Steelers Interview Carnell Lake for Defensive Backs Coach Position

The Steelers missed out on a chance to bring Rod Woodson back as a coach, but they could very well end up with the franchise’s second best defensive back of the 1990’s.

Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers interviewed 1990’s all-star defensive back Carnell Lake for the defensive backs position vacated by Ray Horton’s exodus for Pittsburgh West.

After playing linebacker at UCLA, Carnell Lake was picked in the second round of the Steelers 1989 draft and moved on to become a fixture in the defensive backfield for a decade.

Lake’s natural position with the Steelers was strong safety.

However, on two occasions, Lake sacrificed personal glory and saved the Steelers seasons by moving to corner back. The first time was in 1995, when Rod Woodson’s ACL injury left the Alvoid Mays open to regular and frequent torchings at the hands of opposing quarterbacks.

The second time came in 1997, when Donnell Wolford proved to be woefully inadequate as a replacement for the departed Woodson.

In both season’s Lake’s position shift had a dramatic impact. The Steelers made it to Super Bowl XXX in 1995 and to the AFC Championship and (two bad calls by Chain Gailey some might argue) one game away from another Super Bowl in 1997.

Lake coached the UCLA defensive backs in 2009.

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Joe Burnett, Stefan Logan Top Steelers Final Cuts

The Steelers released 7 more players to get down to the NFL’s 53 man roster limit, and the cuts included a few surprises.

2008’s rookie of the year? Gone, as Patrick Bailey has hit the waiver wire.

Those young defensive lineman which the Steelers all but promised to develop? That development will either have to take place on the practice squad or with other players as the Steelers cut Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington, two late round picks from the 2009 and 2010 drafts.

What about the training camp sensation and feel-good story of 2009? Well, Stefan Logan might have been the NFL’s oldest rookie last year at age 28, but if he is to be the NFL’s oldest second year man then it will be somewhere else, as he too got his walking papers.

Some had thought that Tyler Grisham might be another feel-good story in 2010, but someone will need to get hurt for that to happen, as Grisham will not join the active roster, although the Steelers will almost certainly attempt to sign him to the practice squad.

The other big surprise is Joe Burnett, who was the team’s 5th round pick in 2009, and actually got some playing time. The Steelers would probably also like to bring Burnett back to the practice squad, but he might get picked up by another team.

The Steelers rounded out their cuts with safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and defensive tackle Steve McLendon.

Check back for further analysis on the Steelers personnel moves.

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Chester Pitts’ Workout Reveals Steelers Concern With Quality of Options at Offensive Line

Last week’s signing of guard/tackle Adrian Jones gives the Steelers of plethora of options for replacing Willie Colon.

Theoretically, Jones, Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, and Jonathan Scott could contend all for Willie Colon’s starting right tackle spot. All of these men could compete for the starting right guard spot, with Doug Legursky, Kraig Urbik, and Maurkice Pouncey thrown into the mix for good measure.

If the Steelers have a quantity of options whether they have quality options remains an open question, and one the Steelers appear to be asking themselves.

Steelers Give Chester Pitts A Second Look

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that the Steelers have worked out veteran guard Chester Pitts for the second time in a week, as Pitts visited the Steelers South Side training facility today.

Pitts was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2002 and started 114 games before falling to a knee injury that required microframe surgery to correct. Mark Kaboly reports that Pitts recovery has only recently allowed him to begin workouts.

If the Steelers are serious about signing Pitts, and one must they are, they’ll have competition, as the Colts and Bills have recently worked him out, and he also has trips planned to Denver and Seattle later this week.

Chester Pitts also has experience starting at tackle, so his arrival would give the Steelers yet another candidate to start at right guard. Or right tackle. Which ever comes first.

Seemingly, the Steelers coaches could hold the type of shell game on the offensive line that Steel Curtain Rising predicted for the 2008 training camp that failed to materialize.

Regardless of whether Pitts appears in Latrobe, it is a safe bet that prospective starters will shuffle in and out of the line up this summer at St. Vincents.

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Its Official – Steelers Extend Tomlin’s Contract

The Steelers officially announced that they have extended the Mike Tomlin for two years, plus an additional year that the team can pick up at its discretion. Both ESPN.com and the Tribune Review announced the signing.

Curiously the Post-Gazette had not posted anything on its website as of as of 11:52 Eastern time on Friday the 24. The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette had been the first reporter to break the news two weeks ago, however.

Assuming the team picks up the final option year, Tomlin will be bound to the team through the 2013 season. Financial terms of the deal were not announced.

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Steelers Sign Adrian Jones, Willie Colon Goes on IR

The Steelers placed starting right offensive tackle Willie Colon on injured reserve earlier this week, less than a month after he was lost for the season when he tore his Achilles tendon during off season agility workouts.

To bolster their flagging offensive line the Steelers signed veteran journey man offensive lineman Adrian Jones.

The New York Jets drafted Jones in the 4th round of the 2004 draft and, and he started 16 straight games at left tackle in 2005. His stint as a starter with the Jets ended there however, as he played in 16 more games during the next season, but did not register a start and the Jets cut him towards the end of the 2007 season.

From there Jones signed with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, where he started 10 games at right guard. He latched on with the Houston Texans in 2009, but did not make their final roster.

How Adrian Jones Fits In

If nothing else, the addition of Adrian Jones gives the Steelers another player with position flexibility on the offensive line. It is doubtful that he will push for a starting role, but he could potentially provide valuable depth.

The fact that Jones sat out 2009 is not encouraging of course, but Kevin Colbert has a good record with “street” free agents. As noted by Steel Curtain Rising previously, in both the 2000 and 2004 seasons unheralded Colbert protégés such as Larry Tharpe and Keydrick Vincent played key roles in stabilizing the Steelers offensive line.

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Watch Tower: Tomlin Extension Story Takes a Twist at the Trib…

The Steelers decision to extend Mike Tomlin’s contract was met with great fanfare in Steelers Nation, but the Tomlin story came with a twist involving the Tribune Review that went largely unnoticed.

Who Reported the Story?

The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette broke the story and most major media outlets gave him credit. However, on the day the news broke, the Tribune Review’s Steelers page carried a headline stating “ESPN Reports Tomlin Contract Extension.”

Not only were they deflecting credit from their cross town rival, but they had no content of their own – they were linking directly to ESPN.com. (See the screen shot.)

The ironic thing about it is that the ESPN.com piece, penned by James Walker, credited Ed Bouchette and the Post-Gazette for breaking the news!

Rooney on the Record Seeking Extension?

A day later the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown had his own story. He did not get any of the principles on the record, but he went and did get quotes from some of the players.

He also made an interesting comment:

[Art] Rooney had said several times during the offseason that the team intended to reach an agreement on a new contract with Tomlin, who has led the Steelers to a pair of division titles and is the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl.

Really?

If this is the case, it is news.

Rooney had been on the record in interviews with both Bouchette and Brown as saying he wanted Mike Tomlin to coach for the Steelers for a long time. But, if memory serves, Rooney declined to affirm that he would extend Tomlin’s contract.

This led to speculation that no such extension was forth coming, and in fact the general consensus of opinion in the press at the conclusion of Steelers OTA’s was that the Rooneys were in fact not going to extend Tomlin’s contract.

If Brown had information from Rooney, either through off the record or on the record conversations, that the team was going to open contract talks with the head coach, then he should have reported it.

If Brown never heard Rooney make such comments, then his statement makes no sense.

So be it. Tomlin will soon have his extension, and that will be it.


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Steelers Extend Tomlin’s Contract: The Right Move at the Right Time

As all of Steelers Nation knows by now, this week the Pittsburgh Steelers ended any speculation about the Rooney’s satisfaction with Mike Tomlin’s performance when they extended his contract for three years.

Mike Tomlin has two years remaining on the deal he signed in 2007, and according to the story broken by the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, but his extension is for three years.

However, up until this moment the conventional wisdom in many circles was that the Steelers would not be extending Tomlin’s deal simply because there had been “no talk about talks.”

When OTAs ended last month, Steel Curtain Rising cautioned against buying in too heavily into the assumption these assumptions, and events have demonstrated such speculation to be idle.

Extending Mike Tomlin’s contract was the right thing to do for several reasons.

Why Mike Tomlin Deserves the Extension

Mike Tomlin boasts a 31-17 record which includes no losing seasons and a Super Bowl win.

Tomlin’s record speaks for itself.

Tomlin replaced a coach who was tremendously popular with his players, stepped into a locker room full with veterans who had openly lobbied for either Russ Grimm or Ken Wisenhut to get his job. Further complicating matters, players were smarting over the departure locker room leader Joey Porter, and his only legit All-Pro offensive linemen was demanding his release because of a contract dispute.

Tomlin promptly led group of men and won the franchise’s 18th division title while fielding the league’s number one defense.

For a follow up, Tomlin led his team through one of the toughest schedules in NFL history, rebuilt his offensive line in the process – twice — and finished by winning the Steelers sixth Super Bowl Championship.

Tomlin, of course, failed to steer the Steelers away from a dreaded Super Bowl hangover. In fact, they lost five straight games, four of which were dropped to bottom feeders. The embarrassing loss to Cleveland left the Steelers as a team in total tailspin.

That fact should, and does count against Tomlin.

But the fact that he pulled the team out of the tail spin and snapped the streak with three consecutive victories over viable playoff contenders also must count in his favor.

A majority of Steelers fans seems to agree with the Rooneys, however, on-line polls on other sites indicate that a significant minority disagree.

Let’s take a moment to debunk some of the arguments made against Art Rooney’s decision.

Taking Over as Coach for a Super Bowl Team is Easy

The logic behind this one is flawless.

A team wins the Super Bowl. Its head coach decides to go out on top, handing off to a successor. Like the 17 year-old given the keys to a BMW for his first date who scores by merely avoiding avoid denting front bumper, a Super Bowl should come to the successor via little more than inertia.

The record reveals the issue is a little more complex.

  • Vince Lombardi yielded to Phil Bengtson following Super Bowl II

Bengtson had one winning season in three and zero playoff appearances.

  • Bill Walsh called it a day after Super Bowl XXIII handing off to George Seifert

Seifert won Super Bowl XXIV and then Super Bowl XXIX and went to 3 NFC Championship games in between and won division titles in 1995 and 1996.

  • Bill Parcells yielded to Ray Handley after Super Bowl XXV

Handley failed to field a winning team in two years and had a locker room and coaching staff close to outright revolt when he was fired after the 1992 season.

  • Jimmy Johnson quitgotfired after Super Bowl XXVIII and replaced by Barry Switzer

Switzer took the Cowboys to the NFC Championship the next year, won Super Bowl XXX (thanks in large part to Kneel O’Dummel) and had another playoff season before the team imploded on him in 1997.

  • Dick Vermiel was forced out in favor of Mike Martz following Super Bowl XXXIV

Martz took four of his six teams to the playoffs, including a losing appearance in Super Bowl XXXVI until he was fired during the 2005 season.

The history of taking over Super Bowl champions is a mixed bag at best. Handley and Bengtson were disasters, Martz fared better but never bagged his own Lombardi.

Barry Switzer perhaps provides an example of a lesser coach winning a Super Bowl on the coat tails of another, but George Seifert more that proved he was his own man.

Tomlin, of course, took over the Steelers when they were one season removed from victory in Super Bowl XL.

Richie Pettibone tried that in 1993 with a Redskins squad that was one year shy of Super Bowl XXVI and got fired after an embarrassing 4-12 season.

Clearly, taking charge of a Super Bowl Champion team is not child’s play and additional Lombardi’s are anything but guaranteed.

Mike Tomlin is Only Winning with Bill Cowher’s Players

If the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII championship team bears Bill Cowher’s palm print, then also bears Mike Tomlin’s finger prints.

To start, 2008 team featured a completely reworked offensive line, with four new starters. In the backfield Gary Russell, Mewelde Moore, and Carey Davis replaced Jerome Bettis, Duce Stanley, and Verron Hayes.

The 2008 defense was bookended by LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison instead of Clark Haggans and Joey Porter. Ryan Clark replaced Chris Hope in the secondary, and 2007 draft pick, later to be maligned William Gay, saw significant action at corner.

Roster turnover is one of the most enduring realities of the modern NFL. Cowher had a huge hand in drafting and developing some of the biggest impact players of the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl squad.

But Mike Tomlin’s ability to add several of his own, while weaving them together with Cowher-era holdovers into a cohesive unit is to his credit.

Ending a Chaotic Off Season on a Note of Stability?

Both the Steelers and Tomlin still have issues to resolve.

2010 has been one of the Steelers worst off seasons in franchise history for reason which I need not recount here.

One of the legitimate questions Tomlin faced and still faces whether he has sufficient control over his players and coaches.

Art Rooney II has now empowered his team and his coach to overcome both hurdles.

Extending Mike Tomlin’s contract will hopefully end a horrendously chaotic period on a note of stability that extends through the entire franchise.

Rooney has also sent the locker room a loud and clear signal that Mike Tomlin is his man.

All of the off season upheaval is bound to have consequences for the Steelers during the regular season, but in reaffirming his faith in his coach Art Rooney has given Mike Tomlin a firm hand to begin mitigating those consequences.

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Do the Steelers Have a New Keydrick Vincent?

“…Last season ended in disappointment for the Steelers. Expected to contend for the Super Bowl, they instead failed to make the playoffs.

Secondary breakdowns humbled their once vaunted defense. Injuries and subpar performance on the offensive line rendered the Steelers running game, once known for bludgeoning opponents into submission, a shadow of its former self, while the quarterback was left running for his life.

This year was to be different. A mandate to reestablish the run came from the highest echelons of the Steelers hierarchy.

A single ball has yet to be snapped at Heinz Field but management’s goal already appears to be in jeopardy as a budding starter on the Steelers offensive lineman has been lost for the season due to an injury…”
Edward M. DiPaola, Pittsburgh Press Review Gazette, Summer 2004

There is not, nor has there ever been, a Pittsburgh Press Review Gazette and you can consider the equally fictional “Edward M. DiPaola” to be a composite scribe.

However, the above missive aptly describes the situation the Steelers found themselves in during August 2004. Six years later, Fate has landed the Steelers in a similar spot.

Things looked bleak then, but does anyone remember the results?

The offensive line did dominate the line of scrimmage, the Steelers running game reasserted itself with a vengeance, and a rookie would become the first NFL quarterback to win 15 straight starts.

Remembering Keydrick Vincent’s Lesson

How did it happen?

After all, losing Kendall Simmons to a torn ACL early in training camp was a blow that seemed to portend disaster.

The answer is that Keydrick Vincent stepped to the fore, and started the entire season at right guard and the Steelers never missed a beat.

Could something similar happen this year?

Certainly.

The odds may be against it, but let’s look at what history teaches us.

Important differences between 2004 and now exist of course. Keydrick Vincent, whom the Steelers signed as an unrestricted rookie free agent, had 11 starts under his belt and had appeared in 11 other games.

In contrast, Tony Hills has done a lot of nothing since being drafted in the 4th round in 2008.

Still, special teams coach Sean Kugler came to Pittsburgh with a reputation as a coach who did something with… very little in Buffalo, and Kugler has both options and time to plan.

In addition to Jonathan Scott, Ramon Foster, and Trai Essex, the Steelers also signed unrestricted rookie free agents Dorian Brooks, guard, out of James Madison and Kyle Jolly a 300 pound tackle out of North Carolina.

If you think it is preposterous that someone no one ever heard of can come in and contribute at right tackle on the offensive line, then you need to remember Larry Tharpe.

In 1999 Anthony Brown and Chris Conrad alternated starts at right tackle in what seemingly devolved into a quest to reveal who was more inept while Larry Tharpe sat on a couch somewhere.

In 2000, Kevin Colbert brought Tharpe to the Steelers, and injuries to rookie Marvel Smith and Shar Pourdanesh forced Tharpe to make 5 starts where he clearly outshone the previous seasons starters.

Integrity demands acknowledging that Steel Curtain Rising enthusiastically joined the chorus that greeted the news of Willie Colon’s Achillies tear with dismay.

The truth is Colon’s loss represents another serious set back for a team already reeling from a turbulent off season.

Will the Steelers be able to compensate for Colon’s loss? There is no guarantee that they will. But history shows that they certainly can.

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Willie Colon Out for Season, Chris Scott Hurt Too

In The Inferno, Dante describes 9 rings of hell. And with each passing month of what has been a hellish off season, the Steelers seem to descend a level deeper into another ring….

Today an MRI and surgery confirmed the Steelers worst fears: Starting right tackle Willie Colon will miss the entire 2010 season due to an Achilles tendon tear.

None of this took Steelers Nation by surprise, but the news about Colon came with an additional bitter pill. Chris Scott, the Steelers fifth round draft pick in the 2010 NFL draft, broke his foot while working out at the University of Tennessee, and also had surgery.

Scott, who signed his rookie contract less than two weeks ago, may have been a candidate to replace Willie Colon, instead he will miss all of preseason and training camp….

Flozell Adams Among Potential Replacements for Colon

ESPN.com first rumored the story, and the Tribune Review has now confirmed it. The Pittsburgh Steelers have already worked out former Dallas Cowboy starting left tackle.

Adams entered the league in 1998 and has played in five Pro Bowls. The fact that Cowboys let him go rather than pay him a hefty roster bonus, despite the fact that this is an uncapped year, is telling.

But bringing Adams to the Steelers would give them a body, something they need.

Ramon Foster, the standout from the 2009 rookie free agent class, could also be moved to tackle and apparently 2009 third round draft pick Kraig Urbik could also move from guard to tackle.

So apparently the Steelers have some quantity of options to consider. It remains to be seen if that quantity can translate into quality.

No Love for Tony Hills

Yesterday Steel Curtain Rising mentioned potential replacements for Colon, focusing on Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott. Also mentioned was Tony Hills but interestingly, although not surprisingly, Hills name barely, or never, came up in other discussion boards, fan sites and blogs.

During his rookie training camp, Jim Wexell speculated that Tony Hills might bud into another John Jackson. Instead he has not even made himself into an after thought in the collective mind of Steelers Nation when a major injury occurs at his position….

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Willie Colon Injures Achilles Tendon – Worst is Feared

It has been written here before and, if trends continue we will be forced to write it again: Art Rooney II has to be wondering and wish that he can still wake up and find that the Steelers 2010 off season is just some bad dream.

Steelers Nation got another bout of dark news today as the site Scout.com broke the news that starting right tackle Willie Colon injured his Achilles tendon.

The Steelers have confirmed the injury, but are not ready to comment on its severity. However, the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac is reporting that NFL.com has already announced that Colon has a torn Achilles tendon, and injury that would end his 2010 season.

This is not only the second injury, but the second torn Achilles tendon injury to hit the Steelers in their, to borrow Queen Elizabeth II’s parlance, “offseason horribilis.”

Essex to Fill the Void?

Steel Curtain Rising will reflect on the implications of Colon’s misfortune in greater depth once the full extend of his injury is known. But at this juncture one stark reality stands out:

  • The Steelers have suffered a devastating injury at the position where they are the thinnest.

At least in terms of quantity, if not quality, the Steelers have decent depth at most positions on the roster, but offensive tackle is not one of them.

Behind starters Willie Colon and Max Starks the Steelers have Tony Hills, their 4th round draft pick from 2008 who has yet to dress for, let alone play in, a game, Chris Scott who was their fifth round selection in the 2010 draft, and Jonathan Scott, whom they signed from the Bills in free agency.

Scott, Jonahtan that is, came off the bench to start 8 games for the Bills last year and is said to have serviceable but far from spectacular skills. He now could be a candidate to replace Colon.

The most likely scenario would see Trai Essex moving from right guard to right tackle. Essex has experience playing at tackle, getting work there as early as his rookie year in 2005.

He came off the bench to start at left tackle after injuries felled both Marvel Smith and Max Starks at the end of the 2007 season, and acquitted himself well.

In 2008 he was the first man off of the bench when Smith was lost again against Jacksonville, although the Jaguar defenders threw him aside like a rag doll en route to Ben Roethlisberger. No heads were scratched when Starks started the next game.

Still, if the Steelers could do a lot better than Essex at right tackle, they could probably manage to do worse, for whatever that is worth.

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