Bye Week Blog: Waiting for the moment

Thursday, August 31

Waiting for the moment: For running back Anthony McFarland Jr., the time leading up to the Steelers making their final roster cuts this week wasn't the easiest.

The last three years have been filled with ups and downs for him, from making the roster to start his career, to being on the practice squad for most of the 2022 season, he has seen it all.

He knew if his phone didn't ring before the four o'clock deadline to make roster moves, he should be okay, but he didn't even want to look at the phone.

"It was a little stressful to be honest, just anticipating the moment," said McFarland. "You never know what is going to happen when they are making roster moves. A lot of anxiety going on until 4 p.m. I wasn't really by my phone. I was isolated. It was exciting, but there was anxiety."

His phone did start to light up shortly before the four o'clock witching hour, with family and friends checking in.

"I don't know how I realized I made it," said McFarland. "Around 3:50, my parents and family were saying I think you might have made it. I said I don't know. Not in this league. I wanted to make sure. It got around 4:05 and I don't have social media and one of my family saw the story about the 53-man roster and I was excited."

McFarland never put too much stock into the work he put in the preseason, which opened a lot of eyes as he displayed his speed and explosiveness.

He has learned over time, though, you have to be smart and follow the wave of emotions that game with the game.

"I always keep that mindset to keep myself humble, not get too high, not get too low," said McFarland. "That is how I keep myself in order to keep moving forward. They call it fool's gold, rat poison when people are out there telling you are doing good. That can get in your head sometimes. I don't want to be one of those guys.

"No matter where I go in my career, I want to keep a level head. Big plays, little plays, keeping a level head keeps you going. I just want to keep being a professional."

Headed in the right direction: The Steelers will begin their regular season preparation at the start of next week, and they will do so with a strong bond coming off a strong training camp and a successful preseason.

"Just the cohesiveness. I think we are closer than we were last year," said receiver Miles Boykin. "Everybody sees the direction this team is headed in. Everyone is excited about where we can go as a team. We look around and have confidence in each other. I think that says it all."

The team started the 2022 season off on a rocky road, but things turned around following the bye weekend when they went on a 7-2 run.

Boykin said there is a full buy in to what is happening with the offense this year, and with second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett at the helm confidence is high.

"It's huge, especially when you have a quarterback leading the way," said Boykin. "It's his second year, but he has really grabbed the bull by the horns and has taken everybody along with him. He has great communication skills, which help everybody on the field. When you have a guy like that, you have confidence in him, you have confidence in this offense. It's easy from that standpoint."

While preseason stats don't hold a lot of water, the way the first-team offense performed is reason to believe it can translate into regular season play.

"We can be one of the best in the league," said Boykin. "We have to take it one step at a time. Worry about the details. Focus on that.

"We'll go wherever Kenny takes us."

Family time: The Steelers have a four-day break before returning to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday to prepare for the San Francisco 49ers.

For linebacker Elandon Roberts, it's an opportunity to get ready mentally and physically for what is ahead.

"It's how you approach," said Roberts. "Me being in the league so long, now having a family of my own, three kids. I take the early part of the week to hone in on ironing out the kinks of what I need to work on in my own game. Later in the week, I will do my own study for our Week 1 opponent."

There is another important aspect Roberts will focus on.


The father of three will spend time with his wife, Tori, and their three kids, getting in precious time that he doesn't have during the season with them. 

"I will spend time with my family, focused on them, because I know come Monday, I am locked in for the remainder of the season," said Roberts. "I have my own schedule of things I do now.

"For a guy that has a family, it's real good for me to have this time to spend with my wife and kids and enjoy them before it really ramps up. I just put my whole focus around my family. Whatever they want to do.

"If my wife has plans for me and her, with the kids, I give that whole agenda to her and open myself up to whatever she wants to do. I know during the season it's my agenda and they are working themselves around me."

Back at it: One player who is benefiting from the 17 days between the final preseason game and the first regular season game is guard Nate Herbig.

Herbig dealt with a shoulder injury during the preseason that limited him, but is back in the swing of things and is using his time now, including the four-day break, wisely.

"I can't speak for others, but for me I just try to focus on my fundamentals, especially coming off an injury," said Herbig. "I try to make my tools sharper, work on my technique and focus on my position, whatever position I am playing."

Herbig said he returned to practice this past weekend and felt good.

"My first day back to practice, I didn't know how my shoulder was going to be," said Herbig. "But just getting back there, getting back in the offense, really helped a lot."

While he will take time to relax, his mind will be on those people back in Hawaii, where he and his younger brother, Nick Herbig, are from. The two teamed with fellow Hawaiian natives Isaac Seumalo and Breiden Fehoko to shoot videos for the victims of the wildfires in Maui, wanting to do their part for those impacted. 

"I never thought I would have a platform where something I say or do can impact somebody in a positive way," said Herbig. "Hawaii is close to my heart. Whatever I can do to help I will do.

"It's so sad, I can't believe it. I don't even like looking at it because it's so sad."

Great expectations: The "feel in the air" Coach Mike Tomlin detected upon arrival at Saint Vincent College was palpable in the locker room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex prior to the Steelers' departing for their four-day break.

"I feel like we're going in the right direction and we're gonna just keep building," tight end/fullback Connor Heyward assessed.

Heyward thinks the Steelers can be a "really good" team this season, in part because of how much they've grown individually and collectively since last season.

"We're gonna take it one game at a time," he continued. "I don't want to say anything crazy, but the sky's the limit for us. I think if everybody stays healthy and everybody does their job, we're gonna be a hard team to beat. I don't want to say 'Super Bowl,' or anything. That's definitely possible, but just take it one game at a time and go 1-0 every week.

"Last year it felt like we had a really good team but I think everybody's on the same page this year, everybody's bought in. I'm not saying anybody wasn't bought in last year, but you can just tell a lot of guys are closer. A lot of people understand people differently. A lot of people are ready to make plays when the balls come their way and when the ball's not coming your way.
"We just have a lot of depth, and that's a good thing to have."

The Steelers also have Kenny Pickett at quarterback.

"He's ready," Heyward maintained. "We're all behind him and he's going to lead us. Everybody else has to do their job because we know he's going to do his job."

Tomlin has characterized Pickett as a better communicator and a better leader this season because he's more comfortable.

Heyward emphasized it'll be up to the rest of the offense to help keep Pickett in his comfort zone.

That can be accomplished, Heyward said, by "everybody doing heir job, everybody being where they need to be and him just being able to rely on everybody, the O-line protecting, the running back in 'pass pro' making him feel comfortable so he can step up in the pocket."

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Bringing you the action: The Steelers open the regular season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Acrisure Stadium. 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.

Wednesday, August 30

Silence was golden: Elijah Riley has received the dreaded phone call in the past.

On Tuesday, silence was golden.

Riley made the Steelers 53-man roster, after experiencing the agony in the past of getting a call that he was being released before reaching that magical moment.

"I have received that phone call before four o'clock," said Riley, referring to the deadline for teams to get to the 53-man roster each year. "Silence was a good thing for me (this year). Once four o'clock hit and I didn't get a call, I started checking social media and I was very happy to be a part of the team.

"First time making the active. It's something I am excited about."

Riley did everything in his power to keep his mind off what was happening around him on Tuesday, even stopping to smell the roses.

"I went to the Botanical Garden over at Phipps (Conservatory), kicked it there, walked around a little bit," said Riley. "Explored the Strip (District), hung out. I didn't want to put too much pressure on it. But it's a day that has pressure."

In the back of his mind there was always hope that he would land on the 53-man roster, but he also understands the business of the NFL and wasn't assuming anything.

"Nothing is guaranteed in this business," said Riley. "Each day I put my best foot forward, especially on game day. That's the film. That's what really matters. Start stacking some good games, some plays on specials and defense. I didn't hang my hat on that. Once I didn't get that phone call, I was good."

Riley, along with veteran Chandon Sullivan, are the teams nickel backs, a role he welcomes but is willing to do whatever is asked on special teams and defense.

"I want to be reliable wherever I am," said Riley. "Defensively, whatever role I am put into I want to be reliable, consistent. If I can be a Swiss army knife of sorts, a plug and play type of guy, so be it I will do that very well.

"I think that is something that works to my advantage, to play multiple positions. Given the opportunity, I want to hone in on a specific role, detail it and perfect my craft in that sense. While I am in the situation I am in, whatever role I am in I am going to put in the work necessary to maximize it."

Trying to remain cool: For offensive lineman Dylan Cook, the only thing that saved him on Tuesday while he was waiting to learn of his roster fate, was video games. FIFA, to be exact.

"I played FIFA for like five hours," said Cook. "Hung out with my dog and kept it cool."

But how cool was he?

"It was very stressful," admitted Cook.

For Cook, handling stress doesn't seem to be a problem.

He is a former high school quarterback, who attended Montana State-Northern in the NAIA, and after his sophomore season he entered the transfer portal. He thought about taking another route, leaving football behind. But it wasn't what was in his heart.

"It just shows my love for the game," said Cook. "I can sit there and say I was ready to be done, but it would have been so hard to walk away the way I would have went out."

Cook kept his hopes alive, getting a direct message on Twitter from a staff member at Montana.

"Once I got that Twitter DM, I was so happy to get back on the field and earn a spot, make a name for myself and earn a scholarship. It was no decision. They DM'd me on Twitter and said we have a walk on spot at o-line if you want. I said when do you want me. I will show up when you need me. No thought at all."

Cook was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the 2022 NFL Draft, spending the season on the practice squad. He was released this offseason and the Steelers grabbed him.

The rest, as they say, is history.

On Tuesday, while playing FIFA, he kept an eye on his phone. When it didn't ring by the four o'clock deadline to make roster moves, he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Four o'clock hit and I didn't get a phone call," said Cook. "Then they posted the roster, and I was like, nice.

"It means a lot. There have been a lot of good people along the way. It's another step in what I planned for myself. The work is really just beginning."

Roster update: The Steelers released punter Braden Mann on Wednesday, one day after the team's initial 53-man roster was set.

Mann was claimed off waivers this offseason from the New York Jets. Mann was originally drafted by the Jets in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M. He has played in 43 career games, including all 17 in 2022.

He has 206 career punts for 9,362 yards, a 45.5-yard average and a 39.8-yard net average over three seasons. He has hit 60 of his punts inside the 20-yard line, 14 touchbacks, 42 fair catches, two returned for a touchdown and one blocked.

The Steelers currently have 52 players on the active roster.

Ready for the next step: Rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is prepared to turn the page after officially making the 53-man roster and already looking forward to the regular-season opener on Sept. 10 against San Francisco.

"I feel like I'm ready to play," Porter said. "It's been a long camp, long OTAs and everything. Now everything starts to settle in. Really, now just working on 'San Fran' and getting the details right."

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has confirmed Porter and defensive tackle Keeanu Benton and outside linebacker Nick Herbig, Porter's fellow rookies on the defensive side, are all going to get playing time in the regular season. Porter thinks they've earned it.

"I feel like we all came into it with the right mindset, showing them that we're all ready and capable of playing," Porter said. "I feel like we did that pretty well. We're all just excited to get out there."

How often the rookies get out there remains to be seen. Porter said he has no information or expectations regarding how much he'll be asked to play against San Francisco and beyond.

"No clue," he said. "I'm leaving that up to the people upstairs to come up with that decision.
"I'm just trying to show up to work every day."

Whatever role the Steelers have in mind for him, Porter maintained he's ready for it, from starting to special teams to anything and everything in between.

"All of it," he confirmed.

-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta

Bringing you the action: The Steelers open the regular season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Acrisure Stadium. 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.

Monday, August 28

Step in the right direction: For rookie No. 1 pick Broderick Jones, there is always something to improve on, even if it is small stuff. 

But overall, he is satisfied with his performance through the preseason as he is feeling more comfortable in the offense with every play.

"I feel like I have things I can improve on," said Jones. "But, for the introduction to the league, I feel like I had a solid performance throughout all three games. There is always something you can improve on. For the most part I think I took a step in the right direction."

It's the typical areas Jones wants to attack, nothing glaring by any means, just the small things.

"I will always emphasize footwork, hands," said Jones. "Being able to play within your game, learning your game, style of play, figure out what works for you and just keep that going."

Jones and Dan Moore Jr. have both been working at the left tackle spot, with Moore currently listed as the starter on the depth chart that came out at the beginning of camp. Jones doesn't view it as a competition between the two of them, but rather an opportunity for both of them to improve as one emerges as the starter.

"Dan is great," said Jones. "We don't look at it as a competition. At the end of the day, both of us have a job to do. It comes down to the best man at the end of the day. No hard feelings."

In typical Steelers' fashion, Moore is even helping Jones with tips and the like, making sure whoever is out on the field is performing at their highest level.

"(He talks to me about) using my hands in pass pro," said Jones. "That was the biggest emphasis for me when I got here, being more hands on, using my hands, trying to fix that within techniques."

No matter who comes out on top, Jones is pumped for the regular season to get underway, which kicks off for the Steelers on Sept. 10 against the San Francisco 49ers at Acrisure Stadium.

"I am excited for it," said Jones. "I really don't know just yet (what to expect). I really won't know until the real season starts and the ball gets to kicking, we get to playing."

One thing he does know is he is getting some of his best preparation for the season from one of his fellow rookies, outside linebacker Nick Herbig. Herbig, who had three and a half sacks in the preseason, is someone who Jones has gone up against and he brings the best out in him.

"His speed, without a doubt," said Jones of what makes Herbig so tough. "I think his size plays a factor too. His speed is top priority. He knows how to get off the ball. His speed sets up his rushes. It's tough to play him. If things aren't going your way and you have him on the other side of the ball, you might have a tough day."

Herbig, at 6-2, 240 pounds, isn't the biggest guy out there, but Jones said it's that size that works to his advantage.

"To me it's the smaller people you have to worry about," said Jones. "In their bag, there are so many different things. They can go up and under, they can dip around the corner because they are so short, they are already on the ground. It's tough playing the shorter players."

Making strides: Jones isn't the only rookie who, while he liked some of what he put out there in the preseason, still knows there is work to be done.

Nose tackle Keeanu Benton, one of the Steelers second round picks this year, said he saw the improvement since he first arrived in Pittsburgh, but is well aware there is work to do.

"Just making those strides to get better each day," said Benton. "The journey is not over. Going into week one, get in the game, make some plays and it keeps going from there.

"(I need to work on) everything. It all needs to be fine-tuned, especially going into those big games."

Benton said he focused on the simple things in his game, perfecting what got him to where he is.

"I feel like I went back to the basics, putting my hands on somebody and driving them back," said Benton. "I feel like it wasn't that big of a change. Something I knew I was good at, being physical and that's what I did.

"I wanted to show I am able to play in these regular season games. I think I have done that. I went out there, showed how coachable I was and making improvements every day on things me and my d-line coach talk about."

Working on his pass rush abilities was something he focused on, showing his game is more than one dimension.

"Just showing everybody I can do so, and I am not just a run defender," said Benton.

What his role will be on Sept. 10 when the Steelers open the season against the San Francisco 49ers is yet to be determined, but he is willing to do whatever is asked.

"Whatever they need me to do, that is what I am going to do," said Benton. "That is what I came here for."

Keeping you updated: The Steelers continued to make moves on Monday, releasing 10 additional players.

Among those released on Monday were offensive lineman Le'Raven Clark, offensive lineman William Dunkle, safety Jalen Elliott, running back Darius Hagans, cornerback Lavert Hill, defensive lineman Manny Jones, quarterback Tanner Morgan, linebacker Tanner Muse, linebacker Toby Ndukwe and safety Kenny Robinson.

In other moves, the Steelers traded guard Kevin Dotson to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night in a deal that also involves multiple draft picks. The Steelers acquired the Rams fourth-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and their fifth-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. The Rams received Dotson, as well as the Steelers fifth-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft and sixth-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. The trade will be official once Dotson passes a physical with the Rams.

Over the weekend the Steelers released nine players. Among those released were receiver Dan Chisena, defensive back Nevelle Clarke, receiver Aron Cruikshank, linebacker Kuony Deng, cornerback Madre Harper, defensive lineman James Nyamwaya, kicker B.T. Potter, linebacker Forrest Rhyne and long snapper Rex Sunahara.

The Steelers have to make the rest of their moves by Tuesday, Aug. 29 at 4 p.m. to get down to the mandatory 53-man roster.

Bringing you the action: The Steelers open the regular season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Acrisure Stadium. 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.

Saturday, August 26

Staying focused is the key: The Steelers offense has looked good so far in the preseason, with the first team scoring on every possession in all three games as the team put up a 3-0 record.

Running back Najee Harris likes what he has seen, but he also isn't buying into all the hype on social media about the team at this point.

"This is the best offense (since I have been here)," said Harris before practice on Saturday. "Not only that, but the accountability, the way we are bonding right now, the way we are bought in. My two years being here, my first year, we had the pieces but didn't understand what we were as an identity. My second year, we had a lot of questions at certain positions, who is going to be here, the back up here. At the end of the year, we understood everyone's position, labor of work.

"This year, coming in we understand everything, everybody understands their roles, how to make the most of it, the most of your opportunity. That is making us bond right now and work pretty well. I even told myself, the running backs, Coach T (Mike Tomlin), Coach (Eddie) Faulkner, this all looks good right now in the preseason, but I think this is when we have to focus in and worry about the regular season. That is what matters most. Not looking at the media and social media and how good they are saying we are. Just staying focused and not buying the fool's gold."

This is the second straight year the Steelers put up a 3-0 preseason record, and last year it didn't translate into the regular season, with the team starting the season 2-6.

This year, there is a different feeling.

"Last year we won all three preseason games and came out the way we were," said Harris. "How we won those three preseason games last year was completely different than how we won this year. We scored more points this year, we were more efficient this year, we scored on the first two drives of every game. We were meshing. If you take those two seasons and put them next to each other and you see the difference between last year and this year, it's glaring. It's a huge difference. Last year was last year. In the preseason we didn't accomplish things we did now."

That improvement from a year ago can do nothing but help Harris, and everyone else.

"This year we look the best we've looked since I have been here," said Harris. "It will help us all out. The other running backs in the room, the receivers, the tight ends. There are so many weapons on the field where they can't focus on just one thing now. They have to focus on the whole offense."

And it starts with quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was picture perfect in the preseason. But, in addition to Pickett, Harris sees the growth coming from everywhere on offense.

"I just think he is showing growth, understanding the offense," said Harris. "Kenny's done a good job coming in here, soaking up as much as he can. This year he is really developing as quarterback and leader of this team. Kenny did a good job all camp. He had a great camp and preseason and now we are just hoping to carry it on the season.

"I think all of us coming in understanding each other's role is what is standing out. Kenny doing what he is doing this preseason is good. But everybody making their plays, everybody's executing, is what is standing out. We know Kenny is a player, but if all of us don't come together and execute this it won't matter. What is standing out the most is the preparing and understanding of each other."

The Steelers have two weeks to prepare for their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers at Acrisure Stadium on Sept. 10, and Harris said the key is using time now to focus in.

"Focus on what we need to focus on. Focus on ourselves," said Harris. "Not paying attention to too much outside noise. There is a lot we have to work on. Coming in every day and understanding we have to win the day. Not looking too far ahead, just understanding we have to win the day."

Take a look at the best portraits from the Steelers' Week 3 preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons

He said it: Nate Herbig on what it's like watching his younger brother, Nick Herbig:

"I love watching him kill tackles."

He said it take 2: Nate Herbig on fellow offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo:

"He is an animal."

Bringing you the action: The Steelers open the regular season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Sept. 10 at Acrisure Stadium. 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.