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August 6, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: AB, Boykin and the Candy bar incident


Snickers-brokenAntonio Brown referred to Brandon Boykin as a candy bar.

Brandon Boykin responded with an elbow.

Now, the two are teammates and friends.

The Steelers traded a conditional fifth-round pick for Boykin on Saturday and the two had a good laugh about the candy bar comment of three years ago.

“We were talking about that when we first got here,” Boykin said. “My rookie year he talked to me about that candy bar situation. He said ‘Man, I don’t even remember who told me to say that.’ Somebody was calling me that something like the offensive coordinator. He said I was a little mad about that because I bowed him during the game. Yeah, I had to get him back.”

Rewind to Boykin’s rookie year in 2012 and the Steelers were set to host the Eagles in a Week 5 game. Brown predicted that the Young Money Crew of Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders were going to take advantage of Boykin so he referred to him as a candy bar.

Boykin allowed only 3 receptions for 39 yards in the game that included just one catch by Brown.

The Steelers won the game, 16-14.

“He is a really cool guy and we already linked up and he’s helping me with my transition,” Boykin said.


August 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Steelers LB Jarvis Jones puts on some weight

-- Photo by Chaz Palla Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

You can call Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones a lot of things, but you can’t call him too small anymore.

Jones sheepishly told me on Monday that he us up about 15 pounds from last year to 258 putting him closer to the weight the Steelers typically like to have their outside linebackers.

Jones didn’t want to reveal his increased size because “people will make a big deal of it.”

Jones, the Steelers first-round pick in 2013, has always balked at the idea of needing to add weight citing that he never has been put on his back by a lineman before.

Jones spent a portion of his offseason in Arizona working out with teammates James Harrison, Vince Williams, Sean Spence and others.

The Steelers are counting on Jones to take over the full-time role as right outside linebacker even though Harrison was re-signed in the offseason.

Jones appeared to be well on his way of having a solid second year in the league a season ago. Jones had two sacks in 56 pass rushes and also forced a fumble before dislocating his wrist on possibly his most disruptive play of his career.

Jones sacked Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and forced a fumble early in the third quarter of a 9-3 game. The Steelers turned it into a touchdown and went on to a 37-19 road win.

Jones spent the next 10 weeks on the injured reserve/designated to return list before coming back for a Week 14 game against the Bengals, where he split snaps with Arthur Moats.

After Harrison returned in Week 16, Jones rarely got on the field. Jones played 16 snaps over the final three games to cap a second unproductive season.


August 2, 2015
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Who’s an unlikely mentor for first-round pick Dupree?



Le’Veon Bell: AFC’s leading rusher, Steelers’ record-breaking receiver out of the backfield – and 23-year-old well-respected mentor…


…for linebackers?


“I’ve kind of taken him by my side… to make sure he’s taking care of his body,” Bell said Saturday, referring to first-round pick Bud Dupree.


“He’s the kind of guy who’d come around if he’d see me in a cold tub and ask ‘How long you in here?’ I’d tell him 25 minutes or whatever it may be… I remember my rookie year, my guy was Jerricho Cotchery; he was a guy I looked up to. Now it’s my third year in the league, I’m kind of helping the younger guys out a little bit.”


Bell likes to wear his shirt up, exposing his washboard abs. That, and his production (a team record 2,115 yards from scrimmage last season) are proof that if you’re new to the NFL, Bell is someone worth listening to when it comes to fitness and conditioning.


“If he can take care of his body that way and play like he plays, I want to do the same thing,” Dupree said. “He’s someone who knows how important taking care of your body is… He was in the same boat I was in – a heavier guy who had to drop weight (when entering the NFL), too. We had to do the same thing, and the things he does off the field after practice have helped him recover for the next day and helped him become a better player.”


An All Pro player helping out a highly-regarded rookie teammate? Commendable, but not too uncommon in the NFL. But when that “veteran” is not even a year older than the rookie and plays a position that is as disparate as running back is to outside linebacker – a little bit strange, no?


“Not at all in our (Steelers) culture,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s about guys who know what to do helping guys that don’t. And obviously, if you look at Le’Veon from a physical-conditioning standpoint, he knows what to do, so it’s his job to grab younger guys in the system with that, just like guys were assisting him in his effort (when he was a rookie).”


One of the most impressionable lessons that Dupree has taken from Bell is use of the cold tub after workouts to help in body recovery and preservation. It was something Dupree needed to adjust to.


“Sometimes, he’s struggling,” Bell said with a chuckle. “I kind of see him shaking a little.


“But he’s sticking in there, and as a rookie, it’s hard to do that.”


Said Dupree with a smile while referring to the cold tub, “Some things you don’t wanna do. But then after you get done you go ‘Ah, I need to do this more to help myself out in long run.’”



Another chance to listen to the weekly Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio with myself and co-hosts Ken Laird and Mark Kaboly.



And also check out our thrice-daily video updates from training camp at the Trib Sports YouTube page:



July 30, 2015
by Chris Adamski

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Who’s the key to the defense? Whose stock is up/down? LISTEN to TribLive Radio Steelers Roundtable



LATROBE — Over the past 6 1/2 months, the Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio has been (for the most part*) on hiatus. It’s back!


Although it wasn’t the same with Ralph Paulk enjoying a day off back home (he’s missing the best weather day of camp so far at St. Vincent),  Mark Kaboly and I joined host Ken Laird for the first Steelers Roundtable episode of the 2015 season Thursday morning from high atop Chuck Noll Field in Latrobe.


Give it a listen by clicking on this.




And while you’re at it, enjoy the latest Steelers Trib One-Minute Update from camp (check out all the updates via Trib Total Media’s Sports YouTube page):



*-In the spring, we had two episodes previewing and reviewing the draft.



July 28, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Who called Antwon Blake a “freakish athlete?”

Antwon Blake (right) Chaz Palla Photo

Antwon Blake (right)
Chaz Palla Photo

Terrell Buckely, Ty Law, Sam Madison, Deion Sanders, Aeneas Williams … and Antwon Blake?

Well, that’s how renowned training guru Tom Shaw sees it.

While appearing on TribLive Radio on Tuesday, Shaw called Blake – the Steelers third cornerback – “probably one of the freakiest athletes that we have had at our facility.”

And that facility – located at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando – has seen the likes of 11 Super Bowl MVPs, 10 No. 1 draft picks and 145 first-round picks.

Blake ranks up with all of them, according to Shaw.

“He can do everything you dream of doing on the football field,” Shaw said. “He is that guy. He is going to be a star. He has work ethic and dedication and those are two key opponents. And when you have speed and agility like the way he gets in and out of breaks and move and change direction … he is a freak of nature.”

The Steelers likely feel the same way, too.

They didn’t do much in the offseason to help out the maligned secondary immediately. That might be because of what they think Blake can do.

Blake is currently slotted at left cornerback when the Steelers go to their nickel package. William Gay and Cortez Allen are the starters.

It has been a quick ascent for Blake.

After getting released by the Jaguars in 2013 after playing four snaps as an undrafted rookie free agent, Blake was claimed by the Steelers, where he played four snaps.

Blake finally got his opportunity Week 9 last year against the Colts when he replaced a benched Allen and played in the nickel package the rest of the season.

Blake allowed only one touchdown the entire season and finished with five pass defenses, an interceptions and a key forced fumble and fumble recovery in the season finale against the Bengals.


*Take a listen to the Kaboly Show Podcast on TribLive Radio. It’s just a click away —à



July 28, 2015
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Who is/are the Steelers’ defense’s new leaders now that Troy, Ike and Keisel are gone?



A heavy storyline in the early stages of Steelers training camp is the defense – more specifically, “Whose defense is this?”


There’s a new coordinator (Keith Butler in for Dick LeBeau), and three beloved veterans with a combined 37 years of playing experience have also retired since the end of last season. So, without Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor – who combined to account for at least a share of the Steelers’ defensive captaincy over the past three seasons – who will step up now?


It takes a… village?


For my money, there are three primary candidates to be the Steelers’ captain(s) on defense this year. So, let’s just ask them where the leadership will come from…



  • CB William Gay: “I think collectively. It’s not by one person stepping up and being a leader; it’s about the whole team just coming together and being a family, and that’s what we plan on doing. We don’t really care who’s the leader because at the end of the day it’s not about what we say – it’s about what we do… There’s a lot of leaders on the team – we don’t need one player to step up and be the voice of the Steelers. We don’t need to do that, we just need to let our play do the talking.”
  • DE Cameron Heyward: “A lot of guys lead in different ways. It doesn’t fall on one guy’s shoulders. I think that’s the way we like it because we can keep each other accountable and focused on the task at hand.”
  • LB Lawrence Timmons: “We’ve got a lot of guys ready to step in there to do the role… We’re the type of team that we all play our roles – whatever our role, all our guys fulfill that role, and that’s what makes us better as a team… I try to be a leader now that I’m the older guy, trying to set the example for how we play or whatever. But the thing about me, I’ve seen that from the guys who did it in the past, so I know the recipe starting with Coach LeBeau and with Coach Butler now, so I know the winning recipe and I’m just ready to do the job.”



So there you have it. Heyward? Timmons? Gay? James Harrison? Will Allen?? Mike Mitchell?!


There’s no sense trying to figure out who the leader of the Steelers’ defense will be. After all, even when Polamalu, Keisel, Taylor, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Ryan Clark were all still around, they shared the leadership mantle among them. No reason to believe these new Steelers on defense won’t do the same.




July 26, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Steelers blitzing team or coverage team? Even the players don’t know


The question on the minds of everybody as the Steelers open up training camp here at St. Vincent College with new defensive coordinator Keith Butler running things is what kind of stamp will he put on the unit.

Butler, who replaced Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau in January, already alluded to having defensive ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt do more than just occupy blocks. He wants them to make plays. That’s a good first step, that’s for sure.

However, other than that, we all really don’t know what Butler will do to get back to being one of the top-ranked defenses in the NFL – something they haven’t been over the past two years.

When I say nobody, I mean nobody.

“In OTAs, you know what it is like with the installation process,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Whatever we install that day we are going to run 100 times. One day, we are like, ‘Oh man, we are a blitzing team.’ The next day it is ‘We are just a coverage team.”

Now that the Steelers are at training camp, that identity will likely come into focus a little more.

“During camp we are going to definitely lock in to what our identity will be,” Moats said.

For Butler, his biggest adjustment is going to be game day plays calls – something he has never done.

What’s he going to dial up on a 3rd-and-5 at midfield? What personnel is he going to use? Will he play more bump coverage? Will he blitz corners and safeties?

Only Butler knows.


July 23, 2015
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: A fun look at how long Mike Tomlin has been the Steelers’ coach


On the 3,104th day of Mike Tomlin’s tenure as Steelers head coach, he and the team announced that their marriage – contractually – will last at least several hundred more days.


Or three-plus more years, to use the more generally accepted unit of time measurement, thanks to a two-year contract extension that ties Tomlin to the Steelers through the 2018 season.


Look at the young man Jan. 22, 2007, well before the term “Tomlin-ism” became an accepted part of the Yinzer vernacular:


Already, at just 43 (six years older than James Harrison), Tomlin is the NFL’s sixth-longest tenured head coach, trailing only Bill Belichick, Marvin Lewis, Tom Coughlin, Mike McCarthy and Sean Payton.


Eight-and-a-half years in the NFL can feel like an eternity. In the world of Pittsburgh sports it can, too.


A fun look at exactly how long Tomlin has been the Steelers coach:



—The Raiders have had five “permanent” head coaches (Lane Kiffin, Tom Cable, Hue Jackson, Dennis Allen, Jack Del Rio) and one interim head coach (Tony Sparano).


—The organization that shares a South Side practice facility with the Steelers – Pitt football – has had five “permanent” head coaches (Dave Wannstedt, Michael Haywood, Todd Graham, Paul Chryst and Pat Narduzzi) and three interim coaches (Phill Bennett, Keith Patterson, Joe Rudolph).



Among players, head coaches and general managers, only nine athletes and one administrator were with one of Pittsburgh’s three professional teams then and remain on them now:


  • The Steelers’ LB James Harrison*, QB Ben Roethlisberger, LS Greg Warren, TE Heath Miller and GM Kevin Colbert.
  • The Penguins’ C Sidney Crosby, C Evgeni Malkin, G Marc-Andre Fleury, D Kris Letang* and D Rob Scuderi*
  • There are no Pirates players nor a coach nor general manager around from when Tomlin was hired – although a caveat is that OF Andrew McCutchen, 2B Neil Walker and RHP Jared Hughes were in their minor-league system.


*-Harrison and Scuderi spent time with other teams in the meantime but returned to the Steelers and Penguins, respectively, so I’ll count it. Letang was with his junior team when Tomlin was hired — but he’d already played in seven NHL games earlier that particular season, so it counts (albeit with an asterisk).



In terms of the news the teams were making….

—Three days prior to Tomlin’s hire, the Pirates stole the headlines – they acquired slugging first baseman Adam LaRoche in a trade and signed right-hander Shawn Chacon to a free-agent contract.


—Two days prior to Tomlin’s hire, Mark Recchi had a hat trick for the Penguins in an 8-2 win against the Maple Leafs.


—The day prior to Tomlin’s hire, despite 21 points off the bench by Ronald Ramon, Pitt basketball lost to Marquette in overtime to snap a seven-game winning streak and drop to 17-3 and from No. 6 to No. 9 in the AP poll that would come out 48 hours later. They’d go on to make the Sweet 16.



Yet for how very long it seems Mike Tomlin has been the Steelers’ head coach, perhaps this is the craziest part: He’d have to fulfill this contract and then add on three more years just to tie Bill Cowher as the Steelers’ second-longest serving coach.


To match Chuck Noll? Tomlin would have to coach until 2029.




Enjoy your day. Catch you next from Latrobe on Saturday.




July 18, 2015
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Is Kelvin Beachum next?


With the news that the summer’s No. 1 contract-extension priority for the Steelers, Cameron Heyward, was signed to a new deal late Thursday, now the attention can turn to the player who is the team’s No. 2 priority.

Assuming there is one.

It’s been speculated that the Steelers might – perhaps – be one-and-done this offseason when it comes to extending players who are entering the final year of their deals. Heyward, for any number of reasons (production, intangibles, talented-and-ascending), was the obvious “must-sign.” With that getting done comfortably, what or who is next?

First, a listing of the candidates – “candidates” defined as veteran players who are entering the final season of multi-year contracts in which they will be unrestricted free agents after the campaign ends. Of the Steelers 2016 UFA’s-to-be, backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, defensive lineman Cam Thomas, fullback/tight end Will Johnson, guard Ramon Foster, cornerback William Gay, nose tackle Steve McLendon and left tackle Kelvin Beachum qualify.

That group can quickly be whittled down when you concede backup quarterback doesn’t figure to be a high priority – and neither does fullback, considering it’s a position rarely used anymore (with apologies to Johnson’s improved work when lining up on the line of scrimmage).

Also, Cam Thomas just has to worry about making this season’s team before he can think about any kind of extension.

Then, consider that the Steelers have already let Gay walk once via free agency (he played the 2012 season in Arizona). Although it wouldn’t be surprising whatsoever if Gay is back in 2016 and beyond, just don’t expect it to be a priority over these next eight weeks before the regular season starts.

Finally, the Steelers could probably be content to take a longer look at Daniel McCullers this season before effectively blocking him by signing the player in front of him on the depth chart, McLendon, to an extension.

Who does that leave? Beachum. A fine player (Pro Football Focus rated him the NFL’s fifth-best tackle in 2014) and an even finer young man. But he probably isn’t the slam-dunk extension candidate Heyward was, however.

Beachum is a curious case. He’s been effective, and he’s well-liked. He’s been underpaid – his backup, Mike Adams, has made more than him over these past four seasons (Adams was drafted five rounds prior than Beachum in 2012’s second round). Considering Adams is also an unrestricted free agent-to-be and there is literally zero NFL games of experience behind them (not counting starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert, of course), extending Beachum is a no-brainer, no?

Maybe, but if so, it’ll not come cheaply. Veteran starting left tackles on the free agent market typically are richly rewarded. It’s a position viewed by some as the second-most important on the field.

To wit, per

Twenty-three left tackles carry a cap hit of at least $4 million this season, 21 of at least $5 million, 18 of at least $6 million, 15 of at least $7 million and 10 of at least $8 million. You better believe Beachum – via his agent – will want to be paid at least in the top half of the league’s starters, which easily means $7 million (yes, I know cap hit isn’t the same as salary, but bear with me, this  just as a general guide here).

Of left tackles currently under contract who signed veteran deals of at least three seasons (which Beachum will, at minimum, command) and that kick(ed) in during this season of either of the past two seasons*, the average annual value is $7.5 million and the average guarantee is $17.45 million. (Again, my disclaimer: “guarantee” is subjective, but this is per Spotrac’s definition).

No offensive lineman from the 2012 draft class has signed his “second” contract yet. (Tom Compton was cut before his rookie season began, spending it on the practice squad, so he is exempt). This means a market has not yet been established.

Keep in mind that for those first two bulleted points, the numbers are on the low end of what today’s starting left tackles will command on the market simply because most of those deals were signed in past offseasons, when the salary cap was lower and therefore less money was available. Inflation, in the NFL as in life, is a constant. (Just usually exponentially more in the NFL than in life).

But the overall point stands: A Beachum contract will cost no insignificant sum.

The problem is, where do the Steelers turn at left tackle if they don’t keep Beachum?

Adams – a player their own actions say they believe is inferior?

Alejandro Villanueva – a player who turns 27 soon and hasn’t appeared in an NFL game yet?

A free agent? Who’s to say a comparable player would come any cheaper than a known quantity in Beachum?

A draft pick? It’s never wise to depend on a rookie – let alone an unnamed, theoretical one who you wouldn’t even know his identity at the time you’d be letting Beachum walk.

At 6-3, 303, Beachum is undersized by NFL left-tackle standards. Maybe that gives the Steelers pause? Perhaps knowing that it’s likely that at least some teams will never considering signing Beachum because of his size will work to suppress his value on the open market, thereby giving the Steelers a reason to lowball? As a seventh-round pick, several teams have passed on Beachum once before.

Either way, tracking the Beachum/Steelers extension saga will be one of the main stories to follow during training camp.

*-Note: For Michael Oher, I used the contract he signed with Tennessee in 2014 instead of the one he signed with Carolina this past spring after getting but by the Titans


July 13, 2015
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: Where have you gone, Chris Gardocki? Examining a decade of Steelers punting turnover



If you’re a Steelers fan, mark Dec. 13 on your calendars. A big division game on the road at Cincinnati? Yes. But it’s also a day Brad Wing – potentially – could make history.



Under Mike Tomlin, no man has started and finished two consecutive full seasons as the Steelers punter. Should Wing make it to mid-December holding the job – no sure thing whatsoever, considering he’d have to hold off challenger Jordan Berry in camp, stay healthy and avoid getting cut due to performance through 12 games – he will have been the first Steeler since Chris Gardocki (2004-2006) to last at least 29 consecutive games as the team’s punter.



Through a combination of poor performance, bad luck, injuries and a quick trigger finger when it comes to cuts, the Steelers’ punting position has been a revolving door since Gardocki was cut at age 37 in the wake of the team drafting punter Daniel Sepulveda in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.



Gardocki and Josh Miller had handled 716 of the Steelers’ 729 punts over the decade span of 1997-2006 (trivia answer for the remaining 13: one Kordell Stewart quick kick in 1998 and two by Ben Roethlisberger in 2005, three punts by kicker Kris Brown when Miller was knocked out of the 2001 opener in Jacksonville and seven by Tom Rouen when Miller had a shoulder injury in 2002).



In an early statement as to a supposed emphasis on special teams during his first draft as coach, Tomlin (via general manager Kevin Colbert, et al) traded up in the fourth round of the 2007 draft to select Sepulveda, the NCAA’s all-time leader in punting average. (A little more trivia and perspective: The Patriots used the 110th pick in a trade to get Randy Moss; the Steelers used a sixth-round pick to move up to the spot two picks later to nab Sepulveda).



But Sepulveda would neither stay healthy (he was available for only 52 of the Steelers’ 80 games he was paid by them) nor live up to his lofty draft status (a mediocre 43.7 yards-per-punt career gross average).



So the Steelers turned elsewhere. Again and again.



Eight men have held the title of being the Steelers’ punter over the past eight seasons, with the job being passed on to someone else (for one reason or another) 11 times in that span.




Some seasonal examples to wit…

2008: Sepulveda sustained a season-ending knee injury early in training camp. Mitch Berger held the job for eight games but then got cut in favor of Paul Ernster, who held it for all of three weeks before the Steelers cut him and went back to Berger.

2010: A Sepulveda knee injury after the 12th game knocked him out for the season, and the team turned to Penn State grad Jeremy Kapinos.

2011: On Nov. 5 – midway through the regular season – the Steelers again turned to Kapinos after placing Sepulveda on injured reserve because of, you guessed it, a knee injury.

2013: The Steelers spent the preseason with two punters on their roster – incumbent Drew Butler and 37-year-old Brian Moorman – but ended up using neither of them, instead signing Zoltan Mesko the week prior to the regular-season opener. Mesko wouldn’t even last the season, though, and he was cut in late October in favor of Matt McBriar.






The Steelers have tried seemingly everything: From rookies (Drew Butler) and first-year players (Wing) to 36-year-olds (Mitch Berger) and 11-year veterans (Matt McBriar); unsigned first-year players (Berry) to high draft picks (Sepulveda). They’ve tried both right- and left-footed (Sepulveda) punters. They’ve encouraged competition in camp, scanned the waiver wire when camp ended, brought in players for tryouts midseason.



Nothing – in terms of continuity, at least – has worked.







The Steelers punters, by season, in the Mike Tomlin Era, with team punting NFL ranks



Season             Punter(s)                                             Team gross rank         Team net rank

2007                Daniel Sepulveda                                            18th                                   18th

2008                Mitch Berger (13 games), Paul Ernster (3)    31st                              29th

2009                Sepulveda                                                        22nd                              22nd

2010                Sepulveda (12 games), Jeremy Kapinos (4)    12th                              8th

2011                Sepulveda (8 games), Kapinos (8)                  16th                              9th

2012                Drew Butler                                                    26th                              25th

2013                Zoltan Mesko (7 games), Matt McBriar (9)   31st                              31st

2014                Brad Wing                                                       29th                              26th


AVERAGES IN TOMLIN ERA                                                    23rd                              21st






I couldn’t find the data to back this up, but judging by those numbers the Steelers’ gross average has got to be one of the worst in the league over that eight-year span. Not exactly the legacy Tomlin was looking to establish by spending two picks on a specialist in his debut draft as a head coach.



Maybe Wing can stop the merry-go-round. Other than a couple memorable gaffes last season, he was satisfactorily dependable – and at 24 with a year of experience under his belt, one would bet on him improving and remaining the Steleers’ punter throughout this season and into the foreseeable future.



Then again, after watching what has happened to Steelers punters over the past decade, perhaps the smarter bet is on what always seems to happen: Change at the position.








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