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Saunders: QB Controversy Just Means Steelers Still Looking for Roethlisberger’s Successor

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CINCINNATI — Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 37 years old. By the time he takes another snap under center, he’ll have turned 38.

That’s not exactly a spring chicken. Roethlisberger’s start of the 2019 of the season tied him with legendary center Mike Webster for the longest career, season-wise, in team history.

With good reason, the Steelers’ plan for the AfterBen, has been widely speculated, but never firmly laid out.

At one point, it looked like Josh Dobbs had a chance to earn status as Roethlisberger’s successor. He was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in September.

The Steelers used a third-round pick on Mason Rudolph in the 2018 NFL Draft, assuring him at least a good opportunity at being the next Steelers starting quarterback, simply as a result of the draft capital expended to acquire him.

When Roethlisberger was lost to the season with an elbow injury, Rudolph got that chance. On Sunday, he was benched in favor of undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges, who led the Steelers from behind and over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Mike Tomlin has not revealed his plans for who will start next Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, and for the moment, it seems that the Steelers have a bona fide quarterback controversy.

While he’s not tipping his hand, Tomlin’s decision to bench Rudolph already tells a good part of the story.

When doctors opened up Roethlisberger’s elbow in early September, the Steelers’ realistic chances of winning a Super Bowl were dashed.

The opportunity that lay in front of the Steelers for the remainder of 2019 was not stock the Rooney Family trophy case with Lombardi No. 7, but to identity if the Steelers have quarterback that will let them do that or not.

When Hodges grabbed his helmet on Sunday, it was a sure sign that the team no longer believes he can be that player.

Yes, the Steelers needed the win over the Bengals to preserve their No. 6 position in the AFC Wild Card battle, but realistically, even if the Steelers could pull of a Wild Card-round upset, would even the largest zealots in Steelers Nation like their odds of a late-December win in Foxborough?

Rudolph has struggled, clearly. If the Steelers think he can be their quarterback of the future, job one for the rest of the year would be letting him work through those struggles, find his form and potentially challenge Roethlisberger for a starting job in 2020.

He wants and probably needs, for his development, to be given that chance.

But if the Steelers’ braintrust has already decided that Rudolph is not the answer, then the right play is to start whichever quarterback Tomlin and Randy Fichtner think gives them the best shot of earning that postseason bid, giving the rest of the team valuable playoff experience, even if it ends in a loss.

That’s how Duck Hodges ends up in the game. Hodges, while effective in leading the Steelers to a victory, has hardly been a dynamo in his three games. There’s good reason Tomlin waited through five Rudolph interceptions over five quarters and continued giving him chances before pulling the plug.

Just based on his status as an undrafted rookie, there’s a strong probability that Duck isn’t the answer, either. There have been a few — Kurt Warner being the last — undrafted quarterbacks to lead their team to a Super Bowl. But it’s clearly the exception and not the rule.

So whichever player start on Sunday against the Browns, the big takeaway from the Steelers quarterback controversy that once again, they’re still looking for their starter in the AfterBen.

NFL

Bill Cowher Reveals He and His Wife Recovered from COVID-19

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Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher and his wife Veronica have and recovered from COVID-19, the future Hall of Fame told Ed Bouchette of The Athletic.

While not diagnosed at the time, the couple experienced symptoms back in March following a trip to Hawaii, and tested positive for the virus antibodies in April.

According to Bouchette’s story, Cowher first knew something was wrong when he was unable to smell flowers he had purchased from a florist, and could not taste his wife’s cooking. Cowher also said he experienced shaky joints and a fever, while Veronica had a cough.

Cowher also shared his thoughts on the NFL season going forward, and if he thinks the league will be able to start up without a hitch. He seems skeptical.

“I don’t know,” Cowher said via Pro Football Talk. “No. 1, the players have to feel comfortable with whatever they come up with from a testing standpoint, from a protocol standpoint. I totally understand the reluctance. Even though they say young people aren’t getting it, you also have people who have asthma, people who have underlying conditions in their families — they’re going back to their homes with parents who may now be elderly. It’s not like you can isolate yourself from everybody, particularly during a season that’s five months long. . . . I still think we have a long way to go.”

Cowher added that players needed to be respected with regard to how they choose to handle the virus personally, including if they decided to skip the 2020 season entirely.

“It’s going to come down to the league and the NFLPA feeling comfortable moving forward, and even within that, if they come up with a set of guidelines, and now a player who doesn’t feel comfortable, he may not want to be part of it. It affects people differently not only from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint. . . . I think we have to respect that.”

A Super Bowl champion in 2005, Cowher spent his entire 15-year head coaching career with the Steelers. His 149 wins are top-20 in NFL history.

Cowher has worked as an analyst for The NFL Today on CBS since 2007.

The legendary coach was supposed to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this August, but the ceremony and festivities were moved to the summer of 2021 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

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Steelers

Lawrence Timmons Donating $500,000 to High School Alma Mater

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Former Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons is giving back to the next generation of football players at his high school alma mater.

Timmons donated $500,000 to Wilson High School in Florence, South Carolina to remodel their stadium. The renovation process is expected to get underway in September.

“All of these upgraded facilities, around the school and athletic complex, give students a renewed pride in their school. I’m glad to play a part in that,” Timmons told Clint Buckley of 247 Sports.

The renovation plan for Tiger Stadium includes a new track, additional seating and an updated, brick entrance to the complex.

“I am very appreciative of Mr. Timmons’ contribution,” said Eric Robinson, Wilson’s principal. “This just goes to show that he remembers where he came from and that he will always be a Tiger. I am excited to see what everything looks like when it is done. Our students and our alumni deserve the best. I think this will motivate them to be even better on the field.”

A 2003 graduate of Wilson, Timmons played linebacker and tight end, posting 150 tackles and two sacks along with 47 receptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.

Trading Florence for Tallahassee, he earned All-ACC honors behind 79 tackles and 18 tackles-for-loss in his final season with the Florida State Seminoles.

Timmons was selected 15th-overall by the Steelers in the 2007 NFL Draft. He spent ten seasons in Pittsburgh, earning both a Pro Bowl appearance and Second-Team All-Pro during his stellar 2014 season. He won Super Bowl XLIII with the Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals in 2009.

Timmons recorded 983 tackles, 35.5 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 12 interceptions over his Steeler career.

Timmons has been out of the NFL since being released after a single season with the Miami Dolphins in 2018.

Still, it is great to see Timmons staying close to the game by giving back to the place that gave him his football start.

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Steelers

T.J. Watt Named Top Edge Rusher in NFL by CBS Sports

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Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt has been named the NFL’s top edge rusher by Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.

One of the most loaded position groups in the NFL, Watt beat out some elite talents to claim the top spot, including the Browns’ Myles Garrett, the Saints’ Cameron Jordan and the Bears’ Khalil Mack.

Watt was a force to be reckoned with in his third season out of Wisconsin, earning First-Team All-Pro honors and finishing third in NFL Defensive Player of the Year Voting.

No. 90 had 14.5 sacks and 14 tackles-for-loss in 2019, while intercepting two passes and forcing a league-leading eight fumbles.

Watt’s production last season helped the Steelers defense turn into one of the NFL’s best, finishing the year ranked first in sacks (54) and turnovers (38). Neither Watt or his supporting cast show any signs of slowing down in 2020z

The next challenge for Watt and the Steelers is finding a way to come to a long-term contract extension, keeping the stud edge rusher in Pittsburgh for years to come.

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