Friday, January 29, 2010

Steelers hire Olsavsky

It's a good thing Bill Cowher is gone so we won't have to hear him butcher Jerry Olsavsky's name all the time. Cowher liked to add an extra l in Olsavsky, calling him Olslavsky until finally just settling on Jerry O.

The Steelers hired Jerry O. As their defensive quality control coach Friday. Olsavsky replaces Lou Spanos, who left to become linebackers coach with the Washington Redskins.

The 42-year-old Olsavsky – man that makes me feel old – was drafted by the Steelers in the 10th round of the 1989 NFL Draft and played linebacker with the team from 1989-97. He finished his playing career in 1998 with the Baltimore Ravens.

A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Olsavsky spent the past seven seasons coaching linebackers for Youngstown State. Prior to coaching at Youngstown State, Olsavsky spent one year as an assistant strength coach at University of North Carolina, and he also coached at his alma mater Chaney High School in Youngstown and at Duquesne University.

Olsavsky’s Pittsburgh roots extend back to his college days when he was named a first-team Kodak All-American as a senior in 1988 at the University of Pittsburgh. He became the Panthers’ first player since 1976 to record more than 100 tackles in three straight seasons.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Thoughts on Senior Bowl practice

The practices for the Senior Bowl have been happening all week long and the best player there has been someone most probably wouldn't have thought much about prior to this week.

Idaho guard Mike Iupati was somebody I wanted to see more of this week. And thanks to the miracle of the NFL Network, I got that chance.

And Iupati is as good as advertised.

So while all the early focus for the Steelers is on other positions, I'm narrowing in on Iupati as a strong possibility as the team's No. 1 draft pick.

Yes, he's a guard. But he also lined up at tackle this week and more than held his own.

With Art Rooney II's proclamation in the media last week about wanting to get back to running the ball more, Iupati would make a lot of sense as the Steelers' top pick.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pro Bowl has become even more of a joke

When the number of players who declined their Pro Bowl invitation last week surpassed the number of women who came forward claiming to have slept with Tiger Woods, the NFL should have realized it had a problem.

The league already knew that it was going to need replacements for the players whose teams were playing in the Super Bowl. That was the risk it was willing to take when it moved the game to the Super Bowl site a week before the championship game.

But it felt the move was needed to generate more interest in a game that, quite frankly, had already become a bit of a joke.

Now, however, it's become even more of a joke.

Just look at the AFC quarterback situation as an example.

Instead of seeing Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers or Ben Roethlisberger leading the AFC squad, we'll see Matt Schaub, David Garrard and Vince Young.

Are you kidding me?

Of the three, only a legitimate case could be made for Schaub deserving to be there. Garrard was so pedestrian this season the Jaguars are considering looking for a replacement in the draft, while Young didn't become Tennessee's starter until midway through the 2009 season.

I guess Brady Quinn and JaMarcus Russell still have some hope.

Certainly some players who were deserving of being named to the Pro Bowl have benefitted from the high number of players dropping out of the game. The Steelers' LaMarr Woodley and Heath Miller come to mind.

But it's time for the NFL to consider dropping the game and just naming the Pro Bowl team.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Everybody's happy

With Indianapolis' victory over the New York Jets, there were a lot of happy people in the Steelers' locker room.

They weren't happy because they favored the Colts over the Jets. They were happy because Indianapolis heading to the Super Bowl means that tight end Dallas Clark can't play in the Pro Bowl, thus opening a spot for Heath Miller to go.

Miller's a pretty popular guy in the locker room and many of the players have long lobbied for him to get a trip to the Pro Bowl. But it's been difficult because he's never had the gaudy catch numbers that usually get players selected to the NFL's all-star game - until this season.

© In a week or so, I'll be starting my look at the upcoming free agency period. I used to do it for SteelCityInsider.com, but I'll do it here.

In the series, I'll look at the Steelers' impending free agents and possible replacements/upgrades available on the market.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Who I like, conference championship games

After taking the donut last week - though I was 3-1 straight up – to fall to 2-6 in the playoffs I need to bounce back in a big way this weekend.

I will note, however, that I am one game better in this postseason and blow-hard Chris Berman, who's a miserable 1-7.

But I digress.

I like both home teams to win and cover this week. Here's why:

Try as they might, there's no way the Jets will shut down the passing game of Indianapolis. Peyton Manning is just too good.

And since the Colts haven't run the ball well all season long, they won't care if New York shuts down their running game. Manning has carried that offense - literally by throwing to guys like Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie – and he'll take the Colts to the Super Bowl.

Also, at some point, Mark Sanchez is going to have to lead the Jets to a score, particularly if Manning and company get ahead early. He won't be able to do it.

I like Indianapolis, 24-13.

The other game was a little more difficult until the final injury report came out. Pat and Kevin Williams are questionable, as is Percy Harvin, for the Vikings.

That's a big blow if any one of those guys doesn't play, let alone all three.

Drew Breese will pick apart a soft Minnesota secondary en route to a 31-24 win.

© Houston linebacker Brian Cushing has dropped out of the Pro Bowl, opening up a spot for LaMarr Woodley to make his first trip.

Woodley led the Steelers with 13.5 sacks this season.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Roethlisberger passes on Pro Bowl

With Tom Brady backing out of the Pro Bowl due to injury, that left Ben Roethlisberger next in line to go.

He, too, turned it down thanks to a sore shoulder that developed late in the season.

That means Matt Schaub will be heading to Miami.

Roethlisberger appeared to have problems with his throwing shoulder during the Steelers’ season-ending game at Miami on Jan. 3. Coach Mike Tomlin later said he doesn’t think Roethlisberger will require any medical procedures to correct the problem.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fichtner new QB coach

The Steelers have moved wide receivers coach Randy to quarterbacks quarterbacks coach.

Fichtner replaces Ken Anderson, who retired at the end of the season.

Fichtner coached the quarterbacks at Memphis from 1990-93 and from 2001-06, when he also was the offensive coordinator. He was the quarterbacks coach at Arkansas State from 1997-2000, when he first worked with Tomlin.

Fichtner also coached at Purdue, where he was in charge of recruiting besides coaching the wide receivers. He joined Tomlin’s staff in 2007.

Fichtner would appear to be the offensive coordinator in waiting should the team decide at some point to part ways with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in the future.

© The Steelers bolstered their depth at linebacker - and on special teams - by signing free agent linebacker Derrick Doggett.

Doggett (6-0, 210), who will enter his first year in the NFL, has played in the CFL for two years with the Edmonton Eskimos and most recently the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. In his two seasons, he amassed nine tackles on defense and one interception. Doggett has excelled on special teams, where he recorded 27 tackles last year with the Blue Bombers

As an undrafted rookie free agent out of Oregon State in 2008, Doggett was signed by the Eskimos and recorded six tackles on special teams. In 2008, he was signed by the Blue Bombers where he recorded nine tackles on defense, 27 special teams tackles and one interception.

© The Seattle Seahawks hired Green Bay Packers executive John Schneider as their new general manager.
The Seahawks confirmed the hiring of the 38-year-old Schneider, a 17-year veteran of NFL personnel work, Tuesday afternoon. ESPN first reported the deal.
The move means that Omar Khan, who was a finalist for the job, will remain with the Steelers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pro Football Weekly All-NFL and rookie teams

Pro Football Weekly released its All-NFL and All-Rookie teams and there were no Steelers on either roster.

To me, this is a much better list than the AP All-Pro team because it's voted on by the members of the Pro Football Writers of America, of which I am a member.

These are the guys who see all the games, talk to players on a daily basis and cover the league more in depth than some of the people who vote in the AP. It's also more inclusive than the AP vote, which is done by 50 people.

Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America 2009 All-NFL team

Offense
QB Peyton Manning / Colts
RB Chris Johnson / Titans
RB Adrian Peterson / Vikings
WR Andre Johnson / Texans
WR Wes Welker / Patriots
TE Dallas Clark / Colts
C Nick Mangold / Jets
OG Steve Hutchinson / Vikings
OG Jahri Evans / Saints
OT Ryan Clady / Broncos
OT Joe Thomas / Browns

Defense
DE Jared Allen / Vikings
DE Dwight Freeney / Colts
DT Kevin Williams / Vikings
DT Haloti Ngata / Ravens
OLB Elvis Dumervil / Broncos
OLB DeMarcus Ware / Cowboys
ILB Patrick Willis / 49ers
CB Charles Woodson / Packers
CB Darrelle Revis / Jets
S Darren Sharper / Saints
S Adrian Wilson / Cardinals

Specialists
PK Nate Kaeding / Chargers
P Shane Lechler / Raiders
PR DeSean Jackson / Eagles
KR Josh Cribbs / Browns
ST Kassim Osgood / Chargers

Most Valuable Player — Colts QB Peyton Manning
Defensive MVP — Packers CB Charles Woodson
Coach of the Year — Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis
Rookie of the Year — Texans LB Brian Cushing
Offensive Rookie of the Year — Vikings WR Percy Harvin
Most Improved Player of the Year — Cowboys WR Miles Austin
Comeback Player of the Year — Patriots QB Tom Brady
Executive of the Year — Colts president Bill Polian
Assistant Coach of the Year — Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer
Golden Toe (Best Placekicker or Punter) — Raiders P Shane Lechler

Pro Football Weekly/Professional Football Writers of America All-Rookie team

Offense
QB Mark Sanchez / Jets
RB Knowshon Moreno / Broncos
RB Beanie Wells / Cardinals
WR Percy Harvin / Vikings
WR Austin Collie / Colts
TE Brandon Pettigrew / Lions
C Alex Mack / Browns
OG Andy Levitre / Bills
OG Louis Vasquez / Chargers
OT Michael Oher / Ravens
OT Phil Loadholt / Vikings

Defense
DL Tyson Jackson / Chiefs
DL Terrance Knighton / Jaguars
DL B.J. Raji / Packers
DL Matt Shaughnessy / Raiders
LB Brian Cushing / Texans
LB Clay Matthews / Packers
LB Brian Orakpo / Redskins
CB Vontae Davis / Dolphins
CB Jacob Lacey / Colts
S Jairus Byrd / Bills
S Louis Delmas / Lions

Specialists
PK Ryan Succop / Chiefs
P Pat McAfee / Colts
PR Quan Cosby / Bengals
KR Percy Harvin / Vikings
ST LaRod Stephens-Howling / Cardinals

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Pagac to Steelers?

I'm hearing rumors that Richeyville native Fred Pagac is very interested in joining the Steelers staff - though that opportunity may have dried up when linebackers coach Keith Butler declined Miami's overtures to become the Dolphins defensive coordinator.

Pagac has been the linebackers coach for the Vikings the past four seasons and his contract is up at the conclusion of this season. I'm told he and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin are close from their days in Minnesota - where Tomlin was defensive coordinator for a season before joining Pittsburgh.

Pagac has coaching stops with Kansas City and Oakland in the NFL and was a longtime Ohio State assistant.

Would he possibly leave Minnesota to become specials teams coordinator for the Steelers? That's the only defensive opening the team currently has - outside of defensive quality control, a position he is overqualified for.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Who I like, divisional round

A 2-2 record last week put my season record at a very respectible 132-113-3 against the spread.

I missed the pick of the week when Aaron Rodgers' fumble in overtime was returned for a touchdown. That puts my pick of the week at a less-than-stellar 7-11.

But let's get on to this week's picks.

Take Dallas at plus 3 to beat Minnesota outright.

Take the Ravens to cover the 6 1/2 points in a loss to Indianapolis.

Take San Diego to cover its nine-point spread against the Jets.

Take Arizona to cover the 6 1/2 points in a loss to New Orleans.

If that holds up, New Orleans will host Dallas in the NFC Championship game, while Indianapolis will host San Diego in the AFC.

© Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler has reportedly turned down the Miami Dolphins' offer to become their defensive coordinator.

© Steelers Business & Football Administration Coordinator Omar Khan is reportedly one of two finalists for the general manager position in Seattle. The other finalist is former Tennessee Titans GM Floyd Reese.

NFL From the Sidelines on the move

As I mentioned last month, NFL From the Sidelines is moving.

Well, that day is here, the site can now be found at http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/sidelines/.

Sorry for any confusion this causes, but it was a necessary change.

New URL for blog

Starting soon, "NFL from the sidelines" will have a new URL:

http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/sidelines/

Please make a note, and please continue to visit! And thanks for your patience.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Steelers hire new o-line coach

The Steelers have hired Sean Kugler as their new offensive line coach to replace Larry Zierlein.

Zierlein was fired last week after three seasons with the team.

Kugler was fired by two weeks ago by the Buffalo Bills. He's also spent time with the Detroit Lions.

Kugler coached a Buffalo offensive line that last season set a team record for allowing just 26 sacks - just over half the total the Steelers allowed in 2009.

His hiring leaves the Steelers with two openings on their coaching staff, special teams and quarterbacks coach.

The team must also find a new defensive assistant after Lou Spanos left to accept a position with the Washington Redskins as their linebackers coach.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Khan to interview with Seahawks

According to NFL.com, Steelers salary cap specialist Omar Khan will interview for the general manager position of the Seattle Seahawks.

It's an interesting move considering Khan isn't a personnel guy. It could mean the Seahawks may be intent on giving new head coach Pete Carroll control over personnel.

Khan is a bright guy and would do well in the position. His loss would be felt with the Steelers, particularly heading into a possibly uncapped season.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Some keen insight on the Steelers

If you've never checked it out before, now former Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein's son, Lance, has a great pro football blog on the Houston Chronicle web site.

This week he has some great stuff on the Steelers, including talking about his dad's firing.

I'm sure you'll enjoy it:

http://blogs.chron.com/fantasyfootball/

Friday, January 08, 2010

Who I like, playoff version

Regular followers of this blog know that I went 11-0 versus the spread last year in the playoffs. I can't promise that kind of performance again this year – I'd be in Vegas instead of Washington if I could - but I did finish a solid 130-111-3 against the spread picking games in the paper this year.

Here's who I like this weekend
N.Y. Jets (plus 3 1/2) at Cincinnati - The Bengals went very vanilla last week while the Jets threw out everything and the kitches sink. I'm not a big fan of rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs, especially on the road. Take the Bengals, 20-13

Philadelphia (plus 4) at Dallas - People always like to bring up that old "it's hard to beat a team three times in one season" mantra. But is it? In 19 times a team has swept the regular season series with a division opponent, it has also won the third game 12 times. That's 12-7, so it's not that tough to beat a team three times. Sometimes, you're just better. Take Dallas, 27-17

Baltimore (plus 3 1/2) at New England - The Patriots struggled to beat the Ravens at home earlier this season, winning 27-21 with the help of some generous calls from the officials. Wes Welker didn't play that game, either. I like the road team here, take Baltimore, 23-20.

Green Bay (plus 1) at Arizona - If Anquan Boldin doesn't play, the Cards aren't nearly as explosive. And Arizona was also mediocre at home this season. Green Bay is my pick to win the NFC and it starts this week. Take the Packers, 31-24.

Hall of Fame finalists announced

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and former All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson were among the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Friday.

The list also includes Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Don Coryell, Roger Craig, Dermonti Dawson, Richard Dent, Russ Grimm, Charles Haley, Rickey Jackson, Cortez Kennedy, Dick LeBeau, Floyd Little, John Randle, Andre Reed, Jerry Rice, Shannon Sharpe and Emmitt Smith.

Between four and seven members will be selected from that group. LeBeau and Little are senior committee picks and are considered locks.

Smith and Rice are also considered locks, leaving likely one or two more players to get in.

That will probably mean Dawson gets passed over once again. Of that group, I'd probably vote for Andre Reed, a key contributor on four Super Bowl teams, and Shannon Sharpe.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Offensive line coach Larry Zierlein and special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky are gone.

Quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson has retired.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is staying, apparently at the behest of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

What does it mean?

For one, it means that head coach Mike Tomlin was very serious when he said he's out to change the fact that Roethlisberger has been the most sacked quarterback in the league over the past four seasons.

Was that all Zierlein's fault? Nope. Roethlisberger was sacked 40-plus times in 2006 when Russ Grimm was still the offensive line coach in Pittsburgh and Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator.

But the team learned to live with Roethlisberger taking some of those sacks by holding the ball because him holding the ball also turned into some big plays for the offense.

While Arians will be back, some of the things the team does offensively will change. He and whoever the new QB coach is will work with Roethlisberger on getting rid of the ball more quickly - ie. reading defenses better - with the idea that they can prolong his career.

Roethlisberger has bucked that in the past because the coaching staff has been willing to live with the bad plays because the big plays were so great. But with the team's third-down conversion rate plunging this season to the bottom of the league and a defense that wasn't as dominant, the Steelers couldn't fight through the bad sacks this season. They just couldn't afford to lose that kind of field position.

Roethlisberger going to bat for Arians and getting his way is a bad sign for this team, however, in that it gives the QB the idea that he's in charge of this ship.

Should Roethlisberger have some say in the matter? Sure. But Tomlin had better have told him that if Arians stays, Roethlisberger had better spend the necessary time in the offseason working on getting rid of the ball more quickly.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Anderson to retire

Head coach Mike Tomlin met with the media today for his final press conference of the 2009 season and while there wasn't any earth-shattering news, he did announce that quarterbacks coach Ken Anderson was retiring.

Anderson, a former Pro Bowl QB with the Cincinnati Bengals, has spent the past three seasons with the Steelers.

Tomlin is continuing to meet with the players as they put a wrap on a disappointing 2009 season.

He did say that he will meet with members of his coaching staff later this week and would not discount some additional changes there.

Free agent-to-be nose tackle Casey Hampton was one player who had his meeting with Tomlin Monday and Tomlin indicated - without actually saying it - that he would very much like to have Hampton back.

Placing the franchise tag on Hampton is a strong possibility.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Post-Miami thoughts

Complain about teams laying down in the closing weeks all you want – and apparently commissioner Roger Goodell is angry about it as well – but there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Anyone who wants to complain about need only see what happened to New England's Wes Welker Sunday in a game the Patriots really didn't need.

Welker apparently blew his knee out and will miss the playoffs, likely making New England a long shot to win the Super Bowl. The Pats were something of a long shot to begin with, but without Welker, they have no chance.

Goodell has good reason to be ticked off about teams tanking. Fans around the league – especially those in Pittsburgh and Houston – are angry about the Colts tanking a game against the Jets and costing their teams a shot at the playoffs.

Ticked off fans could mean fewer fannies in the seats. And with Goodell pushing for the league to expand to an 18-game schedule, how's it going to sell when you've got a quarter of the league taking the final week - or more in the case of Indianapolis - off?

Reportedly, Goodell would like to offer teams draft picks as a reward for playing their regulars in meaningless games, but all they'll have to do is think about Welker and weigh the loss of a top player against picking up an extra draft pick.

© Now, let's get on to the thoughts from Sunday's game.

Willie Parker closed out his career with the Steelers in style, hammering the Dolphins down the stretch and eating up the clock.

Parker likely won't be back in 2010. He wants to be a starter somewhere or at least be given a chance to start.

But he kept his cool about it all season long and performed when the team asked him to. That's what professionals do.

© Finally, not one but two interceptions by the cornerbacks. Than again, that ruined what would have been a great statistical footnote.

© That was a nasty, but clean, hit that Ike Taylor put on Pat White, knocking the former WVU quarterback out of the game.

White was falling to the ground after being tripped from behind by Lawrence Timmons and Taylor just happened to hit him helmet to helmet.

It was still a scary play, though.

© I think you might have to get used to the shootout-style victories.

Something tells me they'll be more of the norm rather than the exception in 2010.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

New England, Cincinnati trying to avoid SD?

Word around the league is that both the Patriots and Bengals would prefer to finish as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.

Why?

Both teams would rather put off a trip to San Diego until they absolutely have to go there.

The view around the league is that San Diego is the hottest team in the league at this point and teams would rather face Peyton Manning - coming off three weeks off - rather than San Diego.

© Steelers punter Daniel Sepulveda was very much under the weather Saturday but looked much better today.

© Brett Keisel is inactive today for the Steelers, as is Troy Polamalu.

Nick Eason will start in place of Keisel at DE.

Interestingly, despite being down another defensive end, Sunny Harris is still down as well.

That could mean some time at DE for Chris Hoke.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Who I like

Much last last week's game against Baltimore, I think Sunday's meeting between the Steelers and Miami comes down to the quarterbacks - Ben Roethlisberger vs. Chad Henne.

That should give you a good idea of who I like.

Both secondaries are vulnerable and both QBs should have some success.

But Roethlisberger is, by far, the better QB and has the added bonus of having better receivers to work with.

Ricky Williams is questionable to play for the Dolphins, but is expected to see some time.

Meanwhile, Troy Polamalu is also questionable for the Steelers, but I'd be surprised if he plays.

Take the Steelers, 24-13

© So where will that leave the Steelers?

Here's what I expect to happen in the other meaningful AFC games:
I'm taking Houston over New England, 27-21
I'm taking Baltimore to beat Oakland, 27-13
I'm taking Cincinnati to beat the Jets, 24-17
And I'm taking Denver to beat Kansas City, 21-10

That will mean that Baltimore and Houston claim the two AFC wildcard spots.