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Ben’s back and the Steelers believe the playoffs are, too

By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger explored all of his options last winter while his surgically repaired right elbow healed.
He could have walked off into the sunset with his wife and three children and not endured a lengthy and not particularly fun rehab.
With two Super Bowl rings stashed away somewhere and a reputation as one of the toughest quarterbacks of his — or any — generation, Roethlisberger’s legacy is already secure.
Yet Roethlisberger pressed forward as his 38th birthday neared, not so much out of ego or obligation but a sense of opportunity. He watched while Pittsburgh’s defense nearly helped the Steelers sneak into the postseason without him. It was all the proof he needed to realize how close the team he’s led for the better part of two decades is ready to contend once again.
“I just didn’t feel like I was done playing football,” he said in the early stages of his 17th training camp. “I really felt that I wanted to come back. I was excited about this team, and I just didn’t feel like I was, and I don’t feel like I’m done playing football yet.”
Good, because the Steelers are banking on Roethlisberger’s return to the form he showed when he won the NFL passing title in 2018 as the linchpin of their approach to 2020.
Rather than point toward the post-Roethlisberger era, they instead addressed what they viewed as shortcomings in hopes of chasing down defending AFC North champion Baltimore.
Tight end Eric Ebron was brought in to provide another red-zone target. Wide receiver Chase Claypool arrived in the second round of the draft with an eye on giving Roethlisberger a playmaker on the outside the team lacked last season after shipping Antonio Brown to Oakland.
The defense that led the NFL in sacks and turnovers in 2019 while finishing fifth overall remains largely intact. A little offense could go a long, long way.
A lot of offense could take the Steelers to a place they haven’t been since 2010, a place that has remained the metric by which the franchise has judged itself for half a century and counting.
“I think we are going to be a great team,” said Minkah Fitzpatrick, an All-Pro after landing in Pittsburgh via a mid-September trade with Miami. “Even though we do have those guys back, we still want to do what we did last year if not even better.”
The clock is ticking.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME?: The Steelers are banking on relatively unproven commodities Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor to take over at right tackle. Matt Feiler played capably at that spot last season but was shifted to left guard following Ramon Foster’s retirement. Both Banner (6-foot-8, 360 pounds) and Okorafor (6-6, 320) have the size necessary. The team is banking on them having the smarts and agility to help the line bounce back after a subpar 2019, when defenses stacked the line of scrimmage in an attempt to rattle backup quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges.
EASY E: Ebron enters his sixth season in the NFL as a bit of a wild card. He caught 13 touchdowns from Andrew Luck in Indianapolis in 2018 but his numbers dipped last season following Luck’s abrupt retirement and he ended the year on injured reserve with ankle problems. He’s been a very vocal addition to practice — where his near-constant jawing during warmups reverberates throughout Heinz Field — and believes he and Vance McDonald can become one of the most potent tight end tandems in the league. “I believe two-tight end sets are dominant if you have two really good tight ends, and I believe we do,” Ebron said. “I just look forward to making Ben’s job a lot easier, making our offense’s job a lot easier.”
PROVE IT: Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner reached the Pro Bowl in 2018. Now they enter their fourth seasons in the league potentially playing for their jobs. Both are entering the final year of their rookie deals and while the Steelers have been supportive of their work, neither has received a contract extension. Throw in the fact Pittsburgh used draft picks to fortify both positions and the writing might be on the wall for the highly popular duo, bringing an additional layer of urgency.
THIS BUD’S FOR WHO?: The Steelers opted not to offer outside linebacker Bud Dupree an extension in 2019, and he responded with the finest season of his career by racking up 11 1/2 sacks. The team placed the franchise tag on Dupree to keep him opposite Pro Bowler T.J. Watt but the pressure will be on Dupree to prove his breakout performance wasn’t a fluke.
OH, CANADA: Pittsburgh hired Matt Canada to serve as the quarterbacks coach, relieving offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner of the dual role he’d held for the past two seasons. Canada’s main job will be to help develop backups Rudolph, Hodges and Paxton Lynch, a pretty important gig considering that for all the optimism surrounding Roethlisberger, his status remains very much a throw-by-throw proposition. Roethlisberger was fine last year … until he wasn’t. If for some reason he gets sidelined again, a positive step forward by Rudolph will be necessary if the Steelers are going to reach the playoffs.
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Making Micah: Parsons primed to be Penn State’s next star LB

By RALPH D. RUSSO AP College Football Writer
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Micah Parsons could hardly wait to see his face on the massive video board atop Beaver Stadium. He imagined how cool it would be to hear 107,000 fans roar when he was announced as a starting linebacker for Penn State — as a freshman.
Parsons rolled into Happy Valley last year with much fanfare and no shortage of confidence. A five-star prospect whose roller coaster recruitment was laid bare on social media, he had much to prove as a player and a person. Parsons won over the skeptics, coming off the bench in 12 of 13 games and still putting together the greatest freshman season by a linebacker at the school that proudly touts itself as Linebacker U.
It has been 19 years since Penn State had a linebacker selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Parsons has all the attributes to end that drought.
“He’s a generational player,” said LaVar Arrington, the last Penn State linebacker to be a first-rounder.
Parsons is still waiting for that first home start, though. Despite being the first player to lead the team in tackles as a freshman, Parsons had a lot to learn. It was not enough to practice hard. He needed to focus when he was not participating. Parsons could make plays because of his freaky athleticism, but after playing defensive end in high school he was taking introductory courses at linebacker. Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry said Parsons was at the 100-level last year and is now working on 200.
Parsons disagrees.
“Oh, yeah, I’m definitely 200-level. I would say I’m pushing 300-level. I’m probably 300-level, to be honest with you,” Parsons said.
Definitely no shortage of confidence. Parsons’ father, Terrence, said his son needed to be humbled last year.
“And he was a little bit, you know, not happy at first because again this kid has always been the star. Always been on the forefront,” Terrence Parsons said. “Now it was like, hey, everybody’s a star here. You got to work now and that’s what I was worried about because you know he really never had to work. He was playing with God’s gift.”
Pry said not starting Parsons was not an attempt to teach him humility. It was about getting Parsons to understand what is expected of those at the top of the depth chart.
“It’s an approach. It’s the in-betweens. When we’re not doing a rep (in practice), what’s the behavior? It’s not the rep. It’s the other times. It’s trying to get the most out of every opportunity to learn and to grow as a player and recognize that you need that time,” Pry said. “You have to take advantage of that.”
Parsons was offered a scholarship by Penn State when he was in the ninth grade. The Harrisburg native wanted to commit right then, but Penn State coaches told him he needn’t rush. That was the start of a long and winding road to Happy Valley. When Parsons finally signed in December 2017, Penn State coach James Franklin said the book of his career “will probably be five chapters on my career and then 15 chapters on the ups and downs and twists and turns, and the journey of Micah Parsons.”
Parsons verbally committed to Penn State in February 2016. He decommited in April 2017. There was a serious flirtation with Ohio State. Parsons named his dog Brutus (like OSU mascot Brutus Buckeye). The Ohio State courtship ended awkwardly after Parsons tweeted, while on a visit to Columbus, that the Buckeyes should make a quarterback change from senior starter J.T. Barrett to Dwayne Haskins.
Then Parsons visited both Oklahoma and Georgia in December 2017, just days before signing with Penn State.
Parsons said he was not ready for the attention that came with being a high-profile football recruit in the social media age.
“The more success you have the quicker you got to grow up and the quicker you realize that the better you’re off,” Micah Parsons said.
Terrence Parsons said Micah would lament about not being able to act like a kid.
“I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right,” Terrence Parsons said. “You’ve got two ways to look at this: You could be a kid now and you might have to work a couple of jobs like me and your mom do or become an adult right now and then your dreams can become reality and you can be the biggest kid in the world.”
Franklin said he never thought about cutting off Micah Parsons.
“I mean obviously there’s frustrations and there’s ups and downs and all those types of things,” Franklin said. “But we felt like between myself and coach Pry we had a really strong relationship with the kid, with the family, with the high school coach. That if we didn’t overreact that we’d have a chance to get him back.”
Other players and recruits took notice of all the drama Parsons stirred, including fellow 2018 Penn State signee and linebacker Jesse Luketa.
“When coach Pry told me I was going to room with him I thought, ‘Damn, this is going to be interesting,'” Luketa said. “This is a guy who’s going to want everything, the attention on him.”
Luketa and Parsons are like brothers now. Luketa’s biggest complaints about Parsons are his roommate’s obsession with the video game Fortnite and his propensity for late-night orders of chicken wings.
“And he tries to guilt me and tell me to eat them with him,” Luketa said. “I can’t do that. I have to watch. His metabolism is different. I don’t get it.”
Parsons is different. At 6-foot-3, and around 250 pounds, Parsons has speed like a running back. He made 83 tackles last season despite only one start: He was pressed into the lineup at Rutgers when a veteran was being disciplined.
Parsons will play weak side linebacker, but he has skills to line up almost anywhere. Franklin expects to use Parsons as the secondary returner on kickoffs this year.
“He’s got elite characteristics,” Franklin said.
Parsons has been on Arrington’s radar for years. This spring Parsons and Luketa visited Arrington, who is now the head coach at Maranatha High School in Pasadena, California. Terrence Parsons said Micah’s relationship with Arrington is “heaven sent,” providing his son insight on what it’s like to live in the spotlight and think beyond football.
“I love Micah’s way,” Arrington said. “He’s a very cerebral person. Very, very intuitive.”
Arrington won the Butkus Award in 1999 as the nation’s top linebacker and was selected No. 2 overall by Washington. He is Linebacker U royalty along with Hall of Famers Jack Ham, Dennis Onkotz and Shane Conlan, and more recent stars Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor. Arrington said Parsons could top them all.
“Who does he resemble the most? It could be a lot of different people because of his capabilities; he can play middle backer or he could play outside backer. He could play d-end. I mean, hell, he could play safety if you want it,” Arrington said. “Who do you compare him to? He’s the first Micah Parsons.”
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Steelers’ undrafted Adeniyi draws comparison to Harrison

By DAN SCIFO, Associated Press
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Olasunkanmi Adeniyi is all too familiar with the comparisons to James Harrison.
Both undrafted free agents from the Mid-American Conference feature a similar, small, stocky-type build considered by some as undersized for the position. But like Harrison, the 6-foot-1, 248-pound Adeniyi also wears No. 92 and has displayed an early nose for reaching the quarterback.
“It’s a legendary number, and he definitely wore it with pride,” Adeniyi said. “But I’m a new rookie and I don’t want to be compared to anybody else right now.”
Harrison is the franchise’s career leader in sacks, piling up 80 1/2 during his 14 seasons with the Steelers. The five-time Pro Bowler helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl championships and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
“Obviously, it’s a great feeling to be compared to one of the greatest of all-time, but I don’t think I’ve reached that level,” Adeniyi said. “I’m just trying to make a name for myself right now.”
He’s off to a good start.
Adeniyi, a former Toledo standout, did his best impersonation of Harrison three plays into the second half of the Steelers’ preseason opener against Philadelphia. Adeniyi sacked Joe Callahan and stripped him of the ball, forcing a fumble.
He did it all with a hard cast on his injured right wrist, too.
“I wanted to bring down the quarterback, but with the cast, trying to grab him is a lot harder,” Adeniyi said. “It was pretty clutch, and I was definitely excited, though.”
Adeniyi’s high motor also caught the attention of veteran defensive end Cam Heyward.
“I think Ola took some steps,” Heyward said. “I think he plays with good leverage and I think he wants to learn. I just appreciate his hustle. He plays a lot of plays out there.”
Adeniyi has been forced to see a lot of action for the Steelers during preseason practices. T.J. Watt injured his hamstring during the fourth practice of training camp and Bud Dupree sustained a concussion the following week, creating additional opportunity for Adeniyi and others. At times during training camp, the Steelers have been down to three healthy outside linebackers, including Adeniyi.
“It’s a struggle, but it also helps with conditioning,” Adeniyi said. “I embrace (the extra snaps) to the best of my abilities because when (Watt and Dupree) get back, chances are, I’m not going to see the field as much anymore.”
Still, Adeniyi realizes there could be a position available with the Steelers.
The Steelers released Harrison late last season after the two-time All-Pro was active in just five of Pittsburgh’s 14 games despite being injury-free. They also parted ways with veteran Arthur Moats in the offseason, making Anthony Chickillo the only outside linebacker on the roster with at least three years of experience.
Adeniyi is trying to earn a spot through his special teams work, just like Harrison.
“Especially as an undrafted free agent, you have to show that you have more value to the team than just defense,” Adeniyi said. “Chances are, during the season, you’re not going to see the field as much when you have (Watt) and (Dupree) back, so you have to show that you can do something extra.”
Proving that he can reach the quarterback like Harrison doesn’t hurt, either. But Adeniyi is trying to carve his own path with the Steelers.
“I’m not trying to be in anybody’s shadow,” Adeniyi said. “I want to make a name for myself.”
NOTES: Practice on Monday was delayed an hour and moved to a turf field on campus because of heavy rains and thunderstorms that rolled through the area. … WR Antonio Brown left Monday’s practice early. Also sitting out were: Watt, Dupree and Chickillo, QB Ben Roethlisberger, RBs James Conner and Stevan Ridley, TEs Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, safeties Sean Davis and Marcus Allen and DE Stephon Tuitt.
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Rookie QB Dobbs eager to step in for Steelers

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Don’t get Josh Dobbs wrong. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie quarterback is amped to take the first snaps of his NFL career on Friday night when the AFC North champions open the preseason against the New York Giants.
The fourth-round pick from Tennessee — who may or may not be Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement depending on whom you ask — wants to get in the huddle with the starters.
He wants to hear the roar of the crowd and the sound of offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s voice crackling in his headset. He wants to stand at the line of scrimmage, scan the defense, put the puzzle together and go.
Of course there will be pressure to show the Steelers they made the right decision when they took him with the 135th overall pick, the same exact spot the Dallas Cowboys took Dak Prescott last spring. But Dobbs is well aware pressure is relative, one of the byproducts of earning a degree in aerospace engineering.
Trying to read a defense and put the ball in the right place is one thing. Trying to figure out how to safely get people — be they pilots or passengers — from one place to another safely is another, one with considerably more significant consequences than an incomplete pass.
“You have a lot of lives at stake with every problem that you do,” Dobbs said.
So while Dobbs fully expects a range of emotions when he sprints onto the field with his No. 5 game jersey pulled tight, fear of failure won’t be one of them. It’s simply not part of his considerable vocabulary.
“I’m just anxious to compete,” Dobbs said.
And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is anxious to see if Dobbs’ poise and precision during the opening weeks of camp translate when it (almost) really matters.
“At that position, you’re defined by how you perform under certain circumstances,” Tomlin said. “And it’ll be good to get him in that stadium on Friday night and watch him in terms of putting his skills on display. This is just the first time out.
“I’m interested in his game day demeanor, his ability to communicate through circumstances, not only with his fellow players but with his coaches as well.”
Dobbs won’t lack for opportunities. Roethlisberger is getting the night off and primary backup Landry Jones will sit while battling an abdominal injury.
With Bart Houston the only other active quarterback on the roster, Dobbs should play the entire first half and perhaps well into the second in what marks as the beginning of extended audition to take over whenever the 35-year-old Roethlisberger — who weighed retirement over the winter before deciding to return for a 14th season — decides to walk away.
Not that Dobbs is ready to look that far down the road. He can’t predict his own future let alone Roethlisberger’s.
So he’ll just continue to bury himself in Haley’s playbook and try to be ready when and if the time comes, if it does at all.
“I learned quickly at the college level that you never know when your time is going to come,” Dobbs said. “It’s a peculiar position that you play. You’re expected to, whether you have one rep in practice or you have 50 reps in practice to come in and play at a high level just as the starter did.”
Dobbs made his debut at Tennessee as a true freshman in 2013 against Alabama, pressed into action when Justin Worley went down with a thumb injury. He managed just two touchdown passes in five games that year. More growing pains followed in 2014 before he took off as a junior. He set a school record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season (12).
The Steelers aren’t as interested in Dobbs’ legs so much as his right arm and his voracious appetite to learn.
Following a whirlwind spring Dobbs spent the five weeks buried in Haley’s playbook, focusing just as much on the “why” as the “what” and the “how.”
Now comes the fun part: seeing how quickly he can translate all that knowledge into performance. He looked pretty comfortable running a two-minute drill with the starters on Wednesday, throwing a touchdown as the clock ticked toward zero.
“He doesn’t second-guess what he’s doing,” said rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has quickly developed a bond with Dobbs.
That comes later in the film room where Dobbs will grade himself out. And there is no Bell curve. There can’t be. When in the huddle, his job is the same as Roethlisberger’s. It’s heady territory, but one Dobbs believes he can navigate.
“You have to own the position, own the playbook,” Dobbs said, “say (the play) with confidence and keep moving forward.”

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Steelers have depth, diversity at receiver

In this photo from July 28, 2017, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers Cobi Hamilton (83) and Darrius Heyward-Bey take a break during practice at NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa. The Steelers won't lack for options at wide receiver heading into 2017. From rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster to mercurial Martavis Bryant to erratic Sammie Coats to veteran Justin Hunter, the picture behind Antonio Brown is crowded and cloudy. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
In this photo from July 28, 2017, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers Cobi Hamilton (83) and Darrius Heyward-Bey take a break during practice at NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa. The Steelers won’t lack for options at wide receiver heading into 2017. From rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster to mercurial Martavis Bryant to erratic Sammie Coats to veteran Justin Hunter, the picture behind Antonio Brown is crowded and cloudy. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

In this photo from July 28, 2017, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) walks beside quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during practice at NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa. The Steelers won't lack for options at wide receiver heading into 2017. From rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster to mercurial Martavis Bryant to erratic Sammie Coats to veteran Justin Hunter, the picture behind Antonio Brown is crowded and cloudy. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
In this photo from July 28, 2017, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Justin Hunter (11) walks beside quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during practice at NFL football training camp in Latrobe, Pa. The Steelers won’t lack for options at wide receiver heading into 2017. From rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster to mercurial Martavis Bryant to erratic Sammie Coats to veteran Justin Hunter, the picture behind Antonio Brown is crowded and cloudy. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
LATROBE, Pa. (AP) — Their All-Pro wide receiver spent the day welcoming newborn son Apollo into the world. Their talented but enigmatic project watched practice in a long-sleeved T-shirt and shorts waiting for the NFL to fully reinstate him after a year away from the game for running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy.
The guy with more receptions of 40-yards or more than anyone on the team last fall jogged around with his surgically repaired left knee wrapped in ice.
Oh, and perhaps the NFL’s best running back remains in Miami, his pen yet to sign his franchise tender.
And yet even without Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates and Le’Veon Bell on Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger weren’t exactly lacking for options.
There was veteran Justin Hunter — trying to catch on in Pittsburgh after splitting last season with Miami and Buffalo — using every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to haul in a pass in the back of the end zone. There was Eli Rogers — a slot guy by trade — lining up on the outside and winning a 50/50 ball. There was 20-year-old rookie Juju Smith-Schuster — fresh off an ankle injury that forced the second-round pick to watch the opening few days of camp from the sideline – making a sliding grab one minute then showing off his blocking prowess for former Steeler wide receiver Hines Ward the next.
Brown will slip back into his familiar No. 1 role when he returns. Bryant will be given every chance to show he can be the No. 2 provided he keeps taking all the necessary steps. After that, the picture is considerably blurry. And that’s a good thing for an offense that expects to be among the NFL’s most dynamic.
Maybe that’s why Roethlisberger is even chattier than usual these days. The depth and diversity at wide receiver has never been greater in his 14-year career. So is the potential.
“I want them to know what I see and I expect when we’re out there,” Roethlisberger said.
Namely, production. Lots of it.
Roethlisberger won’t lack for options, a sharp contrast to the makeshift group the Steelers took to New England in January. Bryant was suspended. Coates wasn’t anywhere close to 100 percent. Markus Wheaton was on injured reserve. Tight end Ladarius Green in sweats dealing with a concussion.
In their place were seventh-round pick Demarcus Ayers and undrafted free agents Rogers and Cobi Hamilton. Hamilton provided Pittsburgh’s lone touchdown, a 30-yard rainbow to save a little face at the end of a 36-17 blowout. It was also a cap on Hamilton’s rise from a player who began 2016 on his couch to significant contributor on a division champion.
Seven months later, Hamilton is well aware a job come early September is anything but assured. That’s the business.
“Every team drafts a wide receiver, every team went out and got a wide receiver from another team,” Hamilton said. “This is kind of how it goes.”
Brown, Bryant and Smith-Schuster’s spots are secure. Darrius Heyward-Bey remains one of the fastest players in the league and is a special teams ace. That leaves two spots at most to emerge from a cluttered group that includes Hunter, who has played for three teams over the course of the last two seasons searching for the right landing spot.
Hunter has spent most of the opening week working with the starters while Bryant clears the league-mandated procedural hurdles required to end his winding path back to the team. The former second-round pick hasn’t wasted any time making an impression, making at least one highlight reel grab during every session.
“I thrive off competition,” Hunter said. “I like the offense and how they distribute the ball real well during the season. I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Hunter and Smith-Schuster give the Steelers some insurance in case of another misstep by Bryant, one that Bryant knows would likely end his career. He and Roethlisberger sat down for a heart-to-heart recently to clear the air after Bryant took issue with the quarterback’s public admonishment of him following Bryant’s most recent suspension.
Roethlisberger stressed he and Bryant “were never really off the same page” and that “there never was an issue.” Roethlisberger is more concerned with getting Bryant back on the field, saying Bryant has “paid his dues.”
Bryant’s absence, however, will provide Hunter, Smith-Schuster and everyone else an opportunity to get a long look. There’s no doubt Brown is the alpha dog. After that, it’s kind of wide open. While the receivers insist they’re not counting reps, when one of them gets going, the rest take notice.
“When (Hunter) made two great catches with the (starters), it’s like àOK, now I’ve got something I’ve got to do when I come back,’” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to play the best players the (most) and it’s going to help us win the Super Bowl.”
NOTES: RB James Conner is day-to-day with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. … Brown wasn’t the only Steeler to welcome a new addition on Wednesday. Defensive end Cam Heyward was excused from

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Pirates jump on Lester, Cubs for 10 runs in 1st

CHICAGO (AP) — It started with Josh Harrison’s crisp single. It ended with Jose Osuna’s fly ball to center field.
In between, it was quite a display by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Pittsburgh scored 10 runs in the first inning of its 14-3 victory against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday, chasing Jon Lester in the shortest start of his career.
“It was a lot of fun,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “This team, we have been able to rally in a lot of different ways.”
Francisco Cervelli and Andrew McCutchen capped the scoring with Pittsburgh’s first pair of consecutive homers since May 24 at Atlanta. Cervelli connected for his third career grand slam before McCutchen belted a drive to left-center for his 17th homer.
“Throw up 10 like that in the first inning, it was huge,” McCutchen said. “We kept going, we kept pushing and didn’t stop there in the first. Scored a few more runs, even late.”
Cervelli’s fourth homer of the season was Pittsburgh’s first grand slam of the year. The Pirates were the NL’s only team without a grand slam.
“I’ve been trying to feel more comfortable at the plate,” said Cervelli, who matched a career high with five RBIs.
Pittsburgh sent 15 batters to the plate in its highest-scoring inning since it got 10 in the seventh against Colorado on May 17, 2009. It was the first time it scored at least 10 in the first inning since June 8, 1989, against Philadelphia.
It was the Pirates’ highest-scoring game of the season.
Lester left after McCutchen’s two-out homer. He was charged with four earned runs and six hits.
Third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras each committed an error in the inning.
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Penguins crush Predators 6-0 to take 3-2 lead in Stanley Cup

By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The night started with a catfish throw.
It ended with haymaker after haymaker — both literal and proverbial — from Sidney Crosby and the rest of the resilient Pittsburgh Penguins.
The defending champions provided an emphatic reminder of why they’re on the cusp of history with a 6-0 demolition of the Nashville Predators in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final to take a 3-2 lead. Pittsburgh will have a chance to become the first franchise to win back-to-back championships since Detroit in 1998 when the series shifts back to Nashville for Game 6 on Sunday night.
“Still a lot of work to be done but the way we played tonight, if we can build off that momentum, that’s important,” Crosby said after collecting three assists. “We know we’re going to be facing a desperate team.”
One that can’t get back to the creature comforts of Smashville fast enough. The Penguins chased Pekka Rinne with a three-goal barrage in the first period and kept it going against backup Juuse Saros to push the Predators to the brink of elimination for the first time during their run to the final.
“I don’t know if anybody shakes off a game like that that quickly,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “Nobody feels good leaving the building playing the way we did.”
All the good mojo Rinne generated while helping Nashville rally to tie the series at 2 vanished in a span of 20 minutes. Justin Schultz beat Rinne just 91 seconds in , Bryan Rust and Evgeni Malkin followed before the first period horn sounded, continuing Rinne’s baffling inability to play effectively in Pittsburgh during the series. Rinne has stopped just 34 of the 45 pucks that have come his way during seven forgettable periods at PPG Paints Arena.
“It was just one of those games where they were going and we were trying to find it and didn’t really get it going at any point,” Rinne said.
Not that the Penguins gave them much of a chance.
Conor Sheary, Phil Kessel — just as linemate Malkin predicted — and 35-year-old playoff newbie Ron Hainsey also scored for Pittsburgh. It was Crosby who sent the message — with his vision, his creativity and, oddly, his fists.
The two-time MVP’s eventful night included becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in the Stanley Cup Final, a two-minute roughing penalty for trying to dribble Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban’s head on the ice near the end of the first period and what he said was an inadvertent flip of a water bottle onto the ice during play.
“I think Sid really understands the opportunity that this team has and he’s not taking anything for granted,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
And apparently not taking any more stuff from Subban either. The two stars became tangled up behind the Nashville goal late in the first with Crosby on top. He attempted to extract himself but couldn’t, then unleashed a torrent of punches at Subban’s head.
“He was doing some sort of UFC move on my foot,” Crosby said. “I don’t know what he was trying to do. … I don’t know what he was trying to do to my ankle. I was in some kind of lock there.”
Subban, who claimed Crosby was complaining about Subban’s breath during a Game 3 run-in, just kind of sat there and took it. The exchange ended with both players heading to the dressing room with minor penalties. They watched on TV as Malkin’s wrist shot with 10 seconds left in the first gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 edge it never came close to giving up.
“That is, hands down, the best game that we’ve played in this series to this point,” Sullivan said.
Saros hardly fared any better. Sheary took a pretty feed from Crosby and sent it by Saros 1:19 into the second to push Pittsburgh’s lead to four. Kessel ended a six-game goal drought 8:02 into the second. The score had been predicted by Malkin and it came just seconds after Crosby threw a water bottle onto the ice as the play went by Pittsburgh’s bench, a move he told referees was unintentional.
When Hainsey, who waited 907 regular-season games before reaching the playoffs for the first time this season, tapped in a pass from Malkin to make it 6-0, the stage was set for the Penguins to return to familiar territory.
The franchise has won all four of its Cups on the road. A shot at a fifth awaits Sunday, though it’ll hardly be easy.
“It’s a good game but it’s still not done,” Malkin said. “We still need one more game, one more win.”
The Predators are 9-1 at home in the playoffs, a place they will need to be a haven once again if they want to extend their improbable Cup run back to Pittsburgh.
“The real hockey starts now,” Subban said. “You’re in the Cup final, this is what it’s all about. It’s about going back and forth.”
NOTES: Matt Murray finished with 24 saves. … Crosby now has 20 career points in the Stanley Cup Final, a new franchise record and one more than team owner Mario Lemieux. … Crosby also moved into a tie with Denis Potvin for 19th on the all-time career playoff scoring list. … The team that has won Game 5 in a 2-2 series has gone on to win the Cup 71 percent (17 of 24) of the time since 1939. … The teams combined for 100 penalty minutes (58 for Nashville, 42 for Pittsburgh). … Guentzel’s assist moved him into a tie with Dino Ciccarelli and Ville Leino for the most playoff points by a rookie in NHL history (21). … Penguins F Nick Bonino missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. … Nashville F Colin Wilson made his series debut after missing the first four games with an undisclosed injury. Wilson skated on the fourth line with Frederick Gaudreau and Harry Zolnierczyk.
___
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Frazier homers, Pirates beat Cubs 6-1 for 3-game sweep

By SARAH TROTTO, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — For the first time in a while, the Pittsbrugh Pirates enjoyed their visit to Wrigley Field.
Adam Frazier hit a clinching home run as the Pirates scored six times in the final two innings to beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 Sunday for a three-game sweep of the World Series champions.
“We came in struggling. It was big for us to get these three wins,” Frazier said.
The Pirates went 4-14 against the Cubs last season, including 1-8 in Chicago. Their previous three-game sweep at the ballpark was in September 2014.
“It was important for us to come here and play good baseball,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We didn’t play well here last year. They played really well.”
Jameson Taillon (1-0) allowed an unearned run and struck out six in seven innings. Cubs starter Jon Lester pitched three-hit ball for seven innings and left with a 1-0 lead.
The Pirates scored three times in the eighth off Koji Uehara (0-1), getting the go-ahead run when pinch runner Alec Hanson slid home on Andrew McCutchen’s bases-loaded grounder — a replay review upheld the call that catcher Willson Contreras was barely off the plate when he caught first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s throw on an attempted force play.
“That’s been more of our problem than anything, not getting a clutch hit and holding a lead at the end of the game,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
Frazier hit a three-run homer in the ninth.
Tommy La Stella’s pinch-hit double off Frazier’s glove in left field put the Cubs ahead in the seventh. Chicago loaded the bases on a walk before Taillon got Rizzo to pop out to end the inning.
Taillon has given up three runs in 20 innings. Last season, he had the second-lowest ERA (3.38) among NL rookie starters.
“Just a fantastic effort,” Hurdle said. “He came out focused and came out determined. He elevated the ball really well today, more so than probably in the past. The changeup and curveball were difference makers.”
MOMENTUM SHIFT
The Pirates entered the series having lost four straight.
“We’ve played some pretty bad baseball against the Reds,” Taillon said. “We knew we were better than that. To be able to answer, come in here and beat a great team that we respect a great amount that speaks a lot for the character in this club.”
Pittsburgh has either swept or been swept in every series this season.
“They’re probably the best competition in our division, and they proved it this last series,” Cubs right fielder Ben Zobrist said.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Cubs were swept in a three-game series just once last season: June 20-22 by the Cardinals.
BULLPEN WOES
The Cubs have blown a save opportunity in three consecutive games for the first time since May 2000 against the Brewers. Chicago relievers allowed 12 runs and three home runs in 9 1/3 innings versus the Pirates.
“We just have to do a better job at the end of the game protecting leads. That’s all,” Maddon said.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco (right groin discomfort) was scratched from Saturday’s lineup and was held out again Sunday. “I believe he needs another day,” Hurdle said. Frazier started in his place.
Cubs: Maddon said he had no update on RHP Carl Edwards Jr., who went on the bereavement list Friday.
UP NEXT
Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25 ERA) will start against the Cardinals and RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23) to begin a three-game series Monday in St. Louis.
Cubs: RHP John Lackey (1-1, 3.00) is set to begin a three-game series against the Brewers and RHP Chase Anderson (1-0, 0.69).

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Ex-Penn State president guilty on one count of child endangerment

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Former Penn State president Graham Spanier was convicted Friday of hushing up suspected child sex abuse in 2001 by Jerry Sandusky, whose arrest a decade later blew up into a major scandal for the university and led to the firing of beloved football coach Joe Paterno.
Jurors found Spanier guilty of one count of child endangerment over his handling of a complaint against the retired assistant football coach but found him not guilty of conspiracy and a second child endangerment count.
Spanier showed no emotion when the verdict was read after 13 hours of deliberations.
The trial centered on how Spanier, 68, and two other university leaders handled a complaint by a graduate assistant who said he reported seeing Sandusky sexually molesting a boy in a team shower in 2001. They told Sandusky he could not bring children onto the campus anymore but did not report the matter to police or child welfare authorities.
Sandusky was not arrested until 2011 after an anonymous tip led prosecutors to investigate the shower incident. He was convicted the next year of sexually abusing 10 boys and is serving a decades-long prison sentence.
Four of the eight young men testifying at Sandusky’s trial said they were abused after 2001.
“Evil in the form of Jerry Sandusky was allowed to run wild,” Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte told the jury.
The scandal sent shockwaves through the Penn State community. It led to the firing of Paterno — who died of cancer at 85 in early 2012 — and resulted in the school paying out more than $90 million to settle civil claims by over 30 accusers. In addition, Penn State was fined $48 million by the NCAA.
Paterno, a Hall of Fame coach, was never charged with a crime.
Two of Spanier’s former lieutenants, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment charges a week ago and testified against Spanier.
But all three denied they were told the encounter in the shower was sexual in nature.
A key piece of evidence was an email exchange in which the three debated what to do after getting the report from graduate assistant Mike McQueary.
Spanier approved having Curley tell the retired coach to stop bringing children to athletic facilities and inform The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youth founded by Sandusky.
But the evidence also showed they had earlier planned to inform the state Department of Public Welfare. Instead, Spanier approved putting that on hold, and the agency was never contacted. That failure to make a report formed the heart of the criminal accusations against him.
“The only downside for us is if the message isn’t àheard’ and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it,” Spanier told Curley and Schultz in 2001 in the email exchange. He called the plan “humane and a reasonable way to proceed.”
Spanier’s attorney, Sam Silver, said the case involved judgment calls by high-ranking university administrators in dealing with the complaint that Sandusky had been seen naked with the boy in a team locker room.
A state prosecutor, Laura Ditka, said the three university leaders wanted to protect the university’s reputation at the expense of children.
“They took a gamble,” she told the jurors. “They weren’t playing with dice. They were playing with kids.”
A report commissioned by the university and conducted by former FBI Director Louis Freeh concluded that the coach and the three others hushed up the allegations against Sandusky for fear of bad publicity.
Schultz and Curley testified they never told Spanier that the incident reported in the shower was sexual.
“Mr. Schultz made clear — he, Gary Schultz, told Graham Spanier that it was horseplay,” Silver said.
But McQueary contradicted them, testifying he did say it was sexual.
McQueary said he told the athletic director and vice president that he saw Sandusky behind a prepubescent boy, in a dark shower at night, with his hips moving slightly.
“Do you think that’s horseplay?” Ditka asked jurors.

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Pennsylvania Sports

Pittsburgh hires Heather Lyke as athletic director

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Heather Lyke spent nearly four years overhauling the athletic department at Eastern Michigan, aggressively courting donors and generating buzz for a program that lacked plenty of both.
The results were startling on the field and off. The football team shook off decades of mediocrity to reach a bowl game for the first time in 30 years last fall. Earlier this year, Lyke secured a $6 million donation, the largest cash gift in school history.
The task at Pittsburgh – which hired Lyke as the school’s first female athletic director on Monday – won’t be to turn things around so much as provide the propulsion necessary to keep pace in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Lyke replaces Scott Barnes, who left in January after two years on the job to take the same position at Oregon State.
Lyke, unlike Barnes, has local roots having grown up in Canton, Ohio before embarking on a career that’s included associate athletic director stops at Cincinnati and Ohio State. While chancellor Patrick Gallagher stressed hiring someone familiar with the landscape wasn’t part of the “primary criteria,” he allowed he’s hopeful that Lyke’s arrival can halt what’s become a bit of a revolving door. She’s the school’s third athletic director in less than three years.
“I want Pitt to be a destination,” Gallagher said. “We’ve got to end this sort of (turnover). That’s an aspect of believing in ourselves.”
It’s a virtue Lyke took with her to Eastern Michigan in 2013. Over the last four years the school has produced 17 MAC champions, though her biggest mark came in football. She spearheaded a drive that saw the rebranding of the program, from the school’s signature gray turf field called “The Factory” to the hiring of coach Chris Creighton, who broke out in 2016 when the Eagles went 7-6 and earned a spot in the Bahamas Bowl.
Donations to Eastern Michigan athletics also rose 51 percent during Lyke’s tenure, no small feat considering Big Ten power Michigan sits just 10 miles away. Lyke faces a similar challenge on a considerably larger scale at Pitt.
“It’s an incredible brand, and you have a chance to be on a platform to compete for ACC and national championships,” Lyke said. “And the only question is people say, àHow are you going to do that?’ Well, why not? How aren’t we going to do it?’”
Pittsburgh football coach Pat Narduzzi spent two different stints coaching in the Mid-American Conference and another seven years as an assistant at Michigan State, well aware of Eastern Michigan’s inability to escape the shadow of its conference rivals and establish its own identity in a crowded landscape.
That all changed last fall, when the Eagles reached a bowl game for the first time in nearly 30 years. Narduzzi took notice of the buzz.
“They’re in a bowl game, that shouldn’t happen up there,” Narduzzi said.
Yet it did. A large part of Lyke’s job will be finding ways to fill Heinz Field on fall Saturdays. While Pitt has stabilized itself in football since moving from the Big East to the ACC in 2013, a packed house is a rarity outside of games against longtime rivals like Notre Dame and Penn State.
“The experience of coming to Heinz Field for a University of Pittsburgh football game should be unique and remarkable,” Lyke said. “And so we’ve got to work hand in hand and recognize what they’re doing and how do they build from that and then we’ve got to develop our own identity as well.”