Will June’s Arrival Bring Brett Kesiel’s Return to the Steelers?

We have now entered the month of June. For Steelers fans that means that the non-prorated portion of LaMarr Woodley’s salary gets credited to the Steelers books, freeing the team to sign the rest of their draft picks, think about contract renewals for players like Maurkice Pouncey, and do any free agent bargin hunting.

  • Regarding the latter option, there’s one name on everyone’s mind, and that’s Brett Keisel.

When free agency started, the word to the wise via the press was that Keisel was not expected back. However, Al Woods was expected back, and he is gone. So is Ziggy Hood. The team did sign Cam Thomas in free agency, but he’s viewed primarily as a backup at nose tackle who can also play defensive end.

It would seem like the door opens for Kesiel’s return. The question remains, is the team and is Kesiel interested in walking through it?

Will Kesiel Return – Divided Opinion

Prior to the 2014 NFL Draft, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were asked about the team’s situation at defensive line. Both men indicated that the team’s work was not complete there.

Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly wasted little time in offering his interpretation of that message:

The Steelers 2014 draft only seemed to bear that out. Not only did the team unexpectedly take Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt in the second round, they also grabbed nose tackle Daniel McCullers in the 6th.

Yet ESPN’s Scott Brown reported provided Steelers Nation with some interesting insights regarding Brett Kesiel. In speaking with Heath Miller, Brown got the veteran tight end to share this with him:

  • “Keisel’s not here right now and he was well into his 30s last year.”

Brown wasted little time in in dissecting this one observing that “’Not here right now’ implies that Keisel will be back with the Steelers at some point.” To be clear, Brown quickly qualified his conclusion, admitting that he could be reading too much into Miller’s words.

Is There Room for Kesiel, and at What Price?

Steel Curtain Rising has been on the record in support of Kesiel’s return, and remains so, but any objective analysis must concede that the situation is far from clear-cut.

  • As mentioned above, the Steelers lost two players from 2013’s defensive line, Al Woods and Ziggy Hood.

They added Cam Thomas, Tuitt, and McCullers. While McCullers isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, its unlikely the Steelers would cut such a large lineman with so much potential. Nor is the team likely risk trying to sneak him on the practice squad.

In addition, the Steelers also have Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams, and Hebron Fangupo who are return from inactive list, practice squad or injured reserve duty in 2013. That brings the Steelers current total (excluding undrafted rookie free agents and futures contract signers) to 8.

Last season the Steelers carried 7 defensive lineman on their roster for the bulk of the season, with Arnfelt getting activated late in the years.

  • Adding Kesiel would give them nine.

A big motive for keeping Brett Kesiel would be his potential to mentor the younger lineman much the same way Jerome Bettis mentored Willie Parker.  Arnfelt and Williams will already enter training camp as roster spots numbers 50 and above/practice squad candidates.

Nonetheless, the Steelers still appear to be committed to youth on the defense, and that would seem to leave Kesiel as the odd man out, particularly if he is serious in his stated desire not to play for the minimum salary.

Ulitmately the decision will come down to Kesiel’s willingness to play for less, and the calibration of youth and experience that Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and John Mitchell desire.

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Do Steelers OTA’s Reveal Mike Tomlin Developing a Soft Spot for Rookies?

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin detests anointing rookies. It’s just not his thing. Tomlin is of the firm belief that rookies must earn their stripes in the NFL.

  • Just how far will Tomlin go to make that point? 

Back during the 2010 training camp, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a rookie sensation. Word was that he was clearly out playing the incumbent starter, a Super Bowl XLIII starting veteran to whom the Steelers had signed to a 4 year contract just 10 months before.

  • That meant little to Tomlin.

To avoid anointing the ascending rookie, Tomlin developed a pre-season starting rotation that included Johanthan Scott “competing” with Flozell Adams for the starting right tackle position. You might remember the rookie in question, his name was Maurkice Pouncey, who went on to not only oust the starter Justin Hartwig, but he pushed him off the roster entirely.

As Steelers Digest Bob Labriola pointed out at the time, Flozell Adams was never in danger of not getting the starting job, but Tomlin didn’t want to leave any appearance that Pouncey was being handed the job.

The Times Are They a Chang’in? 

Fast forward to 2014. The Steelers shock all of the pundits in the 2014 NFL Draft by selecting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier with their first round pick. Yes, Ben Roethlisberger will have to wait 4 rounds to get his tall receiver, and fans will have to wait longer to get their corner.

  • Yet, some things go according to plan, as Tomlin declared regarding Shaizer and 2nd round pick Stephon Tuitt:  “It’s [starting] not something that’s going to be given to them, They’ll be given an opportunity to earn it.”

Of course a coach is supposed to say that on draft day. But watch what coaches do, not what they say. Almost as soon as the Steelers drafted David DeCastro in 2012, then offensive line coach Sean Kugler was on the phone to Willie Colon, informing him that the oft rumored move from tackle to guard was happening.

  • Steelers OTA’s are in full swing, and Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin didn’t wait a single snap to replace Vince Williams with Ryan Shazier in the first team defense.

The move itself has little more than symbolic value at this point. OTA’s are, as Tomlin loves to preach, “football in shorts.” Perhaps this is linebacker’s coach Keith Butler’s way of introducing the playbook to Shazier via baptism by fire. Perhaps come training camp at St. Vincient’s in Latrobe, Shazier will indeed be forced to win the starting role in the trenches.

But for now it’s a change of tune if not in fact a change in song on the part of Mike Tomlin….

…And for those of you who’re into reading things into “Football in shorts,” Shaizer closed the loop on this story by knocking down Pouncey during OTA’s.

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Steelers Make Right Call on Heinz Field Expansion

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 off season has been among the busiest on record. The team was uncharacteristically aggressive in free agency. Management also kept the faithful on their toes with a 2014 draft defined by size,speed and surprise.

The impact of the Steelers free agent wheeling and dealing won’t be known until September and the full measure of the Steelers 2014 draft can only be taken in 2016 or so. But there is one move Steelers management made this spring that is unequivocally the right one:

  • Agreeing to expand Heinz Field without leaving the Allegheny County taxpayers on the hook.

As Steel Curtain Rising has editorialized before, expanding Heinz Field is a good idea and one the Steelers should pay for. Expanding Heinz Field is a smart move simply because while the NFL’s revenue pie might be growing, there’s no guarantee that the Steelers piece of pie will grow in proportion.

  • Steelers Nation tends to think of Heinz Field as “new” but it is this will be its 14th year in operation, or as old as Three Rivers Stadium was in 1984.

And while Heinz Field is the newest facility in the AFC North, with the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals abodes having opened in 1998, 1999, and 2000, the Ravensrevenue bests the Steelers to the tune of 26 million dollars a year, and both Baltimore and Cincinnati are more profitable.

Why the Steelers Should Pay (Again)

But if the business case is plain to see for expanding Heinz Field, it is equally obvious that the people of Allegheny County shouldn’t pick up the bill.

  • The Rooneys are not like the Daniel Snyders or Jerry Joneses of the NFL. 

Their wealth is tied up in the Steelers, and they do not have the non-football income streams to finance a new stadium. That was the argument they made in getting Pennsylvania to build Heinz Field. It made sense then, but in Heinz Field gives the Steelers a platform for raising the revenues they need for stadium improvements.

  • For a while there, it seemed like the Steelers didn’t see it that way.

The Steelers of course went to court trying to force the public to finance the expansion, which was a sad spectacle. While Steel Curtain Rising has no proof of this, it’s interesting to note that the decision to take the case to court began while Dan Rooney was still serving as ambassador of Ireland, and the choice to settle outside the courts was made after his return.

  • Is this Dan Rooney’s influence at work? 

Steel Curtain Rising has no information to answer that question. If the answer is yes, then that speaks well of the Patriarch of Steelers Nation and offers cause for concern about the direction the team’s stewardship may take when Rooney moves on to his heavenly reward.

Technically speaking, the Steelers aren’t financing the expansion themselves, they’re passing the cost on to ticket buyers in the form of a 1 dollar surcharge. While that might not be the most fan friendly thing to do, the Steelers are hardly the first business to pass capital expansion costs off to the customer.

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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 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 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 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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