Is Mike Tomlin Hinting at Steelers 2 Point Conversion Plans for 2015?

Less than one week after the NFL condemned his PAT proposal with deafening silence, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hints the 2015 Steelers may go for 2 early and often.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly recounts, when OTA’s began, the Steelers offense huddled at the 20 yard line – Mike Tomlin however ordered the team into a 2 point conversion drill. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knew what was coming, but it was a surprise to the rest of the offense.

  • Tomlin explained his motive to the rest of the offense in simple terms: “We are not going to talk about it, we are just going to do it.”

By moving the extra point kick back to what will now be a 32 or 33 yard field goal, the extra point will still be almost automatic instead of being virtually automatic. In 2014 NFL kickers converted extra point kicks more than 99% of time, whereas 33 yard field goals were approximately 94% proposition.

Since Mike Tomlin joined the Steelers in 2007, the Steelers have converted 10 of 13 2 point conversion attempts or nearly 77% and they hold the best two point conversion record in the NFL since 2001, having converted 72.7%

The irony is that the most Steelers fans can probably name at least two of these failures without going to Google.

Both missed opportunities cost the Steelers dearly. The first severely set hurt the Steelers comeback efforts, and the second time it robbed them of a chance to tie the game, and allowed the Ravens to run out the clock.

As Ben Roethlisberger confided to Mark Kaboly, all 33 yard field goals are not created equally – kicking one in a dome or in a place like Tampa Bay isn’t quite the same as kicking a 33 yard field goal on a windy November evening at Heinz Field.

It will be interesting to see what strategy Tomlin employs regarding the two point conversion. At the very least Tomlin’s intent on establishing a “Be prepared to go for 2”mindset starting with the first set of Steelers OTA’s that includes both veterans and members of the Steelers 2015 draft class.

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

Separating the Information from the Noise @ Steelers OTA’s

The Pittsburgh Steelers OTA’s might only be “football in shorts” but that doesn’t stop both the professional press and bloggers alike from feeding fodder from these workouts to fill the voracious appetite that Steelers Nation has for its beloved Black and Gold.

  • Note the word “fodder” instead of news, because little of what happens in OTA’s counts as real news.

In fact, you can breakdown what you hear out of the South Side during OTA’s into three categories:  News that will mean something in September, stories that might mean something in the summer, and stuff that makes for good stories in the spring but is forgotten by the fall.

However, a few developments do offer insight about the future, and here Steel Curtain Rising attempts to aide Steelers Nation in sorting out the information for them noise.

Spence and Heyward Top the “Real OTA” News

Take a look at the video below:

If Mike Tomlin followed Chuck Noll’s policy of practicing without numbers, would you know which of the players running drills was the one whom linebacker’s coach Keith Butler had said it would be a miracle if he played again? The answer is no, you wouldn’t.

  • The first player in the video is Sean Spence of course.

Spence’s return to full time action during OTA’s counts as real news. While it doesn’t mean his comeback is complete, not by a long shot, but it does show that it’s viable. Spence was on the verge of pushing Larry Foote for playing time as a rookie during the 2012 preseason, when he suffered a near catastrophic knee injury.

  • Since then Steelers Nation has been subjected to a diversity of stories on how serious his prospects for a full recovery actually were, but at this point it seems the optimists have the upper had.

Throw Sean Spence into a group with Lawrence Timmons, “sophomores” Terence Garvin and Vince Williams and rookie first round pick Ryan Shazier and in a single year inside linebacker could go from one of the Steelers thinnest positions to its deepest.

  • A lot must happen for that to become reality, but at least it is possible.

The other big piece of news is the decision to move Cameron Heyward from left to right defensive end.

In going from left to right Heyward is moving into the spot that Brett Keisel has occupied for the last 8 years. This shift might only prove to be temporary, but it does show that Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and John Mitchell are ready to test drive a Steelers defensive line without Keisel.

News that Might Mean Something Come Summer

One name that is turning a lot of heads during OTA’s is that of Justin Brown, the Steelers 6th round draft pick from 2013 who did an apprenticeship on the practice squad.  This could mean something, particularly because players generally (although not universally) make their biggest jump between year’s 1 and 2.

  • Not only have all of the major reporters praised Brown, but the Steelers are letting him run with the first unit.

The coach’s decision validates what reporters have been saying for weeks. Now, OTA’s are “football in shorts.” Dallas Baker once dazzled during Tomlin’s second stint of OTA’s in 2008, and then didn’t even make the team. Back in 2000, Malcolm Johnson was another second year player who came on strong early, even starting the first pre-season game, only to get cut before the opener.

  • But Brown’s improvement has been steady, tracing back to the final month of 2013, per Dale Lolley. This one bears watching.

Another situation to keep your eye on is Shamarko Thomas’.

Shamarko Thomas’ working out in 2014 off season

Thomas is of course the man the Steelers scarified their 2014 third round pick to move up in ’13 in the 4th, a man who Carnell Lake insisted would have gone as a 1st had been 2 inches taller.

Thomas moved immediately into the team’s third down package, until he got hurt. Dallas waived Will Allen, but when Thomas recovered, Allen retained his role. And as OTA’s progress, Allen remains ahead of Thomas on the depth chart at safety.

This could just be Mike Tomlin lighting a fire under Thomas, making it clear he must earn his stripes… Or there could be legitimate issues with his development.

Current “Not Real News Stories” that Might Not Be in that Category Later…

Bloggers, yours truly very much included, love calming bragging rights when events prove their predictions. And yet, there are times when a blogger longs to eat crow, and this is one of them.

  • The Ryan Shazier story is one of those.

The big “News” to open OTA’s is was Ryan Shazier was running with the first team defense.

But the real “news” value of this story must be taken with a grain of salt, as Mike Tomlin never anoints and rarely starts rookies. And trend precedes Tomlin. Kendrell Bell was the last rookie to make an opening day start for the Steelers defense. And unlike Brown and Thomas, there is no “progression from last season trajectory for him to follow.”

  • Making assumptions based on OTA lineup status is tenuous at best, which is why backstories must be examined carefully.

To wit Kris Farris, 1999 IR/redshirt 3rd round pick and Outland Trophy winner ran with the first team in 2000’s OTA’s and got cut in training camp. More recently, Jonathan Dwyer ran like a stallion in 2010 OTAs, if accounts are reliable, yet showed up at St. Vincents overweight and out of shape and barely made the final cut.

  • Shaizer has no backstory to follow – he’s writing it now.

Jim Wexell reports that Shaizer made a leaping interception that “required all 42 inches of his vertical leap” and has even lined up as a slot corner, which is enough for Wex to pronounce Shaizer as the incumbent starter.

If events vindicate Wexell, Steel Curtain Rising will happily eat the words above.

 Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

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

Watch Tower: Putting the Haley-Roethlisberger Relationship Under the Microscope… And more

The 2013 NFL draft is in the books, most of the Steelers draft picks are under contract, free agent signings have largely been complete, and even OTAs are at an end. But there’s still plenty for the Watch Tower to shine its lights on.

Big Ben Likes Todd Haley’s Offense But….

The most important news to come out of OTA didn’t deal with the rookies, offensive line shuffling, or even Mike Adams stabbing.

No it was Allen Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review article’s on Ben Roethlisberger’s regarding the changes that Todd Haley has installed to the offense.

As Robinson details, no one was happy with the offense last year, not even Haley himself.  Roethlisberger was coy about the specifics, but he explained that everyone from the position coaches, to the players to Haley himself chimed in on how they could improve.

Robinson went so far as to observe “it was obvious he seemed more comfortable with the offense than he did at any time last season.”

That’s an interesting, not to mention encouraging, observation. Assuming it is accurate. Past history suggests it might not be….

Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley’s Unspoken Conflict in 2012

…No bigger subplot to the 2012 season existed than the relationship between new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger. Ben had been out right chummy with Bruce Arians and was not happy to see him go and Haley had a reputation for getting in the faces and under the skin of his players.

  • How would the two gel?

The professional press entered the season looking and smelling for the slightest whiff of conflict. Each stray comment got magnified, but each time either Haley and/or Roethlisberger raced to the microphone to assure that nothing was wrong.

Yet, October Ian Rapaport of claimed the two men were butting heads, suggesting that Haley would be gone by year’s end. But Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure I also write for BTSC) quickly cast doubt Rapaport’s sources, reminding everyone that his “exclusive” on the extent of David DeCastro’s preseason injury had been wrong.

  • Nothing serious surfaced as Ben was in route to an All Pro season before getting injured.

Then came the Steelers disappointing loss to Dallas, where Roethliberger openly criticized the play calling in the second half, specifically referencing the inability to get the ball more to Heath Miller, complaining “I just don’t think we called the right plays to get him the ball.”

Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review immediately proclaimed a “100-percent legitimate, non-manufactured quarterback vs. coordinator controversy,” further arguing that “No team can function without its quarterback and offensive coordinator on the same page, and these guys aren’t in the same library right now.”

But before the 2012 season began, the Steelers fire fighting strategy was to give the press liberal access to Todd Haley, which contrasted starkly from Mike Tomlin’s previous practice of preventing the press from speaking with his coordinators.

After the Dallas game the Steelers PR unit moved into high gear, as Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “The reality is, the Steelers called nine plays designed for Miller in the second half, but the Cowboys’ coverage forced Roethlisberger away from throwing to Miller.”

Dulac did not credit that statistic to anyone, but clearly he got it from somewhere inside the Steelers organization, and such a specific information was almost certainly leaked on purpose.

All was well the faithful of Steelers Nation were assured….

We Have Met the Enemy, and He is Us…

The Steelers neat little PR strategy for denying any Haley-Roethlisberger rift was undone early in the 2013 off season by their own hand.

Editor Bob Labriola’s lead article in the February Steelers Digest had a picture of Ben and Haley and headline that proclaimed “This Has to Get Fixed First.” Labriola is of course employed by the Steelers, something evident in the Super Bowl ring that can sometimes been seen on his hand in videos (I love Labs, but why does he get a ring?)

Fans often criticize him for being a Rooney stooge, and sometimes that’ true. But historically Labriola hasn’t hesitated to call it like it is, something that goes back as far as his merciless criticism of Joe Walton’s offense during Chuck Noll’s ill fated trek up Walton’s mountain.

  • Labriola did not mince words here either.

First he admonished Ben and Haley to accept that they’re stuck with each other. He then charges that the situation that saw Haley replacing Arians “was not a positive in 2012” explaining that “Roethlisberger and Haley weren’t communicating last season.”

Labrolia was quick to indicate that Roethlisberger and Haley of course spoke and were civil but implored both men to “communicate in a manner that’s both honest enough and productive enough for the Steelers offense to become a force in 2013.”

  • Has that process occurred?

Alan Robinson’s article would have us think so. Hopefully Robinson’s report turns out to be more than spin from the Steelers PR team.

Doug Legursky Gets No Love II

Pittsburgh Steelers back up/part time starting Center/Guard Doug Legrusky signed last week with the Buffalo Bills.

  • Not that you’d have learned that if you relied on the Post-Gazette or Tribune Review for your information.

As of Saturday June 9th, news of Legursky’s departure was not reported by either paper despite being reported by Behind the Steel Curtain on June 6th and the Bills website.

  • Legursky leaves a lesson for future free agents

If you’re an unrestricted free agent that wants to leave Pittsburgh without any fanfare, do it during June. Last year Mewelde Moore, one of the unsung heroes form the 2008 Super Bowl season, signed with the Colts and as the Watch Tower noted, Pittsburgh’s dailies all but ignored his defection.

  • Honestly, there is no excuse for this lack of coverage.

Certainly OTA’s provide reporters with ample access to rookies and veterans which in turn gives them excellent story material. And one can say that in this age of Twitter and 24/7 Sports Talk radio that fans have other means of learning of such departures.

  • But neither is a reason to ignore departures of players like Legursky or Moore.

As Steel Curtain Rising will write in the future, Legursky’s loss could come back to haunt the Steelers mightily in 2013. Did the Steelers attempt to sign him? If not, why? If so was it a money issue, or does he not fit into the new zone run blocking scheme?

These questions are important, and Steelers Nation deserves a press corps that is attentive enough to ask them.

Untold Story Behind the Shamarko Thomas Signing

And while the Watch Tower is burning into professional press its only right to point out another non-story, this one involving rookie safety Shamarko Thomas.

Days after 2013 NFL Draft the Kevin Colbert told season ticket holders that draftee signings would have to occur after June 1st, the Steelers went out and signed 4th round draft pick Shamarko Thomas. Pittsburgh’s dailies reported the move, but did nothing to detail why.

Behind the Steel Curtain did, reporting about how Thomas is supporting his brothers and sisters and can put his signing bonus to immediate use.

Steelers Assistant Coaches Get Face Time

One of the treats of NFL draft coverage in the digital age is that post pick press conferences with position coaches get posted on the Steelers website in full.

Watching Carnell Lake and Randy Fitncher was a real treat and an insightful experience, and seeing Johnny Mitchell spar with the press as he compared Nicholas Williams to Steve McLendon was not to be missed. Check them out if you haven’t already.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read more Steelers media analysis.

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

Prudence, Rather than “Steelers June Curse” Lurking Behind Roethlisberger’s Surgery

For a moment there, the collective heartbeat of Steelers Nation stopped on Wednesday when the news broke:

#Steelers say Ben Roethlisberger had scope on his right knee this morning. No long-term effects, team says. Right knee. Clean up.
— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) June 5, 2013

This was after all the month of June. It involved surgery, and it involved Ben Roethlisberger.

But there is surgery and surgery, and the reports are that this was a simple procedure to clean up some cartilage. Roethlisberger had a similar procedure done during he 2005 season and only missed 2 games because of it.

  • But with that said you never want to have someone go under the knife if it can be avoided.

Or do you?

About a year ago the Steelers faced a similar situation with James Harrison. Harrison knee was bothering him, and the Steelers and Harrison chose to let the knee heal on its own.

A respectable strategy, until the knee refused to heal, swelling continued, and Harrison had surgery in the middle of August. Not only did the surgery keep him out of the line up for the first few weeks of the season, but it wasn’t until mid season that Harrison regained full strength.

Clearly the Steelers are not going to burn their hands on the same pot twice.

June Curse Strikes Royally…

Mike Adams’s stabbing was of course enough to invoke the specter of the Steelers “June Curse,” Adams, however, was not its only victum.

The Steelers placed reserve cornerback Justin King on injured reserve, ending his season long before it had a chance to begin. No reason was given for the move, but the Steelers certainly did not make it lightly as King will cost them over $750,000 against the salary cap.

To take his place the Steelers signed cornerback Nigel Malone.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or… Follow @SteelCurtainRis

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

Jarvis Jones, Le’Von Bell Signed – Landry Jones Remains Lone “Hold Out”

And then their was one. One of the benefits of the 2011 CBA between the NFL owners and the NFLPA is the rookie wage scale. Not only does it protect untested rookies getting horrendous amounts of money thrown at them, it also ensures that tenured NFL veterans get a larger share of the pie.

  • And added benefit is that the once standard rookie holds are a thing of the past.

Eric Green held out all of training camp. Rod Woodson held out for the first half of his rookie year. Even Ben Roethlisberger missed the first few days of his rookie training camp.

  • Not any more.

Without waiting on any of the cash liberated by Willie Colon’s release, the Steelers signed Shamarko Thomas, Marcus Wheaton, Terrance Hawthorne, Vince Williams and Justin Brown followed suit.

As soon as June arrived the Steelers quickly locked up first round pick Jarvis Jones and second round pick Le’von Bell in addition to seventh round pick Nick Williams.

The only pick that remains unsigned is fourth round pick quarterback Landry Jones.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or… Follow @SteelCurtainRis
Please lend a hand by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc... Thanks.

Max Starks Signs with Chargers; Steelers Sign Vince Williams

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Max Starks are breaking up. Could it be for real this time? Yes, folks, it looks like it is.

Long time Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Max Starks went through the first round of free agency without attracting any interest for other teams or from the Steelers themselves. The Steelers then went out an signed Guy Whimper, leading to speculation that Wimper’s arrival meant Starks’s departure (speculation later confirmed as explained in the Watch Tower).

While no official word has come out of Pittsburgh, Max Starks himself is reporting he has a new home with the San Diego Charger. Starks announced the move on Twitter:

I’m very happy to say that I will be joining the @chargers family. Can’t wait to get started and building towards a championship! #GoBolts
— Max Starks IV (@maxstarks78) May 21, 2013

Max Starks has had a longer, and stranger trip than perhaps any Pittsburgh Steelers save for Ernie Holmes. Drafted in 2004 with Ben Roethlisberger, Starks was a starter for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL.

Yet, by the end of 2006 coaches were attempting to phase him out in favor of Willie Colon. The coaches and the front office could not decided what they wanted to do with Starks, leading to him getting transition tenders, franchise tenders and the like – when he wasn’t even starting.

Yet Starks delivered for the Steelers.

He played well of the bench in 2007, saved their 2008 Super Bowl season, and again bailed the Steelers out in 2011 – after they had cut him.

  • Starks may never have been or will be an All Pro Tackle, but he certain did what was asked of him in Pittsburgh. 

Thanks Max. Steelers Nation is in your debt.

Steelers Since Vince Williams, 6th Round Pick

A few days after coming to terms with safety Shamarko Thomas, the Steelers signed inside linebacker Vince Williams, who was their 6th round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Williams will compete with Adrian Robinson, Chris Carter, Stevenson Sylvester and perhaps Sean Spence to for a roster spot to provide depth behind Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or… Follow @SteelCurtainRis

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

Watch Tower: Steelers OTAs End – Tomlin’s Contract Status Moves to Center Stage

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has two years remaining on the contract he signed in 2007. The Steelers unofficial policy has been to renew the contract with their head coach at exactly this point.

With the off season heading into the home stretch Tomlin neither has an extension, nor have any reports surfaced that the two sides are negotiating towards one.

Readers of the Post-Gazette and Tribune Review can be excused if they’ve concluded that Tomlin’s non-extension is a done deal.

Tomlin may very well not get that extension before the regular season begins, but until that happens Steelers Nation should be skeptical of reports to that effect.

Idle Speculation from the Steel City?

As Steelers OTA’s drew to a close, attention early in the week, before the news of the Roethlisberger DVD’s and TV interviews broke, began focusing on Tomlin’s contract status.

First to weigh in was the Tribune Review’s John Harris.

As Steel Curtain Rising has suggested before, John Harris either has a bone to pick with Mike Tomlin or else he knows he can generate page views by chopping the youngest Super Bowl Champion coach off at the knees.

Harris takes a more level tone with Tomlin this time around, both extolling Tomlin’s record while stoking doubts about Tomlin.

Reasons why he doubts the Steelers will sign Tomlin to an extension are as follows:

  • They didn’t extend his contract after Super Bowl XLIII
  • Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden returned after having lost starting jobs under Tomlin
  • Art II’s edict to improve the running game and some supposed philosophical difference that have emerged with Dick LeBeau

Harris’ observations are reasonable but can none the less be answered, as seen below

  • The Steelers have clear and well-established contract negotiation policies, there is no reason to think they would deviate from them following Super Bowl XLIII
  • Tomlin did not want to lose Foote and McFadden in the first place
  • LeBeau and Tomlin have twice had the number one defense working together
  • And Tomlin may already be grooming Randy Fichtner as Arians’ replacement with his decision to promote Fichtner to quarterback’s coach

All of this amounts nothing more than speculation, which puts Steel Curtain Rising on par with John Harris, as the erstwhile sports editor of the Tribune-Review reports no new news, nor does he cite any on the record or off the record sources “close to Tomlin, the Steelers, an agent, or even a South Side dog catcher who claims to be privy to an inside scoop.”

That’s a shame, because Steel Curtain Rising is 6,000 miles away from the story whereas Harris sits in the middle of Pittsburgh surrounded by sources….

What to Make of “Lack of Talk about Talks”?

Tomlin’s contract status gets more interesting as it was also a hot topic in Ed Bouchette’s weekly chat.

When asked about negotiations a few weeks ago Bouchette reminded readers that there was still plenty of time and that he expected a deal to get done.

This week he was far less sure, indicating to several questioners (including 3 from this author) that he now doubted a deal. Bouchette did not offer any affirmative reports to back that up, but rather he based his belief on the lack of talk about talks.

Attentive fans in Steelers Nation should perk up their ears when Bouchette changes his tune like this. He knows the Steelers organization through and through. He and Gerry Dulac have been right several times this season while others have been wrong.

But while Bouchette’s comments about Tomlin’s prospects for a contract renewal command a healthy respect, no one should accept them as Gospel.

Bouchette gets the goods, but he’s missed the boat on Steelers contract negotiations several times in recent years.

In 2008 he opined that no contract extensions would be reached because the Steelers ownership restructuring was consuming that attention of the Rooneys.

In the 2009 season he repeatedly his belief that the Steelers would not resign Max Starks to a long-term deal

  • Starks inked a four year extension in June.

Also during the 2009 off season, Bouchette indicated that the Health Miller resigning would be the team’s last move prior to the season

And, on the eve of free agency 2010, Bouchette not only told his readers not to expect much, he put his money where his mouth was and headed off to vacation

Ed Bouchette is a great reporter with fabulous sources, but few of them, it would seem, are involved in contract negotiations.

The more interesting question of course is, should the Steelers extend Mike Tomlin’s contract?

Steel Curtain Rising will be sounding off on that soon, so stay tuned.

For more media analysis of the Steelers press coverage, see Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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

Roethlisberger to Rejoin Steeler OTAs

Pittsburgh Steelers OTA (that is NFL parlance for “Organized Team Activities” or football in shorts) will be getting a familiar face back.

The Post-Gazette and Tribune Review are both reporting that the NFL has cleared Ben Roethlisberger to return to practices with the team.

In imposing his six game suspension, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barred Ben from participating in the Steelers spring workouts and/or training game.

The news release by the NFL indicates Roethlisberger’s suspension remains at six games for the time being.

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