Steelers Activate Bruce Gradkowski

To the surprise of many in Steelers Nation, back up quarterback Bruce Gradkowski opened Steelers training camp on the PUP list. The move keeps Gradkowski from practicing and allowed the Steelers to use his roster spot with someone else.

  • The Steelers also would have been able to keep Gradkowski on the PUP until the middle of the season, and then activate him.

It is not something that happens often, but the Steelers did just that with Heath Miller in 2013. Miller of course tore his ACL at the end of the 2012 season, and was kept on the Steelers PUP list, until being activated before the debacle in London.

In his absences, the Steelers have been giving most of Gradkowski’s reps to Landry Jones. Landry Jones entered training camp with a target on his back, showed improvement during practice, but reviews of his performance in the Steelers Hall of Fame Game loss to the Minnesota Vikings and their preseason loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars have been mixed at best.

  • While Landry Jones HAS improved from previous outings, he clearly hasn’t show himself as a viable number 2 NFL quarterback.

In contrast, Gradkowski fits that mold perfectly, following in the footsteps of Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich who have held distinction of “QB Number 2” for much of Kevin Colbert’s tenure as Steelers General Manager.

Gradkowski has been nursing an ailing shoulder, although reports indicate that he began throwing on his own while at St. Vincent’s. However, Ed Bouchette reported on video following the Jaguars game that the Steelers weren’t looking to activate Gradkowski until the 4th preseason game.

  • Perhaps Bouchette was mistaken or perhaps Jones’ struggles have forced the Steelers hand.

Three summers ago both Isaac Redman and Johnathan Dwyer were nursing injuries in mid August prompting the Steelers to activate Rashard Mendenhall ahead of schedule (although Mendenhall did not play until after the first month of the season.)

Although Gradkowski has never thrown a regular season pass for the Steelers, did briefly relieve Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers playoff loss to the Ravens, and completed 2-3 passes and looked quite sharp doing it.

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Watch Tower: Is Mike Tomlin’s Personnel Decision Making Authority Less than Thought?

Just how much authority does Mike Tomlin have on Pittsburgh Steelers personnel decisions?

  • Fans debate this question tooth and nail, but the irony is that, most in Steelers Nation lack any insight whatsoever into how much sway Tomlin holds in personnel decisions.

The Colbert-Tomlin drafts clearly have a different character than the Colbert-Cowher drafts. Mike Tomlin’s thumbprints were all over the arrivals of Sean Mahan and Allen Rossum in 2007 and Mewelde Moore in 2008. But beyond that, the public knows little of how big of a seat Tomlin holds in Pittsburgh’s personnel pow-wows.

Until now.

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Dani Bostic recently caught up with Isaac Redman, he of “Redzone Redman” fame and stumbled across a potentially earth shaking insight into Tomlin’s authority over personnel matters.

After detailing the nature of Redman’s injury, and the team’s seeming unwillingness to take it seriously, Redman dropped the following bombshell on Bostic:

Mike Tomlin caught up to him as the star running back was leaving for his appointment. “We’re going to release you. I tried fighting for you,” Tomlin said. Redman was stunned, even more so when he realized they were releasing him healthy instead of putting him on the injured reserve where he could have continued to receive a paycheck. [Emphasis added]

There are two ways to take Tomlin’s admission that he tried in vain to fight for Redman:

It it could be simple coach speak, and an attempt to soften the impact of bearing bad news by implying that responsibility lie elsewhere. That’s certainly plausible.

But it is equally possible that Tomlin really did wish to retain Redman, but got overruled. And there is precedent here. Shortly before the 2013 season the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Kaboly lobbed this grenade regarding Jonathan Dwyer’s getting cut:

Regardless, between Kaboly’s Tweet and Dani Bostic’s story on Redman, we now have two documented cases of players being released over the objections of coaches in 2013.

We also know that this is a sharp contrast from the days when Bill Cowher wore the headset. Shortly after Jerome Bettis published The Bus: My Life in and out of a Helmet, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola quickly debunked one of Bettis chief revelations – namely that Jon Witman had edged out Tim Lester at fullback because like Witman, Steelers running back’s coach Dick Hoak had gone to Penn State.

Bettis was wrong, as Labriola insisted, because Bill Cowher had say over those types of personnel matters and wasn’t shy about reminding people.

  • At the very least, it would seem that Mike Tomlin does not wield that kind of clout.

None of this suggests that Mike Tomlin is either a pushover or is powerless when it comes to personnel decisions. In fact, it is well documented that when the Patriots offered Emmanuel Sanders a restricted free agent tender, the front office was content to take the 3rd round draft pick and let Sanders walk, but the coaches pushed back and won the day.

  • But it underlines the reality that the dynamics behind the Steelers personnel decisions remain a mystery.

As the Watch Tower commends Dani Bostic on her scoop, it again encourages the credentialed members of the Steelers press corps to lift the lid on how Steelers personnel decisions are made.

Coolong Joins Kovacevic @ DK on Pittsburgh Sports

As the Steelers roster goes, so goes the press room? It certainly seems that way. The Steelers have experienced tremendous roster turnover over the past few seasons, and the press room appears to be catching up.

As the Watch Tower has noted, first Alan Robinson and then Scott Brown disappeared from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and ESPN.com beats. Moreover, both men’s disappearance was Stalin-like in passing, as no announcement was ever made – both men simply stopped contributing.

  • However, their seats will not get cold anytime soon.

Neal Coolong, formerly of Behind the Steel Curtain, and more recently USA Today’s Steelers Wire, has joined Dejan Kovacevic at DK on Pittsburgh Sports. This is Coolong’s second move in only the space of a few months, but this is a definite step up the professional ladder, as Coolong finally has credentials, and will cover the Steelers on a daily basis (full disclosure, yours truly is a friend of Coolong’s and who has been a strong supporter of Steel Curtain Rising in general and the Watch Tower specifically.)

On his website Dejan Kovacevic explained the decision to add Coolong to his team:

He’s a gifted, prolific and richly communicative writer, very much in the spirit we’re trying to establish at our site. And he’s got all the news sense and aggressiveness any reader would want in a beat writer.

The Watch Tower agrees and offers its congratulations to its friend Coolong and wishes him the best.

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Lessons from Past Steelers OTA’s – When “Football in Shorts” Does Yield Insights

Phase III of the Steelers 2015 off season workouts begin today, which are officially titled “Organized Team Activites” or just Steelers OTA’s. In the past Mike Tomlin has thrown cold water on drawing conclusions based on OTA’s, calling it “Football in shorts.”

  • And he’s right. There are real limits to what coaches, let alone fans, can learn from “Football in shorts.”

Fans are going to want to assessments on the Steelers 2015 draft class, they’ll progress reports on Bud Dupree, Senquez Golson, Sammie Coates and the rest of the crew. Unless any of those men get injured, there’s unlikely to be any meaningful news or insight on those players coming out of Steelers OTA’s

Yet looking back, past Steelers OTA’s have in fact given fans useful insights about the season to come — as well as plenty of false flags.

Steelers 2014 OTA’s & Minicamp – Shamarko 3rd on Depth Chart, Sean Spence Healthy

During OTA’s In 2014, Steelers Nation learned that Sean Spence had recovered enough to make a run at a roster spot after spending his first two years on IR.

 

Fans also learned that Shamarko Thomas, then going into his second year, was behind Will Allen on the depth chart at safety, something which remained constant through training camp all the way up to the Steelers playoff loss vs. the Ravens.

Steelers 2013 OTA’s & Minicamp – First Look at Le’Veon Bell and Shamarko Thomas

A photo of 2013 minicamp featured reserve cornerback in 2011 3rd round pick Curtis Brown wearing an ice pack, a development that foreshadowed his final summer at St. Vincents. Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review also told us the Le’Veon Bell ran with power, and that Landry Jones struggled passing. He also told us that Shamarko Thomas looked strong in gunner drills, and for whatever question still surround Shamarko as a safety, he’s played well on special teams.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s & Minicamp Polamalu Present, Wallace AWOL

In 2012 the big news out of Steelers OTA’s and minicamp was who was there – and who wasn’t. Following the departure of veterans like Aaron Smith and James Farrior, Troy Polamalu made a point of attending OTA’s to add leadership. However, Mike Wallace was absent, signaling his hold out. 2012’s OTA’s also featured the introduction of Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense to Todd Haley’s system, and Ben’s admonition to the rest of his players to “not get frustrated” again signaled things to come.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s were also when we learned that Todd Haley had “officially” restored the fullback position to the Steelers offense, as David Johnson would make the switch.

Yet, Steelers OTA’s in 2012’s and mini-camp also contained their share of false flags, as Dale Lolley reported how strong rookie 5th round pick Chris Rainey looked while adding that Baron Batch looked fully recovered from his ACL tear. Rainey disappointed on the field before disappointing off the field, while Batch was never the same.

The other big “News” of 2012 OTA’s was Kordell Stewart’s decision to “retire” as a Steeler.

Steelers 2010 OTA’s & Minicamp the Roethlisberger Suspension

There were no OTA’s or mini-camp in 2011 thanks to the NFLPA’s lockout. In 2010 there wasn’t a lot of “news” out of OTA’s and/or minicamp as Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension dominated coverage, although word was rookie Jonathan Dwyer looked strong. The big insight came from Dale Lolley, who signaled Kraig Urbik’s rise on the depth chart (which the Steelers unfortunately could not take advantage of.)

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp 2009 – Hill’s Demise, Mundy’s Rise Foreshadowed

The Steelers 2009 OTA’s and minicamps provided Steelers Nation with a mix and match of insight and false flags. Max Starks was absent and, tellingly, second year man Tony Hills did not take his place. Ryan Mundy also got extensive work, foreshadowing the Steelers efforts to groom Mundy as a future starter. (he never got there in Pittsburgh, but Ryan Mundy’s put up decent numbers in New York and better numbers in Chicago.)

However, Dale Lolley also opined that the 2009 Steelers showed a fire missing in 2006, an observation which ultimately did not carry over into the regular season.

Steelers 2008 OTA’s & Minicamp – Mike Tomlin Cautions Against “Football in Shorts”

Steelers OTA’s in 2008 provided Mike Tomlin’s “football in shorts” comment when asked about the development of Dallas Baker. The spring practice sessions also revealed that Anthony Smith still hadn’t learned anything, as evidenced by an over the top display following an interception. Dale Lolley, again offered some solid insight on the rise of Darnell Stapleton, who would start for the Steelers following Kendall Simmons’s injury vs. Baltimore that coming fall.

Also, it was Lolley who gave Mewelde Moore some of the love that the rest of the press covering the Steelers missed – and this is something that Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower missed when it critiqued the members of the Steelers media for ignoring Moore.

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp – 2007 All Eyes on Faneca and Tomlin

The story in Steelers OTA’s and Mini-camp in 2007 was the Alan Faneca situation. Faneca was decidedly unhappy about not getting a contract extension from the Steelers, and went very public with his grievances.

  • Everyone wanted to see how rookie head coach Mike Tomlin handled the situation, and the record shows he handled it well.

One false flag came from Dale Lolley, who described Dan Sepulaveda’s punting as “awesome” something that didn’t translate to the field of play. He also singled out the Steelers interest in undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Clement, a kid who never made the team, but for some reason was a magnet for search visitors during Steel Curtain Rising’s maiden season.

[Quick note on sources. After 2012 Google is not very helpful in returning meaningful results for the queries “Steelers OTA’s” and/or “Steelers Mini-camp” even when limiting queries by date. Thankfully Dale Lolley has a site index archive that is searchable by date. Kudos to him. He gets the back links, for what they’re worth.]

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The Colbert Record: Grading Steelers 2010 Draft Class

Tonight, probably before the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft is complete, you’ll begin to team’s draft performances graded. Bold franchise-saving first round moves will be praised. Catastrophic mistakes will be castigated. Oversights will be lamented.

  • In the end it all means nothing.

That’s right, nothing.

Legitimate evaluations of any draft come, at the earliest, three years after the fact, and ideally at least four years later. Five year draft evaluations give an even more complete picture.

This latest edition of The Colbert Record goes about grading the Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 Draft Class, which should rightly be considered the crown jewel of the draft class of the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin era.

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

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

2010 Draft First Round – Maurkice Pouncey – Striking Gold at Just the Right Time

The Pittsburgh Steelers neglected offensive line building via the NFL Draft between 2006 and 2009 for reasons never fully explained or explored . Even when they used premium picks on offensive lineman they failed to find value, such as taking Kraig Urbik in 2009.

That changed in 2010, when the Steelers used their first round pick on Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey not only forced Justin Hartwig’s retirement, he’s made 4 straight Pro Bowls. The Pro Football Focus types will tell you that Pouency is overrated.

It says here that the Steelers resurgence on offensive line began the day they picked Pouncey. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Draft Second Round – Jasion Worilds – Unspectacular But Sold Shot at Replacing Replace Silverback

When the Steelers passed on Sean Lee and picked Jason Worilds, Worilds was clearly picked as heir apparent to James Harrison….

…What was that about best laid plans of Mice and Men?

Worilds ended up replacing LaMarr Woodley, and he’s now out of football while James Harrison returns for a final season. Which isn’t to say that Jason Worilds was a bad pick. He did have difficulties finding a place in the Steelers lineup, but did well in his time before assuming a starting role in mind 2013.

Worilds was a good outside linebacker, but suffers by comparison to the tremendous legacy the Steelers boast at this position. And given how high they took Worilds, you’d expect a little more. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

2010 Draft Third Round – Emmanuel Sanders — Finding Excellent Value in the Value Round

You expect third rounders to develop into starters, and that’s exactly what Emmanuel Sanders did. Injuries limited him in 2011 and 2012 to a lesser extent, but Sanders made plenty of the opportunities given to him at the time.

In early 2012 comparisons between Sanders and a young Hines Ward were not inappropriate. When he finally broke the starting lineup full time in 2013, he didn’t quite reach that level, but he did quite well. Grade: Quality Value Pick +

2010 Fourth Round – Thaddeus Gibson — Striking Out on the Inside

The man who got the ink coming out of mini camp and during the early days of the Steelers 2010 training camp was Thaddeus Gibson. Yet, as the competition progressed, Gibson couldn’t keep up. He made the roster, but the Steelers cut Gibson in October and San Fran picked him up (prompting Ed Bouchette to cry “Dwaine Board” once again). However, unlike Dwaine Board, Thaddeus Gibson never did anything of note in his stays with San Francisco, Chicago, or Tennessee. Grade: Bust

2010 Fifth Round – Chris Scott, Crezdon Butler, Stevenson Sylvester, — A Mixed Bag

The Steelers drafted 3 players in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh was big on Chris Scott, even after he injured himself in before training camp, ruining his rookie year. Scott made it back to play in two games in 2011 but couldn’t hold on. He did land in Pittsburgh Northeast in 2012 but saw little action. However, Carolina picked up, where he made 8 starts in 2013 and returned to play in 10 games in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

The record shows that Crezdon Butler actually appeared in four games for the Steelers in 2010, but he got cut in 2011. However, he’s hung on since then, playing for Pittsburgh West aka Arizona, Pittsburgh Northeast aka Buffalo, Washington, San Diego, and Tampa. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers third 5th round pick of the 2010 NFL Draft was none other than Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester played well on special teams as a rookie and looked to make a big leap during his sophomore season. He didn’t, lasting all of a handful of plays in his first start in the Steelers upset over New England. Still, Stevenson developed into a reliable back up, and Sylvester’s return in 2013 helped bring the Steelers back to their winning ways. That’s fine for a 5th rounder. Grade: Quality Value Pick

2010 Sixth Round – Jonathan Dwyer, Antonio Brown — Hitting the Jackpot

The Steelers first pick in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft saw them grab Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers was checkered, as Dwyer seemingly showed up to training camp over weight and only made the team due to injuries and/or late pre-season surges. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers might be labeled a disappointment by many and perhaps there’s some justification to that. But you don’t expect to draft a stud in the sixth round and, taking that into consideration, Dwyer delivered excellent value for his draft position. Grade: Over Performer

  • You don’t “expect “ to draft a stud in the sixth round, but sometimes you do.

Antonio Brown proves that good players remain on the board in every round. Brown made his mark early as a rookie in the Steelers upset vs. the Titans. He made it again in the playoffs vs. Baltimore and again vs. the Jets. His play in 2011 made Mike Wallace expendable, and the franchise hasn’t looked back since. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Seventh Round – Doug Worthington — Another Farm Team Pick

The Steelers picked up Doug Worthington with their last pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and Worthington never held on. He got picked up in 2011 by the Washington Redskins, and appeared in six games in 2012. He was back in DC in 2013 but saw no action, and held a roster spot at some point for the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2010 Draft Clearly Colbert and Tomlin’s Best

It’s been five years since Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin picked the Steelers 2010 Draft class, and only two players remain on the team from that group. Normally that would be a damming commentary, but the truth is that the Steelers came out of that draft with two studs, and got solid contributions from several other players during the course of their rookie contracts – a key to success in the salary cap era. Overall Draft grade: B+/A-

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Ex-Steelers in the News for Both Wrong and Right Reasons

While the NFL’s been having some its worst weeks in history, (see why Goodell should be fired) a duce of ex-Steelers have made the news for both the right and wrong reasons.

On the dark side of things, former Steelers and current Pittsburgh West aka Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was of course arrested for domestic violence this week.

On Twitter, Walter Maselli summed up what everyone in Steelers Nation was thinking:

This is not to make light of domestic violence, which is a serious crime. But although he never had any history of off the field issues in Pittsburgh, it fits Dwyer’s history to a T.

  • The man simply doesn’t get it.

Both his rookie and sophomore years in the NFL he showed up to came over weight and made the team due to injuries. In 2012 he had a chance to grab the starting job, but couldn’t. In 2013 he got cut, and to his credit played well.

Still, when it came time to decide on whether to keep him in Pittsburgh or not, we said this:

Steel Curtain Rising’s call is for the Steelers to bring back Jonathan Dwyer, but with the caveat that the signing bonus of any second contract must be rock bottom.
If Dwyer balks at that or if some other team is foolish enough to open the check book for him, the Steelers need to let him walk.

Dwyer left quickly in free agency to join Bruce Arians in Arizona. Apparently the Steelers didn’t have interest in even offering him a bargain basement contract. Smart move on the part of the Steelers brass.

In addition, Pittsburgh West announced that it had cut Chris Rainey. Rainey of course had been the Steelers 5th round draft pick in 2012, only to be cut after a domestic incident of his own. Bruce Arians I am sure will assure you that both roster moves were coincidental.

Kemoeatu’s Kidney Transplant

Negative news is what makes the headlines and generates the page views, but one should never allow that to define things, and the Kemoeatu story out of the University of Maryland Medical Center shows why.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of course drafted Chris Kemoeatu in the 6th round of the 2005 NFL Draft. After a year on the practice squad and another two on the bench, he broke the starting lineup in 2008 under Mike Tomlin and held it there until mid 2011.

Despite his impressive size, Kemoeatu never developed into the dominate lineman he was projected to be, and was known for his nasty temperament and penchant for holding, including one call on the Steelers final drive of Super Bowl XLIII, which earned him the wrath of Ben Roethlisberger.

  • The Steelers cut Kemoeatu after 2011, and he was out of football.

However, he had Kidney issues, and needed a transplant. His brother Ma’ake Kemoeatu, himself a former Baltimore Raven, Carolina Panther, and Washington Redskin, donated one, and the transplant was made successful.

When asked about the decision, Ma’ake’s response was simple: “It’s my duty to take care of my younger brother. If he needs blood, I’ll give blood and if he needs a kidney, I’ll give a kidney.”

Love doesn’t get any purer than that. Yes, ladies and gentleman, there are good men in the NFL.

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Steelers Nation Hails Isaac Redman, Wishes “RedZone” Well in Retirement

Isaac Redman’s most memorable play in Pittsburgh serves as the perfect metaphor for his career.

  • The play itself came in a key AFC North Showdown Sunday, December 5th at Baltimore.

With Pittsburgh down 10-6 and under four minutes remaining, Troy Polamalu strip-sacked Joe Flacco. LaMarr Woodley recovered, returning it to the nine. Pass attempts to Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward fell short. In between, Terell Suggs broke Ben Roethlisberger’s nose.

Its 3rd and 9. Isaac Redman shows up in the huddle – he’s not even supposed to be one the field, but it’s too late, he must stay in. Ball is snapped. Redman “Goes out and gets open” here’s what happened (available as of 8/24/14):

Unfortunately, thanks to Roger Goodell’s You Tube Police, we lack a better quality video. But a high-quality video isn’t necessary to capture the essence of Isaac Redman:

  • He wasn’t  supposed to be there, yet with dogged determination he defied the odds to impose his will.

Isaac Redman, the undrafted rookie free agent who took Steelers Nation by storm in during the Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 training camp, retired from football last week 10 months after his release from the Steelers.

Isaac Redman, from Undrafted Free Agent to Steelers Nation Cult Hero

Even on the Steelers, a franchise crafted on giving undrafted rookie free agents a fair shake, these players face long odds. That’s especially true when they’re trying to make the roster of a defending Super Bowl Champion.

  • None of that deterred Isaac Redman.

Maryland’s Bowie State University will never serve as an NFL launching pad, but Redman’s career there earned him the school’s all time rushing title, and that landed him a spot in the Steelers 2009 undrafted rookie free agent class.

In the 21st century NFL training camps have become fairly mundane affairs, with contact minimized to a level that might perhaps make them unrecognizable to their form during Chuck Noll’s heyday. At St. Vincent’s, under Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, the goal line drill offers a contrast.

  • Redman got his shot in the goal line drill and scored twice.

Tomlin saw enough to give him a shot in the team’s first preseason game vs. Arizona, and Redman scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Redman didn’t fare as well in the team’s next two preseason games, but led the team in rushing in the preseason finale vs. Carolina, and scored another touchdown.

  • Still, it wasn’t enough to make the team.

Mike Tomlin opted to give roster spots to Frank Summers and Stefan Logan. The Steelers instead signed Redman to the practice squad, where he’d be released and activated several times during the 2009 season.

From Cult Hero to Solid Backup

While Steelers management had taken a “Wait and see” attitude, Steelers Nation fell head over heels for “RedZone Redman.” He might have entered training camp behind 2010’s 6th round draft pick Jonathan Dwyer on the depth chart, but that did nothing to deter fans.

To wit, when Behind the Steel Curtain polled asking fans who should win the training camp quarterback derby between Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, and Charlie Batch, BTSC jokingly included Redman’s name, and Redman did well.

With a practice squad apprenticeship under his belt, Redman not only beat out Frank “The Tank” summers for a roster spot, but served as Mendenhall’s top backup for the year. If Redman lacked the speed and athleticism of Mendenhall, he was a bruising runner between the tackles who excelled at yards after contact.

  • He didn’t start any games in 2010, but saw carries in all 15 save for the mid-season speaking administered by New England.

By early 2011, Redman’s workman like performances had fans calling for him to start ahead of Mendenhall. By season’s end, Mendenhall’s ACL tear vs. the Browns gave fans their wish. Redman closed the game with 92 yards rushing, and gained 121 in the Tebowing suffered by the Steelers in Denver.

2012 Opportunity Slips Away

With Mendenhall recovering from his ACL, and Jonathan Dwyer consistently inconsistent, the stage was set for Redman to seize the starting role.

  • Yet, that didn’t happen.

Redman injured in groin in training camp, and neglected to tell the trainers about it. The team hurriedly activated Mendenhall from IR.  Redman started the Steelers first three games but was ineffective. An injury vs. Tennessee kept him out for the next two weeks.

  • Nonetheless, destiny gave Redman a final moment of glory.

Injuries thrust Redman back into the starting role in week 8 vs. the Giants, where he exploded for 147 yards rushing. He got another start the following week, but was ineffective. He played out the rest of the season, delivering his greatest impact vs. Baltimore.

2013 Redman’s Ride Reaches an Unceremonious End

Rookie Le’Veon Bell’s lisfranc injury and Jonathan Dwyer’s waiver made Redman the Steelers opening day starter in 2013. He promptly fumbled away his first carry and did nothing to redeem himself. A week later he suffered a concussion vs. Cincinnati, and later admitted to lying about it. Bell and Dwyer’s return saw Redman relegated to the bench, then the inactive list.

Yet in spite of his on the field accomplishments and former cult-hero status, the news wasn’t the bombshell it should have been. The press wrote very little about his departure. Fans didn’t care.

When yours truly suggested the team grant Redman a second chance in the offseason, fan reaction ranged from indifferent to hostile, and just plain hostile after Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s arrest.

  • Yet there seemed to be a 2+2 = 3 nature to Redman’s story.

Not only did the Steelers fail to show interest in resigning him, his name simply didn’t surface. Last Friday Redman revealed why on Twitter:

Apparently, during those final eight games, Redman suffered a neck injury that went unreported. We’ll never know if he could have saved his career by admitting to his injury. Either way, Redman’s time came to an unfortunate end.

But, as ESPN’s Scott Brown remembered “Isaac Redman gave the Steelers his all.” Steel Curtain Rising thanks Redman for his service and wishes him the best in retirement.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 NFL Draft Needs: Running Back

The 2013 NFL Draft was unique in that no running backs were taken in the first round, as sign of rules changes which are heavily tilting the game in favor of the pass. Several team grabbed running backs in the second round, including the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • Now is the time to examine the Steelers draft needs at running back in 2014.

The Steelers of course took Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft and, after an injury-slowed start, Bell gave them a lot of reason to have faith that he is “their” running back for the foreseeable future.

  • Outside of Will Johnson, however, the Steelers have looked at their current crop of rushers and found them wanting.

Jonathan Dwyer is now in Pittsburgh West, Isaac Redman found himself cut at mid-season and remains teamless, as does Felix Jones. The Steelers did sign LeGarrette Blount, who should provide excellent depth at a very fair salary cap value. After that, the cupboard is thin, very thin.

Outside of Le’veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Johnson, and Blount, the Steelers have Alvester Alexander and Miguel Maysonet under contract, neither of which has an NFL regular season to his name, although both have practice squad experience. In addition to Jones, the Steelers could bring back LaRod Stephens-Howling after June first.

Steelers Need RB Depth in the Draft

Times change. The Pittsburgh Steelers started the 2000 season with Jerome Bettis, Richard Huntley, and Amos Zereoue at half back, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala and Jon Witman at fullback, both of whom were capable of carrying the ball. They also had Dan Krieder on the practice squad.

steelers 2014 nfl draft needs priorities running back

  • That’s 6 running backs who had or would get significant NFL starting experience.

However, when one says “The Steelers need running back depth” 2000 is not even remotely close to the standard. No, the Steelers last year appeared more than content to go with 3 half backs and 1 full back on the regular season roster, and it could be the same again in 2014.

However, they will not depend on Alexander or Maysonet to deliver that depth, nor would they likely rely on Stephens-Howling as a reserve, should they choose to bring him back. That means the Steelers will be looking to add depth.

  • But don’t expect them to add a running back early.

The Steelers running back needs in the 2014 NFL Draft should be considered moderate.

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Solution to Steelers Running Back Woes? – Give Isaac Redman a 2nd Chance

LeGarrette Blount will visit Pittsburgh today, a trip delay so he could meet with Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and Art Rooney II. Meanwhile, Behind the Steel Curtain reports that Maurice Jones-Drew will visit Oakland.

The smart money would say that those franchises awash in cash, such as the Raiders, will have a better shot at the likes of Blount and  Jones-Drew, just as they did with Al Woods and Jerricho Cotchery.

Absent a long-term deal with transition player Jason Worilds or an extension of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers face a dilemma.  Put all of their faith in filling needs in the 2014 NFL Draft – a dubious proposition or restructure contracts to gain cap space.

  • But it doesn’t have to be this way. The Steelers have a viable option at running back.

The Steelers can sign a running back who has shown he can make tough yards. One who has 100 yard regular season and post-season games on his resume. This player has no serious injury history. He  already knows their offensive system. Perhaps best yet, the Steelers can sign this running back for the veteran minimum, with little or no signing bonus.

  • Who is this overlooked four leave clover?

None other than Isaac Redman.

  • Yes, Redman, the same player who went from Steelers Nation cult hero to “what have you done for me lately.” 

When last seen, Redman was of course fumbling away the Steelers chance to take the lead vs. the Tennessee Titans. He struggled mightily the rest of the way amassing all of 12 yards in 10 carries. He admitted to lying his way through a concussion test.

Jim Wexell reported “Even at practice last week Redman stumbled in the open field and fell down proving that he’s clearly not the runner he was two years ago.”

Well, no, Jim, that doesn’t prove that Redman wasn’t the runner he was two years ago. The “two year” reference is the fact that Redman could not seize the starting job down the stretch in 2012. No he did not. But that misses the point. Not to beat a dead horse, but….

  • The 2012 Steelers running game went the way of Willie Colon.

When Colon got settled into at guard, the Steelers ran well. When he got hurt, they began to falter. When they lost him the running game flat out faltered.

  • If Redman can be let off the hook for 2012, he was clearly in a funk in 2013.

Fair enough. It is also beyond fair to say that Redman isn’t and won’t be an NFL feature back. But before you write this off as some sort of “Return Redzone Redman Return!” romanticism, take a look below:

issac redman stats rushing receiving stats 2010 2012
Redzone “Reliable Redman” 

Number don’t lie.

And these numbers reveal a quality NFL back up running back, not too dissimilar for those of James Starks, a player the Steelers considered signing (or at least player whose agent convinced the Pittsburgh press crops that the Steelers were interested in.)

  • A superficial analysis of the graphic above might conclude that Redman’s only extended time as a starter revealed his limits as rusher.

That’s partially true, but it’s also true he was hurt at the beginning of that run, and lacked a line after it. It also shows that Redman proved himself as an able pass catcher, something often over looked.

But even if Redman’s stats from 2012 paint more accurate rendering of his rushing ability, consider how they stack up against these numbers:  381 and 127. Those would be the rushing and receiving totals of Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones from 2013.

  • That’s the combined total of both players.

Isaac Redman is never going to grow into the type of unheralded, overlooked Steelers running back turned star a la Rocky BleierMerril HogeWillie Parker that Steelers Nation dreamed of in his Redzone Redman days.

But his past performance more than suggests that he’s worthy of a veteran minimum deal. The Steelers owe it to themselves to give Isaac Redman a second chance.

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Maurice Jones-Drew Visits Steelers; Cotchery Undecided; Silverback to Return?

There’s one thing you’ve gotta love about the NFL off season:  The unpredictable rhythm of the news cycle. This is a sharp contrast to the regular season or even training camp, where they news cycle is defined by:

  • post game interviews
  • game debriefings
  • press conferences
  • injury reports
  • in-locker room visits
  • conference calls with out of town press
  • sit down chats with the TV crews

Then finally, there’s the game itself.

No such template exists for the NFL off season. It’s the wild west, where every agent is a bounty hunter, every player a claims speculator, every reporter a saloon keeper, and every general manger a would-be county sherriff desperate to instill order.

Such it was that James Starks never made the vist that was “promised” to Pittsburgh, Jerricho Cotchery left the Steelers cruise in search of a contract with Carolina and not the South Side, Lance Moore arrived for his Tuesday visit on Wednesday and Maurice Jones-Drew showed up “unannounced at the South Side.” Jones-Drew would give the Steelers the veteran back up they’ve been seeking for Le’Veon Bell in the wake of Jonathan Dwyer’s departure.

He and Moore also left the South Side without contract offers, if reports are to be believed. And as of 11:00 pm eastern on March 19th, Jerricho Cotchery had still not made up his mind between competing offers from Carolina and Pittsburgh.

  • And the biggest news didn’t even involve any of the above.

Last week James Harrison was cut by the Bengals. Later this week he was interviewed and asked where he’d like to finish his career.

  • Debo wants to finish his career with the Steelers

And he’s not talking about one of the one day contract signings that are now in vogue. Harrison wants to play, and reports are that the Steelers are seriously considering welcoming him back.

This amounts to a very large turn about for the franchise, who cut Harrison a year ago, and then said “thanks but no thanks” when Harrison indicated he wanted back on the team after  finding little interest on the free agent market.

Suffice to say, Steel Curtain Rising will be monitoring this story as it develops.

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Steelers Free Agent Focus: Guy Whimper Re-Ups with Pittsburgh

After a week which saw them lose Jonathan Dwyer, David Johnson, Al Woods, Ziggy Hood and Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers began week 2 of NFL Free Agency by resigning one of their own.

  • Except it wasn’t the one Steelers Nation was hoping for.

When word broke that Jerricho Cotchery would end his Steelers cruise by going to Carolina Steelers fans feared the worst. And yes, the worst may indeed come to pass. The Steelers acknowledge as much with their decision to entertain Lance Moore of the New Orleans Saints.

The player that the Steelers resigned is none other than Guy Whimper, the offensive lineman that Steelers Nation spent the 2013 off season dreading seeing in action. As fate would have it, Whimper did see action in the regular season. He wasn’t spectacular.

Perhaps “solid” would be too strong a word. His performance was serviceable and that was enough for the Steelers to give him a shot at a roster spot in 2014.

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