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Pope brings familiarity with offense to Steelers

Leonard Pope smiled, shook his head and rolled his eyes incredulously. Then he politely answered the question.

Pope was the only unrestricted free agent the Steelers signed in the offseason, and questions for the 6-foot-8 tight end keep coming back again and again to one subject.

Not the 102 receptions or nine touchdowns he has totaled in his six-year NFL career, and not his appearance in the 2009 Super Bowl. Not even his nickname, ”Champ” – or the fact he saved a 6-year-old boy from drowning in a swimming pool last summer.

All anyone wants to talk to Pope about is his familiarity with Todd Haley’s offense. Haley was hired in February as the Steelers first new offensive coordinator in five years. No surprise, Pope arrived in Pittsburgh weeks later.

Wherever Haley has been the past six years – from Arizona to Kansas City and now Pittsburgh – he’s taken Pope with him.

With the Steelers feverishly studying to master the new offense, Pope is a man everybody wants to speak with about it.

”Every day – all day, every day,” Pope said with a chuckle. ”And I give the same answer: I’m here learning the new playbook just like the rest of the players are. So my story ain’t gonna change.”

A story Pope is much more eager to tell is how he potentially saved the life of the young child of a friend at a party in his hometown of Americus, Ga., last June.

The only person at the party who knew how to swim, a fully-clothed Pope jumped into the pool, grabbed the boy, Bryson Moore, by the waist and pulled him out of the water to safety.

”It was an act born out of the fact of me being a father and having kids,” said Pope, who recently threw a pizza party for the boy’s class. ”Like I told people, I would want someone doing the same for my child.”

That story has made its way among his new teammates.

”I guess you can check the `Performs Under Pressure’ box for that,” fellow tight end Heath Miller said.

Providing depth to Pittsburgh’s tight end corps isn’t a life-or-death issue. But with David Johnson having been moved to fullback and Weslye Saunders suspended for the season’s first four games due to a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drugs policy, the 272-pound Pope will likely see plenty of reps this season for the Steelers.

”He’s a big boy,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said. ”He’s aggressive, he’s bright-eyed, he just loves to come in and stick his hand in the pile and try to help us win.”

A third-round pick by the Cardinals in 2006, Pope clearly has the size to help in the blocking game – a trait the Steelers have sought in their tight ends in recent years.

He also has shown an ability to be a weapon in the passing game, evidenced by the five touchdown receptions he had during his second year with Arizona or the career-high 24 catches he had last season with Kansas City.

”I try to tell people, `Please don’t sleep on me. When you sleep on me, that’s when I get you,”’ Pope said. ”You think I’m going to block all day, then I’ll run a route past you. You think I’m going to catch all day, I’ll block.”

Pope said his grandfathers and father used to argue about who deserves credit for bestowing the nickname ”Champ,” given to him as an overly active and rambunctious boy.

Pope even dubbed his foundation aimed at disadvantaged families that emphasizes physical fitness, C.H.A.M.P. (Creating Hope And Making Progress).

But one thing Pope is not yet is a Super Bowl champ. He was with the Cardinals when they lost to Pittsburgh in the 2009 Super Bowl.

”I want to be on the other side to not have that feeling again,” Pope said.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin cited the hunger Pope has after being ”on the wrong side of the confetti” that February night in Tampa three years ago. Tomlin mentioned that when asked about Pope before he mentioned the player’s history with Haley.

That’s the way Pope would prefer it. Contrary to conventional opinion, Pope did not sign with the Steelers just because of Haley.

”I came here because I had a job opportunity,” he said.

Haley was the offensive coordinator in Arizona for Pope’s final two years there, including the NFC championship season. When Haley was hired as head coach of the Chiefs, Pope was signed soon thereafter.

Haley was fired by Kansas City late last season, and the Steelers hired him to replace Bruce Arians less than three months later. Pope was signed in April.

Haley’s fiery sideline demeanor, combined with the fact the affable Arians had a warm relationship with most of his players, have led to much discussion in Pittsburgh about Haley and the offense.

Pope might not be willing to speak too much on Haley’s Xs and Os, but he will endorse Haley the person.

”I love Todd,” Pope said. ”He’s a great coach, and hopefully the guys are starting to see that right now.

”I know a lot of people see the negative picture of him yelling on the sidelines and all that kind of stuff, but he’s a real humble person and has a great passion for what he does.”

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers 2012 OTA First Week Brings Excitement for 2012 Season


We’ve seen a few storylines emerge as the Steelers powered through the first week of Phase 3 OTAs. Some good things, some bad things, and a lot to look forward to starting with the next set of three OTA sessions beginning May 29.

Johnson vs. Johnson

The conversion of David Johnson to fullback and his subsequent battle with rookie UDFA Will Johnson, the Workout Warrior of West Virginia, is something that may heat up quickly from minicamp straight to training camp.

It’s hard not to love Will Johnson’s attitude. After having gone undrafted in 2011, and the lockout-induced chaos the league went through, he wasn’t able to land on a roster. The Steelers signed him after a workout they watched in March. His strength, size and speed could give him an advantage over the athletically limited David Johnson, but his lack of experience will hinder him this year.

David Johnson has positional flexibility over Will Johnson. He’s heavier, and is going to be the more polished blocker of the two from an inline perspective. David Johnson gives the Steelers all three positions – fullback, H-back and tight end.

Redman, Rainey and Mendenhall

The Steelers’ running back corps will be deep this year, and the current group they have (Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Rainey, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Baron Batch) aren’t all going to make the team, especially with the alleged intention to keep a fullback on the roster.

Even the release of a tight end upon TE Weslye Saunders’ return to the lineup after Week 4 doesn’t seem to benefit the backs. Mendenhall is rehabbing but doesn’t appear to be near a return (read: after Week 1 at the earliest). Redman will continue filling in as the feature back, something he’s looking forward to, per the Erie Times-News.

Also mentioned in that article was rookie Chris Rainey flying down the sideline to haul in a “rainbow” pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger. RB fly patterns…remember that.

Gilbert has no intentions of letting go of left tackle spot

The Steelers prepared this offseason with Marcus Gilbert penciled in at left tackle. That changed as soon as they selected Mike Adams in the second round. But Gilbert got the benefit of playing on the left side while Adams’ college class finished up their course work this past week.

Adams is said to be given the first crack at it, but with veterans Jonathan Scott and Trai Essex waiting in the wings should he falter, it seems Gilbert is pretty much a certainty to start on the right side.

Corners preparing for battle

We’ve heard from Keenan Lewis and we’ve written on Cortez Allen. Lewis has Pro Bowl aspirations after putting his time in the Steelers’ system. Allen is physically gifted and probably well ahead of schedule in his second year. What about Brown? He figures to be a lock for special teams stardom this year, and, due to him being arguably the best athlete of his cornerback brethren, still could surprise in training camp. His progress from Year 1 to Year 2 will be intriguing to watch, to say the least.

Roethlisberger’s grasp of the offense

For whatever he says, Roethlisberger is a seasoned professional, and he’ll eventually understand the Rosetta Stone. While it may be better overall for him to stop lofting softballs at the media and at least try to mention something he likes about the offense, what matters is his preparation on the field.

Whether it’s him griping about a lack of perceived deeper pass opportunities, or him feeling like he’s being targeted for the team’s offensive slump in 2011, he has ample opportunity to learn the offense (doesn’t have to be done in one day, mind you) and be the same highly productive player he is.

Maybe he’s just letting off steam. We’ll give him that, and hope he continues to do whatever he needs to do to enable him to lead this offense.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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The Season of Hope: April Brings With It Excitement for the Future

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If you are a generic baseball fan this is the best time of the year. While you are reading this the games have begun. And even a Pirates fan can dream that someway, somehow things will be different this year; a competitive year, even a playoff run. Those dreams may likely be dead by June, maybe as early as May and almost certainly by August. But in April there is hope. The Pens begin their playoff run soon. Could Sidney and the boys hoist another Stanley Cup in a couple of months?

In April you can hope.

At least with baseball, basketball and hockey you don’t have to wait too long in the suspended animation of hope; football is another matter.

This is the time of the year when a football fan is sustained by vapors, fumes. Hope is sustenance, the only available currency at a time when we are so far removed from the reality and rhythms of the game that we can barely recall what it is really like. The leaves are the fresh light green of renewal, not the blazing orange, yellows and red of decline. The airwaves are full of talk concerning the Masters, season openers, the Cup, the Frozen Four, the NBA playoffs, London and other spring rituals. These, along with the just completed March Madness provide a smorgasbord for the devotees of other sports. In the meantime we munch on stale crackers; celebrating the small, the fantasy, the insignificant as a substitute for the real.

As I write this the league and the Steelers have released their preseason schedules for the 2012. So, I am reduced to poring over a list of glorified scrimmages, most of which will be forgotten long before Columbus Day unless there is some disaster like a major injury. The preseason opener is Pittsburgh at Philadelphia. If you are forgetful enough you may find yourself fantasizing about Ben vs. Michael Vick before you are reminded that for a first preseason game it will be, at most, one or two series for the top tier guys before they yield to the wannabes.

Not that there isn’t a certain amount of intrigue in the wannabes. But in the end we’re just talking about a better quality of cracker. Then again there may be also some interest in watching the new Haley offense, but how much do you show to a team that you will be meeting in the regular season? Yet I am certain that I will be scouring the NFL Network schedule for a viewing time which is likely to be three in the morning in order to absorb every detail of this and the other two preseason games that are only televised locally in Pittsburgh. The one nationally televised game is against the Colts. Why? To hear them boo Bruce Arians at Heinz? Or, that will be the coming out event for Oliver Luck (or RG3?).

Yesterday it was the new uniforms by Nike. Would we be mistaking the Steelers for the Oregon Ducks? Thankfully, no. Now we can wait for the unveiling of the new throwbacks in celebration of the 80th Anniversary. Another cracker.

So how do we keep hope alive over the intervening days and weeks? Many will continue to immerse themselves in mock drafts. Who will be the next Maurkice, or Limas? Some ambitious types will speculate who we should pluck from the available pool of free agents. And you can always peruse the list of prospects invited to the Southside for interviews and then research them mercilessly.

In two weeks things open up a bit. Players are allowed to begin workout programs on the 16th. Four days later the free agent signing period ends and with it the Wallace Watch. A week later tea leaves give way to reality as they conduct the real draft. Right after that the signing of UDFAs.

In May the bird food diet of hope can give way to some major league dreaming. The roster of prospects will be largely set. Unless the team is really unlucky, the hope will not be dampened by injuries, subpar performances, and there are no games to lose or other disappointments. We can dine on the OTAs and try to read between the lines as Tomlin and other team representatives creatively say nothing. We will still be three months from any real football, but we will have something to talk about. And for all but the chronically pessimistic it will be mostly positive.

But for now, pass the crackers.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Steelers/Rivers Casino Agreement Brings Free T Rides to Allegheny Station

A funding agreement between the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rivers Casino and Port Authority – brokered by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald – will provide free rides on the T light rail system b…

Source: Pittsburgh Steelers : News

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Sepulveda brings warmth to “snow day”

The weather might not have cooperated with the “snow day” at Sunrise School as a steady rain fell, but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the students taking part in a morning of fun-filled activ…

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Steelers coach Tomlin brings own approach

Mike Tomlin has showed in the past he isn’t interested in resting players in a regular-season finale, no matter the playoff situation.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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