Steelers Lose Frank “The Tank” Summers

Perhaps some things are just not meant to be.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Frank “The Tank” Summers in the 5th round of the 2009NFL draft to great fanfare.

Summers made the squad despite arguably being out-preformed by 2009’s training camp sensation Isaac “Redzone” Redman. Summers played in two games, starting one as the team’s fullback, but he looked lost.

After the Steelers loss to Chicago, Summers went on IR with what at the time appeared to be a mysterious back injury, but the injury was later corroborated by media reports of surgery.

Summers returned to training camp in 2010, where many suggested that despite his size he was miscast as a full back, that he should have been used as a conventional running.

Regardless, it was Isaac Redman’s chance to turn the tables, as Redman made the team, relegating Summers to the practice squad.

Summers neither attracted interest while on the waiver wire nor while on the Steelers practice squad, but the San Diego Chargers signed Summers, where he’ll get a chance to compete for a slot on their 2011 roster – assuming there is a 2011 season.

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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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Could the Steelers Follow the Example of the Washington Redshirts?

Cut down day has arrived. The Steelers formally let go of their first ten yesterday, and rumors circulate that Justin Hartwig and Frank Summers are also on their way out.

That leaves 8 more cuts, none of them easy.

These are all tough calls, literally touching on every position area, save for tight end (although why they continue to keep Matt Speath, whom they don’t throw to despite the fact that he can catch but cannot block continues to befuddle.)

Steelers preseason is not shown in Buenos Aires, as you might expect, so I can offer little in the way of opinion on who should stay and who should go.

But might there be an easier way?

There, in fact is, although it is highly unlikely the Steelers would follow it.

Remembering the Washington Redshirts

The late Jack Kent Cooke, former owner of the Washington Redskins, wanted a winner, and he did not care how much it cost. In an age preceeding both the salary cap and free agency, Cooke spent like no other.

The primary beneficiaries were back ups, who in some cases made as much as starters in other cities.

Rookies also benefited too.

Back in the 1980’s you could put players on injured reserve and reactivate them. If you did it before the season, they were out six weeks. Otherwise, they were out for four.

Every year before cut down day the Redskins would stash a host of players on IR, mostly promising young rookies, who just weren’t quite ready to play.

This was against league policy, but the Redskins had it down to a science.

They’d cut a half dozen or so expensive veterans to get to the roster limit. At the time, a team picking a player up off of waivers had to honor the player’s previous contract. Since Cooke paid these men so well, there were generally few takers.

Once these players cleared waivers, the Redskins would then put the rookies on IR and resign the veterans.

The rest of the league took notice. I can distinctly remember one commentator on ESPN referring to them as the Washington Redshirts.

An SI article by Peter King from the early 1990’s described how some players were asked to “take dives” during practice, so that they could appear on the injury report, and then be put on IR. The article was about abuse of the injured reserve policy in general, but most of King’s examples focused on the Redskins.

The most famous beneficiaries of Washington’s policy were Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries, but loads of future starters, backups, and role players for the Redskins got a “redshirt year.”

The NFL, took incremental action until it got to the point where we are today, a player who goes on IR was out for the year. They also created the practice squads, to give teams a place to develop young, but unready, talent.

Would the Steelers Follow Suit…?

The quandary that the Steelers face is that at a number of positions, the Steelers have to choose between two young players who, while unproven, have a lot of potential.

Stashing a couple of them on IR seems like the ideal solution, particularly during this uncapped year.

But it is also highly unlikely that the Steelers will do that. One of the reasons why Hartwig is likely to be gone is his salary. The Steelers do not pay people to sit at home.

And it is also breaking the rules and, while the Steelers are not as saintly as the image that most of us (myself included) like to perpetuate, they certainly do run one of the cleaner shops in the NFL.

By the end of the today, the Steelers will have had to make difficult choices between Frank “The Tank” Summers and Jonathan Dwyer, Joe Burnette and Anthony Madison, Antonio Brown and Stefan Logan, Sunny Harris, Doug Worthington, and Nick Eason.

And that is the way it should be. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin get paid good money to make those tough choices.

And while they do make mistakes, (Ryan McBean couldn’t get a wiff of playing time in Pittsburgh and is now a starter in Denver), they usually get it right.

So keep the faith, and at 6:00 pm let’s get ready to welcome the members of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Steelers Cutting Frank “The Tank” Summers?

Jerry DePaoli of the Inside Pittsburgh Sports is reporting that the agent of Frank “The Tank” Summers in addition to a league source have confirmed that the Steelers 2009 fifth round draft pick has been cut.

The report also indicates that the Steelers will attempt to sign Summers to the practice squad, although Craig Schaffer, Summer’s agent, says he has already gotten calls from interested teams.

Such reports from agents are to be taken with a grain of salt. Sometimes they are true, sometimes talk is just talk, and other times the agent is simply attempting to create the impression that his client is in demand.

Inside Pittsburgh Sports is also reporting that the Steelers granted permission to Justin Hartwig’s agent to seek a trade. Jim Wexell’s Twitter feed carried a report that Steel Curtain Rising referenced earlier saying that Hartwig had been told to “look elsewhere.”

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Justin Hartwig Reportedly Cut By Steelers

359 days ago the Steelers signed starting center Justin Hartwig to a four year extension.

Today Inside the Steel City’s Jim Wexell reports that the Steelers have decided to part ways with Hartwig.

If this turns out to be correct, Hartwig would be the biggest cut the Steelers have or will make, as Hartwig started every game for the team since joining as an unrestricted free agent in the 2008 off season.

Hartwig’s play, however, had slipped, and many felt he had been out played by back up center Doug Legursky and even Kraig Urbik, whom the Steelers have also decided to cut.

Even if this report turns out to be false, which is doubtful, Hartwig will be replaced in the starting line up by 2010 first round draft pick Maurkice Pouncy.

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Kraig Urbik, Sean McHugh, and Justin Vincent Lead Steelers Cuts

The Steelers have announced their first ten cuts. There were few true surprises, but a couple of notable names got visits from the Turk.

Those hitting the waiver wire are:

Eugene Bright, tight end
Dorian Brooks, guard
Kyle Jolly, offensive tackle
Brandon London, wide receiver
Scott Paxon, defensive tackle
Matt Stewart, long snapper,
Justin Thornton, safety,
Renauld Williams, linebacker
Justin Vincent, running back

None of the above players have spent (significant) time on the Steelers active roster, although Sean Paxon and Justin Vincent spent time on the Steelers 2009 practice squad. (Paxton also made an appearance on the regular season roster in 2008, and was on previous practice squads.)

There was, however, one former starter cut and that was tight end/fullback Sean McHugh. The Steelers picked McHugh off of the waiver wire in 2008 after he was released from Detroit, and by virtue of that fact, McHugh left a team that would finish 0-16, and started for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.

The Steelers announced these moves this afternoon on their website.

Behind the Steel Curtain is referencing a tweet attributed to Kraig Urbik’s agent, which informs us that the Steelers have advised him that the Steelers 2009 third round pick has been released. (Hats off to BTSC by the way, they beat the Post Gazette, Tribune Review, and ESPN to the punch in getting this information on the web.)

The Steelers had high hopes for Urbik as did I. Urbik was one of the six players cited here on Steel Curtain Rising that the Steelers needed to develop at St. Vincents this summer.

Urbik did not dress at all during the Steelers 2009 season, so he is eligible to join the Steelers practice squad should no other team pick him up.

The Steelers must make an additional 10 more cuts to get down to the league-mandated 53 man roster.

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Lefwich has MCL Tear, According to Unconfirmed Reports

A Twitter feed for Pro Player Solutions, which represents professional athletes, is reporting that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Bryon Leftwich has torn his MCL.

While neither ESPN nor the Post-Gazette, nor the Pittsburgh Tribune Review are confirming the report, the Tweet was retweeted by the Washington Post’s La Canfora and by ESPN’s Chris Mortonson.

While this lends crediblity to the report, no offical word has been given. It was, however, confirmed ealier in the evening that the Steelers took Leftwich to the hospital for an MRI.

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Leftwich Taken to Hospital for MRI…

Either the symptoms of Byron Leftwich’s knee injury appear very serious, or the Steelers are simply in no mood to take any chances.

Regardless, this knee injury does not appear to be a mere ding, as Ed Bouchette is reporting in the Post Gazette that the Steelers have taken Byron Leftwich to the hospital for an MRI.

Bringing four veteran quarterbacks to camp now really looks smart….

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Did Tomlin Dodge a Bullet with Dixon?

“Mike Tomlin has the look of a head coach trapped by his own words. What, you ask might those words be?

‘We’ll let the play speak for itself.’

This came in response to the “what if’s” that surfaced almost immediately after the Steelers brought Bryon Leftwich in after Charlie Batch was injured in the summer of 2008.

After watching Sunday’s game in Denver, Tomlin might live to rue those words.

True to form, when Ben Roethlisberger got suspended, Pittsburgh went right to the red phone and brought back Byron Leftwich and installed him as the de facto starter.

Leftwich’s workman-like preseason performances stand in stark contrast to Dennis Dixon’s, who has been tearing it up. Dixon had a perfect passer rating against the Lions, and again distinguished himself against the New York Giants.

Calls from both the fans and the press came for Dixon to get a chance against Denver’s first string.

Tomlin refused to relent.

To be fair, there was nothing wrong with Leftwich’s performance in Denver. He did what you’d expect. When he got time to plant and release, he rifled off some pretty passes. When his immobility got the better of him, it was another story as the sack-fumble returned for a touchdown revealed all too clearly.

Against Denver’s back ups Dixon did what Dixon does. He electrified. Dennis Dixon didn’t just throw two touchdown passes and complete nearly 85% of his passes.

When Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, both who struggled in the slot last night, couldn’t get their routes right, Dixon made the defense pay with his feet. In fact, he converted two third and longs with his scrambles.

Ben Roethlisberger is a franchise quarterback, and if he keeps himself healthy, and he keeps his pants on, he has a shot at going down as one of the greatest in NFL history.

You can’t replace someone like Ben.

But with Dennis Dixon you get the feeling the Steelers be dynamic; no one says that about Leftwich.

‘Let the play speak for itself,’ Tomlin once promised. Well, Mike, the play spoke last night as it has through the entire preseason, and its message is loud and clear.

We can hear it. Can you Mike?”
– Ron W. Brown, Pittsburgh Press Review Gazette

The article above is of course as fictional as the composite writer and newspaper cited.

But such literary devices were necessary.

Steel Curtain Rising has already spoken on the Steelers quarterback derby, but it bears repeating given the storm of criticism that Mike Tomlin got from both the national and Pittsburgh media following the preseason loss to Denver.

Tomlin has handled the Steelers quarterbacking situation appropriately, and the hypothetical scenario above reveals why.

Dennis Dixon deserved a shot at Prime Time. He earned the right to live-fire drill against Denver’s first-line players. Unfortunately Dixon fell flat on his face.

Why then, does this vindicate Tomlin? The bottom line is simple:

  • It is far better for Dixon to go belly up against Denver during preseason then against the Falcons or Ravens when the games count.
But What About Leftwich?

Several commentators have noted that Leftwich has gotten only 45 snaps with the first unit this preseason.

That is a low number and, in hindsight, Tomlin might very well wish that number had been higher. But Tomlin knows what he has in Byron Leftwich. He’s a serviceable back up, he generally avoids game-costing mistakes, he has a Howitzer for an arm, but he is also immobile and has an odd throwing motion that slows his release.

Leftwich’s liabilities could be magnified if poor pass protection continues to plague the offensive line.

But you know what?

If that is the case, a few dozen or so additional snaps in preseason wouldn’t have made any difference.

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Watch Tower: Tomlin’s Quarterback Juggling OK

You’ve gotta love it.

Mike Tomlin is managing a quarterback derby unlike any the NFL has ever seen, as no NFL team has ever begun the season knowing it will be without its starter for a pre-determined number of games.

Byron Leftwich took the pole position early, which surprised a few, but the word was that Dixon was good, but still not ready.

Then Dixon began to tear it up in preseason, prompting calls for him to get a fair shot at starting. When Tomlin threw a little cold water on that idea, he got more criticism. Thankfully, as mentioned here earlier, Gene Collier observed that only Pittsburgh would have a backup quarterback controversy.

Going into the third preseason game against Denver tonight, the word is the Ben Roethlisberger will start, but that Dixon will see time with the first unit.

This is what the pundits have been calling for, so of course they must be happy, right?

  • Not so fast.

In PG Plus earlier this week, Ed Bouchette confessed to being “bewildered” by Tomlin’s quarterback rotation. In his blog, Bob Smizik, warned that Tomlin was courting a quarterback controversy.

  • It is time for everyone to take a step back on this one.

There is no operating manual for dealing with the situation in which the Steelers are in. And at this point, we know that Mike Tomlin is doing a good job. Here’s how we know:

All of the Steelers quarterbacks look sharp and have played well.

Perhaps this might change when the regular season arrives. Perhaps the disjointed nature of the quarterback rotation will negatively impact the offense’s ability to function as a unit once the games begin to count.

  • But if that happens, they’ll be ample opportunity for second guessing the head coach.

Until then, let’s watch and see how Dennis Dixon does against some first string competition, let’s see if Flozell Adams finally starts stepping it up, let’s see if Leftwich immobility will be his undoing.

It would be a mistake to come down too hard on the press for these inconsistencies. As explained in a previous Watch Tower post analyzing coverage of the Steelers running game, some of this is simply inherent to the need for “content” in a 24/7 news cycle with multiple outlets.

And so are posts, like this one, that urge everyone to keep things in perspective.

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