´ Steel Curtain Rising: June 2014

Screwed by Bloggers Polling, Again

Folks, it looks like Blogger's polling has decided to stop working. We had a good poll on the Steelers draft which suddenly got dropped to zero.

Guess you get what you pay for on these free platforms. Thanks to all those who voted.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Watch Tower: Bouchette Wins McCann Award; Steelers to Shift from 3-4 to 4-3...?

OTA’s and mini-camp are over. The Steelers 2014 draft class has been selected and signed in a year where Pittsburgh was more active in free agency than ever, and its not even July 1st. Yet, as the true “off season begins” the Watch Tower has plenty to shine its lights on.

Ed Bouchette Wins the McCann Award

The Watch Tower is of course not about the Steelers, but about the scribes that cover them. And in this respect there is no bigger news than the Pro Football Writers of Association honoring the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette with the prestigious McCann award.

The announcement came last week, and Bouchette will be presented with the award in Canton, Ohio at the NFL Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies. As Gerry Dulac observed, that’s a fitting locale considering Bouchette’s role in helping Steelers like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth earn induction.

Regular readers will no doubt not that Bouchette has often been the subject of the Watch Tower’s criticism. Indeed, that criticism comes not in spite of Bouchette’s winning of the award, but because he deserves the award and is held to such high standards.

And the Watch Tower has seen fit to honor Bouchette with praise just as often as it has found fault. The more notable pops the Watch Tower has given Bouchette include:
And those are only the major stories that the Watch Tower has singled Bouchette out for.

It’s also complemented him on getting Joe Greene on the record regarding his feelings at being passed over as Chuck Noll’s successor – one of the more underreported stories in Steelers history. And Bouchette has also shared morsels such as the back story to Tim Lewis’ firing back in 2003, which paved the way for Dick LeBeau’s return.

Steel Curtian Rising and the Watch Tower only came into existence in 2008, and Bouchette has been writing about the Steelers since 1974 and the McCann Award is for lifetime achievement. While the Watch Tower can’t offer a systemetic evaluation of Bouchette’s body of work it can point to two examples.
  • First is his 1993 book, the Dawn of a New Steel Age, which is by far the best “insider” book there is.
  • Second is this piece from December 1988, on the day Steelers Nation stood still amists rumors that a rift with Dan Rooney would send Chuck Noll from the Steelers. 
Take a look at the article. It represents one masterfully fine piece of journalism, and reveals just why Bouchette’s colleagues chose to award him this high honor.

This bud’s for you Ed Bouchette, you earned it.

Bouchette, Latest in Long Line of Pittsburghers to win McCann Award

While Bouchette is the first Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer to win the award, he is not the first Pittsburgher. The Pittsburgh Press’ Pat Livingston won in the 1970’s. Vito Stellino won the award in 1989 while at the Baltimore Sun; prior to that he’d written in Pittsburgh. ESPN’s John Clayton, another former Pittsburgh Press scribe, won the award in 2007, followed by Len Pasquarelli who is a Pittsburgh native.

To 4-3 or Not 4-3….

Longtime Steelers scribe from the Washington Standard-Observer Dale Lolley stepped out to do a bit of Watch Towerish analysis of his own recently.

Lolley took issue with a about a potential Steelers switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3. And while he names neither the paper nor the author, the story in question was penned by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Allan Robinson.

Lolley pulls no punches when assessing his colleagues work, observing:
@ Here is how misinformation gets passed along.
One of the local newspapers did a story quoting a couple of national analysts - nobody from the Steelers - about how the team could be considering a shift to the 4-3 defense.
One of the analysts is an NFL Network guy.
A day after the story runs in said local paper, again, with nobody from the Steelers saying anything of the sort, the NFL Network starts tweeting that the Steelers are considering changing to a 4-3, with the source being their own guys answering a question.
  • That’s a pretty damming critique, unfortunately, his initial criticism of Robinson fails to hold muster.
Lolley chides Robinson for “quoting a couple of national analysts – no nobody from the Steelers…” That would be a major flaw in Robinson’s piece. Except that he does offer his reader quotes from Cameron Heyward and Mike Tomlin.
  • It is hard to say how such details escaped Lolley’s attention, but the oversight does go a long way toward neutering his criticism.
The later part of Lolley’s commentary, however, amounts to a very a legit criticism of how the NFL Network specifically, and the current NFL “news” cycle works in general. He should have kept his focus there.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

El Mundial "Traduciedo" El Futbol en Terminos de "Football" Desde el Dr. De Acero

Hola amigos de SCR en español.

Como todos ustedes sabrán se disputa en Brasil, la Copa Mundial de Fútbol. Es un evento de trascendencia global del que es muy difícil mantenerse al margen (y también es muy difícil querer hacerlo.)

En América Latina el fútbol viene con nosotros. Si bien no es un juego que me vuelva loco, por supuesto lo jugué, a veces lo miro por televisión, comencé a llevar a mi hijo a algún partido y, obviamente, sigo a la selección argentina.
  • Tan global es este evento que aún el fundador de este sito, tal vez por compromiso sentimental, está siguiendo vivamente el desempeño de nuestro equipo nacional.
Es así que empezamos a jugar a ver el fútbol con ojos de football y me propuso transformar un juego en otro para los lectores del blog.

Aquí está el intento.

La Selección Argentina clasificó a la postemporada con puntaje ideal: 3-0

En el día de jueves de la semana pasada, la selección Argentina disputó el juego final de la brevísima temporada regular que termina de clasificar a los equipos que jugarán la postemporada. Explotando la magia de su QB Lio Messi, el Head Coach argentino Alejandro Sabella está consiguiendo finalmente la puesta a punto de su equipo llamado a ser protagonista de la competencia gracias al poderío de su ofensiva multiestelar.
  • Ayer se impuso al equipo de Nigeria el cual finalmente también jugara los playoffs en esta oportunidad.
A poco de iniciado el encuentro Argentina tomó rápidamente ventaja gracias a que en dos jugadas de pase, el Mariscal de Campo Messi conecta un riflazo por el centro y bajo los postes.  Aún la defensiva "verde" no había siquiera despertado.

Algo similar sucedía con la defensiva albiceleste, la cual se vió sorprendida por un vertiginoso ataque respuesta: En un desplazamiento central el QB nigeriano atrae la carga por el centro del LB Mascherano y del esquineo, el CB Zabaleta, dejando un amplio corredor por donde el WR Ahmed Musa hace una brillante atrapada anticipándose al esfuerzo del FS Romero para interceptar o desviar el envió.

Otra vez a comenzar de nuevo. Como al principio: Iguales

Durante la primera mitad prevaleció el juego ofensivo de la Argentina que intercalaba juego terrestre con el RB de poder Higuaín, con juego aéreo con el WR Di María y del TE Kun Agüero, quien promediando el primer período se retiró por una  lesión que tal vez lo descarte para el resto de la postemporada.
Los reiterados avances de la ofensiva argentina se encontraron con la férrea defensa "verde" que se multiplicaba en esfuerzos.

Sobre el final del período el QB Messi tendría una oportunidad de anotar cuando un delicado "toque" a la esquina de la endzone fue desviado por el FS Nigeriano Enyeama. Pero la oportunidad se le repetiría poco después, casi en una jugada idéntica: esta vez el pase fue esquinado, preciso, suave e inalcanzable. TD.
Eso fue todo para la primera mitad.

Casi desde los vestuarios Nigeria estuvo decidida a no entregar fácilmente su piel y respondió con un pase corto por el centro, otra vez atrapado por Musa en la endzone. Por entonces la diferencia entre los dos equipos estuvo en la efectividad en la zona roja: Nigeria llegaba poco pero anotaba,  por virtudes propias y por errores ajenos.

El equipo suramericano no lograba definir el partido a su favor. Siempre que lograba adelantarse en el marcador, enfrentaba una respuesta de la ofensiva nigeriana.
  • Promediando la segunda mitad la defensiva argentina tendría una ocasión para anotar. El CB Marcos Rojo interceptó para anotación y cerrar así el marcador final. 
El equipo argentino ha demostrado capacidad de mejoría en todas sus líneas. Desde la defensiva hasta la ofensiva.
  • El equipo se ha mostrado, sin embargo, Messi-dependiente. Se espera entonces, que no ocurra ninguna lesión que lo margine de la competencia. 
En la semana de comodines se enfrenta al equipo representativo de Suiza el cual ha tenido una eliminatoria muy accesible. Sin embargo, a priori, no debería representar un escollo demasiad difícil de sortear para el equipo de Sabella.

Ahora comienza la competencia más dura porque el que pierde se vuelve a casa.
Los campeones empiezan la competencia de menor a mayor y ganan los partidos que hay que ganar. Aun jugando mal.

Esas dos cosas ha hecho la argentina.

Es la hora de la verdad.
                                                                                          Dr. de Acero

Para leer mas escrito por el Dr. de Acero, sobre los Steelers, clicqen aca

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chuck Noll - Understanding The Unassuming Steelers Legend

How do you summarize a legend’s life in a single article? Steelers Nation’s scribes faced just such a dilemma with the passing of Chuck Noll.

How to tell the story of someone so accomplished, yet so humble; at once intelligent but unassuming; demanding while soft spoken; so devoted to singleness of purpose yet dedicated to a variety of pursuits.
How else to explain a an who sits among the greatest NFL coaches yet is frequently forgotten when “The Greatest” conversation starts because he actively deflected credit for himself? Preparedness was Pittsburgh’s calling card under Noll. So how do you explain how he was home for dinner every night while his contemporaries slept on couches in their offices?

It is a daunting task. To perhaps the key to decrypting the cryptic Chuck Noll it is best to start with the “exceptions,” or moments where he departed from the script. Click on the links below to see how those “off script moments” formed the foundations of Noll’s defining moments with the Steelers.

“Losing has nothing to do with geography.” XXX
“They think the just won the God damn Super Bowl.”
“Go for the big one.”
"Sidney Thornton's problems are great, and they are many." - The Emperor in Winter
“Potentially, we have a good team.” – The Emperor’s Lash Hurrah
“Time to smell the flowers….”But first….
The Emperor Is Dead - Long Live Steelers Nation



“Losing has nothing to do with geography."

When you think of “Attitude” and “Steelers” you usually think of a young Joe Greene tossing the ball into the stands in frustration, or Greg Lloyd’s “Just plain nasty,” or perhaps Joey Porter calling out Ray Lewis.
  • The mild mannered Noll, it would seem, was the antithesis of attitude.
Except he wasn’t. Of Chuck Noll’s many contributions to the Steelers, perhaps his most important was attitude. And he made it on his very first day as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. When asked about taking over a Pittsburgh team that had excelled at losing  40 years, Noll’s response was a concise as it was penetrating.

“Losing has nothing to do with geography.”

With a single statement, Noll erased four decades of mindset. The team’s bad habits of trading away draft picks had ended. Noll pledged to Dan Rooney to build the team up from the ground, to replace those players not good enough, and even dared to remake Pro Bowlers in his own image.
  • Likewise, losing would neither be accepted as normal, nor incite outrage, but rather serve as a tool for teaching players to improve.
Make no mistake about it, a lot of things changed in Pittsburgh when Noll arrived, but it all began with a change in attitude.

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“They think the just won the God damn Super Bowl.”

Noll didn’t do pep talks, ala Vince Lombardi or Bill Cowher. He didn’t go out for emotional hand holding the way Joe Gibbs would. Nor did he attempt to belittle his player’s with barrages of criticism like Bill Parcells.
  • No, Noll wanted players who were self-starters. 
You were playing professional football, and that should serve as motivation enough. Yet perhaps his best off script moment came before the 1974 AFC Championship game. This story made it into almost every Chuck Noll obituary. Here you’ll find the Ray Mansfield’s from  NFL Films.

The Oakland Raiders had defeated the Dolphins, and afterwards John Madden exclaimed that, it was a great day in football when the two best teams played and it was a shame one of them had to lose.

As Ray Mansfield recounted, Noll walked into the Steelers locker room the next morning fuming, “They think the just won the God Damn Super Bowl. But let me tell you something, the best football team is sitting here right in front of me.”

Dwight White remarked, “It was like getting a blessing to go out and beat up on someone.” Andy Russell later recalled, Joe Greene stood up and proclaimed, “I am ready to play right now.” For his own part, Joe Greene said that was the one game that he entered where he knew he was going to win.
  • As it turned out, Noll’s bit of bravado worked.
The Steelers ended the half tied, after the referee had disallowed a John Stallworth touchdown. Nonplussed, the team filed off into the locker room, with no frustrations evident. Nor did panic set in when Oakland took a 10-3 lead into the fourth quarter. Lynn Swann scored one touchdown while Franco Harris rumbled for 2 more.

Noll’s stoicism was no act, yet The Emperor was savvy enough to know when to press buttons.

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“Go for the big one.”

Football, Noll repeat time and time again, was about blocking and tackling. While his contemporary Chuck Knox was known as “Ground Chuck,” Noll could have just as easily earned that nickname.
  • When in doubt, Chuck Noll ran.
But the Steelers became victims of their own success on the other side of the ball, and that prompted another off script move by The Emperor.

Mel Blount simply covered receivers too well. The NFL never has nor never will see another more physically intimidating cornerback. The NFL took notice, and took notice of the fact that TV Ratings and passing go hand in hand, and enacted the “Mel Blount Rule” making it harder to cover receivers downfield.
  • This put an already aging Steelers defense at a disadvantage. 
Noll however, transformed advantage into disadvantage, by unleashing Terry Bradshaw’s arm and making full use of the talents of Swann, Stallworth, and Bennie Cunningham. Yes, the Steelers still ran. Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and Sidney Thornton rushed for a combined 4184 yards in 1978 and 1979.
  • But it was Noll’s decision (and ability) to attack through the air that kept the Steelers ahead of Landry’s Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII
A year later, with the Steelers trailing in the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XIV, on third down at their own 27 Noll ordered Bradshaw to “Go for the big one” calling “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go.

The play hadn’t worked all week in practice, and Noll had relentlessly preached that if you couldn’t perform in practice, you’d fail on Sundays. Again, Noll knew when to make exceptions to his own rules – and 73 yards later John Stallworth put the Steelers ahead with a touchdown.

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"Sidney Thornton's problems are great, and they are many." - The Emperor in Winter

Had Noll retired after Super Bowl XIV the national press would have had no choice to accept as the greatest coach of the modern era. But he didn’t retire, and instead coached the Steelers through a decade were they barely topped .500.
  • Here again, the root cause can be found in Noll’s decision to go off script. 
In 1969, Noll had no only committed the Steelers to building through the draft, but committed them ed to taking the best player available, regardless of race, school, position, or who was currently on the roster.

Bucking the rest of the NFL, Noll insisted on colorblind drafting, and with Bill Nunn’s guidance aggressively scouted the Historic Black Colleges. Terry Hanratty had been high second round pick in 1969, yet Noll didn’t hesitate at taking Bradshaw at number one in 1970. Frank Lewis and Ron Shanklin were good recievers for the Steelers in 1973, but Noll drafted to great ones in 1974. And so on.
  • But as Lombardi trophies started stacking up, the team got away from that philosophy. 
Instead of taking the best player on the board, the Steelers would try to project guys who fell for one reason or another and who they thought would better fill roster holes. The decision was a disaster. As the 80s arrived the oldest of Noll’s players reached retirement, and their replacements were lacking.

Other factors contributed to the Steelers poor drafting and subsequent struggles in the 80’s, but getting away from their bread and butter was the most prominent.

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“Potentially, we have a good team.” – The Emperor’s Lash Hurrah

Telling and retelling the 1989 Steelers story is a labor of love at Steel Curtain Rising and need not be repeated in detail here. Yet, for those unfamiliar, it may have been Noll’s finest coaching job.

In 1988 the Steelers had finished 5-11, their worst since 1971, and for the first time ever, Noll had been forced to fire assistants. Nonetheless, Noll convened training camp by saying, “Potentially, we have a good team.”
  • The Steelers then promptly went out and lost their first two games, divisional ones at that, to the combined score of 92-10.
Afterwards, Noll quipped “Either we just played the best two teams in football, or we’re in for a long year.” As, I believe it was Gene Collier recalled on the day of Noll’s retirement, “The once unthinkable question was on everyone’s lips. And it wasn’t ‘Will Dan Rooney fire Chuck Noll’ but ‘How long will he wait?’”
  • Again, time had done nothing to mellow Noll’s attitude to pep talks.
Yet, he did something better, as Behind the Steel Curtain’s Michael Bean documented with Merril Hoge back in 2010:

He revisited the things that were going on in the media about us. And if I remember right, he kind of wrote some things up on the board, showed us some clips. Then he stood in front of us, paused for a second and said, 'I believe in you.'

Hoge says that the hair still stands up on his arm when he remembers that statement. As well it should, the team rebounded to make the playoffs, upset the Oilers in the Astrodome, and came within a bad snap of doing it again vs. Denver.

Back to Top

“Time to smell the flowers….”But first….

When the ’89 Steelers  season ended, Noll commented “This team is on the way up. He doubled down during the off season, talking about the “Championship caliber” talent his team had.

Yet a playoffless 9-7 season in 1990 and a mediocre 7-9 season in 1991 led even the Steelers Digest to question Noll’s assessment of the Steelers talent.

History vindicated Noll on the talent question, as Dermontti Dawson, Jerry Olsavsky, Neil O'Donnell, John Jackson, Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson formed the backbone of Bill Cowher’s 1995 team the fell just short in Super Bowl XXX.

However, history also vindicated Noll when he decided it was time to “smell the flowers,” as he declared the day he retired.
  • But in hanging it up Noll added a punctuation mark on his greatness in his own understanded way, and one that was in no way apparent at the time.
Noll’s final game took place at Three Rivers Stadium on December 22, 1991 vs. the Cleveland Browns, and the Steelers won 17-10 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Not only did Noll win his final game, but in doing so he defeated Bill Belichick the man who 23 years later is still trying to tie his record of our Super Bowls….

Back to Top

Thanks Chuck

When NFL Films asked him to reflect on his time with the Steelers of the ‘70’s, Chuck Noll simply said, “It was fun. It really was fun.”
  • Yes it was fun, even for those just barely old enough to remember.
The Emperor is Dead, but Long Live the Steelers Nation he founded!

Thanks Chuck!

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chuck Noll, Former Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach, Passes Away at 82

Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach, Chuck Noll has passed away at the age of 82 in his home in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette, Chuck Noll has suffered from poor health for a number of years, battling Alzheimer’s, a heart condition, and severe back pain.



Chuck Noll was known as “The Emperor.” While he may not have negotiated contracts or dabbled in the business side of the sport the way coach/GM’s such as Bill Parcells did, Noll had total control over the football operation, from coaching decisions, draft picks, to final roster choices.
  • Noll’s record speaks for itself.
When Noll arrived in Pittsburgh, the Steelers had appeared in post-season only once, and they had never won a game. By the time he retired in 1991, the Steelers and won 209 games, 16 post-season contests, 9 AFC Central Division Championships, and were the first NFL team to win 3 and then 4 Super Bowls.
  • 23 years later, Chuck Noll is still the only NFL head coach to have won four Super Bowls. 
As a coach, Noll never fathered a cadre of assistants as Paul Brown did, nor is he credited with establishing any innovations such as Tom Landry’s “Flex Defense” or Bill Walsh’s “West Coast offense.” Unlike Vince Lombardi, he left no legacy for his fire and brimstone motivational tactics.
  • No, Noll wasn’t about that because he was a fundamentalist through and through.
Noll wasn’t interested in flashy performers or super stars, although he coached plenty of the later, he wanted good athletes to execute their role in a system, and to do it predictably. And Noll did innovate – the famous “Tampa Cover 2” defense that Tony Dungy popularized was the same defense the Steelers developed and used under Noll, Bud Carson and George Perles.
  • Noll was also a master talent evaluator, arguably the best of all time.  
Drawing on the work of the Steelers scouting department headed by Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley, and Bill Nunn, Chuck Noll selected 11 NFL Hall of Famers, in the form of Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, Terry BradshawFranco Harris, Mike WebsterLynn Swann, John Stallworth, Rod Woodson, and Dermontti Dawson.
  • But if Chuck Noll struck gold with these high profile players, he was also the champion of the little guy.
Noll saw himself as a teacher, first and foremost. During his time as coach, the Steelers practice without numbers – this was because Noll wanted all of his players to be treated equally – if an All Pro ran a bad route, he didn’t want anyone to hesitate to correct him. Under Noll, late round picks and undrafted rookie free agents got a fair shake and an honest shot at the time, as players like careers of L.C. Greenwood and Donnie Shell

Upon his retirement from the Steelers in 1991, Chuck Noll maintained the title of Administration Adviser, but in truth he served in no official capacity with the Steelers. Noll had pointedly stayed out of the limelight as head coach, and thought that all of the credit that Bill Cowher enjoyed following his tenure, should belong to him.

Noll could occasionally be seen in the press box during the occasional game at Three Rivers Stadium, but split his time between Pittsburgh and Florida, but was seldom seen and even more rarely heard.

Chuck Noll is survived by his wife Marianne and his son Chris.

Steelers Nation has lost its greatest champion and the City of Pittsburgh the man who made it the City of Champions. He will be missed. Steel Curtain Rising asks you join us in offering your thoughts and prayers to Noll’s family.

Note: Steel Curtain Rising will have a more complete obituary on Chuck Noll over the weekend. Please check back soon.


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Friday, June 13, 2014

Steelers Resign Pouncey for 6 Years, 48 Million Dollars

For nine years and two Super Bowls, Ray Mansfield anchored the center of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. Mike Webster took up the call for another 13 years 2 Super Bowls and 1 Hall of Fame induction. After that, the duty fell to Dermontti Dawson for the next 12 years. Finally, Jeff Hartings did the honors for 6 more years and another Super Bowl.




  • Since 2010 that responsibility has fallen to Maurkice Pouncey and after today, at least on paper, he’ll carry that burden for another 6 years.
June first’s arrival not only brought OTA’s to the South Side but also money freed up by LaMarr Woodley’s release. The question of “What will the Steelers” do with their salary cap largesse has been on the minds of everyone in Steelers Nation.
At this point, the answer is “None of the above,” as the Steelers are focusing on resigining their own, after inking Maurkice Pouncey to a 6 year 48 million dollar deal, that reportedly includes a 9 year signing bonus.

Maurkice Pouncey was one player that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert fell in love with at the 2010 NFL scouting combine, so much that Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had no compunction or reservation in saying he was the Steelers pick right then and there.

Pouncey did not disappoint, becoming the first rookie to start for the Steelers in the Mike Tomlin era, capping the season off with a Pro Bowl appearance followed by two more.

Who’s Next?

With Pouncey resigned, attention will immediately shift to who is next. Dale Lolley suggests it will be Cortez Allen, who is entering the final year of his contract and the Steelers likely have no wish to repeat what happened with Keenan Lewis.

Ben Roethlisberger might also be a possibility, given the current escalation of quarterback contracts, but that is a far more complicated contract to negotiate.

Nonetheless, although the deal makes Pouncey the NFL's highest paid center, it actually gives the Steelers some short term salary cap relief, given them greater flexibility.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Separating the Information from the Noise @ Steelers OTA's

The Pittsburgh Steelers OTA’s might only be “football in shorts” but that doesn’t stop both the professional press and bloggers alike from feeding fodder from these workouts to fill the voracious appetite that Steelers Nation has for its beloved Black and Gold.
  • Note the word “fodder” instead of news, because little of what happens in OTA’s counts as real news. 
In fact, you can breakdown what you hear out of the South Side during OTA’s into three categories:  News that will mean something in September, stories that might mean something in the summer, and stuff that makes for good stories in the spring but is forgotten by the fall.

However, a few developments do offer insight about the future, and here Steel Curtain Rising attempts to aide Steelers Nation in sorting out the information for them noise.

Spence and Heyward Top the “Real OTA” News

Take a look at the video below:



If Mike Tomlin followed Chuck Noll’s policy of practicing without numbers, would you know which of the players running drills was the one whom linebacker’s coach Keith Butler had said it would be a miracle if he played again? The answer is no, you wouldn’t.
  • The first player in the video is Sean Spence of course.
Spence’s return to full time action during OTA’s counts as real news. While it doesn’t mean his comeback is complete, not by a long shot, but it does show that it’s viable. Spence was on the verge of pushing Larry Foote for playing time as a rookie during the 2012 preseason, when he suffered a near catastrophic knee injury.
  • Since then Steelers Nation has been subjected to a diversity of stories on how serious his prospects for a full recovery actually were, but at this point it seems the optimists have the upper had.
Throw Sean Spence into a group with Lawrence Timmons, “sophomores” Terence Garvin and Vince Williams and rookie first round pick Ryan Shazier and in a single year inside linebacker could go from one of the Steelers thinnest positions to its deepest.
  • A lot must happen for that to become reality, but at least it is possible.
The other big piece of news is the decision to move Cameron Heyward from left to right defensive end.

In going from left to right Heyward is moving into the spot that Brett Keisel has occupied for the last 8 years. This shift might only prove to be temporary, but it does show that Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell are ready to test drive a Steelers defensive line without Keisel.

News that Might Mean Something Come Summer

One name that is turning a lot of heads during OTA’s is that of Justin Brown, the Steelers 6th round draft pick from 2013 who did an apprenticeship on the practice squad.  This could mean something, particularly because players generally (although not universally) make their biggest jump between year’s 1 and 2.
  • Not only have all of the major reporters praised Brown, but the Steelers are letting him run with the first unit. 
The coach’s decision validates what reporters have been saying for weeks. Now, OTA’s are “football in shorts.” Dallas Baker once dazzled during Tomlin’s second stint of OTA’s in 2008, and then didn’t even make the team. Back in 2000, Malcolm Johnson was another second year player who came on strong early, even starting the first pre-season game, only to get cut before the opener.
  • But Brown’s improvement has been steady, tracing back to the final month of 2013, per Dale Lolley. This one bears watching.
Another situation to keep your eye on is Shamarko Thomas’.

shamarko-thomas-workout-offseason-depth-chart-will-allen
Shamarko Thomas' working out in 2014 off season

Thomas is of course the man the Steelers scarified their 2014 third round pick to move up in ’13 in the 4th, a man who Carnell Lake insisted would have gone as a 1st had been 2 inches taller.

Thomas moved immediately into the team’s third down package, until he got hurt. Dallas waived Will Allen, but when Thomas recovered, Allen retained his role. And as OTA’s progress, Allen remains ahead of Thomas on the depth chart at safety.

This could just be Mike Tomlin lighting a fire under Thomas, making it clear he must earn his stripes… Or there could be legitimate issues with his development.

Current “Not Real News Stories” that Might Not Be in that Category Later…

Bloggers, yours truly very much included, love calming bragging rights when events prove their predictions. And yet, there are times when a blogger longs to eat crow, and this is one of them.
  • The Ryan Shazier story is one of those.
The big “News” to open OTA’s is was Ryan Shazier was running with the first team defense.

But the real "news" value of this story must be taken with a grain of salt, as Mike Tomlin never anoints and rarely starts rookies. And trend precedes Tomlin. Kendrell Bell was the last rookie to make an opening day start for the Steelers defense. And unlike Brown and Thomas, there is no “progression from last season trajectory for him to follow.”
  • Making assumptions based on OTA lineup status is tenuous at best, which is why backstories must be examined carefully. 
To wit Kris Farris, 1999 IR/redshirt 3rd round pick and Outland Trophy winner ran with the first team in 2000’s OTA’s and got cut in training camp. More recently, Jonathan Dwyer ran like a stallion in 2010 OTAs, if accounts are reliable, yet showed up at St. Vincents overweight and out of shape and barely made the final cut.
  • Shaizer has no backstory to follow – he’s writing it now.
Jim Wexell reports that Shaizer made a leaping interception that "required all 42 inches of his vertical leap" and has even lined up as a slot corner, which is enough for Wex to pronounce Shaizer as the incumbent starter.

If events vindicate Wexell, Steel Curtain Rising will happily eat the words above.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Watch Tower: Pittsburgh Press Divided on Kesiel's

The Steelers have completed two weeks of OTA’s which qualify as a news event in this day and age, and that gives the Watch Tower plenty of items to shine is light upon. We begin with the topic that’s on everyone’s tongues in Steelers Nation, the likelihood of Brett Keisel’s retrun.

Press Opinion Divided on Kesiel’s Return

Will the Steelers resign Brett Kesiel for one final year or not? Everyone wants to know, and the opinions of those who get paid to talk to those who actually get to make the decision are more than divided.

Even before the Steelers 2014 Draft Class was named, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly was counting himself among the skeptics:

However, at the beginning of OTA’s ESPN’s Scott Brown got Heath Miller on the record saying “Keisel’s not hear yet” the “yet” implying that the event would come to pass.

But when exactly is “yet?” After all as of June 1st the Steelers cleared part of LaMarr Woodley’s salary off of the books, freeing up money for a new contract. Dale Lolley opined that if the Steelers brought Kesiel back, it wouldn’t be until before camp, so as to give coaches a full chance to evaluate the crop of younger defensive ends.

The Tribnue Review’s Alan Robinson made a rather interesting suggestion, offering that:

With the Steelers uncomfortably thin at defensive end, Keisel could serve as a backup and a mentor to second-round draft pick Stephon Tuitt — just as former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, now a defensive assistant, is doing with Jarvis Jones at outside linebacker.

The really peculiar part about this is that Porter is now a coach, and Kesiel would return as a player.

Much of the Steelers press corps seems to lean towards a Kesiel return. However, count Jim Wexell as a skeptic. Responding to a question posed by Steel Curtain Rising on Twitter, Wexell offered this:
Wexell didn’t stop there. He followed this up with a full story  where he readily admitted he wanted to see Kesiel back for selfish reasons – Kesiel is well liked by the press and an easy interview – but in his view the Steelers have a lot of younger players with a lot of upside that they may wish to keep instead.

Steelers Digest, Steel City Insider Get Face Lifts

Two smaller, but important Steelers publications got face lifts recently, Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider site and the Steelers Digest, the Steelers in-house publication.

The look and feel of the new Steel City Insider site represents a night and day contrast from the older site. The new site graphics are crisper and cleaner, the home page is much more image driven, and the overall site navigation is much, much more streamlined. The site also has url's which are more search friendly than before, which means nothing to the reader, but will boost Wexell's presence on the web.
  • While neither Steel Curtain Rising nor the Watch Tower existed, then, yours truly has been a fan of Wexell’s work since the late 1990’s when he wrote for the now defunct Real Pittsburgh site.
Even then it was apparent that Wex worked hard to bring his readers stories that went deeper and offered fresh angles that other beat writers either ignored or missed. As a friend observed at the time, “The Trib and PG run the same stories with almost the same quotes, this guy Wexell’s different.”
  • But quality writing only gets you so far, and working in B2B marketing has taught me that vibrant visuals always trump pretty prose.
Steel City Insider remains a freemium site – part paid, part free, but in just the last week he offered  free articles on Steve McLendon’s lessons learned, Antwon Blake’s development as a player, and took one final shot at his colleagues in the national press for their tendency to regurgitate Warren Sapp’s “Old, slow and Done” refrain.

The Steelers Digest’s facelift is far lower key, and in fact mark’s the publication’s latest attempt to retain its relevance in the digital age. For those unaware, Steelers Digest is jointly published by Curtis Publishing and the Pittsburgh Steelers and has been around since 1989.

Prior to the internet, Steelers Digest provided Steelers Nation with a vital lifeline on the team, as it was the only steady source of news on the team for those outside of Western Pennsylvania, other than perhaps USA Today.

If memory serves, the Digest once boasted a circulation number of over 50,000, but in the last decade those numbers have dipped below 20,000 (again, this is on memory, as numbers could not be found.)
  • The “new” Digest looks like the old, at least for Digital subscribers.
The digital rendering is a little more crisp, and it does open with a table of contents, but beyond that the features and format are still the same. Tablet readers still lack link and social media sharing capabilities, which is odd because both would provide the publication with a free means of spreading its content to potential subscribers.

Yours truly has subscribed to the Steelers Digest since 1990, and has continued to do so largely out of loyalty. This “upgraded” version of the Digest, however, includes a drop to bi-weekly publication come the regular season, so we will see if the value delivered justifies the costs.

Telling the Stories of Steelers Nation’s Unsung Heroes

This spring a new player entered the Steelers press corps in the form of Rudy “Red Dog” Reyes of 970 ESPN Radio. Reyes has taken a rather novel approach towards finding his audience (in addition to aggressive outreach via social media.)
  • This past spring, Reyes has made it his business to give previously unsung Steelers heroes a chance to tell their stories.
He does this in the form of radio interviews. The John Stallworth’s, Rod Woodson’s, and Jerome Bettis attract much of the attention, and as well they should as these men are Hall of Fame and should be Hall of Famers.
  • But even Hall of Famers need supporting casts.
And in the age of the salary cap the abilities of the guys manning roster spots number 48-53 is more important than ever. So Reyes has reached out to some of those men, and gotten them into the studio for insightful interviews. His chats with Rodney Bailey and Tyrone Carter are just two examples.

Dejan Kovacevic Celebrates 3 Years at the Tribune Review

Speaking of social media, Dejan Kovacevic celebrated 3 years at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
Prior to that Kovacevic had worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but left Pittsburgh’s flagship newspaper for the chance to be a columnist.
  • Since that time the Watch Tower has both praised and criticized Kovacevic’s work.
Looking back, the Watch Tower’s took issue with his commentary on the Bruce Arians-Todd Haley switch, and in all honestly was probably a little unduly harsh at least in its conclusion if not the overall substance of that critique.

However, the Watch Tower praised him for an in depth story on state of the Steelers locker room prior to the 2013 season, and again praised him for putting some meat on the bones of the rumored story about the organization’s displeasure with LaMarr Woodley. He also won kudos for calling out the NFL Network for attempting to claim a non-existent scoop on the Jack Bicknell firing.

And while the Watch Tower didn’t have time to mention at the moment, Kovacevic also the lone (or close to the lone) reporter to question Mike Tomlin’s decision to fly the Steelers into London at the last minute.

Congratulations on 3 years at the Trib. Dejan.

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Will June's Arrival Bring Brett Kesiel's Return to the Steelers?

We have now entered the month of June. For Steelers fans that means that the non-prorated portion of LaMarr Woodley’s salary gets credited to the Steelers books, freeing the team to sign the rest of their draft picks, think about contract renewals for players like Maurkice Pouncey, and do any free agent bargin hunting.
  • Regarding the latter option, there’s one name on everyone’s mind, and that’s Brett Keisel.
When free agency started, the word to the wise via the press was that Keisel was not expected back. However, Al Woods was expected back, and he is gone. So is Ziggy Hood. The team did sign Cam Thomas in free agency, but he’s viewed primarily as a backup at nose tackle who can also play defensive end.



It would seem like the door opens for Kesiel’s return. The question remains, is the team and is Kesiel interested in walking through it?

Will Kesiel Return – Divided Opinion

Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were asked about the team’s situation at defensive line. Both men indicated that the team’s work was not complete there.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly wasted little time in offering his interpretation of that message:
The Steelers 2014 draft only seemed to bear that out. Not only did the team unexpectedly take Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round, they also grabbed nose tackle Daniel McCullers in the 6th.

Yet ESPN’s Scott Brown reported provided Steelers Nation with some interesting insights regarding Brett Kesiel. In speaking with Heath Miller, Brown got the veteran tight end to share this with him:
  • “Keisel’s not here right now and he was well into his 30s last year.”
Brown wasted little time in in dissecting this one observing that “’Not here right now’ implies that Keisel will be back with the Steelers at some point.” To be clear, Brown quickly qualified his conclusion, admitting that he could be reading too much into Miller’s words.

Is There Room for Kesiel, and at What Price?

Steel Curtain Rising has been on the record in support of Kesiel’s return, and remains so, but any objective analysis must concede that the situation is far from clear-cut.
  • As mentioned above, the Steelers lost two players from 2013’s defensive line, Al Woods and Ziggy Hood. 
They added Cam Thomas, Tuitt, and McCullers. While McCullers isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, its unlikely the Steelers would cut such a large lineman with so much potential. Nor is the team likely risk trying to sneak him on the practice squad.
In addition, the Steelers also have Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams, and Hebron Fangupo who are return from inactive list, practice squad or injured reserve duty in 2013. That brings the Steelers current total (excluding undrafted rookie free agents and futures contract signers) to 8.

Last season the Steelers carried 7 defensive lineman on their roster for the bulk of the season, with Arnfelt getting activated late in the years.
  • Adding Kesiel would give them nine.
A big motive for keeping Brett Kesiel would be his potential to mentor the younger lineman much the same way Jerome Bettis mentored Willie Parker.  Arnfelt and Williams will already enter training camp as roster spots numbers 50 and above/practice squad candidates.

Nonetheless, the Steelers still appear to be committed to youth on the defense, and that would seem to leave Kesiel as the odd man out, particularly if he is serious in his stated desire not to play for the minimum salary.

Ulitmately the decision will come down to Kesiel’s willingness to play for less, and the calibration of youth and experience that Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and Johnny Mitchell desire.

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