Watch Tower: Merril Hoge Misused? Impatience with Kordell? Neglect of Secondary?

The Watch Tower’s purpose is not to nitpick, but some of Ed Bouchette has come out with some head-scratches during this off-season.

Misusing Merril Hoge?

Several weeks ago, Bouchette focused on the Steelers running backs in his “On the Steelers” column. Bouchtte argued that despite the loss of Frank “The Tank” Summers and the potential loss of Mewelde Moore, Steelers Nation need not worry, as running backs are always to be found.

He’s right, as the Steelers have rushed for more yards since Chuck Noll’s arrival than any other franchise. Then he makes a curious statement:

They drafted Tim Worley on the first round in 1989 and Merril Hoge on the 11th in 1987 and their philosophy was so messed up on offense that often they misused both.

He may be on to something with Tim Worley. Dick Haley told Noll that Worley was an I-Formation back and should stay there to succeed. Noll promptly put him in a split backfield. Worley had a good rookie year nonetheless, but then blew his signing bonus up his nose.

The Hoge comment is harder to figure. “Messed up” only begins to describe Pittsburgh’s offense during Joe Walton’s rein. But Hoge however, was the only constant during that time.

After relegating starters Frank Pollard and Ernest Jackson to the bench mid-way through the 1988 season, Hoge went on to rush 724 times for 2708 yards through the end of the 1991 season. He also caught 173 passes for 1479 yards in addition to scoring 27 touchdowns.

If that is misuse, then Pittsburgh needed more. Hoge of course should have been used more when Barry Foster went down in 1993, but that is another story….

Bill Cowher Lacked Paitience with Kordell Stewart….?

Writing in PG Plus, Bouchette offered this eye-opener in response to a fan who questioned Bouchette’s statement that Kordell Stewart lacked the coaching staff’s support.

Bill Cowher could be a very impatient coach and he was all of that at the quarterback position… In 1997, Cowher chose Stewart and he had such a good season that the Steelers reached the AFC championship game at home, where they lost to Denver. In 1998, he and they had a bad season. Only a few games into 1999, Cowher benched him in favor of Tomczak. This came right after the Steelers had given Stewart a new contract with an $8.2 million signing bonus! Two years later, his teammates voted Stewart their MVP and he made the Pro Bowl. The next season, Cowher benched him again. THAT’s what I meant. [Emphasis added.]

It’s funny, because during the dark days of 1998 and 1999 the press, although I don’t remember Bouchette being in that chorus, tipped over themselves accusing Cowher of being too patient with Kordell Stewart.

The mystifying part of Bouchette’s statement is the bit about benching him after “only a few games.” Kordell Stewart started the first 11 games for the Steelers in 1999.

Kordell certainly got a quick hook in 2002. While that might reek of a knee jerk reaction, during the Latin American broadcast of Steelers-Colts Monday Night game later that season Raul Alegree shared this insight:

Hablé con Bill Cowher sobre Kordell Stewart, y él me dijo que no quisiera cambiar a su mariscal, pero sentí que tendría que hacerlo, porque Kordell Stewart había perdido la confianza del resto de los miembros del equipo.

For those of you who do not speak Spanish, Allegre revealed that Cowher had told him he hadn’t wanted to bench Stewart, but felt he had no choice because he sensed that Stewart had lost the confidence of the locker room.

That revelation reported by Allegre, which to my knowledge was never repeated in the English language press, crystallized Cowher’s motive behind the 2002 QB change.

I’ll also add that if Allegre was somehow able to get that nugget out of Cowher in a pregame meeting, you’d have to figure Bouchette would have or should have caught wind of it too.

Neglecting DB?

Bouchette also made another debatable comment in a PG Plus Post a little while later.

The Steelers have ignored their secondary far too long. It’s imperative they stock it with some good, young talent this year.

Bouchette is absolutely correct that the Steelers must get younger and better in the secondary. But does that necessarily mean that Pittsburgh has neglected the position?

A quick look back at the Colbert Record reveals this:

2001 – No DB taken
2002 – Chris Hope, 3rd round; LaVar Glover, 7th round
2003 – Troy Polamalu, 1st round; Ike Taylor 4th round
2004 – Richardo Colclough, 2nd round;
2005 – Bryant McFadden, 2nd round;
2006 – Anthony Smith, 3rd round;
2007 – William Gay, 5th round;
2008 – Ryan Mundy, 6th round;
2009 – Keenan Lewis, 3rd round; Joe Burnett 5th round
2010 – Crezdon Butler, 5th round

In ten drafts, Kevin Colbert has seen to it that Bill Cowher or Mike Tomlin has drafted a defensive back each year, with the exception of 2001 for a total of 11 DB’s in 10 years. Six of those picks have been premium picks coming in the first three rounds.

So does Bouchette have a point…? Maybe, but as we’ll see, he fails to go far enough in making it.

Behind the Steel Curtain to Bouchette’s Rescue?

Shortly after Bouchette’s comment about the Steelers “ignoring DB for too long,” Behind the Steel Curtain’s Tim Gleason, aka “Mary Rose” brought the issue into perspective in compelling fashion (although Gleason did not reference Bouchette’s article.)

In keeping with this site’s policy of not stealing another writer’s thunder, we will not recite his entire argument here. Steel Curtain Rising strongly encourages you to read his article “The Importance of Shopping at the Corner Market.”

Gleason ties the Steelers need to beef up at corner by telling one of the great untold stories of the 1980’s, namely that of the San Francisco 49er’s defense.

He then goes back and quantifies the number of defensive backs that have been taken in the first and second rounds since 2006 and, well, you can see where the Steelers fall into that category by scrolling above. Going a step further, he analyzes the correlation between multiple DB selections in the first two rounds and Super Bowl success.

While going at pains to avoid criticizing the Steelers (as Gleason points out, we have been in 3 Super Bowls and won 2) his argument that the Pittsburgh needs to draft a defensive back is persuasive.

In the final analysis, both men have something to their arguments. But Tim Gleason’s nuance and depth of analysis make his piece all the more powerful.

The Watch Tower has praised Bouchette plenty and respects his work.

But as has also been asked many times before in this space, why is it that a fan site like Behind the Steel Curtain offers a much more complete analysis when contrasted with coverage in the professional press?

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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