On day two of the 2013 NFL draft, Dick LeBeau and Keith Butler had plenty of time to get to know first round pick Jarvis Jones, who was in town to meet with the media yesterday. They definitely weren’t needed in Pittsburgh Steelers draft headquarters as yesterday was the Todd Haley Show. Coming off one of their worst offensive showings in years and faced with several notable losses via free agency, the Black and Gold began the process of rebuilding the offense with both their second and third round picks. They also signed their first notable free agent.
In round 2, the Steelers selected Michigan State running back Le’veon Bell. To be completely honest, I find myself less than thrilled about this pick. Bell was only the second back taken so saying the Steelers had their choice of the RB crop is hardly an exaggeration. They chose a guy not radically different than two of the guys already on the roster. Bell is a big (6’1 230, although he played at 245 in college) physical back who projects as a straight ahead downhill runner. Granted he’s probably more athletic than Isaac Redman and won’t have to run to the sideline after every three carries like Jon Dwyer but his running style doesn’t seem markedly different from either of them.
Todd Haley likened him to Eddie George although George had the shiftiness and breakaway speed to break off big runs. The big knock on Bell is his relatively plodding 4.6 40. When you consider he dropped 15 pounds prior to the Combine in hopes of improving his speed, one shudders to think what he’d run at his natural playing weight. Naturally the comparisons to Jerome Bettis have already begun which is a fool’s errand that has trapped the Steelers with a sub-par running game for years now. His game highlights actually remind me more of Michael Turner, who enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career with the Falcons.
In round 3, the Steelers tapped Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton. In a nice bit of serendipity, Wheaton’s NFL.com scouting report lists his closest NFL comparison as Antonio Brown. At 5’11 189 and running an acceptable 4.45 40, he certainly fits the AB/Manny Sanders mold of small quick guy with good hands who runs good routes. Haley is already talking him up as a weapon out of the slot where he played a lot in college. I’m sure part of the thinking with this pick is having a potential replacement for Sanders already in the system should he leave after the season. Again, like the Bell pick, there are no glaring negatives with Wheaton other than he doesn’t really bring anything to the team that they don’t already have. He’s not a field stretching speed burner like Mike Wallace nor is he a big target like Plax.
Finally, the Steelers rounded out their running back corps by signing ex Pitt Panther LaRod Stephens-Howling, formerly of
Pittsburgh West the Arizona Cardinals. Wait, we can sign former Cardinals? Next thing you know they’ll be calling us Arizona East!
Stephens-Howling had the misfortune of attending Pitt at the same time as Shady McCoy so he never got a chance to play as much as he should have. He ended up carving out a nice niche for himself as a third down back and excellent kick returner with the Cardinals. He’s basically filling the role vacated by Chris Rainey except he’s a little more versatile in terms of being able to run the ball out of traditional sets. Considering every other back on the roster is a lumbering oaf, it’s nice to have at least one speed guy in the backfield.
With LaRod and Le’veon in the mix, the Steelers have five backs in the mix for next season. Looks like they’ll spend the remainder of the draft trying to fill holes at other positions. I’ll be back on Monday with a complete Steelers draft recap and analysis complete with pictures!
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The New England Patriots aren’t satisfied with stealing AFC Championship games from the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now they’re out to steal our players. After cutting ties with Wes Welker earlier this off-season, the Fighting Belicheats have been looking everywhere for weapons to add to Tom Brady‘s arsenal. Evidently they found one in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
New England signed Manny to one year $2.5 million offer sheet yesterday afternoon. Since Sanders is a restricted free agent, the Steelers now have five days to match their offer or else Sanders becomes Patriots’ property in exchange for their third round pick in the upcoming draft. Since the Steelers have already tendered him $1.3 million, they actually only need to offer another $1.2 million to keep him. Early word from ESPN No-Nothing Ed Werder is the Steelers are expected to match.
At this point, it seems like the Steelers are in a lose-lose situation either way.
If they don’t match, Antonio Brown will be the last member of Young Money left standing. While breaking up that group of underachieving punks isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does leave the team’s wide receiving corps dangerously thin. Subtract Manny and our current depth chart looks like this: AB and Jerricho Cotchery starting with Plaxico Burress playing the slot. Sure Sanders had his problems last season but that’s the kind of line-up nightmares are made of. If we lose Sanders, the Steelers will have to use one of their first two picks in the upcoming draft on a wide out.
If they do match, well, they still need to take a wide receiver. But before they can sign any of this year’s draft picks, they’ll have some work to do to get under the salary cap. According to ProFootballTalk, the Steelers are currently a measly $2.5 million under the cap. Giving Sanders another million plus means they’ll need to clear another chunk of space in order to sign their picks.
$2.5 million under the cap. Seriously, I can’t get over that number. Where the bloody blue hell is all their money going? Don’t say Ben because the Patriots have Tom Brady and they’re still a whopping $10 million under the cap. We haven’t signed a single name free agent. We let Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace walk away. We cut James Harrison and re-worked a bunch of other high priced contracts. I could see if this was a team coming off a Super Bowl victory but the Steelers got Tebow’d out of the playoffs two years ago and went 8-8 last year. Why are they paying a bunch of mediocre shitbums all of this money?
What the f*%k is this team doing?
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There are thirty-two teams in the National Football League. According the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is but only one. At least, that’s the impression one sometimes gets from the moves they make. The Steelers have signed five free agents thus far, two played for them last year (Larry Foote and Plaxico Burress) and another two were longtime Steelers who played elsewhere in recent years (William Gay and the recently signed Matt Spaeth).
The only non-Steeler to be signed was back-up quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who happens to be a Pittsburgh native. And we laugh about the Cardinals being Steel City-centric…
Anyway, the return of Spaeth gives the Steelers a little insurance at the tight end position going into camp. Heath Miller tore his knee to hell in last season’s finale so it’s anybody’s guess if he’ll be ready by camp or what they can realistically expect out of him in 2013. Heath’s a man’s man and not a lazy fatass like LaMarr Woodley so I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to come back but when your rip every ligament in your knee that ends with CL, it’s best not to set exceptions too high.
Heath is that rare talent that excels at both catching passes and blocking. The Steelers have two tight ends currently on the roster who can conceivably pick up the slack catching the ball. Unfortunately, neither David Paulsen nor Leonard Pope is considered much of a blocker. Some website called Pro Football Focus, which tries to ruin football with a bunch of useless made-up stats like those sabrematrician dorks ruined baseball, claims their analysis “proves” Spaeth was the best blocking TE in football last season. As somebody who’s actually watched him play, that notion is laughable even though he is a certainly an upgrade over both our current TEs in the trenches.
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Day Two of NFL Free Agency was even more wild than Day One. At some point the NFL really should consider televising these things since it makes for great theater. Just gather all the big name free agents in a room and have them pick the hat of the team they decided to sign with like high school kids making their college commitment. It’d be a lot more interesting than listening to talking heads on the NFL Network or spamming the F5 button while visiting Profootballtalk.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Day Two saw them lose a pair of starters. To nobody’s chagrin, former first round pick Rashard Mendenhall signed elsewhere, joining head coach Bruce Arians in the deserts of Arizona. Looks like Arizona will continue to act as Pittsburgh West for discarded Steelers despite the departure of Ken Whisenhunt. I wonder if Rashard has a compass so he can be sure to face Mecca during his daily prayers to Allah? Also, it’s kinda ironic that the coach who brought the Flying Circus here to Pittsburgh made his first big free agent acquisition a running back.
The Steelers also cut overpaid fatass Willie Colon. Thus ends one of the most mind-boggling signings in team history. Colon was a 2006 fourth round draft pick out of Hofstra who unseated Max Starks for the starting RT job when Big Max found himself in the dog house following the team’s disappointing post-Super Bowl XL campaign. Colon served on a series of lines that surrendered an insane amount of sacks although he was the starting RT when they won Super Bowl XLIII. Colon was, at best, an average tackle playing a position so easy undrafted rookie Kelvin Beachum handled it fine when pressed into duty last season.
Despite being stunningly mediocre and missing the entire 2010 season due to an off-season injury, the Steelers saw fit to gift Colon a five year $29 million contract the following spring. He repaid their generosity by tearing his triceps in week 1 and sitting out the rest of the 2011 season. The Steelers moved Colon to guard last year and while he proved to be a pretty nasty run blocker he also served as a flag magnet. This time he lasted twelve whole games before blowing out his knee. By cutting Colon, the Steelers lop a whopping $5.5 million dollars off their cap.
Between Colon’s departure and reworking the contract of another lazy fatso, LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers finally have some room under the salary cap. They still have to keep a chunk open for the draft and to sign their RFAs but at least they can now afford to bring in a cheap veteran or two to help fill in some of their numerous holes.
One area they finally addressed is the back-up quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is a tough man but his sandlot style of play and advancing age make it nearly certain that he’ll miss a game or two every season. The past couple seasons the team put their faith in
China Doll Byron Leftwich who has the unfortunate habit of getting injured tying his shoes in pre-game warm-ups. It was absolutely imperative they sign a dependable back-up.
And they’ve finally done so by bringing hometown boy Bruce Gradkowski back to the ‘Burgh. Gradkowski, who grew up in Dormont and played for Seton-LaSalle, signed a three year deal which may finally signal the end for another local product, Charlie Batch. Gradkowski has bounced around the league, playing for five different teams in his seven year career. He’s fluctuated between starter and back-up, starting three games against the Steelers during that time. His most notable career start came against the Steelers as he was the quarterback who engineered the Raiders memorable upset of the defending Super Bowl champs during the Hangover season of 2009. Gradkowski is the ideal back-up, a durable dependable guy who can come in and win a game for you if need be.
He’s also a yinzer which will probably lessen the blow should the Steelers finally decide to part ways with Batch. It’s no secret the Steelers have been trying to rid themselves of Chaz for a couple years now only for those plans to be undone by Leftwich’s brittleness and Dennis Dixon’s abject stupidity. With Gradkowski slotting nicely into a #2 role, the team can either draft a developmental QB or sign a young guy off another team’s practice squad. Although let’s hope all those high draft picks they’ve invested in their offensive line pay some dividends in the form of a nice healthy Big Ben.
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In a little less than two hours, the NFL free agency period officially begins. If you believe the rumors, sometime shortly thereafter the Pittsburgh Steelers will lose at least two and more likely three starters. Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall are certainly gone. Wallace is reportedly taking his talent to South Beach for somewhere north of $10 million per season. By “talent,” I of course mean his one and only talent of running really fast in a straight line. Mendenhall won’t be overpaid nearly as much although word is he’s being viewed as the best running back available this off-season. Several teams have been tied to him with the Denver Broncos being the early favorites to enjoy his butterfingers and hip-hop stylings behind the line of scrimmage.
The third departure will certainly hurt more than the first two. The Steelers would like to bring CB Keenan Lewis back but in a thin market and with good young secondary talent at a premium, it’s likely they won’t be able to offer him what some other team does. The Steelers have other options at corner as I’ve already written although Lewis is the kind of guy good teams keep around. While I personally think Cortez Allen is too good not to start, it hurts to spend years drafting and developing a guy like Lewis only for him to go elsewhere while we’re stuck bringing back a mediocre retread like William Gay.
The Steelers have deviated from the Steeler Way and are paying for it now and likely in the immediate future. They used to have no qualms about jettisoning expensive veterans in favor of reloading with younger guys. For whatever reason, they held the current team together long past it’s expiration date and those big money veteran contracts have left the team in salary cap hell. While those with tons of money to spend are almost always teams that suck (Miami, Cleveland) or successful teams winning with a lot of guys in their first few years in the league who are still on their relatively cheap rookie contracts (Seattle, San Fransisco), it can’t be argued that the Steelers paid too much money to too many guys who were either past their prime or too injury prone to reach it.
With James Harrison‘s recent release and the earlier contract reworkings, the Steelers managed to get themselves around $10 million or so under the cap. They offered minimum tenders to four restricted free agents (meaning any team that signs them has to surrender a pick equal to the round they were picked in if the Steelers opt not to match) and re-signed G Ramon Foster to a three year/$6 million deal and ILB Larry Foote to a two year/$5 million deal which knocks that number down to around $2.5 million or so.
Manny Sanders, Steve McClendon, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer all received $1.3 million tenders. Dwyer signed his right away which is unusual since players usually wait to see if a better offer is forthcoming. Dwyer clearly wanted to show the Steelers he was serious about wearing the Black and Gold and serious about being the team’s featured back next year. Sanders is probably safe under the minimum tender since he was a third round pick and it’s unlikely a team would want to surrender a premium pick for him. McClendon and Redzone aren’t sure things since they were undrafted and thus teams can sign them without losing a pick. If McClendon goes elsewhere, the Steelers nose tackle options will be limited to squeezing another year out of broken down Casey Hampton or rolling the dice with homicidal maniac Alameda Ta’amu.
The Steelers did manage to reel in one big free agent to off-set the loss of Wallace. “Big” as in literally large, not a big name unless you’ve just stepped out of Delorean that came from 2003. Plaxico Burress re-signed with the team that originally drafted him way back in 2000. He’s being brought back to give Ben Roethlisberger the tall wide receiver he’s wanted for several years now. Plax is old (35) and slow but he’s still 6’5 so he could be a decent red zone threat. Best of all, he’s dirt cheap.
Cheap is where the Steelers are right now. Yeah, winning the off-season is usually zero indication of actually winning when the 2013 season kicks off six months from now. However, the Steelers are an aging group with plenty of holes to fill. It would be nice to have a little money to spend instead of the traditional dumpster diving. Unfortunately, dumpster diving it is.
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Let the Purge II begin!
The Pittsburgh Steelers released linebacker James Harrison on Saturday. The former Defensive Player of the Year was scheduled to make $6.5 million next season and the salary cap strapped Steelers didn’t feel he was worth it. Earlier in the off-season, Harrison’s agent told reporters he felt his client was the team’s best linebacker and didn’t think he should take a pay cut. Evidently they held firm to that belief because the Steelers tried to renegotiate his contract last week, negotiations that went nowhere fast before ending with Harrison’s release.
At 35 and coming off several injuries, ditching Harrison now fits with the Steelers traditional habit of getting rid of expensive veteran linebackers before they decline. Make no mistake, Harrison’s agent was right, he was the team’s best linebacker last season. He tied with Lawrence Timmons for the team lead in sacks (6.0) and forced fumbles (2.0). The Steelers D was great at limiting opponents yards and points last season but they struggled with so-called “splash plays” like turnovers and sacks. Cutting the team’s most effective outside linebacker certainly won’t help them in those areas next season.
Harrison will most likely be replaced by Jason Worilds. Pressed into the starting line-up for large stretches last season, Worilds finally flashed a bit of potential by notching a career high 5 sacks. The problem with Worilds is still he hasn’t shown the ability to be a game-changer like the Steelers traditionally expect from their OLBs. Releasing Harrison also puts additional pressure on fatass LaMarr Woodley to get his lazy behind in the gym so as to avoid absolutely sucking like he has since signing that big money contract extension a couple seasons back.
The departure of Harrison removes yet another piece from the core of a team that won two Super Bowls and appeared in three. Harrison was a dirty violent anti-social thug but he was our dirty violent anti-social thug. I wrote more posts about the NFL’s obvious bias against Harrison than anybody but only the most Black and Gold colored glasses wearing yinzer would argue that Harrison was a good guy. If he had beheaded Hines Ward like he beheaded Mohammad Massaquoi or annihilated Ben Roethlisberger like he annihilated Colt McCoy, Steeler Nation would consider him Public Enemy #1. Since he wore our jersey and he cheapshotted our enemies, we cheered for him.
Truth is, violence is what made Harrison’s career. We all know the story, Harrison was an undersized linebacker who went undrafted out of Kent State. He was cut several times before the fateful day when Joey Porter was ejected for fighting in pre-game warm ups. Harrison stepped in and his ferocious play opened eyes. Porter was cut and Deebo went on to become a multiple time All-Pro and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. That season he had 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. But no play that season or in his career was bigger than what he did in that year’s Super Bowl.
Steeler Nation commonly refers to the Immaculate Reception as the greatest play in Steelers history. It can be argued Harrison’s 100 yard Pick-Six was actually more important. While the Reception was undoubtedly harbinger of the Steel Dynasty, the ’72 Steelers went on to lose the AFC Championship game the next week. Meanwhile, Harrison’s play is very likely the difference between the Steelers being tied with the Cowboys and 49ers with 5 Lombardi Trophies and being the only franchise that has won six championships.
The Cardinals were on the three yard line with 20 seconds left. Harrison not only denied them a TD, he scored a TD going the other way. If the Cards score, the second half is an entirely different game. If he gets tackled inside the red zone, time expires and the Steelers don’t score. That play was a legit 14 point swing and in a game that came down to the narrowest of margins, there’s no overstating it’s importance. James Harrison won us a Super Bowl.
So thanks, James. Best of luck in your future endeavors.
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Bryant McFadden was a career nickelback before finally cracking the starting line-up for the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. That off-season, he left for a big money free agent contract from the – who else? - Arizona Cardinals. McFadden quickly crashed back down to planet mediocrity as the Cardinals looked to unload him at the first opportunity. They got that chance when the Steelers swung a draft day deal to bring B-Mac back home.
Fast forward several years later. William Gay was a career nickelback before finally cracking the starting line-up. The Cardinals signed him to a pricey free agent deal which they immediately regretted when they saw him play. They also unloaded him at their earliest opportunity, cutting him shortly after the start of the off-season. And once again, the Steelers brought their wayward son back into the fold.
The only difference is when the B-Mac deal was announced, Steeler Nation was ecstatic. When news of Gay signing a 3 year $4.5 million deal was announced yesterday, it was met with a collective groan. I’m not sure why.
Gay’s replacement in the starting line-up, Kennan Lewis, is an unrestricted free agent. Rumor is the Steelers want to re-sign Lewis but aren’t going to break the bank to do so. Lewis played well last year, his first as a starter, even serving as the team’s most consistent shut down corner during the early part of the season. However, the team also has a youngster named Cortez Allen, who when given the chance to start forced something like five turnovers in two weeks. Allen doesn’t have the physical tools Lewis possesses but he’s the kind of smart athletic ballhawking corner the team hasn’t had in ages. Given the Steelers D is in desperate need of playmakers, they’d be insane not to afford Allen a shot at starting in 2013.
And therein lies Gay’s value. Steeler fans were upset that Gay’s signing signaled they were raising the white flag on re-signing Lewis. The way I see it, they’ll still try to sign Lewis to a reasonable deal, likely in the ballpark of what they gave to Gay. But if somebody else wants to pay him veteran starter money, see ya later Keenan. Allen can easily slide into the starting line-up with Gay playing the nickel, a position in which he’s both familiar and very solid. If Lewis returns, the secondary will remain some combination of Lewis, Allen and Ike Taylor, a trio who comprised the best pass D in the NFL last year, with Gay serving as injury insurance in place of inept stinkbombs like Curtis Brown or Josh Victorian.
Best of all, I get to dust off my all-time favorite nickname. After the aforementioned Super Bowl victory, the Steelers held a parade downtown attended by nearly 100,000 fans. At one point, Gay decided to treat the crowd to his tone deaf rap stylings for which I dubbed him Will.i.am Gay. I never thought I’d say this but after last year’s massive disappointment, I’d gladly listen to an entire album of Gay’s dope rhymes in exchange for another Lombardi Trophy.
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NFL free agency begins on March 12th. Since teams have to be in compliance with the 2013 salary cap by the start of the new league year, the weeks leading up to that date feature teams working feverishly to get under the magic number. Unless of course you’re the Cleveland Browns and are already way way under the cap because your entire roster is stocked with rookies and has-beens. For the successful teams, the figure they’re working to get under is $123 million.
There are three ways to go about this. First, you release guys. Secondly, you convince an underachieving player to take a pay cute. And then we have the method preferred by the Pittsburgh Steelers. You take guys currently under contract and rework that contract so they’re still paid the same amount but the cap hit is significantly less. The only drawback to that method is you’re not actually solving your cap issues, you’re just shifting the bulk of the burden to a later date.
Well, it works for the government. Maybe Omar Khan should be appointed Treasury Secretary.
Last year’s round of restructurings left the Steelers roughly $15 million over the cap the minute clock struck zero at the Super Bowl. Over the past week, they’ve redone three big contracts in order to lop almost that exact amount off their 2013 cap hit. I’ve discussed their favorite trick before but very quickly for the newbies what they do is exploit a quirk in the CBA (which I’m shocked nobody thought to close during the lock out) which says 100% of a players salary counts against the cap but you can prorate signing bonuses over the length of the deal.
Let’s take one of this year’s restructures as an example. Lawrence Timmons was due to make $5 million this season. Instead, he’s going to be making the veteran minimum (about a million dollars) with the other four being converted into a signing bonus. Timmons has four years left on his deal so prorating the remaining $4 million, Timmons goes from a cap hit of $5 million to around $2 million. Ben Roethlisberger restructured his deal to save the team around $6 million while Antonio Brown redid his pact to bring the team right under the cap.
The Steelers still have some work to do because they need to be a good $10 million or so under the cap just to conduct league business. They need to allot a chunk of money for the draft (about $5 mill) and another $5 million if they tender minimum contracts to their restricted free agents, among whom include Isaac Redman, Baron Batch, Manny Sanders, and Steve McClendon.
While they’ll likely continue their habit of dumpster diving for unrestricted free agents, the team probably needs to clear at least another five million or so in order to make offers to vets like Larry Foote and Max Starks. The Steeles don’t usually go after other team’s castoffs but rumor has it they’ve been eying former Cardinals/Chiefs receiver Steve Breaston as a potential replacement for Mike Wallace while also having an interest in bringing in some veteran depth at QB, RB and/or OL.
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And so is Dan Rooney. Less than a month after stepping down as Ambassador to Ireland, the patriarch of the Pittsburgh Steelers has resumed his role as team chairman. Perhaps not coincidentally, the first major incident to occur since his return was met with swift and decisive action. Perhaps the culture of arrogance and assholery which has festered under the reign of his son, Art Rooney II, is finally going to be addressed.
Running back Chris Rainey was arrested yesterday morning after pimp slapping his girlfriend in front of witnesses. Later that very same afternoon, the Steelers announced they cut the promising rookie. I realize no NFL team is going to be made up of 53 choir boys. However, it’s nice to see the Steelers brass paying a little more attention to weeding out the bad apples instead of worrying about firing offensive coordinators.
Rainey f-ing up isn’t exactly shocking. While in college, he was suspended for several games after threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend via text message. Earlier this season, he got into a scuffle at a casino. The only reason the Steelers drafted this headcase was because he lived with the Pouncey family during high school and Maurkice vouched for him. Considering Pouncey is one of the more arrogant and self-absorbed members of the team, it’s not surprising he’s a lousy judge of character.
Some people are crying hypocrisy over the team releasing Rainey after his first offense. Well, I’m sure there was a secret deal between the Steelers and Rainey much like the one they made with Mike Adams on draft day. Adams, you may recall, got popped for drug use at the combine which led to most teams, including the Steelers, taking him off their draft boards. Adams sent a heartfelt letter to the Rooneys apologizing for the mistake and vowing to walk the straight and narrow. After taking him in the second round, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert made it clear that Adams was in a strict one strike and you’re out situation.
Now, it is hard to justify cutting Rainey when the team still has NT Alameda Ta’amu on the roster. Ta’amu went on a drunken rampage through the South Side which resulted in 18 separate charges, several of which are listed as felonies. If you or I did what Ta’amu did, we’d still be sitting in jail or the hospital after the cops went all Rodney King on our ass. Oh the Steelers released the moron after the incident but quietly re-signed him the practice squad a week later then just as quietly re-signed him to the main roster when the season ended.
At the same time, it’s hard to argue Rainey was released because he was less important than Ta’amu. While Ta’amu plays NT, a much harder position to fill than RB, there has been zero evidence that he has any future here. He didn’t play at all last season so penciling him in to replace Casey Hampton is premature at best. Meanwhile, Rainey saw quite a bit of action, returning 39 kickoffs for 1,035 yards while rushing for 102 yards and catching another 60 worth of passes.
What’s more, Rainey was the only running back currently under contract for next season. Issac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall are all free agents. While it was pretty clear that Rainey was way too tiny to be a featured back, he did show promise as a returner and third down threat out of the backfield. Considering the Steelers have had four backs see significant playing time the past couple seasons, it looks like the backfield is in for a pretty big overhaul with at least two new faces added to the mix.
We knew this off-season was going to be one of upheaval. Of course, I didn’t expect it to begin with the elimination of every running back on our roster. Although in this case I have to commend the Steelers for doing the right thing. Let’s hope this zero tolerance policy becomes the norm rather than the exception.
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Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday afternoon. As I’ve mentioned about a billion times, I tend to ignore what he says because when he’s not lying, he’s using a bunch of words to say nothing. Well, surprise of all surprises, he actually used the time productively yesterday. It looks like there’s a whole bunch of changes in store for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First, we have the state of the offensive line. I already talked about this quite a bit yesterday but it appears I was in error. I thought for sure they’d re-arrange things however they could to avoid starting rookie RT Kelvin Beachum. Tomlin says Beachum will start against the Baltimore Ravens with Mike Adams nursing a high ankle sprain and Marcus Gilbert out for the year. Of course, the plan is subject to change since there are still a bunch of question marks regarding who’s healthy and who’s not.
Willie Colon is expected back at LG although they probably won’t be sure until an hour before game time. If Colon can’t play, my best guess (and I’ve been misfiring on my predictions more often than Bob Kudzma so take it for what it’s worth) is Doug Legursky would be first man off the bench. First round pick David DeCastro is cleared to return but I have to think if he was 100% healthy and ready to play, he’d be starting. That means we’re looking at either Starks-Colon-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum or Starks-Legursky-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum as your starting line. If there is another injury, DeCastro would probably be pressed into service at RG with Ramon Foster sliding out to tackle. I can’t imagine they’d play recently signed T Tony Moeki unless he was the last man standing.
The line will be blocking for starting running back Jonathan Dwyer. It only took Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley twelve weeks to realize this committee approach where each back gets 3-4 carries doesn’t work. The only time they’ve gotten good results from the running game is when they’ve started one back and stuck with him to the tune of 15-20 carries. Dwyer, who’s been the team’s most effective back, will start with Isaac Redman serving as the back-up. No word whether Rashard Mendenhall is planning a jihad on the coaching staff for busting him all the way down to third string.
Ben Roethlisberger has began throwing and ESPN is saying there’s a “50-50 chance” he makes the superhero comeback this Sunday. Tomlin said he’s proceeding with Charlie Batch as the starter so I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a Big Ben miracle. I haven’t parsed out all the playoff scenarios but barring a massive collapse, the Ravens have firm control of the AFC North whether they win this week or not. I’d rather Ben avoid the beating Baltimore is sure to dish out and be ready for the final three game stretch run against three very beatable teams than rush him back for one game which potentially won’t matter anyway.
Batch will have one important weapon back this week in Antonio Brown. Brown is by far the team’s best receiver so having him back will be huge for whoever plays QB. Tomlin also decided to play some mind games with the receivers, listing Mike Wallace and Emannuel Sanders (who has played very well in AB’s absence) as co-starters opposite Brown. I don’t think Tomlin has the stones to actually start Sanders ahead of Wallace but for those who thought I’ve been too hard on Wallace, clearly the coaching staff isn’t happy with his play either. We can worry about repercussions after the season ends, I’ll just say the team’s treatment of Wallace and Mendy doesn’t exactly bode well for their future here in Pittsburgh.