For the first time since Bill Cowher benched Kordell Stewart in favor of Tommy Maddox, the Steelers have an actual in-season switch at quarterback.
In somewhat of a surprising move in terms of letting the cat out of the bag this early, head coach Mike Tomlin announced that rookie free agent Devlin Hodges would start this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, replacing Mason Rudolph.
Tomlin made it very clear that this move had nothing to do with the controversy at the end of the game the last time these two teams met and everything to do with needing to win this week.
“I thought he provided us a spark in-game, and I’m hopeful he is capable of continuing that spark as we step into this stadium,” said Tomlin today at his press conference.
Tomlin said that he informed Rudolph of his decision this morning and that this decision has no bearing on his long-term future with the organization.
“We’re putting pieces together on a week-by-week basis because of the adversity the game presents,” said Tomlin. “We are singularly focused on winning this game and putting ourselves in position to win this game. We’ll see where we are after this game. We have no intended plans beyond this one.”
Since the game at Cleveland, Rudolph biggest problem has been turning the ball over, having thrown five interceptions including one against the Bengals before being pulled in favor of Hodges.
This will be Hodges second start of the season with his other start coming against the Chargers when Rudolph was sidelined with a concussion. In that game against the Chargers, Hodges finished 15 of 20 for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
It remains to be seen whether or not Hodges will get to work with a couple big offensive weapons in JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner. Tomlin said it’s not yet known whether or not either one of them will be available this Sunday. Of the two, Smith-Schuster has the better chance of playing.
Steelers Place Samuels, Washington on COVID-19 List, Release 8
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels and wide receiver James Washington have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced Sunday.
This brings the team total to four players on the reserve/COVID-19. Pittsburgh placed defensive backs Justin Layne and Arrion Springs on the list last week.
The team also announced the release of eight players on Sunday. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, running back Ralph Webb, returner Quadree Henderson, offensive lineman Christian Montano, long snapper Christian Kuntz, defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, safety Tyree Kinnel and defensive end Josiah Coatney were all waived. Henderson and Hendrix were former standouts at Pitt, while Kuntz played his college ball at Duquesne.
The reserve/COVID-19 designation was created for players who have either tested positive for the virus, or have been in close contact with an infected individual. Players can be removed from the list once they have been medically cleared. There is no limit to the amount of players a club can place on the list.
A second-round pick in 2018 out of Oklahoma State, Washington is coming off a productive sophomore season that saw him catch 44 passes for 735 yards and three touchdowns. He played in 15 games last year, starting ten.
Selected in the fifth round of the same draft out of NC State, Samuels has turned into a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, snagging 47 receptions for 305 yards and a score in 2019. He also carried the ball 66 times for 175 yards and a touchdown.
While they are not the first Steelers to receive the designation, Samuels and Washington are definitely more crucial to the team’s immediate plans than Layne and Springs. Getting them healthy and back on the field will be paramount, as the Steelers look to improve on their disastrous offensive output from a year ago with the return of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
Steelers, Heyward Have Made Little Progress Towards Extension, Per Agent
The Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive end Cam Heyward are no closer to agreeing to a long-term contract extension, according to the star’s agent.
Speaking with ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Heyward’s agent Michael Perrett of Element Sports Group divulged that the team and his client have made no significant advances towards a new deal.
Perrett reaffirmed that Heyward still wants to retire as a Steeler, but acknowledged that COVID-19 has made the path to an agreement more challenging.
“I thought we’d be further along in the process. In a normal year, we might be,” he told ESPN. “The current situation has led to a lot of uncertainty, but NFL business is still moving forward. Cam would love to retire a Steeler, but at this point, he just doesn’t know how all of this is going to play out.”
According to Fowler, Heyward is not considering holding out, mainly because of his position in the team as a captain and player rep.
Heyward, 31, is coming off one of the best seasons of his career in 2019. With nine sacks, eleven tackles-for-loss and 23 quarterback hits, Heyward earned Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro honors a year ago. His 79 tackles-for-loss are the fourth-most in franchise history.
While other high-profile pass rushers have signed new deals this offseason, including the Chiefs’ Chris Jones, the Browns’ Myles Garrett and the Chargers’ Joey Bosa, Heyward still waits.
Even though the Steelers tend to avoid in-season contract negotiations and little progress has been made thus far, the two sides still have the month of August to work out a deal.
Still, if they are not able to get something prior to the season opener, you would think the organization would make an exception for Heyward, considering his desirable combination of leadership and ability.
He has remained consistent that he wants to retire in Pittsburgh. The Steelers would be wise to make his wish a reality.
Mike Tomlin on Rookie Development Under COVID Restrictions
Steelers HC Mike Tomlin made no excuses while explaining the difficulty in developing rookies under the COVID guidelines.