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Steelers Building Alabama Connection with Versatile Isaiah Buggs

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When the Steelers hired Karl Dunbar as defensive line coach before the 2018 season, they weren’t just hiring a former NFL player and longtime assistant to replace legendary line coach John Mitchell.

Dunbar played for the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals and coaches for the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills and certainly knows his way around the NFL.

He also has Pittsburgh connections, having served under Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin when Tomlin was the defensive coordinator in Minnesota in 2006 and was drafted by the team back in 1990.

But the additional draw to Dunbar was his connection to one of the top collegiate programs in the country. In the two seasons he spent out of the NFL before coming to Pittsburgh, Dunbar was the defensive line coach under Nick Saban at Alabama.

A year ago, the Steelers chose defensive tackle Joshua Frazier in the seventh round out of Alabama — one of Dunbar’s former proteges. Frazier didn’t make the team, spent 2018 on the Detroit Lions’ practice squad and spent this spring playing for the Birmingham Iron in the AAF before suffering a season-ending injury.

This spring, the Steelers are trying once again to forge an Alabama connection. The team reached out in free agency and landed former Crimson Tide linebacker Mark Barron and in the sixth round of this year’s draft, selected another ‘Bama defensive lineman in 6-foot-5, 285-pound end Isaiah Buggs.

Buggs, like Dunbar, is from Louisiana, and the two forged a relationship from the very start, when Dunbar was recruiting him to join the Tide coming out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

“Most definitely,” Buggs said during his introductory conference call. “The connection we had, the truth of him buying in on me and me buying in on him, just a great opportunity.”

Now, they’ll get a chance to re-kindle that relationship at the highest level.

“He’s a great coach,” Buggs said. “He’s taught me everything I know to the ins and outs. Great leader, and I’m just ready to go to work for him again. … He knows I’m a hard worker. He knows I’m willing to do anything and everything to get the job done. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

Dunbar said Buggs can play both positions on the line and that the Steelers were surprised he was still available in the sixth round.

“I think he was a good pass rusher over the offensive guard,” Dunbar said. “So, that was the thing we really liked about him. … A guy who can play the 4i (technique), and a guy where we go to sub, which we do a lot of, he can get over the guard and the center and be a productive player.”

A 4i technique means the player is lining up to the inside shoulder of a tackle, shading toward the gap between the tackle and guard, which is where the Steelers play their defensive ends in their base defense. 

When they move into a sub package, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt move down the line into a three and a one technique, off the outside shoulder of the center and guard. 

So Dunbar thinks Buggs is a player that is talented and versatile enough to handle the exact same role as the Steelers two every-down players on the line. That’s an import factor for a backup player, and with just a couple of experienced players ahead of him in Tyson Alualu ad Dan McCullers, Buggs’ versatility has given him an inside track on a roster spot.

Post-Draft Steelers Roster Projection

Steelers

Zach Banner Announces Self-imposed Social Media Ban Until he Signs New Deal

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Zach Banner is sending a clear message about his priorities ahead of the 2021 NFL season. Banner, who is a free agent and looking for a new deal with the Steelers, tweeted that he is going to stay off social media until he officially signs on the dotted line.

Zach Banner has become a prominent member of the Steelers, but that’s not because he’s had success on the field over the past year. Banner’s success has come off the field by connecting with fans on social media and doing his part to help those in need than he has on a football field. But by no means is that Banner’s fault. He suffered a season ending torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season. This injury was especially devastating for the USC product because it occurred on the heels of Banner winning the starting right tackle position following a tough training camp battle with Chukwuma Okorafor.

Due to Banner’s injury, it was Okorafor who ended up starting 16 games, including the postseason. While Banner kept in good spirits and became his team’s loudest cheerleader on Twitter during games, it was clear he wanted to be on the field and contributing.

Earning a starting spot as a member of the Steelers offensive line was a major career achievement for Banner, but it was one he didn’t get to enjoy. Banner now hopes to return to Pittsburgh and be the missing piece the Steelers offensive line desperately needs.

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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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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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