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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

Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp

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There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.

“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”

Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.

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Steelers

NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North

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It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.

But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.

NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.

“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”

Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.

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Steelers

NFL Head Coach: Bud Dupree’s Injury Cause for Uncertainty Entering Free Agency

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Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is set to hit free agency in a matter of weeks, but one head coach believes he could be waiting a while to sign.

Speaking with FanSided’s Matt Lombardo, an NFL head coach, speaking anonymously, said Dupree’s season-ending knee injury has made his free agency outlook uncertain.

“Bud Dupree is someone that is a real question mark for me,” the head coach told FanSided. “If he was healthy, he’s easily the top pass-rusher hitting the open market, and teams would pay a king’s ransom to sign him. But, with him coming off a torn ACL, what exactly are you committing to? Does he want to go back to Pittsburgh? Who knows, but he’s someone that I think will wind up having to wait a while to sign.”

Lombardo compares Dupree’s situation to Tennessee Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last offseason.

While he had not suffered a significant injury the season prior with the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, Clowney signed with Tennessee on just a one-year, $12-million deal. He had been expected to be paid handsomely on a lengthier contract, which obviously did not come to fruition.

Clowney was virtually invisible for the Titans, recording no sacks in eight games before being placed on injured reserve in November.

Due to his torn ACL, Dupree could find himself having to settle on a cheaper, one-year “prove it” deal as well. Ideally he would then cash in during the 2022 free agency period is all goes as planned.

Dupree was having another stellar season before tearing his ACL in the Steelers’ Week 12 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He had eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles through eleven games.

After playing last season under the franchise tag, which paid Dupree $15.828 million, the Steelers’ dire salary cap situation will most likely prevent them from bringing him back. Still, the brass of the organization has expressed their desire to do so if circumstances were different.

While the knee injury remains a concern, Dupree shared he was ahead of schedule in his recovery when he joined NFL Network’s Good Morning Football late last month.

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