The heir to all-time Pittsburgh Steelers great Aaron Smith’s #91 has already been discussed in greater detail here. Cliff Notes version: a pure pass rusher who gets off the ball quick and relentlessly hunts down quarterbacks. After leading the nation in sacks against elite SEC competition was widely expected to be a top ten pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Two red flags emerged during the evaluation process; a worrisome medical history and a horrible 40 time (4.9). The spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine) led him to transfer to Georgia after USC doctors wouldn’t clear him to play. Played last season without incident and Steelers said they were comfortable with the medical reports they received. The speed issue raises questions whether he’ll ever be a three down linebacker. Will definitely need to improve in pass coverage and work at beating big strong NFL offensive lineman with something other than his quickness off the edge if he hopes to truly replace James Harrison as a mainstay at outside linebacker.l_bell24
Listed at 230 but dropped 15 pounds before the Combine in hopes of improving his 40 time. It didn’t work as he still ran a disappointing 4.6. The lack of breakaway speed and one move and go running style will prevent him from being a big play threat. Has the size, strength, and ability to break tackles to potentially be a pretty good power back, though. Coach Todd Haley also raved about his hands, calling him a “three down player.” Former Rams All-Pro Steven Jackson said Bell was the college player who most reminded him of himself and, really, that’s basically the ideal scenario for what the Steelers hope he develops into. Worst case, he’s another Michael Turner, a productive downhill runner who doesn’t wow anybody but gets the job done.twheat002
Another receiver in the AB/Manny Sanders mold. A smallish guy with good speed and good hands who runs good routes. Lack of elite speed (4.45 40) means he’ll be another YAC receiver rather than the type of field stretching playmaker we lost in Mike Wallace. Isn’t afraid to go over the middle or play in traffic so he should see time in the slot almost immediately. Has little experience returning kicks so probably won’t contribute in that area. Struggled against bigger physical corners. Athletic guy who gets open and makes things happen with the ball in his hands who should be a good slot receiver but will need to prove he can beat a jam if he hopes to move outside and move from a #3 to a #2.
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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 first round 2013 NFL Draft couldn’t have unfolded any better for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the last 48 hours or so before the draft, it became more and more certain that the 17th overall pick would come down to one of a handful of players. When the Black and Gold came on the clock, pretty much all of them were still there for the taking. That they wasted hardly any time handing their pick in to Roger Goodell (BOOOOOOO!) seemingly indicates the final decision wasn’t very hard at all.
Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones is your newest member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. According to post-draft comments by GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, Jones was a player they identified early in the process as guy they would love to have. Jones had an extremely productive junior season, leading the nation in sacks (14.5) while playing against elite SEC competition. At 6’2 245 pounds, he projects as a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker who should push Jason Worilds next season and eventually replace him as heir apparent to James Harrison. What’s more, Jarvis is considered a high character guy who overcame a ton of adversity as you can read in this excerpt from a recent Sports Illustrated story. While he may be a nice guy off the field, it’s evident from his highlight film and Twitter handle that he enjoys getting after the quarterback with reckless intent.
Going into the off-season, Jones was widely viewed as one of the Draft’s top two pass rushing linebackers and a sure fire top ten pick. However, skipping the Combine and not performing well in his pre-draft workouts raised some red flags which led to his drop. The most notable of which was the glacially slow 4.9 40 time Jones posted at his pro day. While Tomlin and Colbert were all giggles over it, an edge rusher who posts a 40 time a shade less than many offensive and defensive linemen is worrisome. Granted game speed and track speed can be wholly different things and the list of “workout warriors” that wowed scouts at the Combine only to fizzle once they actually had to take the field longer is like a who’s who of greatest Draft Busts in NFL history but it is something to be aware of when he finally suits up for the Black and Gold.
Then there’s Jones medical history. He began his career at USC but transferred to Georgia when the Trojans’ team doctors refused to clear him due to spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal cord which can put an athlete at greater risk for career ending injury. I don’t know of any pro football players who have this condition but I do remember that WWE wrestler Edge was diagnosed with the condition and it immediately ended his career. Doctors advised him that one poorly executed fall could leave him paralyzed which speaks to the seriousness of the matter. I’m sure the Steelers medical staff did a thorough evaluation although I do find it slightly ironic they ditched one OLB with a history of back/neck issues (Deebo) for a rookie with an elevated risk of them.
At the end of the day, it was the right choice. Going by the reactions on twitter, Steeler Nation was generally pleased with the pick although there were a few hoping the team would address their offensive woes by taking an elite skill player like TE Tyler Eifert (who went to the Bengals, what an offense they’re going to have…) or one of the WRs. I can understand that argument but with Harrison gone and LaMarr Woodley trapped at the All-U-Can Eat Buffet, the Steelers had to find an elite pass rusher. Judging by the rest of the first round where only one QB, two WRs and zero RBs were taken, the league wide consensus seems to be that there is plenty of depth at the skill positions available in later rounds. The Steelers need somebody capable of making an impact. Let’s hope Jarvis Jones makes one on opposing quarterbacks for many years to come.
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I have no f*#king idea.
I’m sure many of you are thinking, “That’s the kind of insightful analysis we’ve come to expect from TotalSteelers.” While the less sarcastic amongst you may be thinking, “Well, duh, nobody does.” Unfortunately, I’m finding the 2013 NFL Draft particularly vexing to try and analyze. Judging by the mock drafts I’ve been seeing around the interwebz, I’m not the only one.
I don’t waste time doing mocks because the draft is like a game of dominoes, move one piece to another place and the whole thing falls in a different direction. At the same time, we’ve always had a pretty good idea of the what if not the who. Few may have predicted the Pittsburgh Steelers drafting David DeCastro or Cam Heyward but it wasn’t hard to foresee them taking a guard or defensive lineman.
Which is why this year’s draft is so perplexing. The Steelers need practically everything. And the few positions you don’t immediately identify as a need feature prospects that may ultimately prove too good to pass up. It’s the kind of draft where there are a whole bunch of good players but very few special can’t miss types. So we’re left with a draft that can shake out about fifty different ways, any one of which greatly affects who the Steelers take with the 17th pick on Thursday.
To get some idea how confusing this draft is, take a look at some of the mocks people with far too much time on their hands have done. I’ve seen at least twenty mocks on various fan and pro sites with fifteen different names being attributed to the Steelers covering at least a half dozen different positions. For example, ProFootBallTalk recently made the case for us taking Georgia LB Jarvis Jones while Mel Kiper had us taking Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert in his latest mock.
Which points out the dilemma the Steelers themselves will face on draft day. They have a lot of positions where they don’t necessarily NEED an upgrade but aren’t necessarily happy with what they have either. For example, they could take an OLB to replace the departed James Harrison, however, Jason Worilds is going to start next year regardless. So if a more attractive player is on the board perhaps they feel they can put off drafting a new pass rushing OLB until round 2 or 3.
In that light, Kiper’s pick of Eifert is not as ridiculous as it seems. Heath Miller is coming off a devastating knee injury. He’s also one of the team’s more highly paid players. Many scouts view the 6’6 Eifert as the next Gronk. The Steelers could definitely use more weapons in the passing game. Perhaps they pick up Eifert with an eye towards replacing Heath come 2014.
Of course, the Steelers could use their pick to address an actual need. Pretty much the only areas you can safely say they’re set is at quarterback and offensive line. Granted the OL is a work in progress but after addressing it with two firsts and two seconds the past few years, I think it’s time to move on to other areas of concern.
Linebacker is certainly a need. Both inside and outside are possibilities although this draft seems to be heavier in pass rushing OLB/converted DE types. If they look inside, where they could certainly do better than Larry Foote, Alec Ogletree and Alec Brown could be possibilities (particularly if the team trades back). As long as the don’t take noted Catfisher Manti Te’o. Outside LB presents a number of prospects, from the aforementioned Jones to Corey Lemonier and Barkevious Mingo (who would have to fall for us to get him).
Or perhaps the team will address the offense. Again, they evidently feel comfortable going into the season with Antonio Brown and Manny Sanders 1-2 at wide out and the unholy two-headed monster of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman sharing duties at RB but neither of those units are beyond an infusion of fresh talent. Several drafts have Tennessee WR Cordarrelle Patterson coming to Pittsburgh. He’s not the first round equivalent of Mike Wallace – that would be WVU’s Tavon Austin, a small guy who ran the fastest 40 at the combine and is expected to be the first WR off the board – he’s a bigger receiver who can run but is more of YAC guy than a field stretcher.
Several other drafts have the Steelers taking Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, who is expected to be the only RB taken in the first round. The Steelers will be tempted for sure although I think they’ve learned from the Rashard Mendenhall debacle that unless a RB projects as a workhorse featured back, don’t waste a first on him. There are plenty of intriguing backs who had big time college careers like Montee Ball, Leveon Bell, and Marcus Lattimore who will still be around in rounds 3 and 4.
Of course, the team can still go any number of other directions. I’ve seen more than one mock that projects the Steelers taking yet another defensive lineman, this time a big ass nose tackle like Sylvester Williams or Sheldon Richardson. Or they could really throw us a curve and take someone like Texas S Kenny Vaccaro. Troy Polamalu is a sure fire Hall of Famer but he’s highly paid and injury prone. Some scouts peg Vaccaro as the next Ed Reed. Maybe we take him and groom him for a year before asking him to take Troy’s place. That’s the kind of forward thinking roster overhaul the Black and Gold need if they ever want to escape from the Salary Cap Hell they’ve put themselves in.
One thing is for certain, they Steelers NEED a good draft this year more than ever. In season’s past, they missed on a fair number or picks which was okay because we had veterans in place who weren’t going to be unseated anyway. For the first time in a long time, the Steelers roster is in overhaul. In order to successfully complete that overhaul, General Manager Kevin Colbert and company can’t afford another draft which yields one starter and a couple special teamers. The Steelers have chosen to rebuild through the draft. Time to get that process started.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers rescued wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the nefarious clutches of the New England Patriots by matching their offer sheet late Sunday night. By tendering Sanders an additional $1.2 million on top of the $1.3 they already offered, the Black and Gold avoid losing what is expected to be their #2 receiver to a hated conference rival. They also roll the dice in the sense that had they let Sanders go, they would’ve received the Patriots’ third round pick in this year’s draft. Manny will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and with his agent already making noise about wanting a decent chunk of change in order to sign a long term deal, it’s entirely possible the Steelers will lose him next winter and get next to nothing in return.
The Sanders Saga has been one of the more mystifying developments of this off-season. There has been an inordinate amount of discussion devoted to a player 90% of football fans have probably never heard of, most of it driven by muckraker Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk. Florio is a noted Steeler hater so it’s not surprising he gleefully chronicles their every move looking for barbs to throw but over the past week he’s followed the Sanders Saga like it’s Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier. While I get that the Patriots and Steelers are two of the most popular fanbases and popularity = clicks, no less than seven posts on a guy who’s caught a grand total of five touchdowns seems ludicrous.
By the way, I have a correction to make on my original Sanders post from a few days ago. The $2.5 million in cap room PFT listed the Steelers having left was as of the current date. It doesn’t take into account the $5 million in space they’ll get when Willie Colon‘s salary comes off the books on June 1st. So while giving another million to Sanders hurts their ability to add an Ahmad Bradshaw or linebacker depth, they should be in good shape to sign all their draft picks.
Of course the burning question is did the Steelers do right by retaining Sanders? I was torn a few days ago but the more I think about it, it was the right move to make. I’m amazed a whopping 57% of fair-weather yinzers voted in a P-G poll to let him go. I’m even more amazed by the people calling into talk radio bemoaning Kevin Colbert turning down a third round pick in exchange for him. Since when did third round picks turn into precious gold?
Do the names Willie Reid or Dallas Baker ring any bells? How about Limas Sweed? Sweed should be familiar if only because Sanders had a couple Sweed-like moments last season when he dropped a pass then feigned injury to cover for his blunder. However my point is, a third round pick (91st overall) is not exactly a can’t miss prospect. For comparison purposes, last year’s 91st pick was an OT who didn’t see the field last year. Two years ago, it was a linebacker who has started 13 games in two season and has yet to record a sack. With the 91st pick last year, the Steelers could’ve gotten a fine young receiver like the Colts’ TY Hilton (taken one pick later) or they could’ve gotten a guy like Carolina’s Joe Adams (taken nine picks later) who made one whole catch all season.
Point is, the NFL draft isn’t an exact science. The Steelers could’ve found a receiver every bit the equal of Sanders. They also could’ve wasted the pick on yet another shitbum. Furthermore, this team has a number of holes that need filled at OLB, ILB, CB, RB and WR. Subtract Sanders and you almost have to draft at least two wide receivers, burning a pick that might be better spent addressing another position. They might still take two young wide outs but at least now there is some flexibility.
Whether Sanders gets his act together and fulfills some of the potential we saw his rookie year when people forget he looked like the emerging star until Antonio Brown broke through during the post-season remains to be seen. At this point, it’s a gamble the Steelers had to take.
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Look, ma, the Pittsburgh Steelers can negotiate contracts after all!
While the Mike Wallace saga continues to drag on, the Steelers finally completed one successful negotiation. First round draft pick David DeCastro will officially sign with the Black and Gold on Thursday, the final member of the team’s 2012 draft class to reach an agreement. With a wage scale slotting system a part of the last CBA, there wasn’t much for the two sides to quibble about in regards to money. However, there was some hassle over whether his guaranteed contract would run three or four years. When the 25th pick (Dont’a Hightower) and the 23rd pick (Riley Rieff) recently completed their deals with only three years guaranteed, it became readily apparent DeCastro would get three and like it.
The contract, as per the CBA, calls for DeCastro to make $7.8 million over three years, most if not all of which I assume is guaranteed. The Steelers also hold options for a fourth and even a fifth year with some piddling workout and roster bonuses guaranteed in year four. If this kid is as good as advertised, and many draftniks were calling him the best offensive guard prospect in the past several years, he won’t have to worry about those options being picked up. Perhaps the best part of this deal getting done well in advance of training camp is now DeCastro will have the benefit of a full camp which he probably needs after missing almost all of mini-camp finishing up his classes at Stanford.
The Steelers have high hopes for DeCastro, already penciling him in as one of the starting guards for this upcoming season. After cutting useless Chris Kemoeatu, the pickins’ are slim with Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster currently the only players on the roster with starting experience at guard. The team is planning to experiment with moving Willie Colon to guard although who knows if that’s still in the cards. The team has equally high hopes for 2nd round pick Mike Adams but he’s said to be a little raw which is probably why they recently re-signed Max Starks. At this point, the only certainty on the O-line is that Maurkice Pouncey will be the starting center. Besides Pouncer, we’re pretty much assured DeCastro and 2nd year tackle Marcus Gilbert will start although their play and the play of others will determine who starts with them and whether they play the right or left sides.
While this level of uncertainty may sound a bit pessimistic, it actually is not. As anybody who has witnessed Ben Roethlisberger running for his life over the past several years can attest, almost any combination will be better than what we’ve had. And with DeCastro officially in the fold, perhaps we can even dare to hope for so much more.
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Veteran offensive tackle Max Starks has re-signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Shocking, I know. Any fan rabid enough to own either a Starks or Charlie Batch jersey has made the safest investment outside of buying stock in Apple. No matter who the Steelers draft, no matter who the Steelers sign, no matter what injury should befall their man during the season, you can safely rest assured Mad Max and Chaz will be on the roster come the following year. It’s right up there with death and taxes.
I won’t bother recapping Max’s long strange journey, suffice it to say much like Michael Corleone, every time you think he’s out, the Black and Gold pull him back in. Max lost his starting RT job way back in 2007 only to reinvent himself as a LT later that year. The Steelers tagged him two consecutive years in a row before finally inking him to four year deal in 2009. He suffered what was feared to be a career-ending neck injury in 2011, leading to his release. Despite ballooning to well over 400 pounds during the off-season, Max managed to work himself back into shape in time to ride to the Steelers rescue at LT in 2012. He played quite well but ended up blowing out his ACL in the Steelers Wild Card loss to Denver leading to yet more questions about his future. Evidently rehab has gone well because the Steelers are bringing him to Latrobe in August.
This was supposed to be a transition year for the offensive line. The Steelers invested their first two 2012 draft picks in OG David DeCastro and LT Mike Adams and are expecting oft-injured RT Willie Colon back in the lineup (for about two weeks anyway). Colon is being moved to guard which left Jonathan Scott and second year man Marcus Gilbert to compete with Adams for the two tackle spots. Now with Max back in the mix, one has to wonder if the Steelers weren’t a little concerned by what they saw from those large-boned gentlemen during mini-camp.
I’ve been saying all along, I’m not totally sold on this new look o-line. Gilbert had a brief try-out at LT last season and did his best impression of a traffic cone. Scott was similarly abused during his short and ignominious tenure at LT. Rookies starting on the line isn’t that unusual but Adams was said to be a bit raw so counting on him to step in and start immediately was always a dicey proposition. The thought was if Adams wasn’t ready, perhaps Gilbert had matured enough to play LT but all the experience in the world won’t make up for slow feet. If Gilbert can’t handle the move and Adams isn’t ready, Big Ben’s blind side all of a sudden became a real danger zone.
Or it was before Mad Max returned to the fold. Welcome back, big guy. It’s like you never left.
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I love the new collective bargaining agreement. Granted, the NFL players took a golden shower on the deal but those meatheads picked their leadership so they get what they deserve. I love it because I remember back when the days following the NFL Draft were filled with strife and turmoil as scumbag agents tried to wring every last nickle they could for their clients. Revisionist history says Troy Polamalu didn’t play much as a rookie due to Dick LeBeau‘s complicated defense – which is at least partially true although I think a lot of more of his slow start is owed to the fact he missed a large part of training camp holding out.
Those days are long over. With the new CBA and its built-in contract slotting and rookie salary cap, guys get picked, signed, and into camp with little fuss. Here we are slightly less than two weeks since the draft and the Pittsburgh Steelers have already signed six of their nine picks. Nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu and RB Chris Rainey both signed over the weekend while TE David Paulson, CB Terence Frederick and big WR Toney Clemons made deals in the past 48 hours.
Then there’s second rounder Mike Adams, who became the Steelers’ highest pick to agree to terms when he inked a deal yesterday. Adams, you may remember, was so bummed when he heard the Steelers took him off their board for testing positive for pot at the Combine that he wrote them a groveling letter wherein he offered to defer his signing bonus for 18 months during which time he’d prove he could stay clean. According to Uncle Eddy Bouchette behind the P-G’s obnoxious pay wall, the Steelers did not take him up on the offer. So if Adams decides to wake and bake in the near future, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves.
I’m honestly rooting for the guy, though. I admit, it’s for selfish reasons. I like watching Ben Roethlisberger play and he can’t continue to do that if he gets the hell beat out him behind a paper mache offensive line. Adams has potential first round talent as a tackle, a position where the Steelers can surely use all the help they can get. Now that he’s signed, hopefully Adams will spend more time in the weight room than rolling doobies and OLine coach Sean Kugler will have him up to speed by training camp.
The team’s current plan at O-line would seem to be (left to right) Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Willie Colon. My worry there is Gilbert looked like a human traffic cone during his brief stint at LT last season and Colon has always been an injury prone turnstile. There are rumblings that Max Starks may be brought in at some point depending on how fast he heals up from major off-season surgery but I think that’s a pretty remote possibility. I think the Steelers know they have an issue at LT and rolled the dice on Adams because if he straightens out, he can easily be the team’s LT-of-the-future.
The good news is Pouncer started as a rookie two years ago and Gilbert started as a rookie last year so it’s not impossible or unlikely for that to happen. Would the Steelers be willing to field an O-line that features two rookies, possibly even manning the entire left side (DeCastro projects as a natural LG)? I’d imagine Mike Tomlin never relishes starting rookies. But I’d also imagine Tomlin would like his Franchise quarterback to survive the season without becoming a one man injury report. And getting Adams signed and in the fold in a timely fashion goes a long way to accomplishing that goal.
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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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The Pittsburgh Steelers also signed 13 undrafted free agents following the conclusion of this weekend’s NFL Draft. I’m not going to give a thorough scouting report for each one since my fingers are still sore from yesterday’s Kiper-riffic breakdown and the fact they’ll all be extreme long shots to even make team. I will highlight a handful I think may bear watching when those intolerable pre-season games begin.
First we have punter Drew Butler. Butler was the second ranked punter in this year’s draft but, thankfully, the Steelers learned from past mistakes and didn’t waste a valuable draft pick on a non-football player. Trust when I say doing so not only would’ve sent Rich Eisen into another epic meltdown but I’d likely need a new television. Butler is the son of former Bears kicker Kevin Butler, who I recall being one better kickers in the league during the late 80s/early 90s. I won’t bother with statistics since the bottom line will be who kicks better in pre-season although Jeremy Kapinos won’t have the advantage of being a
mistake Kevin Colbert doesn’t want to acknowledge former draft pick ala Daniel Sepulveda so if Butler performs well, I imagine he’ll make the team. The Steelers also signed a kicker from Missouri, Grant Ressel, but he’s probably just training camp filler. Teams always bring multiple punters and kickers into camp just so the non-football players have somebody to drink coffee and hang out with while the actual athletes get into football shape. Ressel had outstanding accuracy his first couple seasons, missing only 3 FGs out of 46 attempts, but a hip injury last season caused him to go down the crapper (9 for 16) and fall off the NFL’s radar. Even though Shaun Suisham absolutely sucks, I can’t see the Steelers going with a rookie kicker unless he makes multiple 60 yarders.
Now let’s talk some real football players, the Steelers also signed Marquis Maze (WR Alabama), Desmond Stapleton (G Rutgers, and, yes, he’s Darnell’s younger brother), Ryan Lee (G Furman), Ike Igbinosun (DT South Connecticut State), Jake Stoller (DL Yale), Adrian Robinson (OLB Temple), Robert Golden (CB/S Arizona) and Terry Carter (CB Louisiana Tech). Of local interest, they also signed wide receiver Connor Dixon from my dad’s alma mater Duquesne and Brandon Lindsey from Pitt. Dixon is a big (6’4 200 pounds) target who originally went to Michigan State as a QB. Lindsey was a fairly productive DE for the Panthers but he’ll be converted to OLB ala LaMarr Woodley in the Steelers scheme. Our depth chart is littered with young linebackers so it’ll be a uphill climb for Lindsey although remember James Harrison was once on the practice squad. As far as the non-locals, Maze and Golden seem to be the most likely to open eyes in camp. Maze is really tiny (5’8 186) which is probably why he wasn’t drafted but he’s considered something of a return specialist (think Stefan Logan). Golden bounced between corner and safety at Arizona but at 5’11 210 pounds and a natural hitter, he’ll be a safety in the pros. The Steelers don’t have much depth at safety besides the mediocre Ryan Mundy so if Golden plays well and contributes on special teams, I can see him making the squad out of camp.
Perhaps the most interesting signee was a young quarterback from Division III Monmouth named Alex Tanney. Tanney is most known for the above trick shot video he posted on youtube. He has no chance to make the main roster with Charlie Batch, Troy Smith and newly re-signed Byron Leftwich in camp but I’ll be rooting for the kid to at least make the practice squad. He may be raw and those tricks may have nothing to do with football but, man, he has a cannon for an arm. If JaMarcus Russell can fool the Raiders into picking him first overall because he could throw the ball 50 yards from his knees, Tanney should at least earn a spot on the practice squad. He may not be polished as the vets or even fellow camp invitee Jerrod Johnson but he already throws a better deep ball than Big Ben.