4 Lessons Learned & Random Thoughts on Steelers Growth Since Vikings Loss in London

When the Pittsburgh Steelers kickoff for their 2017 home opener against the Minnesota Vikings this afternoon, 1450 days will have passed since these two franchises last squared off. Normally you don’t think of intra-conference games marking milestones, but this one does.

Because if the Steelers post Super Bowl XLV rebuilding project began with the Tebowing in the playoffs against Denver in January 2011, the rebuilding effort scratched rock bottom on September 29th, as the Vikings dropped the 2013 Steelers to 0-4.

  • To put this into perspective, the previous Steelers head coach to start 0-4 was Bill Austin, in 1968.

With that in mind, let’s look at how the Steelers have changed, and remained the same, since then.

Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell backflip touchdown, Le'Veon Bell backflip touchdown, Steelers vs Vikings, Steelers London

Le’Veon Bell scores his first touchdown in the Steelers loss to Vikings in London. Photo Credit: Daily Mail Online

1. Sort of Failing at Left Tackle is Like Being Sort of Pregnant

By the fall of 2013 the Steelers had relegated their “Plug ‘n Patch” approach to offensive line building to history. Indeed on that day they started Ramon Foster, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert just as they will this afternoon (and they would have started Maurkice Pouency had he not been hurt.)

  • They also started Mike Adams at left guard.

Mike Adams didn’t represent any sort of Jonathan Scottesque attempt to get by on the cheap at left tackle. No, the Steelers invested a 2nd round pick in Mike Adams and made it very clear from the get go that they wanted him to win the starting job. He couldn’t do that as a rookie (and surprise, they turned again to Max Starks), but they gave him the job 2013.

  • The move was an epic fail, and the London loss to the Vikings was its supernova.

Adams struggled all day, and first and only time in his career, Ben Roethlisberger played like he had happy feet. The Vikings ended the game by sacking Roethlisberger, and while Adams didn’t directly allow the sack, he clearly didn’t win his battle at the line of scrimmage which helped collapse the pocket, paving the way for a sack.

The Vikings game in London marked Mike Adams final start at left tackle and Kelvin Beachum’s assent to the role.

2. Le’Veon Lived Up to the Hype, Jarvis Didn’t….

While neither he nor Mike Tomlin uttered the word “Rebuilding,” after the 2012 Steelers 8-8 finish Kevin Colbert as much as admitted changes were needed. Ergo, two key building blocks would come early in the Steelers 2013 Draft Class. One worked out, the other didn’t.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette scribe Ed Bouchette isn’t one to exaggerate, but even he seemed to be drinking a little Koolaid a big when he declared in July 2013 that Le’Veon Bell’s preseason debut “…will be one of the most-anticipated debuts by a Steelers rookie running back since Franco Harris took his first bows 41 years ago.”

  • Le’Veon Bell’s debut didn’t come until London thanks to his Lisfranc injury.

While Le’Veon Bell’s statistics were rather pedestrian on that afternoon, he did score two touchdowns, and flashed some of the ability that the Steelers offense has come to depend upon.

On the flip side, Jarvis Jones, who’d boldly requested number 95, was making his third start at outside linebacker for the Steelers. Jones had one tackle on the day and by any measure must be considered Kevin Colbert’s only true first round bust.

3. How Long Does It Take to Rebuild Defense? Four Years

One striking observation is that there’s been very little turnover in the Steelers offense since that fateful London day. Sure, Health Miller retired and the entire tight end depth chart has turned over (thanks to David Johnson’s waiver). But the line remains intact and that was the first game that the Killer Bees, Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown played together, and the trio has powered the offense since.

  • On defense you find an entirely different story.

Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark were still manning both safety spots. Ike Taylor was still starting at corner, and Cortez Allen, the unit’s rising star, returned to the line up to get burned on a 70 yard touchdown. Aside from William Gay, who was back after a one year hiatus in Pittsburgh West, the entire Steelers secondary has turned over since the London Loss.

Looking at the linebackers, Vince Williams was making his first NFL start, and if the rookie looked woefully unable to fill Larry Foote’s shoes, no one can argue he hasn’t grown into the role. But Vince Williams is the only Steelers linebacker left from the London Game (remember, James Harrison was in Cincinnati.)

If the Viking’s victory in London marked the Vince Williams first start, it also marked Ziggy Hood’s last one, as Mike Tomlin would name Cam Heyward starter after this game. The other starters that day were Steve McLendon, who was just taking over from Casey Hampton, and Brett Keisel. 1450 days later, the story remains the same on defensive line. Cam Heyward remains, everyone else is playing elsewhere or has begun “Life’s Work.”

4. Assistant Coaches Do Matter – See Mike Munchak’s Influence

People forget this, but Mike Adams wasn’t the only Steelers offensive lineman under fire 1450 days ago. Just one week earlier, in the Steelers loss to the Bears, Steelers coaches had rotated Kelvin Beachum on at both tackles.

While the Steelers offensive line improved during the course of 2013, Mike Tomlin quickly fired Jack Bicknell at season’s end and replaced him with Mike Munchak, and no one argues that the Steelers offensive line is far better for Munchak’s influence.

Young Money had been all the rage prior to 2013, but the promise of those young receivers was largely unrealized, as even Antonio Brown’s play was a little uneven by the end of 2012. Mike Tomlin responded by replacing Scottie Montgomery with Richard Mann, who has clearly transformed the Steelers wide receiving corps.

As Dick Hoak reminded everyone on the day he retired (after nearly 3 and half decades of serving as a Steelers assistant coach) NFL assistant coaches are “Hired to be fired.” He’s right. Often times assistant coaches act as the fall guys when either head coaches fail or draft picks flounder as busts.

But the additions of Richard Mann and Mike Munchak show that good assistant coaches can and do make a difference in the NFL.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

The Colbert Record: Grading the Steelers 2012 Draft, B-

The with 2017 NFL Draft in the books, it is now time to turn our attention to grading Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s performance with the Steelers draft class.

  • Of course, we’re talking about grading the Steelers 2012 Draft Class here.

The question of when a draft class is ripe to grade is an interesting one with no definitive answer. Same day draft grade border on inane, as Ike Taylor and the Steelers 2003 Draft Class demonstrates. Year after draft grades certainly aren’t much more helpful either.

After the rookie years of Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave, the Steelers 2016 Draft Class is looking pretty smart. But the same could be said in May 1990 about the 1989 Steelers Draft class, which had its gems but also a lot of fools gold.

The Steelers 2011 Draft Class seems to make a solid case for why you really need to wait five years to grade a draft class, and while others may quibble, we’ll stick with it grade the Steelers 2012 Draft Class.

David DeCastro, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers 2012 first round draft pick

David DeCastro blocking for Ben Roethlisberger. Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Chuck Cook, USA Today via kickoff coverage.com

 

Steelers 2012 1st Round Pick – David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford

When a highly rated prospect falls in the first round of the NFL Draft, it usually for two reason. First, some sort of off the field issue, be it true or not, surfaces and prospective buyers shy away. Second, sometimes one team will make an unexpected pick or trade scrambling everyone else’s draft board.

Going in to the 2012 NFL Draft, David DeCastro had been rated very highly, some experts had him in the top then. But then a run started on defensive lineman, and DeCastro continued to fall. The Steelers didn’t hesitate to pick DeCastro, and haven’t looked back since.

David DeCastro started as a rookie, although he lost most of that season ton injury, but was a full time starter by 2013. By 2014, DeCastro was establishing himself as a force on the field, and showing that streak of nasty that makes offensive lineman great. By 2015, David DeCastro had done well enough to see the Steelers exercise their 5th year option on him and eventually sign him to a long term deal.

For what it is worth, the NFL Network is rating DeCastro as the 97th best player in the league. Grade: Quality Value Pick (trending toward Grand Slam).

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

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2012 2nd Round Pick – Mike Adams, Tackle, Ohio State

Mike Adams provides the perfect example of a player who fell for kind of reason. In his case it was a failed drug test at the NFL Combine. The Steelers knew about this, and took them off their board because of it.

  • Mike Adams of course worked his way back into the good graces of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers took him admitting that there are risks with every pick. The easy evaluation, based on the disaster that was Mike Adams starting at left tackle, is that the Mike Adams pick was a bust. That’s a tempting conclusion to take, but it is not quite accurate.

  • People forget that Mike Adams started 6 games (per Pro Football Reference’s count) at right tackle in 2012 and played fairly well.

HE also made four starts at right tackle in 2014 and again he performed well. 2015 was lost to injury. OK, if you pick a man in the a tackle in the second round, and you project him as a left tackle, you expect more than 10 good starts at right tackle out of the player.

But the Steelers did get some value out of Mike Adams, it just wasn’t enough. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2012 3rd Round Pick – Sean Spence, Inside Linebacker, Miami

This pick perhaps illustrates just how much of a factor luck plays in forming a successful NFL Draft. The Steelers drafted Sean Spence with an eye towards replacing Larry Foote. All indications in training camp and preseason were that Spence was capable of being that player.

  • Then disaster struck, as Sean Spence suffered what could have been a career ending injury during preseason.

The Steelers kept Spence on injured reserve for two years, and in the meantime drafted Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier. Spence returned to full health in 2014 and functioned effectively as “The Next Man” up starting 13 games over the next two years.


Sean Spence after forcing a fumble in Steelers 2014 win over the Houston Texans. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today Steelers Wire

Who knows how good Sean Spence would have been had not been injured? How well would have he would have played during 2014 and 2015 had Shazier not forced him to the bench? Will never know the answer. All indications are that Colbert and Tomlin made the right pick with this selection, but unfortunately due to no one’s fault, injury prevented the Steelers from recouping its full value. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

Steelers 2012 4th Round Pick – Alameda Ta’mau, Nose Tackle, Washington

Note to Kevin Colbert: Next time you think of trading up to grab someone in one of the middle rounds, don’t pick a guy that is getting KOed on highlight films by your first round pick.

Because that’s exactly what the Steelers did in 2012 when they traded up to get the “last pure nose tackle in the draft” even though one of David DeCastro’s highlight reels included him totally dominating
Alameda Ta’mau.

That didn’t stop some pundits from predicting that Ta’Mau would become Casey Hampton’s heir apparent. Instead Ta’Mau became best known for his South Side drunken rampage, where only by the grace of God no one got seriously injured.

The Steelers didn’t cut him immediately, but he was gone by year’s end without playing a down and played in 14 games for Pittsburgh West over the next two season. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 5th Round Pick – Chris Rainey, Running Back, Florida

Unlike Ta’Mau who had a previous alcohol incident that the Steelers knew of but was not public knowledge, Chris Raniey brought a checkered history to Pittsburgh. However, the Pouncey family vouched for Rainey and the Steelers gave him a chance.

  • Chris Rainey was supposed to be a utility back for the Steelers – a small speedy back who could come out of the flat to spread the field.

As a running back Rainey saw spot duty in 2012 and had a respectable rushing average, and he also caught 14 passes on 22 targets which is also respectable, although he never showed any of that field stretching ability. Rainey had a minor run in with the law late in the season, and then his name popped up in the police blotter for domestic violence in January.

The Steelers cut their losses immediately and sent Rainey packing. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, A – Toney Clemons, Wide Receiver, Colorado

Toney Clemons never caught on with the Steelers, but he did play four games in 2012 for the Jacksonville Jaguars and was never heard from again. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, B – David Paulson, Tight End, Oregon

Fans will remember David Paulson for his dropped pass in the Steelers road loss to the Bengals in the second game of the 2013 Steelers 0-4 start. And yes he should have caught that, and yes it could have been a difference maker.

  • But David Paulson was a number 4 TE playing as a number 2 TE.

All told, David Paulson had 13 catches on 21 targets over 32 games for the Steelers. Those are hardly Mike Mularkey numbers, let alone Heath Miller type stats. But not bad production from the 240th man taken in the draft. Grade: Quality Value Pickup

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, C — Terrence Frederick, Cornerback, Texas A&M

Terrence Frederick never made caught on with the Steelers but played 5 games in 2012 and 2014 for the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. Again, not bad for a 7th round pick and not a bad way to pocket six figures before starting your “Life’s Work.” Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, D – Kelvin Beachum, Tackle, SMU

If most NFL General Managers would be forced to confess, when they get to the 248th pick of the draft they’re probably thinking, “If this works out well, he’ll land on the practice squad.” You don’t pick a man that late and expect him to play seven games for you that year, let alone start 5.

Yet that’s what Kelvin Beachum did for the Steelers as a rookie. There weren’t many bright spots for the Steelers offense on the backend of 2012, with Ben Roethlisberger’s injury to Young Money going broke, to the three headed implosion at running back.

But Kelvin Beachum was a true bright spot for the Steelers, as he went on to save the Steelers season in 2013 by stepping in at left tackle, and established himself as a legit starting left tackle in 2014. Grade: Grand Slam

Grading the Steelers 2012 Draft

Only David DeCastro remains of the Steelers 2012 Draft Class and by many measure’s that’s bad, because in theory this is when your draft picks should in their prime, hitting their stride. And when that happens, a team wins. See the roles the Steelers 2002 Draft Class played in winning Super Bowl XL.

  • But the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement’s rookie salary cap altered that calculus a bit.

By essentially mandating that every NFL team devote the same portion of his salary cap on its draft class, it raised the marginal value of the production a team gets out of its draft picks during their rookie contracts.

Viewed in that light, the Steelers got excellent value out of David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum. They also got solid contributions from the Sean Spence and even got “Something” out of Mike Adams and David Paulson. Unfortunately are weighed down by the loss of value of Ta’amu and Rainey and the draft pick they used to get Ta’Amu.

All told, Steelers 2012 Draft Class had a “Good But…” quality to it, and that’s why we’re grading out with a B-.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 Season

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

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

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

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

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

1. Steelers Sign Alejandro Villanaueva

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

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

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

2. Heath Miller Retires

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

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

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

3. Martavis Bryant Suspended

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

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

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

4. Steelers Release Cortez Allen

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

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

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

5. Steelers Draft Burns, Davis and Hargrave

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

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

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

6. David Johnson Returns

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

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

7. Senquez Golson injures Lisfranc

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

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

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

8. Steelers Sign Cobi Hamilton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Le’Veon Bell Returns

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

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

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

11. Big Ben Gets Injured in Miami

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

12. Ryan Shazier Returns to Full Health

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

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

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

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

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

13. James Harrison Returns to Full Time Stater

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

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

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

14. Steelers Christmas Comeback over the Ravens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Why Mike Tomlin’s Record vs Giants Is a Poor Indicator of Steelers in Season Progress

As I look back at Mike Tomlin’s record vs. the Giants as the Steelers prepare to play the New York Giants this week, I’m struck by both the similarities and ironies marked by the Tomlin era Steelers-Giants match ups. For starters:

  • In both 2008 and 2012 the Giants were defending Super Bowl champions
  • Both games were decided by 4th quarter comebacks

Dig deeper, and you’ll see that both the 2012 game and this year’s game reveal a lot about Pittsburgh’s post Super Bowl XLV roster retooling efforts. Moreover, the Steelers current .545 winning percentage is nearly identical to the .571 winning percentage the ’12 Steelers took into the Giants game.

However for all of these similarities, both the ’08 and ’12 games served as ironically poor indicators of how those two Steelers teams would be ultimately judged.

steelers vs. giants, mike tomlin vs giants, isaac redman giants 2012, isaac redman career game

Isaac Redman had a career game vs. the Giants in 2012, rushing for almost 150 yards. Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky, Getty Images.

’08 Steelers Stumbles vs. Giants Ultimately Signaled Nothing….

Mike Tomlin’s 2008 Steelers welcomed the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants to Heinz Field with a 5-1 record. Despite that record, this game was widely viewed as a “statement” game for the Steelers, given the lackluster track record of the opponents they’d beaten thus far.

Here was what we had to say about the game at the time:

No one should be fooled by the score as 21-14 does not begin to reveal the poor showing the Steelers made for themselves. The Steelers lost their first game against “PrimeTime” competition, and their performance revealed some troublesome issues which Mike Tomlin and company must address if the Steelers truly want to become contenders.

After describing the Steelers “bend but don’t break” defense of the day, the assessment of the offense came down to this:

Aside from Mewelde Moore’s 32 yard run, and Ben Roethlisberger‘s long bomb to Nate Washington, the Steelers offense produced nothing all day. They could not protect their quarterback, receivers could not get open or hold on to the ball, they could not convert third downs, and they could not sustain drives.

This game came well before Steel Curtain Rising had reached its its Arians Agnostic philosophy and the article harshly critiqued Bruce Arians reluctance to establish the run before concluding:

The Steelers are seven games into their season and they’re having difficulty sustaining drives and they cannot protect their quarterback. The Giants game revealed none of these warts, as each was on display in previous games. But the Steelers were able to compensate for them up until now. In fact, they compensated so well that one wondered if they were aberrations.

The Giants game revealed that the against a legitimate contender the Steelers would not be able simply make up for a several sloppy drives with a heroic comeback.

In the afterglow of Super Bowl XLIII, it Steelers fans can easily forget that the 2008 Steelers spent a lot of time stumbling and bumbling around yet, when the game was on the line, they pulled it together for the win more often that not. The Steelers 2008 loss to the Giants, complete with James Harrison’s errant snap as emergency long snapper, was one exception to that rule.

’12 Steelers Upset New York Giants on the Road

Unlike 2008, fans remember 2012 as the year the Steelers slipped into mediocrity. But that slip was anything but apparent after the 2012 Steeles win over the Giants.

Indeed, the early word on the significance of the 2012 win over the Giants flowed like this:

The Giants appeared to offer the perfect measuring stick, and the game in New York gave the team a chance to measure themselves against the defending Super Bowl Champions, as well as providing a different sort of test for the Steelers – one where they proved to be more than worthy to the task.

The Steelers started out the day strong, scoring a touchdown on their opening drive only to give up two touchdowns thanks to two very questionable calls that went in favor of the Giants. The Steelers defense held the Giants to field goals after that, as Shaun Suisham knocked in one of his own.

Still, the Steelers began the 4th quarter staring down a 10 point deficit against the defending Super Bowl Champions. Here is how we described the Steelers 4th quarter comeback:

Since Ken Whisenhunt’s departure the debate over the proper Run-Pass balance that should define the Steelers offense has consumed Steelers Nation.Such debate misses the point. Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain observed last season, the Steelers need a dynamic offence, that can either run or pass when the situation warrants.

  • The Steelers fourth quarter performance reveals a dynamic offense par excellence.
  • Ben Roethlisberger first connected with Mike Wallace for a catch-and-run quick strike.
  • Pittsburgh then mixed passes and runs to four different ball carriers, with Isaac Redman punching it in from the one

Finally, the Steelers iced the game on a clock killing drive that featured a 16 yard completion on third down and 28 yard scamper by Redman…. Versus the Giants the Steelers had multiple opportunities to flinch. But they chose to focus instead, and in the process the played their best regular season game in over a year. Not a bad place to be at the season’s half way mark.

Such high praise might seem misplaced give the 2012 Steelers 8-8 record and their dismal 3-5 finish which saw them lose multiple games in the 4th quarter. But the Steelers defense had struggled in early 2012, but the win over the Giants served as a turning point for that unit.

Dick LeBeau’s 2012 defense never did recover the splash play potential of its predecessors, but by the end of 2012, the Steelers defense was a strength. The fact that the Steelers gave up 8 turnovers to the Browns  a few weeks later and only lost by 4 points tells you all you need to know.

In contrast, Ben Roethlisberger got injured the next week vs. Kansas City, and wasn’t himself when he returned. The Steelers also lost Willie Colon shortly thereafter, and their run blocking fell apart because of it.

Those injuries, plus the performance against the Giants gives fans legitimate grounds to ask, “What If.”

Mike Tomlin’s Games vs. Giants Highlight Steelers Roster Retooling

The Steelers 2008, 2012 and 2016 matchups against the Giants provide excellent insights into Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s retooling of the Steelers roster. On offense Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Max Starks and Willie Colon served as constants between 2008 and 2012. Rashard Mendenhall was an additional roster holdover too, but he was already on IR for when the Steelers lost to the Giants in 2008.

  • Outside of those 5, the Steelers entire offense had turned over in just four years.

Yet if the Steelers rebuilding on offense was underway in 2012, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had hardly touched the defense. Sure, Ziggy Hood had “replaced” Aaron Smith and Cam Heyward was waiting in wings. William Gay was on his sabbatical to Pittsburgh West, while Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen split the cornerback duties with Will Allen playing for an injured Troy Polamalu.

Fast forward to 2016. On offense only Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro (who was on IR in 2012) remain. On defense the difference is even more dramatic as only James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Cameron Heyward and Robert Golden remain.

What Does the Steelers Intra-Giants Roster Upheaval Mean?

The tar and pitchfork portion of Pittsburgh’s fan base will no doubt look at the turnover between 2012 and 2016 and point to it as proof of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s personnel deficiencies. Too be sure, there is some room for criticism.

  • But by and large, the shifts highlight’s as many successes to Colbert and Tomlin rebuilding philosophies as it does disappointments.

After 2009, the Steelers stopped playing “plug and patch” with their offensive line and focused on drafting quality lineman, and the holdovers from 2012 show that they’ve been successful. (And remember, the Steelers wanted to keep Kelvin Beachum who they’d drafted in 2012.)

2012’s running back trio has all moved on to their life’s work, with injuries derailing Isaac Redman’s career and also hitting Rashard Mendenhall who didn’t have the desire, and Jonathan Dwyer who lacked discipline. Beyond those specific factors, the average career of an NFL running back is less than 4 years, so turnover there is normal.

As for the wide receivers, the Steelers bet on Antonio Brown over Mike Wallace before 2012, and never looked back. Since free agency arrived in 1993, the Steelers policy has been to invest heavily second contracts for only one veteran wide out, so the departure of the rest of Young Money hardly surprises.

  • To the extent that the defensive rebuild had begun in 2012, Cameron Heyward is the only true success.

The Steelers made a similar Cortez Allen instead of Keenan Lewis gamble (fueled in part by salary cap limits) and they franchise rolled Snake Eyes on that one. Ziggy Hood couldn’t replace Keisel or Smith.

  • The rest of the defensive rebuild has come since then.

In theory, this Sunday’s matchup against should provide a good measuring stick of Keith Butler‘s young defense’s progress. But history shows that Mike Tomlin’s record vs. the Giants has told us very little about the overall direction of the Steelers….

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Do the Steelers Start Training Camp 2016 as NFL’s “Team of Destiny?”

This article’s title may seem a bit confusing, given that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, one of  the big reasons the Steelers are legit Super Bowl contenders in 2016, is probably going to miss the first four games while serving a drug suspension. 

However, I’ve been watching a lot of America’s Game episodes lately. In-case you don’t know, America’s Game is an NFL Network series produced by NFL Films that chronicles each Super Bowl champion with the help of interviews with either the players or coaches who played key roles.

steelers training camp 2016, latrobe, st. vincents, cameron heyward

Cameron Heyward arrives for Steelers 2016 training camp; Photo Credit: Steelers.com

  • If there’s one common theme about each episode it’s that every Super Bowl champion had to overcome some sort of adversity during the year.

For example, the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers had to overcome the franchise’s 42-year old label of “loser” before they could win Super Bowl IX.

Another example is the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that not only had to overcome the bitter aftertaste of going 15-1 and losing in the AFC title game to the Patriots the year before, but had to overcome a 7-5 late-season record in-order to make the playoffs as a sixth seed, win three road playoff games and then ultimately Super Bowl XL.

  • Oftentimes, in an episode of America’s Game, the interviewees talk about coming close the year before, and how they went into the following training camp with a feeling of purpose and destiny.

You could certainly sense that last January, right after the Steelers fell in Denver, 23-16, in the divisional round of the playoffs. Pittsburgh went into that game (and the playoffs, in-general) hampered by many injuries–including star receiver Antonio Brown and veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who had spent the majority of the year filling in for a suspended and then injured Bell.

Immediately afterwards, players like Williams were very vocal about the 2016 season, and you could already feel a sense of purpose by the just vanquished players.

  • Think about the Steelers journey in recent years–it has America’s Game written all over it.

After a transition period in 2012 and 2013, in-which many of the Super Bowl heroes from the previous decade had departed, Pittsburgh seemed to find itself midway through the 2014 season. And after winning four games in a row to close out the year, it really felt like the team could do something special in the playoffs. Unfortunately, in the final quarter of the final regular season game against the Bengals, Bell suffered a hyper-extended knee. Despite the fact that the Steelers had just clinched their first AFC North title in four years, there was a feeling of doom heading into the wild card game against Baltimore the following week.

With Bell ultimately being deactivated for the game (and with no viable backup thanks to the release of the disgruntled LeGarrette Blount late in the season), the Steelers offense, which relied heavily on the All-Pro running back all throughout the season (he totaled 2,215 yards from scrimmage), had no answers for the Ravens in the playoffs.

In 2015, injuries and suspensions were the common theme throughout the regular season. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey was lost for the year in a preseason game. Ben Roethlisberger missed four full games and parts of three others with multiple ailments. Kelvin Beachum missed the final 10 weeks with a torn ACL.

  • And it certainly didn’t help that both Martavis Bryant and Bell had to serve drug suspensions during the first month of the season.

The fact that Pittsburgh scraped into the playoffs and was less than a quarter away from playing at New England for the right to go to Super Bowl 50 was quite remarkable.

Of course, if you remember the 2015 season, it wasn’t just about the offense. The defense, a unit that looked old, slow and done during the final few years under Dick LeBeau, suddenly sprung to life behind first year defensive coordinator Keith Butler.

Yes, the defense finished 21st overall and 30th against the pass, but it displayed an explosiveness not seen in Pittsburgh since the Super Bowl XLV season five years earlier.

  • After averaging 19 takeaways and 35 sacks from 2011-2014, the defense recorded 30 takeaways and 47 sacks in 2015.

Those are Super Bowl numbers for any defense (regardless of overall ranking), and they always will be.

Sure, the secondary is still a question mark as 2016 approaches, but that front-seven is the real deal. Defensive end Cam Heyward is already a star, and Stephon Tuitt appears primed to join him any second.

As for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, plagued by injuries during his first two seasons, it seems the only thing separating him from super-stardom is health.

If Shazier is healthy this year, an All-Pro season seems likely.

If the Steelers do win the Super Bowl, what would that do to Roethlisberger’s legacy? After years of being deemed a “playground passer,” it would have to be extra special to win a championship while at the same time, say, flirting with 5,000 yards and 40 touchdown passes.

As for the legacy of Mike Tomlin, it would cement it. Believe it or not, even after nine years, six playoff appearances, two trips to the Super Bowl and one Lombardi, there are people who still don’t think Tomlin is a good coach.

Winning it all this year would probably do for Tomlin what winning Super Bowl XL did for Bill Cowher, which is weird to say, given that Tomlin earned his first ring a long time ago.

  • As for Bell, if Super Bowl XLIII taught anyone anything, it’s that you can be irresponsible and still go on and be a Super Bowl hero.

Former wide receiver Santonio Holmes was cited for marijuana possession midway through the 2008 campaign, and he was deactivated prior to an important game against the Giants at Heinz Field.

However, Holmes, despite his past and future transgressions that ultimately cost him a career in Pittsburgh, was one the biggest heroes in Steelers postseason history, as he proved to be the catalyst on the way to the Super Bowl and, eventually, the game’s MVP after catching the Lombardi-clinching touchdown pass from Roethlisberger with precious seconds remaining.

  • Therefore, I can certainly see Bell as one of the interviewees as part of the Steelers Super Bowl LI America’s Game episode.

Does Bell have some issues to overcome between now and February? Absolutely. But what would an America’s Game episode be without some adversity?

The Steelers just feel like a team of destiny and eventual winners of Super Bowl LI.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Sign Jerald Hawkins, Hawkins to Fight Recent Trends @ Tackle, 4th Round

Along wih the second week of OTA’s, news week a little more real “news” came out of the South Side in a move that saw the Steelers sign Jerald Hawkins, the offensive tackle out of LSU who was their 4th round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

  • But honestly folks, rookie draft picks signing no longer count as “news” in today’s NFL.

However, with the ink drying on his rookie contract, Jerald Hawkins can now turn to a more pressing task at hand – breaking recent trends with Steelers 4th round draft picks and offensive tackles.

As the Colbert Record noted the day before the Steelers drafted Hawkins, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s record with 4th round draft picks is outright horrible. Landry Jones is arguably the most accomplished player the duo has drafted in the round, with Cortez Allen flashing before fizzling out, and Martavis Bryant threatening to toke himself out of the league. Suffice to say, Jerald Hawkins is fighting some history.

  • And then there is the Steelers recent record at offensive tackle.

Things quite simply haven’t gone according to plan as the table below indicates:

steelers, offensive tackles, draft picks, marcus gilbert, mike adams, kelvin beachum, jerald hawkins, tony hills

Recent Steelers offensive tackles have flipped the script

The Steelers drafted Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft, and while there’s been some grousing outside of the organization, the Steelers haven’t looked back since turning over the right tackle position to him after Willie Colon was lost in 2011’s Opening Day Debacle at Baltimore.

  • Outside of that, nothing else has gone according to script.

Tony Hills was drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL Draft at spot 130, or 7 picks later than Jerald Hawkins, and the Steelers got all of four games out of them, and most of that was spot duty. Ouch! After drafting David DeCastro in 2012, the Steelers went back to offensive line and took Mike Adams. They thought so much of him, hoping he’d start at left tackle, that they moved Willie Colon to guard.

  • Adams failed to win the left tackle spot, so it was Max Starks to the rescue one last time.

Adams played well enough at right tackle when Gilbert got injured in 2012, but his stint as starting left tackle in 2013 was an unmitigated disaster, with his chronic inability to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s right side led to some of the worst play of Roethlisberger’s career.

Of course he was succeeded by Kelvin Beachum, 2012’s 7th round pick, and then again by Alejandro Villanueva. The Steelers thought enough of undrafted free agent Villanueva, who didn’t even play tckle in college, and Hawkins potential, that they cut Mike Adams.

Jerald Hawkins to Write “His Own Story”

If you told any of this to Mike Tomlin, he’d likely scoff and retort, “I’m not concerned about anyone else, Jerald Hawkins is writing his own story.” And so he is.

Trends can be fun to write about, because they so often help depict larger truths. Until they don’t.

Not too long after the Steelers drafted him, this site wrote a similar post about how Tuitt arrived in a fight against Steelers history with 2nd round defensive tackles AND players from Notre Dame. It says here that Brett Keisel was in NO way a liability during his final season with the Steelers in 2014. But it is also true that the Steelers defense played its best football during the final four games of 2014, after an injury had ended Kesiel’s career.

Starting this summer at St. Vincents in Latrobe, Jerald Hawkins will indeed get his chance to write his own story.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Senquez Golson’s MRI Highlights Steelers Precarious Situation at Cornerback

Sometimes it only takes one tweet to send the hearts a flutter in Steelers Nation. And so it is with the Steelers secondary:

News of a Senquez Golson MRI is not encouraging…..

As the Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley indicated, “But Golson was at the facility and then left. I learned that he was leaving to get an MRI.” There are a couple of interesting points to this. First, none of the other credentialed reporters appear to have picked up the story, so if this story has legs, then Lolley will have made another Steelers secondary scoop, just as he did when he broke the news of Shamarko Thomas’ benching.

  • Second, as Lolley points out, this move could be a precaution.

Senquez Golson, who was the Steelers second round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, lost his rookie season to shoulder surgery. Thus far Golson has participated fully in Steelers OTA’s and has reported felling well.

While fans and bloggers really don’t have enough information to make informed judgment, to an outsider’s eye, the Steelers do sometimes seem to procrastinate when it comes to medical issues. In 2012, James Harrison had knee surgery deep into training camp, slowing his start for the rest of the year. Last season, both Bruce Gradkowski and Mike Adams showed up at training camp on the PUP list, and both ended up needing surgery.

  • So perhaps the Steelers are just being cautious with Golson.

If so, then the Senquez Golson MRI story will quickly fade from memory before the first drop of lighter fluid douses a brick of charcoal to inaugurate the first Memorial Day cookout. But if there is fire behind the smoke created by Senquez Golson’s MRI then the Steelers will have a real problem on their hands.

William Gay now qualifies as the Dean of the Steelers secondary, with Ross Cockrell, he of the 7 starts, standing as the unit’s second most experienced cornerback. After that, the only other experienced corner the Steelers have is Donald Washington, the same Donald Washington who last played an NFL game in 2011 and had trouble holding on to a roster spot in the CFL.

  • So be it. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went all in on Steelers youth movement at cornerback during free agency.

And Brandon Boykin getting cut last week lent a lot of credibility to their addition by subtraction philosophy. Roster building in the salary cap era involves making calculated risks by weighing trade offs and opportunity costs. Sometimes these workout, sometimes they don’t.

A year ago, the Steelers lost Kelvin Beachum and lucked out when Alejandro Villanueva stayed healthy and played above the line. Yet, injuries to Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams have forced the Steelers to start their 4th string running back in their last three post-season contests. And who can forget the offensive line depth disaster that led to the 2013 Steelers 0-4 start.

Hopefully, Golson’s MRI is nothing more than the NFL equivalent of a “Well baby visit,” because this is one spot on the depth chart where the Steelers have little margin for error.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Another Experiment Ends: Steelers cut Mike Adams

Reports of a glut of depth for the Steelers at the offensive tackle position have been greatly exaggerated….” – Myron Bouchette Twain

The Pittsburgh Steelers decision to select Jerald Hawkins in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft turned a few heads, given that the Steelers already had starters Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva, had signed Denver Broncos Super Bowl veteran Ryan Harris, and were going to get 2012’s 1st round pick Mike Adams who was injured in 2016.

  • The Steelers depth at offensive tackle just got a little thinner.

In what amounts to a minor surprise move, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin made some roster moves including one which saw the Steelers cut Mike Adams, doing so with the designation of “Failed Physical.”

Mike Adams began 2015 on the PUP or physically unable to perform list because he needed back surgery. Theoretically, Adams could have return to the team later in the season, but reports indicated that was never a realistic possibility. Nor is his return to the team in 2016 a possibility either.

  • Exactly when, where or how Mike Adams injured his back is not clear.

Per Pro Football Reference, Mike Adams appeared in all 16 of the Steelers 2014 regular season contests, as well as in their playoff loss to the Ravens. News that he needed back surgery at the beginning of training camp amount to somewhat of a surprise.

  • Regardless, the Steelers Mike Adams experiment is now over.

Mike Adams entered the 2012 NFL Draft as a highly rated prospect, one whom many had projected as a first round pick. Then he failed a pre-scheduled drug test at the NFL Combine, prompting the Steelers to drop him from their draft board. Adams personally travled to Pittsburgh to plead his case, and the Steelers turned heads by drafting Adams in the 2nd round.

The immediate plan was to give Adams a shot at starting at left tackle, but it became clear in training camp that Adams was not ready, prompting the Steelers to turn to Max Starks one last time. Adams did start four games in relief of Marcus Gilbert in 2012 and played well. The following summer, Mike Adams earned the left tackle starting job in training camp….

…But all was not well. Adams struggled early and often. By the third game of the season, a night game on the road vs. Chicago and Ben Roethlisberger looked like his head was spinning, as Dale Lolley’s tweet suggests:

While Mike Tomlin had already begun to work Kelvin Beachum in at both tackle positions, it was Mike Adams who visibly struggled the most. Things worsened a week later, when a Steelers rally in London was stymied when Mike Adams gave up a sack near the goal line.

  • The Steelers benched Adams, and started Beachum.

Many fans gave up on Adams at that point and his getting stabbed on the South Side in June did not help Adam’s standing much in Steelers Nation. But the Steelers continued to show faith in Adams, and Adams did well in his four starts in 2014 in place of Marcus Gilbert.

In addition to cutting Mike Adams, the Steelers also cut running back Abou Toure and kicker Ty Long.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Offensive Tackle

Offensive tackle is arguably the most important position on the offensive line, as the tackles are the players charged with defending against the defense’s edge rushers. Yet, for all the moaning about how long the Steelers have gone without draft a cornerback in the first round (last time was Chad Scott in 1997), Pittsburgh as gone longer without drafting an offensive tackle with their first round pick.

…OK, that pick didn’t work out so well, but does that mean that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should end the drought in the 2016 NFL Draft?

Steelers Depth Chart @ Offensive Tackle Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starter

Marcus Gilbert has been the Steelers starting right tackle since Willie Colon injured himself in the 2011 opening day debacle vs. the Ravens. Gilbert started 13 games in 2011, but injuries limited him to four in 2012. Gilbert’s hold on a starting job was challenged in 2013 when coaches alternated Kelvin Beachum with both Gilbert and Mike Adams, but since Gilbert’s benching, he’s been the starter, although injuries did cost Gilbert 4 games in 2014.

  • Following the 2014 season Pro Football Focus rated Gilbert as the 10th best pass rushing right tackle.

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin had obviously come to a similar conclusion several months earlier, as they’d resigned Gilbert to a 5 year contract.

Playing on the other side of Gilbert is Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate, former US Army Ranger, and veteran of Afghanistan.

Villanueva spent 2014 on the Steelers practice squad, after the Steelers picked him up off of waivers from the Eagles, and moved him to the offensive side of the ball. While Alejandro Villanueva still must prove himself, the Steelers felt comfortable enough in his abilities that the allowed Kelvin Beachum to depart as a free agent.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Offensive Tackle Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

While the Steelers clearly like Alejandro Villanueva, they’re hedging their bets when it comes to protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side, which was made clear by their decision to sign free agent tackle Ryan Harris from the Denver Broncos. Harris has over 70 starts to his name, and started all 16 games for the Super Bowl champions.

Oft forgotten, the Steelers also have Mike Adams who sat out 2015 on the PUP list, but will return for to play out the final year of his rookie contract. It remains to be seen if Adams can recover from the back surgery that ruined his 2015 season, but it should be noted that Adams did play well in relief of Gilbert in 2014.

The Steelers also enter the 2016 NFL Draft with Brian Mihalik and Matt Feiler, the latter of whom spent 2015 on the Steelers practice squad following stints on the Houston Texans practice squad in 2014.

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Offensive Tackle

steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016So, one week out from the 2016 NFL Draft the Steelers have one proven starter at offensive tackle, another starter-designate who shows a lot of potential, a Super Bowl veteran backup, and another player who will probably not live up to his billing as a second round pick, but could provide valuable depth.

  • They also have two untested NFL roster bottom feeders.

That is a good, although not great place to be in terms of depth. Starting-caliber offensive tackles do not grow on trees, as the Steelers learned in 2011 when they were forced to turn to Max Starks after Jonathan Scott proved he couldn’t cut the mustard.

  • Offensive tackle clearly isn’t a high priority for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2016 NFL Draft, but what priority should it take?

The Steelers have an insurance policy behind both starters, and if Mike Adams regains his health, they’ll have another one.

There is never a bad time to draft an offensive tackle with an eye towards developing him for the future, but given the Steelers depth at tackle and their other needs, the Steelers 2016 draft need at offensive tackle must be considered Moderate Low.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Guard – Time to Put Depth Behind DeCastro, Foster

The Pittsburgh Steelers began their offensive line rebuilding process in 2010 by picking Maurkice Pounce with their first round pick and effectively concluded that process in 2012 when they picked David DeCastro in the first round followed by Mike Adams in the second.

After years of injury-induced turmoil on the offensive line, the Steelers appear to have learned that you can never have too many good offensive lineman on your roster. That’s a lesson well taken, but does it mean that the Steelers should make guard a high priority in the 2016 NFL Draft?

Steelers Depth Chart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters

With David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, the Pittsburgh Steelers have two excellent starters at guard.

Ramon Foster made the team in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and since then he’s appeared in 102 games and started in 87 of them. Foster has been both durable and dependable, and served as an important mentor to Alejandro Villanueva after Kelvin Beachum went down. The Steelers have resigned Foster, leaving little doubt about his future in Pittsburgh.

Starting on the other side of Pouncey is David DeCastro, who after an injury marred rookie season, is developing into a the ass-kicker the Steelers envisioned when he fell to them in the 2012 NFL Draft. DeCastro has played in 51 games and has started in 50 of them. The Steelers are expected to ink DeCastro to a long term deal this off season.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Guard Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

The depth behind Foster and DeCastro is both thin and untested. Outside of Cody Wallace, who also serves as the primary backup at center, none of the players have any NFL regular season game experience to speak of.

Chris Hubbard is the team’s most experienced backup, having appeared in 7 games in 2015 and one game in 2014 after spending all of 2013 on the Steelers practice squad.

  • Behind Hubbard, the Steelers have B.J. Finney and Cole Manhart.

B.J. Finney was part of the Steelers 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class and spent the entire season on their practice squad. The Steelers signed Cole Manhart to reserve/futures contract earlier this year, and Manhart spent time in the Eagles and Saints training camps, and joined the Oakland Raider’s practice squad in December 2015.

Doug Legursky was on the Steelers roster during 2015 as a backup center but has experience at guard. However, the Steelers have shown no interest in resigning Legursky who remains a free agent.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Guard

Clearly, the Steelers are not going to invest a number one pick in a guard. Their needs simply do not justify that. The fact that Chris Hubbard is still around shows that the Steelers see something they like in him, and the Steelers have a way of developing undrafted rookie free agents into solid NFL lineman.

  • Between Foster, DeCastro and Wallace, the Pittsburgh Steelers have 3 men who can play guard in the NFL.

That’s good. But one injury can change the Steelers calculus at guard in a hurry. The Steelers needs on the defensive side of the ball are so acute that they can probably safely ignore guards in rounds 1-3, but after that they need to take a serious look at who is left on the board when their time comes.

Therefore, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 draft need at guard must be considered Moderate.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!