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Steelers News: Trying to decipher where L.J. Fort lands in the Steelers’ offseason plans

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

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at a pending free agent which isn’t get much publicity, but doesn’t lessen his importance to the Steelers’ defense. That would be L.J. Fort. The journeyman inside linebacker proved his worth in 2019, but did he price himself out of Pittsburgh? Or is he part of the answer at the ILB position moving forward?

Let’s get to the news:

Linebacker L.J. Fort hits free agency after breakout season for Steelers

By: Chris Adamski, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

At age 29, seven seasons after a memorable NFL debut in 2012, L.J. Fort finally has achieved a level of workplace-choice freedom.

“It’s wild,” the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker said soon after this season ended. “Seven years in the league, and this is the first time I have been a free agent.

“I’ve never been through this situation before, so this is new to me. Hopefully, things work out.”

Fort hits unrestricted free agency at an ideal time for him in as he has established himself as a regular on defense. Fort played a significant role over the second half of the season, starting two games and finishing with 48 tackles (38 solo), a sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.

Fort is a longtime special-teams player who has been the property of six organizations and cut eight times since making his NFL debut in the 2012 opener for the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. After a spinal injury to Ryan Shazier in December 2017, he began to play more on defense for the Steelers. He has spent all but five days with the team since it signed him Aug. 19, 2015.

By the midway point of the 2018 season, Fort had scaled the depth chart past Tyler Matakevich and Jon Bostic — and even, to a degree, Vince Williams — at inside linebacker for the Steelers.

“There was a stretch there where I feel like we made some adjustments that enabled not only myself but the other linebackers to be more successful,” Fort said. “But experience always helps a ton, so playing those few games definitely made me a lot better player.”

Steelers defensive coaches viewed Fort as their inside linebacker best equipped to play in passing situations. In the modern NFL, that’s a lot, especially against some teams (and Fort’s usage was appropriately higher in certain games).

Fort played 305 snaps on defense over 12 games, according to Pro Football Focus. Between having a sack and an interception in his debut Sept. 9, 2012, in a loss to Philadelphia and Week 4 of this season, he had only 12 games in which he played more than one snap on defense.

Fort was especially aware that, in an apparent sign of how valuable he was becoming, he was taken off the kickoff team in Week 17 . It was the first time he played linebacker but not on the kickoff team in his NFL career.

“Personally, yeah, this is the most I have ever played, especially linebacker,” Fort said. “We didn’t win enough as a team for it to be considered a success, but for me personally, it was definitely an awesome year.”

(To read more, click the link in the headline above...)

With Browns signing Kareem Hunt, how do AFC North running back groups fare?

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

By signing controversial running back Kareem Hunt on Monday, the Cleveland Browns reinforced what already was a formidable position group heading into free agency and the NFL Draft.

When Hunt is activated from the commissioner’s exempt list after the NFL completes its investigation into his alleged assault incident – a video showed him shoving and kicking a woman – the Browns will have the top running back group in the AFC North.

Hunt joins a backfield that includes Nick Chubb, who nearly rushed for 1,000 yards in his rookie season, and dependable change-of-pace back Duke Johnson Jr.

Once cleared to play after he likely serves a multi-game suspension, Hunt could be a good fit for the Browns given that he grew up in the Cleveland suburbs and attended Toledo before the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in 2017. Hunt led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, but the Chiefs cut him loose in December after the video surfaced.

Before being released, Hunt had 14 touchdowns – seven rushing, seven receiving. He rushed for 824 yards (a 4.6 average) and caught 26 passes for 378 yards. He totaled 1,202 yards from scrimmage.

The Browns also have Chubb, who started nine games as a rookie and totaled 996 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground when he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Johnson chipped in 201 yards rushing and had 47 catches for 429 yards and three scores.

That group has the Browns squarely ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens as the new league season opens March 13.

The Steelers return third-year back James Conner and second-year player Jaylen Samuels. Conner missed three games due to injury, yet he finished with 973 yards rushing (a 4.5 average) and 12 touchdowns. He totaled 1,470 scrimmage yards, which ranked No. 10 in the NFL, as a result of his 55 catches for 497 yards and a touchdown. Samuels contributed 256 rushing yards (4.6 average) and caught 26 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, mostly while filling in for Conner.

(To read more, click the link in the headline above...)

NFL Coaches Who Will Be on the Hot Seat Entering the 2019 Season

By: Brent Sobleski, Bleacher Report

  1. The Pittsburgh Steelers had been the league’s standard for stability. Now, they’re something else: an organization beset with internal strife.
  2. ”It does seem very dramatic,” Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, whose brother, T.J., plays for the Steelers, said on Late Night with Seth Meyers. “It’s like somebody that’s watching the Kardashians...and I can call one of the Kardashians. I’ll call my brother—I’ll see everything on TV—and I’m like, ‘OK, give me the real story.’ And it’s pretty wild. It’s pretty wild.”
  3. Pittsburgh slipped to 9-6-1 last season and didn’t make the playoffs after four straight appearances. One down season isn’t enough to shake the organization’s faith in longtime head coach Mike Tomlin, but continued dysfunction could be a catalyst for change.
  4. ”I think that only changes when you start from the top. You got to start from the top, and that starts with your head coach,” former Steelers great James Harrison said on Super Bowl Live (via NFL.com’s Nick Shook). “... And I think right now it’s a combination of [favoritism] going on and maybe a little bit of a lack of actual leadership.”
  5. Ten years without a Super Bowl championship is a lifetime to the Steelers. Another nonproductive campaign could signal Tomlin’s end.