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Black and Gold Links: Roethlisberger has no problem being the underdog in 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Sat, 08/08/2020 - 5:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Ben Roethlisberger has absolutely no problem being considered an underdog in 2020.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Ben Roethlisberger the underdog? It is rare, but Roethlisberger is embracing the role entering the 2020 regular season.

Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger relishes rare chance to be underdog

By: Brooke Pryor, ESPN

Ben Roethlisberger grinned and laughed as the reporter listed off elements of the Pittsburgh Steelers that should put them in contention for a title this season.

An elite defense. A veteran, All-Pro line. Playmakers all over the place. A franchise quarterback.

And yet, as the reporter noted, the Steelers are still considered long shots to win not only the Super Bowl, but their division, too.

Being an underdog isn’t something Roethlisberger has experienced often in his career, but it’s a role he’s looking forward to playing as he returns from season-ending elbow surgery that reattached three flexor tendons in his elbow nearly a year ago.

“[As] you were naming things, I was just going to say we just need a quarterback now, but you know, I think it’s fun,” Roethlisberger said with a chuckle. “I know a lot of guys like being on top and being hunted. Sometimes it’s fun to be the underdog and to be overlooked.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Is Matt Canada the next selfless assistant to help improve the Steelers?

Labriola on ‘Matt Canada gets it’

By: Bob Labriola, Steelers.com

Ready or not, here it comes:

• Matt Canada gets it.

• When Mike Tomlin added Canada to his staff of assistants on Jan. 15, the obvious significance of the move was that the Steelers now had a dedicated quarterback coach for the first time since Randy Fichtner had the offensive coordinator position added to his duties in 2018.

• This was an important hiring for that reason alone, because Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, and Paxton Lynch all could benefit from some individual attention as they continue to work on their craft. Quarterback is the most important position on a football team, and it never made any sense for those players to be the only position group on the team without its own coach.

• But just below the surface of this hiring was the belief that it was done with something more in mind, and the suspicion was rooted in the move Tomlin had made the previous year.

• On Jan. 11, 2018, Tomlin hired Teryl Austin, whose resume included stints in the NFL as both a secondary coach and a defensive coordinator, and with the Steelers his title became Senior Defensive Assistant/Secondary. Translating that job description into reality, Austin joined Tom Bradley in working with the defensive backs and he also brought his coordinator experience to the weekly defensive game-planning sessions.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Mike Tomlin talked a lot on Thursday, and it is time for a recap of what was said.

‘Tomlin’s Takes’ on normal procedures, Ben and more

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

Internal clock is off: If we were living in normal times right now, times not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Steelers would be preparing to take on the Dallas Cowboys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game tonight in Canton, Ohio in their first preseason game.

But, as we all know, these aren’t normal times in our country, or in sports. So instead of getting ready for a game, Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff are in the initial stages of working with players during training camp, an acclimation period that is for conditioning and on-field walkthroughs only.

While it’s not where they want to be, it’s a far cry from where they were in the offseason, when all of the contact with the players was virtual.

“We are excited about getting the opportunity to instruct these guys in a physical way, in a classroom setting, different than the spring,” said Tomlin. “We get the opportunity to show learning on our feet in a walkthrough setting. Also, we are getting an opportunity to display or improve conditioning. We have gotten a good sense of where the group is. Largely the veteran players are a highly conditioned group. They answered the challenge we presented to them in the offseason when we worked with them remotely, and that was for them to come in very good condition. That was the only thing they could control. We acknowledged that was the Jello that we couldn’t get back in the box if you will, if they showed up out of shape. It takes 12 weeks to have any metabolic changes. That created the anxiety of working remotely in the offseason.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

6 players Mike Tomlin called out during his Thursday press conference

The complete list of NFL players who opted out of the 2020 season

Steelers have no players who opt out of the upcoming season

If a Steelers player opted out of the season, it wouldn’t be selfish

Mason Rudolph didn’t handle pressure well last season

James Washington is back off the COVID list

Ben Roethlisberger and Eric Ebron are forming a unique connection

  • Social Media Madness

Lights.
Camera.
Action. pic.twitter.com/jDswEbra4w

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 7, 2020

O-line puttin' in work #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/WtJFTSoGLi

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 6, 2020

Diontae Johnson Punt Return to the House!! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/ATiBXXUMz1

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 6, 2020

Steelers Drafting TJ Watt! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/W7Pt42NHxR

— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) August 6, 2020

September 24, 1960#Steelers #DallasCowboys
Eddie LeBaron hits Jim Doran who goes 75 yards for the first TD in the history of the #DallasCowboys #FirstThread pic.twitter.com/CdQk0GBaA2

— Old Time Football (@Ol_TimeFootball) May 16, 2020

Night Lane has a pick.
Finks 17-33-174-1-1
Rogel 22-102
20-17 #Steelers pic.twitter.com/b6pqYVe7Bi

— Old Time Football (@Ol_TimeFootball) August 7, 2020

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions: Training Camp, Vol. 1

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 5:45pm
Pool Photo-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’s been a crazy week with the launch of the new comment section by SB Nation. If you haven’t seen, SB Nation has posted another article on the site to say things they are working on improving for the community. The Steelers are still in the early phases of Training Camp and are having traing session as a team on the field.

This week, I, Jeff, will be tasked with the questions for the good of the order. Let me just say how happy I am to be back. The greeting I received both in articles and on podcasts makes me realize this is where I belong. Unless I get canned, I won’t be going anywhere for a long time...trust me.

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. Also, feel free to experiment with the “Spoiler” font with some of your answers (question 6 would be a good one!).

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 All the players who are on the Steelers’ 80-man offseason roster have reported back to the team facility. After a full week, do you feel any different about the NFL’s ability to have a season?

2. Without a preseason, how do you see the Steelers starting the first quarter of the season? Let us know the game-by-game predictions.

at NY Giants
vs. Broncos
vs. Texans
at Titans

Keep in mind the players like Ben Roethlisberger who the last time he played was in Week 2 of 2019...

3. Who wins the following camp battles?

Zach Banner vs. Chuks Okorafor (Right Tackle Battle)
Devlin Hodges vs. Paxton Lynch (QB3 Battle)
Mike Hilton vs. Cam Sutton (Nickel CB)

4. A lot of people have been frustrated with the new commenting system. They are still ironing out the wrinkles within the system, but what is your biggest beef with the new system?

5. I am sitting here watching the Penguins play down to their opponent in the Canadiens, and of course I think about the general thoughts on Mike Tomlin’s teams always playing down to their opponents. What was the most deflating loss you can think of during the Tomlin era?

6. For as long as you have been alive, what is your favorite player of each coach’s era?

Noll:
Cowher:
Tomlin:

You can’t have any players who overlap. Can only have one player per coach. Example: Troy Polamalu overlapped Cowher and Tomlin, but can only be used with one or the other.

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 my morning show Let’s Ride, or the new evening shows, give them a try by listening below!

Vance McDonald discusses the Steelers new weapon in the TE room

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 3:30pm
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

McDonald believes the addition of Eric Ebron will only help him and other receivers improve

On Friday afternoon, Steelers veteran tight end a Vance McDonald joined in a fan forum call through Steelers Nation Unite. Taking questions from fans over the phone, Vance McDonald mentioned his new teammate in the tight end room, Eric Ebron, on multiple occasions.

McDonald was asked about the addition of Ebron and what it’s like getting to work together with him and Ben Roethlisberger.

“I appreciate what he brings to the tight end position in the league the last seven years that I’ve been around,” McDonald said of Ebron. “It’s been really neat to have him here.”

One of the things McDonald mentioned was trying to get as much work as possible for Ebron with his new quarterback so they can also establish the necessary connections.

“Allowing him to get as much with Ben (Roethlisberger) as possibly can to just build that relationship because he’s going to come in and do really big things for the offense this year. I’m really excited at the direction we’re headed again.”

Both McDonald and Ebron are coming off disappointing seasons in 2019. McDonald appeared in 14 games for the Steelers and only had 273 receiving yards on 38 receptions. As for Ebron, his 2019 season was cut short due to injury. In only 11 games with the Indianapolis Colts, Ebron had 375 yards on 31 receptions which was exactly half of his 2018 yardage production.

When discussing the upcoming season, MacDonald mentioned what another weapon in the arsenal from the tight end position could mean for him and other receivers on the Steelers.

“With the addition of Eric Ebron,” McDonald explained, “I certainly think that this skill set that he brings to the position it’ll be really really fun to watch him. And again too, that only helps me, that only helps guys like to JuJu (Smith-Schuster), James Washington, Diontae (Johnson), and so I think it’s gonna be really fun. It’s always fun whenever you add something on offense that you didn’t have the year before, not necessarily because you begin hit goals that you wanted, which we did but I’m just saying it’s just always fun to sort of get a new weapon. So with Eric, like I said earlier, it will be fun to see where we head in terms of production on offense.”

Bringing back production from the tight end position is something which McDonald seems to wisely embrace. In 2019, the Steelers did not even have as many receiving yards from all of their tight ends as McDonald had himself the previous year. Hopefully with the addition of Ebron, the Steelers can get back to their 2018 form where the tight end position accounted for more than 1,000 receiving yards.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Robert Spillane

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 1:45pm
Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

Continuing with part 75 of our 90ish-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man (now 80-,man) roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s take a look at Steelers depth linebacker:

Robert Spillane

Position: LB
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 229 lbs
College: Western Michigan
Draft: UDFA in 2018 (Titans)

2019 Stats

8 Games played
11 Tackles

Contract remaining

Expires in 2021
$675,000 salary cap number (.3% of total cap)
$0 Dead money
$675,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

60/40 he does. You may have thought to yourself that there is no way that Robert Spillane will be making this team in 2020. But here's where you’re probably wrong, the Steelers typically carry nine total inside and outside linebackers. When you take out the obvious names (T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Alex Highsmith, Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper, Devin Bush, Vince Williams, and Ulysees Gilbert III) you're still left with one linebacking spot available, and there's only three inside backers in that list above. So that brings our attention to probably two names, Leo Lewis or incumbent Robert Spillane. Sure he might not be the sexy pick but Robert Spillane racked up an insane 11 special team tackles in just 8 games last year, and that alone might win him a job in Pittsburgh.

2020 projection

In this scenario I’m going to say Spillane does infect make this team. He’s only ever going to play special team minutes and maybe a very rare defensive snap here and there if the Steelers are desperate. In the event of injury I think the Steelers will defiantly look to free agency to fill the hole because both Robert Spillane and Ulysees Gilbert are very young and aren't ready to be thrust into a role like that.

Projected stats:

16 Games played
20 Tackles

Summary

As far as special teamer go, Robert Spillane might be one of the best at the role on the Steelers roster. You need guys like that on your team to play in those situations. So unless someone can come in and prove they are equal as a special teamer and have more ability to play inside linebacker, I don’t think Robert Spillane is going anywhere.

Previously Highlighted

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

It would not have been selfish for any Steelers players to opt out for 2020

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 12:30pm
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

No Steelers opted out for 2020, but it would have been perfectly understandable if they did.

The deadline for NFL players to opt out of the 2020 regular season due to health and safety concerns stemming from the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic was Thursday at 4 p.m.

No Steelers players decided on that option.

That’s good news if you’re the Steelers, I suppose. After all, football is often a war of attrition, and with the sport being such a physically high-risk proposition as it is, the team certainly didn’t want to begin training camp already knowing it would be without one or several players—some of whom may have been very important cogs in the machine.

But even if one or several Steelers players had opted out, that would have been understandable to coaches, teammates and fans.

At least I’d like to think so.

As Thursday’s deadline approached, and it started to become a reality that no Steelers players would sit out the season, the general sentiment seemed to be one of relief and celebration that these guys had decided to band together and play for one another, with the ultimate goal obviously being a championship.

In fact, I witnessed some of those exact opinions being expressed on social media (I know, never a good idea to read social media). Perhaps I’m virtue signaling (this is a new thing people say about other people on social media, so I hope I’m using it right), but I’m not so sure I feel comfortable acting all celebratory and excited about the Steelers being one of the few teams who didn’t have anyone opt out.

Why? Because what would have been the reaction to any Steelers opt outs? Would there have been overt disappointment? Would people have called these players selfish? I’d like to think not, but I’ve seen other players lash out at their fans on social media for calling them selfish, such as Bills’ cornerback Tre’Davious White, who took to Twitter to voice his displeasure:

“Crazy that me choosing my family’s wellbeing over a game comes with so called fans attacking and questioning me and saying I’m selfish. No you guys are selfish for thinking that football is bigger than life. Oh by the way my girl’s grandfather passed from COVID. U understand now?”

I’d hope that cries of selfishness wouldn’t have been directed at, for example, defensive lineman Cam Heyward, who suffers from asthma, or running back James Conner, who is a cancer survivor.

It would have been disappointing had either player opted out, but certainly understandable, considering both are clearly in the higher risk category.

But what about players who aren’t at a higher risk?

As crazy and perhaps disingenuous as this may come off as, if quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, just returning after a forgettable 2019 that was snuffed out by major elbow surgery, had decided to opt out, I could see that.

In fact, Roethlisberger was one of the first Steelers who came to mind when I was thinking of players who may have chosen to sit out. Here’s a guy who seriously contemplated retirement as recently as three offseasons ago. He decided to keep playing, but there was an image from the 2017 training camp of Roethlisberger embracing his young daughter, a little girl that didn’t see him as a multi-Super Bowl-winning quarterback whose franchise depended on his performance—she just knew him as Daddy.

With a wife and three very young children, Roethlisberger has clearly evolved into a family man at this point of his career. Despite being 38, despite wanting to bounce back from his elbow injury and prove the doubters wrong, and despite a strong desire to win more Super Bowls before the window to that and his career shut for good, a small part of me was expecting Roethlisberger to opt out of the season.

This obviously would have been a critical blow to the Steelers and their chances to compete in 2020, but who would have looked worse: Roethlisberger or those who may have called him selfish?

Since it is 2020, there probably would have been strong cases made for both, with former players, current players, media members and fans all taking up sides.

They might be doing that right now with Tre White and any other prominent and/or important players who have decided to sit out the 2020 season.

There is a lot of pressure on your average NFL player to not only succeed, but to simply stay healthy enough to get out on the field and compete. Why? If coaches feel that they can’t depend on you, you likely won’t be long in the league. This is why guys play hurt. This is why they often put their bodies through so much during the week just to be ready to play.

Whatever it takes, get yourself ready to be out there with your teammates. They are depending on you.

This is why Hines Ward once publicly criticized Roethlisberger for his decision to skip an important prime-time game against the Ravens with a concussion. Ward said that if it were him, he’d be out there competing with his teammates. This was back in 2009 when head trauma wasn’t taken quite as seriously as it soon would be.

How many players—before and since 2009—have chosen not to report concussion-like symptoms for fear of possibly losing their starting spot or even their job?

It’s one thing for players to decide in the moment not to opt out because they want to be out there on the field with their guys trying to help them win a title this year. But what if, during the season, someone wakes up with a sore throat or the chills? Will he report it to his superiors, or will he keep it to himself for fear of missing time and letting his teammates down?

Yes, these players are and will continue to be tested for COVID on a regular basis, but as we’ve discovered over the past few months, it doesn’t take very long for this virus to spread.

What I’m getting at with all of this is, yes, it’s great that no Steelers players have opted out, but I just hope they didn’t feel the pressure of “team” as they were making their decision.

There are few things more personal than one’s own health, and I hope each and every Steelers player strongly considered his individual situation before putting his hand in the pile.

And I’d like to think we’d all understand if someone wanted to keep his hand out of that pile in 2020.

Mason Rudolph was anything but cool under pressure in 2019

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 11:15am
Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Football Outsiders look at pressure and DVOA wasn’t kind to the Steelers young quarterback.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone if I tell you that Mason Rudolph wasn’t a good NFL quarterback in 2019. The young man was clearly not prepared to lead an NFL offense in his second season, and opposing defenses took advantage. Few things show those struggles as well as Football Outsiders’ comparison of quarterback DVOA with and without pressure.

Mason Rudolph took an average of 2.8 seconds to throw the football, which ranks him a bit below the middle among NFL quarterbacks. It was a pretty steep increase from Ben Roethlisberger’s 2.55 seconds in 2018, lied with Derek Carr for the fastest in the NFL. Considering that, it is unsurprising that Mason Rudolph faced pressure on 30.2% of pass attempts, the 14th highest rate in the NFL (out of 34 qualifying QBs). That is up from 23.8%, the third lowest rate in the NFL in 2018 for Ben Roethlisberger.

When pressured, Mason Rudolph’s DVOA was -143.6%, the worst on the list. Not only was he the worst in 2019, he was the worst since 2015, when the Browns Brian Hoyer was even worse. Without pressure, he was better, although still not good. Rudolph ranked 27th out of 34 quarterbacks in DVOA without pressure.

The numbers include scrambles and passes, even defensive pass interference yards, and Mason Rudolph still only averaged 1.9 yards on plays where the defense recorded a pressure.

Ben Roethlisberger didn’t make the list in 2019, but showed well for years, finishing top 10 in DVOA with and without pressure. 2018 was a drop off year for the Steelers star quarterback, when he finished 20th in DVOA with pressure, and 14th without. If that drop off was due to his elbow or Randy Fichtner taking over the offense, Ben Roethlisberger could see a jump back up in the rankings, as his elbow has been repaired and the Steelers added Matt Canada to help Randy Fichtner make the Steelers offense more effective.

Lastly, although Devlin Hodges didn’t throw enough passes to make the list, the article mentioned that Hodges had a DVOA of -107.7%, which would have ranked 4th worst on the list had he qualified. Ben Roethlisberger’s 2018 DVOA while pressured of -61.3% would be a big improvement, while his 2015 through 2017 numbers all right around -40% would be outstanding to see.

The remaining Steelers quarterback, Paxton Lynch, has never qualified for the rankings, but was mentioned (like Hodges this year) in his rookie year of 2016 when he posted a -166.8% DVOA when pressured.

While Steelers fans hope that Ben Roethlisberger can return to form and be a top quarterback again with his surgically repaired elbow, fans also have to hope that if any of the backup quarterbacks are forced to play that they will have improved since their first run of starting in the NFL.

You can read the original article HERE.

Podcast: Diontae Johnson could be the next Antonio Brown, but hopefully not another AB

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 11:00am

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

Antonio Brown is in the conversation when talking about the greatest wide receivers to ever don the black, gold and hypocycloids. We all know Antonio accomplished on the field and AB’s flameouts off of the gridiron. The third round choice that the Steelers got for No. 84, Diontae Johnson, is an incredible and electrifying play maker much like his predecessor. The hope is that DJ is more like Antonio Brown and hopefully doesn’t morph into an AB. This is the subject that will be discussed and speculated on in the newest edition 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 return episode for Jeff Hartman on the BTSC podcast The Steelers Preview. On this show, Jeff reunites with 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 and Notes
  • Diontae Johnson could be the next Antonio Brown, but hopefully not another AB
  • Is there an irreplaceable wide receiver on the Steelers?
  • Trivia
  • Either/Or

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:

James Washington off Reserve/COVID List, release John Houston

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 9:43am
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers welcome back third year wide receiver James Washington off the COVID/Reserve List.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the early stages of their 2020 Training Camp, and things have been different, to say the least. The Steelers aren’t at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, they don’t have fans cheering them on as they head to practice and they certainly aren’t used to having to be tested for a communicable disease every time they step into the team facility.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the sports landscape, and as the NFL looks to navigate these uncharted waters it becomes clear there will be some bumps in the road. One of those bumps are when a player, or players, test positive for the virus.

When a player tests positive they are placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Being placed on the list is one thing, how long you stay on it is another. Depending on if the player was just around someone who was positive, an asymptomatic carrier or symptomatic carrier depends on the length of time they are away from the facility.

For the Steelers, they have had four players go onto the list since the start of training camp:

Aarion Springs
Justin Layne
James Washington
Jaylen Samuels

Springs was taken off the list earlier this week, then released, and Washington was taken off the list Friday.

We have activated WR James Washington off the reserve/COVID-19 list and released LB John Houston.https://t.co/MdtdKJf7Dy

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 7, 2020

Since teams will fill the vacant roster spot when a player is on the Reserve/COVID list, the Steelers released linebacker John Houston to allow Washington to return.

John Houston was an undrafted rookie free agent out of USC. The linebacker played four years for the Trojans where he had 271 tackles, 5 sacks, an interception, and two fumble recoveries. Houston was projected outside of the top 20 inside linebacker in the 2020 draft with his size being a concern.

The Steelers will welcome back Washington so he can begin getting to work with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and others. As for Layne and Samuels, they remain on the Reserve/COVID list awaiting their chance to return.

In the meantime, stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they continue their preparations for the upcoming regular season.

Ben Roethlisberger and Eric Ebron are looking to develop valuable chemistry

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 8:30am
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger may have found his next security blanket in newly acquired tight end Eric Ebron.

Who among us didn't love Charlie Brown and the gang growing up as children? I still remember the holiday specials that were early signals that moments of family memories, good food, and fantastic football match ups were a week or two away. That affable little fella with the big round bald head and his quirky best friend pooch Snoopy were intertwined each year with my holiday memories.

One of Charlie Brown's classmates and friends was Linus, memorable for his always present security blanket. It was particularly memorable for me because I had my own baby blue security blanket when I was a toddler. I took it with me everywhere, personally decorated with the expected peanut butter and jelly, juice, and Kool-Aid stains in tow. I am not exactly sure the exact moment it happened, but I substituted my baby blankie for the far more intimidating Terrible Towel and I have never looked back.

Last season Ben Roethlisberger went into the season without a security blanket in his receiving arsenal for the first time in years. Ben has been blessed with many security blankets at the skill positions throughout his time in Pittsburgh: Heath Miller, Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, and Leveon Bell to name a few. A security blanket for any quarterback is any trusted skill position player that reliably and consistently comes through in the clutch. Whether it's adjusting their route to comeback toward a scrabbling quarterback, instinctively settling down against zone coverage to present an open target, or making a contested catch on a less-than-accurate pass from a harassed signal caller, the importance of any security blanket receiver on any quarterback's psyche should never be underestimated.

Prior to last season, Roethlisberger lost the ultimate security blanket when the artist formerly known as “Mr. Big Chest” forced his talents and multiple personalities out of town, burning all the bridges in Pittsburgh on his exodus. This presented a huge challenge for Ben Roethlisberger, considering they had formed one of the most productive quarterback\receiver tandems in league history. Both players leaned heavily on the other, and trusted each other to come through in the clutch. Ben said all the right things to the media, confessing his trust in his returning cast, but there had to be some serious concerns in the back of his mind.

It didn't help matters the Steelers had to travel to New England on opening weekend to take on Bill Belichick, Stephon Gilmore, and the stingiest pass defense in the league. Ben seemed out of sorts without the familiar presence of his go-to target. The expectation going in was Gilmore would help neutralize JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Roethlisberger would have to look elsewhere to move the football through the air. With an extremely inexperienced receiving crew at his service, Ben would turn to the newly acquired veteran free agent Donte Moncrief for assistance, albeit with disastrous results.

Moncrief singlehandedly thwarted three offensive drives with untimely drops, including a potential touchdown reception. The offense understandably struggled throughout, unable to overcome Moncrief's devastating performance against an elite defense. Ben had hoped to recreate the on-field chemistry he had enjoyed with Antonio Brown in some small way with Moncrief, but that proved to be an impossible undertaking. If Brown was the ultimate security blanket, then Moncrief proved to be more like single-ply toilet paper, sure to let you down when you need it the most.

Unbeknownst to us all, Roethlisberger was playing in pain and needed a little help from his friends, help which never came from a talented group of inexperienced skill position players still learning how to play together. It all became a mute point the following week when Roethlisberger was lost for the year to injury.

Now Ben is back, fully healed and looking fit and trim. He has rediscovered his passion for the game, and the competitive spark within is firing again on all cylinders. He has once again assumed the leadership mantle for the franchise, scheduling off season workouts with his teammates, even during the pandemic. He has reached out to each of them regularly, either in person or online, between his family time and charitable endeavors. This doesn't shock me in the slightest as that's what leaders do actually.

What I did find pleasantly surprising was the tidbit of information which was revealed this week that Eric Ebron had spent some time this offseason staying at the Roethlisberger's humble abode not long after his free agency signing with the Steelers. I thought Ben was the pompous presumptive owner who thought too much of himself to congregate with his lowly subjects. This revelation seems to run contrary to the narrative spewed forth in the illogical nonsense of the aforementioned security blanket, and a couple of disgruntled malcontents and insignificant former employees. Strange how the national sports media didn't pick up on that positive story about Roethlisberger and run with it! Or is it?

Regardless, the fact the two men have went out of their way to build a working relationship shows they are committed to developing a chemistry on the field which only comes through hard work and repetitions. A connection that only evolves through communication, sometimes shared through a simple hand gesture or eye movement. All the great tandems have this unspoken language if you will.

These developments only bode well for the Steelers future as they strive in unison toward their seventh Lombardi Trophy. If the Steelers are able to achieve their next Super Bowl title this year, we may look back to the very beginning of the Roethlisberger-to-Ebron connection as a pivotal moment in the triumphant journey: The moment Roethlisberger found his next security blanket.

6 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin during his interviews on Thursday

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 7:15am
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With two interviews on Thursday, Mike Tomlin spoke extensively about several of his players.

It’s back by popular demand! The return to looking at the players mentioned in Mike Tomlin’s press conferences is a double-dose this week as not only did Coach Tomlin speak to the media Thursday morning, he also appeared on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. Since Tomlin was asked about different players in both interviews, they will all be covered here at Behind the Steel Curtain.

As is usually the case, these players are not ones Tomlin brought up himself but are specifically players about whom Tomlin was asked questions. This week, after being on the field with players for workouts, Tomlin had more to say than the previous interview.

Mason Rudolph

Going back into the backup quarterback roll, Mason Rudolph will be someone who who will be constantly scrutinized for someone hopefully not setting foot on the field. Coach Tomlin was asked improvements and expectations for Rudolph this season.

“We’re not in the working stage yet for him to exhibit any significant improvements in any way and so that’s a tough answer. We’re looking forward to him taking a significant step this year. I think that’s a reasonable thing as he continues to mature not only through time spent with us, but experience and exposure. And he’s got some in-game exposure. It’s going to be an issue for him not to get those quality preseason snaps that are so valuable for a young development quarterback. But all the young development quarterbacks have to deal with those circumstances this year, and other positional players. It’s just a function of where we are here in 2020.”

Devin Bush

Bush is a player many are hoping takes a large jump in his second year in the NFL. Coach Tomlin was asked about Bush’s growth in year two, particularly when it comes to communication on defense.

“Communication is a big part of his general growth and development because of the position that he plays. He’s a defensive quarterback, if you will, being an all-situations linebacker. One that plays on all down and distances and certain circumstances. And so, he’s the type of guy that has to be a hub of communication. We were thoughtful about the things that we asked him to do in that regard a year ago. He was challenged enough just to play and to be as productive a member of the unit as he was for us. It is reasonable for us to expect him to take a significant step in those unofficial endeavors that kind of encompasses his position. And so, we’re working on usual things and he’s displayed the usual maturational process things. He showed up in great condition, and that indicates an understanding of the nature of this thing that maybe didn’t have a year ago. And we’ll proceed from there, but they’re also unofficial things that he has to embrace and that’s the things that come with being defensive quarterback, if you will.”

Vince Williams

One of the longer tenured Steelers defensive players in linebacker Vince Williams. Coach Tomlin was asked about Williams’ role with the 2020 defense.

“It’s his role in terms and the division of labor, that’s why we come to camp. That’s why we go to the things that we go through just in terms of having worked with Vince over the course of his career. He’s a formidable run stopper. That is his niche. He’s always been really solid in that regard over the course of his career. He’s worked to develop other aspects of his game. His rush is something that is been noteworthy in recent years; his ability to win as a blitzer versus backs is an asset to us. And his football intelligence and communication skills have always been a solid component of his resume. So we have a lot of respect for Vince and we’re excited about his contributions this year and some of the details in terms of what his role might be and how it plays out will be determined through this process.”

Ben Roethlisberger

With 2019 being a wash, everyone wants to know how Ben Roethlisberger is progressing. Coach Tomlin was asked about how comfortable he was with watching Roethlisberger throw.

“I’m extremely comfortable with where he is in the process. It’s been great communication from and through him and the medical professionals through his rehab process. I did watch him throw. I didn’t see anything that was alarming in any way. His velocity is excellent. Maybe his spiral could be a little tighter—I’ve seen it tighter—but nothing to alarm you in any way. We’re going to continue to proceed, and proceeded appropriately with him in an effort to to have him ready to go when we step into a stadium.”

Tomlin was also asked about what he expects from Roethlisberger this season in his interview on Good Morning Football.

“Just in terms of mentality and intent, I have no question about what we’re going to get from Ben. I’m going on 14 years working with this guy and been in a lot of competitive situations. I’ve watched him stare adversity and challenges in the face over that time. It brings out the best in him always. In terms of physically and how he’s rebounding from there. So I think that it’s a process that he’s going through and with and we’re proceeding. Obviously, leaning on the expertise of the medical people and how he feels and so far so good. I’ve watched him throw a couple of times this week and he appears to have Ben-like velocity. I’m still looking for that extremely tight spiral that I’m used to seeing and so there’s still some ground to cover, but we still have some time. I’m excited about him doing what he does—stepping out in a phone booth, if you will, with the cape on—and being the guy that he has been for us and facing the challenges that this season is going to present.”

Minkah Fitzpatrick

The Steelers All-Pro safety hopes to bring even more to the defense this season. Coach Tomlin was asked on Good Morning Football how he would evaluate Minkah Fitzpatrick as a former defensive backs coach.

“He brings unique football talent. Obviously, that’s why he was drafted where he was drafted, and that’s why we did what we had to do to acquire him. But having been around him now for a year, you see how he produces it. Not only is he extremely talented as a football player, but he’s the type of guy that brings a unique approach. He has a unique desired outcome in that he wants to be great. But day-to-day, he’s willing to do the things that’s going to produce those type of plays. He’s not a guy that’s paid by the hour. He was absolutely the last guy, I think, walking out of the facility yesterday. I watched him walk out and that’s a routine thing for him. He’s diligent about training his mind as it relates to his job. He’s diligent about maintaining and conditioning and getting his body ready for the work. It’s just fun to kind of watch him go through his process and how developed his process is for a young guy. We’ve got to remember that Minkah is still a very young guy, not only an age but in NFL experience. Last year being his second year is really unique to see a guy who has a process—a developmental process—for game readiness that is as mature and developed as his is and I think that’s why the play is what it is.”

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Even with the young talent the Steelers have ammased at wide receiver, the national media will continue to focus on JuJu Smith-Schuster. Coach Tomlin was asked on GMFB about the ability for Smith-Schuster to bounce back in 2020.

“I know that JuJu is ready to answer those questions. And it’s not only who’s playing quarterback and overall how he functions within an overall group, but it’s also his generall readiness and health and he had some health issues a year ago. He’s worked extremely hard to show up to camp in the best physical condition that he can be in and in the best physical health that he could be in. And so we start from there. I’m excited about walking this journey with him, and I’m expecting big plays from him and quality performances like he’s delivered for us since we drafted him out of (U)SC several years ago.”

Mike Tomlin’s interview on Good Morning Football can be seen here:

(Part 1) .@steelers HC Mike Tomlin joined #GMFB to talk about adjusting to the unique training camp, the opt out deadline (today at 4pmET), Big Ben, @TeamJuJu, @minkfitz_21 and so much more! pic.twitter.com/zipgQfqozo

— GMFB (@gmfb) August 6, 2020

(Part 2) .@steelers HC Mike Tomlin joined #GMFB to talk about adjusting to the unique training camp, the opt out deadline (today at 4pmET), Big Ben, @TeamJuJu, @minkfitz_21 and so much more! pic.twitter.com/CjuFZ9duvn

— GMFB (@gmfb) August 6, 2020

The complete list of NFL players who have opted out for the 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 6:00am
Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

There were 66 players from 29 teams who chose to forgo the 2020 season.

The deadline for NFL players to opt out of the 2020 season has come and gone. And while some players who are in a high-risk category or fit certain criteria when it comes to family members can still opt out at a later time, the period in which it is completely up to the player has now passed.

In all, 66 players from 29 different teams chose to forgo the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following is a list by team and divisions of all players who will not see the field in 2020.

AFC East New England Patriots (8)

Najee Toran, C/G
Danny Vitale, FB
Marcus Cannon, OT
Brandon Bolden, RB
Dont’a Hightower, LB
Patrick Chung, S
Marqise Lee, WR
Matt LaCosse, TE

Buffalo Bills (2)

Star Lotulelei, DT
E.J. Gaines, CB

New York Jets (3)

Leo Koloamatangi, OL
C.J. Mosley, ILB
Josh Doctson, WR

Miami Dolphins (2)

Allen Hurns, WR
Albert Wilson, WR

AFC North Baltimore Ravens (2)

De’Anthony Thomas, WR
Andre Smith, OT

Pittsburgh Steelers (0)

None

Cleveland Browns (5)

Drake Dorbeck, OT
Drew Forbes, OG
Andrew Billings, DT
Colby Gossett, G
Malcolm Pridgeon, G

Cincinnati Bengals (2)

Josh Tupou, DT
Isaiah Prince, OT

AFC South Houston Texans (1)

Eddie Vanderdoes, DT

Tennessee Titans (1)

Anthony McKinney, OT

Indianapolis Colts (3)

Skai Moore, LB
Marvell Tell III, CB
Rolan Milligan, S

Jacksonville Jaguars (3)

Al Woods, DT
Lerentee McCray, DE/LB
Rashaan Melvin, CB

AFC West Kansas City Chiefs (3)

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, G
Damien Williams, RB
Lucas Niang, OT

Denver Broncos (2)

Kyle Peko, DT
Ja’Wuan James, RT

Las Vegas Raiders (3)

Jeremiah Valoaga, DE
D.J. Killings, DB
Ukeme Eligwe, LB

Los Angeles Chargers (0)

None

NFC East Philadelphia Eagles (1)

Marquise Goodwin, WR

Dallas Cowboys (3)

Maurice Canady, CB
Stephen Guidry, WR
Jamize Olawale, FB

New York Giants (3)

Nate Solder, OT
Da’Mari Scott, WR
Sam Beal, CB

Washington Football Team (2)

Caleb Brantley, DL
Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB

NFC North Green Bay Packers (1)

Devin Funchess, WR

Minnesota Vikings (1)

Michael Pierce, DT

Chicago Bears (2)

Eddie Goldman, DT
Jordan Lucas, S

Detroit Lions (3)

John Atkins, DT
Geronimo Allison, WR
Russell Bodine, C

NFC South New Orleans Saints (2)

Cole Wick, TE
Jason Vander Laan, TE

Atlanta Falcons (0)

None

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1)

Brad Seaton, OT

Carolina Panthers (2)

Jordan Mack, LB
Christian Miller, OLB

NFC West San Francisco 49ers (2)

Travis Benjamin, WR
Shon Coleman, OT

Seattle Seahawks (1)

Chance Warmack, G

Los Angeles Rams (1)

Chandler Brewer, OT

Arizona Cardinals (1)

Marcus Gilbert, OT

Podcast: Five things Steelers fans will miss during 2020 training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 5:30am

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

For the first time since 1967, the Steelers will not be embarking on the sleepy hamlet that is St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA for training camp due to the ongoing pandemic that is Covid-19. The new location of Heinz Field is far from the only thing that will be different for all of Steeler Nation when it comes to preparation for the 2020 season. There are plenty of things that will be missed by Steelers fans as well. This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the newest show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join BTSC Co-Editor Jeff Hartman with his show, “Let’s Ride” as he lists five things that Steelers fans will miss during Training Camp 2020.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Five things Steelers fans will miss during 2020 training camp
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: Who will benefit most from Matt Canada being on the coaching staff?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Fri, 08/07/2020 - 4:30am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at which member of the Steelers will benefit most from Matt Canada being on the coaching staff?

Let’s get to the news:

  • Matt Canada is a polarizing figure, and will have an impact on the Steelers in 2020.

Tim Benz: Beyond Ben Roethlisberger, who will be most helped by new quarterback coach Matt Canada?

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Just because former Pitt Panthers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has returned to Pittsburgh doesn’t mean his offense has.

Not entirely anyway.

Now in his first year as quarterbacks coach with the Steelers, Canada spoke with members of the Pittsburgh media this week. He took great measures to reiterate his specific role with the team.

He’s the quarterbacks coach. Not a second offensive coordinator alongside Randy Fichtner.

“I am in a position to learn and assist Randy in any way I can,” Canada said Tuesday. “To assist the quarterbacks in any way and be part of the group.

“I am coming in and learning our system and what we have done here. That is my job — to just enhance whatever I can.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

Diontae Johnson ready to renew connection with Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

By almost any measure, the numbers Diontae Johnson posted in 2019 were impressive.

His 59 receptions led all rookie pass catchers in the NFL and were the most by anyone on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. His 680 receiving yards were second on the team and sixth among all rookies. His five touchdown catches represented another team high.

And he did it while spending all but six quarters working with the Steelers’ second- and third-string quarterbacks.

It left Johnson wondering what kind of stats he might produce not only with another year of development, but with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger back under center.

“I’ve thought about it since the end of the season and while getting back ready,” Johnson said Wednesday on a video conference call with reporters. “Expecting Ben to come back 100 percent, I’m looking forward to getting on the field with him this year.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • NFL launches new initiative.

NFL launches NFL Votes

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

The NFL has launched a league-wide, nonpartisan initiative, NFL Votes, that will support and encourage civic engagement and voting of NFL players, legends, team and club personnel, and fans.

The program focuses on three key points including voter education, registration and activation. NFL Votes is incorporated into Inspire Change, the league’s social justice initiative.

Players and coaches around the NFL have been vocal about social justice issues, including the importance of voting. The NFL began running television advertisements to promote the initiative on Thursday.

“Today marks the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was meant to ensure the right to vote for all Americans, prohibiting discrimination in voting based on race or color,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell via a press release. “Through meeting with players and legends to better understand causes and issues they are passionate about, we found a consensus around the importance of voting. That’s why we’re putting the power of our platform behind NFL Votes, aiming to inspire and encourage people to get educated about the voting process, to get registered to vote, and to ultimately exercise their right to vote.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed...

Matt Canada is already influencing the Steelers offense

Mike Tomlin isn’t overly confident in having a full 2020 season

The Steelers reveal how they are planning to have fans at Heinz Field

Is Paxton Lynch a realistic back up quarterback option for the Steelers?

No Steelers opt out for the upcoming season

  • Social Media Madness

Another day. Another opportunity. #SteelersCamp

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 6, 2020

That Time Of Year. pic.twitter.com/9XRos9tvld

— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) August 6, 2020

O-line puttin' in work #SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/WtJFTSoGLi

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 6, 2020

Bros in Black & Gold pic.twitter.com/iC17sOeigl

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 6, 2020

Vince Williams looks ready for year 8 @VinnyVidiVici98 pic.twitter.com/KK1nROaQ25

— BTSC Steelers (@btsteelcurtain) August 6, 2020

Check out @ChaseClaypool rocking the black and gold for the first time! Via @cainera1_ pic.twitter.com/G6wOtw60t6

— BTSC Steelers (@btsteelcurtain) August 6, 2020

As the deadline passes, no Steelers have opted out for the 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/06/2020 - 3:07pm
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL’s 4 PM deadline has now passed, and no news of any Steelers choosing to forgo the 2020 season has been reported.

As part of the agreement between the NFL and the Players Association, every player had the ability to opt out of the 2020 season without question by 4 PM on Thursday, August 6. Once the agreement was reached on July 25, reports begin to come in of players choosing to sit out the 2020 season.

The first player was the Chiefs Laurent Duvernay-Tardif who chose to forgo the 2020 season and continue his job in the medical field. In the 13 days which followed, numerous players made their decision on opting out for 2020 across almost every team in the NFL.

On Tuesday afternoon, there were eight teams who had yet to have a player opt out. By midnight that night, the number was cut to four. And at the 4 PM deadline on Thursday, there were only three teams to have no players who reportedly of opted out for the 2020 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those three teams.

Typically in the NFL, the actual transactions coming through the NFL office lag behind when reports come out. But at the deadline, no members of the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers had any reports of sitting out the upcoming season. The other two teams are the Los Angeles Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons.

Two former Steelers chose to forgo 2020 in offense of tackle Marcus Gilbert of the Arizona Cardinals and defensive tackle Al Woods of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In all, ESPN’s opt out tracker has a total of 63 (now 65) players from 29 teams who have opted out.

Now that the deadline has passed, the criteria for opting out for 2020 is much more strict. Players either have to be deemed to be in a high-risk category, or have an immediate family member who is either at risk or or suffering complications from COVID-19. In other words, the opt out will be based more on necessity than personal preference.

Although the Steelers do have players who are considered to be in a high risk categories such as James Conner (cancer survivor) and Cameron Heyward (asthma), the players are moving forward with playing the 2020 season.

It appears the Steelers now know their training camp roster and the plans each have moving forward. Now it’s time to get down to business.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Benny Snell Jr.

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/06/2020 - 1:45pm
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

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

Moving along with part 74 of our 90ish-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-man (now 80-,man) roster in alphabetical order. This series will encompass many aspects of each players game and their current role with the team. At the end, I’ll give some projected stats as well as their chances to make the 53-man roster.

Let’s dive into sophomore running back:

Benny Snell Jr.

Position: RB
Height: 5’ 10”
Weight: 224 lbs
College: Kentucky
Draft: 4th round, 122nd overall in 2019

2019 Stats

13 Games played
108 Attempts
426 Rushing Yards
3 Receptions
23 Receiving Yards
2 Touchdowns
1 Fumble

Contract remaining

Expires in 2023
$850,517 salary cap number (.42% of total cap)
$175,517 Dead money
$675,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Lock. Benny Snell Jr. will feature prominently in a running back quartet in Pittsburgh. The sophomore back should pick up where he left off as a short yardage guy as well as who the Steelers turn too in the event James Conner gets injured. Snell won't be going anywhere anytime soon, especially if the Steelers choose not to re-sign Conner at the conclusion of this upcoming season.

2020 projection

I believe Snell will take the next step after an average rookie campaign. The return of Ben Roethlisberger should back up defenders and un-crowd the box, making it considerably easier to run the ball. If James Conner plays in all 16 games it is possible that Snell doesn't set career bests in yards or attempts, but 2020 should be a stepping stone year for a player that projects to be a starter in 2021.

Projected stats:

14 Games played
100 Attempts
425 Rushing Yards
10 Receptions
85 Receiving Yards
3 Touchdowns
1 Fumble

Summary

As long as James Conner is healthy the Steelers have leaned heavily on him for production. If this is the case again in 2020 it may hurt Snells production, unless Conner is to get hurt from the gigantic work load in which case Snell will pick up even more carries. When compared to the other back up running backs I believe Benny Snell Jr. will pick up more carries than both Jaylen Samuels and Anthony McFarland Jr. A big season from the Kentucky alum might even sway managements decision on whether the team should re-sign James Conner or not. The 2020 season will be a huge one in determining the future of the backfield, and all the chips are seemingly sitting infant of Benny Snell.

Previously Highlighted

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

Tomlin on Roethlisberger’s physical bounce back: ‘It’s a process he is going through’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/06/2020 - 12:30pm
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ head coach acknowledges his franchise quarterback is on the right track, but far from a finished product.

Thursday morning was a busy one for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. After meeting with local and national media in the morning, he hopped on the NFL Network’s Good Morning Football show to talk about all things Steelers.

Of course, one of the first questions he fielded was about Ben Roethlisberger. Everyone, including the fan base, wants to know the state of Roethlisberger’s elbow after having it surgically repaired in 2019.

Tomlin spoke openly about it, and called his physical bounce back to the 2020 season ‘a process he is going through’.

Check out the clip below:

.@steelers HC Mike Tomlin joined #GMFB to tell us what we can expect from Big Ben in 2020 ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/J3VUVYauH9

— GMFB (@gmfb) August 6, 2020

Here is the full quote:

“In terms of physically, and how he is rebounding from this, I think that it is a process he is going through and we are preceding, obviously leaning on the expertise of the medial people and how he feels. So far so good.

“I’ve watched him throw a couple times this week. He appears to have Ben-like velocity. I’m still looking for that extremely tight spiral that I am used to seeing. So there is still some ground to cover, but we still have some time.”

Did you really think Tomlin would gush over Roethlisberger without giving something for the quarterback to glean from his comments? Just this week Roethlisberger spoke about how his arm feels, especially after increased workouts, and he said he felt good.

“You know, my arm feels really, really good. I threw a lot of balls yesterday. I was kind of waking up today to see how it was going to feel, and it feels great. That’s kind of what I anticipated because we have been working more than usual in the offseason in terms of throwing.

“I’ve put together a regimen of 2-3 days a week of throwing for the last two months, if not longer than that too.” Roethlisberger said. “I think the plan is still to kind of pitch count, if you will, through training camp. I worked really hard yesterday in terms of a lot of throws. I’ll throw maybe try about half that amount today. Then, tomorrow, I’ll just really back off again just to kind of to see how it will feel.

“Obviously, this is a little different training camp because you’re not really doing one-on-ones. You’re not really doing 7-on-7s right now. Right now, we are just building up and working on timing with receivers, tight ends, running backs, things like that. I’ve had no setbacks. It feels really good, so I’m really excited about that.

Tomlin gave him something to add on his to-do list, and that would be work on that tight spiral so many fans have seen since he put on the black-and-gold No. 7 back in 2004.

Nonetheless, Tomlin knows what is means to have Roethlisberger under center, and he knows how he responds to any type of situation where he feels like an underdog. In other words, Tomlin is ready for Roethlisberger to assume his role as Superman for the team.

“I’m excited about him doing what he does, stepping out of the phone booth, if you will, with a cape on and being the guy that he has been for us and facing the challenges this season is going to present.”

Diontae Johnson confirms Matt Canada’s influence on the offense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/06/2020 - 11:05am
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

In his interview on Wednesday, Diontae Johnson mentioned Matt Canada’s motion schemes being implemented in the Steelers offense.

In Diontae Johnson’s press conference with the media he was asked about Matt Canada, and if Diontae Johnson thought he would benefit from some of his ideas. His response was the first real confirmation we have had that the Steelers are implementing the kind of plays Matt Canada brought to the college game.

I’m going to do whatever they ask me to do, that’s the main thing. Although it’s new stuff, I’m still actually learning all those new motions and stuff he’s (Canada) brought over to us. I wouldn’t say it’s tough, it’s just something you’ve got to put your mind to it and just want to learn. Like I said I’m going to go out there and do whatever it takes to help.

When asked if it would benefit him in particular he responded:

Yeah, most definitely. It’s going to create ways for me to get open and make plays, so that’s what I’m looking forward to.

Randy Fichtner, Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Canada have been non-committal in their recent interviews, with coach Canada stating the usual coach speak:

I’m coming in and learning our system, learning what we’ve done here. That’s my job, to just enhance whatever I can. . . We’re going to focus on what Ben does well, what he’s always done well, and however I can assist that I’ll do it.

Canada also directly downplayed the Steelers using motion in the offense this season:

It’s part of what (I’ve) done in the past, but again, I’m coming in here and I’m focused on learning our system and getting going with what we are doing here.

Until Diontae Johnson’s interview it didn’t seem like there would be much change at all in the offense due to the addition of Canada. But with Johnson letting the cat out of the bag, we now know the Steelers are working more motion into the offense, even if they don’t want to talk about it.

This is something to listen for as the Steelers go through camp, to see what clues we can get about the extent of Canada’s influence, and what players are learning and executing any new wrinkles to the offense. The team seems to have embraced utilizing Matt Canada’s expertise, with even Ben Roethlisberger seeming open to the change. In his interview this week, while discussing how the new coaches and players can help the offense he added this comment:

. . .misdirection stuff, we brought coach Canada in to help with some of that stuff.

Roethlisberger then expressed his excitement for what the offense could accomplish in 2020.

While most of what we have heard coming from the Steelers is the usual information we get, a whole lot of platitudes and team-speak, there are signs that the team is going forward with Matt Canada having an impact on the design of the offense, and are embracing an increased use of pre-snap motion to generate opportunities to make plays.

Now that Diontae Johnson has confirmed that players are learning motions and “stuff” specifically brought to the team by Matt Canada, fans can stop wondering whether Fichtner and Roethlisberger will embrace new ideas, and start thinking about how much influence Canada will have, and what the impact of his schemes will have on the offense.

Podcast: How does Matt Canada factor in Ben Roethlisberger’s Lombardi hunt?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/06/2020 - 11:00am

With “The Standard is the Standard” being retired, Michael Beck and Geoffrey Benedict break down all the news you need to know surrounding the Black-and-Gold from the week that was.

When Ben Roethlisberger met with the media on Tuesday, he proclaimed that he still feels like he has a lot left in the tank. After an elbow injury and subsequent surgery shut his 2019 season down after only six quarters of play, the 17-year veteran expressed his motivation by saying, “I still have a lot to give this team. I still have a lot to give the fans. And I still want to win Lombardis, and I say that with a plural on the end.” With No. 7 back and hopefully better then ever, he returns with a new quarterbacks coach, Matt Canada. What kind of a role will Canada have in Ben’s quest for more championships? This inquiry and more will be pondered on the latest episode in the BTSC family of podcasts. As always, it is a good time to talk everything Steelers.

Take a look or listen to the newest episode in the BTSC family of podcasts. With The Standard is the Standard retired, Michael Beck takes the weekly helm alongside Geoffrey Benedict with the new Wednesday offering, Beck On Black. On this week’s show, Mike and Geoff give their twist on all things Steelers!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Ben Roethlisberger is hunting Lombardi trophies
  • How does Matt Canada factor in on Big Ben’s quest?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

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

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
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 standard is the standard for player safety at Steelers training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/06/2020 - 9:45am
Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The word out of Heinz Field is the Steelers are handling COVID-19 safety measures like they do everything: First class

As coaches and players continue with media availability as workouts get underway at training camp, the entire process being so abnormal compared to years past opens up the question as to how everyone is handling the situation. So far for the Steelers, the answers have all been of a similar theme...

The Pittsburgh Steelers are focused on doing the right thing, and doing it well, when it comes to player safety in regards to COVID-19 restrictions for the 2020 season.

It’s been a challenge for sure as players and staff to get used to the guidelines. Last Thursday, Mike Tomlin mentioned safety protocols in his opening statement during his first media session of Steelers 2020 training camp.

“We’ve got a lot of respect for this environment that we are in,” Tomlin explained in a virtual press conference on Zoom. “We are working our tails off to familiarize ourselves to adhere to the COVID protocols in an effort to keep the individuals, and us as a collective group, safe as we can possibly be in the midst of this.”

Of course player safety should always be a top priority when it comes to an NFL franchise. There is a chance some teams are doing it better than others, but in the new environment which is the 2020 season, player safety is at a whole new level. Not only is it important for players to feel safe in regards to COVID-19, but it is also important for players to know the seriousness of following the safety protocols for the protection of the entire organization.

Coach Tomlin laid this out to the team early on and did not hold it back from anyone who questioned their stance on COVID safety.

“What you are talking about is conduct that is detrimental,” Tomlin said, “and that is a term that is used often in our business and appropriately so. Because in this COVID environment, if you are not exercising digression and being thoughtful about how you move, that conduct is detrimental to your cause and ours collectively. That is the message that I am delivering to those guys. We have to conduct ourselves accordingly.”

It appears Tomlin’s message is coming through loud and clear to the players. In his interview with the Pittsburgh media on Wednesday, Steelers veteran linebacker Vince Williams praised the team for what they have done for player safety according to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com.

Vince Williams said it's about safety first right now. He said the Steelers have done a great job of providing the players with a safe environment.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 5, 2020

Players being in an environment in which they feel they are safe as possible is paramount to the Steelers 2020 season. The Steelers are one of the very few teams who have yet to have a player opt out for 2020. Exactly why the Steelers don’t have any players choosing to forego the 2020 season could be from any number of factors, but seeing the team handle safety issues firsthand has to make players feel better about their decision.

Steelers second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson also addressed safety protocols with the Steelers workouts as training camp is getting underway. Knowing teams have to follow the protocols in order to have a possibility of completing the 2020 season, Johnson understands this is just part of the process.

Diontae Johnson said he is still getting accustomed to all of the protocols teams have to adhere to now, but it's something that they have to adhere to and he won't complain.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 5, 2020

For a better idea of exactly what Johnson could be speaking of, Coach Tomlin addressed more safety issues in his most recent press conference Thursday morning. One of the differences Tomlin noted is being able to address the entire team at one time.

Coach Tomlin said the team is doing different things during the conditioning period, testing things out. In the morning meeting today he met with the veterans in person, while the rookies and assistant coaches all watched it virtually throughout Heinz Field.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 6, 2020

But player safety throughout the pandemic is more than just on the field and in the locker room. After his session with the local Pittsburgh media, Coach Tomlin went on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football where he also discussed providing players with the proper and most readily available information regarding the situation.

Coach Tomlin on @gmfb said the team is working hard now, and even remotely in the offseason, providing players accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic. He said players have had a thirst for information.

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 6, 2020

Perception and reality can often be two different things with many aspects of the NFL, as well as life in general. So far, when it comes to the Steelers 2020 training camp, it appears the team is doing its best when it comes to safety to not only make the players feel as safe as possible, but for them to actually be safe given the circumstances.

Mike Tomlin not ‘extremely confident’ in the upcoming NFL season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Thu, 08/06/2020 - 8:42am
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach is cautious regarding the upcoming 2020 regular season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are just one of 32 NFL teams who are putting protocols and safety measures in place to have players in facilities and working out. During the coronavirus pandemic, and sports returning, there has been plenty of skepticism regarding whether an NFL season could be played or not.

The NFL has had the luxury of time with other sports like Major League Baseball, the NHL and NBA all back to game play. But let’s not pretend all of these sports are created equal, as it pertains to the success of their return.

The NHL and NBA have returned to a bubble environment where players are staying in one location to help prevent outside infection within the bubble. So far, both professional leagues have been successful in this plan.

Baseball, on the other hand, is not participating in a bubble. Teams are traveling from city to city, the only changes being facial coverings worn by some and no fans in ball parks. And there have been plenty of issues with MLB protocols and return policy.

The Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals have both seen a spike in cases which has forced games to be postponed or rescheduled. This has only compounded the concern over the NFL returning in a similar format. The biggest differences about the two sports are glaring. Baseball the players are rarely touching, where football has players hitting one another every single time the ball is snapped.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who met with media during a Zoom call Thursday morning, was asked about his confidence level heading into the season.

His response was candid.

This via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Tomlin said "I don’t know that I'm extremely confident" about the NFL season, given what has happened in baeball. "I think we're all proceeding with caution and working extremely hard not to become part of that."

— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) August 6, 2020

After watching the struggles of MLB to keep things in control, everyone in NFL circles should have some pause about the upcoming season, but it also could be chalked up to yet another challenge entering a season.

Tomlin realizes this is one of those challenges, and is ready to embrace it, like he does every year.

This per Teresa Varley of Steelers.com:

'I always come into the season expecting it to be challenging. There is always a challenge. What it might be, or the highlights of it, is difficult to forecast. But we all come into this time of year ready to embrace, meet and hopefully overcome the challenges.' - Coach Tomlin

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) August 6, 2020

There are some fans who will read Tomlin’s quotes and think the NFL season is destined for failure before it even starts. But let’s not forget there are some very smart people working with the league, and individual teams, to help make this season as safe as possible for all involved.

On top of that, there is also the simple fact the NFL is learning from MLB and their shortcomings. Again, football has had the luxury of time, and the ability to witness the success and failures of sports who have returned already.

Will a season happen in 2020? No one knows for sure, but the NFL has a plan in place they, and the NFLPA, believe in. Whether the players, coaches and personnel can execute said plan might be the difference between a season, and failure.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they press on with 2020 Training Camp at Heinz Field.

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