UNITY TWP., Pa. — Tonight, the Steelers are throwing things back, in more ways than one.
The team’s annual Friday Night Lights practice, to be held at Latrobe Memorial Stadium in downtown Latrobe, is a throwback for the players to their high school days of riding a school bus to the stadium in their cleats and pads and going all out in front of a packed house full of passionate fans on a Friday night.
It’s usually one of the more physical practice sessions of the summer, with players eager to stand out in front of the crowd and head coach Mike Tomlin cognizant of putting on a show for the city that helps host the team’s annual training camp.
“We have been coming here a long time organizationally,” Tomlin said on Thursday. “Shoot, man, I have been coming up here personally 13 years. It’s a cool thing. Familiar faces and relationships. It is good to be able to ante up and kick in and help them in some way.”
The Steelers’ regular practices at St. Vincent College are, of course, open to the public, and many take advantage of that. But the 2:55 p.m. start time during the week is unkind to those with 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. jobs.
That itself is sort of a throwback, as well. Latrobe is still very much a blue-collar, nine-to-five kind of place. It’s a place that frankly, needs the boost that the Steelers can provide throughout the summer in general and especially on an otherwise quiet Friday night in August.
Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva probably said it best before practice on Thursday.
“It is cool to sort of drive around when you’re in the buses and you load up,” he said “You get to the stadium. You see the houses. You see how much they love the Steelers.”
“To me personally, it goes back to Pittsburgh, to how it became the city that it was, with steel companies and as a manufacturing city with all the immigrants, the Hunkies,” Villanueva continued. “We practice on the South Side. We know what Carson Street used to look like back in the day.
“We know how that’s changing now. Pittsburgh has reinvented itself and reinvested in technology and education. Some of these cities that are on the perimeter of Pittsburgh are sort of being a little bit forgotten and you can talk about the opiate epidemic and some of the issues that are facing them.
“It’s good that at least as a Pittsburgh Steeler, I can make their day a little bit better by going out on Friday Night Lights, practicing, signing some autographs and saying hi to the community.”
So, in many ways, the Steelers’ Friday Night Lights tradition is just football practice, one of many throughout training camp. But it also something more, and that’s why they make sure to put on a show.
“It is a very painful practice,” Villanueva said. “The next day, you feel it.”
Report: Ben Roethlisberger Wants JuJu Smith-Schuster to Return to Steelers for 2021
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return to the team, according to a report by NFL Network, and he apparently also wants wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster to return to the team with him.
NFL Network’s Mike Garafalo reported that Roethlisberger has communicated to the team that he wants Smith-Schuster back for the 2021 season.
Roethlisberger has one season left on his contract, which carries a $41 million cap hit, including $19 million of salary. Smith-Schuster is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career after making $1.04 million in 2020.
Roethlisberger’s contract is a big part of a money crunch that has the Steelers as much as $40 million over the 2021 salary cap entering the offseason.
Smith-Schuster is expected to make as much as $15 million per year on a market-value contract.
It’s not clear how the Steelers would be able to fit both Roethlisberger and Smith-Schuster under the 2021 salary cap. Roethlisberger would almost certainly have to take a significant pay cut.
Report: Steelers to Promote Matt Canada to Offensive Coordinator
The Steelers are expected to promote quarterback coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, according to a report by Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Randy Fichtner, who had held the job since 2018, was not retained as the team’s offensive coordinator the team announced, the team announced on Thursday.
The #Steelers are expected to promote QB coach Matt Canada to offensive coordinator, sources tell me and @TomPelissero. A creative mind originally from the college game, Canada also interviewed with the #Dolphins but now stays in Pittsburgh.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 16, 2021
Canada, 48, spent his first season in the NFL with the Steelers in 2020 as quarterbacks coach. He had also been a candidate to become offensive coordinator at Miami.
A native of New Palestine, Indiana, Canada has been a coordinator at multiple stop at the collegiate level. He was most recently Maryland’s offensive coordinator and interim head coach in 2018, guiding the Terrapins to 5-7 record after the firing of D.J. Durkin following the death of a player in an offseason workout.
Before that, Canada was a coordinator at LSU, Pitt, NC State, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Indiana and Butler.
At Pitt in 2016, Canada was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach after leading the Panthers to a program record in points scored. He coached NFL quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett at NC State and Nate Peterman at Pitt. Steelers running backs James Conner (Pitt), Anthony McFarland (Maryland) and Jaylen Samuels (NC State) all played under Canada.
Canada is the sixth offensive coordinator hired by the Steelers in the last 20 years and all but one of them have been internal promotions.
The Steelers will need to replace Canada as quarterbacks coach, as well as tight ends coach James Daniel, who retired, and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett, who was not retained, on the offensive staff.
Report: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger Expected to Return for 2021
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return for the 2021 season, according to a report by Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.
Roethlisberger, 38, said after the season that he would take time to consult with his family and think about whether he wanted to return for an 18th NFL season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week that the Steelers would welcome a return by Roethlisberger.
In 2020, Roethlisberger started all but one game for the Steelers, as he was rested in the regular season finale against Cleveland. In 15 regular season games, he threw for 3,803 yards while completing 65.6 percent of his passes, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Roethlisberger pushed the ball downfield less in 2020 than he has in the past, which his 6.3 yards per attempt the lowest full-season mark of his career. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 25th-most effective quarterback in the NFL this season and the worst of the four starters in the AFC North.
In Pittsburgh’s postseason loss to Cleveland, Roethlisberger set an NFL record for completions in a game while racking up four touchdowns and 501 passing yards, but also threw four interceptions.
His contract is a potential sticking point, as he is set to earn $19 million in salary in 2021 in addition to a $22 million deferred signing bonus from the last time he signed a contract that must be paid out, whether Roethlisberger plays or not.
Depending on the final salary cap figure, the Steelers could be as much as $40 million over the salary cap entering the 2021 offseason.