Steelers 2017 Free Agent Cody Wallace – Does B.J. Finney’s Rise Mean Wallace’s “Life’s Work?” has Arrived?

In the modern, salary-cap era of the NFL, getting a pink slip on cut down day doesn’t necessarily spell doom. Current Steelers Fitzgerald Toussaint, Anthony Chickillo and James Harrison have been cut only to see another NFL Day.

  • But when The Turk came knocking down in Tampa in September 2013, Cody Wallace had to fear The End had arrived.

After all, Cody Wallace had bounced around between the 49ers, Lions, Texans, and Jets rosters and practice squads from 2008 to 2011 and landed a spot duty position with Tampa in 2012. When you’re a 28 year old NFL offensive lineman who has been with 5 teams in 5 years and you get cut, “Life’s Work” is usually comes next.

But even then, Cody Wallace appeared to be an insurance pickup. Maurkice Pouncey was continuing the Steelers tradition of stability at center that runs (almost) unbroken from Ray Mansfield, to Mike Webster, to Dermontti Dawson to Jeff Hartings. Little did they know, the Steelers would need Wallace’s services and need them soon.

That was four years ago and now the Steelers must decide if free agent Cody Walllace’s services are still worth it.

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Cody Wallace starting at center in the Steelers 2013 game against Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch, USA TODAY Sports

Capsule Profile of Cody Wallace’s Steelers Career

When Maurkice Pouncey went down on opening day 2013 against the Titans, Cody Wallace was in street clothes. The Steeler signed Fernando Velasco who started the next 11 games until he too got injured in the Steelers Thanksgiving loss to the Ravens.

It was Cody Wallace’s turn to be the next man up, and Wallace finished that game and started the final four games of the Steelers 2013 season. In 2014 Cody Wallace appeared in 15 games and gave two solid performances starting at guard.

When Maurkice Pouncey went down for the count in 2015, Cody Wallace started all 16 of the Steelers regular season games and both playoff games at center. Going into 2015 the Steelers had a pretty good record when Cody Wallace started, and during 2015 Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed solid protection the entire time, and Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams had solid run blocking.

Cody Wallace only appeared in one game during 2016 and was put on injured reserve just before the Steelers game road game against the Ravens.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Cody Wallace

Cody Wallace gives the Steelers veteran depth at the offensive line and the ability to step in and start at not one but two positions. While the NFL injury gods haven’t tortured the Steelers in recent years the as badly as they did at the beginning of the decade, the Steelers have learned the lesson that you can never have too many good offensive lineman.

Cody Wallace knows Mike Munchak’s system. He’s a quality player who has shown the ability to deliver when called upon time and time again.

The Cast Against the Steelers Signing Cody Wallace

B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard. Both are younger lineman benefited from Wallace’s injury and absence in 2016. While both players offer the rare combination of experience and youth. They’re known commodities.

  • In contrast, Cody Wallace will turn 33 this year and he’s coming off of an injury.

The Steelers also have 2016’s 3rd round pick Jerald Hawkins coming back in 2017. While Hawkins plays tackle he’s another younger lineman that the Steelers will need reserve a roster spot for. Given that, Cody Wallace isn’t worth even a minimal signing bonus. The Steelers can get the same depth with younger, cheaper players.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Cody Wallace

If this were simply and X’s and O’s decision, and if my medical staff assured me Cody Wallace’s injury wasn’t long-term, then this arm-chair general manager would bring him back. It is true that B.J. Finney did an exceptional job as a guard.

On the Steelers first several 3rd downs ended in sacks as, the Browns ran right at Landry Jones and on came Jordan Berry. That was fine for a meaningless game against the Browns, but if you’re Mike Tomlin, do you really want to roll the dice with letting that happen to Ben Roethlisberger?

But of course personnel decisions in today’s NFL don’t simply come down to the X’s and O’s, they’re just as much about the bang for your salary cap dollar.

  • And in that analysis, the argument for letting Cody Wallace walk gets a lot stronger.

And at the end of the day, the Steelers will almost certainly hold off on making any sort of an offer to Cody Wallace, see who they can pick up in the 2017 NFL Draft, and only then seriously consider bringing him back.

In all likelihood, while the door isn’t completely closed, the Steelers look set to move on from Cody Wallace.
Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency?

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Steelers Free Agent 2017 Fan Poll – Who Stays? Who Goes? You Decide Steelers Nation

You’ve got to love technology. The original plan was to include this poll in yesterday’s Steelers 2017 free agent tracker post and begin with our Steelers 2017 free agent profiles today. It worked perfectly, except the short code for the poll wouldn’t embed to the right, making for a LONG post with a lot of scrolling.

Le'Veon Bell, Landry Jones, Steelers 2017 free agents

Landry Jones hands off to Le’Veon Bell. Both Steelers are free agents. (Photo Credit: Shelley Lipton, UPI via UPI top news)

So we go to Plan B and include the poll in a separate post, which you can vote on below:

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 02-06-2017 11:04:27
end_date 04-11-2017 11:30:59
Poll Results:
Which 2017 free agents should the Steelers resign/should have resigned? (Multiple votes allowed)

Please note that we’ve left the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights free agents off of the poll because those guys aren’t going anywhere and it would make the poll too long. Also note that you can vote for as many players as you like.

The Steelers are expected to tender restricted free agents Ross Cockrell and Chris Hubbard with the possibility that they’ll seek a long term deal with Cockrell – here’s your chance to sound off.

Conventional wisdom also indicates that the Steelers biggest three unrestricted free agents are Le’Veon Bell, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons. Management wants all three back, all three men want to stay in Pittsburgh.

  • Perhaps you’re a contrarian and have a different idea, well now is the time to make your voice heard.

Both Landry Jones lovers and haters can express their view of Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. Conventional wisdom has both Jarvis Jones and DeAngelo Williams headed out of Pittsburgh on a fast boat down the Ohio. Maybe you think there’s a way either man still fits in. Excellent, then cast your vote accordingly.

Then there are the guys on the margins, the ones that no one ever talks about, you don’t see articles written about, and depending on when things happen, the newspapers might not write about if they leave Pittsburgh (think Mewelde Moore in 2012 and Doug Legursky in 2013).

This year Cody Wallace, Shamarko Thomas, David Johnson and Ricardo Mathews are four lower profile free agents that no one seems to care about, except for perhaps you. So if you think they belong in Pittsburgh or think its time for them to move on, vote accordingly.

There’s also Markus Wheaton. The Steelers don’t normally give wide receivers not named Antonio Brown or Hines Ward second contracts, but some people think he deserves to be an exception particularly if he’s affordable. Again, your opinion is what counts here.

Finally, we’ve included long snapper Greg Warren and linebacker/special teamer Steven Johnson in our poll. The Steelers have already resigned both men, but you can endorse that wisdom or express your outrage as you see fit.

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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Steelers 2017 Free Agent Tracker

The month of March is here which means that Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 off season is set to spring to life NFL Free Agency begins.  In 2017 the Pittsburgh Steelers have a total of 27 players who will be (or would have been) either Exclusive Rights, Restricted or Unrestricted Free Agents.

Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Steelers 2017 free agency, Steelers 2017 free agents, steelers vs giants

Last season Lawrence Timmons & James Harrison closed in on Eli Manning together. Now they’re both closing in on free agency (Photo Credit: Steelers.com)

Here is our Steelers 2017 Free Agency tracker, which we’ll update as events occur.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Unrestricted Free Agents

Click on a player’s name for a full-length free agent profile of each player, including the pro’s and con’s of resigning the player or letting him walk.

Steelers 2017 Free Agent Resignings

Le’Veon Bell, running back
2/27/17 – Steelers place Exclusive Rights Franchise Player tag on Le’Veon Bell, ensuring his return in 2017
James Harrison, linebacker
3/1/17Steelers resign James Harrison to two year contract
Landry Jones, quarterback
3/9/17 – Steelers resign Landry Jones to two year contract
David Johnson, tight end
3/9/17 – Steelers resign David Johnson to two year contract.
Greg Warren, long snapper
2/2/17 – Steelers resign Greg Warren to 1 year deal
Steven Johnson, linebacker/special teams
2/15/17 – Steelers resign Steven Johnson

Steelers 2017 Free Agent Pickups

Justin Hunter, wide reciever
3/15/17 — Steelers sign Justin Hunter from Miami to 1 year contract
Coty Sensabaugh, cornerback
3/19/17 — Steelers sign Coty Sensabaugh from the New York Giants to two year contract
Knile Davis, kick returner/running back
3/19/17 — Steelers sign Knile Davis from Kansas City to one year contract
Tyson Alualu, defensive lineman
3/20/17 — Steelers Sign Tyson Alualu from Jacksonville to two year contract

Steelers 2017 Free Agent Losses

Markus Wheaton, wide receiver
3/9/17 – Chicago Bears sign Markus Wheaton to a contract
Lawrence Timmons, inside linebacker
3/10/17 – Miami Dolphins sign Lawrence Timmons to 2 year contract
Jarvis Jones, outside linebacker
3/14/17 – Pittsburgh West, aka the Arizona Cardinals sign Jarvis Jones

Steelers 2017 Free Agents Who Remain Unsigned

DeAngelo Williams, running back
Cody Wallace, center/guard
Shamarko Thomas, special teams/safety
Ricardo Mathews, defensive end

Steelers 2017 Restricted Free Agents

Ross Cockrell, cornerback
3/2/17 – Steelers offer original round tender to Ross Cockrell
4/17/17 – Ross Cockrell signs restricted free agent tender
Chris Hubbard, offensive tackle
3/2/17 – Steelers offer right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard

Click on either player’s name for a full-length restricted free agent profile.

By giving extending both Cockrell and Hubbard restricted free agent tenders, the Steelers retain the right to match any offer a team might make them. In addition, the Steelers would get a 4th round pick should they decline to match an offer for Ross Cockrell.

Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Alejandro Villanueva, offensive tackleRoosevelt Nix, fullback
Resigned with Steelers
Cobi Hamilton, wide receiver
Resigned with Steelers
Anthony Chickillo, linebacker
Resigned with Steelers
Chris Boswell, place kicker
Resigned with Steelers
Fitzgerald Toussaint, running back
Resigned with Steelers
Jordan Dangerfield, safety
Resigned with Steelers
Xavier Grimble, tight end
Resigned with Steelers
B.J. Finney, guard/center

Additional Steelers Exclusive Rights Free Agents
Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, guard/center
Cole Manhart, center
Kevin Anderson, linebacker

The Steelers can bring back any Exclusive Rights Free Agent by simply making them a qualified offer. For an in-depth discussion of the Steelers 2017 Exclusive Rights Free Agent class and its larger significance, click here.

Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent focus articles.

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Ryan Shazier Wins Steelers Thanksgiving Honors for 2016 – Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation

Thanksgiving has arrived!. Today may mark the 15th straight Thanksgiving that I have celebrated in Buenos Aires, for the first 21 years of my life, Thanksgiving either meant a trip to Pittsburgh or a visit from relatives in Pittsburgh.

  • Pennsylvania Turnpike notwithstanding, either event was a welcome occurrence, and truth be told, something I’ve missed as an adult.

During high school those Thanksgiving trips gave me the chance to read a week’s worth of accumulated Pittsburgh Press and Post Gazette coverage of the Steelers. In those pre-internet days, that was like Christmas come early.

The days of having to rely in imported printed copies Ed Bouchette to follow the Steelers are long over. For 7 years running now Steel Curtain Rising has been publishing an annual column highlighting reasons for Steelers Nation to give thanks. Here is how our Steelers Thanksgiving honors series has gone so far:

2009 – Saw Rashard Mendenhall win Steelers Thanksgiving honors
2010Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, and Al Everest shared the honors
2011 Antonio Brown won Steelers Thanksgiving honors hands down
2012 – Attention turned to the emergence of Keenan Lewis
2013 – Stud in the making Cameron Heyward earned recognition
2014 – Honors went to Le’Veon Bell for his emergence as an All-Pro running back
2015 Steelers understudies earned Thanksgiving honors

Its also satisfying that even with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight there’s no reason to regret any of our“ Steelers Thanksgiving honors” shout outs. Sure, Rashard Mendenhall might not have blossomed into the “franchise” running back he was picked to become, but Mendenhall played a huge role in getting the Steelers to the Super Bowl a year later.

Maurkice Pouncey has won Pro Bowl honors for each year he’s been healthy, Emmanuel Sanders is a first rate NFL wide out, and most fans would exchange Al Everest for Danny Smith as Steelers special teams coach. Antonio Brown is simply the best there is. Keenan Lewis did depart in free agency but honestly, have the Steelers had better play at cornerback since Keenan Lewis left?

Cameron Heyward has grown into the dominant player and leader on and off the field everyone thought he would be back at Thanksgiving 2013, and Le’Veon Bell is probably the most complete back in the NFL. And one year later, the 2015 contributions of DeAngelo Williams, Will Allen, Alejandro Villanueva and Cody Wallace look no less important to what the team accomplished a year ago.

With that in mind, we now turn our attention to this years Steelers Thanksgiving honors award.

Ryan Shazier Wins 2016 Steelers Thanksgiving Honors

It’s become cliché, but when the 2014 NFL Draft arrived the only question about the Steelers top choice was “Which cornerback will Pittsburgh take?” Of course the Steelers wanted Justin Gilbert (perhaps its good they didn’t get him), but when he wasn’t there, they shocked everyone (except Jim Wexell) by picking Ryan Shazier.

Given that the Steelers had Lawrence Timmons, and rising youngsters Vince Williams, Sean Spence and Terence Garvin, the moved struck many as a head scratcher.

  • Two and a half seasons later, no one who understands football should question the move.
ryan shazier, gary barnidge, steelers thanksgiving honors, steelers vs. browns

Gary Barnidge can’t hold on as Ryan Shazier lays in the wood. Photo Credit: Karen Schiely, AP via Akron Beacon Journal

Josh McCown of the Cleveland Browns certainly understands why Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau called Shazier’s number in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Sure Shazier has spent more time than you’d like to see on the trainer’s table, but football is a violent sport. Sure Shazier might trail C.J. Mosley, who the Ravens took 2 picks later, in terms of sacks an interceptions.

But in addition to his uncanny athleticism, Ryan Shazier has shown that uncanny playmaking ability that paves the way for greatness:

While a lot of fans are down on Shazier, the simple fact is that he’s only broaching the beginnings of what he can do. This kid still has plenty of upside.

So for 2016, Steel Curtain Rising awards its Steelers Thanksgiving honors to Ryan Shazier, as he give Steelers Nation reason to give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving Steelers Nation

Of course Thanksgiving is never been about football (although I do painfully remember the Thanksgiving day Massacre of 1983). It’s about things that are far more fundamentally important for life. Family, friends and faith.

  • Our sincere hope here at Steel Curtain Rising is anyone and everyone who reads this has reasons to give thanks that have nothing to do with either football or the Steelers.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in Steelers Nation.

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How Cody Wallace to IR Makes Artie Burns Start vs Ravens Easier to Understand

Sometimes it pays to wait before preparing to grab the pitchforks and storm the barricades. Such is the case with the lead up to the Steelers showdown vs. the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Going into the game the key personnel questions for the Steelers, aside from whether Ben Roethlisberger or Landry Jones would start, was whether the Steelers would activate Ladarius Green.

artie burns, artie burns starting vs. ravens, artie burns vs. chiefs, chris conley

Artie Burns unsuccessfully tries to keep Chris Conley from catching a pass. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Then a little bombshell exited the South Side – rookie Artie Burns would start ahead of William Gay vs. the Ravens. Steel City Insider’s Jon Ledyard voice what I was thinking:

Artie Burns might blossom into a competitive NFL cornerback. However, his play thus far calls to mind Ike Taylor‘s rookie season far more than it does Rod Woodson’s (Taylor only played special teams as a rookie, Woodson held out 1/2 a season but looked like a stud from the get-go.)

Jim Wexell speculated that this move merely signaled the Steelers desire to match Burns against speedy Mike Wallace. (Wexell also pointed out that in practice, Artie Burns has been a veritable ball hawk.)

And that indeed might be part of Keith Butler and Carnell Lake’s plan is. But the Steelers made another roster move made the news about Artie Burns first start a little easier to understand as they put reserve guard/center Cody Wallace on injured reserve, and activated practice squad defensive back Al-Hajj Shabazz.

As Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review explained when announcing the move, the Steelers decision to activate Al-Hajj Shabazz quite possibly indicates that William Gay will be unavailable for the Ravens game, given that Gay missed practice on Friday after participating during the entire week.

Mark Kaboly’s of DK on Pittsburgh Sports tweet seemed to advance the story in that direction:

If the story does turn out to be true, and William Gay misses the game against the Ravens, Joe Flacco will get the chance to revive the Raven’s fortunes against a secondary that has struggled mightily even with its most experienced player in the lineup.

However, the Steelers are expect to get both Ryan Shazier and Cameron Heyward back which can only help the unit.

Cody Wallace Season Ends Before It Starts

The franchise that started only one more center (Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, and Jeff Hartings) than it had head coaches (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin) during a 38 year period from 1968 to 2006, the Steelers have not had good luck keeping centers healthy of late.

  • If Maurkice Pouncey’s reputation for being “injury prone” is unwarranted, the man has not had good luck.

His replacement, Fernando Velasco, lasted 11 games before falling injured, only to be replaced by Cody Wallace. Now Cody Wallace’s 2016 has ended because of an injury he suffered during training camp.  is in the final year of the contract he signed with the Steelers in 2014. One has to wonder this injury might end his time in Pittsburgh.

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The Steelers Offensive Line Must Step It Up

Coming into the 2016 regular season, there was no doubt about the Pittsburgh Steelers talent on offense.

  • And we’re not just talking about the skill-position players, either; the offensive line was regarded by many as solid-to-outstanding.

And, it is a really good line, highlighted by Maurkice Pouncey, the perennial Pro Bowl center who returned to the lineup this season after missing all of 2015 with a leg injury, and right guard David DeCastro, the 2012 first round pick who made his first Pro Bowl a year ago.

steelers offensive line, david decastro, steelers vs. Colts

Although the 2016 season is still young, the Steelers Offensive line must step it up. Photo Credit: Jason Bridge, US Presswire, used on Bleacher Report

When a unit is as talented and highly-regarded as Pittsburgh’s offensive line, you’d expect it to win its share of individual and collective battles. However, after three weeks of the 2016 regular season, you’d have to say that, while the Steelers have an official record of 2-1, their hogs up front, entrusted with protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and opening holes for DeAngelo Williams, have a record of 1-2.

After looking mighty impressive while paving the way for 437 total yards against the Redskins in Week 1–including 290 through the air and 147 on the ground–the line has looked anything but since.

  • Yes, it’s true that both the Bengals and Eagles–Pittsburgh’s opponents in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively–have formidable-to-dominant front sevens.

But to steal from former Pirates manager Jim Leyland when he would get sick of the media suggesting his team’s ongoing struggles in the hitting department had to do with facing a run of hot pitchers: yeah, Cincinnati and Philadelphia have great front sevens, but bleep it, we have a good offensive line! Sometimes you have to bleepin beat a great front seven!

While Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once, he was under constant pressure, and his total may have increased by about 75 percent, if he wasn’t so talented at getting rid of the football with defenders trying to pull him to the ground. As for the running game, sure 124 yards looks decent enough, but not when it requires 36 carries to achieve (that’s 3.4 yards per rush–a half a yard below the average that kept Jerome Bettis out of the Hall of Fame for almost a decade).

Make no mistake, the offensive line’s performance this past Sunday against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field wasn’t a stalemate; in-fact, if it was a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight by the third round–and awarded the decision to Fletcher Cox and Co.

Alejandro Villaneuva looked over-matched at times, which may be understandable, given that he didn’t become a starter until the mid-way point of last season. But what about the constant battles that DeCastro and accomplished right tackle Marcus Gilbert lost all afternoon and evening?

It’s fair to point out that Ramon Foster, the solid veteran left guard, exited the Eagles’ game fairly quickly with a chest injury and was replaced by B.J. Finney. On the Steelers official depth chart, Finney is listed as fourth-string at both guard positions. Why that’s noteworthy is because Cody Wallace and Chris Hubbard were both injured last week and couldn’t play. Therefore, that might explain the problems Pittsburgh was having up front this past Sunday.

  • But that’s not going to do anyone any good, if Foster, who was described as ‘very questionable’ by head coach Mike Tomlin during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, can’t go against the Chiefs this week.

If Wallace, who has missed the first three games with a knee injury, can return as soon as this week and fill in for a possibly absent Foster, that might go a long way in keeping the line stable. Wallace did an admirable job filling in for Pouncey at center a year ago, and there’s no reason he can’t do the same at left guard if Foster has to miss a game or three.

The Chiefs invade Heinz Field this week, and while they don’t have quite the dominant front seven as recent opponents, it’s still pretty formidable and includes names like Derrick Johnson, Dontari Poe and Tamba Hali.

It would be nice if the Steelers offensive line rose to the challenge and won this next battle.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Win Over Redskins

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is delighted to see his star pupils show up on the first day of school both willing and ready to work, here is the Steelers Report Card for their Monday Night Football win over the Washington Redskins.

steelers report card redskins win, antonio brown touchdown redskins, steelers vs. redskins 2016

Antonio Brown goes up for 6 vs. the Redskins. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger might not have been perfect, his fumble could have been very costly, and led the team to two and outs to start the game. But after that, Roethlisberger was nearly flawless completing 27 passes on 37 attempts for 288 yards and three touchdowns. He was also able to seamlessly work relative newcomers into the offense. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Who says 33 is over the hill in the NFL? That certainly did not apply to DeAngelo Williams Monday night, who ran for 143 yards on 26 carries and was running through the Redskins secondary at will by the time it was all over. The fact that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s stat line reads 3-6 surprises shows just who dominate the Steelers rushing attack was. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown continues to maintain an almost mystical connection with the Steelers and is clearly the best receiver in football. With Markus Wheaton out, carrying the rest of the load fell to Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers. Both men made impressive plays, although both did see the ball bounce off their hands only to caught be another receiver. Fortunately in Coates’ case Rogers was the receiver and it was in the end zone. Teams like the Patriots, Bengals or Ravens won’t be so forgiving and the grade must reflect that. Grade: A-

Tight End
The post-Heath Miller era began against the Redskins, with Jesse James taking up the mantel, for the time being at least. As he flashed in 2016, Jesse James showed that he can be a fairly reliable target in the passing game, although he didn’t look quite comfortable out there. His blocking remains a liability, having missed a couple of key blocks. In contrast, David Johnson played in an H-Back roll, and made a key block on one of DeAngelo Williams first big gains. Xavier Grimble also saw some action. Against the Redskins, the Steelers tight end by committee worked well enough. Grade: B

Offensive Linesteelers, report card, grades, steelers vs. redskins, coaching, special teams, unsung heros
Against the Redskins, the Steelers had 4.9 yards rushing, surrendered on sack, and only saw their quarterback hit 4 other times. That’s what I call an excellent effort. Grade: A

Defensive Line
The Washington Redskins actually had a decent rushing average against the Steelers, but the truth is neither running back broke the 25 yard mark. Cameron Heyward led the unit with 2 tackles, followed by Stephon Tuitt with one and registered a QB hit. Javon Hargrave made his rookie debut, and little was seen of him, although that’s not always a bad thing for a nose tackle. Grade: B

Linebackers
Ryan Shazier had another fantastic night, forcing a fumble, breaking up a touchdown pass in the end zone, and hauling in an interception that permanently reversed the course of the game for Pittsburgh. Lawrence Timmons led the Steelers with 8 tackles and was all over the field. James Harrison might only have had 3 tackles on the night, but his run stop of Matt Jones was a beauty. L.J. Fort saw his first regular season action and got a hit on Kirk Cousins late in the game. Jarvis Jones quietly recorded 6 tackles. Grade: B

Secondary
Ross Cockrell let an interception slip though his fingers, and the Steelers defensive backs didn’t record any take aways, but they did force the Redskins to settle for field goals on three occasions when touchdowns were very real possibilities. Mike Mitchell led the group and set the tone by keeping receivers in front of him, and then laying in the wood afterwards. William Gay had a quiet night, which is good for a cornerback. Robert Golden looked like he belonged as did the rookie Sean Davis. Grade: B

Special Teams
Chris Boswell made all of his extra points and a 46 yard field goal (on the road, at night, on grass.) Jordan Berry’s punting was solid. The kick coverage of Fitzgerald Toussaint’s return was good, and it looked like a more capable returner could have taken that much further. Toussaint needs to learn to take advantage of those opportunities when they present themselves.

  • The Redskins had one kick return of 29 yards and a punt return for 17.

Danny Smith must see to it that future play by the Steelers kick coverage units must renders those numbers to statistical aberrations. Grade: B-

Coaching
Mike Tomlin won his first road opener since 2008, and he did it against a defending divisional champion. In the NFL it is more about how you finish than how you start, but the goal of every coach is to “start fast, finish strong” and the Steelers took a first step in that direction. Yes, there was some rustiness, but considering that the Steelers are fielding a host of different players than the squad that was last on the field in Denver, a 38 to 16 performance is all the more impressive.

  • The Steelers locker room is embracing Tomlin’s “Next man up” credo.

It took Todd Haley’s offense a quarter to get warmed up, but once it got into gear, it almost seemed as if the Steelers offense was restraining itself against the Redskins at times. Scoring 38 points against an NFL defense always impresses, but the Steelers could have scored more. The tests will get tougher, starting this week against the Bengals, but Haley’s crew passed the first with flying colors, and the did it against a team that made big time investments in their pass defense.

Keith Butler’s defense lacked some of the splash plays from 2015. Over the long term that figures to be a problem. If the fireworks were missing, the Steelers defense was fully in “bend but don’t break mode.” Playing against a defending divisional champion, on the road, the score could have easily been 14 or 21 nothing giving the way the game unfolded. Butler’s defense saw to it that the score remained 6-0. Overall, the Steelers coaches had their players prepared and ready. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
More than one fan has looked at the performance of Cody Wallace in 2013 and 2015 and asked, “Why are we paying the other guy so much?”

Against the Redskins, Maurkice Pouency answered those doubters. When the Redskins stripped Ben Roethlisberger the Steelers were down by six and at their own 25. A turnover there could have changed the direction of the game, and breathed life into the Redskins. Instead, Pouency got the ball away from the defender, and Ben Rothlisberger recovered it. On the very same drive, the Steelers went up by 7 after converting on a 4th down.

It is plays like that which facilitate fireworks by the super stars like Brown and Roethlisberger and for that Maurkice Pouncey is the Unsung Hero award winner of the Pittsburgh’s win over Washington.

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Steelers 2016 Roster Analysis – Depth Primes Pittsburgh to Win

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 opening day roster for their Monday Night Game against the Washington Redskins appears to be set. While Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin could decide to add a tight end, put Senquez Golson on IR and sign a cornerback or make some other move, the Steelers brain trust has pretty much cast their die.

  • There are a lot of interesting stories and subplots, but any Steelers 2016 roster analysis must focus on it depth.

Indeed, while Pittsburgh is hardly bullet proof, the Steelers 2016 roster boasts of far greater depth than the team has seen since their last serious Super Bowl run. Seriously. Think back just three years. Prior to the Steelers 2013 opener, no less Bob Labriola compared the Steelers offensive line depth to walking a tight rope without a net.

  • Just 11 plays into the season, the Steelers fell off that tight rope.

And the bleeding didn’t stop stop with Maurkice Pouncey’s season-end injury. Before the game was over the Steelers had lost their starting inside linebacker and number two running back for the season, and their starting corner for the next several games. Worse yet, although Mike Tomlin would never admit it, the men taking their places were not “starters in waiting.”

This year things are different. Yes, certain areas of the Steelers depth chart are uncomfortably weak, but this Steelers 2016 roster analysis finds the Black and Gold rich in depth in several key positions.

steelers 2016 roster analysis, ben roethlisberger, antonio brown, le'veon bell, steelers triplets

Steelers 2016 Roster Analysis reveals depth primes Pittsburgh to win. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Quaterback

Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and Zach Mettenberger

Clearly, the Steelers will not contend for a Super Bowl should Ben Roethlisberger suffer a serious injury. But Landry Jones evolution as a quarterback has shown him to be a serviceable backup, and Zach Mettenberger has “upside” that neither Bruce Gradkowski or Bryn Renner could hope to offer.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Running Back

DeAngelo Williams, Daryl Richardson, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Roosevelt Nix (fullback); (Le’Veon Bell suspended for first 3 games)

A year ago the Steelers went with Bell, Williams and two fullbacks plus Dri Archer whom they held onto until it was clear no one would trade for him. And they ended up starting practice squad running backs in the playoffs. Word is that either Fitzgerald Toussaint or Daryl Richardson will be gone once Le’Veon Bell’s suspension ends.

Perhaps, but the Steelers are at least starting the season with a running back depth chart that’s three deep, which is smart.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Tight End

Jesse James, David Johnson and Xavier Grimble; (Ladarius Green is on PUP)

The future is now for Jesse James. As a rookie James showed promise catching the ball, but has struggled in blocking. James had better grow up quickly. David Johnson provides veteran depth, but is a blocker at this point. Xavier Grimble’s performance has been boom-bust.

The bottom line is, the Steelers depth chart at tight end is extraordinarily weak. Guys will need to grow up fast, or Todd Haley must creatively devise a way to cover this deficiency.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Wide Receivers

Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Eli Rogers

Who needs Martavis Bryant? OK, that’s perhaps overstated, but the emergence of Eli Rogers and the development of Sammie Coates should compensate for Bryant’s loss. Clearly, Antiono Brown is the best class of the group, and the class of his position in the NFL.

Like Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers cannot weather a serious injury to Antonio Brown.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Offensive Line

Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, Cody Wallace, Ryan Harris, B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard

The Steelers boast four proven starters in Pouncey, DeCastro, Gilbert and Foster. Alejandro Villanueva still must prove himself, but should he falter, the Steelers have Ryan Harris, who is fresh off of a Super Bowl start. Cody Wallace gives the Steelers a solid backup at the interior positions.

Hopefully neither B.J. Finney nor Chris Hubbard will need to play significant snaps.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Defensive Line

Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews, Dan McCullers and L.T. Walton

Assuming the injury to Javon Hargrave isn’t serious, the Steelers defensive line depth is better than it has been in several seasons. Ricardo Mathews showed in preseason that he can play nose and defensive end, and Daniel McCullers size makes him an attractive option. L.T. Walton also has the look of an up and comer.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Outside Linebacker

James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo (Bud Dupree on injured reserve)

Bud Dupree’s injured reserve designation puts a damper on this one. The fact is that the Steelers were counting on him to become the pass rusher they drafted him to be. Still, Arthur Moats has shown he can get the job done, and Jarvis Jones made flashes during last year’s post-season that few fans seemed to notice. Anthony Chickillo has done everything the Steelers have asked of him. Which is good, because he will be asked to do more.

Finally, James Harrison enters his final year. If things go well, Harrison will be a situational player. Either way, the Steelers are very wise to keep him on the roster.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Inside Linebacker

Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams, L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich and Steven Johnson

Timmons, Shazier and Willaims give the Steelers 2016 roster three starter capable inside lienbackers, with Steven Johnson and L.J. Fort providing valuable depth.

Tyler Matakevich reminds people of Jerry Olsavsky. Jerry O was another late-pick inside linebacker who wasn’t strong enough, big enough or fast enough, but made a career in being good enough. Tyler Matakevich will get a chance to prove the same.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Cornerback

William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Sean Davis, Justin Gilbert and Senquez Golson

Clearly any Steelers 2016 roster analysis must conclude that cornerback remains the weakest link on Pittsburgh’s depth chart. William Gay gives the Steelers a proven, veteran presence. Ross Cockrell played well in 2015, but remains untested as a starter. Sean Davis is a rookie, and Justin Gilbert has been a bust given his draft status.

  • And the Steelers are holding out hopes that Senquez Golson can return.

Keep in mind that Golson has had all of 1 and a half padded practices on his NFL resume. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went all in on the youth movement at secondary. The fact that Brandon Boykin and Cortez Allen remain unemployed tells us that the rest of the NFL agrees with their decision to subtract them from the roster.

It remains to be seen if Carnell Lake and Keith Butler can transform subtraction into addition.

Steelers 2016 Depth Chart @ Safety

Mike Mitchell, Robert Golden, Sean Davis, Shamarko Thomas and Jordan Dangerfield

Mike Mitchell leads the group, and if he plays at the level he played in 2015, the Steelers should be OK. Robert Golden finally has his time to shine, after playing behind Troy Polamalu and Will Allen. Shamarko Thomas most likely holds a spot on the Steelers 2016 roster because he’s a good special teams gunner.

Jordan Dangerfield showed he can play in preseason, and Sean Davis is good enough to work at Safety and corner.

Steelers 2016 Specialists

Greg Warren, Long snapper
Jordan Berry, Punter
Chris Boswell, Place Kicker

This time a year ago the Steelers were on their third of what would be four place kickers and had just traded away Brad Wing. There’s been little news about any of the Steelers specialists and let’s hope it remains that way.

Steelers 2016 Roster Analysis – Depth Primes Pittsburgh to Win

The Steelers 2016 roster has its weak spots at tight end and at cornerback, but at just about every other spot on the depth chart boasts a deep enough bull pen to support a serious Steelers Super Bowl run.

And that’s not something that has been true in recent years.

Buckle your chin straps Steelers Nation, the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have built the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers to win.

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Kevin Colbert & Mike Tomlin Assemble Initial Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Practice Squad

Cut down day in the NFL is never wracking experience. Players who’ve fought their hearts out during rookie tryouts, mini-camps, training camp, and in the 3rd and 4th quarters of increasingly (and often undeservedly) maligned preseason games await news on whether their NFL dreams come true. It’s a grueling process players endure in Pittsburgh and the other 31 NFL cities.

  • The experience is far from stress free for Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert.
kevin colbert, mike tomlin, steelers 2016 practice squad

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have assembled the inital Steelers 2016 practice squad. Photo Credit: John David Mercer, USA Today Sports

Their work continues after they cut down to the NFL’s 53 man limit. Colbert and Tomlin must simultaneously scan the waiver wire for cast offs — seeking the someone else’s veritable square peg to fit inside Pittsburgh’s round hole.

  • Cynical fans might write off this effort employing the logic of “…but if no one else wanted them, how good can they be?”

And some times those cynics are correct. The Steelers picked up DeMarcus Van Dyke in 2013 and in two seasons DeMarcus Van Dyke did nothing to dispel his status as a roster bubble baby. But then there is Cody Wallace, whom Kevin Colbert also salvaged from the NFL scrap heap in 2013. Cody Wallace has made 20 starts a center since then and two at guard.

But Tomlin and Colbert search for the Cody Wallaces of the world do so with fingers crossed, hoping that players who they wish to bring back via the practice squad don’t find homes elsewhere. If the early reports are correct, the Steelers got back everyone they were reportedly wanted back.

Keep in mind that the composition of the Steelers practice squad could very well fluctuate between now and the season opener.

At the moment, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 practice squad looks like this:

Brandon Brown-Dukes, running back
Cameron Stingily, running back
Demarcus Ayers, 7th round draft pick, wide receiver
Cobi Hamilton, wide receiver
Rashaun Allen, tight end
Matt Feiler, offensive tackle

Caushaud Lyons, defensive end
Johnny Maxey, defensive tackle
Al-Hajj Shabazz, cornerback
Travis Feeney, 6th round pick, linebacker

Tweaks to the Steelers 2016 53 roster will dive changes to the Steelers 2016 practice squad. Tight end represents the Steelers greatest weakness and the Steelers could easily add another tight end, likely signaling a return to the practice squad by Xavier Grimble.

The Steelers undoubtedly are looking at cornerback who’ve been cut, which would cost another player his roster spot, and likely land him on the practice squad.

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4 Solutions for the Steelers 2016 Running Back Depth Deficiency

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Draft Class added both quantity and, on paper at least, talent to the team’s most glaring weaknesses on the depth chart. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also added depth to several other key areas.

  • One area that Colbert and Tomlin failed to address was running back.

As things stand today, the Steelers 2016 running back depth promises to be dangerously thin. Here’s a look at how Colbert and Tomlin might address that need before the season.

How the Steelers Running Back Depth Got So Depleted

The Steelers 2016 Draft Needs Matrix pegged running back as the Steelers 4th most urgent area of need not because of talent issues, but because of the Steelers thin depth at running back.

Fitzgerald Toussaint has the look of a solid backup based on his playoff performances, his fumble not withstanding. After Toussaint, the Steelers have zip in terms of proven depth behind him. If Art Rooney II’s words offer any guide, the Steelers expect Le’Veon Bell to be back at full strength.

That’s fine, but in 2016 Bell will begin his fourth season on a league where the average running back’s career lasts just above three. And he’s coming off a complicated MCL, PCL injury. And he’s missed time due to injury in each of his first three seasons. running backs average less than 3. DeAngelo Williams will turn 33.

For a franchise that started its 4th string running back in 3 consecutive post-season appearances those factoids hardly encourage confidence.

  • Colbert and Tomlin know this and responded by trying to trade the 5th round.

The Steelers found no takers, at least at a reasonable asking price. So which running backs did the Steelers miss a chance to draft?

  • So which running back did the Steeler miss?

In the 5th round DeAndre Washington, Paul Perkins, Jordan Howard, Wendell Smallwood, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins found homes with Oakland, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Seattle. In the 6th round Denver, Tampa Bay, San Diego, San Francisco, and Dallas welcomed Andy Jaovich, Dan Vitale, Derek Watt, Kelvin Taylor and Darrius Jackson (although Janovich, Vitale, Watt are listed as fullbacks.)

Surprisingly, Colorado’s Christan Powell was the only running back in the Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class, and he got cut after rookie minicamp. In contrast, the Steelers drafted no offensive lineman in the 2015 NFL Draft, yet brought 5 offensive lineman to Pittsburgh with their 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class.

Steelers Could Sign a Free Agent Running Back

Yes, the best free agent running backs have long been off the market, but teams can and do make roster moves after the draft. The website Sporttrack lists 23 free agent running backs that remain unsigned, including Reggie Bush, LeGarrette Blount and Arian Foster.

If the Steelers really were interested in adding depth at running back via free agency, they likely would have done so in March instead of waiting until May. Nonetheless, on May 12 unsigned players officially become “Street Free Agents” meaning teams can sign them without impacting their compensatory picks.

The Steelers could take advantage of that to add a body, but if they do it will likely be the type of free agent who isn’t even assured a roster spot in September.

Steelers Could Trade for a Running Back

Trades are rare in the NFL and until recently the Steelers rarely trade for another player. Yet, that has changed lately. In August 2013, Kevin Colbert traded Adrian Robinson for Felix Jones. Later that season, he traded for Levi Brown. Last summer Steelers traded for Brandon Boykin….

  • …And you can see why the Steelers prefer to avoid acquiring layers via trade.

Arguably, Felix Jones was the most productive of the three, and that’s not saying much. Levi Brown got injured in warm ups and never played a down. Brandon Boykin spelled Antwon Blake late in the season and perhaps provided an upgrade, but the Steelers think more of untested Senquez Golson than they do Boykin.

In terms of trading to build depth at running back, the Steelers actually traded for Patrick Cobbs when Duce Staley couldn’t dispel their doubts at the end of the 2006 preseason. Cobbs never played a down in Pittsburgh, although he did carry 37 times over five years in Miami….

Don’t expect the Steelers to trade for a running back.

Colbert Could Grab a Running Back from the Waiver Wire

Kevin Colbert ranks among the best NFL General Managers when it comes to finding players who can help the Steelers after they’ve been discarded by other teams. 2013’s cut down day saw the Turk visit Fernando Velasco in Nashville and Cody Wallace in Tampa Bay, but both made multiple starts for the Steelers at center later that season.

In terms of running backs, the Steelers picked Najeh Davenport off of waivers early 2006, and Davenport was a solid contributor in for two seasons. The Steelers picked up DuJuan Harris in 2012 during training camp, and he went on to contribute to Green Bay. Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint both got pink slips at the end of training camp and ended up starting for the Steelers in the playoffs.

  • One harsh reality of the modern NFL is that proven backups get cut simply because rookies offer teams more bang for their buck.

Colbert has kept many a gem from falling though the cracks of the NFL salary cap, and you’d better believe he will closely watch for running backs who reach the waiver wire all between now and September.

Steelers Stand Pat with Their Running Back Stable

Based on what we’ve seen since the 2016 NFL Draft, this appears to be the Steelers plan. Following rookie minicamp, two of the four Steelers roster moves involved replacing running backs.

While banking on undrafted rookie free agents to provide depth at running back is a roll of the dice, remember is the same franchise that saw a little known running back who hardly played in North Carolina named Fast Willie Parker go from training camp surprise in 2004 to a run from scrimmage record setter in Super Bowl XL in January of 2006.

Both Carey Davis and Gary Russell had some NFL experience prior to joining the Steelers in 2007, and while no one will ever confuse the tandem with Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris, both men helped win Super Bowl XLIII.

At the Steelers rookie minicamp, Mercyhurst’s Brandon Brown-Dukes impressed Jim Wexell, although Wexell did describe him as “diminutive.” Dale Lolley reports that Cameron Stingily, who was injured in last summer’s Hall of Fame game, is running well and looking leaner than in 2015.

  • The Steelers cut running backs Rajion Neal and Christian Powel to make room for Stingily and Brown-Dukes.

While these move come squarely at the bottom of the Steelers roster, they demonstrate that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are keenly aware Steelers running back depth needs to improve.

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