A lot has happened in Pittsburgh since last weeks victory over the New York Giants; let’s recap some of the storylines developing this week in the Steel City.
TJ Watt has only played one NFL game, so you wouldn’t expect him to be taking pass rushing duties away from established veterans would you? Think again, the 30th overall pick has apparently wowed the coaches enough to promote him above the Steelers all-time sack leader: James Harrison.
His pre-season debut included a pair of sacks, four tackles and a pass breakup, a performance garnering comparisons to his older brother JJ and adding fuel to the growing hype surrounding the rookie.
“He learns after one play,” said defensive coordinator Keith Butler; “He usually doesn’t make the same mistake twice. Usually, good football players learn from their mistakes and don’t repeat them”.
The sudden promotion of JJ to the starting lineup gives the Steelers a bookend pass rushing duo of Watt and Bud Dupree – the Steelers 2015 first round pick. The combination looks to be a very finesse, an athletic duo that has the potential to make the Steelers pass rush very, very, dangerous.
Linebackers coach Joey Porter – a fantastic pass rusher in his playing days – commented on the duo; “We have two guys who are first rounders, we drafted them for this, now you have to turn them loose and let them play”.
This school of thinkings has bucked the trend the Steelers have kept for years, sitting rookies in their first year. Granted, in more recent years rookie’s have been depended upon throughout the season to start, but none in my memory have been drafted and pegged as week one starters after one pre-season game.
If Watt continues to make the instinctive plays he made during pre-season, and Bud Dupree can hold up his end of the bargain with more quarterback sacks, the Steelers defense will finally have a pair of dominant pass rushers, the likes it hasn’t seen since the days of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.
Martavis Bryant is finally back in pads at practice. The embattled receiver was suspended for the entire 2016 season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, but after completing all the necessary steps for reinstatement, he is back, and active for the black and gold.
Bryant commented on the potential damage he and Antonio Brown can do on the field together this season in a simple phrase; “Hopefully greatness”. He alluded to the work he needs to put into getting back into football shape, and also said that he is very excited to get out onto the football field even for some pre-season action.
I personally am very excited to see Bryant back out there, this man is a physical beast as a receiver, he can make eye popping catches look routine, and brings a mesmerizing combination of size and speed that compliments Brown very well; in fact when he and Brown were both on the field together back in 2015, they combined for an NFL best 186 catches, for 2,599-yards and 16-touchdowns. Without him in 2016 the Steelers offense averaged less overall points scored, dropping from 26.4 to 24.9
Without him, in 2016 the Steelers point average per game dropped from 26.4 to 24.9 and considering how close some NFL games can get, the more points the better!
The biggest challenges for Martavis this year is not how many balls he can catch, or how many yards he gains, but it’s simply just staying out of trouble and being available every Sunday if he can accomplish that the sky is the limit…
Bye, Bye, Bell?
The Lev’Veon Bell situation looks to get more forlorn with each passing day. After passing up on a contract that would pay him over $12 million a year – which would make him by far the highest paid running back in the NFL – Bell continues to be a complete no show at the Steelers facility this year.
While Bell has engaged in a campaign of radio silence, the usually laid back Steelers front office has insisted that it is beneficial for the situation if Bell makes an appearance at team activities, to get acclimated to this year’s offense and his teammates which at some point he will no doubt HAVE to play with.
News broke today that the $12 million deal the Steelers offered him was all set to go through, until Bell pulled the rug out from under the deal, calling his agent and cancelling the agreement, insisting that he wants more, specifically, to be paid as number 1 running back and a number 2 receiver.
The Steelers have always operated on a team first basis, no one player is more important than the team, and considering the financial commitments they will undoubtedly have in stud defenders Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers are not about to bargain their future on Le’Veon Bell’s unrealistic demands.
Sadly, I think it may be time for Steeler fans to get used to the idea that this year could potentially be Bell’s last in the Black and Gold; if not this year, then maybe next if the Steelers choose to once again franchise tag him.
The question Le’Veon Bell needs to ask himself is if money is worth more than winning, some team out there will be willing to meet his financial demands, but if it means wasting away on a team like the 49ers, or Browns, will it really be worth it?
The Steelers play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday 20th for their second pre-season game. Receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant are set to play to some extent; Ben Roethlisberger will sit out again, leaving rookie Josh Dobbs with another big chunk of playing time.
Look for my recap of that game in the days that follow.
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