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Weekend Check Down: the Week’s Top Stories


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Summer has officially begun, and with it ends the springtime phase of the NFL year. The last of the minicamps for teams around the league ended on Thursday. Thursday also marked the end of the NBA year as the Miami Heat wrapped up its second championship. If you live in the Northeast you don't have to be told that its summer you just needed to step outside. So, in honor of the season we will begin with...

Training Camp

Steelers.com published the training camp schedule this week. There will be fifteen sessions that are open to the public all at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. with the one exception of a Friday evening session at Latrobe Stadium. It is important to note that though the players officially report to camp on Wednesday, July 25th, the first public session will not be until Friday, July 27th, and that will be a helmet and shorts practice, after that practices will be in pads.

The camp schedule encompasses weekday sessions and three weekends and culminates on Friday August 17th. There are some things about camp that I try not to take for granted. Pittsburgh is the only team in its division and among a dwindling number of teams league wide that still conducts training camp at a location other than their year round training facility. Parking and admission to the practices is free. Living as I do in Redskin Country, I appreciate that the Rooneys continue to refrain from sticking their hands in our pockets just to witness practice. And since, like many of us in Steeler Nation, I reside in enemy territory, it's really nice to be at the home base, so to speak, surrounded by fellow patriots, friends and Steelers family watching our guys go through their paces.

If you haven't done so it is an experience that I highly recommend. The setting is attractive and peaceful (Saint Vincent is also a monastery), the mood is both upbeat and mellow, if that makes any sense, and the price is right. If you can avoid the occasional thunderstorm then it makes for a great afternoon. (All public sessions commence at 3pm).

Contracts

As was reported in this space last week, the June 15th deadline for WR Mike Wallace to sign his tender came and went with nothing being signed and no punitive action taken by the Steelers front office. There was a minor disturbance in the Force when Antonio Brown indicated that he would handle his upcoming contract process differently. First round draft choice David DeCastro has also not signed as of yet, there is no concern that this is a problem, just the process playing out.

Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette has pointed out that it will certainly be helpful and comforting to get both Wallace and DeCastro signed, but the most important contract issue the Steelers face this summer is that of Head Coach Mike Tomlin. Next year is the option year on Tomlin's contract and team president Art Rooney II indicated earlier in the spring that the organization intended to sign Mike to a new contract. The coming weeks would be the best time to accomplish this, but according to Cook the sticking point may well be money.

Tomlin has earned the right to be in the conversation as one of the top coaches in the league. He currently makes considerably less than Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin. There is no indication that the conversation on this matter has commenced or if the issues raised are actually a point of contention at this time. But the main point of the article, the importance and priority of keeping Tomlin with the Black and Gold is well taken.

More Tomlin

Steelers.com also reported a couple of news items related to Tomlin, but not team related. Kiya Tomlin, Mike's better half is a board member of Pittsburgh Promise an organization that provides college scholarships for students who attend the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The organization sponsored a dance-a-thon that was attended by the coach and several of his players.

Coach Tomlin will also be hosting a tailgating party in Virginia that benefits the Hampton Roads Youth Foundation.

Chris Rainey

It's going to be great. I know this style of offense. I have asked some of the other players if they like it and they do. They think it's better than the one they used to have here

That was Rainey's response to what he thought of Todd Haley's new offensive system in a piece that appears in Steelers.com.

Rainey also responds to questions about his draft day experience, his feelings about the atmosphere of the Steelers organization and the importance of special teams play.

Mewelde Moore

Moore rejoined former Steelers OC Bruce Arians as he signed to play with the Indianapolis Colts. His veteran presence should be quite an asset for a team that is starting a rookie quarterback and in a serious rebuilding phase.

Moore made some major contributions during the Steelers' championship run in 2008, but it is fair to say that he was underappreciated during his tenure with Pittsburgh. He and Tomlin were with the Minnesota Vikings at the same time, and I believe that he has represented and displayed many of the characteristics that Tomlin values in his players. I don't believe that there was a place for him on the current Steelers roster unless one or more of the highly touted young runners were unavailable or performed in a disappointing manner.

Nonetheless, Moore will be missed by many and will probably make for a number of great trivia questions in a decade or so.

This year's undrafted free agent sensation?

So far, that would be CB Terry Carter from Louisiana Tech. Carter had three interceptions during the last full day session of minicamp and now has the attention of the defensive coaches.

The Louisiana connection has also been noted. Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis are Louisiana natives and Tech is Terry Bradshaw's alma mater. Remember the old days when the problem was a lack of quality cornerbacks on the roster? Lewis, Allen, Brown, Frederick, Carter; what a traffic jam.

Baron Batch (cont.)

A trait that Baron Batch shares with Isaac Redman is that he has become an object of our seemingly endless fascination without having accomplished much as of yet on the field. While Redman has played the role of superhero/demigod in the collective imagination, Batch seems to be carving out a niche for himself as poet warrior (I was about to say intellectual sage, but that would be Myron Rolle).

Batch was the subject of a piece in the Post-Gazette that actually featured some of his artwork. Batch also discussed the emotional and psychological hurdles that he has had to address in relation to the rehabilitation process he has been undergoing to come back from a knee injury suffered in last year's training camp. If he has accomplished anything, Batch has provided fans with a great deal of insight into the journey that is undertaken in the quest to achieve success in the NFL. We root for him if for no other reason than what we might learn from his experience of actually playing in the league.

Dublin?

Dan Rooney was in the news once again this week. In an interview with BBC, the United States Ambassador to Ireland expressed the hope that the Steelers might play a regular season game in Dublin in the near future. Besides the logistical concerns (each team would be transporting about 150 team personnel across the Atlantic in the middle of the season) there is also the concern of whom would be the home team in such a match up. If it were the Steelers it would mean forfeiting one of their home dates at Heinz Field. Stay tuned.

Harrison

It has been quietly noted that James Harrison was kept out of workouts during both OTAs and the mandatory minicamp. The reason given was that he has been experiencing fluid on the knee. Harrison has been wrestling with injury concerns for over a year now with the most serious issue being his back. There is some concern about the current state of his health, but I would argue that there is nothing to prove by having him go through these workouts. Now if there are problems at training camp, then there might be reason for concern.

And speaking of outside linebackers...

Clark Haggans

The former OLB for the Steelers made the news for the wrong reasons this week as he is beginning to serve a week of jail time in the Westmoreland County lockup for a DUI conviction that he received in Arizona. While the conviction occurred in the southwest, Haggans has chosen to serve his time in Western Pennsylvania. He will spend two days in jail and then the rest of his sentence on work release.

Willie Colon

Nice profile of our ‘new' left guard by Theresa Varley on Steelers.com. Colon provides details of his injury struggles over the last two years and how he coped with being away from the game for so long.

Other news

Perhaps the biggest football news of the week was the announced retirement of LaDanian Tomlinson. He did one of those one day contract deals and retired as a San Diego Charger. It is believed that he will be a lock for the Hall Of Fame when he becomes eligible in 2017.

Bounty Gate continues as the suspended players went to NFL headquarters in New York to appeal to Roger Goodell. The league also released to journalists information that was used to decide the punishment for these players.

In spite winning and being named MVP of the Super Bowl for the second time, Eli Manning ranks third in terms of media attention in the Big Apple. The current obsession is with Jets' quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.

In AFC North news, Ravens offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie has attracted a good deal of attention because he was held out of team workouts in order for him to work on conditioning and weight issues. McKinnie vows to report to training camp at 345 pounds. In a bit of a role reversal, the Baltimore media seems to be somewhat concerned about O line issues with the Ravens.

The problem is Cleveland is at quarterback. It appears that the Browns may be looking to unload Colt McCoy. Steelers fans would hate to see him go.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week

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Starting today football goes underground for about six weeks. The players will continue to prepare for the season, but they will do so individually or in small groups; and privately. Steelers minicamp ended yesterday with an abbreviated (about 15 minutes) session that has come to be known as Hat Day. The team will reassemble on July 25th at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe for the commencement of training camp.

This is going to cause some problems on three levels. First there is the fact that as we approach the summer solstice, for football fans it is the dead of winter, metaphorically speaking. It's been nearly six months since the Steelers last took the field for a game and it'll be awhile before they do so again. That's bad enough, but I think we can agree that it's different this year as well. I can't recall the last time there was this much anticipation and excitement in advance of a season.

As datruth4life stated in a recent thread "I think Tomlin has a secret". That secret being that he is assembling a monster and many of us in the Nation can see it as plain as day (though we could be viewing things through the proverbial rose colored glasses, but this perception transcends the usual optimists and Pollyannas who always see the glass as full to overflowing). We've been feeding on free agency, the draft, OTAs and minicamp. And now, nothing; we're going to be left hanging for a bit, rehashing and reinterpreting the information we already have with very little new to work with.

Second, if you depend upon sports for gratification or distraction then the problem is that this is not just down time for football. I was looking at the schedule for broadcast sporting events this weekend, and well, pretty boring actually. The NHL is over; the NBA has about a week left. If you're into the Pirates then the times are pretty good. Folks are very excited about the Nationals in these parts. The US Open will be front and center through Sunday and Tiger is doing well so far. Beyond that, the WNBA.

The third part is personal. What am I going to write about in the Check Down? The Mike Wallace negotiations will be ongoing, that's something. It's possible that Tomlin might get a new contract. The player safety issue will probably make headlines at least once. Manny Sanders may throw a gum wrapper out of his car window and get fined, suspended or cut. Otherwise it might come to sharing Baron Batch's recipe for bean dip.

But enough of my problems. We're going to do things a little differently this time, hope you like it.

The Front Office

Art Rooney II made headlines on Wednesday when he said about Mike Wallace "He should be here". This was interpreted as a shot across the bow of sorts, but the actual process of the negotiation appears to continue to be free of acrimony. The deadline for Wallace to sign his RFA tender expired today (June 15th), but the team has not exercised its option of reducing the amount that is offered to the wide receiver. The hope on all sides is that an agreement on a long term contract can be reached. Wallace's coach (Tomlin) and quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) have both expressed optimism that there will be a satisfactory solution, but are noncommittal as to when that might be.

A couple of roster moves were made this week. The team signed former Bengals inside linebacker Brandon Johnson and seven year veteran long snapper Matt Kafula who has played for the Ravens, Patriots and most recently with the Vikings (Ravens and Patriots? Did they fumigate this guy before they let him mix with the other players?). These moves appear to be designed to add depth to the competition at various positions. Johnson, for example, is reported to be a good special teams player, but has never risen above the level of a reserve for the Bengals.

To make room for these new players tight end Wes Lyons was released and rookie wide receiver Connor Dixon of South Park H.S. and Duquesne was placed on the waived/injured list. Neither move should be considered surprising. With the logjam of talent both at tight end and his old position of wide receiver, unless there had been a spectacular improvement from last year, there was probably no chance of Lyons earning a roster spot. Being released gives him a fighting chance of catching on with another team. Dixon had a history of injury problems in college. It appears at this point that he might have been too fragile to have made it at this level.

Coaching staff

Head Coach Mike Tomlin ran an abbreviated practice for the last session of minicamp on Thursday. Besides giving the team a head start on their six week break, there was another reason for the shortened session. Steelers.com reported that Tomlin left the Steelers facility and headed directly to Brashear High where he was running a two day camp for youth football players. He also took all of the Steelers rookies with him to serve as counselors for the day (What, do you think any of them would say no?). The nearly 250 participants of the free camp got the opportunity to work with the likes of David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Chris Rainey and Kelvin Beachum.

Both the Trib and the Post-Gazette ran pieces on Running Backs Coach Kirby Wilson. The remarkable and inspiring recovery of Wilson continues as his only concession to his injuries is the use of a golf cart when he is on the practice field. While on the subject, a good amount of press was devoted to the...

Running Backs

Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Baron Batch were profiled in two pieces that appear in Steelers.com. The common elements were that of guys trying to prove their value to their coaches and moving up the depth chart. Noteworthy for Batch was that the blue vest (signifying that there should be no contact) he was required to wear during OTAs was removed for minicamp. The reports concerning Batch during these spring sessions have been very good. But he acknowledged that he has yet to put on a team uniform even for a preseason game.

Chris Rainey was featured in a piece in Friday's Post-Gazette which highlighted the fact that he and center Maurkice Pouncey have been teammates in high school, at the University of Florida, and now with the Steelers. Rainey, who has been receiving high praise, expressed the hope to make a name for himself on special teams and eventually get an opportunity to contribute to the offense.

In the piece on Coach Wilson, fullback David Johnson credited his coach with helping him to accelerate his development at the position. Rashard Mendenhall was doing straight line running during minicamp. There is still no clarity as to where he is at this point in his rehabilitation.

Wide Receivers

The big news here is that receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown pled guilty to and were fined for the crime of littering. The two left some cardboard boxes next to a private dumpster. For this abomination that warranted feature coverage on the front page of the Trib, each man was fined $ 300 and Sanders was removed from his position as spokesperson for an anti-littering campaign. No word so far from Commissioner Goodell's office. If you want to have a good laugh you might want to check out Anthony Defeo's fine article on this subject on the BTSC front page.

Offensive Line

This was the area of the team that attracted the most media coverage by far.

First round pick David DeCastro and second round pick Mike Adams joined the team for the first time since rookie minicamp. League rules prevented them from participating in OTAs. Both men spent time on both the second team and first team groups. Adams caught some grief when he was beaten on a play by his former Ohio State teammate Cameron Heyward. But generally they both received high marks for their grasp of their assignments despite their absence. The Tribs Dejan Kovacevic is predicting that they will be in the starting lineup against Denver, and also quotes high praise for the two from Maurkice Pouncey.

Usually overlooked in all the discussion of the first year offensive linemen is seventh round pick Kelvin Beachum. In a piece by Jim Wexell in Steel City Insider, Beachum has also been attracting a lot of positive notice. Trai Essex points out that Beachum is both smart and talented. He also brings a trait that the higher draft choices do not; position flexibility. A lot of people who comment on this site have written this player off. My guess at this stage is that their judgments are premature.

Essex has also been attracting some positive notice. While much has been made of the physical transformation of Ziggy Hood, Essex has gone through some changes himself, losing a considerable amount of weight. He is also one of the players who has stepped up his game in the leadership department as well. One indication is that Essex was assigned to the first team line during minicamp; playing in a group that also included Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey and Ramon Foster. Like Beachum, a lot of people in these parts have been quick to write off Essex as well. Maybe, but I don't think so. In addition to his apparent physical rededication, Essex also brings the valued skill of position flexibility (his stint at center during last season's game against the Rams earned him a game ball) and, like Max Starks, he is a veteran of three Super Bowl squads. You learn things during a championship run that cannot be taught.

Guard Ramon Foster was also profiled in an article in the Trib. The piece emphasized that this isn't the first time that Foster has been challenged by a player who was viewed as being better on paper or reputation and prevailed. On the other hand he is a realist who knows that a first round draft choice is another matter. But he vows that he won't go down without a fight. His contract situation (the Steelers offered him a nice tender for this year but he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013) would indicate that he will have value to the team for his experience this year, but may be allowed to walk afterward.

Tight End

The only really fresh news in this area is the release of Lyons. But reading between the lines it seems clear that Leonard Pope has impressed, if for no other reason than his size and the range that it brings. By all indications the new offense will be more tight end friendly, particularly in the red zone.

Quarterback

The big news of the week for Ben was the announcement last Saturday that an addition in the form of a son will be coming to the Roethlisberger household this year. That was followed by some accounts that basically declared the full rehabilitation of Ben's image. He was also the subject of speculation and debate on the NFL Network and elsewhere as to whether he would or should alter his game if, for no other reason, self- preservation. Ben's answer was no.

The minicamp ended with a throwing contest involving Troy Smith and Byron Leftwich. Smith made an impressive throw of 68 yards, but Leftwich won with a toss of 70. This was the one piece of good news for Byron who was reported to have some accuracy problems during drills.

Defensive Line

Not as much attention as the group on the other side of the ball, but it was something of an active week for these guys as well.

A video on Steelers.com showed nose tackle Casey Hampton tutoring fourth round pick Alameda Ta'amu on some technical points. Two things stood out. First, Hampton looked to be in very good shape, relatively svelte. Second, the solidly built Ta'amu was bigger than Snack. And, of course, there is the matter of McLendon who is the favorite to start the season at the position. A few short months ago people were wringing their hands over the future of this position. At this point it might be one of the most solid and deep positions on the team.

The dominant story concerning this component of the team has been the preparation regimen of end Ziggy Hood. Reviews have been positive, but it is still unclear to what extent this will translate to game performance. And even putting that issue aside, there are many who believe that Cam Heyward could be breathing down both Hood's and perhaps Keisel's collective necks this year. Besides his schooling of Adams, it is believed that Heyward could make a significant leap this year given his lack of off season work last year due to the lockout.

Linebacker

Besides the addition of Johnson, not much new here. There is still some conversation about the football smarts of third round pick Sean Spence and the possibility that he could play a significant role in the defense sooner rather than later. LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote and Ryan Mundy will be working out together in Michigan in preparation for training camp.

Defensive Backs

The entire defensive backfield cohort got to spend some time with Hall Of Fame inductee Jack Butler when he visited the South Side facility during the first day of minicamp.

With all the excitement surrounding this team you can be forgiven if you have forgotten that the Hall Of Fame induction ceremony will be a pretty big day for Steeler Nation. Besides Butler, Dermontti Dawson will be inducted as well. Two inductees from one organization is not common. If you haven't already, you might want to consider attending the ceremony in Canton, Ohio in early August.

And to all for whom it applies, have a great Father's Day!



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week


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OTAs ended for the 2012 pre-season on Thursday. What remains is next week’s mandatory minicamp and then, for those of us who are excited and anxious for the start of the season, a long, difficult dead period lasting about six weeks until the start of training camp on the 25th of July. No big, earth shattering stuff in terms of news this week, but a lot of nice little tidbits that could serve to fire the imagination and fuel discussions through the summer lull.

OTAs conclude

These days, it seems like the Steelers value chemistry more than most teams in the league. While many teams are moving their training camps to team headquarters, the Steelers are the only team left in the AFC North to go elsewhere in the summer. Working and living at St. Vincent College develops a bond that is lost by staying in-house

ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote this as part of a piece commenting upon the Steelers’ tradition of blowing off one of the practice sessions (which they did on Monday), and going out as a team for a day of ‘entertainment’. Hensley acknowledged the chemistry and "camaraderie" these types of activities build. The concluding practice session was held at Heinz Field on Thursday (all the other sessions were conducted at the South Side facility). No one has said it explicitly but I suspect that practicing at the game site is a pretty big deal for the young players. There were a few interesting interviews conducted on Thursday as well. One was with quarterback…

Ben Roethlisberger

You can find the video of the interview on Steelers.com. I believe its sinking in that the alleged controversy concerning Ben’s reaction to the new Haley offense is more a media contrivance than real. Interviews conducted this week with Heath Miller, Byron Leftwich and Haley himself confirms the challenges everyone is facing with mastering the new terminology. Ben mentions in the interview that progress is being made on the offense and that more is anticipated during the minicamp.

Ben was wearing #78 in practice on Thursday in honor of Max Starks. He is repeating an action he took last season in openly lobbying for the team to resign the tackle. There are a couple of things that can be said about this gesture. Expressing appreciation for offensive linemen can be viewed as good politics for quarterbacks and running backs, but Ben has by all accounts a strong and sincere bond with many of his offensive linemen. You’ll remember that one of Ben’s companions when he was having his difficulties in Georgia was Willie Colon. Starks and Ben were part of the same draft class and have been in the wars together, including three Super Bowls, for the entirety of each man’s career. Ben reports that Starks is in good health. And though he would not project to being a starter, with a rookie and a second year man at the tackles Starks would be a good person to have in the mix, unless you believe that it would make no difference than say, Jonathan Scott.

But the most interesting portion of the interview to me was when Ben was asked who impressed him during the practices. The question came in two parts; one focusing upon returning veterans, the other on newcomers. The two names he mentioned from the returning veterans were Willie Colon and his switch to the interior of the offensive line, and receiver Antonio Brown.

In terms of the newcomers he was high on free agent acquisition Leonard Pope, commenting on his size and comparing him favorably with Heath Miller as a pass catcher. Ben was reluctant to say anything about the rookies, echoing Tomlin’s take that first year players haven’t accomplished anything of significance where it counts, in the games. But having said that he did go on to express how impressed he has been with fifth round draft pick Chris Rainey.

Ben was also asked if he had any problems with having two rookies possibly starting on the offensive line. He said no, and also said that he had spoken on the phone with first round draft pick David DeCastro and offered to help him with travel arrangements for next week’s minicamp.

Another intriguing interview conducted on the last day of OTAs was with…

Keith Butler

One of the nice things about this time of the year is that the assistant coaches get to have their moment in the sun. Butler (whose interview is also available on Steelers.com) was one of four Steelers assistants to be interviewed this week.

When asked, Butler revealed that the group of younger linebackers was one of the more impressive groups that he has had while adding as a caution that this was all about what was being accomplished in shorts and that the real test would come when the pads went on.

He had a lot to say about third round draft pick Sean Spence that was eye opening. Spence, who had a spectacular interception during the Thursday practice, is picking up the system so quickly that it is likely that he will see the field on defense in addition to special teams duties. Butler pointed out that none of his linebackers has ever started as a rookie, but it was noteworthy to me that he didn’t entirely close the door on that possibility for Spence.

The remainder of his comments were made in reference to Jason Worilds and Chris Carter. Worilds has had wrist surgery, and though he is expected to be available for camp and the season, he is being held out now as a precaution. Carter is another player who has impressed. And Butler pointed out something that many of us may have forgotten. Because of the lockout last year this is Carter’s first OTAs. Second year players such as Carter and Cam Heyward may make more spectacular progress this year as they have a full year of preparation under their belts for the first time.

Butler also acknowledged earlier in the week that it would not be easy replacing departed linebacker James Farrior but that he had much confidence in Larry Foote.

While on the subject of assistant coaches talking to press, let’s also include…

Dick LeBeau

LeBeau was interviewed by the Post-Gazette and at Steelers.com this week. He commented on the Denver debacle and the one area that was a cause for concern from last year’s defense, a lack of turnovers. The defense bore the brunt of the player losses during the off season (The release of James Farrior and Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke’s retirement and the loss of Willie Gay to free agency) but LeBeau expressed confidence that the pieces were available to keep the success of the unit going.

Like Butler, LeBeau was very high Sean Spence and what he has shown so far. (Maybe we’re not overstating how impressive this year’s draft has been). The bulk of his remarks on Steelers.com were concerning the position competition at cornerback opposite Ike Taylor. LeBeau heaped high praise on all three candidates; Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, encouraging us to dream that we may see an era when there exists both quality and depth in the secondary. Is that really possible? And it should be noted that Allen and Brown are also second year players which could mean that they too may make a dramatic jump after a having a full year of preparation.

But probably the most noteworthy interview was with offensive coordinator…

Todd Haley

The interview that was published through the Post-Gazette on Haley's offensive concept but he also seemed to have spent an inordinate amount of time reassuring the press that he and Ben Roethlisberger weren't at each other's throats.

"We want to be, No. 1, a physical group whether we're throwing it or running it. We want to be a smart group and -- its coach speak -- but we want to be a disciplined group. If we're that with the guys we have out here working, at least in my estimation, we ought to have a chance to be pretty good."

And staying with the offense, also in the spotlight this week was offensive line coach…

Sean Kugler

We learned from Kugler that the first and second round draft choices David DeCastro and Mike Adams, prevented by rule from participating in the OTAs have just not been sitting at home twiddling their thumbs. Each was given a laptop loaded with the team playbook. They have been contacted and quizzed on a nightly basis by Kugler. He has been impressed by the quality of the questions he has been fielding in these nightly conversations. Kugler stated that Adams and DeCastro are slated to run with the first team when the minicamp commences next week.

Kugler also had some things to say about some of the returning veterans being very excited about the potential of Willie Colon’s move to guard and claiming that Maurkice Pouncey was having his best off season (Really? Wow!)

Leaving OTAs for a bit, let’s talk about…

Warren Sapp

Sapp continues to endear himself to Steeler Nation, once again opining that Pittsburgh lacks the necessities to successfully compete for a championship. You may recall that in the wake of the early season loss to the Ravens, Sapp declared the Steelers as being "Old, slow and done". Apparently a 12-4 record and a playoff slot constitutes being "done". High praise indeed.

It should not come as a surprise that a large number of fans are heaping abuse on the business end of Sapp’s digestive tract. But now it seems that the Steelers players have had enough of Sapp as well. Ike Taylor and Larry Foote lit into Sapp on Taylor’s radio program and pulled no punches as they ridiculed Sapp’s financial problems. Foote also alluded to an incident during the 2002 season that may be the genesis of this animosity. Before a game between the Steelers and Tampa Bay, Sapp and another player disrespectfully intruded into the Steelers’ warm up area. The situation climaxed with a physical altercation involving Jason Gildon and Joey Porter. I would have loved to have seen that one.

A growing consensus says that Sapp will be eating his words in a few months.

Back to OTAs where…

Troy Polamalu and Myron Rolle solve the problems of the world

Much has been made of an exchange involving Troy and Florida State Alum and Rhodes Scholar Rolle as they were exiting the field after practice last week. The two players, dripping in sweat, were having an animated discussion. Were they unpacking the intricacies of LeBeau’s defense? Deciphering Peyton Manning in high altitude? Dissecting strategies that counteract New England’s two tight end attack?

No. They were discussing whether a world with a population of 6.4 billion could sustain the lifestyle aspirations of a growing middle class. The thing is I can easily imagine these two having that kind of a conversation in the middle of football practice. Throw into the mix Ryan Clark who held forth this week on the NFL Network’s Total Access program and one thing is clear; the Steelers’ crew of safeties, if nothing else, have the potential of being the most erudite and opinionated group in the league.

Miscellaneous football news

You may want to keep an eye on the defensive end spot for the Steelers. Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward have been attracting attention with their preparations for the season. Don’t be surprised if one or both players make a quantum leap in their play.

Negotiations between the NFL and their game officials are at an impasse. The possibility of a lockout and the hiring of replacement officials are a real possibility. With safety issues still front and center this could cause some problems for the league down the line.

Speaking of safety concerns, the lawsuits of former players concerning head injuries have been consolidated into one massive lawsuit. The legal issues that the league faces over these issues continue to evolve.

Drew Brees has been offered a new contract by the New Orleans Saints. No word as of this writing of acceptance or rejection.

Chad Ochocinco has been released by the New England Patriots. Terrell Owens is also out of a job. What has this world come to?



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week


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I'm feeling pretty good about doing the Check Down this week. With the start of OTAs there are plenty of interesting stories to highlight. For many of the past several weeks I've been feeling like someone tasked with serving a banquet armed only with a bag of saltine crackers and a can of sardines. Where to begin? How about starting with a story that will get your hackles up.

ESPN predicts Steelers finishing 3rd in the AFC North

A SportsCenter panel of Herm Edwards, Bill Polian and Marcellus Wiley unanimously concluded that the Steelers would finish third behind the Ravens and Bengals in 2012. The explanation given by Edwards is too much change.

I was ticked off for about a nanosecond. But one of my superstitions is that the Steelers do best when they have been written off by the media and the fans, so of course, I think this is good news. Besides, Edward's assertion isn't crazy, if you haven't been following the team that closely it appears to make a lot of sense on the surface. If you were told last year that the Steelers would be going into the 2012 season without Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Chris Hoke, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, Bryan McFadden, Chris Kemoeatu and Willie Gay what would your reaction be? Well, besides the fact that many would be dancing a jig to celebrate being rid of Gay (remember this is last year).

Steeler Nation has placed a great deal of confidence in a group of players with little or nothing in the way of experience competing in the NFL. That confidence isn't baseless, Steeler Nation isn't considered among the most knowledgeable fan bases in the league for nothing. On the other hand it would be foolish to dismiss the risk involved with such a high turnover of front line players and leadership, even if it consists only of a sensible period of acclimation to new responsibilities and relationships. In a division as competitive as the AFC North that may be enough to cost a team the championship. But don't get me wrong, I love the hand Pittsburgh has been dealt. And I especially love flying under the radar.

But most of the news this week has come out of the OTAs conducted from Tuesday through Thursday. One of the first things we learned is that...

Troy steps up

Safety Troy Polamalu usually isn't seen much around Pittsburgh in May. Normally this time of year he's in California or Tibet or some such place receiving specialized instruction in being a super hero. No one minded because the results were always spectacular. That was just Troy's way. So, it has caused more than a little stir that Polamalu is here apparently for the duration of the OTAs. The reason is leadership. According to Troy he was asked by Mike Tomlin to show up in order to help fill the void created by the loss of so many veteran players. However, don't expect a major personality change from Troy. He has been, and will continue to be more of a leader by example type as opposed to being highly verbal. It appears that the other veteran players may have been more affected by his appearance than the younger players.

And it's not only Troy who has increased his profile in response to the leadership needs of the team. Larry Foote, Willie Colon, Trai Essex, Ike Taylor, Jerricho Cotchery, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders have all become more verbal and visible. We're even hearing a lot from Isaac Redman. What is becoming clear, painfully so for me, is that the number of three Super Bowl Steelers, those veterans who were part of the '05, '08 and '10 Super Bowl squads is dwindling. Even a relative bit player like Essex has to be afforded a great deal of respect because there are few people that have ever played the game who can make a claim to having this level of championship experience.

These guys must be considered a special advantage for the Steelers. The Ravens and Bengals have no one like them. It also appears that leadership will not be the sole responsibility of a few, but dispersed among many. I get the feeling this team will have no shortage of leaders moving forward.

Then there is the matter of who didn't show up...

Mike Wallace and other absentees

As predicted (feared), Mike Wallace has been a no show so far. But there is more to the story than that. Wallace did make an appearance at the Steelers facility last week, and among others, apparently spoke with Coach Tomlin. He also left with a copy of the new playbook thereby reducing the greatest concern about lack of participation to this point; that he would fall behind in learning the new system. If you pay close attention to Tomlin's comments about the matter (always a wise thing to do) you come away with the impression that all of this is a necessary, short term business issue that will be fully resolved eventually with little long term impact. As others have said, Wallace has few options beyond negotiating a long term deal in good faith or simply signing his tender. At present he appears to be a hostage to his agent's strategy, whatever that might be. Please leave me out of the ongoing effort at character assassination as it references Wallace. I think he'll be back in the fold sooner rather than later and we'll be glad to have him.

Three draftees (Adams, DeCastro and Ta'amu) are unable to participate due to rules relating to when they graduate. Have you wondered what it must be like for these three guys, bouncing off the walls while their new teammates are practicing and bonding? A few players missed one or more of the practices due to personal or other issues and several others were present but didn't participate because of injury concerns, but it doesn't appear that anyone simply blew the activity off. A good thing.

Redman spills the beans concerning the Haley offense

A couple of weeks ago we didn't know anything about the new Steelers offense. Details have begun to emerge as the players have been candid about their reaction to the opportunities and challenges that the new system contains. Steeler running back Isaac Redman revealed that a fullback would be part of Haley offensive system. He went further to say that David Johnson has been ‘transferred' from the tight ends room to the running back room. In other words, he is now officially a fullback. Taking in consideration Redman's comments and those made by Manny Sanders we can expect more of a play action focus with the offense in the coming months.

And speaking of running backs...

Mendenhall ahead of schedule on rehabilitation

Not long ago the common wisdom was that Rashard Mendenhall would not be a significant part of the team equation this year. That was fine with the anti-Mendy faction of Steeler Nation. Between rehab and his contract we had seen the last of Mendenhall, and good riddance. We have adequate replacements, or so we have come to believe. Redman had a good game against the Broncos (let's not think about that little fumble fest he had in Cleveland), Dwyer has had one really good run, as has Clay. Baron Batch hasn't had a carry in a preseason game yet let alone the regular season, neither has Chris Rainey.

This is not to trash the running back corps. I'm as optimistic about their potential as anyone. But let us not forget that it is just potential that we are talking about so far. None of these backs have proven that they can fulfill the running needs of a professional franchise over the course of a sixteen game season, plus playoffs. And how come Mendy doesn't get much in the way of slack relative to the performance of the offensive line? Who says that he doesn't gain 2,000 yards behind this new group?

It's not clear exactly when Mendenhall will be back, but it is clear that he is determined to return to the line up sooner rather than later. For some of us that's good news.

Ben vs. Haley

Or so you would think. This stinks of a made up controversy, quite frankly. On the NFL Network and on this site folks are taking bets as to when these two will have their first on the field scrap. But as a commentator pointed out, regardless of what Ben thinks or what Haley does at the end of the day Tomlin is in charge. And how much BS do you think he's going to tolerate? Do you really think he's going to let this turn into a circus?

Watching the team get a handle on this new offense will be fascinating to watch. It will be a particular challenge for Ben (and all the quarterbacks) because, obviously, their understanding has to be so much greater. As such I am more inclined to take Ben at his word rather than to think that every utterance is some veiled reference to his displeasure with the new system. Whether or not the new system suppresses Ben's natural gifts remains to be seen, but should not be anticipated for the mere fact that it is no one's interest to do so. In the meantime people have to sell newspapers and advertising.

Harrison vs. Goodell

James Harrison has weighed in on the lawsuit filed by Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Deebo characterized the suit as a "win-win" for the players. He also questioned the relative health benefits of the mandatory use of knee and thigh pads. As Neal Coolong has pointed out in his post on the subject this has become an intriguing little war being conducted by Harrison against an authority figure that has in the past shown the ability and the will to make Harrison's life somewhat miserable from a football standpoint. While Harrison will not win any awards for tact or diplomacy, he has the advantage of being right (imo) more often than not.

With the player safety concerns, legal actions and media attention increasing don't expect this little war to end any time soon. Many fans wish that Harrison would be more discrete (as in ‘Shut the Hell up!') probably fearing that he will incur Goodell's wrath in the form of a suspension at an inopportune time. Deebo clearly doesn't care.

Lewis, Allen and the secondary

Cornerback Keenan Lewis has swept past the issue of whether or not he will earn a starting position at cornerback and is expressing his ambition to make the Pro Bowl. Having such a goal certainly makes sense in light of the fact that it would have him keep pace with his childhood friend Mike Wallace. The fact that he is also in a contract year would be a factor too. Nothing wrong with aiming high.

Cortez Allen was also in the news. It appears that the nickel back position is his to lose. I am impressed with the progress of both Lewis and Allen, but I would write those names down in pencil until Curtis Brown is heard from. We are watching with interest to see if Carnell Lake's unit can build upon the momentum they created last year. At the moment confidence doesn't seem to be a problem.

Marcus Gilbert and the offensive line

The goal for Mike Tomlin and his staff at this point of the season is to create competition within the team to challenge and facilitate the development of the players, plus to determine who has the will to step up when it matters during the season. People have been penciling in Gilbert in the right tackle slot on the offensive line, but Gilbert has not entirely abandoned his desire to play the left tackle position. This is a reminder that this unit is very much a work in progress at this point. The only thing close to certain at this point is that, barring injury, Pouncey will start at Center. Everything else is up for grabs.

James Farrior

There are reports that, like Hines Ward before him, James Farrior is considering retirement. Hopefully, he will receive the recognition that he deserves if he goes through with that decision.

Miscellaneous

It has been such a big news week that these items get only a one line mention.

The NFL Owners have ruled that the wearing of hip, thigh and knee pads are now mandatory for its players. Hines Ward's victory lap continues as he was honored this week by the Governor of Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth Legislature. The NFLPA has accused the NFL of collusion in setting an unofficial salary cap for the 2010 season. New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks broke his foot during OTAs yesterday. Art Rooney II was honored this week by the Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend everyone.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week

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OTAs start on Tuesday, thank God! We are about to reach our next little oasis in the Death Valley that is the offseason. You would have thought that this would be a particularly slow news week, but there actually have been a few noteworthy developments, including some continuing encouragement coming out Steelers camp. But we begin with...

Jonathan Vilma sues Roger Goodell

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma received the harshest punishment leveled against a player by Commissioner Goodell as a result of the Bountygate debacle, a one year suspension. Instead of just slinking off in disgrace, Vilma struck back this week by suing Goodell for defamation, creating yet another interesting twist to this ongoing soap opera.

If you are a Goodell hater (and I know you're out there) then the good news is that the suit is targeted specifically at Goodell, not the NFL. What I like about it is this action contains the promise that the arbitrary nature of some of Goodell's decision making and the relative lack of accountability that accompanies it may be curbed somewhat. Goodell has managed to make himself the poster boy for doing the wrong things for the right reason. It would be difficult for a rational person to argue against the need for something to be done about player safety relative to the legal issues the league is confronting in this regard. His actions seem to reflect more of a cover your ass (CYA) mentality than a fair, well thought out strategy to change the league culture. Not surprisingly some players are balking at being thrown under the proverbial bus for the good of the league and its sponsors. Some change is absolutely essential if the NFL is to survive long term in any way closely resembling its current form. But a course correction from the current strategy is necessary, and if this lawsuit is the catalyst then it is a very good thing.

On the other hand it is worth asking the question whether the suit has any validity in light of the absence of clear evidence concerning what actually happened. Vilma doesn't really have anything to lose by doing this and could conceivably gain regardless of the eventual outcome. The players in general will benefit as well. Now, in spite of the relative impotence of the NFLPA (so far) this action demonstrates that the players won't just be punked by the league office. Steelers players are looking better and better as it becomes clearer by the day that they were way ahead of the curve on all of this in their response to similar treatment by Goodell in the past and their rejection of the CBA based on accountability concerns. James Harrison and Ryan Clark don't seem so surly today. Before leaving the Saints let's devote a line or two to...

Drew Brees

Folks are starting to get a little nervous in Louisiana over the relative lack of progress on securing a new contract for Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In light of the leadership vacuum that has occurred in the wake of Bountygate, Brees was being counted on to step into the void. While it would be considered too early to be worried about such things in most precincts in the NFL, it feels awfully late in New Orleans. It appears that instead of expediting negotiations the bounty situation may have complicated matters. And speaking of contracts...

Wes Welker

The Patriots receiver signed his tender this week, though he has since expressed some regret as to how things have developed since he made the decision. Of course, being Steelers fans, it is difficult to generate much sympathy with anything concerning this particular franchise. However, at least in my mind, every action of this sort brings us one step closer to signing Mike Wallace.

But all of these things are just prologue to what, if you are part of Steeler Nation, was the big news of the week...

Willie Colon moves inside

Steeler Nation generates a lot of dreams. Some of them are pretty half baked, based upon a lack of information or faulty assumptions on who to start, who to sit, who to trade, who to cut and so forth. Usually (often fortunately) these dreams remain just that, dreams. Well, this spring, surprisingly, in some cases amazingly, some of the fantasies have come true. Many wanted the team to make a heavy investment in upgrading the offensive line, and not only did they get their wish, they got a talent (DeCastro) that most didn't have the nerve to even wish for. This week they received fulfillment for another dream, held for years, when during the course of an interview conducted at Steelers.com Willie Colon revealed that the team asked him to move to guard.

Last year the talk in Philadelphia was about a Dream Team. This year, while it has not been titled as such (so far), Steeler Nation is contemplating a Dream Offensive Line; LT Smokin' Mike Adams (just kidding), LG Colon, C Maurkice Pouncey, RG David DeCastro, RT Marcus Gilbert. Of course cooler heads or the more cynical will quickly point out that only Pouncey has accomplished anything in this league at his projected position. There are some reasons for optimism. The timing of the move is such that it is clear that it is directly related to the acquisition of DeCastro. This says to me that team leadership is confident that DeCastro will step in immediately and be a force. Some predict similar success for Adams as well.

Colon also provided another tantalizing glimpse into the new Steelers offensive playbook by revealing that the running attack will be balanced to the point that we should anticipate both guards will be pulling. We can also anticipate that the shrinking, but still present anti-Colon faction will back off for a while as we wait and see what the results of this great experiment will be later on this summer. Meanwhile a lively debate has begun as folks argue over who among the other offensive linemen should be shoved out the door first. The clear early favorite is tackle Jonathan Scott. We'll see.

Kelvin Beachum

The 7th round draft choice from Southern Methodist has been overshadowed twice so far in his brief career as a Steeler. First, he is an afterthought to higher round draft mates David DeCastro and Mike Adams. And he has been virtually ignored as attention and debate has focused upon more controversial first year players Sean Spence, Chris Rainey and Adams. So not much has been made of the fact that Beachum not only received his Masters Degree this week, but he also was honored by being chosen to give the commencement address to his fellow graduates. This cuts little ice with many in the Nation who see him being thrown on to the street right behind Scott. We'll see.

2011 Steelers Highlights

Hopefully, enough time has passed for us to realize that in spite of the disappointing ending the 2011 season was a pretty good year. The Steelers premiered its 2011 highlight film at Heinz Field revealing, among other pearls, that this marked only the second time in team history where they managed back to back 12 win seasons. The film will be available to the public in July.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week


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It has been a somewhat slow news week compared to the last two. No big deal usually, but it's getting a little tough psychologically for Steelers fans. At my day job I regularly run into three diehard Steelers fans who come in once a week. These three people don't know each other, yet they each express the exact same sentiments; they are more than pleased at the outcome of the draft and other off season developments and are impatient for the start of the regular season four months from now. Admit it; have you ever been this antsy about football in May?

So, for me at least, news has been nourishment; finger food to tide me over until more meaty fare such as training camp shows up. This week the appetizers include the following:

Rookie signings

If you paid attention to such things in the past you have certainly noticed the rather brisk, pain free pace at which our draftees have been signing their rookie contracts. You can credit this to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The way things played out last summer I don't think many people were going over the CBA with a fine tooth comb analyzing its provisions; we were just glad that we would be having a full season of football. One of the benefits is that the contract process has been standardized to the point that things are being resolved with very little fuss. According to a report on ESPN on Friday morning most if not all the rookies around the league may be signed by the end of the month. The clear advantage here is that all first year players have a chance to hit the ground running so to speak; and that will, hopefully, translate into quality contributions from these players to their respective teams at an earlier time.

What this means for Pittsburgh is that as of Friday afternoon, 2nd rounder Michael Adams, 4th rounder Alameda Ta'amu, 5th rounder Chris Rainey, 7th rounders Toney Clemons, Terrence Frederick, David Paulson and Kelvin Beachum are all signed and on board barely a week after the conclusion of the rookie minicamp. Only 1st rounder David DeCastro and 3rd rounder Sean Spence remain unsigned among the current rookie class. It is possible, even likely, that the Steelers will enter OTAs with only restricted free agent Mike Wallace not under contract. We can live with that I think.

Rookie minicamp

The Steelers minicamp for rookies and selected first year players concluded this past Sunday. These things don't yield much in the way of football information beyond some snippets of Tomlin Speak if you're into that sort of thing. Most of the stories are of an introductory human nature kind of focus.

We were introduced to Safety Myron Rolle (Florida State) a Rhodes Scholar whose family has a strong NFL pedigree and who spent last season on the Tennessee Titan's practice squad.

We will be rooting for local (Pittsburgh area) products 7th round draft pick Toney Clemons WR (Colorado and Valley High School, New Kensington), UDFA Connor Dixon WR (Duquesne and South Park High School), and UDFA Brandon Lindsay LB (Pittsburgh and Aliquippa High School).

We also learned that David DeCastro and Mike Adams roomed together as they attended the camp. They also are well acquainted as they trained together in Arizona as they prepared for the draft. We learned that Chris Rainey exudes confidence and is not at all daunted by the fast pace of instruction. We learned that Alameda Ta'amu really doesn't have much of a weight problem. And we learned that Kelvin Beachum is a pretty bright guy who served as a student member of the Trustees Board of Southern Methodist University.

But the best news to come out of the minicamp was...

Kirby Wilson

The rapid and amazing recovery of the Steelers Running Back Coach continued with his appearance on the field at Friday's practice. This is clearly the best news to come out of camp.

And while still on the subject of human interest stories...

Big Ben gets his BA

What a difference two years makes. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walked and received his undergraduate diploma from the University of Miami (Ohio) this past weekend. Ben has now gone from Public Enemy in the minds of many to a source of inspiration by completing his education.

Of even greater interest to Steelers fans like me is an interview conducted later in the week with Rich Eisen. It was in this conversation that we began to get our first clues about Todd Haley's new offense. Among the things mention was that 90% of the offense is new, and that in spite of all the talk of de-emphasizing the pass, they have been spending a lot of time on the no huddle offense. Of course we should also be mindful that given this is a huge national forum that Ben may also be engaged in an exercise of misdirection. But, as we said at the top, its news and a good thing.

And speaking of good things...

Hines Ward

If you link the Steelers.com website you'll come across something you won't see every day; Hines Ward in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform. No, the Pirates haven't become that desperate (at least not yet). Ward was honored with throwing out the first pitch for Thursday's game with the Washington Nationals at PNC Park. It seems that Hines is getting into the swing of this retirement thing (He also participated in batting practice). Last week he was interviewing with various networks, and it may not be long before we see his smiling face as an analyst for one of the national sports operations. Good for him and good for us.

Kurt Warner, Cris Carter and Bill Romanoski

In non-Steelers related news, the fallout from Bountygate continues as NFL alumni argue among themselves. Kurt Warner was accused of biting the hand that fed him in some quarters for remarks he made last week about doubts he had supporting his children playing football in light of recent revelations concerning concussions as well as the death of Junior Seau. Chris Carter confessed that when he was allegedly threatened by Bill Romanoski before a game that Carter placed a bounty on Romanoski as an act of self-protection. Romanoski responded by ridiculing Carter (of course) and denying the accusation. If you missed any of this don't worry, there is much more coming.

ESPN's Outside The Lines has just completed a series on the concussion issue. There is much more coming; it's at least four months before the start of the season.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week

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The quantity of stories was actually down this week, but not the quality. We have finally moved from speculation to reality and, boy, what a reality! The Draft has become the vehicle of Hope for NFL fans. For Steelers fans it delivered in just one round more hope than I suspect most of us could have imagined. So let us begin with...

We got a pony for Christmas

That is how BTSC's resident sage, Homer J. described the selection of Stanford Guard David DeCastro by the Steelers in the first round of the NFL Draft. Given the circumstances, Homer's enthusiasm was understandable. The reference to Christmas was a metaphor, but it was actually Homer's birthday, and it was quite a gift for fans of the Black and Gold; equivalent to a Pony. It was a joyous time on this site late Thursday night. Neal Coolong and seton hall steeler were ecstatic. Regular and not so regular commenters were all pretty much beside themselves with glee. Living as I do in the DC Metro area, it was one of those rare moments when both Redskin and Steeler Nation both felt like they had just won Mega Millions. The difference, of course, was that we were so happy because we had just scored a guard. Here are some of the things I learned through this experience.

Reality trumps fantasy. Real life can yield stranger results than the scenarios that we dream up in our minds. If someone had presented a mock draft that had DeCastro being picked by the Steelers at 24 that person would have been hooted off the site for being unrealistic. Yet that is exactly what happened. This is one important reason why the whole mock draft thing leaves me cold. I guess speculation is its own reward, because at the end of the day accuracy doesn't seem to matter much. In spite of the fact that pretty much nobody came even close to predicting how the first round would play out after picks one and two, there are now mocks emerging over rounds two and three. And there are mocks for 2013. Why? Why not just go to Vegas and throw your money away playing Keno?

Once again Steelers management has proven that they know what they are doing, and once again so many others have proven that they don't know what they're talking about. I was watching the festivities on NFL Network because I suppose I hate them less than ESPN. Mike Mayock wasn't doing a bad job of predicting who was likely to be chosen with each pick until, that is, they got to Pittsburgh. When asked who the Steelers would pick, Glenn or DeCastro, while probably all but a few of our fans were screaming ‘DeCastro', Mayock muttered "Glenn". After the pick when Steeler Nation was pretty much literally swooning with joy, NFLN, with the exception of Charlie Casserly, ignored Pittsburgh for the rest of the night. Friday night has been a little different as the Steelers are in the running for having the best draft for the first three rounds. What I can't understand is that if there is a franchise with an unmatched record of success and stability over a period of two generations, how can it be that the media, and others, aren't deeply interested in how that team conducts its business. Now, granted, the camera shy Steelers may collude in the misunderstanding precisely because they don't jump through the kind of hoops that others fall over themselves to get to. But these media types, and many fans, are not self-aware enough to entertain the idea that this sort of reticent, private behavior may be an important factor in the organization's success.

Nor is it just the media that seems to misunderstand and occasionally disrespect the Steelers organization. Some of the same people who were typing that Kevin Colbert is ‘Da Man' over the past twenty four hours after the first round were castigating him and the organization moments before the first pick because they wanted them to trade up in the draft. Sadly, many who claim loyalty to the Steelers do not understand how the team conducts its business. Sadder still there are those who do understand, but don't agree, that wish the Steelers would behave like other teams do because they have bought into what they think is a method of success that is in contradiction to what screams out from the evidence. However, after the DeCastro announcement Steeler Nation was on the same page for one glorious day. Unfortunately, the honeymoon came to an end when they picked...

Michael Adams, Tackle, Ohio State in the second round

It seems that though Adams possesses first round talent, he has some ‘issues'. ‘Pothead' was the term most frequently bandied about on one of the threads. The same front office that had been rock stars were now, once again, idiots, assholes, naïve, crazy, whatever. I checked out the press conference concerning this pick at Steelers.com, and I suggest that if you are feeling mystified or betrayed be this selection, that you view it as well. I think it will alleviate some of your concerns. There is certainly risk involved, but the Steelers have not abandoned their principles, and this young man is on a very short lease.

One thing that should be put to bed with these first two selections is that all the whining about the team not doing enough to address the problems of the offensive line must end immediately. Four high draft picks (two #1s, two #2s) in three years. If this doesn't do it, and in spite of the high optimism these two guys haven't accomplished a damn thing yet, then you can't blame the organization for not making a commitment to achieving that end. So now you are saddled with the challenge of finding something else to bitch about. And while those folks are pondering the possibilities the draft continues with the selection of...

Sean Spence, Linebacker, University of Miami in the third round

The defense was thrown a bone with this selection. I freely acknowledge that I don't know much about this kid, but it appears to me that he is going to be a project, not likely to step in immediately in any significant way this year. This is okay given my belief that the concerns about the inside linebacker position have been a bit overstated. To be sure, losing Farrior is not insignificant, particularly in regard to leadership. But let us remember that Larry Foote has been a starter in the past for this team, is himself a more than capable leader. And besides, the other three starters are all Pro Bowl caliber talents. And as Neal illuminated for us with his profile earlier this week, Stevenson Sylvester is a promising rising talent who could possibly do the job as well.

I'm sure there will be those who may disagree, but I think this is a very promising start. The really good news is that we still have seven picks left and, of course, the UDFAs. And let's not forget, particularly as it relates to the offensive players, that they are receiving a new playbook with updated schemes. Probably no one outside of those who work at the Southside facility know what the changes and adjustments are, we do know that it will be different in some form or fashion. That should add to the sense of anticipation of what will be unveiled as Steelers football later this summer.

Part Two

Because this was a special week and a special weekend there has been a delay in publishing the Check Down in order to include all the picks from the draft. And so we continue with...

Alameda Ta'ama, Washington NT 4th Round; Chris Rainey, Florida RB 5th Round; Tony Clemons, Colorado WR 7th Round; David Paulson, Oregon TE 7th Round; Terrence Frederick, Texas A&M CB 7th Round; Kelvin Beachum, SMU T 7th Round

Details on these players is available on the BTSC front page. I won't be redundant and repeat that information here. I spent a portion of part one of this piece dogging the NFLN and the media in general. Well, I have to give credit where it is due. On Saturday the NFLN folks acknowledged what most Steelers fans already know; that Pittsburgh hit it out of the park with this draft, as least on paper. Brian Billick gave the Steelers an A+. I think it is one of best Steelers drafts, and as folks who understand the history of this organization in relation to drafts, that is saying something.

When you consider the quality of the talent selected, how these players potentially contribute to the ability of the team to successfully compete and how they enhance the team in terms of depth, flexibility and expanded capabilities this was an extraordinarily successful draft. Responsibility demands that before going any further that I state that the actual value of this draft will not be known for years. There may be disappointments when forty times, bench presses and college performances collide with the realities of the NFL. Some of these guys are clearly at risk of sabotaging themselves, all are at risk of being unlucky in regard to injuries and the other stumbling blocks that are part of life in general and professional sports in particular. But with all that being said, this is really a special, impressive, potent group.

I think what is so stunning about all of this is that I don't believe anyone's expectations were anywhere near as high as the results. Who thought DeCastro would fall to us? Who believed that the possibility exists to see the same kind of turnaround with the offensive line that we witnessed with the defensive secondary last year? And didn't many of you think that by focusing on the O line in the first two rounds that the ambition to adequately address the issues on the defense would suffer as a consequence? And after all that who thought that we would add intriguing possibilities at running back, wide receiver and special teams. The only disappointment would be if your heart was set on getting a place kicker.

So Steeler Nation enters a period of daydreaming and anticipation unlike anything experienced in years. This is not to say that there won't be worries, concerns and pessimism. This is Steeler Nation after all, and there is always those who can find the dark lining to the silver cloud. One thing is certain, the off season isn't so boring anymore.

Byron Leftwich was resigned to a one year contract

There is a possibility that this may not be the final configuration of the quarterback corps for the Steelers, though I believe with the challenges of replacing key leaders as well as mastering a new offense that the retention of Batch and Leftwich are extremely wise moves. Both are good leaders, popular in the locker room and are more than capable of making the necessary adaptations in order to successfully direct a veteran team with high aspirations. If a more talented, savvy youngster emerges, fine. But until then I'll take these two guys and consider us fortunate.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

Weekend Check Down: The Top Stories of the Week

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We are making our way out of the desert now. Teams have begun voluntary workouts, the regular season schedule has been unveiled, and the draft is less than a week away, among other news. But we begin with ...

Mike Wallace

Unless something drastic and unexpected occurs over the next few hours (I am writing this on Friday), the free agent phase of the Mike Wallace Watch will soon come to an end. The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette wrote an enlightening piece putting this process in a different perspective. According to the article the market for restricted free agents has always been anemic and under the terms of the new CBA players in the situation of Wallace will phase out within a year. Apparently, this was much less of a gamble for the Steelers than many have believed. Unless there is a holdout or a trade Wallace will be in a Steeler uniform for another year at least.

You would think that this development would be the cause for a sigh of relief and maybe even joy in Steeler Nation. You would be wrong. Something of a firestorm has developed around BTSC and elsewhere with folks polarizing over what to do about Mike Wallace. On one side are those who want to see Wallace back in the fold, preferably after signing a long term deal, and moving on. On the other side are those who want to cut ties, preferably through a trade. The reasons this second group cite range from what some believe is the impracticality of forging a deal acceptable to all parties given current financial realities, to those that think that Wallace is a greedy, self-deluded fraud who could be easily replaced by someone with real talent. Mike Wallace posts are popping up all over the place and for good reason. I intend to weigh in on this myself with a later post. Let me just say that I am siding with the first group. I believe Wallace will eventually sign with Pittsburgh and this will mostly be forgotten by the 4th of July, if not Mother's Day. Plus, generally speaking, I'm a ‘bird in the hand' kind of guy.

Somewhat obscured by all the heat surrounding Wallace is that the Steelers managed to sign...

Charlie Batch and other free agents

Quietly, Batch, Isaac Redman, Ryan Mundy and Keenan Lewis re-upped with the Steelers meaning that besides Wallace, Byron Leftwich and players that were anticipated to move on like Dennis Dixon, the team began voluntary workouts with most everyone on board. This means that in spite of expressed concerns involving the salary cap and the new financial realities of the league, the Steelers have pretty much managed to accomplish most what they normally set out to do; retain as many of their own players as they can. Like Wallace, the resigning of Batch brought some mixed reviews, but this has been normal for Charlie for the past several years. For Steelers fans the quarterback controversy involves the backups.

Voluntary workouts

There was very little coverage of this positive event as across the league teams welcomed their players for conditioning, weight training and related activities. Nationally, there was a great deal of attention paid to, whom else, Peyton Manning and the Broncos as well as Tim Tebow and the Jets. Prominent stay aways such as Drew Brees of the Saints and Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars also attracted some notice. What we know about the Steelers has been provided by Steelers.com here

and here

In these two reports players such as Jerricho Cotchery, Antonio Brown, Charlie Batch, Ziggy Hood, Trai Essex, Jonathan Dwyer, Keenan Lewis and Baron Batch were quoted. Among the interesting tidbits revealed is that Big Ben was present from day one, and, even more importantly from my point of view, Running Backs Coach Kirby Wilson was in his office on day one as well. I can't get enough of this kind of stuff.

Regular Season schedule release

I thought it was a bit much, but NFLN and ESPN made quite a deal of the announcement of the 2012 regular season schedule on Tuesday. I can understand the NFLN somewhat, after all what else do they have to do at this point in the year. But ESPN is another matter. In this regard I'm in agreement with Jason Whitlock who argues that the saturation coverage of trivial aspects of the ‘big' sports, such as football, has led to circumstances that have diminished the visibility and impact of events such as the Olympics. Do we really need a schedule release show? I think not.

As for the schedule itself (as it relates to the Steelers) the big news was the confirmation of the rumor that Pittsburgh would be opening at Denver on Sunday night against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. To complete the theme of revenge and unfinished business, their home opener a week later is against Tim Tebow and the Jets. Other features of note are a total of five prime time games (the maximum allowed by the league), an early Bye week and the two matchups against the Ravens occurring within a three week span. The prime time games are particularly good news for Steelers fans in Diaspora who want to see the team play without having to retreat to a bar or purchase a satellite package in order to do so. There are a number of late Sunday afternoon games that may likely be national telecasts as well.

The schedule itself is not without some elements of controversy. A piece written on Wednesday by Maryrose and the accompanying thread covers a number of those issues. However, I have some concerns about one aspect of the schedule that I haven't seen much discussion about so far.

This year the number of Thursday night games has been increased dramatically. NFLN will broadcast fourteen weeks of these games. I have two problems with this. First there is the issue of saturation. This season there will be at least one NFL game broadcast on every day of the week except for Tuesdays and Fridays. This may seem a silly argument to make, especially at this time of the year when I might make room in my schedule to watch a live broadcast of a sled drill. But you have to look at this in a larger context; because once you reach the saturation point it's pretty hard to roll it back. On a normal football week there will be a minimum of six games (assuming no blackouts). And on special occasions such as the nine day period bracketing Thanksgiving we will be treated to thirteen. Add college games and I am willing to bet that people may begin to opt out of watching some games that they might otherwise be intrigued to watch. I already do that for the college games.

The second issue is more serious. Every team in the league will play at least one game where they are playing on only three days rest. How does this jibe with a greater concern for player safety? I certainly understand the business reasons behind this, but in some respects this reminds me of some of the concerns that were raised by the proposed eighteen game schedule. In fact, it could be argued that this accomplished the same goals (increased broadcast/ad revenues) by other means. We'll see what the reaction to this is over time.

New throwback uniforms

Also on Tuesday in celebration of the team's 80th Anniversary, the Steelers unveiled a new throwback uniform. Modeled by Isaac Redman, the new duds went over like a lead balloon. Likened to prison garb, public reaction was overwhelmingly negative. Player reaction was more mixed, but you have to remember that many of these guys, like Redman had just signed new contracts. What did you expect him to say standing next to Art Rooney? As for me I am finding the new uniform is starting to grow on me; sort of like camp, so bad that it's good. I have a feeling that ultimately sales may be better than they might seem today. And the team actually wears these things they may be so distracting to opponents that it may provide a competitive advantage.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Weekend Check Down: The Big Stories of the Past Week


*** Discuss this article and more at our Pittsburgh Steelers forum ***


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After I spent much of last week lamenting the fact that there wasn't much going on in April; events have conspired to make a liar out of me. I wouldn't say that there have been many really big stories since last weekend, but there has been a lot of news, much of it pretty encouraging for Steelers fans. Most importantly, like clockwork the Steelers started swinging in free agency and they did it in an efficient manner.

Jerricho Cotchery

For me this was the biggest and best news of the week. Cotch well represents the type of free agents the Steelers select. They almost never are the player that folks think about or wish the team would court, but once on board cause people to say ‘that makes sense'. There are a lot of things that recommend Jerricho as a player, but one of the things that stood out to me was an interview conducted on a local Pittsburgh radio program where he was asked about who he favored to win the AFC Championship Game between the Ravens and the Patriots. He said he couldn't respond because he didn't like either of the teams. In Steeler Nation this is what would be called a politically correct statement. And I can say that it was the moment when I began to fervently hope that some way, somehow the team could retain his services.

Other reasons are that he is a fine receiver and an important veteran presence. This latter point is particularly important given the loss of both Hines Ward and Arnaz Battle. And it was reassuring because of the uncertainty surrounding the contract situation of Mike Wallace and the health concerns relative to Emmanuel Sanders. Because of injuries we only got a taste of what Jerricho could do on the field, but it was impressive.

The team, players and coaches, seemed equally impressed by what he brought to the locker room as well. While that probably had nothing to do with the team's decision to cut ties with Ward, it may have helped make it an easier thing to digest. By all accounts this is the outcome that Cotch wanted for himself and his family. When compared to the circus, zoo, whatever you want to call the New York Jets locker room, this isn't too difficult to believe or understand. So it's good for him and good for us. But from a business perspective maybe not so good for the agent of...

Mike Wallace

Seemingly minutes after the announcement of the signing of Cotchery, information was leaked that Wallace would not be signing his tender offer from the Steelers. This bit of news concerned and maybe even upset some folks and it has led to some conversation about trades, holdouts and the like, but I'm not buying.

What our amateur GMs are not taking into account is that the Wallace camp is in a situation of rapidly deteriorating leverage relative to the Steelers camp. As you read this it will be less than a week before the deadline for other teams to make an offer, and if you've noticed those offers haven't exactly been rolling in. Holding out? I see three problems with that strategy, though I won't rule out the possibility that they may go down that road. First, historically speaking using this method to sweat this particular franchise hasn't been much of a winner.

Second, the signing of Cotchery turned a somewhat precarious situation into something much more stable.Last season Pittsburgh had an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. Before the Cotchery signing all that was in the fold was Antonio Brown and Sanders. Advantage Wallace. Now if nothing changes the team has a very solid receiving corps (the factor that might have precipitated the ‘leak').

Finally, and most importantly, if Wallace wants to have the option of being an unrestricted free agent next year given the questions being bandied about concerning him being a ‘one trick pony', among other things, he needs to have a strong audition year to put himself in the best position possible. With a new offense being installed can he afford to place himself being the curve? The only rationale for holding out would be to try to get the best possible deal on a long term contract, IMHO.

These are some of the reasons I part company with Neal and others who feel that a trade at this time would be advantageous to the Steelers. For one thing there has been something of an undercurrent on this site at least, that the Pittsburgh front office (Colbert/Khan) have been somewhat overmatched by the new financial realities of the league.

Still believe that? I could certainly be wrong but so far they look like they're in control to me. More to the point, trades aren't a big part of the MO of this team. Speaking specifically to the Holmes trade, while there are similarities as far as the contract status of Holmes as compared to Wallace, two other factors were probably what was critical for the Steelers to pull the trigger on that move. First were Holmes' seemingly intractable character issues, second was the level of vulnerability caused by the circumstances surrounding Ben's suspension.

Right now the worst possible scenario, besides some team making an offer at this late date that Pittsburgh can't match, is for Wallace to sign his tender and decide to leave via the open market next year. Wallace, in turn, has every incentive to have a career year, which will cascade down to Brown and the others, meaning a banner year for the receiver corps. By all accounts this will be a deep year for receivers so no unnecessary manipulation is likely to secure a quality prospect if it comes to that.

And it's not just the signing of Cotch that bolstered the Steelers position. It didn't hurt that they acquired...

Leonard Pope

Pope was the week's first free agent signing, and it's worth remembering that tight ends are also part of the receiving corps. Besides being a six year veteran and 6'8" tall, Pope has played for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley at both Arizona and Kansas City. In addition with his familiarity with the new system being installed by Haley, Pope will provide support for group of tight ends thinned, at least temporarily, by the upcoming suspension of Weslye Saunders and the fact that David Johnson, who also resigned with the team this week functions mostly as a blocking H Back. But it wasn't just receivers that were signed this week.

Ramon Foster, Trai Essex, Doug Legursky

Normally very good news concerning a group of veteran linemen; but the enthusiasm was muted given the maligned status of the O line. Many are looking past these solid contributors in search of salvation in the form of other (outside) free agent pickups or (preferably high) draft choices. We like to talk about a sense of history in these parts. Perhaps it's time to inject some history into the ongoing discussion and hand wringing surrounding the offensive line.

A year ago similar hand wringing was going on concerning the defensive backfield. The consensus solution was an infusion of new talent via the draft or free agency. The team did obtain two talented new dbs in Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, but their contributions were not sufficient to explain the turnaround that led to this group being ranked among the best in the league. It was the improved performances of William Gay and Keenan Lewis, players largely written off by Steeler Nation at the time.

At least two things seem to be forgotten in a discussion of what is wrong or how to fix the offensive line. First, the work at ‘fixing' the offensive line is ongoing. The team has invested high draft choices during the last two drafts (Pouncey and Gilbert) already. Second, nothing could have mitigated against the injury woes this group suffered last season. The list included Pouncey, Gilbert, Starks, Colon, Legursky, and that's the short list of players that suffered significant injuries during the 2011 campaign. Any solution of significance will involve experience, depth and position flexibility all of which are met with this group. Pretty good news.

Lance Zierlein

Neal turned us on to the interview of Zierlein on Steel Curtain Radio with links his two part series The Steelers Project. This is a must read for those seeking insight into the values and methods that drive the Steelers draft strategy.

Mike Tomlin

Coach Mike was selected this week for induction into the William and Mary Athletics Hall of Fame.

Heinz Field to Expand

The Steelers will be bringing a proposal to the league seeking to expand Heinz Field by about 3,000 seats. The new seats would be in the open south end zone area.

The Bounty Issue

Chief among non-Steelers news, Roger Goodell upheld the suspensions of Sean Payton and two other members of Saints management. And Bill Parcells is not coming to the rescue. He decided against coming out of retirement to replace Payton for the 2012 season. Drew Brees is still in contract limbo. The drama continues.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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