Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool makes a catch against the Cleveland Browns during NFL Wildcard round action last season. (Jared Wickerham/Pittsburgh Steelers)

Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool makes a catch against the Cleveland Browns during NFL Wildcard round action last season. (Jared Wickerham/Pittsburgh Steelers)

Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool returning to the NFL gridiron on Sunday

Pittsburgh Steelers open 2021 regular season on the road in Buffalo against the Bills

The sophomore season starts on Sunday for Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool.

The 2016 Abbotsford Senior Secondary School grad and his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates open the 2021 National Football League with a tough test in Buffalo to take on the Bills.

Buffalo is coming off a breakout 2020 season that saw the club post a 13-3 record and advance to the AFC Championship game. Many pundits are picking the Bills to challenge for a Super Bowl.

It’s a bit of a different story for Claypool and the Steelers. Pittsburgh cruised to an 11-0 start last season, but then stumbled down the stretch losing four of the last five games. The club then lost 48-37 on home field to the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Wild Card game.

RELATED: Abbotsford’s Chase Claypool catches two touchdowns in playoff loss

Despite a disappointing end to the season, it was a remarkable rookie season for Claypool. Back on Oct. 11, 2020 he became the first Canadian to score four touchdowns in an NFL game, torching the Philadelphia Eagles for 110 yards receiving.

He went on to finish with 62 catches for 873 receiving yards and caught nine touchdowns. He added two rushing touchdowns.

The Steelers offensive personnel looks mostly the same as 2020, which could be an issue and why many experts are expecting Pittsburgh to take a step back this season. The club lost running back James Conner, centre Maurkice Pouncey and offensive linesmen Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villaneuva. Key additions include: centre Kendrick Green and running backs Najee Harris and Kalen Ballage.

Matt Canada is the Steelers new offensive coordinator and he replaced Randy Fichtner back in January. Canada was the quarterbacks coach for the Steelers last season, and Ben Roethlisberger enters his 18th season as the Steelers pivot. The 39-year-old threw for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2020.

Claypool told Steelers media he believes the offence should be improved under Canada.

“I think the offence did change, I think for the better,” he said. “I think it’s a lot more fun to run the offence, we got a lot more options and versatility with the offence. Some of the stuff we’re calling it’s the same thing, we just have some new tags we’re adding on to it. It’s a similar offence, we’re just adding to it.”

Along with Claypool, returning targets for Roethlisberger include Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith Schuster and Eric Ebron. The talented group will have to carry a lot of the offensive load, as the running game for the Steelers struggled last season and is not expected to improve much.

The Steelers home opener occurs on Sept. 19 when the Las Vegas Raiders come to Heinz Field. Other notable dates for the Steelers include: Oct. 17 vs. the Seattle Seahawks and Dec. 26 when they take on the Super Bowl finalist Kansas City Chiefs. The closest Claypool will be to B.C. is Nov. 21 when the Steelers travel to Los Angeles to battle the Chargers.

The Steelers did play four preseason games and posted a 3-1 record.

For more on the team, visit steelers.com.

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