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Steelers 2013 Draft – Early Positional Analysis Of The Offense

By Christopher DiMarino
The level of excitement for the 2012 NFL season continues grow as the season opener draws nearer. Accordingly, the time for draft scouting is also about to begin. Getting a jump start on next year's draft class is important and will help garner a general interest in college football for Steelers fans. There are many factors ...

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Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin Informed Troy Smith of Early Release


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The timing of the Steelers' decision to release potential back-up quarterback Troy Smith was curious, as we wrote back in June.

Minicamp had come and gone, and with little opportunity to prove himself behind incumbent veterans Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, it seemed at least worth everyone's time to at least give him a look while running the offense he'd just barely learned this offseason while in pads.

A feature on Smith, written by Cleveland Plain-Dealer reporter Bill Lubinger, paraphrases Smith's account of what he heard when the former Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner was released.

Head coach Mike Tomlin had assured him, "We know you've got good football left," and to not get caught up in the depth chart or who took snaps with which offense.
"We've got one starter. That's Ben Roethlisberger," Smith recalled the coach saying. "Everyone else is competing for a position."

"First and foremost," (Steelers general manager Kevin) Colbert said, "he was a winner."

After Smith was cut, Colbert, through a team spokesman, declined an interview request. Smith said Tomlin called him before the team announced his release. Tomlin told Smith he thought he could start in this league, and that they wanted to let him go early enough to catch on with another team.

And we weren't far off our guess he was released early simply out of respect so he could catch on somewhere else. That's another way of saying the Steelers cashed in their insurance policy on the re-signing of QB Byron Leftwich.

At the point Smith signed a future's contract with the team, Leftwich was a free agent. After a quiet flirtation with the Indianapolis Colts and former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Leftwich re-signed with the Steelers, thus putting huge doubt on Smith's ability to make the roster barring injury.

At that point, the Steelers could either make him languish away competing for a spot he cannot win without misfortune falling on someone else, or they could release him with enough time for him to catch on somewhere else and have a legitimate shot of continuing his career in the NFL.

This may not be the last we hear of Smith, either. Plus, Leftwich hasn't made it through training camp and the preseason without suffering an injury in what seems like forever.




Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Colbert Admits Offense Will Have Early Growing Pains

Not liking the sounds of what GM Kevin Colbert said to the Trib-Review, but sounds like the offense is going to have some growing pains, at least early on in 2012.

There’s a new offense in town, and training camp may or may not be enough to get it humming. The Tribune-Review caught up with general manager Kevin Colbert at the end of offseason practices, and he weighed in on the new offense and the situation at left tackle. … [Q:] From what you observed during offseason practices, did players make good progress as far as picking up the new offense? Kevin Colbert: I’m not listening to what’s being said intimately after a play. There’s not a lot of physical errors I guess is the best way to say it: new offense, people learning about the offense and coaches learning about people, I think there will be some mistakes. I think that’s just part of the growing process.”

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Pittsburgh Steelers Minicamp: Some Early Thoughts on Important Session


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It may not be compelling, but at least it's formal.

The Steelers begin their 2012 Minicamp today with two practices. Two more will follow Wednesday followed by one to wrap up the session Thursday.

This time of the year, headlines are usually questions more than statements. While this practice session will likely create more questions than answers, there are a few we can glean a foggy outline of an answer.

Will WR Mike Wallace sign his RFA tender?

The deadline is Thursday. Odds are very good he'll be in town, but he won't practice. Or at least that's what we've been led to believe. Wallace has until Friday, June 15, to sign his tender, or risk the Steelers exercising their CBA-given right to reduce the tender and make an offer of 110 percent of his 2011 salary, which would equate to a one-year offer for $ 577,000. His tender is worth $ 2.7 million, give or take a few dollars.

Obviously, that's in place to help get players into training camp, which indirectly shows the value of minicamp. While it's unlikely the Steelers will exercise that option (it wouldn't help the negotiation, to put it mildly and almost assuredly would keep Wallace out even longer), it does show good faith on their part they're willing to work with him.

As for Wallace, he's seeking a long-term deal, and since he won't be fined for missing minicamp, he's really the last piece of leverage he has. The Steelers typically ask players to negotiate in good faith, and part of that means showing up and working with the team. Wallace can see multiple Steelers players getting extensions signed early into training camp (last year, SS Troy Polamalu, LB Lawrence Timmons and LB LaMarr Woodley all signed during camp), and if Wallace does have a future in Pittsburgh, that seems to be the best time to do it.

We'll see how this plays out.

Willie Colon at left guard

Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review has a nice piece in today's paper about Colon, his transition from right tackle to left guard, and his relationship with former Steelers All-World LG Alan Faneca when Colon was a rookie.

Learning from one of the best is certainly a benefit, but Colon is the experienced one now. With a body built more for a guard, but overall skills that helped him become one of the best run-side tackles in the game, it's exciting to think about the prospect of having such a talented interior offensive line.

It's been a while, that's for sure.

The development of the offense

The running back position seems to be the early favorite for attention-grabbing news. Isaac Redman's starting role, Rashard Mendenhall's rehabilitation project, Chris Rainey vs. Baron Batch, John Clay's position, Jonathan Dwyer's weight. Lots of headlines to go around.

Mix with that the emerging Young Money receivers (two of them anyway) Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, and how they'll look entering their third year of NFL service. Expecting father Ben Roethlisberger, and how he's adapting to the offense.

All great talking points for the next few days.




Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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The Early Case for the Steelers Success in 2012


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I've had one really great coaching success in my lifetime. I took over a girls basketball team that had not won a game the previous season and guided them to an undefeated season and a state championship. I wish I could say that our performance was solely the result of my coaching brilliance; that would be a nice fantasy but ultimately untrue. We did have pretty good talent. Half of the girls on our ten player roster would go on to play basketball in college; another three would have the opportunity to participate in intercollegiate athletics as well. Nonetheless, maybe difficult to believe, there were other teams in our league that were more talented and experienced.

Our strength was that the difference between our #1 player and our #10 player wasn't that great. And my coaching philosophy as it relates to playing time could be summarized thusly; ‘what have you done for me lately'? Practices were fierce; with a heavy emphasis on fundamentals usually climaxed by a scrimmage between equally matched groups with the losers having to run suicides. The competition and challenges faced in practice was more daunting than what they experienced in games most of the time. I wasn't much of a stat person then (or now for that matter), so it wasn't until the end of the year that I went over our game statistics. I was amazed to discover that eight out of ten players had led the team in scoring at least once, and that nine out of ten had scored in double figures at least once.

Okay, so this is all very nice, but what's the point? How does this relate to the Steelers?

"Everybody with a helmet on is in the mix," - Mike Tomlin (2010)

I'm reading this piece on Steelers tight end Weslye Saunders and find myself wondering whether or not he'll make the team. It's important to understand the reasoning here; yes, Saunders has some ‘character concerns' that might torpedo his career. But you have to also consider that in spite of possessing prodigious talent he may not rise any higher than being the third tight end on the roster. That fact in combination with the character issues may indeed be enough to sink Saunders. Personally, I hope not.

The point is that Tomlin's quote, something that might normally be dismissed as a platitude, something you might feel obligated to say but, in most circumstances, really isn't grounded in reality, may be actually coming true in the case of the 2012 Steelers. They appear to be approaching a point where everyone who has a helmet by September will be in the mix, not to mention the fact that because of numbers there may be quite a few that could be in the mix but won't due to the fact that there aren't enough helmets to go around.

Think about it; the "Two dogs, one bone" concept, originally used to describe the competition for playing time between WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown is now the reality among most of the position groups on the team. Perhaps only at OLB and maybe Safety is there not a situation where there are too many dogs and not enough bones. Otherwise competition is breaking out all over the place: Hampton, McLendon, Ta'amu at nose guard, Keisel, Hood, Heyward at defensive end, Lewis, Allen, Brown, Frederick at cornerback, Miller, Pope, Saunders, Paulson at tight end. Do I really need to mention the situation at offensive line, running back, wide receiver, or backup quarterback? Even the long snappers, punters and place kickers are in the mix.

It should be expected that some of these competitions may not amount to much, but there is reason to be optimistic that many, if not most may well exceed expectations and result in some very hard choices for both the coaching staff and the front office. But regardless of the outcomes the concept is sound. There is good reason to expect that the dynamics and synergy generated will weed out the weak, make good players better and, perhaps propel superior players to greatness.

A good question at this point would be how do we know that this is, in fact, the dynamic that is playing out with Steelers? On Friday Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette wrote that there is grumbling in Ravens country because nearly 20 players, including Ray Lewis had not been present at OTAs. Bouchette then compared the situation in Steelers camp where there is much hand wringing among the press and the fans (but not the team) concerning the absence of Mike Wallace. Is there any significance to this? Back to my basketball team.

We usually met briefly at the beginning of practice for announcements and to preview the day's schedule. One day one of the players announced that she would be missing the two games scheduled for the weekend because her family would be out of town. Her teammates responded with an outpouring of sorrow and regret. This lasted about five seconds. Then the conversation immediately segued into a lively discussion on who was going to get the absent girl's playing time. The girl looked on with a stunned expression on her face. Imagine that you are dying and your relatives are discussing how they are going to divvy up your possessions while you are still alive and present in the room. The message was clear; her teammates would mourn her, might even shed tears because of her absence, but it would be a very brief funeral, and there would be joy in the morning (more playing time for everybody). At the next practice the girl announced that she would not be accompanying her family on the trip, that arrangements had been made for her to stay with a neighbor and that she would be at the games. Nobody was getting her playing time.

One of the challenges of coaching youth sports is that many parents and players took a very casual attitude to practices. Before the season began I had prepared what I felt was an obligatory speech on the importance of making as many of the practices as possible. With this team I never had to make that speech. I did have to make a speech about not practicing when one was deathly ill or contagious or injured. But even when they couldn't practice they showed up; bundled up, feverish, miserable but present. This wasn't required but it was understood to be the standard.

Another speech I made was about grades. They improved or at least did not suffer because that was part of standard as well. Specifically, it was emphasized that sports participation would not be an excuse for poor or deteriorating performance in school. To the contrary, beyond injury or illness the one legitimate reason to miss or be denied participation in practices or games was due to poor academic performance.

All ten players attended college (I'm certain that at least nine graduated); one was class president in high school, one a valedictorian. All ten played varsity basketball for four different high schools with six serving as team captains.

The thing about creating intense internal competition that is counter-intuitive is that it strengthens group cohesion provided that the competition is seen as being fair, legitimate and comprehensive. It can't be viewed as artificial; a manipulated or ginned up conflict as a method of controlling players rather than advancing team competitiveness. It can't be viewed as being punitive. And no one can be viewed as being exempt, especially your ‘best' players.

When those conditions are met then every single player on the team is deeply invested in the team because each has a legitimate role. Instead of being viewed as a spare part, only to be utilized in an emergency or a practice body, fodder for the preparation of others, we have the alternative concept of starters and starters in waiting. The cynical among us might dismiss such a thing as coach-speak, a valid concern because it is much easier to say this than to actually practice it.

But if Tomlin is actually practicing this concept then some impressive things are beginning to happen; provided you know what to look for. One clue would be that of attendance. In such a system opportunity and the risks incurred with opportunities lost are a constant. Every player is pushing, being pushed or pulling in service of the larger purpose of advancing the team. Preparation is imbued with greater meaning standing in contrast to the Allen Iversonian philosophy of practice ("Practice!")

Some of this was brought home to me when I was watching the America's Game program on the '08 Steelers. Tomlin revealed himself to being a process person (as opposed to being event or game focused). He talked about wanting to "smell the roses". What flew over my head when I viewed this segment previously is how eerily similar his thinking is to Chuck Noll, and Vince Lombardi. These coaches all understood that there was no meaningful separation between the preparation for games and the games themselves. As such OTAs hold as much fascination and importance as the Super Bowl because in some respects in relation to the philosophy they are inseparable. It would appear that philosophy has also been effectively conveyed to his players.

Both Tomlin and Noll have been lauded for their preparation skills. We may tend to see these virtues in isolation; fortuitous individual quirks. But such qualities are absolutely essential to fulfilling the underlying philosophy and are a pretty good indication of whether the belief in that philosophy is sincere, as well as whether the talent and skills are present to pull it off.

I've been hinting for a while about the Tomlin Steelers; hinting because, frankly, it was all pretty foggy to me. I have also been writing with a bit more clarity about the Pittsburgh or Steeler Way. With this perspective let's look at some current events.

Consider the release of Farrior, Smith and Ward within the context of no one being exempt from the consequences of team building and competition. Did not the length and quality of their service, their value to the team, their vast accomplishments, and their immense popularity earn them some special consideration? In a word, no. This is not to say that they weren't highly respected and well-liked by management, but there were larger things at stake. The temptation would be to make certain compromises if for no other reason than it would be so much easier all the way around. What would be the harm of allowing for these guys to make an exit that would be more on their own terms? What would be wrong with a ‘victory lap' of sorts? The message is that competitive death comes to everyone, even to future Hall of Famers and Super Bowl MVPs. And if the grim reaper comes for Hines Ward or James Farrior or Aaron Smith then who the hell are you?

What will be interesting to watch is how the situation with Ray Lewis is handled by the Ravens. The easiest, least controversial, pain free way to proceed is to let Lewis decide. And we should all file away the fact that nearly two dozen players, including Lewis, blew off OTAs and how that works for them down the line.

The fun part is that there is a belief building within Steeler Nation that something special is going on, very much like the feeling in the early 70s when folks knew that something was building but they couldn't put a finger on it since it hadn't reached concrete fruition yet. What's fun about it is that we're likely to be the only ones who are clued into what's unfolding in plain sight. And even then many of us in Steeler Nation are somewhat misguided as to what is actually going on.

For example, it really isn't primarily about the draft. Don't get me wrong, those guys are really going to help even if only a few pan out as well as we might hope. But don't forget that this team finished 12-4, pretty banged up and without any of these new guys. And of the guys lost during the off season only Farrior and William Gay could be considered major contributors.

What this is about is the ongoing maturation of a coach (Tomlin), a GM (Kevin Colbert), a team president (Art Rooney II) and their understanding of life and winning that is manifesting in the development of this football team.

I have a friend who lives in New York City who likes to talk football with me a lot. He shared his take on the Steelers recently(he is an alien, not a member of the Nation). He was wondering whether we would be in the market for LaDamian Tomlinson because we needed a running back. Needless to say he didn't quite understand my response. ("We don't need a running back". And if we did it wouldn't be Tomlinson, though some of the more culturally immature in Steeler Nation might disagree). I was sympathetic to the fact that there was no way that he knew anything about Isaac Redman beyond the playoff game against Denver, and maybe that touchdown catch against the Ravens in 2010. He couldn't possibly know about Dwyer pushing Redman and Clay pushing Dwyer and Batch pushing them all and Rainey pushing Batch and Mendenhall refusing to accept the timetable of doctors and pundits.

What my friend doesn't understand is when the NFL Network does a piece on which is the most talented team in the league they miss the point. Front line talent can be trumped by team cohesion, depth of talent, diversity and the ability to execute in a consistent and reliable manner. I have sympathy for NFLN and ESPN. Even if you understood it how to you quantify it with a bunch of talking heads on a television program? How do the stat geeks render it to a chart? How does it apply to fantasy football?

The excitement about the promise of the Haley offense is based upon the hope that it would address and enhance just those issues. It's not about mostly running or mostly passing, its about a diversified attack. When you have nine basketball players on a team that are capable of scoring in double figures they can't be effectively stopped by an opponent, you can only hope that they are too inflexible to adapt or incapable of executing. If you figure out a way to stop Redman/Mendenhall, Wallace and Brown, that still leaves Miller, Sanders, Cotchery, Saunders, Pope, Dwyer, etc. (Let's leave Rainey, Batch, Clemons and anyone else who hasn't played a down in the league yet out of the discussion for now). How do you stop a flood with your bare hands? You don't.

The fatal flaw for Arians was the inability to adapt. We'll know soon enough about Haley. If the Steelers were able to win a Super Bowl with an offensive line that included, among others, Darnell Stapleton, a reserve center and Jeff Hartings, then they may be capable of pulling it off with Ramon Foster and Trai Essex. That, of course, is the worst case scenario.

My friend also doesn't understand the complimentary relationship between offense and defense. The new offense doesn't have to be that much better to place the team within championship territory. Maybe one touchdown this year when they had to settle for a field goal before, maybe one field goal when they had to punt before, maybe a few more first downs instead of a three and out. The extra points and rest could be enough to keep the defense at the top of the league standings even if there were something of a drop off in absolute terms. (My team had the top ranked defense in the league with a middle of the pack offense).

My friend doesn't understand synergy. So he, like many others will not know what is about to happen until after it does. Many with big reputations are gone and it will take some time before (Surprise) they recognize the Phoenix that has arisen from the ashes.

Things can go wrong (injuries, for example), and it is way too early to know the exact configuration the juggernaut will take, but Tomlin says the intention is to compete for the Super Bowl every year. This year in particular, believe it.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Chance for revenge comes early


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If you’re one of the people who’s of a mind that revenge indeed is sweet, that payback for the infliction of pain and suffering is best handled quickly, then the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2012 regular s...

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Steelers schedule road-heavy early, home late

The Pittsburgh Steelers will open the 2012 season in a playoff rematch, though one with an entirely different look. The Steelers travel to Denver to face the Peyton Manning-led Broncos on Sunday, Sept. 9, the first of five primetime games for Pittsburgh next fall.

The Steelers host the New York Jets and Tim Tebow in their home opener on Sept. 16. Pittsburgh also hosts cross-state rival Philadelphia on Oct. 7. Notable non-division road games include a trip to New York to face the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on Nov. 4 and a visit to Dallas on Dec. 16.

The Steelers face rival Baltimore twice in three weeks, hosting the Ravens on Nov. 18 with Baltimore getting the rematch two weeks later.

Pittsburgh plays three of its final four games at home, including the season finale on Dec. 30 against Cleveland.

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NFC Championship Game: 49ers Up 7 Early on the Giants

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Crazy day of football so far with the Patriots beating the Ravens 23-20 on a missed field goal in the last seconds of the game. If you are not in a football coma quite yet, come in and join us for some conversation on what should be another great game. My boy, Vernon Davis, is putting on a clinic.



Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Christmas Comes Early For Steelers in Week 15

Don’t look now, but the Steelers may be playing a couple home games in the postseason if they can take care of business over the next three weeks.

Everything in week 15 that could go right for the Steelers did. Now all the team has to do is go out and play a solid 60 minutes of football Monday night.

If they do, they will wake up Tuesday as the number one seed in the AFC, and if they beat the 2-12 Rams and 4-10 Browns in the final two weeks, their path to making it back to the Super Bowl will go through Pittsburgh.

Here’s what happened Sunday to put the Steelers in the drivers seat of the AFC:

1. The Ratbirds Laid a Major Egg in San Diego - The Ravens, who have the tiebreaker over the Steelers, lost badly to San Diego 34-14 and slip to 10-4. The loss means that as of right now, the Steelers are 1/2 game up on the Ravens, and if they beat the Niners, they will be one game up with a path to homefield.

“Now they know, if they win tomorrow, they can control things,” former Colts coach Tony Dungy said on the NBC post game. “I believe Mike Tomlin will tell his defense, ‘our quarterback Ben Roethlsiberger won’t be 100 percent, and you may have to win it,’ and I believe you’ll see guys like Troy Polamalu step up and make plays. They have so much riding on this game, the difference between the number one seed and the number five seed.”

Now the pressure is back on the Steelers, as their path to homefield will be so much clearer one way or another after tomorrow night’s game.

A win, and they are almost for sure going to be the #1 seed. A loss, and it’s back to rooting for the Browns and Bengals, the last two teams that will play the Ravens.

2. Cam Newton and the Panthers Punked the Texans – Hosuton was the number one seed entering Sunday’s action, but were beat up at home by rookie sensation Cam Newton and the Panthers, who beat them 28-13. The loss puts Houston, like the Ravens, at 10-4, and they fall from the number one seed to the three seed, and they may have to now play wild card weekend at home against the sixth seed, which as of this moment is Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.

So as you can see, the Steelers control it all – but only if they come out and get a win in San Fran tomorrow night. As far as their QB playing – Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk stated in the NBC post game that with the Ravens losing, Big Ben has a much better chance of playing, since there’s now so much more on the line.

Source: Steelers Gab

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