´ Steel Curtain Rising: August 2014

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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Richardson, Blanchflower and Moye Headline Steelers Practice Squad Signings

One day after cutting their roster down to the NFL-mandated limit of 53, the Pittsburgh Steelers filled out their preliminary practice squad.

Returning draftees are cornerback Shaquille Richardson and tight end Rob Blanchflower. These moves mean that all nine players taken in the 2014 NFL Draft return to the Steelers, with rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt having been placed on injured reserve last week.



The rest of the practice squad consists of defensive ends Josh Mauro and Nick Williams, wide receivers Derek Moye and C.J. Goodwin, outside linebacker Howard Jones, safety Ross Ventrone, running back Josh Harris and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

Return for Arnflet and So'oto Not in the Cards

When the Steelers made their initial roster cuts, Brian Arnfelt and  Vic So'oto were among the surprises. Brian Arnfelt had spent 14 games on the Steelers 2013 practice squad until getting activated for the final contests vs. Green Bay and Cleveland. Vic So'oto had surprised and impressed in training camp and preseason.
  • There was speculation that the Steelers cut both men early to give them a better shot at sticking on with another team, and if not bring them back via the practice squad.
However, as of yet, neither has been signed by another NFL club, and the Steelers did not invite either back to the practice squad.

Additional Roster, Practice Squad Moves Possible

While the Steelers 2014 53 man roster is complete along with the practice squad, the compesition of both groups is almost certain to change.

First the Steelers will likely make their injured reserve designation, with 4th round pick Matvias Bryant the likely candidate. That would open one roster spot which the team could fill with someone on the practice squad and/or with another player.

It is also highly possible if not likely that the Steelers will seek to upgrade at punter, where Brad Wing displayed good hang time and little else during preseason. Landry Jones also failed to impress during preseason, and could find himself unemployed if the Steelers decide to add a new third string quarterback.

In addition, the Steelers depth at outside linebacker is terribly thin, while the offensive line has little proven depth.


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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Chris Carter, Guy Whimper, Headline Steelers Cuts

The Pittsburgh Steelers cut 22 players today to get down to the NFL-mandated 53 man roster limit. The move included veteran Chris Carter whom the Steelers picked in the 2011 NFL Draft joined the team in 2011. Gerry Dulac had once touted Chris Carter as the steal of the 2011 draft. Alas, that never materialized.



Other names worthy of an eyebrow raise are Guy Whimper, who’d been rumored to be contending with Mike Adams for the 3rd tackle spot, Derek Moye, who held a roster spot during 2013, tight end David Paulson who started 2013 as the Steelers number two tight end.
  • Isaiah Green, who spent much of 2013 getting cut, signed to the practice squad, and cut again, was also released.
Draft Picks Saquille Richardson, Rob Blanchflower also got visits from The Turk, as did 2013’s 7th round pick Nick Williams and 2014 training camp stand outs linebacker Howard Jones and Josh Mauro.

Beyond that, the NFL dream ended (or at least got put on hold) for these other players:

Tight end Bryce Davis, defensive backs Dayonne Nunley, and Ross Ventrone, running backs Josh Harris and Stephen Houston. Defensive linemen Ethan Hemer and Roy Philon, linebacker Dan Molls. Wide receiver Lanear Sampson. Offensive linemen Will Simmons, and Graham Pocic. The Steelers also cut quarterback Brendon Kay.

Brown, Jones Make the Grade

Contrary to popular speculation, the Steelers did not decide to cut second year quarterback Landry Jones, although Jones struggled mightly through his second preseason. Justin Brown, a fellow member of the Steelers 2013 Draft Class, also made the team.

More Moves to Come

At the moment the Steelers are keeping Brad Wing as their punter, although Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert could very well be watching the wavier wire in search of a better option. The Steelers decision to sign B.W. Webb shows they’re ready to make other moves.

And the team must now fill out its practice squad, which it can do once all of the release players clear waivers.

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James Harrison Retires from Football, Steelers Nation Wishes Him Well

Former Pittsburgh Steelers All Pro Linebacker James Harrison has decided to call it a career and begin his life’s work.
No one serves as a better poster boy for Colbert’s ability to find diamonds in the discarded and unwanted than James Harrison, who first joined the Steelers in 2002 and survived numerous cuts. He only made the regular season roster in 2004, but made an impact immediately with his body slam of a drunken Cleveland Browns fan.

Still, Harrison had to work behind Joey Porter and Clark Haggans, and did not get his chance to start until Bill Cowher made way for Mike Tomlin.
That was only the beginning for Harrison, who followed up that 2007 season by winning Defensive Player of the year in 2008, and authored what is perhaps the most remarkable play in Super Bowl history during the Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

james harrison super bowl touchdown pick six steelers cardinals
James Harrison, Super Bowl XLIII

Harrison struggled with a series of injuries following 2008, but he remained one of the league’s dominant outside linebackers during the rest of his time in Pittsburgh. Following the 2012 season, Harrison rebuffed the Steelers attempt to renegotiate his contract and the Steelers cut him, and played one final year in Cincinnati for Marv Lewis.

As a free agent this spring, Harrison openly spoke about wanting to return to Pittsburgh for a final year, and Kevin Colbert appeared to open that door. But nothing materialized as the Steelers instead opted to make a commitment to youth on defense.
  • Harrison did flirt with the idea of playing for Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals, but he instead chose retirement citing a desire to be close to his family.
As Steel Curtain Rising has mentioned before, Harrison didn’t simply live up to the Steelers Linebacker Legacy, he added his own contribution to it. And for that, Steelers Nation will forever be in his debt.

Thank you James. Good luck and God Speed as you begin your Life’s Work.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Steelers Place Zumwalt on IR; Sign B.W. Webb

It’s Less than 24 hours before the all NFL teams must trim their roster to the mandatory 53 man but the Pittsburgh Steelers are already making moves, including one surprise.

First, the Steelers placed rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt on injured reserve, ending his season before it started. The Steelers drafted Zumwalt in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft and was expected to push veteran Chris Carter for a roster spot. However, Zumwalt got injured early in camp and never got a fair chance to compete.



The Steelers next move was a surprise when they signed former Dallas Cowboys corner B.W. Webb. Webb was a former 2013 fourth round pick by the Cowboys. Webb appeared in 15 games as a rookie, but was eventually benched and ultimately cut by Dallas.

The move clearly signals that the Steelers are concerned about their depth at cornerback. Behind Ike Taylor, William Gay, and Cortez Allen, the Steelers only have  Brice McCain and Antwon Blake in addition to rookie Shaquille Richardson who the Steelers drafted in the 5th round.

Either McCain or Blake’s roster spots could be in jeporady, or the move could signal Richardson is to be released and/or put on injured reserve.

Contract for Cortez or No…?

During training camp and preseason, the Steelers have been rumored to be interested in signing Cortez Allen to a long-term deal. Steelers President Art Rooney II indicated the Steelers are interested in coming to terms with players before the season starts, but is not sure there is time.

Since 1993 the Steelers have had a regular season contract negotiation black out, so if no deal is reached, Allen will play out the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers selected Allen in the 4th round of the 2011 draft.

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Steelers Lose 10-0 to Carolina; Finish Preseason @ 1-3

Last year the Steelers turned in their first winless preseason effort since 2006 and followed that effort by going 0-4 and then 2-6 in the regular season. The Steelers of course turned it around in the second half of 2013 with a 6-2 record giving fans hope for 2014.

Since then the Steelers have had their most active free agency period in history and a draft where they departed from the “script” many had ordained for them. A 10-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers has left them at 1-3 during the preseason, their second losing preseason effort under Mike Tomlin.
  • 2013 4th round pick Landry Jones started for two and a half quarters, and while he completed 14 of 18 passes, he failed to lead the team to a score. Fourth string quarterback Brendon Kay could do no better. 
The Steelers played the entire game without the benefit of starters Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Antonio Brown, Troy Polamalu, Cortez Allen, Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Worilds and Heath Miller.

History of Past 1-3 Steelers Preseasons Yield Mixed Reading

As a rule, preseason results are meaningless, and little can be taken from the outcomes of games; this fact is truer now than ever, as starters play less and less with each passing season. However, the Steelers last 1-3 effort in 2003 foreshadowed a 6-10 season just has it had in 1999.

However, in 1994 the Steelers finished 1-3 in the preseason an finished one errant Neil O'Donnell pass to Eric Greene away from the Super Bowl.
  • Likewise the Steelers began their 1995 effort with an 1-3 campaign, and finished two O’Donnell interceptions  away from an upset in Super Bowl XXX (not that we’re pointing fingers, folks.)
For the record, Chuck Noll’s last two 1-3 preseason efforts were followed by mediocre seasons in 1985 and 1986.

Next Step, Cut Rosters to 53

The Steelers next step will be to trim their rosters to 53. A number of minor injures from the Panther game may force the Steelers to do some juggling, but no major surprises are expected (which of course makes no sense, as if we expected it, it wouldn’t be a surprise!)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Are Mike Mitchell's "Growing Pains" a Cause for Concern?

Jerome Bettis rushing debt with the Pittsburgh Steelers amounted to all of 57 yards. In all fairness to Bettis, the should be Hall of Famer:
  • His average was good and the Steelers spent the day playing from behind…
  • AND the Jim Miller experiment as a starter had last all of 2 quarters…
  • AND Greg Lloyd had just been lost for the season…
  • AND injuries to the linebacking corps were so severe that coaches were talking 4-3 for week 2.
To understand the last factoid in its full context, consider that the Steelers had kept 10 linebackers on their opening day roster. Suffice to say, by the chaos generated during one awful afternoon in Jacksonville certainly muted any cries of “Bettis is a bust.”

This entire preamble is necessary to establish that 3 preseason is woefully insufficient to make any sweeping pronouncements on the success or failure of a free agent.
  • But with that said, Michael Mitchell’s play does warrant a few caution flags.
The Steelers 2014 off season free agent signing spree notwithstanding, Pittsburgh has always been a quality not quantity free agent player. They don’t make many moves often, but when they do, they do it with a bang. Think Kevin Greene. Think John L. Williams. Think Will Wolford. Think Wayne Gandy (NOT!) Think Kimo von Oelhoffen. Think the man Mitchell replaces, Ryan Clark.


So when Kevin Colbert broke character and made a day one, big money free agency signing with Mike Mitchell, fans can be forgiven for assuming an automatic upgrade was in place.
  • And Mitchell may prove to be an upgrade.
Except that one of the first plays yours truly observed in the Steelers preseason loss to the Eagles was Mike Mitchell making a sloppy effort and missing a tackle (to be fair, he wasn’t the only one.) And the numbers show that in preseason the Steelers run defense is even worse than it was in 2013.
  • Of course you don’t normally point fingers at the safeties when run defense falters.
They are, as the position title suggests, the last line of defense. But the Steelers have given up long runs in bunches, and a big part of a free safety’s responsibility is to prevent that. How did that work out vs. Philadelphia?
  • The Eagles have five running backs make at least one run of 15 yards or longer.
Transparency demands that I confess that the second half of the Steelers-Eagles preseason game is the only preseason action I’ve observed. But others have picked up on Mitchell’s struggles. ESPN’s Scott Brown observed that Mitchell has been “shaky.”

Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review quoted fellow safety Will Allen Mitchell as going through as “growing pains” in the 4-3 to 3-4 transition. Mitchell denied that he and Troy Polamalu were having difficulty getting on the same page.

Although Paulk says that Mitchell has delivered a “mix bag of good, bad and indifference,” Mitchell attitude is in the right place. Discussing his play vs. Philadelphia, he offered:
It's a bitter taste in your mouth because you don't want to play like that. It was a great learning experience for us. You don't learn a lot about yourself when you win, but you learn a lot when you lose.
That’s exactly what we need to hear from Mitchell. While Ryan Clark made news for the headlines he made off the field, the truth is that he was the Steelers most consistent defender from 2010 to 2012, and his slowing a step hurt the defense immensely in 2013.

It is unfair to expect him to do everything Clark did, but Mike Mitchell is one free agent acquisition the Steelers need to work out.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brian Arnfelt, Vic So'oto, Eric Waters Lead Steelers 1st Cuts

The Pittsburgh Steelers trimmed down their roster today to 75 players per NFL regulations, and the cuts included some surprises.
  • The Turk made two rounds at the South Side today. 
During the first wave he visited outside linebacker Vic So'oto, tight end Eric Waters, defensive backs Jordan Dangerfield, Lew Toler and Devin Smith, wide receivers C.J. Goodwin and Kashif Moore, and running backs Miguel Maysonet and Jordan Hall.
  • That left six more players for the Steelers to cut.
Before the day was over, the Turk darkened the doors of offensive lineman Chris Elkins, Emmanuel McCray, nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, defensive end Brian Arnfelt, long snapper Luke Ingram and running back Tauren Poole.

Luke Ingram's release is a possible sign that the Steelers anticipate having the services of Greg Warren for their season opener vs. Cleveland. Warren tore his meniscus during training camp, and his status for the beginning of the regular season has been in doubt.

The biggest surprises were Eric Waters, who was hampered by his inability to stay healthy, and Vic So’oto who forced two fumbles in the preseason opener.



Arnfelt represents another surprise, as he did a full year on the Steelers practice squad until getting activated at season’s end. Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola even went as far as to compare Arnfelt to a young Chris Hoke.
The Steelers will play their final preseason game vs. Carolina on Thursday, and must trip their rosters down to 53 by August 31st.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Mike Tomlin Must Pair Le'Veon Bell with Right Mentor

The ebb and flow of Steelers news last week couldn’t have provided a sharper contrast. On Wednesday, news broke that Brett Keisel had resigned with the team. The move won adulation from both fans and press alike that Da’Beard would be back.



Thursday arrived with the shocking revelation that Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount had been arrested for marijuana, a move which seemingly threw the team into a tail spin as the Steelers came up small in their big preseason test vs. the Eagles.
  • But perhaps the two events aren’t as juxtaposed as it first appears.
While the Steelers have clarified that Brett Keisel will start, part of the reason for his presence is to mentor younger lineman such as second round pick Stephon Tuitt and 6th round pick Daniel McCullers. In that sense, it seems appropriate that these two events would coincide as it seems that Le'Veon Bell could benefit from a mentor of his own.

Mentorship in the NFL

Mentorship in the NFL takes on many forms. Sometimes it involves old hands showing rookies the ropes, a role that Jerome Bettis took upon himself with rookie Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Other times it involves an established starter instilling the necessary work ethic in a younger player, as Hines Ward did with Plaxico Burress in 2001.
  • Other times it involves a player enforcing attitude adjustments.
Steelers assistant Jerry Olsavsky has recounted how, after making a tackle as a rookie on the 1989 Steelers, he extended an hand up to the opposing ball carrier, only to have Greg Lloyd slap it away, commanding “We don’t do that here!”
  • And sometimes mentors role model off the field behavior.
It is said that early in the Tomlin era, Charlie Batch took Roethlisberger aside and had a heart to heart about Big Ben getting too big for his britches inside the locker room. But it can go beyond that.

Rod Woodson arrived in Pittsburgh as a cocksure first round draft pick. It would be impossible to say he rubbed his teammates the wrong way during his first training camp, because he wasn’t there – he held out all through camp and for the season’s first 8 games.
  • Such behavior couldn’t have endeared him to Chuck Noll or Dan Rooney
But there were other, more ominous signs. As recounted by Ed Bouchette in his book Dawn of a New Steel Age, Woodson ran with the fast crowd, and frequently socialized with bad boy Delton Hall. One of the steps the Steelers took was to pair Dwayne Woodruff and Rod Woodson as roommates on road trips.

Woodruff of course was the remaining defensive veteran from the Super Steelers and was in the process of finishing his law degree at Duquesne Law. It is impossible to know how much influence Woodruff had on Woodson, but Woodson clearly got the message. He never caused off the field distractions, and blossomed into a Hall of Famer.

Who Should Toll the Bell?

The life of an NFL running back has always been short, and is only getting shorter. Le’Veon Bell came to the Steelers with a certain sense of bravado, as evidence by his first somersault touchdown. A little bravado is a good thing, but it can quickly degenerate into arrogance. And arrogance can derail a career.
  • If Bell’s comments about not knowing he could get a DWU for driving while stoned are any indication, the young man has a lot to learn about life.
Since his arrival, LeGarrette Blount has been nearly inseparable from Bell. That is not to suggest that Blount is responsible for Bell’s transgression. But as Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review points out, Blount had discipline issues which kept him from being drafted.
  • Off the field mentoring offers  no guarantee that the mentoree will not go astray.
During 1995, Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell noticed that Bam Morris was hanging with the wrong crowd. He offered to help Morris, even inviting him to come and live at his home. Morris ignored the request for help and was arrested for marijuana and cocaine possession just months after Super Bowl XXX.

But that doesn’t mean the Mike Tomlin shouldn’t try to surround Bell with a positive influence by pairing him on the road with someone such as say, Heath Miller or Ike Taylor, player knows what it takes to get a Super Bowl ring.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steelers Nation Hails Isaac Redman, Wishes "RedZone" Well in Retirement

Isaac Redman’s most memorable play in Pittsburgh serves as the perfect metaphor for his career.
  • The play itself came in a key AFC North Showdown Sunday, December 5th at Baltimore. 
With Pittsburgh down 10-6 and under four minutes remaining, Troy Polamalu strip-sacked Joe Flacco. LaMarr Woodley recovered, returning it to the nine. Pass attempts to Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward fell short. In between, Terell Suggs broke Ben Roethlisberger’s nose.

Its 3rd and 9. Isaac Redman shows up in the huddle – he’s not even supposed to be one the field, but it’s too late, he must stay in. Ball is snapped. Redman “Goes out and gets open” here’s what happened (available as of 8/24/14):



Unfortunately, thanks to Roger Goodell’s You Tube Police, we lack a better quality video. But a high-quality video isn’t necessary to capture the essence of Isaac Redman:
  • He wasn’t  supposed to be there, yet with dogged determination he defied the odds to impose his will. 
Isaac Redman, the undrafted rookie free agent who took Steelers Nation by storm in during the Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 training camp, retired from football last week 10 months after his release from the Steelers.

Isaac Redman, from Undrafted Free Agent to Steelers Nation Cult Hero

Even on the Steelers, a franchise crafted on giving undrafted rookie free agents a fair shake, these players face long odds. That’s especially true when they’re trying to make the roster of a defending Super Bowl Champion.
  • None of that deterred Isaac Redman.
Maryland’s Bowie State University will never serve as an NFL launching pad, but Redman’s career there earned him the school’s all time rushing title, and that landed him a spot in the Steelers 2009 undrafted rookie free agent class.

In the 21st century NFL training camps have become fairly mundane affairs, with contact minimized to a level that might perhaps make them unrecognizable to their form during Chuck Noll’s heyday. At St. Vincent’s, under Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, the goal line drill offers a contrast.
  • Redman got his shot in the goal line drill and scored twice. 
Tomlin saw enough to give him a shot in the team’s first preseason game vs. Arizona, and Redman scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Redman didn’t fare as well in the team’s next two preseason games, but led the team in rushing in the preseason finale vs. Carolina, and scored another touchdown.
  • Still, it wasn’t enough to make the team.
Mike Tomlin opted to give roster spots to Frank Summers and Stefan Logan. The Steelers instead signed Redman to the practice squad, where he’d be released and activated several times during the 2009 season.

From Cult Hero to Solid Backup

While Steelers management had taken a “Wait and see” attitude, Steelers Nation fell head over heels for “RedZone Redman.” He might have entered training camp behind 2010's 6th round draft pick Jonathan Dwyer on the depth chart, but that did nothing to deter fans.

To wit, when Behind the Steel Curtain polled asking fans who should win the training camp quarterback derby between Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, and Charlie Batch, BTSC jokingly included Redman’s name, and Redman did well.

With a practice squad apprenticeship under his belt, Redman not only beat out Frank “The Tank” summers for a roster spot, but served as Mendenhall’s top backup for the year. If Redman lacked the speed and athleticism of Mendenhall, he was a bruising runner between the tackles who excelled at yards after contact.
  • He didn’t start any games in 2010, but saw carries in all 15 save for the mid-season speaking administered by New England.
By early 2011, Redman’s workman like performances had fans calling for him to start ahead of Mendenhall. By season’s end, Mendenhall’s ACL tear vs. the Browns gave fans their wish. Redman closed the game with 92 yards rushing, and gained 121 in the Tebowing suffered by the Steelers in Denver.

2012 Opportunity Slips Away

With Mendenhall recovering from his ACL, and Jonathan Dwyer consistently inconsistent, the stage was set for Redman to seize the starting role.
  • Yet, that didn’t happen.
Redman injured in groin in training camp, and neglected to tell the trainers about it. The team hurriedly activated Mendenhall from IR.  Redman started the Steelers first three games but was ineffective. An injury vs. Tennessee kept him out for the next two weeks.
  • Nonetheless, destiny gave Redman a final moment of glory.
Injuries thrust Redman back into the starting role in week 8 vs. the Giants, where he exploded for 147 yards rushing. He got another start the following week, but was ineffective. He played out the rest of the season, delivering his greatest impact vs. Baltimore.

2013 Redman’s Ride Reaches an Unceremonious End

Rookie Le’Veon Bell’s lisfranc injury and Jonathan Dwyer’s waiver made Redman the Steelers opening day starter in 2013. He promptly fumbled away his first carry and did nothing to redeem himself. A week later he suffered a concussion vs. Cincinnati, and later admitted to lying about it. Bell and Dwyer’s return saw Redman relegated to the bench, then the inactive list.
Yet in spite of his on the field accomplishments and former cult-hero status, the news wasn’t the bombshell it should have been. The press wrote very little about his departure. Fans didn’t care.

When yours truly suggested the team grant Redman a second chance in the offseason, fan reaction ranged from indifferent to hostile, and just plain hostile after Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s arrest.
  • Yet there seemed to be a 2+2 = 3 nature to Redman’s story.
Not only did the Steelers fail to show interest in resigning him, his name simply didn’t surface. Last Friday Redman revealed why on Twitter:
Apparently, during those final eight games, Redman suffered a neck injury that went unreported. We’ll never know if he could have saved his career by admitting to his injury. Either way, Redman’s time came to an unfortunate end.

But, as ESPN’s Scott Brown remembered “Isaac Redman gave the Steelers his all.” Steel Curtain Rising thanks Redman for his service and wishes him the best in retirement.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Steelers Come Up Small in Big Test vs. Philly

Since early in the Bill Cowher era, the third preseason game has been the Steelers “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Mike Tomlin has followed suit, and he went as far as to say he was looking testing the no huddle in a hostile environment.
  • In the first big test of the 2014 the Steelers came up small. Very, very small.
The offensive line gave Ben Roethlisberger good protection, yet he was off target and inaccurate, although Antonio Brown and Heath Miller did save a couple of his cookies from the fire. Justin Brown, the “OTA sensation” was out of place drawing Roethlisberger’s ire. Derek Moye dropped the one pass thrown his way.
  • As bad as the offense was, the Steelers defense was worse.
Nick Foles had all night to throw – neither Jason Worilds (before he got injured, again) nor Jarvis Jones generated any pressure, and shredded the Steelers defense despite missing on several throws. Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen were both flagged multiple times.
  • But worse yet Philadelphia was more physical than Pittsburgh.
Both Michael Mitchell and Ryan Shazier, supposedly two key upgrades to the 2014 edition of the Steelers, missed easy tackles that then went for long gains.

But the truth is the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were playing in a purple haze vs. Philadelphia.


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bell and Blount's Arrests Obscure Surprise that Comes with Keisel's Return

The haze over Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s arrests helped obscure the fact that the Brett Keisel’s return to the Steelers came with a surprise. The first was that the Steelers had signed Brett Keisel to a two year deal, which is not what you’d expect for player about to turn 36.

However, the length of the contract is little more than salary cap maneuvering as explained by Jim Wexell:
Talk of bonuses naturally leads one to ask about the nature of the deal, which led to another exchange:

The other big piece of news was that the Steelers wasted little time in putting Kesiel back at his old spot on the depth chart, at starting right end, sending sent Cameron Heyward back to the left side. ESPN’s Scott Brown was among the first to report the change, although he pointed out that Mike Tomlin pays “scant attention” to during the preseason.

But Brown did indicate that the Steelers clearly had not brought back Kesiel to serve in a sort of “player-coach” mentoring role. Jim Wexell took the story further by reporting that:
I'm finding out, didn't come back to be a reserve. He'll likely be a starter at some point, but whether it's in two-and-a-half weeks for the opener is up to his conditioning.
So not only will Kesiel not be a mentor, but he will also be getting a lot more than the sort of spot duties that Jerome Bettis got in 2005.

While the move does appear to be a “set back” of sorts for a defense committed to getting younger, it does make sense, at least on paper. As discussed on Behind the Steel Curtain, rookies rarely play and never start for Johnny Mitchell, except those named Casey Hampton (ok, Brensten Buckner was another exception, but he didn’t pan out long term).

That rules out Stephon Tuitt, the second rounder from Notre Dame. Cam Thomas would seem to be the “loser” in this scenario, but the fact is that he is needed to back up Steve McLendon in the middle, a situation made all the more urgent by the Steelers decision to cut Hebron Fangupo to make room for Kesiel. In essence, Cam Thomas becomes the new Al Woods.

In the abstract this all works out perfectly, but Keisel's play on the field will ultimately vindicate Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell's decision to start him.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount Arrested on Drug Charges, DWU....

For 24 hours Steelers Nation basked in the glory of the decision to resign Brett Kesiel. The 2014 off season, it seemed, had been a picture of excellence. It had been free of the damming, judicial, distractions of the 2010 off season and the salary cap problems and painful veteran departures which came in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
  • Alas, the calm was not to be.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting that Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount have been arrested for marijuana possession. Bell faces a potential additional charge of driving under the influence of marijuana and possibly a DWU, according to Colin Dunlap.
  • The Steelers Le’Backfield has the potential to be devastated before the season even starts.
If the charges are substantiated, in addition to their legal woes, both players will find themselves afoul of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. As Steel Curtain Rising has documented, Roger Goodell’s NFL justice has been anything but consistent.

While Ray Rice got a mere 2 game suspension for domestic abuse, a substance abuse violation can result in a 4 game suspension. This does not bode well for the Steelers.
  • Ben Roethlisberger's looks poised to get his desire for a more pass-oriented offense. And then some.
Blount and Bell are the only two Steelers running backs with an NFL carry to their names. Rookie Dri Archer has looked promising in preseason, but lacks a feature back frame….

Earlier in the off season yours truly suggested the Steelers should give Isaac Redman a second chance. Needless to say Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were not similarly inclined.

But I’d bet someone with Isaac Redman’s resume would be looking pretty good on the depth chart right about now….

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Steelers Resign Brett Keisel; Da Beard Back for Final Year

The Pittsburgh Steelers today answered what has perhaps the biggest question of the 2014 off season  “What would the Steelers do about Brett Keisel?” by resigning the veteran defensive end to a one-year deal.
Entering free agency, Kesiel made twin vows – One that his playing days were not over, and two that he didn’t see himself making the minimum salary.
  • The free agency period started and the Steelers almost immediately lost Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, their numbers 3 and 4 defensive ends. 
While the Steelers did add Cam Thomas, Kevin Colbert immediately pronounced him to be a back up. And still, Kesiel got no offers. The Steelers further muddied the situation by drafting Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Jim Wexell predicted Keisel would get lost in the numbers game, while Scott Brown revealed that Heath Miller told him “Keisel’s not here yet” and Dale Lolley informed Steelers Nation that the Steelers never cleaned out 99’s locker.
  • Yet, during OTA’s Cameron Heyward moved to left defensive end, and remained their through out training camp.
Perhaps it took Bruce Arian’s attempt to entice Keisel to come to Pittsburgh West, perhaps it was their plan along, but the Steelers committed to bringing back Keisel for one final year.
  • In the final analysis, this is a smart football move. 
Brett Kesiel’s best days are behind him, but he clearly showed last season that he has something left to contribute on the field, and the leadership that Kesiel will bring off the field remains priceless.

Keisel's Return Creates Numbers Game on the Defensive Line

While no set role has been announced, Mike Tomlin did commit to continuing to rotate his defensive ends.

The safe money says that Kesiel will remain the nominal starter, but quickly yield to the younger players behind him and if that happens, he'll be playing a role similar to the one that Jerome Bettis played in the 2005 season that culminated in Super Bowl XL.
  • And one of those younger players just found his claim on a roster spot a lot more complicated.
Two Steelers rookies, 6th round pick Daniel McCullers and undrafted rookie free agent Josh Mauro, are hoping to make the team, in addition to 2013 7th round pick Nick Williams and practice squad stand out Brian Arnfelt.

Prior to the news of Keisel's resigning, veteran journalist Dale Lolley predicted that the Steelers would only keep 6 lineman, and that Williams and Arnfelt would be the odd men out. Now it looks like someone else will join them.

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Steelers Resign Marcus Gilbert to 5 Year, 30 Million Dollar Contract

When starting right tackle Willie Colon went down on opening day 2011 in the Debacle at Baltimore, many in Steelers Nation expected Kevin Colbert to head to the red phone for Flozell Adams. Adams, turned the table and offered his services to the Steelers, but the response was “No thanks.”
In starting Gilbert doing so, the they made a deliberate shift away from the “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building that plagued the Steelers during the Mike Tomlin era. (OK, they only stuck with Jonathan Scott for few weeks more, before deciding to bring Max Starks back.)
  • Today the Steelers reaffirmed that commitment, whey the resigned Gilbert to a 6 year 30 million dollar contract with 7.65 million signing bonus.
The move marks a stunning turnaround for the Steelers attitude towards Marcus Gilbert. Although has started 34 of the Steelers last 36 games, poor play early in 2013 forced Mike Tomlin to rotate Kelvin Beachum at both tackle slots in the Steelers loss to Chicago.


However, the Steelers have seen enough of Gilbert to offer him a long term contract, and one must assume that new offensive line coach Mike Munchak had input on the decision.
Adams has not pushed either Gilbert or Beachum for a starting spot, and according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Alan Robinson, is competing with Guy Whimper for the Steelers number 3 tackle position.

Third Offensive Lineman Resigned

Following the 2009 season the Steelers began a commitment to rebuilding their offensive line by picking Maurkice Pouncey in the 1st round of the 2010 draft. Earlier this spring the Steelers resigned Pouncey to a 48 million dollar, six year deal. Gilbert is the third lineman resigned during this rebuilding phase, with the second being Ramon Foster, who signed a 3 year deal in 2013.

All of this good cheer round Gilbert's deal must come with a caveat.
  • While the Steelers intentions at right tackle are clear, recent history suggests reality often fails to match intentions.
During the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers have signed a full starting line up on the offensive line (Max Starks, Jonathan Scott, Sean Mahan, Justin Hartwig, Chris Kemoeatu, and Willie Colon), only to cut them well before their contracts expired....

Defense to Get Some Love?

In addition to Pouncey and Gilbert, the Shaun Suisham is the only other Steelers summer contract negotiation. It’s been widely suggested the Cortez Allen would get a new deal, but that has yet to materialize.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shazier Sizzles as Steelers Defeat Bills in Preseason @ Heinz Field

There was much to like about the Steelers 19-16 victory over Buffalo at Heinz Field, Saturday night.
After missing the Steelers first exhibition game last week at MetLife Stadium in New York with a knee bruise, Shazier started at inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons against the Bills and immediately made it clear why his new team is expecting so much of him so soon. 

Shazier was credited with 11 solo tackles, a pass defensed, and, in a play that maybe demonstrated the kind of difference-maker he can be, Shazier (OK, its ONLY preseason, but he's looking very much like safety Troy Polamalu) intercepted a pass down the middle that was intended for Bills' tight end Scott Chandler and returned it into Pittsburgh territory. 

The Steelers quickly capitalized on Shazier's "splash play" and capped a 37 yard scoring drive when Ben Roethlisberger connected with second year receiver Markus Wheaton on a 16 yard touchdown pass to take a 13-3 first quarter lead. 

It was the second touchdown pass of the first quarter for Roethlisberger, who connected with star receiver Antonio Brown for a 76 yard score on Pittsburgh's second offensive play after the Bills took a 3-0 lead on their first series of the night. 
  • In game-action that actually extended into the second quarter, Roethlisberger, working extensively from his coveted no-huddle formation, went 8 of 11 for 128 yards and the two scoring passes. 
It wasn't a great night for Pittsburgh's second and third string quarterbacks--Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones, respectively--who combined for 100 passing yards and three turnovers. 

For Jones, the Steelers fourth round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2013 NFL Draft,  it was an especially difficult night, as he threw an INT and fumbled while being sacked after replacing Roethlisberger in the second quarter. 
  • Trailing 13-6 midway through the third quarter, the Bills tied the score on an Anthony Dixon one yard touchdown run. 
In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh re-took the lead on a 48 yard field goal by Shaun Suisham that was the culmination of a 31 yard scoring drive led by Gradkowski. 

With the game tied again in the waning seconds, and with overtime almost a certainty, Steelers reserve linebacker Vic So'oto sacked Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel and forced a fumble that fellow linebacker Howard Jones scooped up and returned to the Bills' one yard line with 15 seconds remaining. 

Two plays later, Suisham connected on a 20 yard field goal as time expired to give the Steelers their first exhibition victory since 2012.

Next up for the Steelers is a date in Philadelphia Thursday night against the Eagles. 

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