The former Super Bowl MVP discusses his hopes for the Steelers and Jets in 2022, the Pittsburgh quarterback situation, and reveals his favourite current and former players.
What are your hopes and expectations for Pittsburgh this season?
To have a coach be tenured for as long as coach Tomlin is complementary to completing winning seasons. Every game you go in ready to play, and each man that has been drafted or brought to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s their duty to get better, to practice, to perform as professionals. That’s why you’re here, show us what you got. The outcome is the outcome.
How would you rate their chances of making the playoffs?
The professionals that have been there three, five, seven years, those guys come with a different attitude. For the Steelers to make the playoffs this year, that’s the kind of attitude they’re gonna have to come with this season, a winning attitude that exemplifies the performance of their veterans during training camp.
Do I think they have a chance to making the playoffs? Every year they have a chance to make the playoffs. We love beating up on the Baltimore Ravens, we still like smashing around the Cleveland Browns. And at the end of the day, the Cincinnati Bengals are getting better, but we still have to treat them like the Cincinnati Bengals. We have to perform that way.
Who do you think should be the Pittsburgh QB1 and why?
I think Trubisky definitely fits the role of QB1 one right now, and coach Tomlin has made that decision. There are legitimate reasons why, and it’s his job to lose. The next man up, just definitely be ready. Injuries happen, God forbid anything to happen to Trubisky.
He’s wearing a very pretty-looking number, the number 10. I like to see that number 10 do well and throw his hands up for touchdowns and victories, just as much as you saw me throwing my hands up.
Where do you rank the current group of Steelers receivers?
Right now, giving these guys a grade between one and five, you’re gonna put them in the middle, a three. They have the experience from Diontae, they have the size from Claypool, and with Pickens being able to play inside and outside, that gives him a dual threat to stretch the field on both sides.
I really see these guys having some fun this year, and if we can keep our running back healthy and be able to run the ball as much as we’d like, those passing lanes will open up for our receivers.
What have you made of what you’ve seen from Pickens so far?
He’s becoming a pro. Obviously, his name has been talked about, and for good reason. I’m excited to see what he brings to the table this year.
There’s a lot of weapons on the field, but keeping guys healthy, starting with the O-line up front, being able to protect Trubisky, giving him a chance to read his targets. Each of those guys has to play off each other’s back. Don’t go in with the mindset of being selfish, it’s all about playing together as a group.
What are you hoping to see from the Jets this season?
First and foremost, the New York Jets have to stay healthy. We have to keep our main core guys healthy. Whatever that takes. Whether it’s getting down, whether it’s throwing the ball out of bounds early, whether it’s avoiding the next hit, tackling the right way, keeping your head up, whatever it takes. Playing with professionalism in mind will allow you to have a productive season.
With the culture, just allowing those guys to go out and have fun. Let them be free, let them put points on the board. Let’s light the city up. Let’s get everybody excited. Let it all just come out at the beginning of the season and keep it rolling, because I love to see some wings fly high in MetLife.
How do you rate their playoff chances this year and in the coming seasons?
Starting off with the division, it’s tough when you’re dealing with Buffalo and New England. Buffalo is up and coming, New England is becoming re-established, and you’ve also got a hard-nosed Miami Dolphins team that can win with the best of them. So, as far as the Jets making it to the playoffs this year, man, very slim chance. But I’m always going to root for the New York Jets, and I hope that they do make it.
What are your thoughts on Miami and their receivers?
It all boils down to how well [Tyreek] Hill and [Jaylen] Waddle play together. There’s going to come moments where one has to work for the other throughout the season, and being able to determine who gets double teamed and who gets singled is going to play a big factor.
I like their chances of putting up big numbers this year. Tua loves to throw the football and to know that he got speed and time, I think that equals great chemistry.
Which teams are you most excited to watch this season?
I’m picking the Bills to finish in the top five in the NFL, I really do like their chances. You’ve got to go to Buffalo in the wintertime, it gets super cold. I’ve been there, and that place gets very windy before the cold season. They’ve got all these elements that they can throw out against you when you go up to Buffalo, so you have to be prepared.
I’m really excited to see what the Colts do this year, and also to see what happens with this quarterback situation with the Steelers. I’m looking to see how that plays out because at any given moment you have three hungry guys that want to be in the Pittsburgh spotlight. That No. 7 [Ben Roethlisberger] has blessed the organisation with opportunities to grow elsewhere.
Who would be your pick for MVP?
I would want to go with a defensive player, somebody like T.J. Watt. The more you do for a defense, and for a team, the better your chances are of winning. And the majority of the time the person that leads the charge for that team deserves to be in that position. So, if you can win Defensive Player of the Year and become an MVP for your organisation, that deserves an MVP vote in my in my book.
Which current quarterback would you most want to catch passes from?
Russell Wilson. I like the accuracy on the touch and the deep ball that he has. It’s form fitting to the way I would play and how I could just relax and catch big bombs.
Josh Allen, too. He has a game like Big Ben, loads of scramble, get outside the pocket, take a hit and still keep trucking.
As a receiver, what are the main qualities you’re looking for in a quarterback?
Definitely his IQ for positioning the football. Say if I’m running a specific route, and he has trouble getting it to this location, I would ask: “Where would you like to throw this ball when I run this route?” So that now I know, if this happens, this is where this ball is going to be.
To be on the same page with a quarterback in that respect, definitely shows a lot of character for the relationship that you have built, so that there are no “oh, shit” moments when that ball comes out, and it’s on the wrong side.
Who is the current receiver you like watching the most?
Deebo Samuel. He’s that guy. The NFL is full speed, so for someone to be able to do what Deebo did, to play multiple positions, to shift the ball different ways in the NFL – I’ve witnessed it with Hines Ward, but to do it the way this kid did last season was remarkable. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform this season and have fun doing it.
Cooper Kupp became the latest receiver to win Super Bowl MVP last season, as you did in 2009. What do you like about his game?
Being dependable is a quarterback’s best friend. It’s their dream. It’s also every defense’s nightmare to see a guy come on and perform to the quarterback’s will night in, night out. Also, his feel for catching the football no matter where it’s placed.
His performance last year was one for the books, and to cap it off with a remarkable finish as a Super Bowl MVP, I tip my hat to him for having such a great season, and also his quarterback and his staff for finding him and allowing him to do that. The guys around him made him so much better, getting him open and taking the pressure away from him.
Do you think he can replicate it this year?
Everything’s possible when you put in the work. He’s got to keep on with the same trust, build the same relationship with the quarterback. Every year you grow a little bit, you get a little bit smarter.
The only way he doesn’t receive those accolades is if he gets half the targets and he doesn’t get nearly as much single coverage this year.
Which current player would you compare your game to most?
If I had to pick a player, he would have to be clutch, he would have to be someone that’s going to come up in the clutch situations, not just all the feel-good moments. I haven’t seen that receiver yet that has been to the table come third and long with a minute-and-a-half left on the clock, and he takes a big play to the house to end the game. Once we figure that guy out, we’ll definitely compare him to Holmes.
If I had to pick one guy, he’s not current, but Steve Smith was one that I admired from a distance. The tenacity that he brought to the game, it was always reserved until the right moment. I think that’s kind of how I played the game, with a quiet calmness that was ready to just burst in the moment.
Who was the best player you ever played with and why?
The most remarkable person I played with was Troy Polamalu. He was just a freak of talent, his IQ for the game, respect for everybody. The effort, the study, the physicality, the quickness. He was a chess player, he was the queen, he was the one that could jump all over the board in any way possible.
To be able to witness that for four years and then go on and play against him for three, four more years was truly a sight to see. I have so much appreciation for a person that really respected the game and deserved everything that he got out of it, because he put everything into it.
Who was the toughest defensive back that you ever played against? And what made them so good?
I got a chance to see two guys for four years every day: Ike Taylor and Darrelle Revis. Those two guys really helped mould my game and helped me get better every year.
The four years I spent in the Jets organisation working with Revis and [Antonio] Cromartie, putting in the work with those guys, man, it was tough. It was like dragging bricks because he’s in the lab watching your game, you’re in the lab watching his game. It’s like game day at practice every day, because I’m gonna embarrass you out here in front of everybody, so be prepared. It was that kind of attitude and mindset, and then, on game day, I know you ain’t better than the guy I see every day in practice. That’s the least of my worries.
What was it like being a part of Hard Knocks with the Jets in 2010?
It’s definitely telling of what business life is like on a football level. The decisions that go into making this thing work. It’s gut wrenching. You feel it inside of you when you feel what a player is going through, or what an organisation is going through, or what the coach is talking about, you feel like you’re a part of that.
I think Hard Knocks has done a tremendous job of getting inside, and the NFL for allowing them to be a part of what our life is like. This is real. You guys think that we just go and play football, and that we’re just jocks, but we have meetings, we have practices, we have film, we have a real life operation that needs to be run to the highest level. And when certain pieces of that organisation are not in the right line, things happen, and you get to see it live on Hard Knocks.
Some things shouldn’t be aired on television at times, but at the end of the day life is under a microscope in itself.
Does it portray an accurate picture of an NFL locker room?
It has its limits. And I think it needs to have its limits. Because what’s done and said behind the majority of locker room doors does not need to be aired out to the world. You didn’t earn the right to be this far inside. This is a privilege to have this kind of access, so be appreciative of the opportunity and not be worried about what you’re not getting from this. If you’re watching, be entertained with the fact that it’s an opportunity to be that close.