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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.


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


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


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


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

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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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Weekend Check Down: The Big Stories of the Past Week

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Easter and Passover greetings everyone. If you read my last post you may question how many really big stories have transpired over the last week, but there has been some news. Like last week I want to begin with something that on first blush appears small, but has, perhaps, larger ramifications for the Nation.

Baron Batch medically cleared

Read Steel34D’s piece on this issue in Fan Posts. This wouldn’t rise to the level of news normally. A low-round draft pick that didn’t survive training camp and has not participated in a preseason game much less the regular season is now ready to give it another shot. So what’s the big deal? First the disclaimer; Baron Batch has accomplished absolutely nothing in football terms. Baron Batch is about promise. Some players win our hearts in training camp; Isaac Redman is one of the more prominent recent examples. But the better comparison in this case is with Antonio Brown. Batch had already been injured by the time I made it Steelers training camp in Latrobe. I did see how Brown stood out, in camp and in preseason games. He was, in fact, impossible to ignore. Reportedly, Batch made a similar impression in the short time that he was in view before his injury.

But competence on the football field, as much as it means, is only part of the story for Baron isn’t it? We will be rooting for Baron Batch because we are hoping that he will fulfill his athletic potential and contribute in a significant way to the Steelers accumulating more Lombardi’s; that goes without saying. But to be honest, Batch is the type of guy that you are inclined to root for regardless of what he’s doing. You would root for him if he was applying for a job with your company or applying to attend your alma mater or marrying into you family. He may be one of those rare individuals who may be doing football a favor by his presence rather than the other way around.

However, the true significance here is that Batch may not be unique in character to others of the new or Tomlin Steelers. Brown and Batch are 6th and 7th round draft picks that have created an air of excitement that goes far beyond their relative modest credentials coming into the league. Add to that another player I am rooting very hard for because of character issues; safety Myron Rolle. Up to this point it would be hard to distinguish those players specifically selected during Mike Tomlin’s tenure and those who came before. In the majority of cases they are just coming into their own as players and as such are hard to gauge as to how they might impact the team as leaders. Leadership has been a topic of discussion for the weeks since Hines, Aaron and James Farrior were released. Let’s assume just for argument’s sake that Batch makes it and becomes a big contributor to the team. Would he, along with Brown, be considered as part of the future leadership of this team? Could some common characteristics be identified that might be given the label Tomlin Steelers?

The ‘Bounty’ story continues

The current phase of the story includes the appeals by Sean Payton and others of their suspensions by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The decision on those appeals have yet to made as I write this, but that aspect of the story has been overwhelmed by the release of an audio tape by filmmaker Sean Pamphilon of a defensive meeting presided over by Gregg Williams that is particularly damning. Adding additional spice is that Pamphilon’s access came through former Saints player Steve Gleason who has ALS, is reportedly distraught because he gave no permission for Pamphilon to release the tape. One thing is certain, regardless as to how these particular aspects of this issue are resolved, the general mood of Saints Nation is not one of contrition. In fact, the reaction of Saints fans is reminiscent to me of how Steelers Nation generally reacted when the hammer came down on James Harrison and other Steelers players over the past two years. Adding more intrigue is the contract situation for quarterback Drew Brees and the possibility that Bill Parcells will play coach for a year due to Payton’s absence. This one is just getting started, so stay tuned.

Demetrius Bell signs with the Eagles

The buzz was starting to build earlier this week that former Bills offensive tackle Demetrius Bell might be rejoining his former coach Sean Kugler with the Steelers. We may never know if Pittsburgh was seriously interested, but it is all moot now. With loss of tackle Jason Peters Philadelphia definitely had the greater motivation to get something done. Those who are concerned about the state of the offensive line are still at square one.

Sepulveda out. The Post-Gazette reports that unrestricted free agent Daniel Sepulveda says that the Steelers do not want him to return to the team. This should not come as a surprise given that 1) Sepulveda has had his season cut short by knee injuries during three of the last four years, and 2) his replacement, Jeremy Kapinos has done fine work in his place. This will probably be judged a failure for Kevin Colbert and the front office given the draft position of Sepulveda. In reality this is more a hard luck story rather than one of failure. We wish Daniel good health and better luck in future endeavors.

Preseason schedule released

We now know who the Steelers will be playing during August when the games don’t count. The exact time of only one of those games have been announced so far, a home game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, August 19th, on NBC. The game will be the likely coming out party for whomever the Colts draft in the first round, probably Oliver Luck. The other home game will be the, now traditional preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers. The preseason opener will be against the Eagles in Philadelphia, and an away game against Buffalo rounds out the schedule. These last three games will be broadcast by KDKA in Pittsburgh. If, like me, you don’t live in Pittsburgh, if past practices are continued then the NFL Network will broadcast those games either live on tape delay or both.

New uniforms displayed

Nike and the NFL revealed to the world the new uniforms that will be worn by NFL teams this season. Depending upon whether you are a traditionalist you will either relieved or disappointed by what you see. Besides being more form fitting, and the addition of the Nike Swoosh, the Steelers uniforms have not changed a bit, which for a traditionalist like me is just fine. There is still a bit more drama. Given the fact that this year commemorates the 80th Anniversary of the team (The Year of the Fan; another news item that I am combining in this paragraph) there will be a new throwback uniform, the design of which has yet to be released. Check the Steelers website for more information on official team activities and contests related to this event.

Kirby Wilson visits the Southside Facility

This is the real feel good story of the week. Running backs Coach Kirby Wilson who was severely burned over 40 to 50 percent of his body during the week leading up to the team’s playoff loss to the Broncos has returned to the team facility for the first time. His recovery is moving ahead of schedule by all accounts, and it seems likely that he will return to his duties with the team sometime during the upcoming season. This is great news for Coach Wilson and his family, the team and the Nation.

The Steelers come to Northern Virginia

You may have heard word of an autograph event occurring in Chantilly, Virginia, just a few miles from where I live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I honestly didn’t pay much attention to it, but a report from my friend Arla, a Pittsburgh native and a member of the Steelers Mafia got my attention; particularly since she included photos in her email to me. It turns out that the Steelers contingent at this event would be impressive by any measure. Representing the 70s Steelers was Joe Greene, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Soon to be Hall Of Famer Dermontti Dawson was also present. And representing the modern era were Hines Ward, Big Ben, Ryan Clark and Mike Wallace. Not bad for Chantilly.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Weekend Check Down: Reviewing the Big Stories of the Past Week


It was unlikely that anything could match last week for the number of blockbuster news items during the doldrums of the NFL offseason, but we didn’t suffer a shortage of news this week either. And there was a lot of Steelers news as well. Let’s start with a feel good item from late last week that may have passed under the radar if you don’t live in the Pittsburgh area.

Transportation Link to Heinz Field Completed

For 42 years fans who didn’t travel to Steelers games by car or boat made the trek by foot over one of the bridges crossing the Allegheny River to the stadiums on the North Shore; first Three Rivers, and now Heinz Field. Last week, a light rail link was completed that will transport fans from the southern regions of the Pittsburgh area, through downtown to the very doorstep of Heinz Field. That’s good news, but it gets even better. The Steelers have subsidized the project such that on game days fans traveling from downtown to the Heinz Field will be able to do so for free over the next two years. Just one more reason to be proud of being part of Steelers Nation.

William Gay Signs with the Cardinals

The Steelers lost starting cornerback Willie Gay to free agency this week, while I lost an important tool in taunting some of the haters in Steeler Nation. Transport Steelers fans in a time machine from this time last year to this week and they would be confused and perhaps shocked by the tone of melancholy reflected in many of the reactions to the loss of Gay. In just one year he went from being a prime candidate for a Darwin Award to being one of the Steelers’ defensive standouts. It remains to be seen whether Gay’s performance this year was an anomaly, or, as PaVaSteeler has suggested that he will regress under the influence of his former position coach Ray Horton. The good news is that he left with the respect of most fans, with a few exceptions that just couldn’t let the anger of past failures go.

It should also be mentioned that this Pittsburgh/Arizona thing is pretty amusing. The Arizona desert has become a reliable conduit for Steelers’ players and coaches seeking new beginnings. This Pittsburgh West thing is for real.

The Chairman to Return. It appears that Chairman Emeritus Dan Rooney will be returning to the team sometime this summer. Mr. Rooney, who pointed out that he still is employed as US Ambassador to Ireland, would not discuss the matter, but it is speculated that he could rejoin the Steelers as early as the beginning of training camp in July and would take on undisclosed duties. Mr. Rooney attended the NFL Owners Meeting this week in Florida and his return was greeted by expressions of great respect and joy by his former colleagues. And for good reason. Without his leadership the league has struggled with navigating the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the ongoing issue of player safety and head injuries and other matters. Fans of Steeler Nation and the NFL could certainly benefit from a larger dose of Dan Rooney’s wisdom, and it would be great to have him back with the team on a day to day basis.

Mike Tomlin Part 1

The coach was in the news this week for his press conference in Florida. But a significant piece of news came out an interview conducted with Steelers President Art Rooney II.

The Steelers are looking to sign Tomlin to a new contract sometime during this off season. “We’re obviously very happy with Mike and the job he’s doing and we hope he’s going to be here for the long term and I think I’m comfortable in saying that will be the case.” Mr. Rooney said in an interview published last Saturday. This news stands in contrast to various reports over the past few months that might suggest a lack of confidence in Tomlin’s leadership. At present Tomlin owns the highest winning percentage of any coach in franchise history with four playoff appearances, three division titles and one championship in his five year tenure.

Mike Tomlin Part 2

Tomlin’s press conference at the AFC coaches breakfast during the owner’s meeting was the first extended session with the media since shortly after the playoff loss in January. The headline was Tomlin’s claim that the dismissal of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and the hiring of new coordinator Todd Haley were both his responsibility and decision. This contradicted the notion that these actions were either initiated or heavily influenced by team president Art Rooney II. Tomlin’s silence over the past couple of months served to fuel this sort of speculation, but then again, in the tradition of Chuck Noll there is a tradition of being unconcerned with what others, particularly the media, may think about developments on the Southside. What is the truth of the matter? Who knows?

Mike Tomlin Part 3

The really important news in my point of view, and the piece that should fuel a lot of anticipation among Steelers fans was the revelation of the revamping of the Steelers offense under Haley.

This news has all kinds of exciting implications for Steelers football moving forward. First, it signals a clean break from what has characterized Steelers offensive football for over a generation. At best it can be expected that what will be unveiled this spring and summer will be an offense that is more flexible, more responsive to the opportunities and demands of offensive football in the current era and more tailored to the talents and capabilities of the offensive talent on this team without necessarily breaking from what is thought of as Steelers football. This also signals Tomlin’s exerting his philosophy on the offensive side of the ball. When you think about it, Tomlin did not come to the Steelers able to put his full imprint upon his staff. The offense was inherited from that which existed largely from the Cowher years. It is significant to me that the one area of the offense that Todd Haley will not touch is the blocking schemes for the offensive line. Kugler is Tomlin’s coach.

The team that will be unveiled this fall will likely be more fully Mike Tomlin’s team than any that we have seen thus far. It will be a team that, as the coach implied at his news conference, will have some surprises in store for its division rivals on the offensive side of the ball. It will have new leadership, relying more heavily on players who have spent most or all of their careers under Tomlin. While I have had my doubts about Haley, I have to acknowledge that Tomlin’s track record on his new assistant hires have been stellar. If this extends to Haley then it will make the Lake Effect (for example) pale in comparison. For certain it will make the months leading up to the season even more compelling than they ordinarily are for Steelers fans.

For certain it will make the months leading up to the season even more compelling than they ordinarily are for Steelers fans.

No News is Good News

The Mike Wallace Watch continues. As each day goes by, confidence grows that the team will be able to retain Wallace for at least one or two more years. There are concerns. It is still possible, but a lot less likely, that some team will make some sort of massive offer before the April 20th deadline. There are long range concerns over whether the team can retain all three of their Young Money receivers over the long haul. I believe that the results so far validate the strategy, considered risky by many, that the Steelers front office undertook in handling the Wallace situation and by extension quell concerns that they are mishandling cap management and other personnel issues generally. The main concern at this time is that until this issue is resolved the personnel process will likely be constipated, delaying the signing of other free agents.

Season Opener

According to a source with the Denver Post the Sunday night season opener will be played between the Peyton Manning led Denver Broncos and the Steelers in Denver. This potential matchup would be so intriguing and challenging on so many levels, if the league and the networks weren’t planning it they should reconsider. To say that it would be a ratings bonanza would be an understatement. The only negative from my perspective is that for second consecutive year Pittsburgh has to play a high caliber opponent in an away game. Additionally, it will mean putting safety Ryan Clark on the shelf as well. But this brings to mind a Tomlinism from a few years back that best characterizes this situation; it’s a five star matchup because we’re (Pittsburgh) in it.

Rule Changes

One of the rule changes proposed by the Steelers passed at the owners meeting in Florida.

The rules for play in overtime will now be uniform for both the regular season and the playoffs. Another rule proposed by the Steelers banning horse collar type tackles on quarterbacks did not pass. Other proposals such as allowing for a non-season ending injured reserve designation were tabled until meetings in May.

Again, considering the time of year, a busy and significant week of news.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Review: Top 5 Stories of The Year

The Pittsburgh Steelers faced much adversity in their 2011 season. A four-game suspension to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, along with many injuries, especially on the offensive line. Still the Steelers sat with a record of 12-4 in the regular season heading in to the playoffs where they would win their games against the Baltimore Ravens, and the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets. Which brings us to our first top story:

Pittsburgh Steelers defeat New York Jets in AFC Championship game.

The Steelers beat the New York Jets at home 24-19 on January 23rd, 2011. This win sent the Steelers to their 8th franchise Super Bowl appearance against the Green Bay Packers.

Steelers lose to Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl

(February 6th, 2011) The Green Bay Packers were the second team in NFL history to make it to the Super Bowl as a 6th seed in the playoffs. The only other team to do that? The 2005 Steelers, who won the Super Bowl that year. The Packers would do the same as…

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

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