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January 6, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Four Hall of Famers talk about The (retirement) Decision

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Since the Steelers were eliminated in the AFC Wild Card game Saturday, much of the post-mortem conversation has centered around the statuses of four of their defense’s best players over the past decade-plus.

 

Will Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor retire? If they play next season, will it be for the Steelers? Will the Steelers want them back if they want to?

 

Each individual case is different — age, wear-and-tear, the 2014 season he had, the degree of decline in his play since his prime, injury statuses, family situations, the Steelers’ depth chart at each respective position…

 

But before any other question can be answered, the most fundamental one to examine first is: Does the player want to keep playing, or does he want to retire?  It’s a question all athletes eventually must face. It’s a fascinating one for us, as outsiders and non-professional athletes, to ponder.

 

It’s a topic I explored some in a story that ran in Saturday’s Trib. With the exception of the affable Taylor, the players who are facing this decision head-on weren’t eager to discuss it. That’s understandable, what with a game (and, they hoped, a few more games) to be played still at that point. So I tried to do the next-best thing and interview some former greats.

 

I was thrilled that Super Steelers Franco Harris and Jack Ham opened up on the topic, as did the face of the franchise for about a 10-year stretch beginning in the mid-90s, Jerome Bettis. And for a non-Steelers perspective, former Aliquippa and Pitt star and Bears Super Bowl-winning coach and now ESPN analyst Mike Ditka was gracious enough, too, to talk. That’s three Hall of Famers and a fourth, Bettis, who will almost assuredly – and deservedly – make it to Canton some day.

 

The realities of modern newsprint (to say nothing of the realities of the modern American attention span) left my story much too short to dive too deep into the issue. So, this blog is the next best thing. Some more thoughts on retirement from the Hall of Fame quartet…

 

 

 

 

JACK HAM

How his retirement came about–

“In my 10th year I ended up dislocating my foot, and I came back from that injury and that’s the injury I had when I did not play in the Super Bowl. And I played two years after that…

You watch tape. You know. I got to the point I didn’t want to have some kind of injuries or whatever late in my career, and I just felt like 12 years was long enough and I could see with the injuries the burst you normally have as a linebacker – or any position, for that matter – (was missing). It was more difficult getting off the blocks… The tape doesn’t lie. And I think I’m my own worst critic kind of thing, so I think… it wasn’t a decision that I was racking my brain going back and forth with. I knew that it was time for me to retire.

I wasn’t effective enough; the caliber of play for me my last two years was not the same as my first 10. And that was something you could see; I made more big plays, more interceptions in those first 10 years than I did the last two. It just, you see it. At least I did. You see it. It’s time, you realize it. It’s a short-lived career in pro football and 12 years is probably, I don’t know what the percentage is out there of guys who played that long – probably a very, very small percentage — just the tape and how I felt, it’s a game, the injuries have kind of a cumulative effect. But really the dislocating the foot in my 10th year that really, after coming back from that, I really was not the same player.”

 

 

On if coach Chuck Noll tried to talk him out of it–

“No, there was no discussion like that. Chuck was very, ‘If a guy wants to retire and feels like he should, then that’s the decision, no other decision needs to be made,’ because he feels like if the individual player feels that way, there won’t be any discussion about trying to talk him out of retirement. At least with me anyway; I just came in and I was done. It was nothing earth-shaking; just the fact I just said so. Chuck thanked me for all the years and we had a nice discussion, nice last-meeting kind of thing. There was no dialogue back and forth about playing another year. There wasn’t going to be one – I just knew. I knew that I wasn’t going to be out there for my 13th year.”

 

 

 

 

FRANCO HARRIS

On the differences of retirement today than when he played–

“I think today it’s a lot tougher today because of the money that players make. It wasn’t as difficult back in the 60s and 70s because the money was totally different. But today there’s no doubt that players would like to play as long as they can.

I guess (teams) have to look at situations to see with where that player is at their stage right now. (Age) 32, 33, whatever, do they have backup players that can go in and be as equal or better than them where they’re at at that stage or at that age. And also do they have a young promising player who has that potential to develop into this type of player if he has more playing time. So there’s a number of different factors. And just like anything, people age differently. What has been the injury factor with that person, is that injury factor now evident in their play and in the things that they can do. And also I’m sure they look at and teams look at salary caps and things like that now, too. And so there’s a lot of different factors that enter into it and is it one thing that comes forward or multiple things that come forward that make that choice. And then as we know, some ballplayers will say, ‘Hey, it’s time for me to hang it up. I don’t feel I can be productive anymore and I don’t have that burning desire anymore,’ and so you do see times when ballplayers hang it up.”

 

 

On coming to that conclusion that your career is over–

“Those are always tough choices in sports, and especially if someone played on one team for a long time, it does make it tougher on that one team with those choices at times. There’s no doubt about that. But everybody knows that their career’s coming to an end, and I knew that that was going to be my last year, so that wasn’t the issue. And everybody comes to that realization eventually that, ‘This is it,’ you know what I mean?

But you know what, it’s something that you shouldn’t approach like, ‘Oh man, this is terrible. Oh no,’ If you’re lucky enough to play for over a decade in the NFL, you’re very blessed. And so to me there shouldn’t be those type of hard feelings this, hard feelings that – sometimes other things get in the way, but to play that long in the NFL, you’re pretty lucky and you’re pretty blessed.”

 

 

 

 

MIKE DITKA

On when the “right” time is to proverbially hang ‘em up—

“You try to play as long as you can. But I think you can’t fool yourself. You look at the film from the games, and you know you aren’t the same player you were five years before that. And if you’re not, there’s not much point in hanging in there. I probably could have played a couple more years but they wouldn’t have been the best years. So to me, I did the right thing when I retired.”

 

 

On if he grappled at all with his decision to retire—

“I didn’t think too much about it. We won the (NFL championship) the year before I retired and the year I retired we got beat in the championship game in Dallas. I was in business down there and I had taken enough; my body was ready to retire. It wasn’t like… They weren’t losing a great player, believe me, they were losing just another player.”

 

 

On his perspective as a coach of noticing when a player needs to retire—

“There’s no question, the hardest thing is, when it’s time, the coach has to tell him. You’re with these guys everyday during the season, you’re with them a lot and you form great relationships and friendships – but there’s a time. And when the time comes, you’ve got to be able to tell them. I wasn’t good at that – I wasn’t good at cutting people, but you just have to do it, that’s part of the job, so you have to make a decision on what’s best for the team and sometimes, it’s tough.”

 

 

 

 

JEROME BETTIS

On coming to grips with retiring and if knowing he had a job (in broadcasting) lined up helped him come to it—

“I knew when physically my body didn’t respond in terms of the time it took for me to get healthy from one game to the next…

“I came back for another year; I had job opportunities (before) that year, so I came back because I wanted to still play. If I wanted to play one more year, that job opportunity I felt would have been there again. It was never a situation where I felt that there wasn’t time or that I had to rush away from football because of a job opportunity; I felt as though the job opportunities would be there whenever I decided to leave. So I didn’t base my decision on after football; it was about me not being able to do the things I was used to doing and being effective. I felt there was no need to be out there taking up a place when a younger player can help the football team a lot better.”

 

 

 

 

And with that, I’ll turn the reins of this blog back over to The Great Mark Kaboly (#StickToThePrintProductKaboly?). Enjoy your day.

 

 

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January 5, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: The Steelers and The Curse of the Unhealthy Running Back

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ic998Just call it the Curse of the Unhealthy Running Back.

The Steelers latest playoff defeat – Saturday in the AFC wild-card game against the Ravens – marked a continuing trend (disturbing if you are a Steelers fan) of the playoff, the Steelers’ success and having a healthy running back.

Typically, they’ve worked hand-in-hand when it comes to the Steelers winning or losing in the postseason.

Since 1972, when playing with a healthy primary ball carrier, the Steelers are 31-13 in the postseason with six Super Bowl titles and eight Super Bowl appearances.

When playing without their leading rusher (or if their leading rusher played while on the injury report, like Jerome Bettis in the 2001 AFC title game, for instance), the Steelers are 2-8 all-time in the postseason.

Here are the playoff seasons and results when the Steelers didn’t have a healthy backfield:

1976 – 0-1

1993 – 0-1

1996 – 0-1

2001 – 1-1

2004 – 1-1

2007 – 0-1

2011 – 0-1

2014 – 0-1

And, here is the breakdown of the injuries:

1976: Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier both were injured in the divisional round in Baltimore. The Steelers lose in the AFC title game next week in Oakland, 24-7.

1993: Barry Foster got hurt during a Monday Night Football game in November and never played the rest of the season. The Steelers lose in the wild-card game to Kansas City with Leroy Thompson as the primary running back.

1996: Bettis was injured in the wild-card game against Indianapolis. He played sparingly the next week in the fog in New England and the Steelers lost.

2001: Bettis got hurt against the Vikings on Dec. 2, but tried to play in the AFC championship game against New England. Bettis rushed 8 times for 9 yards in a loss.

2004: Duce Staley was hurt on Halloween in New England and playing sparingly down the stretch and was ineffective in the AFC title game loss to the Patriots.

2007: Willie Parker broke his ankle in mid-December in St. Louis and the Steelers lost in the wild-card round against the Jaguars.

2011: Rashard Mendenhall suffered a torn ACL in the regular season finale in Cleveland and the Steelers fall to Denver the next week in the wild card game.

2014: Le’Veon Bell hyperextends his knee in the final against the Bengals and can’t play in the wild-card game against the Ravens. The Steelers lose, 30-17.

So, there you have it.

While you are at it, take a listen to the Kaboly Show podcast from Monday.

 

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January 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Mitchell said he’s going go for the knees from now on

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Mike Mitchell is going to go for the knees from here on out.

Mitchell was penalized for unnecessary roughness on Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones late in the first quarter of Saturday’s 30-17 AFC wild-card loss for hitting him in the head with his helmet.

Mitchell was not happy with the call.

“I don’t know what they want us to do, man,” Mitchell said. “I am going to hit every single guy in the knee from here on out. I am getting tired of it. It’s ridiculous. You can’t change where you are aiming on a guy once you shot your shot. If you look at that play, the dude is trying to go down as the ball is coming. I can’t re-aim my body. This is full speed, tackle football. I will hit everybody in the knee from here on out to avoid that.”

The penalty helped Baltimore score its first touchdown of the game – a 5-yard touchdown run by Bernard Pierce.

 

 

 

 

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January 2, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Heinz Field, defensive touchdowns, special teams touchdowns … OH MY!

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07 - 2008 AFC - Ravens @ SteelersHeinz Field will play host to its 11th playoff game in its existence on Saturday when the Steelers host the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game.

Sure, the Steelers are 7-3 in those games, including 3-0 against the Ravens, but there is a trend with playoff games at Heinz Field that is impossible to ignore.

In all 10 playoff games played at Heinz Field, there has been either a defensive touchdown or a special teams touchdown scored.

Yes, 10 games and every single one had one. Even two games had two.

Now, there is no correlation between that and winning and losing, but it is quite an amazing fact.

Here’s the proof:

2001 – AFC divisional against the Ravens – Jermaine Lewis returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown.

2001 – AFC championship against the Patriots – Troy Brown returned a punt 55 yards and Antwan Harris returned a blocked field goal from 49 yards out.

2002 – AFC wild card against the Browns – Antwaan Randle El returned a punt 66 yards for a score.

2004 – AFC divisional against the Jets – Santana Moss went 75 yards with a punt and Reggie Tongue picked off Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 86 yards.

2004 – AFC championship against the Patriots – Rodney Harrison returned an interception 87 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.

2007 – AFC wildcard against the Jaguars – Rashean Mathis took back an interception 63 yards for a score.

2008 – AFC divisional against the Chargers – Santonio Holmes returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown.

2008 – AFC championship against the Ravens – Troy Polamalu sealed a trip to Super Bowl XLIII with a late 40-yard interception return.

2010 – AFC divisional against the Ravens – Corey Redding returned a first-half fumble 13 yards.

2010 – AFC championship against the Jets – William Gay scooped up a fumble and scored for 19 yards away.

 

* While you are at it, take a listen to Friday’s podcast of the Steelers Roundtable featuring Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and Chris Adamski.

 

 

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December 18, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers Roundtable Podcast now available

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The Steelers Roundtable on TribLive Radio featuring Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and Chris Adamski is now available on podcast.

This week’s episode,we take a look back at last week’s 27-20 win over Atlanta and push it forward to Sunday’s important home game against Kansas City.

Topics include:

  • Who is the Steelers team MVP?
  • How good is this offense?
  • Are the playoffs a certainty now?
  • Arrows up, arrows down.

Take a listen. Everybody else is.

The Steelers Roundtable is the most downloaded podcast in TribLive Radio history.

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December 3, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Roethlisberger says ‘something is wrong with you’ if you need motivation

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Ben RoethlisbergerBen Roethlisberger stood in the middle of the locker room and said that the Steelers had to win their final five games.

That was last week.

And that was before the Steelers lost to the Saints to fall ever further behind the first-place Bengals.

This week isn’t a must-win either (mathematically), but it sure would help separate the Steelers from the other six teams fighting for the last wild card spot with 7-5 records.

“It’s all about us now and the mentality,” Roethlisberger said.

Historically, the Steelers have played well when they have had their backs against the wall, but Roethlisberger isn’t about to say that the gravity of the situation will make them play better Sunday in Cincinnati.

“I think if you need something like that to pump you up knowing that you have four games left in your season and that you control destiny and it’s a division opponent something is wrong with you,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve been here a long time and so it’s easy for me to know what this game means and what this part of the season means. We’ll keep an eye on the young guys and make sure that they understand the importance of it as well.”

The Steelers found themselves in a similar situation during Roethlisberger’s second year. The Steelers lost a home game to fall to 7-5 and needed to win out to make the playoffs.

The Steelers proceeded to beat Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland and Detroit before rolling through playoffs to win the Super Bowl as a No. 6 seed.

Is there another possible run like that in the works?

“We haven’t made a run yet so we’ll see what happens,” Roethlisberger said. “We just have to come out and play good football.”

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November 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: View From the Sidelines — Q&A with C.J. Goodwin

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CHThis is the second in a series of “5 Questions” with guys on the Steelers roster that are either on the practice squad, injured reserve or who haven’t contributed much in the way of on-the-field play this year.

This installment: Practice squad wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (6-3, 190).

Everybody remembers in the spring when Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount put a call into general manager Kevin Colbert to see if he would take a look at a young and raw receiver who barely played (11 receptions) his senior year at Division II California (Pa.).

Colbert obliged and a few days later, the Steelers signed Goodwin to the 90-man off-season roster. Although Goodwin was cut during training camp, he was able to catch on with the Steelers 10-man practice squad.

 

Question #1: How beneficial has it been for you to be able to spend a year with an organization on the practice squad compared to working out on your own?

“Everybody has been very helpful – the older guys, the vets have been helpful. They give you anything you need. I have been able to learn whatever I have needed to learn. Playing against the ones just makes you a much better player.”

 

Question #2: What do you try to get accomplished during a practice week? Do you try to get the starters a good look or try to work on your game?

“First and foremost, I try to give them a good look. Secondly, I am trying to get better as a football player and a wide receiver. Coach Tomlin tells us all the time to go hard and tell us to improve. That’s my job and what I am going to do.”

 

Question #3: You really haven’t played much football, how much improvement have you been able to make over the past couple months?

“We will see when the offseason comes. We will see next season how good I got and see if I can stay around. If you know my story, I am just happy to be here. Of course, you want to get better and want to be on the field but I understand what is going on.”

 

Question #4: Do you feel that you showed enough during your time here that they will ask you back next year?

“They say that I am very raw. They say that I am athletic. But I don’t want that to be my story. I want to be good. I want to be great. I like the story of what Mel Blount did for me, it’s a good story. I appreciate what he did for me but I want to be a good player other than a raw athlete that got help from Mel Blount. This offseason is huge for me. I have to make it through this first, but the offseason is huge. I can’t wait for that just to see how much better I can get.”

 

Question #5: You ever look out there on the field and soak it in and say wow, I am on the same football field as Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown especially knowing where you came from?

“When I first got here I was. Ben talks to me and everybody is just so cool with me. They are accepting.”

 

TRIBLIVE RADIO STEELERS PODCASTS

MARK KABOLY SHOW (Monday’s from 2-3 p.m.)

STEELERS ROUNDTABLE with Alan Robinson, Ralph Paulk and Mark Kaboly (Thursday’s from 9-10 a.m.)

 

 

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November 12, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: View From the Sidelines — Q&A with Bruce Gradkowski

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GradkowskiThis is the first in a series of “5 Questions” with players on the Steelers roster that are either on the practice squad, injured reserve or who haven’t contributed much in the way of on-the-field play this year.

This installment: Backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski.

Gradkowski has yet to take a regular-season snap with the Steelers since he signed before the start of the 2013 season. After starting 20 games over the first five years of his career, Gradkowski has come to understand the backup role. He started 11 games in his 2006 rookie season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then eight in a two-season span with the Oakland Raiders from 2009-10.

Gradkowski has not gained much experience the past three seasons. He played in four games with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011 and 2012 before signing with the Steelers last year.

Gradkowski, the local product of out Seton-LaSalle, has to be ready at a drop of a hat to perform at a high level.

 

Question #1: What do you do on a weekly basis to prepare to play? Even though Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t missed a snap since you got here, you need to be ready at a moment’s notice?

“Being a backup is always tough. You have to mentally try to prepare yourself and nothing is better than getting reps. If you are the starter, you are getting all the reps – that’s how this game works. No matter what position you are, you need all the reps going into the week. I continue to try to be ready and do whatever I can to help this team win now and prepare our defense and prepare the young guys and help them out with things and continue to support Ben. I think he is doing a great job. I have to be physically and mentally prepared if my time comes. When you don’t get all the reps in practice you have to study the plays even more.”

 

Question #2:  How much are you helping in the quarterback room pointing out things to Ben and suggest things. Is there a lot of back-and-forth in the room with you and the other quarterbacks.

“We have a lot of great, open communication in our room. All of us in there led by Randy (Fichtner), we always communicate and talk over things. It is cool to see. The thing I have been impressed with Ben has been his poise. He always stays even keel whether he is throwing six touchdowns or throwing interceptions, he is always the same guy. It’s a complement to him. He continues to work hard and get the guys ready to play. Anything I can do to help. If I see something then I will try to tell him. The biggest thing I can say is when you are out there on the field you have to trust what you see because you are seeing it through your eyes.”

 

Question #3: During the game, does Ben ever ask you to keep an eye out for something so you can help him?

“There will be different things we talk about on the sidelines that we look out for and communicate about the previous plays. It is constant communication and I think quarterback is hard enough and anytime you can get more help or have more eyes it helps.”

 

Question #4: Charlie Batch pops his head in the locker room from time-to-time. He was one of the best of being ready at a moment’s notice. Have you ever had a chance to pick his brain about being a backup?

“I’ve known Charlie for a while and when I was in Cincinnati, I kind of reached out to him and picked his brain a little bit. Charlie is a true pro. He was ready when he had to be. There was a reason why he played so many years especially keeping his body in shape to play that many years. He is a great guy and it is great when he comes around and stick his hand and say what’s up.”

 

Question #5: What is you theory on why Martavis Bryant has been so successful early in his career?

“He is a gifted athlete. He is a big, strong guy. You continue to get better as a young guy. You are coming in and everything is going so fast and you are trying to learn the offense and trying to get comfortable out there. As the season progresses and he continued to get reps with the scout team, he was able to watch and learn and continue to grow every week. He made plays in practice and gave everybody confidence in giving him a shot in the game. It’s a complement with him. I have been most impressed on how he has handled himself each week. He is knowing what to do and lining up quick and fast. He’s taking it serious and acting like a pro.”

 

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November 6, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers WR C.J. Goodwin stunned about Cal U football incident

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CHC.J. Goodwin might have played football at California (Pa.) last year, but the Steelers practice squad receiver refuses to recognize that was the case – especially after what transpired last week just off campus that’s located 35 miles south of the Steelers practice facility.

That’s where six Cal U football players severely beat a man to the point that he suffered life-threatening injuries after police said he stepped in to defend his girlfriend, who is a student at the university, outside a bar.

Goodwin, who played only one semester at Cal, said that he can distance himself from the university since he was there for only a couple months.

“I graduated from Fairmont State so I am going to stick with that,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin played only 11 games and spent around six months at the school. He got on the field sparingly and caught only 11 passes before eventually getting a tryout with the Steelers on the recommendation of Hall of Famer Mel Blount.

Goodwin made the Steelers 90-man offseason roster after the tryout and was able to catch on with the practice squad after being released in August.

Goodwin admitted things got “wild and crazy” at Cal when he was there because “there was nothing to do up there.”

“But geez, we never did anything like that,” Goodwin said. “That’s just not right. That’s ridiculous. I am actually glad that they cancelled that game.”

Cal decided to forfeit last week’s home game against Gannon despite being ranked 19th by D2Football.com. Cal will resume play Saturday at Mercyhurst.

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October 30, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Steelers’ 2nd Half Projections … and More

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Here’s a link to the latest Steelers Roundtable podcast with Alan Robinson, Ralph N. Paulk and Mark Kaboly.

Lots of inside the locker room talk, including:

— What the offensive linemen are saying about Big Ben’s big game?

— What should you expect in the Ravens-Steelers game Sunday?

— What are the surprises and disappointments of the Steelers season to date, and how will the AFC North race shake out over the second half of the season?

— Should Mike Adams remain the starter at right tackle Sunday, or should Marcus Gilbert go right back in after being out a week with a concussion?

— Who gets Mike Tomlin’s “arrow up” and “arrow down” for the week?

 

 

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