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October 10, 2016
by Joe Rutter

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Thoughts from Steelers 31, Jets 13


A quick breakdown of the win Sunday that gives the Steelers a 4-1 record and puts them a game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

1. If all Cris Carter did was catch touchdowns, then all Vince Williams does is make tackles. For the second consecutive week, Williams started in place of the injured Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker and led the Steelers with stops. After getting 15 (13 solo) against the Chiefs, Williams had 9 tackles (8 solo) against the Jets. Three were for a loss and he also chipped in with a sack.
2. Antonio Brown brought some life to the punt return role. He broke off 33-yard and 18-yard returns, nearly taking the former the distance. No need for Eli Rogers to rush back from his turf toe injury, at least not on special teams.
3. Move over Reggie Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger is the new Mr. October, particulary at Heinz Field. Big Ben improved his record to 20-1 in October home games, the best mark by an NFL quarterback since 1970. For the second time in his career he’s thrown four touchdown passes in back-to-back games, actually combining for nine in wins over the Chiefs and Jets.

1. Sammie Coates started and finished strong, but the middle left much to be desired. He dropped between three (if you’re generous) and five (if you’re nitpicking) passes. Yes, he had an injured hand that required stitches, but those drops aren’t providing the consistency the Steelers seek.
2. Alejandro Villanueva had a holding penalty in the first half, and he was in an illegal formation (the penalty was declined) when the Steelers tried a fake field goal. Speaking of the fake field goal, Jordan Berry showed his legs are better used for punting, not running.
3. Cornerback Ross Cockrell had two penalties (pass interference and holding) declined, and it was his deflection that allowed Brandon Marshall to haul in a 15-yard touchdown pass late in the first half. Cockrell was tasked with shadowing Marshall, who finished with eight receptions for 114 yards. To be fair, Cockrell did break up three passes and didn’t allow a completion longer than 19 yards.

Coaches and players raved about the job Chris Hubbard did filling in for Marcus Gilbert at right tackle. Roethlisberger was sacked just once, and Hubbard and the rest of the line provided enough time for him to pass for 380 yards.

Berry has become the 12th defender for the Steelers. All three of his punts landed inside the Jets’ 20, marking the sixth time in his two-year career that he accomplished the feat. A 44-yarder pinned the Jets at their 11 in the first quarter. He sent a 43-yarder to the 13 after the first drive of the third quarter. And he crushed a 52-yarder to the 13 later in the quarter.

“Awesome. Awesome. Are you kidding me? They were unbelievable. How about Hubbard stepping up and playing. That is arguably one of the best defensive lines and front sevens in football, and our guys were just phenomenal. They are the catalyst for us. They drive us. We go as they go, and they had a great day today.” — Roethlisberger, on the offensive line.


October 7, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: McLendon ‘loves’ ex-teammates but has ‘moved on’ — and so have the Steelers, to Hargrave




Steve McLendon followed Casey Hampton and gave way to Javon Hargrave as the Steelers’ top nose tackle. (Chaz Palla/Trib photo)



When the New York Jets had some time off following an early-season Thursday night game last month, Steve McLendon could have chosen to hole up at home and rest. He could have taken a vacation. He could have visited family.


Instead, McLendon was spotted in, of all places, an upcoming opponent’s locker room.


With McLendon having signed as a free agent with New York this past spring after seven seasons as property of the Steelers, his love of his (now former) team and his (now former) teammates became that much more apparent.


Antonio Brown, for example – an offensive player who had a locker on an almost polar-opposite side of the Steelers’ locker room from McLendon – was palpably elated to see McLendon last month. Brown’s eyes lit up and he interrupted an interview mid-sentence to yell, “STEEEEVE!


Sunday, McLendon’s Jets come to Heinz Field to play the Steelers. McLendon doesn’t know exactly how he’ll feel as a visitor in Pittsburgh – but he knows he’ll feel something deep.


“There’s gonna be a lot of emotion,” McLendon told reporters in New York this week. “They’re gonna play with emotion, we’re gonna play with emotion.

“I’m gonna play with emotion.”


McLendon emphasized that he’s happy to be a Jet – and why wouldn’t he be? He’s playing about twice as much (69 percent of New York’s defensive snaps as opposed to 34 percent of the Steelers’ defensive snaps last season) and is part of one of what is considered to be one of the best defensive lines in the game today. McLendon’s two sacks in four games with the Jets almost matches what he had in six seasons (five sacks) with the Steelers.


But that doesn’t mean he’s lost his reverence for the Steelers’ organization, which signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Troy in 2009 and let him develop behind then-Pro Bowler Casey Hampton at nose tackle. McLendon was cut five times his first three seasons as he bounced around from the practice squad before becoming a starter following Hampton’s retirement in 2013.


“That ‘Steelers’ name speaks for itself; they’ve got six rings and they’re trying to get a seventh,” McLendon said. “They know the goal; I know what their goal is — but their goal is what our goal is.

“I owe everything to them, props for bringing me in and letting me play there for the past seven years. But I have moved on; I’m a New York Jet now, and I’m excited to take the field against these guys.”


McLendon said he’s shut off communication with his ex-mates this week. They’ll share a pregame handshake or a postgame hug. But, as he said, “It’s business.

“It’s nothing personal. I love them, and they still love me. But the thing is there’s a game on the line. We’re both trying to get a Super Bowl – you don’t want to get any mixed emotions or feel like you’re giving them an edge or a hand up or anything.”


One of the Steelers players McLendon does not have a longstanding relationship with is his successor at nose tackle, Javon Hargrave. The Steelers took Hargrave in the third round to be their third nose tackle since 2001. He’s come in and immediately started and performed to mostly rave reviews.


“I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied,” Hargrave said, “but I feel I can be better and do things better in my own technique-wise. But I feel like I am improving every game – and that’s the main thing I’m trying to do.”


Throughout the summer, Hargrave watched film of McLendon to get a grasp of what his responsibilities are in the Steelers’ defense. He even met McLendon when the latter was in town. “He’s a cool dude,” Hargrave said. (Incidentally, while he’s never met Hampton, Hargrave incredulously said, “Of course I know who Casey Hampton is” – Hampton’s reputation and notoriety for his proficiency at his position is that great).


What’s interesting about the using an asset valued as high as a third-round pick for a nose tackle is that the Steelers’ logic two months prior for letting McLendon walk was that it wasn’t worth investing heavy resources into a position that is only on the field about a third of the time.


McLendon is playing 2/3 of the snaps in what is a four-man front with the Jets. Four games into his career, Hargrave has played less than a quarter of the Steelers’ defensive snaps – but if you add in Dan McCullers’ work (12 percent), it’s roughly still a third of the game.


More importantly, though, Hargrave was sought after in the draft because of his ability to play end in nickel packages (as McLendon did on occasion for the Steelers) at a high level. He did that as a pro for the first time this past Sunday against the Chiefs.


Even if the traditional, run-stuffing nose tackle role continues to be diminished, if Hargrave can do that plus spell stellar ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt without the Steelers missing a beat, his value is more than commensurate with that of a third-round pick.





September 30, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Travis Feeney joining DeAngelo Williams in the pink hair club

Travis Feeney

Rookie practice squad linebacker Travis Feeney (above) is taking a page out of the DeAngelo Williams (below) hair-color book. (AP Photos)






Move over DeAngelo Williams. There’s a new Steeler who has dyed part of his hair pink.


Rookie sixth-round pick Travis Feeney showed up to practice this week with a ribbon cut elaborately into the hair on back of his head. The speedy outside linebacker, who’s currently on the practice squad, planned on dying it pink in time for Sunday’s game – the first the Steelers will play during October, which is breast cancer awareness month.


“My mom’s best friend passed a couple years ago, so I have been doing it ever since then, every October,” said Feeney, who played at the University of Washington. “And my dad lost an aunt and lost a cousin. And I have a real tight friend (of) the family, she has cancer and she has been battling (but) she’s in remission.


“I did it for all them, to show support for them. Wearing this, it just makes it for a day of remembrance.”


Feeney said he got the cut done back in Seattle because he didn’t want to trust a new, unknown stylist. As far as the dye, again, he doesn’t have the female friend around who dyed his hair in the past at Washington. So he went to Williams for a referral.


Williams lost his mother to breast cancer in 2014 and dyed tips of his dreadlocks (and painted his toes) pink as a tribute.


Last season, Williams petitioned to the NFL to allow him to wear pink equipment accessories all season long and not only during the league-approved October window.


It was denied.




September 23, 2016
by Joe Rutter

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The old, new guy


This is my first post on the Steel Mill blog, so I figured I would introduce myself. I’m the old, new guy on the Steelers beat, I guess you could say.

I’m old because I’ve been at the Trib for 26 years, yet I’m new because this will be my first full-length exposure to the Steelers and the NFL. For those familiar with my work, I spent 13 years covering the Pirates. Those years spanned 1993-2005. Yes, the first 13 years of the Pirates’ string of 20 consecutive losing seasons. I like to say I saw more losing games by the team I covered in those 13 seasons than any sports writer in the world.

After 10 years as an assistant sports editor, I’m excited to get back to working a beat, joining Chris Adamski and Ralph N. Paulk on our coverage team.

The Steelers aren’t totally unfamiliar to me. Our family has had season tickets since 1970, and I was eight years old when I watched Franco Harris make the Immaculate Reception. I traveled to the first four Super Bowl sites (yet only saw 3 of the title games, which is another story for another time) and such experiences likely helped steer me toward a career in sports writing.

I covered the 2006 training camp after one of our writers left the paper. I also was part of our coverage team for Super Bowl XL in Detroit. And, as an editor, I coordinated coverage of the Super Bowls in Tampa and Dallas.

And now I’m back. I’m excited to be able to provide Steelers coverage to its rabid fan base and Trib readers. It’s going to take some time to get acclimated, so all I ask is not to be too harsh on me in the beginning.

I will take my responsibilities as a beat writer seriously, although I also like to have fun and be light-hearted in some areas of coverage. That’s evidenced by the accompanying photo, which my wife Lori took as I was preparing to leave for my first day of school, er, coverage.

I thank you for reading this far and look forward to your input as I grow into my new role.



September 19, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Steelers reverse trend of early losses to Bengals, Ravens – plus, SNAP COUNTS




The Steelers FINALLY upended an AFC North contender in their first crack at it. (Chaz Palla photo)



I wanted to more visually describe what I wrote about in the game story for Sunday’s 24-16 Steelers win against the Cincinnati Bengals because what I found surprised me: the Steelers have repeatedly dug themselves early holes over the past seven years – even when they had good teams.


Tossing aside the Cleveland Browns (they’re not really a threat – ever, it seems), the Steelers before Sunday had lost six of their past seven non-Cleveland AFC North openers. That played a big part in an early-season division deficit each time.


Put simply, this season the Steelers – at least so far (as it is still absurdly early, prior to Week 3) – won’t be chasing in 2016 as they so often have had to do in the past.




Their early-season holes dug since last winning the Super Bowl after the 2008 campaign:

Year                 1st Cin/Balt game result*             Division GB after 4 games


2009                23-20 loss at Bengals, Week 3             1 GB (plus tiebreak)

2010                17-14 loss to Ravens week 4                   (Tied, but down a tiebreak to Balt)

2011                35-7 loss at Ravens Week 1                     1 GB (plus tiebreak)

2012                (DNP Balt/Cin until Week 7)                 1 ½ GB

2013                20-10 loss at Bengals Week 2                 2 GB

2014                26-6 loss at Ravens Week 2                    1 ½ GB

2015                23-20 OT loss to Ravens Week 4           1 ½ GB



“Always chasing,” is how Ramon Foster put it.

This year, that isn’t the case (at least not yet). And of all the seasons listed above, the only division titles the Steelers won were in 2010 (the only time they weren’t facing an AFC North deficit in that span) and in 2014, when it took two December wins against Cincinnati to get it done.




Anyway, here are some notable snap counts from Sunday’s game:

OFFENSE (of 74)

(Note: OL, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown played every snap)

  • TE Jesse James, 74 (100%)
  • RB DeAngelo Williams, 66 (89%)
  • WR Eli Rogers, 41 (55%)
  • WR Sammie Coates, 35 (47%)
  • WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, 26 (35%)
  • TE David Johnson, 26 (35%)
  • TE Xaiver Grimble, 17 (23%)
  • RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, 7 (9%)
  • RB Daryl Richardson, 1 (1%)

Analysis: Jesse James, the new Heath. … A relatively almost-equitable split of reps at wide receiver (after Antonio Brown, of course). … Good thing Mike Tomlin doesn’t have to worry about riding DeAneglo Williams until the proverbial wheels fall off – he only needs one more week until Le’Veon Bell returms.




DEFENSE (of 76)

  • S Robert Golden, 76 (100%)
  • CB William Gay, 76 (100%)
  • CB Ross Cockrell, 74 (97%)
  • S Mike Mitchell, 72 (95%)
  • DB Sean Davis, 64 (84%)
  • CB Artie Burns, 32 (42%)
  • S Shamarko Thomas, 4 (5%)


  • DE Stephon Tuitt, 70 (92%)
  • DE Cameron Heyward, 64 (84%)
  • DL Ricardo Mathews, 14 (18%)
  • DT Javon Hargrave, 11 (14%)
  • DT Daniel McCullers, 5 (7%)


  • ILB Ryan Shazier, 76 (100%)
  • ILB Lawrence Timmons, 46 (61%)
  • ILB L.J. Fort, 1 (1%)


  • OLB Vince Williams, 0 (0%)
  • OLB Jarvis Jones, 57 (75%)
  • OLB James Harrison, 38 (50%)
  • OLB Arthur Moats, 37 (49%)
  • OLB Anthony Chickillo, 19 (25%)


Analysis: Lots to digest here. Start with the secondary – lots of nickel and (especially) dime. The Steelers have found ways to get Burns onto the field. They trust each of their top two draft picks (Burns and Davis) in an increasingly obvious way. Small nugget: Thomas is still above Jordan Dangerfield on the safety depth chart, if that was a question. … At outside linebacker, Moats and Harrison each played half the game while Jones was “the chosen one” to play three-quarters of the drives – allowing Chickillo to be eased in in a limited role with Bud Dupree out. … Timmons continues to have his role reduced – in effect, coaches have decided that they’d rather have Burns on the field than him. Yes, much of the defensive personnel is dictated by what the offense is doing. But in the past, Timmons would never leave the field – and the Steelers went through a long stretch of never going dime. … With so much nickel and dime, the defensive tackles aren’t asked to play much – which is why the Steelers probably won’t ever draft one any higher than the third round (Hargrave). McCullers is seemingly becoming obsolete. … At inside linebacker, again, it’s a ridiculously small one-snap sample size – but Fort again got the call over Williams, which is curious.






Recap of Tribune-Review Steelers coverage for Week 2:




Until we chat again…




September 14, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Wheaton ‘hopeful’ to return Sunday — but to what role?




Is Markus Wheaton’s starting role slipping through his fingertips? (Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review photo)



Doing so for the first time in almost three years, Markus Wheaton wasn’t used to the feeling of sitting out – and therefore being a mere spectator for – a regular-season game.


“Very anxious watching,” Wheaton said of his experience during the Steelers’ 38-16 Monday Night Football win at Washington. “I get so excited watching those guys, I was more nervous watching them than I am playing. I had a hard time watching.

“I can’t wait to get out there again, so hopefully it’s this weekend.”


Wheaton was a limited participant in practice Wednesday, which is an upgrade from the total lack of practicing he did last week. That gives reason for hope he’ll play in Sunday’s early-season AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals at Heinz Field.


But what might not be as optimistic regarding Wheaton is his both his role with the team and his future on it. In his absence Monday, Eli Rogers showed in his NFL regular-season debut that his strong training camp translated to when the games matter. He had six catches for 59 yards and a touchdown. Sammie Coates likewise was solid, tripling his NFL regular-season career catch total with two receptions, including a 42-yard grab.


In short, it’s going to be tough to deny Rogers and Coates snaps – particularly Rogers, who’s so adept in the slot (where Wheaton in prior years was being groomed for playing). Colleague Ralph Paulk and I talked about this on this week’s Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio. Click on this paragraph to listen.


“I loved it, man,” Wheaton said of Rogers’ breakout. “That was a huge game for him, being his first time out, he got his first touchdown – in a weird way – but it’s a touchdown nonetheless. So I’m proud of him.”


Wheaton had most recently missed a game because of injury (finger) midway through his rookie 2013 season. He surely won’t be completely “Wally Pipped” – he’s too good a receiver for that (97 catches for 1,393 yards and seven touchdowns the past two seasons). But if Rogers (47 of 68 offensive snaps played Monday) continues to emerge and Coates (44 snaps) stays on track, those two would figure to be fixtures among a wide receivers corps that, of course, includes superstar Antonio Brown and welcomes back suspended wunderkind Martavis Bryant next year (to say nothing of veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey, who was signed to a three-year deal this past spring; he played 15 snaps at the Redskins).


All that means that the odds are slim of Wheaton being brought back once he hits unrestricted free agency this spring. Where is he playing now that Rogers and Coates have proved NFL-capable?


Then again, there’s still a long way to go in 2016, and plenty can happen over the next 15-plus games that can change circumstances. The outlook might be completely different come December.


Regardless, of most immediate importance is Wheaton returning to the field. He said Wednesday he “feels a lot better than last week.”


“I wanted to go last weekend, I expected to go, but I wasn’t able to. I hope I can this weekend.”




Another shameless plug for the TribLive Radio Steelers Roundtable for this week. Click here.





September 5, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Golson off his scooter, into a boot, optimistic of his eventual return




Senquez Golson, the playmaker the Steelers can’t wait… and wait… and wait to see play. (Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review photo)


Senquez Golson was in a good mood Monday. And not because it was Labor Day.


“I had a great doctor’s visit,” the Steelers’ second-year cornerback said while in the locker room after practice.


Golson was not, as some had expected, placed on injured reserve when the Steelers trimmed their roster to 53 over the weekend. Golson has not practiced since the first week of training camp because of a Lisfranc injury in his right foot that is expected to keep him out for roughly half of the regular season.


Although it’s still relatively early, Golson’s condition has progressed well. He was happy to say he’s no longer using a scooter to get around, having moved on to a boot that is due to come off in about two weeks.


“At this point I’m just trying to get myself ready,” Golson said.


As far as him not being placed on IR, Golson didn’t want to look too much into that. Many from the outside had assumed he would be – with the possibility that he could be the designated player that could come off the list midway through the season.


But although Golson being spared from IR could be interpreted as a positive sign, it also – in theory – could be viewed from the opposite perspective: Bud Dupree’s sports hernia is what forced the Steelers’ hand to put Dupree on IR with the idea he’d be ready to return in the rough 6-8 week window. One could look at it that the Steelers felt more confident about Dupree’s ability to return for the season’s stretch run than they did about Golson. In that hypothetical scenario, Golson could be in danger of heading to (season-ending) IR if the Steelers became desperate enough for a roster spot. Once the season begins, a player placed on IR is not eligible to come off it.


But judging by Golson’s mannerism and spirits Monday, that didn’t seem to be the case. Avoiding the IR, it seems, is a positive sign. And after missing all of last season (on IR) because of a shoulder injury, Golson is eager to play any way he can.


The Steelers secondary – and their defense as a whole – figure to be much better with Golson.


“It’s about me getting out there with the guys and working to where I’m practicing,” he said.

“I’m just doing whatever, whatever they need me to do. I’m just trying to get myself ready.”




September 1, 2016
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Cutting down to 53

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin -- Photo by Chaz Palla

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin
– Photo by Chaz Palla

CHARLOTTE, N.C – This is the time of the year that you hear NFL coaches talk about how some cutting their roster to 53 was quite a difficult things to do.

For the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, you shouldn’t hear him say that because about the only choice he has to make from now and until the 53-man roster needs to be in place by Saturday at 4 p.m is whether or not he’s going to keep 11 linebackers or six cornerbacks.

So, without any fanfare, here’s my 53-man roster that initially will be in place (there will be an addition or two, like tight end and corner, after the rest of the league’s cuts circle through.) By the way, there is a misnomer that a team HAS to keep 10 offensive linemen or 10 linebackers. As long as they feel they can get their guys on the practice squad, there is no use in forcing them on the 53-man roster.

QB (3) – Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones, Zach Mettenberger

RB (4) – DeAngelo Williams, Fitz Toussaint, Daryl Richardson, Roosevelt Nix (Le’Veon Bell goes on suspended list)

WR (5) – Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates.

TE (3) – Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, David Johnson (Could bring in a free agent tight end)

OL (8) – Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, Ryan Harris, Cody Wallace, Chris Hubbard.

DL (7) – Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers, Javon Hargrave, Lavon Hooks

OLB (5) – James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo

ILB (5) – Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Steven Johnson, L.J. Fort

CB (6) – William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Artie Burns, Doran Grant, Donald Washington, Montell Garner (Could bring in a free agent cornerback).

S (4) – Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, Shamarko Thomas, Sean Davis

PK (1) – Chris Boswell

P (1) – Jordan Berry (Could bring in a free agent punter)

LS (1) – Greg Warren


August 31, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Javon Hargrave’s new nickname




A good angle for a pic of Javon Hargrave — not the best angle to understand why he got his new nickname. (Chaz Palla/Trib Total Media photo)



We all get nicknames. Some we love. Some we hate. And usually it’s the latter that your friends good-naturedly stick with for you.


Such seems to be the case for Steelers rookie defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Hargrave, for what should be obvious reasons, has been known in some circles as “Gravedigger.” (Although ESPN reported that it was given to him by a coach at South Carolina State because of his violent sacks) Apparently, teammate Cameron Heyward wanted a better name for him, though.


So he began calling him something. And telling others to call him that.


And, of course, the next logical step in the progression is to… Tape a makeshift nameplate above the individual’s locker with it on it???


Heyward has taken to referring to Hargrave as “J Wobble” for reasons that should be obvious only if you’ve seen Hargrave in person. From behind. While staring at his derriere.


You see, Hargrave – at 6 feet 2, 305 pounds – has a very large behind. One that Heyward believes appears as if it, well, wobbles.


I will give a hat tip to Jacob Klinger, who’s the brightest young reporter on the Steelers beat and has done a fine job in his 16 months on it.


You see, I walked over to Hargrave today, curious to find out why the nameplate above his locker said “J WOBBLE 79” instead of, you know, “HARGRAVE 79,” which is what every other player has above is (well, they all don’t say, literally, ‘Hargrave,’ as they each have the player’s last name followed by his individual number… but you know what I meant). Klinger was chatting with Stephon Tuitt about the nickname – and the name plate – at Tuitt’s spot a couple lockers over. He got much more detail and had a much more humorous conversation, of which I imagine he will relate at some point.


We are not allowed to snap photos in the locker room, otherwise I’d be happy to show the “J WOBBLE” nameplate. It is handwritten – though that is not notable because the rookies and first-year players and others who have not yet made the 53-man roster as holdovers all have handwritten nameplates. (Some even have temporary lockers set up in the middle of the floor space).




Anyway, Hargrave went public (via the miracle of social media) with a reference to his longstanding (former?) nickname:



Heyward, of course, being the savvy veteran he is, wasn’t taking the bait:



That led to…



Heyward suggested a democracy:



I have a feeling we all know what will win…



Regardless, watch Hargrave in action again Thursday at Carolina. Mark Kaboly will be there to cover the fourth and final preseason game. The kid is the real deal – and he could even start the regular-season opener.


Til then…



August 27, 2016
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Numbers game might finally be opening up for hard-hitting Dangerfield at safety



This is where I’m supposed to make a “searching for respect” pun about Jordan Dangerfield. But I won’t stoop to that level. (Photo courtesy



No one on the Steelers, it seems, enjoys laying a good hit more – nor does it more often – than Mike Mitchell.


And make no mistake, few who saw Jordan Dangerfield’s hit on the Saints’ Marcus Murphy delivered late in Friday night’s preseason win in New Orleans enjoyed it more than Mitchell.


“If ‘Danger’ gets an opportunity to lay you out,” Mitchell said, almost beaming, “that is one thing he is going to do, no question.”


Thing is, Mitchell sees a little of himself in Dangerfield, who’s entering his fourth autumn in the employ of an NFL team – thereby, by definition, making him a professional football player – but has yet to spend time on an NFL team’s 53-man roster nor, of course, play in a regular-season game.


That – potentially – could finally end this season.


“Danger is one of my favorite guys,” Mitchell said early last week. “He’s a guy literally who shows up everyday; he’s happy to be here, he’s an extremely hard worker, If you’re a football purist, you root for guys such as Jordan Dangerfield to make the team and you root for them to be successful.”


It’s hard to imagine that anyone has appeared in an official transaction for the Steelers more often than Dangerfield has over the past 32 months.


Counting practice-squad transactions, he’s been signed on six different occasions by the Steelers in that time span. Of course, that also implies that he’s been released almost just as often. And that doesn’t even count being let go by the Buffalo Bills after they signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Towson, an FCS school.


Getting cut so often can’t be easy. But the gregarious Dangerfield flips it – he’s also been SIGNED six times by the Steelers, right? How many people can say that?


“It shows how much they see in me — or how much potential they see I have,” Dangerfield said. “So I am just trying to show them that I can contribute to the team any way they want me to.”


But how can you stay positive after being let go so many times?


“I just look at it, everything happens for a reason,” Dangerfield said. “It’s a business more than anything, the numbers and all that. I could use James Harrison as a prime example, he was cut a handful of times and he was patient, obviously, with it — and he became defensive player of the year, All Pro and all that. So I look at him for some motivation, and God-willing, just when my time comes I’m ready and can show them what I’ve got.”


As it has been during each of his previous three training camps – and as it is for all of the other rookie and first-year players on the 90-man camp roster – Dangerfield’s goal is to make the 53-man roster when the regular season begins in two weeks.


He acknowledges, via “the numbers” he alluded to earlier, that this might be his best chance.


With the injury to Senquez Golson (and, to a lesser extent, the less-serious injury to Artie Burns), the trickle-down effect in the Steelers’ secondary (re: rookie Sean Davis moved from safety to slot cornerback) has left the team perilously thin at safety. After starters Mitchell and Robert Golden, the only player with any NFL experience is Shamarko Thomas, who played just 20 defensive snaps last season.


That means, there’s a roster spot there for the taking. And barring an acquisition from outside the organization, no one is in a more prime position to take it than Dangerfield. (Neither Jacob Hagen nor Ray Vinopal has distinguished himself – cornerback Doran Grant’s sometimes-on-again-off-again move to safety notwithstanding).


In Friday’s preseason win at New Orleans, Davis was the only defensive player who logged more snaps than Dangerfield — a potential sign that the organization wanted to get a good long look at him in advance of the first cuts, and wants to get Dangerfield as many game reps as possible.


Three years into the Steelers’ playbook, Dangerfield says he can play either free or strong safety, having mastered the subtle details of each. He also, of course, is eager to play special teams – which is, of course, the gateway for players onto the roster to make a mark, particularly at the safety position, where the body type and skill set is often perfect for special teams.


“I’m going to just try to put it all on the field and show them what I have,” Dangerfield said.

“You gotta just be patient, keep faith in God and I’m just taking advantage of each opportunity I get to play this game that I love.”


An outgoing type, Dangerfield has at least one teammate rooting for him.


“We appreciate everything he brings to us, from his mentality, to his approach to work,” Mitchell said. “He’s one of those guys who’s a small-school guy like me. He comes out here, he wants to prove it every single day.

“He’s a little quieter than me. But… he kind of has that little chip on his shoulder, and I love that.”




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