PITTSBURGH — In what’s been something of a trend this season, the Steelers will once again play a man short at running back on Sunday, as rookie Benny Snell, Jr. is expected to miss at least two weeks after undergoing surgery.
Starter James Conner has played in all seven games despite a number of minor injuries. Backup Jaylen Samuels has missed the last two games after arthroscopic knee surgery. Now Snell will miss time, making at least four consecutive games that the Steelers will be without one of their top three running backs.
But despite the availability of free agents with experience such as Jay Ajayi, the Steelers haven’t seen the need to bring in help from outside the organization, other than filling a couple practice squad spots.
The biggest reason for that is the team’s faith in fourth-string back Trey Edmunds. The older brother of safety Terrell Edmunds, Trey came to the Steelers from the New Orleans Saints before the 2018 season and has been up and down between the practice squad and active roster, but has endeared himself to his teammates and coaches with a passion for special teams and a contagious toughness and work ethic.
“We like the growth and development of Trey Edmunds since we brought him up from the practice squad,” head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday. “He has been a consistent contributor on special teams for us, made a couple tackles [Monday] night. We are not afraid to utilize him as a runner.”
The special teams work is what first got Edmunds on the Steelers’ radar and it’s why he was inserted on those teams as a regular as soon as he was signed to the active roster.
“He’s an above the line special teams performer,” Tomlin said. “He’s a running back that’s capable of playing in cover units. So, he’s a football player first. When you see running backs or offensive players that excel in coverage units, that are productive tacklers, like Rosie Nix, that adds value to your group. To be able to play offensive players in coverage units, and he gives us that.”
Edmunds had one carry for no gain on Monday, but Tomlin said there could be more to come for the fourth-year runner. Edmunds had nine carries for 48 yards and a touchdown for the Saints in 2017.
“He’s got a consistent run demeanor,” Tomlin said. “He’s tough. He’s downhill. He finishes plays aggressively. All those things we like, and he’s got solid consistent ball security.”
It adds up to a player that the Steelers trust, and that’s been enough for them to not only keep him around, but to not panic when it seems that he may be in line for a significant workload.
“I definitely appreciate the fact that they think that about me, but I’m just trying to my part and prepare each game like I’m going out there playing every single play,” Edmunds said. “I’m trying to know as much as I can about my opponent, definitely knowing my assignments for the week and trying to get the little parts down.”
He credited his history as a linebacker — he was recruited to Virginia Tech as a four-star outside linebacker — for his success on special teams.
“I played special teams all throughout college and throughout the league, so I guess it started before I even got here,” Edmunds said. “I’ve always been accustomed to going out there, making blocks and making tackles. Plus, it gives me an opportunity to get out there and show my skills I used to have at linebacker. I can go out there and tackle and show that side of me hasn’t gone anywhere.”
While his focus in practice this week will be readying to serve as a backup running back, he’s also looking forward to making an impact in the part of the game that’s perhaps best suited to his skillset.
“I like going out there and competing and [special teams are] just another area of the game where you can compete and showcase what you can do,” he said. “I go out there with 110% percent.”
Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp
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.
NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North
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.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 25, 2021
“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.
NFL Head Coach: Bud Dupree’s Injury Cause for Uncertainty Entering Free Agency
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.