Watch Tower: Ben Roethlisberger, Martavis Bryant, Dick LeBeau Press Coverage & More

It’s been a long time, too long in fact, since the Watch Tower shined its lights, but that’s a product of the digital economy’s never-ending work day and certainly not for lack of Steelers related news to analyze.

With acknowledged, this edition of the Watch Tower turns its focus on stories about Ben Roethlisberger, the Martavis Bryant non-trade, Dick LeBeau’s return to Heinz Field, comings & goings, localization pains and much more.

Ben Roethlisberger, Dick LeBeau, Steelers vs Titans, Ben Roethlisberger Dick LeBeau Hug

Ben Roethlisberger hugs Dick LeBeau leaving the field after the Steelers win over the Titans. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

Roethlisberger Up Close

The fact that all eyes have been on Ben Roethlisberger should come as no surprise this season, given that Roethlisberger openly mused about retirement following yet another AFC Championship loss to the Patriots.

Lots have been said about Big Ben and his future plans, or lack thereof, but ESPN’s Hallie Grossman added a lot of substance to the conversation in her 3,000 plus word story on the Steelers signal caller (a story which came to the Watch Tower’s attention quite by accident – more on that below.)

  • Grossman’s story doesn’t of course shed any real light on the question that everyone in Steelers Nation is hanging on, namely is this Ben Ben’s last fall on the gridiron.

She of course raised the question with Roethlisberger, who claimed not to know, and intimated that it may very well be the case that no one but himself know when he decides to make his final trek down the tunnel at Heinz Field.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger talking with reporters in the Steelers locker room. Photo Credit: WTAE

She does, however, reveal that Ben Roethlisberger not only has his two locker, but also has his own private room, or vestibule. While that’s hardly earth shattering, it is an interesting factoid and one that the Watch Tower is unaware of the local press publishing.

Hallie Grossman’s story is certainly strong enough to win Watch Tower kudos, but the Watch Tower will also openly wonder why these stories tend to come out of the national media.

  • Lest you conclude that this is a dig at the local Steelers press corps, let’s state ESPN’s Hallie Grossman was probably granted access not afforded to Pittsburgh-based reporters.

Its doubtful that Burt Lauren and the Steelers PR team, will ever read this, let alone be persuaded to change policy because of it, but if the Watch Tower’s assumption is correct, then let’s state for the record that Pittsburgh-based reporters covering the Steelers should get an equal shot at the access needed to draft these in-depth stories.

Steelers Quarterbacks Coach Randy Fichtner

During the Steelers 31-28 win over the Green Bay Packers Steelers quarterback coach Randy Fichtner was seen on the sidelines conferring with Ben Roethlisberger. That didn’t seem all that unusual, until this tweet from Mark Kaboly appeared.

As it turns out, this was a rather new sight, given that four games ago Randy Fichtner moved from the booth to the sidelines. The fact that Ben Roethlisberger struggled early in the season, long before his 5 interception performance against Jacksonville, is not news. Nor were there a lack of stories attempting to explaining why (most/many of which focusing on Roethlisberger not practicing Wednesdays.)

But The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly zeroed in on one concrete move that the Steelers have made to address the situation. The bulk of Kaboly’s article was behind The Athletic’s paywall, and therefore the Watch Tower analysis is necessarily superficial.

Randy Fichtner moving from the booth to the sideline is a change that came in plain sight, but Mark Kaboly is the first reporter to pick up and report on the change, and Kaboly wins Watch Tower kudos.

Follow the Money?

Martavis Bryant trade story has faded for the moment, but the way it all unfolded did yield useful insight into how agents work the PR levers. When national reporters broke the Bryant trade rumor request story, several Pittsburgh-based writers reacted with skepticism. Dale Lolley, then still with the Observer Reporter, response is fairly typical:

A couple of national reporters are saying that Martavis Bryant has requested a trade from the Steelers and did so a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know if I’m buying that one.

However, within in a day or so, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette and other members of the Steelers press corps were confirming that Bryant and/or his representatives had in fact made the trade request.

Lolley himself took time out to explain how the process worked, comparing Bryant’s case to that of 49er’s linebacker Navarro Bowman, detailing how agents work behind the scenes. Agents, are in fact prime sources for stories about impending personnel moves and are typically the man standing behind the curtain when you see a “league source” cited.

Martavis Bryant,

Martavis Bryant in 2017. Photo Credit: 247 Sports.

And, taking a longer look, it occurs to the Watch Tower that the rule of thumb for agents is perhaps, “To get your guy out of town, leak to national reporters. To get him into town, leak to the local press.”

A good example of the latter would come from way back in spring of 2008, when a visit from free agent Anthony “Bud” McFarland prompted erroneous reports that the Steelers had signed him, followed by a stream of columns by then Tribune-Review editor John Harris that sang the defensive lineman’s praises week’s after his visit to the South Side an suggested that the Steelers sign him.

It didn’t occur to the Watch Tower then that those Harris stories were probably prompted by calls from an agent.

Digital Disruption Continues to Reshuffle Pittsburgh Press Corps Deck

The Steelers press corps has seen two big changes this season. First, Mark Kaboly jumped from local upstart DK on Pittsburgh Sports to accept an offer as the Steelers beat writer for the national upstart The Athletic. Kaboly had been with Dejan Kovacevic team for about a year, and the move marks the second hit that the Athletic DK on Pittsburgh Sports has taken at the hands of The Athletic.

  • The replace Kaboly, Kovacevic pried Dale Lolley away from the Observer-Reporter after a 25 year stint with the local publication.

As the Watch Tower observed previously, this type of movement is relatively new inside the Pittsburgh sports writing community. Back in 2009, when doing the research for the retrospective series on the 1989 Steelers, one of the things that stood out was that so many of the writers who’d covered Bubby Brister & co’s 15 Minutes of Fame were still covering the Steelers two decades later for the same publicationsm.

That is changing fast. DK on Pittsburgh Sports digital only, subscription-based model represented a major innovation in sports journalism in the Pittsburgh market and one side effect of that is that it seems to have spurred a lot of movement for journalists, (although that’s probably not what Kovacevic intended when he launched his site.)

Digital disruption comes with costs of course, and the thinned out Steelers staff at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review can attest.

ESPN.com Screws English Speakers in Latin America

People who travel outside the United States are often surprised to find messages like the one below on the video screens of their favorite sports, news and/or entertainment websites:

Messages like the one above are more and more common outside the USA

This is nothing new and is driven by copyright (or lack thereof considerations.) In fact, the messages are becoming more common. There are no shortage of commercial sites (including Steelers.com) which won’t let you place on-line orders from abroad, even if you have a US-based credit card.

  • Expect more of this to happen inside the US as net neutrality dies.

ESPN has sunk to a new level. ESPN of course has sub-brands throughout Latin America. As you’d expect ESPNDeportes broadcasts in Spanish and focuses on soccer, tennis, golf and everything else which is popular locally (although they do carry the Sunday and Monday Night Games).

But for 16 years, if you were in Argentina you could simply navigate to espn.go.com/nfl/ just as you would in the United States and read as you normally would (although some videos might be blacked out.)

Try that now and this is what you’ll get:

ESPN.com in English in Latin America, Access ESPN.com in English in Latin America, ESPN.com in English Argentina

In Latin America (or Argentina at least) ESPN.com isn’t accessible in English

That’s right! Try to access any of ESPN’s NFL related pages in English, and you’ll get automatically redirected to www.espn.com.ar/futbol-americano/ complete with local soccer scores across the top bar, whether you want to see them or not!

  • Worse yet, there’s no navigation option that you can use to easily get to English NFL content.

You can still access English articles via the writer’s Twitter feed or Google, although if you do so from a mobile device such as an iPad you’re liable to be kicked to the Spanish site when the browser auto-renews.

From a desk top you CAN manage to get the ESPN.com’s NFL page by navigating to ESPN’s Hockey coverage, and then clicking back to the NFL coverage, but that’s a royal pain in the ass. After 16 years of living in Argentina, I can certainly read Spanish, but gee, I do prefer to read about the NFL in English and detest having the option taken denied to me.

Note to ESPN, I was on espn.go.com/nfl/ a heck of a lot more than I ever tuned into ESPNDeportes. If you actively try to lose my attention, there’s no way your sponsors can get my dollars.

Ojo, ESPN Argentina. Casi nunca miro ESPNDeportes, pero leí (en pasado) espn.go.com/nfl/ TODO LOS DIAS DE LA SEMANA. Si hacen un esfuerza para quitar mi atención a tu página, no hay forma en que tus clientes pueden capturar mis dólares (si, leíste bien, dólares, no pesos). Pensar en esto, compañeros.

There you go. Won’t change anything but sure felt better.

New, but Juicy Tidbit on the LeBeau-Steelers Story

Did you know that the Steelers tried to kick Dick LeBeau upstairs before they promoted Keith Butler to defensive coordinator? They did, and Jim Wexell broke that fact prior to the Steelers Titans game.

  • As he typically does, Wexell broke a tantalizing new fact as an offhand comment with little elaboration.

When readers, including this one, pressed him for more detail, Wexell suggested that this was common knowledge (its not) but confirmed that LeBeau wasn’t interested in even opening that conversation.

While he didn’t break the news, when the LeBeau story was still hot Wexell provided details that other uncovered, and continues to do so over 2 years after its become history.

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Watch Tower: Steelers Antonio Brown Draft Story Revealed, Optimizing OTA Coverage & More

The Watch Tower’s lights haven’t lit since mid-February but the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the scribes that cover them, have logged a busy off season. So as the NFL’s true down period begins, the Watch Tower turns its attention to Steelers draft coverage, getting the most out of OTAs, bumping into an old friend, and much more.

Antonio Brown, Steelers Draft Antonio Brown,

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler penned draft room story on the Steelers drafting Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: USA Today SteelersWire

Jeremy Fowler Delivers Story Behind Steelers Drafting Antonio Brown

Two years ago the Watch Tower noted the chronic lack of Steelers draft war room stories and called on the credentialed press to change things. Last year, Jim Wexell supplied a nugget, revealing that Steelers almost drafted Jevon Kearse instead of Troy Edwards in the 1999 NFL Draft. Alas, while that morsel represented a succulent sample of Wexell’s work, it was only that, a nugget.

This year ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler delivered with a fantastic, 2,300 plus word feature on how the Steelers came to draft Antonio Brown in the 2010 NFL Draft.

  • It seems like Jeremy Fowler has heeded the Watch Tower’s call.

Actually, it is probably a safe bet that Jeremy Fowler has never set eyes on this site, let alone the Watch Tower, but that doesn’t dampen the Watch Tower’s enthusiasm for a truly phenomenal story detailing how the Steelers made greatest 6th round steal this side of Tom Brady.

Included in “The Brown 21,” one rule for each of the 21 receivers picked before Brown, are insights from Brown’s coach at Central Michigan Butch Jones, Phil Savage, Bruce Arians, Scottie Montgomery, Charlie Batch, and Drew Rosenhaus.

  • Note, none of the above names above currently work for the Steelers.

While Jeremy Fowler did quote Mike Tomlin, he didn’t get anyone from the current Steelers scouting or coaching staff to speak on the record about how Pittsburgh came to draft Antonio Brown. No surprise there.

But that didn’t Jeremy Fowler from hustling to tell a good story on the Steelers most important draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era. And for that Jeremy Fowler wins Watch Tower Kudos.

Lolley Calls Steelers 4th Round Pick 2 Months in Advance

The Steelers shocked (and angered) much of the fan base when the pick Tennessee Quarterback Joshua Dobbs in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Count the Watch Tower among those who weren’t expecting this.

  • But, as pointed out on here before, Dale Lolley’s readers shouldn’t have been caught off guard.

Based Art Rooney II postseason press conference, Dale Lolley told his readers “The Steelers will likely take a shot at a quarterback in the middle rounds of this year’s draft, much like they did with Jones a few years ago.”

Josuha Dobbs, Steelers OTAs

4th Round Pick Joshua Dobbs at Steelers OTA. Photo Credit: AP via wpxi.com

Just as they’d done with Landry Jones in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted Dobbs in the 4th round. Perhaps Lolley had inside information, perhaps reporter’s intuition guided him, or maybe it was a mix of both.

It doesn’t matter. One thing is certain, Dale Lolley had the story two and a half months before the draft. Next time he speaks up like this, the Watch Tower will take note.

It’s Not Easy Being Green II

The saga of Ladarius Green, and analysis of the press coverage he generated during his short stay in Pittsburgh could easily provide material for several dozen Watch Tower columns.

  • Fear not, we won’t attempt to do that here, but we’ll again focus on the work done by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Ladarius Green, Ed Bouchette Ladarius Green, Steelers Thanksgiving Colts, Edwin Jackson

Ladarius Green catches a pass in the Steelers 2017 Thanksgiving win over the Colts. Photo Credit: Jeff Brown, Icon Sportswire

Last summer when Ladarius Green couldn’t get off the PUP list, Ed Bouchette got ahead of the story, going as far as to compare the Green signing to Chuck Noll’s badly botched Frank Lewis for Paul Seymor trade. At the time the Watch Tower wondered if that was idle speculation, or if Bouchette was signaling he knew a deeper back story he couldn’t yet report.

As soon as Green hit the wavier wire, Bouchette labeled the move as Pittsburgh’s worst free agent signing ever, and justified has argument by revealing that the Steelers failed to fully investigate his concussion history.

Once again, the Watch Tower says, “This Bud’s for you Mr. Bouchette.”

Making the Most of Steelers OTA’s

May showers in June flowers mean one thing for football fans – OTAs. OTA’s are only football in shorts, don’t often provide much meaningful news yet they’re all the rage. Except they’re not, for the men and women who cover them. Two years ago, a credentialed member of the Steelers press corps confided in a private email exchange:

Have not gone to OTAs yet but probably will next week. They are kind of annoying, frankly. There is no locker room access and you can only talk to the players as they are coming off of the field so its typically a scrum, especially the first week and even more so with a bunch of bored media.

The internet has made this phenomenon a stable of sports coverage – you’re used to seeing 2 dozen or so reporters bunched together, twisting themselves into pretzels as they squirm and stretch to shove a microphone towards Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell or Martavis Bryant’s mouth.

Mike Tomlin, St. Vincents, Steelers Training camp

Mike Tomlin addresses the media @ St. Vincents. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports

Such frenzies have always struck the Watch Tower as a bit odd, given that the same interview will probably be live on Steelers.com well before the reporters can write, let alone file, their stories.

After explaining the pecking order for interviews during off season workouts, Wexell made a (perhaps not so) subtle dig at his competitors observing that they preferred to watch passing trains while he reported on the progress of players like John Maxley, Francis Kallon, Matt Galambos, Keith Kelsey and Phazahn Odom.

He also took time out to do a story on Ethan Cooper, an undrafted rookie free agent lineman out of IUP, getting his full-length feature out almost a month before the Tribune Review and Post-Gazette writers did theirs (although, to be fair Mike Prisuta published a feature on Cooper on Steelers.com before Wexell.)

Ethan Cooper, Steelers OTAs 2017

Steelers undrafted rookie free agent Ethan Cooper interviewed @ OTAs. Photo Credit: Scout

Devoting previous reporting time to stories on obscure roster bubble babies can carry a cost – Mike Tomlin is known to playfully taunt Penn Live’s Jacob Klingler as “Mr. Irrelevant” for doing just that. Fair enough. Some of those men Wexell profiled won’t make it to Latrobe, let alone the 1st preseason game.

Beyond that, the Watch Tower awards kudos to Jim Wexell for finding a way to be different in an age where “content” gets recycled ad nauseam to the point where major dailies appear to be doing knockoff stories based on interviews posted on Steelers.com.

And, lest anyone label Steel City Insider a “bottom feeder” site, at the close of minicamp Wexell published an exclusive one-on-one interview with Ben Roethlisberger.

Hello Stafford (and, BTW So Long Shamarko)

Former Tennessee safety Daimion Stafford arrived in Pittsburgh at the end of May, effectively ended Pittsburgh’s 2017 foray into free agency and ending Shamarko Thomas tortured tenure with the team.

  • Not that you’d know that from reading the major dailies, media sites and major fan sites that cover the Steelers.

The Steelers signed Stafford and day later, the New York Jet’s picked up Thomas. Yet, almost no one who writes about the Steelers connected the dots. The Watch Tower has taken the press to task for ignoring past late-spring departures of Mewelde Moore and Doug Legursky, but concedes that there’s probably less news value in Shamarko’s non-return.

  • But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a good story to tell.

Last year Art Rooney II acknowledged the Steelers had “made mistakes” with their secondary. It would seem like that quote might made a good lede about the mistakes the Steelers made and how they’ve changed their approach (or not) in hopes of avoiding them.

Shamarko Thomas, Carnell Lake, Steelers 2015 OTAs

Carnell Lake & Shamarko Thomas @ Steelers 2015 OTAs. Photo Credit: Pin Interest

Or, a crafty writer could take Carnell Lake’s words about Shamarko Thomas and tie them to the Senquez Golson comeback story, given Lake’s draft day assertions that both players would be first rounders if they were two inches taller. That’s another enticing lede to another non-story with the potential to provide a lot of insight.

So be it. No one’s surprised that Shamarko won’t be at St. Vincents this summer. But we will share that this site’s free agent profile of Shamarko Thomas saw a spike in page view the day he signed with Jets. Just Say’in.

Running into an Old Friend – McMillen & Wife is Back

Sometimes its just nice to run into an old friend.

That happened a short while back when yours truly was looking for an image of Neil O’Donnell and Google took me to McMillen and Wife. If you’re not familiar, McMillen and Wife was a pioneer Steelers fan site in the late 1990’s. In terms of offering innovation, giving fans a voice and delivering quality analysis, McMillen and Wife the same sort of trailblazer that Behind the Steel Curtain was early in the Tomlin era.

  • Indeed, as mentioned in our very first post, McMillen & Wife helped inspire this site’s launch.

Work and life complications kept site founder and editor Tim McMillen from doing much after the early 00’s and while a friend kept the it going for a while, the site went more or less dormant for the last decade.

  • But Tim McMillen is back with a vengeance.

McMillen doesn’t consider himself a blogger and is more passionate about design aspect of the site. When McMillen started very you could type in Terry Bradshaw, Joe Greene or Franco Harris’ names into Yahoo! and find almost nothing. As McMillen explains, “At the time, the pictures I was posting were some of the ONLY classic Steelers pics on the net! Hard to believe, really, because we take it completely for granted that we can find just about anything we want nowadays.”

And while the Watch Tower won’t steal his thunder, it will say that McMillen has found an unorthodox way to offer something unique to fans. Check it out just make sure you visit the site when you have plenty of spare time….

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Watch Tower: Steelers Press Coverage on Ben Roethlisberger Antonio Brown Tension, AFC Championship Aftermath & More

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 season came to an abrupt and ugly end in New England and the Watch Tower focuses its lights on the aftermath of that game, including coverage of tensions between Ben and Brown, coverage of the post-AFC Championship blame game and the Justin Gilbert story.

Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Antonio Brown pouting, Ben Roethlisberger Antonio Brown tension

Ben Roethlisberger embraces Antonio Brown at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images via BTSC

Aditi Kinkhabwala has the Press Corps Pouting Again…

The end to the Steelers season often times signals the beginning of some of most interesting stories about the team. This is a well-established tendency. Think of how stories of Bill Cowher banishing Kordell Stewart from QB meetings or getting into shouting matches with Tommy Maddox only broke after the games stopped.

In recent seasons, a new twist has accompanied the trend:

  • Namely that if you really want a story to get everyone’s attention, filter it through NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.

After all, it was Aditi Kinkhabwala who’d implied that she’d somehow predicted/foreseen Jack Bicknell’s dismissal after 2013, sparking a social media firestorm with Dejan Kovacevic. In 2014 she managed to get Steelers Nation talking about the groin injury Mike Mitchell had played through during the entire season, despite the fact that Allan Robinson had broken the Mitchell injury story in late October of 2014.

And now of course Aditi Kinkhabwala started the Steelers 2017 season by dropping this bomb buy suggesting Antonio Brown hung his head and “pouted” after DeAngelo Williams scored his first touchdown.

The substance of the story was immediately debunked by video evidence – Brown had in fact blocked on the play and was seen raising his arms in celebration after the score. But Kinkhabwala story had its impact as a quick Google search for “Antonio Brown pouting” confirms.

Interestingly enough, while one of Kinkhabwala’s reports remains available on the NFL Network’s site, the other displays other videos, such as this one of Tyler Matakevich’s NFL Combine workout:

Aditi Kinkhabwala Antonio Brown, NFL Network Antonio Brown, Tyler Matakevich NFL Combine

The url would lead you to think that this would be on Aditi Kinkhabwala’s story about Antonio Brown, but it doesn’t….

A later check of the link displayed highlights of one Le’Veon Bell’s more impressive rushing efforts against the Giants. While could be due to a technical glitch, taken at face value it does not speak well to NFL Networks confidence in the veracity of the story.

And the story might have died there, but this one had legs….

Of Ben and Ron, Antonio and Dale

The impact that the relationship reporters has with his or her subject and the coverage that person receives has long been one of the Watch Tower’s pet interest in an effort to find evidence that supports or disputes the groundbreaking work Elliot King and Michael Schudson did on the subject in the 1980’s.

  • And to that end, we can perhaps learn from the apparent tension between Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.

The story begins with the fallout from Antonio Brown’s infamous Facebook Live post following the Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff win against the Chiefs, in discussing Brown’s contrition following the incident the Observer Standard’s Dale Lolley confided:

I like Brown. I’ve gotten to know him as well as a member of the media can know a player in these days of million-dollar contracts and internet stars. I’ve been a host of his radio show the past three years.
We’ve had talks about things other than football. About his family. About my family.

While Lolley certainly did not excuse Brown’s video, he did invite readers to see things from Brown’s perspective, which is understandable given the relationship between the two. The role that the relationship between Brown and Lolley became all the more interesting after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook made the case for trading the Steelers Antonio Brown by dropping this bomb:

The distractions are a real problem. Brown’s three excessive celebrations penalties early in the season were bad enough. But there was the incident in the first Miami game when he jogged back to the line of scrimmage, delaying his teammates from running their 2-minute offense. In more than one game, when he wasn’t happy with how he was being used, he frequently ran the wrong patterns, either because of a lack of focus or — worse — intentionally. It happened a week ago in the AFC championship. That’s inexcusable.

The enormity of Ron Cook’s report did not go unnoticed.

Nor was the fact that he didn’t source his information. Clearly Cook wasn’t going to break confidentiality and out the player or the coach who spilled the beans on someone else. But he also failed to provide any anonymous credit by attributing the report to “A league source” (generally a code word for an agent) or “a member of the locker room” or “someone inside the Steelers organization” (a coach or front office staffer.)

Antonio Brown, Byron Maxwell, Steelers vs Dolphins, Ron Cook Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown’s effort in the Steelers 2016 loss to Miami recently came under fire. Photo Credit: Lynne Sladky, AP via wsoctv.com

The same day Cook’s article ran, Dale Lolley countered the argument in favor of trading Brown by reminding everyone that Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t always the ideal teammate, or citizen, and cited several verifiable facts to refute the argument that Brown is somehow a bad teammate.

A few days later, Lolley took things a step further observing:

Then, it was Roethlisberger, through his personal mouthpiece, taking shots at Brown, suggesting that Brown ran the wrong routes on purpose to sabotage the team. Please. Might there be times when Brown runs the wrong route? Sure. He probably does it just like every other receiver in the game. Might there also be times when Roethlisberger calls the wrong play? Absolutely. [emphasis added]

To the naked eye, it might seem as if Lolley is making a jump by assuming that Ben Roethlisberger is Ron Cook’s source. By Ron Cook hosts Roethlisberger’s radio show, and the two are known to have a close relationship.

Indeed, long before this story was born, a credentialed member of the Steelers press corps shared with the Watch Tower that, to the chagrin of other reporters, Ron Cook frequently gets exclusive access to Ben Roethlisberger after games.

  • What to make of all of this?

From a media analysis standpoint, on the surface it looks like Ben and Brown are conducting a surrogate war of words using journalists as proxies, although to be to Dale Lolley, his suggestion that Roethlisberger perhaps calls the wrong play at times is presented as just that a suggestion.

There’s of course nothing wrong with reporters relying on relationships and exclusive access to write compelling stories – in fact, that’s their job. But the Watch Tower hasn’t seen such great contrasts in a major Steelers story since perhaps Stanley Druckenmiller’s attempt to buy out the Rooney brothers.

Fans care the most about the football angle of the story as they should. Art Rooney II has made clear the team isn’t interested in parting ways with Brown, which means that Mike Tomlin must find a way to keep 2 of his 3 Killer Bees happy.

AFC Championship Game Aftermath

Steelers Nation took the Steelers (latest) AFC Championship loss to the Patriots like a sucker punch to the get. The beating was thorough with the Steelers not so much as failing to get on Mike Tomlin’s moving train as being hit by it.

  • Logically, there was a lot of Monday Morning Quarterbacking that followed.

Most of the coverage centered on the ease with which Tom Brady tore up the Steelers zone defense followed by venting on the Steelers unwillingness and/or inability to counter by playing man defense.

Troy Polamalu, Wes Welker, Steelers vs Patriots, Steelers Patriots 2011, Steelers Patriots man defense

Troy Polamalu brings down Wes Welker in Steelers 2011 win over Patriots. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via NY Times

Fair enough. Only a fool would argue that the Steelers defense has done anything but get embarrassed by Brady. Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola offered a counter view. While conceding that the Steelers defense earned its share of rightful criticism, Labriola added another element to the equation:

Because defeating the Patriots doesn’t happen with defense, as the Houston Texans learned in the Divisional Round. Sack Brady, harass Brady, intercept Brady, but if you don’t have the offense to score and possess the ball and compete in time of possession, eventually Tom Brady will get enough done to beat you….

Any vision of the Steelers winning this game had them showing themselves capable of taking a punch from the Patriots, but then also gathering themselves and hitting back.

Labriola then pointed out any number of areas where the Steelers offense fell short, from Sammie Coates dropping his first pass, while also highlighting the failings of Cobi Hamilton and Eli Rogers. A few days later, Labriola also reminded the Twitter defensive coordinators in Steelers Nation that Tom Brady actually had a pretty good game in 2011 when the Steelers surprised him by playing man defense, arguing that the key to the win was the offense’s production.

  • It’s true that “Rooney” is the name that is stamped in the signature block of Bob Labrolia’s pay check, he also offered a perspective that needed to be offered.

Over on Steel City Insider, Jim Wexell offered his readers something unique as well. Three days after that game, in his State of the Steelers he offered readers about as close to a fly on the wall review of what had happened in Steelers practices the week before the as a beat reporter can without risking his credentials.

The Watch Tower won’t steal Wexell’s thunder, but he offered enough insight to make both the optimism going into the game, and the ultimate disappointment understandable. He also detailed some unorthodox, albeit, unsuccessful plans to pressure Brady.

Avoiding the Salary Cap Charge for Gilbert

As everyone knows, the Steelers cut Justin Gilbert just months after trading a 6th round pick to acquire his services. One silver lining is that the Steelers would not be on the hook for the remainder of Justin Gilbert’s contract, which would have been guaranteed due to his draft status.

  • The question is why?

Simon Chester, resident salary capoligist at The Steelers Wire, sprung into action and wrote a piece that seemed to indicate that Gilbert had been suspended by the Browns, thus voiding the guarantee on his deal.

That seemed to make sense, but a day later Jeff Hartman and Flip Fisher of Behind the Steel Curtain got Ray Fittipaldo on the record, who broke the story for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, on the record explaining that the Steelers had ensured that they would not be responsible for any guarantees beyond the 2016 season. Cleveland, it would seem, had agreed to pick up the rest of his contract.

BTSC earns Watch Tower kudos for going the extra mile to add extra clarity to the top story of the week.

Going Deep Down Shifts

A week or so after the AFC Championship an ominous “Farewell Cruel World” headline appeared on Rebecca Rollet’s Going Deep: An Introspective Steelers Site. Now in the interests of full disclosure, yours truly is a part-time contributor to the site, but had gotten no heads up about this, but the headline’s implication appeared to be unmistakable.

However, clicking on the link didn’t announce that the site was closing its doors, but rather that:

…Going Deep is Going to Stop producing daily posts for a while, probably for most of the off-season. Much as we enjoy writing about and thinking about the Steelers, it’s just too difficult to come up with content of substance when nothing much is happening. And since the whole point of this site was to provide content of substance, it leaves us in a bit of a bind.

From the perspective of someone who has blogged about the Steelers since 2008, sometimes it is actually easier to find things to write about during the off season (an observation BTSC founder Michael Bean once expressed) the truth is that there isn’t much going on at this point.

Let’s be honest. When Rebecca launched the site in 2015 with the aim of publishing something everyday without chasing headlines (i.e. no articles about a former Steelers practice squad player’s Instagram tirade) yours truly was skeptical she could pull it off.

  • But she did it, largely by herself and kept it going for a year and a half. That’s enough to earn her Watch Tower Kudos.

She also earns Watch Tower kudos for deciding to shift things down to keep her focus on quality and not quantity. In a Steelers blogesphere that is littered with sites that can be known to publish articles that debate the grades the Steelers get in someone’s mock draft, its refreshing for the Watch Tower to shine its lights on someone moving in the opposite direction.

 

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Watch Tower: Reviewing Steelers Press Coverage on Joey Porter’s Present, Roethlisberger’s Past, Film Reviews & More

How time flies. The last time the Watch Tower switched on its lights, the Pittsburgh Steelers had just defeated the Redskins and were preparing for the grudge match with the Bengals. Not in coincidentally, that column came immediately before a month long trip abroad, and since then, to borrow Mike Tomlin’s metaphor, it’s been like trying to get on to a moving train.

But a lot has happened, and this edition of the Watch Tower focuses on the Joey Porter arrest incident, coverage of Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers injuries, Tomlin trap games (or lack thereof) and comings in goings in the Steelers press corps.

Joey Porter, Joey Porter arrest, press coverage of Joey porter arrest, officer Paul Abel

Steelers Outside Linebackers coach Joey Porter looks on during a preseason game at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh City Paper

Balance Needed in the Joey Porter Arrest Story

As everyone in Steelers Nation knows, celebration of the Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins was cut short with news that Steelers Outside Linebackers Coach Joey Porter got arrested for an incident on the South Side.

  • The next morning, the folks at ESPN had already determined that the Steelers should issue Porter his walking papers (we’ll get to that in a moment.)

Nearly every story of the event not only described what was known at the time, but then issued a laundry list of off the field issues that Porter has had. That seems logical, but it was Dale Lolley who clued the Watch Tower into another side of the story. Lolley observed:

The Steelers are likely a little reluctant to quickly make a move with Porter despite the bad timing of this incident and because the officer in question, off-duty City of Pittsburgh officer, Paul Abel, has quite a checkered past. Google his name to find out more.

To be fair, Lolley wasn’t the only Pittsburgh writer to bring this up. In fact Charlie Deitch of Pittsburgh’s City Paper wrote a full length article on the subject, noting the failure in some publications to cite the Paul Abel’s controversial past, and sharing that some of his readers had begun to question whether the officer’s history should be relevant, concluding:

So that brings us back to the media reports of Porter’s arrest. If mentioning his previous run-ins with the law has new value and speaks to his credibility, then the police officer should be held to the same standard. The word of a police officer is automatically given more weight than the person arrested. We see it in court when an officer testifies against a perpetrator, and we see it in civil cases when police officers are accused of acts of excessive force and false arrest.

In this case, I think it is absolutely appropriate to bring up Paul Abel’s past.

  • Charlie Deitch can’t be more right, and for that he earns Watch Tower Kudos.

Finally, in discussing Porter’s arrest and Adam Schefter included Porter’s presence on the field in the Steelers Wild Card win over the Bengals in his laundry list of transgressions. Given that both video and audio evidence have shown that Porter did nothing to provoke the Bengals, citing that incident although with Porter’s other incidents amounts to shameless piling on to make things look as bad as possible.

Schefter has done this before, namely with Ben Roethlisberger in 2010. The Watch Tower called him out for it then. And sadly, it will probably have an opportunity to do so again in the future. Still Schefter should be ashamed.

Roethlisberger Recycling @ SI

Ben Roethlisberger’s own off the field issues have surfaced again, which shouldn’t be terribly shocking given that the Steelers have entered the post season on a hot streak.

  • In fact, in the Watch Tower’s eyes, there IS a legitimate story, or perhaps essay, relevant to Midgeville that is ripe for the writing.

But that’s not what Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price chose to do. Instead he wrote a far-ranging piece, 5,000 word plus piece on Roethlisberger’s past that report few, if any relevant new facts. Price for example, did quote a number of people, including several women who refrain from rooting for Roethlisberger and encourage others to follow suit.

Ben Roethlisberger

That’s a legitimate human interest angle, but adds nothing to what we know about the Midgeville story, nor does it shed any light on Roethlisberger’s public reform, beyond letting us know that some people remain skeptical.

  • Price also obsesses Ben Roethlisberger’s decision change his declared home town from Findlay to Corey Rawson.

While Price stops short of making the point explicit, he clearly wouldn’t mind if readers took this fact as evidence that Roethlisberger’s public character reform is somehow insincere. As the Watch Tower stated at the outset, there is an unexplored angle to the Midgeville story. But Price opts against that route, and instead confines his 5,000 words to repeating what is out there.

In response, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell wrote a very personal, revealing piece on Ben Roethlisberger’s character change. Wexell’s work includes interviews and quotes that report some new, if not earth shaking facts, on Roethlisberger’s character rehabilitation, at least as far as it extends to his presence on the South Side.

The article was behind the site’s paywall but, if Watch Tower understand correctly, visitors can read it for free on a trail basis. If you can, the Watch Tower highly recommends it.

Head to Cook’s Kitchen for Scoops on Injuries

As the Watch Tower has observed, the value of journalist getting “scoop” just isn’t is what it used to be. Google “Troy Polamalu Retires” and you won’t even see Jim Wexell’s exclusive show up in the first page of SERPs.

But scoops on injury news still move the needle, and Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette was ahead of his peers on two of the biggest injury stories this season

Ron Cook was first to break these key Steelers injury stories, and both of those turned out to be correct.

Jeremy Fowler also got the early word to his readers on Stephon Tuitt’s injury:

Given the amount of misinformation that circulates on injuries in this age of the internet – note the national press getting the story right on Antonio Brown’s concussion status during last year’s playoff while Pittsburgh reporters kept leaving the door open for him to play – its good to know that a reporter’s word can be trusted.

So Ron Cook wins Watch Tower Kudos on this one.

Tipping Off on the Next Play

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN also came up with a great story prior to the Steelers win over the Giants.

Fowler got Mike Mitchell on the record discussing how he and his study group, which includes Ryan Shazier, Sean Davis, Tyler Matakevich and cornerback Ross Cockrell, got a tip from how Steelers pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt that Odell Beckham telegraphs at the line of scrimmage whether the coming play is a pass or a run.

You don’t see stories with revelations like that often, at least coming out of Pittsburgh. Fowler’s predecessor Scott Brown did a good job of bringing them to his readers and in this instance Fowler followed suit.

Tomlin’s Tripping Up on Trap Games… Or Not

Mike Tomlin teams “play down to the competition.” Mike Tomlin doesn’t know how to prepare his teams for trap games. Mike Tomlin’s record against teams below .500 is sub par….

  • We hear this all the time.

Truth be told, this site has criticized Tomlin for getting tripped up on by trap games more than once. The Steelers losses this season, particularly to the Dolphins and the Eagles added a lot of fuel to this narrative.

Mike Tomlin, Mike Tomlin Trap games

Mike Tomlin’s record against sub .500 team’s isn’t quite what some internet trolls make it out to be. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Fortunately, Steel City Blitz’s Ben Anderson took the time to tabulate Mike Tomlin’s record against losing teams (meaning teams that finish below .500) and compare it to that of Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher’s.

The Watch Tower doesn’t steal the thunder of other writers, but as we encourage you to read Ben Anderson’s story we will say that Tomlin’s record against sub .500 teams stands up well to both his predecessors.

Anderson’s analysis has also proven quite useful in dealing with internet trolls who simply fall flat when confrontd with hard numbers that refute opinions that they present as Gospel…

Reviewing the Film Reviewers….

Film breakdown has grown exponentially in popularity since this the founding of this site. While the Watch Tower has praised a number of film reviewers in its time, one writer’s work who has caught its attention this season has been that of Steel City Insider’s Jon Leynard.

Leynard brings a truly experienced eye to his Steelers All 22 film breakdowns. He clearly takes his time with his reviews and offers a depth analysis, comprehensive scope and sophistication to his breakdowns seldom found on other sites.

  • About the only thing missing from Jon Leynard’s film reviews is that they lack, well, film.

Seriously. While Leynard doesn’t need to lean on animated GIFs the way some writers might, he could do even more to educate his readers if say, he could show Artie Burns using his hands correctly (or incorrectly.)

Comings and Goings in the Steelers Press Corps

Finally the Watch Tower comes to pointing out what has been a busy season of comings and goings in the Steelers press corps. The biggest move of course was the decision of Mark Kaboly to leave the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in favor of DK on Pittsburgh Sports.

Mark Kaboly, DK on Pittsburgh sports

Long time Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly now with DK on Pittsburgh sports. Photo Credit: Mark Kaboly

Dejan Kovacevic’s upstart site has landed (as well as lost) big names before, Mark Kaboly represents the biggest name he’s landed for his Steelers beat, filling a void that the site has struggled to fill following Neal Coolong’s departure. And as one industry veteran privately observed to the Watch Tower, Kaboly’s move signaled more.

  • Joe Starkey departed the Tribune Review for the rival Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Watch Tower has praised Starkey’s work before, and his defection represents a major coup for the Post-Gazette. These moves have been fueled in large part by uncertainty created by the downsizing of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, which has killed its print edition and has been steadily losing money without Richard Mellon Scaife to subsidize its operations.

  • Another possible casualty to the Tribune-Review’s downsizing appears to be Ralph Paulk.

Paulk’s byline has disappeared from the Tribune Review’s pages since early November, and his Twitter feed is not showing any new Tweets since before the Steelers loss to the Ravens. Like Scott Brown’s disappearance from ESPN and Allen Robinson‘s disappearance from the Tribune Review, no announcement has been made.

  • If Paulk’s days as a Steelers beat writer are in fact done, Steelers Nation will be the loser.

Apologies to those Steelers scribes, be they credentialed or bloggers who posted good work deserving of Watch Tower praise. And to those who deserved criticism – we’ll get you next time.

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Watch Tower: Press Coverage Analysis of Le’Veon Bell and Ladarius Green Stories

As the Steelers 2016 regular season is about to start, the Watch Tower shifts its lights back for a final look at biggest Steelers offseason stories including Le’Veon Bell’s suspension, Ladarius Green’s mysterious injury, comings and goings in the Pittsburgh sports landscape and more….

le'veon bell press coverage, le'veon bell suspension

The press gave Le’Veon Bell a pass after he denied he missed drug tests. Photo Credit: Univison

For Whomever Tolled the Bell….

So if a sports shock jock breaks a story in the wilderness and other reporters fail to confirm it, but 6 weeks later the story turns out to actually be true, is it still a scoop?

  • That’s the riddle the Watch Tower is striving to solve when reviewing the Le’Veon Bell suspension story.

On June 15 just after midday, infamous Pittsburgh sports shock jock Mark Madden published the following Tweet:

Within hours, Steelers beat writers (including but not limited) to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly had Le’Veon Bell outright denying the report. Several national sports outlets as well as much of the Steelers blogging community followed suit. Madden seemlingly wagged his finger in resonse.

Nonetheless, the story died shortly thereafter, as the focus turned to Steelers OTA’s and the true “off season.” However, as the Steelers were preparing to report to St. Vincents for training camp, NFL.com reporter Ian Rapport (he of the Ben Roethlisberger trade) chimed in:

Of course we now know that Rapport and Madden were correct: Le’Veon Bell will again be suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policies. Given that the story was correct, the Watch Tower is curious about why it died so quickly.

  • The fact that Mark Madden broke the story undoubtedly has something to do with it.

In fact, most of the stories about Bell’s denial simply cited “rumors” or “radio reports” of failed drug tests, rather than directly attribute the story to Mark Madden. Which is understandable.

There’s little reason to like Mark Madden, who once lampooned Ike Taylor as the worst Steelers 4th round draft pick in history, and has made attacks on Hines Ward, Kordell Stewart and even Myron Cope a stable of his repertoire. The rest of the press is more than wise to treat a “rumor” circulated by Mark Madden with a healthy dose of skepticism.

  • But did the media do its due diligence when the Le’Veon Bell story broke?

On one level, there is no question about it. Reporters directly asked Le’Veon Bell if he’d missed drug tests and Bell issued a direct denial. But did the reporters seek out additional sources, such as Bell’s agent or members of the Steelers coaching and front office staff?

One can imagine that any team official would have pleaded confidentiality to any inquiry but one can also imagine veteran beat reporters would have be able to distinguish between a rote “Sorry, that’s confidential” and a more nuanced non-denial, denial.

Although the Watch Tower is neither a fan of Mark Madden nor his brand of “journalism” he nonetheless wins Watch Tower Kudos for getting the story right.

Starkey & Wexell on Bell, Steelers Substance Abuse

Le’Veon Bell’s suspension brought the issue of Steelers and substance abuse back into the forefront, and from a media analysis standpoint two journalists deserve credit for making observations that expanded the story beyond where the rest of the pack was taking it.

  • The first is the Tribune Review’s Joe Starkey.

When word broke Bell’s suspension, Starkey wrote an entertaining article what the recent drug issues meant to the Steelers reputation, one with all of the appropriate plays on words. But Starkey also supplied his readers with a factoid on Martavis Bryant that is both interesting and useful:

I should also point out that I came down on the compassionate side when Bryant was suspended for the entire season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
That was before I contacted one of his agents, Brian Fettner, who refused to double down on the notion that Bryant has “a depression issue.” His refusal to confirm the claim, post-suspension, made it sound like it was a pre-suspension plea for leniency from the NFL.

Perhaps Starkey has discussed this angle of the story in other mediums, but this is the first that the Watch Tower is aware of it. Either way, Starkey’s efforts to verify the nature of Bryant’s struggles with substance abuse is textbook example of sound journalism, in short, he did what should have been done with the Bell story. So Watch Tower Kudos for Joe Starkey.

The other reporter the Watch Tower is singling out for Kudos on the Bell story is, you guessed it, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell. In addressing Le’Veon Bell’s inadvertent admission that he’d continued using marijuana following his arrest in the summer of 2014, Wexell shared this insight with his readers:

No, I believe Bell has quit toking, and I believe him… because I’ve detected a change in him.
Yeah, I know, you’re thinking, “What do you know about that subject?” But I sense a crispness (as opposed to a crispiness) in Bell that I hadn’t before, and I remember thinking how dopey he was when I interviewed him at his NFL Combine out of college.
No, this guy is sharp….

This is not the type of observation you generally hear or read from beat writers. And there is a good reason for that. A quick look at the rules and regulations of the Steelers Media Guide makes it clear that reporters are only report what they hear and see under “official circumstances” (i.e. designated interview spots/times.) Pushing those boundaries means risking press credentials which means a reporter risks his or her livelihood.

But Wexell’s observation nonetheless represents a breath of fresh air and provides the type of insight that only someone who covers players on a daily basis could come up with.

It Isn’t Easy Being Green…

If the trajectory of the Le’Veon Bell story could be plotted as a simple straight line, Ladarius Green’s arch is anything but straight. As everyone in Steelers Nation knows, the Steelers response to Heath Miller’s retirement was to sign Ladarius Green to great fanfare, only to have Green sit out all of training camp on the PUP.

  • Why is Ladarius Green sitting out?

Well, that’s as good as anyone’s guess. Well, really it isn’t a guess, but this is a case where you have multiple stories being reported by the Steelers press crops. (Who knows, two generations ago this could have been perfect fodder for a circulation war!)

Here’s what we do know:

  • The Steelers knew of Ladarius Green’s ankle issues when they signed him
  • Beat reporters insistence in asking about Green drew the story to NFL.com’s attention
  • Aditi Kinkhabwala reported that “a member of the organization” told her headaches not ankle rehab was involved

When asked about it, Mike Tomlin has insisted the Ladarius Green went on PUP because of his ankle and has essentially issued non-denial denials when pressed as to whether there’s anything else involved. Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter has indicated that, based on what he’s seen, Green’s rehab seems to be proceeding normally if not quickly, concluding: “That doesn’t sound like a guy who is in any kind of concussion protocol to me.”

  • Other reporters who’ve seen Green working out with trainers are loss positive, however.

Then there comes this issue of concussion protocol. Ed Bouchette has reported that Green is in the NFL’s concussion protocol, other reporters claim they can’t confirm, while other reports contradict this. Further clouding the issue is Green’s future with the team. Nothing concrete has been reported, but there’ve been whispers of the Steelers perhaps looking to reclaim their signing bonus and/or Green retiring (something he’s denied.)

It would be easy to dismiss this as idle speculation, Ed Bouchette has gone as far as to compare the Green signing to the botched Frank Lewis-Paul Seymor trade with Buffalo in 1978. Bouchette has been covering almost since I’ve been alive, so this comparison could simply be him drawing on his experience to put the story into context….

…Or he could be using the comparison to signal readers that he does know of a bigger story that he’s unable to report specifics on due to off the record confidentiality.

Time will tell. If the Watch Tower has noted in the past that Bouchette seems to have reliable sources when it comes to injury issues….

Carter Jumps to DK on Pittsburgh Sports

Finally, the Watch Tower closes with another case of a Steelers writer moving from the ranks of the bloggesphere to that of the professional press. And once again, the move involves a Behind the Steel Curtain writer.

At the end of August, Chris Carter announced he was leaving BTSC to take on a role at DK on Pittsburgh Sports to do film breakdowns. While I never got to know Carter during when I was an occasional contributor, his Steelers film reviews were always must read.

  • Presumably all if not most of “Carter’s Classroom” will be behind Dejan Kovacevic’s pay wall.

If that is the case, then it will be a loss to the general Steelers Nation on-line community, but a gain for DK on Pittsburgh Sports subscribers.

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Watch Tower: Insight into What Makes Tomlin Tick, Steelers Situation @ Safety and Much More

The  NFL’s “true off season” doesn’t leave many Steelers stories for the Watch Tower to shine its light on, but a few do stick out ranging from the new insight into how Mike Tomlin operates, Steelers situation at safety, the evolution of the Steelers defense and creative approaches to “content” in this otherwise dead period for Steelers news. Read on…

Mike Tomlin, Bruce Arians, Art Rooney II

Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians; Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press

Insight into How Tomlin Ticks via Arians Interview

The Bruce Arians firing made news recently. Again. If you’re reading this, you already know the details and have your own opinion formed on it. No need to repeat. HBO’s Real Sports mostly milked an established story for shock value, but in doing so it lent some insight into Mike Tomlin:

I got a call on Monday and said, ‘I can’t get you the money.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He said, ‘No, I can’t get you a contract.’ I said, ‘Are you firing me?’ He said, ‘No…’ ‘Well… it’s just a matter of words, Mike. Okay. If I don’t have a contract, I’m fired.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to fly down and talk.’

So where’s the insight, you ask? Unlike Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin has never had an itchy trigger finger when it comes to firing assistant coaches. Yet, if Arians’ account is correct, shows that not only does he have a difficult time doing it, he also struggles with breaking bad news.

  • This is the second example we have of Tomlin breaking bad news by distancing himself from it.

As the Watch Tower noted last July, Dani Bostic, then writing for Behind the Steel Curtain, reported that when the Steelers cut Isaac Redman, Tomlin took much of the same tact, declaring “’I tried fighting for you.’” The Watch Tower freely concedes that this insight into Tomlin falls into the category of “interesting, but not terribly useful.” Nor should it suggest anything negative about Mike Tomlin as a person, coach or leader.

Chuck Noll, a man of unquestioned integrity, struggled when delivering bad news to players or coaches headed out the door. But its oft been argued that the Tomlin that Steelers Nation sees in front of the cameras isn’t the same Tomlin behind the scenes, and the HBO report helped pull back the veil.

“New” Name in Mix for Steelers @ Safety?

For the second consecutive year, Steelers secondary remains the team’s biggest question mark heading into training camp. In fact, one could argue that the question mark has grown from 2015 to 2016.

There’s perhaps in bigger position battle than that at free safety. Robert Golden enters camp as the front runner, with second round draft pick Sean Davis in the mix and Shamarko Thomas in contention (on paper at least.)

In an article covering Robert Golden’s determination to claim the starting roster spot, Kaboly observed: “…and there even is talk about Will Allen being an eventual option.” Will Allen is of course not a “new” name to the Steelers, but Mark Kaboly is the first credentialed Steelers journalist to report that there’s a serious possibility of Will Allen returning.

If the Steelers do turn to Will Allen all will not have gone well in training camp, but Mark Kaboly will be able to claim bragging rights.

Popjoy Adds Something Significant to the Archer Story

In 2016 “Content aggregation” forms a fundamental part of the sports media landscape. By necessity, any site (including this one) that doesn’t have access to original sources practices it. At its best it works like this: Someone else publishes a story, a blogger rehashes that story; the better bloggers either expand upon the story or find some way to add their own twist.

  • The news that the Jets cut Dri Archer and that Archer then refused show up for practice when claimed by the Bills offers a perfect example.

Nearly every Steelers blogging site wrote an obligatory post on the failed Steelers third round draft pick continuing to flounder outside of Pittsburgh. Curt Popejoy of USA Today’s SteelersWire however, provided a good example of content aggregation at its best. Popejoy went beyond the “this shows Archer did have off the field issues” angle of the story, by informing his readers that the Steelers, by all accounts, did not have a pre-draft visit with Archer.

In other words, instead of simply recycling someone else’s story, Popejoy found a way to add new information by connecting dots that no one else thought to connect. And for that Curt Popejoy wins Watch Tower Kudos.

Wexell on Evolution of Steelers Defense

The evolution of the Steelers defense from a 3-4 zone blitz focused unit pioneered by Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau and Bill Cowher to a 4-3ish Cover 2 is hardly a unique topic in Pittsburgh and has been discussed frequently in the 2016 off season. But perhaps no one has covered it in as much detail as Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell and an early May piece by Wexell caused the Watch Tower to raise its antenna.

After detailing how the Steelers personnel has evolved away from the scheme Dick LeBeau and Bill Cowher built, Wexell shared this:

That’s reportedly what the great Tampa-2 defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, actually liked about the Steelers’ defense this past season. When Kiffin visited practice for a short spell, I perceived it as a consultation session. I perceived the wise old genius was brought in to help out a first-year coordinator bridge two systems.

Monte Kiffin visiting the Steelers was news to the Watch Tower.

A quick Google search confirms that Kiffin had in fact been present at practices at some point in the Steelers 2015 season. In fact, Tomlin discussed Kiffin’s visit at length in a Steelers.com interview (presumably during a press conference, Steelers.com doesn’t clarify the context.) The news that Mike Tomlin’s mentor stopped by Steelers practice is hardly a bombshell, nor is the revelation that Kiffin offered advice to Keith Butler exactly ground shaking.

  • Similar to insights gained from the Arians interview, the Monte Kiffin factoid falls into the category of “more interesting than useful.”

But this was a story out waiting to be told or at least a fact out there waiting to be used to support a larger story. And once again Jim Wexell separated himself from the pack by using it to deliver an extra bit of added value to his readers and for that again he wins Watch Tower Kudos.

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Watch Tower: Predicting Steelers Pick of Artie Burns, Almost Picking Jevon Kearse and More

A lot has happened since the Watch Tower last shined its lights at the end of March and today its focus is on the Steelers Draft, free agency’s finish, other Steelers-related comings and goings along with another round of “Taking Our Own Medicine.”

artie burns, steelers, steelers draft 2016, art rooney ii

Artie Burns addresses the press as Art Rooney II looks on; Photo credit: steelers.com

Paulk Wins Steelers Draft Prediction Prize

Who will we draft? Answering that question was once a simple water cooler conversation fueled the previous night’s banter AM sports-talk radio station. Now it’s a cottage industry. Mocking the next year’s draft begins before this year’s is complete with some pundits going as far as grading teams’ performance in mock drafts (seriously).

Grading mock draft IS excessive, but mock drafting is fun and arouses imaginations of pros and armatures alike, but the Steelers 2016 Draft Class shows just how much of a minefield it can be. Everyone knew that the Steelers would look to cornerback early in the 2016 NFL Draft, but the question of which corner the Steelers would take a hot potato.

  • Steelers Nation’s true winners in its 2016 mock draft sweepstakes is Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, who correctly tagged Artie Burns as the Steelers first round pick.

Other national writers made similar predictions, but Paulk was almost only Pittsburgh writer the Watch Tower is aware of that accurately predicted Burns going to the Steelers.

The “almost” qualifier might seem odd, but Jim Wexell also picked Burns going to the Steelers in the Steelers Digest pre-draft edition, but Wexell’s “official” pick 36 hours prior to the draft was cornerback James Bradberry from Stanford. (Alas, the Zino iPad App that I read Steelers Digest on has no linking functionality….)

Shift in Steelers Drafting Philosophy?

In an age where post-draft analysis/post draft grades is as instantaneous as it is meaningless, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review distinguished himself by providing his readers with some meaningful insight the morning after that draft.

The Steelers 2016 draft class, in Kaboly’s estimation, confirms that the “Steelers have changed their drafting philosophy.” The change, in Kaboly’s view, comes down shifting form an emphasis on projection to one on production, particularly on the defensive side. As Kaboly expands:

The organizational shift away from deferring to what a player may be able do to what a player has already done continued for the Steelers for the second consecutive draft over the weekend.

One could certainly quibble with Kaboly’s conclusion, as both Artie Burns and Bud Dupree have been panned more as “Projects” as opposed to finished products, but Kaboly backs up his claim with Mike Tomlin’s “Speed without production is less attractive…” quote, and in pointing out that Pittsburgh have gone a dozen years since a Steelers cornerback has made 4 interceptions in a season and contrasted that with the 21 interceptions that Burns, Senquez Golson and Doran Grant recorded in their collegiate careers.

  • But even if he’s ultimately wrong on the project vs. production question, Kaboly wins Watch Tower Kudos for attempting to provide substantive post-draft day analysis.

So Steelers Almost Drafted Jevon Kearse….?

The Steelers decision to pick Artie Burns drew a lot of criticism from both the press and from Steelers Nation at large all of which prompted Jim Wexell to mount a vigorous defense of the pick. The logic of Wexell’s defense can perhaps be read here (the article sits behind his pay wall,) but it also included an eye-opening Steelers draft history nugget:

…But, still, the anger rolled in. One reader even called Burns “Troy Edwards,” in honor of the reach Tom Donahoe made in 1999 when — and I learned this a few days ago — they had the great Jevon Kearse ON THE PHONE AT THE TIME.

While it’s a little late to award a “scoop” on the Steelers 1999 draft, Wexell’s Jevon Kearse story qualifies as a major bombshell both in terms of reporting and in terms of what it potentially unveils about the depths of dysfunction that existed between Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher at the time.

  • On the site’s message board conversation yours truly suggested the nugget could be grown into a full-length story and the Watch Tower reaffirms that here.

A year ago the Watch Tower observed that stories abounded to explain how players like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and the other Super Steelers arrived in Pittsburgh. In contrast, since then, stories from inside the Steelers draft war room have grown more and more scarce.

  • In just 46 words, Jim Wexell has taken a small step towards rectifying that, and the Watch Tower offers him thanks on behalf of Steelers Nation citizens who crave enlightenment.

Thank you Mr. Wexell.

An Overlooked Artie Burns-Jarvis Jones Link?

Finally, the Watch Tower’s analysis of Steelers draft coverage ends with a look at a long-form piece by Coolong on USA Today’s Steelers Wire.

  • Count Coolong squarely in the camp of the Artie Burns skeptics.

In his article, Coolong bases his skepticism on solid footing, and in doing so he draws out an interesting parallel to one of the questions Kevin Colbert was asked, about whether the rain influenced Burn’s workout times, as they apparently did during the workout of Jarvis Jones.

  • While that’s not an earth shaking connection, it is an interesting one tying together two picks who critics label as “reaches”

Beyond that, Coolong manages to make his case on Artie Burns in an article that weaves together treads concerning Bruce Arians’ firing and Todd Haley’s accomplishments. That’s no easy feat, but he pulls it off, leaving the Watch Tower to hope aloud that Coolong will manage to find more time to write similar pieces now that he’s been kicked upstairs to the position of Senior Editor of NFL Sites USA TODAY Sports Media Group.

Scoops on Jarvis Jones and Senquez Golson

As everyone in Steelers Nation now knows, the Steelers declined to offer a 5th year tender to Jarvis Jones, but Jason Mackey of DK on Pittsburgh Sports knew it before anyone else and beat the rest of his competition to the punch. Mackey was of course the first Steelers reporter to break the Martavis Bryant suspension story, so it would seem that he has a knack for finding news.

We now know that Senquez Golson’s MRI was not related to his shoulder injury, but is due to another “soft tissue injury.” Fair enough. And missing OTA’s in May for an MRI is hardly a reason to hit the panic button.

But the Steelers have a lot riding on Senquez Golson’s development – perhaps too much – and any news of an injury which might impede his development merits attention, so Lolley wins Watch Tower kudos for breaking it.

Watch Tower Takes Its Own Medicine

Watch Tower’s role to document and analyze press coverage of the Steelers with an eye toward understanding what makes it tick, offering positive or negative criticism when warranted. But if the Watch Tower is going to take reporters to task from time-to-time, then it this site’s own errors must receive the same critical eye.

  • And I’ve made a bunch of goofs of late.

Some have been trivial, such as forgetting to include cornerback in our Steelers pre-draft needs poll (something easily remedied). Others have resulted from legitimate confusion, such as mentioning that Dale Lolley’s blog was going behind a paywall (its hasn’t) or misstating that Jim Wexell is a self-identified alcoholic (he is not.)

Corrections have been made and apologies to Lolley and Wexell issued.

…Then there was the blog post that had Will Johnson following Steve McLendon to the New York Jets. Ah, yeah, Will Johnson went to New York alright, but as a Giant not as a Jet! Thankfully a reader on Twitter alerted me to the error and the post had a half-life of about 20 minutes.

  • Sure, the post came after a hectic workday and just before a 2 week long international trip.

Those were contributing factors, but the real culprit was getting so caught up in a sexy “Pittsburgh on Hudson” storyline that I missed the most fundamental of facts. Such lapses are inexcusable and to you my readers, I offer a heartfelt apology.

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Watch Tower: Steelers Press Coverage of Martavis Bryant Suspension, Free Agency & Salary Cap

Easter Sunday 2016 finds the Watch Tower shining its lights on the press coverage of the Steelers two top off season stories thus far Martavis Bryant’s suspension and the Steelers salary cap situation.

DK on Pittsburgh Sports Breaks Bryant Suspension

As noted by the Watch Tower a little more than a year ago, a “scoop” might not mean as much in journalist terms – as rival publications and post their own stories rehashing the same information in minutes rather than days or hours that it took in yesteryear.

  • Yet, a reporter who can go out and get the news before his peers is doing good work.

In that case, Watch Tower kudos go to Jason Mackey and Dejan Kovacevic of DK on Pittsburgh Sports for breaking the story. This was huge news that will have a tremendous impact on the Steelers 2016 offense, and the duo out hustled the competition in getting the story.

As mentioned above, in the digital world the benefits of breaking a story are short lived. Jim Wexell had the exclusive on Troy Polamalu’s retirement, yet his story only ranks 6th on a desktop Google search for the keyword “Troy Polamalu retires” despite being the first and still only reporter to speak to Poalmalu about his retirement.

  • Case in point, the desktop Google query “Martavis Bryant suspension” does not return any first page results for DK on Pittsburgh Sports.

Nonetheless, Mackey and Kovacevic have well-earned bragging rights for getting their first.

Steelers Nation Scribes React to Bryant Suspension

Bryant’s suspension drew a mix of scorn and concern from Steelers Nation, and produced more than a few interesting reflective pieces. Among the best was penned by Jon Ledyard on USA Today’s The Steelers Wire. You can read Ledyard’s work for yourself, but his piece helps readers answer the “How can he throw all this away?” question by offering first-hand insight gleamed from helping similar people fight battles with substance abuse.

[Editors note: the original version of this article referred to Jim Wexell as a recovering alcoholic. Mr. Wexell has started on Twitter that was not the case. We apologize for the mistake and are happy to correct.]

Interestingly enough, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, who has publicly abstained from alcohol for the last 18 years, opened his piece by confiding that while he was glad he was spared from having to rip a local high school team for a lackluster effort in a championship loss, he wasn’t so lucky when it came to the Steelers admitting, “I really don’t know the man [Bryant] well enough to do what I think I have to do, which is rip him.”

While Wexell’s disappointment in Bryant the person is clear, his complex piece does show an appreciation for Bryant’s struggle. But where Wexell really earns his Watch Tower kudos is in taking the football loss of Bryant head-on. A Super Bowl window’s opening is tenuous at best and Bryant’s suspension could be what kicks it shut for the Steelers, argues Wexell.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Joe Starkey admonished readers to not to demonize Bryant, and asked a question that should be asked in connection with these types of off the field incidents more often:

  • Has CTE or some other head trauma an issue contributed to Bryant’s behavior?

Everything we’re learning about CTE suggests that the brain disorder is afflicting football players far earlier in their careers than was at first thought, and questions such as Starkey’s are going to be asked more frequently moving forward.

Kudos to Starkey for being ahead of the curve.

Kaboly Calls It on Kelvin Beachum

Here in 2016 free agency predictions are a dime a dozen. But as Gerry Dulac pointed out in an on-line chat a long time ago, a good journalist doesn’t predict on what will happen, he or she reports on what will transpire.

  • To that end, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review earns Watch Tower Kudos for his reporting on Kelvin Beachum.

It was Kaboly who got Beachum on the record indicating he would not move to guard, as the Steelers had wanted him to, and he correctly predicted that this meant Beachum would not return to the team. The Steelers did of course attempt to bring Beachum back on a shorter, “prove it” contact to play tackle, but at the end of the day, Beachum departed….

Steelers Salary Cap Situation Clarifies….

How much salary cap space did the Pittsburgh Steelers have going into free agency? Depending on who was talking the number was 3, 6-7, or even 10 million dollars. As noted in the last edition of the Watch Tower, most fan sites pegged the number at a higher total, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette begged to differ.

  • Bouchette cited sources that indicated that the Steelers salary cap number would be lower due to the need to pay backs from earlier seasons shortly after the CBA was approved.

Bouchette doubled down shortly before free agency, writing yet another report arguing that the Steelers had about 3.2 million in salary cap space – far less than popularly thought.

Given that the Steelers have resigned five of their own players and three from other teams, it would seem like the larger amounts cited the likes of Ian Whetstone of Steel City Insider as well as many others, were closer to being correct.

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Watch Tower: Steelers 2016 Salary Cap, Will Allen Retirement, Mike Florio Hypocrisy and More

As the Steelers 2016 off season picks up steam, the Watch Tower focuses its lights on coverage of the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation, potential retirements, the Steelers kicking conundrum and more.

Confusion Reigns on Steelers 2016 Salary Cap Situation

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the off season began with Kevin Greene’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame because much of Steelers Nation feels that the Steelers must have a Kevin Greene like signing in the secondary to climb the Stairway to Seven.

  • Indeed, many saw Art Rooney II intimating that in his post-season press conferences.

But free agent signings require salary cap space so just how much salary cap space to the Pittsburgh Steelers have as the 2016 off season looms? It depends on who you ask, but until late last week there seemed to be consensus.

  • Over the Cap pegged the Steelers top 51 at about 1,490,000 giving them a 5-6 million cushion
  • On Steel City Insider, Ian Whetstone concluded the Steelers were “…at least $4 million under a $156 million team cap, without any veteran cuts or restructures.”
  • Simon Chester of USA Today’s The Steelers Wire calculations left “…the Steelers with a practical amount of $5,106,016.”

On the 10th of February a source no less authoritative than Ed Bouchette himself pronounced, “With a projected salary cap for each team at $155 million and change, the Steelers are under it at this point in the year for the first time in awhile.” Yippe Steelers Nation! Let’s open Art Rooney II’s check book!

Not so fast.

A day after publishing his comments on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Steelers blog, Ed Bouchette startled Steelers Nation with some sobering salary cap news, sharing:

The Steelers are $2.5 million over their projected salary cap, a league source with intimate knowledge of the cap told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That is in stark contrast with various public Internet sites that track each NFL team’s salaries.

The Watch Tower credits Simon Chester for refusing to accept this at face value. Chester reached out via Twitter to several journalist who cover the Steelers salary cap to gauge reaction to Bouchette’s bombshell. While no one disputed Bouchette’s report, several suggested that perhaps the source is counting all of the Steelers contracts as opposed to the top 51.

You can read the all of the responses here, but the Watch Tower suspects that Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell’s appears to be on to something:

While there’s a lot of documented about the the NFL salary cap its true workings remain somewhat of a mystery. And the league appears to like it this way. Shortly after the new CBA was adopted in 2011 word was that the salary cap would be relatively flat for a few years but then increase when the new TV contracts kicked in.

However, in 2012 the word was that the NFL was in the “Flat cap era.” John Clayton reported that despite a spike in revenues in 2014, the salary cap would go up little if at all in coming seasons. Kevin Seifert called Clayton’s report one of the most important of the 2012 off season and reminded readers that the NFL salary cap for 2015 was being projected at $122 million.

  • The NFL’s base salary cap for 2015 was 143,280,000…

There are two explanations for this discrepancy: Either NFL revenues grossly overshot estimates or false information leaked and no one in the league cared enough to correct it.

The Steelers themselves have played this game regarding their own cap situation. In 2013 Kevin Colbert went on the record saying the Steelers would need to wait until June 1st to sign most of their draft picks, and then the team proceeded to sign most of the 2013 Draft class before the end of May.

Ed Bouchette is the anti-Ian Rapport (Rapport of the Ben Roethlisberger trade demand); he would never base a story like this on spurious sources.

  • But that’s also reason to pay heed to Jim Wexell’s interpretation.

The Steelers do try to shape the coverage the team receives, as Wexell pointed out during the playoffs, when the Steelers PR office made players available to the press the Sunday after the Bengals game to ensure that the rest of the week’s stories would focus on the Broncos game.

Could the Steelers be leaking something to Bouchette for similar reason? Steelers Nation will know in a few weeks….

[Shortly after the original version of this article ran, Kevin Colbert provided an update on the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation.]

Later comments by Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert would add further credence to Jim Wexell’s interpretation of the story, as Colbert conceeded that the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation was “‘pretty good’ compared to other years.”

Interestingly enough, while the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Gerry Dulac did mention Colbert’s update, he did so in a story about James Harrison’s possible return, as opposed to in a new story on the Steelers salary cap. To his credit, Dulac did mention the juxtaposition between Colbert’s comments and Ed Bouchette’s earlier story.

Lolley Scores Minor Scoop on Will Allen

Steelers safety Will Allen has to be one of the team’s most underrated and underappreciated free agent signings in history. What’s Allen done? Well he’s simply boosted the Steelers secondary by stepping off the bench 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, providing an upgrade when Ryan Mundy, Shamarko Thomas, and/or Troy Polamalu were either unable or not healthy enough to deliver on the field.

  • That almost didn’t happen in 2015.

And Steelers Nation knows that thanks to Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley who reported that “The Steelers had to talk Allen out of retiring after 2014….”

That’s an interesting comment. The Steelers resigned Will Allen the day after Polamalu retired, implying that he was their second choice, which could have led to some interesting conversations. Beyond that, this is the first time that the Watch Tower is aware of anyone reporting Will Allen considered beginning his “Life’s work” following 2014, and hence it awards Watch Tower Kudos to Dale Lolley for the scoop.

Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Steelers Kickers

After a nightmare experience that saw the Steelers lose three kickers to injury, Chris Boswell’s arrival in Pittsburgh finally gave the Steelers some relief. Boswell not only put up a nice kicking percentage, he also showed several times that he could kick under pressure and in the elements. Boswell’s outstanding performance has led to speculation that Shaun Suisham’s job could be in jeopardy.

  • One of the pro’s in Boswell’s favor (aside from salary) is his stronger leg.

Boswell might have a stronger leg that Suisham but if he does, it is not backed up by the stats. As Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review has pointed out, Boswell’s touchback percentage of 35.13% is near the bottom of the league, and just a hair worse that Suisham’s 2014 touchback percentage. Adamski also points out that Boswell’s 29 of 32 on field goal attempts was identical to Suisham’s performance in 2014.

While Adamski isn’t breaking any “news” here, he is making a valuable contribution by being the first to connect some dots, and he earns Watch Tower kudos accordingly.

Carter Stands Up for Steelers Nation on BTSC

The brouhaha that was the Steelers Bengals Wild Card playoff game drew national attention an numerous fines and suspensions. Most of the attention focused on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pac Man” Jones illegal conduct with regard to Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but Jason Whitlock used the occasion to take aim at Mike Tomlin, esseintally asserting that Tomlin deserved a much greater share of the blame.

  • Whitlock’s comments did not sit well with Behind the Steel Curtain’s Chris Carter.

As well they shouldn’t. Many, if not most, of Whitlock’s criticisms of Mike Tomlin were off base, and simply not supported by the facts. Chris Carter did Steelers Nation a HUGE favor and wrote a detailed, 5,003 word point-by-point refutation of Whitlock, supporting his point with both photo and video evidence.

  • Simply stated, Chris Carter proved that Jason Whitlock’s assault of Mike Tomlin is completely baseless.

Anyone can take to Twitter and say, “So-and-so is full of _hit” but unlike Whitlock, Carter chose to counter opinion with cold, hard facts, and for that he wins Watch Tower kudos. His article is must read. (As is his piece on Chuck Noll’s being named as coach to the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.) Kudos to you Chris!

Mike Florio Highlights His Own Hypocrisy

Peyton Manning’s name is in the news again because of an alleged incident dating back to 1996. While there are a lot of interesting elements to this story from a media analysis perspective, the Watch Tower only focues on Steelers coverage, so we’ll leave others to discuss those elsewhere.

  • However, the Watch Tower cannot let a comment by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio go by unanswered.

Mike Florio took aim at the New York Daily News’ Shaun King, asserting:

Shaun King presented a one-sided summary of a 74-page document filed by Jamie Naughright’s lawyers in the case against Manning, with no balance or objectivity or apparent effort to contact Peyton Manning or Archie Manning for a response.

Among other things, Florio is criticizing Shaun King for reporting allegations without an attempt to verify their validity. That’s a legitimate criticism for Florio to make, but it was only in 2012 that the Watch Tower took Florio to task for lambasting Mike Tomlin for comments he made in jest while receiving an honor from his alma mater, William and Mary.

At the time, it appeared that Mike Florio simply took press accounts of Tomlin’s remarks, didn’t bother to gather context, and called the Steelers standard bear’s character into question.

In other words, Florio was guilty then of what he is criticizing Shaun King for now. And for the record, at the Watch Tower attempted to contact Florio offer him a chance to explain his words, but email messages from the Watch Tower to Florio remained unanswered.

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Watch Tower: Steelers Sports Writers Get “Two for Flinching,” Shazier the Signal Caller & More

As the Pittsburgh Steelers look to their Wild Card game vs. the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, the Watch Tower looks back at their last game in the Queen City and the “they fined me, they fined me not” controversy over Vontaze Burfict’s hit on Ben Roethlisberger, Shazier’s emergence as signal caller, plus odds and sods on ex-Steelers and the Steelers evaluation processes.

Perhaps Two for Flinching for Steelers Sports Writers?

Back in junior high, if you flinched when someone pretend to hit, they got to claim “Two for flinching” and then hit you (sort of) for real twice. Perhaps something similar is in order for the Steelers sports writers who covered Vontaze Burfict’s fine or seeming lack thereof.

  • As Steelers Nation knows, Vontaze Burfict made a blatantly illegal hit on Ben Roethlisberger that the officials chose not to flag.

The early word was that Roger Goodell’s suits at the NFL’s corporate office also declined to fine Vontaze Burfict for his dirty play.

The news that the NFL was turning its head the other way on yet another illegal hit on Ben Roethlisberger came with a peculiar twist – the story broke on Wednesday. That’s odd, because NFL fans are used to hearing how “FedEx envelops carrying fines arrive on Thursday.” But on Wednesday Vontaze Burfict’s agent Audie Attar told told the rest of the world that his client faced no fine.

  • The blogesphere erupted, and credentialed Steelers writers followed suit.

In an article published that morning, Mark Kaboly, Ralph N. Paulk and Chris Adamski of the Tribune Review opined: “the NFL fined a player as the result of an incident during Sunday’s Steelers-Bengals game. It wasn’t whom the Steelers might have hoped, though.” They then discussed the Steelers who were fined, and communicated that Vontaze Burfict wasn’t.

Later that day, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo simply stated “The NFL has decided against fining Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict…” and then reported various player comments about the issue. A day later, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler restated that “Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who was not fined for a helmet shot to Ben Roethlisberger’s ankles.”

Then a funny thing happened.

  • Vontaze Burfict got a FedEx package from Roger Goodell with a fine in it.

The Steelers sports writers quickly issued updated stories informing that Burfict had been fined, along with Michael Mitchell, Antonio Brown, David DeCastro, Brandon Boykin, William Gay and Marcus Gilbert.

  • But almost no one stopped to do any self-examination as to why the word of an agent was taken as Gospel.

Seriously. Agents plant stories about their clients all of the time. Sometimes there is even some truth to them. Other times? Not so much. Agents don’t exactly carry the same credibility as Pope Francis.

It would seem like the following is in order for the Steelers sports writers who covered the Vontaze Burfict saga:

Or is it?

Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo raised some very relevant points. After indicating that fine amounts would be known on Friday of that week, Fittipaldo vented to his readers:

So we’ll get this all cleared up about 48 hours after the first report that Burfict would not be fined. There has to be a better way for the NFL to handle its business.

Surely someone from the NFL office monitors what people like Adam Schefter of ESPN and Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network report from agents. The NFL sends players fines via Fed Ex by Wednesday so the NFL surely knew the reports were false.

Why not get the word out sooner to avoid a whole lot of confusion and bad publicity for the league?

The smartalec in the Watch Tower wants to say, “Sure Ray, you could have called the league office to confirm.” But in all fairness to Fittipaldo, maybe he did try to confirm the report and got stonewalled and hence he’s frustrated.

But his larger point is quite relevant. The uneven and arbitrary enforcement of justice in Roger Goodell’s NFL is well documented, and the Vontaze Burfict “they fined me, they fined me not” fiasco underlines that yet again.

Ryan Shazier the Signal Caller

Comparing the first and second half performance of the Steelers defense in the Broncos game is like comparing the last place 1988 Steelers defense to the 2008 Steelers Super Bowl defense.

When asked about that, Mike Tomlin simply said there had been communication issues. Miscommunication forms a part of every football game, but the public only finds out about them when the consequences are evident on the field.

  • Thanks to Jim Wexell, Steelers Nation has a potential explanation for the root cause of some of the Steelers defensive miscommunications.

During much, if not all of 2015, Ryan Shazier and not Lawrence Timmons has worn the “helmet with the green dot,” or in other words, its Shazier and not Timmons who has the microphone in his helmet and makes the calls on the field.

Wexell first broke the news on a message board chat on December 11th on his Steel City Insider site, and then expanded on the Shazier signal caller story after the Denver game. To the best of the Watch Tower’s knowledge, no other reporter has brought this information to the public. (If they have, their work isn’t indexed very well by Google.)

While this factoid is hardly ground shaking, but Jim Wexell’s ability to uncover nuggets like this come from the time and energy he’s invested in building relationships in the locker room. Once again, Wexell wins Watch Tower Kudos.

SteelersWire on former Steeler Jon Witman

When fans think of great Pittsburgh Steelers running backs, the name Jon Witman usually does not jump to mind. Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe picked Jon Witman out of Penn State in the third round of the 1996 NFL Draft, and by 1999 Witman was the starting fullback, leading the way for Jerome Bettis.

  • Like too many, life has not gone well for Witman.

Neal Coolong of the SteelersWire brought that information to the attention of his readers, as Witman served as an example of someone whom the Gene Upshaw Players Assistance Trust was able to help, as Witman battled addiction, depression, and even suicidal tendencies.

While Jon Witman’s story is hardly encouraging, sturggles of post-NFL life, either with or without CTE, need to be told, and SteelersWire was the only Steelers site or Pittsburgh publication to pickup the story. Watch Tower Kudos are in order for Coolong.

Insight into Steelers Talent Evaluation Methods

Shortly after the 2015 NFL Draft, the Watch Tower lamented the lack of visibility into the Steelers scouting and talent evaluation methodologies. Now Steelers Nation knows a little more, thanks to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

In a blurb on who the NFL’s best athlete might be, Fowler offered this about Martavis Bryant:

But what makes him the Steelers’ best athlete is his quick-burst ability. The Steelers track short-burst speed through GPS monitors, and I’m told Bryant often has the fastest times, despite his lanky frame.

That’s an interesting piece of information to have about both Bryant and the Steelers.

Like any NFL team, the Steelers collect reams and reams of information on players prior to the draft, but little is known about if or how those evaluations continue once they reach the South Side.

Thanks to Fowler, now Steelers Nation knows a little more.

Interesting Tidbit on Tony Dungy’s Quarterbacking Stint

Injuries to quarterbacks have been big news in the NFL this year, and with both Mike Vick and Landry Jones getting starts for the Steelers, Pittsburgh is no exception. Studious Steelers fans know Tony Dungy, a former college cornerback who played defensive back for the Steelers, threw 8 passes for Pittsburgh in 1977. But the story of why is not well known.

ESPN’s Kevin Seifert changed that with a story on Tony Dungy’s fourth quarter quarterbacking career effort vs. the Houston Oilers after Terry Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek left the game injured.

  • Dungy’s performance was dismal.

But he did do complete passes to both Lynn Swann and John Stallworth while earning himself the distinction of being the only modern-era player to both throw and make an interception in a single game.

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