UNITY TWP., Pa. — The Pittsburgh Steelers officially started their 2019 training camp on Friday under sun-soaked skies and in front of Steeler Nation at Chuck Noll Field on the campus of St. Vincent College.
Training camp in the NFL is pretty much the same idea in every city, but the fan involvement with the Steelers’ camp is legendary.
That was no exception on Friday, as the Steelers’ position players — notably JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner — celebrated after scoring touchdowns to the delight of the crowd during the pads-free practice session.
Afterward, Conner took extra time to sign dozens of autographs for fans, while Smith-Shuster helped with a gender reveal — the couple is having a boy — and an ever more bizarre request: he autographed a man’s head.
“He had the Steelers logo tattooed into his head,” Smith-Schuster said. “He had a mohawk. He said, ‘Can you sign my helmet?’ I’m like what helmet are you talking about?
“I signed his head. His actual head. In sharpie. All that. I don’t think he’s taking a shower for the next week.”
When it was suggested that the fan might turn the signature into a tattoo, Smith-Schuster’s eyes lit up.
“He might, honestly,” Smith-Schuster said. “If he does, that’s lit. If he gets that tattooed on his head, I’ll get him any tickets to any game.”
Steelers, Titans Set for 8th Game in NFL History Between 5-0 or Better Unbeaten Teams
The Steelers and Tennessee Titans will meet as a battle of unbeaten teams on Sunday, with both squads owning 5-0 records coming into the game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
It’s just the eighth time in NFL history that unbeaten teams with five or more wins will meet one another on the field, according to the Steelers public relations department. It will be the first time the Steelers are involved in such a game.
“We’ve got a significant challenge in the form of the Tennessee Titans coming up this week,” head coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers dominated the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to improve to 5-0. “That’s life in this game. We’re appreciative and more importantly we’re really excited. You can’t take anything for granted in this environment.”
The last time it happened was in 2015, when the 6-0 Denver Broncos faced the 6-0 Green Bay Packers. There have been five instances in the past 20 years, but there was just one from 1925 to 2005.
The last (and only) time the Steelers were 5-0 came in 1978, when they won their first seven games to start the season. That year, they faced the 2-3 New York Jets while 5-0, the 2-4 Atlanta Falcons while 6-0 and lost to the 4-3 Browns after going 7-0.
Here’s the full list of game between 5-0 or better unbeaten foes in NFL history:
2015 6-0 Denver Broncos 29, 6-0 Green Bay Packers 10
2007 8-0 New England Patriots 24, 7-0 Indianapolis Colts 20
2007 5-0 New England Patriots 48, 5-0 Dallas Cowboys 27
2004 5-0 New England Patriots 13, 5-0 New York Jets 7
1973 6-0 Minnesota Vikings 10, 6-0 Los Angeles Rams 9
1923 5-0 Canton Bulldogs 7, 5-0 Chicago Cardinals 0
1921 7-0 Akron Pros 0, Buffalo All-Americans 0
Film Study: Robert Spillane Impressive Filling in for Devin Bush
Devin Bush is done for the season.
In a tough blow for the Steelers defense, the Steelers will be without their speedy, athletic linebacker until 2021, assuming multiple media reports that Bush will require ACL surgery after his injury in the Steelers’ rout of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
As such, it leaves a huge void for the Steelers, who did not address the linebacker position in the 2020 NFL Draft or free agency.
The man that stepped in for Bush was for undrafted free agent Robert Spillane out of Western Michigan. Stylistically, there is nothing similar between the two. Spillane is an outstanding special teamer, but could he make the leap to the defense?
Robert Spillane Solid on Sunday
Spillane came into the game late in the second quarter, so there is an entire half of tape out there on him now. With five tackles and one of those for a loss, it was a decent game for Spillane filling for Bush. In fact, the Steelers’ defense seemingly did not miss a beat with Spillane instead of Bush, as they blanked the Browns in the second half.
Overall, this is a nice play by Spillane. While Kareem Hunt does end up wrestling forward ever so slightly for the first down, Spillane showcases three qualities that make this play encouraging. For one, he recognizes the screen and is in a great position to help at the second level as a result. Processing through his keys to see that is the first step for any linebacker wanting to get onto an NFL field. Second, he takes a direct angle to Hunt. Even with Spillane’s only modest speed, this angle is more than good enough to cut off Hunt’s lane. Lastly, Spillane does a nice job of breaking down and bringing the hammer down on Hunt. While the Browns do get the first down, it only ends up being a five-yard gain, and Hunt is no easy player to bring down in the open field.
This is Spillane’s best play of the day. If fans know nothing else about Spillane coming out of this game, it is that Spillane loves to hit. He had a few shots where he just laid the wood on guys. Austin Hooper was the benefactor of two of those unfortunate big shots. What is more impressive about this play is how Spillane sees right through the misdirection. The Browns are running a play-action off of outside zone concepts while Hooper sneaks around as the H-Back. This could easily be a split zone run heading the other way. Either way, Spillane key reads Hooper, scrapes back over the defensive line, and pastes Hooper right as he catches it. That is a high football IQ play.
Avoiding blocks and shedding them was something that Spillane was good at for most of the game, but this is one block that he has to avoid. The lineman just chop blocks Spillane and takes him out. Whether he has to sidestep the lineman or dip to avoid the block and make the tackle, a downhill linebacker like Spillane hopefully makes this play more often than not. Credit where credit is due, this is a nice block by JC Tretter, but Spillane needs to avoid the trash and chop blocks. Spillane keeps his head up and shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, just like they are taught. However, the saying to avoid cut blocks for linebackers in space is to “give ground to gain ground” by taking a few steps back to avoid the cut block. If Spillane follows that, he can avoid the block and make the tackle on Hooper comfortably in the open field.
Spillane puts on a master class on how to defeat a reach block at the second level here. He stuns the lineman with a strong punch to the chest, but extends out fully to keep himself clean. That gives him the ability to shed this block at any time when he wants to. He rips down to shed the block and successfully executes a stack and shed. Then, he makes the tackle at the second level. Taking on blocks at the second level is huge for any linebacker nowadays, and this was a great, strong run fit.
There is zero doubt that Spillane’s first snaps are encouraging. From this perspective, it is clear he knows what he is seeing and that he works downhill more than fine. Despite not being the greatest athlete, Spillane’s hot motor can make up for that shortcoming at times. However, everything was mostly under him and he did not get tested that much in coverage, especially up the seam. While it was a good first impression for Spillane, his coverage ability will be a question mark that has to be answered in the coming weeks.
From the Locker Room: Ben Roethlisberger Explains How Steelers Defense Helps Offense
Despite putting up 31 of the teams’s 38 points scored in the Steelers win over the Browns, quarterback Ben Roethlsiberger explained to the media after the game that he didn’t really feel like the offense did that much. And Roethlsiberger’s final stat line points in that direction. The future Hall of Fame quarterback only completed 14 passes for 162 yards on the day.
Roethlisberger also talked about how the strong imposing play of the defense can help the offense have success, even without accumulating a bunch of big numbers.