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February 20, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: An ode to the least-fitting nickname in NFL history and the man who held it (Heath Miller)

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HEATH

 

 

The first time I asked Heath Miller about his nickname was more than eight years ago. The last time was this past summer.

 

Each inquiry, he gave a sheepish, almost-embarrassed smile but politely answered it. After all, “Big Money” hardly describes Miller’s laid-back, unassuming and quiet persona.

 

“I don’t think it’s my nickname anymore,” Miller said with a chuckle back in November 2007. “Some people called me that in college, I think, because of my personality more just kind of a just a sarcastic name. And it kind of stuck.”

 

When I asked him in Latrobe during 2015 training camp, he was even less expansive. But he was just as polite.

 

Classic Heath Miller. He had no need for any attention heaped on him – in fact, he almost uncomfortable that he deserved ANY, as if to say, Just because I perform an athletic skill, why does that make me important? or, I’m just one small part of what we do around here; feel free to talk to any of my teammates who deserve it.

 

With that said, almost counter-intuitively, he still somehow managed to make himself one of the more approachable figures in the Steelers locker room. No matter the topic, no matter the time, no matter the situation, Miller was accommodating and respectful to any questions. (And believe me, he’s heard some dumb ones).

 

Like his game on the field, Miller’s personal style wasn’t loud and bombastic. It was almost boring. Take his typical choice of footwear spotted on him in the locker room? Regular old New Balance sneakers (the only reason I happened to notice this is that these always stood out to me for the sole reason of because they’re pretty much what this particular boring sportswriter wears – albeit Miller’s were always newer and cleaner).

 

It’s just one tiny, insignificant detail in Heath Miller’s life – but it seems perfectly fitting for the muted and low-key Super Steeler Pro Bowler.

 

“Certainly, that’s kind of the way I am,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any hiding going on.”

 

True to form, how do you think Miller proposed to his wife of more than eight years, Katie? Of course, it was anything but over-the-top or extravagant.

 

“I surprised her and just took her to this place that had a few of our friends over,” Miller said during that chat not long after his wedding eight years ago.

 

What, you were expecting an airplane carrying a banner or a flashy, public to-do?

 

That’s not Heath Miller.

 

Quiet – but commanding utmost respect. Humble, yet carrying an almost regal quality about him.

 

So, how in the world did Miller not only get a nickname like, “Big Money”… but get a candy bar named after that, too – complete with Miller’s face standing as the centerpiece of a piece of paper currency (83 “dollars,” of course)?

 

“My agent thought it would be pretty funny and sarcastic,” Miller said of the chocolate, toffee and crisped rice concoction that was sold in the Pittsburgh area in the year after the team won Super Bowl XL.

 

There’s nothing funny or sarcastic about calling Miller the best at his position in the history of one of the NFL’s marquee franchises.

 

 

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February 19, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Roosevelt Nix- “It’s just a blessing to be part of something great like (the Steelers)”

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Nix

 

 

 

Late in the afternoon of Jan. 9, 2015 – five days after their 2014 season ended with a disappointing home playoff loss to the rival Baltimore Ravens – the Steelers announced the signings of six players.

 

The only rostered player was LB Terence Garvin, a special teams standout entering his third season. The other five were those “reserve/future” contracts that you hear so much about this time of year.

 

Translation: Most likely mere training camp bodies who will never sniff the team’s 53-man roster.

 

To wit, just by looking at what happened to the players who signed that day:

 

  • –WR Brelan Chancellor didn’t even make it to OTA’s in May before being released
  • –TE Michael Egnew was cut a week into training camp, the Steelers’ first outright release in Latrobe last summer
  • –DE Matt Conrath and S Alden Darby made it to the final cut of the preseason… but still were out of football by Labor Day.

 

But there was one other player signed that day. A first-year former college defensive end from Kent State by the name of Roosevelt Nix.

 

Of the eight players brought in from outside the organization and signed to reserve/future deals last winter, Nix is the only one to make the team. In fact, of the 15 players overall signed to such contracts, he was one of only two to make the team (OT Alejandro Villanueva was signed four days before Nix, along with six others who’d finished the 2014 season on the Steelers’ practice squad).

 

The point being: A player signed by a team to a reserve/future contract in January typically has little chance of making the team.

 

In Nix’s case, that was particularly true considering he was undersized (5 feet 11) at the position he knew best (defensive line) – and at the time of his signing, he was listed as a “linebacker.”

 

Nix ended up being a fullback of all things.

 

All part of the wild ride that was Nix’s 2015 in Pittsburgh.

 

“I definitely recognize that it’s been a blessing to be part of something great like this,” Nix told me the day after the Steelers’ 2015 season ended with their playoff loss in Denver.

 

As Nix spoke, he was standing in crutches, his right foot in a boot after a metatarsal injury sustained in the penultimate game of the regular season in Baltimore on Dec. 27.

 

“The recovery is going fine,” Nix said. “I’m just listening to the trainers; I should be back to normal training, no problem, here in a little bit.”

 

That’s good news for Nix, who’d endeared himself to teammates and coach Mike Tomlin over his improbable first NFL season.

 

He won the No. 1 fullback job and was often used as a lead blocker. He even caught two passes. Mostly, though, he became a valuable special teams contributor.

 

“Individually there are still some things I can work on,” he said. “I’m just ready to take some time, assess the season and get back to work.”

 

With Will Johnson about to become an unrestricted free agent, it would seem that Nix is secure in being the top fullback for the Steelers in 2016. True, on the surface that’s not worth too much in an offense (and in a league) that doesn’t utilize a fullback too often. But Nix managed to play 151 snaps in his 15 games – more than 10 per game. That’s 14 percent of the offense’s total for the season; factoring in when he was injured, that represents that Nix played roughly one-sixth of the Steelers’ offensive plays.

 

That’s likely more than Johnson played last season (Johnson has taken reps at tight end since 2014, so at least a portion of the 206 offensive snaps he took in 2014 were not at fullback – 206 would be 18.5% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps). That’s an indication Nix had the trust of the Steelers’ offensive coaches.

 

Of course, Nix’s more obvious impact was on special teams – he had nine tackles and a forced fumble. Most tellingly, though, he fit in seamlessly and proved he belonged in the NFL. He not only made the 53-man roster, he was activated for every game in which he was healthy. The Steelers would go on cut more established players (Ross Ventrone, for example) in lieu of losing Nix.

 

Not bad for an undersized defensive end from Kent State who’d been cut a week into his previous training camp (with the Falcons in 2014) and initially had about as much of a chance to make the Steelers as, well, a now-forgotten guy named Brelan Chancellor did.

 

Nix vows he’s not merely satisfied with that. He claims he’ll be much better in Year 2 in his new life as a fullback.

 

“Oh, by far,” he said. “I don’t think anybody is ever going to be great after one year of anything. There’s a lot of things that I still need to work on – things that I have gotten better at and things I can still improve, and I’m 100 percent willing to fix all of those and be the best player I can be.”

 

 

 

 

Listen to The Kaboly Show, Trib Steelers writer Mark Kaboly’s weekly program on TribLive Radio Click here to hear Mark discuss the Steelers offseason, with guest Adam Crowley of Steelers Nation Radio.

 

 

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February 12, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: It’s a *big* offseason for BIG Dan McCullers

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As always, here’s the weekly post prologue urging you to listen to quality, informative audio entertainment in the form of the Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio. Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and I discuss how the Broncos defense’s dominating performance in the Super Bowl relates to the Steelers’ immediate future. We also delve some into the team’s free agency priorities. It’s the final show for six weeks, so click here to listen now while you have the chance!

 

While you’re at it, check out Monday’s episode of The Kaboly Show – although it continues year-round, because Mark is special.

 

 

 

 

The 2015 season began with a degree of promise for Daniel McCullers. Coming off a rookie season in which he gradually went from “project” to “usable rotational defensive lineman” as a 22-year-old sixth-round pick, it was looking as if the Steelers might have found something in the former Tennessee Volunteer who stands 6 feet 7 and weights, oh, somewhere in the neighborhood of between 350-400 pounds.

 

McCullers played 35 snaps during the first two games of this past season, and one school of thought was that he was being groomed to take over as the top nose tackle with Steve McLendon scheduled to become in unrestricted free agent in March.

 

But then a knee injury struck McCullers, and he missed the next three games. He’d end up playing just 70 snaps over the final 11 games of the season – 26 of which coming Nov. 1 against Cincinnati when end Stephon Tuitt was out because of injury. In Seattle four weeks later, McCullers didn’t play at all. He played just 12 snaps over the final five games (counting playoffs).

 

It was clear that McCullers didn’t do enough to earn the coaches’ trust. On a team with a thin defensive line and one in which one of the stellar ends (Cameron Heyward) said after the season that he and Tuitt would prefer not to carry so heavy a load, McCullers wasn’t able to get on the field too much.

 

McCullers played about as much over the final 10 games of 2015 as he did in 2014, and he was mostly (barring an injury to someone else) just a subpackage, situational, specialized player.

 

Still, the big guy insists he was “most definitely” a better player in ’15 than he was as a rookie.

 

“I learned a lot being with the Steelers and with this D-line, being with Cam, Tuitt, all the guys, you learn so much,” McCullers told me last month. “And I’m gonna take it all in. I feel like I am progressing a lot and getting better each and every week.”

 

When McCullers was drafted, keeping his weight down was the concern that jumped out. It likely will always be something he has to keep in check, as his stated priorities for the offseason exhibit:

 

“My plan is just to stay in the best shape I can possible,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing, don’t lose my shape, don’t get out of shape and come back ready to go. And continue to work on my fundamentals and my technique.”

 

McCullers said the defensive line corps under coach John Mitchell are “close,” and his feelings toward McLendon – the 30-year-old, six-year vet ahead of him on the depth chart – prove that. If McLendon does leave as a free agent, especially considering fellow veteran Cam Thomas is also a UFA and not expected back, McCullers’ role might figure to expand.

 

“That’s up for the coaches do decide; that’s their job,” McCullers said. “But Steve is a great player; he helped us a lot this year and however it goes for him, I hope the best for him.”

 

While the importance of a nose tackle seems to dwindle every year in the increasingly pass-happy NFL, the Steelers still would likely think twice about letting McLendon walk. And even if he does, they’d likely bring in another veteran to replace him. Plus, there’s plenty of speculation they’ll be targeting d-line help in the draft.

 

There’s no shortage of moving pieces on the Steelers’ defensive line, but no matter how it plays out, the 2016 offseason and training camp could prove to be a big opportunity for “Big Dan” McCullers.

 

 

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February 7, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: The week behind a Super (Bowl) week

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160207_122918_COLLAGE-1160208_074800_COLLAGE-1

SAN FRANCISCO — It’s been an interesting week out here in the Bay Area leading up to Super Bowl 50 — interesting and long.

I guess that’s what happens when the Super Bowl host city is an hour drive away from where the Super Bowl is actually taking place, but I digress.

This is my fourth Super Bowl I’ve covered in my career, but first not involving the Steelers.  That should make it easier, right?

Absolutely not.

I approached this first non-Steelers Super Bowl week trying to relate every story back to the Steelers in some form or fashion. Now, that would’ve been easy if the Arizona Cardinals beat the Carolina Panthers two weeks ago, but, as we know, they didn’t.

That made it difficult to find a dozen Steelers-related topics over a week.

In order to do that, I stalked out Radio Row.

Radio Row is a collection of, well, radio people all in one place. What makes this valuable is that companies use professional football players as a vehicle to promote their product through a mass collection of media all at one spot.

I got some and missed some.

I got Bill Cowher, Kelvin Beachum, Kevin Greene, Aaron Donald, Brett Keisel and Chad Brown.

I tried with Antonio Brown; totally missed Le’Veon Bell; never ran into DeAngelo Williams; and got enveloped by the mass around Hines Ward and was pushed to the side.

Oh well, you win some and lose some.

Well, I do appreciate all you readers out there and, in case you missed something, this was my week of work in San Francisco/Santa Clara/San Jose.

Enjoy!

Ex-coach Cowher says Steelers ‘are very close’ to being a team to beat

Ex-Steeler Sanders enjoys Media Day spotlight

Former Steelers Cotchery enjoys leadership role with Panthers
Steelers LT Kelvin Beachum rules out move to guard

Panthers owner Richardson uses the Rooney way in Carolina

Former Steelers DE Keisel adjusting to life of retirement

10 years later, Parker’s 75-yard run stands as best ever in SB

Steelers’ Brown still not happy with Burfict, Jones

NFL commish pushes for in-game ejections in aftermath of Bengals/Steelers

Former Steelers LB Greene not holding breathe for Hall induction

Greene gets the knock and gets into the Hall of Fame … finally

Manning ready to pass the torch to Newton in SB 50

Manning, Broncos stun Panthers in SB 50

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February 5, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Jordan Berry believes he had what it takes to break Steelers punting curse

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Post prologue: Click here to listen to this week’s episode of the Steelers Roundtable Show. Ralph Paulk and I are in the palatial TribLive Radio studios on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, while a sleepy Mark Kaboly joins us live from his hotel room bed (before 6 a.m.) in Northern California, where he is covering Super Bowl 50 for the Tribune-Review. We preview the game and chat 2016 Steelers issues.

 

 

2015 Preseason Carolina at Pittsburgh

 

 

The results of Jordan Berry’s first season were mixed – the Steelers punter flashed potential, but lacked consistency. While fans might  have opinions, the team’s front office will make its thoughts known in the coming seven months.

 

But does Berry himself believe he’s shown – and has – what it takes to, at last, become the Steelers’ longterm answer at what has been a revolving door of a position?

 

“Definitely,” he told me. “It’s something where you love to do it and if you can try to stay in one spot, that’s definitely better. I feel like overall I had a pretty decent year this year; obviously I was not as consistent as I would like. But I feel like I can build on that and come back next year stronger if I keep working at it.”

 

Berry had surgery performed on his right shoulder less than week after injuring it during the Steelers’ divisional playoff loss to the Denver Broncos last month. By all accounts, it was a successful procedure that shouldn’t affect his preparations for the 2016 season all that much (aren’t all surgeries initially reported that way?), and there’s no reason to believe Berry will be prevented from being the Steelers punter for their regular-season opener the second weekend of September.

 

That said, it’s no slam dunk he will hold onto the job.

 

I’ve written about this before, but in the nine seasons Mike Tomlin has been coach of the Steelers, he has used nine punters: Daniel Sepulveda, Mitch Berger, Paul Ernster, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler, Zoltan Mesko, Matt McBriar, Brad Wing and Berry. The gig has changed hands 12 times (three times because of injury, eight due to performance and then the trade of Wing at the end of last training camp… which, in some ways, could be attributed to performance because Berry had beaten him out).

 

What makes the revolving door at punter under Tomlin so fascinating is that he spent two draft picks (using one to trade up in the fourth round) to take a punter during his first draft. He clearly believed/hoped Sepulveda would stabilize the gig for a decade or so. Sepulveda, though, battled injuries and inconsistency over a five-year career in which he punted in just 52 games.

 

Not unlike Berry’s first season…

 

The good:

  • His 28-to-2 ratio of punts landing inside the 20 vs. those that went for touchbacks was one of the best in the league (he was 11th in inside-the-20 kicks and only two punters had fewer touchbacks)
  • That was a big part of Berry having only 19 punts returned against him – by far the fewest in the league and the best ratio of non-returned punts in the league.
  • That ties into the 21 fair catches Berry induced; considering he only punted 59 times, that ratio also led the NFL.

 

The bad:

  • Berry finished 24th in the league in net average (39.1 yards).

 

The ugly:

  • There were 32 punters for the 32 teams in the NFL this season that punted at least 56 times. Berry finished 31st of those 32 in gross average (42.6 yards).

 

 

Berry did not have a touchdown return against (of course, that’s largely attributable to the coverage team, but he deserves a measure of the credit, too), and the 165 total return yards on his punts was fourth-fewest among the league’s kickers. He also did not have a punt blocked and had the longest punt in the NFL this season (79 yards against Arizona).

 

All, good.

 

But, by the “eye test,” Berry also had way too many botched kicks off that didn’t travel far enough. There aren’t easily-accessible stats for this, but everybody remembers the two punts of 27 yards from the Steelers’ own territory during their playoff loss at Denver. They were the sort of kicks that, quite frankly, happened too often this past season.

 

So, how does Berry intend on addressing that?

 

“It’s just reps and a mental process getting it right,” Berry said “It’s just sticking to this pro-style punting which I didn’t do a whole lot of in college. This was really my first year of doing that by itself and all the different situations you get put in: whether it’s a strong crosswind, or cold, or the heat and al that sort of stuff. Just getting those reps in all those situations; this year was very valuable for that. So I think next year while now I have a lot of that under my belt I should be able to come out a lot stronger and be a lot more consistent.”

 

Another year of being more fully immersed in “pro-style” punting (as opposed to the “Aussie” style he was able to use in college and, of course, growing up in Australia) should benefit Berry in 2016. As will the fact that he is signed by the Steelers as a fully-rostered player this spring and summer. That by no means is a guarantee he will earn the job – Berry is the favorite and expected to, but don’t be shocked if the Steelers add a punter to push him in camp. Still, his plight in 2016 is nowhere near as daunting than it was last year, when he was desperate to impress a team, meaning he had to be constantly kicking. The relative “rest” could pay dividends later, he says.

 

“Last year, I am trying to be like in sort of that high-performance level from all the way back in January right through,” Berry told me, “so I couldn’t take some time off and really get prepped for the season properly. This year, I’ll just be trying to compete for the job (merely) before we actually start the season.”

 

 

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January 30, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Delayed free agency? Mike Adams takes it in stride — and the Steelers might benefit

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Post prologue: Just because the Steelers season ended doesn’t mean that TribLive Radio’s Steelers Roundtable did. Ralph Paulk, Mark Kaboly and I tackle the conference championship games and how close the Steelers are/were to being at that level. Click here to listen.

 

 

 

Adams

 

Professional athletes only get so many chances to test their worth on the open market, just a finite number of opportunities to theoretically play wherever they want.

 

For Mike Adams, that precious occasion was lost – or, at least, delayed for a year.

 

Our Mark Kaboly was the first to report, back in December, that an obscure stipulation in the collective bargaining agreement meant that Adams would NOT become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Adams wasn’t around much during the designated open locker room sessions for the media this season to get his reaction, but I finally caught up to him the day after the Steelers’ season ended.

 

If Adams was perturbed by the aforementioned little-known rule (it a states that if a player spends the entire final season of his contract on the physically unable to perform list that his contract will be carried over to the following season), he did a good job of hiding it:

 

It’s no secret that I love being here. So to be able to be back for a year and not have this year, in a sense, count against me, was kind of a good thing — not (merely) kind of a good thing; it was a great thing.

 

Adams, understandably, took the high road. But it can’t feel good to have your freedom (one that’s earned through surviving four years in the National Football League) away – not that this is the Steelers’ fault. Adams had back surgery not long before training camp opened, leading to his PUP designation.

 

Coach Mike Tomlin said on Reporting Day at St. Vincent College that Adams would return to practice in “four weeks.” Thirteen weeks later, by the Steelers’ sixth game, Adams was still not cleared to practice. That began a five-week window in which Adams could have began practicing, followed by 21 days in which he HAD to practice for his season not to officially end.

 

Needless to say, Adams never practiced and never was removed from PUP.

 

“I was (frequently) here (at the facility) – but it’s just always different when you’re not out there practicing or playing,” Adams said of his lost 2015 season. “For me I have never been out for a year before so it was a new experience. Definitely an experience to grow mentally stronger and to be able to sit and review myself just sit back and look at the things I need to work on in a bigger perspective.

 

“You reflect and you are here to watch these guys all grow, such as (guard) David DeCastro making All Pro. I’m just proud of my friends, the way they grinded this year, fought through adversity, losing guys. And real proud of (tackle Alejandro Villanueva) the way he stepped up this year. So it was a heck of a year to sit and watch these guys and I’m sure proud of the way they played.”

 

The Adams situation, in some ways, ended up being a blessing in disguise for the Steelers. Most importantly, Adams’ absence facilitated Villanueva making the 53-man roster when the season began. It also forced the Steelers to play him when left tackle Kelvin Beachum was lost for the season with a knee injury.

 

If Adams had been able to play, the Steelers might not ever know what they had in Villanueva.

If Adams had been able to play, the Steelers would have faced the prospect of having TWO of the three tackles they dress on gamedays head for unrestricted free agency (Beachum is a UFA) – and they would have encountered that with no evidence Villanueva could handle the job.

 

As it stands now, the Steelers could stand pat at tackle, if they so choose, with Villanueva the starter on the left side and Adams the “swing” backup to him and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. Adams (about $1.13 million) and Villanueva ($525,000) both are signed on the cheap. There’s much less pressure to draft a tackle, to explore acquiring one in free agency or to go out of their comfort zone (dollars-wise) in what they offer Beachum for an extension.

 

Adams, in effect, could just slide right into the never-used Byron Stingily’s spot on the 53-man roster. The Steelers can prioritize other positions in the draft and free agency – or, of course, still bring Beachum back.

 

You never, ever wish anyone to get injured, but… in short, the sequence of events that began with Adams’ back surgery (him having his free agency delayed, the Steelers getting a look at Villanueva, Villanueva doing a no-worse-than-adequate job) worked to the team’s advantage.

 

Of course, Adams needs to get himself back to full health and back in playing shape.

 

“I’m feeling good now, doing some stuff, just keep on following the protocol and get ready for next year,” he said.

 

Adams was drafted with great promise in 2012, falling to the second round in part because of a failed drug test (marijuana) but considered by some a first-round talent. That, of course, didn’t materialize commensurate with his play over his first three seasons: 41 games, 20 starts, at least two benchings – usually because of trouble pass protecting. But Adams has been a good enough run blocker, and he seems like a good fit as a “sixth lineman” as the tackle-eligible formation the Steelers sometimes run.

 

In short, the Steelers could do a lot worse when it comes to a backup tackle.

 

Adams, by appearance, lost a not-insignificant amount of weight this season while recovering from his back trouble. He downplayed that as an issue, however (saying he was still “around 300 pounds”), and with good reason considering there are still several months until that will matter.

 

“You worry about what you can control,” Adams said, “so I’m gonna worry about getting healthy and going out and playing the way I can play. And let the rest carry the rest.”

 

 

 

One more shameless plug for this week’s Steelers Roundtable show.

 

Have a good weekend.

 

 

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January 22, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: In 2016, the problem the Steelers face at kicker is a “good” one

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POST PROLOGUE: THE FIRST AFTER-SEASON EDITION OF THE STEELERS ROUNDTABLE ON TRIBLIVE RADIO HAS AIRED. RALPH PAULK AND I OFFER KNOWLEDGEABLE STEELERS INSIGHTS. MARK KABOLY TALKS SOME, TOO. GIVE IT A LISTEN BY CLICKING HERE.

 

 

 

 

Bos

SUISHAM

 

 

 

The kicker quandary the Steelers faced for a two-month span in 2015 was that they couldn’t find one.

 

In 2016, it’s that they have too many.

 

“Two very capable kickers,” coach Mike Tomlin said this week, “is a good problem to have.”

 

In actuality, the Steelers have THREE kickers on their offseason roster after inking Ty Long to a reserve/futures contract the other day. No disrespect to Long – who was considered one of the better kickers to be draft-eligible last year and has a strong leg – but he was brought in as an offseason leg. It would take quite the run of highly-unlikely circumstance for Long to be seriously considered to open the 2016 regular season as the Steelers’ kicker.

 

No, the debate will be Shaun Suisham or Chris Boswell. Both are liked within the organization and both have made some clutch kicks over their Steelers tenures. But, ultimately, only one will stick with the team past the first week of September.

 

The smart money is on Boswell – for economic reasons. He is under contract at $525,000 this coming season with the same salary-cap hit. Suisham, meanwhile, is scheduled to make $2.4 million with a cap number of about $3.5 million.

 

Easy, right? But it’s not necessarily that simple.

 

For one, the economics are clouded by the fact that cutting Suisham carries with it some “dead money” that will count against the cap. If he’s cut before June 1 (which has pretty much zero chance of happening), the Steelers would actually be paying MORE at the kicking position by choosing Boswell than they did if they chose Suisham. (Boswell costs no dead money if he is cut). But even if Suisham is cut after June 1, the 2016 cap charge for him is more than $1.1 million, meaning that the 2016 expenditure the Steelers use for kickers would be more than $1.6 million (counting Boswell’s salary) – not to mention a 2017 charge will be applied. Viewed that way, the cap situation isn’t as much of a factor.

 

A trade of Suisham – seemingly the best-case scenario for all parties – carries with it similar salary-cap implications as a release. At least the Steelers get something in return, right? Well, there’s no guarantee another team will give up even a late-round pick for a 34-year-old who recently had a major knee injury (Suisham sustained a torn ACL and meniscus in his left knee making a tackle during the preseason opener in August). The Steelers, ironically, might serve as the cautionary tale for this: They gave up a sixth-round pick for 33-year-old kicker Josh Scobee late in training camp – he lasted four games and was bad enough to get cut.

 

At very least, for this to play out, Suisham will have to have a strong preseason –in terms of health, in making kicks and in showing leg strength on kickoffs. But then if that happens, will it make the Steelers think twice about letting go of a guy who was so good for you for 4 ½ seasons? (Counting playoffs, Suisham has made 63 of his past 68 field-goal attempts; he is a perfect 172-for-172 on extra points as a Steeler).

 

Also, let me be clear: Boswell was good. Very, very good. He made 29 of 32 field goals (oddly enough, the exact same stat line Suisham had the year before), and perhaps more telling, he clearly earned the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates.

 

But is a 14-game sample size enough? It’s a question that at least is worth asking.

 

At 25 (he’s 24 until March 16), Boswell is nine years younger than Suisham. He’ll also remain under team control (and, likely, very cheap) for another two seasons beyond 2016. Suisham is due to earn that aforementioned $2.4 million salary through 2018, with decreasing “dead money” penalties for cutting him before each season.

 

As you might expect, the individuals involved aren’t saying too much illuminating about how they expect things to play out.

 

“I have no idea,” Boswell said. “I feel like I improved a little bit.  I think there is a lot out there I can improve on. Whether it’s here or somewhere else, I have no idea.”

 

Suisham’s only priority right now remains getting back to health.

 

“We will see where we go from here and continue to rehab and work to getting back to kicking,” he said.

 

“It’s a long process and I won’t know the answer until I start to kick some footballs again… Outside of my ACL, I had a significant injury to my meniscus that I’m trying to baby through the process a little bit right now; hopefully it heals itself the way it needs to.”

 

One last factor to consider: Kickoffs. It’s the forgotten component of the NFL placekicker’s job description – but it remains important. To be honest, neither Boswell not Suisham is particularly stellar at this aspect of the game, at least relative to other NFL kickers. Just 26 of Boswell’s 74 kickoffs went for touchbacks. While that’s an oversimplification of kickoff leg strength, that rate (35.13 percent) is near the bottom of the league – but it virtually matches Suisham’s 2014 (35.95 percent).

 

By comparison, Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, for example, had touchbacks 85 percent of the time. That can be quite a weapon against a team with a stronger returner; teams very rarely open a drive outside their own 20.

 

 

 

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out once Suisham is back to full health.

 

 

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January 19, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski — James Harrison: ‘I can still play; it’s… if I want to.’ Will the Steelers want him?

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Deebo

 

A day after James Harrison said he had yet to make a decision about whether he will retire or not, the 37-year-old remained noncommittal over his future on the day the Steelers had their season-ending team meeting.

 

“Yeah, I mean, I’m not making decisions yet. I have a lot of time,” Harrison said.

 

Retirement, of course, is a two-way street – if Harrison wants to play, the Steelers have to want him back. After all, he already retired once… on Aug. 30 of a year when no team had signed him. (When the Steelers came calling three weeks later… he was right back in the league).

 

The Steelers won’t publicly divulge what they think of Harrison’s ability to contribute in 2016, when he would be the NFL’s oldest defensive player. But what does Harrison think?

 

“Yeah, I can still play,” he said, “it’s the fact of if I want to continue to play.

 

“I’m getting older; that’s an understatement. And it’s a lot harder on my body to recover and repair. And for me, really the hardest thing for me is just the offseason, the workouts, getting ready to prepare for the season. So, once I get into the season, that’s the easy part.”

 

The former NFL defensive player of the year (when he was a spry 30 years old in 2008) showed he could still play at a high level Sunday in Denver: Playing 53 snaps (his second-most all season), Harrison was tied for second on the team in solo tackles and combined tackles, had a game-high three tackles for loss and had the Steelers’ only sack.

 

But the performance alone wasn’t enough to convince Harrison to desire a return for a 14th season.

 

“If you were to ask me something like that right after the loss, nobody wants to go out with a loss; it’s going to be immediately, `Yeah, I’m coming back,’ not taking into account everything else,” he said.

 

“Actually, (my body) feels good,” Harrison also said. “That’s the hard part, you know? I feel good, but each year is not going to fall out the way the previous one did. We’ll see.”

 

OK, putting aside whether Harrison WANTS to play this coming season… Do the Steelers want him back?

 

Let’s start with performance. Harrison led all of his outside linebackers teammates in sacks with five (albeit three came during a 12-snap span late in a laugher against the Colts). He also led them in total tackles (40), forced fumbles (two) and snaps played (which, in some ways, suggests that coaches apparently believed he was their best option at the position).

 

Subjectively, Mark Kaboly’s favorite measure (sarcasm noted) is Pro Football Focus’ grades. Say what you want about them – they’re far from infallible – but use it as just one tool for evaluation.

 

PFF rated Harrison as the NFL’s No. 14 “edge rusher” in 2015 – well above teammates Arthur Moats (64th), Jarvis Jones (67th) and Bud Dupree (109th).

 

Of course, the production of all four was limited by the fact they were sharing snaps in a rotation. For the season, per FootballOutsiders.com calculations, Harrison played 55.1 percent of the defensive snaps, Dupree 50.8 percent and Moats an even 50 percent and Jones 40.9 percent. (Jones and Harrison each missed one game).

 

“I think (the OLB timeshare) did (keep us fresh),” Harrison said.

 

“I’m not ready to make a decision (on retirement), so when that time comes, you guys will hear about it, I guess.”

 

The Steelers’ decison goes beyond performance. They’ve spent two of their past three first-round picks on outside linebackers. Here’s thinking they didn’t make those choices believing they had half-time players. But have Dupree and Jones shown enough to deserve more playing time? Then there’s Anthony Chickillo — has last year’s sixth-round pick shown HE should be getting some defensive snaps on the edge? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” is keeping Harrison at 38 is just blocking the development of a bunch of guys in their early 20s?

 

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

 

 

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January 17, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Peyton vs. Pittsburgh has been very rare

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In writing my story about Peyton Manning facing the Steelers for Sunday’s Trib, I was surprised that they met so few times. That inspired this pre-game blog post…

 

 

Peyton

 

The teams he has played for – all in the AFC, no less – have qualified for the playoffs 13 consecutive seasons. The Steelers, almost as consistent, have made the playoffs 10 of the past 15 years.

 

Yet for whatever reason, Peyton Manning has largely avoided facing the Steelers.

 

Sunday will be the first postseason meeting between the Hall of Fame quarterback and what is arguably the league’s model franchise in a decade, only the second playoff matchup overall. Further, through quirky circumstance, somehow Peyton and the Steelers haven’t even faced each other all that much in the regular season – again, despite competing in the same conference and often finishing in the same place in their respective divisions (the NFL’s schedules on a rotating basis, ensuring that teams in the same conference play each other – at minimum – once every three years and that intra-conference teams of similar strength play each other every year).

 

Adding to the quirkiness of Manning not playing against the Steelers very often is that he has been, largely, extremely durable over the course of his career. Only twice has an injury kept him out of action – a neck ailment cost him the entire 2011 season, and plantar fasciitis prevented him from starting the final seven games of this regular season.

 

Sure enough, both instances included a missed game against Pittsburgh.

 

Only four of Manning’s 266 career regular-season games have come against the Steelers; just one of his 24 prior playoff game has. He’s faced the Steelers once over the past seven years.

 

Manning has missed only 22 games over his 18-year career, but two of those games he sat out were against the Steelers. Despite spending his entire career in the AFC, Manning has played eight NFC teams more often than he’s played against the Steelers. There are only four teams he’s faced fewer times – three NFC opponents (Bucs, Bears, Cardinals) and the Colts, who he played his first 14 seasons for.

 

Manning has managed to face eight NFC teams – the Falcons, Cowboys, Giants (brother Eli), Saints, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks and Redskins – more often than the Steelers.

 

Manning has faced the Jaguars and Texans more (20 games) than anybody – and he’s faced, you guessed it, the Patriots (19 times) more than any franchise that resides in a division Manning hasn’t played in.

 

Counting the playoffs, he’s not faced ANY team MORE than New England (23 meetings – 6-13 in the regular season and 2-2 in the playoffs)… and yet until today, there’s no AFC team he’s faced LESS than the Steelers.

 

Considering those three entities – the Patriots, Steelers and Manning – have largely dominated the AFC since the turn of the century, that’s kind of a shame.

 

Especially considering that Sunday might be the final time they meet.

 

 

Enjoy the game.

 

PEYTON VS. PITTSBURGH MEETINGS

 

 

 

More pregame content is available via the Steelers Roundtable Show on TribLive Radio, where Ralph Paulk, Mark Kaboly and I discuss all things Steelers-Broncos (and Steelers-Bengals, too). Click on this link to listen.

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January 15, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Coates patiently awaits his time… Could it come Sunday?

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POST PROLOGUE: TAKE A LISTEN TO THE STEELERS ROUNDTABLE SHOW FROM TRIBLIVE RADIO ON THURSDAY MORNING. MARK KABOLY, RALPH PAULK AND I LOOK BACK ON THE ABSURDITY OF EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED IN CINCINNATI LAST WEEK AS WELL AS LOOK AHEAD TO THE GAME AGAINST THE BRONCOS SUNDAY IN DENVER. THINGS GET HEATED WHEN I CALL MARK A, “YINZER EXTRAORDINAIRE.” CHECK IT OUT.

 

 

 

photo by Chaz Palla

Sammie Coates has all the talent to be an NFL star; he’s been virtually “redshirted” this season.

 

The Steelers use a mid-round draft choice on a receiver from a Southern school that is big on pure talent, a 210-plus pound specimen with 4.4 speed. They sit him initially for games, in part because of a (real or perceived) glut at the position, while the confident young man titillates in practice and patiently awaits an opportunity. When the chance finally comes, this receiver explodes onto the scene and becomes an instant phenomenon.

 

Martavis Bryant? That is SO last year. Could the 2015-16 version of Bryant be Sammie Coates?

 

OK, OK, so of course there’s no way Coates will match Bryant’s rookie season, when he was deactivated for the first six games but ended up with 10 touchdowns in the 11 games (including playoffs) he appeared in after finally “earning a hat.” Coates might only get one game, and he won’t have the role Bryant did. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the potential to make an impact.

 

Coates, an Auburn alum picked in the third round in May (Bryant went in the 2014 fourth round from Clemson), was deactivated for the final six regular-season games plus last week’s postseason opener. Although he did dress for six games in an eight-week stretch earlier this season, that was partially attributable to a suspension and an injury to Bryant. Coates had one catch in that time, playing only 34 snaps.

 

But now with Antonio Brown going through concussion protocol, the NFL All Pro and team MVP has been ruled out to play Sunday in Denver. That creates a domino effect: Markus Wheaton and Bryant step up a spot each, veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey moves from little-used No. 4 WR to a prominent role as a No. 3… and Coates becomes part of the offense.

 

Is he ready?

 

“Sammie can definitely play,” Bryant said. “He has been working hard all year on the scout team; he’s just waiting on an opportunity like I was last year. Once he gets that opportunity it’s up to him to take advantage of it, which I am pretty sure he will. With the way he practices and how he works, he can do the same as I did.”

 

Coates insists he knows all three wide receiver positions in the Steelers offense (and even, for the very rare occasions the Steelers have gone with a four-wideout package this season, the fourth spot). He said it’s a regular part of a practice week for him to rotate into the first-team offense.

 

“It’s just about me doing the right routes and running at the right gaps and stuff like that,” said Coates, who showed his big-game, big-play prowess with 206 yards and two touchdowns against rival Alabama last season. “The little things that I learned throughout the season.

 

“I just take (advice) from Coach T and give it all every day at practice because you never know when your opportunity can come so you need to be ready for it.”

 

Coates’ teammates are saying they’re confidant he’s ready.

 

“He’s definitely come a long way,” said rookie Tyler Murphy, ostensibly the Steelers No. 5 WR who’s on the practice squad now. “He’s gotten much better since camp – and he was already a great receiver when he got here, but he pushed himself to get that much better.”

 

“If you’re a wide receiver in our room, you’re always prepared,” Heyward-Bey said. “Coach (Richard) Mann does a good job preparing us. We’re all always hard on the rookies. He comes to work ready to go. If he has to play, he’ll be good.”

 

 

 

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