Sunday, August 30
Watt will be ready: If you are going to be a free agent this season and have to uproot your family and move to a new city without an offseason to get accustomed to your new team and city due to a pandemic, the best-case scenario would have to be to do it the way Derek Watt has.
Watt made the cross-country move from the Los Angeles Chargers to the Steelers this offseason and got a crash course in everything Steelers and Pittsburgh thanks to his brother, Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt.
"Definitely getting acclimated to both the Steelers and the City of Pittsburgh, it was a huge help having T.J.," said Watt. "Throughout his whole time here, we always talked, and he has had nothing but great things to say about the organization and how things are done around here. I have had that little insight from afar. Once I signed here, it was tremendous having him being able to tell me little things, where to go, where to look. How things are done on a daily basis. Having a familiar face to bounce things off of if I ever had any questions, everybody is a great resource, but I know I can pick up my phone and talk to him or go down the hall and talk to him and he will be there for me."
Derek and T.J. are no strangers to being teammates. While older brother, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt never had the opportunity to play with his brothers other than in the backyard because of the age gap, Derek and T.J. were teammates at Pewaukee High School and at the University of Wisconsin before becoming Steelers teammates.
"This is our third time being able to play on the same team," said Watt. "It is awesome. Just being able to see a familiar face. We eat breakfast with each other every morning. And just seeing a familiar face out on the practice field. We were talking last night. We got a little work in after practice last night and it was just like the old days. Things that we have always done throughout our life. We are only two years apart. We shared a room growing up. We played all these sports together in the backyard, and now on this level is something truly special.
"In terms of off the field, we do live close to each other and it is great for us. I used to be on the other side of the country. So, now we get to see each other all the time and he gets to hang out with my wife and my son. He is loving being an uncle that is able to be there and constantly have time with (my son) Logan. I know that J.J. is very jealous of that and T.J. has sent him many videos trying to make him jealous and trying to win that favorite uncle title."
Watt wasn't brought to Pittsburgh though because his younger brother was already here. He was brought to the team for two reasons, to play fullback and bring his incredible knack for playing special teams to the black and gold. He has been slowed a little bit in camp because of an offseason procedure he underwent, but he will be ready to go when the Steelers open the season on Monday Night Football against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 14.
"I have every intention of being ready Week 1 and getting involved in the back half of camp here," said Watt.
Watt brings a lot to both the offense and special teams, from his blocking ability, to catching the ball out of the backfield, to consistently being one of the best special teams players in the NFL year after year. He has quickly become acclimated to special teams coordinator Danny Smith's approach, which is one of energy, energy and more energy.
"Danny Smith is a great coach, brings a lot of energy both to the meeting room and the practice field," said Watt. "I just love watching him work and seeing him and how he thinks. Whether it is watching film and seeing how he analyzes things and then on the field, what he likes to emphasize and focus on. It sounds like he has a great plan and we're going to kind of get into more of that game plan over the next week or so here.
"I am really looking forward to cracking down and getting to work with him on more game plans in a schematic-type sense where we can get down into the nuts and bolts of things and really get specific and truly get to work with each other."
Versatility and a football IQ work for Sutton: When you talk about versatility in the Steelers secondary, Cam Sutton is the first name that should roll off your tongue. The cornerback does it all. He plays outside corner, in the nickel, the dime, pretty much anything that is asked of him.
"The thing about Cam is he is a guy that is very valuable because he can do all of the different things," said defensive backs coach Tom Bradley. "He plays safety. He plays corner. He plays nickel. He can play dime. He plays all over the place, and that's a guy that's good to have on your team because he's like putty. We can put him anywhere, and he does a heck of a job and knows what he is doing. We look at Cam as a very valuable tool to this defense."
For Sutton, starting in the Steelers' defense is of course the number one goal. But as a role player, with a ton of roles, he handles his job like a true professional, never batting an eye when he is asked to move all around in the secondary.
"Being a competitor, you want to be a consistent player out on the field," said Sutton. "I wouldn't say it gets frustrating. I guess you could say the way you approach it, just not having any care about, just going out there and making plays and just helping the defense. I think that is the biggest thing that keeps that frustration or feeling that way about anything to a minimum. Being able to move around, being able to play multiple positions in the secondary and just having more ways to create opportunities to get the ball back for our offense.
"The biggest thing for me is honing in on those different positions and skills and being able to use that versatility to make plays. Anywhere in the secondary, I am really comfortable. Whether it is outside, whether it is playing inside, moving around and setting up match ups. Whatever it is. Just to keep ourselves ahead on defense and never put ourselves in bad scenarios on the field. I think that is where I have expanded a lot more in the defense. Just having that freedom of taking away mismatches or putting guys in good spots to still be productive throughout the defense and still within the scheme of the defense. That is just something we are continuously working on and continuing to get better at and put out there on game day."
It's not an easy task to know all of those positions, to be able to move around the way Sutton does. But he can do it because of his overall intelligence and football IQ, something coaches and teammates have always praised him for, a compliment that he welcomes as he takes pride in that part of his game.
"It feels really good to hear that," said Sutton. "The work that I put in, just seeing the back end of that. Just a lot of time in the film room just studying offensive concepts and formations, patterns. All the ins and outs that give a player a competitive advantage out on the field.
"I am partaking in that role and that has expanded my knowledge of the game, let alone put myself and my teammates in this situation to make plays on the ball. That's it. That is what it is all about. I'm not a guy that is saying they know everything out there on the field. We do a lot of meeting together just talking ball. That is why we are such a tight-knit group. We love ball, we love this game and we would do anything for each other. Just being able to give a little bit of knowledge to a guy or receive some knowledge from someone, it has definitely molded my game."
Saturday, August 29
A look back at Friday night's memorable moments.**
Making a Powerful Statement:Coach Mike Tomlin and the entire Steelers team stood together as one, and prayed as one, before Friday night's practice as they addressed social injustice.Read More ->>**Making a powerful statement
Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field
Friday, August 28
Mike Hilton has been in this situation before, waiting to learn what his future will be contract-wise.
He signed a tender as a restricted free agent in April, but that long-term deal is something that hasn't come just yet. For a player who entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent and has bounced around in the league, he knows he has to be patient. And he is.
"Getting to this situation has been a blessing," said Hilton. "Just being undrafted and becoming one of the top players at my position. Being able to produce over the past couple of years. It's a blessing. I never take it for granted. With the contract situation I am not focused on it. I know what's at the end of the tunnel. I have to go out there and do what I can to provide for this team and help us win games."
What Hilton can do is a lot.
Hilton has played in 47 games with 14 starts in three seasons. He has 22 tackles for a loss to his credit, the second-most in the NFL among defensive backs since he entered the league in 2017. His six and a half sacks are fourth-most among defensive backs since he entered the league as well.
Hilton finished the 2019 season with 63 tackles, including 50 solo stops, 11 pass defenses, one and a half sacks, and one interception, forced fumble and fumble recovery. For his career he has 184 tackles, with 142 solo stops, four interceptions, 21 pass defenses, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
"It's just grinding nonstop," said Hilton of how he got to where he is today. "I know it's cliché, and I know a lot of athletes say it, but the effort you put in shows in your play and results. The last couple of years I feel like I have been gaining a lot of momentum, taking care of my body, and it's paying off on the field when I am able to be out there making plays."
Hilton said he spent the offseason working on his man coverage, knowing that at 5-9 he is one of the smaller corners in the league, so he wants to compensate by making sure he is technically sound. And playing in the nickel defense, he also knows he has to prepare for whatever comes his way.
"You have to prepare for the pass game, going against slot receivers it's more short, quick routes," said Hilton. "You have to have your run support ready too. For me, both go hand in hand. I think with my run stop ability I am one of the best. And when it comes to my coverage, I am one of the best. I am comfortable and I feel good about how we are going to do this year."
He said it: After Ben Roethlisberger said on Thursday that he wants to listen and learn about the social justice issues from his African-American teammates, Hilton was asked what message he wants to share with those who want to listen.
"Truly understand what we are going through," said Hilton. "This is a tough situation. It's been going on the last couple of months. Just listen. We're not trying to stop sports, or slow down what is important. We are just trying to get people to listen and understand. We are all human. We are all one. We are just trying to live free and enjoy life. As athletes we know our platform exists and we try to use it to the best of our ability."
Wisniewski has proven he can do it: When Stefen Wisniewski signed with the Steelers this offseason as an unrestricted free agent, it was a dream come true. He is a Pittsburgher, growing up in South Fayette and attending Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh. He grew up a Steelers fan, attending games at Heinz Field. Now, he will be playing there.
Wisniewski was hoping to spend the offseason, OTAs and minicamp, fighting for the starting left guard spot that was vacated when Ramon Foster retired. Without the benefit of an offseason to see what Wisniewski can bring, Matt Feiler was inserted as the starting left guard when training camp began, and Wisniewski is working in a backup role, although he has gotten some valuable reps with the first team with David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey missing time early in camp.
"I have learned in my years in the NFL be ready for anything," said Wisniewski. "It does look like at this point I will be the backup swing guy at both guards and center. I'll embrace that role. I do believe I am capable of being a starter in this league. I think I have proven that."
Wisniewski was a starter on the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII team as well as the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LIV team. That experience he brings is something that can be valuable.
"I have started at left guard for two of the last three Super Bowl champions," said Wisniewski. "Obviously, I am capable of doing that. I have been a backup as well. I am going to come to work everyday with a great attitude no matter what my role is. If I am a backup, I am going to be ready to go every day if someone gets hurt and I am in there. I will do my best to teach young guys, help them with the game plan, scheme things up. I have been in a lot of good offenses, I will try to help with schemes, help coach and be ready to go whenever I am called on."
Wisniewski knows what being a backup can mean. He signed with the Chiefs and was in that role but was inserted into the lineup as the starting left guard and remained there for the postseason.
"I have done that before in the past, even my last year in Kansas City," said Wisniewski. "They brought me in to be a backup and eventually I worked my way into the starting lineup and started the whole playoff run. I think that is a possibility, but that is the coach's decision."
Thursday, August 27
Ben's arm bouncing back fast: When Ben Roethlisberger takes the field against the New York Giants on Sept. 14 at MetLife Stadium, it will almost be a year to the date that he last played in a game. Roethlisberger left the Steelers-Seahawks Sept. 15 game last season with an elbow injury that sidelined him for the year and forced him to have surgery.
But he has come back strong, maybe even stronger than ever. Roethlisberger has been throwing consistently in practice, even practicing three consecutive days last week, something that hasn't been the norm for him.
"It's felt really good," said Roethlisberger. "For the last handful of years, we did the same routine with a full day, half day, off day. I even went three days in a row last week and it's been feeling really good. I definitely need to give it some time to rest, that one day off every so often, out of general fatigue. But it's amazing how fast it bounces back and feels great the next day.
"It wasn't like I wasn't able to make the throws, it was the pain and discomfort I'd feel or the next day. I feel really good making some of the deeper down-the-field throws. One of the practices last week I wasn't able to step into it and I threw a go-route down the sideline. I let go of it and it felt short and it ended up making it there in stride. I was surprised at how my arm strength has come back, and maybe a little better than it was before."
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner agrees that Roethlisberger's arm looks strong and is keeping a close eye on him, including watching the extra time he spends throwing to guys after practice and so forth.
"I go up to him after practice and ask how he feels," said Fichtner. "I like the idea from script standpoint, he hasn't shied away from any deep opportunities. And we've taken several.
"The off day, half day have lined up perfectly for him to have time off and not miss work. Some of that hasn't occurred because the off days are at the right time, right moment. We have to watch the extra reps that occur between the lines outside of a period. When we come off the field, I point blank ask how he feels."
Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field
Shaking the nerves: He is heading into his 17th season, but Ben Roethlisberger admits there is a sense of nervous excitement when he is out on the field right now, a feeling that comes from missing almost the entire 2019 season and preparing to get back out there this year.
"When we have done some two-minute drills against the defense I have felt like jelly-type legs, nervous on the field, which I never felt before or for a long time," said Roethlisberger. "I know if I am nervous out there on the practice field right now, I know the game is going to be a different feeling."
Those nerves are something offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner thinks will drive Roethlisberger. Fichtner said when the team had an evening practice last Saturday, which included pregame introductions and the like, that he saw the excitement and nervousness in his quarterback.
"I am always going to be nervous for our guys, because I know how much they put into it, and in this case how much he put into getting back to it," said Fichtner. "What is interesting is we had that first evening practice. It was a practice. I remember him coming off after the first period and he said my knees are shaking, and there are only just media in the stands. We went through that process of pregame. It was at night. You would expect that with how much he cares and put into getting back. Hence those feelings are going to happen. If you don't have some jitters, you are probably in the wrong business. It usually disappears after play one."
The other thing that will likely go away after play one, or hopefully a few more, is Roethlisberger getting the first hit after almost a year. Not that he wants hit, but he has been talking to guys on defense trying to convince them to just 'bump' him a little to get him ready.
"That is going to be the last hurdle, getting hit," said Roethlisberger. "I try to talk to T.J. (Watt) and those guys and ask them to give me little bumps, but no one will do it. Getting hit and calming the nerves are going to be big ones for me."
There is going to be one thing Roethlisberger will miss this year, and that is the atmosphere if there are no fans or a limited number of fans at Heinz Field this year.
"It's going to be different," said Roethlisberger. "We had our practice with the fake crowd noise. I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't excited to run out of the tunnel after last year at Heinz Field. There is nothing better, and I will never be able to put it into words and describe to someone that hasn't been able to do it what it's like to run out in that stadium, here at home with the fans screaming, going nuts, the Terrible Towels waving. I was looking forward to that.
"Obviously, that is going to be different now. Whether there are a few fans or no fans, I don't know what is going to be happening yet. All that being said, with what happened last year I am just going to be happy to be on the field playing a game.
"I am just excited to have the opportunity to play this year after missing last year. You can't look past one game, one play. I want to give everything I have this year and just enjoy it because I didn't get to last year."
Wednesday, August 26
'I want to be a game wrecker': When you have 14 sacks in a season, like T.J. Watt did in 2019, you are officially an impact player.
But Watt wants more.
"I want to be a game wrecker," said Watt. "I want to be somebody the other team has to scheme around."
Watt has done his share of wrecking games as he led the Steelers in sacks last season, and his fellow inside linebacker Bud Dupree wasn't far behind with 11.5. The two have become one of the best outside linebacker tandems in the NFL, and the good news for Steelers fans, is they keep getting better.
"We push each other each and every day," said Watt. "He learned some moves in the offseason and so did I. Just making sure there aren't any times in practice when we are sitting on the sideline not working on our game. If it's a special teams period and we aren't out there, we are on the sidelines trying to help each other be the best player we can be.
"We have been working (on our) hands (when on sidelines). We have been working hands like crazy. (Bud) sees a pass rush coach in the offseason. I am not huge on seeing individual pass rush coaches. I just work on my own drills. I try to share as much as I can with him. More than not, I am picking his brain and seeing what he learned in the offseason. Just the intensity he is bringing in this camp. He's made a ton of plays."
While Watt and Dupree have a firm hold on the outside linebacker spots, they know the reality is they can't be on the field for every snap. One player who is making a push to be out there when they need a breather is rookie third-round pick Alex Highsmith.
"I think Alex has done a great job being ready in all of these tough circumstances to be a rookie," said Watt. "He knows the defense really well. He is making all of the proper calls. He is asking all of the right questions. I think he can definitely fill in when needed. Bud and I found out last year we can't play a full game. We can't play every single snap if we want to play to our fullest potential. He can definitely help rotate into the game."
Without the preseason, the team does have to rely on everything that happens on the practice field right now to evaluate players, but also to give them a feel of what it's going to be like when the regular season rolls around in a few weeks.
"It's important to show the young guys without the preseason you are going up against the same guys every day," said Watt. "You aren't going to always have that adrenaline that you would if you were playing in those four preseason games. Also, when we go into these stadiums, there aren't going to be fans. If there are, very few. You have to get yourself up for these moments. What better way to do it than at this training camp? I want to be one of the energy guys and lead by example. Just to try to carry the team as far as having an emotional, get ready to play type of atmosphere."
Tuesday, August 25
Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex
A terrific tandem: T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree haven't disappointed when it comes to carrying on the legacy the Steelers have had at linebacker. They set the tone for the defense, they have non-stop motors and they bring an energy that is unparalleled. They are a tandem any defensive coordinator would salivate over, and you better believe Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler knows how good he has it with Watt and Dupree part of his arsenal.
"I am glad we got them. They are going to be a couple of guys that are hard to deal with," said Butler. "Bud is probably a little bigger than T.J. T.J. is still advancing in his pass rush. He is a problem for a lot of people. He does a great job using his hands when he rushes the passer. He does a good job in recognizing the difference in pass and run and play action. So is Bud. Bud is a big, strong guy. He is a going to be hard to handle.
"I am glad we got both of those guys. They're going to be a big part of our defense. I think they're going to be a major force to deal with. As long as they are doing that, I think we will be okay. We probably need to get a little bit of depth out of our guys behind them so we can keep them fresh in the game and maybe we have to close out a game those guys can be fresh in that situation too."
Last season both of them were on fire, finishing with career-highs in sacks, Watt with 14, while Dupree had 11.5.
"It's fun to watch the cooperative work," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "They challenge one another daily. They hone their skills during the special teams periods. Some of the unofficial things they do, the routines they've formed are things you see when you're looking at a special tandem. I know that is their intention to be what it is we need them to be, which is special."
One of the most important aspects this year is going to be keeping the tandem fresh. And that is one of the reasons the team drafted linebacker Alex Highsmith in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Butler said it's realistic to think Highsmith will get snaps this year, giving the Watt and Dupree tandem a much-needed breather.
"We have to rest those guys at some point in time," said Butler. "Ola (Adeniyi) is doing a good job for us also. Alex has really shown that he belongs in the NFL. He belongs where we drafted. Do we really know that until we get into live action, probably not? But what we have seen him do here in practice is encouraging in terms of us putting him in and having enough confidence in him that when he goes in it won't be a huge drop off from those two other guys.
"Those two other guys are probably elite in the National Football League. It's going to take a little while for Alex to catch up with them, but I think he's got a real good attitude, what we are asking him to do. You don't have to tell him something two or three times. He usually gets it after the first time. I have always thought good defensive football players learn from their mistakes. They don't repeat them. I think Alex is that type of guy. Hopefully as the year goes along, he will get better. We won't worry about resting those guys."
Monday, August 24
Sticking with what worked: On Monday morning, defensive backs coach Tom Bradley said the plan is to use Minkah Fitzpatrick in one spot for the most part this year, keeping the star free safety in 'centerfield' instead of moving the versatile player around.
Fitzpatrick is completely on board with that.
"I don't see myself moving around a whole lot," said Fitzpatrick. "I think last year we were successful with what we did. I don't see any need for a change. We might switch it up a little bit. I don't see my role changing too match."
The bottom line is, if it is broken, why fix it and ruin a good thing.<