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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Steelers sign 10 to practice squad

The Steelers signed 10 players to their practice squad on Sunday, nine of whom had been with the team in training camp and two of whom were draft picks this year.

The one who had not been with them, offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, is an interesting story.

A former star at Army, Villanueva worked out for the Steelers last week. At 6-9, 277 pounds, he'll cut an imposing figure.

He also served three tours in Afghanistan, earning a Bronze Star and the rank of Captain with the 75th Ranger Regiment in the 1st Battalion.

He had been in camp with Philadelphia, but was released Aug. 23.

Also added to the practice squad were wide receivers C.J. Goodwin, a California University of Pennsylvania product, and Derek Moye, defensive backs Shaquille Richardson, a fifth-round draft pick, and Ross Ventrone, defensive linemen Josh Mauro and Nick Williams, running back Josh Harris, tight end Rob Blanchflower, a seventh-round pick, and linebacker Howard Jones.

@ The other big news to come out Sunday was Kansas City signing Alex Smith to a 4-year, $68-million contract extension.

Considering Ben Roethlisberger will also be looking for at least a four-year extension at the end of this season, that would have to be looked at as the base line for an average quarterback, which is what Smith is.

So if average quarterbacks are getting $17 million per season, Roethlisberger's starting point should be in the 4-year, $100-million range. The Steelers will be looking for something a little more palatable, such as 4-years, $80 million. And then they'll meet in the middle.

Of course, the bonus money will be the biggest issue. That part of the deal is typically the only guaranteed money.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Steelers make final cuts

The Steelers trimmed their roster to 53 players on Saturday with a couple of surprises.

The biggest, at least to me, was veteran Guy Whimper being released. Whimper, a nine-year veteran who saw action in 11 games in 2013, starting two.

I was skeptical of Whimper making the team last season, but I thought he acquitted himself well last season when called upon.

With Whimper gone, the Steelers' backups on the offensive line are Mike Adams at tackle, guard Chris Hubbard and jack-of-all-trades Wes Johnson. That's not a lot of depth for a team that has needed plenty in recent seasons on its offensive line.

Other notable cuts were linebackers Chris Carter and Howard Jones, tight end David Paulson, corner Shaq Richardson, wide receiver Derek Moye and defensive end Josh Mauro.

Jones and Mauro, two players whom fans have been hot to make the final roster, will be headed to the 10-man practice squad once they clear waivers.

Remember, both went undrafted for a reason. Just because they flashed some ability here and there doesn't mean another team is going to jump to throw them on their 53-man roster.

Landry Jones held on as the No. 3 quarterback - general manager Kevin Colbert likes to carry 3 - while Brad Wing remains the punter, for now.

The Steelers' roster breakdown is 3 QBs, 6 WRs, 9 OL, 4 RB (counting fullback Will Johnson), 3 TE, 6 DL, 8 LB, 11 DBs (including BW Webb, who was signed Friday when Jordan Zumwalt went to the DL) and 3 specialists.

* James Harrison "announced" his retirement on Saturday. He had visited Arizona earlier in the week and left without a contract offer.

It is likely very well true that he didn't want to be away from his family any longer after spending last season in Cincinnati with his family still in Pittsburgh.

But it's also true that it was quite simply time to move on with his life's work after a very good career.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Post-Panthers thoughts

Instead of posting a bunch of random thoughts in this space, I'm going cut the roster as I see it prior to Saturday based on what I've seen in the preseason, training camp, etc.

Quarterbacks: (2) Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski. Kevin Colbert has said before he's a three-quarterback guy. But a pair of injuries - Martavis Bryant and Brice McCain - might mean the team needs to free up a roster spot, at least temporarily. Landry Jones didn't make any big mistakes in the preseason finale, but he didn't make any plays, either.

Running back: (4) Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer and Will Johnson. Josh Harris made a late push, but the telling thing to me was in the first quarter, the Steelers lined up with Johnson, their fullback/tight end at tailback for a couple of plays and even gave him a carry. He gained six yards. That tells me the team is looking at contingency plans because it feels it can get by with the three true tailbacks. Harris goes to the practice squad.

Wide receiver: (5) I originally went with four with Archer being a guy capable of playing both running back and receiver. Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Bryant and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey has moved to the head of the pack in the last two preseason games. Justin Brown goes to the practice squad for another year.

Tight end: (3) Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer. Palmer did a nice job with his blocking in the preseason finale and is a good special teams player. Rookie Rob Blanchflower heads to the practice squad.

Offensive line: (9) The starters are set. The backups will be Mike Adams, Guy Whimper, Cody Wallace and Wesley Johnson. I didn't have Johnson making it on my previous 53-man rosters, but Wallace's finger injury opened the door for him to step up at center.

Defensive line: (7): Brett Keisel's signing adds to this group. Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas, Daniel McCullers and Josh Mauro get hats. Mauro, however, could head to the practice squad.

Linebacker (10): The starters are set. And Jarvis Jones played a strong game against the Panthers, alleviating some fears about him. Arthur Moats, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, who is injured, and Terence Garvin get the next four spots, leaving two spots for Chris Carter, Howard Jones or Jordan Zumwalt. After watching this one, I think Carter gets one spot and Jones gets the other. Jones is still too thin and gets pushed around, but Zumwalt has been hurt too much to earn a spot. Dan Molls really helped himself against the Panthers. But he's a pure inside linebacker on a team with a bunch of them. He could head to the practice squad with Jones and/or Zumwalt if the team tries to save a space elsewhere.

Defensive back (10): I originally had 11 making it, but the 11 included Shaq Richardson, who has been hurt much of the preseason and should be able to slide onto the practice squad without being claimed. The starters are set along with Will Gay, McCain and Antwon Blake at corner and Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden at safety.

Specialists: (3) Greg Warren said he's been cleared to resume practice and will play against Cleveland. That's good news for him and somebody else on the roster, bad news for Bryce Davis. Shaun Suisham and Brad Wing will be the kickers. Wing had a pretty decent game against the Panthers, averaging 39.6 yards net on his punts. The Steelers can live with that.

Steelers-Panthers game thread

It's a beautiful night here at Heinz Field for the game between the Steelers and Panthers.

It's going to be an interesting game for a number of players, huge in some cases. We already know that a number of veterans aren't going to suit up for the Steelers, including Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Cam Heyward.

Others will be in and out very quickly.

And for the bubble guys, if there still are any at this, point, do-or-die day has come. Either they perform now or move on to their life's work.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Steelers make first round of cuts

The Steelers released their first round of cuts this morning, releasing nine players, including former California University of Pa. receiver C.J. Goodwin.

Also released were running backs Jordan Hall and Miguel Maysonet, wide receiver Kashif Moore, tight end Eric Waters, safety Jordan Dangerfield, cornerbacks Devin Smith and Lewis Toler and linebacker Vic So'oto.

Dangerfield, So'oto and Waters were somewhat surprising early cuts.

All had shown some ability, but it was going to be difficult to make the roster with the numbers at their respective positions.

And in the case of Waters, he just couldn't stay healthy.

Released later in the day were offensive linemen Chris Elkins and Emmanuel McCray, defensive linemen Hebron Fangupo and Brian Arnfelt, cornerbacks Devin Smith and Lewis Toler, running back Tauren Poole and long snapper Luke Ingram.

The releases of Fangupo and Arnfelt will raise some eyebrows since both were on the roster last season, but the addition of promising rookies Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers and Josh Mauro made them expendable.

@ Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said today that longsnapper Greg Warren has a possibility of being ready to play Sept. 7 against Cleveland.

@ Tomlin was asked for about the fifth time in the past few days about possible punishments for running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.

He once again gave the stock answer that the Steelers want to keep it internal and everything is off the table.

But if everything - including a suspension - aren't off the table, that doesn't jibe. Obviously, everyone would notice if either running back was suspended, therefore making it public.

The guess here is that Bell and Blount will be fined by the team - a game check each? - and still play in the regular season opener.

The league might have suspensions coming down the road - likely not until next season - but it's more difficult for the team to suspend a player.

The NFLPA raised a stink with the league when the team held Santonio Holmes out of a game in 2008 - with pay - for a similar offense.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday news, notes

Ben Roethlisberger said today that he doesn't expect to play in Thursday night's preseason game against Carolina and that he's OK with where the offense is at, despite the team struggling last Thursday against Philadelphia.

Roethlisberger said the team only ran the no-huddle on its opening drive by design and that offensive coordinator Todd Haley gave him the option of doing it again later in the game but Roethlisberger declined because he didn't want to put anything on tape for future opponents to see.

He also said the team was moving Markus Wheaton and others around a lot and perhaps forcing things to them to see where they fit into the grand scheme of things.

@ Mike Tomlin said today that the team is considering its options in regard to discipline regarding running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount and their run-in with the police last week for possession of pot.

Tomlin, who said a suspension wasn't off the table, also said that whatever the team does won't be made public. That seems to suggest that it won't be a team-mandated suspension.

@ By all appearances, there is nothing to be concerned about with linebacker Jason Worilds' knee.

Worilds left the game against Philadelphia on Thursday after taking a shot to his knee. But he appears to be OK.

@ The NFL's new practice squad rules have opened up a whole new group of players to being eligible to being placed on the 10-man practice squad this year.

Here are the players who now will also be practice squad eligible that would not have been before.

Mike Adams
Kelvin Beachum
Le’Veon Bell
Antwon Blake
David DeCastro
Terence Garvin
Robert Golden
Will Johnson
Jarvis Jones
David Paulson
Shamarko Thomas
Ross Ventrone
Markus Wheaton

Vince Williams

Obviously, many of those guys wouldn't be headed to the practice squad since many will be key members of this year's squad. But for a guy such as Ross Ventrone, for example, it's a big move.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Post-Eagles thoughts

Actually, I should have titled this one "Post-Eagles disgust."

That was a putrid effort pretty much across the board by the Steelers, who appeared to have spent the day collectively smoking what was left over of the Le'Veon Bell-LeGarrette Blount stash.

Actually, a few guys did show up, including Bell and Blount, both of who played into the fourth quarter, well after the rest of the starters had gone gently into the night.

I thought the two running backs, along with the offensive line, were the standouts of a shoddy first half. Bell and Blount split the carries, getting five each, and gained 43 yards, a respectable 4.3 yards per carry average.

Then, in the second half, working against the Eagles' backups, joined most of the rest of the team in the tank.

The defense, meanwhile, was pretty bad throughout.

Yes, it got off the field on the opening possession by the Eagles, thanks to a tackle for a 5-yard loss by Lawrence Timmons and a pass breakup by Ike Talyor. After that however, it was pretty much a butt-kicking contest. The Eagles provided the foot. The Steelers provided the butt.

@ Who else shall we single out?

* How about placekicker Shaun Suisham, who missed his third kick of the preseason, this one a 46-yarder.

Now, two of Suisham's misses have come without Greg Warren making the snaps, so there could be something to that in terms of the speed with which the ball is getting back to the holder. Or, it could be the holder, Brad Wing, himself.

But everything looked OK on those two fronts to my untrained eye.

* Or how about Justin Brown? With Lance Moore held out, presumably so the team could take a look at some other guys fighting for the fifth spot. Brown got first chance and ran a wrong route to end the Steelers' first drive. He failed to catch either ball thrown his way.

Darrius Heyward-Bey was up next. He caught all three passes thrown his way for 54 yards and a touchdown - though he was playing with Bruce Gradkowski.

Derek Moye was in at the end and failed to catch the only pass thrown his way.

Take from that what you will.

* Cam Thomas' play is the reason why Brett Keisel was brought back. The more the Steelers saw of Thomas - including getting blown away at the goal line in this one - the more they wanted Keisel back.

* Even Heath Miller couldn't get on the same page as Ben Roethlisberger in this one.

Roethlisberger had a pretty good pocket most of the game and was just off. His final numbers - 15 of 24 for 157 yards, a touchdown and an interception - were bolstered by a third-quarter TD drive against the Eagles' backups.

As good as Roethlisberger looked last week, he looked equally as bad this week.

* I like Mike Mitchell's speed, but if he's not going to wrap guys up when he attempts to tackle them, he's going to keep getting run over like he did by Philly tight end Brent Celek.

* If Dri Archer is going to just fair catch every punt, the Steelers might as well just put Antonio Brown out there.

Maybe Archer is skittish because he got drilled a couple of times in Week 1, but he's calling for the fair catch pretty early.

* Wing has done nothing to earn this punting job. As mentioned, who knows how much of Suisham's struggles involve the holder. Suisham would certain never say.

But Wing's primary job is to punt. And he averaged an uninspiring 39.8 yards on his five punts in this one, including a 48-yarder he booted into the end zone.

If Adam Podlesh doesn't suddenly show up in the next two weeks, the Steelers' punter is somebody who has yet to be cut by another NFL team.

@ It wasn't all bad.

Antonio Brown was his usual self, though, like Roethlisberger, a lot of his damage was done against Philly's second unit.

And, outside of jumping offside on one play and then losing contain, Jason Worilds was very active before leaving with what is likely a bruised knee.

@ OK, that's all I've got, other than the running backs and offensive line early on.

@ The two teams combined for 27 - ! - penalties in this game.

NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told the NFL Network after this game that there will likely be fewer penalties called once the regular season begins.

No kidding! There couldn't possibly be more.

Preseason games are nearly unwatchable enough without the officials throwing out more flags than you'll see at a U.N. convention.

@ Mike Tomlin played Bell and Blount into the fourth quarter and said that was more punishment than sitting the two running backs out.

But judging from his comments, there will be more punishment forthcoming at some point.

@ Sean Spence left early with a PCL injury to his right knee. It was his left knee that he injured before. And PCL injuries usually just require rest.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bell cited for marijuana possession

Le'Veon Bell was cited for marijuana possession on Wednesday afternoon in Ross Township while on his way to the airport for the team's flight to Philadelphia. Bell was also cited for DUI.

Both are misdemeanor citations.

Running back LeGarette Blount was also in the vehicle but was not charged at this time and traveled with the team to Philadelphia. He could still face charges.

The issue for the Steelers will be what to do with their top two running backs.

Bell, since he was cited for DUI, had to go to a local hospital for a blood draw and missed the team plane.

The fact that Blount was in the vehicle with Bell cannot be comforting to head coach Mike Tomlin.

Presumably, since neither player has been suspended for violation of the substance abuse policy, this is their first offense. But we just don't know.

First-time violations put the player in the system. A second violation is an automatic suspension of up to four games.

Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe drew a one-game suspension from the league earlier this week for a traffic stop last November in which he was found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana.

So any league action could be a long way down the road. And Bell, who was driving and charged with DUI, would presumably be in line for a harsher penalty.

Some will point to Santonio Holmes' traffic stop in 2008 when he was sent home by Mike Tomlin and not permitted to play in a game against the Giants as a precedent. But those were different circumstances.

Holmes' traffic stop came on a Thursday before a game. Tomlin sent him home Friday because he didn't want him to be a distraction.

The NFLPA likely won't allow for the team to suspend the players on its own - at least not without pay - because this incident happened so long before the start of the season. No punishment will be forthcoming until the matter is legally resolved.

It was a stupid move by both Bell and Blount.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Busy day for Steelers

The Steelers had a busy day at the office, agreeing with defensive end Brett Keisel on a return and signing offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert to a five-year, $30-million extension that includes a signing bonus of $7.68 million.

Gilbert's deal came first and locks the team's starting right tackle up through the 2019 season when he'll be 31.

Gilbert was one of four players on the team's wish list for deals to get done this preseason. That list also included placekicker Shaun Suisham, who signed an extension a couple of weeks ago, linebacker Jason Worilds and cornerback Cortez Allen.

It appears at this point, the team doesn't have anything imminent with Worilds or Allen.

Keisel's return had long been rumored. The 13-year-veteran still hadn't cleaned out his lockers - yes, he has two - at the team's practice facility and wanted to play at least one more season.

Arizona attempted to bring him in for a physical Tuesday after losing Darnell Dockett to a knee injury Monday. But the Steelers preempted the move, getting in contact with Keisel's agent. He flew to Arizona, but quickly turned around and flew back to Pittsburgh, where he makes his home.

How the Steelers work Keisel into a rotation that already includes Cameron Heyward, free agent-signee Cam Thomas and rookie Stephon Tuitt remains to be seen.

Heyward, the starter at left defensive end in 2013, moved to Keisel's right defensive end position in the spring, while Thomas and Tuitt have been sharing time at left defensive end.

But there's little doubt the team could use his veteran leadership. He was the team's defensive captain the past two seasons and is one of the more respected players in the locker room.

Cutting the roster part II

In an effort for fairness, I'm not going to look at who I had making the team and who I didn't the first time around two weeks ago before the Steelers played a game.

Suffice it to say that while some things have stayed the same, others have changed.

Here's my 53-man roster through two preseason games.

Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and ?. Kevin Colbert has said in the past that he's a proponent of keeping three quarterbacks on the roster. There's some danger to just keeping two, the biggest being that a team can sign a player off your practice squad. Quarterbacks are a big part of the game-planning. They know all of the audibles and what everyone is doing on the field offensively. So the Steelers will likely go with three. Is that guy Landry Jones? Quite frankly, he's not been good. Might there be a better possibility out there who is going to get released? It would be an un-Steelers-like move, but perhaps.

Running back (5): Le'Veon Bell, LeGarette Blount, Dri Archer and Will Johnson are givens. None of the other guys have shown much in game action. But Miguel Maysonet did have two special teams tackles against the Bills, so he gets a spot, for now.

Wide receiver (4): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant are givens. I supposed Justin Brown is No. 5 for now. But with the NFL talking about expanding practice squads to 10 players this season and nobody really making a solid push, I'm now of the mind they go with four receivers and use Dri Archer as the fifth. They'll need a roster spot for a long-snapper. That puts both Justin Brown and Derek Moye on the practice squad.

Offensive line (8): The starting five plus Mike Adams, Guy Whimper and Cody Wallace. I know Mike Munchak has said he'd like to keep nine, but there isn't a ninth who would be anything close to being one of the top 53 players.

Tight ends (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer. Spaeth's continuing injury problems concern me and force me to keep Palmer, whose a solid special teams player and blocker.One of the young tight ends go on the practice squad.

Defensive line (6): Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers and Josh Mauro. Three rookies? Sure, why not? Brian Arnfelt was a frontrunner for a backup spot, but Mauro's pushing hard and has passed him up.

Linebackers (9): Jarvis Jones, Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Arthur Moats, Howard Jones, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin and Sean Spence. Chris Carter just hasn't shown anything.

Defensive backs (11): No changes here from the first time around. I still see Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Brice McCain and Shaq Richardson at corner and Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Will Allen, Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas at safety.

Specialists (4): Shaun Suisham, Brad Wing, Greg Warren and Luke Ingram. This is going to have to be a week-by-week thing until Warren is ready to go, which should only take a week or two into the season.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Deep thoughts from Steelers-Bills

Ryan Shazier's debut for the Steelers Saturday night was as good as any I remember in 22 seasons of covering this team.

He was everywhere. But that's what we were seeing from him at the offseason workouts and early on in training camp. The kid goes sideline to sideline.

And that's why I didn't get too crazy concerned about the long touchdown run the Steelers allowed in preseason Week 1 against the Giants. Shazier wasn't there. Nor was Troy Polamalu.

That's two pretty good guys up the middle.

@ I saw former Steelers team photographer Mike Fabus, who is now retired, in the press box before the game. Fabus is the guy who came up with the idea to put Rod Woodson in a Superman outfit his rookie season and shoot that for the cover of Steelers Digest.

I'm guessing Fabus' creative juices were flowing after that debut by Shazier.

@ Think the preseason doesn't matter?

Watch Dick LeBeau's reaction after Robert Golden broke up a pass on fourth and goal at the end of the first half.

@ I don't understand the decision by both the Giants and Bills, both of which play in the northeast, to not send their kickoffs short to get a good look at their coverage teams.

How are they going to know if their coverage units are any good if they don't take a look at them?

Yes, I have selfish reasons, as well. I want to see Dri Archer on some returns.

@ It's tough to judge the backup quarterbacks based on the fact the Steelers have about 2 1/2 capable reserve offensive linemen.

But the Steelers did put Landry Jones in with the starting line for one series and he promptly threw an interception.

@ Ben Roethlisberger put the ball in the air 11 times and didn't get dirty in this game.

The Steelers exclusively ran the no-huddle when Roethlisberger was in the game, and it was very, very effective.

The offensive line was a big part of that working against a Buffalo defensive front that was one of the best in the league last season.

@ Victor So'oto isn't going to get the publicity that Howard Jones is getting for recovering three fumbles in the first two preseason games, but So'oto has forced two of those loose balls Jones has picked up.

@ Robert Golden got trucked along the sideline by fullback Evan Rodriguez but had the sense to quickly get up. And when Shamarko Thomas forced a fumble, Golden was there to jump on it.

He also had the pass breakup in the end zone and an interception later in the game.

If I'm veteran safety Will Allen, who missed this game with a hamstring injury, I'm not sitting out long.

I think both guys make the team, but you never know.

@ Shazier, by the way, looked like had been through a car crash after this game. His forehead was bruised and battered.

@ Lawrence Timmons' eyes lit up when I asked him about all of the young linebackers making  plays on this defense.

Timmons has taken on a leadership role on this team and really seems to be enjoying it.

"As the older player, it's good to see the younger players you've been working with go out and perform well," Timmons said.

Shazier was an animal in this game, but you also had contributions from So'oto, Jones and Terence Garvin, who had a big sack.

The linebacker position on this team is going to be a tough cut.

@ By the same token, it's going to be tough to decide who the fifth receiver will be based on these games. The backup quarterback work has been so shoddy because of second- and third-string offensive line issues that the reserve receivers aren't getting many chances.

I think Justin Brown is still No. 5, but I can't be sure about that because none of those guys are getting quality chances.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Game day thread

The weather at Heinz Field is beautiful tonight for the Steelers and Bills.

Jarvis Jones heads the list of Steelers who will not play. Chris Carter will start in his place.

We should also see Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker tonight.

Leodis McKelvin is out at cornerback for Buffalo as is left guard Chris Williams.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thursday news, notes

Mike Tomlin said today that long snapper Greg Warren has a meniscus injury that will require surgery and sideline him for at least four weeks.

That's troublesome for the Steelers since it will carry into the regular season.

Currently, Bryce Davis is the only other long snapper on the roster.

Tomlin said the team will look at its options at the spot, which could include something in-house or looking elsewhere. The Steelers signed Luke Ingram later in the day. He was with the team in training camp last year.

Warren is considered one of the best in the business and it's not something you think a lot about unless the long snapper is messing up.

@ Tomlin made another statement today that was somewhat surprising.

He finally called rookie Ryan Shazier's knee injury something other than a "boo-boo," characterizing it as a bruise.

Shazier, who hadn't practiced fully in nearly two weeks, did so on Thursday.

He showed off his impressive speed on one play, chasing down scrambling quarterback E.J. Manuel of Buffalo.

If the quarterbacks would have been live to hit, Shazier might have taken his head off before Manuel got out of bounds.

@ Jarvis Jones will also be questionable with his groin strain, though Tomlin said linebacker Vince Williams could be ready to return by then. Neither practiced Thursday, though.

@ Things got heated at times in this practice, mostly with the Buffalo defense and Pittsburgh offense.

Cody Wallace, subbing for Maurkice Pouncey, who sat out, got into a fight with defensive tackle Landon Cohen that had players from both teams running from the other field.

Antonio Brown also took a swing at 303-pound defensive tackle Kyle Williams during the scrum.

Later, Buffalo defensive end Jerry Hughes took offense at something said or done by Steelers left tackle Kelvin Beachum and spent the next 20 seconds yelling profanities at him as Hughes walked from the field.

Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount left his team's spot - behind the line of scrimmage - and did a beeline for Hughes before offensive coordinator Todd Haley yelled for him to get back where he belonged. Mike Tomlin then spent several moments talking to Blount, who I'm sure was just going over to ask Hughes where he learned such a vast array of curse words.

@ The two rookies from Clemson stole the show today. It's no wonder people were considering Tigers quarterback Taj Boyd a first-round pick based on his numbers, then he fell off all of the draft charts when they actually started investigating him.

Buffalo rookie Sammy Watkins and Steelers rookie Martavis Bryant, Clemson's starting receivers last year, were a handful for the defensive backs on both sides today.

Watkins' change of direction left some guys covering air as he shook free of coverage. Bryant, meanwhile, continually got deep on the Buffalo corners.

@ Defensive end Nick Williams was gimpy toward the end of practice today for the Steelers. It appeared that he did something to his left knee.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wednesday news, notes

The Steelers had what looks to be their first major injury of training camp Wednesday during the first of their two joint sessions with the Buffalo Bills when long snapper Greg Warren left with what head coach Mike Tomlin called a potentially serious knee injury.

With so many players on the fields, it was impossible to keep track of everything, so Warren's injury came as a surprise.

The only other long snapper on the team's roster at this point is first-year player Bryce Davis, who had been in camp with the Cincinnati Bengals last summer before his release. He was not considered serious competition for Warren, one of the few remaining Steelers with two Super Bowl rings.

Tomlin said he'll know more about Warren's injury Thursday. But if he is out for a significant time, the team will likely add a long snapper to the roster for competition with Davis, if nothing else.

@ Will Johnson and Will Allen left Wednesday's practice with hamstring injuries. It was a bad day to be named Will, apparently.

@ With Ramon Foster among those sitting out today, it was Cody Wallace, not Chris Hubbard, who lined up with the first-team offense at left guard.

Hubbard had been subbing for Foster previously.

@ Punter Brad Wing had a good day today, booming some kicks against the Bills.

@ The Steelers added running back Stephen Houston to their roster today. The former Indiana University star was released by New England.

At 6-0, 230 pounds, he brings a little more size to the position than the other guys vying for backup spots.

@ In addition to Foster, Jordan Zumwalt (groin), Jarvis Jones (groin), Vince Williams (concussion) and Matt Spaeth (ankle) also sat out today.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tuesday news, notes

The Steelers today placed punter Adam Podlesh on the Reserve/Did Not Report list.

Podlesh and his wife have been dealing with a difficult pregnancy and he informed the team that he's still not ready to report.

The move was more or less an accounting one. The Steelers retain the rights to Podlesh but free up a roster spot, giving them 88 players in camp after the release of running back Jawan Jamison on Monday.

It also tells me they aren't necessarily happy with Brad Wing and want to bring in some competition.

The top veteran guys available right now are Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko, both of whom kicked for the Steelers in 2013, and former Ravens punter Sav Rocca.

I have to believe they are looking for a guy with some kind of NFL experience to compete with Wing.

@ Rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower went from penthouse to outhouse in about 10 minutes on Tuesday.

He was praised by practically the whole team for sealing off linebacker Terence Garvin on a run play during a team running drill.

Moments later, special teams coordinator Danny Smith spent two full minutes ripping him a new one for not blocking properly during a punt.

Blanchflower also got lit up by Jordan Dangerfield along the sideline on a short dumpoff.

Such is the life of a rookie.

@ Ike Taylor missed what should have been an easy interception from Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines. The ball went right through his hands.

Mike Tomlin, just a couple of feet away, threw his hands in the air, "Come on Ike."

Then I think Tomlin realized who he was talking to and gave up.

@ Ryan Shazier is still working his way back from the knee "boo-boo" that has slowed him the past week and a half now.

He did individual drills for the second day in a row, but still isn't ready for team stuff.

Sean Spence is still his replacement.

@ Jarvis Jones was the only player completely not in pads today. He's been dealing with a groin injury.

@ Linebacker Vince Williams walked off the field during a special teams drill and went to the trainers, who immediately put him on a cart and took him away.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Post Steelers-Giants thoughts

That wasn't the start that Stephon Tuitt was hoping for Saturday night in New Jersey.

He jumped offside on the first defensive series.

On the second series, with the Steelers in a nickel, he got trapped inside to open the hole for Rashad Jennings' long touchdown run.

I love Tuitt's upside, but he'll definitely hear about those two plays from defensive line coach John Mitchell.

In fact, he'll hear more about the one or two bad plays than the good ones he made, which were several.

He held the point of attack very well overall.

@ Tuitt wasn't alone in culpability on the long run. Cam Heyward got blown across the line, Jarvis Jones had a shot at hitting Jennings in the hole and Lawrence Timmons got mashed by a pulling offensive lineman in the hole to spring it.

Then, Will Allen missed a last-ditch tackle and it was off to the races.

Those kind of plays were this team's buggaboo in 2013. But I don't read too much into a preseason game. There was no game-planning going on where guys could have read that thing coming.

@ How about Jarvis Jones beating an offensive lineman on an inside move for a sack?

@ Le'Veon Bell only got three carries in this game, but he showed good power, running through some would-be tacklers for extra yardage. We didn't see that as much in 2013.

Bell is primed for a big season.

@ We only got a slight glimpse of Dri Archer's explosiveness in this game. But a 46-yard catch-and-run on a screen was a good start.

He does need to get a little more decisive when fielding punts, though. Too much dancing.

Get it and go.

@ I thought it was telling that Howard Jones was used on the first coverage unit.

The rookie linebacker shows a lot of promise and made two big fumble recoveries. That shows his speed. He's 6-4, 238 and needs to get stronger, but he can run.

Also of note on the first-team coverage unit was Brice McCain.

As I wrote before, McCain is a big hitter and should make this team as a coverage guy on special teams.

@ The Steelers had just one captain for this game: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

They'll elect other captains later in the preseason, but Roethlisberger in the only guy left from last year's group.

@ The Steelers made it through this game with just one injury, a thumb to the eye of Ramon Foster. He'll be OK.

@ The Steelers' brass has to hold their breath when they see Bruce Gradkowski out there scrambling. If he gets hurt, that means Landry Jones moves up to No. 2. And we've seen backup QBs get hurt scrambling around in the preseason here before.

Right Charlie Batch?

@ The Giants were playing their second preseason game, but they were penalized 10 times for 109 yards, most of which were by their starters.

The Steelers, on the other hand, drew just five penalties.

@ Brad Wing didn't help himself in the non-existent punting battle.

He gets great hang time, no doubt. But hang time isn't everything.

While he had one first quarter punt downed inside the 20, he had another chance to pin the Giants back later in the first half and hit it just outside the 20.

They he had a 21-yard punt from his own goal that gave New York the ball at the Pittsburgh 35.

Adam Podlesh had better come back at some point. If not, the Steelers will be scanning the waiver wire for punters again when the preseason cuts are made.

@ Martavis Bryant can use this game as a big learning tool.

You've got to come back strong to the ball in the NFL every time.

He also needs to secure the ball better in this league - though I think he was contacted by a defender on his way to the ground on the Steelers' final offensive play.

But the coaching staff should have learned something as well. I noted earlier in the week that Bryant wasn't a natural returning punts. He lets the ball get into his pads when he catches it.

The coaching staff should now have learned the same thing, just in case it didn't already know.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Looking at the roster heading into first preseason game

After two weeks of talking about the Steelers on the radio, we were searching for topics Thursday night on the Steelers Nation Radio broadcast.

I mentioned to my co-host, Adam Crawley, that perhaps we could take a look at how the roster is breaking down heading into the first preseason game.

So I quickly started crunching numbers and realized that there are about 50-plus spots set on this roster at this point. Certainly, that can change due mostly to injuries, but I actually came up with 53 spots with some tough decisions.

Here's what I had:

Quarterbacks (3): The first two are easy. After that, it's a battle between Landy Jones and rookie Brendon Kay. Kay has looked better than Jones, a 2013, fourth-round draft pick, but that might not mean he wins the roster spot. Jones might get a second year on scholarship before the team pulls the plug on him.

Running back (4): Again, I feel this is pretty cut-and-dried at this point. Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer will be the top three, with fullback/tight end Will Johnson being the fourth. The Steelers could then stash a running back on the practice squad - or make one active if he's good on special teams.

Wide receiver (5): Again, no need to keep six with the versatile Archer on board. Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore and Martavis Bryant are locks. Justin Brown is nearly a lock.

Tight end (2): Again, versatility rules and Will Johnson's been going strictly to the tight end meetings. He'll be the fullback/No. 3 tight end. Somebody else could make it based on special teams play, with veteran Michael Palmer leading the list at this point. Rookie Eric Waters has an inside track at this point on a practice squad spot.

Offensive line (9): We know who the starters are. The backups at this point are offensive tackles Mike Adams and Guy Whimper, center Cody Wallace and guard Chris Hubbard. Adams has done nothing to earn a roster spot at this point, but the guys behind him really aren't pushing very hard Wesley Johnson, Chris Elkins and Will Simmons are the best of the rest, though Johnson's listed here strictly because he's a draft pick. He hasn't shown me much to this point playing mostly at left tackle.

Defensive line (7): You've got the two Cams (Heyward and Thomas), Steve McLendon, rookie Stephon Tuitt and first-year player Bryan Arnfelt as locks, in my opinion, though Arnfelt is the least secure of that group. I like what rookie Daniel McCullers has shown me, so I'm giving him a scholarship year. Then it comes down to Hebron Fangupo, another nose tackle, or rookies Josh Mauro or Ethan Hemer. Both have shown some promise. Last year's seventh-round pick Nick Williams is athletic but does nothing to stand out. The question will be, do they think they need four nose tackles and keep Fangupo? I don't think so. I think they try to stash another guy on scholarship - possibly Mauro.

Linebacker (9): Again, we know who the starters will be. The backups will be Vince Williams, Terence Garvin, Arthur Moats and Sean Spence. That leaves us with either Chris Carter, rookie Howard Jones, draft pick Jordan Zumwalt or journeyman Vic So'oto, who has looked good at times, for the final spot. At this point, I'm keeping Carter based on experience, but if one of the other guys flashes, he could be in trouble. Jones and Zumwalt could be practice squad guys.

Defensive back (11): Eleven defensive backs? Sure. Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu could be both heading into their final seasons and Cortez Allen isn't signed for next year either. Plus, they have some depth here. Polamalu, Taylor and Allen are givens as are Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, William Gay, Will Allen and Robert Golden. That's eight already. Antwon Blake is a core special teams guy and I believe Brice McCain will be as well. That's 10. Rookie Shaq Richardson will get a scholarship year. He's shown me enough that they won't want to test the waters with releasing him to put him on the practice squad unless they have a rash of injuries elsewhere.

Specialists (3): Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren are locks. Brand Wing is the punter right now because, well, he's the only punter here. That could change if/when Adam Podlesh's situation with his wife and baby are resolved. But they have to also be prepared for Podlesh to sit out the season as well.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Tomlin talks about Giants game

Mike Tomlin wouldn't rule anyone out for Saturday's preseason opener at New York against the Giants, but he did say that nose tackle Steve McLendon (concussion), rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier (knee), linebacker Jarvis Jones (groin) rookie tight end Rob Blanchflower (ankle) and rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt (groin) are questionable to play.

Typically, Tomlin won't play rookies if they don't practice or get a full week of practice for regular season games. But a preseason game is different. There aren't any exotic looks or game plans.

It's doubtful that McLendon plays, in my opinion. His concussion must have been a pretty serious one, though he won't talk about it. He didn't even come to the field for practice the first couple of days, and when he did finally come out, he looked like death.

Blanchflower and Zumwalt both missed lengthy spots of practice but have been back the past couple of days.

The one everyone will be interested in is Shazier. The Steelers' top draft pick went through all of OTAs and the minicamps as the starter. He's missed the past few practices with a knee injury and sat out again on Thursday. If he can make it back for this game, that would be a surprise.

Jones was back on the field Thursday but was rotating with the first unit with Chris Carter until he gets his legs back.

@ Cam Heyward, Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown sat out today. Heyward got banged up at the end of Wednesday's practice and left early, though he stayed on the field, but Polamalu and Brown appeared to be veteran's days off.

Tomlin said Wednesday that Heyward and Marcus Gilbert, who has had a strong camp, were both expected to practice Thursday. Gilbert was back, while Heyward was not.

@ Rookie Martavis Bryant continues to improve. He caught a deep post pass down the middle from Bruce Gradkowski when the team was working on its no-huddle offense that went for a long score.

Later, he caught made an over-the-shoulder catch in the two-minute offense for a score from Brendon Kay.

The kid has outstanding size and speed. If he can put everything together, he could be a star.

If not, he's still a size/speed matchup problem who could contribute this season as a deep threat.

@ I'm liking big Dan McCullers more and more. Today, he got his paw on a Landry Jones pass while playing in the third-team nickel.

His teammates seem to like him a lot, as well. Every time he makes a play, all you hear is "All right Big Dan."

@ The first kick coverage unit included Justin Brown, Brice McCain - who has been hitting everything with authority here - Antwon Blake, Will Johnson, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin and Robert Golden. Those guys could all be safe on this roster.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The dog days

Mike Tomlin said what we all were thinking  after today's practice: It was a lackluster effort.

From defenders jumping offside to running backs putting the ball on the ground, it was a bleh effort the whole way around.

As Tomlin said, guys were just looking to survive instead of improve.

@ Tomlin also said that nose tackle Steve McLendon is dealing with a concussion. That would explain why he's been absent from four consecutive practices - though McLendon was doing some running today, which is a good sign.

Cam Heyward also got a little nicked toward the end of practice - not seriously - and that left the Steelers with a line of ends Cam Thomas and Stephon Tuitt paired with nose tackle Hebron Fangupo.

As I have been saying all along, the McLendon injury could be a blessing in disguise for Tuitt. He's gotten an extended look with the first unit and hasn't looked out of place.

@ Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones were both still out today.

Jones looks like he's close to returning with groin strain. But Shazier is limping noticeably. I doubt he plays on Saturday against the Giants, giving Sean Spence a big start.

@ The coaching staff really worked rookie tight ends Rob Blanchflower and Eric Waters over today.

Those two took the majority of the snaps against the linebackers today in one-on-one run blocking drills.

Waters looks to be a quick study. He'll lose a rep to a guy once but then bounce back and win the next one against the same guy.

Blanchflower, whose bigger, was scolded for getting too high in his blocks. He seems to be a quick study as well.

After practice, the coaches had those two working against defensive ends doing the same drills.

They appear to be seeing which one is going to make the practice squad.

@ Rookie left tackle Wesley Johnson just doesn't seem to have the functional strength to play that position in the NFL at this point.

He's also prone to bite on some moves and got schooled a couple of times in one-on-ones today by Terence Garvin, who's not exactly known for his pass rush moves.

Monday, August 04, 2014

After six days of hitting, it's time to rest

Ryan Shazier said his injured right knee is OK. But he was limping around on it pretty noticeably Monday afternoon during practice.

After six consecutive days of live hitting, this team needs a break.

Mike Tomlin will begin to scale things back a little now that the first preseason game is now in sight at the end of the week. I don't expect the Steelers to go quite as hard when they return to practice Wednesday after taking  Tuesday off.

@ Ike Taylor kind of questioned Mike Mitchell's hitting ability when I spoke with him today. Not so much questioned it, but said they haven't seen it yet since Mitchell had missed the first week of practices with a groin injury. (Read more about it in Tuesday's Observer-Reporter. Shameless plug)

Mitchell was activated off the PUP list Monday and promptly made the first tackle of the live running drill, dropping Le'Veon Bell in his tracks.

Later, he leaped high above Markus Wheaton at the goal line to knock down a Ben Roethlisberger pass.

He should be a welcome addition to this defense.

@ In addition to Shazier, Jarvis Jones (groin), Steve McLendon (illness) and Darrius Heyward-Bey (concussion) sat out with injuries Monday.

Taylor and Pouncey were given the day off for maintenance.

It's probably the first time in his career that Taylor has been made to take a maintenance day. He's only ever missed practice when he's been injured.

@ McLendon being out might be the worst thing that happened to Cam Thomas.

He's been at the nose with the first team the last three days and rookie Stephon Tuitt has been at defensive end. Tuitt looks right at home there opposite Cam Heyward.

In fact, you often have to look very closely to figure out which one is which. They are about the same size and body type and Tuitt's No. 91 is awfully similar to Heyward's No. 97.

They're making very similar style plays, as well. Tuitt drove down the line on one play today and held off a blocker with one hand while tackling a running back with the other.

@ Give running back Miguel Maysonet the gold star for taking on the big hit of the day, courtesy of Terance Garvin.

The linebacker came on a blitz up the middle at full speed and Maysonet (5-10, 210), stepped into the void and picked him up in what was a hellacious collision.

@ With Shazier out, Sean Spence moved in with the first team, while Jones was subbed for by Arthur Moats.

@ I feel bad for veteran linebacker Lawrence Timmons. He's been tasked in this camp of working against rookie Dri Archer in one-on-one passing drills.

The speedy Archer has just had his way with Timmons. Today, he caught a ball in the flat, came to a complete stop to freeze Timmons and then burst inside, flying right by him.

Later in the drill, when they had two backs and two backers, Garvin went outside with Archer, yelling, "I got it, I got it." When Archer caught the ball and stutter stepped, Garvin didn't have it any longer. Archer burst down the sideline by himself, leaving Garvin to grasp at air as he yelled obscenities.

@ Archer did put the ball on the ground today in a run drill. He went into the hole, turned and ran completely around some linemen and then burst upfield, only to take a big hit that knocked the ball loose.

I didn't see who hit him thanks to the mass of humanity that was there.

@ The Steelers finished things off with a two-minute drill. Working with Ben Roethlisberger were Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Archer, Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown. Will Johnson was also in there early on.

They went 63 yards in 1:50 to score on a 4-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown.

Bruce Gradkowski led the second unit that included Kashif Moore, Lance Moore, David Paulsen, Derek Moye and running back Tauren Poole.

They reached the 2 after starting at their own 37 with 1:51 on the clock. But Gradkowski's final pass intended for Moye was knocked away.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Past the one week, mark

Saturday's practice pushed us over the one-week mark here at Saint Vincent College and the tempers were still on display to a certain degree.

Kelvin Beachum and Chris Carter got into a little tussle during a red zone drill, then, during the goal-line portion to end things, Maurkice Pouncey and Hebron Fangupo squared off for a little after-the-whistle dance.

Neither were as big as Friday night's Battle Royal at Latrobe Memorial Stadium, but you can see that, after a week of hitting each other every day, these guys are ready to get into a stadium and hit somebody else.

@ One thing I did like about Saturday's minor dust ups was that on both occasions, the other linemen quickly jumped in and got things settled. They're sticking up for each other.

@ The goal-line drill was won by the defense, 4-3.

Ben Roethlisberger threw to a wide-open Matt Spaeth in the flat on the first possession, but the rest of the plays were runs, with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount both sitting this one out.

Vince Williams had the hit of the series, smashing Miguel Maysonet to the ground, with Shamarko Thomas coming in to help clean up.

@ Thomas had a bit of a scare midway through practice when he turned his ankle badly along the sidelines while making a tackle.

I was right there and he immediately grabbed the ankle, but got up, limped back out to the field and ran the next play before going off.

But he quickly recovered and made the first tackle of the inside run series.

Sean Spence finished that session off by twice stepping into the hole and dropping a runner in his tracks.

@ Rookie Martvis Bryant had a couple of great catches, using his size down the sideline to shield away a defender for a long gain, then catching a fade pass in the back of the end zone with one hand over Cortez Allen for a score on another.

Bryant still has some overall work to do, but his size-speed combo is rare.

@ Dri Archer was lightning in a bottle for the backs-on-backers passing drills.

It's a one-on-one receiving battle and Mike Tomlin matched Archer against Lawrence Timmons each time.

The score? Archer 4, Timmons 0.

Archer's speed was just too much for Timmons, himself one of the faster inside linebackers in the league.

@ Steve McLendon was given the day off today. That meant the Steelers shifted Cam Thomas to nose and rookie Stephon Tuitt came in at end.

Tuitt is a remarkable athlete. He's built like Cam Heyward, only he runs better and is more athletic. That's no knock on Heyward. Tuitt has a chance to be special.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Friday's news, notes

Talk about your eventful practices.

A fight broke out between the team’s running backs and linebackers during a backs-on-backers drill at the annual off-campus practice here at training camp.

Le’Veon Bell, back after sitting out all week with a sore hamstring, returned to practice Friday night and got into a scuffle with linebacker Vince Williams during the drill in which a running back attempts to protect a quarterback from a blitzing linebacker.

In this case, the “quarterback” was assistant linebackers coach Joey Porter, and the linebackers were leaping high into the air to bump chests with Porter anytime they beat a running back to the quarterback.

Tempers flared when Williams, who was handled by Bell the first time, lined up against him again. Williams drove Bell to the ground and stayed on top of him, shoving his facemask into Bell’s.

Fellow running back LeGarrette Blount, who was sitting out practice and was dressed in shorts and a hoodie, ran in and dove onto Williams, knocking him off Bell. A mini-mele’ ensued, with several other players joining in.

At one point, Porter pulled Blount out of the pile and the coach and running back went nose-to-nose before they were separated.

“It’s the ebb and flow of team development,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “The tight ends kicked the linebackers’ butt the other day. The linebackers came back today with a vengeance. It’s what team development is about. I would imagine that the backs and tight ends will come back out here (today) with a get-back attitude.”

While Tomlin did appreciate the intensity, he didn’t necessarily condone the ensuing fight.

“It’s an emotional game and they do lose that element of it sometimes, but those things are growth opportunities and opportunities for us to teach,” Tomlin said. “At times you’re going to feel like you’re wronged, but at the same time, you’ve got to keep your wits about you because we step into stadiums with one goal in mind, to win. Obviously 15-yard penalties and things of that nature don’t help with that cause. When do you get an opportunity to talk about that, except in training-camp-like settings when tempers run a little hot?”

It’s not the first time, of course, that Blount’s temper has gotten the best of him, however. He was suspended for his final season at Oregon for punching a Boise State player and also got into fights during his rookie season in 2010 with Tennessee, which eventually released him.

Tomlin did pull Blount aside after the incident. Then, after the drill was over, he gathered the linebackers to speak to them.

@ Rookie Martavis Bryant can be a factor getting deep, but until he learns how to break down better going into his breaks, he's not going to add much past that.

He can learn, however. In fact, after a screen was run to his side of the field on one play, Tomlin chastised him for not blocking after the catch.

"Yes sir," Bryant replied as he ran back to the huddle.

@ Tomlin praised linebacker Lawrence Timmons for chasing a play down to the outside, running to the football with reckless abandon.

"That's the way, Law Dog," Tomlin yelled.

Timmons has been doing a lot of that in this camp, leading by example. It's rubbing off as the entire defense is responding.

Timmons also had the knockout blow of the night in the backs-on-backers. He staggered Bell, knocking him off his feet on a straight power bull rush after the fight.

It was everyone welcoming Bell back to the lineup.

@ The Steelers have been in camp a week now and we finally had our first contract extension.

Earlier this week, general manager Kevin Colbert officially mentioned four players the team would like to work out new deals with before they become free agents at the end of the season: Jason Worilds, Marcus Gilbert, Cortez Allen and Shaun Suisham.

Strike Suisham from that list.

He signed an extension through 2018.

Suisham said his agent and the Steelers had been in talks for the past three days, so we can assume the Steelers also likely contacted the other three guys as well.

But of those, Suisham's deal was probably the easiest to complete. After all, he's missed just five kicks in the past two seasons and his career success percentage of 87.2 is the highest in team history.

Has he missed some big kicks? Sure. Two misses each against Oakland in 2013 and Cincinnati in 2012, could be pointed at as reasons the team didn't make the playoffs.

But he also had four game-winners in the past two seasons as well.

@ Of the other three potential free agents the Steelers hope to extend, I would say that Marcus Gilbert might be the next easiest signing.

He's been a starter for the past couple of seasons, so he has a good idea of where he stands in the pecking order and the Steelers have a good idea of what they might want to pay him.

So unless he's expecting crazy money - and who knows, that could be the case - that one shouldn't be a drawn-out process.

The cases for Worilds and Allen are a little more difficult because neither has a full season of starting experience.

Add to that for Worilds the fact he's playing for $9.75 million and he might not have a lot of incentive to sign a long-term deal until after this season.

The same could be said of Allen, who could wait until the end of the season, when he would have more leverage since the Steelers probably won't want both of their starting corners hitting the open market.

@ NFL officials went over the new rules changes and points of emphasis with the team and media today.

Rolling into a block will no longer be tolerated. Cut blocking will still be OK, as long as you are in front of or to the direct side of a player, but you can't roll in any fashion.

Also, the clock will no longer stop on sacks outside of two minutes.

The thing fans will likely talk about the most involves replay, with two officials in New York watching every game and conversing with the referee once he puts his head under the hood.

They won't be making the call directly, but will be there to serve as an extra set of eyes and for rules interpretation.

The league is stressing that it will not accept any abusive language on the field this season. That includes threatening language or racial slurs or sexual taunts.

A point of emphasis will be made to ensure that defenders don't make illegal contact outside of five yards from the line of scrimmage. Officials will also be watching closely for illegal contact and offensive pass interference.

They will also pay attention to offensive players on bubble screens. Blocks are not permitted outside of one yard from the line of scrimmage.

Those were, of course, points of emphasis in previous seasons, but it was explained Friday that the five-yard zone for defenders had increased to seven or eight yards, and offensive players were getting away with blocking outside of one yard from the line of scrimmage.

@ All fighting aside, Vince Williams is having a really good camp. His problem, however, is that the NFL today is about speed and coverage ability.

Williams is solid against the run. But that's not today's NFL.