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Camp Blog: All the news from Week 2

Sunday, August 16

Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field

A day to remember for Duck: As fans watched the beginning of the Steelers game against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 2 of the 2019 season, there was a buzz going through the stands, and it wasn't a good one. After seeing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the field in the first half, he was a spectator in the second half, standing on the sidelines while Mason Rudolph took over.

Everyone wanted to know what was happening, why he wasn't playing. And soon they found out he was injured on the final series of the first half, done for the day, and eventually done for the season with an elbow injury.

As news started to spread, Devlin Hodges' phone started to blow up. And he couldn't believe the texts he was getting.

Roethlisberger was injured.

Had the news gotten out a few minutes sooner, Hodges likely would have been right there at Heinz Field hearing the buzz in the crowd. But as fate would have it, he actually left Heinz Field at halftime and missed it all.

"That day was crazy," said Hodges. "I went to the game and being a practice squad guy, we are sitting up in the stands. So, I was watching the game from there. I was sitting with practice squad guys. Sitting with the fans. I was watching and observing more. People didn't recognize any of us."

And while watching the game was important, there was something else going on. Being new to the team and Pittsburgh, signed to the practice squad just a few days before, he was also in the process of moving in. And the furniture he was waiting for was ready.

"When the first half of the game ended, I left because I had to go pick up furniture," said Hodges. "I get out of the stadium and one of my friends texted me and said Ben is hurt. I am looking on Twitter and I see Ben is out and Mason is playing, and I am like, oh man, I just left.

"I went and got my stuff moved in and the next day they said we are going to sign you. They asked if I was familiar with everything. Things took off like crazy. I didn't know if I was going to play as much as I did last year, but it was a blessing."

If you feel like you need a rewind after reading that, it's okay.

Yes, Hodges was watching his first game with the team from the stands. Yes, he left before he even knew Roethlisberger was hurt. And yes, it's rare that he has admitted this.

"It was my first time at Heinz Field for a real game," said Hodges. "It was a great atmosphere. At the same time, I was thinking it sucks. I can be down there. And the next week I was. It's crazy how things work."

From watching the games in the stands, to be introduced as the starting quarterback at Heinz Field. It definitely went from one extreme to another for Hodges last year.

"I don't know if there is a cooler moment in sports for me than being introduced at Heinz Field," said Hodges. "That is something I will remember for the rest of my life.

"I feel like I have grown as a player a lot. The first time I was thrown in there and did well. Even though I didn't play my best the last couple of games I grew, and I got better. Even though it might not have looked like it, that is what happened. I grew as a player understanding the concepts, understanding the defense, things that come with playing the game and especially the quarterback position."
While he grew, there are things he wants to work on during training camp, even going into his postseason meeting last January with Coach Mike Tomlin with a list.

"I want to work on some under center stuff, footwork, some pocket movement," said Hodges, who is battling for a backup spot with a healthy Roethlisberger back. "When it comes down to it, I want to work on everything and get better. I know I have the talent; it's how can we maximize the talent. I want to watch a lot of film, not really on me but maybe on Ben and how he does stuff, how he plays the game."

Friday, Aug. 14

Whyte believes in himself: Going into the 2019 season if any of these names were thrown at you for the leading rusher in one of the Steelers 16 games, you probably wouldn't have thought twice about it.

James Conner. Jaylen Samuels. Benny Snell.

With the way the Steelers have been known to mix things up in the running game, any one of the three being the leading rusher in a particular game wouldn't have come as a shock. And it would have even been more expected as injuries started to mount.

But throw another name out there and you might be a bit more surprised.

Kerrith Whyte.

A name that most Steelers fans probably weren't familiar with before he was signed by the team on Nov. 19 from the Chicago Bears practice squad, Whyte was tied for the team's leading rusher with Snell in a Week 14 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Yes, it was 41 yards rushing, but at the same time remember he was on a different team's practice squad less than a month before that.

"Last year was a big blessing, it was a great year for me thank God," said Whyte. "Leaving school early, being drafted by the Chicago Bears, making the 53-man roster, being placed on the practice squad for a couple of weeks. Then to get the call from the Pittsburgh Steelers to come and play for them was an absolute honor. I am so grateful for the opportunity they have given me. To be able to play meaningful downs in games, it meant a lot. I will forever appreciate it.

"Hopefully it was the start of something. I believe in myself. I have so much more to show. I am happy how things played out. Hopefully I did turn some heads. I am going to continue to work and show my God-given talent."

Whyte, who is going through his first training camp with the Steelers, had his share of meaningful downs in just a short window with the Steelers. In fact, it started just days after he was signed, getting six carries for 43 yards in a Week 12 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals four days after coming to the Steelers.

"I am just happy they trusted me," said Whyte. "I got here and four days later played in my first game. It was unique. I appreciated that. When someone trusts you with the ball, that's what it's about. The game is about the ball. You respect the ball. Everything revolves around the ball. When somebody puts the ball in your hands and trusts you, that goes a long way. What you have to do then is take care of it. That football, it's a baby. You have to take care of that ball to stay in this league. Ball security means everything. Ball security is always number one. Without the ball you can't do anything. Ball security is the most important thing. I take pride in it. I know how meaningful the ball is."

Whyte, who played college ball at Florida Atlantic, was the Bears seventh round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He caught the attention of the Steelers and made a pre-draft visit to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. But it took time, and a different path, for him to make his way to the black and gold.

"Coming into the league I knew what it was all about, that it was a business," said Whyte. "Going through it is a little bit different. It took some adjustments. It was a little bit challenging, going to another atmosphere, another environment. It just took a little bit of time, but it's like anything in life, as time goes on things get better. You learn to adapt and adjust to new things.

"The guys here showed nothing but love from the moment I walked in. They took great care of me and I am appreciative of that. I would say everybody I came in touch with helped me. The running backs of course, because I was in contact with them the most. They showed me a lot of love and really took care of me. I took a little piece from everybody, from the coaching staff, the strength staff, the veterans in the room. They were all a part of the puzzle."

Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field

Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field

Wednesday, Aug. 12

Ben, please sign this: The Steelers launched a virtual autograph signing this camp, with Ben Roethlisberger the latest player to sign virtual autographs for fans. Through the @steelers Twitter account, fans could send their favorite picture of Roethlisberger, and he tweeted it back to them with the virtual signature, with each signature being unique. It's something the team plans on continuing to do throughout training camp as a thank you to their loyal fans.

And I don't know about you, but somewhere in the back of my head I can hear the fans yelling, 'Ben, Ben, please sign this.'

Conner believes in himself: It wasn't that long ago that James Conner was the rookie sitting in the Steelers running backs room, relying on the veterans to show him the ropes and help him navigate through his first year in the NFL.

Fast forward to 2020, and Conner is now that veteran, providing leadership for younger players like second year back Benny Snell and rookie Anthony McFarland.

"It's my job to get that running back group going," said Conner. "I set the tone every day when I step out there for practice. I have to teach these young guys. It's been awesome. I have been learning from them and they have been learning from me. It's been nice. We are all learning together. Anthony is looking great. Being the rookie in the room he is learning fast, asking questions, picking things up. It's a group effort moving forward. It's been fun so far."

Conner has shown that leadership in many ways this training camp, the most noticeable just by the fact that he is out there with his teammates. Conner was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma while at the University of Pittsburgh. He overcame the battle against it to go on to return to the field at Pitt and be drafted by the Steelers. With COVID-19, if there is one player that people would fully understand opting out because of health concerns, it would be Conner. He however, never considered it.

"I was excited to get back, be around my teammates and be around football again," said Conner. "I still haven't thought about it. I am going on four years now removed from cancer. I didn't have to talk to my family. It was never a concern for me. I have been healthy for years now. It was an easy decision for me. Not much thought went into it. I wanted to play football. I am healthy. My immune system is back healthy. I am not worried."

Conner said the mood at Heinz Field during the first portion of training camp has been an upbeat one with all of his teammates also taking part, and you can feel the energy with everyone back together again.

"I just feel like guys are excited to be back. Nobody on our team opted out. We were just excited to get back," said Conner. "We had been out of football for a while, the whole offseason. Everybody on this team loves football and we love being around each other. I have great teammates here and we were excited to see each other back. We just focused on one day at a time and coming together as a group."

The team will change things up next week when they can hold padded practices for the first time, and without preseason football that will definitely be the precursor for the real thing when the Steelers open the regular season against the New York Giants on Sept. 14 on Monday Night Football.

"We will do the necessary things we have to do during practice to get ready," said Conner. "We will be smart about it. I know what it's like to be in game and get tackled and all of that. We aren't worried about it. It's the same for everybody. As long as we are professionals, we will be fine.

"We will follow (Mike Tomlin's) lead. He will put us in a position in practice to get used to game like scenarios I am sure. Come September, when we kick off, everybody will be ready to roll full speed. It's my fourth year. It's just the game of football. I know what hits feel like."

It's been a while since his body has taken a pounding, after missing a lot of time late in the 2019 season with injuries. Despite the injury-riddled season, Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert have shown their belief in Conner being the team's No. 1 back this season, and that is all Conner needs to hear.

"I just worked hard. That is all there is to it," said Conner. "You just have a work ethic. Every year you attack it. You give it all you've got in the offseason to prepare for the season. It's the game of football, injuries are going to happen.

"I don't pay attention to what anybody says. As long as the people who make the important decisions believe in me, that is all that matters. I don't care what anybody else thinks. The ones who make all of the important decisions believe in me, and I believe in myself."

Take a look at the Steelers preparing for the 2020 regular season at Heinz Field