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March 23, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Mike Tomlin talks ’14 Steelers for the first time

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Mike TomlinBy Alan Robinson

ORLANDO, Fla.—The NFL draft is nearly two months away, minicamp is three months out and training camp is more than four months away. No wonder Steelers coach Mike Tomlin isn’t nearly ready to compare his 2014 team to the one that ended 2013 with six wins in eight games.

Since beating the Browns on Dec. 29 to end up with a second 8-8 record in as many seasons, the Steelers have added Mike Mitchell, Lance Moore and Cam Thomas but lost LaMarr Woodley, Jerricho Cotchery, Al Woods, Larry Foote, Jonathan Dwyer, Emmanuel Sander and Ziggy Hood.

So have they improved themselves?

“I don’t have the answer to that, because we still got a lot of significant stuff to do with the rest of free agency and the draft,” Tomlin said Sunday at the NFL meetings. “We’re talking about probably as many as 10 more people who could be on our football team who aren’t on our team as we sit here today. So it would be very premature of me to measure this group against that last group at this juncture. We are still very much in the process of building for 2014.”

Tomlin talked to Pittsburgh reporters for the first time since the day after the season ended. Tomlin will talk again Tuesday at the owners meetings, this time with national reporters mixed in. Then, his policy has been to not talk again until the draft and the offseason workouts begin.

Here’s what Tomlin had to say about various Steelers issues, and how the offseason has gone to date:

On the offseason moves: ““I think we’ve had some real positive developments thus far. We got a young, talented guy like Mike Mitchell, and Cam Thomas was important to us. Retaining Jason Worilds was important to us. Getting Heath (Miller) and Troy (Polamalu) done from a (contract) extension standpoint was important to us,” Tomlin said. “It’s still ongoing for us. But it’s not that what is going to happen is going to be less significant than the things that I already mentioned, the things that we do moving forward – adding quality depth, insulating us vs. the unforeseen – is a big part of developing the type of team that we need to be.”

Is adding an experienced running back important, given no one on the roster has NFL carries except for Le’Veon Bell? “I felt good about (the meeting with free agent Maurice Jones-Drew). We are open to it (adding an experienced back). I’ll stop short of saying ‘have to,’ but we need to add quality depth to that position, whether it’s through free agency or the draft,” Tomlin said. “Le’Veon Bell is a talented player but a young player. It would be good to get a been-there, done-that type of guy in the room to maybe help him with growth and development. But I don’t view it as a necessity, quite honestly, because Le’Veon is a very grounded and humble young man and is open to getting better, and is a good listener.”

Was the move from the right side to the left side exactly what Jason Worilds needed to become the pass rusher the Steelers long anticipated he could be? “I don’t know that (Worilds) was any different,” Tomlin said. “I just think the animal that he faces is a different animal. That right tackle is a little different animal than the left tackle. I think if you’re really looking for differences in performance or highlighting differences in performance, the true answer might be there as opposed to what Jason is doing. Although, I will acknowledge that Jason has continued to improve since we’ve had him, and he has grown both on the field and off. Obviously, we like that growth and development.”

Can Worilds get even better? “We expect Worilds to grow. We expect Lawrence Timmons to grow. We expect Jarvis Jones to grow,” Tomlin said. “Even though you lose some veteran leadership and experience with the loss of (Woodley and Foote), and that’s significant, but at the same time, I think it is important that we all recognize and state we don’t expect those who remain to remain the same. We expect them to continue to grow on and off the field.”

What might the Steelers do during the draft? “I really just think it depends on how the rest of free agency shapes up. We have things that we feel we need to get done to insulate ourselves on both sides of the ball, and in the kicking game,” Tomlin said. “And what we don’t get done in free agency, we intend to finish off in the draft.”

This is Tomlin’s first year on the NFL Competition Committee, which largely shapes rule changes and dictates how the game should be played. He had a committee meeting Sunday and will have another one Monday, but the Orlando trip isn’t all business for him. He also attended the Pitt-Florida NCAA tournament Round of 32 game Saturday.

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March 21, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Rooney believes NFL office already involved in replays

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Art Rooney IIBy Alan Robinson

Steelers president Art Rooney II knows exactly what he wants to see next season: Better officiating.

Better officiating, as you remember, might have gotten the Steelers into the playoffs. The NFL acknowledged that an illegal formation penalty should have been called on the San Diego Chargers on the missed 41-yard field goal by Ryan Succop of the Chiefs that, if it had been good, would have sent the Steelers to the playoffs.

That final-day-of-the-season play occurred nearly three months ago, and some Steelers fans still haven’t gotten over how a field goal that is successfully converted in the NFL about 90 percent of the time these days didn’t go through.

But as he heads off to the owners meetings at the plush Ritz-Carlton resort in Orlando this weekend, Rooney also knows what he doesn’t want to see during the 2014 season: Too much time spent by the referees under the instant replay hood.

Rooney isn’t sure how the NFL will get there, but all he knows is he wants the level of officiating to be improved — by whatever means — but not at the price of extending games.

So how can the NFL improve the officiating, and the replay process, without further spilling over into “60 Minutes?”

“That’s a key question. That to me is one of the main things, we don’t want a longer game,” Rooney said. “We don’t want it to take longer for replay. The question of having it go to the league office, that would be one of my questions about that, and I think that’s one of the reasons they didn’t want to rush into making a decision this year. Again, our goal is to get it right, not necessarily to have more replays or more delays in the game.”

The NFL office must agree with Rooney. According to NFL Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay, “You’re going to see a real emphasis on on-field officiating and trying to be the best we can be and trying to make sure there is the necessary (mechanism to do so).”

Among the proposals that will be taken up in Orlando are these:

– Any officiating call can be challenged, not just those currently specified.

– Personal foul penalties can be reviewed.

– Instant replay should be expanded to include all types of change-of-possession plays, such as the one on Dec. 22 in which the Steelers blocked a Packers field goal, yet Green Bay ended up with the ball and a first down.

– Add additional cameras on the field to make sure that all angles of a play are covered, not just those available on a TV Network’s telecast. (Note the Patriots are the team proposing there be more cameras in stadiums.)

– The referee can consult with the league office in New York before ruling on a replay — something that Rooney believes already occurs. This would be a slightly different version of the NHL replay system, in which all calls are reviewed and either upheld or reversed via centralized replay.

– The instant replay system can be used to correct an officiating error.

Rooney doesn’t believe there will be radical changes adopted immediately, but he does expect some modification that will allow the league — probably, officiating chief Dean Blandino — to have more input into calls.

“Number one, I think that we need to review replay in general and from what I understand, the Competition Committee did spend a lot of time on it this year. As I understand it, they felt like it requires more study than just saying, “We’re going to make some changes this year.” I really think their attitude is that it needs a little longer term than just making a change at this meeting,” Rooney said.

“I think there will be a lot of discussion about it. I think the whole question of should we make a change in terms of the referee actually being the one that makes the decision, I think there is going to be a lot of discussion about that and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a change in that at some point, probably not this year, but at some point.”

Still, it appears the Steelers are going to need further convincing that any of the proposals will make a difference before they vote favorably, except for that allowing the referee to consult with the league. Any such adoption requires a favorable vote from at least 24 of the 32 teams.

“I think everybody feels like we can do better than what we have now in terms of the time it takes. I don’t know that I favor any of the proposals that are on the table today,” Rooney said. “There is no objection to the one about allowing the referee to consult with the league office during the replay. Frankly, I think that happens anyway. So, there is no objection to that. I think in terms of, let’s say anything more ambitious than that, I think it’s going to be studied over the next year. ”

Rooney’s comment is interesting because the league has never said that it does consult with referees as they review replays.

“I’ve heard that. It’s my sense that happens, yes,” Rooney said. “But again, the idea of having replay either go to the league office for final decision or go upstairs for final decision, I think that’s all fair game for discussion and I think that is sort of under consideration. In terms of this year, I think they didn’t want to rush into that. They really want to kind of take a little longer look at how to address that. I think it’s going to be something that they take another year to look at.”

Right about now, the Steelers probably wish the NFL had rushed into making changes in advance of the 2013 season. They might have ended up making the playoffs if it had happened.

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March 18, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Local resident applies for Steelers job — and you know him

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James Harrison, Ben RoethlisbergerBy Alan Robinson

The Steelers aren’t placing want ads for defensive players, but a local resident would like to apply for a job as an outside linebacker.

He has some experience, after all. He’s a five-time Pro Bowl player, and a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. And he would be affordable.

He’s James Harrison.

Harrison, cut recently after one season with the Bengals, is making it clear he would like to play for the Steelers again. He appeared recently at a function for Brett Keisel, even while still under contract to the Bengals, and he told the NFL Network’s NFL Total Access show where he would like to end his career.

Pittsburgh, of course.

“Everybody knows that,” Harrison said. “I’ve got two (Super Bowl) rings and I’ve got a lot of relationships, teammates, former teammates that are still good friends.”

Harrison will be 36 in less than two months, but he thinks he’s still got enough left to play effectively. He said he’s not close to retiring and — not surprisingly for a man known for his demanding training regimen –he wants to “go until the wheels fall off.”

Harrison was let go by the Steelers a year ago when the two sides couldn’t agree on a pay cut. Harrison, a trademark 3-4 linebacker, played out of position in Cincinnati’s 4-3 defense, but he also played effectively at times.

He was the sixth highest-ranked player on Cincinnati’s defense, which ranked No. 3 in the NFL, behind only Seattle and Carolina and was the AFC’s top-ranked unit.

Harrison played 383 snaps, or about 37 percent of all those played by the Bengals defense. He graded out at a plus-8.4 in Pro Football Focus’ player grades, including an above-average 10.7 as a run defender. He was minus-3.0 as a pass rusher.

Harrison’s final stats line: two sacks, three QB hits, 14 QB hurries, 25 tackles and only three missed tackles.

So would he be an asset to a Steelers defense that is being made over to get younger?

With LaMarr Woodley gone, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones seem certain to be the starters, with only the ineffective-to-date Chris Carter as an experienced backup.

Given his resume, and the likelihood he would likely accept a salary much lower than he would have agreed to play for a year ago, Harrison would seem to be an option the Steelers might want to consider.

Unlike most players brought in from another team, Harrison certainly wouldn’t need much time to learn Dick LeBeau’s defense.

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March 16, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers’ Cotchery to visit Carolina

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Jerricho CotcheryTaking part in the ‘Steelers Cruise’ for the past week has put Jerricho Cotchery’s free agency period on hold, but that will change this week.

Cotchery will visit wide-receiver-needy Carolina on Monday according to league sources.

Carolina recently released veteran Steve Smith (who signed with Baltimore) and lost Brandon LaFell to the Patriots, Ted Ginn to the Cardinals and Domenik Hixon to the Bears via free agency. One of the most experienced receivers left on the roster is Valley graduate Toney Clemons, who has three career catches. Clemons was drafted by the Steelers in 2012.

Cotchery went to college at nearby North Carolina State.

Two others teams besides the Steelers and Panthers have shown interest in the 31-year-old Cotchery, who had a career high 10 touchdowns last year for the Steelers.

The Steelers have had preliminary talks with Cotchery, but no deal is imminent. Cotchery did say he wanted to return to the Steelers after the season, but could make a decent salary if he signs with the Panthers.

The Steelers are also low on experienced receivers as they lost Emmanuel Sanders to Denver on Sunday. It was the second consecutive year the Steelers lost a receiver to free agency — Mike Wallace signed with the Dolphins last year. Behind Antonio Brown, Steelers’ receivers have eight career receptions – six by Markus Wheaton and two by Derek Moye.

According to numbers released by the NFLPA, the Steelers have approximately $3.5 million cap space, which would be plenty to lock up Cotchery.

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March 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers not at a loss at all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So settle down. It’s not that bad.

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March 6, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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

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polamaluBy Alan Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is he worth the money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, it appears much more likely that he will.

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March 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Why did Worilds accept transition tag so soon?

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

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

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

Advantage: Worilds.

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

Why you ask?

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

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

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

It was truly as simple as that.

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

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

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

That’s why Worilds accepted the transition tender quickly.

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

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

And that’s the Steelers ultimate plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And no, Woodley won’t take a pay cut.

Would you?

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March 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, Taylor’s effectiveness did decline some.

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

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

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

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

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February 22, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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

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Khalil Mack

By Alan Robinson

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

Jadeveon Clowney? Johnny Manziel? Even Blake Bortles?

How about … Khalil Mack?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayock also called Mack “a difference maker.”

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

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

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

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

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February 21, 2014
by Alan Robinson


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Figure Skating Coach ‘Outs’ Unidentified NFL Players in Article

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Coach Doug Mattis (via Twitter)

By Alan Robinson

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

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

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

Take a few moments to re-read that sentence.

But, first, some background.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Football? He’s not so sure.

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

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

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

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

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