Our Ron Lippock spoke with outside linebacker Tuzar Skipper, a Toledo alum that signed a contract with the Steelers after joining the team on a tryout basis for rookie minicamp.
First, can you let us know how you got the tryout in Pittsburgh?
To be honest, I don’t know – it all went through my agent. I was at Kansas City’s rookie mini-camp and it was their last practice when I got calls on my phone. My agent said “Guess what? You’ve been invited to the Steelers’ rookie mini-camp!’” That was on Tuesday. I asked him when it was and he told me Thursday, so it was a quick turnaround.
Kevin Colbert also called me to confirm after that.
What do you think caught their attention enough for them to sign you?
I’m not sure. I guess they liked what I had to offer. Of course, Ola Adeniyi is like my brother. He told me to just be myself. I stayed with him – soaked up all the knowledge he had. He has established himself in Pittsburgh – they all like him – the coaches and trainers – everyone! So I’m learning from the best!
What’s the next step now for you now that you’ve been signed?
Next is just trying to make the 53. I need to learn the playbook and how to drop in coverage. I was a defensive lineman in college – I didn’t drop back. So now I have to show the coaches that I can be versatile. I need to work with the veterans to do so – and in my off time with Ola.
How specifically do you work on that part of your new position as an outside linebacker?
Dropping back is definitely different for me. It’s my first time having to cover running backs, tight ends – even slot receivers sometimes. I just have to get comfortable playing in the open field. I know I can handle the pass rushing part of the position – I excelled at that in college.
How hard was it coming from one camp directly to another – and what were the differences between the two?
The biggest difference was the culture of the two teams, ultimately. Pittsburgh has a history of winning. It’s just different than Kansas City. And Pittsburgh is much more physical – that was a big difference too.
Have you peeked at the roster at all to see where your opportunities may be?
I haven’t had a look yet no. I’m just taking it one day at a time and adjusting to it all.
I’ll get to know more about the organization soon and prove my worth. I want to stay with this team.
How about special teams? That’ll be a big part of making this team. What’s your experience there?
I covered kickoffs in college. I know I’ll need to expand that more, to have a role on all phases of special teams – punts, punt returns … just need to show them I can handle all of those different roles.
Tell me a bit about you off the field – what should we know about you?
I’m the biggest people-person. Most people are often scared to go out and just meet and talk to people. I’m never scared to talk to people. I have no problem being social – I’m a funny guy.
Well you’ll be able to use that when you have to do rookie skits! You got one ready?
Oh absolutely! I’m going to keep it under wraps though!
What else makes you tick?
I like to play games too – I’m a gamer as well. I like 2K basketball, Call of Duty. I’m not like some highly ranked guy or gamer like JuJu – I just do it for fun. I’m a little dangerous but not so much to brag about!
Tell us a bit about the origin of your name?
I’m not sure, to be honest. My mom and dad are both deceased. Both passed away when I was young. After my mom had me she kind of passed out and passed away after. My dad named me but he passed away when I was young too.
Lastly, how crazy is it to be on the same team with your close friend, Ola Adeniyi? Two Toledo linebackers together – what is it about Toledo linebackers?
Yeah – it is crazy! We dreamt about this day in college. It’s crazy to be on the same team. Coming from college most guys don’t even get an opportunity to play in the NFL at all – both of us being on the same team is crazy.
Toledo – it’s a good school. We’re not scared to work harder than anyone else. You’ve got to put in the work. Everyone’s talented at the college level – and now especially in the NFL. The coaches at Toledo drilled that into us – that you have to work harder than anyone else to be successful.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 10/30/20
Steelers linebacker TJ Watt leads the defense during their final practice before plating the divisional rival Ravens. Running back James Conner also works on his burst.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers
Steelers ‘Next Man Up’ Mentality Paying Dividends in 2020
The Steelers are 6-0, and while the team has had relatively good health for the season, there have been key injuries that have struck at inopportune times. Most recently, the Steelers lost Devin Bush for the season with a torn ACL.
However, he has not been the only one. Mike Hilton has missed time with a shoulder injury, Diontae Johnson has been nicked up, and Derek Watt has missed multiple games with a hamstring injury. Yet, at all spots, the Steelers have yet to miss a beat.
These are not just minor injuries either. Bush is the glue in the middle of the defense. Johnson is the shifty receiver that makes team fear the Steelers quick passing game. Hilton is the best run defending slot cornerback in the NFL and expands the Steelers’ blitz packages. Even Watt is a fantastic special teamer. Yet, the Steelers continue to chug along like nothing is wrong.
Mike Tomlin talks about the “next man up” mentality every week when it comes to the health of his team. The Steelers work through replacing their injured guys and getting them the replacements up to speed quickly. Even still, this is a mentality that is much easier said than done. Raw talent is hard to replace, especially when these are inexperienced, young players that are stepping in for those key contributors.
However, as the Steelers have shown in the past two weeks, Bush’s injury thus far has yet to be felt. Robert Spillane, a former undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan, has stepped in well. Playing on base downs, Spillane’s physicality and football IQ have been key in his standout performance. He has even shown he has more athleticism than anticipated. His big hit on Derrick Henry on Sunday was just the icing on the cake for a strong two weeks for Spillane.
Ulysees Gilbert III stepped into the other part of Bush’s role, which is sub-packages. Gilbert is now working in that role, and while not tested all that much on Sunday, Gilbert looked rather solid. Most importantly, he has the same speed and rare athleticism for the position that Bush presents.
With Johnson banged up this year, Chase Claypool and James Washington have jumped in at random times to step up in a big way. When Johnson was hurt early in Week 5 against the Eagles, Claypool stepped in and was the unsung hero. Against Cleveland, both Claypool and Washington had a touchdown.
Cam Sutton played a tremendous game in the absence of Hilton against Tennessee. With a near interception and two pass deflections, it was undeniable that Sutton had a strong game. Working as both a slot corner and in his usual dimebacker role, Sutton’s football smarts were on display the entire game. He worked as a deep third safety, yet again as well.
Justin Layne came into the game in those dime package sets as well. With Steven Nelson kicking inside, it was Layne who was tasked with guarding the boundary. In fact, in his limited snaps, Layne held his own. On the final drive by the Titans, Layne was mostly tasked with covering A.J. Brown, and he shut him down. While not targeted, if Layne had been targeted, he would have been in an excellent position to make a play. It was simply clear that Layne’s length was disruptive and an issue.
As for Watt’s injury, the Steelers have used both Trey Edmunds, Jaylen Samuels, and even Henry Mondeaux to replace his production on offense. As lead blockers, both Edmunds and Mondeaux have cleared lanes for goal-line touchdowns. Samuels took over Watt’s wingback role and secured himself a jet sweep on Sunday. It is a position that has been filled by committee, but an effective one at that.
All of that is to say, the season has thrown rolling punches the Steelers way, but they have stayed resilient. All these young guys stepping into bigger roles have played at a high-level. That shows this team buys into the next man up mentality that Tomlin instills in the locker room. This is further proof of Tomlin’s leadership skills to sell this mentality to the locker and get them all to buy-in.
In addition, it is a credit to all the position coaches. They are coaching these guys up during the week to get them ready for the big stage, and so far all of them have come through in a big way. The biggest example of this is when David DeCastro was injured not once, but twice, and Kevin Dotson came into the game with no problems. The Steelers did not miss a beat with Dotson at the helm. Zach Banner tore his ACL and Chuks Okorafor has been fantastic in his absence. Offensive Line Coach Shaun Sarrett deserves a lot of praise to get these guys up to speed. The players are buying into the mentality.
All across the roster from the defense to the offense and even special teams, the Steelers’ backups have filled in well every time they have been asked to do so. That is rare for any NFL team to have in a given season. However, thanks to great leadership from Tomlin, high-level position coaching, and buy-in mentality from the players, the Steelers have overcome injuries with the next man up mentality.
Without the mentality, it is hard to see the Steelers being 6-0 right now. It is the gift that keeps on giving and going forward, it is hard to see it not paying dividends for a talented, but still somewhat young team down the stretch.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 10/29/20
Two of the Steelers deepest units turned up the heat during practice on Thursday, October 29, 2020.
The Steelers receivers and members of the secondary go head-to-head to prepare for matchups with their counterparts on the Ravens.
Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers