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Anatomy of a WR – Justin Hunter

By G.Stryker

Justin Hunter entered the NFL as a productive receiver at Tennessee. Hunter is a towering receiver at 6’4” with a 196 lb frame. He’s also shown great speed to go with his excellent size, after running a 4.36 second 40 yard dash at the combine. He also has big hands and great leaping ability, since he cleared 11’ in the broad jump.

Justin seems to have all of the tools to be a productive receiver in the NFL. He has a nose for the end zone, and excels at fighting for the football in traffic, yet something seems to be holding him back. His yards and receptions have decreased each year from his 2014 career totals. Perhaps, it may be that he just needs a better QB, who will give him a chance to make plays?

I broke down Mr Hunter’s highlight reel to give us some insight on his receiving tendencies.

Follow along with the highlights below

0:16 Running a deep route his left hand is not facing the ball. Catches it with his right, and nearly bobbles the ball when he goes to secure it. With better left hand positioning, this is a clean catch.

0:29 comes back with a hop step, pinkies together and both palms open to the ball. He quickly secures it to his body for the catch. Great inside-out move to split the D and use his speed for the TD.

0:45 Love this catch. He comes back to the ball and jumps to catch it at it’s highest point. This created some space from the defender. Thumbs are together, and his palms are in perfect position for a clean catch. This is a big receiver using all of his size to catch a contested ball.

0:53 Nice adjustment to a ball thrown behind him, he did a good job of opening his body up to the ball, but his hands are in terrible position. Both palms facing toward him as he traps the rebound off his chest for a body catch. It was a tough play to make, but he was also fortunate that the ball didn’t bounce off his body.

1:00 This is a great example to show young receivers how hand placement should be on throws to the waist. He keeps his thumbs together, by reaching over top with his right hand. This opens both palms to the ball and he catches it cleanly. I’ve seen many receivers try to catch this ball with pinkies together, but at the waist, inevitably, your lead hand can get in the way of a clean catch. So the mantra is, below the waist pinkies together, waist or above, thumbs together (when facing the ball).

1:12 Excellent adjustment on a tipped ball. The ball is fluttering and he changes his pattern to match the new trajectory, without breaking stride. Though is right palm is facing away from the ball, since there isn’t much velocity on the ball after being tipped, he’s essentially creating a basket catch while facing the ball. Though securing the ball looked a little clunky, this was due to his hand placement not being perfect. Still a very nice adjustment.

1:20 Fights though the hand check to high point the ball at full extension, while leaning back. Defender has no chance to make a play on this ball in the air. Thumbs and palms wrap around the ball securing it immediately. Great fade catch, and shows you the importance of high-pointing the ball on a fade.

Another perfect catch by catching it at its highest point, thumbs in, both palms on the ball.

1:40 Pinkies together, palms open, and jumps to meet the ball. He then makes a nice jump cut to split the 2 defenders.

1:50 Nice basket catch. His pinkies are together and his elbows are tight against his body. Great stride and had a good chance to score.

2:02 This was a body catch. Both palms away from the football and 3 point trapped it with his hands against his body. Sometimes, body catches are the right catch selection, especially in heavy traffic. He could have extended his hands to catch it with both palms on the ball, but the body catch was probably the right move, since the defender looked like he could have made a play on his arm if he extended them toward the football.

2:06 Nice high point jump and extension, perfect hand placement, palms to the ball and does a great job of controlling his body positioning to rotate and tap both feet inbounds. Fades appear to be a strength for Hunter.

2:13 Justin jumps toward the football to make a 3-point body catch. Both hands are in good position here to keep the ball in place, and he was in traffic, so a body catch is a valid option. This is a good example of using your body and hands together to catch the football, as opposed to letting the ball hit your body, and catching the ball after it rebounds off of it, which is a much lower percentage play.

2:19 This is a low thrown ball on a wet day with a defender draped all over him. Does a great job of extending his arms, pinkies are together and both palms secure the catch. Under these conditions, this is the only way the receiver can make this catch. High difficulty reception, helped by perfect hand placement!

2:29 This is a body trap, using his gut to deaden the ball as he simultaneously wraps his hands around it to secure it (not as clean as a 3-point trap). He was expecting to be hit, as his body is braced to receive an impact, and he rolls toward the end zone with a vice grip on the ball. Being at the goal line, he is right to be ready for a big hit. None came, but he was prepared. I’ve seen Antonio Brown make the same catch in goal line situations.

2:33 I like this angle, because it shows Justin’s hand placement. Thumbs together, palms open, and wrapping the ball. His left thumb is nearly on the point of the football, and usually you want the thumb open a bit wider to allow the point of the football to wedge in the opening between the thumbs and forefingers.

2:37 This catch is tough to see clearly, but it appears to be great hand positioning thumbs in, palms toward the football, over his head, to immediately secure the football.

2:40 not a fan of the quick speed cam, but this is a textbook basket catch. Pinkies together, palms on the ball, elbows into his body.

2:43 jumps and high-points the football between 2 defenders, thumbs together, palms on the ball, and pulls it down quickly for the TD. Excellent catch, than only an aggressive receiver can make in double coverage.

2:50 The only thing I don’t like about this catch are his hands are a bit too wide apart, and his elbows are not as close to his body as they should be. He still secures the ball with both palms and pinkies together. I’m nit-picking here, but it’s the difference between a clean catch and ‘losing concentration’ on a drop.

3:00 I had to view this full screen, because it appeared to be an underhanded body trap. When blown up, he clearly gets his body facing the ball, has both hands in perfect thumbs together position and secures the ball with his palms. Nice adjustment to the ball in the air, and makes a nice extension to try and score the TD.

Before watching his highlights, I really didn’t have much of an opinion on Justin Hunter as a receiver. What this video shows me, is Justin has a beautiful stride, good to great speed, and seems to make good adjustments when the ball is in the air. I like his aggressiveness when he is catching balls in traffic, and using all of his frame to catch fades in the end zone. His only knock is sometimes his hand positioning shifts and he has a propensity to body catch. Looking back at his stats, he’s not known as a person who has a problem dropping footballs (5 career drops though he did have 4 drops in 2014). Bryant was right to text Sammie Coates the day the Steelers picked up Hunter. He appears to be the same receiver. After watching these highlights, I’d have to say Hunter has an advantage in fighting for the ball in traffic and on fade routes.

If Hunter can continue to show his aggressiveness and body extension on receptions in camp, he may make a case to be added to the Steelers’ roster.

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Anatomy Of A WR – Sammie Coates

By G.Stryker

Sammie Coates is a good sized receiver at 6’2″ and 200lbs. He has good speed (4.43 range) to go with his size. Before last season, it looked like he packed on some muscle, to help get him ready for the 2016 season. Since Martavis Bryant was suspended for the year, Sammie, only in his second season, seized the opportunity to become the #2 option early in the year. He started the season on fire, with 19 catches for 421 yards and 2 TDs ranking him in the top 10 for receiving yards for the league. Then a broken hand sidelined his productivity as he remained a special teams contributor, but only tallied 2 catches for 14 yards in his next 9 games.

Sammie also had 5 drops last season to go with his 21 catches. With such a small number of receptions, the number of drops is significant. Another telling statistic was his 42.9 catch percentage, which was the lowest catch percentage in the league for players with 4 drops or more.

Sammie’s season was a tale of 2 halves. Very productive NFL receiver, vs running the routes, but not making plays. So what happened? The injury did play a part, as his fingers did not heal back to normal, and his pinkie now bends away from his hand. Though I think it comes down to hand placement and his catching tendencies. Let’s take a look at his highlights to see if we can break down some tendencies that would hinder him from becoming a great receiver.

Here are Sammie Coates’ highlights.

20sec Elbows are wide apart. If you get contact, the ball goes right through the hoop. Which happened in the NE playoff game.

30sec was a good catch in stride using his speed. Arms were in a better locations, both palms facing the ball over his shoulder.

40sec Excellent catch. Perfect hand placement, elbows in. With contact, no chance of dropping it.

50sec A one handed body catch with his other palm facing away from the football. He made the catch, but this is bad hand placement

1:00 Perfect hand placement, both hands up, palms facing the ball.

1:10 I’m not going to fault his hand placement here, because he had to jump over a defender to attempt to make a play, which he did. Pinkies were together (which is good) and he made a snatch at the ball, pulling it into his body. It’s a lower percentage play, but he made it and it looked amazing.

1:16 He adjusted his route to basket catch (pinkie to pinkie) this ball moving away from the defender. He could have high pointed to face the ball with his thumbs, but I think he made the right call using his body positioning and speed to make sure the defender couldn’t make the play. Since it was a soft ball thrown by Ben, this was the right way to catch the ball. If the ball was a laser, his right hand positioning is much smaller and could get in the way of making a catch.

1:23 I’m nit picking here, but his palms weren’t facing the ball, they were only about 40% facing (you want over 45degree angle). He’s being defended on the catch, so he kind of grabbed the ball like a rebound. Again, he made the play.

1:53 Good full extension catch with great hand placement. Getting the toes in also was a plus. This should have been incomplete, but he made the play for Landry.

2:00 a Scoop body catch. I hate these catches. He is waiting for the ball when he could have attacked it. In the NFL, these passes are usually defended, but Ben did drop it in perfectly between the defenders, and Sammie did slow up his route to adjust for the ball to drop in his body scoop.

2:14 Nice slide to adjust to a low ball downfield. This is when he was playing with swagger and confidence. When he went down he still snatched at the ball too quickly to pull it in, and his left hand was at a bad angle, but he made the catch. This snatching at the ball when his pinkies are together is now a tendency that can be fixable.

2:24 is a great example of poor hand placement, and a good look into why he drops balls. It’s a pancake snatch. He’s essentially clapping his hands on the ball with the pinky side edge of his hands facing the ball, and he snatches at it. He is wide open, and has no reason to make a play on the ball this way. If he high points it, thumbs out, he has a chance to spin and make a play with his legs. When you don’t have your palms facing the ball and also have a tendency to snatch balls, this creates a very short precise time period you have to make a play on the ball. He’s actually working against himself to give him the lowest hand timing to make the catch.

2:30 Again his elbow placement was a little far out, and he didn’t make a perfect reception though his hand placement was good, but he had to quickly pull it against his upper chest to secure it. If your elbows are in, it improves your palm placement, and you can go immediately to a tuck after the reception.

2:36 He has good hand placement, thumbs together, palms facing the ball. But then he does a quick snatch, like ripping down a rebound to secure. I’m not sure if he thought the defender was closer and he was making sure to secure it quickly, but the snatch move is now well documented.

These highlights show me 3 tendencies and both are correctable with proper coaching:
1. hand placement. Work to get the palms facing the football at all times, whether you have your pinkies together or thumbs together. More surface area for your hand to make contact with the ball, and you increase your catch percentage.
2. quickly snatching the ball toward your body. In traffic, this can be seen as a plus. When you’re open, it is setting yourself up for potential drops. Securing the ball with your hands first will assure possession and cut down on the need to secure the ball with your body each time.
3. Elbows in. When making basket catches, bring the elbows in toward each other. This rotates your hands to get them parallel, increasing palm surface area and gives you a second chance to secure the catch with your arms should the ball slip through the hands.

Sammie has the size and speed to be a good to great NFL receiver. With just a few adjustments in his technique, the sky is the limit for his potential to shine.

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Being a Steelers fan is a Tradition like None Other

By Wig

Often during game telecasts, sports analysts will remark about the amazing regularity with which Steeler fans travel. They marvel at the ridiculous distances these fanatical “Burghers” will go in order to watch their beloved Steelers play. This of course is ridiculous. Steeler fans travel relatively well, perhaps even somewhat better than other franchise’s fans. But the truth is, when the Steelers show up for an away game, many of their fans are already there.

The reason of course is no great secret. The building of a vast network of Steeler fandom has taken decades and generations. Furthermore this massive human engineering project has exacted a cost in hardship, but it was also forged through joy and celebration. Those elements were not enough though. Like the hypocycloids that represent the team there are three components to both the Steeler fanbase’s huge size and longevity. We’ve mentioned briefly hardship as well as celebration. The final component is continuity.

Determining what came first, the chicken or the egg is not at all difficult with the Steelers and their fans. Hardship was the first hypocycloid. Gold in color, there was nothing heartwarming about the abysmal record of the team in the early years. To say the Steelers were terrible would have been a dramatic understatement. Of course any Steeler fan worth his or her salt knows the story so belaboring it isn’t necessary. The Steelers were terrible and times were rough. Sadly, fate can be ironically cruel in ways you can’t quite foresee.

Against all expectations and even hope, things improved. In fact they didn’t just improve they exploded! The second hypocycloid era of the Steelers ushered in an era of unprecedented domination. Not only were the Steelers WINNING games. They were winning Superbowls. And better yet, they were one of the most feared defensive teams ever assembled. Seemingly, out of nowhere, the previously pathetic Steelers were an unmatched team of unimaginable and indomitable force that represented the blue collar town of Pittsburgh in a way that couldn’t have been better written by a pulitzer author. There was glory, there was pride, there was redemption for all the years of sticking with such a terrible team. But more important than all of that, there was a deep down respect for the blue-collar feel of the team. These weren’t the Dallas Cowboys. This was a working man’s team. This team featured a defense that pretty much single-handedly managed a season while the offense was hampered by critical injuries and skill position in-fighting. This team featured a running back who had lost part of his foot in Viet-frickin-Nam and came back to be part of a powerful one-two punch in a running game that punished other teams that “pretended” to be as hard-nosed as the Steelers. This team featured a quarterback who could get pummeled, throw 2 or 3, perhaps even 4 interceptions in a critical game and STILL come back and kill you in the waning seconds with a throw to a guy who used to dance ballet! BALLET, you say? He MUST have been soft! No, this team featured a former ballet dancer turned receiver who could take the other team’s best shot and STILL make the most ridiculous circus catch you’d ever seen in your life and spin his way into the end zone. And he was the 2ND receiver. The 1st receiver was the TOUGH Guy!

Yes, those were glorious years and they built tremendous love and loyalty among the “Burghers” and even some fans from around the country began to watch and love those Steelers, perhaps as bandwagon fans at first, perhaps because there are hard-working middle class folks in every state in the country and who doesn’t identify with a guy like Rocky Bleier or Mel Blount? Who doesn’t respect a QB like Terry Bradshaw who may have thrown 3 interceptions in a Super Bowl but still goes in to the huddle and calls a play to exploit a deep route if the line can just give him a moment or two and if he can just move around in the pocket long enough?

And then the steel industry crashed. And people lost their jobs and families lost their homes. It seemed like that yellow hypocycloid was trying to come back to the forefront.

People from the area had to move. Some moved to nearby areas, some moved to what my Mom used to call “Hell and Gone”. And when they moved, they took their love of the Steelers with them. They moved in droves. By the hundreds, by the thousands. And everywhere they went, they took their love of the Steelers. And in time, their families grew. And their values stuck and their love of Steeler football spread to their families and friends and pockets of Steeler Nation fandom began to take root. Slowly but surely. In some cases they found entirely new ground. In others, they found receptive homes where some of those “bandwagon fans” were still a little positive about that Blue-collar Pittsburgh team. And who argues with a yinzer when he’s cheering on his team?

Well there’s one thing that can kill a budding fan movement. That’s a bad team. And with only a few exceptions, the Steelers have avoided that. The third hypocycloid represents the Steelers willingness and ability to consistently produce competitive, even good teams. Truthfully, it has never been too difficult to be a Steeler fan because practically every season offers an opportunity to compete for the playoffs. The fact that the Rooney’s have invested so much effort and care into creating a stable and consistent franchise has meant as much for the fanbase as anything. True, the Steelers don’t often make big splashes in free agency. Sure they lose some great and well loved players just a bit before we fans would like sometimes. But the trade-off is manageable cap-situations, stability in key positions and regular opportunities to compete in the post-season. All that leads to a strong and healthy fan base. The Pittsburgh Steelers are not just a great team, they are a team that is run very well. And that third hypocycloid means fans in virtually every stadium because by the time our beloved Steelers arrive for an away game… We’re already here!

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Player Spotlight – Tyson Alualu

By Justin McGonigle

The Steelers let Ricardo Mathews move on after one season, and replaced him with former Jaguar Tyson Alualu.

Alualu, 29, was the 10th overall draft pick in 2010 out of California, but never lived up to the top ten status. At Cal he played in all 52 games and started 39 consecutive games to close out his colligate career. He put together an impressive combine workout with a solid senior bowl that sprung him up the draft boards. Alualu has been a solid starter for the Jags, but he didn’t turn into the superior pass rusher that the Jags envisioned when selecting him.

Jacksonville signed Red Bryant from Seattle in 2014 to replace Alualu as a starter but he was released after only one season. Jared Odrick signed in 2015 but only kept Alualu out of the starting lineup for three games. Odrick moved to the other side while Alualu resumed playing the “big” end spot in Gus Bradley’s defense.

Depth became a problem for the Steelers Defensive front starting in 2015. They simply didn’t have anyone good enough to spell Tuitt and Heyward. Both were playing over 93% of the snaps which caused them to hit a wall towards the end of the season. Last season they added Mathews from San Diego to help take the pressure off, but that soon became a moot point when Heyward was lost for the season.

“I don’t want to play them (Heyward and Tuitt) 65 to 70 snaps per game. If you play them that many snaps, something bad is going to happen,” defensive line coach John Mitchell told “You can’t ask your two best players to pay 70 snaps every ball game. Their body is going to wear out,” Mitchell said.

Second year player LT Walton and rookie Johnny Maxey stepped in down the stretch as Tuitt missed two games with a sprained knee, and Mathews struggled with a high ankle sprain. While those two proved that they were deserving of roster spots, it also showed that you can never have too much depth. Maxey had been on the practice squad the entire season and was otherwise an unknown when he was inserted into the lineup.

Alualu has only missed two games in his career due to injury and that will be highly valued in Pittsburgh. His versatility shouldn’t be under looked either. He played in mostly a 4-3 defense in Jacksonville, but should transition well to end in the Steelers 3-4. He can also move to the middle and replace Javon Hargrave because of his six-foot three 304 pound frame. Kevin Colbert always covets players that can play multiple positions.

While Alualu’s two year six million dollar contract should assure him a spot on the roster he will have to show his worth against Maxey and Walton who could be fighting for the last spot on the defensive line. If he can prove to be solid at the nose tackle position he could bump off underwhelming incumbent Daniel McCullers. That could leave the door open for Maxey and Walton make the roster.

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Camp Battles: QB Edition

By: Leif Adams

I am going to review each position over the next few weeks and determine roster battles for each. Some will be closer than others and some will be for who backups or even just to make the 53 man squad.

First up is Quarterback.
Ben Roethlisberger is obviously going to be the starter but that doesn’t mean this position should be ignored. The Steelers made several significant moves to the QB position during the offseason including drafting Joshua Dobbs out of the University of Tennessee with the 135th (4th round) pick. Dobbs is a cerebral player with quick feet and an NFL caliber arm. He is actually a rocket scientist so his smarts can’t be questioned. He ran a 4.64 official time at the combine so his speed is not a problem. Dobbs greatest strength in college was throwing the deep ball regularly, chucking the ball 50+ yards in the air with ease. So NFL arm is not an issue. So why did Dobbs fall to the 135th pick? Because his accuracy is far from NFL ready, he has a thin frame, and his desire to play in the NFL has been questioned.

Lets start with his desire to play football. I honestly think to question a man who put in the film time, workouts, practice, and so on all the while taking a course load most people can’t fathom is just ludicrous. Not to mention all the charity work he does. Dobbs obviously has spread himself thin and has a lot of interests besides football. But that said what happens when he no longer has the workload of majoring in aerospace engineering? That is a lot of time to devote to the game of football and maybe his best football is in front of him.

Now lets change gears and look at his accuracy and throwing motion. I see a lot of inaccuracies are likely do to poor footwork which is good news. Footwork can be fixed a lot easier than your delivery point on your release. See Tim Tebow. His release and throwing motion is not great but not horrible either. I think a season of learning the system and working with a QB and seeing what he develops into come 2018 is more important than what he looks like in preseason this year. Personally, I feel Dobbs ends up in the Dennis Dixon to Teddy Bridgewater in terms of NFL ability. I don’t think he has an NFL frame so weight training will be an underrated necessity for him to withstand the pounding an NFL quarterback takes weekly. But again we know Ben is the starter so the question is who is the best option at backup.
Next QB move the Steelers made was re-signing Landry Jones. He signed a 2 year 4.4 million dollar deal. That actually puts him into a decently paid backup QB bracket right around 36th/37th paid in the NFL. On the other hand the Steelers only committed 600k in guarantees to him in the form of a signing bonus. So they aren’t married to him either.

Now I believe when the Steelers gave Landry this contract they planned on drafting a QB a little earlier than they did to force more competition. But even though most the experts predicted not a lot of QB talent and perhaps no QB worthy of a first round pick 3 went in the top 12 picks. I feel the Steelers not wanting to reach picked up higher draft board players at other positions and that is why they waited until 135th for a QB. What Jones has going for him is his working knowledge of the Steelers playbook and the familiarity he already has with the receivers on the team.
So who wins the top clipboard and headset to be called Ben Roethlisbergers backup? My money is on Jones.

Yes, though it saddens me to say I feel Jones will show enough in training camp to hold onto the backup spot as I feel Dobbs would have to learn the offense, get accustomed to reading an NFL defense, and get his body into NFL shape in order to show enough to supplant Jones. Not this year but I feel if Dobbs can get his head into the playbook, study film and work with his QB coach, and maybe follow Debo around the weight room that next year he would have the opportunity to beat out Jones.

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Burns arrested for driving without a license

By Justin McGonigle

According to the Miami Herald, Steelers cornerback Artie Burns was arrested on Thursday night for driving under a suspended license. Police reports showed that Burns was stopped due to his SVU having expired license plate tags.

WINZ talk show host Andy Slater reported that Burns failed to pay $1,012.20 in traffic tickets, according to court records.

Burns went to Miami Northwestern high school and played his college ball at Miami.

Even though Burns was arrested he should not face any punishment from Roger Goodell and the NFL.