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April 28, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Live blog from draft night at the Steelers facility

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12:14 a.m.: Highlights from GM Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin comments to the media after taking Artie Burns in the first round-

  • Colbert: “He put himself as one of the top corners in this draft class. We’re really starting to see this draft class with the corners coming together… We started to get a feel this was a really strong corner class.”
  • Tomlin: “He has a lot of growth potential. We’re excited about the upsides. He’s a natural at bump corner… He’s good at the ball, he’s good with the ball down the field… He has elite speed… He can get things going for us in 2016.”
  • KC: “This is one kid that when you really started to study him, he was as natural in bump-and-run coverage as any of the corners in this draft.”
  • KC: “In the NFL right now, there are bug receivers. When you look for the corner and you can find someone with that kind of length and that kind of athleticism — and you couple that with the six interceptions (last season), that was very, very impressive.”
  • KC: “It was a really easy (pick to make). It was breaking pretty tight, quite honestly. We really felt that we had a good chance to get a corner. It was quality from top to bottom. There is still quality left at that position… We were fortunate that he made it to us.”

 

 

12:07 a. m.: Highlights from Artie Burns’ first comments as a Steeler, to the Pittsburgh media over the phone-

  • “(The Steelers) are the team I wanted to go to… Tomlin was one of the coolest coaches I met. Players wanna play for him.”
  • “I known about the Steelers defense since I was young. I’ve known the whole Steelers team since I was young. I always idolized them.”
  • On losing his mother this past year: “It was difficult at first… It hurt, but it’s just something you’ve got to deal with, and make you stronger.”
  • “The Steelers are known as a tough, bend-but-don’t-break defense — and I’m that kind of guy.”
  • On Mike Tomlin: “He’s just got so much swag to him that that’s just something you wanna have in a head coach.”

 

 

11:49 p.m.: Artie Burns college highlights-

 

 

Artie Burns high school highlights-

 

11:42 p.m.: We’ve heard from Colbert and Tomlin and are awaiting to talk to newest Steeler CB Artie Burns over the phone. Colbert talked up the depth of the secondary in this year’s draft and lauded the character, size, speed and ball skills (ACC-high 6 INTs last season) of Burns.

Highlights from the NFL.com official draft page for Burns include: “Premium athlete with long, angular build and preferred blend of size and speed… natural ball skills to flip the field… Will bait quarterbacks into trap throws… Possesses brash, cocky demeanor. Length and physicality from press can be extremely disruptive. Burst on the throw is NFL-worthy… Usually finishes when he makes contact as tackler.”

Negatives from his NFL official draft bio: “Tape isn’t his best friend. Extremely raw and undisciplined. Leggy and grabby in routes…  Turns motor off and on from game to game, and play can be lackadaisical… Would like to see him attack blockers rather than waiting for running back before disengaging.”

 

 

10:57 p.m.: The Steelers pick is in. Miami (Fla.) CB Artie Burns.

His draft profiles: CBS/NFLDraftScout, NFL, ESPN

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin at the podium now. Updates to come…

 

10:41 p.m.: A run on wide receivers has left the Steelers within striking distance of Houston CB William Jackson III being on the board — that’s a player they liked enough on tape to go out to dinner with during a visit to his Pro Day.

Now that I said that, I’m sure they’ll now go another direction with their pick (if he’s still there)…

 

10:14 p.m.: After Paulk and Adamski took a break for ribs and wings (the Penguins game was on one of the TVs in the cafe)… the Steelers’ mock first round pick in Adamski’s  mock draft was taken well before the Steelers picked.

Overall, five defensive backs were taken among the first 17 picks (including something of a surprise in Keanu Neal going at No. 17 to Atlanta).

That leaves just William Jackson III, Artie Burns, Mackensie Alexander (and, perhaps Vonn Bell) as DB’s who could possibly make sense at No. 25. Otherwise, The Streak continues…

 

9:38 p.m.: It’s of little secret that the Steelers haven’t taken a cornerback in the first round in a long, long time… And many are predicting that they will this year. But part of those predictions are based in the fact that there are up to six first-round-worthy cornerbacks (if you count Jalen Ramsey). But with Eli Apple surprisingly going to the Giants at No. 10, it has meant that three cornerbacks (if you count Ramsey as one and not a safety) are off the board over the first 11 picks. That leaves only William Jackson III, Artie Burns and Mackensie Alexander as possible CB options for the Steelers at No. 25…. with 13 picks to go to get there.

 

 

9:10 p.m.: After making a trade with the Titans, the Browns (a division rival of the Steelers, remember — and one that won’t be a laughingstock forever, so at some point Cleveland’s move indeed do affect the Steelers) now have 15 picks in this year’s draft, plus extra first- and second-rounders next year and an extra fourth-rounder the year after that…

 

 

8:44 p.m.: Ohio State players go both No. 3 and No. 4 overall. Many more will have their name called both tonight and this weekend. The NFL’s official site lists 15 players, and five (or six) could/should be drafted in the first round.

Anyway, the Cowboys taking Buckeyes RB Ezekiel Elliott opened up the player who in my humble opinion is the best overall in this draft — FSU S/CB Jalen Ramsey – to fall to the home-state Jaguars at No. 5.

 

 

8:32: Well, any thoughts that Kaboly and Adamski were going to toss the perfect game in terms of mocking the first round are gone at Pick No. 3. The Chargers take Ohio State edge rusher Joey Bosa over our projected Jalen Ramsey. The first of many, many Buckeyes to have their name be called tonight and this weekend…

 

 

8:15 p.m.:  The Rams announced they had traded for the top pick in the draft on the morning of April 14. They leaked later that day that they agreed to the deal the night before but did not announce it out of respect fro Kobe Bryant’s final game. Anyway, that was approximately 21,600 minutes prior to the draft starting. They had that much time to debate — if they hadn’t already — who they were going to take. And yet they needed almost the full 10 minutes allotted tonight to make their pick: JARED GOFF.

 

 

 

7:48 p.m.: Legendary Bill Hillgrove about to go on the air live from the facility along with Steelers Nation Radio producer Ryan Tobin. You’ll notice they are watching the hockey game…

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7:42 p.m.: I’d be remiss if I didn’t get everyone ready by linking to today’s exhaustive draft coverage in the Trib.

 

 

Shameless reminder to follow Adamski, Kaboly and Paulk on Twitter.

 

 

7:19 p.m.:

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Welcome to tonight’s LIVE BLOG of NFL Draft Night here at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Pittsburgh’s South Side. Media types from myriad of outlets are here (rumor had it the free meal ended at 7 p.m., after all), and so are little-seen Steelers scouts. Team general manager Kevin Colbert is dressed in a shirt and tie (he sort of laughed and turned away when I asked him if it was because he will candidly be on TV tonight for the first time). So are media relations czars Burt Lauten, Ryan Scarpino and Dom Rinelli, though that is hardly out of character for them. There’s already been some discussions among the media if the Penguins-Capitals game will make it on a TV somewhere. (It won’t). And as we’ve been reminded, this is 2016, so any hockey fans here will deal.

 

Anyway, I honestly don’t know if I should be ashamed or proud to say this… but I have never actually executed a **live blog** of an event. So bear with me. We’ll (I say, “we,” because the great Mark Kaboly is alongside) will break down some picks, provide commentary of how a particular pick or draft development might affect the Steelers, perhaps do some scene-setting of what’s going here at team headquarters (no, we’re not allowed in the draft so-called “war room” — and team official media policy bans photos of anything outside the media room or even on-the-record conversations with team personnel). But most of all, we’ll try to have some fun. So read along…

 

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April 28, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers/NFL Draft Q & A (Transcript)

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OK, thanks for participating. We will jump right into this chat/ Q&A session.

_____________________________________________________

Absolutely. Harrison just wanted to make sure his body didn’t break down preparing for the season. He still has a couple of days to go before his self-imposed six week training regimen is up, but everybody pretty much know the answer. What you need to keep an eye on is what happened last year during the spring and summer — nothing. Don’t look for Harrison to participate at all during OTAs and likely the first week or so of the preseason.

_________________________________________________________________________

I am assuming you are talking about the Steelers’ safeties and the short answer is no. Mike Mitchell had a solid and healthy year and Robert Golden is more than serviceable until they find a long-term solution. Who knows, that solution might be Shamarko Thomas? What a lot of people don’t realize is that Will Allen struggled as much as he played well a year ago. He had some stinkers of games, but also had some good ones. I do believe they will address the safety position during the second day of the draft.

——————————————————————————————————————————

Evan, I like Joseph and the Steelers like him, too. I just think 25th is just a little too soon for him and he will be long gone by the second round. As for Cash, he is an in-the-box guy who could probably help out immediately in sub-package football, but is he a long-term answer at safety? Could be, but I want more of a sure thing if I am taking somebody in the second round like Cash will likely go.

__________________________________________________________________________

In theory, it is a wonderful idea. Well, maybe not out of the first but I would dump down a couple picks in order to pick up another third-rounder. But there are issues doing that. First, you better be darn well sure a guy you want will be there when you fall back. And second, you got to find a dancing partner. That just may be hard to do. I am sure plenty of teams in the middle of the second would love to get up to 25, but do you want to do that and waste a potential starter by moving out of the first? Also, look at history. Colbert has moved down only once in 16 years and that was only 3 spots backs to get the Big Snack in 2001. I don’t see any movement by the Steelers on Thursday.

________________________________________________________________________

No and for a pretty good reason. The Steelers don’t have a fifth-round pick and actually don’t pick until late in the sixth. Nobody worth a darn will be there then. You would have to take a QB within the first four rounds and that, to me, is just a waste. You need corner and safety help, defensive line, guard and possible wide receivers so you can toss away somebody you hope doesn’t play until 2020. Saying that, I think Cardale Jones would be a wonderful project type for the Steelers, but he will go way too early for the Steelers to even contemplate that.

_________________________________________________________________________

I will give you two answers here. What I would do is take Billy Jackson and pair him with Golson and you might have a decent duo. You can’t go wrong with Joseph. Billings, I believe, would be a luxury pick. Now, if this scenario plays out for the Steelers, I can easily see them taking Noah Spence. Forget the drug fails and getting kicked out of a CONFERENCE. Remember, pressure the quarterback is much more important that defending the quarterback. So, in summary — I would take the corner, the Steelers would take the OLB.

_________________________________________________________________________

Just was talking about that. Spence, I believe, would be very enticing to the Steelers if he is there at 25. Problem is, I don’t think he will. However, who knows with this draft. You might have 3 ho-hum QBs going into the top seven picks, which is absurd to me. I don’t think you can totally rule out an edge rusher. Although I think it is going to be a corner, but I’ve thought it was going to be a corner the past three years.

_________________________________________________________________________

That’s probably the starting point. Shady McCoy got 5 for $40 million last year and he is three years older the Le’Veon Bell. The five years seems like something the Steelers wouldn’t want. That would bring him to near 30 years old. I don’t know if you want to do that if you are the Steelers. But I guess we will find out soon enough.

__________________________________________________________________________

I don’t really recall any. I know Troy Polamalu had some concussion concerns when they drafted him. That’s the best I can do. I am assuming you are referring to Kendall Fuller and Karl Joseph. I don’t think those guys  are long-term risks that would prevent the Steelers from taking them. In reality, who cares about a couple weeks if the guys is going to play 10 years, right? Now, Jaylon Smith, that’s a different story just because you don’t know if he ever will be back to his collegiate level of play.

_________________________________________________________________________

Good question. What I have been told is that you would love to have three who are every day contributors out of a draft class. That’s probably on the high end. Of course, the first rounder has to be a slam-dunk, every down starter. When you do the math, that means that more than 50 percent of all picks are going to be bit players if at all. For the most part, the Steelers have been pretty good hitting on three — except for 2008, of course.

________________________________________________________________________

I think they are pretty committed to taking a cornerback in the first round. So, Jackson would be the pick. I mocked Jackson to the Steelers, but it could easily be Apple as well. Billings is intriguing, but the crazy depth of DL in this draft affords them to wait a little bit to address the defensive line.

_________________________________________________________________________

No, not at all. They had enough faith in him to give him a shot last year. I didn’t work out, so let’s see what happens this year. Thomas is still a talented player who needs to get his head on straight in terms of the playbook. The Steelers, or any team, can’t afford to give up big plays and a mistake by a safety results in big plays. That’s why he sat last year. I think he has a shot to contribute this year. I am not rubber-stamping Golden as the starter yet.

_________________________________________________________________________

Nah, I don’t think you can take a chance on him that early. Somebody will. As for Jarvis Jones, I don’t anticipate them picking up his 5th year option, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to sign him. That 5th year option is $8.5 million for 2017. That is a lot of money for him. Just let the contract play out and then try to re-sign him if they want. It is a rise though. If Jones has a big year this year then he can go get some free agent money somewhere else next year. I would keep him. I would also play a little more than the Steelers have played him in the past as well.

 

OK, thanks for participating. Maybe we will do it again some time.

 

Kaboly

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April 26, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Trib’s NFL draft coverage, all in one place

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Screenshot_2016-04-26-17-28-51-1Screenshot_2016-04-26-17-28-56-1

 

 

Depending on when, exactly, you’re reading this, this year’s NFL draft is all but upon us. For many football fans, that’s akin to Christmas Eve.

 

For the first time (that I’m aware of, anyway), we’ll be live-blogging the first round from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, providing reaction about the draft and how it affects the Steelers – and from the Steelers themselves, too (or at least from Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin after their pick is made).

 

Leading into that, however, in case you missed any of the run-up, here’s a handy and comprehensive compilation of all things Trib/draft.

 

 

TRIBLIVE RADIO SHOWS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRIB DRAFT ANALYSIS/PREDICTIONS

 

 

 

 

TRIB DRAFT POSITION PREVIEWS (by Adamski) – COMPLETE WITH TOP-10 CHECKLISTS:

(Feature on Braxton Miller — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Hunter Henry — by Ralph Paulk)

 

(Feature on Nick Martin — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Jack Conlkin — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Ezekiel Elliott — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Joshua Perry — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Myles Jack — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on A’Shawn Robinson — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Christian Hackenberg — Kaboly)

 

(Feature on Vernon Hargreaves — Paulk)

 

(Feature on Jalen Ramsey — Paulk)

 

 

TRIB DRAFT NEWS STORIES:

 

 

 

TRIB DRAFT FEATURES:

 

 

 

 

TRIB TRACKS THE STEELERS PRE-DRAFT VISTORS:

(Bonus: neat and informative graphical list of EVERY prospect whom reportedly met with Steelers brass, courtesy USA Today Draftwire

 

 

 

 

We’ll chat Thursday night.

 

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April 7, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Running tally of Steelers pre-draft visits

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AShawn

A’Shawn Robinson is one of the best in what is a bumper crop for defensive linemen this year.

 

PTR-PSUfb22-102614

Vonn Bell of Ohio State has elite coverage skills for a safety.

 

 

The entrance and lobby area to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex are undergoing extensive renovations this spring. That hasn’t meant the (temporary side) doors haven’t been open to NFL draft prospects.

 

Through Thursday, the Steelers have hosted 14 players for pre-draft official visits. That’s almost half of the 30 they are permitted. Whom the team chooses to meet with can, in some ways, provide a glimpse into what players – or what kind of players and at what positions – the Steelers are investigating drafting.

 

As our Mark Kaboly has noted, predraft visitors have been a strong indication recently of whom the Steelers are targeting. Over the past three years, 15 of the Steelers’ 26 draft picks were predraft visitors, including four last year with Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, Jesse James (unofficial – as a local native visits such as James do not count toward the 30 limit) and Sammie Coates. Also, three predraft visitors last year ended up as undrafted free agents: Tyler Murphy, Cam Clear and Devin Gardner.

 

Of course, these visitors are not the lone indicator of Steelers’ interest. Teams are allotted 60 interviews with prospects (15 minutes each) at the combine in Indianapolis in February. Coaches and personnel executives also can meet with prospects at, during or after their respective “Pro Day” workouts on campus. These actually can often provide the most one-on-one time (coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert took a couple high-end prospects in the state of Texas out to dinner in University of Houston CB William Jackson III and Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings, for example).

 

Predraft visits to the team facility also usually include breaking bread with a position coach or coordinator. Not unlike the rest of us, it’s a “job interview” on-site at the place of possible future employment.

 

 

Here is a list of the visitors, broken down by date and including school, position, size and projected round they’ll be selected in (via NFLdraftscout.com via CBS Sports). Click on the player’s name for the NFL’s official draft profile of the player and on the date of the visit for a recap of that day’s visits.

 

 

Friday April 1: (4)

S Deon Bush (Miami), 7th rd/undrafted free agent

S Jeremy Cash (Duke), 2nd rd

OL Jerald Hawkins (LSU), 2nd-3rd rd

CB David (D.J.) White (Georgia Tech), 3rd-4th rd

 

Saturday-Monday April 2-4:
NONE

 

Tuesday April 5: (1)

DT A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama), 1st rd

 

Wednesday April 6: (4)

OT Caleb Benenoch (UCLA), 7th rd/UDFA

S Keanu Neal (Florida), 2nd rd

S Darian Thompson (Boise State), 4th-5th rd

CB Tavon Young (Temple), 5th rd

 

Thursday April 7: (5)

S Vonn Bell (Ohio State), 2nd rd

LB Jatavis Brown (Akron), 4th-5th rd (HIS APPEARANCE INTERVIEWED ON TRIBLIVE RADIO)

S T.J. Green (Clemson), 3rd rd

CB Jonathan Jones (Auburn), 4th rd

CB Ryan Smith (NC Central), 7th rd/UDFA

 

Friday April 8: (4)

DE Quinton Jefferson (Maryland), 7th rd/UDFA (**Woodland Hills HS alum**)

DT Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State), 3rd rd

DE Dean Lowry (Northwestern), 7th rd-UDFA

S Trae Elston (Ole Miss), 7th-UDFA

 

Monday, April 11: (8)

WR Pharoh Cooper (South Carolina), 2nd rd

CB Ken Crawley (Colorado), 5th-6th rd

S Sean Davis (Maryland), 5th rd 

CB Cyrus Jones (Alabama), 3rd-4th rd

S Karl Joseph (West Virginia), 2nd-3rd rd 

LB Dadi Nicholas (Virginia Tech), 6th rd

DE Robert Nkemdeche (Mississippi), 1st rd 

S Justin Simmons (Boston College), 6th  rd

 

Tuesday, April 12: (1)

WR Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma), 2nd-3rd rd

 

Tuesday, April 19: (3)

RB Devontae Booker (Utah), 2nd rd

CB Brandon Williams (Texas A&M), 7th rd-UDFA

S  Jarrod Wilson (Michigan), unrated

 

Unofficial visit, week of March 28-April 1: (1)

WR Tyler Boyd (Pitt), 2nd rd (HIS APPEARANCE ON TRIBLIVE RADIO)

 

Official reported visit, unknown exact date: (1)

S Jayron Kearse (Clemson), 6th rd

 

 

Running tally of *official* visits by position (updated 4/19/16):

  • 12 safeties
  • 7 cornerbacks
  • 2 offensive tackles
  • 2 defensive tackles
  • 2 defensive ends
  • 2 wide receivers
  • 2 linebackers
  • 1 running back

(25 defensive players; five offensive players)

 

 

(**Note: players who are local natives or go to a local college can meet with the Steelers and not count toward their allotment limit of 30).

 

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April 1, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: 99 minutes of April Fool’s Day, Le’Veon Bell style

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Screenshot_2016-04-01-15-30-42-1

Poor Josh Lever. (Courtesy @L_Bell26 Twitter account)

 

 

Le’Veon Bell’s name made the rounds at all the national outlet NFL websites Friday. Apparently, some of their writers were compelled to do some digging. Some fans were startled. Even his agent, Adisa Bakari, apparently was concerned.

 

But alas, it was merely a simple, almost-comically clichéd April Fool’s prank:

 

The star athlete “announces” he’ll no longer be playing for Team X. Some momentary panic ensues. Then people look at the calendar.

 

Well, “momentary” isn’t the best way of putting the 99 minutes that Bell waited between his initial tweet and the one that, officially, told of the April 1 joke.

 

 

The above got, within its first six hours public, more than 3,800 retweets (and 3,500 “likes” – although no breakdown is available of how many people “liked” the joke and how many “liked” the fact he was “moving on” from the Steelers).

 

Sure enough, by 11:03 Friday morning Bell at last relented on his torture of those out there who take their Steelers fandom much more seriously than their grasp of the obvious:

 

https://twitter.com/L_Bell26/status/715917557845389312

 

Some 20 retweets of fans that had reacted to Bell’s news were posted on his timeline. Followed by one final Bell basking in it all:

 

 

Personally, Bell “announcing” a contract extension – now THAT would have gotten me. It would have been quite plausible (though I’m not sure how funny).

 

Simply put, there really wasn’t any way he would leave the Steelers, being under contract and all. And there was no way the team would cut a player considered to be one of the best in the league at his position who is scheduled to make a mere $966,900 this year with a cap hit of about $1.3 million.

 

Oh well, it wouldn’t be April 1 without such stories.

 

In the meantime, check out Friday’s TribLive Radio podcast of Josh Taylor, Guy Junker and I discussing the Steelers (and some Penguins, too).

 

Also in the Trib’s Steelers coverage Friday:

The team welcomed its first four official draft visitors to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side

Additionally, the team announced its spring schedule for rookie camp, offseason training activities and minicamp.  This makes Mark Kaboly unreasonably happy.

 

 

Enjoy the weekend.

 

 

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March 24, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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TribLive Radio Steelers Roundtable offseason episode: Martavis absence impact, who’ll play CB?

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TLR

 

We’re not weekly during the offseason on the Steelers Roundtable, the show Mark Kaboly contends is the most-downloaded show in TribLive Radio history. So Thursday’s show was the first time we have convened since four days post-Super Bowl.

 

During this episode, Ralph Paulk hosts while he, Chris Adamski and Kaboly (fresh back just hours earlier from the NFL annual meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.) discuss such wide-ranging Steelers topics as:

 

  • The impact on the offense of Martavis Bryant’s yearlong suspension
  • Who will man cornerback once the regular season starts in September?
  • Should the Steelers consider drafting a quarterback next month?
  • Was it a mistake to let Kelvin Beachum and/or Steve McLendon walk in free agency?
  • What will Ladarius Green’s impact be? And what is Jesse James’ future here now?
  • What are the chances Will Allen ends up back with the team at some point?
  • Will Kaboly ever stop complaining?

 

 

Give it a listen by with one click by clicking right here.

 

The next episode will preview the draft on Day One of the event April 28 (that means that draft is only about a month away!).

 

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March 20, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Shakim Phillips, as it stands now, is the proverbial “next man up” at receiver

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Shakim

Can Shakim Phillips step up and seize a possible opportunity? (AP photo)

 

 

Now that the well-chronicled loss of Martavis Bryant for the season is behind us, the cold, football-related question concerns where the Steelers go from here.

 

Veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey was re-signed. Most agree Sammie Coates’ time has come to fill a bigger role (as he did during the playoff loss in Denver). Though a tight end, Ladarius Green has a Martavis-like skillset and receiving profile that should help pick up the slack.

 

But there’s still a trickle-down effect – one that leads to… Shakim Phillips?

 

As the offseason roster stands at the moment, Phillips would likely fill the “No. 5” spot on the Steelers’ depth chart at wide receiver. The Steelers typically keep five wide receivers on the 53-man roster, so…

 

But there are other signs that point to Phillips maybe having a future with the Steelers. He was the only undrafted rookie from last season to spend the entire 10 months since as an active part of the organization – sure, it was on the practice squad only throughout the regular season, but it still says something that the team held onto him (and he stayed healthy) all the way through rookie camp, organized team activities, minicamp, training camp, the 19-week season and getting re-upped through a reserve/future contract in January.

 

The affable Phillips was grateful for what his first year as a professional brought him.

 

“I feel like everyone has different paths: I came into the league different, an undrafted guy, and I came in and I learned a lot more than what I was expecting,” he told me after the season ended. “I learned how to be a professional, how to take care of my body, how to do things the right way. So I feel like it was a great learning experience for me.”

 

Look, no one is declaring Phillips is necessarily a future star or that he will make a big impact this coming season – or even that he will so much as appear in a regular-season game for the Steelers in 2016. He still has a lot of work to do just to make the 53-man roster – and it’s very possible (some might say likely) the Steelers draft a receiver, which then bumps Phillips down another spot. Maybe they even sign a veteran free agent – almost certainly, they’ll bring in at least an undrafted rookie… and then there’s the likes of Eli Rogers (who showed promise before a training camp injury – enough so that the Steelers kept him around all year) on the roster to contend with.

 

That all said, Phillips is somewhat intriguing. He’s big (listed at 6-2, 204). He’s fast (his reported 4.45-second 40-yard dash at his Boston College pro day last year would have been competitive with the best receivers at the Combine this year). He has pedigree (Phillips was a four-star recruit with offers from some big-name programs coming out of high school six years ago).

 

He on occasion made plays and turned heads at St. Vincent College during training camp. Phillips is also, by all accounts and appearances, is well-liked and respected in the locker room and has earned a reputation as a hard worker.

 

“Everything happens for a reason, so I am here in this position for a reason and I feel like just by being here and learning was my reason for being here: learning how to be a professional,” Phillips said.

 

I asked Phillips what he wanted to work on or fine-tune over this offseason in his effort to become an NFL player.

 

EVERYTHING!” he said. “Everything. You can’t just work on one thing – I mean it’s like a different level. You could just go back from going from high school to college, and then it’s another transition from college to the pros, and then it’s another transition from pro to All Pro. It’s just different now, transitioning and you have to kind of catch that learning curve as early as possible.”

 

Phillips was coy about goals he’s setting for himself in 2016. The next step in his professional career arc is to make a 53-man roster. Then comes “earning a hat” to be active on gamedays. But through an unfortunate circumstance this month, Phillips has more of an opportunity than he had before.

 

 

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March 11, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Compensating via compensatory picks a Steelers strategy

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Hines

 

 

The NFL on Friday announced its annual list of compensatory picks that have been awarded to teams for next month’s draft. As usual, the Steelers received one – it’s the fifth consecutive season, seventh time in the past eight drafts, ninth among the past 11 and 15th time in the 23 drafts since the system was adopted overall that the Steelers are making extra picks.

 

The Steelers extra choice this season – at No. 220 overall at the bottom of the sixth round – is the 31st such compensatory pick the team has gotten since unrestricted free agency began in 1994. Only four teams have received more than the Steelers – Baltimore, Dallas, Green Bay and New England.

 

Counting the Steelers, those five franchises have won 11 of the 22 Super Bowls of the free agency era. The bottom five teams in terms of compensatory picks received (Cleveland, New Orleans, Washington, Houston, New York Jets) have combined to win one Super Bowl in that time.

 

That is not a coincidence – asset management is a critical part of building a strong organization, and it’s clear that the good teams are doing so and the (oftentimes) bad teams aren’t. It’s simple, albeit the compensatory draft picks are just one small way in which this is manifested.

 

It makes sense the Steelers are near the top of the list of picks awarded because they are not huge players in free agency. Picks are given to teams that lost more players and talent on the UFA market than they gain. Furthermore, the good teams, knowing this, “game” the system for themselves by using the knowledge of extra picks when letting free agents walk.

 

Put it this way: The Steelers have had 21 extra draft picks to deal with over the past 20 years than the New Orleans Saints. The Baltimore Ravens have had 36 extra draft picks than the Cleveland Browns since the Browns re-entered the league in 1999. Thirty-six!

 

It shows–

  • Baltimore in that time: 157-115 with four division titles, 10 playoff appearances and two Super Bowl titles.
  • Cleveland in that time: 87-185 with zero division titles, one playoff appearance and – forget Super Bowls – just two winning seasons.

 

Compensatory picks range from the third to seventh rounds, and are always tacked on at the end of the rounds. That doesn’t make them the most valuable picks of any draft – but that still represents valuable assets. Remember, Antonio Brown was a sixth-round pick, and there are countless other examples of All Pro level players taken in Rounds 3-7, of course. Once the draft board is set, those picks are the same as any other (with the notable exception that they cannot be traded – although that will change beginning in 2017).

 

The best player the Steelers have taken with a compensatory selections was Hines Ward. Others of note include, as the great Steelers PR wiz Dom Rinelli points out, Mike Vrabel, Willie Colon, William Gay and Kelvin Beachum.

 

 

Here is the complete list:

 

 

2015: LB Antony Chickillo (6th round)

2014: RB Dri Archer (3rd), OL Wesley Johnson (5th), DT Dan McCullers (6th)

2013: LB Vince Williams (6th)

2012: TE David Paulsen (7th), CB Terrence Frederick (7th), OT Kelvin Beachum (7th)

2011: None.

2010: CB Crezdon Butler (5th), LB Stevenson Sylvester (5th), DE Doug Worthington (7th)

2009: RB Frank Summers (5th)

2008: None.

2007: DT Ryan McBean (4th), CB William Gay (5th)

2006: OT Willie Colon (4th), DT Orien Harris (4th), TE Charles Davis (5th)

2005: None.

2004: None.

2003: None.

2002: None.

2001: None.

2000: QB Tee Martin (5th), TE Jason Gavadza (6th)

1999: RB Amos Zeroue (3rd), WR Malcolm Johnson (5th)

1998: WR Hines Ward (3rd), RB Carlos King (4th), DT Ryan Olsen (6th), DT Angel Rubio (7th)

1997: LB Mike Vrabel (3rd), DE Rod Manuel (6th)

1996: WR Jahine Arnold (4th), QB Spencer Fisher (6th)

1995: K Cole Ford (7th)

1994: None.

 

 

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March 4, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: “Of course” Gradkowski would welcome return as Steelers backup QB

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Bruce Gradkowski: “I love it here. This is my home”/Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review photo

 

 

Bruce Gradkowski’s playing career, through no fault of his own, in a manner of speaking has come to somewhat of a screeching halt in Pittsburgh.

 

Screenshot_2016-03-04-13-42-31-1

Gradkowski’s career playing time (courtesy NFL.com)

 

That doesn’t mean he’s eager to continue it anywhere else.

 

 

Entering the final weekend of his contract with the Steelers, Gradkowski told me after the season ended that he would welcome re-signing with his hometown team.

 

 

“Of course,” the Green Tree native and Seton-LaSalle alum said. “I love it here. This is my home.

 

 

“And of course the Rooneys and this organization; I mean, it’s the best in the league. And I have been around and I have seen it all, but this locker room and the coaches (don’t compare). It’s been an enjoyable three years for me, and I think there’s special things ahead.”

 

 

The Steelers’ face some decisions at quarterback – but they’re the kind of decisions (re: at backup) the vast majority of teams in the league would gladly trade for. Of course, they’re set at starter with Ben Roethlisberger. Yet with Big Ben having turned 34 this week, the organization has to at least be generally aware that, perhaps, his durability might not be what it once was. This is not an indictment on Roethlisberger – just an acknowledgement of the aging process of human beings, as well as of the four separate injuries that caused Roethlisberger to miss time (of varying lengths) last season.

 

 

So, what to do? Two of the three men on the roster behind Big Ben on the Steelers’ QB depth chart in 2015 are unrestricted free agents: Gradkowski and Mike Vick. Landry Jones (himself entering the final year of his contract) and Dustin Vaughan (a second-year player from West Texas A&M signed to a reserve/future contract in January) are the other quarterbacks on the roster currently.

 

 

Gradkowski, at the present time, would seem to have the best “backup” resume of the group. He has 20 NFL starts to his credit, more than half of which coming as a rookie in 2006 with Tampa Bay. He also started at least one game during stops with Cleveland and Oakland, and he at least got to throw 29 regular-season passes playing the 2011 and ’12 seasons in Cincinnati.

 

 

Then he came to Pittsburgh in 2013 on a three-year contract to serve as the top backup to Roethlisberger…  only to sit idly while Big Ben had the two most healthy concurrent seasons of his career.

 

 

Then, this past season, with Roethlisberger under siege because of a myriad of ailments, Gradkowski himself could only offer support from the sidelines, as he spent all of the 2015 regular season on injured reserve.

 

 

“It was tough – of course I want to be out there physically playing, and that was tough this year because there’s nothing like being out there on the field with the guys,” Gradkowski said.

 

 

“But I tried to help Landry out as much as I could because it was his first opportunity to play and I have been in that position before so I wanted to help him as much as I could. Same with Mike, coming in with a different system and having to play real quick when he just got here. So anything I could help contribute to those guys, I tried to do.”

 

 

It’s far from certain that a player on IR will be visible around the Steelers facility throughout the season, or on the practice field or traveling with the team on road games. Gradkowski was all of those things in 2015. It was a common sight during games to see him as much a part of an in-game sideline strategy session with Roethlisberger as offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner.

 

 

“I just think you continue to build that relationship, that happens,” Gradkowski said when asked about the apparent confidence, comfort level and respect the coaching staff and Roethlisberger had for Gradkowski’s input. “Todd, Randy and Ben, we all collaborate, and I have learned a lot from Ben over the years. The guy has so much poise and composure during games and in the locker room and he’s been a great leader for us. It’s great to see it – he’s the best in the league and to be able to learn from someone and to help him in any way I can on a day-in and day-out basis, it’s been an honor.”

 

 

Gradkowski is just roughly 13 months younger than Roethlisberger (even if he has 149 fewer NFL starts). That doesn’t mean, he said, he still isn’t learning. Recognizing that the reality is that he’s closer to his playing career’s end than its beginning, Gradkowski admitted he “definitely enjoys” the coaching aspect and didn’t deny it could be part of his future.

 

 

“Going through (a year on IR), I got to see everything from a coach’s side, and I have enjoyed that,” he said. “I got to learn a lot and it also still kept me to be part of the group, because it’s tough not being able to contribute on the field physically. To be off the field trying to contribute mentally kept me in the game this year and I loved it and had a ball because I love these guys in the locker room. And to see all the adversity we have overcome this year and to make it to the divisional round – and of course we were short of our  goal and what our expectations are – but I’m proud of the guys for what they have accomplished this year because it’s just a fun group, great coaches, great locker room.”

 

 

One that Gradkowski perhaps will remain part of in 2016 and beyond.

 

 

 

 

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February 26, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Penn State’s Hackenberg explains ‘diss’ of Franklin

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INDIANAPOLIS — Christian Hackenberg thanked Bill O’Brien.

The Penn State quarterback then went on to thank his quarterback coach; the former offensive coordinator; the strength and conditioning staff; the trainers; video guy; the communications guy; and the fans.

It may have been an honest mistake, but Hackenberg left out his current coach James Franklin when handing out thanks after he declared for the NFL Draft following the TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 1.
Hackenberg, who is one of the top quarterbacks at the NFL Combine this week, finally got to explain his ‘diss’ of Franklin.

“It was one of those times where it was really emotional,” Hackenberg said “I didn’t have anything written out. What came to mind were the people who had spent a lot of time with me, the people who had brought me to Penn State. Coach franklin and I had a conversation. I thanked him in person. I thought that was best for our relationship. Thanking him in person on a personal level.”

That explanation doesn’t necessarily fit the narrative.

Hackenberg had solid freshman season under O’Brien’s pro-style offense. When O’Brien left for the NFL and was replaced by Franklin, Hackenberg’s numbers suffered in the new coach’s spread-style offense.

“We’re fine,” Hackenberg said.  “No hard feelings there. He’s doing a great job up there in terms of recruiting and getting the program headed in the right direction.”

Here is the full transcript of Hackenberg at the Combine

(How much did you learn from O’Brien?)
“Coming in, I had an accelerated learning curve. I didn’t get to early-enroll. Had a great bunch of guys around him. Guys who had been in the system. They definitely helped bring me along. It was a great experience overall for me.”

(Playing for O’Brien).
“The system fit great and I had a great opportunity to come in and play and throw to a guy like Allen Robinson. I had a lot of people around me who made it a good transition for me and allowed me to grow and own the offense.”

(Trained with Jordan Palmer, brother of Carson)
“Just going back and watching my film was a big step. Seeing where I could improve. We wanted to work on improving my consistency and my base. That will lead to consistency in everything else. Accuracy and being able to deliver the ball. Being able to focus on it for 6 to 8 weeks consistently has been awesome. I’ve made a lot of strides there.

(Would you like to play for Houston and O’Brien?)
“I think it would be a great opportunity. But at the end of the day, I’m here just trying to be the best prospect I can be and impress as many football teams as I can.

(2nd and 3rd years at Penn State)
“The big progression for me was just maturity and just being able to grow into a leadership role. That within itself was something I took a lot of pride in. Was elected a team captain two years in a row my sophomore and junior year. I took a lot of pride in that. I was able to work through adversity. I think adversity really shapes who you are. Success is easy to roll with. But how you respond to adversity is really huge.”

(The struggles the last two years and the doubters)
“My biggest fear is not being able to reach my full potential. Just being able to work on my game for the last eight weeks with Jordan and really improve and make strides in that area and see where my ceiling is and where my potential can take me is really exciting. I just want to be the best player I can be, and whatever I have to do, whatever sacrifices I need to make to get there I’m willing to do it.”

(What do you bring to the table?)
“I’ve dealt with a lot of NFL-type situations as far as adversity. Handling a lot of things. Handling a shorter deck. We were playing with 43 guys on scholarship my freshman year. I played in a pro system my freshman year. Understood it really well and picked it up quickly and was able to roll with it.”

(The poor pass protection the last couple of years and impact on your fundamentals and footwork and decision-making)
“I don’t think it has to be retooled. It’s just a matter of being consistent in things. At times you can lose consistency. Being able to finally focus on that the last six weeks getting ready for combine, I feel I’ve made great strides there and that’s been huge.”

(Your confidence level)
“Always embracing the challenge. Always looking at it as a new opportunity. An opportunity to get better and win games. That’s what it’s all about.

(How helpful playing for O’Brien for a year has been)
“Having that base, playing in that system was huge. Just talking terminology-wise, the tape that I watched, things that I had access to. He had just gotten done coaching Tom Brady, who is one of the best that every played. Having that at 18, having all of those tools available and being able to tap those resources really helped me develop a good base in terms of football knowledge, defensive knowledge. Having to change systems was huge for me as well. Being able to pick that up and translate things and see what crosses over. Overall, the entire experience was a huge positive for me. There was a ton of adversity. But it was stuff you’re going to deal with at this level. You see it year in and year out. Changing systems. New coaches. New personnel. So it was a great experience for me. having the opportunity to do that at 18-19 years old, it’s only prepared me for the rest of my career.”

(The film study with Jordan Palmer)
“The first week we kind of broke down my film to kind of get an idea of what we wanted to work on on the field. Then we broke it up into two three-week segments. First three weeks we followed the Cardinals to the playoffs. So we broke down Green Bay and Carolina and Denver defensively. He sent me home with a lot of homework. I’d draw up blitzes and pressures. Anything I didn’t know we would just talk about. It was a good way to accelerate the learning curve in terms of the terminology that NFL teams use. The last three weeks, we broke down Carson Palmer and Blake Bortles. And then we’re going to break down Andrew Luck when I get back. Just to do a little bit of quarterback study. Comparison to see if we can pick a few things out.”

(What’s biggest thing you want teams to know about you?)
“The most important thing is that I’m trustworthy. I’ve been through adversity. I’m battle-tested. And I’ve handled it and haven’t flinched and am still willing to work and not hurt from it. I can continue to get better. I think my potential is here and I think I’m on the right path to reach it.”

(Things you need to get better at)
“It goes back to inconsistency. My footwork was the biggest thing for me. It was mostly the base. Having tO move around so much, I got over-extended in the pocket and that led to accuracy issues. Being able to fix that and be super-consistent in it, has made me more comfortable with my accuracy in terms of delivering the football.”

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