Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Monday, January 05, 2015

Steelers news, notes

The Steelers held their final meetings on Monday and prepared to head into the offseason.

The general feeling among the players seemed to be that this season had been a big step - but only the first one.

After all, while the Steelers had 27 players who had been in the postseason before, for a large portion of this roster, especially the guys that mattered, Saturday's game against the Ravens was really their first taste of playoff football.

And given that that Steelers have now lost their last three playoff games - including a pair of one-and-dones in 2011 and 2014 - there aren't many guys on the roster who have tasted playoff success.

But, as Troy Polamalu said following Saturday's game, the teams that he was on that won Super Bowls were turned away in the previous seasons.

In 2004, the Steelers lost in the AFC Championship, a defeat that made them a more hungry group that offseason.

In 2007, the Steelers - though a playoff-tested group that had won the Super Bowl just two years earlier - lost in the opening round of the playoffs to Jacksonville. And that group had missed the playoffs altogether in 2006.

The Steelers feel like they are a team on the rise. And at least offensively, that is certainly the case.

Of the offensive players who matter, only Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller are over 30. Heck, running back Le'Veon Bell doesn't turn 23 until next month. There will be players coming out in this year's draft who are older.

And all 11 starters and a number of key contributors are under contract for next season.

Defensively, there will be some questions. But we saw a number of young players thrust into bigger roles this season and they got better as the year wore on.

Yes, Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor will all be gone, but only Harrison played a significant role this season. And he still appeared in just 12 games counting the playoffs.

@ I keep seeing and hearing people talk about the possibility of Taylor moving to safety - including Taylor.

Yes, Taylor stays in great shape. But he doesn't have the ball skills to play safety. Period, End of discussion.

@ Bell said he would have been ready to play this week against Denver had the Steelers advanced. He plans on playing in the Pro Bowl.

@ Yes, Mike Mitchell had a tear in his groin. No, it was not enough to keep him from playing.

Mitchell had a tough season in his first year in Pittsburgh. But he was asked to do different things than he had done in Carolina or Oakland.

I expect him to be better in 2015. And yes, he'll still be part of this team.

@ Cortez Allen also will get a chance to show that he can play.

To me, his issue in 2014 was confidence. He drew a number of penalties early in the season as the league cracked down on defensive holds and illegal use of hands to the face.

He's just 26 and I believe he'll adjust and be better in 2015.

The same people wanting to run Mitchell and Allen out of town are likely the same people who couldn't wait for William Gay to leave and trashed the team for re-signing him.

How'd that work out.

@ Not that the front office is without fault. The Cam Thomas signing was a very, very bad one. And Lance Moore has obviously lost whatever he once had as well.

But give the front office credit for finding Brice McCain, Antwon Blake and Arthur Moats on the scrap heap. All were key contributors to this season.


Done By Forty said...

Dale, what are your thoughts about the OLBs going forward?

I have no idea whether it's better to keep Worilds around or not.

Do you get the sense the FO still believes Jarvis Jones is the answer?

Oddly, Moats is the guy I'm most worried about losing.

KT said...

Great write up Dale.

Only thing to nitpick about is Brett Keisel. He did have an impact this season, and quite frankly had more left in the tank than I thought he would -- and I was in the camp that said he should be brought back.

Not saying that means he should come back in 2015...

...The heart says 'yes' but I'm realistic about his age.

Dale Lolley said...

But you can't bring Keisel back at the expense of Tuitt or another young defensive lineman. At some point, you have to move on.

At OLB, Jones is the only guy under contract for next season. Moats was a one-year deal guy. They worked him some behind Worilds late in the season, but they can't go into next year with Jones and Moats as their starters.

adamg said...

It couldn't have been easy for Mitchell playing with a groin injury all season. I'm sure he'll be better next season.

Do you see the Steelers making a run at any UFAs?

Anonymous Brian said...

Mitchell's groin injury is actually good news for next season then. Maybe affected his ability to break down and tackle rather than launch, change direction, etc. Hope so b/c that could explain most of the below-the-neck issues.

Key offseason priority should be to get in the lab and somehow graft the respective bodies and skill sets of Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams into one Transformer-style middle linebacker.

That and get like three or four outside linebackers not currently on the roster.

I think a second (athletic) TE is a must, or a really really want.

I hate empty sets.

Dale Lolley said...

I thought Rob Blanchflower flashed at practice late in the year. Liked what I saw of him.

Too early to look at UFAs. Let's wait a few weeks.

Greg Mercer said...

Do we have the personnel to switch to a 4-3. Seems like d-line is our strength. Wouldn't it be easier to draft a DE and have Tuitt drop some weight instead of trying to to find two impact OLBs ?

Plus, i think a rookie DE could come in and start right away where it seems like OLBs take at least 2-3 years in our system.

Anonymous said...

"The same people wanting to run Mitchell and Allen out of town are likely the same people who couldn't wait for William Gay to leave and trashed the team for re-signing him."

I remember people complaining about Troy his first year in LeBeau's complicated system over how lost he was, what a "bust" he was, etc.

The Steelers just run a very complicated defensive scheme that takes a while to assimilate. That's why rookies generally need a year to sit and learn it before getting thrown right in.

I'm OK with giving Mitchell another season to see what he can do now that he'll have a year of the system under his belt and (hopefully) the issue with his groin muscle behind him.

Anonymous said...

Mike Mitchell's struggles had nothing to do with Lebeau's scheme. He just played poorly. I'm hopeful he'll be better next year but lets not blame Lebeau for him taking bad angles and being late to the ball.

And would people quit calling for a switch to the 4-3. We don't have the personell AT ALL for that. Jesus.

marc said...

McCain, blake and moats may have contributed, but that doesn't mean they are that good of players or that the front office found a diamond in the rough. the only reason they played is because the people in front of them sucked. and how good is it to be a contributor on a defense that doesn't actually play that well?

McCain had 3 passes defended in his last 8 games. aside from a good game against the bengals with the 2 picks, he had 1 PD.

blake had 3 PD's in his last 8 games.

to put the DB's into perspective, much maligned buster skrine as the #2 corner for the browns had 11 PD's in his last 8 games.

moats had 10 tackles in his last 8 games and four times did not record a tackle at all.

it's not like these guys contributed on a good/great defense. the steelers pass defense was 27th in the league and overall they were 18th. they were also 18th in points per game. these guys are backups that played like backups. they had a bright moment here or there, but overall were not very effective. with the d-line pretty much set, the steelers need to focus on the secondary and LB'ers this offseason.

Anonymous said...

Troy didn't play in LeBeau's defense his rookie year.

And when in single high, you don't abandon deep centerfield to chase underneath routes. You play deeper that the deepest threat. That is not unique to Tricky Dick's scheme. That's Football 101.

A guy like Shamarko hasn't shown anything over two years to warrant much cause to bring him back. But it doesn't really cost them anything to do so through August. So I have no problem bringing him back to give him one more opportunity to prove himself. That is not the same with guys like Mitchell and Allen.

Both are due big roster bonuses in March. It's not like bringing them back comes at no real cost like with Thomas. And that cost comes long before either has a chance to prove they're worth that cost. Allen, anyways. Mitchell started 16 games and I thought showed just enough to pay up for another chance. But I could take him or leave him at this point given that roster bonus factor. I like Allen and his potential. But on merit and risk I don't know how you justify paying him $3m in cash in two months on the blind hope he somehow salvages both his confidence and his potential.

The only reason for paying his bonus is because nobody would ever sign another one of these split bonus type contracts with the Steelers ever again, that keep first year costs down. And they have 2 or 3 in house contracts this offseason that I'm sure they'd like to do just that with. Roethlisberger, Heyward, and maybe Worilds. That's the only reason you pay that bonus to Allen. Certainly not because he's earned it or deserves it or even deserves the chance to earn it. It's foolish to give it to him, but they probably don't have a choice, since it affects so many other future deals.

It's not as simple as just saying, sure bring them both back. If it cost nothing, then yeah, it is that simple.

Greg Mercer said...

to anonymous,

you really don't think we have 3 lineman who could play in a 4-3 ? or 3 linebackers?

i just think the novelty of the 3-4 has worn off, and it no longer makes sense to rush undersized DEs (who have converted to OLBs) into massive offensive tackles.

Anonymous said...

This Defense is bad. There is no way to sugarcoat it. The scheme needs to change for Pete's sake. It isn't just players. If it is, then Colbert needs to go because we have drafted D high in recent yrs. And who isn't tired of the "well in this scheme, rookies need 2-3 yrs to understand it". BS! How many yrs of the SAME thing will we endure. If Ben plays average against the Colts OR Ravens mid-season, they lose both and miss the playoffs. The D needs talent to be sure, but to say that the design plays absolutely no part is wrong.

Anonymous said...

Tongue and cheek..

McCain, Blake and Moats had a productive year, but didn't need to sit for a season to learn the defense.. humm

I for one thought it was a mistake to put Troy in the Ravens game, I thought the D was starting to get a little swagger. I understand he has earned that right, but I didn't like it.

Our DB's looked good when our front guys can get after the QB, this takes the pressure off the corners and shrinks the zone. If we don't get a nasty pass rusher in the offseason it won't matter who's in our secondary.


Hubert Parker said...

Pernell McPhee. Do you think we haveva shot Dale? Ravens OLB behind Suggs Dumerville and Upshaw. 7.5 sacks 280lbs. Good motor good first step. Plus thecadded benefit of taking him from the Ravens

Dale Lolley said...

McPhee is a guy I'd look at. But I doubt the Ravens let him walk.

adamg said...

Isn't Balt up against the cap? They have some UFA main contributors like Torrey Smith to re-sign, too.

Dale Lolley said...

Baltimore can clear $8.5 million by cutting Ngata. It can save less than that by lowering his $8.5 million base.