Has Mike Tomlin Found his Darrell Green in Emmanuel Sanders?

When called upon, he’s capable of delivering. Obviously, he’s a starting wide receiver for us and it’s not something we want to do all the time. But at the appropriate time we’ll dial his number, and I thought he delivered. – Mike Tomlin on using Emmanuel Sanders as a kick returner.

  • Upon reading that, one has to wonder if Mike Tomlin has found his Darrell Green.  

Darrell Green you ask? Yes, Darrell Green.

Green of course was a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Washington Redskins whose career spanned 20 years, 6 Head Coaches, 3 owners and included seven Pro Bowls, 3 trips to the Super Bowl and 2 Lombardi’s. As a cornerback in the heyday of the NFC, Green covered the likes of Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and defended passes thrown by Hall of Famers such as Phil Simms, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, and Steve Young.

  • What in the world could Green have in common with Emmanuel Sanders?

One fact often forgotten is that Green also returned punts. No, he didn’t do it on a regular basis the way Rod Woodson did, which is was probably a good thing. Long time Washington, DC WMAL/WTEM sport radio commentator Ken Beatrice once explained to a caller that Joe Gibbs didn’t have Green return punts often because he didn’t want to over-use him.

  • But when Gibbs deployed Green as a punt returner, he Green returned them with impact.

The best example was the 1987 NFC Divisional playoff, Walter Payton’s final pro game, where Green returned a 52 yard punt to win the game. In his 20 years, Green only returned 51 punts in 9 seasons. But he had a 12.0 yard average, which ties him for 10th all time (Green doesn’t have enough attempts to make the list.)

Writing in the Steelers Digest, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell shared this observation:

Sanders returned kickoffs in practice prior to the Jets game, and ran harder than I had ever seen him run before. I just assumed he would return kickoffs against the Jets and when it didn’t happen I expected him to return kicks against the Ravens. Finally with the season on the line he returned a kickoff. 

Wexell quoted Jerricho Cotchery as saying “He’s lighting. We just bring him out when we really need something.”

Emmanuel Sanders returned both kicks and punts during his rookie year, but injuries and promotion into the top tier of receivers have limited those since then. Tomlin wisely does not want to press his luck with using his number two receiver as a kick returner.

But Tomlin has a good track record with using his starters in spot-return duty. People forget that the Steelers started their 2008 AFC Divisional playoff game sluggishly until Santonio Holmes broke things open with a 67 yard punt return for a touchdown.

  • Vs. the Ravens, Sanders of course didn’t make it (officially) to the end zone, but his return unequivocally announced to the Ravens that the Steelers were in it to win it.

Steelers Nation looks forward to many more such returns.

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Steelers Suspend Alameda Ta’amu, Resign Crobin Bryant

The Pittsburgh Steelers made two roster moves today. One was expected, the other came as somewhat of a surprise.

The Steelers first move was to suspend Alameda Ta’amu for two games following Ta’amu’s arrest for drunk driving and fleeing police. While the move was expected, it did open the door to potential controversy.

After the Steelers shipped Santonio Holmes off to the New York Jets for his transgressions, they put the rest of the locker room on notice that anyone else who ran afoul of the law would be out.

A two game suspension is a real punishment, but pales in comparison to the threat of the waiver wire, especially when you consider that Ta’amu was basically a project.

Steelers Sign Lineman

Ta’amu had not dressed for a game, so he’ll hardly be missed this weekend vs. Cincinnati. However, the Steelers almost certainly will be without the services of Marcus Gilbert and Marukice Pouncey, both of whom were injured in the loss to Tennessee.

A roster move on the offensive line was widely expected, and still may materialize.

However, that has yet to happen, as the Steelers resigned defensive lineman Corbin Bryant.

Corbin Byrant played on the practice squad of the Steelers throughout 2011, but Bryant was activated when Aaron Smith went on IR, and he played in the Steelers victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Byrant had a strong training camp, joining Steve McLendon, LaMarr Woodley, and Chris Carter as the only defenders to register a sack during preseason. It was a mild surprise that Bryant did not make the team’s practice squad.

The move to sign him to the active roster is somewhat puzzling, given that he takes the roster spot of a man who never dressed. But it also suggests, at least potentially, that Mike Tomlin is not happy with the performance of the defensive line in general, and might at least be interested in seeing what Bryant can do.

Practice Squad Moves

Possibly anticipating their next move, the Steelers signed Jaques McClendon to their practice squad, and waived 7th round pick Jamie McCoy to make room for him.

Observers have speculated that the Steelers will activate offensive lineman John Malecki from their practice squad for the Bengals game to shore up a unit at which they are dangerously thin.

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Alameda Ta’amu Arrested Felon Charges Pending

The 2012 season has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the team’s defensive line has earned its fair share of the blame.

One potential source of help may now be off the table, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers 4th round draft pick Alameda Ta’amu was arrested on the South Side this weekend after attempting to flee police both by car and the by foot. The incident led to the injury of a young woman and damage of several vehicles. Court documents indicate that Ta’amu allegedly had been driving drunk.

Further Disappointment from a Fourth Round Pick

The Steelers traded up to grab Ta’amu in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL draft, with many commentators immediately suggesting that Ta’amu was a successor to Casey Hampton. Although no one was projecting him as a starter, many felt he would get significant playing time almost immediately.

However, Ta’amu struggled in training camp and by the middle of the preseason many were already labeling him a “project.”

  • Ta’amu has not dressed for any of the Steelers five 2012 regular season games.

Most people in Steelers Nation (and many outside it) have the impression the Steelers do not tolerate players with off the field discipline problems. The reality, however, is mixed.

Historically the Steelers have parted ways, with a number of players who’ve run afoul of the law, such as Tim Worley and Bam Morris. Players such as James Harrison, Santonio Holmes, and Ben Roethlisberger were ultimately given second chances (although Roethlisberger of course was neither arrested nor charged with a criminal offense.)

It remains to be seen the Steelers will do in the case of Ta’amu.

Suffice to say he can not be endearing himself to Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and Art Rooney II.

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Jets Out Fox Steelers 22-17

It sounded too good to be true.

On top of that, yesterday’s wonder boy quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was seemingly buckling under late season pressure.

It all seemed too good to be true. And it was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a heart breaker to the New York Jets.

To their credit, the Steelers never overlooked the Jets. To their credit, the Steelers ran the ball well. To their credit, the Steelers protected their quarterback. To their credit, the Steelers (generally) avoided the drive-killing holding and false start penalties. To their credit, they scored on offense.

In spite of all of that, they lost because they failed to do something that they had consistently done during the previous three weeks.

Al Who?

The game’s final outcome hinged on several key points. Many key “if the Steelers had only” moments and perhaps none were so egregious as the opening kick off.

All season long, Steelers Nation has relished in the glory of having special teams capable of striking blood instead of self-inflicting wounds.

Alas, that reality changed against New York, as the Jets opened the game with a 7-0 lead, catching the Steelers special teams asleep at the switch.

While this special teams gaffe was a decisive moment, Al Everest’s special teams reverted to a liability all day long. The Steelers never threatened to break one and failed to kick it deep.

Cool Under Fire

Any hope the Jets had of starting the day with a psychological edge as a result of their big play was in vain.

The Steelers did not blink.

Although they did not tie the game until the second quarter, the Steelers offense took a workman like approach began doing all of the things they have not been doing in recent weeks. Running the ball effectively, converting third downs, and perhaps, most surprisingly, protecting their quarterback.

The defense too held up its part. Santonio Holmes failed to dominate the game, or make a big play. The Steelers did give up an uncharacteristic high number of yards rushing, but they managed to hold the Jets to below 50% on third down conversions.

That last static does not seem, and is not, overwhelming, but at the end of the day the Steelers defense only gave up 13 points. That should be enough to beat anyone.

Ah, but it is always the exceptions, the data that falls outside the “standard deviation from the mean” that is most interesting, and in today’s game, determining.

A Word About the Officials

The Steelers cost themselves the game, not the referees. But the officials certainly did not help, by failing to flag:

  • 2, if not 3, blatant pass interference calls on the part of the Jets DB’s
  • A Greco-Roman wrestling match between a defender and a Steelers wide out (Hines Ward?) on the game’s final play.

Oh, but they did manage to call an unnecessary roughness “helmet-to-helmet” on a play where Ryan Clark’s helmet never made contact with Brandon Edwards. How convenient.

Making Plays

The worst incident of the entire Steelers defense biting on a play fake in a big game thus far (and God willing forever) was the infamous Alfred Pupunu touchdown against San Diego in the 1994 AFC Championship game.

  • Matt Sanchez’s 7 yard scamper might count as the next. Everyone, everyone, on the Steelers defense bought the run up the middle hook-line-and sinker.

Rex Ryan’s bait and switch show was only beginning.

Clinging to a 20-17 lead, the Steelers had stopped the Jets at their own 47, bringing up a 3rd and 6. This time it was Sanchez who turned in an Oscar-worthy performance as L.T. got the direct snap and ran for 10 yards.

The Steelers would eventually force a punt, but only after the Jet’s had advanced to the Steelers 32 and burned precious minutes off of the clock. Oh, yeah, and they were able to punt the ball into the Steelers 3 yard line.

Then the line, which had performed so admirably all day, neglected to block Jason Taylor, a man who only has 131.5 sacks to his credit. The Steelers paid with a safety and a punt from the 20 yard line.

  • Make that 9 points scored by the Jets with the defense on the sidelines.

And that folks, is the game.

Howl all you want about the non-calls. All of those are non-issues if the Steelers cover the kick, block a defensive end with 100+ sacks, and refuse to take the bait on two play fakes.

The Steelers did not play particularly well, or at least consistent, football against the Bills, Ravens, and Bengals. But they won because they made plays at critical moments.

Against the Jets the Steelers improved their play on the fundamentals, but allowed the Jets to make plays at critical moments. And that was ultimately the difference in this game.

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‘Tone’s Trade Brings Bryant McFadden’s Return

The Steelers got a cornerback in the draft. And unlike other draft picks this one is not an unknown.

Earlier this week Steel Curtain Rising speculated on if Kevin Colbert could get some real value out of the 5th round pick the Steelers got in return for Santonio Holmes.

We now know the answer, as the Steelers traded the Jets’ 5th round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for former starter Bryant McFadden and Arizona’s 6th round pick.

McFadden joined the Steelers in 2005 as a second round pick and started 18 games over 4 years, after making a key pass defense in the end zone that set up Mike Vanderjets’ missed field goal against Indianapolis in the 2005 run to Super Bowl XL.

Some looked at McFadden’s inability to start until his fifth year in Pittsburgh as a knock on him – you do expect a second round pick to become a full time starter sooner – but his delay in starting had as much to do with Desha Townshend’s ability to stay ahead of father time well into his 30’s as it did with McFadden’s development.

The Steelers wanted to sign McFadden after Super Bowl XLIII, but he chose to head to Pittsburgh West, aka, the Arizona Cardinals.

Things obviously did not go well for McFadden in Arizona as either he or the Cardinals expected, and it is said he struggled badly in the playoffs. The stat sheet on Pro Football Reference says he started sixteen games and, although he failed to intercept a single ball, he did defense 16 passes.

Excellent Move By Kevin Colbert

Steel Curtain Rising’s analysis of Kevin Colbert’s 5th round selections concluded that his history there gave no hope that he was capable of using the 5th round pick to get a player of equal worth to Santonio Holmes. The site’s alter ego, la Toalla Terrible, even joked that the Steelers had already decided to draft a quarterback in the 5th.

Byrant McFadden might not be equal to Santonio Holmes, but he is a known commodity, and rejoins the Steelers as a starter capable cornerback, something the team desperately needs.

Excellent value for a 5th round pick.


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The Colbert Record: What (Can) the Steelers Get for Santonio Holmes?

A trade of a Super Bowl MVP for a 5th round pick might seem lopsided. But as Steel Curtain Rising asserted in Part I of this article, it is not when you draft but who you draft.

Which is to say that there are quality starters, if not Pro Bowlers, available in every round. Part I reviewed the Steelers history with fifth round picks, detailing some of the steals they made during the Chuck Noll era, and some of the good value picks Pittsburgh made in the 5th under Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher.

All of that history is nice, but it tells us little about the immediate future.

To that, this latest edition of The Colbert Record examines his record fifth round.

Kevin Colbert and the Fifth Round

Never an addition to the Steelers linebacker legacy like Lloyd, Lambert, or Woodley, but a four year starter who saw his sacks come in bunches, peaking at 9 in the 2005 Super Bowl Season. Colbert’s best 5th Round Choice.

The first of four quarterbacks taken by Colbert in the 5th round, he beat out Anthony Wright, although Martin only remained with the team for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

Drafted to be Jeff Hartings eventual replacement, Okobbi started five games in six years and played on special teams, but never became the heir apparent. Colbert could have done better.

Saw Action in 61 games over six years, proving himself to be a good backup and a versatile player out of the backfield. Good value for a fifth round pick.

Third string quarterback from 2003 to 2007 and, beyond a single incompletion in 2004, he did nothing more than hold a clipboard, but he held it well.

  • 2004 – Nathaniel Adibi, LB

Pittsburgh passed on Marcus Turner because Bill Cowher wanted to pad the training camp roster to keep veterans fresh. Adibi never saw an NFL roster. Clearly a costly late round mistake for Colbert.

Saw action in 16 games over two years and even recorded a pick six, but if memory serves he got hurt in training camp in 2007 and was never seen again.

  • 2006 – Omar Jacobs, QB

Neither made the Steelers nor any other NFL roster. What more can we say?

  • 2006 – Charles Davis, TE

Who? I asked the same question. Colbert probably wishes he had this one back.

  • 2007 – Cameron Stephenson, G

Hung around on the practice squad for a while, but never cracked the roster.

Gay exceeded expectations in 2008 only to fall flat on his face in 2009. Perhaps his natural role is that of 3rd corner, which isn’t bad for a 5th round pick.

If the incumbent starter continues to fail to keep his pants on, Dennis Dixon could quickly find himself as the next starting quarterback of the Steelers. Steel Curtain Rising lambasted Pittsburgh for the move, but this pick might make Colbert look very, very smart.

Burnett dropped a game sealing INT, but then again, who in the secondary didn’t? He’ll get his shot to shine in Latrobe in 2010.

Summers rushing is what kept Isaac Redman off the roster, but Summers was woefully unprepared to be a lead blocker and then he disappeared on IR. With Willie Parker gone, Steelers Nation figures to find out just what Frank “the Tank” can do.

Summing Up Colbert’s 5th Round Picks

Measured against his predecessors Colbert stacks up pretty well against Tom Donahoe but not as well as he does against Chuck Noll, Dick Haley, and Art Rooney Jr.

Kevin Colbert started off with some pretty strong 5th round picks, then cratered pretty badly in the middle part of the last decade.

The good news is that with the arrival of Mike Tomlin’s voice in the draft board room the quality of Colbert’s picks on seems to be on the upswing.

The bad news is that nothing in ten years of draft history indicates that Colbert is capable of using the 5th round pick to replace a player of Santonio Holmes’ quality.

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Steelers 5th Round Draft History: The Noll and Donahoe-Cowher Eras

“What! They gave him to New York for a 5th?” was almost the universal reaction to Steelers decision to trade Santonio Holmes. A 5th round pick for a Super Bowl MVP certainly is a fire sale price, but as with any draft, it is not “when you pick, but who you pick.”

Greg Lloyd and Tom Brady were 6th round picks. Terrell Davis was also a 6th round pick and Merril Hoge was a 10th round pick — Future Pro Bowlers are available in every round.

A fifth round pick can pay large of dividends, if you use it right. With that, let’s take quick look at how the fifth round as treated the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Chuck Noll’s Fifths

Art Rooney Jr., Dick Haley and Chuck Noll had a sharp eyes for talent and their history of fifth round picks proves it.

Mike Webster, taken 5th, the gold standard at center for two generations. But the 1974 was not the only time this trio found struck pay dirt in the 5th, picking players like:

  • Larry Brown, TE/OT ’71,
  • Steve Furness , DE ’72, S
  • Steve Courson, OT ’77,
  • Craig Wolfley, G ’80,
  • Hardy Nickerson, ILB, ’87, and
  • Barry Foster, FB ’90.

A Hall of Famer. Several Pro Bowlers or Pro Bowl caliber players. Certainly there were plenty of marginal players and out right busts interspersed, but The Emperor and Company did well for itself during the fifth round.

Their record would look even better had they kept Brent Jones, their 1986 fifth round pick, whose sin was to be a pass catching tight end during an era when Noll refused to throw to the tight end. Jones of course went onto to win fame, and Super Bowls, with the San Francisco 49ers.

Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s Fifth Round Picks

As Director of Football Operations from 1992 to 1999 Tom Donahoe won a reputation for doing more with less. And part of that came from his ability to find late round draft gems.

Donahoe did not match his predecessors’ record in the 5th round but he did find some good players there.

  • In 1994, the Steelers took Myron Bell a hard-hitting safety whose play allowed Carnell Lake to move to corner, paving the way for the Steelers appearance in Super Bowl XXX.

Bill Cowher made the same switch with Bell and Lake in 1997 and wound up in the AFC Title game.

  • In 1995 they picked Lee Flowers in the 5th. No one will ever confuse Flowers with great Steeler safeties such as Troy Polamalu, Lake, or Donnie Shell. But Flowers was hard hitting, outspoken, and blossomed into a five year starter – excellent value for a fifth round pick.

In 1999, Donahoe’s last draft with the Steelers, he took tight end Jerame Tuman, who had a nine year career with the Steelers as a solid blocking tight end and occasional starter. Again, a good value pick.

All of this history is interesting and instructive, to a point.

The relevant question is what has Kevin Colbert done with his fifth round picks, and what does that tell us about what he might do this year?

For that, stay tuned for the next edition of “The Colbert Record” which will profile his fifth round picks.

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Steelers Trade Santonio Holmes to Jets for 5th Round Pick

Art Rooney II has apparently had enough.

Just over a month ago the Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault allegation story broke, followed in rapid succession by another assault allegation (this one also taking place in a VIP club) against Santoino Holmes in a story that seemed to get stranger and stranger.

Publicly, the Steelers brass has said all of the right things, about “concern” and “gathering information” and “waiting for the facts to come in.” But in his PG Plus blog Ed Bouchette has made it clear that off the record, Steelers officials have made it quite clear that they’re tired of Steelers Judiciary related stories being the lead on ESPN every night.

Now they have taken action.

The rumor all along had been that the Steelers would simply have Holmes to play out the rest of his contract and then allow him to go his own way.

The course of action is not decisive enough apparently.

ESPN.com and the Associated Press are reporting that the Steelers have traded former first round draft pick and Super Bowl XLIII MVP to the New York Jets for a fifth round draft pick in the 2010 draft.

A Fifth Round Pick?

Behind the Steel Curtain was one of the first fan sites to break the news that Holmes was facing a four year suspension. In the ensuring comment stream several fans suggested that Holmes be traded for a high or several high round picks.

Moderator Neal Coolong stepped in and injected some sanity into the debate pointing out that this is a guy with a long track record with the law facing another new allegation and a quarter season suspension. Coolong suggested that a third rounder might be more in order.

Steel Curtain Rising concurs.

In pure football terms, a fifth round pick is too little to get for someone like Holmes. But one must consider that only a few weeks ago the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb, a franchise quarterback, to the Redskins for what could amount to a second and a fourth round pick.

Viewed solely from an X’s and O’s perspective, the Steelers might have paid too high a price to move a Super Bowl MVP.

Rooney, Colbert, and Tomlin Make a Statement

But Steelers management knows what it is doing. They see a team that is getting a lot of bad press. A championship team whose players, at least on the outside, appear to be running wild.

This is not the image the Rooneys want for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And now they have done something about it.

Art Rooney II has sent a message.

Let’s hope the rest of the Steelers locker room, including Ben Roethlisberger, has gotten it.

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Holmes’ Legal Strategy Effective?

Whether it’s a possible drug suspension or his on going assault case, Santonio Holmes continues to make headlines. Take a quick gander at the Post-Gazette’s home page and you’ll see that each day Holmes’ lawyer has fed the press a story.

Thursday the claim was that his client was innocent, Friday we learned that the authorities had been sent exonerating evidence, and Saturday and Sunday brought stories about a third party claiming on audio tape that he, and not Holmes, threw the drink at the woman.

Madness Behind the Method?

Holmes’ lawyer’s strategy seems clear: To win the battle in the court of public opinion. Each day he is feeding the press information that he hopes will lead the press to cast his client in a more favorable light.

This is understandable, but each successive wave of stories serves to remind the public that Holmes is involved in yet another off the field scuffle with the judiciary.

And those are not headlines that please Steelers President Art Rooney II, particularly when these stories run in tandem with stories about a possible drug suspension for Holmes….

News of Holmes Supposed Suspension Spreading, Slowly

It has been just under 24 hours since Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio ran a story claiming that multiple sources had indicated to him that Santonio Holmes was facing a four game suspension for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Thus far, neither the Post Gazette nor the Tribune Review are running stories about this, and neither is ESPN or CNN-SI. However, a quick Google search reveals that WPIX and KDKA have links on their websites relating to the story, although they appear to relate to Mike Florio’s story, and do not report any new news.

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Santonio Holmes Facing Four Game Suspension?

NBC’s site Pro Football talk is reporting that Steelers wide out Santonio Holmes is facing a four game suspension for a violiation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

Thus far they are the only outlet to report this news, although Behind the Steel Curtain has a post relating to it, as does Yahoo Sports.

Neither ESPN, nor the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, nor the Pittsburgh Tribune Review are carrying stories about this possible suspension as of 12:15 am, Sunday.

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