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August 16, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: One man’s (assuredly wrong) Steelers 53-man roster projection

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Post prologue: Check out TribLive Radio’s Steelers Roundtable show from this week. Kaboly, Paulk and Adamski talk James Harrison and all other team issues. One-click listening here.

 

TM

Tyler Matakevich (46) is fighting to be the 52nd or 53rd member of the Steelers’ active roster. (Photo by Chaz Palla of Trib Total Media)

 

The internet is littered with Steelers sites and blogs making their projections for the team’s 53-man roster come the second week of September. I didn’t say this would be original – but I will say that it is one man’s (assuredly not-100 percent-correct) opinion of what the team’s composition should be come kickoff Sept. 12 at Fed Ex Field. What better time than the close of training camp at St. Vincent College to unveil it…

 

QUARTERBACKS (3)

Ben Roethlisberger

Landry Jones

Dustin Vaughan

Pretty straightforward here in light of the continuing injury issues for Bruce Gradkowski. The Steelers under Tomlin/Colbert have always chosen to keep three quarterbacks on the roster; never was that more evident than last season when Mike Vick hung around despite the clearly losing all confidence in his ability to start.

 

RUNNING BACKS (3)

DeAngelo Williams

Fitzgerald Toussaint

Daryl Richardson

I’m going to assume that Le’Veon Bell begins the season serving a suspension. If that’s so, it would seem these three are in pretty good shape to earn roster spots (Williams, of course, is a given). None of the other younger challengers has stood out enough to make a compelling case over Toussaint and Richardson.

 

 

FULLBACK (1)

Roosevelt Nix

While listed as a fullback, expect Nix to play some more tight end/H-back on offense this season – and of course, continue to be a special-teams dynamo.

 

 

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)

Antonio Brown

Markus Wheaton

Sammie Coates

Darrius Heyward-Bey

Eli Rogers

Rogers has impressed enough that his roster spot, barring a major decline over the next three weeks, looks safe. The other four are cemented in. Rookie Demarcus Ayers will probably have to raise eyebrows on punt returns to have a shot at making the active roster – failing that, he should make a solid practice-squad player.

 

 

TIGHT ENDS (3)

Jesse James

David Johnson

Xavier Grimble

We’re going to assume, for these purposes, that Ladarius Green is not healthy enough to start the season on the 53-man roster (I “project” him below as remaining on the physically unable to perform list, but regardless, one way or another, as we sit here 27 days before the season starts, it’s tough to envision him making enough progress that quickly). Grimble has enough potential to warrant a look as a “Ladarius, Jr.” but will someone else be brought aboard for blocking purposes?

 

 

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

Maurkice Pouncey

David DeCastro

Ramon Foster

Marcus Gilbert

Alejandro Villanueva

Cody Wallace

Ryan Harris

Chris Hubbard

Jerald Hawkins

From right tackle to left guard, the starting foursome might just be the best in the league. Left tackle, however, is a question mark. Whoever doesn’t start between Villanueva and Harris could begin as the “swing” backup tackle – though don’t discount the possibility that player sits on Sundays with Hubbard the emergency backup. Wallace is the main backup at the interior spots, with Hawkins having too much potential to expose to waivers on his way to the practice squad. Poor B.J. Finney is the odd man out.

 

 

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)

Cameron Heyward

Stephon Tuitt

Daniel McCullers

Ricardo Mathews

Javon Hargrave

L.T. Walton

Finally, some depth – six players capable of playing a quantity and quality of snaps. Mathews is a serious upgrade as the top veteran backup, and Hargrave is good enough to push McCullers. The combined talent level should be more than enough to man the nose tackle spot – Hargrave has had the look of someone who can already help in the nickel on passing downs, too. None of the crop of very-talented-but-flawed rookie and first-year defensive linemen brought in have done anything to distinguish themselves.

 

 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)

Jarvis Jones

Bud Dupree

James Harrison

Arthur Moats

Anthony Chickillo

Pretty much all “chalk” here with the same five guys who finished last season (indeed, played virtually all of last season – at least after which Chickillo earned a regular proverbial “hat” on gamedays). Rookie Travis Feeney could use a year on the practice squad to bulk up and learn – his chances of making a run at the 53-man evaporated with camp injury.

 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)

Lawrence Timmons

Ryan Shazier

Vince Williams

Steven Johnson

LJ Fort

Tyler Matakevich

Keeping both Fort and Matakevich is a stretch, but with Ross Ventrone injured, an extra linebacker can serve in the “exclusive special-teamer” role that both Fort and Matakevich figure to excel at. So ILB becomes like Little League – “no cuts.”

 

 

CORNERBACKS (4)

William Gay

Ross Cockrell

Artie Burns

Doran Grant (Safety?)

This could be an area ripe for a veteran addition via trade, the waiver wire or a street free agent, because this is perilously thin to go into a season. Burns, of course, has to be on the 53 as a first-round pick, but he hasn’t necessarily shown he’s ready to play and has been banged up. It should be noted that if the season began today, for all intents and purposes, Sean Davis would be a “CB” – if only because there aren’t any other obvious options. (We likewise could consider Doran Grant a safety — Grant has been better this camp than last, but now there’s even question what his position is?). Someone else can – and should – be on this list at this position. But unless, say, a Montell Garner or an Al-Hajj Shabazz makes a late camp run at it, it might not be someone currently on the 90-man camp roster.

 

SAFETIES (5)

Mike Mitchell

Robert Golden

Sean Davis (CB?)

Shamarko Thomas

Jordan Dangerfield

Almost as cloudy as cornerback is safety, where Golden can seemingly rest easy he’s got a starting job locked up, and Thomas hasn’t been pushed much for a roster spot, either.  Dangerfield was No. 53 on this fictional roster – in his fourth season associated with the NFL, he finally makes an active roster to be a special-teamer and an extra body in the secondary. Depending on the level of faith the Steelers have in Grant as a safety, though, he could be jettisoned as soon as Bell returns.

 

 

SPECIALISTS (3)

Chris Boswell (K)

Jordan Berry (P)

Greg Warren (LS)

This one’s easy – Boswell and Warren have no in-camp competition, and Berry has visibly out-performed the rookie challenger to his job, Will Monday. Warren has held the job (aside from injury) for 12 seasons, but Boswell is less than 10 months into his tenure and Berry just one season.

 

PUP LIST (1)

Ladarius Green

 

SUSPENDED (2)

Le’Veon Bell

Martavis Bryant

 

INJURED RESERVE (1)

Senquez Golson

 

One final parting shot: There will be at least one player (in the secondary or at tight end being the logical guesses as to where) who will be on the season-opening roster who is not on the 90-man camp roster right now (be it a street free agent or a waiver-wire or trade pick-up from another organization).

 

 

 

This roster is not completely conventional, and I’m sure many can (and will) nitpick it. But just one man’s quick opinion on how it should go — admittedly a man who is neither an NFL general manager nor has the aptitude to be one!

 

 

Next time we chat, it won’t be from a dorm room but will be from the South Side.

Til then…

 

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August 15, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Daryl Richardson makes his case for the Steelers’ No. 4 running back job – or No. 3??

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DR

(Photo courtesy Richardson’s official Twitter account, @DRICH_26)

 

 

Daryl Richardson pondered the question for a few moments, then shrugged.

 

“I’m not for sure,” said the most veteran candidate for a roster spot behind Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams on the Steelers’ running back depth chart. “I just know I have to make the best of my opportunity.”

 

Richardson was given an extended look in Friday’s preseason opener against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field. He had been asked if he took that as a sign of confidence in him and his abilities by the coaching staff.

 

With veterans Bell and Williams both secure in roster spots and a desire to preserve their bodies, five other running backs were in uniform for the Steelers in their first live, game action of the summer. As we’ve seen in recent years, however, the third- and fourth-string backs have had an alarming and peculiar tendency to play critical roles for the Steelers.

 

While a top two of Bell and Williams, on paper and when healthy, is the envy of most anyone in the league, those two aren’t without their risks: Williams is 33 (the oldest running back in the league) and didn’t make it to the playoffs last year because of injury. Bell has had significant injuries during each of his first three seasons in the NFL and has missed all three of the Steelers playoff games in that span.

 

Oh, and there’s the matter of he might miss the first four games of the season that you might have heard about.

 

So with that in mind, the Nos. 3-4 running backs should be a front-burner subject.

 

Looking at the first preseason game for guidance, Richardson by far played the most among those competing for the job(s). He also was the most productive:

 

 

SNAP COUNTS AND PRODUCTION FOR RUNNING BACKS IN THE STEELERS PRESEASON OPENER

Player                  Offense           Special teams              Touches*/yds  Returns/yards

Daryl Richardson                    24                    2                                  13/60               1/25

Fitzgerald Toussaint                17                    12                                2/8                   1/23**

Brandon Brown-Dukes            10                    0                                  2/10                 —

Cameron Stingily                    6                      2                                  1/1                   —

Christian Powell                      0                      3                                  —                      —

Note: Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams did not play.

*-On offense

**-Toussaint had a special-teams tackle, which is somewhat notable

 

 

“I think I did pretty good; the offensive line did a great job to open things up,” Richardson said of his performance against the Lions. “But I still have to better and corrections have to be made.”

 

Quite simply, the Steelers wouldn’t have played Richardson that much if they weren’t considering him for the No. 3 or No. 4 running back job. (Put another way: I really don’t think, for example, they’re giving too much consideration to Christian Powell for such duties, do you?).

 

Richardson also was back for kickoff returns, a duty he’d never performed (not even in the preseason) over his five seasons in the NFL.

 

“That was the first time I’d ever had a kickoff return,” said Richardson, who broke in with a bang with the Rams in 2012 but hasn’t played in an NFL regular-season game since 2013. “Man, it happens fast and quick out there on kickoffs.”

 

Interestingly, Richardson did NOT play any other special teams. Yes, this entire exercise is reading too much into, well, everything, but maybe that means a good thing for his chances?

 

Richardson told me Sunday that he weighs almost 10 pounds more than his listed weight of 196, and he swears he hasn’t lost any quickness. During practice, he’s certainly looked like he moves well enough.

 

My take: Richardson has run hard in camp, he says he’s fully healthy for the first time in a while (that explains why he’s been cut four times over the past three calendar years), he’s versatile (a decent blocker and 38 catches in 24 career games) and he comes across as hard-working. His competition, in all due respect, hasn’t stood out much. (See: Powell’s lack of game snaps and Brown-Dukes size and low-level college experience – though I could see Brown-Dukes ending up on the practice squad). If Bell is indeed suspended for the start of the season, barring injury and if the proverbial season started today, I think Richardson would be a lock to open up on the 53-man roster.

 

Then the question becomes, does he have any chance of passing Toussaint on the depth chart? To be frank, I think Richardson has had the better camp – so far. And splitting the kick return duties between the two against the Lions suggests coaches are considering it. As does giving Richardson more reps than Toussaint.

 

Then again, it’s dangerous reading too much into preseason playing time. After all, the one time in his career Richardson got more touches in a preseason game than Friday was the finale of last season for the Jets.

 

New York cut him two days later.

 

Still a long, long way to go before the Steelers’ final cuts come Sept. 3.

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August 11, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Ex-Bengal Wallace Gilberry on rivalry with Steelers – ‘There is no hate’

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Post prologue: The weekly Steelers Roundtable show, hosted by Mark Kaboly, Chris Adamski and Ralph Paulk and sponsored by Goodrich and Geist, broadcast live Thursday morning. We talked CB and TE depth, made our world-famous Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down, and even welcomed in the great Chaz Palla for a guest appearance. Click here to give a listen.

 

 

WG

Wallace Gilberry (95) in simpler times when things made sense: he was a Bengal and everyone knew the Bengals hated the Steelers.

 

 

 

LATROBE – While Cincinnati’s Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict seem to draw the majority of the ire of Steelers fans when it comes to the rivalry with the Bengals,  Wallace Gilberry always seemed to be in the middle of it, too:

 

(x) Gilberry was fined for bumping Steelers assistant Joey Porter late in the team’s ridiculous, storyline-packed wild-card playoff win at Paul Brown Stadium in January.

 

(x) Gilberry was reportedly subject of an alleged bounty, of all things, from Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, a former head coach of his in Kansas City.

 

(x) Gilberry was also the target of comments from Steelers tackle Marcus Gilbert, who told our Mark Kaboly after a December regular-season victory in Cincinnati that Gilberry “is just a dude that talks. When the ball is snapped, he doesn’t do anything. Gilberry is a clown, I can say that now. We came in here and said let them talk and whenever the ball is snapped, let’s go punch them in the mouth and play football.”

 

 

 

OK, so fast forward several months. Gilberry is now a Detroit Lion. And his team came to St. Vincent College for a joint practice with the Steelers. We in the media were watching him much more closely than any other opposing rotational defensive lineman. Would he be trash-talking? Would he engage Gilbert? Would he say anything to Haley? Porter? Would any of the Steelers target him, as an abhorrent ex-Bengal?!

 

Um, well, no.

 

And to only further disappoint Steelers fans, Gilberry spoke to a small group of Pittsburgh reporters after the second of the two joint practices. And get this: He’s a really, really nice guy. He shook hands with each of us afterwards, giving a heartfelt “God bless.”

 

He also holds no grudges toward the Steelers in general, or Porter, Haley or anyone in particular. Most surprisingly (and disappointingly to those of us who play up the bloodthirsty angle of the NFL!), Gilberry even downplays the Steelers-Bengals rivalry!

 

 

Gilberry on Steelers-Bengals:

“It’s a helluva rivalry between those guys and Cincinnati – and that whole division. I think it’s one of the most physical divisions out there.

But we’re trying to bring that over here to Detroit. We play physical up front here, too. That’s what we wanted to come out here and show them – that we would match their physicality and for the most part I believe that both sides got ready this week.”

 

On how, from the outside, it sure seems as if it’s personal between the Steelers and Bengals:

“We’re all friends. There’s no hate; there’s no hatred.

Things happen, things happen in the heat of the moment and you guys put mics and cameras in our faces, so you express yourself.”

 

 

On if he talked to Porter:

“Me and Joey spoke on the phone when he was down for the Senior Bowl (in January). There’s no hatred. But the fans love it and it sells tickets and in the NFL that’s all that matters.”

 

 

On his relationship with Haley:

“I never had a problem with him; Todd was one of the guys who pushed me so much when I got to Kansas City and really kind of turned me into the guy I am because I was kind of undersized in his defense when I was there and I had to prove myself. Everyday he made me prove myself and nine years later I am still here. So I have no ill will toward him whatsoever.”

 

 

On if he believes the “bounty” allegation:

“No, not at all. It sells tickets, it gets the fans excited, and we play hard behind it. But other than that, off the field, we’re all men, we’ve all got families to feed and we’ve all got one goal: and that’s being successful in this business. And that’s what it’s all about.”

 

 

On how – if he won’t use the word ‘hate,’ he’d describe the Steelers-Bengals rivalry:

“It’s physical, it’s physical, it’s physical. But again, things happen, heat of the moment, people say stuff that they can’t take back and once it’s out there, it’s out there. And that’s on both sides of the ball but at the end of the day we are all trying to win a ballgame. Things happen and they happen and it’s over with and you move on.”

 

 

Gilberry suggested that the intensity of rivalry is manufactured as a  form of “clickbait.”

 

I frankly have no idea what he’s talking about in saying that.

–Signed: This post.

 

 

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August 7, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Sorting out the Steelers’ tight end situation of the past 7 months

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Post prologue: Check out the most recent edition of the Steelers Roundtable on TribLive Radio with Ralph Paulk and Josh Taylor broadcasting live from St. Vincent College in Latrobe.

 

 

LG

Ladarius Green hasn’t put on pads yet since signing with the Steelers.

 

 

For more than a decade, it was nearly as dependable as hypocycloids on helmets or Bill Hillgrove on the radio when it comes to what’s been reliably associated with the Steelers: Heath Miller lined up at tight end.

 

Miller played in 168 of the Steelers 176 regular-season games between 2005-2015. Beyond the games, though, was how unfailingly Miller was on the field during each of them. Last season, for example, Miller’s 924 offensive snaps (according to footballoutsiders.com) played ranked sixth in the NFL among tight ends – but that doesn’t even tell the entire story. If you take away time missed during the Seattle and Indianapolis games because of injury, Miller played more than 97 percent of the Steelers’ offensive snaps.

 

And that was as a 33-year-old.

 

If it wasn’t obvious before, forget the tangible contributions such as receiving and blocking – Miller’s retirement this past winter leaves a gaping hole simply in terms of snaps to man.

 

And yet of everyone who has participated in at least one training-camp practice for the Steelers this summer, only Jesse James (181) and David Johnson (222) played any NFL tight end snaps last season – and their combined playing time is dwarfed by what Miller did alone.

 

Of course, this doesn’t include Ladarius Green, who was signed to a lucrative free-agent contract in March but who hasn’t taken one team practice rep as a Steeler as of yet. While Green is expected to up to speed in time for the regular season, with each day that passes, concern gradually mounts that perhaps he won’t be – if not for health reasons, if only because he will have had so few practice reps within his new offense, for his new team and catching passes from his new quarterback.

 

On whole, 15 men have been on the Steelers roster at some point during calendar year 2016 who have the ability to be a tight end. Of course, that counts three who could be considered to varying degrees more H-back than tight end (Will Johnson, David Johnson, Roosevelt Nix), seven who are still property of the Steelers, six who are practicing and five who are in the tight end meetings room (Nix is not).

 

Seven have been signed since after the draft was over (the Steelers did not draft a tight end), and five have been cut since then – including three over the past 18 days. Some have had comically short Steelers tenures (Jay Rome, 38 days; David Reeves, 17 days; Mandel Dixon, 14 days; Jake Phillips, two days).

 

Of those still standing, one (Nix) was a college defensive lineman and is purportedly a pro fullback – he’s just been lining up on the line in tight end formations at times, sparingly, during camp. Three others (Xavier Grimble, Paul Lang, Michael Cooper) combine for zero NFL games. All that’s left – again, excluding Green, who has only been seen at St. Vincent running on his own and in a straight line – is David Johnson (24 career receptions in 82 games) and James (eight career games, eight career catches).

 

If the season began today – and, of course, it doesn’t – and/or if Green’s surgically-repaired ankle doesn’t improve over the next five weeks… what are the Steelers options at tight end?

 

James would start and serve the No. 1 role. Grimble has been taking practice reps commensurate with a player who’s expected to have a not-insignificant role in the offense. Johnson will handle duties of a hybrid Matt Spaeth/Will Johnson 2015 version, meaning mostly as a blocker. It appears Nix is being prepped for some traditional tight end-style work, and maybe someone such Mt. Lebanon native Paul Lang steals a roster spot (in lieu of a still-PUP’d Green).

 

The unsettled situation bares watching over the next four weeks through the preseason games and up until the final cutdown day.

 

 

Steelers tight ends in calendar 2016:

  • Heath Miller – retired
  • Matt Spaeth -released/failed physical
  • Jesse James – ACTIVE
  • Will Johnson – left as free agent
  • Xavier Grimble – ACTIVE (no NFL experience)
  • Rob Blanchflower – released
  • Ladarius Green – PUP list
  • David Reeves – cut after 3 rookie minicamp practices
  • Jay Rome – cut after 7 OTAs
  • David Johnson – ACTIVE
  • Paul Lang – ACTIVE (no NFL experience)
  • Mandel Dixon – cut after 4 practices
  • Jake Phillips – cut after 2 practices
  • Michael Cooper – ACTIVE (no NFL experience)
  • Roosevelt Nix – ACTIVE (a fullback by trade)

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August 1, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Artie Burns fueled by avoiding the dreaded label of ‘bust’

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Artie

 

 

 

Artie Burns was just a few months removed from his 21st birthday, and hadn’t even taken part of a full training-camp practice yet.

 

He hasn’t yet missed an assignment during an NFL game, hadn’t allowed a touchdown or even so much as a catch.

 

Still, he’s heard and read the whispers from the “fans” and trolls.

 

‘He’s a bust,’” Burns relayed. “’He’s gonna be a bust.’

 

“I like to hear stuff like that. It makes me try harder.”

 

While it’s probably more of a sad commentary on society and on the internet/social-media age that individuals are roundly criticized for their work before they’ve even truly began their job in earnest, Burns’ path to proving his worth – through little fault of his own – could be considered tougher than most for myriad reasons:

 

 

None of the phenomenons above are directly attributable to Burns (certainly not at this early juncture). And Burns, in time, could end up being a star-level player and/or the best at his position from the 2016 draft class. Who knows?

 

But if it doesn’t happen right away, in the world we live in now, some fans will casually throw out the “B” word (“bust”) — as many apparently already have, even at this absurdly and comically early stage of his career.

 

Burns vows he uses it as fuel.

 

“I don’t know who is, but whoever it is, they said I’m a bust, so I’ve gotta prove them wrong, right?” Burns said.

 

“I like criticism. I like to hear people say bad things about me; I get a kick out of that. Every day I wake up in the morning, I look to see what someone says about me. I like that.”

 

My advice to those who are saying these things: Let the kid play in a game – let alone a season – before starting to pass judgment.

 

Then again, Burns seems to enjoy hearing it now.

 

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July 30, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: ‘Open competition’ at punter between Berry, Monday

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Monday

Can Will Monday continue the Steelers’ punting carousel? (photo courtesy Duke’s official athletics website)

 

 

 

It’s one of my favorite (if particularly overly trivial) phenomenons in recent Steelers’ history: over the past decade, they simply can’t seem to settle on a punter.

 

From Daniel Sepulveda to Jordan Berry and everywhere in between (Mitch Berger, Paul Ernster, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler, Zoltan Mesko, Matt McBriar and Brad Wing, if you’re scoring at home), Mike Tomlin has blown through punters like no one else in the league since he took over as Steelers coach in 2007.

 

No man has been the Steelers punter for more than 28 consecutive games in the Tomlin era. Berry would need to last until Week 13 of this season (Dec. 11 at Buffalo) to snap that streak.

 

But will he?

 

Not if Will Monday has anything to say about it.

 

Monday was one of the top punters available for the draft this spring. A four-year punter at Duke, he was all-ACC as a freshman after leading the conference in gross average. He was first- second- or third-team ACC each season he competed in college.

 

Monday was rated among the top five punters coming out this year by NFL.com. Most of the other draft services – at least the ones that bother to rate specialists – agreed.

 

But Monday was not one of the three punters who were selected (Drew Kaser, Lac Edwards and Riley Dixon were), meaning he had a decision to quickly make as the NFL’s Annual Selection Meeting was wrapping up late on the final Saturday of April.

 

“The Steelers started contacting me toward the end of the draft, and I felt like it was the best opportunity from what I’d been hearing so far,” Monday told me on Friday before the first training-camp team practice.

“Who doesn’t want to come to a franchise like this? It’s an unbelievable franchise with a good opportunity to compete and have an open competition, so I thought it was the best opportunity for me, and that’s the one I went with.”

 

Notice Monday said “open competition” – I doubled back with him, and he confirmed that’s what the team told him. [I know, I know, of course; what else would they say? However, there have been many instances – often at kicker or long snapper with the Steelers because of circumstance, but sometimes at punter, too – in which a guy was brought in just as a proverbial “spare leg” to use in practices and preseason games. Everyone knows he has no chance to make the team (barring injury) and unseat a capable veteran.]

 

That’s not the case here – and not just because the strong-legged Monday is a legitimate NFL prospect. Berry was OK during his first NFL season in 2015, but coaches would like him to be more consistent. After being in a similar position as Monday last summer (he beat out incumbent Wing during camp), Berry’s performance as the Steelers’ only punter resulted in pedestrian league rankings in gross punting average (third-to-last at 42.6) and net average (24th at 39.1).

 

If Berry doesn’t have a strong camp and Monday does, could it be that the Steelers turn to their 10th punter in Tomlin’s 10 seasons? Could it really be the 12th time the job has switched hands (counting the three times Sepulveda lost it because of injury)?

 

Could it be that for the fourth time in five years the Steelers incumbent punter was beaten out in camp? And the fifth camp in a row breaks with a change at the position?

 

“The way it’s been said to me is it’s an open competition,” Monday said. “They don’t bring anybody here unless they have a legitimate chance to make the roster, so that’s kind of how I’m treating it: the best man is gonna get the job. So it’s my job to go out here and do my best and continue improving every day and take advantage of every opportunity that I have.”

 

Monday and Berry were booming high punts to each other – under the watchful eye of special teams coordinator Danny Smith and the proverbial “eye in the sky” camera, of course, too – on the second field during Friday’s inaugural training camp practice.

 

Who was kicking farther? Better? Higher with more hang time?

 

Cumon, I’m a reporter – but I’m not skilled or well-versed enough in punting to evaluate it (not to mention, with all due respect to the position, I had other priorities to track in the precious time we have to watch practices at St. Vincent). So, all I can say in my professional opinion is that both men indeed kicked the ball very, very high and very, very far.

 

Monday confirmed that whoever is the punter will also be the holder and that neither man has been asked to give it a crack on kickoffs. Monday also noted that he hasn’t too often had to have to fight for his position – he “started” for four years at Duke after accepting a scholarship from the school late in his junior year of high school.

 

“It’s different being in a competition – it’s been a long time, five years ago when I was a redshirt,” Monday said. “So for me to kind of get back into the swing of things, I used minicamp and used OTAs to get back into that. Now, it’s all or nothing. I’ve got have that mindset of winning the job.”

 

 

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July 30, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Q&A with Ben Roethlisberger

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Ben Roethlisberer Photo by Chaz Palla

Ben Roethlisberer
Photo by Chaz Palla

I talked to Ben Roethlisberger on Friday for about 10 minutes deep inside the bowels of St. Benedict Hall on the campus of St. Vincent College.

I posted a couple stories, but I figured to throw out the entire Q&A so you can read the entire conversation.

Enjoy!

Kaboly

***

KABOLY: I know you had injuries to the your foot, knee and shoulder last year. How are you feeling this year?

ROETHLISBERGER: “It’s amazing when people ask how I feel. To miss the game that I missed last year, which was more than I missed in a long time, but I feel great. It doesn’t make much sense that I would feel as good as I do with the injuries. Everything healed up pretty well. We took the right amount of time. The doctors, the trainers really helped. I feel really, really good.”

***

KABOLY: You’ve mentioned that your shoulder will eventually need some work done?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I think every thrower potentially – that is what Dr. (James) Bradley tells me. My dad was a college quarterback and his shoulder … anybody that throws … I think we did a number count and I throw about 500-700 footballs a day. That’s a lot of throws. Anybody who does that repeatedly with their arm is going to need something. The way it feels now, it feels great. I hope I never need shoulder surgery, but if I do I hope it will be way down the road.”

***

KABOLY: It seems like your team as a whole took that playoff loss to the Broncos extremely hard last year. Why was that one more painful than any other playoff loss?

ROETHLISBERGER: “They are all pretty painful. Maybe because what we overcame. We overcame so much with all the injuries and all the key players being out whether it was that season or that game. We felt that we were a team that was hot at the right time. We felt that we were a good football team at the right time. We won that Cincinnati, as crazy as that game was. You just kind of felt like that it was our year. When you lose a close a game like that, you feel like you could have had it or should’ve had it without AB, without (DeAngelo Williams) and all those guys who didn’t play. To lose it, it stings.

***

KABOLY: You obviously don’t have a decade left in your career and that window to winning a title my be as open this year as much as it ever had. How much does it upset you that there are avoidable distractions swirling around the team?

ROETHLISBERGER: “Are you talking about Le’Veon?

KABOLY: And Martavis.

ROETHLISBERGER: “The Martavis thing, we all kind of moved past that because we had to. It was a while ago. There is not much to do about that. The Le’Veon thing, there are so many questions still. You don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know what’s going on. We want him out there. We are hoping and praying to be out there because of who he is and what he is to this offense. I guess we will cross that bridge officially when we find out what’s going to happen. I don’t think anybody is diving in to it one way or another right because of the questions.

***

KABOLY: Do you feel the need to address the team about either Bell or Bryant?

ROETHLISBERGER “I always address the team and that’s kind of been part of my speech or whatever you want to call it. Guys, we need to be a selfless team, a selfless offense. And an offense that supports each other and that comes with being late to meeting, late to a walk-through. It is hurting more than just you, it is hurting us all. Let’s put everything behind us and dive into what is important no which is being the best offensive team we can be.”

***

KABOLY: Do you relish this opportunity of being a leader when you have distractions?

ROETHLISBERGER: “It is more opportunity for me to do it. Pull guys aside like a big brother and talk. More importantly, it is a great opportunity for the next guys – the Pounceys, the Ramon Fosters – kind of let them handle some of it too. To let them evolve as leaders of this team is fun for me too.”

***

KABOLY: Do you ever sit and plan something you want to say to a player or how you might want to go about it?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I kind of let it happen. I don’t put together a speech in my mind when I talk to the team. I kind of just let whatever comes out, comes out.”

***

KABOLY: Do you think there is an issue with marijuana on this team or around the league?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I can only speak for myself and I know I don’t do it. I don’t even know what’s going on in society itself. Isn’t legal in some places and not others? It’ a societal thing. I don’t think there is an issue. I know for me I am not worried about failing a drug test.”

***

KABOLY: Do you familiarize yourself with the drug test procedures?

ROETHLISBERGER: “No, whether it is the street drugs or the PEDs, I know that I don’t put anything in my body to even risk it. They call me or text me or show up with the thing in your locker and say I have to go pee, the only thing I worry about is when was the last time I went because I have go again.”

***

KABOLY: What happens if somebody else gets busted down the road?

ROETHLISBERGER “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. It is always disappointing if that happens down the road and gets busted. But let’s hope it doesn’t happen and we don’t have to talk about it.”

***

KABOLY: If Bell is out along with Bryant, how much does this hinder your offense?

ROETHLISBERGER: “There are going to have to be guys who step up for Martavis (Bryant). That’s a no-brainer. He brought to the table was unbelievable with his speed, size and that opened up AB. We need Sammie Coates to step up, (Darrius Heyward-Bey) to step up, and Markus Wheaton to step up and carry that load. That’s a lot of touchdowns gone, yards and big plays. We will make it it happen. We have guys who are able to step up. Let’s not jump to any conclusions with Le’Veon yet.”

***

KABOLY: Did it hurt you personally with Martavis because you seemed to have taken him under you wing.

ROETHLISBERGER: “That’s what kind of hurt and what stung the most. Talking to him all the time and trying to be a big brother to him and show him a lot of love and challenge when need be. He rose to the challenge last year. It hurt and was disappointing.”

***

KABOLY: You always say that if you think about the end of your career that you give disservice to your current job. Do you ever allow yourself to think about the end?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I feel really good, though. If I felt that my arm wasn’t as strong or I couldn’t avoid pressure that it would bring me down and I would start to say that I don’t have much left. But I don’t feel that way right now. I feel that my arm is very strong and I feel healthy. So, I really don’t see an end. I don’t see that right now.”

***

KABOLY: Do you think you will realize when the end is here?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I really do. I don’t see me a guy who hangs around longer. I don’t ever want to be a backup. I am not going to stay for that. I think I will know when it is time.”

***

KABOLY: Does the Patriots losing Brady for four games mean anything to you?

ROETHLISBERGER: “We want to get to the AFC championship game and want it to be here anyway. That’s our goal. Our goal is the Super Bowl and we want it to go through Heinz Field. Whether Brady is playing or not, that’s our goal. We cannot concern ourselves around other teams and players around the league. We have to worry about Pittsburgh Steelers.”

***

KABOLY: What do you think about the Steelers rivalry with the Bengals.?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I want to be a good, clean rivalry. I don’t want it to be a rivalry where people are tuning in to see a fight, to see penalties. Once I first got here we had the Steelers/Ravens rivalry. You had Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Joey Porter and Jerome Bettis. (Those games were as) a physical as a rivalry and physical as a football game that you would ever see. Everybody knew that. But it was never dirty. There may have been some pushing and shoving but that’s just guys. You never worried about cheap and dirty type stuff. I want the Cincinnati rivalry to be the same tough and physical rival that people want to see tough, physical football. You don’t want to see cheap and dirty. I don’t want it get to that.”

***

KABOLY: Did it get out of control last year?

ROETHLISBERGER “I think it can get out of control and it did at times. I am out there and you see all the stuff going on under the piles. It is one thing to talk a little trash and another thing to say some of things that are being said. The referees have to keep it under control but we as players have to be better and go play on both sides.”

-30-

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July 24, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Tomlin wanted to know offense as well as defense

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin -- Chaz Palla photo

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin — Chaz Palla photo

Some things you just can’t fit into a story — that’s the reality of this business.

Simply put, it just doesn’t make the cut.

I wrote a piece Sunday about Mike Tomlin heading into his 10th year as Steelers coach and how rare of a feat that has been in the NFL.

Originally, I was planning to include a part about how Tomlin has turned himself into a complete coach and that entailed him throwing himself headfirst into the offense side of the ball (remember, he was a defensive backs coach at Tampa Bay and defensive coordinator at Minnesota before coming to the Steelers) to learn the game at professional level.

I wrote it but yanked it at the last second.

However, that doesn’t mean I should waste it, right?

So, here’s it is in its entirety before it was decided to get lopped on the , er, Clark Building floor?

It’s nothing Earth shattering, but it is kind of interesting.

Enjoy!

LEARNING GAME

A key to Tomlin’s success has been knowing every aspect of the game whether it is offense, defense or special teams.

Tomlin played wide receiver at William & Mary and spent the majority of his coaching career on the defensive side of ball as the secondary coach with the Buccaneers and a defensive coordinator with the Vikings.

When he was hired by the Steelers, he jumped in head first in learning the offensive side of ball from a coaching standpoint as he had on defense.

It was something that was immediately noticed by now defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who coached with Tomlin in Memphis and Arkansas State.

He brings an element to game-planning that maybe he didn’t have before he was a head coach,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “Since he’s become head coach his offensive knowledge – which was already extensive because he played wide receiver but he knows more about pass protections and what they want to do and what offenses don’t like to see. He brings that to the table and it helps a lot.”

Tomlin wanted to learn offense better, according to Ben Roethlisberger. He learned the hand signals, what Roethlisberger was thinking and why the offensive coordinator was calling what he was calling.

Early on, to me, he seemed like a student who wanted to learn,” Roethlisberger said. “Why are we doing this? Why are we calling this? Why are we signaling this? Now, he kind of takes pride in saying ‘I knew that or saw that’ and if not, he comes and asks. Sometimes it is funny because it almost seems like he is trying too hard and we have fun with it.”

Tomlin has a different take on it. He said there was no concise effort him learning offense to put him on par with his defensive knowledge.

What I know and what I acknowledge that I know are probably two different things,” Tomlin said.

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July 14, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Former Steelers WR Hines Ward confused by Hall of Fame criteria

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Photo by Chaz Palla

HINES WARD — Photo by Chaz Palla

If you think it is confusing to figure out what constitutes a Hall of Fame player in the NFL, you aren’t alone.

Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward really has no clue either, which has to be kind of nerve-racking, especially for somebody who is in his first year of eligibility for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 2016 Hall of Fame induction ceremony is a little more than a month away. After that, all attention will be turned to the 2017 class where, five years ago, Ward seemed like a slam-dunk first-ballot guy.

Now, who knows? He sure doesn’t.

I don’t know because I don’t know what the criteria is,” Ward told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday. “Is it stats? My stats are OK. Is it MVPs? I got a Super Bowl MVP. I got two Super Bowl rings. I really don’t know the criteria. I don’t know what is really expected to get in.”

So, Ward isn’t going to sweat it. Ward watched good friend Jerome Bettis wait to wait five years before finally getting in. Former Steelers linebacker Kevin Green had to wait more than a decade before getting the nod this year.

I started in this game as a third-round pick, a special teams guy and I ended up playing 14 years,” Ward said. “If it happens it will be a cherry on top of an amazing career if not I am not going to be disappointed.”

Ward’s 14-year career with the Steelers can be matched up against nearly any other receiver who has been previously inducted, including the one who were voted in the past four years – Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison. Some may say that he was a better football player than any of the four.

Ward finished with 1,000 career catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns. He was Super Bowl XL MVP, helped the Steelers to championships in 2005 and 2008 and was a four-time Pro Bowler.

But, is that good enough now?

Now, guys have a 140 catches a season,” Ward said. “ A 1,000 catches in a career is kind of like nothing now.”

The number of 1,000-catch guys have nearly doubled in five years. Six players went over 1,000 receptions since Ward retired – Tony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Jason Witten, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Three of those came last year.

Steve Smith will likely reach 1,000 catches this year. Brandon Marshall in 2017, but after that the next closest who has a realistic show of reaching 1,000 receptions is Antonio Brown, who has 526.

Ward’s biggest competition will be Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Owens was a finalist last year, but his polarizing personality could hurt him.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Brian Dawkins are the best players who are eligible for the first time in 2017. The final five eliminated in 2016 were QB Kurt Warner, T Joe Jacoby, RB Terrell Davis, S John Lynch, and coach Don Coryell.

Ward’s ability to adapt to different quarterbacks over his career and spending half of his years on a run-first offense will hurt him. However, him being one of the best blocking receivers ever to play the game is hard to overlook.

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June 21, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Daryl Richardson seeks chance, because anything can happen – and has with the Steelers at running back in recent years

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Richardson

 

While the competition for the third- or fourth-string running back might not rank very highly on the list of Steelers storylines or position battles to watch during training camp, you only have to look at last season to see an example of what it can mean.

 

The Steelers entered the calendar year with their fourth and fifth featured backs of the season in Ben Tate and Josh Harris. As you might recall, that didn’t go too well with those two as their co-starters for a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

 

Counting those two and roster holdovers Le’Veon Bell and Dri Archer, the Steelers shuttled 14** running backs in and out during 2015.

 

And it was the 12th such man – Fitzgerald Toussaint – who was their featured back in the postseason.

 

In other words, anything can happen – and for the Steelers, HAS happened.

 

This is all just a longwindedly nice way of saying that despite his status as roster afterthought and buried deep down the running back depth chart, who knows what could happen in a Steelers uniform for Daryl Richardson?

 

“You’ve got to make that first impression, let them know that you want to be here, that you take it seriously,” Richardson said in the Steelers locker room after a minicamp practice last week. “It’s a blessing to be here, so just try to take advantage of it each day.

 

“You gottta be ready whenever they call your name and tell you to be ready. That’s what I’m preparing myself for now, so I can be ready when that day comes.”

 

Richardson has beaten long odds before in the NFL. In 2012, he was a seventh-round selection of the St. Louis Rams out of tiny Abilene Christian. Taken 202 picks prior to Richardson in that same draft by the same team was a player from a BCS conference who’d recently been named MVP of the Senior Bowl (Isaiah Pead).

 

Richardson won the No. 2 runner’s job behind future Hall of Famer Steven Jackson, by far out-producing Pead.

 

Pead, incidentally, was one of those 14 running backs the Steelers had last season. He didn’t last long, and wasn’t brought back – but here Richardson is on the roster with training camp five weeks away.

 

The Steelers had brought Richardson in late last season for a workout, and the team intended to sign him. But an injury at another position that ensuing Sunday forced their hand in a roster move, and the trickle-down effect left them with no room for Richardson. Still, the organization let Richardson know it liked him and that they would have a spot for him at some point.

 

Screenshot_2016-06-21-13-24-44-2

Richardson’s career NFL statistics (screenshot from NFL.com — note “LA” was “St. Louis then)

“I ended up going to the Cleveland Browns (before Week 14) to finish the season there,” Richardson said. “And I didn’t want to sign back with Cleveland, and (the Steelers) were men of their word and they brought me back.

 

“This was a team that I wanted to go to; I heard a lot of great things about this organization. I’m just blessed to be here.”

 

Richardson doesn’t have an NFL carry since 2013 and doesn’t have an NFL touchdown. He’s shown an ability to catch balls out of the backfield having 38 receptions on 4 targets over 24 games and limited snaps.

 

“You’ve got to do it all – you’ve got to catch balls, block, all-around,” Richardson said.

 

Richardson, who had speed tested in the mid 4.4s when he was coming out of college four years ago, will need to find a niche if he’s going to stick around long.

 

“I’d do anything they tell me to do,” he said, ‘But right now my key thing is probably special teams right now.”

 

With Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Toussaint clearly ahead of him – and Cameron Stingily (who was impressing the Steelers in camp last season before a significant injury) and rookie Brandon Brown-Dukes also to contend with – the odds are against Richardson, of course.

 

But they were against him, too, as a rookie in St. Louis four years ago. And they were against the likes of Toussaint and Harris to be thrust into big roles at important times in recent years for the Steelers.

 

“All I can do is play fast, play like I can play,” Richardson said. “If I let them know I’m serious and let them know that I want to be here and let them know I’ll do whatever it takes, that’s all I can do.”

 

 

**- List of running backs on the Steelers roster during calendar 2015: Holdovers Le’Veon Bell, Dri Archer, Josh Harris, Ben Tate (who was not retained), and newcomers DeAngelo Williams, Ross Scheuerman, Cameron Stingily, Jawon Chisholm, Braylon Heard, Jordan Todman, Dominique Brown, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Isaiah Pead and Rajion Neal

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