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30 Scenarios in 30 Days: The Steelers will set a franchise record for average yards per punt

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 07/04/2021 - 8:30am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

Let’s get to the scenario...

Scenario: The Steelers will set a franchise record for average yards per punt

Steelers average yards per punt:

2020: 45.06
2019: 45.51
2018: 43.44
2017: 43.17

Franchise record:
1961: 47.16

Why it will happen: Much to the chagrin of BTSC senior editor Jeff Hartman, the Steelers punting average over the last two years have been some of the best the franchise has ever seen. In fact, the Steelers have only averaged over 45 yards per punt six times since 1939, and two of them were the last two seasons. The next most recent year was in 1999. If Jordan Berry was kicking with that distance, Pressley Harvin should have to do better in order to win the job. For this reason, the average could go up to where it surpasses the 47.16 yards per punt average.

Why it won’t happen: While yards per punt is something you want in most situations, when operating with less room it is much more important to sacrifice distance in an attempt to pin the opponent inside the 10 yard line. If the Steelers offense can move the ball to midfield on most drives, distance won’t be the most important factor in the success for the Steelers punter in 2021.

Prediction: First of all, I don’t know if it matters which player ultimately wins the job when it comes to this record. Last year for Georgia Tech, Pressley Harvin averaged 48.0 yards per punt. If the Steelers can finish off drives with points rather than settling for short punts once they begin moving the ball, whoever is punting for the Steelers will have a chance for more yardage. If that player happens to be Jordan Berry, I think he will need to punt better than he ever has in order to win the job which could put him up close to the 48-yard range. Therefore, I think there is a good possibility this is a record which could be broken by the 2021 Steelers.

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.

ESPN Roster Rankings have the Steelers as a middle of the road team

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 07/04/2021 - 7:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Some, like the people at ESPN, see the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers as a team in transition...

At this point on the NFL calendar it becomes painfully clear news is scarce. If news hits the wire at any point you can chalk it up to one of the following events:

  • Contract signed
  • Off field issues
  • Injuries

Outside of those events, media outlets have to create their own news. They have to find a way to keep fans engaged, and the NFL is king at doing just that throughout the longest offseason of any major sport.

Rankings are a great way to get fans’ engaged in football, even with training camps still a month away. Most fans know these rankings are meaningless, but they create discussion and debate among fans of all 32 teams.

Recently, ESPN and Pro Football Focus (PFF) delivered one of their rankings, and it ranked all 32 teams’ rosters heading into the 2021 season. Before we get to the rankings, let’s take a look at the criteria/purpose of these rankings.

With the 2021 draft and free agency behind us, we’re breaking down each team’s roster using the PFF database, with an eye toward the projected starters. We looked at both the PFF grades from the 2020 season — a number included for every projected starter — and a more comprehensive look at each player’s career using both PFF grades and statistics.

Now onto the rankings. I decided to show the full 32 team rankings, instead of the Top 10 and wherever the Steelers are ranked. I wanted you, the reader, to see exactly who these outlets feel are better, and worse, than the Steelers when it comes to roster strength.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Cleveland Browns
4. Buffalo Bills
5. Baltimore Ravens
6. Green Bay Packers
7. Los Angeles Rams
8. Dallas Cowboys
9. Minnesota Vikings
10. Denver Broncos
11. San Francisco 49ers
12. Washington Football Team
13. Tennessee Titans
14. Indianapolis Colts
15. Seattle Seahawks

16. Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest strength: There is little doubting that Pittsburgh will once again be able to generate pressure at one of the highest rates in the NFL in 2021. The Steelers led the NFL in team pressure rate last season (45.1%), and they were the only defense in the league that had multiple players generate at least 60 pressures. Each of T.J. Watt (73), Stephon Tuitt (71) and Cameron Heyward (62) reached that threshold. Opposing offenses don’t have enough resources to take all of them out of the game with extra attention.

Biggest weakness: The nicest thing that you can say about the Steelers’ offensive line is that it has potential. Pittsburgh will be relying heavily on inexperience up front. Chukwuma Okorafor, Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green and Zach Banner have played a combined 248 NFL snaps at the positions they’re projected to start the season at. David DeCastro’s recent release following a career-low PFF grade in 2020 and the signing of Trai Turner just add more moving parts for first-year offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. Multiple players will have to develop quickly for this unit not to stand out as a weakness this season.

X factor for 2021: The offseason losses of Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton at cornerback place more pressure on Cameron Sutton to be an integral part of this secondary this season. Sutton has ranked in the 94th percentile among all cornerbacks since 2019 in coverage grade on a per-snap basis, though much of that grade stems from his work in the slot as the fourth cornerback in dime packages. Suddenly, he’s the No. 2 behind Joe Haden and the favorite to start the season on the boundary.

17. New Orleans Saints
18. New England Patriots
19. New York Giants
20. Los Angeles Chargers
21. Arizona Cardinals
22. Miami Dolphins
23. Chicago Bears
24. Cincinnati Bengals
25. Atlanta Falcons
26. Las Vegas Raiders
27. Carolina Panthers
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
29. Philadelphia Eagles
30. New York Jets
31. Detroit Lions
32. Houston Texans

With all of that said, what do you think of the Steelers’ position on the rankings? Are they ranked too high? Not high enough? Do you agree with what was said about the black and gold? Let us know in the comment section below, and 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.

Greg Cosell doesn’t foresee doomsday happening for the Steelers in 2021

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 07/04/2021 - 6:00am
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Some are spelling doom for the 2021 Steelers, but NFL analyst Greg Cosell doesn’t see it that way.

If you are someone who has been paying attention to the national media since the 2020 NFL season came to its conclusion, you have heard what has been said about the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers.

They are done.

When you had the retirements of players like Maurkice Pouncey, free agents like Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Matt Feiler leave, and the release of Steven Nelson and David DeCastro...it’s only gotten worse.

But not all national media are believing the Steelers are done. Some, like ESPN NFL analyst Greg Cosell, think there is a shift happening in Pittsburgh. And that isn’t always a bad thing. Recently, Cosell joined Ross Tucker to talk about the AFC North, and of course he was asked about the Steelers’ offensive line.

“That’s going to be interesting. The OLine, right now, everybody is going to say it is no good, but we don’t know if it is no good. It is a work in progress, and we don’t know where it will end up. That’s the point.”

Everyone wants to project the offensive line as a glaring weakness on the Steelers’ roster, but the fact is the offense under Matt Canada could be changing drastically. Cosell points to the 2021 NFL Draft class as a sign this could be happening right before our very eyes.

“I would think that with the addition of Najee Harris, as the first round pick, the addition of Pat Freiermuth as the second round pick, when you already have Eric Ebron, that you could see a change in their overall offensive approach.

“You just can’t ask Ben Roethlisberger at this point of his career, behind a totally unproven offensive line, to drop back 40-45 times by choice.”

The crux of his narrative is based around Harris. Harris isn’t a change of pace back who can thrive off a handful of carries a game. He is a grinder who needs to get into the rhythm of a game.

“You don’t draft Najee Harris to give him the ball 9 times a game. He is not that kind of back. He is a foundation/feature back. He is a grinder and wears people out.

“You draft him to give him the football, and I would think the foundation of the offense will change.” Cosell said.

As for the Steelers’ strength, it is found with the team’s defense, and Cosell sees another great year for the Pittsburgh defense, even without names like Dupree, Hilton and Nelson on the roster.

“I think they are still really good. Obviously they lost Bud Dupree, but I think they feel really good about Alex Highsmith, who played meaningful snaps a year ago. He will help replace Dupree barring anything unforeseen. They are really good in the secondary. The corner position opposite [Joe] Haden is probably a camp battle.

“They’ll be good on defense, they have a lot of good players on defense. They’ve got [Minkah] Fitzpatrick, they’ve got [T.J.] Watt, [Cam] Heyward, [Stephon] Tuitt and [Devin] Bush will be back. They have a lot of quality players on the defensive side of the ball.”

When you listen to someone who doesn’t just cover the Steelers, but the NFL as a whole talk about the Steelers and how they could look different, but be really good, it is refreshing. Are the Steelers a perfect/finished product? Even the most die hard, black and gold blooded fan would know that isn’t the case.

But not all hope is lost, and Cosell points at some of the major points as to why doomsday isn’t on the horizon for the Steelers in 2021. Check out the podcast below and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.

(Editor’s Note: The Steelers portion of the podcast starts at the 19:00 mark.)

Podcast: The Steelers put the 70s in cruise against dudes from the District

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sun, 07/04/2021 - 5:30am

Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo take a look back into Steelers lore in the BTSC family of podcasts. Check out the newest offering of the “Steelers Retro Show“.

Our journey in the BTSC Delorean to Steeler yesteryear begins in a time when 10 starring Bo Derek was perfect at the box office and Heartache Tonightby The Eagles was the hottest song on the radio. Meanwhile, the Steelers were at their peak of dominance in their greatest decade.

Welcome to November 4, 1979.

Flash back to an awesome classic on the Steelers Retro Show and join BTSC’s Tony Defeo and Bryan Anthony Davis as they go back in time and relive another memorable game. This time it’s the Steelers hosting the Redskins at Three Rivers Stadium.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • What was happenin’ in 1979
  • Joe Theisman, John Riggins and a solid defense travel to Three Rivers
  • and MUCH MORE!

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Saturday Night Open Thread: July Long Weekend Edition

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 6:00pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Time for another Saturday night spent with fellow members of Steelers Nation!

Hola amigos! It seems that Canuck has headed to parts unknown this weekend, and I, Toronto Steeler Fan, am pinch-hitting. I hope you are all enjoying the long weekend, both in the USA and in Canada.

Here we go:

1. Armchair GM question No. 1: You are the GM of the Pittsburgh Steelers. David DeCastro shows up after the offseason for OTAs and has an ankle problem (bone spurs, apparently). It may need surgery to correct, and he will likely miss most or all of pre-season and maybe even part of the regular season.

What do you do: put him on IR or release him?

2. Armchair GM question No. 2: As it currently stands, T.J. Watt will be playing on his fifth-year option this season. With a lot of cap room in 2022 and beyond, and given his standing on the team as an expected cornerstone for the next several years, the team will do everything it can to come to a long-term deal with him before the season starts.

What do you think such a contract will look like? Number of years, total contract value, and guaranteed amount?

3. Armchair GM question #3: You are the GM of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The phone rings and it’s the GM of the New England Patriots*. He is offering up Chase Winovich in a trade.

What are you willing to offer him in exchange? In an apparently unrelated occurrence, you started smelling smoke when you picked up the phone.

4. Obligatory music question: You are an intelligence officer (with a specialty in psychological operations) in the employ of a hostile foreign power and you are holding Les Norton captive. Your instructions are to drive him insane, and you have decided to do so by exposing him to a single piece of music played over and over again until he goes nuts. Time is of the essence.

What piece of music are you going to play?

5. And finally, it is of course the Independence Day long weekend in the United States, and a roughly equivalent long weekend here in Canada. Do you have any special plans?

Tre Norwood is embracing the “Swiss Army Knife” title with the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 2:00pm
Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 7th round pick is planning on utilizing his versatility to improve his chances of making the roster in 2021.

The term “Swiss Army Knife” has gone from a noun, a physical object, to and adjective used to describe someone who can do a lot of things. This has even bled into the sport of football, and is a term Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin loves to use when describing players.

The latest player to be given the distinction of a “Swiss Army Knife” is the team’s 7th round draft pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Tre Norwood.

Norwood, who comes to Pittsburgh via the Oklahoma Sooners, can play both cornerback and safety, and his versatility is something which he takes a serious amount of pride in.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Norwood told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “That is one of the main things I have always prided myself on in college. First, it’s the mental aspect of understanding every position in the back end, what is going on there. Just being able to have the ability and mental capability to not only go out there and play the positions, but do it at a high level, be productive, and contribute to the team is something I take huge pride in and I will continue to take pride in.

“I feel like it helps me a lot that I am not a one-dimensional guy. Any position on the back end I can play and do it at a high level. Any position I need to play on the back end to help the team get to the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl, that is what I am there for.”

It seems fitting Norwood is this type of player, especially as the Steelers’ current jack of all trades, Cam Sutton, just received a nice new contract with a bigger role within Keith Butler’s unit. Sutton is another player who could do it all in the back end, and the question is whether Norwood could fill Sutton’s vacated role? It certainly won’t be easy, but Norwood doesn’t consider the job of knowing all of the secondary positions as difficult.

“I don’t look at it as challenging,” said Norwood. “It’s something I intentionally wanted to do when I got to college. Once I had the opportunity to do it, I took pride in it. I look at it as more opportunity. I am blessed to be able to do that, to be able to move around on the back end and play all of the positions.”

The potential of Norwood is tantalizing, but fans should also remember Norwood was drafted in the final round of the draft for a reason. Norwood will have to prove a lot to just make the team as the preseasons comes to a close, let alone have any type of role with the team outside of special teams.

It is easy to fall in love with draft picks, but the odds of Norwood stepping into the organization and getting a role early are not in his favor. It doesn’t mean it can’t happen, but it is unlikely in 2021. In the meantime, Norwood will have to earn a roster spot, even if it is just on special teams, and continue to develop his game.

Doing the same thing Sutton did before him...

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

The Steelers Trifecta: Haeg, Harris, and Harvin III

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 12:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Day 13 of the Steelers Trifecta! Featuring Joe Haeg, Najee Harris, and Pressley Harvin III

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:

Joe Haeg Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Position: Tackle
Age: 27
Year: 6
Height: 6’6”
Weight: 298
Drafted: Round 5, Pick 155, 2016 (Colts)
College: North Dakota State
Roster Outlook: Fairy likely
Analysis:

This Pittsburgh Steelers brought in Joe Haeg as a swing tackle and primary backup to both Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner. His versatility and experience will make him a hard out for this coaching staff so expect him to hang around. He struggled as a member of the Buccaneers last year but has shown signs of success as a swing tackle in Indianapolis. Haeg also counts toward the comp pick formula so I wouldn’t expect him to play much if the Steelers can help it so thy can possibly recoup a sixth-round pick.

Najee Harris Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Running Back
Age: 23
Year: 1
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 230
Drafted: Round 1, Pick 24, 2021
College: Alabama
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

In the dog days of the football offseason, some reporters have gotten into the most likely MVP candidate for every NFL team and an overwhelming amount of reporters picked Harris as the Steelers MVP candidate. If you couldn't tell this rookie has a lot of pressure on him but also maintains a level head and a ton of skill. Harris should revolutionize the Steelers backfield and return this team to rushing dominance it once had.

Pressley Harvin III Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Punter
Age: 22
Year: 1
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 255
Drafted: Round 7, Pick 254, 2021
College: Georgia Tech
Roster Outlook: Soft Lock
Analysis:

Pressley Harvin III is one of the best punting prospects to come out of college in some time. His unusually large size and the fact he is an African-American Punter makes PH3 a model smashing athlete. It also made him a local legend at Georgia Tech where he is beloved by the fan base. If Harvin can beat out the ever withstanding Jordan Berry, I am confident he will endear himself to Steelers fan much like he did in college. By all means Harvin III has the skill to be one of the best punters in the game as a rookie, and might even be viewed as a draft steal when everything is said and done.

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.

What is the most important element to a successful running game?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 11:30am
Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

There are several factors which help determine if a team is successful running the ball in the NFL.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were last in the NFL in rushing in 2020.

Ouch.

As unpleasant as it is to bring up the subject, ignoring the problem does not help in overcoming it. The Pittsburgh Steelers struggled with running the ball last season and need to make vast improvements for 2021. One obvious step was using their first-round draft pick on Najee Harris in hopes that it more prolific runner will ease some of the stress on the Steelers ability to run the ball.

But is having an improvement at running back the most important thing to improving the run game?

Here are three different elements of the run game which helps determine its success.

The Scheme

One of the main elements in being able to run the football at the professional level is play design. With some of the greatest athletes in the world lining up on both sides of the ball, simply thinking one team will constantly be better than the other could spell a recipe for disaster. Being able to disguise your intentions on each play keeps the defense from simply sending more personnel to the right spot than what a team can handle. Even tipping your hand to show that you are running the football allows the defense to act accordingly and throw everything they can to stop it.

When it comes to scheme in the running game, it can allow players who may not be as strong completely across-the-board to have more success if the scheme is effective. If the scheme is very vanilla and an original, even having superior players can greatly diminish the success of a team’s ability to run the ball.

The Blocking

After drafting up a good game plan to be able to run the ball, players who aren’t actually touching the pigskin have to come through and do their job in order to have success. If one or two players are giving a free shot at the runner in the backfield, it’s hard for him to continually turn nothing into something. Therefore, the ability of players to make quality blocks in the running game can greatly improve the results. If a running back isn’t getting touched until they are three yards downfield, they will continue to be able to churn out yards. But if a running back is constantly running for his life five yards in the backfield, it’s difficult for him to continually make plays.

I’ve said this for some time, dating back to my days coaching high school football: A good offensive line can make an average running back look good, but a bad offensive line can make a good running back look average or worse.

The Runner

A great play could be called. The offensive line could all make fantastic blocks. But if the running back, or whatever other position could be handed the ball, doesn’t do their part it’s all a moot point. The player has to be able to read the blocks to make sure they are not simply running directly into where the defender is being pushed. There are times when players have to see the opening and hit the proper lane, or cut back based on adjustments that have to be made in play due to what the defense is trying to do. Additionally, the player must hold onto the ball first and foremost.

Believe it or not, I’ve seen good play calls and good blocking by an offensive line only to see the runner pile straight into the back of his own player.

So those are the three major elements of the running game and how they work together for success. Before looking at which one may be the most successful, let’s look at a scenario for the Pittsburgh Steelers from the 2020 season:

In Week 1, Benny Snell Jr rushed for over 100 yards on 19 carries against the New York Giants. Was the success running the football that day based on his ability as a runner, the blocking of the offensive line, or the fact the Steelers had yet to put any of their offensive scheme on tape for other teams to try to come up with ways to stop it? I only ask this question because it does help to think of examples before determining which element is more important.

So now it’s your turn. What element of the running game do you think is the most important in it being successful? Make sure you vote in the poll and leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Podcast: Why the Kevin Dotson rumors?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 07/03/2021 - 11:00am

There is plenty to discuss on the latest episode of the popular podcast Steelers Six Pack w/ Tony.

Is Kevin Dotson not taking his conditioning seriously, as a recent rumor suggests? That’s immaterial, really. The real question is, why is someone in the Steelers organization likely unsatisfied with the promising young left guard? I will cover that topic and more on this episode of Steelers Friday Night Six Pack! Join Tony Defeo on those those subjects, engaging in Pittsburgh pro football talk and much, much more.

Check out the rundown of the show below, and be sure to comment what you think in the comment section.

  • Steelers News and Notes
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out the YouTube clip here, and be sure to subscribe to our channel by clicking HERE:

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:

The Steelers defense is replacing from within in 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s get to the scenario...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what changed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does this all add up to?

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

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

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

And in 2021? Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

No pressure, kid. Go Steelers.

A stream of consciousness Steelers article

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

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

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

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

—Is it the depth?

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

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

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

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

—Same for late Marty Schottenheimer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rules are still the same...

Quick rundown of the ground rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLB/EDGE
CB
Offensive Line

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

Najee Harris or Kendrick Green

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

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

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

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

Stay safe out there!

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

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Steelers Trifecta: Gilbert III, Green, Haden

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

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

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

Ulysees Gilbert III Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Age

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

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

Position

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

Coaching

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

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

Contract

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

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

Podcast: Ranking the Steelers’ Rookies in order of importance

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

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

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

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

Check out the rundown of the show:

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

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

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

Part 1:

Part 2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

@andrewbooth21 pic.twitter.com/fvJeyiQhFH

— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 11, 2020

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

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

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

— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Booth is the far right corner on this one.

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

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

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

NFL Comparison: Marlon Humphrey

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

How would he fit with the Steelers?

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

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

Tre Norwood's NFL dreams hinge on his impressive versatility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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