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Monday, September 30, 2013

Post-Minnesota thoughts

It's easy to single out Mike Adams for the poor game that he had Sunday in London. Jared Allen has done that to a number of tackles in the NFL.

But it's way too early to give up on Adams. It's easy to forget that he was making his eighth career start Sunday against the Vikings. And it was just his fourth start at left tackle.

Was he bad? Absolutely.

But there have been other tackles who have struggled - who can forget John Jackson vs. Pat Swilling of New Orleans? - and turned into solid players.

Jackson was so bad in the aforementioned game that he was yanked mid-series. And after the game, he was walking around the locker room wishing teammates luck because he thought he would be released.

He went on to have a long and illustrious career.

Adams was also much better in the second half. The Steelers got him some help more consistently, but there were times when he was blocking Allen one-on-one and got the job done. In fact, Allen was practically invisible in the second half.

@ On the other side, Marcus Gilbert played a very solid game.

Some have suggested flipping the two again. I wouldn't. Let Gilbert settle in. He played well last week against Chicago and followed that up with another solid effort. Don't mess with that.

@ This offense will get better. The threat of Le'Veon Bell and the running game had the Vikings biting hard on play-action plays. We haven't seen that in a while with the Steelers.

@ Dick LeBeau's defense doesn't work if the cornerbacks and safeties don't come up and make solid tackles.

Cortez Allen missed Greg Jennings twice on the same play on his 70-yard catch-and-run on what was a 5-yard hitch. That can't happen.

Allen has shown to be a solid tackler in the past, so perhaps he was rusty after missing most of the preseason and the past two games.

@ The lack of turnovers is becoming laughable. The Steelers dropped a couple of interceptions - actually, Ike Taylor did, which is nothing new.

But even when they get a great play such as LaMarr Woodley's strip-sack, the ball squirts the wrong way.

@ Opponents are exploiting Vince Williams with their running game. They're going right at him and in back-to-back weeks, it's added up to big running plays.

Everyone complained about Larry Foote. He's too this or not enough that. But Foote was almost always in position.

Williams doesn't have that seasoning yet.

@ As bad as things are right now, the Steelers are two games out of first place thanks to a mediocre AFC North.

You could make the argument that they're better off right now than they would be if they were 2-2 and Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati were all 4-0.

They'd still be the same two games out of first place, but the other teams would be playing well. Those teams are not. They're struggling as well.

That's why I'm not writing this season off just yet. A wildcard is likely out of the equation. But 9-7 or even 8-8 might win the North this year.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Steelers-Vikings game day thread

Cheerio from London.

The Steelers' inactives today are Landry Jones, Derek Moye, Isaac Redman, Isaiah Green, Antwon Blake, Cody Wallace and Hebron Fangupo.

Redman is a bit of a surprise. But with Le'Veon Bell back today, there's no room on the roster for a running back who isn't going to help on special teams a great deal.

The weather here is overcast. Sun was shining earlier. But the temps have dropped steadily.

Field looks great, however.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thoughts for a long week

I'll be out of the country for a while starting tomorrow, so I've had to get a lot of writing done ahead of time before skipping across the pond.

But it was an eventful day in the locker room.

First of all, Ben Roethlisberger denied that he was in any way taking a shot at rookie running back Le'Veon Bell with his statements Tuesday on his radio show when he said he wasn't sure what to expect from Bell and then compared his work to Heath Miller's.

"That’s more just me knowing Heath," Roethlisberger said. "I meant that as a compliment to Heath, just saying that I know Heath and have been around Heath a long time. He’s the second-oldest guy on the offense other than me and J-Co. It was more about me saying I know Heath and I don’t know Le’Veon enough to know if he can play through pain? How much pain can he play through. I just don’t know him well enough. That’s all that was meant from those comments.

"I didn’t even know that it created anything. I’ll go say something to him. It was more of a compliment to Heath and less about knowing that guy. Next year, I’ll probably be able to talk about him better."

Bell didn't take offense.

"I’m a young guy, a rookie," he said. "I haven’t been there. I haven’t spent a season with them. They don’t know what I’m about yet because I haven’t played. I just want to show them what I’m about."

@ So much for the overblown games in the locker room thing.

The pool table in the locker room got a new - gold - felt on Wednesday. The first guys to play on it? Veteran Larry Foote and third-year cornerback Curtis Brown.

Of course, the "big" news last week was that players who hadn't been in the league four seasons weren't going to be permitted to play the locker room games, per order of the team's veterans.

So much for that.

@ I don't expect to see the Steelers rotating Kelvin Beachum at offensive tackle with Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert this week as Mike Tomlin did last week.

That move was decided early in the week last week and had nothing to do with the play in last Sunday's game. The Steelers didn't rotate in the second half and the message has been sent.

Adams and Gilbert played reasonably well in a tough situation Sunday. The Steelers dropped back to pass and Roethlisberger was sacked three times - despite Chicago knowing they had to throw it after falling behind 24-3 and 27-10.

@ With Cortez Allen back, I would expect that William Gay will go back to the nickel role, with rookie safety Shamarko Thomas heading to the bench.

The big nickel package will probably bring safety Robert Golden onto the field.

@ Vince Williams said today that he took snaps with the first-team defense at inside linebacker. Nothing surprising there. He's taken the majority of the snaps in Foote's place, even though Kion Wilson has started.

The Steelers weren't sure about Williams' run-stopping ability, but he's showing that he can be a thumper.

@ Since I'm going to be away from the computer, you'll get my prediction now.

I think the Steelers finally find a way to force a turnover or two by Christian Ponder, who, like Roethlisberger, has accounted for seven turnovers himself this season.

And I think Roethlisberger will take better care of the football.

Minnesota has also given up nine - count em - nine TD passes, including six to opposing tight ends.

Take the Steelers, who are favored by one, 24-17.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bell likely to play this week

Working off the same time frame that they used in bringing tight end Heath Miller back last week, the Steelers will bring running back Le'Veon Bell back this week Mike Tomlin said at his press conference Tuesday.

Miller was on a "pitch count" last week, seeing action in 39 of 63 plays for the Steelers, who wanted to ease him back into things after a week and a half of practices.

Tomlin said the team feels better about Bell's conditioning than it did Miller's, so there is a possibility that he could see more than 2/3s of the offensive snaps.

Cortez Allen will also be back this week for the Steelers after missing the past two weeks with an ankle injury.

Tomlin said the Steelers are as healthy as they've been this season - the Maurkice Pouncey loss not withstanding.

Will that add up to any wins? We'll see.

@ Tomlin also said he met with guard Ramon Foster Tuesday morning to urge Foster to become more of a leader among the line group.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Post Chicago thoughts

You have to give it to the 2013 Steelers, they keep finding interesting ways to lose games.

I had to dig deep into the recesses to remember a loss like this one, a game where the Steelers handed a team 23 points - it would have been 24 had Troy Polamalu not blocked a meaningless extra point - to lose a home game.

The closest I could come was a 2002 game at Heinz Field against Houston in which the Texans scored their only touchdowns on turnovers in a 24-6 win over the Steelers. Pittsburgh dominated that game, outgaining the Texans, 422-47 in total yards.

This game wasn't quite that bad in terms of domination. The Bears certainly did some good things offensively. But this was once again a case of the Steelers beating the Steelers.

@ I keep coming back to Ben Roethlisberger needing to play like the franchise quarterback that he is.

In three games, Roethlisberger is responsible for seven turnovers - remember, the fumble in the opener was later charged by Elias to him, not running back Isaac Redman. That puts Roethlisberger on pace to account for 37 turnovers this season in 16 games.

Of course, the way the offensive line is playing, Roethlisberger won't make it through 16 games.

@ I thought it was strange that the Steelers were rotating Kelvin Beachum at RT and LT in practice with the starters this week.

Who knew they were going to do during the game as well?

The next time a coach gives me the old, "These guys need to play together to be given a chance to gel," line, I'm going to laugh in his face.

@ I understand why the Steelers are doing it though. They can't decide who's worse, Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams.

And therein lies the problem. When you're paying your quarterback 1/10th of your salary cap as the Steelers now are, you have to try to get by with younger - read, cheaper - players at other positions.

If it's just one player on an offensive line, you can cover for that player as he grows. But right now, the Steelers have three guys learning on the fly - though in year three, Gilbert should be better than he has been.

That also doesn't explain away Ramon Foster allowing blitzers to run right by him while he steps out to block a guy who's already engaged.

There just seems to be a complete disconnect.

@ On the plus side, the running game was worlds better than it had been, so there's that.

@ You look into the eyes of some of the veteran guys in this locker room, ones who have been around for a while, and you see shock. They can't believe things have gotten this bad.

@ I'm still not convinced the Steelers' season is lost. Beat Minnesota next Sunday in London and it will certainly lift a weight.

That will put them at 1-3 heading into the bye with Cortez Allen and Le'Veon Bell coming back - I don't think they'll play Bell this week.

In 2002, the Steelers started the season 1-3 and rebounded to finish 10-5-1.

Can this team still win 10 games? I saw enough Sunday night to think it can - if it stops turning the ball over.

The Steelers are now minus-9 for the season and haven't forced a single turnover.

But Christian Ponder awaits, with rookie Geno Smith up next. The remaining schedule also includes a pair of games against the Browns, one against Oakland and Buffalo with rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel.

If the Steelers can get a couple of wins under their belt, it could turn things around for them.

This lack of turnovers can't continue for the defense. Even in 2011, when they forced just 15 turnovers all season, the Steelers did not have a stretch like the current one, where they've gone three games without sniffing a turnover.

They're due.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Steelers-Bears game-day thread

The Steelers have Landry Jones, Derek Moye, Le'Veon Bell, Cortez Allen, Isaiah Green, Cody Wallace and Hebron Fangupo inactive for tonight's game.

Felix Jones will get the start at running back. Jarvis Jones will start at OLB. I would also expect the offense to be announced this week so that Heath Miller can be announced as the starting tight end.

No changes in the starting lineup for the Bears.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Who I like, Chicago version

To show just how quickly things can change in the NFL, the AFC North was considered one of the better divisions in the NFL the past couple of seasons.

Why not? In Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, it boasted three teams that were playoff contenders in each of those seasons, with the Ravens winning the Super Bowl last season.

Two weeks into 2013, however, the entire division is at .500 or worse and oddsmakers don’t think that’s going to change a lot. All four teams are underdogs this weekend, including the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals at home.

It’s the first time since the Ravens moved to Baltimore in 1996 that they and the Steelers are both home underdogs in the same weekend,

In other words, it wouldn’t be surprising if the AFC North leader was 1-2 after this week.

At 0-2, the Steelers would need a win to get to that record.

And from what they’ve shown in the first two weeks, scoring 19 points, it might be a stretch for them to get there.

Obviously, what the Steelers have done thus far, hasn’t worked. That’s why you can look for the Steelers to try to do something a little different this week.

With tight end Heath Miller returning this week after missing the first two games while recovering from a torn ACL, the Steelers finally have all of the pieces available in their passing game.

And they intend to use them.

Look for the Steelers, who are 3-point underdogs, to spread the field with multiple receiver packages and Miller split wide as well.

With the running game producing just 75 yards in the first two games, the Steelers will try to move the ball with a short passing game instead.

And if the defense can limit Chicago’s multi-faceted attack and create a turnover or two – something it has not done yet this season – the Steelers will not only cover, they will win it outright.

Take Pittsburgh, 20-17

Friday, September 20, 2013

Almost nine months to the day after suffering a torn ACL in a loss to Cincinnati, Steelers tight end Heath Miller is set to make his return to the lineup for the team in their game Sunday night against Chicago.

Miller made it through the entire week of practice for the Steelers (0-2) this week and is listed as probable to see his first action of the season against the Bears (2-0).

The return of Miller, the Steelers’ MVP and leading receiver in 2012, could boost an offense that has scored just 19 points in its first two games.

Miller’s return wasn't the only good news for the Steelers. Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, out the past month with a mid-foot sprain, made it through a second consecutive practice Friday without issue. Bell, listed as a co-starter at running back with Isaac Redman, is listed as questionable to play this week, but is getting closer to a return.

After being limited Wednesday and Thursday with a heel injury, rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones returned to practice Friday and is probable as well. Jones made his first start last week against Cincinnati.

Cornerback Cortez Allen, who sat out against the Bengals with an ankle sprain, is out again this week.

For Chicago, Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman returned to practice on a limited basis Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday with a knee injury. He is listed as questionable to play against the Steelers.

Polamalu's appearance on Sesame Street video

Troy Polamalu made an appearance on Sesame Street.

Here's the link to the video:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday news and notes

Heath Miller looked good running around on the practice field today and should really be a boost to the Pittsburgh offense.

Miller, however, admits that he's a little nervous about the first time he has to block at the line of scrimmage on his surgically repaired knee.

Remember, Miller was injured last year against Cincinnati while blocking. And while he can simulate game-type stuff in the passing game, doing so in run blocking or pass blocking just isn't something that's done a lot - and certainly not at game speed - in practice.

@ Le'Veon Bell was able to go out and do some things today as well.

It was his first time running around with his teammates since suffering a mid-foot sprain about a month ago.

Bell looked spry, but again, like the situation with Miller, there's nobody hitting him, so he's basically just running. But it's a first step.

@ If you haven't noticed this week, all four AFC North teams are dogs this week, with only Cleveland being on the road.

Cincinnati has the best overall talent in the division, but the quarterback is iffy. The Bengals will lose to Green Bay at home this week.

Like the Steelers, the Ravens are having offensive issues right now, and that was before Ray Rice went down with a hip flexor injury last week. Baltimore will lose at home to Houston.

And the Browns just punted their season. They might not win a game.

I saw a much different practice for the Steelers today. Guys were running around and upbeat. Maybe they're just trying to convince themselves that they can turn this 0-2 start around, but this division is certainly winnable.

In fact, I expect the Steelers to beat the Bears at home this week and then handle Minnesota in a neutral site game.

That would put them at 2-2 heading into their bye. And also probably put them in a tie for first place in what is looking like a weak division.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Miller expected back this week

The Steelers will get a boost this week with the return of tight end Heath Miller. Running back Le'Veon Bell is also expected to return to practice - at least on a limited basis - inching the Steelers ever so slightly back toward having improved offensive weapons.

Miller coming back will be huge. Ben Roethlisberger looks out of sync right now without Miller on the field. Adding another target - especially one who has been with him so long and knows the scramble drill as well as anyone - will be a big boost.

It should also help open up some of the other receivers and the running game.

With Miller on the field, opposing defenses won't have the luxury of walking a safety into the box to stop the running game or blitz.

@ While Bell won't play this week, it appears that Felix Jones will likely get the start this week at running back.

I thought Jones did some nice things Monday night, making something out of a couple of runs on which there really wasn't much there.

Post-Cincinnati thoughts

Two games into the 2013 season, the Steelers are 0-2 and the quarterback has a passer rating of 74.8 thanks greatly to two horrible interceptions.

"The quarterback's got to play better, and he will," Ben Roethlisberger said after the Steelers dropped a 20-10 decision to the Bengals.


Roethlisberger is supposed to be a franchise quarterback. Franchise quarterbacks are supposed to make the players around them better.

Look what Tom Brady's cobbling together right now in New England. There isn't a person on the planet who would argue that New England's current crop of receivers and offensive players is better than the group in Pittsburgh.

And yes, the Patriots have struggled as well offensively. But Brady's finding a way to win games.

Roethlisberger has been a big part of the Steelers losing their two games, throwing a pair of ill-advised interceptions.

It's easy to blame the offensive coordinator for this offensive mess right now. But that's just the easy way out.

Nobody in New England is calling for Josh McDaniels to be fired. Are Patriots fans smarter than Steelers fans?

I don't believe that.

Todd Haley hasn't turned the ball over three times - two on fumbles and once on an interception - in the red zone in the first two games.

Sorry, that's on the guys on the field.

You can complain all you like about some of the bad plays. Again, that's easy. Who wants to see Jerricho Cotchery on an end around?

Nothing against Cotchery, but that's not exactly his cup of tea.

But that's one play out of 50.

Right now, the execution offensively just hasn't been there. And that's on the players.

@ That said, I saw some improvement this week. The offensive line did a solid job blocking one of the better defensive lines in the NFL.

And when Felix Jones ran the ball, the Steelers actually had some success, gaining 37 yards on 10 carries. Don't know why Jones wasn't used more in the second half - at least early when it was still 10-10.

It has quickly become obvious that Isaac Redman isn't going to get it done running behind this line.

@ Cotchery, by the way, had one more tackle in this game than James Harrison.

@ I expect the Steelers to come out and beat the Bears at home next week.

What gives me that idea?

I think you'll see Heath Miller make his return.

Miller's workload picked up in practice later in the week last week and the next step is to get him some game action.

Even if Miller is only used as a receiver, it would be a bonus.

Right now, opponents are pressing Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders at the line of scrimmage and walking a safety into the box. They don't fear the Steelers enough to really double anyone.

Miller will command attention in the middle of the field, opening up running lanes.

@ Markus Wheaton got onto the field for a handful of plays Monday night. The next step will be to try throwing him the ball a couple of times.

@ Ike Taylor played a heck of a game on A.J. Green, who might be the best receiver in the league. He's at least in the conversation.

But Taylor blanketed him throughout the game.

@ I seriously don't get all the angst among Steelers fans about losing this game. Losing to Tennessee at home, I get. That's a game you have to win.

Losing to a very good Cincinnati team on the road, that one was kind of expected.

I know, I know, the Steelers always beat the Bengals in Cincinnati. Just not this year at this time.

But I fully expect the Steelers to win the rematch in Pittsburgh.

With so many new faces, I expect this season to be a work in progress. The Steelers will get better as this season goes on.

And it's obvious that Andy Dalton still isn't real confident with what he's seeing with the Pittsburgh defense.

@ At some point, some of these balls that are being thrown high or being tipped into the air have to land in a Pittsburgh defender's hands, right?

There were three or four passes Dalton threw that could have been picks. The law of averages has to come into play at some point.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Game-day thread

The Steelers have Landry Jones, Shayne Graham, Le'Veon Bell, Cortez Allen, Cody Wallace and Heath Miller inactive for tonight's game.

Fernando Velasco is officially listed as the starter at center.

With Graham down, Shaun Suisham will kick.

Jarvis Jones will also start tonight, but Jason Worilds will also see time at ROLB and LOLB.

Who I like, Cincinnati version

This is a tough spot for the Steelers, who will be breaking in a couple of new starters Monday night against Cincinnati.

The Bengals, like the Steelers, lost on opening weekend and don't want to fall to 0-2. Since 1990, just 12 teams have made the postseason after starting 0-2.

Fernando Velasco will get the start at center, while Kion Wilson will be at inside linebacker. In addition, rookie Jarvis Jones will start at outside linebacker, though he'll still share time with Jason Worilds.

The Steelers will also be relying on William Gay at corner with Cortez Allen out. That will mean Shamarko Thomas will be the nickel back.

Stopping A.J. Green will be the main focus of the defense and Ike Taylor will likely shadow him all over the field. But he will need help as well.

The Bengals are going to be tough to beat at home in a Monday night game. And despite what he's said, James Harrison is going to be fired up to play against his old team.

Though the Bengals are just 9-20 on Monday nights, I like Cincinnati to win this one, 21-17.

There will be some improvement from the Pittsburgh offense, which struggled mightily against Tennessee last week.

I attribute a lot of last week's issues to the offensive line seeing its leader go down on the opening drive of the game. I don't think they ever recovered from that.

They'll be better this week.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Allen out against Bengals

Cornerback Cortez Allen will not play for the Steelers Monday night against Cincinnati after sitting out all week with an ankle sprain.

With Allen out, the Steelers will bump Will Gay into a starting role opposite Ike Taylor, who figures to shadow A.J. Green.

That will also put rookie Shamarko Thomas on the field in the nickel.

@ It appears that Fernando Velasco will start at center for the Steelers.

The Steelers were hopeful that Velasco could pick things up quickly enough to start so that they could move Kelvin Beachum back to a tight end role. Beachum is also the top backup at all of the other line spots.

If Beachum had to start at center and the Steelers had an injury elsewhere, it could have put Guy Whimper on the field. And nobody wanted to see that.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Allen still not back at practice

Cortez Allen missed another day of practice Friday with a sprained ankle, but still has another day of practice ahead in which he could return.

If Allen is able to practice on Friday, he'll start against Cincinnti. If not, William Gay will get the start, with rookie Shamarko Thomas playing the nickel.

Against the Bengals, it might not matter who the No. 2 corner is. Andy Dalton completed 26 passes last week against the Bears, with 19 to A.J. Green and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham.

Add in a couple of catches by the running backs, and you had just five completions to the other receivers on the roster not named Green. Those catches went for 26 yards, an average of 5.2 yards per reception.

@ As bad as the Steelers were last week running the ball - and they were terrible - the Bengals weren't much better.

Benjarvus Green-Ellis had 14 carries for 25 yards. Giovanni Bernard added four carries for 22 yards but apparently still isn't up to snuff on his blitz pickups.

@ The question for the Steelers right now is can Fernando Velasco be a starter this week at center. If he's able to handle the job, Pittsburgh can go back to its plan of using Kelvin Beachum at tight end.

The Steelers used Beachum at tight end on three of their first eight plays, including the first play from scrimmage. And they had planned on continuing to use that approximate mix until Maurkice Pouncey went down.

Velasco is splitting time with Beachum now with the first unit. The bet here is that he starts so that the Steelers can use Beachum as an extra blocker at tight end.

@ Shaun Suisham was back at practice today. The Steelers haven't made a move yet with Shayne Graham, signed as insurance in case Suisham's hamstring held him back.

@ Steve McLendon was back today as well. He's been dealing with a hamstring issue.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

News, news, news

Last week, I wrote a story about rookie Jarvis Jones being moved up to co-starter along with Jason Worilds at outside linebacker.

While it would have been a stretch for Jones to start the opener since he was coming off a chest injury that kept him out of the preseason finale, it appears his first start could come this week at Cincinnati.

Jones is taking snaps ahead of Worilds this week in practice, though both are still taking first-team snaps.

@ So let me get this straight? Le'Veon Bell has a Lisfranc injury? No? Really?

In other news, the sky is blue and the sun comes up on a daily basis.

From the beginning, I reported that Bell had a Lisfranc injury. And, despite what some were reporting, Mike Tomlin never said Bell didn't have a Lisfranc injury.

He only said Bell didn't have a Lisfranc tear like the one Matt Spaeth did and that they were hoping he would recover without surgery.

The initial estimates on his recovery - not from the Steelers, but by reporters - was six to eight weeks.

So now, a story is written saying Bell will be out another month. That would put him right in line with the six to eight weeks that was being reported from the beginning of this thing.

Bell said last week that he hoped to return this week. But that was wishful thinking on his part.

He's walking fine and able to jog, but cutting and being hit are different than jogging without pain.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

HOF lists this year's nominees

The Hall of Fame released its list of modern-era nominees today. The list will be paired down to 25 semifinalists in November.

Here's the list with Steelers noteables in bold:

List of Modern-Era Nominees for the Class of 2014

First-year Eligible Nominees

Quarterback – Trent Green
Running Backs – Shaun Alexander, Warrick Dunn
Wide Receiver – Marvin Harrison
Offensive Linemen – Willie Anderson (T), Walter Jones (T)
Linebackers – Derrick Brooks, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest (also DE), Zach Thomas
Defensive Backs – Rodney Harrison (S), Sam Madison (CB), Patrick Surtain (CB)
Coaches – Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren

Additional Nominees

Quarterbacks – Drew Bledsoe, Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie, Steve McNair, Phil Simms
Running Backs – Ottis Anderson, Tiki Barber, *Jerome Bettis, Larry Centers, Roger Craig, Stephen Davis, Terrell Davis, Eddie George, Priest Holmes, Dave Meggett (also PR/KR), Eric Metcalf (also WR/PR/KR), Herschel Walker, Ricky Watters
Wide Receivers – *Tim Brown (also KR), Gary Clark, Mark Clayton, Henry Ellard (also PR), Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, *Andre Reed, Sterling Sharpe, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith
Tight End – Mark Bavaro
Offensive Linemen – Tony Boselli (T), Lomas Brown (T), Jim Covert (T), Jay Hilgenberg (C), Chris Hinton (G/T), Kent Hull (C),  Joe Jacoby (T), Mike Kenn (T), Jim Lachey (T), Don Mosebar (C), Tom Nalen (C), Nate Newton (G), *Will Shields (G), Steve Wisniewski (G)
Defensive Linemen – Jerome Brown (DT), *Charles Haley (DE/LB), Ed “Too Tall” Jones (DE), Dexter Manley (DE), Charles Mann (DE),  Steve McMichael (DT/NT), Fred Smerlas (NT), *Michael Strahan (DE), Ted Washington (DT/NT), Bryant Young (DE)
Linebackers – Cornelius Bennett, *Kevin Greene (LB/DE), Ken Harvey, Clay Matthews, Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Darryl Talley
Defensive Backs – Eric Allen (CB), Steve Atwater (S), Joey Browner (S), LeRoy Butler (S), Albert Lewis (CB), John Lynch (S), Troy Vincent (S), Everson Walls (CB), *Aeneas Williams (CB/S), Darren Woodson (S)
Kickers/Punter – Morten Andersen (K), Gary Anderson (K), Sean Landeta (P), Nick Lowery (K)
Special Teams/Position Player – Brian Mitchell (also RB), Steve Tasker (also WR)
Coaches – Bill Arnsparger, Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Jimmy Johnson, Chuck Knox, Buddy Parker, Richie Petitbon, Dan Reeves, Lou Saban, Marty Schottenheimer, Clark Shaughnessy, Dick Vermeil
Contributors – K. S. (Bud) Adams, Jr., Bobby Beathard, Gil Brandt, Leo Carlin, Red Cashion, Jack Kent Cooke, Otho Davis, *Edward DeBartolo, Jr., Ron Gibbs, Jerry Jones, Eddie Kotal, Robert Kraft, Elmer Layden, Art McNally, *Art Modell, Bill Polian, Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue, Jim Tunney, Ron Wolf, George Young

This will probably be the year that Bettis finally gets in. The first-year class doesn't have any no-brainers, with Walter Jones and Derrick Brooks probably being the guys from that group who gets the most push.

McGinnest and Bruschi could also possibly get some consideration, but there are some other defensive linemen and linebackers who could steal their thunder.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference in the aftermath of Sunday's debacle against Tennessee.

Here's what we learned:

@ Larry Foote had surgery on Tuesday to repair his torn biceps. LaRod Stephens-Howling will have surgery on his ACL Wednesday, while Maurkice Pouncey's surgery is scheduled for later in the week.

@ Kelvin Beachum is currently listed as the starter at center, but Tomlin isn't closing the door on newly signed Fernando Velasco taking over that spot.

It will depend on how quickly Velasco, who is a true center, can pick things up.

The Steelers would prefer that Velasco start so that they can resume using Beachum as a situational tight end. He's also their primary backyup at offensive tackle.

@ Isaac Redman will get the start at running back.

"He played a bad game. A lot of us did. He’ll be given an opportunity to redeem himself," Tomlin said.

Felix Jones is listed as the top backup, with Jonathan Dwyer listed as No. 3.

Tomlin said he was awaiting an update on the status of Le'Veon Bell, but it does not appear the rookie will be ready to go this week.

@ The news on tight end Heath Miller was a little more positive. Tomlin said Miller will take part in the team portion of practice this week after only doing position drills last week.

That doesn't mean Miller will play this week, but if he can get through practices without any issues, the door is open.

@ Cornerback Cortez Allen will be limited early in the week by his sprained ankle, but could return later in the week.

Lost in the shuffle of last week's loss was the fact that William Gay played a pretty good game, deflecting a pair of passes, including one that was nearly intercepted by Troy Polamalu.

But the Steelers would be better served with Allen in the starting lineup and Gay playing the nickel rather than starting.

@ Kion Wilson will get the first opportunity to replace Foote at inside linebacker, with Lawrence Timmons making the defensive calls as he did after Foote went down on Sunday.

I would expect rookie Vince Williams to push for that starting spot at some point.

@ Jones will take over as the team's primary kickoff returner with Stephens-Howling out for the year.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Post apocalypse Monday

I, of course, wrote the headline to this post rather tongue-in-cheek - at least partly so - because in 21 years of covering this team, I've actually seen worse performances.

The Steelers have won some of those games, taking the sting out of a poor game, but I get why fans are so down following Sunday's 16-9 loss to Tennessee.

Let's face it, the Steelers hadn't lost a home opener since 2002, so fans got used to the team coming in and dominating the opener. Heck, so did I.

Let's look at that 2002 season. The Steelers actually opened 1-3 in the month of September that year - losing the home opener to Oakland after getting whipped in New England in Week 1.

Kordell Stewart was pulled as the team's starting quarterback in favor of Tommy Maddox and the Steelers rebounded to go 10-5-1.

By the way, 2002 was also the last time the entire AFC North all started 0-1 as well.

Sunday's yardage total of 195 was the Steelers' fewest yards gained in a game since Sept. 19, 2010 when they picked up just 127 in a 19-11 win at Tennessee.

The Steelers went on to play in the Super Bowl that season.

In 2008 the Steelers gained 181 yards in a 15-6 loss at Philadelphia; 237 yard in an overtime win over Baltimore at home; 229 yards in a  win at Washington; and 238 in a win over Dallas at home.

They went 12-4 and went on to win the Super Bowl that season.

None of this is to suggest that the 2013 Steelers are a Super Bowl team or anything like that. It's just that teams have bad games.

Certainly, the Steelers' bad game was compounded by season-ending injuries to Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote and LaRod Stephens-Howling, but this whole scrap the season thing that I'm seeing everywhere is a bit extreme.

Let's wait until the season is halfway over and see where the Steelers are at before we start making plans for next year.

@ As replacements for Pouncey, Foote and Stephens-Howling, the Steelers signed center Fernando Velasco, placekicker Shayne Graham and re-signed Jonathan Dwyer.

The Graham signing tells me that Shaun Suisham's injured hamstring - suffered in pre-game warmups - is worse than expected and he could be out a couple of weeks.

Velasco started 16 games for Tennessee in 2012 - including 13 at center - and he was released just last week, so he might be capable of being ready for Monday's game at Cincinnati. If not, Kelvin Beachum will get the start, though he didn't perform particularly well there Sunday.

As for Foote's replacement at inside linebacker, the team will look at Kion Wilson and rookie Vince Williams. Wilson was active Sunday because he's the better special teams player of the two, but Williams is actually listed as Foote's backup.

That could just be for accounting purposes - you've got to list Williams somewhere.

Wilson is obviously the more experienced player as a three-year veteran. But the team could decide to let Williams take the job and run with it.

That was how Foote first broke into the starting lineup back in 2003, stepping in for injured Kendrell Bell. There were some growing pains early on, but he became a solid starter.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Post-Tennessee thoughts

The Steelers didn't just lose a game Sunday, they lost two key playcallers, one on each side of the ball.

Center Maurkice Pouncey's knee injury robs this team of its anchor on the offensive line and the guy who calls the protections for that position.

The injury to Larry Foote, a torn bicep, takes away the team's defensive play caller.

@ When Pouncey went down in the first quarter with what turned out to be a torn ACL and MCL, I couldn't help but think about the conversations that had gone on in the Steelers front office over the past few weeks.

Should they place Matt Spaeth on IR and designate him for return, or should they save it for the first couple weeks of the season and see if a starter gets hurt?

It appeared at first that Pouncey might have suffered a broken leg on the hit from guard David DeCastro. Had that happened, the Steelers would have felt a little silly having to carry him on the roster during his recovery while Spaeth was designated for return.

As it is, the Steelers will have to figure out if they go with Kelvin Beachum at center the rest of the way, turn the center position over to Cody Wallace, who they signed last week off waivers from Tampa Bay, or sign a veteran.

Sunday was the first time Beachum ever played center in a game. Wallace, meanwhile, was a center in college, though he's appeared in just nine career games despite being in the league since 2008.

And no, re-signing John Malecki, cut last week, and making him the starter is not an option.

The best free agent guy available? Ryan Lilja, who played for Todd Haley at Kansas City in 2010. Lilja, 31, was talked out of retirement by Denver in the preseason after the Broncos lost starting center Dan Koppen. But he was released at the end of training camp.

@ According to Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports, LaRod Stephens-Howling tore his ACL as well. The hits just keep coming for the Steelers.

@ It's one week into the season and the Steelers already have their backs against the wall.

That was a putrid offensive performance today. But I can give the team a bit of a pass. Watching a beloved teammate such as Pouncey go down for the season on your opening drive can be a bit of a buzz kill - even on opening day.

But it's a long season. The offense won't be this bad all season. It can't be this bad all season.

In fact, a couple of receptions by Emmanuel Sanders on balls that were catchable or if Ben Roethlisberger and Isaac Redman don't mishandle a handoff, and the outcome might have been different.

As for the offensive line, I'm willing to give it a pass this week after losing its heart and soul in Pouncey so early in the game.

@ The defense played a good, not great game. Again, there were very few splash plays - one sack and a couple of big hits for losses - both from rookie Jarvis Jones.

At this point, I don't care if Jones doesn't really know what he's doing all the time. He makes something happen pretty much every time he's on the field.

He's got to become the starter, sooner rather than later.

The defense failed in a couple of key spots to get the Titans off the field as well, giving up some big conversions on third-and-short runs.

That said, some offensive help - any offensive help - would have been appreciated.

@ Don't give me the old, tired lines complaining about the offensive coordinator or the head coach not having the team prepared.

The story of this game comes down to Redman's fumble into the end zone, and Haley's play call had nothing to do with that. In fact, it appeared that particular play was going to achieve the desired effect. It was going to be a first down on third-and-1 from the 6.

You can rip Tomlin for not calling a timeout in that situation, with the team looking confused by the play call because the combination of players on the field wasn't the group the Steelers had run that play with in practice, but Roethlisberger could have called a timeout there as well. Neither did.

Steelers-Titans Game day

To the surprise of no one, Heath Miller is inactive today for the Steelers.

Le'Veon Bell, Landry Jones, Antwon Blake, Cody Wallace, Hebron Fangupo and Vince Williams are also down for Pittsburgh.

For Tennessee, WR Michael Preston, WR Justin Hunter, LB Zaviar Gooden, OL Brian Schwenke, OL Brian Stingily, DL Ketyunta Dawson and DL Lavar Edwards are down.

It's overcast here today at Heinz Field, with temps nice and pleasant. There's very little wind.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Who I like, Tennessee version

The Steelers have won 10 consecutive home openers, the longest streak in the NFL. Included in that streak is all six under Mike Tomlin.

Pittsburgh was embarrassed last year in Tennessee, particularly on defense. And the defense is fired up this season to improve all the way around.

I expect the Steelers to get plenty of pressure on Jake Locker and force him into some mistakes.

The Steelers are 7-point favorites in this one.

I like Pittsburgh, 24-13.

@ Le'Veon Bell, to no one's surprise, is listed as out for this game. Heath Miller is doubtful.

Fullback Will Johnson, who missed most of the week with a hamstring injury, is probable, as are Jarvis Jones and defensive end Brett Keisel, who missed practice Friday for personal reasons.

@ One of the most difficult things for NFL teams to do is assimilate outside players into a new system. It's not bad if you're only doing it with one or two new players. But when you're doing it with several, it just never seems to work.

We saw that again Thursday night with Baltimore's trouncing at the hands of Denver.

The Ravens are breaking in eight new starters, a number of who came in as free agents from other teams.

For example, it took the 2012 Ravens 10 games to allow seven touchdowns passes. This group accomplished that in one game.

Baltimore has talent, much like the Redskins always seemed to have when they went out and signed every free agent available when Daniel Snyder took over the team.

But getting that talent to mesh quickly is always an issue.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Wednesday news and notes

Le'Veon Bell was the only Steelers player who did not practice at all today as the team continued its preparations for its opener Sunday against Tennessee.

Tight end Heath Miller, fullback Will Johnson and linebacker Jarvis Jones were all limited, though Jones not as much as the other two.

In fact, given that head coach Mike Tomlin already said that "Jones is going to play," I guess we can take him at his word.

@ With the start of the season around the corner, we can pretty much forget about any new contracts for impending free agents. That would include Ryan Clark, Ziggy Hood, Emmanuel Sanders and Brett Keisel, among others.

Considering the cap issues the team has had in recent seasons, that's probably a realistic way to approach this.

If the Steelers want to re-sign Clark or Keisel at the end of the season, it's likely both of those veterans will do so willingly.

As for the others, there are a lot of questions as to how big of a deal they should offer.

For example, Sanders has never been a starter before. What's he worth?

Hood, meanwhile, has been a starter, yet hasn't had a big season, even though he looked his best in this preseason.

@ Don't look now, but Ben Roethlisberger enters this weekend needing 156 yards to reach 30,000 for his career.

Roethlisberger also enters the season just 21 career touchdown passes away from matching Terry Bradshaw's team record of 212.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin held his first press conference of the year and while there wasn't a ton of information passed, here's what we did learn:

@ The Steelers liked Zoltan Mesko over Drew Butler because of his pedigree and the fact that he's kicked in cold weather throughout his career, in high school, college and in the pros.

Butler's performance tailed off last season as the weather turned colder.

@ Isaac Redman will, in fact, be the starter at running back. He will be spelled at times by LaRod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones.

Le'Veon Bell must return to practice on a full-time basis before he plays due to his youth. Tomlin doesn't like to play rookies who don't get a full week of practice in because they need more preparation than veterans.

@ The Steelers will use their tight ends by situation until Heath Miller returns.

Miller did positional workouts Monday.

@ Jarvis Jones, listed as a co-starter with Jason Worilds at right outside linebacker, will get playing time. Tomlin said all three starting linebackers, including LaMarr Woodley, will be involved in a rotation, though Woodley will play more than the other two.

@ Tomlin said Cameron Heyward had a very good camp and preseason and will be featured in some sub-packages.

@ Matt Spaeth was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return after eight weeks on Tuesday. To replace him on the active roster, rookie linebacker Terrence Garvin was signed off the practice squad.

To replace Garvin on the practice squad, the Steelers signed wide receiver Kashif Moore.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Steelers make a pair of roster moves

Monday might have been a holiday, but the Steelers were busy practicing and making a couple of roster moves.

The team signed former New England punter Zoltan Mosko and released Drew Butler, then claimed cornerback Antwon Blake off waivers from Jacksonville and waived corner Isaiah Green.

Mosko kicked for New England for three seasons, averaging 44.2 yards per punt, with 40 percent of his kicks downed inside the opposing 20.

The Steelers were looking for an upgrade over Butler in the offseason, signing veteran Brian Moorman to a contract. But Butler, who averaged 43.8 yards per kick in 2012, beat out Moorman in the preseason.

Blake led the Jaguars in special teams tackles in 2012 with 12.

@ Isaac Redman said he took the first-team carries Monday and, though he hasn't been told, he expects to be the starting running back on Sunday against Tennessee.

Redman missed the final three preseason games with a stinger, but said he could have played in the final two games if they were regular season contests.

@ Le'Veon Bell has not only shed his boot, he's begun jogging.

It's a far cry from carrying a football in an NFL game, but Bell is hoping to return in Week 2.

It's more likely, however, he won't return until later in the month.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Steelers make practice squad moves

The Steelers have signed eight players to their practice squad, all players who were with the team in training camp.

The eight players include offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Joe Long, running back Alvester Alexander, defensive end Brian Arnfelt, linebackers Alan Baxter and Terence Garvin, defensive back Devin Smith and wide receiver Justin Brown.

Missing from that list is cornerback Terry Hawthorne, a draft pick this season who missed all of the offseason workouts and half of training camp with a knee injury.

Also not on the list is linebacker Marshall McFadden, who spent the entire preseason on the second team as an inside linebacker.

I would expect McFadden to be added to the roster when Matt Spaeth is placed on injured reserve later this week.