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Steelers Rivals: Bengals LB Reggie Williams

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Our Steelers Rivals interview series continues with former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Reggie Williams. Williams played for the Bengals from 1976-89, winning the Whizzer White NFL Man of the Year Award in 1985, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 1986 and the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Award in 1987.

First, can you walk me through your post-NFL time? What have you been doing since you retired?

I’m in the middle of writing a book now so I can only tell you so much! I played 14 years for the Bengals and made it to two Super Bowls and lost both to the same team. When I retired, I became a Cincinnati City Councilman. I continues on that ride until I became the GM for the World League of American Football’s New Jersey Knights team. That league set the seed for football in London, but it folded after two years,

But then Tom Steague, the head of the Super Bowl, reached out to me after Super Bowl XXVII. That was right after the Rodney King riots. They hired me as the Director of Community Relations to help insulate the NFL from the criticism of the the white NFL owners coming in to the city leaving nothing behind when the game was over. I had the idea of creating the NFL Youth Education Trust, which was a safe place for at-risk kids in Compton. It was going to be in the same corner where the riots actually started, I went with Jim Brown and to negotiate the idea with the Bloods and Crips there,

We had success raising money for the venture when I was in a room and Michael Eisner from Disney came up to me and asked what I would do with all of that land Disney had to create a sports business with Disney. This is when they just bought the Mighty Ducks. That’s when I became the Director of Sports Development for Disney and we launched Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, the Walt Disney World Speedway, and Walt Disney World Golf.

I also read you’e had a number of physical issues you are dealing with?

Well, I’m on my fourth knee replacement. With all that good news is the other realities as well. I’ve had over 28 operations – including an aorta dissection and embolization.

What are some of the rivalry memories of your playing time that stand out most to you?

Well, let me start by telling you this. Earl Campbell in an interview said that the toughest guy he faced – the hardest hitter – was me. The announcer asked him if the toughest guys were the Steel Curtain, and said it was me. That was the greatest compliment I’ve had.

That was someone who played against all of those Hall of Fame Steelers, someone on the field who knew what it was like. Guys like me and Ken Riley, we were so underrated. I had more sacks and interceptions than Robert Brazille but he’s the one voted into the Hall of Fame.

As for stories, I think it starts with this. When I was a rookie in 1976, Three Rivers Stadium was the hallmark of stadiums. This was before the Terrible Towel was official, but everybody had their own homemade towels and brought in their own banners, a different club for different players all throughout the stands. The roars when players were announce and the banners whipping in the wind, making those snapping sounds like a whip. This was the home of world champions.

That was my first game in Pittsburgh. As a rookie I had one of my all-time plays. I blitzed Terry Bradshaw and Rocky Bleier was there standing, waiting to block me. But he never faced me before. I was much bigger and taller than he was. I had all the respect in the world for Rocky — a Vietnam vet who had those huge injuries in the war. I just couldn’t put my elbow to his chest and run trough him, So, I jumped over him. I did a 360 degree jump over him and landed on my leg as my teammate Bo Harris was closing in on Bradshaw. I helped cement the sack. People were shocked. No one had seen that before. I’ve never seen it before or since then.

How did the coaches get along?

Oh one good story — this was the year Noll broke his arm right the day before the game against us. This was in 1977. It was the coldest game in Bengals’ history at the time.

When Noll got off the bus the day before the game, he slipped on the ice and fell and broke his arm. They had to rush him to the hospital. This was the night before the game. The next day was game day, and that morning our head coach, Bill “Tiger” Johnson did something he had never done before. The stadium was shaped in such a way that the sunlight warmed one side of the stadium and the shade hit the other side — normally our side. But he decided to switch sides so we had the sunlight. It was like a 20 degree difference.

Well when Noll came onto the field before the game and found out he was pissed – he was cursing up a storm. I was out on the field running laps counter-clockwise, like I usually do. Then I see Bill come out and Noll starts running up to him, screaming at him. Then George Perles steps between them and starts yelling too, and all of the Steel Curtain guys are right behind him. So Tiger is surrounded by all of these guys – it looked like he was going to get the crap beat out of him! So I ran into the group and just yelled in Perles’ face: “Let’s just play the game now!”

Everyone was shocked! It was such a ludicrous moment. Tiger just walked away and that was that.

What happened afterwards?

Well, the first series for our defense, I recovered a fumble in the bottom of a huge pileup. It took a long time for everyone to get off of the pile. and by the time everyone did the Steelers’ defense was on the field. I got up and tossed the ball nonchalantly to Joe Greene and took off to the sideline. Well, he wound up and fired the ball at me – it was a perfect throw that hit me in the back of the helmet and bounced in the air – probably 20 yards away! He got flagged for it. I’m surprised I didn’t get a concussion!

And you tossed the ball to him because?

Oh I admit it – I did it to taunt him. We won the game by seven points and scored a touchdown that drive – so that seven points was a deciding factor in the game.

It’s funny because at Super Bowl LII, I had a chance to really speak with and get to know Joe. All of the Walter Payton Man of the Year winners were invited and he and I talked for a while. He was really concerned about my knee – very friendly and respectful.

Any guys you faced on those Steelers teams that were the biggest personal rivals for you?

Franco Harris was the person for me. He was taller on the field than he looks. One Monday Night game at Three Rivers. Franco ran through a gaping hole on a draw play up the middle. I had dropped into a zone and saw him running, so I ran at him like a missile and thought I had him dead to rights. But he did a little twist and turn and I missed him but ran into Jim LeClair who was running behind him. We were both knocked out.

When I came to I thought Franco had run me over. I was laying on the field and half of my body wouldn’t move and the other as in pain. But all I kept thinking was that I would never have the chance to hit Franco again! The doctor then told me had to check on the other player. Soon after I was able to get up. But it was funny that all I thought of was not being able to hit Franco again. Jimmy told me that was the hardest he was ever hit.

Was that the hardest you were hit?

The second hardest.

When we played we had this stupid vet rule that said you could never let a rookie score standing up. I’m not sure where this rule started from. Well, we were playing Houston and they were on our one yard line and Alonzo Highsmith was carrying the ball and had a big fullback blocking for him. We knew there was no way we could stop them from scoring but I at least wanted to get him on the ground. I had to drive the fullback into Highsmith. I did it but ended up breaking my orbital bone an had to get rushed to the hospital.

What do you think made the rivalry so great between the Bengals and Steelers then?

It was such a good rivalry. We used to say that when it was Steelers week, nothing before it mattered any more. I think it all came from Paul Brown and his rivalry with the Steelers when he was in Cleveland. He was angry when he was fired from Cleveland and brought that anger to Cincinnati. He looked at that Steelers game as one that we had to boost up our intensity to prove ourselves.

I spoke to Tony McGee who said you were one of the most intense Bengals on those teams. What made you such an intense player?

I was a psych major at Dartmouth. My senior essay was on what it would take for me to make it in the NFL as an Ivy League linebacker. I knew it wasn’t just about physical size. I wasn’t as big as many guys. It was about psychological issues, too. The reality is, a lot of the teams I faced had players who were on steroids. As an opponent, I took umbrage against those guys. I tried to match up to those guys psychologically to match their strength.

This was the era when you could clothesline people, hit them low or high. You had to be a warrior. When I got there as a rookie, the strength coach I ended up having with me throughout my career gave me a book instead of having me work out on my first day. That book was The Book of Five Rings – the Way of the Warrior. I approached the game that way, as a Samurai warrior.

Lastly – what do you think of the rivalry between the two teams today?

It’s gotten nasty, unfortunately. I think a lot of the blame is on the Bengals, but I also think the hit on Carson Palmer was dirty. I think [Kimo von Oelhoffen] could have let up and made the play without having to make that kind of hit. It’s unfortunate when you have your star quarterback hurt like that, and he was never the same after that.

I think during my time it was a good rivalry. It was clean but intense. Not what it’s become lately. I think now you have a dwindling fan base that is trying to find satisfaction by being antagonistic to rivals. If it were me I’d get rid of the “Who Dey.” Who dey now is everybody on the Bengals! The reality is, you have to win. And that’s something the Bengals haven’t done lately. That’s all there is to it.

Ron Lippock is the author of Steelers Takeaways and has interviewed over 650 past and present Steelers players, coaches and personnel. You can purchase his book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Steelers-Takeaways-Memories-Through-Decades/dp/1681570076

Steelers

Steelers Can Practice, Play in ‘Yellow’ and ‘Green’ Phases

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Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who recently voiced his concerns over not getting practice time, especially with rookies, may be getting his wish.

This afternoon, Governor Tom Wolf released a proposal that would allow professional sports teams to practice or play in the “yellow” and “green” phases without “on-site or venue spectators” as long as they have a coronavirus safety plan.

Before the Steelers can get to work, the plan must first be approved by the state Health Department and include testing or screening and monitoring of all players and personnel.

In this plan, no fans or spectators would be permitted on interior or exterior venue property.

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Steelers

Can Minkah Fitzpatrick Win Defensive Player of the Year?

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Can Steelers All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick win NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2020?

It’s a loaded question. Of course, in theory, any defensive player in the league is eligible for the award. And Fitzpatrick is coming off an exemplary 2019 season.

The Alabama product had five interceptions, a forced fumble, two defensive touchdowns and 57 tackles in 14 games with the Steelers after coming over from the Dolphins for a 1st round pick.

Despite the protestations of CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco, Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the best players in the league and should be one of the stars of a Steelers defense that should challenge for the top spot in the NFL this season.

In an interview with 93.7 The Fan this morning, NBC Sports’ Peter King labeled Fitzpatrick as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. King makes the case that with a full year to learn the Steelers system under belt, Fitzpatrick will be even better than he was in 2019, saying “With a year knowing this system and especially a system that features the safety so much, he’s not going to be good, I think he’ll be great this year.”

Fitzpatrick certainly has the talent, and if he can repeat his numbers from 2019, the stats to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He’s currently listed as one of the favorites by William Hill, sitting at 40/1 odds, behind teammate T.J. Watt and a handful of others. But one thing beyond his control may have the final say, and that’s history. Only five safeties have ever won the award since it was first handed out in 1971.

You may recognize one of the winners, Troy Polamalu, who won the award in 2010 had seven interceptions, 11 passes defensed, a touchdown, one forced fumble and 63 tackles in 14 games while leading the number one ranked Steelers defense back to the Super Bowl. He’s the most recent safety to take home the award. Before him were Bob Sanders in 2007, Ed Reed in 2004, Kenny Easley in 1984 and Dick Anderson in 1973 (who was sandwiched between two Joe Greene DPOY awards). Sanders put up linebacker-esque numbers with 97 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two picks and six passes defensed, leading a top ranked scoring and third overall Colts defense in 2007. Before Sanders, Ed Reed was the first safety winner in 30 years, taking home the award in 2004 after leading the league in picks with nine and adding three forced fumbles, two sacks, 17 passes defensed and 78 tackles. 1984 winner Kenny Easley played in an era before tackles or passes defensed were official stats, but managed to lead the league in interceptions and defensive touchdowns with 10 and two, respectively.

In the history of the award, it has gone to linebackers 16 times, a defensive end 13 times, nine times to defensive tackles, six to cornerbacks and only five times has it been awarded to safeties.

In other words, you need to have a monster season as a safety to win the award. Fitzpatrick certainly proved he can put up gaudy numbers, but he’ll have to outshine fellow defensive stalwarts and teammates Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt, as well as beat out stars like Aaron Donald and last year’s winner Stephon Gilmore to take home the win.

Can Fitzpatrick win the award? Absolutely. Will he? History isn’t on his side. But if he can put up the same kind of numbers across a full season for the Steelers in 2020, the voters will have to be on notice. Expect him to make a strong case.

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Analysis

Film Study: Kevin Dotson Has Starting Upside

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The Steelers were going to address the offensive line at some point in the 2020 NFL Draft. Whether that be in the early portion of the draft or the mid-rounds, they were going to do it at some point. Thus, they did in the fourth round as they selected combine snub and lifelong Steelers fan Kevin Dotson.

As one of the best offensive lineman in the Sun Belt, lots of draftniks were hot on Dotson’s trail and were fans of him. It was a pick that makes a lot of sense with the Steelers’ offensive lineman types, especially on the interior at guard. Dotson is a mauler. He is nasty and brutal to his opponents. There is no denying what he does upfront on the offense. The question is how well does he do it? Can he start?

IMPRESSIVE TAPE

What stands out about Dotson’s tape immediately is that this is a guy who is strong and moves people of their spot with his strength. His upper body strength in particular is great.

A play that showcases that strength is this play against Appalachian State. The net gain of this play is not in Dotson’s favor, but his individual effort on this play is really strong. He moves the end right off his spot with well-placed hands and a ton of power in his upper body. As he engages the end, he comes in low and wins the leverage battle, which gives him the hand placement and the ability to drive through the defender’s chest. That is how he got this movement and opened up the edge.

It all comes from the aggressive mentality that was instilled with Dotson. This is a twist and Dotson was having absolutely none of it. Dotson’s hands are heavy and with those strong punches, it allows him to stun pass rushers on twists and even head up. Plays like this are just one representation of that mentality that he carries around. With smooth footwork to mirror the twist, Dotson allows the quick pass to be executed and shows a little nastiness in the process.

One of the main concerns for Dotson coming out was his athleticism and this his ability to climb to the second level. Listen, he might not be the most flexible guy or even the greatest athlete out there, but this is a pretty smooth rep from Dotson. His feet are quick and efficient with no false steps and he does a great job of framing his blocks and engaging with second-level defenders. That means he can work in a zone running scheme just as well as he can in a gap running scheme. With the Steelers moving to a more hybrid running scheme approach, that versatility is really nice to have. A caveat with Dotson is that there are some grip strength issues. He can get his hands inside and then lose his assignment a little too early, but all in all this is a nice rep.

As a guy who needs to execute a pull or a wham block, expect Dotson to be up to the task. This is a great rep. From the release off the line with that smooth footwork to how he engages this block and makes a really strong block on a good linebacker in Dylan Moses, Dotson shows out on this play. He engages this block with a low pad level and puts his hands right inside the chest plate of Moses. That seals off the middle and allows this run to break free for a good gain. This is an NFL level rep here.

The other key in pass protection for Dotoson is if he is asked to take a guy on one-on-one without help, can he be trusted? The answer is absolutely. It comes back to his strong hands, leverage, and smooth footwork to mirror pass rushers who try to break free. With a strong anchor and good balance as well, Dotson can handle strong bull rushers that come his way and stay on his feet and divert them. On this rep above he does a great job of getting his hands inside and as the pass rusher tries to knock his hands off, he resets them and keeps the defensive tackle locked up. Really good rep to defend against potential counters as well.

DOTSON’S OUTLOOK

There really is not a lot of opportunities this year for Dotson unless he just wows that coaching staff. The shortened offseason program in addition to the addition of Stefen Wisniewski, who is no slouch in his own right, is going to make Dotson a guy who will have a hard time starting this year.

Instead, he is going to get a year to be a strong depth guy at guard. His brother is teaching him center as well, so that can add to his versatility and value on the offensive line. However, after 2020, all bets are off on this guy. Dotson has all the tools to be an NFL starter and it would not shock me if he is the starter at left guard in 2021 when everything is all said and done. He has that potential.

 

 

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