The Pittsburgh Steelers are back-to-back winners for the first time in this 2018 season after a solid performance vs. the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 6. With the team now able to relax on their bye-week in Week 7, they will hope to improve on their 3-2-1 record by beating the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens in Weeks 8 and 9.
Something I did last season and I’m going to start again is the Black-and-gold Links article.
This is an article where I take stories from quality news sources across the Internet and add them here for your viewing pleasure. I won’t be posting the entire articles, but I’ll link each story and author so that you can read the full article.
Today we talk about how we all might have been spoiled with the early success of JuJu Smith-Schuster. When the Steelers selected James Washington in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, most expected a similar production from the former Oklahoma State product, but it just hasn’t happened yet. So, what gives?
Let’s get to the news:
James Washington fighting through slow start with Steelers
By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
In his first professional game, he wasn’t targeted for a pass. In his second, he had three catches for 16 yards. In his third, he caught two passes.
JuJu Smith-Schuster’s production at the outset of his rookie season didn’t generate banner headlines or foreshadow an emerging star wide receiver. He was like most first-year pass-catchers, struggling to find his footing in the NFL.
The Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t alarmed by Smith-Schuster’s lack of productivity in the first half of the 2017 season, which is why they aren’t concerned about James Washington’s slow start this season.
Through six games, Washington’s totals are five receptions on 14 targets for 49 yards and one touchdown.
“It’s a process for him,” said Darryl Drake, the long-time wide receivers coach who is in his first year with the Steelers. “We have to push him along faster and get him more involved. When the opportunities come for him, he has to deliver.”
Washington hasn’t delivered in each of the past two games. He didn’t have a catch and was on the field for just 16 snaps Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals as the Steelers utilized two and sometimes three tight ends in formations.
The week before, against Atlanta, Washington had a drop and then was called for pass interference on a deep pass.
“It just takes time,” Washington said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. You’ve got to keep coming to practice and try to get better and better and take coaching. It’s hard at times, but you have to be available.”
Smith-Schuster had similar issues last season although they weren’t as pronounced. He had 15 catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns after his sixth game. His breakthrough came in Week 8 when he caught seven passes for 193 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown, against Detroit.
Smith-Schuster had two more 100-yard games and finished with 58 catches for 917 yards and seven scores.
Drake thinks it’s only a matter of time before Washington gets beyond the growing pains that rookie receivers typically endure.
“In the pro game, we ask them to do so much,” he said. “They have to understand the coverages, they have to understand what the safeties are doing, they have to understand the concepts of what we are asking them to do and they have to be able to make a decision in less than a second.
“The thing I try to get them to do is not think – react. The game is a reaction game, and you have to react the right way. You have to make sure you are going right instead of left.”
Tim Benz: Steelers on ‘wasteful’ Le’Veon Bell speculation
By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Cameron Heyward had some advice for the Steelers media members who might be working over the bye weekend.
Some of us might try to find Le’Veon Bell in an attempt to figure when — or if — the running back is going to report to the team.
”If y’all have to put out an Amber Alert or a milk carton, do what you gotta do,” joked Heyward.
James Conner’s emergence as a reliable lead running back the past few weeks has mitigated the need to go that far. During the previous two games — wins against Atlanta and Cincinnati — the second-year product from Pitt has totaled 314 yards from scrimmage.
Those results have put continued games of “Where’s Waldo” with Bell on the back burner.
So if offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner ever was worried about keeping a packet of plays ready for whenever Bell ends his absence, the coach doesn’t appear to be concerned now.
”I just think it would be wasteful time management to think about it,” Fichtner said Wednesday. “When it happens, it happens. We move on from there.”
But like many Steelers fans, Fichtner seems torn over the reality with Bell. On the one hand, Fichtner is referring to preparation surrounding a potential Bell return as “wasteful.” On the other, the coach seemed to yearn for when Bell’s talents are back on the field.
Fichtner was asked about the prospect of having two running backs — i.e., Conner and Bell — capable of running the ball and catching it with great effectiveness on the field together.
”I’ll take four if we can have them,” Fichtner deadpanned. “We want all the good players we can get.”
Le’Veon Bell saga: Post-bye plans, payouts, locker room pranks
By: Jeremy Fowler, ESPN
Le’Veon Bell is not in the building.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one practice left before breaking for the bye. Bell can show up at any time, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the team doesn’t expect that to be this week.
Now is a good time to dissect what’s next for Bell and the Steelers in this weekly saga.
Where does this story go next?
Bell’s plan was to utilize the two-week period between the bye and the Browns game in Week 8 to get back into the football swing with extra practice time. The Steelers open Week 8 with what they call a “bonus Monday” practice, which Bell can utilize. If Bell doesn’t show by next week, it’s possible his plans have changed.
This is a fluid situation featuring a team actively trying to trade an unsigned player who hasn’t kept in contact with it. More fireworks are expected.
How do the Steelers’ expectations for Bell’s reporting correlate with Bell’s plans privately?
That’s a key factor here. Bell hasn’t talked to the team in months, and that’s strategic. Not informing the club of when he’ll show is exercising his leverage as an unsigned player. And unless there’s a franchise-tag stipulation that Bell must notify the team in writing of his return, Bell can simply show up when he wants.
How might this play out?
Last season, Bell showed up on a Friday to take his physical and signed his tender the following Monday. Following the same plan for this week and next is not out of the question but would be a bit clunky. The building will be empty save a few trainers or staff members.
Bell is from Columbus, Ohio, so when he leaves Miami, where he’s been training, he’ll likely return home for a day or two, then transition to Pittsburgh for the fall and winter months.
How did the bye-week dynamic play into this?
Over the weekend, the NFL Network reported the Steelers aren’t obligated to pay Bell his $855,000 salary for the bye week because there’s no game to be played. I checked on this and can confirm it. I don’t know if Bell stayed away because of that, but it could be a factor.
A few weeks ago, Bell used his official Instagram account to “like” a SportsCenter post about a timeline for Bell’s return.
So how does the immediate payout work upon his return?
Well, the two-week roster exemption looms large here. The Steelers can withhold pay for those two weeks if they see fit -- or see unfit, if Bell is not in game shape. The best guess here is Bell will report game-ready. Otherwise, why show up at all? Once Bell is in the building, the Steelers can make that call.