Steelers 2017 Draft Need @ Inside Linebacker: Moderate

What a machine. What a consistent force and performer in the middle of the Steelers defense for 10 glorious seasons.

I’m referring, of course, to inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons who became head coach Mike Tomlin’s first draft choice, when the Steelers selected him out of Florida State with the 15th pick of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Lawrence Timmons started slowly as he learned legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau‘s sophisticated defense, but the athleticism, the explosiveness, they were on display right from the very start.

After serving an apprenticeship under veterans James Farrior and Larry Foote, Lawerence Timmons moved to the  top of the depth chart in his third season and started 124 games between 2009-2016–including a very durable 96-straight over his final six seasons in Pittsburgh.

After the 2016 campaign, Lawrence Timmons became a free-agent and inked a two-year deal with the Dolphins in March, leaving the Steelers with a hole at one of the inside linebacker spots…sort of. Yes, there’s a “Sort of” attached to that statement and how the Steelers define “sort of” will impact their plans for inside linebacker in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Vince Williams, Ryan Shazier, Steelers 2017 draft needs inside linebacker

Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams celebrate a turnover. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via SportsnetCA

Steelers Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2017 NFL Draft–the Starters

Speaking of athleticism and explosiveness, Ryan Shazier, arguably the Steelers best player on defense, has both in bunches.

A first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Shazier was thrust into the starter’s role right from the beginning, thanks to the team’s transition period on defense from the veteran group that helped win two Super Bowls in the previous decade to the younger version that sorely needed a “splashy” play-maker. Ryan Shazier proved to be that early-on, as he intercepted a pass and made several impressive tackles during his rookie home debut in a preseason game at Heinz Field against the Bills.

  • Unfortunately for Ryan Shazier and the Steelers, Shazier missed seven games in 2014 due to a sprained knee.

Over the past two seasons, Ryan Shazier has grown into his role of the spectacular play-maker and best player on the defense. Two years ago, Ryan Shazier was the best player on the field, recovering a fumble and literally saving Pittsburgh’s season, when he stripped running back Jeremy Hill of the football in the waning moments of a come-from-behind victory over the Bengals in an AFC Wild Card game.

  • Last season, as the Steelers marched all the way to the AFC Championship game, Ryan Shazier recorded 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions, as he made his first Pro Bowl.

So, who will take Lawerence Timmons’ job and play alongside Ryan Shazier at the other inside linebacker spot? After inking a two-year contract-extension through the 2018 season, Vince Williams, the 2013 sixth round pick out of Florida State, figures to be the heir apparent to Timmons.

Truth be told, Vince Williams appeared to be destined for a future starter’s role, even before the start of the 2016 season. With Lawrence Timmons lame-duck status and declining play in recent years, Vince Williams’ new deal, which he signed before the start of the regular season, seemed like a proactive move by the organization.

When Ryan Shazier missed four games with a knee injury early in 2016, Vince Williams performed so well in his absence–including a combined 25 tackles in back-to-back victories over the Chiefs and Jets–many wondered if Ryan Shazier would be able to reclaim his starting spot.

Surprisingly, however, Lawrence Timmons stepped up his play so much down-the-stretch, as Pittsburgh won nine-straight games, the idea of keeping the Law Dog around for at least another season began to pick up steam. But that talk soon vanished early in free-agency, when Lawrence Timmons jumped to Miami for $11 million in guaranteed money.

With Lawrence Timmons now a former Steeler, the original sentiment of Vince Williams succeeding him at inside linebacker seems to be the plan heading into 2017.

Steelers Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker Entering the 2017 NFL Draft–the Backups 

Behind Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams, there’s a little promise but mostly just depth.

In Tyler Matakevich, Pittsburgh’s seventh round pick out of Temple a year ago, the team has a potential tackling machine (493 tackles in college).

  • The key word in that last sentence is “potential,” because Tyler Matakevich certainly didn’t prove much a year year ago, while playing mostly on special teams.

Rounding on the backups are L.J. Fort, a journeyman out of Northern Iowa who appeared in 14 games last season but only recorded two tackles; and Steven Johnson, a veteran the Steelers signed as a free-agent a year ago who has only started seven games in his NFL career.

Although he’s played exclusive on the outside for the Steelers, reserve OLB Arthur Moats also has experience playing on the inside and could serve as an emergency backup in a pintch.

Steelers 2017 Draft Need @ Inside Linebacker

Pittsburgh did add depth on defense during the free-agency period, but not at the inside linebacker spot (although not for lack of trying, if press reports are accurate).Steelers 2017 Draft Needs inside linebacker

Therefore, with Ryan Shazier’s propensity for injuries early in his NFL career–he’s missed 14 of a possible 48 games over three years–and with Vince Williams’s athleticism not being quite on par with what Lawrence Timmons provided for a decade, selecting an inside linebacker in the first few rounds certainly wouldn’t be out of he question for the Steelers.

  • And what happens when/if either Vince Williams or Ryan Shazier gets injured, and the Steelers are forced to go with unproven and/or less talented players to fill the starting role?

Having Vince Williams was a luxury a year ago, but unless someone like Tyler Matakevich makes that all-important first to second year leap, the Steelers might not have that same luxury in 2017 unless they hit on a player in the draft.

Reuben Foster, a top 10 prospect out of Alabama, figures to be long gone by the time the Steelers spot comes up at 30. But some possible names to keep an eye on are Haasan Reddick out of Temple, who is projected to go in the first or second round; and Jarrad Davis from Florida, who also grades out as either a first or second round pick.

  • Finally, while Pittsburgh does have two players slated to start at the inside linebacker spot, the bottom line is the team could always use another play-maker on defense–regardless of what position he plays.

If that player happens to be an inside linebacker and his value coincides with where the Steelers happen to be drafting, it would probably be a wise choice. Given the state of their starters and backups, the Pittsburgh Steelers need at inside linebacker going into the 2017 NFL Draft must be considered Moderate.

 

 

 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Thoughts on Mike Tomlin, Lawrence Timmons and Steelers Head Coaches First Draft Picks

Lawrence Timmons decision to sign with the Miami Dolphins marked a sad day in Steelers Nation. For ten years Lawrence Timmons had been a mainstay of the Steelers defense, first giving Dick LeBeau and the Keith Butler a durable, reliable presence in the middle of the field.

  • Lawrence Timmons had also been Mike Tomlin’s first draft pick.

Commentators were quick to assert that a head coach losing his maiden draft selection to the free agent market means something, and it does, but just what does it actually mean?

Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, Ryan Clark, Brett Swain, Super Bowl XLV

Lawrence Timmons goes for a loose ball in Super Bowl XLV. Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka, Getty Images via Zimbio

It sounds sexy to say that a new head coach defines his legacy with his first draft pick and sometimes it’s true. Jimmy Johnson certainly defined his legacy in Dallas for the better by picking Troy Aikman just as Norv Turner did the opposite by picking Heath Shuler.

  • But in other cases the analogy falls flat.

Does anyone really want to try to argue that Bill Walsh in any way defined his legacy in San Francisco by picking making James Owens his first pick in 1979?

Which brings us to the question – how, and to what extent does Lawrence Timmons define Mike Tomlin’s legacy in Pittsburgh?

Steelers Head Coaches & Their First Picks

Steelers history gives a mixed bag when it comes to head coaches and their first picks. And this is a lot more difficult discussion to have in Pittsburgh than say in Cleveland or Washington, as the Steelers have only had 3 head coaches since the end of the Lyndon Johnson administration.

Buddy Parker’s first picks was Len Dawson, which is painfully appropriate for his legacy. Dawson is one of various quarterbacks the Steelers brought into the league that won Super Bowls and/or NFL Championships for someone other than Pittsburgh.

Bill Austin’s first pick ever was a fullback by the name of Dick Leftridge who played all of one season and had a total of 8 yards rushing and got cut the next summer for show up overweight.

Some have suggested that Dick Leftridge could have been a victim of Bill Austin’s racism, while another source consulted to verify this argues that Leftride did in fact lack  the commitment to conditioning. Either way Austin’s pick of Leftridge was certainly indicative of the Steelers failure with the draft.

Joe Greene, Chuck Noll, Art Rooney Sr.

Chuck Noll and Joe Greene Shake hands in front of Art Rooney Sr. in 1982. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On the flip side, picking Joe Greene first most certainly defined Chuck Noll’s legacy as Joe Greene’s arrival in Pittsburgh was the fulcrum that turned a perennial loser on to the path to being the greatest football team in the history of the sport.

In contrast, assessing the impact of Bill Cowher’s decision to pick (along with Tom Donahoe) Leon Searcy on The Chin’s legacy is a little more nebulous. To a certain degree, picking Searcy signaled a full-throated embrace of physical, power football that characterized the Cowher years in Pittsburgh.

  • But would anyone ever argue that Leon Searcy was a legacy defining pick?

I daresay the answer is no.

2007 Tomlin Takes Charge, Picks Lawrence Timmons First

The Steelers turned heads in the 2007 NFL Draft when they picked two outside linebackers, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley with picks number one and number two. (Yes, the Steelers originally picked Timmons as an outside linebacker.)

Unfortunately, Lawrence Timmons early career doesn’t give opponents of the “Tomlin’s only won with Cowher’s players” nonsense much ammunition. Timmons played very little as a rookie and, while he made impressive contributions in spot duty in 2008, most of those came at outside linebacker in relief of James Harrison. Timmons started in 2009, but the fact that he split time with Keyaron Fox had some fans labeling him a bust.

  • But if Timmons took a few years to find his NFL footing, he exploded in 2010.
Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Steelers vs Titans, Bo Scaife

Lawrence Timmons slams Titans Bo Scaife as James Harrison looks on in Pittsburgh’s 2010 win over Tennessee. Photo Credit: New Pittsburgh Courier

And from 2010 onwards, Lawrence Timmons clearly established himself as a Mike Tomlin talent acquisition success story, even if he had a subpar 2011 campaign. As Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell observed:

Timmons was explosive. And productive. And he played week in and week out. Timmons started the last 111 games (counting postseason) that the Steelers played. In his eight regular seasons as the starter, he averaged 95 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 passes defensed and 1.4 forced fumbles per season.

Mike Tomlin likes to draft his players, especially premium picks, young and the statistics that Jim Wexell cites show just how effective that strategy has been. The Steelers win 8-8 reloading seasons and the “4 seasons between playoff wins” chant were frustrating for sure.

In seminal 2014 article Déjà vu All Over Again , Jim Wexell compared the post-2011 Steelers to the 1998-2000 Steeler teams and argued that the presence of Ben Roethlisberger as opposed to Kordell Stewart under center is what explains Pittsburgh’s ability to keep the franchise’s head above water.

He’s right of course, but quarterbacks can’t carry a team on their own, and Lawrence Timmons steadfast playmaking presence on the Steelers defense during those years was arguably just as important as Roethlisberger’s was to the defense during that time span.

Lawrence Timmons, Thad Lewis, Lawrence Timmons sack Thad Lewis, Steelers vs Browns,

Lawrence Timmons downs Thad Lewis of the Browns in the penultimate play of 2012. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Think back to the Pittsburgh’s 2012 finale. The Steelers limped into the game against the Browns with an 7-8 record and, with the Steelers defending a two touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter, Lawrence Timmons ended the game with dramatic back-to-back sacks.

It was almost as if Timmons was proclaiming to the rest of the league, “Yes, the Steelers are down, but we’re not out.”

Lawrence Timmons and Tomlin’s Legacy

Lawrence Timmons continued to be the Steelers best defender for the next several seasons. By 2014 one could argue that Cameron Heyward had taken over that role, and by 2016 with Cam Heyward out, Ryan Shazier had established himself as Pittsburgh’s Alpha Male on defense.

  • But Lawrence Timmons continued to dominate, as 2016 second half surge proved.

Despite losing its best player, and despite starting rookies Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave the Steelers defense staged and impressive turn around during the second half of 2016, and Lawrence was a big part of it coming up with two sacks and two interceptions in the last 7 games, followed by his twin sacks to close the win over the Miami Dolphins in the playoffs.

It is just as unfortunate it the game marked Lawrence Timmons final game as a Pittsburgh Steeler. If Mike Tomlin is to reach the Mountain Top again, he’ll have to do it without the Law Dog.

  • In that sense, Lawrence Timmons’ impact on Mike Tomlin’s legacy falls somewhere between that of his predecessors.

Chuck Noll reached the Mountain Top with Joe Greene, and never sniffed it without him. Leon Searcy helped Bill Cowher broach the pinnacle in Super Bowl XXX, but the time The Chin summited in Super Bowl XL Searcy was a distant memory.

Mike Tomlin and Lawrence Timmons might have only reached the Mountain Top once together in Super Bowl XLIII, but Lawrence Timmons did so much to keep the Mountain Top in reach during the rest of his time in Pittsburgh.

And for that, Steelers Nation says, “Thank You Lawrence Timmons.”

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Sad Day in Pittsburgh: Miami Dolphins Sign Lawrence Timmons, Law Dog Leaves Steelers

All good things come to an end. And so it is with Lawrence Timmons time as a Pittsburgh Steeler, as the free agent inside linebacker  signed a two year contract with the Miami Dolphins.

Mike Tomlin made Lawrence Timmons his first draft pick as Steelers head coach when he took Timmons in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Timmons went on to start 126 games for the Steelers, including a streak of 6 years where he never missed a game due to injury.

Lawrence Timmons, Mike Tomlin, Joey Porter, Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons Dolphins

Lawrence Timmons leaves the field in 2014 as Mike Tomlin, Joey Porter & Stephon Tuitt greet him. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via Zimbo.com

As stars such as James Farrior, Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith either retired and/or faded, Lawrence Timmons remained a steadfast, constant presence in the middle of the Steelers defense. From 2012 to at least 2014 Timmons was the most consistent, if not best defender on the Steelers defense.

  • Several times during the last year Lawrence Timmons had expressed a desire to sign a third contract with the Steelers.

The Steelers likewise wanted him back, but if reports are accurate, Timmons signed a 2 year 12 million dollar contract with the Miami Dolphins that included 11 million dollars of guaranteed money. That was more than the Steelers were willing to pay, and likely more than they were willing to guarantee in such a short time span.

Steel Curtain Rising will take a longer look at Lawrence Timmons’ legacy as a Pittsburgh Steeler, but those who wish for a fairly comprehensive recap of his career can click here.

Steelers Inside Linebacker Depth Chart with Timmons Gone

For the first time since 2009 the Steelers will enter training camp with a new name penciled in at left inside linebacker. Vince Williams will get the first shot at replacing Timmons. The Steelers anticipated this possibility last summer when they resigned Vince Williams to a 3 year contract.

Vince Williams is more of a linebacker in the mold of Larry Foote and provides a hard-hitting presence in Lawrence Timmons’ absence, he lacks Timmons speed and athleticism. Lawrence Timmons defection to the Dolphins likely won’t alter the Steelers plans to target cornerback and outside linebacker in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, but if a good inside linebacker is on the board in the third round he could very well get a call from Mike Tomlin.

Life Imitating Art?

Steel Curtain Rising strongly supported the Steelers keeping Lawrence Timmons in Pittsburgh, but we understand that salary cap realities require Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to make hard choices like this.

  • But news that Lawrence Timmons signed with the Miami Dolphins arrives with a large dose of irony at this site.

Two years ago as on April Fool’s Day we published a fax article indicating the Steelers had traded Timmons to the Dolphins to move up in the draft. The article did so well that Jacob Klinger of PennLive went so far as to call the Steelers for confirmation of the story. To this day, it remains the 5th most visited page in the site’s history following our 2014 migration to WordPress.

  • What can we say? This is one of the times when you hate to be right.

In a perfect world, Lawrence Timmons would have finished his career in Pittsburgh. Sadly, we won’t see that happen now.

But Steel Curtain Rising thanks Lawrence Timmons for 10 wonderful years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thank you Law Dog!

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

No Time to Be Timid: Steelers Should Resign Lawrence Timmons, Make Law Dog Lifer in Pittsburgh

Regardless of what happens in free agency, Lawrence Timmons will always be the first draft pick that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert made together. Aside from being a mild surprise, linebackers were seen as a strength going into the 2007 NFL Draft, picking Timmons also revealed an important change in how the Steelers approach to the draft would change under Mike Tomlin.

  • Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers would favor youth in the draft, particularly in the 1st round.

You can see impact of that shift today – Lawrence Timmons was only 21 when the Steelers picked him and today 10 seasons under his belt he has yet to turn 31 as he seeks his third contract.

Lawrence Timmons, Steelers 2017 free agents, Ryan Shazier, Steelers vs Giants, Lawrence Timmons interception, Roger Lewis

Lawrence Timmons returns an interception in Steelers 2016 win over Giants. (Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Extended Profile of Lawrence Timmons Steelers Career

Those who’re quick to label a draft pick “a bust” would be wise to acquaint themselves with Lawrence Timmons’ story.

  • You can begin with the fact that the Steelers initially selected Lawrence Timmons to play outside linebacker.

Yes, you read correctly. Mike Tomlin’s initial 2007 training camp depth chart slotted Lawrence Timmons in at right outside linebacker behind James Harrison. It didn’t matter much. Injuries in the spring and during training camp limited Timmons’ opportunities to earn a spot on the field and he spent most of 2007 watching and/or playing special teams.

During the 2008 off season the Steelers shifted Timmons to inside linebacker with an eye towards replacing Larry Foote. Timmons excelled in preseason, and while he only started 2 games (both at outside linebacker) he made his presence known by:

Following Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers had seen enough to pencil in Timmons in over two-time Super Bowl starter Larry Foote. While Timmons started in 2009, the sailing wasn’t as smooth it seems now. He did register 9 sacks, but his play was inconsistent and he split time with Keyraon Fox.

In 2010 however, Timmons was a man on fire. He didn’t draw the attention that James Harrison or Troy Polamalu did, but he made critical play after critical play. The Steelers gave him Lawrence Timmons his second contract after the 2011 lockout ended, only to see Timmons struggle that season.

  • But from 2012 to 2014 Lawrence Timmons was the Steelers most consistent, if not best defender.

Nonetheless, the emergence of Vince Williams in 2013 and Sean Spence in 2014 gave the Steelers an abundance of younger and cheaper options at inside linebacker. This led to ultimately fruitless speculation that Timmons would be a cap casualty or would be traded (not that this site didn’t fan some of those April first flames….)

Lawrence Timmons, Steelers vs Dolphins, Jarvis Landry, Ross Cockrell

Lawrence Timmons moves to tackle Jarvis Landry. Photo Credit: USA Today Steelers Wire

Lawrence Timmons began 2015 by playing through an injury and he appeared to have lost a step as Ryan Shazier usurped him as the resident bad ass in the middle of the Steelers defense. Those doubts persisted during the first half of 2016, but Lawrence Timmons stepped it up during the back half of the season, making two interceptions and two sacks during the Steelers nine game winning streak.

The Law Dog, as Mike Tomlin calls him, topped it off with 2 sacks in the Steelers playoff win over the Dolphins.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Lawrence Timmons

Lawrence Timmons will be 31 years old on opening day 2017 and will already have 10 seasons of experience under his belt. While age 31 is several years removed from being “young” in the NFL, Timmons has started every game for 7 straight seasons and hasn’t missed a game due to injury since 2009.

  • Timmons also is aware that age is impacting his ability, and he’s taken steps to counter that with his conditioning.

Lawrence Timmons knows the Steelers defense, and Keith Butler, Mike Tomlin and Jerry Olsavsky are intimately familiar with what Lawrence Timmons can do. Father time may indeed have robbed Timmons of a step, but Timmons strong finish to 2016 shows he’s still in that sweet spot where experience can compensate for a drop off in athleticism.

It is also fair to say that even at age 31, Lawrence Timmons probably brings more athleticism to the field than Vince Williams, his logical successor. Assuming his contract demands are not too high, there’s no reason to let him walk.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Lawrence Timmons

While Lawrence Timmons strong finish to 2016 was no mirage, the simple fact that it was necessary shows that Father Time is taking its toll. The Steelers have made a commitment to getting younger and faster on defense, and in that sense Timmons is a square peg in a defensive alignment filled with round holes.

  • No, Vince Williams isn’t going to scare anyone with his speed or athleticism.

But in Vince Williams, the Steelers have a modern day Larry Foote, who alongside James Farrior gave the Steelers a powerful inside linebacking tandem that brought home Lombardi Trophies in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII.

Moreover, the Vince Williams’ salary cap number is about 2.5 million for 2017, or about half of what it would take to keep Lawrence Timmons. Those are 2.5 million dollars the Steelers could spend to bolster the secondary and/or pass rush, instead of paying it to a 31 year old inside linebacker who is only going slower with each passing year.

Curtain’s Call on Lawrence Timmons and the Steelers

Lawrence Timmons has repeatedly affirmed his desire to stay in Pittsburgh. Both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are on the record saying they want him back. When those two things happen, a deal usually gets done.

  • Is it a slam dunk?

Hardly. The Steelers like Timmons, but their decision to resign Vince Williams last year signaled that they’re prepared to move on if necessary. Indeed, Kevin Colbert’s comment that Lawrence Timmons is free to test the free agency waters clearly indicates that the Steelers won’t get into a bidding war to keep Timmons’ in Pittsburgh.

Nor should they. But they likely won’t need to, and a James Farrior type deal for Timmons would benefit all parties and more or less ensure that the Law Dog remains a lifetime Pittsburgh Steeler.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

5 Key Decisions that Fueled Mike Tomlin’s 100 Wins as Steelers Head Coach

Ask Mike Tomlin about his 100 wins as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach and he’ll tersely explain “It means I’ve been here for a while.” Fair enough, but Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins didn’t come overnight, and certainly didn’t occur because he was in the right place at the right time.

  • No, Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins come because he’s one of the best head coaches in the NFL.

Any head coach’s record is a byproduct of a lot of hours of film study, staffing and personnel choices, strategy adoption and game-day decision making. It is hard for an outsider to pinpoint key moments that directly resulted in a coach’s success.

But we’re going to try. Here are 5 key decisions that fueled Mike Tomiln’s 100 wins as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach.

mike tomlin, mike tomlin's 100 wins steelers head coach,

Quality coaching decisions fueled Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins as Pittsburgh Steelers head coach. (Photo Credit: Andrew Rush, Post Gazette)

1. Adopting while reshaping Bill Cowher’s legacy

Can we please dispense with the “Mike Tomlin has only won with Bill Cowher’s players” nonsense?

Yes, Tomlin did inherit Ben Roethlisberger and a host of Super Bowl XL veterans, but if you think that getting handed the keys to a team that is a year or two removed from a Lombardi Trophy is an automatic key to success, please consult the coaching records of Richie Petitbon, Ray Handley or Phil Bengtson.

  • Mike Tomlin had a real challenge facing him when he took over in 2007.

Most if not all of his locker room expected and wanted either Russ Grimm or Ken Whisenhunt to get the job. Alan Faneca wasn’t happy with his contract. Neither was Joey Porter.

Tomlin was not only smart enough to retain Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator, but wise enough to sit back and learn from Coach Dad. He also retained several members of Bill Cowher’s staff, while integrating it with new faces he’d brought in with him.

  • Mike Tomlin didn’t shy away from tough choices. With his approval, the Steelers parted ways with Joey Porter.

Part of his motivation no doubt lay in the conclusion that James Harrison needed to start, a move The Chin never made. Tomlin also smoothed over the Alan Faneca situation. Faneca wasn’t happy, but he never caused a disruption because of his contract.

It’s true that Dick LeBeau came “highly recommended” by the Rooneys, but Tomlin could have just as easily kept him and made wholesale changes with the rest of his for the sake of making a statement. Instead, Tomlin pulled off the delicate balance of embracing the legacy that Bill Cowher left him while making the team his own.

2. Going hard on defense in the 2007 NFL Draft

While Mike Tomlin shares drafting authority with Kevin Colbert, the duo didn’t hesitate to break rules by drafting two outside linebackers with their first two picks in the 2007 NFL Draft.

  • No, that’s not a misprint.

The Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons to play outside linebacker, and he was listed behind James Harrison in the Steelers 2007 Media Guide’s training camp depth chart. After that they picked LaMarr Woodley. They of course moved Lawrence Timmons to the inside. He took a while to develop, but since 2010, he’s been the mainstay of the Steelers defense.

But as Tony Defeo pointed out on Behind the Steel Curtain, LaMarr Woodley registered 44 sacks in 55 games, a pace that not even Hall of Famers like Joe Greene and Kevin Greene or legends such as L.C. Greenwood and Greg Lloyd could match. And of course, LaMarr Woodley’s strip sack of Kurt Warner sealed victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

  • Tomlin and Colbert also picked William Gay during the 2007 NFL Draft.

The Steelers 2007 draft class was was far from perfect. Matt Spaeth was hardly a bust but never lived up to his 3rd round status. Neither did Daniel Sepulveda. And who can remember the other players the Steelers drafted then?

But 100 wins later, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s first draft picks are still paying dividends on the field.

3. Standing Up for Bruce Arians in 2009

Mike Tomlin’s first real adversity came during the Steelers 2009 five-game losing streak in a year where the franchise clearly seemed to suffer from a Super Bowl hangover. Fans, bloggers and the professional press were all calling for Bruce Arians’ head.

  • So were some people on the South Side whose opinion actually counts.

As Ed Bouchette reported at the time, “Tomlin is under pressure from the ‘front office’” over Arians. While Arians did do some boneheaded things in 2009 (see the pass happy, empty sets on third and short on a freezing night in Cleveland), the truth is he got unfairly scapegoated a lot too.

  • But Mike Tomlin believed in his offensive coordinator, and he fought for him.

Don’t think for a moment that players, coaches and other members of the Steelers organization weren’t watching Tomlin closely to see whether he would fold.

4. Hiring Todd Haley as his offensive coordinator

Wait a minute! How’s this? How can you pat Mike Tomlin on the back for sticking up for Arians, then in the next breath praise him for a hire that he had to make because Art Rooney II pulled rank on him by forcing Bruce Arians out?

  • Yes, I admit, it does seem like a bit of a contradiction. But it is not.

We know that Mike Tomlin wanted Bruce Arians back and that he was unable (or perhaps less than 100% willing) to convince Art Rooney II to agree. So be it. The ultimate success or failure of the move would lie in how the Steelers offense performed post-Arians.

  • That meant Mike Tomlin had to hire the right replacement.

Mike Tomlin hired Todd Haley, a move that generated its share of controversy. Steelers author Tim Gleason praised the move, while Steelers writer Neal Coolong spoke out harshly against it as soon as Haley’s name surfaced. Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley didn’t exactly hit it off either.

But before working with Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger was seen as a fine physical talent who excelled at school-yard football. Ben Roethlisberger has grown under Todd Haley. It’s true that Ben Roethlisberger’s road record under Haley remains a concern, but under Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger is both playing better football and taking far fewer sacks.

Todd Haley was able to accomplish what Bruce Arians was unwilling even to attempt: find a way to get Ben to release the ball sooner, without taking away what makes Ben, Ben.

5. Pulling out of 2013’s 2-6 Spiral

OK, number 5 doesn’t exactly count as a “decision.” But the turn around of the 2013 Steelers turn around certainly could not have happened without a lot of good decision making.

A lot of NFL teams that start 0-4 probably continue on to 2-6. Your “average 2-6 team” will finish 4-12 with your “above average 2-6 teams” ending somewhere in realm of 5-11 or 6-10. But it is fairly safe to say that a 2-5 team that finds its way to a 2-6 record thanks to a 55-33 loss generally projects to a 2-14 or 3-14 finish.

  • Yet, that is exactly how the first 8 games of the Steelers 2013 season unfolded.

Things looked bleak after the Steelers London loss dropped them to 0-4. Mike Tomlin made changes, and suddenly 0-4 turned to 2-4. Then came disastrous trips to Oakland’s Black Hole and a trip to Gillette Stadium. But the 2013 Steelers fought on, and not only returned to respectability with an 8-8 finish, but they came one blown call away from a trip to the playoffs.

  • Only well-coached teams execute turn arounds like that.

Quitting on a coach is somewhat of an art form in the NFL. The 2013 Steelers always gave Mike Tomlin their best all season long. By the end of the season, their best delivered results.

  • Out of Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins, those 8 from 2013 might have been the hardest fought.

Mike Tomlin coaxed everything he could out of the talent on the 2013 Steelers who lacked depth at several key positions.

Mike Tomlin’s 100 wins are undoubtedly build on dozens of other decisions that the public doesn’t know about, but until those come to light, these are our 5 top choices.

 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Resign Vince Williams to 3 Year Contract, Is Lawrence Timmons Time in Pittsburgh Limited?

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

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

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

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

Vince Williams Heir Apparent at Inside Linebacker?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clock Ticking for Lawrence Timmons in Pittsburgh? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Did the Steelers Underutilize Matt Spaeth’s Pass Catching Skills? – No That’s Not a Trick Question Steelers Nation

If news of the Steelers releasing tight end Matt Spaeth surprised, the articles themselves were predictable: Each and every article, at some point, defined Matt Spaeth as a “blocking tight end.”

  • And the tape tells no lies: Matt Spaeth primarily played as a blocking tight end

But is it also fair to ask: Were Matt Spaeth’s pass catching skills underutilized? No Steelers Nation, that’s not a rhetorical question, but rather a serious one.

Matt Spaeth, pass catch, touchdown, steelers vs. packers, lambeau field

Matt Spaeth catches a touchdown @ Lambeau Field in 2014. (Photo Credit: Steelers.com)

When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Matt Spaeth in the 3rd round of the 2007 NFL Draft, the 6’7” 260 pound tight end promised to offer Ben Roethlisberger a tantalizingly tall target. And early on it looked like he would do just that. In his first four career games, Matt Spaeth caught four passes, and three of them were for touchdowns.

  • Despite his strong start, Spaeth’s role as a pass catcher never evolved, as the 6’7” tight end’s pass catching production peaked in 2008 at 17 catches on 26 targets.

Still, when Matt Spaeth was heading towards free agency in 2015, an analysis of his passing stats suggested the Steelers should call his number more:

matt spaeth, career receiving stats, spaeth pass catching, touchdown catches

Do numbers lie? Matt Spaeth caught most of the balls thrown his way.

  • Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley never got the memo.

During 2015, Steelers quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Landry Jones only targeted Matt Spaeth three times. For the record, Spaeth caught 2 out of three of those passes for 10 yards, but honestly that doesn’t tell us much. Nor, honestly speaking, does his career target-to-catch ratio of 63.2% suggest much because the sample is so small.

Still, using analysis done to document Heath Miller’s dependability in the passing game, you can see how Matt Spaeth compares to other Steelers pass catchers since 2005:

heath miller, career, reviving stats, targets to catches

Spaeth’s dependability as a pass catcher is on par with Antwaan Randle El and just below Hines Ward, while better than Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace, Markus Wheaton, Emmanuel Sanders, Santonio Holmes, Martavis Bryant and Nate Washington.

Matt Spaeth “Just catches Touchdowns….”

While Spaeth’s pass catching production might fail to reach statistical relevance, it does tell us reveal something else:

  • Matt Spaeth excelled at catching touchdowns.

Matt Speath’s catch-to-touchdown ratio is 18.2%. In otherwords, almost one of ever five passes Matth Spaeth caught went for a touchdown. Only Martavis Bryant has been better and only three others have numbers in double digits. Yes, the small sample size perhaps distorts things a bit, but it does prove that when the ball got near Matt Spaeth when things were most important, he generally made a catch.

  • All of this begs the question: Why didn’t the Steelers target Matt Spaeth more in the passing game?

The easiest, and most likely correct answer, is that Spaeth dropped a lot of passes in practice. That idea is supported by the fact that Spaeth’s most prolific pass catching spell came during 2010, when he started several games for after Heath Miller suffered a devastating concussion vs. the Ravens. During that season, Speath only caught 9 of the 18 balls thrown his way, and didn’t score any touchdowns.

  • Still, if that is the case, why would the Steelers call Spaeth’s number so frequently in the Red Zone?

Steelers Nation will never know the answer for sure. But the numbers certainly suggest that Matt Spaeth’s pass catching skills were underutilized during his time with the Steelers. Even if that is true, that fact would fail to alter one fundamental fact: Matt Spaeth blocked incredibly well.

Although Le’Veon Bell dazzled as a rookie, his performance as pure rusher remained in consistent, and deep into December, Bell had still failed to break the 100 yard rushing mark. That change just before Christmas at Lambeau Field when Bell romped for 124 yards, which was also Matt Spaeth’s 3rd game back from injured reserve.

That’s no coincidence, although if you’re wondering, that Green Bay game also saw Matt Spaeth’s 2nd and final target of the season – which he caught for a touchdown….

…Steel Curtain Rising thanks Matt Speath for his service in Pittsburgh, and wishes him well on his next NFL stop and/or retirement.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Release Tight End Matt Spaeth

As per several news outlets, the Steelers on Thursday released veteran tight end Matt Spaeth after he failed a physical.

  • Spaeth, who had offseason knee surgery, evidently didn’t recover in time for the Steelers’ satisfaction.

Here is a quote from team general manager Kevin Colbert, courtesy of NFL.com:

Matt never fully recovered from knee surgery this past offseason, and he will not be ready to return to football activities at this  time,” said Colbert. “Matt played an integral role in our Super Bowl XLIII Championship run, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

Spaeth was part of Mike Tomlin’s first draft class in 2007 and came to the Steelers as a third round pick out of Minnesota. He was Heath Miller’s backup and the team’s number two tight end for four years, catching 36 passes for 275 yards and five touchdowns.

Matt Spaeth, Steelers tight end, matt spaeth catch vs. Bengals 2014

Matt Spaeth catches as pass for the Steelers vs. the Bengals in December 2014. (Photo Credit: Michael Conroy, AP)

After his rookie deal expired following the 2010 Super Bowl XLV season, Spaeth signed a deal with the Bears who, according to Spaeth’s Wikipedia Page, then traded future Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen to the Panthers.

After two seasons in Chicago, Spaeth was released and subsequently re-signed with the Steelers prior to the 2013 regular season as insurance for Miller, who suffered a devastating knee injury in Week 16 of the 2012 season.

However, Spaeth was injured himself, at the beginning of the year and never made much of an impact outside of blocking during his last three campaigns in Pittsburgh.

For the 6’7″, 270 Spaeth, 32, it remains to be seen if he’s going to continue to play football, or if he’ll decide to call it a career.

To take Spaeth’s place on the roster, the Steelers signed free agent tight end Mandel Dixon.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

The Colbert Record: Steelers 4th Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

In its current incarnation, the 4th round represents balance point of the NFL Draft. Rounds 1-3 represent the cream of the crop. Rounds 5-7 represent the bottom feeders.

  • Round four falls squarely in between.

A fourth rounder maturing into a starter should surprise no one; yet a fourth rounder who only develops into a part-time role player cannot be written off as a bust. This year’s edition of The Colbert Record looks at Kevin Colbert’s history with 4th round picks.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2000 Fourth Round Pick – Danny Farmer

Wide receiver had been a weakness of the Steelers in 1998 and 1999. Based on the early returns, Troy Edwards had given the Steelers a foot hold on rectifying the problem, and the earlier pick of Plaxio Burress looked to improve the Steelers further. No one paid much attention to Hines Ward, so the pick of Danny Farmer seemed enticing.

  • At least until the Steelers opened camp at St. Vincent’s in Labrobe

Danny Famer couldn’t cut it, so Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert cut him. Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decried the move, pointing the Farmer’s absence after the Steelers 16-0, 2000 opening day loss to the Ravens. Smizik doubled down in December (when the 2000 Steelers had turned around their season), extolling Farmer, by then a Cincinnati Bengal for a great game against Jacksonville.

Farmer, however was out of football by 2003, and never had more than 19 catches in a season. He didn’t do much for the Bengals, which is better than what the Steelers got from him. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2001 Fourth Round Pick – Mathias Nkwenti

Unlike wide recievers, there are few stats measure offensive lineman. But one stat that does stand out is this: Mathias Nkwenti appeared in two games for the Steelers one in 2001 and another in 2003. Then he was out of football. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2002 Fourth Round Pick – Larry Foote

If you were looking to define a prototype for a “quality 4th round pick” you’d need to look to Kevin Colbert’s 2002 4th round pick of Larry Foote.

When news broke that 2001’s rookie stand out Kendrell Bell was injured and wouldn’t be able to suit up for the opener, most Steelers fans figured that John Fiala would be the “Next man up.” Fiala wasn’t a superstar, but he’d paid his dues on special teams and as a backup since 1998, and sort of fit the Jerry Olsavsky mold.

  • Bill Cowher instead looked to the rookie Larry Foote to start.

Foote got the first three starts of the season, and while Bell kept him on the bench in 2003, Foote assumed the starting role in 2004 and started from that moment until the Steelers hoisted Lombardi Number Six over their heads after Super Bowl XLIII.

Foote of course departed in 2009, but was back in 2009 as a backup, only to reassume the starting role after James Farrior’s retirement. 105 regular season starts and 11 playoff starts including two Super Bowls is pretty impressive for a fourth round pick. Grade: Over Performer

Steelers 2003 Fourth Round Pick – Ike Taylor

If Larry Foote fulfilled all that can be expected of a 4th round pick, then 2003’s fourth round pick is an example of a 4th rounder who completely exceeds expectations. And to think, Mark Madden declared the pick of Ike Taylor as the worst pick in franchise history.

Something tells me that Mike Holmgrem and Matt Hasslebeck would beg to differ.

Ike Taylor won’t get recognition alongside the Jack Butler, Mel Blount and Rod Woodson as one of the franchise’s true great cornerbacks because he couldn’t hold on to interceptions. But from 2005 until 2012ish, Ike Taylor was able to shadow the opponents best receiver and often times take him out of the game. Grade: Grand Slam

Steelers 2004 Fourth Round Pick – Nathaniel Adibi

If Steelers lore is correct, a faction of the Steelers draft room wanted to use this pick on Michael Turner. Bill Cowher wanted Nathaniel Adibi. Unfortunately Cowher got his way. Nathaniel Adibi never played a down in a regular season NFL game, Michael Turner rushed for 7,338 yards in a 9 yard career. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2005 Fourth Round Pick – Fred Gibson

Just as he did in 2000, Kevin Colbert drafted wide receiver in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Like Danny Farmer, Fred Gibson never played a down for the Steelers. Unlike Danny Farmer, Gibson never played anywhere in the NFL. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2006 Fourth Round Picks – Willie Colon and Orien Harris

Many times during Mike Tomlin’s early tenure, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette refered to a lack of alignment between the front office and the coaches on the offensive line, and looked to the Steelers seemingly bipolar treatment of Max Starks.

Bouchette might have had a point, but Steelers coaches were already angling to replace Max Starks with Willie Colon by the end of his rookie year. Colon did beat out Starks on the right side, and held down the fort there from 2007 to 2009. Injuries of course ruined his 2010 and 2011 season and derailed it in 2012 when he’d settled in at offensive guard. Grade: Quality Value Pick

Orien Harris, defensive tackle out of Miami was the Steelers second fourth round pick in 2004. He never played a down for the Steelers, but did appear in 18 games for the Bengals and Browns in the next three season. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2007 Fourth Round Picks — Daniel Sepulveda and Ryan McBean

The Mike Tomlin era began with two fourth round picks and it started with a bang, of sorts.
Mike Tomlin looked to make a statement with his first draft by trading up to get a punter to emphasize the importance of special teams. Daniel Sepulveda was the pick.

Sepulveda had two decent seasons punting, until injuries cost him the 2008 season. He injured himself again in 2010. To the surprise of many, the Steelers brought him back in 2011, but his last game was the Steelers All Saints day upset of the Patriots. It is not Sepulveda the Steelers picked him first, but if you pick a punter in the fourth round, he’d better be All World. Sepulveda wasn’t that even when healthy: Grade: Disappointment

The Steelers second 4th round pick was of Ryan McBean, a defensive tackle out of Oklahoma State. McBean played one game as a rookie in Pittsburgh during 2007 for the Steelers, and then 46 the three years afterwards including 21 starts. Unfortunately, McBean played his last four seasons for Denver and Baltimore. His stats indicate OK value for a 4th round pick, unfortunately, the Steelers didn’t benefit from any of that value. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2008 Fourth Round Pick – Tony Hills

As mentioned when profiling 2008’s 3rd round pick Bruce Davis, Jim Wexell wrote that Mike Tomlin would match Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together during training camp and extol both men on, saying, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you.”

  • Unfortunately, Tomlin was wrong about both men.

Davis was gone in a year. Tony Hills however, stuck around. However, he did not dress in 2008 nor did he suit up in 2009. Hills got a little bit of a reprise under 2010’s special teams coach Sean Kugler, and he actually saw action in four games. The Steelers experimented with him at guard during the 2011 preseason, but cut him.

Since then Tony Hills has stuck on with Denver, Indianapolis, Dallas, Miami and most recently in 2015 New Orleans, seeing spot duty (and one start) in 18 games. But when you draft a tackle in the 4th round, you really need more than four games in 3 seasons. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2009 Fourth Round Pick – Traded

The Steelers traded their 4th round pick along with their second to get Denver’s two 3rd round picks in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Steelers 2010 Fourth Round Pick – Thaddeus Gibson

The Steelers used their 2010 4th round pick on linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. The early reports on Gibson out of Latrobe were positive. However, when the Steelers needed to make a roster move in October, Gibson’s spot was sacrificed. San Francasico snapped him up, where he saw spot duty in two teams. He’d get spot duty in two more games the next season with the Bears, and then a roster spot sans the spot duty with the Titans. Gibson was out of football after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2011 Fourth Round Pick — Cortez Allen

Kevin Colbert certainly has had bigger 4th round disappointments than Cortez Allen (see 2012’s) and the same can be said for Art Rooney, Dick Haley and Tom Donahoe before him. But none have had a stranger trip than Cortez Allen.

The Steelers took Allen in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft and as a rookie, Allen played a role in shutting down (or at least containing) the Patriots Rob Gronkowski in the 2011 Steelers upset of the Patriots. Word was that in 2012, Allen pushed Keenan Lewis hard for the starting slot. Lewis won, but when injures opened the door for Allen to start late in 2012, Allen responded with two interceptions and one forced fumble vs. the Bengals and then two forced fumbles in the season finale vs. the Browns.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers, it appeared, had found their cornerback.

Allen got injured in the Steelers season 2013 opener vs. the Titans (who didn’t get injured that day), and struggled when he returned to health. However, his pick six in the snow at Lambeau sealed the Steelers win over Green Bay.

  • That was the Cortez Allen the Steelers had been waiting for.

The Steelers went out on a limb, and resigned Cortez Allen to a 25 million dollar contract before the 2014 season. IT was a good deal for Allen. He pocketed just under 6.3 million for just 12 games. The Steelers of course have cut Allen and moved on. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2012 4th round pick – Alameda Ta’amu

By 2012 Casey Hampton was on his last legs and, while Steve McLendon was looking good, the Steelers still were not ready to anoit him as Hampton’s successor. So Kevin Colbert traded up to get the last pure nose tackle in the draft Alameda Ta’amu.

  • One of the ironies about the pick, was that David DeCastro’s highlight reel showed him manhandling Ta’amu earlier in the year.

That was worrisome, but not nearly as worrisome as Ta’Amu’s drunken rampage through the South Side that could have easily killed someone. To the chagrin of many, the Steelers kept him around, but eventually let him go. Ta’Amu landed in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals, where he played in 21 games. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2013 4th round picks – Shamarko Thomas and Landry Jones

The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t trade future draft picks. It simply runs against the franchise’s philosophy. In 2013 the made an exception, however, and traded up to grab Shamarko Thomas, a safety out of Syracuse.

  • The word was that Shamarko would have gone 1st had he been 2 inches taller.

The Steelers put their money where their mouth was by working Shamarko into the slot early in the season. Shamarko got hurt, Will Allen returned, and after the Steelers 2013 debacle vs. New England, Shamarko’s snaps with the secondary can be counted in single digits (or almost.)

The Steelers haven’t give up on Shamarko yet, but at this point he’s doesn’t look to get off of special teams outside of an emergency. Grade: Bust

The Steelers surprised many when they drafted Landry Jones in the 4th round of 2014. Many speculated he was arriving as Ben Rothlisberger’s replacement. Instead, he replaced Charlie Batch. Landry Jones struggled in both the 2013 and 2014 preseasons, making fans long for the days when Brian St. Pierre held the clipboard.

  • The Steelers challenged Jones in 2015 at St. Vincent’s and Jones responded.

Landry Jones quite frankly still must prove he’s a competent number 2 NFL quarterback, but his off the bench performances vs. the Cardinals and the Raiders prove he’s a competent number 3 NFL quarterback. Grade: Serviceable Pick Up

Steelers 2014 4th Round Draft Pick – Martavis Bryant

When the Steelers turn comes to pick in the fourth round, it would be wise for Dan Rooney to veto any decision to pick a wide receiver…. As he did in 2000 and 2005, Kevin Colbert looked to build wide receiver depth in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Unlike Danny Farmer and Fred Gibson, his pick, Martavis Bryant, has played in the NFL.

  • And unlike Farmer and Gibson, Bryant has shown he has transformational talent.

But Bryant is of course dogged by off the field substance abuse issues, and will miss his third season due to a suspension.

Please Mr. Colbert, do not draft any more wide receivers in the 4th round. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2015 4th Round Draft Pick – Doran Grant

When the Steelers cut Doran Grant to make room for some waiver wire pickups, Steelers Nation reacted as if Mel Taylor Woodson had been sent packing. The reaction was exaggerated as the Steelers resigned Grant to the practice squad, and then the active roster.

  • But Grant only had one snap in 3 games.

Normally one would caution that it is far, far too early to come to any conclusion on a 4th round pick after a rookie year, and it IS too early to give up on Doran Grant. But given Kevin Colbert’s track record here, one would like to see more encouraging results. Grade:  Farm Team

Kevin Colbert’s Record in the 4th Round

In his seven drafts with Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert had some bad misses with his fourth round picks, but he also found Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, and Willie Colon in the fourth round, and those men have 5 Super Bowl rings between them for games in which they started.

  • Unfortunately, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have been a disaster in the 4th round.

They’ve traded up three times and only have an oft-injured average punter, a nose tackle most famous for an off the field incident, and safety who was supposed to replace Troy Polamalu but can only seem to play on special teams. Cotez Allen flashed ability, but faded even more quickly. Martavis Bryant tantalizes, but his toking might cost him an NFL career.

Landry Jones has grown into a respectable player, but his late development in 2015 isn’t enough to compensate for all the other outright busts. Grade: D

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Hello Harris, Bye Bye Beachum – Steelers Sign Ryan Harris, Lose Kelvin Beachum to Jaguars

How does the song go, “I don’t know why you’re saying goodbye I’m saying hello?” One can imagine bars of that classic Lennon and McCartney ditty are being hummed by Mike Munchak and Todd Haley on the South Side on an active day in free agency that saw the Steelers sign Ryan Harris while losing Kelvin Beachum to the Jaguars.

As a rookie, Harris appeared in 11 games for the Broncos, but never started. That changed in his second year, where he started 16 games in 2008 and 8 games in 2009 before getting injured. From there Harris started 10 of 11 games in 2010, but he left as a free agent for the Houston Texans.

Ryan Harris played in 32 games over two years for the Texans, but only made five starts in Houston, but Andy Reid made him a starter for a year in 2014 with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2015 Harris returned to the Mile High City, where he would split his time between left and right tackle, starting in 15 of 16 games.

Ryan Harris will be 31 this year and the Steelers reportedly signed the offensive tackle to a two year 3.9 million dollar contract.

Bye, Bye Beachum

One of the bigger questions the Steelers faced heading into free agency was the fate of free agent offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum. The Steelers liked Beachum and wanted to resign him last summer, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement. Initally, it looked like Beachum’s decision not to test the market might cost him, as he tore his ACL at mid season.

  • However, the Jacksonville Jaguars literally have salary cap space to burn, and clearly were ready to offer more than Pittsburgh.

The Steelers did want Beachum back, but they did not want to pay him premium left tackle starter money to Beachum, instead hoping to sign him to a one year deal. That didn’t happen which reveals something important about how the Steelers see their offensive line.

Starting Left Tackle is Villanueva’s Job to Loose

The Steelers telegraphed their hand early in free agency when they opted to prioritize resigning  as opposed to offering a competitive deal to Beachum. Guards make less than tackles, and Ramon Foster is healthy so there was no surprise there, but until it happened there was a chance it would not.

Word leaked that the Steelers wanted to bring Beachum back on a “Prove it” deal, but at the same time the Steelers worked out Seattle’s Russell Okung and San Diego’s Chris Hairston. Okung was wowed by the Steelers Lombardi collection and the Steelers made him an offer, but it was not strong enough for him to accept it. What to make of this?

Villanueva took over the role in mid-2015 when Bechum got hurt, and while his game had flaws, he played well. The Steelers interest in bringing Beachum back fueled speculation that Mike Tomlin and/or Mike Munchak didn’t think that Villuenva was ready to become the full time starter.

Ryan Harris’ contract averages at just below 2 million per year, which puts him on the fringe of starting left tackle money, indicating that the Steelers see Harris as an insurance policy, not as a starter.

The Steelers are comfortable going into 2016 with Alejandro Villanueva as their starter. Mike Adams will also return to provide depth at offensive tackle.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!