The Pittsburgh Steelers are reeling after the death of wide receivers coach Daryl Drake, who died Sunday morning at age 62. As of Sunday night, the team had not released any details about Daryl Drake’s death, but they did cancel practices on both Sunday and Monday.
Steelers President Art Rooney II issued the following statement:
We are at a loss for words following Darryl Drake’s passing this morning. Darryl had such an impact on the players he coached and everyone he worked with throughout his entire career. He was a passionate coach and had a tremendous spirit toward life, his family, his faith and the game of football.
Our prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Sheila, his three daughters, his grandchildren and entire family during this difficult time.
Of Daryl Drake, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “He was an amazing husband, father and grandfather, and it is difficult to put into words the grief our entire team is going through right now.”
Diontae Spencer and Daryl Drake at practice. Photo Credit: Diontae Spencer’s Twitter feed.
Steelers, NFL Assistant Coaches Make Impact in Anonymity
NFL position coaches, as Dick Hoak, reminded everyone on the day he retired, “Are hired to be fired.” Hoak of course beat the system, serving on Chuck Noll’s staff starting in 1972 and Bill Cowher’s stafff starting in 1992 and retiring in January 2006.
Occasionally an assistant will break out of that mold. Mike Munchak’s tenure in Pittsburgh offers a perfect example.
But Mike Munchack is an exception, not the rule. Randy Fitchner had been on Mike Tomlin’s staff since 2007, yet when he first appeared talking to Ben Roethlisberger on the Steelers sidelines in mid-2018, I had to do a double take before I realized who he was.
Such was the case with Daryl Drake, who joined the Steelers in 2018.
Although Drake was charged with filling the shoes of a legend, Richard Mann he maintained a relatively low profile during his stint in Pittsburgh. No one, not even the most bombastic blogger, looked at Antonio Brown’s tantrums and asked, “Would this have happened had Richard Mann was still here?”
Sometimes anonymity has its benefits.
Which isn’t to say that Daryl Drake’s coaching didn’t have an impact on the Steelers roster. JuJu Smith-Schuster had a breakout year under Drakes tutelage. While that’s highly probably that JuJu’s sophomore season would have gone similarly regardless of who is position coach was, it is not certain.
To the surprise of no one, Ben Roethlisbergerdidn’t start for the Steelers as they took on the Buccaneers at Heinz Field Friday night in the first preseason action of 2019. Joshua Dobbs did, and he was succeeded by Mason Rudolph, who was succeeded by growing camp darling, Delvin Hodges. Dobbs probably looked the shakiest, as he completed five of eight passes for 85 yards. However, he did look great while hooking up withJames Washington on a 43-yard strike early in the first quarter.
Dobbs also showed off his running prowess, as he set up a field goal with a 36-yard scramble in the second quarter.
Mason Rudolph came on in the second quarter and also completed five of eight passes but for 91 yards and two scores. Rudolph’s first touchdown pass came on a beautiful back-shoulder throw to Washington late in the first half. He showed great patience on his second, as he found rookie tight end Zach Gentry alone in the back of the end zone early in the third quarter.
As for Hodges, he completed 8 of 14 passes for 79 yards and an eight-yard touchdown strike to Tevin Jones early in the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a decent performance by all three youngsters, as they battle it out for the roles of backup and third-string quarterback. Grade: B-
There was nothing to write home about, as James Conner sat out the night’s action, and Joshua Dobbs was actually the leading rusher with 44 yards on two carries. Rookie fourth-round pick, Benny Snell Jr. got the bulk of the action, gaining 26 yards on 13 attempts, while posting another 25 yards on two receptions. As for Jaylen Samuels, the second-year man carried just twice for 21 yards, while Trey Edmunds, Terrell’s brother, carried five times for 19 yards. Grade: C
Obviously, Washington stood out, as he showed great hands and body-control, while pulling in four passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Johnny Holton, the return specialist the Steelers signed this summer, put himself on the radar with two receptions for 69 yards–including a dazzling 59-yard catch and run early in the third quarter that set up a touchdown. Tevin Jones and Diontae Spencer were the only other contributors among the receiving corps, as they caught three passes apiece for 24 and 17 yards, respectively. Grade: B-
Xavier Grimble didn’t see much action, while Zack Gentry caught three passes for 17 yards and a score. Kevin Radar, battling for the third tight end spot, fumbled on his lone catch of the night. Grade: C
Naturally, most of the veterans got the night off. As for the subs, many of whom are trying to break through as super reserves, they did fairly well in pass protection, only allowing two sacks on the night and very little pressure. But the running game didn’t benefit from many holes. Grade: C
Javon Hargrave was the only starter to see action. Veteran reserve Tyson Alualu was penalized for roughing the passer on what looked like a questionable call. As for rookie sixth-round pick, Isaiah Buggs, he posted three tackles and recovered a fumble. Grade: C
It was a promising debut for inside linebacker Devin Bush, as he led the team in tackles with 10 and was in on a lot of the action all night. Tyler Matakevich forced a fumble on a sack. And Ulysees Gilbert III, a sixth-round pick from Akron, made a bit of a splash in his debut, recording 1.5 sacks and intercepting a pass on a two-point conversion. Ola Adeniyi combined with Bush to stop the Buccaneers short on a running play on fourth and one in the second quarter. Grade: B+
Chris Boswell carried his great camp over into his first preseason game, connecting on both of his field goal tries–including one from 47 yards out–and his lone extra point attempt. As for Matthew Wright, he made his lone field goal attempt from 42 yards away and connected on both of his extra point tries. Diontae Spencer returned two punts for 52 yards–including one for 30. As for the punters, incumbent Jordan Berry averaged 44.5 yards on two kicks, while Ian Berryman’s lone punt traveled 66 yards. Grade: B+
Tyler Matakevich. While he’s always been a special teams ace, Matakevich has never shown much at his actual position of inside linebacker. But he did record a strip-sack on Friday that was recovered by the Steelers.
Steelers’ rookie first-round pick Devin Bush was the star of a training camp highlight over the weekend, when he got the best of fellow rookie Benny Snell Jr. in a backs on backers drill.
If you watch the video linked to the first paragraph, you’ll see that Devin Bush took Benny Snell, a fourth-round pick who earned a reputation at Kentucky as a hard-nosed running back who liked to run downhill, and drove him about five yards backwards before depositing him on his, well, backside.
Naturally, Devin Bush drew praise and cheers from the many onlookers at the team’s annual Friday Night Lights practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.
As a long-time observer of the team, I saw what Devin Bush did and the first thing I thought was that he needed to win just about every backs on backers battle he could against a rookie running back.
Steelers rookie Devin Bush on the fields of St. Vincents. Photo Credit: AP, via Yahoo! Sports
Sure, Devin Bush, an inside linebacker from Michigan, is a rookie in his own right, and he’s out there learning just like every other player at his first NFL training camp. But it’s a little different for Devin Bush.
He’s not just a rookie first-round draft choice. He’s a rookie first-round draft choice that general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin deemed valuable enough to trade up 10 spots to select–and part with a first-round pick (2019), second-round pick (2019) and third-round pick (2020) in the process.
That’s a huge departure for a Steelers front office whose draft day philosophy is usually to stand pat and let the chips fall where they may. But the Steelers couldn’t wait and hope that Bush fell to them (that would have been a minor miracle, anyway), not this year, not with what he could possibly mean to their defense.
In that context, my thought process regarding Devin Bush’s dominance of Snell Jr. wasn’t really surprising. And that’s because my expectations for him are high.
And that brings me to what Bush is just days away from facing: a stadium full of Steelers fans who will have the same expectations of Bush that I do when Pittsburgh takes on the Buccaneers this Friday night at Heinz Field in the first preseason game of 2019.
Sure, it’s only an exhibition, and for most of the veterans, it will be a glorified practice and a way to get some more work in (that is, if they even play at all). As for the other rookies and younger players–many of whom are already on the brink of having to get on with their life’s work–yes, the pressure will be on. It will be do or die, perhaps the one and only time they’ll be able to leave a strong and lasting impression on their bosses.
Devin Bush is facing no such pressure. His spot on the roster is a lock, not only for this season but the next few.
However, this does not mean Devin Bush won’t be feeling the pressure to perform and to perform well, staring this Friday. You see, about 120,000 eyes will be trained on his every move for every second that he’s in the game. Why?
Devin Bush is seen by many as a minor savior for the Steelers.
If he is truly the real deal–if his speed, explosiveness, athleticism, play-making ability, leadership and high football IQ can make a seamless transition from the college ranks to the professional level–Pittsburgh’s defense may have its replacement for Ryan Shazier, who was lost near the end of the 2017 campaign with a spinal injury that he’s still not fully recovered from.
Ryan Shazier was everything to the Steelers defense, which is why the team drafted in him out of Ohio State in 2014. Shazier battled the injury bug over the course of his four-years as the center of the Steelers defense, but when he was healthy, there was no question he was central to its every move.
Shazier was the guy who did all the heavy lifting for Keith Butler’s unit. The entire defensive game-plan was schemed around him and his ability to pursue, to make things happen just about anywhere on the field.
After Ryan Shazier was lost in the final month of the 2017 season, Pittsburgh’s defense was never quite the same and had no real replacement at inside linebacker.
But how could anyone come off the bench and replace a talent like Ryan Shazier? And if there wasn’t anyone on the bench, there surely wasn’t anyone on the street who could, even though the Steelers tried by signing Sean Spence right before the playoffs.
It was to no avail, as Spence, a third-round pick in 2012 who spent his first incarnation as a Steeler trying to rehab from a devastating knee injury, wasn’t anything close to what the Shazier-lacking defense needed him to be.
The Steelers defense, a unit that’s spent the better part of this decade trying to recapture the magic from the previous decade, had its moments in 2018. But it didn’t have that explosive play-maker in the middle to bring everything together.
Jon Bostic was a nice veteran signing, but that’s all he was. He certainly didn’t have the ability to be a difference-maker in the middle of the defense.
As for Vince Williams, a sixth-round pick in 2013, despite being a self-made man who has gotten every single ounce that he can out of his abilities, he wasn’t the same without Shazier by his side.
The Steelers’ had a lot of young and promising talent on defense as they entered the 2019 offseason, but they didn’t have someone who could bring it all together.
Now, maybe they do.
We’ll soon begin to find out, starting this Friday night. Yes, it might only be preseason, but not since Ben Roethlisberger started his first regular season game for an injured Tommy Maddoxback in 2004 have expectations for a Steelers rookie been this high.
The world won’t be watching as Devin Bush makes his debut this Friday, just Steeler Nation, but how he performs could make a world of difference for the team’s immediate future.
The early word out of Latrobe is that 2nd year quarterback Mason Rudolph looks good. Rudolph spent the 2019 off season working with Adam Dedeaux on his throwing mechanics and footwork.
Per Steel City Insider’sJim Wexell, Mason Rudolph is throwing the ball with greater velocity, carrying himself with greater confidence, and showing more poise in the pocket. That’s good news for Mason Rudolph who enters his second summer at St. Vincents fighting Joshua Dobbs for the right to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup.
Mason Rudoph and Joshua Dobbs square off @ St. Vincents. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review
It is also interesting because Mason Rudolph is just fighting Joshua Dobbs, he’s also fighting a bit of Steelers history:
Pittsburgh just doesn’t have a good record of “developing quarterbacks.”
No, we’re not talking about the likes of Johnny Unitas, Earl Morrall, Len Dawson, and Bill Nelsen whom the Steelers pushed away only to see them return to punish Pittsburgh. Those were personnel mistakes. But the Steelers simply lack a strong record for grooming quarterbacks from the bullpen.
Before the salary cap, NFL coaches nurtured quarterbacks like fine wine. Often times they’d draft quarterbacks with an eye towards developing them for a few years rather than start them as rookies.
Super Bowl winners Roger Staubach, Joe Theismann, Jeff Hostetler, and Mark Rypien all did lengthy apprenticeships on the bench before earning status as full time starters.
Together, Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger have more Super Bowl rings than the aforementioned quartet combined, but both men started as rookies.
Ben Roethlisberger got a baptism by fire as a rookie, and led the Steelers to Super Bowl XL a year later. Bradshaw’s ascension to Super Bowl caliber quarterback started with the first game of his rookie year. The process resembled a traumatic midwifing rather than methodical maturation.
When the Steelers have tried to go the draft and develop route, things haven’t panned out as planned.
The Steelers picked Mark Malone with the 1st pick in the 1980 draft, and Malone had 3 years to learn at the feet of Terry Bradshaw and Cliff Stoudt. Mark Malone led the 1984 Steelers to the AFC Championship in his first year as a starter, but it was all downhill after that.
During the 1987 season, when Mark Malone was in route to posting a 46.4 passer rating (no, that’s not a typo that’s forty six point four), Chuck Noll defended his decision to keep Bubby Brister on the bench explaining, “He needs to develop.”
But alas, Bubby Brister never matured into anything other than a serviceable starter.
(And this is from someone who told a taunt that the Cowboys were going to “Win the Aikman Derby” on a Boy Scout camping trip in late 1988, “We don’t need Troy Aikman. We have Bubby Brister.”)
Neil O’Donnell spent his rookie year behind Bubby Brister and Rick Strom. As Bob Labriola observed in his early 1991 off season roster analysis in the Steelers Digest, “If all goes well a year from now O’Donnell will have done nothing more than watched and learned while holding a clipboard.”
Of course an injury to Brister in a week 7 game against the Giants trust O’Donnell into the starting lineup where he stayed, save for two games at the end of the ’91 season, until Super Bowl XXX.
In between O’Donnell and Stewart, there was Jim Miller, another quarterback the Steelers had drafted to develop. Jim Miller got 1994 and 1995 to mature, but his stint as a starter lasted all of one game.
Word to the Wise on Mason Rudolph – Pray for the Best, Prepare for the Worst
Does this history somehow spell doom for Mason Rudolph? No, not at all. As Mike Tomlin would remind us, “Mason Rudolph is writing his own story.” But history offers an important lesson nontheless.
Just as it was for O’Donnell in 1991, the plan in 2004 was for Ben Roethlisberger to watch and learn behind Tommy Maddox. At 12:11 in the 3rd quarter of a week two contest against the Baltimore Ravens, Gary Baxter changed everything by knocking Maddox out of the game.
Ben Roethlisberger took the field, and the Steelers haven’t looked back since.
God willing, several years lie between Mason Rudoph and his first meaningful NFL snap. But its good to know he is making strides towards being ready just in case.
When comparing Steelers third-year slot-corner Mike Hilton‘s stats from 2017 with those from 2018, there doesn’t appear to be much of a difference.
In 2017, Mike Hilton, an undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss in 2016, had 54 tackles, four sacks, six passes defensed, two interceptions and one forced fumble while appearing in 16 games and starting four.
In 2018, Mike Hilton had 57 tackles, one sack, eight passes defensed, one interception and two fumble recoveries while appearing in 15 games and starting two.
Mike Hilton’s Red Zone interception. Photo Credit: Mark LoMoglio, AP via Tribune-Review
Other than the number of sacks, which are a bit misleading considering he had three in one game in a Week 16 blowout victory over the Texans in 2017, again, there doesn’t seem to be much of a discernible difference in play and performance over Hilton’s first two seasons in the league.
Yet, after entering his second Steelers training camp as a youngster who appeared to have a bright future in the defense, Mike Hilton enters his third Steelers training camp looking like a player who is in for a fight for his starting role in the secondary.
Yes, the slot corner position is very much considered a starting role in the modern era of football; and after some unsuccessful attempts to fill this now very important role–including with Hilton’s old college teammate, 2015 second-round pick Senquez Golson–the Steelers seemed to find their man two years ago.
What changed? It’s not rumor or speculation, either. The sudden drop of Mike Hilton’s stock from one season to the next — specifically, the tail-end of last season, when other corners were now battling him for playing time.
To further reinforce this apparent lack of confidence in Mike Hilton’s abilities, the Steelers barely even made an attempt to negotiate with him on a multi-year contract this past offseason, and he ultimately signed his $645,000 tender as an exclusive rights free agent. as you probably know, an exclusive rights free agent is someone who has no power or leverage to negotiate a deal. It’s a take it or leave it situation.
For whatever reason, the Steelers made it pretty clear to Mike Hilton that he had no leverage.
To his credit, Mike Hilton participated in all offseason workouts, even before signing his tender. Now, he’s at Steelers training camp in Latrobe, Pa. trying to prove to his bosses that 2017 was no fluke. Again, though, what happened in 2018 that made Mike Hilton’s rookie season seem so fluky?
I’m obviously no expert, so maybe there was a drop off in Mike Hilton’s play that only those who get paid to evaluate could have detected.
Nobody on Pittsburgh’s current roster appears to be nipping at Hilton’s heels, not 2017 third-round pick, Cam Sutton, not 2017 fifth-round pick, Brian Allen and certainly not 2016 first-round pick, Artie Burns, who is fighting just to stay on the roster.
Maybe it really is just speculation, this apparent falling out of favor by Mike Hilton with the Steelers. After all, you’ll be hard-pressed to find him on any list ranking the NFL’s top nickle corners. Furthermore, Mike Hilton is a restricted free agent in 2020, meaning the Steelers essentially control his rights for another offseason. Therefore, why bother with a multi-year contract at this point?
Maybe the Steelers feel that there is much room for improvement at slot corner, and while Hilton is a nice player, perhaps they’re looking for a little more out of the position.
By all outward appearances, Mike Hilton has been put on notice by the Steelers, and the battle for the slot-corner position is one worth watching this summer.
Art Rooney II used the opening of training camp to dispense with any potential distraction about Mike Tomlin’s future in Pittsburgh with a contract extension. However, the absence an extension for Kevin Colbert remained a bit of a mystery.
The mystery lasted little more than 24 hours, when Art Rooney II told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “At this stage of the game, he’s really not looking to do any long-term planning. We talked and we agreed he’d rather wait till after the season to talk about the contract.”
This of course led to speculation about Kevin Colbert’s standing in the organization.
Colbert however quickly clarified the situation, going on Steelers.com to confirm that he has no plans to leave the organization nor is he angling towards transitioning out of his current role. At age 62, however, he’s simply not making long-term plans.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert at a Super Bowl Parade. Photo Credit: SI
The fact that Kevin Colbert’s status with the team could become a situation he evaluates yearly has been reported throughout the 2019 off season by reporters such as Ed Bouchette, Gerry Dulac and Jim Wexell, among others.
Sometimes When You Smell Smoke, There Really Is Fire – But Not Now
While the internet and social media have loosened things up to a point, the NFL remains a tightly managed product. There’s a lot that goes on behind closed doors that even the most engaged fan is unaware of.
When unwanted stories bubble to the surface, teams still have tremendous power to tone them down, if not quiet them outright.
The Steelers have extended Mike Tomlin’s contract by one year, binding him to Pittsburgh through “at least” the 2021 season. The move came as the Steelers opened training camp at St. Vincents, as Art Rooney II moved quickly to remove any distractions about the job security of his head coach.
Since Bill Cowher’s tenure, the Steelers have traditionally extended their head coach when he has had two years remaining on his contract.
The extension is, however, for one year, with an option which is a bit of a break from tradition, and no one really seems to know why. There are several possibilities:
The two sides couldn’t agree on money, so this was a quick, clean compromise
Art Rooney II wants to hold Mike Tomlin’s feet to the fire
While all four possibilities are viable, some are more likely than others.
Mike Tomlin addressing the press. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP via ESPN.com
One would like to think that after sticking together through 12 years of ups and downs, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers wouldn’t clash over contract terms. But as Bruce Springsteen wrote, “Sooner or later it all comes down to money honey/Waist deep in a big muddy….”
The idea that Art Rooney II is only offering a one year extension might sit well with fans, and hasn’t been discounted by journalists such as the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac. However, NFL coach’s contracts are guaranteed. Adding an extra year to Mike Tomlin’s contract likely means committing to between 7 and 10 million more dollars.
Would you really commit that kind of money to someone you think you might be firing?
The fact that Mike Tomlin’s contract is now aligned with Ben Roethlisberger is lost on no one. Roethlisberger clearly likes playing for Mike Tomlin, and Mike Tomlin likes Roethlisberger. Their fortunes are tied together figuratively, perhaps they’re tied together literally.
The next possibility is one that isn’t being discussed, and that’s that Mike Tomlin doesn’t want a longer deal.
Mike Tomlin has two kids, Dino Tomlin and Mason Tomlin, in college and while his boys were in high school he has discussed how difficult be for him to miss seeing them play. Depending on how their eligibility is used, if Tomlin walked away at the end of his current deal, he could conceivably see both boys finish their collegiate playing days.
Regardless of motive, today’s announcement all but ensures that Mike Tomlin will be on hand next summer at St. Vincents.
Hilton Signs, Watt on PUP
A smidge of other major news to come out of Steelers training camp today. Cornerback Mike Hilton signed his Exclusive Rights Free Agent tender which was his only choice. And in a precautionary move, the Steelers put T.J. Watt on the PUP list due to a tight hamstring.
Training camp has started and for the next few weeks St. Vincents, in Latrobe will occupy the center of the universe for Steelers Nation. Over the next 24 hours, we’ll be treated to images of players moving into camp, interviews with veteran stars and rookie hopefuls and a press conference from Mike Tomlin where he promises to “Build a foundation.”
Ben Roethlisberger is 37 years old. He knows the playbook. He’s well versed in the nuances of running the two minute drill. Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs can use all the reps they can get, whereas Ben Roethlisberger knows how to throw a fade route.
Ben Roethlisberger’s training camp practice has reps have been limited and he’s seen precious little action in preseason for the past several summers. He’s also remained healthy and upright for the past two seasons.
But Roethlisberger has also been rusty at the start of the last two seasons.
He was far worse in early 2017 than in 2018, but last year it still took him several games to hit his stride. The Steelers cannot afford that, especially given the fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington and Vance McDonald will have to find someway to make up for the loss of You Know Who.
This summer at St. Vincents the Steelers must position themselves to start fast and finish strong.
2. Establish a Number 2 Wide Receiver
JuJu Smith-Schuster is a legitimate number 1 wide receiver. You don’t make the catches he’s made over the last two years if you don’t have true talent. But every true number 1 needs a number 2 to take heat off of him.
Just look at how You Know Who was limited down the stretch in ’16 when the Steelers were essentially starting practice squad guys at the number 3 and 4 wide receiver slots.
If James Washington can transfer what coaches and journalists say they see on the practice fields to game situations then the Steelers will be OK. If not, then they had better hope that Donte Moncrief does indeed benefit from having Ben Roethlisberger throw to him.
Otherwise, the Steelers fall from contender status will continue this autumn.
However, the Steelers have gambled with not staffing a competent number 3 running back for the past several seasons, and it has hurt them every time. Counting on James Conner to stay healthy and Jaylen Samuels to both stay healthy and build on his rookie year is too big a role of the dice.
The Steelers NEED Bennie Snell Jr., Trey Edmunds or someone else to prove they can be a legit number 3 NFL running back. Otherwise, the prospect of needing to make another December call Stevan Ridley could be come very real.
After that, the Steelers have quantity, but no proven quality.
The Steelers need to develop that depth this summer. Morgan Burnett forced his way out of Pittsburgh after last season and most fans shrugged their shoulders. Yet, it was Burnett who knocked away Tom Brady’s final pass, and had he returned he’d have given the Steelers a strong option as a third safety.
Right now the backup safeties s are Marcus Allen and Jordan Dangerfield. Everyone seems to be down on Allen, even though his slate is blank. Maybe he can prove the doubters wrong.
Over at cornerback Cam Sutton and Brian Allen need to turn potential into production and/or Artie Burns has to salvage something of a once promising start. Otherwise, might see Justin Layne get a baptism by fire….
The Pittsburgh Steelers begin arriving at St. Vincents in Latrobe today bringing the tumultuous 2019 off season to an end. And while Steelers Nation will be treated to interviews and photos of players and coaches, they’ll have to wait a bit before real news surfaces.
Staff writer Tony Defeo likened this period to breaking through traffic congestion while still needing to drive quite a distance before reaching home.
Nonetheless, they’ll be lots of juicy headlines to feast on, and here’s a primer for separating the real news from the false flags.
Mike Tomlin addresses the men at Steelers training camp. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com
Contract Action vs Contract Talk
The Steelers have opened camp in the past by announcing contract extensions for Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. Both are due for new deals, but there’s been speculation about whether Art Rooney II will break from tradition this summer.
One way or another, fans will have some indication of Art Rooney’s inclinations very soon.
Likewise, with Ben Roethlisberger locked up, Joe Haden, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave are candidates for extensions, but in recent summers the Steelers have trended towards resigning veterans closer to the end of camp rather than the beginning. Talk you hear on this front over the next several days will likely be just that, “talk.”
Watch Out for Those PUP List Surprises
Every year a certain number of players begin camp on the PUP list. Often times this is simply proactive roster management. But at other times it is a red flag. And there are always surprises in the opening PUP announcements.
Casey Hampton began training camp in 2008 on the PUP, but was in fine form when the season started. Maurkice Pouncey has started camp on the PUP and played in full health throughout the season.
In 2015 Bruce Gradkowski’s name appeared on the PUP much to everyone’s surprise given that he’d played as recently as the playoff loss to the Ravens. Bruce Gradkowski got well enough to get activated and play in one preseason game and then his NFL career was done. Senquez Golson began 2015 on the PUP and literally has never played an NFL down.
Ladarius Green and Mike Adams were also surprise PUP additions. Adams never played for the Steelers again and Ladarius Green saw some mid season action before getting reinjured and has been out of football since.
Keep an eye on the PUP list.
Take Run Test Results with a Gain of Salt
Since Bill Cowher’s days as head coach, the Steelers have begun training camp with an annual run test where players must complete a set number of sprints within a certain time determined by their position.
Beyond gauging conditioning, it is often seen as the first test of a player’s mettle.
Yet, readers should take the results with a grain of salt.
Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake at St Vincents. via Steelers.com
The 1994 Steelers infamously finished the season 3 yards short of a go ahead touchdown in the AFC Championship loss to the San Diego Chargers. When the group assembled in Latrobe the next summer, every player successfully completed Bill Cowher’s run test. At the time, if memory serves, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola remarked that the results indicated the focus and commitment of the players.
Now that 1995 squad did of course reach Super Bowl XXX, but that was only after starting 3-4.
A little later in the Cowher era, the summer of 1999 started with 1996 first round draft pick Jamain Stephens failing the run test.
Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe cut him on the spot.
At the time the move was hailed as sending a strong signal on the heels of a 7-9 1998 season that ended with a 5 game losing streak. Signal it might have been, but the 1999 team finished 6-10 with Lee Flowers openly accusing unnamed teammates for quitting.
Enjoy the run test, but don’t read too much into the results.
On the flip side, Steelers fans can give thanks that no one will be arriving at St. Vincents via helicopter this sumer….