Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Looking at the URFAs

The Steelers picked up a couple of young defensive linemen as rookie free agents in Martavius Prince of Southern Mississippi and Jordan Reffett of Washington, but I wouldn't expect either to make a push to make this team as anything except as practice squad players.

My opinion may change once I see them practice - starting this weekend - but that's the feeling for now, as both went undrafted in what was considered a so-so defensive line draft.

Then again, they are just trying to beat out Nick Eason.

The two guys the Steelers did get as undrafted rookies who I like are wide receiver Micah Rucker of Southern Illinois and center Doug Legursky of Marshall.

Rucker is a 6-6 receiver with some speed who had an outstanding season at Southern Illinois last year. He caught two touchdowns working against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – a first-round draft pick – when those two squared off.

Legursky has good size and I felt he had a good chance to be drafted. But there isn't always a strong push to draft centers. He also may be able to play some guard.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

That's a wrap

Let me just say this about the Steelers' draft, they had me right up until they took Dennis Dixon in the fifth round.

Rashard Mendenhall was a great value in the first round, as was Limas Sweed in the second.

Bruce Davis in the third round may have been a little higher than I had him rated, but he's a strong pass-rushing tweener end and that's the same round the Steelers have taken previous stars Joey Porter and Jason Gildon, so it fits – especially now that there are more teams running 3-4 defenses than before. Davis wouldn't have been there when the Steelers drafted in the fourth round.

If Tony Hills can play left tackle, he was well worth a fourth-round pick. He certainly has a better pedigree than Trai Essex, whom the Steelers selected in the third round a few years ago out of Northwestern.

Dixon is a bit of a mystery. He won't be ready to get back onto the football field for at least another month after suffering a torn ACL at the end of last season.

Considering he's fighting to be the team's third QB – which is basically a camp arm – the more time he misses, the worse off he'll be.

And there's a chance he may not even be ready until training camp. That's a lot of reps he'll miss between now and then.

He's a talent, to be sure, but it was a bit of a guilty indulgence.

Mike Humpall, the linebacker out of Iowa who was the first of the team's two sixth-round picks, is the new Clint Kriewaldt. A smart, instinctive player who was a tackling machine at Iowa, Humpall should be an excellent special teams player.

Ryan Mundy, the team's final pick, is another heady player, which is what the Steelers like in their free safeties.

In fact, Mundy is so smart, despite transferring into West Virginia for a fifth year under an NCAA rule that now no longer exists, Mundy was the guy who lined up the Mountaineers on defense last season.

He's also another player who should be a solid special teams player, as should Davis.

Yep, not a bad draft at all.

Where's the beef?

3:34 p.m. - Defensive line coach John Mitchell's head has to be spinning right about now as the Steelers have done nothing to address their defensive line in this draft.

With two picks left, one of them has to be a d-lineman.

The favorites right now are Wallace Gilberry from Alabama, Eric Foster from Rutgers or Keilan Dykes from WVU. But Foster and Dykes are NT-types and the Steelers' real need is at end.

A good day's work

There were plenty of happy faces around the offices of the Pittsburgh Steelers Saturday.

And why not?

The team had just pulled off a pair of draft-day heists without giving anything up in selecting running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed with its first two picks in the NFL draft.

Think about an offense that gives Willie Parker the ball 15 to 20 times and Mendenhall another 10 or so touches?

Or how about one that now has the 6-4 Sweed to put on the field with Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and Heath Miller with Pro Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger distributing the ball?

Either way you look at it, it could be an explosive offense.

The Steelers came into the draft hoping to solidify their offensive and defensive lines. And to this point, they haven’t accomplished that.

It’s a priority heading into the second day.

By not taking an offensive tackle in the first two rounds Saturday, the Steelers may have uncharacteristically painted themselves into a corner for 2009, when Max Starks, Marvel Smith and Trai Essex are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents.

And on the defensive line, the same cast of characters returns for 2008 that was here in 2007. That’s not necessarily a good thing considering what happened after Aaron Smith was lost in the second half to injury.

At this point, the team needs to either pick up some linemen, or at least add to its pass rush with a linebacker. They make look for some corner help for depth.

Here’s who the Steelers could be looking at going forward to fill those needs:

Round Three
Oniel Cousins, OT, UTEP; Red Bryant, DE, Texas A&M; Kendall Langford, DE, Hampton; Cliff Avril, LB; Purdue; Shawn Crable, OLB, Michigan; Marcus Howard, OLB, Georgia

Round Four
Bruce Davis, OLB, ULCA; Darrell Robertson, OLB, Georgia Tech; Bryn Smith, OLB, McNeese State; Breno Giacomini, OT; Louisville; Charles Godfrey, DB, Iowa; John Greco, OL, Kent

Round Five
King Dunlap, OT, Auburn; Eric Foster, DE, Rutgers; James Blair, OT, W. Michigan

Sixth Round
William Hayes, DE, Winston Salem State; Keilen Dykes, DL, West Virginia; Jamie Silva, S, Boston College

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Draft day news

The Post-Gazette had Kentwan Balmer as the pick, but I've heard some on the coaching staff don't feel he's quick enough to play end in the 3-4.

With the Patriots taking Mayo, Cherlius is not back in play for the Steelers. Philadelphia and Houston will be key picks.

Baltimore didn't get as much as it should have for the eighth pick in the trade with Jacksonville, but it put the Ravens in a position to take a young QB without having to trade up from the second round.

It's look like Cherlius is going to fall to the Steelers, but it's still dicey. Houston will likely take a lineman, as could Philadelphia and/or Arizona.

Wow. Lots of trades today. Rashard Mendenhall and Michael Jenkins are falling. One of them should be available for the Steelers and would be solid picks.

It looks like Mendenhall is the pick. Wow. Never would have seen that coming until about 4 p.m. today when all the trades started.

Look for the Steelers to target offensive line or defensive line in the second. Targets include Kendall Langford and Dre Moore on the D-line and Chilo Rachal and ONeal Cousins.

The Steelers also like Calais Campbell, even though he's coming off a poor senior season at Miami.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Final Mock

This is the one that will be appearing the paper Saturday, barring any trade tonight.

1. Miami, Jake Long, OT, Michigan. Miami went the safe route and signed Long to a deal earlier this week. The Dolphins will likely take a quarterback with their first pick in the second round.
2. St. Louis, Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU. If the Rams stay in this spot, they’ll take Dorsey, but there are a number of teams who may want to move up to get him, New Orleans topping that list.
3. Atlanta, Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College. If Dorsey were still available, the Falcons may have taken him and waited until the second round for a QB. But Ryan is a nice consolation prize.
4. Oakland, Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas. How does Al Davis pass on former Raiders’ star Howie Long’s son, Chris? He’s apparently enamored with McFadden, even though the team has a bevy of running backs.
5. Kansas City, Chris Long, DE, Virginia. The trade of Jared Allen to Minnesota netted the Chiefs some extra picks, including Minnesota’s No. 1 this year. Now, the draft nets them a solid replacement for Allen.
6. New York Jets, Vernon Gholston, OLB, Ohio State. The Jets really wanted McFadden, but settle on Gholston, who will shift from defensive end to outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense.
7. New England (from San Francisco), Keith Rivers, LB, USC. The Patriots haven’t selected a linebacker before the fifth round of the draft since Bill Belichick became head coach. But retirements and free agency have made that a necessity now.
8. Baltimore, Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State. The Ravens could move up if Atlanta doesn’t select Ryan. But with Jonathan Ogden likely to retire, Clady fills a big need as well. Baltimore will take a QB in the second round.
9. Cincinnati, Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC. A high character player, Ellis may feel out of place in the Bengals’ locker room. But Cincinnati struck out in all its attempts to acquire a defensive tackle in the offseason.
10. New Orleans, Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy. If the Saints can’t move up to take Dorsey or Ellis, they’ll take a cornerback. McKelvin is also an excellent return man, allowing the Saints to hold Reggie Bush out of that role.
11. Buffalo, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie. The Bills could go for Michigan State wide receiver Devin Thomas, but will likely wait until the second round to fill that need. Rodgers-Cromartie has the size and speed to match up with bigger wideouts.
12. Denver, Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt. With Matt Lepsis’ retirement, the Broncos have a hole at left tackle. Williams fills that need, though there are some rumors that he has back problems, which could mean the Broncos take Branden Albert instead.
13. Carolina, Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida. Mike Rucker retired this week and the Panthers need somebody to take the pressure off of Julius Peppers rushing the passer.
14. Chicago, Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt. The Bears could take a running back, but Otah is just the type of road-grader offensive lineman the Bears like. They can then grab a running back in later rounds.
15. Detroit, Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois. The Lions released Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett left in free agency. They would take Harvey if he’s available. But since he’s not, Mendenhall should be the pick.
16. Arizona, Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida. Antrel Rolle is making the move from corner to free safety leaving the Cards with a hole at cornerback. Jenkins is a solid player and gives Ken Whisenhunt some much-needed depth at the position.
17. Kansas City (from Minnesota), Branden Albert, OL, Virginia. Larry Johnson had nowhere to run for much of the season last year because the once-proud Chiefs offensive line was mediocre at best. Albert is an immediate starter.
18. Houston, Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon. The Texans wanted an offensive lineman or corner, but the guys they were targeting in the first round were off the board, so they fill another need, taking the bruising Stewart.
19. Philadelphia, Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State. The Eagles have been searching for a big wideout to pair with Donovan McNabb since Terrell Owens left. Now they get one in Thomas, who had a huge 2007 season.
20. Tampa Bay, Limas Sweed, WR, Texas. Joey Galloway is 36 years old, even though he hasn’t appeared to slow down much. But at some point, they need a talented young receiver to take his place.
21. Washington, Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson. New head coach Jim Zorn and owner Daniel Snyder attended Merling’s workouts earlier this week at Clemson. And defensive line is a huge need for the Redskins, though they’d take Thomas or Sweed if they were available.
22. Dallas (from Cleveland), Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas. After letting Julius Jones leave in free agency, the Cowboys get a speedy young running back to pair with Marion Barber.
23. Pittsburgh, Gosder Cherlius, OT, Boston College. There isn’t a defensive lineman the Steelers like in this spot and the only other player who might interest them is Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo. Cherlius fills a big need.
24. Tennessee, Kentwan Balmer, DT, North Carolina. The Titans still have Albert Haynesworth, but need somebody to line up next to him. A wide receiver is possible – James Hardy? – but Jeff Fisher is a defensive-minded coach.
25. Seattle, Lawrence Jackson, USC. Jackson had an excellent on-campus workout a few weeks ago and was productive in USC’s defense. He’s a bit of a surprise here, though, since the Seahawks could also go for a tight end.
26. Jacksonville, Quinton Groves, DE/LB, Auburn. Groves will play defensive end for the Jaguars, who need some help at the position. They would have liked Balmer or Jackson, but settle for Groves.
27. San Diego, Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville. I don’t think the Chargers will be making this pick. But Brohm will be taken in this spot by a team at the top of the second round that wants to move up for a quarterback.
28. Dallas, Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas State. Talib would have gone earlier, but three positive drug tests in college force him down. As Jerry Jones proved earlier this week by trading for Pacman Jones, he doesn’t mind bringing in bad character players.
29. San Francisco (from Indianapolis), Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma. Kelly was once considered the top WR in this draft, but didn’t run well. But he’s a player and even though the 49ers signed Issac Bruce and Bryant Johnson, they need some talented youth at the position.
30. Green Bay, Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona. Cason was considered one of the top corners available until he didn’t run well at the combine. But he’s a playmaker and Green Bay’s starting corners are both over 30.
31. New England (pick forfeited) 
32. New York Giants, Jerod Mayo, LB. Tennessee. The Giants could go for a corner or safety, but Mayo is too good to pass up at this point.

Draft weekend updates

Check back early and often this weekend as I'll be updating what I'm hearing throughout the draft process Saturday and Sunday from the Steelers' headquarters.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Seahawks cut Alexander

The Seattle Seahawks cut ties with running back Shaun Alexander on Tuesday, a curious move to make on the eve of the draft.

Alexander could interest the Steelers, who continue to look for a complimentary runner for Willie Parker.

With much of the free agent period completed and the draft coming up, there's not a lot of money out there to be spent by teams, so Alexander isn't going to get a big contract.

Detroit may be interested and would make sense as a possible destination, but if Alexander wants to take another run at a Super Bowl, he may not jump at an offer just to start.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Starks signs tender

In what was a smart move for Max Starks, he signed the Steelers' transition tender offer of $6.9 million on Saturday, a week before the NFL draft.

Though I was told it was unlikely the Steelers would pull the transition tag off of Starks, the team's No. 3 tackle in 2007, Starks had to be thinking that if the team selected offensive linemen with its first two picks next week – as it did with linebackers in 2007 – yanking the offer may have been a possibility.

Starks' signing means that right tackle Willie Colon will likely shift to left guard to replace departed Alan Faneca. He also gives the team some insurance should left tackle Marvel Smith's surgically repaired back act up again in 2008.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mock Take 2

1. Miami, Chris Long, DE, Virginia. Though the Dolphins opened negotiations with offensive tackle Jake Long first, you can bet they’ll also do so with some of the others considered. And Bill Parcells will settle on Chris Long as the pick. Pick in previous draft: Long

2. St. Louis, Vernon Gholston, DE, Ohio State. The Rams could grab offensive tackle Jake Long, but feel the value will be there later in the draft. Gholston is a lot like current Rams’ star Leonard Little, without the drinking problem. Previous pick: Jake Long.

3. Atlanta, Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU. No change from my previous draft, as Dorsey fills a big need.

4. Oakland, Jake Long, OT, Michigan. After striking out with Robert Gallery a couple of years ago, the Raiders go for another offensive tackle. Previous pick: Sedrick Ellis.

5. Kansas City, Matt Ryan, QB, Kansas City. The Chiefs will be looking to move down and pick up some extra selections – Baltimore being a possibility. Barring that, the Chiefs go for a QB. Previous pick: Ryan.

6. N.Y. Jets, Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas. McFadden gives the Jets a running back of the future and a home run hitter. Previous pick: McFadden.

7. New England, Keith Rivers, LB, USC. The Patriots haven’t selected a linebacker higher than the fifth round under Bill Belichick. But that has to change this year. Previous pick: Gholston.

8. Baltimore, Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State. With Jonathan Ogden likely to retire, Clady makes sense here unless the Ravens can get Ryan. Previous pick: Clady.

9. Cincinnati, Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC. The Bengals failed in their attempts to acquire some beef up front in the offseason, but Ellis will fill that need. Previous pick: Rivers.

10. New Orleans, Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy. With Dorsey and Ellis off the board, the Saints go for a defensive playmaker. McKelvin paired with Reggie Bush would give the Saints a ridiculously good return game. Previous pick: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie..

11. Buffalo, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB, Tennessee State. The Bills would like a receiver, but none are worthy of being taken this high. Previous pick: Derrick Harvey

12. Denver, Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt. With Matt Lepsis’ retirement, the need for an offensive tackle is too grat to overlook. Previous pick: Williams

13. Carolina, Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida. The Panthers need somebody to rush the passer opposite Julius Peppers. Previous pick: Branden Albert.

14. Chicago, Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt. The Bears have a big need at offensive tackle. Running back Rashard Mendenhall is also a possibility. Previous pick: Otah.

15. Detroit, Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois. With Kevin Jones’ release, the team won’t go with Tatum Bell as it’s top back. That makes Mendenhall a necessity.

16. Arizona, Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida. The Cardinals desperately need help at cornerback. Previous pick: McKelvin.

17. Minnesota, Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson. Merling takes care of a need for the Vikings. Previous Pick: Merling.

18. Houston, Branden Albert, G/OT, Virginia. The Texans need corner help, but with the top three off the borad, and Aqib Talib falling because of off-field problems, they go offensive line. Albert can play left tackle. Previous pick: Kenny Phillips.

19. Philadelphia, Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State. The Eagles have been trying to get Donovan McNabb wide receiver help since Terrell Owens went crazy in Philadelphia. Previous pick: Mike Jenkins.

20. Tampa Bay, Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma. Kelly was once considered the top receiver in the draft, but poor workouts caused him to drop. He won’t drop too far, though. Previous pick: Kelly.

21. Washington, Limas Sweed, WR, Texas. Three receivers in a row. Previous pick: Devin Thomas.

22. Dallas, Felix Jones, RB, Arkansas. Some felt Jerry Jones would move up to take Darren McFadden. But why do that when Jones is available? Previous pick: Jonathan Stewart.

23. Pittsburgh, Gosder Cherlius, OT, Boston College. The Steelers give serious thought to Stewart, but go for the bigger need. Previous pick: Quentin Groves.

24. Tennessee, DeSean Jackson, WR, California. The Titans need to get Vince Young some help. Previous pick: Kentwaan Balmer.

25. Seattle, Kentwaan Balmer, DT, North Carolina. The Seahawks are tempted by Stewart as well, but go for the bigger need. Previous pick: Martellus Bennett.

26. Jacksonville, Lawrence Jackson, DE, USC. Jackson’s stock is rising after a solid workout and the Jaguars need help at defensive end. Previous pick. Calais Campbell.

27. San Diego, Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon. After losing Michael Turner, the Chargers grab another powerful runner to pair with LaDanian Tomlinson. Previous pick: Gosder Cherlius.

28. Dallas, Aqib Talib, CB, Kansas. The Cowboys roll the dice, even though Talib reportedly skipped a scheduled meeting with them recently. Previous pick: Talib.

29. San Francisco, Quentin Groves, LB, Auburn. Groves was an undersized defensive end at Auburn, but will play outside linebacker in San Francisco’s 3-4.

30. Green Bay, Antoine Cason, CB, Arizona. Al Harris and Charles Woodson aren’t getting any younger. Previous pick: Dan Connor.

31. N.Y. Giants, Kenny Phillps, S, Miami (Fla.). Phillips didn’t run well, but he’s a playmaker. Previous pick: Reggie Smith.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A closer look at the schedule

At first glance, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 schedule looks loaded with annual and potential playoff contenders – and it is.

But looking at it a little more closely, it's not as bad as it seems.

In fact, the playoffs could be a strong possiblility again in Mike Tomlin's second season.

I know – it's difficult to look at a schedule, particularly before the draft, and say who's going to do what.

But if you look at it with an eye on the past, you can get an idea of what the end result will look like.

The Steelers open at home Sept. 7 in a game against the Houston Texans, a game they should win with relative ease.

After that, they travel to Cleveland to face the team many feel will be the one to beat in the AFC North this season.

But Cleveland still has to show that it can beat the Steelers, something it has done just once in the last 10 times the two teams have met. Even though it will be a Sunday night game and the Browns will be fired up for prime time, I’m not ready to chalk that up as a loss just yet.

We'll come back to this game later.

Next, Pittsburgh travels cross state to face Philadelphia Sept. 21.

The Eagles will be coming off a short week after playing at Dallas on Monday night. Again, it’s a tough game, but not one I’d ready to assume is a loss even though the Steelers haven’t won in Philadelphia in the regular season since 1965, going 0-7 in that span.

The Steelers return home to face Baltimore in a Monday night game Sept. 29, a game they should win.

They next head to Jacksonville on a short week to face the Jaguars in another prime time game, one that is likely a loss. Pittsburgh has its bye in Week 6 and comes out of that to head to Cincinnati. Given what Cincinnati has done this offseason, there’s nothing to suggest the Steelers shouldn’t win that game.

After that, Pittsburgh comes home to face the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, a game they should be able to win at home. As the Steelers found out a couple of years ago, everybody gives the defending champions their best shot.

They then head to Washington for a Monday night game Nov. 3 in what should be another tossup.

Nov. 9, the Steelers return home on the short week to face Indianapolis. But Indianapolis will be coming off a game against New England, which, given the way that game has been treated in recent years, will be like a mini-Super Bowl.

It smells like a letdown game to me for the Colts.

The Steelers had better not have a similar letdown the next week, as San Diego rolls into Pittsburgh. But the Chargers are just 2-12 in games in Pittsburgh, so you have to like the Steelers in that one as well.

Finally, a three-game home swing ends Thursday, Nov. 20 with a game against Cincinnati, a game that will be very difficult for the Bengals considering the short week.

That should be another victory.

Pittsburgh heads to New England Nov. 30 in what should be a sure loss before coming back home to host Dallas Dec. 7. The game will be the Cowboys’ lone road trip in a five-game stretch and we’ll write it off as a loss.

After that, Pittsburgh heads on a two-game road trip, first at Baltimore, then at Tennessee.

The Steelers, for whatever reason, always seem to split with the Ravens, so a win at Heinz Field earlier in the year will mean that we’ll chalk up a loss in that one.

At Tennessee the next week, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should be able to come up with a plan to shut down the running game and force Vince Young to beat the Steelers, something I don’t think he’s capable of doing.

Finally, the Steelers finish up with Cleveland at home in a game that could decide the winner of the AFC North.

With the schedule the way it is before the bye, the Steelers figure to be 3-2 at best, 2-3 at worst at that point.

If they start 3-2, wins over Cincinnati (twice), the Giants, Indianapolis, San Diego and Tennessee will have the Steelers sitting at 9-6 heading into the finale with the Browns and likely mean that a win at Heinz Field will give the Steelers a playoff spot and/or the AFC North title.

If they go 2-3 in their first five games, they’re going to have to steal a win at some point – against Dallas at home, or Baltimore or Washington on the road – to get to where a win over the Browns in the finale will put them at 10-6.

Now all of this supposes wins over a couple of tough teams at home – Indianapolis and San Diego – along the way. But that's not out of the question.

What happens with the draft and injuries will certainly play a factor in what eventually happens this season.

But the bottom line is that the Steelers figure to be in the hunt for the playoffs again in 2008.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I guess I was right

When Cedrick Wilson was released last month following his arrest for assaulting his former girlfriend in a crowded bar, many pundits claimed the Steelers weren’t being consistent.

Why did the team release Wilson and not linebacker James Harrison or running back Najeh Davenport, two players facing similar charges?

At the time, I simply stated that while Wilson allegedly punched his former girlfriend in a crowded bar with multiple witnesses, there were no witnesses in Harrison and Davenport’s cases other than the two men and the two women involved.

In the past couple of weeks, charges against Harrison were dropped, while Davenport won a case in court, showing that I was right.

I’m not saying that domestic violence isn’t abhorrent and doesn’t occur. But when it becomes a case of one person’s word against another, it’s awfully hard to prove guilt unless there are obvious signs of trauma. It become a case of he said-she said. And any parent knows that there is no good way to settle such disputes without evidence.

In Wilson’s case, however, with a number of witnesses available, there was no way he was going to be proven innocent.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

First mock

With the NFL draft now just a couple of weeks away, it’s time to start figuring out who is going to go where.

Here’s one stab at who could – or at least in my opinion, should – go where.

1. Miami Dolphins, Chris Long, DE. Virginia. Long is everything you’d want in a player, though the Dolphins would certainly like to trade down to acquire more picks.

2. St. Louis, Jake Long, OT, Michigan. St. Louis’ offensive line was awful last season because of injuries and ineffectiveness.

3. Atlanta, Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU. Dorsey’s workouts eased a lot of minds about his injuries.

4. Oakland, Sedrick Ellis, DT, USC. The Raiders have been spending like crazy this offseason, but there is still a need at defensive tackle. Former USC assistant Lane Kiffin knows all about Ellis.

5. Kansas City, Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College. When your quarterbacks are Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard, that position is an obvious need. Offfensive line is as well, but the Chiefs have to grab the QB.

6. N.Y. Jets, Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas. Thomas Jones isn’t getting any younger and underwhelmed in his first season in the Big Apple last season.

7. New England, Vernon Ghoulston, DE/OLB, Ohio State. Bill Belichick loves players with position flexibility. Ghoulston fits the bill.

8. Baltimore Ravens, Ryan Clady, OT, Boise State. Jonathan Ogden is likely done. Clady will help fill the void.

9. Cincinnati, Keith Rivers, LB, USC. The Bengals would have loved Ellis to fall to them, but settle for a stud linebacker.

10. New Orleans, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Tennessee State. The Saints added Randall Gay and still have Mike McKenzie, but McKenzie is 32.

11. Buffalo, Derrick Harvey, DE, Florida. Buffalo had just 26 sacks last season. Harvey will help the pass rush.

12. Denver, Chris Williams, OT, Vanderbilt. Matt Lepsis retired, leaving a big hole on the Broncos’ offensive line. Denver is really looking to move down, though.

13. Carolina, Branden Albert, G/OT, Virginia. The Panthers snap up the player the Steelers would really love to have.

14. Chicago, Jeff Otah, OT, Pitt. The Bears need to upgrade the offensive line and Otah could be plugged in at right tackle as a road grader.

15. Detroit, Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois. The Lions failed in their efforts to sign Julius Jones and released Kevin Jones.

16. Arizona, Leodis McKelvin, CB, Troy. It looks like Antrelle Rolle is moving to free safety full time.

17. Minnesota, Phillip Merling, DE, Clemson. Kenechi Udeze’s diagnosis with cancer makes this a big need.

18. Houston, Kenny Phillips, FS, Miami (Fla.). The Texans had an NFL-worst 11 interceptions last season. He didn’t run well at the combine, but he’s a playmaker.

19. Philadelphia, Mike Jenkins, CB, South Florida. Even with the signing of Asante Samuel, the Eagles are looking to get rid of Lito Sheppard.

20. Tampa Bay, Malcolm Kelly, WR, Oklahoma. Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard are older than Mozes.

21. Washington, Devin Thomas, WR, Michigan State. New head coach Jim Zorn will be looking for a big receiver to match with Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El once the top defensive ends are off the board.

22. Dallas, Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon. There is some concern that Marion Barber won’t be able to hold up getting 300 carries with his physical running style.

23. Quentin Groves, OLB, Auburn. Groves will play immediately as a situational pass rusher even though the Steelers took linebackers with their first two picks last year. Gosder Cherlius is a possibility, but the Steelers stay true to their board and take the best player available.

24. Tennessee, Kentwaan Balmer, DT, North Carolina. The Titans lost a lot on their defensive front this offseason and Jeff Fisher’s teams are always strong up front.

25. Seattle, Martellus Bennett, TE, Texas A&M. Fred Davis is a possibility, but Bennett is a better all-around player, particularly as a blocker.

26. Jacksonville, Calais Campbell, DE, Miami (Fla.). It’s hard to believe considering how the Jags’ defense played against the Steelers, but they need help on the defensive line.

27. San Diego, Gosder Cherlius, OT, Boston College. Cherlius will be expected to step into the lineup in place of Shane Olivea.

28. Dallas, Aquib Talib, CB, Kansas. Dallas could have gone corner with its first pick, but the value is here now.

29. San Francisco, Pat Sims, DT, Auburn. Sims will help keep blockers off of last year’s top pick and NFL defensive rookie of the year Patrick Willis.

30. Green Bay, Dan Connor, LB, Penn State. Will challenge Brady Poppinga right out of the gate.

31. N.Y. Giants, Reggie Smith, DB, Oklahoma. Smith could play corner or safety and the Giants need help at both spots.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Three weeks and counting

Here we sit three weeks away from the biggest weekend of the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers and we really don’t know anything more about the team’s plans than we did a month ago.

Here we sit three weeks away from the biggest weekend of the offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers and we really don’t know anything more about the team’s plans than we did a month ago.

Despite the signing of center Justin Hartwig, the Steelers still have a need for players on their offensive line. He’s not a capable replacement for All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, who signed with the Jets, but he could push Sean Mahan to the bench.

And after flirting with signing Booger McFarland to improve their offensive line depth, the Steelers instead re-signed Nick Eason, a player who failed when given a chance to replace injured Aaron Smith in 2007. Add to that the re-signing of Travis Kirschke, and the defensive line right now has the exact same group of performers that it did last season.

So other than adding Hartwig, the Steelers have done nothing to improve their play up front – something head coach Mike Tomlin said was a necessity after last season’s collapse down the stretch.

Where does that leave the team?

Virginia guard Branden Albert – the player most linked to the Steelers now on draft boards – is said to be a player on the rise as teams are beginning to look at the athletic junior as a possible left tackle prospect.

If Albert is gone, the Steelers won’t panic. They’ll still make a pick or trade down – with only six picks, a trade up is very unlikely.

But looking at the current draft boards, their options will be limited. The only other first-round lineman the team has met with is tackle Gosder Cherlius.

The release of No. 4 wideout Cedrick Wilson last month after assault charges were filed against him leaves an opening at that position, though some in the organization think Dallas Baker, a seventh-round pick last year, may be ready to jump into that spot.

Still, Hines Ward isn’t getting any younger and adding a talented receiver such as Michigan State’s Devin Thomas would make sense. But the Steelers haven’t hosted any high-profile wide receiver prospects and it appears they won’t make that position a priority.

The Steelers have hosted Kansas State cornerback Aqib Talib, a first-round talent who should be available at pick No. 23. And given Deshea Townsend’s advancing age, he would be a sensible fallback option as well should Albert be gone.

Tracy Porter, another cornerback with a low first, high second-round grade, will also visit the team next week, showing that may be what the team is thinking.

The only other players who have visited thus far who have possible first-round grades are linebacker prospects Quentin Groves and Cliff Avril, though some consider defensive tackle Dre Moore – another visitor – a late first-rounder.

They would improve the depth in the front seven and would also make sense, particularly given the age concerns the team has to have in that group.

We’re closing in on the pick, just as, I’m sure, the Steelers are as well.

Mozes in Minnesota

Washington native Dan Mozes is getting a great opportunity with the Minnesota Vikings with starting center Matt Birk skipping the team's offseason workouts because he's unhappy with his contract.

Mozes, the former West Virginia star, missed the entire 2007 season after blowing out a knee in training camp during a scrimmage with Kansas City.

The former Rimington Award winner as college football's best center signed with the Vikings following the 2007 draft and was given a decent chance on making that team's roster.

Right now, with Birk sitting out, Mozes is the only true center on the team's roster.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Preseason schedule, other notes

The Steelers' preseason schedule is as follows.

Date Time Opponent/TV
TBD............................. TBD........................ PHILADELPHIA/KDKA-TV, FSN Pittsburgh
Thursday, Aug. 14 ....... 7:30 p.m. ........... at Buffalo (Toronto)/KDKA-TV, FSN Pittsburgh
Saturday, Aug. 23........ 8 p.m. .......................................................... at Minnesota/CBS
Thursday, Aug. 28....... TBD .............................. CAROLINA/KDKA-TV, FSN Pittsburgh

Though there is no date and time for the first game, you can figure that it will be Thursday, Friday or Saturday of the preceeding week, which would mean it will be played around Aug. 8 or 9. That would mean the team's training camp will open 14 days prior to that for those of you making plans on coming to Latrobe.

© The Bengals finally had it with Chris Henry on Thursday after his arrest for assault, releasing the oft-troubled former West Virginia star.

Chad Johnson is also an unhappy camper and is asking to be traded. But with Henry now gone, that's unlikely to happen.

In fact, despite needing extensive help on their defensive front, the Bengals may now be forced to use a high draft pick on a wide receiver, something few thought would be needed a couple of seasons ago.

Character matters.

© In case you hadn't heard, the assault charges against Steelers linebacker James Harrison were dropped.

Harrison voluntarily entered domestic abuse counseling and the alleged victim in the case wanted no further retribution.

There is a good chance Harrison will not face a suspension from the league because the charges were dropped.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Steelers shut out in comp picks

The Pittsburgh Steelers will have six picks to work with in the NFL draft later this month after receiving no compensatory picks from the NFL on Monday.

Two other AFC North teams were a little more fortunate.

The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals received four picks each, the most awarded to any team this year.

Baltimore lost four compensatory free agents in 2007, including star linebacker Adalius Thomas to New England, and didn’t sign any.

Cincinnati lost five free agents, including guard Eric Steinbach, who signed with division rival Cleveland.

Only four of this year’s picks were awarded in the third round – the highest level at which compensatory picks are given – as Washington, Cincinnati, Atlanta and Baltimore picked up extra selections at the end of that round.

A total of 15 teams were awarded compensatory picks as Washington, Chicago, Indianapolis and Philadelphia each got three selections. Buffalo, Carolina and Miami got two extra picks, while Atlanta, Green Bay, St. Louis, San Diego, Tennessee and the New York Giants were awarded one.