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.
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.”
Report: Steelers Interviewing Mike Sullivan for QB Coach Vacancy
The Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly interviewing Mike Sullivan for their quarterbacks coach vacancy, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac.
A 17-year coaching veteran at the NFL level, Sullivan was most recently the quarterbacks coach for the Denver Broncos in 2018. He also has previous experience as an offensive coordinator with the New York Giants (2016-17) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012-12).
Sullivan is currently the Director of Recruiting at his alma mater Army, a position he has held since March of last year.
Sullivan would also bring additional championship pedigree to the Steelers, having won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI with the Giants.
Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning had one of the best seasons of his career in 2011 under Sullivan, passing for a career-high 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns.
The Steelers are looking to fill the void left by Matt Canada, who was officially promoted to offensive coordinator on Monday.
The Steelers are talking to Mike Sullivan, a long-time former offensive coordinator/QB coach with the NY Giants and Denver Broncos, about becoming their QB coach, per source.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) January 26, 2021
Mic Drop: Rooting for Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell Is Easy Choice
The idea that either Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell will become a Super Bowl champion after Super Bowl LV isn’t exactly something that makes Steelers fans excited for the big game. With that said, Mike Asti feels deciding who to root for should be an easy choice for Steelers fans. He wants to set the record straight once and for all of why Pittsburgh fans need to stop grouping the two former Steelers together.
While they both left the franchise in a cloud of drama, Le’Veon Bell doesn’t deserve to be treated as if he committed the same kind of sins against the Steelers that Antonio Brown did.
Steelers Promote QB Coach Matt Canada to Offensive Coordinator
The Pittsburgh Steelers have officially promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, the organization announced Monday.
We have promoted Matt Canada to offensive coordinator.— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 25, 2021
After the Steelers chose not to renew the contract of previous offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, multiple outlets reported on Jan. 16 that the team was planning to hire from within and promote Canada.
The club reportedly also interviewed former Cleveland Browns head coach Hugh Jackson and Los Angeles Chargers quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, which proved to be mere formalities.
Canada, 48, was also reportedly a candidate for the offensive coordinator opening with the Miami Dolphins, which was filled last week.
Prior to arriving in Pittsburgh ahead of last season, Canada was most recently the offensive coordinator and interim head coach at Maryland in 2018.
He has also made stops as an offensive coordinator at LSU, Pitt, NC State, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Indiana and Butler.
Canada is most known for his success at Pitt in 2016, where he orchestrated the nation’s tenth-ranked scoring offense averaging 42 points per game. He was recognized as a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant, that season.