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August 15, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Trib’s video of Sammy Watkins vs. Lew Toler goes viral

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As a reporter who covers the Steelers, I am always trying to find a different way to give readers a glimpse into the team I cover.

To be honest, it wasn’t that difficult a few years ago to do that.

Before the onslaught of social media limiting the exclusiveness of what we call a good “nugget” of information, all you had to do is was put something in your notebook in the next day’s paper and be done with it.

Not anymore. Twitter has changed that.

So, to try to provide something unique, I started to video portions of Steelers practice (that were permitted under the team’s guidelines) and post it to YouTube.

People would make fun of me and give me a strange look, but oh well, right?

Nobody was really watching anyway. It gave me something to do while watching practice.

I’d get 202 views, 576 views and on a good day, a video would bring in 1,500 views.

Then Thursday happened.

Impressed with what I saw from Sammy Watkins during Wednesday’s practice, I decided to shoot some video of Buffalo’s first-round pick on Thursday.

During a red zone drill, Watkins was going up against undrafted rookie cornerback Lew Toler (Rutgers) and made an ankle-breaking double move that resulted in an easy touchdown.

OK, I’ll post this one, I said to myself. People want to see Sammy Watkins, right?

Little did I know that 24 hours later there would be 200,000 views … 36 hours later there would be 400,000 views, and counting.

Does that qualify for being viral?

I think just may have shocked me more than Watkins’ move.

So, here it is. Take a look for yourself.

P.S.

Here’s another one if you want to check it out.

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August 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: ‘Pittsburgh North’ invading Steelers camp for joint practices

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Bill's GM Whaley_0LATROBE, Pa. — Arizona is referred to as ‘Pittsburgh West’ around here because of the number of former Steelers now with the organization, and for good reason.

Five former Steelers are on the Cardinals current roster (Jonathan Dwyer, Larry Foote, Max Starks, Alameda Ta’amu, Reggie Dunn) along with five coaches (Bruce Arians, Harold Goodwin, Amos Jones, Brentson Buckner, Larry Zierlein) and a couple others with ties to the area (Roger Kingdom, Buddy Morris).

But there is also a pretty strong Pittburgh-Buffalo connection as well.

The Bills and Steelers will hold joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday before playing their preseason game at Heinz Field on Saturday. It’s the first time the Steelers have held a joint practice since the 1990s, so it should make St. Vincent College quite an interesting place for a couple days, especially with the amount of Steelers connections now associated with the Bills.

This is for sure: Directions to get around the St. Vincent College campus won’t be needed for the Bills.

Consider this:

• Bills GM Doug Whaley (Upper St. Clair/Pitt) worked as a Pro Personnel Assistant for the Steelers in 1995 and then as the Pro Scouting Coordinator from 1999-09

• Bills Director of College Scouting Kelvin Fisher (Ambridge) was a College Scout for the Steelers from 2000-12

• Bills OL Kraig Urbik was a third-round pick and a member of the Steelers during the 2009 season.

• Bills FB Frank Summers was a fifth-round selection of the Steelers in 2009.

• Bills P Brian Moorman spent the 2013 Training Camp with the Steelers.

• Bills DL Corbin Bryant spent time on the Steelers practice squad in 2011 and 2012.

• Bills OL Doug Legursky played for the Steelers from 2009-12.

• Bills LB Stevenson Sylvester played for the Steelers from 2010-2013.

That alone should make it an interesting couple of days to wrap up Camp Tomlin 2014.

Throw in some poor weather expected and some usually hot tempers associated with joint practices and what a way to end a three-week stay at St. Vincent College.

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August 12, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Jarvis Jones is more than a one-trick pony this year

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Jarvis Jones celebrates his sacks against the Giants on Saturday.

Jarvis Jones is just like every other football players in the NFL – he watches a lot of film.

Saying that, it’s pretty certain that the film Jones has been studying isn’t being looked at by any other linebacker in the league.

Jones said has been watching tape of former Steelers linebacker and current defensive assistant Joey Porter to help his pass-rushing repertoire.

It’s already paying off.

Jones, who had only sack as a rookie first-round pick last year, sacked Eli Manning on the fifth defensive play of the first preseason game.

Sure, it was only the preseason and came against backup Charles Brown, but it was encouraging because of how he got to the quarterback – an inside move.

Jones is a speed guy and really didn’t use an inside move last year. It made him predictable and easy to block. Jones was being labeled as a one-trick pony. Not anymore.

“Last year I was always (rushing) outside, outside, outside rather than going inside,” Jones was telling me on Monday. “I didn’t start to go inside until near the end of last year. If they sit there and watch film and see you go outside all the time, they are going to jump you outside. They see I am going inside they now have to play both ways. You just can’t jump me off the line. Now you have to honor my speed up field and the inside.”

And you know darn well mixing up pass rushing moves is something that Porter has been preaching.

During training camp, you can hear Porter coaching up the pass-rushers by constantly reminding them to mix up their moves from outside, inside and bull rushes. Not only that, but what moves to use on what players.

During a practice last week, Porter made it quite clear that guys like Jones shouldn’t be using their good moves against tight ends. To paraphrase Porter: Tight ends don’t want to block you.

“He’s been a great help to me since Day 1 he has been here,” Jones said. “He is slowing the game down for me a whole lot as far as detail work and technique, hand placement, getting off the ball and reading keys and stuff like that. He is helping me become a great pass rusher.”

Porter did have 98 career sacks in which 60 of them came while with the Steelers from 1999-2006. The Steelers hired Porter in the spring to specifically work with the pass rushers and most notably Jones.

“When you go back and look at the film, we kind of play the same way,” Jones said. “He was very athletic – probably more athletic than me. I go back and watch film and some of the moves he made to add different things to my repertoire. What really works is when you get to see it and transition it into the game.”

So far, so good.

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August 7, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Does Tuitt have the ‘integrity’ to start right away?

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Rookie defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt has impressed early in training camp.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Rookie defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt has impressed early in training camp.

Mike Tomlin absolutely loves Stephon Tuitt, and really, when have you heard Mike Tomlin gush over anybody?

When was the last time you heard Dick LeBeau praise a rookie, let alone a rookie two weeks into training camp?

Usually it goes something like this when you bring up rookies to LeBeau: “It’s not a defense you can come in and play right away. I will never apologize for my defense being hard to learn” or something along those lines.

Yeah, the rookie second-round pick out of Notre Dame has been that impressive two weeks into camp.

Impressive enough to shove Cam Thomas – a guy they gave $4 million over two years in the offseason to play end – to nose tackle to fill in for the concussed Steve McLendon so Tuitt can get reps with the first team.

Thursday will be the fifth consecutive practice that Tuitt lines up at left defensive end with the first team. It is almost assured that he will start Saturday’s first preseason game against the Giants.

This is about when and where we should temper the enthusiasm on Tuitt … at least for now.

Defensive ends in LeBeau’s 3-4 scheme very well could be the most difficult position to learn because of the discipline needed to be successful.

How many times have you heard “gap integrity” or “gap sound” come out of somebody’s mouth. It’s a real thing and it can be devastating, especially to a 3-4 defense.

What is gap inegrity? What that means is that for LeBeau’s defense to stop the run, everybody needs to be in a specific place. If you deviate from your gap assignment, it usually results in a pretty significant gain.

What makes it difficult for a defensive end like Tuitt – or any young defensive lineman — is to be discipline enough to be where you are supposed to be rather than where you think you should be.

How many times did you see Brett Keisel out of his gap over his career, and he’s one of the best to play for LeBeau.

Get out of your gap and the integrity of the defense is shot.

Gap integrity is not easy. Tuitt was a playmaker at Notre Dame and to shove that down the list of priorities for him won’t be a walk in the park.

Now, Tuitt was a pretty good with his gaps in Notre Dame’s 3-4, but this is a whole new level, as we all know.

So, maybe we all should be listening to defensive line coach John Mitchell right now instead of Tomlin or LeBeau. Mitchell told TribLive Radio’s Ken Laird last week: “We’ve been in camp five days and you guys want to make somebody out of something.”

Saying that, Tuitt is pretty good.

But remember, patience.

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August 6, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Mystery solved — McLendon has a concussion

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-- Photo by Chaz Palla Steve McLendon talks to coach Chris Hoke during practice on Monday.

— Photo by Chaz Palla
Steve McLendon talks to coach Chris Hoke during practice on Monday.

(UPDATE: Tomlin confirms McLendon is dealing with a concussion after practice on Wednesday, or 4 hours after this initial post.)

Speculation has been rampant on why nose tackle Steve McLendon sat out of the last three practices – one of which he wasn’t even on the sidelines watching.

From Mike Tomlin wanting to get a good look at rookie Stephon Tuitt to McLendon being in Tomlin’s doghouse have been floated around as reasons why McLendon has been out.

The speculations have been warranted.

After all, Tomlin never gave a reason of why McLendon wasn’t practicing and McLendon told me early Wednesday that: “I’m OK. It’s Coach Tomlin’s call. It’s up to him. It’s his call.”

Turns out the reason why McLendon hasn’t practiced since Friday night is because he is dealing with a concussion.

McLendon did not show up to practice on Saturday at all. He was in shorts and a T-shirt on Sunday and Monday relegated to watching. The Steelers were off Tuesday.

It’s unknown when McLendon will return to practice.

McLendon is the second Steeler to miss time with a concussion this camp.

Receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey has been out since July 31 with what has been diagnosed as a concussion. Heyward-Bey said it’s the fifth concussion of his career, which includes one against the Steelers in 2012 in which he was unconscious for 10 minutes after a brutal hit was delivered by Ryan Mundy.

Heyward-Bey said that he and McLendon have talked about their symptoms.

“I saw him and asked him how he is doing. I say how is yours and how do you feel,” Heyward-Bey said. “His is different than mine and that’s just how life is.”

Heyward-Bey hit his head on the ground diving for a pass during a practice on July 31 and has yet to been cleared to participate.

“It’s not like another injury,” Heyward-Bey said. “It’s not a knee that you can tape up. There’s no rehab for it. You just have to wait until you feel 100 percent.”

 

 

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August 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Camp Tomlin has been physical, but smart … so far

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-- Chaz Palla The Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey (53) and Hebron Fangupo (yellow) get into a fight during practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at St. Vincent in Latrobe

— Chaz Palla
The Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey (53) and Hebron Fangupo (yellow) get into a fight during practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at St. Vincent in Latrobe

Mike Tomlin has done this training camp thing a number of times already, so I am pretty sure he knows what he is doing.

Camp Tomlin No. 8 is nearly halfway over here at St. Vincent College and this one ranks up there as one of the most physical under his watch.

Well, as physical as it can be under the new CBA that limits a whole bunch of stuff, most notably two-a-days.

Still, this one has been intense. This one has been hard-hitting. This one has been chippy. Shoving, punching, hitting, fighting, jawing – you name it and it has/is going on.

Oh yeah, and physical.

There have been at least two live hitting drills – backs on backers, tight ends/outside linebackers, pass rushing/blocking, Oklahoma – and one competition team period during every practice.

That might not seem like much, but I would imagine that it would hard-pressed to find another team with that much live hitting in training camp.

All this hitting in camp and preseason seems like a disaster waiting to happen, right?

As previously mentioned, Tomlin knows what he is doing.

First of all, Troy Polamalu takes part in none of these live drills or periods, and rightfully so. The last thing you need is your All-Pro safety getting hurting in August.

During linemen drills, the first team on both sides of the ball go once – if they are lucky.

Ben Roethlisberger had a day off and so did Heath Miller.

Tomlin is taking care of the players who matter while pushing the younger guys to the brink to see how they react. He wants to see if there is legitimate player out there among the 40 or so he knows little about, and that’s good.

This camp is very unlike Tomlin’s first camp when he wore the down with double-digit two-a-days in August that surfaced near the end of the season and in the playoffs.

So, who is my camp phenom so far?

Will you believe Mike Tomlin?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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August 2, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Detailed account of ‘Friday Night Fights’

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-- Chaz Palla LeGarrette Blount dives on top of Vince Williams.

— Chaz Palla
LeGarrette Blount dives on top of Vince Williams.

Friday night under the lights quickly turned into Friday Night Fights at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.

And this one was brief, but a real doozy.

Midway through the much-anticipated and highly intense “backs on backers” drill, a melee broke out after linebacker Vince Williams and running back Le’Veon Bell refused to relent after the drill was clearly over.

Williams ended up on top of Bell in the back portion of the end zone, which apparently didn’t sit well with fellow running back LeGarrette Blount.

Blount, in street clothes and as a pure spectator, took such exception to Williams taking Bell to the ground and staying on top of him that he decided to do something about it.

Blount immediately tried to clear Williams off Bell with a diving forearm.

After that, it got interesting.

Players from the offense and defense gathered around pushing and shoving. Blount somehow found himself outside the mob, but that didn’t stop him.

Blount dove back in trying to get after Williams.

This is where things really got interesting.

Defensive assistant Joey Porter, who once got kicked out of a game in Cleveland for fighting running back William Green an hour before the game even started, turned into “Peacemaker Peezy.”

Porter grabbed Blount and yanked him off the pile. Porter then stood in front of Blount preventing him from going back after Williams. Blount had a couple words with Porter before finally walking away.

Williams had his helmet ripped off his head. His facemask was yanked so violently that it got pulled through the hard plastic clips that keep it secure to the helmet.

The fight was over, but there were some more fireworks after that.

Throughout the remainder of the drill, Blount and Williams were jawing at each other across the field. The one thing I heard was: “I’ll get you tomorrow.”

Afterwards, Mike Tomlin addressed what happened.

“It’s the ebb and flow associated with team development,” said Tomlin. “The tight ends kicked the linebackers butts the other day, and the linebackers came back today with a vengeance. It’s what team development is about. I would imagine the backs and tight ends come out here tomorrow with a get-back attitude. It is an emotional game, and they do lose that element of it sometimes. But those things are growth opportunities, and opportunities for us to teach. All of that is part of team development, even when it’s a little bit negative.

“It is emotional, and at times you’re going to feel like you’ve been wronged, but at the same time you have to keep your wits about you, because we step into stadiums with one goal in mind, and that’s to win. Obviously, 15-yard penalties don’t help us in that cause.”

Throughout the melee, Tomlin never moved a muscle. Although he did have a word with Blount a little after it all settled down.

The fight definitely was escalated by Blount’s actions, but how can’t you like a guy sticking up for his teammate and backfield partner like that?

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August 1, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: NFL refs lay out new rules to Steelers players/coaches

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More penalties and more passing.

And yeah, no more of that trash talking and goal post dunks.

NFL officials were on campus at St. Vincent College on Thursday and Friday detailing to coaches, players and media new rule changes and points of emphasis for the upcoming 2014 NFL season. (Here is the video that was shown to the media and players)

And, of course, it is centered around safer play and more points.

One of the “major” points emphasis this year is illegal contact by a defensive back within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

As you know, 5 yards is legal. Anything after that isn’t.

Veteran field judge Bob Waggoner said that the 5 yards legal zone has gradually expanded over the years.

“What has happened over the years is that it kind of stretched a little bit from a 5-yard belt that went to 6 yards that went to 6 ½ yards. It kind of stretched itself a little bit to a point where they wanted to bring it back,” Waggoner said. “It’s like a rubber band. It got stretched a little bit and not they want to bring back. That was kind of where we were at.”

While that may result in more offense, Waggoner said that offensive pass interference (pushing off at top of the route) is also a major point of emphasis.

“It’s a two-way street,” Waggoner said. “Offensive pass interference is also a big point of emphasis. When we talk offensive pass interference, we talk about bubble screens where guys are 3 or 4 yards down the field blocking. That’s a big point. They get one yard. It’s where the point of contact is. That is going to be called as strict as illegal contact.”

Here are some of the rule changes for 2014:

Zero tolerance on verbal abuse – Players will be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct if they verbally abuse an opponent in any way, even in a joking manner. Specifically, the officials will be looking for any inappropriate racial or sexual-orientation comments.

“It needs to be directed specifically at a player or an official, particularly any derogatory, personal statements that are made toward players, those kinds of things,” Waggoner said. “We won’t have rabbit ears. If it is a in-your-face, one-on-one type of thing we are trying prevent.”

No cut blocks from the side – It’s still legal to cut a defensive linemen, but you better get your head in front of the legs and don’t roll after the block. It’s illegal to make a block to the side of a defender’s leg now.

Replay consultation with New York – The referee will still have final call on the play in review, but he will have help from vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and/or senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron during replay reviews. A recovery a fumble in the field of play is also now reviewable.

No dunking on goal posts – Call this the Jimmy Graham rule. The pylon, crossbar and uprights are off-limits in celebrations. A violation will result in a 15-yard penalty.

The game clock will remain running after a sack — In the past, the clock wouldn’t run until the ball was marked for play.

Here are the point of emphasis:

* Hand to face, neck and head, even if it is only for a brief moment, will be flagged within the interior line.

* Even the slightest non-football movement at the line of scrimmage may result in a false start penalty.

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July 31, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Observations from Steelers training camp practice No. 4

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Practice No. 4 is in the books here at an unseasonably cool July day at St. Vincent College.

Here are some quick thoughts about what I saw/have been seeing.

* Daniel McCullers is a monster of a man, and he showed that he can play some football as well. McCullers was active all day on Wednesday whether it was pushing Cody Wallace into the backfield during linemen pass blocking drills or swallowing Dri Archer during the 11-on-11 live tackling period. Now, McCullers looks like he needs to get a little more sense of urgency with his play, but that will come. He is a quiet kid who is just trying to fit in during the early days of camp.

* Speaking of McCullers, William Gay gave TribLive Radio’s Ken Laird the soundbite of the year. “We call him ‘Big Dan’. He reminds me of the movie ‘The Longest Yard’, the big dude that was in there and he started crying and then destroyed everybody,” Gay told Laird. “Me and Troy were just talking, every time we’re going to just walk up and give him a hug. Nice guy. Won’t say too much to you. I told him, ‘Once you get six years in, people are going to be scared to talk to you.’  You’re going to say ‘Get out my face’. I told him, ‘You’re bigger than everybody. Just move people.’”

* Here is a quick list of people who you don’t know (maybe don’t want to know) but are flashing at times. S Jordan Dangerfield: He’s getting some respect with his hits, that’s for sure. CB Antwon Blake: He’s fast … very fast. DE Ethan Hemer: You just keep seeing No. 79 make a play. Oh yeah, it’s flashbacks to Aaron Smith. He looks like him, doesn’t play like him yet. RB Jordan Hall: He took a lick a time or two, but kept on trucking on Wednesday. He’s a tough kid. TE Eric Waters: We knew he could catch from the OTAs, but he can block as well. He is a legitimate player to unseat David Paulson and Michael Palmer.

* There was a sloppy portion of practice on Wednesday when Ben Roethlisberger was forced to huddle again then returned to the line just to have a bad exchange with the center that was recovered by Chris Carter. Landry Jones came in with the second team just to immediately trip over Paulson, who was crossing behind the line of scrimmage at the snap.

* I am seeing a lot more emphasis put on defenders trying to strip the ball. Now, this goes both ways. The offense has to be aware of ball security at all times.

* Matt Spaeth can sure block.

* No fights in four practices. There were two or three in the OTAs alone.

* The crowds here at St. Vincent have been quite large the past two practices. I guess 8-8 is good enough.

* Let’s hope that no Steelers offensive linemen get hurt, because through four practices, it’s obvious that there’s not much to speak of behind the top five or six. There’s some potential there, but nothing ready to jump in and play.

* Mike Adams, who I think has a chance to win the right tackle spot from Marcus Gilbert, got absolutely run over for the second consecutive practice. On Monday it was Shamarko Thomas. Wednesday it was McCullers. I know Adams said he slipped with the Thomas one. McCullers? Well, he is 350 pounds.

 

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July 27, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: All the Ike Taylor criticism is misguided

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IkeI call it a lazy narrative.

And that’s what it has become when it comes to talking about cornerback Ike Taylor.

Sure, the veteran didn’t have the best of seasons in 2013. He called it a so-so year when he showed up to organized team activities during the spring.

So-so doesn’t mean bad, and it surely doesn’t mean terrible.

When Taylor was allowed to stay on just the right side of the defense and not follow around the opponent’s best receiver for the final five games last year, he was a lot better than so-so. He was good.

But Pro Football Focus – a popular analytical website – ranked Taylor as the 13th worst cornerback in the NFL last year and that skews the thinking of a lot.

I’ll let you in on a secret: Pro Football Focus’ grading system is severely flawed.

Taylor received bad marks against Detroit and Baltimore when he “allowed” Torrey Smith and Calvin Johnson long touchdown receptions. Those long touchdowns passes ultimately turned out not to be Taylor’s fault.

In both instances, Taylor was expecting safety help inside when there wasn’t any.

Those are just two examples. Surely there are more.

According to the same website, Taylor had games of limiting receivers to 47, 39, 65, 14 and 71 yards to end the season, but we conveniently leave that out.

He can cover. He can tackle. He can run. He can’t catch, but he never could.

Taylor has also 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.

In all reality, Taylor played well last year and extremely well for a guy who was 33.

Sure, he was forced to take a pay cut to stay around, but that is more because of his age than his ability.

Don’t get me wrong, Taylor’s best days are behind him.

But he has a lot of good football left in him and getting him for a bargain basement price is beneficial to the organization, not an indication of his worth.

The narrative of Taylor being a big question mark for the Steelers this upcoming season is just misguided.

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