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January 13, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Jonathan Scott and Guy Whimper no more… Illustrating the long-sought continuity on the Steelers OL

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MY BREAKFAST TABLE — I spent more time than any human ever should researching recent Steelers’ offensive line starting lineups in reporting today’s print Trib article (Steelers’ steady offensive line paid dividends this season). I went all the way back to 2005 (the Steelers’ first Super Bowl-winning season of the Roethlisberger Era) to identify trends for a franchise that, on face value, seems to have bucked the conventional you-must-be-good-in-the-trenches-to-win-a-Super-Bowl trend since that season.

 

I found there are many “cut offs” I could have used in terms of a season that the Steelers went from their long-lost reputation of stability and strength on its offensive line to what they’ve been — again, in terms of reputation — in recent years: A revolving door of personnel, mediocre results.

 

Turns out that — despite my unquenched desire to type the words “Flozell Adams” and “Justin Hartwig” into a story during the year 2015 — in actuality, 2011 made the most logical place to start the analysis. (This still allowed references to Jonathan Scott and Trai Essex!).

 

Anyway, as so often happens, space restrictions in the print edition did not allow for the below stats/lists/compilations to appear. Luckily, we have The Steel Mill to act as the perfect depository for such information…

 

 

 

SHIFT TO CONTINUITY

 

A year-by-year breakdown showing the in-flux nature of Steelers’ offensive lines of the recent past, compared to the relative harmony of 2014

(Note:  all “players used” references are to starting lineup only)

 

 

2011

9 OL combinations used, 9 OL-men used, no players made 16 starts at one position

Team allowed 42 sacks, ranked 14th in NFL in rushing, was No. 18 in Pro Football Focus pass-block ratings, 10th in run-block ratings

 

2012

7 OL combinations used , 9 OL-men used, 1 player made 16 starts at one position

Team allowed 37 sacks, ranked 26th in NFL in rushing, was No. 21 in Pro Football Focus pass-block ratings, 31st in run-block ratings

 

2013

7 OL combinations used, 9 OL-men used, 1 players made 16 starts at one position

Team allowed 43 sacks, ranked 27th in NFL in rushing, was No. 14 in Pro Football Focus pass-block ratings, 20th in run-block ratings

 

 

Totals ’11-‘13

23 OL combinations used, 15 OL-men used, 2 players made 16 starts at one position

Team allowed an average of 40.7 sacks, ranked an average of 22nd in NFL in rushing, average rankings by Pro Football Focus were 18th (pass blocking) and 20th (run blocking)

 

 

2014

3 OL combinations used, 7 OL-men used, 3 players made 16 starts at one position

Team allowed 33 sacks, ranked 16th in NFL in rushing, was No. 5 in Pro Football Focus pass-block ratings, ninth in run-block ratings

 

 

 

 

QUITE A LIST

 

Offensive linemen who started for the Steelers from 2011-13

(*-Denotes player who started for 2014 Steelers)

 

*-Mike Adams

*-Kelvin Beachum

Willie Colon

*-David DeCastro

Trai Essex

*-Ramon Foster

*-Marcus Gilbert

Chris Kemoeatu

Doug Legursky

*-Maurkice Pouncey

Jonathan Scott

Max Starks

Fernando Velasco

*-Cody Wallace

Guy Whimper

 

 

YEAR-BY-YEAR STARTERS

 

Listed in order from left tackle rightward to right tackle, a list of all the different starting combinations the Steelers have used on their offensive line in recent years

 

2014

Beachum=Foster=Pouncey=DeCastro=Gilbert

Beachum=Wallace=Pouncey=DeCastro=Gilbert

Beachum=Foster=Pouncey=DeCastro=Adams

 

 

2013

Adams=Foster=Pouncey=DeCastro=Gilbert

Adams=Foster=Velasco=DeCastro=Gilbert

Beachum=Foster=Velasco=DeCastro=Gilbert

Beachum=Foster=Velasco=Whimper=Gilbert

Beachum=Whimper=Velasco=DeCastro=Gilbert

Adams=Foster=Wallace=DeCastro=Gilbert

Beachum=Foster=Wallace=DeCastro=Gilbert

 

2012

Starks=Colon=Pouncey=Foster=Gilbert

Starks=Colon=Legursky=Foster=Adams

Starks=Colon=Pouncey=Foster=Adams

Starks=Legursky=Pouncey=Foster=Adams

Starks=Pouncey=Legursky=Foster=Beachum

Starks=Colon=Pouncey=Foster=Beachum

Starks=Foster=Pouncey=DeCastro=Beachum

 

2011

J. Scott=Kemoeatu=Pouncey=Legursky=Colon

J. Scott=Foster=Pouncey=Legursky=Gilbert

J. Scott=Kemoeatu=Pouncey=Legursky=Gilbert

Essex=Kemoeatu=Pouncey=Foster=Gilbert

Starks=Legursky=Pouncey=Foster=Gilbert

Starks=Legursky=Pouncey=Foster=J. Scott

Starks=Kemoeatu=Pouncey=Foster=Gilbert

Starks=Essex=Legursky=Foster=Gilbert

Starks=Essex=Legursky=Foster=J. Scott

 

 

 

Keep warm.

Follow Mark Kaboly for the latest Steelers offseason news.

 

 

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January 11, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: For one reason or another, Tomlin continues to zip through assistants

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Mike Tomlin isn’t afraid to get rid of a coach or two, that’s for sure.tomlin2

Tomlin just finished his eighth year as Steelers head coach and started into his ninth by letting veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau go.

The Steelers and the LeBeau are calling it a resignation, but we all know what that means – he was forced out.

You can argue whether that was the right move or not.

What you can’t argue is that Tomlin continues to zip through assistant coaches at a exorbitant rate.

Figure this: during Tomlin’s first three seasons (2007-09), he didn’t make a single coaching change.

The same group he brought on as a rookie coach was the same unit he would have until after the playoff-less 2009 season.

Since then, 14 coaches walked out the door in some for one reason or another.

Now, not all of them were fired.

Actually, if you believe the Steelers, few of them were.

Still, there have been tremendous turnover for one reason or another.

The most have come with special teams and the offensive line.

Bob Ligashesky, Al Everest and Amos Jones on special teams and Larry Zierlein, Sean Kugler and Jack Bicknell all left. You can safely say five of those were fired while Kugler left to become head coach at UTEP.

You had coordinators Bruce Arians “retiring” and LeBeau “resigning.”

You had defensive backs coach Ray Horton getting a coordinator job with the Cardinals; offensive assistant Harold Goodwin getting a promotion to offensive line coach with the Colts; and defensive assistant Lou Spanos getting the linebacker coaching job with the Redskins.

Quarterback coach Ken Anderson retired and then you had curious lateral moves by wide receiver coach Scottie Montgomery going back to his alma mater as associate head coach and running back coach Kirby Wilson taking the same position with the Vikings.

Whatever it is, as stable as the first three Tomlin years were is as unstable as the last few have been.

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January 10, 2015
by Mike Palm


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Reaction to Dick LeBeau’s resignation as Steelers defensive coordinator

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Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau announced Saturday that he would be resigning his position with the team. Here’s some reaction to the move from around Twitter.

Former Steelers safety Ryan Clark

Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward

Former Steelers defensive lineman Chris Hoke

Former Steelers defensive back Mike Logan

Former Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks

Current Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey

Former Steelers running back Merril Hoge

Jason La Canfora, NFL Insider for CBS

 

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January 6, 2015
by Chris Adamski


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Adamski: Four Hall of Famers talk about The (retirement) Decision

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Since the Steelers were eliminated in the AFC Wild Card game Saturday, much of the post-mortem conversation has centered around the statuses of four of their defense’s best players over the past decade-plus.

 

Will Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor retire? If they play next season, will it be for the Steelers? Will the Steelers want them back if they want to?

 

Each individual case is different — age, wear-and-tear, the 2014 season he had, the degree of decline in his play since his prime, injury statuses, family situations, the Steelers’ depth chart at each respective position…

 

But before any other question can be answered, the most fundamental one to examine first is: Does the player want to keep playing, or does he want to retire?  It’s a question all athletes eventually must face. It’s a fascinating one for us, as outsiders and non-professional athletes, to ponder.

 

It’s a topic I explored some in a story that ran in Saturday’s Trib. With the exception of the affable Taylor, the players who are facing this decision head-on weren’t eager to discuss it. That’s understandable, what with a game (and, they hoped, a few more games) to be played still at that point. So I tried to do the next-best thing and interview some former greats.

 

I was thrilled that Super Steelers Franco Harris and Jack Ham opened up on the topic, as did the face of the franchise for about a 10-year stretch beginning in the mid-90s, Jerome Bettis. And for a non-Steelers perspective, former Aliquippa and Pitt star and Bears Super Bowl-winning coach and now ESPN analyst Mike Ditka was gracious enough, too, to talk. That’s three Hall of Famers and a fourth, Bettis, who will almost assuredly – and deservedly – make it to Canton some day.

 

The realities of modern newsprint (to say nothing of the realities of the modern American attention span) left my story much too short to dive too deep into the issue. So, this blog is the next best thing. Some more thoughts on retirement from the Hall of Fame quartet…

 

 

 

 

JACK HAM

How his retirement came about–

“In my 10th year I ended up dislocating my foot, and I came back from that injury and that’s the injury I had when I did not play in the Super Bowl. And I played two years after that…

You watch tape. You know. I got to the point I didn’t want to have some kind of injuries or whatever late in my career, and I just felt like 12 years was long enough and I could see with the injuries the burst you normally have as a linebacker – or any position, for that matter – (was missing). It was more difficult getting off the blocks… The tape doesn’t lie. And I think I’m my own worst critic kind of thing, so I think… it wasn’t a decision that I was racking my brain going back and forth with. I knew that it was time for me to retire.

I wasn’t effective enough; the caliber of play for me my last two years was not the same as my first 10. And that was something you could see; I made more big plays, more interceptions in those first 10 years than I did the last two. It just, you see it. At least I did. You see it. It’s time, you realize it. It’s a short-lived career in pro football and 12 years is probably, I don’t know what the percentage is out there of guys who played that long – probably a very, very small percentage — just the tape and how I felt, it’s a game, the injuries have kind of a cumulative effect. But really the dislocating the foot in my 10th year that really, after coming back from that, I really was not the same player.”

 

 

On if coach Chuck Noll tried to talk him out of it–

“No, there was no discussion like that. Chuck was very, ‘If a guy wants to retire and feels like he should, then that’s the decision, no other decision needs to be made,’ because he feels like if the individual player feels that way, there won’t be any discussion about trying to talk him out of retirement. At least with me anyway; I just came in and I was done. It was nothing earth-shaking; just the fact I just said so. Chuck thanked me for all the years and we had a nice discussion, nice last-meeting kind of thing. There was no dialogue back and forth about playing another year. There wasn’t going to be one – I just knew. I knew that I wasn’t going to be out there for my 13th year.”

 

 

 

 

FRANCO HARRIS

On the differences of retirement today than when he played–

“I think today it’s a lot tougher today because of the money that players make. It wasn’t as difficult back in the 60s and 70s because the money was totally different. But today there’s no doubt that players would like to play as long as they can.

I guess (teams) have to look at situations to see with where that player is at their stage right now. (Age) 32, 33, whatever, do they have backup players that can go in and be as equal or better than them where they’re at at that stage or at that age. And also do they have a young promising player who has that potential to develop into this type of player if he has more playing time. So there’s a number of different factors. And just like anything, people age differently. What has been the injury factor with that person, is that injury factor now evident in their play and in the things that they can do. And also I’m sure they look at and teams look at salary caps and things like that now, too. And so there’s a lot of different factors that enter into it and is it one thing that comes forward or multiple things that come forward that make that choice. And then as we know, some ballplayers will say, ‘Hey, it’s time for me to hang it up. I don’t feel I can be productive anymore and I don’t have that burning desire anymore,’ and so you do see times when ballplayers hang it up.”

 

 

On coming to that conclusion that your career is over–

“Those are always tough choices in sports, and especially if someone played on one team for a long time, it does make it tougher on that one team with those choices at times. There’s no doubt about that. But everybody knows that their career’s coming to an end, and I knew that that was going to be my last year, so that wasn’t the issue. And everybody comes to that realization eventually that, ‘This is it,’ you know what I mean?

But you know what, it’s something that you shouldn’t approach like, ‘Oh man, this is terrible. Oh no,’ If you’re lucky enough to play for over a decade in the NFL, you’re very blessed. And so to me there shouldn’t be those type of hard feelings this, hard feelings that – sometimes other things get in the way, but to play that long in the NFL, you’re pretty lucky and you’re pretty blessed.”

 

 

 

 

MIKE DITKA

On when the “right” time is to proverbially hang ‘em up—

“You try to play as long as you can. But I think you can’t fool yourself. You look at the film from the games, and you know you aren’t the same player you were five years before that. And if you’re not, there’s not much point in hanging in there. I probably could have played a couple more years but they wouldn’t have been the best years. So to me, I did the right thing when I retired.”

 

 

On if he grappled at all with his decision to retire—

“I didn’t think too much about it. We won the (NFL championship) the year before I retired and the year I retired we got beat in the championship game in Dallas. I was in business down there and I had taken enough; my body was ready to retire. It wasn’t like… They weren’t losing a great player, believe me, they were losing just another player.”

 

 

On his perspective as a coach of noticing when a player needs to retire—

“There’s no question, the hardest thing is, when it’s time, the coach has to tell him. You’re with these guys everyday during the season, you’re with them a lot and you form great relationships and friendships – but there’s a time. And when the time comes, you’ve got to be able to tell them. I wasn’t good at that – I wasn’t good at cutting people, but you just have to do it, that’s part of the job, so you have to make a decision on what’s best for the team and sometimes, it’s tough.”

 

 

 

 

JEROME BETTIS

On coming to grips with retiring and if knowing he had a job (in broadcasting) lined up helped him come to it—

“I knew when physically my body didn’t respond in terms of the time it took for me to get healthy from one game to the next…

“I came back for another year; I had job opportunities (before) that year, so I came back because I wanted to still play. If I wanted to play one more year, that job opportunity I felt would have been there again. It was never a situation where I felt that there wasn’t time or that I had to rush away from football because of a job opportunity; I felt as though the job opportunities would be there whenever I decided to leave. So I didn’t base my decision on after football; it was about me not being able to do the things I was used to doing and being effective. I felt there was no need to be out there taking up a place when a younger player can help the football team a lot better.”

 

 

 

 

And with that, I’ll turn the reins of this blog back over to The Great Mark Kaboly (#StickToThePrintProductKaboly?). Enjoy your day.

 

 

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January 5, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: The Steelers and The Curse of the Unhealthy Running Back

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ic998Just call it the Curse of the Unhealthy Running Back.

The Steelers latest playoff defeat – Saturday in the AFC wild-card game against the Ravens – marked a continuing trend (disturbing if you are a Steelers fan) of the playoff, the Steelers’ success and having a healthy running back.

Typically, they’ve worked hand-in-hand when it comes to the Steelers winning or losing in the postseason.

Since 1972, when playing with a healthy primary ball carrier, the Steelers are 31-13 in the postseason with six Super Bowl titles and eight Super Bowl appearances.

When playing without their leading rusher (or if their leading rusher played while on the injury report, like Jerome Bettis in the 2001 AFC title game, for instance), the Steelers are 2-8 all-time in the postseason.

Here are the playoff seasons and results when the Steelers didn’t have a healthy backfield:

1976 – 0-1

1993 – 0-1

1996 – 0-1

2001 – 1-1

2004 – 1-1

2007 – 0-1

2011 – 0-1

2014 – 0-1

And, here is the breakdown of the injuries:

1976: Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier both were injured in the divisional round in Baltimore. The Steelers lose in the AFC title game next week in Oakland, 24-7.

1993: Barry Foster got hurt during a Monday Night Football game in November and never played the rest of the season. The Steelers lose in the wild-card game to Kansas City with Leroy Thompson as the primary running back.

1996: Bettis was injured in the wild-card game against Indianapolis. He played sparingly the next week in the fog in New England and the Steelers lost.

2001: Bettis got hurt against the Vikings on Dec. 2, but tried to play in the AFC championship game against New England. Bettis rushed 8 times for 9 yards in a loss.

2004: Duce Staley was hurt on Halloween in New England and playing sparingly down the stretch and was ineffective in the AFC title game loss to the Patriots.

2007: Willie Parker broke his ankle in mid-December in St. Louis and the Steelers lost in the wild-card round against the Jaguars.

2011: Rashard Mendenhall suffered a torn ACL in the regular season finale in Cleveland and the Steelers fall to Denver the next week in the wild card game.

2014: Le’Veon Bell hyperextends his knee in the final against the Bengals and can’t play in the wild-card game against the Ravens. The Steelers lose, 30-17.

So, there you have it.

While you are at it, take a listen to the Kaboly Show podcast from Monday.

 

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January 4, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Mitchell said he’s going go for the knees from now on

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Mike Mitchell is going to go for the knees from here on out.

Mitchell was penalized for unnecessary roughness on Baltimore receiver Jacoby Jones late in the first quarter of Saturday’s 30-17 AFC wild-card loss for hitting him in the head with his helmet.

Mitchell was not happy with the call.

“I don’t know what they want us to do, man,” Mitchell said. “I am going to hit every single guy in the knee from here on out. I am getting tired of it. It’s ridiculous. You can’t change where you are aiming on a guy once you shot your shot. If you look at that play, the dude is trying to go down as the ball is coming. I can’t re-aim my body. This is full speed, tackle football. I will hit everybody in the knee from here on out to avoid that.”

The penalty helped Baltimore score its first touchdown of the game – a 5-yard touchdown run by Bernard Pierce.

 

 

 

 

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January 2, 2015
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Heinz Field, defensive touchdowns, special teams touchdowns … OH MY!

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07 - 2008 AFC - Ravens @ SteelersHeinz Field will play host to its 11th playoff game in its existence on Saturday when the Steelers host the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game.

Sure, the Steelers are 7-3 in those games, including 3-0 against the Ravens, but there is a trend with playoff games at Heinz Field that is impossible to ignore.

In all 10 playoff games played at Heinz Field, there has been either a defensive touchdown or a special teams touchdown scored.

Yes, 10 games and every single one had one. Even two games had two.

Now, there is no correlation between that and winning and losing, but it is quite an amazing fact.

Here’s the proof:

2001 – AFC divisional against the Ravens – Jermaine Lewis returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown.

2001 – AFC championship against the Patriots – Troy Brown returned a punt 55 yards and Antwan Harris returned a blocked field goal from 49 yards out.

2002 – AFC wild card against the Browns – Antwaan Randle El returned a punt 66 yards for a score.

2004 – AFC divisional against the Jets – Santana Moss went 75 yards with a punt and Reggie Tongue picked off Ben Roethlisberger and returned it 86 yards.

2004 – AFC championship against the Patriots – Rodney Harrison returned an interception 87 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.

2007 – AFC wildcard against the Jaguars – Rashean Mathis took back an interception 63 yards for a score.

2008 – AFC divisional against the Chargers – Santonio Holmes returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown.

2008 – AFC championship against the Ravens – Troy Polamalu sealed a trip to Super Bowl XLIII with a late 40-yard interception return.

2010 – AFC divisional against the Ravens – Corey Redding returned a first-half fumble 13 yards.

2010 – AFC championship against the Jets – William Gay scooped up a fumble and scored for 19 yards away.

 

* While you are at it, take a listen to Friday’s podcast of the Steelers Roundtable featuring Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and Chris Adamski.

 

 

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December 18, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Steelers Roundtable Podcast now available

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The Steelers Roundtable on TribLive Radio featuring Mark Kaboly, Ralph Paulk and Chris Adamski is now available on podcast.

This week’s episode,we take a look back at last week’s 27-20 win over Atlanta and push it forward to Sunday’s important home game against Kansas City.

Topics include:

  • Who is the Steelers team MVP?
  • How good is this offense?
  • Are the playoffs a certainty now?
  • Arrows up, arrows down.

Take a listen. Everybody else is.

The Steelers Roundtable is the most downloaded podcast in TribLive Radio history.

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December 3, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Roethlisberger says ‘something is wrong with you’ if you need motivation

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Ben RoethlisbergerBen Roethlisberger stood in the middle of the locker room and said that the Steelers had to win their final five games.

That was last week.

And that was before the Steelers lost to the Saints to fall ever further behind the first-place Bengals.

This week isn’t a must-win either (mathematically), but it sure would help separate the Steelers from the other six teams fighting for the last wild card spot with 7-5 records.

“It’s all about us now and the mentality,” Roethlisberger said.

Historically, the Steelers have played well when they have had their backs against the wall, but Roethlisberger isn’t about to say that the gravity of the situation will make them play better Sunday in Cincinnati.

“I think if you need something like that to pump you up knowing that you have four games left in your season and that you control destiny and it’s a division opponent something is wrong with you,” Roethlisberger said. “I’ve been here a long time and so it’s easy for me to know what this game means and what this part of the season means. We’ll keep an eye on the young guys and make sure that they understand the importance of it as well.”

The Steelers found themselves in a similar situation during Roethlisberger’s second year. The Steelers lost a home game to fall to 7-5 and needed to win out to make the playoffs.

The Steelers proceeded to beat Chicago, Minnesota, Cleveland and Detroit before rolling through playoffs to win the Super Bowl as a No. 6 seed.

Is there another possible run like that in the works?

“We haven’t made a run yet so we’ll see what happens,” Roethlisberger said. “We just have to come out and play good football.”

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November 13, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: View From the Sidelines — Q&A with C.J. Goodwin

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CHThis is the second in a series of “5 Questions” with guys on the Steelers roster that are either on the practice squad, injured reserve or who haven’t contributed much in the way of on-the-field play this year.

This installment: Practice squad wide receiver C.J. Goodwin (6-3, 190).

Everybody remembers in the spring when Steelers Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount put a call into general manager Kevin Colbert to see if he would take a look at a young and raw receiver who barely played (11 receptions) his senior year at Division II California (Pa.).

Colbert obliged and a few days later, the Steelers signed Goodwin to the 90-man off-season roster. Although Goodwin was cut during training camp, he was able to catch on with the Steelers 10-man practice squad.

 

Question #1: How beneficial has it been for you to be able to spend a year with an organization on the practice squad compared to working out on your own?

“Everybody has been very helpful – the older guys, the vets have been helpful. They give you anything you need. I have been able to learn whatever I have needed to learn. Playing against the ones just makes you a much better player.”

 

Question #2: What do you try to get accomplished during a practice week? Do you try to get the starters a good look or try to work on your game?

“First and foremost, I try to give them a good look. Secondly, I am trying to get better as a football player and a wide receiver. Coach Tomlin tells us all the time to go hard and tell us to improve. That’s my job and what I am going to do.”

 

Question #3: You really haven’t played much football, how much improvement have you been able to make over the past couple months?

“We will see when the offseason comes. We will see next season how good I got and see if I can stay around. If you know my story, I am just happy to be here. Of course, you want to get better and want to be on the field but I understand what is going on.”

 

Question #4: Do you feel that you showed enough during your time here that they will ask you back next year?

“They say that I am very raw. They say that I am athletic. But I don’t want that to be my story. I want to be good. I want to be great. I like the story of what Mel Blount did for me, it’s a good story. I appreciate what he did for me but I want to be a good player other than a raw athlete that got help from Mel Blount. This offseason is huge for me. I have to make it through this first, but the offseason is huge. I can’t wait for that just to see how much better I can get.”

 

Question #5: You ever look out there on the field and soak it in and say wow, I am on the same football field as Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown especially knowing where you came from?

“When I first got here I was. Ben talks to me and everybody is just so cool with me. They are accepting.”

 

TRIBLIVE RADIO STEELERS PODCASTS

MARK KABOLY SHOW (Monday’s from 2-3 p.m.)

STEELERS ROUNDTABLE with Alan Robinson, Ralph Paulk and Mark Kaboly (Thursday’s from 9-10 a.m.)

 

 

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