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hawaiiansteel
09-04-2011, 01:19 AM
Bires: Saunders gets his chance with Steelers

Saturday, September 3, 2011

http://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/timesonline.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/a/98/a98c68c3-020a-5660-ade6-8650ab21a3c4/4e62d28210528.preview-300.jpg

Steelers tight end Weslye Saunders (44) makes a catch against Philadelphia safety Jerrad Page (25) in the second preseason game.

One day last week after practice, Weslye Saunders was asked how he felt about the way his preseason was going. He promptly smiled and answered.

"It's going well," he said. "I'm still here."

Today as the Steelers begin preparations for next Sunday's opener in Baltimore, Saunders is still here. He survived the final cut.

On Saturday when the Steelers whacked five more players to reach the mandatory 53-man limit, Saunders wasn't called, wasn't told to turn in his playbook. An undrafted rookie, Saunders beat out 10-year veteran John Gilmore for the job as the Steelers' No. 3 tight end.

Not many observers gave Saunders much of a chance when Gilmore was signed one month ago today.

It's not so much that Gilmore was such a terrific acquisition even though he did start 23 games over the past three years in Tampa. It's that Saunders arrived with a character flaw on his résumé.

Last season as a senior at South Carolina, Saunders sat out. He was suspended by the NCAA and then removed from the Gamecocks' program. He was one of several South Carolina players who received discounted hotel rates, an NCAA violation. He also made improper contact with a sports agent, which in effect doomed his college career.

Then in February, he missed the NFL Combine with a foot injury. So in April, he was passed by on all of the league's 32 teams.

But once the NFL lockout ended, the Steelers - who've had uncanny success with undrafted free agents over the years - signed Saunders.

He's a terrific athlete who's 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds. He's known best for his pass-catching ability. But he's working hard to improve on his blocking.

"Last year was pretty rough for me," he said. "I don't know what was harder ... not playing or not knowing what was going to happen to me in the future. I was in school every week, trying to get reinstated by the NCAA. I kept doing that until the 11th week of the season."

Now, Saunders' troubles are in the past. He has a new lease on life in Pittsburgh. And now that he's a Steeler, he makes a potent offense even stronger.

Ben Roethlisberger gives the Steelers a franchise quarterback. Rashard Mendenhall is already one of the league's top 10 running backs, and he's only 24. The wide receiver corps is outstanding especially with speedsters Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

And the Steelers have a solid trio of tight ends in Heath Miller, one of the most complete players at the position in the league; David Johnson, a third-year pro who's played well in the preseason both at tight end and fullback; and Saunders, who caught a touchdown pass in Thursday's preseason finale win at Carolina.

"My strength has always been my ability to catch the ball," Saunders said. "But I'm trying to get better as a blocker. Hopefully, I'll become the total package."

Time will tell if Saunders can develop into a total package of a tight end. But at least he's getting his chance with the Steelers.

http://www.timesonline.com/sports/steel ... 7666c.html (http://www.timesonline.com/sports/steelers/bires-saunders-gets-his-chance-with-steelers/article_602955fa-642c-5fcc-a3f5-5e0932e7666c.html)

sentinel33
09-04-2011, 02:31 AM
It was the highlight of my day when I found out the Steelers kept Saunders.

Next year, he should be the #2.

Shouldn't be to big of a deal beating out D. Johnson.

Just really excited about his potential and that the Steelers see it too.

grotonsteel
09-04-2011, 06:37 AM
I am happy for Wesley Saunders. I hope he becomes No.2 TE behind Heath before this season ends.

I am not sure why writers keep saying he has character flaws? It's not like he had DUI or beat someone up?He made a mistake and paid heavy price for it.

Oviedo
09-04-2011, 09:00 AM
I am happy for Wesley Saunders. I hope he becomes No.2 TE behind Heath before this season ends.

I am not sure why writers keep saying he has character flaws? It's not like he had DUI or beat someone up?He made a mistake and paid heavy price for it.

I agree. I want Saunders on the field more and Johnson less. The upside for Sauders is pretty significant. I remember at one time he was being touted as a potential 2nd or 3rd round pick. I think we got a steal with him.

chiken
09-04-2011, 09:14 AM
i'm excited for this kid as well. Just felt as though we need as many offense tools for Ben as possible and he is definitely one.

Shawn
09-04-2011, 12:24 PM
Saunders will have to get better at blocking to even sniff the field. With that said, I believe he could be a special talent. I was stoked that he made the team.

StarSpangledSteeler
09-04-2011, 12:45 PM
Saunders could be a substitute for Ben's "tall WR" request. He actually kind of reminds me a little bit of Antonio Gates the way he catches the ball with his hands away from his body, arms fully extended. Nice signing.

StarSpangledSteeler
09-04-2011, 12:48 PM
Saunders will have to get better at blocking to even sniff the field. With that said, I believe he could be a special talent. I was stoked that he made the team.

See, I watched Saunders specifically on every snap he played. I thought he blocked very well. (granted it was against against second teamers). He consistently locked onto his man, and whenever the tackler chose a direction, Saunders drove him that way, out of the play, and finished the block until the whistle. I don't know what else you want?

hawaiiansteel
09-04-2011, 10:57 PM
Steelers' roster cuts should come as no surprise

By Scott Brown, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, September 4, 2011


In a sign of how stable the Steelers are, their most surprising cuts Saturday were a tackle-turned-guard and a cornerback who combined to appear in eight games last season.

The release of Tony Hills and Crezdon Butler also served as a reminder of how quickly things can change during the preseason -- or at least the perception of that beyond the inner workings of the organization.

Hills started at right guard in a 34-16 win against the Atlanta Falcons on Aug. 27 and appeared to be a viable candidate for the job. On the same night at Heinz Field, Butler returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown and appeared to put himself in good standing.

A week later, they are looking for new teams -- and likely to get a shot elsewhere, as the 53-man rosters the NFL required teams to submit before 6 p.m. yesterday are fluid.

Hills simply ran out of time and opportunities after the Steelers selected him in the fourth round of the 2008 draft as a left tackle. His release reflects well on rookie Marcus Gilbert and the strides this year's second-round pick has made.

Butler, a fifth-round pick last season, proved to be the odd man out when the Steelers opted to keep six cornerbacks among their 10 defensive backs.

It seemed the final cornerback spot would come down to Butler and rookie Cortez Allen, who didn't practice for much of the preseason because of a hamstring injury and played in only the final exhibition game.

It actually came down to Butler and Keenan Lewis, who has underachieved since the Steelers took him in the third round of the 2009 draft and does not appear to be viewed as a future starter.

The Steelers are hoping they found such players in third-round pick Curtis Brown and Allen, a fourth-round selection. They weren't going to risk trying to sneak the latter through waivers and onto their practice squad.

The same also applies to tight end Weslye Saunders, the only undrafted rookie to make the team.

Saunders beat out veteran John Gilmore for the No. 3 tight end spot after it became apparent he would not make it through waivers. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder is an immense talent and likely would have been a high-round draft pick had he not missed his senior season at South Carolina after getting in trouble with the NCAA.

The Steelers could have kept Gilmore, a Penn State product, and Saunders, with the former serving as something of a bridge for the first part of the season. But they showed just how much they value receiver Arnaz Battle as a special-teams player by keeping him rather than a fourth tight end.

Receiver is the one position where the Steelers could have managed with one fewer player, given their top five.

Defensive line is another position the Steelers could have had a potentially difficult decision.

But veteran nose tackle Chris Hoke has too much value to the team -- on the field and in the locker room -- and because coach Mike Tomlin prefers to dress an extra defensive lineman for games while the weather is warm, it made sense for the Steelers to keep Hoke and the emerging Steve McLendon.

In the end, there were no major surprises after the Steelers had trimmed the roster to 58. And that, really, is no surprise, considering almost every starter returns from last season's Super Bowl team.

http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... z1X2DJFdVI (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_755039.html#ixzz1X2DJFdVI)

Shawn
09-05-2011, 12:34 PM
Saunders will have to get better at blocking to even sniff the field. With that said, I believe he could be a special talent. I was stoked that he made the team.

See, I watched Saunders specifically on every snap he played. I thought he blocked very well. (granted it was against against second teamers). He consistently locked onto his man, and whenever the tackler chose a direction, Saunders drove him that way, out of the play, and finished the block until the whistle. I don't know what else you want?

Preseason games doesn't a good blocker make. His scouting profile questioned his blocking ability. Shoot even Saunders said he needed to improve in his blocking.

SidSmythe
09-05-2011, 01:35 PM
obviously the "character flaw" thing is way overblown and put an * next to his name. Oh well. I don't see anything wrong with his "character" so far and obviously neither do the Steelers or he wouldn't still be around.

Sometimes things like this really help a young man stay focused. Rather than have him come into the league as a hot shot and then get in himself in trouble.

RuthlessBurgher
09-05-2011, 02:46 PM
I actually think Weslye Saunders could be the current front-runner for the Joe Greene Steeler Rookie of the Year award. At first, I thought Baron Batch was the most likely possibility, beating out Mewelde Moore for the 3rd down RB job, but a torn ACL ended the rook's campaign before it could even begin.

I think Heyward gets some playing time in rotation, but with Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Ziggy Hood ahead of him, those 3 will get the lion's share of the snaps, while Heyward will be left with whatever scraps are left over.

I suspect that Gilbert will be given somewhat of a rookie redshirt this year unless injuries strike (I imagine that Essex and Foster will be gameday backups behind our starting 5, with Gilbert and Chris Scott inactive more often than not).

In the secondary, even when we go into a dime package requiring 4 CB's, I suspect that Ike, BMac, Gay, and Lewis will get the call. They may dress either Brown or Allen (one or the other) on game day (like they did with Sanders and Brown last year), and it will likely be the one that shows the most promise on special teams rather than on defense.

And finally, Chris Carter is behind Harrison, Woodley, and Worilds for playing time (and if multiple injuries struck the OLB corps, they would probably move Timmons or Sylvester outside before starting the undersized Carter as a rook).

The rookie who figures to get the most playing time and have potentially the largest impact this year appears to be Saunders, at least in my mind. Although Weslye is currently the #3 TE behind David Johnson, if they want to run heavy packages near the goal line, they would likely line up Heath and Saunders at TE and move Johnson back to his fullback position (since we no longer can use Bronko in that role since he is starting at RG now.

ikestops85
09-06-2011, 12:29 PM
I really like that we kept Saunders on the team. I don't know why but I have the feeling he could be our version of Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez.

He is not our typical TE that we have on the team since we emphasize blocking with our TEs. I think Saunders is more of the 'wide receiver' type of TE and could be another great weapon. If only BA can figure out ways to use all of the weapons we have. :HeadBanger

phillyesq
09-06-2011, 12:40 PM
I really like that we kept Saunders on the team. I don't know why but I have the feeling he could be our version of Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez.

He is not our typical TE that we have on the team since we emphasize blocking with our TEs. I think Saunders is more of the 'wide receiver' type of TE and could be another great weapon. If only BA can figure out ways to use all of the weapons we have. :HeadBanger

I like Saunders, but I don't see him as a Gates type TE. He seems to have some decent receiving skills, and he has the frame that he should be able to develop into a decent blocker. The Steelers managed to turn Spaeth into a respectable blocker eventually -- I'm sure the coaches can do the same with Saunders.

He seems to have potential to be more of a Heath Miller type well-rounded TE than a Gates type oversized WR. If he develops into a respectable blocking and receiving weapon, two TE sets with he and Miller could be a great weapon down the road.

hawaiiansteel
09-10-2011, 10:14 PM
On the Steelers: Saunders beats bad odds and bad raps

Saturday, September 10, 2011
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/images/201109/8xx00osi_500.jpg

Weslye Saunders catches a touchdown pass Sept. 1 against the Panthers' Michael Greco in Charlotte, N.C.

Under any circumstances, it is difficult for an undrafted rookie free agent to make an NFL roster. Such players face stiff competition from experienced veterans and players who were drafted.

Teams are familiar with the veterans and invest time, money and their reputations in their draft picks. But all these things worked against the undrafted free agents more so this year because the NFL calendar was altered by the lockout.

Weslye Saunders had to overcome that and much more to become the only undrafted rookie to make the Steelers 53-man roster.

Saunders, a rookie tight end, also had to deal with a serious foot injury, a year off from competitive football and some lingering questions about his character after a tumultuous college career at South Carolina.

Saunders last played in a game in fall 2009 when he was a tight end prospect for the Gamecocks. He was rated as one of the top tight ends in the country after his junior season, but he was dismissed by coach Steve Spurrier before the '10 season for violations of team rules amid an NCAA probe into contact with a sports agent.

After watching his teammates advance to the SEC championship game for the first time in school history without him, Saunders focused on turning pro, but he was forced to withdraw from the NFL combine because of a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot that required surgery.

After falling from a likely first- or second-round pick to going undrafted, Saunders took the first steps toward putting his troubled past behind him when he made the roster.

"I've taken into consideration the magnitude of it, how uncommon it is with my circumstances," said Saunders, who could make his NFL debut Sunday against Baltimore if he is on the 45-player game-day roster. "But I felt like if I was given an opportunity I would make the most of it. That's what I had to do.

"At this time last year, I was projected as a high-round draft pick. Then, everything went straight downhill from there. I had to do something. This was pretty much my last gasp."

Saunders' talent has never been in question. He is 6 feet 5, 270 pounds and has good speed and soft hands. He said his main goal for the NFL draft process was convincing teams he was a good person in addition to being a good player.

"I had to get them to believe what everyone had been saying about me [wasn't true], that I had character issues, that I was a bad guy," said Saunders, who had 60 receptions for 718 yards and six touchdowns in his college career. "I had to show them I was a hard worker and willing to learn and that I wasn't a [jerk]."

The Steelers are not known for taking chances on players with character issues, but they were willing to roll the dice on Saunders. It didn't cost them a draft pick, and they could have released him if they didn't like what they saw.

"He did something dumb and had to pay a serious price for it," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "I got kicked out of high school and somebody gave me a second chance and I'm here, so I'm all about second chances."

Saunders gave the coaching staff plenty of reasons to keep him, displaying his trustworthy hands by reeling in a touchdown pass against Carolina in the preseason finale and consistently improving his blocking skills.

When it came time to make the final cuts, the coaching staff opted for youth over experience and released veteran John Gilmore, brought into training camp because the Steelers were concerned about their depth at tight end after backup Matt Spaeth, signed with the Chicago Bears.

"Seeing him be an aggressive blocker was a pleasant surprise," Arians said. "He's very aggressive. That's how he earned his job. He blocked Atlanta's No. 1 front to start that second half pretty well. It was a real tough decision, but we went with the young guy. He has great upside. He just has to keep his pedal down and not relax and think he's here now."

Saunders said his mistake-filled 2010 made him a better person and led to a new attitude.

"It humbled me a lot," Saunders said. "I was in the position where I wanted to be in college. I had been recognized. My team was being recognized for being a really good team going into the season. It made me appreciate the game of football a lot more.

"Now, I'm enjoying every day of practice. Everything is great to me. I don't complain at all. It made me grow up in that sense. It made me grateful for everything that I have now."

NOTES -- The Steelers list rookie linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) out for the Baltimore game Sunday and receiver Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) doubtful. Cotchery, who had an MRI on his hamstring Thursday, did not practice for the second consecutive day. ... Rookie offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert concussion) is listed as probable. ... The Ravens list linebacker Jason Phillips (concussion) as questionable and guard Ben Grubbs (thigh) as probable, but neither practiced Friday.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11253/11 ... z1XbA22Efc (http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11253/1173640-66-0.stm#ixzz1XbA22Efc)