The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long and storied tradition when it comes to dance. Hall of Famer Lynn Swann was able to contort his body to make those insanely athletic catches we see on the highlight films thanks to a childhood spent studying ballet. Recently, future Hall of Famer Hines Ward competed on “Dancing With The Stars” and came away with the MirrorBall Trophy despite no formal dance training whatsoever.
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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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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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Every Tuesday, Mike Tomlin holds his weekly press conference. As I’ve stated many times in the past, I tend to ignore whatever “news” comes out of it. I don’t do this because I prefer to be an uneducated fan; on the contrary, writing a Pittsburgh Steelers blog makes it doubly important I stay informed. No, I ignore the Mike Tomlin presser because experience has shown you can’t believe what you hear.
In simpler terms, Tomlin tells a lot lies.
I don’t blame Tomlin for lying to the press. He’s one of those ultra-secretive coaches who believes information is power and if it’s good enough for Bill Belichick, it’s good enough for Tomlin. I just get aggravated when people fail to take what he says with a grain of salt. He regularly downplays injuries that are much more serious than he lets on (James Harrison’s broken orbital last season comes to mind) and hints at personnel moves that he has no intention of following (When Bryant McFadden struggled a couple seasons back, he said it was time to see what some of the youngsters could do. They never saw the field).
Which is why yesterday brought a rare moment of honesty from Tomlin. Granted it was couched in typical Tomlinspeak – he follows the political model of never let three words suffice when grand eloquent sentences with opaque meanings can be used instead – but honest it was nonetheless.
Addressing the Steelers defensive performance on Sunday night, Tomlin said “The reality is that we didn’t play well enough post-snap. Forget about whether or not they huddle between plays, we’ve got full control over how we play once the ball is snapped and it wasn’t up to snuff in many instances.” He also cautioned fans against blaming the absence of Ryan Clark and James Harrison for the defensive inadequacies. “Obviously, those guys are capable of helping us. They’re quality veteran players. They know how to play and, specifically in Ryan’s case, not only his play but his communication and leadership. That remains to be seen and we’re not going to assume anything.” sayeth Coach T.
In other words, don’t expect the D to suddenly start dominating teams just because two guys come back.
The fact is, the normally stout Steelers defense has some serious question marks this season. A big part of the problem is they’re just plain old. Seven starters are over the age of 30. Contrast that with another long-time defensive juggernaut, the Ravens, who’ve so successfully infused fresh talent into their team that only Ed Reed and Ray Lewis remain as elder statesman.
The problem with old players isn’t just the natural decline which comes with age. Even when they are still capable of playing at a high level, their bodies inevitably start to break down. Last season, Harrison and Troy Polamalu were clearly the team’s defensive standouts. However, both have also battled a host of ailments the past couple years. Harrison had two back surgeries during the off-season, then came down with a knee issue when training camp started. Tomlin says he’s expected back this week but it’s clear he’s become alarmingly injury prone. Then we have Troy, who looked great the first half against the Broncos before fading away. Evidently he strained his calf which limited him as time went on. He’s also expected to play on Sunday.
Still, here we are one week into the season and both are already showing up on injury reports.
Meanwhile, where is the infusion of young talent? One thing that bugged me following the Broncos loss were Steeler fans on twitter repeating Warren Sapp’s “They’re old, slow and done” comment from last season. The D is old but the line-up they put on the field last Sunday against Denver sure wasn’t. Harrison was replaced by 23 year old Chris Carter and 24 year old Jason Worilds. Clark was replaced by 27 year old Ryan Mundy. Casey Hampton, who’s become a two down player anyway, split time fairly evenly with 26 year old Steve McClendon.
Worilds had a sack when Peyton Manning screwed up a protection call and gave him a free shot at the QB. The only legitimate sack they got was from veteran Larry Foote. Other than that, where was the pressure? LaMarr Woodley got a big contract a couple off-seasons ago but his sack totals have declined every year for the past three years. He only seems to generate pressure when Harrison is on the other side. Worilds has been a bust. Inside, we have Foote, who’s a stop-gap until the team finds a young ILB to groom in his place. Opposite him is Lawrence Timmons, who was supposed to be that ILB but has consistently underperformed since being drafted in the first round back in 2007. He’s supposedly this super-athlete on par with Troy but Troy would never let Peyton Manning OUTRUN HIM to the sticks.
Wait, you may say, Dick LeBeau‘s zone blitz depends on the D-linemen opening up gaps for the linebackers. Fair enough. McClendon isn’t stout at the point of attack. He gets pushed around in the run game which is why Big Snack usually plays the first two downs. He’s not a starter. And what’s up with Ziggy Hood? Was his name even called? Looking at the box score from Denver, he had 2 tackles, no assists. TWO TACKLES. Aaron Smith could make more plays on one leg.
Then we have the secondary. The Steelers have tried to find a second corner to pair with Ike Taylor for years. Of course, their search usually involves a mid-to-late round project they hope to coach up. The light bulb finally came on for Willie Gay last season but the team let him go to
Pittsburgh West Arizona. His replacement, Keenan Lewis, was an average at best nickel last year and so far has looked like another B-Mac with his generous 10 yard cushions. The team is high on second year man Cortez Allen but he didn’t exactly distinguish himself against the Broncos, either. Meanwhile, Mundy remains the teams go-to safety off the bench even though he gets beat like Justin Bieber at a biker rally every time he’s on the field.
The bottom line is the Steelers D is a big question mark. Veteran stars are facing an inevitable decline while the young guys don’t appear ready for prime time. Steeler Nation may need to face the fact that for the first time in a very long time, it may be the offense which needs to carry the team. Play to your strengths. And right now, the defense is anything but a strength.
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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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Ah, college graduation. That rite of passage when one chapter of your life closes and another begins. Of course, I graduated in my early twenties with about six figures worth of debt to my name. Something tells me Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t have to worry about repaying his student loans. And while he graduated this weekend some nine years after leaving Miami University (Ohio) for the NFL, it’s nice to see the big lug finally earn his degree. He even trotted out the sham wife (who, to be fair, has ditched the butch haircut and is looking much better these days. She still dresses like my grandma, though.) to
keep him away from post-graduation keggers share in his special day.
While Big Ben was off accepting his bachelor’s degree in education (EDUCATION? No wonder US academic standards continue to plummet), the Steeler were busy getting acquainted with their 2012 draft class. The new CBA makes contract negotiations fairly standard in terms of length and base salary, the only quibbling point left is over bonus money. NT Alameda Ta’amu was the first draft pick to sign, with good reason as the Steelers lavished their nose tackle-of-the-future with a generous deal worth about $2.5 million. To put that in perspective, fourth round pick Ta’amu received roughly the same deal second rounder LaMarr Woodley got back in 2007. RB Chris Rainey was the second player to sign although his contract details haven’t been announced.
Regardless of contract, all our draft picks, undrafted rookies, and non-roster invitees were in town this weekend for their first off-season mini-camp. Sadly not among them was Trick Shot Quarterback Alex Tanney, who I mentioned in my recap of undrafted free agents last week. Tanney decided to sign with the Bills when he found out we also invited former Texas A&M quarterback Jerrod Johnson to camp. Johnson, who holds the honor of being the first overall pick of the 2011 United Football League draft, bounced around between the UFL, NFL, and ArenaBall last year. Johnson is a big guy (6’5 240 pounds) with a big arm who also has pretty good mobility for a guy his size. And he’s African-American, like every other quarterback on our roster not named Ben Roethlisberger. I only felt compelled to point that out because like 10% of the QBs in the league are African-American yet the Steelers are going into camp with four on the roster (not to mention Dennis Dixon is still trying to find work). Mike Tomlin must think he’s Jesse Jackson or something.
Anyway, rookie orientation begins with the assigning of jerseys which is always an interesting proposition. The Steelers don’t retire numbers, another of their strange little quirks like refusing to alter their uniform design or field a squad of big-haired Polish girls waving pom-poms. Technically, they have retired one number, #70, worn by Hall of Fame defensive end Ernie Stautner from 1950-63. It was retired in 1969 which to you Steeler historians out there will pretty well explain why his was the last number to be “officially” taken out of circulation.
Vaunted rookie guard David DeCastro has drawn countless comparisons to former Steelers All-Pro Alan Faneca since the moment his name was called by the Ginger Dictator. DeCastro initially took #61 but after second thought (or perhaps some prodding from the Steelers’ PR staff) switched to Faneca’s #66. Maybe they’re both really big Penguins fans. Fellow rookie lineman Mike Adams took freshly retired Chris Hoke‘s #76. Ta’amu picked one of the more iconic numbers, choosing to wear the #95 most frequently associated with Greg Lloyd. Lloyd’s number was actually worn by Joey Porter early in his career but he got sick of being called “the next Greg Lloyd” so he changed it to #55. It’s pretty safe to say Ta’amu won’t have to worry about those comparisons as even if he blossoms into the anchor at the middle of the Steelers D, there’s not much confusing a mouthy linebacker built like a brick house with a fatass lineman charged with the dirty work up front.
Then we have perhaps one of the more ignorant things the Steelers have done in recent years. Rookie linebacker Sean Spence asked for and received #51. Granted James Farrior may not be a Hall of Famer or even one of the top ten linebackers in Steelers history (although that’s arguable) but he was key contributor to three Super Bowl bound teams not to mention a long-time defensive captain. They couldn’t wait ONE FREAKIN’ YEAR before peddling his number out to some midget who’ll probably be cut in a year or two?? Not to mention for those hoping Farrior might be brought back at a later date, I guess now it’s clear the Steelers have turned that page.
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6’5 320 pounds
What more can I say about this pick? Just look at this dude. How can you not be excited by the NFL version of Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket? The scouting report on DeCastro is filled with superlatives like “extremely polished,” “stout at the point of attack,” and “nasty, aggressive demeanor.” He’ll be expected to start on day one and the question isn’t whether he can handle playing in the NFL but how long it’ll take him to reach his first Pro Bowl (if the Pro Bowl still exists next year). The sky is truly the limit with this pick. Why did he fall to the Steelers at #24? The only answer I’ve heard is he’s a guard, which tend to hold less value than tackles, who have to be a little better athletically since they work in space.. That said, DeCastro is a tremendous athlete by guard standards as evidenced by his superior pull blocking ability. The bottom line the Steelers got a well-rounded, blue-collar blocker who solidifies one of their guard spots for the next decade.Mike Adams Offensive Tackle Ohio State 6’7 325 pounds
Adams was considered one of the top five tackles in the draft who fell to the mid-second round due to character concerns stemming from several incidents while at Ohio State and a failed drug test at the NFL Combine. He grew up a Steeler fan in Farrell, PA, and evidently was very hopeful the Steelers would draft him. Time will tell whether he can straighten his life out or if he’ll be just another low character guy the team failed to control. Sticking to the football side of the equation, Adams has the kind of size and quickness to be a top notch left tackle. He has some injury concerns (season ending foot injury in 2008, season ending knee injury in 2009) but rebounded to be named 1st Team Big Ten in 2010 and 2nd Team last season. Boom or Bust type with all the physical gifts in the world but needs a little polish and a lot of attitude adjustment in order to maximize his immense potential.Sean Spence Inside Linebacker Miami 5’11 230 pounds
Excellent athlete with a non-stop motor. Tackling machine who has no problem covering sideline-to-sideline. Played several different linebacker positions in college but Mike Tomlin has already stated they’re looking at Spence to back-up Lawrence Timmons at ILB with Stevenson Sylvester in the mix to replace James Farrior at the other ILB. The downside with Spence is at 5’11 and 230 pounds, he’s way undersized for the Steelers’ style of defense. Dick LeBeau depends on his inside ‘backers to be stout against the run and drop into coverage. Timmons got pushed around his first couple seasons as an undersized ILB and he was 6’1 240. Spence is going to get run over like an annoying little gnat. What’s more, he ran a disappointing 4.7 second 40 at the combine so not only is Spence half a foot shorter than most TEs, he’s quite a bit slower, too. Perhaps he’ll give the Steelers some nice special teams play during his brief NFL career but it’s highly unlikely he’ll ever see significant playing time as a member of the defense.
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The Post-Gazette is calling it the March Massacre. Being a rabid fan of the television series “Lost,” I prefer to refer to it as the Purge. In a span of three days, the Pittsburgh Steelers cut four veterans who combined had logged over forty seasons in the Black & Gold. Going back a little less than a month, the Steelers cut a total of six players, five of whom at one time or another had been mainstays in the starting line-up.
The latest veteran to get the axe is in some ways the most significant. Linebacker James Farrior was rumored to be on the chopping block since his age (37) and salary ($3.25 million) didn’t appear to fit with the team’s current youth movement. Still, Potsie’s exit comes as a mild surprise because even though his play had obviously declined, he remained a key member of the defense. Farrior’s helmet bore the Mr. Yuck sticker signifying that he alone was Dick LeBeau‘s on-field game general. Of the six players released during the Purge, Farrior is the only one who was still a regular starter at the end of 2011.