Wednesday, August 25
Getting the start: Dwayne Haskins will get his first start for the Steelers on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers in the team's preseason finale, something he is looking forward to after coming in as either the second or third quarterback for the previous three preseason games.
"I just have to go out there and do what I am asked to do as far as leading the offense, making the right reads," said Haskins. "The most important thing is taking care of the ball. I am looking forward to going to Carolina and playing against guys that are very talented. I got some time to play against them the last couple of years (while with Washington). I am familiar with their scheme, how they like to do things. I feel like I am prepared to play."
Haskins said one of the biggest areas of growth he has seen in himself since arriving in Pittsburgh is with his confidence.
"Being here has been a great opportunity for me to be myself," said Haskins. "I have been able to go out here and have fun. When I do those things, you see it in my play. I feel like that is the biggest thing I have grown in."
Haskins has completed 28 of 42 passes for 271 yards, a 6.5-yard average, and one touchdown in three games. Coach Mike Tomlin said on Wednesday that he expects the Panthers to play their starters early on, so it will be the perfect opportunity for Haskins to show what he is capable of.
"This is a chance for me to show what I can do and keep getting more reps," said Haskins. "I feel like if I do my job and show that I can perform at a varsity level, against varsity defenders and have varsity guys around me, that I will be more deserving of those reps."
A vast majority of the starters won't see action on Friday night for the Steelers, other than some potential on the offensive line, so Haskins still won't have the opportunity to work with the starters. But that doesn't bother him at all.
"It's all a business," said Haskins. "You have to earn the right to have those types of reps. It's my first year here so the opportunities that I do get, I have to make the most of them so I can get more. I don't have the expectation that I have to get varsity reps, or I want to be with the ones, and if I don't have that I will be unhappy. I don't feel that way at all. But when I do get those reps, I look at it as an opportunity to show them why they brought me here."
The Steelers signed Haskins in the offseason, originally to a Reserve/Future contract. 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.
"Excited about giving him an opportunity maybe to see some reps against Carolina's first group," said Tomlin. "I'm interested in seeing him play more. This process is fair in that everybody gets an opportunity to show their skillset and we work hard to get to know them. He's new to us and so the additional reps and exposure is good for him and for us too."
His level of comfort in the offense has grown by leaps and bounds since his arrival in Pittsburgh and that will benefit him this week.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," said Haskins. "I think the biggest thing now is knowing how to attack schemes, understanding the reads. I am looking forward to this game to show my ability to be able to check plays, protections, work second third progressions and score touchdowns."
One of the best ways Haskins has learned is by observing and talking with Ben Roethlisberger, someone he watched play when he was growing up.
"I've watched Ben since I was about this tall," said Haskins, holding his hand down around his waist. "It was surreal watching him play (last week), seeing how the fans were so excited to see him there and how he performed. It kind of motivated me to see how he got all of the praise and love he did when he was out there.
"I try to emulate him as far as how he extends plays, how strong he is in the pocket, how the routes are all alive no matter what happens in the play. It was fun to see it happen in a game. When you see it live it was pretty cool."
Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has praised Haskins' work ethic from Day 1, liking the approach he consistently brings.
"I like the way he has worked every day," said Canada. "He comes into work. He is trying to learn. I think he is making quick decisions. He has improved. Every day he has moved in the right direction and I have enjoyed his steady progression. You come into a new system and you have to learn that, and he hit that from the ground floor and has progressed in a good way."
It's a work ethic Haskins said he has had from the time he started playing.
"I have always been the type of person to watch film, staying late, come in early," said Haskins. "I feel like with this offense we do a lot of different things that can exploit a defense. I think the biggest thing with me preparing is Coach Tomlin does a great job of giving a scouting report of who you are playing that week. I never really had that before. As far as being able to know who is the senior analysis coach, who is the defensive coordinator, who is the DB coach, what does he like to do, what techniques do the corners play. We get that all before we even come in to practice that week. That is cool to have a great jump start of what you are looking at and what you are seeing. That definitely prepares me to go ahead and play against Carolina."
Eye in the sky: Offensive coordinator Matt Canada said on Wednesday that he will remain in the press box for games this season, communicating with Ben Roethlisberger over the headset, something he said worked fine last week against the Lions at Heinz Field.
"I am able to talk directly to Ben on the field up to 15 seconds, so calling the plays there is no middleman with that," said Canada. "A lot of guys are doing it in the league. When Ben comes off, Sully (quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan) is right there with him. We have a headset for Ben. If Ben wants to talk to me, if I want to talk to Ben, we put the headset on. We did that last week. Here is what we saw, here is what we are thinking. It's a very fluid situation there. I think it went really well last week."
Canada and Roethlisberger have a strong rapport already, one where they are comfortable enough with each other in situations where Canada is making the calls, and where Canada will allow his quarterback to in some situations.
"We had a conversation about that (last week) after he was out," said Canada. "He was engaged on the phone throughout the game last week after he was done playing. I think Ben and I have a very similar belief, that all we want to do is win games. We're going to work together. I have said it from Day 1, I have learned from him, I have listened to him. We have some things that lets give this a look on both sides. All we are trying to do is find a way to score one more point than the team we play every week. That is our only goal."
Sub-package preference: As the Steelers continue working to identify the slot-cornerback in their five-defensive backs "nickel" defense, they've all but shelved the six-defensive backs "dime."
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler said that while they'll get around to perfecting the "dime" eventually, at least in theory, the "nickel" has become the much-preferred sub-package.
"Our 'nickel' has been good for us, we like it," Butler said after practice today. "We like to be able to do some of the things we wanna do, not just cover all the time but to blitz and put pressure on the quarterback.
"To make us a little more versatile, we're better off in 'nickel.' If you look at the times we're gonna play 'dime,' probably 10 percent. If people start throwing four wide receivers on us, of course we wanna match up. We'll see in terms of, what do we have to defend?"
The "nickel" relies on two inside linebackers.
Joe Schobert or Devin Bush would have to come off the field in favor of an additional defensive back in the 'dime.'
"We wanna be ready to have a 'dime' personnel group and feel confident about that and we will do that," Butler said. "But right now, everybody in the league is running what we call 'Kings.' 'Kings' are three wide receivers and a tight end a (running) back. That's what everybody in the league is doing right now so we're gonna match it with our 'nickel' group.
"We feel like that's putting our best ballplayers on the field."
Butler also addressed two defensive starters who have yet to take the field in 11-on-11 play this preseason, outside linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
"I think he'll be ready cardiovascularly," Butler said of Watt. "The only way you can dadgum get in hitting shape is you gotta hit. And if you don't get the hitting in before the first (regular-season) game, then we gotta be careful how we use him and make sure we keep him healthy as much as we can.
"The biggest thing for me is, the hitting-shape part of it. You can't duplicate that until you put the pads on and go out and play. And he hasn't done that yet."
As for Tuitt, "He's here all the time," Butler said. "He's always to the meetings and stuff like that. Does he need to come back and get in shape and stuff like that? Sure, he does. But we're not concerned about it right now.
"Hopefully, next week we'll get him back. We'll see what happens."
- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta
Special teams intrigue: It's coming down to the wire at punter in the battle between incumbent Jordan Berry and seventh-round draft pick Pressley Harvin III, and at long-snapper in the competition between incumbent Kam Canaday and first-year pro Christian Kuntz.
It's all too close to call in kicker Chris Boswell's estimation, not that Boswell gets to influence such decisions.
"That's an upstairs answer," Boswell said. "Whoever they pick or whoever they roll with, I know no doubt a snapper and a punter are gonna go somewhere else and play. We have four great guys here right now.
"We have two great-caliber snappers and two great punters and holders. I'm fortunate to get to work with all of them and take reps with each of them. Reps are split 50-50, it's just about getting comfortable with each guy and building confidence."
- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta
The Steelers prepare for the Week 3 preseason matchup against the Carolina Panthers
Tuesday, August 24
The heat is on: It was hot on Tuesday in Pittsburgh. Very hot as temperatures hit the low 90s, with high humidity and barely a cloud in the sky.
But there was one person who was definitely prepared.
Coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin is not often seen on the practice field without a black long-sleeve shirt on, except when it's grey, but on Tuesday even he took precautions to fight the heat, wearing a white shirt instead.
"I exercised reasonable precaution," said Tomlin. "And I was hydrated. So, it was a non-issue."
It wasn't just Tomlin who was prepared for the weather. The players took similar precautions, preparing for what they knew would be a steamy afternoon at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
"I expect them to do exactly what I outlined," said Tomlin. "Be professional. Take the necessary, reasonable precaution. Pre-hydrate. Wear light clothes. But they're plated up for days like today.
"We've worked since the spring, in terms of the conditioning and working to make conditioning a winning edge. It comes to fruition on a day like today and those that are highly conditioned stand out."
The Steelers will wrap up their preparation on Wednesday for their preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers on Friday night, and Tomlin is hoping that they face a somewhat hostile crowd in Carolina to prepare for the season opener on the road against the Buffalo Bills, a place that is always raucous.
"We laid some foundational things relative to the Carolina game," said Tomlin. "Actually, it's a combination day. It's kind of a Wednesday/Thursday for us. We introduced some elements of situational ball. We finished with red zone on offense, some third down things on defense. Just part of the process for us.
"It's a big game for a lot of guys, individually and collectively, for obvious reasons. This process is coming to a close and really it's the last opportunity for some of them to state a case for themselves. We're sensitive to that. We're working to get them ready to play. We're excited about watching them do so.
"The venue is also important to us. It's an opportunity for us to be in a road game environment and deal with some of the challenges of being in a road game environment. So, there is collective growth in that as well. We start Sept. 12 in Buffalo in a road game environment, so this is good work for us from that standpoint as well."
It will also be the last opportunity for rookies to get a feel for game action before wins and losses count in the standings. And so far, Tomlin has liked what he has seen from some of the young players, calling out running back Najee Harris in particular in relation to knowing it's not too big them.
"They run to the competition, not away from it," said Tomlin. "You guys have seen us work enough that you know what that looks like. You never have to look for No. 22 (Harris) in competition periods. Not only does he seek reps, but he seeks the most competitive reps, and that's what you're looking for, guys that run toward the competition."
Learning from the best: It's a position that is rich in tradition for the Steelers, one that landed multiple players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
So, if you want to know how to play the center position for the black and gold the best thing to do is take a look at those who did it before you.
That is exactly what rookie center Kendrick Green did in advance of training camp. Green watched film of Maurkice Pouncey, who retired this offseason after an amazing 11-year career.
"When I got here in the summer, just trying to learn the offense. There was a bunch of Maurkice Pouncey tape up there," said Green. "I like the way he plays. He plays hard. He tries to play physical and put his hands on guys. That's something I've been trying to work on myself. I need to add that to my game as well. I would say by far Pouncey's the most (tape) I've watched."
Green, who like Pouncey is wearing No. 53, is the team's third round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, the 87th pick overall. Green played at the University of Illinois, starting all eight games in 2020, and finishing out his college career with 33 straight starts.
He appears to be heading into the regular season as the starter at the position, something Coach Mike Tomlin hinted at last week.
"You can surmise that, but there will be no bold announcements," said Tomlin.
Green said he hasn't heard any word on whether or not he will start.
"He hasn't told me anything," said Green. "I will approach it like I am still fighting for the job. That is how I will approach it."
Green said he continues to adjust and grow in training camp, continually picking up on new things at a position he didn't play fulltime in college, splitting between center and guard his final season.
"It's more so adjusting to playing center," said Green. "For me, I didn't play too much center in college. Just here and there. It's a grind like anything else, but I am up for the challenge."
He said it: Green on his first experience coming out of the tunnel and being introduced at Heinz Field:
"I kind of blacked out I was so nervous. It was dope. I got a video of it. Someone took a video of it for me. Life-long dream so here I am."
Roster moves: The Steelers made roster moves on Tuesday, reducing their roster to the current mandatory 80 players.
The team released linebacker Calvin Bundage, offensive lineman Aviante Collins, running back Pete Guerriero and wide receiver Tyler Simmons. They also waived/injured safety Antoine Brooks Jr.
The next roster cut is to the 53-man roster and must be made by Tuesday, August 31.
The Steelers prepare for the Week 3 preseason matchup against the Carolina Panthers
Attacking the day: When James Pierre says he likes to attack the day, he means it.
The second-year corner is up at the crack of dawn, or actually before that, getting his mind ready before he jumps right in to getting his body ready.
"I wake up at like 5:30, sit in bed for like 30 minutes and get my mind right," said Pierre. "Then I come to work at 6, work as hard as I can, and each day learn more. I just learn every day."
Pierre said during that half hour he sits in bed he is thinking about the sacrifices his mom made for him to be where he is today, one of the many things that motivates him to attack the day the way he does. The other is the struggle it was for him to get where he is, playing at Florida Atlantic, not getting drafted last year, and making the 53-man roster without even a preseason.
"Every day I think about it, but I never looked back," said Pierre. "I've got to get ahead and attack each day as a workday.
Just try to keep it even. I try to stay to stay motivated, self-motivated.
"I just take it for what it is. At the end of the day, you have to keep working. At the end of the day, I take it as a positive. No matter what happens take it as a positive and attack the day. Rent is due so you have to attack each day as a workday."
Pierre has taken the advice of some of the veterans in the secondary for how he approaches things, including Joe Haden and Cam Sutton, but there is another person who gives him advice too. A rather unlikely source from a Steelers standpoint.
Pierre and Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson are cousins, growing up together and talking daily even now.
"He's my first cousin. We played on the same team," said Pierre. "He used to throw the ball to me, I was a receiver. Little league friends, cousins, we used to stay at each other's houses and stuff like that. It's crazy. We never thought it would be like this. We just take it one day at a time. We both come from similar backgrounds. Just one day at a time.
"We talk every day. It's friendly talk, sometimes we trash talk, sometimes not, not in a competitive nature."
What Pierre wouldn't mind is having something big to trash talk about with Jackson when the two teams face each other this season as he is competing for the nickel job.
"He's done well, he's got some ways to go still as a as a player and learning," said senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin. "But all signs are pointing up for James. He works his tail off. He competes hard. He is tough. He'll continue to get better. When he's good enough to really put in there, time will tell that. But I think he's working in the right direction."
And working is the key word.
"I am just working hard every day," said Pierre. "Just playing faster, knowing what to do, the little things. Technique, what routes to expect. Just learning more of the game.
"We are just working hard every day, attacking every day, each work week. We still have the preseason, so we just have to keep preparing."
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Monday, August 23
Sand through the hourglass: The Steelers continue with training camp, but on Monday moved to a new location.
The black and gold are back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the remainder of camp and the regular season and went back to work in the steamy August weather.
"Good day to get back to work," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We spent the morning analyzing our tape, looking at the things we did well, the things we didn't do well. All in an effort to continue the improvement process, our knowledge and
awareness relative to the game, the skills relative to the positions that we play, and the football conditioning that only comes through playing. I think that's been our focus. It's good to get back out here today and work."
The Steelers are preparing for their final preseason game on Friday night against the Carolina Panthers, the last opportunity for players to open eyes and make a case for themselves before the final roster is cut to 53 men on Aug. 31.
"It's a big game for a lot of people," said Tomlin. "It's the culmination of a lot of work and guys getting an opportunity to make a last case for themselves in terms of whether or not they're here and within that, the division of labor within the 53.
We recognize the process is what it is. We realize the sand is running through the hourglass. There's a lot of respect for that and a lot of attention to detail and urgency as we move forward with these days."
Coming off the Lions game, the only news on the injury front was safety Arthur Maulet, who suffered an ankle injury in the game.
"He could be characterized as day-to-day," said Tomlin. "Hopefully he gets a chance to get back out here this week and present himself in the last game at Carolina and tomorrow we'll transition our energies toward Carolina preparation."
One player who hasn't missed any time in the preseason has been Cam Sutton. He has done just about everything in the secondary, working on the outside and in the slot, and has the ability to keep doing that if needed, even in the same game.
"Very easy for him. But difficult for others," said Tomlin. "But that's one of the things that attracted us to him even going back to the draft process. We often laugh about the night before his pro day in Knoxville. We were blown away by his football intellect and that's proven to be true over the course of his time here."
Speed kills: Joe Haden is in his 12th season in the NFL, but with the way that he takes care of himself, you would never know it.
He knows the most important thing to maintaining his level of play is staying healthy, fit and well, young, and has found a way to do just that.
"After my seventh year I got a full-time physical therapist that lives out here with me, so I get PT work all of the time," said Haden after practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday. "My offseason work was more speed, not so much lifting weights, but maintaining speed and my body."
That speed is crucial at the corner position, especially keeping up with young, speedy receivers.
"I am about the same speed as five years ago, but 10 years ago, maybe not," said Haden.
And when asked about it, Coach Mike Tomlin wasn't going to argue.
"If he said it, I agree with him," said Tomlin.
Haden, who recently made it known he would like a contract extension to remain with the Steelers, said the main thing right now for him is just to continue to keep working hard every day and let them know that no matter how old he is, he still has it.
"I feel like the best thing I can do while I am out here at training camp, still covering these dudes, still feel like I am running, moving, the same as I have been for the last couple of years," said Haden. "I feel like I have gotten enough work in. This offseason has been great. I still feel healthy. Good to go."
While the Steelers close out the preseason this week against the Carolina Panthers on Friday night, Haden said he likes what he sees heading into the 2021 season from the defense, one that ranked No. 1 in the AFC last year.
"I think we have if not the same, a little better defense than we had last year," said Haden. "Everybody just has to play their role, play their part, and make plays."
He said it: Haden when asked if Cam Heyward had 'old man tendencies.'
"He just seems like an old man," said Haden. "He walks around older. He just struts around like an old dude. He looks older. I am like a year older than Cam and nobody on the team knew that."
The Steelers prepare for the Week 3 preseason matchup against the Carolina Panthers
Progress in the process: In terms of getting the starting five offensive linemen into a preseason game together, the Steelers got off to a late start.
But having accomplished that last Saturday night against the Lions, the third of four games on the preseason schedule, right guard Trai Turner said the goal now is to keep making progress in advance of the regular-season opener on Sept. 12 at Buffalo.
"I think it's just good to get the guys together building continuity with each other and get some experience with one another," Turner said after practice today.
"There's always progress in the process, you know what I'm saying? I think we're getting better, it's just a daily thing. We came out here, we got better today, get to watch the tape in a few minutes and assess it and keep getting better for tomorrow."
Left tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, left guard Kevin Dotson, rookie center Kendrick Green, Turner and right tackle Zach Banner opened against Detroit and played together for the first two offensive series.
The Steelers punted at the end of their first possession and drove 82 yards on nine plays for a touchdown on their second.
Rookie Dan Moore Jr. entered at right tackle at the outset of the Steelers' third possession for Banner, who was knocked out of last season's regular-season opener against the Giants with a season-ending knee injury. The third offensive series produced another touchdown, the Steelers' second and final TD of the night, this time at the end of a four-play, 58-yard march.
Moore, who opened training camp working on the left side before being shifted to the right, ended up playing 47 offensive snaps against the Lions
Okorafor, Dotson and Green each played 48, Turner played 25 and Banner played 12.
"I think he's coming (along) well, man," Turner said of Banner. "He looks good to me.
"Just want to keep it going and keep gathering a full head of steam in the process."
-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta