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Steelers News: New safety J.J. Wilcox eager for fresh start in the Steel City

As the Steelers prepare for the Browns, new safety J.J. Wilcox has a lot of homework to do to prepare himself for Week 1 in his new surroundings.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are finally past the preseason and are currently preparing for the games that count. While members of the team prepare for the rigors of the regular season, one recently acquired player is mainly trying to stay afloat as he attempts to learn the Steelers’ playbook while getting acquainted with his new team and coaching staff.

I’m referring to none other than safety J.J. Wilcox. The man who was recently traded from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Steel City is now doing whatever he can to get onto the field and make plays. But that won’t be easy while he’s still trying to digest all of the information and do so in a very short period of time.

See what Wilcox had to say after his first practice in Pittsburgh, as we take you on a mini-tour of what’s happening with the Black-and-gold behind the curtain of BTSC...

J.J. Wilcox, who was acquired Sunday from Tampa Bay, was given a baptism by fire when he took some reps with the first-team defense.

It remains to be seen what kind of role Wilcox will have on Sunday when the Steelers open the season against the Browns. Meanwhile, Mike Mitchell confirmed that he took part in some portions of Monday’s practice, but didn’t give any hints about his playing status.

Mitchell has missed more than a month with a hamstring injury. Earlier in the day, the Steelers waived the injured Jordan Dangerfield, leaving Wilcox and reserve Robert Golden as the only other safeties on the roster.

Putting Wilcox in with the starters might simply have been about giving him the reps, but he might be pressed into action if Mitchell isn’t ready to play.

“This defense here is pretty stellar,” said Wilcox, who signed with the Buccaneers in March after spending his first four seasons with the Cowboys. “You have guys who are Pro Bowlers who know how to win, know how to get the job done. For me, it’s how fast can I pick up the playbook and help this defense out. That’s my goal this week.”

Wilcox received the playbook on Monday. Anytime he wasn’t participating in practice, Wilcox was right beside defensive backs coach Carnell Lake trying to get squared away with the nuances of the Steelers’ defense.

“It’s just different terminology,” Wilcox said. “Football is football. Defense is defense, but you have different languages. Those are the things I have to pick up on as soon as possible. This is a stellar defense. They can’t lack at any position on the field so I have to come in and pick it up as fast as possible.

“I rotated in. A lot of the DBs were helping me, the LBs, the D-line, the coaching staff. I’m excited. I have some stuff to study, but I tell you what, I’ll be giving it 100 percent Sunday against Cleveland.”

Cornerback Joe Haden still remains without a number. He wore No. 2 during Monday’s practice.

Mike Mitchell wears No. 23, the same number Haden wore during his seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Mitchell indicated he’s open to transferring the number to Haden if he is compensated for it.

Wilcox wore No. 27 on Monday, the number previously sported by Senquez Golson. But it’s not certain that Wilcox's number is permanent.

Running back Le'Veon Bell practiced with the Steelers on Monday for the first time since January and the layoff had one immediate effect on him.

Bell said, via Aditi Kinhabwala of NFL Media, that he felt “a little winded” after his first time back on the field since signing his franchise tender. But that’s not something Bell sees as an impediment to returning to his usual role as a workhorse in the Steelers offense.

Bell said he feels fresh after his extended layoff and he’s ready for as much work as the Steelers want to throw his way.

“I want as many carries as I need to get for us to win games,” Bell said.

The Steelers have a two-week roster exemption for Bell, but they probably won’t need it if they share the back’s feeling that he’s ready to resume his usual role.

Black and Gold Nuggets

  • Joe Haden was wearing No. 2 at practice, but he isn’t permitted to wear that number during games. He’s said that he wants to wear a number in 20s, but every number in the 20s is accounted for now since J.J. Wilcox chose No. 27.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster returned kickoffs during practice and he might be the only option to handle the job on Sunday after the Steelers released Knile Davis, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Demarcus Ayers. Smith-Schuster returned only 16 kicks during his three years as USC. “It’s just going to take some practice,” he said.

(Both nuggets per Mark Kaboly of DK Pittsburgh Sports)

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