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March 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Steelers not at a loss at all

Ziggy-HoodThe Steelers were an 8-8 team two years in a row and are proving with their actions that it was just not good enough.

Less than 48 hours into free agency and four Steelers who were part of those two 8-8 seasons are gone.

More succinctly, the Steelers didn’t want them back.

Running back Jonathan Dwyer went to Arizona, defensive linemen Al Woods signed with Tennessee and Ziggy Hood with Jacksonville and tight end David Johnson with San Diego with linebacker LaMarr Woodley (released and signed with Oakland) are gone and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety Ryan Clark soon to sign with somebody else as well.

Jonathan Dwyer (Arizona Cardinals) – Dwyer was released before the season last year and was promptly brought back. He proved to be a nice short-yardage back and ran with power and vigor when he got a chance to show it. Myself, I would’ve kept Dwyer, but you can’t blame Dwyer for wanting to get out of Pittsburgh. Still, it is kind of strange that the Steelers had no interest in Dwyer even though he signed for around $700,000 for one year. Seems reasonable to me. Keep in mind that Dwyer would’ve been a backup to Le’Veon Bell with the Steelers so is 3-4 carries a game worth it for Dwyer wanting to come back? Even though the Steelers have only Alvester Alexander and Tauren Poole left on the roster behind Bell, backup running backs are plenty in the NFL and they should be able to fill the void quite easily.

Ziggy Hood (Jacksonville Jaguars) – Hood never really fit in with the Steelers and now can officially be deemed a failed first-round pick. Hood never truly was able to make the conversion from a 4-3 tackle in college to 3-4 defensive end in the pros. Now, Hood didn’t get enough credit for what he did accomplish here. He was more than serviceable at the position, but you want a first-round pick to be more than serviceable. Hood was normally in the position he needed to be in, but had trouble getting off blocks and making tackles. I would’ve tried to bring Hood back especially with the lack of depth currently at the position but, once again, it isn’t a loss that will hurt much. There are better alternatives to Ziggy Hood on the open market.

Al Woods (Tennessee Titans) – This one might be the biggest loss for the Steelers, but not because of what he’s done on the field but more for his potential. Woods has played only 275 career NFL snaps over three years, but is valuable because he can play both end and nose. The Titans gave him $5 million over two years, which priced him out of the Steelers’ plans, and for good reason. But, once again, this isn’t a type of loss that the Steelers can’t move on from. Woods has been nothing more than a rotation player and very well that’s what he might only be in Tennessee as well.

David Johnson (San Diego Chargers) – Johnson has been hurt the better part of the past two years, and in reality, was more of a Bruce Arians offense type of player than Todd Haley. The Steelers signed Matt Spaeth last year to be their end-of-the-line blocking tight end. Not a big loss at all.

So, even though the Steelers have lost four free agents, cut a veteran and are about to lose two more, they really haven’t been big losses. Yeah, maybe depth wise they were, but not production wise.

And think, Clark is gone and they upgraded with Mike Mitchell. Woodley is gone to Oakland and they upgraded with Jason Worilds. If Sanders goes, they will upgrade in the draft.

The Steelers have some mid-level free agents coming in to look at and they just may sign some to fill those holes.

So settle down. It’s not that bad.

March 6, 2014
by Alan Robinson

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Robinson: How much is Polamalu costing the Steelers — and is he worth it?

polamaluBy Alan Robinson

The first reaction among some Steelers fans when safety Troy Polamalu’s new, three-year contract was announced probably went something like this:

They gave a (soon-to-be) 33 -year-old safety who appears to be slowing down TWENTY million dollars?

Actually, they didn’t. In reality, the Steelers virtually assured that Polamalu will start and end his career with them, and at no additional cost than was previously budgeted.

They also freed up $4.5 million worth of salary cap space simply by shifting some numbers. By doing so, they also gave themselves an avenue to bring back Polamalu in 2015 — if he has the kind of season in 2014 than he had last season — for a relatively affordable $6 million base salary.

Here’s how they did it, according to figures on file with the NFLPA and first reported by the Baltimore Sun:

– Polamalu’s base salary of $8.25 million in 2014 (as negotiated in his last contract in 2011) was reduced from $8.25 million to $1.5 million. The remaining $6.75 million was converted into a guaranteed signing bonus that can be spread over the three-year life of the contract for salary cap purposes, or $2.25 million per season.

– Polamalu’s cap hit drops from $10.89 million (that $8.25 million salary, plus the $2,637,000 pro-rated share of his previous signing bonus) to $6,387,000 in 2014 (his $1.5 million base salary, the $2.25 million share of his new signing bonus and the $2,637,000 share of his former signing bonus, which does not go away for cap purposes). The cap charge will be only the eighth highest for an NFL safety, according to Spotrac.

– His base salaries the next two seasons (if he’s still playing) will be $6 million in 2015 and $5.75 million in 2016, with a salary cap charge of $8.25 million in 2015 and $8 million in 2016.

– The only additional financial burden taken on by the Steelers in the new deal — remember, Polamalu is guaranteed no more money than before — is that Polamalu’s dead money (which must be counted under the cap, regardless of whether he is on the team or not) is $9,387,000 for this season, $4,500,000 in 2015 and $2,250,000 in 2016. Previously, there was no dead money for 2015 and 2016 because Polamalu wasn’t under contract for those seasons.

So, other than incurring dead money that will count against the cap in 2015 or 2016 if Polamalu isn’t playing any longer, the Steelers aren’t taking on any additional financial burden by extending Polamalu.

Is he worth the money?

Based on Pro Football Focus’ player performance evaluations, he is.

While Polamalu’s skills have eroded some from his career peak during the Steelers’ 2008 Super Bowl-winning season, he remains one of the NFL’s best safeties — even though he often played out of position last season as an inside linebacker.

Pro Football Focus rated him as the Steelers’ best defensive player with a plus rating of 12.2; Cam Heyward was second at 11.3, William Gay was third at 11.1.

Polamalu also ranked FIFTH overall among all NFL safeties (ahead of players such as Jairus Byrd of Buffalo, Earl Thomas of Seattle and Antrel Rolle of the Giants), trailing only Devin McCourty of New England, Will Hill of the Giants, T.J. Ward of Cleveland and Eric Berry of Kansas City.

In pass coverage — an area where some Steelers fans appear to believe Polamalu has slipped — he was SECOND in the league with a 13.9 rating, trailing only McCourty (14.1). Berry and Thomas were immediately behind him. According to Pro Football Focus, he gave up 25 catches for 20 yards and one touchdown; a good chunk of that yardage came as he allowed for 92 yards and a touchdown in the 55-31 Steelers loss at New England.

Polamalu ranked 24th in run coverage, in part because he was needed at times to fill in for the injured Larry Foote at inside linebacker.

Of the 1,093 snaps he played — or every one by the Steelers’ defense last season — Polamalu was in pass coverage on 599 plays and run coverage on 443 plays, meaning he was used to defends the run 40 percent of the time he was on the field.

And while the general consensus was the Polamalu was used against the run more often than in the past, he was also in run coverage 40 percent of the time in 2011, his last full season before 2013. That season, he was in pass coverage for 556 of 980 plays, and in run support 392 times.

Despite being named to an eighth Pro Bowl, Polamalu was uncertain of his future with the Steelers when the season ended — in part because the franchise has a policy of not discussing contracts while a season is ongoing.

He wanted to end his career in Pittsburgh yet he wanted to keep playing, and he was uncertain what he would do if the Steelers decided they simply couldn’t have afford him any longer. He acknowledged to the Tribune-Review that he might consider retirement under such a scenario.

Now, at least for a season, there is no more uncertainty.

“The great thing about it (the 2013 season) as far as Troy was concerned was that he played all 16 games,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in January. “That’s very helpful for us when we have a player like Troy who’s able to stay healthy and play start to finish. He obviously has been one of the great Steelers of all time, and we would love to have him retire here and expect that he will.”

Now, it appears much more likely that he will.

March 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Why did Worilds accept transition tag so soon?

WorildsThe Steelers forced the hand of Jason Worilds when they surprised everybody involved and placed the rarely used transition tag on the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent linebacker.

But now (and quite quickly) all the leverage has shifted right back to Worilds’ camp.

The Steelers have no choice but sign Worilds to a long term deal sooner rather than later. The Steelers know that. Worilds knows that.

Advantage: Worilds.

But in reality, that is what the Steelers wanted. They were well aware that when a transition tag is applied that interested teams tend to back off, and back off fast.

Why you ask?

Well, organizations don’t want to put time and effort into negotiating a contract with a transition player – or franchise player – just to have him take the offer sheet back to the original team for right of first refusal.

Transition tags are rare, but what is even more rare is for organizations to negotiate with a player, draw up an offer sheet and go through the whole ordeal associated with it just to present it to the original team, who matches the offer and keeps the player.

Simply put, they do all the work and you get the player

It was truly as simple as that.

The Steelers had to feel that there was going to be plenty of interest in the free agency market for Worilds come March 11 thus the decision to use the transition tag in the first place.

Knowing that organizations don’t like to do the grunt work without a payoff along with the Steelers’ important wildcard of having the ability to rescind the transition tag at any point is why Worilds snapped up the 1-year, $9.754 million tender in less than 24 hours.

Trust me, the last thing an agent wants is an already cooled-off free agent because of the transition tag getting the offer rescinded by the original team a week into free agency when teams have already moved on. At that point, there are less teams and less money to go around.

That’s why Worilds accepted the transition tender quickly.

Oh yeah, let me remind you that is nearly $10 million of guaranteed money in a league that does not guaranteed contracts, too, so that helped as well.

So, sure, the Steelers knew what they were doing when they transition tagged Worilds. They were ensuring he would be back for at least one more year but more importantly, they bought time to work on a long-term deal.

And that’s the Steelers ultimate plan.

However, all the leverage now shifts to Worilds’ camp.

The Steelers do not want and cannot afford a $10 million cap hit this year and will be highly motivated to get a deal done.

Sure, playing on a 1-year deal as a 26-year-old is a risk and Worilds will do that if he has to, but the ultimate plan is to sign a long-term deal. That is what both sides want.

And with the notion of a long-term deal as being imminent means that the departure of LaMarr Woodley is also creeping up.

Let’s face it, Woodley isn’t on solid ground anymore. Not because he has missed 14 games in three years and has played just more than 50 percent of the snaps since signing his $61.5 million deal three years ago. He’s gone because you are not going to play $61.5 million to a backup – especially when your team doesn’t have much cap space to play with in the first place.

Guaranteeing Worilds nearly $10 million means that the Steelers have to sign him long-term meaning you are assuring him a starting job meaning you aren’t paying Woodley $61.5 million to be backup.

And no, Woodley won’t take a pay cut.

Would you?

March 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Ike Taylor: ‘Hopefully I am back …’

IkeThe Steelers have a week to get compliant with the NFL’s salary cap, and one of the ways they can accomplish that is with veteran cornerback Ike Taylor.

Taylor is due $7 million in base salary in the final year of a 4-year, $28 million contract he signed in 2011. What has complicated the issue is that the Steelers have restructured Taylor’s contract in each of the past two seasons (including in late October) that has put his cap number near $12 million and his dead money around $5 million.

Taylor, who will be 34 in May, admitted only his weekly TribLive Radio Show Tuesday that he isn’t sure he will be back for his 12th year.

“Hopefully I am back as a Steeler in 2014,” Taylor said. “Time will tell. We will see. When you get around 33-34, they always try to find a reason not to pay you. They always … and it has been going for years.”

The Steelers would prefer for Taylor to agree to a pay reduction, but could resort to releasing the veteran corner even though the Steelers are thin at the position. Cortez Allen and William Gay are the only two corners on the roster with extended experience.

“I don’t know. I am in a situation where you can say my cap is high for a veteran guy but hey, I am still a top veteran guy, I feel,” Taylor said. “You can say my play declined but I am asking where?”

Taylor has been durable over his career missing only four games due to injury. He played in all but 24 snaps last year coming off an ankle injury that caused him to miss the final month of 2012.

However, Taylor’s effectiveness did decline some.

According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor allowed the second most catches in the NFL with 71. He gave up 30 in 2012 albeit in four fewer games.

Taylor, who spent the majority of his career following around the opposition’s top receiver, was also relegated to the one side of the defense over the final months of the season.

Taylor admits that he is loyal to almost a fault but did add: “It only takes ones team is what I really want to say.”

Taylor will likely find out his fate over the next few days.

February 22, 2014
by Alan Robinson

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Who’s No. 1 in the NFL Draft? How About This Surprise?

Khalil Mack

By Alan Robinson

INDIANAPOLIS—So who should be the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft 2 1/2 months from now?

Jadeveon Clowney? Johnny Manziel? Even Blake Bortles?

How about … Khalil Mack?

Yes, a player from Buffalo — one who is being compared to another player in the same city, Bills defensive lineman Mario Williams.

And, yes, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said he’d take Mack over Clowney, the South Carolina defensive lineman that Mayock says has “superhuman abilities.”

Mack, who is 6-foot-3 and 248 pounds, had 16 forced fumbles, 75 tackles for a loss and 28 1/2 sacks at Buffalo. And if the notion of a linebacker from the Mid-American Conference being chosen No. 1 overall in the draft might seem unlikely, consider that the first overall pick in the 2013 draft also was from the MAC, Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher, who moved up various draft boards in the days leading up to the draft. Kansas City took him with the No. 1 pick.

Mayock recalls calling up a video of the early season Buffalo at Ohio State game and not knowing what to expect. What he saw was a linebacker who dominated the Buckeyes like no one he had seen before.

“He blew them up. He made plays all over the field, on the edge, dropping into coverage, explosion, hustle,” Mayock said of Mack. “Then I think the next tape I put in was Kent State and he made a one‑handed interception. He runs like a safety. He explodes off the edge. From my perspective in today’s NFL, guys that have natural edge rush ability are like gold; you’ve got to get them when they are available.
“I think he’s one of the elite edge guys in the draft, but he hustles, he’s tough, he can play the run game, and unlike a lot of these guys, he can also drop in coverage. So I have yet to find a hole in his game.”

Mack, of course, is expected to be long gone by the time the Steelers make the No. 15 overall pick.

Mayock said Mack is a prototype outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense like the Steelers play, but could be a strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 defense.

“I think he could play ‑‑ with his skill set and his ability to drop, his ability to ‑‑ I think he could play SAM (linebacker) or WILL to be honest with you. He’s 6‑3, 248. You could line him up on a tight end and he’d be OK,” Mayock said. “I think the important thing is that if you are drafting him as a 4‑3 team you have to make sure that in nickel and sub situations, you’re freeing him up to go get the quarterback and in today’s NFL, because of the versatility in defenses, I think that’s fine.”

Mayock also called Mack “a difference maker.”

And, speaking of Mario Williams, Mayock sees more potential in the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Clowney — despite a senior season that perhaps wasn’t up to expectations — than he did in Williams, a former No. 1 pick of the Texans.

“I know that he’s got the physical makeup to be the best player in the draft. If you want to compare him to Mario Williams, I think he’s a better football player with more upside than when Mario came out of college and he was obviously the first pick,” Mayock said of Clowney.

“So from a physical skill set, this kid is as freaky as they come. He plays a position of critical importance in today’s NFL which is an ability to get the quarterback. He can play multiple places on the defense, so all those things check off.

“My biggest concern is just what’s his mental makeup and how important is it to him when he gets a big paycheck to become the best player in football, or is he just going to be happy to be a millionaire.
“So I think that’s the most critical checking point here from an organization is finding out what the motivation, what kind of kid are they going to get. I know what the football player is when motivated. I just want to know what kind of kid I’m getting.”

February 21, 2014
by Alan Robinson

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Figure Skating Coach ‘Outs’ Unidentified NFL Players in Article

Coach Doug Mattis (via Twitter)

By Alan Robinson

INDIANAPOLIS—SEC co-defensive player of the year Michael Sam of Missouri revealed in advance of the NFL Draft process that he’s gay. If Sam ends up being drafted and playing in the NFL, he would be the first openly gay athlete in the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.

The question is: Who’s next to step out of the closet?

A figure skating coach — yes, a figure skating coach — says he knows there are gay players in the NFL because they have personally asked him out on dates.

Take a few moments to re-read that sentence.

But, first, some background.

When I interviewed former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe last spring — he is a married father of two who is a strong advocate of gay rights — he predicted that multiple NFL players were ready to reveal they were gay. He said he personally didn’t know any such players, but that other players around the league told him they had gay teammates who, for the moment, preferred not to reveal their sexual identity.

“Guys knew, but they didn’t say anything,” Kluwe said.

Kluwe, among other NFL players, said it’s regrettable that four-letter words are thrown out constantly in NFL locker rooms, but one three-letter word, gay, remains verboten.

Still, the door to the closet appears to be opening, even if only slightly. In a survey of 51 NFL players by ESPN, 86 percent said they would be comfortable having a gay teammate. None of the players who took part in the survey were identified. And there were multiple reports last fall that at least one and possibly more NFL players were ready to come out, but chose at the last minute not to do so — apparently because they didn’t want to be known forever as the first to identify themselves.

Now, Doug Mattis, a gay figure skating coach and former figure skating competitor, has made some interesting comments to writer Blair Braverman in a story about figure skating entitled “Why Is the World’s Gayest Sport Struck in the Closet?”

While male figure skaters often are perceived to be mostly gay because of the very nature of a sport in which glittery costumes, feathers and sequins are the uniform of the day, Mattis told Braverman that the sport is less gay than many people think it is.

Football? He’s not so sure.

“I’ve been asked out by more pro football players than skaters,” Mattis told Braverman. “I tell them, `Please! You’d crush me.”

Mattis, of course, did not identify any players or even hint which teams they played for. There is no way to known if he was telling the truth, or simply being dramatic to make his point that figure skating isn’t the gay bastion that it has long been perceived to be.

Regardless, it is another hint — even if only anecdotal — that there are gay players in the NFL, and it is only a matter of time in which more choose to come out. And the more players that do, the less impactful each such disclosure is likely to be.

Sam, by the way, will meet with reporters Saturday at the NFL Combine in what should be one of the more interesting – and most-attended — news conferences of the weekend.

February 17, 2014
by Alan Robinson

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Was Steve McLendon That Bad? And What About Louis Nix?


By Alan Robinson

Was Steve McLendon good, bad or in between?

And do the Steelers really need to upgrade at nose tackle after just one season of McLendon starting there — and with two more seasons left on his $7.25 million contract?

Of all the Steelers’ starters, McLendon is the most enigmatic, at least in the eyes of the multiple evaluation services that assess NFL players’ performances.

McLendon, in his first season replacing long-time starter and run game-stopper Casey Hampton, played 355 snaps last season, or only about one-third of all those by the Steelers defense.

McLendon was given a positive grade by Pro Football Focus both as an overall defender and as a run defender. He ranked 33rd among all NFL defensive tackles, and 25th against the run, by a service that grades every player on every play, much like a player’s own position coach would do.

For comparison’s sake, Hampton ranked 77th among the 85 most-used defensive tackles, and 37th against the run, in 2012. Hampton was not signed after that season and did not play in 2013.

However, in McLendon’s first season on the nose, the Steelers plummeted from second against the run in 2012, allowing 90.6 yards per game, to 21st, giving up 115.6 yards. In comparing him to others at his position, Pro Football Focus judges him as “average, a solid starter.”

McLendon’s move into the lineup wasn’t the only reason for the Steelers’ falloff, and the worst performance they’ve had against the run with Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator.

They also missed linebacker James Harrison, who signed with the Bengals, safety Troy Polamalu was forced to play as an undersized inside linebacker at times following inside linebacker Larry Foote’s season-ending injury in Week 1; and first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones had an uneven rookie season at outside linebacker.

But, overall, the Steelers’ defensive line was better overall in 2013 than the season before; defensive end Cam Heyward became a playmaker and Brett Keisel was steady until getting injured late in the season. Ziggy Hood was about the same, but he yielded his spot — and quite a few snaps — to Heyward.

When I asked Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert about McLendon last week, here’s what he said:

“He did OK. He was OK,” Colbert said. “He fought through some injuries and gave us some good work. But, again, to say that anybody was good enough, including myself, when you’re 8-8, I think that’s a disservice to the organization.”

McLendon’s play is being judged more harshly by others. Football Outsiders calls nose tackle the Steelers’ greatest position of need, based on McLendon’s average tackle following a gain of 3.0 yards, the worst of any starting tackle in a 3-4 defense.

As multiple NFL analysts begin posting their mock drafts, quite a few are predicting the Steelers will take Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III with the 155h pick.

Such a pick would appear to be a reach for several reasons. One, Nix played only eight games for Notre Dame last season before needing surgery to repair a meniscus tear. Second, the Steelers would appear to have far greater needs at cornerback, safety, wide receiver and inside linebacker to take Nix — despite their struggles against the run.

With Ryan Clark likely leaving, the Steelers will be precariously thin at safety as Shamarko Thomas becomes a starter. And if Ike Taylor hasn’t already played his final game at cornerback — if he’s coming back, it’s almost certainly at a lower salary– he probably will in 2014. And that means another position that needs help in a hurry.

It’s also difficult to foresee the Steelers investing such an important pick on a defensive lineman after Colbert said that it’s their job to surround Ben Roethlisberger with weapons — and one of them, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, has been a virtual lock to leave via free agency since he failed to sign a multi-year contract last summer.

Nose tackle and run defense might be a concern, but the Steelers have far bigger ones in what is shaping up to be yet another crucial draft for a team that easily could go in either direction — back up the standings or further down them — in 2014.

January 28, 2014
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Tomlin now favors experience with coaching staff

TomlinMike Tomlin has never been shy with giving an assistant coach a chance at the highest level.

During his tenure as the Steelers head coach, Tomlin has hired Randy Fichtner (wide receivers), Scottie Montgomery (wide receivers) and Carnell Lake (defensive backs) despite not having a lick of NFL coaching experience on their respective resumes.

That’s way of thinking has changed dramatically over the past two years.

The last four Tomlin hires – Danny Smith (special teams), Richard Mann (wide receivers), Mike Munchak (offensive line) and, the most recent, James Saxon (running backs) – have a combined 70 years of NFL coaching experience between them.

Not only experience, but the recent hires have been older as well – Mann 65, Smith 59, Munchak 53 and Saxon 47.

It may just be a coincidence, but it’s likely not.

After a pair of 8-8 seasons, Tomlin wanted a more seasoned coaching staff and now has one of the most experienced group of coaches in the league when it comes to NFL experience.

Ironically, Tomlin is the youngest full-time coach on the Steelers’ staff at 41-years-old. The Steelers assistant coaches average 56.7 years old and 18.5 years of NFL coaching experience.

Here is the list of Steelers coaches and current ages/years of NFL experience including Tomlin:

Dick LeBeau (DC): 76 years old/40 years NFL coaching experience.

Richard Mann (WR) 66 years old/29 years NFL coaching experience.

John Mitchell (DL) 62 years old/23 years NFL coaching experience.

Mike Munchak (OL) 53 years old/20 years NFL coaching experience.

Danny Smith (ST) 60 years old/19 years NFL coaching experience.

James Daniel (TE) 61 years old/17 years NFL coaching experience.

Todd Haley (OC) 46 years old/17 years NFL coaching experience.

Keith Butler (LB) 57 years old/15 years NFL coaching experience.

James Saxon (RB) 47 years old/14 years of NFL coaching experience.

Mike Tomlin (HC) 41 years old/13 years of NFL coaching experience.

Randy Fichtner (QB) 50 years old/7 years of NFL coaching experience.

Carnell Lake (DB) 46 years old/3 years of NFL coaching experience.

January 28, 2014
by Alan Robinson

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Robinson: Broncos’ Fox learned a lot from Chuck Noll

Broncos coach John Fox spent six seasons coaching in Pittsburgh, three each with the Steelers and Pitt

Broncos coach John Fox spent six seasons coaching in Pittsburgh, three each with the Steelers and Pitt

By Alan Robinson

NEW YORK—Broncos coach John Fox learned a lot in his first two regular-season weeks as an NFL assistant coach. And he learned most of it from coach Chuck Noll.

Fox’s first week on the job was a 51-0 Steelers loss to the Cleveland Browns.

His second week? A 41-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

One can only imagine what Fox was thinking right about then about those 1989 Steelers, who were coming off a 5-11 season in 1988 that remains the franchise’s worst since a 1-13 season in 1969.

“We kind of had a bizarre season,” said Fox, who was hired as the Steelers’ secondary coach by Noll after coaching at Pitt. “It wasn’t a very tremendous start. Everybody was down. And of course, fans as they are, were a little bit honest. He (Noll) stayed even keel. That is the most valuable lesson: to be the same guy and don’t go through the highs and lows because it is very easy to do, especially with outside influences.”

Noll kept coaching as before, despite the run of 13 losses in 18 games and the 92-10 scoring margin in the opening two games.

To Fox, still a reasonably impressionable young guy at age 34, it was a valuable learning experience. Fox spent six seasons coaching in Pittsburgh, three as Pitt’s defensive backfield coach and defensive coordinator and three with the Steelers from 1989-91, leaving to coach the Chargers’ secondary after Noll retired following the 1991 season.

“He (Noll) was a tremendous technician in the individual fundamentals of football, which was something very important to him,” Fox said. “I still believe it comes down to blocking and tackling, even at this level. Sometimes, we lose sight of that with the schemes and stuff. I really think it is staying even keel, not experiencing the highs and lows that a football season can bring to you. And really, the technique, and not more of the ‘want to’ but the ‘how to’ play football.”

The 1989 Steelers learned how to win by taking nine of their final 14 games — and five of their final six — to sneak into the playoffs the final weekend of the season. They went on to upset the Oilers in Houston in an overtime wild-card game before losing to the heavily favored Broncos 24-23 in an AFC divisional game.

ESPN analyst Merrill Hoge, who ran for 621 yards and eight touchdowns, credits Noll turning around a season that ended up with him taking the Steelers to the playoffs for the 12th and last time. They didn’t rebound to beat Cincinnati in a rematch later in the season, but they did beat the Browns 17-7 — allowing 44 fewer points than they did in the season opener.

“We were young, we had deficiencies in some areas and we did a lot of dumb things,” Hoge said. “It was really Chuck Noll’s guidance and belief in us that pulled us together. Once we started to believe in ourselves, then we started to go.”

January 27, 2014
by Alan Robinson

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Robinson: Super Bowl secondary market tickets the cheapest since 9/11

Super Bowl ticket prices are dropping to the lowest levels in a dozen years.

Super Bowl ticket prices are dropping to the lowest levels in a dozen years.

By Alan Robinson

NEW YORK—Super Bowl ticket prices are falling faster than the temperature in New York — and might end up being the cheapest in a dozen years.

With two teams from across the country playing in the first outdoor, cold-weather NFL title game of the Super Bowl era, what was expected to be a difficult and pricey ticket is proving far less costly than those played recently in New Orleans, Indianapolis, Dallas and even Detroit.

The average price of $2,056 paid over the weekend for the Broncos-Seahawks game Sunday at MetLife Stadium was down more than 40 percent from the $3,439 paid immediately following the AFC and NFC championship games on Jan. 19, according to

By comparison, tickets for the Steelers-Packers Super Bowl three years ago in Dallas sold for an average $3,513 the weekend before, in part because two of the NFL’s most popular teams were playing.

If ticket prices keep dropping — and temperatures in the teens Tuesday and Wednesday in New York probably won’t help generate local sales — this Super Bowl will offer the cheapest prices since the February 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans, played slightly less than five months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Secondary ticket prices for that Patriots-Rams game dropped well below face value before kickoff.

Helping to drive down prices are the uncertain weather forecast — temperatures in the low 30s with a chance of snow are being forecast — and the fact that it is becoming prohibitively expensive at this point for both the Denver and Seattle fan bases to find last-minute flights and hotel rooms. Super Bowls that feature teams within driving distance usually have much higher secondary market ticket prices.

As of Monday, there were about 18,000 tickets on the secondary market, or about one-quarter of Met Life Stadium’s capacity. Some in the upper deck are selling for as low as $1,150, down about $1,000 in only a week’s time. And some lower-level seats sold over the weekend for as low as $2,050.

One price that isn’t dropping are those for club seats, which offer access to a heated concourse and are selling for between $6,000 and $7,000.

Based on sales, it appears Seattle fans will outnumber Denver fans — a reversal of the 2005 season Super Bowl in Detroit, when Steelers fans far outnumbered Seahawks fans. About 18 percent of Seatgeek’s sales are originating in Washington state, compared to 8 percent for Colorado.

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