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Steelers Sights and Sounds: Camp Day 11

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UNITY TWP, Pa. — On Wednesday, the Steelers completed their final full contact practice of the week leading up to the start of preseason Friday night against Tampa Bay. For the second straight day, practice featured an intermixing of playbook install and gameplan preparation for the Buccaneers – a first for the team during camp.

Both sides of the ball experienced their fair share of ups and downs, and Joe Haden left practice with what initially sounded like a serious injury.

During an 11-on-11 segment, Steelers team reporter Missi Matthews tweeted that cornerback Joe Haden was carted off the field and into the locker room with an injury, subsequently sending Steelers Twitter into a frenzy.

Sounds bad, right?

Matthews wasn’t wrong. Haden indeed suffered an injury, but it wasn’t a dramatic cart-on-the-field type situation. After breaking up a pass on the first rep of the team segment, Haden reportedly had his foot stepped on during a play, limped off the field, and hopped on to the front seat of a cart that took him to the locker room to be evaluated. But it’s important to note that the team’s locker room is located up a hill from the field. So, it wouldn’t have made sense for Haden to hobble all the way up on his own power and risk further injury.

Take a deep breath. Haden’s likely OK.

In an official statement, the Steelers said Haden was being evaluated for an injury and it would be addressed after the first preseason game. During practice, Adam Schefter reported that Haden suffered a minor ankle injury that wasn’t serious.

Crisis averted.

In Haden’s absence, Cameron Sutton took first team reps at corner opposite Steven Nelson during team drills with both Artie Burns and Justin Layne out of practice.

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS 

It was a particularly nice day for the wide receivers. Johnny Holton hauled in a pair of impressive catches on deep balls, one of which he took for a touchdown on a nicely placed ball by Josh Dobbs.

Here’s a video of the group going through individual drills highlighted by a one-handed toe-tap grab by Ryan Switzer.

7 SHOTS

Per usual through camp, practice No. 11 featured another win for the offense in the team’s highly popular red zone drill, but it wasn’t by way of a dominant performance like Tuesday. Led by an efficient Ben Roethlisberger, the offense ultimately won, 4-3.

1st play: Donte Moncrief dropped a pass from Roethlisberger. Steven Nelson was there in coverage.

2nd play: JuJu Smith-Schuster beat Devin Bush on a five-yard out route and caught a laser from Roethlisberger for the score. Bush was visibly frustrated after allowing the conversion.

3rd play: Roethlisberger found Jaylen Samuels, who motioned out of the backfield, for a touchdown on a quick slant.

4th play: Roethlisberger connected with Vance McDonald across the middle to score.

5th play: Mason Rudolph delivered a ball on the money to Diontae Spencer in the right corner of the end zone.

6th play: Rudolph forced an errant throw that fell incomplete.

7th play: Kameron Kelly intercepted Rudolph and took it back for a would-be pick-six

CAMP STANDOUTS 

With the preseason approaching, the Steelers placed a heavy emphasis on special teams preparation. Chris Boswell continued his strong camp performance with a perfect 6 for 6 mark during a field goal competition against Matthew Wright. He connected on attempts from 51- and 52-yards out, while Wright went 4 for 6 in the drill with misses on 33- and 52-yard attempts.

Boswell and Wright will split reps against the Buccaneers, Mike Tomlin announced Wednesday morning.

The Steelers also practiced a fake FG scenario, where Jordan Berry took the snap, rolled right and threw a 15-yard pass to defensive lineman Henry Mondeaux. They repped it twice, and Mondeaux caught both.

Sutton, Holton and Diontae Spencer interchanged returning kicks during the team’s kickoff return segment.

INJURY UPDATES

Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, Jerald Hawkins, Artie Burns, Justin Layne, Brian Allen, Bud Dupree, Vince Williams and Diontae Johnson all didn’t practice.

Cam Heyward was not present at practice, likely due to his wife just having a baby.

Alejandro Villanueva, Sean Davis and T.J. Watt were all back in action. Villanueva was seen with an ice wrap on his right elbow.

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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