As Shamarko Thomas Steelers Career Hangs in Balance, Safety Hits a Risky Precedent

Let’s get something straight: Shamarko Thomas Steelers career has not reached a crossroads. He arrived at that milestone last summer at St. Vincent’s:

  • Shamarko Thomas entered the Steelers 2015 preseason poised to fulfill his anointed role as Troy Polamalu’s successor.
shamarko thomas, steelers safety, pittsburgh steelers, tom brady,

Shamarko Thomas tries to sack Tom Brady, comes up short; Photo Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

At the preseason’s conclusion, the Steelers benched Shamarko Thomas. Thomas logged 20 snaps with the defense in 2015, up from 3 in 2014 but still a far cry from the 190 he logged as a rookie in 2013. Put poetically, as Shamarko Thomas reached a crossroads last summer, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake opted to send the safety on the road less taken.

  • This summer at St. Vincents, Shamarko Thomas will likely compete with Ross Ventrone for a roster spot.

That reality made Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider’s morsel from Steelers mini camp all the more interesting:

Shamarko Thomas laid the hit of the spring on rookie receiver Demarcus Ayers over the deep middle as Ayers tried to catch up to a wide pass from Landry Jones. It was a crushing blow, the sound of which surprised onlookers who had become accustomed to what otherwise is touch football.

As Wexell confirmed in the comments section to his article, hitting during Steelers Mini Camp is supposed to be a no-no. While Shamarko Thomas’ hit of Steelers 7th round draft pick Demarcus Ayers generated no controversy, it does bring to mind past precedents of Steelers safeties attempting to make an impact with exaggerated hits in practice.

Pittsburgh’s Precedent of Safeties Taking Out Teammates in Practice

Lee Flowers paved the way at St. Vincents in 1998, when he laid out 3rd year receiver Jahine Arnold.

Pittsburgh had drafted Flowers in the 5th round of the 1995 NFL Draft, and Flowers played mostly on special teams remaining buried behind Carnell Lake and Myron Bell on the Steelers depth chart at safety, until Donnell Woolford faltered and Flowers stepped in at strong safety while Carnell Lake shifted to cornerback.

The next summer, with Chad Scott’s injury forcing Lake to again shift to corner, Flowers smashed Jahine Arnold’s collarbone and Bill Cowher tore into the safety in front of the entire team.

  • Flowers attempted to apologize but Arnold would hear none of it.

Ten years later, Anthony Smith followed in Flower’s footsteps 2008 when he took out Willie Reid with a hit so vicious that the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Gene Collier accused him of “training camp thuggery.” Mike Tomlin took exception to Collier’s remarks, but kept Smith in street close for the next preseason game.

The Steelers had drafted Anthony Smith in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft has Chris Hope’s replacement . As a rookie, Smith post-interception showboating shenanigans drew a sharp sideline rebuke from Dick LeBeau. A year later, starting for the injured Ryan Clark, Smith idiotically guaranteed victory prior to the Steelers game vs. the Patriots, only to get torched by Tom Brady.

  • Intentionally or unintentionally, Shamarko Thomas is following the path blazed by Flower’s and Smith.

What result will hit have? Unfortunately, Steelers history offers little help. Bill Cowher might have been angry with Flowers, but he stuck with his plan to start Lee Flowers at safety while keeping Lake at cornerback.

As for Anthony Smith, he contributed on special teams during the 2008 season that saw the Steelers emerge as victors in Super Bowl XLIII. But the Steelers opted to let Smith go, and he bounced around between the Rams, Jaguars, Packers and Titans over the next three season.

  • Can Shamarko Thomas still salvage his career with the Steelers?

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly says “there is hope that hope Shamarko Thomas can turn his career around…” but in the very same sentence, says that there is talk of bringing Will Allen back. Carnell Lake assured the press that “he’s improving form the neck up.”

  • The Steelers think enough of Shamarko to give him one final shot.

To take full advantage of his final chance, Shamarko would do well to figure out a way to deliver his fire power against opponents in preseason. Because Steelers safeties taking out teammates in practice is a tactic that only has had a 50/50 percent success rate in the past.

And Shamarko Thomas needs better odds than that.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

5 Takeaways from Steelers 2016 Mini Camp

Steelers 2016 Mini Camp has come to an end signaling the beginning of SteelersNation’s “true” off season. Because barring a relapse of the Steelers June curse, “real” Steelers news will be scant between now and July 29th, when the team convenes training camp at St. Vincents in Latrobe.

Steelers Mini camp is really just an extension of OTA’s aka “football in shorts,” and the truth is there isn’t much in the way of meaningful insights that can be gleamed from the time there. Case in point, take the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s story about Robert Golden planning to fight to keep his staring job.

Nonetheless here are 5 take aways from Steelers 2016 Mini Camp:

1. Le’Veon Bell Looking Good But….

Le’Veon Bell ran at the beginning of OTA’s and then was held out of activities until Mini Camp. Bell confirmed that he indeed suffered a MCL and PCL tears in the Steelers loss to the Bengals, but Bell claims to be on the road to a full recovery, and was running routes during mini-camp training camp.

However, Dale Lolley reports that Todd Haley and James Saxon will look for ways to split the rushing load between Bell and DeAngelo Williams. While this might seem like a no-brainer given how good Williams looked last year with Bell out, this is the first time Steelers coaches have indicated that they will try to actively spell Bell.

They never got the chance, and it may simply not be possible to extend a starting running back’s shelf life by splitting carries, but it is wise to try.

2. Coates is Catching On

The Steelers will need someone to pick up the slack with Martavis Bryant suspended for the 2016 season. In the Steelers playoff loss to Denver, Sammie Coates flashed ability to be that player.

While its unwise to draw too many conclusions, if any, based on spring workouts, reports of Sammie Coates making impressive catches of balls thrown by Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones provide welcome news.

3. A Leaner and Meaner David Johnson Returns to Pittsburgh

The only Steelers roster move following the 2016 NFL Draft, save for cutting and replenishing roster bottom feeders, was to resign David Johnson two years after allowing their 2009 7th round pick to depart as a free agent.

  • With Ladarius Green, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James and Xavier Gimble heading up the Steelers tight end depth cart, the move was a minor surprise.

Per Jim Wexell’s report on Steel City Insider, David Johnson has lost 15 pounds since last season, and 20 since he last darkened doors on the South Side and Johnson himself claims that he’s faster on his feet. Given that the Steelers let Will Johnson depart to New York but opted to sign David Johnson for slightly less, the later Johnson isn’t even assured a roster spot.

But this should be one of the more interesting, under the radar stories to follow.

4. Sean Davis Means Business

Jim Wexell has reported that 2nd round pick Sean Davis has been working extensively in the slot, but was cautioned by Keith Butler and Carnell Lake not to assume the Steelers are planning to play him at corner, explaining that safeties carry similar responsibilities as slot corners.

  • But if much has been seen by of Sean Davis at OTA’s little or nothing has been heard.

Wexell reported that he attempted several times early during OTA’s to get an interview with Davis, only to have Davis decline to put in extra reps after practice. Doing extra work following practice is path well worn by former Steelers greats Mike Webster, Merril HogeHines Ward and Antonio Brown.

That’s a welcome sign from the new comer.

5. It’s Not Time to Worry about Senquez Golson… Yet

Senquez Golson perhaps represents the Steelers biggest question mark heading into training camp. The Steelers 2015 2nd round pick lost his rookie year to a shoulder injury, and word that Golson had to undergo an MRI raised eyebrows.

  • The MRI was not related to his shoulder, but a “soft tissue” injury on his lower body.

Word is that Golson will travel to Florida to train for the next six weeks with William Gay, who works out at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex with Tom Shaw, who also oversaw Ike Taylor and James Farrior’s off season workouts – three players known for their durability.

That’s a good sign, but the fact that Golson sat out an entire year and isn’t quite ready to fully participate in spring workouts is not….

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Sign Javon Hargrave – Is Hargrave a Cameron Heyward or a Stephon Tuitt?

The “Official” wind down of Pittsburgh’s OTA’s saw the Steelers sign Javon Hargrave, the 3rd round defensive lineman out of FCS South Carolina State where he twice won the SBN Sports Mel Blount Defensive Player of the Year.

Extended rookie hold outs have been rare for over a decade and rookie contracts have become so pro-forma since the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement that some players opt not to use an agent – far cry from 1990 when Neil O’Donnell, the Steelers 3rd round pick held out deep into August.

No, there was never any question Javon Hargrave was going to arrive at St. Vincent’s Latrobe signed and suited up for action with the rest of the Steelers 2016 draft class. The biggest question surrounding Javon Hargrave’s rookie year with the Steelers comes down to this:

That might seem like an odd question, given that the Steelers drafted Hargrave to play nose tackle while providing rotational relief at both defensive end positions but the analogy is very apt. Why? Well, comes times an infographic is worth 1,360 words:

Johnny Mitchell, rookie starts, steelers defensive line, casey hampton, stephon tuitt

Steelers rookies not named Casey Hampton rarely start for Johnny Mitchell

When that inforgraphic first appeared in 2014, no Steelers rookie not names Casey Hampton had started on John Mitchell’s defensive lines. OK, at the beginning of Mitchell’s tenure Brensten Buckner and later Orpheus Roye made a few starts. But since then, all rookies, including Aaron Smith, Ziggy Hood and even Cameron Heyward never got a starting nod. I wrote a lengthy piece on this for BTSC’s 2014 Renegade, which you can read at length here.

But history has changed since then.

  • Or perhaps more precisely, Stephon Tuitt has changed history since then.

Stephon Tuitt started four games as a rookie in 2014, and in doing so he registered a sack and forced a key fumble. Tuitt in fact started the final four games of 2014, which also happened to feature the best four defensive performances of the Steelers that season.

But it’s also true that the Steelers never for a second considered started Cam Thomas over Tuitt when Keisel went down. And that represented a 180 degree shift in the thinking of Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and Johnny Mitchell, who watched Cam Thomas struggle when he rotated in for Heyward or Keisel early in the year, but nonetheless kept Tuitt on the bench.

If all goes according to plan (meaning there are no injuries), Heyward, Tuitt and veteran Dan McCullers will start all season long for the Steelers. But it would be nice if Hargrave showed enough for the coaches to turn to him instead of Ricardo Mathews should one of the big three fall.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Pittsburgh Signs Artie Burns, Highlighting Steelers 2016 Secondary Gamble

Week 3 of OTA’s saw the Steelers sign Artie Burns to his rookie contract, and while the “delay” of Pittsburgh signing their 1st round cornerback passed for “news” the fact was that the outcome was never in doubt. However, the Artie Burns signing does highlight a rather unique gamble the Kevin Colbert is taking with the Steelers secondary.

  • The outcome of this gamble is open to doubt however, and the Steelers 2016 Super Bowl hopes rest on its success.
steelers, artie burns, otas, cornerback, secondary, carnell lake

Artie Burns @ Steelers OTA’s with the ball in his hands; Photo Credit Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

A few numbers highlight just how dramatic of a gamble the Steelers braintrust is taking with their 2016 secondary:

  • 182 games, 42 starts and 17 interceptions vs. 1 snap

The first set of numbers represents the total number of NFL games, starts and interceptions made by Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin and the second number is the cumulative NFL experience of Doran Grant, Senquez Golson and Artie Burns.

  • To say that the Steelers have embraced a youth movement in the secondary mildly understates things.

William Gay is a proven commodity and Ross Cockrell has some solid tape, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, and Carnell Lake have gone all in on their calculation that they can perform addition by subtraction in the Steelers secondary.

Success in the NFL salary cap era often boils down to winning more calculated risks than your peers do. The Steelers are no stranger to this. The Steelers played the entire 2015 season with three starter capable defensive lineman, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Steve McLendon and the unit was a defensive strength. On the offensive line, they trusted that Alejandro Villanueva was sufficient at offensive tackle and that gamble paid off too.

Is Artie Burns the answer for the Steelers at cornerback? Here’s an answer you won’t often see on Steelers blogs – I have no idea. Some pre-draft rankings placed a firm 1st round grade on him. Others had him pegged as a 3rd or even 5th rounder.

Neal Coolong of USA Today’s Steelers Wire contends that Artie Burns lacks both a strong tape and athletic measurable. In contrast, Matt C. Steel on Steel City Insider, while conceding that Burns must develop, goes as far as to compare some of Burns measurable to Darrell Revis.

  • As with all draft picks, time whether Artie Burns was a steal, a solid value pick or a reach.

But in some ways that misses the point, because the Steelers 2016 gamble on the secondary Doesn’t just depend on Artie Burns delivering, but on Senquez Golson and Doran Grant showing themselves as players as well.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are one NFL organization that thinks long term, so the success or failure of this gamble won’t be measured solely by how well Burns, Golson and Grant play this season. But the ability of the Steelers to improve their pass defense in 2016 does likely rest on these gentleman’s shoulders.

And to bring home Lombardi Number Seven in 2016, the Steelers pass defense must get better….

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Sign Jerald Hawkins, Hawkins to Fight Recent Trends @ Tackle, 4th Round

Along wih the second week of OTA’s, news week a little more real “news” came out of the South Side in a move that saw the Steelers sign Jerald Hawkins, the offensive tackle out of LSU who was their 4th round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • But honestly folks, rookie draft picks signing no longer count as “news” in today’s NFL.

However, with the ink drying on his rookie contract, Jerald Hawkins can now turn to a more pressing task at hand – breaking recent trends with Steelers 4th round draft picks and offensive tackles.

As the Colbert Record noted the day before the Steelers drafted Hawkins, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s record with 4th round draft picks is outright horrible. Landry Jones is arguably the most accomplished player the duo has drafted in the round, with Cortez Allen flashing before fizzling out, and Martavis Bryant threatening to toke himself out of the league. Suffice to say, Jerald Hawkins is fighting some history.

  • And then there is the Steelers recent record at offensive tackle.

Things quite simply haven’t gone according to plan as the table below indicates:

steelers, offensive tackles, draft picks, marcus gilbert, mike adams, kelvin beachum, jerald hawkins, tony hills

Recent Steelers offensive tackles have flipped the script

The Steelers drafted Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and while there’s been some grousing outside of the organization, the Steelers haven’t looked back since turning over the right tackle position to him after Willie Colon was lost in 2011’s Opening Day Debacle at Baltimore.

  • Outside of that, nothing else has gone according to script.

Tony Hills was drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL Draft at spot 130, or 7 picks later than Jerald Hawkins, and the Steelers got all of four games out of them, and most of that was spot duty. Ouch! After drafting David DeCastro in 2012, the Steelers went back to offensive line and took Mike Adams. They thought so much of him, hoping he’d start at left tackle, that they moved Willie Colon to guard.

  • Adams failed to win the left tackle spot, so it was Max Starks to the rescue one last time.

Adams played well enough at right tackle when Gilbert got injured in 2012, but his stint as starting left tackle in 2013 was an unmitigated disaster, with his chronic inability to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s right side led to some of the worst play of Roethlisberger’s career.

Of course he was succeeded by Kelvin Beachum, 2012’s 7th round pick, and then again by Alejandro Villanueva. The Steelers thought enough of undrafted free agent Villanueva, who didn’t even play tckle in college, and Hawkins potential, that they cut Mike Adams.

Jerald Hawkins to Write “His Own Story”

If you told any of this to Mike Tomlin, he’d likely scoff and retort, “I’m not concerned about anyone else, Jerald Hawkins is writing his own story.” And so he is.

Trends can be fun to write about, because they so often help depict larger truths. Until they don’t.

Not too long after the Steelers drafted him, this site wrote a similar post about how Tuitt arrived in a fight against Steelers history with 2nd round defensive tackles AND players from Notre Dame. It says here that Brett Keisel was in NO way a liability during his final season with the Steelers in 2014. But it is also true that the Steelers defense played its best football during the final four games of 2014, after an injury had ended Kesiel’s career.

Starting this summer at St. Vincents in Latrobe, Jerald Hawkins will indeed get his chance to write his own story.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Senquez Golson’s MRI Highlights Steelers Precarious Situation at Cornerback

Sometimes it only takes one tweet to send the hearts a flutter in Steelers Nation. And so it is with the Steelers secondary:

News of a Senquez Golson MRI is not encouraging…..

As the Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley indicated, “But Golson was at the facility and then left. I learned that he was leaving to get an MRI.” There are a couple of interesting points to this. First, none of the other credentialed reporters appear to have picked up the story, so if this story has legs, then Lolley will have made another Steelers secondary scoop, just as he did when he broke the news of Shamarko Thomas’ benching.

  • Second, as Lolley points out, this move could be a precaution.

Senquez Golson, who was the Steelers second round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, lost his rookie season to shoulder surgery. Thus far Golson has participated fully in Steelers OTA’s and has reported felling well.

While fans and bloggers really don’t have enough information to make informed judgment, to an outsider’s eye, the Steelers do sometimes seem to procrastinate when it comes to medical issues. In 2012, James Harrison had knee surgery deep into training camp, slowing his start for the rest of the year. Last season, both Bruce Gradkowski and Mike Adams showed up at training camp on the PUP list, and both ended up needing surgery.

  • So perhaps the Steelers are just being cautious with Golson.

If so, then the Senquez Golson MRI story will quickly fade from memory before the first drop of lighter fluid douses a brick of charcoal to inaugurate the first Memorial Day cookout. But if there is fire behind the smoke created by Senquez Golson’s MRI then the Steelers will have a real problem on their hands.

William Gay now qualifies as the Dean of the Steelers secondary, with Ross Cockrell, he of the 7 starts, standing as the unit’s second most experienced cornerback. After that, the only other experienced corner the Steelers have is Donald Washington, the same Donald Washington who last played an NFL game in 2011 and had trouble holding on to a roster spot in the CFL.

  • So be it. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went all in on Steelers youth movement at cornerback during free agency.

And Brandon Boykin getting cut last week lent a lot of credibility to their addition by subtraction philosophy. Roster building in the salary cap era involves making calculated risks by weighing trade offs and opportunity costs. Sometimes these workout, sometimes they don’t.

A year ago, the Steelers lost Kelvin Beachum and lucked out when Alejandro Villanueva stayed healthy and played above the line. Yet, injuries to Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams have forced the Steelers to start their 4th string running back in their last three post-season contests. And who can forget the offensive line depth disaster that led to the 2013 Steelers 0-4 start.

Hopefully, Golson’s MRI is nothing more than the NFL equivalent of a “Well baby visit,” because this is one spot on the depth chart where the Steelers have little margin for error.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Is Mike Mitchell Emerging as a Leader of the Steelers Secondary?

Steelers 2016 OTAs began yesterday, and Steelers Nation got some news, well sort of. OTA’s are “football in shorts” and little real news comes out of them or otherwise the Steelers won’t let reporters record and post footage such as this:

Nonetheless, Steelers Nation learned Ben Roethlisberger has shed weight and is looking to be in top shape. Maurkice Pouncey looks healthy and Le’Veon Bell is running, cutting and calling out Vontaze Burfict trying to hurt people.

This latter bit of information tells us that Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler are not going to repeat what they did during 2014’s OTA’s when they immediately installed Ryan Shazier as the starter over veterans Vince Williams and Sean Spence. But Shamarko’s position is strong safety, and Golden is clearly ahead of him on the depth chat.

That gave Mike Mitchell the chance to talk with Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, and in doing so he praised the work of draft picks Artie Burns and Sean Davis, boasting of the interceptions notched by the secondary. His assessment also included phrases like, “I was happy with the overall group’s work today” and

I think when we played our best football we were definitely hitting people, we were jamming at the line of scrimmage, we had great communication and we played like a unit. That’s what I want to impart on the young guys so that way we can hit the ground running.

Assessments like that from someone like Mike Mitchell show just how far the secondary has come in such a short time. Less than three years ago, when then Tribune Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic wanted to take the temperature of a team trying to rebound from an 8-8 showing, he sought out “the souls of the franchise” Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.

Kovacevic was right. Both men were such a fundamental part of the Steelers defense that most fans probably forget that it was Chris Hope, and not Clark, who started alongside Polamalu in Super Bowl XL.

  • But both men have begun their “Life’s work.”

So has Ike Taylor another leader from the defense, and another member of the secondary. Mike Mitchell’s comments give the impression that he is growing into a leadership role on the defense, which would be a welcome sight. During his first year, many fans wondered with the Steelers had stepped outside their comfort zone to make a “Splash free agency signing.” But Mitchell was injured, he quite frankly wasn’t prepared to play with Polamalu.

  • In 2015, Mitchell grew into the impact player the Steelers expected him to be.

Mitchell hauled down 3 interceptions, forced 2 fumbles and recovered two more – welcome sight on a defense suffering from a chronic turnover drought. To say that the Steelers secondary is “green” understates the fact. Other than Mitchell, only William Gay has double digit starts to his name. Ross Cockrell and Golden played well in 2015, but their sampling of work is limited. Senquez Golson, Artie Burns and Sean Davis have yet to play a snap in the NFL while Doran Grant’s snap count is measured in single digits.

Yes, Mike Mitchell’s emergence as a leader in the Steelers secondary would be a welcome occurrence.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Panthers Bouncing Brandon Boykin Reinforces Fundamental Fact: Kevin Colbert Makes Good Decisions

Steelers OTA’s will bring a week of fresh news to Steelers Nation, as last week’s biggest “Steelers story” was the Carolina Panthers cutting Brandon Boykin less than two months after signing him to a one year $840,000 contract in favor of Shaquille Richardson.

  • Someday a college professor somewhere will write a paper about the role that the internet and social media play in sustaining Steelers Nation.

In the early ‘90’s a story like the Boykins, outside of Pittsburgh, would have merited maybe a line at two the “Transactions” column crammed at the back of a sports page. Don’t believe me? That’s how the Boston Globe treated the Panther’s decision to cut Barry Foster after the Steelers had traded him.

  • Today every Steelers site dutifully wrote their “Panthers cut former Steeler Brandon Boykin”  post
  • Steelers Nation simultaneously debated the decision on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat.

So be it. This isn’t a Watch Tower post, but rather one that shows how the Boykin story illustrates a basic point:

  • Kevin Colbert usually makes good personnel decisions.

Ah you say, but what about Dri Archer and Shamarko Thomas to name two recent, high profile draft day disappointments?

Fair enough. Kevin Colbert doubtlessly would like to have both draft picks back. But NFL drafting success is part art, part science and part blind luck. But when it comes to evaluating the talent on the Steelers roster, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are pretty good decision makers.

When Brandon Boykin signed with the Panthers, large swaths of Steelers Nation reacted as if the Steelers had just lost Rod Blount Boykin, to use a phrase coined by Dale Lolley. A case could be made for keeping Boykin, but he was no Rod Woodson or Mel Blount. Nor was he an Ike Taylor or even a Deshea Townsend.

  • Pittsburgh’s decision to go all in on Senquez Golson, Doran Grant and an unnamed draft pick (now Artie Burns) certainly carries risk for Steelers 2016 title hopes.

But now Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman, two guys who just took their team to the Super Bowl, have made decided to trust in Shaquille Richardson over Brandon Boykin. Richardson, if you’ll remember, was the Steelers 2014 5th round draft pick who got cut in training camp and has yet to play a down of NFL football.

  • None of this should suggest that Kevin Colbert remains immune from making personnel mistakes.

That is hardly the case. The Steelers let Ryan Mundy go in 2013 and if his stat sheet is any guide, he’s had two solid seasons in New York and Chicago. That same off season, the Steelers gave up on Willie Colon due to his injury history and opted not to renew Doug Legursky’s contract. You’d better believe that when Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year and Mike Adams couldn’t cut it at right tackle, Mike Tomlin wished he’d had either Colon or Legursky at his disposal

  • Keenan Lewis is another player the Steelers let get away in the 2013 off season that they wish they could have back.

But the decisions to let Mundy, Colon, Lewis and to some extent Legursky walk were as much or almost as much the result of salary cap restrictions as they were results of talent evaluations. That doesn’t exempt Colbert from criticism, because a general manager has to make those choices.

  • But outside of Lewis, Colon and Mundy, you’d be hard pressed to find someone the Steelers cut who thrived elsewhere.

What about Kraig Urbik?

Urbik is certainly one of the “ Ones that got away” from the Steelers 2009 draft class, but the Steelers wanted to keep Urbik, but were forced to expose him to the wavier wire because Byron Leftwich’s injury forced the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch on the roster during Ben Roethlisberger’s 2010 suspension. Urbik’s started 57 games for the Bills over the last six seasons, but the Steelers decision to keep Batch looked pretty smart when Dennis Dixon went down in week 2.

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin may miss on draft picks. They might overestimate the development potential of a player, such as Cortez Allen. They might trade for guys who disappoint, such as Levi Brown, Felix Jones or…. Brandon Boykin.

But when the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin let a guy go, its not too often you’ll see the guy make a name for himself elsewhere.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Sign Sean Davis – Is Pittsburgh Safe at Safety?

The big “news” out of Pittsburgh last week saw the Steelers sign safety Sean Davis, their second round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft (Brandon Boykin also made other “news” but let’s save that for another post.)

Signing draft picks, even first rounders, is basically a pro forma exercise following the rookie wage scale mandated by 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, so much that some rookies are even forgoing agents. So the essential question behind the Steelers signing Sean Davis is simple:

  • Are the Steelers safe at safety with Sean Davis?

Sean Davis comes to the Steelers after a successful NCAA career with the Maryland Terrapins, where he played at both safety and cornerback. It was no secret that the Steelers needed a safety heading into the draft, and many fans wanted Pittsburgh to draft Vonn Bell out of OSU.

Matt C. Steel of Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider argues that Davis is the better pick than Vonn Bell:

…I don’t think Neal will ever be more than a solid coverage safety. He will hit you like Ronnie Lott, but Davis isn’t exactly shy when getting a ball carrier to the ground. It’s one of the reasons I wasn’t as high on Bell, who doesn’t bring the wood when tackling. Bell has the average size of a corner with average athletic measurables. If the Steelers want a safety to match-up physically with the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert, Davis is the better choice.

If Steel’s sources are correct, the Steelers actually had Keanu Neal as the top safety of the 2016 NFL Draft, but Neal was long gone by the time the Steelers picked at 25, having been taken by the Atlanta Falcons at 17. In Steel’s view however, Pittsburgh didn’t miss much:

But there was only one safety in the draft over 6-0 with 4.4 speed, top-ranked agility, corner experience and the physicality to explode through a player’s soul with a hard hit. That was Davis. And Davis wasn’t coming off an ACL injury, either.

Those are all positives, and unlike the Steelers first round pick Artie Burns, most of the draft nics are hailing the pick of Sean Davis. Fair enough. But, as Art Rooney Sr. once cautioned, reflecting back on the franchise’s first 40 years of futility, “Everyone’s a winner on draft day.”

  • To that end, Sean Davis arrives in Pittsburgh on the heels of a long Steelers search for stability at safety.

Actually, that over states things. From 2004 to 2013, the Steelers Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Chris Hope provided plenty of stability for the Steelers at safety. The problem is that the Steelers succession plan at safety has seen one miss fire after another.

The Steelers drafted Anthony Smith in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft with an eye towards paring him with Polamalu. Smith however preferred to showboat, make trash talk he couldn’t back up and injure his own teammates in practice. Steelers discarded Smith after his rookie contract was up, and drafted Ryan Mundy and signed Will Allen as a free agent.

Alas, that experiment ended during the Steelers 2012 self-destruction at Oakland’s black hole, when Mundy made an illegal hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey (video available as of 5/21/16).

The Steelers turned to Will Allen for the balance of the 2012 season, and let Mundy go, perhaps in err, as a free agent. Their next move was to trade up to get Shamarko Thomas in the 2013 NFL Draft. A year later, they let Ryan Clark depart as a free agent, and signed Mike Mitchell as a free agent.

Between injuries and unfamiliarity of playing with Polamalu, Mitchell struggled in 2014 in Pittsburgh, but Michael Mitchell played well in 2015. As for Thomas….

  • Shamarko Thomas got snaps early in his rookie season, but since then his seasonal snap counts seem best measured in single digits.

Ostensably, Sean Davis will start on the depth chart behind both Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone on the Steelers depth chart at safety, but the real man to beat is Robert Golden. The Steelers resigned Robert Golden prior to the start of free agency, and his play in 2015 shows that Golden has the skills to be a serviceable starter.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but the Steelers are looking for Sean Davis to be far more than serviceable at this crucial position in the secondary.

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Sign David Johnson, Is Matt Spaeth’s Roster Spot in Jeopardy?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed tight end and fullback David Johnson, who returns to the team following his departure as a free agent in 2014.

Few if any outside of the South Side are privileged to hear Kevin Colbert’s conversations with outgoing free agents, but one can only imagine that Colbert’s parting words include some variant of “We’ll leave the light on for you.”

  • In contrast to his predecessor, Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert has readily welcomed back departed free agents.

The Steelers drafted David Johnson in the 7th round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and Johnson worked in as a tight end/fullback. Todd Haley wanted to convert David Johnson into a full time to fullback, but Johnson unfortunately tore his ACL during the 2012 preseason. ACL Tear. In 2013 Johnson recovered, but injuries to Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, along with the emergence of Will Johnson at fullback, forced Johnson to take the starting tight end role.

Johnson performed well enough, but alas was injured in early in the season.

The Steelers allowed Johnson to depart, and he landed in San Diego, where, per Pro Football Reference, he appeared in 30 games and started 6. Johnson’s projected role in his return with the Steelers has not been formally clarified, but expectations are that he will play in a tight end and/or H-Back role.

  • Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell has pointed out that since 2011, the Steelers have opened every season with 4 tight ends.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Chris Adamanski adds that the Steelers only use a fullback on 1/10 of their offensive plays, and appear to be more or less set at the position with Roosevelt Nix.

Matt Spaeth’s Roster Spot in Jeopardy?

As of know the Steelers depth chart at tight end looks like this: Ladarius Green is number one, followed by veteran Matt Spaeth, “rising sophomore” Jesse James holds down the third spot, while 2015 practice squad alumni Xavier Grimble is penciled in as the number 4 man. Undrafted rookie free agent Jay Rome also has a roster spot.

  • The player most threatened by David Johnson’s return is Matt Spaeth.

While Matt Spaeth’s unheralded return has most certainly played a role in the rushing success and pass protection enjoyed by Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Ben Roethlisberger, Spaeth is 33 years old has a 1 million dollar base salary with just over 100,000 dollars in signing bonus money allocated to him. Assuming David Johnson signed for the veteran minimum, the Steelers could get younger while saving on the salary savings by cutting Spaeth in favor of Johnson.

  • But for that to happen, Johnson would clearly need to beat out Spaeth.

Spaeth’s role as a blocker up front might go largely unnoticed by fans and even the press, but rest assured that Mike Tomlin, Mike Munchak and Todd Haley appreciate it. That, combined with Johnson’s own injury history will place the burden on Johnson.

Competition tends to bring out the best, and the Steelers have given themselves a low-risk option to bolster their depth at tight end. Welcome back to Steelers Nation David Johnson!

Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.