Friday, May 29, 2009

Random notes

A recent Sports Illustrated poll listed the Rooney family No. 1 among owners in the NFL.

Given the team's history of winning, the way players are treated and other factors, it's hard to argue that.

I thought it was interesting, however, that Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, was ranked third from the bottom.

Fans like to go crazy every offseason when the Redskins go on yet another of their spending binge that have become commonplace under Snyder.

But for all the spending, the Redskins have been mediocre since Snyder bought the team in 1999. It also causes Snyder to squeeze every single penny out of fans in Washington, who aren't receiving a lot of bang for their buck.

Heck, SI ranked Cincinnati owner Mike Brown ahead of Snyder. That ought to tell you something.

© An interesting note from OTAs this week: Left tackle Max Starks missed a day of practice earlier this week. His replacement was not Tony Hills, Jason Capizzi or any of the other young guys.

According to Jim Wexell of SteelCityInsider.com, Trai Essex replaced Starks at left tackle.

Now that may not be an outright indictment of any of the young guys - Hills in particular - but it does give some insight into where the team thinks those players are at this point.

© It's hard to believe there are just two weeks of OTAs remaining before the Steelers break for a month. After that, it will be off to training camp.

© I caught up with Dennis Dixon this week and he said that although the coaching staff has not approached him about running any wildcat-type plays, he's open to the idea.

Dixon said those type of plays wouldn't be a stretch for him to run because he did many of those things in college.

Dixon is completely healed from the knee injury that ended his senior season at Oregon and I would look for the coaching staff to at least try some wildcat stuff with him at some point.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Week 2 OTAs begin

As promised, I watched Rashard Mendenhall a little more closely today as the Steelers began their second week of OTAs.

Mendenhall looked good on the inside running plays and made an excellent cut on one play in particular, doing a nice jump stop and change of direction.

He looks like he's running with more confidence.

© I hadn't noticed it before, but former Canadian Football League star Stefan Logan was working as a wide receiver.

The 5-6 Logan, dubbed "Half-Pint" by his teammates, was an explosive running back in the CFL, but probably wouldn't have the size to contribute at that position in the NFL.

He'll be fighting a numbers game no matter where he lines up, but playing wide receiver would give him a better chance of making this team.

© The Steelers did some work out of a 4-3 defense at times today.

That should get the internet posters going.

© I almost forgot this one, but it was interesting.

Former center Jeff Hartings was in the building today and I barely recognized him. Hartings looks like he's down to about 220 pounds.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What's on your noodle?

Since it went so well the last time, anything new on your noodle now?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

OTA notes

The Steelers are back at it with their OTAs - offseason training activites - which are optional to attend. That's not really the case - if you plan on making the team - but for the most part, everybody is in town, with Troy Polamalu being a notable exception.

Polamalu's training in California again this offseason, which, with Ryan Clark also out following his shoulder surgery, is giving Ryan Mundy a chance to work with the first team at free safety.

Mundy showed nice ball skills Wednesday, stepping up underneath a receiver on a crossing pattern and picking off a Ben Roethlisberger pass.

Mundy has excellent size and smarts. Getting plenty of reps - especially after missing a healthy portion of training camp last season due to injury – is going to pay dividends.

© I spoke with William Gay after practice.

The cornerback looked bigger than he was last season and he admitted he's up to 198 pounds. He came in at 183 pounds as a rookie and he attributed the weight gain to being on a good training program and eating healthy for the first time in his life.

Gay said as long as he doesn't lose a step, he plans on carrying the extra weight - which is all located in his shoulders - during the season.

© Speaking of Polamalu, there's a good chance he won't attend the meet and greet with the president Thursday at the White House. But there isn't a big deal being made of that.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Steelers expect to cross the pond soon

Given the team's high profile and the fact the league is looking at adding a second NFL game overseas in 2010, some in the Steelers organization expect the Steelers to be picked for a regular season international game - if not in 2010, then in 2011.

Pittsburgh would lose a home game – something that could be made up if the league goes to a 17- or 18-game scheduled – and would have a big travel week in the middle of its schedule.

As for possible game locations, I would look no farther than the country for which team chairman is this country's ambassador.

The Steelers played the Chicago Bears in Dublin in the 1997 preseason and the game was a rousing success.

© NFL owners will meet this week in Fort Lauderdale and one of the big topics will be a rookie wage scale.

Even veteran players admit the rookie wage scale has gotten out of control. Look for the NFL to come up with something akin to what the NBA does with its rookie and slot the salaries.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cap increases, good news for Steelers

According to the Associated Press, the salary cap is going up an extra $5 from where it was originally estimated going into this offseason.

Per the AP story, NFL teams will have nearly $12 million more under the salary cap this season, the final year with one in place unless the league and its players’ union can reach a new collective bargaining agreement.
The cap was due to increase $7 million to $123 million this season, but additional adjustments stipulated in the current CBA will increase the total amount that teams can spend on player compensation to about $128 million. The $12 million increase is the largest in three years.
The league informed teams Wednesday that a “cash-adjustment mechanism” from final accounting figures in May will give clubs $947,000 of additional salary cap room, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Friday.

After the release of Larry Foote, the Steelers were between $2 and $3 million under the cap but needed to clear additional space to sign their rookie class.

Now, they may not only have enough money to do that, they may also have some extra cash available to sign a couple of their impending free agents.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So what's on your noodle?

No much going on right now until OTAs start back up, so I'll take a page out of my deceased friend Myron Cope's book and ask what's on your noodle?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Why I don't look at rankings

I always find it amusing when fans start complaining about writers' rankings of NFL teams, particularly in the offseason. Last I checked, this isn't college football. The championship is played for on the football field, not in somebody's computer or on a ballot.

That said, I really find offseason rankings to be of no use.

I don't want to pick on Peter King of Sports Illustrated because he's a guy I know and respect, but his latest Monday Morning Quarterback includes a dreaded offseason rankings list.

That he has New England No. 1 and the Steelers No. 2 doesn't bother me. If somebody put a gun to my head and forced me to rank the teams, that's where I'd put them as well.

But Chicago at No. 4? Based on what? Don't give me this Jay Cutler stuff. He's going to have to prove to me that he's something more than a malcontent. And he's not going to be throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal this season. Instead, it will be Devin Hester and Rashied Davis.

There also may not be a more overrated player in the NFL than Brian Urlacher.

So no, I'm not buying into the hype surrounding the Bears just yet.

Last on King's list, by the way, are your Cleveland Browns. The Browns have begun their 14th rebuilding plan since rejoining the NFL in 1999.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Comings and goings

In case you missed it in the past couple of days, former Steelers draft pick Orien Harris was traded from Cincinnati to St. Louis as part of the Brian Leonard deal, while running back Gary Russell signed with the Oakland Raiders.

Harris was a fourth-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2006 who just didn't quite fit as a 3-4 end as the team had hoped.

He was signed by Cleveland off Pittsburgh's practice squad later that year and has continued to kick around the league as a reserve.

Russell, meanwhile, is on his third team in a month, having signed with Cincinnati soon after being released by Pittsburgh. The Bengals released him last week.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Harrison contract details

ESPN.com released details of Steelers linebacker James Harrison's $51.175-million contract today.

According to the report, Harrison's deal includes a $10-million signing bonus, $2.55-million roster bonus and a base salary of $800,000 for 2009.

Harrison is due a reporting bonus of $2.8 million in 2010, a $3.66 million base salary as well as a $900,000 roster bonus in 2011.

In the final three years of the six-year pact, Harrison is due base salaries of $5.315 million in 2012, $6.32 million in 2013 and $7.325 million in 2013.

So, in effect, the contract could actually be considered a two or three-year deal, which is more in line with what a 31-year-old player – his birthday was this week – even one who doesn't have a lot of mileage on his tires, should get.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Foote signs with Lions

Much like his release on Monday, there should be no surprise that former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote has signed with the Detroit Lions to a one-year deal for an undisclosed amount.

Foote, a six-year starter with the Steelers, was released Monday by Pittsburgh after the team was unable to find a suitable trade for his services.

Detroit reportedly offered a seventh-round pick for Foote, who was scheduled to earn $2.9 million in 2009, but the Steelers declined the deal, opting to hold onto the linebacker in the hopes a team would suffer a mini-camp injury and be pressed into action to fill the spot.

Foote, by the way, is from Detroit and starred at Michigan, where he was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2001.

Monday, May 04, 2009

What about the old guy?

It hasn't taken the media long to fall in love with rookie running back Frank "The Tank" Summers and everybody knows the Steelers expectations for former No. 1 pick Rashard Mendenhall, but what about the starter, Willie Parker?

Parker's coming off an injury-plagued season that he called a personal disappointment and is heading into the final year of his current contract.

It's interesting that he's gone from everybody's favorite underdog to the guy everyone wants to forget about, despite the fact he's been the team's starting running back during two Super Bowl runs.

This will probably be Parker's final season with the Steelers - unless Mendenhall proves he can't handle the starting job.

But I expect a big season out of Parker in 2009.

© As expected, Larry Foote was released today.

"Larry has been a big part of our success, but unfortunately the realities of the salary cap made this decision inevitable," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "We wish Larry and his family nothing but the best as he moves forward with his career."

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Dixon looks good

Second-year quarterback Dennis Dixon looks like a completely different player at this year's mini-camp than he did a year ago.

Then again, that's not that big of a surprise considering he wasn't even supposed to take a snap at last year's camp after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL less than six months before.

Dixon obviously has a much better grasp of the offense now and you can see a huge difference between him and rookies Kevin McCabe and Mike Reilly.

There's also not much difference between Dixon and veteran Charlie Batch. In fact, Dixon has looked better than Batch - though it's still very early and Batch is coming off a very long layoff.

It's easy to see, however, why the Steelers are high on Dixon.

© While there's not a load of experience behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes at wide receiver, there's certainly a glut of promising young players - and a couple of veterans.

But there are also spots open there and the battle for the fourth, fifth and even sixth wideout spots should be a very good one this year in training camp.

© As he usually has, Deshea Townsend has worked at safety. But with two young draft picks added at the cornerback position, as well as veteran Keiwan Ratliff, Townsend's work at safety may be more important now than ever for the veteran.

Friday, May 01, 2009

First day of mini-camp notes, Foote update

As expected, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed today that he and Larry Foote decided it would be beneficial for both parties if Foote did not attend the mandatory mini-camp this weekend. Tomlin said Foote will not be fined.

Tomlin said he and Foote have been in contact for several weeks regarding the situation.

© Punter Daniel Sepulveda and long-snapper Greg Warren are still hobbled by their knee injuries.

Sepulveda didn't kick at all today - even during punting drills - while Warren did do some snapping. But Warren is still walking with a limp and is wearing a brace on his left knee.

Sepulveda's status would explain why the Steelers essentially brought in two more punters. Both Dirk Johnson - sounds like a porn name - and Piotr Czech - ditto - were punting Friday.

© If you're looking for an undrafted rookie to keep an eye on, watch offensive tackle Ramon Foster of Tennessee. The 6-6, 325-pound Foster was working with the third team at right tackle Friday and looks like a player.

© An interesting note - every Steelers draft pick with one exception has already attained his degree.

In fact, first-round pick Ziggy Hood graduated in just 3 1/2 years.

The only one who hasn't is third-round guard Kraig Urbik, who was a fifth-year senior. Go figure.

© Wide receiver Martin Nance is not practicing and Tomlin said he won't have any statements about what Nance's status is until Sunday or even Monday.