Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Batch to start

Charlie Batch will get the start at QB on Thursday in the Steelers preseason finale at Carolina, with Dennis Dixon following him.

Starter Ben Roethlisberger will not play at all.

Batch would appear to have the leg up to be Roethlisberger's primary backup, but there is also some concern among the coaching staff about having Batch play behind the third-string offensive line, which also factored into the decision to give him the start.

The staff feels Dixon is better able to escape pressure behind what is not a very good unit.

© Doug Legursky will get the start at right guard in the preseason finale, to get his chance "to state his case," according to Mike Tomlin.

Legursky will likely be the starter when the Steelers open in Baltimore.

© In addition to Roethlisberger, Ike Taylor, Chris Carter and Jerricho Cotchery will definitely not play.

Chances are, James Farrior, Troy Polamalu, Bryant McFadden, Maurkice Pouncey and Casey Hampton won't play either.

If Pouncey doesn't play, Trai Essex will start at center.

© The Steelers released nose tackle Anthony Gray, wide receiver Terrence McCrae, linebacker Chris Ellis and corner Niles Brinkley to get down to the 80-man roster limit.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Post-Atlanta thoughts

Ben Roethlisberger is 21 of 31 of 361 yards, 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the preseason.

Most of that has come in the past two weeks against Atlanta and Philadelphia, a pair of NFC playoff teams a year ago.

I don't know what else to say about that other than his passer rating is 146.6 in the preseason.

© OK, here's one more thing to say about that. Mike Wallace has two catches for 9 yards and Roethlisberger has a 146.6 passer rating.

The Steelers' opponents this season should be very, very afraid.

© It's too bad about the broken arm suffered by Byron Leftwich. He's a class act and you hate to see that happen.

But it did make the Steelers' situation at QB much easier to navigate.

Given that Leftwich likely will be out until at least October, it's likely the team will place him on the disabled list and roll with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch as the backups.

© Both Casey Hampton (arm) and Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) were also injured, but neither is serious.

Keenan Lewis' knee injury also is not considered serious, though Miguel Chavis is done with a torn pectoral muscle.

© Mike Tomlin to Antonio Brown as he entered the locker room , "Don't let it consume you."

Good advice to a player who looks every bit of a superstar in the making.

Tomlin had some choice words for the young man after he drew a taunting penalty at the end of his 77-yard catch and run.

It's unlikely Brown will make that mistake again.

© The Falcons threw the ball 42 times in the first half and dropped back to pass 44 times – two were scrambles.

That resulted in 220 yards passing and 13 points.

That's Dick LeBeau defense in a nutshell.

Some will argue that it shows the Steelers still can't defend the pass. But remember that Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden were both out and Keenan Lewis left midway through the first half.

That left William Gay, Crezdon Butler and Donovan Warren covering Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, a pair of perennial Pro Bowl players, and rookie Julio Jones, whom the Falcons traded the house to move up and get in the draft.

Atlanta's passing offense looks like it will be a good one, but the Steelers defense held their own against it.

You'd like to see some sacks in 42 pass attempts, but the Steelers had pretty good pressure on Ryan throughout the first half.

© Butler made some nice plays, not including his 95-yard interception return for a touchdown, and the Steelers may have to find a way to keep him around another year.

Lewis also had his moments, most notably a nice breakup in the end zone of a pass intended for White – though he did blow a coverage just prior to that.

© Rookie defensive lineman Corbin Bryant also continues to flash some skills. With Steve McClendon continuing to make plays, and first-round pick Cameron Heyward, you wonder if Chris Hoke has to worry about a roster spot.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday with Tomlin

It appears that Marcus Gilbert, a second-round draft pick, will get the start at left tackle on Thursday against the Falcons.

Jonathan Scott is still hurting with a hyperextended knee and the Steelers want to take a long look at Tony Hills at right guard.

They'd also like to get Gilbert as much experience as possible heading into the regular season, especially after he missed most of the first week of training camp with a hamstring injury.

He'll get plenty of opportunity to play against Atlanta as the starters are expected to play into the third quarter.

© Tomlin ruled out cornerback Ike Taylor for Saturday's game, even though Taylor has resumed practicing.

© In addition to Scott, cornerbacks Cortez Allen, Bryant McFadden, wide receivers Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders and linebacker Mario Harvey are questionable to play.

© Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel was at the Steelers facility on Thursday watching practice.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

Ike Taylor is getting very close to returning to play, despite having a broken thumb.

Taylor won't play in this weekend's preaseason game against the Falcons, but he still working hard and will be ready to roll in the preseason.

© Bruce Arians said today that Trai Essex, in addition to being capable of playing guard or tackle, is now the Steelers third center.

Everyone worried about that third center position can now rest easily.

The ability of Essex to play multiple positions, including center, which I had forgotten about, could help him lock up a roster spot, despite his late signing.

© David Johnson has locked up the No. 2 tight end position, according to Arians, but the No. 3 spot is wide open.

© Former Steelers cornerback Jack Butler was nominated by the Hall of Fame senior committee for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Considering that no nominee by the senior committee has ever not made the hall, Butler is as good as in.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday news and notes

The big news of the day was not the earthquake that shook the Pittsburgh area and the Steelers' facility on the South Side, but the signing of linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

Timmons got a six-year extension worth $50 million from the Steelers, giving them three linebackers who are earning an average of nearly $10 million per year.

That's a lot of money tied up in the front seven and the defense in general.

But it also means the Steelers have now tied up their two youngest defensive starters – Timmons and LaMarr Woodley – to long-term deals.

That's significant considering they are the only two starters who are under 30.

The team still has yet to do anything with strong safety Troy Polamalu, but may wait on that. Polamalu could be given the franchise tag at the end of the season.

© Speaking of young defensive players, rumblings are getting stronger that Bryant McFadden may be the odd man out when the Steelers start cutting corners – no pun intended.

The thinking is that at this point in his career, McFadden is what he is. He's not going to get any better. And what he is right now is adequate.

But would the defense be any worse off with, say, Keenan Lewis in the starting lineup opposite Ike Taylor?

At least there is the opportunity that Lewis could still get better.

And with a number of young corners on the roster who the Steelers don't want to give up on, it may not make sense to keep McFadden and his higher salary hit and take the chance on somebody signing Crezdon Butler or Cortez Allen if they are released.

© Trai Essex admitted to allowing himself to get out of shape in the offseason, which was a big reason why the Steelers didn't re-sign him.

His signing, even at this late date, could mean the Steelers aren't happy with the progress made by some of their young linemen, particularly Chris Scott.

Scott was given the chance to win the right guard spot and failed badly against Washington. He followed that up with a sub-par effort last week against Philadephia.

There is also some concern that Jonathan Scott's knee injury may not be completely healed when the Steelers roll into Baltimore in Week 1.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Looking at 53

With two preseason games now in hand and training camp over, it's time to start thinking about how the Steelers' roster will shake down.

Here's how I see it right now:

QB (3) - Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon. I'm keeping Dixon over Charlie Batch because if you cut Dixon, somebody else will sign him. If Batch is released, he's not likely to sign elsewhere and you can always bring him back if there is a need. Dixon, however, could be trade bait.

RB (4) - Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Mewelde Moore, Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer makes the roster after the injury to Barron Batch. The Steelers could keep an eye on the waiver wire here to see if somebody of value gets cut free.

OL (10) - Willie Colon, Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Kemoeatu, Jonathan Scott, Doug Legursky, Tony Hills, Chris Scott, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert and Keith Williams. The Steelers could go with nine here and try to sneak Williams onto the practice squad. Or they could keep a guy like Kyle Jolly on the active roster. But things are pretty cut and dried, barring an injury.

WR (5) - Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jerricho Cotchery. Arnaz Battle could be kept around, but something tells me they'll need an extra roster spot for defensive backs. Plus, with the new kickoff rule in place, special teams isn't as important as it was before.

TE (3) - Heath Miller, David Johnson, Wesyle Saunders. Veteran John Gilmore has shown little. Saunders really hasn't, either, but he's got the potential to get better. This will be a position where the Steelers will be watching the waiver wire for help.

DL (6) - Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Chris Hoke. Corbin Bryant is a guy pushing here. It's possible that he's shown enough that if the Steelers try to sneak him onto the practice squad, one of the other 3-4 teams in the league will snatch him up. But because they almost have to keep 10 defensive backs, you have to find a roster spot somewhere.

LB (9) - James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Chris Carter, Jason Worilds, Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester, Morty Ivy. Ivy gets a roster spot as a special teams ace.

DB (10) - Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, William Gay, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy, Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, Donovan Warren. This is a tough decision with Warren getting a roster spot over Cortez Allen, who has practiced too little to be of any help, and safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith. It wouldn't be a surprise to see a veteran cut loose here - Gay or even McFadden - to open a spot for a younger player. This is easily the toughest position on the team to cut because many of the players are so similar and health has been an issue throughout training camp.

Specialists (3) - Greg Warren, Daniel Sepulveda, Shaun Suisham.


© In other news Monday, the Steelers signed veteran offensive lineman Trai Essex. That's likely a response to both Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert getting hurt last week against Philadelphia.

The team now lists Tony Hills as No. 1 at RG, so if they want to get him some snaps there, they need somebody with some experience to line up at LT.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Post-Eagles thoughts

Heck of a difference Troy Polamalu and James Harrison make in the Steelers defense.

Polamalu looked like he was in mid-season form, while Harrison was getting a good push on the pocket as well.

Polamalu, in fact, looked like a demon on the field Thursday night.

As he was walking into the locker room after the game, coach Mike Tomlin said, "I'm over it," to Polamalu.

Tomlin was a bit peeved that Polamalu put himself in jeopardy making his interception return at the end of the first half.

But, as Polamalu told me, "It doesn't matter to me if it's a preseason game or regular season. Once I've got the ball in my hands, instincts take over."

Laying down once he picked off Michael Vick was never an option.

© The Steelers were a little ticked off about the new rule that you can't engage the quarterback following a turnover unless he attempts to make a play.

Vick, an excellent athlete, took Polamalu down pretty hard following his interception. There were a number of Steelers around Vick at the time, but they did not attempt to block him for fear of being penalized and/or fined for taking a shot at the QB.

© Swayze Waters isn't much of a field goal kicker, but he could be a weapon on kickoffs. Shaun Suisham was scratched Thursday and Waters handled all of the kicking duties - except punts.

His kickoffs were deep, except one the Steelers told him to kick short and allow a return.

With the new kickoff rules, it may make sense for teams to carry a guy who can put the ball through the back of the end zone instead of an extra DB or WR to play special teams.

If you're putting the ball out of the end zone, who needs coverage guys?

© Jonathan Scott, who left on the first play of the game with a right knee injury, said it's not a long-term injury. But he could miss the remainder of the preseason.

Tony Hills acquitted himself well at left tackle after rookie Marcus Gilbert went down as well.

© First-year corner Donovan Warren seems to be making the most of his opportunity for more playing time due to other injuries in the secondary.

Warren was pretty active against the Eagles - in the few plays the defense was on the field.

He came in as the nickel corner, with William Gay sliding inside to the slot.

© Dennis Dixon played the entire second half at QB, with Charlie Batch getting not field time at all.

Don't read too much into that, however. The coaching staff does not want to put Batch on the field behind the third and fourth-team offensive line because it's pretty bad.

They trust that Dixon has enough elusiveness to take care of himself.

Then again, if the coaching staff is so worried about Batch not being able to fend for himself, maybe he shouldn't be on this team.

© Ben Roethlisberger made some beautiful throws in this game, but his best play may have been a 12-yard dumpoff to Rashard Mendenhall.

Roethlisberger was pressured to his left and waited for Mendenhall to release before feathering the ball over the outstretched hands of a pass rusher.

It showed a lot of patience and maturity.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Hair and the Glare

As I said last week, we got a good look at what the Steelers defense would look like without both Troy Polamalu and James Harrison in 2011 against the Redskins and it wasn't pretty.

Without the Hair and the Glare, the Steelers are going nowhere.

But both will be in the lineup when the Steelers host Philadelphia Thursday and it will be interesting to see them play in game conditions.

Polamalu is, of course, coming off an Achilles' tendon injury that limited him so greatly in 2010 that all he did was win the Defensive Player of Year award. Harrison, meanwhile, had a pair of back surgeries that sapped him of some leg strength.

Neither has gone crazy in training camp, taking things easy. But if they're on the field, even for a preseason game, you can bet they'll be going all out.

© I found it interesting that the Steelers moved defensive lineman Miguel Chavis to tight end.

Chavis made some plays against the Redskins and is very athletic, even at 285 pounds.

It's probable that this is a move made for practice squad purposes - to steal a spot because they're going to have to try to sneak some draft picks onto the squad, ie. a young corner or two – and can save a spot by teaching Chavis to play tight end as well.

© Limas Sweed was a dead man walking and his teammates knew it.

A couple of years ago, you'd see Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes playing jokes on Sweed during practice, yukking it up with him on the sidelines.

This year, it was almost like he was a leper. He moped around the practice field and his teammates seemed to avoid him.

It just goes to show how things can change.

Kevin Colbert will take some heat for cutting loose a former second-round draft pick, but let's be honest, this wasn't Alonzo Jackson-like.

Had the Steelers not taken Sweed in the second round, somebody else would have. Had the Steelers not selected Jackson in the second round, it's likely he would have slipped to the middle rounds.

Sweed may also get an opportunity to play for somebody else in the league, ala. Ricardo Colclough, another former second-round bust.

Colclough was considered a bust with the Steelers, but spent six seasons in the NFL. That's not a bust. He was an NFL player.

Jackson was out of football a year after the Steelers cut him. That, my friends, is a bust.



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Last day of camp

Mike Tomlin held his final press conference of training camp 2011 and was much more interesting today than he was at his PC last week:

© Tomlin said Troy Polamalu and James Harrison will play Thursday against Philadelphia after sitting against Washington.

© The starters are expected to see 20 to 25 snaps.

© Tony Hills will get the start at RG, though at practice Wednesday, Doug Legursky lined up with first team at RG, while Chris Kemoeatu was at LG.

© Emmanuel Sanders, Cortez Allen, Crezdon Butler, Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor, Chris Kemoeatu and Mario Harvey are out as of now. That list could be added to later.

© Tomlin did not discount having his kickers boot the ball shorter to allow for returns to get a look at his special teams coverage units.

© Tomlin also said he wants to get an extended look at Jonathan Dwyer in this game.

I talked to Dwyer at lunch. Said he's lost 15 pounds since he's been in camp.

© The Steelers were on the turf here at Saint Vincent College and Aaron Smith did not practice again. Tomlin said he has given some of the older guys days off when they are on the turf here to save their knees.

The Steelers wrapped up camp having had just five practices on grass because of heavy rains throughout camp.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dwyer a big winner

Unless the Steelers make a move to sign a running back who gets cut loose in the next couple of weeks, Jonathan Dwyer has likely made this team.

The season-ending knee injury to Baron Batch last week made that a strong possibility, but rookie John Clay walking out of practice Monday all but assured it.

Clay was eventually talked into coming back onto the practice field, but you can bet the coaching staff isn't happy with him.

Of course, Clay probably sees the writing on the wall. He hasn't been too impressive in camp and was equally blah in the team's first preseson game at Washington.

So that leaves Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Mewelde Moore and … Dwyer.

The Steelers will be watching the waiver wire closely if someone interesting gets cut loose. And no, that somebody will not be Tiki Barber.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Kemoeatu activated

The Steelers activated guard Chris Kemoeatu on Sunday, placing defensive lineman Sunny Harris on the waived/injured list.

Kemoeatu has been on the PUP list since the opening of training camp after showing up with swelling on his knee caused by workouts to get himself ready for the season.

© Word is that James Harrison, who sat out Friday night's preseason game to rest his back, has seen some of his leg power decrease.

According to sources, Harrison used to squat over 600 pounds in the weight room. But after a pair of offseason back surgeries, he's at 365 or so.

That's not good.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Post-Washington thoughts

All the people who want to trade or cut James Harrison and allow Troy Polamalu to leave as a free agent at the end of the season got a good look what that would look like for the Steelers Friday night against Washington.

It wasn't pretty.

Thankfully for the Steelers, both will be in uniform for them this season.

Sure, the Steelers played pretty vanilla defensively in the first half against the Redskins, but Washington was gouging Pittsburgh on the ground when both teams had their starters in the game. That's something that would be much less likely to happen with Harrison and Polamalu in the game.

© Antonio Brown continues to be perhaps the most impressive-looking player for the Steelers.

It's a shame the new kickoff rules aren't going to allow for him to make too many returns.

© The Steelers started the game with three tight ends, with David Johnson in the backfield and John Gilmore and Heath Miller on the line.

But Jamie McCoy did replace Johnson on the second series as the H-back.

© Tough game for Ryan Mundy. He was getting worked over so much in coverage that you would have sworn the Redskins game planned it.

© The Steelers dodged a bullet with Lawrence Timmons, who went down in the first half with a stinger that looked worse than it apparently was.

They weren't as fortunate with Ike Taylor, who suffered a broken thumb.

Taylor will be ready for the regular season opener, but it will give the Steelers a great opportunity to get some of their young corners more experience - if they can stay healthy.

© If you don't like the way Isaac Redman runs with the ball, you don't like football.

© Ramon Foster started at right guard, but was replaced by Chris Scott in the second series. Scott had a tough go of it, allowing a running play to get blown up and allowing a sack.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Steelers sign Cotchery and other news, notes

The Steelers signed veteran wideout Jerricho Cotchery on Thursday, adding some key depth to a position that has been banged up considerably at training camp.

It remains to be seen how Cotchery fits into the wide receiver depth chart, but the Steelers were concerned that they had precious little veteran depth behind Hines Ward.

Yes, Mike Wallace is an emerging star, but his inexperience showed up in the Super Bowl. And with Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown entering just their second year – and Sanders missing the past two weeks of practice – the Steelers were concerned about what would happen if Ward were injured.

The move doesn't bode well for Limas Sweed and possibly Arnaz Battle.

Sweed is all but done in Pittsburgh now, while the signing of Cotchery shows the team has no use for Battle as anything but a special teams cover man.

© It's a shame rookie Baron Batch suffered an apparent season-ending ACL tear Wednesday. But it opens the door for Jonathan Dwyer to make this team again.

It also assures Mewelde Moore of a roster spot.

© Second-year pro Chris Scott missed all of training camp in 2010 with a broken foot, but the Steelers have been impressed enough with his play in camp this year to give him a legitimate shot at starting at right guard.

At 6-4, 319 pounds, Scott is nearly as big as 2010 starter Ramon Foster, but much more agile.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tuesday news and notes

The Steelers entertained yet another tight end on Tuesday as Reggie Kelly became the latest guy to come through Latrobe.

Despite his reputation as a solid blocker Wesyle Sanders hasn't shown it yet and David Johnson is more of an H-back than he is a second tight end. Recently signed veteran John Gilmore looks fairly unimpressive as well.

Who knew it would be so difficult to replace Matt Spaeth?

Jamie "The Real" McCoy continues to impress as a willing blocker, but, like Johnson, he's more of an H-back type than an in-line blocker. McCoy held his own in two out of three blocking drills working against James Harrison.

© With Bryant McFadden out Tuesday, Keenan Lewis took snaps with the first-team defense and had one of his better practices.

That's big news for the Steelers, who are still hoping Lewis turns into a player.

© Though Keith Williams is officially listed as his primary backup, it was Doug Legursky filling in for Chris Kemoeatu today. Chris Scott was at RG for Ramon Foster, who is suffering from concussion issues.

© The Steelers really like what they've seen out of rookie inside linebacker Mario Harvey.

Harvey is a thick, 6-0, 250 pounds, but is lightning quick.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Monday's news and notes

Jonathan Scott tried to gut it out at practice Monday, but his injured ankle just wouldn't let him.

It's not hard to see why Scott would attempt to tough things out, while Ramon Foster, who's injury on Saturday was not considered as serious as Scott's would not.

Scott is the definition of NFL journeyman. He's got a chance to be the Steelers' starting left tackle - in fact, he might have it be default.

And he doesn't want to give that up. But after seeing the look on his face after he shut it down Monday, he may have learned that, sometimes, it's better to bite the bullet and not practice rather than risk injuring something worse.

© Rookie linebacker Chris Carter just might be a quick learner.

After looking horrible in the tight ends on backers running drill last week, Carter did a credible job working against David Johnson, consistently getting his shoulder around the corner and taking the much bigger Johnson where he wanted him to go.

Jason Worilds wasn't anywhere near as successful as Carter was working against Johnson. In fact, Johnson stoned Worilds time and again at the line of scrimmage, pretty much having his way with him.

© Chris Kemoeatu is now running, meaning he is getting close to being activated off the PUP list.

Hines Ward was, of course, activated Monday.

© Tuesday will be a big day for many of the team's rookies and first-year players who have been missing time. If they don't practice Tuesday, they are unlikely to play in Friday's preseason opener.

© Jerrico Cotchery came and left Saint Vincent College on Monday.

The Steelers seem insistent on finding a veteran wideout to add to their roster.

That tells me they don't think Arnaz Battle can help them in the passing game. Limas Sweed doesn't have any real experience, either, and is on the outside looking in.

Tyler Grisham? He's got less experience than Battle and Sweed.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Weekend news, notes

Friday night at Latrobe High School Stadium, I was told the Steelers would work on goal line plays to end the practice.

Usually, that means putting the ball at the 2 and having the offense try to score.

In this case, it means putting the offense at its own 2 and having it come out of its own end zone.

The first play? An end around to Antonio Brown.

Brown got out of the end zone for about a five-yard gain, but a couple of screen passes were blown up.

It was almost like the Steelers were figuring out what would and would not work in those situations.

Of course, we've seen the team have problems in that same situation in plenty of big games over the past few years, so maybe it wasn't a bad idea.

© Speaking of Brown, he's been very, very active in the first week-plus of training camp. The young receiver is really taking a big step forward, particularly with Hines Ward and Emmanuel Sanders sitting out.

© If you've been following my Tweets or listened to me on the radio, you know I've been impressed with Jamie McCoy, a first-year tight end who spent time with the Rams last season.

At 6-3, 240 pounds, McCoy is a bit undersized, but he's an active blocker.

He'd likely have to make the roster as an h-back and the Steelers already have one of those in David Johnson.

Can McCoy beat out Johnson? Possibly. Johnson has not been as impressive as a blocker as he had been in previous camps.

But it's unlikely that both McCoy and Johnson make the team as backups to Heath Miller.

© Rookie running back Baron Batch is getting plenty of looks. Friday night, he was matched against Lawrence Timmons – the new defensive champion. Coach Mike Tomlin made sure McCoy was matched against Timmons as well.

Both held their own, splitting a pair of reps with Timmons.

Saturday, Batch scored on a pair of goal-line carries in the goal-line drill.

© Jonathan Scott went down Saturday with an ankle injury. You can bet the Steelers were getting ready to dial Max Starks or Flozell Adams.

Tony Hills was his replacement.

It doesn't appear serious, but gives an idea of just how precarious the team's situation is at offensive tackle, particularly left tackle.

© Both Ed Bouchette and Peter King, a pair of Hall of Fame voters, Tweeted Saturday night that they believe Dermontti Dawson will be part of next year's Hall of Fame class.

It's about time.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Woodley signs, what's next

LaMarr Woodley signed a six-year deal worth $61.5 million to stay in Pittsburgh early Friday morning, also clearing up some cap space for the Steelers.

The question now is who's next?

Both Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents at the conclusion of the 2011 season, while wide receiver Mike Wallace will be restricted.

That's three pretty key components to this team.

Some would argue that if Timmons is now given a long-term deal, it would lock up quite a bit of money at the linebacker position.

James Harrison just signed a six-year, $51.75-million deal a couple of years ago, while James Farrior is pulling down around $2.5 million.

The question is, do they want to take a chance at losing a young star such as Timmons and what exactly is he worth. Do you take the chance on signing him now based on his current level of play or do you roll the dice and if he has a great season, as many expect, does he now cost $10 million per season as well?

Timmons has played well to this point in his career - great in some stretches. But he has yet to do it over the course of a season.

Polamalu, on the other hand, is a completely proven player, albeit one who is going to miss some games here and there. But the Steelers' record with him on the field is remarkably better than it is without him. He's also one of the faces of the franchise, if not the NFL.

It would be hard to imagine him playing elsewhere.

In Wallace, you have a player who took over the No. 1 receiver role in 2010 and is a blossoming star. With Hines Ward near the end of his storied career, it's up to Wallace to become the leader of the wideouts.

The bet here is that the Steelers try to work something out with Timmons and Polamalu now, with Polamalu being the bigger priority.

They could possibly get something done with him before the season begins that will not only lock him up for another four seasons after this one - making that his last contract - but also lower his cap number slightly for this season.

And if they can't get something done with Timmons, they'll have the franchise tag available once the season ends.

As for Wallace, he'll likely become a restricted free agent - though the Steelers will place the highest-level tag on him and continue to work on a new deal.

There's also the chance that the money saved with Woodley's new deal will be used to bring back one of the two offensive tackles cut last week, Max Starks or Flozell Adams.

© Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher is in camp and will be attending the team's 7 p.m. practice tonight at Latrobe High School Stadium.

© Woodley, Ben Roethlisberger and James Farrior will be at Heinz Field Saturday filming a scene for the upcoming Batman movie being shot in Pittsburgh.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Woodley negotiations

I had the question posed to me on another post about the Steelers and Woodley being far apart on their contract negotiations. Here are my thoughts on that situation:

They're negotiating. There's no pressure on Woodley to settle on, say, a 4-year, $20-million deal when he's going to make $10 million this season.

But, the Steelers have to be careful that they don't upset the apple cart with Woodley considering they have deals with Polamalu and Timmons to work on as well.

Woodley can't make more than Polamalu. You could argue that he shouldn't make more than Timmons. And they're not going to give him a better long-term deal than the one Harrison has now.

But, the negotiations haven't even been ongoing for a week. Something will get done at some point because the Steelers need to lower his cap nnumber so they can start working on Polamalu/Timmons.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

It was an interesting morning with LaMarr Woodley saying the Steelers have opened negotiations with him on a new deal and then saying that the date for the league year to begin could be moved to next Tuesday.

That would mean a bunch of players would be unable to practice tomorrow as planned. They have unable to practice, waiting for a new CBA to be ratified. That has obviously not happened.

© Ryan Clark explained that the Steelers won't OK a deal that doesn't take the fining and suspension powers away from Roger Goodell.

A majority vote on the new CBA, however, is all that is needed.

© The Steelers on Wednesday worked extensively with their tight ends catching passes. Tuesday was a big day for those guys in terms of blocking.

The team is looking hard at who is going to be Heath Miller's backup.

© Somehow a rumor surfaced that the Steelers were making some kind of moves at quarterback.

Byron Leftwich, however, continues to get the second-team snaps. Charlie Batch has gotten precious little work.

That's not uncommon for Batch, but with Dennis Dixon set to return – either Thursday or next Tuesday – I have to believe he bumps Batch.

© Emmanuel Sanders was still in a walking boot, but was off the crutches today.

© Keenan Lewis was back at practice today after sitting out with hamstring issues.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tuesday at training camp

The Steelers returned to work on Tuesday after being off Monday and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was on crutches.

Sanders had a procedure on his sore left foot, getting bone marrow from his heel injected into the area in which he had a stress fracture during the offseason.

Sanders expects to be back in two to three weeks.

© The highlight of today's practice was the linebackers vs. tight ends running drill.

I watched rookie Chris Carter, a fifth-round pick out of Fresno State a lot - as did coach Mike Tomlin.

Carter looks small compared to the team's other linebackers and that showed up in this drill. He pretty much got overpowered by anyone he went up against.

He looked better in one-on-one pass rushing drills later, but he needs to work on his functional strength.

Tomlin was riding second-year linebacker Jason Worilds pretty good throughout the drill.

Worilds told me he has added some muscle this season and is up to 257 pounds. He looked like Carter last season, so there is some hope there.

© Starring for the tight ends in the drill was first-year player Jamie McCoy. McCoy showed strong hands and good strength. He does duck his head some at contact, but that can possibly be coached out of him.

© Rookie offensive lineman Keith Williams is starting at left guard, at least until Thursday, and he has shown some pretty good nasty.

On an inside run drill Tuesday, he caught a blitzing Larry Foote and drove him into the ground.

He also held his own in one-on-one passing drills against first-round pick Cameron Heyward. Looks like the sixth-round draft pick might have a future here.

© The more I see of the punters in camp, the more sense it makes that the team resigned Daniel Sepulveda. I've seen my fill of 30 and 35-yard kicks.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Day off for Steelers

The Steelers get a day off today but that doesn't mean the front office isn't working.

In addition to working on contract extensions for strong safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers are also looking to re-work quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's deal.

If some of those aren't finished by Wednesday, the team may have to do some more cutting to get under the salary cap by the Thursday deadline.

© So Dennis Dixon wants to go somewhere he can be a starter.

I thought all his college eligibility was used up.

Dixon didn't come close to showing enough last season for any NFL team to think he's capable of being its starter.

© The Steelers have re-signed DT Chris Hoke.