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Preseason Week One Winners and Losers

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The score of the Pittsburgh Steelers first preseason game is meaningless. However, what happened within the game does matter as players can lay groundwork onto what their 2019 season can be. We did not see Ben Roethlisberger or the stars, but depth chart battles and roster spots are won and lost in the preseason.

So, while we may see winners and losers from the game, the key is to see they progress from game to game. Can they build off of this, can they improve, or is there potential regression as the season gets closer? That is what we are looking for. Whose stock changed the most after one preseason game?

Winners

Devin Bush

Bush was the obvious winner of the night. Bush played the entire first half, calling plays from first snap through the two-minute drill. Bush had some bumps but hung well for his first NFL experience with added weight on his shoulders. Bush had 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, including stuff on fourth down, as well as a couple of pass breakups. Bush was all over the place, proving he has a knack for the ball.

Bush gave up a few catches and did lose his footing taking on the run but the arrow is pointing up in a big way heading into week two. Look for Bush to continue to get play-calling experience as the team hopes to see him in that role by week one.

James Washington

Donte Moncrief has been the leader in the clubhouse to be the number two receiver this season. However, the second-year receiver from Oklahoma State still has something to say.  Washington bounced back from a poor rookie season to open the preseason with a bomb from Josh Dobbs that could have gone for six had Washington not needed to wait for the ball. He was also inches away from a toe-tapping touchdown. Washington finished with four receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown, dominating every snap he was on the field.

Washington proved he is better than the competition of early preseason. Now, we need to see him string these performances together against stiffer competition.

Ola Adenyi

Adenyi has been turning heads in camp and was a player we had noted to look for before the game. Adenyi delivered. He compiled five tackles and added a few pressures on strong pass rush attempts. He not only got after the passer, but he also dropped into coverage and made a couple of special teams plays. Adenyi answered a lot of questions and after a strong showing last preseason, he is essentially a lock to make the roster now.

Kam Kelly

The AAF signing has seen a lot of work in camp, which made him a player to watch pregame. With Sean Davis out, Kelly got the start in week one of the preseason, ensuring that the team has faith in his ability. Kelly played the entire first half and looked sound. He added special teams snaps, showing that he can add enough value to make the roster. He is currently a firm backup and could become a roster lock soon.

Tuzar Skipper

Skipper did not see the field until the second half but should be worth following next week. He may have earned more time as he forced an intentional grounding and added a sack in the fourth quarter. Could this lead to more time and a bigger chance next week? The Steelers need depth at outside linebacker.

Losers

Chuks Okorafor

Coming into camp, it was speculated Okorafor could be in a camp competition for starting right tackle snaps with Matt Feiler. After one week, it is clear that the job is Feiler’s to lose. Okorafor struggled in his year two opener, allowing multiple pressures and getting issued with a holding penalty. Okorafor appears to still be a work in progress as he looks to show progression next week.

Justin Layne

Layne started and played deep into the second half. That is likely because he needed the work. The former wide receiver does not have much experience at the college level and it showed in his first NFL start. Layne was picked on relentlessly on the Buccaneers first scoring drive, and the theme did not stop as the game went on.

Layne was cautious to get beat deep, but in the process recorded eight tackles as he allowed completion after completion underneath. This was a good chance for Layne to get used to the speed of the NFL, and he certainly got a work out in. We knew Layne would be raw coming in, now we need to see progress.

Marcus Allen

After the draft, Mike Tomlin spoke as if the team had real confidence in Allen taking a step in year two. Apparently, the step has not been taken. Allen ran with the third team and did not see the field until late into the third quarter. Kelly, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, and P.J. Locke all saw the field ahead of Allen.

When he saw the field he gave up a completion. Allen went from a player who could carve out a dime role to a player who needs to show special teams value to keep a seat. Whatever the issue, it is clear he does not have the Steelers trust right now, and they need to see more.

Diontae Spencer

Before the game, Spencer was a player to watch as he looked to build momentum to compete with Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers for slot and return work. Unfortunately, Spencer may have known what was on the line and played a bit tense. He tried to return a punt he had no business trying to return, but he was likely trying to make a play and stand out. Sometimes, coaches just want to see the smart thing, though.

He also added a drop in the third quarter. Spencer had a nice return later in the game, but it is clear he knew he had a chance and he did not take advantage. Now, Spencer not only needs big plays to catch up, he needs to build back trust by making smart plays.

Brian Allen/Sutton Smith/Diontae Johnson

These are three players who had a great chance to improve their stock but could not suit up due to injuries. It is tough to ding players over things out of their control, but all three needed snaps in this game, and not seeing them will set them back.

Allen is going to struggle to make the roster. He was already behind the eight ball with additions of Steven Nelson and Layne, and he could not take advantage of one of his four biggest chances to change his fate. Smith is do-everything sixth-round pick who saw Skipper and Adenyi make plays at his position. Meanwhile, the third-round rookie Johnson saw Washington take big steps into being the emerging young receiver across from Moncrief to keep JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot.

All three have three more chances to change their fate, but a strong start in week one would have helped tremendously.

Steelers

Steelers Promote QB Coach Matt Canada to Offensive Coordinator

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have officially promoted quarterbacks coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, the organization announced Monday.

After the Steelers chose not to renew the contract of previous offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, multiple outlets reported on Jan. 16 that the team was planning to hire from within and promote Canada.

The club reportedly also interviewed former Cleveland Browns head coach Hugh Jackson and Los Angeles Chargers quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton, which proved to be mere formalities.

Canada, 48, was also reportedly a candidate for the offensive coordinator opening with the Miami Dolphins, which was filled last week.

Prior to arriving in Pittsburgh ahead of last season, Canada was most recently the offensive coordinator and interim head coach at Maryland in 2018.

He has also made stops as an offensive coordinator at LSU, Pitt, NC State, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Indiana and Butler.

Canada is most known for his success at Pitt in 2016, where he orchestrated the nation’s tenth-ranked scoring offense averaging 42 points per game. He was recognized as a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant, that season.

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Steelers

Steelers Hire Alfredo Roberts as Tight Ends Coach

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have hired Alfredo Roberts as their next tight ends coach, the team announced Monday.

A 22-year coaching veteran, Roberts most recently spent the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, serving as their tight ends coach this past season and the running back coach the three prior. He has also made previous stops in Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Jacksonville over his career.

Roberts has coached a number of standout tight ends throughout his career, including Mercedes Lewis as a rookie with the Jaguars, and Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener with the Colts.

Roberts fills the vacancy left by previous tight ends coach James Daniel, who announced his retirement on Jan. 14.

The Steelers tight end room will look different in 2021, as veteran Vance McDonald announced his own retirement from football over the weekend. Pittsburgh is expected to return Eric Ebron, who caught 63 passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns this past season, including playoffs.

A native of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Roberts played his collegiate ball at the University of Miami, before being selected in the eight round of the 1988 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. He won a pair of National Championships with the Hurricanes, and two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys.

Roberts caught 50 passes for 476 and two touchdowns over 82 career games.

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NFL

Steelers Connections Abound in Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl

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While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl LV hopes dashed two weeks ago, fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Feb. 7.

Six players with Steelers ties are expected to take the field in either red or pewter on Super Bowl Sunday, with the two most notable examples being Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City running back Le’Veon Bell.

Both missed their respective championship games due to injury, but could return to health in time for the Super Bowl with two weeks to recover.

In addition, the Chiefs also boast guard Stefen Wisniewski and punter Dustin Colquitt, who both spent time in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

Wisniewski is in line to make his second-straight Super Bowl start in response to injuries along the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered Sunday, while Colquitt is on Kansas City’s practice squad.

Former Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell and nose tackle Steve McLendon will take the field for the Buccaneers defensively.

But Tampa Bay’s Pittsburgh connections do not stop on the field, as the Buccaneers will also have six coaches with Steeler ties on the sideline for the big game, including head coach Bruce Arians.

Arians, who is in his second season in Tampa, spent eight years in Pittsburgh, serving as wide receivers coach (2004-06) before being elevated to offensive coordinator (2007-11).

Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and had three separate stints with the Steelers as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.

Tampa Bay also boasts assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El and assistant coach Tom Moore.

Even with the Steelers at home watching along with the rest of the country, Pittsburgh should have no shortage of rooting interests when the Chiefs meet the Buccaneers in Tampa in two weeks time.

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