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April 6, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers Full Mock Draft 1.0

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The NFL Draft is only three weeks away, and on Monday’s edition of the Kaboly Show on TribLive Radio, I unveiled my mock draft 1.0. (you can listen to the entire podcast here —–> ).

We all know the Steelers coveted a cornerback and in need of a outside rush linebacker, but, as I’ve said a number of times, the way the draft breaks this year more than ever will determine what position and the Steelers use with their 22nd overall pick.

They want a cornerback, but only if a higher-slotted cornerback is still on the board. If he isn’t, they will take a rush outside linebackers.

Knowing that, it’s kind of hard to determine who the Steelers will take, but this is my best shot at it.

 

Kaboly’s NFL Mock Draft 1.0

Round 1 (22) Bud Dupree, OLB, Kentucky

Skinny: Big and powerful defensive end who would be converted to outside linebacker. Dropped some in college making the transition to OLB much easier.

 

Round 2 (56) Alex Carter, CB, Stanford

Skinny: He’s everything the Steelers want in a pick – young, underclassman (junior) and is from a big school (Stanford). Carter has nice size (6-0, 195), is physical and can tackle.

 

Round 3 (87) D’Joun Smith, CB, Florida Atlantic

Skinny: What better way to address a need than using both picks on Day 2 to do it?

 

Round 4 (121) Derron Smith, S, Fresno State

Skinny: Troy Polamalu won’t be back and who knows if Shamarko Thomas will be the answer?

 

Round 5 (160) Jesse James, TE, Penn State

Skinny: Just picture a clone of Matt Spaeth, who can’t block as well but can provide more in the way of the passing game.

 

Round 6 (199) Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami (Fla.)

Skinny: The Steelers don’t really need a receiver, but they won’t be able to overlook the speed of Dorsett.

 

Round 6 (212) (Comp) Sean Hickey, OL, Syracuse

Skinny: You never have too many offensive linemen. Hickey, a Franklin Regional grad, can play both left and right tackle.

 

Round 7 (239) Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State

Skinny: Brother of inside linebacker Vince Williams, the Steelers can take a flyer on Williams after signing DeAngelo Williams.

 

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March 31, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: #AskKaboly on Twitter Tuesday

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First of all, check out the Kaboly Show podcast (http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/330KAB15.mp3+share) on TribLive Radio. I have Mike Tomlin’s first interview in more than two months when I was in Phoenix for the NFL’s annual meeting.

 

OK, let’s get started with #AskKaboly on Twitter Tuesday.

 

It sure doesn’t look promising, now does it, Felix? It’s not like they don’t have the talent to be good because I truly believe that they do have the talent. It’s just young. And raw. And inexperienced. And not much of it. What you have to understand is that these unknowns could very well be guys that just need a chance. Antwon Blake might not be the next Champ Bailey, but, in the limited time he got on the field last year, he played well. He made plays. Saying that, I am almost certain that the Steelers will add a veteran to the mix at cornerback at some time. Maybe it’s before the draft but more likely after. There’s no real hurry now. Who knows, Shazier, Jones, Tuitt, Shamarko might all take a giant leap at the same time. Just going to have to wait and see.

 

 

I really don’t think so, Jason. You cannot, and the Steelers aren’t, expecting to draft somebody who will be able to immediately step in and help significantly early in the season. Kevin Colbert even said that they wouldn’t make a selection based on the fact that the pick could provide immediate help. It was very unusual that the Steelers handed Ryan Shazier the starting job the second he walked onto campus. By midway through the season, he could supplant Sean Spence or Vince Williams. We are talking about a top-notch talent in Shazier, too. Just look at the cornerbacks last year that went in the first round of the draft. Nobody was a standout. Unfortunately, the draft isn’t going to help much … at least in September, October and November.

 

 

The entire Shaq Richardson situation is weird. Very weird. He was cut and brought back to the practice squad then put on the PS IR (yeah, I never knew there was one either). After that, I never noticed Richardson until a rogue No. 31 showed up on the practice field a couple weeks later. I was told “Oh yeah, we released him a couple weeks ago?” Why release a guy from the practice squad IR? Isn’t that why you put him on the IR in the first place? Something happened. I am not sure what and we will likely not ever know, but to make a decision on a 5th-round rookie after a couple of practices (he was hurt in camp) reeks of something else.

 

 

I don’t know how much the Steelers are looking for a running back in the draft since they picked up DeAngelo Williams. It would be a nice story with Vince being his brother, but that wouldn’t make any difference to the people who make the decisions. As for Shamarko, no. He didn’t play on defense at all last year and not much as a rookie the year before that. They have high hopes for him and will give him every opportunity to win that starting position, but it’s not game over if he doesn’t grab that spot.

 

 

I loved Seattle, but haven’t been there since 2003. New Orleans is always great. It was especially crazy the year the Steelers played in on Halloween. Bourbon Street during a regular weekend night is nuts. You can just imagine what Saturday before Halloween was like. St. Elmo’s in Indy is real nice place.

 

 

If any year it rings true, this would be the year that the Steelers would stick to their board … to a point. They want a cornerback. They want a rush outside linebacker. They will take a safety and don’t think twice about it. Collins is a guy the Tomlin/Colbert regime love — young (not 22 until January), underclassman (junior) and played college at a big-time school (Alabama). I wouldn’t be shocked if Collins would be their pick, that’s for sure.

I think we have to come to realization that Polamalu won’t be with the Steelers this year. The Steelers are just giving Polamalu time to make the decision if he wants to play somewhere else this year. If he does, he will be released. If not, then he can retire a Steelers. It is as really as simple as that.

 

 

 

 

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March 24, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: 5 Thoughts from Mike Tomlin at NFL’s Annual Meeting

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PHOENIX — Here are a couple highlights from Mike Tomlin’s media session at the NFL’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday at the Arizona Biltmore.

 

1) You are a young coach but you’ve been doing this for a long time. What do you do to keep things fresh? How important is change to be a good coach?

I think that each year stands on its own. Some years I say similar things that I said the year before. I try to give our team what I deem appropriate and what I believe they need for preparation and ultimately play. One of the things I have realized over the years, you probably get tired of saying it before they get tired of hearing it [laughs]. I don’t worry too much about keeping it fresh from that perspective. If it’s good, it works.

 

2) Dri Archer last year and this year

I am excited about what 2015 could be for him. It’s his second lap around the track. You guys know my mentality in regards to that. I have a reasonable expectation that he’s going to grow in all areas and be a productive player for us. Guys like him usually do that. He is a good guy. He is a smart guy. He is hard working. He has all the variables that usually produce a positive outcome. We are going to give him an opportunity to do it.

 

3) Why do you go to pro days?

I think you get what you don’t see on tape. You get to smell it and feel it and be around it. You get to see them in their environment. You get to gather formal and informal information about who and what they are. What you see on tape is very tangible, their pedigree and capabilities. But when you step on campus you get an opportunity to go beyond that and maybe delve into what they are willing to do and how they deal with certain situations, opportunities or challenges. And I just think it better puts you in position to build a complete portfolio on each and every man.

 

4) How do you balance off-field issues/character with on-field talent in evaluating players?

We deal with it on a case-by-case basis and we try to gather as much information as we can and we make a decision accordingly. Obviously there are tipping points and things of that nature, protocols. But more than anything it’s about gathering information and getting a feel for that individual person.

 

5) Steve McLendon’s play last season

I was really pleased with his growth and development over the last 12 months particularly during the season. It was a difficult season for him because he faced some injury adversity, but I think that’s an opportunity for growth. I think he displayed that growth in terms of how he dealt with the discomfort associated with injuries and how he was able to push through and be what it is we needed him to be in the midst of those things.

And, as always, check out the Kaboly Show from the Arizona Biltmore Hotel

http://sportstalk.triblive.com/download/323KAB15.mp3+share

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March 23, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers can’t lose sight of Jarvis Jones in wake of James Harrison’s return

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Photo by Christopher Horner

Photo by Christopher Horner

PHOENIX — James Harrison is back.

Good for him. Good for his family. Good for the fans.

But is it good for the Steelers? Well, that all depends.

After hearing Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talk on Sunday about the reasons why the organization felt (in an offseason where they eradicated, or are in the process of eradicating all the 30-plus year-olds from their defense) the need to bring back the second oldest defensive player in the league, they indeed have the right mindset.

Harrison provides a veteran presence in a locker room that is now void of the likes of Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel and likely Troy Polamalu. He provides depth and he provides a pretty rock-solid insurance policy in case of an injury.

If – and it’s a big if – the Steelers follow that plan, Harrison’s return will have nothing but positive ramifications on the team. Now, deviate from that, and the signing will instantly turn counterproductive.

Harrison’s signing can’t cut into Jarvis Jones’ development this year – a very important year for the former first-round pick. Anything short of a total and utter disaster by Jones week-after-week should keep him on the field in lieu of Harrison.

That’s sometimes easier said than done, especially when it comes to the Steelers. The win-now-at-all-costs mentality by Mike Tomlin sometimes isn’t the best way to go about building confidence for young guys.

The Steelers need to find out about Jones now. Not next year or the year after. Right now, they just don’t know what they have with him. They could have a Pro Bowler right in front of them or another Huey Richardson. Again, they don’t know and they won’t know unless they give Jones and entire uninterrupted year to truly evaluate him.

Jones’ rookie year was like, well, like a lot of player’s rookie years – up and down. Then last year, he looked pretty good in the 10 quarters he played before suffering a dislocated wrist that forced him to miss 10 weeks.

Mind you, that’s not only games, but 10 weeks of practice. When he finally came back, Tomlin deferred to Harrison. The final two weeks of the regular season and the wild-card playoff game, Harrison played 87, 95 and 91 percent of the defensive snaps. Jones played 12, 4 and 9 percent during the same span.

It happened with Brett Keisel, too. The Steelers planned on using him about a dozen snaps per game when he returned before the start of last year but ended up routinely playing 40 snaps a game.

Don’t get me wrong, Harrison can be a valuable one-the-field piece as well … if used correctly. Used correctly means limiting his snaps.

It doesn’t matter if Harrison doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on his body. The fact is that he’s the second oldest defensive player in the league behind Charles Woodson. There is a reason for that, you know.

Harrison can’t take the load of 1,000 snaps anymore. Actually, 500 may be pushing it and the Steelers know that.

At least Colbert alluded to it.

“I think you have to be careful with any type of player at that age, except a quarterback, you have to be careful so as to not – I guess you have to be careful so as to maximize their abilities and have them be contributors over 16 games and hopefully a postseason season,” Colbert said.

If the Steelers stick to that plan, the signing is great.

If the first sign of Jones struggling finds him losing snaps to Harrison, regardless of production, then it’s a terrible signing.

Just to illustrate the age of Harrison, I did some research of the oldest active players in the league. This is what I came up with.

  1. PK Adam Vinateri (42)
  2. PK Phil Dawson (40)
  3. QB Matt Hasselbeck (39)
  4. QB Peyton Manning (39)
  5. DB Charles Woodson (38)
  6. LS Mike Leach (38)
  7. PK Sebastian Janikowski (37)
  8. QB Tom Brady (37)
  9. LB James Harrison (36)
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March 18, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Haley expecting Bryant to push Wheaton for No. 2 receiver spot

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Photo by Christopher Horner

Photo by Christopher Horner

Martavis Bryant put up plenty of big plays for the Steelers last year.

So much so that the Steelers are planning to give Bryant every opportunity this summer to claim the No. 2 receiver spot currently held by Markus Wheaton.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who pushed hard for the Steelers to draft Bryant last year, called what Bryant was able to do during the second half of last season a “big thing” during a 30-minute Steelers Nation Unite ‘Weekly Huddle’ fan forum session on Wednesday.

“We are looking for him to come in and make a push against Markus Wheaton for that No. 2 spot and continue give us big-time production, specifically in the red area where a big target like that can make a big impact,” Haley said.

Bryant, the Steelers fourth-round pick out of Clemson in 2014, was inactive for the first six games before reeling off six touchdowns during his first four professional games starting with a key 35-yard touchdown reception against Houston on Oct. 20.

Bryant played in 10 games, started three and finished with 26 receptions for 549 yards and 8 touchdowns. Bryant added 5 receptions, 61 yards and a touchdown in the playoff loss to the Ravens.

With Bryant in the lineup, the Steelers were 8-3. Without him, they are 3-3

“When young guys come in at the receiver position and contribute early like he did, it is a big thing,” Haley said. “He took a lot of pressure off Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton … he really had a big impact on our offense. He is a guy we are going to work real hard throughout the offseason and, like all young players, he should make progress from year one to year two.”

Haley also broached other topics including:

 

RE: The roles of DeAngelo Williams and Josh Harris?

“Obviously, Le’Veon (Bell) is our guy so he’s going to get the majority of the touches on all downs – first, second and third downs. Not having a great background with DeAngelo but knowing his history of playing a long time in the league and being very productive in basically a two-back system. We are excited to have him but we are also excited about the guys who have been here like Josh Harris and Dri Archer. It will make for a very interesting offseason and training camp to see how it plays out. I believe the more competition the better. It usually brings out the best in people.”

 

RE: Finding a place for Dri Archer

“Dri is a unique talent because he is probably the fastest guy on the field wherever we go. At the same time he is in a little bit of a difficult spot because we have a guy in Le’Veon who is capable and you really want on the field as much as possible. In a lot of places where you have running backs coming off the field, Le’Veon tends to get stronger as the games goes on. You hate to ever take him off the field. I am a big believer of putting your best 11 guys on the field as many snaps as you can. That put Dri in a little big of a difficult spot being a rookie coming from a little smaller school. When you get guys like that, sometimes the transition time is a little longer than we all would like, himself included. I really feel with a year under his belt even though there wasn’t great production anywhere. A year, plus another offseason and training camp, a full room in an NFL weight room, I think Dri will come back more experienced and still has that outstanding characteristic of speed. The important thing is that we do have a role for him if he is going to have a helmet on Sundays and he gets his five and six touches a game. Any one of those plays he has the chance to take it to the house with that speed. Let’s just have a little patience and let him continue to develop and we will definitely have a plan to get him touches throughout the season.”

 

RE: On Markus Wheaton’s development?

“From a developmental standpoint, I have always been taught and believe that year three is the most important in a guy’s development in what he’s going to be. As this year progresses we will have a real good idea of where Markus is and are all excited where he is going. We were excited with what we did but are probably more excited of what we are capable of doing.”

 

RE: What the offense needs to improve?

“We did a lot of good things but there are a number of things that we can be a lot better at. First and foremost is the red area. We did a great job of getting into the red area a bunch and that’s one of the keys that we focus on. We just need to turn some of those field goals into touchdowns.”

 

RE: On Kelvin Beachum

“He does everything possible to be as good as he can on a daily basis. (Antonio Brown) gets a lot of credit for being the hardest worker on the team, which he probably is, but Kelvin isn’t much behind him. He leaves no stone unturned when it comes to his pursuit of being as good as he possibly can.”

 

RE: On if Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL?

“I think he was the best last year and he is looking to improve with what he did last year and if he does, he can be setting even more records.”

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March 12, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: 9 former Steelers will take part in the NFL Veteran Combine

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iSteelers general manager Kevin Colbert made it known that he’s not very interested in the newly created NFL Veteran Combine – an event that gives free agents a chance to work out in front of team personnel.

Well, that same sentiment doesn’t go for more than a handful of former Steelers.

The NFL Veteran Combine will be held on March 22 at the Arizona Cardinals’ practice facility in Tempe, Ariz., with nine of the 103 participants being former Steelers.

The list includes:

* OL Mike Golic (In camp with Steelers in 2013)

* OL Graham Pocic (In camp with Steelers in 2014)

* CB Jordan Sullen (Steelers practice squad in 2014)

* LB Brian Rolle (In camp with Steelers in 2013)

* LB Vic So’oto (In camp with Steelers in 2014)

* QB Jerrod Johnson (In camp with Steelers in 2012)

* QB Brendon Kay (In camp with Steelers in 2014)

* RB Felix Jones (Played in 16 games with the Steelers in 2013)

* TE Eric Waters (In camp with Steelers in 2014)

Other local connections scheduled to participate are former Pitt cornerback Aaron Berry and former California (Pa.) receiver Thomas Mayo.

“Most of these guys that go to the veteran combine have been in at camp,” Colbert said in January about the event. “They’ve been veterans. They’ve been practice squad players or they’ve been active players. So what they do in a workout I’m not really interested in. I just want to see what they did when they did have their chance to be NFL players.”

In the past, most veteran free agents would have to wait for a team to call for a workout or a visit. Some veterans have been included in the NFL’s regional combines held for draft-eligible players, too. The Veteran Combine will streamline that into one time and one location.

Other notables set to participate are: LB Michael Sam, DL Adam Carriker, RB Michael Bush, RB Mikel LeShoure and DL Jamaal Anderson.

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March 6, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: An expert’s opinion on if Polamalu can still play and be effective?

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Chaz Palla Photo

Chaz Palla Photo

Let’s get this out of the way now: The Steelers are going to release Troy Polamalu sometime next week.

Well, nothing is ever 100 percent certain until it happens, but this is close to certain.

It might be Tuesday at 4:01 p.m. – the start of the NFL’s new year.

It might be Wednesday.

It might be after that.

Whenever it becomes official is not really important right now.

The question (at least to me) is can Troy Polamalu still play in the NFL.

No, not does he still want to play in the NFL.

Can the eight-time Pro Bowler and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 actually still perform at an acceptable level in the league?

My untrained eyes say yes, but take that for what it’s worth.

I reached out to a trained expert to ask him.

Matt Bowen was a sixth-round pick for the Rams in 2000 and went on to play seven seasons at safety in the NFL with the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills.

Bowen, now the National NFL Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who watches a copious amount of game film, believes that Polamalu can still play but only if it is in the right situation.

“You can tell based off the 2014 tape that Troy’s body is starting to break down and he doesn’t have the same burst or acceleration out on the field,” Bowen said. “Now, I do think he could still play as an underneath nickel or dime defender in the right system. I am not sure he can have the same impact in the back end of the secondary unless he adjusts the way he plays.”

Problem is that Polamalu was, and is, the ultimate risk taker because he has always had the ability to recover better than just about anybody. He can’t do that consistently anymore because injuries, and old age, finally caught up to him.

Despite playing every snap for 24 consecutive games until hurting his knee against the Ravens in early November, the loss of speed was noticeable. So much so that the Steelers were forced to put Polamalu in a position where he didn’t have to use his recovery speed to thwart a play.

That’s the biggest issue.

“Father Time is still undefeated,” Bowen said. “Happens to every player regardless of skill set in this league.”

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March 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Le’Veon Bell goes after Mel Kiper Jr. with a Twitter rant

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin put an end to Twitter for Mike Mitchell near the end of last year.

Le’Veon Bell just may be next up on the banned list

However, unlike Mitchell, who responded to angry and trolling fans, Bell went after some draft “experts” with his rant.

Bell’s main target was the draft guru himself Mel Kiper Jr., a lifelong Baltimore resident.

But Bell didn’t limit himself to just Kiper. He threw in a shot at Todd McShay and even Mike Mayock, who could be the most respected draft analysts in the business.

The rant went like this:

March 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Pitt coach offers advice and other Steelers related notes from Pitt’s Pro Day

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Mark Kaboly photo Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings

Mark Kaboly photo
Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings

If the Steelers plan to draft Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, Pat Narduzzi offered up some solid advice on Tuesday.

“… they are going to have to trade up,” Narduzzi said.

Narduzzi is Pitt’s head football coach now, but he was Michigan State’s defensive coordinator a couple of months ago and knows plenty about Waynes and what he’s capable of doing.

Speaking at Pitt’s Pro Day on Tuesday, Narduzzi said that Waynes is the best cornerback in the draft and last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in which Waynes ran a blazing 4.31 solidified just that.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” Narduzzi said. “He is a smooth, fast corner. I think he proved his speed at the combine and he is a great kid on top of that.”

Waynes is being slotted as a top 10 pick following the Combine. With the Steelers picking at 22, it’s quite likely that Waynes will be long gone once the Steelers’ pick rolls around.

Waynes is a man-press corner that would fit in perfect with the Steelers.

“That’s all we did,” Narduzzi said of playing man-press. “He is a press corner, lock on.”

Here are some other Steelers related notes from Pitt’s Pro Day

* It’s just a walk across a parking lot, but the Steelers coaches came out in droves.

Eleven coaches showed up to watch the workout – Randy Fichtner (quarterback), Richard Mann (wide receiver), Mike Munchak (offensive line), Shaun Sarrett (offensive assistant), James Saxon (running back), John Mitchell (defensive line), Joey Porter (outside linebacker), Jerry Olsavsky (inside linebacker), Danny Smith (special teams), Keith Butler (defensive coordinator) and Carnell Lake (secondary).

Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and tight end coach James Daniel did not attend.

* Steelers scouts in attendance were Danny Colbert, Brandon Hunt and Phil Kreidler.

* Since Pitt didn’t have a senior quarterback to throw during the workout, assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcel Pastoor was asked to throw. Pastoor throws to Steelers receivers during practice and before games.

* Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings, who is being projected as a first-round tackle, got some on-field instruction from Munchak. Clemmings said he knew who Munchak was, but didn’t know he was a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

“I didn’t know that, but just you telling me and listening to his instructions and the way he was coaching us makes sense now,” Clemmings said.

* Clemmings said has a meeting set up with the Steelers on Wednesday.

* Le’Veon Bell had some nice things to say about Narduzzi when his former coach was hired in December. Narduzzi returned the favor on Tuesday.

“LeVeon is a super kid,” Narduzzi said. “What I remember about him? Hurdling people and just making plays and just loving the game. He loves the game of football and he’s a very talented football player.”

 

 

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