Steelers Report Card vs. Bears @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is quickly tiring of seeing his student slip because of correctable issues like failing to get work in on time, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Bears. Note as a caveat, no other Steelers Report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

steelers-report-card-bears-2013-loss

Quarterback
Something is up with Ben Roethlisberger. Yes it is true that he hasn’t had a running game to work with. Yes it is true that his offensive line has been horrendous. Yes Ben make some fabulous throws vs. the Bears. But Ben Roethlisberger caused four of the Steelers 5 turnovers vs. the Bears. And this is a tendency that is repeating itself. Turnovers doomed a Steeler team that otherwise dominated Chicago. Grade:  F

Running Backs
Jonathan Dwyer proved his worth as a blocker and as a runner. Felix Jones looked smart running the ball, yet he put the ball on the ground, which hurt the team when it could lease afford it. Grade:  C-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller made his triumphant return, and looked very sharp. His impact was not only visible in the plays he made, but in the success of the rest of the passing game. The tight ends contribution to the blocking efforts was not apparent, however. Grade:  B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown had a break out game, just barely missing the 200 yard mark and making two difficult catches in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders likewise put in a strong game and made the catches he had to make. Jerricho Cotchery did all he was asked to do. Markus Wheaton had a ball thrown at him that he didn’t catch. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
David DeCastro did look good on some running plays. But he had difficulty pass blocking as did Ramon Foster. Marcus Gilbert split time with Kelvin Beachum, as did Mike Adams who was abused terribly the entire night. This unit’s play, particularly at the tackle position, remains dangerously far below the line. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Brett Keisel had a monster game with a sack four solo tackles and a tackle for a loss. Cameron Heyward continues to pressure the quarterback but has not struck gold yet. Steve McLendon had 5 tackles. Ziggy Hood had 2 in what looked like reduced playing time. The unit’s play was solid, save for Matt Forte’s 55 yard touchdown run, which has to bring down the grade a bit. Grade:  B-

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons was all over the field leading the team in tackles in defensing to passes (how about picking one off?)  Jarvis Jones was next in tackles, but still has yet to register a sack. LaMarr Woodley spent plenty of time behind the line of scrimmage. Vince Williams and Kion Wilson are both playing with a passion that says they want to stay there. A good performance, but something broke down on the 55 yard play, which hurt. Grade: B-

Secondary 
Troy Polamalu played a strong game and destroy a play with a brilliant tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Willam Gay also played well. Ike Taylor had a strong game, but let Brandon Marshall get ahead of him on a key conversion. Likewise the unit must shoulder some responsibility for the 55 yard run. Robert Golden did not shy from Jay Cutler’s challenge, but Culter made one hell of a play. Once again, no turnovers. This has to change. Grade:  C+

Special Teams
Felix Jones did well on two kick returns. Brown’s punt returning was a non-factor. Shaun Suisham was 3-3 but his kickoffs were short, although that might have been by design. There were a couple of penalties and forgotten in the roughing the kicker penalty on Zoltan Mesko that sparked the rally is the fact that the defender was untouched. Polamalu’s blocked extra point was meaningless, but nice to see nonetheless. A mixed bag on special teams. Grade:  C

Coaching
Dick LeBeau’s game plan and play calling was solid. Todd Haley, Steelers Nation’s latest whipping boy, saw his offense nearly double that of the Bears. And while you can fault the coaches for ruining continuity on the offensive line, these tackles cannot be allowed to take comfort in their level of play.

While Mike Tomlin will ultimately be judged on W’s and L’s, and he doesn’t have anything in the W column almost 25% of the way in, his team was down 23-3 and fought back valiantly, showing that he maintains control of the team. Is it really the coach’s fault when his quarterback develops and acute case of butter fingers? For one week at least Tomlin gets a pass on this front. He and his coaches were “above the line.” Grade: C

Unsung Hero
When a team goes down 23-3 in the first quarter a lot of things can happen, and most of them are ugly. One of them is not coming back and making game of it, which is exactly what the Steelers did. Lots of players won and deserve accolades for that, but one of those who stepped up with big plays that no one would have thought him capable of was David Johnson, who caught 2 passes for 50 yards and for that he is the Unsung Hero of the Bears game.

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Steelers 2013 Roster Analysis, Offense: Wide Receivers

Steel Curtain Rising’s analysis of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 offensive roster continues with wide receivers.

Starters:  Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders
Back Ups:  Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye

Strengths:  Richard Mann. He wont’ play a down, but this is a group the suffered from the 2012 locker room leadership void. Mann exudes a “Been There Done That” air and will command the respect of these younger players.

Weaknesses:  Sanders injury issues are well known and Antonio Brown, after being Mr. reliable in 2010 and 2011, was very inconsistent in 2012. Markus Wheaton looked good in preseason, but he still has a lot to learn.

The Skinny: While they all lack the home run threat speed of Mike Wallace, Brown, Sanders and Cotchery are probably all more complete receivers. Jerricho Cotchery has been a steadying hand since his arrival in 2011 and figures to continue in that role. Wheaton doesn’t quite have “beep beep” speed, but should help stretch the field. Still, with Heath Miller‘s absence, this group is going to need to stay healthy and mature pretty quickly to pick up the slack.

Click here and scroll around to read analysis of other position areas on the Steelers 2013 Roster.

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Watch Tower: Digging Out Discord in the Steelers Locker Room & for Whom the Bell Doesn’t Toll

The Pittsburgh Steelers have concluded training camp and the preseason, the roster has been trimmed, the waiver wire scoured, and the Steelers 2013 roster has been set, meaning that the time of the year when the media enjoys its most unfettered access to the Steelers players, coaches and front office staff is winding down.

With all of that access, what do they do with it? Let the Watch Tower take a look.

Kovacevic Gets to the Bottom of of the Steelers 2012 Discord

As the Watch Tower was critical of Pittsburgh Tribune Review Writer Dejan Kovacevic last season and it is only just that the Watch Tower now recognize Kovacevic for penning on of the top stories of this preseason/training camp.

Locker room discord was a major under current to the Steelers 2012 8-8 season, and since then there’s been plenty of dirty laundry aired – you know, critiques of LaMarr Woodley’s commitment to training, comments from Antonio Brown about players more focused on stats than winning.

And while the issue has been discussed by the press, Kovacevic went right to the leaders of the defense, Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu and addressed the issue and got both men to speak candidly about the dissension that infected their ranks in 2012.

The role of the credential press in the digital age has been a focus of the Watch Tower lately, and its lights have not shied away from exposing some of the Steelers press corps recent failings.

But Kovacevic’s column shows once again just how fundamentally important it is to have seasoned reporters who have the relationship and the credibility to get straight talk out of players.  This bud’s for you Dejan.

Another Piece of the Todd Haley Puzzle Falls into Place

By now, for all of the talk in 2012 to the contrary, everyone knows that Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley had a rocky relationship last season.

  • But apparently the Steelers signal caller wasn’t the only one on the outs with the new offensive coordinator.

And Steelers Nation has Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to thank for adding another key variable to the equation.

In writing about the maturing of the Roethlsiberger-Haley relationship, Ed Bouchette offered this:

Relationships with fellow offensive coaches and players never warmed up, and neither did the offense. Things seem to have changed a year later. Ben Roethlisberger, who called it “growing pains,” opened training camp by saying he and Haley see more eye-to-eye. [Emphasis added]

One of the question marks that surrounded Haley’s arrival in Pittsburgh was his ability to work and play well with others. So the fact that he might have rubbed coaches the wrong way is nothing extraordinary.

But this is the first time that the Watch Tower is aware of that any journalist has reported that Haley had difficulties with his fellow coaches, and Bouchette deserves credit for reporting this fact.

A Word on Contracts

Kevin Colbert told KDKA News during the Steelers preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers that there were no on-going negotiations for contract extensions.

That fact in and of itself might not mean much, because the Steelers, while not negotiating contracts during the season since 1993, have been known to make 11th hour signings days before the first game.

  • The question of who is eligible for an extension has been banded about greatly during camp and preseason.

But Dale Lolley of the Observer Reporter went out on a limb and predicted that the two most likely players to get extensions were Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark. Kudos to Lolley for having the guts to take a swing at a ball that’s barely within the strike zone.

Steelers Radio Goes Live in LATAM

Ed Bouchette shared some important news for Steelers fans in the very corer of the world where Steel Curtain Rising is written:

If you’re not in radio distance, you can hear #Steelers games at http://t.co/UfOfVCIJbb free. There is one hitch http://t.co/07YL36wC0V
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) August 10, 2013

As Bouchette explained on Shuila, the Steelers began broadcasting their games live on the radio in Spanish via their website.

The team has a huge following in Mexico and their games have been broadcast in Mexico for at least a year.

  • But now radio broadcasts will be carried throughout Latin American cast via the Steelers website.

The broadcast team does a good job and is clearly knowledgeable of the game (which is a plesant treat, during the Steelers 2010 road victory over Baltimore, one of ESPN’s Spanish commentators confused Dante Stallworth with John Stallworth. Several times he claimed that Dante was a former Steelers, until Raul Allegre finally corrected him.)

One element which the production can improve on is filling in the commercial gaps. During the Steelers loss to the Giants, instead of airing commercials there was dead air time – leaving anyone who stopped by the site at that time to wonder if they were indeed broadcasting the game.

  • Absent commercials, they could have provided additional commentary, or provided free publicity to American football clubs in Latin America, such as the FAA (Argentine American Football league).

Listening to a football game on the radio doesn’t compare to baseball on the radio, but this is a wise marketing move for the Steelers.

Are the Steelers Injury Problems Really Worse?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been ravaged by injuries during the last several seasons. But its been an open question as to whether the Steelers are better or wrose off than the rest of the league.

Basic statistics such as starter games lost to injury are not available to the public, leading Art Rooney II to cite one number and a columnist of the Dallas Morning News to calculate another.

PA-VA Steeler from Behind the Steel Curtain took the matter into his own hands (full disclosure, I also writer for BTSC). Using the best available research, the BTSC scribe compiled the Steelers injury totals for the entire Mike Tomlin era and compared them with the rest of the league.

But the Watch Tower doesn’t need to spill the beans to call out BTSC for sedding light on dearly deserves it.  And again, the Watch Tower asks, why has the credentialed press not pursued this story more aggressively?

Bragging Rights for a Paper Champion?

BTSC also earns kudos for its film analysis of Brian Arnfelt. No one on the press talked about him, but as their film review reveals, he is one kid who really took advantage of his time on the field.

While Brian Arnfelt did not survive the Steelers final cut, he did make the practice squad. Scott Brown, whom ESPN recently poached from the Tribune Review, made mention of Arnfelt after he’d made the practice squad.

But BTSC singled this kid out first, and if he develops into to another one of Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent steals, BTSC will have “bragging rights.”

Watch Tower Gets Some Competition?

Again, the Watch Tower finds space to single out BTSC, this time for doing a Watch Towerish piece of their own. While not strictly Steelers related, Christopher Carter, rightly called out the NFL for pressuring ESPN to pull out of a documentary on concussions.

  • The NFL has gone on the offensive regarding concussions this off season, which they have a right to. 
  • Steelers.com has in fact published many well researched articles on the subject.

But the NFL’s only fooling themselves if they think that pressuring broadcast partners to kill projects like this will some out make the concussion issue “go away.”

For Whom the Bell Doesn’t Toll

Finally, without a doubt, the hottest Steelers story in July and early August was the emergence of second round draft pick Le’von Bell. Both the professional press and fans making a pilgrimage to St. Vincents have been at a loss to describe how good Bell has looked.

Mike Tomlin has long been loathe to anoint starters, but there was little surprise when Gerry Dulac reported 3 days before the Steelers preseason opener vs. the Giants that Bell would run with the starters.

On the morning of the game, Ed Bouchette declared:

A new era that harkens back to an old one could begin at Heinz Field tonight when the Steelers play the New York Giants in their first exhibition game.

  • Bouchette then went as far as to compare Le’Veon Bell’s preseason debut to that of Franco Harris….

…By the time it was all said and done, it was the debut that never was, as Mike Tomlin made Bell a scratch due to knee soreness.

The Watch Tower does not want to single out Bouchette on this one, as the entire Pittsburgh press crops was caught flat footed on this one, in spite of the fact that these reporters are living, working, eating, and sleeping along side the Steelers franchise while at St. Vincents.

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Alan Baxter, Brian Arnfelt Lead Steelers Practice Squad Signings

The Steelers 2013 off season is officially at a close. After cutting Jonathan Dwyer along with 22 other players and finalizing their regular season roster, Pittsburgh announced their practice squad signings. In keeping with the times, they did it via Twitter:

The @steelers announce 8-man practice squad: C. Hubbard, J. Long, A. Alexander, B. Arnfelt, A. Baxter, T. Garvin, D. Smith, J. Brown.
— Burt Lauten (@SteelersPRBurt) September 1, 2013

For those of you not adept at initials, the full names and positions are as follows:

Chris Hubbard, Offensive Lineman
Joe Long, Offensive Tackle
Alvester Alexander, Running Back
Brian Arnfelt, Defense Line
Alan Baxter, Outside Linebacker
Terence Garvin, Outside Linebacker
Devin Smith, Defensive back
Justin Brown, Wide Reciever

There are a few names missing from the list. Marshall McFadden had practice squad eligibility was not asked back. Neither did Alameda Ta’amu. Cornerback Terry Hawthorne who was a 5th round draft pick did not get an invitation to return either.

A quick word to the wise – the composition of the practice squad changes frequently throughout the season, and could well change before the Steelers 2013 opener vs. Tennessee, should a name unexpectedly become available.

While practice squad players are on the fringes of any NFL roster, players like James Harrison, Steve McLendon, Chris Hoke, and Ramon Foster all did apprenticeships on the Steelers practice squad.

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Watch Tower: Dissecting Scottie Montgomery’s Resignation, Plus Heyward vs. Hood

The NFL press credential unlocks access to a world that fans only dream of visiting – the NFL locker room. Many argue that social media diminishes if not eliminates the need and role of the traditional press.

  • There’s some truth there.

The internet, YouTube, blogs, streaming video, Facebook, and Twitter connect players, coaches, scouts, front office staff, and owners with fans in ways that Joe Gordon, Steelers Communications director during the Super Steelers era, never dreamed of.

  • Yet a press credential remains invaluable.

Simply because it gives accredited members of the Pittsburgh Pro Football Writers Association daily access to those self-same players, coaches, and scouts.

Yes can Steelers.com picks and chooses post-game quotes that Twitter, Facebook, ESPN.com, FOX Sports quickly recycle. Sure, Art Rooney II can change the spin of a story by using a video interview to explain that he didn’t mean the Steelers offense needed to run more just that it needed to be able to run better.

  • These mediums have their impact, but they also have their limits.

And that’s because beat reporters establish build relationships players and coaches. They make small talk by the water cooler and in the lunch room. They’re privy to numerous 60 second “off the record” 1-1 elevator rides, parking lot exchanges and, yes, urinal conversations.

Credentialed Steelers press writers have an excellent feel for what gets said in private, behind closed doors, when the tape records and cellphone cameras are put way.

The Watch Tower has long suspected that many if not most of the Steelers press corps writers frequently know a lot more about the stories than reaches the light of day. And that’s what makes our first case so interesting.

Revisiting the Recent Resignations Steelers Assistant Coaches

Steelers Nation knows well how Mike Tomlin said his coaching staff would be back in January 2012 after the Steelers suffered their playoff “Tebowing” in Denver only to have Art Rooney II pulled rank and fired Bruce Arians.

  • The move drew a firestorm converge, and the attempt to pass it off as a “retirement” made the Steelers look bush league.

Mike Tomlin started the Steelers 2013 off season off with three coaching changes, which collectively got less coverage than the Arians fiasco.

Perhaps that was a mistake, because it appears there was a story behind the story…

  • …Depending on who you listen to.

But this plot takes an interesting twist. This is no case of local rivals peddling competing stories or even of the local press vs. the national press. No, this time the Watch Tower shines its light on divergent stories coming from the same publication….

Ed Bouchette vs. Gerry Dulac@ 30 Paces…

In just two days in mid February PG Plus readers got a treat that gave them their money’s worth for a month.On Monday the 11th, Ed Bouchette directly suggested that the resignations of Tomlin’s assistants were less than voluntary. And in doing so, he reported several interesting new facts.

Bouchette characterized Amos Jones move to Pittsburgh West, aka Arizona, as a “side ways move” and pointed out that Jones joined the Steelers as an assistant and only got the special teams coordinator job due to Al Everestt’s mysterious firing.

Although he doesn’t report any new facts, Bouchette reminded readers that Jones didn’t get the job after Bob Ligashesky got fired in 2010, and suggests that Tomlin either told him he would be demoted or suggested he find a new job or be fired.

Scottie Montgomery’s resignation is Bouchette’s next target, and hits the bull’s eye by unearthing new facts. Bouchette begins by reminding us that the Duke PR department was nebulous about what Montgomery’s new duties would be, and that a move from Pittsburgh to Duke is hardly a step up the career ladder. Then he delivers the goods, commenting:

We were told that Montgomery did not exert enough control over the wide receivers the past season and, with Hines Ward no longer around, the students ran the classroom and became more undisciplined. Their performance on the field certainly would back that up.

Although Bouchette does not mention this, the hiring of Richard Mann provides further evidence to support his claim. Anyone who saw his draft day press conference could easily see that Mann exudes and air of “Been there, Done that.”

Bouchette closed by taking a look at Sean Kulger’s decision to accept the head coaching job at UT El Paso, suggesting that he might have at least been motivated by a philosophy class with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley’s new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell has in fact installed a new, run blocking scheme.

So here we have an inside story from the Dean of the Pittsburgh press corps telling us that Tomlin’s coaching changes were as much about house cleaning as they were climbing the career ladder. Case closed, right? Not so fast.

Dulac began by attacking the notion that the changes were a case of “rats leaving a sinking ship” and went as far as to state:  “And none were made because of any conflict or dissatisfaction with Coach Mike Tomlin.”

Dulac pointed out that Kulger’s chance to return to his alma mater was simply “too good to pass up.” In discussing Amos Jones move, Dulac reported that Jones got more money and a longer contract than was presumably available in Pittsburgh.

In discussing Montgomery’s return to Duke, Dulac says:

But Montgomerie [sic] was said to very friendly with Tomlin and, according to one assistant coach, was reluctant to leave Duke the first time to join the Steelers.

Bouchette vs. Dulac Who to Believe? 

So here you have two reporters for the same publication, telling very different stories based upon what they see from behind the scenes on the South Side. Who to believe?

Of all of the moves, the departure of Kulger’s appears to be the most straight forward. He got the chance to return to his roots, and presumptively would have stayed in Pittsburgh had that opportunity not surfaced.

There’s likely truth in both men’s rendering of Amos Jones’ departure. Jones quiet likely could have stayed in Pittsburgh, but only in his old role as a special teams assistant.

In the case of Montgomery, the Watch Tower is prone to believe Bouchette. The wide receiving corps was supposed to be Pittsburgh’s strength last year, but “Young Money,” aka Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Emmanuel Sanders, played more like a penniless group of receivers, much to Ben Roethlisberger’s chagrin.

  • There is one thing that both Bouchette and Dulac agree on, one that is perhaps a little disturbing for Steelers fans.

In discussing Montgomery’s move, Bouchette observed this “If Tomlin – or someone above him – didn’t force Montgomery out, his move to Duke is a strange one indeed.”  Dulac went a step further, and finished his article suggesting:  “Of course, sometimes what Tomlin wants and what actually transpires are two different things. Just ask Arians.”

While the idea of Art Rooney II involving himself in Mike Tomlin’s staffing decisions  isn’t in and of itself bad, one would hope that Art II would emulate macro-manager Daniel Rooney and not micro-manager Daniel Snyder.

Which Way is Cameron Heyward Heading?

One of the the most important story lines at Steelers training camp in St. Vincent’s will be the development of Cameron Heyward, the Steelers 1st round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Cameron Heyward’s limited contributions as a rookie drew good reviews, however opinion of his second year development remains split.

Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review wrote a feature-length article admonishing Hewyard to “step it up” commenting that:

The Ohio State product begins his third season amid a cloud of uncertainty.
He isn’t likely to supplant Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel in the starting lineup, but he can dictate how much playing time he’ll get — and how his future will be shaped.

To back up his argument, Paulk cites any number of statistics on Heyward’s production, and quotes Heyward himself discussing how he’s fallen short of his goals.

However, Kyle Curry of the Pittsburgh Sporting News also ran an article on Heyward last week citing statistics that show Hewyard out performing Ziggy Hood on a snap-by-snap basis, and he informs that Ed Bouchette is reporting that Heyward has a chance to replace Hood in the starting lineup.
Heyward’s development, and the press’s coverage of it will be interesting to see.

Bob Smizik on Mike Wallace

The final off season installment of the Watch Tower would not be complete without comment about retired Post-Gazette columnist turned blogger Bob Smizik’s criticism of Steelers salary cap management and free agent decisions.

  • Mike Wallace, as everyone knows was one of the top available free agents, regardless of position and was expected to command at least 10 million per year and he eventually got closer to 12.

Keeping Wallace, in Smizik’s view was essential for the Steelers, and the retired scribe all but implied that the Steelers needed to do what was necessary to keep him. And in the same breath, he slammed the Steelers for being so tight against the cap that they couldn’t make an offer.

  • That’s right – slam the team for not writing Wallace a blank check in one breath, while slamming them for salary cap problems in the next.

Sounds like the same guy who criticized the Steelers for drafting Rashard Mendenhall without taking Willie Parker’s feelings into account, and then complained when Mendenhall wasn’t getting more carries early in ’08….

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Steelers Free Agency 2013: Colbert’s Salary Cap “Loaves and The Fishes”

The debate in Steelers Nation as Pittsburgh entered the 2013 off season was whether the Steelers were in “Salary Cap Hell” or merely “Salary Cap Purgatory.” No one on the roster not named Ben Roethlisberger appeared safe.

Now that the dust has settled, it is clear that while the Steelers have/had cap issues, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin pulled off the NFL Salary Cap equivalent of the “Loaves and the Fishes.”

  • How’s that you ask? Read on young Padawan…. 

(Note Steel Curtain Rising has a strict “no politics, no religion” editorial policy but hopefully you will excuse this deviation as the metaphors are irresistible.)

“The times, they are a changing….”

It’s true that Steelers Nation has not experienced such off season roster upheaval since the 90’s. Back then, in the pre-Heinz Field days, free agent exoduses became an annual rite.

The process was agonizing. Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher would draft and develop players, only to lose them as soon as they reached free agency.

What happened this off season is both similar and different. In the ‘90’s cash flow was the culprit, whereas during the Steelers 2013 off season it was lack of cap space, forcing Pittsburgh to swallow hard and cut contributors whose age, injury status, and cap values made them expendable.

Let’s look at how deeply the axe swung:

Steelers Salary Cap Casualties:
James Harrison, former NFL Defensive Player of the Year
Willie Colon, cut two years into a four year contract

Contracts Not Renewed by the Steelers:
Casey Hampton
Charlie Batch
Byron Leftwich

Steelers Players Poached in Free Agency:
Mike Wallace
Rashard Mendenhall
Keenan Lewis
Max Starks
Will Allen
Ryan Mundy
Doug Legrusky

Painful? Doubtless.

Consider this:  EVERY player that Pittsburgh lost in free agency, cut or declined to bring back started a game for the Steelers in 2013. Six of whom were full time starters.

In 2013 the Pittsburgh Steelers not only said good bye to a lot of talent, experience, and locker room leadership, but they also abandoned a fair amount of potential.

These loses will be felt. How badly? The answer to that question lies in what the Steelers did to compensate.

Steelers Free Agent Spending in 2013

The conventional wisdom is that the Pittsburgh Steelers are an inactive team in free agency. In the 2013 off season the Steelers were active, but many of Pittsburgh’s free agent moves happened slightly below the radar.

Steelers ’07 Draft Class Revolving Door (former players reacquired):
William Gay
Matt Spaeth

Unrestricted Free Agents Resigned by the Steelers:
Ramon Foster
Larry Foote
Plaxico Burress
David Johnson
Greg Warren

Restricted Free Agents Resigned:
Emmanuel Sanders
Steve McLendon

Unrestricted Free Agents Retained via Tender for 2013:
Isaac Redman
Jonathan Dwyer

Steelers Free Agent Additions:
Brian Moorman
LaRod Stephens-Howling
Guy Whimper
Bruce Gradkowski

For a team supposedly on the precipice of Salary Cap disaster, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a lot of moves during the 2013 off season.

In pure quantitative terms, the Steelers came out ahead, signing/resigning 15 players while saying good bye, in one form or another, while losing 12.

  • Quantity is one thing. What about quality? Did the Steelers come out ahead? 

That’s a more difficult question and one with a more nuanced answer.

Colbert and Tomlin’s Loaves and Fishes Salary Cap Miracle 

Measured in terms of raw football talent, it is impossible to argue that the Steelers weathered their most difficult free agency period since the Donahoe years and came out ahead.

Anyone who tells you that Plaxico Burress’ value to the offense is equal to or better than that of Mike Wallace is missing a few fries from his Happy Meal. Ditto any attempt to equate William Gay’s value with that of Keenan Lewis.

  • But success in the free agency era goes beyond questions of raw talent.

Yes, you need good players to win and great players are essential to winning big. This is true in any era. When asked about Steelers success, Dan Rooney’s stock response is “You have to start with the players.”

But success in the salary cap era doesn’t come down to who has the best talent, but who can get the most for their salary cap buck. And in that respect the Steelers have potentially positioned themselves to come out ahead.

  • Take the Steelers situation at cornerback.

Without argument, the threesome of Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, and Cortez Allen beats the threesome of Taylor, Allen, and William Gay.

But the money the Steelers saved in not resigning Lewis didn’t just go to Gay. It allowed them to resign David Johnson and bring back Matt Spaeth. Now Johnson and Spaeth are marginal roster contributors to be sure. But that’s the point.

Assuming that Cortez Allen is the real deal and that Ike Taylor doesn’t slow a step, then the trio of Allen, Taylor, and Gay at CB combined with Speath, Johnson and David Paulson holding down the fort at tight end in Heath Miller’s absence arguably delivers more value for salary cap dollar than Keenan Lewis would have.

  • The same can be said of Mike Wallace.

Had the Steelers really wanted to, they probably could have kept Mike Wallace.

But at what cost? Certainly Plaxio Burress wouldn’t have been resigned. Emmanuel Sanders either wouldn’t have been tendered or would have been allowed to go to New England. Either Jonathan Dwyer and/or Isaac Redman would have been gone too. AND LaRod Stephens-Howling probably never darkens any doors on the South Side either.

To go with a baseball analogy, Mike Wallace is a legitimate home run threat on any down and defenses must plan for. The Steelers will miss his contributions.

  • But football is a team game, and the Steelers are calculating that they can make up for losing this home run threat with a series of base hitters.

Such strategies come with risks. Losing Ike Taylor for the year and fielding a Lewis/Allen corner tandem is quite different than fielding a Gay/Allen corner tandem. The same can be said for several other position areas, most notably offensive line and wide receiver.

  • But making such calculated risks is part of life under the NFL’s salary cap. 

On paper Kevin Colbert has made a series of excellent “best bang for the salary cap buck” decisions. Soon Steelers Nation will know how those decisions play out on the field.

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Maurkice Pouncey Apologies for “Free Hernandez Hat,” Brother Mike Remains Silent…

Pittsburgh Steelers starting center Maurkice Pouncey took to Twitter to stem the tide of criticism stemming from Pouncey’s decision to don a “Free Hernandez” hat at a private party, “Hernandez” referring to former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez who was a collegiate teammate of Pouency’s.

I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my (cont) http://t.co/SuA4mDABiY
— Maurkice Pouncey (@MaurkicePouncey) July 15, 2013

The full text of the tweet provided via “Tweet Longer” reads like this:  “I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my actions appear to make light of that serious situation. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions.”

The interesting thing is that there was only one Pouncey Twitter apology. As of 7:25 eastern time on July 16, 2013 Mike Pouncey, Maurkice’s twin brother, has neither apologized nor mentioned the issue on his Twitter feed, although the photo in question showed both Pouncey twins sporting “Free Hernandez” hats.

Steelers Influence at Work?

Offically the Pittsburgh Steelers declined comment on the matter. However, ESPN’s John Clayton reported that the sources inside Steelers offices indicated that they would “talk to Pouncey” about the incident.

Regardless of whether this move was prompted by a phone call with Mike Tomlin and/or Kevin Colbert, Pouncey made a wise move to distance himself from the event.

Even if the hat was put on in jest at a private party, the image puts Pouncey on the wrong side of one of the NFL’s most unsavory stories in a generation.

Already commentators such as Behind the Steel Curtain’s PaVASteel were beginning to call Pouncey’s reputation into question, reminding readers that Pouncey last vouched for the character of former teammate Chris Rainey, only to see the Steelers pick Rainey in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft and then end up cutting him after a promising rookie year.

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“Free Hernandez” Distraction Not Helpful to Steelers, Maurkice Pouncey

Heading into the 2010 NFL Draft the Pittsburgh Steelers had their sights firmly set on one man:  Maurkice Pouncey. Their infatuation with Pouncey was so strong that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette said and never wavered in his prediction that the Steelers would take Pouncey long before the draft.

Pouncey gave the Steelers a lot to like, from a talent, leadership and character perspective. The Steelers went ahead and selected Pouncey with their first round pick, and have not looked back since as Pouncey won the starting job in training camp pushing veteran Justin Hartwig out of both his starting slot and his job.

Pouncey has started every game he has been healthy for since 2010, including shifting to guard for the Steelers upset road victory over the Baltimore Ravens with Charlie Batch under center.

Lately Pouncey has been in the news, and not necessarily for the right reasons. Court documents indicate that Pouncey, along with twin brother Mike Pouncey in addition to Tim Tebow, were present several years ago with Aaron Hernandez at a party in Florida where an alleged shooting took place.

And just this past weekend the website Deadspin published photos of both Pouncey’s wearing “Free Hernandez” hats.

Let’s be clear on one thing:

  • However damming the public evidence may be, Aaron Hernandez has been convicted of nothing.

And, from a certain standpoint, the desire of Pouncey to stand by a teammate is admirable.

Admirable or not, a more realistic perspective dictates that this is however one story which it is not wise to associate one’s self.

And clearly the Pittsburgh Steelers do not want or need one of their team leaders associated, even indirectly, associated with someone who is being implicated in multiple murders.

Clearly, the Steelers success or failure in 2013 has little to do whatever type of hat Maurkice Pouncey wears while at a private birthday party. But an unwanted distraction it is especially with training camp around the corner.

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Steelers Announce 2013 Training Camp Schedule

Breath easy Steelers Nation. We are about to exit “The Void.” Thanks to free agency, the draft, and the miracle of the internet, true NFL off season runs from mid-May to mid-July.

  • But even the darkest night is broken by the dawn.

And the first signs of dawn came yesterday as the Pittsburgh Steelers announced their 2013 training camp schedule.

Those fortunate enough to think of traveling to St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe for a chance to shake Ben Roethlisberger’s hand, tell Troy Polamalu you love him, time yourself in the 40 against Lawrence Timmons or Ike Taylor, and see if Cortez Allen is the the real deal check on LaMarr Woodley’s weight, you can now begin to make plans.

The Steelers begin training camp on Friday, July 26 and fans can begin attending practices the very next day, although you’ll have to settle for watching Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders playing “football in shorts.”

It won’t be until July 29th that you’ll see Jason Worilds and Steve McLendon strap on full pads to justify their status as heirs apparent to legends like James Harrison and Casey Hampton.

As always, the Steelers will hold two night practices. The first at at 7 p.m. Friday on  Aug. 2 under the lights of Latrobe Stadium. The second will be 12 days later on fields of St. Vincents and that will start at 5:30 p.m.

The Steelers will break camp on August 18th, and conduct the balance of preseason preparations on the South Side.

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 full training camp schedule is as follows:

Friday, July 26 — Players report; campus closed
Saturday, July 27 — (Helmets and shorts)
Sunday, July 28 — (Helmets and shorts)
Monday, July 29 – Full Pads
Tuesday, July 30 — Players off; campus closed
Wednesday, July 31 – Full Pads
Thursday, Aug. 1 – Full Pads
Friday, Aug 2 — Night practice at Latrobe Stadium, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 3 – Full Pads
Sunday, Aug. 4 – Full Pads
Monday, Aug. 5 – Full Pads
Tuesday, Aug. 6 — Players off; campus closed
Wednesday, Aug. 7 – Full Pads
Thursday, Aug. 8 – Full Pads
Friday, Aug. 9 — Campus closed
Saturday, Aug. 10 — Steelers preseason opener vs. N.Y. Giants at Heinz Field
Sunday, Aug. 11 — Players off; campus closed
Monday, Aug. 12 – Full Pads
Tuesday, Aug. 13 — Players off; campus closed
Wednesday, Aug. 14 — Evening practice at SVC, 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 15 – Full Pads
Friday, Aug. 16 – Full Pads
Saturday, Aug. 17 – Full Pads
Sunday, Aug. 18 — Steelers break camp, return to South Side; campus closed

The Steelers afternoon practices are open to the public, unless indicated above and they run from 3-5.

Just Do It – If You Live Close Enough, Go to Latrobe

Once upon a time I habored fantasies of making a pilgrimage to the fields of St. Vincients. I had the flexibilty in my work schedule (and then some) to make the trip. Could have even driven up and back in a day as budget for a hotel would have been tight.

  • For one reason or another, I didn’t go.

That was when I lived in Maryland. Now of course I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Going to see Steelers training camp really is a fantasy now.

Granted, the two summers in question were that of 1998 and 1999 – two of the Steelers worst seasons of the post-Chuck Noll era. By that point ‘90’s studs like Kevin Greene, Yancey Thigpen, Greg Lloyd and Rod Woodson were gone, and other stalwarts like Dermontti Dawson and Carnell Lake were on their way out.

  • Still, I would have liked to have gone and regret passing on the opportunity.

This may be your last chance to see the likes of Ryan Clark and Brett Keisel up close. So if you get the chance, take it.

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Watch Tower: Coverage Lapses Call into Question Role of Daily Newspapers in the Digital Age

Regular readers of Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower know the column has been particularly harsh on the mainstream press lately. While the Watch Tower’s purpose is to cast a critical eye on the Steelers press converge, that doesn’t mean such commentary needs to be negative.

  • In fact, in many cases that Watch Tower has been quite complementary.

But there’s a pattern of non-coverage of important stories emerging here, and one that deserves deeper discussion.

Add Moorman to the List

Recently the Watch Tower took aim at both the Post-Gazette and Tribune Review’s decision to completely ignore Doug Legursky’s defection to the Bills.

And for good reason, the decision to let Legursky leave could come back to haunt the Steelers given the need to protect Ben Roethlisberger. The motives behind the Steelers decision deserve to be discussed.

  • Unfortunately, this non-coverage is not an isolated example.

Former Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowl Punter Brian Moorman signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers on April 30th. The news was picked up by a mix of professional and fan based sites, ranging from Behind the Steel Curtain to NBC’s Pro Football Talk.

However the news first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 25th. In an ironic twist of word smithery, Ray Fittipaldo lead’s went like this:

The under-the-radar signing for the Steelers this off season came two days after the draft ended and barely made a ripple in the news cycle….

Was Fittipaldo attempting to make amends for his paper’s omission a legitimate news story, or was it just coincidence?

Steelers Nation will probably never know, but the issue raises some very relevant questions as to the purpose and role of the sports pages of the traditional dailies in the internet age.

If A Free Agent Leaves But The Papers Don’t Covers It, Does It Make A Sound?

The Mooreman’s signing is only the latest in a series of news stories that have gone un or under covered by either the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and/or the Tribune Review.

While much of this non-coverage involves free agent signings it extends to other areas. For example, the major dailies all dutifully reported the decision to put Justin King on injured reserve. Information on the nature of his injury was absent. (Granted losing Justin King in June isn’t quite like losing Willie Colon.)

Former Steelers coach Bill Austin passed away earlier this off season. While the Tribune Review’s Alan Robinson wrote something on his death, the Post Gazette published a Bloomberg News article written by someone else who listed Ed Bouchette as a contributor.

There’s a pattern here.

Trying to Find Rhyme or Reason

Let’s give the devil his due, and discuss possible reasons for why these stories got no coverage, because they do appear to be deviations from editorial policy.

For example, the potential and then actual departures of Will Allen and Ryan Mundy were fully covered by the major Pittsburgh dailies. Both moves were legitimate news involving minor players.

  • In contrast, however, both Moore’s departure in ’12 and Legursky’s loss in ’13 arguably represented losses of more significant contributors.

One possible explanation is that both Allen and Mundy’s departure’s occurred in heat of free agency, where as Moore and Doug Legursky left after the draft during the NFL’s only true off season when attention ebbs.

  • While that fact may mean decreased public interest in the stories, it does nothing to make them less newsworthy.

Similar (potential) explanations exist for the non-coverage of Isaac Redman and Steve McLendon’s signings. Both occurred days before the NFL Draft, an event whose coverage has taken on monstrous proportions of its own.

  • But again, does this justify non-coverage?

Hardly. Losing McLendon would have all but forced the Steelers to draft a defensive lineman in the first or second round.

By a similar token, reports indicated that their were at least some parties on the South Side who were concerned that Bruce Arians would attempt to lure Isaac Redman to Pittsburgh West. Had Arians done so at the last minute the Steelers almost certainly would have lost “Redzone Redman.”

The fact that this possibility went off the table when Redman signed his tender was news. It deserved coverage.

What Is the Role of a Daily?

Steelers fans of course had myriad other means to learn of this information, via Twitter, fan sites, ESPN and sports talk radio.

But if that is the argument/explanation for not covering stories like that then the counter question becomes quite caustic:

  • What is the purpose of the sports section of a major newspaper?

Most dailies (at least the Pittsburgh dailies) don’t offer the types of in depth analysis pieces that you find on fan based sites like Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC).

Presumptively the reason is because they feel their focus should be on more traditional “news” stories that can be tied conversations with the newsmakers themselves.

That’s a defensible position from a purely journalistic perspective, although one that is likely not a sustainable digital age strategy for two complimentary reasons. First, fan bases’ appetite for “content” on their favorite teams remains nearly boundless. The second relates to the bottom line – profitability and page views go hand-in-hand in the digital world.

  • But the traditionalist journalism argument completely falls flat when dailies simply begin ignoring legitimate news stories.

Because if the dailies fail to make themselves “one-stop-shops” supplying all of the basic news about a particular team in an objective format (as opposed to team websites) then fans both can and will stop visiting their sites….

…The Watch Tower very much wants to see traditional newspapers make the transition to the digital age, and in that vein it suggests that the editors of the Post-Gazette and Tribune Review have a little soul searching to do.

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