PITTSBURGH — Tight end Nick Vannett is new to Pittsburgh, having just come into town for his first practice on Thursday after being traded from the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday.
But he’s familiar with the Steelers.
Vannett grew up just down the road in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, and the Steelers’ presence there was ubiquitous.
“Growing up Columbus, Ohio, all you see are Steelers fans,” Vannett said Thursday. “They were always on TV growing up. I always watched them. They just had so much success.
He sees that success continuing now that he’s a member of the Black and Gold.
“Even though it’s been a slow start, it’s a long season,” he said. “I just know I’m going to thrive in this offense. I’ve watched Vance [McDonald] thrive and Jesse James and all those guys that played before me.”
McDonald watched practice in a t-shirt on Thursday, though head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that he’s optimistic he’ll be able to play. Short of that, it’s going to be McDonald and fifth-round rookie Zach Gentry manning the tight end position on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Vannett unexpectedly has a leg up on building a rapport with his quarterback. Vannett and Mason Rudolph trained together over the offseason. He also shares and agent with James Conner and Ben Roethlisberger.
“We actually trained the in offseason, right after the season last year,” Vannett said. “So I probably spent two or three months with him, working out with him and stuff. So I already knew him a little bit. When the trade was going public the hit me up and he was excited.”
Vannett seems genuinely excited to be a part of what he perceives as a winning organization. He said that he was floored by the welcome he received inside the Pittsburgh locker room. And perhaps most importantly, as he enters a contract year, he’s excited to be with a team that seems to value and use its tight ends to a greater degree than the Seahawks did.
“Everybody always pegged me as a wide tight end, a blocking tight end,” he said. “I’ve always felt I’m much more than that. I’m not the fastest guy, but I think I run pretty good routes. I’m very quick, I’m very precise at the top end and I’ve got good hands. I see myself the way they used Heath [Miller] and the way they used Jesse James, I can see them using me in a similar way.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper Projects Alabama C Landon Dickerson to Steelers in Latest Mock Draft
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers will select Alabama center Landon Dickerson in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in his latest mock draft.
Kiper, who released his second mock draft of the season on Thursday, has the Steelers staying with the No. 24 overall pick in the first round to take Dickerson in a mock draft that has three trades in the first round.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pound Alabama grad could play center or guard, but would be immediately be slotted in as a replacement for retired starter Maurkice Pouncey at center.
Dickerson spent his first three seasons at Florida State before transferring to Alabama in 2019. He started four games at right guard and nine games at center in 2019 and started at center in 2020, where he was the winner of the Rimington Trophy as the country’s best center.
Dickerson suffered an ACL injury in the SEC Championship Game in December and concerns regarding that injury have depressed Dickerson’s draft value, but he is generally considered to be the best center in the class and no worse than a second-round pick.
Poll: What Was Biggest Issue with Steelers Running Game in 2020?
The Steelers finished dead last in the NFL in rushing in 2020 and general manager Kevin Colbert has seen it as a top offseason priority to rectify that standing going into 2021.
The Steelers have already made a change in coaching, with Matt Canada and Adrian Klemm taking over as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
There will also be substantive changes to the personnel, as starting center Maurkice Pouncey has retired and starting running back James Conner, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, left guard Matt Feiler and right tackle Zach Banner are pending free agents.
“You can’t say the runners weren’t good enough or the quarterbacks weren’t good enough or the line wasn’t good enough,” Colbert said in speaking with the media last week. “To put out the kind of running game we did, no one was good enough. And again, that is a collective effort. … We need to finish (seasons). And I think having a strong running game helps teams finish in that time of year.”
With that being said, Steelers fans, which area of the running game do you think was the biggest issue in 2020?
NFL Insider John Clayton: Steelers Out of Running for J.J. Watt
One of the league’s most prominent insiders believes the Steelers are out of the running for free agent defensive end J.J. Watt.
Joining The PM Team on 93.7 The Fan on Wednesday, NFL insider John Clayton said Watt will not be joining his brothers T.J. and Derek in Pittsburgh.
Clayton sees the Tennessee Titans, Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills as the favorites to land Watt’s services.
For a potential dark horse, Clayton says the Las Vegas Raiders as an outside-the-box candidate to sign the veteran pass rusher.
.@JohnClaytonNFL says JJ Watt won't be coming to Pittsburgh. Tennessee, Green Bay, and Buffalo are the 3 teams. Raiders as a dark horse.— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) February 24, 2021
Watt leaves Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).
Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in 2020.