Darrius Heyward-Bey Jersey

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a big chunk of production at the wide receiver position when Antonio Brown decided to leave town, but they also added some experience that could help the passing game moving forward.

When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was asked this week who was standing out so far through OTAs, he chose one of his newest targets.

“Boy, it’d be hard to pick one,” said Roethlisberger, via DK Pittsburgh Sports. “I’d probably go with Donte Moncrief, just because he’s new. I kind of know what to expect from some of the other guys but I wasn’t really sure what to expect when he came in.”
The Steelers’ defense is at least a little familiar with what Moncrief can do out on the football field. He actually caught his first NFL touchdown against Pittsburgh in 2014. Through his first four NFL seasons playing with quarterback Andrew Luck, Moncrief caught 152 passes for 1,875 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Indianapolis Colts. He caught 48 passes for 668 yards and three scores during his lone season with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year.

“I didn’t know him, obviously, and now just getting to see his work ethic, the type of person he is, his desire to be great, his knowledge of the offense already,” Roethlisberger continued. “I’ll ask him, we’ll do no-huddle stuff and I’ll give him a signal and I’ll be like, ‘You good?’ and he’ll be like, ‘Yeah.’ So he’s in with [Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake] every single morning, pretty much all day.”

“You see the desire and the want to be great, so I’ve really enjoyed to opportunity to know him and to work with him so far.”

Along with providing Roethlisberger with a new big-play weapon, Moncrief is also excited to serve as a mentor to the young Steelers receivers. With Darrius Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter and Brown no longer on the team, Moncrief and Eli Rogers are the Steelers’ oldest receivers on roster.

“It’s kinda weird just being 25 and you’re the oldest guy in the room,” Moncrief said in April. “Just thinking about that. Like I said, I’ll guess I’ll have to be the mentor guy, the guy that pushes guys and makes sure people do things right. Like coach already said, it’s a great room. You have guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster whose doing things that a lot of young guys can’t do. You have a lot of other guys that’s hard working, young guys who are gonna keep me young and push me and motivate me and make me go fast every day. It’s going to be a fun room, fun time, and I’m getting ready to get with those guys and show them what I can do.”

Moncrief probably won’t lead the Steelers in yards in 2019, but his experience and ability should help this passing attack in 2019.

Coty Sensabaugh Jersey

Coty Sensabaugh, a free agent NFL cornerback, is visiting the New Orleans Saints on Wednesday, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero has reported. Sensabaugh has remained on the open market after Pittsburgh elected not to offer him a new contract.

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The 115th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Sensabaugh spent his first four NFL seasons with the Tennessee Titans before spending time with both the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams. One of Pittsburgh’s top free agent signings in 2017, Sensabaugh started in 14 of his 29 regular season games with the Steelers that included 10 starts – his highest total since the 2015 season – in 2018 after replacing Artie Burns in the starting lineup. Sensabaugh ended his Steelers’ career with 62 tackles (54 solo stops), one interception, nine passes defensed and an interception.

While the Steelers ultimately decided to let him walk, Sensabaugh did help improve a pass defense that finished in the middle of the league in yards allowed in 2016. In 2017, Pittsburgh’s secondary finished fifth in the league in passing yards allowed while playing a key role in the Steelers finishing the regular season with a 13-3 record. While they weren’t as stout in 2018, the unit still finished 10th in passing yards allowed.
A lack of turnovers – interceptions, to be specific – was probably one of the main reasons why the Steelers elected to let Sensabaugh walk in free agency. While it wasn’t entirely on him, Pittsburgh needs more playmakers in its backfield after the unit finished 28th in the league with just eight interceptions last season after finishing ninth in that department in 2017. The eight interceptions was Pittsburgh’s lowest collective total in 78 years.

Keith Butler, who is entering his fifth season as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator, recently said that the team’s lack of splash in the secondary was perhaps the main reason for the Steelers missing the playoffs last season.

“We dropped a lot of interceptions last year,” Butler told the team’s website. “Our turnover/takeaway ratio wasn’t as good as it has been. I think if we can just catch some of the balls that we had the opportunity to catch…the year before we were 13-3. The difference between 13-3 and 9-6-1 were those dropped interceptions, for us, so we gotta make sure that if we get our hands on the ball we gotta make the catch.”

Sensabaugh will be replaced in Pittsburgh’s lineup by Steven Nelson, who was signed earlier this offseason after spending his first four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Nelson provided plenty of splash last season, recording four interceptions to go with 15 passes broken up. The Steelers also drafted former Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne in the third round in this year’s draft. Layne broke up 24 passes during his three seasons with the Spartans that included 15 pass breakups last fall.

Roosevelt Nix Jersey

The Steelers have had a fullback on the roster for as long as I can remember. However, with fullbacks being used so sparingly, is Roosevelt Nix worth a roster spot?

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The Pittsburgh Steelers used to be a smash-mouth football team. They would pride themselves with a fantastic defense, and would run the ball down the throats of the opposing team.

However, in the modern football era, things have changed in a pretty big way. In 2004 and 2005, the Steelers led the NFL in rushing percentage – choosing to run the ball 60.8 percent and 57.4 percent, respectively, according to Team Rankings.
With great quarterback play and brilliant offensive schemes, gone are the days where teams can get away with running the ball 55-60 percent of the time.

In fact, last year was quite the opposite. The Steelers ran a record low 32.6 percent of the time. This isn’t to say that they should have ignored the run this much, but fullbacks are quickly becoming a dying breed in today’s NFL.

This begs the question: with as little as the Steelers have been using the ground game, does Roosevelt Nix deserve a spot on the Steelers 53-man roster?

Nix has been on the Steelers for the past four seasons, and even earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2017. Pittsburgh also handed the fullback a contract extension that has him locked up through 2021.
However, Roosevelt Nix played just 9.86 percent of offensive snaps for the Steelers last year. In other words, he was used less than 1 out of every 10 plays. When Nix does see the field, he’s often a non-factor.

To put that into perspective, Xavier Grimble (the Steelers 3rd tight end in 2018) played 15.6 percent of offensive snaps, and James Washington (Pittsburgh’s 3rd receiver) played 47.1 percent of snaps.

The fullback position in the NFL is quickly becoming extinct, and Roosevelt Nix is no exception.

It’s really not hard to see why. Roosevelt Nix is a very good run blocker, but as a receiver and rusher, he really offers nothing to the team.
Nix has just 10 catches and 4 total rushes in 4 seasons with the Steelers. Many teams have replaced the fullback altogether with a ‘move’ tight end (typically a smaller tight end that can line up all over the formation). These tight ends offer much more versatility, and are still capable blockers – diminishing the need to carry a fullback on the roster.

Nix is a solid special teams player (which may be the reason he is sticking around), but as little as the Steelers use him on offense, he is a player that has become expendable to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers have a decision to make with Nix this year. His contract numbers are very reasonable, so perhaps they will keep him around for the sake of special teams value. However, those final spots on the 53-man roster are valuable. More than likely, Nix isn’t going anywhere. But that doesn’t mean that he is deserving of a roster spot in 2019.

Dan McCullers Jersey

Only seven of the 55 other players who appeared in a game for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the recently-completed season have been with the team longer than Daniel McCullers.

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But as a pending unrestricted free agent, will Big Dan be back for a sixth season in black-and-gold?

“We’ll just see what happens, you know?” the big defensive tackle said on the day after the Steelers’ season ended. “I’m just going to have a clear mind with what is going on.”

As one of the biggest players in the NFL (listed at 6 feet 7, 352 pounds), McCullers has always tantalized the Steelers with potential, particularly as a hole-plugging run-stopper. A sixth-round pick in a 2014 draft that produced one of the players he backs up, Stephon Tuitt, McCullers has struggled to find a regular role on defense over his time with the Steelers.

McCullers has appeared in 57 games, starting three. According to Pro Football Focus, he has averaged 9.2 defensive snaps played per game over his career – but that total jumped significantly from 13 snaps played all of 2017 to 111 this past season.

That jump in playing time coincides with a change in his position coach from John Mitchell to Karl Dunbar.

“They are both great coaches, hard-nosed coaches,” McCullers said. “Dunbar is just a little younger, and I would say that he relates to us a little bit more. But they are both great coaches.

“Dunbar, I learned a lot from him this year. He likes me as a player, he always encourages me to go out there and give it my all and be the player that I know I can be.”

McCullers had a sack among his five tackles this season, playing as many as 18 snaps (against Jacksonville on Nov. 18) to as few as zero (he was not active Nov. 8 against Carolina). Though the role of the traditional “nose tackle” is dwindling in today’s NFL, there’s still a niche for a stout run-stopper in certain subpackages, against certain teams or in certain situations.

The Steelers have one of the best defensive front three in the NFL in Cameron Heyward, Tuitt and Javon Hargrave, so that is at least partially why McCullers has had trouble getting on the field. McCullers is one of the three backup defensive linemen the Steelers carried all season (joining Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton) – all of whom will be unrestricted free agents. As such, his future with the team is in doubt.

But through two coordinators, two position coaches and a host of others in his supporting cast on the second-team defensive line, McCullers has remained a constant for five years now. As many times as it appeared his Steelers tenure was coming to an end, McCullers kept surviving and persevering.

Even last year at this time, when he also was a free agent, McCullers re-signed in March. Apparently, the Steelers keep finding something they like about Big Dan.

“Five years is a lot longer than a lot of people,” McCullers said of playing in the NFL. “So they like me as a player; I’ve just got to keep building and try to get past that level they want me at. I feel like I can get there; I just have to put in that work and get better.”

Anthony Chickillo Jersey

Anthony Chickillo is apparently very happy with his decision to remain with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chickillo, who reportedly turned down a multi-year offer from the New England Patriots to remain in Pittsburgh, has been a constant presence at the Steelers’ facility this offseason.

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Chickillo, by virtue of his Instagram page, has also been showing fans his playful side as he continues to bond with his Pittsburgh teammates.
A sixth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Chickillo, who played out of position during his time at the University of Miami, recorded a forced and recovered fumble as a rookie while playing primarily on special teams. He started seven games in 2016 while tallying 2.5 sacks along with 24 tackles and two forced fumbles. While he only started in two games in 2017, Chickillo still recorded 14 tackles and 3.0 sacks and scored Pittsburgh’s first touchdown of the season after recovering Tyler Matakevich’s blocked punt in the team’s Week 1 victory over Cleveland.
This production in 2017 led the Steelers to bring him back for another season. Chickillo signed a one-year, $1,907,000 contract prior to the 2018 season. He may not have started any of the 16 games that he appeared in during the season, but the fourth-year pro still contributed as a rotational player. Chickillo registered 24 combined tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two passes defensed. In his career, he has 78 combined tackles, seven sacks, three passes defensed, and three forced fumbles.

During last year’s training camp, 247Sports asked Chickillo was his biggest goal was entering the 2018 season. While he could have mentioned individual goals, Chickillo instead pointed to Pittsburgh’s main objective.

“I really just wanna win a Super Bowl,” Chickillo told Pittsburgh Steelers on 247Sports from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. “I just wanna be a part of the team that brings that seventh Super Bowl to Pittsburgh.”

Chickillo also discussed why he’s so happy in Pittsburgh, a team that took a chance on him back in 2015.
“I feel like I’m in the right system where I can utilize my natural ability and just trying to keep learning and keep trying to get better every day,” he said. “It’s been great. We have great coaches here, we’ve had great leadership my whole time I’ve been here as far as players and coaches. I know what’s expected. Just gotta teach the young guys what Coach T. always says: ‘The standard is the standard.’”

Chickillo, shortly after re-signing with the Steelers back in March, told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler why he decided to stay in Pittsburgh instead of heading to New England.

“It’s funny everybody’s counting us out,” Chickillo said. “You still have to play.”

Chickillo and his teammates will look to prove the doubters wrong in 2019 while adding to Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl collection in the process.

Mike Hilton Jersey

With the exception of slot cornerback Mike Hilton, it would appear that the Pittsburgh Steelers have relatively few pressing contract concerns to worry about this offseason. But unlike the saga that accompanied negotiations with Le’Veon Bell over the past few years, it seems that Hilton has no intention of inflicting that sort of drama on the organization in 2019.

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When speaking to reporters during mandatory minicamp this week, the cornerback dismissed any notion of holding out from training camp when it opens on July 25, as reported by Joe Rutter of TribLive.
“That hasn’t even crossed my mind. I’m here for the team. I’m going to be here and try to help the team win games.”

Originally set to be an exclusive rights free agent in 2019, Hilton was due to earn $645,000 under the terms of his tender, but has yet to sign the one-year deal in hopes of a long-term offer from Pittsburgh. And while the Steelers are under no obligation to even entertain a new contract this year, Hilton remains hopeful that the front office will respond to his request the same way they did to Alejandro Villanueva in 2017 when he was an ERFA looking for a similar commitment. A player the cornerback has also spoken to for advice this offseason.

“I actually had a couple conversations with Al. Just how he went about doing it and how he approached it. Having that conversation with him, he kind of broke it down to me and kind of gave me a blueprint of how to go about it.”

“It worked out for (Villanueva) in the long run. We’ll see how it turns out in the next month or so. I’m doing all I can to be here and to show them I want to be here.”

Villanueva was rewarded with a new four-year deal worth $24 million as training camp began that year, and Hilton would clearly welcome something similar this time around. However, Pittsburgh had a bit more salary cap space to work with that year when compared to the $984,968 they currently have available.

While Kenny Moore of the Indianapolis Colts became the highest paid slot cornerback in the league on Thursday after agreeing to a four-year deal that could be worth as much as $36 million, Hilton will not command anywhere near that amount. But it should not be expected that his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, will allow him to sign on the cheap either.

Ultimately, it would not be a complete surprise if the front office declined to offer him a deal this year, but with an assurance that they will take care of him in 2020 when he is due to be a restricted free agent. A move that although far from ideal from Hilton’s perspective, would be easier for the team to swallow financially.

Vance McDonald Jersey

In 2018, Vance McDonald set career highs in targets, receptions and yards. McDonald, who was only in his second year with the Steelers, wrested the receiving tight end role from Jesse James. James is gone now, and so is a particular receiver who happened to command a massive target share. McDonald, entering his seventh season, isn’t your typical late-bloomer, but that’s the trajectory he’s on heading into this season.

Everything is set up for him to be top-10 fantasy tight end for the first time in his career.

Antonio Brown accounted for 168 targets from in 2018. That doesn’t necessarily mean there are 168 targets up for grabs this season. Ben Roethlisberger had a career-high 675 pass attempts in 2018, and it is unlikely he reaches that mark again. However, in each of the previous three years, Roethlisberger has eclipsed 500 pass attempts. Even if Roethlisberger doesn’t approach his career high in attempts, he’s going to throw the ball more than enough. No player with a meaningful role in Pittsburgh’s passing game will be wanting for targets, McDonald included.
It’s hard to project what Pittsburgh’s passing game will look like without one of the players who defined it over the better part of the previous decade, but we do have a few hints from last year. Roethlisberger ranked 21st in the league in air yards per attempt and 11th in percentage of passes that traveled fewer than 15 yards in the air. He also favored throwing it over the middle, ranking third in the NFL in percentage of passes that were thrown between the numbers. Those tendencies match up well with McDonald’s strengths.
McDonald averaged just shy of five air yards per target in 2018, ranking 38th among 40 tight ends with at least 30 targets, but he still managed to gain 8.7 yards per target. On short passes, McDonald had a target share of 13%, behind JuJu Smith-Schuster at 24% and Brown at 21%. On these catches, McDonald averaged 7.6 yards after the catch, which was better than both Brown and Smith-Schuster. On passes over the middle, meanwhile, McDonald again had a target share of 13%,and gained 8.1 yards per target, which was, again, better than the marks of his star teammates.

Increasing the scope, McDonald led all tight ends in expected points added, or EPA, per target. This is a useful metric because it takes into account game situation, estimating how many points a player adds for each play in which they are involved. In other words, when McDonald was given an opportunity to contribute, he came through at a rate commensurate with Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz, the best players at the position.
It’s hard to overstate how meaningful it is to lead your position in EPA per target. The top-two receivers in the stat were Michael Thomas and Davante Adams. McDonald’s total EPA will likely decrease as he gets more targets, but the mere fact that he led the position on a meaningful number of targets suggests that he can, and should, be a major player in Pittsburgh’s offense this year.

Below is the distribution of Steelers air yards last year. Pay close attention to holdovers McDonald, Smith-Schuster and Washington.
Smith-Schuster mirrored Roethlisberger’s overall distribution, which makes sense since he had 166 targets. James Washington was clearly the deep threat, and should be back in that role, with additional targets all over the field, this year. McDonald thrived inside 10 yards, and could be Roethlisberger’s primary short and intermediate pass-catcher this year. If that’s the case, he’s in for a monster campaign. McDonald is currently the TE9 in 4for4’s half-point PPR rankings and has an ADP outside the top 100. If anyone at this position can be this year’s Kittle, it’s McDonald.

Tyson Alualu Jersey

From the beginning of their professional marriage 2½ years ago, Tyson Alualu and the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed like a perfect fit. So when it came time to extend the partnership this past winter, it was the proverbial a no-brainer from Alualu’s end.

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Apparently, it was for the Steelers, too.

“I knew that I wanted to be back here,” the defensive lineman said during minicamp this past week, “and I just wanted to make sure that the feeling was mutual on their end. They shared that, so in the end I just think it made sense.”

With Alualu set to hit the free-agent market for only the second time in a 10-year NFL career, he and the Steelers agreed to a two-year, $5.75 million contract in late February. It was a deal that closely mirrored the two-year, $6 million deal the same two parties had signed 23 months prior that made Alualu a member of an NFL team other than the Jacksonville Jaguars for the first time.

Alualu alleviated what had become a need for the Steelers as a reliable, steady fourth defensive lineman who was not only good enough that the DL play wasn’t going to slip if one of the top three needed spelled — but also someone who was willing to accept that secondary and thankless role behind entrenched starters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave.

The Steelers had tried the likes of veterans Cam Thomas and Ricardo Mathews, as well low-round rookie draft picks like L.T. Walton and Joshua Frazier in that role. But none worked out.

Alualu was the perfect combination of talent/pedigree (a former top-10 overall draft pick) with a laidback and secure demeanor who had made enough money (more than $22 million) and experienced enough losing (30-82 in seven seasons with Jacksonville) that he was elated to join the Steelers — even as a backup.

“I just have got a feeling of what they’re building here, that we kind of have what it takes,” said Alualu, who is entering his 10th NFL season. “You want to be part of something great, and I think this is going to be it.”
The irony of Alualu’s first season with the Steelers was that although they went 13-3 — five games better than Alualu ever had before in his Jacksonville career — their season came to an end with a playoff loss to none other than the Jaguars.

Then last season the Steelers slipped to 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs.

Still, Alualu’s contributions have been apparent: he has played in all but one of the Steelers’ games, starting seven and adding 61 tackles and four sacks while playing more than a third of the team’s defensive snaps. He has started games in place of Heyward and Tuitt, and he has subbed in at all three D-line spots in the “base” defense as well as on both sides when they go nickel or dime.

Along with a sage-like veteran presence in the locker room and on the field, it is Alualu’s versatility and ability to master any spot on short notice that has made him so under-the-radar valuable for the Steelers.

“It’s not just myself. A lot of the guys here are in that same position where they can play multiple positions,” Alualu said.

“It’s just a group of guys that we have here made it so nice and made it easier decision for me to come back and try to chase that ring.”

Hey, Steelers Nation, get the latest news about the Pittsburgh Steelers here.

Justin Hunter Jersey

Justin Hunter will undergo surgery to repair his torn labrum, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has reported. Hunter sustained the injury during Pittsburgh’s Week 13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He was placed on IR last Tuesday. In a corresponding move, the team promoted running back Trey Edmunds — brother of No. 1 pick Terrell Edmunds — to the 53-man roster. Edmunds’ spot on the practice squad was be filled by rookie inside linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was released earlier this month to make room for fellow rookie linebacker, Ola Adeniyi.

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A second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Hunter has 85 career receptions for 1,349 yards (a career average of 15.9 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns. His best season took place in 2014, when he caught 28 passes for 498 yards (a 17.3 yards per carry average) and three touchdowns as a member of the Tennessee Titans. After finishing the 2016 season with the Buffalo Bills, Hunter signed with the Steelers as a free agent during the 2017 offseason. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, Hunter has seven catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. He has three catches for 21 yards this season.

Hunter has been replaced in the lineup by rookie receiver James Washington, who caught 2 of his 4 targets for 11 yards in Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders. For the season, Washington has caught just 10 of 29 targets for 88 yards and 1 touchdown. Pittsburgh has received solid play from fellow receiver Ryan Switzer, who the Steelers acquired in a trade just before the start of the regular season. Switzer, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, has caught 30 of 36 targets for 224 yards and 1 touchdown this season.

Pittsburgh currently boasts the NFL’s top ranked passing attack. Ben Roethlisberger is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career, completing 67 percent of his passes for 4,227 yards with 28 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He is the only quarterback this season to throw for at least 250 yards in each of his team’s first 13 games. Last Sunday, despite missing most of the second half with a rib injury, Big Ben completed 25-of-29 passes for 292 yards with two touchdown passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Pittsburgh’s second round pick a year ago, Smith-Schuster has become one of the NFL’s best receivers, with 91 catches for 1,234 yards and six touchdowns this season. Antonio Brown is still one of the game’s best players, with 86 catches for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns though 13 games.

“I think both of those players complement each other,” Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick of the Steelers receiving duo of Brown and Smith-Schuster earlier this week. “You’re worried about one player and the other one gets you and vice versa. They’ve got plenty of guys besides them, too. But those two in particular, they have great speed, quickness, catching ability, instincts and run-after-catch. Whenever they get the ball it’s a problem, and there’s a lot of different ways they can get the ball with their skill set and certainly their offense with Coach [Randy] Fichtner’s offense and the quarterback.”

Ryan Switzer Jersey

After catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger during Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp, Ryan Switzer beat soft-serve coverage in the parking lot of the team facility.

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Switzer treated players and employees to Bruster’s Ice Cream after Wednesday’s practice. The Bruster’s truck pulled up shortly after practice and quickly drew a crowd.
Switzer said he’s a big fan of Bruster’s, an ice cream chain headquartered in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania, so he figured give the company some love.

“Plus the guys like it,” he said.

Switzer has hired the truck for appearances multiple times since joining the team via trade from the Dallas Cowboys in August.

Several players have said this year’s Steelers are “team-oriented,” and this gesture only helps.

Switzer plays multiple roles for the Steelers, having caught 36 passes for 253 yards and one touchdown last season along with six rushes for 21 yards, and 859 yards in kick and punt returns.