Catching up on some stuff I missed last week, it was announced late Friday night that the Pittsburgh Steelers had fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. This announcement came as a bit of a surprise to most as Bicknell has generally been credited for doing a pretty good job this season. If there was ever an example of making chicken salad out of chicken shit, what Bicknell did with our crew of journeymen and underachievers was it. I can’t fathom how much more the Steelers expected from him.
That is, if he was coaching the line at all. Our old friend Ian Rappaport, through his ever-popular “anonymous team source” – who we know is just the kid in the Steely McBeam costume feeding that nobody bogus scoops – tweeted that he heard Bicknell had been stripped of all on-field duties by the end of the year. While not a single one of the crack local beat reporters bothered to report this during the season, Jerry Dulac at the P-G did mention – shortly before Rappaport broke his “news” – that he had heard offensive line assistant Shaun Sarrett had taken over around mid-season. If that’s true, I guess we already know who the next O-line coach is.
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Earlier today, I wrote about some unkind words Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had for rookie running back Le’Veon Bell. It looks like the team’s captain isn’t done voicing his opinion. On Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin spoke of a meeting he had with guard Ramon Foster where Foster supposedly agreed to step up his leadership role with the young lineman. According to a story on ESPN, it appears Ben wants in on that action, as well.
Truth be told, the offensive line didn’t play all that horribly on Sunday. Their play is still below what you’d expect from a middle first and two second round picks but it isn’t appreciably worse than some of the lines they’ve had in the past. And only the most rabid Roethlisberger apologist would blame them for Ben’s four turnover performance against the Bears. He was careless with the football, end of story.
Anyway, what pearls of wisdom did Big Ben have for his young line?
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The Pittsburgh Steelers meet the Kansas City Chiefs tonight in the all-important third
exhibition preseason game. As I did last season, I beseech you, if you’re going to the game, don’t walk under any ladders. Steer clear of black cats. And if you own a rabbit’s foot, by all means bring it with you. That is, if the NFL Security Overlords permit you to smuggle it in within your regulation size purse.
The third preseason game is always a mixed blessing. It’s the most watchable game because starters usually see a good half of action in preparation for the season opener. But it’s also the scariest because within that half, you’re constantly hoping and praying none of the starters get injured. In a just world, when that half is over, everybody is healthy and ready for the regular season.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a just world.
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Tonight the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Washington
Redskins in preseason game number two. Once again, those members of Steeler Nation living outside of the greatest city in the US of A will have an opportunity to watch the game live on ESPN. If there is a just and merciful God, Chris Berman will not be on the call. Leave it to the Four Letter to actually make me long for the unholy pairing of Bob Pompeani and Edmund Nelson.
There’s really not much to preview before tonight’s game. Le’Veon Bell will likely be a game-time decision. Other than that, we’ll probably see the starters play a little longer than we did last week. The first cut down to a 75 man roster doesn’t happen until after the third game so we’ll still see plenty of future used car salesmen in the second half. If nothing else, it’ll give them plenty of time to talk about Landry Jones.
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I went a good month between updates due to literally nothing happening with the Pittsburgh Steelers. All of a sudden a new story pops up almost every single day. With the other sports teams in this town down in the dumps, I’m not exactly complaining about the welcome distraction. The timing is kind of strange, though.
The big story making the rounds yesterday was franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger getting a head start on his yearly injury drama by undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Head coach/degenerate liar Mike Tomlin assured the press that the surgery was a minor procedure to clear out loose cartilage that was causing Big Ben discomfort during OTAs. Ben had the same operation on his left knee during the 2005 season and while he only missed one game that was eight years and about four hundred sacks ago.
Perhaps a better comparison would be James Harrison, who put off having the same surgery when he arrived at training camp last season only to go under the knife a week before the start of the season. He wound up sidelined until week four. By getting surgery out of the way early, Ben should be healed up in time to be behind center for his customary handful of snaps in the pre-season games. It still does nothing to assuage my concerns about his rapidly deteriorating body.
Roethlisberger’s bum knee is a remnant from the pounding he endured last season. There is no truth to the rumor that he got clubbed on the leg by Pittsburgh born rapper Wiz Khalifa as part of the escalating war between Pittsburgh’s beloved football team and its burgeoning rap scene.
That story was started when a second arrest was made in Saturday’s stabbing of offensive lineman Mike Adams. It turns out thug #2 was Quay Meanz, an aspiring rapper and budding protege of Wiz. In a strange bit of irony, Quay appears in the video for Wiz’s popular hit “Black and Yellow” which has sort of become the team’s unofficial theme song (or official theme song, if you go by Pepsi’s commercials). While Wiz’s spokesman declined comment, let’s be real here. In any other profession, a stabbing would be the end of your career. For a rapper, it only makes him that much more legitimate. If anything, this is probably seen as a positive career move for Meanz.
For Adams, though, not so much. He was released from the hospital although, much like Ben, he won’t be likely to practice until training camp rolls around in August. The Steelers will need both in tip top playing shape if they want to avoid another disastrous campaign.
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Must have been a really nice truck…
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Mike Adams was stabbed early Saturday morning in what is the latest (and certainly most bizarre) setback to befall the team’s cursed offensive line. Every year the team holds great hope for their “new look” line and every year that unit plays maybe two snaps before the Football Gods strike them down one by one. With Willie Colon gone to plague the Jets with his devastating array of false starts, I guess they needed someone new to pick on.
After questioning the Steelers drafting a guy with huge character red flags in college, I don’t want to join the conspiracy theorists who are already having a field day with this situation. I do have to admit some aspects of Adams’ story are a bit strange. First, he dropped his keys with the valet at Nakama Steakhouse on Friday night and disappeared until the service shut down at midnight. Then, Adams returned to his truck (without the keys, mind you) at around 3 a.m. when, according to his account, three men approached him. Despite one having a knife and another armed with a gun, Adams argued with the men until ultimately being stabbed.
Where did Adams go for four or five hours? If he was so concerned about his truck, wouldn’t he have picked his keys up before the valet went off duty? Speaking of which, what was he going to do with this truck if he didn’t have the keys? Maybe I missed something in the story but there is definitely a strange aspect to it. Well, the police evidently recovered a cell phone one of the thugs dropped while fleeing the scene so whatever was going on, let’s hope they get to the bottom of it.
When the story broke, Steeler Nation reacted with the predictable doom and gloom. While being stabbed in the gut is no minor thing, it does appear that Adams escaped without serious injury. The gut stick would seem to be the more serious of the blows (he was also stabbed in the left forearm). Although no major organs were damaged, the injury will probably keep him sidelined until the preseason. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal but with Max Starks out of the picture, I’m sure they wanted to take a good look at both Adams and Marcus Gilbert on the left side. In my last update, I mentioned the loss of Mad Max might come back to bite the Black and Gold sooner or later. Never did I expect “sooner” to arrive in such a bizarre fashion.
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When the season ended for the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple months back, I wrote that it appeared we were in for an off-season filled with upheaval. I said that because with something like a dozen unrestricted free agents, a half dozen restricted free agents and a number of overpaid veterans, it seemed a pretty safe bet the roster was going to see significant changes. I never thought those changes would extend to the coaching staff as well. Looking back, change was probably inevitable coming off such a massively disappointing season.
We knew the Steelers were losing offensive line coach Sean Kugler since he announced during the season he was leaving to become head coach at his alma mater (UTEP) at year’s end. Kugler might be the most significant loss as he’s done a tremendous job with the Black and Gold’s offensive line since replacing the awful Larry Zierlein in 2010. Every year we talk about the team’s “new look” line and every year one player goes down almost immediately with several more falling as the campaign marches on. Last year, the team used a different starting O-line combination nearly every week. The line didn’t exactly remain steady no matter who they plugged in – the run blocking, for example, fell apart when Willie Colon was lost – but the fact they could throw an untested undrafted rookie like Kelvin Beachum out there and watch him hold his own speaks well of Kugler’s coaching ability.
Kugler is being replaced by Jack Bicknell Jr. That name probably means more to college football fans than those of us who follow the NFL. Bicknell is the son of longtime Boston College head coach Jack Bicknell. Bicknell Jr. was a starting O-lineman for his dad during the Doug Flutie years before moving into coaching himself. He’s been a career OL coach with the exception of a seven year head coaching stint at Terry Bradshaw‘s alma mater, Louisiana Tech. In recent years, Bicknell Jr. was an assistant OL coach for the Giants for a few seasons before moving on to the Chiefs last season. I don’t pay attention to KC but the G-Men have had some really good lines so let’s hope he was a big part of that.
The Steelers most recent loss was wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery. The official story is Montgomery left to become offensive coordinator at Duke. However, Uncle Eddy Bouchette at the P-G in his role of unofficial PR man has floated the story (no doubt fed to him by team officials) that the team actually booted him out the door. It sounds a lot like the Bruce Arians story where instead of straight out firing BA, they encouraged him to “retire.” And like the Arians situation, word is the reason Montgomery fell out of favor with Steelers brass as they saw him as too buddy-buddy with the Young Money crew. I’m not enamored with Art Rooney II‘s idea that coaches should be hard on their players but those idiots definitely need someone who will put boots to asses.
The new WR coach is Aliquippa native Richard Mann. Mann is a 30 year veteran of the NFL coaching ranks although he has been out of the league the past three years, working as a consultant who prepares college guys for the draft. Mann prior job was as the WR coach/assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Bucs under Raheem Morris. Mann spent 8 seasons in Tampa, several of which saw him coaching on the same staff as Mike Tomlin. During his tenure, the Bucs won a Super Bowl and had at least one 1,000 yard receiver every year except the last. He’s known as a very detail oriented guy so let’s hope he can bring some discipline to that group of underachievers.
Now, I’ve saved the best for last. The Steelers special teams were an absolute joke last season yet ST coach Amos Jones was inexplicably brought to Arizona by his old buddy Bruce Arians as the ST coordinator down there. I don’t think a single member of Steeler Nation lost sleep over that development. After reaching out to a number of candidates, the Black and Gold finally hired Washington Redskins ST coach Danny Smith. Smith, who started his coaching career at Central Catholic, has bounced around the league since then, coaching ST for the Eagles, Bills and Skins while also enjoying short stints as TE coach for the Lions and DB coach for Philly.
Interestingly, Smith was the team’s first choice back in 2010 but Washington wouldn’t let him go so we ultimately settled on Al Everest. Also, as this comprehensive look at Smith’s eight year stint in Washington mentions, he was the man in charge when Shaun Suisham endured one of his notable meltdowns. Suisham has revitalized his career here in Pittsburgh so it’ll be interesting to see if his resurgence continues under the man who oversaw one of his biggest failures. To be honest, I’d almost be willing to trade a slight drop-off in accuracy if it means a kickoff unit that doesn’t get flagged for holding on every return.
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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.