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June 14, 2014
by Mike Palm


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Remembering Chuck Noll via Twitter

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Chuck Noll made an impact on countless players, coaches and fans. Here’s what some had to say on Twitter:

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June 10, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Steelers judged to have NFL’s 6th-worst roster

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Are the Steelers Really No. 27>Are they really that bad? Really?

Pro Football Focus rated each of the 32 NFL teams’ lineups from top to bottom and concluded the Steelers have the NFL’s sixth-worst roster. The only teams ranked below the Steelers at No. 27 are the Raiders, Vikings, Falcons, Rams and Jaguars

Even the Browns, who are undergoing their usual coaching and front office shuffle, are ranked ahead of the Steelers at No. 24. The Bengals – despite their usual postseason fold-up act — are the top-rated AFC North team at No. 7 and the Ravens are No. 16

Pro Football Focus ranked 12 players on each team on offense and defense (to account for the nickel/third down sets all teams use) with a scale that ranged from Elite to Poor. In between were High quality, Good, Average and Below Average. There also were categories for players with little playing experience, such as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (not enough information) and rookies

The Bengals (defensive lineman Geno Atkins) and Browns (left tackle Joe Thomas) were the only teams in the division with an elite player. None of the Steelers or Ravens players were rated that highly

The Steelers were judged to have three high-quality players — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and strong safety Troy Polamalu. Only 10 of their 24 starters were judged to be above average

The Steelers offense’s ratings by Pro Football Focus:

QB Ben Roethlisberger     High quality

RB Le’Veon Bell                  Average

TE Heath Miller                   Average

TE Matt Spaeth                   Below average

WR Antonio Brown            High quality

WR Lance Moore                Good

WR Markus Wheaton        Below average

LT Kelvin Beachum                         Average

LG Ramon Foster                            Good

C Maurkice Pouncey                      Good

RG David DeCastro                                    Good

RT Marcus Gilbert                          Average

 

The Steelers defense’s ratings:

LE Cam Thomas                               Average

NT Steve McLendon                       Average

RE Cam Heyward                            Good

OLB Jason Worilds                          Good

ILB Ryan Shazier                             Rookie

ILB Lawrence Timmons                 Good

OLB Jarvis Jones                              Below average

CB Cortez Allen                               Average

CB Ike Taylor                                    Below average

CB William Gay                                Average

SS Troy Polamalu                            High quality

FS Mike Mitchell                             Average

While the Steelers have just three elite or high quality players in Pro Football Focus’ judgment, the Browns have six: Thomas, WR Josh Gordon (who might not play this season), C Alex Mack, ILB Karlos Dansby, CB Joe Haden and S Donte Whitner.

Here’s what Pro Football Focus has to say about a Steelers roster that has undergone quite the overhaul over the last two years: “Once held up as a shining example to the rest of the league for how to run a franchise, the Steelers have allowed their roster to be eroded talent-wise for several years now, and are clinging onto being in contention for playoff spots at the end of the season thanks to having a top-quality quarterback and little else.

“The team simply has not drafted well, failing to replace key personnel when they needed to, and then persisting with struggling players long past the point they should have given up on them. Ike Taylor is still used as if he were a shutdown corner, shadowing an opponent’s best receiver despite surrendering six touchdowns in 2013 and a passer rating into his coverage of 110.6.” (Note: The Steelers stopped using Taylor this way late last season.)

Pro Football Focus also writes: “The departure of Emmanuel Sanders in free agency means the team needs Markus Wheaton to step up, and for all the draft picks spent on the offensive line, it remains a unit that has yet to distinguish itself.”

One more: “Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown are the other two high-quality starters, and they might be the only players keeping the Steelers competitive into December.”

So do the Steelers really have the worst roster in the AFC North? Multiple national NFL analysts have praised the Steelers’ offseason procurement of eight free agents and their draft class and believe they are on the upswing, not the further downslide following successive 8-8 records that Pro Football Focus projects.

The players who appear to be graded too low include Bell, who could be a 1,100-yard, 40-catch running back this season, Miller, Pouncey and DeCastro, plus Worilds, Timmons and Mitchell on defense.

Such ratings/grades/analysis/projections mean nothing in June – just as preseason college football polls in August have proven to be wildly inaccurate projections of the season to come. But they appear to predict a further slide by a team coming off successive non-winning seasons, and it will be interesting to see how accurate they are once the season starts.

That season starts Sept. 7, by the way, when the No. 24 Browns visit the No. 27 Steelers.

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June 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Tomlin’s message to Martavis Bryant …

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Mike Tomlin likes to refer to organized team activities as football in shorts.

That may be true, but Tomlin has had his moments of forgetting that it is only football in shorts during the first two weeks of OTAs, especially when he sees something on the field that he doesn’t like.

Saying that, Tomlin really didn’t like what he saw out of rookie fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant during a receiving drill where he didn’t turn up the field quick enough after making the reception for the liking of Tomlin.

“Finish it 10,” Tomlin barked out to Bryant.

But Tomlin wasn’t done with the tough love after that.

Tomlin went on to really let Bryant know that’s not how they do things and pointed out a point of reference just in case.

“What you need to do is watch 84 and do what 84 does,” Tomlin said about fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown. “You would never see 84 doing that.”

I’ve attached the video of the route and, unfortunately, I didn’t keep the camera rolling for Tomlin’s outburst, but you can see what made him so upset (it’s at the very end of the video.)

While I am at it, here are some other things I think I think:

* We all may look back on the offseason signing of Lance Moore and call it brilliant. Moore has been tremendous through the first two weeks of OTAs, and he’s just learning the offense and just getting used to Ben Roethlisberger.

Wait until he knows what he’s doing.

I hate to put numbers on players in OTAs, but I will. From what I’ve seen from Moore, I wouldn’t be surprised with 60 catches for 850 yards and seven touchdowns.

* Mike Mitchell instantly makes the Steelers defense better. Now, I am not exactly breaking news here, but comparing the closing speed of Mitchell and Ryan Clark last year is night and day.

* With close to 90 players on the field at the same time, it’s hard to focus on one player. Usually one or two will jump out at you that get you to pay a little closer attention. Saying that, I have yet to notice Stephon Tuitt at all. Once again, I haven’t been looking for him, but he hasn’t done anything that made me notice, either. Maybe I’ll be closer attention on Thursday?

* Steve McLendon looks a lot leaner. Jason Worilds looks a lot thicker. Jarvis Jones looks the same. Lawrence Timmons looks like one of the best linebackers in the NFL.

* I still say wide receiver Justin Brown has a chance to be this year’s Derek Moye. Just keep him in mind.

* Saying that, linebacker Vic So’oto just may be pushing Chris Carter out of the door. Yet another battle to keep an eye on.

* Rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson is a nice bump-and-run guy … well, from what I’ve seen. He’s no Terry Hawthorne, I’ll tell you that.

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May 30, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: More Ben Roethlisberger thoughts on Steelers draft

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 Ben Roethlisberger

While watching the NFL Draft three weeks ago, Ben Roethlisberger was no different from any of the myriad of Steelers fans who were tuning in

As the first few rounds played out over Thursday and Friday, and the Steelers still did not draft a tall, difference-making type of receiver, Roethlisberger wondered what was up.

There was considerable pre-draft media speculation that the Steelers would take a big receiver early on, yet their first three picks were an inside linebacker (Ryan Shazier), a defensive end (Stephen Tuitt) and a kick returner-running back-occasional wide receiver (Dri Archer).

Just like any franchise quarterback, Roethlisberger would have welcomed a big receiver early in the draft.

“For me it was just I got caught up in doing what I always say not to do, and that’s listen to the media,” Roethlisberger said.

The Steelers finally did take a tall receiver in the fourth round, or two rounds later than Clemson’s talented but unpolished Martavis Bryant was projected to go. It’s still far too early to tell if Bryant can contribute right away – unlike receivers such as his former Clemson teammate, Sammy Watkins (Bills); Mike Evans (Buccaneers) and Kelvin Benjamin (Panthers), who are expected to be big-play producers starting this season

The Steelers did give Roethlisberger a couple of new targets in Bryant and Archer, just not as early as he might have expected.

“They obviously have their agendas, the things they want, and they got two guys that they felt can help this team — and that’s what matters to me,” Roethlisberger said. “If we have guys who can help this team and help us win championships, that’s first and foremost.”

Winning championships, of course, is almost always Topic No. 1 in any discussion with Roethlisberger. Now that he’s 32, and he’s on the back nine of his career rather than the front nine, being able to contend every year is very important to him. With the emphasis on “every year.”

Roethlisberger wants his legacy to be that he was one of the great winners of all-time among quarterbacks – he already owns two Super Bowl rings, and just missed out on another – and sitting out the playoffs the last two seasons was a major disappointment to him.

That’s why Roethlisberger doesn’t care at all what round a player was drafted in, as long as that player can come in and make a difference – such as Antonio Brown, a sixth-round pick in 2010, has done.

“There are people who do 400 mock drafts, so you never know anything (in advance of the draft),” Roethlisberger said. “All I said all along was whatever helps us win a championship.”

Some more from the first week of the Steelers’ offseason practices:

— New safety Mike Mitchell was clearly excited about his first week of formal workouts. He’s with his third team in as many seasons, following four seasons in Oakland and one season in Carolina, and he’s working in his fifth different defensive system in six NFL seasons.

As a result, he took pride in not missing any assignments during his first three Steelers practices.

“It’s been an easy transition. I think as guys see me make more plays, I’ll grow and they’ll respect me. As I continue to make plays, people will believe in me more,” Mitchell said

Mitchell also appears to be assimilating himself well into a locker room that has undergone quite an overhaul over the last couple of seasons; eight of the Steelers’ 11 projected defensive starters weren’t in the lineup only two seasons ago in 2012. The only projected holdovers are Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons and Ike Taylor – and there’s a chance Taylor won’t start.

“In Oakland, I felt like I played in three different teams in four years because we were always changing head coaches,” Mitchell said. “Learning a new scheme is nothing too different for me, I’ve handled it well just because I work hard and guys like my personality, I’m a likeable guy.”

How about that? Only one week into spring practice, and the Steelers already have a candidate for Mr. Congeniality

— Mitchell made an interesting observation about backup safety Robert Golden, a former undrafted free agent who played mostly on special teams last season. (And played well enough there that Pro Football Focus rated Golden as the NFL’s second-best special teams defender last season.)

“He’s probably got the smoothest back pedal in the league for a safety,” Mitchell said.

As for the entire secondary group, Mitchell said, “(They’re) good guys to be around every day, they’re pushing every day, we’re all pushing, nothing’s guaranteed. We all have to come out here and earn our spots and earn our living. We’re all pushing each other.”

And Troy Polamalu isn’t even in camp yet.

— The Steelers waived guard Nik Embernate after he failed his physical, according to the NFL transactions list. Embernate was an undrafted free agent a year ago who had an excellent change of making the team until he badly tore up a knee during training camp. He spent the entire season on the injury list and rehabilitating in Pittsburgh. According to the team, an injury settlement wasn’t required because Embernate spent all of last season with the Steelers.

— Don’t look for this to happen in Pittsburgh: the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars both opened spring practices open to the public. The Packers had a full house at their practice facility for one practice this week, and they’ll have another open practice each of the next two weeks. The Jaguars are having one open practice as well.

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May 28, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Something’s not right with Markus Wheaton’s finger

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 Markus Wheaton

Something doesn’t feel right about this.

In an interview with the Tribune-Review, Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton accepted the blame for not properly rehabilitating his right pinky finger after it was broken early last season in London

It’s been nine months since that game, yet Wheaton’s pinky finger is bent at an awkward angle, apparently because so much scar tissue built up inside that it can’t all be removed

So how did this happen?

Some background: Wheaton, the Steelers’ third-round pick in 2013, got his first extensive playing time in that Week 4 game against the Vikings, making three catches. But he also broke the pinky finger, an injury that would prove far more troublesome than he could have envisioned. After all, as Wheaton himself said, it was only his pinky finger.

However, Wheaton didn’t get back onto the field again until Week 11 against the Lions, when he made three more catches. But the finger continued to trouble him for the rest of the season – he didn’t make a catch from Weeks 12-17 – and he needed to have additional post-season surgery to attempt to remove the scar tissue

That surgery wasn’t entirely successful because all the scar tissue couldn’t be removed – a condition that might not improve for the rest of Wheaton’s career.

“They did it (the surgery),” he said, “But it was tougher (to get out) than they anticipated. It is what it is. I’m going to continue to work on it but, if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come.

So far during the Steelers’ offseason workouts, there has been nothing to suggest there will be any career-altering aspects to the injury. Wheaton is currently running with the starters, and other offensive players like what they see – his route running is precise, his speed and sure hands are there

But even with Wheaton back to looking like the receiver who earned so much praise from the Steelers’ defensive players during camp last summer, it still isn’t clear how his finger became damaged

Here’s his explanation

“I broke it in a couple of places, my pinky, the third bone in a couple of places (in London),” he said. “I had a couple of screws in that went into the joint and I had two surgeries. But that’s in the past and it’s not bothering me now.

Still, that doesn’t explain why his finger didn’t heal properly, or why the post-season surgery couldn’t correct the problem.

“The surgeon did a great job, but the rehab, it was on me,” Wheaton said. “I should have been pushing it a lot more than I was, I got pretty complacent in where I was with my rehab, and thinking, `It’s just my pinkie,’ and not giving it as much time as it needed.”

Rather than doing exercises to strengthen the finger as it was mending, Wheaton was under the impression the finger was to remain immobilized and protected.

If that’s indeed what happened, it raises the question as to why no one who was treating him caught it and advised him what he should be doing. After all, this wasn’t a player who was hurt one Sunday and tried to play the next; Wheaton was out for more than a month, healing, after initially breaking the finger, and there was plenty of time to monitor how his recovery was going.

Injured players are watched closely by their teams, and it’s all but unheard of for an NFL player to go weeks without receiving the proper rehabilitation instructions.

Wheaton doesn’t want to get into all of that, saying of his badly bent finger, “It doesn’t affect me, not at all. I’m pretty much out there not even thinking about it, pretty naturally catching the ball.”

Even if he’s requiring only nine fingers to do so.

In fact, despite the loss of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery and what effectively was a lost rookie season for Wheaton, this has the looks of one of the Steelers’ best receiving corps during the Ben Roethlisberger era.

Tight end Heath Miller, his major knee injury now more than 17 months behind him, should be up and running from the start of the season, unlike last year. So should blocking tight end Matt Spaeth.  Newly added receiver Lance Moore is a precision route runner who was one of Drew Brees’ favorite targets in New Orleans.

Darrius Heyward-Bey is one of the fastest receivers in the league and, if he can develop a connection with Roethlisberger, could be a dangerous, come-off-the-bench deep threat who complements the rest of the group. And fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant, who was projected to go higher, has the kind of size and speed that quarterbacks covet.

“There’s a lot of good receivers out here who are all competing for that one spot (vacated by Sanders),” Wheaton said. “Hopefully, I can take it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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May 18, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Rookie defensive players and Mike Tomlin just don’t mix (chart included)

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tomlin2Thanks, but no thanks.

That’s been the message that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has sent rookie defenders ever since taking over the team in 2007.

It took nearly 100 regular-season games for Tomlin to trust a rookie to start and that was Jarvis Jones Week 2 in Cincinnati a year ago. Vince Williams followed suit because of necessity and the same went with Terrence Garvin — a rookie tryout just months before.

Now, a big reason why rookie defenders haven’t been able to crack the starting lineup for Tomlin hasn’t been because he’s been bull-headed as much as the defense was pretty set with a cast of veteran stars. Still, as those stars got older and eventually left, rookies still didn’t fill the holes.

That very well could all change this year with the selections of Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt — the Steelers’ first two draft picks. The two don’t only have a high pedigree and played a lot at big-time colleges, but are coming into a situation where there is need — inside linebacker and defensive end.

Now, that’s still a ways away but it sure isn’t out of the question like it would’ve been a couple years ago.

Here is a list of rookie defenders and their playing time with the Steelers in the Tomlin era. (Before you ask, the offense has seen a lot of rookies playing including Darnell Stapleton, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and more)

                                               

                                              2007

PLAYER                                      G        GS      SNAPS

William Gay (CB)                     16           0              95

LaMarr Woodley (LB)            13           0              69

Lawrence Timmons (LB)       16           0             16

Ryan McBean (DE)                   1            0              0

Grant Mason (CB)                    5            0              0

                                                   51           0              186

 

                                             2008

PLAYER                             G             GS          SNAPS

Donovan Woods (LB)       5              0              9

Patrick Bailey (LB)             12           0              9

Scott Paxson (NT)             1              0              0

Roy Lewis (CB)                    1              0              0

Bruce Davis (LB)                 5              0              0

                                            24           0              19

 

                                         2009

PLAYER                           G             GS          SNAPS

Ziggy Hood (DE)              16           0              225

Ryan Mundy (S)               16           0              88

Joe Burnett (CB)              15           0              44

Keenan Lewis (CB)          4            0              0

                                         51           0              357


                                          2010

PLAYER                           G             GS          SNAPS

Jason Worilds (LB)          14           0              43

Stevenson Sylvester (LB) 16       0              37

Steve McLendon (NT)    7            0              22

Crezdon Butler (CB)        4              0              0

                                        41           0              102

 

                                                2011

PLAYER                           G             GS          SNAPS

Cam Heyward (DE )        16           0              198

Cortez Allen (CB)             15           0              60

Chris Carter (LB)              8              0              46

Corbin Bryant (DE)          1              0              5

Curtis Brown (CB)            12           0              0

D. Cromartie-Smith (S)   4              0              0

                                             56           0              309

 

                                            2012

PLAYER                           G             GS          SNAPS

Robert Golden (S)          15           0              46

Adrian Robinson (LB)     12             0              0

Marshall McFadden (LB) 1            0              0

                                             28           0              46

                                             2013

PLAYER                           G             GS          SNAPS

Jarvis Jones (LB)              14           8              636

Vince Williams (LB)        15           11           405

Shamarko Thomas (S)  14           2              193

Terence Garvin (LB)        15           1              33

Brian Arnfelt (DE)              2              0              2

                                             60           22           1,269

* Jarvis Jones started Week 2 in Cincinnati

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May 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Post draft 1-on-1 with Kevin Colbert

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Kevin-ColbertSteelers general manager Kevin Colbert joined me on my TribLive Radio Show on Monday to discuss a number of topics including the speed of the players he drafted all the way to the state of the Penguins. Here’s a sample of what Colbert had to say. To listen to the full interview, check out the podcast. Be sure to tune into the Kaboly Show every Monday at 2 p.m. on TribLiveRadio.com

 

 Q: Have you been able to finally get some rest after a grueling road leading up to the draft?

A: “I have no problem with that. You always have to take care of yourself and sleeping is usually not an issue for me. It was a long process, but it was an enjoyable one. Once you get into it and start moving through it, you keep doing it until you get the job done. That phase of the job is done and now it’s time to find out what we can and cannot do with these guys.”

 

 

Q: If you had to estimate, how many man hours do you and your staff put in over this entire draft process?

A:  “I really don’t think you can. This process actually started last year at our Combine meetings in May and it continued through – the summers are usually slow but it picks up in training camp. It is pretty much a 6-7 days a week job from August through the end of April. You are ready to go and start it all over again. It would be hard to total the hours. Our scouts do a great job and they love doing it. They are passionate about it and, of course, when we plug the coaches into it, they are passionate. I don’t think anybody looks at it as a job more as a labor of love, I guess.”

 

 

Q: You got the fastest linebacker in the draft, the fastest player in the draft and one of the fastest wide receivers in the draft. Is it safe to assume that you wanted to improve your team speed?

A: “As long as they can play. Where we picked those guys, we felt that they can not only run fast, but they are good players. Ryan Shazier was a highly productive linebacker on a really good team. Dri Archer‘s speed is unique, but that is only part of his ability. He was also highly productive, not only as a runner, but as a kick returner and potentially a punt returner. Martavis (Bryant) not only runs fast but he had a ton of plays down the field with a big play offense that featured the best receiver in the draft in Sammy Watkins.”

 

 

Q: All of us experts had you picking a cornerback or a receiver in the first round. Well, we were wrong. I have always been curious if you – even if it is for curiosity sake only – take a look at some of the mock drafts, even if it is only by some of the top guys who do it, just to get a feel?  

A: “You do notice them and you can’t help but to notice the mock drafts because they are on every prominent website that you go to for news. You basically see in any given draft people talking about usually 20-25 guys and there is a lot of air time for that group of players. If you see a name that’s outside of that group – you evaluate them and it’s not like you don’t know about them. But when you see somebody mentioned, those people are getting that information somewhere so maybe there is something to lead you to believe, even if you don’t like him, that somebody else does. That may or may not influence whether you have him available to you when you pick. With this draft as unique as it was with the talent level so deep to you didn’t see people reaching from outside from even our own evaluations. It’s unusual. Teams have their board the way they like it but this draft, I think, had a lot of the same ratings on them because there were so many to choose.”

 

 

 

Q: One of the assistants on Saturday during the media scrum said “there were a lot of guys you liked but all those guys got drafted.” I assume you won’t tell me who specifically, but I would have to assume one was cornerback. Did what maybe Cleveland did and Chicago did right before you force you to switch up?  

A: “As I said even when we did our press conference last Monday, I said that there were 19 guys in this draft that we would be extremely happy to get and Ryan (Shazier) was in that group. There were guys who went ahead of Ryan who were really good players. They all aren’t at 19. Somebody has to be at 1 and somebody has to be at 19. When you pick a guy like Shazier, he was a part of that group. We were extremely excited that he was there but there were other players that we would’ve entertained and maybe we didn’t have an opportunity to pick them. That doesn’t diminish our excitement for Shazier.”

 

 

Q: In today’s NFL, is there a such thing as a Levon Kirkland-type inside linebacker of 290 pounds guy anymore or because of the rule changes of not allowing to hit as much, is it going toward the speedy 230-pound inside guys like Shazier?

A: “The game has changed. The high school game crept into the colleges which crept into the NFL because of the players that are groomed at each level. You have to adjust to it. Football over the last five years in the NFL has become the lateral type game. You almost saw it back in the early 2000s when New England started spreading people out and you saw some different things and you thought that this could be the wave of the future. It certainly has stuck. You have to have people that can make plays laterally not to say that people aren’t going to try to run down your throat if they get mismatches. That lateral speed is really important and that’s why Shazier was really exciting for us to add because he can make those plays laterally. He can get down the field in coverage to some spots where some others couldn’t because of his speed. He can certainly add an inside pass rush with his burst and his ability to find some cracks inside. That’s why we viewed him as a first-round player.”

 

 

Q: I know you are a big Penguins fan so I am going to put you on the spot. What’s going to happen in Game 7?

A: “I think we are going win. To win a game in any professional sport, it’s a difficult task and I am just not talking about the playoffs. You can never take a win for granted because the other team is professionals as well. To win a series, you have to win more games than they do. It’s not easy. I am sure a lot of people are disappointed that there is a Game 7, but it’s not easy to win a game let alone a series when you play another team of professionals. It’s a tall order but  I am sure they are going to be up to it. The Consol better be rocking for these guys because they deserve our support and they are going to get it and we are going to get that win.”

 

 

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May 11, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: (Quickly) grading the Steeler draft

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It wasn’t flashy, but it sure did produce two things — speed and versatility — and it also filled a couple of needs in the process. Saying that, here’s a quick and, as I like to say ‘at first thought’ grades from me on the Steelers 2014 draft (Yeah, I know, it’s 24 hours after the draft.)

 

1st — Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

This just in: The Steelers really needed an inside linebacker and maybe just as much as cornerback and wide receiver. The Steelers didn’t go into the draft with Shazier in mind, but when cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Kyle Fuller were gone as well as wide receiver Odell Beckham, Shazier was the highest rated guy left on the board. He’s fast, he can tackle and he’s a playmaker in a place where there wasn’t much of that last year. Did I mention he was fast?

GRADE: A

 

2nd – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame

If it wasn’t for an injury that made his weight get out of control for a while, Tuitt would’ve been a first-rounder. He’s a perfect 3-4 end with tremendous size and ability to get to the quarterback. And again, it filled a glaring need a position that’s quite important.

GRADE: B+

 

3rd – Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

This pick was kind of curious because the Steelers aren’t in position to pick for luxury, in my opinion, when it comes to the third round. Sure, Archer is fast and could provide a different aspect to the Steelers offense and also help in the return game. But with a team with depth issues, do you really want to use a third-round pick who is going to touch the ball – at most – five times a game? A little too early for my liking.

GRADE: B-

 

4th – Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson

Make no mistake about it, Todd Haley wanted this guy. He actually lobbied for him in the second and third rounds to no avail. What makes Bryant so intriguing is his ability to get deep. It doesn’t take much for a wide receiver to run down the field and catch the ball so he can definitely be used in some packages as a rookie. However, he is somewhat of a project that is going to be a work-in-progress, but in the fourth, it could end up being a steal. What I kept hearing about Bryant is that he has a “tremendous upside.”

GRADE: B+

 

5th – Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona

When you get to the fifth round, you aren’t going to get many sure-fire starters. Richardson is more of a depth guy who might eventually turn into something good. However, he won’t help the Steelers this year at all. But when you come out and say you are happy with your depth at cornerback, I guess you don’t need somebody to step in right away.

GRADE: C

 

5th – Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt

Same thing goes for Johnson as Richardson. At best, this guy is a swing guy. He’s undersized for tackle and hasn’t played the other positions much. However, knowing that he call play all five positions on the offensive line makes his a sensible low-round pick.

GRADE: C

 

6th – Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA

Taking Shazier and having Terrence Garvin, Sean Spence and Vince Williams at inside linebacker now makes this pick curious. He played in the same style of defense at UCLA that he will play with the Steelers, but it’s going to be hard for him to make a splash.

GRADE: C

 

6th – Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee

At 6-7, 356, the man is big and athletic. Maybe too big. When you get to the late rounds, you pick or upside and McCullers has a lot of upside with his size and athleticism. No hard in drafting him and seeing if he can use that size to his advantage in the NFL.

GRADE: B

7th – Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass

I do believe the Steelers have about three of these type tight ends on the roster. Injuries have slowed him, so it’s not a big gamble taking him at the end of the draft.

GRADE: C

 

OVERALL GRADE: B

 

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May 11, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: 6 non-draft questions and 6 non-draft answers by 6 Steelers’ assistants

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ButlerThe Steelers finished up their draft on Saturday and then added nine undrafted free agents to their roster not long after.

While the weekend was focused on the new additions to the Steelers’ roster, it wasn’t void of other information.

If you are not familiar on how the draft process works when it comes to covering it, I’ll map it out for you.

After the pick is announced, the position coach of that draft pick speaks to the media. While the majority of the questions are about that pick, other topics are also covered mostly because none of the coaches have been available to the media since the end of the season.

So, here are some non-draft nuggets that came out of this weekend.

* Dick LeBeau (defensive coordinator)  LeBeau surprised a lot of us when he said that he’s comfortable with the depth at cornerback despite not having much in the way of experience behind Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay.

“I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have and we have more numbers there than people realize. At these other positions, we have people that I at least know about, let’s put it that way. We may have great players in the building already; they just haven’t had the chance to show us that they are great. I guess you can’t take a defensive guy every pick but maybe we’ll get a corner with the next pick.”

 

* John Mitchell (defensive line) – There has been a lot of question surrounding nose tackle Steve McLendon and if he can be an effective player when it comes to playing the position and especially stopping the run.

“I do. Steve was here for a long time. He played behind Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke. He is a guy who made himself and worked real hard. I’m pleased where he is. I’ve watched a lot of tape, reviewing a lot of things from last season and he is a guy who knows what he needs to do, and I think he is going to improve. He is going to get better and better. This was the first time he has played in the NFL as a starter. It’s not easy, and I’m sure he had a lot of weight on his shoulders knowing how Casey and Chris played, and I’m sure he wanted to do well. I told him you can’t be Casey and you can’t be Chris, just be Steve McLendon. I think we are going to see Steve McLendon rather than Steve trying to be Casey or Chris. He has put in the time. He is very diligent about watching tape and being on time. You have to be yourself and not worry about what you can’t do. What he can do is run to the ball. He has to learn to get off blocks and keep his pad level down. He is not going to be as strong as Casey. Chris was very intelligent, and Steve is also. He has to be able to take things from the classroom to the field. If he can be Steve and not Casey or Chris, he will be okay. I’m not worried about him at this time.”

 

* Richard Mann (wide receivers) – We didn’t see much of Markus Wheaton last year, but it appears that the second-year man out of Oregon State will be expected to make great strides this year with the loss of Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders.

“What I found out about Markus last year was that he has good toughness. We all know he hurt his finger and we played him towards the end of the season because we didn’t have anybody else due to injuries. He never complained about it and I know it was hurting, so I found out something about him. I think some of the things that I saw him do in the preseason, up until he hurt that finger against Minnesota over in London, he went downhill a little after that, but up until that point, he was doing very well.”

 

* Carnell Lake (defensive backs) – Like LeBeau, Lake also isn’t too concerned with his defensive backfield despite not getting much help in the draft.

“It’s fortunate that we’ve had some players that we picked up as free agents. Antwon Blake is one, very fast, quick, aggressive corner that I liked coming out of last year. We were fortunate to grab him in free agency, and he’s turned out to be very productive for us especially on special teams. We got Brice McCain in the offseason, who I’ve been working with on the field the last couple of weeks. I’m really impressed with the way he moves. I think these guys are just getting started. They have the ability to cover and stay close to receivers. So for guys that we’ve picked up in free agency that may have been overlooked in the past, I’m pretty excited about. I think we’ve had the ability to plug and play some of these players that we’ve picked up.”

 

* Mike Munchak (offensive line) – Munchak has been on the job for only a couple months, but has gotten a glimpse into what Maurkice Pouncey is all about. Pouncey was lost for the season a dozen plays into the season last year with knee injury.

“He’s doing well. He’s a guy that when you’re as competitive of a player as he is and get hurt in the opener, you can’t wait to play the first game. The biggest, probably hardest part for him is going to be relaxing and realizing we don’t play until September. We’ll have plenty of opportunity to get him ready to play and get his confidence back and all of that stuff that you face coming off of an injury. He looks good and I’m looking forward to going into the next phase with the OTAs in a few weeks, letting him get closer to the game and he’s a guy that I’m looking forward to working with.”

 

* Keith Butler (linebackers) – The Steelers added former player Joey Porter as a defensive assistant during the offseason and Butler said that he will help last year’s first-round pick Jarvis Jones immensely.

“He and Jarvis are probably the same guy. Their style of play, Jarvis might be a little different than Joey, but not much. Joey has always had an attitude when he played and we need some of that. I’ve already told the story of him going out to the bus to try to pull everybody off the bus. I want that type of attitude in that room. Joey, that’s the way he played. A lot of people say that he was a loud mouth and maybe he was but he backed that mess up. If you don’t back it up, it’s hollow. He was a good player for us not only when he was young, but when he got older too. I think he has a passion for coaching. He loves it. He loves to be on the field working with those guys. He has a really good knowledge base to do it.”

 

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May 9, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Not the pick you wanted, but …

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I know what you are thinking because most of us were thinking the same thing when the Steelers used the 15th pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft to take Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Why, oh, why?

Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard – the guy who the Steelers brought in for a visit and showed up in force at the cornerbacks’ Pro Day was there for the taking … and the Steelers passed (and maybe for good reason. He didn’t get drafted until nine picks later).

Now, the Steelers filled a glaring need with the pick of Shazier. The Mack inside linebacker position is in shambles with the team not really being able to rely on Vince Williams or Sean Spence, but wasn’t there a bigger need at cornerback?

That’s surely debatable, to a point.

They do need a young cornerback to be able to replace Ike Taylor next year and they still might get that in the second or third round, so that should take a little sting off the pick.

But when you peel everything away and get passed the shock of the pick (shock because nobody had him on their mock draft), it could end up being a pretty dynamic selection.

He’s fast. He’s experienced. He’s young. And did I mention that he is fast?

When asked what the Steelers clocked him at the draft, Mike Tomlin said “fast.”

Like 4.4 fast. Or 4.36 fast like he ran at his Pro Day.

The Steelers needed a playmaker on defense and Shazier appears to have the talent to be that guy. When you consider you can pair him with another speedster like Lawrence Timmons on the inside and it can prove a lethal combination for the Steelers especially if Jarvis Jones continues to develop and Jason Worilds picks up where he left off.

My one issue is that could you have traded down and still get Shazier at 24 or 25? Sure, but if the Steelers identified that as their guy then go ahead and take him when you can. So for that, it was a good pick.

Now, was it the pick that we all wanted to see?

Well, that’s another story.

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