Are Mike Mitchell’s “Growing Pains” a Cause for Concern?

Jerome Bettis rushing debt with the Pittsburgh Steelers amounted to all of 57 yards. In all fairness to Bettis, the should be Hall of Famer:

  • His average was good and the Steelers spent the day playing from behind…
  • AND the Jim Miller experiment as a starter had last all of 2 quarters…
  • AND Greg Lloyd had just been lost for the season…
  • AND injuries to the linebacking corps were so severe that coaches were talking 4-3 for week 2.

To understand the last factoid in its full context, consider that the Steelers had kept 10 linebackers on their opening day roster. Suffice to say, by the chaos generated during one awful afternoon in Jacksonville certainly muted any cries of “Bettis is a bust.”

This entire preamble is necessary to establish that 3 preseason is woefully insufficient to make any sweeping pronouncements on the success or failure of a free agent.

  • But with that said, Michael Mitchell’s play does warrant a few caution flags.

The Steelers 2014 off season free agent signing spree notwithstanding, Pittsburgh has always been a quality not quantity free agent player. They don’t make many moves often, but when they do, they do it with a bang. Think Kevin Greene. Think John L. Williams. Think Will Wolford. Think Wayne Gandy (NOT!) Think Kimo von Oelhoffen. Think the man Mitchell replaces, Ryan Clark.

So when Kevin Colbert broke character and made a day one, big money free agency signing with Mike Mitchell, fans can be forgiven for assuming an automatic upgrade was in place.

  • And Mitchell may prove to be an upgrade.

Except that one of the first plays yours truly observed in the Steelers preseason loss to the Eagles was Mike Mitchell making a sloppy effort and missing a tackle (to be fair, he wasn’t the only one.) And the numbers show that in preseason the Steelers run defense is even worse than it was in 2013.

  • Of course you don’t normally point fingers at the safeties when run defense falters.

They are, as the position title suggests, the last line of defense. But the Steelers have given up long runs in bunches, and a big part of a free safety’s responsibility is to prevent that. How did that work out vs. Philadelphia?

  • The Eagles have five running backs make at least one run of 15 yards or longer.

Transparency demands that I confess that the second half of the Steelers-Eagles preseason game is the only preseason action I’ve observed. But others have picked up on Mitchell’s struggles. ESPN’s Scott Brown observed that Mitchell has been “shaky.”

Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review quoted fellow safety Will Allen Mitchell as going through as “growing pains” in the 4-3 to 3-4 transition. Mitchell denied that he and Troy Polamalu were having difficulty getting on the same page.

Although Paulk says that Mitchell has delivered a “mix bag of good, bad and indifference,” Mitchell attitude is in the right place. Discussing his play vs. Philadelphia, he offered:

It’s a bitter taste in your mouth because you don’t want to play like that. It was a great learning experience for us. You don’t learn a lot about yourself when you win, but you learn a lot when you lose.

That’s exactly what we need to hear from Mitchell. While Ryan Clark made news for the headlines he made off the field, the truth is that he was the Steelers most consistent defender from 2010 to 2012, and his slowing a step hurt the defense immensely in 2013.

It is unfair to expect him to do everything Clark did, but Mike Mitchell is one free agent acquisition the Steelers need to work out.

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Fernando Velasco Signs with Carolina Panthers

Behind the Steel Curtain editor Neal Coolong couldn’t have put it better:  “The safety blanket has been removed.”

That coupled with the headline “Steelers free agent signs with another team” coming less than 24 hours before the Steelers arrive at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe for training camp could cover a number of players, from Brett Keisel to James Harrison to wild cards such as Plaxico Burress and and even LaRod Stephens-Howling.

  • No, this one involves someone with far less history with the team (well, he has more that LaRod Stephens-Howling, but how doesn’t?)

No, this latest defection involves Fernando Velasco signing with the Carolina Panthers, a player who in less than a full season of starts, managed to develop something of a cult following in Steelers Nation.

Last year when David DeCastro was taking out Maurkice Pouncey‘s ACL 8 plays into the season opener vs. Tennessee, Fernando Velasco was sitting in a church in Nashville. A week later he was starting for the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.

Although the Steelers lost that night, and the next two nights, the play of the offensive line steadily improved, and the Steelers eventually started winning.

  • Unfortunately for Velasco, his ride on that train ended vs. the Ravens on Thanksgiving, when he tore his Acillies late in the season.

Cody Wallace did a respectable job in snapping the ball to Ben Roethlisberger, and the Steelers opted to resign Wallace instead of the recovering Velasco. Any thoughts that the Steelers might still opt for the Velasco-Wallace combo at center ended when the Steelers renewed Pouncey’s contract in early June.

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Foote Surprised He Got Boot from Steelers

On of the first moves the Pittsburgh Steelers made to open their 2014 off season was to wave veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote. And by Foote’s own account, the caught him by surprise.

Speaking on Pittsburgh sports radio station 93.7 “The Fan” Foote recounted:

My agent met with (the Steelers) down at the Combine in Indianapolis. The talk was that we couldn’t get lined up, we lost a few games early on because we couldn’t even get lined up.

Based on that conversation, Foote assumed he would be spending 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania instead of Pittsburgh West aka at the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers gave Foote the boot, clearly having made other plans.

The move itself is not surprising. While the Steelers did struggle with Vince Williams starting, Williams improved, and could certainly be expected to deliver more value for the salary cap dollar than 34 year old Foote.

Insight into How the Steelers Function?

The main function of stories like these is to tide Steelers Nation’s voracious appetite for news until training camp starts. This one might, however, offer some insight into how the Steelers do business.

  • Before proceeding, it’s important to acknowledge that Steel Curtain Rising has no inside information here.

It’s impossible to understand the meaning of Foote’s story without knowing the context of the conversation. What’s most likely is that Foote struck up a causal conversation with a Steelers coach or scout, who said something like “How’s Larry doing? You know, we missed him dearly last year. We couldn’t even get lined up right for the first half of the year….”

It’s also possible the Steelers arrived at Indianapolis intending to bring Foote back but saw enough of the available inside linebackers to make the veteran expendable.

But there’s also a chance that the conversation reveals a split between Steelers scouts and coaches over whether to bring him back or not. Such disagreements are common.

At the end of the day, Steelers Nation will never know and even if there was disagreement, it is healthy for coaches and front offices to have differing opinions.

Regardless, despite subtracting Foote and his 12 years of experience, the Steelers nonetheless have to potential to see inside linebacker swing from one of the thinnest to one of the deepest units on the team in years.

Lawrence Timmons will return to start, and 1st round pick Ryan Shazier is already projected as a fellow starter. Sean Spence recovery has progressed far enough to give him a serious shot at a roster spot, and the there’s incumbent starter Vince Williams. Free agent Arthur Moats can also play on the inside, and of course there’s Kion Wilson, the man who took the field when Foote got hurt vs. Tennessee.

That’s all on paper of course. Things will start sorting themselves out for real on the fields at St. Vincent’s very, very soon.

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Watch Tower: Pouncey’s Victims of Gold Digging Attempt; Brett Keisel Story Takes a Twist

Social media is a double edged sword for sports fans and sports journalists. On the plus side fans are no longer dependent on the whims and agenda’s of network, PR offices, and newspaper editors. On the negative side, every Tom, Dick and Harry has his (or her) chance of taking a stab at 15 minutes of fame.

Early Saturday afternoon word got out that the Pouncey’s were in the news for the wrong reasons again (OK, that was this site’s head line.) A man and a woman, whose instagram video and photos made it clear had been assaulted, claimed it had been the Pouncey’s. Behind the Steel Curtain published a story about it, but wisely stuck close to the facts, which were thin.

  • No other major outlet ran the story on Saturday, and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review did a short summary the following day. The Post-Gazette remained silent, as did ESPN.

On Monday, Mark Kabloy of the Tribune Review informed readers that the Pouncey’s were not named in the initial police report and did not seem to be suspects. Today a staff report on the Trib reveals that the police have not even talked to the accusers.

By Tuesday the news surfaced that the individuals in question were suing the Pouncey’s. This prompted Dale Lolley to call them out as gold diggers (although he did not use expression itself) and there it appears the story will and should die.

Quick Kesiel Update

As Steelers training camp approaches, the BIG question is will the Steelers resign Brett Keisel. Steel Curtain Rising has invested a lot in the debate on Keisel’s return and the Watch Tower has delved into the coverage.

  • And the only thing that is clear is that no one can agree on what the Steelers plans are.

Jim Wexell took to Twitter to answer a question from fans, sharing this:

Further on in the exchange, he doubled down:

@TonyD_12 the other half of the equation is how well Cam Thomas plays. I can’t see them bringing Keisel back as a reserve.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) July 15, 2014

Dale Lolley casts the story very, very differently. Talking about the Steelers additional personnel priorities, Lolley offers this:

No. 1 on that list would be defensive end Brett Keisel. Make no mistake about this. IF the Steelers bring Keisel back, it would not be to start. In fact, he would be, at best, a 10-snap-per-game player as a situational pass rusher.

This is truly an amazing story. Other writers, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac, a reporter whose sources guide him to the story, have insisted that the Steelers will not bring Keisel back.

Lolley does add one interesting twist to the story, however. Keisel’s locker on the South Side has not been cleaned out. That would seem to imply that at least Keisel is planning on returning.

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Maurkice Pouncey in the News…. For the Wrong Reasons….

Beware the Ides of July 24th…. That maybe a stab over poetic, but it seems relevant in the case of Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins centers Maurkice Pouncey and identical twin brother Mike Pouncey.

Just a year ago the two men got their name in the papers for the wrong reasons for sporting “Free Hernandez” clothing while celebrating their birthday, Hernandez being former New England Patriots start Aaron Hernandez, who played with the Pouncey’s in college and is now facing multiple murder charges.

  • A year and another birthday party later, and both men are in the papers for the wrong reason again.

And this time it is for something more serious than appearing to support someone who is on trial for a capital offense. Behind the Steel Curtain is reporting, citing sources from social media, that the Pouncey’s are being accused of assaulting a man and a woman accompanying them at a Florida nightclub while celebrating their birthdays.

  • Per BTSC’s report, the accusers have filed reports with the police. 

Beyond that, there is little solid information circulating, because as of 3:10 Eastern on July 12th neither the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, nor the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, nor ESPN.com has any news on the subject.

At the very least, this an unwelcome distraction for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their newly minted 42 million dollar center Pouncey as the team is set to commence training camp in two week’s time on the campus of St. Vincient’s, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

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Cortez Allen at the Crossroad – Kevin Colbert’s Choice

Once upon a time, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a cornerback in the third round.

His rookie year he mainly played special teams, but even then flashed greatness. Coaches and fans alike expected great things going into year two, yet the up and coming 3rd rounder failed to crack the starting lineup. Nonetheless, in his third year he did earn a starting slot, and even began shadowing opponents’ top receiver.

  • Inconsistency aside, the third rounder left the Steelers with a difficult choice.

Six years later, the Steelers took another corner in the third round. He little as a rookie year, sitting behind sixth rounder. He played more in his second year, but disappointed nonetheless. Many coaches wrote him off as a lost cause. Yet, in his third year, his play improve dramatically, leaving the Steelers with another difficult choice….

If you haven’t guessed it already, the two third round corners in question are none other than Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, and the choice they both left the Steelers was whether or not to commit long-term money based on a three year body of work.

  • The Steelers ponied up big money to lock Ike Taylor down long-term, prior to the 2006 season

And although he faltered in that campaign, earning himself a slot of Bill Cowher’s dog house, he bounced back with Mike Tomlin’s arrival and the organization hasn’t looked back since.

  • The Steelers declined to offer Keenan Lewis a long-term deal and allowed him to play out the final year of his rookie contract. Lewis blossomed into an good if not great NFL corner in his fourth year.

The Steelers, hamstrung in salary cap purgatory, were unable to make Lewis and offer, Lewis left, and Steelers Nation has suffered buyers remorse since.

All This Has Happened Before, and Will Again…

This experience is important, because Kevin Colbert is now faced with a very  similar situation with yet another inconsistent, yet up and coming corner in the form of Cortez Allen.

The Steelers drafted Cortez Allen out of the Citadel in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Unlike Taylor and Lewis, Cortez Allen saw playing time as a rookie, play a key role in the defensive effort that led to the Steelers Halloween upset of the New England Patriots.

Allen made a bull rush at Keenan Lewis for the starting job, but Lewis held him off. Allen’s name didn’t get mentioned much during the disappointing 2012 season, yet as the rest of the team was floundering, Allen flourished. Vs. the Bengals, Allen picked off two passes and forced a fumble, and vs. the Browns Allen forced two more fumbles.

  • In two games, Allen single handedly accounted for the lion’s share of the Steelers takeaways.

Even if that stat says a lot about the Steelers defense chronic inability to generate turnovers, it also shows Allen’s game-changing potential, and that was one reason why the Steelers let Lewis go.

  • Yet, like Taylor and Lewis before him, Cortez Allen has weaved threads of inconsistency into his own story.

Allen won the starting job was expected during Steelers 2013 training camp, yet got injured vs. Tennessee. His return in London vs. the Vikings is something that Steelers Nation would rather forget as he managed to both get burned and miss tackles on long touchdown plays.

Indeed, as the Steelers began their rebound, it was William Gay, (dubbed “Big Play Willie Gay” by my friend Tony Defeo), who won the accolades as Allen reverted to the bench. But Allen didn’t take his demotion sitting down, and recorded two interceptions and a crucial pick-six in the win over Green Bay.

What to Do About Allen?

Since the advent of free agency in 1993, the Steelers have made it their practice to resign the players the want to keep in the final year of their contracts. On a few occasions, think Levon Kirkland and of course Kordell Stewart, this has gotten them into commitments to players who ultimately proved unworthy.

  • But by an large, the philosophy has paid the Steelers dividends both on the field and on the salary cap ledger.

Now they need to decide if they want to do the same with Allen.

Some number are helpful

cortez allen keenan lewis ike taylor steelers stats
Cortez Allen compared to Taylor, Lewis

Of the three players, Ike Taylor had both the most solid body of work and the most consistent line of development. Lewis’ first two years were for naught, and his third year while solid, hardly projected “spectacular.”

However, compared to Lewis, Allen’s third year was gang busters, and while he’s lacked Taylor’s consistency, he arguably authored more splash plays in his limited time than Taylor’s entire career – save of course for Super Bowl XL.

The Steelers also have greater salary cap flexibility here in the summer of 2014 than they did in the summer of 2010.

Curtain’s Call

There are no guarantees in pro football. But Ike Taylor is probably playing is final year, and William Gay is the only other Steelers cornerback with experience. The Steelers aren’t going to offer nor will Cortez Allen’s agent allow him to sign, a low-ball, long term offer. Yet, the Steelers almost certainly keep him off the market in July or August 2014 for far less than he will command in come March 2015.

Ultimately, Carnell Lake, Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin know Allen and his work habits.

If he is in fact as diligent as he’s said to be, then the Steelers would be wise to resign him this off season.

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Steelers “June Curse” Exacts Costly, Off Field Toll

Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers passed through the month of June without suffering any sort of calamity whose impact will be felt on the field come September.

  • But of course they failed to dodge the dreaded “Steelers June Curse.”

There’s no way anyone can say that about the month in which the Steelers Nation lost “The Emperor” Chuck Noll. Chuck Noll’s impact on Pittsburgh, the Steelers and the men he coached has been lauded here and parts elsewhere and need not be recounted now. Even if his formal role with the Steelers ended long ago, his loss will be keenly felt.

chuck-noll-steelers-june-curse-2014
Steelers Lost Noll in June ’14

Yet, in terms of X’s and O’s, the impact is nill.

Still, there’s something eerie about the Steelers and the month of June since in this new millennium. Consider:

Of course, until proven otherwise, all of this is just coincidence. In the last year important figures such as Bill Nunn and L.C. Greenwood were lost outside of the month of June.

But no matter how you measure it, the month of June has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization of late. Thankfully, its over. Into July an on to St. Vincents!

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Watch Tower: Bouchette Wins McCann Award; Steelers to Shift from 3-4 to 4-3…?

OTA’s and mini-camp are over. The Steelers 2014 draft class has been selected and signed in a year where Pittsburgh was more active in free agency than ever, and its not even July 1st. Yet, as the true “off season begins” the Watch Tower has plenty to shine its lights on.

Ed Bouchette Wins the McCann Award

The Watch Tower is of course not about the Steelers, but about the scribes that cover them. And in this respect there is no bigger news than the Pro Football Writers of Association honoring the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette with the prestigious McCann award.

The announcement came last week, and Bouchette will be presented with the award in Canton, Ohio at the NFL Hall of Fame’s induction ceremonies. As Gerry Dulac observed, that’s a fitting locale considering Bouchette’s role in helping Steelers like Lynn Swann and John Stallworth earn induction.

Regular readers will no doubt not that Bouchette has often been the subject of the Watch Tower’s criticism. Indeed, that criticism comes not in spite of Bouchette’s winning of the award, but because he deserves the award and is held to such high standards.

And the Watch Tower has seen fit to honor Bouchette with praise just as often as it has found fault. The more notable pops the Watch Tower has given Bouchette include:

And those are only the major stories that the Watch Tower has singled Bouchette out for.

It’s also complemented him on getting Joe Greene on the record regarding his feelings at being passed over as Chuck Noll’s successor – one of the more underreported stories in Steelers history. And Bouchette has also shared morsels such as the back story to Tim Lewis’ firing back in 2003, which paved the way for Dick LeBeau’s return.

Steel Curtian Rising and the Watch Tower only came into existence in 2008, and Bouchette has been writing about the Steelers since 1974 and the McCann Award is for lifetime achievement. While the Watch Tower can’t offer a systemetic evaluation of Bouchette’s body of work it can point to two examples.

Take a look at the article. It represents one masterfully fine piece of journalism, and reveals just why Bouchette’s colleagues chose to award him this high honor.

This bud’s for you Ed Bouchette, you earned it.

Bouchette, Latest in Long Line of Pittsburghers to win McCann Award

While Bouchette is the first Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer to win the award, he is not the first Pittsburgher. The Pittsburgh Press’ Pat Livingston won in the 1970’s. Vito Stellino won the award in 1989 while at the Baltimore Sun; prior to that he’d written in Pittsburgh. ESPN’s John Clayton, another former Pittsburgh Press scribe, won the award in 2007, followed by Len Pasquarelli who is a Pittsburgh native.

To 4-3 or Not 4-3….

Longtime Steelers scribe from the Washington Standard-Observer Dale Lolley stepped out to do a bit of Watch Towerish analysis of his own recently.

Lolley took issue with a about a potential Steelers switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3. And while he names neither the paper nor the author, the story in question was penned by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Allan Robinson.

Lolley pulls no punches when assessing his colleagues work, observing:

@ Here is how misinformation gets passed along.
One of the local newspapers did a story quoting a couple of national analysts – nobody from the Steelers – about how the team could be considering a shift to the 4-3 defense.
One of the analysts is an NFL Network guy.
A day after the story runs in said local paper, again, with nobody from the Steelers saying anything of the sort, the NFL Network starts tweeting that the Steelers are considering changing to a 4-3, with the source being their own guys answering a question.

  • That’s a pretty damming critique, unfortunately, his initial criticism of Robinson fails to hold muster.

Lolley chides Robinson for “quoting a couple of national analysts – no nobody from the Steelers…” That would be a major flaw in Robinson’s piece. Except that he does offer his reader quotes from Cameron Heyward and Mike Tomlin.

  • It is hard to say how such details escaped Lolley’s attention, but the oversight does go a long way toward neutering his criticism.

The later part of Lolley’s commentary, however, amounts to a very a legit criticism of how the NFL Network specifically, and the current NFL “news” cycle works in general. He should have kept his focus there.

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Steelers Resign Pouncey for 6 Years, 48 Million Dollars

For nine years and two Super Bowls, Ray Mansfield anchored the center of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. Mike Webster took up the call for another 13 years 2 Super Bowls and 1 Hall of Fame induction. After that, the duty fell to Dermontti Dawson for the next 12 years. Finally, Jeff Hartings did the honors for 6 more years and another Super Bowl.

  • Since 2010 that responsibility has fallen to Maurkice Pouncey and after today, at least on paper, he’ll carry that burden for another 6 years.

June first’s arrival not only brought OTA’s to the South Side but also money freed up by LaMarr Woodley’s release. The question of “What will the Steelers” do with their salary cap largesse has been on the minds of everyone in Steelers Nation.

At this point, the answer is “None of the above,” as the Steelers are focusing on resigining their own, after inking Maurkice Pouncey to a 6 year 48 million dollar deal, that reportedly includes a 9 year signing bonus.

Maurkice Pouncey was one player that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert fell in love with at the 2010 NFL scouting combine, so much that Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had no compunction or reservation in saying he was the Steelers pick right then and there.

Pouncey did not disappoint, becoming the first rookie to start for the Steelers in the Mike Tomlin era, capping the season off with a Pro Bowl appearance followed by two more.

Who’s Next?

With Pouncey resigned, attention will immediately shift to who is next. Dale Lolley suggests it will be Cortez Allen, who is entering the final year of his contract and the Steelers likely have no wish to repeat what happened with Keenan Lewis.

Ben Roethlisberger might also be a possibility, given the current escalation of quarterback contracts, but that is a far more complicated contract to negotiate.

Nonetheless, although the deal makes Pouncey the NFL’s highest paid center, it actually gives the Steelers some short term salary cap relief, given them greater flexibility.

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Watch Tower: Pittsburgh Press Divided on Kesiel’s

The Steelers have completed two weeks of OTA’s which qualify as a news event in this day and age, and that gives the Watch Tower plenty of items to shine is light upon. We begin with the topic that’s on everyone’s tongues in Steelers Nation, the likelihood of Brett Keisel’s retrun.

Press Opinion Divided on Kesiel’s Return

Will the Steelers resign Brett Kesiel for one final year or not? Everyone wants to know, and the opinions of those who get paid to talk to those who actually get to make the decision are more than divided.

Even before the Steelers 2014 Draft Class was named, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly was counting himself among the skeptics:

However, at the beginning of OTA’s ESPN’s Scott Brown got Heath Miller on the record saying “Keisel’s not hear yet” the “yet” implying that the event would come to pass.

But when exactly is “yet?” After all as of June 1st the Steelers cleared part of LaMarr Woodley’s salary off of the books, freeing up money for a new contract. Dale Lolley opined that if the Steelers brought Kesiel back, it wouldn’t be until before camp, so as to give coaches a full chance to evaluate the crop of younger defensive ends.

The Tribnue Review’s Alan Robinson made a rather interesting suggestion, offering that:

With the Steelers uncomfortably thin at defensive end, Keisel could serve as a backup and a mentor to second-round draft pick Stephon Tuitt — just as former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter, now a defensive assistant, is doing with Jarvis Jones at outside linebacker.

The really peculiar part about this is that Porter is now a coach, and Kesiel would return as a player.

Much of the Steelers press corps seems to lean towards a Kesiel return. However, count Jim Wexell as a skeptic. Responding to a question posed by Steel Curtain Rising on Twitter, Wexell offered this:

@SteelCurtainRis: Hey @jimwexell What odds do you lay on @bkeisel99‘s return to #Steelers?” 25-75. So many young players.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) June 6, 2014

Wexell didn’t stop there. He followed this up with a full story  where he readily admitted he wanted to see Kesiel back for selfish reasons – Kesiel is well liked by the press and an easy interview – but in his view the Steelers have a lot of younger players with a lot of upside that they may wish to keep instead.

Steelers Digest, Steel City Insider Get Face Lifts

Two smaller, but important Steelers publications got face lifts recently, Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider site and the Steelers Digest, the Steelers in-house publication.

The look and feel of the new Steel City Insider site represents a night and day contrast from the older site. The new site graphics are crisper and cleaner, the home page is much more image driven, and the overall site navigation is much, much more streamlined. The site also has url’s which are more search friendly than before, which means nothing to the reader, but will boost Wexell’s presence on the web.

  • While neither Steel Curtain Rising nor the Watch Tower existed, then, yours truly has been a fan of Wexell’s work since the late 1990’s when he wrote for the now defunct Real Pittsburgh site.

Even then it was apparent that Wex worked hard to bring his readers stories that went deeper and offered fresh angles that other beat writers either ignored or missed. As a friend observed at the time, “The Trib and PG run the same stories with almost the same quotes, this guy Wexell’s different.”

  • But quality writing only gets you so far, and working in B2B marketing has taught me that vibrant visuals always trump pretty prose.

Steel City Insider remains a freemium site – part paid, part free, but in just the last week he offered  free articles on Steve McLendon’s lessons learned, Antwon Blake’s development as a player, and took one final shot at his colleagues in the national press for their tendency to regurgitate Warren Sapp’s “Old, slow and Done” refrain.

The Steelers Digest’s facelift is far lower key, and in fact mark’s the publication’s latest attempt to retain its relevance in the digital age. For those unaware, Steelers Digest is jointly published by Curtis Publishing and the Pittsburgh Steelers and has been around since 1989.

Prior to the internet, Steelers Digest provided Steelers Nation with a vital lifeline on the team, as it was the only steady source of news on the team for those outside of Western Pennsylvania, other than perhaps USA Today.

If memory serves, the Digest once boasted a circulation number of over 50,000, but in the last decade those numbers have dipped below 20,000 (again, this is on memory, as numbers could not be found.)

  • The “new” Digest looks like the old, at least for Digital subscribers.

The digital rendering is a little more crisp, and it does open with a table of contents, but beyond that the features and format are still the same. Tablet readers still lack link and social media sharing capabilities, which is odd because both would provide the publication with a free means of spreading its content to potential subscribers.

Yours truly has subscribed to the Steelers Digest since 1990, and has continued to do so largely out of loyalty. This “upgraded” version of the Digest, however, includes a drop to bi-weekly publication come the regular season, so we will see if the value delivered justifies the costs.

Telling the Stories of Steelers Nation’s Unsung Heroes

This spring a new player entered the Steelers press corps in the form of Rudy “Red Dog” Reyes of 970 ESPN Radio. Reyes has taken a rather novel approach towards finding his audience (in addition to aggressive outreach via social media.)

  • This past spring, Reyes has made it his business to give previously unsung Steelers heroes a chance to tell their stories.

He does this in the form of radio interviews. The John Stallworth’s, Rod Woodson’s, and Jerome Bettis attract much of the attention, and as well they should as these men are Hall of Fame and should be Hall of Famers.

  • But even Hall of Famers need supporting casts.

And in the age of the salary cap the abilities of the guys manning roster spots number 48-53 is more important than ever. So Reyes has reached out to some of those men, and gotten them into the studio for insightful interviews. His chats with Rodney Bailey and Tyrone Carter are just two examples.

Dejan Kovacevic Celebrates 3 Years at the Tribune Review

Speaking of social media, Dejan Kovacevic celebrated 3 years at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Prior to that Kovacevic had worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but left Pittsburgh’s flagship newspaper for the chance to be a columnist.

  • Since that time the Watch Tower has both praised and criticized Kovacevic’s work.

Looking back, the Watch Tower’s took issue with his commentary on the Bruce Arians-Todd Haley switch, and in all honestly was probably a little unduly harsh at least in its conclusion if not the overall substance of that critique.

However, the Watch Tower praised him for an in depth story on state of the Steelers locker room prior to the 2013 season, and again praised him for putting some meat on the bones of the rumored story about the organization’s displeasure with LaMarr Woodley. He also won kudos for calling out the NFL Network for attempting to claim a non-existent scoop on the Jack Bicknell firing.

And while the Watch Tower didn’t have time to mention at the moment, Kovacevic also the lone (or close to the lone) reporter to question Mike Tomlin’s decision to fly the Steelers into London at the last minute.

Congratulations on 3 years at the Trib. Dejan.

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