Our Ron Lippock caught up with former Steelers offensive lineman and Super Bowl XLIII champion Doug Legursky, who played for the team from 2008-12.
First, can you let me know what you’ve been doing with yourself since you retired from the NFL?
After football, I took on a harder job. I’m a stay-at-home dad with three kids. I went from one extreme — the physical side of football — to the mental side as a stay-at-home-dad.
You also coached a bit. Something you want to continue?
I just did that a bit to help out, but my schedule wouldn’t work out with my wife’s career. It was fun and I learned a lot but it’s my wife’s turn now!
Was the post-NFL adjustment difficult?
It wasn’t too rough. I was officially done and once you know that it’s an easier transition. When you have three kids there’s also no time to sit around and think about things. So it wasn’t too tough exiting that part of life when I knew it was time to turn the page and move on to the next chapter of life.
You started your career in the NFL after signing with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent. Why Pittsburgh?
Coming out of the draft, three teams contacted me when it was over. All had the same conversation with me, really. As you know, it’s a feeding frenzy after the draft for all of the leftover free agents. Pittsburgh was the only one to offer me money — a signing bonus. They gave me $2,500. That was the biggest paycheck I had ever gotten at the time! And Pittsburgh was close to home, having been a West Virginia guy who played at Marshall. It was an easy transition to play up north in Pittsburgh for me.
Did any of the guys help you most when you got there?
The offensive line group as a whole were close. We all just went to Pittsburgh for the reunion game and we clicked like we always did. It’s an amazing group of guys. I’m still close with Willie Colon, Trai Essex, and Justin Hartwig.
None of them could help me though with the traffic situation in Pittsburgh! My first time in Pittsburgh I got lost for five hours. I took a wrong turn and had no idea where I was. This was before a GPS. The next time I got lost for three hours.
You were released a couple of times before the season even began that rookie year. How hard is it working through that? How do you handle that pressure?
It was a tough time as a rookie, not knowing if you have a place on the team or even in the NFL. I was released right before camp and right after camp. Twice in my first six months in the NFL.
It was definitely tough. The mindset of a young player is to just get to play. To do anything you can. When I was cut, I just kept working. I did all of the drills we did in camp and studied the playbook even after I was cut.
I remember being called back by Pittsburgh. When line coach [Harold] Goodwin saw me, he saw me practice and asked if I was working on my technique the whole time! I did what they were doing every day and it paid off. You just have to stay focused and work hard. When I was older and was released I knew the ins and outs of the different scenarios.
What do you think prompted the coaches to bring you up from the practice squad and have that trust in you?
I think it was my work ethic. When I was on the practice squad, I was always the one who knew what to do. I was never the biggest or strongest guy. In fact, I was the smallest lineman, I think for a while. But I was strong in the weight room and always tried to outwork and outsmart guys.
I remember one time in practice in my second season, after spending my first year on the practice squad. It was right before spring ball. B.A. (Bruce Arians) asked me in front of the whole team where I was a week ago last year, and I told him I had been released. I wasn’t on the team. He said, “Now look at you. You’re probably going to get a hat on Sundays.” That was a big moment. It made a big difference. It showed everybody I made it. I was a nobody a year before that. I went from the practice squad to getting a hat on Sundays. Even guys on the 53 man roster, not all of them get to play!
You started at center for the first time in the Super Bowl. Who was more nervous, you or Sean Kugler, and how did you prepare for that?
I think my dad was more nervous than anyone! I mean, I had started at guard and played center in games, I just never started a game at center. But I was a more natural center anyway.
I knew I’d be fine with a full two-week prep. Interior offensive linemen, as backups, we usually get maybe five or six reps before a game. Having a full two weeks helped a lot.
I just remember how insane media day was. I thought I’d be in the background, but I was swamped with interviews. I had more that day than I had my whole career. Everyone knew [Maurkice] Pouncey was down so that created the media frenzy. Once I got that first week out of the way though, that second week was a more natural game prep week.
Any funny stories of your time in Pittsburgh?
Oh yeah. My first 10 minutes in the locker room, I was sitting there as a wide-eyed rookie. I didn’t know anyone. I had no one to talk too. The meetings were about to start so I figured I would go to the restroom and went up to the urinal and did my business. There was a line of urinals. I was standing there when Troy Polamalu came in and stood right next to me. Now, the guy code says you leave a urinal in between you when you can. So I thought it was weird. But what can I say, it’s Troy Polamalu. Then all of the sudden I feel something splash on me – he was peeing on my foot, I thought. I said “Dude!” Then I saw he had a plastic Gatorade bottle that he put a hole in the top of and was squirting it at my feet. It was a rookie hazing move.
Then he said in that sweet Troy voice “What were you thinking?” He was Troy Polamalu! He could have pissed in the middle of the locker room and no one would have said anything!
Who were some of the toughest guys you faced as a pro?
[Haloti] Ngata was always tough. That Ravens rivalry was always tough, [Albert] Haynesworth when he was that $100 million dollar man was always good. [Geno] Atkins and [Domata] Peko in Cincinnati played hard. And Kyle Williams in Buffalo was one of the toughest I faced.
Any thoughts on the way the game has changed today?
Well, as you could guess, I’m more old school. I grew up playing in the Wing T and love the downhill running game. Now, it’s all about points, as many as you can get, and away from defenses and grinding the clock down. I don’t watch the ball anyway when I watch football. I watch the linemen and watch any of the new stuff.
Thinking of getting back into coaching again when things settle down? Any coaching influences help shape the way you approach coaching?
Maybe someday again. I think I am good at it. It fits me well. Some of it comes easy for me and some of it is tougher. The lack of stability and having to move around isn’t easy. Right now though I’m just keeping my head above water with three kids!
Kugler was a great coach. He told us saying you are working hard is easy. It’s easy to just say you re doing it. But you can’t just say it, you have to really do it.
[Mike] Munchak is the best offensive line coach in the world. He was all about technique and keeping the lines of communication open as a group. He taught us you’re only as strong as the guy beside you. I have the greatest respect for him. He is one of the toughest coaches I’ve had but he had the best attitude. He can be stern but friendly and he showed us you can successfully be both.
What made him so good?
I think having played as long as he did and then coaching, he knew what it was all about. As a coach and a player, he knew the ins and outs players go through. The level of respect he deserved and received, and the respect he gives players isn’t something that every coach — especially ones that haven’t played football — show to players. Sometimes if a coach never played, what he says misses the mark. We did all he told us to do with extra intensity.
Lastly, as a guy who went from “being a nobody” to a Super Bowl starter, what advice would you give guys following in your footsteps?
Stay working hard. Keep working on your technique and the playbook. Some say they are doing it but you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself it you’re really working hard and doing it. I’ve seen a lot of players that weren’t ready when their opportunity came.
JuJu Smith-Schuster Asks Fans to Give him Space
JuJu Smith-Schuster is experiencing the negative side effect of living so much of his personal life in the public eye. The Steelers receiver, who is looking for a new NFL contract, took to Instagram to ask fans to leave him alone.
This stems from allegations that fans are showing up to his family home in California while he is there. Obviously, fans have no right to show up unwelcome anywhere to stalk an an athlete or celebrity, but this is just another example of the polarization of Smith-Schuster’s career. While he’s received much criticism, most notably this past season, for his sometimes over-the-top behavior and seemingly prioritizing his brand at all times, he also has many avid supporters who would stop at nothing to defend one of their favorite players.
Smith-Schuster is set to be a free agent in March for the first time in his professional career. If the Steelers should try to bring back the receiver has become a hot debate among Pittsburgh fans, so much so Smith-Schuster himself addressed the situation during a live Twitch sessions with fans.
Even Smith-Schuster’s play on the field is often up for debate. He totaled 97 receptions, but for only 831 yards with an average of just 8.6 yards per catch, which is significantly lower than his average from past seasons, including 15.8 his rookie year and 13.1 in 2019.
When it comes to JuJu Smith-Schuster, it’s always best to just stay tuned.
Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.
Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?
The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.
That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.
Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.
The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.
Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.
He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”
Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.