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Chuks Okorafor losing in hopes of gaining a starting spot on the Steelers’ line in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 2:35pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers second year offensive lineman has slimmed down in hopes of separating himself from his competition.

The starting right tackle spot on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line is up for grabs. When you think about it, it has been a long time since there has even been a battle to be had along the formidable front that protects Ben Roethlisberger and opens holes for James Conner.

But with the trade of Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th round draft pick, there is now a starting position up for grabs. Who will win it? It is between Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins.

Feiler might be the leader in the clubhouse, considering he started in Gilbert’s stead last season, but Okorafor has come into the Steelers’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs) with a new look. In other words, he has lost some weight.

“I’m down a little bit,” Okorafor told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “so I feel a little bit more fast.”

According to Adamski, Okorafor didn’t divulge how much weight he lost, but wanted to drop around 10-15 pounds before the start of the season. Why did he lose weight?

“Just wanted to get a little quicker,” Okorafor said.

Feiler enters this competition with 10 starts under his belt, and Okorafor has one start under his belt from 2018. While the true competition won’t begin until training camp in late July, Okorafor has been practicing at both left and right tackle throughout OTAs. While Okorafor doesn’t have as much starting experience as Feiler, he does have experience as an extra tight end in heavy packages to help as a run blocker. Who wins this battle is anyone’s guess, but Okorafor seems determined to put his best foot forward in the competition.

The underlying theme throughout this competition will be the ultimate quality of the competition. Feiler proved to be a solid backup, but will he keep that standard as a starter? Okorafor doesn’t have much experience, is he ready for the huge step as a starting right tackle? Jerald Hawkins is the wild card in this whole scenario, and no one outside of the organization can really say how he will play after missing the entire 2018 season with a torn quadriceps.

This camp battle will definitely be one to keep an eye on.

If OTAs are a sign of what’s to come, the Steelers’ defense will be taking the ball away in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 11:10am

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense didn’t take the ball away as many time as they wanted in 2018, and their hyper focus on takeaways is paying off in the early stages of 2019.

Football in shorts.

That is what I keep telling myself as I read articles, pour over tweets and get as many nuggets of information out of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Organized Team Activities (OTAs). However, like many of you reading this article, sometimes you just can’t help your excitement.

You read about the rookies getting acclimated, a budding star in the making or even a veteran who looks poised to get back to the big dance. All story lines fans cling to this time of year. But none of these sparked my interest more than reading about how Keith Butler’s defense has been taking the ball away more throughout OTAs.

I know, football in shorts. But interceptions are interceptions, in my opinion, and after last season’s 8 interceptions, everyone has been focusing on taking the ball away more in 2019. So far, it seems the hyper focus on this task is paying off.

You don’t think it matters? Try telling that to the players there participating in OTAs. This is the description of a recent Steelers practice, courtesy of Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

A route jumped along the sideline for an interception, prompting a sideline full of gold-jerseyed defensive players to jump up, whoop and cheer.

Two practice-rep snaps later, a defender made a play on a ball, deflecting it up in the air, where Mike Hilton sprinted and dove to cradle it before it hit the ground.

Again, another raucous collective cheer from the defense.

Hilton and linebacker T.J. Watt confirmed this sequence of events took place midway through Wednesday’s Pittsburgh Steelers organized team activity session at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Think these players don’t care about getting in the habit of taking the football away? Even if it is just practice?

Think again.

“Every year turnovers is a big point of emphasis (but) especially after last year not getting that many, just leaving a lot of plays out there,” T.J. Watt told Adamski.

“We have to bring the excitement, bring the juice and bring the swag, because if you make a play in the NFL it’s very hard to do, so why not celebrate it? That stuff is contagious and it keeps the energy going throughout the whole practice and throughout the games.”

The players heard the noise last year when it came to their lack of turnovers. Sean Davis talked about his one interception not being enough, Joe Haden spoke about how having a better turnover ratio will only better the entire team and now Mike Hilton is looking back at the team’s failures of 2018.

“We really (stunk) at getting turnovers last year,” Hilton said, “so that was really something we are thriving on – lot of plays on the ball in OTAs. We want to find ways to carry that into the season.”

It may just be football in shorts, but the Steelers are taking the football away in OTAs. You never know, maybe this trend will continue into mandatory minicamp next week, training camp at the end of July and even into the regular season next fall.

We can only hope...

An Offensive Glossary for Pittsburgh Steelers fans to prepare for the 2019 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 9:35am

The offseason is the perfect time to get everyone on the same page regarding concepts and terminology before the start of the new season.

It’s June, which means hockey and basketball are wrapping up, baseball is heading into its mid-season slog and football -- GLORIOUS FOOTBALL! -- is on the horizon. To prepare, I’ve assembled a glossary of terms that will be useful as we dissect not tweets nor contract demands but genuine Steelers action. This article will feature offensive terms while a subsequent article will detail the defense. Hopefully, they will help the laymen among us cast a more discerning eye on the Black and Gold this fall.

First, though, I’m honored to announce that BTSC Editor Jeff Hartman has offered me a writer’s position on the staff, where I will focus on film breakdown and analysis. I’ve been a member here since 2009 and it’s been my pleasure over the past decade to talk football and a host of other topics with many on the site.

For those who don’t know me, I’ll be brief: I’ve been living, teaching History and coaching football in southern New Jersey for the past 25 years. I’m married with three kids, ages 20, 6 and 1. That’s not a typo. The oldest is in college and the youngest is in diapers. Much like a Ben Roethlisberger scramble that turns into a big play, the plan for my life broke down for a bit and I had to improvise until I could pull it back together. The one constant through it all has been my love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I am proud to be a fan and proud to have the chance, formally, to write for this community.

Let’s get to it, then. Here are some offensive terms to familiarize yourself with in preparation for Steelers football in 2019:

11 PERSONNEL

This is the Steelers favorite personnel group and the closest thing to a “base” they have. If the defense “bases” out of a 3-4, the offense bases out of 11.

The 11 refers to the number of running backs (1) and tight ends (1) on the field. Other groups the Steelers commonly use are 10 (one back, no tight ends), 12 (one back, two tight ends) and 21 (two backs, one tight end). 11 personnel is useful because it allows teams to spread the field with three wide receivers while maintaining six blockers up front in the run game. 11 personnel also lets a team put its run strength to one side of the field (TE) and its passing strength to the opposite side (slot), thus preventing defenses from loading up against one or the other. Finally, in 11 personnel, teams can either line up in or motion to 3x1 formations that force defenses to adjust out of their base in some way. The run, pass and multi-look components available from 11 personnel make it a perfect grouping for today’s NFL.

11 personnel: 1 back, 1 TE, 3 WRs

When the Steelers line up in 11 in 2019, their base group will feature Vance McDonald at tight end, Juju Smith-Schuster and either James Washington or Donte Moncrief split wide and Eli Rogers or Ryan Switzer in the slot. James Conner will align at running back. The versatility of a player like Jaylen Samuels or quick progress from rookie receiver Diontae Johnson could provide the Steelers a variety of combinations within their 11 package, however. Who they line up in 11 and where they align will be something to watch for as the season unfolds.

H-BACK

An H-back is a hybrid fullback/tight end who generally aligns off the ball in a two-point stance outside the offensive tackle. Think of a tight end, then stand him up and back him up a step (in the image above, Jesse James is lined up as the H-back just above the “1st and Goal” graphic).

The benefit of using an H-back over a traditional tight end is the ability to motion him around. Because he is off the ball, the H-back can move from one side of the formation to the other, where he can create a numbers or leverage advantage against a defense. The H-back can block like a fullback but is preferable to the traditional fullback because he is a better receiver. He is to the offense what a Box Safety is to the defense: a hybrid player who allows for diversity in both the rushing and passing game.

The Steelers don’t list “H-back” as an actual roster position but they use one a great deal. Last season, tight ends James and Vance McDonald were both employed in the H-back role at various times. This season, McDonald will likely remain while Xavier Grimble or perhaps Jaylen Samuels will fill the void left by James’ departure. Samuels is especially intriguing as an H-back candidate. A running back by trade, Samuels is also a capable receiver and an adequate in-line blocker. He had some experience in the role as a college player at NC State. Using him as an H-back here would allow the Steelers to feature two backs on the field in Samuels and James Conner, which could provide a variety of ways to attack opposing defenses. Samuels was impressive as a rookie and the Steelers will likely want to get him on the field more in 2019. The H-back role may be one way to do so.

EMPTY

Empty is a formation, not a personnel grouping. It can be utilized with any combination of players on the field - from five receivers to 22 sets. “Empty” simply means there is no back in the backfield with the QB. All five eligible receivers are assembled at the line of scrimmage in some fashion.

The Steelers have used Empty increasingly in recent seasons, especially last year once Randy Fichtner took the reigns as offensive coordinator. The thinking behind Fichtner’s use of Empty is that, with five receivers in the pattern, an experienced line providing protection and a Hall of Fame quarterback slinging the rock, odds are pretty good someone is coming open and the QB is going to find him.

The risk of throwing from Empty is obvious: there are less pass protectors and the offense is vulnerable to the blitz. Fichtner trusts that Big Ben will be able to diagnose blitzes pre-snap and will know what to check to and where to go with the football. The traditionalists among us likely cringe whenever they see #7 by his lonesome in the shotgun, especially on 3rd and short. I can practically hear some of you screaming right now: “What’s wrong with running the football?”

One thing I’m sure Fichtner loved about Empty last season was it made it hard for a defense to double-team Antonio Brown. With Brown gone, will we see less Empty in 2019? Or will we see the formation used differently, employing a higher degree of shifts and motions from multiple personnel groups? Big Ben seems to love going Empty but without AB he won’t have the luxury of relying on one guy to get open. Fichtner will have to get more creative if Empty is to remain a big part of the offense.

The Steelers in a five receiver Empty formation RPO

The RPO, or “Run-Pass Option,” has become all the rage on offense in recent years. Teams from grade school to the pros have incorporated them as a way of manipulating defenses. The RPO gives a quarterback the option to hand the ball to a running back (run) or throw to a receiver (pass) based upon his read of a second-level defender (usually a linebacker or box safety). If the read key steps up to defend the run action, the QB throws the ball. If the read key sits, the QB hands the ball to the back.

One important distinction between the RPO and its predecessor, the read-option, is that the QB does not run the ball on an RPO. The read-option values athletic quarterbacks who can hurt defenses with their legs and is therefore utilized more commonly at the high school and college levels. In the pros, where defenders are bigger, stronger and faster, and where quarterbacks routinely garner $100 million contracts, the read-option is too risky to use with regularity.

The RPO has been useful for the Steelers because it allows Roethlisberger the freedom to diagnose defenses and make decisions as plays unfold. In the RPO below, Roethlisberger reads the Cleveland alley player working out towards Antonio Brown, pulls the football from James Conner’s belly and and whips an inside slant to Juju for a big play.

Plays like these do come with risk, however. Ball-handling, communication between the QB and RB and sight reads by the receivers all must be in sync. If the timing or communication on an RPO is off, the play can be disastrous. Case in point: the ill-fated interception from the 2 yard-line that ended the Steelers chances in Denver last season came on an RPO. So did the fumble that set up Cleveland’s comeback tie in the season opener. The Steelers will likely continue to utilize these concepts in 2019. How much will depend on whether the reward outweighs the risk.

SHALLOW CROSS

One of the Steelers favorite passing concepts is Shallow Cross. The concept features a combination of vertical routes that stretch the safeties and horizontal routes that widen the linebackers. This creates a void in the middle of the field that is targeted by a “crosser” running anywhere from 6-12 yards depth.

The beauty of Shallow Cross is its multiplicity: virtually any receiver can run the vertical, horizontal or crossing routes, which allows the concept to be employed from a variety of formations and personnel groups. It can also be used against both zone coverage, where it creates a hole at the second level, or man schemes, where a defender is forced to chase the cross.

Below, we see Shallow against cover-1 man. Horizontal routes by the tight end and running back pull defenders towards the numbers while vertical routes from both wide receivers take the free safety out of the play. This allows Juju to operate one-on-one from the slot across the middle of the field against a safety - a match-up he will win just about every time.

Shallow Cross is a great route for the Steelers because they have so many options as the crosser. Juju is a big, physical player who can shake off press coverage and separate as he gets horizontal. Same for McDonald. Rogers and Switzer are shifty route runners and experienced slot players who can locate the holes in a zone. And Johnson looks like a great candidate to run the cross, as his “twitchy” movement makes him difficult to cover in short spaces. Look for a good amount of the Shallow concept from the Steelers in 2019.

SITUATIONAL FOOTBALL

This is a term football geeks like to use (i.e. - “The Steelers need to improve in situational football”). But what are they talking about? What situations? And how is situational football different from regular football?

Generally, the phrase “situational football” is used to describe moments that are considered out of the ordinary in some fashion or those in which the result has a significant impact upon the game. Red zone scoring, for example. Or 3rd down conversion rates. Two-minute offense. Offense when backed up inside your own 10.

From a play calling perspective, situational football can mean intangible considerations such as the impact of the wind or the condition of certain parts of the field. The high school at which I coach plays its home games at a stadium located less than two hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean. During Hurricane Sandy in 2012, waves were literally rolling into the east end zone. In the fall, Nor’easter storms commonly come ripping down the coast bringing angry winds off of the ocean. Situational football for us in October and November, then, means knowing how to manage our play-calling based on whether we are driving into or with the wind.

As far as the Steelers are concerned, 2018 was a success in several situational areas. They were the best red zone scoring team in the league with a 73.4% touchdown rate on possessions inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. On 3rd downs they ranked 6th with a conversion rate of 44.4%. They were also 6th at converting 4th downs at just over 64%. On two-point conversions they were 5th at 80%. All of this suggests an offense that was well-prepared for these crucial situations. How the Steelers handle situational football in 2019 will again impact the success of the offense.

ZONE CONCEPTS

As an offensive term, zone refers to a blocking scheme whereby linemen are assigned areas rather than specific defenders. Blockers stay on a track and often work in tandem with one another, double-teaming defensive linemen up to the linebacker level. The communication it takes to trade defenders and react fluidly takes repetition and familiarity. It is a scheme best suited for a veteran group who has been together awhile like the Steelers.

There are two dominant zone concepts utilized by the Steelers (and every other NFL team, for that matter): inside and outside zone. Inside zone attacks the A-gaps between the center and two guards. It is a slow-developing play that relies on a back’s ability to be patient while allowing a hole to develop and then to burst through once it does. “Slow to the hole, fast through it” is a common coaching point used for backs when teaching inside zone.

Outside zone, as you might imagine, attacks the edge of a defense. Here, offensive linemen reach-block their defenders and try to pin them inside while the running back aims for the alley outside the tight end. Outside zone is a great compliment to inside zone because it exploits linebackers who are focused on taking away the A-gaps and backside cuts inherent to inside zone and therefore do not pursue as quickly to the alleys.

The Steelers were an extremely zone-heavy team during the Le’Veon Bell years. Bell was a patient runner with great vision and burst, which made him an ideal back for the zone scheme. They ran it less last season with James Conner, whose battering-ram style seemed better suited for power runs behind pulling linemen. Jaylen Samuels proved to be a better outside than inside runner, and the Steelers did run some outside zone with him. But with both Conner and Samuels, the team preferred to run more aggressive gap schemes like traps and sweeps.

Take the following play, for instance. With Bell, this would have been an outside zone run. But with Conner, it’s a pin-and-pull sweep. The running back’s aiming point on both plays is the same but the blocking scheme is different. Outside zone lets the back have more freedom in picking the hole while the sweep concept gives the back a pulling lineman to follow.

It will be interesting to see how much zone the Steelers run going forward. Will the switch from Bell to Conner and Samuels at running back and the change from Mike Munchack to Shaun Sarrett as offensive line coach signal a departure from the scheme as our primary run concept? This will be one of the more compelling things to watch for on offense in 2019.

There you have it - your 2019 Offensive Primer. In the coming weeks, I hope to examine some of these concepts in greater detail to shed some more light on their relevance in the Pittsburgh offense.

Next, though, an examination of defensive terms we should familiarize ourselves with. That will be coming soon. In the meantime, If there are any issues you’d like to see me examine or any scheme-related articles you’d like to read, let me know in the comments below. Your feedback is appreciated.

Thanks for reading. And as always - Go Steelers!

NFL Competition Committee Chairman highlights absurdity of how Hail Mary plays are refereed

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 8:06am

With the league set to exempt Hail Mary plays from being reviewable under new instant replay rules, the pass play is set to become an even bigger source of frustration for fans.

Of all the plays that fans could point to in the NFL that are consistently poorly officiated, the inevitable lack of calls that accompany a Hail Mary might be near the top of the list. And while an expansion of instant replay rules will now allow teams to challenge questionable pass interference calls, even when they are not flagged on the field, the league has already made it clear that Hail Mary plays will be exempt from this amendment.

In a rather strange admission during a press briefing at the NFL Spring Meeting, while Competition Committee Chairman Rich McKay discussed how the league would attempt to deal with the play when the new rules came into effect, he also shone a light on the absurd way referees currently approach the play.

“Remember, in that play, officiating-wise, the philosophy has been since I have been in the League, it is survival of the fittest. Everybody jumps. Everybody is shoving, everybody is trying to get the ball, knock it down, or catch it. We tell the officials, make sure you see if anybody gets pulled down or anybody gets dragged down, that is pass interference.”

A philosophy that seemed not to sit well with Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy.

Why should illegal activity be allowed because it’s the last play of the game? Don’t the rules apply all the time? Or is it just parts of the play? Are they saying you can’t be offsides, linemen can’t hold, but receivers and DBs can push off or grab. That’s ridiculous. https://t.co/GxeUBuF0xM

— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) June 1, 2019

And with the NFL intending to exclude Hail Marys from the list of reviewable pass interference plays, a new definition will need to be established beyond “survival of the fittest”, one that McKay could see ultimately changing the play altogether.

“I’d hate to see replay do this to us but, you could say we are just going to play it differently. And they are going to have to play it differently. That would be replay again impacting the game. But, the way the game has been played and the way that play has been played and the way that play has been officiated has been different because of the nature of the play.”

However, given the league’s struggles to define something as relatively simple as “what is a catch?”, it seems reasonable to assume that working out what constituents a Hail Mary and how to officiate it will be far more difficult for this group, especially without the help of replay to correct it.

Steelers OTA Recap, Day 9: Steven Nelson opens up about the start of his Steelers career

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 6:52am

Time to check in on what went down at the UPMC Practice Facility for Organized Team Activities.

If you ask me, there aren’t many people who have more pressure on them heading into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 regular season than Steven Nelson. Nelson was the highest paid free agent in Steelers history, and is expected to be the yin to Joe Haden’s yang on the opposite side.

While very active on social media showing his workouts, discipline and overall motivation for the game, Nelson seems like a player who likes to keep to himself. Let his play do the talking. But while fans are wondering how Nelson is handling the transition from the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that drafted him, to the 412 area code, Nelson has kept his head down and continued to work.

However, Missi Matthews was able to corner Nelson after the 9th Organized Team Activities (OTAs) workout and asked him just how things were going.

Check out the interview below:

Missi sits down with Steve Nelson to talk about his adjustment to the team, the speed of the defense, Coach Austin and more.@missi_matthews | @Nelson_Island pic.twitter.com/P8c9tajFxr

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 6, 2019

Nelson talked about his teammates, how welcoming the entire organization has been and what to expect from the defense in 2019. It was good to hear from the newest addition to the secondary, at least via free agency, and how acclimated he is becoming early in the preparation process.

  • Fans have heard more from T.J. Watt this offseason than they have any other recently, and the reason why is he is now embracing his role as a leader not only on the defense, but on the team.

Oh yeah, and he talks a lot about rookie Devin Bush and how he is progressing in the early portions of his rookie season.

.@_TJWatt talks about his teammates trust in him, continually improving, his thoughts on Devin Bush and more. pic.twitter.com/8dabJbJEF1

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 5, 2019

After Tues practice, I asked Ben Roethlisberger about throwing what looked like a Mahomes-style no-look pass in live acion. He said he can't remember exact play but has had a 'periphery' throw in his arsenal for years, just in case. "Pretty impressive what (Mahomes) did," he said

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 5, 2019

VIDEOS/PHOTOS

Like old times: Mason Rudolph to James Washington. pic.twitter.com/jlAHcThONc

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 5, 2019

pic.twitter.com/8id2WT3ay0

— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) June 5, 2019

Devin Bush getting coached up between sets by Keith Butler and Ryan Shazier: #dkps #steelers pic.twitter.com/6HuFQ1kM0V

— Hunter Alek Homistek (@HunterAHomistek) June 5, 2019

Think this Steelers squad is having fun? Just listen... #dkps #steelers pic.twitter.com/VO6SvkbUzA

— DK Pittsburgh Sports (@DKPghSports) June 5, 2019

Ryan Shazier just wants to play football, man. Looks like he’ll even take reps at QB if that’s what it takes. #dkps #steelers pic.twitter.com/LBhBcWHZAB

— Hunter Alek Homistek (@HunterAHomistek) June 5, 2019

Lookin' good @_Dbush11‼️ pic.twitter.com/JIUak46k4j

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 5, 2019

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Benny Snell goes through drills during OTA’s Wednesday, June 5, 2019, at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/fAbUXJcQCb

— Peter Diana (@peterdianapghpg) June 5, 2019

Podcast: What does the future hold for CB Artie Burns?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 5:30am

The Steelers are back to work with their third, and final, phase of OTAs. Many are wondering, what will happen to Artie Burns this year?

In 2016 the Pittsburgh Steelers made cornerback Artie Burns their top draft pick of the NFL Draft process. Some felt it was nothing more than a knee jerk reaction after losing out on William Jackson III, but for whatever reason, the team now has to figure out what they have left in Burns.

After turning down the 5th year option on Burns, this has become a crucial season for the University of Miami product. Finish this year strong and become a free agent heading into the 2020 season. Flounder in 2019 like he did in 2018 and he could find himself unemployed sooner rather than later.

So, what exactly will happen with Artie Burns this year?

Plenty has to be deciphered here, and I lay it all out there for the listeners in the latest show...

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

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:

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.

Black and Gold Links: T.J. Watt continues to find motivation to help him climb to a new level

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 06/06/2019 - 4:33am

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

With the 2019 NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season is fast approaching, and the news surrounding the black-and-gold is far from over. As the team now turns their attention to more offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp, there is no shortage of news.

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how even though T.J. Watt was a Pro Bowler in 2018, he still finds plenty of ways to get new motivation to get to the next level in 2019.

Let’s get to the news:

  • T.J. Watt. Remember when some called him a reach to be drafted in the first round? Wonder if they are still saying this today?

After Pro Bowl season in Year 2, Steelers’ T.J. Watt finds new means of motivation

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

It was, on the surface, an early-practice position drill as part of the eighth of nine voluntary organized team activity sessions in early June.

But T.J. Watt forced himself to perform with a fire as if it was the fourth quarter of a December game against New England.

“We are so competitive in everything we do,” the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-year outside linebacker said. “Even if you watch our drills, we are always competing.

“I think I beat Bud (Dupree) in get-offs today – so if you see him, tell him that.”

Thirty-one games and 20 sacks into his NFL career, Watt is finding new ways to motivate himself after making the AFC Pro Bowl roster after last season. Rated “above average” and as the No. 24 edge rusher in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, Watt believes he can be better.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Le’Veon Bell finally showed up to the New York Jets for their mandatory minicamp, and if you heard his press conference you might have puked...seriously.

If you didn’t see the video, here it is:

Trash-talking Le’Veon Bell feels ‘so good’ in practice debut for #Jets. Thinks Sam Darnold can “make me a better player” - and vice versa.

“I think we’re going to be a special duo in the backfield.”

Story: https://t.co/R3LdUjAykT pic.twitter.com/mHqUjdz8kc

— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) June 4, 2019

Tim Benz: Le’Veon Bell’s praise for Jets QB Sam Darnold a little much

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Fair enough. Not sure I’d buy the whole “I was working out on my own to make myself better” thing, though. I still believe Mr. Jet Ski was simply trying to work himself back into shape after a full year off. And because he just wants to do his own thing all the time.

Here is where Steelers fans will find some of Bell’s comments most interesting. He described himself as “very quarterback friendly.”

As a blocker, runner and pass receiver? Yes. Absolutely. No doubt.

When he is skipping walk-through practices and throwing his quarterback under the bus by claiming Ben Roethlisberger froze out receivers and only wanted to “win his way?” Eh, not so friendly.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Say what you want about Sean Davis, but the man has done everything the Steelers have asked of him, and more, since he was drafted. Now he looks to be a leader in the secondary for a young safety group.

One-pick Davis hopes to be more hands-on

By: Dale Lolley, DKPittsburghSports

Long after the rest of their teammates had gone inside Tuesday, Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds sat out on the Steelers’ practice field at the Rooney Complex talking.

The two starting safeties were back on the field together for the first time since the 2018 season ended as Davis participated in an OTA practice for the first time this year. Davis sat out the first two weeks of OTAs with what he called a minor injury.

That time sitting and watching also allowed for a lot of looking back on his play from last season. And for Davis, the facts were clear. While his first season at free safety saw the Steelers decrease the number of explosive passing plays (30 or more yards) from 14 in 2017 to seven in 2018, he couldn’t consider it a full success.

The reason? Too few interceptions. Davis had just one as the Steelers pulled in just eight as a team in 2018.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Don’t expect NFLPA rep Ramon Foster to be on board with shortening the preseason and lengthening the regular season anytime soon.

Foster: Shorter preseason means ‘trashy football’

By: Dejan Kovacevic, DKPittsburghSports

Foster, the Steelers’ union representative, went the other way when asked about that Tuesday at the Rooney Complex after the opening of Week 3 of OTAs.

”I’m not opposed to four games at all,” Foster said, referring to the preseason. ”I think taking away the two and adding two in the regular season, you’re going to get trashy football probably in the beginning, the first two games. Look at the way the schedule is now. Teams are ice cold until maybe the first four games across the league. Guys don’t really get their feet underneath them. I’d rather do four preseason games, especially being an older guy, too. And then it just gives a younger guy, like myself when I was undrafted, more time to play, more snaps if you got four preseason games. If you take away the two games, then you have a longer camp. Is that what you want? There’s a lot that goes in. I don’t think it’s realistic.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

It was an awesome night partnering with Urban Impact Foundation to teach North Side youth about the game of football‼️ pic.twitter.com/AsQv5ejjyK

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 5, 2019

These kids really showed off their skills on the field‼️

We had a fun evening teaming up with Urban Impact Foundation to provide a football clinic for North Side youth. pic.twitter.com/SGNlxWCpY0

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 4, 2019

1️⃣1️⃣ pic.twitter.com/mk2foGhHef

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 5, 2019

Pittsburgh Steelers to host Feeding Children Everywhere community event

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 2:34pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be doing their part in the community as part of the NFL 100 initiative.

We can all fall into the trap of the NFL news wire. You know, when players spout off on social media, get arrested or have a misstep either on or off the field.

It can be addicting.

But one aspect of the NFL which often gets overlooked is the amount of good the players, coaches and organizations do in their respective communities. I get it, bad news drives the needle far more than the positive news.

A player getting arrested is bigger news than a player donating their entire salary to helping communities with multi-cultural education.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they are doing their part with the NFL 100, celebrating the NFL’s 100th season, mission by hosting a Feeding Children Everywhere event at their UPMC Rooney Sports Comples facility.

The #Steelers are hosting a CR event on Thursday, June 6 (1-3 pm) at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex (indoor facility). As part of the NFL100’s mission, members of the organization (players, coaches, front office staff) will be participating in a Feeding Children Everywhere event.

— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) June 5, 2019

As Burt Lauten points out, the event will be Thursday, June 6th, from 1-3 p.m. ET and it won’t just be some employees of the Steelers there helping out. No, it will be front office employees, coaches and even players all doing their part to help feed children everywhere.

Feeding Children Everywhere is an organization committed to pursuing a hunger-free world. They will help the Steelers pack up over 15,000 meals that will help the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.

So, if you are in the Pittsburgh area, and need the services of this organization, feel free to stop down and be a part of the event.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Camp Battles: Chris Boswell vs. Matthew Wright

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 12:51pm

We take a look at some of the more significant position battles that will be fought during minicamp, OTAs and training camp this offseason.

While it would be fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 roster looks to be set at several positions, there are still a handful of starting roles yet to be decided and a number of backup up jobs remain up for grabs.

Over the coming weeks, BTSC editor Jeff Hartman and myself will take a look at some of the more obvious key names that will be fighting position battles throughout minicamp, OTAs and training camp later in the year, each taking a different side in the fight and providing our thoughts on why our pick will be the winner.

So far we have weighed in on the impending battles between quarterbacks Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, running backs Jaylen Samuel and Benny Snell Jr. wide receivers James Washington and Donte Moncrief, tackles Matt Feiler and Chukwuma Okorafor, linebackers Devin Bush and Mark Barron, cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton and slot receivers Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer. Today we move onto the kickers.

Chris Boswell vs. Matthew Wright

If not for a report last week that confirmed the date of Chris Boswell’s roster bonuses had been deferred until after the Steelers last preseason game, the prospect of any genuine camp battle between the veteran kicker and Matthew Wright was highly debatable. But there can be little doubt that the coaching staff has been freed up to make the correct decision without worrying about the financial ramifications of the move.

Assuming Boswell can regain the form that earned him a Pro Bowl berth in 2018, he will make short work of the competition, but the former crowd favorite was far from that standard last season. And given that releasing him will save now the team a total of $3 million in 2019, Boswell may yet find he has to go above and beyond this offseason to convince the team he is worth keeping over the much cheaper rookie.

Jeff Hartman

While Wright is a kicker playing with house money, Boswell is someone who has the experience necessary to right the ship. Fans have seen Boswell be too good for too long to watch him just go the way of the Dodo and lose his spot.

2018 was bad. Period. But that doesn’t mean this will be the future for Boswell. Injury or not, I see Boswell having a bounce back season and earning his big contract which he was given prior to the 2018 season.

Wright will push Boswell more so than other kickers who have spent time with the Steelers in camp, and this could be just what the doctor ordered for a kicker who might just need a little push to get him back on track.

I like Boswell to rebound in a big way in 2019.

Simon Chester

Coming in with very little to lose, Wright ended his career at the the University of Central Florida as the all-time leader in points and recording a success rate of 78.1-percent on his field goals. And while this is far from an elite level by NFL standards, it is far better than the mark of 65-percent that Boswell achieved in 2018.

How well each player performs in training will be just one aspect of the competition, but with live game situations limited and effectively impossible to replicate in practice, making the most of preseason opportunities will be vital for both men.

If Boswell is still struggling with the issues that plagued him last year or fails to impress when called upon, it may not take too much to convince the coaching staff to go in a different direction. And if the battle is close during practice, just one or two missed kicks in one of the four preseason games could spell doom for either player. The kicker who handles this pressure best is likely to be the one who wins the job. But based on what we saw last year, it is hard to be overly confident in Boswell at this stage.

My heart say to go with the incumbent, but my head says the Steelers will have a new kicker when the season begins. A name that might not yet be in Pittsburgh if the right option gets released elsewhere.

Artie Burns’ time with the Steelers might be shorter than anyone envisioned

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 11:16am

The Steelers might be looking to save some money while cutting ties with the former 1st round draft pick.

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Artie Burns, cornerback from the University of Miami. For those of us who follow the draft, and the lead up to the draft, closely, you remember what transpired before the Steelers made their pick. The Steelers had their sites on William Jackson III from Houston, but when the Cincinnati Bengals pulled the rug out from underneath their feet, it seemed like Burns wasn’t just a reach, but a knee jerk reaction.

Nonetheless, Burns played in all 16 games his rookie season and even registered three interceptions throughout that campaign. What happened next season was a steady decline in production. Everything from tackles to interceptions dropped, and it only got worse in 2018. Last year Burns was known more for jumping offsides multiple times on field goal blocking situations, than his play as a defensive back. Whenever he saw the field he became the immediate target for the opposing quarterback.

It got so bad Coty Sensabaugh eventually took over as the starter, and Burns was left with nothing more than special teams and mop up duties in the secondary.

This offseason was an important one for Burns, and it got off to a rocky start when the Steelers declined his 5th year option. But this might not be the worst news Burns hears this offseason. Now, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic is reporting the Steelers might consider cutting Burns outright before training camp to save them $800,00.

Burns could bounce back, show more confidence and become the player the Steelers thought they drafted, but right now things look rough. Throw in the fact the Steelers drafted Justin Layne in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and it seems as if the organization is preparing for the future at cornerback, whether that includes Burns has yet to be determined.

What do you think the future holds for Burns? Will he make the 53-man roster this year and play out the final year of his rookie contract? Will he be cut before training camp to save some cash? Or will he go through training camp and then be released/traded?

Let us know by voting in the poll below, and be sure to explain yourself in the comment section below!

Steelers Burning Question: T.J. Watt, Defensive Player of the Year?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 9:35am

Can another Watt add his name to the prestigious award?

In 1971 Alan Page won the initial Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and since its inception, seven Pittsburgh Steelers have went on to win the coveted award. In 1972 Mean Joe Greene would win the first of two, also winning it in 1974. Mel Blount in 1975 and Jack Lambert in 1976, giving the Steelers three consecutive winners and four out of five.

...oh the 80’s

No Steeler would win the award again until 1993, with Rod Woodson bringing the Steelers their fifth Defensive Player of the Year. After another long drought, James Harrison would win it in 2008 and Troy Polamalu in 2010.

The recent drought isn’t as long as the ones between Lambert and Woodson or Woodson to Harrison, but it’s been long enough, if you know what I mean. I think most can figure where I’m going with this so I’ll just cut to the chase.

Going into year three, is it possible for TJ Watt to take that next step, albeit a huge step and put his name with the likes of the Khalil Macks and Aaron Donalds of the world, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award?

...

What type of stats would Watt need to win the award?

...

Will Watt win the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year?

...

Would you say I’m crazy, if I said Watt will win it?

...

That’s it, leave your answers in the comment section and Go Steelers.

By the way, the picture is of Watt defending a pass, he has a way about him...making splash plays...just sayin’.

PFF picks Diontae Johnson to win Steelers camp battle at wide receiver

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 7:59am

With the Steelers set to crown a new starter this offseason at wide receiver, Pro Football Focus make a case for young rookie from Toledo

While the Pittsburgh Steelers are generally set at most starting positions heading into 2019, there is still one issue yet to be resolved following the trade of Antonio Brown. But as tough as it will be to replace the league’s best wide receiver, the loss of AB should give fans one of the more intriguing camp battles to follow this offseason.

With JuJu Smith-Schuster assuming the No.1 role, it will be left to newcomers Donte Moncrief and Diontae Johnson to compete with returning second-year player James Washington for the right to lineup opposite him. And with none of the three players seemingly alike, it is far too early to predict a winner in this contest with any degree of certainty.

When we discussed the battle last month, BTSC editor Jeff Hartman predicted Moncrief would win the job come opening day and I sided with Washington, while the rookie was effectively discounted.

However, based on an article by Mark Chichester of Pro Football Focus on Monday, it would appear that they disagree with our assessments, picking Johnson as the one to ultimately win the competition for the starting role.

Donte Moncrief, who signed a two-year, $9 million deal with Pittsburgh this offseason, has drastically underwhelmed in recent years, earning sub-63.0 overall grades in 2017 and 2018, but his career-best effort (73.4 overall grade in 2016) isn’t really one to call home about. Battling for that spot is second-year pass-catcher James Washington, and he will be chomping at the bit to redeem himself after he produced one of the lowest receiving grades of any qualifying rookie wide receiver in the PFF era (2006-18).”

“Enter Diontae Johnson —the team’s third-round pick out of Toledo and a skilled route-runner is own right — who has a real shot to make an impact in this Steelers offense. Among the 102 FBS wide receivers with 150 or more targets over the past two seasons, Johnson ranked tied for 22nd in receiving grade (85.9), 10th in yards per route run (3.01) and eighth in passer rating when targeted (126.8). But if we look at his work from the outside alone, it becomes all the more impressive, as he came down with 34-of-67 targets when lined up as an outside receiver last year, for 624 yards, 329 yards after the catch and an average of 9.7 yards after the catch per reception that ranked tied for ninth among draft-eligible wide receivers with at least 50 routes run from the outside.”

“The verdict: More than a slot guy and more than a big body that can stretch the field, Johnson offers a versatile skill set that can really contend with the receivers in this group.”

It should be noted that PFF were advocates of Johnson ahead of the draft and have written a number of glowing articles about him since, but the merits of their argument should not be ignored either. Moncrief has hardly set to NFL on fire during his first five years in the league and Washington’s level of production as a rookie was far from inspiring either.

That being said, it would still be a significant surprise to see the rookie get the nod over the two veteran options in Week 1. And while being able to foresee a scenario where Johnson had claimed the starting job by mid-season, it seems doubtful it will have by opening day unless the rookie has had a spectacular preseason.

Steelers OTA Recap, Day 8: Two starting defenders return to work after time off

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 6:56am

Time to check in on what went down at the UPMC Practice Facility for Organized Team Activities.

The Pittsburgh Steelers did have a seventh session for Organized Team Activities (OTAs), but it was held at Top Golf near Pittsburgh. This is common place for Mike Tomlin during the final week of OTAs when the team has four sessions instead of three.

After some awful golf swings were seen, it was back to work for the black-and-gold and two familiar faces joined their teammates for the first time this offseason. First was starting safety Sean Davis who had missed all of OTAs, but was present, due to an undisclosed injury.

Per Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Davis claimed he didn’t practice due to “stiffness”, and was held out for precautionary reasons.

Steelers free safety Sean Davis said he did team drills at OTAs for the first time this spring. He didn't suit up the first two weeks because of stiffness. "Nothing major. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't putting my body at harm."

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) June 4, 2019

Check out the video of Davis answering questions from the media following the team’s 8th OTA session:

Steelers safety Sean Davis, a free agent in 2020, wants to stay with the franchise but is focused more on this season's production: "I try to let my play speak for itself." pic.twitter.com/YH57NO6O3C

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 4, 2019

Davis wasn’t the only player who came back to take part in both team and individual workouts. Stephon Tuitt returned after getting married, and what some called a “tweaked” hamstring early in the workouts. Upon his return Tuitt participated in individual drills and took some harassment from his teammates in the process.

Stephon Tuitt worked individual drills for the first time at OTAs. His buddies on the DL provided the critiques. pic.twitter.com/xanE24rmlb

— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) June 4, 2019

Tuitt talked to media after the workout, how he can improve in 2019 and much more. Check out the video below:

.@DOCnation_7 talks about being back out on the field, what he is working on to improve this year and more. pic.twitter.com/tc9rLWK3vO

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 4, 2019

Time to get to some other news nuggets for you to digest from OTA workout No. 8:

Earlier this week NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hinted at shortening the preseason and adding two regular season games. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) ready to expire, Foster suggested making such a move would create a bad product for the fans, especially early in the season.

Ramon Foster on four preseason games: “I’m not opposed at all. I think taking away two and adding two in the regular season, you’re going to get trashy football, probably, in the beginning.” pic.twitter.com/CsLvKr6DQU

— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) June 4, 2019
  • Some familiar faces return

The Pittsburgh Steelers welcomed both William Gay and David Johnson back in the fold as coaching interns, but shockingly Gay wasn’t working with the defensive backs. No, he was working with the wide receivers.

Steelers hire William Gay as a coaching intern. He’s working with the receivers.

— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) June 4, 2019

The @Steelers have hired southcity22 and David Johnson as coaching interns for 2019. @dabody52 explains why his former teammates are a prefect fit! @ UPMC Sports Performance Complex https://t.co/fmwAhm6Pdt

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) June 4, 2019

VIDEOS/PHOTOS

RBs working on “distinctive cuts” and finishing with a bang. pic.twitter.com/o1HzoKFwuc

— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) June 4, 2019

Ben Roethlisberger with the quick pass to Ryan Switzer during the Steelers’ eighth OTA session. pic.twitter.com/p5Awn27cih

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) June 4, 2019

Ben Roethlisberger working on timing with rookie WR Diontae Johnson. pic.twitter.com/hN9H1eOIaD

— Mike Prisuta (@DVEMike) June 4, 2019

Podcast: The Steelers have a depth issue at the safety position

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 5:35am

In a brand new show titled ‘Yeah, I said it’, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers have a pretty good roster, but when you go beyond the starters and into the depth at almost all positions, things can get a little sketchy.

For some reason, when fans think of positions which are thin with depth, safety is often overlooked. Just look at the current depth chart, those listed only with some type of NFL experience:

Sean Davis
Terrell Edmunds
Jordan Dangerfield
Marcus Allen

That’s it.

Needless to say, this is should be a cause for concern...

This is where the newest BTSC podcast “Yeah, I Said It” comes in. My co-host on ‘The Standard is the Standard’, Lance Williams, talks about how fans should be concerned about the depth at the safety position heading into 2019.

Lance is the perfect man for the job, and delivers the goods in the latest show.

Check out the audio below:

Feel free to give us your thoughts on the topic in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow us on all our audio platforms by following the links below:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

Black and Gold Links: How big of role will Vance McDonald have in the Steelers’ 2019 offense?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/05/2019 - 4:34am

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

With the 2019 NFL Draft in the rear view mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2019 season is fast approaching, and the news surrounding the black-and-gold is far from over. As the team now turns their attention to more offseason workouts, OTAs and minicamp, there is no shortage of news.

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how big of a role tight end Vance McDonald will have within the team’s offense in 2019. Will he be the focal point of the offense? Or will he be just another receiver for Ben Roethlisberger to target?

Let’s get to the news:

  • Vance McDonald showed off his potential in 2018. Not only did he stay relatively healthy the entire season, but he flashed the size and speed which isn’t often seen in the NFL. How will the team handle him in 2019?

Carter’s Classroom: Need to feed McDonald

By: Chris Carter, DKPittsburghSports

If there’s a player that needs to be utilized more on the Steelers’ offense above anyone else, it’s Vance McDonald. After his best statistical season in 2018, McDonald looks to make his eighth NFL season a statement year.

Dale Lolley wrote about McDonald’s Pro Bowl chances last week, and I’m here to go over some of the reasons that support Ben Roethlisberger feeding him as many targets as it takes to get there.

McDonald caught 50 passes on 72 targets for 610 yards and four touchdowns. Everyone remembers the bulldozing of safety Chris Conte for a 75-yard touchdown against the Buccaneers. That play was great because it showed the league what would happen if he was left in single coverage against an average defensive back.

But McDonald had advantages throughout 2018 than just his brute force. He mixed great agility to get open in space against savvy coverage men with his ability to win combat catches.

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Terrell Edmunds, with a year under his belt, is having the game slow down for him now...and that is great news.

Everything’s slowed down for Terrell Edmunds heading into second season

By: Josh Alper, ProFootballTalk

That’s more than any other rookie in the league played last year and finished the year with 78 tackles, a sack and an interception. Edmunds said he felt like he got better as the year progressed. He also feels better prepared for this season after the heavy workload.

“Everything slows up in your mind,” Edmunds said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Last year you can say everything was moving faster. From the first day of OTAs last year to the first day of OTAs this year, you can just tell because everything was moving so fast, everybody was moving fast. And now that you have those snaps under your belt, that year under your belt, you’re one of those guys now, like you’re moving fast to the young guys now. The calls, the playbook, everything, you can say, is easier, you know what to expect. Now you can just go out there, get more comfortable and play your game.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Sometimes it is great to see feel good stories in the NFL, and the Steelers rookies did just that when they visited UPMC Children’s Hospital recently.

There were smiles all around

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

On Monday afternoon, smiles and hugs were plentiful when the team’s rookie class visited UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, an annual tradition that is meaningful for the players and kids.

“This is great,” said Benny Snell. “It’s always good to take a day out and make somebody else’s day. That is what I find the most important. We are out here having fun. Me being able to see that joy and enjoyment, it means I am making somebody’s day. For me to be able to see someone else smile, it makes me smile and feel good. I am enjoying myself like the kids are enjoying themselves.

“It’s a great day. To see them smile it gives us enjoyment. I get to make their day and have fun doing it. It’s a good day. I live to see people smile. I live for enjoyment, especially for kids going through a tough situation. May God be with them.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Instead of having session seven of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), the Steelers went to Top Golf near Pittsburgh. These football players are big, strong and forceful. Not always adjectives that embody a golfer.

Steelers poke fun at Cameron Heyward’s golf swing: ‘Just awful’

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Tomlin on Monday gave the Pittsburgh Steelers their annual day off away from the practice fields and meeting rooms. This year, the escape was to the Topgolf in Bridgeville.

And while a number of players spoke after an organized team activity session Tuesday that it was a good team-bonding exercise, something else stood out from the outing for some.

“Oh, 97 was terrible,” receiver Ryan Switzer said, referring to the golf swing of defensive captain Cameron Heyward. “Awful. Just awful.”

To read the full article, click HERE

  • Social Media Madness

Turn ⬇️ for Watt pic.twitter.com/EZbizDF2yj

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 4, 2019

LITTY‼️

@TeamJuJu pic.twitter.com/LQoIGuBdCC

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 4, 2019

Several alumni took part in coaching a few hundred dedicated fans at Men's Fantasy Camp presented by @BudLight. pic.twitter.com/vfhGyv7OYM

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 4, 2019

NFL Network releases teaser video of James Conner being in the NFL Top 100

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/04/2019 - 3:58pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers starting running back will be a part of the NFL’s Top 100 series.

Some people love lists, and other people despise them. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy watching the NFL Network’s Top 100 series every summer as a lead up to the NFL season.

With the NHL and NBA playoffs over, sports fans aren’t left with much other than the wait for football to start. I always want to see where the various members of the Pittsburgh Steelers rank, but I’ll honestly watch fellow players talk about their peers seven days a week and twice on Sundays.

The NFL Network is preparing to air their first episode on July 22nd, and they have started to release teaser videos to get fans excited for the upcoming season, and one of the first released clips is of none other than Steelers running back James Conner.

Watch Cleveland Browns LB Myles Garrett talk about the AFC North rival running back in the clip below:

.@JamesConner_'s dominant style of rushing made him a must-watch in 2018. Will he crack our list after a breakout season? #NFLTop100 premieres July 22nd on @nflnetwork. pic.twitter.com/kNUEyiGVUW

— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) June 4, 2019

Clearly, I enjoy things like this, but what do you think of it? Speak your mind in the comment section below!!

Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 Player Profile: Trey Griffey

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/04/2019 - 12:37pm

Continuing our analysis of the players who are hoping to turn their offseason roster spot into a 53-man roster spot.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Trey Griffey might have flown under the radar in his NFL career, but his father and grandfather did not in baseball. If you were unaware, he is the son of Ken Griffey Jr and Grandson to Ken Griffey Sr.

“I had a love for football. My dad had a love for baseball. My dad always told me if you have a love for a sport nobody could tell you what to do. He told me from day one, if you love football, go with football. That is what I did.”

Griffey had 79 receptions for 1,241 yards and six touchdowns. That total is not for his final season. Instead, this was for his career. his Arizona career.

While with the Wildcats in college, Griffey started four games as a redshirt freshman. (14-170 two touchdowns.) His sophomore year he only started two games, but his production improved. (31-105 and a touchdown.) Over those two seasons, he had a big impact on special teams with nine tackles. Griffey’s junior year got off to a slow start because of a preseason foot injury that limited his role with the team. (11-284 and one touchdown.) His senior season was his most productive with 23 receptions for 382 yards and a pair of touchdowns. NFL fans know that college success or lack of it does not equate to NFL success but his lack of success in college has spilled over into his professional career too.

After going undrafted in the 2017 NFL draft, Griffey was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Indianapolis Colts. The 6’3”, 209-pound Griffey was waived/injured on June 12. As he cleared waivers, he was placed on injured reserve. Less than a month later, he was waived with an injury settlement from the Colts.

On August 15, he was signed by the Miami Dolphins. He played in the Dolphins final two preseason games but did not appear on the stat sheet in either contest. Unfortunately for Griffey he did not make it past the cutdown date and was waived on September 2.

After spending the rest of 2017 out of the league, Griffey signed a reserve/futures contract on January 29, 2018. While appearing in the preseason, Griffey produced a 4-44 stat line on nine targets. The Steelers waived him on September 1 and signed him to their practice squad the following day.

Pittsburgh resigned Griffey on January 1, 2019, to a reserve/future contract and is battling for a spot on the 53 man roster or on the practice squad. The odds of him making the 53-man roster are long, but the same was said about James Harrison and Donnie Shell. Griffey just needs to continue to showcase the athleticism that his father and grandfather showed in their decades in MLB to stick with the Steelers another season.

Steelers Facts designed (but not guaranteed) to impress your friends and family

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/04/2019 - 11:18am

One BTSC writer tries to beat the monotony of the Steelers offseason with little known facts about he Steelers. Caution: Amazement and astonishment are not proven outcomes with most parties.

We all have roles in our respective social villages. Some are the planners that get everybody together. Some are the uniters that are necessary because there may be dividers in your universe as well. There’s the moral compass and the well-meaning, shady guy that stretche the limits.

Then there’s me.

I’m the guy that wants to entertain at all costs when I channel my inner Cliff Clavin with little known facts. As a Steeler site, BTSC prides itself on breaking news, coverage, stats, commentary, satire, predictions and more. I try to dip my feet into all of those sections of the river. But sometimes I feel that we lose sight of the humans behind the helmets. With that in mind, I’d like to add some fun and the triumph of the human spirit to my regular duties at BTSC with Steelers Fun Facts.

Here we go.

Maurkice Pouncey’s real first name is LaShawn.

Good stuff, huh? LaShawn’s older brother, by one minute, actually does the same thing. James Michael Poucey of the Los Angeles Chargers goes by the shortened version of his middle name. According to a 2012 interview with USA Today, the elder twin stated how the change came about.

“We give our mom a hard time about it all the time because our first names are actually James and LaShawn. We hated those names growing up, so she finally let us start calling each other Michael and Maurkice and we just stuck with it our whole lives. Our real father left us when we were just a couple of months old and his first name was James. That was really the start of it, so whenever we were in elementary and middle school, we’d always tell the teachers don’t call us by our first names”, Mike said back then.

While the origin of LaShawn’s dubbing is not available to the author at this time, the name he’s made in Pittsburgh is one that yinzers will celebrate for years to come.

Trey Griffey’s famous grandfather’s switch from football to baseball was a life-saving decision

Trey Griffey, like the Pounceys, doesn’t go by his given first name. Neither did his father or his grandfather. George Kenneth Griffey III, the Steelers Wide Receiver, was born into a famous baseball family. But that’s not the intriguing story here. We all know the legend of his dad, Ken Griffey Jr.’s, career. Some may remember the fact that the Hall of Famer and his dad, Ken Griffey Sr., actually homered in back-to-back at bats on September 14, 1990. But I was amazed to find out that these feats could have been erased from history if it wasn’t for the unexpected conception of the Hall of Famer.

Donora’s Ken Griffey was a standout in football and was all ready to sign a letter of intent to play football for the Thundering Herd of Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. However, Ken received a phone call from his girlfriend shortly before graduation in 1969 and learned that she was expecting a child. With the possibility of adding a senior onto his name, Ken Griffey decided to bypass football for professional baseball after being selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the Major League Baseball Draft shortly after his graduation ceremony. Junior was born and he was married right after his first season in the minors and then embarked on a long and storied career that included two World Series rings in 1975 and 1976 as a member of the Big Red Machine. The significance of this story relates to a tragic event that occurred exactly one year and one week after his son’s birth. On the night of November 14, 1970, 37 players on the Marshall football team and five coaches died in a plane crash that killed 75 people total after a road game against East Carolina. Griffey would have been a sophomore wide receiver had he accepted the scholarship and likely would have been a passenger on that Ill-fated flight.

The 2006 movie that was inspired by the tragedy and rebuilding efforts, We Are Marshall, starred a descendant of Trey’s current employer. Kate Mara is the great-granddaughter of Arthur J. Rooney, the founder of the Steelers.

There you go. While these stories aren’t breaking news or hard-hitting and informative stats, I hope that my inner-Clavin sparks your inner C&C Music Factory and are “Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm”

Big Ben or Bradshaw? Who is the Steelers’ ultimate franchise quarterback?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/04/2019 - 9:35am

Answering one of the most difficult questions for Steelers fans to ponder.

To most, the question of who is the best franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger or Terry Bradshaw, is like asking a Pittsburgh Steelers fan to pick their favorite child.

There are those in the Roethlisberger camp who point to his gaudy statistics, and then there are those who reside in the Bradshaw camp who point to four Super Bowl wins in four tries.

Steelers fans should realize how lucky they are to root for a franchise which has had two quarterbacks with the success of Bradshaw and Roethlisberger. Nonetheless, NFL.com took a stab at not just debating this topic, but actually picking a winner.

Check out what author Ali Bhanpuri had to say about who was eligible for the label as THE franchise quarterback:

Who qualifies for the Steelers?

-- Ben Roethlisberger (2004-present): 214 starts | 144-69-1 | 6 Pro Bowls | 94.2 passer rating | 2 SB rings

-- Kordell Stewart (1995-2002): 80 starts | 46-29 | 1 Pro Bowl | 72.3 passer rating

-- Neil O’Donnell (1991-95): 61 starts | 39-22 | 1 Pro Bowl | 81.8 passer rating

-- Terry Bradshaw (1970-1983): 158 starts | 107-51 | 3 Pro Bowls | 70.9 passer rating | 1 MVP | 4 SB rings

So, who was the winner? And what was the reasoning behind this decision? Check out why, and how, the Blonde Bomber edged out Big Ben for the title of THE franchise quarterback.

THE Franchise QB: Terry Bradshaw

This was one of the toughest calls in the entire exercise, and I expect to get some heat for it. But when I think of the Steelers’ franchise, I think of the ‘70s teams that won four Super Bowls in six seasons, establishing one of the most dominant dynasties the NFL has ever seen. And although the defense was the driving force leading those squads, Bradshaw and the offense more than did their part, ranking ninth or better in each of those six seasons.

Trying to argue that Bradshaw played the position better than Roethlisberger would be a dumb take and a waste of time. Big Ben has been a top-12 quarterback for much of his career, and his Steelers passing records won’t be sniffed for decades (at least). But many of the benefits Bradshaw enjoyed during his career -- and which people often hold against him (world-class defense, Hall of Fame-caliber offensive playmakers, etc.) -- also apply to Roethlisberger. And the edge one would assume Roethlisberger possesses playing in today’s pass-happy era doesn’t actually hold up so well when you compare the two stars’ playoff stats:

Bradshaw: 14-5 | 57.2 comp. % | 8.4 Y/A | 30 TD passes | 26 INTs | 83 passer rating

Roethlisberger: 13-8 | 62.4 comp. % | 7.8 Y/A | 30 TD passes | 24 INTs | 86.5 passer rating

The narrowest of margins separates these two franchise passers, and the scales could certainly sway in Roethlisberger’s direction with one wave of a Terrible Towel. But 4 > 2, so Terry wins -- for now.

Picking between these two tremendous quarterbacks isn’t easy, and while I want everyone to vote in the poll below to let us know who you like in this debate, realize many of the Steelers fans who read/comment on the articles at this establishment were not old enough to remember watching Bradshaw, or are too young to know the full extent of No. 12’s career in Pittsburgh.

Neither quarterback was perfect, and both have accomplished a ton in their time with the Steelers. While Roethlisberger still has time left on his career, taking what we know right now, who would you pick in this debate? Vote in the poll below, and be sure to let us know in the comment section why you voted the way you did!

Steelers rookies out to prove they are more than one trick ponies

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/04/2019 - 7:55am

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 draft class has a couple players who are testing their limits regarding position.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the final week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), and a lot has been made of the 2019 NFL Draft class. Devin Bush’s speed and agility has been on display, Diontae Smith’s precise route-running and Justin Layne’s family’s transition from Browns fans to Steelers fans have all be story lines coming out of the UPMC Rooney Practice Facility.

But one thing I can’t get over is how there are a pair of rookies who are not just willing to do whatever it takes to make the 53-man roster, but are willing to play whatever position necessary to help their chances of hanging around.

6th round draft pick Sutton Smith is a pass rusher by trade, but the Steelers see so much more than that in the former Northern Illinois product. It was widely reported how Smith has not just been working with the pass rushers this spring, but also taking reps at fullback.

Smith spoke to Steelers.com about how he is an unselfish player, and willing to do whatever the coaching staff asks him to do.

Sutton Smith is willing to do whatever is asked of him. pic.twitter.com/fndxvfbWxy

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 23, 2019

When Smith changed his number to accommodate a potential switch to full back, and still be able to play linebacker, it made news. Papers ran with the fact Smith is a grinder and a true team player. But what didn’t get as much ink is another rookie who is also willing to do whatever it takes to see the field.

Seventh round pick Derwin Gray is also showing the coaching staff he is more than capable of playing multiple positions, four in all across the offensive line to be exact.

Throughout OTAs Gray has been put at right tackle, right guard, left guard and left tackle. Maybe this is the Steelers just throwing something against the wall to see what will stick, but if Gray can truly be this versatile he will certainly have a spot on the team in 2019. To Gray, it is just football.

“I pretty much have played at all four (non-center offensive line) positions since I have been here,” Gray told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Left tackle, right tackle, right guard and left guard. So this week was my first week at left guard.

“It’s all football (regardless of position). It’s all zone blocking, outside zone, pass protection, that’s all it is.”

The vast majority of Gray’s experience at the University of Maryland was spent at left tackle, but if he can be competent across the line it would be a huge bonus in regards to depth. When you look at the team’s starting lineup, and the depth behind them, another interior lineman who could also flex out to tackle would be tremendous.

Taking a look at the depth along the line, B.J. Finney is the man who will backup Maurkice Pouncey at center, and can also play both the left and right guard positions. The Steelers have either Matt Feiler, Jerald Hawkins or Chukwuma Okorafor to be their swing tackle behind Alejandro Villanueva and whoever wins the right tackle spot. If Gray can prove his worth at multiple positions, he could be added depth at both the tackle and guard position, likely making someone like Hawkins expendable if he doesn’t out-perform his competition.

Don’t think Gray doesn’t realize how valuable he could be as a versatile player, and not just a one-trick pony at the tackle position.

“I look at it as me being a guy who can play different roles and play different spots when needed,” Gray said. “I’ve showed the versatility that I can play anywhere on the o-line.”

Needless to say, with Gray in the mix the Steelers offensive line battle throughout training camp will be something to definitely keep an eye on.

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