James Harrison Follows in Greg Lloyd’s Footsteps

James Harrison has always reminded me of one of my all time favorite Steelers, Greg Lloyd. After all, both men:

  • Excel at outside linebacker
  • Hail from unheralded college programs
  • Terrorize opposing quarterbacks
  • Unleash havoc with reckless abandon
  • Impose their will
  • Alter the course of games when victory and defeat hang in the balance
Harrison, for good or for ill, is now following in Lloyd’s footsteps with his mouth.

Never shy about sharing his feelings, Lloyd once called Joe Namath out when Broadway Joe criticized his aggressive play, and number 95 rightly criticized NFL management for fining him for hits that they later packaged and sold as highlight VHS tapes.

The NFL’s selective prosecution of James Harrison during the 2010 campaign was well document both on Steel Curtain Rising and in parts elsewhere.

Harrison didn’t back down then, and is not relenting now, having done an interview with Men’s Journal where he called Rodger Goodell “the devil” and going so far as to say:

If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him.

Strong words. Steel Curtain Rising has been stout in its defense of James Harrison, regularly decrying the league’s semi-official policy of allowing offensive lineman to hold, closeline, and horse collar him with nary a flag.

And if one easily understands that no love will should be lost between Goodell and Harrison, it remains equally effortless to understand that the ultimate impact of Harrison’s tirade will likely only serve to intensify his status as the league’s poster boy against aggressive play.

The real danger in Harrison’s rant lies elsewhere.

Harrison Hits Too Close to Home

In a forthcoming Men’s Journal magazine article, Harrison also offered some choice words for his teammates.

While praising Troy Polamalu, Harrison labeled Rashard Mendenhall as a “fumble machine,” and then had this to say about his starting quarterback:

Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.

Harrison’s criticism of Ben Roethlisberger is particularly unnevering. Locker room unity and team harmony have been hallmarks of the Steelers success during the entire last decade.

Could signal the end?

Echos of O’Donnell and Lloyd?

Reading Harrison’s comments about Roethlisberger immediately reminded me of Greg Lloyd and Neil O’Donnell.

After a hard-fought victory against the Chicago Bears in 1995 Lloyd saluted O’Donnell with a very public side-line hug. Afterwards he explained to reporters that quarterbacks, O’Donnell included, were the enemy, and that his hug signaled a truce in light of his quarterback’s superb play that day.

That season’s ended with Steelers dropping Super Bowl XXX and Neil O’Donnell bolting because he felt Rich Kotite and New York Jet’s offered him a better chance to get back to the Super Bowl. I remember reading an article by someone in Pittsburgh, I want to say it was John Steigerwald talking about the relationship between O’Donnell and Lloyd.

Steigerwald, if he was the author, explained that the Lloyd-O’Donnell hug marked the high point in their relationship, and that the divisions between Lloyd and his cadre and the rest of the team had hurt the team in 1995. (Jim O’Brien raised similar observations about Lloyd in his book Dare to Dream.)

While tension between Lloyd and O’Donnell remained largely behind the scenes, (ah, the heaven of the days prior to social media), Harrison has very publicly called out his quarterback.

Roethlisberger and Harrison have apparently talked, according to Merril Hoge, and all is well. That’s what you want to hear in public.

What is said, or felt, in private remains a different matter.

A few weeks back in a make-news article, ESPN’s James Walker praised Mike Tomlin as being the AFC North’s best “massager of egos.” Walker’s arguments were strong. Now it looks as if they’ll be put to the test.

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Hines Ward Arrested for DUI

Sometimes Art Rooney II simply must want to shake his head.

Another off season, and another Steelers player in legal trouble — in Georgia no less.

Both WTAE and PG Plus are both reporting that Steelers stand out wide reciever and Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward was arrested this morning on DUI charges.

Hines Ward’s agent issued the following statement:

On July 9, Hines Ward was stopped by DeKalb County police for suspicion of misdemeanor driving under the influence. He cooperated fully with the police and truthfully answered all of their questions.

We are currently in the process of ascertaining all the facts. From our preliminary investigation, we can tell you that we are confident that the facts will show that Hines was not impaired by alcohol while driving. However, Hines is deeply saddened by this incident and apologizes to his fans and the Steelers organization for this distraction.

That is a pretty strong statement and it is important to note that the charge was DUI and not DWI, the former not even being a felony.

Still, given Roger Goodell’s uneven application of the league’s good conduct policy, one already must entertain the idea Hines Ward could be facing some kind of suspension.

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Steelers to Face Salary Cap Trouble in New CBA?

This is a little premature to discuss, as the new CBA has yet to be reached and anything, including continuation of the lockout, could happen.

But ESPN’s John Clayton is reporting that the salary cap will likely decline in any new CBA, and he’s listing the Steelers as one of the 7 teams that would be most aversely affected.

Accordingly to Claton, the Steelers are 10 million dollars over the prospective cap. On the surface of things, this does not bode well for the team.

Clayton, for examples, explains that the Steelers could cut half of that gap by parting ways with Flozell Adams.

The conventional wisdom is that the Steelers cannot resign Willie Colon, which means that losing Adams would rob the Steelers of both quantity and quality of depth at offensive tackle.

Likewise, the Steelers need to resign Ike Taylor, and their ability to do so would be compromised by how much they can restructure existing deals and create enough space to ink Taylor.

Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II have been quite adept at managing the salary cap, and there is no reason to expect this to change.

But given the compressed free agency time frame and a reduced salary cap is going to require some fancy footwork on the part of both men to ensure the Steelers keep Taylor and Adams or Colon in the Black and Gold in 2011.

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Super Bowl XLVI: Steelers Fate?

Superstitions. They’re part of life, part of sports. Sometimes they can be direct. A favorite one of mine is: “Read Bob Labriola’s column in the Steelers Digest the Saturday before the game, and the Steelers win. Wait till Sunday and they lose.”

Then there are the indirect ones.

I plead guilty to the later count too.

Back in the late 80’s I once wasted the requisite oxygen to annunciate that Bubby Brister was destined to be a star quarterback because “Like Terry Bradshaw, his last name ended in a ‘B.’ Like Terry Bradshaw he’s from Louisiana and played college ball at in Louisiana. And Terry’s number had been 12, the younger Cajun was 6….”

Or something like that.

I guess part of that was right. One could charitably argue that Brister was indeed half the quarterback that Bradshaw was…

Although the rational, Masters degree educated, side of me screams against paying heed to superstition, you’d better believe that I read Labrolia’s column on Saturday.

The ones that are more grounded in coincidence or happenstance mainly serve for amusement, but I’ve gotta tell you, today I am recommending a good one.

Steelers Destined for Super Bowl XLVI?

The stars are aligned for the Steelers to take Super Bowl XLVI.

Forget about the verbiage about how “A veteran team is posed to take care of business in wake of the lock out.”

No, my man Tony Defeo from Behind the Steel Curtain offers a far more compelling string of circumstances.

When I first saw the headline to his article, I was ready to fire off a missive chiding him for jinxing us. (Yeah, you know kind of reprimand you level at the wise guy in your group of Steelers buddies who open worries about “what color jerseys will we wear in the Super Bowl?” in the week leading up to the AFC Championship.)

But jinx be dammed , this is one article that is worth the read. (God, if only La Toalla Terrible had thought of this!)

Regular Steel Curtain Rising readers know that go at great pains to avoid stealing another writer’s thunder, and I will do so again here. But do take time out to read Defeo’s article, because it’s a hoot!

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Roethlisberger’s Foot Injury More Serious than Reported, Surgery Was a Possibility

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s broken foot was so bad that late last season there were times when he did not think he’d be able to walk, and he even considered surgery as an option.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Scott Brown, Roethlisberger dropped another bomb:

If it continues to be as painful as it was at the end of last year, then I’m going to probably have to have the surgery.

In the locker room Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is known as somewhat of a drama queen when it comes to injuries. So perhaps the latest Roethlisberger revelation should be taken with a grain of salt.

Still, the prospect of losing Ben to a mid-season foot operation is not encouraging.

Perhaps, however, the lockout has provided one positive spin off benefit – it has given Roethlisberger time to heal.

It’s doing really good. [sic] It’s healed up. Obviously, it helps when I’m not cutting and planting and doing all of these different activities. It’s really come a long way.

Tribute to the Tribune Review

While a certain unnamed Tribune Review columnist has been a frequent focus of the Watch Tower, kudos go out to Scott Brown for getting this information on the record.

Roethlisberger’s been available to the media because of a youth football camp he is sponsoring, and the Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo took advantage and wrote a story about the Steelers “stealth” off season workouts. Yet, Fittipaldo got no information in the injury. ESPN did a newswire story which referenced the Tribune Review’s.

This is not the first time Scott Brown has out-hustled his rivals at the larger Post-Gazette, nor is it likely to be the last.

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Mike Tomlin: Class Act

The expressions “Mike Tomlin” and “Class Act” have collocated since the day he took the helm at the South Side.

Tomlin calls it as he sees it, pull no punches, and makes no excuses.

That spirit was on display during Super Bowl XLV when he pointedly refused to chalk Pittsburgh’s defeat up to the Steelers own failings, opting instead to give all the credit to Green Bay. Class Act all the way.

Tomlin is again proving it this off season.

He’s hosting a football camp for youth.

NFL personalities holding football camps for youth is nothing new. But Tomlin’s comes with a twist.

There is no charge and it is directed at kids who otherwise might not be able to attend.

Tomlin explains to the Post Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo that when he was a child, he could never afford such camps. Tomlin is changing that this summer for 225 youths who in shoes where he once stood.

My parents could, and did, send me to camps when I was growing up whenever I wanted to go. I had those opportunities. Lot’s of other kids didn’t and still don’t.

Mike Tomin his doing his part to change that, and Steel Curtain Rising salutes him for it.

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Harrison Blasts Owners; Litna Offers to Mediate

The NFL is stepping up its war against the Steelers defense, er um, hard hits, by further clarifying and clamping down on helmet-to-helmet hits, expanding the definition of defenseless players, and expanding the players covered under defenseless concept.

Harrison Reacts Harshly

Steelers stand out outside linebacker James Harrison wasted no time and minced on words, offering on Twitter:

I’m absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots.

Harrison’s frustration is more than understandable.

For the past several years the a good portion of the NFL’s officials have implicitly (or explicitly) turned a blind eye as offensive lineman have routinely held, horse collared, and often wrestled James Harrison to the ground with nary a flag thrown.

In 2010, James Harrison found himself as the focal point of the leagues new “no hard hits policy” as he was routinely fined and penalized for hits on quarterbacks.
Harrison’s fines also equaled or exceeded those levied on players who commited far worse offenses, such as attempting to cold cock Ben Roethlisberger with a sucker punch in between plays.

Balance Anyone?

While Steel Curtain Rising obviously supports James Harrison, I also recognize the need to protect against head trauma.

The NFL is indeed wise to take this issue very seriously, lest the sport’s popularity plummet the way boxing’s has since the late 1970’s.

But where’s the balance?

Ever since the imposition of the Mel Blount rule the NFL has done more and more to promote the passing game.

Defensive coordinators have reacted by ratcheting up the pressure in the backfield, and hitting hard in the secondary.

Rules changes like these would be easier to support if the league were to say, modify the pass interference rules. No one is talking about repealing the Mel Blount rule, but too often defenders get flagged for even the most minor occasions of incidental contact.

This was not always the case, and if the NFL is going make even difficult for defenders to use force to limit the offense’s ability to move the ball, why not also make corresponding rules changes that enhance the defense’s ability to stop offense using technique?

Litna Offers to Mediate

Joe Litna, a Pittsburgh native and long time NFL agent, made an interesting offer, as reported by Ed Bouchette in PG Plus.

In essence, Litna, who by representing 45-50 NFL players, is asking to see a copy of the latest offer from the NFL owners so that he can present it to his players.

He further clarified that he thinks there’s a good chance his players would be ready to accept it.

Finally, Litna offered to help mediate the dispute.

The idea of accepting mediation from an agent might seem like allowing the fox to guard the chickens, given that agent-driven bonus increases are a big part of the problem.

But Litna has always seemed reasonable. After re-negotiating Jim Miller’s contract prior to the start of the 1996 season, Litna reportedly told his client, “You don’t deserve a contract like this. Now go out and earn it.”

If nothing else, Litna’s comments perhaps provide a clue that the NFL rank and file are getting frustrated with the stalemate that the lockout is locked in (pun intended.)

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Aaron Smith Still Not Fully Recovered?

Steelers Nation got some good news Friday when Gerry Dulac reported on PG Plus that Troy Poalamlu’s recovery from a slight Achilles tendon tear is healing well. Dulac further reported that Polamalu is under the care of an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles.

If Dulac is right about Polamalu, everyone in Steelers Nation can say a prayer of thanks, because number 43 is one of the true game-changing players in the league today.

The news on Aaron Smith is less welcome.

Aaron Smith of course tore a triceps in early October. The Steelers however did not put Smith on IR, opting to give him a chance to make a come back before year’s end, a decision which ultimately forced them to cut Thaddus Gibson, whom they’d picked in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft.

While Dulac reports that “Smith has suffered no set backs” he also indicates that “it is still unclear at this point if he will be 100 percent recovered in time for training camp” (assuming there is a training camp….)

Should Have Put Aaron Smith on IR

I am not medical expert, but this new information really calls Tomlin’s decision not to put Smith on IR into question.

Let’s be clear:

  • The outcome of Super Bowl XLV would not have been different had Thaddus Gibson been on the roster.

According to Pro Football Reference, Thaddus Gibson got into two games in San Francisco, and the site did not track any tackles or other stats for the player. If Gibson is to be this generations Dwayne Board, as Ed Bouchette never tires of suggesting each time the Steelers cut a young defender, he’s given zero indication of that thus far.

But in hind sight the decision to keep Smith active did perhaps limit roster flexibility in other areas.

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Troy Polamalu Graduates from USC

Troy Polamalu, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Year, is grabbing headlines again, in spite of the NFL lockout.

That’s to be expected, because this time it is not with his body, but with his brain as the Steelers 2010 MVP walked the stage at USC’s commencement ceremony.
Steel Curtain Rising salutes Polamalu’s decision to go back and finish his education. He should be set for life and seems sensible enough to manage his money smartly so that that happens.
But athletic ability fades or, as we have seen with out beloved 43, can be robbed by injury.
Education is one of the few things that can never be taken away. Polamalu knows that and has finished his degree.
Polamalu Student of the Year Contest
Troy is not stopping with himself, he is sponsoring a student of the year contest, one open to students at the elementary, junior high/high school and college level.
I don’t know any students well enough to nominate them and, truth be told, few Argentine student would know who Troy Polamalu is.
But if you’re involved closely enough with education then I encourage you to nominate that special student who has crossed your path.
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Steelers 2011 Draft Class At a Glance

The 2011 NFL draft is now history.

Although the hype, pomp and circumstance, pontificating and subsequent “paralysis by instant analysis” can get tiring, let’s concede that this is a great day.

  • It is a day when everyone, from fans, to coaches, to scouts, front office execs, and most importantly young kids can dare to dream.

Soon enough (or perhaps not, if the lock out continues) these kids will get a chance to be tested by the best. But for now, everyone’s got a shot an doing when all of us dreamed about when we were 5 and 6 years old playing with a nerf or K-2 in backyards many years ago.

Steelers 2011 draft class, Cam Heyward sacks Tom Brady, Cam Heyward, Cameron Heyward, Tom Brady, Steelers vs Patriots, Javon Hargrave

The Steelers 2011 Draft class yielded Cam Heyward and Marcus Gilbert but little else. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images via Zimbo.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Draft Class

Here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 NFL Draft class at a glance:

  • Cameron Heyward, Defensive End, Ohio State, 31(31)
  • Marcus Gilbert, Offensive Tackle, University of Florida, 31(63)
  • Curtis Brown, Cornerback, University of Texas, 31(95)
  • Cortez Allen, Cornerback, Citadel, 31(128)
  • Chris Carter, Outside Linebacker, Fresno State, 31(162)
  • Keith Williams, Guard, University of Nebraska, 31(196)
  • Baron Batch, Running Back, Texas Tech, 29(232)

Potential on Paper to Meet Needs

Critics have howled from all corners at the Steelers failure to select a corner in the first or second round.

A 1st round corner would have been welcome indeed. But the need to inject youth into the defensive line is also a need, and players essential need to re-learn the positions they’re playing under John Mitchell. The Steelers may not “need” Cam Heyward in 2011, but they will certainly need him in 2012.

Many have criticized Marcus Gilbert as a reach, perhaps he will prove to be just that. Nonetheless, even if Willie Colon and Max Starks come back at full strength, the Steelers need help at tackle.

The Steelers walked away with a pair of corners, two mid-round picks in Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. While some might think there are slim chances of finding a good corner in so late, remember that Ike Taylor was a 4th round pick.

In Chris Carter and Keith Williams the Steelers give themselves potential to add depth at one position which has quality but not quality depth, and another that has the reverse.

Baron Batch is being projected as a third down back, and he could spell the end of Mewelde Moore’s time in Pittsburgh.

Some of these guys are going to wash out, but for now let’s give these young men their day.

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