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Dejan Kovacevic's Blog

Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Wakeup Call: Nowhere to run

INDIANAPOLIS – Some sporting thoughts before sunrise …

>> My Monday column is, of course, off the game here last night.

The running game, that is.

The line is going to take a lot of the heat over this, and they should. But let’s not exempt Rashard Mendenhall. I had an astronaut’s view of the game from way up in this press box, but it sure looked to me like there were holes that he was missing. It also looked like he was more interested in running 25 yards east or west rather than north.

>> Best line anyone had in the locker room came from Hines Ward: “We won, man. We’re not apologizing for winning ballgames.”

>> One tradition I’ve always enjoyed watching. After the game — whether it’s a win, loss or whatever this thing was — Dan Rooney, Art Rooney and Kevin Colbert go around to each stall to shake the hands of every single player.

Talk about old school

>> I see that Ryan Doumit never picked up a bat yesterday at PNC Park, so I’m guessing no one really had a chance to react to his years of service with the Pirates.

If you’re betting that Doumit will be back, I’m betting that you lose.

The team isn’t going to exercise Doumit’s dual club options for 2012-13, and if Doumit’s smart — he is — he’ll go out and test free agency. It’s a lousy year for catchers on the open market, which could be great for him.

>> People looking for signs about Sidney Crosby’s health based on the degree to which he participates in drills or scrimmages are overlooking the elephant in the room: The only degree that matters is being cleared for contact, then persevering through that contact. Everything else is eye-candy.

It is nice that he hasn’t missed a day of workouts yet. That does matter.

>> Todd Graham and Jim Tracy, separated at birth?

You know how I hate to bring up good predictions — I can always can on you to remember the bad — but it was at Pitt’s introductory news conference for their football coach that I called Graham reminding me much of Tracy and his passion for his system, his revolutionary methods, him, him, him. Fellow columnist Joe Starkey roasted Graham for this trait after the Notre Dame loss, and I wholeheartedly concur.

If players are failing to execute a system, that most likely means the players aren’t good enough to do so. It’s the coach’s responsibility to have the system match the talent, not the other way around.

And it’s never the domain of the coach keep throwing his players under the figurative bus as a way of defending that system.

Find a way to make it work, or it’s your fault, too.


  1. pensfan says:

    Disagree with your statements about Crosby. I learned a lot when my son had a vertibular concussion. With vestibular concussions, the recovery is not about being able to take a “hit” as his one doctor tried to convey. It is about after, or as, the brain heals, to complete exercises to repair and retrain the brain’s ability to process motion through rehab. Standard concussions are about rest until symptoms go away. Vestibular symptoms don’t just “go away or fix themselves with rest.”

    That is why it is critical that 87 participate in MOTION drills. If you missed the press conference, it was reported that at early summer 87 wasn’t able to integrate sight and movement (as his doctor explained, where he thought his arm was, wasn’t where his arm actually was)when he was accelerating on the ice…or as his agent explained it, he wasn’t able to be balanced skating… Being able to sort out and integrate the fast motions of game action is the main challenge. After 87 tests normal with those things, he can begin hitting…which is step that should go much faster than the Motion drills. Because his doctor is probably correct (even through it was apparently greatly misunderstood by everyone except Jory) in that 87’s brain has ‘healed’ and he could withstand a hit as well as any player…but until he rehabs his brain ability to ‘sense’ motion, he wont be able to play hockey without significant risk of new injury. Contact/hitting would be the primary benchmark if this was a standard cerebral concussion.

    Not understanding the risks with vestibular concussions is why folks say crazy things like “he should have try it last spring and see if he could play” or some such nonsense that has been on radio sports show. It’s clear Sid was NO WHERE CLOSE to returning last season, despite all the video etc.

    Also curious why no one has asked, or at least written about the Penguins failure to communicate how serious Crosby’s concussion was. As Dr. Collins said, he knew immediately there would be a lengthy recovery period when Crosby was reporting foggy-ness, headaches, light and noise sensitivity, difficulty thinking etc….yet the Pen’s announced he would be out “about a week” with a “mild concussion.”

  2. leefoo says:

    I agree with Ward. A win is a win. Tough game to watch, but we won.

    We were “Rolling in the doo doo”, but we came out with a win. A smelly win, but a win.


  3. Fat Jimmy says:

    DEJAN SAID: If players are failing to execute a system, that most likely means the players aren’t good enough to do so. It’s the coach’s responsibility to have the system match the talent, not the other way around.


    This is nonsense.

    Dejan, there is absolutely no correlation between a college football coach and a baseball manager. None. Zero. Zip. Clint Hurdle — or Tracy — have only limited influence over the personnel on the team (they may be able to influence the 24th or 25th men). They absolutely need to coach based on the talent they have.

    But Todd Graham has almost complete influence over the types of players that will come to Pitt. Just as the players who go to Alabama are “Nick Saban players” and the guys going to Penn State are “Joe Paterno players”. The head coach is all three branches of government. He’s king. And his style of play is what will help define the type of players that decide to come to that program in the future.

    Pitt is in a difficult situation this year. They aren’t making as natural a progression in coaching — such as West Virginia is going through. They are making a 180 degree turn. Building the airplane in mid air. They’re trying to establish a run-and-gun college spread offense with players recruited under a pro-style run offense.

    But what do you want Graham to do, line up in the I formation and run 70% of the time like Wandstedt did?

    Seriously. I don’t understand your point. Pitt was the national telecast at noon this past Saturday. It was a great opportunity to showcase the type of coach he will be so that kids that want and can play in his type of system will come to Pitt. Should he have lined up in the single wing?

    Pitt stinks. That’s why Wandstedt is gone. They would have stunk this year with Wanny’s I formation or with Graham’s high octane system. I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the losses this year, and I wouldn’t get on the coach. He’s going to be very good for Pitt.

  4. radio wave says:

    Isn’t the problem at pitt the fact that these players were recruited by a different coach for a different system?

  5. Fat Jimmy says:

    Radio, I’d say the problem is that a lot of these players at Pitt just aren’t very good, period. No one should be adapting their offense to suit Tino Sunseri.

  6. bdubb says:

    Totally agree about the Graham/Tracy comparison. Not even one “we gotta coach better” comment and he screwed up a few times Saturday with play calling.

    People always praise Kevin Gilbert for his unique way of signing under-the-radar free agents and of course his drafts. But this is now 2 years in a row with the offensive line being maybe the worst in the league. I know last night we had 2 young guys going up against the best dome DE rushers but come on. If you aren’t going to get a better line than you need to get a better back up qb cause Big Ben won’t make it at this rate

  7. PhillyJake says:

    DK’s point wasn’t about the system and the players.

    It was about accountability.

    Both coaches, according to DK, take the praise when things go well, and blame the players when things go wrong.

    That’s the point. Yeah, they’re someone else’s recruits. Do you run a system they can’t execute, then blame them ?

  8. Arriba Wilver says:

    Jimmy–you’re right about the difference in college football coaches and baseball managers. But this year, as radio pointed out, they are much closer since Graham hasn’t had a chance to people his system with his recruits. I don’t know what the answer is for this year, if he should be getting the players that will still continue to get with the system or adapting more (I suspect that latter), but for this year the comparison with Tracy is apt.

  9. Arriba Wilver says:

    One of my least favorite coaches from the “you fit my system” school of coaches is Kevin Gilbride, who tried to make Kordell Stewart to fit his vaunted system (how’d that work out?).

  10. Fat Jimmy says:

    You simply can’t compare college and pros, and you definitely can’t compare across sports. In the NHL, NBA and MLB, coaches are replacable and if your coach can’t adapt to the players on the team, you replace him. In the NFL, coaches are also replaceable, but the other difference is that you have finite resources. You get set, specified draft picks. You have a salary cap. There are only limited free agents available. You have to work with what you’ve got because changing your system is easier than getting new resources. You don’t try to fit a square peg through a round hole.

    But in college, resources are much more pleantiful and they are quickly replaced. If you try to fit a square peg through a round hole, it often will eventually fit (if the coach is good). Graham will have the opportunity to define the type of player he gets at Pitt, and it starts by demonstrating the type of system he will run.

    It’s ridiculous to ask him to change his system in his first year in order to adapt to the type of substandard player on Pitt today simply in the spirit of winning a couple additional games. Again, if the talent level at Pitt in 2011 was good enough to win the National Championship, Dave Wandstedt would not have been fired in the first place.

    If Graham changes his style to fit Tino Freakin Sunseri, he will have a more difficult time recruiting the RIGHT type of QB in the future. This isn’t the time to start running out of the offset I and pro set simply so Pitt can win 8 games instead of 6. Run your system. Show who you are. Build a brand. Talented kids will come to Pitt for the opportunity to run this offsense. Wait and see. But don’t compromise for a couple wins in 2011.

  11. Fat Jimmy says:

    Arriba, I completely agree about Gilbride. Look at Mike Tomlin, too: he grew up in a Tampa 2 system, but came to Pittsburgh with its talented 3-4 players and coaches and he adapted himself to fit the style of the team.

    But apples and oranges between pro and college.

  12. Fat Jimmy says:

    Just read DK’s column. My favorite line quote in the article:

    We’re a much more balanced team when we’re doing that, and it really opens up the middle of the field for me and Heath Miller to make catches, too.

    Read more: Kovacevic: Steelers have nowhere to run – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

    God bless, Hines. If the guy still believes that he is an intrical part of the offense, then Kym must have dropped him on his head a few too many times during their routines. One of the unspoken problems of the running game may be that — any time Hines is on the field — the other team knows two things: 1) We don’t need to worry about covering this guy 2) It’s probably a run. The truth is, after years of being a strong catalyst of the running game, Hines is possible part of the problem. Think about it: when he is one of two WRs, you only need to provide help on one of the two. You can cheat your other safety to the line, linebackers don’t need to worry about redirecting him, everyone on his side of the field can focus on stopping the run.

    He is an absolute liability in the field.

    It’s a shame that such a great career is going out with a whimper like this.

  13. Thundercrack says:

    Doumit has picked up his game the past few months. But besides being on the team more than most guys on the Pirates, what has he done special that we should “react to his years of service with the Pirates.”? I am assuming you want us to react favorable.

    I think he is a decent player who is much too injury prone. I also think he is a terrible defensive catcher. And I’ve heard stories that sometimes he might not be the greatest guy to have around. He is considered to be a ‘gritty’ player’. That is fine with me. He seems to be one of your favorites. But forgive me if I’m not going to give him a standing ovation .

    His play behind the plate has frustrated me for years. Way too many balls get behind him or clank off his glove. And I was there for the game against the Dodgers on September 1st when he didn’t hustle to recover a wild pitch and then had a complete brain freeze and held the ball while the base runners continued running around the bases—including another one crossed home plate.

    That sealed if for me.

  14. Drew71 says:

    To say it another way, in today’s NFL, you PASS to set up the RUN.

    Yes, it is a pass-first league now. But by passing effectively, as the Steelers mostly did yesterday, you open running lanes.

    Wait. Let me rephrase that. You SHOULD open running lanes.

    Then you throttle the other team in the second half with a running attack that gains momentum against a defense that can no longer load up one way or the other.

    This is not so new trend as we might think. I remember reading how the Bettis-Steelers ran better in the 4th Q. We USED to think that was JUST a brutal running game wearing out another team. Fine. So that was a factor. But it was ALSO the changing trend of NFL football – pass to set up the run – that we were not yet ready to acknowledge. Because we were, you know, Pittsburghers, even if Florida (or wherever) Pittsburghers as I am. Steeler Football and all that. And yes. I believed that too. Then.

    So it’s now pass to set up the run. Yes, there are pass only teams out there, some successful. In any era, there are exceptions. But the ones who have the One-Two punch – just now in a different order – have a natural and real advantage.

    And where does that leave “Our Steelers”?

    When the Steelers THEORETICALLY opened running lanes last night…when they pounded a team deep by airmail…they were not ABLE to take advantage. WERE NOT CAPABLE. When the field was now tipping in their favor, they COULD NOT run downhill.

    They won. I haven’t lost sight of that.

    Yet a little nagging voice inside my head keeps, ummm, nagging that the Steelers won’t always be so lucky as to play a team as bad as the Colts.

  15. @suckmeter says:

    It doesn’t suck the Rooneys quietly shake players hands in the locker room while owners like Jerry Jones and Arthur Blank stand on the sidelines mugging for the tv cameras.
    It sucks Todd Graham doesn’t adjust his system to match his players. If he coached basketball and had two 7 footers, he would go full court man to man instead of using a zone defense to take advantage of his size.

    Tomlin came to the Steelers, saw what they were doing worked, and kept the 3-4 defense. That’s good coaching.

  16. Milo Hamilton says:


    Kevin Gilbert ?

    Guess we’ll read about that in the media guide next summer.

  17. Drew71 says:

    Probably changed his name because most people finally figured out that that Gilbride guy stinks.

    And despite yesterday’s game, the Giants will figure it out too. Just as the 20 the other teams he has worked for eventually did.

    Sure, Buddy Ryan was wrong to slug Gilbride.

    Buddy shoulda done what many other coaches do.

    Leak insinuating stuff off the record.

  18. dcpinpgh says:

    Ryan Doumit in the pregame awards wasn’t even in uniform

  19. leefoo says:

    TC………if Ryan stays healthy, we have to ask if a good, defensive C who hit .230 is better than a poor defensive catcher who hits .280 with power.

    I will take the latter myself. IF he could only stay healthy!

    Btw, I can finally see the comments on Plus, but I keep getting a Network Error. I love Echo………NOT!!


    Can’t wait to see what top notch OLs we bring to camp now that Scott is hurt. Flozell? Max? Tunch??????


  20. Arriba Wilver says:

    I think bdubb meant to say Kevin Colbert (which I now pronounce Col-bear for some reason).

  21. Arriba Wilver says:

    “If Ryan could stay healthy.” That’s like saying if cows could fly. He hasn’t stayed healthy in all his years with the Bucs, why would that change now? It’s also like saying, if Cedeno could concentrate for full games and not have brain farts, like bunting with the bases loaded and sliding into first. Or like saying Paul would be a great pitcher if he didn’t have those bad innings and outings. They are what they are. You have to evaluate them on what they are, not what they would be except for their flaws.

  22. Naje says:

    In his last four games, Roethlisberger has allowed:
    — a pick-6
    — a fumble return for a TD
    — 8 turnovers

    Now, if Arians and Tomlin and the O-line coach and the offensive line and Roethlisberger think that that’s a good sign, they’re correct… it is a good sign, to a top 15 draft pick in 2012. Where they’ll probably pick a cornerback, or a linebacker rather than a quality offensive lineman of which they need a bunch… in quantity and in desire.

  23. Naje says:

    About the offensive line…

    The Cowher era featured guys that could drive block very well…they could get the team a yard, generally, when they really needed a yard. They also had running backs, at least two, that could get them that yard: Bettis and Haynes or Fu-Ma or a host of others.

    The linemen drafted since Arians took over, with the exception of Pouncey, profile as a bunch of stand-up and play patty-cakes types with a pass rusher. Too much retreat and not enough advance… too much finesse and not enough power.

    Kemoeatu used to be able to run that counter lead, but now that play takes three or four seconds to develop while Mr. Prancer just prances those pretty little feet deep in the backfield looking to run, not to open space, but right into a pile of defenders.

    Sit Mendenhall this week… he’s earned a spot on the bench. Sit him and start Redman/Moore and play those guys for a while. Sort of like his rookie year at Cincy: bench him early and he’ll get the message. Take the start away from him and he’ll get the message loud and clear: you don’t hit the holes–wherever said holes may be–you don’t play.

  24. Naterosboro says:

    @ Naje

    I’m not sure what you wanted Big Ben to do on the fumble 6 last night. Jonathon Scott literally didn’t even get a finger on Dwight Freeny. I know Ben holds the ball too long sometimes, but that one wasn’t his fault. He was about to deliver the ball when he was walloped.

    I’m certainly not obsolving him of blame in the offenses ‘not-so-good’ form here so far this season, but that one was NOT on the QB.

  25. Naterosboro says:

    @ DK

    I disagree whole-heartedly about Mendenhall (or at least about last night’s game). He needs SOMEBODY (ANYBODY) to block. Indianapolis’s DL was just causing havoc last night. He would get to the line of scrimmage, and there would be an Indy player waiting for him. He can’t be Barry Sanders all of the time. There were times when he tried to bounce the play last night after the interior hole was closed, only to find no space on the perimeter as the WRs weren’t blocking all that well. A running back is only as good as his O-line (to an extent). We all know the Steelers are very weak (and now weaker after last night) on the O-line. I’m not sure why you expect miracles?

  26. Naje says:

    Well, when Freeney got to him Nate, Roethlisberger actually had stared down the right side of the field and completely ignored that guy who was beating his left tackle all night.

    I understand not wanting to blame that on the qb, but he took the snap, looked to his right, looked again to his right and had a little more time than it may have appeared to either throw it away or make a play with his feet.

    I know that it would be very difficult to ask Roethlisberger to factor a poor showing by his offensive line because you don’t want that type of doubt creeping in.

    BUT, against speed rushers like Indy’s and against teams that know the Steelers offense very well (Baltimore, Cincy, Cleveland, New England, the Jets), AND on a fast surface in a controlled environment, you HAVE TO put those factors into your game plan and you have to execute with those realities in mind.

    It is uncanny to watch this team play so methodically, just plodding around in the running game and pass protection on the fast surfaces, and fail repeatedly to make adjustments or acknowledge that certain plays just won’t work.

    Example: did you see the sprint-draw off left tackle last night? The play that Barry Foster and Bettis gained hundreds, if not thousands of yards on? Prancing man was 8 yards behind the line just waiting for the lumbering J. Scott to get moving… he just stood behind him and got, what, 2 yards or so? The offensive line execution is wretched, but it now has to be factored in some manner for this team to avoid the turnovers and become a little more productive in terms of scoring.

  27. Naje says:

    Another factor to consider: the Arians factor. Like Mike Martz and many others who love to wing-it, Arians has to adjust this offense to give his qb a chance. AND, so does the quarterback… Roethlisberger has to adjust some of his game right now to protect himself and give his team an opportunity to produce more.

    In ’09, during that horrible 5 game spell, I remember the home loss to Cincy, 18-12… the offense inside the 12 yard line on four possessions and all four ended with field goals. The offense running pass plays that took eons to develop when the o-line was getting torched over and over. You have to adjust to these circumstances.

    Arians has yet to do that. Roethlisberger has yet to do that. And Mendy, really Nate, he’s got to stop dancing. You can’t give the ball to a guy who will take 12 steps behind the line of scrimmage as soon as he touches the ball. Commit to a spot and run hard. He did neither last night save for one play… the one play when he gained 15 yards.

  28. ExileInDC says:


  29. CWalton_67 says:

    Completely agree on Graham. The coach is the bullet catcher, he should be shielding his players from criticism, not deflecting it their way. He’s ultimately responsible for everything that happens for fails to happen. Inability to accept responsibility is a character flaw. We’ll see how long he lasts.

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