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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Roethlisberger reinstated

Here's the word from the NFL regarding the status of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger:

"Based on the reports and recommendations of our medical experts, Commissioner Goodell advised the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger today that he is cleared to return to team activities beginning next week. The commissioner will continue to monitor Roethlisberger’s progress as he begins the next phase of his recommended plan and will meet with Roethlisberger again at the appropriate time.

"There has been no decision on any modification to the length of Roethlisberger’s suspension. In his April 21 disciplinary decision, Commissioner Goodell announced that Roethlisberger is suspended without pay for the first six games of the regular season. The commissioner said he would review Roethlisberger’s progress prior to the start of the regular season and consider whether to reduce the suspension to four games. Failure to cooperate and follow his plan could result in a longer suspension."

More OTA stuff

Of course, the big news Wednesday was that first-round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey suffered what appeared to be a dislocated toe during workouts.

It really isn't a big deal, though. Pouncey got stepped on and limped off, taking off his shoe. Trainers looked at it and appeared to set the toe, sending Pouncey back onto the practice field.

It's actually something that happens quite often in football. One photographer wondered why they don't make linemen wear steel-toed shoes. But obviously, that would make the linemen slower.

© The other big news was Kraig Urbik working with the first team at center Wednesday. Doug Legursky was out with an undisclosed injury and with Justin Hartwig missing from the optional practices, that gave Urbik his shot.

Pouncy, by the way, worked with both the second and third teams at center.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

OTAs continue without Roethlisberger

The Steelers began their third week of OTAs - one before mini-camp, two after – without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

And that's looking like it will be the norm for the remainder of the process. It does not appear that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is in any hurry to reinstate Roethlisberger anytime soon.

Perhaps that's a good thing since Roethlisberger showing up at an OTA at this point would be a major, major distraction.

Who knows? Maybe the Steelers have asked the NFL to drag its feet on this one.

With Roethlisberger still MIA, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon split snaps with the first offensive unit.

I'm not a fan of counting snaps, so I don't do it. But I'd guess it was about a 60-40 split in favor of Leftwich.

© James Harrison and Aaron Smith skipped workouts today.

Veteran Andre Frazier stepped into the No. Okie, while rookie Jason Worilds backed him on the second unit.

Ziggy Hood replaced Smith.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Steelers re-open OTAs

Though there was a false sighting of Ben Roethlisberger at the Steelers facility Tuesday - more on that later - the team began its second round of OTAs without its star quarterback.

Safety Troy Polamalu was also missing from the voluntary workouts, but the rest of the team was there and in good spirits as the Steelers try to rebound from a disappointing 9-7 season.

But Polamalu being MIA is not necessarily a bad thing. His absence gives free agent signee Will Allen a lot of extra time to work at strong safety next to Ryan Clark.

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, continues to be barred from the team facilities by the NFL. Until he's cleared by the commissioner, he's not permitted to be there.

That caused a bit of an uproar when one TV reporter thought he saw Roethlisberger in the parking lot as the team exited its indoor practice facility.

It even drew some questions to head coach Mike Tomlin about the QB's appearance, something the team categorically denied.

In the meantime, a slimmed down Byron Leftwich continued to work with the first team and looked pretty good doing so.

Tomlin said he'd like to have his quarterback situation in order heading into training camp, which would appear to give Leftwich, who's got more experience than Dennis Dixon, the edge.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Will Roethlisberger be at OTA?

The Steelers begin their second round of OTAs on Tuesday and could have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back on the field this week.

Roethlisberger recently completed his league-mandated behavioral evaluation and it's now in the hands of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell whether or not the QB can resume workouts with his teammates.

If Goodell is satisfied with the results of the evaluation, he can allow Roethlisberger to practice now and throughout training camp until he must begin serving his 4 to 6-game suspension at the beginning of the regular season.

The Steelers have been off the past two weeks following their mini-camp.

Roethlisberger was with the first-team offense during their first OTA practices in April, prior to his suspension by Goodell.

When he returns to practice, that will likely change as the Steelera attempt to sort out their quarterback position heading into training camp.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Harrison get All-Pro honor … six months later

Steelers linebacker James Harrison picked up an honor for his play in 2009 six months later than usual as he was named second-team All-Pro after a re-vote following Houston linebacker Brian Cushing's suspension for use of performance enhancing drugs.

Chicago's Lance Briggs also picked up enough votes to join both Harrison and the Steelers' LaMarr Woodley on the second team.

© The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced who will present for this year's class.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will be presented by his brother Bob.

Longtime NFL coach Joe Bugel will present for Russ Grimm.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Steelers place Sweed on reserve/injured list

The Steelers on Tuesday placed wide receiver Limas Sweed on the reserve/injured list, meaning the third-year player will miss the entire 2010 season.

Sweed, a 2008 second-round draft pick, suffered an Achilles tendon injury at the team's mini-camp May 2.

The Steelers replaced Sweed on their offseason roster by signing first-year wide receiver Isaiah Williams. Williams signed with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted rookie in 2009, but was released prior to the regular season.

Cushing's positive drug test could affect Steelers

The drug suspension of Houston's Brian Cushing could have an effect on the Steelers moving forward.

The AP has announced it will revote not only on the 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but also the All-Pro team as well.

Cushing finished with enough votes to make the second team as an All-Pro, but his five votes were one more than Pittsburgh's LaMarr Woodley and two more than James Harrison and Chicago's Lance Briggs.

It likely won't affect Woodley, who got four votes compared to five for Cushing.

But let's supposed that all five of Cushing's votes go to Harrison and Briggs. They would move past Woodley on the All-Pro list and be the two second-team members.

The Steelers wouldn't ask for Woodley's All-Pro bonus money back - I'm assuming he had something in his contract about that - but they would also owe Harrison and All-Pro bonus as well.

It's all minor stuff, but it's the kind of things we're left talking about at this point in the offseason.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The stand-up guys

With all of the scrutiny surrounding the Steelers this offseason for the off-field exploits of a few members of the team, the unfortunate thing is that the other 50-plus players are also being drug through the mud.

With that in mind, here are just a few – remember, this is just a few – of the great guys in what is actually a very good locker room:

Troy Polamalu: It should surprise nobody that Polamalu is a gentleman off the field. Polamalu is somebody you'd want to sit down and have dinner with and talk about anything but football. Troy and his wife, Theodora, are very involved with The Pittsburgh Foundation.

James Farrior: He sometimes jokingly plays bad-guy with the media, but Potsy is always available win or lose. The other players look up to him and he's always thoughtful with his answers. Has his own charity, the James Farrior Foundation, which is involved in a number of fundraisers.

Max Starks: Always available in good times and bad - actually most of the offensive linemen are - Starks has probably had a little more adversity than some of the other guys on the front line. But he's never run from it. Big charity, a fund to promote childhood literacy and education at The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Ryan Clark: Obviously, helping those who deal with the sickle cell trait is near and dear to Clark's heart. He's active in charity work with that. He's also a standup guy.

Chris Hoke: Calls everybody 'bro' and never has a bad word to say about anything or anyone. His pre-practice dance routine is legendary among his teammates.

Brett Keisel: Everybody loves Keisel and the guy whose locker is right beside Keisel, our next nice guy. . .

Heath Miller: It's weird that Miller's roommate at training camp and on the road has always been Roethlisberger. You'd be hard-pressed to find two guys with two more different personalities.

Charlie Batch/Byron Leftwich: I'm putting these two guys together because the reality is that they're practically the same guy when it comes to handling off-field stuff. Both very professional and well-liked by their teammates. A couple of class acts.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

SI skewers Roethlisberger

Sports Illustrated skewers Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a lengthy article in its latest edition, painting him as an egomaniac who's head exploded with fame.

Much of what is written in the story are personal accounts of people who have had brief meetings with the quarterback in different places. As such, some people will downplay those events.

But much of what is in the story also rings true.

Roethlisberger has been an arrogant SOB for much of his stay in Pittsburgh. But he's not alone in that. I've dealt with plenty of professional athletes or coaches who were.

Maybe his suspension by the NFL and scathing national stories such as this one will help him wise up.

It's not too late for him to change his ways and rehabilitate his tarnished image.

Some people will never accept him back, whether he turns a new leaf or not. But it will be interesting to see if the quarterback who finished the 2009 season is the same guy who shows up at training camp later this year.

Monday, May 03, 2010

An interesting read

Peter King, the outstanding NFL writer for Sports Illustrated, had this piece in his Monday Morning Quarterback (if you don't read it regularly, you should) today.

Steelers fans - and NFL fans in general - should find it interesting:

"I've come into possession of the letter sent by David Cornwell, the attorney for Ben Roethlisberger, to the commissioner after Roger Goodell met with Roethlisberger in April and before Goodell issued his sanction against the Steelers quarterback for his loutish behavior. It's interesting to me for a couple of reasons. Goodell and Cornwell used to work together in the NFL office and are friendly; the letter has a familiar but legal tone to it befitting a lawyer comfortable giving frank advice and opinion to his former league peer.
Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum has a Roethlisberger story in the magazine coming out this week, with the help of some fine SI reporting. When you read the piece, you'll understand, I think, why both Cornwell and Goodell thought this shouldn't be your garden-variety suspension, but rather a suspension paired with counseling.
The letter, dated April 15, reads in part:
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
I am confident that we share the same view of the men who play professional football. While the public sees men of extraordinary athletic prowess, rarely is there any acknowledgement of the years of physical and mental preparation or the commitment that is made merely to be in the position to compete on Sundays. This pervasive blind spot tends to cause the public and the media to focus primarily on the football player and not the man who plays football. But, we know better.
My view is that too often there is an inverse relationship between the player's talent and the man's ability to confront and overcome challenges of life away from the game. I have gotten to know Ben extremely well over the past year. Watching Ben off the field has given me great insight into why he has been so successful on it. Ben's rectilinear approach and his method of analysis -- processing things as a quarterback so that he is in control -- have served him well as a football player, but this singular focus is the primary reason that he is facing the challenges that he currently confronts. Life cedes control to no man.
Though I could not have predicted these specifics, I am not surprised that Ben is dealing with a challenge of personal development. His passion for football and the remarkable success resulting from his commitment to the game necessarily means that he has compromised his development in other areas. No person has unlimited capacity. I believe that Ben's challenge is to channel some of the energy he has committed to becoming an extraordinary player into becoming an equally extraordinary person.
While Ben's sexual activities may offend some, anyone would have been hard pressed to predict that Ben's actions would have resulted in such vicious and false allegations. Ben bears exclusive responsibility for the consequences of his choices, but that does not mean that these particular consequences were foreseeable. Whether it is in the privacy of a hotel room or in the more risky environment of a semi-public restroom, a false allegation of rape simply is not within the zone of the foreseeable consequences of consensual sex.
There are two prongs to the intended effect of discipline. One is to discourage repetition of the offending behavior. The other is to encourage behavior that is more consistent with accepted principles and/or established procedures. What Ben should not have done is abundantly clear. What he should have done differently remains elusive. None of the numerous people with whom I have discussed this matter has offered a tangible alternative to the choices that Ben made other than to suggest that Ben "make better choices" in the future.
I cannot fathom how a suspension or any other form of traditional discipline will help Ben make a better choice the next time he decides to have consensual sex. The difficulty that Ben had in articulating a distinction between the risks associated with private and semi-public sex is the product of the undeniable similarity between the Reno and Georgia accusations, even though one event occurred in the privacy of Ben's hotel room and the other in a semi-public bathroom.
As you consider your options, I hope you will focus on an approach that establishes a direct nexus between your response and the issue to which it responds. Whether I am considering these options as Ben's advocate or as the person who has had the privilege of engaging in frank discussions with you unburdened by our professional affiliations, I am unable to discern a link between a suspension and any useful lesson or message that would tend to alter Ben's conduct in the future.
This is one of the more challenging conduct issues that you have confronted because the fundamental issue does not involve an arrest or criminal charges. This is an issue of lifestyle and the need to develop the tools and a method for addressing the unique challenges and opportunities that flow from the stature and celebrity enjoyed by the men who play football. I trust Ben's private conversation with you gave you a glimpse into the difficulty he had in distinguishing who he is from what he does. The public and media have yet to master this distinction. In considering where all of this will lead us, I take comfort in knowing that Ben is not the first 28 year old man to confront the reality of his actions being inconsistent with his values. Luckily, most of us have the benefit of navigating the treacherous waters of maturation outside of the glare of the media and the public.
Following a recent disciplinary hearing, you and I discussed privately your commitment to address each case based on its unique set of facts, without regard for the rancor of the public and the press. I know your commitment remains unchanged. We have also discussed my view that under certain circumstances imposing traditional discipline following a meeting between you and a player tends to devalue the impact of your unique qualities as Commissioner. While your authority emanates from the NFL Constitution and Bylaws, your effectiveness is the product of your ability to connect with the men who play the game in a manner that neither of your predecessors enjoyed.
The nuanced and dynamic nature of the issues that got us here requires an equally nuanced and dynamic response. I look forward to continuing our discussions so that we can structure such an appropriate response.
Very truly yours,
Postscript: Six days later, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for a minimum of four and a maximum of six games, and ordered him to undergo counseling after a comprehensive behavioral evaluation, banning him from team activities until counselors allow him to rejoin the team. The evaluation is likely to be completed soon, but there's no telling when he'll be able to return to work with his teammates.
Once Goodell issued his sanction, Cornwell wrote the commissioner and thanked him and league attorneys Jeff Pash and Adolpho Birch for their "genuine concern for the well-being of the man in discharging your official functions. I appreciate your candor and accessibility throughout the process with Ben. In the end, we will be measured by whether we made a difference. You did your part and I am grateful.''
At a time when there's such animus between the league and those who contest cases with it, that's a refreshing conclusion to a contentious case.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Mini-camp thoughts

It appears that Limas Sweed's career with the Steelers is probably over after he suffered an Achilles tendon injury on Sunday during the final day of the Steelers three-day mini-camp.

The initial diagnosis is a ruptured Achilles tendon for Sweed, who was coming back from being placed on injured reserve at the end of last season due to personal problems.

We'll now likely never know if Sweed was going to turn things around after two unproductive seasons with the Steelers. The former second-round pick was heading into his third season facing a make-or-break situation and, being a wide receiver, running fast is pretty important.

It's likely Sweed will be placed on injured reserve, a move that will likely mean he's played his last game with the Steelers.

© Don't read too much into Byron Leftwich getting most of the snaps with the first-team offense.

That's a move that was made to get him acclimated as soon as possible for an upcoming training camp battle with Dennis Dixon to see who replaces Ben Roethlisberger the first month of the season.

Leftwich certainly has the experience factor working in his favor. Dixon has the athletic edge.

I think eventually the team will settle on Dixon. It's a lot easier to start him and replace him with Leftwich if Dixon falters than it is the other way around.

Leftwich is accustomed to coming off the bench at this point in his career. Dixon is not.