Saturday, May 31, 2008

Steelers work out local pair

According to SteelCityInsider.com, the Steelers worked out Waynesburg University defensive end Mike Czerwien and California University punter Jace Amore after their OTA Thursday.

The 5-8, 225-pound Czerwien led college football with 23 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss last season. He finished his career with 53.5 sacks at Waynesburg.

Obviously, the North Hills High School product would be a linebacker for the Steelers, if they decided to sign him, but no move has been made as of yet.

Amore was a transfer from Temple. The Elizabeth Forward High School grad averaged 40.1 yards per punt last season.

The Steelers did not sign a rookie punter for camp behind Daniel Sepulveda following the draft.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tickets on sale

A limited number of individual game tickets for the Steelers 2008 home games are available through Ticketmaster beginning on Saturday, June 21, at noon. This marks the second consecutive season fans will be able to purchase the tickets through Ticketmaster.

Fans may buy up to four tickets total for the eight regular-season games while there is no limit for the two preseason home contests. A majority of the tickets will be priced at either $59 or $62. However, there will be single seats available at prices ranging from $59-$240.

Tickets will be sold either on www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 412-323-1919. American Express, MasterCard, Visa and Discover will be accepted by Ticketmaster. Tickets will not be sold at Ticketmaster outlets.

Since there are a limited number of tickets available, tickets are expected to sell out very quickly.

Week 2 OTA notes

Rain shortened what was otherwise a pretty lackluster day Tuesday.

A team that had been very loose and having a lot of fun the first week back, didn’t seem all that interested in practicing today. It was probably a little hangover from the long holiday weekend.

The lone time somebody showed some real fire was when safety Anthony Smith jumped a sideline pass from Charlie Batch during a two-minute drill, intercepting it. Smith, of course, couldn’t just pick the pass off, he ran about 10 yards with the ball and then fired it at the fence surrounding the field.

Just when you though the kid might be learning a little something, he goes and does something totally stupid like that.

Why is it stupid?

Much like Joey Porter doing a foot-stomp in training camp and injuring his knee after beating a fourth-string tackle for a sack, Smith firing a ball as hard as he can after picking off a pass in practice is totally meaningless.

The only thing that can happen is an injury.

The coaching staff knows you picked off the pass Anthony. You don’t need any of the extracurricular stuff.

I can guarantee that Dick LeBeau never did anything like that after any of his more than 60 career meaningful interceptions.

© Marvel Smith was still a no-show as he is still at home helping his wife with the birth of their first child. Max Starks continues to hold down the left tackle spot with Smith out, with Willie Colon at right tackle.

Kendall Simmons was present, but still out of action, but Chris Kemoeatu was back at left guard.

With Kemoeatu back in action, Sean Mahan was back at center, with Darnell Stapleton filling in for Simmons at right guard.

The coaching staff seems to really like Stapleton and the fact they feel comfortable enough to line the youngster up at guard as well as his regular center position speaks volumes about that.

© James Harrison was another no-show today, but there was another Harrison, Arnold, holding down the outside linebacker position opposite LaMarr Woodley.

The team isn’t ready to move rookie Bruce Davis up the chart just yet.

© Wide receiver Kevin Marion was only signed by the Steelers after Dorian Bryant failed his physical with the team, but the little man from Wake Forest doesn’t look bad out there.

The 5-10, 168-pound speedster catches everything thrown his way and hasn’t looked like a guy who is technically the last player on the roster.

Just goes to show you that all some guys need is a chance.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Random thoughts

I talked at length to running back Mewelde Moore this week at OTAs and came away impressed with the young man.

While many free agent running backs the Steelers have signed in the past come in looking to carry the ball as much as possible or even win a starting job, Moore – who was signed away from Minnesota – seems to be more than happy to fill his niche with the Steelers.

What will that niche be?

Returning punts and possibly kickoffs and being the third-down back.

Those were both jobs Najeh Davenport filled in the past.

© Gary Russell, another young back the team has, looks awfully good running with the ball. His cuts are sharp and he has a nice burst.

Russell saw limited playing time as a rookie in 2007, but the team liked him enough that it didn't dare try to put him on the practice squad.

With the addition of Moore and first-round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers have a very crowded backfield.

© A national writer took the Steelers to task recently after Mendenhall suffered a strained hamstring during mini-camp, citing that and 2007 No. 1 pick Lawrence Timmons' groin injury as evidence that the Steelers are pushing their young players too hard in these drills.

Maybe he should take a look at Cleveland instead.

Cornerback Daven Holly blew his knee out in the Browns' workouts, adding just another injury to a long list of them that have happened to Cleveland players in that team's workouts.

And after trading Leigh Bodden in the deal to get Shaun Rogers from Detroit, cornerback was one spot the Browns couldn't afford to lose anyone.

Cleveland's run defense may be better this season, but the pass defense promises to be awful.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

OTAs reconvene

The Steelers got back together Tuesday for what will be the bulk of their OTAs with most of the team on the practice field. Left tackle Marvel Smith, wide receivers Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes, and strong safety Troy Polamalu – who will miss all of the sessions while working out in Calfornia – were notable exceptions.

Washington, in particular, may not want to miss too much action. Second-year pro Dallas Baker continued right where he left off in mini-camp and was catching everything in sight.

Baker, a seventh-round pick last season who spent the year on the practice squad, looks like a player who's ready to contribute.

© Think the rookies' heads aren't swimming? Think again. Cornerback Travis Williams, an undrafted player, was checking the playlist tucked in his pants before every play, and even sometimes after the ball was snapped, getting a late jump off the line.

He made perhaps the defensive play of the session, however, breaking up a deep ball intended for Willie Reid. Reid, by the way, is firmly on the bubble with this team, especially since his return skills have proven to be less than what they should be.

© With Smith out, the Steelers looked at a lot of different offensive line combinations, using centers Sean Mahan, Darnell Stapleton and Justin Hartwig at guard, and tackles Willie Colon and Trai Essex at guard as well.

Max Starks saw plenty of action at left tackle.

© No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall was still out of action with the hamstring injury suffered in mini-camp, but second-year defensive end Ryan McBean had his cast off and was practicing lightly.

© I saw one player – I believe it was first-year wide receiver Matt Trannon, but it's tough to tell when they're in street clothes and I don't know all the faces yet – in the lunch room with a fresh cast on his hand, something that doesn't bode well for the youngster.

© Punter Daniel Sepulveda looks like his leg is even stronger than last year. He was consistently kicking the ball into the roof at the indoor practice facility, which is 100-feet high. And some of those balls were still rising when they hit.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

OTAs start this week

The Steelers will begin their OTAs this week. Check back often to get the latest news and notes.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spygate ended?

We learned earlier this week that after meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Matt Walsh had no new information on the Patriots' spying case.

That's actually not all that surprising. And it's not all that surprising that Steelers owner Dan Rooney is again saying this should put the issue to rest.

The NFL wants in the worst way for this to go away, The league knows that there were other teams involved in similar things over the years. Hence Goodell's memo to the league's teams saying that he wanted this stuff to stop – before the Patriots were caught.

With the money involved in this, don't expect a smoking gun to turn up. Too many people with far too much power and money have too much at stake for that to happen.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Not a good sign in Baltimore

According to Associated Press reports out of Baltimore Saturday, the Ravens' mini-camp was the site of a team brawl.

As per the report, nearly all 85 players in camp were involved in a squabble that began when offensive tackle Oniel Cousins and defensive tackle Amon Gordon threw punches after running back Allen Patrick was taken down hard on a burst up the middle. All the players surged toward the middle of the field, and it was nearly two minutes before peace was restored.

Later during practice, which was held indoors because of rain, defensive backs Corey Ivy and Frank Walker came to blows during a blocking drill.

It has a familiar ring to it for me.

Back in 2000, the Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season and had a similar locker room brawl in which linebackers Jason Gildon and Earl Holmes went after running back Richard Huntley for something that happened on the field.

The jawing continued into the locker room and the fight erupted, with reporters stuck in the middle. Luckily for me, I was not one of the guys stuck in the middle, but I was in the locker room at the time and it was not a pretty sight.

Baltimore is coming off a 5-11 season and many of the veterans, much like the ones in that Pittsburgh locker room, see themselves coming to the end of their careers.

And, in fact, by the time the Steelers were good again in 2001, Holmes and Huntley – two of the main combatants - were gone.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Thoughts on Kemoeatu

In talking with Chris Kemoeatu last weekend at mini-camp, I got the idea that he was feeling a little pressure.

Kemoeatu talked time and again about not wanting to let his teammates down as he attempts to replace All-Pro Alan Faneca at left guard.

Kemoeatu has talent. That's never been the question with him. It's his work ethic, not so much on the field, but off of it. He's never been one to hit the books very hard.

With the starting spot now in front of him, Kemoeatu seems to finally get it.

He talked about how the other veterans were counting on him and how he didn't want to let them down.

It's a start.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Mini-camp thoughts

The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their second mini-camp under head coach Mike Tomlin Sunday with hat day.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked ridiculous dropping back to pass with his big, floppy sombrero, but not as ridiculous as placekicker Jeff Reed and long snapper Greg Warren, who were both running around with firemen’s hats on.

Roethlisberger was going for laughs – as was running back Najeh Davenport, who had a huge afro wig on. Reed and Warren undoubtedly thought they were being cool.

Of course, wide receiver Hines Ward wore a silly old-school football helmet all weekend, but he’s another matter altogether.

But the whole thing kind of showed how this team keeps things loose. Throughout every practice, they play little games with each other – ones that have been going on for years now – to keep everything a little light.

Talking to newcomer Justin Hartwig Sunday after his first camp with the team, he said the Steelers’ locker room was much different than any other he’s been in. Hartwig, who spent time with Tennessee and Carolina, said the outside view of the Steelers’ organization is one of class and respect all the way.

And things like Sunday are why this team doesn’t seem to flinch when it loses venerable leaders like Alan Faneca, as it did this offseason.

© It was particularly good to see Ryan Clark on the field running around again.

Had you seen Clark in the locker room last October, you would have wondered if he would make it through the week, not set foot on the football field again.

But Tomlin is still taking a wait-and-see approach. Until the hitting starts, we really won't know if Clark is back.

© Davenport was lining up at fullback some in this mini-camp and while that in itself is not all that uncommon, it’s become much more important for the veteran this year.

With the offseason additions of Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall, there aren’t many roster spots left for running backs behind Willie Parker and fullback Carey Davis.

Playing some fullback might be something that keeps Davenport on the active roster.

© Pity poor Ryan McBean.

Assistant head coach/defensive line coach John Mitchell usually has a promising rookie to beat up on in training camp every year, giving that youngster his undivided, and often caustic, attention.

We reporter types love to wander over to the defensive line workouts during training camp to listen to the Mitch-isms.

With no new draft picks on the line this year, McBean will again be Mitchell’s whipping boy – once he recovers from his lingering foot injury.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Steelers add WR

The Dorian Bryant mystery is over.

The Purdue WR/return man failed his physical with the Steelers, which is why he was in town Thursday, but not with the team Friday when mini-camp opened.

The Steelers signed Wake Forst wide receiver Kevin Marion to take his place on the roster.

The 5-foot-10 Marion caught 44 passes for 485 yards and one touchdown during his career at Wake Forest, making 18 catches for 192 yards as a senior in 2007.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Opening mini-camp thoughts

The first day of mini-camp is always tough because there are so many new players on the field, you actually need a roster handy to figure out who's who. By the time training camp rolls around, I've learned all the numbers, so it's not a problem.

But for now, I have to look at the roster before and after every play.

© Several vets were sitting out, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu among them.

It's no big deal, as it gives some younger guys more reps.

© With Polamalu out, Tyrone Carter was at strong safety. Ryan Clark was at free safety. Clark, by the way, was wearing No. 21, as was new running back Mewelde Moore. I guess they'll have to wrestle to see who actually gets Ricardo Colclough's old uni.

© The starting offensive line was Marvel Smith at LT, Chris Kemoeatu at LG, Sean Mahan at C, Kendall Simmons at RG and Willie Colon at RT.

I spoke with Smith, who's coming off offseason back surgery, after practice and he said he feels better than he has in years.

The back had been hurting him for several years, but last year it got really bad, causing his right leg to go numb.

He's very excited about finally being able to play pain free.

© Rookie wide receiver Dorian Bryant, an undrafted free agent, is no longer on the roster.

Word is that he was in Pittsburgh Thursday night, but was a no-show for practice Friday. I don't know what's up with that, unless he changed his mind and signed with another team after he took a good look around.

© Quarterback Dennis Dixon, who wasn't supposed to be football ready yet, did take one snap with the offense Friday morning.