Pitt Panthers Scott Orndoff Leads Steelers 2017 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class

The value delivered by the Steelers 2017 Draft Class won’t be known until we see whether Ben Roethlisberger stands on the dais hosting a Lombardi before he begins his “Life’s Work,” but character, or human interest stories have driven much of the narrative 2017 NFL Draft for Pittsburgh.

While rocket scientist Joshua Dobbs offers a compelling story this year, he can’t quite compare to Pitt’s James Conners battle with cancer. So perhaps it’s fitting that another Pitt Panther leads the Steelers 2017 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class.

Scott Orndoff, Scott Mr. Wonderful Orndoff, Scott Orndorff, Steelers 2017 undrafted rookie free agent class

Pitt Panther tight end Scott Orndoff leads the Steelers 2017 undrafted rookie free agent class. Photo Credit: LeClaire, USA Today via Steel City Insider

Almost as soon as they stopped announcing names form the podium in Philadelphia, the Steelers 2017 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class was announced.

Scott Orndoff, tight end, Pittsburgh 6’4” 253lbs
Terrish Webb, Safety, Pittsburgh, 5’10” 190 lbs
Nelson Adams, Defensive Tackle from Mississippi State, 6’3”287lbs
Christian Brown, Defensive Tackle, West Virginia, 6’3” 295 lbs
Ethan Cooper, Guard Indiana-Pennsylvania, 6’2” 322 lbs
Francis Kallon, Defensive End, Georgia Tech, 6’5” 295
Keith Kelsey, Linebacker, Louisville, 6’0” 233
Nick Schuessler, Quarterback, Clemson 6’3” 196 lbs
Rushel Shell, Running Back, West Virginia, 5’9” 227 lbs

Going into the 2017 NFL Draft a vocal contingent of Steelers Nation was adamant that the Steelers draft a tight end, citing concerns about Jesse James development and Ladarius Green’s concussion history. It has been rumored that the Browns jumped ahead of the Steelers to draft tight end David Njoku, although no reporting has substantiated that claim.

However, the way the draft evolved, the Steelers couldn’t pick a tight end without reaching, but Jim Wexell sees Scott “Mr. Wonderful” Orndoff, the Steelers undrafted rookie free agent tight end from Pitt, as no less than Pittsburgh’s Ace in the Hole (nod and wink to compatriots who came of age in the 80’s and understand the “Mr. Wonderful” reference.)

  • Per Wexell’s reporting, several scouts rated Orndoff as a legitimate 6th round prospect.

Wexell backs his assertion up with analysis from Kyle Crabbs of NDT Scouting:

He has good spatial awareness and the ability to beat zone coverage consistently. A reliable inline blocker, Orndoff projects favorably as a team’s TE2 where he can influence the game as a red-zone target and be relied upon in game situations to be an effective pass or run blocker.

A potential 6th round pick or not, Scott Orndoff doesn’t have an updated highlights clip on YouTube, although this one from 2015 is pretty impressive:

Assuming Green’s health holds up until opening day and James development continues as is, both are locks to make the final roster. While most fans generally ignored the Steelers decision to resign David Johnson early in free agency, the Craig Wolfley has suggested that bringing David Johnson back could be “Steelers Biggest Little Signing” of the off season because of his blocking ability and ability to supplement Roosevelt Nix at fullback as Le’Veon Bell’s lead blocker in two back formations.

If that is correct, then Xavier Grimble would be the man whom Scott Orndoff must beat to secure a roster spot.

As Always, Seeking the Next FWP, Silverback or Foster

In a lot of cities, the annual signing of the undrafted rookie free agent class is a non-event, slightly above the future-contracts signings that come immediately after a season ends. But Kevin Colbert has an uncanny knack of uncovering championship caliber talent in the NFL’s undrafted rookie free agent pool.

Former Super Bowl starters Willie Parker, Ramon Foster, Darnell Stapleton and of course James Harrison earned roster spots with the Steelers as undrafted rookie free agents.

Whether it’s thanks to Scott Orndoff or someone else, chances are you’ll see at least one of the above names again.

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Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin Attack Amounts to Pure Idiocy

Why Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack amounts to pure idiocy

One of the great personal ironies of the global economy is that, trips to the United States either prevent or seriously impair my ability to watch, follow and write about the Pittsburgh Steelers. So it came as a great shock Thursday morning in San Francisco to see that my friend Ivan Cole had taken it upon himself to defend Mike Tomlin against Colin Cowherd on Rebecca Rollet’s Going Deep with the Steelers.

  • My first thought was, “Are we really having this conversation? Aren’t the Steelers 2-0?”
colin cowherd's mike tomlin attack, ben roethlisberger, mike tomlin,

Ben Roethlisberger stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mike Tomlin. Photo Credit: broncos.com

Well, yes, we are. And perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, because the year began with then BTSC scribe Chris Carter obliterating Jason Whitlock’s contention that Tomlin was “coddled” simply because he was African American. Ironically, or not, Whitlock launched his attack on Cowherd’s show.

My friend Mr. Cole launched a two pronged attack on Cowherd, first taking aim at Cowherd’s argument, and second speculating about Cowherd’s motives. Cole’s article amounts to must read for Steelers Nation, and there’s no reason to rehash his arguments here.

There is every reason to pile on additional reasons to prove that Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack is pure idiocy.

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin Attack Rooted in Stale Criticisms

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack begins in the same old stale criticisms that have been leveled against Tomlin for years. The only one that holds any validity is Tomlin’s almost Thanksgiving Day trip of Jacoby Jones.

  • Cowherd criticizes Tomlin’s assistants for getting into fights with opposing players on the sideline.

Is this the best you can do? The charges leveled against Joey Porter and Mike Munchak during the circus in Cincinnati have been debunked by video evidence. Neither coach acted as an instigator, nor were any of their actions inappropriate.

Really? Last January Mike Tomlin led a Pittsburgh Steelers team into a division rival’s stadium on a rainy night and January. His third string quarterback, Landry Jones threw an interception from the Steelers 14 with 1:43 left to play with Pittsburgh down by 1.

  • Let’s see, how did that one turn out?

Oh, yeah, the Steelers came back and won that one, and one of the franchise’s most dramatic playoff come backs since the Immaculate Reception (and that’s not a comparison one makes lightly.) Yeah, Mike Tomlin really mangles clock management, and if he doesn’t, his teams choke with the game on the line.

Tomlin Was Simply Lucky to get Roethlisberger

The basis of Cowherd’s argument is that Tomlin was lucky to inherit a roster with Ben Roethlisberger and others.

There’s no doubt that Ben Roethlisberger has made Mike Tomlin a better head coach just as Bill Cowher suddenly became a Super Bowl winning instead of a Super Bowl contending head coach after Roethlisberger arrived in Pittsburgh. And Bill Parcells was a better coach with Phil Simms than he was with Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde and whoever else he had under center with Jets, Patriots, and Cowboys.

  • But Cowherd betrays himself here without even knowing it.

You see, when Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger was “an effective game manager,” and of who it was said that “nothing to this point suggests that Roethlisberger can carry an undermanned team on his shoulders to playoff success.” This missive was written on ESPN back on August 2, 2007, before Mike Tomlin had called his first game as Steelers head coach. (The same article suggested that Matt Leinart was a sure-fire Hall of Famer while Ben would never get to Canton.)

  • A decade later those words seem laughable.

In fact, during the Steelers rebuilding seasons in 2012 and 2013, Roethlisberger’s presence was cited as a reason why the Steelers could go all the way. Cowherd himself extols Roethlisberger as one of the best three quarterbacks in the AFC. He’s right. But doesn’t Mike Tomlin deserve credit for helping develop Ben Roethlisberger, or at the very least providing him an environment to thrive in?

  • And while we’re at it, has Colin Cowherd always thought that Ben Roethlisberger was an elite quarterback?

Or did Cowherd sing the “Big Ben’s just a ‘game manager’ chorus” a decade ago?  I don’t know, but perhaps some questions are best left unasked.

Mike Tomlin is a George Seifert, not a Barry Switzer

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack is laced with comparison’s to Barry Switzer. The argument is that, like Switzer, Tomlin inherited a talented team and rode on his predecessor’s coattails. It IS true that Mike Tomlin took charge of a Super Bowl ready team.

Tomlin started James Harrison whereas Bill Cowher kept him on the bench. Unlike Cowher, Tomlin didn’t had the benefit of the services of Jeff Hartings and Alan Faneca, instead he made it work with Justin Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton. What’s more, Mike Tomlin’s 2010 Steelers team featured even more new faces.

  • Barry Switzer got handed a Super Bowl caliber team, and within two years, he brought home another Lombardi Trophy.

Kudos to him. But two years later, Switzer’s team had imploded and his players quit on him late in the season. Has last game featured Troy Aikman imploring his teammates in vain to hustle to the line of scrimmage to run the hurry up offense. Jerry Jones fired him.

  • Comparing Mike Tomlin to Barry Switzer is completely off base.

The better comparison is between Mike Tomlin and George Seifert. Like Tomlin, George Seifert got handed the keys to a Super Bowl-ready team, and like Tomlin, Seifert drove his team home. Seifert however, kept his team in contention and in 1994 won another Super Bowl.

  • No one in Steelers Nation should count Lombardi Trophies before they’re won.

But today the Pittsburgh Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, with a roster that only contains three players from their last Championship team….

…Not bad for a coach who simply got “lucky” to inherit a talented team.

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Steelers Free Agent Doug Legursky – Letting Legursky Walk Is Right Call. This Time…

In free agency, you rarely get do overs and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception. The rules of the game are clear, a team needs to decide they want a player back, make their offer and then move on.

This Steelers free agent profiles details a quasi-free agency do over and the player is Doug Legursky, whom the Steelers let go in 2013 only to welcome back three years later. Now they get to make the decision again. Should they decide differently…? Let’s take a look.

Capsule Profile of Doug Legursky’s Career with the Steelers

Doug Legursky got a foot in the door with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008. Legursky failed to make the team, but did earn a spot on the practice squad in October, where he stayed for the rest of the year.

In 2009 Doug Legursky made the team, with Mike Tomlin declaring him “This year’s Darnell Stapleton.” While that is to Legursky’s credit, in many ways Legursky is the perfect poster boy for Pittsburgh’s “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building during the early part of the Tomlin era.

Doug Legursky saw action in 9 games for the Steelers during 2009, mainly serving as a reserve guard, but also blocking as a fullback for Rashard Mendenhall in the Steelers Monday Night victory over San Diego. In 2010, Legrusky saw extensive action, making starts for Trai Essex during the regular season, and stepping in for injured Maurkice Pouncey in the Steelers AFC Championship game victory over the New York Jets.

  • Legursky also started for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

The Steelers intent in 2011 was to install Legursky as a starting guard, and Legursky did make several starts at guard, while also stepping in for Pouncey. In 2012 Legursky made 3 starts at guard and at center due to injuries to Pouncey and Ramon Foster. During the Steelers 2012 upset of Baltimore, Legursky started at Center while Pouncey moved to guard.

Legursky became a free agent in 2013, and the Steelers opted not to sign Legursky, despite an obvious lack of depth on the offensive line. Although they’d never admit it, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin doubtlessly felt pangs of buyer’s remorse on opening day vs. the Titans when Pounecy went down and Kelvin Beachum had to play center for the first time in his football life….

  • But Legursky was in Buffalo where he would make 11 starts during 2013.

Legrusky’s stint with the Bills only lasted one season, although he did catch on with San Diego, were he made two starts at center, before his season ended in injury. He was unemployed when Maurkice Pouncey was injured during the preseason, and returned to Pittsburgh to back up Cody Wallace.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

Doug Legursky knows the Steelers offense. While he might not be starter material, his play at center has always been solid, and he can fill in at guard in a pinch. The Steelers rolled the dice with offensive line depth in 2013, and the result was Ben Roethlisberger playing some of his worst football under an unabated pass rush.

Doug Legrusky has played in 76 NFL games and made 30 starts; he’s also appeared in 6 post-season contests, and started two of them. Reserve offensive lineman with those types of resumes do not grow on trees and Legursky has always been on the roster fringe, he can only improve under Mike Munchak

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

The math is pretty simple. Legursky is basically a center who can do spot duty at guard. So is Cody Wallace and the Steelers already have a significant salary cap investment in Wallace. Wallace is also better. With Maurkice Pouncey coming back, the Steelers can’t really afford to carry three centers.

Plus, it has been suggested that the Steelers might look at bringing Kraig Urbik back, another player who “got away.” Urbik is a guard who can also to duty at center, and is probably an upgrade over Legursky.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Doug Legursky

Legrusky’s return to Pittsburgh was a legit “feel good story” last summer, but it is hard to make the case that resigning Doug Legursky should be a high priority for the Steelers.

  • However, given the uncertainty the Steelers face at guard, an opening for Legursky might be found.

Should the Steelers be unable to keep both Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum, Legursky’s familiarity with the Steelers system and his position flexibility and his availability at the veteran minimum could tip the scales back in his favor.

But that presumes that the Steelers don’t find another guard in free agency or perhaps in the draft. The bottom line is, Doug Legursky can probably help the 2016 Steelers, but others can probably help more. And there’s a fair chance the he’ll still be available during the summer should the need arise.

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

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Steelers Sign Doug Legursky Bolstering Depth @ Center & Guard

So much for the best laid plans of mice and men. No sooner did Steel Curtain Rising publish an article on Cody Wallace’s record as a Steelers starter than did news arrive the that Pittsburgh Steelers had signed Doug Legursky….

To make room for Legursky, the Steelers put wide receiver David Nelson on injured reserved. For those reading the later name and asking “Who?” the Steelers signed David Nelson when they put place kicker Shaun Suisham on injured reserve.

Doug Legursky’s Second Act in Pittsburgh

Doug Legursky broke into the NFL as one of the Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent finds. Legursky was part of the Steelers 2008 undrafted rookie free agent class and while he went on and off the roster James Harrison style, he joined the practice squad in October of that year and stuck.

The next year in training camp, Legursky proved himself capable enough that he earned a final roster spot, as Mike Tomlin labeled him “This year’s Darnell Stapleton.” and he made a strong enough accounting of himself that he made the team’s final roster.

  • Legursky didn’t see a lot of action in 2009, although the team did use him in spot duty as a fullback.

In 2010 Legursky made four straight starts at guard for the Steelers in place of Trai Essex, and after Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain in the Steelers AFC Championship victory over the New York Jets, Legursky stepped forward to start in Super Bowl XLV.

Legursky started 11 games for the Steelers in 2011, where he saw duty both at guard and center. When Pouncey suffered another late season ankle injury it fell to Legursky to take up the starting reigns at center for the Steelers in their Tebowing at Denver in the playoffs that year.

Despite his versatility and position flexibly, the Steelers let Doug Legursky go in free agency after the 2012 season. Despite having started the Steelers last two playoff games, his departure was considered so insignificant that neither of the Pittsburgh dailies covered Legursky’s decision to sign with the Buffalo Bills.

Cody Wallace will likely remain the starter, but the headline “Steelers sign Doug Legursky” signals that the Pittsburgh brain trust does not have full confidence in Chris Hubbard or B.J. Finney’s ability to back up Cody Wallace at center and/or Ramon Foster or David DeCastro at guard.

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Steelers Sign 15 Undrafted Free Agents, Including Mike Golic Jr. and Nik Embernate

“Day 4” of the 2013 NFL Draft at the South Side when the Pittsburgh Steelers added to their 2013 Draft Class by signing 15 undrafted rookie free agents, and it was a group heavy with offensive lineman.

Steelers 2013 Undrafted Rookie Free Agents:

Nik Embernate, guard of San Diego State
Chis Hubbard, guard of University of Birmingham
Mike Farrell, tackle of Penn State
Mike Golic Jr., tackle of Notre Dame
Ivory Wade, center of Baylor
Brian Arnfelt, defensive end of Northwestern
Cordian Hagans, defensive end of Louisiana-Lafayette
Athony Rashad White, defensive tackle of Michigan State
Omar Hunter, defensive tackle of Florida
Curtis McNeal, running back of USC
Luke Ingram, long snapper, of Hawaii

Seeking the Next Silverback, FWP

Dubbing this group “The Steelers 2013 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class” might seem slightly grandiose, as the vast majority of these kids are doing little more chasing a pro football like version of a Rudy like dream.

But with Kevin Colbert, the Steelers have mined the undrafted rookie free agent pool for gold, with talents like James Harrison and Willie Parker to show for it. And while those are the best two examples the Steelers can present, they are far from the only two.

And just last year fullback Will Johnson and safety Robert Golden made the team as undrafted rookie free agents.

Clearly the odds may be stacked against these young men, but the Steelers will certainly give them a fair shot.

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Steelers Announce Cuts, Waiver Wire Watch Begins

The Steelers officially made their cuts today with no surprises. Mike Tomlin informed players of their fates’ yesterday, but declined to announce decisions until after submitting the paper work to the league office today at 6:00 pm.

The Steelers also placed FB/TE Sean McHugh on injured reserve, making him ineligible to play during the entire 2009 season. Pittsburgh picked McHugh off of waivers last year from Detroit, thus taking him from a club that went 0-16 to one that won Super Bowl XLIII.

Waiver Wire Watch Begins

Pittsburgh now begins watching the waiver wire with dual interests. First, they want to resign players to their practice squad. Chief among those would be preseason sensation running back Isaac Redman, an undrafted rookie free agent, and draft picks A.O. Shipley and defensive lineman Sonny Harris.

The team’s the decision to place Darnell Stapleton on injured reserve leaves them with precious little depth on the offensive line, so the Steelers are also interested in adding a quality lineman via trade or the waiver wire.

Roy Lewis, Dallas Baker Among Those Sent Packing

Two other men who spent time on the bubble during the past two years also got their walking papers. One was Roy Lewis, an undrafted rookie free agent who caught coach’s attention during the 2008 training camp. Dallas Baker was the team’s 7th round draft pick in 2007 and won praise from Mike Tomlin in the 2008 off season for his development on the practice squad.

Both men moved on an off the practice squad and regular season roster in 2008, but neither man was able to make a case for himself at St. Vincents this summer.

Other players cut include:

Mike Reilly, Quarterback
Justin Vincent, Running Back
Piotr Czech, Kicker
Jeremy Parquet and Jason Capizzi, Offensive Tackles
Steve McLendon, Defensive Tackle
Dezmond Sherrod, Tight End
Roy Lewis, Defensive Back,
Andy Shantz and Tom Korte, Linebackers
Dallas Baker, Tyler Grisham and Brandon Williams, Wide Receivers

NFL players have 24 hours to claim a player off the waiver wire. Like the draft teams with poor records have the first chance at waived players, meaning that the Steelers will be picking last.

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Steelers Put Darnell Stapleton on IR, Cut Four Others

The Steelers made their first mandatory roster cuts today, and while there were no surprises among those released, another move is causing heads to turn.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that the Steelers waived center Alex Stepanovich, wide receivers Martin Nance and Steven Black and safety Derrick Richardson. They also placed guard/center Darnell Stapleton on injured reserve, making him ineligible to play for the entire 2009 season.

Why Put Stapleton on IR?

Darnell Stapleton was signed as an unrestricted free agent by the Steelers following the 2007 draft. He made the team, only dressed but did play during the Steelers playoff loss to the the Jacksonville Jaguars.

His development continued and he made the team in 2008 as a back up at guard. Stapleton was thrust into the starting line up during the Baltimore game when Kendall Simmons was lost for the year.

He started for the remained of the year on the Steelers oft maligned offensive line, but improved along with the rest of the unit, which ultimately contributed to the Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII.

While some expected Stapleton to be pushed for playing time in camp, coaches viewed him as a player on the rise, both a guard, and at center, where he figured to be the top back up to Justin Hartwig.

In fact, Stapleton started training camp at center due to an injury to Hartwig, but stopped practicing early in camp due to a knee injury. He had surgery which the team declared a success, and was expected to be game-ready in a matter of weeks.

Injury Worse than Expected? Or Did Darnell Disappoint?

It is impossible to know if Stapleton’s injury was worse than reported, but the cases of Marvel Smith and Ben Roethlisberger last year suggest that the Steelers are capable of being coy about injuries.

Regardless, placing Stapelton on IR deprives the Steelers of an experienced back up on the offensive line, an area where the team his little depth.

One could also speculate that Stapelton’s development had stalled, as it was reported that Trai Essex would continue as the starter at right guard regardless of whether Stapelton recovered on schedule or not. While this is plausible, it is also unlikely, as Stapelton did practice enough to disappoint.

Vote of Confidence for Ramon Foster?

Another explanation is that this move marks a vote of confidence in guard Ramon Foster. Foster signed after the draft as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Tennessee, and has impressed coaches to the point where he has generally been seen as out playing this year’s third round pick Kraig Urbik.

All of this is speculation at this point, more will certainly be known as the week evolves.

Steelers Sign Brett Keisel to a Five Year Deal

The other big news is that the Steelers have signed starting left defensive end Brett Keisel to a five year contract extension. Steel Curtain Rising will discuss the move and its implications at greater length later this week.

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Ramon Foster, Steve McLendon & Issac Redman Lead Steelers 2009 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class

The Steelers filled out their roster this week with undrafted rookie free agents as well as a few veterans with NFL experience. Will the next Super Bowl superstar please step foward?

The signing of undrafted rookie free agents is normally not a high profile affair in the NFL, but current Steelers stars such as James Harrison and Willie Parker joined the team as undrafted rookie free agents. Darnell Stapelton, who started for most of the season at right guard, was also undrafted.

In total, three wide receivers, two linebackers, two defensive lineman, two quarterbacks, one running back, one safety, one tackle and one long snapper will get a shot at making the team. Steelers 2009 undrafted rookie free class as it currently stands is:

Player, Pos. — Ht./Wt. — School

Steven Black, Wide Receiver — 6-2/202 — Memphis
Cedric Goodman, Wide Receiver — 6-2/189 — Georgia
Tyler Grisham, Wide Receiver — 5-10/184 — Clemson

Tom Korte, Linebacker — 6-0/239 — Hillside (Mich.)
Andrew Schantz, Linebacker — 6-1/234 — Portland State

Steve McLendon, Defensive tackle — 6-3/305 — Troy
Jeff Bradley, Defensive tackle — 6-3/280 — Western Carolina

Kevin McCabe, Quarterback — 6-2/209 — California (Pa.)
Mike Reilly, Quarterback — 6-3/214 — Central Washington State

Isaac Redman, Running back — 5-10/228 — Bowie State (Maryland)
Derrick Richardson, Safety — 5-11/201 — New Mexico State
Ramon Foster, Offensive Tackle — 6-5/328 — Tennessee
Mark Estermeyer, Long Snapper — 6-1/251 — Pitt

Steelers Sign Veteran “Street” Free Agents

The Steelers also picked up a few men who have NFL experience.They are former Detroit Lion’s wide receiver Shaun McDonald, and cornerback Keiwan Ratliff, who most recently played for the Indianapolis Colts. They also inked veteran punter Dirk Johnson, wide receiver/kick returner Jayson Foster and kicker Piotr Czech.

Of thise, McDonald is the most interesting pick up, as he caught 69 passes for the Lions in 2007 and another 35 last year. McDonald is 28, and he also has some experience returning kicks.

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Steelers 2009 Draft Needs – The Offensive Line

We need to get younger and stronger on both the offensive and defensive lines.” – Mike Tomlin, January 2008

Mike Tomlin issued that semi-solemn declaration at the end of  Steelers 2007 season, and everyone agreed.

Opposing defenders had pummeled Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers had been forced to rely on gadget plays in a critical goal-line situations, and the defense became a shell of its former self after Aaron Smith was lost for the year.

Going into the 2008 draft, everyone knew the Steelers would target lineman of both stripes. Yeah, the Steelers insisted they would “take the best player available,” but Steel Curtain Rising implored readers to ignore this. The Steelers would certainly do what was necessary to bolster the lines.

We were wrong.

Premium lineman came of the board at a furious pace in both the first and second rounds of the 2008 draft, and the Steelers took advantage of that to pick Rashaard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed.

They didn’t pick a linemen until the nabbed Tony Hills in the fourth round, and Pittsburgh went the entire draft without selecting a defensive lineman.

After going through a draft where they seemingly ignored their most urgent needs, the Steelers then promptly went out and won Super Bowl XLIII.

  • That was then, this is now.

Having Lombardi Trophy number six in hand has not changed the simple fact that the Steelers most urgent needs remain offensive and defensive line. (Wide receiver and defensive back are also needs which Steel Curtain Rising will discuss later this week.)

  • The question remains, which line takes higher priority?

Thus far, Steel Curtain Rising’s readers favor the offensive line by almost a 60-40 margin. There are arguments for and against on both sides, which we explore now, starting with the offensive line.

The Case for Favoring the Offensive Line in the 2009 NFL Draft

Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapelton, Willie Colon. Has a more maligned front five ever led its team to a Super Bowl?

Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times, and knocked/taken out of three games. Ben is gifted with ability to make things happen with his feet. But his gift does not alter stark reality too often he’s had no choice but to run for his life.

Going into 2008, one of the line’s supposed saving graces was that for all of the punishment that Roethlisberger took in 2007, the Steelers had a dominate rushing game, and Willie Parker led the NFL in rushing until he got injured in week 16.

The same cannot be said of 2008. Either by injury, line play, or perhaps Arian’s play calling, the rest of the NFL lost its fear of the Steelers once vaunted running game in 2008.

  • How many times did Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, or Gary Russell fail to punch it on the goal line?

The Steelers entered free agency with five lineman becoming free agents. Fortunately, that number will go down next year. They’ll only face the prospect of losing both tackles and their center.

Given all of that, the urgency of focusing on the offensive line above all else should be obvious…. Or is it…?

The Case Against Favoring the Offensive Line in the 2009 NFL Draft

Standing on the dais in Tampa with Lombardi Number Six in his hands, Ben Roethlisberger perhaps said it best:

“Offensive Line, who’s laughing now?”

  • The truth is that the Steelers offensive line still might not scare anybody, but there’s no doubt that they got better as they year wore on.

As number of commentators have pointed out, the Steelers started 2008 with a rebuilt offensive line (new center, new starting guard), and then were forced to rebuild it after decimating injuries in the Baltimore and Jacksonville games.

Max Starks has shown he can play. On lookers will never confuse Chris Kemoeatu with Alan Faneca but the Steelers could do worse. Justin Hartwig was a clear upgrade over Sean Mahan at center. Darnell Stapelton didn’t play poorly for someone who entered the league as an undrafted rookie free agent. Willie Colon still hasn’t stopped people from insisting that his natural position is guard, after two years as a starter, Steeler coaches prefer to demure.

The Steelers will also bring back Trai Essex, who can play both guard and tackle. They also have last year’s 4th round pick Tony Hills. Considering that Hills did not get into a game in 2008 it would be folly to expect too much of him, but it’s also foolish to count him out.

Why?

Remember this: In 1999 there was another fourth round pick who only saw action in 6 games as a rookie, and had little expected of him heading into his sophomore season. That player blossomed into a starter and a Pro Bowler.

His name is Aaron Smith. Steel Curtain Rising is not predicting that the same will happen with Tony Hills, but stranger things have come to pass.

Steelers Bottom Line in 2009 on the Offensive Line

Up until the final years of the Bill Cowher regime the Steelers seemed to have an unofficial policy to use a premium pick on an offensive lineman.

The last time they picked an offensive lineman in the top three rounds it was Trai Essex in 2005. They must discard this patchwork offensive line building strategy, and they must do so starting with this draft.

But the Steelers do have some depth and some youth going for them on the offensive line. Steel Curtain Rising will take a look at the Steelers defensive line draft needs soon, but for the moment we’ll offer that the same cannot be said for the defensive line.

Comparing what we have on both lines, the offensive line has the greatest potential to grow, and this group of players has already shown they’ll do the work needed to make that happen.

If the Steelers get a shot at a blue chip offensive lineman with one of their premium picks, they should take him. But of the two lines, the offensive line is the less pressing need, if only slightly so.

Thanks for visiting. Steel Curtain Rising will profile the Steelers 2009 draft needs.

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Just How Valuable Were the Steelers 2009 Free Agents?

NFL players are a scarce commodity. Economics 101 tells us that scarcity + high demand leads to high prices.

When free agency began at 12:01 am on Friday the 27th, the Steelers saw no fewer than a eleven unrestricted hit the open market. Most are not expected to return, so that begs the question, just how valuable are these players?

  • The answer depends upon who responds.

One of the most interesting things in the run up to free agency was the difference in the values that the Pittsburgh press pegged on the Steelers free agents vs. the national media.

In discussing Bryant McFadden, Chris Kemoeatu, and Nate Washington, the Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review regularly attributed the adjectives “top free agent corner/guard/wide receiver,” or phrases like “so-and-so is expected to be the first to go.”

  • These men are good players who will rake in a lot of money and the Steelers will miss McFadden and Washington.

But the rest of the national media does not hold these Steelers in as high regard as their colleagues in the Pittsburgh press do.

Peter Schrager of Fox Sports wrote a lengthy column rating free agents at every position. He broke players down into three major categories: Big Money Guy, The Bargain Bin, the Wild Card, and one minor one, Other intriguing names.

The Steelers only had one player land in one of Schrager’s top three categories. He put Byron Leftwich into the Bargain Bin, which is on the mark. The only other Steelers to make Schrager’s list were Marvel Smith and Nate Washington, who both were “Other intriguing names” at their respective positions.

Washington is easy to understand, but Smith an intriguing name at his age and with his injury history?

  • Byrant McFadden’s name was no where to be found, which must be considered some what of a surprise.

Regardless, its interesting to note that 72 hours into free agency, neither McFadden nor Washington has a new team. That will almost certainly change before the end of the week, but the disparity of the Pittsburgh media’s evaluation of Steelers free agents and that of the national media is interesting.

It brings back memories of 1999, when Richard Huntely signed a contract extension with the Steelers. The exact numbers of his deal have faded from memory, but they were nothing extraordinary. The Pittsburgh media was in awe of the contract, in spite of the fact that it only amounted to backup money – generous back up money, but back up money nonetheless.

Pittsburgh Sports Media Gets Blindsided by Simmons’ Departure

Speaking of surprises, Steelers Nation was not expecting Steelers to cut Kendall Simmons. And that’s because this move was totally unanticipated by the Pittsburgh press corps.

In particular, Ed Bouchette was asked time and time again during the season in his weekly chat sessions about the Steelers plans for Chris Kemoeatu. Bouchette’s reply was that the Steelers would most likely let him go and plan to start Darnell Stapleton and Kendall Simmons at guard in ’09.

To be fair, Bouchette reported several times over the last week that the Steelers were in serious talks with Kemoeatu, but never he suggest that Simmons would get the axe.

Taking Our Own Medicine, Again

A site that revels in pointing out the faults and inconsistencies of the professional journalists in Pittsburgh must own up to its own short comings.

Steel Curtain Rising ran a post the morning after the Steelers cut Simmons. In that post we stated that he’d been drafted in 2003. In fact, he was drafted in 2002. We’ve corrected the mistake, but it is nonetheless important to fess up.

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