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
Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp
There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.
“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”
Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.
NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North
It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.
But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.
NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 25, 2021
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”
Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.
NFL Head Coach: Bud Dupree’s Injury Cause for Uncertainty Entering Free Agency
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Bud Dupree is set to hit free agency in a matter of weeks, but one head coach believes he could be waiting a while to sign.
Speaking with FanSided’s Matt Lombardo, an NFL head coach, speaking anonymously, said Dupree’s season-ending knee injury has made his free agency outlook uncertain.
“Bud Dupree is someone that is a real question mark for me,” the head coach told FanSided. “If he was healthy, he’s easily the top pass-rusher hitting the open market, and teams would pay a king’s ransom to sign him. But, with him coming off a torn ACL, what exactly are you committing to? Does he want to go back to Pittsburgh? Who knows, but he’s someone that I think will wind up having to wait a while to sign.”
Lombardo compares Dupree’s situation to Tennessee Titans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney last offseason.
While he had not suffered a significant injury the season prior with the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, Clowney signed with Tennessee on just a one-year, $12-million deal. He had been expected to be paid handsomely on a lengthier contract, which obviously did not come to fruition.
Clowney was virtually invisible for the Titans, recording no sacks in eight games before being placed on injured reserve in November.
Due to his torn ACL, Dupree could find himself having to settle on a cheaper, one-year “prove it” deal as well. Ideally he would then cash in during the 2022 free agency period is all goes as planned.
Dupree was having another stellar season before tearing his ACL in the Steelers’ Week 12 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He had eight sacks, eight tackles for loss, 15 quarterback hits and a pair of forced fumbles through eleven games.
After playing last season under the franchise tag, which paid Dupree $15.828 million, the Steelers’ dire salary cap situation will most likely prevent them from bringing him back. Still, the brass of the organization has expressed their desire to do so if circumstances were different.
While the knee injury remains a concern, Dupree shared he was ahead of schedule in his recovery when he joined NFL Network’s Good Morning Football late last month.