Lawrence Timmons Willing to Renegotiate Contract to Stay in Pittsburgh

During Steelers OTA’s it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as discerning what “real news” is out there, but ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler landed a legit story when he reported that Lawrence Timmons is willing to renegotiate his contract to stay in Pittsburgh.

Lawrence Timmons was the first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era, whom the Steelers initially selected as an outside linebacker in the 2007 NFL Draft. Injuries limited Timmons playing time as a rookie, and in his second year he’d moved inside but failed to unseat starter Larry Foote.

The Steelers nonetheless were projecting Timmons as a starter heading into 2009, prompting Larry Foote to seek his release. Timmons did start in 2009, but drew mixed results and even split time with Keyaron Fox. Timmons bounced back in 2010, and was easily the team’s best defender during the first half of a season which saw Troy Polamalu win defensive player of the year honors.

In 2011, the Timmons signed a $47,795,750 dollar 6 year contract with the Steelers. Two years remain on that contract, and according to the site Over the Cap, Timmons cap values for 2015 and 2016 are $12,566,250 and $11,816,250. Only Ben Roethlisberger has a higher cap value for 2015 and only Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown have higher numbers for 2016.

Is Timmons Time in Pittsburgh Almost Up?

If Lawrence Timmons development was perhaps a little slow, he has unquestionably been the Steelers most consistent defender since 2012. Since that sesason, Timmons has hauled down 5 interceptions, recorded 11 quarterback sacks, forced 2 fumbles and recovered two, while leading the team in tackling.

  • While the Steelers have been not overly sentimental about keeping aging players, they’re also not shy about paying productive veterans.

And Timmons has little or history with major injuries, so on the face of it, his future in Pittsburgh would be a no-brainer. But there are two X-Factors which complicate the picture.

The first is Ben Roethlisberger’s new contract. Roethlisberger’s new deal, while generally cap friendly, has a cap value that spikes to almost 24 million in 2016, a number that almost demands the Steelers made room elsewhere.

The second X factor is the depth chart behind Timmons. The Steelers drafted Ryan Shazier in 2014 and he is projected as Timmon’s co-starter. However, the Steelers also have Sean Spence and Vince Williams, both of whom made impressive strides in 2014, and both of whom still have “upside.”

  • Success in the salary cap era is all about getting the most bang for your buck.

And while teams can get that bang for their salary cap buck in a number of ways, the easiest way is to get production out of draft picks while they’re still working on their rookie contracts. Sean Spence is entering his fourth year, so he’ll be looking at a second contract in 2016, but Vince Williams will still be playing on his rookie contract as will Ryan Shazier. Even if Spence can expect a salary bump, he’ll come more cheaply than Timmons due to his limited playing time.

Since the Freeman-McNeil verdict brought free agency to the NFL in 1993, the Steelers formula for success has been to build through the draft and target productive players with extensions before they hit the free agent market. Lawrence Timmons would seem to fit that bill.

Yet USA Today Steelers Wire editor Neal Coolong argues “It’s tough to see the Steelers looking to tack on more years when they’ve spent the last three seasons developing Sean Spence, Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier.”

Timmons has a close relationship with new defensive coordinator Keith Butler and explained his feelings to Fowler this way: “I’ve been here for nine years, I’ve got a house here, I’d like to keep that house. I’ve got a family here that loves it.”

Timmons confirms that he hasn’t heard any talk of renegotiations, which is no surprise, the Steelers have a long-standing policy of not extending player’s contract until they enter their final year. The first sign of the Steelers intentions towards Timmons will come from how they deal with Sean Spence.

Should the Steelers decide to extend Spence’s contract this summer at St. Vincents, Timmons may want to hold back on adding an extra bedroom to his house.

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Steelers Sign Gerod Holliman

The Pittsburgh Steelers came to terms with the final member of their 2015 draft class when they signed 7th round pick Gerod Holliman to a 4 year contract. Although terms of the deal were not released, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly reports that per the NFL’s rookie wage scale, the approximate value of Gerod Holliman’s contract would $2.4 million over four years including a signing bonus of approximately $58,000.

As a 7th round draft pick, Holliman is in no way guaranteed a roster spot, but should he make the team his salary cap hit for this season would be $450,000. If he fails to make the team, the entire value of Hoilman’s $58,000 signing bonus would count against the Steelers salary cap.

Video Highlights from Gerod Holliman at Louisville

Now that Gerod Holliman’s contract with the Steelers is complete, additional video highlights are in order.

In word ladies and gentleman of Steelers Nation, Mr. Holliman is one defender who knows how to find the ball. Last year for Louisville, Holliman pulled down an NCAA record tying 14 interceptions. Indeed, Holliman’s was so hot coming out of the regular season, that NFL draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah analyst mocked Gerod Holliman to Steelers in the first round.

It didn’t work out that way, and as Dan Sanger of USA Today’s Steelers Wire explains “the reason a decorated played like Holliman lasted into the draft’s final round is simple; teams aren’t sure if he can tackle.” In that light, Holliman is reminiscent of Scott Shields, another Steelers safety draft pick from yesteryear. Shields was incredibly athletic and could take away the ball, but unfortunately, he shied away from contact.

  • Gerod Holliman faces mixed prospects for making the Steelers 2015 roster.

As a pure numbers game, the Steelers have Michael Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden, and Ross Ventrone returning from the 2014 roster. Theoretically, Troy Polamalu’s retirement opens a spot, but the Steelers carried 6 safeties on their final 2014 roster, and are unlikely to carry that many.

  • Five safeties might even be a high number for the Steelers to carry going into 2015.

The flip side is that of all the names mentioned, only Mike Mitchell is the only safety guaranteed a starting job (and give the Steelers recent interest in D.J. Swearinger it might be fair to say that Mike Mitchell is the only safety assured a roster spot.)

That means that Gerod Holliman’s opportunity with the Steelers is only limited by what he can make of it.

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Lessons from Past Steelers OTA’s – When “Football in Shorts” Does Yield Insights

Phase III of the Steelers 2015 off season workouts begin today, which are officially titled “Organized Team Activites” or just Steelers OTA’s. In the past Mike Tomlin has thrown cold water on drawing conclusions based on OTA’s, calling it “Football in shorts.”

  • And he’s right. There are real limits to what coaches, let alone fans, can learn from “Football in shorts.”

Fans are going to want to assessments on the Steelers 2015 draft class, they’ll progress reports on Bud Dupree, Senquez Golson, Sammie Coates and the rest of the crew. Unless any of those men get injured, there’s unlikely to be any meaningful news or insight on those players coming out of Steelers OTA’s

Yet looking back, past Steelers OTA’s have in fact given fans useful insights about the season to come — as well as plenty of false flags.

Steelers 2014 OTA’s & Minicamp – Shamarko 3rd on Depth Chart, Sean Spence Healthy

During OTA’s In 2014, Steelers Nation learned that Sean Spence had recovered enough to make a run at a roster spot after spending his first two years on IR.

 

Fans also learned that Shamarko Thomas, then going into his second year, was behind Will Allen on the depth chart at safety, something which remained constant through training camp all the way up to the Steelers playoff loss vs. the Ravens.

Steelers 2013 OTA’s & Minicamp – First Look at Le’Veon Bell and Shamarko Thomas

A photo of 2013 minicamp featured reserve cornerback in 2011 3rd round pick Curtis Brown wearing an ice pack, a development that foreshadowed his final summer at St. Vincents. Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review also told us the Le’Veon Bell ran with power, and that Landry Jones struggled passing. He also told us that Shamarko Thomas looked strong in gunner drills, and for whatever question still surround Shamarko as a safety, he’s played well on special teams.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s & Minicamp Polamalu Present, Wallace AWOL

In 2012 the big news out of Steelers OTA’s and minicamp was who was there – and who wasn’t. Following the departure of veterans like Aaron Smith and James Farrior, Troy Polamalu made a point of attending OTA’s to add leadership. However, Mike Wallace was absent, signaling his hold out. 2012’s OTA’s also featured the introduction of Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense to Todd Haley’s system, and Ben’s admonition to the rest of his players to “not get frustrated” again signaled things to come.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s were also when we learned that Todd Haley had “officially” restored the fullback position to the Steelers offense, as David Johnson would make the switch.

Yet, Steelers OTA’s in 2012’s and mini-camp also contained their share of false flags, as Dale Lolley reported how strong rookie 5th round pick Chris Rainey looked while adding that Baron Batch looked fully recovered from his ACL tear. Rainey disappointed on the field before disappointing off the field, while Batch was never the same.

The other big “News” of 2012 OTA’s was Kordell Stewart’s decision to “retire” as a Steeler.

Steelers 2010 OTA’s & Minicamp the Roethlisberger Suspension

There were no OTA’s or mini-camp in 2011 thanks to the NFLPA’s lockout. In 2010 there wasn’t a lot of “news” out of OTA’s and/or minicamp as Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension dominated coverage, although word was rookie Jonathan Dwyer looked strong. The big insight came from Dale Lolley, who signaled Kraig Urbik’s rise on the depth chart (which the Steelers unfortunately could not take advantage of.)

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp 2009 – Hill’s Demise, Mundy’s Rise Foreshadowed

The Steelers 2009 OTA’s and minicamps provided Steelers Nation with a mix and match of insight and false flags. Max Starks was absent and, tellingly, second year man Tony Hills did not take his place. Ryan Mundy also got extensive work, foreshadowing the Steelers efforts to groom Mundy as a future starter. (he never got there in Pittsburgh, but Ryan Mundy’s put up decent numbers in New York and better numbers in Chicago.)

However, Dale Lolley also opined that the 2009 Steelers showed a fire missing in 2006, an observation which ultimately did not carry over into the regular season.

Steelers 2008 OTA’s & Minicamp – Mike Tomlin Cautions Against “Football in Shorts”

Steelers OTA’s in 2008 provided Mike Tomlin’s “football in shorts” comment when asked about the development of Dallas Baker. The spring practice sessions also revealed that Anthony Smith still hadn’t learned anything, as evidenced by an over the top display following an interception. Dale Lolley, again offered some solid insight on the rise of Darnell Stapleton, who would start for the Steelers following Kendall Simmons’s injury vs. Baltimore that coming fall.

Also, it was Lolley who gave Mewelde Moore some of the love that the rest of the press covering the Steelers missed – and this is something that Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower missed when it critiqued the members of the Steelers media for ignoring Moore.

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp – 2007 All Eyes on Faneca and Tomlin

The story in Steelers OTA’s and Mini-camp in 2007 was the Alan Faneca situation. Faneca was decidedly unhappy about not getting a contract extension from the Steelers, and went very public with his grievances.

  • Everyone wanted to see how rookie head coach Mike Tomlin handled the situation, and the record shows he handled it well.

One false flag came from Dale Lolley, who described Dan Sepulaveda’s punting as “awesome” something that didn’t translate to the field of play. He also singled out the Steelers interest in undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Clement, a kid who never made the team, but for some reason was a magnet for search visitors during Steel Curtain Rising’s maiden season.

[Quick note on sources. After 2012 Google is not very helpful in returning meaningful results for the queries “Steelers OTA’s” and/or “Steelers Mini-camp” even when limiting queries by date. Thankfully Dale Lolley has a site index archive that is searchable by date. Kudos to him. He gets the back links, for what they’re worth.]

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Mike Tomlin’s PAT Proposal Was the Best One

The NFL changed the rules governing extra points. They experimented with ideas in the 2014 preseason, debated the switch, and even voted on three different proposals for changes, and in the process generated a lot of headlines to fill a rather newsless spot on the NFL calendar.

  • The problem is, the NFL owners never voted on the right proposals.

Of all the proposals to modify the extra point, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made the best one. Unfortunately, the Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal never saw the light of day.

Does “If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It” Apply to PAT’s in the NFL?

For over 100 years, the process has been simple. The offense scores a touchdown, and the kicker comes on to try an extra point. In 1994 the NFL added the two point conversion, which is nice to have, but really hasn’t altered the nature of the game. Arguably, failed 2 point conversion attempts have generated more controversy as opposed to successful ones generating excitement.

  • What has changed are the percentages of successful extra point attempts.

Exact percentages of extra points made year by year are not easily available, but in 1932 the successful PAT percentage was 67%. By the time the NFL surpassed baseball as the most popular sport in the US, the extra point was approaching automatic.

  • Now the extra point is essentially automatic.

As early as 2011 Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been calling for elimination of the play. As a general rule, if Bill Belichick is for something then that’s usually sufficient justification for anyone of integrity to be against it.

But as someone who has watched the NFL from Argentina for over 14 years, explaining purpose of the all but automatic extra point to a novice can present quite a challenge.

Heed the Cry of Elementary School Math Teachers?

Yet, if there’s a competitive argument for changing the extra point, tradition lends aid and comfort to those who resist change. A touchdown “should” be 7 points? Right? I mean, that’s just the way it is right? It’s as natural as the sun setting in the west?

  • Afterall, there’s a reason why kids learning their time tables, or at least the boys, struggle until they get to their 7’s.

As a 2nd or 3rd grader what 9 times 4 is and they’ll probably need to think. Maybe they’ll reach for a calculator. But ask them what’s “5 times 7” and they’ll tell you “35” before you’re finished asking the question. And that’s because the kid instinctively knows that you’re asking him how much 5 touchdowns adds up to.

OK, perhaps the argument is a bit overstated, but Steelers President Art Rooney II has expressed support for the tradition of keeping 7 points as the traditional touchdown point value.

2015 Extra Point Rule Amounts to Superfluous Tinkering

The good news is that for 2015, the touchdown will still continue to be 7 points most of the time. The NFL has decided to spot the ball at the 10 yard line, making the extra point a 33 or 34 yard field goal. On paper, this is a HUGE deal, if for no other reason than it is the second scoring change the league has made in its 95 year history, the other changing being the introduction of the two point conversion in 1994.

  • But NFL owners, interested in adding some excitement to the PAT, haven’t done much.

NFL kickers converted PAT’s at a rate of 99.4% in 2014. During the same season, field goals of the range of 30 yards were completed at a rate of just above 90%. More importantly, the ball will still be spot at the 2 yard line for teams wishing to go for two.

A big motive behind the rule change is to motivate coaches to go for 2, which only happened 59 times in 512 regular season games in 2014. But given that two point conversions are successful at just below 50% of the time, whereas the extra point figures to be a 90% proposition. Also keep in mind that the defense can return a failed two point conversion for 2 more points. This will be rare, but costly.

Stated simply, the smart money still says to take the easy one rather than a risky 2.

Mike Tomlin’s PAT Proposal Was Better

The idea of moving the extra point back got tested during the 2014 preseason, and comes as no surprise. The Eagles and the Patriots proposed their own alternatives, both of which had the ball being snapped from the 15. The Eagles would have placed the ball on the 1 for two point conversions.

  • Neither idea was any better.

The idea of making the kicked extra point more difficult is a head scratcher. Field goals aren’t terribly exciting plays. Generally speaking their the consultation prize for failing to score a touchdown. Of course they’re a fundamental part of the game, and they do add excitement late in the game.

  • Now the NFL is going to make a kick on fourth and goal worth more than an extra point which is now more difficult to make. This makes no sense.

Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal made fare more sense. Mike Tomlin proposed spotting the ball at the one (later incarnations had the ball going to the 1.5 yard line,) and allowing teams to either kick or go for two. This proposal doesn’t “punish kickers” yet still incentivizes the two point conversion.

Apparently though, this proposal met stiff resistance from coaches.

Baltimore Raven’s coach John Harbaugh criticized Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal harshly:

I think that’s just not a smart move. It would be a safety issue. You give a team an opportunity to run a quarterback sneak with the two tackles in there and the backs pushing in from behind, then it’s not football anymore. It’s rugby. I think that would be the result of it. Plus, you’d have all the pick plays from 1-yard out. That would be the play of choice.

That’s an interesting take to say the least. While quarterback sneaks do happen in goal line stands, they’re certainly not the most common play. And who ever heard of people complaining that goal lines stands were “too much like rugby.” Perhaps the memory of the Steelers successful garbage time goal line stand late in their loss to Baltimore last year is too fresh in Harbaugh’s memory.

Either way, the NFL owners never got a chance to vote on Mike Tomin’s PAT Proposal. Pity

Starkey Offers Creative, Bold PAT Plan

Mike Tomlin’s PAT proposal might have been the best official one floated, but it isn’t perfect. Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review offered his own PAT proposal, and this one has teeth. His plan is simple:

  • Award 7 points for a touchdown
  • Allow coaches to go for two – if they get it the TD =9 points total; if they fail they lose two

Now that’s a proposal that adds some real drama to the concept of a two point conversion. Opting to go for two becomes the essence of a risk-reward decision.

At the of the day however, Starkey’s proposal probably isn’t practical. Allowing for a potential 4 point swing in the score of a touchdown is a double edged sword that create as many lopsided routs as it does competitive barn burners.

The real wisdom of Starkey’s proposal lies in simply awarding 7 points for a touchdown, and still giving coaches the chance to go for two. Provided that the NFL does use the extra time to add in even MORE commercials and/or stops in game play, this is a proposal that makes sense.

A Word on Those Conservative Coaches

Commentators love to bash coaches for not being more bold, and coaches refusal to attempt the two point conversion is a perfect example. That’s understandable, to a point. Writers want something to write about. Nothing generates copy – and web page visits — like a bold play call; bold calls that fail generate even more excitement.

But here’s a little secret:

  • NFL coaches get paid to win
  • You win by adding more points than the other coach
  • Therefore a shot at 1 point with a 90% success rate beats a shot at 2 with slightly below 50%

Yes, people have said that if you crunch the numbers, attempting the 2 point conversion will work out in the long run to be more advantageous. But dice do not have memories, and any coach that has a chance to take the or tie a game by kicking for 1 point at any point in the second half is going to take the safe route.

It’s easy to say, “Ah, he should have the balls to go for it there…” until your team comes up short and loses by 1 point.

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The Steelers 2015 Draft Is Already Having an Impact. Its Creating Compeitition

The Steelers 2015 draft class isn’t a month old yet, but the race to chart their impact is well underway.

Steelers Nation is told the team had the 24th best draft in the NFL. 2nd round pick Senquez Golson is either praised as a steal in some corners and labeled a reach in others. NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread  writer is already pushing Steelers first round pick Bud Dupree as a candidate for rookie of the year. (No, seriously he is.)

But we do live in the age of the 24/7 news cycle, and the NFL is not immune. Bloggers (including this one) must fill their pages with something, or risk the cyber equivalent of drying up and blowing away.

Who knows if any of the players the Steelers picked in the 2015 NFL Draft will have an impact on the field?

Past experience shows that one, maybe two, and if things are really good 3 will make noise on offense or defense. Hopefully it will rookies will be louder on special teams.

And leave it for Steelers outside linebacker Joey Porter to spell it out. As a player Joey Porter never shied from stirring it up. Actually, Joey Porter reveled in it. He continues to do so as a coach. His response whether he’s looking forward to working with Bud Dupree says it all:

…when you add depth, you make it a better group because now the competition is set so high. And we’re not naïve to the situation. There are only going to be four spots, maybe five. So the competition in my room just got that much stronger and that’s how you like it. When you got those guys in the room and they’re counting the numbers… my room now just went from seven to eight and they know how many spots you’re really going to keep. [emphasis added]

There you have it. The immediate impact of the Steelers 2015 draft class will be in the 2015 training camp battles.

Think about Joey Porter’s outside linebackers. Bud Dupree, James Harrison, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones are the assured roster spots. That’s it. The Steelers could keep 5 outside linebackers. But someone really has to impress the coaches.

Two months ago former CFL star Shawn Lemon’s main competition for that fifth slot was 2014 draftee Jordan Zumwalt and 2014 practice squad “star” Howard Jones. Now all three have to contend with Anthony Chickillo. Sixth round picks are not shoe ins to get roster spots, but the Steeler have a lot more invested in Chickillo than then have in Lemon or Jones.

  • Joey Porter’s outside linebacker’s room isn’t the only one getting uncomfortably crowded.

Antwon Blake was on the Steelers 2013 roster. He heard the talk of how the Steelers were CERTAIN to draft a corner early in the 2014 NFL Draft, and then watched them wait until day 3 to do it. Might Blake have been harboring fantasies that history would repeat? Perhaps. Oh, Blake will enter training camp as the number 3 cornerback on the Steelers depth chart, but now when he looks over one shoulder he’ll see Senquez Golson and glancing over the other will bring him visions of Doran Grant.

  • And that’s not the only side of Carnell Lake’s room suffering from overpopulation.

Last season the Steelers closed the year with an unprecedented 6 safeties on the roster. With Troy Polamalu retired that number almost automatically dropped to 5.

Michael Mitchell will start at safety for the Steelers. Shamarko Thomas will have the first shot at the next safety slot (at least we think that.) Will Allen will provide veteran insurance, but if he’s smart he’ll wait to renew his lease through January. Those numbers had to leave Robert Golden and Ross Ventrone feeling good about their odds of making the team.

No, 7th round picks don’t generally scare most NFL veterans, but back in January there were people mocking Hoillman to the Steelers in the 1st.

Hopefully Bud Dupree and one of the cornerbacks will make contributions to a Steelers defense that’s been starved of splash plays for several seasons now. But until these rookies get to St. Vincents and strap on the pads it’s too early to make any projections.

Steelers fans will long memories will recall the spring of 1991 when Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola gushed over the prospect of rookie first round draft pick Huey Richardson being able to move from inside linebacker to defensive end as the Steelers switched from a 3-4 to 4-3 between series. Richardson he implied, was going to make a Steelers defense that had finished number 1 the previous year even more dynamic. It sounded great on paper, until…

…Richardson strapped on the pads, where he red flags surfaced immediately. Richardson looked lost and even managed to break his nose in non-contract drills.

Granted, Richardson’s an extreme case. But if you want one solid prediction about the Steelers 2015 rookie class, it is this: These eight men are already making a dozen veterans or so uncomfortable.

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Steelers Sign Bud Dupree to 4 Year Rookie Contract

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed first round draft pick Bud Dupree today to a 9.2 million dollar contract which includes a 4.9 million dollar signing bonus, per Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that all drafted players be offered 4 year contracts, but first round picks also have 5th year option added to it and, accordingly, the Bud Dupree rookie contract carries that 5th year option.

The Steelers also signed 5th round pick Jesse James to a four year contract at an estimated value of 2.5 million dollars.

The only Steelers draft picks that remain unsigned are 4th round pick Sammie Coates and 7th round pick Gerod Holliman, although the team will come to terms with both men soon, possibly by tomorrow.

More Video on Bud Dupree

Alvin “Bud” Dupree comes to the Steelers from the Kentucky Wildcats having recording 23 1⁄2 sacks in 38 career starts including 7 1⁄2 as a senior last year.

Dupree was expected to be drafted early in the 2015 NFL Draft, with most analysts projecting him as a top ten pick, and some projecting him as early as a 6th round pick.

  • Nonetheless, Dupree fell, and the Steelers said they felt fortunate to have him.

Dupree critics charge that he is an unfinished product, and that his record on tape is not worthy of a first round selection, and have offered any number of “He fell for a reason” warnings since the Steelers took him. Dupree’s supporters counter by pointing to his freakish athletic talent, and indicate that he was poorly used in college, asked to play the equivalent of 4 or 5 positions.

Either way, Dupree will come to a Steelers team whose pass rush is sorely in need of an octane boost. While sacks (and interceptions) have been lagging for the past several seasons, the Steelers only recorded 33 sacks last season, their lowest total since the 1989 when the Steelers only managed 31 sacks (although in defense of Steel Curtain Rising’s beloved 1989 Steelers, the 1989 Steeler 31 sacks represented a dramatic improvement over the partly 19 sacks that the 1988 Steelers managed.)

  • The Steelers will play Bud Dupree on the strong side, where he’ll compete with Arthur Moats for playing time.

While James Harrison and 2013’s first round pick Jarvis Jones split time on the weak side.

CFL star Shawn Lemon,2015 6th round compensatory selection Anthony Chickillo, 2014 practice squad “star” Howard Jones, and former Miami Hurricane Shayon Green also hold spots on the Steelers off season roster. This quartet will spend the summer at St. Vincents in Latrobe fighting for a spot on the Steelers depth chart at outside linebacker.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for more on the Steelers and the 2015 NFL Draft.

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Steelers 2015 Safety Depth Still a Concern? Pittsburgh Made Wavier Wire Claim for D.J. Swearinger

The Steelers 2015 Draft Class included 3 defensive backs. Pittsburgh made a rare opening day free agency splash 14 months ago by signing Mike Mitchell. A year before that, they traded a future pick to draft Shamarko Thomas. They also made a restricted free agent offer to Robert Golden.

And yet, the Steelers 2015 safety depth still seems to be a concern.

Going into training camp, the Steelers depth chart at safety is headed by returning starter Michael Mitchell at free safety with Shamarko Thomas penciled in as the new starter at strong safety. Behind them are veteran Will Allen followed by Robert Golden and Ross Ventorne, who’ve seen little service at the safety position, but have played extensively on special teams.

While Holliman is a 7th round pick, he remains an intriguing prospect based on his 14 interceptions. And yet, if the report is correct, the Steelers still made a waiver wire claim on the Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger….

…D.J. Swearinger was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft and started 22 games over the last two years. Nonetheless, he was rumored to be on the trading block prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, and while he was not traded, the Texans released him.

Prior to their regular season meeting, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke glowingly about Swearinger. Tomlin admitted that he was “’highly familiar’” with Swearinger prior to prepping for Houston and said that Swearinger was one player who “’jumped off the tape.’”

  • That may have been the case, but for someone in Houston Swearinger jumped off the tape for no reason.

Nonetheless, the Steelers were interested in him. Perhaps this is simply another example of Mike Tomlin’s infatuation with superior athletes. The Steelers made a bull rush for Plaxico Burress when he was released from prison, and word is that Mike Tomlin wanted to make a run at Michael Vick only to be vetoed by Art Rooney II.

Steelers Skeptical about Shamarko?

The other possibility is that the Steelers are uncertain about Shamarko Thomas. After trading up for him in 2013, Thomas saw action early in his rookie season before getting injured. He returned to the secondary after getting injured, but was relegated to special teams after the Steelers 2013 debacle vs. New England.

During Steelers mini-camp 2014, Will Allen started ahead of Shamarko Thomas but the word was this was only for organizational purposes. Yet, when the regular season started, Thomas remained behind Allen on the depth chart before getting injured.

Mike Tomlin later explained his lack of defensive snaps due to set backs because of the injury, yet even though injuries sidelined Troy Polamalu sidelined for the Steelers final four games of 2014, coaches still could not, or would not, find a way to get Shamarko Thomas snaps at safety.

Time will tell whether the Steelers wavier wire claim with Swearinger was fueled by mere due diligence or skepticism about Shamarko Thomas.

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Steelers 2015 Draft Class Jersey Numbers

The Steelers 2015 Draft Class is now “official.” Yes, they were officially official the moment their names got called out from the podium. But now they’re really official as they’ve been assigned their first jersey numbers.

steelers, jersey numbers, 2015 draft class

Preseason Jersey Assignments for the Steelers 2015 Draft Class

Whether these numbers were requested or assigned or some combination thereof (as we know, there’s no way Bud Dupree’s getting number 58 or 59), they’re interesting because, for the most part, the jersey numbers don’t come with any Steelers legacy attached to them.

This provides a slight contrast to 2013, when Jarvis Jones boldly requested number 95, the number worn by Steelers linebacking legend Greg Lloyd. (And Jarvis, you still deserve more time, but you haven’t earned that yet….)

1st round pick linebacker Bud Dupree is wearing number 48. 48 was last worn by Matt Crushing, and was most notably worn by David Little during the 1981 season

2nd round pick cornerback Senquez Golson is wearing number 27. Jonathan Dwyer was the last Steeler to wear number 27, and the most prominent Steeler to don number 27 was probably Glen Edwards.

3rd round pick wide receiver Sammie Coates is wearing 14, last worn by Derek Moye and most prominently worn by Lynn Chandonis back in 1951 (sorry, just too hard to pay homage to Kneel O’Dummel.)

4th round pick cornerback Doran Grant is wearing number 24, which of course was worn by recently retired Ike Taylor. During the glory days of the Super Steelers J.T. Thomas also wore number 24.

5th round pick tight end Jesse James will wear number 81. Former backup tight end David Paulson was the last Steeler to wear 81. The most prominent player to wear 81 for the Steelers was Elbie Nickel, who wore in 1948 and1949 and then again from 1951 to 1957.

6th round defensive lineman L.T. Walton will wear 78, which was last worn by Guy Whimper and 78 is the same number once worn by Steel Curtain legend Dwight White.

6th round compensatory picks linebacker Anthony Chickillo will wear number 40, last worn by Marshall McFadden . The most prominent player to wear 40 for the Steelers was Myron Bell, hard hitting safety from the Bill Cowher’s Blitzburgh teams of the mid-1990’s.

7th round pick safety Gerod Holliman last worn by Curtis Brown, but worn most prominently by Donnie Shell from 1974 to 1987.

These Steelers 2015 draft class jersey numbers only valid for the preseason jersey, and they can and often do change before the regular season. For example, Joey Porter worn 95 during his rookie preseason, but changed to 55 before the regular season after Levon Kirkland took to calling him “Greg” in the huddle.

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Instant Draft Grades Are Silly. Ike Taylor Shows Why

The 2015 NFL Draft is history and pundits have given their grades and reached their conclusions on the Steelers 2015 draft class.

  • Fair enough. The impulse to grade a draft is both strong and understandable.

Steeler Nation wants to know how the Steelers did in the 2015 Draft. Now. Writers who grade the Steelers draft will serve two purposes – they’ll fill the fans’ needs and generate a lot of page views in the process — Declaring first round pick Bud Dupree as the next Greg Lloyd or the next Alonzo Jackson generates a lot of attention.

  • The temptation to join in remains great.

But year after year, Steel Curtain Rising holds back for two reasons. First, living in Buenos Aires doesn’t afford much opportunity to watch college football, and there’s no sense in offering an uninformed opinion.

  • Second, the exercise of instant draft grading is rather silly.

Ike Taylor’s story shows us why.

Ike Taylor, Steelers, draft, 2015 draft, 2003 draft

Ike Taylor Discusses who Steelers might draft to replace him

Alas, Ike Taylor Retires Just a Little Too Soon….

IF Ike Taylor only could have waited after the 2015 NFL Draft to retire…. Timing is everything in this business, and Taylor retired two weeks before the draft. And as a rule, major Steelers news only breaks when I am traveling and unable to write.

I was already on the road when Polamalu retired, but managed to craft a fitting tribute to the Steelers legend. When Taylor announced he was done I was knee-deep in a trade show, unable to attempt to write even a stub. So goes it.

  • But Ike Taylor offers a cautionary lesson all would be draft graders.

The Steelers drafted Ike Taylor in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Fans remember 2002 as the year that Tommy Gun took Steelers Nation by storm. Too many forget that Tommy Maddox gunslinging exploits were desperately necessary because New England outed the Steelers defense acute weakness vs. the spread offense.

  • Kevin Colbert opened the offseason proclaiming his love for the Steelers secondary.

Then he opened the draft by picking defensive backs – Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor — with two of his first three picks. And that’s where things get interesting.

Grading Ike Taylor and the Steelers 2003 Draft

Unfortunately, even the magic of Google doesn’t make it easy to find a lot of Steelers 2003 draft grades, so our survey sample is small.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette didn’t grade the Steelers 2003 draft, but he did recount how Ike Taylor chased rabbits as a kid, and arrived to the NFL as a raw talent.

ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli gave the Steelers a C+, he praised the Polamalu trade, although stopped well short of projecting Polamalu as the legend he’d become. He also praised J.T. Wall has the best value pick, and called Ike Taylor a “Boom bust” pick.

Ike Taylor, Steelers, Ravens, interception, Joe Flacco

Ike Taylor Picks off Joe Flacco

Walter Football, which specializes in draft-related analysis, loved the Polamalu pick, projected Brian St. Pierre Steelers “quarterback of the future,” rightly critiqued the Alonzo Jackson pick, and concluded, “All of their other picks were just average; nothing spectacular.” (In all fairness to the site, they updated the article in 2008, and admitted their oversight of Ike Taylor).

USA Today gave the Steelers 2003 Draft 3 and a half stars, praised Troy Polamalu, and the only other player mentioned was Pro Bowl Clipboard Holder Brian St. Pierre.

Mark Madden, then writing a freelance column for the Post Gazette, liked the picks of Polamalu and Alonzo Jackson, and the labeled the pick of Ike Taylor as “The worst in team history.” A sampling of Madden’s reasoning goes as follows: “Taylor will be a total bust for the Steelers. The only person he hurts will be me after he reads this column.”

Here we’ll resist the urge to upbraid Madden the way he so richly deserves if only because my friend Ivan Cole at Behind the Steel Curtain already did a masterful job of it.

  • The point of this column isn’t to show how wrong Madden was.

Rather, the point is, for a long time, it looked like Mark Madden was on to something about Ike Taylor…

Ike Taylor’s Cautionary Tale to Would-Be Draft Graders

Ike Taylor played in all 16 games as a rookie, but mainly as a kick returner. He was expected to grab the starting role in 2004. He started 1 game, and neither was he unable to beat out Deshea Townsend nor an aging Willie Williams nor an aging Chad Scott. Dare we say that Mark Madden was starting to look smart.

Ike Taylor, interception, Super Bowl XL

Ike Taylor’s interception changes tempo of Super Bowl XL

  • Of course Ike Taylor not only grabbed the starting role in 2005, he also began shadowing opposing offenses best receivers, and making game-changing plays in Super Bowl XL.

Yet, in 2006, even after the Steelers gave Taylor a big contract, he found himself on the bench during a stretch that saw the Steelers pull themselves from a 2-6 hole to respectability. While some in the press felt Bill Cowher had unfairly scapegoated Taylor, Steelers Digest Bob Labriola labeled Taylor as one of the top priorities for the attention of newly hired head coach Mike Tomlin.

  • Tomlin unhesitatingly started Ike Taylor, and Taylor played as one of the top cornerbacks in the league for 6 of the next 8 years.

Evaluating an NFL Draft class takes a long time. 12 years later the only two players from the Steelers 2003 draft that stand out are Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. The others are Steelers history footnotes.

But the day after the draft everyone was talking about Troy Polamalu. Two of the four same-day Steelers draft grades didn’t even mention Ike Taylor. Mark Madden condemned Kevin Colbert for making “The worst pick in history” when in fact Ike Taylor was probably Colbert’s best 4th round selection ever.

In the end, it was Len Pasquarelli who hit that mark when he suggested there were tremendous possibilities for Taylor. But he was even more right when he reminded Steelers Nation that it would take time to find that out.

That’s the moral of this story. How did the Steelers do in the 2015 NFL Draft? Ask again in 4 or 5 years.

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Steelers Roster Needs After 2015 Draft

The 2015 NFL Draft has come and gone and in the process the Steelers have potentially given themselves their pass rush and secondary direly needed shots in the arm. Wide receiving and defensive line depth also got a boost, as did tight end.

  • But doubling down at cornerback and outside linebacker, forced the Steelers to put other needs on hold.

While these needs were less immediate they nonetheless equal important opportunity costs that the franchise must address and/or pay at some point.

Steelers 2015 Draft, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Bud Dupree, Cornerback,

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin Discuss Steelers 2015 Draft

Offensive Line Gets No Love in Steelers Draft

A unicorn graced the presence of Steelers Nation in 2014. For almost the first time during Mike Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers offensive line experienced stability.

The Steelers lost no starters for the season, and the impact of week-to-week injuries remained limited. No one told stories of Mike Munchak playing musical chairs his lineman during games. Oh yeah, and the Steelers offense broached historic highs…. Coincidence?  Not on your life.

  • Can such luck endure from season-to-season?

We’ll see as 2015 unfolds. Looking beyond 2015, Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster and Mike Adams are both entering the final years of their contracts. That doesn’t mean they’ll leave Pittsburgh, but the Steelers certainly did not select their replacements in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Health Miller’s Replacement will Have to Wait

To be fair, it’s possible that Jesse James could develop into Heath Miller’s replacement. Late round draft picks can and do blossom into soild starters or even stars (see William Gay, 5th round pick, and Antonio Brown, 6th round pick.) But you don’t project to replace a player like Heath Miller in the 5th round.

Josh Harris Breathes a Sigh of Relief

Steelers reserve running back stood as one of the players with the most to lose heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. Running back might not have been on the Steelers draft need list, but it was on their draft want list. Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, and presumably Dri Archer have roster spots locked up as does Will Johnson. Barring injury that might be the Steeler final 2015 depth chart. But with Le’Veon Bell looking at a 3 game suspension, the Steelers will certainly start the season with another back on their roster.

  • With a year of practice squad experience and a handful of games, Josh Harris now has the inside track on that slot.

Any running back the Steelers drafted, even on drafted late, would have placed a bullseye on Harris’ back. Josh Harris roster sport remains safe, for now.

Defensive Line Depth Still a Potential Issue

The Steelers defensive line depth was a liability going into the 2015 NFL Draft, but the Steelers addressed that in the 6th round by drafting L.T. Walton.

But a sixth round pick’s hold on a roster spot is tenuous at best, and as the cases of Josh Mauro and Nik Williams show, stuffing them on the practice squad puts them at risk.

The NFL Draft is All about Opportunity Costs

None of this is to suggest that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin erred in not addressing these positions earlier or more often in the 2015 Draft. Opportunity costs form the fundamental nature of the NFL Draft – choosing Casey Hampton in 2001 also meant passing on Reggie Wayne.

With very few exceptions (see picking Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan or yes, Gabe Rivera over Dan Marino) team’s drafts are defined by who they picked and not who they passed on. And in that light, the Steelers 2015 Draft Class adds players to the Pittsburgh’s roster who have the potential to fill vital needs. But the team still has needs it must fill, some of which it is already attempting to do via its 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class.

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