´ Steel Curtain Rising: April 2009

Screwed by Bloggers Polling, Again

Folks, it looks like Blogger's polling has decided to stop working. We had a good poll on the Steelers draft which suddenly got dropped to zero.

Guess you get what you pay for on these free platforms. Thanks to all those who voted.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Watch Tower: Larry Foote, Will He Stay or Will He Go?

Larry Foote wants out of Pittsburgh, and the Steelers are trying to trade him.

But that does not necessarily mean he will not be wearing the Black and Gold next season.

Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette reported on both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week that the Steelers tried to trade Foote during the draft and then planned to cut him on Monday after that failed. But, he continues, the Steelers changed their minds and had resumed attempts to trade him, but were planning on cutting him after the team’s annual Mother’s Day Mini Camp.

Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review has reported much of the same. Namely, that while Foote holds no ill will against the Steelers, he wants out. But Brown’s sources have led him to a different interpretation of the story.

Brown reports that Foote assumed that he had been cut when reporters called him asking him how he felt about it. Foote apparently knew that this was a possibility, but he had gotten no official word. Brown reports that this prompted Foote to call Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert to clear up the matter. It is at this point that Brown’s story gets interesting:

Foote said Colbert told him that the Steelers are trying to trade the eighth-year veteran, but that they have not committed to releasing him if a deal with another team cannot be worked out. When asked if he expects to be released if he is not traded, Foote said, "That's the question I posed, and (Colbert) said that's up to (coach) Mike Tomlin. He said he doesn't know."

Fascinating.

A Relic Leftover from the Days of the Circulation Wars?

I suppose in the heyday of two-paper towns, this kind of thing was more common – two beat writers covering the same story, but arriving at very different results.

It is hard to know who to trust.

Ed Bouchette is the dean of the Steelers press corps. He gets the goods, has got good sources, and knows the lay of the land.

Scott Brown has been on the beat for a lot less time, but he hustles for the story, and has frequently delivered his readers more as a result. The contrast in the coverage which both men gave to the announcement that John Stallworth was joining the Steelers ownership group provides a perfect example. Brown not only got interviews with Stallworth’s former teammates, but with the Rooney’s, and with Stallworth himself.

It is not clear here whether experience or ambition has the upper hand on delivering the correct story.

Sticky Situation

Either way the Steelers have an interesting situation playing out. Mike Tomlin has said on record that he wants Larry Foote back. Foote, for all of his talk about holding no grudges, has said he will skip the Steelers mandatory mini-camp. Larry Foote told Brown “At this point, I'll go to whoever wants me and get a chance to show what I can really do." Not much different than what he told Bouchette.

However, earlier in Brown’s story, he made some comments that indicated that he felt he was being limited by the Steelers before Timmons arrived, a remark which one can only describe as surprising, since Foote has started every game since 2004.*

As the contrast between Bouchette and Brown’s stories reveal, the Steelers' plans have yet to come in focus, but Foote does not sound like a man who is expecting to stick around.

*Even before learning this, Steel Curtain Rising wrote an article cautioning Foote to choose his wish wisely. Now we’ll double down on that advice.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Larry Foote Wants Out… Careful of What You Wish For…

First they cut Gary Russell. Then they restructured Ike Taylor’s contract. Then they restructured and resigned Hines Ward’s contract.

All in the name of the salary cap.

All of this portended to Larry Foote’s departure from the Steelers. And now it appears that is about to happen, but the situation is not unfolding as expected.

The Post-Gazette and Tribune Review are both reporting that Larry Foote will leave the Steelers via trade or the wavier wire, but apparently this is happening at Larry Foote’s bidding.

Foote told the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette:

“It was my doing. I wanted to go. They were trying to trade me.''

Bouchette reports that the Steelers did try to shop Foote during the draft and found no new takers, and that they were going to waive him this morning, but have held off for the moment because they want to give a trade another shot.

From Bouchette’s article it is hard to 100% certain whether the impetus for the trade came from Foote or not, but either way Foote is not happy in Pittsburgh.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

His comments make it clear that he is not happy about being phased out in favor of 2007 first round draft pick Lawrence Timmons. He went as far as to tell Bouchette:

James Farrior never slows down, and Timmons came in and I can't grow here any more. They turned me into a two-down linebacker last year. I was stuck in a role. I love the team, I love winning, but you can't keep being unhappy. It got to the point where they were not giving me a chance. [Emphasis added.]

Steelers Nation should feel no ill will to a player who wants to go somewhere where he can start, but Foote would also do well to remember that when Kendrell Bell went down to injury in early 2002, Cowher turned to the rookie Foote as opposed to a more experienced back up such as John Fiala.

That was 2002. Sentimentally certainly did not lead Mike Tomlin to start Foote ahead of Timmons in 2008, but based on what he demonstrated on the field, Timmons almost certainly would have vindicated a decision to start him instead.

Careful of What You Wish For

Foote is not the first Steelers linebacker to ask for his release upon getting stuck behind a young Turk. And Larry Foote would be wise to learn from the cautionary tale of Jerry Olsavsky.

Injuries brought Jerry Olsavsky into the Steelers starting line up for parts of 1995 and almost all of 1996. Jerry O did well both times, but nonetheless Earl Holmes was slated to start in front of him going into the 1997 season.

Olsavsky sought and got his release during the 1997 off season. He followed Marv Lewis to Baltimore, but he did not start. He recorded ten tackles in nine games and, if memory serves, the Ravens cut him before the end of the season and he was out of football.

Larry Foote is of course a different caliber player than Jerry Olsavsky, but in Pittsburgh he’s part of the defending number one defense of the defending Super Bowl Champions.

The Steelers will probably honor Foote’s wish, (although there does seem to be some doubt about that now.) Foote is certainly good enough to land on another NFL team where he can start and perhaps stand out. But as Jerry Olsavsky’s story shows, getting your wish isn’t always the best thing that can happen to you.

Thanks for visiting. Follow all of the Steelers off season movements here at Steel Curtain Rising.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Steelers 2009 Draft at a Glance

The 2009 draft is now complete. The Steelers, picking last in each round, save for the picks they got via trade, came away with nine new players.

The Steelers entered the draft needing to strengthen both their offensive and defensive lines, their wide receiving crops, and their secondary. They did that. On paper at least.
They also give themselves a shot at adding some depth at running back and tight end.

  • 1st 32(32) Evander “Ziggy” Hood, DE, Missouri
  • 3rd 15(79) Kraig Urbik, OG, Wisconsin
  • 3rd 20(84) Mike Wallace, WR, Mississippi
  • 3rd 32(96) Keenan Lewis, CB, Oregon State
  • 5th 32(168) Joe Burnett, CB, University of Central Florida
  • 5th 33(169) Frank Summers, RB, UNLV
  • 6th 32(205) Ra'Shon Harris, DT, Oregon
  • 7th 17(226) A.Q. Shipley, Center, Penn State
  • 7th 32(241) David Johnson, TE, Arkansas State

That’s two defensive lineman, two offensive linemen, one wide out, two corners, one running back, and one tight end.

YOU Rate the Steelers Draft

As mentioned in a previous post, yours truly lives outside the US, and has zero access to college games. So I will not do you the disservice of attempting to grade the Steelers draft or evaluate their picks on an individual basis.

That’s where you come in.

How do you evaluate the Steelers draft?

Who do you think’s got the most star power? Which player did they not pick that they should have? Who did they pick that they shouldn’t have? Are there any late round sleepers?

Leave a comment and make your voice heard.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Steelers draft guard Kraig Urbik, WR, CB in Third Round

The 2009 Draft is thus far going according to plan for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yesterday, they drafted defensive end Ziggy Hood in the first round, and then traded down in the second to get three picks in today's third round.

With their first third round pick, they drafted Kraig Urbik, a guard out of Wisconsin. They followed this with Mike Wallace a wide out and kick returner out of Mississippi, and finished the round with Keenan Lewis, who played corner at Oregon State.

Heading into the draft the Steelers need areas were defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive back, in that order.

As part of the deal they made yesterday with Denver, the Steelers traded their fourth round pick, and will not pick again until the 5th, when they have two picks.

Steelers Draft Evander “Ziggy” Hood, Trade Down on Day 1

The first day of the 2009 NFL draft was a day of waiting and ultimately dealing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the final pick in the first round, the defending Super Bowl Champions had to wait until all 31 teams took their shots at top college prospects.

But, it appears that they got one of the men they wanted.

They selected defensive lineman Evander “Ziggy” Hood, who played his college ball at Missouri. Hood becomes the first defensive linemen selected by the Steelers in the first round since 2001, when they chose Casey Hampton.

The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette correctly predicted Ziggy Hood’s selection, likening him to Aaron Smith.

Steel Curtain Rising Vindicated… eh, Let's Not Get Carried Away

Well, perhaps, no certainly that is too much to say. However, while many in Steelers Nation expected the Steelers to focus on offensive line, the Steelers chose to focus on injecting youth into their defensive line.

At the beginning of the week, Steel Curtain Rising suggested that with aging starters and back ups, this was just what the Steelers needed to do.

Likewise, it appears that this site’s alter ego, La Toalla Terrible,* can claim some bragging rights. (You know they'll be no shutting him up now....)

On Thursday La Toalla Terrible joked that the Steelers recent string of fourth round failures had led management to simply abandon the pick.

Well the Steelers (thankfully) did not do that. Instead they traded their second and their fourth for two thirds from Denver. With the trade, Pittsburgh starts tomorrow with:

  • 3 third round picks
  • 0 fourth round picks
  • 2 fifth round picks
  • 1 sixth round pick
  • 2 seventh round picks

Hope for Better Luck with This Three Pick Third Round

This will give them three picks in the in the third round, something which happened exactly ten years ago in the 1999 draft.

That year they hit gold with Joey Porter, but they also picked Kris Farris and Amos Zereoue.

Outland Trophy Kris Farris winner discovered a hairline fracture in training camp, sat out his rookie year on IR, and was cut before ever playing a down for the Steelers during the following summer in Latrobe. Zereoue was talented as advertised. He simply never seemed to want it enough.

Let’s hope that the due of Colbert-Tomlin do better with their three third round picks than the tandem of Donahoe-Cowher did with their’s.

*La Toalla Terrible means Terrible Towel in Spanish. La Toalla Terrible writes occasionally for Steel Curtain Rising, and takes a zanny look at the side of things.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Steelers Sign Hines Ward to Extension

ESPN.com is reporting the the Pittsburgh Steelers have resigned Hines Ward to an contract extension.

The deal is reportedly for four years and $22 million dollars. The Steelers have apparently structured the deal to give Ward valueable cap room (read, he did not get much of a bonus.)

Ward had been scheduled to become a free agent at the end of this season. Reflecting on this possiblity, Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola suggested that Ward might be contemplating retirement, and he suggested that the Steelers begin preparing for that possiblity.

As OTA's began two weeks ago, Ward sounded like anything but a man who was thinking about hanging it up, or itching to see if the grass really was greener on the other side.

Instead he expressed his desire to play his entire career as a Steeler.

With a four year extension in hand, it looks like he will do that. And Steelers Nation should give thanks.

Deal Confirmed, but Not Signed

Later in the day, the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette confirmed the story with Ward's agent, Eugene Parker. Parker confirmed that an agreement had been reached, both out of a desire on the part of Ward to finish his playing days in Pittsburgh and on the part of the Steelers, who needed cap space.

While an agreement has been reached, it has not yet been signed, and could be either four our five years in length.

Steelers 2009 Draft Need Matrix

The 2009 NFL Draft has arrived.

For all of the hype, you’re now treated to sitting and watching Roger Goodell read names off of pieces of paper interspersed with pontifical sound byes from the Oracle of Calvert Hall, Mel Kipper Jr.

Alas, the draft is not broadcast in Argentina, so yours truly will miss all of that….

During the past week Steel Curtain Rising has assessed the Steelers draft needs at defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver, defensive back, tight end, running back, linebacker, quarterback.

The Steelers needs are fairly evenly distributed. They should stick to their boards and draft the best available athlete/football player when their number is called. Need, should only become an issue when two players of equal value present themselves.

What to do then? Well, Steel Curtain Rising proudly presents the Steelers 2009 Draft Need Matrix:

  • Defensive line takes precedence over offensive line
  • Offensive line takes precedence over wide receiver
  • Wide receiver takes precedence over defensive back

Defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive back take precedence over everything else.

  • Tight end takes precedence over running back (although the two players would have to be rated exactly equal)
  • Running back takes precedence over linebacker

And all of these positions take precedence over quarterback.

Why No Predictions?

Steel Curtain Rising makes no predictions on the draft, and will offer little in the way of (original) assessment of the players once the picks are in.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

Even when I lived in the US, I did not follow the college game. Got nothing against it, in fact, I enjoy college football when I watch it. But I simply never got into it (probably because my school did not have a football team.)

And relying on the pundits is of little help.

  • Tony Mandarich. Huey Richardson. Andre Ware. John Rienstra. Todd Blackledge. Darryl Sims. Blair Thomas. Jamain Stephens. Ryan Leaf. Aaron Jones. Akili Smith. Keith Gary. Vinny Testaverde. Walter Abercrombie.

All of these were either franchise changing or blue chip players on draft day.

All floundered.

I do not pretend to be the one who can separate the information from the noise on draft day. If you doubt that, (and there is no reason you should) I compelling proof.

Steel Curtain Rising did not exist in 2004, but when I got word that the Steelers had drafted Ben Roethlisberger I emailed friends saying it was a mistake.

Yep. It is true.

My rational was that for every Peyton Manning there were at least two Ryan Leafs. Thought we could win with Tommy Maddox, and that hence, picking Roethlisberger was too risky….

Friends told me I was crazy, including one Ohioan who is a true Bengals fan. He said “My guess is in three years, you’ll be quite happy with the pick.”

He was wrong. It only took half a season.

So while we’ll look at how the Steelers addressed their needs, Steel Curtain Rising will make no pronouncements as to the quality of the players they take.

Day to Dream

The draft is over-hyped and over-analyzed. The predictions become trite and the pronouncements become downright tiresome.

But the draft is still something to behold. It is a Day to Dream.

  • Each name called equals one young man who gets a shot live the dream that we all imagined when we picked up our first Nerf football
  • Teams suddenly see the potential to cement a dynasty, establish themselves as contenders, or end a tortured history of losing
  • Fans can fantasize about a star they loved in college making it big in the pros.

There are definite winners and losers in each draft. But in truth (shh, don't tell this to Mel Kipper Jr.), those won’t be known for at least three years. Disappointments in some form or other are inevitable. Hopes fade to quiet resignation and often disillusionment.

Sometimes this happens quickly (Huey Richardson), in other cases it’s gradual (Walter Abercrombie.)

But draft day remains the one moment when all is possible.

Enjoy.

Steelers Signing of Keiwan Ratliff Puzzling

The Steelers confirmed that they have signed former Indianapolis Colts corner back Kiewan Ratliff to a one year deal.

The Cincinnati Bengals drafted him in the second round in 2004, but Ratliff has never been more than a back up and occasional starter since then. He has also played as a back up in Tampa Bay in 2007 and in Indianapolis last year.

According to Pro Football Reference Ratliff has 5 interceptions to his credit, two of which he made last year.

He gives the team some veteran depth at corner, and will most likely push Antonio Bryant for a roster spot, although the Post-Gazette is reporting that he might challenge William Gay for a starting spot. If he does make a serious push to start, then he is either a late bloomer, al la James Harrison, or William Gay will have greatly disappointed in Latrobe this summer.

Given the Steelers acute lack of salary cap space, one has to wonder why the team made this move.

Worried about Gay, Lewis… Townsend to Move to Safety...?

Yes, it does lessen the pressure to pick a DB in the draft, but this draft is reputed to be strong with mid-round, high value defensive backs. Perhaps the move signals a lack of confidence in William Gay and/or Roy Lewis, or perhaps Steelers coaches are seeing signs that Desha Townsend is finally losing a step.

This move might also signal that coaches are thinking of transitioning Townsend to safety. There was some talk of this in during the 2008 off season, when it was unclear that Ryan Clark would make a full recovery, but nothing ever surfaced.

Regardless, this is a surprising move whose motive is difficult to understand.

Steelers 2009 Draft Needs Tight End, Running Back, Linebacker, and Quarterback

The Steelers primary needs heading into the 2009 draft are defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver and defensive back. There are of course four other positions, plus special teams.

The Steelers are obviously going to take someone who plays at least one of them. As with the primary need positions, the question is the same. Which takes priority?

The Steelers Draft Needs at Tight End

The Steelers are young at this position. Health Miller is growing into one of the top tight ends in the game, and Matt Speath showed that he could be dangerous in the passing game. They also have Sean McHugh, who doubles at fullback.

Steeler’s Digest’s Bob Labriola has labeled drafting a back up tight end a luxury. His logic is sound, but a little short sighted.

Health Miller will be a free agent next year, unless the league goes to an uncapped year, and then he’ll be a restricted free agent. While the Steelers can match any offer in that scenario, are they going pony up when Daniel Snyder or Jerry Jones offers Health Miller a five year 15 million dollar a year deal?

If Spaeth is developing into a nice complement to the passing game, the knock on him is that he adds nothing as a blocker. And the Steelers need help with blockers.

Tight end should not be high on the Steelers list, but if they get a shot at a good one starting in middle rounds, they should feel free to take one. Especially if he's a tight end who can smash people.

Running Back: Shouldn't Have Been a Need But....

If the Steelers once vaunted running game never really got unleashed in 2008, they still enter 2009 when one of the league’s top running back stables. Willie Parker will return, as will 2008’s number one pick Rashaard Mendenhall. The unsung hero of the 2008 season, Mewelde Moore will be backing them up. And Cary Daivs, while no world beater, will also be there both as a runner and to split fullback duties with Sean McHugh.

Why pray tell, would the Steelers draft a running back? Well, they shouldn’t. At least not in the early rounds.

After that drafting a running back makes more sense.

Here's why.

Willie Parker is aging and has been injured for parts of the last two years. Since he played so little in college he’s probably got more left in him than many other NFL backs who’ve logged a similar number of carries. But he’s also in the final year of his contract.

Rasshard Mendenhall showed some flashes before he got hurt in 2008. He really didn’t get enough carries to make an honest evaluation. And that’s the point. Mendenhall is still an unknown talent.

Mewelde Moore was the free agency steal of the 2008 off season. He’s a keeper.

Davis’ production has yet to match his apparent versatility. Its not that he’s done anything wrong, but that he really hasn’t done much. Why the Steelers kept him and let Gary Russell fall to Cincinnati remains a mystery.

Had the Steelers kept Russell and let Davis go, Steel Curtain Rising would be content to say that the Steelers could safely ignore running back in this draft.

Now we will not think them foolish if they draft for depth in mid-rounds. This is especially true if the find a running back who has the skill and speed to return kicks. (Or, heaven forbid, a true fullback....)

The Steelers (Almost) Lack of Need at Linebacker in the 2009 Draft

The Steelers had the NFL's best linebacking corps in 2008 and should very well have the best in again 2009. They had James Harrison, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, two other Pro Bowl caliber starters, plus Larry Foote, plus Pro Bowler in waiting Lawrence Timmons. They also have a good mix of experienced and maturing talent behind them.

What motive could they possibly have for drafting a linebacker?

Because the make up of their linebacking corps. could well change in short order after the draft.

The Steelers have virtually no room to operate under the salary cap. They already had to cut Gary Russell for cap reasons and renegotiate Ike Taylor’s contract. If they need to cut more salary, Larry Foote’s time with the team is likely at an end.

Timmons would more than make up for the loss of Foote, but it would also thin out their depth at inside linebacker quite a bit.

But the potential they have at this position is sufficient, that they should probably relegate any linebacker pick ups until late rounds. If Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin know they can keep Foote, then they can ignore linebacker in this draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Envy of the League at Quarterback

That the Steelers came so close to signing both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich actually speaks volumes about how much of an asset this team is. During 2008 there were some teams that scrambled to find one man who was competent to stand under center. The Steelers were on the verge opening camp in Latrobe with three of them on their roster.

And while he played little, Dennis Dixon is showing signs that he will develop into the back up that the Steelers envisioned him being when they took him in the 5th round last year.

The Steelers will probably bring a fourth arm to camp, but give the team’s needs else where, it would be foolish to use a draft pick on a quarterback.

Thanks for visiting. You can check out all of the Steelers 2009 draft news by clicking here. Or, just check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Steelers Draft Needs at Wide Receiver vs. Defensive Back

Having dealt with the offensive and defensive lines earlier this week, Steel Curtain Rising now turns to the Steelers next two need areas. Defensive back and Wide Receiver.

Unlike the lines, the Steelers have some of the best in the game at those positions. At wide out they count on Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.

In the secondary they have Tory Polamalu a man who is helping define the concept of playmaker and game changer. If Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark are not in that category, both are proven veterans.

Strictly speaking, neither of these areas are problem areas. But if problems are absent, needs are not. Here’s a look at both areas, and Steel Curtain Rising’s assessment on what, if push comes to shove, the Steelers should do if it becomes an either or situation when they’re on the clock.

Steelers Draft Needs in the Defensive Backfield

In addition to Taylor, Polamalu and Clark, the Steelers have William Gay penciled in as a starter with Desha Townsend slated to become a nickel back.

The Steelers are big on William Gay. Losing Bryant McFadden hurt, but one of the reasons why the Steelers did not bend over backwards to keep him was Gay’s development. Gay started four games while McFadden was hurt, and alternated snaps with him later.

In fact, he played almost as many snaps as McFadden in Super Bowl XLIII.

With Desha Townsend, the Steelers have a proven commodity. Byrant McFadden developed nicely while he was here. The reason why he didn’t play more was because Townsend kept him off of the field. At some point Townsend’s veritable fountain of youth is going to run out, but given his consistency it is unlikely that his play will suffer a dramatic drop off.

But behind him is journeyman Antonio Bryant, who is 32.

At safety the situation is similar. Ryan Clark returned last year with a vengeance. However, the only established back up is Tyrone Carter, who is 33.

Behind those players the Steelers have Ryan Mundy last year’s sixth round pick who spent 2008 on IR, and Roy Lewis an undrafted rookie free agent. Lewis turned heads last year in training camp, and the decision to cut him caught some by surprise. He returned to the practice squad and saw some time on the regular season roster, but the fact that he went back to the practice squad could be a bad sign.

This draft is said to be wanting a shut down corner or dominating safety, but deep with quality defensive backs who are considered to be high value pick. The Steelers need to come out of this draft with one.

Steelers Draft Needs at Wide Receiver

Like Bryant McFadden, losing Nate Washington hurt, but he deserves a shot at starting. The Steelers success at wide receiver in hinges largely on Limas Sweed. Is the player who appeared to be only a step away from making some breakaway plays downfield? Or is he the player whose drops during the regular season only confirmed what the press saw in practice throughout the year?

Even if Sweed does develop like Steelers coaches hope he will (and Steel Curtain Rising thinks he will) the Steelers need to beef up their receiving corps.

Because behind Sweed they have Dallas Baker, Martin Nance, and Brandon Williams.

Dallas Baker spent 2007 on the practice squad during where his efforts won him hearty praise from Mike Tomlin a little over a year ago. He qualified that praise by saying that Baker’s work with pads on would be the true crucible. Baker did well enough in training camp to beat out Willie Reid, although what does that really say?

He only managed one catch before getting cut in late November, after which Dallas Baker landed on the practice squad. Nance played on the practice squad behind him, while Williams has bounced from team to team.

Depth at wide receiver is a real need for the Steelers, which they must address in the 2009 draft.

Building Depth at Wide Receiver and Defensive Back – Which Is More Urgent?

Of the two areas, wide receiver is the greater need. No, if the Steelers get a high value DB, they certainly should not reach for a wide receiver.

But they need help at wide out. At defensive back they have proven (if rapidly aging back ups) and some maturing talent that at least has potential.

Neither can be said about the personnel behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and that assumes that Sweed makes a huge leap.

So if the choice comes down to a wide out and a DB that the Steelers have rated equally, the Steelers should opt to take the receiver.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to follow all of Steelers Curtain Rising’s assessment of the Steeler draft needs. Or just check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Steelers to Forfeit Fourth Round Draft Pick

The Steelers announced today that they will forfeit their fourth round pick in this weekend’s NFL draft.

The NFL sometimes forces teams to forfeit picks as a punishment. This happened to the Steelers in 2001. This move however is not the result of any disciplinary action.

Steelers Director of Football Operations Cevin Kolbert explains:

“Let’s face it, since I arrived in 2000 our track record in the fourth round isn’t too good. I mean, OK we did hit it picking Ike Taylor in the 4th in 2003 and Larry Foote in the 4th a year earlier, but other than that we’ve basically shot blanks – no offense to Willie Colon.”

In his first draft, Kolbert picked Danny Farmer in the fourth round and Farmer never made the team. When asked about his 2001 4th round pick Mathias Nkwenti, Kolbert responded “How do you spell BUST again?”

“We narrowly averted disaster in 2004 – we traded our fourth round pick. Since then we’ve picked Fred Gibson in 2005, Orien Harris in 2006, and Ryan McBean in 2007. If these names do not ring a bell, that’s because none of them made the team,” laments Kolbert.

Why forfeit instead of trading the pick? Kolbert explains, “2008 was an epiphany for us. We almost had to cut Tony Hills, Dan Sepulveda hurt himself, and everyone keeps insisting that Willie Colon should play guard. It became obvious. The pick is cursed for us. We trade the pick now and the player drafted haunt us later. That won’t happen now.”


La Toalla Terrible takes a lighter, tongue and cheek look at the Steelers. Click here to read La Toalla Terrible’s other writings (ravings?). If more serious analysis is your cup of tea, check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Watch Tower: Mixed Interpretations of Russell’s Departure

It took two days, but both Scott Brown of the Tribune Review and Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette weighed in on the Steelers surprising decision to cut Gary Russell.

Their interpretations are slightly different.

Scott Brown is taking Kevin Colbert at his word when he says that Russell was cut for salary cap reasons. He even goes as far as to quote Colbert's remarks from the pre-draft press conference:

"There could be further deletions as we move forward, depending on how our cap situation evolves."

In a separate piece, Brown shares in the speculation that Steel Curtain Rising voiced ealier this week, namely that if the Steelers are indeed so hard up for cap space that they had to cut Russell, that they’ll need to make cuts to get their draft picks.

A Slightly Different View, Sort Of

Ed Bouchette also seemed to back Colbert’s explanation. In addition to writing about it, he accepted no less than three questions about the decision to cut Russell in his on-line chat.

Each time he reiterated Colbert’s point about cutting Russell for salary cap reasons.

But Steel Curtain Rising directly questioned him as to whether or not he bought Colbert’s rational. This was his response:

Davis can do more than Russell, and I sort of buy the cap room thing. I don’t believe that Gary did anything wrong, that’s what you mean.
[Emphasis added.]

Well, what does “sort of” mean? In responding to another question, Bouchette again stated that he didn’t think Russell had done anything to anger the Steelers. But the “sort of” comment does at least suggest that he smells a hint of something else to the story.

All well and good. But before we pat ourselves on the back too hard for Steel Curtain Rising's ace media analysis skills, an honest reading of Kevin Colbert’s complete answer indicates that the move was salary cap related.

Loose Ends

Scott Brown reported an interesting fact about the salary cap. During the off season it is only the top 51 salaries that count against the cap. Never knew that before. Not a terribly useful piece of information, but interesting nonetheless.

Bouchette’s comments about Russell’s departure were slightly dismissive, saying that Russell was not another Franco Harris nor another Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala.

No real argument there, but this was slightly surprising as Bouchette compared Russell to Barry Foster during 2007 training camp, and he sung Russell’s praises at various times during the 2008 off season.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why Defensive Line is Pittsburgh’s Top Draft Need

In our first post, Steel Curtain Rising looked at the Steelers draft needs visa-vi the offensive line. We concluded while the O-Line was a pressing issue, Pittsburgh’s need there is not overriding.

There are reasons for this, which we discussed in depth. The Steelers need at defensive line supplies one more compelling reason. Before delving into that, let’s give the other side of the argument its just due.

The Case for Not Favoring the Defensive Line in the Draft

Taken at face value, the idea that the Steelers should be more worried about drafting players for the defensive line as opposed to the offensive line is almost laughable.

Mention the names Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Darnnell Stapelton, and Willie Colon to your average NFL fan and you’ll likely get a quizzical look.

Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, and Aaron Smith are not going to get their pictures on the cover of Time Magazine the way a certain other Steelers starting Super Bowl defensive linemen did, but Hampton and Smith have been to the Pro Bowl.

Keisel does not get the press that the other two get, but he’s certainly one of the most underrated 3-4 defensive ends in the game. Brett Keisel simply gets it done.

The Steelers not only have a quality front three, but their depth is decent. Chris Hoke has shown that he can step in and ensure that the Steelers do not lose a beat with him playing at nose tackle.

Do not underestimate that by any stretch of the imagination.

If you want to really appreciate what that means, think back to how the Steelers run defense (not to mention their entire defense) collapsed during the second halves of the 1998 and 1999 seasons when an injured Joel Steed played at far less than 100%.

On either end, Nick Eason and Travis Kirchke both showed that they could step up when called upon. Eason in particular seems to have benefited from working under the tutelage of Johnny Mitchell, Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin.

While the line is aging, it is not too much of a stretch to say that the Steelers can expect top performance out of these men for at least another year, if not two. (Should they stay healthy.)

The argument then follows that, Mike Tomlin’s banishment of the word “repeat” notwithstanding, a defending Super Bowl Champion should focus on players who can make the greatest immediate imipact, and it’s very hard for a rookie defensive lineman to enter the Steelers 3-4 system and contribute right away.

Therefore, it would be imprudent for the Steelers to focus premium picks on defensive linemen.

The Case in Favor of Putting the Defensive Line as Top Priority

While the anti-defensive line arguments are strong, they fall short of being compelling.

The Steelers rarely, if ever, think short term. It’s not a part of the Steelers mentality.

When you take that into consideration, the needs at defensive line become more urgent.

  • Aaron Smith just turned 33
  • Casey Hampton will be 32 on opening day.
  • Brett Kiesel will be 31 before nary a quarter of the 2009 season has passed.

What about thier back ups?

  • Travis Kirschke is 35.
  • Chris Hoke is 31.
  • Nick Eason is the baby, at 29.

And don't forget, these back ups have Jordan Reffert and Scot Paxson waiting in the wings behind them.

Who?

Point made.

As opposed the offensive line, the Steelers do have an established group of quality starters. They also have some decent back ups. But unlike their counter parts on offense, there is no maturing talent on the defensive line.

The Steelers have not drafted a defensive lineman higher than the fourth round since 2001, when they took Casey Hampton. Their last two fourth round picks, Ryan McBean and Orien Harris, were complete wash outs. Neither Shaun Nua (7a. 2005) and Eric Taylor (7, 2004) followed Brett Keisel’s footsteps in blossoming into a starter.

With a large number of veterans in the final year of their contracts plus the uncertainty of the NFL’s labor situation, the Steelers roster is going to undergo some significant changes in the next few years.

Change isn’t necessarily bad. Take a look at the line ups for Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII and you’ll surprise yourself at the amount of turnover between the two.

The argument that a defensive lineman cannot contribute now so don’t draft one with a window on another Super Bowl open is a valid one, but it’s wrong.

It will take time to develop a quality defensive lineman to replace any of the Steelers starters. Or their back ups. And free agency and/or injury & age dictate that the Steelers are going to need several new players on the defensive line. Perhaps not in 2009, but certainly by 2010.

Definitive Word on the Defensive Line

Behind the starters and established back ups on the offensive line, the Steelers have Doug Legursky, Jeremy Parquet, Jason Capizzi and Tony Hills. Don’t expect to see those names on a Pro Bowl roster anytime soon.

But it is certainly plausible that by the end of training camp 2009 Steeler coaches will be able to look at least one if not two of those players and say, “he’s young and he’ll be a capable back soon enough.”

You can’t say that about the defensive line.

So if the Steelers get a shot at a big time offensive lineman in rounds 1-3 and there are no comparable defensive lineman on the board, then they should take the offensive player.

But if two prospects are rated equally, then defensive lineman should take precedence.

Thanks for visiting. Share your thoughts on the Steelers draft needs by leaving a comment or voting on our poll, or just check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ward, Russell Make News in Steelers OTA's

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are not set to have their annual pre-draft conference until this afternoon, but the Steelers spring OTA’s are already yield some news.

Ward Intent on Staying Put?

Hines Ward is entering the final year of his contract, and is taking a very different attiude this time around. The last time he faced this situation, in 2005, he held out for the first half of training camp. Don’t expect a similar performance this time.

When asked about this contract, he told the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette this:

The contract, we're just going to play and whatever happens happens. I want to be a Steeler . . . I don't want to put on another uniform. I'm late in the game now to worry about it. You look at all the previous players who went on and played for other places. I learned a lot from Jerome [Bettis], what he did. I want to go down in Steelers history to be one of the better wideouts to wear the black and gold.

Ward certainly does not sound like a man who has plans to go anywhere.

Last week, Steel Curtain Rising pointed out a comment made by Bob Labriola about Ward’s possible retirement to suggest that perhaps the Steelers Digest editor had information that either the Steelers or Ward himself, were contemplating retirement for number 86 at the conclusion of 2009.

Colbert [sort of] Explains Release of Gary Russell

Kevin Colbert also stated that Gary Russell was waived in order to make salary cap room for Charlie Batch….

Ok.

Kevin Colbert certainly knows the Steelers salary cap numbers better than Steel Curtain Rising does, but his explanation does not make sense.

  • If the Steelers needed cap space then why cut Russell, who was seeing his role expanded, and not Cary Davis, who had seen his role retrenched?
  • If the Steelers are so desperate for cap space that they need to cut second year players, then who else is slated for the copping block when it comes time to sign the draft picks?

If the Steelers do do something like cut Larry Foote to free up cap space, then you’ll know Colbert is shooting straight. But if the Steelers don’t make major salary-cap related moves after the draft, that’s a pretty strong indicator that there were other factors motivating the team’s decision to part ways with Gary Russell.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Steelers 2009 Draft Needs - The Offensive Line

We need to get younger and stronger on both the offensive and defensive lines.” – Mike Tomlin, January 2008

Mike Tomlin issued that semi-solemn declaration at the end of 2008, and everyone agreed.

Opposing defenders had pummeled Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers had been forced to rely on gadget plays in a critical goal-line situations, and the defense became a shell of its former self after Aaron Smith was lost for the year.

Going into the 2008 draft, everyone knew the Steelers would target lineman of both stripes. Yeah, the Steelers insisted they would “take the best player available,” but Steel Curtain Rising implored readers to ignore this. The Steelers would certainly do what was necessary to bolster the lines.

We were wrong.

Premium lineman came of the board at a furious pace in both the first and second rounds of the 2008 draft, and the Steelers took advantage of that to pick Rashaard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed.

They didn’t pick a linemen until the nabbed Tony Hills in the fourth round, and Pittsburgh went the entire draft without selecting a defensive lineman.

After going through a draft where they seemingly ignored their most urgent needs, the Steelers then promptly went out and won Super Bowl XLIII.

That was then, this is now.

Having Lombardi Trophy number six in hand has not changed the simple fact that the Steelers most urgent needs remain offensive and defensive line. (Wide receiver and defensive back are also needs which Steel Curtain Rising will discuss later this week.)

The question remains, which line takes higher priority?

Thus far, Steel Curtain Rising's readers favor the offensive line by almost a 60-40 margin. There are arguments for and against on both sides, which we explore now, starting with the offensive line.

The Case for Favoring the Offensive Line in the Draft

Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapelton, Willie Colon. Has a more maligned front five ever led its team to a Super Bowl?

Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times, and knocked/taken out of three games. Ben is gifted with ability to make things happen with his feet. But his gift does not alter stark reality too often he’s had no choice but to run for his life.

Going into 2008, one of the line’s supposed saving graces was that for all of the punishment that Roethlisberger took in 2007, the Steelers had a dominate rushing game, and Willie Parker led the NFL in rushing until he got injured in week 16.

The same cannot be said of 2008. Either by injury, line play, or perhaps Arian’s play calling, the rest of the NFL lost its fear of the Steelers once vaunted running game in 2008.

How many times did Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, or Gary Russell fail to punch it on the goal line?

The Steelers entered free agency with five lineman becoming free agents. Fortunately, that number will go down next year. They’ll only face the prospect of losing both tackles and their center.

Given all of that, the urgency of focusing on the offensive line above all else should be obvious.... Or is it...?

The Case Against Favoring the Offensive Line in the Draft

Standing on the dais in Tampa with Lombardi Number Six in his hands, Ben Roethlisberger perhaps said it best:

“Offensive Line, who's laughing now?”

The truth is that the Steelers offensive line still might not scare anybody, but there’s no doubt that they got better as they year wore on.

As number of commentators have pointed out, the Steelers started 2008 with a rebuilt offensive line (new center, new starting guard), and then were forced to rebuild it after decimating injuries in the Baltimore and Jacksonville games.

Max Starks has shown he can play. On lookers will never confuse Chris Kemoeatu with Alan Fanaca but the Steelers could do worse. Justin Hartwig was a clear upgrade over Sean Mahan at center. Darnell Stapelton didn’t play poorly for someone who entered the league as an undrafted rookie free agent. Willie Colon still hasn’t stopped people from insisting that his natural position is guard, after two years as a starter, Steeler coaches prefer to demure.

The Steelers will also bring back Trai Essex, who can play both guard and tackle. They also have last year’s 4th round pick Tony Hills. Considering that Hills did not get into a game in 2008 it would be folly to expect too much of him, but it’s also foolish to count him out.

Why?

Remember this: In 1999 there was another fourth round pick who only saw action in 6 games as a rookie, and had little expected of him heading into his sophomore season. That player blossomed into a starter and a Pro Bowler.

His name is Aaron Smith. Steel Curtain Rising is not predicting that the same will happen with Tony Hills, but stranger things have come to pass.

The Bottom Line on the Offensive Line

Up until the final years of the Bill Cowher regime the Steelers seemed to have an unofficial policy to use a premium pick on an offensive lineman.

The last time they picked an offensive lineman in the top three rounds it was Trai Essex in 2005. They must discard this patchwork offensive line building strategy, and they must do so starting with this draft.

But the Steelers do have some depth and some youth going for them on the offensive line. Steel Curtain Rising will take a look at the Steelers defensive line draft needs soon, but for the moment we’ll offer that the same cannot be said for the defensive line.

Comparing what we have on both lines, the offensive line has the greatest potential to grow, and this group of players has already shown they'll do the work needed to make that happen.

If the Steelers get a shot at a blue chip offensive lineman with one of their premium picks, they should take him. But of the two lines, the offensive line is the less pressing need, if only slightly so.

Thanks for visiting. All week long Steel Curtain Rising will be profiling the Steelers 2009 draft needs.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Steelers Cut Gary Russell

In what amounts to a minor shock, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is announcing that the Steelers have waived reserve running back Gary Russell.

Gary Russell joined the Steelers as an unrestricted rookie free agent in 2007. During training camp he drew comparisons to Barry Foster for his low center of gravity and power rushing style, but played sparingly during the 2007 regular season.

After carrying seven times in 2007, he saw his role increased in 2008, which is why this move is so surprising.

Why Russell Instead of Gary Russell of Cary Davis?

The decision to cut Gary Russell is perplexing.

Russell’s overall numbers are not that impressive, 28 carries for 77 yards, which amounts to a 2.8 average. But during mid-season Russell appeared to have carved out a niche for himself as a short yardage specialist, and a pick returner. He also flashed during the Jacksonville game that he was capable of doing damage in the open field.

By mid-season Russell established himself as the team’s “go to back” in goal line and short yardage situations, and did quite well for himself. In fact, during November, one writer from Behind the Steel Curtain argued that Russell’s role with the rushing offense should have been expanded any more (and Steel Curtain Rising concurred.) Gary Russell scored three touchdowns in the regular season, and scored the first and only rushing touchdown for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

Russell was not the Steelers only undrafted free agent running back pick up in 2007. He joined the team with Cary Davis, who eventually replaced starting full back Dan Krieder.

That was 2007. In 2008, when the Steelers found themselves without Willie Parker and Rasshard Mendenhall, it was Cary Davis who got the nod at running back. But as the season progressed, Cary Davis found himself phased out in favor of Sean McHugh, while Russell got the work in short yardage.

Possible Explanations

As Ed Bouchette reported, the Steelers gave no reasons to explain Russell’s release. That leaves Steelers Nation wondering.

Did they simply feel they were set with Rasshard Mendenhall and Willie Parker back to health and Mewelde Moore behind them? As an undrafted free agent, Russell’s salary almost certainly was not an issue, and if so why him and not Davis?

Could it be because of off the field issues – disciplinary issues kept Russell from playing more than two years at the college level? In all fairness to Russell, Steel Curtain Rising is not suggesting off the field issues were the Steelers motive, we have no information to that effect, we’re merely asking the question.

Watch Tower: Hines Ward to Retire After 2009?

Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola dropped a potential bombshell in the publication’s pre-draft issue.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Steelers Digest, (and judging on the clicks that links to the Digest draw, that’s a lot of you) it was founded in the late 80’s by the Steelers and Curtis Publishing. During the pre-internet years it served as a crucial life line to Steelers Nation.

Today, much of what it publishes is easily found on the internet but, as it is the Steelers only in-house publication, it also serves as a vital source of inside information that makes the light of day nowhere else. (And that’s the reason I still am a paying customer.)

Tucked into the end of assessment of the Steelers draft needs visa-vi wide receiver, Labriola lauded Hines Ward’s records, contribution, and legacy, and then offered this:


The idea of Ward retiring after the 2009 season is something the Steelers should be considering seriously.

Wow.

  • Everyone knows that Hines Ward is in the final year of his contract
  • Everyone knows Ward just turned 33
  • Everyone remembers Ward’s hold out and tense stand off with the Steelers before the 2005 season

And everyone “knows” that the Steelers do not pay big money to players who are their 30’s (while there is some truth to this, it is funny to see how this little pearl of conventional wisdom is now regarded as incontrovertible, “fact” despite the multi-year, multi-million dollar deals that the Steelers awarded to James Farrior and James Harrison in the span of less than 8 months.)

So the fact that 2009 might be Hines Ward’s last year with the Steelers is no shock to Steelers Nation.

But to retire?

What (if anything) is Labriola Trying to Tell Us?

This is where consideration of the source comes in. For whatever the Digest might lack in objectivity (although it is pretty objective), Bob Labriola is the one journalist with unfettered access to the Steelers brain trust. Which means the retirement comment could mean:

  • Ward is quietly talking about retirement with either players or management
  • The Steelers might be planning to try to coax Ward into retirement, ala Franco Harris

There’s also a chance the Labriola is just speculating.

Historically, his predraft speculations are hit or miss. In 1995, he discounted the possibility of the Steelers taking a quarterback, save for that “the Steelers might have some interest in Kordell Stewart in late rounds if he is still available.”

  • The Steelers drafted Stewart in the second.

He also discounted the possibility of the Steelers drafting a quarterback in 2008, and they took Dennis Dixon

What the Steelers Need to Do with Hines Ward

Since we don’t know the source or motive of Labiorla’s comments, it goes without saying that what follows here is pure speculation.

If Ward decides to hang it up it will be a surprise. As Mike Tomlin says, Hines Ward is a football player first, and a wide receiver second. But as Chuck Noll advised, “if you’re thinking of retiring, you probably should.” So if Hines is ready to begin “life’s work,” then Steelers Nation should lament his loss but wish 86 well.

However, the second possibility is much, much more troubling. The Steelers are a class organization from top to bottom. But for all of that class, they are seldom overly sentimental about letting players go when it is time. In terms of football, they usually make the right decision.

But the way they carry out those decisions has sometimes left something to be desired.

  • The Franco Harris situation was a disaster for all involved
  • Likewise, the Steelers really mishandled Rod Woodson’s departure (although to be fair, they’d made him a very generous offer the summer before he hit the open market)
  • Unexcuseably, Levon Kirkland had to find out from the press that the Steelers were planning on cutting him

This must not happen with Hines Ward.

Hines Ward means too much to the Steelers. He hustles on every play. He leads by example, and his bone crunching style sets the tone on the field. Off the field he is both a leader and a mentor.

Unless he shows serious signs of slowing in 2009 and/or is hobbled by injuries, then the Steelers must do with Ward what they did with Jerome Bettis – make all reasonable attempts to keep him with the team.

Oops…

There must be something funny in the water that runs in the South Side during March and April. Last year, the Watch Tower pointed out that the Steelers Digest made two rather obvious errors when referring to Steelers draft history.

They’ve done something similar this year. On page 18, in the “Fast Fact” section states: “The Steelers never have signed an unrestricted free agent to be a starting tackle…” and goes on to explain that they have done that at guard and center.

Interesting factoid.

But its wrong.

The Steelers signed Wayne Gandy in 1999 to be their starting left tackle. Gandy’s play ranged from horrendous to OK, but he did start for four straight seasons at left tackle. They also signed Anthony Brown in that same year, who ended up starting a number of games at right tackle.

Thanks for visiting. Count on Steel Curtain Rising to provide hard hitting analysis as the NFL draft approaches.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Steelers Resign Charlie Batch

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers have resigned Charlie Batch. Batch has been a Steelers reserve quarterback since joining the team in 2002.

Charlie Batch had been a unrestricted free agent, but received little interest while on the free agent market. The Steelers coaches and front office think highly of Batch, and wanted him back, but his status had been in some doubt due to the uncertainty surrounding Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich joined the Steelers when Batch was injured in preseason, and had played very well in relief of Ben Roethlisberger in three games this past season. Leftwich sees himself as a starter, and had difficulty finding a team that would give him a chance to complete for a starting job. Barring that possibility, Leftwich was open to returning to the Steelers, and the Steelers wanted him back.

But Leftwich did land in Tampa Bay, and the Steelers signed Batch in short order.

Analysis

This move was highly anticipated. Perhaps the only surprising thing about it is that Batch signed a one year deal.

Does that indicate that the Steelers see Dennis Dixon growing into a potential number two quarterback over the next year?

Perhaps, or perhaps it is simply a reflection of the reality that with age and injuries mounting, Batch status with the Steelers is now year-to-year.

Regardless, Batch is reliable back up quarterback who has delivered when he’s been called on to step on to the field, and is a positive presence both in the locker room and on the sidelines when he is not.

Thanks for visiting. You can follow all of the Steelers free agent action with our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus section.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Steelers Resign James Harrison

Both ESPN.com and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette have announced that the Steelers have reached an agreement to extend the contract of NFL Defensive Player of the year James Harrison.

Resigning James Harrison was the Steelers top off season priority, and while negotiations have been complicated by the intracies of the NFL's collective bargining agreement, an agreement was reached today.

The reported terms of the contract are for 6 years and 51 million dollars, with about 20 million in signing bonuses and other guarentees.

Byron Leftwich Signs with Tampa Bay

Steelers reserve quarterback Byron Leftwich has signed a two year deal with the Tampa Bay, and will not return to the Steelers this year.

The Steelers brought in Leftwich when Charlie Batch went down in preseason, and Leftwich performed well in three games in relief of Ben Roethlisberger.

For a time it appeared that Leftwich might return to the Steelers, as he initally drew little interest on the free agent market. But Tampa Bay was willing to give him a chance to start, and hence he opted to sign with them.

Leftwich's departure makes it more likely that the Steelers will resign Charlie Batch to be Ben Roethlisberger's back up in 2009.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Scott Brown is Right on the Money About Plaxico Burress

The Tribune-Review’s Scotty Brown was right on the mark again. Credit him for being the first of Pittsburgh’s two dailies to make the point, even if it is rather obvious, that the Steelers were so right to choose Hines Ward over Plaxico Burress

I will steal Brown’s thunder by rehashing his article here, instead I recommend you read it yourself.

There are two additional points to Brown’s argument which Steel Curtain would like to add.

The Playoff Catch Against the Patriots Plax Didn’t Make

If ever there was any doubt that as to who to choose between Burress and Ward, it was settled immediately in the moments after his last game as a Steeler.

Recall, the Steelers were trailing early in the 4th, but in position to score a touchdown which would have brought them within seven. Burress had a shot at the ball on a fade pattern in the corner of the end zone.

He dropped it

No, it was not an easy catch, by any means, but he could have caught it. (How many in Steelers Nation didn’t think of this play when Burress did catch the ball when the game was on the line in Super Bowl XLII?)

The drop, in-and-of-itself was forgivable – think Santonio Holmes first attempt in the end zone in Super Bowl XLIII.

But after the game, in an act of brazen arrogance, Burress had the nerve claim that the Steelers lost the game because he did not get the ball enough….

Such comments are caustic to a team’s chemistry in the first place. But even leaving that aside, you lose any right whatsoever to make them when you drop a critical touchdown pass in a conference championship game.

Bill Cowher’s Greatest Asset?

Plaxico Burress had a history before the Steelers drafted him. Bill Cowher tested him before the draft, and determined that he could handle Burress.

For the most part he did, the mother’s day mini-camp no show not withstanding.

There were a few other minor things while he was in Pittsburgh, but from a behavioral standpoint, the Steelers won their gamble.

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin richly deserves his reputation as a strict disciplinarian.

Cowher also had a reputation for keeping his players on the line, and his blustery, chin out and in your face style endeared him to fans. (Especially, after someone did something dumb.)

But there was another, less appreciated and too often overlooked side to Cowher. He was demanding, but Bill Cowher really understood when it was time to kick a player in the pants, and when they needed a pat on the back.

This was perhaps his greatest asset. He knew the difference between the two, and he coached accordinly. And if nothing else, Burress behavior as a Steeler and his misconduct as a Giant underscores that fact.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Steelers Sign Keyaron Fox

The Steelers signed another unrestricted free agent, and like the rest of them, this one happened to be a Pittsburgh Steeler (Steel Curtain Rising was in error ten days or so ago when we said they had no more left to sign.)

This time it was back up linebacker and special teams player Keyaron Fox. Fox was signed last year to a one year deal after having played the 2007 season for the Kansas City Cheifs.

The Post-Gazette reported that he got a 1.8 million dollar contract for two years, but his signing bonus is only $380,000. A number of weeks ago Ed Bouchette announced that they were close to resigning Fox, but the deal was only consumated this week.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Byron Leftwich to the Redskins?

Steel Curtain Rising speculated, long before the major Pittsburgh papers, (well, ok, only one day before) that should Bryon Leftwich fail to secure a solid offer to start somewhere else, he might very well decide to remain a back up in Pittsburgh.

It now appears that Daniel Snyder will test that hypothesis.

Earlier this week the Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers were hoping to sign both Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, but that Leftwich was in talks with another, unnamed team.

Now we know the name of that team, and it is the Washington Redskins, as Leftwich worked out with the Redskins last Friday.

Hometown Hero?

Byron Leftwich is a Washington DC area native, and was boyhood fan of the team. Like most kids, he grew up dreaming of playing for his hometown team. Later he admitted to the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon that playing against them, as he did when the Steelers defeated the Redskins last season on Monday Night Football, was the next best thing.

For the moment we can only speculate if the possibility of winning another Super Bowl with the Steelers outweighs the possibility returning to Washington as a native son.

What Exactly is Daniel Snyder Thinking, Anyway?

Its been confirmed that the Redskins, tried, and failed, to land Jay Cutler in a trade. This transpired despite the fact that Jason Campbell has been steadily growing into a quality NFL quarterback. Campbell threw for over three thousand yards last year, completed 62% of his passes, and had a quarterback rating of 80.4%.

One has to wonder, if Snyder is willing to ditch Campbell as his starter, is he also enticing Leftwich to come to Washington with the promise of competing for a starting spot? A Washington Post article cited an unnamed Redskins source saying that Leftwich was being recruited exclusively as a back up.

Still, its not hard to imagine Snyder making such a pitch. Such an overture, direct or indirect, would be a slap in the face at Jason Campbell and could easily disrupt the chemistry of the Redskins locker room, not that Daniel Snyder has ever let that stop him before. (For the record, the same article said that Campbell was aware of the Leftwich workout, and was completely OK with it.)

It says here that Leftwich should do what is in the best interests of his career. But along those lines, he’d be wise to consider the differences of playing for a team run by Dan Rooney (or Art II as the case may be) and one run by Daniel Snyder.

If Leftwich does sign with the Redskins, the Steelers will most certainly move to get Charlie Batch under contract.

Thanks for visiting. You can follow all of the Steeler free agent moves by reading our Steel Curtain Rising's Steelers 2009 free agent focus.