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Omar Khan on the Steelers signing Minkah Fitzpatrick to a new 5-year contract

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/15/2022 - 12:45pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and Omar Khan, have made their first big move of the offseason by signing Minkah Fitzpatrick to a 4-year contract extension.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had priorities this offseason, and one of those priorities was to get Minkah Fitzpatrick under contract for the foreseeable future. While many expected this to timeline to be similar to that of T.J. Watt in 2021, the new Steelers General Manager (GM) Omar Khan made his first big signing as the GM by signing Fitzpatrick to a 4-year contract extension.

The 4-year contract extension will keep Fitzpatrick roaming the Steelers’ secondary for the next five seasons, and will have No. 39 being a foundational piece, more so than he already was, for a long time.

Done deal. ✍️ pic.twitter.com/mLsThSrdhg

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 15, 2022

After the ink dried on the new contract, Khan had this to say about the contract given to Fitzpatrick well before training camp begins on July 26th.

“We are very excited to sign Minkah to a new five-year contract,” said GM Omar Khan. “Minkah is one of the top safeties in the NFL and we are thrilled he will be in Pittsburgh through at least the next five years. When we traded for him, we knew he was going to be an integral part of our defense and we look forward to that continuing as we prepare for the upcoming season.”

It has to be a good feeling for both Khan and Fitzpatrick, as the team now can move forward with their plans to potentially sign other players before the start of the 2022 regular season. As for Fitzpatrick, he is just excited to stay with the team who mortgaged a first round pick to obtain his services in 2019.

“I am very excited,” said Fitzpatrick. “I am still kind of in shock right now. It’s a blessing. I am really excited. It’s just the beginning. I am appreciative. I am thankful. Now I just want to keep on chopping.

“I love the history here. What it stands for. The standard we are held to. The standard Coach (Mike) Tomlin holds us to, on the field and off the field. The standard of winning playoff games, division titles and championship games.

“I really like it here. I have been playing well the last three seasons, at a high level. I love the atmosphere, the coaching, the tradition. Being able to continue that for the next few years is definitely a blessing.”

The Steelers, with Fitzpatrick locked up for the next five seasons, will turn their attention to potentially signing other players, if they so please. Two of those players vying for a new deal would be placekicker Chris Boswell and wide receiver Diontae Johnson. Will Khan make more moves before camp starts? Most would suggest he navigated these waters with relative ease. It is likely there is more to come in the coming weeks.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 26th.

To hear more about this new contract for Minkah Fitzpatrick, check out the Breaking News podcast in the player below:

Steelers sign Minkah Fitzpatrick to 4-year contract extension

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/15/2022 - 12:08pm
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t waste time getting their All-Pro safety locked up for the long term.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering a new era of Steelers football in a lot of ways. The first year without Ben Roethlisberger since 2004, but also the start of the Omar Khan era. No one knew just how Khan would handle his business, especially as it pertains to the handling of contracts. In his introductory press conference, all he said was the principle of not negotiating contracts during the season would remain.

Well, consider Khan’s first big deal done after the team and All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick agreed to a 4-year extension worth over $18.4 million per year, and $36 million guaranteed at the time of signing.

This per Adam Schefter of ESPN:

Steelers and All-Pro S Minkah Fitzpatrick reached agreement on a massive four-year contract extension worth over $18.4 million per year, with $36M gtd at signing, per source. The deal, negotiated and confirmed by @WME_Sports, makes Fitzpatrick the highest paid S in NFL history. pic.twitter.com/Rnb0jJWGoM

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 15, 2022

The move not only keeps Fitzpatrick wearing a black and gold uniform for the next five seasons, considering this is an extension of his 5th year option the team picked up this offseason, but will also likely decrease his previous salary cap hit for the 2022 season of $10.612 million.

In three seasons since joining the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3 of the 2019 season, Minkah Fitzpatrick has started 46 regular season games as well as the Steelers two playoff contests. The only game Fitzpatrick missed in his time with the Steelers was Week 11 of this past season due to being on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. With the Steelers, Fitzpatrick has 11 interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, four fumble recoveries with one returned for a touchdown, over 200 tackles, and 27 passes defensed. Fitzpatrick was also selected to the Pro Bowl as well as being First Team All-Pro in 2019 and 2020. In 2021, Fitzpatrick led the Steelers in tackles with 124.

As for contract negotiations, Fitzpatrick wasn’t the only player on the Steelers’ roster who is hoping to get a new contract before the start of the season. Diontae Johnson, although still with one year left on his rookie contract, is seeing the stock of wide receivers sky rocket. He would like to get it on some of that money while he still can. Other than Johnson, kicker Chris Boswell is entering the final year of his deal, and has proven his worth more than enough times to earn himself a new contract.

With Fitzpatrick, who was clearly the Steelers’ priority this offseason, done, the team now will look to make any other moves, including potentially bringing in an outside free agent at a key position.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest updates on this contract as they become available, as well as news surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the offseason prior to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 26th.

UPDATE:

The extension was made official by the Steelers as of 12:25pm ET.

We have signed S Minkah Fitzpatrick to a new five-year contract. @BordasLaw

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 15, 2022

For more on the signing of Minkah Fitzpatrick, check out BTSC’s breaking news podcast:

3 reasons to not count Anthony McFarland Jr. out in 2022

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/15/2022 - 10:00am
Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Steelers RB Anthony McFarland Jr. still has plenty of tread left on his tires, but he has to remain upright to utilize it.

Have you ever attempted to earnestly make haste in a situation, but didn't seem to be getting anywhere? If you have, you know exactly how Steelers running back Anthony McFarland Jr. feels thus far in his NFL career.

McFarland's career has resembled a teen centric horror film of the slasher variety. McFarland would represent the first random, unnamed adolescent to die in every cookie cutter movie. You know exactly which irrelevant, underdeveloped character I am referring to.

The guy or gal that has the misfortune of being the first individual to come face-to-face with the killer. They immediately shriek in horror, before turning and running away as fast as they can from the killer, who happens to be walking slowly and calmly in pursuit.

It would seem rational and reasonable that the still young and robust target would easily outdistance the ever so slowly sauntering slasher, and secure their health and well-being by exiting stage right. You would think, but you would be wrong.

The inevitable victim spends far too much time and effort looking back as they repeatedly stop to scream bloody murder (see what I did there?) as they make their futile escape attempt. However, that's not the most disturbing part.

The most troublesome quality written into each one of these characters’ DNA is their complete and unimaginable clumsiness. Simply put, they fall down. Repeatedly and without reason, as if tripping over their own two feet.

Now you can see where I am going with this rather lengthy comparison.

Anthony McFarland Jr. is destined to be the next victim slashed from the Steelers running back depth chart if he can't learn to stay on his feet.

Based on some of the video clips being shared in the early stage of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), McFarland is still struggling to remain upright on the football field. It really doesn't matter how much speed you have, if you can never gain enough traction to reach top speed.

Steelers rookie Calvin Austin lll is as quick as a hiccup, with almost instant acceleration, and start-stop ability. The Steelers are hoping this exceptional quality will allow Austin to compete successful in the NFL, in spite of his diminutive physique. McFarland, also of a smaller stature, needs to show more of the elusiveness and pure speed he displayed in college.

Most Steelers fans have already written McFarland off, due to his extremely limited and unimpressive professional resume, but I think that might be just a tad bit premature.

McFarland is entering his third year in the NFL, but is still only 24 years-old. He is a extremely raw prospect, for more reasons than just his age.

McFarland was an Under Armor All-American his senior year of high school at Dematha Catholic in Maryland, despite sitting out the football season due to injury. He then red-shirted his freshman year at Maryland University in 2017, so the 2018 collegiate season was his first full slate of football in two years.

In spite of that inactivity, he hit the ground running, enjoying a monster 2018 season on the ground, with numerous splash plays and long runs. After suffering a nagging ankle injury early in 2019, he played through the discomfort, but never fully regained his explosiveness. He decided to forgo his final two years of eligibility and he entered the 2020 NFL Draft, where the Steelers selected him in the fourth round.

Inexperience is the first reason I feel McFarland has been unable to make a impact with the Steelers, and physical changes would be the second.

McFarland measured in at a shade over 5'8" and 208 lbs. during the pre-draft process. However, he reportedly played somewhere in the neighborhood of 190 to 193 lbs. during his collegiate career. Plenty of undersized runners try to put on a few pounds prior to testing, in an attempt to show they could conceivable be a full-time back, durable enough to successfully make a living running between the tackles.

The added weight theoretically could assist in their ability to break tackles, but only if it doesn't negatively impact their quickness and elusiveness. McFarland would post a 4.44 forty at his workout, which is fast, but not as fast as expected. He didn't run any of the other agility drills due to the aforementioned injury.

So McFarland's decision to pack on a few pounds prior to being drafted may have negatively impacted his overall health and abilities through the first couple of seasons with the Steelers. Now that's just a possible theory on my part.

The third possible reason for McFarland's slow start to his career is anything but a theory, as it is a certainty. The Steelers offensive line has been dismal throughout his career, even when he has been relatively healthy.

The Steelers once vaunted offensive line started to noticeably deteriorate in 2019, especially in the running game. It was labeled 'soft' late in 2020, but finally hit rock bottom last season, unable to either run or pass block at even a average NFL level, caused primarily to multiple departures due to free agency and retirements.

Honestly, it is nearly impossible to accurately evaluate the Steelers skill position players due to the severe limitations resulting from the offensive line's ineptitude. This inarguable truth impacted every faucet of the Steelers offensive game plan and execution.

Therefore, I have decided to reserve final judgement on many of the skill position players, like McFarland, until after they hopefully get to perform with at least an adequate offensive line this season.

McFarland needs to keep his feet on the ground, and his eyes on the prize, because the Turk is very real, and always creeping close behind.

What can Brian Flores’ use of safeties mean for the Steelers defenders?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/15/2022 - 8:30am
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

How Flores used his three-headed safety position in 2021, and what it could mean for the Steelers in 2022.

Keith Butler’s retirement and the addition of Brian Flores as inside linebackers’ coach and senior defensive assistant changes the Steelers personnel, and will definitely have an impact on the Steelers defensive scheme. Both Teryl Austin and Mike Tomlin have stated Flores will have a much bigger role than just coaching the linebackers.

To be honest, hiring one of the better defensive minds in the NFL, the architect of the Patriots dismantling of the LA Rams offense in Super Bowl LIII, and limiting his input to coaching the linebackers would be dumb and a waste of talent. Flores is well known for his aggressive and disruptive blitz schemes, and with the Steelers loss of Keith Butler, who orchestrated the Steelers pass rush over their recent historical run of sacking the quarterback, there is a clear opening for someone with that skill set on the staff.

While it makes sense to see Flores as someone who will be more focused on the front seven, he has been working with the secondary. More than that, the Steelers signing both Terrell Edmunds and Damontae Kazee, the Steelers have three players that are multi-year starters at safety, and while the Steelers have not been a team that uses three safeties very often, Brian Flores has used three safeties a lot in his defenses.

Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins safeties

To better understand the different uses and roles Flores has employed his safeties in I wanted to look at snap data, specifically Pro Football Focus’s snap alignment data. This can help us understand how he has used safeties, and give us an idea of how Flores and the Steelers might be looking to utilize the three safeties they have on the roster.

Here are the snap counts for the four most used safeties for the Miami Dolphins in 2021, and where they were aligned to start each snap.

Jason McCourty was a starter for the Dolphins for the first four games of the 2021 season, his snap count dropped off substantially the next three games then he went on injured reserve. Jevon Holland increased his workload as McCourty played less. So while there are four safeties here, There are really only three main safety roles.

If you look at the total percentage of safety snaps (220.8%), the Dolphins ran three safeties a bit over 1 out of 5 snaps. The Dolphins did run some one safety looks, so it was a bit more than just 20.8%, but not a significant difference. I didn’t go through all the game specific numbers, but the usage wasn’t consistent, and was more based on the opponent and their personnel uses. For example, the Dolphins ran a lot of three safety looks against the Bills and their receiver heavy packages.

The three main safeties snaps split up in interesting balances. First off Flores has a primary free safety, that player is a single high safety specialist, a center fielder that can hold up while the team blitzes. Rookie Jevon Holland played that role most of the season. Eric Rowe and Brandon Jones both played a lot of box safety, but while Eric Rowe played a lot in the slot, Brandon Jones was more likely to be used in deep safety alignments and on the line of scrimmage, frequently working as a blitzer.

Terryl Austin and the Pittsburgh Steelers safeties

Now compare those snap distributions to the Steelers in 2021. The Steelers didn’t use three safeties, but I included Tre Norwood and Myles Killebrew because they are the other leading players by snaps listed as safeties, but they also show the distributions for a dime back and safety who largely plays linebacker.

Norwood shows up heavily in the slot, because as a dime back that is his primary role. He also has substantial snaps at free safety, both as a replacement for Minkah Fitzpatrick when he is out and in some zone alignments, and in the box when teams draw out dime personnel with their personnel package then align in a more power-oriented alignment.

Myles Killebrew played almost exclusively against very heavy sets teams were employing to overtax the Steelers run defense, when he would frequently replace one of the Steelers cornerbacks, leading to his seven snaps at cornerback when the offense then lined up an extra tight end or fullback out wide. Terrell Edmunds 41 snaps at corner were mostly in that same role.

Minkah Fitzpatrick was primarily a deep safety, but almost 20% of the time he was either in the box or in the slot. Terrell Edmunds was primarily in the box, his second most used alignment was in the slot, and deep safety came third. Edmunds also played 45 snaps on the line of scrimmage as an added edge defender.

Comparing usage

There’s one more player that needs to be covered quickly before we look at comparing the safeties and their potential usage in 2022. So I also looked up Damontae Kazee’s snaps by alignment.

As you can see Kazee was used heavily in a free safety role, and that is his specialty. Damontae Kazee is a natural center fielder, a good free safety for any deep zone usage. As Kevin Smith pointed out in his article on the Steelers possibly using three safety sets, Kazee is most likely the best deep zone safety on the team.

If we looked at the snaps from Miami and choose Steelers safeties to plug into the same kind of roles, Damontae Kazee would be a natural fit for the free safety focused role that Jevon Holland played for Brian Flores in Miami.

Terrell Edmunds with his box and slot defense focus would fit best in a role similar to what Eric Rowe filled. Edmunds played more deep safety than Rowe in 2021, but with the addition of Kazee the need to play Edmunds as a deep safety is lessened significantly.

That leaves Minkah Fitzpatrick in the Brandon Jones role, a role that was split between playing in the box, in deep zone and on the line of scrimmage, with some slot coverage thrown in as well. The interesting thing about that usage is how well it fits Minkah Fitzpatrick’s versatile skillset. Moving Fitzpatrick around on defense, and especially allowing him to move around based on what he sees from the offense, without being tied to the role of deepest defender, is where he did the most damage in his first two seasons.

In fact if you look at Fitzpatrick’s first game with the Steelers, his splits by alignment also involved a lot of lining up on the line of scrimmage, where he could blitz or drop into coverage. Here are his numbers from Week 3 of 2019 compared to Brandon Jones’ 2021 season numbers.

The Steelers initial vision for Minkah Fitzpatrick had him playing that role a good bit. That changed by the end of that game, as the Steelers were switching between Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds playing single high safety, and as you can imagine, they learned very quickly that whatever value Fitzpatrick brought close to the line of scrimmage could not offset the drop off from Fitzpatrick to Edmunds in deep zone defense.

I want to be clear again that the Steelers will not be just plugging their safeties into roles carved out for players in Miami. But that doesn’t mean they don’t give us any ideas of how the Steelers may modify their defensive back usage.

Predictions guaranteed to be wrong.

These predictions are not me pretending to know what the Steelers will do, or that I know exactly what their defense will look like in 2022. This is going to be me looking at how Brian Flores used his three safeties in 2021, how the Steelers used their safeties in 2021 and coming up with a model of how I think the Steelers safeties would work in a system much more like the one Brian Flores ran in 2021.

Hopefully it’s helpful to those of you curious about what that kind of mashup could mean for Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Steelers secondary.

Let me start with this, I expect Tre Norwood to compete for the nickel job. That could technically mean the Steelers could be running 4 safeties if they don’t change any player’s listed positions. Norwood was fantastic in the dime role, has been drawing comparisons to Cameron Sutton and his ability to line up anywhere and play well, but Norwood at his age is ahead of Sutton at the same age in his physicality and tackling. This of course comes with a big caveat that Norwood could be a wild card that adds a lot more possibility and complexity to the safety situation if he takes a big step up in his second season. I can’t cover that, so I’m going to treat Norwood and Maulet as fighting over the nickel spot and leave both out of the rest of the calculations.

So here’s my thoughts on snap count distribution for the Steelers leading three safeties and my projected distribution of where those snaps will see them lining up. I’m basing the total snap counts on the Steelers 2021 total snaps because that makes it a lot easier for me.

So here it is, my idea of what we could see from the Steelers safeties in a Brian Flores/Teryl Austin defensive collaboration.

If you look at the totals from the position I think we see more safeties up on the line of scrimmage and more safeties aligning deep. The first because of Brian Flores, the second because I have to believe the run defense isn’t forcing the Steelers to go single-high safety as much as it did last year. I’m not going to ruin my day thinking like that. In return the slot numbers drop, but that’s largely due to me counting Tre Norwood as a safety, when he spent most of his time in the slot as a dime back. If you look only at Edmunds and Fitzpatrick this prediction involves an increase in slot snaps for safeties, even as Terrell Edmunds reduces his snap count in the slot from 2021, which was largely driven by the Steelers sticking with 7 man fronts against 11 personnel because of the run defense.

I see Minkah Fitzpatrick still leading the team in deep safety snaps, but only spending a bit over half his time in that role. I see fewer snaps for Edmunds as Damontae Kazee cuts into his snaps when he comes in largely as a deep cover specialist, with just about 100 snaps in other alignments to mess with the offense. Edmunds in this scenario ends up playing about the same number of snaps he did in 2020, while Damontae Kazee sees a decrease in playing time.

PFF ranks Steelers receiving corps just outside the Top 10

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/15/2022 - 7:15am
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Steelers are incredibly young at receiver, but PFF believes in the potential.

One of the highlights of this offseason for the Steelers has been the moves made at the wide receiver position. After losing JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and RayRay McCloud, the Steelers knew the room needed to be reloaded.

While the Steelers were relatively quiet in the receiver market during free agency, they did find a new kick return specialist in Gunner Olszewski, but they were far from done. In a receiver class loaded with talent, the Steelers snagged two immensely talented wide receivers in George Pickens and Calvin Austin III.

Although it may be unfair to judge a receiver room that is so young and inexperienced, national pundits are beginning to recognize the talent this group possesses. Ben Linsey from Pro Football Focus recently ranked all 32 receiving rooms in the NFL, and coming in at number 11 was none other than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here is what Linsey had to say about the receiving corps.

In many respects, the Steelers’ receiving corps is similar to the Broncos’ group. They don’t have a bona fide elite wide receiver, but they do have one you can at least make the case for. That’s Diontae Johnson for Pittsburgh. While he has battled drops and poor quarterback play early in his career, his 1.83 receiving yards per route run over the past two seasons ranks 25th among 96 wide receivers with at least 500 routes. Chase Claypool is in the same vicinity at 1.84 yards per route run since 2020.

The additions of George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the 2022 NFL Draft to pair with those two and tight end Pat Freiermuth creates an intriguing young collection of talent for either Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett at quarterback.

Nobody can deny the fact that it will take time for this group to gel and develop a chemistry with the starting quarterback, whether that be Mitchell Trubisky or Kenny Pickett. However, the talent in this room is undeniable.

Chase Claypool had his share of struggles in 2021 after a rookie season that brought him double-digit touchdowns, but it has nothing to do with talent. One of the most athletically gifted receivers in the league, Claypool is expected by many to emerge into a bona fide number one receiver this season. If he can remain focused on the task at hand, and if he can hone in on doing the simple well rather than doing the difficult poorly, the sky’s the limit.

Diontae Johnson is not the most efficient of receivers, but he was the most consistent and most reliable receiver for the Steelers in 2021. Considering Johnson is in a contract year, it would be a surprise to no one if he records his best statistical season to date.

While George Pickens and Calvin Austin III are completely unproven as NFL receivers, it is worth noting that just one year ago I had a mid first-round grade on George Pickens. Austin is a totally different type of receiver, but he is the burner the Steelers have lacked on offense for some time. Anthony Miller and Steven Sims, Jr. cannot be forgotten either, as both of them provide the versatility and speed Matt Canada is looking for.

Whether you like this receiving corps or not, nobody can deny the vastly different skill sets of each receiver in this room. It should bring great balance to the position, and fans should be excited about the potential in this room.

How confident are you in the Steelers’ receiver room? Do you like the way it is being built, or do you have concerns about the way this room is being assembled? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this topic and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!

Kendrick Green outlines his offseason work with Maurkice Pouncey

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/15/2022 - 6:00am
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Steelers 2021 3rd Round pick talks about what it was like to spend time with the former All-Pro, Maurkice Pouncey.

It is safe to say when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Kendrick Green in the 3rd Round of the 2021 NFL Draft, they didn’t have full intentions of him starting at center as a rookie. After all, he had only started a handful of games at the position in college, otherwise playing predominantly guard.

As we all know, the team turned to Green almost as the de facto center, and he struggled. To be completely honest, that might be an understatement.

Fans’ expectations for Green were likely too lofty, considering the aforementioned conditions, but the former Illinois lineman became the target for the vast majority of fan anger as the team’s offense continued to sputter.

Shortly after the Steelers’ season ended with a Wild Card loss in the AFC Playoffs to the Kansas City Chiefs, it was posted on social media how Green had gone to Florida to spend time with the man who was the center prior to Green having the job. None other than All-Pro Maurkice Pouncey.

The image of Green being next to Pouncey was a sight many Steelers fans were excited to see. After all, many fans were already upset Green took Pouncey’s No. 53 as a rookie, and the year after he retired. But despite Green showing up with Pouncey on social media, no one really knew what the two had done while together.

During minicamp last week Green was asked about the workouts, and what they worked on/discussed in Florida.

“Just a lot of knowledge,” Green said of what he learned from Pouncey. “I think that was the biggest thing, just talking to him and seeing how he views the game, him and Mike (Pouncey), kinda like a big brother/mentor role. I learned a lot just from the few times I’ve been with him.”

As Green continued to elaborate on the workouts, he said the sessions weren’t guard or center specific. In fact, there wasn’t much field work at all.

“Really didn’t do too much field work,” Green added. “It was kinda like working out and then a lot of just talking over some food, stuff like that, fellowship.”

Having both Pounceys in your corner can never be a bad thing, and both Maurkice and Mike are a wealth of knowledge surrounding the offensive line. If Green can somehow establish some of the principles which made Pouncey and All-Pro, there might be hope for him yet.

As the Steelers went through their mandatory minicamp last week, it was made public the team had Green take some repetitions at guard, not just center. This is Green’s more comfortable position, think about how much guard he played in college, and it also neve helped to have Ben Roethlisberger saying publicly how much better Green would be at guard compared to center.

Regardless of position, it seems Green is willing to do whatever it takes to just find a spot on the Steelers’ offensive line in 2022. Guard or center, he doesn’t care. Will he carve out a niche for himself? That has yet to be determined, but you can’t say Green didn’t try almost everything to get himself to that point in his career.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their return to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA for training camp on July 26th.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 06/15/2022 - 4:30am

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 have 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 and typed, enjoy the shows below with a brief description of each broadcasted episode.

The Steelers Draft Fix: Dynasty Deep Dive

The Steelers have completed the 2022 selection process and it will soon your turn. Join Jeremy Betz and Andrew Wilbar as they get started previewing the fantasy football season and the future needs of the Men of Steel. Dynasty Leagues are the focus on the latest edition of BTSC’s Steelers Fix.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • Dynasty Leagues
  • and MUCH MORE!
The Scho Bro Show: Storylines to follow leading up to Steelers training camp

There are so many storylines for fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers to follow for the upcoming 2022 season. What are the most significant of said storylines to look at before training camp opens? This will be just one of the subjects that will be discussed in the latest installment of the BTSC family of podcasts,

As always, it sure is a good time to get on the airwaves and discuss the black-and-gold. On this show, Dave and Big Bro Scho break down all things Steelers, still talk stats, and also answer questions from fans!

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Special Guest: Bradley Locker

Dave and Rich walk you through everything you need to know regarding the black-and-gold.

Let’s Ride Wednesday: Don’t jump to conclusions after Steelers minicamp

This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts, “Let’s Ride” with BTSC Senior Editor Jeff Hartman. Join Jeff for this and more on the Wednesday episode of “Let’s Ride”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Narratives Steelers fans should be avoiding after minicamp
  • The Mail Bag
  • and MUCH MORE!

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Going For Two: Chris Boswell & Miles Boykin

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 2:30pm
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s Day 4 of Going For Two, featuring Chris Boswell and Miles Boykin

Welcome to Going For Two! Over the 45 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 training camp, we will be highlighting two players every day in order to cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s two players:

Chris Boswell Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

Position: Kicker
Age: 31
Year: 8
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 185
Drafted: UDFA 2014 (Houston Texans)
College: Rice
Roster Outlook: Lock
Analysis:

After a rough 2018 season, Chris Boswell has found himself back to his typical form over the last three years and has reclaimed the spot of the most accurate field-goal kicker in Steelers history with more than five attempts. Giving the Steelers the extra security coming through with clutch kicks over the years, Chris Boswell shows no sign of slowing down in his NFL career. Entering the final year of his contract with a Steelers, look for a Boswell extension on the horizon as the Steelers lock-in arguably their greatest kicker of all time.

Miles Boykin Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Wide receiver
Age: 25
Year: 4
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 220
Drafted: 2019, Round 3, Pick 93 (Baltimore Ravens)
College: Notre Dame
Roster Outlook: Likely, but must earn it
Analysis:

Released by the Ravens earlier this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed Miles Boykin off waivers inheriting his $2.54 million contract for this final season of his rookie deal. With an inside track to make the roster based on his 40 games in three NFL seasons and his third-round pedigree, Boykin will have to hold off other wide receivers trying to find their way onto the 53-man roster. Also contributing on special teams, which will go along way, Boykin would not cost for Steelers anything in dead money should he not make the team. Ultimately, it will be Boykin’s preseason performance and scheme fit which will determine his future in Pittsburgh.

Be sure to check back everyday for another two players for the Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

A 3-step stat progression to give Najee Harris a great 2022 season

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 12:45pm
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Starting with one stat, which has a lot less to do with Harris than his teammates, it’s an easy progression to an even better second NFL season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 first round draft pick, Najee Harris, made his mark on the Steelers and the NFL in his very first season. Breaking the Steelers rookie rushing record with 1,200 yards exactly, it’s only the second time a rookie has rushed for more than 1,000 yards Steelers history with the other being Franco Harris having 1,055 yards in 1972.

As important as Najee Harris was to the Steelers offense, the question often asked of players as they head into their second season is how much they will grow and improve after having one season, and a full NFL offseason, under their belt.

When it comes to Najee Harris and seeing an improvement in his statistical output for the 2022 season, there is one path to success which would only require Harris to ‘hold par’ in his play and still see an increased output. Additionally, it could even be a factor of getting the same results with less attempts, and presumptive wear and tear on the body, that he had as a rookie.

So let’s take a look at a logical three statistic progression which would help improve Najee Harris‘ statistics for 2022.

Yards Before Contact

Early in the 2021 season, it was chronicled how Najee Harris was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on most of his carries according to Pro Football Focus. As the season went on, those numbers decreased, but they still contributed to the first statistic in this progression: Yards before contact.

As a reminder, Najee Harris finished fourth in the NFL in rushing in 2021. Looking at those top five rushers, Pro Football Reference (PFR) has the following numbers for these players in yards before contact per rushing attempt:

Jonathan Taylor: 2.6 YBC/A
Nick Chubb: 2.5 YBC/A
Joe Mixon: 2.3 YBC/A
Najee Harris: 1.7 YBC/A
Dalvin Cook: 2.7 YBC/A

Obviously one of these things is not like the other. It stands out how Najee Harris did not average even 2 yards per rushing attempt before he was met with contact. While Harris was obviously last in this category among the top five rushers in the NFL, yards after contact put him in the middle of the pack. With Nick Chubb having 3.0 yards after contact and Jonathan Taylor averaging 2.9 yards, Harris was next with 2.2 ahead of both Joe Mixon (1.8 yards) and Dalvin Cook (2.0 yards).

Looking at Najee Harris and his YBC/A per game, the best he saw all season was in Week 5 against the Denver Broncos where he had 3.0 yards before contact per attempt. The only other games where Harris had at least 2.0 yards before contact per attempt were Week 2 against Las Vegas (2.1), Week 10 against the Chargers (2.5), Week 11 against Cincinnati (2.5), and Week 17 against the Browns (2.2). In Week 15 against Tennessee (0.1) and Week 18 against the Ravens (0.8), Harris did not even get an average of 1 yard before contact per attempt.

If the rest of the Steelers offense, whether through improved offensive line play or better offensive scheme, can get Harris anywhere between 0.5 and 1.0 additional yards before contact on average, he would obviously be a much better position. Even adding an additional half yard still would put him the lowest on the list of the top five rushers in 2021 at 2.2 YBC/A. If the offense could improve enough to add an additional yard, then Harris would be at the top of the group at 2.7 YBC/A based on 2021 statistics.

Yards per Carry

After breaking down Najee Harris’ 3.9 yards per carry in 2021 to where 1.7 came before contact and 2.2 were yards after contact, it’s hard to ask Harris to do more than what he was already doing on his own. Getting more yards after contact than before, Harris is working very hard to get the yardage necessary each play. Even if the yards after contact remained the same, if the yards before contact were to be increased as suggested, Najee Harris would be looking at between 4.4 and 4.9 yards per carry. If Harris could reach that mark, he would be right on pace with some of the top Steelers of all time when it came to yards per carry in their second season.

For example, Le’Veon Bell has the most rushing yards in franchise history in a player’s second season with 1,361 yards. During that season, Bell had an average of 4.7 yards per carry. Unfortunately, PFR began their advanced statistics in 2018 and there is not a breakdown of Bell’s yards before contact and yards after contact from 2014.

Yards

Ultimately, the statistics of rushing yards for the season is what will stand out the most for a running back. If Najee Harris can get more yards before contact in 2022 while keeping the yards after contact the same, it will add more yards per attempt. For this reason, Najee Harris should see either more rushing yards or a lighter workload.

In 2021, Najee Harris saw 307 rushing attempts which was second in the NFL. If that number gets rounded off to 300, having a yards per carry of 4.4 to 4.9 would have his rushing output for the season be between 1,320 yards and 1,470 yards.

But perhaps more yardage isn’t the desired outcome. If Najee Harris were to rush for 1,200 yards again in 2022, but not needing him to take as many carries was the goal, a reduction of somewhere between 35 and 60 carries on the season based on 4.4 to 4.9 yards per carry could still have Harris giving the same yardage. If the Steelers could get adequate production from other running backs who would potentially be taking a load off of Harris, especially if the increased yards before contact statistic would hold true regardless of the running back, the Steelers would see an overall increase in team rushing yards even if it didn’t come from their leading rusher.

When it comes to Najee Harris and his statistics from 2021, it would be nice to see a second year leap. But having a realistic expectation of where the yardage could come from, particularly from the help of the rest of the offense, may help put expectations for 2022 into perspective. Asking Najee Harris to improve on his record-setting rookie season all on his own is a lot to ask. But seeing an increase in numbers, especially with the help of the rest of the offense, is not out of the question.

More NFL teams are opting for lighter offseason workloads in 2022

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 11:30am
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t the only team in the NFL who has shortened their offseason workout program in 2022.

If you follow offseason workout schedules for NFL teams, you know the basic fundamentals of the offseason program known as Organized Team Activities (OTAs). There three phases of OTAs, with the third being the most notable.

Phase 1 is when players are working with strength and conditioning coaches and getting in shape for the upcoming season.

Phase 2 is when players can start to work with individual coaches, and can begin doing position drills and workouts.

Phase 3, which includes mandatory minicamp, is when teams can start working on team drills. It could be 7-on-7, 9-on-9 or even 11-on-11. There are no pads, but there can be 13 total workouts during Phase 3, 10 are considered just standard OTAs, while three are minicamp.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers released their offseason workout schedule, the team had scheduled 10 OTAs, and would wrap up their offseason schedule with mandatory minicamp this week. Suddenly, without any official notice, the Steelers cut the last four OTA workouts and had their minicamp a week earlier than scheduled.

No one knew why, or who, made the decision, until Mike Tomlin spoke with the media after the first day of minicamp. Here is how the interaction went down with the question and answer session:

Reporter: Who made the decision to only do two weeks of OTAs?

Tomlin: I did.

Reporter: What went into that?

Tomlin: Personal choice.

For the football fan, eliminating workouts seems to be counterintuitive, especially for a team which is ushering a new era at quarterback and trying to get a new defensive coordinator acclimated with his staff/players.

Nonetheless, what is becoming more known is the Steelers aren’t alone as it pertains to trimming back their offseason schedule. In fact, more and more teams are doing just that.

This from a recent ESPN article on the topic:

The Eagles have scaled the on-field portion of their offseason training program way back. Teams are allowed to hold 10 OTA practices as well as a three-day mandatory minicamp during Phase III, the part of the offseason where 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 drills are permitted. Philadelphia joined the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals as the only teams that declined to schedule a minicamp, while holding a league-low six of a possible 13 Phase III practices. Sirianni opted not to conduct 11-on-11 drills during those six practices, preferring to focus more time on fundamentals in individual drills to lay a proper groundwork for training camp.

The Eagles represent a group of teams opting to lighten players’ offseason workloads. Earlier this week, Jacksonville Jaguars coach Doug Pederson announced that most veterans would be exempt from attending minicamp. The New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants are among the teams that cut their minicamps short.

Injuries are a part of the game, but it seems NFL coaches are doing whatever they can do decrease the chances of dealing with injuries throughout the season.

Will this methodology prove to be valuable and worthwhile? That has yet to be seen, but this is exactly what the players, and NFLPA, want. They want less offseason workouts to decrease injuries during the season. If the coaches of these franchises feel as if the work they’ve done is good enough to get them to training camp, you have to think they would know best. After all, there is only so much you can do in shorts in the game of football.

What do you think about this? Let us know your thoughts on this topic, and others, as the Steelers enjoy a break before reporting to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA on July 26th.

“Hard days and tough times” have Tyson Alualu anxious for his return to the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 10:00am
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers will get Tyson Alualu back in 2022, and the veteran defensive lineman couldn’t be happier.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were without Stephon Tuitt in 2021, and while this may have garnered most of the headlines, the loss of Tyson Alualu was likely more impactful. The reasoning behind this is vast, but boils down to the simple fact the team never had Tuitt last preseason/training camp. All he did was work individually on the side and was placed on Injured Reserve (IR).

However, the team was banking on Alualu to be the fill-in for Tuitt, and the rock across from Cam Heyward who could help the run defense not turn into a sieve. When Alualu was lost in the home opener vs. the Las Vegas Raiders, the run defense was never the same. Players like Isaiah Buggs, Chris Wormley, Isaiahh Loudermilk and even Henry Mondeaux were called into action, but none filled the void left where Alualu stood at the start of the season.

After rehabilitating his injured ankle, Alualu is back on the field and can’t be more excited about it. Even Organized Team Activities (OTAs)...

“It felt great,” Alualu said after OTAs. “Just to be around the guys and be able to compete. Whether it’s vets or young guys, they can always learn and watch. When you are away from the game for so long it shows you how much you missed it. More than anything, it’s the camaraderie of being around the guys. I missed that and it felt great to be around them.”

There were some who felt Alualu might be able to return to the lineup, considering his injury occurred so early in the season, but the injured ankle took much longer to heal. A return in 2021 wasn’t possible.

“It’s definitely a tough injury,” said Alualu. “Definitely a tough rehab getting an injury like that. I think just being around the guys, both physically and mentally, was very helpful in that process.

“I just enjoy those hard days and those tough times. Those build character trying to get back and play on Sunday. My mindset was always get healthy and enjoy that grind.”

Enjoying the grind is something many don’t either enjoy or value, but Alualu found himself longing for the hard work which happens in every facet of the game. The weight room, the practice field, the meeting rooms and of course on game day. As stated earlier, Alualu even has shown an enjoyment and appreciation for OTAs.

“The way OTAs are now compared to how it used to be where we were pretty much playing football back in the days,” said Alualu. “It’s different now and it helps get back to playing football. Whether you are coming back off a normal offseason or coming back off an injury, I think this is a great way to knock off some of those kinks and get back to playing football and football shape.”

The Steelers 32nd ranked run defense is no secret, and has been a growing concern among the fan base for months now. The team didn’t do much to help this area of the team both in free agency or in the 2022 NFL Draft. Yes, they drafted DeMarvin Leal in the 3rd Round of the draft out of Texas A&M, but outside of that acquisition the team is banking on Alualu to return to form.

On top of Alualu’s return, a big step forward for players like Wormley and Loudermilk, especially after gaining so much experience in 2021, will be a welcome addition to the team’s sluggish run defense this season.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they get through the dog days of summer and prepare to report to training camp at Saint Vincent College on July 26th.

Game Plan: 3-safety package is an exciting option for the 2022 defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 8:30am
Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary could look drastically different in 2022 with their trio of safeties.

This is the third installment of the “Game Plan” series I’m working on through the reasonably quiet part of the calendar between the draft and training camp. To read the most recent article in the series, see the link below.

Coaches at every level of football grapple with a fundamental question when it comes to devising their schemes: Is it better to build around the abilities of the players on hand, or to find players to fit into a predetermined system?

A case can be made for doing it both ways. Many coaches are system-oriented, and look for players who fit well into theirs. A great example is the Los Angeles Rams, where Todd McVay’s wide zone, play-action attack took off with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. The offense had become sluggish under Stafford’s predecessor, Jared Goff. Goff was largely a dink-and-dunk passer, which didn’t mesh with McVay’s aggressive mindset. So, he traded for Stafford, who was more adept at attacking down the field. The move paid huge dividends. After just one season with Stafford, the Rams hoisted their second “sticky Lombardi.”

Then there are the teams who marry their scheme to their personnel. This is what the Steelers did for years with Ben Roethlisberger. Once Roethlisberger established himself as an elite passer, Pittsburgh’s offense was less about its coordinator and more about its quarterback. Bruce Arians, Todd Haley and Randy Fichtner all molded their schemes to what Roethlisberger preferred and did best. The results, for a time, were impressive. From 2014-2018, Pittsburgh finished seventh or best in total offense each year, with a trio of Top 3 finishes in that span.

Current coordinator Matt Canada is more like McVay than his predecessors in Pittsburgh. He has a system he prefers. Like McVay with Goff, Canada struggled to run that system with Roethlisberger taking snaps. Roethlisberger retired, and Pittsburgh quickly revamped its offense with players they believe will better compliment Canada. Time will tell whether this proves to be wise. There’s no question, though, that on the offensive side of the ball, the Steelers are building around a system rather than adapting to the personnel on hand.

On defense, Pittsburgh has been system-based since the early 1980s, when they adopted the 3-4 as their base. For decades, they have invested in players who fit that scheme. They still base out of the 3-4, but more in name these days than in practice. More commonly, the Steelers are in some sort of sub package, whether it’s 2-4-5 nickel, 2-3-6 dime, or something else. These sub packages are responses to changes in the way the game is now played on offense, and have come to define defense in Pittsburgh as much as the 3-4.

How the Steelers plan to structure their defense this season, and the degree to which it will be personnel-driven, scheme-driven, or some combination of the two, is intriguing. There have been significant coaching changes since January. Coordinator Keith Butler retired, defensive assistant Teryl Austin was elevated to coordinator and former Miami head coach Brian Flores was added to the staff. It’s logical to expect some aspects of Butler’s system to remain. It’s also likely Austin will put his own stamp on things, and Flores will have input as well. Then there’s head coach Mike Tomlin, who called the defense on game day while Butler was coordinator. That’s a lot of cooks in the defensive kitchen. It’s hard to know what they’ll produce, or how their collaboration will fare. But, by examining their personnel moves this off-season, there are clues.

For starters, the Steelers seem determined to be versatile. We can conclude this because they’ve acquired players who can execute a variety of roles. Myles Jack, for example, can play both the Mack and the Buck linebacker positions and has also taken reps on the edge. Jack can fit almost any package the Steelers devise. Genard Avery is best as an edge player but has experience playing inside, too. He can move around, if necessary. Ditto for 3rd Round pick DeMarvin Leal, Pittsburgh’s top selection on defense in the recent draft. Leal is versatile enough to play the 3-tech, 5-tech or move to the nose as a situational pass rusher.

The most interesting addition on defense, however, may be safety Demontae Kazee. Pittsburgh signed Kazee to a one-year contract shortly after re-signing fellow safety Terrell Edmunds. Signing Kazee after Edmunds is curious. Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick will be the starters, which would seem to relegate Kazee to a depth role. But Kazee was a starter the last four seasons in Atlanta and Dallas, where he played over 75% of the defensive snaps. Neither Edmunds nor Fitzpatrick have injury histories — they have missed just two games between them in eight combined seasons — so it seems odd that Kazee would sign in Pittsburgh to sit behind two veterans who rarely leave the field.

Unless, of course, the Steelers don’t plan to sit him that much. They could play him in the slot in their nickel and dime packages, where he has some experience. This is not his forte, however. Kazee is a true deep safety whose strength is as a ball-hawk on the back end. This leads me to believe the Steelers may consider playing Kazee, Edmunds and Fitzpatrick together in a three-safety configuration that departs from their traditional sub-packages.

The impetus for such a package stems from the fact Kazee, Fitzpatrick and Edmunds all have different strengths. Kazee’s back-end skills are underscored by his 12 interceptions since 2018, which ranks 5th among NFL safeties over that time. Kazee can play deep half in cover-2, deep middle in cover-3 and single-high in man-free. In this sense, he’s a more natural free safety than anyone on the roster.

Fitzpatrick can do a bit of everything. His 13 interceptions since 2018 rank just ahead of Kazee. But Fitzpatrick can play down low, too, and is especially good as a robber where he drops from a two-high alignment to disrupt routes at the linebacker level. Fitzpatrick has some Troy Polamalu in his game, in the sense he can be moved around to allow a coordinator to get creative with design.

Edmunds is the most physical of the three and does his best work in the box. He is solid in coverage against tight ends and his tackling has improved, making him a reliable run defender. He can be disruptive near the line of scrimmage, too, using his aggressive mindset to make plays:

Edmunds (34) has a nose for the football around the line of scrimmage.

Edmunds struggles in deep coverage, but in a package with Fitzpatrick and Kazee, that weakness could be mitigated. Putting all three on the field together would allow each to work to his particular strength.

A package like this would be new to Pittsburgh, but not new in general. Three-safety defenses have slowly been working their way into NFL playbooks. They are the latest moves by defensive coordinators in the never-ending chess match against their offensive counterparts. When offenses started ditching their fullbacks for an extra receiver in the early 2000s, defenses responded with nickel packages that utilized an additional defensive back. Offenses countered that move by installing athletic tight ends as slot players, giving them favorable matchups against those smaller nickel defenders. Now, in an effort to defend the Travis Kelce’s and, yes, Pat Freiermuth’s of the league, defenses are countering back. One way they’re doing so is by playing three safeties.

There are several benefits of a three-safety package in Pittsburgh. For starters, it would allow the Steelers to get their best personnel on the field. When Pittsburgh goes to their traditional 2-4-5 nickel, Cam Sutton or Arthur Maulet are the slot corners while Edmunds and Fitzpatrick are at safety. In the three-safety look, Edmunds would man the alley with Kazee and Fitzpatrick on the back end. Kazee is a better two-high defender than Edmunds, while Edmunds is a better run defender than any slot corner on the roster. Against teams who want to get the Steelers into their nickel package so they can run the football, like Cincinnati does below, this is a nice solution:

The Bengals take advantage of Arthur Maulet (35) as a run defender by attacking him in the alley.

Edmunds also adds the benefit of being a physical pass defender against tight ends. He has good closing speed to the ball and can withstand the contact tight ends use to create separation. Playing Edmunds in the box is a nice way for the Steelers to answer teams who want to use their athletic tight ends on underneath routes to move the chains.

A three-safety package would also allow the Steelers to get creative with their coverage disguises. They would have tremendous versatility in terms of who plays underneath and who plays deep. For example, they could roll Fitzpatrick into the box from a two-high structure while dropping their corners to play cover-3, like we see them do here:

The differences between this defense, which Pittsburgh used against Josh Allen and the Bills in last season’s opener, and one that features three safeties are subtle but important. Edmunds, who is the deep safety to the bottom of the screen in this clip, would be in the box instead, where he is best. Kazee would be the one rotating out of cover-2 to play the deep middle third. This would put Edmunds and Kazee in their positions of strength while freeing Fitzpatrick to do Polamalu-like things.

Fears that Edmunds will be exploited in coverage could be alleviated by coverage checks. The Steelers might not want to be in man-to-man, or in cover-4, if it means Edmunds will have to carry a quick receiver up the seam. There may be an occasional situation, like if a blitz is called, where they’ll have to live with that. Often, though, they’ll be able to check the coverage to get out of a bad match-up. If Buffalo shifted to maneuver Stefon Diggs onto Edmunds, for example, the Steelers could use a “safe” check, which would put them in something generic like cover-3, to make the coverage more sound.

The Steelers have thought outside the box like this before. In 2020, for example, they ran a 3-5-3 configuration against Baltimore to get bigger personnel on the field to defend the run. They used it against the Ravens’ 12 and 21 packages, inserting a fifth backer and removing a corner:

Pittsburgh’s 3-5-3 against Baltimore in 2020 included 3 DL, 5 LBs, 2 safeties and 1 CB

With just one corner on the field, a package like this could only be used against heavier looks from an offense. By contrast, the three-safety package is more versatile and would only be vulnerable to 10 or 20 groupings that spread the field with speed.

So, as for that fundamental question I posed at the top of the article, will the Steelers build their defense around the personnel on hand or around a preferred scheme? Only the minds in their coaching room truly know. But, with the talent they’ve acquired at safety, putting together a package that includes Fitzpatrick, Edmunds and Kazee would get their best talent on the field in a scheme that maximizes their abilities. That makes it something the coaches should consider.

5 major storylines to follow until the Steelers enter 2022 training camp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 7:15am
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pittsburgh may be distributing lots of money to a myriad of positions — and vendors.

From rookie minicamp starting on May 13 to mandatory minicamp concluding on June 9, the Steelers recently wrapped up their first legitimate phase of team practices held in the offseason. The team will not don pads or practice drills until the first practice of training camp on July 27, when Pittsburgh returns to St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

Early June to the end of July can be a slow period for NFL fans eager to watch their favorite players in jerseys or to listen to quotes attained by reporters in front of players’ lockers; little happens in the span of time besides the franchise tag deadline. However, with a month and a half until the Steelers hit the field again, there are still several important items to monitor.

From contracts to potential moves to more, here are five storylines to follow until the Steelers begin training camp.

1. Extensions for Minkah Fitzpatrick, Diontae Johnson and Chris Boswell

Both Fitzpatrick and Johnson have expressed their desire for new deals, as each is a free agent at the end of the 2022 season. Fitzpatrick has seemingly been “holding in,” not participating in drills— as T.J. Watt did last summer until he landed his gaudy extension— while Johnson missed the initial portion of voluntary OTAs.

In most experts’ eyes, a new contract for Fitzpatrick will be the first domino to fall, as the safety has been one of the Steelers’ defensive mainstays and has been in the NFL longer than Johnson has.

Entering the last year of his rookie contract and after the organization exercised his fifth-year option, Fitzpatrick is slated to make $10.6 million in total cash in 2022, which ranks 14th among safeties. The current highest-paid safety in the NFL is Jamal Adams at an annual average of $17.645 million, so Fitzpatrick will presumably seek $18-20 million each year. A contract of five years and $90 million seems reasonable.

The league’s receiver market has continued to explode, with Cooper Kupp and Hunter Renfrow landing huge sums in the last week alone. Renfrow’s extension was for two years and $32 million; with receivers continuing to aggregate more money, Johnson will probably want $18-22 million each season.

Finally, do not forget about Chris Boswell, who has quietly been one of the best kickers in pro football since a subpar 2018. Per special teams coordinator Danny Smith, it appears that a revised contract for Boswell is already underway.

At age 29, Justin Tucker signed a four-year, $20 million extension with the Ravens. Boswell is 31, so mirrored numbers could be in order.

2. Kenny Pickett’s rookie deal

With Pickett immersed in a quarterback battle with Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, the principle that the 20th overall pick is yet to sign his initial NFL contract has flown under the radar.

Pickett is one of two 2022 first-rounders yet to ink a deal, joining 29th overall pick Cole Strange. Further, the quarterback is the remaining Steelers pick this year that has not signed.

There is no shortage of time for Pittsburgh and Pickett to agree to terms, but avoiding disputes as preseason time nears would be ideal for both sides.

Recent examples of first-round quarterbacks selected in a similar spot are Mac Jones (15th overall; four years, $15.59 million) and Jordan Love (26th overall; four years, $12.38 million). Expect Pickett’s deal to be four years and under $16 million with a traditional fifth-year option as that is the estimate based on his draft position by overthecap.com.

3. Does the team add any defensive linemen?

On June 1, Stephon Tuitt announced his intentions to retire, hanging up the cleats after missing the 2021 season. The Steelers have sufficient depth along their defensive line next to Cam Heyward in the form of the returning Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk and rookie DeMarvin Leal. At the same time, DL coach Karl Dunbar is banking on Wormley sustaining his seven sacks and 10 quarterback hits in 2021 as well as is banking on the development of youngsters Loudermilk and Leal.

If Pittsburgh does decide to add a cheaper free agent defensive lineman, there are still several solid options available, including Ndamukong Suh, Eddie Goldman, Linval Joseph, Star Lotulelei and Larry Ogunjobi. Each would provide experience and depth to stabilize the unit.

Alternatively, the Steelers could try to pry a defensive lineman from another team. Trade candidates could include Fletcher Cox, Jarran Reed, Poona Ford and Davon Godchaux.

4. When do we get a first look at the new front office in action?

Since Omar Khan was named the Steelers’ new general manager on May 26, the only contracts Khan and his team have generated are for Tuzar Skipper and Calvin Austin III while waiving Trevon Mason and Isaiah Johnson. In other words, few of these moves were convoluted or unexpected.

Pittsburgh fans should be eager to watch the first few transactions that Khan, assistant general manager Andy Weidl, and player personnel coordinator Dan Rooney Jr. make at the helm. These could include extensions for Fitzpatrick, Johnson or Boswell; signing an aforementioned defensive lineman; or the unlikelier event of cutting a player before training camps starts.

By the end of the Steelers’ stay in Latrobe on August 18, we should have a better idea of how the new triumvirate will operate and the philosophies they will adopt.

5. Will Heinz Field keep its name?

With fans mired in minicamp and OTAs, the uncertainty surrounding the name of the Steelers’ stadium has largely been neglected.

The franchise’s contract with Kraft Heinz for the stadium’s naming rights expired after last season, which was following an extension of the name “Heinz Field.” Latest reports from late March reveal that the two sides were exploring a longer-term continuation, but little noise has been produced since then.

It’s likely that the Steelers will have settled on a conglomerate to provide its stadium’s name before 2022, so this should be resolved in the next few months.

Kenny Pickett was relatively quiet during Steelers OTAs and minicamp, but that’s okay

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 6:00am
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kenny Pickett didn’t appear to turn many heads during the team’s offseason workouts, but that’s not the end of the world. At least he didn’t appear to be lost or overwhelmed.

One thing I noticed about Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett as he navigated his way through his first three stages as an NFL player—rookie minicamp, OTAs and mandatory minicamp—was that I didn’t necessarily notice him all that much.

Obviously, I noticed Pickett while he conducted his many interviews with the media during the offseason workouts in shorts and a helmet, and there were certainly enough videos and photographs of him in action.

But that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about the “wow” factor, as in “Kenny Pickett wows coaches at mandatory minicamp.” Or, how about, “Kenny Pickett turning heads at OTAs.”

Should Steelers fans expect more in the way of tantalizing headlines when it comes to Pickett, the most-recent first-round draft pick and a player who is in line to take the place of Ben Roethlisberger sooner rather than later?

No, at least not right now. When it comes to news involving Pickett at this point of the offseason, perhaps it’s fitting that we’ve now entered the quietest part of the year. Why? Because no news is good news when it comes to your rookie quarterback’s first go-around with spring-time football in shorts.

The last thing you’d want to hear or read about Pickett is that he looked like a deer in headlights at OTAs or that he had a hard time holding onto the football at mandatory minicamp.

All we can assume right now about Pickett is that he’s absorbing everything that he can from his coaches, his teammates and, heck, maybe even Mitch Trubisky and/or Mason Rudolph (not to get too political by bringing up the mentor topic).

What you really want to pay attention to is how Pickett looks once training camp begins on July 26. How is he at handling live defenses? How is he at handling scrimmages? Is he able to command the huddle in those situations?

Maybe my memory is a bit fuzzy, but when I think back 18 years to Ben Roethlisberger’s first spring and summer, I don’t recall the rookie turning a lot of heads. It was a different circumstance, of course; everyone rightly assumed that Tommy Maddox, the team’s veteran starter for most of the previous two seasons, would be the guy Roethlisberger would sit and learn behind for one year.

It wasn’t until Roethlisberger was thrust into the lineup in Week 2 due to injury that people began to see the kind of talent he possessed.

Even then, it took some time for then-head coach Bill Cowher to take the shackles off of his rookie—the playbook was quite limited early on.

There will be plenty of time for Pickett to turn some heads once training camp ramps up this summer. If he does that, maybe he’ll do Roethlisberger one better by being named the starter in Week 1.

If not? That wouldn’t be the end of the world, either, especially if reporters aren’t using metaphors about deer and headlights to describe his demeanor at St. Vincent College.

Podcast Roundup: All the latest of the BTSC family podcasts

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 06/14/2022 - 4:30am

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: An Unanswerable Steelers Mailbag

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 an unanswerable mailbag.

  • News and Notes
  • The Unanswerable Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!
Steelers Hangover: Steelers that may have chips on their shoulders this camp and those that need one

Some Steelers will be entering training camp with a major chip firmly resting on their shoulders. Some may want to think about acquiring one. Bryan Anthony Davis, Tony Defeo and Shannon White discuss motivated players and shoulder chips on the latest edition of the Monday show from the Behind the Steel Curtain Family of podcasts, The Steelers Hangover.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Motivated/Angry 2022 Steelers going into camp
  • and MUCH MORE!
From the Steelers’ Cutting Room Floor: Are the Steelers tight ends the strength of the offense?

The Steelers have strengths, and then they have a weakness or two as well. could a stable that includes Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Kevin Rader and Connor Heyward be considered the biggest strength of the Men of Steel? Geoffrey Benedict examines this and more on the latest episode of BTSC’s “From the Cutting Room Floor”.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • The Steelers tight ends and their strength level on the team
  • and MUCH MORE!

Geoffrey walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

Going For Two: Calvin Austin III & Genard Avery

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/13/2022 - 2:30pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Day 3 of Going For Two, featuring Calvin Austin III and Genard Avery.

Welcome to Going For Two! Over the 45 days leading up to the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 training camp, we will be highlighting two players every day in order to cover the entire 90-man offseason roster. So without further ado, here are today’s two players:

Calvin Austin III Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Position: Wide receiver
Age: 23
Year: 1
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 162
Drafted: 2022, Round 4, Pick 138
College: Memphis
Roster Outlook: Highly likely
Analysis:

The speedster out of Memphis will offer a unique skill set for the Steelers offense in 2022. But exactly how will the Steelers utilize Calvin Austin, especially in his rookie season? Will he lineup on the outside much like his time in college or will he spend time in the slot? Will he get involved in the rushing attack and will he be called on in any form of kick returns? Being a Day 3 selection, he’s not exactly a roster lock but is as close to one as possible. The biggest thing for the Steelers and Austin in 2022 will be how soon and how much he gets involved in the offensive game plan.

Genard Avery Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Position: Outside linebacker
Age: 27
Year: 5
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 250
Drafted: 2018, Round 5, Pick 150 (Cleveland Browns)
College: Memphis
Roster Outlook: Highly likely
Analysis:

After being traded from Cleveland to Philadelphia in the middle of his second season, Genard Avery is looking for exactly how he fits with a specific NFL team. While Steelers fans appreciate the versatility of Avery as either an inside or outside linebacker, it appears he will at least start off on the outside as that is how he is listed on the Steelers roster. One of several players added to the Steelers defense this offseason who may not fit exactly into the typical mold of one position group, seeing how the Steelers defense utilizes potential ‘hybrid’ players such as Avery this season is something to look for throughout the preseason. If, for some reason, Avery didn’t pan out and did not make the Steelers roster, it would come as a big surprise.

Be sure to check back everyday for another two players for the Steelers, and as we go along click back on previous articles listed below so you don’t miss a thing.

Be a part of the BTSC Fan Post weekly contest/question

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/13/2022 - 12:45pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are off for the next several weeks, so here is an idea to pass the time!

I still find myself sneaking into the Fan Post section of BTSC. Even with such great content on the front page, there are occasionally some solid articles still being written there. In the past I have made a point to pass on some of those articles to our Senior Editor, and in return he has posted many of those articles on the front page. Not only does it provide exposure for someone interested in writing, but it can provide BTSC with potential future writers.

This particular idea is not my own, but one from Pin Stripe Alley where the Editor poses a writing subject/question and the members that are interested write about that subject or question in a Fan Post. The winner gets their respective article posted on the front page.

Every Monday for the next six weeks I will provide a subject or question. The article must be submitted by Friday of the same week with plans for it to be published on Sunday. In the heading of the article make sure to add that it is for the Front Page Submission. also attach your own article heading.

Example: Front Page Submission - Pickett not Marino, Steelers refused to let another Pitt Panther QB slip by them

I shouldn’t have to remind everyone, but I will. Make sure all articles submitted follows the SB Nation/Vox/CORAL Guidelines. Those that don’t will not be considered.

This weeks subject/question:

In terms of the Pittsburgh Steelers second year players, which one guy could have that “Sophomore Jump”, what player gives the greatest value to the teams 2022 success?

As always stay safe, and go Steelers!

Levi Wallace is up to the challenge within the Steelers defense

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/13/2022 - 11:30am
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense will need Levi Wallace to step up in a big way in 2022.

The Pittsburgh Steelers wasted little time adding player to their roster via free agency. First it was Mitch Trubisky, then Mason Cole. Knowing they needed to make a move in the defensive backfield, the Steelers were able to obtain the talents of former Buffalo Bills cornerback Levi Wallace.

Wallace has spent his entire NFL career in Buffalo, and adapting to a new city, team and system hasn’t been the easiest thing for the former Alabama cornerback.

“This is the first time I have moved teams,” Wallace said during Organized Team Activities (OTAs). “It’s been good so far. The team has embraced me. The DB room is a great group of guys. Learning the scheme, new plays and stuff. Just getting into the groove. Feeling my way through the defense.”

This stage of the NFL calendar is vital in team development, but also in giving players like Wallace an opportunity to get acclimated to the new system of Teryl Austin. There might not be contact during OTAs and mandatory minicamp, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.

“This is the time you start training your eyes, what you are looking at in specific coverages,” said Wallace. “For me it is big. With the Bills I was in the same defense for four years. I could run that with my eyes closed. It’s challenging, but fun at the same time learning new plays.

“The biggest thing for me is learning new signals. Everyone runs the same defense, the same play calls. It’s all about communication and verbiage. That’s the biggest thing when you come into this defense. I’m picking it up pretty well, but there are always some tweaks you can learn from.”

As for Austin, this is his first stint as defensive coordinator for the Steelers, and his impact goes well beyond the X’s and O’s of the defense. Wallace has leaned on Austin for his expertise in the defensive secondary.

“He is also a really great person to talk to, ask questions to, easy to communicate. I definitely appreciate it. Just asking questions. Just seeing how he sees it through his eyes. It gives me the best chance. He breaks it down. His door is always open for me and for the rest of the guys. It is easy to communicate with him and ask, what could I have done better here, and he gives a truthful answer.”

Wallace himself said every team runs the same defense, but how different is the Steelers’ scheme compared to the one he ran in Buffalo? It might be different, but that simple fact doesn’t mean both the defense and Austin aren’t putting together the pieces of a stellar defense.

“It is a little bit different,” said Wallace. “It’s unique, but I love how he [Austin] is as a play-caller thus far. I love the defense. It’s just a little different. I think it’s just different for me because I just came from a different system, so learning it and seeing the ins and outs, how I can be successful in the defense when I go out there with my opportunities.”

Moving into a new organization can be an adjustment, and how new teammates embrace a player can be a difference maker. Thankfully for Wallace, the Steelers defense has been tremendous in welcoming him into the fold and starting the process of improving the defense as a whole in 2022.

“I love how together everybody is,” said Wallace. “The grittiness they play with. They are all trying to do the same thing. They are all trying to be on the same page. They all communicate, which I love. It’s been good. A great group of guys.

“And there are no egos in the room, which I really appreciate. It makes the biggest difference when you have the goal that we are just here to win. We all support each other. Here everyone is on the same page, everybody wants everybody to be successful and go from there.”

The Steelers secondary is anything but proven heading into the regular season. When you look at the list of cornerbacks who have NFL experience, they lack a genuine top cornerback. Take a look at the depth chart:

Levi Wallace
Ahkello Witherspoon
Cam Sutton
Arthur Maulet
Justin Layne
James Pierre

While names like Tre Norwood might impact the above list, you can see how the Steelers are hoping Wallace steps up in a big way for the defense this season. It won’t be easy, but Wallace seems to be up to the challenge.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA July 26th.

Does that sound like something the Steelers would do?

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/13/2022 - 10:00am
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If you are ever indecisive about whether or not a certain move is a good idea, simply ask yourself this question.

There is always something to discuss when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Throughout the season, there are past performances and upcoming games are great conversation pieces. When the season is over and talk of play on the field diminishes, items such as moves in free agency and what direction to go in the NFL draft are great topics. As the offseason rolls on, there are talks of position battles, roster moves, and other various things leading up to another season.

Between websites and podcasts such as Behind The Steel Curtain, social media, and various TV and radio shows across a plethora of sports networks, sometimes the ideas presented when it comes to the Steelers can be a little bit out there. Sometimes there are ideas that seem to be good ideas but never come to fruition. If you were ever in need of trying to refine the suggestions into reality, I do so by asking one question…

Does that sound like something the Steelers would do?

In simply asking this question, and giving it an honest answer, one can find themselves coming in on the correct side of the discussion quite often. While it might not be the most popular opinion, it can often keep one grounded in reality and not yield unrealistic expectations.

I’ll give an example from The Steelers Preview podcast last week when one of our beloved live chat members brought up a subject which has been discussed to great lengths here and BTSC. It was once again the suggestion of trading Diontae Johnson ahead of the 2022 season, which is the last one where he is under contract with the Steelers. My response, paraphrasing to the best of my memory, was as follows..

“The Steelers already lost three of the five wide receivers they had on their roster to begin 2021. If they were to trade Diontae Johnson, that would leave them with only one receiver returning for 2022 who played any significant snaps for the team the previous year. Does that sound like something Steelers would do?

The response was something to the nature of, “Darn you, Dave. How dare you refute my point with sound logic?”

That’s one of the benefits of being a fan of such a stable franchise. The Steelers emerged in the 70s under Dan Rooney and have continued with most of their philosophies to this day. Yes, the NFL has changed with the emergence of free agency and things of that nature, but the Steelers holding true to the principles is what makes them relevant year after year. Because of this, it does make it much easier to identify if making a certain move or paying a certain player is something Steelers would do.

While there are exceptions to looking at things this way, it will help in determining the most likely path an overwhelming majority of the time. The occasional move, such as trading away a first-round draft pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick or giving T.J. Watt three seasons of guaranteed money will pop-up occasionally, but if the Steelers didn’t change it up every once in a while, what fun would that be?

When there were a lot of different scenarios being discussed about the Steelers quarterback situation heading into the 2022 season, this question came in very handy. With at least three different big names tossed around by Steelers fans and how they should pursue them as a quarterback, I asked the question a lot. Not only would it take an enormous salary for the Steelers to pay someone, which is not something they are keen on doing with that player has yet to wear the black and gold, it also would have taken a lot of draft capital, mainly multiple first round picks, in order acquire any of these players. Does that sound like something that Steelers would do?

Remember this question as different subjects come up leading up to training camp throughout the preseason. While this question does do well standing on its own, giving a small explanation and finishing off with the question could be very effective.

Let’s try one last example of something that I’ve heard which may come up again throughout the preseason…

“The Steelers should just admit that they got it wrong and release Devin Bush.”

An easy response looks like this…

Devon Bush is in the final year of his rookie contract where he is sets to earn over $3 million in guaranteed salary with almost another 3 million in dead money. He will count $6 million against the salary cap this year whether he’s on the team or not. So the Steelers should flat-up release a former first-round draft pick still on their rookie deal where there is no salary cap savings and, even if he gets replaced as a starter, could provide quality depth? Does that sound like something Steelers would do?

It’s a magical little phrase that can get Steelers fans thinking in a much more realistic way. It’s difficult to find a member of Steelers’ Nation who doesn’t understand the tradition and consistency in which this franchise operates. Sometime the slightest reminder in the form of a question is all that needs done in order to put things into perspective.

Predicting the Steelers’ 2022 53-man roster: Post-minicamp

Behind the Steel Curtain - Mon, 06/13/2022 - 8:30am
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With the conclusion of 2022 mandatroy minicamp, it’s time to make our way-too-early predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster.

The kickoff to the 2022 NFL preseason is just about two months away. While numerous things can happen between now and then, it’s time to give our way-too-early predictions for the Steelers 53-man roster to begin the 2022 season. With no players actually setting foot in pads on the field yet, it’s difficult to project who the bottom of the roster players will be. Regardless, BTSC editor Dave Schofield and senior editor Jeff Hartman will give their input onto their thoughts of who will make the roster come September.

As always, we welcome you to join the conversation in our comment section below this article. Let your voice be heard and join in the black-and-gold conversation!

Offense

Quarterback (3)

Dave: Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph

Changes: None

Analysis: Nothing from minicamp was reported where either of these three were not performing well, or that Chris Oladokun was blowing the doors off of everyone. While those things could happen in training camp, they haven’t happened yet so the list stays the same.

Jeff: Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, Mason Rudolph

Changes: None

Analysis: Chris Oladokun doesn’t make it to the team’s 53-man roster, but the hope is he is either stashed on Injured Reserve (IR) like Joshua Dobbs last season, or placed on the practice squad. If Oladokun plays well in the preseason, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him make the roster and another roster move being made, like a trade.

Running Back (3)

Dave: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Mateo Durant, Anthony McFarland Jr.

Changes: Mateo Durant out, Anthony McFarland in

Analysis: I ultimately would like a new name to the 53-man roster for the final spot. Since that isn’t the case at this time, I’ll likely switch players in and out until we get a preseason game.

Jeff: Najee Harris, Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr.

Changes: None

Analysis: McFarland was a draft pick, and the Steelers still favor those players in these situations. Otherwise, I see Benny Snell being the No. 2 back regardless of the third player on this depth chart.

Fullback (1)

Dave: Derek Watt

Changes: None

Analysis: I’ve talked enough about him the last few weeks, so there will be nothing else said.

Jeff: Derek Watt

Changes: None

Analysis: The only true fullback on the team. Moving on...

Wide Receiver (6)

Dave: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Gunner Olszewski, Miles Boykin

Changes: None

Analysis: There are still two spots up for grabs, that is if the Steelers go with six players. I think the top for are basically locks, but Boykin, Olszewski, and company will have to show they deserve to be there.

Jeff: Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin, Gunner Olszewski

Changes: None

Analysis: If there is a player whose roster spot isn’t guaranteed, it’s Boykin. Someone like Cody White or Anthony Miller could push him off the depth chart if they out-perform him in camp/preseason. At this point, I like Boykin’s ability to play special teams, giving him the nudge over the others.

Tight End (3)

Dave: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward

Changes: None

Analysis: I’m sticking with these three for now because I believe they all bring something different to the table.

Jeff: Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward

Changes: None

Analysis: I could see the team possibly keeping a fourth tight end in Kevin Rader, and considering Heyward could fall under several categories on this prediction it could be feasible. As for now, I’ll still to these three.

Offensive Line (9)

Dave: Chukwuma Okorafor, Dan Moore Jr, James Daniels, Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, Kendrick Green, Joe Haeg, J.C. Hassenauer, John Leglue

Changes: None

Analysis: I believe the top six are pretty locked in, and Joe Haeg has shown he brings veteran versatility. I think others could get into the mix here, but I’m not sure which players it would be yet so I’m leaving things the same. Plus, it’s hard to gauge things on the line until the pads come on.

Jeff: Chuks Okorafor, Dan Moore Jr., Joe Haeg, John Leglue, James Daniels, Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole, Kendrick Green, J.C. Hassenauer

Changes: None

Analysis: As of now I have Haeg beating out Chaz Green, but this is an area, primarily offensive tackle, where I could see the team making a move after cuts have been made. Otherwise, the interior of the line is constructed.

Total Offense: 25 Defense

Defensive Line (6)

Dave: Cameron Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, DeMarvin Leal, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Montravius Adams

Changes: None

Analysis: There is nothing to change because I didn’t have Stephon Tuitt on the list last time. I take no joy in that correct assumption.

Jeff: Cam Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt, Chris Wormley, DeMarvin Leal, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Montravius Adams

Changes: Stephon Tuitt out

Analysis: So Tuitt retired, making my initial prediction look bad. Looking at the roster I have decided to use that vacancy at another position. So, Tuitt is out, and doesn’t get replaced by another defensive lineman.

Outside Linebacker (4 - Dave, 5 - Jeff)

Dave: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Derrek Tuszka, Genard Avery

Changes: None

Analysis: I was so tempted to take Tuzar Skipper, but I don’t know which player I would replace.

Jeff: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Derrek Tuszka, Genard Avery, Tuzar Skipper

Changes: Add Tuzar Skipper

Analysis: Steelers save a roster spot with Avery being able to play both ILB and OLB. The addition of Skipper has me adding Tuitt’s vacant spot to the outside linebacker position. Avery’s position versatility helps in this area.

Inside Linebacker (5)

Dave: Devin Bush, Myles Jack, Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson, Mark Robinson, Marcus Allen

Changes: Mark Robinson out, Marcus Allen in

Analysis: I’ve decided I will likely change someone at this position each time we do a prediction because I feel there are four guys fighting for two spots. Despite being the most expensive of the bunch, I kept Allen this time because of the ‘hybrid’ potential. I dropped Robinson off simply because of the added hype he’s been getting, making me feel like we’re more likely to be set up for disappointment.

Jeff: Devin Bush, Myles Jack, Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson, Mark Robinson

Changes: None

Analysis: While it’s no guarantee Robinson makes the roster, I think he’ll be a very good special teams player for the Steelers. There is value in that, and so I think he makes the team.

Cornerback (5 - Dave / Jeff - 4)

Dave: Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, Arthur Maulet, James Pierre

Changes: None

Analysis: Maulet brings help in the slot, and having four guys who can play outside is preferred.

Jeff: Cameron Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, James Pierre, Arthur Maulet

Changes: James Pierre out, Aurthur Maulet in

Analysis: Going into a season with just four cornerbacks isn’t ideal, but the Steelers will likely utilize some of their safeties as slot cornerbacks. At this point, they need more help in the slot than they do on the outside. This gives the edge to Maulet, in my opinion.

Safety (5)

Dave: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood

Changes: None

Analysis: All five players appear to bring a little something different and fill out the room nicely.

Jeff: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood

Changes: None

Analysis: For those who freaked out over having four cornerbacks, Norwood and Edmunds will likely help round out the defensive back depth chart by playing more flex positions.

Total Defense: 25 Special Teams

Specialists (3)

Dave: Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Christian Kuntz

Changes: None

Analysis: Why change anything unless another punter starts booming kicks every time?

Jeff: Chris Boswell, Pressley Harvin III, Christian Kuntz

Changes: None

Analysis: No need to make any changes, as of yet.

Total Team: 53

We break down the 53-man roster further on the latest episode of the “Let’s Ride” podcast. You can check out the latest episode in the player below:

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