Blogs | Sports | News
Dejan Kovacevic's Blog

Pittsburgh sports talk with the Trib columnist

Three weeks to Steelers camp

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

In exactly three weeks, the Steelers will take to the practice fields at Saint Vincent.

Fun question for the morning I’ll open to the group: Who is the one player who most needs to step up for the team to improve into 10-plus wins and contending?

Couple qualifiers:

1. No LaMarr Woodley. Too obvious.

2. This isn’t who’s the most important player. It’s who needs to elevate his game.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. Dave in Ross says:

    I’ll give you two in order of importance: Antonio Brown and then any RB to steadily produce.

  2. Ghost says:

    Troy, or whoever may have to fill in for him when he pulls one of his muscles. Could this year be the beginning of the Shamarko Thomas era?


    I really wish I could be around when all the fun takes place here during the daytime. NMR, you do have spunk. A bit like the Black Knight in the Holy Grail, though. I’ll only add that for someone who has posted volumes about statistical sample sizes, it sure seems like you now switched sides in trying to evaluate “the pitcher Gerrit Cole… this season.” With only five games under his belt?? If I’m there’s some nuance here I am missing, please do correct me.

  3. Ed in Denver, PA says:

    Hard to single out any one player as it takes a team –

    First, Big Ben will need to do three things: Stay and play healthy, play team centered offense, and continue to improvise as needed. When the team offense was the star during his second season, the Steelers were close to being undefeated. When Ben is forced or chooses to be the main focus every series, it is quite often successful but not sustainable for an entire game.

    Second, the starting running back. The offensive line has young first and second round draft picks, a new coach for new techniques and strategies and hopefully fewer injuries (see Buffalo Bills under Kugler), and Todd Haley’s magical second year (see Cardinals and Chiefs). It’s time to watch the (Harris / Blier, Bettis / Kreider, Parker / Zeroe) history recycle: plus three, plus three, extra push plus four – first down! Here’s to Bell / Redman, Bell / Johnson or Bell / Dwyer taking part of the stage from Ben.

    Lastly, the starting tight end (assuming Heath Miller is still recovering) will need to elevate to the blocking – catching status set by H.M.

    Go Steelers!

  4. Jim S. says:

    Ok, outside of LW …

    I’ll go with the offensive line as a unit for my top selection. I think there is talent there, and we certainly have invested a great deal of money and picks in upgrading the line to a more talented and young unit. But, I am so sick of watching them all go down, one after another, game by game every season like bowling pins. And if Marcus Gilbert is going to keep falling on his teammates and injuring them, I would prefer that he be sent packing. I realize offensive line is a very hazardous position, and injuries are unavoidable. But, there are teams that stay somewhat healthy at that position throughout the season. We finally need to be one of those teams this year.

    My honorable mention goes to the tag team of Ziggy and Cam. Time to step up, boys! You have talent, and now it is put up or shut up time.

    The one player who will step up, even though he may have been an afterthought for the last few seasons, is Steve McLendon. I don’t know what it is about this guy, but he just makes plays and spends a whole lot of time in the opponents’ backfield. Nose tackles are not supposed to be in the QBs face very often, and this guy does that a lot. Maybe he is better suited to rush the QB than clog the middle, but he seemed a lot more productive than he was given credit for the last 2 seasons. I am very thankful they resigned Steve.

  5. Drew71 says:

    That’s easy.


  6. Jim S. says:

    A couple Bucs thoughts from yesterday:

    Either Jeff Locke or Francisco Liriano should be on the AS team. They have both been outstanding. Neither was counted on to be one of our top pitchers this year, but they may be 1-2 so far.

    And, no one asked me, but Pedro is an AS. Take a look at the competition at 3b. His power stats dwarf their stats, and he is now up to .243 I think. He has made some errors, but he has also made some truly great plays at 3b this year. He made one at SS yesterday on an overshift that was terrific. I will say, though, that he did have a mental lapse on the one shift where he allowed the runner to go from 1st to 3rd. But, overall, he is now a pretty good 3b.

    I love that the Bucs are now the team that quite often makes the opponent look silly from a fundamentals standpoint. We still have our glaring baserunning gaffes too often, but the defense is stellar most days. Yesterday, the defense was a thing of beauty. We also ran all over the Cubs’ pitchers and catchers. Just a great game to watch by a very confident team.

    As for the overshifts, I know this is a sticky subject with a lot of purists. I get that. It takes awhile for something like this to take hold and be accepted by everyone. I have struggled with it the last few years as well. But, it is here to stay by nearly every team already, and it will be more pervasive for all teams within 2 years. So, we may as well be the team who gets it right first. It is simply a matter of playing the odds. It doesn’t work every time, and it is very easy to criticize when it doesn’t work as opposed to praising it when it does work. But, casinos play the odds every day, and in the long run it pays off quite handsomely. I’m coming around, after reading the article I recommended the other day. I believe the Bucs are combining good old fashioned strike throwing, ground ball throwing pitchers with smartly aligned players to catch a higher % of batted balls than any team in MLB. Let’s hope it keeps up.

  7. Jim S. says:

    I agree, Drew, that he needs to bring it every day. I liked that he ran out the infield hit yesterday. That was good hustle, but part of the job. It was a chance at a hit and RBI on that play. Who doesn’t hustle there? Same with the ball to RF that was badly played into a triple by Hairston. Tabby hustled all the way to 3rd, and that was good to see.

    But, I’m not into “participation ribbons.” He needs to bring it every day, every play. When Marte, who in my opinion runs his butt off 99% of the time, failed to run out a grounder last week, Gaby read him the riot act. Tabby needs to know that is coming if he lets up.

    All that said, I hope the light bulb has gone on for the kid. I want him to be the player we always thought we’d have. He has been given the job full-time now. Please seize it, Tabby!

  8. JAL says:

    JAL’s Sea Cruise Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 Go Buccos- Pirate News (from external sources)

    4 Pittsburgh Pirates Stats

    5 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker

    BLOGS and such

    6—Pirates Prospects

    First Pitch: The GCL Roster Will Have a Lot of Upside Later This Month

    Francisco Liriano Rolls to Pirates’ First Complete Game, Win Over Cubs

    Prospect Watch: Gregory Polanco and Alex Dickerson Hit Back to Back Homers

    7 Bucs Dugout

    Bucs, Liriano play a complete game, roll over Cubs 6-2


    9 The Green Weenie

    The Cisco Kid Goes The Distance In 6-2 Win Over Cubs

    10 Rumbunter

    If Jeff Locke Deserves To Be An All-Star, Why Not Francisco Liriano?

    Extending Pirates GM Neal Huntington in 2011 Looks Genius Now

    11 Raise the Jolly Roger

    Pirates 6 Cubs 2

  9. JAL says:

    NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES and Other Media

    12 Chicago Tribune

    Pirates highlight NL Central gap in beating Cubs,0,3275497.story

    13 Rant Sports

    Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gerrit Cole Must Keep Head High After First Loss

    14 City of Champions

    Great Scot: Are the Pittsburgh Pirates good enough to “go for it?”

    15 St. Louis Post Dispatch

    Pirates rolling with top pitching staff

    16 CBS Sports

    Cubs-Pirates Game Preview

    17 Wall Street Journal

    A Long Gap in Between ‘Zoilo’ At-Bats

    Baseball Brings Out the Dead

    18 PBC Site

    Liriano hurls complete game as Bucs top Cubs

    Notebook: Bucs on their way to snapping NL Central skid


    19 Sweetspot

    Padres, Indians, Pirates should go after Lee

    20 Fangraphs

    Daily Notes: SCOUT Leaderboards for Rookie-Level Leagues

  10. JAL says:

    Sea Cruise Frankie Ford 1959 Ford’s only hit but he still performs. Recording caused some problems because Ford’s vocals were recorded over previously recorded piano be Huey “Piano” Smith, who wrote the song, but Smith was not credited for performing on the recording.

  11. 21sthebest says:

    Liriano doesn’t have the innings to qualify as a leader in the stats categories so I just can’t put him on yet. And I think there’s a case to put Zimmerman on the team ahead of Pedro going by OPS, BA, and OBP but I’m still confident that Bochy digs the long ball.

  12. JoeyBats says:

    Hoka Hey everyone!
    Pirates win…Pirates win!!! LIII wins down, …and XXIX to go.
    Yes, GM Neal and Mgr. Clint ….82 wins DOES make a difference.
    Beat Em’ Bucs !
    PS: Francisco Liriano = MLB Comeback Player of the Year
    DK…re: your question above….
    1. Ben needs to elevate his game…stay healthy for an entire season and play like a franchise QB
    2. (honorable mention) the O.Line needs to stay healthy…. earn their pay and protect the franchise QB

  13. Jim S. says:

    Good point about Liriano’s stats, 21. On the other hand, there will be intense pressure on Bochy to include Puig. Isn’t Zimmerman yipping it up on many of his throws?

  14. Drew71 says:

    I would have bet “no” on Locke because young guys without “names” are usually bypassed. That said, if he keeps winning, he may force himself onto the team. And I think Locke will have two more starts before selections are made.

    I’d still bet against it, but I now see it as being in his hands.

  15. Jim S. says:


    Everyone has an opinion on you. BTW, nice job with hitting #20 last night. Where do you want to finish this season?

  16. Jim S. says:

    Good point, Drew. When are the selections made? A week from tomorrow? I’m just guessing.

  17. Drew71 says:

    Now my serious A to Dejan’s Steelers’ Q.

    Todd Haley.

    No Really.

    If Dejan can look backward and pick Searage for MVP, I can look forward and pick Haley.

    Really. I’m not joking.

    Haley’s ability – or lack thereof – to coax a running game from dormancy while coexisting with Ben and a flashy passing game will, I believe, be more telling than any one player in forecasting the Steelers’ chances this season.

    DK: I’d be open to that. Haley already doesn’t get enough credit for Ben’s TD/INT rate from last season. Was good before injury.

  18. Drew71 says:

    “In Pittsburgh”

  19. 21sthebest says:

    I thought Zimmerman improved his throwing but he does have 14 errors.

  20. Drew71 says:

    Timing is important in another way. If Locke is scheduled to start the Sunday prior to the ASG, he’s out even if he otherwise would have been in.

    But to your Q, I would suspect earlier than a week from tomorrow. But not sure.

  21. 21sthebest says:

    All Star selection show is tonight at 6:30.

  22. Jim S. says:

    & he is sort of the de facto “go to” NL-AS 3b, along with Wright. As the Mgr, you don’t catch flack for picking those 2 guys.

  23. John Lease says:

    I could care less about the Steelers right now, it’s not even training camp.

    The Pirates are in FIRST PLACE.

    Can’t say that enough.

  24. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, 21.

  25. Drew71 says:

    Pitching selections come later, don’t they? Or am I confusing that with injury replacements?

  26. Jim S. says:

    There were 2 plays yesterday from the Bucs game that I found interesting and just watched again on MLB Network highlight show.

    1) On the great backwards, between the legs snag of the hard grounder by Liriano, you can clearly see on the replay that Jordy is waiting for that ball. I don’t know how I missed that yesterday. Maybe because the Cubs announcers went all “Woe is me, the Cubs just can’t catch a break, the Bucs are so lucky today” on the call. Bottom line: We had a man there!

    2) On our first run (Liriano single to LF), I hated that Jordy tried to go to 3rd. I know some will say he was ensuring that we got the run by giving himself up by the cutoff man. But, Soriano was throwing there. The angle of the throw was bad, as expected from Soriano, and the ball was headed halfway between 3rd and home. Martin is safe there, easily, IMO. It is a good debate point that can be argued either way. But, you only get 27 outs and I hate giving them away.

  27. Dadtackular says:

    +1. No. Really.

  28. Jim S. says:

    Thanks, as always, for the links JAL. Adds so much to this blog.

  29. Drew71 says:

    Even tho I rank baseball first, if I’m going to be fair and equitable (traits I try to avoid), I’d point out that I used to poke the bear-acevic with his offseason I’ll-talk-about-them-when-they-DO-something huffiness.

    This is a sports blog. Offseasons are FOR speculation.

    Oh. And for acquiring .211 hitting catchers and pitchers with broken arms.

    Speaking of DOing something.

  30. Jim S. says:

    Very odd splits this year from JoeyBats.

    Home: .353, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 1.063 OPS
    Road: .198, 12 HR, 28 RBI, .728 OPS

  31. Jim S. says:

    I believe I heard Jeff Francoeur was DFA’d yesterday. I’m not interested. Seize the opportunity, Tabby!

  32. JAL says:

    Mercer should have gone a bit past second and waited to see if the throw would be cut off. Martin would have been safe even if they had let the throw go through, which is why it was cut off.

  33. Drew71 says:

    See Thunder?

    THOSE were “shots”.

    Not “disagreements”.


    I’ll teach you.

  34. Jim S. says:

    My exact take, JAL. It seems pretty common in MLB, though, to just give that out up doesn’t it?

  35. I’m fine with Tabata if he continues to hustle with ever at-bat and doesn’t misplay everything hit to him and loaf to get it.

    But, the first time he goes into a lull hitting and he starts to pout and it shows in his outfield play, he needs to see the pine.

    He doesn’t have to be an all-star to keep that job, just play up to his hype.

  36. Jim S. says:

    Well said.

  37. Jim S. says:

    So, my son and I are watching the MLB Network wrap-up show this morning, and the host mentioned some player hovering around the “Mendoza Line.” I am not sure she was even born when Mendoza retired in the early 80’s.

    I’m sure there are some Bucs historians here who remember Mario. I used to think it was an insult that someone coined the term “Mendoza Line” to apply to guys hitting around .200. But, that is what Mario was, a .215 lifetime hitter with no pop who played a decent defensive SS. At least, he is remembered for something. No one ever mentions Sammy Khalifa or other guys of that ilk.

    Somewhere out there, I bet Mario smiles when he hears “Mendoza Line.”

  38. For his size, he could have been a better hitter, Jim. But you’re right, at least he’s known for something.

  39. Drew71 says:

    Amen, Brother Lucky

  40. Arriba Wilver says:


  41. Arriba Wilver says:

    Haley is my choice, too.

    If limited to players, I would go with Antonio Brown. He was a disappointment last year, and he’s going to have more coverage on him, not less, with the loss of two of his “Young Money” teammates.

  42. Thundercrack says:

    If I had to sign one free agent to save my job, I think Russell Martin would be a very good choice.

    Liriano wouldn’t be a bad second choice.

  43. TJ says:

    Grilli wouldn’t have been a bad option either

  44. Jim S. says:

    Some have worked, some haven’t. But, they will never all work out. The guys you mentioned have been huge for this team. Very smart moves.

    As it turned out, the trade to get Melancon has worked out very well also – even if Hanny hadn’t suffered the unfortunate arm injury.

  45. And this season, other than the J. Sanchez experiment, leads one to believe maybe someone has figured it out, even beyond building a successful bullpen.

    (I had to look in the mirror to make sure it was me saying that).

    Even with the drafts and other areas starting to pan out, the outlook is positive. Lots of talent to watch develop in the system. 26 draft picks signed and most are on a roster, either in Jamestown or the Rookie League.

  46. Arriba Wilver says:


  47. Harry says:

    I’m going with Ziggy Hood as the player who most needs to elevate his game. He has all the physical tools, but has never really put it together during the game. As a former #1 pick with a few years in Dick Lebeau’s defense, it’s now or never for Ziggy and there isn’t much depth behind him.

    My alternate answer is John Norwig, head trainer. A healthy team is a playoff team, and we will need Lamar Woodley, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, and Troy Polamalu at peak effectiveness to get back to contending for a division title.

    Honorable mention to Cortez Allen (need more turnovers) and Mike Adams (protect Ben and improve the run game).

  48. Josh says:

    Emmanuel Sanders

  49. Naje says:

    It’s Ben Roethlisberger.

  50. Eric from G'Burg says:

    If I had to pick one player, I couldn’t. Rather, I’ll suggest that the entire offensive line needs to step up this season. Ben just added another year onto his career & his life. He needs to remain upright & be able to do what he can do. When that happens, the Steelers win games.

  51. Jason says:

    I think Jason Worilds needs to elevate his game the most. Starting OLB is his position to lose right now. At least it would make Jones push that much harder. Having two guys playing hard for one spot isn’t a bad thing. It makes both of them that much better.

Other blogs
Sports: Rob Rossi | Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | iPreps | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports
News: This Just In | Trib List | ICycle | Flow Back | Stories Behind Trib Stories  

» Top Sports
» Top News
» Top Breaking News