While the Steelers offense comes into the 2020 season almost exactly the same, and with their franchise quarterback presumably healthy and back at the helm, the defense has a had a few more changes this offseason.
The team decided to let two high draft picks in Artie Burns and Sean Davis walk. These first- and second-round picks respectively were once thought to be key pieces to the Steelers long-term plans, but neither lived up to the billing. Also gone are defensive lineman Javon Hargrave who had a strong season filling in for the injured Stephon Tuitt and linebacker/hybrid Mark Barron who had a underwhelming first season with the team.
To replace Hargrave, the Steelers made a rare in-division trade, acquiring Chris Wormley from the Baltimore Ravens. The team also bolstered its depth by signing multiple former-XFL players and in the draft, picking Charlotte linebacker Alex Highsmith in the third-round, Maryland safety Antoine Brooks, Jr. in the sixth and defensive lineman Carlos Davis in the seventh.
It wasn’t a wild offseason of changes, but why mess with a defense that allowed the fifth fewest yards and points in the NFL last season?
Losing Hargrave hurts, the fourth year nose tackle has started nearly every game for the Steelers since being drafted in 2016 and was a key figure replacing Stephon Tuitt after he went down with injury. The Steelers hope ex-Raven Chris Wormley along with some of their depth players can fill his roll with the team.
The team sacrificed a ton of depth with the losses of Tyler Matakevich and Anthony Chickillo, as well as special team acumen. Barron was supplemented by Bush, but brought experienced depth. The biggest issue now could be that behind Bush and Williams at inside linebacker there is now very little left. If either starter goes down, the team will have to rely on unproven Ulysees Gilbert or Robert Spillane. At outside linebacker the team drafted Alex Highsmith, but he probably won’t see much playing time with Dupree and Watt getting most of the snaps and Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper also in the mix.
Antoine Brooks Jr.
After a promising start to his career, Artie Burns was basically just a special teams player. Sean Davis spent last year hurt. Kam Kelly, who was brought in as an AAF free agent, started versus the Patriots in game one and then spent most of the season on the bench, replaced by Minkah Fitzpatrick and eventually getting cut mid-season. Behind Fitzpatrick and and Terrell Edmunds, however, the team is dangerously thin at safety. Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield and fourth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr. figure to fight to be the primary backups.
The Steelers had one of the best duos in the league at corner in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, who was a revelation in 2020. The Steelers also have very capable slot/nickel cornerbacks in Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton.
Boswell bounced back in a big way and the Steelers will roll with the “Wizard of Boz” again in 2020. Undrafted free agent Corliss Waitman was brought in in the offseason to challenge presumptive starter Jordan Berry.
Ryan Shazier Starts Foundation for Spinal Cord Injuries
Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has started a foundation to help individuals with spinal cord injuries.
The Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation will “provide support, resources and funding to those with spinal cord injuries and their caregivers.”
“My team and I have been working behind the scenes to find ways to continue to push forward progress for the spinal cord community,” Shazier said on Twitter Tuesday. “One step at a time we will change how people view spinal injuries.”
I’m truly excited to announce the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation. My team and I have been working behind the scenes to find ways to continue to push forward progress for the spinal cord community. One step at a time we will change how people view spinal injuries. pic.twitter.com/kpQtkx0KjB— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) November 23, 2020
Shazier’s promising NFL career ended prematurely three years ago when he suffered his own spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. He officially announced his retirement from football earlier this year, but has made tremendous strides in his recovery.
Selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Shazier finished his career with 299 total tackles, 24 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, seven forced fumbles and seven interceptions. He was twice selected to the Pro Bowl.
Former Steelers coaches and teammates shared their congratulations to Shazier on the start of his non-profit Tuesday, including head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Congratulations @ryanshazier on the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation (https://t.co/RZfcqnnIBe)! Wishing you & your foundation all the success in the world! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/CumpCgH1PU— BigBen7.com (@_BigBen7) November 24, 2020
Steelers Can Become First to Clinch a Playoff Berth This Week
The Steelers can become the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth for the 2020 season on Thursday, if they’re able to beat the Baltimore Ravens and get a little bit of help.
If the Steelers beat Baltimore at Heinz Field on Thursday night to improve to 11-0 on the season, and both the Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins lose, or one loses and one ties, the Steelers will have wrapped up a 2020 NFL postseason berth.
Though the Steelers are playing on Thanksgiving night, they will have to wait until the weekend to find out if they’ve earned their playoff berth. The Raiders will visit the Atlanta Falcons this week and the Dolphins will play at the New York Jets. Both of those games are scheduled for 1 p.m. kickoffs on Sunday.
The 10-0 Steelers are in first place in the AFC North, three games ahead of the 7-3 Cleveland Browns, so they can’t yet clinch a division title at this point, just a Wild Card berth.
The earliest the Steelers could clinch a divisional title will come in Week 14.
Chase Claypool’s Physical Dominance Going Beyond Catches, Yards and Scores
Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool is big, that much is easy enough to tell by looking at him.
At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, he’s one of the physically largest receivers in the NFL, even as a rookie. He’s also fast, as he proved at the NFL and has proven over and over again throughout his rookie season, as he’s raced out to 35 catches for 500 yards and eight touchdowns over his first 10 games.
Big and fast is a pretty good combination for a wide receiver and it’s made Claypool quite a handful for opposing cornerbacks, despite his lack of experience in the league.
When corners are given a tasks that might be a bit more than they’re capable of handling physically, their first instinct might be to grab a handful of jersey.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Claypool was twice a victim of defensive pass interference penalties, once for 29 yards and another for 21 that can essentially be added to the 51 in receiving that he brought in.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the game that he’ll take those penalty flags and the automatic first downs that come with them, but he also wants the physically dominant Claypool to run through those fouls and find some touchdowns.
“He says that after every PI,” Claypool said on Monday. “It definitely makes sense and definitely, it’s something that I’m trying to work on, just getting through some some of those PI calls, but some of them, as you could see from yesterday’s game, you just can’t fight through and tackle sometimes. I’m happy to know that he can throw it up and it’s either a catch or a PI.”
While Claypool’s adjustment to the NFL has seemingly been an easy one, there’s a fine line to walk for a rookie when it comes to earning those calls. If Claypool doesn’t sell it at all in all-out attempt to catch the ball, he might not get either the pass or the flag. But he’s not at a point in his career where he can demand a call be made, either.
“I definitely watch some of these games and you know, I see these guys get like PI’d and if the flag, doesn’t come out … no specific receiver, but like a Pro Bowl receiver and they just like throw their hands up, they can get a call right there,” Claypool explained. “So I’m gonna try that. Probably not this year but maybe down the road there a little bit.”
That day might come sooner than he thinks if he continues the torrid pace he’s set so far. Claypool is the first rookie wide receiver since the NFL-AFL merger to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games, a level of success that has surprised even him.
“This much, for sure,” Claypool said. “You never really are able to picture something like this. But I expected to have success in my career just based off like training and kind of how I felt about myself and my preparation. But definitely thought the transition would have been a little bit longer.”
In that aspect, the one thing that maybe has been less surprising has been his ability to draw penalties. After all, that’s mostly about size and speed, and it was clear even before he entered the league that he had a rare combination in those areas.
“Just watching game film and, and looking at corners in the league and their measurables, I knew I was gonna measure up physically,” he said. “If there’s a corner bigger than me, then damn.”