Gilreath, Clemons, and Cromartie-Smith Headline Steelers Practice Squad – Jerrod Jackson Left Off…

Having cut their roster to 53 men, the Pittsburgh Steelers completed their eight man practice squad, which includes:

John Malecki, offensive linemen
Ryan Lee, offensive lineman
David Gilreath, wide receiver
Toney Clemons, wide receiver
Jamie McCoy, tight end
Marshall McFadden, linebacker
Damon Cromartie-Smith, safety
Josh Victorian, cornerback

Conspicious by their absence are defensive lineman Corbin Bryant – who saw active service with the Steelers last year, running back DeJuan Harris, and of course quarterback Jerrod Jackson. Each of these men either looked sharp in preseason. However, the Steelers practice squad picks closely mirror the areas of need on their depth chart.

For the first time in recent memory, the Steelers are only carrying 5 wide receivers on their active roster, explaining the presence of preseason star David Gilreath and 7th round draft pick Toney Clemons.

As the Steelers current and past experiences have aptly demonstraited, you can never have too many offensive lineman familiar with your system, hence the presence of Malecki and Lee.

The Steelers are likewise thin at cornerback, likely explaining Josh Victorian’s presence, and Damon Cromartie-Smith gives the Steelers options at safety.

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Steelers Cut Essex, Kapinos 14 Others

The Pittsburgh Steelers trimed their roster today to get within the NFL designated 53 man limit, with veteran offensive lineman Trai Essex and punter Justin Kapinos leading the list of cuts.

Charlie Batch, assumed by many to be on his way out, was spared the ax.

As expected, third round draft pick Sean Spence, who tore two ligaments in the Steelers preseason finale vs. Carolina, was placed on injured reserve.

It is possible that first round pick David DeCastro will be placed on the injured reserve list, making use of the new rule that allows teams to bring back one player from IR after the first eight weeks of the season.

Sound that move materialize, it is widely expected that Trai Essex will return to the Steelers, yet it would not be surprising if the Steelers were to look to the waiver wire to bolster their ailing linebacker corps.

Among those waived included 7th round picks wide receiver Toney Clemons and cornerback Terrence Frederick. DeJuan Harris, a running back the Steelers picked up on waivers only a few days ago, also got a visit from The Turk.

The rest of the Steelers cuts include:

Quarterback Jerrod Johnson,
Safety Damon Cromartie-Smith,
Cornerback Josh Victorian,
Linebackers Brandon Hicks and Marshall McFadden,
Defensive lineman Corbin Bryant, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun and Jake Stoller,
Wide receivers Derrick Williams, Marquis Maze, Tyler Beiler, and David Gilreath
Offensive linemen Ryan Lee and John Malecki

Damon Cromartie-Smith spent time on the Steelers practice squad last year but was beaten out by Robert Golden. Derrick Williams and David Gilreath both had their moments in preseason, but the Steelers opted to go with only 4 wide receivers. Corbin Bryant also had a strong preseason and will likely return via the practice squad.

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Sean Spence Injures Knee, Steelers Defeat Panthers

The Pittsburgh Steelers improved their preseason record to 3-1 last night at the expense of the Carolina Panthers, but the victory came at an awful price.

For a second straight game, the Steelers lost another top draft pick to a serious knee injury when third round draft pick Sean Spence went down while struggling to make a play. Spence had been having a strong game, and looked to see playing time in ailing linebacking corps with Stevenson Sylvester, James Harrison, and Jason Worilds all in various stages of recovery from injury.

Reports differ as to how serious Spence’s injury is, but by all account he will likely go on injured reserve, ending his season.

Sean Spence Not Alone?

Unfortunately, Sean Spence is not alone on the injured list, as Courtney Brown left the game with an knee injury and Robert Golden also was reported to have a hamstring injury, per Mike Tomlin’s post game press conference.

Cut Down Day is Here

The Steelers must trim their roster to 53 men today. Coaches may protest to the contrary, but today’s final choices may just as likely come down to a question of “Who is healthier” as opposed to “Who is moree talented.”

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James Harrison, Worilds to Play vs. Denver; Jason Ford Waived

The Pittsburgh Steelers activated linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds yesterday. The move was expected because players who begin the regular season on the physically unable to perform list must stay there for at least six weeks.

What is a surprise is the news that both men will be in uniform when the Steelers begin their quest for Lombardi Number Seven vs. the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football during the season opener.
Neither Worilds nor Harrison has as much worn a pair of shoulder pads nor played a down of preseason football. 
Jason Ford Released
The Steelers woes at running back continue. First they lost newly designated fullback David Johnson. Then John Clay fell. Starter Isaac Redman has had groin/hip and now ankle injuries throughout camp. Jonathan Dwyer has even been dinged. The Steelers even had to move Rashard Mendenhall’s PUP activation up ahead of schedule.
Now they’re losing the guys they brought in to spell the players who’re starting for the starters and primary backups (and yes, that is intended to sound confusing.) Running back Jason Ford, whose rushing style Hines Ward compared to that of Jerome Bettis, injured his hamstring in the Steelers preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts
As LaMarr Woodley discovered in 2011, hamstrings heal at their own time frame, and unfortunately for Ford’s NFL dreams, his is not healing quickly enough to give him a chance to put himself over the top in the Steelers preseason finale as the Steelers waived him yesterday.

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Steelers Cut David Harpmann, 15 others, Sign DuJuan Harris

The Turk visited the South Side yesterday, and among the most notiable name he claimed was that that of David Harpmann.

David Harpmann had been perfect in the preseason, hitting on all of his field goal attempts, including several from 40 years plus – precisely the zone that has given incumbent Shaun Suisham trouble.

While he didn’t quite reach Isaac Redman proportions, Harpmann was gaining cult-hero status in Steelers Nation. Steel Curtain Rising was among those who felt he should replace Shaun Suisham.

The Steelers however are opting to stick with Suisham. While the arguments for going with Harpmann are strong, my friend Ivan Cole of Behind the Steel Curtain observed that Suisham was going to need to do something to get himself off the team as much as anything else. And Harpmann didn’t do that.

  • Now, will Harpmann be there if the Steelers need him mid-season? That’s just the risk they have to take.

The Steelers also cut:

Linebacker Ryan Baker
Wide receivers Paul Cox, Juamorris Stewart, and Jimmy Young
Cornerback, Andre Freeman and Walter McFadden
Long snapper Matt Katula
Tight end Jamie McCoy and Justin Peelle
Offensive lineman Kyle Jolly
Defensive tackle Kade Weston and Mike Blanc

The Steelers also placed Monty Ivy on the Waived/injured list.

It would appear to be the end of the line for Kyle Jolly, who spent 2010 and 2011 on the Steelers practice squad.

Steelers Sign DuJuan Harris

How desperate are the Steelers at running back? Well the claimed DuJuan Harris off of waivers today from the Jacksonville Jaguars. As Ed Bouchette reports, their main motive here is to have enough bodies to compete in their final preseason contest Thursday night vs. Carolina.

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David DeCastro Tears MCL, Not His ACL, Injures Patella

IF reports by ESPN’s Adam Schefter are correct, Steelers Nation got a bit of good news about first round draft pick David DeCastro. Six plays into the Steelers preseason victory over the Bills, DeCastro injured his knee, which Mike Tomlin described as “potentially severe.”

Earlier in the day Schefter reported that DeCastro had injured his MCL but that an MRI would determine if he’d suffered a dreaded ACL tear.

Schefter is now reporting that DeCastro did not suffer an ACL tear. However, he also informs that DeCastro’s patella tendon was injured and his knee cap dislocated.

Its unknown what that Steelers will do.

Lingering injuries to James Harrison and Jason Worilds, in addition to the unavailability of Rashard Mendenhall put the Steelers in a complicated spot regarding injuries. Gerry Dulac reported via Twitter that the Steelers might be forced to open the season with only two quarterbacks on the roster.

MCL injuries are not necessarily season-ending — Stevenson Sylverster injured his MCL an is expected to return — a few weeks into the season, but the Steelers are pressed for roster space.
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David DeCastro Injures MCL, ACL Tear to be Confirmed

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong is reporting (based on an ESPN tweet) that the Steelers have confirmed that rookie first round draft pick David DeCastro has an injured MCL. The team fears that he also has a torn ACL which will soon be determined by an MRI.

If DeCastro has only injured his MCL, he could conceivably return to action this fall. A torn ACL would send DeCastro to the injured reserve and he’d be lost for the year.

David DeCastro injured his knee and was carted off the field 6 plays into the Steelers 38-7 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills. Both Willie Colon and Ben Roethlisberger have blamed Orchard Park’s Field Turf.

Dale Lolley however, reports that he thinks that DeCastro might have been tripped by Marcus Gilbert. To quote Lolley:

If that was the case, Gilbert has now taken out two starters this preseason. He fell across fullback David Johnson’s legs in the opener, ending his season with a torn ACL.

Now, if Marcus Gilbert could only start unleashing this tendency on defenders….

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Steelers Beat Bills, David DeCastro Injured, ACL Tear Feared

The Pittsburgh Steelers improved their preseason record to 2-1 tonight with a victory in Orchard Park over the Buffalo Bills, but “victory” came at a high price.

Just six plays into the game the Steelers lost David DeCastro to what Mike Tomlin described as a “potentially severe” knee injury. Pittsburgh journalist Ken Laird quoted Willie Colon as saying that DeCastro’s leg got caught in the artificial turf.

DeCastro, the Steelers first round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft was set to start at right guard and will have an MRI tomorrow. Assuming that MRI confirms the suspicion that the DeCastro has a torn ACL, Ramon Foster will return to his duties as the Steelers starting guard.

Starting defensive end Brett Keisel also left the game with a dreaded “high ankle sprain” but Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward played very well in his absence.

Steelers Offense Struggles, Then Surges

The Steelers offense struggled during the first half with several three and outs, but Ben Roethlisberger turned things around in the second quarter, leading a 98 yard drive.

The drive included a long pass to Jonathan Dwyer on 3rd an 9 with Roethlisberger throwing from his end zone. He capped off the drive by hitting Antonio Brown for 6 yards in the end zone.

Prior to that, Troy Polamalu had picked off a Ryan Fitzgerald pass at the 20, which Issac Redman helped convert into a two yard touchdown.

The Steelers opened the scoring in the third quarter when Byron Leftwich hit Antonio Brown for another touchdown pass.

Stepping Up

With the first roster cuts due on Monday, it was now or never time for several players. Barron Batch finally put together solid game rushing the ball, if the stat sheet is to be believed.

Corbin Bryant also made his presence known on the defensive line registering a sack, a tackle for a loss, and two QB hits. Cortez Allen also played well dropping player in the backfield and breaking up two passes. Drew Butler continued to make his play for Justin Kapinos’s job, booming off 8 punts for an average just a hair under 50 yards.

Can someone tell me why Shaun Suisham has the edge over David Harpman? Harpman is now 6-6 in his field goal attempts, including another 40 yarder.

Slipping on Banana Peels

A week after taking over the gave vs. the Colts, you had to figure that the 5th wide receiver job was David Gilreath’s to lose. Unfortunately, Gilreath did not catch a pass, and only managed one year on one carry.

Will Johnson will probably make the team as a result of David Johnson’s ACL injury, but only managed one yard on one carry.

Marquis Maze also had a shot at carving a roster spot for himself as a return man, but failed to distinguish himself.

Climbing Everest without Oxygen?

The motive for the sudden dismissal of Al Everest remains unknown, but the Steelers return game vs. the Bills was non-existent.

Mike Tomlin had singled out the poor return game several days prior to firing Everest.

The Steelers coverage units faired no better, allowing the Bills and impressive 10 yard average on punt returns and 29 yards on kick returns.

We may never know the real reason why Everest got the boot, but Amos Jones does have the current of history flowing against him (to see more about the Steelers Jekyll-Hide history of Steelers special teams coaches, click here.)

Wallace Watch in Vain?

Word early in the week that Mike Wallace was due back in Pittsburgh and might already have signed his tender prior to the Bills game.

However, Mike Tomlin’s post-game press conference featured this “prolific” exchange:

Questioner: Any update on Mike Wallace?
Mike Tomlin: None.

Does that mean anything, or is Tomlin just being coy?  Perhaps we’ll know tomorrow.

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Steelers Fire Al Everest As Special Teams Coach

In a shocking and totally uncharacteristic move the Pittsburgh Steelers fired special teams coach Al Everest.

Unlike his predecessor, Mike Tomlin has not been wont to fire his assistant coaches. He resisted pressure to fire his first special teams coach  Bob Ligashesky  after the 2007 campaign when the Steelers special teams were a glaring liability.  He went to the mat for Bruce Arians after the 2009 season when management preferred to see the oft criticized offensive coordinator go.

But this isn’t an issue of Tomlin being willing to fire or not fire an assistant coach. NFL teams do not fire coaches during the preseason.  Todd Haley did it while in Kansas City, and it was taken as an immediate sign of coaching instability.

(A quick survey of non-NFL sites already has some pundits chalking the move up to the “Todd Haley effect.”)

Insights into Al’s Exit Absent….

The news of Everest’s was broken by Jay Glazer on Twitter at 1:24 pm. Since then the scribes in the Pittsburgh press corps have had all day to consult their sources, yet no one has any news on why Everest was let go.

Jim Wexell admitted on Twitter that he never understood why Everest’s replacement, Amos Jones, hadn’t been given the job in 2010.

Alan Robinson of the Tribune-Review offered a possible chink of light on the subject with his comment that Amos Jones “already was doing much of the on-field coaching.” Dale Lolley added to the story by reminding readers that Jones and Mike Tomlin had been friends since coaching together at the University of Cincinnati back in 1999 and 2000.

Fair enough.

But Mike Tomlin certainly did not wake up “think, ‘gee, wouldn’t it be nice to give my buddy Amos a promotion, he does all the work anyway’ and issue a pink slip.

Clearly there’s more to the story.

Reviewing the Everest Record

Al Everest joined the Steelers in January of 2010 after a season where special teams breakdowns had cost the Steelers a minimum of two games.

He made an immediate impact in 2010, with splash special teams plays contributing directly to the margin of victory in road contests vs. Tennessee and Cincinnati.

But special teams performance waned during the later part of 2010, contributing to the Steelers a home loss vs. the Jets. Everest’s special teams also benefited from a rather, “generous,” call in the AFC Divisional playoffs vs. Baltimore.

A quick review of Steel Curtain Rising’s post-game Report Cards for 2011 (click here to review) shows a similar mixed bag. While special teams did come up with big plays and solid play in general, they also suffered two blocked kicks and got suckered by a fake punt vs. Kansas City that never should have happened.

As I observed back in 2009, the history of Steelers history with special teams coaches features an ensemble of Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde characters (click here for the full article).

In that light, Everest clearly continued the trend, as his special teams improved markedly from Bob Ligashesky’s disastrous units.

Now Steelers Nation had better hope that Amos Jones can buck the trend.

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