The Dak Prescott-Tony Romo Decision Harks Back to Bill Cowher’s Choice on Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger

A fabled franchise flashes the greatness needed to recapture championship glory, only to fall short in the playoffs thanks to a frustratingly bad call….

The next season begins with high hopes, only to have injuries strike key starters as the franchise slides into double-digit losses….

Disaster strikes again the next season, robbing the franchise of its starting quarterback….

.…The call goes to a rookie, who struggles in his first outing, but rebounds to lead his team to 7 straight wins.

We’re of course telling the story of the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. But this story isn’t exclusive to “America’s Team,” the Pittsburgh Steelers have lived through this too. As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field its interesting to reminisce about the situation the Steelers found themselves in 2004.

Ben Roethlisberger, Tommy Maddox, Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger and Tommy Maddox in 2004. Photo Credit: Spokeo

Of Tommy Gun and Tony Romo….

The parallels between Tony Romo and Dak Prescott and Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger are not perfect. But the similarities are striking.

Tony Romo entered the 2014 season as the Cowboy’s established starter, with a big contract to prove it, whereas Tommy Maddox began the 2002 season as the backup to Kordell Stewart, who’d just won the Steelers MVP award the year before.

  • Few were expecting to see anything from the 2014 Cowboys; no one expected Tommy Maddox to do anything other than hold a clipboard in 2002.

A blowout during the Cowboys home opener in 2014 led one writer to speculate over whether Jerry Jones berated his son demanding: “You made me pass on Johnny Football for this….” Yet, led by Romo, the Cowboys bounced back winning 12 games. They then beat the Lions in the playoffs, and appeared to be in position to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field only to lose the game based on the “Catch-Non-catch call.”

In 2002, Tommy Maddox watched as Kordell Stewart (and to be fair, the Steelers defense) struggled during the first two games of the season. Late in their third game against Cleveland, Bill Cowher made the switch. The Steelers won the game, and Bill Cowher named Maddox his starter.

Tommy Maddox, aka “Tommy Gun” led the Steelers to 10 straight wins. While threw plenty of picks, as gunslingers are wont to do, commentators wondered aloud as to whether or not Maddox was throwing touchdowns to too quickly to Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. In the playoffs, Maddox led a dramatic come from behind win over the Browns. The next week, however, the Steelers lost due to a bogus roughing the kicker call where Al Del Greco took a dive worthy of World Cup Soccer.

Unlike Romo in 2015, Maddox escaped the injury bug in 2003, but a good chunk of his offensive line did not, with Kendall Simmons struggling with diabetes and Marvel Smith getting hit with the neck injury that would ultimately end his career. Things got so bad that Bill Cowher had to move Alan Faneca from guard to tackle and back again depending on the down.

The 2015 Cowboys saw Romo, Dez Bryant and several other key players seasons ruined by injuries.

Of Young Dak Prescott and the Once Young Ben Roethlisberger

The parallels of the stories diverge a bit here, as the Cowboys didn’t pick Dak Prescott to be their franchise quarterback in the 4th round. Although the Steelers had done just that with Ben Roethilisberger, Big Ben wasn’t supposed to play as a rookie.

  • Like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger struggled in his first action, throwing a pick six vs. the Ravens.
  • But also like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger went on a tear.

And like Jason Garrett, Bill Cowher bided his time in naming Ben Roethlisberger as his starter, waiting until he won after his fifth start, the 2004 win over New England.

Will the Steelers Tempt Garrett?

Tony Romo is back to health, and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones admits the situation is muddled, and likely to remain so. Like Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson before him, Garrett appears to content to go with the hot hand. And so he should.

During the entire 2004 regular season, Ben Roethlisberger never once gave Bill Cowher a reason to second guess his decision to back Roethlisberger. However, Ben appeared nervous in the playoffs against the Jets, and struggled against the Patriots in the AFC Championship.

  • After the game, Bill Cowher insisted he never considered pulling Rothlisberger in favor of Tommy Maddox.

But after so many AFC Championship frustrations, the thought had to have crossed his mind at some point. No one is comparing the Keith Butler’s 2016 defense to Dick LeBeau’s 2004 version. But with Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier back, the Butler’s boys are showing signs of life.

Will that be enough to temp Jason Garrett into making a switch? Probably not, but Steelers fans can always hope….

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The Colbert Record: Pittsburgh Steelers 2nd Round NFL Draft Picks 2000-2012

The 2013 NFL Draft is only days away which means its time for Steel Curtain Rising’s latest edition of the The Colbert Record, and in depth review of Kevin Colbert’s performance.

Last year The Colbert Record praised the Steelers General manager for never missing on a first round pick. The development (or lack thereof) of Ziggy Hood and/or Cameron Heyward might force us to revise that, but even then Kevin Colbert’s record in the 1st round of the NFL draft would remain without no peer. (Click here for a full review of Colbert’s 1st round record.)

  • This year we take aim at Kevin Colbert’s body of work in the second round.

Although still highly coveted, second round picks in the NFL Draft are considered second best, and they are a lot harder to evaluate. Indeed, during the 1980’s the NFL Draft’s second round became known as the Steelers “Jinx” round as Pittsburgh misfired on players like Charles Lockett and Derek Hill (to name two).

How has does Kevin Colbert’s record in the second round stack up against that of Tom Donahoe and Dick Haley? Today we take a look.

In his time in Pittsburgh, Colbert has made 11 second round NFL Draft picks, opting to trade the pick in the 2006 and 2009 NFL Drafts.

Here’s a Snap shot of Colbert’s Second Round Picks (click on the name for a more detailed profile)

2000: Marvel Smith, tackle
2001: Kendrell Bell, linebacker
2002: Antwaan Randle El, wide receiver
2003: Alonzo Jackson, linebacker
2004: Ricardo Colclough, cornerback
2005: Byran McFadden, cornerback
2006: Traded to to get Santonio Holmes
2007: LaMarr Woodley, linebacker
2008: Limas Sweed, wide reciever
2009: Traded out of 2nd Round for 3rd round picks Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, and Kraig Urbik
2010: Jason Worilds, linebacker
2011: Marcus Gilbert, tackle
2012: Mike Adams, tackle
2012: Scoring Kevin Colbert’s Second Round Record

Steelers 2000 2nd Round Pick, Marvel Smith

When Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000 the Steelers were mess at tackle even though Tom Donahoe had invested heavily at the position throughout the late 1990’s. Unfortunately most those Donahoe picks were busts, from Jamain Stephens in 1996, to Paul Wiggins in 1997, to Chris Conrad in 1998, and Kris Farris in 1999.

Colbert sought to rectify that by picking Marvel Smith in the second round of the draft, and Smith became an immediate starter and developed into a Pro Bowler. After starting at right tackle, he moved to left tackle following Wayne Gandy’s departure, and helped anchor a line that led the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL.

Smith suffered from a series of injury issues, and the last one which came in a street fight down in Jacksonville, ultimately cost him his career. But Marvel Smith he was an excellent second round pick.

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Steelers 2001 2nd Round Pick, Kendrell Bell

The Steelers traded down in the 2001 NFL Draft and still got the man they wanted, Casey Hampton. Trading down in the first allowed the Steelers to move up into the second, where they signed Kendrell Bell.

Kendrell Bell was an immediate sensation who appeared incapable of wrong . His goal line stop of Jerome Bettis during training camp and the ensuing “crack” that was heard all over Latrobe were the stuff of legend.

  • Bell took the league by storm as a rookie, registering nine sacks and earning AP all Rookie Honors.

Unfortunately, like previous Steelers who’d won the Joe Greene Rookie of the Year award (see Delton Hall, Troy Edwards), Kendrell Bell turned out to be a one year wonder. Injuries set him back in 2002, but when healthy he was effective. In 2003 he appeared lost, with some commentators suggesting that Tim Lewis had “coached the aggressiveness out of him.”

Injuries again were an issue in 2004, and Larry Foote replaced him in the starting line up, and he openly discussed about whether he wanted to jeopardize his value on the free agent market by playing the Steelers playoff games.

Bell clearly had athletic talent, but apparently resisted learning coverage schemes and assignments, an attitude which can cost you dearly in the NFL.

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Steelers 2002 2nd Round Pick, Antwaan Randle El,

Antwaan Randle El is easily the most versatile of Kevin Colbert’s 2nd round picks. Randle El made an immediate impact as a rookie returning kickoffs, returning punts, catching passes, running reverses, and throwing passes.

Randle El continued to be a quadruple threat for the Steelers in 2003 and 2004, before graduating to the starting role in 2005. Measured in pure quantitative terms, the trend line of his production dropped after his rookie year, but in qualitative terms his contributions got larger.

While a legitimate threat running a reverse, this former college quarterback also threw four regular season touchdown passes for the Steelers, showing he could hurt the opposition in multiple ways.

And of course his most pass was the last one he threw in his first stint with the Steelers. You might remember it from Super Bowl XL:

Randle El of course returned to Pittsburgh in 2010 for a second tour of duty.

And while the coaches were unimpressed with his speed or by how much he’d forgotten of the playbook, El gave it his all and his 2-2-0-2 passing record shows the element of unpredictability he brought to the offense.

LaMarr Woodley and/or Marvel Smith can lay a stronger claims to being Kevin Colbert’s best second round pick, Randle El was unquestionably the most exciting to watch.

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Steelers 2003 2nd Round Pick, Alonzo Jackson

Shortly after the 2003 NFL Draft the Steelers Digest published a profile of him at Steelers mini camp with a photo of Jackson warning number 95. Upon seeing that I uttered aloud (much to the confusion of my wife), “Son, you have to earn the right to wear Number 95 in Pittsburgh.” (“95” of course being the number worn by the legendary Greg Lloyd.)

Unfortunately, Jackson either never understood that or quite simply lacked the God given ability to live up to the challenges of the NFL.

In 2 seasons with the Steelers, Jackson appeared in only 9 games and recorded 2 tackles.

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Steelers 2004 2nd Round Pick, Richard Colclough

Amazingly Ricardo Coclough lasted 4 seasons with the Steelers, showing some promise as a rookie and in his sophomore season as he registered 2 sacks and one interception while appearing in 30 games.

Things petered out quickly for Coclough in the third game of his third season as he fielded a punt he should not have, allowing Cincinnati to back the Steelers up deep in their own territory. Bill Cowher put him in injured reserve the next day.

  • Mike Tomlin actually gave him a second chance, but Coclough only made token appearances in three games.

At the end of the day, Coclough was neither able to make the transition to NFL corner nor was he able to make himself a threat in the return game. Another bust.

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Steelers 2005 2nd Round Pick, Bryant McFadden

It’s never really a good thing when play 6 years in the NFL and your best play comes in your rookie year, as Byrant McFadden’s did when he made a key pass defense in the end zone in the Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff victory vs. the Indianapolis Colts.

However, unlike Kendrell Bell, Bryant didn’t fade after his rookie year, but rather never quite seemed to realize his potential. As a second round pick Bryant was supposed to replace Deshea Townsend, but never could quite beat him out, and when he finally did, he had to split time with William Gay

The Steelers of course allowed McFadden to defect to Pittsburgh West after Super Bowl XLIII, only to bring him back during the 2010 NFL Draft. While McFadden was an improvement over William Gay (who struggled as a starter in 2009), he clearly wasn’t the answer and lost the starting job to an improving Gay in 2011.

You’d generally like to see a little more out of a second round pick, but the Steelers got decent value for B-Mac, and he certainly was no bust.

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Steelers 2007 2nd Round Pick, LaMarr Woodley

The first two picks of the Mike Tomlin era were both linebackers, and for a long time Steelers Nation often wondered if the order shouldn’t have been reversed. LaMarr Woodley did not get a ton of playing time as a rookie, but he made four sacks in spot regular seasons duty.

When the Steelers reached the playoffs in 2008, Woodley again turned it up registering two sacks in each of the Steelers playoff games, including a strip sack that ended any chance of a Kurt Warner fueled comeback in Super Bowl XLIII.

“Streak” may be a key word with Woodley, as he does appear to run hot and cold, and injuries have ruined the second half of his 2011 season an most of 2012.

  • But clearly LaMarr Woodley is one of Kevin Colbert’s second round picks.

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Steelers 2008 2nd Round Pick, Limas Sweed

You know things are bad when you’re a wide receiver whose signature plays are critical drops in playoff games and one hellacious block in the AFC Championship Game vs. Balitmore.

Limas Sweed had a lot of talent. What many people forget is that on those infamous drops, Sweed had completely burned the DB’s tasked with covering him.

But Sweed suffered from psychological issues, and had the misfortune to injure himself during the Steelers nightmare 2010 off season.

  • Some things are not meant to be, and so it was with Limas Sweed, another of Colbert’s second round busts.

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Steelers 2010 2nd Round Pick, Jason Worilds

Entering his fourth year, more is unknown rather than known about Jason Worilds. And that is not necessarily a knock on the college defensive end turned linebacker.

Worilds had the good luck to be drafted by a team with a strong tradition at linebacker, and one whose 3-4 defense thrives on dominant outside linebacking. Worilds had the bad luck to be drafted by a team whose two starting outside linebackers were LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison.

Worilds played well on special teams as a rookie and flashed in spot duty. In 2011 Worilds got extensive playing time as both Harrison and Woodley were injured for periods. Worilds performance was pedestrian at best, but the linebacking corps as a whole suffered with multiple players playing out of position.

Worilds got more time in 2012, and early in the season was the team’s sack leader. Clearly the kid has some upside, but 2013 will likely prove to be the definitive “make or break” year for Jason Worilds.

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Steelers 2011 2nd Round Pick, Marcus Gilbert

Marcus Gilbert wasn’t supposed to see action as a rookie, but an opening day injury to Willie Colon changed all that. Gilbert was forced in the starting line up, and did fairly well considering the circumstances.

Their was talk of Gilbert moving to left tackle in 2011, but that did not happen. Gilbert also had the misfortune to collide with several Steelers, either injuring them badly or ending their seasons. Gilbert struggled in 2012 and then got injured himself in mid 2012 and was lost for the year with an ankle injury.

The jury is still out on Gilbert, assuming he fully recovers from the injury. If the Steelers take a tackle early on in the 2013 NFL Draft, that’s a clear sign that they’re concerned.

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Steelers 2012 2nd Round Pick, Mike Adams

Mike Adams holds the distinction of being the only collegiate player to get himself knocked off of the Steelers draft board only to work himself back on.

Adams had been projected as a first round pick, but his positive test for marijuana knocked him into the second round where the Steelers swooped him up, and immediately decided to move Willie Colon from tackle to guard.

Adams, however, did not win the starting left tackle position during training camp, but injuries to Marcus Gilbert did force him into the line up, where he did well for a rookie, until he himself got injured vs. Cleveland.

  • It is way too early to make a pronouncement on Adams, but clearly the Steelers are counting on him.

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Scoring Kevin Colbert’s 2nd Round Record

Out of his eleven second round picks, Kevin Colbert has drafted four players who developed into solid starters or better in the form of Marvel Smith, Antwaan Randle El, Bryant McFadden and LaMarr Woodley.

Kendrell Bell was a solid contributor for a year, then provided nothing, while Jason Worilds has delivered some value in the opportunities that he’s been given.

Alonzo Jackson, Ricardo Colclough and Limas Sweed were busts, there’s no way to sugar coat that, no other available conclusion exists.

It’s too early to reach a conclusion on either Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams.

So to score it, Kevin Colbert has 4 clear wins and 3 clear losses in the 2nd round, with one break even (summing the contributions of Worilds and Bell), with the fate of 2 undetermined picks left to be decided.

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Steelers Free Agent Focus: Max Starks

Sometimes it is hard to say goodbye.

  • Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Max Starks can relate.

The Steelers have wanted to part ways with Max Starks since 2010, but injuries to Willie Colon and the debacle in Houston convinced them to bring him back in 2011.

This past season, the Steelers thought they might get by with Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams as their starting tackles – Starks was signed in camp as an insurance policy but stayed on and started.

Prior to that the Steelers attitude towards Max Starks could have best been characterized as “I don’t know why you’re saying goodbye, I’m saying hello” as the timeline below reveals.

Max Starks Timeline with the Pittsburgh Steelers:

The disconnect between the front office and the coaches was real. Bruce Arians was reportedly not fond of him, which would explain his repeated vetoing of Willie Colon’s move to guard.

Likely Scenario Sees Steelers and Starks Parting Ways for Real in 

Even though the Steelers have never had a clear head about what they want to do with Max Starks, he’s managed to make himself as a bedrock of the offensive line. He bailed them out in 2008, 2011 and in 2012 he was the only lineman to start every game in the same position. In spite of that…

  • The odds strongly go against Starks being available to do that again in 2013.

The Steelers have invested heavily in their offensive line, picking Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft and Mike Adams in the second round of 2012. You draft men to start in those rounds, and now is the time for the Steelers to find out if those men can fulfill their promise.

Beyond that, the Steelers have serious salary cap issues. Every dollar is precious, and that means that they probably cannot afford Starks even if he comes back at the veteran minimum, an unlikely prospect in and of itself.

Scenario that Sees Starks Sticking with Steelers

How could Max Starks return to Pittsburgh? For that to happen the 31 NFL teams would have to pass on a proven left tackle with two Super Bowl rings who has started 28 games in two years and 96 games overall.

That is an highly unlikely, however, it has happened before.

Before the Steelers resigned him in 2011, the Minnesota Vikings worked Starks out but said “no thanks.” Starks literally came off the street and started 12 straight games for the Steelers.

  • Starks got no real takers as a free agent in 2012 either.

Even if the Steelers improbable run of luck with Starks’ availability were to hold up, something else would have to change for Starks to return, as he just doesn’t seem to be in their plans.

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Plaxico Burress Return Takes Kevin Colbert Full Circle

Admittedly you can’t see a lot in that video.

And perhaps that’s fitting as its significance has largely been overlooked by Steelers Nation.

In case you’re unable to tell, what you can see is a clip of Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown to Plaxico Burress capping the Steelers season-ending victory over the Cleveland Browns.

  • But the pass holds deeper significance because it brought Kevin Colbert’s career with the Steelers full circle.

Dan Rooney named Kevin Colbert as Director of Football operations in January 2000, following a total breakdown in the relationship between Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher.

At the time many questioned the move, pointing to the fact that Colbert came from perennial loser Detroit.

More than a few scribes were suspicious that Colbert had graduated from North Catholic, a Society of Mary established high school in Pittsburgh that both Rooney and Donahoe himself had graduated from. (Full disclosure, I once volunteered for the MVSC, a great volunteer program run by the SM that fell victim to some petty internal Society of Mary politics.)

  • No one questions Colbert’s credentials today. Nor should they.

His resume comprises 13 rosters that have produced victories in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII, an AFC Championship in 2010, 6 division titles, 8 playoff appearances and only one losing effort.

Plex Brings Kevin Colbert Full Circle

Plaxico Burress was Kevin Colbert’s first draft pick with the Steelers, initiating a Colbert’s unparalleled streak of success in the first round of the NFL Draft (OK, after finishing 2010 with a bang Ziggy Hood has been, “inconsistent” to put things charitably.)

  • But the drafting of Burress in wasn’t Colbert’s only feat in 2000.

Dan Kreider joined the team in 2000, starting a line of Colbert unrestricted rookie free agent steals that today includes Willie Parker, James Harrison, and Steve McLendon, to name a few (click here for a full look).

2000 was the year that Marvel Smith became the first rookie to start for the Steelers on the offensive line for the opening day since Tom Ricketts did so for the 1989 Steelers. Smith’s play was solid at right tackle but in rapid succession he fell to injury and then so did his back up Shar Pourdanesh. (Sound familiar…? And they didn’t even have Marcus Gilbert to blame.)

“Who?” you might ask? Excellent question question. “Larry Tharpe” has long been forgotten and wasn’t even close to a household word in Steelers Nation in 2000.

Larry Tharpe had played as a part time starter the Detroit Lions in 1992 and 1993, wasn’t on an active roster in 1994 or 1996 but did play for Arizona in 1995, and then returned to Detroit for 1997 and 1998 season after which Detroit did not invite him back.

  • Tharpe watched the 1999 NFL season from a couch somewhere, presumable out of football.

But Kevin Colbert thought enough of Tharpe to bring him to Pittsburgh, and during the middle of the Steelers 2000 season Tharpe started four games.

No one was considering Tharpe for Pro Bowl honors, but the blunt truth is that he out played both Chris Conrad and Anthony Brown, who’d rotated the starting right tackle’s job throughout 1999 in an effort to to see who was more ineffective.

With the selection of Burress in the draft, insight in bringing in players that no one else wanted such as Kreider and Tharpe, Kevin Colbert showed himself as an NFL personnel man who was both smart enough and able enough to add quality contributors wherever he found them.

Plaxico Burress had a decent season for the New York Jets in 2011, but he was out of football for the first three months of the 2012 NFL season. No one wanted him.

When injures robbed the Steelers of Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery’s services, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert did not hesitate to bring back Burress.

Now Burress only played in three games for Pittsburgh and only caught 3 passes.

  • But one of those was for a touchdown.

A touchdown that sealed victory for the Steelers, a victory the Steelers needed to avoid a losing season.

Not bad for an NFL street free agent. Kevin Colbert couldn’t have scripted it any better.

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Aaron Smith, Willie Parker, Marvel Smith and Joey Porter Retire as Pittsburgh Steelers

There’s one thing that no one in Steelers Nation can deny. Kordell Stewart is a man of many talents. But no one would have predicated that nearly a decade after playing his last game in Pittsburgh, Stewart remains a Steelers trend setter.
At least that is how it seemed Friday night at Latrobe Stadium.
A number of weeks ago Joey Porter announced that he was going to officially retire as a Steeler. Kordell Stewart had inspired his decision, Porter discussed the issue with management and that they were happy to oblige.
How they were.
Joey Porter was joined by Aaron Smith, Willie Parker, and even Marvel Smith at a ceremony held before the Steelers annual night practice in Latrobe. The act is largely symbolic, as no “one day contracts” were signed, but the fact that these men desire to “go out as Steelers” reinforces the fact that Pittsburghis a special city, and the Steelers are a special franchise.
All four men made the Pro Bowl. Aaron Smith, Parker, and Marvel Smith were veterans of  both Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII teams and Porter played a pivotal role on the Super Bowl XL squad.
Of the four, Porter is the only one to wear another team’s colors.

Dan Gigler of the Post-Gazette reported that Jerame Tuman, a back up tight end from the Super Bowl XL squad, was also in attendance as was former Steelers running back and running back’s coach Dick Hoak.

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Steelers 2012 NFL Draft Class at a Glance

Three days, seven rounds, 253 players and Mel Kipper Jr. is already getting ready for next year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the 2012 NFL Draft armed with 10 picks, and ended up taking nine players. By position their picks breakdown this way:  3 offensive lineman, 1 defensive lineman, 1 linebacker, 1 running back, 1 wide out, 1 corner, and 1 tight end.
Steelers Picks in the 2012 NFL Draft:
1. David DeCastro, guard, Stanford University
2. Mike Adams, tackle, Ohio State University
3. Sean Spence, linebacker, University of Miami
4. Alameda Ta’amu, nose tackle, Washington University
5. Chris Rainey, running back and kick returner, Univeristy of Florida
6. (no pick, traded to Washington Redskins to move up in 4th)
7. Toney Clemons, wide receiver, Colorado University
7b. David Paulson, tight end, Oregon
7c. Terrence Fredrick, cornerback, Texas A&M
7d. Kelvin Beachum, guard, Southern Methodist University
Deviation from Discipline Policy
Although the Steelers do not deserve the halo that many (including yours truly) try to affix to them, they do run one of the cleaner NFL shops.
And the team has a reputation for both avoiding players with off the field issues and weeding out those that have them. Yet three of the nine players the team selected have histories with discipline issues.
The first two are relatively minor. Chris Rainey got into trouble for sending threatening text messages to an ex-girlfriend. Assuming this is an isolated incident, it is no biggie.
Sean Spence also ran afoul of some NCAA regulations regarding conduct with an agent and accepting gifts. Again, this is nothing to overlook entirely, but it is also not a grave offense.
The biggest issue involves Mike Adams, who tested positive at the NFL Scouting Combine for marijuana. And this is not the first time this kind of thing has happened for Adams.
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were very open with the press about this issue. Adams transgression got him knocked off of the Steelers draft board, and it was only after Adams reached out to them and agreed to take certain actions, that the Steelers restored him to their board.
Marvel Smith, Colbert’s first 2nd round pick in 2000, had a similar history and developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Steelers. There’s no guarantee that Adams will pan out the same way, but the Steelers have taken a significant risk. Colbert acknowledged as much, admitting that if things didn’t work out with Adams, he would be responsible.
The Steelers are of course not finished adding to their roster. As soon as the draft ends, the mad dash for rookie free agents begins.
The Steelers have made many of those moves already. When the list is finalized, Steel Curtain Rising will bring it to you in full.

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Max Starks Saved the Steelers Season in 2008. Can He Do It Again?

Prelude: October 5th 2008, Jacksonville Florida. Max Starks had entered the 2008 season as the Steelers transition player carrying a 6.85 salary. And he wasn’t even starting.

During the second half the prime time epic that defined the Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 regular season, starting left tackle Marvel Smith went down to injury….

…and in came, not Max Starks, but rather Trai Essex. The Steelers after paying him the average of the other top ten tackles in the league and calling him “starter capable” still didn’t think enough of Max Starks to name him as the number 3 tackle.

Trai Essex barely slowed the Jaguar defenders who sacked Ben Roethlisberger 3 times that night and subjected him to numerous after the throw hits. All Max Starks could do was to stand there and watch….

Crisis on the Steelers Offensive Line, 2011 Edition

Four games into the 2011 season and the Pittsburgh Steelers have made an abrupt “About Face.” After the team lost Willie Colon in the Debacle in Baltimore many in Steelers Nation expected the Pittsburgh to hit the red phone to either Starks or Flozell Adams. After all, the team had been rumored to be interested in bringing both men back well before Colon’s injury.

Mike Tomlin instead made a commitment to starting rookie Marcus Gilbert, and in doing so the team seemed to be indicating that they were turning away from the “Patch and Pray” offensive line building strategy in favor of a more methodical approach.

Steel Curtain Rising applauded them for the more deliberate strategy.

Fear rarely motivates the decision making of Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert and they stuck to the plan even as the line play became more and more of a glaring liability after the Shut Out of Seattle and Escape from Indy game.

Such steadfastness is admirable, but knowing when to stand your ground and knowing when to stand down is something that separates organizations like the Packers and the Steelers from the Bengals and the Rams.

The Steelers demonstrated that today when the resigned Max Starks, waving rookie Chris Scott to make room for him on the roster.

Max Starks and the Steelers, Then and Now

Making the move all the more interesting is the fact that Max Starks rejoined the Steelers on October 5th, three years to the day that his predecessor’s career ended in injury.

The coaches 2008 experiment with Trai Essex as the starting left tackle lasted all of a few quarters. By the next week in Cincinnati, Max Starks started at left tackle where he went on to start 34 more games, including Super Bowl XLIII.

It is fair to say that Max Starks entered the 2008 season as an overpaid afterthought and ended up saving the season.

Can he do it again? Is it fair for Steelers Nation even to expect him to?

The answer remains far from clear. Starks weight ballooned during the off season, and he finished 2010 on injured reserve with a neck injury – the same type of injury that ultimately ended Marvel Smith’s career.

But the fact is that the offensive line did play better with Starks in the lineup in 2010, as Jim Wexell calculated that Ben Roethlisberger got sacked twice as often with Jonathan Scott starting at left tackle.

The Steelers themselves don’t seem to be clear on Starks role. During his PG Plus chat Gerry Dulac indicated that Starks would “only provide depth” and later indicated that Starks might not even be dressing were it not for the rash of injuries on the offensive line.

That at least, we’ll assume, is the word Dulac got before mid-day. But the end of the day Ed Bouchette took to PG Plus to inform readers that Max Starks took about half of the snaps with the starting unit.

That could mean many things, of course.

In the final analysis the Steelers have plenty of other issues besides the offensive line bedeviling them a quarter of the way into 2011. (How about two critical errors by the place kicking unit in four games?)

Even before his most recent injury no one would ever confuse Max Starks for Tony Boselli. So any messianic aura that accompies Starks’ return is sorely misplaced. If Max Starks can’t be a savior for the line, he can bring it some much needed stability.

As the injuries have mounted and Ben Roethlisberger has taken more and more hits fans have wondered aloud “Isn’t there at least a chance that Starks [or Adams] would be better?”

Management has asked itself this question and their answer is obvious. Welcome back Max.

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Steelers To Cut Willie Colon in 2 Years

Steelers fans experiencing a feeling of euphoria over the signing of offensive lineman Willie Colon need look no further than La Toalla Terrible to burst their bubbles.

La Toalla Terrible, ever one to ferret out those hard to find news nuggets, uncovered a shocking revelation from the Steelers brass.

The Steelers plan to cut Willie Colon within two years.

Sound crazy.

Think about it:

  • The Steelers signed Sean Mahan in 2007 to a five year deal and then…

…Traded him back to Tampa Bay in 2008

  • They signed Kendall Simmons to a four year deal in 2007 and then…

…cut him in 2009

Notice a trend? Well keep your eyes peeled boys and girls because it gets better.

  • After signing Justin Hartwig to a 2 year deal in 2008, they extended his contract for four years in 2009, and then…

…cut him in 2010

  • After benching Max Starks in 2007 they made him their transition player in 2008 and then the franchise player in 2009 before finally signing him to a four year deal in 2009 with a ten million dollar bonus, only to, you guessed it…

… cut him in 2011.

What’s more, the Steelers really wanted to resign Marvel Smith before the 2008 season. After pouting at Pittsburgh’s proposal Smith “NO” opted to become a free agent and was promptly put on the after falling prey to injury against Jacksonville.

Steelers Football Operations Director Cevin Kolbert regrets that one to this very day, explaining to La Toalla Terrible:

You know we offered Marvel a multi-year contract with a nice bonus, it’s a shame he didn’t sign it. His refusal really wrought havoc with our plans.

‘Messed up your plans!’ La Toalla Terrible exclaimed! ‘How could that be, didn’t you dodge a bullet on a not giving a bunch of money to a guy forced into retirement less than a year later?’

“Relax,” cautioned Kolbert, “It’s a sane strategy.”

‘Strategy?’ ‘Strategy?’ ‘How is that a sane strategy?’ demanded La Toalla.

“Don’t you see?” countered Kolbert, “we wanted to lock down Marvel for the same reason we locked down Willie.”

“So why sign lineman to long term contracts only to cut them two years later,” La Toalla Terrible insisted, and then stared at his source through the slits of his eyes.

After holding out in silence Kolbert finally caved, offering in exasperation, “ as Kolbert revealed, “you see, it keeps the rest of the league guessing!”

La Toalla Terrible (Spanish for Terrible Towel) takes Steel Curtain Rising’s readers for walks along the bizzaro side of Steelers Nation. Click here to read more of La Toalla’s rumblings and mumblings. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

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Watch Tower: Art Rooney II Interview, Plus Footbreakgate

A lot goes on any time the Steelers and Ravens face off, but last week’s pre-game barrage provided the Watch Tower some interesting fodder.

First came the news that Ben Roethlisberger had a broken foot. The Post-Gazette broke the news during the day last Thursday, titling their report as an exclusive. This was a scoop because Roethlisberger’s foot injury had previous been labeled as a “sprain.”

The Steelers quickly countered, arguing that Ben foot was not in fact broken but rather that the injury involved some scare tissue from a previous injury.

Two things are interesting about this. First, this is not the first time the Steelers have been less than forthcoming with the press about injuries. Marvel Smith had back surgery during the 2008 season and the news never saw the light of day until long after it happened.

Likewise, this is not the first time that the Post-Gazette has ratted out, or at least claimed to have ratted out, the Steelers in terms of injuries. After the Steelers final regular season game against Cleveland in 2008, the Post-Gazette reported that Ben Roethlisberger had in fact suffered a spinal cord concussion – a report the Steelers later disputed.

The interesting thing about both reports is that the Post-Gazette made no attempt to cite sources, simply leading with “the Post-Gazette has learned” as opposed to mentioning “unnamed sources” or “sources with knowledge of the situation.”

Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower has might light of Ed Bouchette’s inability to get inside information on front office dealings in terms of contract negotiations.

But Ed Bouchette clearly has fairly reliable sources with access to the team’s medical staff.

Rooney Interview Scoop for the Tribune-Review

The Tribune Review missed out on brokenfootgate, but they may have scored a bigger coup. Last Thursday Tribune Review beat writer Scott Brown treated his readers to a full-length interview with Steelers President Art Rooney II.

Although Brown shared no indications of the conditions of the interview, other than to say that it occurred after practice, it appears to be an exclusive, as the Post-Gazette ran no story on it, and neither did the national outlets.

In keeping with Steel Curtain Rising’s long standing editorial policy of not stealing other writer’s thunder, I will not summarize the interview here. However, Rooney’s comments were surprisingly frank given how closely the Rooney family has supported Roger Goodell.

Click here to read Brown’s interview with Art Rooney II.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers,
click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

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Aaron Smith has Surgery, Does NOT Go on IR

As expected, the Steelers confirmed today that Aaron Smith had undergone surgery to repair a torn triceps.

The unexpected news was that the Steelers were not, for the time being, putting him on injured reserve. While offers a big of unanticipated hope Steelers fans would do well to remember that management has tried this tactic before without reaping much of a reward.

In 2008 the Steelers kept Marvel Smith on the active roster until late in December, even though he did not play after being injured in the Jacksonville game.

Likewise in 2009, the Steelers kept Troy Polamalu on the active roster through the end of the season, even though he did not return after leaving the Cincinnati game.

Room on the Roster?

While the desire to keep Smith active Is understandable, one might question whether the Steelers can afford this luxury. They’re almost certain to activate McClendon from the practice squad, but to do that they would need to cut one of their player.

This will be difficult, given that the Steelers roster has been crafted to balance veterans with defined roles and rookie’s whose potential they hope to develop.

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