Wednesday, August 4
Haskins feeling comfortable: After having the entire preseason cancelled last year due to the COVID pandemic, the Steelers will actually have a bonus preseason game this year to look at all of the positions.
And that includes who will back up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The first opportunity to compete for the No. 2 quarterback job will take place on Thursday night in Canton, Ohio, against the Dallas Cowboys in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game.
Mason Rudolph is slated to start the game, while Dwayne Haskins will finish out the first half and Joshua Dobbs will finish out the game.
"I'm trying to make it one," said Haskins if he felt there was a competition for the No. 2 quarterback spot.
It will be the first opportunity to see what Haskins can do in a game situation after he was initially signed to a reserve/future contract last January.
"He's grown by leaps and bounds," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "He does a good job of communicating with coaches, with players, gaining an understanding of what we're trying to do schematically and his role in it, gaining a rapport with the receivers specifically, trying to do the things that we want him to do in the drill work that we do. We've made an emphasis that drill work is football-like but not necessarily football, and so we have certain things that we emphasize under those circumstances. I think he's done a nice job of that."
Haskins was drafted in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the No. 15 pick overall, by the Washington Football Team. He has completed 267 of 444 pass attempts for 2,804 yards (60.1%) with 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in two seasons. In 2020 he completed 148 of 241 passes for 1,439 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions, before being released by Washington.
Now he is ready to show what he can do in black and gold, and while Tomlin praised him, he knows there is still work to do.
"I think I still have a way to go," said Haskins. "As far as being comfortable in my own skin, I think I have done that. Learning not only the players, but the coaches, the weight room coaches, the scouts, the guys in the building. Being a quarterback, it's very important working with guys around you and getting them to believe in you. From where I am now to where I was when I first got here, I feel like I have grown into where I want to be."
Haskins isn't just spending time on the field getting comfortable with his teammates. He is doing it by arriving early for practice, staying late, and spending time during the lunch break getting to know different teammates on a regular basis.
"I definitely feel comfortable," said Haskins. "When I first started training camp I was just trying to get into a rhythm. Now, with it being two weeks in, I feel pretty comfortable. Understanding how Ben does things. I grew up watching Ben. It's great to see how he operates. Every time I hear a nugget he says, I try to learn as much as I can from him. He helps me out a lot behind the scenes. If I can take something from him it helps me."
Sharing something special: Coach Mike Tomlin knows what it means to follow in the footsteps of a Hall of Famer.
Bill Cowher, the man who coached the black and gold before Tomlin, will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday as a member of the Class of 2020.
And Tomlin has nothing but respect for Cowher, a man who he has a strong relationship with.
"Our interactions over the years have always been very warm," said Tomlin. "I've always been appreciative of that. You can feel his support of us. He has always given me space to do the things that the job requires.
"Anybody that's held jobs like this understands it's somewhat lonely and that's just the nature of it. Those that have done it are respectful of that and allow people to do what it is they need to do. I have been really appreciative of our relationship and have always felt his support.
"I was very aware of what he was able to accomplish and respectful of it. I realized the monumental challenge it was going to be to hold up the standard."
Cowher gave Tomlin a little help to do it. He left him a small gift in his refrigerator at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, an Iron City beer. The beer is still there.
"It's still in there," said Tomlin with a smile. "I am going to leave that for the next guy."
Tuesday, August 3
A 'wow' moment for Lipps: Louis Lipps is spending his Tuesday with Steelers Nation, hanging out at training camp at Heinz Field and doing a Q&A with the team's sponsor group, as well as a fan Q&A in the FedEx Great Hall.
And he is doing it coming off what has been a big week for him.
Lipps is one of four players, along with Tunch Ilkin, Jon Kolb and Carnell Lake, who are members of the newly announced Steelers Hall of Honor Class of 2021, something that floored him when he got the call from Art Rooney II to inform him of the news.
"It was a big wow factor for me," said Lipps. "First of all, it was totally unexpected. I got the call from Mr. Rooney. For him to tell me congratulations was special. He called me and I missed it. I was nervous for a about 15-20 minutes before calling him back. When I did and he told me I made it, it was unbelievable."
Lipps was the team's No. 1 pick in the 1984 draft out of Sothern Mississippi. He finished his rookie season with 45 catches for 860 yards (19.1 average), led the NFL with 656 punt return yards, and scored 11 touchdowns. He was voted to the AFC All-Pro team and Pro Bowl as the kick returner his rookie year and was the NFL Rookie of the Year.
He had 358 receptions and 6,018 receiving yards, still ranking fifth in team history, while he is also fifth in 100-yard receiving games with 16, and seventh in receiving touchdowns with 39. It doesn't stop there. Lipps is fifth in team history with 107 career punt returns and punt returns yards with 1,212 and is tied for third with Ray Mathews in punt return touchdowns with three.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection he was also voted the Steelers MVP twice.
But making the Hall of Honor has taken it to the next level.
"I know what I did," said Lipps. "I didn't bring any championships to Pittsburgh, but I busted my hump every day I was there and did what I could do to try and bring a championship there. As far as that was concerned, I was already happy with what I did for Pittsburgh. All of the stuff happening after that, like the Hall of Honor, is icing on the cake. It's mind blowing to me."
Lipps was always a fan favorite, with chats of 'Looouuu' coming from the Three Rivers Stadium crowd every time he touched the ball. He loved it, after he realized they weren't yelling 'boooo.'
"I am glad I was looking at the big screen when they first put that up because I thought they were booing me," said Lipps. "Then when it was, 'Looouuu,' I got the biggest goose bumps. I knew they didn't want me to fair catch the football. They wanted me to do something. That is what I did.
"That motivated me. They made me do stuff that when I see if on film, I re-watch it and think how did I do that. I did it because of them screaming and yelling so much."
Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2021 season at Heinz Field
Monday, August 2
Taking on a new role: Minkah Fitzpatrick can be quiet, almost shy at times, when it comes to talking about himself, or even being overly vocal.
This year, though, he is getting out of his comfort zone.
Fitzpatrick was asked by Coach Mike Tomlin to take on more of a leadership role in the secondary and on the defense, and he is stepping up to the challenge.
"Coach T, this offseason, expressed to me he wanted me to be more vocal not just on the field, but in the locker room, the weight room and also on the field," said Fitzpatrick. "I am just trying to take to that challenge.
"I'm older now, Year 4. I think it's time to start sharing my experience and wisdom. I have a lot of experience. I think I can impart a lot of my wisdom on younger guys and even older guys."
Fitzpatrick said having confidence is something that makes it easier to be able to share his take, views and opinions with his teammates.
"I am very confident in what I do. I am very confident in my abilities," said Fitzpatrick. "I prepare really well. I think I handle myself like a professional. Guys see that. It's kind of been demanded on me almost. A lot of young guys are coming to me and asking me questions and picking my brain. I have the responsibility to talk to them, fill them in and take them under my wing."
Having a day: Mondays aren't always the best days of the week for many of us, but for fullback Derek Watt, today was a big day.
Watt saw a lot of work in practice with the tight ends during drills, blocked on goal line and caught a long touchdown pass.
"Today was big," said Watt. "I got some work at tight end in individual drills. I got involved in the offense in short yardage/goal line today. I better be involved in short yardage/goal line day, otherwise what the heck am I doing.
"I caught the one. Nobody covered me. Minkah (Fitzpatrick) gave me a good hit at the end. Any chance you get to touch the ball is a bonus for me."
Watt said he worked some at the same tight end position while with the Chargers, where his running backs coach was current Steelers tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts.
"The coaches move guys around a lot during camp, trying to get them in different situations, see what guys can do," said Watt. "Today they wanted me to go with the tight ends. I did the one with the running backs the other day with the inside backers, so today I went with the outside linebackers and tight ends.
"I'm comfortable with it. Obviously, I am not as big as a tight end body. I've got familiarity with Coach Alfredo. I've got that good chemistry with him. We've got a good relationship to help me improve and learn for those things if it does come down to that and playing a little bit more of that role to kind of develop those skills."
He said it: Diontae Johnson on believing in himself:
"I just believe in myself. That is the main thing. Believing in yourself, knowing you can do those things each and every day. Not worry about the outside. Coach (Darryl) Drake used to say, 'Shut out the noise.' That is all I am doing this year. That is what I am focused on and I am looking forward to the season."
Take a look at the Steelers training and preparing for the 2021 season at Heinz Field
HOF Pride: Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount was at Heinz Field on Monday, taking some questions from Steelers fans before I had a chance to catch up with him to talk about this week's Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement.
With five members of the Steelers organization earning their rightful place in Canton, Ohio, including Bill Cowher, Alan Faneca, Bill Nunn, Troy Polamalu and Donnie Shell, Blount is beyond excited for what is going to be an action-packed black and gold weekend.
"I was telling somebody, I don't know if anything like this have ever happened, where you have five guys going in from one team," said Blount. "It's pretty special. I am excited about it. It's great for Steelers Nation."
Blount will be on the stage on both Saturday and Sunday nights for enshrinements and said he will be beaming with pride the entire time. But there will be one player in particular he will be exceptionally happy for.
"I will have such a sense of pride being a part of it, especially with Donnie Shell going in," said Blount. "I saw Donnie come in as a rookie. I know how hard he worked, what a great player he was on special teams. When he got the chance to play on defense, he was even better. I am excited. I played with him.
"I am excited for Bill Nunn's family, for his legacy. I am excited for Bill Cowher, for Troy Polamalu, for Alan Faneca. All of them. All of these guys are so deserving. They were great people, great players, who made a huge contribution to the Steelers organization. We're fortunate as Steelers Nation to have this happen."
Back to work: The Steelers are back to work at Heinz Field on Monday, after the players had the day off on Sunday.