´ Steel Curtain Rising: April 2012

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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Steelers 2012 NFL Draft Class at a Glance

Three days, seven rounds, 253 players and Mel Kipper Jr. is already getting ready for next year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the 2012 NFL Draft armed with 10 picks, and ended up taking nine players. By position their picks breakdown this way:  3 offensive lineman, 1 defensive lineman, 1 linebacker, 1 running back, 1 wide out, 1 corner, and 1 tight end.

Steelers Picks in the 2012 NFL Draft:

1. David DeCastro, guard, Stanford University
2. Mike Adams, tackle, Ohio State University
3. Sean Spence, linebacker, University of Miami
4. Alameda Ta’amu, nose tackle, Washington University
5. Chris Rainey, running back and kick returner, Univeristy of Florida
6. (no pick, traded to Washington Redskins to move up in 4th)
7. Toney Clemons, wide receiver, Colorado University
7b. David Paulson, tight end, Oregon
7c. Terrence Fredrick, cornerback, Texas A&M
7d. Kelvin Beachum, guard, Southern Methodist University

Deviation from Discipline Policy

Although the Steelers do not deserve the halo that many (including yours truly) try to affix to them, they do run one of the cleaner NFL shops.

And the team has a reputation for both avoiding players with off the field issues and weeding out those that have them. Yet three of the nine players the team selected have histories with discipline issues.

The first two are relatively minor. Chris Rainey got into trouble for sending threatening text messages to an ex-girlfriend. Assuming this is an isolated incident, it is no biggie.

Sean Spence also ran afoul of some NCAA regulations regarding conduct with an agent and accepting gifts. Again, this is nothing to overlook entirely, but it is also not a grave offense.

The biggest issue involves Mike Adams, who tested positive at the NFL Scouting Combine for marijuana. And this is not the first time this kind of thing has happened for Adams.

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were very open with the press about this issue. Adams transgression got him knocked off of the Steelers draft board, and it was only after Adams reached out to them and agreed to take certain actions, that the Steelers restored him to their board.

Marvel Smith, Colbert’s first 2nd round pick in 2000, had a similar history and developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Steelers. There’s no guarantee that Adams will pan out the same way, but the Steelers have taken a significant risk. Colbert acknowledged as much, admitting that if things didn’t work out with Adams, he would be responsible.

The Steelers are of course not finished adding to their roster. As soon as the draft ends, the mad dash for rookie free agents begins.

The Steelers have made many of those moves already. When the list is finalized, Steel Curtain Rising will bring it to you in full.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Steelers Draft Toney Clemons 3 Others in the 7th Round

The Steelers closed out the 2012 NFL Draft by picking Colorado wide receiver Toney Clemons with their own 7th round pick. Clemons is a western Pennsylvania native who graduated from Valley High School.

Pittsburgh also had 3 compensatory picks, and used those on tight end David Paulson of Oregon, cornerback Terrence Fredrick of Texas A&M, and offensive tackle Kelvin Bechum of SMU.

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Steelers Draft Chris Rainey in 5th Round

After focusing almost exclusively on offensive and defensive lineman during the first two days of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Steelers finally turned their attention to the skill positions in the 5th round by selecting running back Chris Rainey in the 5th Round.

Rainey is a little undersized, standing at 5’8” and weighing in at 180 pounds, but he was successful at Florida and in the view of Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain, injects some athleticism into the backfield that the Steelers currently lack.

Writing on PG Plus, Ed Bouchette made some of the same observations, yet came to different conclusions, questioning whether Raineywould actually fit into the offense, comparing him to Stefan Logan.

Logan, aka “Joystick” was a training camp sensation in 2009 and made the team as a kick returner. Although he did well returning clicks, he lacked position flexibility and was ultimately forced off the team by the emergence of AntonioBrown in 2010.

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Steelers Draft Alameda Ta'amu in 4th Round

Kevin Colbert has never shied from wheeling and dealing to move up to grab a player he thought was going to grow into a winner. He did in 2003 and 2006 with Troy Polamalu and Santonio Holmes.

He did it again in 2012 by trading up 10 spots to draft nosetackle Alameda Ta’amu of Washington State in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Ta’amu is a behemoth, standing six for 3 and weighing in at 348 pounds. That’s right, three hundred forty eight pounds. 

As Ta’amu is the first nose tackle drafted by the Steelers since they chose Casey Hampton in 2001, speculation will immediately focus on whether or not Ta’amu is now the heir apparent for Casey Hampton.

That’s a tall order to fill, as Big Snack has anchored one of the most successful runs in defensive football in modern history.

Fighting Fourth Round History?

If Kevin Colbert has had the midas touch when it has come to first round picks, his luck in the fourth has been something far more pedestrian.

Larry Foote (2002) and Ike Taylor (2003) came to the Steelers as 4th round picks, and both started in Super Bowls XL and XLIII.  Willie Colon also turned out to be another wise 4th round pick in 2006.

But Danny Farmer, Colbert’s first 4th round selection in 2000 got cut in training camp. The story was the same with Fred Gibson in 2005. Mathiad Nkwenti (’01) did little more than carry a clipboard.

Colbert’s luck with fourth round picks hasn’t been helped by Mike Tomlin’s presence, as the two have selected Ryan McBean, Dan Sepulveda, Tony Hills, and Thaddus Gibson.

Cortez Allen, the Steelers 2011 4th round pick, has already bested his predecessors from the Tomlin era, so perhaps Ta’amu can continue the upward trend.

Video Profile of Alameda Ta’amu

Dan Gigler, author of the Post-Gazette’s Blog and Gold, wrote a lengthy profile of Ta’amu, arguing that if the Steelers were patient, Ta’amu could be a late round steal.

Time will tell if Gigler was right, but he left an impressive resume on tape:

Welcome to Steelers Nation Mr. Ta’amu.

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Steelers Draft Sean Spence in 3rd Round

The Steelers concluded the second night of the 2012 NFL Draft by addressing another area of need when they selected Miami linebacker Sean Spence in the third round.

Spence played outside linebacker for the Hurricanes, but the Steelers are projecting him it inside linebacker.

With James Farrior gone, Larry Foote is penciled in as the Steelers starter. Stevenson Sylvester, who joined the Steelers via the 5th round of the 2010 NFL draft, will also get a chance to compete for playing time.

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Steelers Take Mike Adams in 2nd Round

Do you think Ben Roethlisberger will sleep just a little more soundly tonight?

For four long years the Steelers neglected (or at least were unable to address) the offensive line with premium picks in the NFL draft.

The broke away from that trend beginning in 2010 with the selection of Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert in 2011.

In 2012 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers they have slammed the door shut on that era with a thunderous thrust. Less than 24 hours after selecting David DeCastro with theirfirst round pick, the Steelers picked Mike Adams from the University of Ohiowith their second round pick.

In less than a day, their offensive line has gone from being characterized by undrafted rookie free agents to one studded with high round picks.

Of course, these players still need to deliver. The time for that will come at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe this summer. But no one can say that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert aren’t taking offensive line building with the utmost seriousness.

Willie Colon to Guard?

Mike Tomlin is loath to start rookies. The Steelers Digest reported that he went so far as to feign that Flozell Adam was fighting for a starting job to avoid prematurely anointing Maurkice Pouncey as a rookie.

But Marcus Gilbert is pegged as the Steelers starting left tackle, and Mike Adams will at least get a shot at starting on the right side, which is Willie Colon’s position.

For years commentators outside the team have argued that Colon’s natural position is tackle, not guard, although oft-discussed move to guard never materalized. There’s no certainty that it a shift to guard would materailze in 2012, in fact the odds would be against it, but this pick does at least pave the way for rumor to become reality.

Profile of Mike Adams

Mike Adams comes to the Steelers from OSU. He stands at 6’7” and weighs 316 pounds. Prior to the draft there had been discussion that the Steelers might select Adams in the first round. As it turns out, they got him for less.

Here is a SB Nation video profile on Mike Adams.

Thanks go out to Michael Bean, of Behind the Steel Curtain and his  team at SB Nation for putting this together. For more SB Nation videos, click here.

In the mean time, welcome to Pittsburgh and welcome to Steelers Nation Mr. Adams.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

Steelers Draft David DeCastro in First Round of 2012 Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers effectively killed two birds with one stone. The franchise, at least since Kevin Colbert came on board, have resisted the temptation to reach for need in the draft.

Yet the Steelers have real needs on offensive line, specifically at guard.

Tonight, in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Stanford guard David DeCastro with the 24th pick. DeCastro was rated by many as the number one overall guard in the draft.

The Steelers, according to Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette, never thought he’d be there when their turn came to pick.  Kevin Colbert admitted that they considered trading up when saw DeCastro slipping, but he and Mike Tomlin sat tight and were rewarded.

The Steelers offensive line, once an area of team strength, has been a unit in disarry for the past two years. Although much of the chaos as been caused by injury, the simple fact is that the Steelers “plug and patch” strategy of offensive line building has caught up with them.

Tonight they took another step by adding DeCastro.  Welcome to Steelers Nation David DeCastro

David DeCastro Profile Video, Courtesy of SB Nation

Thanks to Michael Bean, founder and editor of Behind theSteel Curtain, and current head of the SB YouTube video project for pulling this together. For more SB Nation Videos, click here.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Steelers Sign Byron Leftwich

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette is reporting that Bryon Leftwich has resigned with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The Steelers first acquired Leftwich in 2008 when Charlie Batch got broke his collarbone in preseason. Leftwich got significant playing time in three days that year, and considered staying with the Steelers. However, he opted to depart for Tampa, but Leftwich was back again via trade in 2010.

Mike Tomlin would like to anoint Leftwich as his designated back up to Ben Roethlisberger, but Leftwich's fragility keeps getting in the way. He injured his knee late in preseason 2010, when he was expected to start during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension. Last year a broken arm in preseason shelved him for the year.

While there's a lot to like about Byron Leftwich, his durability has become a real liability.

The move puts five quarterbacks under contract with the Steelers with the possibility that they will draft one in the 2012 NFL Draft. It his highly unlikely that the Steelers would bring more than four quarterbacks to training camp at St. Vincent's.

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Steelers 2012 Draft Need Matrix

Unlike other sites, Steel Curtain Rising has no inner Mel Kipper Jr. to channel. Here you’ll find no mock drafts, analysis of hypothetical trade values, or doomsday scenarios.

Those are all great, and to my fellow colleagues in the blogging community, I say have at it!

But I make no pretense of pretending to know or even have an educated guess on who the Steelers should pick and who they should avoid in the draft. College football is not shown here in Buenos Aires, even if you have Direct TV, and even when I lived in the United States, I never followed it. Nothing against it, just never had a rooting interest. (Now, if Loyola Maryland ever gets a football team... Watch out.)

What I can do, however, is give you an analysis of the Steelers needs. If you’ve been following, you’ll know that I’ve broken down the Steelers by position area, evaluating what they need at tight end and quarterback, running back and wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, and secondary.

But how does that all fit together? Well, that’s what Steel Curtain Rising's annual Steelers draft need matrix is all about. If, in a given situation the Steelers find multiple players of the same grade on their draft board, who do they pick?

Mind you, the Steelers, at least since Kevin Colbert arrived, have rarely allowed their draft decisions to be driven by need. But, for as much as they might protest to the contrary, need does come into their equation, even if its not the prime consideration.

This year’s draft matrix has an odd shape, thin at both ends and fat in the middle.

Steelers First Tier Draft Needs

The Steelers have to urgent needs. They need to continue to rebuild their offensive line, and they need to begin grooming a successor to Casey Hampton.

Fate might complicate that mission in this draft, as we are told there are few quality nose tackles. And that’s where this gets tricky.

Because the Steelers only need one nose tackle, yet they need to field five offensive lineman and could conceivably upgrade any of the the four exterior line positions, with a quality first round pick.

And while the Steelers need at guard is greater than it is at tackle, I lump to two together, because if the Steelers get a good tackle Willie Colon can make the oft-discussed move to his so called natural position of guard (which he has never played.)

So the temptation to reach for a nose tackle, given the dearth of talent in this draft, has got to be great.

But the Steelers First Tier Draft Matrix goes like this:

Offensive line takes priority over nose tackle, by a nose (pun intended)

Second Steelers Draft Needs

The second tier is very fat indeed. For once you can believe Kevin Colbert when he says that everything (or almost everything) is fair game after the first round.

That’s because while the Steelers don’t have many gaping holes to fill, just about every position area either has depth issues, age issues, or injury issues.

Still, it is possible to sort out some information from the noise.

Safety takes priority over inside linebacker, which takes priority over outside linebacker, which takes priority over running back, which takes priority over cornerback, which takes priority over wide receiver, which takes priority over defensive end.

Wow, that is a complicated web to unweave. But here goes. The Steelers are aging at safety, and their only young back up will be a free agent this time next year.

With question marks about both Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester, inside linebacker gets the nod over outside linebacker because of Lawrence Timmons inconsistency.

You could make the argument that running back and outside linebacker should be switched, I will not argue, but I lean that way because the Steelers have bodies at running back and the NFL favors that pass more and more every year.

The need for a good corner is evident as is the need for good wideouts. The corner gets the nod because they have less proven talent that wideout.

Lastly, the Steelers don’t have tons of depth at defensive end, particularly if Ziggy Hood is to move to nose tackle for some portion of the 2012 or 2013 season. But with 2 out of the last three first being defensive ends it is hard to put this higher in the pecking order.

Steelers Third Tier Draft Needs

Tight ends takes priority over quarterback.

This one should be pretty self evident. IT would be great if the Steelers could get a tight end similar to those that New England has. But they have more pressing needs to address.

Ditto quarterback. I’d love nothing more than to draft a guy, bring him along and “develop” him the way coaches used to (at least on paper.)

But the Steelers have spent a couple of three 5th round picks on quarterbacks (Tee Martin, Brian St. Pierre, Omar Jacobs, and Dennis Dixon). With the exception of Dixon, none of them did more than hold a clipboard (which, well, isn’t a bad thing to say about your third string QB). In the case of Dixon, if the Steelers really saw some him as a viable long-term back up, they’d have resigned him instead of Charlie Batch.

Day to Dream

We of course don’t have “draft day” any more, its now “draft days.”

But you know what I mean.

There may be more pomp and circumstance surrounding the NFL draft than there should be. There is certainly too much pontification, and too many definitive day after pronouncements.

So be it.

The NFL draft is something special. It’s a day a that opens the door to hope for fans from every NFL team. It’s the day when some team is going to make a move that changes or cements its future for the next decade.

It’s a day when a select group of young men realize the dream that all of us had the first time we touched a Nerf Football in the back yard and called out some random snap count.

What a day indeed.

Enjoy it.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Steelers Draf Needs at Cornerback and Safety

Having discussed the Steelers draft needs at tight end and quarterback, running back and wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker, we now turn our attention to the secondary.

Steelers Needs at Cornerback

Just 365 days ago anyone registering a pulse within Steelers Nation knew one thing:

  • Super Bowl XLV had proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Steelers cornerbacks were the franchises Achilles heel
To that end, large factions of Steelers Nation were clamoring for the Steelers management to exhaust all possible means in securing a top corner in the draft.

My, what a difference a year makes.

The Steelers of course did not attempt to move heaven and earth to secure a corner waiting until the third to grab Curtis Brown and the fourth to get Cortez Allen.

Despite the fact that these two gentleman played sparingly, the clamor to grab a corner at all costs has died down.

A big reason for that is what Ivan Cole of Behind the Steel Curtain has termed “The Lake Effect.” Carnell Lake joined the Steelers staff as secondary coach in 2011 and the improvement in the unit has been dramatic.

As positive as that the Lake Effect has been, any predraft assessment of the Steelers needs at corner must take into account the fact that its chief beneficiary, William Gay, is now in Pittsburgh West.

In the same vein, Keenan Lewis will be a restricted free agent next year. And while both Brown and Allen defined expectations and got onto the field in sub-packages, assuming that one or both men will develop into quality starters remains a leap.

And it should be said, Ike Taylor, coming off his best season as a pro (the Denver debacle notwithstanding) isn’t getting any younger.

All of which is to say that cornerback remains an area of need for the Steelers, and one which they could do well to continue to address in the draft, should a quality player present himself.

  • Priority of Cornerback for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Medium/High
Steelers Needs at Safety

Troy Polamalu, Ryan, Clark, Ryan Mundy, and Will Allen. What you see is what you get with the Steelers at safety, and it does make for some pretty pleasant window shopping.

Troy Polamalu is of course one of the amazing, few, non-quarterbacks in each generation who can change a game with his own play.

Ryan Clark doesn’t get his just due at safety. Consider that Polamalu played much of 2011 up near or at the line of scrimmage and the Steelers pass defense still improved, and then you begin to get an idea of what Clark is worth to the team.

Ryan Mundy, member of the much maligned 2008 Steelers draft class, has emerged from a practice squad player to competent back up NFL safety who reminds me of Lee Flowers in a lot of ways.

Allen joined the team during the 2010 free agent signing spree. Allen hasn’t played much, and is seen as a likely candidate to go should the team need to free up salary cap space.

But Allen’s job is safe for the now, if for no other reason than the Steelers have no one else to play at safety….

Which brings us to safety, the Steelers, and the draft. Few are talking about it as a position of need, but they should be. (God, you hate to agree with John Harris, but give the man credit, he’s right.)

Clark, while his play continues to be solid, is aging. And as Hines Ward showed last year, when they reach their mid-30’s players can lose it from one year to the next.

Steelers Nation breathed a collective sigh of relief last year when Polamalu passed the entire year without major injury. That’s good. But Polamalu has also passed the 30, and that fact coupled with his daredevil style of playing all but ensures that the contract he signed last year with the Steelers will be his last.

If Mundy is in fact on the Lee Flowers track that’s not a bad thing – but Lee Flowers was no Ryan Clark or Troy Polamalu. And regardless Mundy will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013.

Safety is a position which the Steelers must address in the draft and it wouldn’t hurt for them to do it early.

  • Priority of Safety for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: High/Medium
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Steelers Draft Needs at Linebacker

Having covered the Steelers needs at tight end and quarterback, running backs and wide receivers, offensive line, and defensive line, we now turn out attention to linebackers.

Steelers Needs at Outside Linebacker

With LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison the Steelers have one of the most potent 1-2 punches at outside linebacker in the NFL. They’ve got a former second round pick in Jason Worilds behind him and another raw talent in Chris Carter also waiting in the wings.

So the team is more or less set at this critical position, right?

The realities of course a little more complex.

LaMarr Woodley is locked down to a long-term contract and heading into his prime.

James Harrison however, is aging, and with each year injuries continue to take their toll. How much longer Harrison can play at normal All Pro level is an open question and, players like Harrison who perhaps have less raw athletic talent, tend to see drop offs more quickly as they age.

Many seem to be at great pains to say nice things about Jason Worilds and the effort he made in starting in place of Harrison. Steel Curtain Rising is not among those voices, however. This isn’t to say that Worilds is a bust, he’s clearly surpassed Alonzo Jackson and Bruce Davis, but his trajectory based on what he showed in 2011 is more in line with him becoming the next Carlos Emmons.

As for Chris Carter, he’s got no negatives against him. He also has few positives.

  • Priority of Outside Linebacker line for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Medium/High.
Steelers Needs at Inside Linebacker

James Farrior’s departure leaves a huge hole in the middle of the Steelers defense. One which will be difficult to fill.

Larry Foote appears to be the short term answer and in Steel Curtain Rising’s assessment, his contributions since returning in 2010 have been largely undervalued. But Foote is not the long term answer.

Lawrence Timmons
is a former first round draft pick. He had a very strong year in 2010 and the Steelers rewarded him with a handsome contract.

Timmons however, did not play well in 2011. Yes he was moved around. Yes, he was playing out of position at outside linebacker. Fair enough.

But even when he was playing his natural position he didn’t make his presence know. Gone was the man who in 2011 seemed to be in on every play.

Stevenson Sylvester
continues to be a special teams ace, normally a sign that a player at least has the athleticism to play. Still he had a difficult time when asked to start vs. New England. (For an excellent interview/breakdown of that effort, see Behind the Steel Curtain.)

The Steelers also have Monroeville native Mortty Ivy on the roster, who found himself activated from the practice squad due to the plethora of injuries suffered.

If Sylvester can make the next step, and if Timmons can play with consistency the Steelers could be set at this position. But to quote Bob Labrolia of Steelers Digest, “Too many ifs, and that usually means its time to address the area in the draft.”
  • Priority of Outside Linebacker line for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: High/Medium.
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Steelers Draft Needs at Defensive Line

Having discussed the Steelers draft needs at tight end and quarterback, running backs and wide receivers, and offensive line, we now turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball.

Steelers Needs at Defensive End

The Steelers drafted Ziggy Hood with their first round pick in 2009 and drafted Cameron Heyward with their first round pick in 2011, therefore they can't possibly be thinking of drafting a defensive lineman early in the 2012 NFL Draft, right?

Not quite.

Yes, the Steelers have worked hard to stock themselves to inject youth into their defensive line, and while Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward both need to develop more, the team has good depth when you pair those two with Brett Keisel.

But Brett Keisel turns 34 this year, and the Steelers have very little in terms of proven talent behind their top three defensive ends, as evidenced by the playoff loss vs. Denver (although any 3-4 team that loses both a starting end and a nose tackle is going to struggle.)

We should also note for the record that the Steelers have Al Woods under contract. Woods hasn't done a whole lot, but Mike Tomlin appears to like the guy.

The Steelers need to continue to stock their bull pen at defensive end, but realistically they won’t look to do so until relatively late in the draft.
  • Priority of defensive end for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL draft: Medium/low
Steelers Needs at Nose Tackle

Casey Hampton has been the rock upon which the Steelers defense of the last decade has been built, figuratively, if not literally. Alas Casey Hampton’s time in the NFL is coming to an end. Coming off an ACL injury, he agreed to a massive pay cut.

While Casey Hampton's paycut assured that he will make the team in 2012, one can also read into it that if Hampton had not agreed to the pay cut, the Steelers may have simply cut him. It is conceivable that Hampton might have another year in him, assuming he avoid injury in 2012, but either way “Life’s Work” is fast closing in on Big Snack.

Besides Hampton, who might not even start the season, the Steelers have Steve McLendon, who signed in 2010 as an unrestricted rookie free agent. McLendon looked solid in the time he has played, but it’s doubtful he can be counted on as a long-term answer.

The Steelers also have Corbin Bryant and Elisha Joseph on their roster at NT. The former was a training camp phenomena, for a while, the later remains a total unknown.

All of this points to the Steelers urgently needing to groom a successor to Casey Hampton, ASAP.
Word from the Draft Nicks is however, that the nose tackle is especially thin in the 2011 NFL Draft class.

The Steelers shouldn’t and probably won’t reach to fill this need. And that’s a good thing, because when you reach, Troy Edwards happens. But that doesn’t alter the reality that in an ideal world, the Steelers would address nose tackle very early in the draft.
  • Priority of defensive end for the Steelers in the 2011 NFL draft: High
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Monday, April 23, 2012

Steelers Draft Needs: Offensive Line

Mike Tomlin ended the 2007 season declaring that the Steelers needed to get younger and stronger on the offensive line. It took two more drafts for him to use a first or a second round pick on an offensive lineman.

During Bill Cowher’s tenure the team seemed to have an unofficial policy of using a top three pick on an offensive lineman every year, or otherwise the team brought in a quality offensive lineman via free agency (think Tom Newberry, Rich Kalis, Will Wolford, Jeff Hartings.)

Cowher ended that tradition in his final draft, and Tomlin declined to renew it.
The Steelers, it seemed, adopted a patch and plug offensive line building philosophy, for a time at least. This sites alter ego La Toalla Terrible even offered a faux warning to Willie Colon that the fact that the team signed him to a new contract doomed his future with the team.

Tongue and cheek though that article was, the team signed Kendall Simmons, Jeff Hartwig, Sean Mahan, and Max Starks to long term deals only to waive them well before their completion.

Team officials argued that giving the quarterback weapons compensates for line deficiencies.
Such logic flies in the face of over 100 years of football wisdom. But for a time, it seemed like the Steelers were beating the system. Yours truly authored an article on Behind the Steel Curtain questioning whether the importance of offensive line had in fact diminished in the modern NFL.

They were even so bold as to think that they could make a run with Jonathan Scott as their regular starter at left tackle.

In 2011, however, the house started winning its money back, and Ben Roethlisberger was ultimately the one forced to pick up the tab. Scott was so clearly outmatched that the team was forced to resign Max Starks just two weeks after declaring that door closed.

To Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s credit, their selections of Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert did begin to address the Steelers needs at offensive line.

In addition to those two, the Steelers still have Willie Colon, albeit who has an injury history, along with Doug Legrusky and Ramon Foster. While Legursky and Foster are “good enough” neither is going to develop into a dominant, road grading lineman.

And even if they prove me wrong, the Steelers have next to nobody behind them, unless you feel comfortable counting on the Scotts, that is Jonathan Scotts and Chris Scotts.

Winning on offense in the NFL still begins at the line of scrimmage, and the Steelers must better equip themselves to do just that. That means they need to address the offensive line in the draft early and often.

  • Priority of offensive line for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: High
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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Steelers Draft Needs at Running Back and Wide Reciever

Having hashed out the priority status of tight end and quarterback for the Steelers in the upcoming NFL Draft, we now turn out attention to the other “skill” positions on offense.

Steelers Draft Needs at Running Back

The Steelers current running back roster includes Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and Barron Batch. Mewelde Moore remains unsigned, but presumable the team could bring him back if they so desired.

  • That’s a pretty good crop of running backs, however that truth comes with a few “buts.”
Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL in the regular season finale vs. Cleveland. An ACL is no longer the career ender it once was, but it remains a significant injury for a running back. The possibility of Mendenhall starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list remains real.

But even if Mendenhall is fully recovered by the team strikes camp at St. Vincents, he is also going into the final year of his contract. One way or another, its doubtful he'd sign a long-term lease in the Greater Pittsburgh area.

Isaac Redman has gone from training camp cult sensation to legitimate NFL running back, and remains another feather in the cap of a scouting department that has excelled at signing quality unrestricted rookie free agents. Jonathan Dwyer played well when his number was called in 2011, but his off season work ethic remains a question and his ability to produce results on a consistent basis as never been tested.

Barron Batch was all the rage in training camp last year until tearing his ACL, but excelling in a couple of blocking drills does not an NFL running back make. (Let me credit Rebecca Rollett and Ivan Cole of Behind the Steel Curtain for making that point so eloquently.) Ditto John Clay, who scored a touchdown on his very first NFL carry. Great way to start, but things will get more difficult.

So running back is a need for the Steelers, but not an urgent need, and one best addressed in the middle rounds.

  • Priority of running back for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Medium.
Steelers Draft Needs at Wide Receivers

The Steelers are poised to field one of the strongest wide receiving crops in franchise history in 2012, barring any unforeseen injuries or other mishap. The Young Money trio of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders gives the Steelers a dangerous threesome, while Jerricho Cotchery provides veteran depth.
The only problem with Young Money, aside from Emmanuel Sanders injury issues, is that well, they’re young.

So young that they’ll be up for free agency soon. Mike Wallace is an restricted free agent this year, and rumor is that Wallace is already considering trying to play hard ball to force the Steelers into a big payday now. Wallace will play for Pittsburgh in 2012, but very big question mark hovers over his long term future with the Steelers.

Saunders and Brown will be restricted free agents next year, and the Steelers will figure to retain both and, assuming Wallace does not return, sign one or both to long term deals.

The NFL is a passing league and you can never have too many wide outs. The Steelers have four good ones now but will need to add one if that number is to remain stable in the future. But, given the Steelers other needs, like running back, Pittsburgh can address wide beginning in the middle rounds.

  • Priority of wide receiver for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Medium.
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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Colbert Record: The Steelers 1st Round Draft Success under Kevin Colbert

IT may be an unmanly metaphor, but the Steelers of the ‘90’s were brides maids whereas the Steelers of the ’00 were brides.

The question is, why?

Several explanations exist, including the Steelers uncanny success with undrafted rookie free agents, but one singular achievement pushed the ’00 Steelers over the top:

Kevin Colbert has never missed on a first round draft pick.

That my friends explains a lot.

Kevin Colbert vs. Tom Donahoe

Because he failed badly in Buffalo, most forget that Tom Donahoe spent the ‘90’s as one of the top 2-3 personnel men in the NFL. Indeed, Donahoe’s resume boasts of draft picks who went on to wear Super Bowl rings by the names of Hines Ward, Alan Fanaca, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend, and Joey Porter.

But of the above group, only Fanaca was a first rounder. Donahoe excelled at uncovering excellent value in the middle and late rounds, but he failed just as often as he succeeded with first round picks.

But doesn't picking up guys like Porter and Smith in rounds 3 and 4 appears to compensate for picking Troy Edwards at #13? To an extent it does, but success in later rounds never mitigates the opportunity cost of a first round failure.

The Colbert Record – First Round Draft Picks

In contrast, getting a first round pick right can make up for a lot mistakes in subsequent rounds as this edition of The Colbert Record which reviews Kevin Colbert’s first round selections reveals. Scroll down or click on the links below for a capsule profile of each of Colbert’s first round successes.

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
2011 Cameron Heyward

Plaxico Burress
Year/Position Drafted: 2001 (8)
Starts: 66
AFC Championship Appearances: 2 (’01, ’04)
Super Bowl Appearances: 0
Key Game or moment: October 29th 2001 in Pittsburgh vs. the Tennessee Titans – This was the founding game of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aries. It was also Burress break out game, catching 6 passes for 151 yards reminding everyone why Kevin Colbert had made him his first pick. It was the start of big things for Plaxico.
Overarching contribution: In Pittsburgh, Plaxico Burress perhaps did not quite live up to his potential as a number 8 overall draft pick, but he nonetheless played a key role in revitalizing a passing game that had been adrift since Yancy Thigpen’s departure.

Casey Hampton
Year/Position Drafted: 2001, (19th)
Starts: 157
AFC Championship Appearances: 5 (’01, ’04-IR, ’05, ’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Appearances: 3
Key Game or moment: Super Bowl XL. Seattle is on Pittsburgh’s 29, threatening to score. On first and 20 Casey Hampton throws Matt Hasselbeck down like a rag doll. Ike Taylor intercepts his next pass. Four plays later, Randel El is hitting Hines Ward for the closing score. It all begins with Hampton’s play, his lone sack in 16 post-seasongames.
Overarching contribution: Ed Bouchette has said that the success or failure of the 3-4 rises and falls on the play of the nose tackle. Consider these numbers: 1,7,9,1,4,9,1,1,5,2, and 1. Those are the Steelers defensive rankings in total yards since Casey Hampton joined the team. A lot of people get a lot of credit for that, but it all starts with Big Snack.

Kendall Simmons
Year/Position Drafted: 2001, (30th overall)
Number of Starts: 81
AFC Championship Games: 2 (’05, ’08-IR)
Super Bowl Games: 2 (’05, ’08-IR)
Key Game or moment: Starting 16 straight games as a rookie. Overarching contribution: Diabetes and a slew of injuries complicated Kendall Simmons’ career. Nonetheless his solid, if rarely spectacular, play at guard provided stability on the offensive line that has been absent of late.

Troy Polamalu
Year/Position Drafted: 2003, (16th overall)
Number of Starts: 107
AFC Championship Games: 4 (’04, ’05, ’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 3
Key Game or moment: AFC Championship vs. Baltimore

(Available as of 4/21/12)

Overarching contribution: Every generation brings a handful of players who combine the athleticism, football talent, work ethic, and will power to give them the On the Field Presence necessary to make plays that single-handedly alter a game’s outcome. The play above represents just one example of how Troy Polamalu is one of those players.

Ben Roethlisberger
Year/Position Drafted: 2004, (11th overall)
Number of Starts: 113
AFC Championship Games: 4 (’04, ’05, ’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 3
Key Game or moment: Super Bowl XLIII.

(Available as of 4/21/12)

Overarching contribution: Success as an NFL quarterback is about more than arm strength, coverage reading, and accuracy. It’s also about courage, instinct and the ability to improvise. More than anything else, what separates quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl rings from the Jim Kelly’s and Randal Cunningham’s of this world is mental toughness.

Seven years into his NFL career, Ben Roethlisberger has already established himself as one of the most fearless, look the dragon in the jaws, big-pressure quarterbacks in the NFL.

Heath Miller
Year/Position Drafted: 2005, (30th overall)
Number of Starts: 106
AFC Championship Games: 3 (’05, ’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 3
Key Game or moment: 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff game. Health Miller caught Ben Roethlisberger’s first two passes and, as he was catching his third, the Steelers were suddenly up 14-0 in a game no one thought they could win….
Overarching contribution: Health Miller is a player who lets actions speak for him. He might not get flashy statistics, he might not be the MUST HAVE on anyone’s fantasy team, but Health Miller is Mr. Dependable. Whether it’s been Hines, and El, Hines and ‘Tone, Hines and Wallace, or Wallace and Brown on the outside, having Heath Miller on as a threat in the middle has made the Steelers offense dramatically more dynamic.

Santonio Holmes
Year/Position Drafted: 2006, (25th, overall)
Number of Starts: 48
AFC Championship Games: 1 (’08)
Super Bowl Games: 1
Key Game or moment: Super Bowl XLIII. (Available as of 4/21/12)
(Available as of 4/21/12)

Overarching contribution: Santonio Holmes time in Pittsburgh was bookended with off the field incidents, and by all accounts he was no locker room favorite. But the truth is he delivered throughout the 2008 playoffs especially in Super Bowl XLIII when it counted the most.

Lawrence Timmons*
Year/Position Drafted: 2007, (15th overall)
Number of Starts: 46
AFC Championship Games: 2 (’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 2
Key Game or moment: Antonio Brown, Tory Polamalu and James Harrison made the highlight reels for the Steelers upset victory over the Tennessee Titans in the second week of 2010, but Lawrence Timmons was simply all over, raising hell on every part of the field. His accomplishment to what was one of the greatest defensive efforts in franchise history should not be underestimated.
Overarching contribution: Lawrence Timmons earns an asterix on this list simply because his play has been by inconsistent.

Because of injuries he struggled to get on the field in 2007. His play in 2008 made everyone wonder why he wasn’t starting, but too many missed opportunities in 2009 led many fans and, perhaps management, to wonder if letting Larry Foote go was an error. He started out 2010 gangbusters and overall had a very good year, but in 2011 he disappeared from the defense.

Rashard Mendenhall
Year/Position Drafted: 2008, (23rd, overall)
Number of Starts: 44
AFC Championship Games: 2 (’08-IR, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 2 (’08-IR, ’10)
Key Game or moment: AFC Championship game vs. the Jets. When Rashard Mendenhall focuses he is one of the top backs in the league. And Mendenhall has never been as focused as he was in the AFC Championship game, where he tore through the Jets defense for 121 yards on 27 carries, including a 35 yard burst. While those numbers are good, they do little justice to the fire and determination which Mendenhall displayed that night.
Overarching contribution: While Rashard Mendenhall has been less consistent that one would like, he has run well for the Steelers often without the benefit of quality run blocking. When Mendenhall shuns his shuffle routine and commits to a hole, he runs with power, authority, and is a threat to go all the way.

Ziggy Hood
Year/Position Drafted: 2009, (30th, overall)
Number of Starts: 25
AFC Championship Games: 1 (’10)
Super Bowl Games: 1 (’10)
Key Game or moment: When injury felled Aaron Smith in 2010 everyone wondered whether Ziggy Hood was up to the task. It took some time for Hood to find his legs, but he registered three sacks in December 2010 and added two more in the playoffs, stepping up when he was needed.
Overarching contribution: The Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII did nothing to alter the fact that their aging defensive line needed an injection of youth. Ziggy Hood was the man tapped to begin that rejuvenation. While Hood’s play is no where near par with the likes of Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, he’s provided quality play and still has room to grow.

Maurkice Pouncy
Year/Position Drafted: 2010, (18th, overall)
Number of Starts: 30
AFC Championship Games: 1 (’10)
Super Bowl Games: 1 (’10-IR)
Key Game or moment: Anchoring the Steelers offensive line for 18 straight starts as a rookie.
Overarching contribution: When Willie Colon tore his Achilles in June of 2010, the word was that the Steelers had lost their best offensive lineman and the Steelers were still 3 months away from training camp. By opening day Muarkice Pouncey had established himself in the role, a fact that Colon’s brief return in 2011 did little to alter.

Cameron Heyward
Year/Position Drafted: 2011, (31st, overall)
Number of Starts: 0
AFC Championship Games: 0
Super Bowl Games: 0
Key Game or moment: The Steelers wasted little time in getting Cameron Heyward on the field, and he made his first splash play in week 5 vs. the Tennessee Titans by registering his first sack and his first forced fumble.
Overarching contribution: Steelers Nation hasn’t seen a lot of Heyward yet, but he got thrown into the mix early and has responded well thus far.

12 First Round Success But 13 Must Also Be Lucky for Colbert

A string of 12 straight successful first round picks is an extremely impressive record for an NFL personnel man in any era.

As has been shown above, each of these players not only have a history of solid, and for the most part consistent play, but each player faced critical moments in critical games and delivered when called upon.

As important has that past success has been, Kevin Colbert must continue to deliver. While the Steelers roster remains solid, there is not a single position area that the team does not either need to improve now and/or lay a foundation for future success.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or click here and scroll down for past editions of "The Colbert Record."

Steelers Draft Needs Tight End, Quarterback

Steelers Needs at Quarterback

Kevin Colbert
has stated at after the first round any and all positions are fair game for the Steelers, including quarterback.

So there’s a chance the Steelers could pick a quarterback as early as the second round in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft. And there’s also a chance that Pope Benedict could convert to Islam.

Ben Roethlisberger is of course entrenched as the Steelers starting quarterback, and at age 30 it is a little too early (although perhaps not quite as early as some might thing, given the punishment continues to take year in and year out) to think of grooming a successor.

The Steelers have brought back Charlie Batch and the word is that they’re still interested in bringing back Byron Leftwich, although the fact that Leftwich remains unsigned casts a little doubt upon that.

The Steelers do want to bring in a younger signal caller, but realisitically the team will not, and should not pick a quarterback until very late in the draft.
  • Priority of quarterback for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Low.
Steelers Needs at Tight End

Health Miller is the established starter here and is still in the prime of his career. David Johnson, Weslye Saunders and Leonard Pope are also on the roster.

With NFL rules ever-more favorable to the passing game the Steelers would do well to pick up a strong tight end, the likes of which are delivering such strong results for teams like New England.

With that said, the Steelers have more pressing needs at offensive line, nose tackle, linebacker and running back. Should a good tight end fall to the Steelers in early rounds then taking him is justified, but by and large this is a position which they should address in middle of not late rounds.
  • Priority of tight end for the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft: Medium/Low.
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So Mike Wallace Wants to Play Hard Ball?

The deadline for restricted free agents to sign offer sheets from other teams has expired, meaning that Steelers restricted free agent Mike Wallace’s rights revert to Pittsburgh.
By refusing to sign, Wallace is inviting other NFL teams to make the Steelers a trade offer.

All accounts are that the Steelers will say no, but the NFL Draft can bring up some crazy deals, so who knows? If someone is dumb enough to make a trade offer of Hershel Walker/Ricky Williams proportions, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are likely smart enough to say yes.

Refusing to sign is the only card Wallace can play in hopes of getting a big payday now and if that’s his goal it makes sense to play it.
  • For another week.
Once the 2012 NFL Draft has ended Wallace’s stubbornness slips from shrewd to stupid. If Wallace really thinks he can play hard ball with the Steelers he is sorely mistaken. The franchise has weathered holdouts before and will do so again.
  • In 1983, Franco Harris, the franchise icon who authored the definitive play in Steelers history held out for more money.
Chuck Noll’s response was “Franco who?” Dan Rooney’s actions spoke far louder, and resulted in Franco finishing his career after 8 mediocre games in Seattle.
  • Mike Merriweather tried the same trick in 1988.
He held out the entire season while under contract and the Steelers traded him on draft day in 1989. (Unfortunately, they ended up taking Tom Ricketts with the extra pick….)
  • Barry Foster tried it too in 1993
He skipped mini-camp and held out during the beginning of training camp. He reported, and only after that did he get his new contract.
  • Even Hines Ward was not immune.
He held out in 2005. Dan Rooney did meet him in private, but the message was clear: Show up and we’ll start talking. The lesson is clear. If the Steelers didn’t flinch when face to face with two franchise icons, they won’t do it for a budding receiver who is gaining a reputation for having attitude issues.

Ah Those Attitude Issues….

A few weeks back, the Watch Tower noted that Ed Bouchette had cited attitude issues for the drop off in Wallace’s production in 2011. Steel Curtain Rising asked him about this in a PG+ Chat, and Bouchette doubled down. As did Gerry Dulac.

Len Pasquarelli also wrote a similar article.

Mike Wallace is an amazing talent, and attitude is not going to prevent him from finding the payday he seeks. But if he thinks he can force that to happen in Pittsburgh he’s in for a surprise.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Steelers Resign Charlie Batch

In the 1980’s the middle of the Washington Redskins defense was anchored by a player named Neal Olkewicz. Olkewicz, an undrafted rookie free agent, lacked some of the “measurables,” and as a consequence Joe Gibbs and Bobby Bethard never tired of trying to replace him.

And year after year, Olkewicz beat back the challenges of the young turks, until he finally decided to hang it up 1989, having played for 11 years and started all but 13 of the 150 games he played in…

…Perhaps Charlie Batch is the Steelers’ Neal Olkewicz incarnate.

For several seasons running the Steelers have brought Batch to Latrobe with the thought that by the time camp broke, they’d be nudging him toward his “Life’s Work” in favor of younger, more durable successors such as Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon.

And every year one of those younger, “less fragile” players ends up getting hurt, and every year the Steelers turn again to Charlie Batch.

The pattern may be about to repeat itself here in 2012. In what has almost become an annual rite of spring, the Pittsburgh Steelers resigned backup quarterback Charlie Batch.

The move gives the Steelers a veteran presence behind Ben Roethlisberger who has started 5 games in Roehtlisberger’s absence in the last two years alone, going 4-1.

The move gives the Steelers 4 quaterbacks on their roster, including Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State, and Jerrod Johnson, a first-year pro from Texas A&M.

Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette confirms that the Steelers remain interested in resigning Byron Leftwich, who has also been wowed by the Colts.

If the Steelers do, that would create a bottle neck at quarterback. NFL teams do not enter camp with 5 quarterbacks on their roster and presumable one, of those signal callers would have to go before arriving at St. Vincents, with the other being eliminated during the team’s time at Latrobe.

Just don’t be so sure to assume that the odd man out will be Charlie Batch.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Steelers Resign Jerricho Cotchery, David Johnson

It’s been a busy week at the South Side. It began with Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan dipping their quills to sign Leonard Pope and having done that, they liked it so much they started a streak which included inking Doug Legursky and Trai Essex.

The biggest move of course was the resigning of veteran reserve receiver Jerricho Cotchery. Cotchery was an unrestricted free agent who signed with the Steelers in the summer of 2011 and tested the waters.

He apparently drew some interest from the Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams. But the money and/or the opportunities were not there for Cotchery.

The move came on the same day that news leaked that restricted free agent Mike Wallace will not sign his tender from the Steelers, and either to force the Steelers to seek a trade a trade prior to the 2012 NFL draft or simply as a move to pressure the Steelers into offering him a long term deal.

Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say on the Wallace situation when/if he declines to sign the Steelers offer. However, with Cotchery’s future with the team secured for the next two years, the Steelers gain some insurance should Wallace attempt to play hard ball.

Perhaps more importantly, Jerrico Cotchery fills the void created by Hines Ward’s retirement for a veteran presence in the Young Money receiving corps.

David Johnson Comes Around

One player with no illusions about playing hard ball is tight end David Johnson. The Steelers selected Johnson in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft and since that time have seen him develop into a capable players as an H-back or hybrid tight-end/fullback.

As a restricted free agent, Johnson could have signed with another team, and that team only would have had to have given up a 7th round pick in return.

Johnson perhaps harbored hopes of finding greener pastures, but after the Steelers signed back up tight end Leonard Pope, Johnson quickly signed his restricted free agent tender.

It is unknown whether that tender is guaranteed or if the Steelers can cut him in training can and have to honor the tender.

If the restricted free agent tender is guaranteed, that spells more bad news for Wesley Saunders, because the Steelers will have three tight ends under contract who’re all but certain to make the team and the squad has never carried 4 tight ends.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2012 Free Agent Focus.