>> The Thanksgiving Day column is one I really enjoyed writing and, even moreso, researching. My deep thanks to the several Steelers who were generous with their time and thoughts. It’s never taken for granted.
>> Evgeni Malkin is really good.Rob Rossi reports from Consol.
The loss of Paul Martin, as we just saw, will be huge, by Rossi.
Random randomness from the scene: I was up there, too, and I was no different than anyone else at the 300th consecutive sellout in that I was blown away by Malkin. You can say that’s expected, but the fact is that level of effort combined with that skill … that’s extraordinary. It should never be taken for granted. … Kris Letang is an absolute mess right now. I’m not going to pile on, but that’s got to change. If he can’t figure it out himself, then it’s incumbent on the coaching staff to help or even to take over. The investment is too large in this player, and yes, the talent level is too high for this to be happening. … James Neal’s shot has gone to some other level, hasn’t it? … Nice to see actual production from the third line, not just Brandon Sutter but also newcomers Chris Conner and Andrew Ebbett. Can’t say it’ll hold up, but it already is well more than what any of their predecessors had contributed. … I’m choosing to stay skeptical about Simon Despres, based on precedent. This effort was passable. That’s it. We’ll see. … Someone needs to sit for Robert Bortuzzo. Take your pick of anyone but Olli Maatta. … Great atmosphere in that building. Really fun. Crazy how that happens when there’s lots of offense. … At the same time, who will remember that the Leafs had zero shots in the third period or overtime? That’s crazier still.
>> The TribLIVE Radio show today — 2-3 p.m. — will feature live special guest Jim Ferry of Duquesne, whose team will tip off against Pitt in the City Game this weekend … and will be a robust underdog, if only because of what we’re seeing from the Panthers in the early going.
The quarterback spoke to a dozen or so of us over there …
Random randomness from the scene: Really healthy feel to the locker room. If you want an example, here’s what a softly smiling Troy Polamalu told me as the locker room session closed: “Steelers and Ravens, brother. Everything is good. This is how it’s supposed to be.” … When I tweeted that, prominent NFL agent Ralph Cindrich replied with this: “Sounds like what you would hear from two old fighters getting ready to get it on again. Nothing slows it.” Awesome. … One of my favorite things about Jason Worilds: Anytime someone asks him a question about playing well, he opens his answer with, “Thank you. I appreciate that.” … Worilds knows he’s playing well, make no mistake about that. … I was most moved by Ben’s praise for Kelvin Beachum at left tackle, especially in the context that Beachum continues to learn the position on the job. “I’m not going to say I’m surprised by Kelvin because that would suggest I didn’t have high expectations for him. But he’s doing the job. Cleveland called a corner blitz Sunday, and he picked it up like it was nothing.” … Really looking forward to this game. Not going to lie.
>> The Riverhounds continued to make offseason splashes by announcing an eye-opening partnership with the MLS powerhouse Houston Dynamo. Matt Grubba reports.
Here’s some of my talk yesterday with Chris Canetti, the Dynamo’s president, discussing Pittsburgh’s possible MLS future …
Random randomness from the event: The thing I found out at this press conference that struck me the most was that the Dynamo approached MLS in search of an affiliate, and it was MLS’ first recommendation to approach the Riverhounds. Someone’s paying attention. … Expect to see upgrades to still-new Highmark Stadium in the very near future. Not an expansion, just some practical stuff but highly visible. … You know those black nets over by the train-track side? You won’t see those when the season starts. Tuffy Schallenberger, the owner, wants them down. … Justin Evans has to coach at least half of an entirely new starting lineup next season, what with two other major offseason additions plus the four MLS guys coming from Houston. But, as he put it, “That’s a nice problem to have.” … In addition to the Dynamo possibly coming to Pittsburgh for a friendly during the World Cup break, Riverhounds CEO Jason Kutney says don’t be surprised to see Highmark Stadium opened up for outdoor viewing parties for the U.S. matches. Here’s one small vote in favor. … Readers will ask on occasion why I cover the Riverhounds and not any other second-tier team in the area. Days like yesterday are why. These guys are serious.
>> Here are this week’s three write-your-own-column winners …
Dennis Hollibaugh writes: If the Steelers did not want LaMarr Woodley to be their starting left outside linebacker, they would not have restructured his contract before the season adding more dead weight to the remainder of his contract; but they can want someone else to play the position Thursday night against the Ravens. Woodley is dealing with an injury and was unable to play this past Sunday. Even if he can go four days later, Worilds was ready to go on Sunday, and go he did. Worilds will not be limited in practice, and will not need to get back up to speed. If Woodley is healthy, let him dress while starting Worilds on a short leash. If he struggles, Woodley is still the next best option, not to mention the long-term plan. If Worilds does not struggle however, Woodley could find himself going the way of Willie Colon in 2014.
Ron Bilak writes: Kris Letang, eight years, $58 million, age 26. Much like the Penguins, the parts of the player do not match or exceed his current play. Letang has incredible skating ability and can play a physical game. However, he is not a power-play QB, like Gonchar before him. To pay what the Pens paid, he should be the best power-play QB. He is not. Paul Martin is. His passes sometimes make you scratch your head. He should be part of a shutdown pair. He is not. The solution is not a trade. It is finding the right assistant coach to use the extreme talent he possesses. The organization should find a former player who can reinvent Letang. Another coach doesn’t hurt the cap. A player not playing to abilities does.
JAL writes: Can anything realistically revive hoops on the Bluff? The answer is yes. College basketball is cluttered with teams that came from nowhere to become successful. Butler has half as many students as Duquesne but had a great run in basketball. In Duquesne’s own conference, George Mason and Old Dominion have had some excellent seasons. Reviving Duquesne requires a good coaching staff that recognizes the type of athletes that make a good team. Ron Everhart had them moving in the right direction with an NIT appearance, a couple of CBI appearances, and a career record of 99-89. He was the only coach with a winning record since Mike Rice back in 1978-1982. We will never know if Everhart could have taken them a step further but his term shows that the right coach can revive the program. It will take a couple of years to see if Jim Ferry can move the program up the ladder.
>> Hope you have a chance to check out the show. If not, as always, I’ll have the podcast posted here on the blog shortly afterward.
I’ll also be at Penguins-Leafs tonight, then it’s off to Baltimore first thing Thanksgiving morning.
>>The Tuesday do-it-yourself blog invites all to write your own mini-column on any ONE of the following three topics:
1. Weighing the investment the Steelers have made in LaMarr Woodley and the fact that he’d cost even more in 2014 if released, who would you play on the left side Thursday night, Woodley or Jason Worilds?
2. Kris Letang recently signed his own monster contract, and already he’s been taken off the top power play. Was the extension a mistake?
3. Pitt and Duquesne tip off in the annual City Game on Saturday, and the Dukes for the billionth time will be an underwhelming underdog? Can anything realistically revive hoops on the Bluff?
To repeat the rules: Choose only ONE topic. And limit all entries to 150 words.
The best ones in each category will go up on the main portion of the blog tomorrow. If you want your full name credited, please include it with the entry.
>> Speaking of Duquesne, I’m happy to share here that Jim Ferry will be the very special guest on my TribLIVE Radio show tomorrow at 2 p.m.
>> Nothing the Penguins try against the Bruins seems to work. Not even when Sidney Crosby ties it with 0.3 seconds left. Josh Yohe reports from Boston.
I know this is a broken record, and I don’t care: This team’s third line is a farce, and that’s even within the context of Brandon Sutter being a reasonably competent player. Soft AHL guys.
And here’s a fun talk I had yesterday with TribLIVE Radio’sKen Laird and Guy Junker about Steelers-Ravens …
>> Anyone complaining about Pitt’s out-of-conference schedule probably was placated at least a little by the Panthers’ rather thorough rout of Texas Tech last night. Kevin Gorman reports from Brooklyn.
All I’ll add from my channel-switching view of this one: If Durand Johnson could blossom into a legit outside shooting threat — and I mean consistent — that’s a difference maker.
If a cutdown is needed to three, the first three up there would be the choices.
Couple notations: I hated the baseball column, as I’ve mentioned, but that ranked at or near the top of most of your lists, and the editors agreed. So that’s that. The Sid-Mario column that a lot of people liked was shot down — rightly — because I didn’t gather enough outside opinion. (Started it late on a Friday night for a Sunday paper, but judges don’t care.) The Paternos column, which I had as my own favorite, was rejected, candidly, because the people who read it almost surely will be sick of the topic. And all the other happy baseball pieces were left out for the simple reason that the sentiment was basically expressed in the one above.
Anyway, I’ll thank everyone again and promise not to bring it up again. This really, really helps, as you can see from the huge difference in what I gave you and how it ended up.
>>The Monday column from the frozen tundra of FirstEnergy Stadium offers credit where due to a coach who never allowed his team the time — or inclination — to sulk and/or quite on the season.
Here’s what Ben Roethlisberger had to say afterward …
And Antonio Brown …
… and Jason Worilds …
Random randomness from the event: Leave Worilds alone. I already made this point — or at least began to — in the Sunday column, but this game yesterday made it infinitely more stronger than any words could. Worilds was a force. He was relentlessly in pursuit of the quarterback, forcing incompletions, causing pain, you name it. I don’t care how much money LaMarr Woodley makes or what he achieved in another life. When Worilds comes back, he has to be on the left side. … Jarvis Jones earned staying at his spot, for that matter. … If the aim in challenging Le’Veon Bell all week long was to get him to hit the holes harder and keep his feet longer, it worked. The challenges continued into the game, obviously, with Felix Jones spelling him early and Jonathan Dwyer being used for those two — failed — short-yardage situations. … Ramon Foster, upon hearing Roethlisberger say down the stretch it was time to run: “We love it. I’m telling you, we were fired up.” … Enjoyed this from Ben when London was brought up: “You know what? It doesn’t matter. That’s irrelevant right now. That’s looking back, and I’m not looking back.” … Willie Gay said the secondary adjusted to all those crossing routes Cleveland had been connecting on early, but the biggest change there was getting pressure on the QB. … A lone negative here: Ike Taylor was savaged in the second half, and Josh Gordon wound up with the Browns’ record for receiving yards at 237 on 14 catches. Some of that was in garbage time, but Taylor continues to show wild swings. … Can you believe Brown already has 80 catches, with five games to go? … This is getting fun. Thursday can’t come soon enough.
The game story looks at the playoff picture, by beat writer Alan Robinson.