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Ryan Shazier Gives Pittsburgh Steelers High Hopes for 2014 Season

How impressive was Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Ryan Shazier in his pro debut Saturday night?

Well, he might have increased the Steelers’ chances of making the playoffs.

How can that be? How can a rookie boost the Steelers’ playoff stock by playing 37 snaps in a preseason game?

Because it seems that the more a Steelers’ first-round draft pick contributes as a rookie, the better the Steelers do that season.

Shazier made nine tackles in the Steelers’ 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field. That’s five more than anyone else in the game, according to NFL.com. He also intercepted a pass.

The rookie inside linebacker is likely to start in Week 1. He’d be the first Steelers rookie to start an opener since Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. That’s also the last time the Steelers reached a Super Bowl.

The Steelers’ first-round picks in 2011, 2012 and 2013 combined for 11 starts as rookies. The Steelers were one-and-done in the playoffs in 2011 and missed the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.

A first-round pick is just one cog in the machine. A team’s success rides on a lot more than one player. However, every time the Steelers’ top pick has started at least 10 games since 2001, the Steelers have won at least one playoff game.

If Shazier continues to play the way he did Saturday, that bodes well for the Steelers’ 2014 season.

So let’s test this theory by taking a look at all the Steelers’ first-round draft picks since the turn of the century as well as how the Steelers did the year they were drafted. This will cover all of Kevin Colbert’s drafts, since he became the team’s director of football operations in 2000.

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5 Takeaways from Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2014 Preseason Opener

It’s getting to the point where if preseason games counted, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have the No. 1 draft pick every year.

After going winless in the preseason last year, the Steelers opened the 2014 preseason with a 20-16 loss to the New York Giants Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.

The Steelers got through the game with no major injuries and the coaching staff came away with a somewhat clearer picture of the talent on the roster.

That’s all that really matters in preseason games.

Now that the Steelers have gone from the friendly fire of training camp to hitting players in different uniforms, here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game.

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5 Players To Watch In The Steelers’ First Preseason Game

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a disappointing past two seasons with repeat 8-8 performances. The team begins to put all of that behind them when their Preseason begins against the New York Giants on Saturday August 9th. I’m just ecstatic that football is back at all but there are a bunch of players I’m excited to see take the field this weekend. For the purposes of this article however, I’ll narrow it down to five.
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Can The Pittsburgh Steelers Rely On Only Three Running Backs?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been in camp for about one week now as we inch closer and closer to the regular season. There are position battles up and down the roster and it’s time for players to either step up or not have a job. One of the more interesting positions to watch in camp will be the running back position.

There has been pretty much a consensus among Steelers’ fans that the team will probably only carry three running backs plus Will Johnson in the regular season. Personally, I think there more than just a strong chance that they will keep an extra running back in case of injury.
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Pittsburgh Steelers: 5 Burning Questions Heading into 2014 Training Camp

For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh Steelers fans were subjected to a longer offseason than expected.

That’s what happens when the Steelers don’t make the playoffs and the season ends in December.

Nearly seven of those eight excruciating months have passed, and the appetizer to the Steelers’ long-awaited 2014 season will be served beginning Friday, when the team reports to training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

After two straight 8-8 seasons, the Steelers will try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. That would shorten the 2015 offseason by at least a week.

For that to happen, however, the following questions must be answered in the affirmative.

1. Will There Be Enough Depth Behind Antonio Brown at Wide Receiver?

There’s Antonio Brown, who had 110 receptions for a franchise-record 1,499 yards last season. Then there are four players who could fall anywhere from a No. 2 receiver to a total flameout.

Markus Wheaton was hampered by a broken pinkie and caught just six passes in his rookie season. Lance Moore, signed as a free agent from New Orleans, had a down year with 37 catches last season. But he’s ranked in the top 10 in catch percentage when he’s targeted in three of the last four seasons, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). The speedy Darrius Heyward-Bey, a former top-10 draft pick by the Oakland Raiders, is an enigma. The Steelers will be his third team in the last three seasons. The 6’4″ Martavis Bryant, a fourth-round draft pick in May, is the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger has yearned for, but he has to prove that he has the work ethic to succeed in the NFL.

Derek Moye will have to fight off challenges from Justin Brown, Danny Coale, C.J. Goodwin, Lanear Sampson and Kashif Moore to keep his roster spot.

Lance Moore, who will be 31 at the end of August, could provide a steadying veteran presence as a 5’9″ possession receiver. Wheaton could make a big second-year leap. Bryant could use his length to become an effective red-zone weapon. Heyward-Bey, 27, could return to his 64-reception form of 2011 and use his 4.3 40-yard-dash speed to become a deep threat.

The Steelers need at least two of those scenarios to come to fruition. If not, Antonio Brown will see a lot of double coverage.

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Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-Man Roster Projection

Summer vacation has begun for the NFL and the 90 players trying to make the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2014 roster.

The Steelers coaching staff got a look at those players at organized team activities and minicamp. Now there’s a respite before training camp begins July 25 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.

The picture will become clearer when these guys start practicing in pads and hitting for real. But those spring workouts provided a few hints. Based on what the Steelers have shown practicing in shorts, here’s a prediction for their final 53-man roster in 2014.

QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones

Nothing shocking here. Jones, a fourth-round pick last year, will hold off a challenge from undrafted rookie Brendon Kay and keep his roster spot. Gradkowski remains the top backup, but he’s 6-14 as a starter. If Roethlisberger misses any significant time, the Steelers will scan the waiver wire.

Roethlisberger played all 16 games last year for the first time since 2008. If the offensive line protects him the way it did in the second half of the 2013 season, Gradkowski and Jones again could be highly paid spectators in 2014.

That’s the way the Steelers want it.

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How Does Maurkice Pouncey Compare to Great Pittsburgh Steelers Centers of the Past?

How much does Maurkice Pouncey mean to the Pittsburgh Steelers?

One woman’s face said it all.

When Pouncey went down after David DeCastro’s wayward block in last year’s season opener, it was an emotional punch to the gut for the Steelers and their fans.

Pouncey was taken off the field on a flatbed cart, and even the driver couldn’t detach herself from the gloom and doom of the moment. Stadium workers usually just blend in. TV cameras don’t find them the way they find players and fans. But it was impossible not to notice the expression of the woman steering this vehicle.

She seemed affected by the severity of Pouncey’s injury and aware of the dark cloud it cast upon the Steelers’ 2013 season.

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Chuck Noll’s Teaching Skills Helped Change Steelers History

Chuck Noll’s death on Friday at the age of 82 was hardly a surprise. He had been in poor health for a number of years.

But couldn’t he have had just one more Father’s Day?

Noll was more than just a football coach. Unlike many of today’s NFL coaches, he wasn’t working 18-hour days and suffering heart attacks and mini-strokes because of it. He had other interests. He was a pilot, a sailor, an orchestra conductor, a wine connoisseur and a handy man. He was even educated as a lawyer and a history teacher.

Most importantly, he was a father.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Noll’s only son, Chris, came home from high school football practice one afternoon and told his dad that the team needed a long snapper. So Noll took him out into the driveway and taught him how to do it.

Noll did for his son that day what he was paid to do for his players, and that drilling of fundamentals is one of the reasons the Steelers won four championships in the 1970s.

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Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2013 Draft a Year Later

The meter is running on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2013 draft class.

At a time when the Steelers need immediate contributions from their rookies because of all the holes in their roster, even more will be expected from their second-year players in 2014.

Pundits have handed out letter grades like candy to each NFL team’s 2014 draft. Those grades are about as useful as kindergarten grades in a college application. None of those players have even worn pads.

However, we can start to pencil in grades for the Steelers’ 2013 draft. There’s still a lot of projection that goes into these grades, but at least we have more to go on than scouting reports. We’ll assign letter grades to each individual pick and an overall grade for the draft.

FIRST ROUND

Jarvis Jones, OLB

There’s going to be a learning curve for rookies in Dick LeBeau’s defense. However, Jones had just one sack last season, and he started eight games. LaMarr Woodley had four sacks as a rookie with no starts. Joey Porter had two sacks in his rookie year with no starts and Jason Gildon had two sacks in his first season with one start. And unlike Jones, none of those players were first-round picks. The Steelers chose Jones in the first round to follow in their footsteps. His best game last season came in the finale. He made nine combined tackles and broke up a pass in the Steelers’ 20-7 win over the Cleveland Browns. But Jones still has to prove that he can get to the quarterback.

Grade: C

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How Much Would Expanded NFL Playoffs Help the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Most fans don’t want expanded NFL playoffs.

And Roger Goodell doesn’t care.

Principal Goodell tried to ram expanded playoffs down everyone’s throat for 2014, but the matter wasn’t voted upon at the owners meetings in Atlanta.

Expanded playoffs are coming, though, probably by 2015.

So enjoy one last year of the NFL as we know it. Because in 2015 it won’t be the same.

Six teams in each conference currently make the playoffs. The teams with the two best records in each conference earn a first-round bye. Under the proposed plan, seven teams in each conference would make the playoffs, with only the top seed earning a bye.

The NFL has had a 12-team playoff field for the last quarter-century and become the most popular sports league in North America during that time. Now Goodell wants to mess with the formula.

Does anyone remember New Coke?

Wonderful, some Pittsburgh Steelers fans might be thinking. NOW they decide to add playoff teams, after the Steelers would have made it as a seventh seed in 2012 and 2013.

Let’s step into our De Lorean (and pardon this article’s second reference from 1985) and explore an alternate universe where 14 teams would have made the playoffs every year since 2008.

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