Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was preparing for another round of NFL owners meetings when Nelson, who trains in Phoenix in the offseason, proposed breakfast with his new coach at the Arizona Biltmore. Over fruit and omelets, Nelson wanted Tomlin to understand exactly what he was getting with his latest investment.
“I wanted to introduce myself formally, look a man in the eyes and give him a sense of satisfaction of the type of player I am, the type of person I am, more so off the field,” said Nelson, who is participating in the Steelers’ offseason workouts this week after four years with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Nelson has seen too much in his football career not to be clear with his intentions.
Signing a three-year, $25.5 million deal with Pittsburgh — the richest in franchise history for the first week of unrestricted free agency — was the culmination of a career paved with challenges at nearly every stop.
A teenage Nelson proved himself in an ultra-competitive Georgia prep football scene, grabbing seven interceptions as a senior for Northside High in Warner Robins, just south of Macon.
Issues with grades dashed hopes of a scholarship with a Football Bowl Subdivision school. The football dream had to keep moving, and staying home didn’t exactly symbolize a fresh start. He took a chance on College of the Sequoias, a junior college located in the farmland of California, outside of Fresno.
“I was never the guy who was in the box. I always thought my purpose was always greater,” Nelson said.
The next few years tested his resolve. Nelson said he didn’t have a scholarship and relied on financial aid and food stamps to pay bills. Equipment was minimal, so Nelson had to hit up the local sporting goods store for the basics.
He shared a two-bedroom apartment with six other teammates. He slept on a couch at night and ate off the Burger King value menu during the day.
Not knowing what to expect each week proved stressful, and that stress overcame a few teammates who packed up and left. But Nelson played his way into a scholarship with Oregon State.
“It’s my own journey. I don’t regret it,” Nelson said. “These are the steps of life you had to go through. I wasn’t going to be denied.”
In four years with Kansas City, which took Nelson in the third round of the 2015 draft, Nelson evolved from backup to three-year starter. In his contract year, Nelson grabbed four interceptions and was rated above average by Pro Football Focus, the 33rd overall corner.
But with Kansas City ranking 31st in total defense with 6,488 yards allowed last season, cornerbacks were an easy target for fans. Nelson felt supported inside his locker room but not always outside of it.
“I kind of felt like I was shaded,” Nelson said about his time there. “I just felt like it was a slap in the face. A lot of people didn’t really know what was going on there. A lot of players took the heat.”
What was going on, Nelson said, was that corners were asked to play heavy man coverages, often in difficult spots. In 2018, the Chiefs ranked third in the NFL with 55.1 percent man coverage, behind the Denver Broncos (58.5 percent) and the New England Patriots (60.4 percent), according to NFL Next Gen Stats. The Steelers were fifth at 51.5 percent, but they traditionally have relied on zone coverages and often employ zone-man combinations, such as a “fire zone” defense. How an offense lines up can determine that coverage.
The Chiefs fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton after a season in which they reached the AFC title game but watched the Patriots march down the field in overtime for a 37-31 win. The Chiefs are rebuilding their defense with several new pieces.
Nelson accepts the challenge of one-on-one play but adds that some Chiefs players had grown weary of a predictable scheme that can handicap defensive backs.
“You’re a target to other teams, referees, fans. It’s just not a good thing,” Nelson said. “You have to switch it up. It’s the National Football League. These offenses are smart. If you switch it up like these other offenses are doing, you can make plays.”
Nelson basically knew a while back he wouldn’t re-sign with the Chiefs. But he told himself long ago he would play his way into an eight-figure deal.
In a “great vibes” meeting with Tomlin, the head coach told Nelson the Steelers would work hard and want to win now.
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That’s all Nelson wanted to hear. Signing with Pittsburgh, which he believes will maximize his potential in a versatile scheme, is “confirmation I am on the right path,” he said.
“[My background] has given me the edge to go out there and perform,” Nelson said. “I’ve already been in those situations, under pressure. I think it works out well.”
The Steelers’ cornerback issues have been well-documented. The team drafted five corners in the first five rounds from 2015 to 2017, and none of them is slated to start in 2019. The Steelers found a staple in Joe Haden, who signed a three-year, $27 million deal in August 2017 after Cleveland released him.
Nelson, slated as the starting outside corner opposite Haden, is eager to work with and learn from Haden.
As for that perpetual cornerback need come draft season, Nelson aims to change that.
“No longer a need when I’m on the field,” Nelson said. “I don’t say that out of arrogance but because I’m going to work for it.”
Chiefs vs. Steelers – Game Summary – August 17, 2019
(9:09) (Punt formation) I.Berryman punts 37 yards to KC 30, Center-K.Canaday, out of bounds.
No Scoring Plays
Data is currently unavailable.
Jags’ Lee returns after missing ’18, eyes opener
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jaguars receiver Marqise Lee practiced for the first time in nearly a year on Saturday, and he plans on being in the lineup for the Sept. 8 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
That would complete his comeback from a severe left knee injury that wiped out his entire 2018 season.
“My goal is honestly to be ready,” Lee said. “As far as the doctors, I can’t speak for the doctors and the coaches as far as what they plan for me to be. As far as me, I’m going to continue to take it day by day, try to improve, try to pick up my volume as far as the workload and hopefully be out there by the time it’s time to go.”
Lee, who had been doing rehab work off to the side during OTAs and training camp, stepped into a huddle Saturday for his first play since Aug. 25, 2018.
He was injured during the first quarter of the Jaguars’ third preseason game last year when Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee drove his helmet into Lee’s left knee, which resulted in torn anterior cruciate, posterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.
Lee, who has missed 27 games with various injuries since the Jaguars drafted him in the second round in 2014, said being back on the field was a special moment.
“I’ve been unable to be out there and work with them and sweat with them [and] it’s been quite difficult for me,” Lee said. “Now I’ve got the opportunity to be back and sweat with them and grind with them. I don’t [have] no worries no more.”
Lee does have a lot of work ahead of him if he is going to play in the opener against the Chiefs. While he has a good understanding of coordinator John DeFilippo’s new offense on paper, it’s another thing to run it on the field. Plus, he said he still has to build a rapport with quarterback Nick Foles.
Lee is unlikely to play in the two remaining preseason games against the Miami Dolphins (Thursday) and Falcons (Aug. 29), so it may take a while for him to make an impact even though he’s the Jaguars’ most experienced receiver (171 catches for 2,166 yards, 8 TDs).
“It’s all mental at this point,” Lee said. “I feel like, the physical aspect of it, I did all the rehab and things I need to do, so now I just got to make sure I stay calm and take it slow. It’s no worries. I think I’m going to be fine as long as I just manage and take care of myself.”
AB takes walkthrough reps, ‘didn’t miss a beat’
NAPA, Calif. — From running routes and catching passes on Thursday in Arizona to taking part in a Saturday morning walkthrough in wine country to being a full participant in practice as soon as Sunday?
When asked on Saturday if he saw Brown being a full participant in practice soon, Raiders coach Jon Gruden said, “I think so, yeah.”
“He took all the reps today in our walkthrough. He showed great retention, and we’ll see what happens here with this afternoon; we’re going to have a walkthrough today as well. We have a lot of guys that can’t practice so we’ll pick it up tomorrow.”
As far as quarterback Derek Carr is concerned, Brown doing “everything with us just now” bodes well for his own development and preparing for the regular season.
“The man’s recall is unbelievable,” Carr said of Brown. “He came in and no mental errors, and in this offense, that’s not easy to do. Especially, whenever you have a day off … you come back and you’re like, you’ve got to stay on Coach Gruden’s offense all the time. You can tell Antonio’s been studying because he came out and didn’t miss a beat.
“He was a part of everything we did today.”
Which is a far cry from what Brown did for the two weeks he was away from the team, not returning until last Tuesday as he sought treatment for his frostbitten feet, suffered in a cryotherapy mishap in France last month. Brown also lost a grievance to wear his old helmet, which is no longer certified, and has found a replacement.
And while the Raiders are expected to practice Sunday and Monday before breaking camp and playing a “home” preseason game in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on Thursday against the Green Bay Packers, few, if any, starters will play on the artificial turf.
Carr will continue connecting with Brown in walkthroughs and, when he returns, in practice.
“I can get to all my checks and do all that kind of stuff like I’ll do during the season and then I have … Tyrell [Williams] and [Darren] Waller and our running backs and Antonio, they’re all one-on-one, what do you do, who do you go to?” Carr said.
“That’s the mental game we’re going to have to play, me and Coach Gruden … but it’s nice to have him and I can play it like a real game and where I’d go and what I’d do.”
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