Steelers New Look Line Looking Good

 Posted by at 4:51 am  Offensive Line  Comments Off on Steelers New Look Line Looking Good
Aug 072013
 

mike-adams-pittsburgh-steelers-stabbed-570x383

The new look secondary may be down and out but the new look offensive line seems to be all systems go.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have invested heavily in protecting their franchise quarterback. Over the past three seasons, they’ve used two first round and two second round picks in an effort to bolster their offensive line. Unfortunately, the Football Gods hate Ben Roethlisberger because every year the line is hit with a variety of injuries before the first regular season snap is taken. We’ve been waiting for a look at the team’s new look offensive line for two years now. Continue reading »

Jun 142013
 

 

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Oops, wrong Landry. Landry Clarke plays kicker slash tight end. Otherwise known as “the position Tim Tebow will play after Bill Belichick sees him in practice.” Our Landry is definitely a quarterback.

The Pittsburgh Steelers reached a deal with their final unsigned 2013 draft choice, agreeing to a four year contract with former University of Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. Terms of the deal weren’t available but under the NFL’s blessedly streamlined rookie wage scale, his contract will almost assuredly total somewhere around $2.5 million (about $650,000 per year) with some sort of signing bonus and playing incentives thrown in.

Despite the Steelers signing all their picks in relatively short order, it was imperative they get Jones into camp as soon as possible. Granted this year is going to be a better year than most for all the Black and Gold rookies to make an immediate impact. LB Jarvis Jones and RB Le’Veon Bell are likely to see significant playing time while guys like WR Marcus Wheaton and S Shamarko Thomas will be the first guys off the bench when injuries invariably strike. However, none of those positions require the level of study and preparation as playing quarterback.

Yes, Bruce Gradkowski is back home in the ‘Burgh. And, yes, he’s proven a pretty durable player over his NFL career. Regardless, if there is one position (besides offensive line) where the team has been snakebit over the years, it’s quarterback. If the team makes it through the preseason with all three QBs healthy and ready to go, it’ll be a refreshing change.

Ben Roethlisberger is a tough dude without a doubt. He’s also north of 30 and can’t take the punishment he used to. He’s missed games in every one of the past several seasons and considering he’s already having “minor” surgery during the OTAs, there’s no reason not to think he won’t miss a game or two in 2013. I’ve always liked Gradkowski but should he get hurt or prove ineffective, it would be nice to have a capable #3 ready to step forward.

Starting a rookie QB is less than ideal and I’m definitely not ready to declare Jones is Ben’s heir apparent, I’m simply relieved the team will have some capable options if/when Ben has to sit out. Byron Leftwich was useless and Dennis Dixon never learned more than five plays in four years. While I loves me some Charlie Batch, his career met a fitting end in the season-highlight victory over the Ravens. Bring on the new blood.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but I may actually be looking forward to watching preseason games this year.

Max Starks Off The Table

 Posted by at 5:19 am  Offensive Line  Comments Off on Max Starks Off The Table
May 232013
 

The city of Pittsburgh is understandably preoccupied. Between the streaking Penguins and resurgent Pirates, nobody is thinking about the Pittsburgh Steelers right now. Which is why I haven’t been posting much as of late. It’s also why seemingly irrelevant news can pass right under the radar like it did a couple days ago. News which, in about four months or so, we may be looking back on with quite a bit of consternation.

Longtime Steelers left tackle Max Starks is now a member of the San Diego Chargers.

Thus ends a long strange odyssey for Mad Max. The starting right tackle on the Super XL winning team, Max would lose his job to Willie Colon two seasons later. After a career ending injury to Marvel Smith, Starks moved to the left side where he would start for the team’s next Super Bowl winning team. After being transition tagged two years in a row, the Steelers finally signed him to a lucrative four year $28 million contract in 2009.

Naturally, he would suffer a severe neck injury one year later which prevented him from playing in his third Super Bowl. The injury was significant enough that free agent Jonathan Scott was penciled in as his heir apparent at LT in 2011. Scott was a disaster and with rookie Marcus Gilbert equally ineffective the Steelers literally plucked Starks off the street to once again anchor the left side. He played well but ended up tearing his ACL in the season ending loss to the Fighting Tebows which left him once again out of the Steelers plans. Nevertheless, the Steelers brought Max back last season and while he struggled mightily at times, he was the only member of the line to start all 16 games.

There is no question age is catching up with Mad Max. There is also no question that the Steelers have been preparing to replace him. They drafted Gilbert two years ago and last year invested a second round pick in Mike Adams. While both guys have shown flashes of ability, neither has proven they can be counted on to be a dependable left tackle. New offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. is said to favor younger, more athletic tackles which no doubt explains the team’s lack of urgency in keeping Starks. Let’s just hope when it comes time to kick off the 2013 season that their decision doesn’t come back to bite them.

Pittsburgh Steelers Complete Draft Recap

 Posted by at 5:14 am  NFL Draft  Comments Off on Pittsburgh Steelers Complete Draft Recap
Apr 292013
 

Jarvis Jones
OLB Georgia
6’2  248
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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.

Le’Veon Bell
RB Michigan State
6’1  230
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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.

Markus Wheaton
WR Oregon State
5’11  189
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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.
Continue reading »

Steelers Upgrade Offense In Rounds 2 and 3

 Posted by at 4:45 am  NFL Draft, Pitt Panthers, Roster Moves  Comments Off on Steelers Upgrade Offense In Rounds 2 and 3
Apr 272013
 

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!

Linebacker Jarvis Jones Is Steelers First Round Pick

 Posted by at 4:47 am  NFL Draft  Comments Off on Linebacker Jarvis Jones Is Steelers First Round Pick
Apr 262013
 

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.

Who Will The Steelers Take In NFL Draft?

 Posted by at 6:01 am  NFL Draft  Comments Off on Who Will The Steelers Take In NFL Draft?
Apr 242013
 

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.

 

Steelers Bust A Cap In James Harrison

 Posted by at 7:04 am  Free Agency, James Harrison, Ratbirds  Comments Off on Steelers Bust A Cap In James Harrison
Mar 272013
 

One NFL agent has already been fired due to free agency incompetence. Another may soon join him.

Linebacker Elvis Dumervil was happily employed by the Denver Broncos, who were scheduled to pay him $12 million next season. After signing some name free agents (Wes Welker and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), the Broncos found themselves over the salary cap. Under NFL bylaws, after any new signing, a team has a window of 48 hours to get in compliance with the cap or they risk forfeiting a first or second round draft pick. Dumervil agreed to rework his contract to help Denver out but thanks some sort of fax machine shenanigans, the papers weren’t signed in time and the team was forced to release him.

Dumervil quickly became a hot commodity as no fewer than five teams were bidding for his services. The Pittsburgh Steelers were among his suitors as were the Baltimore Ravens. The Ratbirds ultimately won the Dumervil sweepstakes, signing him to a five year deal that will pay him $8.5 million this season although only $2.5 of it counts against the cap (the bulk of his first year salary comes in the form of a signing bonus). Why can’t supposed salary cap sooper-genius Omar Khan work out these kind of deals?

The addition of Dumervil is quite the coup for the Ravens, who have lost five defensive starters this off-season. At 29 years old, Dumervil is an accomplished pass rusher having posted 17, 9.5 and 11 sacks the past three years. Paired with Terrell Suggs, they should form one of the better OLB duos in the AFC.

When word broke of Dumervil signing with Baltimore, Steeler fans immediately went into sour grapes mode, pointing out Doom’s limited experience as a 3-4 OLB (he began his career as a 4-3 DE) and his so-so ability to stop the run. Anybody who doesn’t think Dumervil would’ve been a huge asset to the Steelers is completely insane. Had they signed him, he immediately would’ve been the team’s best pass rusher as he’s infinitely more talented than Jason Worilds and has grossly outperformed LaMarr Woodley the past few seasons. What’s more, at 29 years old, he’s got at least three or four more prime years left before age and injury start to catch up with him.

With Dumervil off the table, rumor has it the Steelers have turned their sights to former Colts DE Dwight Freeney. At this point, Freeney is nothing more than a poor man’s Dumervil. Sure he might come cheaper but in football as with smoked ham, you get what you pay for. Freeney is older (33), has a more worrisome injury history, and appears to be a horrible fit for our defense. Where Dumervil shifted from DE to OLB without missing a beat, Freeney moved to OLB last season and recorded a career-low 5 sacks. Freeney isn’t an upgrade over Dumervil, he’s not even an upgrade over the man he’s ostensibly replacing, James Harrison.

Ah, poor Deebo. The agent I mentioned who may soon find himself unemployed (if not naked in a gutter with dog bites and “BMF” tattood on his left butt cheek) is the assclown representing James Harrison. Harrison was scheduled to make $6.57 million this season but the Steelers asked him to take a 30% pay cut down to roughly $4.5 million. He balked thinking he could easily command his original salary on the open market. How sadly he was mistaken.

According to reports, the market for Harrison’s rapidly declining skills is tepid to say the least. In fact it’s so icy that Harrison’s agent has already started floating the idea that James would be open to returning to the Steelers, presumably for the salary he idiotically turned down in the first place. For their part, the Steelers have leaked word that they have no interest in bringing a grovelling Harrison back at any price. Ouch.

The thing is, yes, Harrison is in the twilight of his career. And yes, he was dumb for not agreeing to take the pay cut when it was offered. At the same time, Harrison was the team’s best pass rusher last season and until Woodley discovers the Stairmaster, would still be so heading into this one. Even with eroding skills, Harrison is a better option than either Jason Worilds or Dwight Freeney. Of course, there are still players left to be signed and the draft can change a lot of things so it’s not imperative the Steelers decide on the lesser of three evils. However, they better do something or risk falling even further behind their AFC North rivals.

Steelers Sign Spaeth: Super Bowl Is Ours

 Posted by at 4:42 am  Free Agency, Heath Miller, Roster Moves  Comments Off on Steelers Sign Spaeth: Super Bowl Is Ours
Mar 182013
 

There are thirty-two teams in the National Football League. According the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is but only one. At least, that’s the impression one sometimes gets from the moves they make. The Steelers have signed five free agents thus far, two played for them last year (Larry Foote and Plaxico Burress) and another two were longtime Steelers who played elsewhere in recent years (William Gay and the recently signed Matt Spaeth).

The only non-Steeler to be signed was back-up quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who happens to be a Pittsburgh native. And we laugh about the Cardinals being Steel City-centric…

Anyway, the return of Spaeth gives the Steelers a little insurance at the tight end position going into camp. Heath Miller tore his knee to hell in last season’s finale so it’s anybody’s guess if he’ll be ready by camp or what they can realistically expect out of him in 2013. Heath’s a man’s man and not a lazy fatass like LaMarr Woodley so I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to come back but when your rip every ligament in your knee that ends with CL, it’s best not to set exceptions too high.

Heath is that rare talent that excels at both catching passes and blocking. The Steelers have two tight ends currently on the roster who can conceivably pick up the slack catching the ball. Unfortunately, neither David Paulsen nor Leonard Pope is considered much of a blocker. Some website called Pro Football Focus, which tries to ruin football with a bunch of useless made-up stats like those sabrematrician dorks ruined baseball, claims their analysis “proves” Spaeth was the best blocking TE in football last season. As somebody who’s actually watched him play, that notion is laughable even though he is a certainly an upgrade over both our current TEs in the trenches.

 

Steelers Waive Good-Bye To James Harrison

 Posted by at 8:34 am  James Harrison, Roster Moves  Comments Off on Steelers Waive Good-Bye To James Harrison
Mar 112013
 

Let the Purge II begin!

The Pittsburgh Steelers released linebacker James Harrison on Saturday. The former Defensive Player of the Year was scheduled to make $6.5 million next season and the salary cap strapped Steelers didn’t feel he was worth it. Earlier in the off-season, Harrison’s agent told reporters he felt his client was the team’s best linebacker and didn’t think he should take a pay cut. Evidently they held firm to that belief because the Steelers tried to renegotiate his contract last week, negotiations that went nowhere fast before ending with Harrison’s release.

At 35 and coming off several injuries, ditching Harrison now fits with the Steelers traditional habit of getting rid of expensive veteran linebackers before they decline. Make no mistake, Harrison’s agent was right, he was the team’s best linebacker last season. He tied with Lawrence Timmons for the team lead in sacks (6.0) and forced fumbles (2.0). The Steelers D was great at limiting opponents yards and points last season but they struggled with so-called “splash plays” like turnovers and sacks. Cutting the team’s most effective outside linebacker certainly won’t help them in those areas next season.

Harrison will most likely be replaced by Jason Worilds. Pressed into the starting line-up for large stretches last season, Worilds finally flashed a bit of potential by notching a career high 5 sacks. The problem with Worilds is still he hasn’t shown the ability to be a game-changer like the Steelers traditionally expect from their OLBs. Releasing Harrison also puts additional pressure on fatass LaMarr Woodley to get his lazy behind in the gym so as to avoid absolutely sucking like he has since signing that big money contract extension a couple seasons back.

The departure of Harrison removes yet another piece from the core of a team that won two Super Bowls and appeared in three. Harrison was a dirty violent anti-social thug but he was our dirty violent anti-social thug. I wrote more posts about the NFL’s obvious bias against Harrison than anybody but only the most Black and Gold colored glasses wearing yinzer would argue that Harrison was a good guy. If he had beheaded Hines Ward like he beheaded Mohammad Massaquoi or annihilated Ben Roethlisberger like he annihilated Colt McCoy, Steeler Nation would consider him Public Enemy #1. Since he wore our jersey and he cheapshotted our enemies, we cheered for him.

Truth is, violence is what made Harrison’s career. We all know the story, Harrison was an undersized linebacker who went undrafted out of Kent State. He was cut several times before the fateful day when Joey Porter was ejected for fighting in pre-game warm ups. Harrison stepped in and his ferocious play opened eyes. Porter was cut and Deebo went on to become a multiple time All-Pro and 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. That season he had 16 sacks and 7 forced fumbles. But no play that season or in his career was bigger than what he did in that year’s Super Bowl.

Steeler Nation commonly refers to the Immaculate Reception as the greatest play in Steelers history. It can be argued Harrison’s 100 yard Pick-Six was actually more important. While the Reception was undoubtedly harbinger of the Steel Dynasty, the ’72 Steelers went on to lose the AFC Championship game the next week. Meanwhile, Harrison’s play is very likely the difference between the Steelers being tied with the Cowboys and 49ers with 5 Lombardi Trophies and being the only franchise that has won six championships.

The Cardinals were on the three yard line with 20 seconds left. Harrison not only denied them a TD, he scored a TD going the other way. If the Cards score, the second half is an entirely different game. If he gets tackled inside the red zone, time expires and the Steelers don’t score. That play was a legit 14 point swing and in a game that came down to the narrowest of margins, there’s no overstating it’s importance. James Harrison won us a Super Bowl.

So thanks, James. Best of luck in your future endeavors.