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NFL Network’s top 100: 11-40

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 10:27pm
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The annual list chosen by the players continued its release on Tuesday night.

The NFL Network kicked off its yearly list of the top 100 NFL players for 2020 on Sunday night. Each hour-long show highlights ten players in descending order. With three shows to kick things off, The first 30 selections from Sunday can be seen HERE while the next set from Monday night can be seen HERE. As for the next 30 players (11 through 40), they were revealed on Tuesday night courtesy of NFL.com:

40.) Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings DE
39.) Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs FS
38.) Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR
37.) Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams CB
36.) Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns RB
35.) Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers FS
34.) Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers DE
33.) Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers RB
32.) Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB
31.) Saquon Barkley, New York Giants RB

A breakdown of each player from 31-40 can be seen HERE.

30.) Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR
29.) Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts OG
28.) Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers CB
27.) Jamal Adams, Seattle Seahawks SS
26.) Von Miller, Denver Broncos OLB
25.) T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers OLB
24.) Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys RB
23.) Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints DE
22.) Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs WR
21.) Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings RB

A breakdown of each player from 21-30 can be seen HERE.

20.) Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans QB
19.) Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears OLB
18.) Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs TE
17.) Nick Bosa, San Francisco 49ers DE
16.) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers QB
15.) Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals LB
14.) Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB
13.) Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks MLB
12.) Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints QB
11.) Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons WR

A breakdown of each player from 11-20 can be seen HERE.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: Maurkice Pouncey

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 2:30pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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

Moving along with part 65 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-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 in on eleven-year veteran:

Maurkice Pouncey

Position: C
Height: 6’ 4”
Weight: 304 lbs
College: Florida
Draft: 1st round 18th Overall in 2010

2019 stats (NCAA)

13 Games played
13 Games started

Contract remaining

Expires in 2022
$7,525,000 salary cap number (3.7% of total cap)
$6,475,000 Dead money
$1,050,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

Lock. Maurkice Pouncey is the anchor of the Steelers offensive line, a veteran leader, and on a contract that is basically uncuttable in 2020 (but he wasn't getting cut anyway). Ben Roethlisberger is also a big fan of his center and probably wouldn’t be very happy if anything were to happen to him. The Steelers offensive line will remain mostly intact in 2020.

2020 projection

I expect Maurkice Pouncey to start in every game, health depending, but I think 2019 might be the last of his Pro Bowl years. Although, Steelers fans do love our offensive linemen and could get Pouncey into his 9th Pro Bowl. I also think Pouncey will clean up some of his errant snaps that became a bit of a problem in 2019. Having Ben Roethlisberger back there taking snaps also helps as the duo has well over ten years of chemistry with one another.

Projected stats:

16 Games started
16 Games played

Summary

I think the Steelers offensive line will be better than it was in 2019. Opponents will be less likely to stack the box with Roethlisberger back at the helm. The Steelers are also not playing the same level of defensive line talent in 2020 that they did in 2019. Those two factors combined, I think the Steelers offensive line will again be recognized as one of footballs best units. Maurkice Pouncey is getting older but he has shown week in and week out that he is still a capable veteran.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
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
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
Dewayne Hendrix
Cam Heyward
Alex Highsmith
Mike Hilton
Devlin Hodges
John Houston
Anthony Johnson
Diontae Johnson
Jarron Jones
John Keenoy
Tyree Kinnel
Christian Kuntz
Justin Layne
Leo Lewis
James Lockhart
Paxton Lynch
Dan McCullers
Vance McDonald
Anthony McFarland Jr.
Henry Mondeaux
Christian Montano
Alexander Myres
Steven Nelson
Spencer Nigh
Chuks Okorafor
James Pierre

The top remaining NFL free agents at the start of training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 1:15pm
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Some of the best players of the 2020 free agency class are still available.

NFL training camps are about to get underway, yet some of the biggest names in the game remain teamless. The Covid-19 pandemic has limited how much players can be worked out, and many player signings had to be delayed for in person physicals to be conducted. So while it isn't a total shock that some of the following players are still available, other free agents were able to come to an agreement in the same conditions.

Field Yates of ESPN threw out some names of the top remaining free agents and I'm going to give you a slight breakdown of all of the names below.

Notable unsigned free agents as training camps begin this week include:
▫️Jadeveon Clowney
▫️Everson Griffen
▫️Logan Ryan
▫️Devonta Freeman
▫️Larry Warford
▫️Eric Reid
▫️Darqueze Dennard
▫️Snacks Harrison
▫️Delanie Walker
▫️Dre Kirkpatrick
▫️Timmy Jernigan

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) July 27, 2020 Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney in coming off of a 3 sack, 31 tackle season with the Seattle Seahawks. The former number 1 overall pick has expressed that he wanted to make over $20 Million a year at the start of free agency, but has reportedly since lowered his price. The Seahawks have reportedly offered Clowney a one year $15 Million deal to return to the team that dealt for him, and the Cleveland Browns reportedly offered Clowney a similar type deal.

Everson Griffen

The Everson Griffen free agency has heated up recently, and its been reported that the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings are front runners to land the four time Pro Bowler. In 10 career seasons Griffen has put up a whopping 74.5 sacks and 353 tackles. Griffen appears set to be the first player to come off of this list.

Logan Ryan

Ryan put up an insane 113 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a cornerback in 2019. He also added 18 passes defended and 4 interceptions, making him one of the most dynamic defensive players in the league, and one of the best corners in football. According to Ian Rapoport, Ryan won't take anything less than $10 million a year, which is what he paid over the course of his tenure in Tennessee.

Devonta Freeman

Devonta Freeman was recently offered a one year four million dollar contract by the Seattle Seahawks, but Freeman turned it down. Freeman is coming off of a 1,066 total yard season in Atlanta and is only just 28 years of age. The veteran back has also been healthier then public perception seems to be, as Freeman has only missed 19 career games (14 of which came in 2018).

Larry Warford

Warford was a surprise cut by the Saints back in May, as he was coming off three consecutive Pro Bowls as a Guard. Warford would be a perfect player to plug into a line up due to Covid-19 opt-outs, and could be back in the NFL again before Week 1.

Eric Reid

Eric Reid is coming off a season where he set career highs in tackles (130), and Sacks (4). Reid was another surprise cut during this offseason as he was arguably the best Panthers player not named Christian McCaffrey, or Luke Kuechly in 2019.

Darqueze Dennard

Back in March the Jaguars and Dennard almost completed a 3 year $13.5 million dollar deal, however, they couldn’t agree on final terms. Dennard never developed into the star that annalists made him to be coming out of Michigan State, but he’s still a serviceable defensive back.

Damon Harrison Sr.

The best remaining nose tackle remaining in free agency, ‘Snacks’ Harrison put up 49 tackles and 2 sacks a season ago. One of the heavies men in the NFL, Harrison could anchor just about any teams defensive line.

Delanie Walker

The 35 year old tight end is by far the oldest member of this list, however he can still ball. In just 7 games in 2019 Walker racked up 215 yards and 2 touchdowns. Walker may just have one season left in him, although it would be very strange to not see him play for the Titans anymore

Dre Kirkpatrick

Another former Bengals corner on this list, Steelers fans may remember Kirkpatrick best for when Le’Veon Bell dribbled him off the ground like a basketball. In 99 career games, Kirkpatrick has snatched up 10 interceptions, and has been a mainstay of the Bengals defensive backfield since 2012.

Timmy Jernigan

The former Raven turned Eagle’s defensive tackle is entering his seventh NFL season. Jernigan picked up 2 sacks in more of a reserve role in 2019 and could be a cheap option to round out a teams defensive line.

What do you think? Should the Steelers attempt to bring in any of the guys above? Will they all have homes before the 2020 season? Let us know down in the comments below!

NFL Player Opt Out Tracker: Keeping tabs on those who are sitting out the 2020 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 12:28pm
Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Updating which players are choosing to forgo the upcoming season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NFL is doing everything I can to hold the 2020 season amid the COVID-19 crisis. With the league and the NFLPA coming to an agreement last week on procedures to move forward with NFL training camps and the entirety of the season, one possibility for players is to opt out of the season altogether.

It’s unclear at this time how many players will choose to skip out on the season for 2020. Players who do so can earn $150,000 and will have their contract obligations simply pushed to the next year if they are not deemed to be in a high-risk category. Players who are deemed to be at high risk for COVID-19 can earn $350,000 and still have an accrued NFL season.

As players exercise this option around the league, we will continue to update anyone who has been added to this category below.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, Kansas City Chiefs G
De’Anthony Thomas, Baltimore Ravens WR
Chance Warmack, Seattle Seahawks G
Maurice Canady, Dallas Cowboys CB
Caleb Brantley, Washington Football Team DL
Najee Toran, New England Patriots C/G
Danny Vitale, New England Patriots FB
Marcus Cannon, New England Patriots OT
Brandon Bolden, New England Patriots RB
Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots LB
Andre Smith, Baltimore Ravens OT
Stephen Guidry, Dallas Cowboys WR
Kyle Peko, Denver Broncos DT
Eddie Vanderdoes, Houston Texans DT
Patrick Chung, New England Patriots S
NEW: Anthony McKinney, Tennessee Titans OT
NEW: Eddie Goldman, Chicago Bears DT
NEW: Star Lotulelei, Buffalo Bills DT
NEW: Cole Wick, New Orleans Saints TE

Alex Highsmith has high praise for his Steelers teammates

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 12:15pm
Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The rookie joined the Steelers defensive line for workouts ahead of camp.

Steelers rookie Alex Highsmith kicked off 2020 training camp with a zoom meeting with Steelers reporter Missi Matthews along with other Pittsburgh media.

Highsmith said he spent his time after the draft trying to get in the best shape of his life. He recently trained with the #Steelers defensive line in Pittsburgh prior to reporting to #SteelersCamp.

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) July 28, 2020

One item in particular was Highsmith discussing training recently with some of his teammates. Highsmith showed several workouts with other Steelers on his twitter account, including Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and Henry Mondeaux.

But that wasn’t all. Alex Highsmith had thoughts on joining the Steelers to play with, and learn from Steelers edge rushers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree according to Matthews.

“They’re both great. I’m truly blessed to be able to learn from two of the best in the league. i really believe they’re the best pass rushing duo.”

Alex Highsmith joins a Steelers outside linebacker room that has only three players that have logged snaps on the Steelers defense, with Olasunkanmi Adeniyi the only non-starter to have seen game action. Adeniyi only has 71 defensive snaps in his two years on the team, so behind starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree there isn’t much experience.

Highsmith has an opportunity to earn a role as a rotational player right away on a Steelers defense that looks to be one of the league’s best. It is good to hear that he is already putting in work to try and make the most of that opportunity.

Other quotes from the interview can be seen below.

Highlights from ESPN’s Brooke Pryor:

Alex Highsmith said he worked out in Pittsburgh with Brandon Jordan and a group of defensive linemen — including Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and Dan McCullers — last week.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 28, 2020

Alex Highsmith: “It’s not going to be a normal season ... I still believe we’re going to do whatever we can to have a season.”

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 28, 2020

Alex Highsmith says he’s not a guy who likes going out. Says football is the most important thing and he’s not going to jeopardize himself and others on the team and team staff by going out.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 28, 2020

Alex Highsmith says he’s more comfortable rushing from the right side (that’s where he rushed from in college), but says he’s comfortable on either side and in whatever role they need him to play on defense or special teams.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) July 28, 2020

Highlights from Steelers.com‘s Teresa Varley:

'It's still high. I have been preparing over the past three or four months. I am ready and excited for the opportunity.' - @highsmith34 on his confidence knowing they will go from training camp to opening day this year

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) July 28, 2020

Rookie @highsmith34 said his goal is the 'help this team chase a ring.'

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) July 28, 2020

'I can't wait to get out there and put on pads and work for what we work for, and that is to get a championship.' - @highsmith34

— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) July 28, 2020

Steelers sign running back Wendell Smallwood

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 11:18am
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

The former fifth-round pick spent three years in Philadelphia before playing 2019 in Washington.

As the Steelers report to camp to get tested and isolate in preparation for training camp, the Steelers added a new name to the roster.

We’ve signed RB Wendell Smallwood to a one-year contract.https://t.co/k97qlGc4mc

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 28, 2020

The Steelers were down a player after defensive back Arrion Springs was placed on the NFL’s Reserve/Covid-19 List, and they filled that spot with running back Wendell Smallwood. The 26 year old running back played college football for the University of West Virginia and was drafted in 2016 by the Philadelphia Eagles where he played for three seasons before joining the Washington Football Team for the 2019 season.

Smallwood has never been a major part of the offense for any team, but he is a versatile running back who can run and catch and had started 12 games in the NFL. He has been a staple special teams player for several years as well.

With the abbreviated training camp and no preseason games this year, the Steelers made a sensible move picking up an experienced player to fill out the roster. Wendell Smallwood joins the Steelers as the oldest running back on the roster, as he is a few months older than both Trey Edmunds and James Conner.

Stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all breaking news as the Steelers report for training camp.

Steelers 2020 Training Camp: Updating players reporting to Heinz Field

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 10:55am
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers veterans are reporting to Heinz Field today in order to have their COVID-19 test performed while rookies are able to perform other team activities.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 training camp has officially begun. Unfortunately, we have grown accustomed to players reporting to St. Vincent College in Latrobe which will not be something Steelers Nation can enjoy in 2020. Instead, the veteran players are merely reporting to Heinz Field for the first of three COVID-19 tests before players can officially enter the facility.

While it is nowhere close to the team actually playing football, the process must begin at some point and today is that day. As the Steelers or individual players announce their arrival to officially begin 2020 training camp, we will be compiling and updating which players have arrived below. Rookies reported last week for their tests, but they will still be highlighted with the rest of the team.

Ben Roethlisberger, Terrell Edmunds, and Benny Snell Jr. arrive at Heinz Field.

Heinz Field@_BigBen7 | @rell_island6 | @benny_snell pic.twitter.com/hbRSiUbFxq

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 28, 2020

Rookie Chase Claypool returns.

Canadian WR Chase Claypool reporting for duty✔️ ( : @steelers) pic.twitter.com/N75suEXcAd

— NFL Canada (@NFLCanada) July 28, 2020

Steven Nelson wasn’t looking forward to the test, but it wasn’t as bad as he anticipated.

Test was piece of cake lol

— Steve Nelson (@Nelson_Island) July 28, 2020

Rookie Alex Highsmith prepares for a zoom interview.

#SteelersCamp kicks off with a zoom interview with rookie ⁦@highsmith34⁩. pic.twitter.com/hBnD5p0uql

— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) July 28, 2020

Joe Haden, Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, and Tyson Alualu all reporting.

The boys are back @joehaden23 | @MaurkicePouncey | @Bud_Dupree pic.twitter.com/9YorFTTD1P

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 28, 2020

The Steelers land two players in the top 40 of the NFL Network’s top 100

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 9:35am
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Steelers are only represented by three players on this years list, but two of them are in the top 40.

The NFL Network’s yearly top 100 player rankings will see two more Steelers join Cameron Heyward on the list as he was selected at number 84 on Sunday. Based on the fact there were three Steelers who were selected first-team All-Pro in 2019, it’s a safe assumption the remaining two players are Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt. Over the final episodes we will see where the remaining Steelers will end up. Only 40 players remain to be unveiled so it’s clear that the two young defensive studs are looked highly upon by their peers.

Both Watt and Fitzpatrick were defensive player of the year considerations in 2019 with T.J Watt being a finalist, so seeing either player so highly regarded comes with no surprise. The easier bet would be to assume Minkah Fitzpatrick’s name gets called next, and it will be interesting to see where he is ranked in comparison to Jamal Adams, and Harrison Smith.

Watt however has top 15 potential. Remember his 14.5 Sacks, 8 Forced Fumbles, 2 interceptions, 55 Tackles, and 14 Tackles for loss are a stat line that's never been put up before.

At this point, it is merely assumed these will be the two players from the Steelers who are yet to be announced. We do know with almost absolute certainty T.J. Watt is one of the Steelers because when his brother J.J. was announced at number 45, it was revealed he was not the highest ranking member of his family this year. So unless Derek makes a shocking appearance, T.J. will be one of the two players. And with every other player on the Steelers who made the 2019 list not being in last year’s top 40 and having a “down year” it would be safe to assume they would not make a jump for 2020.

The top 100 is voted on by each of the players in the NFLPA. They are tasked with compiling a list of the Top 30 players in their opinion. Those rankings are then added together throughout the entire association and the top 100 list are their results.

The 2019 list included the following five Steelers:

Ben Roethlisberger 44
JuJu Smith-Schuster 47
James Conner 62
Cameron Heyward 88
T.J. Watt 93

The highest ranked Steelers player on the top 100 list was Antonio Brown, ranked at number 2 in 2018

What do you think? Where will T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick end up? Should more Steelers be featured on this list? Let us know down in the comments below!

Scheme-fit makes Chuks Okorafor the favorite to become the Steelers starting right tackle

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 7:45am
Photo by; Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It will be the training camp battle of 2020, but the winner may come down more to the Steelers scheme and the player whose strengths fit best.

This is the final installment in a series I’ve been writing for the past month about the re-shuffling of the Steelers’ offensive line. Today’s piece looks at Chukwuma Okorafor and his bid to best Zach Banner in the competition for the starting right tackle spot.

Like Banner, who dropped eighty pounds a few years ago to get to a manageable playing weight, Okorafor has overcome obstacles to reach this place in his career. He was born in Nigeria and emigrated to the United States when he was 12, never having seen an American football game. Soccer was the national sport in Nigeria, so when Okorafor first tried football while in high school he became a punter. He grew so large, however, that his coaches talked him into playing on the line. From there he earned a scholarship to Western Michigan and was taken by the Steelers in the third round of the 2018 draft. Not exactly the typical path to an NFL roster.

Okorafor played in thirteen games as a rookie, starting two. Last season, however, with the line relatively healthy and Banner the preferred situational tackle, Okorafor saw action just once. He started the Week 10 game at home against the Los Angeles Rams when right tackle Matt Feiler was moved to guard to replace an injured Ramon Foster. Okorafor played every snap in the Steelers’ 17-12 win that day. They were the only snaps he played all season.

My job here is to determine where Okorafor stands in his battle with Banner for the tackle spot vacated by the relocation of Feiler to guard. To do so, I’m forgoing the traditional game-breakdown of Okorafor where I look at his strengths and weaknesses against a particular opponent (for those who are interested in that approach, Flip Fisher did a nice one here on Okorafor’s start against Denver in 2018). Rather, I’m looking at the broader scheme the Steelers employ and examining how Okorafor fits.

First, some remarks about Okorafor’s game in general. As a run-blocker, he struggles to move physical defenders off of the football. It may be unfair to summarize his capabilities by showing him against Aaron Donald, but watching Okorafor (right tackle, #76) get blown up by Donald (99) on this down-block and then flagged for holding him encapsulates the problems he can encounter against powerful defensive linemen:

Here he is again struggling to move a 3-tech on a down block. Okorafor plays with poor leverage and gets driven into the seam in which the back is attempting to cut. Creating movement at the point of attack is often problematic for the young tackle.

This isn’t to say Okorafor is a poor run blocker. He moves his feet well enough to be effective covering players up, especially when he is on the back side of a play or matched up on a linebacker (see below). He finishes his blocks aggressively and he gives great effort.

He is not, however, a slammer who will wash down defensive tackles on power runs or drive 4-3 ends off the ball. Anyone expecting him to be the second coming of Marvel Smith will be disappointed.

Where Okorafor shines is in pass protection. This GIF, which shows Okorafor kick smoothly out of his stance at right tackle and maintain inside leverage against the Ram’s Clay Matthews while simultaneously protecting against a speed rush to the edge, is a good example of his quick feet and sound technique.

And this one, where he covers the defender’s feet with his own and then redirects expertly to protect against a spin move, shows nice athleticism for a big man:

This one I like simply because he snaps the edge-rusher’s head back with a two-hand punch to the chest that would make Mike Tyson proud. This rep is unique for the violence Okorafor displays but typical for how he often stays on balance and shoots his hands with precision.

Okorafor’s skill set makes him the polar opposite of Banner, whose strength is clearly as a physical run-blocker but whose protection skills are a work in progress. It sets up an intriguing battle for the starting tackle spot, as the Steelers must choose between a brawler in Banner and more of a technician in Okorafor.

As I wrote last week, Banner’s physicality makes it tempting to root for him to win the starting job. A powerful road-grader to run behind is something this line has been missing for years. But, unless the coaching staff decides to overhaul the offense and emphasize the rushing attack (not likely, given the offseason investment in big receiving targets Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool), Okorafor is a better fit for what the Steelers do with Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup. I expect him to be the starter when the team opens the season in New York in September.

The Steelers’ Scheme Under Randy Fichtner/Ben Roethlisberger

The Steelers’ offensive scheme is thought to be, in large part, a partnership between coordinator Randy Fichtner and Roethlisberger. For those whose memory of what that partnership looked like has been clouded by the hodgepodge attack the team fashioned last season, here are some reminders:

In the 18 games Fichtner and Roethlisberger have been together as offensive coordinator and quarterback, the Steelers have thrown the football. A lot. Just over 67% of the time in 2018 and on 64 of the 85 snaps (75%) Roethlisberger played in 2019. Their passing percentage ratio was 2nd highest in the league in 2018 and would have led the league by far had they continued on their 2019 pace (Atlanta finished first at 66.9%).

The Steelers have gravitated more towards the quick passing game under the Fichtner/Roethlisberger pairing as well. In 2018, Roethlisberger finished 34th out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks in air yards per completion, a statistic that measures the vertical yards on a pass attempt at the point the ball is caught beyond the line of scrimmage. Roethlisberger averaged just 4.8 CAY (completion air yards), down from 5.9 in 2017 and 6.4 in 2016 when Todd Haley was calling plays. This signified a concerted effort by Fichtner to protect Roethlisberger by getting the ball out of his hand quickly. Throws like the one below, a crossing route to Ryan Switzer with a CAY of -1 and a release time of under three seconds, were more the norm with Fichtner/Roethlisberger in charge.

Personnel-wise, the Steelers are overwhelmingly a single-back offense. In 2018, they ran 80% of their plays out of one-back sets. Because the one-back set lacks a traditional fullback, they are more of a zone and sweep team featuring athletic linemen who can pull and climb than a gap-blocking, power team with a fullback bulldozing the hole.

When the Steelers do run power concepts from 11 personnel, they often bring a receiver into the box as a substitute fullback, like we see with James Washington below. The risk of injury to a perimeter player is obvious, however, so the Steelers must pick their spots carefully.

Their reliance on one-back sets, then, makes them more of a horizontal run team that seeks to stretch and slash a defense than one that tries to knock them off the ball and run downhill.

Why do these schemes favor Okorafor over Banner?

In the two career games in which Okorafor started and played all of the offensive snaps — 2018 at Denver and 2019 versus the Rams — the Steelers threw the ball on 101 of 144 total plays. With Roethlisberger in Denver, they threw an astounding 60 times on 76 snaps (79%). Even with Mason Rudolph against the Rams, they aired it out 41 times.

Both of those contests were close games, so it wasn’t like the Steelers fell behind by a wide margin and had no choice but to throw the ball to come back. Rather, with Okorafor in the lineup, they preferred to throw.

Contrast those numbers to their use of Zach Banner last season. In the two games in which Banner played his highest snap totals (24 vs the Dolphins and 25 versus the Rams), the Steelers ran the ball on 42 of those 49 plays. That’s an 86% run rate. So, with Okorafor in the lineup the Steelers have overwhelmingly chosen to throw the ball while with Banner they’ve overwhelmingly chosen to run.

In a perfect world, you’d like to see better balance with their use of each player. The heavy pass ratio suggests Okorafor is a solid protector who struggles in the run game while the heavy run ratio suggests the opposite of Banner. Combining the two, although interesting as a scientific experiment, is not an option. The Steelers will have to pick their poison. Will they favor Okorafor’s protection skills and hope he develops as a run blocker or Banner’s run blocking and hope he can keep defenders off of Roethlisberger?

When framed like that, the choice seems obvious. Given the hits Roethlisberger has absorbed throughout his career, keeping the now 38 year-old, surgically-repaired quarterback upright will likely be a major point of emphasis for 2020. And, with their reliance on 11 personnel and a run game heavy on horizontal stretches, a tackle who can move his feet is a must. Under these objectives, Okorafor is the favorite.

This assumes, of course, the Steelers approach 2020 with the same offensive mind-set they had when Roethlisberger was last on the field. It’s possible we will see a change in philosophy. The additions of Ebron and Claypool may signify a renewed interest in the vertical passing game. The signing of fullback Derek Watt could mean more 21 personnel. And the wildcard that is Matt Canada might put a fresh coat of paint on the entire operation. It’s hard to say with certainty in which direction the offense may go.

I’m taking the safe bet. With no OTA’s and limited preparation time, I believe they will fall back on the familiar. They may tweak the existing scheme, but I expect them to retain its core. They will return to a pass-heavy offense under Roethlisberger with the goal of using quick throws to set up deeper shots and a zone and sweep-based run game that will play to the strengths of their linemen. And I believe, under these conditions, Chukwuma Okorafor will get the nod at right tackle.

So, when the Steelers take the field at the Meadowlands on opening night, expect a lineup of Villanueva, Feiler, Pouncey, DeCastro and Okorafor up front. Whether that is the best starting offensive line is debatable, but I do believe it is the most likely. I look forward to your thoughts in the comments below.

Steelers football is almost back, even if it never really went anywhere

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 6:30am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thanks to the NFL and its players coming to terms on an agreement that will allow the league to move forward amid the ongoing pandemic, Steelers training camp and regular season are scheduled to start on time.

Just when you thought the NFL would join the NHL, NBA and MLB in delaying the start of its season, owners and players came together last week and finalized an agreement on COVID-19 Collective Bargaining Agreement adjustments that will allow training camp and the 2020 regular season to begin on time.

Will the 2020 regular season be played in its entirety? Baby steps, my friend, baby steps.

At this point, you must celebrate the small victories, and with the way several players were speaking out last week about the uncertainty of the unprecedented journey they were about to embark on amid this ongoing pandemic, it just felt like the start of training camp on July 28 was certain to be delayed. And if training camp was delayed, what would that do to the regular season?

As of right now, that doesn’t appear to be a concern. This Steelers training camp, one that will include about a three-week ramp-up period before padded practices begin, will be like no other in the history of the franchise.

No St. Vincent College. No preseason games. Will there be fans allowed to attend games at Heinz Field? We don’t know that as of yet. Will fans be allowed to attend games anywhere in the NFL this year? That has yet to be determined.

But there will be football once camp starts. Oh, not right away. Players will be repeatedly tested for COVID-19 early on and, as I understand it, engage in daily cardio and strength-training activities. As a writer, that likely won’t provide me the usual camp fodder to craft stories about. Not unless some players test positive for the virus, which, as Michael Scott once said, would actually be a negative.

But with no fans allowed at training camp, and with no players or fans allowed at preseason games, I think most people will be in the dark when it comes to who looks great and who does not this summer.

That’s okay. At least we’ll have some football to watch in about six weeks or so. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen, right? We’ve already taken all that 2020 can dish out. What else could there be? At this point, the year won’t ask me to hold its beer, because it’s gone through like 96 of them and can barely stand.

On second thought, maybe I shouldn’t underestimate the power of 2020’s beer muscles.

At any rate, the league and its players took a big step by coming to terms on a plan to move forward as safely as possible.

While this has been quite the unusual NFL offseason, the regular season and playoffs have yet to be compromised—something the other professional leagues cannot say.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the NFL is the one league that was blessed with the gift of time as it pertained to the Coronavirus and how to proceed.

There have been some missteps, but as of right now, the NFL has yet to fumble that present.

Podcast: Who will be labeled booms and busts for the Steelers after 2020? 

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Q&A” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo look at Steelers that will win awards and those who will lose their role after 2020.

With pretty much a longer than ever offseason, fans across the NFL are ready for some football. Especially in Pittsburgh, Steelers Nation is ready to break out the Terrible Towel in a frenzied wave even if it is from their collective couches. But most of all, athletic supporters are hoping to end the speculation of what will be in 2020. There have been plenty of projections for everybody on the 90-man roster. Which ones will get accolades and who will get a ticket to elsewhere? This is the inquiry that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Q&A Show. On this show Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran duo as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Who will be labeled booms and busts for the Steelers after 2020?
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

Bryan Davis and Tony Defeo of BTSC 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!

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: The biggest questions the Steelers face heading into training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 07/28/2020 - 4:30am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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 just days away, 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 the top questions the Steelers need to answer in their 2020 training camp.

Let’s get to the news:

  • 5 questions for the Steelers as they open training camp

Steelers have share of questions to answer heading into unusual training camp

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

A training camp unique in NFL history begins Tuesday. Like every other team, the Pittsburgh Steelers will deal with the challenges of preparing to play a 16-game season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This week will focus on covid-19 testing and physicals. Another week will be dedicated to strength and conditioning. Practice in pads won’t commence until the middle of August. The preseason has been scrapped.

Rosters will be trimmed to 80 before tackling is permitted, but additional jobs are available thanks to a supersized practice squad.

Although the NFL has changed the way camps are being conducted, the same questions facing teams as they build toward a new season exist. The Steelers are no exception.

1. Can Big Ben stay healthy?

This is No. 1 with the proverbial bullet. Fans got a glimpse of life without the Steelers franchise quarterback last year and, despite a decent start, it didn’t end well.

The offense mustered one touchdown in eight of the final nine games with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges taking the snaps, a big reason the Steelers slumped after peaking at 8-5.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Do the Steelers have enough options at middle linemacker?

Steelers’ 90-man roster: ILBs

By: Jim Wexell, Steelers Digest

ON THE ROSTER NOW: Devin Bush, Ulysees Gilbert, John Houston, Leo Lewis, Robert Spillane, Vince Williams.

ON THE ROSTER IN SEPTEMBER: Bill Cowher kept four inside linebackers every year he worked with Kevin Colbert, but Mike Tomlin has kept four only once in the last seven seasons. Otherwise it has been five, even six in 2016. The prediction here, though, is four will be kept, just based on the apparent talent at hand.

STAT THAT STANDS OUT: The Steelers received only 6.5 sacks from their group of inside linebackers last season, the lowest total since the group posted six in Ryan Shazier’s rookie season of 2014. Three of those 6.5 sacks left in the person of Mark Barron, so to keep up with the previous year’s total, Williams (2.5) and Bush (one) would have to figure to contribute more in that area.

KEY DEPARTURES: Barron was an effective bridge to the Bush era as a coverage linebacker, but he was released and remains on the market. Tyler Matakevich developed into a reliable reserve and core special-teamer but was signed away in free agency by the Buffalo Bills.

KEY ADDITIONS: Spillane was signed to the practice squad last October, activated a month later and played in five games down the stretch of the regular season. So he can be considered a seasoned vet in this group. The only new additions are undrafted rookie free agents Lewis and Houston. Lewis (6-2, 245) went to Ole Miss as a five-star recruit, made the freshman All-America team and started again as a sophomore in the 3-4 alignment, but he was moved outside in the team’s 4-3 for his last two seasons. Houston (6-3, 220) went to USC as a Parade All-America and was a three-year starter. As a captain during his redshirt senior season he made a career-high 104 tackles.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • The NFL journeyman hopes to find a landing spot in Pittsburgh

Borders: ‘I try to win small battles’

By: Teresa Varley, Steelers.com

Get to know Steelers cornerback Breon Borders

Breon Borders

Cornerback

Duke University

Most entertaining person you follow on social media? Chad Johnson. He is so random. He is always talking about McDonalds. He is a funny, random, dude.

Must have food? Gushers candy. I have to have them in the house. I have five boxes of them right now.

Must see show? South Park

Morning person or night owl? Morning person.

Who is your football mentor or inspiration? My inspiration since I was a kid has been Randy Moss. When I was younger, he was the prime receiver at the time. I wanted to be a receiver and I looked up to him.

What motivates you? My kids and my family and community. I feel like I am in a position to lead. I feel like everyone is looking to me to lead and set a good example for the younger generation, including my kids, family, and everyone.

Why do you want to be that leader? That is something that is really scarce in my town. In my town there are a lot of drugs, shooting, and I want to be a positive light in my community. I am doing all I can for them.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • BTSC articles you may have missed

Eric Ebron needs to stay focused on his new start in Pittsburgh

Stephon Tuitt speaks out to his fellow NFL players

Arrion Springs was the first Steelers player to go on the Reserve/COVID-19 List

Looking at the best Steelers to wear No. 92

Zach Banner is getting the best of the trolls on social media

  • Social Media Madness

#SteelersCamp pic.twitter.com/kw0dtHRBVk

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 27, 2020

Start your week off full steam ahead @Juiceup__3 pic.twitter.com/pm9gQjlXOT

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 27, 2020

It sure is!

Submit your @steelers selfie in the #SteelersNationUnite section of the #Steelers mobile app for your chance to be featured pic.twitter.com/JgfdpYljiC

— SteelersNationUnite (@SteelersUnite) July 27, 2020

NFL Network’s top 100: 41-70

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 10:00pm
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The annual list chosen by the players continued its release on Monday night.

The NFL Network kicked off its yearly list of the top 100 NFL players for 2020 on Sunday night. Each hour-long show highlights ten players in descending order. With three shows to kick things off, The first 30 selections can be seen HERE. As for the next 30 players (41 through 70), they were revealed on Monday night courtesy of NFL.com:

70.) Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers MLB
69.) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals WR
68.) Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans QB
67.) Demario Davis, New Orleans Saints OLB
66.) Laremy Tunsil, Houston Texans OT
65,) Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks WR
64.) Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings FS
63.) Preston Smith, Green Bay Packers OLB
62.) David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers OT
61.) Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns WR

A breakdown of each player from 61-70 can be seen HERE.

60.) Logan Ryan, Tennessee Titans CB
59.) Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns WR
58.) Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings QB
57.) Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers WR
56.) DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts DT
55.) Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys OG
54.) Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills WR
53.) Marcus Peters, Baltimore Ravens CB
52.) Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs DE
51.) Todd Gurley, Atlanta Falcons RB

A breakdown of each player from 51-60 can be seen HERE.

50.) Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts OLB
49.) Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys WR
48.) Za’Darius Smith, Green Bay Packers )LB
47.) Tre’Davious White, Buffalo Bills CB
46.) Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys QB
45.) J.J. Watt, Houston Texans DE
44.) Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens RB
43.) Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers QB
42.) Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints RB
41.) Jadeveon Clowney, Seattle Seahawks OLB

A breakdown of each player from 41-50 can be seen HERE.

Report: 12 NFL players have tested positive for COVID-19

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 9:55pm
Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

Although twelve seems like a lot of cases, the positivity rate is probably quite low.

According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, 12 NFL players have tested positive for COVID-19 as some players reported last week. With veterans report date being Tuesday, this number looks to increase as testing numbers will take a major leap.

Twelve NFL players have tested positive for Covid-19 as part of training camp check-ins that began last week, according to a source. That will inevitably grow as all vets report, but as of tonight, this was the number in the NFL-NFLPA joint database.

— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) July 28, 2020

The NFL’s new Reserve/COVID-19 List is reserved for players who have either tested positive or have been in close proximity to someone with a confirmed case. Although the NFL cannot legally release which category a player falls under, the fact many players have just undergone tests for the first time will probably mean the majority of these designations are from a positive result.

Whether or not a player tests positive or was just in contact with a positive case will determine their path to reinstatement from the Reserve/COVID-19 List.

It is also important to keep in perspective the number of players being tested starting on Tuesday when it comes to the number of positive results. With at least 2,500 players in the NFL being tested, even 100 positive results would result in only a 4% positivity rate.

Steelers Arrion Springs has been placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 3:16pm
Photo by Ryan Kang/XFL via Getty Images

Springs is the first member of the Steelers to be placed on the new designation for 2020.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have used the NFL’s new Reserve/COVID-19 List for the first time in the 2020 season. The Steelers placed defensive back Arrion Springs on the list on Monday.

We have placed DB Arrion Springs on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) July 27, 2020

Springs is one of several players who sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers following the 2020 XFL season. A member of the LA Wildcats, Springs finished the season with 16 tackles and an interception in five games.

Springs entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2018 out of Oregon but has yet to appear in an NFL game. In two seasons, he has appeared on the practice squad of the Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers.

Being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, it means Springs has either had a positive test or has been in close contact with an infected person. Which category Springs falls is unclear as teams are not allowed to comment on the status other than to place the designation.

An outline of how a player can return from the Reserve/COVID-19 List was given to teams earlier in July and can be seen below.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for breaking news, player updates, and all things Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepare for the start of training camp for the 2020 season.

The 2020 Steelers from A to Z: James Pierre

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 2:45pm
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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

Moving along with part 64 of our 90-part series — assuming the roster does not change before we are complete — which will break down each player of the Steelers current 90-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 UDFA defensive back:

James Pierre

Position: DB
Height: 6’ 2”
Weight: 185 lbs
College: Florida Atlantic
Draft: UDFA in 2020

2019 stats (NCAA)

13 Games played
43 Tackles
4.5 Tackles for loss
3 Interceptions
4 Passes defended

Contract remaining

Expires in 2022
$610,000 salary cap number (0.3% of total cap)
$0 Dead money
$610,000 Savings if cut

Likelihood of making the roster

None. Pierre is on the outside looking in at both corner and at safety. The Steelers will take no more than 6 corners into the season with them and those spots look to be held down by the following.

Joe Haden
Steven Nelson
Mike Hilton
Cameron Sutton
Justin Layne
Trajan Bandy/Breon Borders

It will be tough just to make the training camp roster for Pierre, but if he can make it too camp he’ll need to prove to be an outstanding special teams player to earn a spot on the team.

2020 projection

Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic might end the NFL dreams of many athletes before any camp begins. This may be the case with Pierre. On the surface the best case scenario appears to be earning a spot on the practice squad.

Projected stats:

N/A - Cut

Summary

The Steelers secondary is a point of strength for this team. That is great for overall success, but a tough task for an undrafted player to make the team. It’s an unfortunate reality, but I believe outside of Trajan Bandy the UDFAs probably have little hope of making this team. But with the practice squad now expanded to 16 for the season, there is more of a chance for guys to be considered than in previous years.

Previously Highlighted

Ola Adeniyi
Marcus Allen
Tyson Alualu
Trajan Bandy
Zach Banner
J.T. Barrett
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
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
Dewayne Hendrix
Cam Heyward
Alex Highsmith
Mike Hilton
Devlin Hodges
John Houston
Anthony Johnson
Diontae Johnson
Jarron Jones
John Keenoy
Tyree Kinnel
Christian Kuntz
Justin Layne
Leo Lewis
James Lockhart
Paxton Lynch
Dan McCullers
Vance McDonald
Anthony McFarland Jr.
Henry Mondeaux
Christian Montano
Alexander Myres
Steven Nelson
Spencer Nigh
Chuks Okorafor

A glimpse into Steelers training camp in the COVID-19 NFL

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 1:47pm
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As more plans are revealed, and other sports dealing with the reality of COVID-19, what can Steelers fans expect?

While the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to report for the first testing day of training camp tomorrow, on the other side of Pennsylvania the Florida Marlins made the news, and not in a good way.

Updating the Miami Marlins’ outbreak: The total number of infected players is 11 of the 33 who have been traveling with the team and two coaches, sources tell ESPN.

The Marlins-Orioles and Yankees-Phillies games tonight have been postponed. For now, the rest may be played.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 27, 2020

The Marlins had several players test positive before their July 26th game against the Phillies. While those players, including their starting pitcher, were scratched from the game, the Marlins still played, and won, the game. Then this morning more positive tests followed and games are being postponed because of it. The Marlins are currently quarantined in Philadelphia.

This event stands in contrast to the NHL reporting that last week they had zero positive tests among all 32 teams.

The NHL announced ZERO positive COVID-19 results among the 800 players tested during the second week of formal training camps. https://t.co/OX1MuLGTiE

— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) July 27, 2020

Four thousand, two hundred and fifty-six tests, with zero positives.

Much is going to be made of the NHL playing in “bubble cities”, while MLB is not. And there is a valid concern about the different ways the leagues are approaching COVID-19 precautions.

With the biggest sport in the United States of America looking to start their own training camps, a lot of focus is on the NFL and how they will deal with COVID-19, and whether there will even be a season.

can’t wait https://t.co/iTsmbwZBjN

— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) July 27, 2020

The outbreak among the Marlins has put shock waves through the sports world, and it may not be over, as the Phillies players who played the Marlins will be getting tested to see if the disease infected their players during game interactions.

It is under these circumstances that the NFL prepares to open training camps, with players reporting tomorrow. BTSC reported Saturday on the approved schedule for training camp, and today Judy Battista reported more details for NFL.com.

A primer on what training camp will look like. To steal a line from Dr. Allen Sills, the CMO of the NFL, it won’t feel normal because it won’t be normal. https://t.co/mZs8Ae9mCV

— Judy Battista (@judybattista) July 27, 2020

Some of the important passages from the article include the plan to test players 3 times before allowing them in the facilities.

Players can’t even enter their team’s building before passing three COVID-19 tests that are administered within a four-day period. Starting Tuesday and continuing through July 31, players will show up, take tests on back-to-back days, then go home and self-isolate for 24 hours, before returning on Day 4 to take another test — and only after that third one is negative can they proceed to getting their equipment and physicals on Aug. 1 and 2.

Additionally, players will be equipped with contact tracing devices which will be used to contain outbreaks.

All team personnel will wear high-tech contact-tracing monitors, which should help the league immediately determine who came into close contact with players who test positive, making it easier to isolate and test them.

The NFL is not going to fully isolate players, and while there are rules in place about what players can and cannot do during the season, the players will have to follow the guidelines.

If they don’t?

There has been no number given or what conditions would have to be present, but Dr. Sills has made it clear that there are scenarios where a team would have to stop working because of an outbreak in the building. That opens up the possibility that a team could have to postpone and reschedule games or, more unlikely, forfeit a game this season. And yes, that same possibility exists for the league as a whole — conditions on teams and in the country could force it to stop temporarily.

Many sports fans are pessimistic about whether these plans can work, and that’s understandable in the current setting, but NFL players are adults just like the rest of us, and they will, in the end, be responsible for their own choices and how those choices affect their friends and co-workers. But even if outbreaks cause teams to lose games, or force a temporary shutdown, that doesn’t mean the end of the season. Right now the NHL is finishing its 2019-2020 season with a delayed playoffs. The NFL will do everything it can to make sure games happen, even if it is just to fulfill their TV contract. The league might lose a few games to COVID-19, but games can be postponed and played later, seasons can be interrupted for a few weeks (or, as we see in the NHL, a few months) and then continue.

This NFL season will not be normal as 2020 is not a normal year. But with precautions in place and guidelines being followed, it can still be a season. All of us, players, coaches and fans need to do our part to slow and stop the spread of this virus so we can get back to normal as soon as possible, and have the best version of this abnormal season that we can.

As always, stay tuned to Behind the Steel Curtain for all the latest news about the Steelers and the 2020 NFL season.

Steelers Stephon Tuitt takes to social media to share his feelings ahead of training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 12:00pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers defensive end felt the need to share some information with his fellow NFL players.

Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt took to Twitter on Monday to get some of his thoughts out to his fellow players, and consequently all the Internet, about how players handle their business going into the 2020 season. Tuitt felt the need to give some advice to some of his fellow NFL veterans, but possibly more directed towards some of those players hoping to get established in the league.

Opportunity come and go. Don’t stress over missed opportunities if you are confident with your self more will come. My instincts always helped me, and that’s why my opportunities I created have benefited me so far.

— stephon tuitt (@DOCnation_7) July 27, 2020

It’s unclear what caused Tuitt to feel the need to speak up at this time, but it appears he is trying to help out other players who may deal with outside pressures.

I think alot of Athletes need to stop worrying about the public and people who tell them what to do with their money and educated themselves.

— stephon tuitt (@DOCnation_7) July 27, 2020

Just because they wear a suit with slick back hair you trust them over someone who you can relate to. That’s why athletes get taking advantage over. Educate your self please, I’m tired of hearing the same stories.

— stephon tuitt (@DOCnation_7) July 27, 2020

After getting these thoughts out there, Tuitt made sure to state he was available for others around the NFL should they need advice on how to handle various aspects of the business of being an NFL player.

Stop letting the world masculinity blind you that’s my spill for Monday. If you need help talk to me I have over 80 percent of my wealth while helping my mother and created Financial securities for my kids and wife. I will not judge. I’m not secretive I will help.

— stephon tuitt (@DOCnation_7) July 27, 2020

Stephon Tuitt is coming off of a season in which he only appeared in six games before being placed on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. With 3.5 sacks through those six games, Tuitt was on pace to have the most of his career in 2019 before being sidelined.

Injuries have been the biggest concern with Tuitt over his time with the Steelers as the only season he has appeared in 16 games was his rookie campaign in 2014 after being drafted in the second round out of Notre Dame. The Steelers are hopeful Tuitt’s return to the lineup will help to cover the loss of Javon Hargrave who left in free agency to the Philadelphia Eagles.

After giving his advice to other players, Tuitt went on to put his decision in regards to kneeling for the national anthem out there so people would know where the six-year vet was coming from.

Also I’m not kneeling for the flag and screw anybody who have a problem with that. My grandmother was a immigrant from the Carribean and age worked her ass off to bring 20 people over the right way. She had no money and educated herself to be a nurse. She living good now.

— stephon tuitt (@DOCnation_7) July 27, 2020

With the NFL season not scheduled to kick off for another six weeks, the national anthem issue will be something which will grow more among players as they get closer to game action. It appears Stephon Tuitt felt the need to make his feelings public as to how he will be handling the situation. While some players may be vocal about the issue, others may chose not make their decisions public. Either way, it is almost certain this will be a topic discussed in NFL locker rooms in the coming weeks.

Numero Uni: Who were the most notable Steelers to wear number 92?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 11:00am
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

In a countdown of the most prolific Steelers jerseys of all time, No. 92 comes in 3rd place.

BTSC continues to rank the best numbers in team history on a standpoint of thriving over time throughout multiple players. It seems there are a few numbers which are always represented with quality play in Steelers lore. One BTSC author has wondered aloud “what is the most accomplished number in Steelers history?” Through player and jersey value rankings found in Pro Football Reference, we have ranked the most successful numbers in Steelers history worn by multiple players. You won’t see numbers like 12, 58, 75, 31, 32, 52, 59, 36 and 47 as it would be basically ranking an individual player over the other and not the cumulative effort. In today’s submission, we take a look at those ranked 3rd. Enjoy.

3) No. 92

Current Wearer: Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

Most Notable: James Harrison 2004-2012 and 2014-2017, Jason Gildon 1994-2003 (pictured below), Jerry Olsavsky 1989 (pictured below wearing No. 55), Keith Gary 1983-1988

Current Wearer: Olasunkanmi Adeniyi

Jason Gildon was a great disruption to offenses in Pittsburgh and held the title of Steelers sack master for 14 seasons until another No. 92 seized the honor in 2017. Arriving out of Oklahoma State in the third round of the 1994 draft, Gildon joined a stacked stable of linebackers that included Levon Kirkland, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Jerry Olsavsky and Greg Lloyd. In fact, comparisons to the five-time Pro Bowler earned him the nickname of “Baby Lloyd”. Because of the talent in front of him, Gildon didn’t become a starter until 1996 but quickly became a standout on special teams. Earning three trips to the Pro Bowl from 2000 to 2002, the First Team All-Pro tallied 77 sacks in his Steelers career, seizing the crown as all-time sack king from L.C. Greenwood in 2003. After three touchdowns, three AFC Championship Games and playing in Super Bowl XXX, Gildon left the Steelers for one last hurrah after ten seasons as a Steeler in 2003.

Hailing from Youngstown Ohio, Jerry Olsavsky spent his career playing for three-quarters of the AFC North (excluding Cleveland), but he is known most for being a Pittsburgh Steeler. Drafted in the tenth round out of Pitt, the All American Panthers linebacker started half of the Steelers games as a rookie in the Cinderella season of 1989 and wore the No. 92. Transitioning to the double-fives in 1990, the undersized tackling machine seemed to shine in the postseason with a key blocked punt in the Wild Card win over Houston and six tackles against the Colts in the 1995 AFC Championship Game. He also played for more than half of the defensive snaps in the Super Bowl XXX loss to the Dallas Cowboys. In 1997, Olsavsky left for Cincinnati, but didn’t see action for the Bengals. He ended up with the Ravens and started nine games that season before retiring. Olsavsky was a valuable presence at the inside linebacker position for nine seasons under Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher. Currently, Olsavsky is heading into his sixth season as the inside linebackers coach under Mike Tomlin where he has overseen a strengthening of that particular unit. After all of this time, Olsavsky is a Pittsburgh mainstay through and through.

Keith Gary was the top choice for the Steelers in the 1981 Draft, but the Oklahoma Sooner took his time to get to the Steel City. Gary bypassed Pittsburgh and spent two seasons in Montreal of the Canadian Football League before finally joining the Steelers in 1983. The CFL team was making a practice at the time of throwing big bucks at American players like Vince Ferragamo and Gary. After 9.5 sacks with the Alouettes (renamed the Concordes in 1982), Montreal could no longer afford Gary and he went back to the states. Gary’s debut in black-and-gold was solid as he racked up 7.5 sacks that year. That total includes his most infamous of sacks, a near decapitation take down of Cincinnati’s Ken Anderson on a face mask during a win on Monday Night Football. In six seasons from 1983 to 1988, Keith Gary had a solid career with 25 sacks in Pittsburgh. It makes one wonder what could have been had he come to Pittsburgh first.

James Harrison took a long road to super stardom in the NFL, but it sure was epic. Harrison was not drafted out of Kent State in 2002 due to his height and weight being lower than desired by teams. The raw rookie joined the Steelers as an undrafted free agent but struggled mightily to adapt. Despite playing on special teams towards the end of 2002, the then No. 93 was released from the practice squad three times in two seasons. Picked up by the Ravens and representing them in the World League for the Rhein Fire, Harrison was released by Baltimore as well. The linebacker considered leaving the game after that last release, but Clark Haggans’ weightlifting injury summoned James back to the Men of Steel. His second stint with the Steelers in 2004 helped Harrison stick in the league for good, and with Jason Gildon gone, Harrison seized the No. 92. Playing mostly on special teams and sparingly at linebacker, a Joey Porter pregame ejection for punching William Green of the Browns led to a spot start and a good game in Cleveland. In Week 17, Harrison took advantage of resting starters and scored a touchdown against Buffalo. The next season, the man they call “Deebo” (for his resemblance to Tiny Lister’s character in Friday) made three tackles on special teams in the Super Bowl XL victory. After Porter was released for salary reasons in 2007, Deebo became the starter in Mike Tomlin’s first season at the helm. What followed was a stellar career that included being named the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year honor, the legendary Super Bowl XLIII 100-yard interception return that earned him a second ring and becoming the franchise’s all-time leader in sacks with 80.5. Harrison’s exit from the Steelers towards the end of 2017 was acrimonious, but the five-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro and two-time Steeler MVP ended up with a storybook Steelers career for 14 seasons.

Check back soon for the 2nd best jersey in BTSC’s countdown of the most prolific jersey number stables in Steelers history. But first, a recap of the countdown so far.

Honorable Mention: No. 51, No. 93, No. 27 and No. 33
25) No. 24
24) No. 43
23) No. 83
22) No. 67
21) No. 53
20) No. 10
19) No. 20
18) No. 63
17) No. 50
16) No. 34
15) No. 78
14) No. 98
13) No. 68
12) No. 77
11) No. 56
10) No. 86
9) No. 73
8) No. 99
7) No. 55
6) No. 39
5) No. 91
4) No. 82

Eric Ebron needs to put the past behind him and embrace the Black and Gold

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 07/27/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers new tight end needs to focus on the task at hand and forget about the past, particularly the Detroit Lions.

Sometimes in life you can see trouble coming from a mile away. A player's reputation is often earned by their tendencies. That can be either a good thing or a bad thing.

For example, if a player makes a game changing play on multiple occasions at big moments in games, he might earn the reputation of being clutch. On the other hand, if he repeatedly finds himself partaking in online feuds with fans and local sports personalities, he might find himself labeled as a facilitator of unnecessary drama.

That particular label was given to Steelers tight end Eric Ebron early in his playing career with the Detroit Lions, and it has followed him all the way to Pittsburgh.

Not long after the Steelers signed Ebron to a two year contract in free agency earlier this offseason, Ebron found himself embattled in another unsavory feud with local media.

Seems that Eric Ebron took exception to a not-so-flattering evaluation of his abilities by an unnamed scout, reported by Pittsburgh sports radio personality Andrew Fillipponi.

Fillipponi quotes a “long time NFL scout” not so flattering evaluation of Ebron. The scout suggested that Ebron is basically the opposite of former Steelers tight end Heath Miller, a beloved fan favorite. He said Ebron doesn’t block, he refuses to stay quiet, and that we all should expect some fireworks as a result, warning everyone to prepare for more unnecessary drama.

I quickly came to Ebron's defense and wrote an article about his not-so-warm-welcome to Pittsburgh. I felt that Fillipponi's decision to share the negative evaluation of the newly acquired Ebron was ill timed and in poor taste. I surmised that you should at least let the guy sign his contract and tour the facilities before you take him to task over accused past transgressions. Judge him by what he does in a Steelers uniform, and in the Pittsburgh community.

I still stand by that ideal, but it's starting to become evident why Ebron has earned a reputation for being a magnet for drama. Not only doesn't he shy away from confrontation, at times he appears to seek it out. The unnamed scout's evaluation and prediction are starting to appear prophetic.

I read a report online recently about a Twitter battle between Ebron and local radio producer Mike Sullivan. What makes the story particularly concerning and interesting is the fact Sullivan is located in Detroit, and only engaged with Ebron after Ebron had already started feuding with some Lion's fans via social media over longtime Lion's quarterback Matt Stafford. One thing is for sure, there is no love loss between Ebron and the Detroit Lions franchise or fanbase.

This latest social media dust up involving Ebron has nothing to do with the Steelers, but it has to give them pause. Anytime a player reads his own press clippings so to speak, he is bound to be disturbed from time to time by some negative commentary if he takes it personally. All players pay attention to what is being said and written about them, whether they admit it or not. Some just handle what they find better than others.

The most successful players rarely respond to the negative criticism, instead they recognize the source and categorize accordingly. They are uplifted by the positivity and driven by the negativity as fuel for success. They focus on the task at hand, on being the best player and teammate they can be.

Regrettably, up to this point of his career, Ebron's reputation accurately precedes him. But that doesn't mean he can't turn the whole situation around. All he needs to do is challenge himself to focus all his attention on his current employer, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and on being the best employee and teammate he can be.

Ebron has the talent to be a Pro Bowl player once again, to be a integral part of an explosive offense lead by a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback for a franchise with championship aspirations. A great way to silence your critics would be to become a valuable weapon for a Super Bowl winning team.

Another way to avoid all the drama would be to behave in a manner befitting a mature professional, like I mentioned earlier in this article. This would require Ebron to leave his past in the past and focus instead on his potentially bright future with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here's an idea: Have Ebron take a few lessons from teammate Zach Banner on how to make a positive impact with his social media platform. Banner utilizes his to raise social awareness and to entertain the masses.

Ebron could even do his own rendition of the theme song from Disney's epic movie Frozen, "Let It Go." All the proceeds could good to charity.

That could go a long way toward silencing the critics and changing his reputation for the better.

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