´ Steel Curtain Rising: March 2010

Who gets the game ball for the win over the Colts?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Steelers Offensive Coordinator Voting Extended

Steel Curtain Rising has extended the voting to decide the Steelers worst offensive coordiantor in history. The reason? We're just shy of 100 votes, and we want to meet or break that mark.

So if you have not already, please vote and make your voice known.

More on ‘Tone, Roethlisberger and Rooney

The Steelers are the new Bengals, so have declared Mike Florio and the Post Gazette’s Ron Cook.

While the Steelers have never really had a zero tolerance policy for off the field conduct issues – just think of Ernie Holmes shooting at police officers from a moving car in the 1970’s – they have prided themselves at running a cleaner shop than most.

During the 1990’s they quickly rid themselves of Tim Worley and Bam Morris for off the field drug problems and they also let Eric Green go his own way as a free agent, albeit football reasons fueled that decision as much as off the field considerations.

Recently they’ve cut ties with Cedric Wilson and Gary Russell, neither of whom was convicted of a crime, but both of whom found themselves in some highly questionable circumstances (of course there were witnesses to Wilson’s incident, Russell’s situation was more nebulous.)

The Steelers of course took a lot of heat for seeming to excuse James Harrison for the same crime that Wilson had committed, but the truth be told Dan Rooney’s verbal miscue caught more attention than the apparent double standard.

Rooney Getting No Relief

Art Rooney II clearly must wish the stories on Santonio Holmes and Roethlisberger would just disappear but, alas, they will not.

The Steelers and the Rooney family now confront the biggest challenge to their reputation for integrity, at least in the court of public opinion, in a long, long time.

It is easy to speculate about what they can, should, will or might do depending on how the judicial process works its will.

But until the courts and/or the local Georgia district’s attorney office makes some firm decision, I will withhold on making predictions or recommendations.

The Roethlisberger sexual assault case has progressed unusually slowly, and that makes it all the more frustrating as so few objective facts are known. More is known about Holmes’ case, which only muddles things more.

Holmes Situation Not Clear

The facts of the alleged incident Santonio Holmes were made public as the Orlando police have closed their investigation, and they are strange to say the least.

The woman claims that Holmes threw a glass at her, cutting her face, and says she did not press charges under pressure. She also says Holmes offered money not to press charges.

Holmes denies this, accuses the woman of using racial slurs, in claims that someone else threw the glass.

Pretty much a "he says" "she says"affair up until now. But wait, there’s more….

  • The police report of the incident was not filed until well after the incident, a fact that has yet to be explained.
  • Moreover, one account has ‘Tone and the accuser touching affectionately afterwards
  • And the lawsuit was filed for $15,000.

What lawyer files lawsuits for $15,000? I am not an expert on legal fees, but what little I know tells me that the lawyer’s contingency fee would be eaten up before pretrial motions even got into second gear.

This is perplexing. It looks like Holmes is probably only guilty of a poor choice of company. But the lack of clarity does not help given Holmes track record with the law.

Truly unfortunate.

Program Note

Long time WMAL/WTEM sports radio personality Ken Beatrice used to apologies to his listeners for “not having gone to law school so that I could bring you the sports news.”

A law degree would come in right handy right now for anyone covering the Steelers.

I have no law degree, opting for gradual school over law school sixteen years ago, but starting with today’s post, Steel Curtain Rising will now have a “Steelers Judiciary” tag added were ever it is relevant.

It is necessary, but nonetheless unfortunate.

What It All Means As Told by Others

Behind the Steel Curtain sets the standard for Steelers fans sites, and two posts from today show why. Blitzburgh, the site's founder, pondered Santonio Holmes situation at length, and his article is worth checking out.

Maryrose (who, apparently is actually a man) wrote (another) a truly outstanding article assessing how the Steelers current situation fits in with the legacy of the team. Well worth the read. Check it out.

McClendon, Saffold Visit Steelers

The Steelers entertained two more draft prospects at the South Side yesterday, as Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon and Indiana tackle Rodger Saffold paid visits.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Navorro Bowman, Michael Neal Make Pre-draft Visit to Steelers

Don’t let the headlines fool you. While the news that Santonio Holmes was embroiled in a civil lawsuit grabbed all of the headlines, there was some football related news to break yesterday regarding the Steelers.

The Post-Gazette reported on Monday that the first of an eventual four collegiate NFL draft prospects visited Steelers offices. They were:

Navorro Bowman, linebacker from Penn State
Michael Neal, defensive lineman from Purdue
Chris DeGeare offensive lineman from Wake Forest
Darrell Stuckey, safety from Kansas

Steel Curtain Rising will attempt to stay abreast of the Steelers pre-draft plans, so stay tunned.

‘Tone Takes His Turn: Santonio Holmes Named Defendant in Civil Suit

Back in the mid-1990’s, the joke used to be, “how to you get all of the Dallas Cowboy’s to stand straight in a single moment.”

The answer was, just say, “the defendants may now rise.”

It was funny then, but it is less funny now that it can be applied so accurately to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, along with numerous other news outlets, that Steelers wide receiver, and Super Bowl XLIII MVP has been named as a defendant in a civil suit in Florida.

Holmes has been accused of assaulting a woman in, get this, the VIP section of a night club. The woman is accusing Holmes of verbally assaulting her, attempting to hit her, and hurling his glass at her. No chargers have been filed, although the woman has apparently spoken to police.

Holmes Joins Roethlisberger

The Steelers have now had two high profile starters accused of various types of assaults – in less than a month, as Holmes’ civil accusation comes on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger being accused of a criminal sexual assault in a Georgia night club.

Roethsliberger is also a defendant in a civil law suit filed in Nevada.

As with Roethlisberger, Holmes deserves the right to have his side of the story heard and the benefit of innocence until guilt is proven.

But regardless, this is a public relations nightmare the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When Santonio Holmes name was last mentioned in connection with the courts, after his arrest for marijuana possession in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising incorrectly suggested that the team might opt to resign Nate Washington and let Holmes go.

It is way too early to predict how the Steelers will act, but one cannot help speculate as to how this might impact the plans that the Steelers purportedly had to resign Holmes to a long-term contract this summer.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chan Gailey Finding Lots of Love

I normally do not comment on polls. There’s no other reason for it other than a desire to get an unadulterated snap shot into how this little corner of Steelers Nation views an issue of the day.

The current poll, asking fans to sound off on who they thought was the Steelers worst offensive coordinator.

The poll went up in conjunction with the posting of the final article of the series on the Steelers 1989 season, the one that recounted and lamented Chuck Noll’s decision to hand the keys of his offense to Joe Walton.

Walton took and early “lead” in the voting with no clear contender challenging him for this “honor.” And for a time, Ray Sherman was the only other former offensive coordinator to amass any significant “support.”

But as time worn on, and as the article on Joe Walton (click here to read it now) shifted down the page and then into February’s monthly archives, the competition stiffened.

Sherman’s numbers went up, as did those of Bruce Arians, with Mike Mularkey also picking up votes.

Curiously one former offensive coordinator is finding a lot of love (or at least a lack of animosity), and that man is Chan Gailey.

Chan Gailey and the AFC Title Game Against Denver

Gailey held the title of offensive coordinator during the 1996 and 1997 seasons. And while the Steelers offense played well during that time, Gailey is perhaps best remembered as the man who “cost” the Steelers the 1997 AFC Championship game against Denver by calling two goal line pass plays that resulted in interceptions.

Steel Curtain Rising of course did not exist back then, but in any number of heated conversations at the Pittsburgh Steeler Fan Club of Maryland’s Purple Goose Saloon, I defended Gailey.

But I was in the minority, but at the Purple Goose as well as much of the rest of Steelers Nation could not forgive Gailey for calling those pass plays when the Steelers had Jerome Bettis waiting to pound it through.

For a long time it seemed that those two interceptions were what would mar Gailey’s tenure as offensive coordinator, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least with this poll.

Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Charlie Batch Resigns with Pittsburgh for Two Years

In what seems to be an annual rite of free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers resigned Charlie Batch. One year ago Batch re-upped for one year, this time it was for two. Unlike last year, this move just might shed some insight into what the Steelers brain trust is thinking.

Batch as Back Up, or Third String?

As a back up quarterback, Charlie Batch is thoroughly dependable with the exception of his durability.

Batch broke his collar bone during his first preseason action in 2008. In 2009, after entering for only a handful of plays in the loss to Kansas City, Charlie Batch inexplicably broke his wrist. He also missed the entire 2004 season because of injury.

Dennis Dixon, the Steelers fifth round pick in the 2008 draft, showed good potential when forced to start on short notice in the overtime loss to Baltimore, and this has led to speculation that Dixon will enter the season ahead of Batch on the depth chart. Of course, depending on how Ben’s legal trouble evolve, “ahead” could land Batch at the number three slot, or perhaps it could land him in the number two slot…

No Information on Batch’s Signing Bonus

Reports from ESPN.com, the Post-Gazette, and the Tribune-Review only reveal that Batch resigned for two more years, they say nothing of his signing bonus.

This is an important piece of data, as trade rumors have tied the Steelers to Tampa back up quarterback Bryon Leftwich should Ben’s legal troubles render him unavailable.

If the Steelers did in fact give Batch a healthy signing bonus, that might indicate that they anticipate having Roethlisberger. For the sake of integrity, it is also important to say that if Roethlisberger is unavailable the Steelers would likely enter the year with Dixon, Batch and Leftwich, or whoever else they might decide to bring in.

Either way at the moment the Steelers are not keeping an extra roster spot open in anticipation of bringing in an additional quarterback. That of course could change….

Thanks for visiting. You can follow all of the Steelers free agent moves by clicking on Steel Curtain Rising’s Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus tag.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Confessions of an Arians Agnostic

It is interesting to see how polls evolve.

The current poll rating Steelers offensive coordinators appeared in mid-February, when the article ran commemorating the St. Valentine’s Day Disaster – aka Chuck Noll’s decision to hire Joe Walton. Walton took and held a firm lead in the poll while such a stark reminder of his horrendous ineptitude remained fresh (to read the full article, click here.)

But as the article moved further down the Steel Curtain Rising’s home page, and then into its monthly archives, Bruce Arians and Ray Sherman overtook him and assumed their neck-and-neck contest for worst place. Which leads me directly to the subject of this article…

What to Make of Bruce Arians?

Steel Curtain Rising struggled to come to grips with Bruce Arians throughout the Steelers ill-fated 2009 season. Yours truly had heaped criticism aplenty on Arians in 2008, but took some legitimate comeuppance when Arians' offensive game planning was one of the master strokes that led to victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

So, as someone who is a Smash Mouth Football Purist but who has nonetheless has argued time and time again that Roethlisberger, notwithstanding his current legal difficulties, deserves respect as one of the elite NFL quarterbacks, I, generally, kept quiet as the Steelers pass-run ratio crept to a historic 60/40.

Part of this reticence came from wanting to give Arians the appropriate respect and part of it was rooted in the fact that I simply hadn’t, and couldn’t, make up my mind.

At mid-season, Behind the Steel Curtain's "Drinkyourmilkshake" was expressing my view better that I could have myself.

It appears that Drinkyourmilkshake had also worked hard to keep an open mind towards Arains. But one play critical play during the Kansas City game pushed him to the tipping point:

Early in the Kansas City game Rashard Mendenhall runs the ball off right tackle on first down and gains between 7 and 8 yards. Let me explain in advance; it does not matter one bit to me whether Arians passes or runs in this circumstance. Either decision can be easily defended. What Arians did which made no sense to me is that he lined up for the next play in an empty backfield set. The defense would have to respect the presence of a runner in the backfield which would make a play action fake particularly effective...

(To read "Drinkyourmilkshake's complete article, click here.)

That's was an excellent analysis, if not outright prophetic, given that it came two games into a five game losing streak.

What Exactly Constitutes a “Balanced” Offense?

Early in 2009 season Arians claimed that he was interested in maintaining the Steelers tradition on offense. However, he indicated that the tradition he was aiming for was not from the 1990's, but from the late 70's.

Music to my ears.

As a unit, the Steelers offense has never been as effective as it was during the seasons that led to Super Bowls XIII and XIV

But let's keep in mind that the 1978 team had a pass-run of 38/62. OK, Noll didn't really open it up until 1979 you say? The 1979 team had a pass-run ratio of 47/53.

The conclusion is simple. Chuck Noll and Tom Moore knew that they had been blessed with a Hall of Fame quarterback, a Hall of Fame Running Back, and two Hall of Fame Receivers. They weren't interested in putting up statistics or showing of their genius.

They were interested in winning, and they knew the best way to do that was to design game plans that that made the best use of the gifts of the tremendously talented men they had playing for them.

Does Airans Game to Get the Best Out of the Talent He Has?

Can we say the same of Arians?

The record reflects that Arians followed that example in 2007, when Willie Parker was in his prime, and Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington were still developing; Parker was leading the league in rushing until he got hurt in week 16.

And you can credit him for doing that in 2008. The Steelers suffered ravishing injuries to both the offensive line and the running back corps and, despite complaints here in elsewhere, success for the Steelers in 2008 meant move the ball through the ball.

With the exception of the second half against Denver, Arians struggled to get the entire offense firing on all cylinders in 2009.

  • Sometimes he seemed either disinterested in establishing the run
  • Other times, he seemed too ready to abandon it
  • There were games when Arians appeared too eager to go for the knockout punch
  • Despite passing game’s shock and awe, the Steelers could never score consistently in the Red Zone

Against Cleveland, it appeared that the decisive factor had been reached. The Steelers started out strong, rushing to a third and one, only to see Arians call and empty set backfield, followed by a punt.

The empty backfield issue had returned to haunt the Steelers with a vengeance – after one possession, the Steelers found themselves on the ropes against the lowly Browns.

Arians went on to call 40 pass plays, on a frigid, windy night in Cleveland….

….I was ready to throw in with drinkyourmilkshake in calling for Arians’ head.

Then came the Green Bay game.

Defensive Titans Stage Shoot Out

Green Bay came to Pittsburgh with the NFL’s number two defense. Pittsburgh had the NFL’s number four defense.

Thickening the plot, Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau, perhaps the two men who did more than anything else to put the zone blitz on the map in the NFL, were facing off…

…The result was an all-out, unabated shoot out.

For perhaps the first time, the Steelers were in a game that Ben Roethlisberger had to win all by himself.

And Ben was more than up to the challenge throwing 503 yards. Ben joined an elite group of quarterbacks who’ve passed half grand mark, and he further distinguished himself by doing so without throwing a single interception.

When speculation was rampant that Mike Tomlin was about to fire Bruce Arians, Post Gazette columnist Ed Bouchette took to PG Plus to make a compelling case on Arian’s behalf.

Bouchette pulled no punches. Like me, he agreed that Arains play calling sometimes befuddled.

But he offered one compelling argument as to why he should stay.

  • Ben and Bruce work well together.

Certainly, Ben could excel with another coordinator.

No one hopes more than me that the NFL’s current MO of “Thou Shalt Not Run” and “Thou shalt not have superior defense” is a passing fancy, but there’s a lot of objective evidence to suggest its not, at least in the short and perhaps medium term.

Assuming his current legal troubles do not curtail his career as a Steeler, Ben Roethlisberger is a true franchise quarterback, and the Steelers should treat him as such.

Both Ben and Bruce on the same page, and in an age when the quarterback is king one only trifles with such bonds at their peril.

No tears would have been shed by Steel Curtain Rising had Mike Tomlin decided to dismiss Bruce Arians.

But by the same token, if Tomlin accepts Arians’ commitment to being able to run the ball when it is necessary, so should Steelers Nation.

Thanks for visiting Steel Curtain Rising.

Watch Tower: Bouchette Believes Roethisberger Headed for Trouble

There has been little real “news” over the last few days in the investigation into the sexual assault accusation against Ben Roethlsiberger, but some interesting insights have surfaced, principally from Ed Bouchette.

Bouchette on Rooney

Steelers President Art Rooney II spoke with reporters at Steelers offices last week about the Roethlisberger situation. He is what he said:

I mean look, that's one of the things, we do have a little bit of luxury of time. If we were at a different point in the year we may have to be thinking and doing something different. But at the moment, I think we're in a situation we're going to let this investigation play out and then go from there.

On the surface this statement is little more than “wait and see” boiler plate. But Bouchette sees something else through the lines. Writing in PG Plus, he offers that Rooney’s admission that the Steelers would be acting differently were this at a different juncture in the year indicates Rooney’s openness to the real possibility that Ben will miss part of the year.

Bouchette at the NFL Owners Conference

Bouchette has reported that Roethlisberger is all that anyone, press, front office execs, coaches, etc… want to talk about at the NFL owners spring meeting down in Orlando, Florida.

If Bouchette’s comments about Rooney were a little provocative, they were nothing compared to what he offered on PG Plus from Orlando:

I had a chance to talk to a handful of club officials and some from the league before their 9 a.m. meeting with Goodell today and I’ve come to the conclusion that if he is charged in this incident, his days playing for the Steelers could be over.

This is a pretty bold statement. The fact that Ben could be facing major problems professional, as well as legally, is nothing new. But this is the first time someone this close to the Steelers has suggested Ben could be sent packing if he is merely charged.

Goodell on Roethlisberger

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also spoke about Roethlisberger, going father than most have.
Goodell went on the record saying, “We are concerned that Ben continues to put himself in this position.”

This is interesting in that it shows that the league, while it might have been willing to look past the first sexual assault charge, is not keen on looking past the second – even if there ends up being more smoke than fire.

It is also interesting in that it seems to presume that what is at issue here is Ben’s judgement, as opposed to his conduct, if you can take the difference between the two.

Final Word on Tomlin

Mike Tomlin of course made headlines by appearing on the NFL Network and saying that he was “Concerned for Ben as a person and for the franchise.” Reporters made quick work of this statement in addition to the fact that Tomlin became suddenly unavailable to reporters.

While Tomlin might have been betraying that he knows more than has been made public, it is quite possible that he just managed an old-fashioned slip of the tongue.

For the record, I do not buy his later explanation that he only spoke about Ben on the NFL Network because he was compelled to. (Although if it is true, that as a lot of other implications that the Watch Tower might look into later.)

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media who covers the Steelers, check out Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Impact of Larry Foote’s Return

In a stunning, if expected, reversal of direction, the Pittsburgh Steelers welcomed home inside linebacker Larry Foote, who yesterday signed a 3 year, 9.3 million dollar contract on Monday.

In doing Foote becomes the second 2002 draft pick to leave and rejoin the team, after Antwaan Randle El returned last week.

Foote began making grumblings shortly after Super Bowl XLIII not wanting to yield his starting spot to 2007 first round draft pick Lawarence Timmons. That, combined with Foote’s high cap value, led to his release following the 2009 draft.

Foote however was not happy on the 2-14 Lions, and perhaps not entirely comfortable playing in a 4-3 system. Nonetheless, he had a chance to sign with “Pittsburgh West” aka Arizona, but opted to rejoin the team that brought him two Super Bowl rings.

Impact on the X’s and O’s

From a pure football perspective, this is an excellent move for Pittsburgh. Foote not only bolsters their run defense, a weakness of Timmons, but provides instant depth throughout the entire linebacking corps.

Foote’s return frees Timmons to move to the outside slots should something happen to James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley. Likewise, should James Farrior falter, Foote is there to step in.

Foote also gives Steelers coaches a chance to give players like Farrior and James Harrison periodic breathers.

Reading Between the Lines...

As previously mentioned on Steel Curtain Rising, there is a worrisome trend behind the Steelers newfound aggressiveness in free agency. This is a new tendency born out necessity not choice.

Each Steelers free agent move can be tied directly to a recent high round draft failure.

Had 2008 draft pick Bruce Davis panned out, the Steelers might not need the extra insurance at outside linebacking.

And with Foote return, comes the, thus far, unasked question:

Are the Steelers bringing back Foote because of concerns about James Farrior, or are they concerned about Lawrence Timmons’ development?

It is probably the former, but Timmons’ hot and cold tendencies during 2009 cast enough room for doubt.

At the End of the Day, An Excellent Move by the Steelers

All things considered the Steelers decision to bring in Larry Foote is a good one. They now have five starter capable linebackers, something few other teams can boast of, and in an age where talent is so evenly matched, the difference between winning and losing frequently comes down to depth.

By bringing Foote back they’ve shored up their depth considerably at linebacker.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read all articles under the Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus tag.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Steelers Draft Performance, Not Free Agency Philosophy, At Issue

The NFL is 10 days into its first uncapped year since 1993 and rhe Steelers have given the NFL what amounts to a minor shock – they signed three free agents and resigned Ryan Clark.

Such aggressiveness from the Steelers slams head-on into a well-established script: It is the Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones of the league that are supposed to go on free agent signing sprees, not the Daniel Rooneys.

Unprecedented though it might be, four free agent signings in rapid succession does not unveil some radical shift in team philosophy. Instead, it reveals something far more worrisome.

The Steelers signed so many free agents because they had no choice.

Their actions amount to a latent admission: Recent drafts have been below par.

Let’s take a closer look:

I am going to make a player out of one of you, I just don’t know which one yet.”
- Mike Tomlin at Latrobe in 2008, watching rookies Tony Hills and Bruce Davis in one-on-one drills.

It appears Mike Tomlin erred. The Steelers took Bruce Davis and Hills in the third and fourth rounds of the 2008 draft.

The Steelers gave Davis all of one year. He was inactive for all but five games as a rookie, and when it came clear he could not even play special teams Pittsburgh let him go at Latrobe in the summer of 2009..

Tony Hills never made the active roster as a rookie, but the Steelers still had hopes for him. Jim Wexell even compared Tony Hills to John Jackson. Another year has come and gone with Hills yet to dress.

Players usually make the biggest leaps between their rookie and sophomore years.

The decision to sign Jonathan Scott reveals that Hills leap wasn’t long enough. Jonathan Scott is no world beater, but he is a back up who can step up and play in an emergency.

As a fourth round draft pick entering his third year, we should at least be able to say the same about Hills. Alas, we cannot.

Out Through the In Door

This might not have been exactly how it happened, nor exactly how it was reported, the but word was that as Antwaan Randle El was walking into Steeler offices, Limas Sweed was walking out.

This coincidence is likely more than symbolic. Sweed teased as a rookie. His drops were so frustrating because in each case he had burned the DB covering him. Late in the year, Sweed went on IR. The Steelers have been mum about his condition, but most people suspect he has some sort of depression or other psychological condition.

When the Steelers grabbed Sweed in the second round of the 2008 draft, some labeled the move as a steal.

Randle El, a second round pick in his on right, has his best days are behind him, but he brings a lot of versatility and depth to the team. It is good that the Steelers were able to bring in someone of his caliber.

It is sad that another second round draft bust made El’s return necessary.

Safety Dance

The Steelers also signed safety Will Allen from Tampa Bay. Tampa drafted Allen in 2004, when a certain Mike Tomlin was their secondary coach.

2004 was also the year the Steelers picked Ben Roethlisberger in the first round.

Anyone remember who their second round pick was?

Richardo Colclough.

“Who?” You ask?

No apologies needed if you forget Colclough, who was last seen muffing a punt to give the Bengals a victory at Heinz Field in 2006. Colclough suddenly developed a mysterious injury and was on IR before the next game, never to be heard from again.

When Chris Hope departed after Super Bowl XL, the Steelers brought in Ryan Clark. Their thinking was that he would be a stop gap there, while some of their younger DB’s matured.

Colclough was of course one of those, but he was joined by 2006 third round pick Anthony “I guarantee we’ll beat the Patriots” Smith. Like Colclough Smith had all of the tools, he just completely failed to understand what it would take to succeed in the NFL.

If either of those men develops, the Steelers either don’t bring in a career back up at safety or resign veteran safety who is over 30 years of age, and coming off a bad year.

Instead, the Steelers needed to make both moves.

A Draft Board for the Burning?

Time allowing, Steel Curtain Rising will do another edition of the Colbert Record prior to the draft.

But the bottom line is this. The Steelers made four unprecedented free agent moves in rapid succession. You can tie each one of those moves to two second round failures (’04 and ’08), one third round failure (’06), and another fourth round failure (’08.)

These free agent moves might help the Steelers plug a few holes in the short term, but if the team is to remain competitive in even in the medium term, they cannot continue to squander premium draft picks.

Thanks for visiting. To read all posts related to free agency, click on the Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus tag.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Watch Tower: Roethlisberger Investigation Could Take Months...

I don’t know much about the Tribune Review’s Carl Prine, but there is one thing that can be said: In the age of rumor-based journalism, Prine is someone who rolls up his sleeves, pounds the payment, and brings his readers stories based on facts.

In other words, he practices old-fashioned journalism.

When conjecture was flying left and right in July 2008, in the first days after the news that the Rooney brothers were restructuring the Steelers ownership, Prine went to work and delivered a detailed, well-researched story on the subject.

And so it is with the Ben Roethlisberger’s latest sexual assault allegation.

Carl Prine’s latest article, appearing in today’s Tribune Review, let’s the readers follow the footsteps of Ben’s entourage on that fateful evening.

In terms of the legal issues involved – whether Ben will be charged or not, Prine offers no new insight. But he has clearly identified the young woman in question (although, to his and the Trib’s credit they are not naming her).

And to those hoping this story will quickly advance to some sort of resolution, Prine offers little hope, telling his readers that his sources have told him that the investigation could last for “weeks or months.”

Thanks for visiting. To read more Steelers-centric media analysis, click here to check out other posts from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Watch Tower: Roethlisberger’s Sexual Assault Story, Free Agency Week 2

Steelers Nation has been riveted by the second Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault accusation in eight months.

Relatives tell me it has been a round the clock story in Pittsburgh, and it seems to have spawned its own cottage industry on the internet.

The tone of the coverage has been moderate, with everyone going at great pains to point out that “we don’t know what all of the facts are yet.” Day by day, more information leaks out.

  • We know that Willie Colon was with Ben when it happened,
  • We know that two police officers were in Ben’s entourage,
  • We know that Georgia police officers posed for pictures with Ben, before the alleged incident occured

We’ve also been told, via ESPN.com that Ben has told the police that “there was no contact.” Whether this report is reliable or not is unknown. Legally, depending on what “no contact means,” it would seem that Ben could be in serious trouble if he actually exposed himself in a public bathroom.

If it is something more innocuous than that, perhaps Ben will be in less legal trouble, but Roethlisberger trashed his reputation no matter what.

The Post-Gazette's Bob Simizk pointed readers to an interesting article done by a lawyer, who indicates that if Ben does indeed get charged, he is going to be in for a hell of a time. I won’t summarize the entire article on the NFL Fanhosue here, but the writer makes a lot of interesting, and most likely valid, observations about how a rural Georgia jury will look at this.

Think my Cousin Vinny, except that nothing is funny about this.

Writing in PG Plus, Gerry Dulac discounted the rumors that Ben has met in person with the Rooney’s or anyone else from the Steelers organization. He also indicated that some sources, outside of Georgia it sounds, do not expect Ben to be charged.

Lot’s, and lot’s of people are speculating on that the Steelers will do. Joe Starkey of the Tribune Review is telling people that the Steelers clean cut reputation is already in tatters. Starkey makes some good points, but he also over states his argument.

On the flip side, the Washington Post ran a series asking about what the Steelers should do about Ben. It is a good series. Perhaps the most interesting article is by Blitzburgh, from Behind the Steel Curtain. Credit Blitzburgh for arguing what many fans are thinking but unwilling to say.

That said, Steel Curtain Rising’s view is that Blitzbrugh is going too easy on Ben.

Bouchette Must Give Steelers Nation the Heads Up Next Time...

Steelers Nation should batten down the hatches the moment Ed Bouchette announces he is heading for vacation.

Bouchette was on vacation when the news of the Steelers ownership restructuring broke in July 2008 (or at least Gerry Dulac was covering the story for the first week or so.) That is a shame because he is the only writer, other than Jim O’Brien, to even talk about how the Dan Rooney and his brothers would manage the ownership succession. Bouchette first discussed some scenarios in his 1993 book Dawn of a New Steel Age.

Its now 2010, and Bouchette picked a bad time to head out of town. You can forgive the Steelers beat writer for planning a vacation the coincides with the first week of free agency. Normally one cannot find a more ho-hum, affair.

But this week was different, as the Steelers resigned Antwaan Randle El and three other free agents in the span of close to 24 hours.

To be sure, none of these were “big ticket” free agents, but such an rapid-fire signing spree has been unheard of for the Steelers.

Steel Curtain Rising will examine the significance of this move in depth in the coming days, but for now we will simply say that the media missed the boat on this. By all accounts they were caught as badly off guard as were the fans.

That is not something to get too worked up about, but one would think that reports who are dedicated to covering the Steelers full-time would have some inking that this off season would be a little different.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media coverage of the Steelers, check out Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Randle El Returns, Steelers Sign 3 Other Free Agents

While most of Steelers Nation was rivited to their internet browsers, despirate for some news on the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault case, the Steelers did something they've rarely done -- make free agency headlines.

And one of those headlines is: "You can come home again."

At least if you were the second round pick in the 2002 draft. That’s what happened yesterday as the Pittsburgh Steelers, long notable for the sound of their silence in free agency, resigned Antwaan Randle El, who was released by the Redskins last week.

But they didn’t stop there.

Also joining the team is San Francisco 49ers backup wide receiver Arnez Battle, who was recommended to the Steelers by new special teams coach Al Everest. It is not known if Battle was brought into to provide depth at wide receiver or to bolster special teams.

The Steelers also signed Will Allen, a career backup safety from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Mike Tomlin knows Allen from his time as secondary coach in Tampa Bay.

But the Steelers weren’t done yet. They also signed Jonathan Scott, an offensive tackle for the Bills. Scott has been a back up for most of his career, but he started 8 games last year, and has started 14 games in his 4 NFL seasons.

Bye, Bye Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, Tryonne Carter, and Stefan Logan?

While these moves come as somewhat of a surprise they could mean that Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, Tryonne Carter, and Sefan Logan’s careears as Steelers are over.

Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say on that later.

Click here to read every post in the Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus series.

Steelers Free Agency Focus: Restricted Free Agents

While this fall short of “cheating” it is easier to write about the Steelers restricted free agency plans given that they have already made their tenders, and free agency is underway in a big way in Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, there are some interesting scenarios to ponder.

  • OT Willie Colon:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: The Steelers offered Colon the second highest tender possible, meaning any team would have to give up their first round pick to get Colon, and the Steelers would still retain the right to match any offer.

What Happens Next....: Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette speculated that a team might just give up a first rounder to get a qualified tackle. Since then, he has called around the league and thinks that is less likely.

The Steelers would likely match any reasonable offer for Colon, and one would think they would attempt to sign him to a long term deal.

  • CB William Gay:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: How much can a player’s stock drop in one year?During Steelers 2008 season, Gay’s performance in relief of injured Bryant McFadden was so good that he continued to rotate with the veteran all the way through Super Bowl XLIII.

The Steelers did want to resign McFadden, because of the potential Gay revealed with his play in 2008, the Steelers opted not to get into a bidding war for McFadden.

2009, was of course, a rough year for Gay, as it was the entire secondary. The Steelers’ tender only entitles them to a 5th round pick should anyone elect to sign him with the Steelers declining their right of first refusal.

What Happens Next....: It is doubtful that Gay will get a lot of attention, but a fifth round pick isn’t much to give up to get a corner that has starting experience. The Steelers do have two young corners waiting in the wings. While the drop off in Gay’s play from 2008 to 2009 was disturbing, this young man deserves another chance, and Steel Curtain Rising hopes he gets it with the Steelers.

  • P Daniel Sepulveda:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: Again, the Steelers tender will only entitle them to a 4th round pick should he depart.

What Happens Next....: The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette has been railing against Sepulveda since they day the drafted him. Three years later the move seems puzzling. While Sepulveda was clearly an upgrade from Mitch Berger, the naked truth remains that if you trade a sixth round pick to move up in the fourth to get a punter, that punter had better remind everyone of Josh Miller.

Sepulveda has been good, but thus far reminds no one of Josh Miller. On the flip side, the odds of another team giving up a fourth to sign Sepulveda are remote to say the least.

  • RB Carey Davis:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: The Steelers cut Carey Davis in training camp, and quickly experienced an acute bout of buyers remorse when it was clear that Frank “The Tank” Summers was not up to the job and/or got injured. The Steelers did not make Davis and offer, so he is now an unrestricted free agent.

What Happens Next....: Davis became the poster boy for Bruce Arians’ offense, as Dan Kreider was quietly phased out in 2007 in favor of the supposedly more versatile Davis.

Davis had done OK when he’s gotten the ball in his hands, but those moments have been few and far between. While the Steelers could do worse the Davis for depth in the backfield, outside of special teams, where Davis is regarded as a contributor, Davis has yet to show he is more than a emergency-type player.

It wouldn’t hurt to bring Davis back to camp for the veteran minimum, but that is not looking likely right now.

  • TE Matt Spaeth:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: Spaeth got the tender that would entitle the Steelers to a 3rd round draft pick should he leave.

What Happens Next....: Spaeth is a perplexing character. Bruce Arians likes to use the two tight end set, but Spaeth’s blocking puts fear into no one.

The puzzling thing is that Spaeth can catch. He started his first two NFL games with three catches and two touchdowns, prompting Mike Tomlin say he is a fantasy league super star. Injuries limited during the middle of the 2007 campaign, but he finished the year with five catches and three touchdowns.

Spaeth, looked like a Yancy Thigpen in waiting. (In his first full year as a Steeler, Thigpen only caught nine balls, but three of them were for touchdowns.)

When Health Miller went down for a brief stretch during the 2008 season, Spaeth stepped up, catching six passes in both games for 53 and 55 yards. Once again, Speath showed us he had tools, only to disappear from the offense (he caught two more passes during the rest of the year.)
Spaeth started 2009 by catching a touchdown pass in week two against Chicago, but then he became invisible offense. Why the Steelers do not attempt to use him more remains a mystery.

  • OG Darnell Stapleton:

What the Steelers Have Done So Far: Stapelton got no tender, and is therefore an unrestricted free agent.

What Happens Next....: Who knows? Trust into the starting lineup when Kendall Simmons went down against Baltimore in 2008, Stapleton slowly grew into the role. He was beaten out of the starting guard spot by Trai Essex in training camp, and then Stapelton he got hurt in went on IR.

The word is that Stapleton was a victim of the glut the Steelers have at guard. Quantity the Steelers do have behind their starters. Quality? That is a bigger question. Assuming no team signs him, the Steelers would be wise to bring Stapleton back to Latrobe for one more look.

Click on Steel Curtain Rising's Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus to follow all of the Steelers actions in free agency.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ben Roethlisberger Accused of Sexual Assault, Again

As everyone in Steelers Nation now knows, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault for the second time in eight months.

This time the alleged victim went to the police – the woman who is pursuing a civil case against Ben in Nevada never filed a criminal complaint.

The facts of the emerging case, the alleged incident took place in Georgia, are still emerging, and Ben is apparently cooperating with law enforcement officers. However, there are a few things that we can say, depending on how this case plays out.

If the Charges are Baseless….

If the charges are baseless, and let’s hope they are, then at the very least the Steelers need to sit Ben down and have a genuine heart to heart. It needs to be made clear to Ben, in unequivocal language that he must seriously reevaluate the company he keeps and the locales he frequents.

He needs to exercise a lot more basic common sense and proactively avoid situations that lend themselves to these kinds of charges.

If the Charges Have Merit….

If the charges have merit, meaning local law enforcement offices see fit to formally charge Roethlisberger, then the Steelers need to sit back and allow the judicial process to run its course.

But must be prepared to act quickly, even if that means swallowing hard, when the verdict is rendered.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Steelers 2010 Free Agent Focus: Unrestricted Free Agents

The market is about to open on NFL free agents, and unless the NFL owners and NFLPA reach an agreement before midnight March 4th, the NFL will see its first uncapped year since 1993.

In many cities, free agency is a time of great excitement, momentous headlines spurred by even more momentous signing bonuses.

Free Agency has never been as such in Steelers Nation. During the 1990’s, it was a time that Steelers fans dreaded, as fans watched the brain trust of Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher develop players like Chad Brown, Willie Williams, Neil O’Donnell and Yancy Thigpen only to see them depart for greener pastures.

The Age of Overpaying Ex-Steelers

Although it did not get much ink at the time, the truth was that almost without exception, the players that the Steelers lost got overpaid, often grossly over paid, by their new teams.

The best example, perhaps, is John Jackson, a very good, although not great left tackle who the San Diego Chargers made the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history in 1998. This occurred despite the fact that Johnson never even made a Pro Bowl.

Losing Jackson wrought havoc with the Steelers offensive line for two years, just look at Jerome Bettis rushing totals from 1998 and 1999, but Steelers management was nonetheless wise not to throw money at Jackson, who would only play 2 years for the Chargers, before resurfacing in a part-time role in his native Cincinnati.

Free Agency Savvy, Before Free Agency Savvy was Cool

The Steelers of course, navigated the salary cap and free agency with an under appreciated savvy in the 1990’s. They targeted the players they knew were essential to winning, and focused on resigning them.

That strategy only began to falter when their drafting faltered. John Jackson provides the perfect example. In 1996 they drafted Jermaine Stephens, with the thought that he’d be Jackson’s eventual replacement.

Stephens, of course, ranks right up there with Huey Richardson as one of the Steelers all time first round draft pick busts.

That period of Steelers history provides many examples. Losing players like Yancy Thigpen and Ernie Mills would not have been as devastating had players like Will Blackwell and Jaheen Arnold panned out.

They didn’t, and the Steelers suffered accordingly.

The Steelers and Free Agency, 2010

We already know, from both Kevin Colbert and Art II that the Steelers are going to operate as if their were a cap. No surpise there.

And we know their preference is to resign their own players, having already done so with Casey Hampton and placing the franchise tag on Jeff Reed.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the other free agents the Steelers have, commenting on what the Steelers should do and speculating on what might actually happen.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 Unrestricted Free Agents

  • QB Charlie Batch:

What the Steelers Should Do: Batch has become injury prone. He was in for 3-4 plays against Kansas City, and he still managed to break his wrist. Should some other veteran back up, say, a Bryon Leftwich, become available, the Steelers should consider signing him.

What Will Likely Happen: Word is the Steelers want Charlie Batch. Batch is a class act, a locker room leader, and one of Ben’s confideants. The Steelers will most likely bring back Batch, to serve as a mentor type role for Dennis Dixon and emergency quarterback.

  • LB Rocky Boiman:

What the Steelers Should Do: Brought in at mid-season to bolster the special teams, Boiman is not much of a known quantity. Clearly he is not going to get much attention one way or another, but if the tape shows he helped on special teams, by all means bring him back!

What Will Likely Happen: Hard to say. The Steelers generally make moves under the radar in free agency, and it is likely that they can find a younger, more able special teamer who is an UFA.

  • SS Tyrone Carter:

What the Steelers Should Do: My Argentine wife, who has seen few football games end-to-end, did not need to see more than 5 minutes of Carter to say, “He’s no Polamalu.” So true. If the Steelers were deep in the secondary, perhaps Carter would have place. But he no longer has any business as the number one back up at both safety slots.

What Will Likely Happen: Not much has been said about him, but after the awful year he put in relief of Troy Polamalu, you’d have to figure the Steelers would be open to replacing him.

  • FS Ryan Clark:

What the Steelers Should Do: Another member of the secondary of flatered badly in Troy Polamalu’s absence. But Clark is a harder nut to crack. The Steelers clearly missed him in 2007, and Clark made an impact throughout 2008, so much that many commentators projected him to be the number one free agent in 2010. But he played poorly in 2009. The Steelers nonetheless want to sign him before he it’s the market. Steel Curtain Rising questions whether this is a wise move or not.

What Will Likely Happen: This one is tough to predict. The Steelers say they want to sign him, and Clark’s agent keeps boasting of a “home town discount.” One wonders if this isn’t a ploy because he knows Clark’s value has dropped after the 2009 season.

On the flip side, Clark is reputed to have maintained a strong relationship with Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Snyder has always spent as if there were no cap, so one can imagine him without a salary cap. If Ryan Clark hits free agency, Daniel Snyder could a ridiculous sum at him – and perhaps do the Steelers a favor in the process.

  • DE Nick Eason

What the Steelers Should Do: One of the under reported stories of the 2009 season was that the Steelers’ run defense held up quite well, at least for a month or so, after Aaron Smith’s absence. Nick Eason played a role in making that happen. Eason is a serviceable back up whom the Steelers should bring back.

What Will Likely Happen: If the Steelers believe in Sunny Harris, it is unlikely that they’ll bring both Eason and Krischke back. One would figure they’d opt for the younger pair of legs.

  • WR Joey Galloway

What the Steelers Should Do: Mike Tomlin likes Joey Galloway, and wanted him on his team. Galloway’s best days are behind him, and could only be a spot contributor under the best if circumstances. The Steelers should focus more on developing their youth at wide receiver.

What Will Likely Happen: It is doubtful that Galloway will be on the field when the Steelers open camp in Latrobe.

  • DE Travis Kirschke:

What the Steelers Should Do: Kirschke, like Eason, deserves credit for helping the Steelers avert a total drop off in run defense, like the one they suffered in 2007 after they lost Smith. Still, Kirschke is well into his mid-30's. The Steelers need to look toward developing their youth on the defensive line, and Kirschkey would seem the odd man out.

What Will Likely Happen: Again, it really depends on what the Steelers coaches see in Sunny Harris. The presence of both Kirschke and Eason in Latrobe would not be a ringing endorsement of the coach’s faith in Harris.

  • RB Willie Parker:

What the Steelers Should Do: What to do with Willie Parker? Those who decried the Steelers refusal to offer him a new contract in train camp quickly repented once the season was underway.

Yet, Willie Parker came back with a vengeance at the end of the season, and Parker’s running was critical to the Steelers ability to run out the clock. Parker, apparently, still thinks of himself as a starter, but it is doubtful that he is still a 16 game, 20 plus carry player.

The Steelers should try to bring him back, but only after he really gets a chance to test his market value.

What Will Likely Happen: The Steelers are going to let Parker test his market value, whether he comes back or not is a mystery. Chances are, Parker will be wearing colors other than Black and Gold next fall.

  • CB Deshea Townsend

What the Steelers Should Do: Townsend is a hard one to figure. The logical answer is that 2009 was the year that Townsend could no longer fool father time. There may be something to that, but the entire Steelers secondary was spooked in 2009, not a single man played to his potential.

Even if Townsend may have slowed a step, he is still a veteran presence, and most likely still has something to contribute. He may no longer have the speed to cut it as a nickel back, but it says here he has the still to merit a shot a safety.

What Will Likely Happen: At his age, and coming off of the year he’s had, it is unlikely that Townsend will get a lot of attention in free agency, although with the uncapped year, such pronouncements are less certain. But the odds still favor Townsend coming back.