:30pm
Nick King/Lansing State Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Day 4 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Shakur Brown, Isaiah Buggs, and Calvin Bundage

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

Shakur Brown Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Position: Cornerback
Age: 22
Year: 1
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 190
Drafted: UDFA 2020
College: Michigan State
Roster Outlook: Bubble
Analysis:

Shakur Brown is likely to get a lot of attention from fans this coming training camp. Before the 2021 NFL draft, some had Brown pegged as a Steelers late-round draft pick. Instead, the Steelers still landed Brown without having to use one of their nine selections. After losing two players at cornerback this offseason, there is room for new players to grab a roster spot. Out of all the Steelers undrafted free agents for 2021, Brown is currently the front runner to have a chance at making the team. But there is still a lot of football the played.

Isaiah Buggs Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Defensive End
Age: 24
Year: 3
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 295
Drafted: 2019, Round 6, Pick 192
College: Alabama
Roster Outlook: Fighting for a spot
Analysis:

After being on the Steelers 53-man roster for the last two seasons, year three is going to be pivotal for Isaiah Buggs. Appearing in nine games his rookie season and 10 in 2020, Buggs has yet to make a significant impact on the Steelers defensive line. Add in the fact he was inactive for four of the Steelers last five games including the playoffs and the Steelers drafted another defensive tackle in 2021, Buggs is going to have to fight just to keep the spot he held on the 2020 roster.

Calvin Bundage Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Linebacker
Age: 23
Year: 1
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 221
Drafted: UDFA 2020
College: Oklahoma State
Roster Outlook: Doubtful
Analysis:

Playing both inside and outside linebacker for Oklahoma State at various stages of his collegiate career, it’s unclear exactly which position Bundage will be asked to play for the Steelers. While some have him listed as an outside linebacker, the above picture shows him in a drill with inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky in a drill along side Devin Bush, Buddy Johnson, Marcus Allen, Ulysees Gilbert, and Robert Spillane. Had Bundage been getting time at outside linebacker he would have had a greater opportunity to land with a Steelers in some capacity. If he ends up being more of an inside linebacker, he’s part of a very deep room which makes his roster outlook even more doubtful.

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

2022 NFL Draft Preview: Cincinnati CB Ahmad Gardner

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 11:30am
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

We now narrow our focus to the 2022 NFL Draft, and cornerbacks who could be on the Steelers’ radar.

After breaking down the top quarterback prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft, we turn to cornerback, a position that is expected to be deep yet again. Derek Stingley, Jr. is the top cornerback in next year’s draft class, but he is likely to be a top 5-7 pick. Because he is not a likely target for the Steelers, we will move to the guy who many people have pegged as the number two cornerback in next year’s class. That person is none other than Ahmad Gardner.

I know what you all are thinking. It’s cornerback, the likely cause of Kevin Colbert’s baldness and the definite cause of high blood pressure for Steelers fans. From Justin “Driving in the Fast” Layne (credit to Blunosed Steelhead), to Senquez “The IR Permanent” Golson, to Artie “Third Degree” Burns, the cornerback position in the NFL Draft has been nothing short of a nightmare for the Steelers. After taking Burns and Layne, many fans, including myself, believed that the Steelers were going to implement more press man concepts to the defense.

In 2019, the Steelers began to play more man coverage, but whether it was injuries, constant personnel changes in a covid year, or simply the coaching staff’s decision, the Steelers got away from that in 2020 and went back to the Tampa 2 and Cover 3 schemes that Mike Tomlin has always preferred. We will see if the Steelers get back to more man defense in 2021, but outside of Cameron Sutton, the Steelers have been unable to draft any real contributors at the position in recent memory. Whichever defensive scheme the Steelers decide to play, it is important that they find guys who fit what they are going to run.

Whether we like it or not, cornerback is a likely need for this team next offseason, and there will be plenty to choose from at the position in next year’s draft. As a person who firmly believes in man coverage being the best base coverage to have in the modern NFL, it makes it more challenging to truly get excited about any corner’s potential with this team. I prefer the big, fast, high-upside corners over the little guys that run 4.55 and lack elite physical traits, but in most instances, the big, fast, high-upside corners either get taken inside the top ten or are extremely raw and inexperienced in zone coverage, making them a bad fit for a defense run by Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler. Just look at Justin Layne. Considering that we do not exactly know which scheme the Steelers plan to run, we will begin the cornerback breakdowns with a guy who has had success in both man and zone concepts.

Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner played his high school ball about an hour from where I live and was one of the top collegiate prospects in this region. Considered by most as a three-star recruit and a top 30 prospect in the state of Michigan, Gardner helped lead Martin Luther King High School to a Division 3 State Championship Game victory, contributing as both a wide receiver and a cornerback. He recorded two crucial receiving touchdowns in that championship game. As a freshman at Cincinnati, he was named First Team All-AAC, recording three interceptions and six passes defended. He duplicated those numbers last season in only nine games, putting him into the first-round conversation in early 2022 NFL Draft talks. He now heads into his junior season with the expectation of being one of the top cornerbacks in the country. Gardner has set the highest standard possible for himself this season, as evidenced by one of his quotes during an interview with Pro Football Network:

“My main expectation is to be the #1 shutdown corner in all of college football, which I think is easy to do.”

I’m not so sure that it is “easy to do,” but you have to love the guy’s confidence and positive demeanor. I am hoping that he backs it up this season.

The first thing you notice about Gardner is his lanky frame. Gardner was listed at 6’2”, 159 pounds coming out of high school, but he has bulked up to 188 pounds and may be able to add even more weight before next year. Gardner hass excellent instincts and situational awareness, which helps him make plays in zone coverage. He takes good tackling angles, but adding more weight to his frame will help him bring down thicker, sturdier receivers and running backs in the open field. I also like his ball awareness. There were several plays on tape where I thought Gardner could have intercepted a pass but either dropped the ball or mistimed the jump, but when his back is to the ball, he does a great job sensing when to put his long arms up to deflect the ball. I also love Garner’s physicality. He gives receivers nothing for free and makes them work just to get off the line of scrimmage.

However, that physicality sometimes comes back to bite him. He gets his share of holding and pass interference penalties, and many of them are completely unnecessary. That aggression sometimes causes him to trail receivers down the field if he does not win at the line of scrimmage. That issue exposed another problem in his game, which is long speed. If not for a few underthrown balls, Gardner’s numbers would not have been as good last season. On several occasions, the receiver would beat him at the line, but the quarterback would underthrow the ball by two or three yards, allowing Gardner to catch up and make a play on the ball. I also have concerns about Gardner’s change-of-direction speed. He seems to play a bit tight in the hips, which is not uncommon for a corner coming out of college. That said, it is an issue that needs to be fixed if he wants his full potential to be unlocked.

Again, I want to thank Jacob Bost for cutting up these clips. He will be helping with the cornerback breakdowns just as he did for the quarterbacks. The first play we are going to look at is this pick six against UCF that gave Cincinnati the win. Gardner is barely visible on the bottom of the screen.

Gardner reads this one from the beginning. It is a quick one-read pass by the quarterback Dillon Gabriel, and Gardner keeps his eyes on him all the way. Right once he sees Gabriel begin his throwing motion, Gardner closes in on the receiver and cuts in front of him for the interception. Even if Gardner cannot improve his long speed to keep up in press coverage in the NFL, his instincts will allow him to have success when playing farther off the line of scrimmage.

The next three plays are against Memphis. We will now see how Gardner does when playing closer to the line. Gardner is at the top of the screen.

Memphis receiver Calvin Austin III beats Gardner to the inside, and when Austin cuts upfield, Gardner knows he is going to get burned. He grabs Austin to avoid getting torched over top and gets called for holding. One issue I have noticed in Gardner’s game is his inability to consistently get good position against wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. He lets receivers get the inside track too often, and when he is unable to get his hands on smaller receivers at the line, they can generally create separation against him when cutting upfield.

Gardner is in man coverage against Austin once again on this play.

This is a good no-call in my opinion, partially because I am not sure it was a catchable ball in the first place. Austin is just a tiny receiver, and Gardner knows that he should easily be able to win with his physicality. This time, Gardner is able to get his hands on Austin a bit sooner. Gardner’s first move off the line of scrimmage is a little quicker on this play as well, and that is what makes the difference. He is able to go stride for stride with Austin, and the small receiver cannot overcome the aggressive, physical play of the long cornerback.

Gardner remains on Austin in the following clip.

Austin makes a fantastic inside move to separate from Gardner, but length makes the difference here. Gardner recovers nicely and turns his head at exactly the right time. He knows that he has safety help coming his way over the top, and when Gardner sees the ball in the air, he tries to cut underneath and intercept the ball. He is able to break up the pass but unable to come away with the interception. Sauce’s length combined with the instincts to sense when the ball is being thrown puts him in position to make a play. If he can use those tools correctly in his pro career, hopefully he will capitalize on more of them than he has through two years in college. I think we now know why he is a cornerback and not a receiver. Six interceptions in two seasons is not bad, but he had a chance to haul in several more.

The final two plays are against Boston College. Gardner is at the bottom of the screen in man coverage.

This is just good old man coverage. It isn’t anything fancy or complicated. Gardner simply stays stride for stride with the receiver and gives him no free room. This is the coverage I love to see. When you can stay with your receiver like this in man coverage, very rarely are you going to give up anything.

Here is the last play. Gardner is to the top of the screen.

Gardner is in man once again. This time, he loses about half a step on the receiver, but the ball is slightly underthrown, and Gardner is able to gain back the ground he loses and swat the ball away. Sauce loses ground on receivers more often than what I would like to see, but he generally makes up for it with his excellent length. Half a step, like this play, is no big deal for someone with his length. However, faster receivers in the NFL may be able to take advantage of this style of play. It is not a major issue now, but it is something to keep an eye on once he is in the NFL.

NFL Comparison: Chris Gamble

Selected in the first round by the Carolina Panthers when I was only one year old, Gamble had a very underrated career. Gamble added weight once he got to the NFL but was about 6’1”, 190 pounds headed into his final season at Ohio State, which is very close to what Gardner would currently measure in at. Gamble did not have top-end speed, but he was a good athlete overall and could cover a lot of ground. I feel as if much is the same with Gardner, who is actually a better tackler than Gamble but very similar as a cover corner.

Not only was Gamble was unafraid to get physical with receivers when playing close to the line, but he also displayed tremendous ball skills, which resulted in twenty-seven career interceptions, thirteen of which were in his first two seasons. Gardner plays a more physical brand of football than Gamble, but Gamble took advantage of more interception opportunities than Gardner has thus far. When Gamble had a chance at an easy interception, he rarely messed it up. Gardner is already one of the best corners in college football, but capitalizing on those turnover opportunities is an area that he could afford to improve in this season. Gamble only played nine seasons in the NFL, but if Gardner can play at the level Gamble did in the NFL, he could become one of the top cornerbacks in the league in short order.

How would he fit with the Steelers?

This is going to be the most difficult part of each cornerback breakdown, because the athletic profile that I prefer is not what generally fits the Steelers’ zone-heavy scheme the best. Gardner is more experienced in man coverage, but he seems comfortable playing farther off the line and keeping his eyes on the quarterback as well. I am no expert when it comes to disecting defensive schemes and deciphering the minor differences in each coverage, but Gardner’s experience in both aggressive and conservative schemes makes him a potential fit in any defense. However, it is clear that Gardner is still raw. Most collegiate corners are, which is why it can be a tricky position to evaluate. He has lots of potential as a boundary cornerback, but I want to see improvement and consistency before I hop on board the Ahmad Garner hype train. He will have a chance to prove himself against several tough opponents during Cincinnati’s 2021 season.

But what do you think of Gardner? If you were the GM, how high would you be willing to take him? How do you think he would fit with the Steelers? Be sure to light up the comment section with your thoughts on this and all things 2022 NFL Draft!

Podcast: Why did the Steelers wait til later to go “Sooner”?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 11:00am

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

When looking back at the 2021 Draft, most Steelers fans thought that the team would draft a cornerback early. However, the Steelers waited until their penultimate pick in the 2021 draft to select Tre Norwood from Oklahoma. This week, join Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict to talk about the late addition of a cornerback with Kamiar Mehrabian a SB Nation contributor.

  • News and Notes
  • Special Guest: SB Nation contributor, Kamiar Mehrabian

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

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
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Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

Steelers Vertex: Loss vs. gain at slot cornerback

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Steelers know they will not have Mike Hilton in 2021, but exactly who will replace him has yet to be determined

With changes in the Steelers roster from 2020 to 2021, we’re going to highlight players lost at a position and the production of the assumed replacement. This week we looking at the loss of Mike Hilton at the slot cornerback position.

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

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

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

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

When it comes to the stats portion of this particular vertex, I’m going to focus on the Steelers’ loss of Mike Hilton. When it comes to who will step in to grab the slot cornerback role, it is yet to be determined between a handful of players. But don’t worry, Geoffrey will be making a case for a replacement in the film section.

In a few categories, Mike Hilton put up some of his best stats in recent years in 2020 despite missing four games. Grabbing a career-high three interceptions, Hilton also had seven passes defensed, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. According to Pro Football Reference, Hilton was targeted 45 times in the passing game and surrendered 29 completions for a 64.4% completion percentage which was his highest since 2018 when the stats were kept.

Still looking at pass defense, Hilton was only credited with one touchdown surrendered in the passing game according to PFR. He was also sent on a blitz 46 times where he had one quarterback hurry, to knock downs, six pressures, and 3.0 sacks. One stat were Hilton did struggle in 2020 was he was credited with 11 missed tackles where here only had four in each of the previous two seasons.

What is interesting is how the Steelers sack production changed with Hilton in or out of the lineup. The Steelers averaged 4.8 sacks per game in their first five games before Hilton was injured and missed games six through nine. In fact, all three of Hilton’s sacks came in the first four games of the season. While Hilton was out, the Steelers averaged 3.0 sacks and after his return the average dropped even more to 2.86 sacks per game over the final seven games of the season. Of course, once Hilton returned Devin Bush had already been placed on season-ending IR and only two of the final seven games were played with Bud Dupree.

The biggest loss statistically to the Steelers secondary when it comes to Hilton appears to be in the sack department. With 3.0 sacks in 2020 and 9.5 in his four-year career, Hilton was the only member of the Steelers secondary to record more than one sack in 2020.

So there are some of what the Steelers will lose with the departure of Mike Hilton. So what could be the plan to cover the loss? This answer all comes down to the film as there simply aren’t enough conclusive stats to properly answer the question.

The Film Line:

Let’s start off with a look at what the Steelers are losing. Mike Hilton has been one of the better slot cornerbacks in the NFL, but he isn’t in that category for being a lock down coverage man, Mike Hilton is a great slot corner because he is able to cover like a corner, AND blitz like a linebacker.

Week 1, fourth quarter, 13:17. Mike Hilton is the slot corner to the top of the screen.

Two things show up here that are a big part of Mike Hilton being a dynamic blitzer. First, he times up his blitz really well, staying lined up like he’s in coverage until the QB puts his head down to look for the snap, giving him more of an element of surprise. Second, he navigates traffic well to get past blockers, here faking out Saquon Barkley and getting the sack.

Week 2, fourth quarter, 4:05. Mike Hilton is the slot corner to the top of the screen.

Hilton’s coverage is considered a weakness, but that weakness was exaggerated. He’s a better blitzer, but he’s one of the best blitzing DBs in the NFL. He was good enough to cover Jerry Jeudy on an island here, and the Steelers didn’t put him on an island frequently.

Hilton was injured in Week 6. He missed 4 games, then took two more games at a reduced snap count before returning in full in Week 13. With Devin Bush out and the Steelers losing Robert Spillane in Week 13, Hilton was asked to cover more and blitzed far less than early in the season. He was still effective at attacking the play, he just was being used differently with Avery Williamson forced to play significant snaps.

Week 13, fourth quarter, 9:06. Mike Hilton is the slot corner to the right side of the screen.

This was a great play on 4th and short. You can see T.J. Watt react to the WFT motioning into a wildcat formation, and you see Hilton react as well, and he destroys the jet sweep single-handedly for a turnover on downs.

The Steelers main adjustment to Hilton being out was Cameron Sutton at nickel and Justin Layne playing in dime. The Steelers tried playing Layne outside and Nelson inside in dime, but mostly the Steelers just avoided using dime, until Week 10. The Steelers used dime heavily against the Bengals offense, and their dime back in that game was Antoine Brooks Jr. He’s the first potential nickel corner we’ll look at.

Week 10, first quarter, 7:36. Antoine Brooks is the slot corner to the bottom of the screen.

A common Steeler defense here, a nickel blitz with Edmunds picking up the receiver. You can see Brooks isn’t afraid to get physical, but his timing and speed aren’t close to Mike Hilton’s and this would be his only blitz of the season.

Week 10, third quarter, 8:53. Antoine Brooks Jr. is the slot corner to the top of the screen.

I was pleasantly surprised at Antoine Brooks Jr.’s coverage in this game, he showed understanding and enough intelligence to get by in zone and easier assignments. Facing Tyler Boyd was a different matter. Brooks Jr. is not a fluid player, and Boyd beats him easily on this simple out route. Brooks Jr. in coverage was on par with a solid linebacker, like Robert Spillane. That makes it hard to see him being a top contender for the dime job, let alone Hilton’s nickel spot.

Week 10, fourth quarter, 2:00. Antoine Brooks is the defender farthest to the left side of the screen.

Brooks Jr. does a great job shaking the tight end and cutting inside for a shot at the running back. He’s no Mike HIlton though, as his limited athleticism makes him a hair late to make the tackle. Sadly the Steelers lost lane integrity on the backside, because this is still a good job blowing up the play by Brooks Jr. There just wasn’t anyone there to finish it.

At the end of Weeks 10 and 11, in garbage time, the Steelers gave James Pierre some snaps at corner.

Week 11, 4th quarter, 3:30. James Pierre is the cornerback to the top of the screen.

James Pierre didn’t blitz at all in 2020, and this was his only tackle for a loss, but he shows the reaction speed, aggressiveness and ability to finish that Mike Hilton shows on similar plays. James Pierre was positionally sound in run defense, even if he didn’t get an opportunity to make plays against the run.

James Pierre’s 2020 season was an incredibly small sample size, so I went through every snap he played looking for his worst snap. This is the worst one I could find.

Week 17, third quarter, 0:02. James Pierre is the cornerback to the top of the screen.

James Pierre played in Week 17 once the Steelers decided to sit Steven Nelson for the rest of the game. Here Pierre is beaten on a comeback route, but not badly, and if a throw had come that way, it would have needed to be well timed to get there before Pierre recovered.

This is the worst snap by James Pierre I found. Look at the bottom of the screen, to Justin Layne. On James Pierre’s worst play Justin Layne looks lost and allows his receiver to run free for a 15 yard gain.

People keep downplaying the offseason hype on James Pierre, and they downplayed the hype from his stellar play in a very small sample size, but the film tells me James Pierre is a smart and instinctive football player that is going to make an impact in 2021. And of course, I need to show the one time he was targeted down field.

Wild Card game, second quarter, 11:31.

That’s nearly perfect execution. And that’s what Pierre put on film more often than not, zone, man, run defense, he was incredibly sound in his positioning and technique. He’s not a freak athlete, he’s not going to be a superstar, but if the Steelers can limit his snaps on an island, he’s going to be really good.

Pierre is gaining steam as the pick for the #3 cornerback, but a lot of people are thinking Cameron Sutton will slide into the nickel and Pierre will play outside, but I disagree. Cameron Sutton is a much better fit outside than he is in the nickel. His dime role was nothing like Mike Hilton’s nickel role, and he doesn’t fit the physicality and aggressiveness the nickel needs. James Pierre does. Pierre also shows the intelligence and execution that is far more important than physical traits when you play nickel.

Justin Layne isn’t going to play the nickelback position, Antoine Brooks Jr. isn’t athletic enough or sound enough in his coverage technique to play the nickel, and Cameron Sutton is a better fit outside playing Steven Nelson’s role. James Pierre has the smarts, toughness, tackling and aggressiveness to play that role for the Steelers in 2021. Expect Pierre to win the nickel corner job in 2021.

The Point:

There are certain things that Mike Hilton has shown for Steelers over the last several years which don’t appear to be easily replaced for the 2021 season. It’s not that other players can’t do this job, it’s simply that they haven’t been asked to do it extensively at this point.

For this reason, the loss of Mike Hilton likely gives the Steelers the biggest question mark when it comes to his replacement out of anyone else who left following the 2020 season. Although these things will sort themselves out in time, it is really difficult to judge if anyone, rather through just one person or several players combined, will be able to bring to the Steelers secondary and slot cornerback position what Hilton did in his four years.

But the sky is not completely falling. There are options for the Steelers. Whether it be Antoine Brooks Jr., James Pierre, or one of the Steelers rookies, hopefully someone emerges as the player who will step in and seize the opportunity to log meaningful snaps in the Steelers’ secondary. The biggest question remaining is if there will be a drop off in both production and the Steelers ability to allow other players to play to their strengths within the defense.

Steelers 2021 training camp will be held in Pittsburgh

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 8:40am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers were denied permission to hold training camp at Saint Vincent college in Latrobe this year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were denied their request by the NFL to hold training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, for 2021. Instead, the Steelers will once again be holding training camp in Pittsburgh using the facilities both at Heinz Field and the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. this per Steelers’ spokesman Burt Lauten:

Statement from #Steelers Spokesman Burt Lauten on #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/vZl3zPbmZq

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 24, 2021

The Steelers had gone more than 50 seasons of holding training camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to stay in Pittsburgh in 2020. With other teams being allowed to hold training camps away from their facilities, it is unclear at this time why the Steelers request was denied.

What is interesting is the team other than Steelers who is set to begin 2021 training camp before the rest of the NFL—the Dallas Cowboys—were granted permission to hold their training camp in Oxnard, California.

It is official: Cowboys will be holding training camp in Oxnard, California. Team has announced it. Done deal. Fans are allowed to attend practices, beginning on July 22.

— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) June 15, 2021

Although the NFL has set the date the Cowboys and Steelers can begin training camp, which is as early as July 21, it appears the Cowboys will begin their preparation for the 2021 season on July 22. The Steelers have not set the date in which they will begin training camp as they were awaiting word for where it would be held. Now that the Steelers know they will be in Pittsburgh yet again, they can begin working out their schedule and an announcement of the start date is expected soon.

While many Steelers fans have to be disappointed they will not be able to attend a training camp in Latrobe, the NFL had previously announced as part of its COVID-19 protocols that teams would not be allowed to interact with fans at this time. It will also be interesting to see how much the NFL allows the Steelers to have fans at Heinz Field during training camp, or exactly how this will play out in terms of admission.

UPDATE: According to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com, the plan to return to Latrobe submitted by the Steelers included the provision fans being in attendance:

The Steelers submitted their plan to the NFL for the return to the Saint Vincent College campus in Latrobe. Included in the Steelers’ plan was for fans to be able to visit campus and watch practice, as had been the case since the team’s first full summer in Latrobe back in 1967.

More of this story as it continues to develop.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers.

Podcast: Reading between the lines of Steelers restructures

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 8:25am

Matt Peverell breaks down the Steelers salary cap and player personnel situation every week in The War Room.

The Steelers restructure many a contract, but what storylines can be read between the lines? there’s plenty. Plus, how do the current stats stack up against black-and-gold legends? Join BTSC’s Matt Peverell for his solo show as he examines the ins-and-outs of the Steelers dollars and “sense” situation when it comes to personnel.

Check out the newest addition to the BTSC family of podcasts and stay a while with Matty in The War Room.

Rundown of the show:

  • The impact of restructures, whether there’s none, some, or lots, on an NFL team’s results - as something to think about when it comes to the Steelers now and into the future.
  • An analysis of deeper defensive statistics, specifically defending the pass (but not pass rush), and why it’s a collective effort at a number of positions beyond the CBs & Safeties, with some stats to watch or consider for more casual fans (for stat geeks they’ll still be able to draw an insight or two).

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: Ben Roethlisberger will not start 17 regular-season games in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 7:15am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: Ben Roethlisberger will not start 17 regular-season games in 2021

Roethliberger’s games started (since 2011):

2011: 15 (11-4)
2012: 13 (7-6)
2013: 16 (8-8)
2014: 16 (11-5)
2015: 11 (7-4)
2016: 14 (10-4)
2017: 15 (12-3)
2018: 16 (9-6-1)
2019: 2 (0-2)*
2020: 15 (12-3)

*Season ending IR after Week 2

Why it will happen: Although Ben Roethlisberger played through various ailments during the 2020 NFL season, is that really the best course of action for the Steelers in 2021 with a 39 year-old quarterback? Would the Steelers have not been better served to have a more healthy Ben Roethlisberger in the postseason? By attempting to have Roethlisberger be as close to full strength as possible come January, if he experiences some nagging issues during the season it might be in the Steelers best interest to keep Ben out of the lineup throughout the season if he needs additional recovery time rather than have him rush back to get on the field no matter how damaged he might be.

Why it won’t happen: Roethlisberger did not take a $5 million pay cut for 2021 to hold a clipboard. Ben is back and he is giving everything he has to the Steelers in 2021. The only way Roethlisberger misses time is in an ‘already clinched’ scenario like the final week of the 2020 season. If Roethlisberger can walk into the stadium, he’s walking into the huddle.

Prediction: Although it would be nice to think Ben Roethlisberger would rest going into the postseason, the Steelers have to get there first. And while Rothlisberger likely gives the Steelers the best chance to win on a weekly basis, a 17-game season followed by the playoffs is a marathon, not a sprint. If Roethlisberger hast to miss a game or two in order to make sure his elbow, shoulder, knees, or anything else which could give him problems doesn’t become a nagging issue, the Steelers are better off handing the ball to their backup on a short-term basis. While Roethlisberger gives the Steelers the best chance to win in the regular season, a fully healthy (or at least a reasonably healthy after an entire NFL season), full-strength Roethlisberger gives the best chance to win in the playoffs.

No, it doesn’t mean holding Rothlisberger out simply for the sake of doing it, but if there is something which could impact what Rothlisberger could do throughout the game, it’s better to deal with a single week without him rather than a quarter of a season where he’s physically limited.

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

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

Steelers All-Time, All-Rookie Team: Part 3, Wide Receivers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 6:00am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Time to take a look at the Steelers all-time best rookie Wide Receivers

Sorry for the delay (and a preliminary apology for the length, since this is the longest article of this series), but we’re back with part 3 of the Steelers All-Time All-Rookie team. If you haven’t seen the previous edition of this sequence, they’re linked below, along with an apologia in the first edition. The ground rules for this project are as follows:

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

For past essays:

Part 1: Quarterbacks
Part 2: Running Backs

With that in mind, here’s part three of the mixed-multitude of the Steelers all time All Rookie team — position group by position group.

Quick Note: the poll at the bottom only allows one choice (I can’t figure out how to change that), but I’m naming three starters to the team.

Part 3: Wide Receivers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Louis Lipps makes the original helmet catch

Like most positions, deciding who even qualifies at wide receiver is tricky. In this case, oddly, there aren’t that many greats who started their careers with other franchises. Yancey Thigpen is probably the biggest name who doesn’t make the cut, as he played his rookie season in San Diego (and didn’t even make a single catch).

However, there are plenty of familiar names that did very little as rookies. For example, don’t expect mediocre players like to see Andre Hastings, Jeff Graham, Weegie Thompson, Dwite Stone, Ernie Mills, or Mark Stock. Ditto for Plaxico Burress, Roy Jefferson, Emmanuel Sanders, Frank Lewis, and Elbie Nickel, each of whom actually had more respectable careers, but none of whom were impressive as rookies. Charles Johnson and Eli Rogers were probably the closest that didn’t cut it, but we had to shut the door somewhere.

Finally, there’s the big three. Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Hines Ward also didn’t make this team. The three most recognizable Steelers wideouts in history averaged 14 catches and one touchdown as rookies. None of them finished in the top 4 on the team in receptions, nor in the top 75 in the NFL catches, yards, or touchdowns. Swann was a pretty impressive punt returner, but that’s a different category. These were not Hall of Fame rookies at wideout.

Seems like there’s a lesson in there about not judging a player’s career by just his opening season… but I’m not sure that that would be. Oh well. Let’s look at WRs.

Starters: Jimmy Orr (1959) Why is the ball coming in sideways? I wonder if that’s why the Steelers were always losers back in the day.

33 receptions (led the Steelers)
910 receiving yards (#3 in NFL / Steelers rookie record for 58 years)
27.6 yards per reception (#1 in NFL)
7 touchdown catches (#5 in NFL)
Also punted 51 times, 39.7 avg
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year

Let’s start with the most complicated character on the list. Jimmy Orr is not often discussed among Steelers greats, but not because of his production in black and gold. You might recognize Orr from his All Pro career in Baltimore (including perhaps the most famously ignored “hey I’m open!” moment in NFL history). But he was a Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh first. He’s complicated because he was drafted by Los Angeles Rams in 1957, but he never played a down there. He was eventually acquired by Pittsburgh and played his official rookie season in 1958, where he teamed with new Steeler QB Bobby Layne to great effect.

On a short list of AP Offensive Rookies of the Year to come through town, Orr also set the Steelers rookie receiving record that stood until JuJu Smith-Schuster broke it nearly six decades later (and even then, only by seven yards). And Orr did it in a 12 game season. He finished in the league’s top 5 in three major WR categories, helping the team to its first winning season in 11 years, and their second best record ever (at the time).

Louis Lipps (1984) When John Stallworth passed the torch to Louis Lipps, he also passed the mustache & forehead.

45 catches, 860 yards
19.1 yards per catch (#5 in NFL)
9 touchdown catches (#7 in NFL)
Also had rushing and punt return TDs
12.4 avg on punt returns (#3 in NFL)
1587 all purpose yards
Pro Bowler as rookie
AP Offensive Rookie of the Year

Another NFL Rookie of the Year, Lipps was a star receiver, with 45 catches for 860 yards (19.1 ypc), as well as punt returner. Perhaps equally as important, his talent helped free up the old veteran, John Stallworth, to record the finest season of his HOF career in 1984, as the Steelers came one game from getting their “one for the thumb” Super Bowl title despite starting a rotation of David Woodley, Cliff Stoudt, and Mark Malone at quarterback. Who knows what kind of career Lipps could have had if he’d have been blessed with a QB like Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger. But his rookie campaign was sublime.

Chase Claypool (2020) Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Chase Claypool dons his “game face” before putting on his helmet. You’ve got to do these things in order.

62 catches (Steelers rookie record), 873 yards
9 receiving TDs (#10 in NFL)
84 yard catch (3rd longest in NFL)
11 offensive touchdowns (#12 in NFL)
Team rookie record 4 touchdowns, wk 5 (vs Philly)
NFL Offensive Player of the week (wk 5)

I probably don’t need to tell you much about Chase Claypool. An absolute physical specimen, Claypool has been favorably compared to Calvin Johnson (though he hates the nickname, “Mapletron”), and was in the discussion for Offensive Rookie of the Year for parts of 2020. His four touchdown laser-light show against Philadelphia was one of the finest performances anyone posted all season. And, though he got lost in the wash by the end of the season, one gets the sense that that may have been a Randy Fichtner issue more than a Chase Claypool problem. In any case, he was a star as a rookie in ways one rarely sees in these parts.

Backups: Ron Shanklin (1970) Photo by James Flores /Getty Images Ron Shanklin wonders what he has to do to keep his starting job in Pittsburgh...

30 receptions, 691 yards, 4 touchdowns (led Steelers in all categories)
23.0 yards per reception (#3 in NFL)

Shanklin is a forgotten player today, as he and his WR teammates were ultimately replaced by John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, but he was pretty impressive as a rookie. Shanklin led the Steelers in receptions, yards, and touchdown catches, while also finishing #3 in the NFL in YPC. And he did that while catching passes from the two Terrys — rookie Terry Bradshaw (who was dreadful), and second year man Terry Hanratty (who was no better). Shanklin led the NFL in YPC and made the Pro Bowl in 1973, and the Steelers rewarded him by drafting Swann and Stallworth that spring. At least he got a ring in 1974.

Juju Smith-Schuster (2017) Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images Everyone knows what JuJu’s face looks like, so I thought I’d post my all-time favorite photo of his rookie year instead.

58 catches, 917 yards, 7 touchdowns
Steelers rookie receiving yards record
97 yard catch (longest in NFL that year)
26.7 yards per kickoff return, plus another touchdown
Zero fumbles as rookie
69 yard catch and run in final minute against NE in Jesse James game
Laid out Vontaze Burfict

I thought about JuJu a lot — whether he deserved a starting shot. He broke Jimmy Orr’s rookie receiving yardage record, and caught 7 touchdowns as a rookie, while also recording the longest catch in the NFL (side note: he’s still the only player in league history with two 97 yard scores in a career). He nearly won the Jesse James game (against the Patriots) late in the season — a victory which would have given the Steelers the #1 seed and a cleaner shot at the Super Bowl than they got. And he demolished the worst person in the NFL.

Ultimately, I put him on the bench because he benefitted big from having Antonio Brown on the other side to swallow up coverage. But JuJu’s rookie year was outstanding.

Martavis Bryant (2014) Photo by Kellen MIcah/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Martavis Bryant is probably the most disappointing player of all to me. He had SO much potential.

26 receptions, 549 yards with only three starts
21.1 yards per reception (would have led league if he qualified)
8 receiving touchdowns (1 every 3.25 catches)
94 yard catch (longest in NFL that year)
Sat for first 6 games (3-3); dressed for final 10 (8-2)

Martavis was one of my favorite players from the Steelers 2010s resurgence. His big-play capacity, which we all saw in 2014 and 2015, was terrifying. And his inability to contain his off-field issues were nothing short of tragic. I really think that if the Steelers could have kept him playing, alongside Antonio Brown, they’d have won the Super Bowlin 2016 and possibly 2017. That 2016 team really sputtered with Brown left by himself, and Bryant was a shell of himself the following year.

Mike Wallace (2009) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images You can see why Wallace was so fast: experimental aerodynamics.

39 catches, 796 yards, 6 touchdowns
19.4 yards per catch (#1 in NFL)
Game winning walk-off touchdown against Green Bay

The original “One-Trick Pony” (terrible nickname) was a hell of a player in 2009. With Santonio Holmes as the WR1 and Hines Ward as the wily veteran possession man, Wallace could run free all over the place for the defending champs. If the Steelers defense could have stayed healthy that year, they had a real opportunity to repeat. I know what you’re thinking — didn’t the Steelers go 9-7 and miss the playoffs? Yup. And not one of those losses came by more than 7 points. In other words, they were one play away from winning every single week. And Wallace was the likeliest player in the NFL to score from anywhere on the field. In fact, his finest moment as a Steeler was a walk-off score against the 12-4 Packers (who would meet these guy in the Super Bowl the very next season). This was a good team. And Wallace made them better.

Santonio Holmes (2006) Photo by Paul Spinelli/Getty Images I didn’t know you were allowed to use spiderwebs on your gloves. No wonder today’s players catch everything.

49 catches, 824 yards, 2 touchdowns
16.8 yards per reception (#10 in NFL)
10.2 yards per punt return (#10 in NFL)
1537 all-purpose yards (#14 in NFL)
67 yard overtime touchdown catch knocks Bengals from playoffs in wk 17

Santonio Holmes was an enigmatic player. He never really realized his potential, but still walked away with a Super Bowl MVP award. He was a rising star who the Steelers traded for a song — and then (amazingly) didn’t really miss him. And his rookie year wasn’t any different. He began with two arrests before even reporting for camp, then finished the season with a walk-off overtime touchdown that knocked the rival Bengals out of the playoffs. He was exciting to watch, and played one of the most underrated playoff cycles of all time, in 2008. And he deserves a shot at our ROY team too.

Buddy Dial (1959) Buddy Dial could not possibly be more bored.

16 receptions, 428 yards (yards: #2 on team / #22 in NFL)
26.8 yards per catch (would have led NFL with seven more catches)
6 touchdowns (#5 in NFL)

If you were a Steelers fan before Chuck Noll arrived, you probably know Buddy Dial’s name. Buddy was a two-time Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh, who currently sits as the #2 player in NFL history for his 20.3 career yards per reception (fun fact: Jimmy Orr is #8). Originally drafted by the NY Giants, Dial was plucked off waivers by the Steelers two days before their opener, and teamed with Jimmy Orr and Bobby Layne to power the Steelers to their second straigth winning season. In his second season, with a full offseason in Pittsburgh, Dial finished #2 in the NFL in receiving yards, #1 in yards per catch, and #5 in touchdown receptions. If he’d have gotten a whole rookie offseason, one can only imagine how good that team could have been.

Also considered: Diontae Johnson (2019) Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Maybe giving photographers a nuclear side-eye was the reason Diontae had the drops last year. Just focus on the ball, man.

59 catches, 5 touchdown receptions (both #1 on Steelers)
680 receiving yards (#2 on Steelers)
12.4 yards per punt return (#1 in NFL), and 1 return TD
2nd team All Pro Kick/Punt Returner

Diontae Johnson had the drops as a second year man (fingers crossed for season #3). But his rookie year was pretty impressive. The numbers look okay, but don’t forget who his quarterbacks were in 2019 (Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges).

Antwaan Randle El (2002) Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images I tried to get rookie photos for every player, but none of them look as young as Antwaan Randle El. This looks like he’s gonna be late for the prom.

47 catches, 489 yards, 2 touchdowns
22.9 yards per kickoff return, with a 99 yard touchdown
1613 all-purpose yards (#7 in NFL)
7-8 in passing attempts, 90.1 QBR

Antwaan Randle El was really more of a return star than receiving star, but he was one of those all-purpose freaks as a rookie (and every other year, I guess). One quick thing to point out: Randle El threw more passes, and was more successful on them, than Kordell Stewart was as an all-purpose QB/WR combo player.

Antonio Brown (2010) Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images Hey look, it’s Antonio Brown back when he wasn’t an absolute doorknob.

16 catches, 164 yards, 0 touchdowns (regular season)
5 catches, 90 yards in playoffs — and two HUGE 3rd down conversions
89 yard kickoff return touchdown on first NFL touch

I know. I kind of resent him too now. And Brown’s rookie numbers are nothing (there’s a reason he didn’t make the All Rookie squad). I mention him because his playoff performances in 2010 were instrumental in sending the Steelers to Super Bowl XLV. His 58 yard helmet-catch on 3rd and 19 against Baltimore is one of my all-time favorite plays in Steelers history (the nerve of Ben Roethlisberger to throw that bomb with the season on the line, and the absurdity of Brown getting a two yard step on the Ravens CBs, and catching the thing...). Then his 3rd down conversion that sealed the win the following week against the Jets (again, what was Ben doing, throwing to that kid with the Super Bowl on the line? Un-freaking-believable). Too bad AB lost his damned mind. He was fun to root for as a Steeler.

Troy Edwards (1999) Troy Edwards or Aaron Neville — you be the judge.

61 catches (tied for team lead, Steelers rookie record for 20 years)
714 yards (lead Steelers)
5 touchdown catches (2nd on Steelers)
1182 all-purpose yards

Edwards was a disappiontment, but he looked like a legit player as a rookie. His 61 catches set a Steelers rookie record that stood until Chase Claypool broke it last season, and he led the team with 714 receiving yards. With second year man Hines Ward on the opposite side, and Jerome Bettis at his peak, you could be forgiven for assuming that the Steeleres offense was about to explode. Instead, it was all downhill for Edwards, who never caught 20 passes again in a Steelers jersey, and was shipped out of town after only three years.

Dave Smith (1970) Bad enough the Steelers dumped this guy, but then they gave his number to that Swann guy...

30 catches, 458 yards, 2 touchdowns (tied for team lead in catches)
87 yard catch (3rd longest in NFL)

Remember Ron Shanklin, fellow 1970 rookie? It must have felt like the Steelers were building a strong offense this year. We know about the Steelers drafting their defense one piece at a time (Mel Blount came this same season), but looking at the passing game the Steelers were assembling in 1970, it’s crazy that Terry Bradshaw (the weakest link in the rookie passing game) was the one that wound up a star.

Sam Boyd (1939) I like how both teams could wear their dark jerseys back then. Also, where are Sam Boyd’s blockers; he’s gonna get killed in about three seconds.

21 catches (#7 in NFL)
423 yards (#4 in NFL)
20.1 yards per catch (#2 in NFL — behind Don Hutson)

Sam Boyd goes back to the Pittsburgh Pirates days, which were not good days. The 1939 Pirates went 1-9-1, and their one win came against the Philadelphia Eagles, who also finished 1-9-1. The teams played their final two games against each other, three days apart, and split them. Both teams came in 0-8-1. Ugh.

Boyd looked pretty strong as a rookie, but then vanished. He was listed on the roster for three games (zero starts) in 1940, but made no appearances. Then he just disappeared.

Paul Moss & Ray Tesser (1933) I couldn’t even find a photo of Paul Moss

Moss - 13 catches, 283 yards (#1 in NFL), 2 touchdowns
Tessier - 14 catches, 282 yards (#2 in NFL), 0 touchdowns

This is the Steelers’ first season — I’m sorry, the Pirates’ first season. And it was a really different game. Eight different Pirates players threw at least three interceptions in 1933, as the team finished with three touchdown passes and 40 INTs. Yes, you read that right.

Tessier’s 14 catches finished fourth in the NFL, while Moss’s 13 finished fifth. And of course they finished 1-2 in receiving yards on the season. Neither had much of a career in Pittsburgh, though. Moss went and played for the St. Louis Gunners the next season, who only existed for three total games (those guys again!), before he retired at 23. Tessier played in a few games for the Pirates in 1934 before retiring at 22, without ever having caught a touchdown. This was the era of playing ball on the weekend, then going back to the factory on Monday. What a different world we live in today...

Moss’s two touchdowns were also the second highest total in football in 1933. There was a six-way tie for #1, with three scoring grabs. Among those six are two players with the best nicknames I’ve seen all day: Shipwreck Kelly (Brooklyn Dodgers) and future Steelers coach Johnny Blood (then playing for Green Bay — whose last name is actually McNally, but the box score just says “Johnny Blood”). In fact, if you look through the game-logs from this season, you’ll also encounter Rabbit Weller, Kink Richards, and Buckets Goldenberg. Seriously, Buckets! These days are amazing.

Importantly, the Pirates only scored eight touchdowns through the entire 1933 season. So maybe don’t hold Tessier too accountable for his zero scores. Yowza.

Next up: Tight Ends.

Podcast: Balancing the Steelers’ offensive and defensive production

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/24/2021 - 4:30am

The Oracle Dave Schofield shares his thoughts in the AM platform with the classic stats show with the Co-Editor of BTSC.

For an NFL team, having a healthy balance between offense and defense is crucial. Just how will the 2021 Steelers do just that? Thank goodness for the Stat Geek to break it all “dahn”. This is just one of the topics that will be discussed on the Thursday episode of the AM slate of the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Dave Schofield as he pulls out the Steelers slide rule and geeks out only like he can.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • The average age of the Steelers and how it affects success
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Pressley Harvin III still a work in progress as he starts his Steelers career

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 2:00pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a big legged punter in Pressley Harvin, but he is still a work in progress.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and especially their fan base, were extremely excited about the team’s 7th round pick when they selected Georgia Tech punter Pressley Harvin III. I know what you might be thinking, how can anyone be excited about a punter?

Easy.

Harvin isn’t your typical punter. He weighs between 250-260 pounds, has thrown 40 yard touchdown passes and squatted over 600 pounds while at Georgia Tech. Harvin has become a player to watch entering training camp, but that doesn’t mean he is a finished product. During mandatory minicamp special teams coordinator Danny Smith spoke with the media about Harvin. When asked about his strong leg, Smith made it a point to make media, and by proxy the fan base, know punting isn’t just about a strong leg.

“A strong leg isn’t just the answer,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of strong legs out there that don’t make it in this league. I call it, ‘You gotta have game.’ You gotta be able to pooch punt. You gotta be able to put the ball out of bounds. You gotta have a good get-off time. You gotta hold (for place kicks), in most cases. There’s a lot of factors involved and those are the kinds of things we’re working on.

“But we are very excited about him and very excited about working with him. We’ll see how it all unfolds.”

The big question on most fans’ minds is will Harvin be able to push Jordan Berry out the door and solidify himself as the Steelers’ punter for the next several years? One aspect of punting which has kept Berry around is how he holds for placekicker Chris Boswell. Believe it or not, Harvin didn’t do a lot of holding in college, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of performing the task.

“They had a situation at Georgia Tech that they used two kickers,” Smith explained. “It was much like a pitcher and a catcher, one had a holder that he liked and the other one had a holder that he liked, so you could call it part-time holding. When his guy kicked, he held. When the other guy kicked, the other guy held.

“So yes, he has experience holding. Yes, he’s quite capable. Yes, he has a lot to learn to perfect it.”

Of course Smith was asked about the Steelers potentially using Harvin’s skill set for fake punts, but his response certainly caught everyone off guard.

“The best thing we can do with this guy is, you know about the quarterback sneak play? You’re gonna see a punt-sneak play with this big dude,” special teams coordinator Danny Smith insisted. “That’s the first thing we started working on.”

This may not have been intentional, but after last season’s failures in short yardage situations, Smith didn’t just drive the knife into the back of Randy Fichtner’s offense, but twisted it too.

“Maybe he can get a yard.” Smith said.

Ouch.

Nonetheless, while the fan base is excited to see what Harvin can bring to the Steelers special teams, Smith is reminding everyone he is far from a finished product. But can he win the job? It will be a camp battle to watch.

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

The Steelers Trifecta: Berry, Boswell, and Brooks Jr.

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 12:30pm
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Day 3 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Jordan Berry, Chris Boswell, and Antoine Brooks

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

Jordan Berry Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Position: Punter
Age: 30
Year: 7
Height: 6’5”
Weight: 195
Drafted: UDFA 2015
College: Eastern Kentucky
Roster Outlook: Extremely Doubtful
Analysis:

After trying to rid themselves of Jordan Berry in 2020 by signing Dustin Colquitt, it appears the Steelers have found the guy to push the Australian punter off the roster. The Steelers spent their final 2021 draft pick on one of the best punting prospects since Daniel Sepulveda, and it likely means the end of the Jordan Berry punting era. He will get some chance to win the job, but collapsing year after year when the weather turns cold was likely the final nail in Berry’s NFL coffin.

Chris Boswell Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Position: Kicker
Age: 30
Year: 7
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 185
Drafted: UDFA 2014 (Houston Texans)
College: Rice
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

In the most simple of terms, Chris Boswell is the only kicker under contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s also one of the highest paid kickers in the sport, and has rebounded nicely after a putrid 2018 campaign and is once again one of the top players at his position. I anticipate Boswell will be knocking through game winning kicks again in 2021. The only way he isn't the guy is if he completely fell off a cliff or were to get injured. This is one position you can already pencil in for Week 1.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Safety
Age: 23
Year: 2
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 223
Drafted: 2020, Round 6, Pick 198
College: Maryland
Roster Outlook: Likely
Analysis:

By all reports, Antoine Brooks was a stand out at both OTA’s and Steelers minicamp. Some reporters even speculated if he will be the guy to replace Mike Hilton in the slot. His willingness to get his nose dirty and lay hits on people have been apparent and a trait which will endear him to the Steelers coaching staff. Even if he is not the Steelers slot corner, he is almost certainly the primary backup at strong safety and will be called upon to play a big role in special teams. Brooks Jr. will be asked to take a step in 2021 and early tests have shown he is up to the task.

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

3 Steelers news stories which would be acceptable over the next month

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 11:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With Steelers players scattered to the wind until the end of July, there is very little in the news department which would make Steeler fans happy.

It’s about as ‘off’ as the NFL offseason gets. The Pittsburgh Steelers has concluded mandatory minicamp and will not reconvene until the end of July to kick off training camp for the 2021 NFL season. Since there isn’t much going on with the team at this time, Steelers fans realize it’s not a bad thing if the Steelers aren’t at the top of the news cycle.

While we here at Behind The Steel Curtain will continue to bring you content as we always do, stories coming in the ‘breaking news’ department will be very few and far between. With this in mind, there are three examples of a breaking news story which could be seen at Behind The Steel Curtain which would be a good thing for the Steelers, most of which are to be expected in the near future.

The announcement for the Steelers 2021 training camp

The Pittsburgh Steelers are permitted to begin their training camp for the 2021 season as early as July 21, 2021. Because they are scheduled to play Dallas in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday, August 5, the Steelers and Cowboys gets to begin training camp before the rest of the NFL.

While this is a date we can pretty much lock into our calendars, it still has not been officially announced by the Steelers. More concerning, the location for training camp has not been set and is likely what is holding up the announcement.

For more than 50 years the Pittsburgh Steelers held training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into everything for the 2020 season and the Steelers were not permitted to go on the road for training camp and had to hold their practices at either the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex or Heinz Field. The Steelers chose to go with their home stadium as they worked in preparation for the 2020 season without any preseason games. So will the Steelers return to Latrobe in 2021 or will they be at Heinz Field for a second-straight season?

Although some NFL teams have announced their training camp schedules and locations, the Steelers have not. In fact, it’s quite surprising the announcement has yet to come now that it is less than a month away. I don’t know if it’s Covid protocols or other things which need cleared through the NFL, but hopefully Steelers fans will soon be receiving the news of when and where the Steelers will reconvene for their 2021 training camp.

The Signing of Kendrick Green

The Pittsburgh Steelers had nine draft picks in the 2021 NFL draft. The signing of eight of those draft picks came relatively close together as some signings were announced jointly. But after several weeks of silence, only eight of the nine players have officially inked their rookie contract.

The lone player remaining who is not under contract is Steelers third-round draft pick Kendrick Green. There are multiple reasons why Green may have not signed his contract yet, but the most likely may be because of the lack of other third-round picks working out their deals throughout the NFL.

Regardless of the reason, the news of a Kendrick Green rookie contract should be coming at any moment. With so much of rookies contracts already settled based on draft position, it’s highly unlikely the Steelers would be faced with a hold out situation.

The signing of a Free Agent

While the first two items on this list are necessary before training camp begins, this final one is not. The Pittsburgh Steelers may very well choose to go into training camp with the exact same 90 players they had at minicamp. But with players like Malik Hooker and Trai Turner coming for visits over the last couple weeks, the Steelers are showing they could be in the market to add another player before training camp.

For those wondering about the salary cap, the Steelers have a little over $7 million in cap space at the moment. With expenses such as the 52nd and 53rd contract when the Steelers cut down the roster, signing of the practice squad which may be 16 players this season, and having money to do business throughout the NFL season, the Steelers might already be a little short of their regular-season goal at this time. Regardless, the Steelers could go ahead and make a move knowing that they will have to make a salary adjustment, likely in the form of a restructure or extension, in order to the be where they want to be in regards to the salary cap come September 1.

If the Steelers do choose to make a move at this time, the biggest question would be at which position. Depending on the size of the contract of any player they would sign, the Steelers are limited with the number of moves they could make and therefore must be very specific with positions they would want to address.

So there are three stories which could, and in two cases should, be coming in the next several weeks. Otherwise, we truly are in the ‘no news is good news’ portion of the 2021 NFL offseason.

If you are still looking to get your Steelers fix until the Steelers reconvene, here are the latest installments of two series we are running between now and training camp...

30 Scenarios in 30 days:

Steelers Trifecta:

Podcast: Who could be the Steelers 2021 training camp darling?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 11:00am

In the spirit of brotherly love, siblings Dave and Rich Schofield break down all things surrounding the black-and-gold.

Every preseason, a player emerges from the shadows and becomes the black-and-gold’s training camp darling. Who will it be this time around? 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.

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
  • Who could be the Steelers 2021 training camp darling?

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

What does it say about the Steelers if Alejandro Villanueva has a great 2021 season?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 10:00am
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

If Big Al has a big year in the Crab Cake Capital, what does it say about the Steelers decision to let him go and their ability to get the most out of their players?

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a fair amount of changes to theit roster from 2020 to the 2021 NFL season. With more than 20 free agents once the new league year hit in March, the Steelers had to decide who they would try to bring back and who they would let go.

One of the players many Steelers fans thought it was time to move on from was long-time starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. Villanueva took over the starting role at left tackle in the middle of the 2015 season and has started every game for the Steelers since. Many believe his play had declined over the last couple of years, but Villanueva was still the highest ranked offensive lineman on the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020 according to Pro Football Focus. In fact, Villanueva was the second-highest ranked offensive player for the Steelers of anyone who met the minimum snap requirements, only behind Chase Claypool.

The Steelers chose to move on from Villanueva this offseason, but there were reports the Steelers were still in talks to bring their left tackle back to Pittsburgh on another contract. Ultimately, Villanueva signed with the Baltimore Ravens just after the deadline to count towards the compensatory formula for the 2022 NFL draft. Villanueva’s two year, $14 million contract is set to be his largest per season of his career.

When hearing about Villanueva‘s situation in Baltimore, many Steelers fans have a response of “good luck.” Expected to make the change from left tackle to right tackle, Villanueva is known much more is a pass blocker but is moving into a run-first offense. Some believe this is a recipe for disaster for the Ravens, but only time will tell.

But what if it is it?

What if Villanueva thrives in Baltimore? What if he fits in well at right tackle and becomes a run blocker unlike anything Steelers fans had seen in Pittsburgh?

If Villanueva can get back to his Pro Bowl form from several seasons ago, it won’t look good for the Steelers organization. Whether it be the fact the Steelers let Villanueva go to soon, or may have not properly used him to his strengths, seeing Big Al thrive on a different team would be a hard pill to swallow.

Of course, it may not be the best idea to be too difficult on the Steelers offensive line as former coach Shaun Sarrett was let go in the offseason and Adrian Klemm was promoted to take over the job. If Villanueva wasn’t properly utilized by the Steelers, it’s more on the old regime than the current one.

Additionally, there may have been some truth behind the Steelers wanting to keep yVillanueva in 2021. Perhaps Big Al took the opportunity to get as much money as he could in his limited years he has remaining in the NFL and simply didn’t like what the Steelers had to offer.

On the other hand, perhaps the Steelers had no interest in Villanueva. Perhaps they knew he was moving past his prime and could not adapt his run blocking to best fit what the Steelers were hoping to improve in 2021. If this is the case, then a division rival just completely overpaid for a former Steeler who, as history often indicates, doesn’t live up to the production they saw in the Steel City.

Whichever way it works out, only time will tell. But add in that Villanueva will now have to face T.J. Watt twice in 2021 should he be the starting right tackle of the Baltimore Ravens, we should be able to see exactly what Steelers let walk out the door.

T.J. Watt Sack Party 3: Welcome to the Machine

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 8:30am
Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Looking at every sack from T.J. Watt’s 2020 season.

T.J. Watt has 49.5 sacks in his 4 year long career, that’s the 6th most of any player since 1982 when sacks started being tracked reliably. The players around him on that list are hall of fame level pass rushers. During that time the Steelers have led the NFL in sacks every season. Which brings up one of the topics I wanted to cover in this film series, how much of T.J. Watt’s production is based on the team he’s on, and how much of the team success is based on having T.J. Watt.

We’re now in Week 5, when we get T.J. Watt’s first “mop-up” sack, where he did not create any pressure, but recorded the sack.

Week 5, first quarter, 13:53. T.J. Watt is the edge defender to the top of the screen.

The Steelers start with both Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds up closer to the line of scrimmage in a split alignment. Right before the snap both safeties move. The Steelers are in cover-1, they just gave a little disguise to start the play. The coverage is solid, no one is really open when Carson Wentz bails on the pocket. The pass rush, as usual was the star of the play.

Let’s start with Devin Bush. In part 2 I talked about the Steelers use of “hug blitzes”, and on this play you can see Devin Bush line up like he is blitzing, but right across from the running back.

This is a hug blitz look, but Devin Bush isn’t hug blitzing, he is straight up blitzing. Terrell Edmunds started the play looking like he had a deep half assignment, but he’s covering the running back, and is coming up to hug blitz on the play when the back realizes what is going on and gets back to engage him. The back is completely neutralized, and the stunt Devin Bush runs with Cameron Heyward helps create pressure that drives Carson Wentz from the pocket.

T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt also run a stunt, but the blockers pick it up, and Watt is a non-factor, until Wentz leaves the pocket. This sack is created by the pass rush scheme and both Bud Dupree and Cameron Heyward crushing the pocket. T.J. Watt is the beneficiary of the Steelers pass rush machine on this play.

Week 7, third quarter, 14:55. T.J. Watt is the edge rusher to the bottom of the screen.

We’re going to look at everything but T.J. Watt first. This is a max-protect pass play, a common one the Steelers faced, with two routes attacking the free safety by forcing him to either cover deep or underneath and leaving the other receiver 1v1. Interesting on this one you can see Joe Haden signaling for a switch with Minkah Fitzpatrick when his receiver cuts inside (a common tactic for the Steelers because of how good Fitzpatrick is at it) but Fitzpatrick is committed to the deep route because teams had been taking that shot a lot in recent games. If Tannehill has time, he has an open receiver.

To cover the front 7, first look at the pre-snap motion and the Steelers reaction.

Edmunds follows the tight end and returns with him. Basic man defense, and that’s good for the play they want to run. But watch how Edmunds and the linebackers handle the actual play.

In the actual play they all read Derrick Henry to start, then pick up their players once they see Tannehill keep the ball. Edmunds follows Henry out to the right, Vince Williams picks up the fullback, and Robert Spillane sees the tight end blocking and rushes in an open gap. The level of execution from the inside linebackers and Terrell Edmunds was a strength on the defense, one that overcame what on paper looked like a weak linebacker room after Devin Bush went down. When I talk about the Steeler’s pass rush machine, coaching and execution behind the D-line is a huge part of it.

As for the rush, the Steelers rush slanted to the strong side (right side of screen), with Bud Dupree containing the back side. The Titans do a good job blocking into the slant, watch Cameron Heyward get driven to the right side of the pocket, but Bud Dupree is driving his blocker into the pocket again, and even if T.J. Watt doesn’t get through, Tannehill is about to have Bud Dupree in his face and Robert Spillane coming free behind him.

T.J. Watt does get through.

That’s ridiculous. Watt is engaging with the right tackle when he sees Derrick Henry coming to help, he switches strategies, moving his hands to get one on Henry and the other attacks the tackle’s right elbow.

There’s a reason lineman are taught to keep their elbow’s tight to their body, a shot to the elbow pulls your torso and is an easy way to get your opponent off balance. The tackle’s arm isn’t out wide, but it is extended, and Watt is cutting inside, so he can attack that elbow and the result is a lineman on the ground and T.J. Watt taking a swing at the football before recording a sack.

T.J. Watt shows once again his natural feel for rushing the passer, and the time it takes him to see what is happening, adjust to it, and beat it is incredible. In real time it’s hard to even see what he is doing at times. I love Bud Dupree, he’s my favorite post-2010 Steeler, (seriously, look at him dominate the fullback and tight end in the above clip) but he’s not doing what T.J. Watt does. Cameron Heyward is frequently considered a top-3 Defensive tackle in the NFL, and he can’t do it like that. T.J. Watt is a special player, and while he benefits a good deal from playing on the Steelers, that doesn’t take away from how impressive he can be all by himself.

Previously on the T.J. Watt Sack Party:

30 Scenarios in 30 Days: The Steelers will have two receivers top 1,000 yards

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 7:15am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: The Pittsburgh Steelers will have two receivers top 1,000 yards in 2021

2020 Receiving Totals:
Diontae Johnson - 923 yards
Chase Claypool - 873 yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster - 831 yards

Why it will happen: The Steelers’ offense was very pass-heavy in 2020, and there is a good chance the team will be doing plenty of throwing in 2021 under Matt Canada. The hope is there will be more balance between the pass and run, but if anything the addition of Najee Harris should help open up the receiving options down the field. Obviously, this would help for some bigger plays form the aerial attack, and ultimately having two players reach the 1,000 yard plateau. Last season the Steelers were close to having three players reach that mark, and when you throw in an extra game you have to like the team’s chances of having at least two-thirds of the trio above reach 1,000 yards.

Why it won’t happen: The case made for why the Steelers won’t have two receivers top 1,000 yards is easy. There is only one football to go around. Last season proved Ben Roethlisberger is able to spread the ball around, and in Matt Canada’s offense they will want to find mismatches and exploit them. This could lead to another season with a very even approach to the passing attack. Also, if the team is able to run the ball effectively, it could result in the passing numbers dipping. It might be a good thing for the offense, and the team, but a bad thing for the receivers looking to hit this career milestone.

Prediction: I absolutely think this scenario will take place in 2021 for multiple reasons. First, the presence of a running game will greatly help the passing attack. Second, Matt Canada’s creative schemes will help open up receivers and create mismatches for the receivers. Third, you can expect receiver Chase Claypool to take a big step forward in his second year, and this will help open up JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. Now, which two receivers do I predict to crack 1,000 yards? I feel Claypool is a big play machine in the making, so I’ll take Claypool and Diontae Johnson. Smith-Schuster could be close, but in the early portions of the season I expect defenses focusing on taking him out of the game early.

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

Why is it only controversial to talk about certain ex-Steelers players?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never okay to talk about former Steelers players. Players from other teams, on the other hand? Bring it on!

“Do we have to keep talking about that one player that left years ago and has been nothing but a jerk since?”

That’s what I get every time I write an article about such a player. It can be former Steelers receiver Antonio Brown; it can be former Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell; it can be former...well, those are pretty much the only two former Steelers players that are taboo subjects to write about.

I’m sure there are more, but I just never truly know until someone informs me. This usually occurs after an article is written, edited and then published. After putting in all of that work (usually, about 22 minutes), I’m not about to press delete.

What’s wrong with an article or two about a former Steelers’ player, especially when that player makes news, like Bell did last week when he Tweeted about how he’d never play for Chiefs head coach, Andy Reid ever again?

Isn’t that worth talking about? After all, can you imagine if the Steelers had paid Bell the money he wanted or even the money they wanted? Both deals would have been disasters for Pittsburgh. Talk about dodging a bullet. It’s like when you break up with someone and kind of regret it, only to find out that your instincts were correct all along. Sure, it may have been a few years ago. True, you have moved on to other relationships (in the Steelers case, they drafted Najee Harris), but wouldn’t you want to talk about your ex with your friends?

Anyway, ex-players and lovers elicit emotions in us that can’t be duplicated in any other kinds of relationships. Therefore, it’s perfectly healthy to talk about them.

I wish Steelers fans felt the same way about every free agent or disgruntled player from another team. They certainly never have a problem talking about those people. “Would it make sense to sign Jameis Winston?” I’m still in therapy over the Steelers’ 2020 offseason. Heck, even when it involves players that have about as much chance of winding up in Pittsburgh as I do of marrying Rihanna—Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt are both great examples—we certainly never tire of talking about the possibilities.

Why is that? Why is it perfectly fine to talk about those players but not THOSE other players? Actually, I have noticed something. It’s kind of okay to talk about former Steelers’ players in the context of reacquiring their services. It’s never a problem talking about Bell under that scenario. Even Mr. #Jessecaughtit, himself, former Steelers tight end, Jesse James, is often brought up when talking about the team’s tight end depth.

Where is the line when talking about former Steelers players? Does it stop with Bell and Brown, or will other old stars, like Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert, soon be looped into that mix? After all, both are probably too old and injury-prone for the Steelers’ to even think about re-signing them for depth.

Can we just move on from them and focus on the players that are already here?

Podcast: Making sense of the Steelers free agent visits this offseason 

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/23/2021 - 4:30am

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers welcomed three notable free agents to visit the team facilities this offseason, but Karl Joseph, Malik Hooker and Trai Turner left the Burgh without a deal. What can you make out of these visits? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC co-editor Jeff Hartman for this and more on “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Note
  • The Live Mail Bag
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

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