The Pro’s & Con’s of Steelers Original Round Tender to Restricted Free Agent Ross Cockrell

Cornerback has been a liability for the Pittsburgh Steelers since at least 2013 and perhaps longer. While some of the criticism of Kevin Colbert’s attempt to address cornerback on the cheap (think Antwon Blake & DeMarcus Van Dyke) is legitimate, let’s also remember that the Steelers won Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII by starting two corners drafted in 4th round (Ike Taylor & Deshea Townsend).

But all of Kevin Colbert’s cornerback bargain hunting exhibitions have come up empty, and Steelers restricted free agent cornerback Ross Cockrell provides the perfect example.

The Steelers have already made an original round restricted free agent tender to Ross Cockrell, and here we review the merits of their decision.

Ross Cockrell, Steelers vs Raiders, Ross Cockrell interception, Mike Mitchell, William Gay

Ross Cockrell’s Red Zone interception against the Raiders in 2015. Photo Credit: USA Today’s SteelersWire

Capsule Profile of Ross Cockrell’s Steelers Career

After the 2015 pre-season’s first cut down day, the Steelers made a curious move – they claimed cornerback Ross Cockrell off of waivers from the Buffalo Bills. The Steelers had already traded for Brandon Boykin and, at least publicly, were still committed to Cortez Allen.

In week four when Ross Cockrell picked off a Joe Flacco pass in the Steelers Monday Night loss to the Ravens the move made more sense. At mid season, when he made a touchdown saving interception in the end zone against the Raiders, it make even more sense. Cockrell appeared in 15 games for the Steelers and started in 7 games by the Steelers count.

Perhap’s Cockrell’s biggest moment for the Steelers came in the playoff win over the Bengals, as Cockrell recovered Jeremy Hill’s fumble that Ryan Shazier had forced, opening the door to the Steelers come from behind win.

  • The Steelers saw enough of Ross Cockrell in 2015 to pencil him in as their 2016 starter.

Ross Cockrell started all sixteen games for the Steelers in 2016, and while he didn’t record any interceptions, he had 14 defensed passes. Fans didn’t hear Ross Cockrell’s name a lot during 2016, and for a cornerback that is often a good sign.

The Case for the Steelers Tendering Ross Cockrell

In 31 regular season games and 5 playoff games Ross Cockrell has proven himself to be a quality NFL cornerback. Moreover, he’s grown from someone the Steelers picked up off of the wavier wire into a starter on a defense that went all the way to the AFC Championship (although they did struggle there – so did the offense.)

When addressing the Steelers needs at cornerback heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell offered this:

Here’s another thing: Ross Cockrell is a treasure. He works so hard that no one will dismiss his chances. Therefore, no ones [sic] going to leak that they’re dissatisfied with their outside guys. And really, with how hard Cockrell works and how smart he is, there’s no certainty a high draft pick will beat him out. But I believe that with such a deep crop the value will be too good to pass up.

That sounds like Ross Cockrell has a lot of “upside.” Viewed from that perspective, one can only wonder if the Steelers original round tender, which would bring Pittsburgh a 4th round pick should another team sign Cockrell, is too low.

The Case Against the Steelers Tendering Ross Cockrell

The Pittsburgh Steelers need quality cornerbacks. Rookie Artie Burns, whom the Steelers took in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, showed a lot of promise in his first year. But William Gay showed signs he might be losing a step.

While Ross Cockrell was an improvement over Antwon Blake, that’s kind of like saying the Steelers improved at quarterback in 1988 after trading Mark Malone and starting Bubby Brister. The restricted free agent tender the Steelers offered Ross Cockrell is just under 2 million dollars per year.

  • Is Ross Cockrell really worth that much money?

Ben Roethlisberger’s Super Bowl window is shrinking, perhaps faster than thought even a year ago. The Steelers need proven production out of their cornerback position, not uncertain potential. Offering Ross Cockrell a restricted free agent tender is tantamount to trying to apply a BandAid to a wound that needs stitches.

Curtain’s Call on Ross Cockrell and the Steelers

Deciding on whether to tender or not to tender a restricted free agent can be tricky business for a team. While a tender does allow a team to hedge its bets, it also commits them to a certain dollar value (although RFA tenders are not guaranteed).

  • Ross Cockrell has shown enough in during his time in Pittsburgh that the rest of the NFL knows he can play cornerback.

He’s not a player like Stevenson Sylvester, whom the Steelers can opt not to tender and expect to get back in August or September should they decide they need him after all. Offering a right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard probably wouldn’t deter another team from making an offer to Ross Cockrell.

By giving Ross Cockrell an original round tender, the Steelers will force any team to sacrifice a 4th round draft pick to take him away, and Pittsburgh retains the right to match the offer. The Steelers have had teams make runs at their restricted free agents before, once with Jerrol Williams in 1993 and again in 2013 with Emmanuel Sanders.

The key to both situations is in both situations, the Steelers refused to panic. Given how great of a commodity cornerbacks are and how thin the Steelers are at the position, it’s possible that an original round tender for Ross Cockrell doesn’t carry a high enough cost to deter opposing General Managers.

But the Steelers conserve their options and will ultimately control what happens. That’s the right move. Ross Cockrell is the type of player who can help you win a Super Bowl, and the Steelers have ensured that they’ll be able to keep in in Pittsburgh.

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.

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Ryan Harris Retires, Steelers Depth at Offensive Tackle Just Became a Higher Priority

In a move that counts as disappointing, if not terribly surprising, Pittsburgh Steelers reserve offensive tackle Ryan Harris has announced his retirement.

https://twitter.com/salaams_from_68/status/837819366309769217

Ryan Harris’ ride with the Steelers was, in a word, short.

The Steelers signed Ryan Harris last year in free agency after losing Kelvin Beachum to the Jacksonville Jaguars to provide depth and/or competition to Alejandro Villanueva for the left tackle spot. Harris had been drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2007, played there for four years, spent 2 in Houston, one in Kansas City only to return to Denver in time for their Super Bowl run.

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Ryan Harris pressed into duty at right tackle in the 2016 Steelers loss to the Eagles. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

Fortunately, the Steelers never got a chance to see how good of a job Ryan Harris could do protecting Ben Roethlisberger‘s blindside as Alejandro Villanueva won the starting job in training camp.

Ryan Harris did see duty in all four of the Steelers first four games in 2016, and got pressed into starting service with Marcus Gilbert got injured during the Kansas City Chiefs game.

That stint as the Steelers starting right tackle didn’t last long, however, as Ryan Harris would suffer a leg hematoma and was done for the year.

Impact of Ryan Harris’ Retirement on Steelers Free Agency & Draft Plans

Given the serious nature of Ryan Harris leg injury, the Steelers certainly knew Ryan Harris’ retirement was a possibility, if not a probability and the move explains the Steelers decision to offer a 1.85 million dollar right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard.

  • Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva are set as the Steelers starting tackles, with Chris Hubbard as their the swing tackle backup.

This would have likely been the case regardless of Ryan Harris’ decision to retire. The Steelers are also counting on Jerald Hawkins, their 4th round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft, to return and compete for a roster spot. It is unlikely the Steelers would invest salary cap dollars into a backup offensive tackle via the free agent market, but the absence of Ryan Harris could boost the need or desire to draft an offensive tackle in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Ryan Harris Steelers Experience Had Quality, if it Lacked Quantity

While he only suited up for four games with the Steelers, that was long enough for Harris become emersed in “the Steelers way.” As Ryan Harris told Steelers Digest’s Teresa Varley:

It’s amazing to see the Rooney family multiple times a day or a week. The fact that Mr. (Dan) Rooney knows my name is incredible, especially being a fan of the game for so long. Just everything, from the medical staff, to the coaches, to everyone involved, this is a championship organization and you feel it immediately when you get here.

The culture of the Steelers and the type of character we have here makes it fuller.

That’s an incredible statement, given that Ryan Harris played in the NFL for four teams over 9 years, and his time in Pittsburgh counts for just over 3% of the games he played.

Steelers Nation thanks Ryan Harris, and wishes his well in his retirement.

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.

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16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 Season

Just stop and think for one moment of everyone and everything that comprises the product of an team’s NFL season? It’s a process the delivers the collective sum total of the actions taken by hundreds of players, dozens of scouts and coaches and scores of front office personnel .

  • Trying to quantify that endeavor is as daunting as it is foolish.

While we’re not quite so ambitious here at Steel Curtain Rising, we have tried to single out the 16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 Season.

Antonio Brown, Zach Orr, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers 2016 season defining moments, antonio brown christmas touchdown ravens

Antonio Brown’s last second touchdown vs the Ravens on Christmas was a defining moment for the 2016 Steelers. Photo Credit: Fred Vuich, AP.

1. Steelers Sign Alejandro Villanaueva

This moment of course came 2 years before the 2016 season even started and, in the predigital age, only would have warranted an inch or two of column space, if even that had it not been for Alejandro Villanueva’s Army background and service in Afghanistan.

  • But Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Mike Munchak saw something they linked in the young man, decided to give him a shot at a new position.

Two years later that move paid dividends as Kelvin Beachum left, while Ryan Harris and Jerald Hawkins got hurt – yet thanks to Villanueva’s development, the Steelers offensive line played perhaps its best football of the Tomlin era.

2. Heath Miller Retires

After a highly depleted 2015 Steelers roster came SO close to upsetting the Denver Broncos at Mile High in the AFC Divisional playoff game, it was tempting to look to 2016 and imagine the team picking up just where it left off.

However, as Mike Tomlin reminds the media and his team at the end of every season, each year brings a new start and there is no carry over.

And Heath Miller’s retirement was the first example of this. The move, while not surprising, wasn’t anticipated and, if Heath Miller was no longer a threat to stretch the field, Heath Miller gave Ben Roethlisberger about as dependable target as a quarterback can get.

3. Martavis Bryant Suspended

If Heath Miller’s retirement was a subtle but sobering reminder that the Steelers won’t field the same team in 2016 that they finished with in 2015, Martavis Bryant’s latest suspension of substance abuse made the point with shocking clarity.

While consistency eluded Martavis Bryant during the 2015 regular season, during the 2015 playoffs Bryant showed that he had Jerry Rice-like transformation talent.

His suspension showed that he also had Randy Moss off the field discipline issues that could prevent him from realizing his full potential.

4. Steelers Release Cortez Allen

The Steelers decision to release Cortez Allen 2 weeks before the 2016 NFL Draft hardly ranks as a surprise, given Mike Tomlin’s comments on Allen at the 2015 season’s end. But cutting Cortez Allen, along with the decisions to let Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin depart as free agents, and not bring back safety Will Allen for yet another year, showed that Tomlin, Colbert, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake were going all in on renewing the Steelers secondary.

Artie Burns, Sean Davis, defining moments steelers 2016, steelers secondary 2016

Sean Davis and Artie Burns at Steelers rookie mini-camp. Photo Credit: Tribune-Review

5. Steelers Draft Burns, Davis and Hargrave

The Steelers need to rebuild on defense has been well documented, particularly their failure at rejuvenating the secondary.

The Steelers went into the 2016 NFL Draft with a plan to boost the defense, and Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin never flinched drafting Artie Burns in the first round, Sean Davis in the second round and Javon Hargrave in the second round.

The move paid handsome dividends as each player stepped up to make important contributions to the Steelers 9 game winning streak that closed the season.

6. David Johnson Returns

In June the Steelers surprised everyone by signing David Johnson, the final pick from the 2009 Draft Class who’d spent 2014 and 2015 with the San Diego Chargers. The move telegraphed Matt Spaeth’s release, further reinforcing the turnover theme.

However, as training camp dragged on, and Ladarius Green came no closer to practicing, it was clear that David Johnson would give the Steelers a veteran presence and solid blocking ability to a very green crops of tight ends.

7. Senquez Golson injures Lisfranc

During the off season, Mike Tomlin spoke glowingly about Senquez Golson, the cornerback the Steelers took in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft who lost his rookie season to shoulder surgery.

  • The Steelers were counting on Golson to do big things in 2016.

Unfortunately, Senquez Golson’s 2016 season amounted to two padded practices in change as he injured his Lisfranc. The Steelers kept Golson on the active roster, but ultimately had to put him on injured reserve, further highlighting the magnitude of the risk the Steelers were taking with their secondary.

8. Steelers Sign Cobi Hamilton

When the Steelers signed Cobi Hamilton on August 5th they were picking up a guy who’d bounced around to several practices squads over the last three years. By the look of it, they were doing little more than picking up another body to help them get through training camp drills.

  • But Hamilton did well enough to make the final roster.

And if Hamilton did struggle during the Steelers AFC Championship loss to the Patriots, the rookie effectively functioned as the Steelers 3rd wide receiver during their 9 game winning streak.

Cobi Hamiltion, defining moments steelers 2016, steelers vs browns, steelers new years overtime win browns

Cobi Hamilton catches game winner in overtime over Browns in Steelers New Years Day win. Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, AP via Herald Star

9. Markus Wheaton Gets Hurt in Steelers Preseason win over Saints

The Steelers preseason win over the New Orleans Saints served as their dress rehearsal for the season, and by all accounts the Pittsburgh passed with flying colors.

Steel Curtain Rising admits to being somewhat of a homer for Markus Wheaton, but Wheaton played very well down the stretch in 2015 and the Steelers sure could have used him during the second half of 2016. Alas, Wheaton did return for a 3 game stretch in early part of the season, but was lost for good in week 11.

10. Le’Veon Bell Returns

Le’Veon Bell started 2013 injured, finished 2014 injured, began 2015 on suspension and finished the year on IR. Again, he began 2016 serving a suspension. So let’s remember that there WERE legitimate question as to whether this young back could deliver on the field when the Steelers hosted the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.

  • Le’Veon Bell steamrolled the Chiefs for 178 all-purpose yards.

In doing so, the young running back put the NFL on notice that stopping the Steelers would mean stopping him.

11. Big Ben Gets Injured in Miami

Its no secret that Ben Roethlisberger remains the one, indispensable player on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. His injury, in addition to the coach’s decision to abandon the run early, cost the Steelers the game in Miami, and arguably cost the Steelers on the road to the Ravens. Those losses prevented the Steelers from securing a first round bye, which proved costly.

12. Ryan Shazier Returns to Full Health

The naysayers in Steelers Nation have long been down on Ryan Shazier for being injury prone. The fact is that, with on disrespect to Vince Williams, the Steelers missed his athleticism during the middle portion of the season.

  • Shazier returned to his status as a full time starter against the Ravens.

And while the Steelers defense didn’t pick up its performance immediately, within two weeks Ryan Shazier was back to making splash plays all over the field, and by the season’s end, he was easily the Steelers best defender.

James Harrison, James Harrison color rush, defining moments steelers 2016

James Harrison’s return to full time starter helped fuel the 2016 Steelers nine game winning streak. Photo Credit: USA Today sports via 247 Sports

13. James Harrison Returns to Full Time Stater

Since James Harrison returned from retirement in 2014 the Steelers have rotated him in some form or fashion, attempting to groom Jarvis Jones to take over the role full time. But Jones flinched on the critical play of the Steelers loss to the Cowboys, and Mike Tomlin wasted little time in promoting James Harrison to a full time starter.

  • All Harrison did was lead the team in sacks in his 7 starts.

More important, James Harrison held transform the Steelers rush defense from a liability into an asset. As Mike Tomlin rhetorically questioned when he announced the move, “What are we saving James Harrison for?” A playoff run, which is what the Steelers got.

14. Steelers Christmas Comeback over the Ravens

Yes, the Steelers needed this one to clinch the AFC North division in an all or nothing shot. Yes, this epic Christmas game was worth of narration by NFL Films legend John Facenda, yes Antonio Brown last minute stretch was an act that revealed his sheer greatness.

  • But there’s something more important that happened on Christmas 2016 for the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers snapped a 5 game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens with this win. And while that hardly reestablishes the Steelers as the alpha male of the division, a six straight loss would have conferred that status to the Ravens.

Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Dolphins, Le'Veon bell breaks playoff rushing record, le'veon bell dolphins

Le’Veon Bell breaks the Steelers playoff rushing record vs. the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via CBS Pittsburgh Local

15. Le’Veon Bell Breaks Steelers Playoff Rushing Record. Twice

When Le’Veon Bell broke the Steelers single game playoff rushing record the first time this, we stopped and reflected on what it meant. Then Bell went out and did it again in the following week.

On an individual level, this feat highlights just how special of talent Le’Veon Bell has. However, on a team level this also seemed to underscore that the Steelers were going to go as far as Le’Veon Bell would take them….

16. Steelers get Thumped by Patriots in AFC Championship (Again.)

…And Le’Veon Bell’s ride would end early in the first quarter against the New England Patriots, where the Steelers would fall 36-17 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates.

For all of the growth they made and for all of the adversity they overcame, the 2016 Steelers simply weren’t Super Bowl worthy, as their latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots revealed.
We’re wrapping up coverage of the Steelers 2016 season this week. Check back for their regular season report card and season summary.

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Sean Davis Wins Joe Greene Great Performance Award, Follows in Polamalu, Lake & Perry’s Footsteps

As expected, Sean Davis won the Steelers Joe Greene Great Performance award for 2016, an honor bestowed on the Steelers top rookie via vote of the media. While Sean Davis was the obvious candidate, he doubtlessly had competition from both Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave, which is a good sign.

Sean Davis, Sean Davis 1st interception, Sean Davis Joe Greene Great Performance Award

Sean Davis returning his 1st NFL  interception in the Steelers win over the Giants. Photo Credit: 247sports.com

Nice When a Steelers Draft Pick Lives up to Hype

It is really nice when a Steelers draft pick lives up to all of the advanced billing as a rookie. When the Steelers drafted Sean Davis in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, pundits both inside and outside Steelers Nation praised the move.

A good friend and regular reader of this site who is a huge Maryland Terrapins fan, emailed me to sign Sean Davis’ praises. And then there was the picture:

Sean Davis, Devin Smith, sean davis joe greene great performance award

Sean Davis attempts in vain to defend a pass to Devin Smith. Photo Credit: Jonathan Ernst, Getty Images via thecomeback.com

Honestly, when I first saw this photo, I had Devin Smith caught the ball or not and if it was a play of consequence. As it turns out, it was. Smith caught the ball and scored a touchdown. Nonetheless, the photo clearly shows Sean Davis’ superior athletic skills, and I took that as a good sign for the Steelers.

  • Since then, all arrows on Sean Davis have been pointing up.

On opening day, Sean Davis became the first rookie Steelers defensive back to start since Chad Scott, another Maryland Terrapin, in 1997. Sean Davis has appeared in all 15 of the Steelers games, and supplanted Robert Golden as the Steelers full time starter at strong safety during the middle of the season.

  • Per the Steelers count, Sean Davis has 5 defensed passes, 1 interception, half a sack and 61 tackles.

While those numbers are nice, they don’t do justice to how well Davis has played during the second half of the season. The sight of Sean Davis stepping up at stopping a ball carrier behind or at the line of scrimmage has become more common as the Steelers 2016 season has progressed.

  • The Steelers Red Zone defense has been stout, and Sean Davis has played a big role in keeping opposing teams from scoring touchdowns.

He’s been doing it all season and, just this past weekend after Ben Roethlisberger’s second interception, he stepped up big time to prevent a catch in the end zone during prevent a touchdown on third down, forcing a Baltimore field goal.

That folks, is what you call a difference maker.

Stability at Safety for the Steelers?

This award comes to Sean Davis with just perhaps a touch of irony. Less than a week ago, Shamarko Thomas’ season, and perhaps his career in Pittsburgh, ended when the Steelers put the concussed safety on injured reserve.

The Steelers gave Thomas his chances, but their decision to start Jordan Dangerfield over him earlier in the season signaled that the Shamarko Thomas experiment had ended.

Recognition as the Joe Greene Great Performance award recipient seems to signal Sean Davis seems to be filling the role of Polamalu’s replacement. OK, maybe “replacing Troy Polamalu” is a little too much to put on Sean Davis shoulders.

But at the very least, the award is a good sign. 3 other Steelers safeties have won the Joe Greene rookie award – Polamalu won it in 2003, Darren Perry won it in 1992, and Carnell Lake won it in 1989. All of them went on to be long-term staples of the Steelers secondary.

Moats Wins “Chief Award” Bell Voted Steelers MVP

Sean Davis’ rookie of the year award wasn’t the only honor bestowed on the South Side this year. The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association honored Arthur Moats with the “Chief Award,” an accolade  given to the member of the Steelers who has been the most cooperative with the press.

  • Le’Veon Bell was also voted as the Steelers 2016 Most Valuable Player by his teammates.

Given Brown’s tremedous success this season, routinely running for over 100 yards from scrimmage and taking over a couple of three games, the award was hardly a surprise. (Nonetheless, no one could have argued had the honor fallen to Ben Roethlisberger or Antonio Brown.)

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Steelers Cut Doran Grant, Steven Johnson, Travis Freeney and DeMarcus Ayers to Reach 53 Man Limit

The Pittsburgh Steelers waived 22 players to reach the NFL mandated limit of 53. Most significantly, the Steelers cut Doran Grant, former free agent Steven Johnson and their Travis Freeney and DeMarcus Ayers, their 6th and 7th picks from the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • The Steelers also traded for Cleveland Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert.
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Steelers cut Doran Grant and 21 others to reach NFL’s 53 man roster limit. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, USA TODAY Sports used on BTSC

The Steelers Justin Gilbert trade could explain the Steelers decision to cut Doran Grant, who’d gotten extensive work with the Steelers first team defense. Assuming Doran Grant clears waivers however, the Steelers could resign him, assuming the Steelers place Senquez Golson on injured reserve.

However, Golson has vowed to return in 2016, and by putting Golson on their initial 53 man roster, Golson will be eligible to return after the 8th week of the season. Steelers decision to waive Doran Grant last season caused a major firestorm in Steelers Nation, although Grant made it back via the practice squad, and then the active roster.

  • Given Grant’s higher profile role in the Steelers preseason defense, there’s no assurance that he will go unclaimed.

So the Steelers cut Doran Grant, but take a measured risk in doing so.

Steven Johnson Caught in a Numbers Game @ Inside Linebacker

Johnson’s departure amounts to a minor surprise, as the Steelers rarely cut unrestricted free agents whom they’ve signed. The Steleers signed Steven Johnson to provide depth at inside linebacker following the free agent departures of Sean Spence and Terence Garvin.

However, with Vince Williams locked in for another 3 years, and with the emergence of rookie Tyler Matakevich aka “Dirty Red” and L.J. Fort the Steelers depth chart at inside linebacker is set.

Complete List of Steelers 2016 Cuts

The complete list of Steelers roster cuts is as follows:

Wide Receivers
Demarcus Ayers, Cobi Hamilton, and Marcus Tucker

Running Backs
Brandon Brown-Dukes and Cameron Stingily

Offensive Linemen
Shahbaz Ahmed, Antoine Everett, Matt Feiler, and Wade Hansen

Cornerbacks Montell Garner, Doran Grant, Al-Hajj Shabazz, and Donald Washington

Defensive Linemen
Lavon Hooks, Caushaud Lyons, and Johnny Maxey

Linebackers
Travis Feeney, Steven Johnson, and Jermauria Rasco

Quarterback
Bryn Renner

Safety
Ray Vinopal

The Steelers also designated tight end Paul Long as waived/injured.

Steelers 2016 Practice Squad Candidates

Travis Freeney and Demarcus Ayers could return to the Steelers via the practice squad, and so too could quarterback Bryn Renner, although the Steelers normally do not use practice squad slots on quarterbacks. Wide receiver Cobi Hamilton cornerback Al-Hajj Shabazz also had strong preseasons, and remain viable practice squad candidates.

  • However, cut down day 2016 likely spells the end of the pro football dreams of Donald Washington.

The Steelers gave Donald Washington’s NFL hopes a last summer of life this spring after he impressed sufficiently at rookie mini-camp. Washington, however was no rookie, having played safety for Todd Haley’s Kansas City Chiefs from 2009 to 2011. Washington therefore has no practice squad eligibility and the Steelers decision to waive him likely ends his last chance at NFL glory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there was this analysis by Mark Dulgerian:

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

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

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

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

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

Not yet.

Rocky Training Camp for Travis Feeney Thus Far….

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Presason Games Might Define Travis Feeney’s Steelers

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

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

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

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

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2 Reasons to Get Excited about Steelers Preseason: Artie Burns and Sean Davis

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 preseason schedule starts  Friday night with a game against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field.

  • “What to watch for in the game” will be a headline in many newspapers and online publications.

But you know how a Steelers preseason game usually unfolds; stars like Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will quickly get their work in and will be on the sidelines with towels around their necks long before most of the fans have gotten comfortable in their yellow seats. (Roethlisberger and Brown could probably take the entire month of August off and still be effective in Week 1).

What I’m anticipating perhaps more than I have since No. 7’s first season, is the debut of two Steelers rookies, namely first round pick Artie Burns and second round pick Sean Davis.

artie burns, sean davis, steelers 2016 draft class, steelers 2016 preseason, steelers 2016 secondary

Steelers 2016 1st and 2nd round picks Artie Burns and Sean Davis; Photo credit: Keith Srakocic, associated press

Let’s face it, no matter how you may have sliced it leading up to  2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers needed to address their secondary. The fact that they did so in the first two rounds lends more credence  to that sentiment.

Adding two young defensive backs to a secondary that was supposed to include another one in 2015 second round pick Senquez Golson was downright exciting as training camp approached. Sadly, Golson, a corner out of Ole Miss, suffered a Lisfranc sprain during a practice at Steelers training camp on August 1. A week later, it was reported that Golson had surgery on that injury and is expected to miss up to four months of action.

  • For a second-year player who missed his entire rookie season after undergoing shoulder surgery, that’s rather discouraging news.

But as Meatloaf once said, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

The Steelers will still unveil two shiny new toys this Friday night.

Word has that the first-rounder Artie Burns, a corner out of Miami, has struggled a bit so far at training camp while attempting to cover the likes of Antonio Brown. Meanwhile, Davis, who was slated to play safety at the pro-level after playing both safety and corner at Maryland, is said to be having a very good camp.

  • Senquez Golson was being counted on to play the slot this year, and with him out of action, Davis has benefited with a ton of reps at the position.

No matter how you evaluate each player’s performance in camp, there’s no question both are vital to the future success of the Steelers secondary.

The defense finished 27th and then 30th against the pass over the past two seasons, and an infusion of young talent on the back-end of the defense was clearly a priority.

Will Steelers Offseason Efforts to Beef Up the Secondary Work…?

Going back in time, the 49ers finished 27th against the pass in 1980 after finishing 24th the year before that. How did Bill Walsh, the team’s innovative head coach, respond to this clear problem?

By using four of his first five picks to select defensive backs in the 1981 NFL Draft. In doing so, the 49ers struck gold with two gems in cornerback Eric Wright and safety Carlton Williamson in rounds three and four, respectively. In Round 1, Walsh unearthed a future Hall of Famer when he had the good sense to select safety Ronnie Lott.

Lott, Williamson and Wright immediately became starters and combined for nine interceptions, as San Francisco improved to third against the pass in ’81. Furthermore, the 49ers, who finished 6-10 the season before, won 13 regular season games on the way to capturing Super Bowl XVI.

The good news for the 2016 Steelers is, unlike that San Francisco team from 35 years ago, they’re already considered Super Bowl contenders, and wouldn’t shock the world by capturing a seventh Lombardi next February.

  • So what am I trying to prove by citing a Ronald Reagan era 49ers team in this piece?

Only that, if you have a problem area on your football team, it’s perfecting fine to aggressively address it in the draft.

Were Lott, Wright and Williamson considered “great draft value” based on where the 49ers picked them? Who knows, but the team addressed a major area of need, and, perhaps more importantly, three young players were thrown into the mix right away and excelled.

This isn’t to say Artie Burns and Sean Davis should step in right away and start from Day 1–although, if that were the case, that might not be the worst thing in the world.

Personally, I don’t care if Pittsburgh loses 30-0 this Friday. If Burns and Davis stand out in some way, it could be a very important first step for the Steelers’ much-maligned secondary.

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Senquez Golson’s Lisfranc Injury = 1 Moment a Blogger Begs to Be Wrong

There are times when bloggers want to blast to the world: “I was right.” Then there are times when bloggers beg to have been wrong. Senquez Golson’s Lisfranc injury falls into the latter category.

senquez golson's lisfranc injury, senquez golson, lisfranc injury, steelers training camp, secondary, cornerback

Senquez Golson throws his helmet in frustration after his Lisfranc injury; Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers set a daunting challenge for themselves during 2016 training camp: Rebuild the secondary on the backs of 4 young and untested in the form of first round pick Artie Burns, second round pick Sean Davis, 2015’s 4th round pick Doran Grant, and 2015’s 2nd round pick Senquez Golson.

As noted when the Steelers signed Artie Burns, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake have gone all in on the youth movement at secondary, trading Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin and Cortez Allen’s cumulative 82 game appearances, 42 starting performances and 17 interceptions for a grand total of 1 snap of NFL experience.

  • Colbert and Tomlin gambled boldly, but the duo rarely makes personnel decisions based in fear

Fair enough, but four days into training camp Senquez Golson’s Lisfrac injury shows just how thin the Steelers margin of error is. With William Gay and Ross Cockrell, the Steelers should be set at their number 1 and number 2 cornerback positions. The slot remains a mystery. The Steelers had been hoping Golson would emerge as the slot cornerback, which would have given the team greater flexibility manning their Dime defense.

Many outsiders have pegged Davis as the member of the Steelers 2016 draft class most likely to contribute in 2016, giving him an outside chance of unseating incumbent starter Robert Golden. While Davis chances of unseating Golden just took at hit, the probability of him seeing playing time in September just increased exponentially.

Senquez Golson’s Lisfranc Injury Latest Unlucky Twist

The Steelers turned a lot of heads when they picked Golson in the 2nd round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Golson put a lot to like on tape while at Ole Miss, but at his 5’9” frame does not exactly qualify him as a prototypical NFL cornerback.

  • At this point in the young corner’s career, Golson’s same frame suggest fragility.

As Sean Spence showed in 2014, two consecutive injuries hardly spell doom for a promising young player. Spence missed 2012 and then 2013, only to add depth and stability in 2014 and helped author one of the biggest one year-swings in depth chart quality in Steelers history.

Along those lines, a Lisfranc injuries rarely end seasons, as Matt Spaeth and Le’Veon Bell suffered Lisfranc injuries during training camp in 2013 and both returned to post strong season.

  • In other words, fans foaming at the mouth to label Senquez Golson a bust should cool their jets.

Still, a torn rotator cuff ended Senquez Golson’s rookie year, a “mysterious” MRI during Steelers OTA’s, four practices and now a Lisfranc injury will sideline him for at least 12 weeks define Senquez Golson’s NFL resume. Clearly Senquez Golson suffers from an uncanny string of bad luck. And that’s a shame for the Steelers secondary.

Even before his MRI or the the Lisfranc injury, Steel Curtain Rising wondered aloud if Senquez Golson might be this generation’s Kris Farris. Senquez Golson’s lisfranc injury moves that prophecy a notch closer to fulfillment – and Steel Curtain Rising sorely hopes it will move no closer.

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Common Sense Rules Day in Artie Burns Rookie Prediction Poll

Call it a victory for common sense. As is custom here at Steel Curtain Rising, immediately after the 2016 NFL Draft we polled our readers giving them a chance to voice their predictions on how the Steelers 1st round pick Artie Burns career will turn out.

Steelers, Artie Burns, 1st round pick

Steelers 1st round pick Artie Burns @ OTA’s; Photo Credit: ESPN.com

  • Savvier readers are aware, is largely an exercise in satire.

While it understands and respects their entertainment value, this site does not believe in instant draft grades and never treads in those waters. Some of this skepticism is rooted in being dumb enough to voice out loud doubts about the wisdom of picking Ben Roethlisberger arguing Tommy Maddox could get the job done.

  • In the years since then, events have vindicated the lesson.

In 2015, Ike Taylor’s retirement offered an example of just how piss poorly some post draft graders got it wrong on him. This year, the Steelers 2011 draft class provided another picture perfect example of why thorough draft evaluation comes 5 years after the fact.

  • So these polls are posted with a very large dose of tongue and cheek.

artie burns, rookie predictions, steelers, 1st round draft pick, cornerbacYou, my beloved readers, got it lock stock and barrel, as fully 50% of you gave the correct response: ask me in a couple of three years. For the first time in recent memory, this poll drew its share of write ins – thank you to both those supplying the answer and the others who joined in the chorus.

Of those readers who did feel confident enough to make a prediction, fully 9% of them project Artie Burns as the next Ike Taylor. If Burns does turn out to be as good as Taylor, he will have had a good career. Another 7% say he’ll turn out like the Steelers last 1st round pick, Chad Scott. Scott took a lot of heat from the fans, but a Chad Scott caliber cornerback would have represented a major boost at cornerback over all 2015 Steelers cornerbacks not named William Gay.

6% of readers thought that Artie Burns might turn out to be the next Deshea Townsend.  This is interesting, because even Burn’s backers concede he is raw, and the Steelers drafted Townsend in 1998, but Townsend didn’t crack the starting lineup until 2003.

But Deshea Townsend was good enough to start in Super Bowl XL and be a major contributor to victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

3% of our readers thought that Artie Burns would have the potential to be the next Dwayne Woodruff, a proposition I’m sure Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler or Carnell Lake would take. 1% of our readers boldly predicted that Artie Burns would be the next Rod Woodson or Mel Blount. No one was ready to call him the next Willie Williams or the next Delton Hall.

The truth is that one can hope that is not the case. Willie Williams had a good career for a 5th round pick, but probably played his best ball in Seattle. In contrast, Delton Hall out performed Rod Woodson to win the Steelers 1987 rookie of the year award, but  injuries, inconsistency and lack of discipline thereafter marred his career thereafter.

How will Artie Burns career turn out?

Who knows. Like most readers here, I’m taking a wait and see approach as I do with all draft picks. In the meantime, thanks to everyone who took out time to vote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers rookies not named Casey Hampton rarely start for Johnny Mitchell

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

But history has changed since then.

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

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

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

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

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