´ Steel Curtain Rising: August 2012

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

Friday, August 31, 2012

Sean Spence Injures Knee, Steelers Defeat Panthers

The Pittsburgh Steelers improved their preseason record to 3-1 last night at the expense of the Carolina Panthers, but the victory came at an awful price.

For a second straight game, the Steelers lost another top draft pick to a serious knee injury when third round draft pick Sean Spence went down while struggling to make a play. Spence had been having a strong game, and looked to see playing time in ailing linebacking corps with Stevenson Sylvester, James Harrison, and Jason Worilds all in various stages of recovery from injury.

Reports differ as to how serious Spence's injury is, but by all account he will likely go on injured reserve, ending his season.

Sean Spence Not Alone?

Unfortunately, Sean Spence is not alone on the injured list, as Courtney Brown left the game with an knee injury and Robert Golden also was reported to have a hamstring injury, per Mike Tomlin's post game press conference.

Cut Down Day is Here

The Steelers must trim their roster to 53 men today. Coaches may protest to the contrary, but today's final choices may just as likely come down to a question of "Who is healthier" as opposed to "Who is moree talented."

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

James Harrison, Worilds to Play vs. Denver; Jason Ford Waived

The Pittsburgh Steelers activated linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds yesterday. The move was expected because players who begin the regular season on the physically unable to perform list must stay there for at least six weeks.

What is a surprise is the news that both men will be in uniform when the Steelers begin their quest for Lombardi Number Seven vs. the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football during the season opener.

Neither Worilds nor Harrison has as much worn a pair of shoulder pads nor played a down of preseason football. 

Jason Ford Released

The Steelers woes at running back continue. First they lost newly designated fullback David Johnson. Then John Clay fell. Starter Isaac Redman has had groin/hip and now ankle injuries throughout camp. Jonathan Dwyer has even been dinged. The Steelers even had to move Rashard Mendenhall's PUP activation up ahead of schedule.

Now they're losing the guys they brought in to spell the players who're starting for the starters and primary backups (and yes, that is intended to sound confusing.) Running back Jason Ford, whose rushing style Hines Ward compared to that of Jerome Bettis, injured his hamstring in the Steelers preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts

As LaMarr Woodley discovered in 2011, hamstrings heal at their own time frame, and unfortunately for Ford's NFL dreams, his is not healing quickly enough to give him a chance to put himself over the top in the Steelers preseason finale as the Steelers waived him yesterday.

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Mike Wallace Returns to Steelers, No Long Term Deal in Sight

Mike Wallace, the Steelers estranged wide receiver, ended his hold out today having missed the team's entire training camp and first three preseason contests.

NFL rules prevent Wallace from participating in the team's fourth preseason game, which is undoubtedly the reason why Wallace chose to wait until today.

Wallace has been welcomed with open arms by his teammates, with James Harrison going as far as to stage a faux interview with him in the locker room. Watch for yourself, courtesy of Steelers Gab.



No Long Term Deal in Sight for Wallace

It is great to see Mike Wallace welcomed with open arms by his team mates. Nothing can sink a team's chances like locker room desertion, especially when its over who makes what. See the 1993 Steelers as an example (That's what led to the Steelers policy of not negotiating contracts during the regular season. Click here for the full story.)

Mike Wallace is even saying he wants to be a Steeler for the long term. If he really means that then its a shame, because the likelihood of that happening remains very, very slim.

Steel Curtain Rising claims no special access to inside information here. But its fairly easy to connect the dots from what is known publicly.
In July when the hold out was in its infancy, Kevin Colbert went on the record saying in as much as "Where there's a will there's a way" when it came to signing players. 
  • Take Colbert at his word on that, if the Steelers really want(ed) to sign him, they could have.
Ben Roethlisberger reportedly offered to seek out Wallace and talk him into reporting to camp -- Steelers management declined to take Ben up on his offer -- showing that they're not willing to bend over backwards for Wallace.

But if Mike Wallace really had a will to be a Steelers, then the way to make that happen would have been to report to camp and continue negotiating in good faith. He declined to do that, and will likely have to find out for himself if the grass really is greener some where else.
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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Steelers Cut Harpmann, 15 others, Sign DeJuan Harris


The Turk visited the South Side yesterday, and among the most notiable name he claimed was that that of David Harpmann.

David Harpmann had been perfect in the preseason, hitting on all of his field goal attempts, including several from 40 years plus – precisely the zone that has given incumbent Shaun Suisham trouble.

While he didn’t quite reach Isaac Redman proportions, Harpmann was gaining cult-hero status in Steelers Nation. Steel Curtain Rising was among those who felt he should replace Shaun Suisham.

The Steelers however are opting to stick with Suisham. While the arguments for going with Harpmann are strong, my friend Ivan Cole of Behind the Steel Curtain observed that Suisham was going to need to do something to get himself off the team as much as anything else. And Harpmann didn’t do that.

Now, will Harpmann be there if the Steelers need him mid-season? That’s just the risk they have to take.

The Steelers also cut:

Linebacker Ryan Baker
Wide receivers Paul Cox, Juamorris Stewart, and Jimmy Young
Cornerback, Andre Freeman and Walter McFadden
Long snapper Matt Katula
Tight end Jamie McCoy and Justin Peelle
Offensive lineman Kyle Jolly
Defensive tackle Kade Weston and Mike Blanc

The Steelers also placed Monty Ivy on the Waived/injured list.

It would appear to be the end of the line for Kyle Jolly, who spent 2010 and 2011 on the Steelers practice squad.

Steelers Sign DeJuan Harris

How desperate are the Steelers at running back? Well the claimed DeJuan Harris off of waivers today from the Jacksonville Jaguars. As Ed Bouchette reports, their main motive here is to have enough bodies to compete in their final preseason contest Thursday night vs. Carolina.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

David DeCastro Tears MCL, Not His ACL, Injures Patella

IF reports by ESPN's Adam Schefter are correct, Steelers Nation got a bit of good news about first round draft pick David DeCastro. Six plays into the Steelers preseason victory over the Bills, DeCastro injured his knee, which Mike Tomlin described as "potentially severe."

Earlier in the day Schefter reported that DeCastro had injured his MCL but that an MRI would determine if he'd suffered a dreaded ACL tear.

Schefter is now reporting that DeCastro did not suffer an ACL tear. However, he also informs that DeCastro's patella tendon was injured and his knee cap dislocated.

Its unknown what that Steelers will do.

Lingering injuries to James Harrison and Jason Worilds, in addition to the unavailability of Rashard Mendenhall put the Steelers in a complicated spot regarding injuries. Gerry Dulac reported via Twitter that the Steelers might be forced to open the season with only two quarterbacks on the roster.

MCL injuries are not necessarily season-ending -- Stevenson Sylverster injured his MCL an is expected to return -- a few weeks into the season, but the Steelers are pressed for roster space.
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DeCastro Injures MCL, ACL Tear to be Confirmed

Behind the Steel Curtain's Neal Coolong is reporting (based on an ESPN tweet) that the Steelers have confirmed that rookie first round draft pick David DeCastro has an injured MCL. The team fears that he also has a torn ACL which will soon be determined by an MRI.

If DeCastro has only injured his MCL, he could conceivably return to action this fall. A torn ACL would send DeCastro to the injured reserve and he'd be lost for the year.

David DeCastro injured his knee and was carted off the field 6 plays into the Steelers 38-7 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills. Both Willie Colon and Ben Roethlisberger have blamed Orchard Park's Field Turf.

Dale Lolley however, reports that he thinks that DeCastro might have been tripped by Marcus Gilbert. To quote Lolley:
If that was the case, Gilbert has now taken out two starters this preseason. He fell across fullback David Johnson's legs in the opener, ending his season with a torn ACL.
Now, if Marcus Gilbert could only start unleashing this tendency on defenders....

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Steelers Beat Bills, David DeCastro Injured, ACL Tear Feared


The Pittsburgh Steelers improved their preseason record to 2-1 tonight with a victory in Orchard Park over the Buffalo Bills, but “victory” came at a high price.

Just six plays into the game the Steelers lost David DeCastro to what Mike Tomlin described as a “potentially severe” knee injury. Pittsburgh journalist Ken Laird quoted Willie Colon as saying that DeCastro’s leg got caught in the artificial turf.

DeCastro, the Steelers first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft was set to start at right guard and will have an MRI tomorrow. Assuming that MRI confirms the suspicion that the DeCastro has a torn ACL, Ramon Foster will return to his duties as the Steelers starting guard.

Starting defensive end Brett Keisel also left the game with a dreaded “high ankle sprain” but Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward played very well in his absence.

Steelers Offense Struggles, Then Surges

The Steelers offense struggled during the first half with several three and outs, but Ben Roethlisberger turned things around in the second quarter, leading a 98 yard drive.

The drive included a long pass to Jonathan Dwyer on 3rd an 9 with Roethlisberger throwing from his end zone. He capped off the drive by hitting Antonio Brown for 6 yards in the end zone.

Prior to that, Troy Polamalu had picked off a Ryan Fitzgerald pass at the 20, which Issac Redman helped convert into a two yard touchdown.

The Steelers opened the scoring in the third quarter when Byron Leftwich hit Antonio Brown for another touchdown pass.

Stepping Up

With the first roster cuts due on Monday, it was now or never time for several players. Barron Batch finally put together solid game rushing the ball, if the stat sheet is to be believed.

Corbin Bryant also made his presence known on the defensive line registering a sack, a tackle for a loss, and two QB hits. Cortez Allen also played well dropping player in the backfield and breaking up two passes. Drew Butler continued to make his play for Justin Kapinos’s job, booming off 8 punts for an average just a hair under 50 yards.

Can someone tell me why Shaun Suisham has the edge over David Harpman? Harpman is now 6-6 in his field goal attempts, including another 40 yarder.

Slipping on Banana Peels

A week after taking over the gave vs. the Colts, you had to figure that the 5th wide receiver job was David Gilreath’s to lose. Unfortunately, Gilreath did not catch a pass, and only managed one year on one carry.

Will Johnson will probably make the team as a result of David Johnson’s ACL injury, but only managed one yard on one carry.

Marquis Maze also had a shot at carving a roster spot for himself as a return man, but failed to distinguish himself.

Climbing Everest without Oxygen?

The motive for the sudden dismissal of Al Everest remains unknown, but the Steelers return game vs. the Bills was non-existent.

Mike Tomlin had singled out the poor return game several days prior to firing Everest.

The Steelers coverage units faired no better, allowing the Bills and impressive 10 yard average on punt returns and 29 yards on kick returns.

We may never know the real reason why Everest got the boot, but Amos Jones does have the current of history flowing against him (to see more about the Steelers Jekyll-Hide history of Steelers special teams coaches, click here.)

Wallace Watch in Vain?

Word early in the week that Mike Wallace was due back in Pittsburgh and might already have signed his tender prior to the Bills game.

However, Mike Tomlin’s post-game press conference featured this "prolific" exchange:
Questioner: Any update on Mike Wallace?
Mike Tomlin: None.
Does that mean anything, or is Tomlin just being coy?  Perhaps we’ll know tomorrow.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

David DeCastro Injured vs. Bills

Just six plays into the Pittsburgh Steelers preseason match up vs. the Bills, first round pick David DeCastro was injured and carted off of the field. While no there's been no official word on his injury leaving the turf on a cart is never a good thing. He's being replaced in the line up by veteran Ramon Foster.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

Steelers Fire Al Everest As Special Teams Coach


In a shocking and totally uncharacteristic move the Pittsburgh Steelers fired special teams coach Al Everest.

Unlike his predecessor, Mike Tomlin has not been wont to fire his assistant coaches. He resisted pressure to fire his first special teams coach  Bob Ligashesky  after the 2007 campaign when the Steelers special teams were a glaring liability.  He went to the mat for Bruce Arians after the 2009 season when management preferred to see the oft criticized offensive coordinator go.

But this isn’t an issue of Tomlin being willing to fire or not fire an assistant coach. NFL teams do not fire coaches during the preseason.  Todd Haley did it while in Kansas City, and it was taken as an immediate sign of coaching instability.

(A quick survey of non-NFL sites already has some pundits chalking the move up to the "Todd Haley effect.")

Insights into Al’s Exit Absent….

The news of Everest’s was broken by Jay Glazer on Twitter at 1:24 pm. Since then the scribes in the Pittsburgh press corps have had all day to consult their sources, yet no one has any news on why Everest was let go.

Jim Wexell admitted on Twitter that he never understood why Everest’s replacement, Amos Jones, hadn’t been given the job in 2010.

Alan Robinson of the Tribune-Review offered a possible chink of light on the subject with his comment that Amos Jones “already was doing much of the on-field coaching.” Dale Lolley added to the story by reminding readers that Jones and Mike Tomlin had been friends since coaching together at the University of Cincinnati back in 1999 and 2000.

Fair enough.

But Mike Tomlin certainly did not wake up “think, ‘gee, wouldn’t it be nice to give my buddy Amos a promotion, he does all the work anyway’ and issue a pink slip.

Clearly there’s more to the story.

Reviewing the Everest Record

Al Everest joined the Steelers in January of 2010 after a season where special teams breakdowns had cost the Steelers a minimum of two games.

He made an immediate impact in 2010, with splash special teams plays contributing directly to the margin of victory in road contests vs. Tennessee and Cincinnati.

But special teams performance waned during the later part of 2010, contributing to the Steelers a home loss vs. the Jets. Everest’s special teams also benefited from a rather, “generous,” call in the AFC Divisional playoffs vs. Baltimore.

A quick review of Steel Curtain Rising’s post-game Report Cards for 2011 (click here to review) shows a similar mixed bag. While special teams did come up with big plays and solid play in general, they also suffered two blocked kicks and got suckered by a fake punt vs. Kansas City that never should have happened.

As I observed back in 2009, the history of Steelers history with special teams coaches features an ensemble of Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde characters (click here for the full article).

In that light, Everest clearly continued the trend, as his special teams improved markedly from Bob Ligashesky’s disastrous units.

Now Steelers Nation had better hope that Amos Jones can buck the trend.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Steelers are Concerned about the Health of Their Running Game

The Steelers are concerned about the state of their rushing attack.

Two summers ago the Watch Tower lampooned PG Plus for covering the supposed death and resurrection of the Steelers running game – all in the span of a week.
  • This is different. 
The Steelers decision to activate Rashard Mendenhall from the PUP reveals that Steelers Nation now as legitimate cause for concern.

Mendenhall’s Surprise Activation

News that Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall were coming off the PUP took Steelers Nation by surprise late Friday afternoon.

Fellow scribe and friend Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write occasionally for BTSC) wrote glowingly of the move:
Mendenhall's impressive rehabilitation time gives the Steelers a formidable ground attack, assuming there is nothing significantly wrong with Redman, who was slated to be the team's featured running back. The ground game looks to carry with it a more prominent role this season, and this could be the kind of new-but-not-new addition could be a big pick-up.
But Neal’s reaction was the exception, not the rule. Ed Bouchette went at great pains to provide his readers with recent quotes from Steelers officials who all but indicated that Mendenhall was certain to start 2012 on the PUP.

My first reaction was “surprise” followed by “they must be desperate.”

Redman’s Injury More Serious Than Known?

Why would the Steelers be so desperate as to make a drastic move – bring a player back, any player but especially a running back, too early form an ACL, and you jeopardize his career?
  • Such a move is totally out of character for the Steelers. 
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert don’t make personnel decisions scared.

So what could prompt them to go back on everything they’d said about their plans for Mendenhall?
Isaac Redman began training camp with pain in his groin. He didn’t say anything about it, practiced and played like normal, until he was brought to his knees in practice.

Neither Ed Bouchette nor Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette seemed overly concerned in their evening video from training camp, but in reporting that Redman was going to have an MRI, they noted that Steelers coaches wanted to rule out that Redman might have a groin injury similar to the one Jerome Bettis had.

Jerome Bettis was on course to have a record setting rushing season in 2001 when a groin injury in week 11essentially cost him the rest of the season.

At this point Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review picked up the thread, informing us that:
Running back Isaac Redman, chastised by coach Mike Tomlin for revealing he would have an MRI on his injured groin, said the test revealed Thursday exactly what the Steelers’ athletic trainers thought it would. Only he didn’t say what that was. And Tomlin wouldn’t even acknowledge that Redman had the exam.
So…
  • On Wednesday Bouchette and Dulac report that the Steelers are concerned Redman might have a Bettis-like groin injury
  • Robinson reports on Thursday that Redman’s MRI revealed what the trainers expected it would
  • Mike Tomlin doesn’t want anyone talking about it
  • And the next day the Steelers surprise everyone and activate Mendenhall.
I hope I am wrong on this, but the logical conclusion is that Redman’s injury is somewhat serious.

[8/23 - Editor's Note:  Dale Lolley has since revealed that Redman's injury is hip and not groin related and that he did in fact return to practice on Tuesday. Still concern about his status is legitimate.]

The Steelers Won’t Rush Rashard Back But….

None of this means that the Steelers will rush Mendenhall back to the field before he’s ready.

Dale Lolley pointed out that in sheer practical terms, it is a lot easier to get a player into game shape in training camp than in the week-to-week practices. Matt Loede from Steelers Gab got Kevin Colbert on the record confirming Lolley’s hypothesis.

Fair enough.
  • But it’s likely that there’s also a parallel motive at work. 
Had Mendenhall began the season on the PUP list, he would have had to stay there for at least 6 weeks. Activating him now removes that restriction, at the cost of a roster spot.

Lingering injuries to James Harrison, Jason Worilds, and Stevenson Sylvester put roster spots at a premium now for the Steelers.

The Steelers won’t rush Mendenhall into the line up in September, before he’s ready, but the fact that they’ve activated him now signals that they are concerned that it might not be a case of wanting to use Mendenhall in weeks 5 or 6 but rather a case of needing to use Mendenhall then.

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Mike Wallace's Return to Steelers Imminent

The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to their South Side complex today after three plus weeks in Latrobe. But as despite the change of venue, a familiar face remained missing, in the form of Mike Wallace.

That, however, is about to change.

Early in the day multiple sources reported that Mike Wallace was due back with the Steelers with an expected ETA of some time after the Steelers third preseason game this Saturday vs. the Bills.

Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review is breaking from the pack suggesting that the Wallace watch could be over in a matter of hours not days.

Welcome Back Wallace

Robinson's reporting makes it crystal clear that Wallace will be welcomed by his team mates with open arms.   That bodes well for the Steelers locker room chemistry, although when asked where Wallace would fit into the Steelers offense, in the short term, Mike Tomlin stuck to his "When he gets here, let's wait and see" attitude.

To participate in team drills Wallace would have to sign his tender, which all reports indicate he will do. Whether he attempts to open negotiations towards a long term deal are another question.

A headline under Ed Bouchette's PG Plus byline indicated that Wallace did not have a chance at getting a long term deal -- I cannot access that because PG Plus still refuses to take my money (that's right, the newspaper industry's on its knees, but PG Plus will not let me give them my money, click here and scroll down for the full story.)

However, Bouchette's conclusion is logical. The Steelers reportedly gave a contract similar to what they were offering Wallace to Antonio Brown, and a deal would have to be concluded before the regular season, which does not leave much time to negotiate.

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Falling Like Flies: Steelers Lose Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester


The good news from the Steelers 26-24 preseason victory over the Colts is that the Black and Gold escaped with no new injuries.

The bad news is that Pittsburgh lost another player for an extended period of time before the game. Reserve linebacker Stevenson Sylvester injured his MCL in the final play of the final Steelers training camp practice at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe.

Sylvester’s injury is expected to keep him out 3-4 weeks, which to these ears sounds like a conservative estimate given the nature of ligament injuries.

Sylvester’s snaps will be taken up by Brandon Johnson, a veteran journeyman linebacker the Steelers signed in June mainly as an insurance policy.

The Steelers are ailing at linebacker, with James Harrison’s knee surgery putting his status for the season opener in doubt and Jason Worilds also out on the PUP list, with no timetable set for his return.

After parting ways with James Farrior, Kevin Colbert all but ruled out the possibility of bringing Farrior back should disaster strike. The words he used with Ed Bouchette were akin to “you never want to say ‘never’ but….”

You have to wonder how much further depleted the Steelers linebacking corps can become before Colbert begins thinking its “never say never time.”

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Steelers Eek Out Preseason Win vs. Colts


The Pittsburgh Steelers improved their preseason record to 1-1 by scoring a late field goal to beat the Indianapolis Colts 26-24. While Andrew Luck lived up to his name sake in his second outing, the Steelers defense did something it almost never did in 2011 – intercepted passes.

Ike Taylor intercepted an Andrew Luck pass and returned it 49 yards to put the Steelers up 14-0. The Steelers had scored earlier when Antonio Brown took a short pass from Ben Roethlisberger and weaved his way through blocks provided by Leonard Pope, Heath Miller, and rookie Barron Batch.

All eyes tonight were on the Steelers running game. Jonathan Dwyer looked good as a starter, while Barron Batch continued to struggle, at least on the stat sheet. Rookie Chris Rainey also had a tougher time of it, if his numbers are any guide.

5th Receiver Emerges?

While most of the attention in preseason has focused on Mike Wallace’s absence and Antonio Brown’s contract, beneath the surface there’s been a struggle to define who’ll claim the Steelers 5th wide out spot.

Mike Tomlin has been fairly frank in expressing his disappointment that no one has separated himself from the back.

That may have changed tonight.

David Gilreath led the team with 4 catches for 78 yards. Granted, he was not playing vs. the Colts starters, but his production was impressive nonetheless.

This is Gilreath’s fourth shot at NFL glory, having spent time on various practice squads. That should not be held against him – sometimes players need to bounce around for a while before getting their footing – James Harrison certainly did.

Time will tell if Gilreath can follow a similar path.

Suisham Threatened?

The pundits keep insisting that Shaun Suisham is favored to make the team. But rookie Danny Harpmann is giving him a run for his money, having finished the night at 4-4 on field goal kicks, including ones of 39 and 43 yards and another that was partially blocked.

Suisham’s play hasn’t been stellar, the outing in 2010 vs. Buffalo withstanding, and and upgrade at place kicker would be welcome.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Steelers Move Casey Hampton and Rashard Mendenhall off the PUP List

The Pittsburgh Steelers made two personnel moves today, one expected the other a surprise. They moved starting nose tackle Casey Hampton from the physically unable to preform list (PUP). This was expected, as the Steelers expect Hampton to be ready to play early in the season if not for the season opener.

Rashard Mendenhall also came off the PUP list, which is a surprise.

The Steelers had been saying all along that they expected Mendenhall to stay on the PUP list until at least week six of the upcoming season. The fact that he's coming off now does not speak well for how the Steelers see their situation at running back, which finds Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer both nursing injuries.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

What Ike Taylor and Antonio Brown's Fisticuffs Teach Us


Fights between team mates are staples of NFL summers. Usually they’re open-an-shut affairs which do little more than provide some eye candy for the evening news highlight reels.

But when do training camp fights cross the line?

Steelers Nation asked itself that question recently as repeated scuffles between Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor got so bad that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert had to help separate them.

The short answer to the question is that Steelers fans probably have little to worry about, but the incidents do reveal something about the team.

Fights and Fisticuffs From Days Gone By….

Rookies frequently find themselves as the instigators of training camp slugfests. It makes sense.

Young, cocky (or desperate) prospect in from college seeks to make name for himself at the expense of a someone else.

In the early 1990’s either Brensten Buckner or Joel Steed (can’t remember which) had just that idea. Might have worked, except they chose to pick a fight with 5 time NCAA wrestling champion Carlton Haselrig.

Suffice to say, Haselrig got the bitter of that exchange.

Veterans do mix it up however. A few years back in the Steelers Digest Craig Wolfley wrote about an intense duel he got into with Edmund Nelson in the 1980’s.

But as Wolfley explained, after practice he found himself trudging up the hill to the locker room and found himself talking with another player about how Noll had put him through the wringer that day. It wasn’t until he got to the top of the hill that he realized that he’d been walking along side Nelson.

The moral of Wolfley’s story was clear – fights break out, but everything gets left behind on the gridiron….

Richard Huntley vs. Earl Holmes

….Except when it doesn’t.

The last newsworthy fight for the Steelers came during minicamp in the spring of 2000. Fisticuffs erupted between Richard Huntley and Earl Holmes on the practice field.

After practice Huntley was assuring writers that by-gones were already by-gones when Earl Holmes broke into the locker room and a melee erupted. Chairs were swung and Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala even got a black eye after being inadvertently hit.

That incident was far out of the ordinary, and considering just how badly things had come unglued at the end of the 1999 season, there was cause for concern.

Even Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest commented something on the order of “Whether this represents a rekindling of the competitive fire or a further erosion of discipline remain to be seen.”

If that fight was indicative of anything at the end of the day it was the former rather than the later.

And that’s most likely the meaning we can take from the three round installment of Taylor vs. Brown.

What Taylor vs. Brown Teaches Us

Mark Kaboly of the Tribune-Review argues that both the frequency and ferocity of the fights has risen to an abnormally high level his summer in Latrobe. The gash that Ike Taylor suffered under his right eye is a strong indicates that Kabloy is on to something.

But if he has taken notice, so have others, others who can do something about it. As Kabloy reported, Ryan Clark and Ben Roethlisberger intervened, making a point of speaking with both men.

And by all accounts, it worked. Brown and Taylor shared breakfast together on the South Side and Taylor even invited Brown to his radio show.

While Brown and Taylor kissing and making up is well and good, what’s more important is they were prompted to do so from elsewhere in the locker room.

When you put 53 men together in the pressure cooker that is the NFL regular season, personality conflicts will arise. Unlike training camp, most of them will occur out of the public eye.

What the Taylor-Brown incident reveals however, is that even absent players like Hines Ward, James Farrior, and Aaron Smith, the Steelers have the locker room leadership necessary head such problems off at the pass, before they can contaminate the club house.

For a training camp that's thus far been defined by hold outs and injuries, this certainly counts as a piece of good news.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

James Harrison Goes Under the Knife, Isaac Redman Goes Down with Groin Injury

While its perhaps too early to say that the injury situation in Latrobe has become "critical" for the Steelers, clearly they are an issue.

In the last week the Steelers have placed David Johnson and John Clay on the injured/waived list. Neither of whom figured to be a key player for the Steelers in 2012, although the Steelers had planned to use David Johnson as their first starting fullback since 2006.

The news out of St. Vincients yesterday was far more critical.

Starting outside linebacker and former defensive player of the year James Harrison had surgery to relive swelling under his knee cap. While the surgery is minor and is intended to ward off any prolonged problem, James Harrison's status for the September 9th opener at Denver is now doubt.

Harrison's knee surgery wasn't the only new item on the injury blotter.

Starting running back Isaac Redman, who apparently had been bothered by groin pains since the beginning of camp, had to leave practice early. The Redman will undergo an MRI today to diagonise the extent of his injury.

With Jonathan Dwyer injuring his shoulder in training camp, Rashard Mendenhall still on the PUP, the Steelers top running backs are Barron Batch and 5th round pick Chris Rainy....

....Say an extra decade on your Roseary for Redman's MRI to reveal nothing of consequence.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Steelers Activate Max Starks, Waive John Clay

The Steelers are only one game into the 2012 preseason campaign, yet they remain active on the personnel front.  Only one day after placing David Johnson on the waived/injured list, the Steelers followed suit with John Clay.

According to the Post-Gazette, Clay had injured his hip and groin in practice after the game, and the Steelers apparently thought they needed a healthy body in camp so they replaced him with John Ford.

Should no team claim Clay, and none is likely to, his rights will revert back to the Steelers.

If fate should have it that John Clay's time as a Pittsburgh Steeler is over, he always memory of taking his first NFL carry for 10 yards AND a touchdown in the Steelers late season shut out of the St. Louis Rams last year.

Max Starks Returns (Again)

The Steelers also took Max Starks off of the Physically Unable to Preform list, which will allow him to practice with the team. Starks had been recuprerating from the ACL tear he suffered in the playoffs vs. Denver.

While the Steelers had planned to activate Starks at some point in mid-August, his presence is needed on the offensive line, where injuries are already forcing roster shuffling, with Marcus Gilbert getting work at left tackle and Ramon Foster getting work at right tackle.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Steelers Waive David Johnson, Sign Justin Peelle

What a week for David Johnson. Seven days ago Johnson was the first Mike Tomlin-era Pittsburgh Steeler to hold the title of “full back.” Today, after tearing his ACL in the Steelers preseason opener at Philadelphia, Johnson finds himself out on the street unemployed.

Well, perhaps that’s a tad bit over dramatic, but the Steelers did place David Johnson on the injured/waived list.  As clarified by Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain, the move allows another team to sign Johnson. If no one opts to pick him up, his rights revert to the Steelers.

In all likelihood that is exactly what will happen, for whatever it is worth. Johnson is done for the year and will become a free agent next year, giving another team little incentive in signing him.

The Steelers likely took this step, in lieu of simply putting Johnson on injuries reserve for salary cap reasons, although I remain unaware of the Steelers obligations to Johnson since he did sign his 1.2 million dollar restricted free agent tender this spring.

To take Johnson’s place on the roster, the Steelers signed veteran Justin Peelle, who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 2002, and has played in San Francisco, Miami, and most recently Atlanta.

The Steelers of course still have veterans Heath MillerLeonard Pope, and Weslye Saunders on their roster, in addition to Jamie McCoy, who they picked up in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL draft.

All of these players, including Justin Peelle, are primarily or exclusively tight ends. The only pure fullback on the Steelers roster is rookie free agent Will Johnson.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Thoughts on David Johnson's ACL Tear

David Johnson entered 2012 training camp with an interesting tale to tell. He’s a pure Tomlin-era player, drafted as a tight end by the Steelers with their final pick in the 2009 NFL draft. But Johnson’s first action in the NFL came at full back, where he saw spot duty during his rookie campaign.

Johnson entered 2010 on the bubble, as almost any 7th round pick would, but assured himself a roster spot with his continued development.

The Steelers faith in him paid off on opening day when Johnson took on two blockers to pave the way Rashard Mendenhall’s thrilling 50 yard overtime touchdown vs. the Falcons. (Available as of 8/10/12):

After Johnson's role with the team grew.

In December of 2010 Johnson had his biggest game in Baltimore vs. the Ravens. Matt Speath was out with an injury and during the game the Steelers lost Heath Miller would after a vicious concussion leaving Johnson as the team’s lone tight end.

Johnson rose to the occasion, catching three passes including a key 25 yard completion, earning him Unsung Hero honors for the week.

One of Todd Haley’s first official moves was to reinstate the fullback into the Steelers offense, and Johnson was tapped to take that role, although Mike Tomlin clarified a week ago that he’d also be playing some tight end.

In short, David Johnson had a tremendous opportunity in front of him heading into 2012, and that is all for naught as report indicate that he injured his ACL when Marcus Gilbert rolled over him in the Steelers preseason opener vs. Philadelphia.

The Steelers are almost certain to put Johnson on IR, ending his season, and ending his shot and proving himself worthy of a big payday in free agency. Steel Curtain Rising wishes David Johnson the best of luck in his recovery.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Steelers Fall to Philly as Mike Adams, David Johnson and Jonathan Dwyer Injured in Preseason Opener


The Todd Haley era on Steelers offense opened last night in preseason vs. the Eagles. By all reports, the Steelers offense looked different, featuring a short passing game and a more even mix of passes and runs.

While that is good news, it must be tempered with the bad.

The objective of any preseason game, coming even before evaluating talent under “Live Fire” circumstances, is to avoid injury.

On that front the Steelers were not so fortunate:
  • Fullback/tight end David Johnson was injured on the game’s first series
  • Rookie left tackle Michael Adams was injured on the game’s second series
  • Reserve running back Jonathan Dwyer also was injured
Little is known about the extent of the three injuries, but David Johnson’s looks to be the worst.

All three Pittsburgh quarterbacks looked strong. Ben Roethlisberger played for one series which consumed 10 minutes off of the clock. Byron Leftwich finished out the second half, and rookie Jerrod Johnson played the entire second half, and looked fairly good – judging by the stats sheet.

Another rookie to make an impact was Chris Rainey, who took a short pass and ran it 57 yards to the house.

The Steelers ultimately fell 23-21 to the Eagles in a game that saw the lead change twice in the fourth quarter.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dermontti Dawson, Jack Butler Round Out Chuck Noll's Hall of Fame Resume

In 1987, Joe Greene and John Henry Johnson entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame together. Happy happenstance allowed the first Super Steeler to share this individual honor with a star from Pittsburgh’s SOS (same old Steelers) era.

Greene and Johnson had little in common beyond having worn the Black and Gold.

Scribes in Steelers Nation might be tempted to say the same thing about this past weekend’s induction of Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, but they’d be mistaken because the two men share a deeper, if latent, connection that spans several generations of Steelers football.

Dermontti Dawson – Succeeding a Legend

Men who follow legends generally fail, at least by comparison. Frank Pollard took Franco Harris’ place in Pittsburgh backfield, and while he did finish his career with a better yards-per carry average, Pollard’s sin was to be merely good instead of great.

Dermontti Dawson followed legendary Pittsburgh center Mike Webster, and in a very literal sense of the word, he succeeded his predecessor.

Success on offense starts with the offensive line but, in an ironic twist of fate, few metrics exist to evaluate offensive lineman. They accumulate no yards, score no points, make no splash plays. Instead, their efforts empower others to make plays.

Dermontti Dawson claims his share of success in this regard, because Dawson:
“Pulling” is perhaps Dawson’s greatest legacy. Prior to Dawson, only guards pulled.

Outside of quarterback, the center has the most difficult job on the offense.

He’s got to keep one hand on the ball, pay attention to shifts by linebackers and lineman, release the ball backwards, get the snap count exactly right, snap the ball backwards and then, in a split second, shift his attention to one or two 300 pound tackles with blood in their eyes.
  • Dawson was able to do all that, then move outside to take on linebackers and defensive backs.
A single play suffices to illustrate Dawson’s excellence at pulling.

In January 1998 the Pittsburgh Steelers were hosting a playoff game vs. the New England Patriots. The two teams had fought a neck-and-neck battle that the Steelers won in OT after never leading in regulation.

The game was a pure chess match, and Dawson made the pivotal move.

Early in the game Kordell Stewart rolled out. It was meant to look like a pass, but it was in fact a designed run. After snapping the ball, Dawson pulled out wide to the strong side, and as Kordell began his advance up field, Dawson obliterated the closing defender.
  • 40 yards later Kordell was in the end zone on a day when the final score was 7-6.
"Dermonti Dawson" doesn’t appear in the box score, but his ability to pull and then deliver a decisive block carried the day.

The Butler Did It

Jack Butler came from an era where the Steelers played third fiddle behind the Pirates and Pitt. He became a Steeler because Fr. Silas, St. Bonaventure’s athletic director, was Art Rooney Sr.’s brother.

Butler joined the Steelers in 1952, playing it wide out and the defensive end. Then, as a testament to how times have changed, a defensive back got hurt and Joe Michelosen put him in the game.

As Ed Bouchette detailed, in his second game, Butler took his first NFL interception to the house and never looked back.

In fact, Butler hauled in 52 interceptions – an incredible sum during an era when seasons lasted 12 games and a 200 yard passing game was considered exceptional.  When Butler retired he held the number 2 spot on the all-time interceptions list. Over 50 years later, he’s still 14 on the list.

BLESTO, Butler, Noll and Dawson

Canton is honoring Butler for his achievements on the field, but he easily could have earned induction for his accomplishments off of it. From 1963 to 2007, Jack Butler directed BLESTO (Bears Lions Eagles, Steelers Talent Organization), the league’s first scouting combine.

Obviously, the Steelers were not the only team to benefit from Butler’s prowess as a scout.
  • But four generations of Pittsburgh Steeler rosters can’t help but bear his figure prints. 
And of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers won a few games during that time.

The key to winning those games, was of course the players. From 1969 to 1991 one man had the final word on draft day, and his name was Charles Henry Noll.
  • Noll’s run of Hall of Famers selections in the 1970’s remains unprecedented. 
But Noll’s drafting record slipped in the late 70’s, a tendency that worsened in the ‘80’s.

Many reasons those draft misfires, but a big factor was Noll’s inability to get along with effectively with Art Rooney Jr. (to better understand Pittsburgh’s drafting woes in the 80’s, click here to read the article Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh – Talent Evaluators.)

Tensions got so great in 1986 the Dan Rooney was forced to make a choice, and he fired his younger brother.

Ed Bouchette chronicled the move in his classic, Dawn of a New Steel Age, and concluded that Dan’s difficult decision failed to pay dividends.

The record suggests Bouchtte is mistaken.
Even in his twilight of his reign The Emperor retained an uncanny ability to transform raw data from the scouts like Butler into draft day home runs.

And that’s what makes Jack Butler and Dermontti Dawson’s simultaneous induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame just a little extra special for Steelers Nation.

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Aaron Smith, Willie Parker, Marvel Smith and Joey Porter Retire as Pittsburgh Steelers


There’s one thing that no one in Steelers Nation can deny. Kordell Stewart is a man of many talents. But no one would have predicated that nearly a decade after playing his last game in Pittsburgh, Stewart remains a Steelers trend setter.

At least that is how it seemed Friday night at Latrobe Stadium.

A number of weeks ago Joey Porter announced that he was going to officially retire as a Steeler. Kordell Stewart had inspired his decision, Porter discussed the issue with management and that they were happy to oblige.

How they were.

Joey Porter was joined by Aaron Smith, Willie Parker, and even Marvel Smith at a ceremony held before the Steelers annual night practice in Latrobe. The act is largely symbolic, as no “one day contracts” were signed, but the fact that these men desire to “go out as Steelers” reinforces the fact that Pittsburgh is a special city, and the Steelers are a special franchise.

All four men made the Pro Bowl. Aaron Smith, Parker, and Marvel Smith were veterans of  both Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII teams and Porter played a pivotal role on the Super Bowl XL squad.

Of the four, Porter is the only one to wear another team’s colors.

Dan Gigler of the Post-Gazette reported that Jerame Tuman, a back up tight end from the Super Bowl XL squad, was also in attendance as was former Steelers running back and running back’s coach Dick Hoak.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Watch Tower: Alan Robinson Joins the Trib, PG Plus Subtracts Readers + Plaxico Burress?

Steelers training camp has entered its second week and the Pittsburgh press corps is in high gear!

That leaves no shortage of stories for Steelers Nation to savor, but here at the Watch Tower we’re looking for the story behind the story. Or perhaps more aptly put, the story of those who bring us the news of our beloved Black and Gold.

Tribune Review Beefs Up Coverage I – Alan Robinson Steps Aboard

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is the smaller and less prestigious of the Steel City’s two dailies. Yet they’ve always tried to match the Post-Gazette when it comes to Steelers coverage.
  • To that end, the Trib. deserves mixed reviews. 
One of my colleagues in the blogging community, once (privately) described one of their lead columnists as a “tool” suggesting that we shouldn’t even cite the Trib.’s stories.

I thought that went too far, but John Harris has caught the ire of the Watch Tower more than once, and their attempt to deflect credit from the Post-Gazette’s breaking of Mike Tomlin’s 2010 contract renewal raised the concept of "Bush League" to an art form.

But the Tribune-Review has offered solid coverage at good insights at other times, and they’ve just made a significant step towards doing that on a regular basis.

For 28 years Alan Robinson covered Pittsburgh sports. Those of us who grew up in parts of Steelers Nation outside of Pittsburgh grew accustomed to reading his work, most often under an unnamed Associated Press byline.


Alan Robinson is a veteran writer who knows his way around the Steelers locker room and has a rolodex that has got to spans 28 years worth of NFL contacts.

Readers of the Tribune Review are already benefiting from added-value that he brings to the beat. He told us that the Atlanta Falcons were interested in signing Max Starks before the Steelers beat them to the punch. He also provided the useful medical background on the severity (or lack thereof) of Ben Roethlisberger’s torn rotator cuff.

Those were two pieces of information that Post-Gazette readers did not get. Looks like Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac have some competition, which for us is a good thing.

PG Plus Subtracts Readers

Regular readers know that the Watch Tower's been very support of PG Plus, the Post-Gazette’s paid premium content section. The extra coverage provided by PG Plus is generally worth the four dollar, or 18 Argentine peso in my case, monthly fee.

PG Plus recently changed its billing system, leaving PayPal for direct billing.
  • And that’s where my problem began.
My subscription expired on July 11th, and I STILL HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO SUCCESSFULLY RENEW.

Message I got AFTER being told my subscription had expired....

They’ve told me it was browser incompatibility (it wasn’t, not even close.) They told me, “sorry we’re having problems, be patient.”

I’ve got a half-dozen “Thanks for Renewing” emails from these folks, but still can’t see more than one article before getting the “Your subscription has expired.”

There has even been a time when I got this message, tried to renew, and was told “You’re already a member, you can’t renew” (no lie, see above for yourself.)

The issue, as I have now explained to them twice, is that I am trying to renew with a non-US credit card yet their form (which does leave space for a country) requires you to select a US state, which will instantly invalidate any transaction with a non-US card.

This is inane.

The newspaper industry in the United States is on its knees, struggling to make ends meet.

Paid content on-line sections or paid on-line subscriptions, are likely essential if the institution is to survive in some recognizable form.

You’d figure they’d know that.
  • You’d figure they’d make it easy for you to give them your money.
Apparently that’s not the case.

Bye Bye Scott Brown

Prior to Alan Robinson’s arrival, Scott Brown held down the Steelers beat at the Tribune Review. Brown is, voluntarily, departing from the beat to focus on Penn State.
  • That’s a shame. While Robinson must be considered an upgrade, Scott Brown was young and hungry and it showed in his work. 
Last year he reported that it was the Steelers who turned down Flozell Adams early in the season. He was also way out ahead of Ed Bouchette (but not Gerry Dulac) on the Steelers decision to resign Willie Colon after the lock out.

These are only two examples of Scott Brown out hustling his more experienced rivals. His work will be missed.

Tribune Review Upgrade II – Steel Mill Blog

During the off season the Tribune Review gave its Steelers section a face lift, and in doing so gave more prominent position to their Steel Mill Blog.

That’s a smart move, because it’s a good blog with lots of interesting information and interviews, and readers can now access it in the right column of the Trib’s featured stories.

However, the blog is not accessible or at least there is not prominent link from their main Steelers page, which really makes no sense….

Steelers Sign Mike Wallace er, um, Tomlin

The news of Mike Tomlin’s signing broke the day before training camp. That contract renewal was expected (except perhaps for Ron Cook). But of course the transacation everyone was waiting for was the signing of Mike Wallace.

It hardly amounts to Steelers-Nation’s "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment, but the Post-Gazette jumped the guy, is was evident in the url linking for their story on Tomlin’s signing.

Look Closely at the URL
A source at the Post-Gazette indicated that the error was simple typo that only appeared on-line for a few seconds. Changing the URL took more time, the Watch Tower was told.
  • That’s an easy error to make. 
Yours truly did the same thing when the Raiders signed Rod Woodson as DB’s coach.

Finally a Football Related Note - Plaxico Burress to Return?

Football, not media news is what most of us care about, and we’ll end with a little gem from Dale Lolley.

Lolley offered this surprise a few days ago:
Every day the Mike Wallace holdout continues is one day closer to Plaxico Burress returning to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers did court Plaxico Burress last year upon his release from prison, but Plex opted for greener pastures in New York.

A veteran like Lolley wouldn’t print an observation like this unless it was based on sources which, if nothing else, indicates that the Steelers are prepared to play without Mike Wallace at all this season if need be.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Is Signing Antonio Brown a Good Football Move?

As mentioned previously here on Steel Curtain Rising, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a decisive statement when they cut off negotiations with Mike Wallace andopted (instead?) to resign Antonio Brown.

The move also satisfied an emotional need for a fan base who traditionally has had little sympathy with hold outs, although this later factor undoubtedly had no impact on the Steelers decision making.

But if the move provided Steelers Nation with an emotional high, the the question still remains:

Was giving Antonio Brown big money now the right football move?

It’s hard to say.

Based on what I saw during the second half of 2011 I was of the mind that if forced to choose between Mike Wallace and Brown I’d choose Brown. But then again, I thought drafting a quarterback in the first round of 2004 was a mistake….

Antonio Brown impressed greatly as a rookie, making an immediate impact and aggressively working his way into the Steelers offense.

He continued on that trajectory in 2011, becoming such a significant play maker that the drop off in Hines Ward’s play barely impacted the team.

Yet one stand out season is not a lot to hang your hat on.

To wit, the Steelers have never given a contract extension to a player after only two years.  The only exception closely resembling this would be the deal Willie Parker got in 2006, but that does not compare. Parker was an exclusive-rights free agent and had no contract.

Parker had also clearly proven himself as a starter by not only pushing Jerome Bettis but also Duce Staley to the bench.

In contrast Antonio Brown has started only three games for the Steelers.

That’s right, the Pittsburgh Steelers have just given 42 million dollars to a man with three starts under his belt who has yet to face a situation where defensive staffs game plan specifically to stop him.

That is a very thin resume.  But with that said, Antonio Brown has:
  • earned his stripes in the trenches
  • come up with clutch catches in the playoffs vs. the Ravens and then vs. the Jets
  • is clearly in a position of establishing himself as a leader on and off the field.

At the end of the day the Steelers are taking a risk, but on balance its one worth taking. If Brown works out to be the player he is on track to become, this deal will look like a total steal for the Steelers come 2014 or so.

Why Resign Brown Now?

The next question is now the time for the Steelers to make such a move?

In cold, calculating football terms, the answer is certainly “no.” Wallace has one year left on his contract, and then he’ll be a restricted free agent. The Steelers would still hold the lion’s share of leverage next March.

Had Machiavelli written on NFL personnel matters as opposed to matters of state, he’d undoubtedly would have counseled Kevin Colbert to play the cards close to the vest, and hold off until the off season.

But that’s not the Steelers Way. Never has been and hopefully never will be.

Consider, in the past twelve months the Steelers have:

Each of the moves was the “wrong” move from both a football and a business stand point (with the possible exception of the money that releasing Scott freed).

Yet each of these moves signaled that the Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization that believes in taking care of its people. Make no mistake about it. The NFL is a business and the Steelers make unsentimental business decisions about personnel ever year.

That capacity was on display last spring with the departures of Aaron Smith, James Farrior and Hines Ward, to name a few.

But even in business, there’s a right way to treat people and a wrong way to treat people. And the Steelers, for the most part, treat their players right.

The most of the players associated with the franchise know this, they understand it, and they respect it. The organization is stronger because of it and the team certainly need not tie itself into knots over the players who don’t recognize that.
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