Steelers running back James Conner, tight end Vance McDonald and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster all missed their second straight day of practice on Thursday as the Steelers prepare to host division rival Baltimore this Sunday.
Conner suffered an ankle injury in the team’s Week 4 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night and was eventually able to return to that game, but has not practiced since. Conner would be replaced by Jaylen Samuels in the starting lineup if he’s unable to participate in Friday’s practice.
Smith-Schuster played the entire game against the Bengals, but was listed on the team’s injury report on Wednesday after he missed practice with a toe issue. Smith-Schuster had injured his toe and missed practice because of it earlier this season, but has not missed any game time. It’s not clear if it’s the same injury or a new injury that kept him out of practice this week. James Washington is the most likely option to replace Smith-Schuster, if necessary.
McDonald injured his shoulder in Week 3 against San Francisco and has yet to return to practice. New acquisition Nick Vannett replaced him in the starting lineup on Monday.
Steelers did get some good injury news on Thursday. Defensive lineman Cam Heyward returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s session. Heyward suffered a quad injury on Monday against Cincinnati.
Inside linebacker Vince Williams was a full participant in practice for the second consecutive day as he attempts to return from a hamstring injury.
Backup linebacker Anthony Chickillo (plantar fasciitis, right foot) has also missed the team’s first two practices after head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that he could potentially return to action this week.
Fullback Roosevelt Nix is expected to miss this Sunday’s game with a knee injury.
Linebacker Mark Barron and center Maurkice Pouncey, who were given Tuesday’s practice off, returned to work Wednesday. Guard Ramon Foster was given Wednesday off. None of those players are injured.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Projects Alabama C Landon Dickerson to Steelers in Latest Mock Draft
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers will select Alabama center Landon Dickerson in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in his latest mock draft.
Kiper, who released his second mock draft of the season on Thursday, has the Steelers staying with the No. 24 overall pick in the first round to take Dickerson in a mock draft that has three trades in the first round.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Alabama grad could play center or guard, but would be immediately be slotted in as a replacement for retired starter Maurkice Pouncey at center.
Dickerson spent his first three seasons at Florida State before transferring to Alabama in 2019. He started four games at right guard and nine games at center in 2019 and started at center in 2020, where he was the winner of the Rimington Trophy as the country’s best center.
Dickerson suffered an ACL injury in the SEC Championship Game in December and concerns regarding that injury have depressed Dickerson’s draft value, but he is generally considered to be the best center in the class and no worse than a second-round pick.
Poll: What Was Biggest Issue with Steelers Running Game in 2020?
The Steelers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2020 and general manager Kevin Colbert has seen it as a top offseason priority to rectify that standing going into 2021.
The Steelers have already made a change in coaching, with Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm taking over as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
There will also be substantive changes to the personnel, as starting center Maurkice Pouncey has retired and starting running back James Conner, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Matt Feiler and right tackle Zach Banner are pending free agents.
“You can’t say the runners weren’t good enough or the quarterbacks weren’t good enough or the line wasn’t good enough,” Colbert said in speaking with the media last week. “To put out the kind of running game we did, no one was good enough. And again, that is a collective effort. … We need to finish (seasons). And I think having a strong running game helps teams finish in that time of year.”
With that being said, Steelers fans, which area of the running game do you think was the biggest issue in 2020?
NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt
One of the league’s most prominent insiders believes the Steelers are out of the running for free agent defensive end J.J. Watt.
Joining The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, NFL insider John Clayton said Watt will not be joining his brothers T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.
Clayton sees the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as the favorites to land Watt’s services.
For a potential dark horse, Clayton says the Las Vegas Raiders as an outside-the-box candidate to sign the veteran pass rusher.
.@JohnClaytonNFL says JJ Watt won't be coming to Pittsburgh. Tennessee, Green Bay, and Buffalo are the 3 teams. Raiders as a dark horse.— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) February 24, 2021
Watt leaves Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).
Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.