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T.J. Watt Continues Torrid 2020 Season with AFC Defensive Player of the Month Award for November

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Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt has been named the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for November, the NFL announced on Friday morning.

Watt was also AFC Player of the Month in September of this year and continues to be a top candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

In November, Watt recorded 18 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 17 quarterbacks and defended three passes. Throughout the entire season, he leads the NFL with 11 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, on pace to exceed all of his totals from his Pro Bowl season in 2019.

“He studies the game,” Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said on Friday. “He’s always up there looking at film, grabbing film when he can, getting in some of the coaches offices and looking at film on his on his opponents.”

The Steelers will need to lean on Watt even more after the loss of his cohort at outside linebacker, Bud Dupree, for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy for other teams to key on No. 90 in black and gold.

“This guy studies the game and it’s a constant thing for him to do, because the game changes quite a bit,” Butler said. “It’s going to change from one week to the other. The more you do the same thing in this league, people are going to find you out. And so, he’s trying to, again, do stuff different and keep on top of his opponent. That’s probably the best thing that he does.

“I think he uses his mind as well as anybody.”

Steelers

Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger

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Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.

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Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?

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The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.

That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.

Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.

The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.

Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.

He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.

“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”

Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.

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Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit

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The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.

Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.

Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.

The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.

The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.

The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.

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