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Henry Mondeaux Another Steelers Fill-In That Has Exceeded Expectations

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In the fourth quarter of the Steelers’ win over the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux scraped off a block, shuffled to his right and absolutely planted Dallas running back Tony Pollard.

It was a solid play from the fill-in lineman that was on the Steelers’ practice squad just a couple weeks ago, and the big man with the long hair gave a little fist pump after recording his first NFL tackle.

Mondeaux, a second-year man out of Oregon spent the entire 2019 season on the practice squad, got asked to come back for another offseason and was one of the team’s final cuts on the defensive line in 2020.

So it’s not totally unexpected that after injuries to Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu, the Steelers have been able to turn to Mondeaux, along with 2019 sixth-round Isaiah Buggs and 2020 seventh-round pick Carlos Davis, for depth on the defensive line.

What’s somewhat surprising is that they’ve been able to make those wholesale replacements mid-pandemic.

Players on the practice squad don’t get to make hits like Mondeaux’s pop on Pollard. In practice, they’re tackling the team’s starters, if they’re tackling at all, and so they may get them to the ground, but no one is out there trying to hurt the team’s starting running backs.

This season was played without a preseason, so it’s been an awful long time since Mondeaux hit someone in anger.

“You know, it’s very hard to simulate game speed in practice and especially this year without the preseason,” Mondeux admitted on Monday. “It had been a while for me. Definitely. But we did incorporate a lot of live tackling drills and I think we do a good job our look teams in practice giving game-like, scenarios and hits. But yeah, it’s a balance between, you know, you can’t be hitting like that every day.”

The defensive line isn’t the only place the Steelers have had fill-in success. Little-used linebacker Robert Spillane has taken over for former first-round pick Devin Bush at inside linebacker. Fourth-round rookie Kevin Dotson has twice spilled David DeCastro at right guard, prompting the team to released veteran Stefen Wisniewski last week.

From an outside perspective, that might seem like an unlikely combination, especially during the pandemic-modified 2020 season. But for undrafted free agents and late-round rookies, guys on the practice squad, this is what they spend their entire lives preparing for.

“I actually lived with Robert Spillane all last year, and we were talking about moments like this all last year preparing,” Mondeaux said. “We were both on the practice squad last year, and it’s been part of our plan, you know, doing what we can, stepping into the game. So, I think it’s definitely something that we had prepared for and it’s what guys on our team prepare for if they’re not in the positions they are when the season starts. They’re all getting ready, whether it’s on the practice squad or an inactive spot. We try and get guys ready to play and I don’t think anyone bats an eye when people go down. We know we have guys that will step up and take on some of those loads.”

The Steelers have a veteran line with seventh-year vet Stephon Tuitt as the youngest member of the starting three. Alualu is only expected to be missing for a few weeks, while it seems the Wormley’s injury could be more serious, which despite Mondeaux’s efforts has put a significant strain on the Steelers’ run defense.

“It’s a big challenge when a guy like Tyson goes down because he’s such a good player, especially stopping the run,” Mondeaux said. “He’s a veteran and he does a great job. I think me and Buggs and Carlos Davis this last game, have stepped in and helped out as much as we can. We played two great running opponents. It’s always a tough challenge when you go against the Cowboys offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott, and then you have the Ravens with Lamar and all their options running the ball. So I think we’re doing our best and we’re trying to fill some big shoes from a guy that’s been playing for a long time.”

For the Steelers, it’s also a good chance to see what they’ve got in three younger, but unheralded players. Though the three starters on the Pittsburgh line were all first-round draft picks, one doesn’t have to look far back in the Steelers’ history to find some diamonds in the rough that became significant contributors on the defensive line.

Aaron Smith was a fourth-round pick. Brett Keisel was a seventh-rounder. Chris Hoke was an undrafted free agent. The Steelers can use this opportunity to see if they another unheralded gem on the defensive line.

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Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp

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There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.

“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”

Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.

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NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North

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It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.

But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.

NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.

“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”

Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.

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NFL Head Coach: Bud Dupree’s Injury Cause for Uncertainty Entering Free Agency

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Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is set to hit free agency in a matter of weeks, but one head coach believes he could be waiting a while to sign.

Speaking with FanSided’s Matt Lombardo, an NFL head coach, speaking anonymously, said Dupree’s season-ending knee injury has made his free agency outlook uncertain.

“Bud Dupree is someone that is a real question mark for me,” the head coach told FanSided. “If he was healthy, he’s easily the top pass-rusher hitting the open market, and teams would pay a king’s ransom to sign him. But, with him coming off a torn ACL, what exactly are you committing to? Does he want to go back to Pittsburgh? Who knows, but he’s someone that I think will wind up having to wait a while to sign.”

Lombardo compares Dupree’s situation to Tennessee Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last offseason.

While he had not suffered a significant injury the season prior with the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, Clowney signed with Tennessee on just a one-year, $12-million deal. He had been expected to be paid handsomely on a lengthier contract, which obviously did not come to fruition.

Clowney was virtually invisible for the Titans, recording no sacks in eight games before being placed on injured reserve in November.

Due to his torn ACL, Dupree could find himself having to settle on a cheaper, one-year “prove it” deal as well. Ideally he would then cash in during the 2022 free agency period is all goes as planned.

Dupree was having another stellar season before tearing his ACL in the Steelers’ Week 12 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He had eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles through eleven games.

After playing last season under the franchise tag, which paid Dupree $15.828 million, the Steelers’ dire salary cap situation will most likely prevent them from bringing him back. Still, the brass of the organization has expressed their desire to do so if circumstances were different.

While the knee injury remains a concern, Dupree shared he was ahead of schedule in his recovery when he joined NFL Network’s Good Morning Football late last month.

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