T. J. Watt Jersey

T.J. Watt had a breakout season for himself in 2018, posting 13 sacks and six forced fumbles in a season in which the Pittsburgh Steelers gave him more opportunities to rush the passer. Nobody has had a season like that in the better part of a decade for this defense.

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One of the things that we talked about in terms of his ability to rush the passer is how it matured and evolved over the course of the season, at least from the outside looking in. it seemed as though he was expanding his repertoire and having more success winning against tackles.

It turns out, Watt was well aware of the growth himself. “I think I did a good job of trying to evolve my game as the season went on. That is what I am really proud of”, he told the team’s website recently in an article published yesterday by Teresa Varley.

“Trying new moves. Trying new ways to get to the quarterback”, he said in a remark that reveals that what I wrote above indeed was true. “I wish I would have started that a lot earlier. This is only my fourth year playing defense so I am still figuring a lot of that stuff out”.

It was also his first season rushing from the left side of the defense, as he started on the right side during his rookie season. Both he and Bud Dupree have previously talked about how the switch has helped each of them, Watt saying that rushing from the left side makes it easier for him to play to what he believes are his strengths.

Still, the move from the right to the left is not why he went from seven sacks in 2017 to 13 in 2018. In fact, it wasn’t really even about the sacks as the indicator of his improvement. He actually had more total sacks in the games prior to his being more experimental in his pass rush, but he won more frequently against tackles and recorded a higher percentage of pressures on the quarterback as the season wore on. But he still wants more.

“I just felt like I was close a lot of times. I felt like I could have gotten a lot closer”, he said. “I am just happy we were able to rush a lot more and be able to affect the quarterback more. I hope next year will be something special”.

Since drafting Watt, the Steelers have posted two of their highest sack totals in a season in team history, including the franchise record in 2017. Their totals have also been the highest in the league for that respective season.

It’s probably worth keeping in mind that Watt can post fewer sacks in 2019 and still be better than he was last year. Not that he would be happy with that, but I wanted to put that out there in case he has, say, 10 this year instead of 15 and people wonder ‘what happened’ to him.

Chukwuma Okorafor Jersey

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been making a lot of moves this offseason, and one of those moves was when they traded oft-injured right tackle Marcus Gilbert to the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th round draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Steelers fans had known the ice was thin with Gilbert. After all, he had watched more games than played in the past few seasons. But when he was officially traded most were left with a “what now?” thought at right tackle.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin, speaking for the first time since his end of the season press conference, said the right tackle position will be an open competition between a trio of tackles:

Chukwuma Okorafor
Matt Feiler
Jerald Hawkins

This per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic:

Of these three, the Steelers hope they can find the answer to their vacancy at the tackle position, but each player comes with their own respective concerns.

Okorafor is entering his second year in the league, and while he showed tremendous promise as a rookie in heavy packages as an extra tight end, there is still plenty of work to be done. Okorafor did represent himself nicely in his first, and only, start against the Broncos last season, but with such a small sample size he will really have to turn heads in training camp to win the job.

Feiler is likely the leader in the clubhouse for the position. Feiler started for the injured Gilbert last season, and did a tremendous job in relief duty. The man they call ‘the anchor’ is a run blocker who still has some work to do in regards of pass blocking, but represented himself in a way the Steelers would be comfortable going into the season with Feiler as the starter at right tackle.

The wild card in this whole equation is Hawkins. His rookie season was ended early with a shoulder injury, his sophomore season was disappointing and last year he tore his quadriceps muscle in Organized Team Activities (OTAs) putting him on Injured Reserve (IR) the rest of the season. Will Hawkins impress in 2019? Or find himself on the outside looking in? No one really knows.

On top of the three tackles vying for the starting position, there is also the change over at Offensive Line coach. Mike Munchak to a lateral position with the Broncos, leaving Shaun Sarrett as the new man in charge of the offensive line. Although Sarrett has been with the Steelers since before Munchak was hired, you have to wonder if he can keep the magic going Munchak had with taking lesser known players and turning them into greater talents.

Either way, this will be one of the big camp battles to keep an eye on as the 2019 regular season approaches.

Terrell Edmunds Jersey

Terrell Edmunds and Jaylen Samuels experienced a baptism by fire during their rookie seasons with the Steelers. Edmunds, Pittsburgh’s first round pick in 2018, starting 15 games at strong safety. Samuels, Pittsburgh’s fifth round pick, also started three games in place of starting running back, James Conner. Both players enjoyed solid seasons that should lead to more success in 2019.

Edmunds and Samuels have decided to work together as they prepare for their sophomore NFL seasons. Both players are currently training in Miami.
The 28th overall pick in last year’s draft, Edmunds recorded 78 tackles last season. He also recorded his first career interception that helped Pittsburgh defeat the Buccaneers in Week 3.

Pittsburgh Defensive coordinator Keith Butler is confident that Edmunds can one day become a vocal leader on Pittsburgh’s defense. Butler believes that growing up in a football family gives Edmunds an advantage over other rookies. Edmunds’ father, Ferrell, was a two time Pro Bowl tight end for the Miami Dolphins. His brother, Tremaine, played linebacker at Virginia Tech and was also a first round pick in this year’s draft.

“He comes from a football family,” Butler told Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews shortly after the team selected Edmunds in the 2018 NFL Draft. “If you ever got a chance to meet his mother and his father and his brothers and how they were brought up, it’s really kind of impressive. He’s got an excellent football background. I think his mom was a big part of that. His mom coached track in high school, too. She kinda grilled us a little bit when we went down there for a visit, and I don’t blame her. If they were my kids, I’d wanna know too. She asked quite a bit of intelligent questions about what we’d expect from her sons and what’s gonna be required from them. We think his pedigree will help us in this season and it will be a little bit easier of a transition for them than most.”

Samuels began talking about his second NFL season shorty after his rookie season had come to a close. In the Steelers’ locker room, shortly after hearing that the Browns were unable to get Pittsburgh into the playoffs by defeating the Ravens, Samuels was asked to look back on a rookie season, a rookie season that was a roller coaster ride for both himself and his team.
“It was a fun experience,” Samuels said. “The whole season was fun. Just being around a great group of guys, great team, great coaching staff. I’m looking forward to anther year, hopefully it will end with a Super Bowl ring.”

Playing without Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh’s offense failed to score a point while trailing the Bengals 10-0 at halftime of their Week 17 contest. The Steelers rebounded by putting up 16 points in the second half, with Samuels contributing to the cause by catching seven key passes. While Samuels making an impact in the passing game, fellow running back James Conner, who missed the previous three games with an injury, averaged 4.57 yards per carry about the Bengals while amassing 94 yards of total offense.

“I had a pretty solid day today,” Samuels said of his final performance of the 2018 season. “It wasn’t really working on the ground, but in the passing game, it was pretty solid. Went out there and made a couple plays. As the season comes to an end, just gotta come back to work this offseason, just gotta grind hard and get ready for the second year and be even better.”
After receiving very limited playing time during the first half of the season, Samuels stayed patient as he continued to wait for his opportunity. His moment finally came in Week 15, with Samuels needing to play to well if the Steelers were going to snap their three game losing streak against the visiting Patriots. Samuels not only played well, he was Pittsburgh’ MVP that day, rushing for 142 yards on 19 carries while helping the Steelers pull off a 17-10 victory, their first win over New England since the 2011 season.

“The run game was definitely working today,” Samuels said with a laugh when asked what was working for him against the Patriots. “It didn’t work too well last week [a loss to the Oakland Raiders], so we had to bounce back. We had a good week of practice and preparation. I just got back there and stayed relaxed. Once I saw a hole, I just tried to burst through it and make a play.”

Samuels’ 2018 production, by many standards, was modest. He rushed for 256 yards (that included a team best 4.6 yards per carry) on just 56 carries. He caught 26 passes for 199 yards that included the first three touchdown receptions of his NFL career. But given his rawness at the running back position (Samuels was labeled as a tight end during draft weekend) and lack of playing time during the first half of the season, Samuels gave team president Art Rooney II confidence that he and Conner can handle the workload if the team loses Le’Veon Bell in free agency.
“The running back position I feel good about,” Rooney said earlier this month, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It looks like we have two good, young players at that position at this point, so I feel like we’re in pretty good shape there.”

While his rookie season was an overall success, Samuels is still driven to prove people wrong after being a fifth round pick in last year’s draft. He’s also driven to help the Steelers win their seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy after last season’s disappointing outcome.

“Oh yeah, most definitely,” Samuels said when asked if he still carries a chip on his shoulder. “I’m still [looking at] myself the same way I did coming into my rookie year. Year two, I’m gonna be more exposed to this team and be more comfortable. I just gotta come in ready to work.”

Maurkice Pouncey Jersey

The Pittsburgh Steelers can’t overstate what he means to the franchise.

Back on March 7, the Steelers signed center Maurkice Pouncey to a three-year, $29 million deal to keep him in Pittsburgh and blocking for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This move was one of two made on that Thursday in an effort to keep the offense producing at a high level. The Steelers also gave guard Ramon Foster a two-year, $8.25 million deal.

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While these two deals were more unheralded considering that the Steelers also brought Mark Barron, Steven Nelson, and Donte Moncrief to town, they were possibly more important to the team’s long-term success. As general manager Kevin Colbert explained during his sit-down with team reporter Missi Matthews, Pouncey’s contract, in particular, was one of the most important moves that had to be made due to what he means to this team.

“Maurkice Pouncey, we think, is the best center in the game,” Colbert said. “Again, we are fortunate to have him in his prime, and he’s also one of our under-the-cover kind of leaders because of how respected he is, not only on the field but off the field. Keeping a Maurkice Pouncey here for, hopefully, the rest of his career was really a pretty easy move for us.”

Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, Pouncey has been one of the league’s absolute best lineman throughout his career. Outside of his two missed seasons due to injury, Pouncey has been a Pro Bowler in each of his seven healthy NFL seasons. And after missing the entire 2015 season after sustaining a fibula injury during the preseason, Pouncey has not missed a game due to injury over the past three seasons while earning three consecutive Pro Bowl selections over that span.

Pouncey was the only Pittsburgh Steelers’ player to earn All-Pro honors this past season. He was also the only member of the team to be named to the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-AFC team. This is the second straight year Pouncey has received this honor.

According to Pro Football Focus, Pouncey wasn’t the best center in the league in the 2018 season after only earning a grade of 68.9, but he still helped propel this offensive line to astounding production. Throughout the season, the Steelers line earned the second-highest pass blocking grade in the 2018 season while only allowing 24 sacks of Ben Roethlisberger, which was fourth-best in the league.

Keep in mind that the Steelers ran 726 passing plays in 2018, which was only three shy of the most in the NFL. Despite this abundance of passing plays, Roethlisberger was only under pressure on 24.3 percent of his dropbacks, per PFF. Pouncey was a big part of this efficiency, and the Steelers recognize how critical he was to the team’s success.

Most NFL players talk about wanting to spend their entire career with one team, but Pouncey is a player that will realistically achieve this goal, especially if he continues to perform at such a high level.

Cameron Heyward Jersey

With the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine underway, it should be no surprise that we are seeing a series of articles about players recounting their own past Combine experiences. Many of them are generic and not very compelling, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ website posted one yesterday with Cameron Heyward, who I felt shared some interesting thoughts.

Perhaps the most interesting thing that he had to say was the fact that he felt the Steelers’ process of getting to know players, based on his own experience meeting with many different teams during that week, was something that set them apart from other organizations.

“With the Steelers we got to write essays to see what we are all about. It’s really cool. It’s more than just the interview. It’s a great process”, he said. “It’s an essay about myself, what I thought were important character traits, things that make me the person I am. To be able to do it that way you get to know the person better”.

It might be fair to argue that there are some potential drawbacks to the Steelers’ essay test, the chief among them being simply that some are less able to clearly express themselves than others, or to write well. By the same token, anybody with a competent agent will have been informed that Pittsburgh does this in advance.

Still, Heyward recalled the entire process of the Combine as a foreign feeling, and it was made more complicated for him because he was recovering from an injury at the time, so he was forced to put all of his efforts into the mental side of the event.

“I can say I felt like I was in ‘Men in Black’ being interrogated. You felt like an alien”, he said. “Getting to know the teams, how they work, it’s a unique process. I can say from seeing all of it the Steelers are a one of a kind team”.

But more generally, he said that “you almost treat it like a competition. They are testing your knowledge to see if you are a sincere person and how much you care about this game. They can tell from the get go if you are serious about this and you want to excel at the next level. They don’t know you, why you love this game, what you want to do when you get in the league”.

The two-time Pro Bowler also noted that he does think about the fact that he didn’t get a chance to compete athletically directly with his peers from that draft, which was one of the great drafts in recent years for 3-4 defensive ends.

That year also included J.J. Watt, Cameron Jordan, and Muhammed Wilkerson, among others, all of whom have gone to the Pro Bowl. “You want to measure yourself up with other guys. I never got a chance to do that”, he said. “All of the guys in my draft class have been doing well, but I never got a chance to measure against them at the combine”.

Ben Roethlisberger Jersey

The national sports media can’t talk enough about all of Ben Roethlisberger’s supposed flaws, as laid out by disgruntled ex-Steelers Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and others.

Meanwhile, all of Pittsburgh is steaming at what it sees as a vast anti-Ben conspiracy.

The plot is nothing short of a bid to destroy Ben Roethlisberger and thus the Steelers.
Perhaps this is because Ben and the boys could be just fine without Brown and Bell – and they know it.

So why not go after the man at the top?

But who would think players with an agenda would be aided by softball interviews by national sports media sites?

The latest of which is a Le’Veon Bell “Ben bitchfest” accommodated by Sports Illustrated, which lets stand a series of outright lies by the running back.

The result is a feud pitting Brown, Bell and their national sports media allies against local Pittsburgh media personalities. They, along with many fans who call in to to sports talk shows, are coming to Ben’s defense by calling out all the falsehoods being spun by the Steel City castoffs.

It’s gotten ugly and nasty fast.

But right now, Pittsburgh is rallying around Big Ben because they see the rest of the national media with their knives out for the two time Super Bowl champion.

Ben is in the midst of big contract extension with the Steelers that will probably be his last. As a result, he has remained mum amid all the criticism.

Some analysts and many fans would like to see Ben come out swinging against Brown, Bell and the national press. But the majority, myself included, feel he is in a no-win situation and is playing it smart by simply staying silent.
Instead, all of all of Pittsburgh should hope Ben does his loudest speaking on the football field in 2019. That’s when he and the offense can show the world that they’ll be just fine without the distractions of Brown and Bell.

But this statement to end all the debate can’t come for months, not until the start of the regular season.

Meanwhile, the nastiness is left to play out, as it has become Pittsburgh against the world in defending Big Ben.

You will recall how this “beat-up-Ben wave” all began: With one Antonio Brown, who stormed out of a late season practice saying Ben threw a football at him for missing a route in the run up to the season finale with the Bengals.

Brown would not play another game for the black and gold. It has all been downhill from there when it comes to Roethlisbeger’s reputation, at least as far as the national sports media is concerned.

One recent story, jawboned about long and hard on ESPN and FSI, had Big Ben fumbling the football on purpose because he supposedly didn’t like the play call.

In Pittsburgh, which has its share of bridges, this was a bridge too far:

Joe Starkey writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette smells a conspiracy and says the person at the center of it all is Brown.
The motive? Money. Always the dollars.

He writes:

“For all those wondering why Roethlisberger is getting mercilessly shredded — and I’ve been asked that question a lot lately — the answer goes like this: because Antonio Brown wanted out of Pittsburgh in order to secure a guaranteed contract and apparently figured (or was advised) that assailing Roethlisberger would help grease the skids.

There would have been no smear campaign if Brown could have persuaded the Steelers to give him a new deal.”

Hard to argue with that. But Starkey then chronicles how the conspiracy to destroy Roethlisbeger widened through the echo chamber of the national sports media machine:

Starkey writes:

“Brown retweeted derogatory tweets about Roethlisberger. And I’d be willing to bet it was Big Chest and his agent who fed ex-players-turned-media their B.S. talking points.
Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe and others told the world that Roethlisberger, not the receiver who skipped work and threw tantrums and quit on his teammates, was the real problem in the room.

For sure, Brown got a hold of former Green Bay Packers receiver and current ESPN contributor Greg Jennings and convinced him of that. Jennings, in a matter of weeks, went from praising Roethlisberger as the ultimate competitor to denigrating him as a guy who undermines his own team. A lunch date with Big Chest had clearly swayed him.”

The media softballs propping up Brown and Bell reached a crescendo with the Sports Illustrated puff-piece that attacked Roethlisberger and the Steelers ruthlessly.

Bell’s most outrageous remark – the Steelers don’t treat players as humans.

Wow. Just wow.

The Pittsburgh sports media wasn’t having it, and they bit back.

Blunt, tough-talking Pittsburgh radio host Mark Madden took the lead, tweeting: “Everything Lev Bell said was pothead gibberish. Take another toke, Spicoli.”

But that was just the opening salvo.
Check out the Steelers Update podcast for much more on the widening war between Brown, Bell and the national media and the Pittsburgh sports personalities coming to the defense of Big Ben:
As Mark Kaboly with The Athletic notes, all this ugliness could end with the the town, the team and their quarterback uniting like never before:

“I may be wrong here but I feel that Ben Roethlisberger may be looked at badly nationally after these past couple of month but he may be more popular now in the city than ever before. What say you?”

Let’s hope he’s right.

NOTE: John Luciew is an award-winning reporter for PennLive and a 25-year Steelers season ticket-holder. His podcast is presented from the obsessively over-informed perspective of an avid Steelers’ fan.