COLUMN: Dishing On CTE

Chronic Telepathic Encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE, is probably a bigger topic than how many Super Bowl’s Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will end up with. It’s the most widely talked about topic in football, and possibly sports in general, right now.

In a recent study, 110 out of 111 deceased football players’ brains were found to have some form of CTE. That’s one brain that didn’t show signs of the disease.

There are currently so many theories out there on what CTE really even is, whether football actually causes it, or whether it’s something that can be detected before someone dies.

As of now, CTE can only be detected through brain studies after a patient has passed. There is Alzheimer’s disease, which is being linked to early on-set CTE but it can’t be confirmed at this time.

A lot of the CTE research and physical traits are science. But, to me, there is a lot of common sense that comes with CTE as well.

Anyone who thinks football doesn’t cause CTE is beyond idiotic. In many players cases, and lineman especially, their heads are banging off of one another on every play. While the helmets players wear are padded and well-prospective, it’s not even close to an end-all-be-all innovation to protect someone from head injuries.

How often have you seen head to head collisions result in people being concussed and literally knocked unconscious? I’ve seen it a ton.

One of my biggest problems, though, are the people who cry for football to be eliminated completely or changed to flag football.

Look, people. That’ll never happen.

Football is one of the biggest sporting draws in all of US sporting events. The Super Bowl contends to be one of the most watched television programs in a calendar year and it happens 11 months before the calendar even turns to a new year. People’s Sundays revolve around football. Some people skip Sunday Mass for football. Others will watch it over their wife’s television programming. It’s even aired on Thanksgiving and last season had a few games on Christmas Saturday.

The players love for the sport runs deep. It shows by the passion and the will to play through injuries every Sunday (or Monday or Thursday) even if they shouldn’t be.

The biggest thing is, these players know the risks they face playing such a high-speed and dangerous sport. They sign the contract full-knowing that one bad headshot could end a career. More importantly, it can impact your life after football, which many fans seem to forget that players still have.

Here’s an interesting soundbite from former quarterback Boomer Esiason on his belief that he has CTE:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/boomer-esiason-says-he-most-likely-has-cte-all-football-players-probably-have-it/amp/

As he says, he thinks all players have some form of it due to the head shots they often give and take. He also mentions that players get paid much better and have better benefits than those who played maybe 20 or 30 years ago and obviously further back.

Ask yourself, if those players knew what the current generation of players know now, does the older generation of players still play football?

Likely, the would’ve. But as we see some players like Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, and Brandon Albert retiring at the physical prime of their careers, it makes you wonder what truly would’ve impacted those players. Now, they’ll suffer the consequences.

Consider Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Big Ben has had his fair share of injuries, including concussions, over the years and went so far as almost hanging it up because he wants to be a dad for his kids and now a vegetable. That’s just one case.

That’s why the NFL has a lawsuit against it now with all the individuals who suffered life-altering injuries due to football and the league’s lack of protectiveness for their players.

Many parents are restricting their kids from playing football now because of the dangers and all the studies coming out. If that trend continues, their won’t be anyone to continue to fill out rosters. That shouldn’t be a problem for multiple generations but if large groups begin to quit at a time then eventually there won’t be football anymore.

Can you blame them for blocking their kids from doing it? There are many alternatives out there.

While no sport is really much safer than another, football is very dangerous.

Will that stop anyone from watching? No, including myself.

But do you feel for these families that have to watch their husband, son, father, grandfather, uncle, etc. suffer because he played football? Of course.

CTE is not going away any time soon. It’s going to continue to effect players’ decisions for decades to come. The research will only get more extensive by the day until a cure, or even a way to detect it pre-death, comes out.

What’s In Store For James Conner

The Steelers have a situation on their hands with the Le’Veon Bell situation that is currently happening. They decided to let DeAngelo Williams walk in free agency this offseason due to his age. They wanted to get younger at the running back position and they did just that.

They drafted James Conner with their fourth round compensation pick.

Conner is the former Pitt Panthers running back who battled through more adversity than most players ever see by the age of 25.

Conner tore his MCL in the season opening game against Youngstown State in 2015. It caused him to miss the entire season.

Then, something even worse happened to him.

Conner got a call on Thanksgiving morning that he had been diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, the same disease that slowed Penguins great Mario Lemieux.

This all on the shoulders of a college kid.

Conner was cured in time to play when the 2016 season opened. He had three touchdowns against Villanova in the opener and was well on his way to getting drafted.

Now, Conner will play his home games in the same stadium he played at the past four seasons in college for Pitt.

The Steelers have expressed the idea of giving Bell more of a break in the backfield due to his extensive touches last season. His injury against New England in the AFC Championship game has many believing it was attributed to being the workhorse for the team in their first two playoff games. Conner will allow for the Steelers to do that.

It may seem that Conner being drafted by the Steelers was done just for the story. It’s more than that.

The adversity that he’s faced throughout his young years is unmatched. It shows his toughness and his commitment to football as a whole.

The Steelers haven’t been able to rely on Bell to stay on the field due to off the field issues and injuries. He wants $15+ million after turning down a long term deal that would’ve given him $12+ million.

This is where Conner comes into play.

Over the past few years, the Steelers have employed guys such as Williams, Fitzgerald Touissant, and more as their back up running backs. Conner is going to be an unreal change of pace from Bell.

Bell’s shifty and quick feet type of play is hard to stop. Couple that with Conner’s bruising up the middle type of running and it’ll be tough to stop.

Conner also has a bit of speed if he gets an open late or gets the corner. He is someone who will greatly benefit the Steelers this season.

Conner will serve as the perfect third down running back to be able to spell Bell for a down or so.

This was for more than just the story. This is the prototypical Pittsburgh Steelers running back.

Steelers Training Camp: Scenarios to Watch For

The Steelers are heading back to Latrobe for another training camp. They have a lot of competition as they do every year; some to circumstances of possible holdouts or starting positions being up for grabs. So here are the things to watch for this training camp for the Steelers.

Tight End Depth Chart

Tight end is a question mark this year. Jesse James showed he is growing and can be a decent starter. If he had a good off-season, then he will be a good option for the starting role, but all in all this position doesn’t have much depth that I see. You got Scott Orndoff, Xavier Grimble, and Phazahn Odom behind James. You would think Grimble is the number two, but I think it’s a open competition going into camp. Orndoff could be a surprise and could bring something to this offense. Grimble has shown an ability to make plays on the catching side of his game. Odom brings great size, but is extremely raw. He needs to develop a lot, but if he’s coached up well enough them maybe he will show something this preseason.

I believe all of these four will make the team, three being on the 53 and the other on the practice squad. That’s of course if these four prove themselves and the Steelers don’t make moves.

Cornerbacks

Cornerbacks seem to always get attention in camp. This year it seems Artie Burns is a lock on the outside and Ross Cockrell opposite of him, but there will be open competition for that slot role. William Gay is back, but is older so he might be slowing down. Rookie Cameron Sutton and, who is basically a rookie in Senquez Golson, will provide competition. We will see who wins this battle throughout camp, but at the very least, it’ll only make the team better. Also, I’m very interested in watching Brian Allen and see what he does.  He’s a tall, rangy corner. He’s raw and has good skill. Hopefully, he can develop and show the coaches something on special teams.

Running Backs

Running back doesn’t have the question of who the starter is, but where the depth shakes out. Knile Davis adds experience and special teams ability, where as James Conner adds toughness and a great one-two punch with Le’Veon Bell. Everyone will be watching to see if Bell holds out of camp because of his contract situation. If he does hold out, then pay close attention to Conner. I think he is a great story, but a even better football player. He runs hard and is a team player. I think Fitzgerald Toussaint will push Davis for the last spot, but I think Davis gets it with his special teams ability.

Wide Receivers

Everyone will be watching this overly-talented and impressive group. All eyes will be focused on Martavis Bryant and how he is after coming back from suspension. Watch and see if his chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger picks up where it left off, or if there is an issue there. Bryant made some comments recently saying how he didn’t like Ben’s comments about him recently. Also watch JuJu Smith-Schuster and other young guys like Demarcus Ayers, Sammie Coates, Cobi Hamilton, and others like Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter. This is a crowded group, but with all the talent that’s there, I expect great competition for those last spots available.

Linebackers

First off, watch Bud Dupree. He might be making a huge jump this season. He has showed us glimpses, but now he could become something to watch. He had a great offseason and might make a huge step forward this season. Of course, all eyes will be on T.J. Watt, as they should be, considering he was this year’s first round pick, but pay close attention to another rookie in Keion Adams. He was getting good reviews during minicamp so keep your eyes and ears open for him. He has good size and had good productivity during his college ball. He wouldn’t surprise me if he made the final 53.

Backup Quarterback

Landry Jones got a two-year deal this past offseason, but the Steelers also did something rare in drafting a quarterback in Josh Dobbs. He intrigues me in that he’s new, he’s young, and is very smart. He has some good abilities, but still has a ton to learn. I’m very excited to watch Dobbs and see if he can win that backup job. Lets not kid ourselves because Dobbs will probably not be the successor to Ben, but could be a much more reliable backup then Jones could be.

Jerald Hawkins

This guy is another player I’m very excited to watch. He got hurt early in his rookie year last year and was getting great reviews before then. He is still extremely young, so he has a lot more coaching up to do, but if he picks up where he left off last year and continues to grow, then you have a great backup to Alejandro Villanueva. Hopefully one day he will have starting potential, and with Al having contract issues, then maybe Hawkins is your next starting left tackle for the Steelers.


There always seems to be stories that come out of each training camp. Sometimes it’s injury or maybe it’s a diamond in the rough. Or maybe, everyone will compete and create a championship level team with both or neither of the scenarios happening. So enjoy the next week of build up, because Steelers season is here. Enjoy what is to come of building what we all hope is a championship season.


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Post-Draft Final 53-Man Roster Predictions

The Steelers added depth and skill to positions of need and to already skilled groups. The Steelers are 2 wins away from their 7th trophy, but each super bowl teams begin with cuts and these are my first predictions for those final cuts.

Quarterback (3)

Ben Roethlisberger, Josh Dobbs, Landry Jones

The QB position is locked in after cutting Zach Mettenberger. The only thing to be seen is the battle for the 2nd string QB. With how Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt every year, this competition will be extremely important. Expect Josh Dobbs to be the favorite going in even though the Steelers usually don’t like rookies starting. But with Landry Jones not developing at all, then Dobbs could bring some freshness behind Ben.

Running  Back (3)

Le’Veon Bell, Knile Davis, James Conner

Le’Veon Bell will get most of the touches as expected and will be a great player as per usual. With his own injury issues in the past, the Steelers have some good depth here. James Conner was an amazing pick and will be a great role player on this team. He will add extra power to that room. Knile Davis adds good special teams competition and speed to the backfield. All in all, this backfield complements each other nicely.

Full Back/Tight End (5)

David Johnson, Roosevelt Nix, Ladarius Green, Jesse James, Xavier Grimble

Full backs and tight ends are extremely important to this team. Both blocking and downfield targets create a huge advantage to the offense. Guys like Roosevelt Nix and David Johnson add great blocking dimensions and are unsung heroes. Jesse James has started to become a fringe starter and is continuously improving both as a blocker and in his catching ability. As long as Ladarius Green is healthy, then he will add a huge target down the middle of the field. Grimble showed flashes of a good role player on this team. If he keeps improving from last year, then he will help this team more and more.

Wide Receiver (6)

Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Antonio Brown speaks for himself, but if Martavis Bryant could stay clean and play the whole season, then he will make a huge impact. He is the perfect compliment to AB and creates the offense even more dynamic. Darrius Heyward-Bey will make the team as a special teams gunner. He can continue his role as a lesser role player. JuJu Smith-Schuster will fight for playing time with Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers. I believe he will be put in during red zone scenarios more often than anything else. Rogers needs to continue off of his performance last year. He will probably end up third on the depth chart. i believe Coates will lose out during training camp and will fall behind JuJu on the depth chart this year.

Offensive Line (8)

Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, David DeCastro,  Alejandro Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert, B.J. Finney, Chris Hubbard, Gerald Hawkins

The starting O-line will remain intact and keep improving on their past seasons together. They’re one of the best o-lines in the league and will improve on that. B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard played well when they needed to fill in and play so if their numbers are called this year, expect good backup plays. Gerald Hawkins was playing extremely well in camp last year until he got injured. Hawkins will continue to improve and has starter potential.

Defensive Line (6)

Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Daniel McCullers, L.T. Walton, Tyson Alualu

Cam Heyward is one of the best 3-4 ends in football and will be on a mission after being injured for most of the season last year. Stephon Tuitt raised his level of play last year after Cam went down due to injury. I expect him to pick up where he left off. Javon Hargrave played extremely well as a rookie by setting up the run defense and applying pressure during pass scenarios. Daniel McCullers adds good depth to the nose tackle position because he is a good run stopper. L.T. Walton played well when he helped fill in for Heyward last year and I think is a easy make for this final roster. Tyson Alualu was a great small move in free agency. He adds another dimension of depth to the D-line and allows the ability to give Tuitt and Cam breaks.

Outside Linebacker (6)

Bud Dupree, James Harrison, T.J. Watt, Anthony Chickillo, L.J. Fort, Arthur Moats

I personally liked how Bud Dupree played after coming back from injury. I expect big things from Bud this year. Deebo is a experienced guy and a ageless wonder. He speaks for himself. T.J. Watt is a inexperienced guy but I expect him to come up huge in the latter stages of the season compared to the beginning of it. Anthony Chickillo is usually good at the start of the season and can help with snaps before Watt is ready. He is a good special teams player. L.J. Fort plays good during training camp and during the preseason, but he will make this team off his special teams ability alone. Arthur Moats still adds experience and some pass rush ability. I know he will have to fight for his roster spot, but I do believe he will make it.

Inside Linebacker (4)

Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, Steven Johnson

Ryan Shazier is turning into a top ILB in this league, especially after his first pro bowl season this past year. Vince Williams is a tough and physical player which will define this defense. Tyler Matakevich is going to make a big jump this year and I believe will create some snaps on defense this year. Primarily though, he will make the team through special teams. Steven Johnson will also make the team off of special teams alone. I expect him to be the 4th ILB on the depth chart.

Cornerback (5)

Artie Burns, Ross Cockrell, William Gay, Cameron Sutton, Senquez Golson

Artie Burns will add onto his successful season last year and learn from his mistakes. Ross Cockrell will continue to be the starter opposite of Burns until someone beats him out for that job. William Gay is the leader of this group, but it’s a real possibility that Sutton challenges for his job from day one. Senquez Golson makes the team after finally staying healthy and playing the way they expected him to when he was drafted.

Safety (4)

Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield

Mike Mitchell is still the leader in this group. He plays physical and is a big part of this defense. Sean Davis was their best player in the second half of the season for the secondary. He played very well and he also learned a lot. Robert Golden will still be a role-player on this team, but him and Jordan Dangerfield will be mostly special team guys.

Specialists (3)

Chris Boswell, Greg Warren, Jordan Berry

Chris Boswell is still a great kicker after his sudden emergence in the league. Jordan Berry is still one of the best punters we’ve had in years. Greg Warren beats out the rookie we drafted for this job.

Steelers 2017 Draft Recap

The Steelers’ 2016 campaign came up one game short of reaching the Super Bowl. For General Manager Kevin Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and the rest of the front office, this ultra-talented roster has almost everything to get it done. But after being embarrassed by the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, the Steelers and their fans were realized just how much more work needs to be done, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers have always been a team that relies heavily on the draft, no matter where they sit in the order. 2017 was no different.

It was a memorable night, both on the national stage and locally as well. Cowboys Hall-of-Famer Drew Pearson stole the show while taking it to the hostile Philadelphia crowd, Steeler-greats Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris paid tribute to the great late Dan Rooney right before announcing the Steelers’ 1st round pick, and there was some social media drama between Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, and Mike Tomlin.

Here are the 2017 Steelers’ draft picks:

1st Round (30th overall):
OLB T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)

Akron v Wisconsin

Arguably, the Steelers’ biggest need of the offseason was getting a pass-rusher. Some have a valid argument of getting secondary help, but with the bust known as Jarvis Jones now gone and James Harrison getting closer and closer to the other side of 40, getting a pass-rusher was a big need. And when T.J. Watt was still available at the 30th pick, it was clear Colbert and Tomlin weren’t about to pass on him.

Yes, T.J. is the younger brother of J.J. Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, but T.J. is very clear that he wants to make a name for himself. After converting to outside linebacker after being recruited by Wisconsin as a tight end, Watt had major success. He registered 11.5 sacks in 14 games in 2016 for the Badgers, showing freak athleticism with a high motor and loads of tenacity. He’s raw and is eager to learn from great Steeler linebackers like Harrison and coach Joey Porter, but he has the potential to be a really good NFL pass-rusher.

Grade: B+

2nd Round (62nd overall):
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC)

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It came as quite a surprise when the Steelers drafted a wide receiver in the 2nd round, especially after hearing news earlier in the week that mega-talent Martavis Bryant was reinstated by the league. JuJu Smith-Schuster could be the most productive player from this draft class. He’s physical, strong, a decent route-runner, and has great potential after the catch. He would make a great fit lining up in the slot with Bryant and Antonio Brown outside. This pick definitely gives the Steelers another weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, but some argue there were other needs ahead of a receiver in the 2nd round.

Grade: B+

3rd Round (94th overall):
CB Cameron Sutton (Tennessee)

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The Steelers addressd their secondary with the first of two 3rd round picks and took Cameron Sutton. He’s a man-coverage cornerback, something the Steelers desperately need. He’s not the best tackler in the world, which was an issue from time to time last year for the Steeler defense, and his backpedal needs polished, but he’s got a lot of tools to show that he can be a decent NFL corner. He’ll compete for the number two cornerback or nickel spot, but he’ll have to have a strong training camp to beat out some of the veterans.

Grade: B-

3rd Round (105th overall):
RB James Conner (Pittsburgh)

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Well this amazing story got even more amazing this past weekend. James Conner was the ACC Player of the Year in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. While rehabbing a knee injury in 2015, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He battled back from cancer and injury to play football again, and at a high level. He didn’t put up the inflated numbers from 2014, but still turned in a solid year and looked like an NFL running back.

With the Steelers needing a back up for star running back Le’Veon Bell this upcoming season, Conner looks to fit that role right away. He’ll be a good change of pace from Bell. Bell’s as patient as a runner can get, while Conner hits the hole and likes to finish runs over tacklers. Conner will probably see some goal line and short yardage situations, while spelling Bell as well. The only caution to consider is how his body continues to hold up after defeating cancer just two years ago.

Grade: B+

4th Round (135th overall):
QB Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee)

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With Ben Roethlisberger briefly contemplating retirement earlier this offseason, many speculated that the Steelers would draft a quarterback. And they did. They might’ve gotten the best value at the position with when they drafted him. Joshua Dobbs is a highly intelligent quarterback with a great arm and great ability to extend the play, keeping defenses honest. He has some mechanics to work out (primarily footwork), but the Steelers obviously don’t need him in a starting role right away. They drafted him as a developmental quarterback, and that’s the role he’ll fill barring any injuries.

Grade: A-

5th Round (173rd overall):
DB Brian Allen (Utah)

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Brian Allen is an interesting pick. His size, speed, and length are amazing features that can’t be taught. However, he struggles mightily with tackling, his footwork is sloppy, and he’s not great at turning his hips. He doesn’t appear to be ready to play in the NFL, but with coaching, he could become something. It doesn’t look like he could contribute to the team in 2017, but if he develops well, could become a piece in the defense in future seasons.

Grade: C

6th Round (213th overall):
LS Colin Holba (Louisville)

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I think this pick puzzled just about everyone. Drafting a long-snapper? In the 6th round no-less? It’s definitely interesting, to say the least. With the addition of Colin Holba, the current roster is at 97 players, three being long-snappers. It’d be a pretty good guess that at least one gets cut, right?

Grade: F

7th Round (248th overall):
OLB Keion Adams (Western Michigan)

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This could possibly be the biggest sleeper in the Steelers’ draft. Not to make any predictions, but Keion Adams has the speed, quickness, and athleticism to be a good edge rusher. He needs to be coached on some mechanics at the point of attack and how to set the edge better, but a lot of the tangibles needed to be a contributing linebacker are there. He needs to be polished a bit, but as stated before, this pick could be a steal.

Grade: B+

Final Grade: B+

All in all, it was a solid draft. If it weren’t for the blemish in the sixth round of drafting a player that you most likely would have been able to sign as an undrafted free agent, this would be an A- grade. They addressed the needs of the team, while adding to a strength, and bringing in a couple of developmental players. Only time will tell who’s a bust or who’s a sleeper, but the Steelers definitely added some quality, high-character guys who won’t embarrass the emblem.

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