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Camp Blog: All the news from Week 5

Friday, September 4

Banner in the 'best shape of his life': For the past month, Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor have battled it out during training camp for the right tackle spot.

And with camp over, it could still be a few more days until a starter is named at the position, the decision possibly not coming on Monday when the team normally releases their first depth chart of the season.

"You may see 'or' listed on that depth chart on Monday," said Coach Mike Tomlin.

"I am not surprised," said Banner when hearing the 'or' comment. "He wants to make a great decision. You are talking about protecting one of the most important people in the City of Pittsburgh (in Ben Roethlisberger). You are talking about you can't make up for sacks. If you make a mistake on the offensive line, people get hurt. He is just making an in-depth decision.

"If I win, it will be exciting. But the minute you mess up you will be done, so the pressure stays on all of the time."

For Banner, who has experienced the ups and downs of the game in his short time in the NFL, just being one of the 'or' has checked a box that in the past has been a much different situation.

"I am extremely grateful I am not a bubble roster guy anymore," said Banner. "I am going to be on the 53. I am not going to be in a hotel waiting for my phone to ring. I am not saying that is what I am settling at. I want to be great. I want to play. I do want to be a starter here. I am extremely competitive. I can't make that decision. I can only go out and put it on film.

"I am very excited to have the opportunity that I have had and continue to have this season. For me personally, 2017 draft pick, going into my fourth year. I have been on the road before. The opportunity to be a starter for the best franchise in the NFL is amazing. I like to evaluate myself and what I am doing. That is the most important thing you can do. Just because situational football, it's the only way you can educate yourself while going through a process of evaluation. The only way you can do that and stay sane at night and get some sleep is if you focus on yourself."

The battle between Banner and Okorafor is a unique one, because it is a battle not just between teammates, but close friends. Banner said you have to put that aside when you are on the field because you are there to get the job done.

"Watching film on myself and focusing on myself is the biggest priority I can focus on," said Banner. "Paying attention to my process. Staying within the parameters of my own mental."

Banner, who saw most of his action last season as a tackle eligible, said he got to where he is today by taking care of himself over the last few years, including eating properly and working out.

"I am in the best shape of my life," said Banner, who dropped his weight to 335 pounds this offseason. "See how loose this shirt is, how faded it is, that can't lie. It's an old shirt, two or three-year old shirt. I am most proud of my physique, my shape. I would like to get the goal towards the end of the season being 325-330, maybe 320-325."

Samuels doesn't mind being a 'hybrid': With a crowded running backs room, versatility is something that players are going to have to have in their arsenal in order to make the Steelers 53-man roster.

And if there is someone in that room that definitely has versatility, it's Jaylen Samuels.

"He is continuing to be impressive with his versatility," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I think that is the thing that has always kind of distinguished him in a competitive setting among his peers. His ability to do a variety of things at a relatively high level, particularly in the passing game and outside the backfield with his hands and route running. It is above the line from a running back perspective for sure."

Samuels proved more than ever in 2019 what he is capable of doing when he stepped in and started four games. And in his two seasons, he has managed to balance both sides of what he has been asked to do, in the passing game and with the ball in his hands out of the backfield. He knows his main role is in passing situations, but he certainly isn't a one trick pony.

"Involving me a lot in the passing game, but also trying to get me in the run game as well," said Samuels of what he anticipates his role being this year. "The majority of the passing game, on passing downs, third down, situational football. I just come to work every day and try to carry my load.

"I like being a hybrid, but that is what I did all offseason, steady working on my running backs skills, as a ball carrier. I still have room for improvement in that area and the passing game area."

Samuels missed time early in training camp this year while on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and on Friday confirmed that he tested positive for the virus during a zoom call, but said he was asymptomatic. He admitted it did set him back at first but took advantage whenever he did get his reps in the crowded backfield.

"With me being out it did put me back a couple of days from a football standpoint, but conditioning-wise I tried to stay up on it while I was at home so when I came back I could act like I didn't miss a beat," said Samuels. "When I came back, I felt good, my body felt good. I felt in shape still. I just hopped right back on the bandwagon.

"We have a room full of players who all have potential, who all have experience. Coach (Eddie) Faulkner does a great job with giving everybody reps during practice. Whenever my rep is called, I just try to go out there and make the best of it."

Defense is chasing perfection: Terrell Edmunds didn't hold back; didn't hide how he feels about the Steelers 2020 defense for a second.

"There really is no ceiling. We can do anything we put our minds to," said Edmunds. "Our front is spectacular. Our linebackers are spectacular. Our defensive backs are one of the best in the country. We just have to go out there and be the best defense we know we are.

"We feel like we are the best. I am putting the statement out there. We are the best defense out there."

Edmunds loves what he has seen in training camp at Heinz Field, which wraps up on Friday before moving back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Even though the team didn't have a full offseason, with OTAs, and minicamp, they have come together and are working every day to be that best defense. 

"We're chasing that little thing called perfection," said Edmunds. "Every day we are trying to be perfect out there, knowing that we will never actually attain it. At the same time, we are going out there, working hard, trying to not have as many mental mistakes, busted coverages, really focusing on running to the ball, gang tackling. Everyone is bringing that energy because you have to trust your brother on the field and if one brother messes up, everyone has to be right there behind him to pick up the slack."

Edmunds, who has been hampered by injuries in training camp but said he is 'ready' now, is heading into his third season after being selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Teryl Austin, the senior defensive assistant/secondary, would like to see Edmunds have more ball production after only having one interception in his first two seasons. Edmunds would like the same, and knows he has to take advantage of opportunities that come his way.  

"It's like the old saying, 'you have to catch the ones that come to you,'" said Edmunds. "Last year I had a few opportunities. I missed those opportunities. I feel confident in myself I will grab those opportunities this year. It will be a different outcome and just catch the ones that come to me and just take off from there.

"Whatever helps the team win. Of course, I want to get the turnovers, but at the end of the day as long as we are winning, and hopefully we get that Super Bowl this year, that is the biggest goal on the whole team. Everyone wants to make the plays because we are competitive, but as long as we are winning."

Edmunds is excited about what the Steelers have in the defensive backfield, and is excited about having a full season ahead with Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was traded to the Steelers a week into the season in 2019.

"It's going to be good," said Edmunds. "Minkah knows what he does well, I know what I do well, and we can play off each other, help each other out. Our communication has been growing a whole lot, definitely from last year. We grew throughout the season and now having a full season together and I think it is going to be really special."

And it doesn't hurt that those two have two of the best cornerbacks in the game in the secondary with them in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson.

"We have two lock down corners and that makes our job easy," said Edmunds. "At the end of the day you know you can count on them to lock somebody, shut somebody down. It puts less stress on the safety. You know they will always be in the right position, their communication is going to be on point, and everything is going to be perfect on the outside."

Thursday, September 3

A sense of normalcy: Normalcy.

It's something everyone has been craving since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the United States.

Whether it be a normal routine, the ability to move from a virtual world, or just spending time around friends and family, normalcy is something people are yearning for.

Maurkice Pouncey is no different.

Pouncey is a creature of habit. During the football season he arrives at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex at the same time every day. Parks in the same spot. Orders the same food in the cafeteria for breakfast. And goes for his coffee at the same time.

But that has all changed this offseason. There was no reporting to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in the offseason, and camp moved from Saint Vincent College to Heinz Field, changing the routine he has become accustomed to.

"I like normalcy," said Pouncey. "I understand right now the protocols that are going on. It was at first a real adjustment period, trying to get used to it. The older players want to come in and have their same routine. You have to understand the bigger picture. But I like normalcy."

Pouncey did get his wish for normalcy in one area though. He has Ben Roethlisberger back. The two have been a tandem for the past 10 years, Pouncey protecting his quarterback at all times like his life depended on it. But last year, things were different. Roethlisberger was injured in Week 2 of the season and done for the year. Now, though, he is back and for Pouncey, that gives him the normalcy he craves. 

"That is for the whole Steelers Nation, to see him back there, how comfortable he is, how motivated he is," said Pouncey. "To watch his whole process, going through the surgery. To come back like this in Year 17, it's been incredible to watch. I know injuries are hard, especially at this age. But he has been out there rocking. He is a true leader; a true soldier and I really appreciate the type of player he is. That is normalcy, for sure."

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Pouncey knows there are going to be some changes this year, though. The offensive line won't be the same one it was a year ago, with Ramon Foster retiring, Matt Feiler moving to guard and Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner battling for the right tackle spot. He is excited about the changes, though, and likes what he has seen so far from those three, as well as rookie Kevin Dotson and free agent signee Stefen Wisniewski.

"With Matt it's coming along really easily," said Pouncey. "We have been around each other a long time. He is a strong player. He is coming along really well. He is locked into the offense. He knows the ins and outs. Dotson, he is a younger guy, he is trying to learn. Strong, powerful guy. He is going to be a great player here down the line soon. Wiz is a veteran player. He is a really smart guy. He knows the ins and outs of football. He knows how to adjust when blocks come. It's good to have another voice in there to talk a little bit deeper about defenses and understand the true game.

"It's been a fun experience. I think the Steelers have done a great job of bringing guys in as far as draft picks and free agents. As far as the young guys they have coming up right now, Dotson, Chuks and Banner, I think the Steelers are heading in the right direction.

"I just enjoy the moments. As you get older you lose some of the stuff you look forward to. Those guys have brought a lot of energy back to the room and I appreciate that."

Pouncey, who said he tore his meniscus last season but opted not to have offseason surgery, still has the excitement and energy as he heads into his 11th season in the NFL.

"For me personally it's all about having fun and enjoying it," said Pouncey. "For me contract isn't an issue, years in the league isn't an issue. Every day I am coming in and enjoying it. We have a good young group. The guys are still motivated. I feel like I could still do it at a very high level. Until somebody proves me otherwise, I will be playing."

Using their platform: The NBA, NHL and MLB have all postponed games this season because of protests due to racial injustice, but Maurkice Pouncey doesn't see any of his Steelers teammates sitting out games this year because of social injustice. Pouncey believes in addressing the issues, but says they have platforms to do it rather than sitting out games.

"No, not sitting out games, no," said Pouncey. "Our platforms are huge to speak out on, but I also think football is our main objective in our lives. We can't ever forget the simple fact that football is a game and there are people going on with real issues. We are here to step up to the plate with that and understand the significance as far as pushing change but sitting out games would be hard to say in my eyes."

Pouncey is happy to see athletes speaking out about social injustice, whether it be in interviews, through their social media or as teams as a whole.

"I think it's an awesome platform for guys to do that," said Pouncey. "We don't realize how much and how big our platform is. Some guys try to wait until they're done playing to use their voice some, and it doesn't write the same way because when you're in this position I try to tell people all the time, 'We can rewrite practices. We can rewrite how to run a player at defense, but you can't rewrite how to stand united and all as one as a sports league.'

"I think that was a good start. It shows a lot of people in leagues around here that these guys are serious. Hopefully, everyone sees how serious we are and jumps on board with us."

Pouncey made it clear, though, that speaking out against injustice doesn't mean there is an anti-police feeling. He has a strong relationship with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, working with them in the community on multiple events. When specifically asked about how he handles conversations around police brutality, he said the following.

"I think it's kind of obvious what my stand is, and my point is on it," said Pouncey. "Obviously, there's some bad apples in every organization that you look at. It's hard to pinpoint to say every cop is bad. I know that's truly not the case because I work with a lot of them. I'm friends with a lot of them, but I know there's an issue that we have to clean up, hopefully so that we can get on the same board. I think we've been working with the cops tremendously over the past couple of years as far as doing stuff in the community with them, getting the community involved, giving money to them, helping them out in different areas. It's just right there in plain sight. Something has to change. Hopefully, everyone is on board with that, and we will see how their future comes."

Moving around: Because of the weather, the Steelers will practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex today instead of Heinz Field.

Wormley will be ready for Week 1: When Chris Wormley was traded to the Steelers in March, he never thought he would have to wait a little over four months to actually work with his new teammates.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled all in-person activities during the offseason, sending everything virtual, there was nothing he could do but wait it out.

That wait was hindered even more due to an injury during training camp, all of it becoming a challenge for the Steelers new defensive lineman.

"I am not going to sit here and lie to you and say it's been easy," said Wormley. "There have definitely been some challenges that have presented itself. The beginning of the offseason when I got traded, there was no in person, no face-to-face meetings for almost five months. That compounded with my injury I had at the beginning of the camp has given me some challenges when it comes to the on-field reps and getting chemistry between the defense and myself. It's been a challenge for sure."

Wormley was traded to the Steelers, along with a seventh-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, from the Baltimore Ravens, while the Steelers sent the Ravens their fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He has been bothered by a lower body injury in camp but said he will be ready to go when the Steelers play the New York Giants on Monday, Sept. 14 at MetLife Stadium.

"By game one, in 11 days, I will be 100 percent," said Wormley. "I am working toward that. The training staff and coaches have been great allowing me to take my time when it comes to getting back on the field, figuring out the process of balancing getting back on the field and feeling comfortable fighting through a little pain to get those reps."

Wednesday, September 2

Allen loves to hit: Marcus Allen grew up like many kids did, playing sports in the backyard while imitating their favorite football player.

For Allen, it was Troy Polamalu he would mimic, pretending to be the hard-hitting safety who played for his favorite football team.

"All the safeties I looked up to, Troy, Sean Taylor, guys who give their all, I try to implement that into my game," said Allen. "When I was a kid I always wanted to be like Troy."

It was watching Polamalu and Taylor, the late Washington safety, that inspired Allen's game, taking their hard-hitting approach to the field every time he plays. And that is going to do nothing but benefit him as he is making the transition from safety to inside linebacker during training camp.

"That is my game. I love hitting," said Allen. "I have been hitting since little league. The physical part of it, I am not too worried about that. I am excited about being in the box and showcasing my talents.

"I played the position in college at Penn State. Penn State used me mostly in the box. I am kind of used to the position. I feel comfortable. That linebacker role is nothing different from playing the dime role when I was at Penn State. It's not foreign to me or anything. Just regular football."

Allen wants to put his stamp on the defense this year, a defense that has a strong history he is well-versed in and said is the reason today's players go as hard as they do, to hold up the tradition.

"Having those hard-nosed players back in the day, keeping the reputation going. The Jack Lamberts, Jam Hams, guys like that," said Allen. "Every day we have Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Coach (Keith) Butler reminding us how to play football and football is built around hitting, so that is what it is."

One thing he doesn't need a reminder of, though, is what it means to wear the black and gold.

"I've got Steelers history in my blood. I have been a Steelers fan my whole life," said Allen, who inherited it from his father who has family in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh. "I have been watching the Steelers and being taught about legends since I was a kid. My father always kept me updated."

Monday, August 31

Taking it to the next level: Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt have grown into one of the best tandems at outside linebacker in the NFL, combining for 25.5 sacks in 2019.

The good news is, there is more where that came from.

"We're just trying to add on to what we did last year, get better and better every day," said Dupree. "Encouraging ourselves to just take that next step. Keep going and going and getting better. With Cam (Heyward), and (Stephon) Tuitt and Tyson (Alualu), those guys push you to another level. There is always competition."

Dupree had the best season of his career in 2019. The 11.5 sacks were a career-high, recording at least four sacks in each of his first five seasons with the Steelers for a total of 31.5 career sacks. Dupree also set a single season high with 16 tackles for a loss in 2019, ranking him fourth in the NFL last season. He added four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Despite the numbers, like he did the year before he always looks back at his sacks and the ones he missed.

"Anytime you are a pass rusher you always go back and look at the sacks you could have had and correct those mistakes," said Dupree. "Finishing is a part of it. You have to make sure that is the number one priority as a pass rusher, to make sure you finish. You might have a situation where it's not the ideal situation for a sack, but you have to keep it going and make that play."

Dupree is playing the 2020 season under the franchise tag, not reaching a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline.

"It's bittersweet," said Dupree. "It's a blessing to get to this point in my career. To still be here. Working through the adversity. Just be in the position that I am today.

"I'm in the driver's seat of my career right now. I'll go out and play the best I can play, and everything will be in its place at the end of the year. For now, I've got to go out and keep working hard. Keep trying to get better and better each day."

'Marcus likes hitting people': The Steelers inside linebacker spot might have found a match made in heaven. Marcus Allen has made the switch from safety to inside linebacker, where he brings the same kind of energy and enthusiasm that his position coach, Jerry Olsavsky, had on full display on a zoom call on Monday morning.

Olsavsky gave his take on Allen and everything else related to the inside linebacker position in an entertaining way with boundless energy.

Allen, who was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, made the move in training camp from safety to inside linebacker, a move that is giving the young player new life in the defense.

"Marcus likes hitting people so playing linebacker is no problem for him," said Olsavsky. "He hasn't done a lot of drills over his lifetime to play linebacker, but he is doing a fine job. Bringing Marcus into my room really pumped up the room. He got the other guys excited. He got the defense excited. You see a guy and say that guy can do some stuff. The hard thing about football is running into people and Marcus has no problem doing that so I have no problem coaching him.

"He is a high-energy, football playing son of a gun. That is what you like. That is probably why we drafted him. I remember when I got in the league, they say it takes a couple of years for a player to develop. Hopefully that is what we are seeing right now. We're going to see Marcus in his third year develop into a professional.

"Marcus has a professional attitude where he is going to go run into people. You can't have enough of those people on the football field. I am so happy to have him in my room it's not even funny. Maybe that is where I get my energy from."

While Allen is expected to give the Steelers depth inside, it's Vince Williams and Devin Bush who will be holding down the fort as the starting inside linebackers and Olsavsky knows how good he has it to have those two in his room.

Williams, a sixth-round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, has silenced all of the naysayers by beating the odds of a late round pick to become a key factor on the defense.

"Vince is a professional," said Olsavsky. "Just like Dr. (Jim) Bradley is a professional. Lawyers are professional. Vince is a professional. Every year he does something different and comes back and people are like, Vince should be gone. Not only is he the same, but he acquired another skill.

"People don't understand Vince Williams is a very intelligent person. He loves playing football. He recognizes his weaknesses and goes after them with a vengeance. If it were eight years ago, we might say Vince is going to play four years and go away. That is not the same Vince. The person is the same, but the football player has gotten a lot better because in his down time he has really improved himself.

"People can keep knocking on Vince, He is going to laugh to a long and very successful career."

While Olsavsky is loving the players he has in camp this year, there is one he is missing, Ryan Shazier. Because of COVID-19 restrictions with numbers of people who are permitted to be around during camp, Shazier hasn't been able to be at Heinz Field.

"It's really hard not to have him around," said Olsavsky. "I think about him every day. I go out there and see a picture of years past, or a video, and I am like damn, I miss him. Besides Ryan's football ability, he was great to be around. That is hard because we have a lot of good guys in our locker room, they form a good group. Ryan is a part of that group. I miss him a lot because of the person he is."

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