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Steelers News: Emmanuel Sanders talks about his departure from Pittsburgh

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have now won six straight games and continue to “stack wins.” After their 20-16 come from behind win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11, the team now has to turn the page quickly before they travel again, this time to Denver to play the Broncos in Week 12.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article, we take a look at the comments made by Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders regarding his departure from the Steelers before he hit free agency and joined the Broncos.

Let’s get to the news:

Emmanuel Sanders: Mike Tomlin told me the Steelers ‘didn’t have the money to pay me’

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

By now, Emmanuel Sanders has spent more seasons and played more games for the Denver Broncos than he did for the team that drafted him, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

That can at times make it easy to forget where his NFL career began. Not during a week in which the Broncos are hosting the Steelers.

“It feels weird because I’ve been out here for five years, and to play them, I forget about my Pittsburgh days,” said 31-year-old Sanders, who’s worn No. 10 for the Broncos. “But everybody reminds me of when I was No. 88. I’m like, ‘Oh snap, yeah.’ It feels like I’ve been a Bronco my whole career, but I still remember the days there.”

Sanders had 161 catches for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns over 56 games with the Steelers from when he was taken as a third-round draft pick in 2010 through the 2013 season. He had two catches in Super Bowl XLV and often served as the Steelers kick and punt return man.

Sanders was a productive and well-liked player for the Steelers. But he had the misfortune of being taken in the same draft as Antonio Brown (not to mention in joining a team that already had a possible future Hall of Famer in Hines Ward and a Pro Bowler in Mike Wallace at wide receiver).

As such, the organization had no plans to keep him longterm. The Steelers traditionally have chosen one wide receiver for whom they give a big-money second (or subsequent) contract to and backfill the remainder of the corps with younger players.

So, he signed a three-year, $15 million contract with Denver in 2014 that paired him with Peyton Manning and made Sanders a Pro Bowler when he had 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns that first season in the Mile High City.

“Obviously we got a lot of respect for ‘Prime’ and what he’s capable of, knowing him over the years,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The Steelers, of course, have thrived without Sanders. Brown has had five statistical receiving seasons that are better than any player in NFL history, and the likes of Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and now, JuJu Smith-Schuster have served more than capably as No. 2 threats.

Pittsburgh was simply wrong place/wrong time for Sanders

“The things that (the Steelers) told me when I left,” Sanders recalled, “I remember Mike Tomlin telling me they didn’t have the money to pay me, but he still wants to see me balling, scoring touchdowns and having fun, and things of that sort.

“I’m still that, but at the end of the day, I really want to win this game, for sure.”

Steelers’ Javon Hargrave in rush to show he deserves more playing time

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

When the Pittsburgh Steelers deploy their various subpackages on defense, Javon Hargrave is used to running off the field — not onto it.

With Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt acknowledged as the two most decorated pass rushers on the defensive line, Hargrave typically is the odd-man out when the Steelers bring extra defensive backs into the game.

But with Tuitt not traveling to Jacksonville last weekend because of a hyperextended elbow and the birth of his second child, Hargrave was asked to switch roles.

“One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity,” coach Mike Tomlin said.

Suffice it to say, after getting the first multi-sack game of his career, Hargrave made the most of his.

His first of two sacks against Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles on a third-and-9 in the second quarter forced Jacksonville to settle for a field goal and a 9-0 lead. He also sacked Bortles again before the first half ended.

In the fourth quarter, Hargrave batted down a third-down pass, enabling the Steelers to get the ball back with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining and begin their comeback from a 16-6 deficit.

“It was some of my best moments,” Hargrave said with a smile.

More such moments could be in Hargrave’s future — even if Tuitt returns to play Sunday at the Denver Broncos.

“The more opportunities he gets, the more he’s got to be on the field,” Heyward said. “It’s not a disservice to me or Tuitt, but you can’t keep a guy like that (on the sideline), if he’s going to continue to ball out.”

Therein lies the issue for the Steelers. How do they fit three capable pass rushers into two spots when the Steelers go to the nickel, dime or quarter packages?

“I’d rather have that problem than others. We’ve got four guys who can start for a lot of teams, and I’m totally fine with that,” Heyward said, adding veteran Tyson Alualu to the mix. “Whoever is out there has to be putting on a show.”

Hargrave put on quite the show in college, collecting 200 tackles (62 for a loss), 37 sacks and five forced fumbles in four years and 47 games at South Carolina State, a Division I FCS school.

Because of Hargrave’s 6-foot-2, 305-pound frame and low center of gravity, the Steelers took him in the third round of the 2016 draft and plugged him into the center of their defensive line as a rookie.

“I never really viewed (myself) as a nose,” Hargrave said. “I always tell people I’m a defensive tackle. That’s just the position I am here. I don’t ever claim that, I just play on the D-line.”

The problem is, in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme, the nose tackle is on the field for only about 30 percent of the defensive snaps, sometimes fewer.

He played only 18 snaps in Week 9 at Baltimore. Against Jacksonville, with his role reversed, Hargrave was on the field for 51 snaps, a season high.

“I’ve been really open about challenging him in terms of being a sub-package contributor,” Tomlin said. “You don’t want to be pigeon-holed in this game. The more you can do.”

Steelers RB James Conner ranks 4th in overall Pro Bowl voting

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

James Conner is being recognized by NFL fans for his promising first season as the Pittsburgh Steelers running back.

Conner is fourth overall in Pro Bowl voting, the NFL announced Wednesday afternoon. He is fourth in the NFL with 796 yards rushing.

With 384,643 votes, Conner trails New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (487,400), Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (459,325) and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (402,238). Rounding out the top five is New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (363,609).

Voting continues through Dec. 13, and rosters will be announced Dec. 18. Fan voting counts one-third toward determining the 88 players who will be selected for the game.

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, with 353,169 votes, ranks sixth overall and first among wide receivers. Other Steelers players leading their respective positions in AFC balloting are fullback Roosevelt Nix (92,592), left tackle Alejandro Villanueva (125,152), guard David DeCastro (157,292), center Maurkice Pouncey (145,261), kicker Chris Boswell (45,581), outside linebacker T.J. Watt (167,030), and inside linebacker Jon Bostic (59,201). Nix also is the top AFC vote-getter for special teams (63,995).