Saturday, January 24, 2015

Time to do away with the Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl will be played this weekend.

I know. You're waiting on pins and needles to see whether Team Carter, which includes Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey and Lawrence Timmons, will best Team Irvin, which includes a bunch of other guys.

The fact that the NFL decided to do away with playing the game by conference and using guys, who happen to work for the NFL Network, to pick the teams is only part of the problem.

At least in the old days, the Pro Bowl was an AFC vs. NFC thing. Now, it's who knows what.

It's just made the game more of a farce than it already was.

I'll admit. I've never watched more than five minutes of a Pro Bowl. That's all I needed to see to figure out it was nothing more than a glorified touch football game.

And even at that, injuries happen. Former Steelers All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson suffered a hamstring injury during 1998 Pro Bowl and was never the same after.

New England rookie running back Robert Edwards blew his knee out during a rookie beach football game - when the game was still in Hawaii - and nearly had to have his knee amputated. Seriously.

The latter injury forced the NFL to end its rookie touch football game on the beach. And the time has come to end the farce of a Pro Bowl game as well.

For goodness sakes, so many quarterbacks backed out of this year's game that Andy Dalton, who finished 13th in the Pro Bowl voting at his position, will play in the game.

While we're at it, they can end the all-star games in hockey and the NBA, as well. There's no defense played by anyone at the games and they're nothing more than glorified skills competitions.

Only the Major League Baseball All-Star game bears any resemblance to a regular season game - and that's only in passing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rooney speaks about number of subjects

Steelers president Art Rooney II met with a few media members today to talk about the 2014 season and what he expects in 2015 - among other things.

Rooney said he was pleased that the team achieved one of its goals - winning the AFC North - but that the other goals were not reached so there was obvious disappointment.

He said he was especially happy with how the team responded down the stretch in some critical games.

Rooney said the team obviously needs improvement on defense and cited the pass rush as one of the areas where the biggest improvement is needed.

He said the team would like to keep outside linebacker Jason Worilds but wouldn't commit one way or another to tagging Worilds again this season.

@ When asked about former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Rooney said he appreciated everything LeBeau did for the Steelers and will miss having him around.

Rooney did say that if LeBeau had stayed, he would have been in a different role. It sounds as if LeBeau was given the choice of staying and Keith Butler moving into the defensive coordinator role with LeBeau as an adviser, or leaving.

LeBeau chose to leave. You can call that forced out or whatever you'd like, but it sounds as if it was LeBeau's choice.

He's likely to serve in an advisory role wherever he lands. He just chose not to do so in Pittsburgh, likely out of respect for Butler.

Had LeBeau stayed, it would have been assumed that he was still the defacto defensive coordinator, with Butler holding the title.

This way, Butler gets to do things his way with no confusion about roles.

@ Rooney said he'd like to get a deal done with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sooner rather than later for obvious reasons.

It would give the team a better feel where it is at in terms of cap space being first and foremost.

He did say that negotiations have not yet begun but that he expects the deal to get done.

One thing that he did note was that contracts signed by other quarterbacks around the league this offseason would not matter to the Steelers. He admitted that Roethlisberger's agent might try to use them as a starting point, but that the Steelers wouldn't be swayed by them.

@ The team expects the roughly 3,000 additional seats at Heinz Field to be in place for the start of next season. Construction has already begun, though Rooney said it is a tight window.

Those tickets will be offered to people on the waiting list. And there will be a PSL as well. So if you've been on the waiting list, you could be contacted soon if that hasn't happened already.

@ The Steelers had been scheduled to go to New York in training camp to practice against the Bills this summer as Buffalo did at Saint Vincent College last summer.

That is now up in the air with Doug Marrone leaving and being replaced by Rex Ryan.

The joint practices came due to an agreement between Mike Tomlin and Marrone. Ryan might not want to hold the joint practices.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Steelers news, notes

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell will be honored as the AFC co-offensive players of the year at the NFL 101 Awards in Kansas City next month.

It marks the first time in the 45 years of the award that it will be given to two players - let alone two players from the same team.

Brown and Bell will be the first Steelers to win the award since Kordell Stewart in 2001. Barry Foster also won the award in 1992.

@ The Steelers will likely name Jerry Olsavsky their inside linebackers coach and Joey Porter their outside linebackers coach in the next two days.

@ The Steelers have officially signed former CFL linebacker Shawn Lemon.

The 6-2, 250-pound Lemon, a former star at Akron, had 13 sacks and a CFL-record eight forced fumbles in 2014.

Lemon ran a 4.77 40-yard dash at his college pro day and did 26 reps of 225 but went undrafted.

With James Harrison, Jason Worilds and Arthur Moats all scheduled to become free agents, the Steelers needed some depth at outside linebacker. Lemon could provide some depth  with possible upside and was worth a roll of the dice.

@ I'm scheduled to sit down with Art Rooney II tomorrow - unless he has to reschedule. Have quite a few topics to touch on, including Ben Roethlisberger's contract, the state of the team and the LeBeau replacement.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Second-guessing the Blount decision

There were a lot of people on Twitter Sunday night second-guessing Mike Tomlin's decision to release running back LeGarrette Blount after he walked off the field early following the Steelers' win at Tennessee midway through the season.

But it was more than just that.

Blount exited the field just a few seconds early, as the Steelers were taking a knee to end the game. That, in itself, could have been excused.

But Blount then quickly dressed and went to the team bus, not waiting for Tomlin to speak to the team. And when coach Joey Porter and teammate Mike Mitchell tried to coax him off the bus, he did so grudgingly.

Yes, Blount is a good player. Yes, he might have helped the Steelers in the postseason against Baltimore when Le'Veon Bell was out with a knee injury.

But at what cost?

Nobody in the Steelers' locker room stood up for Blount following his release - even the players he considered and still considers close friends, Bell and Antonio Brown.

And many were glad to see him go, feeling he exhibited selfish behavior.

Think that would have gotten any better had the Steelers kept him around and he continued to see just a play here or there?

Blount considered he and Bell options 1 and 1A. He told me just that while sitting in on the Antonio Brown show five days before the game against the Titans.

Tomlin did not feel the same.

Perhaps Blount could have helped the Steelers in the playoffs. Or perhaps his behavior would have gotten even worse and he would have become a bigger distraction.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What to look for in mock drafts

Now that the college football season is over, the mock drafts will start taking over the internet with basically anyone who has a laptop coming out with their version of how they think things will go in a few months.

So what should you look for in a mock draft?

I always take a look at the Steelers' pick first. If it's something completely off the wall, I immediately discount the rest of the mock.

What would a crazy pick for the Steelers be this year? How about a nose tackle in the first round, for instance.

CBSSportsline has two regular mock drafters who do them throughout the year. One of their mockers, Dane Brugler, has had the Steelers taking Washington's Danny Shelton for about the past two months - no matter where they have been picking.

Shelton is a good player. He might be the best pure nose tackle available in this draft. But the Steelers aren't going to take him.

With Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers already in place, the Steelers don't have a need for a nose tackle.

And with more pressing needs at outside linebacker and corner, taking a nose tackle - who would be on the field for 15 or so plays in some games - would be folly.

If the Steelers' pick makes some sense to me, I'll take a look at the rest of the draft. But even then, it can sometimes be discounted.

Last year, for me that included any draft that had Johnny Manziel going in the top 3. I wasn't a Manziel fan - though I could see how some teams might go for the hype.

The bottom line with mocks is to take them for what they are, somebody's guess about what is going to happen. There's a reason I don't start doing my mocks until after the combine, however.

Teams don't begin to set their boards until after they've had the chance to poke and prod these guys. There's no sense in getting to worked up about the draft until that point.

Besides, for me at least, free agency is just as much fun to look at.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Steelers hire Butler

As expected, the Steelers have hired Keith Butler as their defensive coordinator, one day after he met with head coach Mike Tomlin.

Butler, who had coached the Steelers' linebackers since 2003, said he if happy to accept a "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity.

"This is a dream come true for me, and it would be for a lot of people," Butler told Steelers.com.

Butler said his philosophy wouldn't differ greatly from that of former coordinator Dick LeBeau, with whom he had worked since 2004.

But that doesn't necessarily mean their defenses will function exactly the same - although that's not a bad thing. LeBeau's defenses ranked in the top 10 11 times in his 13 seasons as the Steelers defensive coordinator, including No. 1 five times.

"I would consider myself a whatever-it-takes-to-win guy," Butler said. "If it's a 3-4, that's fine, if that fits your players. I think you have to be able to fit your defense around the players you have. With what offenses are doing nowadays in the National Football League, they're playing a lot of three wide receivers and a tight end and a running back, for the most part. In those situations, we're going to be in kind of a 4-3 anyway, but we're still going to run the 3-4 also. It gives you a bit more versatility, I think."

To Butler's point, when the Steelers have been in their base defense, it has been a 3-4. But when they go to their nickel defense, it includes two defensive linemen - typically the defensive ends moving inside - and the outside linebackers serving as rush ends.

That's why it's always made me laugh when fans talk about the Steelers switching to a 4-3 defense. They already are about 50 to 60 percent of the time!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Steelers DC thoughts

Now that things have settled down a bit from the news that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau would not be back in 2015, we can look a bit at this whole thing a little more clearly.

This is what I know. In the weeks leading up to the end of the season, the Steelers wanted LeBeau back and LeBeau wanted to continue coaching.

At some point, however, that changed.

It could have been a situation that happened while LeBeau was meeting with head coach Mike Tomlin. Both men could have had the intentions of staying together. But during the course of their conversation, that could have changed on the part of one or both.

It also could have been a change of heart on LeBeau's part. Once he figured out that Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel and James Harrison would not be back in 2015, he figured it was also a good time for him to move on.

Either way, from what I hear, the changing of the guard was indeed amicable.

@ That leads us to Keith Butler.

Butler already met with Tomlin to discuss taking over the Steelers defense.

The Steelers linebackers coach has been with the team since 2003 and knows the defense inside and out.

I don't like the assumption, however, that he would simply do things exactly as LeBeau did. After all, has Ray Horton simply copycatted LeBeau?

Horton, unlike Butler, truly is a LeBeau disciple. He not only played for LeBeau, he coached under him in both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

But his defense is ultra-aggressive. It is similar to what LeBeau runs/ran, but with his own personal touches to it.

Butler, meanwhile, played at Seattle before turning to coaching. His only other pro experience is at Cleveland from 1999-2002. He joined the Steelers in 2003, a year before LeBeau returned as the DC.

Would he run a similar defense? Yes. Would it be exactly the same? Probably not.

@ If Butler moves up, Jerry Olsavsky would be the likely hire to coach linebackers.

Olsavsky, the team's defensive assistant, does a lot of in-practice work with the Steelers' inside linebackers already. He could assume the role of overseeing the whole group and continue to work with Joey Porter.

@ If you're looking for a name to replace Olsavsky, how about Deshea Townsend?

Townsend served as a defensive assistant under Horton in Arizona and spent this season coaching defensive backs at Mississippi State.

I'm told he has contacted the Steelers a number of times about returning as a coach.

@ If Butler is not hired immediately, it's not a sign he doesn't want the job or the Steelers don't want him.

If I were in Tomlin's shoes, even if Butler is my guy, I'd still want to talk to a couple of outside candidates to see what they think about my defensive personnel and scheme.

I would use this as a good guide to perhaps gauge outside interest in some of my potential free agents, Jason Worilds, in particular.

@ Arizona has already spoken with LeBeau about joining its staff and that would seem to be the most likely landing spot.

The Cardinals could lose defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and LeBeau, even if he weren't the coordinator, could serve in an advisory role much like the one Tom Moore serves in with their offense.