Monday, February 28, 2011

Early combine thoughts

Mike Pouncey isn't identical to his brother in every way. Mike's 40 time was about .05 less than what Maurkice ran last year.

Outside of that, they're pretty darn close.

© None of the Pitt guys have done much to help themselves at the combine.

Not only did Dion Lewis measure in at just 5-7, he also ran a 4.57 40, which is too slow for such a small back.

Lewis can play and 40 times aren't everything, but he's likely to slip into the third day of the draft.

Fullback Henry Hynoski can play as well, but the 5.06 was the slowest time of any RB/FB. Yes, Hynoski isn't going to make his money running with the ball, but he's got to be able to get to the hole.

Wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and offensive tackle Jason Pinkston also didn't run particularly well.

Baldwin was OK with a 4.50, but he needed to break 4.50 considering how lazy he looked on the field last season. The only way he was going to sneak into the first round was by putting up a 4.45 and killing his personal interviews.

Those are reportedly also not going particularly well.

Pinkston, meanwhile, didn't exactly show off his skills with a 5.47 40 and has looked average in drills.

© Defensive tackle Stephen Paea shattered the combine bench press record with 49, showing that not only can he play, he's ridiculously strong as well.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Steelers readying for free agency

The NFL Network reported today that the Steelers won't use a transition tag on any players, including cornerback Ike Taylor, prior to the deadline to do so.

That means that if/when free agency opens up, Taylor will be an unrestricted free agent.

Cue the teeth gnashing.

But nobody knows what free agency will be like if/when a new CBA is put in place. The Steelers wanted to protect themselves with LaMarr Woodley, hence the franchise tag they used on the linebacker.

But a transition tag has proven to be all but worthless over the years, offering little resistance to players moving about thanks to "poison pills" that some teams put in contract offers to keep their offer from being matched.

The bottom line is that Taylor, even if he gets an offer from another team, will more than likely give the Steelers a chance to match it or at least come close. Taylor doesn't want to leave Pittsburgh, especially after seeing what happened to Bryant McFadden in Arizona.

Willie Colon's agent told the Post Gazette that the tackle has probably played his last game in Pittsburgh, but that's posturing.

It remains to be seen how much money a player coming off an Achilles' tendon injury can command on the open market.

And it will be a wide open market, with more than 600 players scheduled to hit free agency if/when it happens. We also don't know what kind of cap will be in place – if any. It could be more than it was in 2009, the last capped year. It could be less.

The bottom line is that right now, there is a whole lot that nobody knows when it comes to free agency this year.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

More draft tidbits

NFLDraftScout.com sent me its pre-combine top 250 players.

Space does not permit me to list the entire thing, but I did take a close look at the top 50, which would roughly be the top two tiers of players.

Each draft has its 10 to 15 studs and then you can usually throw a blanket over the next 35 to 40 picks – beauty is in the eye of the beholder:

In that 25 to 40 range, you're looking at 25. Derek Sherrod, the offensive tackle from Missssippi State; 27. Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado; 29. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami; 30. Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State; 31. Mike Pouncey, G, Florida; 33. Aaron Williams, CB, Texas; 34. Danny Watkins, G, Baylor; 36. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State

Obviously, things can change depending on how a guy works out, but there's some solid football players at need positions for the Steelers. I don't think Paea would fit in the Steelers' scheme as a nose tackle, but he's quick enough to play end - ala. Kemo von Oelhoffen.

© Bogdog always sends me listings of some odds they have on their site. One that piqued my interest was one that asked who would run the fastest 40, Cam Newton or Josh Portis?

Newton was -130, while Portis was even money.

For those of you who don't know, Portis spent the past two seasons at California University of Pennsylvania after originally being recuited by Florida, where he was a backup to Tim Tebow. Newton was also at Florida at the time.

He also spent time at Maryland before transferring to Cal.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Early draft thoughts

I keep seeing nose tackle Phil Taylor of Baylor's name associated with the Steelers in mock drafts.

Given that he was kicked out of school at Penn State for a brawl and other problems, I highly doubt that is going to happen.

© Mike Pouncey is being linked to the Steelers for obvious reasons, but because of those same reasons, I doubt he'll be available to them with the 31st pick.

Maurkice Pouncey's performance for the Steelers last season will cause his twin brother's stock to be a little higher than it may have been if his name was, say, Mike Peterson.

Pouncey is good and deserving of first-round consideration, but he's not as talented as his brother.

© I think the Steelers' top targets will wind up being cornerbacks Jimmy Smith of Colorado or Aaron Williams of Texas, but that could change depending on who runs well at the combine.

Both of those corners have the size the Steelers look for in their corners and are willing tacklers.

© A lot of mocks I've seen have the Steelers taking an offensive tackle. I don't see that happening unless the value is there.

Max Starks will be back in 2011 and I expect the Steelers to re-sign Willie Colon. They also have Flozell Adams under contract as well. I could see them taking a tackle in the middle rounds for depth, but I don't think they felt their line was the problem others seem to think it is.

I think the way Sean Kugler cobbled things together this season showed the Steelers that they have a pretty good offensive line coach who can do a lot of good by coaching the players up.

If anything, I could see a guard/tackle being taken as a fallback if the corners are gone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A pair of no-brainers

The big stories of the day were the Steelers placing the franchise tag on linebacker LaMarr Woodley - no duh – and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau signing a one-year deal to remain with the team - double no duh.

Neither move comes as any surprise.

The Steelers' plan all along has been to franchise Woodley. Without a new CBA, the Steelers' hands were tied with Woodley in terms of negotiating a new deal.

Any deal he signed would have to have a base salary of no more than 120 percent of his base salary in 2010 – $550,000.

That meant the Steelers, to get a deal done, would have to give Woodley a ridiculous signing bonus to make up for the base salary.

That wasn't going to happen. So until a new CBA is in place, Woodley keeps the franchise tag.

As for LeBeau, the stories at the Super Bowl that said the Arizona Cardinals were going to make a pitch for his services were ridiculous.

LeBeau's intent has always been to finish his career with the Steelers. And since he still wanted to coach in 2011 after losing the Super Bowl, he was going to be back in Pittsburgh.

LeBeau wasn't going anywhere. Will he be back beyond 2011? That depends on what the Steelers do.

If they win the Super Bowl, LeBeau will walk away.

If they come close but lose, I expect him to return again.

If they fail to make the playoffs, I look for LeBeau to call it a career.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Keep Hall of Fame process the same

Apparently, the issues with the way the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting isn't going away anytime too soon.

Peter King took umbrage with something written by Jason Whitlock recently regarding the way the voting is done. Whitlock all but called some of the voters on the panel racists, which is ridiculous. Of course, this is the same Whitlock who was once suspended by the Kansas City Star for taunting a fan at a Patriots-Chiefs game by holding up a sign calling Drew Bledsoe gay, so you have to consider the source.

Whitlock is a clown.

As for the Hall of Fame voting process, I have no problem with it.

Every year, 44 voters – one from each NFL city and 12 at-large voters – gather at the site of the Super Bowl to whittle down the list to five new members and give their rubber stamp of approval to the two veteran committee nominees.

I know several of the voters and these guys take it very seriously. It's worked pretty darn well over the years.

But now, we have people like Whitlock championing making changes to the system by adding more voters to the process.

I've been a member of the Pro Football Writers of America for 18 years. Were I a member of the Pro Baseball Writers of America, I would have gotten a vote for the Hall of Fame after 10 years of covering the league.

That's why there are about 2,000 people out there voting for the Baseball Hall of Fame - many of whom haven't covered baseball in years. They simply pay their dues every year to keep their vote – I actually know people who do this.

And that's why you have a number of players in the Baseball Hall of Fame who don't really belong.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is different. There's a more rigid voting process. And that's the way it should be.

Everybody has favorite players who they think should get in. For Whitlock, it's Willie Roaf. But Dermontti Dawson hasn't gotten in yet and if Whitlock thinks Roaf was better than Dawson, I would suggest he lay off the sauce for a while.

But that's the great thing about these kind of honors - it's purely subjective.

Dawson will get in at some point - probably next year. Jerome Bettis will get in at some point as well.

Only five guys get in each year, which, when you consider that there are currently 32 teams with 53 men on each roster, isn't a lot.

That's the way it should be. It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of the Pretty Good.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My take on the Steelers' offseason priorties

Here's my look at the Steelers' offseason plans that ran in today's Observer-Reporter:

http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/localsports/02-14-2011-Steelers-offseason-priorties

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Be careful who you blame

Like Neil O'Donnell before him, Ben Roethlisberger is taking a lot of heat for his play in the Super Bowl.

But, like O'Donnell, there were some key plays during the game when the Steelers' young receivers did not run their routes as expected, resulting in some incompletions.

For example, on the Steelers' first offensive series, Roethlisberger made a throw to Antonio Brown's back shoulder that the receiver didn't read correctly, continuing his route down the field. The back shoulder throw was open had Brown adjusted, but the ball sailed out of bounds, looking like a horrible throw by Roethlisberger.

And on the deep route to Mike Wallace late in the game, Roethlisberger made the throw to the spot where the ball was supposed to go - to the pylon. But Wallace cut his route off more shallow than he should have, resulting in a pass in which it looked like Roethlisberger overthrew him badly.

We also saw Wallace struggling in the two-minute offense late in the game, not knowing what the play was.

These are the kind of things that happen with young receivers - even talented ones. Sometimes they make mistakes and the quarterback takes the blame.

That's why there is a belief that receivers don't hit their stride until their third year, which shows the arrow pointing up for the Steelers' passing game.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

My Polamalu theory

While driving to my final radio show last night for the 2010 season I had a thought that hit me on why Troy Polamalu was playing so much deep centerfield throughout the playoffs.

I don't think it had as much to do with his injury as it did with the one to Bryant McFadden.

McFadden was suffered a hip pointer in the Carolina game while making an interception and then tore a muscle in his rib cage the following game against Cleveland.

If you remember in that Cleveland game, Polamalu was up at the line of scrimmage to make a diving interception on the Browns' first play from scrimmage.

We didn't see him at the line of scrimmage too much after that.

I haven't had time to check into this yet, but it's my feeling the Steelers were so concerned with their corners outside of Ike Taylor that they felt they had to keep Polamalu deep to protect from being beaten over the top.

We saw Ryan Clark down in the box at times, but he doesn't have anywhere near Polamalu's speed. I believe they felt with McFadden hobbled, that exposed them to the deep ball with McFadden, William Gay and Anthony Madison, particularly with Clark as the only deep safety.

It drives home the fact that this team needs to upgrade its speed in the secondary.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Post, post-Super Bowl post

Some people have taken issue with my post-game post where I wrote that Aaron Rodgers only slightly outplayed Ben Roethlisberger. I stand by that statement.

I'd say that Roethlisberger played a C to C-plus game in the Super Bowl. It wasn't great, but he accounted for nearly 300 yards of offense and two touchdowns.

Again, I give him a pass on the first interception because his arm was hit as he threw. He made the bad throw over the middle, forcing the ball to Wallace that was intercepted, but I thought his audibles were good for the most part and they caught the Packers a couple of times when he checked into some runs.

I'd say Rodgers had a B-plus game. It was far from the perfect game that some would have you believe. Yes, he had some drops, but drops happen because the receivers here footsteps or lose concentration.

He produced one first down in the third quarter and could have thrown a couple of picks as well. It was not a complete game.

At the end of the day, Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense produced 25 points. Rodgers and the Packers offense had 24.

© I do think that Bruce Arians will be back as the Steelers' offensive coordinator, but I also think that Randy Fichtner is the OC in waiting, just as Keith Butler is the DC in waiting.

Some have been quick to criticize the Steelers for not running the ball more in the Super Bowl, but circumstances dictated that they all but abandon the running game in the fourth quarter.

© Emmanuel Sanders suffered a broken foot on the turf at Dallas – he had pins inserted – and there was plenty of slipping and sliding around on that field.

That's why I'm not a big fan of field turf.

© The Steelers should seriously consider moving Maurkice Pouncey to left guard.

Doug Legursky was solid at center in the Super Bowl. Wouldn't Pouncey look a lot better coming around the corner on the counter as opposed to Chris Kemoeatu?

Max Starks and Willie Colon are expected to have full recoveries and you could have a line from left to right of Starks, Pouncey, Legursky, Kemoeatu/Foster, Colon/Adams.

That's assuming Flozell Adams doesn't retire.

He played well enough this season that they could consider moving Colon inside to guard as well.

Colon is a free agent - assuming we have a free agent period – but should re-sign pretty cheaply.

© Defensive back is the team's biggest need in this offseason.

Ike Taylor is a solid No. 2 corner/low-end No. 1.

But he's also a free agent - assuming we have a free agent period.

They need some additional top-end talent in the defensive secondary considering nobody is willing to attempt to run against them.

I wouldn't be opposed to making free safety a high draft priority.

© Defensive backs Ray Horton will interview for the Arizona Cardinals' defensive coordinator position. The Cardinals also wanted to talk to linebackers coach Keith Butler, but were denied permission.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Post-Super Bowl thoughts

Not a whole lot to say about that game.

When you turn the ball over three times and don't force any, you're going to lose.

The only amazing thing was that the Steelers didn't lose by more than six points, particularly considering they gave up a defensive touchdown.

Aaron Rodgers played a good game but not a great one.

Rodgers threw for 304 yards on 24 of 39 completions, again, not a great completion percentage.

I really thought Jordy Nelson should have been the game's MVP after his nine-catch, 140-yard game. Yes, Rodgers was throwing the ball, but Nelson consistently got open and had some good catch-and-runs.

That said, Rodgers did outplay Ben Roethlisberger – slightly.

I know that will probably cause some people to scream bloody murder, but consider that Roethlisberger was 25 of 40, just about the same completion percentage. He also scrambled for 31 yards, so his yardage total was 294 yards accounted for compared to Rodgers, who didn't hurt the Steelers at all with scrambles.

The only difference was the bad interception Roethlisberger threw in the second quarter over the middle.

I give him a pass on the first pick since his arm was hit as he threw. Mike Wallace had a step on the corner and was accelerating by him. But because his arm was hit, Nick Collins was able to make an easy interception.

The second interception was a horrible read and Roethlisberger forced the ball into coverage.

© I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm not a big fan of any defensive package that takes Lawrence Timmons off the field to bring Anthony Madison on.

Nothing against Madison, who played OK, but Timmons is one of the team's top defensive playmakers.

© Anybody notice B.J. Raji in this game?

Me neither.

I guess all the hype about Doug Legursky not being up to the task was a little overblown.

The Steelers ran for 126 yards on just 23 carries. It's too bad Rashard Mendenhall fumbled because he otherwise played a very good game.

© Dumb, dumb penalty by Keyaron Fox on the final kick return of the game. That's the kind of penalty a veteran player who is the special teams captain cannot make.

Fox took an awful lot of penalties this season, again, not something you want out of your special teams captain.

© Time to head into the offseason.

There will be plenty to talk about.

I've got one more radio show on Tuesday to wrap up this season and then it's time to start thinking about the draft.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Game time

I'm in my seat after doing the pre-, pre-game show on ESPN-970 and this place looks ready to go.

The NFL did oversell the game, however, and is offering the fans who did not get seats three times the face value as compensation. That's a crime. You come here, spend money on the flight, hotel, days off work and can't get into the game? Money can't compensate you for that.

The Steelers surprisingly did not activate Dorian Brooks on the 45-man roster today. He's inactive. It leads me to the question as to why they would even make the move with Pouncey if they weren't going to activate Brooks?

It's nice for Brooks, though. He makes a bigger paycheck for being on the active roster, so maybe it's a gesture by the team to get a guy who's been on their practice squad all season a little more money - at the league's expense.

Also down are Batch, Dwyer, Butler, Chris Scott, Steve McLendon, Aaron Smith and Jason Worilds.

Frank Zombo will start for the Packers in place of Erik Walden at right outside linebacker.

Walden is down.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Who I like, Super Bowl version and other stuff

To me, this game comes down to the quarterbacks.

I know that the Steelers and Packers have plenty of defensive stars - the last three NFL Defensive Players of the Year will be on the field Sunday.

But the quarterbacks will be front and center.

And in a big game, with everything on the line, I'm taking Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger is 10-2 in the playoffs with a pair of Super Bowl wins under his belt. His playoff winning percentage is second only to Green Bay's Bart Starr.

The experienced Steelers will come out ready to play and get an early lead on the Packers. Green Bay may come back and take the lead, but Roethlisberger will get it done in the fourth quarter of a 31-27 Pittsburgh victory.

© I had some free time - finally – this week and made my way to Dallas for the first time to pick up my credentials.

We went down to the Dallas Book Depository and took the tour. Pretty interesting stuff.

I was amazed at how short Oswald's shots were.

The amazing thing is that he actually missed with the first one - opening jitters.

Goes back to what I just talked about with the Packers. When you're on the big stage for the first time, you're bound to have jitters before you get your feet under you.

© We were walking down to the Depository and coming past us was a man and woman. One of the guys I was with said, "That looks like Ozzie Smith," and said, "Hey Ozzie."

Turns out it was Ozzie Smith. You never know who you'll see at a Super Bowl or where you'll see them.

© Later on at the Media Center, I ran into a couple of Hall of Fame voters. They had just come out of the meeting room and I figured they were finished voting.

Turns out, they were taking a break after seven hours and whittling the 17 nominees down to 10. They were heading back in to finalize things.

© The Steelers made a roster move today that was not unexpected, placing Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) on the Reserve/Injured List and adding center/guard Dorian Brooks from the practice squad.



Ouch.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Let it snow

The snow started coming down around 11 p.m. here last night and continued on well into this morning.

Gotta love it.

Watching the news here this morning, I saw that there were 600 flights canceled into Dallas today - not good news if you were hoping on making a last-minute flight.

© Maurkice Pouncey did not practice again on Friday and has officially been declared out for the Super Bowl.

© Aaron Smith also won't play in the Super Bowl, but that's no surprise.

© I went to the bar where Ben Roethlisberger was reported to have been Tuesday night with the offensive line. They had a photo on their front sign proclaiming, "Ben parties here."

It didn't seem to drum up much extra business.

© Voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will take place Saturday. I continue to hear that Dermontti Dawson has a solid shot of getting in this year, while Jerome Bettis will have to wait at least one more year and more likely two.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Thursday news and notes

This Super Bowl has gotten a little ridiculous with members of the local media running around trying to make big deals out of nothing.

Tuesday, it was a report in a Dallas newspaper that Hines Ward and other members of the Steelers went to an area strip club Monday night.

Ward was asked about it Tuesday and the story insinuated that it was somehow the wrong thing to do.

Why?

I'm not a big strip club guy myself, but the last time I checked, they were legal. If that's how a guy chooses to spend his down time, whom am I or anyone else to tell him it's wrong?

According to the reports, everybody behaved themselves and there were no Pac-Man Jones moments. So where's the story?

Then, today the report comes out that Ben Roethlisberger took his offensive line out for dinner and sang "Piano Man."

Mike Tomlin was asked about it Thursday like he was supposed to be ticked off that members of his team went out and had a good night out with each other.

Said Tomlin: "I’m not concerned one iota. It’s normal for guys to eat dinner, believe it or not. During the course of the season, guys go out on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Believe it or not, guys live lives."

People actually report things like this as if it were "news."

I hate it. It makes it more difficult for those of us who actually care about our jobs and what we're doing.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

After filing my fifth story of the day, I headed out to see if I could sample the Fort Worth night life.

It wasn't until I was sitting, sipping on my first beer that I realized I had forgotten to blog today.

Sorry guys and gals.

This was a tough day here in North Texas. We had rolling blackouts this morning. A camera man for KDKA-TV got stuck in the elevator at our hotel for a half hour, while Bob Pompieani got caught in the shower when the electric went off.

The Steelers had a media session over at TCU at the school's basketball arena.

I was a little surprised how small the arena was.

I talked to Bryant McFadden at length today. He said he's feeling much better and that the muscle tear he has in his abdomen - he said it's not a sports hernia - is feeling better and he expects to start against the Packers.

McFadden tore the ab making a leaping, one-handed interception against the Browns. It was originally diagnosed as a hip pointer, but the team realized that he had a pulled muscle in his ab.

McFadden said it was very painful and it wasn't something he could take a shot for.

© Maurkice Pouncey was walking around without a boot on today, which was a surprise. I still doubt he plays Sunday, though.

© Heard some of the worst Karoke singing I've heard in a long time tonight at the Fox and Hound here in Fort Worth.

Can people who really can't sing be that tone deaf?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Tuesday news and notes

Media day has finally ended for me as I've filed my stories for the day and filled in with Bill Hillgrove on a radio show on 104.7-FM.

Media day wasn't nearly as crazy as the first three that I've covered. I attribute that to the weather.

Many of the bozos who would have normally attended this function probably didn't make it in thanks to the four inches of ice on all the roads here in northern Texas.

That allowed for a little more nugget digging from those of us who were actually there to, you know, be actual media members.

I spoke to both Trai Essex and Dorian Brooks about the Steelers' backup plan at center if Doug Legursky is pushed into the starting lineup thanks to the injury to Maurkice Pouncey.

The snaps that Essex took at center last week were the first snaps he's taken there all season - which isn't promising.

Brooks hasn't really played the position, either. Remember, he was a college guard that the Steelers decided to move to center.

At this point, if Legursky has to start, it appears the Steelers feel more confident using Essex at center, than Brooks.

They'll go with a player who at least has some NFL experience rather than throwing a undrafted rookie out there for his first game on the world's biggest stage.

© I also spoke with Aaron Smith, who will have an MRI Wednesday to see if he's healed enough to possibly play in the Super Bowl.

Smith said even if he doesn't play, he hopes to play another year or two.

He also seemed to be resigned to the fact that he probably won't play.

© Note to Peter King: The difference between a couple of dozen Steelers not having Ben Roethlisberger's back and a couple of dozen NFL players from around the league is a chasm as big as the Grand Canyon.

Just sayin'