With the Steelers firmly in the middle of OTAs/mini-camp season, we’re already starting to discuss certain players and what will motivate them to be their very best in 2021. It’s around this time of year when we begin to read stories about specific individuals having chips on their shoulders. What are these chips? Motivational devices handed to them by the haters and doubters.
We’re almost certain to read and hear more of these “chip on his shoulder” stories as training camp fast approaches. However, it won’t end there, as some players will continue to carry their chips with them all throughout the 2021 season.
So just who will lug around these chips of motivation in 2021, and how many will do so? That’s what I’m about to show you in this little piece.
- Alex Highsmith: The 2020 third-round pick out of Charlotte is what motivated me to embark on this little chip-on-shoulder discovery. If you paid attention to the stories coming out of the Steelers facilities, last week, you know that Highsmith, who is the number one contender to take the place of Bud Dupree as the starting outside linebacker opposite T.J. Watt, has put on a few pounds of muscle since the 2020 campaign concluded. Highsmith looks jacked. More than one mocker mocked an outside linebacker to the Steelers in the months leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft. With so much perceived and real doubt out there, it’s obvious that Highsmith had no trouble finding the motivation to churn out a few extra reps during each offseason workout.
- Ben Roethlisberger: This one is quite obvious. Who hasn’t written off the 39-year old veteran Steelers quarterback? His dad...maybe? If there’s a quarterback ranking out there, yo, Big Ben is going to find himself near the bottom of it. If this man isn’t motivated by all the hate, he really should retire. Don’t expect Roethlisberger to spit any rap-type promos about the haters, however. Just be prepared for some passive-aggressive shots fired, such as, “You guys know me, I don’t carry chips; I eat them.”
- T.J. Watt: Aaron Donald, 2020 Defensive Player of the Year. Duh!
- Terrell Edmunds: The Steelers didn’t pick up his fifth-year option.
- Devin Bush: Bush is coming off a torn ACL that shortened his 2020 season. I believe it’s the law that he practices and plays with a huge chip on his shoulder all throughout training camp and the regular season.
- Eric Ebron: Ebron, a free-agent acquisition from the Colts, had seven drops during the 2020 regular season. Despite being the most dynamic tight end to come through Pittsburgh in ages, a lot of fans have already washed their hands of Ebron. Heck, some think so little of Ebron’s talents, they’ve been begging for the team to bring back Jesse James. This all should motivate Ebron for 2021. In fact, you can expect the out-spoken tight end to express such thoughts on Twitter. You can also expect some obvious replies from his fans: “Just make sure you don’t drop that chip.”
- Hines Ward: Ward might be retired, but he’s still carrying a chip from that time Bill Cowher drafted Troy Edwards, as well as that other time when he drafted Plaxico Burress. And, don’t forget, Ward was just a third-round pick out of tiny little Georgia in 1998. Nobody gave him a chance then. Nobody’s giving him a chance now.
- Zach Banner: Speaking of torn ACLs, Banner suffered one in Week 1 of the 2020 campaign, an injury that ended his debut as a starting right tackle just days after he won the job in training camp. The chip on Banner’s shoulder will be enormous in 2021, and you can expect him to entertain folks on social media while wearing it all throughout the summer, fall and winter. I certainly can’t wait.
- James Harrison: Harrison is still miffed about those unkept promises made to him when he re-signed with the Steelers for the 2017 campaign. Deebo might be done with football, but he still likes to lift trucks. 2017 is his fuel.
- Kendrick Green: This one is a certainty. Green, the rookie third-round pick out of Illinois, is trying to replace a legend at center. Therefore, you can expect Green, a nasty and aggressive youngster as it is, to have a huge chip on his shoulder in 2021. And since he’s a rookie, he’s also legally required to be a sponge.
- Isaiahh Loudermilk: This one couldn’t be more obvious. Chips were made to be carried on the shoulders of players such as Loudermilk.
- Jordan Berry: You can love that rookie punter all you want, but this is Jordan freaking Berry we’re talking about.
- Chukwuma Okorafor: There are question marks in abundance about the Steelers' offensive line, and Okorafor and his ability to move from right to left tackle, may be at the top of the list. Many considered tackle to be Pittsburgh’s biggest need as the 2021 NFL Draft approached. While they didn’t select one with a premium pick, there are many who still expect the Steelers to sign a veteran free agent to compete with Okorafor at training camp. This should provide quite the large chip for the fourth-year man out of Western Michigan to carry around. Of course, considering Okorafor grew up in Africa before his family moved to the US in 2010, the gentle giant might have a hard time grasping this motivational tool often used by American athletes. “Behold, Semmi, a country so free, one can carry around a chip as he practices the American football game. Yes! Yes! T.J. Watt, bleep you, too!”
- Najee Harris: Some people still can’t believe the Steelers drafted Harris, a running back, in the first round.
- Benny Snell: Snell, a running back, is one of those people.
- Anthony McFarland: So McFarland is chopped liver, now? Do you know the back of McFarland’s hand? He does, and that’s how well he knows Matt Canada’s offense, a system McFarland played in while at Maryland.
- Chris Boswell: I don’t know why he would have a chip on his shoulder but has the guy ever cracked a joke about anything?
- JuJu Smith-Schuster: No team was willing to sign Smith-Schuster to a lucrative deal in free agency, one befitting a number-one receiver. Is he a number-one receiver? Will he prove that in 2021 after signing a one-year deal to come back to Pittsburgh? Finally, will Smith-Schuster invent a “chip-carrying” touchdown celebration during the regular season? I’ll attempt to answer those three questions: Remains to be seen. Not sure. Absolutely.
- Shakur Brown: Despite receiving draft-worthy grades from the likes of Pro Football Focus, Brown, a rookie cornerback from Michigan State, went undrafted in 2021 and signed with the Steelers. This should provide Brown with all the motivation he’ll need to stick it to every team who didn’t draft him...even if one of those teams was Pittsburgh.
- Vince Williams: Williams was cut for salary cap purposes at the onset of free agency. He was then re-signed at a cheaper price later on. Also, the Steelers expect Robert Spillane to compete for and win a starting job at inside linebacker after doing quite well for himself filling in for the injured Bush a year ago. Throw in the selection of Buddy Johnson in the fourth round, as well as the fact that he’s Vince Williams, and you should probably expect Vinny Vidivici to bring an enormous chip with him to training camp this summer.
Talking about all these motivational chips has really fired me up. I think I will stop at 20. Did I miss any? Is that an alarming amount of motivated Steelers players? Should they have more? I’m actually angry, myself, after making this list.
Time to go prove the doubters wrong.