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Friday, May 31, 2013

Uneventful week

It was an uneventful week for the Steelers at OTAs, which is exactly what you want.

Teams make news at OTAs for two reasons:

1. Somebody is disgruntled and either speaks out about it or isn't at OTAs because of it.

2. Somebody gets injured.

The Steelers have no such problems right now.

Troy Polamalu wasn't here this week, but that really doesn't matter. In fact, it's a good thing.


Quite simply, the Steelers backup safeties, Robert Golden, DaMon Cromartie-Smith and Shamarko Thomas, need as much practice time as possible. And with Polamalu hanging around, that's not going to happen.

Plus, Polamalu is back in California working out with his own trainers, something that is needed after an injury-plagued 2012 season.

* June 1 is finally here and the Steelers will realize some salary cap savings from the release of Willie Colon.

Much of that money will be eaten up by the team's rookie signings. But they will still have some extra space to sign a veteran or two or work out some long-term extensions with guys heading into the final season of their contract.

Who might those be?

An extension of a year or two with defensive end Brett Keisel would be welcome and could offer some additional cap relief. The same goes for Polamalu and/or fellow safety Ryan Clark and tight end Heath Miller.

The team would also do well to work out some kind of extension with Emmanuel Sanders and/or defensive end Ziggy Hood.

It will be interesting to see which players the Steelers target for extensions heading into training camp.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Steelers to be part of national broadcasts

ESPN Radio has signed individual multi-year agreements with the New York Giants, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins for out-of-market Sunday afternoon syndication rights beginning with the 2013 season. These agreements mark the first time ESPN Radio will broadcast NFL game action nationally on its over-the-air terrestrial network. 
The teams will continue to broadcast in their home markets through their official local stations.
“Adding the NFL to ESPN Radio’s play-by-play mix, which already includes MLB, NBA, BCS, and the new college football championship starting in 2015, strengthens an already unparalleled and valuable lineup to advertisers, our affiliates and sports fans,” said Traug Keller, ESPN senior vice president, production business divisions.  “We are excited to enter the NFL game business.”

ESPN NFL analysts Herm Edwards, Bill Polian and Damien Woody will each work several of ESPN Radio’s national broadcasts.  Additional commentators and the complete schedule will be announced at a later date.

Friday, May 24, 2013

First week of OTAs wrap up

The Steelers wrapped up their first week of OTAs and it was an eventful week - as OTAs go.

Here's what we have learned:

* LaMarr Woodley came into town in shape but he doesn't care who the deep throat was that blasted him for not working as hard as possible in the offseason.

Woodley looks, to me, the same as he always has. He's a thick linebacker - always has been.

The BS about him being out of shape, in my opinion, is just that.

He played last season after suffering a high ankle sprain. Those are largely unavoidable.

Had his issue again been a hamstring problem, then maybe there would have been something to him being out of shape. As it is, however, there is not.

* Troy Polamalu has changed his workout habits to concentrate more on protecting his right calf, which has bothered him since 2010.

Polamalu said his calf issues of 2012 were "avoidable," and feels his work with a physical therapist will keep them from recurring in 2013.

He also did not sound like a guy who was going to be ready to hang up his helmet at the end of the 2013 season as some have speculated.

* Rookie running back LeVeon Bell and veteran Isaac Redman both look leaner than advertised.

Redman lost his weight in an effort to get quicker, while Bell lost his weight to get faster for the combine.

But the Steelers won't mind if Bell puts his 10 or so pounds back on.

* Marcus Gilbert is getting first shot at left tackle, with Mike Adams on the right side.

That is due, in very large part, to the run blocking ability Adams showed when he played right tackle in 2012. With Adams at right tackle, the Steelers had some of their best rushing days of the season.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Steelers open OTAs

The Steelers opened their OTAs today with very good attendance.

Per Steelers rules, I can't report on who lined up where or how many times, but I can tell you some other things:

* Troy Polamalu said he's been working with a physical therapist on his calf and he feels like his 2012 season was "avoidable."

In fact, Polamalu feels so good about his rehab, he says the calf injury - which has bothered him since 2010 - is now behind him.

* Saw Heath Miller at the facility walking around. He didn't have a brace on his knee and wasn't limping.

Now that's a long way from being ready to get back on the football field, but it's a good sign.

* I tried to talk to LaMarr Woodley today, but he blew me off. Woodley did look to be in good shape.

* Had a nice talk with rookie receiver Justin Brown today. Seemed like a good kid and said his decision to transfer from Penn State to Oklahoma was one of the toughest decisions he made in his life.

* Ike Taylor said Cortez Allen is going to make life "hell" on a lot of opposing receivers this year.

* Emmanuel Sanders wouldn't talk about his flirtations with the Patriots, simply saying, "I'm a Pittsburgh Steeler."

Sanders said he wants to stay here and is open to a long-term contract.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Roethlisberger underrated? Absolutely

Frequent visitors to this blog should be well aware of how I feel about offseason rankings of this and that. They are dreamed up by TV and web site execs to keep people watching and visiting their sites.

But the NFL Network's top 100 players - which is also run on - is voted on by the players. And Ben Roethlisberger ranked 61st.

That's right, 61st.

Does anyone in their right mind actually believe that Roethlisberger is the 61st best player in the NFL right now. Does anybody think if all the teams were dissolved and there was a redraft of players by a new league that Roethlisberger would be the 61st player selected?

Maybe in fantasy football. But in the real world, Roethlisberger is one of the 20 best players and most valuable players in the league.

Yet on this list, there are 11 quarterbacks ranked ahead of him. Seriously.

Yes, Roethlisberger is now 31 and missed three games in 2012 with a rib/clavicle injury. Yet he still threw for over 3,200 yards with 26 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions - all without any threat of a running game.

That got him ranked two spots ahead of Stephen Tulloch. Who's Stephen Tulloch, you might ask? He's a linebacker for the Detroit Lions. Yes, those same Lions who make the playoffs as often as your Pittsburgh Pirates.

Knowing Roethlisberger, this slight will fuel him. He was having an outstanding season in 2013 before suffering the injury and wasn't the same player after coming back.

But Roethlisberger is as competitive as anyone I've ever covered. He won't say it publicly, but he'll use this slight to come back with an even better year.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Players I expect to make a leap forward for Steelers

A lot has been made of the Steelers' losses this offseason, and certainly there have been more than a few.

But the Steelers also have a number of young players poised to make big steps forward in 2013 who could help this team return to the playoffs.

Here are some guys I expect big things from in 2013 who didn't necessarily star in 2012:

1. David DeCastro/Mike Adams - I have combined these two because injuries derailed their rookie season, though both played enough for the Steelers to feel comfortable handing them starting jobs heading into 2013. DeCastro will line up at right guard and should be a fixture there for years to come. Adams will compete with Marcus Gilbert for the left tackle position, with the loser of that battle slated for right tackle. Adams is the more physical run blocker of the two, but he's also better suited to play left tackle.

2. Steve McLendon - McLendon has been on fans' radar for the past two seasons but averaged just over 10 snaps per game in 2012 playing behind Casey Hampton. That will change in 2013 as McLendon is slated to take over the nose tackle position. He's a different style of nose tackle than Hampton, playing more like Chris Hoke. That could add up to more pass pressure from the nose position, but will the run defense suffer? We'll see.

3. Curtis Brown - With fellow 2011 draft classmate Cortez Allen headed to the starting lineup, some are labeling Brown, who was actually selected ahead of Allen in the draft, a bust. No so fast. This is a make-or-break year for Brown and he knows it. He could win the slot job in a battle with William Gay and Josh Victorian, though Gay certainly has the experience factor in his favor. Brown, however, might have the best hands of the Steelers' defensive backs not named Troy Polamalu.

4. Adrian Robinson - All you need to know about Robinson is that when the team's offensive tackles needed somebody to work with on stopping outside rushers, they grabbed Robinson to work with. He's not going to be a starter and he needs to figure out what to do on special teams, but the young man has shown flashes of pass rushing skills. If he can put it all together, he could be a valuable backup.

5. Robert Golden - The Steelers liked what they saw from Golden enough that they felt comfortable passing on a number of highly rated safeties in the draft. He can play corner as well in a pinch. A smart kid who oozes with confidence, Golden could be the heir apparent to Ryan Clark.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

It's that silly time of year

With little going on right now in the NFL, it's time for the pundits to go to work handing out draft grades, team rankings and other meaningless things.

It's all designed to keep NFL fans interested in the sport in the offseason.

And it usually works.

Something jumped out at me today on the web site.

Bucky Brooks rated the teams that had the best draft and listed the Steelers among the few teams he gave an A.

And another article on the site debated which rookie running back would have the biggest impact in 2013, with Steelers second-round pick Le'Veon Bell getting a lot of attention.

But then, on the site's power rankings, the Steelers actually moved down two spots to No. 19, behind such stalwarts as Chicago (Seriously?), Miami (Come on) and St. Louis (Please).

Power rankings are silly. I used to do them on this site in an effort to fill space. But I grew weary of trying to figure out which team was better than another even though they had played and that one did this, well, you get the idea. It's an exercise in futility.

But saying that the Steelers had one of the best drafts and then moving them down two spots in the rankings makes no sense. Then again, that's exactly my point with power rankings.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Starks goes out with a Whimper

The Steelers on Monday signed veteran offensive tackle Guy Whimper, who spent the past three seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, likely spelling the end of Max Starks' tenure in Pittsburgh.

There had been some conjecture that the Steelers might want to wait and re-sign Starks, their starting left, at some point before training camp to serve as a backup/fallback plan to either Mike Adams or Marcus Gilbert at the left tackle position.

But with Whimper now under contract, that seems unlikely.

Either Adams or Gilbert will start at left tackle, with the other playing right tackle. Kelvin Beachum will be fallback option No. 1, with Whimper, who has made 22 career starts in seven seasons, being the second option.

The Steelers also signed rookie linebacker Terence Garvin, who spent the weekend with them at their rookie camp as a tryout.

Garvin played in 47 games at West Virginia, making 235 tackles with 10.5 sacks and three interceptions.

To make room on the roster for those moves, the Steelers released rookie center Ivory Wade and rookie defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White.

Rookie camp completed

The Steelers and their 41 rookies and first-year players completed their first weekend of working with the team.

By all accounts, the team came away happy with what it saw.

First-round pick Jarvis Jones came off like James Farrior in interviews - thoughtful and humble - and looked the part on the field.

Second-round pick Le'Veon Bell showed why the Steelers thought so highly of him, displaying some wiggle in the open field to go along with his combination of size and speed.

Forget the idea of Bell "sharing" the workload for the Steelers. He's the favorite to start and get 300 carries.

Third-rounder Markus Wheaton is extremely quick and was sharp running his routes.

Fourth-rounder Shamarko Thomas appears as if he'll be a special teams star, while also stepping into the safety rotation - on the strong side - once he gets the nuances of Dick LeBeau's defense down.

Landry Jones had a tough weekend, but that's not all that out of the ordinary for a quarterback learning a new vernacular with new receivers.

Priority free agent wideout Reggie Dunn has a legitimate shot at making this team despite his lack of size. The 5-8 speedster is as fast as his 4.25 40-time would suggest and is elusive and quick enough to play gunner on coverage units. I should also mention that he returned five kickoffs 100 or more yards in college.

Offensive lineman Nik Embernate is another priority free agent with an excellent chance of making this team. The powerful guard is nasty to the bone. Can't wait to see him hitting people for real once training camp begins.