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Donte Moncrief Big Part of ‘New Guys’ Vying for Ben Roethlisberger’s Targets

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PITTSBURGH — Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not always been a staple of the team’s optional offseason training activities — OTAs — over the last few years.

But after practice one, where Roethlisberger was a regular participant, he said that is likely going to change this season.

There are several reasons for that decision — including his quest to be a better leader this season — but there’s also a very practical reason for Roethlisberger’s presence.

Ben Roethlisberger Focused on Leadership in Wake of Antonio Brown Flap

Steelers will be replacing the production of Antonio Brown after he was traded to Oakland, and that’s going to be no small task. He had 104 catches for 1,297 yards and a league-high 15 touchdowns last season, and the theory of the Steelers making an addition by subtracting Brown’s attitude from locker room won’t hold up if they can’t replace his production.

To that end, the Steelers acquired veteran receivers Donte Moncrief and Johnny Holton and drafted Toledo’s Diontae Johnson in the third round. Those three, along with returning backups Eli Rogers, Ryan Switzer and James Washington, will vie for playing time along side No. 1 receiver-to-be JuJu Smith-Schuster.

That’s three totally new receivers and another three that combined for just 64 catches a year ago that Roethlisberger needs to get on the same page with, and the no-pads setting of OTAs provides the perfect landscape for getting quarterbacks and wide receivers on the same page.

“It’s pretty important,” Roethlisberger said after practice on Tuesday. “Whether it’s young guys, whether it’s rookies, whether it’s guys from other teams, it definitely is a new kind of challenge. That’s what makes it fun, too. You love the challenge. You love working with the guys, communicating. That will be the biggest thing, I think, is communication — being able to talk to guys and tell them exactly what I’m thinking and asking them.”

Moncrief, in particular, is a veteran receiver that looks to be in line for a lot of targets, and the two got started in working on getting on the same page on Tuesday.

“I was talking today with ‘Crief today a couple of times,” Roethlisberger said. “I was asking him ‘Hey did you feel good on your depth there?’ Just working different things out. It’s definitely going to take some big focus.”

Entering his sixth season, Moncrief is no stranger to what it takes to get the job done in the NFL. He has a career 12.7 yards-per-catch average. But he’s struggled to put up big totals the last two seasons thanks to scuffling offenses. The 2017 Indianapolis Colts were without Andrew Luck all season and the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars pinballed unsuccessfully between Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler.

Now, he’s hoping to build a meaningful connection with Roethlisberger.

“He can spin that ball, for sure,” Moncrief said. “He makes crazy plays. He doesn’t like going down. He can extend plays. That’s a good thing to know. … I’m ready to get our timing down and get ready to get some of those balls.”

The Steelers’ biggest free agent signing on the offensive side of the ball, Moncrief is eager to earn his way into that role.

“I’m a new guy,” he said. “He’s trying to learn me, and I’m trying to learn him, so I’m coming out here and showing him the best routes that I have, so I can gain trust and make those tough catches.”

Both seem to be enjoying the process, and they’ve seemingly already started to develop some chemistry, with Roethlisberger poking friendly fun and Moncrief’s decision to do his post-practice interview with his helmet on.

Even though he’s at OTAs to do more work this season, Roethlisberger seems energized by the thought of working with some fresh blood.

“It’s fun,” he said. “Some of the guys I was just eyeballing, some of the new guys. You get to watch them, even if you don’t get to throw to them necessarily, to watch them work. I got to throw one to the new guy, too, the rookie. So that was fun.”

NFL

James Conner Surprises Mom with New House

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Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner warmed hearts last month when he surprised his father with a new truck.

Now, he is taking care of mom.

Conner recently surprised his mother with a brand new house, sharing her emotional reaction to Twitter on Saturday.

Conner was able to pull off the surprise for his mother, Kelly Bibbs, with the help of his brothers. While Bibbs may have not realized what exactly was going on at first, seeing her son James and the golden balloons arranged to say “Welcome Home” quickly gave it away.

Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry shared their thoughts on the big surprise, among other on social media.

Conner’s gesture is a continuation of an offseason of giving that saw him gift his father a brand new truck back on June 6.

Entering his fourth season out of Pitt, Conner is looking for a bounce back season following an injury plagued 2019 campaign. He rushed for 464 yards and four touchdowns, but played in only ten games for the Steelers.

Last season was a far cry from 2018, when Conner was a breakout sensation replacing Le’Veon Bell. He ran for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning Pro Bowl honors.

Entering the final year of his rookie contract, the 25-year-old has something to prove in 2020.

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NFL

Bill Cowher Reveals He and His Wife Recovered from COVID-19

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and his wife Veronica have and recovered from COVID-19, the future Hall of Fame told Ed Bouchette of The Athletic.

While not diagnosed at the time, the couple experienced symptoms back in March following a trip to Hawaii, and tested positive for the virus antibodies in April.

According to Bouchette’s story, Cowher first knew something was wrong when he was unable to smell flowers he had purchased from a florist, and could not taste his wife’s cooking. Cowher also said he experienced shaky joints and a fever, while Veronica had a cough.

Cowher also shared his thoughts on the NFL season going forward, and if he thinks the league will be able to start up without a hitch. He seems skeptical.

“I don’t know,” Cowher said via Pro Football Talk. “No. 1, the players have to feel comfortable with whatever they come up with from a testing standpoint, from a protocol standpoint. I totally understand the reluctance. Even though they say young people aren’t getting it, you also have people who have asthma, people who have underlying conditions in their families — they’re going back to their homes with parents who may now be elderly. It’s not like you can isolate yourself from everybody, particularly during a season that’s five months long. . . . I still think we have a long way to go.”

Cowher added that players needed to be respected with regard to how they choose to handle the virus personally, including if they decided to skip the 2020 season entirely.

“It’s going to come down to the league and the NFLPA feeling comfortable moving forward, and even within that, if they come up with a set of guidelines, and now a player who doesn’t feel comfortable, he may not want to be part of it. It affects people differently not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint. . . . I think we have to respect that.”

A Super Bowl champion in 2005, Cowher spent his entire 15-year head coaching career with the Steelers. His 149 wins are top-20 in NFL history.

Cowher has worked as an analyst for The NFL Today on CBS since 2007.

The legendary coach was supposed to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August, but the ceremony and festivities were moved to the summer of 2021 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

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Steelers

Lawrence Timmons Donating $500,000 to High School Alma Mater

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Former Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons is giving back to the next generation of football players at his high school alma mater.

Timmons donated $500,000 to Wilson High School in Florence, South Carolina to remodel their stadium. The renovation process is expected to get underway in September.

“All of these upgraded facilities, around the school and athletic complex, give students a renewed pride in their school. I’m glad to play a part in that,” Timmons told Clint Buckley of 247 Sports.

The renovation plan for Tiger Stadium includes a new track, additional seating and an updated, brick entrance to the complex.

“I am very appreciative of Mr. Timmons’ contribution,” said Eric Robinson, Wilson’s principal. “This just goes to show that he remembers where he came from and that he will always be a Tiger. I am excited to see what everything looks like when it is done. Our students and our alumni deserve the best. I think this will motivate them to be even better on the field.”

A 2003 graduate of Wilson, Timmons played linebacker and tight end, posting 150 tackles and two sacks along with 47 receptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.

Trading Florence for Tallahassee, he earned All-ACC honors behind 79 tackles and 18 tackles-for-loss in his final season with the Florida State Seminoles.

Timmons was selected 15th-overall by the Steelers in the 2007 NFL Draft. He spent ten seasons in Pittsburgh, earning both a Pro Bowl appearance and Second-Team All-Pro during his stellar 2014 season. He won Super Bowl XLIII with the Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.

Timmons recorded 983 tackles, 35.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 12 interceptions over his Steeler career.

Timmons has been out of the NFL since being released after a single season with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.

Still, it is great to see Timmons staying close to the game by giving back to the place that gave him his football start.

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