Steelers throw out new-look offense on Day 1 of OTAs


NFL: AUG 07 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even though it’s still May, the Steelers took to the field on Tuesday to prepare for the 2022 season.

On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers kicked off their first day of OTAs for the 2022 offseason. With the workouts still voluntary, it will be another three weeks until players are required to show for mandatory minicamp. Regardless, there were still a number of reports coming out as the Steelers held their first team periods of the offseason.

As a quick reminder, here is a breakdown of Phase Three of the offseason workouts according to steelers.com:

Phase Three (May 23-June 17): Teams may conduct a total of 10 voluntary Organized Team Activities, OTAs, during this phase. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted. The team’s mandatory minicamp takes place during this time.

It should also be noted that Tuesday marked the first day in which Pittsburgh media were allowed in the locker room in more than two years. Because of this, we were able to get some reports with how players were utilized on their first day of team practice.

As another reminder, these workouts are in shorts in the month of May. As head coach Mike Tomlin described following the session, decisions are not going to be made when it comes to personnel at this time. Additionally, exactly which players were present has yet to be disclosed and could also be a factor in how the teams aligned in the huddle.

When it comes to the quarterback position, Jim Wexell of the Steel City Insider reports via Kevin Dotson that Mitch Trubisky took the first snaps at quarterback in Tuesday’s practice.

Exactly how much Steelers fans want to read into Trubisky starting off a quarterback is up to them. While it is interesting to note as it is the only information available at this time, there is a lot that can happen between now and September in regards to the quarterback position.

There was more information which Wexell reported from Kevin Dotson which included who started the day at the three positions of the interior offensive line. According to Dotson, he received the first reps at left guard with James Daniels at right guard and Mason Cole at center.

As for where this left 2021 starting center Kendrick Green, it was reported by Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Green took reps at guard on Tuesday.

While it is interesting to see Kendrick Greene playing guard, nothing was stated at this time that he was exclusively playing at guard.

According to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, Kevin Dotson admitted he expected there to be a competition between him and Kendrick Green for a starting position.

It should also be noted that during these workouts in 2021, the Steelers did not alawys have Kevin Dotson running with the first team. While felt he was in the Steelers doghouse, others believed it was for motivational purposes so he did not become complacent in his second season with his role in the offense.

At this time, there was no report as to how the Steelers began their team period with the offensive tackles. With both starters from last season in Chukwuma Okorafor and Dan Moore Jr. still on the roster, it would not be surprising if both players stepped into the same role assuming they were present at the voluntary workout.

One last interesting note about the Steelers offensive line during their first day of OTA‘s, Chris Adamski also reported that Kevin Dotson acknowledged James Daniels as taking the role as leader of the offensive line.

While it is exciting for Steelers fans to get these reports during the team period, putting everything in context is also important. Although the information is intriguing, it is also not necessary to overreact at this time. There is still a lot of preparation for the 2022 NFL season before the Steelers take the field, even for a preseason game.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for continued coverage of Steelers OTAs.

Stephon Tuitt not present at the start of Steelers OTAs


NFL: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are starting Phase 3 of their OTAs Tuesday, and Stephon Tuitt is not present.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Organized Team Activities (OTAs) have been ongoing for the past several months. They are broken down into three phases. Phase 1 is when teams can start working with the strength and conditioning staff, Phase 2 is when players can work with individual coaches and position-specific drills, but Phase 3 is the culminating event. In fact, it’s probably what most people think of when they think of OTAs.

Phase 3 of OTAs is when team drills can be run. 7-on-7, 9-on-7 and even 11-on-11 drills can take place. There is no contact or pads, but when it comes to “football in shorts” this is as close to football as it gets.

For the Steelers, there were several burning questions surrounding the team heading into this final phase of OTAs, and none were larger than the presence of Stephon Tuitt.

Tuesday, with the vast majority of the team present, Tuitt was not in attendance. It should be noted these workouts are strictly voluntary. Players can choose to attend, or not, and no punishment can be handed down for their absence.

In most cases, a player choosing to skip OTAs isn’t a big deal, but in Tuitt’s case fans want to know what the future holds for the defensive line standout. As reported by Will Graves of the Associate Press, Tuitt was not present Tuesday, and head coach Mike Tomlin reiterated the voluntary aspect of these workouts.

While OTAs are voluntary, mandatory minicamp, which is held a the end of OTAs, is exactly what it’s called — mandatory. Fans are clamoring for an answer with Tuitt, but they might have to wait a few weeks until they get an answer.

In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they continue through OTAs and minicamp.

UPDATE

Cam Heyward was interviewed post-practice and shared how he expects Tuitt to play this year. Knows he is putting in the work necessary. This per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

5 other Steelers who could be deserving of new contracts before 2022


Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills
Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

While much discussion has been about deals for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson, there are other players the Steelers could extend before Week 1.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed into Phase Three of the offseason. With 10 sessions of OTAs followed by three days of mandatory minicamp, the full 90-man roster will come together in the middle of June for the first time of the 2022 season.

Even though the Steelers have their roster together for now, there is still the possibility of additions. In 2021, the Steelers added two more players, one following minicamp and another during the preseason, who wound up as starters for the season. But these are not the only moves the Steelers can make.

As is often the case with the Steelers, negotiations for players who are entering the last year of their contract can take place throughout the offseason. The Steelers have a policy of not negotiating deals during the season, so a self-imposed deadline of the start of the regular season will be the cutoff point for any new contracts.

While there has been much discussion about possible extensions for Minkah Fitzpatrick and Diontae Johnson this offseason, there are some other players on the roster who could lock themselves in with the Steelers beyond 2022. With that in mind, here are the top five players who could surprise Steelers fans and sign an extension prior to Week 1.


Chris Boswell

For a lot of Steelers fans who pay attention to these things in the offseason, this player is not a surprise. While he hasn’t been discussed as much as the other two players mentioned, Chris Boswell is the most likely candidate on this list to end up with an extension. Additionally, unlike the situation with Minkah Fitzpatrick, saving money against the salary cap may not be the goal when it comes to Boswell‘s new deal.

If the Steelers were to extend Boswell for two more seasons beyond 2022, the Steelers could simply give him a a minimum base salary for 2022 and a $6 million signing bonus, the same he received with his last contract, and the 2022 cap hit would remain relatively the same. Of course, the Steelers could give more of a signing bonus or more years when it comes to Boswell. The bottom line is, it would be wise for the Steelers to lock him in farther into the future.


Cam Sutton

While it’s unclear at this time exactly where Cameron Sutton is going to fit into the Steelers secondary from a starting cornerback standpoint, he is the only one of the three main players who is in the last year of his contract. Signing a two-year deal last offseason with three void years added on to help with the decreased salary cap in 2021, Cam Sutton is set to count $2.1 million against the Steelers’ salary cap next season while not on the roster. Were the Steelers to extend Sutton, it is my understanding that the $700k each season through 2025 from the void years would simply stay there as a prorated bonus along with whatever else he would have with his deal. So if the Steelers are wanting Sutton beyond this season, getting the deal done now helps to spread out the issue created last offseason.

If the Steelers and Suton were to come to an agreement where he would still get paid the same amount in 2022 that he is set to earn while getting him under contract with a base salary for the next three years, they could actually save over $2 million on the salary cap for 2022. In doing so, Sutton would carry a prorated bonus of $1.4 million for the remaining three years of his contract on top of whatever base salary they would negotiate. To me, the base salary over those next seasons would be the biggest point of negotiation and the ultimate determination of whether or not Sutton would get an extension.


Stephon Tuitt

Before you bust out your torches and pitchforks, hear me out for a moment. First of all, I would not even dream of offering Tuitt an extension until he joins the team on the field in full capacity during a minicamp and training camp. If Tuitt is back and appears to be the player that he was before missing the 2021 season, getting him under contract beyond 2022 would not be a bad idea.

First off, Tuitt also has three void years on his contract which kicks in next offseason. If he were to get extended, the $4.755 million which would come due next offseason would be spread out over the other three years should the extension go that far. Additionally, Tuitt’s cap hit could be greatly reduced this year with an extension so much more than it would with the release because of the void years. While releasing Tuitt would only save $4.295 million on the salary cap while carrying close to a $10 million dead cap hit, extending him for three seasons and merely giving him this year’s salary as a signing bonus would save almost $6 million against the cap.

Much like Cam Sutton, the biggest issue with a Tuitt extension would be his base salary for those additional years. Unsure of what the Steelers are going to be getting from Tuitt, even if he appears to be back and better than ever in training camp, it’s still an unknown until he plays in actual regular season games. Perhaps collecting his salary last season while not playing a down could weigh into Tuitt not pressing for above maximum value in an extension. But these are all big hypotheticals and there would be a lot to work out for this to happen.


Derek Watt

Do I have to mention the torches and pitchforks again? I know the topic of Derek Watt’s salary is a point of contention among many Steelers fans. The biggest issue with his contract at this time is the amount of dead money the Steelers have pushed forward by restructuring his contract last season, even though it wasn’t for a large amount. But even if the Steelers only added one more year to Watt’s contract and paid him no new money than what he would be set to earn this coming season, it could save an additional $815k. The biggest thing with Watt would be his base salary in additional years and how many years the Steelers would add. For each year the Steelers would add on, the more cap savings for 2022.

As for the subject of paying a fullback this amount, make sure you check out the upcoming episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast this Thursday.


Joe Haeg

Offering an extension to Joe Haeg is more of a “take it or leave it” type of situation. Going into his seventh NFL season, Haeg is the most years of service of any offensive lineman on the Steelers roster. Showing he can fulfill the swing tackle position as well as play guard if needed, the Steelers might not want to head into the 2023 offseason with any questions about Haeg’s future with the team. While it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for the Steelers to do so, it also wouldn’t be the end of the world if he were to just play out the last year of his contract.


So there are the five most likely players other than Minkah Fitzpatrick or Diontae Johnson who could sign a contract extension before the start of the 2022 regular season. Even though there are more players that are entering the last year of their deal, such as Devin Bush, Mason Rudolph, and Tyson Alualu, these three players didn’t make the list for various reasons. Devin Bush would have no reason to sign an extension at this time after the Steelers did not exercise his fifth-year option as his entire 2022 contract is already fully guaranteed. Mason Rudolph is unlikely to want to sign with the Steelers with their current quarterback situation unless a lot would change and be much more in focus in his favor by the end of the preseason. As for Tyson Alualu, the factor of age and coming off of an injury would make a deal before he plays another game pretty unlikely.

So what do you think? Do you believe any of these players listed above will get a contract extension? While I am one who is under the impression that Minkah Fitzpatrick will sign an extension and Diontae Johnson will not, feel free to give your opinion on those two players as well.

FILM ROOM: The Steelers are deep enough at ILB, but are they good enough?


NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are very deep at ILB, but is that quality depth?

This article is a follow up to the “Here We Go” podcast Bryan Anthony Davis and I did last Friday. Our focus was on inside linebackers, where the Steelers have seven viable players competing for what will likely be five roster spots. In that sense, the team is deep enough at the position. But is it good enough? That’s a question worth considering as we head towards the season.

The seven players in question include returning starter Devin Bush, free agent acquisition Myles Jack, veteran thumper Robert Spillane, fourth-year player Ulysses Gilbert III, converted safety Marcus Allen, second-year man Buddy Johnson, and rookie 7th Round draft pick Mark Robinson. It’s a group that lacks star power, in the sense there’s no elite player among them, but is deep in terms of athleticism and potential. The Steelers would probably be comfortable keeping any of the seven on their active roster. That won’t happen, though, given the restraints of the 53-man limit. So, at least one, and likely two, won’t make it.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each candidate before we turn to the question of whether the unit as a whole is good enough to be successful.

Devin Bush

Bush struggled last season as he recovered from the knee injury he suffered in 2020. He will have plenty of incentive to play better this year, considering the Steelers declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which will make him a free agent after the season. Bush will be playing for a new deal, either in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.

When we watch his film from last season, we see a player who was limited both mentally and physically. The physical part was obvious, given his attempt to make a quick turnaround from his ACL tear. The mental part is probably tougher for fans to understand. I tore my labrum and dislocated my shoulder during my sophomore season in college, which required surgery. I was not the same player as a junior. I developed a bad habit of using the wrong shoulder when taking on blocks for fear of re-injury. A dislocation is not pleasant, and the labrum tear required extensive rehabilitation. It was in the back of my mind that entire season, and it wasn’t until senior year, when I knew the shoulder was healthy, that I felt confident again.

Bush must have similar concerns about his knee, especially since he’s playing on a far bigger stage. You could see him struggle with change-of-direction last season, which likely signaled a hesitancy to push off and burst. Hopefully, his confidence improves this year, which should equate to better performance.

More troubling with Bush, though, are some of the fundamental errors he made that have nothing to do with his injury. Take this play from the Week 11 loss to the Chargers. Bush, aligned on the hash at the 1-yard line, gets fooled on a counter run. He should dual-read the guards, meaning he should diagnose the action of both guards at once. This may seem difficult, but “reading the triangle,” meaning seeing all the movement in the area between both guards to the running back, is common for inside backers. This would allow Bush to see the pull from the right guard and to work in that direction. Instead, he gets influenced by the initial movement of the left guard, the center and the back, leading to a false step from which he cannot recover:


For Bush to improve, he can’t get caught out of position and imperil the gap-integrity of the scheme. He must be better with his eye discipline and play diagnosis. His speed is likely to recover, but the degree to which he can be more fundamentally sound will greatly impact the success of the defense.

Myles Jack

Jack is the best pure linebacker of the seven players we’re examining. He was slowed by injuries in 2019 and 2020, when he missed seven combined games, but he rebounded in 2021 to total 108 tackles, the third time he’s breached the century mark in his six-year career. When healthy, he’s played at a Pro Bowl level and could be the best inside backer in Pittsburgh since Ryan Shazier.

There are questions about how well he’ll fit along side Bush, though, since the two have comparable skill sets. Traditionally, the Steelers have slotted one inside backer at the Buck and another at the Mack. The Buck is often the bigger of the two and is commonly tasked with playing downhill and filling gaps. The Mack is more of a scrape-and-chase weak-side defender who tends to be more athletic and cover more ground. Bush and Jack both seem better suited to play the Mack. Which, then, will draw the dirtier, more physical duties of the Buck?

That may fall to Jack since, at present, he’s more accomplished at reading and shedding blocks. He’s also bigger, at 6’1-245, compared to Bush (5’11-235). When the defensive line can keep Jack clean, he’s shown he can play well on the strong side. Watch here how patient he is, and how he stays in good tackling position by remaining square. This is excellent fundamental linebacker play:


A defensive front that returns Tyson Alualu and, hopefully, Stephon Tuitt should be better at anchoring the line of scrimmage than they were last season. If Jack stays healthy, this may allow him to flourish.

Robert Spillane

With Spillane, you know exactly what you’re getting: a Buck linebacker who plays downhill like it’s 1989. Spillane has limited range and can struggle in coverage. But as a situational run-stuffer, he’s excellent.

It’s hard to forget Spillane’s signature hit on Tennessee’s 250-pound battering ram Derrick Henry in this game from 2020. The GIF doesn’t do the hit justice because you can’t hear the sound it made when Spillane crashed into Henry at full speed. Think two rams colliding in the Rocky Mountain wilderness:


Spillane’s value to the Steelers is clear. He’s not ideal if asked to play every down. But, as a role player who specializes in stopping the run, he possesses a necessary skill set.

Ulysses Gilbert III

No one around BTSC has followed Gilbert’s career as closely as Shannon White, so I reached out to Shannon for his thoughts. Here’s a screen shot of his reply:


The injury Shannon references occurred when Gilbert was a rookie in 2019 and flared up again in 2020. Like Bush, it seems to have affected his performance on the field. Gilbert has made some solid contributions on special teams, including a scoop-and-score off a blocked punt in the season-opening win at Buffalo last season. However, with tough competition for the roster spots at inside backer, Gilbert may have to show he can do more to stick around.

Marcus Allen

Some fans were puzzled when the Steelers brought Allen back this off-season on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Allen played just 6% of the team’s defensive snaps last season, and was unremarkable in doing so. At 6’2-215, he is undersized at both the Mack and the Buck, so it’s hard to see where he fits. Perhaps, with new defensive assistant Brian Flores on board, Allen will be used as a blitzer and coverage specialist. Flores likes versatile players who can execute a variety of roles, and he may have something in mind for Allen. Otherwise, Allen will have to make the roster on special teams. He was valuable there last season, playing 65% of the special teams snaps. The Steelers will have to decide if that’s enough to warrant a $2.5 million salary.

Neither Allen nor Gilbert has really distinguished themself in Pittsburgh, so It seems unlikely the Steelers will keep both. It may be a competition between the two for a single roster spot.

Buddy Johnson

One of the more intriguing players of the inside linebacker group is second-year man Buddy Johnson. Johnson is built like a Buck at 6’2-240 and certainly hits like one. In college, he had over 200 career tackles while showing good instincts and a knack for finding the football.

Johnson was active for just four games last season, with his only action on defense coming in Week 14 at Minnesota. That provides a limited sample size, but does give us a peek at his abilities.

First, we can see how quick he is to read his keys and react. Johnson (45), aligned on the right hash, recognizes the full-flow of this wide zone run play and does a nice job beating the cut-off block of the right offensive tackle. He’s a little too aggressive and winds up over-pursuing, leading to an attempted arm tackle on Dalvin Cook. But you can see the suddenness with which he plays, which is attractive in any linebacker:


In pass coverage, Johnson was thought to be a liability coming out of college. He had some good reps against the Vikings, though, especially this snap. Watch as Johnson (45, right hash) shows nice agility in recovering from his initial reaction to the play fake, and good fluidity in his hips when changing direction. He does a great job sinking under the crossing route to force quarterback Kirk Cousins to come off that read and throw into a tight window, leading to an interception:


Again, it’s a very small sample size, but there are some encouraging signs on tape.

Interest in Johnson should be elevated by Pittsburgh’s decision to decline Bush’s fifth-year option. This means the Steelers could need a starter to play beside Jack in 2023. With Jack a more natural fit at the Mack, and Johnson a true Buck, those two are an intriguing duo. Johnson has a long way to go before being anointed a starter, but he has the tools to make it happen.

Mark Robinson

7th Round pick Mark Robinson screams “project.” He’s a converted running back who played just one year of linebacker at Ole Miss. There is little chance he will contribute to the defense in 2022. However, he’s an explosive player who accelerates to contact with great aggressiveness and, once he gets there, knows how to finish:


That aggression can be detrimental, as Robinson can be fooled and run himself out of position. He has a lot to learn to master the nuances of playing linebacker. The Steelers would probably love to stash him on the practice squad for a year and work on his development. He may, however, show enough with his ability to run and hit to retain as a sixth inside backer and special teams contributor. One way or another, my suspicion is Robinson will stick around. He’s an intriguing player with enough potential for the Steelers to keep him.

Are the Steelers good enough at inside backer?

I think the answer is yes, but that comes with caveats. Yes, if Bush plays more like he did before the injury. Yes, if Jack can hold up at the Buck. Yes, if Spillane can not get exposed. Yes, if Johnson shows progress. That foursome could be pretty good, provided the Steelers get something close to a best-case scenario out of each.

If things go south, however, and the injury bug that has hindered Bush and Jack resurfaces, and Spillane has to play more than he should, and Johnson isn’t able to handle a bigger role, and Allen and/or Gilbert continue to display their limitations, then the answer is no. There’s an uncertainty about this unit that is concerning. Things have to break the right way for them. Should they, it could be a strength of the defense. If not, the Steelers will lament they didn’t do more to bolster it when they had the chance.

6 things to watch at Steelers OTAs and mandatory minicamp


NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are slated to start Phase 3 of OTAs and mandatory minicamp in the coming weeks. Here are six things to keep an eye on…

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be reporting for Phase 3 of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) today, Tuesday, and there are some fans who are wondering if there will be anything of note during these workouts.

Before going any further, it is worth explaining what can, and cannot, be done during this phase of OTAs, as well as the schedule for mandatory minicamp following the 10 voluntary workouts.

This is the phase of offseason workouts where the most football-like drills and activities can take place. In case you don’t know what can, and cannot, be done during these workouts, here is a description of Phase 3:

Phase Three (May 23-June 17): Teams may conduct a total of 10 voluntary Organized Team Activities, OTAs, during this phase. No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted. The team’s mandatory minicamp takes place during this time.

As stated earlier, Phase 3 begins on Tuesday, May 24, and includes three sessions a week over two weeks, ending on Thursday, June 2. Then, mandatory minicamp is held from Tuesday, June 7 through Thursday, June 9.

Outside of mandatory minicamp, these workouts are still considered strictly voluntary; however, most organizations expect their players to be in attendance so they can start to hone their crafts prior to the start of the regular season.

So, what can be gleaned from these practices, or as Mike Tomlin calls it, “Football in shorts”? If you ask me…there is plenty to learn over the next few weeks.

Here are six key storylines to keep your eye on:

1. Stephon Tuitt’s future

While OTAs are purely voluntary, mandatory minicamp is…well…mandatory. Unless Tuitt has a specific excuse for missing minicamp, the fans who have been waiting months for an answer to whether he will be a part of the 2022 Steelers might get their answer sooner, rather than later. If he misses both workouts, you can expect the speculation to run rampant, and rightfully so. If he shows up to workouts, you can count on Tuitt to be a part of the Steelers this season.

2. Diontae Johnson holdout?

Rumors have been rampant about Johnson wanting a new contract, but will Johnson show at either OTAs or minicamp? Will this be the start of a holdout? That is a big question, and one which will be answered when the team reports to OTAs. Just a reminder to everyone reading this, OTAs are voluntary. If Johnson chooses to workout away from the team it shouldn’t be held against up. Minicamp is a different story…

3. Minkah Fitzpatrick approach to new deal

Last season Fitzpatrick had a front row seat to how T.J. Watt handled his business when wanting a new contract. He showed up. He never missed a practice, just didn’t participate in team drills/preseason games. So far Fitzpatrick has been at both Phase 1 and 2 of OTAs, and it looks as if he is following the Watt model to get a new contract before the 2022 regular season begins.

4. Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett take the field

Outside of those who will, or won’t, show up to workouts, this will be the first time Trubisky and Pickett will be throwing to teammates in an official practice setting. To me, this is the official start of the quarterback competition between Trubisky, Pickett and Mason Rudolph. Every throw will have pressure attached to it, and it should be something everyone wants to see play out throughout the offseason/preseason.

5. Rookies and Free Agents work with new team

Speaking of new teams, the seven rookies of the 2022 NFL Draft class and the free agents will be with their teammates doing football-like things for the first time. How does Pickett handle himself in an NFL huddle with veterans for the first time? How does someone like DeMarvin Leal acclimate to the new defensive system? Do players like Ahkello Witherspoon and Montravius Adams benefit from their first full offseason with the team? Plenty to see here…

6. First team activities for some since Dwayne Haskins’ death

Coming on the heels of the toxicology report being released from the Haskins tragedy, several Steelers teammates will be in a familiar setting and not seeing their friend who they saw in early April before his death. This process won’t be a quick, or easy, transition for those who were close with Haskins. The team, and organization overall, will have to remember the struggle many will feel seeing Haskins’ old locker, expecting him to be in meetings or any other situation which might jog memories. This is the start of the healing process, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy.


For a more detailed explanation of the above things to watch during OTAs and minicamp, check out my Let’s Ride podcast in the player below:

BTSC Top Ten: Diontae Johnson voted the 7th best Steeler of 2021, who is No. 8?


NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

BTSC voters are choosing the most valuable Steelers from 2021.

As the Steelers continue through the offseason, building 2022 roster, it is a good time to take a look back at 2021 again and rank the Top 10 Steelers players of the season. There are a good number of players who played well, and a lot who didn’t.

Diontae Johnson was one of the Steelers four Pro Bowl players in 2021, and while Cameron Heyward, T.J. Watt and Najee Harris joined him in that honor, they appear as the top three players on this list while Diontae Johnson is entering the list as the 7th pick.

Johnson led the Steelers in every receiving total with 169 targets, 107 receptions, 1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns. While his total stats are impressive, his efficiency, and the effectiveness of the Steelers passing game, was not impressive.

With the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger and a re-tooled offensive line, Diontae Johnson returns to a different offense in 2022. But while there are questions surrounding how he will perform, Johnson shouldn’t be undersold here. Diontae Johnson has led the Steelers in targets and receptions in all three of his seasons with the team, He led the team in receiving in both 2020 and 2021, second to James Washington in 2019 and led the team in receiving touchdowns in 2019 and 2021, coming in third in 2020. Over his three seasons he leads the team in every receiving statistic by a good margin.

Diontae Johnson’s three-year stats and the 2nd place in that stat.

Targets: 405 (226 JuJu Smith-Schuster)

Receptions: 254 (154 JuJu Smith-Schuster)

Yards: 2,764 (1,733 Chase Claypool)

Touchdowns: 20 (12 JuJu Smith-Schuster)

Diontae Johnson joins Najee Harris as the only Steelers offensive playmakers to make the Pro Bowl since 2018. (Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro made it in 2019 and 2020).

So while the questions about how good Diontae Johnson will be without Ben Roethlisberger, it’s not so much a question of will he be good, but can he replicate his Pro-Bowl season of 2021 or even improve on it?

Best Steelers of 2021:
1. T.J. Watt
2. Cameron Heyward
3. Najee Harris
4. Minkah Fitzpatrick
5. Chris Boswell
6. Pat Freiermuth
7. Diontae Johnson

With Johnson finally off the list, we add Dan Moore Jr. to our list of ten candidates for the 6th most important Steeler of 2021.

Let’s take a quick look at the candidates:
Bold = led Steelers in stat, * = led NFL in stat

Chase Claypool: Claypool’s 2021 season was considered a drop-off from his rookie season, but statistically that was only true in touchdowns scored, one of the most volatile stats for receivers. Claypool’s second season saw him improve slightly in yards per game, yards per target, broken tackles and drops. While the entire passing game was less efficient in 2021, Chase Claypool saw the least decline in efficiency.
Stat line: 105 targets, 59 receptions, 860 yards, 2 TDs.

Kevin Dotson: Dotson only appeared in 9 games for the Steelers, and it showed. With rookies starting on either side of him, Dotson was the anchor of the line, and that line was improving before he was hurt. The Steelers recorded 5 straight 100+ yard rushing games, a streak that ended with Dotson’s injury. That span of time involved the only two wins the Steelers recorded where their opponent scored 20 or more points.

Terrell Edmunds: Edmunds was labeled a reach when he was drafted, and while he has played in all but one game since then, and started all but 5, Edmunds has been more known for his weaknesses than his strengths. Edmunds has put in the work, improved every season, and in 2021 had his best coverage season, ranking in the top 20 in passer rating against when targeted, while still being a key player against the run for the Steelers.
Stat line: 2 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 1 sack, 8 tackles for a loss, 63 solo tackles.

Joe Haden: The veteran cornerback missed 5 games, but was still the Steelers best cornerback over the course of the season, and the Steelers defense continues to be a much better defense when he plays and the Steelers continue to win far more of their games with him than when he is out.
Stat line: 0 interceptions, 6 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 26 solo tackles.

Alex Highsmith: In his second year, Highsmith stepped into a starting role in 2021. In that role Highsmith recorded only 6 sacks but continued to show he is a sound defensive player who is strong in all phases of the game. While we look forward to Highsmith growing further into his role in 2022, his play in 2021 was definitely above the line.
Stat line: 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 46 solo tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, 15 QB hits.

Dan Moore Jr.: Dan Moore Jr. didn’t have the best rookie season, but he stepped in when he wasn’t supposed to play and solidified the left tackle position while providing a lot of value in the run game. Moore Jr. also had the disadvantage of playing with numerous different left guards lined up next to him and was left on an island to guard Miles Garrett a lot in the Steelers two games against the Browns, allowing 1 sack.

Ben Roethlisberger: The Steelers quarterback was a shell of his former self, and yet it is hard to believe that the team would have made the improbable run to the playoffs without him. Similar to Jerome Bettis being a major reason the 2005 Steelers won the Super Bowl while he was a backup, Ben Roethlisberger’s importance to the 2021 Steelers likely is more than his ability to still play the game.
Stat line: 3,740 passing yards, 22 passing TDs, 10 interceptions.

Joe Schobert: Schobert joined the Steelers via a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he helped hold down the inside linebacker position for the Steelers. He ended up second on the team in tackles, while playing the 5th most snaps on the Steelers defense. While not a long-term solution to the Steelers linebacker needs, Schobert was a solid player for the one season he was on the team.
Stat Line: 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 70 solo tackles, 6 passes defended, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 QB hit.

Ahkello Witherspoon: Akhello Witherspoon only played in 9 games in 2021, and ranked 8th in snaps for defensive backs on the Steelers, but he also led the Steelers in interceptions and tied Cameron Heyward for the most passes defended. His shorter time on the field definitely limited his value to the team, and with his awful first game, justifiably so. But it is hard to overstate the impact Witherspoon had late in the season when the Steelers made their push to a playoff berth.
Stat Line: 3 interceptions, 9 passes defended, 14 solo tackles, 1 tackle for a loss.

Chris Wormley: Chris Wormley was put into a much bigger role than he had played before in 2021, when injuries moved him from the #4 defensive lineman on the team to #2. In that increased role Wormley nearly doubled the previous highest snap count of his career, and his production more than doubled. While Wormley was part of the defensive struggles in run defense, he was a major asset in pass defense, ending up third on the team in sacks and 4th in pressures.
Stat line: 7 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 3 passes defended, 51 total tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 10 QB hits.

Now it is up to you to make your selection. Who should be rated the 8th best Steeler of 2021, and who should come back to compete for 9th?

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts



Get the latest BTSC podcast content in the ‘Podcast Roundup’.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seasons come and go with no real offseason, at least not for those diehard fans. For those fans, the preseason bleeds into the regular season, the regular season into the offseason, free agency and the NFL Draft. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.

Nonetheless, we here at BTSC, and our podcast platform, are here with you every step of the way. In the past we have given you the podcasts in individual articles on the website, but now we’ve decided to go with a ‘Podcast Roundup’ article which has the latest three podcasts for your enjoyment. The reasoning behind this is to take up less space on the site for the great written content we have at BTSC.

With that being said or typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each show:


BAD Language: Erasing history is easy, but erasing hurt isn’t


Everybody’s got an opinion. Some subscribe to conventional wisdom. others are ill-informed, while some are unorthodox and way out there. So, BTSC podcast producer Bryan Anthony Davis decided to make no apologies and share his black-and-gold brand of enlightenment. Join BAD preaching his own gospel of the hypocycloids on the new show, BAD Language. This week, it’s all about time healing all wounds when it comes to players that wronged the Steelers.

  • News and Notes
  • Retiring as a Steeler and erasing the pain
  • A visit from Britsburgh Owen, Voice from Across the Pond
  • and MUCH MORE!

Steelers Hangover: Steelers pick’s “long lost relatives” from black-and-gold draft’s past


Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White discuss who each member of the draft class reminds us of from Steelers’ past on the latest edition of the Monday show from the Behind the Steel Curtain Family of podcasts, The Steelers Hangover.

  • Black-and-Gold comparisons of Draft Picks
  • and MUCH MORE!

From the Steelers’ Cutting Room Floor: Serious Steelers defensive line questions waiting to be answered


The Steelers have plenty of strengths and one of them is believed to be the defensive line. But the Men of Steel actually have serious questions on the defensive line that need to be answered. Geoffery Benedict examines this and more on the latest episode of BTSC’s “From the Cutting Room Floor”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Serious defensive line questions
  • and MUCH MORE!

Geoffrey walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steeler


Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Toxicology report shows Dwayne Haskins was intoxicated when killed in Florida


NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida toxicology report shows Haskins was legally drunk at the time he was struck by a truck and killed.

It was April 9th when the news broke of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dwayne Haskins being struck by a truck and killed in Florida. As the news sent shockwaves throughout the Steelers, Washington and Ohio State communities, there was always an aspect of the accident which didn’t add up.

Why was Haskins out of his vehicle on the side of a busy road before dawn? If his vehicle ran out of gas, why didn’t he call for help? Without running the gambit of questions which were brought up after his passing, everyone knew answers were going to be a while off as the Florida Highway Patrol had to launch an investigation into the accident.

Monday afternoon the Broward County Medical Examiner released the toxicology report on Haskins. This is what the report showed, via ESPN:

According to the toxicology report, two separate samples taken from Haskins’ body had alcohol levels of .20 and .24, both of which are above the legal limit in Florida of .08. According to the report, Haskins also tested positive for ketamine and norketamine, drugs that are used by medical professionals as anesthetics but that also have been known to be used recreationally.

The medical examiner’s report also gave more details on Haskins time in Florida, which wasn’t just spent with his Steelers teammates while working out with newly signed quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

The report included:

Haskins, 24, was in Florida that weekend to train with Pittsburgh Steelers teammates. According to the investigation report, a Steelers official told the medical examiner’s office that the night before his death, Haskins went to dinner with a cousin or friend, whose name was “Joey,” and then later went to a nightclub, “possibly in Miami.”

“They drank heavily and at some point, they got into a fight, separating,” the report states.

The news of Haskins having alcohol, and other substances, in his body at the time of his death doesn’t change the tragedy surrounding the event. The loss of a 24 year-old, about to turn 25 in May, is tragic enough. Our thoughts go out to Haskins’ family and friends as they now have to deal with this news months after the accident.

Getting to know the Steelers 2022 UDFAs: Chris Owens


Alabama v Arkansas
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Steelers land a player who started at all three offensive line positions at Alabama.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers selected seven players in the 2022 NFL draft, they continued adding to the roster with ten undrafted free agents. With many draft profiles focusing on those players towards the top and middle of the NFL draft, it is time to get to take a look at these other members of the Pittsburgh Steelers who will have just as much opportunity to make the roster in 2022 as those who were selected in the draft, despite the more difficult path.

Remember, some draft profiles for these players are quite harsh as they are looking at them as a draftable prospect. Taking a flyer on an UDFA is a completely different story as many times the potential the player shows is what lands them on an NFL offseason roster.

Last on this list is Alabama offensive lineman Chris Owens. The list will take a slight change in the coming days to cover the players added following rookie minicamp.


Chris Owens

Offensive lineman
RS Senior
Alabama
6’3” 305 lbs

After a red shirt season in 2016, Owens only appeared in three games in 2017 at guard as he was a reserve offensive lineman. In 2018, Owens appeared in 13 games as the reserve center and tackle while playing on special teams. In 2019 Owens made four starts while appearing in 11 games and even played some tight end occasionally. Owen started another three games in 2020 while appearing at 11 games before starting 13 games his final season, 12 of which were at right tackle and one at center.


Current Steelers at the position:

Guard

  1. Kevin Dotson
  2. James Daniels
  3. John Leglue
  4. Nate Gilliam
  5. Chris Owens

Center

  1. Kendrick Green
  2. Mason Cole
  3. J.C. Hassenauer

NOTE: Both position groups were included and all centers are also guard capable, and several guards are center capable. As for Owens, played all three positions (center, guard, tackle) in college and does not have a position designation on the Steelers website.


Draft Profiles:

There was more adequate information in the terms of breakdowns for Owens heading into the 2022 NFL draft. Here is a breakdown from thedraftnetwork.com:

Alabama right tackle Chris Owens has worn different hats along the offensive line. Owens assumed the backup position at center, guard, and tackle. After starting as a reserve, he became a starter at the beginning of the 2019 season. This versatility bodes well for finding a place on an NFL roster. Owens is a powerful and stout offensive lineman. He’s at his best when triggering vertically in the run game. He will displace defenders and open lanes for his running backs. His strong latching ability allows him to turn and seal defenders. He has a solid kick slide in pass sets, but struggles with agile and twitchy rushers. As a result, Owens projects best as a guard where he is battling in a phone booth instead of on an island in space. He has a few technical errors to correct that will help his transition at either OL position. He strikes his opponents with wide hands outside of their frame. His hands land on the outer shoulder pads—this can result in penalties in the NFL. His punch timing can be late and quicker rushers counter easily. Owens can develop into a starting guard and operate as a swing tackle.

Ideal Role: Developmental guard or swing tackle

Scheme Fit: RPO-centric passing offense, power/inside zone run concepts

Here is another draft profile from nfldraftbuzz.com:

Strengths

Anchors well and plays with the low center of gravity and natural bend to seal the inside lanes. Has violent hands with hustle to close off bubble screens and lead to flatten linebackers. Nasty demeanor and highly coachable.

Plays with appropriate wide base and intelligence, instincts and agility to seal the edge. Aggressive extending with power to punch and looks comfortable in space.

Solid positional run blocker who flashes the nasty demeanor and killer instinct scouts covet.

Awareness is above-average for his limited experience. Sells trap block and can turn to seal. Fluid getting to and adjust at the second level.

Anchors against larger defenders in the middle; resets hands to maintain distance. Athletic enough to help on nose tackle then pick up twist or late blitzer. Mirrors quick interior rushers. Looks to help the center when uncovered.

Weaknesses

Needs to work on his technique in pass protection, using more consistent leverage and continuing to move his feet.

Loses leverage battles and plays with high pad level. Can be late off the snap.

Needs to prove his worth in a straight-ahead running game.

Flashes the ability to move his man with his hands, but is not yet consistent in this area.

A short-area blocker with limited range and doesn’t consistently get to the second level. Will play undisciplined at times, especially in space. Lacks a finishing attitude.


Film:

To finish off the breakdown of Chris Owens, no evaluation is complete without film:

(WARNING: Videos could contain explicit lyrics)

AFC North News: Lamar contract, Watson hearings and offseason grades


Syndication: Akron Beacon Journal
Jeff Lange / USA TODAY NETWORK

Time to get caught up on all the AFC North news…

The other day I was perusing the internet and stumbled across some news surrounding AFC North teams not named the Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously, this news intrigued me, considering the competitive balance in the division, but they weren’t necessarily things I would cover in articles for the site.

I then felt if the news was intriguing to me, it is likely intriguing to others who read the site. So, I decided to put together an AFC North News article a couple times a week where I compile links and parts of articles so you can keep tabs on what’s going on within the division, outside of the city of Pittsburgh.

Just as a reminder, these are not the full articles. If you want to read the entire article, click the link next to the headline.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the AFC North news…


Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson Contract Update (ESPN)

Jackson and the Ravens have been at a standstill for quite some time. Baltimore is prepared to do a deal, but Jackson hasn’t forced the issue — and has even dodged it, as he would an open-field tackler. He’s either incredibly patient or he wants to get to free agency.

And you have to give Jackson credit here: He has made himself millions by waiting. The market has gone up exponentially since last summer, with four passers (Watson, Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen) all above $43 million per year. As a former MVP with 105 total touchdowns and an astounding 37-12 record as a starter, Jackson can justify at least asking for something in the ballpark of Watson’s five-year, $230 million deal.

The flip side is Jackson isn’t coming off a great year — his 50.7 QBR was well below what he put up in the previous two seasons — and was sidelined for five games, fueling the conversation about whether his dual-threat style of play will affect long-term durability. One league exec said the Ravens would be foolish not to at least consider paying Jackson on a year-to-year basis, going from the fifth-year option of $23 million for next season to two franchise tags.


Long-time Ravens punters Sam Koch retires (ESPN)

Before a packed team auditorium, Baltimore Ravens punter Sam Koch announced his retirement Thursday during a tear-filled press conference, which ended the career of the longest-tenured player in franchise history.

Koch, 39, will remain with the Ravens as a special teams consultant this season and mentor Penn State punter Jordan Stout, who was drafted by Baltimore in the fourth round 19 days ago.

A 16-year veteran, Koch played in a team-record 256 games in Baltimore, 27 more than any other Ravens player. The only active player with longer current service with his team is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.


Ravens Pro Football Focus Offseason Grades (PFF)

Offseason Grade: A

Free Agency Grade: Average

Draft Grade: A+


Do the Ravens have any quality wide receivers?? (PFF)

@WILLOFHOUSEWILL: WOULD THE RAVENS BE BETTER SERVED EXPANDING THE ROLES OF THE YOUNG RECEIVERS AND ADDING DEPTH IN THE SECONDARY OR SIGNING JARVIS LANDRY?

I think the Baltimore Ravens need to add a veteran wide receiver. Will Fuller could be a pretty decent facsimile of traded wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, as well.

As Baltimore’s roster currently stands, it has 2021 first-round pick Rashod Bateman and a bunch of guys with little-to-no NFL experience.

Devin Duvernay has 53 career receptions for 473 yards with two touchdowns and 11 carries for 120 rushing yards, James Proche has just 17 career receptions for 216 yards, and Tylan Wallace caught two passes for 23 yards as a rookie in 2021. The Ravens could probably enter the season with one of those receivers as a third option, but they need more certainty at the position even in a run-heavy offense with receiving options at running back and tight end.


Cincinnati Bengals

Jessie Bates Contract Update (ESPN)

Expect Bates to stay away from the Bengals for an extended period this offseason while bound to a franchise tag he has yet to sign.

This is one where I don’t sense much optimism. There has been no tangible progress on a deal, and it’s uncertain how close to the top of the market Cincinnati is willing to get. I can confirm the USA Today report that Bates does not intend to play on the tag, and when I asked a source involved what will happen if no deal is reached by July 15, the source said things will get “interesting.”

Whether Bates would be willing to miss games is still unclear. But the threat for this to snowball is certainly there. Bates would do very well in 2023 free agency, so he could play on the $12.9 million tag this year and hit the open market. The Bengals could also always opt to trade Bates, though there hasn’t been any movement on something like that.

It’s not lost on the player that Cincinnati has been active in signing external free agents, yet an in-house playmaker with a second-team All-Pro nod, 10 interceptions and 35 pass deflections in his career and plenty of locker-room credibility as a leader remains unsigned. As a result of recent deals for Trey Hendrickson, D.J. Reader, Mike Hilton and Chidobe Awuzie, more than $52 million of the Bengals’ cap is tied to defensive line and cornerback.

It seems like anything is possible here, including a lengthy holdout.


Bengals Pro Football Focus Offseason Grades (PFF)

Offseason Grade: A

Free Agency Grade: Good

Draft Grade: B+


Cleveland Browns

Deshaun Watson to start meeting with the NFL soon (ESPN)

NFL officials began direct meetings with Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson in Texas on Tuesday as the league seeks to determine if he violated the personal conduct policy and, if so, whether discipline should be imposed, a source told ESPN’s Ed Werder.

The meetings are believed to involve Watson and the NFL investigative team of Lisa Friel.

The NFL has been investigating Watson to determine if he violated its code of conduct. Watson is facing 22 civil lawsuits from women who have accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct during massage sessions. Two grand juries in Texas have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, and Watson has denied all wrongdoing.

Friel, a former prosecutor in New York, has been heading the investigation. Once it is completed, former U.S. District Court Judge Sue Robinson, a disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and NFL Players Association, will decide if Watson violated the conduct policy and will report to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Watson, meanwhile, will be hosting several of his teammates in the Bahamas this weekend to work out and bond before the start of the team’s organized team activities, another source confirmed to ESPN.


Browns reportedly agree to terms with Jadaveon Clowney on one-year deal (ESPN)

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has agreed to re-sign with the Cleveland Browns on a one-year contract worth a maximum of $11 million after enjoying one of the best seasons of his career with the franchise, sources confirmed to ESPN.

Clowney finished with nine sacks and two forced fumbles for the Browns last season while playing opposite All-Pro pass-rusher Myles Garrett, who, like Clowney, also was a No. 1 overall draft pick.

Clowney’s agreement to re-sign with the Browns was first reported by Cleveland.com.


Browns Pro Football Focus Offseason Grades (PFF)

Offseason Grade: B+

Free Agency Grade: Above Average

Draft Grade: B


Chase Winovich excited to start his AFC North career (PFT)

The Browns traded for defensive lineman Chase Winovich in mid-March in exchange for linebacker Mack Wilson, setting up two defensive players for a needed change of scenery.

After recording 5.5 sacks in each of his first two seasons, Winovich saw his playing time reduced to just 10.5 percent of New England’s defensive snaps in 2021. He ended the year with no sacks and just one quarterback hit.

So as he begins his time with Cleveland as a potential rotational edge rusher, Winovich is optimistic about his opportunity in the AFC North.

“In life, we’re very quick to assign things as good or bad, success or failure, this or that,” Winovich said in an interview with Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal. “But I think ultimately that removes any possibility, and the possibility is that it could be the best thing to ever happen to me.”

Winovich added that he’s gained 10 to 15 pounds this offseason to help his transition into Cleveland’s defensive scheme.


Deshaun Watson’s lawyer “not optimistic” about HBO’s treatment of the case (PFT)

On Tuesday night, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel will debut a story that includes interviews with “several” of the women accusing Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, does not have high expectations for the finished product.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like, but I’m not optimistic,” Hardin told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I believe they’ll air the accusations of the women without attempting to look behind it to see what kind of merit do they have.”

Hardin has tried in the past to get the media to focus on the merits, or lack thereof, of the specific allegations. His efforts didn’t take. He eventually stopped trying.

“My approach all along was that we were not going to win the battle of public opinion,’’ Hardin told Cabot, not mentioning the fact that did indeed tried to sway media and fans Watson’s way in 2021, with multiple press conferences and the release of evidence that potentially undermines the allegations, such as text messages. “And my goal has always been to have these cases examined by law enforcement and I strongly believed that trained investigators would ultimately conclude that there was nothing to them from a criminal standpoint and that’s where my focus has always been.”


Feel free to chime in on the above news in the comment section below, and don’t forget to follow BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of Phase 3 of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and mandatory minicamp.