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Monday, February 27, 2012

Poe likely moves out of Steelers range

Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe likely moved out of the range of the Steelers in the first round of the draft when he clocked in at and official 4.98 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine Monday.

Original times had him at 4.87 seconds, but 4.98 is still pretty darn good when you consider Poe is 6-4, 346 pounds and also had the best bench at this combine, putting up 225 pounds 44 times.

He also blistered his 10-yard time in 1.70 seconds, showing plenty of explosiveness.

There is a question as to why that didn't necessarily translate into more big plays at Memphis, but if you're looking for a guy who has the power and burst to occupy two blockers at the nose - and possibly shift outside at times to end in a 3-4 - Poe is your guy.

© The linebacker prospects also ran on Monday and there are a pair there that should interest the Steelers a great deal.

Boston College's Luke Kuechly (6-3, 242), my personal favorite, answered questions about his speed by blistering the 40 in 4.58 seconds.

Kuchely's instincts might be unmatched by the players available in this draft and the only question about him was whether he had the kind of speed needed to go sideline to sideline. The top tackler in the nation last season with 191(!) answered those questions.

The other top-rated inside linebacker, Alabama's Dont'a Hightower, doesn't have Kuechly's instincts - who does? - but he's built like current Steelers star LaMarr Woodley, with thick legs and body.

At 6-2, 265 pounds, Hightower ran the 40 in 4.68 seconds. He has the added bonus of being able to line up outside as well and give you some pass rush.

Selecting Hightower in the draft would give the Steelers the luxury of never having to move Lawrence Timmons – who was terrible on the outside – out there again.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

News, notes from the combine thus far

Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe showed off his strength this weekend in the bench press, putting 225 pounds up 44 times, the best at this year's combine.

Poe is a sculpted 6-4, 346 pounds, though his arms were a bit short at 32 inches.

@ Alameda Ta'amu of Washington, the other top nose tackle prospect, weighed in at 348 pounds on his 6-3 frame.

Ta'amu, who is more of a second-round prospect, did 35 reps and had 32-inch arms.

@ Georgia guard/tackle Cordy Glenn ran the 40 in 5.15 seconds, not bad for a man who is 6-5, 345 pounds.

He also had the second-longest longest arms of any of the offensive linemen at 35 3/4 inches.

Despite the long arms, Glenn still pressed 225 pounds 31 times, a very respectible number

Glenn is viewed as a mid-to-late first-round pick, which puts him in the Steelers' range.

@ California University of Pennsylvania guard Rishaw Johnson showed off his wheels by clocking in right behind Glenn at 5.24 seconds in the 40.

Johnson, 6-3, 313 pounds, is a sleeper in this draft who's likely to be selected in round four or five. The former Ole Miss star transferred to Cal last season.

He showed at the Senior Bowl that he's not really capable of playing center, but his mobility and strength are excellent.

Johnson did, however, struggle in some of the drills, failing to perform them properly and drawing the wrath of position coaches.

He's raw, but with his athleticism, you never know.

@ Winconsin guard Kevin Zeitler and Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele, a pair of late-first, early-second round prospects, clocked in at 5.39 seconds and 5.36 seconds, respectively.

Zeitler's arm length - 32 3/4 - is a bit short, but he used that to his advantage, doing 32 reps on the bench.

Osemele had the longest arms of any lineman - he should at 6-6, 333 pounds - at 35 7/8 and also managed 32 bench reps.

@ We'll see how the linebackers run later this week.

At this point, it clearly appears the Steelers will target two of those three positions in the first two rounds of the draft.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

News of the day

Kevin Colbert spoke to the media in Indianpolis Thursday regarding the Steelers cap situation - which was getting better as he was speaking.

The team restructured the contract of Ben Roethlisberger to free up a little more than $8 million in cap space, putting the Steelers right around where they need to be heading into free agency.

The league hasn't officially told teams what the cap will be, so the moves they have made thus far have been to put them in the ballpark.

Of course, to begin tendering their restricted free agents, more restructuring and cuts will be coming, something Colbert acknowledged today.

"We’ve already done some restructurings," Colbert said. "We know we’re going to have to do more. We know we’re going to have to terminate players. We just don’t know what combination or how much restructuring we have left."

Colbert said the team is confident it will be able to keep wide receiver Mike Wallace, who will be a restricted free agent.

The Steelers likely won't put the franchise tag on Wallace, but they will have the first right of refusal on any contract offer he might receive. Given how creative they have already been getting to the cap, it's likely he's right.

Colbert also said he doesn't expect running back Rashard Mendenhall to be placed on season-ending IR or to be released. Colbert expects Mendenhall to contribute in some manner in 2012 despite suffering a torn ACL in the final regular season game.

Colbert was also confident that nose tackle Casey Hampton will fully recover from his torn ACL - his third - and be ready to go at the start of the season.

"You don’t have to worry about speed," Colbert said. "You don’t have to worry about the quick change of direction when you’re talking about the offensive and defensive linemen. The one edge Casey will have on anybody is he’s been through this twice and he knows what to expect and he knows how he’s going to feel at a certain point when he feels he’s healthy."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

They finally meet

Film at 11. According to Ed Bouchette, Ben Roethlisberger and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley have finally had their meeting.

Pretty exciting, huh?

I guess we can now move on to the next offseason crisis for the Steelers.

@ The Steelers have restructed the contract of offensive tackle Willie Colon, converting $3.8 million of Colon's $4.5 million salary in 2012 into bonus money.

The $3.8 million will count over the final four years of Colon's contract.

Colon, of course, will be counted on to return at RT after missing most of the past two seasons.

Marcus Gilbert will shift to left tackle.

The Steelers still have some salary trimming to do, but much like the move with Colon, it's not all that difficult.

The players like it as well. Instead of waiting for their checks throughout the season, they get one big fat one in the offseason.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sanders says a couple of interesting things

I did an hour of radio on Sunday from the Pittsburgh Auto Show with Gerry Dulac. Then, after I finished, Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders came on to replace me for the final hour.

I know, I know, I was a poor warm-up act, kind of like bringing out your cousin's garage band to open for The Who.

But Sanders did have a couple of interesting things to say.

First was that Mike Tomlin told Sanders in his exit interview that he will handle kickoff and punt returns - at least that's the plan - because Antonio Brown is now the full-time No. 2, while Sanders is No. 3.

That's tough not to use your Pro Bowl return guy, and something tells me that Brown will be back there in crucial situations, but they have to save the wear and tear on a critical part of the offense.

The other interesting thing Sanders said - and kudos to Dulac for asking - was how often Ben Roethlisberger checked out of running plays.

Sanders estimated it at 20 percent of the time, saying Roethlisberger would go to the line of scrimmage with two plays called, one a run, the other a pass.

That's just one player's recall of things, but it would explain some of the offensive inbalance the Steelers have had.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Brown has no trouble meeting Haley

Antonio Brown today Tweeted - he's a Tweeting fool - a photo of he and new offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the Steelers locker room.

Brown just got back into Pittsburgh yesterday after his whirlwind tour of the country and met up with Haley in less than a day.

He did this by, you know, going down to the Steelers offices and seeking him out.

Yet somehow, Ben Roethlisberger hasn't been able to find Haley. Go figure?

Sounds like a little more drama from the king of drama.

I have a lot of respect for Roethlisberger the player. But I could do without all of the other stuff.

Then again, is it Roethlisberger making a big deal out of not talking to Haley yet or certain segments of the media?

So many of the issues with Roethlisberger are media driven as guys try to back their own agendas.

© I'll be on ESPN 970-AM from noon to 1 p.m. Sunday at the Pittsburgh Auto show talking Steelers football.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

9.4 million reasons the Steelers won't tag Wallace

There has been some supposition that the Steelers will simply slap the franchise tag on wide receiver Mike Wallace rather than risk losing him as a restricted free agent.
Teams can begin placing the franchise tag on players Feb. 20.
Here are the franchise numbers for 2012:

Quarterback $16.1 million
Running Back $7.7 million
Wide Receiver $9.4 million
Tight End $5.4 million
Offensive Line $9.4 million
Defensive End $10.6 million
Defensive Tackle $7.9 million
Linebacker $8.8 million
Cornerback $10.6 million
Safety $6.2 million

As you can see, the cost to franchise Wallace would be $9.4 million, much too much for the salary cap-strapped Steelers to add to their cap.

But remember, the free agent market at many positions - including wide receiver - is ridiculously deep this year.

In other words, why give up a first-round draft pick to sign Wallace when you can sign DeSean Jackson, Wes Welker, Stevie Johnson, Dwayne Bowe or Marques Colston instead?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Colbert speaks out

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said today that the team has had internal discussions about the future of wide receiver Hines Ward, but that no decision has been made about whether Ward will be part of the team in 2012.

Colbert also had a couple of other interesting statements.

First, he's not counting on Rashard Mendenhall to return healthy in 2012 after suffering an ACL tear in the final game of the regular season.

Second, the team will not sign any of its free agents before the March 13 deadline.

In the case of Mendenhall, that means the Steelers will likely be looking for a running back in the offseason - either through the draft or free agency.

It's a safe approach for Colbert to take. Assume Mendenhall won't be back healthy, and if he is, it's an added bonus.

As for the free agent statement, it helps make a case for the Steelers to keep Ward.

Yes, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are under contract, but with Jerricho Cotchery set to become a free agent, there's no proven depth behind them.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Steelers to cut Ward?

According to the NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora, who apparently has a direct line to head coach Mike Tomlin thanks to his NFL affiliation, the Steelers have decided to release wide receiver Hines Ward rather than pay him $4 million to be the team's No. 4 receiver next season.

There was some thought to cutting Ward's salary, something the receiver was open to, but the Steelers, according to LaCanfora, have decided they have no use for a No. 4 receiver who can't play special teams.

© In other news, the Steelers have restructured the contracts of both Ike Taylor and Lawrence Timmons, moving them closer to getting under the league salary cap of approximately $124 million.

In the past few days, the Steelers have freed up $15 million by restructuring the contracts of LaMarry Woodley, Timmons and Taylor.

They also saved over $3 million on Wednesday with the release of Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Thoughts on Haley

I have largely reserved my thoughts on the Steelers' hiring of Todd Haley to this point.

But after meeting with Haley today and then hearing what Ben Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette, I can hold back no longer.

Roethlisberger reportedly told the P-G that he has heard from a lot of people regarding Haley, some good some bad, but that he is reserving judgment.

He then, however, said he'd hate to see the offense changed because it could set the team's young receivers back two or three years.

Which ones? The ones who have only been in the league for two or three years?

That is a ridiculous statement by Roethlisberger and, though Haley did not address the quarterback's comments directly, he did say that players usually see that he has their best interests at heart when he is doing things.

Roethlisberger liked Bruce Arians. And he was comfortable with Arians as offensive coordinator because he got to call a lot of the shots.

That dynamic is now gone and Roethlisberger is wary of what the results will be.

I get that.

But the Steelers made the decision to move on from Arians because they felt he was an enabler.

We always heard the excuses. The Steelers were a play away here or there, they weren't all on the same page, etc., etc.

Haley won't settle for excuses. He'll want results.

And if that means not playing Chris Kemoeatu at left guard for two seasons longer than he should have, so be it.

If that means Roethlisberger will be forced to get the ball out of his hands more quickly to take fewer sacks in an attempt to keep him from being injured, that's just dandy as well.

Haley has shown that he's not afraid to call what he thinks his team does best. When he was with the Cardinals, it was a prolific passing attack. When he moved on to Kansas City, a power-running game took over.

As Haley said Thursday, his emphasis is on winning. And Roethlisberger, who is as competitive as they come, won't have a problem with that.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Steelers begin offeseason moves

The Steelers on Wednesday began the process of getting under the 2012 NFL salary cap by releasing veterans Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle.

McFadden, a starting cornerback at the beginning of the season, lost his starting job to William Gay after suffering a hamstring injury.

Battle, the team's special teams captain, also struggled through an injury-plagued 2011 season.

Their release, coupled with a restructuring of linebacker LaMarr Woodley's contract, saves the Steelers around $10 million in cap space.

The Steelers are still around $10 million over the 2012 cap, but have another three weeks to alleviate that issue.

Up next on the restructuring table could be linebacker Lawrence Timmons and nose tackle Casey Hampton.

Timmons' deal would be a straight restructure, with the team looking to lower his $9.1 million cap hit, while Hampton will likely have to take a pay cut from his $4.9 million salary to stick around.

© The St. Louis Rams have asked the Steelers for permission to speak to front office man Omar Khan regarding their general manager opening.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Steelers hire Haley

The Steelers officially hired Todd Haley as their offensive coordinator Tuesday, ending a nearly two-week search for the replacement for Bruce Arians.

The Steelers grew weary of Arians' buddy-buddy relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and were looking for a new coordinator who will bring a more balanced offensive attack.

Haley, who most recently served as head coach in Kansas City, should do that.

© Steelers tight end Weslye Saunders has been suspended for four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs.

Now word yet on what Saunders tested positive for, but it could be any number of things – some of which are available in over-the-counter medications.

© My heart goes out to the family of Tunch Ilkin regarding the death of his lovely wife Sharon.

Sharon Ilkin, like Tunch, was a graduate of Indiana State University, where she was a cheerleader.

She once appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with fellow Indiana State product Larry Bird.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Report: Steelers to hire Haley

According to a report out of Kansas City, the Steelers are going to hire former Chiefs head coach Todd Haley as their new offensive coordinator.

Haley would replace Bruce Arians, who was fired by the team last month.

Haley is known for a confrontational style and is not afraid of getting in a player's face.

That's an approach the Steelers seem ready to embrace after feeling that Arians was too friendly with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

An Upper St. Clair graduate, Haley is the son of Midway native Dick Haley, a longtime Steelers' personnel director.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Dawson, Butler elected to Hall of Fame

Center Dermontti Dawson and defensive back Jack Butler, a pair of former Steelers greats, were among the group named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Dawson, a seven-time All-Pro, was a member of the NFL's all-decade team for the '90s. He played in 184 career games for the Steelers and helped redefine the center position.

Butler, a member of the all-decade team for the '50s, had 52 career interceptions in nine seasons with the Steelers.

Also inducted were a pair of Pitt products, running back Curtis Martin and defensive lineman Chris Doleman.

They will join defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and offensive tackle Willie Roaf in Canton this summer for induction.

Not making the cut this year were former Steelers Jerome Bettis and linebacker Kevin Greene.

Bettis should make it in 2012.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Who I like, Super Bowl version

In the aftermath of the conference championship games, the choice of who I liked to win the Super Bowl was an easy one. The Giants had beaten the Patriots in the regular season and were seemingly a team of destiny.

But the more I've thought about it, the more I now favor the Patriots.

The money is going heavily in favor of the Giants for the reasons I first stated, but I think that late money will go to New England.

Here's why:

Tom Brady had a sub-par game against Baltimore - at least by his standards. Great quarterbacks usually bounce back from such efforts.

In addition, I have too much respect for Bill Belichick as a coach to think that he won't come up with a plan to slow the Giants, particularly having already faced them once.

The fact the favored Patriots are being treated as underdogs will also play in Belichick's favor. He'll use that as a motivating factor.

I like the Patriots, who are now favored by 2 1/2, to win, 31-27.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Wilson undergoing rehab

Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson has begun rehab according to a release from his family, showing he is on the road to recovery from burns suffered over 45 percent of his body.

This is good news for Wilson, who suffered his burns in a Jan. 6 fire at his home.

© Comcast and the NFL have teamed up to provide 22-minute recaps of every Super Bowl ever played – free on Xfinity On Demand.

Fans can easily look back at the Steelers’ six Super Bowl victories, a great way to jumpstart their preparations for Sunday’s showdown between the Patriots and Giants. These recaps can be found in the Sports and Fitness, NFL Network and NFL Super Bowl folders on the On Demand menu.