When the season ended for the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple months back, I wrote that it appeared we were in for an off-season filled with upheaval. I said that because with something like a dozen unrestricted free agents, a half dozen restricted free agents and a number of overpaid veterans, it seemed a pretty safe bet the roster was going to see significant changes. I never thought those changes would extend to the coaching staff as well. Looking back, change was probably inevitable coming off such a massively disappointing season.
We knew the Steelers were losing offensive line coach Sean Kugler since he announced during the season he was leaving to become head coach at his alma mater (UTEP) at year’s end. Kugler might be the most significant loss as he’s done a tremendous job with the Black and Gold’s offensive line since replacing the awful Larry Zierlein in 2010. Every year we talk about the team’s “new look” line and every year one player goes down almost immediately with several more falling as the campaign marches on. Last year, the team used a different starting O-line combination nearly every week. The line didn’t exactly remain steady no matter who they plugged in – the run blocking, for example, fell apart when Willie Colon was lost – but the fact they could throw an untested undrafted rookie like Kelvin Beachum out there and watch him hold his own speaks well of Kugler’s coaching ability.
Kugler is being replaced by Jack Bicknell Jr. That name probably means more to college football fans than those of us who follow the NFL. Bicknell is the son of longtime Boston College head coach Jack Bicknell. Bicknell Jr. was a starting O-lineman for his dad during the Doug Flutie years before moving into coaching himself. He’s been a career OL coach with the exception of a seven year head coaching stint at Terry Bradshaw‘s alma mater, Louisiana Tech. In recent years, Bicknell Jr. was an assistant OL coach for the Giants for a few seasons before moving on to the Chiefs last season. I don’t pay attention to KC but the G-Men have had some really good lines so let’s hope he was a big part of that.
The Steelers most recent loss was wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery. The official story is Montgomery left to become offensive coordinator at Duke. However, Uncle Eddy Bouchette at the P-G in his role of unofficial PR man has floated the story (no doubt fed to him by team officials) that the team actually booted him out the door. It sounds a lot like the Bruce Arians story where instead of straight out firing BA, they encouraged him to “retire.” And like the Arians situation, word is the reason Montgomery fell out of favor with Steelers brass as they saw him as too buddy-buddy with the Young Money crew. I’m not enamored with Art Rooney II‘s idea that coaches should be hard on their players but those idiots definitely need someone who will put boots to asses.
The new WR coach is Aliquippa native Richard Mann. Mann is a 30 year veteran of the NFL coaching ranks although he has been out of the league the past three years, working as a consultant who prepares college guys for the draft. Mann prior job was as the WR coach/assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs under Raheem Morris. Mann spent 8 seasons in Tampa, several of which saw him coaching on the same staff as Mike Tomlin. During his tenure, the Bucs won a Super Bowl and had at least one 1,000 yard receiver every year except the last. He’s known as a very detail oriented guy so let’s hope he can bring some discipline to that group of underachievers.
Now, I’ve saved the best for last. The Steelers special teams were an absolute joke last season yet ST coach Amos Jones was inexplicably brought to Arizona by his old buddy Bruce Arians as the ST coordinator down there. I don’t think a single member of Steeler Nation lost sleep over that development. After reaching out to a number of candidates, the Black and Gold finally hired Washington Redskins ST coach Danny Smith. Smith, who started his coaching career at Central Catholic, has bounced around the league since then, coaching ST for the Eagles, Bills and Skins while also enjoying short stints as TE coach for the Lions and DB coach for Philly.
Interestingly, Smith was the team’s first choice back in 2010 but Washington wouldn’t let him go so we ultimately settled on Al Everest. Also, as this comprehensive look at Smith’s eight year stint in Washington mentions, he was the man in charge when Shaun Suisham endured one of his notable meltdowns. Suisham has revitalized his career here in Pittsburgh so it’ll be interesting to see if his resurgence continues under the man who oversaw one of his biggest failures. To be honest, I’d almost be willing to trade a slight drop-off in accuracy if it means a kickoff unit that doesn’t get flagged for holding on every return.
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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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Sorry for being overly negative although it’s hard not to be since for the first time in a very long time, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing an utterly meaningless football game. The last time the Steelers entered the last week of the season with absolutely nothing to play for was the final game of the Bill Cowher era. Actually, there was something to play for that weekend.
The Steelers had been eliminated from playoff contention the week prior but the Cincinnati Bengals needed a win to get in. When asked what would motivate his team to play with nothing on the line, Cowher famously said “Misery loves company.” And his team responded by sending their long-time coach out a winner (and dumping the Bungles from the playoff race) with a clutch TD by Santonio Holmes in overtime.
While this week’s opponent, the Cleveland Browns, aren’t playing for anything either, I have a hard time imagining Mike Tomlin motivating his players in a similar fashion. After all, Fraud Tomlin couldn’t get these guys to play hard when the playoffs were on the line, how’s he gonna get them fired up for a glorified exhibition game?
How bad has it gotten? Local talk shows are taking call after call from members of Steeler Nation who actually WANT the Steelers to lose so they improve their draft position. I can’t say that’s a bad idea. Never forget the 2007 draft where Darrelle Revis went with the 14th pick and while we took Lawrence Timmons one pick later. Timmons has finally realized his potential this season although I don’t think anybody would be crazy enough to argue they’d rather have him over Revis Island. So who knows, perhaps a loss on Sunday is the difference between drafting a shutdown corner or a chronically underachieving linebacker.
Good grief, we’re talking about draft position and hoping for losses. Yes, it has come to this.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs BROWNS OFFENSE
The Browns offense will finish the year near the bottom of the league in points per game and total yards. Rookie QB Brandon Weedon has shown flashes of being a competent signal caller but enters the game having thrown more INTs (17) than TDs (14). Of course, it’s not all Weedon’s fault. Other than fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson, who was on track for 1,000+ rushing and 400+ receiving yards before he got banged up, the Browns don’t have much in the way of offensive weapons. Whoever takes over in the front office will definitely be looking to upgrade the skill positions this off-season.
EDIT: And of course late news out of Cleveland is both Weedon and Richardson are nursing injuries and won’t be active on Sunday. Evidently the Browns want to ensure they’re in position to take the next Revis so they’re endeavoring to field the WORST TEAM EVER. Even back-up Colt McCoy is sitting out because his testicles haven’t descended or some such nonsense. Which means all you loyal season ticket holders will get to see the NFL debut of rookie QB Thad Lewis. THAD LEWIS! SMELL THE EXCITEMENT!
Which brings us to the Browns’ sole motivation this weekend, rescuing coach Pat Shurmur’s job. Shurmur’s only been in Cleveland two years (although Cleveland years are like dog years, one feels like seven) but with a new owner used to winning – he was a minority owner of the Steelers – Shurmur’s wretched 9-22 mark may do him in. Knowing the Browns, they’ll probably fire Shurmur only to hire another retread like Norv Turner although we’ll
worry laugh about that when the time comes. For now Shurmur is their coach and he may very well need a win this Sunday to have any hope of keeping his job.
For the Steelers, this may be the last hurrah for some familiar faces. Casey Hampton took a pay cut to come back one more year and although the team doesn’t really have a heir apparent waiting in the wings – unless you count that drunken imbecile Alameda Ta’amu – he may not be back next season. Then there’s James Harrison. Although our old pal Hennessy will be heartbroken to hear this, there is real talk that Harrison and his $9 million salary will not be back in 2013. I think that would be a mistake since Deebo has shown he can still play at a very high level when he’s reasonably healthy but remember this is the same team that cut Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter when they still had a little gas left in the tank.
It’s the Steeler Way.
Despite a season filled with injuries to key players and lacking in game-changing plays, the Steelers D will almost certainly finish the year ranked first overall for the third time in the past six years. Dick LeBeau has been telling his guys that he intends to come back next season so barring another Bruce Arians fiasco from Art II, our D should still be pretty good next season no matter who he has to coach.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs BROWNS DEFENSE
The only upside to having one more game left in the season is you only have one more game to watch the Steelers’ excruciatingly pitiful excuse for an offense. The defense certainly struggled the first month or so of the season but when the story of 2012 is written our inept offense is going to bear the brunt of the criticism for things going so horrible wrong. And deservedly so.
Todd Haley was brought in to take them to the next level. Instead, everything has gone backwards. Ben Roethlisberger regressed. The Young Money crew regressed. The running game regressed. I don’t know if Boss Todd will be back next year – my money, or rather the money inherited by the Deuce, says yes – but let’s hope things improve next year.
Contrasted with the last appearance in the Black and Gold of some veterans on D, this may be the last time we see some young players on offense in our colors.
Mike Wallace (EDIT: Wallace has a sore hammy and is sitting out. Wow, this really is a glorified exhibition game. Do you guys really expect me to watch this?) and Rashard Mendenhall are undoubtedly playing their last home games in Pittsburgh. Wallace simply wants too much money and while I think he’s a very skilled receiver, he’s not the kind of difference maker worth throwing a huge contract at to keep around. Mendy, well, I don’t think Tomlin likes him and as time has gone on the feeling has become mutual. I think he’s a perfect example of a guy who needs a change in scenery to get their career back on track.
Where that leaves the Steelers, however, is anybody’s guess. If Haley truly wants the Steelers to run the ball more often and effectively than his predecessor, the team probably needs to invest in a top flight back. Neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Isaac Redman have looked like they should be considered featured backs. Meanwhile, we once thought the Steelers receiving corps was an embarrassment of riches but subtracting Wallace and with Manny Sanders spectacular flame-out, we’re left with Antonio Brown and… Jerricho Cotchery?
The Steelers aren’t going to make any off-season decisions based on one game. Mendy can gallop for 250 yards or Wallace can catch 200 yards worth of passes and I’m sure it won’t affect what the team does with them this off-season. What we do know is tough decisions have to be made so we don’t find ourselves in this exact same situation next year. And what is certain is the team that takes the field next September will look quite a bit different than the one we see on Sunday.
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The ongoing soap opera that is the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers took yet another turn yesterday. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters that he apologized to Mike Tomlin, the Rooneys, and offensive coordinator Todd Haley for seemingly throwing Haley under the bus following the team’s disappointing loss to Dallas. “I came in (Monday), and I apologized to Todd, I apologized to Mike (Tomlin), and I apologized to Mr. (Dan) Rooney because I let my frustrations jump out after a game,” Ben told a group of reporters.
Why was Ben apologizing? I mean, sure, he came across as a whiner for bitching about play calling when his poor execution of said plays was the primary problem but it’s still strange he felt the need for mea culpas. Rashard Mendenhall didn’t apologize to anybody even though he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team.” I suppose creating this semi-controversy on the heels of the most pivotal game of the season wasn’t the best example of leadership from our starting quarterback. At the same time, are Tomlin and Haley so thin-skinned that they can’t stem even the slightest bit of criticism?
What is even odder is he apologized to the Rooneys, specifically Dan Rooney. I’ve heard plenty of players apologize to the Rooney family although it’s almost always following an arrest or some sort legal entanglement. This is the first time I can recall a player apologizing to them for some sort of on-field controversy. It’s also some what interesting that he specifically mentioned Dan, who is reportedly stepping down from his Ambassodorship and coming back to take a more active role with the team. Where this leaves the team president, his meddlesome son Art II, remains to be seen.
As for his relationship with Haley, Ben went on to say of course they don’t always see eye-to-eye. “I‘m sure it‘s that way with every position player and their coach. That doesn‘t mean anything.” Which is exactly what I said yesterday.
It still doesn’t change the fact this bizarre season keeps getting weirder. And it all started when the Steelers experienced a shocking loss to the Denver Broncos followed by the
retirement dismissal of Bruce Arians which led to the hiring of Todd Haley. Hopefully when we close out the year, it won’t be on the heels of another heartbreaking loss and more coordinator controversy.
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With March Madness in full swing, our pal Hennessy came up with a great idea for our very own Final Four. However, coming up with 64 individual participants and 32 separate brackets proved way too unwieldy. So we narrowed the list to 16 names who we both agreed would prominently figure into how the 2012 season played out for the Pittsburgh Steelers. To give it more of a competitive flavor, I agreed to take half the brackets with Hennessy taking the other half. I’ll be leading off today with an analysis of my eight brackets, picking a winner as to who I think will play a more significant role to the Steelers going forward. Tomorrow it’s Hennessy’s turn. With our Final Fours set, he and I will have a final face off on Monday just in time for the actual NCAA Championship game.
OLD DOGS BRACKET
Hines Ward vs James Farrior - Two distinguished veterans, both cut by the Steelers early in the off-season. Hines has been the face of the franchise for many years but his actual on-field importance had diminished in recent seasons. Farrior, meanwhile, was the defensive captain and Dick LeBeau’s eyes and ears on the field right up until the day he was released. And while Hines’ leadership was invaluable, Potsie’s leadership was every bit as important to the D. I’ll miss Hines but the bottom line was he was a 4th string receiver last season while Farrior was not only starting but calling the signals.
Willie Colon vs Willie Gay – You say good-bye, I say hello. Gay, of course, recently departed for
Arizona Pittsburgh West, where ex-Steelers go to never be heard from again. Colon was allegedly on the team the past couple seasons but you’d never know it because he kept being lost to season-ending injuries. With Max Starks coming off an ACL injury, the Steelers entire O-Line plan depends on a healthy Colon returning to man the RT spot, allowing Marcus Gilbert to slide over to LT and Jonathan Scott to mercifully remain on the bench. I thought Colon was overrated when he was completely healthy so coming off two serious injuries, I’m skeptical of this plan. However, you can’t deny his level of play will be a crucial factor to this upcoming season. I liked Gay, I thought he did a good job as a starter this past season but I don’t think he showed anything youngsters Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown couldn’t potentially replicate. If Colon falls apart, well, Ben is a dead man.
THE STAFF BRACKET
Dick LeBeau vs Todd Haley – LeBeau is a genius. I’m not disputing that. But he coached one of the worst games of his life against Denver. Dick is usually a master of adjustments but his refusal to acknowledge Tim Tebow’s success throwing the ball ultimately doomed the team to an ignominious playoff exit. Still, the Steelers ended the season with the league’s number one overall defense, continuing LeBeau’s streak of top ranked units. He’ll have work to do this year, finding a new starting cornerback and replacing his team captain at inside linebacker. However, roster change-over is nothing new to the Steelers and I’m sure the old master will be up to the challenge. The real question is whether Haley will rise to his challenge like he did at prior stops in Dallas and Arizona or flame out miserably like he did in KC. He already got off to a somewhat rocky start with Ben Roethlisberger and despite Mike Tomlin’s outright lie that he made the call to hire Haley, the decision to fire Bruce Arians was far from unanimous. Arians had his faults, no doubt, but he also coached the Steelers to a 21st century high flying high octane offense. Will Haley take them to the next level? Or will he follow a mandate from above and return us to the grandaddy’s five yards and a cloud of dust? And how will Ben or Mike Wallace react the first time they walk to the sideline only to be greeted by a crazed Haley’s hostile word vomit?
Art Rooney II vs. Omar Khan – And here’s our 15-3 upset of the tournament. Most people would think, “Nobody is more important than the owner. He’s the owner!” While Deuce has certainly injected himself into the day-to-day activities more than his father ever did, I still think he limits himself to a large extent. Sure he fired Arians and maybe his mandate to run the ball more will influence Haley’s playcalling but at the end of the day I don’t think he’ll be calling down to the sidelines at halftime. Omar Khan is the Steelers’ cap specialist and I think the work he does will figure much bigger into the team’s future. Mike Wallace becomes an unrestricted free agent next season while both Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders become restricted free agents. Omar will be the man charged with figuring out some way to finagle the cap so we can keep our young receivers while also addressing potential holes at RB and CB.
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Oh what a tangled web we weave…
The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been associated with doing things “the right way.” In fact, the “right way” has frequently been referred to as the Steeler Way. Some have even dubbed it the Rooney Way. Seeing as no franchise has experienced more success than the Black and Gold, it’s a credit both management and ownership richly deserve.
However, this off-season has been a bit perplexing. Heck, the past year has been weird. From devising devious gimmicks in order to circumnavigate the NFL’s concussion policy to team president Art Rooney II dictating the firing of Bruce Arians then lying by claiming he retired, the Steelers have been behaving very un-Steelerlike. Now that even the most diehard Yinzer has started to wonder what the hell they’re doing, Deuce Rooney took to his unofficial PR staff aka the local newspapers in order to do a little damage control. The result of his interviews with the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review only serve to paint him as more of a weasel than initially thought.
The most telling bit is how Rooney deliberately parsed his words to avoid being called a liar somewhere down the line. In both articles, he stresses several times that Mike Tomlin made the call to hire Todd Haley as the team’s new offensive coordinator. That’s all well and good except Deuce is either the densest man alive or doesn’t realize that’s only HALF of the question. The other half was who fired Arians in the first place?
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The Pittsburgh Steelers already bizarre off-season keeps getting weirder and weirder. Much like Punxatawny Phil only pokes his head out long enough to tell us whether we’re in for a long winter, Ben Roethlisberger usually disappears when the NFL season ends and doesn’t reappear until it’s time for a new year of pigskin action. He seldom courts the local media, preferring to lie low during the off-season. So naturally it’s a little strange to hear him popping up all over town, talking to anybody and everybody who’ll listen.
In fact, it seems the only person Ben hasn’t talked with is his new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley.
First, Ben gave an interview to the Post-Gazette where he made a few eyebrow-raising comments. Most notable was him saying, “I hope our offense doesn’t change because I feel like I’m just ready to hit it full stride and go with this.” Uh, does he even know we hired a new OC? I wonder because if the offense wasn’t meant to change, then why’d they bother bringing in a new coordinator?
The more interesting interview was conducted by local radio station, WDVE, which you can listen to here. When asked if the Steelers will still be a pass-first offense, he responded, “I just don’t see how you can get away from it when you have the talent we do at receiver and the tight end we have. It would be a waste of their skills not to use them.” I love how he disguises his desire to chuck the ball 40 times a game in a way that sounds as if he’s only looking out for his poor powerless teammates. Well played, Ben.
They also ask him about Todd Haley and his reputation for a being a hot-headed maniac. Ben begins by acknowledging he’s heard about Haley’s rep for being an in-your-face ball-buster although he hasn’t yet talked to him but in his opinion a good coach will tailor his attitude toward his team. When pressed about how he’d react to Haley yelling at him on the sideline, Ben sounded like a little kid who’s just been grounded. “Just talk to me so we can work through my reasoning instead of getting yelled at.” sayeth young Benjamin.
The hysterical portion of the interview was Ben’s convoluted reasoning for not wanting to be hollared at. He views the quarterback as a “cerebral position” so being yelled at would only clutter his mind. Oh yeah, when I think of deep thinkers, I think of Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and Ben Roethlisberger. You’re not exactly Peyton Manning back there, big guy. Although if getting your ass chewed out will clutter your poor little head with too many thoughts, let’s hope Boss Todd refrains from doing so. Last thing we need is his already glacially slow decision-making process fogged by the paralyzing fear of a sideline tongue-lashing.
It also should be noted when Ben was asked about longtime nemesis Hines Ward and the possibility the greatest wide receiver in Steelers history won’t be back next year, Ben gave the most non-committal answer humanly possible. If somebody asks whether a valued co-worker should return to his job, a typical person would answer with a strong affirmation such as “Of course I want him back!” or “It won’t be the same without my go-to guy!” Ben simply said, “I’m not sure. We’ll see how it plays out in these next few months and whenever they make these decisions.” Whoa, fella, dial the effusive praise down a notch. We know you’re jealous of Hines and would like to see him gone so you can pretend to be the undisputed leader of the team but at least pretend he means something to you.
Then again, Ben shedding no tears at Hines riding off into the sunset isn’t a surprise. The fact that Todd Haley has been on the job for almost two weeks now and hasn’t even drunk dialed his superstar quarterback is. I don’t quite understand what’s going on there but it sounds like a power play. Like Ben believes his status as two time Super Bowl winner and one of the best signal callers in the game means Haley should defer to him by reaching out in the spirit of friendship. Meanwhile, Haley no doubt thinks he’s the boss by virtue of being coordinator and all and is waiting for his perceived underling to welcome him with open arms.
Who will blink first?