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On Sports: Yet another veteran WR tied to Steelers; Paul Skenes pledges money for Ks

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 5/15/2024

May 15—From trades for Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel or Courtland Sutton to signings of Tyler Boyd or Zay Jones or Michael Gallup, there have been no shortage of veteran wide receivers projected to end up with the WR-needy Pittsburgh Steelers over the past two months.

A prominent ESPN analyst has broached another.

A Bill Barnwell piece published Tuesday intended to play matchmaker between 10 veteran players who are in one way or another looking for new homes or in need of one to teams that could use a player at that particular one's position or skillset.

His choice for former first-round pick Treylon Burks was the Steelers.

Burks was drafted two selections before Kenny Pickett just 25 months ago. At the time of his selection, Burks was highly intriguing to NFL teams because of his 6-foot-3, 225-pound size and his college production in the SEC.

However, Burks had more catches (66), receiving yards (1,104) and touchdowns (12) in 12 games during his final season at Arkansas as he's had over 22 games in two seasons (49-665-1) in the NFL. That, in part, has led to speculation the Tennessee Titans are eager to move on.

Enter the Steelers, who we all know have a WR corps of George Pickens, a third-round rookie and a bunch of No. 4s and 5s.

It's believed the cost to acquire Burks wouldn't be significant (think, low-round pick) and that the Titans might even eat some of the salary he's owed for 2024-25.

Writes Barnwell: "After trading away Diontae Johnson this offseason, the Steelers have an opening on the outside. They used a third-round pick on Roman Wilson, who might profile best as a slot receiver earlier in his career, while former Rams wideout Van Jefferson hasn't been productive in much better offenses as a pro. If the Titans are willing to eat $6 million of what's left on Burks' deal, I could see the logic in Pittsburgh sending a 2026 sixth-round pick to Tennessee to give him a fresh start."

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$100 per strikeout

Pirates fans aren't the only ones who have been eagerly anticipating Paul Skenes strikeouts. So are military veterans, first responders and those who wish to honor and serve them.

Quietly as per his persona, Skenes pledged to donate $100 per each of his strikeouts this MLB season to the Gary Sinice Foundation. The organization's website describes its mission as serving "our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. We do this by creating and supporting unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities."

Skenes' planned donations were publicized Tuesday on "The Pat McAfee Show."

Skenes told McAfee that during his final college season at LSU he pledged $10 per strikeout to another military-related charity, Folds of Honor. Before transferring to LSU, Skenes spent two years at the Air Force Academy and has been open about his respect for those who served.

"(Attending the AFA) had a profound impact on my life that continues now. I miss those guys," Skenes said on McAfee's show. "The people that you are going to meet there, the people that I met, and everything that I have gained from being there is just unbelievable. Obviously, I am not there any more but I'm just trying to find ways to give back to that community that has done so much for me."

McAfee, a Plum native, said his show would match Skenes' $100 donation per strikeout — and he pledged quite the potential bonus. If Skenes breaks the MLB game strikeout record and has 21 in a nine-inning game, McAfee said he would donate $1 million to the Sinise Foundation.

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—Kathy McConnell-Miller named head women's basketball coach at Carnegie Mellon

—Pirates hope Bryan Reynolds' 5-hit game puts him back on track

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Southpaw catch

Tuesday was the 35-year anniversary of a quirky part of Pirates history. On May 14, 1989, Benny Distefano was behind the plate for the ninth inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves.

This would seem a rather unremarkable note as part of a game that featured a 5-2 final score between teams that would end up in fifth (Pirates) and last place (Braves) in their respective divisions that season. However, as noted by the fun nostalgic X account dubbed "1986-92 Pittsburgh Pirates," Distefano's appearance at catcher was notable because he's left-handed.

To this day, that remains the only MLB inning over the past 44 years in which pitches were caught by a right hand.

Though it wouldn't intuitively seem to be a distinct disadvantage, discouraging southpaws to catch is part of baseball orthodoxy. It has been so difficult to even acquire a right-handed catcher's mitt that the Baseball Hall of Fame has one on display that was worn by semi-pro catcher Gilbert Cooling more than a century ago.

The dearth of lefty catchers is attributed to the backhand tag a catcher would have to make on plays at the plate in addition to the awkward turn and throw a southpaw would have to make to first base after fielding a bunt or dribbler down the third-base line.

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Findings on Fields' failure

New Steeler Justin Fields has been a polarizing quarterback over his three pro seasons. Some details are emerging about why his tenure with the Chicago Bears did not work out.

Veteran NFL writer Tyler Dunne penned a piece on his longform website Go Long that cites some eyebrow-raising quotes from anonymous former Bears coaches and executives regarding Fields' time with that team.

As transcribed by SteelersNow.com, Dunne writes: "The Justin Fields era failed for many reasons in Chicago. Lame-duck regime drafted him, 'toxic as hell' QB room, leadership quirks. But No. 1: Processing."

A coach told Dunne: "Watch his eyes. He tries to see the whole thing and doesn't see anything. His eyes are all over the place, and it's just really hard to watch. It's just bad football."

The piece explores why the Bears have had so much trouble finding their franchise quarterback, using the context that No. 1 pick Caleb Williams is their next stab at it. Chicago coach Matt Eberflus already has named Williams the starter, a decision made easier in part by that the team has no proven veteran alternatives on its roster.

Was that done intentionally? Perhaps, at least in light of the reported revelation in Dunne's story that the idea of veteran mentorship for Fields three years ago did not work out as planned. Apparently, Fields relationship with Andy Dalton and Nick Foles — particularly the latter — was frosty.

"We thought having two vets with him would really help him with Andy and Nick, and that was not cohesive at all," ex-Bears director of player personnel Josh Lucas told Dunne, per SteelersNow. "The part you don't like about it is that there's a teachable moment in every point of practice. There's teachable moments in the building during the day, how you carry yourself as a quarterback. There's teachable moments at press conferences. There's teachable moments every snap on Sunday. When you've got two guys that have won as much as Nick and seen as much as Andy, and you don't take that information in, because you're a little standoffish and a little abrasive, you're wasting that opportunity."

Chris Adamski is a TribLive reporter who has covered primarily the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2014 following two seasons on the Penn State football beat. A Western Pennsylvania native, he joined the Trib in 2012 after spending a decade covering Pittsburgh sports for other outlets. He can be reached at cadamski@triblive.com.

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