Thursday, September 03, 2015

Post-Carolina thoughts

Thank God that ugly, ridiculous preseason is over.

In their final two preseason games, the Steelers gave up more than 1,000 yards of offense in losses to Buffalo and Carolina, as their backups proved that many of them don't belong in the NFL.

That's not to say there aren't some guy who can play on those units, but the Steelers don't have much of a JV squad this season.

That might not bode well over the course of a 16-game season. Some of the backups will be pressed into action at some point. And unless it's at the right position - inside linebacker, perhaps CB - they will be in deep trouble defensively.

I've been saying all along the Steelers only have four NFL-caliber defensive linemen. But after watching Daniel McCullers get moved around by the Panthers reserves Thursday night, they might not even have that.

The Steelers had better scour the waiver list Friday and Saturday and come up with one or even two defensive linemen and another offensive linemen.

* Shamarko Thomas, one of just two defensive starters to play in this game along with linebacker Arthur Moats, was getting killed on social media for taking a bad angle on Jordan Todman's 49-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Thomas did take a bad angle, but part of the problem was that Todman came through completely untouched through the line. Gotta at least get one hand on him up there, don't you?

* Mike Tomlin singled out Roosevelt Nix as a guy who stood out to him in this game thanks to a blocked punt. That's the kind of thing that will win you a roster spot, regardless of position.

And the fact that fullback Will Johnson got four carries late in the game tells me the Steelers might be leaning toward keeping Nix over Josh Harris.

Harris was hurt a lot this preseason and didn't do much against Carolina or Buffalo.

Could they go with DeAngelo Williams, Johnson, Nix and Dri Archer to open the season until Le'Veon Bell gets back in Week 3?

Why not? Unless there's another back cut loose that can really help them - in which case, he'll be in demand - that's still better than what they went into the playoff game against Baltimore with last season.

* Tomlin also said the picking a punter will be difficult not because both guys stunk, but because both guys really kicked well.

It's a good problem to have. I'd keep Jordan Berry. I saw how Brad Wing's kicks got shorter and shorter as the weather got colder last season.

Wing has kicked well in this preseason, but Berry has better hang time and, as we saw Thursday night, he can kick a knuckleball that is difficult to catch,

* I expect the Steelers to cut down Friday. They will then scan the waiver wire after putting Maurkice Pouncey on short-term IR and see what's available.

There could also be more cuts Sunday after guys clear waivers. It's going to be an interesting process.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Steelers kick tires on Taylor

The Steelers surprisingly - or not surprisingly - brought in defensive tackle Phil Taylor for a visit, 24 hours after he had been released by Cleveland.

In a way it's a surprising move because Taylor is a nose tackle, a position at which the Steelers have depth.

 At the same time, it shows just how desperate the team is to acquire NFL-caliber defensive linemen. Right now, they have four.

They need at least five and possibly six.

It could just be a case of the Steelers kicking the tires on Taylor, who has had some serious knee issues, in case they need to sign him.

But the Steelers are in a pretty bad spot on the defensive line. They'll be watching the cuts very closely.

@ I've been asked several times for a 53-man roster update. But there's been so much going on with this team in the past couple of weeks, I haven't had time.

Well, here's what I think heading into the preseason finale.

Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Landry Jones - Pretty cut and dried. You can argue until your face turns blue about Jones and/or keeping three QBs. It's what Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin believe in.

Running back/Fullback: (4) DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer, Will Johnson, Josh Harris - Harris has done nothing to earn this, but Jawon Chisholm hasn't been great, either. Perhaps Roosevelt Nix gets the spot to open the season. He could line up as a lead blocker for Johnson. The Steelers get a roster exemption for two games for LeVeon Bell but I can't see them going to New England next week with three running backs on the roster.

Wide receiver: (5) Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, Tyler Murphy - Again, they get a roster exemption for four games for Martavis Bryant. I'm keeping Murphy, who has shown me enough to keep me interested in his future.

Tight end: (3) Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James - The last men standing. Pretty easy.

Offensive line (9): Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Cody Wallace, Alejandro Villanueva, Doug Legursky, Chris Hubbard. Steelers will put Pouncey on IR with designation to return.

Defensive line (5): Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers and Mystery Lineman No. 1 from parts unknown, weight unknown. Walton has promise, I suppose, but he's not ready to play. The Steelers need a DE to back up Heyward and Tuitt. They don't currently have one.

Linebacker (10): Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Arthur Moats, James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Sean Spence, Terence Garvin, Vince Williams, Anthony Chickillo. I'm trying to trade Garvin or Williams, if I'm the Steelers, to get back the draft picks I've already dealt away. If that happens, I'm keeping L.J. Fort, who was picked up a couple of weeks ago but has flashed as a special teams guy. But that goes to show that those kind of guys can be had cheap. Fort has already been released by Seattle and New England this year.

Defensive backs (10): Cortez Allen, William Gay, Brandon Boykin, Antwon Blake, Doran Grant and B.W. Webb at CB; Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden and Ross Ventrone at safety. Tough cuts here. Josh Fogg has consistently made plays throughout training camp and the offseason and has the team's lone interception in the preseason. But he's not beating out one of the top four, so you slide him to the practice squad over Grant, who would get claimed, and Webb, who would be claimed. At safety, it's Ventrone for special teams purposes over anyone else.

Specialists (3): Josh Scobee, Greg Warren and Jordan Berry. I'm keeping Berry because of his big leg. But it wouldn't surprise me if Wing wins it again. It's a very even battle.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Kind of a newsy day

It was kind of a newsy day on the South Side today to let's dig into some of the major topics.

I found it interesting that the Steelers cleared about $6 million in salary cap space by restructuring the contracts of tight end Heath Miller, placekicker Shaun Suisham and wideout Antonio Brown.

Brown's deal, in particular, was revealing.

While Miller and Suisham had straight restructures done - turning salary into signing bonus - Brown's deal moved $2 million of his 2016 salary moved to this season to up his pay to $8 million,

He's now scheduled to earn $6.25 million in 2016 and will have one year remaining on his contract after that. But this move tells me the Steelers are likely to negotiate a contract extension with their star receiver after the season is completed.

* The money freed up could be used on a contract extension with left tackle Kelvin Beachum.

The Steelers entered the day with a decent amount of cap space, between $10 and $15 million, though it's tough to keep track at this time of year. Picking up a little over $2 million for new placekicker Josh Scobee was an added expense.

But the Steelers still would like to get something done with Beachum. Perhaps that will happen in the next few days.

* I really think Martavis Bryant is sorry for the position he put the Steelers in with his suspension for smoking marijuana. He has talked to his teammates about it and they are understandably upset with him.

But when Bryant continues with his "I don't know how this happened" act, as he did again Tuesday, it comes off as disingenuous.

Mike Tomlin was forthcoming about the situation Tuesday. Bryant should have been as well. It would make his statements about not wanting to put the team in this situation again a little more believable.

Then again, it doesn't matter if the fans and media believe him. It only matters if he has the trust of the team.

That obviously is shaken. Hence the selection of wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round of this year's draft, something Tomlin said was a reaction to Bryant's pending suspension.

* Scobee hasn't played for a winning team since 2007. The Steelers haven't had a losing record since 2003.

Think the former Jacksonville kicker is a little happy today?

* Tomlin said he is a little concerned that his presumed starting safeties, Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas, haven't been on the field at lot together in this preseason.

He's not, however, concerned enough to play them together Thursday against the Panthers, saying they got plenty of time together in the offseason.

We'll find out if that's the case in a week and a half in New England.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Steelers trade for Scobee

The Steelers on Monday traded for placekicker Josh Scobee, who had spent all of his career in Jacksonville.

On the surface, it seems like a move made out of desperation. But when you look a little deeper, it appears the Steelers might have made an upgrade not only over Garrett Hartley, but over Shaun Suisham - at least in some aspects - as well.

Scobee has long been one of the better long-distance kickers in the league, making 62 percent of his career kicks from 50 yards and beyond. And, perhaps more importantly, he is a legitimate kickoff guy.

Scobee had an off season last year on field goal attempts, making 20 of 26 - though three of the misses were beyond 50 yards - but he had 63 kickoffs and just 20 of them were  returned.

Suisham had 89 kickoffs last season, but 54 were returned.

Hartley, well, he wasn't much of a kickoff guy at all. In fact, he just wasn't good at it, kicking line drives that failed to make it into the end zone.

Scobee's career make percentage of 80.9 percent isn't as good as Suisham's 84.1, but what the Steelers will give up - at least for this year - in made field goal percentage, they'll gain in kickoffs.

The big thing with Scobee is that he'll cost the Steelers $3.4 million this season. He'll be a free agent at the end of the year, so they'll likely go back to Suisham. The Steelers and Jaguars are splitting Scobee's salary.

That could be enough to still do something with Kelvin Beachum before the season starts, but time is running out on that.

* The Martavis Bryant suspension news came down today.

I'm not going to delve into it to greatly, but I did clear up a couple of things.

This would have been Bryant's third positive test. The first puts you in the system and for the second, you are docked two game checks. The third positive test now results in a mandatory four-game suspension.

Obviously, the Steelers knew about Bryant's other positive tests. It's likely a big reason why they selected Sammie Coates, who has a similar skill set to Bryant, at least in terms of speed and size, in the third round of the draft this year.

Also, both Bryant and Le'Veon Bell will be permitted in the Steelers practice facility during their suspensions.

This was not always the case. The league used to ban players who were suspended from team facilities during those periods. Now, that is only the case, at least for banned substances, if the suspension is under one year in length.

If the player is suspended for PED usage, they are not permitted in the facility at any time.

* The team made its roster cutdowns today to 75. The only players that stood out to me were safety Ian Wild and receiver C.J. Goodwin.

Wild, who also has lined up at linebacker at times, might have lost out to Jordan Dangerfield's knockout blow on special teams against the Bills. I still think he'll be a possibility to come back on the practice squad.

Goodwin also was released in the first roster cutdowns last year and was signed back to the practice squad. But he missed a significant portion of training camp with a shoulder injury, which hurt his chances.

In many cases, the first cutdown is made to make sure the team has enough players at each position to get through the final preseason game.

Don't read too much into players being let go now.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Post-Buffalo thoughts

That was a defensive performance worthy of a team that was missing three key starters - Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons and Mike Mitchell - up the middle.

That's right where the Bills gashed the Steelers on the first two drives - when the "rest" of the starters were out there.

Rookie L.T. Walton got the start for Tuitt and got completely blown out on Fred Jackson's 41-yard run on Buffalo's first play from scrimmage.

That helped allow Ryan Shazier to get engulfed as well, and then it was off to the races for Jackson in the Steelers secondary, where Mitchell's speed might have been a factor in getting him on the ground after, say, a 20-yard gain.

On the next possession, Vince Williams didn't get nearly the depth he needed in his zone against tight end Charles Clay, who turned in a 67-yard TD.

Williams, of course, was starting in place of Timmons.

Do we give the defense a pass for that? Nope.

We haven't seen much of the first-team defense on the field in training camp or the preseason. And that, in itself, is a problem.

But Tuitt, Mitchell and Timmons should be ready to go for the start of the regular season.

* Mike Tomlin was ticked that many of the backups, who played from about the second series on, looked completely overmatched and didn't put up a lot of fight.

That is disturbing, especially with cutdowns looming.

I know it's not been the Steelers' MO over the years, but they should be scouring the waiver wire looking for depth in the next week.

They could use a defensive end who is ready to play - I'd keep a close eye on Buffalo, where Alex Carrington and Red Bryant are both far down the depth charts - for sure.

And now placekicker is again a problem after Garrett Hartley pulled his hamstring on a kickoff.

* Jordan Berry did a credible job kicking off and probably won the punting job with a 58.3 average on his four kicks.

Included in that was a 78-yarder out of his own end zone. That's putting the exclamation point on a day.

* Maybe Michael Vick has more in the tank than I gave him credit for.

* DeAngelo Williams has flashed enough to tell me the Steelers will be fine without LeVeon Bell for two games.

And Darrius Heyward-Bey is a credible enough deep threat to still get the attention of opposing defenses - dude had nearly 1,000 yards receiving for the Raiders a couple of years ago, after all.

But Cody Wallace is going to have to be better than he was in this one if he wants to be the long-term replacement for Maurkice Pouncey.

Corbin Bryant looked like a guy who had something to prove Saturday playing against the team that drafted and released him, but you can't allow him to get to Ben Roethlisberger right out of the gate on the opening series. That's a tone setter.

* Jordan Dangerfield is limited in coverage, but boy does he like to hit people - hard.

I know that's not allowed in today's NFL, but his physical presence and the way he plays reminds me of a young James Harrison.

Like Harrison, the Steelers have cut Dangerfield loose a couple of times, as well.

* Yes, the Bills' QBs picked the Steelers' defense apart. But if Brandon Boykin holds onto what should have been one of the easiest interceptions in his career, he walks into the end zone.

And the entire first half has a much different feel to it.

The dropped interception came after the Steelers had forced Buffalo to punt following its third possession.

A quick score there would have possibly stemmed the tide.

As it was, it was one of just two incompletions the Buffalo quarterbacks threw in the first half and one of three in the game.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Steelers game day thread

Should be an interesting game today at Ralph Wilson Stadium between the Steelers and Bills.

It was a somewhat turbulent week for the Steelers with the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey, signing of Mike Vick and news that Martavis Bryant will be suspended for the first four games of the season.

Today will give Cody Wallace a chance to show he can play at center against a very good front four for Buffalo.

The Steelers will definitely want to see that.

Vick is also expected to see some playing time today. It likely won't be much, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him at some point in the first half with the first unit.

Speaking of that, we'll also get to see a good bit of DeAngelo Williams with the starters as well today. The Steelers want to give him a chance to play with the 1s considering that he'll be one of them in two weeks when they play at New England thanks to Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension.

That brings us to Bryant. The team has still not gotten confirmation from the NFL that Bryant will be suspended to open the season. That will likely come next week at some point when his appeal is heard.

Expect the Steelers to work Darrius Heyward-Bey into the lineup with the starters some today to help prepare for that. Scratch that. Heyward-Bey is not dressed today, which is interesting.

It would have been a good day for him to work with Ben Roethlisberger and company, but they got plenty of work together in the offseason and training camp.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Another day, another controversy for your Steelers

This has turned into one of the more eventful weeks in Steelers' history - at least for a preseason week.

First, the Steelers lost center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken leg and backup QB Bruce Gradkowski to a finger and shoulder injuries last Sunday in a preseason win over Green Bay.

Then, Mike Vick was signed on Tuesday to replace Gradkowski, who was placed on injured reserve.

Finally, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Thursday that wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be suspended the first four games of the season for violation of the league drug policy.

Coupled with Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension to open the season, the Steelers could definitely be behind the 8 ball a little when the season opens.

Bryant is being roundly ripped for his possible suspension - which he is appealing.

It's automatically assumed that Bryant's violation was for an illegal drug, such as marijuana. But we don't know that - though ESPN is now reporting that is is a marijuana violation.

If that is the case, that means he's a second-time offender. And if this is his second offense, he's been randomly tested a lot.

It appears the Steelers will be without his services for the first month of the season.

That means Darrius Heyward-Bey will step into a more prominent role, at least to start the season.

With Bryant suspended, the Steelers almost certainly have to account for that on their roster, whether it be keeping a sixth wide receiver or using Dri Archer as the fifth or sixth guy.

That trickles down to the rest of the roster, which is why I have avoided doing a 53-man projection to this point.