Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More combine news and notes

Ohio State safety Donte Whitmer, who the Steelers have shown interest in, smoked his 40 in 4.4 seconds. That could be bad news for the Steelers, who likely hoped to get him in the second round, where they have the 64th overall pick.

Chad Greenway ran in the mid 4.7s, not great, but still good enough. Clark Haggans was a 4.8 guy coming out of Colorado State. Greenway looked good in individual workouts Tuesday. He's a solid player and reminds me a lot of Chad Brown in that he could play inside linebacker or outside in the Steelers' 3-4.

The same goes for Bobby Carpenter of Ohio State, who's not working out at the combine because of a broken bone in his foot that is still healing. Could cause some teams to stay away from him the same way Heath Miller's injury did a year ago.

You can add Hofstra wideout Marques Colston to the list of players the Steelers talked to at the combine. Colston is a 6-4. 212-pound wideout who grew up in Harrisburg and went to Susquehanna Township High School.

Rumor has it that former Pitt wide receiver Greg Lee isn't even on the draft boards of a number of teams. Nice decision he made coming out a year early after a sub-par season.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Who they like

Here's a short list of players the Steelers showed interest in at the draft combine in Indianapolis over the weekend:

RB Wali Lundy, Virginia
RB Maurice Drew, UCLA
LB Chad Greenway, Iowa
LB Bobby Carpenter, Ohio State
LB Parys Haralson, Tennessee
S Donte Whitner, Ohio State
DT Babatunde Oshinowo, Stanford
OG Charles Spencer, Pitt
OG Davin Joseph, Oklahoma

That's what we know so far. Lundy and Drew are mid-round prospects, while the linebackers they spoke to carry first-round grades. Whitner is seen as a second-rounder, as are Spencer and Joseph. Oshinowo is a pure nose tackle and carries a late-round grade.

Friday, February 24, 2006

What to do with Ike

The Steelers have an interesting decision coming up about what to do with starting cornerback Ike Taylor.

A restricted free agent, Taylor remains in the team's long-term plans. But the Steelers also have to tender him a contract offer this week or lose the right to match any contract he might get on the open market.

The Steelers could go one of four ways with Taylor.

It could offer him a low tender of $685,000, which would only allow them to match any offer Taylor would get. If they chose not to match the offer, Taylor would leave and the Steelers would receive nothing in return.

The Steelers could also maintains the Right of First Refusal and Draft Selection at the Player’s Original Draft Round, meaning it would agree to pay him roughly $1 million this season and retain the right to match any contract offer he received. If they chose not to match, they would receive a draft pick equal to the one they used to originally acquire Taylor, in his case a fourth round pick.

The third option for the Steelers would be to offer the an estimated $1.5 million one-year tender, which would give them the first right of refusal and a first round draft pick if he signs elsewhere and they decline to match the deal.

And finally, the Steelers could go with the highest tender, which would give Taylor a one-year salary of $2 million and give the Steelers the right of first refusal for first and third round draft picks.

It sounds complicated, but it's really not.

Given his value to the team and his upside, the Steelers will likely tender Taylor the $1.5 million offer and have the right to match any offer he might receive. If they choose not to match the offer, they would receive the first round pick of whatever team signs Taylor.

It's a price that should keep teams from trying to lure the talented young corner away from the Steelers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Why not Law

The New York Jets released Aliquippa native Ty Law Wednesday as part of a salary cap purge.

The 32-year-old cornerback made his fifth Pro Bowl in 2005 after recording a career-high 10 interceptions.

Law signed with the Jets last year after being released by New England. Law also visited with the Steelers last offseason, but never received a contract offer.

But if free safety Chris Hope leaves this offseason, the Steelers could be interested in bringing in a ballhawk like Law to play free safety, a move Law might be willing to make at this point in his career.

Much like Rod Woodson did late in his career, Law could continue to play at a high level at the safety position, where his growing lack of speed could be overcome by his knowledge of the game.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Almost D-Day

The free agency period is just around the corner and the Steelers appear to have targeted Brett Keisel and Chris Hope as their two main priorities and will begin negotiations with both men's agents at the draft combine in Indianapolis this week.

I don't have a problem with that for either player.

Keisel is an intriguing player who has played extremely well when given the opportunity. He'll want starter money, but since he'll be a starter if he's brought back, so what? He deserves it.

Hope has some holes in his game. He doesn't get a lot of interceptions and he gets too high on his tackles at times. But he's also a young enough player that he still has some upside. And there's something to be said for keeping your own guys.

It would take some time for a replacement to learn the team's defensive scheme, though veteran Tyrone Carter, who's already with the team, could open as the starter if Hope leaves.

Neither Hope or Keisel are stars. But they are the kind of guys who know their roles and don't have a problem with them.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sliding free agency back?

In case you missed my story on this earlier in the week, the start of the NFL free agency period March 3 is in jeopardy.

Coming off their first Super Bowl championship in more than 25 years, the Steelers figured to be in a rush to re-sign their own free agents before they could test the open market starting March 3.

But with the NFL Player’s Association and the league’s owners still negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, there has been talk of moving the opening of free agency back to April 1.

Both the players and owners could benefit from a shift in the start of the free-agency period.

With no extension in place, the 2007 season is scheduled to have no salary cap. Because of that, owners may be wary about signing players to new deals until they know the cap status for 2007.

Also, if 2007 remains as an uncapped year, signing bonuses will only be permitted to be pro-rated for four years instead of the seven-year maximum. In addition, any new contracts signed with no collective bargaining agreement in place, by league rule, would only be able to increase their base salary and roster and reporting bonuses by 30 percent in the following years.

The extra month before the free-agent period begins could allow the Steelers to re-sign some of their own players and make some key moves to get under the 2006 salary cap of $95 million, which they must do before the free agency begins.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Randle El gone?

Antwaan Randle El has been back home in Chicago in the past week talking to everybody who will listen to him about his impending free agency.

It may be that he's just answering questions. It may be that he's trying to drum up a market. Heck, it may be that he's just being friendly.

But every statement that Randle El has made makes it sound as if he doesn't expect to be in Pittsburgh next season.

And if he doesn't expect to be back, then he won't.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The day after

The hotel complex here in Pontiac, Mich., is still buzzing.

Members of the Steelers, their families and front office folk are walking around here with huge grins on their faces despite the fact it was a late night and a very early morning.

We're just biding our time here now until the return to Pittsburgh. The players will go back first, followed by everyone else later.

The Super Bowl ended just over 12 hours ago and the highlights are still everywhere on television. It's good to see a lot of these plays again because I didn't get to dissect the game last night like I usually do. Night games are tougg, especially on the print media.

It's been a long week and I'm happy to be heading home.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Walking away

A few of us gathered around to talk in the hours we had to kill before the Super Bowl and talked about what we thought was going to happen.

The subject of Jerome Bettis came up. One guy said he thought Bettis would announce his retirement later in the week if the Steelers won. Me and another guy felt he would wait until later.

He fooled us all.

Bettis hanging it up as he raised the Lombardi Trophy above his head Sunday night will go down as one of the great moments in Super Bowl history.

Bettis had been the storyline all week here in Detroit, his hometown, even though he's been relegated to backup status with the Steelers.

But so much more than being a backup, Bettis was the leader of this team, a championship team.

I consider myself fortunate to have covered him for the past 10 seasons of his Hall of Fame career.

At the stadium

I finally made it into the press box after the 20 or so security checks and a 10 block bus ride that took 30 minutes.

It's three hours until kickoff and the stadium is already halfway full, mostly with Steelers fans. They've turned out in droves as has been the case over and over again.

Apparently too many turned up. Word has it the downtown Detroit bars ran out of booze and beer by 10 p.m. Saturday night. Thousands of people made the trip out from Pittsburgh even though they didn't have tickets.


Wow, it's finally game day.

I've covered one other Super Bowl, that being Super Bowl XXX in Tempe, Arizona, and I don't remember the wait for that game being this long.

Maybe it's because few were giving the Steelers a chance in that game against Dallas. They were, after all, 10.5-point underdogs.

But I'm actually expecting to see a good game today. I'm intrigued by this matchup. It's two good defenses against two balanced offenses. The deciding factor will be which team's star player steps into a superstar role to win this game.

Mistakes will also play a role, so I guess you could consider that the choke factor.

In other news, while the city of Detroit didn't get hit that hard by the snowfall Saturday, the northern suburbs where I, and many, many Steelers fans are staying, did. We've got about six or seven inches on the ground.

I grew up in the northern snowbelt in Pennsylvania, but have been in Washington so long now (14 years Feb. 6) that I had forgotten what lake effect snow was like.

I picked the Steelers to win 31-24 in the paper today, but that was something that was written a couple of days ago. I woke from a dream this morning with the score of 24-14 in my head. I guess I'd better go with that one.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Town's alive

Detroit woke up big time Friday night as thousands of fans from Pittsburgh made the five hour drive to get here, apparently even if they didn't have tickets.

The downtown area was a mess. There were people everywhere and it was impossible to get into any of the establishments.

I guess it was good for the city, but bad for those who weren't lucky to be there early. Oh well.

One of the few Seattle fans I saw was walking in front of us when he turned around, raised his hands in the air and screamed, "Seahawks!" One of my friends gave him a half-hearted "Seahawks" back and the guy looked like somebody had beaten his dog.

"Come on guys," he said.

It was a lonely night for Seattle fans.

Thursday night, my hotel parking lot was empty. Friday, it was full. Today, it's overflowing.

The big news among the reporters was how badly USA Today's Chris Colston blew the Troy Polamalu injury. Colston is the pool reporter who has been covering the Steelers' practices. During the season, the local reporters are allowed to watch practice. At the Super Bowl, only one reporter is permitted to watch each team's practice and then he is supposed to do a report.

Colston apparently only watched the early portion of practice the other day and missed Polamalu getting injured. Reporters who cover practice regularly know that you watch the end of practice. Even if you miss seeing the guy get injured, you can count heads to make sure everybody is practicing.

Polamalu, by the way, is fine.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A who's who

While waiting for a friend on radio row Thursday evening, I couldn't help but notice it was a virtual who's who of pro football.

Lynn Swann came back and was sitting at one station's setup waiting to be interviewed when Rod Woodson walked by. Swann and Woodson met and talked briefly and while that was happening, Joe Greene went walking by.

Then, across the aisle, I noticed that Troy Aikman was sitting at a table being interviewed.

That's an all-star lineup.

I went to a place called The Firehouse across from the Cobo Center downtown Thursday night.

I couldn't figure out why nobody I asked knew where it was until I got there. It's a temporary bar and grill owned by Daimler-Chrysler that was set up for the annual car show and then the Super Bowl.

As the name would suggest, the bar was in an old firehouse.

Better yet, the place used no money. All food and drinks were on Chrysler (I guess they owe it to me for that Dodge Omni I drove in college), though I did leave a nice tip that went to the Detroit Fireman's Fund.

Just two more days to the game now and the town is starting to heat up.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Champs watching champs?

The Steelers were out as a group at the Minnesota-Detroit basketball game Wednesday night and got to see the Pistons - my favorite basketball team since I was a kid - whip up on the Timberwolves.

Could the future champs in their sport have been watching the future champs in theirs? Maybe.

For you outdoors-minded people, I went to a place last night called Big Buck's Brewery and sampled their venison reuben. Now there's a clash in cultures.

But the sandwich was outstanding. I may have to try that one out in my own kitchen when I get back.

Keep it coming

Steelers linebacker Joey Porter went off again Thursday morning at his media session, continuing to trash Seahawks' tight end Jerramy Stevens after Stevens made some inoculous comments about Jerome Bettis going home sad from this Super Bowl.

Porter had a chance to back away from his statements of Wednesday that Stevens was "soft" but actually went at the Seattle tight end even harder, basically calling him out.

This is the beauty of a game like this. There had been too much patty cakes being played between these two teams for the first week and a half.

There may not be the hatred between these two teams that Porter claimed Thursday, they haven't played often enough for that to be there, but there can be some dislike.

There's plenty of that now.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Porter sounds off

You knew it had to happen. Joey Porter finally got a little fired up about something somebody from Seattle said this week, taking offense to some statements made by Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens.

Porter called Stevens "soft" and said he shouldn't be a player who's doing any talking this week leading up to the game.

"I've been asleep all week but now I got woke up," Porter said Wednesday. "I've got my first taste of blood and now I’m thirsty for more. Until now, it was 'Watch what I say,' 'I can’t say this,' 'I can’t say that,' 'Don't do anything silly,' but I’m ready now.
"You look for the guys that say something that aren't supposed to say nothing, and I feel like he definitely was out of pocket to say what he said. I'm going to make sure he owns up to those words."

Porter has been doing plenty of talking lately, but had been quiet in the past week and a half after being warned by head coach Bill Cowher.

We'll see what Cowher thinks of Porter's latest outburst, in which Porter also said Stevens can run, but he can't hide, and that he's going to put Stevens on his back.

The other big news to surface this week has been some photos of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at a party with some young ladies in which Roethlisberger is pouring hard liquor into one girl's mouth.

The photos are semi-recent, but really aren't that big of a deal. Last time I checked, Roethlisberger is an adult. And the photos weren't taken here this week.

Roethlisberger does need, however, to be more careful in these days when everyone has a camera phone.

And finally, one of the Pittsburgh TV stations was trying to make a big deal out of Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward getting in late Monday evening, thinking they had some kind of scoop.

Hey fellas, they didn't have a curfew earler in the week. And the only thing they had to be at Tuesday morning was media day. Obviously, they didn't really have to be awake for that.