Bye Week Blog: Wired differently

Wired differently: Linebacker T.J. Watt is wired in a manner not a lot of athletes are wired.

He follows a daily routine, one that doesn't vary from day-to-day, or week-to-week in season.

And part of that routine includes intense film study, something he does on a daily basis.

"Some people watch tape, some people study tape," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "And there's a difference. However you describe the spectrum, T.J. is on the extreme end of it from a preparedness standpoint. And that's one of the reasons why you get the production that you get from him beyond his freakish talent

"He was always like that in mentality. I think the level of productivity from that endeavor grows with his experience, it gets more pointed, he wastes less time. I could just tell by the dialogue that he and I have and how it has matured over the years that his process is being honed to a fine edge."

He isn't the only one who sees the continual growth in Watt. Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is wired in a similar manner as Watt is, sees it daily.

"He is a guy that loves the game for the game. He just loves the game of football," said safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. "A guy like that is going to be constantly learning, constantly growing, constantly trying to find ways to sharpen his weapon. He is a guy that always does that."

Despite the success Watt has garnered so far in his career, he doesn't see himself as being where he wants to be yet, 

"The results that we see are because of the mentality that he has, the passion that he has for the game," said Fitzpatrick. "I don't think there is anything that he can accomplish that will change the way he approaches his day-to-day." 

The approach is something that rubs off on younger players, guys like rookie linebacker Nick Herbig.

When Watt first came to the Steelers, he was the guy playing follow the leader.

Now, he is the leader.

"He is in a totally different role and responsibility than when he first came in," said Fitzpatrick. "I think guys are naturally attracted to him because they see the success that he has, and they see he does it the right way.

"Guys are going to flock to someone like that. T.J. embraces it. He doesn't beat anybody up. He coaches everybody up. Mentors them. Gets them better.

"You see guys like Nick Herbig. Every time I see T.J., I see Nick. That's for a reason. Nick sees the success that T.J. has. Nick has some of the same qualities as a rookie that T.J. had. He has great potential so why wouldn't he step under one of the best edge rushers of all time when he is in the same locker room.

"Before practice and sometimes after practice they are out there working on pass rush moves and they are all learning from each other. Even T.J. is learning from Nick. Everybody brings something different to the game. Nick is definitely emulating T.J. in his play."

Answering the challenge: Following the loss to the Houston Texans, the coaches challenged the defense to step things up, come hard the following week against the Baltimore Ravens.

And they responded, playing with an attitude they know they have.

"We're going to put our face on you," said inside linebacker Cole Holcomb. "We are not afraid to step in there and put some pads on people."

After allowing 10 points in the first half, the defense shut down the explosive Ravens offense, putting the Steelers in position for the come from behind win in the fourth quarter.

"I thought the whole room, everybody played awesome," said Holcomb. "I was telling the guys in the locker room, that was fun, that was back to being a little kid.

"Everybody making plays. It's fun when everybody is making plays. You look at it and every single time it's someone else.

"Coaches challenged us. I thought everyone on the defense responded to that challenge."

The challenge moving forward is to keep that attitude, that pressure when they return after the bye to take on the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Week 7.

Holcomb said it's all about using the time now to get back to basics.

"Every time I think about it, it's get back to the basics," said Holcomb. "You get through a season and you start focusing more and more on game plan, game specific things. You are not really focused on what my technique is looking like, what my footwork is looking like.

"I feel like for the bye week, that is a moment I look back and reflect, am I getting back to the basics, am I still executing the technique when first started."

Help is on the way: Wide receiver Diontae Johnson's declaration this week that he's ready to return from the reserve/injured list when the Steelers resume play following their bye on Oct. 22 at Los Angeles has wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson contemplating the possibilities.

"Just having him around and being around and being out there, it's gonna open up all those guys," Jackson said. "Just having his presence out there and his ability to win 1-on-1s is going to create other opportunities for the rest of the guys.

"To have two legit wideouts is huge. Teams would be dying to have two legit wideouts and we have two legit ones. If somebody wants to double-team one, Diontae can win 1-on-1. If they want to double team 'G.P.' (wide receiver George Pickens), Diontae can win 1-on-1s in elite fashion.

"He's one of the best route runners in the league at creating separation and we missed that, we needed that. And so it's good to have him back."

Johnson has played 27 offensive snaps this season. Pickens, who caught six passes for 130 yards last Sunday against the Ravens, including a 41-yard, game-winning touchdown reception, has seen a preponderance of double-coverage in Johnson's absence.

The Steelers having both available, presumably, creates a potential coverage conundrum for opposing defenses regarding which wide receiver they choose to double-cover.

"To be honest with you, I don't even care," Jackson said. "Whoever they double, the other guy gotta win. They may double both of them, they may double one. Whoever's not getting doubled, they gotta win the 1-on-1."

The Steelers believe they have a known commodity in Johnson. And Jackson is adamant they have an emerging one in Pickens.

"I want him to continue to make plays," Jackson said. "I just want him, when the opportunity presents itself, to go make the play. Whether he's getting single-coverage, whether they're doubling him and he still has an opportunity to go make a play, I expect him to make every single catch. He laughs at times because I feel that way but I tell him, 'If I'm wrong for expecting you to make every play, then I'll just be wrong.'

"He has that high expectation for himself. George has to keep working, keep grinding. He comes out here, he works every single day. And if he continues to do that and continues to take advantage of the 1-on-1 opportunities, he'll be fine, we'll be fine."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Jones shows his value: When the Steelers moved up in the first round this year to select offensive tackle Broderick Jones, the assumption for many was he would immediately be plugged into the starting lineup at left tackle.

That didn't happen, as incumbent left tackle Dan Moore Jr. had an excellent training camp and preseason and held onto the job.

But with Moore out with a knee injury suffered two weeks ago at Houston, Jones got his first career start at left tackle in the Steelers' 17-10 victory over the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. And the results were impressive.

After playing 51 snaps against the Texans in relief of Moore, Jones saw 66 snaps against the Ravens, putting his athleticism on display.

That athleticism was a big reason why Jones was the 14th pick in this year's draft.

"He improved from the first time getting in there. He's young but he's going to be a really good player," offensive line coach Pat Meyer said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "That's why he's here, the athleticism. The more he plays, the more he's practicing against our guys, the rush guys, the defense, the more he plays in games, the better he's going to be overall. He's going to get that experience. The other guys have been great in terms of helping him out and teaching him NFL football."

The other guys to which Meyer referred includes Moore, the Steelers' starter at left tackle since being a fourth-round draft pick in 2021.

But Jones' play against the Ravens could force the coaching staff into a tough decision when Moore returns from his knee injury.

Do they continue to play Jones at left tackle, put Moore back into the lineup or allow Moore to compete to play elsewhere?

"Once Dan gets back, we'll have to evaluate everything," Meyer said. "Dan played well when he was in there before the injury. He played against Nick Bosa and Myles Garrett and Maxx Crosby. Put T.J. (Watt) in there and that's your four best in the world. The good thing is that we have several guys we're confident can go in and play in the game and not really lose much in terms of performance."

-- Blog entry by Dale Lolley

Take a closer look at scenes from the Steelers' Week 5 game against the Baltimore Ravens

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Tuesday, October 10

Looking forward to returning: Receiver Diontae Johnson didn't hold back when asked if he felt like he will be back when the Steelers take on the Los Angeles Rams in Week 7, the game which follows the team's bye week.

While there is no official word and he remains on the Reserve/Injured List, he was beyond optimistic about his return.

"(Heck) yeah, I'm coming back," said Johnson. "I've been working my behind off these last three, four weeks. I feel completely great and healthy. I am ready for Monday when we come back and get back to work."

Johnson has spent the last four weeks on the Reserve/Injured List after injuring his hamstring against the San Francisco 49ers in the season opener.

"I feel 100 percent right now," said Johnson. "The trainers, I appreciate them for pushing me through that whole process. Keeping my head level. Not coming in here down and stuff like that. I always had a positive attitude when I came here, and I was ready to work.

"Whatever they threw at me, I was going to do what I had to do to get it done."

Johnson was the Steelers leading receiver in 2022 with 86 receptions for 882 yards, a 10.3-yard average. In his five seasons he has played in 65 games, starting 57, and has 343 receptions for 3,694 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Johnson had three receptions for 48 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter of the 49ers game.

Now he just wants to get back and help the offense, which has had their share of injuries including tight end Pat Freiermuth and offensive linemen Dan Moore Jr. and James Daniels.

"We are leaking a little bit on the offense," said Johnson. "The offensive line has got a couple of guys down, receiver, tight end. That plays a role in everything. When the quarterback doesn't have his guys, he is going to be holding the ball longer. It's different for him.

"When I get back, Pat, the rest of the guys, I think things are going to be fine. We are going to pick back up the speed."

Johnson is hoping his eventual return will bring a spark to the offense, one that he thinks will be welcome.

"It's going to help a lot, adding that spark we need," said Johnson. "Once you add that spark, everybody else is going to get that spark. It's everybody feeding off each other. I am happy to get things back to the way they used to be."

Added on: The Steelers signed linebacker Kyron Johnson to the practice squad.

Johnson was drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He played in 16 games last season, mainly on special teams.

Johnson played college football at the University of Kansas where he was an All-Big 12 selection as a senior when he recorded 61 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks and forced four fumbles, which was third most in the Big-12. He also recovered two fumbles.

Pondering Porter's possibilities: Turns out the snap against the Ravens that resulted in rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr.'s first career interception was a play of firsts.
"This may be my first time saying this, but he really did everything well on that play," secondary coach Grady Brown announced today.

Porter intercepted Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson in the end zone on third-and-goal from the Steelers' 5-yard line with 4:06 left in the fourth quarter on Sunday at Acrisure Stadium.
The 32nd-overall pick in last April's draft lined up in press-man coverage, got his arms extended and contacted wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. at the snap, and then turned and found the football.
The Steelers turned the turnover into an eight-play, 80-yard drive for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.

"Really, if you go back and look at him pre-snap, he showed a lot of confidence," Brown continued. "That was a very weighty moment, and if you just look at his mannerisms breaking the huddle, he had full confidence in his ability to make that play. His alignment was good. His footwork was good, it was what we've been trying to get to. Then he capped it off by catching the ball.
"It was just an awesome moment on so many levels. We needed that play to be made. He needed that play to be made just to show that, 'Hey, I'm working on the right tings. I'm going in the right directions.' It was an awesome moment."

Porter began playing his first snaps at outside cornerback in the base defense as something other than an injury replacement on the second defensive series of the second half against Baltimore.
He'd previously played exclusively in the six-defensive backs "dime" defense.

Brown wouldn't rule out Porter making his first career start when the Steelers resume play following this week's bye on Oct. 22 at the Los Angeles Rams.

"I think there's a chance that whoever's playing well will start," Brown said. "(Porter) finished the (Ravens) game definitely in a good spot. We'll see if he starts.

"I think at the end of the day it's about, are you making the plays that need to be made? I'm not sure that it really matters who starts. It's about, when they're throwing the ball out there, who's out there and how's that guy playing?"

Whoever ends up playing in the secondary against the Rams will be tasked with doing a better job of tackling than the Steelers' DBs have done through the first five games.

"Based on the film we all need to tackle better," Brown said. "Right now it's my goal to put us in position where we are tackling better, particularly open-field tackles.

"We just have to keep working on it. No. 1, we have to take accountability. We have to talk about missed tackles when we see it on film. No. 2, we have to come to the practice field and we have to work on angles. We have to work on fitting guys up, putting our bodies on guys and when you get a chance to position yourself live, you have to do that.

"And when you get to the game it's a mindset. It's a mindset that when you get an opportunity to tackle you're gonna make it."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Benton, Leal showing their bite: With Cam Heyward out the past four weeks because of a groin injury, young players such as DeMarvin Leal and rookie Keeanu Benton have been forced to play more snaps in his spot early this season.

It might not have been what the Steelers would have liked to do, but Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has been happy overall with the results while also learning something about two young players in his room.

"I think you do," Dunbar said Tuesday of getting an opportunity to learn a lot about those players. "You get to see them in the fire before you wanted to put them in there, and I think they responded well."

Dunbar said he wasn't worried about playing the young guys. He leaned on something he heard a long time ago when he was playing under former longtime Steelers assistant coach John Mitchell.

"There's no trepidation. Coach Mitchell when he was at LSU with me and when he was here, 'If a dog will bite, he'll bite as a pup,'" Dunbar said. "And these guys are learning how to bite."
The Steelers selected Leal in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft and Benton in the second round this year. So, they had high expectations for that duo.

Leal has produced 10 tackles, one sack and wo tackles for a loss thus far, while Benton has 13 tackles, including one for a loss, one sack and a forced fumble.

Heyward went on injured reserve after Week 1 after he suffered a groin injury that required surgery. He's eligible to return from injured reserve, but could still miss a little more time.

"It's business as usual," Dunbar said. "You don't replace a Cam Heyward, but you've got guys who have to step up. The guys are doing an admirable job filling that space."

-- Blog entry by Dale Lolley

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Monday, October 9

Getting after it: After allowing 10 points in the first half against the Ravens on Sunday, the Steelers defense clamped down in the second half, holding them scoreless and allowing just 83 yards passing in the half.

Linebacker Kwon Alexander said it wasn't about the defense making an adjustment, but rather just playing the way they know they can. 

"It was just us playing," said Alexander. "We didn't have any adjustments. We just went out there and played hard, played fast. We got to the ball. We were out there having fun.

"It shows us where we are, where we can be. We are looking forward to next week to get back playing (after the bye)."

Alexander knows the win is also something the team can use as a stepping stone heading into the bye, something when they return to the field against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 7 can be a momentum builder. 

"We can build a lot on it," said Alexander. "We are taking it one step at a time, trying not to go past that. Just taking it one step at a time. When we get back, we have to have the same routine and just get after it."

In the fourth quarter all three phases of the game got after it, from a blocked punt on special teams, an interception by the defense and a huge touchdown by the offense.

It was that all-around effort that gave everyone a spark.

"We have to figure it out together, as a team, and trust each other, offense, defense and special teams," said Alexander. "That is what we did.

"We feed off of each other. That is the main goal for us to feed off each other, have each other's back, be successful and get wins. That is what we try and do."

Work to do: The Steelers went into their bye week last season with a 2-6 record, knowing they had to turn things around in the second half of the season.

And they did.

This year, things are different, but there is still a feeling of needing to pick things up after the bye.

The Steelers are 3-2 and in first place in the AFC North.

But they aren't where they want to be.

"I think going into the bye week, 3-2, first in the AFC North and we haven't even come close to playing our best ball yet," said center Mason Cole. "We still have a lot of work to do to get that best ball on tape. It's encouraging to be at this point knowing our best ball hasn't been played."

The Steelers have a good feeling heading into the bye coming off a huge AFC North win over the Baltimore Ravens, and while they can hold onto that, they know the season is barely a quarter of the way over and they have a lot of football ahead of them.

"We're at a really different point than where we were last year," said Cole. "We are still not playing up to our level. As a team and as a whole, we're at a different point. We just have to put it all together. There are flashes of it here and there. We have to be more consistent and execute more consistently.

"We're playing really good team football right now. When you can be 3-2 and first in your division and not have played your best ball, it's impressive. The road is going to get narrower as the season goes on and we're going to have to get better."

The flashes Cole refers to are encouraging, but he kept stressing doing that on a consistent basis is a must, and it's not one specific area.

"I think it's as a whole," said Cole. "I have to be better. Our group has to be better. We all have to be better. Across the board we are not playing at the highest level.

"It's certainly fixable. We just have to fix it. Whatever it takes to fix it, we've got to do.

"We're at a good point where we are banged up and it's a good time to get healthy and fix those things."

Some good jitters: Rookie left tackle Broderick Jones felt good about his first NFL start, but he had no interest in fully diving into it until the team watched film together on Monday afternoon.

"Just really waiting on the coaches' perspective of it," said Jones. "I feel like I had a solid game, but it's always good to hear the coaches feedback and hear what they have to say."

After stepping in the previous game when Dan Moore Jr. was injured against the Houston Texans, it was a different feel for Jones to be in the lineup from the get-go.

"I feel like it's a difference coming off the bench and actually starting the game," said Jones. "You could feel the difference and the whole intensity of the game. It started in practice. Since I am a '1,' I get a lot more reps and things. Just having that helped a lot."

No matter how much preparation he had, there were still some jitters for Jones. And that's nothing unusual. 

"I always get jitters no matter how long I have been doing it." said Jones. "I still get them. I feel like it's just me trying to be perfect at everything I do. That is where that comes from."

Take a look at Karl's best photos from the Week 5 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens

Roster moves: The Steelers signed fullback Jack Colletto to the practice squad and released fullback Zander Horvath and punter Brad Wing.

Colletto was signed by the San Francisco 49ers as an undrafted free agent following the 2023 NFL Draft.

Colletto played at Oregon State where he played in 43 games, finishing with 110 carries for 401 yards and 22 touchdowns and four receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown.

The versatile Colletto also played quarterback, completing 25 of 50 passes for 254, returned kicks and played linebacker early in his career.

Colletto was a Hornung Award Winner his senior season, an All-Pac-12 First Team selection (all-purpose) and an Associated Press All-Pac-12 Second Team selection (all purpose).

Bringing you the action: For fans who don't want to miss any of the action, NFL+ is here, which means you can now watch the Steelers live and on the go! Watch live local and primetime regular season games on mobile, plus NFL RedZone, NFL Network, live audio and more - all in one place. Start your free trial today here.