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Roethlisberger Looking Forward to New Targets in Passing Game

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PITTSBURGH — The 2019 Steelers’ passing offense figures to be a far more balanced unit than the 2018 version, when All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown drew a large number of touches and significant attention from opposing defenses.

In 2019, Ben Roethlisberger is going to have to move the ball around a little bit more to offset that loss, but it’s something that he’s looking forward to.

“It’ll be fun,” Roethlisberger said on the first day of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. “There’s some holes, some losses. It’s obvious, but we’ve got a lot of guys that desire to fill those voids. It’s not going to be one person, it’s going to be a lot of different people.”

One of those people will certainly be third-year receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who is expecting a larger amount of attention and double teams from defenses in 2019. One of the ways the Steelers hope to combat that is by moving Smith-Schuster around.

“You’ve guys seen me play inside and outside, even playing tight end this year,” he said. “I’ll have the opportunity to go out wide. That’s what is great about our room. We’ve got guy that can play everywhere and not just one position. We’re not centering off one person, because we know everyone can make plays: tight ends, running backs, receivers.”

There’s plenty of other new wrinkles to the offense, too. The biggest addition might be free-agent signing Donte Moncrief. Roethlisberger has praised his work ethic and the speed at which he’s picked up the offense.

“I kind of know what to expect from some of the other guys, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect when he came in,” Roethlisberger said. “Obviously, we’ve played against him and I’ve seen him go against us in game situations, but I didn’t know him as a person. Now, just getting to see his work ethic, the type of person he is, his desire to be great, his knowledge of the offense already. … He’s in with Coach [Darryl] Drake every single morning, pretty much all day. You seen the desire and want-to-be-great, so I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and work with him so far.”

The last two times the Steelers went out and added an offensive playmaker from outside the organization, it happened late in training camp, or even after camp had broken. They acquired Ryan Switzer and Vance McDonald in August the last two years. This time, Moncrief was able to go with the offensive skill players to Ben’s lake house before OTAs and has been in lock step with his quarterback since day one.

“It really helps, because this is an opportunity, not just to be here, but in training camp,” Roethlisberger said. “I didn’t get to do that with Vance one year, we didn’t do that with Switz, whether its through trades or something the last week of camp or right before the last preseason. You have to try to learn someone really quick and learn about each other.

“This is an awesome opportunity that he’s here and we’re getting to work together. He was with us when we went on our trip. It’s been fun to get to know him as a person, too.”

There has also been an infusion of youthful talent into the Steelers’ passing game plans. Rookie receiver Diontae Johnson has drawn positive reviews and fourth-round tight end Zach Gentry continues to look like a potential red zone target.

The combination of new roles for returning players, new additions from outside the organization and young players joining the mix has put more on Roethlisberger’s plate this spring from a teaching perspective, and it’s one of the reasons he cited for participating in more of the team’s OTA’s than he has in the past.

“Some of these young guys coming in maybe don’t understand everything, so I try and tell them what I expect,” Roethlisberger said. “Coaches can coach a guy what the paper says on a route and do certain things, but ultimately it comes down to what does the quarterback want and expect, so I try to let those guys know so there’s no real secrets. Communication is always important.”

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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