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

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Thoughts on first week of OTAs

I had to laugh when a reporter asked James Harrison how he was adjusting to his new role as a mentor with the Steelers.

"It's really not any different than before," Harrison replied. "It's just that the team is more vocal about it now than before."

Harrison couldn't be more right.

To think that James Harrison just became a leader this year because the team started talking about it is silly. After all, he's a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

To think that other players haven't always at least watched how he goes about his business is short-sighted. After all, that's exactly why the Cincinnati Bengals signed him as a free agent in 2013 following his release by the Steelers.

The Bengals didn't necessarily have a spot to play Harrison because he didn't fit in their 4-3 defense. But they wanted to have him around in an attempt to change the culture there.

When you're a guy such as Harrison or Troy Polamalu, you don't necessarily lead vocally. You lead by example. Players watch your work ethic and how you go about your business. Do you take plays off or mess around in the weight room? Do you pay attention in meetings?

You're always under the microscope. You can't take a day off.

It's the same reason a guy such as Antonio Brown is looked as a leader on this team, even though he's not the most vocal player.

The young guys on the team can look at Brown's work ethic and see the right way to do things.

Harrison has always been that guy. And he's always been approachable for those who have questions. Now, he's just being a little more vocal.

@ It's just been a few practices, but I like what I see from undrafted rookie running back Cameron Stingley.

He's a thick 6-1, 230 and shows some burst. Mind you, there's no tackling right now. But Stingly's a guy to keep an eye on.

@ Both Daniel McCullers and Clifton Geathers look lean for guys who can block out the sun.

John Mitchell said at the draft that both were in great shape and he wasn't stretching the truth.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

OTA opens

The Steelers had perfect attendance at the opening of their final OTA session on Tuesday.

That's important because, well, these are the actual OTAs that matter.

While a big deal was made about Antonio Brown skipping the initial OTAs a while back - reportedly because he wanted a new contract - the final three weeks are the on-field team work, 9-on-7, 7-on-7 and 11-on-11.

There's really not a lot of position work for a guy like Brown to do at this point. He works out hard enough on his own. At this point, he's fine-tuning his game and the best way to do that is in team drills.

Ben Roethlisberger laughed off any questions about whether he thought Brown was going to show for OTAs and mini-camp.

"I called him as soon as I heard that," Roethlisberger said. "He said he didn't know where it was coming from."

It came from Brown's agent or someone close to him. But it was more laying the groundwork for a possible new deal in 2016 than it was this year.

@ Roethlisberger said he has no idea what PSI the Steelers set their footballs to and he doesn't care one way or the other. He has no preference as to how hard or soft the footballs are.

He also said that the Patriots getting caught manipulating footballs in last year's playoffs and spygate doesn't diminish anything they've done in his eyes.

"They've won a lot of games." he said.

@ Ryan Shazier said his workouts with many of the other young linebackers and James Harrison in Arizona were very beneficial, teaching him what it takes to workout in the offseason in the NFL.

@ With a tip of the cap to the NFL's new PAT rule and possibly more two-point conversions this year, the Steelers began by working on that aspect.

Roethlisberger feels the new PAT rule of kicking from the 15 will benefit dome teams since they have a lower potential to miss those kicks while outdoor teams will have a more difficult time with them late in the year.

Then again, if you've got home field advantage in the playoffs and you're playing a dome team, you could have an advantage.

@ Ike Taylor showed up at the first practice. He's not playing, but he was around and didn't have anything to do, so . . .

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Questions, questions, questions?

With this being the little bit of down time in the NFL, anybody have any questions?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's quiet time

It's quiet time for a couple of weeks around the Steelers as the rookies get some time to digest their new playbooks and the veterans continue their OTA activities.

One thing that did catch my eye this week was that the Steelers put a claim in on Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger.

They didn't get him, of course, since they were way down the list. Swearinger landed in Tampa Bay.

But the fact that the former second-round pick, who wore out his welcome in Houston after just two seasons, was on Pittsburgh's radar speaks volumes about what the team feels about its current safeties.

I liked Swearinger a lot coming out of South Carolina. He was feisty. He liked to hit - hard. He constantly showed up when I watched the Gamecocks.

That doesn't mean he wasn't without his issues. He showed a me-first tendency that I felt would have to be coached out of him. That didn't happen in Houston.

He also is best used as a box safety.

Was it just a case of the Steelers putting in a claim on a good player to perhaps block him from landing in Baltimore, which also put in a claim? Perhaps.

We might never know. But the fact the Steelers put in a claim on him certainly raises an eyebrow.

Friday, May 08, 2015

What I would do with Brady

Now that we've all had a couple of days to digest the whole Patriots' deflating footballs situation, here are my two cents on the issue.

Tom Brady must be suspended.

While Brady's supporters will point out that the evidence is circumstantial, there is also a preponderance of it. And let's remember, this isn't a criminal case. The NFL doesn't need to be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Brady was involved in having the footballs adjusted.

The league just needs to be pretty sure something happened. Ask Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger was suspended for six games - later reduced to four - in 2010 for his involvement in an alleged sexual assault even though a Georgia district attorney did not feel there was enough evidence to convict the Steelers' quarterback in a court of law.

If Brady is innocent of any involvement of doctoring the footballs, why didn't he turn his cell phone records over to NFL investigators? That's what an innocent person would have done.

Brady, however, did not.

And those poo-pooing this as not a big deal should look at how these kind of things are handled in other sports.

In baseball, if you doctor a baseball or bat, you are suspended. In NASCAR, crew chiefs are suspended if their car is off by 1/8 of an inch.

Cheating is cheating. And if it wasn't a big deal and didn't give a competitive advantage, why would Brady risk doing it?

His agent's assertion that the league ran a sting on his client in conjunction with the Colts is laughable. The league provided footballs, to be sure, but it did not provide any needles or drop any hints that a deflating the balls might be a good idea.

Brady should draw, in my opinion, at least a two-game suspension and the Patriots, as a team, should be fined and docked at least a second-round draft pick.

While I don't doubt that there are other quarterbacks who have done this in the past, the league has to make sure it doesn't happen again. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Biggest rookie impact

I've done some radio interviews and been asked otherwise on the streets which rookie I think will have the biggest impact for the Steelers this season.

There's actually several good choices.

Though I think first-round pick Bud Dupree is raw and isn't ready to be a full-time player anytime soon, I do think he can make an impact on special teams and as a situational pass rusher.

And considering outside linebackers coach Joey Porter is planning on rotating his top four linebackers, Dupree should get a chance to contribute sharing time with Arthur Moats.

I liked cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant before the draft and the fact the Steelers got both of them was a bonus.

Both had second-round talent and it wouldn't surprise me to see both play this season and make major contributions on special teams.

But I think Golson is more likely to step into the nickel role and make an impact - though it wouldn't shock me if Grant forced his way into the package with his solid speed and tackling skills.

Wide receiver Sammie Coates will have a tough time breaking into the lineup, much as Martavis Bryant did a year ago. Of course, once Bryant did start playing, he made a major impact, the biggest of any rookie on the roster.

I don't see a similar path for Coates this season, however.

Jesse James should win a spot as the No. 3 tight end, but it's tough to predict big things for him in that role.

As for the other picks, if they earn spots on the roster, they'll likely be inactive on game days - unless they prove to be special teams stars.

I'm going to go with Golson making the biggest impact this season as a rookie. He'll be my favorite to win the Joe Greene Great Performance Award given to the team's top rookie, with Dupree and Grant being darkhorses.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Final draft thoughts

So much for the best player available.

GM Kevin Colbert as much as admitted the Steelers didn't do that this year - not that they really do any year - and instead drafted for need.

The team went into this draft wanting to take six defensive players and two offensive. Lo and behold, six defensive and two offensive players were taken.

They were taking offensive players based on value, which is why Maxx Williams would have been the pick in the second round had he lasted and Sammie Coates was taken in the third round.

The Steelers felt the value was too great to pass up.

But they had holes they wanted to fill and they did so.

@ The Steelers sign 12 undrafted rookies on Saturday following the draft. They are:

   Cameron Clear                       TE              6-5              277           Texas A&M
   Nigel Crawford-Kinney         DT              6-5              300           Saint Augustine’s                 
   Dominique Davis                    DE             6-5              285           Liberty
   Miles Dieffenbach                  G                6-3              303           Penn State
   Reese Dismukes                    G                6-3              296           Auburn
   B.J. Finney                            C                6-4              318           Kansas State
   Tyler Murphy                          WR             6-2              213           Boston College
   Bradon Prate                          DE             6-4              285           Illinois State 
   Collin Rahrig                      G                6-2              285           Indiana                                            
   Eli Rogers                              WR             5-10            180           Louisville
   Ross Scheuerman                  RB              6-0              204           Lafayette (Pa.)

   Kevin Whimpey                      T                6-5              295           Utah State

Murphy is interesting in that he was a quarterback at Boston College and will be making the switch to wide receiver.

@ Corners Senquez Golson and Doran Grant and safety Gerod Holliman had a combined 29 interceptions last season. The Steelers have 42 as a team - and no more than 11 in any one season - since the 2010 season.

That also happens to be the last time they won a playoff game.

Coincidence? I think not.

@ I find it interesting the team didn't take an offensive lineman. Mike Adams, Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum are all heading into unrestricted free agency following this season, while the team also needs to work out a long-term extension with David DeCastro, even though his fifth-year option was picked up.

You'll notice, though, four offensive linemen among the undrafted guys brought in. There's a good chance one or two of those guys sticks around.

@ Colbert said the Steelers had targeted a cornerback in the second round and that Golson was one of them.

But Eric Rowe was a target as well. And once Rowe was taken and tight end Maxx Williams began to fall, he became a target.

But they didn't want to give up a fifth-round pick to move up.

I don't have a problem with that. As it turns out, would you rather have Golson and Jesse James or Williams?

I'd take Golson and James. Williams, in my opinion, is OK. But he's not the next Jimmy Graham.

@ When we asked defensive line coach John Mitchell about Daniel McCullers and Clifton Geathers, his eyes lit up.

Mitchell said he had spoken to McCullers about getting his weight down and the big nose tackle complied. Geathers, meanwhile, according to Mitchell, came in about 30 pounds lighter.

Both guys should be much better in 2015.

Day 2 post-draft thoughts

Some Steelers fans might not have liked the pick, but I like the team's selection of Senquez Golson in the second round of Friday's draft.

It showed something of a change in thinking for the Steelers with their corners.

Yes, at 5-9, 176 pounds, Golson isn't the ideal size for a cornerback in the NFL. But he takes the ball away, including recording 10 interceptions last season.

For too long the Steelers have focused on bigger corners who don't necessarily have ball skills. And picking where they were typically at in the bottom of the first round, they rarely had an opportunity to select a corner with good ball skills.

If a guy has both size and ball skills, he goes in the first part of the first round.

But the Steelers took Golson over some larger corners who didn't possess his ball skills.

Those trashing the pick should think about one thing. Did they want the Steelers to take a chance on Tyrann Mathieu a couple of years ago?

Mathieu, as you might remember, had numerous off-field issues at LSU, eventually getting himself kicked out of school.

But there were plenty of Steelers fans who wanted the team to take a chance on him - despite his 5-9, 186-pound size and bevy of issues - because the team needed playmakers in its secondary.

Golson is Mathieu without the rap sheet.

The typical Steelers pick would have been Eric Rowe, a big corner with speed who had three career interceptions in college. And Pittsburgh was interested in him.

But for a team that hasn't had more than 11 interceptions in a season since 2010 - the last time it won a playoff game - acquiring a playmaker in the secondary was a must.

@ I thought the pick of Sammy Coates was a good value pick in the third round.

Yes, he has some issues with drops. But the Steelers feel that can be corrected.

He's got 4.4 speed and averaged over 20 yards per catch in his college career. And at 6-1, 212 chiseled pounds, he's got a different body type than Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton or even Martavis Bryant, to whom Coates has been compared.

The Steelers see Coates as a guy who can do some of the dirty work blocking while also having the ability to take the top off a defense.

@ The Steelers were trying to move up in the second round but found the price too expensive. Then, when they decided to wait and see if tight end Maxx Williams would fall to them, Baltimore pulled the trigger and moved up, giving up their second and fifth round picks to do so.

We'll see if that bites the Steelers in the behind. Williams is the top tight end in this draft, but it's a weak tight end group. He catches the ball well, but isn't particularly fast and offers little as a blocker, though he could get better as he grows into his body.

But it's not getting any easier to find true tight ends with so many college teams running spread offenses.

One thing for certain, if you look at the team's record of selecting tight ends early in the draft, it's been good, with Eric Green, Mark Bruener and Heath Miller all contributing early in their careers.

All were first-round picks and all had plenty of success right away.

In fact, the Steelers went to the Super Bowl in both 1995 and 2005, when they took Bruener and Miller in the first round.

@ Who will the Steelers target on Day 3?

Ohio State's Doran Grant or USC's Josh Shaw are the top corners still available. That position has once again been picked over pretty hard, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Steelers make a move to go up in the fourth round to get one of them.

Other targets could include Penn State's Jesse James or South Alabama's Wes Saxton at tight end, Georgia Tech center/guard Shaq Mason and Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford or Kristjan Sokoli of Buffalo.

The Steelers also could target a safety since Will Allen isn't getting any younger. James Sample of Louisville  and Ibraheim of Northwestern are the top strong safety types available. One guy to keep an eye on, though is UCLA's Anthony Jefferson.

At free safety, there are some interesting guys still out there. Cody Prewitt, who played with Golson at Ole Miss is a solid centerfielder type and Penn State's Adrian Amos also is still on the board.

Derron Smith of Fresno also is a guy who had 15 career interceptions in college.

There also are a couple of interesting small college outside linebackers available in Davis Tull of Chattanooga and Kyle Emmanuel of North Dakota State, though I don't know the Steelers will take another outside linebacker unless the value is just too great to pass on.

I'm hearing that CFL product Shawn Lemon is just a guy so a special teams ace could find a spot.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Bud Dupree and other thoughts

Regular followers of this blog know I am no Bud Dupree fan. I see his athleticism and size and know why a team would want to select him in the first round.

What I didn't always see in the tape that I watched was production. And that's kind of important.

Apparently, the 21 teams that picked ahead of the Steelers on Thursday saw some of that as well. That's why a guy who many saw as a top 10 to 15 pick fell to 22.

The Steelers certainly had a need at outside linebacker. They need production out of the outside linebacker position to make their defense work.

But I don't know that Dupree will be anything more than a situational pass rusher this year - and maybe even in the future.

Now, everything the team said about him following the draft says they feel they can mold him into an every-down player. And perhaps they can.

But I see a player who lacks good football instincts when it comes to diagnosing things quickly. Again, maybe that can be worked on.

The ceiling is high on Dupree. He could be a game-changer in the DeMarcus Ware mold. But he could also be the next Huey Richardson.

He's a project in the first round and I'm not big on taking projects in the first round, especially when your most important player, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, has a Super Bowl window that is closing.

@ Who would I have taken? Byron Jones was a nice, safe pick for a team that is in need of defensive backs.

Like Dupree, Jones is a freakish athlete. But Jones' game tape is much better than that of Dupree.

@ That said, the Steelers will definitely focus on the cornerback position on day 2 of the draft. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see the team take a pair of corners in the second and third rounds.

At the very least, they will likely take two in the top four rounds.

Who's available? I like Eric Rowe, Quinten Rollins, Josh Shaw, Doran Grant D'Joun Smith and Senquez Golson. Alex Carter would also be solid, though safety might wind up being his best position.

There's also some other guys, such as Jalen Collins, Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams who will likely go in the second round, though they have some off-field red flags.

So with the 24th pick in the second round, the Steelers should be able to get a corner who might help this season.

GM Kevin Colbert also said a trade up in the second round is possible since the team has seven picks remaining in the final six rounds - if there's a player the team has to have and a run on corners starts.