´ Steel Curtain Rising: July 2011

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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Watch Tower: BSTC Bests the Professional Press. Again + Willie Colon

After nearly six months of dead air and make news articles, the Steelers media buzzed alive as the lockout ended and the NFL went back to business.

The Steelers filled their biggest need first, re-inking Ike Taylor to a 4 year contract. In analyzing the dynamics that led to the deal, Homer J. from Behind the Steel Curtain shed a little light on what has long been a question of mine.

Homer J. traced the Steelers M.O. all the way back to Mike Tomlin’s first interview with the Rooneys, revealing:
…Tomlin came prepared, and his degree of preparation knocked everyone's socks off. He brought two bound books with him. One was an analysis of every player on the Steelers' roster. The second was an analysis of how to build what he had into a championship team. [Emphasis added.]

The fact that Mike Tomlin came to the interview with a detailed plan and blew the Rooneys away has long been known.

But the Watch Tower has always wondered:
  • What are NFL head coaching job interviews are like?

  • Specifically, what was in Tomlin’s “detailed plan?” How did he bowl the Roonys over so persuasively?

For years the Watch Tower has kept an attentive eye tuned towards articles that might answer those questions.

But no professional reporter ever provided anything of any substance. Behind the Steel Curtain’s Homer J. did it in passing in an article about something else.

As has the Watch Tower has observed before and no doubt will again, Behind the Steel Curtain once again provides its readers with information that eludes the professional press. (Full disclosure, yours truly expect to become an occasion contributor to the BTSC team, hopefully as early as next week.)

Clashing Over Willie Colon – Score One for Scott Brown

The Steelers re-signed Willie Colon to a 5 year deal late last week, and while the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown signaled this, the news likely came as a surprise to anyone who relies exclusively on the Post Gazette for Steelers news.

In reporting that the Steelers were making Willie Colon a priority, Brown wrote “Linta [Colon’s agent] said he is cautiously optimistic that he and the Steelers will reach a deal that keeps Colon in Pittsburgh.”

Ed Bouchette’s reporting painted a very different picture for his readers. He’s been saying in chats and PG Plus posts for a long time that he did not think the Steelers wanted to sign Colon to a long-term deal. (Gerry Dulac offered a different view, as the Watch Tower recounted last spring.)

On Wednesday Bouchette went so far as to instruct readers:

Don't look for Willie Colon to sign with the Steelers, even though they have put him among several players who they considered priorities right now. Agent Joe Linta has said all along that he believed the Steelers would not offer him nearly enough compared to what he believes Colon will earn elsewhere. Linta's reaction yesterday did not change his opinion. The bottom line is, the Steelers do not believe strongly enough in Colon for whatever reason to give him a big contract. Colon wants more than Max Starks makes and that isn't going to happen. [Emphasis Added.]

This of course, amounts to a double whammy.

First, you’ve basically got two reporters from different papers indirectly quoting the same source and providing very different interpretations.

And it’s obvious from this quote that Bouchette had little idea that Max Starks was a day, if not hours, away from getting the axe.

Yet, even after the Steelers cut Max Starks, Bouchette doubled down, insisting that Colon almost certainly headed out of town. Talking about the offer the Steelers made Colon, Bouchette recounted, “I've heard they made such a low-ball offer to Colon that it turned him off…”

To be fair, Bouchette followed up that observation by reminding readers that Colon was close friends with Ben Roethlisberger and that he wanted to stay with the team.

In certain parts of the blogesphere, bashing Ed Bouchette is common. Not so here, as the Watch Tower has praised him repeatedly. However great some of Bouchette’s sources may be, he’s repeatedly been caught flat footed when it comes to contract negotiation, and he explicitly missed the boat on:

Bouchette was also so confident that the Steelers would do nothing in free agency in 2010 that he went on vacation during the first week – and the Steelers promptly went out and signed Antwaan Randle El, Arnez Battle, Will Allen, Jonathan Scott, and brought Larry Foote back.

Bouchette also went firmly on the record saying that “hearing no talk about talks” told him that Mike Tomlin’s contract was not going to be renewed in 2010; the Steelers renewed Tomlin’s contract shortly thereafter.

John Harris the Happy

This edition of the Watch Tower ends with well-wishes for the Tribune Review’s John Harris, who passed the time during the lockout inventing new ways to remind readers of how valuable Ike Taylor was to the Steelers and how jealous suitors were lining up to snatch Taylor away form the Black and Gold.

Well, it is doubtful that Art II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were listening, but they did get Ike re-signed, so we should suppose that makes John Harris happy.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers,
click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

Steelers Re-sign William Gay to Multi-Year Deal

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly is reporting that the Steelers have reached terms with number three corner William Gay.

Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette is also reporting the deal, adding that the Steelers have agreed to a multi-year extension with Gay.

William Gay was the team's 5th round pick in the 2007 NFL draft and split time in the starting role with Bryant McFadden in 2008. Gay assumed the starting role in 2009 and struggled.

Following Bryant McFadden's return in 2010, Gay served as the team's number three corner, and did a decent job there. The Steelers decision to bring Gay back means that Keenan Lewis, their third round pick in 2009, will struggle to make the team as the Steelers drafted two corners in the 2011 NFL draft.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the rest of Steelers 2011 Free Agent Focus series. Or follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

Steelers To Cut Willie Colon in 2 Years

Steelers fans experiencing a feeling of euphoria over the signing of offensive lineman Willie Colon need look no further than La Toalla Terrible to burst their bubbles.

La Toalla Terrible, ever one to ferret out those hard to find news nuggets, uncovered a shocking revelation from the Steelers brass.

The Steelers plan to cut Willie Colon within two years.

Sound crazy.

Think about it:

  • The Steelers signed Sean Mahan in 2007 to a five year deal and then…
...Traded him back to Tampa Bay in 2008

  • They signed Kendall Simmons to a four year deal in 2007 and then…
…cut him in 2009

Notice a trend? Well keep your eyes peeled boys and girls because it gets better.

  • After signing Justin Hartwig to a 2 year deal in 2008, they extended his contract for four years in 2009, and then…
…cut him in 2010

  • After benching Max Starks in 2007 they made him their transition player in 2008 and then the franchise player in 2009 before finally signing him to a four year deal in 2009 with a ten million dollar bonus, only to, you guessed it…
… cut him in 2011.

What’s more, the Steelers really wanted to resign Marvel Smith before the 2008 season. After pouting at Pittsburgh’s proposal Smith “NO” opted to become a free agent and was promptly put on the after falling prey to injury against Jacksonville.

Steelers Football Operations Director Cevin Kolbert regrets that one to this very day, explaining to La Toalla Terrible:

You know we offered Marvel a multi-year contract with a nice bonus, it’s a shame he didn’t sign it. His refusal really wrought havoc with our plans.
‘Messed up your plans!’ La Toalla Terrible exclaimed! ‘How could that be, didn’t you dodge a bullet on a not giving a bunch of money to a guy forced into retirement less than a year later?’

“Relax,” cautioned Kolbert, “It’s a sane strategy.”

‘Strategy?’ ‘Strategy?’ ‘How is that a sane strategy?’ demanded La Toalla.

“Don’t you see?” countered Kolbert, “we wanted to lock down Marvel for the same reason we locked down Willie.”

“So why sign lineman to long term contracts only to cut them two years later,” La Toalla Terrible insisted, and then stared at his source through the slits of his eyes.

After holding out in silence Kolbert finally caved, offering in exasperation, “ as Kolbert revealed, “you see, it keeps the rest of the league guessing!”

La Toalla Terrible (Spanish for Terrible Towel) takes Steel Curtain Rising's readers for walks along the bizzaro side of Steelers Nation. Click here to read more of La Toalla's rumblings and mumblings. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Steelers Sign Willie Colon, Cut Flozell Adams

The Steelers solidified their offensive line today, or at least clarified it, by signing Willie Colon to a 5 year 29 million contract.

The move however, came at the cost of Flozell Adams. The team had hoped to get Adams to agree to take a pay cut to serve as a number 3 back up.

Colon's move comes as somewhat of a surprise -- the Steelers drafted him in 2006 had passed on a number of opportunities to sign him to a long-term deal.

But Colon wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, and took a home town discount to the tune of 3 million less than Chicago was putting on the table, to stay.

Dreading Scott?

With the move complete, at this point it is the Steelers appear to be entering training camp with Jonathan Scott as their right tackle. Scott started for much of last year after injuries felled Max Starks mid season against Cincinnati.

Scott's performance as a starter was so-so. Like all of the Steelers lineman he performed well enough to win under trying circumstances, but the Steelers really struggled to run to the left side, and Ben Roethlisberger, as always, was under pressure.

Behind the Steel Curtain's Michael Bean predicted Max Stark's departure, and argues that Scott provides better value at the position (Starks was set to make 7 million this year.) While Bean's argument might make economic sense, Starks -- when healthy -- is a better tackle than Scott.

If Scott opens camp as a starter it by no means ensures that he'll finish there. Chris Scott, the team's 5th round draft pick in the 2010 NFL draft, will reportedly get a shot to start, as might Marcus Gilbert, the team's 2nd round draft pick in the 2011 NFL draft.

And, just to keep things interesting, word is the Steelers might attempt to resign Max Starks at a lower salary, and option I consider to be unlikely.

Cameron Heyward Signs, Eason Departs

The Steelers signed first round draft pick Cameron Heyward. Terms of the deal were not released by the Post Gazette, but one must assume it is a four year deal. Prior to the current CBA the Steelers practice had been to sign first round draft picks to 5 year deals, but that is not prohibited.

Finally, Nick Eason is leaving to rejoin Ray Horton in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals. In four years with the Steelers Eason developed into a serviceable back up, but his departure perhaps gives Steve McLendon a chance to hold a roster spot.

What of William Gay and Chris Hoke?

While the Steelers lost 2007 draft pick and back up tight end Matt Speath to the Chicago Bears, free agents William Gay and Chris Hoke remain unsigned.

Many fans might welcome Gay's departure, but Gay is a decent third corner back and the Steelers have little proven depth at that position.

Resigning Chris Hoke is a must. Hoke generates little ink, but Chris Hoke steps up and gets the job done when called upon, which is no small feat when you're talking about your back up nose tackle in a 3-4 defense....

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the rest of Steelers 2011 Free Agent Focus series. Or follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

Steelers Cut Max Starks, Randle El

Kevin Colbert y Mike Tomlin Tienen Huevos de Acero
-Steel Curtain Rising's description of Tomlin & Colbert’s decision to cut Kendall Simmons in 2009

As a coach, Mike Tomlin refuses to coach scared. Tomlin plays to win, whether its going for 2 even when he’s just been penalized for holding or calling an on-sides kick in a game where quaterbacks are throwing TD’s a will.

Kevin Colbert mimics his counterpart.

Fear does not guide Colbert and Tomlin’s decision making, a tendency which they displayed again this morning while cutting former starting left tackle and one time franchise tag holder Max Starks.

Less than 24 hours before the start of free agency the Steelers now have under contract at the all important offensive tackle position:

Is this how the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl?

Fear not faithful in Steelers Nation. The Steelers cut Kendall Simmons in 2009 leaving them with no “starter capable” guard bound to the team, yet they quickly came to terms with Chris Kemoatu.

As Homer J. from Behind the Steel Curtain pointed out, Tomlin and Colbert have a plan.

They are negotiating to bring Willie Colon back (although how much fruit those questions are likely to bear remains an open question) and will likely bring Jonathan Scott back, who replaced Starks last year at left tackle.

The decision to cut Starks nonetheless counts as a surprise. Bragging rights go out to Michael Bean, found of Behind the Steel Curtain, who apparently went on the radio earlier this year and suggested that Stark’s roster spot might be in jeopardy. Hat's off to you Michael!

On PG Plus, Ed Bouchette reported that Starks weight in the off season had topped 400 pounds during the lock out and was still at 375.

Randle El Redux Lasts One Year

A year ago Randel El returned to Pittsburgh with great fanfare, but his return to Pittsburgh was to be short lived. Bringing El back was a good move, even if he’d lost a step – or two, since leaving in 2005, but he was simply surpassed by astonishing development of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the rest of Steelers 2011 Free Agent Focus series. Or follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Plaxico Burress, Mike Tomlin to Meet?

ESPN.com is reporting that after having dinner with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Plaxico Burress will fly to Pittsburgh to meet with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

Reliable Report?

This is certainly not the first time that Plaxico Burress' return to his former team has been suggested.

Although Steel Curtain Rising has zero access to sources on this one, Burress' return to the Steelers must be considered unlikely.

Already having resigned Ike Taylor, the Steelers still need to sort out their situation at offensive line, and have veterans such as William Gay and Chris Hoke whom they'd be wise to bring back.

Still, no one expected them to begin the 2010 free agency signing period by signing 5 players, and yet that's what they did.

Stay tuned....

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the rest of Steelers 2011 Free Agent Focus series. Or follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

Steelers Sign Bates, Boot Sepulveda

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed rookie free agent punter and Michigan State alum Aaron Bates today and in effect, gave the boot to 2007 fourth round draft pick Daniel Sepulveda.

Jeremy Kapinos, who was signed after Sepulveda injured his ACL yet again last year , remains on the roster and the roster spot is likely his to lose.

Mike Tomlin turned heads in his inaugural draft when he traded up in the fourth round to select a punter. Tomlin said he liked Sepulveda not only for his kicking, but because he was a good open field tackler, and he wanted to emphasize that special teams is part of the game.

Chalk that up to a nice idea on paper that never worked out in practice. Sepulveda was never a dominant punter, and spent two of his four years on IR.

In fact, the Steelers made their appearances in Super Bowl XLIII and Super Bowl XLV with Mitch Berger and Kapinos handling the punting chores.

Bouchette's Bragging Rights

Post-Gazette Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette can justifiably claim bragging rights. He spoke out against using such a high draft pick on a punter the day the pick was made -- and on every occasion he could since then.

This Bud's for you Mr. Bouchette. (Now, can we please stop bemoaning the pick?)

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the rest of Steelers 2011 Free Agent Focus series. Or follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Steelers Resign Ike Taylor

It did not take long.

Less than 24 hours after NFL teams could begin negotiating with players, the Steelers announced that they had agreed to terms with Ike Taylor, who cannot formally sign his contract until after 6:00 pm on Friday the 29th.

Financial terms of the deal were not announced, but length of the contract was reported at 4 years, reported the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

With Taylor under contract, the Steelers will focus their attention on their next free agent priority, offensive tackle Willie Colon.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

18 Rookie Free Agents Sign with Steelers

The Steelers moved quickly to sign undrafted rookie free agents today, the first day in which they were allowed to make such moves.

In addition to the agreements to bring on board Anthony Gray, Weslye Saunders, Miguel Chavis and Terrence McCrae, which were known this morning, the Post-Gazette is reporting that Steelers have also come to terms with:

Vaughn Charlton, a tight end/H-back from Temple;
John Clay, a running back from Wisconsin;
Armand Robinson, a wide receiver from Miami;
Adam Mims, a wide receiver from Furman;
Colin Miller, a center from Central Michigan;
Trevis Turner, an offensive tackle from Abilene Christian;
Brent Greenwood, a safety from Iowa;
Niles Brinkley, a cornerback from Wisconsin;
Eric Clanton, an outside linebacker from The Citadel;
Mario Harvey, an inside linebacker from Marshall;
Eric Greenwood, a wide receiver from Idaho.

That brings the number to 15. However, NFL teams are permitted 90 person training camp rosters. Behind the Steel Curtain is reporting that the Steelers have also come to terms with three more players:

Ty Boyle, a defensive end from North Dakota
Joshua Harrison, an offensive tackle from South Carolina State
Derek Chard, a long snapper from UConn

For those of you keeping score at home, the break down by position goes like this:

Tight Ends: 2
Wide Receivers: 4
Running Back: 1
Offensive Tackles: 2
Centers: 1
Guards: 0

Defensive lineman: 3
Linebackers: 2
Cornerback: 1
Safety: 1
Long Snapper: 1

The high number of wide receivers is attention catching, given that the Steelers have five quality wide outs returning, with Limas Sweed and Tyler Grisham expect to push Antwaan Randle El for a roster spot.

Conversely, the low number of defensive backs also catches the attention, given that both Ike Taylor and William Gay are unrestricted free agents.

Filling out the roster with undrafted rookie free agents is normally a ho-hum affair but, as mentioned on Steel Curtain Rising list week, the Kevin Colbert has a history of plucking gold out of the NFL draft’s scrap heap.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the rest of Steelers 2011 Free Agent Focus series. Or follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

Steelers Rookie Free Agent Agreements Begin

The lockout has ended and news of the Steelers first free agent moves is coming in. While the Steelers cannont "sign" anyone until Friday, Behind the Steel Curtain is reporting that the Steelers have agreed to terms with:

  • Anthony Gray DT/NT, Southern Mississippi
  • Weslye Saunders TE, South Carolina
  • Miguel Chavis, DL, Clemson
Inside Pittsburgh Sports is also reporting on his Twitter feed that the Steelers have agreed to terms with:

  • Terrence McCrae, WR, Ohio
DiPiola is also reporting that Philadelphia, Arizona, and Baltimore are set to make a bull rush for Steelers free agent Ike Taylor.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Ike Taylor Focus of Steelers Free Agent Need/Want List

EPSN.com is reporting that the NFL lockout should be lifted within 48 hours, ushering in perhaps the most chaotic period in the NFL's history.

Going by the time table outlined by ESPN, free agency should begin by Saturday the 30th of July.

Teams will be able to negotiate with their own free agents beginning on Wednesday of this week.

The Steelers of course have a number of free agents, but none by any stretch of the imagination are more important than Ike Taylor.

The Steelers weakness, as exposed last season by Drew Brees and Tom Brady and ultimately Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV, is their secondary. Specifically speaking, the Steelers have one quality starting cornerback in a league where you generally need three.

Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette both have reported that Taylor remains the Steelers free agent priority and both report that the Steelers think they can sign him.

The Steelers in fact attempted to resign Ike Taylor before the NFL lockout began but were unsuccessful. Taylor says he wants to stay with the Steelers, but clearly the Taylor is not offering a hometown discount.

The NFL's new salary cap might leave the Steelers struggling for space, although any reduction in overall cash expenditures will affect other teams as well.

The Steelers have succeeded in free agency because they avoid bidding wars and refuse to overpay.

But one thing is certain.

It is much more a case of the Steelers needing a Ike Taylor back than simply wanting him back.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the rest of Steelers 2011 Free Agent Focus series. Or follow us on Twitter @SteelCurtainRis.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Colbert Record: Undrafted Rookie Free Agents


Future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis started the 2000 season with Richard Huntley, Amos Zereoue, Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and Jon Witman backing him up. Never in franchise history, perhaps, have the Pittsburgh Steelers boasted a deeper backfield.

Things changed fast. First fullback Jon Witman fell to injury and then Fuamatu-Ma’afla followed.

Injuries are always inopportune, but Pittsburgh headed into a mid-season show down with the Baltimore Ravens having to activate a little-known rookie free agent from the University of New Hampshire, football power house that it is.

Dan Kreider buckled his chin strap and challenged Ray Lewis head on, the Steelers rushed for 100 yards, Pittsburgh dealt the Ravens their last loss of 2000 and Kevin Colbert now had one of his biggest calling cards – uncanny success with undrafted rookie free agents.

The Colbert Record – Rookie Free Agents

With the NFL lockout heading to its conclusion one of the first orders of business will be to sign unrestricted rookie free agents. No one knows how the layoff will affect teams.

Previous installments of The Colbert Record dealt with his draft record. Today attention turns to Colbert’s success after the draft, success which has historically given the Steelers an advantage.

The list below contains the Steelers most prominent rookie free agents from the Kevin Colbert era. Click on the player names, each listed in the order of their appearance on the active roster.

Steelers 2000 Rookie Free Agents – Dan Kreider, Ainsley Battles
Steelers 2001 Rookie Free Agents - Keydrick Vincent, Chris Hoke
Steelers 2002 Rookie Free Agents - James Harrison
Steelers 2003 Rookie Free Agents – None
Steelers 2004 Rookie Free Agents - Willie Paker
Steelers 2005 Rookie Free Agents - Nate Washington
Steelers 2006 Rookie Free Agents - Anthony Madison
Steelers 2007 Rookie Free Agents - Gary Russell
Steelers 2008 Rookie Free Agents - Patrick Bailey, Darnell Stapleton
Steelers 2009 Rookie Free Agents - Stefan Logan, Doug Legursky,Ramon Foster, Isaac Redman
Steelers 2010 Rookie Free Agents - Steve McLendon

Kevin Colbert’s 2000 Rookie Free Agent Class

Dan Kreider - the "Sixth Offensive Lineman"
After getting his practice squad promotion in 2000 Dan Kreider went on to play in 113 games, starting 67 of those. Those numbers are impressive, but not as impressive as these: 4528 yards rushing and 4198 yards rushing.

Those are the rushing totals that Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker accumulated with Dan Kreider paving the way. Kreider is Steelers Football type who delivered down in the trenches time in and time out when victory or defeat lay in the balance.

Ainsley Battles
An unheralded member of this list, Ainsley Battles made it as a rookie free agent in 2000 and played in all 16 games, starting two of those.

When the history of Steelers safeties is written, Battles name will seldom noted or remembered. But he did record a sack and two fumble recoveries, and returned for spot duty with the Steelers in 2004 after two years as a part-time starter in Jacksonville.

Kevin Colbert’s 2001 Rookie Free Agent Class

Keydrick Vincent
Kevin Colbert plucked Keydrick Vincent out of the rookie free agent pool in 2001 and Vincent went on to start 27 games while appearing in 38. He even made starts as a rookie and as a sophomore, and then saw his value to the team soar in 2003 when injuries ravaged the offensive line.

Yet his greatest moment was in 2004, when a training camp ACL tear to Kendall Simmons threatened to derail the season. Vincent stepped up, and started 16 games in a season that saw the Steelers finish 15-1. Not bad for a guy whose phone refused to ring on draft day.

Chris Hoke - the Perpetual Unsung Hero
The record reflects that Chris Hoke joined the Steelers the same year as Casey Hampton, but with a lot less fan fare. If there is an unsung hero among Kevin Colbert’s rookie free agent signings, that man is Chris Hoke.

Hoke held a roster spot for much of his first three years, but only dressed twice, until dressing regularly in 2004. At mid-season the man who was less than an afterthought stepped in when Casey Hampton tore his ACL – and the Steelers did not miss a beat in route to a 15-1 season.

Hoke gets little press, but he’s arguably the most valuable back up the team has. 108 games played and a ‘mere’ 16 starts might seem pedestrian over 10 years, but Chris Hoke does what’s asked of him and delivers when his number has called.

Kevin Colbert’s 2002 Rookie Free Agent Coup -- Silverback!

James Harrison - Silverback Attack
James Harrison actually made the active roster in 2002. The stories of his dismissals, recalls, and stint with the Ravens are now legendary. Since then he’s played in 107 games and started in 71 of them, but my God, do those numbers fail to do him justice.

Images can only suffice.

Harrison hinted that he was something special as early as 2004, when he laid down the law with a drunken Browns fan:

Harrison chose the Steelers 75 Anniversary Game against the Baltimore Ravens for his coming out party, a day when he exploded for 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble, and an interception.

And, just in case Ed Reed had any illusions about who was the baddest defender on the field that night, James Harrison erased any doubts:

James Harrison’s biggest play as a Steelers is perhaps the most over looked, which is especially rare given that it’s the longest run in Super Bowl history. While Ben Roethlisberger’s game-ending drive rightly draws rave reviews, James Harrison’s pick six of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII amounted to a four point swing in a game that finished 27-24.

Oh, yeah, James Harrison has racked up 49 sacks, 5 interceptions, and forced 25 fumbles. And James Harrison was the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

James Harrison accomplished these things in spite of the fact that he gets held more than any other pass rusher in the NFL. Not bad for a guy whose name was never called at a podium in New York, Silverback's current foot-in-mouth attack notwithstanding.

Kevin Colbert’s 2004 Rookie Free Agent Fast Find

Fast Willie Parker
Not only did Willie Parker fail to be drafted, he barely played in college.

Parker went from non-entity to training camp sensation, to the man who relegated Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis to the bench, to authoring the then longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history in just two years.

A true work horse, “Fast Willie” played in 79 games starting 60 of them, and rushed for 5,378 yards and 24 touchdowns. What’s all the more impressive is that Willie did this in 6 years earning him the number 3 spot on the Steelers All-Time rushing list, and his 4.3 yards per carry average career rushing average ties Barry Foster as the best for a Steelers running back.

Who knows which Steelers scout uncovered him, Dan Rooney Jr. lives near Fast Willlie’s stomping grounds in the Carolinas, but who ever it was deserves a medal.

Kevin Colbert’s 2005 Rookie Free Agent Protégée

Nate Washington
Nate Washington cut his teeth as an unrestricted rookie free agent on the 2005 Super Bowl XL championship team. Washington’s best play as a rookie may have been the pass defense he made to save an interception in the AFC Championship game against Denver.

Year-by-year Washington got better, his hands became steadier, and he make himself into an integral part of the Steelers offense to the point where yours truly suggested that the Steelers might dump Santonio Holmes in favor of Washington after Holmes 2008 arrest.

Kevin Colbert’s astute pick up of Washington paid handsome dividends in Super Bowl XLIII as Nate Washington’s last pass as a Steeler came during the game winning drive.

Kevin Colbert’s 2006 Rookie Free Agent Special Teams Stud

Anthony Madison
Anthony Madison may have only played in 59 games and started none of them for the Steelers, but those numbers by no means measure his importance to the team. Madison is an outstanding special teams player and, as John Harris from the Tribune Review predicted, the team suffered mightly when they tried to do without him in 2009.

The Steelers brought him back, and their special teams improved accordinglyu.

Kevin Colbert’s 2007 Rookie Foster Free Agent Signing

Gary Russell
As a rookie in 2007 Gary Russell ran with the power and decisiveness that led Ed Bouchette to compare him to Barry Foster. And like Foster, Russell seems to have had attitude problems which lead to his dismissal following Super Bowl XLIII.

Nonetheless, during his time in Pittsburgh, Russell filled a badly needed short-yardage specialist role and scored the first touchdown of Super Bowl XLIII.

Kevin Colbert’s 2008 "Flash" Rookie Free Agent Class

Patrick Bailey
Ultimately, Patrick Bailey disappointed, but his sharp special teams play won him 2008 rookie of the year honors.

Darnell Stapleton
Darnell Stapleton may not have had the staying power of some of the other offensive lineman on this list who made the team as undrafted rookie free agents, but he did step into the starting role when Kendall Simmons was injured against Baltimore in 2008.

And if his post-season performance and his knee injuries at Latrobe in 2009 made the coaches leery of bringing him back, Darnell Stapleton was good enough at right guard for 14 games on a Super Bowl championship team, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Kevin Colbert’s 2009 Rookie Free Agent Foursome

Who would think that four free agent rookies would make the roster of the defending Super Bowl Champions? It happened with Colbert's 2009 free rookie agent class, and a year later three of those four would play a vital role in bringing the Steelers to the brink of capturing the team's 7th Lombardi.

Stefan "Joystick" Logan
Stefan Logan aka “Joystick” was another 2009 training camp sensation who did a commendable job as a kick returner in 2009. The emergence of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown made Stefan Logan expendable in 2010, but he was a bright spot on an otherwise dismal special teams unit.

“Mr. Versatility” Doug Legursky
Mike Tomlin has routinely praised “position flexibility” and perhaps no player has epitomized that more than Doug Legursky throughout is 24 games played and four starts. After making the practice squad in 2008, Legursky cracked the 53 man roster in 2009 seeing spot duty.

But in 2010 the team needed every bit of of Legusrsky’s versatility, and Legursky lined up at Center, Guard, fullback, and it would surprise me none to learn that he perhaps played a few snaps at tackle.

Ramon Foster
Ramon Foster found no love on draft day 2009, but the Steelers had plenty of love for him in late 2009 when injuries thrust him into the starting line up. He began 2010 on the bench, but by mid-season Mike Tomlin sent Trai Essex to the pine and Foster again joined the starting line up all the way through Super Bowl XLV.

Isaac "Redzone" Redman
Perhaps never has a Steelers player been move of a sensation without even taking a regular season NFL snap. Isaac Redman came out of no where in training camp 2009, and even held a roster spot for one game. In 2010 he earned a full roster spot, scored the game winning touchdown against Baltimore in the regular season.

At this point the only question about Redman is why don’t the Steelers give him more carries? Not bad for a Bowie State alumni.

Kevin Colbert’s 2010 Rookie Free Agent Signing

Steve McLendon
Steve McLendon’s stats will impress few, but McLendon saw serious playing time on a brutally hot Tennessee Sunday afternoon contributing to a defensive line that shut down Chris Johnson. McLendon only saw acting in 6 other games he has shown promise.

Undrafted Rookie Free Agents – Pittsburgh’s Competitive Differentiator

Normally undrafted rookie free agents fill out training camp rosters, play special teams, and perhaps grow into role players. If a rookie free agent holds his own in spot duty then he’s considered a success. Developing into a number one back up or unheralded starter is a decided plus.

Over the past decade Colbert, his scouts, and the Steelers coaches have developed just shy of one starting-caliber rookie free agent per season, and his two greatest finds, James Harrison and Willie Parker, authored the two of the most dramatic plays in history.

The Steelers success in staying competitive speaks for itself. Outsiders marvel at their record, asking “how do they do it?”

Those on lookers need do nothing more than browse the list above.

Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin have drafted well, but their consistent success with rookie free agents has pushed Pittsburgh over the top. Lombardi’s number five and six offer proof.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paul Solotaroff Explains Context of James Harrison's Remarks

After encouraging readers to at least maintain an open mind about James Harrison's claim that his comments had been taken out of context, it is only fair to give an airing to Men's Journal's Paul Solotaroff.

Speaking on ESPN radio Solotaroff explains that, while he's a Giants fan, he was outraged by Roger Goodell's arbitrary "get tough" policy and his attempt to make James Harrison the focus.

Solotaroff's commentary is quite interesting. First and foremost, Solotaroff stands by his treatment of James Harrison's quotes, indicates that Harrison had no quibbles with him when they recently spoke on the phone, although he's also at peace with Harrison's attempts at damage control.

I won't do Solotaroff the injustice of summarizing his full interview here, but I encourage you to check it out on ESPN. You can access a recording of the interview in LZ Granderson's article on ESPN.com.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Steelers Ruin 49ers Perfect Season

Yours truly cannot claim any memories of this game. Yes, I do Steelers memories that predate this fateful day in 1984, but the Steelers got little coverage in Washington DC in the 1980’s and sports let alone football was not a priority in my household (the fact that it was headed by two transplanted Pittsburghers notwithstanding.)

Yet I spied this on Behind the Steel Curtain, and thought I’d share it.

It is a timeless piece of Steelers lore because it speaks so Chuck Noll’s greatness as a head coach.

Check out the game's final moments via You Tube.

As Myron Cope would say, who ever would have thunk that Chuck Noll and Mark Malone would out duel the duo of Joe Montana and Chuck Noll

But it happened, and you just witnessed the final moments. If fate has it that you found this after the NFL’s lawyers had this post taken down from YouTube (this is common, I saw a pristine video of Terry Bradshaw’s final touchdown pass against the Jets only to have it disappear less than a month later) then I encourage you to read:

Those of your interested in Steelers-49er’s lore can read the full Chuck-Noll Bill Walsh series or the article that focuses on Noll and Walsh facing off head to head.

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James Harrison Offers Mea Culpa Via Facebook

Credit James Harrison with another talent.

When he sticks his foot deep into his mouth, he at least is smart enough to attempt to extract it.

Courtesy of John Stephens from Behind the Steel Curtain, I am here posting Silverback's response to the earthshaking rant which will appear in Men's Journal on Friday of this week. (Note Stephens has reposted Harrison' statement on Facebook.)

First, Harrison addressed his comments directed towards his teammates:
I’ll start by offering my apologies for some of the words that I said during the four days in May that Men’s Journal was invited to my house to discuss what the NFL has recently been portraying as their attempts at ‘player safety’ rules and regulations, and to cover my everyday workout routine.

I did make comments about my teammates when I was talking about the emotional Super Bowl loss, but the handful of words that were used and heavily publicized yesterday were pulled out of a long conversation and the context was lost. Obviously, I would never say that it was all Ben’s or Rashard’s fault that we lost the Super Bowl. That would be ridiculous. Both Ben and Rashard are great players and great teammates. Clearly the entire team bears responsibility for the loss, me included. It was a team effort and a team loss. My teammates know me well, and hopefully understand the things I said were not meant to accuse them of the loss. We all have discussed several things that went wrong in the Super Bowl since that day. What I do apologize for and take full responsibility for is for speaking in such a candid manner to someone outside the team.

After duly apologizing to his teammates, Harrison address his other comments:
I also need to make clear that the comment about Roger Goodell was not intended to be derogatory against gay people in any way. It was careless use of a slang word and I apologize to all who were offended by the remark. I am not a homophobic bigot, and I would never advocate intolerance of gay people.

As far as the photo that was shown on air yesterday, collecting guns is a hobby of mine, and I advocate the responsible use of firearms. I believe in the right to bear arms. I like to go to the shooting range. I like to hunt. I like to fish. I could just as easily have posed with my fishing poles but it obviously wouldn’t be an interesting picture for the magazine. I am not promoting gun violence by posing for that photo. There are also other photos in the magazine story that were not shown on air yesterday – including me with my sons, with my mom and as a kid.

Unfortunately, the above items and other comments have detracted from the original purpose of the story – a position I have been advocating for some time now. If player safety is the NFL’s main concern, as they say it is, they are not going about it in an effective manner. There’s nothing about extending the season or issuing exorbitant fines on defensive players that makes any shift toward the prevention of injury to players.

I believe that the league may have been feeling increasing pressure about injuries and concussions last year, and that they panicked and put rules in place that weren’t fully thought out. I’m not advocating more flags and fines, I’m just saying that the current rules are not completely fair, and I don’t believe in the way that the league is handling their position as overseer of the NFL and the well-being of its players.

As far as the character and reputation hits I may suffer as a result of my comments in the article, I’ll take those hits and more if it brings increased attention to the re-examination and installation of rules and regulations that would create a REAL impact on player safety.


A lot was said about Harrison's incendiary comments. Yours truly compared James Harrison to Greg Lloyd, who, his status as a personal favorite aside, may have done his share to divide the locker room.

Gerry Dulac wrote extensively on PG Plus, roundly taking Harrison to task and suggested that punishment was in order.

The best article I read was one on ESPN by Ashley Fox, who rightly said that Harrison above all made himself look like an idiot.

Now Harrison is attempting to make it right.

Don't Be Too Quick to Discount His Excuse

His first line of defense was time-honored "they took my words out of context."

Athletes always opt for this route. Just just because it seems like the easy out, does not mean we should discount the excuse, and those with person experience with the press might understand why.

Back in 1991 I testified in front of the Montgomery County Council. It was a sparsely attended event, so much that the council member (and future council president and county executive) chairing it feel asleep.

To my great surprise a week or so later someone called me to about the article that the Montgomery Gazette hard written on my testimony. There was one problem. The reporter never bothered to interview me and a good deal of my testimony was taken out of context.

On a larger scale in 1996 I volunteered for a year at People Working Cooperatively in Cincinnati, Ohio (a phenomenal organization serving a great city, Bengals not withstanding). A few months prior to my service there the agency had been the subject of a municipal investigation.

The Cincinnati press descended on PWC's headquarters and interviewed its leaders. I was told by people whom I know an trust that while on site the reporters made ever effort to take a sympathetic tone, only to savage the agency once they got back to the studio.

I've known others who've brushed with the press and had similar experiences.

If you think about it, it is easy to imagine Harrison making comments about Rashard Mendenhall and Ben Roethlisberger in a light hearted or even off hand way, perhaps even with a playful tone. Of course all of that would get lost the instant they went into print.

Harrison's comments about Goodell are another matter. From 6000 miles away those still "sound" as if they're from the heart.

Silverback Should have Known Better

The bottom line is that Harrison should have known better. He is not a rookie and has been in the spotlight enough to know that something like this would happen.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

James Harrison Follows in Greg Lloyd’s Footsteps

James Harrison has always reminded me of one of my all time favorite Steelers, Greg Lloyd. After all, both men:
  • Excel at outside linebacker
  • Hail from unheralded college programs
  • Terrorize opposing quarterbacks
  • Unleash havoc with reckless abandon
  • Impose their will
  • Alter the course of games when victory and defeat hang in the balance
Harrison, for good or for ill, is now following in Lloyd’s footsteps with his mouth.

Never shy about sharing his feelings, Lloyd once called Joe Namath out when Broadway Joe criticized his aggressive play, and number 95 rightly criticized NFL management for fining him for hits that they later packaged and sold as highlight VHS tapes.

The NFL’s selective prosecution of James Harrison during the 2010 campaign was well document both on Steel Curtain Rising and in parts elsewhere.

Harrison didn’t back down then, and is not relenting now, having done an interview with Men's Journal where he called Rodger Goodell “the devil” and going so far as to say:
If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it. I hate him and will never respect him.

Strong words. Steel Curtain Rising has been stout in its defense of James Harrison, regularly decrying the league’s semi-official policy of allowing offensive lineman to hold, closeline, and horse collar him with nary a flag.

And if one easily understands that no love will should be lost between Goodell and Harrison, it remains equally effortless to understand that the ultimate impact of Harrison’s tirade will likely only serve to intensify his status as the league’s poster boy against aggressive play.

The real danger in Harrison’s rant lies elsewhere.

Harrison Hits Too Close to Home

In a forthcoming Men’s Journal magazine article, Harrison also offered some choice words for his teammates.

While praising Troy Polamalu, Harrison labeled Rashard Mendenhall as a “fumble machine,” and then had this to say about his starting quarterback:
Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain't that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.

Harrison’s criticism of Ben Roethlisberger is particularly unnevering. Locker room unity and team harmony have been hallmarks of the Steelers success during the entire last decade.

Could signal the end?

Echos of O’Donnell and Lloyd?

Reading Harrison’s comments about Roethlisberger immediately reminded me of Greg Lloyd and Neil O’Donnell.

After a hard-fought victory against the Chicago Bears in 1995 Lloyd saluted O’Donnell with a very public side-line hug. Afterwards he explained to reporters that quarterbacks, O’Donnell included, were the enemy, and that his hug signaled a truce in light of his quarterback’s superb play that day.

That season’s ended with Steelers dropping Super Bowl XXX and Neil O’Donnell bolting because he felt Rich Kotite and New York Jet’s offered him a better chance to get back to the Super Bowl. I remember reading an article by someone in Pittsburgh, I want to say it was John Steigerwald talking about the relationship between O’Donnell and Lloyd.

Steigerwald, if he was the author, explained that the Lloyd-O’Donnell hug marked the high point in their relationship, and that the divisions between Lloyd and his cadre and the rest of the team had hurt the team in 1995. (Jim O’Brien raised similar observations about Lloyd in his book Dare to Dream.)

While tension between Lloyd and O’Donnell remained largely behind the scenes, (ah, the heaven of the days prior to social media), Harrison has very publicly called out his quarterback.

Roethlisberger and Harrison have apparently talked, according to Merril Hoge, and all is well. That’s what you want to hear in public.

What is said, or felt, in private remains a different matter.

A few weeks back in a make-news article, ESPN’s James Walker praised Mike Tomlin as being the AFC North’s best “massager of egos.” Walker’s arguments were strong. Now it looks as if they’ll be put to the test.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hines Ward Arrested for DUI

Sometimes Art Rooney II simply must want to shake his head.

Another off season, and another Steelers player in legal trouble -- in Georgia no less.

Both WTAE and PG Plus are both reporting that Steelers stand out wide reciever and Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward was arrested this morning on DUI charges.

Hines Ward's agent issued the following statement:
On July 9, Hines Ward was stopped by DeKalb County police for suspicion of misdemeanor driving under the influence. He cooperated fully with the police and truthfully answered all of their questions.

We are currently in the process of ascertaining all the facts. From our preliminary investigation, we can tell you that we are confident that the facts will show that Hines was not impaired by alcohol while driving. However, Hines is deeply saddened by this incident and apologizes to his fans and the Steelers organization for this distraction.

That is a pretty strong statement and it is important to note that the charge was DUI and not DWI, the former not even being a felony.

Still, given Roger Goodell's uneven application of the league's good conduct policy, one already must entertain the idea Hines Ward could be facing some kind of suspension.

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250 Reasons to Be Proud of Pittsburgh

Steel Curtain Rising has an (almost) strict policy of "Steelers Only" when it comes to content.

And, this video commemorating the 250th Anniversary of Pittsburgh does mention the Steelers, so I guess that counts. Its about 7 minutes long, but worth the watch.

The Steelers and Steelers Nation have brought the city of Pittsburgh fame and notoriety far beyond what the city's population or size would imply. And the Steelers are a rightful source of civic pride.

But there are so many reasons for Pittsburghers to be proud, even those of us such as yours truly who never actually lived there, and this video serves as a pleasant reminder.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Steelers to Face Salary Cap Trouble in New CBA?

This is a little premature to discuss, as the new CBA has yet to be reached and anything, including continuation of the lockout, could happen.

But ESPN's John Clayton is reporting that the salary cap will likely decline in any new CBA, and he's listing the Steelers as one of the 7 teams that would be most aversely affected.

Accordingly to Claton, the Steelers are 10 million dollars over the prospective cap. On the surface of things, this does not bode well for the team.

Clayton, for examples, explains that the Steelers could cut half of that gap by parting ways with Flozell Adams.

The conventional wisdom is that the Steelers cannot resign Willie Colon, which means that losing Adams would rob the Steelers of both quantity and quality of depth at offensive tackle.

Likewise, the Steelers need to resign Ike Taylor, and their ability to do so would be compromised by how much they can restructure existing deals and create enough space to ink Taylor.

Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II have been quite adept at managing the salary cap, and there is no reason to expect this to change.

But given the compressed free agency time frame and a reduced salary cap is going to require some fancy footwork on the part of both men to ensure the Steelers keep Taylor and Adams or Colon in the Black and Gold in 2011.

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