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Steelers Defensive and Special Teams Position Groups Going into 2020

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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?

Defensive Line

Returning:

Cameron Heyward
Stephon Tuitt
Dan McCullers
Isaiah Buggs
Tyson Alualu
Henry Mondeaux

New: 

Chris Wormley
Dewayne Hendrix
Carlos Davis
Cavon Walker
Calvin Taylor
Josiah Coatney

Losses:

Javon Hargrave

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.

Linebackers

Returning:

T.J. Watt
Bud Dupree
Devin Bush
Vince Williams
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi
Tuzar Skipper
Ulysees Gilbert III
Robert Spillane
Christian Kuntz

New:

Alex Highsmith
John Houston
Leo Lewis
James Lockhart

Losses:

Tyler Matakevich
Anthony Chickillo
Mark Barron
Jayrone Elliott

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.

Secondary

Returning:

Minkah Fitzpatrick
Terell Edmunds
Jordan Dangerfield
Marcus Allen
Joe Haden
Steven Nelson
Mike Hilton
Cameron Sutton
Justin Layne
Alexander Myres

New:

Breon Borders
Antoine Brooks Jr.
John Battle
Tyree Kinnel
Trajan Bandy
James Pierre
Arrion Springs

Losses:

Kameron Kelly
Sean Davis
Artie Burns

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.

Specialists

Returning:

Chris Boswell
Jordan Berry
Kameron Canaday
Christian Kuntz

New: 

Corliss Waitman

Losses:

None

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.

Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/24/20

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While it’s odd to see referees standing out in a clip of highlights, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s plan to incorporate actual refs into practice this week happened on Thursday.

Tomlin explained he is adding refs to practice to ensure his team is more disciplined, which hopefully leads to less penalties in their game this week compared to last week.

Wide receivers James Washington, Diontae Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron run routes and catch passes in this clip.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger Says Form, Mechanics Can Be Better Despite Hot Start

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To hear Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tell it, he can better than what he’s shown on the field in his first two weeks since returning from elbow surgery.

He’s not happy with his footwork, he thinks he’s dropping his arm a bit and needs a more consistent release point.

The statistics, however tell another story. They say Roethlisberger has been operating at a higher level of precision than ever before. So which is it? Maybe both.

“I do feel I got a little lazy with my feet, which then, in turn, translated to a lazy arm,” Roethlisberger said. “There were some throws that I kind of dropped my elbow, if you will. I don’t want to get too technical, but it became more of a three-quarter release instead of an over the top when I didn’t need to. There are obviously times you have to change your release point. There were too many throws, I felt looking back, that I just have to get my feet working better, and that will then translate, hopefully, to the rest of the body. Then, I won’t be guiding some of the throws.”

Here’s an example from the game Roethlisberger’s form getting a little sloppy. He throws this ball flat-footed and almost all with his right side, getting less power behind it than usual and resulting in a pass that ends up behind JuJu Smith-Shuster instead of allowing him to build a head of steam toward the defenders at the line of scrimmage.

Is this a big deal here? Not really. Smith-Schuster probably couldn’t have done much better than he did at bulling over the defender, anyway. But this is also a route into the flat on the near side of the field. Over longer distances, that can make a big difference.

“I’ve gotten away with it in the past being able to not necessarily be perfect from the ground up and just letting my arm kind of make up for a lot of things, a lot of imperfections if you talk to quarterback people,” Roethlisberger said. “I feel great. I just need to get it in my mind that I can still make the throws when I’m not in the perfect position to make them.”

All of that can be true, and yet, it’s hard to argue with the results. Through two games, Roethlisberger has a 68.5 completion percentage. His career season high was 68% in 2015. In a game and a half last year, it was 56.5%.

His passer rating, even with an interception against the Broncos, is 107.1. His career season-long high came in 2o07, when he finished with a 104.1 mark. Last season before his injury, it was 66.

Some of that can be explained by a passing scheme that has take fewer deep shots down the field than it has in years past. His yards per pass attempt sits at 7.4, lower than all but four of his other 16 seasons.

Mechanical inconsistency can certainly have a greater impact on longer throws, so the Steelers’ somewhat more methodical offensive approach could be helping Roethlisberger get into the swing of things.

“Maybe some of that just comes from not playing a lot of football,” he posited. “I played two games this year. I played a game and a half last year, so really, it’s about three and a half games in two years if you think about it. It’ll come. Like I said, if I’m having these issues and we are still winning football games, that’s a plus.”

If a 2-0 record with career highs in passer rating and completion percentage is what he looks like with mechanical issues, the NFL should be very worried about what might happen if he gets into a groove.

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Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/23/20

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David DeCastro practices with the Steelers after missing the first two games of the season. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin explained to the media, including Mike Asti and Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, that he is evaluating DeCastro and he could start their week 3 game against Houston.

Joe Haden can also seen working on one-on-one coverage drills with the rest of the secondary.

Footage courtesy Pittsburgh Steelers

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