The Pittsburgh Steelers are grieving on Sunday as they deal with the unexpected death of one of their most beloved coaches.
Veteran NFL coach Darryl Drake was only entering his second season with the Steelers when he passed away at age 62 on Sunday morning, but he had already made a deep and last impact on several of the Steelers’ players.
As expected, that included star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, one of Drake’s top proteges, who said he was shocked by the news he received on Sunday.
“[I] was at a loss for words when I heard the news,” Smith-Schuster wrote on Instagram on Sunday afternoon. “Coach Drake was honestly my favorite coach that I’ve ever had in this game, he taught me so much about football and especially about how to go about life. Coach was an amazing role model not just for myself, but for a lot of people who he touched.
“I wish I could see you just one more time. It won’t be the same out there on the field, in meetings, and I’m gonna miss all those long talks we used to have. We all know you want us to be successful and to play to win. Thank you for all the memories and life lessons you’ve taught me. Forever in my heart! Love you man. Rest In Peace Coach Drake.”
Rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who Drake had argued for during the Steelers’ draft meetings, echoed similar thoughts.
“Man I’m lost for words,” Johnson said on Instagram. “MY GUY you taught me so much and I appreciate you for staying on me. You were blessing to me coach and I’ll never forget how you joked around with us in the WR room all the time! Things won’t be the same but we damn sure not stopping here. We got sum to prove for you. Watch over me coach.”
Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy said that Drake was in an NFL coaches prayer circle, and former Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey showed how Drake used his faith as a guide for his coaching.
Ima share a lil video of how Coach Drake would start every meeting. I hope these 10sec shows everyone why the football community is hurting right now. RIP COACH WE LOVE YOU. REST EASY! pic.twitter.com/GsrSuskJfT
— Darrius Heyward-Bey (@theDHB85) August 11, 2019
Here’s more from some other current Steelers on the loss of Drake:
“I’ll forever respect and remember you as a Coach and as a Man.. You changed the way I looked at Football and Life.. I’ll never forget the Bible scriptures you would read everyday to the Room.. The day you called me out in the room and said “ Crief read me John 3:16.” I started to read it off my phone and you said “ I’m gone tell your daddy you should know that.” I didnt know you Long but the time I did you Impacted my life on and off the field.. Coach Drake fly high over us and be Our Angel On and Off the field. Love you Coach.. last thing.. we will “Shut Out The Noise” #FlyHighCoachD”
DE CAMERON HEYWARD
Thinking about you Coach Drake. Your passion, love,and laughs always meant a lot. I hope you are at peace. We miss you so much. RIP
— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) August 11, 2019
WR TEVIN JONES
LB T.J. WATT
Coach Drake was always so positive and upbeat, he will be greatly missed by all of us. Our thoughts are with his family during this tragic time.
— TJ Watt (@_TJWatt) August 11, 2019
QB JOSH DOBBS
Heartbreaking day man…. praying for Coach Drake’s family. Coach touched every player with his smile, jokes, and energy daily. He also pushed us to be great every time we stepped on the field. Rest in Peace Coach 🙌🏽 we will all miss you… pic.twitter.com/AOi9l8FP1c
— Josh Dobbs (@josh_dobbs1) August 11, 2019
CB STEVEN NELSON
RIP COACH DRAKE 🙏🏾
— Steve Nelson (@Nelson_Island) August 11, 2019
RB COACH EDDIE FAULKNER
RIH Coach Drake! You had a huge impact on players and coaches alike! You were a great mentor for a me as a new coach coming into the National Football League! I learned so much from you in a short amount of time! You will be missed my friend! #flyhigh https://t.co/3ckqSAFUJB
— Eddie Faulkner (@coachfaulk) August 11, 2019
Steelers Can Practice, Play in ‘Yellow’ and ‘Green’ Phases
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.
Can Minkah Fitzpatrick Win Defensive Player of the Year?
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.
Film Study: Kevin Dotson Has Starting Upside
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?
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.
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.