Steelers Cut Rob Branchflower Sign Lavon Hooks and Matt Dooley

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue to prepare for free agency by making additional moves at the bottom of their roster the most significant of which saw the Steelers cut Rob Branchflower, a tight end from UMass who was their 7th round draft pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Branchflower did not make the Steelers final roster in 2014, but spent the entire 2014 season on their practice squad and figured to get a serious look during 2015’s training camp. However, he was injured during camp, and the Steelers placed him on the waived-injured list. When no other NFL team claimed him, he reverted back to the Pittsburgh Steelers as an exclusive rights free agent.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers however are moving ahead without Branchflower.

This means that Jesse James and Matt Spaeth will provide depth behind Heath Miller, and also signals that the Steelers could look to tight end in the draft. The Steelers also waived offensive lineman Kelvin Palmer and Mitchell Van Dyk, both of whom were injured in training camp and who were exclusive rights free agents with the Steelers.

Steelers Add Bodies at Defensive Line and Long Snapper

The Steelers continued to build their training camp roster by signing defensive lineman Lavon Hooks and long snapper Matt Dooley.

The Steelers invited Lavon Hooks to their rookie mini-camp last spring, but opted not to bring him to St. Vincents. Hooks did catch on with the Green Bay Packers training camp, although he neither made the team nor the practice squad. Hooks played his college ball in the SEC, where he played his junior and senior years for Ole Miss, registering 3 sacks while appearing in 15 games.

Given that the Steelers just resigned veteran long snapper Greg Warren, Matt Dooley figures to be little more than a training camp body.

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Watch Tower: Steelers Draft “Bragging Rights” Wexell, Bouchette, & BTSC; Kudos to Cole….

Its been a while since the Watch Tower’s lights have shined, but not for lack of subjects to focus on as the Steelers 2014 off season has been one of the busiest on record.

Undaunted by the delay the Watch Tower begins by focusing its lights on the Steelers 2014 Draft

The Steelers Shazier Surprise, For Some….

Heading into the 2014 NFL Draft everyone in Steelers Nation knew that the Steelers 1st and 2nd round picks would be cornerback and wide receiver, in some order. Most people thought they had the players down pat.

That’s everyone except Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, who tweeted this shortly before the draft:

As Wexell himself pointed out via Twitter, in his pre-draft story, Wexell stuck with the conventional wisdom and predicted the Steelers would draft Michgan cornerback Darqueze Dennard. However, in that brief Twitter exchange Wexell confided that a 4 minute (his tweet said “month” but we’ll assume that was a typo) led to the Ryan Shazier tweet.

  • In other words, Wexell did what a good journalist does, and modified his forecast based on new reporting, reporting which clearly came from a knowledgeable source.

Did another credentialed or even non-credentialed member of the Steelers press corps publicly predict the Steelers picking Shazier?

  • The Watch Tower suspects not, but stakes no claim to certainty. 

But Jim Wexell did and for that the Watch Tower gives him “Bragging Rights.”

BTSC Bags Bragging Rights for 2014 Mock Done in 2013

And speaking of bragging rights, what about those mock drafts? No, we’re not taking about the 144 cubed mock drafts published in the months before the 2014, we’re talking  about one published in the shadow of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Normally the Watch Tower would mock (pun intended) the idea of mocking the coming year’s draft mere days after the current draft has ended. But in this case Big Jay’s from Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure I also write for BTSC) deserves special merit.

Last year, on the day after the 2013 NFL Draft Big Jay Mocked the 2014 draft, and he did a pretty good job.

As BTSC editor Neal Coolong observed:

He called 11 first round picks, including top pick, Jadeveon Clowney going to Oakland. He also picked Johnny Manziel to Cleveland (at No. 8 overall) and had the Steelers picking an inside linebacker – C.J. Mosley, who went two picks after the Steelers took Ryan Shazier.

Jay also entertained the idea Stephon Tuitt going to the Steelers, although Tuitt was still considered an automatic first round pick. Calling 11 of 32 first round picks more than a year in advance is nothing to sneeze at and Big Jay also bags “Bragging Rights.”

Bouchette Offers Insight into Steelers Draft Room Decision Making

Just how do the Steelers decide on their draft picks? It’s a question that Steelers fans want to know apparently, and one that fans regularly pose to those closest to the story, the credentialed journalists.

  • During the era of the Super Steelers (and the decade or so of mediocrity that followed it) the Steelers had a collaborative process, but there was no question as to who had the final word, and that was Chuck Noll.

Covering the first draft of the post-Noll era, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola mentioned that the process would  be different ,as there would no longer be anyone with the final word on draft day, indicating that the Steelers would reach decisions more by consensus.

But what does that really mean? Well, Ed Bouchette lifted the lid:

To get his story, Bouchette went right to the source, questioning former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. The Watch Tower does not like the steal the thunder from fellow writers, and encourages you to click on the link (and then scroll around) to read Bouchette’s story yourself.

But one of the more interesting things about Bouchette’s reporting is solid communication is critical to the success of the process he outlines. And with that in mind, it is easy to see how the Steelers draft misfires began in earnest as the relationship between Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe deteriorated.

Cole Coins a Term…

Who wouldn’t like to invent a phrase and have it enter the vernacular? Yours truly attempted to do just that upon my arrival in Argentina with “Chau for now” (Spanglish for “bye for now.”) It didn’t work.

My friend and colleague Ivan Cole at Behind the Steel Curtain appears to have had a little more luck. Way back on October 8th 2011, Cole had this to say:

The Lake Effect.
Of all the criticisms and anxieties surrounding the Steelers at this point, has anyone noticed that the defensive secondary really hasn’t been part of that discussion?…

….Spin it any way you want, the fact remains that these guys are leading the league in pass defense. William Gay is starting and no one is calling for his head. Keenan Lewis is doing well. The two of them are doing so well that at least for the time being it appears as Brian McFadden has lost his job. A tip of the hat to Carnell Lake anyone?

Describing Carnell Lake’s impact on the players he tutors as the “Lake Effect” began on that day. And while it might not have spread like wildfire, the term is catching on. Back in August of 2013, Mark Kaboly of the Tribune Review wrote about Steelers DB’s benefiting from the “Lake Effect.”

Shortly after the draft ESPN’s Scott Brown did the same referencing Lake’s influence on both Antwon Blake, Brice McCain and newly drafted Shaquille Richardson.

Now that’s not quite the same as “Lake Effect” becoming the catch phrase on everyone’s lips in Steelers Nation, but it is catching on, but it says here it started with Ivan Cole. Kudos to you Cole.

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Steelers Sign 9 Undrafted Rookie Free Agents

The action doesn’t really stop after the last selection in the NFL Draft has been made. As soon as “Mr. Irrelevant” is named, scouts and assistant coaches race to the phones, eager to come to terms with men how missed the draft, men who are now unrestricted rookie free agents.

In many cities the unrestricted rookie free agent class is little more than a side note, perhaps relegated to the back corner of a traditional newspaper under a heading of “Transactions.”

  • Steelers Nation has come to know better when it comes to unrestricted rookie free agents.

In 2001 it there was an unsung nose tackle from BYU named Chris Hoke. A year later there was another one from Kent State who declined a call from Oakland because he didn’t like to fly on planes. His name was James Harrison. Two years later the Steelers picked up an running back who rode the bench at North Carolina State on the advice of Dan Rooney Jr. They called him fast Willie Parker. In 2010 it was Steve McLendon.

The Steelers Nation’s best hopes for another Lombardi during Ben Roethlisberger‘s time do lie with Ryan Shaizer, Stephon Tuitt and the rest of the Steelers 2014 draft class, but success unrestricted rookie Free Agents have been Kevin Colbert’s secret weapon during his time with the Steelers.

Here’s a look at the 9 undrafted rookie free agents the Steelers have signed thus far:

Chris Elkins, offensive line from Youngstown State, 6’4” 300 lbs
Ethan Hemer, defensive end  from Wisconsin University, 6’6” 285 lbs
Kaycee Ike, offensive tackle from  the University of Alabama, 6’5” 293 lbs
Howard Jones, linebacker from Shepherd College, 6’4” 238 lbs
Brendon Kay, quarterback from the University of Cincinnati, quarterback, 6’4” 228 lbs
Josh Mauro, defensive end from Stanford University, 6’6” 282
Roy Philon, defensive tackle from University of Lousiville, 6’3” 291
Will Simmons, guard from East Carolina, 6’5” 342 lbs
Eric Waters, tight end from Missouri, 6’5” 245 lbs

The Steelers will also reportedly give unrestricted rookie free agent  Devon Carrington who is a safety from Stanford a try out during rookie mini-camp.

  • Of this unrestricted rookie free agent group, Jones, Mauro, Hemer and Waters are seen has having the greatest potential, in the eyes of ESPN’s Scott Brown

Time will tell. Since the days of Chuck Noll the Steelers have been dedicated to giving unrestricted rookie free agents a fair shot, and for proof, look no further than to the multiple Super Bowl rings Donnie Shell, Willie Parker and James Harrison wear — to name just a few.

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3 Words Define Steelers 2014 Draft: Speed, Size, and Surprise

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Draft is now into the history books. What can we say about how well the Steelers did or didn’t draft?

  • In a word, not much.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. gave them an A-. Mark Kabloy says B. CBS Sports marks the Steelers draft with B+. All of which means nothing. Football’s Future and Sports Illustrated instant the Steelers 2008 draft similar high marks, and 2008 was the Steelers worst draft since the 1980’s.

  • Real evaluations of the Steelers 2014 Draft begin this summer at St. Vincents, and will continue for several years.

But that doesn’t mean we know nothing about the Steelers 2014 Draft. Far from it, in fact Steelers Nation need not wait years to know what will define the Steelers 2014 draft – Speed, Size, and Surprise.

Colbert and Tomlin Stick to Their Playbook

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin devised their own draft plan and then told no one about. Everyone expected the Steelers to go for corners and wide outs early in the draft, if not early and often.

  • Colbert and Tomlin had other plans, which surprised almost everyone, although it shouldn’t.

In one way, we can already say the Steelers 2014 Draft is similar to their 2008 draft. The Steelers opened the ’08 off season with a stated need for offensive and defensive lineman. Mike Tomlin himself said so much himself. Yet lineman came off the board in droves, and Colbert and Tomlin refused to reach.

  • Something similar may have happened here.

Perhaps the Steelers had wanted to take a corner. Just because everyone said that corner was Darqueze Dennard doesn’t mean Tomlin and Colbert agreed. Regardless, it’s clear that the Steelers Brain Trust saw something in Ryan Shaizer that was special, and took him without hesitation. In fact, the Steelers made all of their picks quickly.

  • This follows in keeping with past observations that Colbert and Tomlin do not make personnel decisions out of fear.

Far from it. When asked about the corners they have, both Kevin Colbert and Carnell Lake talked about the players they had as much as Shaquille Richardson.

Of Size and Speed and the Steelers

One of the things that stuck out during the Seahawks Super Bowl win was how incredibly fast they were.

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert took note, taking the fastest linebacker in the draft in Shazier, and the fastest man in the draft in Dri Archer. Likewise, defensive end Stephon Tuitt is fast for his position, if tapes are any guide.

  • But the Steelers didn’t totally sell out on speed. 

In Dan McCullers they got the biggest man in the draft and Martavis Bryant gives Ben Roethlisberger a wide receiver that’s almost 6’4” – if he can make the team.

Steelers 2014 Draft Class at a Glance

Here’s a snap shot of the Steelers 2014 Draft Class:

steelers 2014 draft class shazier tuitt archer bryant richardson

For those longing to delve into more detail, click on the player’s highlighted name for a brief profile and bio:

On paper this is an impressive group. But, as mentioned at the beginning, so-called experts outside of Pittsburgh said the same thing about the Steelers 2008 draft class.

Some of these men will fail. That’s the simple reality of it.

  • But now is not the time to harp on that, nor should it be.

For 99.5% of the people that play football in some form or fashion, playing in the NFL is and always will be a dream. But with a simple phone call, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin gave each of these men a shot at transforming this dream into a reality.

As we welcome the Steeles 2014 draft class to Pittsburgh and Steelers Nation, it is our sincere wish that as many of them succeed as possible.

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Steelers Surprise (Again) in 3rd Round, Picking Dri Archer, Running Back Kent State

Day two of the 2014 NFL Draft saw the Pittsburgh Steelers stick true to the script, first in selecting defensive end Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame in the second round, followed another big deviation in the selection of running back Dri Archer of Kent State.

  • Of the two picks, Archer was by far the most surprising. 

Going into the draft, Steel Curtain Rising rated running back as a position of moderate need for the Steelers, due to the presence of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, and the expectation was that they would take one, but most likely on day three.

However, as they’ve done through the draft, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin kept their own counsel. Archer is a speed demon, clocking in at 4.26 in the 40 yard dash, and in that respect he is quite similar to Chris Rainey, the Miami running back the Steelers took in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, only to cut Rainey after his rookie year due to off the field issues.

Here´s a quick video recap of Archer´s time at Kent State:

As you can see, Archer does not lack for speed, but he is small, weighing in at 175 pounds. 40 years ago the Steelers once drafted an undersized player from Kent State who grew into a legend. His name is Jack Lambert. Kent State also supplied another unhearlded rookie free agent in the form of James Harrison.

Archer has got big foot steps to fill. Welcome to Steelers Nation Dri Archer.

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Steelers Draft Martavis Bryant to Open Day 3 of 2014 Draft

It took 2 days and three rounds, but Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin decided to begin day 3 of the 2014 NFL Draft by picking the positions that the pundits expected would dominate Pittsburgh’s picks.

Fourth round of the draft saw the Pittsburgh Steelers draft Martavis Bryant, a wide receiver out of Clemson, who is a junior. At 6’3” Bryant might not exactly fit the bill as a tall wide receiver that Ben Roethlisberger is said to long for, but he certainly gives him a bigger target than Antonio Brown or Lance Moore.

In 2013 Bryant had 43 receptions for 828 yards and caught 7 touchdowns. While the Steelers have little proven depth at wide receiver beyond Brown and Moore, he will compete with Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Brown for a roster spot, and if he’s lucky, playing time.

Here’s a brief snap shot of Byrant’s career at Clemson via the magic of You Tube:

As you an see, Matavis Bryant showed good ball skills and an ability to gain separation vs. defensive backs while in the ACC. Now he faces a bigger challenge of doing it in the NFL.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Martavis Bryant.

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Steelers Finally Draft a Cornerback, Shaquille Richardson, in the 5th Round

Well, it came 142 picks after it was expected, but the Pittsburgh Steelers finally did grab a cornerback in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft when they took Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson.

Both national NFL Draft experts and the local Pittsburgh media had widely expected the Steelers to take a cornerback no later than the second round, with many projecting them to take one first. Kevin Colbert threw a little cold water on such speculation after the Steelers took Ryan Shazier in the 1st round, saying the Steelers liked the people they had at corner.

In 2014 Richardson recorded 53 tackles and made three interceptions for Arizona and as his You Tube video highlight reel shows, he’s got excellent ball skills. His time in the 40 clocked in at 4.52 seconds, which while not slow is slower that Ryan Shaziers’.

Richardson joins a Steelers secondary which is in the process of renewing itself, with Ryan Clark departed in favor of Michael Mitchell, and Ike Taylor facing the possibity of having to fight William Gay or Cortez Allen for a starting job.

Still, neither playing time nor a roster spot is assured for Richardson, especially when one considers that Shamarko Thomas is reportedly capable of covering receivers in the slot.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Shaquille Richardson.

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Steelers Use 5th Round Compensatory Pick on Wesley Johnson

It is said that Day 3 of the NFL Draft is the time when teams look to build depth, and that appears to be exactly the goal the Pittsburgh Steelers had in mind when they used their second 5th round pick to take Vanderbuilt Center Wesley Johnson.

It had been speculated going into the draft that the Steelers might be interested in either dealing Maurkice Pouncey and/or seeking to find his replacement, as Pouncey is headed for unrestricted free agency and could carry a contract value that the Steelers won’t be able to meet.

  • If the Steelers are worried about resigning Pouncey, that has not been reflected in this draft, as teams do not look to 5th round compensatory picks to replace 3 time Pro Bowl Centers.

Here are some “highlights” from Johnson’s time at Vanderbuilt:

As you can see, late round offensive lineman’s promotional YouTube videos don’t get made with quite the same care as others…

Earlier this off season the Steelers resigned Cody Wallace, who was their third starting center after Pouncey and Fernando Velasco were both lost to season-ending injuries.

  • The decision to resign Wallace, coupled with drafting Wesley Johnson likely signals that the Steelers will not resign Velasco.

However, Wallace was given a veteran minimum deal, and will have to fight for a roster spot. So too will Johnson.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Wesley Johnson.

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Steelers Take Jordan Zumwalt in 6th Round, Outside Linebacker from UCLA

Going into the 2014 NFL Draft, Steel Curtain Rising rated outside linebacker as the Steelers 4th most important position of need. The decision to pick Ryan Shazier could have signaled a desire to address that need, but Kevin Colbert immediately announced that Shaizier would play on the inside.

  • In the 6th round, however, the Steelers did take UCLA’s outside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt. 

Here’s a brief look at Zumwalt’s careeer highlights via YouTube:

(One has to wonder who prepares these things some times. The first 30 seconds show Zumwalt hot dogging and celebrating, and then tagging a fallen quarterback to record a sack, its not until the video approaches a full minute that he starts making plays.)

Zumwalt comes to one of the thinner areas on the Steelers depth chart, where Arthur Moats and Chris Carter are the only experienced backups – provided the Steelers do not bring back James Harrison for a final year, as was rumored earlier in the off season.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Jordan Zumwalt.

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Steelers Draft Defensive Tackle Dan McCullers with 6th Round Pick

The Pittsburgh Steelers used their second sixth round pick to build (potential) depth at one of the thinnest spots on their roster when they selected defensive tackle Dan McCullers of Tennessee. It is not known immediately where the Steelers will use McCullers, but his 6’6” and 352 pound frame would seem to suggest that he’d be a nose tackle.

  • Per ESPN, McCullers recorded 33 tackles and a half sack for the Volunteers in 2013. 

It would see that if Emmanuel Kant had lived in 2014, his phislsophical peral of wisdom would be “I have a YouTube video highlight package therefore I am,” and in that light McCullers certainly qualifies:

McCullers joins a position area which in the space of a few years has gone to being one of the Steelers oldest to one of the youngest. The average age of the Steelers defensive line in the Debacle vs. Baltimore on opening day 2011 was 34, with Brett Keisel as the youngster at age 33.

Now Steve McLendon is the oldest starter, who will turn 28 this year. McCullers is not assured a roster spot, and will have to compete with Hebron Fangupo and Brian Arnfelt.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Dan McCullers.

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