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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

One to go

With third-round pick Kraig Urbik now signed, the Steelers now have just one draft pick remaining unsigned - first rounder Ziggy Hood.

It's continued a strong run by Omar Khan of getting everybody in camp on time.

In fact, since Khan joined the team, the Steelers have not had a prolonged rookie holdout, something that has helped contribute to their success on the field.

Even though all the first rounders have contributed greatly in their first year, having them there for the full training camp helps the maturation process and every one of their first rounders has been a big contributor by his second season since Khan has taken care of negotiations.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Steelers talking extension with Clark

According to the NFL Network, the Steelers are actively talking about a contract extension with safety Ryan Clark, who's scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2009 season.

As I reported earlier this week, the team is also in active negotiations with tight end Heath Miller.

The Steelers picked up a little over $3 million in salary cap space this week by signing left tackle Max Starks to a contract extension and seem intent on using it to keep some key parts of this team in Pittsburgh beyond this season.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Browns sued by former player

From the Associated Press:

CLEVELAND (AP) — Former Cleveland Browns receiver Joe Jurevicius is suing the team and the Cleveland Clinic, accusing doctors of negligence over a staph infection in his right knee that kept him off the field last year.
Shannon Polk, an attorney for Jurevicius, said the lawsuit was filed Friday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court. It alleges that team physicians failed to warn Jurevicius that therapy equipment was not always cleaned at the team’s training facility.
Jurevicius has said he contracted staph following arthroscopic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in January 2008.
Messages seeking comment were left Friday for a Browns spokesman and the Cleveland Clinic.
Jurevicius was released by the Browns in March.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How will Rooney's loss affect things

Many have wondered how the naming of Dan Rooney as ambassador to Ireland by the Obama administration would affect the Steelers.

The answer has different levels.

In terms of the football product, not having Rooney around on a daily basis won't affect things.

Dan's son, Art, has been running the team for several years now and has done a good job of it - as the results would show.

He's taken on the role Dan Rooney had when his father, The Chief, was still around. Dan made the daily decisions and consulted his father on anything major. Art will still have that luxury, as Dan will still just be a phone call away.

But the players like seeing the boss around.

To this day, he still visits the locker room on a regular basis and speaks with them – privately – congratulating them for a big win or helping to console them after a loss. But he doesn't do so in a Jerry Jones, in-your-face kind of matter. Rooney leaves the coaching to the coaches. There are no rah-rah speeches coming from Dan Rooney.

And they would see him around, watching practice or in the hallway or cafeteria.

The players respect that a great deal.

Perhaps some day Art will get that same kind of reverence. But it likely only comes with age.

The players respect Dan because, well, he's Dan. And that's what will be missing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Starks signs, Bryant retires

Little did I know when I posted the blurb about the Steelers still trying to get a deal done with Max Starks yesterday that it would happen so soon.

But the Steelers have signed Starks to a four-year contract worth $26.3 million. The deal includes a $10 million in guaranteed money and gives the team a considerable amount of cap relief.

It was a win-win situation for both parties.

Starks, despite being guaranteed a salary of $8.45 million this season as the Steelers' franchise player, gets some long-term stability. And the Steelers get $3 million in salary cap relief.

The son of a former NFL player, Starks wasn't looking to break the bank. He just wanted some long-term security instead of continuing to get slapped with the franchise tag every year.

© In other news Tuesday, cornerback Fernando Bryant apparently saw the writing on the wall with the Steelers' offseason additions and announced his retirement.

Bryant was signed by the Steelers last season when both Deshea Townsend and Bryant McFadden were out with injuries and re-signed with the team during the offseason.

But the selection of two corners in the draft and addition of veteran Keiwan Ratliff likely meant Bryant was biding his time until his release in training camp.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Talks continue

My sources tell me that the Steelers are continuing talks with some of their players who will be free agents at the conclusion of the 2009 season, most notably offensive tackle Max Starks and tight end Heath Miller.

The Steelers are hopeful their can get something done with both players by the first couple of weeks of August at the latest.

Miller is a high priority because the Steelers feel he is one of the best tight ends in the NFL and is continuing to improve.

The Steelers also believe Starks is a solid left tackle and will also continue to improve with more playing time on the left side. They'd also like to lower his cap total.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Busy day

Sorry it took so long to comment today, but I'm on vacation this week and have been spending every day at the ball field.

Anyway, the Steelers had a busy day, signing three more draft picks and releasing six other players, among them California University of Pennsylvania QB Kevin McCabe.

The three draft picks signed were wide receiver Mike Wallace, defensive end Ra’Shon Harris and center A.Q. Shipley. All were given three-year deals.

Wallace was the second of the team's third round picks. The speedster finished his career at Ole Miss ranked third all-time in touchdown receptions and fifth in receiving yards. Wallace also holds Ole Miss records for single game, season and career kickoff return yards. He was the second-fastest player at this year's combine.

Harris was a sixth-round pick. He played in 36 career games at Oregon, recording 65 tackles (39 solo) and four sacks. He's seen as a project.

The undersized Shipley (6-0, 298) was the first of the team's two seventh-round selections.

Wallace, Harris and Shipley bring the total number of signees among the Steelers’ 2009 draft class to six. Cornerback Keenan Lewis, cornerback Joe Burnett and running back Frank Summers all signed last week.

The six players released were: defensive end Jeff Bradley, long snapper Mark Estermyer, wide receiver Jayson Foster, wide receiver Cedric Goodman, quarterback Kevin McCabe and fullback Ryan Powdrell.

The release of Estermyer means the Steelers are confident that long snapper Greg Warren is fully recovered from the torn ACL that ended his season in 2008.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just say no

According to published reports, wide receiver Brandon Marshall has requested a trade from the Denver Broncos and the team has agreed to pursue one.

Before all the questions start, let me nip this in the bud now. The Steelers will not be among teams interested in the troubled wideout.

Is Marshall talented? Yes.

Is he a knucklehead? Yes.

In fact, he's probably even more of a knucklehead than the much-more talented Randy Moss, and the Steelers weren't interested in him, either.

Somebody will take the chance that a change of scenery will help Marshal. Somebody will probably be wrong.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Steelers sign three draft picks

The Steelers signed rookie cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett, and running back Frank Summers to contracts Friday, the first of their three draft picks to sign with the team.

Lewis (6-0, 2008) was the third of the Steelers’ three third round selections (96th overall) in this year’s draft out of Oregon State. In 48 career starts Lewis recorded 117 tackles (81 solo), one sack and seven interceptions. Lewis was named Academic All-Pac 10 and All-Pac 10 honorable mention at cornerback as a senior.

Burnett (5-10, 192) was the first of the Steelers’ two fifth round selections (168th overall) in this year’s draft out of Central Florida. A four-year starter, Burnett was a first-team All-Conference USA selection at cornerback, punt returner and kickoff returner as a senior. Burnett finished his career with 16 interceptions and five returns (three punts, two kickoffs) for scores.

Summers (5-10, 240) was the second of the Steelers’ two fifth round selections (169th overall) in this year’s draft out of UNLV. A two-year starter, Summers led the Rebels in 2008 with 740 yards on 183 attempts (4.0 avg.) with eight touchdowns. Summers became the only player in UNLV history to lead the team in both rushing touchdowns (six) and receiving touchdowns (four) during the 2007 season.

n In another move, the team released punter Dirk Johnson, showing that it feels Daniel Sepulveda is completely healed from the torn ACL that cost him the 2008 season.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

OTAs finish up

With much sorry, I have to report that OTAs are finally over.

The players headed out to their homes/vacations/continued workouts after a solid round of workouts that was shortened in this somewhat in this final week.

Tuesday's practice was skipped as Mike Tomlin took the players bowling, while Wednesday's practice was at Heinz Field, where the youngsters were given the grand tour of the facilities.

The Heinz Field practice/stadium walkthrough was closed to the media.

© My impressions of this team after watching them a number of times this spring is that they seem to still have the fire that the 2006 team was lacking.

Perhaps it's different leadership or perhaps it's because many of the key players are now over 30 and realize their opportunities are very limited to win another Super Bowl.

But whatever it is, the change is evident.

© Nearly every publication/prognostication I see has the Steelers as the second-best bet to win the Super Bowl in the upcoming season behind New England.

And you know what? I can't argue that.

But the Patriots have been the favorite for several seasons now and the Steelers have won two Super Bowls since New England won its last one.

Things can change quickly in the NFL and the favorites don't always win.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Hills wants to make his move

I caught up with Tony Hills for a few minutes at OTAs and the second-year offensive tackle feels like he's ready to take a big step forward in his second training camp.

Hills and linebacker Bruce Davis were worked hard by head coach Mike Tomlin last year in training camp, with Tomlin taking a keen interest in both players. He'd line them up against each other time after time, telling them, "I'm going to make one of you a player."

Hills said he liked that pressure because if the head coach wasn't watching so closely, it meant he didn't care.

Hills said he has added five to 10 pounds of muscle to his frame and that his injury problems from college aren't even a distant thought in the back of his mind.

He's been working at both left and right tackle in OTAs and also saw time last year at guard on the scout teams. He feels like that experience will help keep him active on game days this year, citing Trai Essex's ability to play every position except center as a reference.

© The Steelers will get a gift as they head into the final week of their OTAs, with the team receiving its Super Bowl rings Tuesday.

I haven't seen the design yet, but I hear it's spectacular.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Camp to start July 31

Mike Tomlin will open his third training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Friday, July 31.

The first open practice will be the next day. I can only imagine the kind of crowd the defending Super Bowl champions will draw for their first practice. It's the first time their first practice has been on a Saturday that I can remember in my 17 years of covering the team.

© Not surprisingly, Ben Roethlisberger was back at practice today showing no ill effects of an injury to his left knee that had him walking around like Festus Wednesday.

And people wonder why he's considered a drama queen.

© Stefan Logan has the most lateral quickness I've seen since Antwaan Randle El. I would be concerned about his size and ability to take a hit - he's only 5-6 - but he has the skill to play in the NFL.

© I got a copy of the Steelers' Super Bowl commemorative book Wednesday and got a chance to go through it last night.

Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola did an excellent job with it and the photography by Mike Fabus is excellent.

It's a good look at the season that was for the Steelers.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Roethlisberger banged up

Ben Roethlisberger took a shot on his left knee during an OTA workout today as the Steelers complete their next-to-last week of offseason activities.

Working during the red zone drills, Roethlisberger got bumped by Lawrence Timmons, who appeared to step on his left foot. The incident happened just as Roethlisberger let go of a pass intended for Santonio Holmes. The ball sailed high and Roethlisberger limped off the field at the indoor practice facility. He did not take another snap.

Roethlisberger did not speak to reporters following the incident, but continued to limp, favoring his left leg.

© Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Tyrone Carter were again missing, leaving Ryan Mundy and Roy Lewis to work with the starting unit.

LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison were also missing, with Andre Frazier and Arnold Harrison moving into their spots.

Also not here today was Darnell Stapleton, who was replaced by Trai Essex.

© Wide receiver Hines Ward, who has been here but hasn't practiced after offseason surgery, participated in position drills. He's still not going through any team drills though.

Monday, June 01, 2009

An early, early, early look at the 53-man roster

OK, you asked for it, so here it is, an early, early, early look at the 53-man roster.

QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon. No explanation needed here.

RB (5): Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, Rashard Mendenhall, Frank Summers, Carey Davis. Davis makes it on his ability to play special teams.

WR (5): Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Shaun McDonald, Limas Sweed, Mike Wallace. Sorry Dallas Baker. You're not making this club. McDonald beats out Brandon Williams.

TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Sean McHugh. No surprises here. David Johnson goes to the practice squad.

OL (10): Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapleton, Wilie Colon, Trai Essex, Tony Hills, Ramon Foster, Kraig Urbik, A.Q. Shipley. Just a hunch here between Foster and Capizzi, but they won't want to risk putting Foster on the practice squad.

DL (7): Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Chris Hoke, Ziggy Hood, Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason. Again, no real surprises here.

LB (8): James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Bruce Davis, Patrick Bailey, Keyaron Fox, Donovan Woods. Woods is kind of the surprise here. I think he sticks because he can play inside, even though they currently list him as an outside guy. Bruce Davis needs to have a good camp. Bailey is a very good special teams player as is Fox. Fox will be the top backup inside.

DB (9): Ike Taylor, William Gay, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Deshea Townsend, Keiwan Ratliff, Joe Burnett, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy. This is a tough position to call. I see Tyrone Carter as the odd man out right now, with Deshea Townsend making the move to a safety/corner position.

Specialists (3): Jeff Reed, Daniel Sepulveda, Greg Warren.