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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Why Losing Legursky Could Leave Steelers Offensive Line in the Lurch

The Steelers are a franchise steeped in stability. Stability became the norm in Pittsburgh starting at the end of the Lyndon Johnson administration and permeates every facet of the franchise — except for the offensive line of late.

  • Unfortunately there’s reason to fear that offensive line instability will continue in 2013.

One of the most under reported stories of the Steelers 2013 off season has been the decision not to resign reserve/part time center-guard Doug Legursky.

As the Watch Tower pointed out, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tribune Review both ignored the move which is a mistake because the Steelers could very well end up regretting letting Legursky leave.

Steelers Offensive Line Building in the Tomlin Era:  Plug and Patch

While Mike Tomlin may not be responsible, the offensive line’s chronic instability began on his watch. First the team was unable and/or unwilling to resign Alan Faneca. That started a cascade of offensive line strategy which can only be described as “Plug and Patch.”

Steel Curtain Rising has discussed this phenomenon at length, to the point where the day after Willie Colon signed his four year contract, La Toalla Terrible predicted the Steelers would Colon him in two years. And of course that’s exactly what happened.

The impact of the Steelers decisions to sign and cut lineman, almost seemingly willy-nilly, doesn’t arrive in full until you see it visually.

Steelers Offensive Tackle Signed and Released in the Mike Tomlin Era:

  • Jonathan Scott (signed for 3 in ’10, cut before ’12)
  • Max Starks (benched in ’07, transitioned in ’08, franchised then signed for four in ’09, cut in ’11, signed in ’11, signed in ’12 let to walk after starting 16 games in ’12)

Steelers Guards Signed and Released in the Mike Tomlin Era:

Steelers Guard/Tackles Signed and Released in the Mike Tomlin Era:

  • Willie Colon (signed in ’10, cut after ’12)
  • Trai Essex (signed in ’12 off season, cut in training camp)

Steelers Centers Signed and Released/traded in the Mike Tomlin Era:

  • Sean Mahan, (signed in ’07, traded to Tampa before ’08)
  • Justin Hartwig (signed in ’08, resigned in ’09, cut before ’10) 

There you have it. During the Mike Tomlin era the Pittsburgh Steelers have signed an entire offensive line and released them prior to their contract’s termination.

No other position area has suffered from such schizophrenia. A “close second” doesn’t even exist.

Building an Offensive Line via the Draft is a Start, but Only That

During Bill Cowher’s tenure, the Steelers almost seemed to have an unofficial policy of using a top-three pick on an offensive lineman in every draft. The tendency was strong during Tom Donahoe’s time, but it continued to a lesser extent after Kevin Colbert’s arrival in 2000.

But for three straight drafts, 2006, 2007, 2008, the Steelers never picked a lineman before round 4. One of those was Colon, the other Tony Hills. In the 2009 Draft the Steelers picked Kraig Urbik in the third, but never got any value out of him. He now starts in Buffalo.

  • The Plug and Patch offensive line personnel policy depicted above was a consequence of this cumulative neglect of the line in the draft. 

Realizing this wasn’t sustainable, Tomlin and Colbert dramatically altered course in selecting Markice Pouncey in the first round of the 2010 Draft, Marcus Gilbert in the second ground of the 2011 Draft, and David DeCastro and Mike Adams in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft.

For however wise and necessary the strategy shift was in on the part of the Steelers braintrust the move was ultimately not sufficient, as one statistic shows.

In simple English: The Steelers have shown the can pick good offensive lineman in the draft. Keep them healthy? That’s another question entire.

And that’s where the Steelers likely erred in letting Doug Legursky go.

Steelers Rolling the Dice on the Offensive Line

According to the Steelers Digest, Pittsburgh started six different offensive line combinations in 2010 and nine different combinations in 2011.

And that doesn’t count in-game juggling such as what occurred in the 2010 victory over Tampa, where Mike Tomlin himself admitted to not knowing who was cycling in and out of the game. That spectacle repeated itself several times since then.

  • During all of those shuffles, Doug Legursky started in four configurations as a right guard, two configurations as a left guard, and three configurations as a center for a total of 14 starts in 2010 and 2011.

In 2012 Legursky played in all sixteen games, starting in 3 at both a center and at guard.
Yet, in spite of an established track record and excellent “position flexibility” the Steelers let Legursky walk to the Bills.

  • Why? Steelers Nation can only ask.

Steel Curtain Rising already second guessed the Steelers decision to cut Willie Colon, but that decision had solid football and business merits behind it. Colon came with real liabilities, liabilities which Legrusky lacks.

In Doug Legursky the Steelers had an excellent 4th interior lineman who could and did step into the lineup at a moment’s notice. That type of ability and reliability is priceless, especially with the premium on protection Ben Roethlisberger.

In drafting Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, and David DeCastro in resigning Ramon Foster the Steelers have (potentially) given themselves a solid starting foundation on offensive line.

  • But the Steelers experience of the last several seasons has shown that good starters are not enough. You need depth. You need quality back ups.

Kelven Beachum, were told in the only real news to come out of Steelers OTA’s, spent the time channeling his inner Trai Essex by practicing at not only guard and tackle and center. Good for him. His rookie season shows he’s probably up to the task.

But Beachum will only give the Steelers one quality backs up. History has shown the Steelers will likely need more. And they just let one go in Doug Legursky.

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Allegheny Judge says Steelers Failed to Prove Seat-Expansion Meets Requirements in Heinz Field Lease

Ask Steelers fans, and they’ll tell you how expensive seats have become at Heinz Field in recent years. Now, thanks to a ruling by an Allegheny County Judge, the Steelers themselves may soon have that same opinion.

On Wednesday, Common Please Judge James Jones ruled against the Steelers and their bid for funding for a 3000 seat expansion to the south end zone of Heinz Field. Judge Jones said the Steelers failed to prove that such an expansion could be classified as a capital improvement under the team’s Heinz Field lease.

The Steelers were seeking two-thirds of the cost from Pittsburgh-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority, the stadium’s owner.

Here is a excerpt from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, further explaining Jones’ ruling:

Under that criteria,  the  team must show: that a similar addition or modification has been installed in at least half of all National Football League stadiums with at least 25 percent of the cost covered by federal, state, or local governments; that the change is “reasonably necessary” to maintain the team’s relative economic position in the NFL with regard to stadium revenue and expenses; and that it is “reasonably necessary” to prevent Heinz Field facilities and amenities from becoming “materially outdated” compared with other stadiums built between 1999 and 2004.

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Watch Tower: Putting the Haley-Roethlisberger Relationship Under the Microscope… And more

The 2013 NFL draft is in the books, most of the Steelers draft picks are under contract, free agent signings have largely been complete, and even OTAs are at an end. But there’s still plenty for the Watch Tower to shine its lights on.

Big Ben Likes Todd Haley’s Offense But….

The most important news to come out of OTA didn’t deal with the rookies, offensive line shuffling, or even Mike Adams stabbing.

No it was Allen Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review article’s on Ben Roethlisberger’s regarding the changes that Todd Haley has installed to the offense.

As Robinson details, no one was happy with the offense last year, not even Haley himself.  Roethlisberger was coy about the specifics, but he explained that everyone from the position coaches, to the players to Haley himself chimed in on how they could improve.

Robinson went so far as to observe “it was obvious he seemed more comfortable with the offense than he did at any time last season.”

That’s an interesting, not to mention encouraging, observation. Assuming it is accurate. Past history suggests it might not be….

Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley’s Unspoken Conflict in 2012

…No bigger subplot to the 2012 season existed than the relationship between new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger. Ben had been out right chummy with Bruce Arians and was not happy to see him go and Haley had a reputation for getting in the faces and under the skin of his players.

  • How would the two gel?

The professional press entered the season looking and smelling for the slightest whiff of conflict. Each stray comment got magnified, but each time either Haley and/or Roethlisberger raced to the microphone to assure that nothing was wrong.

Yet, October Ian Rapaport of claimed the two men were butting heads, suggesting that Haley would be gone by year’s end. But Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure I also write for BTSC) quickly cast doubt Rapaport’s sources, reminding everyone that his “exclusive” on the extent of David DeCastro’s preseason injury had been wrong.

  • Nothing serious surfaced as Ben was in route to an All Pro season before getting injured.

Then came the Steelers disappointing loss to Dallas, where Roethliberger openly criticized the play calling in the second half, specifically referencing the inability to get the ball more to Heath Miller, complaining “I just don’t think we called the right plays to get him the ball.”

Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review immediately proclaimed a “100-percent legitimate, non-manufactured quarterback vs. coordinator controversy,” further arguing that “No team can function without its quarterback and offensive coordinator on the same page, and these guys aren’t in the same library right now.”

But before the 2012 season began, the Steelers fire fighting strategy was to give the press liberal access to Todd Haley, which contrasted starkly from Mike Tomlin’s previous practice of preventing the press from speaking with his coordinators.

After the Dallas game the Steelers PR unit moved into high gear, as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “The reality is, the Steelers called nine plays designed for Miller in the second half, but the Cowboys’ coverage forced Roethlisberger away from throwing to Miller.”

Dulac did not credit that statistic to anyone, but clearly he got it from somewhere inside the Steelers organization, and such a specific information was almost certainly leaked on purpose.

All was well the faithful of Steelers Nation were assured….

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us…

The Steelers neat little PR strategy for denying any Haley-Roethlisberger rift was undone early in the 2013 off season by their own hand.

Editor Bob Labriola’s lead article in the February Steelers Digest had a picture of Ben and Haley and headline that proclaimed “This Has to Get Fixed First.” Labriola is of course employed by the Steelers, something evident in the Super Bowl ring that can sometimes been seen on his hand in videos (I love Labs, but why does he get a ring?)

Fans often criticize him for being a Rooney stooge, and sometimes that’ true. But historically Labriola hasn’t hesitated to call it like it is, something that goes back as far as his merciless criticism of Joe Walton’s offense during Chuck Noll’s ill fated trek up Walton’s mountain.

  • Labriola did not mince words here either.

First he admonished Ben and Haley to accept that they’re stuck with each other. He then charges that the situation that saw Haley replacing Arians “was not a positive in 2012” explaining that “Roethlisberger and Haley weren’t communicating last season.”

Labrolia was quick to indicate that Roethlisberger and Haley of course spoke and were civil but implored both men to “communicate in a manner that’s both honest enough and productive enough for the Steelers offense to become a force in 2013.”

  • Has that process occurred?

Alan Robinson’s article would have us think so. Hopefully Robinson’s report turns out to be more than spin from the Steelers PR team.

Doug Legursky Gets No Love II

Pittsburgh Steelers back up/part time starting Center/Guard Doug Legrusky signed last week with the Buffalo Bills.

  • Not that you’d have learned that if you relied on the Post-Gazette or Tribune Review for your information.

As of Saturday June 9th, news of Legursky’s departure was not reported by either paper despite being reported by Behind the Steel Curtain on June 6th and the Bills website.

  • Legursky leaves a lesson for future free agents

If you’re an unrestricted free agent that wants to leave Pittsburgh without any fanfare, do it during June. Last year Mewelde Moore, one of the unsung heroes form the 2008 Super Bowl season, signed with the Colts and as the Watch Tower noted, Pittsburgh’s dailies all but ignored his defection.

  • Honestly, there is no excuse for this lack of coverage.

Certainly OTA’s provide reporters with ample access to rookies and veterans which in turn gives them excellent story material. And one can say that in this age of Twitter and 24/7 Sports Talk radio that fans have other means of learning of such departures.

  • But neither is a reason to ignore departures of players like Legursky or Moore.

As Steel Curtain Rising will write in the future, Legursky’s loss could come back to haunt the Steelers mightily in 2013. Did the Steelers attempt to sign him? If not, why? If so was it a money issue, or does he not fit into the new zone run blocking scheme?

These questions are important, and Steelers Nation deserves a press corps that is attentive enough to ask them.

Untold Story Behind the Shamarko Thomas Signing

And while the Watch Tower is burning into professional press its only right to point out another non-story, this one involving rookie safety Shamarko Thomas.

Days after 2013 NFL Draft the Kevin Colbert told season ticket holders that draftee signings would have to occur after June 1st, the Steelers went out and signed 4th round draft pick Shamarko Thomas. Pittsburgh’s dailies reported the move, but did nothing to detail why.

Behind the Steel Curtain did, reporting about how Thomas is supporting his brothers and sisters and can put his signing bonus to immediate use.

Steelers Assistant Coaches Get Face Time

One of the treats of NFL draft coverage in the digital age is that post pick press conferences with position coaches get posted on the Steelers website in full.

Watching Carnell Lake and Randy Fitncher was a real treat and an insightful experience, and seeing Johnny Mitchell spar with the press as he compared Nicholas Williams to Steve McLendon was not to be missed. Check them out if you haven’t already.

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Prudence, Rather than “Steelers June Curse” Lurking Behind Roethlisberger’s Surgery

For a moment there, the collective heartbeat of Steelers Nation stopped on Wednesday when the news broke:

#Steelers say Ben Roethlisberger had scope on his right knee this morning. No long-term effects, team says. Right knee. Clean up.
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) June 5, 2013

This was after all the month of June. It involved surgery, and it involved Ben Roethlisberger.

But there is surgery and surgery, and the reports are that this was a simple procedure to clean up some cartilage. Roethlisberger had a similar procedure done during he 2005 season and only missed 2 games because of it.

  • But with that said you never want to have someone go under the knife if it can be avoided.

Or do you?

About a year ago the Steelers faced a similar situation with James Harrison. Harrison knee was bothering him, and the Steelers and Harrison chose to let the knee heal on its own.

A respectable strategy, until the knee refused to heal, swelling continued, and Harrison had surgery in the middle of August. Not only did the surgery keep him out of the line up for the first few weeks of the season, but it wasn’t until mid season that Harrison regained full strength.

Clearly the Steelers are not going to burn their hands on the same pot twice.

June Curse Strikes Royally…

Mike Adams’s stabbing was of course enough to invoke the specter of the Steelers “June Curse,” Adams, however, was not its only victum.

The Steelers placed reserve cornerback Justin King on injured reserve, ending his season long before it had a chance to begin. No reason was given for the move, but the Steelers certainly did not make it lightly as King will cost them over $750,000 against the salary cap.

To take his place the Steelers signed cornerback Nigel Malone.

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Legrusky Gets No Love… In Pittsburgh at Least

Kevin Colbert might have an uncanny knack for uncovering previously overlooked gems in the form of undrafted rookie free agents. Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin likewise have an ironclad dedication to giving these guys a fair sake on the fields of St. Vincents.

  • But the Steelers can be downright unsentimental when it comes to showing these men the door.

Fast Willie Parker made Super Bowl XL the Steelers to lose. Willie Parker left Pittsburgh without a contract. James Harrison was asked to take less, and when he balked James Harrison found himself playing for far less money for the Cincinnati Bengals.

In that sense Doug Legursky finds himself in good company. Legursky cracked the Steelers roster in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and one year later he was starting for them in Super Bowl XLV.

  • He returned the following year to start 10 games as part of the continuing carousel on offense line.
  • He suited up and started 3 more in 2012, and was proving himself to be an excellent 4th interior lineman.

But that wasn’t enough for Tomlin and Colbert, as Legrusky has come to terms with with Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain is calling “Steelers Northeast” aka the Buffalo Bills, who also employ former Steelers cast offs Kraig Urbik, Chris Scott, Corbin Byrant, and Frank Summers aka Frank “The Tank” Summers.

Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say about the Legursky defection later, but for now we’ll simply say “Thanks Doug. You came through when we needed you. Best of luck to you in Buffalo, as long as it doesn’t come at Pittsburgh’s expense.”

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Jarvis Jones, Le’Von Bell Signed – Landry Jones Remains Lone “Hold Out”

And then their was one. One of the benefits of the 2011 CBA between the NFL owners and the NFLPA is the rookie wage scale. Not only does it protect untested rookies getting horrendous amounts of money thrown at them, it also ensures that tenured NFL veterans get a larger share of the pie.

  • And added benefit is that the once standard rookie holds are a thing of the past.

Eric Green held out all of training camp. Rod Woodson held out for the first half of his rookie year. Even Ben Roethlisberger missed the first few days of his rookie training camp.

  • Not any more.

Without waiting on any of the cash liberated by Willie Colon’s release, the Steelers signed Shamarko Thomas, Marcus Wheaton, Terrance Hawthorne, Vince Williams and Justin Brown followed suit.

As soon as June arrived the Steelers quickly locked up first round pick Jarvis Jones and second round pick Le’von Bell in addition to seventh round pick Nick Williams.

The only pick that remains unsigned is fourth round pick quarterback Landry Jones.

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Steelers “June Curse” Continues – Mike Adams Stabbed in South Side Robbery

Mike Adams now finds himself the unfortunate carrier of what is becoming a rather dubious Pittsburgh Steelers tradition of new millennium.

Perhaps Steelers Nation should begin referring to it as “The Curse of June.” That’s “June” as in “Clever” but rather the month of, because this month it has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers since the turn of the century.

It was in June 2006 that Ben Roethlisberger had his near fatal motorcycle accident. And it was in June of 2008 that Dwight White was taken from us, officially bringing the Steel Curtain to half strength. Steelers Hall of Fame Running back John Henry Johnson likewise passed away during the month of June.

2010 turned out to be a banner year for Steelers Nation’s “Curse of June” Willie Colon tore his Achilles’ tendon in June of that year, and the Steelers 5th round pick from the 2010 Draft Chris Scott also injured himself in off season workouts.

Now fate has seen to it that Mike Adams is forced to bear this burden, as he was stabbed last night outside his South Side home, trying to keep three robbers from stealing his truck.

The Pittsburgh Steelers website is quoting General Manager Kevin Colbert as saying “We are aware of the situation regarding Mike Adams being stabbed earlier this morning. We are in direct communication with both Mike and his family. Mike is expected to make a full recovery.”

Adams himself had this to say on Twitter:

I had an angel lookin out for me! Ill be ok just gotta fight to get back harder then ever
— Mike Adams (@Channel75live) June 1, 2013

According to a report in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Adams confronted three robbers near the interception of 17th and East Carson on Pittsburgh’s south side. One had a gun, another had a knife, and Adams was stabled in the forearm in the stomach.

Adams required surgery, but the stab wounds did not touch in vital organs.

Steel Curtain Rising wishes Mike Adams Godspeed and a good recovery, and advises the rest of the Steelers to stay on guard as its only June 1st.

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Max Starks Signs with Chargers; Steelers Sign Vince Williams

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Max Starks are breaking up. Could it be for real this time? Yes, folks, it looks like it is.

Long time Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Max Starks went through the first round of free agency without attracting any interest for other teams or from the Steelers themselves. The Steelers then went out an signed Guy Whimper, leading to speculation that Wimper’s arrival meant Starks’s departure (speculation later confirmed as explained in the Watch Tower).

While no official word has come out of Pittsburgh, Max Starks himself is reporting he has a new home with the San Diego Charger. Starks announced the move on Twitter:

I’m very happy to say that I will be joining the @chargers family. Can’t wait to get started and building towards a championship! #GoBolts
— Max Starks IV (@maxstarks78) May 21, 2013

Max Starks has had a longer, and stranger trip than perhaps any Pittsburgh Steelers save for Ernie Holmes. Drafted in 2004 with Ben Roethlisberger, Starks was a starter for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

Yet, by the end of 2006 coaches were attempting to phase him out in favor of Willie Colon. The coaches and the front office could not decided what they wanted to do with Starks, leading to him getting transition tenders, franchise tenders and the like – when he wasn’t even starting.

Yet Starks delivered for the Steelers.

He played well of the bench in 2007, saved their 2008 Super Bowl season, and again bailed the Steelers out in 2011 – after they had cut him.

  • Starks may never have been or will be an All Pro Tackle, but he certain did what was asked of him in Pittsburgh. 

Thanks Max. Steelers Nation is in your debt.

Steelers Since Vince Williams, 6th Round Pick

A few days after coming to terms with safety Shamarko Thomas, the Steelers signed inside linebacker Vince Williams, who was their 6th round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Williams will compete with Adrian Robinson, Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester and perhaps Sean Spence to for a roster spot to provide depth behind Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons.

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Watch Tower: Analyzing Press Coverage of the Steelers 2013 Draft

The 2013 NFL Draft is in the history books. The Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Draft Class has been revealed, and Shamarko Thomas is the first to be signed.

The NFL Draft is a veritable media bonanza, and 2013 was no exception, give the Watch Tower plenty of materials to shine its light on. Let’s take it from the top.

Steelers Draft Board vs. Steelers Needs

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 with a draft needs matrix that was wide and deep. Factor in the egg that the franchise laid with their 2008 Draft class, plus the need to re-arm while Ben Roethlisberger still has prime years of play, and health, remaining and getting the 2013 Draft right was imperative for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

  • How did such imperatives impact the Steelers as the draft unfolded?

Well, it depends on which journalist’s rendition you’re reading.

Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, concluded that the Steelers managed to walk the tightrope arguing:

The Steelers have long maintained they stick to their draft board, taking the player with the highest grade and not reaching to fill any position. And general manager Kevin Colbert reaffirmed that stance Saturday when the three-day NFL draft came to a close. 

But, after drafting nine players and addressing each of their biggest needs in the first four rounds, the Steelers did a deft job of sticking to the board and filling positions with players who have a chance to help make up for some of their significant losses. Whether luck or coincidence, it seemed to work. [Emphasis in the original]

That’s a reasonable conclusion, but hardly a universal one among the Pittsburgh Pro Football Writers chapter.

Allan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review took the opposite tack, observing:

This is the draft in which the oh-so-traditional, oh-so-reliable Steelers Way wasn’t the Steelers’ way at all.

The Steelers insisted they stuck with the tried and true and drafted the best available player with their nine picks in seven rounds. But it appears to be anything but coincidental that in a draft in which their needs for an outside linebacker, running back, wide receiver and safety were as glaring as fuschia lipstick, the first four players they drafted were an outside linebacker (Jarvis Jones), running back (Le’Veon Bell), wide receiver (Markus Wheaton) and safety (Shamarko Thomas).

Who is right? Perhaps both and perhaps neither.

The fact is that the Steelers needs were so diverse, that they could have remained faithful to their draft board and filled their needs.

Revving Up the Steelers Running Game

The Steelers once-vaunted running game hasn’t been the same since Willie Parker’s injury in the 2008 season. The issue has gotten the attention of everyone in the franchise from Art Rooney II on down so it was no surpise when the Steelers drafted running back Le’von Bell in the second round.

The move, did however, prompt an interesting comment from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who contended that:

The Steelers wanted to improve their running game in 2012, then they did a strange thing: They did absolutely nothing to help the rushing attack and, in fact, reduced their chances of running the ball better heading into last season. [Emphasis added.]

Regular readers know that the Watch Tower’s purpose isn’t to slam writers who voice dissenting opinions (although that does happen, at times) but the Watch Tower does hold writers accountable to the facts.

On a simplistic level, Bouchette is right. The Steelers did neither used a premium pick to draft a running back in the 2012 NFL Draft nor did they sign one in free agency.

  • But does that mean “They did absolutely nothing” to boost the fortunes of the running game?

No, not by a long shot.

In fact, the Steelers made several moves that aimed at least in part at beefing up their running game:

Granted, of the four moves, only moving Colon to guard yielded any benefit in 2012 and then only for a short time. But two major draft picks, one minor pick, and one position change is far cry from “absolutely nothing.”

Beating a Dead Silverback

The ghost of James Harrison loomed large over the Steelers draft, in the eyes of the Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook who argued that the Steelers “dug themselves into a hole” prior to the draft.

It all goes back to the botched negotiations with linebacker James Harrison. Both sides allowed personal feelings to get in the way of a business deal that would have benefited each party.

When the Steelers parted ways with James Harrison, Cook made a strong plea that James Harrison is still enough of a game-changer that you keep on your team no matter what. That’s an excellent argument.

But to say that the Steelers “botched” the negotiations stretches credibility. If anything, the Steelers were willing to offer too much money. To say that pride prevented Pittsburgh from taking Harrison back, belies the calculated low-cost moves the Steelers made with money they saved from Harrison.

The “Source” and Sean Spence’s Injury

One of the Watch Tower’s chief mission’s is to get at the nut’s and bolts of how stories about the Steelers come to live, and the situation of Sean Spence provided an excellent opportunity.

The biggest potential scoop on draft day came not from the Post-Gazette, Tribune Review, or even ESPN, but from Behind the Steel Curtain’s editor Neal Coolong, who dropped this bomb:

The Steelers have been oddly quiet about Spence’s status heading into the 2013 season.
As it turns out, there’s a specific reason for that.

A source close to the team is saying the Steelers are optimistic Spence can play in 2013, but not enough to publicly discuss it. They are targeting Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti – a player who’s coming off a knee injury of his own.

When all was said and done, the Steelers passed on Michael Mauti and Steelers Linebackers coach Kevin Butler said it would be “miraculous” if Spence made full recovery.

  • Both developments it would seem, would amount to a big black eye for BTSC, right? 

Not so fast.

Only a few days after Butler’s pronouncement, Mike Tomlin offered a very different take on the prognosis for the linebacker the Steelers took in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, topping off his retort with a classic Tomlinism:

All the rehab is going to according to plan. No news there. I did hear the opinion regarding Spence. My opinion differs. I think he’ll have a full recovery. But now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions, so do with it what you will

Kevin Colbert also spoke on the Spence’s health, seemingly taking a middle position telling a conference call of Steelers season ticket holders:

When you have as serious a knee injury as he unfortunately had, it sometimes is a very long process. Sometimes it takes over a year to fully rehabilitate. But the good thing is we are seeing signs of progress, albeit small steps. But it is progress.

Clearly, there is a legitimate diversity of opinion on the South Side with respect to the Sean Spence’s prospects for a recovery and clearly that diversity lends some legitimacy to BTSC’s reporting.

(Full disclosure: I also write for BTSC and correspond frequently with the editor but I neither have access to nor knowledge of the source in question.)

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Would a Steelers off season be complete without stories on Max Starks contract or lack thereof situation? Stories on Max Starks contract situation have provided bloggers and professional press pundits with legitimate copy every spring since 2008 and 2013 is no exception, except that it might be the last time this is true.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of course signed free agent Guy Whimper, a veteran offensive tackle who brings a decidedly mediocre track record to Pittsburgh. The move was significant because the Steelers lack depth on the line, and as Ed Bouchette explained:

By signing Whimper, the Steelers likely are indicating that they are moving on without Max Starks, an unrestricted free agent who has yet to sign with any team. 

Concluding that Guy Whimper’s arrival spells Max Starks exist are a logical conclusion on Bouchette’s part. But the problem was that it was only part of the story.

Mark Kalboy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review took the extra, but hardly extraordinary, step of calling Max Starks and getting him on the record to confirm that his days in Pittsburgh were likely done:

Let me say this, (Starks and the Steelers) had a conversation prior (to the Whimper signing), and that decision (to sign Whimper) was made after our conversation.
Now it wasn’t said directly to me, but you kind of take that as an indication of what they are thinking. It is not so much on my part as more of them wanting to move on.

Kaloby went on to explain that Starks neither seems himself as a back nor as someone who should play for backup money.

Put bluntly, Bouchette got badly out hustled on this story by Kalboy.

Bouchette Delivers on Greene Retirement

After throwing Bouchette under a bus not once but twice, it is only appropriate that he get his just due on the Joe Greene story.

Bouchette’s coverage of Joe Greene’s retirement was overall very good, both in the regular PG and PG Plus (no, PG Plus has not decided to take my money, I got a free view there). He managed to cover something that other missed:

Noll hired him to coach his defensive line in 1987 and, after five years of doing so, Greene was a finalist to succeed Noll after the coach’s retirement following the 1991 season. But when the job went to Bill Cowher, and the new coach did not keep Greene on his staff.

“When Chuck retired and I basically got fired, that was definitely emotional,” Greene recalled.

Many forget that Greene was a strong candidate to replace Chuck Noll, and his non-selection drew very little coverage at the time, and was seldom discussed after his return to the team during the Cowher-Colbert era.

Kudos to Bouchette for getting Greene on the record on one of the under reported stories in Steelers history.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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