´ Steel Curtain Rising: April 2011

What position(s) should be the Steelers highest priorities in the draft?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Steelers Select Barron Batch with Final 2011 Pick

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their 2011 draft by picking Texas Tech running back Barron Batch.
ESPN's draft analysts do not think much of Batch, sharing that:
Batch is an average-sized back who doesn?t have great power or speed. He also has had some problems protecting the football and been nicked up a little too much.

Obviously Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin saw something in Batch that Mel Kiper missed.

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Steelers Draft Chris Carter, Keith Williams in 5th and 6th

Chris Carter will be the latest undersized college defensive end who the Steelers will attempt to convert into an outside linebacker, as the Steelers selected him in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Chris Carter played at Fresno State, stands at 6'1'' and weighs in at 241 pounds.

The Steelers also took a shot at bolstering their depth on the offensive line by drafting Keith Williams, who played a guard for Nebraska. Keith Williams, like 4th round pick Cortez Allen and second round pick Marcus Gilbert, were invited to the Steelers South Side facilities for a pre-draft workout.

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Steelers Draft Cortez Allen in 4th Round

The Steelers failed to find corners early in the draft, but they are making up for it in the middle. After using their third round pick on the University of Texas Curtis Brown, a cornerback, the Steelers followed suit by choosing Cortez Allen in the 4th round.

Allen is 6'1" and 197 pounds and played corner back at The Citadel. Cortez Allen is the second player the Steelers drafted whom they'd brought to the South Side for pre-Draft visit.

The Steelers of course drafted Marcus Gilbert, who also paid a visit to the team's facilities just off of Carson street.

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Steelers Draft Curtis Brown in 3rd Round

The Steelers came into 2011 NFL draft needing a corner more than any other position and they finally got one at the end of the third round when they selected Curtis Brown from Texas. This came after they passed on a chance to draft Brown's teammate Aaron Williams.

Ed Bouchette reported in PG Plus that Carnell Lake had rated Brown as a better cover corner than his team mate Williams, who went at the top of the second round.

ESPN was less kind to Brown. Their write up praised his athletic abilities but observed that "He struggles to recover when out of position, though, and has only average instincts."

A lot of people have knocked Brown's size, but Peter Bean from Behind the Steel Curtain debunks that myth, while arguing that Brown has tremendous athletic gifts and big upside. (Benn's article is a good one, click here to read it.)

The 2011 NFL draft might not have unfolded in quite the way the Steelers would have preferred, but drafts rarely do. They key to the draft isn't knowing who you want to take in each round, its having the agility to know how you need to take when the ones that you want are already gone.

Let's see how day 3 unfolds.

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Steelers Draft Marcus Gilbert in 2nd Round

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Gilbert is on offensive tackle from the University of Florida.

The real story of the round is that the Steelers tried unsuccessfully to trade up to get a top corner. It is uncertain how far up they wanted to go, but they almost got a shot at Brandon Harris, but the Houston Texas made a trade with New England and took Harris.

Versatility a Virtue or a Vice?

ESPN's write up on Marcus Gilbert explains that he has the ability to play tackle or guard, listing that as one of his assets.

And Mike Tomlin loves players "position flexibility."

In this case, the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette is not so sure.

Writing in PG Plus last night Bouchettee opined:
It should make everyone a little nervous when line coach Sean Kugler listed among his attributes that Marcus Gilbert can play tackle AND guard.[Emphasis in original]

Did they say that the day they drafted Anthony Munoz? Well, of course, Gilbert is no Anthony Munoz. But they didn’t say that when they drafted Marvel Smith, either, and he too was a second-rounder.

Truthfully, I do not know enough about Gilbert, or any of the other players on the board when he was taken to offer a prediction about how his career in the NFL will turn out.

By the same token, I don't know why being able to play more than one position should be considered as a potential liability....

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Steelers Draft Cameron Heyward in 1st Round of 2011 NFL Draft

I am a life long Steelers fan, but I first started paying serious attention to the Steelers in the 10th grade, which happened to fall in the 1987-88 school year.

So the first NFL draft I followed was the 1988 NFL draft.

And I wanted the Steelers to draft Craig "Ironhead" Heyward the vaunted running back from Pitt.

My attraction to Heyward arose from nothing more than seeing some ESPN highlights of him barreling through defensive lines. The Steelers of course passed on Ironhead in the 1988 NFL draft opting to pick Aaron Jones instead.

23 years later the Steelers decided to give his son Cameron Heyward, defensive end from Ohio State, a shot, when they selected him with the 31st pick of the 2011 NFL draft.

While the Steelers greatest need is at corner, their defensive line desperately needs an injection of youth, if not for the sake of their 2011 season, but certainly for seasons that will come quickly after that.

Top corners were still on the board of course, as were any number of other highly rated players as more quarterbacks were taken in the 1st round than expected.

I'll offer no opinion on any should haves or would haves. For now I'll simply say that the Steelers addressed a need and got one of the top defensive lineman in the 2011 NFL draft.

And of course I'll welcome Cameron Heyward to Steelers Nation.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Steelers 2011 NFL Draft: Pros and Cons of Trading Up (or Trading Down)

Kevin Colbert has traded up in the first round twice.

The first time was to take Tory Polamalu in 2003.

The next time was to take Santonio Holmes in 2006.

Polamalu made the game changing play that sent the Steelers to Super Bowl XLVIII and Santonio Holmes caught the pass the won Lombardi Number Six for the Steelers.

Kevin Colbert also traded down in 2001, picking Casey Hampton, the nose tackle who provides the fulcrum upon which the Steelers 3-4 Zone Blitz defense swings.

With the Steelers sitting with the 31st pick with immediate need at corner back and impending need at offensive and defensive line, what should they do?

Colbert offered that there are “20 special players” in this draft and “100” that can help the Steelers.

Trading Up vs. Trading Down

Trading up gives the Steelers a shot at one of those “special 20.” But it brings with it the cost that they’ll get fewer of the 100, as Ed Bouchette pointed out in PG Plus.

Trading down on the other hand might give the Steelers chances to take 3-4 of the “100 that can help.”

Argument Against Trading Down

While arming themselves with more 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round picks sounds nice, one might consider Kevin Colbert’s record.

His first round picks are:

2000 Plaxico Burress
2001 Casey Hampton
2002 Kendall Simmons
2003 Troy Polamalu
2004 Ben Roethlisberger
2005 Heath Miller
2006 Santonio Holmes
2007 Lawrence Timmons
2008 Rashard Mendenhall
2009 Ziggy Hood
2010 Maurkice Pouncey

In the second round, Colbert has hit his share of success, think Marvel Smith, Randle El, and LaMarr Woodley.

But he’s also picked duds such as Alonzo Jackson, Ricardo Colclough, and until he proves otherwise, Limas Sweed.

A look at the Steelers third round picks reveals a similar mixed bag.

As for fourth round picks? Larry Foote and Willie Colon aside, the Steelers record there caused La Toalla Terrible to jest that a few years back that the Steelers might be better of forfeiting the pick.

Trust in the Steelers Brain Trust

The draft is already underway, and the Steelers brass have perhaps already discussed trades.

Allow me to take the easy way out, and simply say that there are pros and cons to each alternative, and I trust in Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II to make the right choice and select the right person.

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Steelers 2011 Draft Needs Matrix

By now you’ve probably seen a million breakdowns of the Steelers 2011 NFL draft needs at Quarterback and Wide Receiver, Running Back and Tight End, and Offensive and Defensive Line cross referenced with about a billion mock drafts.

Yours truly claims ZERO ability to predict who the Steelers will pick nor do we claim any corner on who the Steelers should pick.

They do not show college football games in Buenos Aires, where Steel Curtain Rising is written out of, and truth be told, I didn’t follow the college game closely when I did live in the US.

But I do follow the Steelers closely, and here I have prepared a draft need matrix.

Steelers First Tier Draft Needs

The first, most important tier contains in order of priority corner back, offensive line, and defensive line.

This is to say that when the Steelers turn comes to pick at number 31, the Steelers should take the best available athlete who falls into one of the three position groups.

That is easy to say. However, Ike Taylor is a free agent when the CBA mess is resolved, and the Steelers, if you believe the Tribune-Review’s John Harris (which sometimes is a dubious proposition), are all but certain to lose Taylor.

That puts defensive back, specifically corner back, ahead of the two lines. Consensus is that there are only two first round-quality corners, and that both will be gone by the 31st pick. Reaching is always dangerous, but Kevin Colbert has never been shy about trading up, and there are both reasons why Colbert should and should not consider trading up in the 2011 draft.

The free agent status of Willie Colon and the age of Flozell Adams shift the offensive line into “first among equals” over the defensive line.

Steelers Second Tier Draft Needs

The second tier of the Steelers draft needs is also pretty straight forward: safety, wide receiver, running back, and linebacker.

While the Steelers starting safeties are perhaps the class of the league, Ryan Clark is 32 and Troy Polamalu, God love him, cannot stay healthy. The Steelers must keep an eye out for a top safety.

The Steelers are strong at wide receiver and running back, but they need to bolster their bull pens given Hines Ward's advancing age and that Mike Tomlin shows no inhibition about “running Rashard Mendenhall until the wheels come off.”

After that, the Steelers should look to add depth to their linebacking corps., and following that, the Steelers need to look to groom potential behind James Harrison, James Farrior, and LaMarr Woodley.

Steelers Third Tier Draft Needs

Tight end should be considered the third tier of the Steelers draft needs.

The Steelers have the deepest quarterback corps in the NFL, and they should forgo any urge to follow their often held custom of drafting a quarterback in the 5th round.

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Steelers 2011 Draft Needs: Defensive Backs

The Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backfield bounced back in 2010 after finishing as a maligned, shell-shocked unit in 2009.

A big part of this was the presence of NFL Defensive MVP Troy Polamalu, who spoiled fans to the point where they questioned whether number 43 had a good game if he did not make a miraculous, and/or game saving play.

Still, the unit enters the 2011 NFL draft as a question area for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ike Taylor is a free agent. Bryant McFadden failed to live up to expectations after his draft day return. And while William Gay rebounded from a rocky 2009, he appears to have found is role in the NFL, as a nickel back.

Keenan Lewis was all the rage in training camp, but failed to deliver time and time again, gaining more notoriety for his bone-headed penalties than anything else. Crezdon Butler made the team on the strength of a strong summer in Latrobe, but saw few playing opportunities after that.

Ryan Mundy seems to be following the Lee Flowers path, which is nothing to be ashamed of for a sixth round pick.

At corner the issue is quality. If the Steelers lose Taylor, they’re very, very thin at an increasingly important position.

At safety the Steelers need to consider that Troy Polamalu is, in the words of Behind the Steel Curtain’s “MaryRose” is like a European sports car – when he’s healthy he’s the best there is; otherwise he’s in the shop.

And Ryan Clark, who also bounced back in 2010, is not getting any younger.

  • Draft priority of cornerback for the Steelers in 2011: High
  • Draft priority of safety for the Steelers in 2011: High
When it comes to their secondary, the Steelers need to be thinking about 2011 and the seasons beyond in the 2011 NFL draft, which separates this position area from the rest.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Watch Tower: The Steelers in Fact TRADED Huey Richardson

You’ve got to love how little incorrect factoids, if repeated enough, become true if they’re repeated enough.

This reality predates the world wide web by a few millennia, of course, but the internet has only served to intensify this one of life’s little annoyances.

Case in point, the Steelers 1991 first round draft pick Huey Richardson.

Huey Richardson was a monumental bust, with due apologies to all other Steelers picks who might share that label.

Drafted 15th in the 1991 NFL Draft after the Steelers 9-7 non-playoff season, Richardson saw spot duty in five games as a rookie, recording 2 tackles. This was after a training camp that saw Richardson break his nose – in non-contact drills.

By the inaugural edition of Camp Cowher in Latrobe during the summer of 1992, The Chin had seen enough.

Here’s where the tale gets complicated, as indicated by a recent Post-Gazette article. Commenting on past Steelers drafts that ended with a “1” they noted the Richardson pick observing:

Linebacker Huey Richardson, chosen in the first round, ranks among their biggest busts. Bill Cowher cut him the following training camp.

The problem lies with the last sentence.

Cowher wanted Richardson out, and wanted to send a message to his team that he was only going to keep the best players. No scholarship seasons for high draft picks. Then Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe fully backed the rookie coach.

But the Steelers, however, did not cut Huey Richardson.

The Steelers traded Huey Richardson to the Washington Redskins for a 7th round draft pick. The Steelers in fact used that pick in the 1993 NFL draft to grab Jeff Zgonina (who only stuck with the team for 2 years, but ended up playing until 2009, starting for a few years in St. Louis, among other stops.)

Richardson would play four games for the Redskins, who gave up on him. Dick Haley, the man who scouted him in Pittsburgh, brought him to the New York Jets, where he played for a another 7 games until they gave up. At some point he also was worked out by the Miami Dolphins, where Joe Greene was coaching.

Snowball Effect

This admittedly falls close to being a nit picky on the part of the Watch Tower, but it’s a simple fact that one can easily verify by virtue of the internet….

But that’s the problem. Google “Huey Richardson cut” and “Huey Richardson trade” and “Huey Richardson cut” draws about 100,000 more entries than “Huey Richardson trade.”

That’s not a huge difference, except for there are 1.8 million references to a sports transaction that never in fact took place…. No one is of course hurt by the perpetuation of this inaccuracy, but this happens with far more serious stuff all the time....

Speaking of Corrections What About the Steelers 2001 vs. Steelers 2002 Drafts...?

A few lines down from the bit about Richardson, the PG offers this reflection on the Steelers 2001 draft, the draft that brought a Big Snack to Steelers Nation:

Chris Hope is a good safety still playing with the Tennessee Titans. Larry Foote became a starter at inside linebacker for six years and returned to the Steelers last season as a backup

The only problem here is that Chris Hope and Larry Foote were taken in the 2002 draft, perhaps the best all-around draft of the Colbert Era.

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Ryan Clark, Steelers to Return to Work?

The NFL owners lost a ruling in federal court that resulted in an injunction against the lockout they'd imposed when the current CBA expired.

While most sides expect the owners to appeal and get the lock out reinstated (at least temporarily), Ryan Clark hopes to beat them to the punch.

As reported by the Post-Gazette yesterday, Clark, who is the NFLPA union rep. in Pittsburgh, began calling teammates encouraging them to return to work this morning. It remains to see how this will work out, but it does represent one unexpected twist.

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Steelers 2011 Draft Needs: Linebacker

The Pittsburgh Steelers boasted the NFL’s best linebacking corps in 2010.

James Harrison continued to wreak havoc on opposing backfields, despite playing much of the year with a herniated disc. LaMarr Woodley likewise followed suit, and succeeded in extending his streak to recording a sack in each post-season game that he’s played.

How good was the Steelers linebacker play in 2011? Consider this:

It has long been-well documented that the NFL allows opposing offensive lineman to hold James Harrison with tacit (or perhaps explicit) instructions to officials not to throw flags. In 2011 the league went a step further, and began targeting James Harrison for selective enforcement of its get tough policy on hard-hitting.

James Farrior bounced back after a subpar 2009 and the only question is this How long can Farrior defy father time?

Lawrence Timmons led the team in tackles, and while his Splash plays might have tapered off from the furious pace he began in at the beginning of the year, no one questions why Mike Tomlin drafted him with his first selection as coach.

Larry Foote returned and stepped up and delivered when he was needed, cheerfully accepting his role. Jason Worilds and Sylvester Stevenson didn’t do a whole lot on the field, but both made plays on special teams – which is exactly what you want to see.

Farrior’s age, Woodley’s impending free agent status and Harrison’s back mean that the Steelers cannot ignore this position in the draft, but they can back-burner or at least side-burner it to more pressing priorities.
  • Draft priority of defensive line for the Steelers in 2011: Low, but certainly not nil.
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Steelers 2011 Draft Needs: Offensive and Defensive Line

In 2008 the Steelers rebuilt their offensive line twice, once in the preseason and once during the season and walked away with Lombardi number Six.

In 2010 the Steelers seemingly needed to rebuild their line in the middle of games and came a drive away from bagging Lombardi number Seven.

The only position the Steelers seem set at is center, with Maurkice Pouncy and Doug Legursky.

At guard Chris Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster were starting at year’s end, with Doug Legursky poised to push either man. But none of these men expects to contend for a Pro Bowl spot anytime soon.

Offensive tackle is an extremely volatile position for the Steelers. Flozell Adams wants to play – if he can start. Max Starks will be back, but he’s coming back from neck surgery. And Willie Colon will be a free agent whom the Steelers appear unlikely to resign.

After that the Steelers have Jonathan Scott, who’s a good back up, Tony Hills who shocked Steelers Nation by making the team but then did nothing. Chris Scott, a rookie who began 2010 on the PAP list will also be back but remains an unknown commodity.

The Steelers opened the 2008 season with Mike Tomlin saying the team needed to “get younger and stronger on both lines.” Well, the Steelers offensive line has gotten younger since then, but except at center it is difficult to argue that they’re really “stronger.”

The Steelers need to bolster their line in the 2011 NFL draft, and they need to do it early.

  • Draft priority of offensive line for the Steelers in 2011: High.
Defensive Line

Since Tomlin’s aforementioned “younger and stronger” edict the Steelers have made some progress in getting stronger with the addition of Ziggy Hood.

Youth, still remains elusive.

Ziggy Hood came into his own at the end of 2010, justifying the faith and patience the Steelers showed in drafting and developing him in 2009.

Aaron Smith promises to be back in 2011, but how effective or durable can he be now that he’s pushing his mid-30’s and has finished 3 of the last four seasons on the injured list?

Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke both continue to go strong, but both are also pushing their mid-30’s, with no one behind them.

Brett Kiesel took his play up a notch, and while he suffered some minor injures, can be counted on to keep his performance “above the line” in 2011.

Behind these men the Steelers have Steve McClendon and Sunny Harris. Both men might become serviceable back ups but neither promises to push for playing time.

The Steelers could conceivably contend for a championship in 2011 with their same line intact, but they really do need to approach this draft with an eye toward the future.

  • Draft priority of defensive line for the Steelers in 2011: High.
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Steelers 2011 Draft Needs: Wide Receivers and Running backs.

The Steelers enter the 2011 draft with fairly good depth at wide receiver and running back, but that does not mean they can ignore either position, should opportunity present itself.

Wide Receivers

Steel Curtain Rising questioned picking two wide receivers during the 2010 draft, but both Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders paid handsome dividends on in the open field and on special teams. Their contributions led to a unit that was actually improved despite the loss of Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes.

Hines Ward continued to deliver in 2010, but finally appeared to show signs of age. Still his value to the unit cannot be underestimated. Ward’s numbers may have been down, but he made is catches count.

If Ward is facing a little downside, then Mike Wallace should be looking at upside. While is playoff production drop off shows he still has more to learn, Wallace is on the way to being an elite receiver.

Randal El made contributions in 2010, but appears to be on his way out or at the very least slated to fight for a roster spot. Arnaz Battle didn’t catch many balls, but played well on special teams.

While Steel Curtain Rising is hoping that Limas Sweed will not only recover from his Achilles tendon tear and push for a spot, the Steelers are not counting on that. Nor should they.

The NFL is a passing league now, like it or not, and Ward’s age dictates that the Steelers cannot afford to ignore wide receiver in the 2011 draft.

  • Draft priority of wide receiver for the Steelers in 2011: Moderate.
Steelers Situation at Running Back

Rashard Mendenhall failed to have the breakout year in 2010 that many hoped and/or expected. At times he ran with authority and power, such as in the AFC Championship game against the Jets, at other times he appeared hesitant at the line of scrimmage (not that he always had good holes.) And Mike Tomlin’s protests to the contrary, two of Mendenhall’s 3 or 4 fumbles came in post season.

Mendenhall still has plenty of potential but perhaps he’s also shown some of his limits. Regarding limits, the Steelers show no intention of limiting his carries, which will shorten his career.

Isaac Redman impressed mightily actually making good on the cult-hero status he did nothing to cultivate. At the very least, Redman shows he deserves a shot at being a number 2 back in the NFL.

Mewelde Moore is a free agent and his numbers dipped in 2010 and his role dropped off. Still, he’s a versatile player who can continue to contribute.

Jonathan Dwyer played in the finale against Cleveland, and he looked OK. This came after impressing in mini-camp and flirting with the waiver wire in training camp. He remains an unknown commodity.

The Steelers are in solid shape at running back, but it would behoove them to bolster their depth should the opportunity arise.

  • Draft priority of running back for the Steelers in 2011: Moderate.
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Steelers 2011 Draft Needs: Quarterback and Tight End

The Steelers show few cards regarding their predraft strategy, but they’ve been pretty clear that quarterback and tight end are not high on their radar screens heading into the 2011 NFL draft.

There’s some justification for that.

Quarterback

While some teams are content to back up their starters with no-names the Steelers follow a different path which yielded dividends in 2010.

Barring injury or more off the field indiscretion, the Steelers brass will not seek a replacement for Ben Roethlisberger via the draft for the foreseeable future.

Behind Ben you have Charlie Batch, Bryon Leftwich, and Dennis Dixon, all of whom took snaps in 2010. While Dixon could be a potential free agency defection, depending on the CBA/lockout situation, the Steelers figure to enter 2011 having too much depth at quarterback. A good problem to have.

  • Draft Priority of Quarterback for the Steelers in 2011: Nill.
Tight End

Statistically Health Miller might have taken a step back in 2010, but don’t be fooled. Miller is one of the NFL’s best kept secrets, and his blocking ability is under estimated.

For a couple of years Matt Spaeth didn’t do much, except catch balls on the rare occasions they were thrown to him, and frequently those ended up being touchdowns. The coaches seemed to be willing to call his number more in 2010 and, as his performance in the Jet’s regular season game indicates, Spaeth didn’t quiet step up.

David Johnson on the other had, did make strides, although those seem to be widely ignored or discounted. He made his impact felt with his blocking and he stepped up and caught the ball on a few occasions when counted (like in the second Baltimore game.)

  • Draft Priority of Tight End for the Steelers in 2011: Low to moderate.
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lynn Chandnois, Steelers '50's Star, Dies

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting the Steelers Special teams stand out, Lynn Chandnois, has passed away.

The Steelers of the 1950's had little to smile about, but Chandnois kick return average is only second to the legendary Gayle Sayers. Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney has praised him as one of the team's stars from the past.

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Aaron Williams, Davaon Morgan, 2 others Make Pre Draft Visits to Pittsburgh

News that the Mike Tomlin had attended Aaron Williams’ pro day spread on the internet like wild fire. Ed Bouchette sought to quash those rumors by pointing out that the Steelers had also attended Tim Tebow’s pro day.

Williams may follow in Tebow’s footsteps and fail to don the Black and Gold, but the Steelers are clearly interested in him as Aaron Williams paid a pre-draft visit to the Steelers South Side facility yesterday.

The Post-Gazette also reports that Davaon Morgan, Virginia Tech safety, Vincent Brown, a wide Receiver from San Diego State, and Weslye Saunders, a tight end from South Carolina were also in Pittsburgh for pre draft visits.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Marcus Cannon, Keith Williams in Pittsburgh for Pre-Draft Visits

The Steelers, like any other NFL team, are loath to tip their hands leading up to the 2011 NFL Draft, but if pre-draft visits are any indication, offensive tackle is high on their Christmas list.

TCU offensive tackle Marcus Cannon visited the South Side meeting with Sean Kugler and Mike Tomlin today. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette projects Cannon as a second round pick. They also report that, despite being a behemoth at 6’5” 358 pounds he is considered to be very athletic.

The Steelers also worked out Keith Williams of Nebraska, who played 13 games at left guard for the Cornhuskers last fall. The post Gazette projects Williams as a mid-round pick.

Of confirmed collegiate pre-draft visits, the Steelers have enteretained 5 offensive tackles more than doubling the number of players at other positions who’ve made the trip to Pittsburgh. Williams, however, is the first guard that they’ve worked out in advance of the 2011 NFL draft.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Remembering the Mark Malone Trade

A few weeks ago, in the "what passes for news during the NFL lockout" category, Steel Curtain Rising noted the anniversary of the Todd Blackledge trade.

Today we connote the completion of the cycle.

23 years ago yesterday, the Steelers practiced a modicum of addition by subtraction when they dealt former starting and first round pick Mark Malone to the San Diego Chargers for an 8th round draft pick.

I remember the day well, as a friend called me to congratulate me on the trade.

Debate continues to this day as to how bad of a bust Mark Malone was as a first round pick. Coming out of Arizona State Mark Malone’s athletic prowse was beyond question.

As Ed Bouchette reported in his article announcing the Mark Malone trade, Steelers defensive coaches wanted to move him to safety instead of keeping him buried behind Terry Bradshaw and Cliff Stoudt.

Malone never did play safety, but he did play a little wide out, and still holds the record for the longest pass reception from scrimmage. But injuries took their toll, and although Malone showed some promise during his first two campaigns as starter, by 1987 his 46 passer rating put the writing on the wall.

Trade A Wash in Irony

San Diego predicted that Malone would be the comeback player of the year, deeming him a suitable replacement for Dan Fouts. To no one’s surpise east of the PA-Ohio border, Malone failed to deliver, going 2-6 as a starter.

But the Malone trade would reap its share of irony, as Malone led the Chargers to a 20-14 victory over the Steelers, preventing the woeful 1988 Steelers from running the table as they closed the final quarter of ’88 at 3-1.

A double irony was at work as this was Malone’s last victory as a starter and yes, Malone’s final victory as a Steelers starter had come at the expense of, yes, the Chargers.

Nor did the Steelers take much advantage of the extra 8th round pick, using it to select Mike Hinnant a tight end from Temple. Hinnant played two seasons for the Steelers, but only caught one ball for 23 years and returned a kick for 13, for those of you keeping score at home.

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Phil Taylor, Mario Harvey Visit Steelers

The Steelers continued their pre-draft collegiate visits entertaining Phil Taylor, the huge defensive tackle for Baylor and they will soon host Mario Harvey the linebacker from Marshall University.

Phil Taylor is the first legitimate first round prospect that the Steelers have brought into the South Side, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Watch Tower: Cowher-Donahoe Feud Insight

Perhaps “Watch Tower” is a misnomer for this post and it would be more appropriate to liberally borrow from Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback section titled “Factoid of the Week That Only Might Interest Me.”

In one of his PG Plus columns Ed Bouchette shared an interesting observation. He updated his readers on the whereabouts of Tom Donahoe, who is apparently working part time for ESPN.

Bouchette offered this about Donahoe’s relationship with Bill Cowher:

It was Donahoe who discovered Bill Cowher and their relationship worked well – for about two years. After that, their personalities clashed and it ultimately led to Dopnahoe's [sic] firing after the 1999 season.

This is the first time a journalist, to my knowledge, has publicly put a hard date on the souring of the relationship between Cowher and Donahoe.

Donahoe’s comments following Fog Bowl II, when the then Director of Football Operations criticized the team’s intensity, were the first unmistakable public signal of a rift between the two men.

Previously, in an on-line chat, Bouchette had responded to a question about when the relationship went south by explaining that things deteriorated gradually between the men.

The two year comment is interesting, because for whatever the personality conflicts might have arose between the two men, they did not seriously impact the team’s drafting until about 1996. That year they drafted Jamain Stephens in the first round who was an unmitigated bust.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Zack Clayton Visits the Steelers

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Auburn defensive tackle Zack Clatyon was to pay a pre-draft visit to the team's South Side facility today.

Thus far, the Steelers have publicly hosted 9 of their allowed 30 pre-draft collegiate visits in advance of the 2011 NFL draft. The 7 players who visited from Pitt in early March do not count against that limit.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cortez Allen, Da'rel Scott, 2 Others Pay Pre-Draft Visit to Steelers

More news seeped out today regarding the colleigate pre-draft visits with the Pittsburgh Steelers, reports the Post-Gazette as well as other oulets. Another four draft prospects darkened doors at the South Side today, although the Post-Gazette was quick to insist that none are viewed as potential first-round picks. The four college hopefuls are:


  • Austin Pettis, wide receiver, Boise State

  • Da'rel Scott, running back, University of Maryland

  • Cortez Allen, cornerback, The Citadel

  • Ras-I Dowling, cornerback, University of Virginia
Unlike in years past, news of pre-draft visits has been scarce. In his weekly on-line chat on PG Plus, Ed Bouchette reported that the Steelers have not been announcing the names of visitors, and that news had to be gleamed from agents.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Marcus Gilbert, Two Other Tackles Make Pre Draft Visits to Steelers

As reported in the Post-Gazette and other outlets, the Steelers began to bring in college prospects for workouts in advance of the 2011 NFL draft. Prior to Friday, April 1st, the Steelers had only brought in nose tackle Kendrick Ellis from Hampton for a workout. They also brought 7 players in from Pitt a few weeks ago, but those do not count against their pre-draft visit limit of 30 players. Yesterday the Steelers hosted three more prospects, all of them from football programs in the South (for whatever that’s worth):



  • Jarriel King, offensive tackle, South Carolina

  • James Carpenter, offensive tackle, Alabama

  • Marcus Gilbert, offensive tackle, Florida

As you can see, beyond geography, tackle is a common thread.


This may mean little, but one would figure that tackle is high on the Steelers list, with Max Starks coming off neck surgery, Willie Colon set to be a free agent, and Flozell Adams pushing 36. In his PG Plus write up of the visit, Ed Bouchette opined that none of these players is a potential first round pick.


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Friday, April 1, 2011

Another Steeler Quarterback Who Never Was: Chad Pennington

Times like these make you appreciate Ben Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw all the more.

By many measures, it is the men who didn’t play quarterback for the Steelers than serve as conversation pieces for Steelers Nation.

Dan Marino is of course the most famous non-Steelers quarterback of the modern era, recently discussed in Steel Curtain Rising’s post commemorating the Todd Blackledge trade. Marino, however has plenty of company, for this is the franchise that cut Johnny Unitas, Len Dawson, and Jack Kemp, only to see those men return in other uniforms to collect their retribution .

Chad Pennington, another Steelers quarterback who never was, tore his ACL today in a pick up basketball game, and most likely is facing the end of his career.

Did Pennington Almost Become a Steeler?

Following one poor and another atrocious season by Kordell Stewart in 1998 and 1999, the conventional wisdom in the NFL was that the Steelers must draft a quarterback. With the 8th pick overall the Steelers figured to get a shot at one of the collegiate rank’s top signal callers.

Rumors flew both before and after the 2003 NFL draft that Pennington was to be Pittsburgh's pick. Pennington even claimed that Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert called and said he was going to be a Steelers should he be available.

The Steelers of course picked Plaxico Burress. Never one above sowing mischief, Bill Parcells leaked rumors that he’d called the Steelers and offered them Chad Pennington and Sean Ellis in exchange for Burress.

We’ll never know if there’s any truth to behind those tales.

Lack of Pennington Delivers Roethlisberger?

The Steelers would continue to ride the roller coaster under center, as Kordell Stewart surged back into the starting role in 2000 and 2001 only to fade quickly in early 2002, giving way to Tommy “Gun” Maddox, who blazed like a comet only to struggle with the Cover-2 defnese (and perhaps a little too much over coaching.)

Throughout this process, there were plenty of second guessers who stood ready to dub Pennington as the Marino of his age (in terms of opportunity cost to the Steelers, not in terms of talent.)

Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola roundly refuted those second guesses prior to the Steelers 2003 game against the Jets, arguing that Pennington was a system quarterback or a “game manager” and therefore, not worthy of a number 8 pick.

Of course the Steelers went on to lose that game, which helped seal the 11th pick which brought Ben Roethlisberger to Pittsburgh.

Sadly, it appears that Pennington’s career will end with a greater balance of unrealized than realized potential.

Again, it makes you appreciate Roethlisberger and Bradshaw all the more.

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