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July 30, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: ‘Open competition’ at punter between Berry, Monday

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Monday

Can Will Monday continue the Steelers’ punting carousel? (photo courtesy Duke’s official athletics website)

 

 

 

It’s one of my favorite (if particularly overly trivial) phenomenons in recent Steelers’ history: over the past decade, they simply can’t seem to settle on a punter.

 

From Daniel Sepulveda to Jordan Berry and everywhere in between (Mitch Berger, Paul Ernster, Jeremy Kapinos, Drew Butler, Zoltan Mesko, Matt McBriar and Brad Wing, if you’re scoring at home), Mike Tomlin has blown through punters like no one else in the league since he took over as Steelers coach in 2007.

 

No man has been the Steelers punter for more than 28 consecutive games in the Tomlin era. Berry would need to last until Week 13 of this season (Dec. 11 at Buffalo) to snap that streak.

 

But will he?

 

Not if Will Monday has anything to say about it.

 

Monday was one of the top punters available for the draft this spring. A four-year punter at Duke, he was all-ACC as a freshman after leading the conference in gross average. He was first- second- or third-team ACC each season he competed in college.

 

Monday was rated among the top five punters coming out this year by NFL.com. Most of the other draft services – at least the ones that bother to rate specialists – agreed.

 

But Monday was not one of the three punters who were selected (Drew Kaser, Lac Edwards and Riley Dixon were), meaning he had a decision to quickly make as the NFL’s Annual Selection Meeting was wrapping up late on the final Saturday of April.

 

“The Steelers started contacting me toward the end of the draft, and I felt like it was the best opportunity from what I’d been hearing so far,” Monday told me on Friday before the first training-camp team practice.

“Who doesn’t want to come to a franchise like this? It’s an unbelievable franchise with a good opportunity to compete and have an open competition, so I thought it was the best opportunity for me, and that’s the one I went with.”

 

Notice Monday said “open competition” – I doubled back with him, and he confirmed that’s what the team told him. [I know, I know, of course; what else would they say? However, there have been many instances – often at kicker or long snapper with the Steelers because of circumstance, but sometimes at punter, too – in which a guy was brought in just as a proverbial “spare leg” to use in practices and preseason games. Everyone knows he has no chance to make the team (barring injury) and unseat a capable veteran.]

 

That’s not the case here – and not just because the strong-legged Monday is a legitimate NFL prospect. Berry was OK during his first NFL season in 2015, but coaches would like him to be more consistent. After being in a similar position as Monday last summer (he beat out incumbent Wing during camp), Berry’s performance as the Steelers’ only punter resulted in pedestrian league rankings in gross punting average (third-to-last at 42.6) and net average (24th at 39.1).

 

If Berry doesn’t have a strong camp and Monday does, could it be that the Steelers turn to their 10th punter in Tomlin’s 10 seasons? Could it really be the 12th time the job has switched hands (counting the three times Sepulveda lost it because of injury)?

 

Could it be that for the fourth time in five years the Steelers incumbent punter was beaten out in camp? And the fifth camp in a row breaks with a change at the position?

 

“The way it’s been said to me is it’s an open competition,” Monday said. “They don’t bring anybody here unless they have a legitimate chance to make the roster, so that’s kind of how I’m treating it: the best man is gonna get the job. So it’s my job to go out here and do my best and continue improving every day and take advantage of every opportunity that I have.”

 

Monday and Berry were booming high punts to each other – under the watchful eye of special teams coordinator Danny Smith and the proverbial “eye in the sky” camera, of course, too – on the second field during Friday’s inaugural training camp practice.

 

Who was kicking farther? Better? Higher with more hang time?

 

Cumon, I’m a reporter – but I’m not skilled or well-versed enough in punting to evaluate it (not to mention, with all due respect to the position, I had other priorities to track in the precious time we have to watch practices at St. Vincent). So, all I can say in my professional opinion is that both men indeed kicked the ball very, very high and very, very far.

 

Monday confirmed that whoever is the punter will also be the holder and that neither man has been asked to give it a crack on kickoffs. Monday also noted that he hasn’t too often had to have to fight for his position – he “started” for four years at Duke after accepting a scholarship from the school late in his junior year of high school.

 

“It’s different being in a competition – it’s been a long time, five years ago when I was a redshirt,” Monday said. “So for me to kind of get back into the swing of things, I used minicamp and used OTAs to get back into that. Now, it’s all or nothing. I’ve got have that mindset of winning the job.”

 

 

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July 30, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Q&A with Ben Roethlisberger

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Ben Roethlisberer Photo by Chaz Palla

Ben Roethlisberer
Photo by Chaz Palla

I talked to Ben Roethlisberger on Friday for about 10 minutes deep inside the bowels of St. Benedict Hall on the campus of St. Vincent College.

I posted a couple stories, but I figured to throw out the entire Q&A so you can read the entire conversation.

Enjoy!

Kaboly

***

KABOLY: I know you had injuries to the your foot, knee and shoulder last year. How are you feeling this year?

ROETHLISBERGER: “It’s amazing when people ask how I feel. To miss the game that I missed last year, which was more than I missed in a long time, but I feel great. It doesn’t make much sense that I would feel as good as I do with the injuries. Everything healed up pretty well. We took the right amount of time. The doctors, the trainers really helped. I feel really, really good.”

***

KABOLY: You’ve mentioned that your shoulder will eventually need some work done?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I think every thrower potentially – that is what Dr. (James) Bradley tells me. My dad was a college quarterback and his shoulder … anybody that throws … I think we did a number count and I throw about 500-700 footballs a day. That’s a lot of throws. Anybody who does that repeatedly with their arm is going to need something. The way it feels now, it feels great. I hope I never need shoulder surgery, but if I do I hope it will be way down the road.”

***

KABOLY: It seems like your team as a whole took that playoff loss to the Broncos extremely hard last year. Why was that one more painful than any other playoff loss?

ROETHLISBERGER: “They are all pretty painful. Maybe because what we overcame. We overcame so much with all the injuries and all the key players being out whether it was that season or that game. We felt that we were a team that was hot at the right time. We felt that we were a good football team at the right time. We won that Cincinnati, as crazy as that game was. You just kind of felt like that it was our year. When you lose a close a game like that, you feel like you could have had it or should’ve had it without AB, without (DeAngelo Williams) and all those guys who didn’t play. To lose it, it stings.

***

KABOLY: You obviously don’t have a decade left in your career and that window to winning a title my be as open this year as much as it ever had. How much does it upset you that there are avoidable distractions swirling around the team?

ROETHLISBERGER: “Are you talking about Le’Veon?

KABOLY: And Martavis.

ROETHLISBERGER: “The Martavis thing, we all kind of moved past that because we had to. It was a while ago. There is not much to do about that. The Le’Veon thing, there are so many questions still. You don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know what’s going on. We want him out there. We are hoping and praying to be out there because of who he is and what he is to this offense. I guess we will cross that bridge officially when we find out what’s going to happen. I don’t think anybody is diving in to it one way or another right because of the questions.

***

KABOLY: Do you feel the need to address the team about either Bell or Bryant?

ROETHLISBERGER “I always address the team and that’s kind of been part of my speech or whatever you want to call it. Guys, we need to be a selfless team, a selfless offense. And an offense that supports each other and that comes with being late to meeting, late to a walk-through. It is hurting more than just you, it is hurting us all. Let’s put everything behind us and dive into what is important no which is being the best offensive team we can be.”

***

KABOLY: Do you relish this opportunity of being a leader when you have distractions?

ROETHLISBERGER: “It is more opportunity for me to do it. Pull guys aside like a big brother and talk. More importantly, it is a great opportunity for the next guys – the Pounceys, the Ramon Fosters – kind of let them handle some of it too. To let them evolve as leaders of this team is fun for me too.”

***

KABOLY: Do you ever sit and plan something you want to say to a player or how you might want to go about it?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I kind of let it happen. I don’t put together a speech in my mind when I talk to the team. I kind of just let whatever comes out, comes out.”

***

KABOLY: Do you think there is an issue with marijuana on this team or around the league?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I don’t know. I don’t think so. I can only speak for myself and I know I don’t do it. I don’t even know what’s going on in society itself. Isn’t legal in some places and not others? It’ a societal thing. I don’t think there is an issue. I know for me I am not worried about failing a drug test.”

***

KABOLY: Do you familiarize yourself with the drug test procedures?

ROETHLISBERGER: “No, whether it is the street drugs or the PEDs, I know that I don’t put anything in my body to even risk it. They call me or text me or show up with the thing in your locker and say I have to go pee, the only thing I worry about is when was the last time I went because I have go again.”

***

KABOLY: What happens if somebody else gets busted down the road?

ROETHLISBERGER “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. It is always disappointing if that happens down the road and gets busted. But let’s hope it doesn’t happen and we don’t have to talk about it.”

***

KABOLY: If Bell is out along with Bryant, how much does this hinder your offense?

ROETHLISBERGER: “There are going to have to be guys who step up for Martavis (Bryant). That’s a no-brainer. He brought to the table was unbelievable with his speed, size and that opened up AB. We need Sammie Coates to step up, (Darrius Heyward-Bey) to step up, and Markus Wheaton to step up and carry that load. That’s a lot of touchdowns gone, yards and big plays. We will make it it happen. We have guys who are able to step up. Let’s not jump to any conclusions with Le’Veon yet.”

***

KABOLY: Did it hurt you personally with Martavis because you seemed to have taken him under you wing.

ROETHLISBERGER: “That’s what kind of hurt and what stung the most. Talking to him all the time and trying to be a big brother to him and show him a lot of love and challenge when need be. He rose to the challenge last year. It hurt and was disappointing.”

***

KABOLY: You always say that if you think about the end of your career that you give disservice to your current job. Do you ever allow yourself to think about the end?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I feel really good, though. If I felt that my arm wasn’t as strong or I couldn’t avoid pressure that it would bring me down and I would start to say that I don’t have much left. But I don’t feel that way right now. I feel that my arm is very strong and I feel healthy. So, I really don’t see an end. I don’t see that right now.”

***

KABOLY: Do you think you will realize when the end is here?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I really do. I don’t see me a guy who hangs around longer. I don’t ever want to be a backup. I am not going to stay for that. I think I will know when it is time.”

***

KABOLY: Does the Patriots losing Brady for four games mean anything to you?

ROETHLISBERGER: “We want to get to the AFC championship game and want it to be here anyway. That’s our goal. Our goal is the Super Bowl and we want it to go through Heinz Field. Whether Brady is playing or not, that’s our goal. We cannot concern ourselves around other teams and players around the league. We have to worry about Pittsburgh Steelers.”

***

KABOLY: What do you think about the Steelers rivalry with the Bengals.?

ROETHLISBERGER: “I want to be a good, clean rivalry. I don’t want it to be a rivalry where people are tuning in to see a fight, to see penalties. Once I first got here we had the Steelers/Ravens rivalry. You had Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata and Joey Porter and Jerome Bettis. (Those games were as) a physical as a rivalry and physical as a football game that you would ever see. Everybody knew that. But it was never dirty. There may have been some pushing and shoving but that’s just guys. You never worried about cheap and dirty type stuff. I want the Cincinnati rivalry to be the same tough and physical rival that people want to see tough, physical football. You don’t want to see cheap and dirty. I don’t want it get to that.”

***

KABOLY: Did it get out of control last year?

ROETHLISBERGER “I think it can get out of control and it did at times. I am out there and you see all the stuff going on under the piles. It is one thing to talk a little trash and another thing to say some of things that are being said. The referees have to keep it under control but we as players have to be better and go play on both sides.”

-30-

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July 24, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Tomlin wanted to know offense as well as defense

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin -- Chaz Palla photo

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin — Chaz Palla photo

Some things you just can’t fit into a story — that’s the reality of this business.

Simply put, it just doesn’t make the cut.

I wrote a piece Sunday about Mike Tomlin heading into his 10th year as Steelers coach and how rare of a feat that has been in the NFL.

Originally, I was planning to include a part about how Tomlin has turned himself into a complete coach and that entailed him throwing himself headfirst into the offense side of the ball (remember, he was a defensive backs coach at Tampa Bay and defensive coordinator at Minnesota before coming to the Steelers) to learn the game at professional level.

I wrote it but yanked it at the last second.

However, that doesn’t mean I should waste it, right?

So, here’s it is in its entirety before it was decided to get lopped on the , er, Clark Building floor?

It’s nothing Earth shattering, but it is kind of interesting.

Enjoy!

LEARNING GAME

A key to Tomlin’s success has been knowing every aspect of the game whether it is offense, defense or special teams.

Tomlin played wide receiver at William & Mary and spent the majority of his coaching career on the defensive side of ball as the secondary coach with the Buccaneers and a defensive coordinator with the Vikings.

When he was hired by the Steelers, he jumped in head first in learning the offensive side of ball from a coaching standpoint as he had on defense.

It was something that was immediately noticed by now defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who coached with Tomlin in Memphis and Arkansas State.

He brings an element to game-planning that maybe he didn’t have before he was a head coach,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “Since he’s become head coach his offensive knowledge – which was already extensive because he played wide receiver but he knows more about pass protections and what they want to do and what offenses don’t like to see. He brings that to the table and it helps a lot.”

Tomlin wanted to learn offense better, according to Ben Roethlisberger. He learned the hand signals, what Roethlisberger was thinking and why the offensive coordinator was calling what he was calling.

Early on, to me, he seemed like a student who wanted to learn,” Roethlisberger said. “Why are we doing this? Why are we calling this? Why are we signaling this? Now, he kind of takes pride in saying ‘I knew that or saw that’ and if not, he comes and asks. Sometimes it is funny because it almost seems like he is trying too hard and we have fun with it.”

Tomlin has a different take on it. He said there was no concise effort him learning offense to put him on par with his defensive knowledge.

What I know and what I acknowledge that I know are probably two different things,” Tomlin said.

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July 14, 2016
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Former Steelers WR Hines Ward confused by Hall of Fame criteria

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Photo by Chaz Palla

HINES WARD — Photo by Chaz Palla

If you think it is confusing to figure out what constitutes a Hall of Fame player in the NFL, you aren’t alone.

Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward really has no clue either, which has to be kind of nerve-racking, especially for somebody who is in his first year of eligibility for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 2016 Hall of Fame induction ceremony is a little more than a month away. After that, all attention will be turned to the 2017 class where, five years ago, Ward seemed like a slam-dunk first-ballot guy.

Now, who knows? He sure doesn’t.

I don’t know because I don’t know what the criteria is,” Ward told the Tribune-Review on Wednesday. “Is it stats? My stats are OK. Is it MVPs? I got a Super Bowl MVP. I got two Super Bowl rings. I really don’t know the criteria. I don’t know what is really expected to get in.”

So, Ward isn’t going to sweat it. Ward watched good friend Jerome Bettis wait to wait five years before finally getting in. Former Steelers linebacker Kevin Green had to wait more than a decade before getting the nod this year.

I started in this game as a third-round pick, a special teams guy and I ended up playing 14 years,” Ward said. “If it happens it will be a cherry on top of an amazing career if not I am not going to be disappointed.”

Ward’s 14-year career with the Steelers can be matched up against nearly any other receiver who has been previously inducted, including the one who were voted in the past four years – Cris Carter, Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison. Some may say that he was a better football player than any of the four.

Ward finished with 1,000 career catches for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns. He was Super Bowl XL MVP, helped the Steelers to championships in 2005 and 2008 and was a four-time Pro Bowler.

But, is that good enough now?

Now, guys have a 140 catches a season,” Ward said. “ A 1,000 catches in a career is kind of like nothing now.”

The number of 1,000-catch guys have nearly doubled in five years. Six players went over 1,000 receptions since Ward retired – Tony Gonzalez, Reggie Wayne, Andre Johnson, Jason Witten, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Three of those came last year.

Steve Smith will likely reach 1,000 catches this year. Brandon Marshall in 2017, but after that the next closest who has a realistic show of reaching 1,000 receptions is Antonio Brown, who has 526.

Ward’s biggest competition will be Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Owens was a finalist last year, but his polarizing personality could hurt him.

LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Brian Dawkins are the best players who are eligible for the first time in 2017. The final five eliminated in 2016 were QB Kurt Warner, T Joe Jacoby, RB Terrell Davis, S John Lynch, and coach Don Coryell.

Ward’s ability to adapt to different quarterbacks over his career and spending half of his years on a run-first offense will hurt him. However, him being one of the best blocking receivers ever to play the game is hard to overlook.

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June 21, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Daryl Richardson seeks chance, because anything can happen – and has with the Steelers at running back in recent years

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Richardson

 

While the competition for the third- or fourth-string running back might not rank very highly on the list of Steelers storylines or position battles to watch during training camp, you only have to look at last season to see an example of what it can mean.

 

The Steelers entered the calendar year with their fourth and fifth featured backs of the season in Ben Tate and Josh Harris. As you might recall, that didn’t go too well with those two as their co-starters for a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

 

Counting those two and roster holdovers Le’Veon Bell and Dri Archer, the Steelers shuttled 14** running backs in and out during 2015.

 

And it was the 12th such man – Fitzgerald Toussaint – who was their featured back in the postseason.

 

In other words, anything can happen – and for the Steelers, HAS happened.

 

This is all just a longwindedly nice way of saying that despite his status as roster afterthought and buried deep down the running back depth chart, who knows what could happen in a Steelers uniform for Daryl Richardson?

 

“You’ve got to make that first impression, let them know that you want to be here, that you take it seriously,” Richardson said in the Steelers locker room after a minicamp practice last week. “It’s a blessing to be here, so just try to take advantage of it each day.

 

“You gottta be ready whenever they call your name and tell you to be ready. That’s what I’m preparing myself for now, so I can be ready when that day comes.”

 

Richardson has beaten long odds before in the NFL. In 2012, he was a seventh-round selection of the St. Louis Rams out of tiny Abilene Christian. Taken 202 picks prior to Richardson in that same draft by the same team was a player from a BCS conference who’d recently been named MVP of the Senior Bowl (Isaiah Pead).

 

Richardson won the No. 2 runner’s job behind future Hall of Famer Steven Jackson, by far out-producing Pead.

 

Pead, incidentally, was one of those 14 running backs the Steelers had last season. He didn’t last long, and wasn’t brought back – but here Richardson is on the roster with training camp five weeks away.

 

The Steelers had brought Richardson in late last season for a workout, and the team intended to sign him. But an injury at another position that ensuing Sunday forced their hand in a roster move, and the trickle-down effect left them with no room for Richardson. Still, the organization let Richardson know it liked him and that they would have a spot for him at some point.

 

Screenshot_2016-06-21-13-24-44-2

Richardson’s career NFL statistics (screenshot from NFL.com — note “LA” was “St. Louis then)

“I ended up going to the Cleveland Browns (before Week 14) to finish the season there,” Richardson said. “And I didn’t want to sign back with Cleveland, and (the Steelers) were men of their word and they brought me back.

 

“This was a team that I wanted to go to; I heard a lot of great things about this organization. I’m just blessed to be here.”

 

Richardson doesn’t have an NFL carry since 2013 and doesn’t have an NFL touchdown. He’s shown an ability to catch balls out of the backfield having 38 receptions on 4 targets over 24 games and limited snaps.

 

“You’ve got to do it all – you’ve got to catch balls, block, all-around,” Richardson said.

 

Richardson, who had speed tested in the mid 4.4s when he was coming out of college four years ago, will need to find a niche if he’s going to stick around long.

 

“I’d do anything they tell me to do,” he said, ‘But right now my key thing is probably special teams right now.”

 

With Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Toussaint clearly ahead of him – and Cameron Stingily (who was impressing the Steelers in camp last season before a significant injury) and rookie Brandon Brown-Dukes also to contend with – the odds are against Richardson, of course.

 

But they were against him, too, as a rookie in St. Louis four years ago. And they were against the likes of Toussaint and Harris to be thrust into big roles at important times in recent years for the Steelers.

 

“All I can do is play fast, play like I can play,” Richardson said. “If I let them know I’m serious and let them know that I want to be here and let them know I’ll do whatever it takes, that’s all I can do.”

 

 

**- List of running backs on the Steelers roster during calendar 2015: Holdovers Le’Veon Bell, Dri Archer, Josh Harris, Ben Tate (who was not retained), and newcomers DeAngelo Williams, Ross Scheuerman, Cameron Stingily, Jawon Chisholm, Braylon Heard, Jordan Todman, Dominique Brown, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Isaiah Pead and Rajion Neal

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June 14, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: James Harrison won’t let his son play tackle football ‘unless I can be there everyday’

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James Harrison can be prickly at times when talking to the media. But others, he’s warm and gracious – at least, when it’s regarding a question he respects. And he’s always honest and not afraid to speak his mind, of course.

92

Before the Steelers’ first practice of their three-day minicamp Tuesday, Harrison was in one of his relaxed and gregarious moods. As such, he opened up in a number of topics.

 

 

Let’s start with his son, with whom he’s created headlines in the past for his parenting techniques. Tuesday, Harrison was asked if James III was playing midget football. We’ll pick up the conversation there:

“He’s playing flag football.”

 

Is he allowed to play tackle football?

“If he wants to play, he can play. Only thing I want him to do is bring me home Straight A’s.”

 

Is he doing that?

“They ain’t getting grades yet! Isn’t that crazy?!”

 

What do you mean?

“They don’t get grades until third grade at Winchester Thurston.”

 

Do they give trophies?

“No. they do the standardized testing stuff, all that, and he tested gifted in a couple things, so I’ll say it’s money well-spent (at private school Winchester Thurston).”

 

Will your son play tackle or flag football?

“Whatever he wants to play. He wants to start playing tackle, but to be honest I’m not comfortable with it unless I can be there every day, so once it gets to a point where I can be there everyday I’ll let him play some tackle football.”

 

Just because of technique?

“I want him to learn it properly; I don’t want him to go to a program where they just got the kids doing Oklahoma drills and stuff like that… banging their heads for no reason.”

 

 

 

Another interesting back-and-forth with media concerned Harrison’s thoughts on the NFL’s drug-testing policy. Again, I’ll just provide the conversation, beginning with his general thoughts about the testing he and his colleagues endure:

“I like it. I think they need to be doing more of it. I just think they need to take blood – they’re doing that, too, they’re taking blood. They’re doing all that; I like that.”

 

Do you feel they are targeting you with frequent tests?

“They can test you up to 20 or 30 times in an offseason. I just find it funny… the timing.”

 

What if you’re on vacation?

“They come to you. They come to you. I was at my Hall of Fame induction for college, they came there. (Shoot), they came to my mom’s house; they’ll come to wherever you’re at.”

 

On if the NFL discussed or investigated anything with him concerning (or as a result from) a since-(somewhat) discredited December report from Al Jazeera:

“I give that no play. Next.”

 

 

 

 

Other tidbits from Harrison, in addition to above and what was in our print product today:

 

—Defensive teammates Ryan Shazier, Mike Mitchell, Stephon Tuitt and Robert Golden joined him for his annual winter workouts in Arizona.

 

—Told that there have been linebackers who played into their 40s in the NFL, the 38-year-old said, “I don’t know if I want to go that far – even though it’s only a couple years away. I don’t know. I can’t answer those questions right now because I feel good.”

 

—On if there’s any statistical milestones he’d like to hit: “I need another ring, that’s about it. That’s the only number I care about.”

 

 

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June 9, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Carnell Lake downplays – but doesn’t back off – his comments on Brandon Boykin

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Brandon Boykin can’t get a job in the NFL, and he’s blaming his former position coach.

 

For the first time Thursday, Carnell Lake gave some on-the-record comments to the media on the matter.

 BB

Lake, the Steelers’ secondary coach, was taking part in the Steelers’ fantasy camp at St. Vincent College last week when he told some of the camp’s participants that Boykin has a degenerative hip condition that has apparently resulted in a rapid stalling of his career.

 

Boykin, who was cut by the Carolina Panthers last month not long after settling for a one-year, minimum-salary deal from them, had workouts with the Atlanta Falcons and Dallas Cowboys since. After the latter, he indicated to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Lake is spreading “rumors.”

 

Lake was asked to respond today: “Well, I’m going to leave it like I left it. I’m going to leave all that at the Fantasy football camp and you guys can take it and go with it and do what you want with it. But it was what it was.”

 CL

If that seems like a polite deferral to Boykin – but not anything close to a denial of what he said – from Lake, that’s the way I took it, too.

 

Asked again about it later, Lake took a similar tact: “I made some comments that I had at fantasy camp and I’m not going to go back on that. I wish Boykin all the best; he helped us when we needed him, and I wish him the best in his career.”

 

 

 

 

Because of, well, some other sports-related things going on around town this week , space is limited in the print edition for such trivialities such as OTAs news.

 

But that’s why we have The Steel Mill. As such, here are some other nuggets from Lake’s media scrum following the final session of offseason team activities:

 

 

*On if the secondary will be improved this year: “We’re counting on that.”

Why? “One, we need to be. We want to keep improving on the foundation that we’ve laid. We’ve had some guys who were helping us early last year, guys like Ross Cockrell who have a second year with us and they had some good experience playing. We’re going to need that. They’ve got to help bring along the younger guys that are coming in, Artie Burns and Sean Davis, and so that’s why I am counting on us having a better year.”

 

*On Shamarko Thomas: “I think he’s improving; I really do. I think he’s improving form the neck up. He’s more comfortable after another year under his belt and learning the system. And if you guys are watching today, he made some play out here today, and that’s a good sign. To me, it shows that he’s growing and developing as a player.”

 

*On giving rookie safety Sean Davis reps at the nickel cornerback position: “I like having Sean work at the nickel because the nickel in our defense does a lot of very similar things to what a strong safety does, and he’s just really doing a safety work-slash-corner work on third down and so the more he understands that in-the-box, nickel concept, the more it’s going to help him at safety.”

 

 

And this from outside linebackers coach Joey Porter

 

* On 38-year-old James Harrison coming back for another season: “Having James is always good having him in the room because he’s such a veteran, showing the young guys what we expect and how we play ball around here. So whenever we have a guy like this who has put in a lot of work for Pittsburgh it’s a good thing.”

 

* On the progress of last year’s first-round pick, Bud Dupree: “it’s funny because I catch him out there helping the young guys and new guys to out defense and he was like, ‘Man,. I never thought I’d be able to help somebody.’ But that should tell you how far he’s come with the defense that he feels comfortable enough to get the other guys some knowledge of the game and that’s a beautiful thing that shows his growth.”

 

 

And from defensive coordinator Keith Butler (via the lovely Mark Kaboly)

* Defensive coordinator Keith Butler didn’t have his starting secondary on the field for hardly practices or preseason games leading up to the season opener and complained about it daily.
He’s hoping he doesn’t have to go down that road again this year.
“Last year I probably whined or bellyached too much of not getting our guys until the first game,” Butler said. “I don’t want that to happen again. We need them to practice together.”
Well, it has happened so far through three weeks of OTAs. Mike Mitchell is nursing a shoulder injury and Senquez Golson suffered a lower body injury during the first week of spring ball.
Butler is hoping to have the two healthy and on the field when the Steelers report to training camp at the end of July.
“We need to see what Senquez can do,” Butler said. “I don’t know what he can do. We need to see what Senquez can do; we need Mike Mitchell on the grass and we think he will be. For him to take that next step to become one of the elite safeties he needs to be on the field.”
* Butler still believes in linebacker Jarvis Jones, but needs to see more out of the first-round linebacker than he did his first three years in the league.
“We hope he can, we hope that he will,” Butler said.
The Steelers did not pick up Jones’ fifth-year option on his rookie deal in early May that will make him an unrestricted free agent following the season. It was the first time the Steeler didn’t pick up the option since the CBA implemented the option clause.
“I like the fact that there is some pressure on him,” Butler said. “He needs to perform. If he doesn’t want to play hard in the first place there is nothing that we are going to give him to make him play hard. I think he knows the situation is big for him. This is a year that he has to have.”
* Dan McCullers is big, strong and disruptive. But he needs to get a little meaner.
The Steelers let Steve McLendon leave via free agency thus handing the nose tackle position over to McCullers.
“I wouldn’t want to block that big rascal, I’ll tell you that,” Butler said. “When he gets one-on-one, we want him to crush the pocket. We think he is capable of doing that. We need him to grow up a little bit and be a little more aggressive.”

 

 

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June 8, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Steelers safety Ventrone to world premiere newest Penguins pump-up video Thursday morning

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The Stanley Cup will be in town Thursday night. Penguins mania has gripped the city and its residents. Several Steelers, too.

 

 

None likely moreso, though, than Ross Ventrone.

 

 

Ventrone, a Steelers special teams standout, is a native of the area (a Chartiers Valley High School grad who walked on and spent two years at Pitt) who, predictably, is a Penguins fan.

 

 

“Oh definitely,” Ventrone said after an organized team activity session next week. “Pittsburgh everything, so…”

 

 

Ventrone put his money (or, at least, his time and an Instagram account) where his mouth was over the past month when he posted a series of humorous Penguins pump-up videos that received some national attention:

 

Game 7 tomorrow @penguins

A video posted by Ross Ventrone (@rustybenson) on May 25, 2016 at 4:14pm PDT

 

#StanleyCup

A video posted by Ross Ventrone (@rustybenson) on May 30, 2016 at 7:23am PDT

 

 

#StanleyCup Game 3

A video posted by Ross Ventrone (@rustybenson) on Jun 3, 2016 at 1:52pm PDT

(You have to watch them to appreciate them).

 

 

All were edited and applied to music.

 

 

I complimented Ventrone on the “production values” of the posts (as well as lamented the generational divide of a man in his mid-30s not being able to fully appreciate or understand Instagram), but Ventrone downplayed the complexity of putting them together.

 

 

“I just think up an idea, and then we go execute it,” Ventrone said. “They kinda just come to me. “It doesn’t take too much time. Go out there once I know what I’m doing, it takes a couple minutes. And then it’s boom-boom, and that’s it.”

 

 

Ventrone credited childhood buddies Mike Walsh, Brian Braithwaite, Andrew Fiorilli for helping with the posts (and presumably co-starring in the third one).

 

 

The next post – set to make its world premiere Thursday, the day the Penguins have a chance to claim the Stanley Cup at home for the first time – has more of a celebrity videographer.

 

 

“The one I’m dropping (Thursday) morning, Game 5 – hopefully the close-out game – Landry Jones filmed that one,” Ventrone said, referring to the Steelers backup quarterback.

 

“He did a (heck) of a job. Great camera work,” Ventrone deadpanned. “So that will drop, probably (Thursday) around 10, right before practice starts. We’ve got to get the views up before the game. So we can’t wait too long.”

 

 

By “practice,” Ventrone presumably meant the Steelers’ final OTA session Thursday – but, coincidentally, the Penguins begin what could be their final morning skate of the season at that exact same time.

 

 

Ventrone, who did not give any details as to the content of Thursday’s video, said that although he’s attended several Penguins games over the years that he’s only made it to one playoff game this spring. With tickets to Thursday’s game running well into the four digits, Ventrone better have a good hook-up.

 

 

“I might end up showing up (Thursday) at the game with my rollerblades on and my helmet with a sign that says, ‘I Need Tickets,’” he said. “So if you see me down there and want to show me love with a ticket, that’s fine.”

 

 

 

 

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June 6, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Slimmer Chickillo more comfortable in Year 2 at OLB, with Steelers

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Chick

 

 

 

 

When the Steelers drafted Anthony Chickillo out of the University of Miami 13 months ago, he was listed as a 282-pound defensive end with a mane of wavy flowing hair that would creep out of the bottom of his helmet.

 

Today, the locks are gone – and so are about 30 pounds.

 

Both were of Chickillo’s preference. So was a move to outside linebacker.

 

“I felt like I should have been playing this position all along; I felt like I should have played it in college,” Chickillo said after an offseason team activity session last week.

 

His second NFL training camp just seven weeks away, Chickillo this time around feels much more comfortable.

 

With the playbook.

 

With his coaches.

 

With a confidence he fits in in the NFL.

 

With his body type and size.

 

And at his new, more natural (he says) position.

 

“Oh, I feel a lot better all the way around,” Chickillo said. “Just knowledge-wise of the system and what we do and how we do it around here, I feel a lot better.

 

“And there’s something into that, getting comfortable with your body weight and playing at the same weight for a longer period of time (rather than) getting there and having to adjust to it while you’re doing it. I feel good at my weight, I’m adjusted to it. I feel good.”

 

Chickillo gradually became one of the Steelers’ most relied-upon special teams players last season – the 70 percent of special teams snaps he played in the playoff loss at Denver trailed only Terence Garvin and Shamarko Thomas. With Garvin gone this season (he left as a free agent), opportunity exists for Chickillo – who earned his special-teams stripes with two tackles and a forced fumble during the regular-season finale at Cleveland – to seize an even more valuable role.

 

A highly-coveted recruit, Chickillo never played special teams in college. But by the end of his rookie NFL season he was on several units for the Steelers – and he came to enjoy it.

 

“It was a lot of fun,” Chickillo said. “Danny Smith, to me, is the best special teams coach there is in the NFL. I really love playing for him. He makes things (fun). He’s taught me how to play special teams in the NFL.”

 

Making an impact on defense is a tougher nut to crack. Buried as no better than fifth on the OLB positional depth chart, Chickillo played 22 defensive snaps last season – all coming in a 30-9 win against Johnny Manziel’s Browns Nov. 15 at Heinz Field when James Harrison was inactive because of a knee injury.

 

The trial didn’t have the best results – no tackles, two times flagged for penalties. But it was a taste for both Chickillo and for the Steelers to see what he can do.

 

Though the outside linebacker depth chart remains crowded (Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and Bud Dupree split the position last season, and all return), in the not-too-distant future opportunity exists for someone.

 

Harrison is 38 and in the final year of his contract. Jones is likewise set to be a free agent this winter, and the Steelers declined a 2017 option on him. The only reinforcement brought in was Travis Feeney, a sixth-round pick who, while he has intriguing potential, likely isn’t ready to contribute immediately.

 

That means Chickillo could be an injury away from a defined role on defense. Or, if he impresses in camp and during practice and preseason games, perhaps the Steelers feel more comfortable letting Harrison and/or Jones go in 2017.

 

It’s still a longshot. But Chickillo showed flashes last season during training camp. He spent about a week as the proverbial talk of Saint Vincent College.

 

Just don’t expect Chickillo to discuss his feelings about the potential opportunities available for a Steelers outside linebacker.

 

“I don’t pay attention to that – I really am a day-by-day guy,” he said. “Just take it day-by-day and just use each day to get better.”

 

 

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June 2, 2016
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Antonio Brown ‘starstruck’ by Sidney Crosby

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Post prologue: Listen to Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and I on an OTAs edition of TribLive Radio’s Steelers Roundtable show from this morning. Click here to hear talk about DeAngelo Williams’ proclamations, Antonio-vs.-Ben, whether Will Allen is for sure done and much, much more.

 

 

AB Pens

 

 

Antonio Brown is one of Pittsburgh’s most recognizable and well-known athletes. But, in his mind, there’s at least one pro in town who easily trumps him.

 

“Sidney Crosby is the best that’s ever done it,” Brown said after a Steelers organized team activities session Thursday. “He’s a professional player, plays the game at a high level, been doing it a long time.

 

“It’s an honor to watch him play. And I have his jersey, too.”

 

Crosby, who’s helped lead the Penguins to within two games of claiming the Stanley Cup, has become quite the Steelers fan since arriving in Pittsburgh 11 years ago.

 

Brown was told that Crosby was a big fan of Brown’s and was asked if the Penguins’ captain was starstruck of Brown when he ran into him.

 

“I’m a huge fan of Sid – (so) I probably was the one who was starstruck,” Brown said.

 

“Sidney Crosby, man, has lost teeth, battled concussions – and he just always seems to overcome and continue to play. And it’s exciting to watch him play, man.”

 

Brown was one of several Steelers players who attended Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at Consol Energy Center. Ryan Shazier, Cameron Heyward and (former Steeler) Brett Keisel also were shown on the big video screen. Other Steelers accompanied some of them. Coach Mike Tomlin was there for Game 1. Many others have showed up at games.

 

“I’ve been getting more into hockey the last year three years I’ve been here,” Shazier said. “It’s really exciting; I really like it a lot.

 

“It’s just surprising how well they can control the puck and some of their shots and actually how fast they are out there. It’s amazing to me.”

 

Senquez Golson, Anthony Chickillo and Dan McCullers are among the myriad of other Steelers who have talked during OTAs about getting into the Penguins’ Cup run.

 

“I enjoy being a fan – I’m one of those teams who go to the game and you see the team win, you start to think, ‘Man, was it because of me they won?’” Brown said. “Just like any other fan.

 

“I’m just excited to be here in Pittsburgh enjoying the championship environment. The Penguins are getting the whole city excited; I’m excited and I’m honored to support everything they do.”

 

Just don’t expect Brown to take up ice hockey himself.

 

“I don’t know how my feet would do in the skates,” he said. “Probably burn by bottom on the floor. I’m not a good skater, so it would be tough for me. I might have to work on that (skating).

 

“It’s amazing what those guys do on skates,” Brown said of NHL players. “How they pound guys against the wall, how they can move, the agility and being able to control the puck is really special. It’s an honor to watch, it’s amazing.”

 

“I love everything about hockey: the physicality, the agility, the passion, the hunger to score the goal.”

 

Along with being one of the very best players in the world at their respective sports, Brown and Crosby share something else in common – their work ethic. Arguably, each has earned a reputation as being the hardest-working guy on his respective team — if not league.

 

“People don’t know what kind of work goes into being who he is,” Brown said of Crosby, acknowledging a kinship with the former “Sid the Kid” that was born 11 months before — and about 2,000 miles north up the Atlantic coast from — him.

 

“If you wanna be the best you gotta work at it. The small minute things like watching film to taking care of your body to training at a high level, those are the moments and those are the things that make him a complete player.”

 

One of the best in the world. Just like his “big fan,” Brown.

 

 

 

 

 

One last plug for the Steelers Roundtable show on TribLive Radio. Click here.

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