Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday news, notes

Kevin Colbert met with some media members today, including myself, and discussed a number of issues facing the Steelers.

Of course, the big news was that Colbert said he doesn't see any way that Ben Roethlisberger doesn't retire with the Steelers.

Colbert also would not close the door on re-signing a veteran player or two. Specifically, when asked about Brett Keisel, Colbert said he wouldn't close the door on anyone.

@ Colbert also said the Steelers can, in fact, still negotiate a new contract with Jason Worilds during training camp and the preseason.

There was some question to that. But since Worilds signed his transition tag, he accepted the contract and therefore can still negotiate.

Colbert said the team would like to get a deal or two done before the regular season starts and specifically mentioned Worilds, Cortez Allen, Shaun Suisham and Marcus Gilbert as starters whose contracts are up after this season.

That might not be earth-shattering news, but he did not mention some other starters who will be free agents, such as Ike Taylor or Will Johnson.

That should give you an idea of what they're thinking about in terms of extensions.

The team, according to Colbert, is under $6-million under the salary cap. Signing Worilds to an extension would make sense, if possible, since that could lessen his cap number this year.

Allen and Suisham should be priorities as well.

The team would like to keep at least $3 million or so in cap space available for in-season injury replacements.

@ Speaking of Worilds, he had an interception of Ben Roethlisberger on Monday while covering speedy Dri Archer.

That prompted head coach Mike Tomlin to suggest that it was the first interception for Worilds.

"I call him the defensive end from Blacksburg," said Tomlin, referring to Virginia Tech, where Worilds played in college. "I'm going to paint that ball and give it to him."

@ The Steelers practice in pads today for the first time and rookie Ryan Shazier was a star, to the surprise of nobody.

Fast and physical.

@ Rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who has been splitting time at inside and outside linebacker, went out today with what appeared to be a groin injury.

@ The Steelers were forced to hold the practice on the turf field at Saint Vincent College because of heavy rains in the area.

@ Martavis Bryant was back at practice today after sitting out with a groin injury. Le'Veon Bell (hamstring) and C.J. Goodwin (shoulder) were both out, but neither injury is considered serious.

@ Ramon Foster was still out of camp today. Chris Hubbard got all of the snaps today at left guard.

@ I have been told that the Steelers feel there is nothing to the accusations against Maurkice Pouncey. The league has not contacted the team regarding the incident in Miami earlier this month and their own people have checked it out as well.

@ I've heard the Emmanuel Sanders interview in Denver several times now and don't see it as a big deal.

Of course Peyton Manning is different from Ben Roethlisberger. Manning is considered one of the biggest workaholics in NFL history.

That doesn't mean Roethlisberger doesn't work.

And Roethlisberger did take his younger receivers to California this offseason for a week to work out. He also spent extra time with Antonio Brown working on red zone throws while the rest of the team was working on special teams this week.

It's similar to the way Lance Moore got in some hot water in New Orleans for saying that Roethlisberger has a lot stronger arm than Drew Brees.

He wasn't being disrespectful to Brees. He was just stating how he felt.

Now, Ryan Clark saying earlier this week that the Washington secondary is the best one that he's played in was a bit disrespectful - especially considering he hasn't played in it yet.

But guys are always going to speak highly of their new situation.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday news, notes

The Steelers' practice was cut short today by thunderstorms, but not before Le'Veon Bell put a scare into the coaching staff by coming off with a sore hamstring.

He was immediately escorted to the training room, but head coach Mike Tomlin said it's not serious.

Rookie receiver Martavis Bryant is also dealing with a slight groin injury that held him out of practice completely. Rookie receiver C.J. Goodwin of California University of Pa. also had to leave after landing hard on his shoulder while trying to make a catch.

Neither of those injuries are considered serious.

Meanwhile, the news for center David Snow wasn't quite as good. He suffered a foot fracture Saturday that will require surgery to repair.

@ During a special teams session, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown went down to one end of field and practiced on their own with Roethlisberger rolling to his left and hitting Brown with a pass at the pylon.

That was a new thing, and it shows that Brown is intent on making himself more of a red zone threat. It also shows that Roethlisberger is cognizant that he won't have Jerricho Cotchery, who caught 10 red zone touchdowns last season, around this year.

@ I'm not sure which looked better, but on one play during team portion, Roethlisberger checked off a pass to his right and hit Danny Coale down the seam.

In coverage was linebacker Lawrence Timmons. It was a perfect throw and hit Coale in stride. But it had to be a perfect throw because Timmons was running with Coale stride for stride.

Timmons said he's dropped down to 242 pounds to improve his speed. It certainly showed there. Coale was a legit 4.4-4.5 guy coming out of college.

@ I've noticed Cam Heyward running around high-fiving guys and making sure he talks to everyone out there on every play. It's interesting to watch a new leader emerge.

@ Ramon Foster is expected to return to practice on Monday after dealing with the unfortunate passing of his mother.

Guy Whimper replaced Foster today after it was Cody Wallace Saturday.

@ Brown caught a ball in the flat that Jarvis Jones nearly knocked free before Brown re-caught it, split a pair of defenders and then raced down the sideline . . . where he was caught 25 yards downfield by rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Now, Shazier had an angle, but you don't usually see linebackers run down receivers.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Pouncey talks about lawsuit and other Day 1 notes

Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and his brother, Mike, were sued Friday in a Florida court over their alleged involvement in an assault earlier this month.

Here's what Pouncey had to say about the incident and lawsuit on Saturday.

"I'm a man about everything. Y'all know that any time I've made a mistake, I admit to it. For something like this to happen when I had no involvement, it's upsetting. It hurts me. It's on my mind like crazy. Hopefully, it blows over. Our lawyer put out a statement."

Pouncey doesn't expect to be disciplined in regard to the alleged incident.

"No fear at all," said Pouncey. "The only thing that sucks about it is that I tried to keep a clean nose throughout the process this year. Having to deal with this, sucks, it truly does.

"Even for the birthday party, we hired our own retired police officer to go out with us. For something like to this to happen is truly unbelievable. I just want to take the time to apologize to the the fans who take this the wrong way. You guys all know me and know the person I am. For people to say bad things about me, that sucks. But sometimes you've got to deal with bad things in life and move on."

The lawsuit in question now charges that it was Maurkice Pouncey who not only taunted one of the men in the alleged altercation, but that he also punched both him and a woman he was with.

This is a different story than was told when the incident was first alleged to occur. The suit doesn't say how much the alleged victims are seeking from the Pouncey brothers, only that it is in excess of $15,000.

@ Lawrence Timmons, who is listed at 234 pounds, is actually at 242 this season after playing last year at 250.

This is why I have to chuckle every time I see Ryan Shazier talked about as undersized. Anybody who thinks these guys are the actual weights they are listed at is being a little silly.

Take Steve McLendon, for example. I have answered countless questions about his weight, which was listed for a long time at 285 pounds.

That was what McLendon weighed when he first signed with the Steelers and nobody bothered to change it - until last year, when it was adjusted to 320 pounds, which is pretty much what he has weighed the past three years.

Now, I see people saying that McLendon suddenly put on 35 pounds. That is most certainly not the case. He's been carrying 320 for the past three years.

Same thing goes for James Farrior. Farrior played inside linebacker for the Steelers at the 215-220-pound range in his last  few seasons. Same thing goes for Larry Foote.

That's at least 15 pounds lighter than Shazier.

But yeah, Shazier is undersized.

Timmons, by the way, did weigh 234 in his first season with the Steelers. Shazier is listed at 237.

@ The Steelers probably won't say so publicly for a while, but privately, they expect Johnny Manziel to be Cleveland's starting quarterback for the opener Sept. 7.

@ Dri Archer worked as the No. 1 punt return guy today. The Steelers feel he can handle that job and lighten Antonio Brown's workload.

@ Ben Roethlisberger wore Brett Keisel's former number 99 for the position drill portion of practice today before switching over to his more familiar No. 7.

@ There seems to be a feeling that rookie Stephon Tuitt is bright enough and talented enough to win a starting defensive end position.

He drew some praise during position drills today from John Mitchell, which is pretty hard to come by for the young guys.

@ With Ramon Foster dealing with a death in his family, Cody Wallace got first-team snaps with the offense at left guard.

At free safety, it was Will Allen subbing for Mike Mitchell.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Steelers arrive at camp

The biggest "news" of the day came before the day even really began when Art Rooney II said on the Steelers web site that he had spoken to Ben Roethlisberger regarding his contract status and that a new deal would not be talked about until after this season.

That was pretty much the general feeling about the situation, but Rooney certainly put any speculation about a new contract  for the quarterback during this training camp to bed.

"I met with Ben shortly before we did the Maurkice Pouncey signing just to make sure Ben understood where we were in our intentions as far as a contract extension for him," Rooney said. "I just didn't want him to feel like we were moving ahead with other players without any communication.

"I talked to Ben, and then we talked to his agent, Ryan Tollner, about where we are and the fact we intend on addressing Ben's contract situation after the season, so that we could address a number of other players who were going into their last year in 2014. I think Ben understands that's our intention and the way we'd like to proceed. I think we had a good conversation."

Roethlisberger has two years remaining on his current deal and will make $12.1 million in base salary this season.

But the Steelers have a number of key players heading into the final year of their contracts, including cornerback Cortez Allen, linebacker Jason Worilds, who was transition tagged this season and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert.

Currently, the team has just over $6 million in salary cap space remaining.

Rooney said that Roethlisberger wants to be part of a winning team moving forward. And for that to happen, the Steelers need to address some of their other positions before working out a new deal with the quarterback.

The cap is expected to go up in 2015 from its current $133 million to around $140 million, also giving the Steelers additional flexibility to work out a new deal with Roethlisberger after this season.

@ Mike Mitchell, the Steelers' new starting free safety, will open camp on the pup list with a groin injury suffered while working out in the offseason.

Mitchell was signed to a five-year, $25-million contract to replace Ryan Clark.

That's a big blow since Mitchell only got a few days to work with Troy Polamalu during mini-camp this year. Mitchell is expected to be out about a week.

@ Guard Ramon Foster was excused while dealing with a death in the family, while punter Adam Podlesh was excused to be home with his wife, who is expecting a child this weekend.

@ Everyone completed the run test Friday, though massive rookie defensive tackle Daniel McCullers - all 6-7, 352 pounds of him - was obviously struggling at the end.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A look on what to look for at camp

With training camp set to open at week's end, there are surprisingly few starting spots up for grabs on the Steelers' roster.

That does not, however, mean that there won't be a few heated battles. Here's a quick look at what we can expect:

Punter-The Steelers would like to settle on one guy this year rather than this being a rotation of "JV" punters - to steal a phrase from Mike Tomlin - as it has been the past couple of seasons. Veteran Adam Podlesh was signed as a free agent and has been solid, if unspectacular, throughout his career. He averaged a career-low 40.6 yards per punt in 2013, but a big reason for that was that he placed 27 of his 68 kicks (40 percent) inside the opposing 20. In to challenge Podlesh is former LSU bad boy Brad Wing. The Australian has a big leg and averaged 44.6 yards in his college career but was suspended at LSU for a bowl game and also had an arrest for battery. He was released by Philadelphia at the end of training camp last year.

Right tackle-Marcus Gilbert is the starter right now and there's no reason to think he won't hold that spot down. But Mike Adams lined up at No. 2 there throughout the offseason and, with Gilbert going into his contract season, the team could take a long look to see if Adams is the better long-term option.

Inside linebacker-Ryan Shazier has been handed the starting spot held down for most of last season by Vince Williams. Williams is back and showed improvement last season, but not enough for the team to pass on the chance to take Shazier in the first round. Make this an all-around battle royal Sean Spence is back as well after missing the past two seasons with a serious knee injury. Rookie Jordan Zumwalt could be a special teams star and Terence Garvin also has shown some promise. Shazier and Timmons are guarantees to make the team and free agent signee Arthur Moats can also line up inside or outside. That could mean that just two out of the group of Williams, Zumwalt, Spence and Garvin make this roster, though Garvin and Zumwalt can also slide outside.

Wide receiver-Antonio Brown will start at one spot. But who starts on the other side? Markus Wheaton will get the first chance. But Justin Brown has looked good pretty much since last November. Lance Moore is more of a slot guy, while veterans Darius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye and fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant are also in the mix. Rookie Dri Archer will also see some time at WR, while there are a couple of interesting prospects in former Virginia Tech star Danny Coale, Kashif Moore and Cal U's C.J. Goodwin. Todd Haley called this a deep group, and he wasn't wrong. But the Steelers need somebody to step up into a more prominent role opposite Brown.

Tight end-Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are locks. But veterans Michael Palmer and David Paulson will be pushed for the No. 3 spot by interesting prospects Rob Blanchflower and Eric Waters, a pair of rookies. The Steelers had draftable grades on both Blanchflower and Waters and took Blanchflower in the seventh round. Both are considered solid blockers and receivers. The No. 3 spot could come down to special teams plays, though another spot is likely there for the taking on the practice squad.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Pounceys being sued is obvious money grab

I've answered the question here and on Twitter: "What do you think of the Pouncey news?"

To this point, my reply has been the same. Nothing.

At this point, there appears to be nothing to it as far as the Pouncey twins are concerned.

To the uninformed, a man went on social media claiming to have been attacked in Miami by the Pouncey twins and bouncers at a club where the twins were celebrating their 25th birthdays.

Yes his face was swollen. Yes, he was crying on video.

But that's all we have to this point.

There is still no proof that either Pouncey twin engaged in an assault. The only claims we have seen regarding the incident come from the victim.

That same "victim" announced today that he plans on suing the Pouncey brothers. Geez, that didn't take long.

According to the victim's statement today on a Miami television statement the incident began with the Pouncey brothers taunting him, then, "Somebody grabbed me and ?I got hit. Somebody lifted me up and dragged me out of the club. I was being beat up, I was getting kicked and punched. A bottle hit me."

The initial investigation has shown that the Pouncey brothers were not involved in the assault. And I'm sure the guy was minding his own business and the brothers picked him out of the crowd to start taunting. And then, they pointed to the bouncers and had a hole stomped in him.

Yep, it all sounds very plausible. . . Not.

Some might rip the Pounceys for throwing themselves a party. Some might trash them for being out past 4 a.m. - which is when this alleged incident took place.

But the fact of the matter is, there are an awful lot of holes in this guy's story. And him saying he's bringing a lawsuit into play before any charges have even been filed only makes that more so the case.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Is Keisel returning to Steelers?

With training camp for the Steelers scheduled to begin in less than two weeks at Saint Vincent College, now would be the time for the team to start looking at any possible additions to the roster.

The Steelers have just over $6 million in salary cap space and could bolster their roster with an addition or two. There will be some contract extensions as well, but that won't likely eat up all of the cap space.

No. 1 on that list would be defensive end Brett Keisel.

Make no mistake about this. IF the Steelers bring Keisel back, it would not be to start. In fact, he would be, at best, a 10-snap-per-game player as a situational pass rusher.

Consider that Cam Thomas, the guy signed to help replace Keisel, has six career sacks in four seasons in San Diego. And Keisel had four sacks and 26 pressures - third on the team behind Jason Worilds and Cam Heyward - despite missing four games.

But what he would mean in the locker room would be so much greater.

Few players in the locker room are as respected as the 35-year-old Keisel, who turns 36 in September.

But even more than that, consider that Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon is now the senior man in the Steelers' defensive lineman room - at least in terms of time spent with Pittsburgh.

This is no knock on McLendon, who is a ridiculously hard worker, or Heyward, who is coming into his own as a leader, but it wouldn't hurt to have another trusted voice in that meeting room, somebody who could mentor second-round draft pick Stephon Tuitt.

McLendon and Heyward are both young starters and are likely more worried about improving their own game than they are mentoring a young teammate.

Does Keisel have to be on the roster for that to happen? I think so, unless he's ready to hang up his helmet and take on more of a coaching role. And I don't see that happening yet.

As of mini-camp, Keisel still hadn't cleaned out his locker. Everything was still there, just as he had left it at season's end.

Did Keisel know something? Perhaps.