Steelers (Latest) Gamble on Offensive Line to be Tested vs. Colts

Time will tell whether the Steelers decision to cut Wesley Johnson will come back to haunt them the way cutting Kraig Urbik or letting Doug Legursky go did, but the first test will come today vs. the Colts.

Marcus Gilbert, by all accounts, will not suit up due to NFL concussion protocols. And that is as it should be. However, it leaves the Steelers in a bind, once again, at offensive tackle. Mike Adams will start in Gilbert’s place and Kelvin Beachum will stay in his normal spot at left tackle.

  • Dan Rooney had better say an extra decade on his rosary beads in hopes that neither man gets hurt.

When Beachum went down briefly vs. the Texans, Maurkice Pouncey was set to move to left tackle with Cody Wallace taking over at center. That’s because the Steelers have no other offensive tackles on their roster, now that Johnson is gone.

  • If the last several season have made anything clear, is that offensive line depth is necessity, not a luxury.

The Steelers of course found this out, again, the hard way on opening day 2013. They rolled the dice, and came up short, very short. Now they’re doing it again. Guy Whimper was available and could have been resigned. Ross Ventrone could have been cut, but perhaps Shamarko Thomas’ lingering injury prevented that.

Either way, the Steelers are left hoping lighting doesn’t strike in the same place it has – many times, in the past. The franchise has invested heavily in the draft to provide Ben Roethlisberger with quality protection, yet they still seem willing to gamble further down the depth chart.

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Colbert, Tomlin, Steelers Made Correct Call on LaMarr Woodley

To put it mildly, critiquing Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s decision making is in vogue now within Steelers Nation. And, truth be told, some of the personnel decisions the two men have made are open to question (Who exactly decided to trade up to get Alameda Ta’Amu, for example?)

  • But when it comes to LaMarr Woodely, Colbert and Tomlin called this one spot on.

NFL Draft Diamonds couldn’t have chosen a more apt photo. A year ago the Steelers suffered their latest meltdown at Oakland’s Black Hole, and as you can see, Woodley was rushing Terrell Pryor. Which is what the Steelers had in mind when they resigned him to 6 year 61.5 million dollar contract in 2011.

Woodley, put simply, was a sack machine. At that point in his career, Woodley’s sacks-per-game pace far outstripped Steelers legends such as Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, or James Harrison. And it continued that way for a while. Woodley opened up 2011 on a tear, with 9 sacks in the first 8 games, including two drops of Tom Brady in the Steelers upset of the Patriots.

  • But that’s when Woodley suffered his first soft tissue injury.

It’s been downhill ever since. 2012? Ruined by injury. 2013? Ruined by injury. By the 2014 off season, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had seen enough and made the collective decision to bite the bullet. The Steelers cut LaMarr Woodley, but it’s a move that’s costing them $5.6 million against their 2014 salary cap and 8.6 million in 2015.

  • But it was clearly the correct move.

Woodley was a total bust in Oakland, massing all of 5 tackles in six games. Yes, he’d moved from outside linebacker to defensive end, but these are numbers that do not lie.

Time to Take Our Own Medicine

Regular readers are familiar with Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower, which analyzes the job done by those who cover the Steelers. The chief focus on the Watch Tower is to seek to understand what makes the press tick – what gets covered (or not covered) by who and why. But, truth be told, the Watch Tower does like to play a little bit of “gottacha” now and then, pointing out when journalists get things wrong.

  • Well, Steel Curtain Rising got this one wrong, and in a big way.

In our 2014 Steelers Free Agent Focus run up, Steel Curtain Rising reviewed the pro’s and con’s of keeper or cutting Woodley. And while we correctly read the tea leaves which indicated the Steelers were going to cut him, our final conclusion was:

The Curtain’s call is that the Steelers stick with Woodley for one more year, but the Steelers themselves seem inclined to take the cap hit move on.

It’s time for the Watch Tower to take its own medicine — there’s a reason why Colbert and Tomlin get paid to do what they do and this is just a non-commercial fan site. They were right on Woodley, I was wrong.

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Steelers Suffer Practice Squad Roster; Tuitt Likely to Start, McCullers to get Helmet…

The Pittsburgh Steelers gamble with Wesley Johnson coupled with additional injuries suffered during the loss to Cleveland have forced additional roster changes.

To replace Ross Ventrone on the practice squad the Steelers signed defensive back Jordan Sullen. To provide additional insurance now that Steve McLendon is injured, the Steelers signed defensive end Ethan Hemer. Taking Johnson’s space, figuratively, is offensive lineman Adam Gettis.

The moves cost Derek Moye his spot on the practice squad and also forced 5th round pick Shaquille Richardson to the injured reserve list, ending his season before it began.

For Good or For Ill, Defensive Line Shake Up Coming

2nd round pick out of Notre Dame Stephon Tuitt should get his first start this week vs. the Texans.

As Cam Thomas has shown he is no Al Woods both fans and the press have been calling for Tuitt to get more time. Thomas however will start at nose tackle, but Dan McCullers will likely be activated this week as he is the lone nose tackle.

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Tomlin Must Lead Cortez Allen Reclamation Project

Once upon a time there was a Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback, whom both the team and Steelers Nation admired as a rookie. This corner, however, failed to crack the starting line up in his second year, only breaking through to the other in his third season. Going into year four, the team gave him a big contract – only to see him struggle.

Well, yes, Cortez could be the unnamed Steelers corner above, but it’s actually Ike Taylor. Taylor’s story and Allen’s story are similar, there’s no perfect parallel. Bill Cowher began using Taylor to shadow the opponents best receiver during the Steelers ’05 Super Bowl run, and it was Taylor’s interception that recaptured the momentum for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

That was all in Taylor’s third season. Allen first memorable play of his 3rd season was missing a tackle vs. Minnesota in London. He did come back to make a big pick six vs. Green Bay, but it William Gay was the Steelers most consistent corner in 2013.

But, like Taylor before, him the Steelers choose to keep Allen off of the free agent market prior to his fourth season, only to see him struggle. Bill Cowher’s reaction was to bench Taylor for 5 games in 2006.

  • Now, Mike Tomlin is unambiguously threatening a similar fate for Allen.

Over one Behind the Steel Curtain, site editor Neal Coolong argues that such a benching might be beneficial to Allen’s development.

Allen Reclamation Project

Player development is a curious concept (and one that can’t be explored fully here.) Sometimes players show incredible flashes as rookies but then are seen no more. Other times a player can tinker on the edge of obscurity, only to emerge as a solid starter or even superstar (think Brett Keisel and James Harrison.)

  • Cortez Allen showed those flashes as a rookie and as a “sophomore.”

In the final couple of games of the 2012 season, Allen almost single handedly doubled the Steelers turnover total. This was after a rookie season that saw him get time in the team’s upset victory of the New England Patriots.

But Allen’s development since those moments has been anything consistent. Opposing teams unhesitatingly target him, and with the exception of the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville games, Allen’s given them no reason to regret it.

When Allen got beaten badly by Cleveland’s Jordan Cameron Trent Green suggested that he should have had safety help. Reporters asked Mike Tomlin if that was the case, and Tomlin flat out denied it, laying full responsibility at Allen’s feet.

  • While the prospect of benching Allen might win popular approval in Steelers Nation, it’s a dubious move in terms of football merit.

Brice McCain is the new “next man up” at corner, and while McCain has legitimately earned his 15 minutes of fame as a nickel back, there’s nothing to indicate he’s ready to start.

Instead of benching Allen, Tomlin should make Allen’s development his personal project. Tomlin entered the league as a defensive backs coach, so he knows the tricks to the trade. While Tomlin shouldn’t and couldn’t devote excess 1-1 time with Allen, Tomlin does need to closely monitor the situation via defensive backs coach Carnell Lake and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

With the cupboard bare behind him, and Ike Taylor aging, it isn’t a question of the Steelers wanting to get Cortez Allen’s development back on track, it’s a question of them needing to. This is necessary not only to salvage something from 2014, but for the good of 2015 and beyond.

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NY Jets Sign Steelers Wesley Johnson Off of Waivers

Once upon a time the Pittsburgh Steelers rolled the dice by cutting a promising young offensive lineman. A suspension of Ben Roethlisberger and an injury to Byron Leftwich didn’t leave the much choice. The Steelers had planned to cut Charlie Batch, but they needed to keep him.

But this young lineman had made so much progress that he’d outpaced the incumbent starting center, Justin Hartwig, whom Maurkice Pouncey had displaced.

  • That young lineman was Kraig Urbik, who got claimed by Buffalo and went on to make 44 starts for the Bills while the Steelers struggled on offensive line.

The Steelers didn’t get much long term value out of their 2009 Draft. The rest of the NFL did, however, and Urbik started the trend.

Something similar could be afoot with the Steelers 2014 draft. Shamarko Thomas’ hamstring injury forced the Steelers to cut 5th round pick Wesley Johnson to make room for Ross Ventrone. The idea was that the Steelers would resign Johnson to the practice squad.

  • The New York Jets had other ideas, and claimed him off of waivers. 

While Wesley Johnson never played a down for the Steelers, he’d shown a lot of promise, particularly with his ability to play all 5 line positions, and made Guy Whimper expendable. [Knock on wood] the Steelers have had better luck this far with offensive line injuries, but offensive line depth has been an issue throughout the Tomlin era.

That depth just got a little thinner.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Roster – Taking a Second Look

A year ago the Steelers made their “final cuts” and immediately hit the wavier wire signing Zoltan Mesko, Cody Wallace and Antwon Blake. The move was highly uncharacteristic for the Steelers, and smelled of desperation, but with two out of the three players returning in 2014 it looks Kevin Colbert’s bargain hunting worked out.

Many expected the Steelers to make additional moves after getting down to 53, but it looks like they’re standing pat.

With that, let’s have a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Roster

Quarterbacks  (3)
Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones

bBen roethlisberger steelers quarterbacks

Landry Jones was on the bubble, and many expected him to be either relegated to the practice squad or simply cut. Some quick research on ESPN shows Brian St. Pierre having a better sophomore preaseason than Jones. Just say’n….

Running Backs (4)
Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Will Johnson

This is one of the smallest opening day squads of running backs in recent memory. It was only 2010 that the Steelers opened with Mendenhall, Dwyer, Redman, Moore, and Johnson. But times change, and this is a passing man’s league.

Tight Ends (3)
Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Michael Palmer

My what a difference one year makes. A year ago the Steelers number 1 and 2 tight ends were David Johnson and David Paulson, with Kelvin Beachum working as a third TE. Palmer shows remarkable resilience after arriving as an injury replacement.

Offensive Tackles (3)
Marcus Gilbert, Kelvin Beachum, Mike Adams

Let’s hope the talk that Guy Wimper was legitimately giving Adams a run for the third tackle slot was simply a Mike Munchak motivationally ploy.

Guards (3)
Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Wesley Johnson, Chris Hubbard

Time for DeCastro to dominate. Johnson becomes the new Trai Essex-like utility lineman. Let’s hope Hubbard’s apprenticeship on the practice squad taught him something.

Centers (2)
Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace

Wallace played well late last year, as the team started 3 centers. He can also play guard.

Wide Receivers (6)

Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Justin Brown, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey

steelers antonio brown wide reciever

Brown is a proven commodity. He’s also the only one to step on the field for the Steelers. Let’s hope Ben is in sync with his wideouts.

Steelers 2014 Defense

Nose Tackles (2)
Steve McLendon, Dan McCullers

The word from Johnny Mitchell is that Steve McLendon needs to focus on being Steve McLendon and not Casey Hampton. Let’s hope he’s right. McCullers intrigued in training camp and preseason, and if a kid this shows that he really can learn his craft, watch out.

Defensive Ends (4)
Cameron Heyward, Brett Keisel, Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt

On paper, a solid mix of the old, new, now and in between.

Inside Llinebackers (5)
Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin

In one year, this position swings from being the Steelers weakest, to its deepest. Garvin is also doubling as a backup outside – on paper at least.

Outside Linebackers (3)
 Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats

The outside linebackers have long been the mainstay of the Steelers 3-4 zone blitz defense. Jones needs to make the year two leap, and Jason Worilds needs to both stay healthy and show he’s worth the money he wants to make. Depth is exceptionally thin.

Cornerbacks (6)
Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Brice McCain, Antwon Blake, B.W. Webb

All of the pundits both outside and inside Pittsburgh expected the Steelers to devote considerable resources to upgrading here. Instead, they got Brice McClain. The Steelers need the proverbial “One more year” out of Taylor.

Safeties (5)
Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Will Allen

steelers shamarko thomas work out

Perhaps the deepest the Steelers have ever been at this position. The Steelers need Mitchell to deliver, while they also need to work Thomas onto the field. Needless to say, when Dan Rooney prays his Rosary, he should include a special intention for Polamalu’s health.

Specialists (3)
Kicker – Shaun Suisham
Punter – Brad Wing
Long snappers – Greg Warren

Suisham had a shaky preseason, which is not encouraging. Brad Wing won the punting job by default – sure, punting might not correlate to Lombardi’s, but a solid punter can wall paper over a lot of deficiencies on either offense or defense. Greg Warren is apparently healthy, which is good as he’s got to do one thing, and historically he’s done it well.

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Richardson, Blanchflower and Moye Headline Steelers Practice Squad Signings

One day after cutting their roster down to the NFL-mandated limit of 53, the Pittsburgh Steelers filled out their preliminary practice squad.

Returning draftees are cornerback Shaquille Richardson and tight end Rob Blanchflower. These moves mean that all nine players taken in the 2014 NFL Draft return to the Steelers, with rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt having been placed on injured reserve last week.

The rest of the practice squad consists of defensive ends Josh Mauro and Nick Williams, wide receivers Derek Moye and C.J. Goodwin, outside linebacker Howard Jones, safety Ross Ventrone, running back Josh Harris and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

Return for Arnflet and So’oto Not in the Cards

When the Steelers made their initial roster cuts, Brian Arnfelt and  Vic So’oto were among the surprises. Brian Arnfelt had spent 14 games on the Steelers 2013 practice squad until getting activated for the final contests vs. Green Bay and Cleveland. Vic So’oto had surprised and impressed in training camp and preseason.

  • There was speculation that the Steelers cut both men early to give them a better shot at sticking on with another team, and if not bring them back via the practice squad.

However, as of yet, neither has been signed by another NFL club, and the Steelers did not invite either back to the practice squad.

Additional Roster, Practice Squad Moves Possible

While the Steelers 2014 53 man roster is complete along with the practice squad, the compesition of both groups is almost certain to change.

First the Steelers will likely make their injured reserve designation, with 4th round pick Matvias Bryant the likely candidate. That would open one roster spot which the team could fill with someone on the practice squad and/or with another player.

It is also highly possible if not likely that the Steelers will seek to upgrade at punter, where Brad Wing displayed good hang time and little else during preseason. Landry Jones also failed to impress during preseason, and could find himself unemployed if the Steelers decide to add a new third string quarterback.

In addition, the Steelers depth at outside linebacker is terribly thin, while the offensive line has little proven depth.

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Chris Carter, Guy Whimper, Headline Steelers Cuts

The Pittsburgh Steelers cut 22 players today to get down to the NFL-mandated 53 man roster limit. The move included veteran Chris Carter whom the Steelers picked in the 2011 NFL Draft joined the team in 2011. Gerry Dulac had once touted Chris Carter as the steal of the 2011 draft. Alas, that never materialized.

Other names worthy of an eyebrow raise are Guy Whimper, who’d been rumored to be contending with Mike Adams for the 3rd tackle spot, Derek Moye, who held a roster spot during 2013, tight end David Paulson who started 2013 as the Steelers number two tight end.

  • Isaiah Green, who spent much of 2013 getting cut, signed to the practice squad, and cut again, was also released.

Draft Picks Saquille Richardson, Rob Blanchflower also got visits from The Turk, as did 2013’s 7th round pick Nick Williams and 2014 training camp stand outs linebacker Howard Jones and Josh Mauro.

Beyond that, the NFL dream ended (or at least got put on hold) for these other players:

Tight end Bryce Davis, defensive backs Dayonne Nunley, and Ross Ventrone, running backs Josh Harris and Stephen Houston. Defensive linemen Ethan Hemer and Roy Philon, linebacker Dan Molls. Wide receiver Lanear Sampson. Offensive linemen Will Simmons, and Graham Pocic. The Steelers also cut quarterback Brendon Kay.

Brown, Jones Make the Grade

Contrary to popular speculation, the Steelers did not decide to cut second year quarterback Landry Jones, although Jones struggled mightly through his second preseason. Justin Brown, a fellow member of the Steelers 2013 Draft Class, also made the team.

More Moves to Come

At the moment the Steelers are keeping Brad Wing as their punter, although Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert could very well be watching the wavier wire in search of a better option. The Steelers decision to sign B.W. Webb shows they’re ready to make other moves.

And the team must now fill out its practice squad, which it can do once all of the release players clear waivers.

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Steelers Place Zumwalt on IR; Sign B.W. Webb

It’s Less than 24 hours before the all NFL teams must trim their roster to the mandatory 53 man but the Pittsburgh Steelers are already making moves, including one surprise.

First, the Steelers placed rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt on injured reserve, ending his season before it started. The Steelers drafted Zumwalt in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL Draft and was expected to push veteran Chris Carter for a roster spot. However, Zumwalt got injured early in camp and never got a fair chance to compete.

The Steelers next move was a surprise when they signed former Dallas Cowboys corner B.W. Webb. Webb was a former 2013 fourth round pick by the Cowboys. Webb appeared in 15 games as a rookie, but was eventually benched and ultimately cut by Dallas.

The move clearly signals that the Steelers are concerned about their depth at cornerback. Behind Ike Taylor, William Gay, and Cortez Allen, the Steelers only have  Brice McCain and Antwon Blake in addition to rookie Shaquille Richardson who the Steelers drafted in the 5th round.

Either McCain or Blake’s roster spots could be in jeporady, or the move could signal Richardson is to be released and/or put on injured reserve.

Contract for Cortez or No…?

During training camp and preseason, the Steelers have been rumored to be interested in signing Cortez Allen to a long-term deal. Steelers President Art Rooney II indicated the Steelers are interested in coming to terms with players before the season starts, but is not sure there is time.

Since 1993 the Steelers have had a regular season contract negotiation black out, so if no deal is reached, Allen will play out the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers selected Allen in the 4th round of the 2011 draft.

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Brian Arnfelt, Vic So’oto, Eric Waters Lead Steelers 1st Cuts

The Pittsburgh Steelers trimmed down their roster today to 75 players per NFL regulations, and the cuts included some surprises.

  • The Turk made two rounds at the South Side today.

During the first wave he visited outside linebacker Vic So’oto, tight end Eric Waters, defensive backs Jordan Dangerfield, Lew Toler and Devin Smith, wide receivers C.J. Goodwin and Kashif Moore, and running backs Miguel Maysonet and Jordan Hall.

  • That left six more players for the Steelers to cut.

Before the day was over, the Turk darkened the doors of offensive lineman Chris Elkins, Emmanuel McCray, nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, defensive end Brian Arnfelt, long snapper Luke Ingram and running back Tauren Poole.

Luke Ingram’s release is a possible sign that the Steelers anticipate having the services of Greg Warren for their season opener vs. Cleveland. Warren tore his meniscus during training camp, and his status for the beginning of the regular season has been in doubt.

The biggest surprises were Eric Waters, who was hampered by his inability to stay healthy, and Vic So’oto who forced two fumbles in the preseason opener.

Arnfelt represents another surprise, as he did a full year on the Steelers practice squad until getting activated at season’s end. Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola even went as far as to compare Arnfelt to a young Chris Hoke.

The Steelers will play their final preseason game vs. Carolina on Thursday, and must trip their rosters down to 53 by August 31st.

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