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March 4, 2017
by Joe Rutter


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Rutter: Pitt, Penn State notes from NFL Combine

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INDIANAPOLIS — Leftover items from Friday’s interview sessions at the NFL Combine.

MILLER TIME

Scott Orndoff’s favorite tight end should come as no surprise for someone raised in Waynesburg and who played football at Seton-La Salle and Pitt.

It’s Heath Miller.
“I realize it more now than when he was still playing, but he was a complete, solid tight end,” Orndoff said. “He was a reliable pass catcher. He was out there first through third down. Anytime they needed him to make a play, he can down with it.”
Given Ladarius Green’s concussion issues, the Steelers still may be seeking a replacement for Miller.
“I’ll go wherever this process takes me,” Orndoff said.
Orndoff is projected as a late-round pick. He tried to increase his value by training in Tampa, Fla., under the tutelage of former NFL wide receiver Yo Murphy.
Orndoff was in Tampa from Jan. 2 until heading to Indianapolis this week for the combine.
“The tight end position has evolved so much,” Orndoff said. “There are so many great receiving tight ends here and also a lot of good blocking tight ends. If I was able to hone in my craft enough, I’d like to be a complete tight end, someone who plays first, second and third down like you used to see in the past.”
Or someone like Heath Miller.

COMING UP ROSES
Former Penn State receiver Chris Godwin is a projected third-round pick. The Steelers could be in the market for a pass catcher in that round, and Godwin said he spent some time with team officials at the NFL Combine.
After Penn State’s loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, Godwin headed to Pensacola, Fla., where he worked out and watched film with former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
“He’s just as he appears on TV,” Godwin said. “He’s a very cal and collected individual, but he’s very smart in what he does. … It was a great experience. I learned a lot of things from that guy. I was just mainly trying to pick his brain from everything in the classroom to training regimen to just how to get open and how to create separation in the NFL.”
Godwin decided to forgo his senior season after catching nine passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl. He said the big game didn’t influence his decision to leave school early.
“I had been contemplating it, leading up to the bowl game,” he said. “Not one game is going to make or break your decision to when it comes to declaring for the NFL.
“It definitely was a good note to go out on.”

— Joe Rutter

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March 1, 2017
by Joe Rutter


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Rutter: The inexact science of evaluating 3-4 pass rushers

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INDIANAPOLIS – Despite all of the measurements and drills conducted at all-star games, scouting combine and pro days, the Steelers don’t know whether a college player has the aptitude to play outside linebacker in their 3-4 defensive scheme until much later in the calendar year.
How much later?
“Usually when they line up on a Sunday,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Wednesday.
For some former college stars, such as 2015 first-round draft pick Bud Dupree, the transition to professional pass rusher comes smoothly. For others, like 2013 top draft pick Jarvis Jones, the progression is much slower – if it ever happens at all.
The Steelers are expected to add another pass rusher in the draft, likely in the first round, which makes the topic especially pertinent at the NFL combine.
Addressing reporters here, Colbert said evaluating players who can play outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense is the most challenging of any position on the field.
Colbert estimates “80-90 percent” of college defensive ends or outside linebackers play in a stance.
“We have to try to project whether a guy can stand up and do extra things than pass rush that is required in our defense,” Colbert said. “The margin for error at the outside linebacker position is really greater … because most of the time it is a projection.”
For the Steelers, the task is projecting whether a player also can, according to Colbert, match up with a tight end or offensive tackle and drop into pass coverage.
“The dropping part, we won’t see until we get in here for initial workouts and follow up at the pro day,” Colbert said.
Invited to the combine were 51 players classified as either defensive ends or outside linebackers.
“As we go through this, we probably lose three, four, five guys that we say are 4-3 defensive ends instead of 3-4 linebackers,” Colbert said.
Complicating matters at the combine is the limited time scouts, coaches and general managers can watch each player. Colbert said defensive ends/outside linebackers go through three types of pass drill and are thrown three balls.
“Sometimes, it’s the first time they’ve caught a ball,” he said.
At the player’s pro day is when the Steelers have a chance to work with an outside linebacker prospect more closely.
To determine whether a player can physically adapt to the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme, Colbert said the team focuses on his feet, hips and hands.
“You’re not really going to get into whether they know or understand what they’re doing,” Colbert said, referring to a player’s ability to drop into pass coverage. “You’re just looking at the physical ability to do it. You can transfer most of them, if they have the athleticism to do it. It’s just knowledge and repetition.”
As far as aptitude and, well, an actual ability to sack NFL quarterbacks, check back on Sundays starting in September for the answer.

— Joe Rutter

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February 28, 2017
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: “Everyone feels solid” in the wake of Antonio Brown’s new contract

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AB

(Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review)

 

 

 

Antonio Brown entered the media room at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Tuesday morning flanked by his girlfriend and four children. Perhaps they can serve as an excuse why he was a not-too-bad “only” 15 minutes late for the press conference announcing his new mega-contract with the Steelers.

 

 

No one had any complaints about the notoriously perpetually-tardy Brown today – certainly not Steelers president Art Rooney II, who stood behind and to the right behind Brown as Brown fielded questions from the media. A small, proud smile was permanently affixed to Rooney II as Brown spoke.

 

 

The timing of it, really, works for all of us,” Rooney II said in brief remarks introducing Brown. “I want to thank Antonio and his representatives for the hard work in getting this done.”

 

 

How much work? Consider that Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, told the Trib that he attended all four of the Steelers’ preseason games. Remember, this is a super-agent whose client list is as impressive in its length (close to 100) as it is in quality (Rob Gronkowski and LeSean McCoy among them). Think about all the places he could have been – and an agent needs to be – during the frenzied month before the regular season begins. In a show of support for Brown and how badly he was going to work with the Steelers to get a deal done, Rosenhaus kept showing up at Steelers games, again and again.

 

 

That might not have been the primary determining factor in the contract getting done – but it set a tone, and it didn’t hurt.

 

 

“The end result (of the contract) is our client getting a deal that he deserves and that he can feel good about and the team can feel good about,” Rosenhaus said in a phone interview Tuesday. “That’s the mark of a good deal, where everyone feels solid. So I appreciate the Steelers’ integrity for following through with their commitment and not wavering and seeing that it gets done.”

 

 

Brown, who’s spent all seven of his seasons with the Steelers, likewise expressed his appreciation: “The Rooneys did a great job of accommodating me. They always do a great job in that regard. I’m just grateful we could get things done early enough. “

 

 

Brown has always found motivation through means that include the tried-and-true “proving people wrong.” He even on Monday tweeted a not-so-flattering draft profile of himself from 2010. Will now that he has his new deal and can claim the title of “highest-paid receiver in NFL history,” where does Brown find his motivation?

 

 

“Every year you have to prove yourself,” he said. “Every year is a new year and a fresh start, so you have to come out and prove yourself. And that battle is never ending. Every year I’m judged on my performance and how I make the team better.”

“I just give everybody inspiration and motivation. If you work hard and do the right things, you’ll get rewarded. And the result for working hard and doing the right things is being in this position.”

 

 

The Steelers, recognizing the special nature of Brown’s abilities and the unique circumstances surrounding his contract, had already given him salary advances each of the past two summers.

 

 

The whole idea behind those advances collapsed if the Steelers didn’t give Brown an extension this spring. That they did shows what they think of him as a player.

 

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February 28, 2017
by Joe Rutter


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Rutter: Clearing up Bell’s franchise tag number

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Trying to make sense of the NFL salary cap and collective bargaining agreement is a lot like trying to decipher the IRS tax code. It can be confusing and can lead to mistakes by those without genius IQs.

I learned as much Monday night when dealing with the Le’Veon Bell franchise-tag situation and trying to determine his salary figure for the 2017 season. So, I decided to use this forum to clarify some statements written in today’s article.

Because I failed to read one part of the NFL rules on franchise tags, I wrote that Bell’s salary number under an “exclusive” franchise player designation would be dictated by Adrian Peterson’s salary this season. And I wrote that Bell’s salary wouldn’t be known until April 21, the end of the restricted free agency period. While Peterson’s salary will help determine the value of an “exclusive” franchise tag and April 21 remains the deadline, neither will apply to Bell’s case this year.

Here is why, and I’ll try to keep the explanation as simple as a wordy first-year beat writer can do in the wee hours of the morning:

The more common “non-exclusive” franchise designation is based on the salaries of the five highest-paid players from the previous season, but also takes into account 5 years of data as it pertains to the salary cap. This resulted in a $11.789 million “non-exclusive” value for running backs in 2016 even though the top 5 salaries for running backs averaged about $8.6 million.

The “exclusive” designation pertains to the top 5 salaries for the current season. With Peterson (and his $18 million salary for 2017) possibly being released by the Vikings, that will reduce the average salary for a franchise running back significantly. Some estimates have the 5-player average going as low as $7.2 million.

But, thanks to another CBA provision (one I originally overlooked), the Steelers knew when deciding which tag to apply that Bell would get between $12.2-$12.4 million in 2017.

Why?

Because of the section of the CBA which states that if the “exclusive” value is lower than the “non-exclusive” value — which surely will be the case this season at running back — the player will receive the greater value.

So, no matter what happens with Adrian Peterson in the upcoming weeks, the Steelers will pay Bell the higher rate in 2017. Again, that number won’t be known until the salary cap is set within the next week, but is expected to be between $12.2-$12.4 million based on a $168 million salary cap. And once that figure is known, there’s no need waiting to see what the lower April 21 “exclusive” figure will be.

With finances being no consideration in the matter, the decision about which tag to apply to Bell came down to whether the Steelers wanted to allow him to negotiate with other teams (and receive two first-round draft picks as compensation had he signed elsewhere). The Steelers ultimately decided to use the “exclusive” tag, which permits no other teams to negotiate with Bell.

It was a decision made from a truly “football” standpoint and was devoid of economic implications as it pertains to the CBA and it’s confounding franchise-tag rules.

Having tried to clear that up, it’s back to genuine football. I leave today for the NFL combine in Indianapolis where I’ll be reporting on 40-yard dash times and bench press totals for the next few days. Check back for our daily coverage.

— Joe Rutter

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February 23, 2017
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Arthur Moats “absolutely” expects James Harrison back for his age 39 season

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Steelers LB Arthur Moats (with the hockey stick) and Penguins F Bryan Rust (holding a football). Because it’s a hockey game in a football stadium, you see?

 

 

 

NEAR A HOCKEY RINK SET UP ON A FOOTBALL FIELD – He wasn’t honored with the 2016 Chief Award for nothin, folks.

 

 

Arthur Moats was recognized in December as “the (Steelers) player that best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media.” As such, it wasn’t surprising when he was trotted out by the Steelers for the photo opp media availability to promote talk about Saturday’s Stadium Series NHL game at Heinz Field between the Penguins and rival Philadelphia Flyers.

 

 

Moats, in his characteristically affable (giddy?) style, held court with more than a dozen media members for more than 7 minutes during the mid-afternoon Wednesday at Heinz Field. Covering topics ranging from the trivial to the ridiculous (with tiny detours to serious in between) Moats held a hockey stick while he stood just outside the left-wing boards on the north end of the hockey rink set up on top of the Heinz Field grass where he and his Steeler teammates went 7-2 this season.

 

 

Some of the items Moats touched on…

 

 

On if he expects position mate James Harrison back this season at age 39: “Absolutely, absolutely. We all want him to be back, he wants to be back – and you saw the reports that the organization wants him back. So I feel like it’s a perfect match.”

 

 

On what his offseason has been like so far: “All of us have been remaining in communication with the guys, making sure we’re are all taking some time to get away from the game. Some of us have visited each other, whether it’s traveling or light lunches and things like that. But ultimately we understand that we have lot of work that needs to get done going forward and we all gotta get the Super Bowl next year.”

 

 

On how Harrison would be as a hockey player: “I’m putting him as a goalie, definitely a goalie. He’s so intimidating, he doesn’t even need a mask. He could go out there with no mask and no stick, (and) as soon as he goes, ‘grrrrrrr’ – nobody’s gonna shoot on him. They’ll turn around and go the other way.”

 

 

On his personal experience playing hockey (hint: never) and what he thinks of the athleticism of hockey players: “Huge appreciation. The fact that they are going crazy fast and showing their agility on ice… for me, I have skated maybe once in my whole life and I know how difficult that was. I feel like they could easily come out on the (football) field and at least run. I feel when you put the basics of that in there I feel it definitely shows their skill level and also the fact that they are flying around on the ice doing it, taking their hits, shoot, and all with the hand-eye coordination I feel like it definitely shows their skillset.”

 

 

On if he recognizes how big hockey is in Pittsburgh: “Any time you come to Pittsburgh you understand the culture here, you understand it’s a huge sports town and also, you understand the Pens and the significance that they have, ultimately you think about them winning the Stanley Cup just last year, you can see the (quality) of hockey that they put out there, it’s not a mediocre product. It’s top-level. So I feel like they definitely warrant what they deserve and what they receive as far as fan support.”

 

 

 

Later, asked to show his stickhandling skills, Moats performed what he called “the jab step,” which is a nonexistent hockey move perhaps best described as a combination of a poke check involving a lunge. Here is an approximation of the move below (I don’t think Mike Sullivan will be drilling his players on it any time soon):

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February 9, 2017
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Faneca not in Hall – yet – but already made transition to running as smooth as it was sudden

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(Photo courtesy RunnersWorld.com, via Steelers and Photo Run)

 

 

 

Despite making it 2-for-2 when it comes to being a finalist – and a strong, deserving résumé – Alan Faneca was not among those who were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2017 class.

 

 

But in talking to him last week about the anticipation he was experiencing in awaiting to hear the Pro Football Writers of America vote, we broached the subject of him completing a marathon (in less than 4 hour, no less) two years ago.

 

 

As you can see in photos of the former 300-plus pound guard, the transformation
in the former Steeler’s body was stark. Faneca said that, contrary to what I’d assumed, distance running wasn’t some sort of mechanism for Faneca to replace the competitive void that was lacking since retiring from pro football.

 

 

“I always wanted to lose weight when I was done playing; I figured it was the healthiest choice for me to do,” Faneca said. “And the running thing kind of came after that; my wife ran a half marathon and she’d been trying to get me to run with her, and I would always tell her, ‘I’m good; I’m done with all my athletic stuff. I’ve played my career.’”

 

 

But, like any good husband, Faneca stayed involved in (and supportive of) his wife Julie’s endeavor and began to join her on runs.

 

 

“And then one day she wasn’t feeling good so I went out for a run by myself in this park in New Orleans – and instead of going right (like usual), I went left and started going all the way around the park,” Faneca said. “It turned in from like a 3 or 3.5-mile run to an almost 8-mile run.

“I had not done that and it was definitely me against the pavement, and that run definitely got the juices – the competitive juices – flowing. I started thinking about it literally on that run about maybe trying  a half marathon myself and definitely stirred it back up and started getting me competitive again. I hadn’t really been competitive in anything, really, since I had retired.”

 

 

The New Orleans Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in 2014 remains the only full marathon that Faneca has run, though he’s completed “a bunch” of half marathons as well as several trail races.

 

 

“I still enjoy it,” he said.

 

 

When Faneca ran his marathon, he was a little more than three years removed from being a professional football player. He’d played for the high-profile Steelers for 10 seasons and he also spent two years in media-frenzied New York (2008-09 with the Jets). By then, apparently, he’d settled back into “civilian” life because Faneca was taken aback by the attention drawn by a nine-time Pro Bowler (who once weighed something like 320 pounds) when he’d do something such as complete a marathon.

 

 

“I ran the marathon,” Faneca said, “and then I get to the end and all of a sudden there were actually reporters there waiting for me when I finished, and it kind of caught be off guard.”

 

 

 

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January 31, 2017
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Report– Coates has surgery on troublesome fingers

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Contrary to popular opinion lately, Sammie Coates has shown good hands at times — such as, times when his fingers aren’t broken. (TribLive photo)

 

 

 

Sammie Coates underwent surgery on two fingers in his left hand Tuesday morning, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported. The procedure repaired fractures and tendon damage to the Steelers receiver’s ring and index fingers that had severely hindered him throughout the final three months of the season, according to Fowler.

 

 

“Just got out of surgery went great! #thankYouGod” Coates posted on his verified Twitter account.

 

 

Coates had previously indicated that surgery was likely after the season ended. He was the NFL’s top deep-threat receiver over the first month of the season with six catches of at least 40 yards in his first five games. No NFL player would end up with more than that over the full season – but Coates did not add to his total after suffering the injury to his fingers during a Week 5 win against the Jets.

 

 

After having 19 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns over his first five games, Coates was held to two receptions for 14 yards over the regular season’s final 11 weeks. He was inactive for two December games because of a hamstring injury.

 

 

From an Oct. 16 loss at Miami (the week following his broken fingers) through a first-quarter drop during the AFC championship last week at New England, Coates had two catches for 14 yards on 19 targeted throws in 11-plus games (including playoffs). He finished the AFC championship with two receptions for 34 yards.

 

 

A third-round pick in 2015, the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Coates enters this third NFL season as one of the most gifted pieces of a Steelers’ receivers corps that has vast potential but many question marks: All Pro Antonio Brown is entering the final season of his contract and is due an extension, Martavis Bryant (year-long suspension) applied for reinstatement to the league last week, Darrius Heyward-Bey will turn 30 on Feb. 26, Demarcus Ayers had nine catches in four games (including playoffs) as a seventh-round pick rookie, Markus Wheaton is a pending unrestricted free agent and Eli Rogers enters his second season after a strong debut as the slot receiver.

 

 

It could ultimately play out any number of ways, pending the statuses of Brown, Bryant and oft-injured big-play tight end Ladarius Green. But in the majority of scenarios for the Steelers’ passing game next season, Coates has a significant role and will be counted on heavily.

 

 

 

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January 28, 2017
by Joe Rutter


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Rutter: Long way to go for Steelers’ Bryant

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As we reported earlier Saturday on Martavis Bryant,  he has formally applied for reinstatement with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

But it’s just one step back on the journey for Bryant to rejoin the Steelers. He doesn’t get to sit back and wait for Goodell to make a decision.

As the NFL’s drug policy shows, much work needs to be done for Bryant to get back into the NFL — and for him to stay there once reinstated.

Bryant’s application, according to language in the drug policy, had to contain the following:

“His application should include all pertinent information about the Player’s: (a) Treatment; (b) Abstinence from Substances of Abuse throughout the entire period of his banishment; (c) Involvement with any Substances of Abuse related incidents; and (d) Arrests and/or convictions for any criminal activity, including Substances of Abuse-related offenses.”

Here is what happens next for Bryant, again, according to the drug policy:

1. Within 45 days of receipt of the application, the player will be interviewed by the medical director and the medical advisor, after which a recommendation will be made to the commissioner with regard to the player’s request for reinstatement.
2. The Player will execute appropriate medical release forms that will enable the commissioner’s staff and NFLPA Executive Director’s staff to review the player’s substance abuse history, including but not limited to attendance at counseling sessions (individual, group and family); attendance at 12-step and other self-help group meetings; periodic progress reports; and all diagnostic findings and treatment recommendations.
3. The player will submit to urine testing by an NFL representative at a frequency determined by the medical advisor.
4. The player will agree in a meeting with the commissioner or his representative(s) to comply with the conditions imposed by the commissioner for his reinstatement to the status of an active player.
5. All individuals involved in the process will take steps to enable the commissioner to render a decision within 60 days of the receipt of the application.

In other words, Bryant must do all of the above so Goodell can decide on the reinstatement application by March 29.

Once reinstated, Bryant will return to Stage 3 of the NFL’s drug program, which is the last stage before banishment. Bryant will remain in Stage 3 and be subject to unannounced drug testing (up to 10 times per month) for the rest of his NFL career. However, after two years, the NFL’s medical director and advisor could discharge Bryant from Stage 3.

That, of course, is an issue for 2019. This year, Bryant has started the process of rejoining the Steelers. If all goes well, he could be back for offseason workouts in April.

— Joe Rutter

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January 23, 2017
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski – Sammie Coates on his season: ‘I lost my focus… I’ve got to grow up’

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Eric Rowe, Sammie Coates

After a remarkable first month, it was this kind of season for Sammie Coates. (AP Photo)

 

 

A HOTEL ROOM IN RHODE ISLAND – About a half hour after Sunday night’s game ended, Sammie Coates was one of the few Steelers remaining on one far side of the visitor’s locker room at Gillette Stadium.

 

 

A season that was showing such immense promise for the gifted second-year player had just ended. And fair to say, on an individual basis, it has not trended the proper direction for Coates.

 

 

“I’m about to go get ready to go back to work,” the receiver said of approaching the offseason. “I need it; I gotta get healthy and go from there.”

 

 

That Coates had what was easily his most productive game in more than three months would be a positive way to head into the offseason if it wasn’t for the fact that “most productive game in more than three months” meant a stat line of two catches on five targets for 34 yards.

 

 

In September, that was a good quarter from Coates. It turned into roughly what he’d produce offensively over a 13-week span. Combined.

 

 

After a first month of the season in which he had a remarkable six catches of 40 or more yards in the Steelers’ first five games – incredibly, that held up all season to tie for the NFL lead – some broken fingers suffered in what was a career-best game (six catches, 139 yards, two touchdowns) against the Jets on Oct. 9 completely torpedoed Coates’ once-promising season.

 

 

Until Sunday, Coates over an 11-game span (including playoffs) since the Jets game put up this rancid stat line: 18 targets, 2 receptions, 14 yards. Steelers quarterbacks had a passer rating of 16.4 when throwing to him after the Jets game after posting a 126.8 rating when throwing to him over Weeks 1-5 games.

 

 

The fingers, two of which he said were broken, quite obviously affected Coates. A late-season hamstring injury didn’t help. After being the Steelers’ No. 2 offensive threat (behind Antonio Brown) as well as one of the NFL’s top deep threats in September, Coates was relegated to special teams-only duty over the first two games of the postseason.

 

 

“I got hurt and I kind of lost my (feel) for this offense because I wasn’t going to play and it kind of threw me off,” Coates said Sunday. “I lost my focus, and it went downhill from there.

“I’ve got to grow up; I’ve got to be a better player when it comes to that. I’ve got to grow from it and just continue to be on the rise.”

 

 

Coates had more catches and targets in the AFC championship than at any point since his fingers were injured, and he played more offensive snaps (16) against the Patriots than he had in a game in over a month. Coates confirmed that he knew he throughout the week that he was going to be a bigger part of the gameplan in Foxboro than he’d been in recent weeks.

 

 

“I knew I was gonna have an opportunity to make plays,” Coates said.

 

 

Coates potentially could have been one of the game’s biggest heroes had he made a play on his first chance to. Three Steelers’ offensive snaps into the contest, Ben Roethlisberger on a third-and-1 went deep down the left sideline to Coates, who was in man coverage and had half a step on Patriots defensive back Eric Rowe.

 

 

About 35 yards downfield with a potential touchdown for the taking if he makes the catch… the ball flew through Coates’ fingertips.

 

 

Some said a pass interference flag could have been thrown on the play (Rowe’s hand grazes over Coates’ outstretched arm well before the ball arrives), but Coates downplayed that.

 

 

“I just misjudged ball,” Coates said. “I had a bad read on it, and I kind of thought it was just falling and… just left the play on the field.”

 

 

Coates wasn’t doing much of that (leaving plays on the field) over the first third of the regular season, when he was a dynamic playmaker. For a team that struggled to find a No. 2 option at WR all year long, Coates regaining that form in 2017 will be quite the offseason, training camp and preseason storyline to watch.

 

 

 

 

Speaking of the offseason, enjoy it as much as you can. Thanks for reading along all year. But in the NFL, of course, there is no offseason.

 

 

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January 20, 2017
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Justin Gilbert will remain on kickoff returns; relieved late poor KC return didn’t haunt Steelers

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Justin Gilbert knew he was in trouble right about this point of the Sunday’s final kickoff return. Luckily, the play ultimately did not cost the Steelers. Gilbert will return kicks again Sunday in the AFC championship. (photo by Getty Images)

 

 

 

SOUTH HILLS (it’s my tribute) – Justin Gilbert admits the nervousness he felt was heightened a little bit more than even his collectively-anxious teammates and Steelers fans across the globe.

 

 

With 2 minutes left this past Sunday and the Steelers clinging to a two-point lead, they needed a first down to close out the game.

 

 

“When AB caught the first down,” Gilbert recalled, “it was just kind of like a ::shew!::

 

 

I was asking Gilbert his thoughts watching the Steelers close out the game on Thursday – but rest assured, if the offense wouldn’t have done so and the Steelers had lost, Gilbert undoubtedly would have been bombarded with questions about it much before that. As in, postgame. And, like, from every member of the media.

 

 

That’d be because – fair or not – Gilbert’s kickoff return of minus-2 yards that began the Steelers’ final possession – again, fair or not – would have taken a significant public share of the blame. It might be a stretch to say it would have been a play that would have lived in Steelers infamy forever – but it would be up there remembered like  Joe Nedney’s “acting” and Fitzgerald Toussaint’s fumble as plays over the years that cost the Steelers a chance to advance to an AFC championship game.

 

 

Gilbert’s only current role on the team is as a kickoff returner – and he just (re-)earned the job last week. As a result, he was only on the field four snaps, only touched the ball twice.

 

 

His first return was a good one – 28 yards (a Steelers’ playoff high) on the opening kickoff. But his second return, um, was not so good.

 

 

With the Chiefs having just scored a touchdown (but missing out on the two-point conversion) to pull within 2 late, Gilbert fielded Cairo Santos’ kickoff at the 7. He ran straight forward at first – but with a wall of Chiefs bearing down on him, Gilbert cut right.

 

 

It, um, didn’t work. He was tackled at the 5. The ball even came out late; however, it was after the play was ruled down.

 

 

The damage was done, though: the Steelers were backed up so far that Le’Veon Bell was lined up deep in his own end zone for the ensuing snap. And if the Steelers went three-and-out, Kansas City likely would have been very close to being in range for a game-winning field goal (to say nothing of Tyreek Hill having another shot).

 

 

“I was planning to take a knee – ‘Just take a knee,’” Gilbert said.

 

But that strategy was rendered moot when Santos (probably intentionally) kicked it short.

 

“Then, (the Chiefs’ coverage players) were up on me so fast. I caught a glimpse to my right. I thought I had an opening; I started running that way and I saw (teammate Eli Rogers) waving his hand, like, ‘I got your block; come on.’ So I was trying to make it to the block. But No. 21, (rookie Eric Murray), he did a good job of cutting me off.”

 

 

The Arrowhead Stadium crowd was rocking. The Chiefs had all the momentum.

 

 

Fortunately for the Steelers – and Gilbert – the offense came through.

 

 

In reality, after watching the play multiple times, the blame (and “credit”) lies not with Gilbert on the play but on the Steelers’ return ream and, mostly, the Chiefs coverage team. Gilbert never stood a chance (albeit he’d have been better off just being tackled at the 12, of course). Still, coach Mike Tomlin was noncommittal at his weekly press conference about whether Gilbert would hold onto his kickoff returner job.

 

 

Turns out, he has.

 

 

Gilbert said he’ll be active, in-uniform and back on kickoff returns.

 

 

“I’m back there again this week,” Gilbert said. “So hopefully we can make one pop.”

 

 

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