Steelers Claim Zach Mettenberger Off Waivers, Put Bruce Gradkowski on Injured Reserve

The Pittsburgh Steelers clarified their quarterback depth chart today by making two moves. The first move saw the Steelers claim Zach Mettenberger off of waivers, less than a day after the San Diego Chargers parted ways with the quarterback. The Steelers also placed Bruce Gradkowski on injured reserve, ending his season, and perhaps his career in Pittsburgh.

steelers vs. titans, zach mettenberger, zach mettenberger steelers, james harrison, vince williams, zach mettenberger vs. Steelers, november 2014

James Harrison and Vince Williams close on in Zach Mettenberger in the Steelers 2014 win over the Titans. Photo Credit: Associated Press, used on Titans.com

Landry Jones will back up Roethlisberger as his number two, much to the chagrin of much of Steelers Nation. The third slot would appear to be headed to Zach Mettenberger, although the Steelers have previously said they plan to start 4th string quarterback Bryn Renner against Carolina in their 2016 preseason finale.

For most of the preseason, Dustin Vaughan worked as the Steelers 3rd string quarterback, but he broke his thumb in the preseason loss to the Eagles and the Steelers have since placed Vaughan on the injured/waived list.

A Closer Look at Zach Mettenberger

Ken Whisenhunt of Tennessee Titans originally draft Aach Mettenberger by the in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, taking him with the 178th overall pick. In 2014 Mettenberger started weeks 8 through 16.

That span included the Steelers week 10 victory at Tennessee, where Mettenberger went 14 of 25 for 2 touchdowns and one interception. While William Gay did transform one Mettenberger pass into a pick six, Mettenberger also burned the Steelers on an 80 yard touchdown to Nate Washington, and left the Chargers with a 24 to 13 lead in entering the fourth quarter.

In 2015, Mettenberger started weeks 7 and 6 as well as week’s 15 and 16.

  • Overall Mettenberger has logged 10 starts and played 14 games played in his career.

Zach Mettenberger has never won a game as a starter, and he has completed 208 passes for 2,347 yards and 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Following 2015, Mettenberger followed Ken Whisenhunt to San Diego, but could not secure a spot on the Charger’s depth chart behind Philip Rivers.

It is unclear whether the Steelers plan to give Zach Mettenberger a chance to play vs. the Carolina Panthers Thursday night.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Designate Ladarius Green PUP, Cut Jacob Hagen, Devaunte Sigler and Kevin White

Pittsburgh made its final four roster moves to meet the NFL mandated limit of 75, and the biggest move saw the Steelers place Ladarius Green on the PUP list. Heath Miller’s retirement began the Steelers 2016 off season, and the Steelers responded to Heath Miller’s retirement by signing tight end Ladarius Green from the San Diego Chargers.

  • By moving so swiftly, the Steelers freed themselves to address their secondary during the 2016 NFL Draft.
steelers, steelers tight end, ladarius green, ladarius green pup

Ladarius Green’s PUP designation will keep him out until at least week 6. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Thus far the Steelers strategy has failed to bear fruit, as Matt Spaeth failed his physical and retired, and Ladarius Green has sat out all of OTA’s. While a slow recovery from an ankle issue landed Green on the PUP list during training camp, he is also suffering from headaches and is reported to be in the NFL’s concussion protocols.

  • Ladarius Green’s PUP designation means that he cannot practice or play for the Steelers during the first six weeks of the season.

After six weeks on the PUP, the Steelers can bring Green back and allow him to practice, then they have 2 weeks to either activate him, or place him on injured reserve. All told, Ladarius Green’s PUP designation will keep him out of action for at least eight weeks.

Steelers Cut Defenders Hagen, Sigler and White

In addition to making Ladarius Green’s PUP status official, the Steelers also cut safety Jacob Hagen, defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler and cornerback Kevin White. Even the most die-hard Steelers fan would struggle to recognize these names, so perhaps the most suprising thing is that the Steelers waited to announce them today, as opposed to doing it on Sunday when they cut Jordan Zumwalt and several others.

Still Hope for Gradkowski, Washington?

The more interesting thing about the cuts the Steelers announced relates to the names not announced. First, the Steelers have made no move with Bruce Gradkowski, who injured a hamstring in the Steelers preseason loss to the Lions. Word was that Gradkowski would be out 4 to 5 weeks. The fact that the Steelers have done nothing with him suggest they see him returning in 2016, in one form or another.

  • Another player who can hold on to his NFL dream for another 48 hours is Donald Washington.

The Steelers plucked Donald Washington out of oblivion, signing the former Kansas City Chiefs safety to play cornerback after Washington had been of the NFL since 2011, and even washed out of the CFL.

Little has been heard about Washington during training camp in preseason, but if the Steelers have kept him around this long, it’s because they’re ready to give him every last chance to show he belongs.

Even with the Steelers depth issues in the defensive backfield, Donald Washington is a long shot to make the team. But Steelers Nation does love good underdog story, and Washington clearly qualifies.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

5 Times When Steelers Preseason Was Misleading

Admit it Steelers Nation – the Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece vs. New Orleans was satisfying, even if the results don’t count. And so it should. The Steelers offense, both with Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones were in mid-season form.

Often times, preseason does provide fans with a lot of valuable insight into the direction a team is headed. Not that the insight is always pleasant as a previous post 5 Times When Steelers Preseason Troubles Signaled Regular Season Stumbles reminds.

  • Yet there are times when preseason offers Steelers fans false flags.

The Steelers preseason history offers plenty of false flags, times when the action on the field in preseason failed completely to foreshadow what was to come in the regular season. Scroll down or click below for 5 Steelers preseason false flags.

Jarvis Jones, Steelers Giants preseason 2013,

Jarvis Jones recovers a fumble as Marshall McFadden looks on in the Steelers 2013 preseason. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today

1. 2000 – Plaxico Burress Plays Lights Out in Preseason Debut

Going into the 2000 NFL Draft, many if not most expected Bill Cowher and newly arrived Kevin Colbert to make Chad Pennington their first draft pick. The Steelers opted for Plaxico Burress instead, even though they’d taken Troy Edwards a year before.

In his preseason debut Burress played like a stud, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recounted:

Burress made a smashing NFL debut, leading Steelers receivers with four catches for 60 yards, all in the first half.

He jump-started the Steelers’ offense with three big plays on their second series, one a leaping catch over the back of a 6-foot cornerback. He also caught a looping, ally-oop like touchdown pass from Kent Graham just before halftime, as the Steelers crushed the Dallas Cowboys 38-10 at Texas Stadium.

Burress wasn’t the only receiver to impress. Malcolm Johnson, the Steelers 6th round pick from the 1999 NFL Draft, started opposite Burress. One writer, (perhaps Mike Prisuta) whose article is lost to digital oblivion went so far as to argue that Burress and Johnson were fighting to which would be the alpha-male of the Steelers wide receiving corps.

  • There’s no doubt that both men played well, and the strong overall offensive performance gave hope after the dark days of 1998 and 1999.

However, Plaxico Burress most memorable rookie play was spiking the ball after making a catch, but before he’d been ruled down, which was an immediate turnover. Overall, Burres never aught more than 4 passes as a rookie, and his catch percentage was woeful 33.8%.

As for Malcolm Johnson? He didn’t even make the 2000 Steelers final roster team.

2. 2005 – Ben Roethlisberger Struggles Mightly in Preseason

If there was ever a quarterback who made an immediate impact as a rookie, that rookie was Ben Roethlisberger. But NFL history is littered with rookie one-year wonders (think Kendrell Bell).

And so it was that Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers first string offense failed to produce a touchdown in the first four preseason games. After it took Charlie Batch to rally the Steelers to victory in their final preseason game, Bill Cowher remarked: “I like this group of guys, but we’re no where near where we need to be.”

  • Ben Roethlisberger’s 2005 preseason statistics seemed to vindicate Bill Cowher’s pessimism.

Over four games, Roethlisberger completed just 16 of 36 passes, for no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 32.8. Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette quipped that the Steelers starters looked more like a team set to go 1-15 instead of the previous year’s 15-1. Indeed, it seemed like an inglorious preview to a team with Super Bowl hopes….

  • …That is, until the game started counting.

In the season opener, Ben Roethlisberger went 9-11 for 218 yards, throwing touchdowns to Antwaan Randle El and a rookie named Heath Miller. A week later he went 14 of 21 throwing a pair of TD’s to Hines Ward.

The Steelers victory in Super Bowl XL the next February proved that, if there was ever a exhibition effort that should have been written off with “Its only preseason” it was the Steelers 2005 preseason.

3. 2009 – Joystick Video Game Like Preseason Kick Return Statistics

For a defending Super Bowl Champion, the 2009 Steelers training camp and preseason would mid-wife future Steelers Nation house hold names like Isaac Redman, Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky (hey, Legursky started a Super Bowl so he counts).

  • But perhaps none captivated the imagination of Steelers fans the way Stefan Logan did.

In his first preseason outing, Logan averaged 39 yards on four kick returns in a preseason loss to the Redskins. The next week in the Steelers shutout over the Bills, Logan returned four punts for 63 yards, including a 27 yarder. The following week Stefan Logan returned a punt 82 yards as the Steelers defeated the Panthers.

  • It seems like the Steelers had their first legit return threat since Antwaan Randle El had departed following Super Bowl XL.

It would be both unfair incorrect to declare Stefan Logan return efforts in 2009 as a failure.

In 2009, Stefan Logan averaged 26.7 yards per kick return, and 9.3 yards per punt return. Stefan Logan had an 83 yard kick return in the ’09 Steelers ugly loss to Oakland, and he also managed returns of 56, 51, an 49 yards in other games.

But Stefan Logan neither took a kick return nor a punt return to the house, and he was never the type of weapon as a return man who could give the Steelers offense a jolt in a season where the team cried out for one. Mike Tomlin once chided Logan when he critiqued blocking of the Steelers return teams, and often times on deep punts Tomlin had deployed Mewelde Moore’s sure hands in favor of Logan.

4. 2013 – Jarvis Jones’s Stud-Like Presason Campaign

It might seem hard to believe now, but in 2013, Jarvis Jones was the toast of the Steelers preseason. Dick LeBeau declared that Jones “Had ‘it,’” after Jones preseason debut where he recovered a fumble. Jones forced another fumble with a heads up behind the line of scrimmage play in the Steelers second game vs. the Redskins. He recorded an interception in the Steelers third preseason game vs. the Chiefs. Then Behind the Steel Curtain editor declared, “Jarvis Jones is simply making plays.”

  • The Jarvis Jones of preseason 2013 teased he might make Steelers Nation forget James Harrison.

Alas, that was not to be. Jones did get the opening day starting nod, but he would relinquish his starting role before midseason. The fact that Jones’ play turned heads in the Steelers win over New Orleans shows that Steelers fans are still wanting for Jones to realize his potential as a first round draft choice.

5. 2015 – Preseason Death of Steelers Defense Greatly Exaggerated

In the 2015 preseason the Pittsburgh Steelers did something they hadn’t done since Alonzo Jackson was a rookie – fielded a defense coordinated by someone other than Dick LeBeau. All eyes were on Keith Butler to see if the long-time understudy could reverse the downward trend of Steelers defense.

  • The early returns disheartened even faithful scribes like Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola.

During the 2015 preseason the Steelers defense gave up scores of 14, 23, and 24 points, before giving up an alarming 43 points to a no-name Buffalo Bills trio of quarterbacks, who completed 90% of their passes. Likewise, opposing teams yards-per-catch grew as the preseason wore on.

It’s true that the Steelers defense did show signs of getting more pressure on the quarterback, and eventual starters Mike Mitchell and Will Allen didn’t play much.

While no one would confuse the Steelers 2015 defense with the 2008 Steelers defense, the Blitzbrugh defenses of the ‘90’s, let alone the Steel Curtain of the 1970’s, Keith Butler did turn the unit around.

No one would have predicted that based on what they saw in preseason.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

A Pittsburgh Steelers Preseason Offensive Masterpiece – Black & Gold Explodes for 27-14 Win Over Saints

A Pittsburgh Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece.

That’s perhaps the only way to describe the Steelers‘ first two offensive series that paved the way for a 27-14 victory over the Saints in the third preseason game Friday night at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Antonio Brown, Steelers vs. Saints preseason, P.J. Williams, Steelers preseason offenisve masterpiece

Antoino Brown stiff arms P.J. Willams in the Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece over the Saints. Photo Credit: Scott Therlkeld, New Orleans Advocate

The reason for the masterful performance had to do with the entire offensive unit–including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and running backs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams–playing together for the first time this preseason.

Ben Roethlisberger started the game and led the team on impressive back-to-back scoring drives in-which he completed 12 of 17 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

The Steelers won the toss and almost effortlessly marched the football down the field on a 15-play, 74-yard drive that ended when Roethlisberger found tight end Jesse James wide open in the middle of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown.

  • Pittsburgh was in no-huddle mode the entire drive, as Roethlisberger didn’t take a snap under center the whole time.

The Steelers’ second offensive series was only four plays, but it was equally impressive, as it covered 79 yards and ended when Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown on a go route down the left sideline. Brown was in single coverage, and, as you might expect, it was a total mismatch.

Pittsburgh’s defense limited the Saints first-team offense led by Drew Brees  to seven points on three first half drives and was in the legendary quarterback’s face often enough to throw him off his game, as he completed nine of 12 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown before calling it a night.

Backup Landry Jones entered the game in the first quarter and, gifted with a full offensive arsenal outside of the departed Brown (who finished the night with four catches for 87 yards and a score), and Landry Jones looked like a completely different quarterback than the one who started the first two preseason games and was surrounded by mostly second and third-stringers.

In perhaps his best performance as a pro–preseason or regular season–Jones completed 19 of 22 passes for 206 yards and an eight-yard touchdown pass to Sammie Coates late in the first half to give Pittsburgh a 21-7 lead at intermission.

  • With the exception of Roethlsiberger and Brown, the entire first-team offense played the whole first half and finished with 296 yards–including 264 through the air.

As for Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams, they combined for just 33 yards on 21 carries, but why run when you can pass as efficiently and fluidly as Pittsburgh did Friday night?

The Steelers quarterbacks consistently got rid of the ball quickly and certainly used their running backs out of the backfield. For example, while Le’Veon Bell didn’t have a big night carrying the ball, he caught five passes for 37 yards and looked about as elusive as he ever has, perhaps putting to bed the fears of him not being  fully healed from the torn MCL that ended his 2015 season.

Individual Steelers Performances vs. the Saints that Stood Out

On the individual performance front:

Wide receiver Markus Wheaton also made his preseason debut and caught two passes for 40 yards–including an impressive 36-yard catch in the second quarter in-which he out-fought the Saints defender for the ball.

Sammie Coates showed flashes for the first time this preseason, catching the only two passes  thrown his way for 66 yards and a touchdown. His second reception of the evening occurred in the third quarter and went for 58 yards, as he displayed the kind of downfield speed the Steelers are hoping becomes a regular occurrence, what with Martavis Bryant suspended for the year.

Steelers third round pick Javon Hargrave, the defensive end/nose tackle out of South Carolina State, looked very impressive, as he displayed a consistent pass-rush all night that frequently saw him chasing after the quarterback. He recorded the team’s only sack of the game and also batted down a pass while in pursuit of another one.

Eli Rogers, the UDFA wide receiver out of Louisville who has been turning heads the entire summer, only caught two passes for 17 yards but was in there on a number of snaps during Roethlisberger’s time in the game. Since the third preseason game is often referred to as a regular season dress-rehearsal, perhaps that was an indication that Pittsburgh plans on using Rogers as the slot receiver on a regular basis this year.

Jarvis Jones, the embattled first round pick from the 2013 NFL Draft, displayed a decent pass-rush as he beat his man several times and nearly came up with at least two sacks.

Inside linebacker Vince Williams, he of the new three-year contract, led the team in tackles with eight, and early in the fourth quarter–and just a few plays after being called for a questionable personal foul for leading with his helmet–made a huge stop on fourth and one.

Seventh round pick Tyler Matakevich, battling the likes of L.J. Fort for one of the reserve inside linebacker spots, only had one tackle, but he did come up with a late interception.

Perhaps the only bit of bad news to come out of Friday’s victory was an ankle injury suffered by star defensive end Cameron Heyward in the first half. Heyward walked off under his own power and went into the locker room for evaluation. In the second half, he was standing on the sidelines in street clothes and wearing a walking boot. Word is that Cam Heward has a high ankle sprain.

  • Head coach Mike Tomlin offered no updates after the game.

Next up for the Steelers is a trip to Carolina for their now annual preseason finale against the Panthers next Thursday night.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Be Prepared Steelers Nation: Lawrence Timmons Steelers Farewell Tour Soon to Start

It sure seemed to be a bit of a shocker when the Steelers announced a new three-year contract for reserve inside linebacker Vince Williams on Tuesday, a deal that will keep him in Pittsburgh through the 2018 season.

It wasn’t necessarily surprising that they signed Vince Williams, 26 and a solid reserve and special teams player over the first three years of his career since the Steelers made Williams their sixth round pick out of Florida State in the 2013 NFL Draft, from a business standpoint.

  • It just seemed strange given the financial realities they face with incumbent Lawrence Timmons, the 2007 first round pick who is entering the final year of his contract.
lawrence timmons, lawrence timmons interception, lawrence timmons steelers farewell, steelers vs. browns heinz field 2013

Lawrence Timmons picks off a pass in Steelers 2013 season finale vs. Browns. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Lawrence Timmons, 30, is in the last year of a five-year contract he signed in 2011 and will earn a base salary of $8.75 million in 2016. Furthermore, thanks to restructures over the years, he’ll count over $15 million against the Steelers salary cap this season.

What’s that going to mean for next season in-terms of inking a third contract with the Steelers?

  • I’d say it can only mean getting used to the idea of seeing Lawrence Timmons in different colors other than Black and Gold.

While it’s true that Lawrence Timmons has been the team’s most consistent linebacker since 2012, and he’s averaged 82 tackles a season since 2010, fact is, he’s starting to slow down as he enters his early-30s. Gone is the explosiveness that was part of his athletic package over the first five years of his career. True, in place of his youthful athleticism is poise and experience, but how much is that worth when it comes to salary negotiations?

It might be worth more for teams that don’t face the prospects of inking multiple Pro Bowl players to new deals, but in the Steelers case, they must deal with three either next season or the season after–guard David DeCastro, running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown.

What would the Steelers’ prospects be for contending if they would lose even two-thirds of that aforementioned trio? It says here, even with Ben Roethlsiberger at full health and playing at the level he’s played under Todd Haley, the prospects of competing wouldn’t be very good.

  • With that in mind, Lawrence Timmons Steelers farewell tour looks to begin soon, while Vince Williams prepares himself for starting duties next fall.

Despite his decline in play, would this mean watching Lawrence Timmons, a player who has participated in two Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, finish out his career with another team?

Most likely, but that’s why they call the NFL a business above all else.

 

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Does Vince Williams 2nd Contract Signal Is Lawrence Timmons Time in Pittsburgh Limited?

The Pittsburgh Steelers extended their first contract of the preseason today, but this latest contract extension didn’t involve the player or the position every expected. The Steelers are reportedly in negotiations for a long-term deal with guard David DeCastro. While that deal has yet to materialized, as Cameron Heyward’s did at the start of training camp 2015, an agreement was expected.

  • Linebacker was another position where the Steelers looked to extend a contract.
vince willliams, vince williams steelers contract, vince williams contract, reggie bush, steelers vs. lions 2013

Vince Williams tackles Reggie Bush at Heinz Field in 2013. Photo credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today; used on StillCurtain

And they did. Except it didn’t involve the player the Steelers were expected to resign. The move saw the Steelers resign Vince Williams to a 3 year contract. While Vince Williams is the type of player the Steelers would typically look to extend, his new contract calls into question Lawrence Timmons time in Pittsburgh.

Vince Williams Heir Apparent at Inside Linebacker?

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Vince Williams in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft with the hope that he would develop into a player capable of replacing veteran Larry Foote. Foote had returned to his starting role in 2012 following James Farrior’s retirement/waiver, and had played well, but he was going into his 12th year and pushing age 33.

  • Vince Williams did replace Larry Foote, albeit a lot sooner than the Steelers expected or wanted.

Larry Foote was injured in the Steelers 2013 opening day debacle vs. Tennessee ending his season on the spot. Vince Williams was in street clothes, leaving Kion Wilson to replace Foote. Wilson only played 9 games for the Steelers before getting cut midseason. By the time Vince Williams was the regular starer.

To say that Vince Williams got a baptism by fire represents an understatement.

The young linebacker struggled in Dick LeBeau’s system. Fans saw the once vaunted Steelers run defense give up yards easily, and often pointed the finger at Steve McLendon who himself was replacing a legend in Casey Hampton. However, more educated analysis pin-pointed the weakness on Vince Williams.

  • Nonetheless, Williams improved, and by the end of the season was making head-turning plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Williams has only made two starts since 2013, but he has played extensively in relief of either Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence and Lawrence Timmons. Williams has improved each and every year, and he is by no means a liability to the Steelers defense when he is in the game.

Terms of the deal were not released, but one would have to expect that Vince Williams would only have agreed to sign a contract now, as opposed to waiting for free agency in 2017, if the Steelers were offering starter money….

Clock Ticking for Lawrence Timmons in Pittsburgh? 

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin made Lawrence Timmons the first pick of the Tomlin era in 2007, when they picked the linebacker in the 2007 NFL Draft. Timmons was originally tagged as an outside linebacker, but injuries kept him off the field for most of his rookie year. The Steelers extend Timmon’s contract in 2011, and while Timmons struggled in 2011, he was easily the Steelers most consistent defensive player in 2012, 2013 and arguably in 2014.

While Timmons has not shown any signs of slowing down, he has turned 30.

Timmons has been healthy as well, having started all 16 games since 2011. Timmons has a cap value of over 15 million dollars due to numerous restructures, and it would seem logical for the Steelers to extend his contract to create salary cap relief.

However, with Ryan Shazier locked in at the other inside linebacker position, Vince Williams resigned for the next three years, and a host of younger players rounding out the Steelers depth chart at inside linebacker, it is hard to see how Timmons fits in – if the Steelers indeed offered Vince Williams starter money.

  • Steelers fans who want to see Timmons stay in Pittsburgh do have a ray of hope.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers extend the contract of a player they project as a long-term starter, they often do it for more than three years. In 2011 Ike Taylor got a four year contract, Willie Colon got a 5 year contract, LaMarr Woodley got a six year contract, and Timmons himself got a six year contract.

Ironically enough, of the group, only Timmons has played his the entire contract. For the moment however, it looks like Timmons’ second contract with the Steelers may be his last.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

The Clock is Ticking…. For Travis Feeney to Secure his Steelers Roster Spot

Of all the Steelers rookies and young players being talked about this summer, from 1st round pick Artie Burns to Sean Davis to Javon Hargrave, Eli Rogers, Tyler Matakevich, etc, etc, the one name conspicuously absent from any sort of hype is sixth round pick Travis Feeney.

I find that rather disappointing, since I was really looking forward to the young linebacker out of Washington turning heads in training camp and during the preseason.

steelers, travis feeney, steelers 6th round pick travis feeney

Steelers 6th round pick Travis Feeney during OTA’s. Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic, AP used in Seattle Times

When you studied Travis Feeney’s NFL.com Draft profile that included such measurables as a 6-4, 230 lb frame, 4.5 speed and a 40-inch vertical, well, that was pretty darn enticing.

And then there was this analysis by Mark Dulgerian:

Feeney is one of the more athletic edge pass rushers whom many considered a late-round sleeper heading into Day 3.  As he develops, he can carry over his special teams coverage skills to the Steelers’ units.

You had to wonder why a guy who recorded eight sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in his senior year with the Huskies and possessed so much raw athleticism would slip to the third day of the draft, but as he told ESPN in May, multiple shoulder surgeries may have contributed to his falling stock:

“That’s what I’m thinking why. You never know. Kind of unpredictable.”

  • But, regardless of where an athlete is selected, if his skills shine through, the coaching staff is going to see it.

So have Feeney’s skills shined through so far this summer?

Not yet.

Rocky Training Camp for Travis Feeney Thus Far….

Google “Travis Feeney” and you don’t find much about him, other than stories that date back to the spring, right after the Steelers drafted him. Meanwhile, there are multiple stories to read about guys like Eli Rogers and 7th round pick Tyler Matakevich.

This past Thursday, he finally made his debut in the Steelers preseason loss to the Eagles at Heinz Field, but only recorded one tackle.

Is pointing this stuff out a bit unfair? Perhaps. After all, what have we heard or read about cornerback Artie Burns so far this summer, other than the lumps he’s taken while trying to cover Antonio Brown at training camp? And when someone is injured and can’t practice or get into exhibition games, there aren’t going to be many stories written about him.

Fair enough, but the difference between Artie Burns and Travis Feeney is five rounds. That means Burns was a lock to make the team the second head coach Mike Tomlin called him to tell him he was the Steelers newest first round pick on during the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • Dulgerian alluded to Feeney’s special teams prowess in his aforementioned assessment, and he was named the Huskies Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014.

There’s usually room on an NFL roster for a special teams demon, and Feeney can certainly put his skills to good use as he develops into an outside linebacker. Sadly for him, his draft status isn’t one that lends itself to the same benefit of the doubt Burns’ currently enjoys.

2 Presason Games Might Define Travis Feeney’s Steelers

So is Travis Feeney a prime candidate to wind up on the Steelers practice squad this year? At the moment, that appears to be Travis Feeney’s Steelers future.

Feeney’s a sentimental favorite in these parts. When Travis Feeney signed his rookie contract, this site observed that the Steelers have a long tradition of drafting successful linebackers in the sixth round, from Vince Williams, to Bryan Hinkle, to Eric Ravotti and of course, the legendary Greg Lloyd.

  • However, Mike Tomlin is not wont to make sentimental decisions when it comes to awarding spots on either the Steelers 53 man roster or the practice squad.

Fortunately for him, Travis Feeney still has two preseason games to allow his skills to shine through. He’d be wise to take full advantage of every snap he gets. Here’s to hoping Travis Feeney gives Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, Joey Porter and Jerry Olsavsky every reason to give him the ultimate benefit of the doubt.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Steelers Tight End David Johnson – Can Johnson Fill the Void Until Ladarius Green Recovers?

With Ladarius Green lingering injury creating chaos, could forgotten man, David Johnson fill the 2016 Steelers void at tight end, at least in the short term? Clearly, Steelers coaches want Jesse James to fill that void.

Coaches don’t always get what they want but Steelers tight end David Johnson just might provide enough of what Pittsburgh’s offense needs until Ladarius Green recovers….

Steelers tight end David Johnson, pittsburgh steelers, david johnson, steelers lions preseason

Steelers tight end David Johnson catches a pass in preseason. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

Whether it is because of his ankle, as Mike Tomlin insists, or because of headaches (sinus or concussion related), the Pittsburgh Steelers are in no hurry to take Ladarius Green off of the PUP list. Green insists his issues are with his ankle and not his head, and that he’s improving. But the Steelers 2016 opener vs. the Washington Redskins is two weeks away, and Green has yet to take a snap with the Steelers offense in practice, let alone a game.

  • And that leaves the Steelers in a quandary at tight end.

Heath Miller has retired. Matt Spaeth failed his physical and the Steelers and has been cut. That shifted most of the focus on Jesse James, the Steelers 5th round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft. So be it. Jesse James looked good as a rookie, catching his second and third passes for scores. But Landry Jones ill-fated 4th interception came as the result of getting drilled before throwing the ball, and James blocking on that play.

If his preseason stats are any indication, the Steelers are not looking to use Jesse James as a weapon on the passing game. And that means that whoever starts for the Steelers at tight end needs to block well. And James is having issues there.

That leaves David Johnson.

David Johnson from Forgotten Man to Key Role Player (Again)

Let’s get this out in the open. I’m a David Johnson fan. David Johnson wasn’t the 2009 NFL Draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant” but he was pretty close, as the Steelers drafted Johnson at 241 in the 7th round, or 16 picks before the final player was taken.

  • What exactly are the odds of a 7th round draft pick of a defending Super Bowl champion making the final roster?

Who knows, but they cannot be good, especially when that Super Bowl team has Heath Miller playing in his prime and Matt Spaeth growing into his third year. But Johnson bucked the system and made the Steelers. Johnson first came to my attention in the Steelers 2010 road upset of the Baltimore Ravens. That might seem odd, given Troy Polamalu’s strip sack of Joe Flacco, LaMarr Woodley’s recovery, Ben Roethlisberger’s brawl with Terrell Suggs, and Isaac Redman’s will-power touchdown.

Yet, in naming David Johnson as the game’s unsung hero the Steelers-Ravens Report Card observed this:

…For a guy that never caught anything, to come in to the number two tight end position and bring down three catches including a 25 yarder that was the Steelers first long gain of the night. The Steelers continue to win in the face of so many injuries because David Johnson and players like him are stepping it up.

And that’s largely the kind of player David Johnson has been. There’s nothing sexy about him. He’s a guy who has made a career of fighting for an winning one of those final 10 roster spots year-in-and year out. He’s also overcome adversity.

Todd Haley tapped him to transition into a full-time fullback in 2012, only for Johnson to get injured in training camp. The Steelers made an unhearalded resigning of Johnson in the 2013 off season, and Johnson worked his way back in 2013. A year after being asked to drop weight and become play fullback full time, with Health Miller and Matt Spaeth out, David Johnson stepped into the number 1 tight end role.

  • David Johnson didn’t make anyone forget he wasn’t Heath Miller in 2013, and he’s not going to do it in 2016 either.

But Johnson did have the makings of a nice comeback story until he tore his ACL in the Steelers victory over the New York Jets. The Steelers let Johnson depart to San Diego where he put up the kind of numbers you’d expect him to put up playing behind Antonio Gatesa nd Ladarius Green.

At this stage of his career, it’s clear that even at his best, David Johnson isn’t going to draw comparisons to Bennie Cunningham from fans who are my parents age, or to Mike Mularkey or Mark Bruener from fans who are 40 something. It would be idea if David Johnson could deliver at that level , but that’s simply not realistic. Jesse James might reach that level, but he’s not there now.

  • It says here that if the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers are to climb the Stairway to Seven, Ladarius Green is going to have to contribute at some point.

But Ladarius Green isn’t ready to do that now, and won’t be for some time. In the meantime, the Steelers need someone who won’t be a liability at tight end. Jesse James hasn’t shown he’s able to fill that role yet. Likewise, Xavier Grimble can’t do that yet either. David Johnson likely can.

David Johnson is in no way the Pittsburgh Steelers “answer” at tight end. But he could fill an important void in the here and now.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Pittsburgh QB’s Catching Too Many Breaks: Dustin Vaughan Breaks Thumb, Steelers Sign Bryn Renner

Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterbacks are catching too many breaks. Steelers 4th string quarterback Dustin Vaughan broke his thumb in the Steelers preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, prompting Pittsburgh to sign Bryn Renner.

Dustin Vaughan, Pittsburgh Steelers, steelers eagles preseason,

Dustin Vaughan broke his thumb in Steelers preseason loss to Eagles. Photo Credit: Don Wright, Associated Press; used on The Morning Call

Dustin Vaughan breaking his thumb comes on the heels of backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski suffering a hamstring tear in the Steelers preseason loss to the Detroit Lions. Landry Jones, who thus far has handled the bulk of the Steelers preseason work this summer is still standing as is Ben Roethlisberger.

Mike Tomlin is expected to play Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers 3rd preseason contest vs. the New Orleans Saints, although the case for sitting Ben Roethlisberger for the duration of preseason is persuasive.

Who is Steelers Quarterback Bryn Renner?

Bryn Renner is a native of Springfield, Virginia who played his college ball as North Carolina Tar Heel, where he appeared in 28 games, throwing 1005 passes and completing 668 of those for 64 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Going into his senior year he was touted as a possible 1st round draft pick, but an injury ended his senior season at 7 games, as Renner went undrafted.

The Denver Broncos brought Renner to training camp, but he failed ot make the final cut and spent time with the Arizona Rattlers, of the Arena Football League. From there he spent the 2015 off season and preseason as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, hanging on their practice squad for 10 days in September only to return in in December, where he earned a promotion to the active roster for a week’s time, until the Ravens signed Ryan Mallett.

From there the Tennessee Titans added Renner to their practice squad but declined to sign him to a futures contract. The San Diego Chargers signed Renner in March of 2016, but cut him during spring workouts in May of 2016.

  • So there you have it.

While there’s legitimate debate around Landry Jones evolution as a quarterback, his four interception performance vs. Philadelphia renewed pleas of many fans for the Steelers to give up on Landry Jones and “sign someone else.” (Never mind that Landry Jones has played without the benefit of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Markus Wheaton.)

Well, Dustin Vaughan breaking his thumb has prompted the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to do just that. His name is Bryn Renner, and his resume is about what you’d expect of an unemployed NFL quarterback in mid-August.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Le’Veon Bell Loses Appeal, Steelers Running Back Faces 3 Game Suspension

The Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell has lost the appeal of his failed drug test, and will be suspended for the first three games of the Steelers 2016 season.

le'veon bell, reggie nelson, steelers, bengals, steelers vs. bengals, pittsburgh cincinnati december 2014

Reggie Nelson injures Steelers Le’Veon Bell in December 2014 AFC North Show Down. Photo Credit: Don Wright, Associated Press

Le’Veon Bell first ran afoul of the NFL’s substance abuse policies in July of 2013 when he an LeGarrettee Blount were caught driving while smoking marijuana. The NFL initially suspended Bell for 4 games, a suspension which was later reduced to 2. Since then Bell has said all of the right things, and was even offered up as an example for Martavis Bryant, who is struggling with marijuana addiction.

Bell went so far as to mock the random drug tests he got in April 20th:

When Steelers OTA’s began, Le’Veon Bell assured reporters he would be ready for Pittsburgh’s season opener the focus was on the recovery from the knee injury he suffered at the hands of Cincinnati Bengals thug linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the Steelers loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field last fall.

Then in the middle of June “rumors” began:

Given that the source of the rumors was sports shock jock Mark Madden – the same Mark Madden who once labeled Ike Taylor as the “Steeler worst 4th round pick ever – and give that Bell vehemently denied the rumors, the story died.

Until Steelers training camp began, and word leaked that Bell was in fact facing a four game suspension for skipping drug tests. Bell did not disucss the incident much during preseason, although there were indications that the Steelers felt confident he might win his appeal.

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert issued the following remark when the news of Bell’s reduced suspension was announced:

We are disappointed Le’Veon Bell has been suspended three games to start the 2016 season. We will continue to support Le’Veon, but we acknowledge this mistake has put the team in an unfortunate position. We will continue to work with Le’Veon to help him eliminate distractions in his life so he can reach his full potential as a member of our community as well as a player for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In a video posted on Twitter, Bell sought to explain the situation to fans, although that video has since been deleted.

Bell’s Appeal Does Yield, “Rearguard” Variety Victory

The news was not all bad for both Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers. As Mike Garafolo of NFL.com has pointed out:

Getting his suspension reduced by 25% is a plus for both Bell and the Steelers, and Bell staying in the same stage of the NFL’s substance abuse policies is also important, as a further incident would only cost him four games, as opposed to 10.

Bell’s Loss is Toussaint and Richardson’s Gain

With Bell out for the Steelers matchups against the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles, DeAngelo Williams will once again take the helm as the Steelers starting running back.

However, Bell’s absence is a boon for Fitzgerald Toussaint and Daryl Richardson, both of whom are battling to be the Steelers number 3 running back. Both men have looked strong in training camp and in preseason and barring injury or a complete meltdown during the Steelers remaining two preseason games, should make the opening day roster.

It is believe that the Steelers will not carry more than three running backs, plus Roosevelt Nix, on their active roster once Bell returns to the team. However, both men will have a chance to prove they belong between now and then.

Hey! Give me a hand. Please share this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.