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Mike Tomlin, Steelers Begin Process of Moving on after Death of Coach, Friend Darryl Drake

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UNITY TWP., Pa. — “We intend to march.”

That was the message from Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin as the team moves forward with its training camp on Tuesday, just two days after the sudden passing of beloved wide receivers coach Darryl Drake on Sunday.

Tomlin spoke with the media late on Tuesday morning and the team is scheduled for a 2:55 p.m. practice on Tuesday afternoon, though there is rain in the forecast.

It will begin the process of a return to normalcy for the still-grieving players and staff at St. Vincent College. Tomlin said the team has been “devastated.”

“I can’t really think of any other appropriate words,” he added. “Our time and attention in recent days has been spent in support of the Drake family — Miss Shiela and Darryl’s daughters and extended family. Many of us have had an opportunity to spend time with them through this. They have been amazing in just making arrangements and adjusting and so forth. We’ve tried to be as supportive organizationally as we can be to them in what is a very difficult time.”

Drake was not just a position coach for the Steelers, but a longtime friend and mentor to Tomlin, making the loss particularly tough.

“Professionally, obviously, the loss is significant, but personally, it’s even bigger,” Tomlin said Those of us that knew and had personal relationships with Coach Drake all feel that way.”

The Steelers coach retold how he and Drake first connected, over two decades ago.

“In ’97, I was a young wide receiver coach at Arkansas State. He was viewed as one of the top wide receivers coaches in the college game. I was politely aggressive in building a relationship with him. He probably didn’t have a choice, or that’s how he’d described it, in being my friend. I was too persistent.

“He extended courtesies to me like he does to a lot of young guys like myself in the profession and that’s why we talked about him the way we do. He sent me drill tape and things of that nature. We developed a rapport and things went from there.

“Coaching was Coach Drake’s platform for ministry. He wore many hats. Coaching was his vocation, but he was a father, a mentor, a brother, an advisor, like we all are in a lot of ways, to the men that he worked with, not only now, but over the course of his career, which spanned decades.”

In order to help the team move forward from the loss of Drake, the team brought in grief counselors.

“We realize that we don’t have all the answers and with that being said, we brought some professional grief counselors in to assist us through this tough time,” Tomlin said. “It’s been said that counseling is not for the weak, but the wise, so we seek people who have expertise in dealing such circumstances.”

Tomlin also said that he has a plan in place for who will succeed Drake, but declined to elaborate on details.

“We’re in the process of developing a plan there,” he said. “It’s in place. I just don’t wish to discuss the intimate details. I just don’t believe that’s appropriate at this time.

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Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit

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The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.

Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.

Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.

The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.

The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.

The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.

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Steelers, Zach Banner Donate to Tree of Life Synagogue

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Offensive lineman Zach Banner and the Pittsburgh Steelers have pledged a donation to the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill as part of the Steelers 2020 Social Justice Grant program.

The congregation was attacked during a mass shooting own Oct. 27, 2018 that killed 11 people and wounded six others, the deadliest attack ever on a Jewish community in the United States.

The shooting stuck with Banner, who was a rookie on the team at the time. After Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson made an anti-semitic post on social media, Banner responded with a video post.

“We need to understand that Jewish people deal with the same amount of hate and similar hardships and hard times,” Banner said in the video. “I want to preach to the Black and brown community that we need to uplift them and put our arms around them just as much when we talk about Black Lives Matter and talk about elevating ourselves.”

The video led to Banner becoming something of a fan favorite to the Jewish community.

“Mr. Banner spoke up when others didn’t and we appreciate that,” Barb Feige, executive director of Tree of Life, said to Steelers.com “The fact that he mentioned Tree of Life and the horrific shooting that happened there and how much it impacted him was very meaningful. We are very aware the shooting had an impact beyond our congregation, our Jewish community. The ripple effect was felt. Everybody felt something about it. For Mr. Banner to articulate that, and join our fight against anti-Semitism, was very, very special, very meaningful.”

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Report: Steelers to Interview Los Angeles Chargers QB Coach Pep Hamilton

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The Steelers have requested to interview Los Angeles Chargers quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton for their vacant offensive coordinator position, according to a report by Josina Anderson.

Hamilton, 46, just finished his first season as quarterbacks coach with the Chargers, where he helped develop rookie quarterback Justin Hebert, who was named the PFWA NFL Rookie of the Year.

Hamilton has previously been an offensive coordinator at the NFL level with the Indianapolis Colts from 2013-15, where he led a resurgence around quarterback Andrew Luck.

Hamilton was the head coach of the DC Defenders of the XFL in 2020, the assistant head coach and passing game coordinator for Michigan in 2017-18 and was assistant head coach and quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns in 2016. He has also been an NFL assistant with the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears.

Hamilton is the third person confirmed to have interviewed for the position, along with former Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders head coach Hue Jackson and Steelers quarterbacks coach Matt Canada, who is expected to earn the position.

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