Bell Finally Puts On His Cape

Le’Veon Bell Comes To Life & Reveals Formula For Steelers Success

 

In traditional Steelers fashion of late, it was no surprise to see Pittsburgh travel to Kansas City and defeat the previous undefeated Chiefs 19-13.

The topsy turvy season hopefully gains some consistency. It was the first time Le’Veon Bell looked like the magical running back that Pittsburgh decided to use the franchise tag on earlier this season.

It marked his second 100-yard performance of the season, but more importantly, his production was key to providing Pittsburgh a huge road win, that could be critical for home field advantage come the playoffs.

“He makes great cuts,” said fourth year pro Dee Ford. “He is a great back. We just weren’t gap sound at the end of the day and your can’t not be gap sound against a great running back like that,”

Those gaps aren’t being kept sound it appears any time Bell faces the Chiefs defense.

In last season’s playoff road win against the Chiefs, Bell once again found those open spaces, Ford mentioned. Bell had 30 carries for 170 rushing yards. Over the last two games he has accumulated 62 carries for 249 yards.

Digging a little deeper, it seems that Bell has been unfazed by the Chiefs defense, in every game played against Kansas City.

Over his last four games (3-1), winners of the last three, Bell has totaled 614 rushing yards and a eye popping 6.32 yards per carry on 97 carries. His first game (fifth overall), against Kansas City is the only game he has failed to reach the century mark versus the Chiefs. He gained 63 yards on 20 carries in that first contest which resulted in another Steelers’ victory.

“That’s why they need to pay him,” Marcus Peters said after the latest Bell offensive explosive. “He ran the ball well.”

It started last year after the Steelers were beat by the Dallas Cowboys at home and then rookie running back Zeke Elliott embarrassed the Pittsburgh defense to the tone of 114 rushing yards and 95 yards receiving on two receptions and three combined touchdowns.

Possibly while breaking down film, the coaching staff in Pittsburgh decided to use their own horse and work him in overdrive. From that point on, Bell had the most carries and yards eight game span that included his final six regular season games and first two playoff games he completed.

Bell accumulated an outstanding 1,172 yards rushing over the course of eight games on 220 carries (5.3ypc) and eight touchdowns. He touched the ball 27.5 times a game just running the football. Over that stretch the team was 8-0 and Pittsburgh becomes a force in the AFC.

The formula Pittsburgh used during that stretch is the formula that needs to be implemented moving forward in order for Pittsburgh to challenge the upper echelon caliber teams in the American Football Conference.

Pittsburgh opened this year with four of its six games on the road, now the tides turns in their favor, with six of their next ten games at Heinz Field.

Offensive execution (most common quote by players), along with the game allowing Bell to be feed the football are the keys for Pittsburgh to seize not only the AFC North but being crowned AFC Champions.

The reality is Ben Roethlisberger is not going to be around much longer. Hell it remains to be seen if Bell has another franchise tag or the Steelers reach a long-term deal with the Pro Bowl running back.

Minnesota reservations might be a bit premature, but the formula of feeding Bell and winning football games continues as it has shown it can in the past, then get your suitcase ready.

 

Photo Credit Jason Pohuski/College2Pro.com

It Begins & Ends With Ben

Steelers Offensive On Offense Hit Rock Bottom

by Bo Marchionte

Pittsburgh – Winners of their last three previous contests against Jacksonville, the Jaguars abruptly ended the three game skid with inspiring defensive performance over their once AFC Central rival 30-9. The loss places Pittsburgh at 3-2 and what appeared to be a nice division cushion on opponent Cincinnati (2-3) has been erased to one game.

The Steelers’ roster once housed former running back John Kuhn. Relatively nonexistent with Pittsburgh, he became a household name when he was picked up by the Green Bay Packers after being released by the Steelers. Packers’ fans called out his surname “Kuuuuuuhhhhhn,” which was sometimes mistaken for booing.

The Heinz Field crowd today was not saying “Kuuuuuuhhhhhn,” they were booing.

“Focus on the game,” rookie James Conner said sitting alone wrapped in towels after shower. “You hear it but you can’t think anything of it.”

The offense failed to find the end zone and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions.

Booing an offense that ranked 17th in the league, prior to taking on Jacksonville. Simple math would tell you that 16 teams ranked ahead of Pittsburgh in the category. Common sense also tells you that with a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback in Roethlisberger, along with Pro Bowlers Le’Veon Bell , Antonio Brown and Matavis Bryant this team should be scoring.

Scoring in bunches. Scoring so much that would even make video gamers envious.

“Overall all we didn’t play well today,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “I can sit and break down everything to you but we just didn’t score points and didn’t play well.”

In the second quarter Ben Roethlisberger went behind the bench to exchange his helmet for his baseball cap after Jacksonville forced the Steelers to punt early in the second quarter. He proceeded to sit down next to back-up Landry Jones before standing on the sidelines next to an inactive James Harrison.

The body language of the team looked deflated after failing to move the chains, especially after Pittsburgh defense allowed the games lone touchdown at the time to Leonard Fournette on a two yard leap that would make Walter Payton proud.

Towel wrapped around his neck and arms crossed, Roethlisberger awaited his next opportunity to jump start this stagnate offensive unit loaded with high octane talent.

That spark would never ignite the offense. The points never came raining down on the Jacksonville defense. It turned out the other way around with the Jaguars defense scoring twice after Roethlisberger threw two picks sixes in a span of four passes.

“He’s not playing well,” Head Coach Mike Tomlin said post game. “I’ll let him speak for him.”

Recording his 54th 300-yard passing day in his career is a game Roethlisberger will want to forget quickly. Likely taking his first snap against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium next week will be the best remedy to cure the current situation offensively in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh escaped more halftime boos from a frustrated Heinz Field crowd after linebacker Ryan Shazier made a heads up play with his sixth career interception. The Steelers were able to net three points off the turnover before heading into halftime trailing 7-6.

This manifestation of this story about the offense playing lousy was being written midway in the second quarter it was well before the barrage of interceptions were thrown from the 14 year veteran. Roethlisberger set a personal high in interceptions (5). He has thrown four interceptions in a game two other times in his career with a 1-1 record following the next game.

After Week 5 concludes, it is very likely that Pittsburgh will be one of the worst scoring offenses in the league. Sitting at 17th and scoring nine points today, will surely place them further down the trough.

This performance began to manifest in Cleveland when Le’Veon Bell was out of sync (still is) and the offensive rhythm he provided is missing. He is not magical (yet) this season. Even on three yard run, Bell would be able to pause have a cup of coffee, slide away from would be tacklers grasp and pick up three yards. That type of play is missing from his game.

Zero points in the red zone. Fiver turnovers by your Pro Bowl quarterback. Bell averaging 3.1 yards per carry against the leagues worst run defense.

“I’m not playing well enough,” Roethlisberger said in front of an army of reporters. “I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve had bad game before. I’ve had bad stretches. I’ve had good ones too. You just find a way to move on and play better.”

Disturbing for all parties involved that the offense loaded and healthy has yet to gel and become the unit everyone anticipated from the on set of the season. The Steelers finished 14th overall last season in rushing yards and currently reside outside the top 20 teams in the league at 21st and the slide downward should continue after accumulating 70 yards rushing against Jacksonville.

Pittsburgh also ranks 21st in the league in total yards from scrimmage. The Steelers finished 7th overall in that same category last year. That was with Bell and Bryant missing games. The core is intact but the results aren’t forthcoming.

“We just have to find a way to put points on the board in the red zone,” Antonio Bryant said at the podium. “We didn’t score any points in the red zone outside of some field goals. Any time we play that type of football, it’s going to be hard to win.”

Tomlin, Roethlisberger and Brown all squashed the notion that the residue from last week’s outburst by Brown carried over into the game today and I agree with that. One week removed from the sideline episode, I would beg to wonder if Brown’s frustration was building over the previous 15 quarters of action that led to his actions.

We will never know. We do know however, that this offense is in shambles.

“It’s about us going out and executing,” Brown said. “Next week presents another challenge.”

The challenge is to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

“He’s a competitor. He’s a general,” Brown said of Roethlisberger and being ready to regroup. “He’s going to come to work this week with a lot of intensity. He’s going to hit the film room and make everyone around him escalate their level of play. He’s going to bring the best out of all of us, especially after a week like this.”

Photo Credit Frank Hyatt/College2Pro.com

Watt Returns Week 4

Is It The Next Generation of Steelers Greatness?

We all have habits. One of mine among many is trying extract the next best NFL players for exposure before the horses are tied up to the band wagon.

Eyeing up their potential and trying to calculate the final product. Two players come to mind for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their return from injuries could not come at a better time.

T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt are expected to play in Week 4 against the Baltimore Ravens. Last week in overtime the Steelers allowed 74 yards rushing to the Chicago Bears that coincided with 19-yard rushing touchdown to win the game.

It was a lousy performance by the Steelers defense that allowed 222 overall rushing yards to the Bears.

Getting back to my habits and trying to shed some light on how good both these players are and what they can mean to Pittsburgh’s season

Tuitt has the ability and pieces around him to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. He is that special. Penciled in along side of Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave the ceiling has no roof on the unit’s potential.

Ike Taylor always said, “Potential never paid the bills.” I agree with Ike for the majority of those instances but in this particular circumstance, I think the bills are going to get paid with money left over.

Tuitt played only two snaps prior to exiting in Week 1 versus the Cleveland Browns. He was in the backfield on both plays, showing us a glimpse of things to come down the road in 2017. A force to be reckoned with for sure, he’ll be a welcomed addition back to the interior of the Steelers defensive front.

The habit continues when it comes to No. 90…

Hopefully the Steelers can find another able body to play on punt coverage other than the 30th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Against the Minnesota Vikings the focus of the game was to monitor Watt after his stellar debut against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1. He was all over the field making plays. During the Vikings game I had the binoculars on Watt every single time he was on the field.

Watching Watt run down the field on punt coverage I asked – Why!

Then as the unit was running off the field I told my colleagues he is hurt. Watt is actually hurt. He walked gingerly in small circles trying to loosen it. He then jumped on the stationary bike and before he could get a full rotation the trainers had him off the bike and headed to the tunnel.

He had a tackle-for-loss on Dalvin Cook. He dropped into coverage on Jarius Wright. He tipped a Case Keenum pass that went incomplete. Watt pressured Keenum and was seconds from getting his third sack in five quarters of football.

Unfortunately, Watt left the game and the article was put on hold until now.

Tuitt and Watt form the conduit needed to lift the Steelers defense into another category. These two are the types of players that can elevate those around them to wreak so much havoc on opponents.

The beneficiaries are Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns and Sean Davis. Talented in their own right, they are the young nucleus that Pittsburgh is eagerly awaiting to take shape in the form of a championship caliber defense.

After an embarrassing loss to Jacksonville last week in London the Ravens will want to put their best foot forward at home against the rival Steelers.

Currently, Pittsburgh boasts and better roster but when these two division rivals clash the pageantry of these two AFC North behemoths surface. Luckily the Steelers get the pair back just in time.

So buckle up and watch the heroics unfold for this Steelers tandem in Tuitt and Watt.

Photo Credit Frank Hyatt/College2Pro.com

Brown Faced High School Teammate

Best of Friends. Best of Enemies. Best At Their Positions.

by Bo Marchionte

Pittsburgh – Standing at his locker, slipping on a pair of North Carolina blue Jacob Cohen pants, one of the best defensive backs in the entire NFL was preparing for his post game interviews.

A quick minute interview with Sirius Radio that was preceded by the personality helping with the buttons around his wrist, the Pro Bowler was inching closer to the waiting microphones.

“I’m not going on camera like this,” joked the 25th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. “Once yawl start the camera are going to start coming.”

The final pieces of his wardrobe, a beautiful checkered sport coat with brown, white and baby blue squares, capped by an enormous gold chain that hung around his chiseled frame. Sport coat buttoned and he smiled, giving the okay to begin.

The sharp dressed cornerback was Xavier Rhodes and his task to shutting down his former high school teammate Antonio Brown.

The best of enemies, best of friends and the best at their positions.

Among the eight or so reporters standing around Rhodes the question began all focusing on him and Brown. He quickly realized that the interview portion about the Vikings was a non issue.

“I see where going to be talking about me and AB the whole time,” Rhodes smiled. “Antonio is going to get the ball no matter what. They will find ways to get him the ball no matter what because he is Antonio Brown. He is one of the best receivers in the league.”

Maybe the best…

The same can be said for Rhodes who made his first Pro Bowl last season that included five interceptions for 133 return yards and one touchdown.

It is debatable of course, but in my over bearing and boisterous opinion these two are the best in the NFL at their particular craft.

Rhodes is crafty. He is athletic. He is very physical. While Brown is extremely quick working his routes to pinpoint precision and there two high school teammates from Miami Norland High School in Miami Gardens, Florida battled on a hot Sunday sun in Pittsburgh.

“The game ain’t all about me and him,” Rhodes said. “It was a battle. The game is about the team and we wanted to win. Our battle was good. It was fun.”

Rhodes at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds looks like a hybrid linebacker ready to pounce. His physical game coincides with that of his head coach Mike Zimmer who preaches the concept on defense.

Truth is I have not seen a more physical corner come into Heinz Field in recent memory.

Even the side judge picked up on Rhodes pushing the limits on how he can manage to try to shutdown the Steelers ace receiver.

“He was telling me to stop being to aggressive,” said Rhodes. “He was like you gotta lay low on that a little bit. He said I’m not going to nit pick you. I’m gonna let you play football. Appreciate him letting me by physical.”

Brown was targeted 11 times and caught five of those passes for 62 yards. He also found the limit that was unacceptable by the refs on a few plays that forced them to toss the yellow hanky.

“Yeah,” Brown responded to the physical nature in which Rhodes plays the game. “Rhodes is a great corner man. He is a top corner. A tough match-up today.”

Rhodes said that he was going to talk with Brown over the phone after the 26-9 loss to the Steelers but would not reveal what he was going to say to his high school buddy. Just mentioning it was “private” and left it at that.

“I believe some people are just intimidated by the name (Antonio Brown) and by the plays he makes,” Rhodes said. “I was just going at it and being confident in my game. Being confident in what I see. Being physical and just playing my game.”

Brown may have faced his toughest opponent of the year.

“Well he had some catches on some underneath routes,” Mike Zimmer said regarding the match-up. “He had a catch on an out. He had five catches today. It is not all on Xavier or this guy, they are getting some help from other guys.”

Rhodes usually was placed on Brown and it allowed Ben Roethlisberger to survey the field and find other open targets for touchdowns.

In a game that featured two teams with high expectations the exquisite contest between Brown and Rhodes, was simply a delight to watch.

Photo Credit Frank Hyatt/College2Pro.com

Steelers Improve To 2-0

Steelers Honor Greatness Before The Game Enroute To Victory

Pittsburgh – Summer temperatures blanketed Heinz Field, with the Steelers playing their opening game against the Minnesota Vikings. Pittsburgh improved to 2-0 by defeating the Vikings 26-9.

“[It was] an emotional day for us really,” Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers wrapped their second win in as many games. “Our first regular-season home game without Mr. [Dan] Rooney. It was great to be a part of the reconition of him and his services and all he provided us.”

A moment of silence was held before the playing of the National Anthem and the cover the game program featured a tribute honoring the legendary Hall of Fame owner Dan Rooney, who passed away this past April. His son Art Rooney II was proudly holding the game ball in his hands as the locker room opened to the media. The Steelers have emerged as is an organization second to absolutely none, that have winning woven into their DNA.

“Any way we can honor him is important,” Ben Roethlisberger said. “It’s the way it should be.”

Minnesota missing Sam Bradford was a big loss, but on the other hand the absence of Pittsburgh’s defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt was equally important. T.J. Watt left with a groin injury left after the first quarter and both teams were lacking some key components to their offensive and defensive units.

The game started out with heavy usage of running back Le’Veon Bell. Barely into the second quarter and Bell had already matched his carries (10) from last week and exceeded his amount of rushing (32) to 36. Bell had 13 carries for 49 when the teams headed to their locker rooms. He finished the game with 27 carries and a modest 87 yards against the strong Vikings front.

The absence of Bradford made early headlines prior to the game, since his Week 1 performance earned him NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after an impressive outing against the New Orleans Saints. Without Bradford and more importantly without an opponent like the Saints defense the Vikings were held in check for most of the afternoon.

Minnesota managed 67 first half yards and was missing that spark they had at home in Week 1. The Vikings defense held it’s own against the high powered offense of Pittsburgh who built their lead on the foot of kicker Chris Boswell.

Boswell scored the last 12 points for the Steelers, placing four of his five attempts through the up rights. He connected from 46, 29, 37, 43 yards and missed from 51-yards away. It created the cushion needed for Pittsburgh to remain tied for first place with the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

Consistent pressure, especially by Cameron Heyward was critical in keeping Case Keenum out of rhythm. His inability to settle in the pocket, kept him from finding Week 1 stars Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Keenum would begin to connect more and more near the end of the third quarter. He had 53 yards at halftime and ended the third period 123 passing yards. His 70 passing yards in the quarter, showed he was finding the soft spots on the Steelers defense. With the Vikings defense keeping the Steelers offense in check the script now changed to what lesser unit between the two teams would out dual the other.

The Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook set up Minnesota’s first touchdown. A beautiful 25- yard run, in which he bounced outside and then slide past Mike Mitchell in full stride before getting hit by safety Sean Davis at the Steelers one. The ensuing play C.J. Ham scored his first touchdown on his first NFL carry. Kai Forbath missed the extra point making the score 17-9.

The Vikings defense kept holding Pittsburgh from scoring touchdowns but Boswell kept kicking field goals. The lead grew and grew.

Overall a game that did not offer a lot for the dramatics with Pittsburgh holding a 12 point lead in the with a 1:53 left in the fourth quarter, voided the Vikings any real chance to mount a comeback.

Ben Roethlisberger was able to take what the Vikings were giving him that goes without saying with a veteran quarterback of his caliber. He found Martavis Bryant for a 27-yard strike and rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster caught his first ever touchdown reception from the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Bryant also owned rights to the longest play of the game a 51 yard pass from Roethlisberger on a free play after yellow flags flew when the Vikings were called for the defense being offside.

“It opens up more of the offense,” Tomlin said post game. “I think you can’t really just take a guy like (Antonio Brown) out of the game. You can’t just take our run game out. So you have to have a guy on the other side making plays. I think Martavis putting it back on film, he’s a guy that can be consistent, go out there and make plays.”

The offense is finally at full strength and seeing the emergence of tight end Jesse James also signals how when all the pieces are in place others can find success individually, that leads to success for the team.

Pittsburgh travels to Chicago next weekend to take on the Bears. The Steelers offense is showing it has assembled weapons to accommodate super stars Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. Neither of the two have yet to score this season and without question those touchdowns are going to start raining down on opponents.

Photo Credit Frank Hyatt/College2Pro.com

Bell Struggles After Absence

Le’Veon Doesn’t Answer The Bell After Hiatus

by Bo Marchionte

Cleveland – The weather off Lake Erie for Pittsburgh’s Week 1 match-up against the Cleveland Browns can only be described as perfect. Clear blue skies, the smell of fall in the air and No. 26 warming with the team after a lengthy absence.

The last time Le’Veon Bell took a snap against an opponent was against the New England Patriots, as he looked to continue his streak of 100-yard rushing games in the playoffs to three.

The much anticipated return of Bell did not exactly get off to the best start. Pittsburgh’s offense struggled in the first half of the game. Bell received his first touch of the entire game with 17 seconds left in the first quarter. It was a run off the right side that tallied zero yards.

Is he out of shape?

“You can write anything you want to write,” Mike Tomlin said after their 21-18 victory. “Him missing the preseason, the bottom line is we got highly penalized that put us behind the chains. That minimized the running game. Write that! Because that’s what happened.”

Tomlin was adamant, as was Bell afterwards, deflecting any deficiency towards the yellow flags that stymied the offense for much of the afternoon and not him missing the preseason.

“We were going to be thoughtful about him playing,” Tomlin said about the amount of carries Bell received and added, “read into that however you want.”

Heading into halftime, Pittsburgh had seven penalties, but only eight rushing yards.

The first 30 minutes of the afternoon, did not resemble anything familiar to the Steelers high powered offense filled fueled by elite talent.

The second half did not do much to change the complexity of Pittsburgh’s offense and play calling. A first half of football absent of Bell and a ground game saw the third quarter open up with him touching the football five times on 11 Pittsburgh offensive plays.

The results were the same.

Three of those five touches were runs that yielded eight yards and he finished the game with 11 carries for 32 yards rushing. His rookie teammate Conner had 11 yards on four carries but neither ever found a rhythm.

Too much was different watching the Steelers after this afternoon to not think that Bell’s hiatus from the team did not impact the play calling against the Browns. Seeing them employ and empty backfield or go five wide with actually having Bell as one of the receivers, simply is not the Pittsburgh offense.

The offense we saw against Cleveland is not the offense accustomed to witnessing with Bell at full force. Go back to last years playoff, where Bell rushed the football 59 times for 337 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers two wins. He already had six carries prior to exiting the New England Patriots loss.

“They were huge,” Bell replied to how they impacted their running game. “Obviously, there is not a lot of calls in the playbook for second and twenty.”

Bell arguably could be the most lethal all-purpose weapon in the entire league. He does things when he is at full strength that you marvel at witnessing. You’re thankful to have seen it. It makes you love the game. That guy was not on the field today.

In the fairest assessment after observing the Steelers running game is that Bell was not his normal self and penalties did play a factor in the lack of execution.

Photo Credit College2Pro.com Jason Pohuski

Grinding Away

Blocking Will Not Block Him From His Dream

September 2nd, looms large over a vast majority of players currently in NFL training camps. The date also hangs heavy over a guy teammates call ‘Phaz’ that rhymes wit jazz, opposite of how is name is pronounced.

Phazahn Odom the former fifth year senior from Fordham is one of the players percolating on the roster bubble. His 6-foot-8 athletic frame immediately makes one indulge in the possibilities and potential he could achieve at the next level.

Prior to 4:00 p.m. (Sept. 2nd), New York time, clubs must reduce rosters to a maximum of 53 players on the Active/Inactive List.

“Everything is coming along,” Odom said after the team’s second preseason game. “It’s been a grind going from college to pro. I feel like overall I’ve definitely been improving.”

During rookie camp he emerged as a guy Pittsburgh wanted to see more of after a career at Fordham where he was able to finish second in Rams’ history with nine touchdowns by a tight end.

Odom is a raw prospect that the Steelers’ hope to be able to mold into a player that could contribute. It may not be immediately but tucking him away on the Practice Squad and working with him possibly could be the ticket to punching the NFL time clock for a full 16 game schedule.

“My coach has been on me;” Odom admits and adds, “Coaching me up on blocking and technique.”

Watching him against the Atlanta Falcons he gives maximum effort in that regard which will surely be noticed by coaches breaking down game film. If his blocking continues to trend in the right direction the hallmark of his game will naturally go back towards his ability to catch the football.

His size and athleticism doesn’t allow us to view him any other way. Long and lean with giant strides, Odom just looks the part of pass catching tight end.

The days are narrowing down to September 2nd, and it might not exactly be the Odom makes the final 53-man roster but could be another stepping stone to the Practice Squad.

Photo Credit College2Pro.com Frank Hyatt

Is It Enough

Trey Williams Aims To Stick With Steelers

Pittsburgh – Trey Williams went undrafted out of Texas A&M in the 2015 NFL Draft. Williams originally signed with Washington (2015) before bouncing around to the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and Indianapolis Colts before arriving in Pittsburgh this past season.

“You never know when your chance is,” Williams said post-game. The chance he was referencing to was his 64-yard punt return in the third quarter of Pittsburgh’s win over the Atlanta Falcons 17-13.

“If punt return is what it is the make the team then I’m going to do,” Williams said.

During his time at Texas A&M, he returned kicks but any punts. He possesses a compact muscular frame with burst, which he showed on the return.

He amassed 1,684 return yards during his time in College Station, Texas for the Aggies.

Photo Credit College2Pro.com Frank Hyatt

Refs Piling On Burns?

Refs Hounding Burns

Pittsburgh – According to NFLPenalties.com, Steelers’ defensive back Artie Burns finished 16 total penalty flags second only to Josh Norman (19) of the Washington Redskins last year. Burns was called for another personal foul, against the Atlanta Falcons, which may be a cause for concern since he is such a promising piece to the secondary.

Burns answered questions after the game in a vintage Seattle Supersonic jersey of Gary Payton. He was a bit surprised himself with the unnecessary roughness penalty he occurred during the game against the Falcons.

“The guy engaged me and was blocking me,” Burns recalling the play that warranted a 15-yard penalty. “I gave him the flipper and he flipped. I guess they (Refs) wanted to call unnecessary roughness I guess.”

The second-year defensive back plays aggressive and at 6-foot-1 and nearly 200 pounds he does bring some power behind his frame.

“They are getting soft on the receivers,” Burns acknowledging as a possibility on why refs are tossing their yellow hankies in the air.

It is a situation worth monitoring, since Burns plays such a large role in the secondary. Physical and intimidating accompany Burns style of play and allowing him to play fairly but without consequences and scrutiny from the authority makers on the field should be noted.

Burns 2016 Penalty Stats
Defensive Holding (3), Defensive Pass Interference (3), Illegal Block Above the Waist (2), Offensive Holding (2), Defensive Offside (2), Unnecessary Roughness (2), Illegal Contact (1), Illegal Use of Hands (1)

Photo Credit College2Pro.com Frank Hyatt & Jason Pohuski

A Work In Progress

Dobbs Up & Down Preseason

Pittsburgh – Joshua Dobbs exited the field after two straight punts to open the game against the Atlanta Falcons in the Steelers’ second preseason game.

He proceeded to meet with Landry Jones after his second scoreless drive along with Bart Houston. Starter Ben Roethlisberger was nearby but attending to his offensive linemen.

A lot is expected of Dobbs, whom some envision as a possible candidate to earn significant playing time if Roethlisberger misses time.

“O course you’d like to put some more points on the board to have more to show for it,” Dobbs admitted after the game. “As a unit, we have to get better on third down. So there are always things to improve on. But we also did some things well. So we will have an opportunity tomorrow to get in, watch some film and figure out ways to improve.”

The rookie quarterback looks poised and relaxed in the pocket but his accuracy needs to tighten up. He appears to go through his progressions but finding his target is where he needs to zero in and make the throw. One area he does seem to excel is his deep throws, which is encouraging.

After two preseason games, Dobbs has completed 18 of 34 passes for 170 yards along with one touchdown and interception. Not staggering statistics when glancing at the stats but watching him develop early on shows some encouraging progress.

Athletic with mobility are a couple of assets for his developing game but most important is his pocket presence. Dobbs eluded pressure several times against the Atlanta to avoid a sack.

“The big thing for me is coming in and playing football,” Dobbs said. “You are learning the playing, taking in a ton of different coaching points each and every day. So you are conscious of those.”

It does not appear he has done enough to unseat Landry Jones as the back-up to Roethlisberger. Dobbs at least has provided Pittsburgh with hope they can develop him for success in the future.

Dobbs On Bryant
It was good. He’s a dynamic playmaker. You see it in his highlights – everything that he can do – and to have him as a weapon and to have the chance to be a quarterback with that weapon. I was looking for him every chance I could get.

The defense did a good job changing up the coverage’s and rolling to his side to try to protect people in coverage. So whenever you have the opportunity to take a shot, you’ve got to take it.

Photo Credit College2Pro.com Frank Hyatt

Conner Building Momentum

Conner Shows Flashes But Not On Level Of Le’Veon

Pittsburgh – The Steelers kept feeding their rookie running back James Conner against the Atlanta Falcons. Watching the rookie ware down the Falcons’ defense might have perked the interest of Le’Veon Bell if he was watching in the safe confines of him home, while the Steelers await his decision to return and sign his one year contract under the franchise tag.

Conner ran for 98 yards on 20 carries displaying the same traits that placed him second overall in Pittsburgh Panthers school history with 3,733 rushing yards. He displayed the power and ability to cut and get up field.

“With all the runs, I was relaxing, getting more comfortable as the run were going by us,” Conner said after his first game at Heinz Field where he played his college games. Pittsburgh ultimately wants Bell to get back to camp as soon as possible but the longer he waits it allows the team to take a very long look at what that have in the 105th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Bell thrives as one of the best receiving running backs in the league. Evidence is in his 75 receptions that ranked second on the team behind Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown. Conner had two drops that were going to lead to big gains against the Falcons.

“Just got to get my hands ready for the next game,” Conner said from his locker. “Frustrating because they were catch able balls.”

The Erie, PA native has a very positive vibe trending in his favor. Conner has an upbringing in Pennsylvania, played for the Panthers and finally being drafted by the Steelers.

Colleg2Pro.com Photographer Frank Hyatt

Conner Replaces Bell If Holdout Fails To Cease

Five Burning Issues For The Steelers’ Leaving For Latrobe

Fans eagerly await another season of Steelers’ football due to the fact that this team represents one of the best since their last Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers in 2010.

Pittsburgh heads into camp without Le’Veon Bell who elected not to sign a contract and remains under the franchise tag. It is a cause for concern since he is such a focal point of the offense, when he is in it. He’ll be the focal point of conversation due to his extremely gifted abilities on the field but other intriguing issues remain at camp opens.

Can A Rookie Give Them Confidence

James Conner was selected in the third round of this 2017 NFL Draft. The pick in my opinion was taken as insurance to the many issues that surround Pro Bowl running back Le’veon Bell. Regardless of the contract developments surrounding Bell if Conner does not look like he can be a factor early if needed the Steelers will be forced to sign free agent bodies. DeAngelo Williams remains unsigned as does Rashad Jennings. These veterans could be brought in if Conner does not look up to the task as camp nears the up-coming season.

Four In A Row

Last season head coach Mike Tomlin broke a current streak of two straight playoff appearances and then missing the playoffs. Now his current streak stands at three straight playoff appearances (2014-16) and the last Steelers’ head coach to make four in a row was Bill Cowher (1994-97). Cowher holds the teams’ second longest streak of six straight from 1992-97 while Hall of Fame coach Chuck Knoll holds the record of eight straight (1972-1979).

2015 / Round: 2 / Pick: 56

Two years ago the Steelers were excited to see what then rookie Senquez Golson had to offer the secondary. He talented defensive back out of Ole Miss was placed on the Steelers’ Reserve/Injured list due to a shoulder injury on August 31, 2015, missing his rookie year. In year two, Golson suffered a Lisfranc injury and never played in a single game. He possesses a ton of talent and could be a real contributor in the secondary and if his camp is strong enough, he could unseat incumbent Ross Cockrell to start next to second year man Artie Burns.

Blind Side

Regardless how talented Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are it still appears that if Ben Roethlisberger is not healthy the offense gets stagnant real quick. One of the key pieces to keeping him protected is by the play of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. The former Army Ranger captain is a possible day one no show for camp and that could become a real problem for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Villanueva, an exclusive rights free agent, may not commit to coming to camp leaving a large void in the teams first line of defense.

Return to Greatness

The Steelers’ defense is predicated on their linebackers pumping the blood through the entire defense. It does take all 11 players to work in unison but the linebackers are the key ingredient to allowing the process to function at maximum ability. If Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier can stay healthy for an entire season it would bolster the defense to playoff caliber football. These two possess the potential of the greats that have played in front of them and it is imperative they stay on the field for Pittsburgh to challenge for a championship.

Defensive Rookies Shine Day 1

Steelers Rookie Camp Reviews – Defensive Rookie Impact

Pittsburgh – The Steelers unleashed their collection of young talent to the media this afternoon. The rookies and other free agent tryouts worked out as F-16 fighter jets circled over head in anticipation of tomorrow’s air show.

It served as the first official practice for their 2017 collection of NFL Draft picks that included T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster respectively. The day also allowed dozens of other free agents to show their skills to the Steelers coaching and scouting departments.

The morning practice revealed several prospects that warrant attention and their listed below.

Brian Allen, CB, Utah
Acquired 2017 NFL Draft 5th Round
Mike Tomlin seemed to express a special interest in the 6-foot-3 and 215 pound Allen who may possibly remind most of Mel Blount due to his impressive stature.

“I heard him,” Allen said. “I knew he was a great coach from the beginning and when he gave me the phone call on draft day he kind a gave me a little joke on the telephone but I’m just happy to be out here and thankful for the opportunity.”

Allen made a terrific one-handed interception every bit as impressive as the Odell Beckman made famous.

“I practice catches,” Allen said. “When I was a wide receiver I used to stay after practice and practice one handed catches like that. I wouldn’t necessarily say its luck but I would say there was a little bit of skill put into it.”

He made the switch from receiver to safety but only stayed their two games after injuries forced him to move to defensive back and he has been there ever since (2014).

Dillon Buechel, QB, Duquesne
Tryout ‘17
After the first practice Buechel put together a solid morning. He threw tight spiraled passes with some zip and looked like a arm that could hang around for the duration of camp.

A real long-shot in terms of making the team but again after one day of practice he looked as poised and mechanically inclined as fourth round selection Josh Dobbs.

It is also taking nothing away from Dobbs who looked equally relaxed deliver his passes, but considering Buechel’s background and level of competition. The NEC (Northeast Conference) is a far cry from the most powerful collegiate conference (SEC) where Dobbs used to reside.


Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
Acquired NFL Draft 3rd Round
“A little bit (laughing),” Sutton said in regards to how much film he has seen of his new teammate Antonio Brown. “We are definitely going to have some good battles and competition but at the end of the day we are all working towards one goal and that is to win.”

Sutton was impressive after once practice showing nice anticipation to break on the ball and some very fluid hips that allow him to sink into coverage without losing the gap between him and the receiver.

His acquisition in the third round could be the steal of the Steelers draft his year if he continues to display the ability he revealed today.

Keion Adams, LB, Western Michigan
Acquired NFL Draft 7th Round
It was hard to not be impressed by the athleticism shown by Adams this afternoon. His basketball background and decisive steps trigger his ability to pursue the ball effectively.

He covers the field quickly and his hallmark ability is rushing the quarterback. That coincides with the most important aspect of the Steelers defense and that is rushing the passer.

If Pittsburgh can develop this talented 7th round selection out of Western Michigan he could become a will asset on situational passing plays that warrant his skill set.

Corey Jones, WR, Toledo
Tryout ‘17
Pittsburgh used the 97th overall pick (Third Round) of the 2014 NFL Draft on Dri Archer. Jones is a splitting image of Archer is both size and ability.

The Steelers envisioned big things for Archer who never materialized and now is with the Buffalo Bills. That is why Jones is a special player to watch because Pittsburgh could still be looking to curve their appetite for a player like Archer.

Jones is a return specialist and solid pass catching prospect that Todd Haley could mix and match in his offensive scheme. Making the team is the first priority but he is worth keeping an eye on.

Jarvis Jones (2013), Ryan Shazier (2014) and Bud Dupree (2015) were the Steelers first-round picks. McKinley makes it the fourth linebacker drafted in the last fives years.

Defense Headlines Steelers 2017 Draft Needs

2016 Steelers Draft 2016                                                             College2Pro Steelers Mock Draft
1st Artie Burns, DB, Miami (FL)                                                     Eli Apple, DB, Ohio State
2nd Sean Davis, SS, Maryland                                                        Vonn Bell, SS, Ohio State
3rd Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina St                                 Correct
4th Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU                                                         Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State
5th Travis Feeney, LB, Washington                                               Joe Dahl, G, Washington State
6th DeMarcus Ayers, WR, Houston                                               LeShaun Sims, DB, Southern Utah
7th Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple                                                 Marcus Johnson, WR, Texas

The Steelers head into the up-coming draft with the idea of replenishing depth rather than drat for drastic needs of replacing former aging stars on each side of the ball. The team has been able to stay relevant transforming the former nucleus with a new generation of play-makers.

We are underway for another fascinating off season for the Steelers. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are the marquee names that will garner the bulk of attention especially with Bell a pending free agent and one of the most dynamic players in the entire league.

A few years ago the team was desperate for offensive line help and then the secondary become a huge cause for concern. The offensive line allowed the second fewest sacks (21) behind only the Oakland Raiders (18). Pittsburgh finished seventh overall in total offense and proved to be a formidable force in 2016.

Defensively the unit is a work in progress. Their sacks an interception numbers dipped in 2016 prior to their 2015 production. In 2015 the team recorded 48 sacks and 17 interceptions and one season later Pittsburgh accumulated 38 sacks and 13 interceptions.

Their first three picks in the 2015 NFL Draft (Burns, Davis and Hargrave) play critically important roles and look to be big pieces to the defense moving forward. It will be a matter of them becoming more experienced along with more additions made via the draft or free agency.

First-Round
Takkarist McKinley, OLB, UCLA
He has immense upside and the Steelers defense functions best when the outside linebackers are making sacks. It will mark the fourth time in the last five years they have drafted a linebacker in the first-round. With Jarvis Jones likely not being brought back and James Harrison wizardry of avoiding Father-Time can only last so long before he is caught. Please keep in mind the size preference of the position and you will realize why McKinley or Alabama’s Tim Williams fit the mold of what the Steelers want as a pass rushing linebacker.

Second-Round
Chidobe Awuzie, DB, Colorado
The former Buffalo defensive back is a lockdown corner with good field awareness who will help add depth and talent. The team really does not know what it has in Senquez Golson a former second-round pick in 2015 who has been unable to stay healthy and play in a regular season game. Awuzie only enhances the defense and possibly giving them a bookend opposite of Artie Burns.

Third-Round
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
One of the deepest running back classes in decades the plethora of players available are simply to talented to pass on in the third-round and it serves as an insurance policy in case Bell misses significant time. DeAngelo Williams is a free agent and turns 34 two days prior to the 2017 NFL Draft. While he has been superb in filling in for Bell the logical thinking if he can with stand another big workload is not the smartest bet to make.

Fourth-Round
Julien Davenport, OT, Bucknell
Pittsburgh prefers their offensive lineman to be well over 310 pounds when playing tackle. Bucknell is 6-foot-7 and 310 pounds and provides the team depth with some versatility to slide in at guard in a pinch. Expect the Steelers to add some weight to the Bucknell star lineman.

Fifth-Round
Conner Harris, ILB, Lindenwood
The most productive linebacker in NCAA history recorded 633 total tackles during his career and spent time at running back as well. Harris could be a factor in the fifth-round. Lawrence Timmons hopefully is retained when free agency begins but his departure would leave a real void in the Steelers defense. Timmons staying and showing Harris the way would be the ideal situation.

Sixth-Round
Al Riles, WR, Louisiana-Lafayette
This is where long road hours by regional scouts take effect when the draft nears its end. Pittsburgh is always a safe bet to pick a receiver in the sixth or seventh round and the tradition continues with Riles the ‘Jabrill Peppers’ of the Sun Belt Conference. He has played safety, linebacker and receiver at impact levels.

Seventh-Round
Javancy Jones, OLB, Jackson State
Knowing the young man I hope he goes a little higher than the seventh-round so he can exhale a bit on draft weekend. Jones is simply a play-maker with swagger and the ability to be productive in a wide variety of way defensively. He can tackle. He can get after the quarterback and I do believe if he had Alabama on his jersey he would be a third-round prospect.

“This is my third year here,” said Cody Wallace. “So I have a good handle on the system, been with the same guys a lot with Ramon (Foster) and Dave (DeCastro) at the guard positions.”

Like a good ‘Neighbor’ Wallace is there

A lot of pressure falls on the shoulders of the center, especially when you’re replacing a Pro Bowler considered the best at his position – It intensifies with Super Bowl aspirations.

That is the situation for sixth- year veteran Cody Wallace of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pouncey was place on the teams Reserve/Injured; Designated For Return List back in September after hurting his right ankle.

“This is my third year here,” said Cody Wallace. “So I have a good handle on the system, been with the same guys a lot with Ramon (Foster) and Dave (DeCastro) at the guard positions.”

Wallace had done a superb job of directing the offense and snapping to three different quarterbacks this season.

“That’s life as a back-up in the NFL,” joked Wallace knowing that when your number is called you got to be ready roll.

The Steelers certainly know his value and establishing himself as a top reserve with starter potential. Prior to signing with the Steelers (2013) the 2008 fourth-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft spent time on five other NFL teams that includes the San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, New York Jets, Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Six teams in eight seasons puts Wallace in that journeymen type category – Or maybe relatively unknown.

“Everyone calls me the ‘Neighbor’,” laughed Wallace. “Tomlin started it. He kind of jokes and says, ‘Yah this guy looks like your neighbor, but you get him on the field and he’s a bad dude’, everyone enjoyed it and it kind of stuck.”

Wallace has stuck just like his nickname.

“I like to think I’m a nice guy in the locker room, but when we go on the field I try to be a little dirty.”

That nasty tough play has helped the offensive line stay aggressive and keep the offense ranked near the top of the league (9th) in points scored.

In his third season with the Steelers he is learning the trade under Hall of Famer Mike Munchak. He is in his second season as the offensive line coach and has helped not only Wallace excel but the entire unit.

“He’s huge (In his importance) and all guys in the room love him,” said Wallace. “He makes it fun coming in there and he’s a guy that played for a long time so he understands what we go through. He knows it’s not always going to be perfect. He just wants us to play hard and bring a nasty attitude.”

Like a good ‘Neighbor’ Wallace is there – Doing a superb job and keeping the continuity along the offensive front cohesive.

This is an unofficial and independent source of news and information not affiliated with any team(s) or the National Football League (NFL).

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