PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are run by a family and have the palpable feel of a family, and this week the theme -- beyond the obvious of beating the Miami Dolphins -- seems to be brotherly love.
It began Monday when the Steelers gave Alejandro Villanueva's brother, Inaki Villanueva, a tryout.
The third of the four Villanueva children, Inaki is a 6-6, 227-pound member of the Spain national rugby union team and played for Spain in the 2016 Olympics. He's 25 years old and apparently caught Mike Tomlin's eye while hanging around the UPMC Rooney Complex on the South Side and at Heinz Field on game days this season. The Steelers asked Al if he would notify his brother about a workout this week.
"I drove him to the facility (Monday) but I don't know how he did," said Al. "The thing is he's definitely capable. He's a very determined guy, and the one thing I found out about the NFL, especially in the past few years in my experience, and not just in this locker room but competing against each other, the pedigrees of players is overrated.
"The pedigree of a first-round pick means nothing in the NFL, because the mental aspect of the game is so much more important than how good you can perform. Obviously he's a very intelligent guy, a double major at a very prestigious university, Madrid, speaks a couple of languages. He's a very intelligent athlete. I think he's got the qualities coaches are starting to like more as opposed to how fast can you run the 40 and how explosive is your broad jump. He's just an overall very skilled, very mobile, good athlete."
Al said Inaki is down in weight because he plays rugby sevens, "which is 14 minutes of non-stop running, and that's the polar opposite of football. I know when he was playing (rugby) 15s he was a much bigger guy and he was around 250, 260, but obviously for all of those rugby sevens for the Olympics he had to drop down to 220. He's not in explosive football shape right now but just like I did he can bulk up a hundred pounds if need be.
"I'm not sure why they worked him out. It's one of those things where Coach Tomlin always sees him around the building when he comes to see our games."
Perhaps we'll be seeing the Villanueva brothers together on the field next spring.
But another set of brothers worked on the same practice field Wednesday for the first time since 2012 when Karlos Williams (No. 30) was signed to the practice squad to join his older brother Vince Williams, an inside linebacker starting in place of the injured Ryan Shazier.
Vince, who apparently has an issue with Pittsburgh media, wouldn't talk about his brother, but Karlos -- coming off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy -- was grateful for a new start to his professional life.
"It's definitely exciting," said Karlos. "Watching football for four weeks was kind of hard, but definitely a humbling experience, definitely learned a lot from that experience. But you process, you move on, you grow up, you learn from the choices you made, you don't make those same mistakes anymore, and you're thankful for the opportunities you do get and I'm very thankful for this one today. I love the atmosphere. I love the team camaraderie. This team with its coaches, players, the whole staff, it's a great place to be and I'm happy to be in Pittsburgh."
The two were raised in the central Florida town of Davenport and were freshman/senior at Ridge Community High School. Both went to Florida State and spent two seasons together on the defensive side of the ball. After the Steelers drafted Vince in 2013, Karlos moved from safety to running back and became a starter in 2014. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry, caught passes and returned kickoffs. He was also investigated by authorities for two incidents but was never charged. He was drafted in the fifth round in 2015 by the Buffalo Bills, gained 517 yards and averaged 5.6 per carry as a rookie. News broke of his pending suspension last July and the Bills cut him in August.
Clearly, at 6-0 3/4, 230 with a 4.48 Combine 40, Karlos has the athletic ability. But can he put his troubled past behind him?
"There's not much to say about it," he said Wednesday. "Things happen, you process, you move on. I found a new home. The Rooneys and Coach Tomlin gave me a chance to come here and play, so I'm going to take advantage of the opportunity I have here and process and move on and continue to try to get better, find a home."
Can playing in a family-type organization, with family, be a great benefit?
"That's always a good thing," Karlos said. "Me and my brother played together growing up in high school, we played together at Florida State. We bring a certain energy together when we're on the practice field. We were going through special teams and he said it's kind of weird having me around again, but it's going to be fun. It's going to be interesting. It's going to be fun. I'm just appreciative of the opportunity I have here, just to put in the work, prove myself and hopefully find a home."
Vince hits hard and Karlos runs hard. Karlos was asked to describe any great collisions of the past.
"Never. Never has been a great collision," he said. "When I was in Buffalo last year I had surgery during preseason so I wasn't able to play when they played against us, so we never had the chance to go against each other. Who knows when that'll happen, but it's on the rise. It's coming soon. We like to compete. We bring the best out in each other, so I guarantee it's coming."
It's coming Sunday for the Pouncey brothers as well. Not that there'll be any "great collision" between Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey. The identical twins haven't played against each other since Mike was a defensive lineman his freshman year at Florida.
Mike, older than Maurkice by one minute, moved to right guard the following season, right next to Maurkice on the line, and the two paved the way for Florida's 2008 national championship.
Maurkice came out a year earlier and was chosen 18th by the Steelers in the 2010 draft. Mike was taken 15th by the Dolphins in the 2011 draft. They played together in the Pro Bowl following the 2014 season but because of Maurkice's injury to miss the 2013 game they haven't played against each other in the NFL. Yet.
"We played with each other at the Pro Bowl. It was awesome," said Maurkice. "I think that was more memorable than anything, with the chance to get playing next to each other again. This here, maybe we'll get a pre-game warmup and see each other after the game and the family real quick but we don't get to go against each other."
Maurkice said his brother is "the only guy" he talks football with. "After the games I call him, because they usually play at one o'clock and we get the primetime games," Maurkice said with his ever-present chuckle. "How'd it look, bro?"
Does Mike give Maurkice any kind of useful analysis?
"He never calls me and tells me I had a great block," Maurkice said. "He's like, 'I seen you miss that guy on that play.' I'm like, 'You're depressing, bro.'"
But of course the two have great admiration and love for each other.
"We're exactly the same, honestly," Maurkice said. "I look up to him, honestly. That's my bigger brother. I know he always tries to say he looks up to me and I'm the better one but we look up to each other. I think Mike's better."
(For more insight, read the transcripts from the above interviews by clicking here.)null