Echoes of Pittsburghese, Cowher Power Heard in Green Bay Packers Coaching Staff

Steelers Nation may never excuse Bill Cowher for his rabid choosing for the Carolina Coyotes over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they could perhaps forgive their former standard bearer if he showed more divided loyalties in the Steelers upcoming game vs. Green Bay.

Green Bay Packer’s head coach is a Pittsburgh native but, despite deep ties to Western Pennsylvania, he has no connection to the Black and Gold.

  • The same cannot be said for much of his staff.

Both coordinators are former Bill Cowher assistants. Green Bay’s defensive signals caller is none other than Dom Capers, who worked as Cowher’s first defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1994, until he took the head coaching job at Carolina and was replaced by Dick LeBeau.

Supporting Capers are none other than two branches on the Dick LeBeau Coaching Tree, Kevin Greene and Darren Perry, coaching the Packers linebackers and defensive backs, respectively.

Kevin Greene of course manned the outside linebacker slot opposite Greg Lloyd from 1993 until Super Bowl XXX in 1995. Derry served as Cowher and Caper’s free safety (who played so well as a rookie in training camp, he made Pro Bowler Thomas Everett expendable) until 1998, and returned to coach defensive backs for Cowher from 2003 to 2006.

  • But Cowher Power’s echo isn’t solely heard on Green Bay’s defense.

Tom Clements is the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator. In 2001, Bill Cowher hired Clements to be the Steelers first quarterbacks coach since Bill Parilli held those duties in 1973. During that time Clements guided Kordell Stewart through the most productive phase of his career.

Further down the coaching roster is Alex Van Pelt. Former Pitt quarterback Van Pelt of course isn’t a former Steeler, technically, but the Steelers did draft him in 8th round of the 1993 draft. Van Pelt couldn’t beat out Rick Strom for the third string quarterbacking position, got cut, and eventually caught on with the Buffalo Bills, where he enjoyed 9 year career as a back up.

With Green Bay fighting for a playoff spot and Aaron Roger’s return pending, you can bet that the Packer’s coaching staff has forgotten any hometown team sentimentalities.

But win or lose, its not hard to imagine “Yinz looked pretty strong ought there” and “So did yinz” being exchanged during post game handshakes.

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Steelers Place LaMarr Woodley on IR; Face “Dammed if you do, Dammed if you don’t” Situation

So at an early age he hits the street, winds up tied with who he meets and he’s, un-employed! Folks are over joyed…” Van Halen, “The Cradle Will Rock.”

Perhaps the opening quote is somewhat taken out of context and on top of that not quite analogous. But it sums up the sentiment perfectly. With two games remaining in their 2013 season, after Mike Tomlin describing his status as “bleak,” the Pittsburgh Steelers placed outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley on injured reserve, ending his season. To take Woodley’s place, the Steelers signed NFL journeyman Jamaal Westerman.

  • The Steelers ladies and gentleman, have a major problem on their hands.

And there’s no easy solution in sight.

When healthy, LaMarr Woodley is one of the best outside linebackers in the NFL. His ability to get to the quarterback in post-season is almost uncanny. He registered two sacks in as a rookie in the ’07 Steelers playoff loss to Jaguars. And he didn’t even start. And for all the link that James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, and Santonio Holmes drew for Super Bowl XLIII, it was Woodley who strip sacked Kurt Warner, sealing the game.

  • The Steelers quite logically rewarded these efforts with a six year 61.5 million dollar contract.

Yet in the three years since Woodley signed the deal, he’s missed 14 full games and large parts of 3 others. And in 2011 he was flat out ineffective upon returning from the injury.

As has been the pattern, Woodley started strong, recording 5 sacks in the Steelers first 6 games, but then got injured after the Steelers victory over Baltimore. As Allan Robinson of the Tribune Review pointed out, Woodley has only played in 78 of the Steelers 420 snaps of the Steelers second season.

  • The logical move, not to mention the cold, calculating move, would be to cut Woodley and divert those “resources” to resigning Jason Worilds

The move would be logical, except for the fact that the Steelers have renegotiated Woodley’s contract several times. Cutting him next year would leave them with $14.17 million in dead salary cap space in 2014 – eating up a huge chunk of salary cap space – more than 10 percent of it.
The Steelers have shown little sentimentally in parting ways with injury-prone players, having cut Willie Colon just two years into a four year contract.

  • However, the move to cut Willie Colon also highlights the risk factor involved.

Yes, the Steelers have had good play from Ramon Foster and David DeCastro in the middle, but Colon has started 14 straight games for the New York Jets.

The Steelers have many difficult choices facing them in the impending off season and LaMarr Woodley just made it more difficult for them.

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Steelers Activate Brian Arnfelt, Cut Keon Wilson

You have to feel for Isaiah Green and Kion Wilson. Both men survived the 2013 Steelers final round of training camp cuts. And yet, each time the Steelers have needed an extra roster spot, one or the other man has been cut. Its happened so many times to both men that keeping count has become a futile affair.

The Steelers only have 3 weeks remaining in a 2013 season that has come down to “Playing for Pride” but they continue to make roster moves.

Roster move for @Steelers: DE Arnfelt signed from practice squad for depth. ILB Kion Wilson waived to open a roster spot
— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) December 14, 2013

The move itself is interesting. Mike Tomlin has vowed that he would not use the Steelers final three games to experiment with younger players. Yet, Behind the Steel Curtain singled out Brian Arnfelt for his strong play during the Steelers 0-4 2013 preseason effort, suggesting that he could be one of Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent gems.

The smart money says to take Mike Tomlin and Bob Labriola at their words, as there is no assurance that Arnfelt will play let alone dress.

It is Brett Keisel’s injury that is likely prompting the Steelers to make the move. Keisel’s return from injury on Thanksgiving vs. the Ravens lasted all of 8 plays, and he’s not seen the field since. With Steve McLendon and Ziggy  Hood also nursing injuries, the Steelers are most likely stockpiling bodies on defensive line.

Still, if he does suit up, it will be good to get a good look at Brian Arnfelt.

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3 Steelers with Something to Prove in the Last 3 Weeks

The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers have about a good of a chance of making the NFL playoffs as you or I do have landing a seat on the first manned mission to Mars….  Mike Tomlin has vowed to fight on nonetheless, which is a good decision.

  • But the decision does carry certain downsides for a couple of players….

Evaluating talent is one of the more difficult tasks that any NFL coach or General Manager must make. There are certain quantifiables, countables, and intangibles that must be taken into consideration, compared, and weighed against team needs.

An NFL coach or GM has to weigh all of these factors when looking at rookies which is hard enough.

  • Then they’ve got to take one more factor into consideration which gums up the works considerably:  Potential.

Potential makes this job all the more challenging, because it involves speculation. “Ok, this guy doesn’t have what it takes now, but I’m betting he will later.” The story of former Steelers and current Bengals Linebacker James Harrison is well known. Harrison was signed and released at least a half dozen times. Clearly Harrison didn’t have “it” in 2002 and 2003, yet he had enough potential for coaches to continue calling him back.

Potential is fine, but there comes a time in every young players career where coaches stop measuring potential and turn an eye towards production. As the Steelers head into the final three game stretch of 2013, there are 3 players who most certainly need to be about the business of transforming potential into production.

The Future is Now for these 3 Young Steelers

David Paulson
Paulson of course joined the Steelers as one of three tight ends taken in the 2012 NFL Draft. And although only a rookie, Paulson began working himself into the roster, and flashed “potential” as a competent pass catching NFL Tight End, finishing the season with 7 catches.

Injuries to Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth allowed Paulson to start the season as the team’s number two tight end. Paulson was clearly not up to the task. He did continue to show himself as a threat in the passing game, but had that critical fumble vs. Cincinnati.

  • And Paulson’s blocking ability has been woeful at best. 

Even before Matt Spaeth’s return, Paulson has been invisible in the Steelers offense. Suffice to say, during these last three games he needs to make the “P” stand for production.

Robert Golden
Beelieve it or not, deep in the bowels of the internet, there was talk that if the development of Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas had been strong enough in Latrobe, that the Steelers would actually part ways with veteran safety Ryan Clark.

Clearly that did not happen. And that in and of itself is no net knock on Golden. Neither is the fact that Thomas has gotten preference over Golden. But the Steelers were big on Golden in 2012 and had high hopes for him in 2013. But this fact is more damming – The Steelers resigned Will Allen at their first opportunity, and have relied on him during Shamarko Thomas’ injury rather than depend on Golden.

With Ryan Clark probably won’t be back in 2014 and Troy Polamalu might not either. The Steelers will select a safety somewhere in the 2014 NFL Draft. Golden needs to setup it up now, lest management decide to make safety a premium pick.

Chris Carter
During training camp in 2011, Pittsburgh Post Gazette writer Gerry Dulac went out on a limb and said that Chris Carter could end up being a the steal of the 2011 NFL Draft.

That was 3 full seasons ago, and Steelers Nation is still waiting for Carter to develop. Carter got a shot at starting at outside linebacker in 2012 when Harrison and Jason Worilds were injured and he did not capitalize on the opportunity.

  • This year Carter has been more invisible, not only on defense, but also on special teams.

It may be too late for Carter to secure a future with the Pittsburgh Steelers, regardless of what he does in these last three games, and regardless of decisions management makes about LaMarr Woodley, Worilds, and Jarvis Jones.

But if Carter makes the field, he’ll be playing for an invitation to an NFL Training Camp some where.

The ironic thing is that each of these players has seen their role limited or reduced in 2013. They may get few if any chances in the final three weeks. But all of them need to take full advantage should those opportunities come.

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Steelers Activate Matt Spaeth for Dolphins Game

Facing a critical match up vs. the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field with an ailing offensive line, the Pittsburgh Steelers will activate tight end Matt Spaeth.

The Steelers made a surprise move in free agency to bring Spaeth, the team’s third round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Spaeth however suffered a lisfrac injury during training camp, and was place on the injured reserve recall list.

Spaeth reactivation comes after Heath Miller posted his best game of the season vs. the Baltimore Ravens. However, the move is more likely intended to bolster blocking efforts on an offensive line that is held together with little more than chicken wire and bubble gum.

Vs. Baltimore, the Steelers lost replacement center Fernando Velasco for the year. In addition to losing Fernando Velasco, Mike Adams, David DeCastro, and Kelvin Beachum were forced from the game with injuries. The 2013 Steelers offensive line luck has been Kafkaesque.

DeCastro will play vs. the Dolphins, and Adams will return to his spot at left tackle, where he struggled mightily during the team’s 0-4 start. Beachum is not expected to play, and third string center Cody Wallace will get his first NFL start.

To make room for Spaeth, the Steelers released Richard Gordon, who did not play but was signed as a practice body after David Johnson was lost for the year. The Steelers also have tight ends Michael Palmer and David Paulson.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers Kafkaesque Luck with Offensive Line

All things Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line has been a frequent topic here since the site’s founding in January 2008. Since that time Steel Curtain Rising has:

The Steelers of course have been attempting to rectify these failings in the 2010, 2011, and 2012 NFL Drafts with the picks of Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Mike Adams. And if the need to replace Adams with Kelvin Beachum shows that perhaps the Steelers could have picked a little wiser, nothing, repeat nothing, could have prepared them for the disaster of 2013.

  • The NFL Offensive Line Injury gods hath no mercy on the Pittsburgh Steelers

Yes the Steelers were caught with their pants down at center when disaster struck vs. the Titans on opening day. Cue the “Where did you go Doug Legurskkky, Steelers Nation turns its lonely eyes to you, boo, hoo, hoo?” tape. Fair point, management should have prepared better.

  • But the Steelers improvised, adapted and found ways to overcome.

Unfortunately, their luck has not changed.

Injuries have forced Guy Whimper into a starting role twice, in addition to spot duty at various positions
The Steelers played all 8 active offensive lineman vs. Oakland and most likely vs. Baltimore too.
In addition to losing Pouncey for the year, the Steelers also lost his replacement Fernando Velasco

As if that’s not Kafkaesque enough for you, consider what the Steelers have done to bolster offensive line depth. They traded for Levi Brown after the debacle in London, quite possibly marking the franchise’s first in-season trade for a players since the Bill Austin era. And just a few days ago, they signed Rashad Butler. Now get this:

  • The services of both Levi Brown and now Butler were lost to the Steelers before either even played a game!

Brown of course got injured in pregame warm ups vs. the Jets. Brown has left the team for “personal reasons.” Both gone without so much as a snap. How exactly is management supposed to plan for that?

This is coming on top of two season-ending offensive line (Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons) injuries in 2008 and three straight seasons of injury-induced offensive line musical chairs spanning from 2010 to 2012.

As noted in an earlier post, offensive line injuries are up league-wide. But the Steelers have had a string of bad luck that predates the current trend.

While super natural explanations for this go beyond the purview of this blog, no one could fault Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and/or Art Rooney II for asking, “Why me?”

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Injury Replacement Gets Injured; Steelers Place Fernando Velasco on IR

Lightning, Steelers Nation now knows, does strike twice. Or three times. Or four times. Just as center Fernando Velasco who tore his Achilles tendon in the Steelers 22-20 loss to Baltimore.

As documented by ESPN analyst John Clayton, injuries to NFL offensive lineman are way up. And at the same time, offensive line depth has gotten thin as a result of the CBA.

For as harsh as those trends are, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been leading the way, and they were well ahead of the curve. The Steelers played musical chairs on offensive line in 2010, 2011, and 2012. The hope was 2013 would be different.

  • The Steelers front office went as far as to double down on faith that offensive line injuries would not strike twice.

So it was that the Pittsburgh Steelers went into the 2013 season with 6 NFL caliber offensive lineman. So thin was their depth that Kelvin Beachum, was their back up at center. 7 plays into the season, Maurkice Pouncey tore his ACL as David DeCastro was attempting a chop block, and the march to 0-4 was on.

The early word on Velasco was that he had injured an ankle. This was good news, as his injury looked far worse on the field, and indeed, Velasco’s reaction suggested that he knew he suffered something serious.

  • Steelers Nation should have instinctively known that this wouldn’t have been so simple.

And in fact it was not. Velasco was put in injured reserve ending his season. Velasco, the injury replacement has now himself been lost for the year.

The Steelers will likely start Cody Wallace at center vs. the Dolphins. However, management is not hedging their bets. The Steelers signed center Eric Olsen and tackle Rashad Butler. To make way for the move, the Steelers waived cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.

  • Olsen’s signing is easy to understand. But what about Butlers?

Well, both Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams also suffered injuries vs. the Ravens. Musical chairs on offensive line it seems will remain a familiar tune for the balance of 2013.

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Two Bills Starters Highlight Steelers Personal Mishaps

Ike Taylor left the Patriots game with a concussion. The Steelers, having doubts about his availability for today’s game vs. the Bills, did what they have done all year long:

  • They signed someone they’d cut previously and cut Isaiah Green

In this case that was DeMarcus Van Dyke. To be fair to management, unlike Stevenson Sylvester and Jonathan Dwyer, Van Dyke was waived-injured, so his is not a case of bi-polar disorder infecting Steelers personnel decisions.

But the fact that the Steelers are facing the Buffalo Bills adds irony to Pittsburgh’s latest spin of the personnel merry-go-round. And news that broke late Friday night – that offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams were listed as questionable for the game – only deepened the irony.

That’s because like Arizona before the, the Buffalo Bills have become sort of Pittsburgh Northeast. Look at the Bills roster and practice squad and you’ll see Steelers castoffs like Frank “The Tank”Summers, Corbin Bryant, and Dennis Dixon. But those men are just role players. The Bills have two men starter at a position area where the Steelers need the most help (from a health stand point):  Offensive line.

Urbik of course is not well known to Steelers fans, coming to Pittsburgh in 2009 Draft as one of the team’s 3rd round draft picks. Urbik didn’t play or dress in 2009. Urbik had and “under the radar” training camp in 2010 and seemingly had secured himself a roster spot, having rose above Justin Hartwig on the depth chart at center.

But then Byron Leftwich injured his leg in preseason, and the Steelers needed to carry Charlie Batch, in addition to Dixon, on their depth chart (’10 was the year of Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension.)

  • Someone had to go, and that was Urbik, whom the Steelers thought they could sneak on to the practice squad. Alas, Bills General Manager, Doug Whaley, snatched him up.

Legursky’s story with the Steelers is more well known, having established himself as one of Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent steals.

Legursky went on to start 13 games at center or guard over three years, including Super Bowl XLV. He even did spot duty at fullback. Yet in spite of that versatility and despite no established depth at center (remember, Kelvin Beachum vs. Tennessee?), the Steelers let Legursky go to Buffalo with only a whimper (pun intended, Guy Whimper). Not only was Legursky lightly regarded by Steelers management, the Steelers press corps. didn’t even bother to note his departure.

To be fair, the Urbik and Legursky play guard, and tackle is the area where Pittsburgh needs help at this weekend and has needed help at all year long. But the fact is that more quality offensive lineman, especially versatile ones, give a team extra agility to manage injury situations.

  • The Steelers don’t have that now, in part because the Bills saw something in their personnel cast offs that Steelers management missed.

Remember that today as Mario Williams is tossing Roethlisberger around like a rag doll.

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Steelers Waive Mesko, Sign McBrair

The Steelers weren’t quite sold on Drew Butler’s punting abilities after ’12, so they brought in ex-Dallas Cowboy’s punting ace Brian Moreman. Mooreman didn’t make the cut, after getting a thorough audition in training camp.

The Zoltan Mesko, an immigrant from Romania, apparently always wanted to play for the Steelers. Unfortunately his wished lasted only 7 weeks, as the Steelers waived him yesterday. After the Steelers victory over Baltimore, Mike Tomlin characterized Mesko’s punts as “Junior Varsity.” After a partial block and a shanked punt during the Steelers loss to the Raiders at Oakland’s Black Hole, the Steelers parted ways with Mesko.

But former Dallas Cowboys players are apparently in vogue at the south side, as the Steelers signed Matt McBrair. McBrair made the Pro Bowl in 2010, but his punting average has dropped steadily since then. Last year he kicked for the Eagles, and has yet to kick for an NFL team during the 2011 season.

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Steelers Make Mistake in Cutting Isaac Redman

Pundits have long joked that “NFL”stands for “Not for Long.” The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers roster appears to embody that idea. Just ask Isaac Redman.

Isaac Redman began the Steelers season as the starter. Injuries limited him in training camp, but that was because the coaches want to keep him fresh. Redman of course started in the Trashing vs. Tennessee, but did not play well.

An injury to Stephens LaRod-Howling forced Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to shallow some pride and welcome Jonathan Dwyer back, only days after cutting Dwyer. Redman was slated to play vs. Cincinnati, but injured his head on the kickoff. That limited him in action for the rest of the game. Redman got into the game vs. Chicago but was ineffective.

The Steelers deactivated for the victory against the Jets and then the victory over the Ravens.

  • Now its over for Redman, at least in Pittsburgh.

Steelers Err in Letting Redman Go

ESPN’s Scott Brown said that the Steelers decision to waive Redman was “inevitable.” Redman was apparently fourth on the depth chart, and had no clear special teams role.

It make little business sense to pay a man 1.3 million dollars to stand on the sidelines in street clothes. But if the Steelers think that this is all that Redman was going to be required to do during the year, they’re fooling themselves.

In three games Le’Veon Bell has clearly shown he is the most talented of the Steelers running backs. Should he remain healthy for the year, all signs point to Bell establishing himself as a feature back. But the phrase “if he can stay healthy” is the operative one. Bell suffered a Lisfranc injury in training camp. LaRod-Howling has already been lost for the year.

Felix Jones is playing well and Jonathan Dwyer is running on every carry as if it is his last chance to show that he belongs in the NFL, which it is. But Isaac Redman has already shown he belongs in the NFL.

No, Redman is not a starting caliber NFL running back. But over three seasons on the active roster Redman has shown himself to be a gamer – someone who steps up when its all on the line. As a runner Redman showed a motor that did not stop, and his ability as a short yardage back was a true asset to the team. Dwyer has been taking up that role recently, but with Dwyer the issue has always been his commitment and his consistency.

  • Redman’s commitment has never been at issue, and Dwyer doesn’t have nearly a “highlight roll” like the one cited for Redman above.

None of the reports comment on the salary cap implications of the move. The Steelers have salary cap issues. If they’re not obligated to pay Redman the balance of his salary for 2013 then perhaps, perhaps the move makes sense from a numbers perspective.

But given his pedigree and the potential for injury, this move looks like a case of the Steelers being pennywise and dollar foolish.

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