´ Steel Curtain Rising: May 2012

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Watch Mike Tomlin's William and Mary Hall of Fame Induction Speech

They coined the term “Class” to describe people like Mike Tomlin. Tomlin, a native of Tidewater, Virginia, was a scholarship student and graduate from William and Mary.

The William and Mary Hall of Fame recently inducted MikeTomlin.

Pro Football Talk Editor Mike Florio recently lambasted Tomlin for the contents of his speech.

Behind the Steel Curtain’s
Neal Coolong wasted little time in taking Florio to task for "character assassination" and the Steelers Depot similarly took Florio to task for taking Tomlin's words out of context. (Full disclosure, I am an occasional contributor at BTSC.)

Florio’s comments appear questionable, to say the least. TheWatch Tower has sought Florio’s side of the story and will have more to say depending on how Florio responds (or fails to respond.)

But regardless, this controversy regarding Tomlin’s comments is a crying shame. His 15 minute speech to was a piece of beauty, where Mike Tomlin stepped out form his “coache's role” and offered a rare glimpse of just why he blew away Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II during his interview.

Take the time to view the speech for yourself (available as of 5/29/12).

Mike Tomlin truly is a class act, and is a credit to his family, his school, Pittsburgh Steelers and Steelers Nation.

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Steelers Sign Sean Spence

And then there was one. The Pittsburgh Steelers came to terms today with third round draft pick Sean Spence, leaving first round pick David DeCastro is their lone unsigned pick from the 2012 NFL Draft.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, nor has their been word on negotiations with DeCastro, although no delays are expected.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Todd Haley Restores the Fullback to the Steelers Offense

The fullback has returned to Pittsburgh following a five year banishment at the behest of Bruce Arians, thus we have our the first real news to come out of the Steelers OTA’s.

Offically OTA’s stand for “Organized Team Workouts.”

The truth is they boil down to football in shorts. Make no mistake, they give rookies a chance to begin learning the system and get acquainted to the team. But little of consequence happens at these events, although they’re covered in part to supply the voracious appetite that Steelers Nation has for news about its beloved team.

The reemergence of the fullback counts as real news, and it was reported by Ed Bouchette in PG Plus. According to Bouchette’s report, Isaac Redman informed him that David Johnson is now classified as a fullback, and is attending meetings with the team’s backs.

The Steelers drafted Johnson in 2009 as a tight end, and he’s served in both capacities since then.

Bruce Arians' Original Sin

Bruce Arians got off on the wrong foot with many in Steelers Nation because one of his first moves was to phase out fullback Dan Kreider.

Dan Kreider of course was one of the first of many Kevin Colbert undrafted rookie free agent steals. He earned that distinction because he was a human battering ram, equavilant to or perhaps better than a sixth offensive lineman, at least in running game.

As someone who later became a self-professed Arians Agnostic, I must admit that my initial qualm with phasing out Kreider was that it signaled a departure from “traditional Steelers Football.”

But I am wise enough to know that however strong that sentiment might run, the league is changing, and even if it didn’t, the Steelers wouldn’t have won Super Bowls IX, XIII, XIV, and XLIII without the prolific passing of Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger.

  • That reality does not absolve Arians of his original sin.
The problem with phasing out Kreider, was the simple fact that Kreider,was a stud, and relegating him to the bench signaled an intent to try to force player into a system as opposed to using a system to maximize the talent on hand.

Carey Davis was supposedly Kreider’s replacement, but Davis never did anything to justify the move. Arians preferred to run with two tight ends, which is fine, but you need two good tight ends to make that work, and Matt Spaeth performance was never consistent enough to be considered “good.”

Year after year, fans and the press would clamor for a fullback, and Arians stock response was “my offense doesn’t have a fullback.”

That’s not a terrible thing. Fullbacks are a fading breed not only in the NFL but in football in general. But Arians wasn’t even open to the concept.

Implications of David Johnson’s Move to Fulltime Fullback

David Johnson lined up plenty as a fullback or H-Back over the last few years and showed himself to be a good lead blocker.

His skills should only improve now that he’s there full time, which undoubtedly helped fuel Todd Haley's decision.

  • The move also has roster implications.
The signing of Leonard Pope gave the Steelers four tight ends on their roster, and they took another in the 7th Round of the 2012 NFL Draft. No one expected them to keep four tight ends, let alone five.

Johnson’s move to fullback potentially gives the Steelers the luxury of keeping Weslye Saunders on the roster.

The Steelers could conceivably open the season with Heath Miller, Lenoard Pope, and David Paulson as their trio of tight ends, and then bring Saunders back when he finishes his suspension, waive Paulson and bring him back to the practice squad.

Of course, now that Johnson is officially a full back, it could put Jonathan Dwyer or Barron Batch’s roster sport in jeopardy, but that remains a tale for another day.

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Puzzle and Promise of Moving Willie Colon to Guard

The Steelers have ended the speculation they created by taking David DeCastro and Mike Adams with their first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft. Willie Colon’s move to guard completes a sea-change in the Steelers offensive line building approach.
  • The move is as welcome as it is necessary.
For too long “plug and patch” have been the watch words of the Steelers offensive line philosophy. For a time, Pittsburgh defied gravity by winning one Super Bowl and appearing in another despite sub-standard offensive lines and record numbers sacks allowed.

Even if you control for Ben Roethlisberger retaining the ball too long, 2011 was the season when the Road Runner glanced downward and Big Ben took the fall.

Lacking both depth and talent, injuries forced the Steelers to use an estimated 22 different offensive line configurations in 2011. Only weeks after committing their young offensive lineman, the Steelers reversed courseand recalled Max Starks just over a month after waving him.

The Steelers 2012 offensive line will have a very different look.

Instead of featuring undrafted rookie free agents Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster and journey men veterans like Jonathan Scott and Trai Essex, they’re set to start two firsts, two seconds, and a fourth round draft pick.
  • Hear! Hear! Cried the man whose been calling for more stability on the offensive line.
 Sounds good on paper, but is moving Colon to guard really the right thing to do? The answer remains nebulous.

The Pros of Moving Colon to Guard

The Steelers drafted Willie Colon as a tackle but rumors that he was a natural guard have always followed him. 
  • Position shift rumors are staples of football. 
In the 80’s and 90’s WMAL/WTEM sports radio guru Ken Beatrice never tired of insisting to Steelers Nation expats in Washington that the Steelers needed to move cornerbacks Delton Hall and Chad Scott to safety. Steelers Digest even chimed in, reporting that unnamed Steelers coaches regarded Scott as a safety playing corner.

I’ll leave it to others to definitively rate Colon’s performance as a tackle and simply say that if he was a good tackle he was never going to be a dominate one.

If the Steelers think the Colon can be a better guard that Legursky and Foster, then they should make the move.

Fear never motivates Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s. To wit, they informed Colon of the switch as soon as they drafted Adams
  • Precedent supports their decision to do it now.
In 1998, Bill Cowher tried Jamain Stephens, Paul Wiggins, and Chris Conrad at right tackle throughout training camp. All three fell woefully short, and it wasn't until the fourth preseason game that Cowher settled on his line moving Will Wolford from left guard to left tackle and shifting Justin Strzelczyk from left to right tackle.

With Alan Fanenca working himself into the line up that arrangement worked fairly well, but the Steelers offensive line started slow out of the gate and never really caught up.

So if moving Colon now gives them their best chance to field fielding their five best lineman from the get go, then more power to them.

The Puzzling Aspect to Colon's Move to Guard

"But Tomlin refuses to anoint rookies. Believes in a way that it ruins them for the rest of their careers…." – Bob Labriola, Steelers Digest, 9/4/10, explaining why Mike Tomlin delayed naming Maurkice Pouncey as his starter.

There’s a flip side to moving Colon to guard and doing it now, and it has nothing to do with his ability to beat out Legursky or Foster.

Who plays left tackle?

At first, everyone assumed that Marcus Gilbert would move to from right to left tackle, a shift for which he’d been groomed.

Not so, reports Ed Bouchette on PG Plus. Gilbert will stayat right tackle.

That leaves four options on the left side:
  • Giving it another go with Jonathan Scott
  • Bringing back Max Starks
  • Offering Trai Essex his shot
  • Starting rookie Mike Adams
Jonathan Scott or Trai Essex will begin training camp at the top of the depth cart. The Steelers don’t arrive at St. Vincent’s with rookies penciled in as starters. Not under Chuck Noll, not under Bill Cowher, not under Mike Tomlin.

But Jonathan Scott is not and will never be the Steelers answer as a starting tackle. Yes, he performed above expectations, at times, in late 2010 in relief of Max Starks. Likewise, he held his own in spot duty late in 2011.

But he was so overwhelmed in early 2011 that the Steelers wasted little time in going to the red phone to Max Starks after the Trashing in Texas.

Max Starks is kind of like a fire in an Irish peat bog. The Steelers keep trying to put him out (why? well that’s another question) but he keeps returning. Assuming he recovers from his ACL tear, Starks could help this team.

But the Steelers salary cap problems make Stark’s return unlikely, as a recent Tribune-Review article confirmed.

  • That leaves rookie Mike Adams.
Again, I don’t know enough to project whether Adams talent makes him a viable candidate to start in 2012. Others such as Dale Lolley argue that he’s not ready.

But Adam’s talent is not the only variable to consider.

His off the field issues are well documented, and Kevin Colbert readily admitted he went out on a limb for Adams. And even without the baggage, Adams is a rookie, and Tomlin is loathe to anoint rookies.

In moving Willie Colon and keeping Gilbert at right tackle, the Steelers have paved the way for Adams to claim the starting job at left tackle.

Giving a young rookie such a baptism by fire can force him to mature fast and force him to take command of his career. 
  • Or it can set him up to fall flat on his face.
Is that really a risk you want to take with the position charged with protecting your 100 million dollar quarterback’s blind side?

It says here that Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, and Sean Kugler know more about offensive line and football character than I do.

They wouldn’t attempt this without thinking they can succeed. But it’s going to be interesting to see how they fit this piece into their puzzle. 

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bill Cowher Fights Melanoma in Memory of Kaye Cowher

It’s been less than 2 years since Bill Cowher tragically and suddenly lost his wife Kaye to skin cancer, but now the former Steelers standard bearer is doing something about it.

In an effort profiled by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Bill Cowher is helping launch the public awareness campaign “Melanoma Exposed.”

The campaign’s aim is to get people to take the disease seriously and to get themselves checked. As the Post Gazette article details, Melanoma is a very leathal form of skin cancer, but it is treatable – when caught early.

As part of the campaign, several NFL teams, including the Miami Dolphins, Denver Broncos, and Baltimore Ravens will be holding free screenings. Bill Cowher adds that he hopes the Pittsburgh Steelers follow suit.

Steel Curtain Rising shares his wish. For more information, you can access the site’s website at:  www.MelanomaExposed.com.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Todd Haley Presents New Playbook to Steelers

The NFL’s true “off season” might be fast approaching, but Todd Haley is already at work presenting his new offense to Steelers coaches and players.

While its way too early to draw conclusions, the early reactions are something to take note of.

Ben Roethlisberger suggested that to understand the new offense, he might need the Rosetta Stone. Emmanuel Sanders confirmed via Twitter that more than 90% of the offense had changed.  

In interviews Todd Haley, while making it clear he was going to install his own system, also let it be known that he didn’t expect too the changes to be too profound. He emphasized that he broke into the coaching ranks with Bill Parcells, whose playbook was similar to that of Ron Erhardt.

The late Ron Erhardt, who served as Steelers offensive coordinator from 1992 to 1995, established many of the fundamentals that have guided the Steelers on offense since then.

That’s What the All Say, Isn’t It?

Of course this is not the first time we’ve heard that the Steelers offense has been radically changed while remaining consistent with previous incarnations. 

It’s true that Ray Sherman was basically asked to come in and run the Steelers existing offense in 1998, and the results were disastrous. Kevin Gilbride was in a year later and given a much more free hand. Yet Gilbride insisted that because of his ties to the “Tom Coughlin/Bill Parcells coaching line” that his play numbering system would be similar.

Similarity or not, Kordell Stewart and the rest of the players had a difficult time with an offense that required quarterbacks and receivers to read the pre-snap coverage and make automatic adjustments to routes at the line of scrimmage. 

Its Like Learning a New Language

One of the more disturbing things coming out of Ed Bouchette’s article was “For Roethlisberger and the rest of the veterans on offense, it's like learning a new language....”

The Steelers have had experiences with new offensive coordinators who’ve tried to come in and change the language. And it didn’t work.

The experience of course was with Joe Walton in 1990, who came in and completely changed the offense from technique, to play calling, to vocabulary.  That did not sit well with the players, who resisted, most notably, Bubby Brister, who actively resisted.

That prior experience is certainly not one that Haley is doomed to repeat. 

While players admit it’s a change, all of them remain upbeat. And Todd Haley is known for tailoring his offense to the strength of his personnel, as opposed to Walton who insisted on attempting to force a system that ill-suited his players' talents.

Apparently some talk radio hosts in the Pittsburgh area are already starting to fan the flames of a supposed rift between Roethlisberger and Haley. As the site Nice Pick Cowher has pointed out, such reactions are totally unfounded at this point.

The evolution of the new offense and all the change it implies, nonetheless remain a story to keep an eye on.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Only Daivd DeCastro and Sean Spence Remain Unsigned

And then there were two.

With the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement paving the way, the Steelers are signing their draft picks at a quick pace. The Steelers first moved to sign Alameda Ta’amu, Chris Rainey and Toney Clemons. Then they inked second round pick Mike Adams followed by seventh round picks David Paulson, Terrence Fredrick and Kevin Beachum.

Now only first round pick David DeCastro and third roundpick Sean Spence remain unsigned. But expect that to change soon.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Steelers Sign Ta’amu, Rainey, Clemons

My how times have changed. The 2012 NFL Draft was nary two weeks ago, yet the Steelers have already agreed to terms with three of their draft picks.

Over the weekend the Steelers signed 4th roundpick Alameda Ta’amu and 5th round pick Chris Rainey to four year deals. Ta’amu’s was reported to be worth close to 2.5 million.

Suffice to say, things were decidedly different in yesteryear. It was common for NFL draft picks to hold out well into training camp. Rod Woodson held out for the entire first half of his rookie year, although that didn’t stop him from nabbing an interception for a touchdown in his fourth NFLgame.

In 1990, Eric Green, Neil O’Donnell, and Craig Veasey, the Steelers 1st, 3a and 3b picks from that spring’s draft missed over 22 days of training camp. Chuck Noll was furious, lambasting the rookies claiming that they missed so much camp they’d might as well not even bother signing.

O’Donnell, incidentally, signed his contract the next day, although he denied Noll’s badgering had anything to do with it.

The last mid round pick to hold out for any noteworthy amount of time was recently departed Aaron Smith, who missed the first two days of his rookie training camp in 1999.

The reasons for the change in standard operating procedure are twofold. Prior to the 1993 Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookie held out because without free agency it was for many the only time they held any leverage in contract negotiations.

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement took that a step further by establishing a rookie wage scale, giving agents and teams very little to negotiate about.

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Ben Roethlisberger Graduates from Miami Ohio

Steelers starting strong safety Troy Polamalu was drafted in 2003. A year later, Ben Roethlisberger followed in his footsteps when he was drafted in the first round by the Steelers.

Since then the two men have helped their team win two Super Bowls and appear in another, but Roethlisberger, it seems, remains fated to follow in Polamalu’s footsteps.

Its 2012 and there’s no lockout, but Ben Roethlisberger isdoing the same, having graduated from Miami Ohio with a degree in physical education.

Both men are multi-millionaires and if they’ve managed their money wisely, they’ll be set for life.

But in finishing their degrees, they’re sending an important message to everyone:  Football is temporary, education is for ever.

Congratulations to Ben Roethlisberger.

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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Steelers 2012 Rookie Free Agent Signings

The Steelers 2008 rookie free agent haul brought them their rookie of the year and a Super Bowl XLIII starter. Pittsburgh’s 2009 rookie free agent class included not one but two starting guards, a starting running back, and a guy called Joystick.

The Steelers 2010 rookie free agent pool brought them the man who will likely begin 2012 as their starting nose tackle. One of the players from Pittsburgh’s2011 rookie free agent class ran for 10 yards and scored a touchdown on his very first NFL carry.

Before the dust of the 2012 NFL draft settled for the Steelers, their coaches and scouts spring into action, as documented recently by Ed Bouchette in the Post-Gazette.

Kevin Colbert has a phenomenal drafting record in the firstround, but his ability to uncover overlooked talent in the rookie free agent pool is also without peer.

Here are the Steelers current undrafted rookie free agents.

Terry Carter, Cornerback, Louisiana Tech, 5-10, 184
Robert Golden, Safety, Arizona, 5-11, 202
Ikponmwosa Igbinosun, Defensive End, Southern Connecticut State, 6-4, 288
Brandon Lindsey, Linebacker, University of Pittsburgh, 6-2, 254
Adrian Robinson, Linebacker, Temple, 6-1, 250
Jake Stoller, Defensive End, Yale, 6-3, 284
Drew Butler, Punter, Georgia, 6-1, 204
Connor Dixon, Wide Receiver, Duquesne, 6-5, 222
Ryan Lee, Center/Guard, Furman, 6-3, 308
Marquis Maze, Wide Receiver, Alabama, 5-8, 186
Grant Ressel, Kicker, Missouri, 6-1, 190
Desmond Stapleton, Offensive Tackle, Rutgers, 6-5, 301

Who Will Set Themselves Apart?

Ask why the Steelers were so successful with rookie free agents, Ed Bouchette offered Pittsburgh was a team and a franchise that was accustomed to giving them a fair shot.

Donnie Shell certainly would not argue.

Yours truly will offer no predictions who has a shot to go from unknown to indispensable, other than to remind people that James Harrison and Willie Parker both arrived with the Steelers in such unheralded fashion.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Steelers 2008 Draft Serves as Cautionary Tale for 2012...

Christmas came early at the South Side. And we’re not talking about the Christmas in April volunteer effort.

No, Santa Claus really did visit the Steelers.

To start, he allowed a high first round pick to fall throughout the entire first round of the draft, until he landed right at the Steelers feet.

For an encore, he allowed another pick whom many scouts had graded as first round talent to fall all the way to the bottom of the second round, where again, the Steelers snapped him right up.

Not be outdone, old St. Nick did it again, allowing another player to fall to the Steelers in the fifth round who shouldn’t have been there. Some people are already calling it the steal of the draft.

Sound familiar?

This is of course the narrative that many are affixing to the Steelers haul in the 2012 NFL Draft. Hopefully, they’re right.

But recent history provides a cautionary tale. Because everything that is being said about the Steelers 2012 draft was said, almost word for word, about their 2008 draft.

You remember, the 2008 draft that pundits such as John Harris implored the Steelers to avoid?

In 2008 Rashard Mendenhall was one of the players that the Steelers decided they would not pass on if he fell to them. Yet fall Mendenhall did, and viola, he was a Steeler.

The same process repeated itself with Limas Sweed. Many had Sweed rated as an otherwise first round pick with the only knock against him an ailing wrist. Sweed fell and the Steelers got him.

While no one was quite calling Dennis Dixon “the steal of the draft,” many said that were it not for injuries suffered during his final year in college, he too had talent worth of a first or second rounder.

Days after the 2008 NFL Draft, many rushed to declare the Steelers a success. Peter Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC) went so far as to declare the Steelers 2008 effort as “The Best Steelers Draft in Years.” He explained his view this way:
And this year, unlike several of recent past, our Steelers drafted tremendous football players who didn't necessarily fit the fans' ideas concerning pressing needs. Pittsburgh's brass probably didn't plan the draft out the way it eventually wound up, but when the draft unfolded as it did, they took advantage.

That's good drafting, and the Pittsburgh Steelers should be - in my opinion - on any short list of teams which performed best on draft day.
Four years later, any assessment of the Steelers 2008 effort must carry a decidedly different tone.

Rating the Steelers 2008 Draft
  • 1st Round, Rashard Mendenhall, RB
Mendenhall has been generally been a good running back who has flashed greatness. Were better players on the board passed over? Perhaps, but Mendenhall was a good pick.
Sweed was best known his drops in the divisional playoffs vs. San Diego and in the AFC Championship game. Injuries and mental health issues made him an early camp casualty in 2011. Bust.
Bruce Davis dressed for 5 games and recorded no stats for the Steelers. Total Bust
Hills held a clipboard in 2008 and 2009, got a taste of action in 2010, but even Sean Kugler was unable to help him. Bust.
Dixon had his shot at the big time in 2010. He did “OK” but Charlie Batch earned credit for carrying the Steelers in Ben’s absence. If its true that the Steelers did get decent value from Dixon, its also true that they didn’t get a groomable backup.
  • 6a Round, Mike Humpal, LB
Got cut in camp. Bust.
Mundy made the practice squad and has since developed into a serviceable back up.

That’s one quality starter at a crucial skill position, a solid back up, and a spot role player rounded out by four busts.

Steelers 2008 Draft vs. Steelers 2012 Draft….

There are important differences between the two drafts. Neither running back nor wide receiver were urgent needs in 2008, yet when players fell to them, the Steelers took them. That’s called sticking to your board.

The same thing happened in 2012, but this time the falling players also coincided with the Steelers needs.

And while any objective analysis must render Limas Sweed as a total bust, many forget that what made those drops so spectacular was the fact that he had totally burned the secondaries covering him.
In other words, Steelers scouts correctly evaluated Sweed in terms of talent. But that’s why Sweed remains such a cautionary tale.

The NFL Draft is as much an art as it is a science.

Every draft pick comes with an X-Factor.

In 1991, the Pittsburgh Steelers had Huey Richardson rated highly. So did many other NFL teams. Yet he was so bad that Bill Cowher traded Richardson to the Redskins before his second season and the Redskins cut him shortly thereafter.

Steelers Nation is excited about the arrival of David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Alameda Ta'amu, and Chris Rainey.

And so they should be. Each man represents a huge potential shot in the arm at an area of need. The key there is “potential.”

The 2012 draft could go down as one of the best in Steelers history. Or it could go down like the 2008 draft, where the team hit on a few players, but missed on many more.

In 3 or 4 years we’ll know.

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