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Sunday, August 31, 2008

PS set

The Steelers signed eight players to their practice squad today in
addition to a ninth player who will remain with the team throughout the 2008 season
as part of the NFL's international player development program.

Each of the eight players added to the Steelers' practice squad were in training
camp with the team this summer. All NFL teams were able to sign a maximum of eight
players to their practice squad beginning at noon today.

The players signed by the Steelers include: LB Patrick Bailey, CB Roy Lewis, S Grant
Mason, OT Jeremy Parquet, DT Scott Paxson, WR Micah Rucker, TE Dezmond Sherrod and
RB Justin Vincent.

Wide receiver Marvin Allen was also designated to the team's practice squad as a
part of the NFL's international player development program.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The cuts are in

The Steelers trimmed their roster to the 53-player limit today by placing one player on the Reserve/Injured List and releasing 22 others.

Eleventh-year QB Charlie Batch was placed on the Reserve/Injured List after breaking his collarbone in the Steelers’ preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Third-year LB Arnold Harrison was placed on the Waived/Injured List after injuring his left knee in the Steelers’ preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers. The team also placed rookie LB Mike Humpal (neck) and rookie S Ryan Mundy (ankle) on the Waived/Injured List. Both players were selected by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

The Steelers released 18 other players from their roster today, including: LB Patrick Bailey, WR/KR Eddie Drummond, P Paul Ernster, FB Billy Latsko, OG Doug Legursky, OG Matt Lentz, CB Roy Lewis, S Grant Mason, DE Ryan McBean, OT Jeremy Parquet, DT Scott Paxson, DE Jordan Reffett, WR Willie Reid, WR Micah Rucker, TE Dezmond Sherrod, TE Lee Vickers, RB Justin Vincent and CB Travis Williams.

Wide receiver Marvin Allen will be added to the Steelers’ practice squad as part of the NFL’s international player development program. All NFL teams may sign up to eight players to their practice squad beginning after 12 noon on Sunday, Aug. 31. The addition of Allen enables the Steelers to carry a ninth practice squad player.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A few words about the Washington guys

There are a pair of Washington natives trying to make it in the NFL this season, with center Dan Mozes in camp with Minnesota, and running back Travis Thomas working with the Browns.

Word is, Mozes received news Friday night that the Vikings were cutting him on Saturday, when teams have to trim their rosters to 53 players. But he has a good shot of landing on the team's practice squad.

Starter Matt Birk is a free agent at the end of the season and the only other center on the roster is John Sullivan, a sixth-round draft pick this year.

Thomas' situation is a little more unsettled in Cleveland.

The Notre Dame product gained 70 yards on 11 carries Thursday night in a loss to Chicago. But he's buried behind starter Jamal Lewis and backups Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison on Cleveland's roster.

Thomas' saving grace may be that he's a solid special teams player.

Those who shined; those who didn't

Thursday night's preseason finale was a number of players' final chance at earning a roster spot with the Steelers. Here's who stood out or, at the very least, earned a roster spot:

© Andre Frazier is probably the big winner. With Arnold Harrison going down with what appears to be a serious knee injury, Frazier probably gets a roster spot where one was not available before.

Patrick Bailey made a couple of nice special teams tackles, but hasn't shown enough consistency doing that to merit a spot.

Donovan Woods also looked good – and has flashed at times, at least more so than Bailey – but he's an inside linebacker.

With Bruce Davis not ready to contribute, right now, the only backup outside linebacker ready to play other than Frazier is Lawrence Timmons. And he may be starting inside in place of an injured Larry Foote.

© Mitch Berger wins the punter's job just by letting Paul Ernster kick a few more times.

Berger's not going to set the world on fire, but he's also not going to kick the ball 22 yards.

© Willie Reid wins the fifth - make that fourth - receiver spot because of Limas Sweed's inconsistency.

Sweed will make the roster, but he isn't ready to contribute.

That means the Steelers need a receiver who is ready to make a contribution now rather than later. Reid has the experience factor at receiver over Dallas Baker. Eddie Drummond, meanwhile, did not show enough as a return man to earn a spot on this roster.

Drummond was bitching about not get enough opportunities after the game. Seems he knows his days are numbered as well.

© Charlie Batch will probably be played on the PUP list, giving the Steelers some more time to make a decision about what to do with their quarterback situation.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bubble Boys

Heading into Thursday's preseason finale, here's a group of veterans who are clearly on the bubble and need a big performance:

Darnell Stapleton: Rookie offensive tackle Tony Hills has improved his play the last couple of weeks – though he's still not ready to contribute. And given the team's pending free agents at the end of the season, it has to keep Hills around this season. That could leave Stapleton on the outside looking in if the team only keeps nine offensive linemen on the roster.

Eddie Drummond: Willie Reid stretched his legs a bit last week as a receiver. Unless Drummond shows something truly special as a return man, he doesn't make this team. He's not even in consideration for the No. 5 receiver spot.

Dallas Baker: Reid has the advantage on Baker for the No. 5 receiver spot, but Baker could change that with a big game.

Nick Eason/Orpheus Roye: One's going to make it, the other isn't. Eason has actually had a good preseason, but his career has shown him to be nothing more than a backup. Roye has plenty of starting experience, but is only a one year stop-gap.

Paul Ernster/Mitch Berger: I'd give Berger the edge right now for the punting job. Coaches hate to go with the unknown at the position because they don't want to give it any thought.

Anthony Madison: He's too small to help out as a cornerback, but is a solid special teams player. But rookie Travis Williams or Roy Lewis might be more capable of playing corner and better special teams options.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Steelers release Boyd

The Steelers placed tight end Cody Boyd on the Waived/Injured List, the
team announced today. The release of Boyd brings the team's roster to the NFL
maximum of 76 players, including one international practice squad player.

Boyd (6-8, 264) was originally signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in
May of 2007. He was released by the team and spent a portion of the 2007 season on
the Washington Redskins active roster and practice squad. Boyd was re-signed earlier
this year by the Steelers.

The Steelers currently have 76 players on their roster due to the exemption of wide
receiver Marvin Allen, who will be a member of the team's practice squad this year
as part of the NFL's international player development program.

Hrad coach Mike Tomlin left the possibility open Tuesday for bringing Boyd back on the team once his shoulder heals. Boyd had surgery on the shoulder Monday and Tomlin said the damage wasn't as bad as the team feared.

It appears the team will open the season with two tight ends, using Max Starks as the third tight end - at least until Boyd is ready to return.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Steelers make roster moves

The Steelers placed punter Daniel Sepulveda on the Reserve/Injured List
and made three other roster moves, the team announced today, bringing the team's
total number of players to 77 players (one international practice squad player).

Sepulveda (6-3, 230) injured his knee prior to the team's first preseason game and
had season-ending surgery the following week. The Steelers' first of two
fourth-round draft picks (112th overall) in the 2007 NFL Draft, Sepulveda was the
recipient of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award as a rookie, given annually to
the team's top rookie after averaging 44.3 yards per punt last season.

Additionally, the Steelers released quarterback Mike Potts, wide receiver Jeremy
Bloom and defensive lineman Martavius Prince.

The Steelers currently have 77 players on their roster due to the exemption of wide
receiver Marvin Allen, who will be a member of the team's practice squad this year
as part of the NFL's international player development program. The Steelers must
make one more roster move prior to tomorrow's 4 p.m. ET deadline to meet the NFL's
maximum roster limit.

Fantasy Wide Receiver Rankings

The interesting thing about the WR rankings is where to rank Brandon Marshall and Steve Smith? Both will be on suspension when the season begins, which hurts their fantasy value. But both are extremely valuable fantasy receivers.

1. Randy Moss, New England
2. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona
3. Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis
4. Terrell Owens, Dallas
5. Torry Holt, St. Louis
6. Marques Colston, New Orleans
7. Braylon Edwards, Cleveland
8. Andre Johnson, Houston
9. Steve Smith, Carolina
10. Anquan Boldin, Arizona
11. Wes Welker, New England
12. Chad Johnson, Cincinnati
13. Roy Williams, Detroit
14. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Cincinnati
15. Plaxico Burress, N.Y. Giants
16. Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh
17. Jerrico Cotchery, N.Y. Jets
18. Lee Evans, Buffalo
19. Roddy White, Atlanta
20. Brandon Marshall, Denver

Don't be too scared off by the Boldin situation in Arizona. If he wants paid or to get out of there at the end of the year, he'll have a big season. Colston should be good with the addition of Jeremy Shockey to take some pressure off of him. Smith would go a couple of spots higher if not for the suspension. White kind of scares me because of his QB situation.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Quick hits from Minnesota game

If you’re looking for some insight into the first round of cuts, quarterback Dennis Dixon, wide receivers Jeremy Bloom, Marvin Allen and Micah Rucker, running back Justin Vincent, defensive linemen Jordan Reffett, Ryan McBean and Martavius Prince and guards Doug Legursky and Matt Lentz did not play against the Vikings.

Dixon, however did not play because head coach Mike Tomlin wanted Byron Leftwich to play under fire in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. And Allen gets an exemption on the practice squad as a player from Great Britain.

The rest of that group are likely done here, if not this week, then later.

© I liked what I saw from Rashard Mendenhall - with the two fumbles being a very notable exception.

Mendenhall ran with greater power and had some very nice cuts.

Now, he'll have to work on that whole ball protection thing.

But it's better to get that kind of stuff out of the way now rather than in September against Houston.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Fantasy Running Back Rankings

Here are my top 20 fantsy running backs heading into 2008

1. LaDanian Tomlinson, San Diego
2. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
3. Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia
4. Joseph Addai, Indianapolis
5. Frank Gore, San Francisco
6. Steven Jackson, St. Louis
7. Clinton Portis, Washington
8. Marshawn Lynch, Buffalo
9. Marion Barber III, Dallas
10. Larry Johnson, Kansas City
11. Reggie Bush, New Orleans
12. Jamal Lewis, Cleveland
13. Brandon Jacobs, N.Y. Giants
14. Ryan Grant, Green Bay
15. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville
16. Willis Mcgahee, Baltimore
17. Edgerrin James, Arizona
18. Willie Parker, Pittsburgh
19. LenDale White, Tennessee
20. Ronnie Brown, Miami

LT is a no-brainer at the top, but Peterson is something of a risk at No. 2 given his injury history. Jackson could struggle after his lengthy holdout. I like Barber, but he's never had to carry most of the load and his running style lends itself to injury. My league counts catches as a point, which is why Bush is so high. If your league doesn't, bump him down about six spots. It's looking like Brown, who's been hurt throughout the preseason and is coming of a major injury, will be sharing carries with Ricky Williams.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fantasy QB rankings

For those of you who aren't long-time readers of this blog, it actually started three years ago as a fantasy football blog.

I used to do preseason rankings and then give my hot wire pickups and weekly sleeper picks. Then I realized that all the guys I was competing against were reading my blog and discontinued that.

But as a nod to the good old days, I'm going to have my fantasy rankings available here for all to see:
1. Tom Brady. New England
2. Tony Romo, Dallas
3. Drew Brees, New Orleans
4. Peyton Manning, Indianapolis
5. Carson Palmer, Cincinnati
6. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh
7. Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia
8. Derek Anderson, Cleveland
9. Matt Haselbeck, Seattle
10. David Garrard, Jacksonville

Brady is a no-brainer at No. 1, while Manning slips a little because of his knee injury. I don't like Anderson as much as some fantasy magazines and sites do. In the second half of last season he had four games with fewer than 200 yards passing and only had 12 TDs. Garrard is something of a surprise on the list, but if you look at his numbers down the stretch, it's deserving.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

OK, forget Humpal

Linebacker Mike Humpal did not practice again today as the Steelers held their first workouts at their training facility after breaking camp and head coach Mike Tomlin has already pretty much ruled the sixth-round draft pick out for Saturday's game at Minnesota.

I had Humpal on my 53-man roster I did Monday, but as Chuck Noll used to say, "you can't make the club in the tub."

Take Humpal off that roster and put Tyrone Carter back on, though linebacker Donovan Woods could make a strong case for himself this weekend.

© In case you missed it, former Steelers' punter Josh Miller was released by Tennessee Tuesday.

Miller, however, is 38.

Monday, August 18, 2008

My 53-man roster

NFL teams have another 10 days or so before they have to get down to their 53-man roster, but with training camp finished, I’m ready to trim the Steelers’ roster now. Here’s what I’m coming up with.

QBs: (3) Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon. The Steelers will wait as long as they can before releasing Charlie Batch, but it will probably happen.

RBs: (5) Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Carey Davis and Gary Russell. This is pretty much a no-brainer position.

WR: (5) Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington, Limas Sweed and Dallas Baker. It was once assumed Eddie Drummond would make this team and he still could. Baker is clearly on the bubble and needs to show something on special teams or Drummond could send him to the practice squad.

TE:: (3) Heath Miller, Matt Speath and Cody Boyd. This is a tough call because all of the guys vying for the third spot have been banged up with the exception of Lee Vickers, who was only signed Saturday. Vickers could beat Boyd out, particuarly if Boyd is unable to play Saturday at Minnesota with a lingering shoulder problem.

OL: (10) Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Kendall Simmons, Willie Colon, Max Starks, Trai Essex, Sean Mahan, Darnell Stapleton, Tony Hills. Hills is the only tough call here. He doesn’t deserve to make the roster based on play, but the team has to have an eye on the future.

DL: (6) Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Travis Kirschke, Chris Hoke, Orpheus Roye. This assumes Roye has anything left in the tank. And Nick Eason could actually beat out Kirschke, though I doubt it. Scott Paxson has one more year on the practice squad.

LB: (9) James Harrison, James Farrior, Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Keyaron Fox, Arnold Harrison, Mike Humpal and Bruce Davis. Humpal has been banged up a lot and Davis makes the team because of his draft status. It’s a tough call between Harrison, Andre Frazier and Donovan Woods for what will be a special teams position. Woods could open some eyes Saturday.

DB: (9) Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Deshea Townsend, Bryant McFadden, Anthony Smith, William Gay, Ryan Mundy and Roy Lewis. Tyrone Carter spent all of training camp at strong safety with Polamalu out, but he is just so limited because of his lack of size. Lewis bumps Anthony Madison and Travis Williams because he can also play safety.

Specialists: (3) Jeff Reed, Mitch Berger, Greg Warren. Berger beats out Paul Ernster, but the team could still sign somebody else to punt depending on who’s released in the next two weeks.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Steelers sign Roye

The Steelers signed 47-year-old defensive lineman Orpheus Roye to a contract Sunday, hoping, praying, that somebody will knock Nick Eason off of this roster.

Roye, you'll remember, was a 1996 draft pick of the Steelers, who left the team to sign with Cleveland back in the stone ages. He was replaced in the starting lineup by a young Aaron Smith.

So much for getting younger on the defensive line.

Who's next? Ernie Stautner?

The signing of Roye shows a bit of the team's desperation for backup help on the defensive line. And desperation is not a good thing in the NFL.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Steelers make another flurry of moves

The Steelers made three roster moves today, including signing free
agent tight end Lee Vickers, placing tight end Jonathan Dekker on the Waived/Injured
List and waiving defensive end Kevin Huntley.

Vickers (6-6, 275) was originally signed as a rookie free agent by the Steelers as a
defensive end out of North Alabama in 2006 but was released that same season in
training camp. He was then signed as a tight end to the Philadelphia Eagles practice
squad where he spent most of the 2006 season on the practice squad. Vickers was
released by the Eagles and signed by the Baltimore Ravens in 2007 and played in nine
games as a tight end, starting two. He caught two passes for four yards but was
released last week from the Ravens.

Dekker (6-5, 250) suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Steelers' preseason
game against the Buffalo Bills. He originally signed as a rookie free agent with the
team in 2006 and spent the entire 2006 season and 11 games of the 2007 season on
Pittsburgh's practice squad. He was signed to the active roster for the final five
games of the 2007 regular season, seeing action in three contests.

Huntley (6-7, 290) was waived after failing his physical. He originally signed with
the Oakland Raiders as a rookie free agent from Kansas State in 2006. Huntley played
in the final five games of his rookie season with Oakland and registered 10 tackles,
2.5 sacks and a recovered fumble. He spent the 2007 season with the Atlanta Falcons
and recorded three tackles while playing in five games. The Steelers claimed him
last week from the Washington Redskins.

I like Vickers. He was one of the "offseason phenoms" of last season, but didn't work out as a defensive player. But the former quarterback and pitcher is a superior athlete who has some special teams experience.

© In other news, it appears the Steelers are targeting Tuesday for Troy Polamalu's return to the field. That would mean Polamalu would see some action in Saturday's game at Minnesota.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Post-game thoughts

I don't know how the coaching staff will be able to keep Lawrence Timmons off the field.

I like Larry Foote a lot. He's always been a stand-up guy with me through thick and thin. But Timmons has the look of a future Pro Bowl player.

His closing speed is Kendrell Bell-like. And unlike Bell, Timmons has a head on his shoulders.

© I don't lose a lot of sleep over preseason games – though it is currently past 2 a.m. when I'm making this post – but you know what I mean.

Buffalo really, really wanted to win this game in front of a Canandian crowd it was trying to impress.

That's no exuse for allowing Trent Edwards to look like the second coming of Steve Young, but hey, Tyrone Carter was on the field.

© Justin Hartwig's holding penalty was really the only thing I saw from him that I didn't like. Remember, he was facing a much defensive line this week than Sean Mahan did against Philadelphia.

Marcus Stroud is still a load in there when he wants to be. And Hartwig helped keep him out of Ben Roethlisberger's face.

Marvel Smith also saw just how good Aaron Schobel is.

Schobel might be the best player in the NFL nobody has heard of.

© Rashard Mendenhall has got to learn to get lower if he wants to pound it between the tackles in the NFL.

Running high through a hole may work against Minnesota, but he'll find out next week it won't work against the Vikings.

© I really like what I'm seeing now out of Dennis Dixon. The kid is looking much better than he did in the first week of camp.

Much of that is probably because he's shaken the rust off. It's hard to believe – especially after watching him hug the sidelines on his long TD run – that he had major knee surgery less than a year ago.

© Johnathan Dekker's injury may have opened a spot for Cody Boyd on this roster - though I thought Boyd was the better option until he was slowed by a shoulder injury.

But Dezmond Sherrod had a nice block as well on Dixon's touchdown run.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Steelers sign DE, cut Clement

The Steelers added a new name to their roster today when they claimed third-year defensive end Kevin Huntley off waivers from the Washington Redskins.

Huntley (6-7, 290) originally signed with the Oakland Raiders as a rookie free agent from Kansas State in 2006. He played in the final five games of his rookie season with Oakland and registered 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a recovered fumble. He spent the 2007 season with the Atlanta Falcons and recorded three tackles while playing in five games.

The Steelers made room for Huntley on their roster by releasing rookie free agent defensive end Kyle Clement.

Breaking for the Bills

Training camp is winding down and I know the players probably couldn't be happier.

After watching practice after practice for the past two weeks, I know that I'm tired of it all. The players have to really be sick of it.

Mike Tomlin must have sensed that a little and gave them the morning off after having them stretch to make sure nobody had gone over the wall.

I kept a close eye on new punter Mitch Berger today and came away with unimpressed.

Berger is more consistent than Paul Ernster, but doesn't kick the occasional 60-yarder than Ernster does. He also didn't shank anything, which Ernster has done a couple of times as well.

Tomlin took time during his press conference today to rip the media for what he thought was an unfair portrayal of safety Anthony Smith as a thug.

Tomlin said Smith's feelings were hurt by the portrayal.

Talking to Smith later in the day, I didn't get that sense. He just said that he's never robbed anyone and doesn't have a record, so he can't be a thug.

Guess he's got a different idea of what the word means than most people.

Tomlin did say, however, that Thursday's game against Buffalo will be a big one for Smith, who has missed a good amount of time in camp with a hamstring problem.

The team is liking what it has seen from rookie Roy Lewis, and it likes Ryan Mundy's upside.

It's possible Tomlin is looking for a good reason to rid himself of Smith.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Watching Leftwich

I came away from seeing Byron Leftwich for the first time in practice Monday morning impressed.

He's got a canon for an arm, far more so than Charlie Batch.

Now, I'm starting to think that maybe, just maybe, Batch's spot here isn't so firm.

Batch was having surgery Monday and it wouldn't surprise me if the team eventually releases him. Leftwich looks like a better player.

He threw a perfect strike to rookie Limas Sweed in the front corner of the end zone on his first play in red zone practice Monday morning. Sweed dropped the ball.

He just missed Dallas Baker on his next attempt on a short slant, but followed that up by threading the ball to tight end Jonathan Dekker at the goal line. It was a pass Batch couldn't make.

I like Charlie. He's a great guy.

But he doesn't have this kind of arm strength - not any more, not ever.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Leftwich signs, but what does it mean?

The Steelers signed Byron Leftwich and have led him to believe he has a chance to beat out Charlie Batch for the No. 2 job in Pittsburgh behind Ben Roethlisberger.

Maybe Leftwich was buying it, but I'm not.

Batch is a Pittsburgh guy who's very involved in the community, something that's very important to the Rooneys. He's also very popular with his teammates - perhaps more so than Roethlisberger.

And if rookie Dennis Dixon continues to show that he can be an eventual replacement for Batch, there won't be any room on the roster for Leftwich.

So long as Batch is only going to be out four to six weeks, I don't look for Leftwich to be around all that long.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Post-game thoughts

As I sit here on my couch at 1 a.m. re-watching the game - I'm sick like that – I'm a little surprised at how well the Steelers offensive line played.

The line is really gashing holes in the Philadelphia defensive front and the running lanes are very big for Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall.

© With Charlie Batch out four to six weeks, I'd look for the Steelers to sign Kelly Holcomb. He's worked with Bruce Arians before - in Cleveland - and would be a good short-term fit. If he's so inclined to come in and be a rent-a-QB.

© Daunte Culpepper and Byron Leftwich may be out of reach. They both still want to be starters.

And if they sign with the Steelers for a month and a starting job comes open, they'll be kicking themselves.

© I had to do a double take a couple of times when the Steelers lined up a couple of times in a one-back offense with Carey Davis at running back.

He ran the ball once out of that set and split wide to catch a pass on another occasion.

All that offensive talent on this team and you've got Carey Davis running and catching the ball?

I like Carey Davis, but come on.

© The battle for the fifth corner spot is going to be a very good one to watch.

Anthony Madison, who held the spot last season, played pretty well, but Roy Lewis and Travis Williams did as well.

Williams did have a pass interference penalty late in the game, but made up for it with a sweet step around later in the drive.

He also had two special teams tackles, including one as a gunner where he beat two guys down the field.

© Yes, that was Justin Hartwig getting out on the edge and sealing the corner for Mendenhall's 15-yard run in the second quarter

He'll start at center next week and won't give the spot back to Sean Mahan, not that Mahan played poorly Friday night.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Youngsters to watch

As promised, here are some young guys who have looked pretty good thus far during the offseason and training camp who I'll be keeping a close eye on in the Steelers' preseason opener:

© Dallas Baker, WR, No. 81 - Baker looks much more confident this season than last. The 2007 seventh-round pick has good size and has shown an ability to get open – when nobody is hiting him (Anthony Smith aside). Now will come the true test.

© Roy Lewis, CB, No. 30 – Lewis has stepped up and made some plays in training camp and has also played some safety as well as corner. His versatility could give him a roster spot if he can beat out Anthony Madison, but special teams will be key.

© Travis Williams, CB, No. 31 – Like Lewis, Williams is an interesting kid. He doesn't double as a safety, but he's a return man as well as being a corner. He won't get a shot to return against the Eagles, but likely will against the Bills next week. If he shows something as a gunner against Philadelphia, it's a plus.

© Martavius Prince, NT, No. 96 – Prince has a lightning quick first step. He probably can't win a roster spot this year at nose tackle, but this is a guy who could be the next Chris Hoke, somebody who continues to hang around and turns into a player.

© Mike Humpal, LB, No. 55 – Humpal missed some time because of a hamstring injury, but it will be interesting to see if he's the special teams demon the Steelers expected him to be when they took him in the sixth round of the draft. He looks like a pretty good coverage linebacker.

© Micah Rucker, WR, No. 87 – Rucker will look like a tight end out there. But the 6-6, 221-pounder is a receiver with great big hands. This kid could be the next Walter Young, a guy who hangs around for a few years but never amounts to much. Or he could wind up being a great find down the road. He's way more athletic than Young, though.

© Scott Paxson, DT. No. 71 – With Casey Hampton out, Paxson will play with the second team defensive unit. Can he hold up against another team's quality backups?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Smith still doesn't get it

Anthony Smith returned to practice for the first time since the opening day of training camp and immediately showed what had been missing while he was out – the knucklehead factor.

Smith, who blasted Willie Reid twice on the opening day of camp in non-contact drills - hammered Hines Ward to the ground in a seven-on-seven non-contact drill Wednesday.

The coaches were not at all happy, with one yelling, "Are you out of your God damn mind." It wasn't a question so much as a statement.

Smith was looked at as the team's free safety of the future as recently as last year's training camp, but it's becoming apparent that he just doesn't have the mentality to play the position.

Nailing the team's all-time receptions leader in a non-contact drill is no way to keep your roster spot.

© Surprisingly enough, everybody practiced today, save PUP listers Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton. Mike Tomlin did say today that he expects Polamalu and Hampton to return as early as next week.

© I really like what I've seen of running back Mewelde Moore as a receiver. He catches the ball fluidly in space and never slows down. The Steelers haven't had a receiving option like him out of the backfield in some time.

© Check back here tomorrow for my picks on youngsters to watch in Friday's game.

OK, now Roethlisberger will play

Ben Roethlisberger must have lobbied hard Tuesday. Mike Tomlin said today Roethlisberger will play a series in the team's preseason opener against Philadephia.

The first-team line will play the first quarter, presumably while Charlie Batch is still in there. After that, the game will be in the hands of Dennis Dixon and Mike Potts.

Sean Mahan will get the start at center, while Tomlin said today that Justin Hartwig will start next week against Buffalo at Toronto.

Tomlin finally said he wants to have his starter in place by the third preseason game at that position.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Roethlisberger won't play

Don't look for Ben Roethlisberger to play at all Friday night against the Eagles in the Steelers' preseason opener. Mike Tomlin hasn't announced it yet, but I'm told he's leaning that way.

© Chris Kemoeatu looked very good today in practice and even did the old pulling play at the goal line to get Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall into the end zone against the first-team defense.

© The Jordan Reffett mystery has been solved. His wife is having a baby and the rookie defensive end went home to be with her. He's expected to return Wednesday.

© The funniest thing at practice Tuesday came after was over. A lot of the big boys - defensive and offensive linemen and tight ends - took turns fielding punts out of the juggs gun.

They don't get paid because they have good hands - except for the tight ends.

The only tight end to drop the ball was Jonathan Dekker.

© According to's Jim Wexell, Casey Hampton is now at 345 pounds, meaning he's lost 15 in the past week.

Rule changes and points of emphasis video

Just wanted to share something the league sent me today. This should help explain some rule changes and points of emphasis. This is the same video shown to the players at training camp.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Kemoeatu back

As I told you would happen yesterday, Chris Kemoeatu returned to practice today when he was activated from the PUP list.

I got a good chance to watch Kemoeatu in the one-on-one drills and you see why the team likes him so much. He's just a big, powerful guy with a nasty streak.

He did about 10 reps in the pass protection drill and dominated eight of them, with only Ryan McBean and Kyle Clement getting the best of him on one rep each. And that's a rusty Kemoeatu.

The only question with him over the years has been his ability to pick up the playbook. It's not that he's not bright, but he does have some language issues that seem to hold him back a little.

© Today was a big day off for veterans as 10 guys sat out, most with groin injuries. I've come to believe that the groin injury is now an excuse for Mike Tomlin to give his vets a rest.

James Harrison, Deshea Townsend, Marvel Smith and Brett Keisel were among our groin injuries today, with Kendall Simmons sitting with a shoulder injury. None are considered serious.

© If you're looking for some feeling into how the team is thinking, Lawrence Timmons replaced Harrison in the base defense, while Andre Frazier replaced him as a rush end in the quarter. That would lead me to believe Frazier is the leading candidate as the fourth outside linebacker – though Bruce Davis figures to get a scholarship year as a third-round pick.

But if Timmons shows he can play OLB, maybe they let Frazier go and just keep Davis. I doubt that, though.

Bryant McFadden was in the base for Townsend. No surprise there.

Max Starks replaced Smith, while Darnell Stapleton took over for Simmons. That was a little surprising as Trai Essex, who had been in for Kemoeatu at left guard, moved to the second team.

© The team did some kick return practice today, with Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Jeremy Bloom, Willie Reid and Eddie Drummond taking turns deep.

Mendenhall muffed one of his attempts.

© Justin Hartwig seems to be getting his feet under him in one-on-one drills and is no longer being beaten by Chris Hoke, the team's best practice player.

Hoke goes hard every rep - it's one of the things the coaching staff loves about him. And he routinely makes whoever he's working against look bad because he's working at game speed.

Hartwig appears to have adjusted to that, which is a good sign.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Some things I've learned

During Friday night's practice, I heard Bill Hillgrove announce over the PA system that there was a vehicle with an Ohio license plate registered to a certain person (he used the name, which I can't remember) that had its lights on.

I thought it was strange that if they knew who the vehicle was registered to, why they just didn't say his name and tell him his lights were on.

Turns out, it was a little inside joke.

The person in question was a scout from the Cleveland Browns and the Steelers wanted to let him know that they knew he was there.

There's nothing shady about scouting a practice, however, under league rules if the team is charging admission for it as the Steelers do every year at Latrobe's Memorial Stadium.

That's why the Redskins coaches were so angry with owner Daniel Snyder a couple of years ago when he charged admission to every Redskins training camp practice. By doing that, he opened all of their practices up to opposing teams.

© A source tells me Chris Kemoeatu will return to practice Monday afternoon. He's just waiting on a special brace for his injured elbow - which apparently happened when he was running and missed a step, falling into a wall.

The starting left guard spot is Kemoeatu's when he returns, even though the team has been happy with how Trai Essex has performed there while Kemoeatu is on the PUP list.

© Another source tells me there is no battle at right tackle. The job is Willie Colon's.

© The center battle won't be decided until the team sees Sean Mahan and Justin Hartwig play in the preseason.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Roethlisberger is fine

The e-mails were pouring in today. How's Ben Roethlisberger's groin?


The Steelers quarterback apparently tweaked his groin at the end of Friday night's practice. He and the rest of the team's veterans sat out Saturday morning's practice, but Roethlisberger was back out on the field in the afternoon.

He didn't do any of the team portion of practice, but he did work in individual and seven-on-seven drills. It's no big deal.

LaMarr Woodley sat out today with a sore groin, but it gave the team a chance to work Lawrence Timmons at outside linebacker. It appears Timmons is going to be the team's fifth linebacker, kind of like being the sixth man in basketball.

James Farrior served in a similar capacity with the Jets early in his career. That worked out OK for him, though not so much for the Jets.

Random stuff that may interest only me

I just finished up doing a radio show with Bill Hillgrove at Sharky's here in Latrobe and it reminded me of what a consummate pro Billy is.

He just makes it so easy.

© The morning practice was pretty blah. The veterans were given the morning off after last night's practice.

But that did give me a chance to get a good look at young quarterbacks Dennis Dixon and Mike Potts.

It wasn't pretty.

Dixon delivers the ball like he's throwing a dart and is pretty inaccurate - though his athleticism is apparent.

Potts is more accurate, but doesn't have an NFL-caliber arm.

© That did afford some interception opportunities and Anthony Madison, Travis Williams and Ryan Mundy obliged.

I watched Mundy closely this morning and the sixth-round pick appears to be thinking too much out there rather than just reacting.

He's always a step slow to the play and it appears to be because he's trying to think about where he's supposed to be instead of just doing it.

On his interception - against Potts - he jumped a route down the middle and took a ball away from tight end Jon Dekker to end practice.

Mundy has the best size of any safety on this team. If he can put it together - not likely this season - he could be a player.

© Doug Legursky, a guard-center from Marshall, is back with the club, which released rookie placekicker Julian Rauch.

That tells me that Chris Kemoeatu isn't as close to a return as I thought and that the team is concerned with the back injury that kept center Sean Mahan out of practice Friday night.

Mahan, however, returned to practice this morning.

© Justin Hartwig looked pretty good at center in place of Mahan Friday night. Maybe that's why Mahan hurried back.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Friday night lights

Santonio Holmes was MIA because of a death in his family and will be gone until Sunday. That will afford Nate Washington an opportunity to run with the ones in his attempt to hold off rookie Limas Sweed for the No. 3 job.

Washington should be able to do that - at least initially.

Sean Mahan was out with a sore back Friday night, giving Justin Hartwig his first shot to work with extensively with the first-team line.

Hartwig actually looked decent, which means Mahan will likely be back sooner rather than later. That is, after all, how he basically beat out Chukky Okobi last summer. Okobi was injured too much for a true battle for the spot to take place.

Lawrence Timmons was the star of the backs on backers drill. The way he was exploding through would-be blockers, I thought they must have showed him film of Kendrell Bell in his rookie season. Of course Bell was exploding through offensive linemen, not running backs.

It was a former Steelers linebacker reunion as Jerry Olsavsky, Jason Gildon and Kevin Greene were all here Friday night.

Greene has been working with the team's outside linebackers through out camp, while Gildon arrived here to do the same.

Olsavsky is a linebackers coach at Youngstown State and was in town to watch practice.

Random suff that may interest only me

I got an e-mail this morning from former O-R hockey writer Bob Grove. He's working for Comcast now in its PR department in addition to doing his radio stuff for the Penguins.

Comcast's Steelers on Demand is offering fans all kinds of shows on the team this year, including live training camp updates with Tunch Ilkin. If you have Comcast and haven't checked them out, you should.

© We'll meet with officials this afternoon to go over any rules changes in the league this year. One of the officials here this year is Tony Steratore, a resident of Peters Township.

We exchanged some greetings this morning. I did a big story a couple of years ago on Tony and his brother, Gene, who at the time were the only brother combination on the same crew in the NFL.

Tony had just gotten done working the Super Bowl as well.

© I thought maybe I was a little crazy on my Billy Latsko assessment, so I asked about him last night.

It appears the team has noticed the backup fullback as well. I don't know that he'll make this team because it still likes Carey Davis and Davis is a solid special teams player. But if Latsko can prove his worth on special teams as well, maybe they keep both of them.

© I'll be doing a radio show on 970-AM from noon to 2 p.m. from Geo's in Latrobe with Bill Hillgrove. Give us a listen if you get a chance.

© Also, the officials clouded the issue of who will be able to wear the Steelers' other defensive radio in their helmet.

According to the officials, the two players with radios in their helmets can't be on the field at the same time. And they also said the second player with the radio in his helmet can't just change to a regular helmet to go on the field if the main guy is out there.

The Steelers were planning on using Ryan Clark as their second guy, but I asked today and they may have to change that with this clarification.

The reasoning, according to the officials, is so that they don't have to keep looking for the guys with the green dots on their helmets.

It will also be a five-yard penalty for illegal substitution if the backup radio guy enters the game and doesn't report to the officials.

Sounds like more trouble than it's worth.