´ Steel Curtain Rising: July 2010

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Flozell Got NO Signing Bonus, Max Starks to Stay at Left Tackle

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that Flozell Adams got ZERO signing bonus, and that Max Starks will stay in the left side.

Both come as welcome developments. The Steelers basically get a chance to see if Adams can help, and if not, they can let him go with no risk.

Adams’ Pro Bowl days are over, he has injuries, and at age 35 not an enticing candidate to protect the quarterback’s blind side. Keeping Max Starts at left tackle minimizes disruption on the line, and allows coaches to focus on the right guard and left tackle positions.

Steelers Set to Stage Competition at Offensive Line

In his post on PG Plus, Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette lamented the Steelers decision to sign Flozell Adams, saying that it had the potential to undercut the development of some of the younger players the Steelers have on the offensive line.

Inserting Adams into the competition at right tackle mitigates that threat. Having an experienced veteran in the mix could and should spur the younger players on. They know they’re going up against someone who has “been there, done that,” but they also know the competition is real.

Likewise, the news that Trai Essex will stay at guard is also welcome because it means that Pouncey and Kraig Urbik will be forced to compete.

At the outset, it seems like no one is being handed anything. Let the best men win!

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Steelers Sign Maurkice Pouncey to 5 Year Deal

For the sixth straight year, the Steelers are starting training camp with all of their draft picks under contract, as the Post Gazette is reporting that the team came to terms with their first round in the 2010 NFL draft Maurkice Pouncey.

Maurkice Pouncey signed a five year contract. Financial terms were not disclosed. Pouncey played center in college, but he is expected to compete this year for the right guard position.

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Steelers Sign Flozell Adams

The Steelers have in fact been concerned about the quality of the options that they have for mitigating impact of losing Willie Colon. The Post-Gazette is reporting that the team has come to terms with offensive tackle Flozell Adams, who signed a two year deal and will join the team in Latrobe when camp commences Friday afternoon.

Just a week ago they signed guard Adrian Jones and earlier this week they worked out Chester Pitts.

Adams was drafted in 1998 by the Dallas Cowboys, where he started at left tackle where he excelled, being named to five Pro Bowls.

Door Opening Options?

The addition of Flozell Adams immediately alters the offensive line calculus for the Steelers. Most observers had penciled Trai Essex in as the prospective starting right tackle, that likely changes now.

The Steelers can now put Adams at left tackle and move Max Starks to the right side if that suits them. Likewise, should Maurkice Pouncey show enough promise, or if injury necessitate it, the Steelers have greater flexibility to move him to center.

Keeping It Real

The Steelers offensive line is certainly stronger today than it was on the day after Willie Colon's Achilles tendon tear.

But before putting any champagne on ice, Steelers Nation would be wise to keep in mind that both of these free agents were still available in late August both because their best days are behind them and they have injury histories.

Enough talk. Training camp is about to start.

Let’s let the competitors settle the starting slots for themselves out on Chuck Noll Field at St. Vincents.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steelers Sign Colbert, Worilds to Deals

Bill Cowher is going to hit the head coaching job interview circuit hard this year, and he is planning marketing himself along with Kevin Colbert as a package deal….”

Rumor is that Washington Federals Owner Daniel Kent Snyder is going to open the check book for Bill Cowher and that Cowher plans on bringing Colbert with him…

Rumors such as those suggested by the headlines above have circulated with a vengeance for the past few off seasons.

But as events at the South Side revealed yesterday, at the end of the day they were just that, rumors as the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a 5 year extension with their Director of Football Operations, Kevin Colbert.

Colbert had been in the final year of his contract, for a job he has held since 2000. Kevin Colbert has directed the drafting and scouting efforts that have supplied the players for the Steelers Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII championships.

While some of Colbert’s recent drafts have yielded questionable or poor results, Colbert has proven himself and the Steelers are making the right move in extending his contract.

Jason Worilds to Be in Camp On Time

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette also announced that the Steelers have agreed to a four year contract with second round pick Jason Worilds. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

With Worilds under contract, the only player remaining unsigned is 1st round pick Maurkice Pouncey.

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The Long View from Latrobe: Steelers Training Camp 2010 Opens

Friday the Pittsburgh Steelers will converge at St. Vincent’s to begin Mike Tomlin’s 4th training camp.

Fans and media will focus on how Tomlin handles the quarterback rotation, who replaces Willie Colon, who back ups Rasshard Mendenhall, and Troy Polamalu’s health. And so they should. The answers to those questions will have the greatest impact on the Steelers fortunes in 2010.

But the Steelers must answer additional personnel development questions in Latrobe this summer and the impact of the answers to those questions will be felt long after the 2010 season concludes.

Steel Curtain Rising commences training camp 2010 with a look at which players and at which positions must show promise this summer for the Steelers to prosper in the future.

Looking Back Before Looking Ahead

The Steelers have a problem, although neither the press nor Steelers Nation seem to be very aware of it, if a poll conducted here during the spring is any indication.

The problem is quite simple.

The Steelers drafting has been subpar of late.

Few have noticed this fact. This happens with two Super Bowl victories in 4 years. In the summer of 1980 who worried the quality of the Steelers 1977 and 1978 drafts?

But consider this.

The Steelers won One for the Thumb in 2005. There is no coincidence that Super Bowl XL came four years after the 2002 draft, Kevin Colbert’s best ever.

Steel Curtain Rising has reviewed the Colbert Record extensively, and there is no reason to rehash that again.

But the Steelers 2010 free agent signing spree turned heads. To its credit, management acted aggressively to address key need areas. But, has has been indicated here before, you can tie each free agent signing to a major draft disappointment.

Draftees from the Steelers 2006 draft should be blossoming now and the 2008 class should be coming into its own.

Santonio Holmes’s trade and Willie Colon’s injury mean the Steelers will not have a single member of their 2006 draft class on their 2010 roster.

Likewise, if Tony Hills gets cut, as he almost certainly would have save for the injury to Colon, the Steelers will start 2010 with an equal number of players from the 2002 and 2008 drafts.

Neither trend is encouraging, but it need not be fatal either – if the players below step it up.

Ryan Mundy

The Steelers final 2008 draft pick got hurt in camp but rejoined the practice squad in November.
Mundy looked sharp in preseason in 2009 and earned a roster spot and some playing time during the season joining one of the most shell-shocked Steelers secondaries in memory.

For awhile, there was talk that the Steelers might let Ryan Clark might depart and promote Mundy to the starting role. But the Steelers signing of Will Allen splashes cold water on that theory.

Regardless, Clark is 31 and Polamalu is 28, Allen is 27 and Mundy is the only player behind team. A productive camp in 2010 for Mundy will pay dividends in the future.

Kraig Urbik

In the 2009 NFL draft the Steelers returned to the Bill Cowher era’s unofficial policy of using at least one premium pick on an offensive line man by taking Kraig Urbik in the third round.

Some sounded alarm bells when 2009 rookie free agent Ramon Foster started while Urbik failed to dress. Such panic is premature.

In 1992 rookie, free agent Gary Howe eclipsed third round pick Joel Steed by starting after Gerald Williams went down. Everyone forgets that today, after Howe ate himself out of the league and Steed developed into a Pro Bowler.

The Steelers have suffered from far too much instability on their offensive line of late, but Urbik can stabilize a lot of things by at least signaling that he’ll someday be starter worthy.

Keenan Lewis

Ike Taylor’s contract expires after 2010. Bryant McFadden’s return helps, but McFadden will never develop into a shut down corner.

You will not find the terms “under achieve” or “over achieve” much on this site because by and large you are what you put on tape, as Mike Tomlin likes to say. However, William Gay probably over achieved in 2008 and under achieved in 2009.

At the end of the day, Gay’s place in the NFL is as quality number 3 corner, which is good for a 5th round pick.

But the Steelers need a strong corner for the future to emerge this summer, and Keenan Lewis must be that man. He need not transform himself into a stud; if Lewis establishes himself as the secondary’s up and coming corner everyone forgets Joe Burnette beat him out for playing time in 2009.

Lawrence Timmons

Steelers Nation worried when Timmons did not play in 2007, wondered why he didn’t start in spite of his penchant for splash plays in 2008, and wavered after watching Timmons’ inconsistent play in 2009.

James Farrior finally started slowing a step in 2009. Larry Foote’s return gives the Steelers a little bit of a cushion at this key position, but Pittsburgh can in no way afford to replace both inside linebacker positions.

The real Lawrence Timmons must step up in 2010, and the Steelers need the real Timmons to be the splash play specialist that has flashed so promisingly.

Emmanuel Sanders

Last year Mike Wallace showed that immediate impact wide receivers can be found in the draft’s third round.

Fortunately, 2010 third round pick Emmanuel Sanders need not feel pressure to walk in Wallace’s footsteps. Randel El’s return and Arnaz Battle's arrival should give the Steelers solid veteran depth at wide out in 2010.

But 2011 and beyond bring another story. Hines Ward is 34, and (knock on wood) continues to go strong. However, Ward has already said he would hang it up should the Steelers win another Super Bowl, and if the 2011 season ends in lock out, he might just decide to retire anyway.

The Steelers need to groom a eventual starting wide out, and this summer Sanders needs to show he is capable of being that man.

Jason Worilds

James Harrison is 32 and LaMarr Woodley could be an unrestricted free agent on the open market depending on how the league’s labor situation works out.

Like Sanders, Jason Worilds need not produce let alone play much in 2010, but he most certainly does need to show he is capable of making the transition from college defensive end to starting outside linebacker in the NFL.

Preview of the Next Half Decade

Dig into the quarterback derby; cross your fingers in hopes that Sean Kluger can pull rabbits out of hats on the offensive line; pray for Polamalu’s health; enjoy all of these and the other story lines that will emerge in Latrobe in the days to come.

But keep an ear and an eye attuned to subplots about the players mentioned above. Their development, or lack there of, this summer at St. Vincents will provide a pretty good preview of the Steelers fortunes for the next five years or so.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chester Pitts' Workout Reveals Steelers Concern With Quality of Options at Offensive Line

Last week's signing of guard/tackle Adrian Jones gives the Steelers of plethora of options for replacing Willie Colon.

Theoretically, Jones, Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, and Jonathan Scott could contend all for Willie Colon’s starting right tackle spot. All of these men could compete for the starting right guard spot, with Doug Legursky, Kraig Urbik, and Maurkice Pouncey thrown into the mix for good measure.

If the Steelers have a quantity of options whether they have quality options remains an open question, and one the Steelers appear to be asking themselves.

Steelers Give Chester Pitts A Second Look

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that the Steelers have worked out veteran guard Chester Pitts for the second time in a week, as Pitts visited the Steelers South Side training facility today.

Pitts was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2002 and started 114 games before falling to a knee injury that required microframe surgery to correct. Mark Kaboly reports that Pitts recovery has only recently allowed him to begin workouts.

If the Steelers are serious about signing Pitts, and one must they are, they’ll have competition, as the Colts and Bills have recently worked him out, and he also has trips planned to Denver and Seattle later this week.

Chester Pitts also has experience starting at tackle, so his arrival would give the Steelers yet another candidate to start at right guard. Or right tackle. Which ever comes first.

Seemingly, the Steelers coaches could hold the type of shell game on the offensive line that Steel Curtain Rising predicted for the 2008 training camp that failed to materialize.

Regardless of whether Pitts appears in Latrobe, it is a safe bet that prospective starters will shuffle in and out of the line up this summer at St. Vincents.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Donate in Memory of Kaye Cowher

This afternoon, former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher issued the following statement on behalf of his family regarding the passing of his wife Kaye Cowher.

“Sadly, my wife Kaye lost her battle with cancer on Friday. Kaye was such a loving and compassionate person and she was the foundation of our family. Kaye was always at my side throughout my career as a player, coach, NFL analyst and, most importantly, as a parent to our three daughters Meagan, Lauren and Lindsay. They will miss their mother dearly.

"Kaye was the rock that we could all lean on in the tough times. She was looked up to by so many people and I cannot say enough about what Kaye meant to our family. Her memory will never be forgotten. We would like to thank everyone who has kept our family in their thoughts and prayers and for those who have reached out to express their condolences. It is clear that Kaye touched a lot of lives.”

For anyone interested in making a donation on Kaye’s behalf, the Cowher family has asked that those be directed to Family Resources of Pennsylvania (412)-363-1702;
www.familyresourcesofpa.org, the charity that Kaye so passionately supported.

I am not very familiar with Family Resources of Pennsylvania, however Bill Cowher went at great pains during his resignation press conference to reaffirm his commitment and his wife's commitment to this organization's mission and by all accounts the Cowhers made good on that promise.

You can to directly to the donations page of Family Resources of Pennsylvania by clicking here.

Kaye Cowher 1954-2010

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the wife of former Steelers head coach, Kaye Cowher, has passed away at age 54 of skin cancer. She passed away in North Carolina, where the Cowhers had made their home since Bill Cowher stepped down as Steelers head coach following the 2006 season.

Kaye played basketball for North Carolina State University where she met Bill, and then went on to play briefly for a professional women’s team in the late 1970’s.

In addition to her husband William Laird Cowher, Kaye is survived by her three daughters Megan, Lauren, and Lindsay, all of whom have followed in their mother’s footsteps as been standout basketball players.

The news comes as a shock, as it was not even publicly known that Kaye Cowher had been ill. The Cowhers have requested privacy, although it has been announced that her funeral will be held on Monday in North Carolina.

Steel Curtain Rising will likely have more to say about the Cowhers in the future, but for the time being we’ll simply call on the rest of Steelers Nation to join us in offering the Cowher’s our condolences and our prayers.

Its Official – Steelers Extend Tomlin’s Contract

The Steelers officially announced that they have extended the Mike Tomlin for two years, plus an additional year that the team can pick up at its discretion. Both ESPN.com and the Tribune Review announced the signing.

Curiously the Post-Gazette had not posted anything on its website as of as of 11:52 Eastern time on Friday the 24. The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette had been the first reporter to break the news two weeks ago, however.

Assuming the team picks up the final option year, Tomlin will be bound to the team through the 2013 season. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Steelers Sign Adrian Jones, Willie Colon Goes on IR

The Steelers placed starting right offensive tackle Willie Colon on injured reserve earlier this week, less than a month after he was lost for the season when he tore his Achilles tendon during off season agility workouts.

To bolster their flagging offensive line the Steelers signed veteran journey man offensive lineman Adrian Jones.

The New York Jets drafted Jones in the 4th round of the 2004 draft and, and he started 16 straight games at left tackle in 2005. His stint as a starter with the Jets ended there however, as he played in 16 more games during the next season, but did not register a start and the Jets cut him towards the end of the 2007 season.

From there Jones signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, where he started 10 games at right guard. He latched on with the Houston Texans in 2009, but did not make their final roster.

How Adrian Jones Fits In

If nothing else, the addition of Adrian Jones gives the Steelers another player with position flexibility on the offensive line. It is doubtful that he will push for a starting role, but he could potentially provide valuable depth.

The fact that Jones sat out 2009 is not encouraging of course, but Kevin Colbert has a good record with “street” free agents. As noted by Steel Curtain Rising previously, in both the 2000 and 2004 seasons unheralded Colbert protégés such as Larry Tharpe and Keydrick Vincent played key roles in stabilizing the Steelers offensive line.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Watch Tower: Tomlin Extension Story Takes a Twist at the Trib...


The Steelers decision to extend Mike Tomlin’s contract was met with great fanfare in Steelers Nation, but the Tomlin story came with a twist involving the Tribune Review that went largely unnoticed.

Who Reported the Story?

The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette broke the story and most major media outlets gave him credit. However, on the day the news broke, the Tribune Review’s Steelers page carried a headline stating “ESPN Reports Tomlin Contract Extension.”

Not only were they deflecting credit from their cross town rival, but they had no content of their own – they were linking directly to ESPN.com. (See the screen shot.)

The ironic thing about it is that the ESPN.com piece, penned by James Walker, credited Ed Bouchette and the Post-Gazette for breaking the news!

Rooney on the Record Seeking Extension?

A day later the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown had his own story. He did not get any of the principles on the record, but he went and did get quotes from some of the players.

He also made an interesting comment:
[Art] Rooney had said several times during the offseason that the team intended to reach an agreement on a new contract with Tomlin, who has led the Steelers to a pair of division titles and is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl.

Really?

If this is the case, it is news.

Rooney had been on the record in interviews with both Bouchette and Brown as saying he wanted Mike Tomlin to coach for the Steelers for a long time. But, if memory serves, Rooney declined to affirm that he would extend Tomlin’s contract.

This led to speculation that no such extension was forth coming, and in fact the general consensus of opinion in the press at the conclusion of Steelers OTA’s was that the Rooneys were in fact not going to extend Tomlin’s contract.

If Brown had information from Rooney, either through off the record or on the record conversations, that the team was going to open contract talks with the head coach, then he should have reported it.

If Brown never heard Rooney make such comments, then his statement makes no sense.

So be it. Tomlin will soon have his extension, and that will be it.

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Watch Tower.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Steel Curtain Rising is on Twitter!

Steel Curtain Rising is now on Twitter!

You can follow us at @SteelCurtainRis.

The feed has been "active" since April, but I am only now getting around to using it. As of today, Steel Curtain Rising should be linked via twitterfeed, so become a Twitter follower to get instant updates each time we make a new post.

I'd like to upgrade the graphics on the Twitter page, but I'd also like to update them on the blog, which I've also been saying since Steel Curtain Rising was launched the night of the playoff loss to Jacksonville....

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Steelers Extend Tomlin's Contract: The Right Move at the Right Time

As all of Steelers Nation knows by now, this week the Pittsburgh Steelers ended any speculation about the Rooney’s satisfaction with Mike Tomlin’s performance when they extended his contract for three years.

Mike Tomlin has two years remaining on the deal he signed in 2007, and according to the story broken by the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, but his extension is for three years.

However, up until this moment the conventional wisdom in many circles was that the Steelers would not be extending Tomlin’s deal simply because there had been “no talk about talks.”

When OTAs ended last month, Steel Curtain Rising cautioned against buying in too heavily into the assumption these assumptions, and events have demonstrated such speculation to be idle.

Extending Mike Tomlin’s contract was the right thing to do for several reasons.

Why Mike Tomlin Deserves the Extension

Mike Tomlin boasts a 31-17 record which includes no losing seasons and a Super Bowl win.

Tomlin’s record speaks for itself.

Tomlin replaced a coach who was tremendously popular with his players, stepped into a locker room full with veterans who had openly lobbied for either Russ Grimm or Ken Wisenhut to get his job. Further complicating matters, players were smarting over the departure locker room leader Joey Porter, and his only legit All-Pro offensive linemen was demanding his release because of a contract dispute.

Tomlin promptly led group of men and won the franchise’s 18th division title while fielding the league’s number one defense.

For a follow up, Tomlin led his team through one of the toughest schedules in NFL history, rebuilt his offensive line in the process – twice -- and finished by winning the Steelers sixth Super Bowl Championship.

Tomlin, of course, failed to steer the Steelers away from a dreaded Super Bowl hangover. In fact, they lost five straight games, four of which were dropped to bottom feeders. The embarrassing loss to Cleveland left the Steelers as a team in total tailspin.

That fact should, and does count against Tomlin.

But the fact that he pulled the team out of the tail spin and snapped the streak with three consecutive victories over viable playoff contenders also must count in his favor.

A majority of Steelers fans seems to agree with the Rooneys, however, on-line polls on other sites indicate that a significant minority disagree.

Let’s take a moment to debunk some of the arguments made against Art Rooney’s decision.

Taking Over as Coach for a Super Bowl Team is Easy

The logic behind this one is flawless.

A team wins the Super Bowl. Its head coach decides to go out on top, handing off to a successor. Like the 17 year-old given the keys to a BMW for his first date who scores by merely avoiding avoid denting front bumper, a Super Bowl should come to the successor via little more than inertia.

The record reveals the issue is a little more complex.

  • Vince Lombardi yielded to Phil Bengtson following Super Bowl II

Bengtson had one winning season in three and zero playoff appearances.

  • Bill Walsh called it a day after Super Bowl XXIII handing off to George Seifert

Seifert won Super Bowl XXIV and then Super Bowl XXIX and went to 3 NFC Championship games in between and won division titles in 1995 and 1996.

  • Bill Parcells yielded to Ray Handley after Super Bowl XXV

Handley failed to field a winning team in two years and had a locker room and coaching staff close to outright revolt when he was fired after the 1992 season.

  • Jimmy Johnson quitgotfired after Super Bowl XXVIII and replaced by Barry Switzer

Switzer took the Cowboys to the NFC Championship the next year, won Super Bowl XXX (thanks in large part to Kneel O’Dummel) and had another playoff season before the team imploded on him in 1997.

  • Dick Vermiel was forced out in favor of Mike Martz following Super Bowl XXXIV

Martz took four of his six teams to the playoffs, including a losing appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI until he was fired during the 2005 season.

The history of taking over Super Bowl champions is a mixed bag at best. Handley and Bengtson were disasters, Martz fared better but never bagged his own Lombardi.

Barry Switzer perhaps provides an example of a lesser coach winning a Super Bowl on the coat tails of another, but George Seifert more that proved he was his own man.

Tomlin, of course, took over the Steelers when they were one season removed from victory in Super Bowl XL.

Richie Pettibone tried that in 1993 with a Redskins squad that was one year shy of Super Bowl XXVI and got fired after an embarrassing 4-12 season.

Clearly, taking charge of a Super Bowl Champion team is not child’s play and additional Lombardi’s are anything but guaranteed.

Mike Tomlin is Only Winning with Bill Cowher’s Players

If the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII championship team bears Bill Cowher’s palm print, then also bears Mike Tomlin’s finger prints.

To start, 2008 team featured a completely reworked offensive line, with four new starters. In the backfield Gary Russell, Mewelde Moore, and Carey Davis replaced Jerome Bettis, Duce Stanley, and Verron Hayes.

The 2008 defense was bookended by LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison instead of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Ryan Clark replaced Chris Hope in the secondary, and 2007 draft pick, later to be maligned William Gay, saw significant action at corner.

Roster turnover is one of the most enduring realities of the modern NFL. Cowher had a huge hand in drafting and developing some of the biggest impact players of the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl squad.

But Mike Tomlin’s ability to add several of his own, while weaving them together with Cowher-era holdovers into a cohesive unit is to his credit.

Ending a Chaotic Off Season on a Note of Stability?

Both the Steelers and Tomlin still have issues to resolve.

2010 has been one of the Steelers worst off seasons in franchise history for reason which I need not recount here.

One of the legitimate questions Tomlin faced and still faces whether he has sufficient control over his players and coaches.

Art Rooney II has now empowered his team and his coach to overcome both hurdles.

Extending Mike Tomlin’s contract will hopefully end a horrendously chaotic period on a note of stability that extends through the entire franchise.

Rooney has also sent the locker room a loud and clear signal that Mike Tomlin is his man.

All of the off season upheaval is bound to have consequences for the Steelers during the regular season, but in reaffirming his faith in his coach Art Rooney has given Mike Tomlin a firm hand to begin mitigating those consequences.

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Steelers Extend Tomlin’s Contract, Make the Right Move

As all of Steelers Nation now knows, the Pittsburgh Steelers have ended any speculation as the Rooney’s satisfaction with Mike Tomlin’s performance, by extending his contract for another three years.

Details of the new agreement were not available in the story broken by the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, but Tomlin’s previous deal had two years remaining on it, and his extension is said to be for three years.

As the headline suggests, Steel Curtain Rising favors the move, and will have more to say about it as time allows in the coming days. (In fact, I had been writing a piece explaining why they should renew Tomlin’s contract, but Art Rooney II beat me to the punch – now I’ll have to adapt that.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Do the Steelers Have a New Keydrick Vincent?

“...Last season ended in disappointment for the Steelers. Expected to contend for the Super Bowl, they instead failed to make the playoffs.

Secondary breakdowns humbled their once vaunted defense. Injuries and subpar performance on the offensive line rendered the Steelers running game, once known for bludgeoning opponents into submission, a shadow of its former self, while the quarterback was left running for his life.

This year was to be different. A mandate to reestablish the run came from the highest echelons of the Steelers hierarchy.

A single ball has yet to be snapped at Heinz Field but management’s goal already appears to be in jeopardy as a budding starter on the Steelers offensive lineman has been lost for the season due to an injury…”
-
Edward M. DiPaola, Pittsburgh Press Review Gazette, Summer 2004


There is not, nor has there ever been, a Pittsburgh Press Review Gazette and you can consider the equally fictional "Edward M. DiPaola" to be a composite scribe.

However, the above missive aptly describes the situation the Steelers found themselves in during August 2004. Six years later, Fate has landed the Steelers in a similar spot.

Things looked bleak then, but does anyone remember the results?

The offensive line did dominate the line of scrimmage, the Steelers running game reasserted itself with a vengeance, and a rookie would become the first NFL quarterback to win 15 straight starts.

Remembering Keydrick Vincent's Lesson

How did it happen?

After all, losing Kendall Simmons to a torn ACL early in training camp was a blow that seemed to portend disaster.

The answer is that Keydrick Vincent stepped to the fore, and started the entire season at right guard and the Steelers never missed a beat.

Could something similar happen this year?

Certainly.

The odds may be against it, but let’s look at what history teaches us.

Important differences between 2004 and now exist of course. Keydrick Vincent, whom the Steelers signed as an unrestricted rookie free agent, had 11 starts under his belt and had appeared in 11 other games.

In contrast, Tony Hills has done a lot of nothing since being drafted in the 4th round in 2008.

Still, special teams coach Sean Kugler came to Pittsburgh with a reputation as a coach who did something with… very little in Buffalo, and Kugler has both options and time to plan.

In addition to Jonathan Scott, Ramon Foster, and Trai Essex, the Steelers also signed unrestricted rookie free agents Dorian Brooks, guard, out of James Madison and Kyle Jolly a 300 pound tackle out of North Carolina.

If you think it is preposterous that someone no one ever heard of can come in and contribute at right tackle on the offensive line, then you need to remember Larry Tharpe.

In 1999 Anthony Brown and Chris Conrad alternated starts at right tackle in what seemingly devolved into a quest to reveal who was more inept while Larry Tharpe sat on a couch somewhere.

In 2000, Kevin Colbert brought Tharpe to the Steelers, and injuries to rookie Marvel Smith and Shar Pourdanesh forced Tharpe to make 5 starts where he clearly outshone the previous seasons starters.

Integrity demands acknowledging that Steel Curtain Rising enthusiastically joined the chorus that greeted the news of Willie Colon’s Achillies tear with dismay.

The truth is Colon’s loss represents another serious set back for a team already reeling from a turbulent off season.

Will the Steelers be able to compensate for Colon’s loss? There is no guarantee that they will. But history shows that they certainly can.

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