Watch Tower: Is Steelers Cornerback Crisis Symptom of Scouting-Coaching Rift?

The Watch Tower’s lights haven’t shined in a while, and that’s not for lack of major Steelers news, but rather because there’s been too many Steelers stories to stop and cover. Rather than play catch up, today’s Watch Tower focuses solely on press coverage of the Steelers cornerback crisis.

Ray Fitapano Strikes a Cord on Steelers Cornerback Crisis

Cut down day at the South Side got interesting. As expected, after cutting down the Steelers roster Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went shopping, picking up Jordan Todman and Cashaud Lyonsin the process.

Steelers Nation reacted as if Rod Woodson had just been cut. Grant and Chickhillo returned via the practice squad, ending “the crisis.”

  • But cutting 4th round draft picks isn’t standard Steelers operating procedure and the move signaled a deeper story which Ray Fittipaldo pounced upon.

The Watch Tower has harped on the need for the press to provide greater insight into the Steelers draft evaluation and selection process, and Fittipaldo’s article on the Steelers cornerback crisis in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s blog illustrates why.

  • Fittipaldo suggests that the root of the Steelers cornerback crisis involves a breakdown between the coaches and the front office.

This is ironic, because as Fittipaldo reminds readers, in Pittsburgh coaches have a significant voice in the draft evaluation and selection process. But that hasn’t stopped the Steelers from cutting rookie cornerbacks they’ve drafted for three straight years.

Fittipaldo drives home the point with the decision to trade for Brandon Boykin and the signing of Ross Cockrell. Cockrell was the Bills 2014 4th round pick who was cut, whom the Steelers had never coached, but someone in the organization rates more highly than of Grant, while the Steelers traded away a 4th or 5th round pick only to keep Boykin off the field vs. the Patriots.

  • Like all good scribes Fittipaldo saves his knockout punch for the end:

It’s enough to make one wonder if there is disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff, and it’s just not public knowledge.

Fittipaldo’s final statement suggests that he is speculating here and not basing his story on inside information from a source. More than a few fans not constrained to the need to verify stories with sources have jumped to the conclusion that the Steelers did not play Brandon Boykin to lower his potential trade cost.

The rumors got loud enough that one beat writer, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, reported on it and informed that “a team source scoffed at the idea that Mike Tomlin would think about next year’s draft with a game on the line.”

  • But regardless of whether Fittipaldo’s musing or acting on a leak, he marshals strong circumstantial evidence.

And breakdowns between coaches and the front office over personnel evaluation are hardly unprecedented in the Tomlin era.

Steelers Coaches, Front Office Were Once Unaligned on Offensive Line

Several times during on-line chats from 2008 to 2011, Ed Bouchette alluded to a breakdown between the Steelers coaches and the front office over offensive line personnel, with Max Starks severed as a poster boy for his story.

Steelers coaches benched Starks in 2007 only to see the front office name Max Starks the transition player in 2008. The move did not sway the Steelers coaches, who opened the season with Max Starks on the bench, momentarily making him a 7 million dollar 4th string tackle (yes, we’ll repeat it again, Trai Essex went in at Jacksonville when Marvel Smith got injured.)

Bouchette never gave the story the feature level treatment it deserved, but years later, with the Steelers en route to 2013’s 0-4 start, Jim Wexell appeared to at least indirectly validate Bouchette’s hypothesis arguing:

Nor will I blast the organization for making the necessary change away from Bruce Arians a few years ago. He wasn’t interested in rebuilding the crumbling foundations that are the offensive line, the running game and in general the protection of the major investment.

While Wexell’s comments are unrelated to the Steelers cornerback crisis, they indicate that Bruce Arians had a lot of influence over the Steelers offensive selections. Recent comments on by Steelers Digest editor Bob Labrolia indicate that Dick LeBeau held similar sway over the Steelers defensive selections.

If that’s the case, then it doesn’t seem like the transition from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler has done more to get the Steelers front office and coaches in sync when it comes to the Steelers secondary.

The Watch Tower will keep tabs to see if more hard information makes its way into the Steelers press coverage to strengthen this story, but for the moment it will simply tip its cap to Ray Fittipaldo for putting this story on the radar.

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