´ Steel Curtain Rising: April 2013

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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Steelers Sign 15 Undrafted Free Agents, Including Mike Golic Jr. and Nik Embernate

“Day 4” of the 2013 NFL Draft at the South Side when the Pittsburgh Steelers added to their 2013 Draft Class by signing 15 undrafted rookie free agents, and it was a group heavy with offensive lineman.

Steelers 2013 Undrafted Rookie Free Agents:

Nik Embernate, guard of San Diego State
Chis Hubbard, guard of University of Birmingham
Mike Farrell, tackle of Penn State
Mike Golic Jr., tackle of Notre Dame
Ivory Wade, center of Baylor
Brian Arnfelt, defensive end of Northwestern
Cordian Hagans, defensive end of Louisiana-Lafayette
Athony Rashad White, defensive tackle of Michigan State
Omar Hunter, defensive tackle of Florida
Curtis McNeal, running back of USC
Luke Ingram, long snapper, of Hawaii

Seeking the Next Silverback, FWP

Dubbing this group “The Steelers 2013 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class” might seem slightly grandiose, as the vast majority of these kids are doing little more chasing a pro football like version of a Rudy like dream.

But with Kevin Colbert, the Steelers have mined the undrafted rookie free agent pool for gold, with talents like James Harrison and Willie Parker to show for it. And while those are the best two examples the Steelers can present, they are far from the only two.
And just last year fullback Will Johnson and safety Robert Golden made the team as undrafted rookie free agents.

Clearly the odds may be stacked against these young men, but the Steelers will certainly give them a fair shot.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Draft Class at a Glance

The 2013 NFL Draft is now history, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have 9 new players to show for their efforts. The Steelers entered the draft with serious needs at almost every position and depending on who you believed they either drafted for need, or were able to basically stick to their “best available” player philosophy while hitting their needs.

Neither answer will be terribly relevant as long as they players they picked pan out. Some of course will fail (think Limas Sweed), others will suffer misfortune in the form of injury (think Sean Spence,) while others yet will likely go on to exceed expectations (think Aaron Smith).

Here’s a snap shot of the 9 mean that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin deemed worthy of a shot at becoming Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Draft Class:
(click on the names below for capsule profiles and/or video highlights of

1. Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker, Georgia
2. Le’von Bell, Running Back, Michigan State
3. Markus Wheaton, Wide Receiver, Oregon State
4. Shamarko Thomas, Safety, Syracuse
4. Landry Thomas, quarterback, Okalahoma
5. Terry Hawthorne, Cornerback, Illinois 
6. Vince Williams, Inside Linebacker, Florida State University
6. Justin Brown, Wide Receiver, Okalahoma
7. Nicholas Williams, Defensive End, Samford

How the Class of 2013 Fits In

Regular readers knows that Steel Curtain Rising neither grades drafts nor evaluates individual draft picks. Such exercises are understandable, but day after draft evaluation is about as valuable as an opening day batting average.

Look back no further to the Steelers 2008 Draft, which the “experts” uniformly thought was a good draft the day after. Five years later the Steelers 2008 Draft looks quite different.

Potentially the Steelers have give themselves the ability to improve play making on the defense, bolstered their running back corps, and injected speed into their wide receiving corps. Markus Wheaton figures to give the Steelers needed depth at safety and could become a possible successor to Troy Polamalu and/or Ryan Clark.

Beyond that, the rest of the class realistically will hope to exit St. Vincents having shown they can contribute enough on special teams to merit a roster spot.

Certainly Vince Williams could cost Stevenson Sylvester, Adrian Robinson and/or Chris Carter a roster spot. Justin Brown could force Jerricho Cotchery and/or Plaxico Burress to seek out what Chuck Noll referred to as “Life’s Work.” Nicholas Williams could cost Al Woods a roster spot.

Or maybe not….

A Shot at a Dream of a Life Time

…But all of that sorting out can wait until the sun shines down on Latrobe.

For now each of these nine men have been given a shot at a dream that all of us shared the first time we touched a Nerf football, called out the cadence of a meaningless snap count, and argued over whether there should be a 3 or 5 Mississippi rush.

At this moment congratulations are in order for the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Draft Class. Congratulations gentleman, good luck, and welcome to Steelers Nation.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Steelers Draft Samford DT Nicholas Willams in 7th

The Pittsburgh Steelers finished the 2013 NFL Draft the way they started their 2009 and 2011 drafts:  by picking a defensive lineman.

The Steelers used their 7th round and final pick to take Samford defensive tackle Nicholas Williams. Williams is tall, coming in at 6’4” and weighing in at 310 pounds. It is unclear exactly how he fits into the Steelers system, although the site NFL Draft Scout projects him as a defensive end in the pros.

7th round picks face an uphill battle to make it into the NFL, but Williams is fortunate in that the only depth the Steelers have behind Brett Keisel, Steve McLendon, Ziggy Hood, and Cameron Heyward is Al Woods and Alameda Ta'amu.

Like the site NFL Draft Scout, CBS’s pre draft site projected Williams as a 5th round pick. Clearly he fell, in spite of his 8 sacks recorded last year.

It has been the Steelers custom of late to draft defensive lineman late with hopes of developing them, but that has not worked out so well (and as Ziggy Hood’s stunted development shows, drafting them early has not worked out so well either.)

However, Brett Keisel joined the team as a 7th round pick in 2002 and blossomed into a strong starter. Have faith Nicholas Williams, it can be done.

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Steelers Draft WR Justin Brown in 6th

The Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiving corps just got bigger and younger. After taking Markus Wheaton in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Steelers again opted to add an wide out when they picked former Penn State and current Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Justin Brown with the first of their two 6th round picks.

Justin Brown also becomes the second Oklahoma Sooner to don the Black and Gold, as the Steelers also picked his teammate Landry Jones in the 4th round.

Brown stands at 6’3” and weighs in at 209 pounds. Last season for Oklahoma Brown led the team in receiving catching 73 balls for 879 yards and five touchdowns.

In picking Brown the Steelers coaches have hopefully put themselves into a position to make some difficult decisions during training camp. Antonio Brown and projected starter Emmanuel Sanders will certainly be with the team come opening day, as will Wheaton.

That means veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress will need to fend off challenges from David Gilreath and Brown for roster spots.

The Steelers typically keep 5 wide receivers on their regular season roster, although at times they’ve carried as many as six and as few as four. The pick of Brown gives them 7. Clearly someone will have to go.

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Steelers Draft FSU's Vince Williams in 6th

After addressing their needs at linebacker in the first day of the 2013 NFL Draft when they selected Jarvis Jones with their first round pick, the Steelers again returned to the position on day three at the bottom of the draft by picking inside linebacker Vince Williams in the 6th round.

The Steelers used their compensatory pick to take Williams.

Williams stands at 6’11” and the Steelers are listing Vince Williams weight at 250 lbs although other sources have him at 233.

His time in Florida was marred by injuries, but he improved his stock in pre-draft workouts. In total he played in 50 games at Florida State and started 26, recording over 13 tackles for a loss during that time. He also defensed 7 passes and had one interception.

Clearly Williams is coming to the Steelers as some what of a project, but the Steelers are notably thin at inside linebacker. Behind starters Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers only have Stevenson Sylvester, Adrian Robinson and Chris Carter, none of whom have proven much.

The Steelers brought Williams to the South Side for a work out, and Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong described him as “a fairly one-dimensional player, and it doesn't seem he'd be available for three downs due to limited pass coverage ability.”

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Steelers Draft Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse Safety in 4th. Video Highlights

As the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft opened the Pittsburgh Steelers pivoted back to defense and they did it in an uncharacteristic way.

Realizing that the days of Troy Polamalu and/or Ryan Clark are numbered and unable to get a safety in rounds 1-3, the Steelers traded their 3rd round pick of the 2014 NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns to move up to pick Syracuse Safety Shamarko Thomas.

Thomas was one of the Steelers pre draft visits, and while he only stands at 5’11”, considered short for an NFL safety, at 217 pounds he’s earned a reputation as a ferocious hitter.

Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake, himself a former strong safety for the Steelers, could not say enough good things about Thomas, explaining:
Shamarko is an outstanding football player. I think if he had two more inches he would have been in the first round. Not only can he play safety, but he can also get up there and play man-to-man on the slot receiver. He has played nickel, and he has played corner at times.
From video that is available of Thomas, it is easy to see why his secondary coach is happy to have him (note, this would not be my choice of audio; available as of 4/27/13):

Lake of course would have a particularly appreciation for safeties who can play cornerback, as he himself made the shift in both 1995 and 1997, saving the Steelers seasons both times as a result.

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Steelers Draft QB Landry Jones of Oklahoma in 4th

On day 3 of the 2013 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers did something that they have not done since their now maligned 2008 draft, when they took Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones using their own fourth round pick after having traded up for Shamarko Thomas a round earlier.

Here are some video highlights of Landry Jones career as an Oklahoma Sooner (available as of 4/17/13):

Beyond their first round selection of Ben Roethlisberger 2004, Jones now becomes the highest picked quarterback for the Steelers since they took Neil O’Donnell in the third round of the 1990 NFL Draft.

Since Kevin Colbert arrived, the Steelers have made it a practice to draft quarterbacks in the 5th round, including Tee Martin in 2000, Brian St. Pierre in 2003, Omar Jacobs in 2006, and Dennis Dixon in 2008.

Speaking to reporters via teleconference, Jones had this to say about coming to Pittsburgh:

"Getting to stand behind [Ben] Roethlisberger is going to be a huge opportunity for me. I get to learn from one of the best quarterbacks to play the game.”

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Steelers Draft Terry Hawthorne, Cornerback from Illinois in 5th Round of NFL Draft

Although the Pittsburgh Steelers do not lack for bodies at cornerback, they are taking no chances drafting cornberback Terry Hawthorne of Illinos in the 5th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Carnell Lake compared Hawthorne to incumbent Steelers starter Ike Taylor, although he also characterized him as a “fast raw prospect.”

Hawthorne stands at 6’ and weighs in at 190 pounds, here is a brief highlight sketch of him from the Illinois OSU Game (available as of 4/27/13):

Joining the Steelers as a 5th round pick in no way guarantees Terry Hawthorne a roster spot. He will need to earn one. Ike Taylor is of course going no where and neither is projected starter Cortez Allen, nor will the Steelers cut William Gay after resigning him.

That means that Hawthorne will need to beat out Courtney Brown, Justin King, Josh Victorian, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Isaiah Green.

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For Whom the Bell Tolls... Steelers Draft Le'Veon Bell in Second Round

Mike Tomlin made no bones about the fact that the Steelers needed to beef up the talent they had at running back and tonight in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft he made good on his promise.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Michgan State’s Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the draft. Weighing in at 230 and standing 6-1, Bell runs a 4.57 in the forty and proved to be a durable back at Michagn State, carrying the offense there by running the ball 382 times.

Steelers offensive Coordinator Todd Haley immediately compared him to Eddie George. Speaking with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, Bell described himself this way:
I'm a balanced runner . . . I can go in there and get tough yardage and short yardage. A lot of people look at me like, 'He's just a short-yardage back.' But I don't look at myself like that. I can get to the outside and beat you with speed. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can pass protect. I can play special teams.
That’s a biased assessment, but as Mike Tomlin reminds us, you are what you put on tape (available as of 4/17/13):

Bell’s athleticism, versatility and outside speed certainly are in evidence and his style looks to complement that of that Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. Or will we soon say that Redman’s and Dwyer’s style complements that of Le’Veon Bell?

That question will be decided later in July under the hot summer sun at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe.

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Steelers Go Deep: Draft Markus Wheaton in 3rd Round

The Steelers stayed on offense during the second day of the 2013 NFL Draft when they picked Oregon State wide Receiver Markus Wheaton in the third round.

In that respect, Wheaton has a bit of a pedigree, with the Steelers having drafted Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, and Hines Ward in the third round (of course that was also the round they drafted Willie Reid, Derek Hill, and Charles Lockett… or if you want a middle of the road example, Andre Hastings.)

Wheaton is not the tall receiver that Ben Roethlisberger hopped to get standing at only 5’11” and weighing 182 pounds. Wheaton’s time at the NFL scouting combine in the 40 was 4.45, although Wheaton himself claims he can do it at 4.3 speed.

As Dale Lolley observes, if he can split the difference at 4.37 he’ll be fast enough to help the Steelers make up for the absence of Mike Wallace.

Markus Wheaton arrives in Pittsburgh having broken Oregon State’s receiving records and, again pointed out by Lolley, this is the school that produce Chad Johnson (or Ocho Cinco if you prefer, why not call himself ochenta y cinco?) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The first challenge Wheaton will face in Pittsburgh is to carve himself out a spot on the depth chart.

Antonio Brown is entrenched as a starter, and Emmanuel Sanders remains the incumbent. Behind them are two seasoned veterans Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. It is conceivable that Wheaton could cost one of the two his roster spot, probably Burress, but some of that will probably depend on the development of David Gilreath.

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Video Analysis of Steelers Pick Jarvis Jones

In the event that your Steelers Nation citizens card lapsed or you were simply under a rock, the Pittsburgh Steelers began the 2013 NFL Draft by taking Georgia Bulldog Jarvis Jones with the 17th pick. Jones was a two year starter and an outside linebacker for the Bulldogs although there is speculation that the Steelers may use him inside.
  • Jones is known for his non-stop motor and aggressiveness.
While the Steelers need to shore up both their talent base and depth at linebacker, the pick also comes with some trepidation.

The Steelers do have a strong tradition at outside linebacker, but since switching to the 3-4 in 1982 their stud outside linebackers have been late round picks such as Greg Lloyd (6th, 1987), Jason Gildon (4th 1994), and Joey Porter (3rd 1999). Of course there is always the case of James Harrison, who was one of Kevin Colbert’s prize undrafted rookie free agents.

In fact, the last time the Steelers tried to draft an outside linebacker in the first round they used their pick on Huey Richardson in 1991. He was so bad that Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe traded Richardson to the Redskins after only one year for only an 8th round pick.

Jones fate will be determined on the football field, but his highlight reel makes it easy to see why the Steelers were so impressed with him (available as of 4/27/13):

One of the positive things that sticks out from this video is that Jarvis appears to have excellent ball hawking instincts. 
  • Keep this in mind. 
Careful analysis of the Steelers outside linebackers show that this ball hawking ability is one of the things that separates the James Harrisons, Joey Porters, and Greg Lloyd's from the Jason Gildons…

…Not that Javis Jones has any expectations to live up to or anything like that.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Jarvis Jones.

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Steelers Draft Jarvis Jones in First Round of 2013 NFL Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 NFL Draft with a rainbow of needs but a few colors in the spectrum shown more brightly than others.

One of those needs was at outside linebacker, and Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert addressed that need in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft by picking Georgia outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.

Jones entered the 2013 NFL Draft as a junior, beginning his college career at USC and then transferring to Georgia after sitting out 2010. Jones started for two years for the Bulldogs wracking up 13.5 sacks during his sophomore season and adding another 14.5 in his final year.

The Steelers clearly saw a lot they liked in Jones, having brought him to the South Side for one of their pre-draft visits. Jones took the step of mocking himself before the draft, and when the Steelers turn came to pick they immediately sent their card to the commissioner.

Given Kevin Colbert’s evaluation of Jones, it is not hard to see why they waited, as Colbert explained:
He definitely is one of the guys I talked about the other day as being a special player in this draft. He's a solid kid, a great player. He was dominant at a major college. He plays the run, chases the ball and most important he gets after the passer.
The knock on Jones was that he was slow, posting a slow time in the combine, but that fact pleased the Steelers, as it allowed Jones to fall to 17.

Wither Jason Worilds?

Jones has big shoes to fill, with the working assumption being that the Steelers drafted him to replace to James Harrison, a recent cap casualty and current Cincinnati Bengal.

The story holds a slight twist however, as in the second round of the 2010 Draft the Steelers already picked Harrison’s heir apparent in the form of Jason Worilds.

Most fans are already speculating that the pick of Jones means the Steelers have no confidence in Worilds.
  • But the Steelers might just have other plans up there sleeve.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider mentioned that someone inside the Steelers organization said that Jarvis reminded them of Chad Brown. The interesting part of that comparison is that Chad Brown’s started at inside linebacker before moving outside in the wake of Greg Lloyds injury on opening day in 1996.
  • Another prominent blogger has suggested in a private conversation that the Steelers could use him at inside linebacker.
That’s all speculation, but Jason Worlids both gives the Steelers a year of security to make that determination as well as gets a fire lit under him.

Regardless of whether he plays inside linebacker or outside linebacker, the Steelers need anyone who can play linebacker.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Jarvis Jones.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Draft Needs Matrix

Depending on whose mock draft you read, during the 2013 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to take:
  • Linebacker Jarvis Jones of Georgia, and if not…
  • Safety Kenny Vaccar of Texas, and if not…
  • Tight End Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame, and if not…
  • Cornerback Dee Milliner from Alabama, and if not…
  • Wide Receiver Tavon Austin from West Virginia, and if not…
  • Safety Eric Reid from LSU
…And if its not one of the above players the Steelers certainly will take some other highly hyped college prospect in the first round.

Of course you know all of that.

Now here’s something you’re not likely to read on any other Steelers site, with or without a mock draft:
  • Steel Curtain Rising will neither offer an opinion on who the Steelers will or should draft
Regular readers know this blog is based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where suffice to say college football is not a sports programming priority. (Neither is the NFL, but at least there’s the Sunday Ticket.) Truth be told, I never followed the college game much when I still lived in the US.

But what I can do is focus on the Steelers Needs...

Breaking Down the Steelers 2013 NFL Draft Needs

...And needs the Steelers have a plenty. Unlike previous years, you have to go all the way to kickers and punters to find an area the Steelers can safely avoid in the draft.

Here’s another confession. Due to time constraints, I was not planning on doing individual needs analysis, but there was no way to construct a Steelers Draft Needs Matrix without doing so.

Even then evaluating the Steelers 2013 Draft Needs is difficult because of the conflict between short-term and long-term needs. The Steelers have both, and they don’t always over lap.

The temptation on the South Side to focus on the short term has to be strong.
  • Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II must resist that temptation.
Focusing on short term needs is one of the things that caused the Steelers Dynasty of the 70’s to collapse under its own weight. With so many entrenched Super Bowl starters, Dick Haley, Art Rooney Jr. and yes, Chuck Noll, stopped focusing on taking the best player available, and drafted with any eye toward their depth chart, out thinking themselves into going for guys that other teams some how missed on.

Heaven only knows how many future Pro Bowlers the Steelers passed on in the late 1970’s based on the assumption that “there’s no way this kid can beat out Dwight White, even if he is getting old….”

Worse yet, focusing on the short term can cause a team to reach, as it did in the 1999 Draft when they picked Troy Edwards and Scott Shields 1 and 2, both men turning out to be horrendous busts.

And let’s acknowledge that the temptation for this kind of thinking has to be strong, given that Ben Roethlisberger’s window as a viable Super Bowl quarterback could be narrowing quickly, if the injuries of the past two seasons are any indication.
  • But focus on the long term the Steelers must.
2013 Steelers Draft-Needs Matrix

And that brings us to the Steelers 2013 Draft Needs Matrix.

This matrix is not intended to suggest that the Steelers should target (aka “reach”) for players in this particular order. Rather, it is intended to guide the choice that must be made when the clock begins ticking, and there are two players of equal, or near equal, value on the board.

In developing this Steelers Draft Needs Matrix, absolute need is balanced against long term vs. short term need, with long term need getting the higher priority.

In that respect, safety takes precedence over linebacker, simply because the Steelers are order and thinner at safety with virtual novices playing behind Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.

And outside linebacker takes precedence over inside linebacker because there’s just a little more depth and a few more players under contract for a longer time than at inside linebacker, and so on down the line.

Steelers 2013 Draft-Needs Matrix:
(click on the position title for a detailed needs analysis)

And for heaven sakes, the Steelers should not even be thinking of drafting a kicker!

Note, however, that there is a very, very fine line separating the needs outlined below. Really, the Steelers needs, long and short term, at any of the positions mentioned above save for quarterback could merit a first round pick if the right man is available.

It’s not likely that a top ten prospect like David DeCastro could fall to the Steelers as happened last year or as happened in 1987 with Rod Woodson, but that’s the beauty of the draft.

Enjoy the 2013 NFL, my fellow citizens of Steelers Nation because our beloved Black and Gold’s ability to bagging Lombardi Number Seven during the Roethlisberger era likely depends on Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert getting this draft right.

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Steelers Draft Needs: Time to Hit the Safety Valve

Previous NFL Drafts of the Kevin Colbert-Mike Tomlin era have seen the Pittsburgh Steelers focus on defensive lineman (2009 and 2011), offensive lineman (2010-2012), cornerbacks (2011), and wide receivers (2010).

But there has been one area of need that the Steelers have consistently ignored, albeit often times due to circumstances beyond their control. And that position is Safety.
  • The Steelers must address their needs at Safety in the 2013 NFL Draft
With a healthy Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu the Steelers probably still boast the NFL’s best starting safety tandem even with both men on the wrong side of thirty.
  • But that later reality is something the Steelers no longer have the luxury of ignoring. 
The Steelers had seemed to be grooming a safety in the form of Lee Flowers or Myron Bell in recent seasons. That safety was Ryan Mundy. It would be wrong to scapegoat Mundy for the woes that bedeviled the Steelers defense in early 2012, but things only began to get righted when they benched Mundy.

The fact that Mundy got beaten out by thirtysomething Will Allen did not bode well for his future in Pittsburgh.
  • But that’s an academic question now as both Mundy and Allen have new homes in the NFC East.
That leaves the Steelers with Robert Golden, an undrafted rookie free agent from 2012, and Damon Cromartie-Smith.

Neither man has seen much action and both will have to fight for roster spots under the hot summer sun at St. Vincents in Latrobe.

(They also have someone named Ross Ventrone under a futures contract who doesn't even have a jeresy number assigned to him, no doubt to keep him from showing up on Joe Flacco's scouting reports.)
  • The Steelers need an injection of youth and talent at safety, and this is not simply a long term need.
As Tim Gleason, aka “Mary Rose” from Behind the Steel Curtain has written, Troy Polamalu is like a European sports car – an ultimate driving machine when not in the shop.

In years past Polamalu’s health ran hot and cold. Healthy in 2006, not so healthy in 2007. Healthy in 2008, injured for all but a sliver of 2009.

But that too has changed. Polamalu stayed healthy for the bulk of 2010, helping seal victory with any number of dramatic, just in time interceptions. Yet, he was injured for the playoffs when the Steelers could have used his heroics.

2012 told an opposite tale. Polamalu started off hurt, when the Steelers needed him, but finished the season in strong, and appeared to just be returning to form for the playoffs, which of course the Steelers missed.

Who knows? Perhaps Polamalu will find a way stay healthy, and perhaps he and Ryan Clark can defy Father Time the way, say Darrell Green or for that matter Rod Woodson did. That would be great.
  • But the Steelers can't count on that, and drafting a safety who can come in and immediately work himself into 3rd and 4th down packages not a want but a need.
The Steelers need to address safety in the 2013 NFL Draft, they need to do it early. And this is one pick they need to get right.

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Steelers Draft Needs: Longing for More of the Linebacker Legacy

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a franchise which yields nothing to anyone with it comes to its Linebacker Legacy. While the original Steel Curtain provided the heart of the Super Steelers defense, linebackers Andy Russell, Jack Ham and Jack Lambert provided the unit’s mind and soul.
  • Russell and Ham knew enough to shut down opponents plays before the snap count started. Lambert simply brought attitude.
And the tradition has been handed down from generation to generation. From Greg Lloyd and Levon Kirkland to Joey Porter and James Farrior to James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons.

If the Steelers are to continue linebacker legacy they must do so in the 2013 NFL Draft.
The Steelers will begin 2013 with:
  • One outside linebacker whose last two seasons have been ruined by injury (LaMarr Woodley)
  • Another outside linebacker who is a big question mark (Jason Worilds)
  • An aging inside linebacker who still has something left, but whose time is fading (Larry Foote)
  • Another inside linebacker who can’t seem to string to strong seasons together (Timmons)
Worse yet, the Steelers have Adrian Robinson and Chris Carter behind them and neither of whom has proven anything and Stevenson Sylvester whom the Steelers did not think enough of to protect in Restricted Free Agency. (Marshall McFadden is also in the mix, for whatever that is worth.)

Linebacker Needs have “Got the Steelers Inside and Out” 

Clearly the Steelers have needs at linebacker to fill in the 2013 NFL Draft. But if forced to make a decision, as they likely will, which position takes priority, inside or outside?
  • There is no easy answer here, but in this case a simple methodology based on math might help.
For the purposes of evaluating draft-day needs, the Steelers must assume a worst case scenario for 2012’s third round pick Sean Spence.

But even if you assume that Sean Spence’s NFL career is over before it started, the Steelers still have Stevenson Sylvester. At this point Sylvester isn’t likely to be anything more than a back up, but he has played well on special teams and has three season’s in Dick LeBeau’s defense under his belt.

Add to that fact that Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote are both under contract, although Foote's career has clearly entered the “take it year-by-year” phase.

In contrast on the outside, Jason Worilds is a free agent, and even if Robinson and Carter have more of an upside that Sylvester, they both have less experience.
  • Er go, outside linebacker is a higher draft priority than inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft.
But the Steelers would do well to beef up at both positions.

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Steelers Draft Needs: Past Failures Make Defensive Line a Priority in Pittsburgh

After his first season as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin declared that the team needed to get “Younger and stronger” on the defensive line. The Steelers didn’t use a premium pick on the defensive line in now maligned 2008 NFL Draft, but they picked Ziggy Hood in the first round in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in the first round of 2011.

In 2012 they traded up to get one of the few ‘pure nose tackles’ remaining in the draft and they just extended nose tackle Steve McLendon for 3 more years.
  • Those moves must mean the Steelers are set on defensive line and need to worry about that in the upcoming draft. Right?
Guess again.

In spite of (or perhaps perversely because of) their heavy investment of first round picks in defensive lineman in recent years defensive line remains a serious need area for the Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft.

The unit is led by Brett Keisel who defied father time and played well last year, particularly in the later half of the season. But Keisel is an unrestricted free agent. More importantly he’s 34.

Should Keisel play at the level he played at in 2013 the Steelers could bring back. But if the Steelers do that and if Keisel oes return in 2014 in anything more than a Jerome Bettis ’04-’05 elder statesman type role then what will that say about the men drafted to replace him?
Of the two Ziggy Hood is the greatest concern. He played well as a rookie in spot duty in 2009, was a little shaky entering the starting line up in mid 2010 but came on strong late in 2010 and during the playoffs. In short he had the look of a player who was establishing himself as a quality starter.
  • Unfortunately that Ziggy Hood has been seldom seen in the two years since.
Hood has played four years in the NFL and coaches are suggesting that his natural position might be nose tackle, which doesn’t speak well about how they see him as a defensive end.
  • But no worries, there’s always Cameron Heyward.
Yes, Heyward, the son of legendary Pitt running back Craig Heyward.

Heyward who, on a snap for snap basis, out performed Hood yet cannot seem to wrest the starting job from him. It is too early to for the Steelers give up on Heyward, but not too early for them to hedge their bets, especially with Ziggy Hood looking destined to be no more than an average starter.
  • Those two realities in and of themselves mean the first round would not be too soon for the Steelers to think about drafting a lineman.
But the Steelers don’t need to just worry about replacing about finding Ziggy Hood and Brett Kiesel’s replacements in this draft, they also must find build depth.

Behind Hood, Hewyard, McLendon, and Keisel the Steelers have:
  • Alameda Ta’Amu, last year’s 4th round pick who looked lost in camp and is currently on probation
  • Al Woods whose has benches as a practice squad player and back up for parts of three seasons
  • Hebron Fangupo, who? Yeah, we asked the same question
Suffice to say, defensive line remains a high priority for the Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft

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Steelers Draft Needs: Cornerback

Unless injuries or some other unknown intervenes, the Steelers 2013 corner three-some should be Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, and William Gay.
  • Yes, the Steelers will miss Keenan Lewis there, but that’s not a bad first three corners.
Behind them they have Courtney Brown, Josh Victorian, DeMarcus Van Dyke, and Justin King, all of whom have some game experience. Isaiah Green is also on their roster.
  • Nonetheless, the Steelers cannot ignore cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft
Certainly the Steelers long and short term needs at corner are less severe than at other position areas. But Ike Taylor isn’t going to play forever, and last year injuries took the Steelers to the point where they were playing their 5th and 6th corners.

With the passing game evolved to what it is in today’s NFL, the Steelers can simply ill afford to ignore a quality corner, especially if one falls to them early in the draft, including the first round, however unlikely that may be.

There’s another reason to think long term here. Playing behind Taylor are two other thirty somethings, by the names of Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.

The first ability that Father Time typically robs an NFL player of is his speed.
  • Biological realities all but dictate that Ike Taylor will have “slowed a step” by 2015 if not by 2014.
If and moment arrives, and if by that time that Ryan Clark and/or Polamalu need to begin what Chuck Noll called “Life’s Work” then it is completely feasible that Taylor might still have enough speed to finish his career at safety, the way Rod Woodson did (and should have done in Pittsburgh, but that’s another story.)

And that’s why if fate allows a blue-chip corner to fall to the Steelers in the 2013 NFL Draft they’d be wise to take him.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Colbert Record: Pittsburgh Steelers 2nd Round NFL Draft Picks 2000-2012

The 2013 NFL Draft is only days away which means its time for Steel Curtain Rising's latest edition of the The Colbert Record, and in depth review of Kevin Colbert’s performance.

Last year The Colbert Record praised the Steelers General manager for never missing on a first round pick. The development (or lack thereof) of Ziggy Hood and/or Cameron Heyward might force us to revise that, but even then Kevin Colbert’s record in the 1st round of the NFL draft would remain without no peer. (Click here for a full review of Colbert's 1st round record.)
  • This year we take aim at Kevin Colbert’s body of work in the second round.
Although still highly coveted, second round picks in the NFL Draft are considered second best, and they are a lot harder to evaluate. Indeed, during the 1980’s the NFL Draft's second round became known as the Steelers “Jinx” round as Pittsburgh misfired on players like Charles Lockett and Derek Hill (to name two).

How has does Kevin Colbert’s record in the second round stack up against that of Tom Donahoe and Dick Haley? Today we take a look.

In his time in Pittsburgh, Colbert has made 11 second round NFL Draft picks, opting to trade the pick in the 2006 and 2009 NFL Drafts.

Here’s a Snap shot of Colbert’s Second Round Picks (click on the name for a more detailed profile)

2000: Marvel Smith, tackle
2001: Kendrell Bell, linebacker
2002: Antwaan Randle El, wide receiver
2003: Alonzo Jackson, linebacker
2004: Ricardo Colclough, cornerback
2005: Byran McFadden, cornerback
2006: Traded to to get Santonio Holmes
2007: LaMarr Woodley, linebacker
2008: Limas Sweed, wide reciever
2009: Traded out of 2nd Round for 3rd round picks Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, and Kraig Urbik
2010: Jason Worilds, linebacker
2011: Marcus Gilbert, tackle
2012: Mike Adams, tackle
2012: Scoring Kevin Colbert's Second Round Record

Steelers 2000 2nd Round Pick, Marvel Smith

When Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000 the Steelers were mess at tackle even though Tom Donahoe had invested heavily at the position throughout the late 1990's. Unfortunately most those Donahoe picks were busts, from Jamain Stephens in 1996, to Paul Wiggins in 1997, to Chris Conrad in 1998, and Kris Farris in 1999.

Colbert sought to rectify that by picking Marvel Smith in the second round of the draft, and Smith became an immediate starter and developed into a Pro Bowler. After starting at right tackle, he moved to left tackle following Wayne Gandy’s departure, and helped anchor a line that led the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL.

Smith suffered from a series of injury issues, and the last one which came in a street fight down in Jacksonville, ultimately cost him his career. But Marvel Smith he was an excellent second round pick.

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Steelers 2001 2nd Round Pick, Kendrell Bell

The Steelers traded down in the 2001 NFL Draft and still got the man they wanted, Casey Hampton. Trading down in the first allowed the Steelers to move up into the second, where they signed Kendrell Bell.

Kendrell Bell was an immediate sensation who appeared incapable of wrong . His goal line stop of Jerome Bettis during training camp and the ensuing “crack” that was heard all over Latrobe were the stuff of legend.
  • Bell took the league by storm as a rookie, registering nine sacks and earning AP all Rookie Honors.
Unfortunately, like previous Steelers who’d won the Joe Greene Rookie of the Year award (see Delton Hall, Troy Edwards), Kendrell Bell turned out to be a one year wonder. Injuries set him back in 2002, but when healthy he was effective. In 2003 he appeared lost, with some commentators suggesting that Tim Lewis had “coached the aggressiveness out of him.”

Injuries again were an issue in 2004, and Larry Foote replaced him in the starting line up, and he openly discussed about whether he wanted to jeopardize his value on the free agent market by playing the Steelers playoff games.

Bell clearly had athletic talent, but apparently resisted learning coverage schemes and assignments, an attitude which can cost you dearly in the NFL.

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Steelers 2002 2nd Round Pick, Antwaan Randle El,

Antwaan Randle El is easily the most versatile of Kevin Colbert’s 2nd round picks. Randle El made an immediate impact as a rookie returning kickoffs, returning punts, catching passes, running reverses, and throwing passes.

Randle El continued to be a quadruple threat for the Steelers in 2003 and 2004, before graduating to the starting role in 2005. Measured in pure quantitative terms, the trend line of his production dropped after his rookie year, but in qualitative terms his contributions got larger.

While a legitimate threat running a reverse, this former college quarterback also threw four regular season touchdown passes for the Steelers, showing he could hurt the opposition in multiple ways.

And of course his most pass was the last one he threw in his first stint with the Steelers. You might remember it from Super Bowl XL:

Randle El of course returned to Pittsburgh in 2010 for a second tour of duty.

And while the coaches were unimpressed with his speed or by how much he’d forgotten of the playbook, El gave it his all and his 2-2-0-2 passing record shows the element of unpredictability he brought to the offense.

LaMarr Woodley and/or Marvel Smith can lay a stronger claims to being Kevin Colbert’s best second round pick, Randle El was unquestionably the most exciting to watch.

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Steelers 2003 2nd Round Pick, Alonzo Jackson

Shortly after the 2003 NFL Draft the Steelers Digest published a profile of him at Steelers mini camp with a photo of Jackson warning number 95. Upon seeing that I uttered aloud (much to the confusion of my wife), “Son, you have to earn the right to wear Number 95 in Pittsburgh.” (“95” of course being the number worn by the legendary Greg Lloyd.)

Unfortunately, Jackson either never understood that or quite simply lacked the God given ability to live up to the challenges of the NFL.

In 2 seasons with the Steelers, Jackson appeared in only 9 games and recorded 2 tackles.
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Steelers 2004 2nd Round Pick, Richard Colclough

Amazingly Ricardo Coclough lasted 4 seasons with the Steelers, showing some promise as a rookie and in his sophomore season as he registered 2 sacks and one interception while appearing in 30 games.

Things petered out quickly for Coclough in the third game of his third season as he fielded a punt he should not have, allowing Cincinnati to back the Steelers up deep in their own territory. Bill Cowher put him in injured reserve the next day.
  • Mike Tomlin actually gave him a second chance, but Coclough only made token appearances in three games.
At the end of the day, Coclough was neither able to make the transition to NFL corner nor was he able to make himself a threat in the return game. Another bust.

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Steelers 2005 2nd Round Pick, Bryant McFadden

It’s never really a good thing when play 6 years in the NFL and your best play comes in your rookie year, as Byrant McFadden’s did when he made a key pass defense in the end zone in the Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff victory vs. the Indianapolis Colts.

However, unlike Kendrell Bell, Bryant didn’t fade after his rookie year, but rather never quite seemed to realize his potential. As a second round pick Bryant was supposed to replace Deshea Townsend, but never could quite beat him out, and when he finally did, he had to split time with William Gay

The Steelers of course allowed McFadden to defect to Pittsburgh West after Super Bowl XLIII, only to bring him back during the 2010 NFL Draft. While McFadden was an improvement over William Gay (who struggled as a starter in 2009), he clearly wasn’t the answer and lost the starting job to an improving Gay in 2011.

You’d generally like to see a little more out of a second round pick, but the Steelers got decent value for B-Mac, and he certainly was no bust.

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Steelers 2007 2nd Round Pick, LaMarr Woodley

The first two picks of the Mike Tomlin era were both linebackers, and for a long time Steelers Nation often wondered if the order shouldn’t have been reversed. LaMarr Woodley did not get a ton of playing time as a rookie, but he made four sacks in spot regular seasons duty.
When the Steelers reached the playoffs in 2008, Woodley again turned it up registering two sacks in each of the Steelers playoff games, including a strip sack that ended any chance of a Kurt Warner fueled comeback in Super Bowl XLIII.
“Streak” may be a key word with Woodley, as he does appear to run hot and cold, and injuries have ruined the second half of his 2011 season an most of 2012.
  • But clearly LaMarr Woodley is one of Kevin Colbert’s second round picks.
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Steelers 2008 2nd Round Pick, Limas Sweed

You know things are bad when you’re a wide receiver whose signature plays are critical drops in playoff games and one hellacious block in the AFC Championship Game vs. Balitmore.

Limas Sweed had a lot of talent. What many people forget is that on those infamous drops, Sweed had completely burned the DB’s tasked with covering him.

But Sweed suffered from psychological issues, and had the misfortune to injure himself during the Steelers nightmare 2010 off season.
  • Some things are not meant to be, and so it was with Limas Sweed, another of Colbert’s second round busts.
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Steelers 2010 2nd Round Pick, Jason Worilds

Entering his fourth year, more is unknown rather than known about Jason Worilds. And that is not necessarily a knock on the college defensive end turned linebacker.

Worilds had the good luck to be drafted by a team with a strong tradition at linebacker, and one whose 3-4 defense thrives on dominant outside linebacking. Worilds had the bad luck to be drafted by a team whose two starting outside linebackers were LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.

Worilds played well on special teams as a rookie and flashed in spot duty. In 2011 Worilds got extensive playing time as both Harrison and Woodley were injured for periods. Worilds performance was pedestrian at best, but the linebacking corps as a whole suffered with multiple players playing out of position.

Worilds got more time in 2012, and early in the season was the team’s sack leader. Clearly the kid has some upside, but 2013 will likely prove to be the definitive “make or break” year for Jason Worilds.

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Steelers 2011 2nd Round Pick, Marcus Gilbert

Marcus Gilbert wasn’t supposed to see action as a rookie, but an opening day injury to Willie Colon changed all that. Gilbert was forced in the starting line up, and did fairly well considering the circumstances.

Their was talk of Gilbert moving to left tackle in 2011, but that did not happen. Gilbert also had the misfortune to collide with several Steelers, either injuring them badly or ending their seasons. Gilbert struggled in 2012 and then got injured himself in mid 2012 and was lost for the year with an ankle injury.

The jury is still out on Gilbert, assuming he fully recovers from the injury. If the Steelers take a tackle early on in the 2013 NFL Draft, that’s a clear sign that they’re concerned.

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Steelers 2012 2nd Round Pick, Mike Adams

Mike Adams holds the distinction of being the only collegiate player to get himself knocked off of the Steelers draft board only to work himself back on.

Adams had been projected as a first round pick, but his positive test for marijuana knocked him into the second round where the Steelers swooped him up, and immediately decided to move Willie Colon from tackle to guard.

Adams, however, did not win the starting left tackle position during training camp, but injuries to Marcus Gilbert did force him into the line up, where he did well for a rookie, until he himself got injured vs. Cleveland.
  • It is way too early to make a pronouncement on Adams, but clearly the Steelers are counting on him.
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Scoring Kevin Colbert's 2nd Round Record

Out of his eleven second round picks, Kevin Colbert has drafted four players who developed into solid starters or better in the form of Marvel Smith, Antwaan Randle El, Bryant McFadden and LaMarr Woodley.

Kendrell Bell was a solid contributor for a year, then provided nothing, while Jason Worilds has delivered some value in the opportunities that he’s been given.

Alonzo Jackson, Ricardo Colclough and Limas Sweed were busts, there’s no way to sugar coat that, no other available conclusion exists.

It’s too early to reach a conclusion on either Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams.

So to score it, Kevin Colbert has 4 clear wins and 3 clear losses in the 2nd round, with one break even (summing the contributions of Worilds and Bell), with the fate of 2 undetermined picks left to be decided.

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