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October 15, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Ventrone finally gets a break

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Ross Ventrone finally caught a break.

And if anybody deserved a break, it was indeed Ross Ventrone.

The Chartiers Valley High School product had the distinction of being signed, released or promoted by the Patriots 29 times in three years including 21 times in 2011 (eight in one month) before coming to the Steelers in 2013 where he was, you guessed it, signed or released another half dozen times.

That in itself would tend to demoralize a player.

Not Ventrone.

“I looked at like they valued me enough to keep me around and I looked it as a positive thing,” Ventrone said on Wednesday. “I looked at it if that’s the way they want to use me that’s fine with me. As long as the value me and value me being part of the team was all that I was concerned about.”

Finally, something broke right for Ventrone, and it had nothing to do with the Steelers adding him to the 53-man roster over the weekend and then played his first game in three years and got a hefty $30,000 pay check to go along with it.

The break came two months before.

Ventrone was out of practice squad eligibility as the Steelers headed into training camp. Ventrone had to make the team because if he got cut this time, there was no practice squad as a fall back. With the safety unit stacked, Ventrone’s career appeared to be over.

“At that time, I was just working to get better every day and worrying about one day at a time,” Ventrone said. “I didn’t even know about the rule change.”

Little did Ventrone realize but the NFL and NFLPA augmented their practice squad rules during the middle of August that allowed a player to be eligible for the practice squad for a fourth year.

Ventrone got a break … finally.

“I am glad because it finally worked out,” Ventrone said.

Fast forward to Saturday and the Steelers promoted Ventrone to the active roster after Shamarko Thomas was ruled out.

Ventrone’s first game with his hometown team came against the Browns just a couple hours up the road. That allowed his mother along with some aunts and uncles to make the short drive to watch him play.

“The first game dressing in the Black and Gold against Cleveland, it was a great feeling,” Ventrone said. “It only lasted for a little bit and stuff had to get real.”

Ventrone had a special teams tackle and an assist in a 31-10 loss to the Browns.

“Hopefully I can give them a reason to keep me where I am at,” Ventrone said.

However, it wasn’t all good news for the Ventrone family over the weekend. Ray Ventrone was released by the 49ers three days after Ross was signed to the active roster by the Steelers.

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October 9, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: James Harrison made ‘right decision’ to return

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AAAAAAAASteelers_James_Harrison_2014

 

James Harrison doesn’t have a sack yet in two games, but he’s gotten close to the quarterback. He’s also playing more than perhaps he expected – or the Steelers anticipated.

Now that the five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has been on the field twice since unexpectedly returning to the Steelers following the injuries to Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier, he believes he made the right decision to end a retirement that was announced barely a month ago.

“It’s fun. Everything happens for a reason. I’m here, because this is where I was meant to be,” Harrison said Thursday. “I’ll say, yeah, it was the right decision (to return to the Steelers).”

After playing 29 snaps in his return against Tampa Bay on Sept. 28, Harrison played 21 snaps Sunday at Jacksonville. Overall, 17 snaps were in run defense, 22 were as a pass rusher and 11 were in pass coverage. He has one QB hit and a tackle.

It’s taken him a little time to get back into game condition; he wasn’t in training camp with any team and his last previous game was Cincinnati’s playoff loss to San Diego last season.

“It doesn’t surprise me. It takes time. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re not going to lose all the weight you want in two weeks. It takes time,” he said.

Harrison returns to Cleveland this week – to the stadium where he made his first NFL start in 2004 and, one year later, gained some notoriety by body-slamming a Browns fan who dared venture onto the playing field. He’s looking forward to the anticipated atmosphere in a city where he’s played many times.

“It’s going to be live. It’s always live up there. They have a good group of fans that like to keep it interesting,” said Harrison, who played college football at nearby Kent State.

Up next on Harrison’s radar screen: Brian Hoyer, a former backup Steelers quarterback whose locker stall was only a couple of cubicles away from Harrison’s two years ago.

Now Hoyer is fast establishing himself as the Browns quarterback for the foreseeable future, as long as he can stay healthy – leading them to a 2-2 record, four tightly-played games (none decided by more than three points). He’s also directed road comebacks from 24- and 25- point deficits – and in just four games’ time. And he has just one turnover, an interception Sunday in the 29-28 win at Tennessee.

In the earlier Browns-Steelers meeting, Hoyer drove the Browns to 24 consecutive points and a 27-all tie before the Steelers came back to win 30-27 on Sept. 7.

“He doesn’t turn the ball over. He makes good decisions,” Harrison said. “One turnover in four games? When you do that, you’re hard to beat because you’re not beating yourself. He makes big throws and they put him in positions to stretch the defense.

“Even the two games they lost, were last-second things. It’s not a far stretch from them being 4-0.”

And it’s not a far stretch to think that James Harrison might be close to getting his first Steelers sack since 2012. His last one? In the regular-season finale against Cleveland in 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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October 9, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Steelers vs. Browns — and it’s a big game for a change

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Here’s a (nearly) whole hour of NOTHING but Steelers-Browns talk – up to date and timely – on TribLIVE Radio’s Steelers Roundtable with Alan Robinson, Mark Kaboly and Ralph Paulk in CLEVELAND.

Among the topics are:

– This is the biggest Steelers-Browns game since …

– Are the Kardiac Kid Browns for real?

– Could the Steelers set up their season by going to Cleveland and winning in a challenging environment ahead of a three-game homestand?

– What’s the mood in Cleveland?

– What’s changed with the Steelers and the Browns since Cleveland’s near-miracle comeback in Week 1?

– Will Johnny Manziel be a distraction to the Browns?

– Can the #7-ranked Steelers rushing game gain traction against the #29-ranked Browns rushing defense after the offense abandoned the run in the red zone in Jacksonville?

– Steelers are #1 in NFL in rushing defense the last three weeks, but how difficult will it be to contain Ben Tate running behind the AFC North’s best offensive line in Cleveland?

– Who has the advantage, Brian Hoyer and his band of overachieving Smurf receivers or an improving but Ike Taylor-less Steelers secondary?

– Who is Mike Tomlin’s allow pointing up and down for this week?

Listen here – or live every Thursday at 9 a.m. on TribLIVE Radio:

 

 

 

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October 7, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Roethlisberger did what he was supposed to do, Tomlin didn’t

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Don’t blame Ben Roethlisberger.

Actually, we all should commend Roethlisberger for his part in the controversial decision to throw a pass to Antonio Brown late in a one possession game Sunday in Jacksonville to keep Brown’s obscure streak of 5 catches and at least 50 yards intact when three knees would’ve ended the game.

Roethlisberger is supposed to look out for his teammates.

Roethlisberger is supposed to fight for his teammates.

Roethlisberger is supposed to always have the best interests of his teammates in mind, and that what he had when he went to Mike Tomlin during the two-minute warning and suggested they call a play to keep Brown’s streak going instead of taking a knee.

Now, Mike Tomlin … he blew it.

Coming off a week in which he scoffed nationally at being called a player’s coach and coming off a week in which the Steelers discipline was being questioned because of the excessive penalties and the continued bonehead celebration penalties, Tomlin could’ve sent a loud and clear message with one word: NO!

The answer should’ve been ‘no’ not because of an irrelevant streak or even the possibility – although highly unlikely – of something going terribly wrong like a fumbled snap, an interception or even a fumble.

The answer should’ve been ‘no’ because there’s only one objective to football – win the game. Tomlin says just that enough, right?

Remember “style points don’t matter?”

I especially remember “every day I walk by five Lombardi Trophies, not five rushing titles.  Willie (Parker’s) comments could be construed as selfish …”

The year was 2008 and running back Willie Parker told the media on a Wednesday that he thought the team was getting away from Steelers football by throwing the ball too much.

The next day, Tomlin called a press conference.

Now, Tomlin never called an impromptu press conference before that day and he never called one since.

His point was taken that day and the Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl a couple months later.

I’m not saying Sunday’s decision will prevent the Steelers from going to the Super Bowl this year, but it was a chance to hammer the point of team first once again, and he didn’t do it.

And, to me, that was the only issue.

 

Be sure to check out the Mark Kaboly Show podcast on TribLive Radio: http://files.triblive.com/podcasts/sportstalk/1006KAB14.mp3

 

Also, tune in to the Steelers Roundtable on Thursday at 9 a.m. on TribLive Radio featuring me (Mark Kaboly), Alan Robinson and Ralph Paulk.

 

 

 

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October 1, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers scheming Worilds out of what he does best

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Sometimes the scheme helps a player.

Sometime the scheme doesn’t help a player.

Dick LeBeau’s new third-and-long scheme of putting the newly minted $10 million pass-rushing linebacker Jason Worilds in the middle of the field as an inside pass rusher/spy isn’t doing anything to help Worilds pressure the quarterback.

That’s part of the reason why Worilds has only one sack, three quarterback pressures, no forced turnovers and only eight tackles a quarter of the way through the season.

Remember, Worilds is the same guy who shoved LaMarr Woodley aside at outside linebacker a year ago and went on to lead the team in sacks with eight – seven of which came over the final eight games he played last year.

Bottom line is that Worilds isn’t being put in a position to get to the quarterback – at least over the last two games.

The way pass-rushing linebackers sack the quarterback is in obvious throwing situations. Those obvious throwing situations are third-and-long.

The last two weeks, Worilds has played a new role in third-and-long situations that might be better off for the team, but it is limiting his ability to get to the quarterback.

Ten times against the Buccaneers did LeBeau go to, what I call his ‘lulu’ formation (sorry for a Varsity Blues reference) on defense.

It’s a formation that has Brett Keisel and either Arthur Moats or James Harrison as outside pass-rushing linebackers, a defensive lineman (usually Cam Heyward), Worilds lined up as a roaming inside linebacker in front of the regular inside linebackers in Sean Spence and Lawrence Timmons.

Different combinations rush the quarterback which makes it difficult to block and what is attractive to the Steelers, but not Worilds.

Against Carolina, Worilds was a spy first then rush – which doesn’t get you to the quarterback much. Against Tampa, he was much of the same.

The Steelers are doing that because Worilds has the speed to do it and can rush the passer at different angles. But when a guy was so successful coming off the edge last year and creating pressure, why change now?

A new wrinkle? That’s all I can think of.

A new wrinkle that isn’t very conducive for Worilds to do what he does best – rush the quarterback.

* Note: Check out the Mark Kaboly Show Podcast. I have an interview with Arthur Moats and a lot of good Steelers talk following their 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay. Click here ——>http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/929KABOLY14.mp3

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September 27, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: The Curious Case of Lance Moore (something just doesn’t add up)

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Receiver Lance Moore (Chaz Palla  |  Trib Total Media)

Receiver Lance Moore (Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media)

Lance Moore was one of the better receivers during the spring and summer for the Steelers.

Maybe even better than Antonio Brown?

Moore’s veteran leadership was lauded (and needed) by a young and relatively inexperienced wide receiver unit that lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.

That’s one reason the Steelers jumped on Moore and signed him to a two-year, $3 million free agent deal in the offseason.

Fast forward a couple of month, add in a sore groin and Moore is squarely in the doghouse of Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, or both.

If he’s not in that proverbial doghouse, it sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

Moore returned last week from a groin injury that kept him out of the final preseason game and the first two regular-season games and was all set to make his Steelers debut in Carolina.

Then … one snap.

One lousy snap, while Justin Brown, who fumbled inside the red zone against Baltimore and dropped a key third-down pass against Cleveland, got 41.

Moore had no explanation.

Tomlin and Haley did … well, sort of.

“As a guy regains his health, it’s his responsibility to make himself useful and to get on a moving train, if you will,” Tomlin said. “I like the approach that he’s taking to that. We’ll continue to work to get him back into the fold, but it’s just that. He’s got to work his way back into the rotation.”

Haley: “He’s in a catch-up situation, and he’s got to work his way back.”

What?

This isn’t Wes Welker he has to supplant in the slot. It’s Justin Brown, right?

So, a veteran who has eight years of experience, 101 games played, 346 career catches, 38 career touchdowns, 26 career red zone touchdowns, who has played in one of the more prolific offenses of a generation and is two years removed from catching 65 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns has to “work his way back” and “make himself useful” when his replacement has 64 career receiving yards?

Something isn’t adding up.

Tomlin and Haley aren’t saying, obviously.

Moore isn’t saying either (maybe he doesn’t know?)

The only thing I can think of that makes an ounce of sense is that they like the way Brown blocks better than Moore. Brown is a pretty good blocking receiver and that helps out in the run game and the short passing game as well.

But enough to keep Moore on the bench?

Whatever it is, Moore needs to be on the field. He makes the offense that much more difficult to defend against.

I guess he has to make himself useful first.

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September 26, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Steelers Roundtable Weighs Trap Week, Part 1 for Steelers

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The latest Steelers Roundtable with Alan Robinson, Ralph Paulk and Mark Kaboly takes up some of the following topics — and a lot more:

– Is this the so-called “trap game” for the Steelers — and how bad are the Buccaneers?

– Where does Le’Veon Bell currently rank among the NFL’s running back hierarchy?

– Dick LeBeau’s defense: As bad as Weeks 1 and 2 or as good as Week 3?

– What will James Harrison’s impact — if any — be on this Steelers defense?

– Can the Steelers avoid the losses to losing-record teams that dogged them during the 2013, 2012 and 2009 seasons?

– Who is Mike Tomlin’s allow pointing up and down for this week?

Listen here via TribLive Radio:

 

 

 

 

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September 25, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Polamalu says Steelers got rid of the ‘old guys’ on defense too early

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20101022steelers2_500When it comes to football age, at 33, Troy Polamalu is old.

So, it is understandable why Polamalu has a soft spot in his heart for the old guys, especially the ones who played alongside him for a number of years with the Steelers.

Over the last four years alone, consider who the Steelers jettisoned from their defense because they were too old:

* Aaron Smith

* Casey Hampton

* Brett Keisel

* James Farrior

* James Harrison

* Ryan Clark

* Larry Foote

Polamalu and Ike Taylor very well could be on deck.

In the now, the turnover led to back-to-back 8-8 seasons, which, as we now know, isn’t good enough.

Now, the Steelers brought back Keisel right before the season and Harrison a couple days ago that led to Polamalu standing up for some of his old pals.

“When you bring a guy like (Harrison) back and you don’t dig into your youth it tells you something,” Polamalu said. “It tells you that some of the older guys still would’ve helped us out if they would’ve kept them around.”

Now, was this a shot at the front office from Polamalu?

Troy doesn’t do that, but …

Polamalu does have a point.

If you didn’t think these old guys could help you before then why are you running back to them now?

Maybe Keisel was always in the plans, and we all know about Harrison wanting more money a couple years ago that led him to Cincinnati, but, in Harrison’s case, they could’ve signed him any time from March to September and decided not to.

They could’ve told him to hold off the retirement party that thy help kick off a couple weeks ago.

But they didn’t.

So, maybe the old guys could’ve helped if the Steelers kept them around?

Guess we will never know … but Troy knows.

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September 24, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Brice McCain might be the Steelers best option at nickel

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How are the Steelers going to replace the loss of Ike Taylor?

The initial thought would be just to do what the Steelers did when Taylor got hurt against Carolina and put William Gay on the corner then move him into the slot and bring on Antwon Blake in the nickel.

Mike Tomlin said as much during his press conference on Tuesday, but hold on …

The Steelers have options, and the best option just may be Brice McCain in the nickel and Gay at cornerback replacing Taylor on a full-time basis.

McCain acknowledged on Wednesday that he practiced at the nickel back with Gay at corner.

“I practiced everything (Wednesday),” said McCain, a free agent signing from Houston. “I am preparing for everything. I can be anything. Whatever they want me to be, I can be.”

It may be the Steelers best option to replace Taylor.

Typically, the Steelers don’t mind sliding a corner into the slot in the nickel. They used to do it all the time with Deshea Townsend. On the other hand, they want their best players on the field and McCain just may be their best player they have within the group of Antwon Blake and B.W. Webb.

McCain, for sure, is the most experienced.

He played in 74 games over five years for the Texans. Blake has 17 career snaps on defense and those came last year while Webb played only special teams for the Cowboys a year ago.

Knowing that, it’s a no-brainer. Take in account that Blake got beat for a late touchdown when he was replacing Taylor last week and McCain had a pretty solid preseason, it just may be the thing to do.

“We are going to try to do everything we can to replace Ike,” Gay said.

And that just may be with McCain.

 

Be sure to check out the Mark Kaboly Show podcast on TribLive Radio: http://filesource.abacast.com/tribtotal/922KAB14.mp3

 

Also, tune in to the Steelers Roundtable on Thursday at 9 a.m. on TribLive Radio featuring Mark Kaboly, Alan Robinson and Ralph Paulk.

 

 

 

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September 22, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Quick thoughts about Steelers 37-19 win over the Panthers

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b434536a11f595ae3a119a15ae286129CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Now, this is how the Steelers envisioned their backfield when they signed LeGarrette Blount in the offseason.

Le’Veon Bell would set them up and Blount would knock them down.

That’s exactly how it took place here on Sunday night that led to an ever-important 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

Bell rushed for 147 yards on 21 carries and Blount added 118 on 10 carries. Both had runs of 50 yards or longer. Bell outran defenders. Blount ran them over, or even jumped over them.

“He came in and closed the game out like he should,” Bell said.

It was the first time in 28 years that two Steelers running backs ran for more than 100 yards in a game. Earnest Jackson ran for 132 and Walter Abercrombie 109 as the 1-6 Steelers ran over the 5-2 Bengals on Oct. 26, 1986, at Three Rivers Stadium.

The offensive line that day was LT Ray Pinney, LG Craig Wolfley, C Mike Webster, RG Terry Long and RT Tunch Ilkin.

“I am glad to be part of it,” Bell said.

Other (quick) observations about the game:

* Lance Moore played only one snap. The Steelers decided to go with Justin Brown in the slot instead, which was curious. I asked Moore after the game if he was OK and he said he was. The only reason I could come up with of why the Steelers went with Brown over Moore was Brown’s blocking ability. But, really, I’m baffled.

* You can say what you want about the Steelers offensive line, but the unit is the team MVP, so speak, through three games. Some of that credit has to go to Mike Munchak, but a lot has to go to the return of Maurkice Pouncey. More than one player in the locker room after the game told me that he’s been a difference maker. I believe them. Oh yeah, David DeCastro hasn’t been too shabby either.

* I am waiting until the Steelers get through the next stretch of games against winless Tampa Bay, winless Jacksonville and one-win Cleveland before feeling safe in saying what kind of team the Steelers have. Right now, they can be 10-6 or 6-10. I don’t know.

* The inability to stop the zone stretch might quickly replaced by the inability to stop the pass. With Ike Taylor out for the foreseeable future with a broken arm, the defense is going to have to rely more William Gay (which isn’t bad) and Antwon Blake (which might be bad).

* The Panthers, in my opinion, gave up in fourth quarter.

* See what happens when you don’t miss tackles. I am sure there were some, but I don’t remember seeing many.

* Luke Kuechly guesses a lot … and he flops well.

* OK, be sure to check out my show on TribLive Radio on Monday from 2-3 p.m. I’ll have interviews from Blount, Bell, Brett Keisel and DeCastro.

* That 6 a.m. wakeup call is going to stink.

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