Just days before their first action of preseason play, the Pittsburgh Steelers have released their initial depth chart for the 2019 season, as required of all teams in the NFL. With fresh faces in a lineup that failed to secure postseason play just last season, a number of position battles have emerged as the team prepares for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this upcoming Friday.
As Bob Labriola from Steelers.com points out, Tomlin is not a fan of early depth charts. As a result, he will typically fill them with a carryover of the previous season and fill remaining spots in alignment with experience. With the aforementioned facts stated, Steelers fans will need to indulge themselves in the performance of players in the first half of the preseason to get a remote idea of the actual depth chart Tomlin and his staff are putting together. However the depth chart was released, and thus we must accept it as information, even with a grain of salt.
A look at the first depth chart released by the Steelers:
Returning Starters: Ben Roethlisberger, Roosevelt Nix, James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Vance McDonald, all offensive linemen (LT Alejandro Villanueva, LG Ramon Foster, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Matt Feiler).
Prominent Veteran Arrivals: Donte Moncrief finds himself starting opposite of Smith-Schuster.
Rookies: Benny Snell is third on the running back depth chart behind Conner and Jaylen Samuels. Both Zach Gentry and Diontae Johnson find themselves at the fifth depth chart spot in their respective positions.
Notable Backups: Ryan Switzer sits ahead of Eli Rogers as the fourth receiver on the Steelers depth chart. Josh Dobbs currently ranks as the second string quarterback ahead of Mason Rudolph. Jerald Hawkins is the third right tackle, while Chukwuma Okorafor sits behind Villanueva at left tackle. Xavier Grimble sits behind McDonald as the second string tight end.
Position Battles to Watch: Switzer/Rogers battle for supremacy (and perhaps ultimately a roster spot) headlines the offensive position battles. Fans continue to monitor the backup quarterback situation, as Rudolph/Dobbs continue to battle it out. Feiler is believed to have wrapped up the right tackle position, yet could see competition.
Returning Starters: Cameron Heyward, Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams, Joe Haden, Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds, Mike Hilton.
Prominent Veteran Arrivals: Mark Barron steps in as the second starting middle linebacker opposite of Williams. Steven Nelson starts opposite of Haden at the right cornerback spot.
Rookies: Devin Bush currently sits behind Barron at the LILB spot. Justin Layne ranks as the third cornerback behind Haden and Brian Allen. Isaiah Buggs also sees himself as third at his respective position, playing behind Heyward and Lavon Hooks. Ulysees Gilbert starts as the third middle linebacker Williams/Tyler Matakevich. Sutton Smith also ranks as the third left outside linebacker behind Watt and Anthony Chickillo.
Notable Backups: Olasunkanmi Adeniyi will look to put pressure on Dupree as his back-up at the ROLB spot. Allen and Artie Burns anchor the second cornerback positions behind Haden/Nelson. Marcus Allen/Jordan Dangerfield are the second string safeties behind Davis/Edmunds. Cameron Sutton is listed as the second nickel cornerback behind Hilton. Marcus Allen will look to pressure Davis at the free safety spot.
Position Battles: As Bush is expected to start, the rotation between himself, Williams and Barron is one of the more interesting events to monitor. Majority of the defense is set, but Marcus Allen and P.J. Locke could be an interesting battle to monitor between the two physical secondary players. Burns’ play in the secondary will ultimately determine his play time, and evetually whether or not he is on the roster past 2019.
Returning Starters: Jordan Berry, Chris Boswell, Kameron Canaday, Ryan Switzer.
Prominent Arrivals: Rookie Diontae Johnson looks to provide a boost with his speed/agility in the return game.
Notable Backups: Rookie Matthew Wright is the current backup to Boswell. Ian Berryman backs up Jordan Berry. Smith-Schuster is the backup kick returner.
Position Battles: Competition is expected to heat up between Boswell/Wright, although many expect Boswell to retain his role for 2019. Johnson/Switzer may be an interesting battle to watch for return duties.
Ryan Shazier Starts Foundation for Spinal Cord Injuries
Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has started a foundation to help individuals with spinal cord injuries.
The Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation will “provide support, resources and funding to those with spinal cord injuries and their caregivers.”
“My team and I have been working behind the scenes to find ways to continue to push forward progress for the spinal cord community,” Shazier said on Twitter Tuesday. “One step at a time we will change how people view spinal injuries.”
I’m truly excited to announce the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation. My team and I have been working behind the scenes to find ways to continue to push forward progress for the spinal cord community. One step at a time we will change how people view spinal injuries. pic.twitter.com/kpQtkx0KjB— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) November 23, 2020
Shazier’s promising NFL career ended prematurely three years ago when he suffered his own spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. He officially announced his retirement from football earlier this year, but has made tremendous strides in his recovery.
Selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Shazier finished his career with 299 total tackles, 24 tackles-for-loss, seven sacks, seven forced fumbles and seven interceptions. He was twice selected to the Pro Bowl.
Former Steelers coaches and teammates shared their congratulations to Shazier on the start of his non-profit Tuesday, including head coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Congratulations @ryanshazier on the Ryan Shazier Fund for Spinal Rehabilitation (https://t.co/RZfcqnnIBe)! Wishing you & your foundation all the success in the world! #Steelers pic.twitter.com/CumpCgH1PU— BigBen7.com (@_BigBen7) November 24, 2020
Steelers Can Become First to Clinch a Playoff Berth This Week
The Steelers can become the first NFL team to clinch a playoff berth for the 2020 season on Thursday, if they’re able to beat the Baltimore Ravens and get a little bit of help.
If the Steelers beat Baltimore at Heinz Field on Thursday night to improve to 11-0 on the season, and both the Las Vegas Raiders and Miami Dolphins lose, or one loses and one ties, the Steelers will have wrapped up a 2020 NFL postseason berth.
Though the Steelers are playing on Thanksgiving night, they will have to wait until the weekend to find out if they’ve earned their playoff berth. The Raiders will visit the Atlanta Falcons this week and the Dolphins will play at the New York Jets. Both of those games are scheduled for 1 p.m. kickoffs on Sunday.
The 10-0 Steelers are in first place in the AFC North, three games ahead of the 7-3 Cleveland Browns, so they can’t yet clinch a division title at this point, just a Wild Card berth.
The earliest the Steelers could clinch a divisional title will come in Week 14.
Chase Claypool’s Physical Dominance Going Beyond Catches, Yards and Scores
Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool is big, that much is easy enough to tell by looking at him.
At 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, he’s one of the physically largest receivers in the NFL, even as a rookie. He’s also fast, as he proved at the NFL and has proven over and over again throughout his rookie season, as he’s raced out to 35 catches for 500 yards and eight touchdowns over his first 10 games.
Big and fast is a pretty good combination for a wide receiver and it’s made Claypool quite a handful for opposing cornerbacks, despite his lack of experience in the league.
When corners are given a tasks that might be a bit more than they’re capable of handling physically, their first instinct might be to grab a handful of jersey.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Claypool was twice a victim of defensive pass interference penalties, once for 29 yards and another for 21 that can essentially be added to the 51 in receiving that he brought in.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said after the game that he’ll take those penalty flags and the automatic first downs that come with them, but he also wants the physically dominant Claypool to run through those fouls and find some touchdowns.
“He says that after every PI,” Claypool said on Monday. “It definitely makes sense and definitely, it’s something that I’m trying to work on, just getting through some some of those PI calls, but some of them, as you could see from yesterday’s game, you just can’t fight through and tackle sometimes. I’m happy to know that he can throw it up and it’s either a catch or a PI.”
While Claypool’s adjustment to the NFL has seemingly been an easy one, there’s a fine line to walk for a rookie when it comes to earning those calls. If Claypool doesn’t sell it at all in all-out attempt to catch the ball, he might not get either the pass or the flag. But he’s not at a point in his career where he can demand a call be made, either.
“I definitely watch some of these games and you know, I see these guys get like PI’d and if the flag, doesn’t come out … no specific receiver, but like a Pro Bowl receiver and they just like throw their hands up, they can get a call right there,” Claypool explained. “So I’m gonna try that. Probably not this year but maybe down the road there a little bit.”
That day might come sooner than he thinks if he continues the torrid pace he’s set so far. Claypool is the first rookie wide receiver since the NFL-AFL merger to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games, a level of success that has surprised even him.
“This much, for sure,” Claypool said. “You never really are able to picture something like this. But I expected to have success in my career just based off like training and kind of how I felt about myself and my preparation. But definitely thought the transition would have been a little bit longer.”
In that aspect, the one thing that maybe has been less surprising has been his ability to draw penalties. After all, that’s mostly about size and speed, and it was clear even before he entered the league that he had a rare combination in those areas.
“Just watching game film and, and looking at corners in the league and their measurables, I knew I was gonna measure up physically,” he said. “If there’s a corner bigger than me, then damn.”