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November 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: View From the Sidelines — Q&A with C.J. Goodwin

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CHThis is the second in a series of “5 Questions” with guys on the Steelers roster that are either on the practice squad, injured reserve or who haven’t contributed much in the way of on-the-field play this year.

This installment: Practice squad wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (6-3, 190).

Everybody remembers in the spring when Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount put a call into general manager Kevin Colbert to see if he would take a look at a young and raw receiver who barely played (11 receptions) his senior year at Division II California (Pa.).

Colbert obliged and a few days later, the Steelers signed Goodwin to the 90-man off-season roster. Although Goodwin was cut during training camp, he was able to catch on with the Steelers 10-man practice squad.

 

Question #1: How beneficial has it been for you to be able to spend a year with an organization on the practice squad compared to working out on your own?

“Everybody has been very helpful – the older guys, the vets have been helpful. They give you anything you need. I have been able to learn whatever I have needed to learn. Playing against the ones just makes you a much better player.”

 

Question #2: What do you try to get accomplished during a practice week? Do you try to get the starters a good look or try to work on your game?

“First and foremost, I try to give them a good look. Secondly, I am trying to get better as a football player and a wide receiver. Coach Tomlin tells us all the time to go hard and tell us to improve. That’s my job and what I am going to do.”

 

Question #3: You really haven’t played much football, how much improvement have you been able to make over the past couple months?

“We will see when the offseason comes. We will see next season how good I got and see if I can stay around. If you know my story, I am just happy to be here. Of course, you want to get better and want to be on the field but I understand what is going on.”

 

Question #4: Do you feel that you showed enough during your time here that they will ask you back next year?

“They say that I am very raw. They say that I am athletic. But I don’t want that to be my story. I want to be good. I want to be great. I like the story of what Mel Blount did for me, it’s a good story. I appreciate what he did for me but I want to be a good player other than a raw athlete that got help from Mel Blount. This offseason is huge for me. I have to make it through this first, but the offseason is huge. I can’t wait for that just to see how much better I can get.”

 

Question #5: You ever look out there on the field and soak it in and say wow, I am on the same football field as Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown especially knowing where you came from?

“When I first got here I was. Ben talks to me and everybody is just so cool with me. They are accepting.”

 

TRIBLIVE RADIO STEELERS PODCASTS

MARK KABOLY SHOW (Monday’s from 2-3 p.m.)

STEELERS ROUNDTABLE with Alan Robinson, Ralph Paulk and Mark Kaboly (Thursday’s from 9-10 a.m.)

 

 

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November 12, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: View From the Sidelines — Q&A with Bruce Gradkowski

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GradkowskiThis is the first in a series of “5 Questions” with players on the Steelers roster that are either on the practice squad, injured reserve or who haven’t contributed much in the way of on-the-field play this year.

This installment: Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

Gradkowski has yet to take a regular-season snap with the Steelers since he signed before the start of the 2013 season. After starting 20 games over the first five years of his career, Gradkowski has come to understand the backup role. He started 11 games in his 2006 rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then eight in a two-season span with the Oakland Raiders from 2009-10.

Gradkowski has not gained much experience the past three seasons. He played in four games with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011 and 2012 before signing with the Steelers last year.

Gradkowski, the local product of out Seton-LaSalle, has to be ready at a drop of a hat to perform at a high level.

 

Question #1: What do you do on a weekly basis to prepare to play? Even though Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t missed a snap since you got here, you need to be ready at a moment’s notice?

“Being a backup is always tough. You have to mentally try to prepare yourself and nothing is better than getting reps. If you are the starter, you are getting all the reps – that’s how this game works. No matter what position you are, you need all the reps going into the week. I continue to try to be ready and do whatever I can to help this team win now and prepare our defense and prepare the young guys and help them out with things and continue to support Ben. I think he is doing a great job. I have to be physically and mentally prepared if my time comes. When you don’t get all the reps in practice you have to study the plays even more.”

 

Question #2:  How much are you helping in the quarterback room pointing out things to Ben and suggest things. Is there a lot of back-and-forth in the room with you and the other quarterbacks.

“We have a lot of great, open communication in our room. All of us in there led by Randy (Fichtner), we always communicate and talk over things. It is cool to see. The thing I have been impressed with Ben has been his poise. He always stays even keel whether he is throwing six touchdowns or throwing interceptions, he is always the same guy. It’s a complement to him. He continues to work hard and get the guys ready to play. Anything I can do to help. If I see something then I will try to tell him. The biggest thing I can say is when you are out there on the field you have to trust what you see because you are seeing it through your eyes.”

 

Question #3: During the game, does Ben ever ask you to keep an eye out for something so you can help him?

“There will be different things we talk about on the sidelines that we look out for and communicate about the previous plays. It is constant communication and I think quarterback is hard enough and anytime you can get more help or have more eyes it helps.”

 

Question #4: Charlie Batch pops his head in the locker room from time-to-time. He was one of the best of being ready at a moment’s notice. Have you ever had a chance to pick his brain about being a backup?

“I’ve known Charlie for a while and when I was in Cincinnati, I kind of reached out to him and picked his brain a little bit. Charlie is a true pro. He was ready when he had to be. There was a reason why he played so many years especially keeping his body in shape to play that many years. He is a great guy and it is great when he comes around and stick his hand and say what’s up.”

 

Question #5: What is you theory on why Martavis Bryant has been so successful early in his career?

“He is a gifted athlete. He is a big, strong guy. You continue to get better as a young guy. You are coming in and everything is going so fast and you are trying to learn the offense and trying to get comfortable out there. As the season progresses and he continued to get reps with the scout team, he was able to watch and learn and continue to grow every week. He made plays in practice and gave everybody confidence in giving him a shot in the game. It’s a complement with him. I have been most impressed on how he has handled himself each week. He is knowing what to do and lining up quick and fast. He’s taking it serious and acting like a pro.”

 

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November 6, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers WR C.J. Goodwin stunned about Cal U football incident

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CHC.J. Goodwin might have played football at California (Pa.) last year, but the Steelers practice squad receiver refuses to recognize that was the case – especially after what transpired last week just off campus that’s located 35 miles south of the Steelers practice facility.

That’s where six Cal U football players severely beat a man to the point that he suffered life-threatening injuries after police said he stepped in to defend his girlfriend, who is a student at the university, outside a bar.

Goodwin, who played only one semester at Cal, said that he can distance himself from the university since he was there for only a couple months.

“I graduated from Fairmont State so I am going to stick with that,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin played only 11 games and spent around six months at the school. He got on the field sparingly and caught only 11 passes before eventually getting a tryout with the Steelers on the recommendation of Hall of Famer Mel Blount.

Goodwin made the Steelers 90-man offseason roster after the tryout and was able to catch on with the practice squad after being released in August.

Goodwin admitted things got “wild and crazy” at Cal when he was there because “there was nothing to do up there.”

“But geez, we never did anything like that,” Goodwin said. “That’s just not right. That’s ridiculous. I am actually glad that they cancelled that game.”

Cal decided to forfeit last week’s home game against Gannon despite being ranked 19th by D2Football.com. Cal will resume play Saturday at Mercyhurst.

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October 30, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Steelers’ 2nd Half Projections … and More

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Here’s a link to the latest Steelers Roundtable podcast with Alan Robinson, Ralph N. Paulk and Mark Kaboly.

Lots of inside the locker room talk, including:

– What the offensive linemen are saying about Big Ben’s big game?

– What should you expect in the Ravens-Steelers game Sunday?

– What are the surprises and disappointments of the Steelers season to date, and how will the AFC North race shake out over the second half of the season?

– Should Mike Adams remain the starter at right tackle Sunday, or should Marcus Gilbert go right back in after being out a week with a concussion?

– Who gets Mike Tomlin’s “arrow up” and “arrow down” for the week?

 

 

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October 29, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: The fall of Cortez Allen continues

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(Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review)

(Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review)

Cortez Allen was benched once.

Now, it appears that the $26 million man is being benched again – this time for real.

Allen went from an owner of a new multi-million dollar contract the day before the start of the season to being pushed out of his starting position by Brice McCain and now to the bench by Antwon Blake.

Let that sink in for a minute – Cortez Allen lost his starting job to Brice McCain and now forced to the bench by Antwon Blake.

It hasn’t been a particularly good couple months for what the Steelers thought was their shutdown cornerback of the future.

Allen now will likely be relegated to standing on the sidelines come Sunday against Baltimore. William Gay will start at right corner and Brice McCain at left corner. When the Steelers go to their nickel package, Blake will take McCain’s spot and McCain will move to the slot corner.

“From the looks of things right now that’s how it is going to be,” Blake said following practice on Wednesday. “Things change during the week so we see how it goes.”

Blake replaced Allen in the nickel on the final series of last week’s game against the Colts. Blake intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in the end zone late in the fourth quarter for his first career pick.

Mike Tomlin said at the time that he made the switch because he felt it was necessary for them to win the game. Tomlin also has maintained his confidence in Allen, but knows that Allen’s recent play has forced an alternative plan to be put into action.

Allen has allowed 34 receptions and NFL-high five touchdowns including two last week against the Colts. He’s been called for a league-high nine penalties as well.

“He’s just got to fight through it,” Ike Taylor said. “That’s the life of a cornerback. Everybody goes through it. I went through it. Deucey (No. 22, William Gay) went through it. Now, he’s going through it. He’s got to fight his way out. Playing corner, we’ve all got the physical attributes. But he’s got to be mentally tough. That’s the only way that you’re going to fight yourself out of that. So, he’s got to show that.”

Taylor was benched by Bill Cowher in 2006 with six regular season games remaining. He eventually got his starting job back for the season finale against Cincinnati.

“He’s got to show, week in and week out, practice after practice,” Taylor said. “What I always tell my guys at corner is that you’ve got to be honest with yourself. There is no gray area when you play corner. Either you’re getting the job done or you’re not. So, once you establish that, everything else comes easy.”

Until then, it’s Blake’s chance, and it couldn’t come at a more critical and difficult time. The Steelers play the Ravens on Sunday, who feature receivers Torrey Smith and Steve Smith Sr.

“We are going to basically stay on our sides,” Blake said. “Whoever comes to my side is who I am going to get. I am going to have to bring everything out of the toolbox and be very technical this game. Anytime you get your number called you want to make a play for your team. You thank God you are put in position to do so.”

And as always, check out the Kaboly Show Podcast. Great Steelers talk …

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October 23, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Polamalu disappointed that it’s not going to be a family affair now

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(Chaz Palla -- Tribune-Review)

(Chaz Palla — Tribune-Review)

If you know anything about Troy Polamalu, you know family matters.

It matters more than football.

However, for the first time in his professional career, Polamalu was going to finally have the best of both worlds – football and family – when the Steelers play Indianapolis on Sunday at Heinz Field.

That’s because Polamalu was going to get a chance to compete against family.

Polamalu’s brother-in-law, Khaled Holmes, is a center for the Colts.

“It would’ve been weird,” Polamalu said. “It would’ve been exciting and fun though. He just told me that it was weird watching me on film.”

Yes, Polamalu said ‘would’ve’ because it’s unlikely to happen now.

Holmes started the season as the Colts’ starting center, but a high ankle sprain during the first series of the preseason opener forced him to the sidelines.

Even though he’s healthy now, Holmes is behind undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison and former Steeler and Moon graduate A.Q. Shipley.

Holmes, a fourth-round pick in 2013, has been a game day inactive all seven weeks despite  being looked at as the center of the future for the Colts during the offseason.

“It is disappointing that he lost his starting spot,” Polamalu said. “I was looking forward to it.”

Polamalu is nine years older than Holmes so the two never played against each other before. In fact, when Polamalu first met his wife, Theodora, at USC, Holmes wasn’t even 10 years-old yet.

“It’s crazy because I remember in the offseason going back and taking him to basketball practices when I trained in California,” Polamalu said. “Who knows, maybe it will make room for him coming here one day.”

Polamalu has another brother-in-law, Alex Holmes. Alex Holmes played with Polamalu at USC before having a short stint in the NFL with the Dolphins and Rams.

The two never played against each other professional, either.

 

As always, check out the podcast of the Mark Kaboly Show.

 

And while you are at it, check out the Steelers Roundtable with Alan Robinson,  Ralph Paulk and me.

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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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