Of course he does. He’s a football player in Pittsburgh. Was there ever any doubt?
In the least shocking development of the off-season, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu got the legal equivalent of being sent to bed without supper – which, for him, would probably have been a harsher punishment than the one he actually received – after pleading guilty to four charges stemming from the drunken rampage he went on back in October. Ta’amu was originally charged with 15 separate offenses ranging from misdemeanors like resisting arrest and driving drunk to felonies such as fleeing the police and aggravated assault while driving. Miraculously, his lawyer plead all that down to four counts to which Ta’amu was sentenced to 18 months probation and four days in the Drunk Tank (basically a halfway house where DUI offenders are monitored).
Ever hear of the Chewbacca Defense? Well, it’s got nothing on the I’m a Steeler Defense.
Think I’m lying? Here is Ta’amu’s explanation for his behavior as told to the judge: “I was a rookie, I was scared. I was a Steeler. I was drunk driving.”
As soon as the yinzer judge heard the word “Steeler,” his Pavlovian response to cheer blindly while waving a Terrible Towel couldn’t be stopped. The fact he laughably claimed Ta’amu was being treated “the same as any other first time offender” is besides the point. I’m sure if you or I got hammered down in the South Side, sideswiped several parked cars before driving the wrong way down a one way street, then ran away from the po-po until several of them managed to wrestle us to the ground, we’d totally get a year and half probation.
But, hey, the Steelers need a nose tackle so we can’t be locking up Ta’amu now can we? Casey Hampton remains an unsigned free agent and it’s looking more and more like his NFL career is over. Which leaves Steve McClendon and Ta’amu as the only options at NT unless they find somebody in the draft. And it’s not like 6’4 350 pound humans grow on trees.
Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go…
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And never brought to mind?
The more quickly the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns is forgotten the better. I have to confess, I lost interest in this game about ten minutes in and started flipping to Red Zone in order to watch games that actually mattered. Considering nearly 15,000 fans attended yesterday’s season finale at Heinz Field disguised as empty seats, I have to think I’m not alone in my crippling apathy.
Pittsburgh is a football town. I would be insane to deny it. At the same time, Pittsburgh also backs winners. Oh, we still support our Pirates or Penguins when they fail but not nearly with the same fervor or in the same numbers as we do teams that win. The Steelers first meaningless game in six years and 15,000 people opted to skip it. The Rooney family, and by that I mean bungling meddler Art II, better not take this town’s support for granted or we’ll be seeing a lot more Pitt size crowds in the near future.
As I said, I didn’t watch every minute of this titanic confrontation but I’ll give some thoughts on the bits and pieces I did see. The reason my will was broken early on had much to do with a mind-numbing first quarter which saw Todd Haley‘s stunningly inept offense piss around while rookie nobody Thad Lewis drove 70 yards on Dick LeBeau‘s top ranked defense. The Browns’ drive came to a screeching halt thanks to a Troy Polamalu interception.
Well, at least Troy made one play this season.
Speaking of finally making a play, Ziggy Hood finally made an impact himself. Unfortunately, it came in the form of taking out the knee of teammate Brett Keisel, who will undergo an MRI tomorrow due to fears he may have injured his MCL (which may or may not require surgery). On the plus side, with Diesel out, Mike Tomlin was forced to play Cam Heyward. Young guys on defense, what a crazy concept!
The defensive standouts, if you can call them that considering they were playing against a guy who has been cut from three different teams’ practice squads, were Lawrence Timmons and Cortez Allen. Timmons put the cherry on top of his break out season with two sacks and a fumble recovery. It only took 5 years but LT is finally playing like a mid first round draft pick. So I guess we should expect next year’s first to finally make an impact some time around 2018.
Meanwhile, Allen continues to make me look like a genius for tabbing him as a future starter – and a high-level one at that – in the secondary. Last week he caused three turnovers (2 INTs and forced fumble), this week he added another two FFs, one of which he recovered himself. Five turnovers in two weeks. That’s nearly more than the rest of the defense combined. Keenan Lewis played well this year but I don’t see how they can possibly limit Allen to a nickel role next year.
Lewis, by the way, is going to be a free agent at season’s end. The balky knee which limited him the past month acted up so if this was his last appearance in the Black and Gold it was a brief one. I imagine the team will try to keep him although they’d be foolish to overpay for a guy destined to be a #3 corner. Lewis’s probable exit will likely be part of a roster purge that made last year’s Veteran Armageddon look tame by comparison.
Casey Hampton was replaced for almost the entire second half by Steve McClendon. McClendon even got some good pressure on young Thaddeus begging the question why he sat on the bench for 16 weeks while all the old immobile guys stood around like their feet were stuck in mud. Even though the team doesn’t have a legit heir apparent at NT, it seems certain we’ll go into next year with McClendon and (provided he doesn’t kill anybody over the summer) Alameda Ta’amu.
The linebacking corps will also be undergoing a bit of an overhaul. Reports on NFL.com are that yesterday’s game was James Harrison‘s swan song in Pittsburgh. If so, Deebo made sure to get one final late hit cheap shot in for old time’s sake. Guess he’ll have to sit out his first regular season game as a Dolphin due to suspension. Ironically, that hit came on the very play where Thad Lewis threw his first (and only) career TD pass. While it looks like Jason Worilds will step in opposite the chronically injured LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers will have to use the draft or *gasp* free agency to find another ILB to pair with Timmons when they part ways with veteran Larry Foote.
Ben Roethlisberger – making sure to clutch his ribs in crippling agony after every throw so we knew the Big Drama Queen was TOUGH~! – played to the bitter end. Ben, who threw for only 134 yards but 3 TDs, managed to put together a couple nice drives in the fourth quarter, including his 23rd and final TD pass of the season to Plaxico Burress. Eight years, three Super Bowl championships and a prison stint later, the season ends with Big Ben to Plax for a TD. Fitting.
The only drawback to yesterday’s win (besides Keisel and Kelvin Beachum getting hurt. Since when did playing Right Tackle for the Steelers become the equivalent of wearing a red shirt on the USS Enterprise?) was the victory dropped the Steelers all the way to the 17th overall pick in the 2013 draft. That’s still plenty high to get a quality player, one who may be counted on to contribute a lot faster than rookies have in recent years. Whoever they take, this is going to be among the most important off-seasons in Steelers history.
Will Art II admit the Todd Haley experiment has been an utter failure? Or will Boss Todd be given another year to electrify us with his vast array of bubble screens and end arounds? Who will replace the aforementioned losses on defense? Likewise, what will the team do with Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace? Assuming both are gone, do they stick with what they got or introduce some fresh faces to the mix? Remember, every back except Chris Rainey is a free agent along with Manny Sanders. And for the love of pete, will they please fire special teams bungler Amos Jones? He’s so bad, the name “Bobby April” was actually trending locally when the team failed yet again to correctly defend a fake punt.
On a personal note, I want to thank my readers for allowing me to vent this season. It’s been a maddening year but being able to express my frustrations here certainly does my blood pressure a world of good. Even though you guys seldom comment, I appreciate all of you reading, from the old timers who’ve been with me since NPC to the newbies who stumbled upon this blog this season. I’ll still be updating whenever Steeler news dictates (and as I’ve said, we should be making a lot of moves this off-season) although not on a regular schedule. I hope you check in from time to time.
Thanks for reading. Hope you all enjoy a very happy New Year. And Let’s Go Steelers in 2013!
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And then some players rolled into St. Vincent’s driving a bright orange Kubota tractor. Although you can’t really see him in that shot, Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel is behind the wheel of that bad boy. If that’s not awesome enough, he was carrying his bags in the shovel.
The Diesel keeps alive a grand Black and Gold tradition of at least one player arriving to Latrobe in a noteworthy vehicle. Joey Porter once made his entrance in a pimped out golf cart, a few vets coordinated arriving in a fleet of classic vehicles back in 2006, and then last season we had James Harrison showing up in a tiny German clown car, er, smart car. There was at least one Eco-conscious Steeler again this year as Keenan Lewis arrived in his own electric car. It must be some sort of promotional deal because I can’t fathom anybody buying one voluntarily.
Anyway, the Steelers 2012 training camp kicked off yesterday with the annual “Welcome Back” conditioning run. This is another storied aspect of camp lore. OT Jamain Stephens’ morbid obesity caused him to collapse in mid-run leading a disgusted Bill Cowher to release the 1996 first rounder two hours later. Mike Tomlin introduced himself to the Steelers in 2007 by making an out of shape Casey Hampton sit by himself on the sidelines until he could complete the run without passing out. Who could forget the sad sight of Big Snack, jiggly man-boobs flopping all about, running up and down the rolling hills of St. Vincent’s all by himself, the closing theme from the Incredible Hulk playing in the background.
Hampton didn’t have to participate in the run this year as he’s currently on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list after having off-season ACL surgery. Five other Steelers join him on the PUP list including Rashard Mendenhall and Max Starks, both of whom are also recovering from torn ACLs. Does this team need to lay off the leg press or something? Jason Worilds (wrist surgery) and James Harrison (undisclosed leg problem) also begin camp on the PUP.
And then we have the guy who didn’t participate in the run because he’s not in Latrobe: Mike Wallace. Yes, Wallace followed through on his threat to hold out of camp unless he’s given a brand new contract. He’s the first player to hold out since Hines Ward‘s brief hold out back in 2005. That one came to an end when Cowher called Ward and told him, “If you want to get a new deal done, better get your ass to camp.”
What Tomlin has told Wallace, we do not know. He did tell the media that Wallace needs to understand that “this thing,” ie the Steelers, are bigger than any one person. He also added that it was “unfortunate” for Wallace that he didn’t show up. The Steelers had a different reaction. A reaction which can best be characterized by the letters F and U.
The Steelers, you see, don’t respond well to threats. They’ve traditionally refused to negotiate with a player who’s holding out and accordingly they’ve “broken off talks” with Wallace as long as he chooses to pursue his selfish course of action. It appears they won’t talk to him until he shows his weasel face at camp which is an interesting Catch-22 because he can’t report to camp until he signs his damn tender. At this point it’s a literal stalemate with neither side seemingly willing to blink first.
Oh well, at least we had a nice quiet off-season…
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The Pittsburgh Steelers began mandatory mini-camp last week. Which is not to be confused with voluntary off-season team activities (OTAs) or strongly suggested rookie orientation and underwear inspection. Does anybody else remember the good old days when we had the Pro Bowl the week after the Super Bowl and that was the last we saw of the NFL until teams reported to training camp in August? Not that I blame teams for keeping their players under thumbs all year round. Less chance of them getting arrested or knocking up another half dozen women of loose morals. Call it crime and population control, NFL-style.
I generally don’t cover the goings-on at these get half-assed scrimmages because some rookie breaking loose for a 55 yard touchdown while being covered by some undrafted free agent playing in a t-shirt and shorts doesn’t indicate anything of particular relevance to the upcoming season. However, there was one bit of news which does. General Manager Kevin Colbert has been making the media rounds to discuss some of what we’ve been seeing at mini-camp. Or, in the case of disgruntled wide receiver Mike Wallace, what we’re not seeing, which is him showing up like everybody else instead of being a selfish prick.
Colbert mentioned that injured nose tackle Casey Hampton and injured running back Rashard Mendenhall are progressing slowly from major injuries late in the season and he expects both to begin the 2012 season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. This is significant for a couple of reasons. Not the least of which are NFL rules that mandate any player on the PUP list must sit out the first six games of the regular season. Six games, not weeks, which means neither man will be eligible to return until the Steelers face RGIII and the new look Redskins in week 8.
The good news is that the Steelers are well stocked at both NT and RB while they await their eventual return. To his credit, Big Snack has been working diligently with rookie Alameda Ta’amu, the man many expect will be his heir apparent. I don’t see a rookie starting for the Steelers D, even if the nose tackle’s primary job is to be fat and clog up the middle, so look to Steve McClendon as the odds on favorite to start in Hamp’s place. Which isn’t to say they won’t work Ta’amu into the mix and, if he shows the ability many of us feel he has, steadily increase his playing time as time goes on.
The running back position is even deeper while the bar set by the man they’re trying to replace is even lower. In fact, many wondered why the Steelers didn’t go to more of a shared backfield last season when Mendy repeatedly failed to get the job done. Running game by committee seems to becoming the rule rather than the exception in today’s NFL so let’s hope new offensive coordinator Todd Haley does a better a job spreading the wealth. Isaac Redman will be the team’s primary back but his power running style, while pleasing to fans of Stiller Football, doesn’t offer much big play potential. Rookie Chris Rainey and Baron Batch, with their pass catching skills and big play ability, will be looked at as possible third down backs. And then there are John Clay and Jon Dwyer, who offer depth along with versatility.
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While four teams still remain in the NFL playoffs, the rest of the league is turning their attention toward next season. In yesterday’s Post-Gazette, team president Art Rooney mentioned that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be facing “tough decisions” this off-season. Translation: We brought back the old slow veterans for one more go ’round the track but since they failed, it’s off to the glue factory for some of them.
Peter King, of all people, pointed out the Steelers future salary cap woes before the season began and it bears examining now that we’re faced with the consequences. Next year’s cap is projected to be in the neighborhood of $125 million, which the current roster currently exceeds by somewhere between $20-25 million. That’s money already committed, to say nothing about money needed to sign draft picks, re-sign Mike Wallace, Issac Redman and other pending free agents, and perhaps *gasp* even spending a buck or two on the FA market to bring a decent lineman in here so our franchise QB doesn’t get broken in two halfway through the season.
Steeler Nation has been somewhat spoiled by management that’s stayed one step ahead of the game when dealing with the salary cap. The team has been clever about restructuring deals and/or adding bonus money or years in order to lower the cap hit. Problem is, adding years to guys already pushing their mid-30s is completely idiotic. And if Indianapolis is seriously considering cutting Peyton Manning, the man who made their sad little franchise relevant, in order to avoid paying him a roster bonus (and the accompanying cap hit), there’s nobody on the Steelers who should be untouchable.
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The mood in Pittsburgh is not good. How seriously do we take our Steelers football? The day after each of our two Super Bowl losses, a figurative dark cloud hangs over the city. I currently live in the ‘burbs but I was still going to CMU when
Neil O’Donnell threw we lost Super Bowl XXX. Taking a bus through town from my off-campus apartment, I had never seen more somber expressions in my life. It was positively funereal.
Now that we’ve had a few days to digest what has to be the most devastating non-Super Bowl loss in Black and Gold history, it’s time to focus on the off-season. Before closing the book on the 2011 campaign, though, here are a few quick tidbits that surfaced over the past couple days.
— Pittsburgh’s esteemed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, made good on his bet with the mayor of Denver by Tebowing for the local news media. Everybody knows the Boy Wonder is a diehard fan so I’m not surprised he made a city-to-city bet on a Wild Card game. I am a bit surprised by the stakes. What if the Steelers had won? Would Denver’s mayor have to break his foot, then do body shots with a skanky coed?
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I’ve written a lot this season about the decline of Pittsburgh Steelers all-time great Hines Ward. It was never my intent to turn this into a Hines Hater blog but the combination of his being one of the faces of the current era of Black and Gold greatness and the fact the national media was totally out of the loop in regards to his rapidly diminishing importance, I felt like I had to keep harping on it. Also, despite Hines’ insistence that the feels he’s “owed nothing” by the team, I have a feeling the eventual break-up is going to be a painful one. And Steeler Nation should be prepared for an ugly fall-out.
While I’ve been focusing on Hines, however, I’ve neglected the other side of the ball.
A couple things happened during Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs which really hit home to me that Hines may not be the only Steeler mainstay facing his last stand. First, the Chiefs offense had a fleeting moment of competence in the second quarter when Tyler Palko stared down a blitzing linebacker and converted a big third down. “Stared down” is a bit of an overstatement as James Farrior was sent up the middle on a fire blitz and while nothing but the faint scent of failure stood between him and Palko, the ball was delivered before James had crossed the line of scrimmage. Then, late in the game, with the Chiefs moving the ball on an exhausted Steeler defense, the cameras repeatedly cut to a shot of Casey Hampton sucking wind on the sideline.
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Perhaps no football cliche is overused more than than the dreaded “Bulletin board material.” The term amuses me for several reasons. First, there is nothing more boring than the canned responses the traditional media frequently receives from athletes. When a player finally steps outside that comfort zone and says something like “I think we’re gonna win,” the reporters gasp at their audaciousness. Then the next day, we see any number of talking heads rant excitedly about said player providing “Bulletin board material” to his opponents.
Which is why the Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry with the [intlink id=”141″ type=”category”]Baltimore Ravens[/intlink] is so refreshing. The teams hate each other and they aren’t shy about it. Terrell Suggs famously showed up to training camp wearing a shirt which proclaimed his hatred of the Steelers. Ray Lewis crowed about the “bounties” collected for taking out certain Steelers, most notably [intlink id=”34″ type=”category”]Hines Ward[/intlink]. More recently, the teams spent the entire off-season sniping at each other in 140 characters or less on Twitter, culminating in [intlink id=”60″ type=”category”]Ryan Clark[/intlink] stating the rivalry “isn’t really a rivalry” until the Ravens actually win a game. An infuriated Baltimore coach Jim Harbaugh angrily responded, “I don’t care what Ryan Clark says about anything.”