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 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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I hate NFL pre-season games. I understand why they’re necessary but I still loathe them. To me, they’re tedious, dull, and totally meaningless. I don’t know what’s worse, that they televise them like they’re actual games or that rabid football fans watch them and then buy that some undrafted third string linebacker who got a sack in the fourth quarter will actually see playing time during the regular season.
Teams would rather trot out a starting linebacker with one eye or starting quarterback with one leg *cough*Steelers*cough* than play the guys you see playing in the fourth quarter.
Last night, the Pittsburgh Steelers were edged by the Philadelphia Eagles on a last second field goal by some dude named Alex Henery. At least, that’s what Bob Pompeani told me because I turned the game off long before then. I did suffer through the first half and a few plays of the third quarter before flipping over to the Olympics to watch Usain Bolt blow everybody away in the 200 meters. Which reminds me, who thinks Kevin Colbert should give Usain a call? It doesn’t matter if he can catch the ball so long as he can run cheetah-fast in a straight line thereby “stretching the field.”
He probably wouldn’t want no damn $12 million a year to do it.
Anyhow, last night we got our first look at the Black and Gold’s new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, new offensive line, new backfield, new receiving corps, new secondary… Well, we we sorta got a look at them because coaches keep their game plans blander than Justin Bieber in a Disney movie because nobody in their right mind would waste valuable chunks of their playbook on a meaningless game. So while we saw all these guys on the field last night, we really can’t say with any certainty if they’re ready for some football (that counts). However, since I spent valuable Assassin’s Creed time watching this nonsense, here are a few totally random observations.
— I thought the offensive line was supposed to be good this year? It sure didn’t appear that way what with Ben Roethlisberger getting sacked twice on the opening drive and running for his life a couple other times. For the record, the starting unit was (left to right) Mike Adams, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert. The bookends looked shaky, with Adams surrendering one of the sacks while Foster surrendered the other. Both Adams and Gilbert were repeatedly pushed backwards or ran around by a speed rusher in what looked like a repeat of the same old O-line play we’ve seen the past few years.
DeCastro looked pretty solid, though. He pulled on a number of plays and got downfield to block on several others. Him and Pouncey opened up a couple big holes which is a nice sign going forward. Speaking of the running game:
— Chris Rainey. Rainey took over Antonio Brown’s return duties which isn’t surprising because that’s why we assume he was drafted. What was surprising is he’s also taken over Mewelde Moore’s role as the third down back, where his elusiveness and ability to catch balls out of the backfield were on full display. At one point he took a third and long draw and converted a first down in what was probably the first team’s best play of the game. Rainey will never be a three down back (he ended up with 1 yard on 4 carries despite that 14 yard gain) but if you’re looking for this year’s Wallace/AB surprise breakout offensive star, Rainey may be your man.
— The running back battle. Redzone Redman is going to be the starter, we already knew that. The first guy to relieve him, and thus the nominal back-up, appears to be Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer hasn’t done bupkiss during the regular season but he was the running star last night, ripping off 40 yards on only two carries. The Steelers gave rookie (technically, this is his second year but he blew out his knee before the season started) Baron Batch an extended look to mixed results (19 carries 41 yards, mostly against third and fourth string scrubs). He ran hard but straight ahead showing only mediocre speed and elusiveness. At 5’10 210, he’s not big enough to run like that which is why he got stoned on three tries from the goal line. Later on, he loosened up a bit and began making some cuts but I’m not sure he’s all the way back yet.
The good news is John Clay only got a handful of carries. That’s usually a tell-tale sign of a team wanting to hide a guy on the practice squad. Batch was also a draft pick and we know how Colbert likes to keep his picks around even when other guys are clearly better. I’m not giving up on Batch based on a single pre-season game coming off a major injury. But I am wondering if the team keeps Mendenhall around with the idea of activating him by mid-season, which back will be odd man out. Redman, Rainey and Dwyer look locked in, I don’t know if the roster has room for a fifth back.
— Speaking of injured players, Casey Hampton continues to work his way back from knee surgery so taking his place at NT was Steve McClendon. All McClendon did was record a sack on his first series as starter. Alameda Ta’amu is the future at nose but I liked what I saw of McClendon last season and it appears he’s picking right up where he left off.
— Poor Byron Leftwich. He should probably consider joining Mike Wallace on his couch until the pre-season is over because he’s snakebit in these games. No, he didn’t get hurt last night but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie tried to behead him while he was attempting a pass.
Lefty looked fine, not too mobile but still possessing a good strong arm. Charlie Batch didn’t get in the game which I honestly don’t know how to take. Jerrod Johnson played the entire second half and looked like the second coming of Dennis Dixon, ie; Ran away when he sensed trouble, terrible accuracy, occasional flashes of competence. There was literally zero difference between JJ and DD except that JJ has apparently learned more than three plays. If the unthinkable happened and we lost Ben and Lefty, I wouldn’t trust Johnson any more than I trusted Dixon.
Then again, as the Philly fanbase thought while holding their collective onion-tinged breath when Michael Vick hurt his hand attempting a pass, you lose your starting QB and the season is lost no matter who you have backing him up. Let’s hope the team affords our superstar QB a little better protection than we saw tonight. Otherwise, we’re in for another loooong year.
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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.