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Steven Nelson Transitioning Well With Help From Haden

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UNITY TWP, Pa. – Steven Nelson is currently experiencing a summer of firsts.

For the first time in his career, the Steelers’ free agent acquisition isn’t surrounded by a group of teammates he’s familiar with. He isn’t playing in the same defensive scheme that he flourished in. He isn’t donning a red and white jersey in mid-summer heat at Missouri Western State University, where the Chiefs annually hold training camp. He isn’t playing for Andy Reid, the coach who drafted him. And he isn’t lining up alongside Eric Berry in the secondary.

In his first training camp with the Steelers, Nelson – a fifth-year corner out of Oregon State – has been tasked with acclimating to a whole new culture, coaching staff, team and playbook.

One person, in particular, who Nelson has leaned on through the transition is Joe Haden.

“We chat on a day-to-day basis about little things when it comes to technique or how we see things from different prospectives,” Nelson told me on Wednesday. “It’s very beneficial just to learn from a guy like that each and every day. I sit behind him in the meeting rooms. I’m always just trying to pick his brain.”

Nelson’s play during camp caught Mike Tomlin’s eye early on, and through 11 practices, he and Haden have held down the starting left and right cornerback positions, respectively.

“I just like his overall, general approach to the work,” Tomlin said on August 1. “He’s a consistently up performer. He’s a detail guy. You see why he’s opportunistic. I’m looking forward to him being opportunistic for us.”

Tomlin’s use of opportunistic is an accurate way to describe the defensive coaching staff’s emphasis during camp with the cornerbacks. They are calling for more aggressiveness than years past, particularly in jumping routes.

Nelson fits the script perfectly in that capacity.

“Just playing cornerback, you’re always having that edge and chip on your shoulder to make plays,” Nelson said. “You have to make some athletic plays sometimes going against these good high-powered offenses nowadays. You have to make some splash plays.”

This season, the secondary will look to take a step forward under the direction of new senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin. With the downfall of 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns, Keith Butler needed an aggressive corner he could trust opposite Haden, who would relieve some pressure off of an otherwise inexperienced cornerback core. After losing Coty Sensabaugh, the Steelers were left with Brian Allen, Cameron Sutton – both entering their third years with minimal starting experience – and rookie Justin Layne.

After Haden’s injury setback on Wednesday, Nelson will presumably be the team’s No. 1 corner when the Steelers open the preseason against the Buccaneers on Friday. However, Nelson said he wasn’t sure about how much playing time he’ll receive – but regardless, he just wants to be out there.

“I want to play,” he said. “That’s just who I am.

Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/18/20

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James Conner tested out his injured ankle and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Chase Claypool during practice on Friday, September 18, 2020.

This practice was in preparation for the Steelers week 2 game on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

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NFL

Cam Heyward Named NFLPA Community MVP for Week 1

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Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward has been named NFLPA Community MVP for Week 1.

Heyward was honored for installing his first Little Free Library, a book-sharing box placed in underserved communities around the Pittsburgh area.

Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that “inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”

The installation of the book-sharing boxes marks the launch of the Rufus and Judy Jordan Literacy Project, a new initiative of the Cameron Heyward Foundation that will work to promote children’s literacy and honor his late grandparents, both of whom were lifelong educators in Pittsburgh.

Drafted in first round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Heyward has spend his entire career in Pittsburgh. He is a three-time Pro Bowler, and has twice received First-Team All-Pro honors.

Heyward and the Steelers agreed to a four-year, $71.4 million contract extension on Sept. 6 that will allow him to retire in Pittsburgh and make him the highest-paid defense player over the age of 30 in NFL history.

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Steelers

Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/17/20

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The Steelers finally experienced a practice with almost everyone on the roster able to take the field. Only two players did not take part in practice before their week 2 game against Denver.

Alex Highsmith and Minkah Fitzpatrick stood out from the rest on Thursday, September 17, 2020.

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