It is July, which means football is right around the corner. July 27th the Pittsburgh Steelers report to Latrobe, PA for another training camp. Although we still have a few weeks of the “dog days” of the NFL offseason, it doesn’t mean there isn’t news to still be discussed.
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Le’Veon Bell isn’t the only Steeler who might not show up for training camp.
Pittsburgh left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and his agent are declining to say whether he’ll be there when camp opens, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The 28-year-old Villanueva has had an unusual football journey: He played football at Army, went undrafted in 2010, served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, got picked up by the Eagles in 2014 but got cut in the preseason, spent that year on the Steelers’ practice squad, became a regular player in 2015 and started all 16 games in 2016. Now he’s an unsigned exclusive-rights free agent, meaning he doesn’t have a contract but doesn’t have the ability to shop himself to any other team. The Steelers have extended Villanueva the $615,000 exclusive-rights tender, but Villanueva thinks a starting left tackle is worth more than that and hasn’t signed.
Because of Villanueva’s status as an exclusive-rights free agent, the Steelers have plenty of leverage. Where Villanueva has leverage is in his ability to refuse to show up for work. He may decide to use that leverage.
Bryant's comments to ESPN's Dan Graziano about wanting to have a "man-to-man" with his Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback are a bit surprising, largely because the conversation hadn't happened yet. Bryant, suspended for the 2016 season, rejoined the team for offseason workouts in May, and the two spent a month in the same offense together before players broke camp in mid-June.
Apparently, they completed a few passes, exchanged pleasantries and that was it.
Perhaps Bryant's new comment heightens the urgency to make it happen. And it should happen.
Bryant and Roethlisberger can coexist in the Steelers' offense regardless, but understanding each other can only help the duo and the unit as a whole.
Surely Bryant was affected by Roethlisberger telling the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette before last season that he felt Bryant lied to him and the team felt "let down" by the explosive playmaker.
Roethlisberger has taken a tough-love approach with Bryant before, saying publicly he needed to "toughen up" before an AFC wild-card game in Cincinnati following the 2015 season, during which Bryant caught a body-contorting touchdown to help seal Pittsburgh's victory. It's as though Roethlisberger is trying to draw something out of his immensely talented receiver.
There was no hiding the Steelers' frustrations with Bryant, who has missed 20 games due to drug-related offenses but has since said he's gotten himself clean. Hearing that message from the quarterback can't be easy, though. Bryant wants to be a catalyst for the Steelers' offense, not a source of criticism.
"Hopefully we'll have it before the season starts," Bryant told Graziano. "If not, that's fine. I'm still going to go out and perform and do what I have to do to be the best teammate I can be."
Sometimes team or player meetings seem hollow, but in this case it's necessary. Connecting before training camp would be about a year overdue.