Jaylen Samuels set to slim down before Year 2, following the Steelers’ plan

Jaylen Samuels is about to enter his second year in the NFL, and the team is going through the usual motions with their newest running back.

There is a good chance many fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers would vote for Jaylen Samuels as the biggest offensive surprise of the 2018 season. It isn’t as if he wasn’t hyped up enough after being drafted as the team’s Swiss Army knife coming out of N.C. State, but not one saw him getting a starting opportunity as a rookie.

However, when James Conner went down with a high ankle sprain vs. the Los Angeles Chargers, it was Samuels who stood out. No performance was bigger than his 142 yard outing against the New England Patriots in Week 15, and he finished the season with 56 attempts, and 256 yards for a 4.6 yards per carry.

Not shabby for a running back who didn’t have a role entering the season, other than being the backup to both Conner and Stevan Ridley. By the season’s end, Samuels had proven he isn’t just going to be a quality backup in the future, but a reliable commodity if he is forced into action. Throw in the fact he is a tremendous receiving threat, collecting 26 receptions on 29 targets for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns, and he is going to be a great one-two punch with Conner for the foreseeable future.

When sitting down with Missi Matthews of Steelers.com, Samuels talked a lot about his rookie season. How he didn’t know what to expect, how Ben Roethlisberger and Conner really helped him get acclimated, but what stood out the most to me was something he subtly said midway through the interview — how he is going to slim down this offseason.

NFL players have a tendency to believe they need to get bigger before entering the NFL. After all, with going against players who are already older, bigger and stronger, they feel the extra muscle/size will benefit them. What they don’t realize is speed, agility and endurance are equally important.

Look at the past three starting Steelers running backs, and you will see the same trend. Le’Veon Bell was told to drop weight after his rookie season, and had a huge sophomore season when he focused on conditioning over anything else. James Conner too was heavy coming out of Pitt, but a slimmer version dominated in 2018 before his injury in the last quarter of the season.

It now seems as if Samuels will be on the same path as his predecessors, and you have to wonder if Year 2 will be significantly different for Samuels, as it was for Conner and Bell.

You can check out the full interview with Matthews in the player below:

Jerald Hawkins hopes injury issues are behind him heading into final year under contract

With just five regular season appearances in three years with the Steelers, the young tackle will need to avoid ending another season on injured reserve if he hopes to remain with Pittsburgh in 2020.

Heading into 2019, there is perhaps no other position on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster with more depth and experience than offensive tackle. With both starters due to return and a number of promising young prospects with experience in reserve, the Steelers might well be set at tackle for some years to come.

However, if that future is to include 2016 fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins, the upcoming season will need to end rather differently from him in 2019 than it did in two of his first three years in the NFL. Having missed both his rookie season and all of 2018 to injuries that saw him added to injured reserve each time, Hawkins faces something of a make or break year in his final season under contract.

Thankfully, the young tackle already appears to be fully healed from the torn quadriceps injury that ended his last season early, confirming with Chris Adamski of TribLive that he was completely recovered back in January.

“Oh yeah, most definitely, I was ready now, man. I would go out there right now, and I could. I am definitely, 100 percent, going to be going all over it (at OTAs).”

And while Hawkins has appeared in just five regular season games in three years in the NFL, he remains cautiously optimistic his injury issues are behind him.

“Honestly, man, this probably had to be my third injury I have had to actually sit out from playing football, so I believe it’s probably done with. It’s all out of the way. Three times and you’re done now, man. Had a little bad injury in college, and I had my two in the league so I pray I am done with that and I can just finally get on the field and honestly show them what I am all about.”

With names like Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner competing for a place on the game day roster behind starters Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert, the quality of depth the Steelers have at the tackle position is not lost on Hawkins either.

“You want to see that competition, and you want to see that depth on your team. If you’re here, there’s a reason for it.”

By all accounts, Hawkins stayed as involved with the team as much as could throughout this injury, with Adamski reporting he was a regular fixture at every practice earlier in the season. But, if Hawkins hopes to still be with Pittsburgh in 2020, he will need to be able to do more than just watch practice this season.

Mason Rudolph “chomping at the bit” to get his chance, but knows patience is key

The Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback is itching to get a shot, but knows he is going to have to wait his turn.

During the 2018 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers were wheeling and dealing. The team sent troubled wide receiver Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders for a third round draft pick. What happened with that pick? The Steelers swapped it with the Seattle Seahawks to move up in the third round to take Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Many Steelers fans were extremely happy, and excited, with the pick. For once, it seemed as if the organization was planning for life without Ben Roethlisberger, who had flirted with retirement before Todd Haley was told he no longer was employed by the organization.

Rudolph’s road to the NFL wasn’t a breeze considering Roethlisberger’s comments on the selection, and how he won’t be worried about helping a young quarterback get acclimated to life in the NFL.

Nonetheless, Rudolph found himself in a very unusual position.

Watching.

Since his sophomore year in High School, Rudolph has been a starting quarterback, not someone holding a clipboard and having to watch someone else in practice. Yet, there he was, running the scout team offense and getting minimal reps on the Wednesdays Ben Roethlisberger was given the day off.

Otherwise, the offensive reps were few and far between. Could a year like this be viewed as a wash? Not according to Rudolph.

“I was telling my college coach that I talk to a lot, beginning of the season I was like, ‘Wow, NFL football, it’s crazy,’ ” Rudolph told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “And then the middle of the season, I was like, ‘I’m really starting to understand this, just the way the week flows, to game day.’

“And then the last couple weeks (of the season), it was, ‘I can play now if I had to.’ ”

While Rudolph clearly admits him not being thrust into a starting role could be viewed as beneficial, it doesn’t make sitting the bench any easier.

Of not playing (outside of the preseason), Rudolph said, “ No doubt, it’s tough .”

“It’s weird. It’s different,” he said. “But I’m making the best of it. I’ve tried to get that competitive adrenaline rush in practice as much as I can.”

How in the world can a quarterback do that? Rudolph has developed not just a clear understanding of the offense, but a more specific knowledge base about situational football, and what the team wants to do in almost every situation.

“Just a general understanding of the offense has improved so much,” Rudolph said, “Learning (for example) what we call or run in OTAs and what we actually run when it gets nut-cutting time. What are Ben’s favorite calls? What are our base concepts that we’re going to use every week? What’s most efficient for us? So that’s cool to see how the gameplan gets cut down through the week as it gets later in the week.

“Obviously, physically I have been staying in shape, doing whatever I can do to maximize my reps. But mentally there’s a lot to allow for to stay sharp.”

As stated earlier, Rudolph is just patiently waiting for his shot. As the 2019 season approaches, the next step in him seeing the field in a regular season game will come by beating out Joshua Dobbs for the backup quarterback spot in training camp. This will be one of the many training camp battles to watch, and Rudolph is ready.

“I am definitely chomping at the bit, but you’ve just got to stay patient. And I know that God has got a plan.”

No need to change the name of the Vince Lombardi Trophy just yet

If they didn’t change the name of the Vince Lombardi Trophy in 1980, when Chuck Noll won a record fourth as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, there’s no need to do it now, just because Bill Belichick just won his sixth Super Bowl trophy.

There’s been a quiet movement the past few years to change the name of the trophy given to the Super Bowl winner each year to the Belichick trophy.

I’m, of course, referring to Bill Belichick, the coach of your six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

To be fair, there hasn’t been a major groundswell of support for this change in name, but it’s been said enough times in recent years (even more than “Julian Edelman should be in the Hall of Fame”) to warrant a mid-February article crafted in its honor.

Obviously, the reason for this smattering of support for the change in name of the Super Bowl trophy is because Belichick has had the most since February of 2017 when New England won its fifth on his watch with a victory over the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. And now that he has six, the sentiment may only continue to grow.

Question: was the Vince Lombardi Trophy, the official title of the Super Bowl trophy named after the legendary Green Bay Packers coach, named in Lombardi’s honor because he won the first two Super Bowls following the 1966 and 1967 seasons and then lost his life to cancer in 1970? Or was it named after Lombardi because he was the coach with the most Super Bowl victories?

Because if it was named after the head coach with the most, and it always has to be named after the head coach with the most, shouldn’t the trophy have been changed to the Chuck Noll Trophy in January of 1979, when the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII, giving Noll a then record three Lombardi trophies (the five of the day)? Or, better yet, should it have been named after Noll a year later, when Pittsburgh defeated the Rams in Super Bowl XIV, giving the coach four—two more than any other head coach (the six of the 1980s)?

Speaking of January of 1979, from that point until February of 2017—just over 38 years—Noll either had or was tied for the most Lombardi trophies in the history of the National Football League. Yet, there was never even a mention of naming the Super Bowl trophy after him.

Poor Chuck. Poor Emperor. Other than a street on the North Side and a field at St. Vincent College, it’s hard to find many things named after him (which may be a good thing, since they might actually have spelled it “Knoll,” as in the Chuck Knoll Award).

Actually, upon doing research for this article, I was pleased to discover that the Pro Football Hall of Fame (if the NFL never thought to name anything after him, I’m glad someone else did) created an award for Noll two summers ago called the Chuck Noll Hall of Fame“Game for Life” Award, an honor given annually to youth football programs that “exemplify the values of football: commitment, integrity, courage, respect, and excellence.”

Knowing how much the late Noll, who passed away in 2014, cherished and valued teaching, he’d probably appreciate such an honor being named after him.

You can’t change the name of a trophy every time some coach or player gets the most of something. You find other ways to honor the player or coach. In Belichick’s case, maybe you could name an award after him that highlighted the team that had everything together and was on the details—film study, perfect meeting and practice attendance, no social media nonsense, etc, etc: “The Bill Belichick Most Buttoned Up Award.”

Anyway, in all seriousness, let’s forget about the idea of changing names of trophies. For one thing, it’s unnecessary. For another thing, it kind of erases or hides the legacies of the great people who helped make the National Football League the global sensation it is today.

No trophy should ever do that.

2019 NFL Draft: The Denver Broncos are on the clock…who will they take?

It’s time to make a pick for the Denver Broncos in our 2019 Community Mock Draft

…the pick is in

With the 9th pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select Ed Oliver IDL from Houston.

The Denver Broncos are now on the clock…

Team Needs: CB/ OT/ WR/ TE/ ILB

2018 Draft Selections

1 (5) Bradley Chubb, Edge, NC State.

2 (40) Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU.

3 (71) Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon.

3 (99) Isaac Yiadom, CB, Boston College.

4 (106) Josey Jewell, ILB, Iowa.

4 (113) DeaSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State.

5 (156) Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin.

6 (183) Sam Jones, OL, Arizona State.

6 (217) Keishawn Bierria, LB, Washington.

7 (226) David Williams, RB, Arkansas.

2019 Draft Order and Selections

Pick 1 – Arizona Cardinal Nick Bosa Edge Ohio State

Pick 2 – San Francisco 49er’s Josh Allen Edge Kentucky

Pick 3 – New York Jets Jonah Williams OT Alabama

Pick 4 – Oakland Raiders Quinnen Williams IDL Alabama

Pick 5 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers Greedy Williams CB LSU

Pick 6 – New York Giants Dwayne Haskins QB Ohio State

Pick 7 – Jacksonville Jaguars Drew Lock QB Missouri

Pick 8 – Detroit Lions Clelin Ferrell Edge Clemson

Pick 9 – Buffalo Bills Ed Oliver IDL Houston

For those that may vote “other”, add the name of the prospect in the comment section for possible discussion.

Also, for those that may have shown up from Mile High Report, I see that the trade talk (trade back) is floating around your boards. It may be an option for some in this mock, sorry for the small technicality, but tell us what’s on your mind? Trade Partner? Possible interest in a trade for Antonio Brown?

I think you will appreciate the coaching and improvement in your O-line, possible notice in quality of your players.

Arguable, but he may have been the proverbial Fountain of Youth for Ben Roethlisberger. Coach Mike Munchak is well worth the money spent…and for taking him away.

NO SOUP FOR YOU!

Stay away from B.J. Finney!!!!!! We do have Marcus Gilbert at Right Tackle, could be a solid pick up, has history with Munchak. Thinking 4th round?

Black and Gold Links: How JuJu Smith-Schuster is more than ready to shoulder the load at WR

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

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at how despite all the talk being about Antonio Brown’s exploits, JuJu Smith-Schuster is doing nothing but showing he is more than ready to be a No. 1 next year, and for years to come.

Let’s get to the news:

Carter’s Classroom: Why JuJu’s more than ready

By: Chris Carter, DKPittsburghSports

The never-ending news on Antonio Brown won’t stop even when the Steelers have eventually dealt him to another team. But the looming question that comes with his pending departure is whether 22-year-old JuJu Smith-Schuster is ready to take his place as the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver.

Brown does so many things right with his game that it seems nobody, let alone a player coming off his second season, could come close to replacing him. But Smith-Schuster is a lot further along than many might believe.

Before we get into the reasons why Smith-Schuster is ready, I’m going to address the most common counter-argument to the notion that he could be the Number 1 receiver: Brown was so good at his job that he opened up opportunities for Smith-Schuster, and is also partly responsible for his success.

First, this argument is true. Brown regularly drew double-and-triple-teams from defenses that opened up the field for other playmakers. But saying this without acknowledging Smith-Schuster taking advantage of those opportunities skips a major point.

A perfect example would be the Steelers’ longest play of the season, and what tied for the longest passing play in team history. Smith-Schuster’s 99-yard touchdown reception from Ben Roethlisberger against the Broncos was the perfect mix of a defense doubling Brown and Smith-Schuster showing all the right moves.

(To read more, click on the link in the headline above…)

Hicks, Smith could fill needs for Steelers

By: Dale Lolley, DKPittsburghSports

It’s no secret what the Steelers’ biggest need is heading into this offseason.

Team president Art Rooney II made that obvious a few weeks ago when he met with reporters.

“The linebacker position is something I feel like we still need to address. So, it’s a challenge, no doubt about it,” Rooney said.

Rooney was talking about the position as a whole, which he should since top backup outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo is an unrestricted free agent and the team would like to work out a deal with Bud Dupree to lower his $9.2-million salary cap hit for 2019. If it can’t work out a long-term deal with Dupree or get him to accept a lesser contract, he could be released, meaning the only two remaining outside linebackers on the roster with experience would be T.J. Watt and little-used Ola Adeniyi.

More importantly, though, the Steelers need to upgrade their inside linebacker position, where Vince Williams and 2018 free agent acquisition Jon Bostic were the starters, while L.J. Fort also saw a good amount of playing time.

Bostic was brought in to help try and replace Ryan Shazier, and while he had 73 tackles and 2.5 sacks, he proved to be less than what the team needed in terms of a coverage linebacker. In fact, after the team’s 24-17 loss in Denver in Week 11, Bostic played less than 25 percent of the defensive snaps the remainder of the season.

He lost some of those to Fort, who is more athletic and better in coverage. But the 29-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020 and the Steelers would like a younger, better replacement who could be the starter and push Bostic into a backup role befitting his $2.5 million salary cap hit.

The Steelers could wait for the draft to fill their hole at inside linebacker, or they could play it safe and make sure they get an upgrade after getting shut out on the top four prospects at the position in last year’s draft. And if they do wind up having to release Dupree, they likely would then add a veteran replacement in free agency.

(To read more, click on the link in the headline above…)

Is there logic to speculation about Le’Veon Bell going to Ravens?

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Mike Garofolo of the NFL Network is the latest football analyst to opine that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell may go to the Baltimore Ravens.

This conversation was touched off when Bell publicly flirted with Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson on social media in the wake of a previous NFL Network report. It suggested that Baltimore would be a great landing spot if he finally does divorce from the Steelers.

The idea of Le’Veon Bell in Purple and Black is intriguing on many levels.

First of all, there’s the practical angle.

The Ravens were the second-best rushing team in football with the combination of Gus Edwards, Alex Collins, Javorius Allen and Kenneth Dixon.

Jackson’s 695 rushing yards from the quarterback position didn’t hurt, either.

So, on the surface, why would they need Bell on a big-ticket salary?

Well, consider that aside from Allen, none of the other backs were at all impactful in the passing game. That’s part of the reason Baltimore acquired Ty Montgomery from Green Bay last year. Yet he wound up with only 10 receptions for 65 yards.

That’s where Bell would really come into play. He could take some of Lamar Jackson’s short passes and turn them into long gains. Jackson could really use that safety net in his development. Ben Roethlisberger is five times as polished as Jackson, and look at how much Bell helped Big Ben over the years.

Also, offensive coordinator Greg Roman has worked with top-of-the-line runners such as Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy in the past.

Secondly — beyond X’s-and-O’s — the Ravens could enjoy the glorious intangible of putting the screws to the Steelers, along with never having to face Bell again.

No team has allowed more yards rushing, receptions or touchdowns to Bell than the Ravens have. Now he could be one of their own, going up against the Steelers’ weak defense twice a year in divisional play.

Imagine the Steelers stealing Jamal Lewis in the prime of his career. This would be the rough equivalent.

After the trade of Joe Flacco becomes official, the Ravens will have $32 million of cap space. Spending big in free agency wasn’t Baltimore’s style under former general manager Ozzie Newsome for many years.

They’ve gotten more aggressive in recent seasons. But now Eric DeCosta has taken over for Newsome and, in his words, spending in free agency can be a “dicey proposition.”

(To read more, click on the link in the headline above…)

Friday Night Steelers Six Pack of questions and open thread: Offseason Edition, Vol. 7

There is plenty to talk about regarding all things black-and-gold!

Several people have asked if we could bring back the Friday Night Open Thread. I had moved the event to Saturday morning, but after minimal success, I decided to bring it back to Friday night — with a slight twist.

I liked the Saturday Six-Pack theme, so I decided to just take the six questions and move them to Friday night. Say hello to Friday Night Six-Pack of Steelers Questions and open thread!

The rules haven’t changed…

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.

That’s it! With that out of the way, it’s time to get this party started. Hey, don’t act like you’ve never done a little Friday night drinking. Here goes:

1. The NFL Scouting Combine is coming up…how much stock do you put into how a player tests out, compared to game film?

2. I spoke about this on my Steelers Burning Question podcast (you can listen to it below), so I thought I would ask here: What truly derailed the Steelers 2018 season? Dysfunction, or Turnovers?

3. We are past the All-Star games and pre-Combine. Has your team needs changed at all? List your Top 3 positional needs this offseason.

4. Last week I asked who was your favorite TE not named Heath Miller. This week I’m going to go with who is your favorite quarterback in Steelers history without the last name Bradshaw or Roethlisberger?

5. If you had to pick one, who would you pick? Amos Zereoue or Rashard Mendenall?

6. Outside of the Steelers, what other professional sports teams do you follow?

No matter what, always remember…

HERE WE GO STEELERS!

PODCASTS

Steelers Preview: Breaking down the OLB Depth chart for 2019 and MORE!

Yeah, I said it: Mike Tomlin is awful at drafting Defensive Backs

Steelers Burning Question: What was the main cause of the 2018 failed season? Team dysfunction, or turnovers?

Report: Art Rooney II is in Florida but Antonio Brown has no intention of meeting with him

If the Steelers owner hoped to resolve matters by meeting with the teams star receiver while he was in Florida, Brown’s apparent refusal to meet him quickly ended that dream

For those fans still hopeful of a resolution to the Steelers drama with Antonio Brown that would end with him staying in Pittsburgh, that dream might have taken another turn for the worse on Friday if a new report from Ian Rapoport is to be believed.

With the NFL Network analyst claiming that Brown still unwilling to speak to team owner Art Rooney II after he had made a trip to the receiver’s home state of Florida, it would appear there is little to no chance of repairing this damaged relationship.

Rather than speak with the man who made him the highest paid player at his position in the league less than two years ago, it would seem Brown is more intent on waging his own war against Pittsburgh on social media, with his latest post on Friday a strong indication of his current feelings about the Steelers organization.

His post the day before also implying he saw nothing wrong with the way he has behaved as of late.

If Brown really is refusing to meet with Mr. Rooney even when he has travelled all the way to Florida to see him, there can be few fans left who can have any remaining respect for his actions.

Unfortunately, behavior like this is hardly likely to endear Brown to many of the other owners around the league, especially given the level of respect Mr. Rooney has among his peers. The longer the receiver acts out this way, the harder it will be for the Steelers to find someone willing to offer his true trade value.

Latest On Antonio Brown

Steelers owner Art Rooney II and wide receiver Antonio Brown will meet in Florida in an effort to clear the air, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) hears. Initially, Brown was hesitant to meet, but this could be a big step towards reconciliation for the two sides. 

Brown has not been bashful about airing his grievances in public and has let the world know that he wants a trade. If things can’t be worked out quickly, trade discussions could ramp up during the draft combine period in Indianapolis.

The Steelers are reluctant to trade Brown because he is one of the game’s best wide receivers and dealing him would result in a major dead money cap charge. Meanwhile, word on the street is that they are unlikely to even fetch a first-round pick for him.

Of course, Brown has not done himself any favors by saying he wants a new deal if traded. The Steelers have lost a great deal of leverage over the past couple of months thanks to Brown’s outspokenness and the Steelers proved their mettle last year when they held their ground in the Le’Veon Bell standoff. Ultimately, the Steelers may be willing to play a game of chicken with Brown until he’s willing to mend fences with Ben RoethlisbergerMike Tomlin, and other key figures in the organization.

One way or another, we should have a resolution by March 17, when Brown is due a $2.5MM roster bonus. If he is still on the Steelers’ roster on March 18, then he is likely to still be on it come Week 1.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Maurice Jones-Drew believes Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell is ‘worth five wins’ a season

The NFL Network analyst provided an eye-opening perspective about the value Bell could bring to a team in 2019

While the national sports media will offer up an endless stream of opinion about the Pittsburgh Steelers and their troubled star players this offseason, very little of the insight shared will be based on fact or or common sense. As such, there is no real real value highlighting their remarks on these pages, but once in a while something will appear that is just so stupid it warrants the extra attention to bring ridicule to the person who said it.

This week that honor goes to Maurice Jones-Drew of the NFL Network, a former player and analyst who has already provide some some of the more absurd takes on Le’Veon Bell heard over the last six months or so. But on Thursday, Jones-Drew reached new heights of insanity.

After extolling the virtues of the Los Angeles Rams having signed Todd Gurley to a huge contract and celebrating how much he did for their offense (it seems MJD did not watch the playoffs), he would go on to make an outrageous claim about the value of Bell.

“If I’m a team that, we feel like we’re close, I’m going to go spend the money to get Le’Veon Bell because, to me, he’s worth five wins. Pittsburgh was 13 and three the last time he played, they won eight games the next year. That’s five wins to me, that can make a difference.”

Glossing over the rather obvious facts that the Steelers won nine games last year and only 12 in 2017 with Bell in the lineup that should have made Jones-Drew’s math three rather than five, it would appear he has somewhat overlooked the Pro Bowl season James Conner had in place of Bell.

Had Jones-Drew done just a small amount of research, he would also have found that prior to last season, the stats really did not support his statement.

It is worth noting that Jones-Drew is the same man who said Bell deserved to be paid like a quarterback last year and also employs the same agent in Adisa Bakari. But even if no one else agrees with him, it would appear Bell approves.