Flipping the Script: Steelers Trade of Kevin Dotson to Rams Reverses Recent Trends

The composition of the Steelers roster remains unknown as Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan have the lion’s share of their cuts to make before today’s 4:00 pm deadline.

  • But we already know one fundamental fact: The duo is flipping the script on Steelers late summer trading narrative.

News broke during the weekend that the Steelers had dealt Kevin Dotson, their 4th round pick from the 2020 NFL Draft to the Los Angeles Rams. In exchange the Steelers get the Rams’ 4th round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. The teams will exchange 5th rounds picks in the 2025 NFL Draft and the Steelers will send Los Angeles their 6th round pick in 2025.

Kevin Dotson, Steelers vs Broncos

Kevin Dotson as a rookie. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Time will tell which side gets the better of this deal, but the move reverses the Steelers recent tendency to trade away picks to bolster depth. To be fair to Kevin Colbert, these trades typically involved a lot of back and forth, with the Steelers dealing and often times getting back 5th and 6th round picks.

But taken as a whole, the Steelers eroded their draft capital by trading to bring the Malik Reed, Joe Schobert, Avery Williames of the NFL to Pittsburgh.

By adding an extra 4th round pick Omar Khan is beginning to change that.

Snapshot of Kevin Dotson’s Steelers Career

Although he was only a 4th round pick, Dotson arrived in Pittsburgh and was penciled in as a future starter. Dotson started 4 games as a rookie, and when the team opted to let Matt Feiler walk, Dotson earned the starting spot.

In 2021 Dotson started the first 9 games at left guard during a season when the Steelers had one of their worst offensive lines in recent memory. Yet, in this scribe’s humble opinion they were reaching the outskirts respectability by midseason, only to see that journey come to a crashing halt when they lost Dotson in the tie against Detroit.

Dotson rebounded in 2022 and started all 17 games, but was reportedly fighting nagging injuries throughout the year.

Early in the 2023 off season the Steelers brass showed signs of being read to move on. First they signed guard Nate Herbig in free agency. But Herbig’s contract tagged him as a backup. This was not the case for Isaac Seumalo who got clear starter’s money.

As the Steelers learned all too painfully early during Mike Tomlin’s tenure, you can never have enough good offensive lineman. But the emergence of Spencer Anderson and the number of snaps Kendrick Green got against the Falcons at guard put the writing on the wall for Kevin Dotson.

Getting a 4th round pick for a backup guard playing on the final year of his rookie contract is an excellent deal in today’s NFL.

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Steelers 27-0 Shutout of the Atlanta Falcons Puts “Its Only Preseason” to the Test

The Pittsburgh Steelers closed out their 2023 preseason with a 27-0 rout of the Atlanta Falcons on the road. I tuned in at the tail end of the 1st quarter just in time to see the 17-0 as the fade to a commercial began.

  • And of course, the German-Irish Catholic in me resisted: “This is too good to be true.”

But it wasn’t. 17-0 turned to 24-0 before the half. At that point my attention shifted to dinner but by the time I checked the score again before bedtime the Steelers had authored their first preseason shut out since 2009.

Yes, the Steelers were near perfect against the Falcons and its not too much of a stretch to apply this characterization to the rest of their 2023 preseason.

But, if it is, “Only Preseason” what does it mean?

George Pickens, Steelers vs Falcons 2023 preseason

George Pickens makes a Lynn Swann worthy catch. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Understanding Preseason Perfection Means Focusing on Form Rather than Deed

Perfection is something you seldom associate with pro football. Things rarely go as planned. Particularly in the preseason. My first live Steelers game came in August 1990 at RFK Stadium in Washington during the preseason. That night Joe Walton’s offense was in such disarray that my father, a complete football neophyte, remarked “Those guys didn’t know what the hell they were doing.”

Joe Walton, Louis Lipps, 1991 Steelers

Joe Walton and Louis Lipps in 1991. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via Sporting News.

33 years later their successors couldn’t have offered a starker contrast.

Several figures from the stat sheet paint a picture of perfection:

  • Kenny Pickett went 4-4 in the process of leading 2 touchdown drives
  • The Steelers didn’t throw an incomplete pass until Mitch Trubisky failed to connect at 1:54
  • Each of the top three running backs scored a touchdown
  • Five players from the Steelers defense recorded sacks
  • On the Falcon’s lone trip into the Red Zone, the Steelers forced and recovered a fumble

Impressive indeed.

Impressive enough to remind me of Kevin Greene’s remarks following a dominating win over the San Diego Chargers during his first year in Pittsburgh when he exclaimed, “This is like the WWF, or something.” (The WWE was known as the WWF back then.)

Yes, Greene’s comment does apply to the Steelers 2023 preseason performances, and that’s a bit of a double edged sword. That win over the Chargers marked one of several moments where Bill Cowher’s squad flashed that it could be something special. Yet, when it was all said and done, harsh reality was that 1993 Steelers were not ready for prime time.

But based on what we’ve seen in preseason, for however else the ’23 Steelers season ends, we won’t saying about this team. And it’s not because of the numbers that the Steelers put up against the Falcons – Mike Tomlin was playing his starters while Atlanta rested theirs.

Pittsburgh was supposed to dominate this preseason contest. And they did. But once again it was the way that they did it.

To understand, look no further than T.J. Watt’s sack:

https://twitter.com/PFF/status/1694859394205315375

Watt not only gets through 2, maybe 3 people to reach Taylor Heinicke, but he wraps him, twists him and slams him to the turf with the intensity that you’d expect to see in the 4th quarter of a playoff game.

Strange as it may seem, that may not have been the best play on the drive. One snap before that Elandon Roberts set the tone:

To paraphrase my friend and colleague Neal Coolong, when the defense opens a game authoring plays like this, they’re establishing who is the _____ in this relationship.

This translation of desire into domination wasn’t limited to the defense. The offense made its contribution:

  • George Pickens stepped up and made a Lynn Swann worthy catch
  • Najee Harris’ touchdown was nice, but his 12 yard run that set up the score was all about 2nd effort
  • Not to be outdone, but Jaylen Warren imposed his will on his 8 yard touchdown
  • Ditto Anthony McFarland. His 31 yard run was nice, but he scored his touchdown with grit

At the end of the day this was “only preseason.” And preseason can be misleading.

Last year the Steelers were undefeated in the preseason and then started 2-6. The 2016 Steelers went 1-3 in preseason and reached the AFC Championship. Looking further back, the 1988 Steelers started 3-1 in preseason and then finished 5-11, which was and remains the franchise’s worst record since the Immaculate Reception.

So here is what to make of this:

1. The Steelers have spent the 2023 excelling when they’re supposed to excel, i.e. against backups
2. They’ve also looked strong against the Bills’ starters
3. They’re backups have responded to fast starts with strong finishes
4. Throughout the Steelers have played with determination and sound execution of the fundamentals

So yes, if you’re a serious Steelers fans you should continue to say to yourself, “Its Only Preseason.” But it’s OK to do it with a smile on your face.

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Pinch Yourself? After Steelers Dominating 27-12 Preseason Win over Bills Fans Ask, “Is it OK to Believe?”

The Pittsburgh Steelers 27-15 win over the Buffalo Bills at Acrisure Stadium offered a reminder of the existential struggle that every fan of the Black and Gold faces: The temptation to believe.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers are a franchise that measures success in Lombardi Trophies.
Jaylen Warren, Steelers vs Bills 2023 preseason

Jaylen Warren runs for 62 yards. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Steelers.com

During the 70’s Jimmy Pol’s “Western Pennsylvania Polka” accurately told us that “Winning’s a habit, not only a dream.” Generation X Steelers fans grew up assuming that the team had always been good. But the growing pains we experienced as the 70’s shifted to the 80’s was learning that Super Bowl windows don’t stay open forever.

  • And once they’re closed, convincing yourself that they’ll ever reopen remains a challenge.

I can remember watching Jepoardy at some point in the mid-80’s when a Pittsburgh resident was a guest. Alex Triebec asked him if he was one of those Steelers fans who “recorded each game and watched it over and over again.”

The response? “Yes, but only when we’re in the Super Bowl. And that’s not going to happen for another 20 years.” Although Chuck Noll’s Steelers squads in the 80’s authored some stunning playoff upsets, it took the arrival of Cowher Power in 1992 for the faithful in Steelers Nation to really believe that the season might end in a Lombardi Trophy presentation.

And even then we had to wait 14 years for The Chin to make good on his promise to Dan Rooney.

Yeah. True Steelers fans stick by the Black and Gold through thick and thin, but if pressed, we’ll admit that it is difficult to let ourselves believe.

Which brings us to 2023’s preseason game number 3, and the Buffalo Bills visit to Acrisure Stadium

Steelers Domination of the Bills in Preseason Is Down Right Scary

The Steelers 27-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers featured a lot of impressive moments. But the first string only played for one series. And the Buccaneers aren’t expected to be very good. And several of their defensive starters were out. And who really needs cautioned against jumping to conclusions after the first preseason game?

  • The second preseason game is different. It is a dress rehearsal.

It only took 6 plays – two Najee Harris runs, two Kenny Pickett passes to George Pickens and then Allen Robinson to set up Jaylen Warren’s 64 yard touchdown run. Any 62 yard run is impressive. But its the way this play unfolded that tantalizes Steelers faithful towards that temptation to believe:

You don’t need to be an X’s and O’s genius to single out the elements that signal something special:

  • Dan Moore turns his man’s back to the sideline
  • Isaac Seumalo also turns his man’s back to the opposing sideline
  • Warren sees a hole he could drive a truck through and heads for it
  • Diontae Johnson delivers a downfield block
  • Warren after he reaches the second level turns the jets on

Yes, this is “Only preseason” but these are pros executing solid fundamentals in concert.

The Bills opened their next drive with an 8 yard gain. On 2nd and 2 an NFL offense is in position to dictate to a defense. But thanks to Levi Wallace and T.J. Watt, the Bills were punting 2 plays later.

Then Calvin Austin and Danny Smith’s special teams got into the act, as Austin romped 54 yards on his first NFL punt return. The next stat line reads: K.Pickett pass deep middle to P.Freiermuth for 25 yards, TOUCHDOWN

And if all you did was read the box score, it be easy to chalk that up to preseason luck.

But Pickett not only hit Pat Freiermuth in the middle of the field – and area he avoided last season, he threaded the needle placing the ball perfectly, in triple coverage where only Mooth could get it.

Another reason to believe.

There were many more. Connor Heyward, Nick Herbig, Cole Holcomb and Tanner Muse all came up with big plays, while Chandon Sullivan, Elijah Riley and Joey Porter Jr. made interceptions. All reasons to believe.

Calvin Austin’s punt return wasn’t a one note Johnny for the Steelers special teams. Gunner Olszewski had a nice 15 yard return of his own. Danny Smith’s coverage units were strong while Chris Boswell was perfect on the night. All good signs.

  • No, Pittsburgh wasn’t perfect against the Bills.

The Steelers rushed the ball 33 times, but running backs not named Jaylen Warren looked average – at best and they didn’t have the benefit of quality run blocking. (To be fair, Anthony McFarland looked good catching the ball.) Kendrick Green mis-timed a snap to Mason Rudolph setting up Buffalo’s first touchdown.

But even of those are all things to bear in mind, the fact remains: The way the Steelers dominated the Bills is making it very hard for fans to resist the temptation to believe.

A Word about DAZN’s GamePass

Last week I skewered the viewing experience DAZN’s NFL GamePass International. This week I followed their advice and downloaded their app on to my SmartTV.

  • The results were much better.

True, my first attempt to watch the replay was unsuccessful. However, that looked to be a problem my internet connection. Image quality was a little shaky on the full replay, and I was disappointed to see that they hadn’t edited out commercials (why? If ever there would be a “Hello McFly!!!” principle of showing replays of NFL games, you’d figure editing out commercials would be one of them.)

Their Game in 40 presentation was excellent, nothing compared to the last week’s experience on the desk top. Not only was the image quality good, but they took just a little more time in between plays, and salted in some replays so that you got the flavor of the game.

 

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Steelers Preseason Takeaway: Pickett Starts Strong. DAZN’s NFL GamePass? Not so Much

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their 2023 preseason with a bang, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-17 in the 94 degree at Raymond James Stadium. While the proverbial caution of “…its only preseason” is a wise one – Jarvis Jones and Huey Richardson had outstanding preseason debuts – the Steelers checked several boxes from their “need to improve” list including:

  • Kenny Pickett made his reads quickly, threw the ball decisively and worked the middle of the field
  • George Pickens looked like a man racing against boys on his touchdown
  • Calvin Austin flashed “beep-beep” speed in burning a corner to a crisp on his touchdown
  • Anthony McFarland staked a strong claim to the number three running backs spot

The Steelers looked good in their preseason debut.

Alas the same cannot be said for DAZN’s debut with NFL GamePass International. Earlier this year the NFL announced a 10 year partnership to distribution NFL GamePass International via the international sports streaming site DAZN.

On The Athletic the news was greeted with jeers from fans in Canada and other countries who’d already experienced trying to watch NFL games via DAZN.

  • Nonetheless, I let my NFL GamePass renew and hoped for the best.

Full Disclosure: I did not watch much of the live stream as the Steelers were facing off against the Buccaneers. I had a medical test in the early evening, had to run some errands on the way home, and was only briefly able to log into the site with my new password during the game.

And to be 100% fair to DAZN the image quality (via Google Chrome, on my PC) appeared to be OK. There may have been an issue of lag between the video and the audio, but to be fair to DAZN, I can’t be sure if I’d left Steelers Nation Radio on via another window.

Which was a good omen, as I’d planned to watch it on Saturday using the “Game in 40” option. (Yes, I know that is a bit hypocritical of a blogger who has sung the praises of preseason repeatedly. Fair enough. I’ve also written that the NFL should reduce the number of TV timeouts so that preseason games only take between 2 and 2 and a half hours.)

Kenny Pickett, Steelers vs Buccaneers 2023 preseason

Kenny Pickett started the ’23 preseason strong. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune-Review

DAZN’s NFL GamePass “Game in 40” = A Failure

However the quality of DAZN’s “The Game in 40” was atrocious.

“The Game in 40” was never a great way to watch a game because you lose a feel for the tone and tenor of events, but at least in previous years the viewing experience was pretty seamless.

DANZ’s “Game in 40” was anything but seamless. The image quality was terrible. During the middle of a play runners would begin to move in slow motion. Then you’d suffer a momentary stop. A second later things would resume, but you’d lose at least a second of action. On the next play the same sequence would repeat itself.

During my first attempt to watch DANZ’s “The Game in 40” I got pop ups advising me that, if quality wasn’t good, I should watch via an Ethernet and make sure no one else was streaming video. Well, I was already on an Ethernet, but my wife was watching videos via her cell.

So I waited again until she was in the shower. I tried again, putting all other Wifi devices on airplane mode. The quality of DANZ’s service was just as bad. By the end of Kenny Pickett’s touchdown to George Pickens it was clear that DANZ’s “Game in 40” was unwatchable.

Another friend here in Argentina had a good experience with DANZ’s NFL GamePass, but El Dr. de Acero also had a frustratingly piss-poor experience.

  • That’s a real shame.

Footage of scoring plays, key third down conversions and major highlights is easily available via Twitter, Steelers.com and YouTube. But as Chuck Noll oft reminded, you win football games by doing ordinary things extraordinarily.

Chuck Noll, Chuck Noll St. Vincents, Steelers practice no numbers

Chuck Noll’s Steelers practiced with no numbers. Photo Credit: Al Tielemans/Sports Illustrated

Now I’m not going to pretend to know enough to evaluate things like whether or not Kendrick Green and/or Broderick Jones “pad levels” were promising, but would like to get a chance to see how players who don’t make the highlight reels perform.

Watching preseason games end-to-end in the ‘90’s gave me the insight into under the radar players Lee Flowers and Carlos Emmons. On the flip side, during the ’95 preseason Bam Morris was signaling a sophomore slump (and then some). More recently, in August ’21 my take away was that both the hype generated by Dwayne Haskins performances as a backup and the disillusionment following his lone start were both exaggerated.

Sadly, we’ll never know whether I was right or wrong about Haskins, but I was only able to form an opinion in the first place by watching pre-season games end-to-end.

But with the DAZN’s sudden shifts to slow motion, to stops, to skipping a millisecond I might be able to see that someone blew up a run at the line of scrimmage, but I can’t really tell if it was Kwon Alexander, Nick Herbig, or Keeanu Benton who made the play.

Nor can I really tell if Darnell Washington or Elandon Roberts are really injecting physicality on both sides of the ball.

That’s a shame. Yet there still may be hope.

For better and worse I’ve seen times with Steelers preseason has been deceiving. Sometimes preseason flashes disappear in the pan. Other times the opposite happens. When Bill Cowher and Ben Roethlisberger shared the dais after Super Bowl XL did you wonder, “…And to think Cowher closed preseason by admitting his passing game wasn’t where it needed to be.” No? Neither did I.

So perhaps DANZ’s will get better by the time the regular season arrives.

They’ve left themselves lots of room for improvement.

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Sometimes Lady Luck Ain’t Fair: Cory Trice’s Injury Begins the Winnowing of the ’23 Steelers Draft Class

It only took the first day of padded practices. The injury was actually contactless. Yet the winnowing of the Steelers 2023 draft class has begun.

And its first victim is 7th round draft pick Cory Trice.

Cory Trice is a 6’3” cornerback who played in 30 games for Perdue making 5 interceptions. Trice tore an ACL in his left leg 2021, but he rebounded to post a strong season for the Boiler Makers in 2022.

Cory Trice, Cory Trice injury

Steelers 7th round pick Cory Trice is carted from the field. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Despite his injury history, Dane Brugler of The Athletic rated him as the 14th best corner in the draft and the 88th best player overall. NFL scouts felt differently. Trice didn’t go a 88, but 153 picks later. Still, when the Steelers drafted him at 241 in the 7th round, drafnics immediately pronounced him as “steal.”

Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell took stock of Trice’s medical history and draft pedigree to conclude: “They HAD to take this cornerback.”

Maybe they did. And maybe couple of 3 years from now we’ll say that Corey Trice was to Lombardi Number 7 what Deshea Townsend was to Lombardi Number 5 and Lombardi Number 6. Let’s hope so.

But today the story on Corey Trice is something different and cautionary, if not darker:

  • Lady Luck plays as big of a role in successful NFL drafting as does science and art.

Normally when you think of Lady Luck’s role in the draft you think of the players you could or couldn’t take. Think of missing out on William Jackson and getting Artie Burns instead. Or not getting O.J. Simpson and having to “settle” for drafting Joe Greene.

  • But Lady Luck continues playing her role long after a pick reaches the podium.

All reports on Corey Trice from OTA’s, Minicamp and non-padded practices were positive. This kid looked like a keeper. Yet, on Tuesday August 1st, Kwon Alexander tackled Jordan Byrd. Corey Trice didn’t touch either man or anyone else during the play, but as soon as it was over he stood in in pain favoring his left side, having sustained an injury to his right leg.

“That’s just unfortunate,” Mike Tomlin explained, “but that’s football and life.”

Tomlin is right. Sometimes Lady Luck just ain’t fair.

In 2011 running back Baron Batch started off at St. Vincents looking like a late round steal, only to tear his ACL. Further back, 6th round pickc ornerback Barron Miles was having a very strong camp until suffering a knee injury in the 1995 Steelers preseason game against the Bills, and was lost for the year.

Batch returned in 2012 to earn 49 yards on 25 carries, but Barron Miles never played down in the NFL, (although he was quite successful in the CFL.)

Those two fared better than Senquez Golson, the Steelers 2nd round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Golson missed his rookie training camp with a torn rotator cuff, suffered a Lisfranc injury in his second summer at St. Vincents, got injured again in ’17 and after being cut he spent a few days on Tampa Bay’s practice squad and was done.

That’s three NFL careers – two would-be steals and one premium pick – all ended in the blink of Lady Luck’s eye.

  • Corey Trice should remain hopeful. Lady Luck sometimes grants second chances.
Greg Lloyd, Rashaan Salaam, Steelers vs Bears 1995

Greg Lloyd closes in on the Bears Rashaan Salaam in the Steelers 1995 win over the Bears. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via the Bleacher Report

Ahead of the Steelers 1987 draft Tom Donahoe spied a dominating outside linebacker in some grainy footage from Ft. Valley State. The Steelers picked Greg Lloyd in the 6th round that spring, but Lloyd tore an ACL in preseason against Washington and spent his rookie year on IR. Lloyd got injured again in the summer of 1988 and spent the first seven games in IR.

But Lloyd appeared in the final nine games of 1988 including four starts.

Here’s where things get a bit uncanny. Where did Lloyd make his first start? On November 13th 1988 at Philadelphia. Where was his last start for the Steelers? November 23rd, 1997 where he injured himself on the turf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium during the 1997 Steelers loss to the Eagles.

It would seem that even when she grants second chances, Lady Luck certainly lacks no sense of irony.

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Key Question: If Kendrick Green Stays at Fullback, Can He Match Derek Watt’s Streak?

So apparently Kendrick Green at fullback wasn’t a onetime thing.

The big news out of the Steelers annual Friday Night Lights practice at Latrobe Stadium was center/guard Kendrick Green getting reps at fullback.

Green told Steel City Insider’s  Jim Wexell, “I felt like I was a kid again playing backyard football.” Green, who got work at fullback with the team’s third offense tempered expectations conceding, “Just something they were just dabbling with. I don’t think it’s going to be nothing too serious, though. We’ll see.”

Kendrick Green, Kendrick Green Fullback

Steelers guard/center takes reps at fullback. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

After issuing similar cautions before Saturday’s practice, Green got several reps at fullback again for the Steelers, including at least one with the first team offense.

Mike Tomlin, who was not present for the “Friday Night Lights” practice, explained on Saturday “That guy is a unique guy, so we asked KG to provide a quality look for us, and he did,” before revealing “We just put that in our hip pocket.”

The Steelers started the summer with fullback Monte Pottebaum on their roster, but he mysteriously went on the reserve/retired list early in camp. Connor Heyward has been mentioned as an option at fullback, and now so has Kendrick Green is getting reps there.

  • So apparently the speculation that the Steelers will sign Derek Watt is moot.

Which makes dollars and salary cap sense. Derek Watt was an asset during his 3 years in Pittsburgh, but he was a very expensive “Nice to have” for the Steelers offense. Kendrick Green is both cheaper and offers position flexibility.

But if Mike Tomlin decides to take Kendrick Green out of his “Hip pocket” the question should be asked, “Can he match Derek Watt’s rushing streak?”

Thus far Kendrick Green’s reps at fullback have seen him block while catching a few passes from Mason Rudolph. But the hidden value Derek Watt added to the Steelers offense was in short yardage carries: Derek Watt only carried the ball 10 times for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh went 9-1 in those games.

  • If Kendrick Green can deliver at even remotely that level, this little experiment will be worthwhile.

One final factoid to remember: Kendrick Green wouldn’t be the first Steelers guard/center to do double duty at fullback.

During the Steelers 2009 season, center/guard Doug Legursky saw action at fullback. One of those games was Rashard Mendenhall’s 165 yard, career-best performance against the San Diego Chargers – Just Say’in….

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