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Tomlin: QB Change in Search of Spark, Not Revealing Plans Going Forward

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CINCINNATI — Mike Tomlin had simply seen enough. His team needed a spark.

Those were the reason the Steelers head coach decided to bench Mason Rudolph, his second-year quarterback and make the change to rookie Devlin Hodges in the third quarter of what became a 16-10 Steelers victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday.

“Just felt like our offense needed a spark,” Tomlin said at his post-game press conference. “Mason wasn’t doing enough. Duck came in and provides us with a spark. Made a couple plays.”

Duck is, of course, the nicknamed bestowed upon Hodges when he arrived a on a tryout at the Steelers facility as an undrafted rookie out of Samford this spring. He’s played in three games now this season, but perhaps none more impactful than Sunday, when he led the Steelers from behind for a victory over the Bengals that seems essential in them remaining in the playoff chase.

Hodges was front and center in the victory, hitting James Washington for a 79-yard touchdown on his third pass attempt that proved vital to the Steelers’ comeback effort.

“I looked pretty smart, didn’t I?” Tomlin joked.

Tomlin said that he didn’t come into the game thinking that he might remove Rudolph if he didn’t get out to a better start after a four-interception game against Cleveland the previous week and that he was simply reacting to the situation as it unfolded in front of him.

“I don’t prepare for failure in that way,” he said. “I don’t. I prepare for success. Like you guys hear me say all the time, I’ve always got a hardcore plan, but I’m light on my feet in case necessary adjustments are made in any element of play.”
So Tomlin did not come into the game planning to make a switch at the quarterback position, and he isn’t tipping his hand about his plans for next week’s rematch with the Browns, either.

“I may have [a plan] as I stand here right now, but I’m not going to share it with you guys,” Tomlin said. “We’ll see what next week holds next week, but I like the contributions of Duck, I like his readiness. I appreciate the efforts of Mason and I also appreciate the support of Mason after we made the changes.”

Steelers

Zach Banner Announces Self-imposed Social Media Ban Until he Signs New Deal

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Zach Banner is sending a clear message about his priorities ahead of the 2021 NFL season. Banner, who is a free agent and looking for a new deal with the Steelers, tweeted that he is going to stay off social media until he officially signs on the dotted line.

Zach Banner has become a prominent member of the Steelers, but that’s not because he’s had success on the field over the past year. Banner’s success has come off the field by connecting with fans on social media and doing his part to help those in need than he has on a football field. But by no means is that Banner’s fault. He suffered a season ending torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season. This injury was especially devastating for the USC product because it occurred on the heels of Banner winning the starting right tackle position following a tough training camp battle with Chukwuma Okorafor.

Due to Banner’s injury, it was Okorafor who ended up starting 16 games, including the postseason. While Banner kept in good spirits and became his team’s loudest cheerleader on Twitter during games, it was clear he wanted to be on the field and contributing.

Earning a starting spot as a member of the Steelers offensive line was a major career achievement for Banner, but it was one he didn’t get to enjoy. Banner now hopes to return to Pittsburgh and be the missing piece the Steelers offensive line desperately needs.

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Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp

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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.

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NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North

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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.”

“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.

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