Steelers Rumors

Steelers Hire Ike Hilliard As WRs Coach

Some high-profile names emerged during the Steelers’ search for their next wide receivers coach. The franchise interviewed multiple other candidates but tabbed Ike Hilliard for the position Tuesday.

The longtime NFL wideout spent the past six seasons as the Redskins’ receivers coach. He beat out ex-Steelers wideout Jerricho Cotchery and South Carolina receivers coach Bryan McClendon for the post. Those were the known candidates for the position. Darryl Drake‘s tragic death last summer prompted the Steelers to use an interim coach in this role last season, and Hilliard will succeed Ray Sherman in leading Pittsburgh’s wideouts.

Like Cotchery, Hilliard played 12 NFL seasons. The 1997 top-10 pick worked as a starter for the Giants for most of his career, before finishing with four Buccaneers seasons. Hilliard’s first season in Tampa Bay, 2005, doubled as Mike Tomlin‘s last of five seasons on the Bucs’ staff. In his coaching career, the Hilliard worked with the Dolphins, Bills and Redskins (two stints) after beginning his run in the short-lived United Football League.

The Redskins saw four receivers eclipse 800 receiving yards during Hilliard’s tenure, with rookie Terry McLaurin being the most recent. McLaurin, who missed two games, posted 919 yards and came within seven yards of breaking Gary Clark‘s 34-year-old Redskins rookie record. In Pittsburgh, Hilliard will have young players like James Washington and Diontae Johnson to further develop.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers’ Tomlin On Big Ben, AB

In an interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, head coach Mike Tomlin touched on some of the biggest storylines surrounding the Steelers this offseason. A quick rundown of the highlights:

  • Despite missing the bulk of the 2019 season with detached tendons in his arm, Ben Roethlisberger has vowed to come back stronger than ever in 2019. In the interview, Tomlin expressed unwavering confidence in Big Ben’s road to recovery. “I have no hesitation,” Tomlin said when asked about Roethlisberger’s availability for the 2020 season (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Field Yates). Recently, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert echoed those sentiments. The Steelers will not be among the many clubs engaged in this year’s QB carousel, though it stands to reason that they’ll consider quality backups and prospects who can be groomed for the future.
  • Antonio Brown is seeking to restore his reputation and return to the NFL, but he won’t be getting a second chance with the Steelers. “We have no current business interest at this time,” Tomlin said (Twitter link via ESPN.com’s Brooke Pryor). No surprise here – even before Brown’s personal life went into a tailspin, the wide receiver spent his final Steelers seasons at odds with Tomlin, Big Ben, and other key figures within the organization. It’s hard to see a path for Brown to get back to football, but he says that he’ll be in attendance at the combine later this month in hopes of talking with NFL teams.
  • After his reinstatement, Browns defensive end Myles Garrett stood by his claim that Steelers QB Mason Rudolph uttered a racial slur to ignite the infamous brawl. Rudolph has rejected those claims and Tomlin stands with him. “I think his reputation needs to be defended and defended aggressively,” Tomlin said (Twitter link via Pryor).

Latest On Steelers, Ryan Shazier

  • The Steelers have kept Ryan Shazier on their roster for each of the past two years. That may well be the plan for 2020 as well. Owner Art Rooney II confirmed (via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) the Steelers “would love” to have Shazier back. The injured linebacker has worked as a mentor of sorts to the team’s young players the past two years. The Steelers have kept Shazier, 27, on their roster despite his inability to play; a league-minimum salary of $820K would likely come his way if the team uses the same arrangement in 2020. Shazier, whom GM Kevin Colbert confirmed has shown “significant improvement” in his workouts since the 2019 offseason, is not expected to be ready to play in 2020.

Latest On Myles Garrett, Mason Rudolph

Javon Hargrave Hires Drew Rosenhaus

Javon Hargrave is preparing for free agency, so the nose tackle hired new representation. The lineman has hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent, according to the agency on Twitter.

Following a standout career at South Carolina State, the Steelers selected Hargrave in the third round of the 2016 draft. The lineman has spent his entire career with Pittsburgh, missing only a single regular season game. Hargrave built off his breakout 2018 campaign, finishing 2019 with 60 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble.

While the Steelers will presumably look to retain their defensive tackle, it may be tough. For starters, the team is already eyeing limited cap space, and the organization will also be looking to retain Bud Dupree. While the team could manipulate some current contracts to open up additional space, they’ll still be restricted.

Plus, the front office previously handed out significant contracts to Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, so it’s uncertain if they’ll want to invest even more money on the defensive line. Considering Hargrave’s new representation, he probably won’t be taking any kind of discount.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert On Contract Status, Ben Roethlisberger

Last summer, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert indicated he did not want to enter into a multi-year extension with the team, as he prefers to take things on a year-to-year basis. Earlier this month, the 63-year-old signed another one-year contract with the club to remain in his general manager post through the 2020 campaign.

But in a meeting with Steelers beat writers today, Colbert indicated he is not thinking about quitting anytime soon. “As long as the Rooneys and the Pittsburgh Steelers want me to be a part of this organization and it’s a good thing for our family, we’ll be here,” Colbert said. “I’m not looking to ever go anywhere else again as long as the Rooneys and the Steelers are interested in me” (Twitter link via Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com).

So while Colbert may prefer the flexibility that his one-year extensions afford him, it sounds as if he will continue to lead the Pittsburgh front office for as long as the team wants him to and for as long as his personal life permits. And for good reason. Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000, was promoted from director of football operations to GM in 2010, and has helped build two Super Bowl-winning teams and 12 playoff squads over the years.

In his conversation, Colbert also discussed the status of QB Ben Roethlisberger. We heard in December that Big Ben is expected to make a full recovery from surgery to reattach three tendons in his right arm, and Colbert said today that he believes Roethlisberger’s rehab is going in the right direction (Twitter link via Pryor). The veteran signal-caller has a checkup in Los Angeles on February 21.

Colbert further indicated that the injuries that plagued JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Vance McDonald last year would not impact their long-term availability (Twitter link via Pryor). And in other Steelers news, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweets that the Steelers are expected to hire a new WR coach any day now. The team is deciding between Jerricho Cotchery and Bryan McClendon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Upholds Steelers Mason Rudolph $50,000 Fine

The NFL is finally done litigating the infamous fight between the Browns and Steelers on November 14th of last season. The fight’s signature moment came when Browns defensive end Myles Garrett swung Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph‘s helmet at his bare head. The league’s discipline, which included numerous fines and suspensions for players on both teams, was headlined by an indefinite suspension of Garrett. It was reported earlier today that the league reinstated Garrett and, according to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network, the league finally reviewed Rudolph’s appeal of his $50,000 fine and upheld their original decision.

When the news of Garrett’s reinstatement originally broke, one of Garafolo’s colleagues at the NFL Network, Ian Rapoport, noted a previous report from Garafolo that Rudolph’s appeal had yet to be decided due to a backlog at the league office. However, Garafolo quickly responded to Rapoport citing “a source” that informed him the decision to uphold Rudolph’s fine had indeed been made.

At the time of the incident, Garrett claimed Rudolph used a racial slur, which sparked his angry outburst. However, per Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the team told Garrett to keep the allegation between him and the league before his disciplinary meeting. The allegation leaked to the media nearly a week after the incident and the league claimed they found no evidence to substantiate Garrett’s claims. Regardless, Rudolph did appear to instigate Garrett in the incident and thus, was fined $50,000.

Steelers Interview Jerricho Cotchery For WRs Coach Position

The Steelers went without a full-time wide receivers coach last season, it coming on the heels of Darryl Drake‘s tragic death. The franchise is now looking at candidates to take over, and one is a familiar name to the franchise.

Jerricho Cotchery interviewed for the post on Friday, according to Gerry Dulac and Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Cotchery is battling at least one other candidate for the job. South Carolina assistant Bryan McClendon spent Monday in Pittsburgh interviewing for the post, according to Dulac and Fittipaldo.

This would be return for Cotchery, who played for the Steelers from 2011-13. He caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes in his final Steelers season. Also playing with the Jets and Panthers in a 12-year career, the 37-year-old NFL retiree jumped right into coaching. Not long after Super Bowl 50 — his final NFL appearance — Cotchery caught on with the Panthers as their assistant wide receivers coach. He spent three years in that role, helping the likes of D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel.

The Steelers used Ray Sherman as Drake’s successor on an interim basis last season. McClendon, 36, spent the past five years with the Gamecocks, working as their offensive coordinator in 2018 before being demoted back to wideouts coach last year. McClendon coached South Carolina’s receivers in four of the past five seasons.

Antonio Brown On End Of Steelers Tenure, Arrest, Mental Health

To say the past year has been a tumultuous one for Antonio Brown would be a massive understatement. The embattled receiver has been on a very bumpy path, and he recently gave his first interview to local Pittsburgh media since leaving the Steelers to clarify some things. Brown went on 93.7 with hosts Chris Mack and Colin Dunlap, and Adam Bittner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette transcribed his comments.

Throughout the interview Brown struck a much more conciliatory and restrained tone than he often has on social media. He took the time to apologize to the Steelers and even to his former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, you read that right. “I apologize to those guys for the distractions. The unwanted attention I probably caused those guys. To the fans and organization,” Brown said. “So I’m forever grateful and indebted to the organization. Mr. Rooney. Mike Tomlin. Kevin Colbert. Ben Roethlisberger. You know I started my career with those guys. A lot of beautiful moments. A lot of amazing things. So it’s not all bad,” he continued.

Brown was a surprising inactive in Week 17 of 2018, and things rapidly deteriorated from there. There were a lot of reports about what happened for Brown to get benched, including one that he threw a football at Roethlisberger in practice that week. Brown didn’t explain exactly what went down, but he did seem to take issue with the reporting. “For me, the last game, I had some adversity, but it was just time to move on. To do something more positive. I just was emotionally drained and just frustrated about how everything went down. A lot of stuff go down and people don’t know what really happens. People just write about it and make assumptions. But people don’t know the truth of what the emotions and what players really go through.”

Brown also seemed to reveal that the reason he wanted out of Pittsburgh was because he didn’t think they were serious enough about winning a championship. “I just think we had a lot of things that were important to individuals, but it wasn’t really important to do the big thing, which was win the Super Bowl. So for me, I’m getting to the point where I’m older in my career, and the things that were important to me were winning,” he explained. “At the point I was at, I was just felt like ‘Man, guys on the team wasn’t really ready push to go get what was important, so for me it was all about getting that next carry and being able to be a winner.

Speaking on his recent arrest and court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, Brown downplayed it and said he doesn’t have any mental health issues. “I’m pretty good man. Those guys put me in a crazy check, and I don’t even know why they did that. But I just think mental health is really important.” Brown also suggested that not playing football this season was responsible for most of his erratic behavior. “I don’t really have anger. I just think I’m really bored. You know, football keeps a lot of my focus. And not being able to have that thing that took my energy, that put my focus toward allowed me to be bored and react to things I wouldn’t normally react to.

The full comments are worth a read, as Brown also talked about his relationship with former teammates like JuJu Smith-Schuster. Brown clearly wants to keep playing football, but obviously he’s got a lot to sort out first.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Burrow, Stefanski, Ravens

The Bengals are widely expected to take LSU QB Joe Burrow with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, but there may be a bit of intrigue in that regard, per Albert Breer of SI.com. Burrow will work with former Bengal Jordan Palmer, the little brother of franchise icon Carson Palmer, for his pre-draft training. And the elder Palmer recently had some critical comments for Cincinnati, saying that the club was never really dedicated to chasing a Super Bowl.

Burrow subsequently said the following: “[y]ou want to go No. 1. But you also want to go to a great organization that is committed to winning. Committed to winning Super Bowls.” That may just be a coincidence, and Burrow’s father recently downplayed any notion that Burrow doesn’t want to be picked by the Bengals (Twitter link via Jeremy Rauch of FOX 19), but Breer believes Bengals Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin may need to sell Burrow on the team just a bit.

Now for more from the AFC North:

  • As expected, the Bengals have promoted Dan Pitcher to quarterbacks coach after Alex Van Pelt left for Cleveland’s OC job, the team announced. Pitcher will have a significant role in Burrow’s development, assuming Cincy selects the LSU signal-caller.
  • We passed along some remarks from new Browns GM Andrew Berry earlier today, and new Cleveland HC Kevin Stefanski also took to the podium. Scott Patsko of Cleveland.com passes along the entire transcript, which is worth a read for Browns fans, but much of it was fairly non-committal coach-speak, which Stefanski has already mastered. Stefanski, though, made it a point to note that he will be heavily involved in making personnel decisions with Berry, and he said he does not know who will be calling offensive plays this year.
  • Though the Ravens have more cap flexibility this year than in past seasons, Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic does not expect a spending spree. He predicts perhaps one big-ticket item and a few modest signings, and much will depend on what the club decides to do with pass rusher Matt Judon — a situation that is still fluid — and whether RG Marshal Yanda retires. He also names OL James Hurst as a potential release candidate.
  • Steelers president Art Rooney II indicated his club may target a RB and/or WR in free agency, per Teresa Varley of Steelers.com, though Rooney said Pittsburgh is content with the quarterback situation as it is. Behind Ben Roethlisberger, the club will roll with some combination of Mason Rudolph, Duck Hodges, and Paxton Lynch.