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March 6, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: An expert’s opinion on if Polamalu can still play and be effective?

Chaz Palla Photo

Chaz Palla Photo

Let’s get this out of the way now: The Steelers are going to release Troy Polamalu sometime next week.

Well, nothing is ever 100 percent certain until it happens, but this is close to certain.

It might be Tuesday at 4:01 p.m. – the start of the NFL’s new year.

It might be Wednesday.

It might be after that.

Whenever it becomes official is not really important right now.

The question (at least to me) is can Troy Polamalu still play in the NFL.

No, not does he still want to play in the NFL.

Can the eight-time Pro Bowler and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 actually still perform at an acceptable level in the league?

My untrained eyes say yes, but take that for what it’s worth.

I reached out to a trained expert to ask him.

Matt Bowen was a sixth-round pick for the Rams in 2000 and went on to play seven seasons at safety in the NFL with the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills.

Bowen, now the National NFL Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who watches a copious amount of game film, believes that Polamalu can still play but only if it is in the right situation.

“You can tell based off the 2014 tape that Troy’s body is starting to break down and he doesn’t have the same burst or acceleration out on the field,” Bowen said. “Now, I do think he could still play as an underneath nickel or dime defender in the right system. I am not sure he can have the same impact in the back end of the secondary unless he adjusts the way he plays.”

Problem is that Polamalu was, and is, the ultimate risk taker because he has always had the ability to recover better than just about anybody. He can’t do that consistently anymore because injuries, and old age, finally caught up to him.

Despite playing every snap for 24 consecutive games until hurting his knee against the Ravens in early November, the loss of speed was noticeable. So much so that the Steelers were forced to put Polamalu in a position where he didn’t have to use his recovery speed to thwart a play.

That’s the biggest issue.

“Father Time is still undefeated,” Bowen said. “Happens to every player regardless of skill set in this league.”


March 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Le’Veon Bell goes after Mel Kiper Jr. with a Twitter rant


Steelers coach Mike Tomlin put an end to Twitter for Mike Mitchell near the end of last year.

Le’Veon Bell just may be next up on the banned list

However, unlike Mitchell, who responded to angry and trolling fans, Bell went after some draft “experts” with his rant.

Bell’s main target was the draft guru himself Mel Kiper Jr., a lifelong Baltimore resident.

But Bell didn’t limit himself to just Kiper. He threw in a shot at Todd McShay and even Mike Mayock, who could be the most respected draft analysts in the business.

The rant went like this:

March 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Pitt coach offers advice and other Steelers related notes from Pitt’s Pro Day

Mark Kaboly photo Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings

Mark Kaboly photo
Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings

If the Steelers plan to draft Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes, Pat Narduzzi offered up some solid advice on Tuesday.

“… they are going to have to trade up,” Narduzzi said.

Narduzzi is Pitt’s head football coach now, but he was Michigan State’s defensive coordinator a couple of months ago and knows plenty about Waynes and what he’s capable of doing.

Speaking at Pitt’s Pro Day on Tuesday, Narduzzi said that Waynes is the best cornerback in the draft and last month’s NFL Scouting Combine in which Waynes ran a blazing 4.31 solidified just that.

“I don’t think there is any question about that,” Narduzzi said. “He is a smooth, fast corner. I think he proved his speed at the combine and he is a great kid on top of that.”

Waynes is being slotted as a top 10 pick following the Combine. With the Steelers picking at 22, it’s quite likely that Waynes will be long gone once the Steelers’ pick rolls around.

Waynes is a man-press corner that would fit in perfect with the Steelers.

“That’s all we did,” Narduzzi said of playing man-press. “He is a press corner, lock on.”

Here are some other Steelers related notes from Pitt’s Pro Day

* It’s just a walk across a parking lot, but the Steelers coaches came out in droves.

Eleven coaches showed up to watch the workout – Randy Fichtner (quarterback), Richard Mann (wide receiver), Mike Munchak (offensive line), Shaun Sarrett (offensive assistant), James Saxon (running back), John Mitchell (defensive line), Joey Porter (outside linebacker), Jerry Olsavsky (inside linebacker), Danny Smith (special teams), Keith Butler (defensive coordinator) and Carnell Lake (secondary).

Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and tight end coach James Daniel did not attend.

* Steelers scouts in attendance were Danny Colbert, Brandon Hunt and Phil Kreidler.

* Since Pitt didn’t have a senior quarterback to throw during the workout, assistant strength and conditioning coach Marcel Pastoor was asked to throw. Pastoor throws to Steelers receivers during practice and before games.

* Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings, who is being projected as a first-round tackle, got some on-field instruction from Munchak. Clemmings said he knew who Munchak was, but didn’t know he was a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

“I didn’t know that, but just you telling me and listening to his instructions and the way he was coaching us makes sense now,” Clemmings said.

* Clemmings said has a meeting set up with the Steelers on Wednesday.

* Le’Veon Bell had some nice things to say about Narduzzi when his former coach was hired in December. Narduzzi returned the favor on Tuesday.

“LeVeon is a super kid,” Narduzzi said. “What I remember about him? Hurdling people and just making plays and just loving the game. He loves the game of football and he’s a very talented football player.”




February 25, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Ravens wanted to play Steelers in the playoffs


And who said that the Baltimore Ravens hate the Steelers?

Actually, they were the Steelers biggest fans heading into the final game of the 2014 season and, apparently, the entire Ravens organization was rooting for the Steelers in a Week 17 game against the Bengals so the Ravens would play the Steelers in the wild-card round the next week.

Well, at least the head coach and the owner wanted to play the Steelers.

The Steelers beat the Ravens quite handily at Heinz Field in November and were previously winless against the Steelers in the postseason losing in 2001, 2008 and 2010.

Still, according to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, the Baltimore wanted the Steelers to beat the Bengals so they could play them.

“(Ravens coach) John (Harbaugh) and I talked that night after our last [regular-season] game, and we said, ‘We want Pittsburgh. They don’t think we were supposed to be here anyway. I’m not rooting for Cincinnati. I’m rooting for Pittsburgh. I want to go get that monkey off our back,’ and we did,” Bisciotti told the Baltimore media on Tuesday. “I consider that a great success.”

The Ravens beat the Steelers, 30-17, to advance to the AFC divisional round.


February 21, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Sights of the Scouting Combine through the IPhone of a Steelers beat reporter


INDIANAPOLIS — We all love to snap a photo with the IPhone.

So, I figured why not snap some of the past few days at the NFL Scouting Combine and share them with you.



February 21, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Q&A with Pitt OL T.J. Clemmings


clm-thumb--nfl_large_580_1000INDIANAPOLOLIS — Pitt offensive linemen T.J. Clemmings talked to the media at the NFL Scouting Combine. Here’s the full transcript:


(How did it go?)

“It was a good day. I wanted to run a little bit better. So, I probably will give that another shot at my Pro Day.”


(Did you balk at when Pitt wanted you to move to OL?)

“When I finally moved to the offensive side of the ball. At that time, it felt right. I am not sure why, but something inside felt right and I am glad I made the decision.”


(Where you fine with it at first?)

“When Paul Chryst asked me for the first time, I didn’t resist it at all. I said OK coach.”


(Why were you so successful in that transition?)

“I would see the time I put in and my position coach pushing me the way he did and my mentor and technique coach Jay Caldwell  worked with me on the weekends and anytime I was able to come home. He definitely helped me with the mental and the physical as well.”


(You are RT or LT)

“It doesn’t matter to me. I am prepared to work and play both sides. Whatever the team wants me to do, I will be prepared.”


(Any consistency to the type of questions asked in interviews)

“They definitely asked me if I was willing to play both sides. I only played right side in college. They just wanted to see what my responses were in playing the left side.”


(What techniques were most difficult to transition?)

“All the techniques were difficult at first. It was more the terminology and learning the plays. Once I got that down, I focused a lot more on techniques and get those down as well.”


(why did it feel right?)

“At the time I wasn’t having the success I wanted on defense and offensive line was literally my last option. I wanted to get back on the field. I wanted to start again. Just thinking about being on the field again – wherever that was it made it feel right.”


(How do you feel when people use the word raw about you?)

“It doesn’t bother me. If that is what they feel then that’s fine. I only had two years on the offensive line under my belt and that’s not going to change from now to the draft. I need some work in some things and I am not afraid of that. I am ready to work on things that people feel I need to work on.”


(What did you weigh?)

309, 6-4½


(Do you want to get bigger?)

“Definitely I want to get a little more girth and a little more weight. I feel good where I am at.”


(At point where you thought your future was done if transition to OL didn’t work?)

“If I didn’t switch over to offensive line that might have been it for me as far as playing football in college. I definitely wanted to play again. It was a no-brainer.”


(Played hoops)

“I played all the way from 8 years old through my senior year of high school. It was an amazing time and I had fun. Honestly, some of the athletscim from basketball transferred over to football and definitely helped me.”


(College interested in you from hoops?)

“Yeah, at one point I had three offers. Rutgers, Seton Hall and Providence.”


(Footwork translates between the offensive line and playing basketball?)

“Definitely. Just being able to change directions and constant running, it all helped to switch over football”





(Learn from Senior Bowl week?)

“Senior Bowl week was definitely a learning experience for me. I have learned a lot about myself as a player. How to deal with situations where you don’t always know exactly what is going on. I struggled a little bit throughout the week knowing that when it was game time that I went into the game and just relaxed myself and started to have fun again.”


(You practice on left at senior bowl?)

“I did. I played both left and right. I struggled on one-on-ones. It was the first time I played the left side.”


(Feel you are good at learning on the fly)

“It is not an easy transition to make. I had a spring ball and a camp to be ready to play in 2013 at right tackle. That’s all the time I had. I was learning each week as each week passed.”


(What you think about being projected as first rounder?)

“As of right now, it is all talk. I don’t get into what the media says and people think because things change on draft day a lot. I know the work that I’ve put in and I am trusting that everything will work out.”


(How did you perform in agility drills today?)

“I think I did well. I feel I did well. I might look at them again at my Pro Day. If I feel that I can get better times, I definitely will.”


(How do you feel representing the Patterson Catholic legacy?)

“I was part of the last class that graduated from Patterson Catholic. Just to be here in front of all you guys is a blessing. It is truly an honor to represent Patterson Catholic and the University of Pittsburgh.”


(Would you change anything?)

“No man. Everything works out like it is supposed. I wouldn’t change anything.”


(Pros you like to watch?)

“Jason Peters, Tyron Smith and Duane Brown are three of my favorites to watch. I definitely like to watch them.”




February 20, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Why not a tight end in the 1st round for the Steelers?


INDIANAPOLIS – Conventional wisdom says that the Steelers will either take a cornerback or an outside linebacker in the first round of the NFL Draft come the end of April.

Yeah, I know, I’m not really breaking any news with that statement.

If you even follow the Steelers a little bit (and I assume you do since you are reading this) you know that the secondary doesn’t have much in the way of talent, young talent, experience and depth. That typically makes that a hot target position for a team in the draft.

Same goes with outside linebackers.

Now, free agency in less than a month can either make that a pretty solid position (if they re-sign Jason Worilds and/or Arthur Moats to pair with Jarvis Jones) or it can be ranked up right up there with cornerbacks as the greatest need Part 1B.

So, it’s going to be either a cornerback or an outside rush linebacker, right?

What about this?

What if the high-end cornerbacks and the stud rush linebackers are gone by the time the Steelers’ pick comes around at 22?

It can happen. It might happen. It actually likely will happen.

According to CBSSports, only Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is a solid first-rounder with four others – Marcus Peters, Quiten Rollins, P.J. Williams and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu as borderline first-rounders.

As for the rush linebackers? Randy Gregory, Shane Ray and Dante Fowler will be gone and Vic Beasley very well could drop out of the first round

Then what? What do you do if you are the Steelers?

Don’t discount the tight end.

It’s very possible.

It would fill a need – Heath Miller is the only experienced tight end on the roster and he’s 32 with his best days behind him. Now, he can still be a productive tight end, but I call him a catch-and-tackle guy. He catches the ball and gets tackled.

Don’t undersell how much the Steelers are enamored with their offense, and rightfully so.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said the other day: “If there’s a great offensive player who can make us average 27 points instead of the 24 we averaged last year, maybe we don’t have to be as good on defense. We always want to be open to making sure we are taking good players at any position.”

Here at the NFL Scouting Combine, the Steelers are thinking the same thing. They have used a handful of their priceless 60 15-minute interview sessions with tight ends.

They used one of those on the top tight end in the draft – 20-year-old Maxx Williams, whose father, Brian, was a former center for the Giants and a Mt. Lebanon graduate.

Williams left Minnesota after his redshirt sophomore year, but is still considered the best tight end at the Combine by a wide margin.

It wouldn’t be a bad pick. The Steelers used the 30th overall pick in 2005 on Miller and that turned out well.

Imagine the possibilities – Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Maxx Williams.

Doesn’t sound bad at all.

And don’t discount it, because it could happen.


February 19, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Plum’s Pat McAfee and why some pro athletes hate the media


7774352INDIANAPOLIS — Marshawn Lynch doesn’t like the media. You know, he’s “just here so he doesn’t get fined.”

Kevin Durant doesn’t like the media, either. Who can forget “you guys don’t know (expletive)?”

Russell Westbrook doesn’t like the media. Remember the “what?” interview?

Pat McAfee … well, he is the polar opposite of the ever growing trend of professional athletes disliking the media.

McAfee loves the media – dealing with them and being a part of them.

The Colts punter and Plum native was strolling through the concourse at Lucas Oil Stadium during the NFL Scouting Combine after, ironically, cutting a workout short so he could jump on the radio with some of his media friends.

So, what better time to ask him what he thinks about the media, professional athletes and the perceived deteriorating relationship between them?

McAfee shared what he’s heard from some of his player friends.

“You are ready to write your story even before you get my quote,” McAfee said. “Not me, I am really the bottom of the barrel when it comes to that. With some of the big time guy, you already have your story and are just looking for quotes. A lot of guys have that kind of mindset.”

McAfee isn’t one of them.

McAfee feels that the media plays an important role in the success and popularity of the NFL.

“Actually, the media is the reason why the NFL has grown so much,” he said. “That’s a 100 percent true story and I am not exaggerating or lying about that. The media is the reason why the game has become such a focal point in our society and our culture. It is covered more than anything in the world.”

McAfee is coming off his best season that landed him in the Pro Bowl. Ranked third in the NFL in net punting average and, first in kickoff touchbacks

“Every year you dream about making the Pro Bowl,” McAfee said. “I’ve dreamed about making the Pro Bowl ever since my days at Holiday Park in Plum. I finally got a chance to make it. You never want to play in the Pro Bowl. I’ve learned that since I’ve made it to the NFL. You never want to play in the Pro Bowl. You want to get selected to the Pro Bowl.”

Even though McAfee calls Indianapolis home now (his parents have since moved from Plum to Indy), he still considers himself a Pittsburgher.

“I love Pittsburgh,” McAfee said. “Huge Penguins fan still to this day. I like the Pirates as well. I did grow up during a bad era of Pittsburgh Pirates baseball. Now they are turning it around so it is excellent news.”



February 12, 2015
by Mark Kaboly

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Kaboly: Colbert ‘not really interested’ in NFL Veteran Combine

Photo by Chaz Palla

Photo by Chaz Palla

NFL personnel people rarely pass up a chance to evaluate talent.

General managers and scouts flock to events like the East-West Shrine game, the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine to get an up-close look at players that can potentially help their team.

Now there’s another – the NFL Veterans Combine is set for March 22 in Phoenix. It will be open to veteran free agents who will participate in position-specific drills, timing and testing, and other customary combine activities.

The invitation only event will bring 100 players from all ages and experiences. The only requirement other than an invitation is that the player was with an NFL team at one point.

And it’s something that doesn’t excite Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert even the slightest.

“I’m not really interested in it to be honest,” Colbert said. “Personally what they do once they get into the league on film, we already know big and fast they are. To me they’re not going to get any faster. I think you’re naive to think that a player that ran a 4.4 three years later is still going to run a 4.4. You better base it on what he did in the league.”

Colbert said that the NFL Combine evaluating college players, which is set to start Wednesday in Indianapolis, is much more valuable because you are dealing with potential. With veterans, Colbert said he is much more interested in what they’ve done on the field rather than their workout numbers.

“Most of these guys that go to the veteran combine have been in at camp,” Colbert said. “They’ve been veterans. They’ve been practice squad players or they’ve been active players. So what they do in a workout I’m not really interested in. I just want to see what they did when they did have their chance to be NFL players.”

In the past, most veteran free agents would have to wait for a team to call for a workout or a visit. Some veterans have been included in the NFL’s regional combines held for draft-eligible players, too. The Veteran Combine will streamline that into one time and one location.

Also, the league scheduled the Veteran Combine to coincide with the owner’s meetings so that it would make it easier for organizations to be on hand.


January 15, 2015
by Chris Adamski

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Adamski: ‘Grinder’ Blake happy to have ‘shown his worth’ as a corner for Steelers



Through a quarter of the Steelers’ Sept. 21 night game at Carolina, Antwon Blake hadn’t been on the field for the defense for a snap yet this season.


Further, according to Pro Football Focus, prior to this season Blake had been on the field for just nine defensive NFL snaps  — four with Jacksonville after being an undrafted rookie in 2012; five with the Steelers last season – and never more than two in any given game.


But then Ike Taylor sustained a gruesome broken forearm when he was accidentally run into by a teammate. Without much of a choice that night in Charlotte, the Steelers turned to Blake.


A few weeks later, the team had seen enough of Cortez Allen at cornerback. Again without much of a choice, the Steelers turned to Blake.


This time, it stuck.


Throughout the remainder of the season, Blake played a regular role on a defense that seemed to hit its stride down the stretch. Over the final eight games of the regular season, Blake played 247 of the Steelers’ 557 defensive snaps (per Pro Football Focus) – or 43 percent.


“I already felt like I had a home here last year, just from the way they welcomed me in and the way the program was set up,” Blake said. “But I was able to come in and prove some things and show my worth a little bit to the team, so I definitely feel like this is my home now.”


Blake, 24, has quite an offseason planned. He intends on working on finishing course work at UTEP to earn his degree. Football-wise, he’s excited to improve further and continue to work his way into the Steelers’ plans in a more prominent role.


“I’m a grinder, so I’m going to be grinding regardless,” Blake said. “I’m gonna be back home working out everyday and just working on every little thing, just watching film and trying to do everything I can to get better.”


The 5-foot-9, 198-pound Houston native showed this season that his value to an NFL team goes beyond that of just being a special-teamer. Although it seems unlikely Blake will ever become a Pro Bowler – or even, maybe, a starter or every-down player in the NFL – his efficient work when called upon in 2014 suggests he could be at least a part of the answer going forward for a Steelers team that appears to be perhaps its weakest at cornerback.


With Taylor appearing headed for retirement, Brice McCain a free agent, Allen coming off a dreadful year and B.W. Webb not having played appreciably on defense at the NFL level, Blake, in effect, is No. 2 on the Steelers’ depth chart at cornerback (at the moment) behind veteran William Gay. Of course, Allen (and his $26 million contract) will likely be given a chance to regain his form, and McCain might be re-signed. Still, can Blake be a permanent part of the Steelers’ plans at corner?


“I’m not really concerned with that,” Blake said. “We’ll see how that goes whenever we start OTAs because ultimately, things change week-to-week in the NFL, so you can’t really harp on that too much.”


As Blake found out this past season.


“You never know, you know?” he said. “People get hurt all the time. The biggest thing is just being ready and being prepared. It’s one thing not to be ready when you get your opportunity, so you just have to focus on things because you don’t know when your name is going to be called. But when it is, you have to make sure you go out there and do whatever you can for your team.”


Blake isn’t big – but he has shown a propensity for the big play. At UTEP, he forced two fumbles as a junior and blocked two kicks as a senior. His forced fumble late in the de facto AFC North championship game Dec. 28, it could be argued, singlehandedly swung the game in the Steelers’ favor.


It was another example of Blake proving to himself (and others) that he can be a regular NFL cornerback. He made his case this past season.


“I feel like the biggest thing is just confidence-wise,” Blake said, “and getting that experience, because you could be an All Pro in practice – but the game and practice are two different things. Once you get that game experience, then you get to get a little more comfortable and you start playing a lot better. And that’s how I feel.”



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