´ Steel Curtain Rising: April 2014

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 NFL Draft Needs: Running Back

The 2013 NFL Draft was unique in that no running backs were taken in the first round, as sign of rules changes which are heavily tilting the game in favor of the pass. Several team grabbed running backs in the second round, including the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Now is the time to examine the Steelers draft needs at running back in 2014.
The Steelers of course took Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft and, after an injury-slowed start, Bell gave them a lot of reason to have faith that he is “their” running back for the foreseeable future.
  • Outside of Will Johnson, however, the Steelers have looked at their current crop of rushers and found them wanting.
Jonathan Dwyer is now in Pittsburgh West, Isaac Redman found himself cut at mid-season and remains teamless, as does Felix Jones. The Steelers did sign LeGarrette Blount, who should provide excellent depth at a very fair salary cap value. After that, the cupboard is thin, very thin.

Outside of Le'veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Johnson, and Blount, the Steelers have Alvester Alexander and Miguel Maysonet under contract, neither of which has an NFL regular season to his name, although both have practice squad experience. In addition to Jones, the Steelers could bring back LaRod Stephens-Howling after June first.

Steelers Need RB Depth in the Draft

Times change. The Pittsburgh Steelers started the 2000 season with Jerome Bettis, Richard Huntley, and Amos Zereoue at half back, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and Jon Witman at fullback, both of whom were capable of carrying the ball. They also had Dan Krieder on the practice squad.
    steelers 2014 nfl draft needs priorities running back
  • That’s 6 running backs who had or would get significant NFL starting experience.
However, when one says “The Steelers need running back depth” 2000 is not even remotely close to the standard. No, the Steelers last year appeared more than content to go with 3 half backs and 1 full back on the regular season roster, and it could be the same again in 2014.

However, they will not depend on Alexander or Maysonet to deliver that depth, nor would they likely rely on Stephens-Howling as a reserve, should they choose to bring him back. That means the Steelers will be looking to add depth.
  • But don’t expect them to add a running back early.
The Steelers running back needs in the 2014 NFL Draft should be considered moderate.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 NFL Draft Needs: Offensive Tackle

When it comes to that all important position of offensive tackle, new Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak has his work in sorting out the Steelers situation. But even before he gets the chance to apply much of his craft, his assessment of the Steelers situation on paper likely will impact Pittsburgh’s plans for the 2014 NFL Draft.

As such Steel Curtain Rising turns its attention to tackle in his assessment of the Steelers draft needs.

At offensive tackle the Steelers currently have Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum, with 2012’s second round pick Mike Adams also in play. Guy Whimper is also a back up at tackle.
  • Simply stated, Beachum saved the Steelers season by taking over at right tackle, as Mike Adams looked like a junior varsity wrestler suddenly thrust into an NCAA tournament. 

But the just as the Steelers haven’t given up on Adams, they’re not 100% sold on Gilbert, whose performance at right tackle has never been strong enough to end speculation that the Steelers would like to replace him. Gilbert also has injury issues and is heading into the final year of his contract.

steelers 2014 nfl draft needs priorities offensive tackle A year ago the conventional wisdom was that with the Steelers investing heavily in premium picks in the 2010, 2011, and 2012 NFL Drafts, they could take a pass on offensive line.
  • In 2013 the Steelers re-learned the lesson, the hard way, that you can never have enough good offensive lineman.

In short, the Steelers situation at tackle comes down to “ifs.” If Munchak can rehabilitate Adams. If Munchak can get some consistency out of Gilbert. If Beachum can sustain his success. IF Guy Wimper isn’t called upon too often.

Those are a lot of “ifs.”
  • And when an evaluation of an NFL team at a set position area boils down to a lot of ifs it’s time to draft someone.
The Steelers need at offensive tackle in the 2014 NFL Draft can best be described as moderate.

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The Colbert Record: 0 for 0 - Steelers 2008 vs. 2009 Draft - Do Numbers Lie?

Numbers never lie. But sometimes they fail to tell the full story.

That bit of dictum has been thrown around a lot here on Steel Curtain Rising. And the conventional wisdom on the Steelers 2008 and 2009 drafts reveals why it is so relevant.  Exhibit A:
John Steigerwald’s logic seems irrefutable. The 2014 Steelers will field exactly ZERO members from either of their 2008 and 2009 drafts, ergo Pittsburgh has done a petty pathetic job of picking players. Steigerwald is known for his bare knuckles, semi-sensationalistic style, but he’s got company.
  • Traditional meat and potatoes beat writer Ed Bouchette, but began a recent column declaring the Steelers had laid two eggs in these drafts.
The ghosts of the 2008 draft and 2009 draft haunted the Steelers during their twin 8-8 seasons and arguably in their ’11 season too. Steelers Nation might hear echoes of those ghosts in 2014 too.

But even if we do, there’s a stark difference in the quality of those two drafts. Mark Kabloy gets it.
An more accurate description of the two drafts might be “The Wash and the One That Got Away.”

’08 Draft Puts Pittsburgh Behind Eight Ball

Little more need be said here about the Steelers 2008 Draft. With Ryan Mundy and Rashard Mendenhall’s departure’s last year, the 2008 draft’s status shifted from disappointing to “Loss.”
Outside of those two, neither the Steelers nor the NFL got anything. Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis, and Tony Hills were unmitigated busts.

Steelers 2009 Draft, the One that Got Away

The record reflects that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin, despite the handicap of picking last in each round, picked some pretty good players in 2009. The Steelers even got some value out of them. The problem is the rest of the NFL is getting more.
  • It might be unfair, but one player can and sometimes does define a draft. 
Look no further than 2004 when the Steelers got Ben Roethlisberger. That pick alone makes the draft an unqualified success, even if Max Starks was the only other player of consequence taken then.

First round picks don’t necessarily define a draft, 2002 was Kevin Colbert’s best all around but Kendall Simmons was far from the most valuable player taken. So it’s unfair to heap disappointment on Ziggy Hood, but it happens nonetheless. Had Hood grow into the player he teased he might have been in late 2010, perceptions would be different.
  • Alas, Hood’s late 2010 surge was a flash instead of a sustainable stride.
Ziggy Hood wasn’t a bust. He just wasn’t good enough for a first round pick. And in that sense Hood does set the tone for the value the Steelers realized from the 2009 draft – Too little or too late or too little shelf life.

Too Short of a Shelf Life

Mike Wallace falls into the too little shelf life category. For all his faults, Wallace is a legit home run threat, and delivered great value as a third round pick.
  • Mike Wallace was a fantasy owners wet dream. 
But fantasy stats don’t show things like refusing to contest underthrown balls that instead get intercepted.  Knowing that, the Steelers were happy to let Miami overpay. It was a smart move, but it is also requiring them to look to the draft for more receivers.

David Johnson was another with too short a shelf life. A versatile player, he was working himself into a model “late round pick makes good” story until injuries ruined his 2012 and 2013 seasons. Now he’s in San Diego.

A.Q. Shipley falls into this category by default. A Penn State player with local ties, Kevin Colbert justified the pick of someone short on measurable saying you couldn’t measure a man’s heart. He stayed on the Steelers 2009 practice squad, but declined a futures contract when his coach Larry Zierlin left. He’s now starting in Baltimore….

Too Late....

Keenan Lewis’ rookie year was marred by injuries. During his second year he was most notable famous for smashing a sign in Denver. By 2011, according to Rebecca Rollet’s report at Behind the Steel Curtain, the coaches had given up.
  • However, new arrival Carnell Lake wasn’t hearing any of it. 
Took him under his wing. Lewis contributed as a nickel and dime back in 2011 and established himself as a pass defense demon in 2012. Alas, the Steelers were caught short in salary cap space and had to let him walk without an offer. If only the Steelers had gotten something out of him sooner….

Kraig Urbik’s story shifted from “just in time” to “too late” in the matter of 1 game, thanks to Byron Leftwich’s sprained knee. The move forced the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch, cutting Urbik instead. That was a shame, because Urbik had made the second year leap, having shown something at guard and knocked Justin Hartwig down to third on the depth chart at center.

The Steelers thought they could sneak Urbik on to the practice squad, but Dough Waley knew better and now Urbik is starting for Buffalo.

Too Little...

Frank “The Tank” Summers was the draft pick with the catchy name in 2009. His lone moment as a Steeler was a very poor block in the backfield followed by “back surgery.” He got beaten out in camp in 2010, hung around on practice squads, and now he is the Bills fullback.

Joe Burnett looked good in camp in 2009 and got into the line up late in the year, but was famous more for dropped interception than anything else. Couldn’t make the final roster in 2010 and had no practice squad eligibility.

When the Steelers cut Sunny Harris at the end of camp, and Ed Bouchette compared him Dwaine Board (although he denied it later). Harris got picked up by Carolina, resigned by Pittsburgh, spent time on the Steelers practice squad in 2010, and was cut in 2011 but picked up by Houston. Low expectations await 6th round picks, but Harris ultimately fell short of those.

Steelers Loss is NFL’s Gain

At its core, the story of the Steelers 2009 reveals the complex, non-scientific, nature of personnel decision making in the NFL, and proves that timing and “luck” are often the ultimate trump cards.
  • 7 players still in the NFL, at least 4 starting and two playing on big 2nd contracts say that the Steelers made pretty good picks in 2009.
The problem is the rest of the NFL can attest to the fact from 1st hand experience.

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Bryant, Barr and Allen Headline Recent Steelers Pre-Draft Visits

As every NFL fan with a beating heart is aware, Roger Goodell has moved the 2014 NFL Draft from the last full week of April to the first full week of May. The result has been to drive bloggers and professional press alike to distraction looking for things to write about.

(Personal favorite, grading picks of mock drafts – if that doesn’t show you that people have too much time on their hands I don’t know what will.)

The Steelers however are taking advantage of the time and using a methodical approach to their pre-draft visits. Since our last update the Steelers have had four more documented visitors:
  • John Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburg State 
  • Martavis Bryant, wide receiver, Clemson
  • Ross Cockrell, cornerback, Duke
  • Anthony Barr, outside linebacker, UCLA
  • Beau Allen, defensive tackle, Wisconsin
Were the Steelers to select Brown it would give them the distinction of opening training camp at St. Vincient’s in Latrobe with three wide receivers named “Brown” the other two being Antonio Brown and Justin Brown, 2013's 6th round pick and a practice squad player.

Ike Taylor for one things the Steelers will take Matavis Bryant, the tall wide out of Texas, after grabbing a corner in the first round.

With these visits complete, the Steelers now have 24 visitors logged at the South Side, as they inch up to 30, the maximum allowed under NFL rules. Bring on the 2014 NFL Draft.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Draft Needs: Guards and Center

With the 2014 NFL Draft fast approaching, Steel Curtain Rising is reviewing the Pittsburgh Steelers areas of need, now turning its attention to center and guard, two separate positions with some overlapping personnel.

With nary a draft pick or a free agent signing, the Pittsburgh Steelers situation is already better than it was on opening day 2013 when David DeCastro’s ill fated cut block took out Marukice Pouncey’s ACL, forcing Kelvin Beachum to play center for the first time in his football life, so thin was the Steelers offensive line depth.

By all accounts Maurkice Pouncey’s recovery is proceeding as expected and the Steelers have come to terms with Cody Wallace. Fernando Velasco, who torn his Achilles vs. Baltimore on Thanksgiving, could also give the Steelers an additional option after June 1st. Velasco has gotten zero interest from the free agent market, and the Steelers would have better insight into his condition than other NFL teams.
  • The important issue is that both Wallace and, if he returns, Velasco, have position flexliblity to play guard or center.
As it stands the Steelers are well staffed at guard, with Ramon Foster and David DeCastro. Foster is a solid guard and DeCastro showed signs in 2013 of growing into the dominant guard the Steelers thought they were getting in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. The Steelers have Guy Whimper who can play either guard or tackle and 2013 undrafted rookie free agent Nik Embernate who is a gaurd who was injured in training camp.

Steelers Current vs. Future Personnel Needs and the 2014 NFL Draft

Appearances can be deceiving. The Steelers are in a very good position now at guard and center. But that might not be true for long. As commentators have noted, the Cleveland Browns decision to match the 5 year 42 million dollar offer to Alex Mack can and will have repercussions in Pittsburgh.

Maurkice Pouncey is in the final year of his rookie contract. Despite struggling with injuries he’s made the Pro Bowl in every season he’s played more than 8 plays in. His market value has been set, and that value is high. Perhaps too high for the Steelers.
steelers nfl draft 2014 needs priorities scale guard center

Over at Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC) the idea of trading Pouncey has been floated – that’s not what this article is about.

The Steelers most certainly would have liked to have signed Pouncey, and signed him to a handsome contract, and they probably would have done so this summer.
  • Now their ability to do so is in doubt.
That raises the possibility that they’ll take a center early in the draft. And if they don’t, and they’re planning on counting on Wallace or Velasco for the long term, then they need to restock their bench at guard.

That raises the need-priority status at both guard and center from moderate to moderate-high.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Off the Market: Cameron Heyward to Stay in Pittsburgh in '15, Steelers Pickup 5th Year Option

During the last two off seasons Steelers Nation has renewed its acquaintance with the phenomena of free agent defections. Keenan Lewis blossomed into a star and was gone. The Steelers investment in training and development of Al Woods went up on smoke. Jerricho Cotchery bolted for Carolina.
  • But the Black and Gold faithful can lay their minds at ease that Cameron Heyward’s name will not be in play next year.

As expected, the Pittsburgh Steelers have exercised their 5th year option on 2011’s first round draft pick, Cam Heyward. The option will pay Heyward 6.969 million dollars and is guaranteed.

Heyward’s development was slow, although it’s a legitimate question as to why he was not pushing Ziggy Hood for more playing time if not the starting role in 2012. Nonetheless, he remained a backup until the Steelers 0-4 start, which saw Mike Tomlin promote him to the starting role. And indeed, Heyward gave Steelers Nation something to be thankful for last fall, as he seized the reigns and making splash play after splash play.

As a high schooler, I desperately wanted the Steelers to draft Pitt’s “Iron Head” Craig Heyward, Cam’s father, but the Steelers passed on him, taking Aaron Jones instead. (Think Chuck Noll and Dick Haley would have liked to have had that one back.) “Iron Head” never got to play in Pittsburgh, but his son will remain there for another year.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Colbert Record: Revisiting the 2007 Draft

Steel Curtain Rising was launched in January 2008 and as such its inaugural edition of The Colbert Record didn’t have a very useful perspective for breaking down the 2007 draft, which was the first time Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin drafted together.

Time has given ample perspective both for analyzing the Steelers 2007 Draft and reviewing what little was said here about it.

What Was Said in 2008 about 2007…

The first thing that jumps out (aside from the typos) from my initial analysis of the 2007 draft was that only four players merited mention in April of 2008, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Spaeth, and Daniel Sepulveda.

Here’s a sampling:
Sepulveda has shown he has to (sic) tools, now he needs to be consistent 
Third round pick Matt Speath hasn’t done much more than catch touch downs (sic).
LaMarr Woodley recorded four sacks in limited playing time and added two more during the payoffs – so we know why the Steelers let Clark Haggans go.
No mention of William Gay at this point, nor the other members Steelers 2007 Draft who were still on the roster at that point.

2007, Then and Now

Those other members on the roster never got much mention for a reason. Later that spring, Mike Tomlin reported that wide out Dallas Baker had looked good in OTA’s but cautioned against reaching conclusions on “Football in shorts.”

Defensive lineman Ryan McBean also held a roster spot at that point, but he, like Baker, was cut in training camp. McBean sat out training camp, but latched on with and started in Denver in 2009, played in 2010-2011 as a backup there, and finished with Baltimore in 2012.
  • The Steelers may have been starved for defensive lineman, but McBean clearly wasn’t the answer.
Of greater interest of course are the ones who stayed. Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review spoke with former Eagles, Browns, and Ravens scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah who fixed the goal of finding three starters in every draft. That’s an imperfect and imprecise metric, but one that is serviceable.
  • Judging purely by that quantitative measure, 2007 was a success for the Steelers.
LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons emerged as a full time starter and William Gay has developed into a starter if not quite a full time one, having started 48 of the 96 games he’s played in Pittsburgh. Strictly speaking, Spaeth too counts as a “starter” as he is listed as having started 41 of 64 games in Pittsburgh.
  • So using Daniel Jeremiah’s formula (which was also Art Rooney Jr.'s) the numbers say the Steelers 2007 draft was a success.
But if numbers don’t lie, they also sometimes fail to tell the full story.

Steelers 2007 Draft, Beyond the Numbers

Lawrence Timmons – Did not end up unseating either Larry Foote or James Farrior in 2008, although he did get a lot of playing time and looked to be a star in the making.

He started in 2009 and was shaky, but followed with a very underrated role on a strong 2010 Steelers defense. Yet, in 2011 Timmons played poorly only to bounce back in 2012 where he was the defenses best and most consistent player. Timmons wasn’t as strong in 2013, but he also had to compensate for the huge drop off in Vince Williams.
  • Overall, Timmons has lived up to his first round status, if unevenly at times.
LaMarr Woodley – Woodley stromed into the starting spot in 2008 and didn’t look back until his hamstrings gave out vs. New England in 2011. As Tony Defeo of Behind the Steel Curtain observed, Woodley amassed sacks during that period faster than any other defender in Steelers history. Yes, Woodley’s tenure ended in disappointment, but those disappointments came with his second contract.
  • From a pure draft evaluation stand point, Woodley was an excellent pick.
Mike Tomlin quipped in early 2007 that Matt Spaeth was a fantasy league superstar, netting 3 touchdowns in 5 catches. Spaeth picked up the slack nicely during Heath Miller’s absence in 2008, but since then his role has evolved to primarily that of a blocker. Spaeth has developed into a solid number 2 tight end in the NFL which is more than respectable.
  • Still, Spaeth hasn’t delivered the type of value you’d like to see from a third round pick.
Daniel Sepulveda finished 2008 on IR and again found himself on the list in 2010 and then again in 2011. In between those stints he showed himself to be a serviceable punter, but Sepulveda was never anything special.
  • Clearly the Steelers both missed on Sepulveda and never should have drafted him (or any punter) this high. 
William Gay saw next to no time as a rookie. In 2008 he split starting chores with Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend. In 2009 he inherited the starting slot and struggled, but did fine covering the slot in 2010. By 2011 he was a “semi-starter” on first and second downs, moving to the slot on thirds.

Like McFadden he went out to Pittsburgh West and like McFadden Gay was back in a year. Unlike McFadden, and he improved upon returning, earning him the moniker Big Play Willie Gay.
  • Gay’s taken a lot of flak from the fans in his time, but he’s delivered phenomenal value for a fifth round pick.
Final World on the Steelers 2007 Draft

When the complete body of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s collective draft work is finally know, the Steelers 2007 draft isn’t likely to be remembered as a great draft, but it certainly has earned the distinction as a good one.

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Memories of Easter in Pittsburgh

As a product of the Pittsburgh diaspora, holidays in the ‘Burgh were a big part of my childhood. And although we spent more Thanksgivings and Christmases in Pittsburgh, I celebrated more than a few Easter Sunday’s at St. Wendellen’s in Baldwin and/or North American Martyrs and/or St. Bernadette’s in Monroeville.

Those Sunday morning masses were followed of course by big brunches and even bigger dinners held at exotic locales on Ceadercove Street and/or Knollwood Drive (if only it coulda been Nollwood Drive….)

And although those trips came to an end in the 1990’s as my grandparents settled into permanent residence at St. George’s-St. Joseph’s cemetery off of Brownsville Road in Mt. Oliver, those trips form small but important part of the fabric of my memories.

While Steelers paraphilia did comprise a good chuck of Christmas gifts in the late 70’s and early 80’s – before I reached double digits even, I can’t remember too much if any Steelers, Pirates, or Pen’s themed Easter Candy. But it exists, and through the magic of Twitter they can be enjoyed by all.

Can't claim any Bloomfield-related Easter memories and both of my grandfather's answered to "Grandpa." But my father certainly spent a lot of Easter Sunday's in Bloomfield as a child (long before this photo was taken) and he certainly called his grandfather "Pap."
Happy Easter and Happy Passover to all in Steelers Nation (albeit a day late.)

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Draft Needs: Tight End

Part II of Steel Curtain Rising´s analysis of the Pittsburgh Steelers needs in the 2014 NFL Draft brings us to the position of tight end.
  • Tight end is a position area where the Steelers situation is straight forward, but with a twist.
In Heath Miller the Steelers have one of the NFL’s top all around tight ends and one of the most underrated players in football. Some would say that Miller, with his ability to both be an asset in the blocking game and act as a threat down field is part of a dying breed.

Miller, who played a key role as a rookie in Steelers upset win vs. the Colts in the ’05 playoffs, is now 31 and turn 32 during the middle of the coming season. Miller was coming off of a knee injury in 2013, and if his return boosted the Steelers sagging fortunes, he was at times shaky. But Rod Woodson would attest, ACL injuries take more than a year to heal.
  • The Steelers extended Miller for 3 years, and you can count on him to finish that contract.
Behind Miller the Steelers have Matt Spaeth, who returned along with William Gay as part of the Steelers ’07 draft reclamation project. Spaeth was lost for most of the year with a Lisfranc injury, but his return saw Le’Veon Bell rush for his first 100 yard game. Hardly an accident.

Filling out the bench the Steelers have David Paulson and Michael Palmer. Paulson had a strong rookie year in 2012 followed by a very unlucky ’13, where he struggled in the blocking game and his most memorable catch ended in a fumble. The Steelers picked Palmer up as a training camp cast off and thought enough of him to bring him back to camp.
  • Taken at face value, the Steelers need at tight end is very scant.
steelers 2014 nfl draft need scale ratings priorities tight end

Certainly, the team would look to add depth late, if a quality player made himself available, but the Steelers have no pressing need at tight end.
  • But that wouldn’t and shouldn’t stop the Steelers from taking a tight end early.
Both ESPN’s Scott Brown and The Irwin Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley have linked the Steelers to North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron stands 6’4” and weighs in at 250 and has excellent speed. The Steelers are looking to boost their depth at receiver the distinction between receivers and tight ends is quickly blurring in the NFL.
  • Steelers need at Tight End in the 2014 NFL Draft:  Low- moderate.
However, Ebron is projected to be a mid-teens pick, and the Steelers are picking 15th. If he’s the best player on the board the Steelers might be wise to pick him

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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Draft Needs: Quarterback

The 2014 NFL Draft is upon us yet still a few weeks away thanks to Czar Goodell´s decision to expand the off season into May (hey Rog, ever heard of "over exposure?"). The Steelers have been entertaining visitors on the South Side for weeks and now Steel Curtain Rising begins its look at the Steelers draft needs, beginning with quarterback.

A year ago Kevin Colbert turned a few heads by refusing to rule out the Steelers taking a quarterback in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Expect him to follow suit this year.
  • Don´t expect the Steelers, however, to do anything of the sort.
Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger will be 32 this year which is still relatively young for a quarterback. And while injuries hampered his play in late 2011 and late 2012, Roethlisberger threw every pass for the Steelers in 2013, a feat not accomplished by any quarterback in Pittsburgh since 1952.

Barring a major injury, Roethlisberger should at least have 3 or 4 more years of prime play ahead of him. He could conceivably remain a viable Super Bowl quarterback for longer, although the cumulative impact of injuries could catch up with him.
  • Still, until the Steelers see signs of Roethlisberger “Getting old” quarterback will remain a low priority for Pittsburgh in the NFL Draft.
So it will be in 2014.
steelers 2014 nfl draft need scale quarterback

Behind Roethlsiberger the Steelers have Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones, whom they took in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Gradkowski has never thrown  pass in Pittsburgh, but his body of work has him pegged as a journeyman back up, someone how more fits the Mike Tomczak mold as opposed to the Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich mold.

Jones is a complete unknown. By all accounts he looked green in preseason last year, but the entire Steelers roster looked as bad in exhibition has they did during the first round games of the season. Having invested a premium pick in a quarterback in 2013, its unlikely the Steelers would do so again in 2014.

There’s no other way to break this down. Quarterback is the lowest of priorities for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the upcoming 2014 NFL Draft.

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Philip Gaines, Ra'Shede Hageman Visit Steelers

The Rooneys may have reputations as devout Catholics, it may be Holy Week, but the Pittsburgh Steelers spent Holy Thursday entertaining 3 collegiate prospects on the South Side ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Allen Robinson, the Steelers worked out:
  • Phillip Gaines, cornerback of Rice University
  • Ra'Shede Hageman, defensive tackle, Minnesota
  • Rob Branchflower, tight end, University of Massachusetts
Robinsion characterized Gaines as a projected day two, pick, while Hageman is seen as a potential number 1 pick. Branchflower is rated as about a third round pick.

  • Tea leaf readers will note that Gains represents the 5th corner entertained by the Steelers and the 7th defensive back to be invited to Pittsburgh for a pre-Draft workout.

While a lot of pre-draft speculation has the Steelers taking a cornerback in the first round, Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain suggested that they could wait until middle rounds, such as they did in the 2011 NFL Draft when they took Courtney Brown and Cortez Allen in the 3rd and 4th rounds, respectively.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whether Its Podlesh or Wing, Should Pittsburgh Pray for Its Punting to Stink?

Steelers Nation’s reaction to news that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed punter Adam Podlesh ranged from ho-hum to derision as documented by Behind the Steel Curtain.* Some of this is logical, as Adam Podlesh’s punting averages were actually worse than both Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko.
  • But the more refined response is: Who cares?
Seriously. Assuming he can avoid blocked kicks, how much impact does a punter have anyway?

Sure, I am sure Pro Football Focus has some saber metric that reads like this:
  • “Analysis shows that pass defenses on teams with a favorable gross/net punting ratio enjoy a statistically significant “passing yards per attempt allowed” advantage.
Or something.

Maybe Pro Football Focus has no such stat. Even if they do, it says here that the Steelers have won more Super Bowls than anyone else, and it further says that in that respect, good punting doesn’t count for squat. Read on:
Steelers punting super bowl miller colquitt walden
Does good punting = grim harbinger for the Steelers? Hum...
Number don’t lie fellow citizen of Steelers Nation. Let’s take a closer look for those who remain unconvinced.

Bobby Walden handled the punting duties for the Steelers in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. The Steelers ranked just above the middle of the pack and in fact were right about average in terms of punting.
  • Very little was average about those 1974 and 1975 teams laden with NFL Hall of Famers.
No offense, but the presence of players like Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert explain a lot more about the 1st two Lombardi’s than does Walden.

Craig Colquitt took over the chores for Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV and the Steelers punting performance perked up just a tad. Now Pittsburgh’s defense was in decline by that point, and perhaps better punting put them over the edge.
The Steelers 6-10 ’86 season stands as an aberration. Harry Newsome had arrived, but the Steelers still ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of punting. Newsome picked his performance by 1988, and the Steelers led the NFL in punting.
  • They also had their worst post-1971 finish.
Legend has it the Bubby Brister scrawled “Playoffs 1989” on the chalk board to open training camp that summer, but it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh’s punting advantage in Newsome inspired him to do so.

In 1995 Rohn Stark filled the gap between Mark Royals and Josh Miller and the Steelers were the third worst punting team in the league. Nonetheless, the Steelers came heart breakingly close to “One for the Thumb” vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.

Josh Miller was a fine punter, and during the “My buddy’s the cop” phase of Kordell Stewart’s starting tenure he became somewhat of a cult hero and Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon and yours truly was one of his prime promoters. Yet in 2003, Miller had the Steelers punting ranked above average, but they still had a 6-10 record.
  • The Steelers replaced Miller with Chris Gardocki, who punted on in Super Bowl XL, but One for the Thumb Came in spite of a 22nd ranking punting game.
And of course the Steelers attained further glory in Super Bowl XLIII despite the having the second worst punting game thanks to Mitch Berger and Paul  Ernster.

Rounding it out you have 2010 and the loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV, a season in which the Steelers broached the top 25% in punting.  Could getting on the other side of that 25% mark have negated Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, Mike Wallace’s ghosting, or Mendy’s fumble? Count me a skeptic.

Prayer’s and Shout Outs

Of course this analysis only looks at punting average, and not inside 20 numbers or anything like that. And of course crappy punting can hurt you, just remember the Oakland game. But let’s repeat it:
  • Number don’t lie
In the “Post Immaculate Reception Era” there is no correlation between good punting and winning Super Bowls. In fact, if anything the data suggests something quite the opposite.

So whether Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh wins out, perhaps its best to pray for Pittsburgh’s punter to stink.

*Full disclosure. I also write for BTSC. And by complete happenstance (on my honor as a Life scout), it I saw that their Tony Defeo, a good friend and soul mate, had the same idea and beat me to the punch. Check his out here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Steelers Scrounge in Couch Cushions, Sign Adam Podlesh, Punter

The Pittsburgh Steelers, with all of 300 thousand (and a little change found in the couch cushions in Dan Rooney’s office) in salary cap space made yet another free agent signing.
  • They did so by coming to terms with former Chicago Bears punter Adam Podlesh
Podlesh brings a mixed pedigree as a punter to Pittsburgh. Last year he gross punting average was 40.6 yards which was enough to net him 33rd position in the league – not exactly a distinction of honor in a league with 32 teams.

Yet, as Dale Lolley indicates, he did pin opponents inside the 20 yard line 27 times, which is something that Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko together only accomplished 16 times last year.

Podlesh’s best year in the NFL came in 2011, when he sent the Chicago Bears single season record for punting. Ironically, Podlesh was drafted 11 spots ahead of Daniel Sepulveda, whom the Steelers picked in the 4th round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Nor is this the only (comic book like?) cross over – Drew Butler will replace Podlesh in Chicago.
  • In addition to Podlesh, the Steelers also have Brad Wing under contract. 
Wing spent the summer of 2013 in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut before camp. In addition to fighting Podlesh, Wing is also fighting is reputation – having been charged with simple battery in 2011, and thrown out of LSU for failed drug tests and arguing with coaches in-game.

When asked about Wing’s character issues, Kevin Colbert told Jim Wexell, “Again, players mature as the years go on.”

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jason Verrett, 5 Others Visit Steeles, Aaron Barr Expected in Pittsburgh Soon

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue vetting the NCAA’s finest as part of the vetting process in advance of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers closed last week by hosting another threesome at the South Side consisting of:
  • Carl Bradford, linebacker from Arizona State
  • Kevin Pierre-Lous, outside linebacker from Boston College
  • Bradley Roby, cornerback from Ohio State
The Steelers opened this week as cornerback Jason Verrett made his long-anticipated visit to Pittsburgh, while the team also entertained:
  • Scott Circhton, defensive end Oregon State
  • Saquiell Richardson, Arizona Cornerback
ESPN’s Scott Brown described Circhton’s visit as a “surprise” given projections that of him as more of an NFL 3-4 defensive end and someone who is not seen as a prospect to  be converted to a 3-4 outside linebacker .

Behind the Steel Curtain is also reporting that the Steelers will bring UCLA linebacker Aaron Barr to the South Side this week, a move which has been rumored for some time.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Ryan Shizier, Deone Bucannon, and Jordan Zumwalt Pay Steelers Pre-Draft Visits

The 2014 NFL Draft is 27 days away and if public reports are any indication, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have 19 pre-collegiate visitors to invite to their training complex on the South Side.

This past week the Steelers have welcomed three such NCAA hopefuls:
  • Deone Bucannon, strong safety out of Washington State
  • Jordan Zumwalt, linebacker out of UCLA
  • Ryan Shizier, out of Ohio State linebacker
News that Shizier would visit Pittsburgh broke weeks ago, but Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong characterized Zumwalt’s visit as a surprise, although the Steelers were linked to him at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

While the Steelers are potentially deep at inside linebacker with Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin and, health allowing, Sean Spence, neither Williams or Garvin are looked at as 3 down players. Newly signed free agent linebacker Arthur Moats is primarily an outside linebacker, but has position flexibility to move inside should the need arise.
  • Zumwalt is projected as a mid round prospect, and would need to be groomed for the position.
Shizier is projected as a late first round pick and someone the Steelers would have interest in should they trade down or should Shizier fall to day two, but given his athleticism he is not likely to fall.
  • Deone Bucannon’s name also raises eyebrows, given that he’s the second safety, after Calvin Prior, of Louisville, to visit the South Side. Like Prior, Bucannon is expected to go early in the draft.
The Steelers of course recently signed Michael Mitchell, extended Troy Poalmalu’s contract, traded up to get Shamarko Thomas, and resigned Will Allen to a one year deal. The Steelers are certainly not targeting safety in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft, but due diligence is a must.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Antonio Brown, Jason Worilds Head Up Steelers Camp in... Mexico!

As they did in 2010 the Pittsburgh Steelers returned to Mexico to hold a fan based camp. The Steelers have a huge following south of the Rio Grande in large part because it was during the 1970’s that the NFL began showing games there.
  • In fact, their 2000 preseason game at Azteca Stadium vs. the Indianapolis Colts drew over 80,000 fans and at the time was the largest audience in the NFL to see an NFL football game.
Trivia buffs will remember that the Steelers lost due to a call that could not be reviewed because there was no replay equipment. That was also arguably the game where Tee Martin Beat out Anthony Wright for the third string spot behind Kent Graham and Kordell Stewart. Not that anyone cares that much…
  • The Steelers popularity in Mexico has only increased since then.
In fact, the wife for former Mexican President Filipe Calderon, Margarita Zavala, was such a rabid fan that she took leave from the World Cup in South Africa to attend the camp the 2010 Steelers held in Mexico with Ziggy Hood, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, and Daniel Sepúlveda in attendance.

  • Calderon and Zavala have also been guests of the Steelers at Heinz Field when Dan Rooney served as ambassador to Ireland.

This year the Steelers contingent was led by Antonio Brown, Cortez Allen, Kelvin Beachum, Maurkice Pouncey, Markus Wheaton, and Jason Worilds. Veteran Steelers tackle and current Steelers.com radio network reporter Craig Wolfley and former Steelers running back Willie Parker also made the trip.

Why Not Extend the Reach of the Nation End-to-End in Latin America?

Steel Curtain Rising fully cheers the Steelers’s foray into Mexico, but is nonetheless forced to ask the question, “Why stop there?” Why not extend the reach of Steelers Nation further into Latin America? In fact, just stop at crossing  the Rio Grande, why not extend it all the way to the Tierra del Fuego?
  • That’s right, why not hold a similar Steelers camp here in Argentina…?
Esperen un par de días mas, y voy a escribir explicando porque es un muy buen idea. Arriba los Hombres de Acero!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Steelers Do Due Diligence, Host Safety Calvin Prior Ahead of Draft

Never let it be said that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert weren’t prepared for the unexpected.
After all its less than a year after the team did something it had not done since before its first Super Bowl – trade a draft pick from next year’s draft to get one this year – to get safety Shamarko Thomas. Its less than a month after the Steelers made a rare day 1 free agency signing in the form of Michael Mitchell. Which came on the heels of a decision to extend Troy Polamalu’s contract by two years.
  • So why, pray tell, would the Steelers entertain a safety prior to the 2014 NFL Draft?
If cornerback and wide receiver are well known as the Steelers top early round priorities, safety is decidedly at the other end of the pecking order. Yet, as Dale Lolley explains, this is a wise move on the part of the Black and Gold Brain Trust.

The Steelers are picking 15th. It is little secret that the Steelers covet Michigan and Tennessee cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and  Darqueze Dennard and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. However, what if those players are gone?
  • Well, the first reaction will be to try to trade? But what if they can’t? Prior is projected as a mid-round pick. 
The Steelers clearly would like to invest such a high draft choice elsewhere, but success in the NFL Draft isn’t about selecting the players you know you want, it’s about knowing who to pick when your top choices are unavailable.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Steelers Closed Last Week with Visits from Vereen & Ellington; Reports of Unconfirmed Visits Surface

The Pittsburgh Steelers closed out last week with two more confirmed collegiate visits ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft, playing host to Brock Vereen, a defensive back for the University of Minnesota and Bruce Ellington, wide receiver of South Carolina.

Vereen 34 games as a Gopher, but only is only listed as playing in 1 during 2013. During that time he logged 3 interceptions. Bruce Ellington has played for three years at South Carolina, and caught 106 passes and for 1586 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Additional Unconfirmed Visits Reported

Each NFL team is permitted to entertain 30 visits prior to the NFL draft, minus visits from local schools such as the University of Pittsburgh. Thus far, there have been 8 confrimed visits to the South Side:

1. Donte Moncrief, wide receiver Ole Miss speedy wideout
2. Lanche Seastrunk, running back Baylor
3. Jason Verrett, cornerback
4. Ryan Shizier, Ohio State linebacker
5. Stephon Tuitt, defensive end Notre Dame
6. Darqueze Dennard, cornerback Michigan State
7. Brock Vereen, defensive back, Minnesota
8. Bruce Ellington, wide receiver South Carolina

The site Walter Football is associating the Steelers with 2 other NCAA prospects who would count against their limit of 30.

Seantrel Henderson, offensive lineman from University of Miami
Bradley Roby, cornerback, Ohio State
Anthony Barr, linebacker UCLA
Martavis Bryant, wide receiver, Clemson

Behind the Steel Curtain is also reporting that the Steelers visited with Aaron Donald, from Pitt. Donald is a senior who played defensive tackle for the Panthers , and amassed 29.5 sacks during 3 seasons in the Big East and one in the ACC.

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Front Office Free Agency: Dolphins Poach Pittsburgh's Ryan Grove

Repercussions of the Richie Incognito story now reach Pittsburgh. And this connection has nothing to do with Maurkice Pouncey’s twin brother Mike.

No, Miami Dolphins athletic trainer Kevin O’Neil was implicated in Ted Wells investigation, and as a result has lost is position with the Dolphins.
Grove is a Pittsburgh native with both and M.A. and B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. He first served as a training intern the early 1990’s, before joining the staff full time in 1999. In between, he served as the athletic trainer for the movie Jerry Maguire.

John Norwig Stays Put

Grove’s departure creates a vacancy on the Steelers training staff, but head athletic trainer John Norgwig is staying put.

Norwig has headed the Steelers training department since being hired by Bill Cowher in 1992, and in that capacity Norwig is the only Steelers staffer mentioned by name in Cowher’s fairwell press conference.

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