Wednesday, September 1
* 'See ball, get ball':* Sometimes all it takes is the right opportunity.
And for Jamir Jones, signing with the Steelers was just that.
After not being selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jones signed with the Houston Texans as an undrafted rookie free agent. But before he was even given an opportunity to show what he could do, he was released.
"I didn't even get a chance last year to even put on a helmet," said Jones. "I was in Houston for about a week and a half. The first whole week I was quarantined and then I was there for like three days. We did workouts in the weight room and then they cut me. So, I didn't even get a chance to do anything."
But when one door shuts, another one often opens. After not playing last season, Jones took part in Notre Dame's pro day in 2021, where Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin were in attendance.
"As soon as I got off the field, Mike T(omlin) and Mr. Colbert, they came right over to me and they were just basically saying they were going to give me a shot and said can I be in Pittsburgh by Monday," said Jones. "I said heck yeah."
The Steelers signed Jones not long after and this time, it was the perfect opportunity. Jones made an impact from the time he took the field in training camp and the preseason, leading the team with eight special teams tackles in preseason play, thanks in part to his special teams approach.
"Just go. See ball, get ball," said Jones. "It's the most fun you can have on the field. It's see ball, get ball."
On Tuesday, it all paid off when he made the 53-man roster.
"Yesterday, it was just like a huge relief," said Jones. "Going through the whole day, you're trying to be normal, you have a normal day, practice, meetings and everything and there's so much uncertainty. You don't know how things are going to go. I was just sitting at my locker waiting for four (o'clock). When it hit, it was just like a whole bunch of relief. It was real."
Real enough that he made the first call to his mom, who had been texting him all day to see if he had any news. Also real enough to know he can't stop proving himself.
"You come every day and prove why you should be here," said Jones. "That's the mentality you have to have. Just prove why you can't get rid of me. That's the mentality I take every day. Even today, making the 53, that doesn't mean that in two weeks I'm still going to be here. So, I still have to prove each and every day that I'm worthy of this chance and I'm worthy of being one of the 53 on the roster."
Third time's a charm: For long snapper Christian Kuntz, the third time has been a charm.
Kuntz made the Steelers 53-man roster, beating out Kameron Canaday, after fighting for a spot in both 2019 and 2020.
"I definitely feel like I progressed as a long snapper in the last three years," said Kuntz after practice on Wednesday, one day after getting the good news. "Going to the XFL, getting released, they told me to take those steps and brought me back and worked with me since then."
Kuntz said he didn't know how the situation was going to play out this year, but he stayed determined.
"I don't think anyone really knew," said Kuntz. "No one knows what their thinking in the front office. You just go to work every day and snap the football and do your job. I let the cards play out how they played out.
"I had something in my mind I wanted to make it to where I am at now. I just kept working at long snapping and doing what I had to do to get to this spot."
Kuntz spent time on the team's practice squad in 2020. He originally joined the team during the 2019 preseason but was released a few weeks later when the team cut down to the 53-man roster. Kuntz also spent time with the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars, as well as briefly with the New England Patriots, and played in the XFL.
Kuntz, who is from Pittsburgh, played at Chartiers Valley High School and stayed home to play collegiately at Duquesne University, where he was a backup long snapper while starting at linebacker. He finished his college career with a school record 30.5 sacks, winning two Northeast Conference Defensive Player of the Year awards and is the only player in school history to earn All-American honors three times.
It was that ability to long snap that caught the attention of different teams, asking him to long snap during workouts and encouraging him to work on it, advice he definitely listened to.
"They told me this is what you need to work on the next year, two years. Do what you need to do, and you'll be in the league," said Kuntz. "I took it and ran with it."
Having a background as a linebacker can't hurt Kuntz on special teams, but he said it was the consistency of the snaps and blocking that were the most important aspects for him.
"You've got to be consistent," said Kuntz. "It's got to be there every time, the same ball. The consistency throughout, the snap, the blocking."
Kuntz, who said one of the most important things for him right now is getting a lot of reps with punter Pressley Harvin III and kicker Chris Boswell, has been getting a deluge of text messages from friends and family congratulating him on making the hometown team.
"It hasn't really hit me yet," said Kuntz. "My family was like, 'you don't seem excited.' I am excited, but it's still my job. As quick as I got on the 53, I could be off the 53. I am just taking it every day, going to work and doing what I have to do to get better at my craft."
Practice, practice, practice: The Steelers added 15 players to their practice squad on Wednesday, a mix of some who were with the team in training camp as well as some new faces.
The team signed wide receivers Rico Bussey and Cody White; running backs Trey Edmunds and Jaylen Samuels; offensive linemen Chaz Green and John Leglue; tight end Kevin Rader; and defensive backs Mark Gilbert and Donovan Stiner.
The team also agree to terms with wide receiver Steven Sims, offensive guard Malcolm Pridgeon, linebackers Derrek Tuszka and Christian Miller, defensive end Daniel Archibong and safety Karl Joseph.
All teams have the ability to sign 16 players to the practice squad this year, and veterans are permitted to be signed this season.
Special consideration: Special teams coordinator Danny Smith is admittedly reluctant to single out players excelling in the kicking game for fear of leaving someone deserving out of the conversation.
He made an exception today.
"One guy from the start that really is much more mature for him being a rookie was (seventh-round safety) Tre Norwood," Smith said. "Tre Norwood is smart as hell. I have challenged him with way-down-the-line things that we're gonna see in Week 10 and 12 and 13 and 14 and things like that that he was able to answer. I have put him in some tough situations in front of people, in front of his teammates, in practice, and he never blinked. He never blinked, he really didn't.
"I told him, 'Cut his eyelids off, man, 'cause that boy don't blink.'"
Smith also addressed the Steelers replacing punter/holder Jordan Berry with seventh-round punter/holder Pressley Harvin III, and the move at long snapper from incumbent Kam Canaday to first-year pro Christian Kuntz.
"Christian is very consistent," Smith said. "His ball is the same ball and that's easy. He's very consistent in his snaps, his location, and that's a challenge as a snapper.
"He's a good player."
The punting battle was "tight, it really was," Smith maintained. "I was really proud of those two guys. Jordan Berry is a real pro. He punted better than he ever has, he really did. It was a real battle, it really was.
"Pressley handled it well and met challenges. Jordan was a real pro, and I knew that and thought that about him but he went above and beyond. He helped that young kid. He was a real teammate.
"I think we had two NFL punters, I really did, and I would have been good either way. They were both quite capable with the tape they put out there."
-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta
Tuesday, August 31
Moore of the same: At the conclusion of today's indoor session, fourth-round offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr. talked with head coach Mike Tomlin for a few minutes.
But Tomlin didn't tell Moore he would be the team's starting left tackle on Sept. 12 at Buffalo.
"No, he didn't," Moore confirmed.
Moore also maintained his approach hasn't changed, even as he's gone from left tackle to right tackle to left tackle with the No. 1s, a spot Moore found himself occupying for the first time on Monday.
"I'm just taking it day by day," Moore said.
His status may have changed, at least temporarily, but his goal has not.
"Not at all," Moore said. "My goal was to just help this team in any way that I can."
Even with a starting spot potentially beckoning.
"If Coach feels that, then that's what the call will be," Moore said. "I'm ready for whatever comes at me. I've been preparing every day, I'm ready.
"I have an outstanding defense to go against every day, some great vets, great coaching staff. I have the tools around me to succeed."
It'll be up to the Steelers' offensive line to ensure the team succeeds, in whatever configuration.
That, at least, has been Moore's contention all along.
That much hasn't changed, either.
"As far as I'm concerned the team is going to go as far as this O-line goes, at least on offense," Moore said. "We put the pressure on our backs and that's the way it should be.
"Keep our quarterback clean and keep our running back getting yards."
-- Blog entry by Mike Prisuta
Rain, rain go away: The Steelers practiced indoors on Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex due to heavy rain, something that never excites Coach Mike Tomlin, but something he makes sure the team adjusts to.
"The weather forced us inside unfortunately today, but such is life," said Tomlin. "I was just relaying it to the team after that sometimes we've got to make adjustments, sometimes there's going to be challenges in this thing, but the standard of expectation remains the same. It just happens in our business at this level.
"My heart goes out to the New Orleans Saints and some of the things that they're dealing with, but they're going to have to step into the stadium. And that's professional football. We all understand it.
"Just took today's adjustment as an opportunity to point that out and just reiterate the point to them that these have to be productive days regardless of circumstance. Some of our days on short weeks and so forth will be in hotel ballrooms moving forward and all of that. So, there's an opportunity to educate them from an anticipation standpoint of some of the twists and turns of the journey and ready themselves mentally for it. Regardless of attire, regardless of pace that we work at, these must be productive days. So, it was a good day from that perspective. An opportunity to learn that lesson and get some work done. And we'll continue on with our developmental process."
Three for the show: Once 4 p.m. came and went quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan officially had his quarterback room in order.
Sullivan spoke in advance of the roster cut to 53 and what he had to work with behind Ben Roethlisberger in backup quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins.
"Been pleased with the improvements that each of them made," Sullivan said. "Each of them brought some strengths and weaknesses to the table.
"With regard to Mason, I think he had a little bit of a leg up in terms of experience within the system and some of the drop-back concepts. I've been trying to work with him to improve his timing and reaction accuracy.
"And then Dwayne coming in learning everything that was new, great arm talent. Want to make sure that he's a guy that has the mobility, that can extend plays but also being able stay within himself and be comfortable and relaxed.
"That's just a snapshot of a couple of things they've done well and wanted them to improve upon and pleased with the progress they've made."
Pleased enough, Sullivan emphasized, that the Steelers would trust Rudolph or Haskins with confidence if it came to that.
"There's not a team in the National Football League that wants their second or third or fourth quarterback to be called upon so we're knocking on wood that things stay the way that they are right now," he said. "But if called upon, we would want to be smart about the things that we ask them to do, to play to their strengths and minimize and camouflage any of the weakness that we have.
"We have great confidence in both of those young men."
As for Roethlisberger's state of readiness, Sullivan is unconcerned about the Steelers' starter having played just three series over the course of the four preseason games.
"He has put in a great amount of time behind the scenes, particularly in the 1-on-1 meetings that he and I have had, the meetings with the quarterback group and these walk-throughs.
"It's pretty impressive, a guy that's 18 years in, two Super Bowl wins, future Hall-of-Famer, that he's getting upset about in a walk through he didn't get the snap point exactly right under center with one of the fast motions.
"It's been easy from a standpoint that his attitude has been one in which he knows there are things that are new, things that he wants to master, and he's been focused on that. Really pleased with the progress he's made."
Ready to play anywhere: Cam Sutton smiled, and he wasn't about to answer the question if he will line up in the slot or at nickel when the Steelers open the season against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 12.
"I don't know yet," said Sutton, way too wise to reveal anything 12 days away from the game. "We're still fine tuning all those things. We're still working throughout the course of practice, seeing what guys will play different spots. The versatility that we have in the back end as far as moving around. Just seeing what we can do, the mix-ups we can create early in the season that will help us later in the season.
"I don't have a game plan yet. Every day come in working, getting put in different spots and scenarios. We'll see throughout the course of the year whether that's personnel wise, situation wise. We'll just roll with it."
Sutton is a player who does just about anything in the secondary, something the Steelers never shy away from taking advantage of. He has an incredible combination of athletic ability and football IQ that makes knowing the different spots something that is almost second nature for him.
"It's not difficult at all. I have a great understanding of our defense," said Sutton. "That is where it starts. You've got to have the fundamental base of not just your job, but the guys around you. And then from there just kind of matching up necessarily with leverage, alignment, assignment, your keys, what you're looking at out there on the field and then just playing football from there."
While being a player who can bounce around in the secondary is something that increases his value, and he admits he doesn't have a preference as to where he plays, it doesn't mean he wouldn't mind having a steady spot.
"Whatever is going to get us off the field, whatever is going to get us some wins," said Sutton. "Obviously, who would not want to be stationary? But at the same time being able to move around I finally have complete control of, aligning scenarios out there on the field, matchups, things that we see throughout the weeks. Offenses do a great job of hiding schemes, play calls, so you have to be ready to fly."
Credit where credit is due: Defensive coordinator Keith Butler made a point at the outset of training camp of giving defensive line coach Karl Dunbar credit for helping prepare the Steelers to generate pressure with four and even three pass-rushers at times.
"He's done an excellent job," Butler said in late July of Dunbar's work with the defensive linemen.
But Dunbar wasn't interested in accepting any praise today.
"No, I let guys do what they do," he explained. "My assistant, 'Denzel Washington' that's what I call him, he's Denzel Martin he does a lot of great things. He's more of the 'whisperer' than I am. We collaborate on how we're gonna teach these guys and, I think, the things we need to teach them. And we try to really dissect our opponent and attack the weaknesses of our opponents.
"That's what I was taught as a player and I try to use the same mentality as a coach. And I was far less an athlete than some of the guys I coach. So with the athleticism they have and some of the things we bring to the table, it all meshes pretty well."
The Steelers' depth along the defensive line is being tested this summer due to the continued absence of defensive end Stephon Tuitt from 11-on-11 work.
Tuitt suffered the tragic loss of his younger brother in a hit-and-run accident in June.
"I feel good about what we have," Dunbar said. "I'm just like every other coach, probably, in the NFL. You'd like to ad more when you can but we have a good, solid group and I'm happy with what we have.
As for Tuitt, "He's in all our meetings and he should be out here sometimes," Dunbar coninued. "He doesn't come out here for walk-through because I guess he doesn't want to see you guys (the media) but he's in all the meetings and he hangs out.
"I see him every day, so that's awesome."
The Steelers won't change their collective scheme or their individual expectations, Dunbar maintained, should Tuitt be unavailable for the regular-season opener on Sept. 12 against Buffalo.
"We're the Pittsburgh Steelers," Dunbar said. "The standard is the standard. Anybody we put on the field, we're gonna ask them to do the same thing we ask Stephon to do. Now, maybe they can't do it like Stephon but we're gonna require the same thing."
Monday, August 30
Staying in line: The Steelers are strong on the defensive line, but with Stephon Tuitt still missing practice during training camp while dealing with the horrific death of his younger brother, Richard Bartlett III, who was killed in a hit-and-run accident in June, being prepared is a key for everyone else.
And Chris Wormley is prepared for anything that comes his way.
Wormley, who was acquired by the Steelers via a trade with the Ravens in 2020 and then re-signed this offseason, said he is versatile enough to do whatever is asked of him. And that is what he wants more than anything after dealing with injuries in 2020 and not being able to contribute the way he wanted.
"That was my No. 1 goal for this camp, just to stay healthy and for the most part I have," said Wormley. "But just to get those reps day in and day out and continue to build on what I did the day before and the preseason games beforehand is important because I didn't get that time last year, and I think it showed during the season.
"Just that trust between coaches and I think wasn't quite there last year and that was my biggest thing this year is just to get that trust, get those every day in game reps and practice reps, just build off it."
He definitely has the trust of his teammates.
"Every since he has been here, I think his attributes fit into the prototypical 3-4 end," said nose tackle Tyson Alualu. "It helps having Cam (Heyward) and Tuitt to learn behind and see how they do it. It only helps elevate his game. He has definitely taken that next step."
Sweating it out: It seems like a broken record, but the Steelers once again were greeted with a hot and humid day for practice on Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, and quite honestly, Coach Mike Tomlin welcomed it.
"It's a really good day for work," said Tomlin. "We had a couple of days off this weekend. It's good to get back out and sweat and compete. It was muggy, which is good. We need days like that for our football conditioning.
"We're just focused on Steelers vs. Steelers this week, getting into training camp mode if you will. Just working on aspects of play, coordinated aspects of play."
While the preseason is behind them, all NFL teams have a bye week heading into the regular season, so the focus for the black and gold is working on their own play rather than kicking full gear into preparation for the Buffalo Bills just yet, especially with final cuts looming on Tuesday.
"We're in some competition things but very rarely as a one-on-one like competition," said Tomlin. "We're just respecting the team element of play. Even when we're breaking it down as groups, we did four-on-three as a feature competition drill in a passing game at the early portions of practice today. That's where we are, our coordinated efforts are understanding how their smaller role fits into the bigger picture in all three phases and continuing to push forward and gain understanding.
"We're focused on three aspects of play. We're trying to improve our football intellect. We're trying to improve our skills relative to our positions. And we're trying to work on our football conditioning. So, it's a good atmosphere for all three of those things here today."
Now don't think just because the team isn't preparing for the Bills on the field that Tomlin and company aren't preparing for them off the field. Just the opposite.
"I am and we are, just like I'm sure their staff is," said Tomlin of focusing on the Bills. "But that doesn't affect our focus in terms of the development of the men on the field."
Leader of the pack: There is a reason Cameron Heyward has been a defensive captain for six consecutive years. It's because he is someone who does things the right way, leads by example and is a guiding force for every player on the roster, from rookies to veterans who have been in the league longer than him.
"He is a guy who will be a leader to tell you what you need to do and at the same time he leads by example and shows guys what it takes to be an elite player," said fellow defensive lineman Tyson Alualu. "Leading by example is the best attribute. He is always out here trying to get better in every aspect of his game."
While Heyward's leadership has continually grown through the years, now in his 11th season, he would command the same respect whether he was a second-year player or a seasoned veteran just because of his approach.
"Even if he was in his third or fourth year, the type of player he is, the accolades he has behind his name, guys see he works hard and earns everything," said Alualu. "People respect that and that is what guys gravitate towards and follow the leader."
The Steelers practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex
Left, right, left: Rookie fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. was back at left tackle today, maybe to stay.
"I believe," left guard Kevin Dotson said following another steamy practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. "Dan is definitely more comfortable at left because he played that in college."
Fourth-year pro Chukwuma Okorafor, likewise, is better suited for right tackle in Dotson's estimation.
"That's his original spot, too, so I think it's best for both of them," he maintained.
Moore started the preseason opener against Dallas at left tackle and the preseason finale against Carolina at right tackle.
Okorafor started at left tackle against Philadelphia, Detroit and Carolina.
He started 15 regular-season games at right tackle and the playoff loss to Cleveland last season after Zach Banner was lost for the season due to a knee injury suffered in the regular-season opener against the Giants.
Banner has played in one preseason game this time around (12 snaps against Detroit).
Dotson doesn't have a preference regarding who lines up to his immediate left.
"I'm comfortable with both guys," he said of Moore and Okorafor. "I've pretty much trained with both of them so I feel pretty comfortable with whoever they put in that position."
Moore has impressed Dotson as "a quick learner."
Veteran defensive lineman Chris Wormley has also liked what he's seen from Moore.
"As a rookie, as someone that you go up against every day you want to see some improvement," Wormley explained. "I've seen that every day with him.
"He's played well in the preseason games and in practice, as well. I'm excited for him to continue to grow and to continue to be a good player for us."
Wormley was less emphatic about how long Moore would remain a left tackle.
"That's where he was today," Wormley said.
Moving forward, "I have no idea," he added. "I'm a defensive lineman.
"That's (offensive line) Coach (Adrian) Klemm's decision and 'Mike T's (head coach Mike Tomlin)."
Dotson is encouraged with the direction in which the offensive line is headed regardless of specific configuration.
"I definitely feel we're jelling," he said. "We're getting way more close. We're getting way better with communication. We're not asking each other every time now. We can just kind of nudge that 'this is about to happen, we gotta do this,' instead of actually saying it."
-- blog entry by Mike Prisuta