Return on Investment? Steelers Sign Knile Davis to as Kick Returner, Backup Running Back

Bargain hunting continued on Pittsburgh’s South Side Monday as the Steelers signed Knile Davis, a free agent running back who most recently played for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Knile Davis is listed as a running back, but the Steelers are eyeing him primarily as a kick returner, a specialist position which the franchise has struggled to fill for most of the Mike Tomlin Era.

Knile Davis, Sean Spence, Jarvis Jones, Steelers vs Chiefs

Sean Spence tackles Knile Davis as Jarvis Jones arrives a second too late. Photo Credit: USA Today’s Steelers Wire

To put the matter into perspective, the last time the Steelers had a kickoff returned for a touchdown as in the 2010’s game against the Tennessee Titans, when Antonio Brown took a reverse and ran it all the way in.

The only Steelers kick returners who’ve returned more than 10 kicks during Mike Tomlin’s tenure to remotely approach an average of 25 yards per return are Stephan Logan, Markus Wheaton, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Sanders and Brown.

  • In just four seasons, Knile Daivs has already returned 73 kicks for a total of 1920 yards, for a 26.8 yard average for two touchdowns.

Given that a touchback now results in the ball being spotted at the 25 yard line, having a kick returner who can routinely better that marks a welcome addition to the return team. (For the record Stefan Logan and Chris Rainey were the only returners during the Tomlin era to average more than 25 yards.)

Now Knile Davis Impacts the Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back

Le’Veon Bell remains the uncontested Alpha Male atop the Steelers running back depth chart, and the unsigned status of DeAngelo Williams might suggest that the he’s been replaced by Knile Davis. Davis would certainly like coaches to see it that way as indicated by his statement to reporters:

I feel like they are confident I can (complement Bell). I’ve had to fill in before. I’ve had 100-yard games in this league. I’ve done well in this league, and I’m prepared for whatever comes in the future.

That’s a little bold, but healthy nonetheless or the new arrival. However, if press reports are any indication, the Steelers primarily interest in Knile Davis is as a kick returner, not as a running back. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald Toussaint has been put on notice that he will need to defend his roster spot at St. Vincents next summer.

The Steelers tried to work Toussaint in at kick returner last year, but without much effect. And while Knile Davis’ 3.2 rushing average isn’t much to write home about it is better that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s career average of 2.9.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Knile Davis in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

He played in Kansas City for three seasons until the Chiefs traded him to Green Bay for a seventh-round draft pick in October 2016. But Davis didn’t remain a Cheesehead for long, as the Packers cut him after two games. He spent one day on the New York Jets’ roster before re-signing with Kansas City.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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5 Times When Steelers Preseason Was Misleading

Admit it Steelers Nation – the Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece vs. New Orleans was satisfying, even if the results don’t count. And so it should. The Steelers offense, both with Ben Roethlisberger and Landry Jones were in mid-season form.

Often times, preseason does provide fans with a lot of valuable insight into the direction a team is headed. Not that the insight is always pleasant as a previous post 5 Times When Steelers Preseason Troubles Signaled Regular Season Stumbles reminds.

  • Yet there are times when preseason offers Steelers fans false flags.

The Steelers preseason history offers plenty of false flags, times when the action on the field in preseason failed completely to foreshadow what was to come in the regular season. Scroll down or click below for 5 Steelers preseason false flags.

Jarvis Jones, Steelers Giants preseason 2013,

Jarvis Jones recovers a fumble as Marshall McFadden looks on in the Steelers 2013 preseason. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today

1. 2000 – Plaxico Burress Plays Lights Out in Preseason Debut

Going into the 2000 NFL Draft, many if not most expected Bill Cowher and newly arrived Kevin Colbert to make Chad Pennington their first draft pick. The Steelers opted for Plaxico Burress instead, even though they’d taken Troy Edwards a year before.

In his preseason debut Burress played like a stud, as Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recounted:

Burress made a smashing NFL debut, leading Steelers receivers with four catches for 60 yards, all in the first half.

He jump-started the Steelers’ offense with three big plays on their second series, one a leaping catch over the back of a 6-foot cornerback. He also caught a looping, ally-oop like touchdown pass from Kent Graham just before halftime, as the Steelers crushed the Dallas Cowboys 38-10 at Texas Stadium.

Burress wasn’t the only receiver to impress. Malcolm Johnson, the Steelers 6th round pick from the 1999 NFL Draft, started opposite Burress. One writer, (perhaps Mike Prisuta) whose article is lost to digital oblivion went so far as to argue that Burress and Johnson were fighting to which would be the alpha-male of the Steelers wide receiving corps.

  • There’s no doubt that both men played well, and the strong overall offensive performance gave hope after the dark days of 1998 and 1999.

However, Plaxico Burress most memorable rookie play was spiking the ball after making a catch, but before he’d been ruled down, which was an immediate turnover. Overall, Burres never aught more than 4 passes as a rookie, and his catch percentage was woeful 33.8%.

As for Malcolm Johnson? He didn’t even make the 2000 Steelers final roster team.

2. 2005 – Ben Roethlisberger Struggles Mightly in Preseason

If there was ever a quarterback who made an immediate impact as a rookie, that rookie was Ben Roethlisberger. But NFL history is littered with rookie one-year wonders (think Kendrell Bell).

And so it was that Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers first string offense failed to produce a touchdown in the first four preseason games. After it took Charlie Batch to rally the Steelers to victory in their final preseason game, Bill Cowher remarked: “I like this group of guys, but we’re no where near where we need to be.”

  • Ben Roethlisberger’s 2005 preseason statistics seemed to vindicate Bill Cowher’s pessimism.

Over four games, Roethlisberger completed just 16 of 36 passes, for no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 32.8. Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette quipped that the Steelers starters looked more like a team set to go 1-15 instead of the previous year’s 15-1. Indeed, it seemed like an inglorious preview to a team with Super Bowl hopes….

  • …That is, until the game started counting.

In the season opener, Ben Roethlisberger went 9-11 for 218 yards, throwing touchdowns to Antwaan Randle El and a rookie named Heath Miller. A week later he went 14 of 21 throwing a pair of TD’s to Hines Ward.

The Steelers victory in Super Bowl XL the next February proved that, if there was ever a exhibition effort that should have been written off with “Its only preseason” it was the Steelers 2005 preseason.

3. 2009 – Joystick Video Game Like Preseason Kick Return Statistics

For a defending Super Bowl Champion, the 2009 Steelers training camp and preseason would mid-wife future Steelers Nation house hold names like Isaac Redman, Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky (hey, Legursky started a Super Bowl so he counts).

  • But perhaps none captivated the imagination of Steelers fans the way Stefan Logan did.

In his first preseason outing, Logan averaged 39 yards on four kick returns in a preseason loss to the Redskins. The next week in the Steelers shutout over the Bills, Logan returned four punts for 63 yards, including a 27 yarder. The following week Stefan Logan returned a punt 82 yards as the Steelers defeated the Panthers.

  • It seems like the Steelers had their first legit return threat since Antwaan Randle El had departed following Super Bowl XL.

It would be both unfair incorrect to declare Stefan Logan return efforts in 2009 as a failure.

In 2009, Stefan Logan averaged 26.7 yards per kick return, and 9.3 yards per punt return. Stefan Logan had an 83 yard kick return in the ’09 Steelers ugly loss to Oakland, and he also managed returns of 56, 51, an 49 yards in other games.

But Stefan Logan neither took a kick return nor a punt return to the house, and he was never the type of weapon as a return man who could give the Steelers offense a jolt in a season where the team cried out for one. Mike Tomlin once chided Logan when he critiqued blocking of the Steelers return teams, and often times on deep punts Tomlin had deployed Mewelde Moore’s sure hands in favor of Logan.

4. 2013 – Jarvis Jones’s Stud-Like Presason Campaign

It might seem hard to believe now, but in 2013, Jarvis Jones was the toast of the Steelers preseason. Dick LeBeau declared that Jones “Had ‘it,’” after Jones preseason debut where he recovered a fumble. Jones forced another fumble with a heads up behind the line of scrimmage play in the Steelers second game vs. the Redskins. He recorded an interception in the Steelers third preseason game vs. the Chiefs. Then Behind the Steel Curtain editor declared, “Jarvis Jones is simply making plays.”

  • The Jarvis Jones of preseason 2013 teased he might make Steelers Nation forget James Harrison.

Alas, that was not to be. Jones did get the opening day starting nod, but he would relinquish his starting role before midseason. The fact that Jones’ play turned heads in the Steelers win over New Orleans shows that Steelers fans are still wanting for Jones to realize his potential as a first round draft choice.

5. 2015 – Preseason Death of Steelers Defense Greatly Exaggerated

In the 2015 preseason the Pittsburgh Steelers did something they hadn’t done since Alonzo Jackson was a rookie – fielded a defense coordinated by someone other than Dick LeBeau. All eyes were on Keith Butler to see if the long-time understudy could reverse the downward trend of Steelers defense.

  • The early returns disheartened even faithful scribes like Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola.

During the 2015 preseason the Steelers defense gave up scores of 14, 23, and 24 points, before giving up an alarming 43 points to a no-name Buffalo Bills trio of quarterbacks, who completed 90% of their passes. Likewise, opposing teams yards-per-catch grew as the preseason wore on.

It’s true that the Steelers defense did show signs of getting more pressure on the quarterback, and eventual starters Mike Mitchell and Will Allen didn’t play much.

While no one would confuse the Steelers 2015 defense with the 2008 Steelers defense, the Blitzbrugh defenses of the ‘90’s, let alone the Steel Curtain of the 1970’s, Keith Butler did turn the unit around.

No one would have predicted that based on what they saw in preseason.

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Watch Tower: ESPN Poaches Scott Brown from The Tribune Review

In depth coverage of individual NFL teams has long been the province of the big daily newspapers, a tendency that shows little trend of breaking as the internet reaches its second decade.

  • ESPN, however, has never been shy about its ambition to break that trend.

Over the last several years, ESPN has been launching its own mini-sites directed at individual cities. ESPN Chicago, ESPN New England, ESPN New York etc….

Back in 2009 or so ESPN made a run at the Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette. At the time Dulac alluded to this in an on-line chat, and later Ed Bouchette was quite explicit.

  • ESPN didn’t get Bouchette or Dulac, but they did get the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown.

Scott Brown joined the Tribune Review in 2006 and covered the Steelers as their main beat writer until 2012, when Allen Robinson took up those chores and Brown departed to cover Penn State – although the move was apparently one that Brown requested.

  • Either way, Brown now has a bigger stage to show his talents.

While Brown was the junior man on the Steelers beat, the Watch Tower noted several times when he out hustled Ed Bouchette. Two that quickly come to mind are:

Scott Brown’s duties covering the Steelers will begin tonight, with his preview of the Steelers-Redskins game.

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Steelers Must Resign Isaac Redman

Three summers ago, Isaac Redman entered Steelers training camp St. Vincents as an after thought. Redman left Latrobe as one of Steeler’s Nation’s cult heroes.

To fully grasp of the enormity of that feat, consider the depth chart he was up against:

  • Willie Parker author of the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history
  • Rashard Mendenhall, first round pick from the Steelers 2008 Draft
  • Mewelde Moore, one of the unsung heroes of the Steelers 2008 season and Super Bowl XLIII
  • Frank Summers, aka Frank “The Tank” Summers, a perhaps the most ballyhooed fifth round draft pick in Steelers history
  • Carey Davis, nobody’s world beater, but someone the coaches liked enough to phase out legendary unrestricted rookie free agent Dan Kreider

Redman also had to contend with Stefan Logan, whose CFL exploits earned him the nick name “Joy Stick.”

Yes, he deck was stacked against Isaac Redman. But he succeeded.

Never Underestimate Those 4th Quarters of Preseason Games

Faithful Steel Curtain Rising readers know that yours truly misses preseason (they don’t show preseason games in Buenos Aires, Argentina). One reason is that during the much bemoaned 4th quarter of preseason games, you absolutely know that the guys on the field are playing giving ounce they have to give.

Such was the case with Isaac Redman when he scored not once, but twice vs. the Arizona Cardinals in the Steelers first preseason game.

  • Playing well in preseason when you get your shot in the 4th quarter vs. jobbers is one thing. Doing it against hardened starters remains a different question. 

Never one to let rookies dazzle him, Mike Tomlin had a bigger test for Redman in mind….

The Goal Line Drill

…NFL training camp isn’t what it used to be. In Tom Landry, Don Shula and Chuck Noll’s heyday two-a-days were standard operating procedure, full contact drills the norm and not the exception, and players were often forbidden to drink water between activities.

As salaries have risen, NFL owners and coaches have become gun shy about risking injuring their stars in training camp.

  • But at least one exception remains — the goal line drill.

Mike Tomlin wasted little time testing HE Isaac Redman of the preseason glory, against likes of James Harrison, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior.

Redman embraced the challenge with relish. Now such attitude is common place among unknown rookies – results are an entirely different thing (click here a priceless story a rookie who spent his 15 Minutes of Fame challenging Jack Lambert in the summer of ’78 at Latrobe.)

  • Redman delivered results scored in goal line drills. 

However, he struggled in the Steelers next two preseason contests vs. Washington and the Bills, but came back to score a touchdown vs. the Panthers in the preseason finale.

It didn’t matter. The Steelers cut “RedZone Redman” and put him on the practice squad. In fact the Steelers signed and released Redman several times in 2009.

Pundits in the press suggested that the fact that no other NFL team took Redman showed he was expendable. (Never mind that NFL personnel men had made the same mistake with James Harrison….)

From Cult Hero to Tireless Gamer

Redman earned a roster spot in 2010 and saw spot duty through out the year, the highlight of which included Redman’s willing himself into the end zone for the go ahead touchdown vs. Baltimore.

Isaac Redman’s took over the primary back up rolle in 2011 and while he lacked the speed or raw talent of a Rashard Mendenhall, Redman showed himself to be a bruiser, whose legs never stopped moving until the whistle.

When Mendenhall tore his ACL in the season finale vs. Cleveland, Redman delivered, as he did again in the Tebowing the Steelers suffered in Denver.

  • By the end of 2011 Redman had clearly established he was a legitimate NFL running back.

Rougher sailing lay in wait for Redman in 2012, as injures hampered his effectiveness in the game first six weeks, but he exploded for 147 yards vs. the New York Giants.

He never returned to that level during the rest of the year, but he excelled in 3rd and 4th and short occasions and was easily the most consistent back of the year.

Steelers Need to Reup Redman

Isaac Redman is a restricted free agent, but because the he was undrafted, the Steelers only retain the right of first refusal if they offer him the lowest tender. Indications are that the Steelers may do just that due to salary cap restraints.

  • Regardless of how he does it, the Kevin Colbert needs to ensure that Isaac Redman is a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2013

It also says here that reports that the Steelers will give Redman a low-ball tender should be taken with a grain of salt, especially if they follow through on rumors not to tender Jonathan Dwyer at all.

  • Would the Steelers brass really commit themselves to matching any offer a team threw at Redman Doubtfully.

Like fellow restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders, if the Steelers can find salary cap space to make it work, they’d be wise to ink Isaac Redman to a long term deal.

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Steelers Draft Chris Rainey in 5th Round

After focusing almost exclusively on offensive and defensive lineman during the first two days of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Steelers finally turned their attention to the skill positions in the 5th round by selecting running back Chris Rainey in the 5th Round.
Rainey is a little undersized, standing at 5’8” and weighing in at 180 pounds, but he was successful at Florida and in the view of Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain, injects some athleticism into the backfield that the Steelers currently lack.
Writing on PG Plus, Ed Bouchette made some of the same observations, yet came to different conclusions, questioning whether Raineywould actually fit into the offense, comparing him to Stefan Logan.
Logan, aka “Joystick” was a training camp sensation in 2009 and made the team as a kick returner. Although he did well returning clicks, he lacked position flexibility and was ultimately forced off the team by the emergence of AntonioBrown in 2010.

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The Colbert Record: Undrafted Rookie Free Agents


Future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis started the 2000 season with Richard Huntley, Amos Zereoue, Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala and Jon Witman backing him up. Never in franchise history, perhaps, have the Pittsburgh Steelers boasted a deeper backfield.

Things changed fast. First fullback Jon Witman fell to injury and then Fuamatu-Ma’afla followed.

Injuries are always inopportune, but Pittsburgh headed into a mid-season show down with the Baltimore Ravens having to activate a little-known rookie free agent from the University of New Hampshire, football power house that it is.

Dan Kreider buckled his chin strap and challenged Ray Lewis head on, the Steelers rushed for 100 yards, Pittsburgh dealt the Ravens their last loss of 2000 and Kevin Colbert now had one of his biggest calling cards – uncanny success with undrafted rookie free agents.

The Colbert Record – Rookie Free Agents

With the NFL lockout heading to its conclusion one of the first orders of business will be to sign unrestricted rookie free agents. No one knows how the layoff will affect teams.

Previous installments of The Colbert Record dealt with his draft record. Today attention turns to Colbert’s success after the draft, success which has historically given the Steelers an advantage.

The list below contains the Steelers most prominent rookie free agents from the Kevin Colbert era. Click on the player names, each listed in the order of their appearance on the active roster.

Steelers 2000 Rookie Free Agents – Dan Kreider, Ainsley Battles
Steelers 2001 Rookie Free Agents – Keydrick Vincent, Chris Hoke
Steelers 2002 Rookie Free Agents – James Harrison
Steelers 2003 Rookie Free Agents – None
Steelers 2004 Rookie Free Agents – Willie Paker
Steelers 2005 Rookie Free Agents – Nate Washington
Steelers 2006 Rookie Free Agents – Anthony Madison
Steelers 2007 Rookie Free Agents – Gary Russell
Steelers 2008 Rookie Free Agents – Patrick Bailey, Darnell Stapleton
Steelers 2009 Rookie Free Agents – Stefan Logan, Doug Legursky,Ramon Foster, Isaac Redman
Steelers 2010 Rookie Free Agents – Steve McLendon

Kevin Colbert’s 2000 Rookie Free Agent Class

Dan Kreider – the “Sixth Offensive Lineman”
After getting his practice squad promotion in 2000 Dan Kreider went on to play in 113 games, starting 67 of those. Those numbers are impressive, but not as impressive as these: 4528 yards rushing and 4198 yards rushing.

Those are the rushing totals that Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker accumulated with Dan Kreider paving the way. Kreider is Steelers Football type who delivered down in the trenches time in and time out when victory or defeat lay in the balance.

Ainsley Battles
An unheralded member of this list, Ainsley Battles made it as a rookie free agent in 2000 and played in all 16 games, starting two of those.

When the history of Steelers safeties is written, Battles name will seldom noted or remembered. But he did record a sack and two fumble recoveries, and returned for spot duty with the Steelers in 2004 after two years as a part-time starter in Jacksonville.

Kevin Colbert’s 2001 Rookie Free Agent Class

Keydrick Vincent
Kevin Colbert plucked Keydrick Vincent out of the rookie free agent pool in 2001 and Vincent went on to start 27 games while appearing in 38. He even made starts as a rookie and as a sophomore, and then saw his value to the team soar in 2003 when injuries ravaged the offensive line.

Yet his greatest moment was in 2004, when a training camp ACL tear to Kendall Simmons threatened to derail the season. Vincent stepped up, and started 16 games in a season that saw the Steelers finish 15-1. Not bad for a guy whose phone refused to ring on draft day.

Chris Hoke – the Perpetual Unsung Hero
The record reflects that Chris Hoke joined the Steelers the same year as Casey Hampton, but with a lot less fan fare. If there is an unsung hero among Kevin Colbert’s rookie free agent signings, that man is Chris Hoke.

Hoke held a roster spot for much of his first three years, but only dressed twice, until dressing regularly in 2004. At mid-season the man who was less than an afterthought stepped in when Casey Hampton tore his ACL – and the Steelers did not miss a beat in route to a 15-1 season.

Hoke gets little press, but he’s arguably the most valuable back up the team has. 108 games played and a ‘mere’ 16 starts might seem pedestrian over 10 years, but Chris Hoke does what’s asked of him and delivers when his number has called.

Kevin Colbert’s 2002 Rookie Free Agent Coup — Silverback!

James Harrison – Silverback Attack
James Harrison actually made the active roster in 2002. The stories of his dismissals, recalls, and stint with the Ravens are now legendary. Since then he’s played in 107 games and started in 71 of them, but my God, do those numbers fail to do him justice.

Images can only suffice.

Harrison hinted that he was something special as early as 2004, when he laid down the law with a drunken Browns fan:

Harrison chose the Steelers 75 Anniversary Game against the Baltimore Ravens for his coming out party, a day when he exploded for 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble, and an interception.

And, just in case Ed Reed had any illusions about who was the baddest defender on the field that night, James Harrison erased any doubts:

James Harrison’s biggest play as a Steelers is perhaps the most over looked, which is especially rare given that it’s the longest run in Super Bowl history. While Ben Roethlisberger’s game-ending drive rightly draws rave reviews, James Harrison’s pick six of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII amounted to a four point swing in a game that finished 27-24.

Oh, yeah, James Harrison has racked up 49 sacks, 5 interceptions, and forced 25 fumbles. And James Harrison was the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

James Harrison accomplished these things in spite of the fact that he gets held more than any other pass rusher in the NFL. Not bad for a guy whose name was never called at a podium in New York, Silverback’s current foot-in-mouth attack notwithstanding.

Kevin Colbert’s 2004 Rookie Free Agent Fast Find

Fast Willie Parker
Not only did Willie Parker fail to be drafted, he barely played in college.

Parker went from non-entity to training camp sensation, to the man who relegated Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis to the bench, to authoring the then longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history in just two years.

A true work horse, “Fast Willie” played in 79 games starting 60 of them, and rushed for 5,378 yards and 24 touchdowns. What’s all the more impressive is that Willie did this in 6 years earning him the number 3 spot on the Steelers All-Time rushing list, and his 4.3 yards per carry average career rushing average ties Barry Foster as the best for a Steelers running back.

Who knows which Steelers scout uncovered him, Dan Rooney Jr. lives near Fast Willlie’s stomping grounds in the Carolinas, but who ever it was deserves a medal.

Kevin Colbert’s 2005 Rookie Free Agent Protégée

Nate Washington
Nate Washington cut his teeth as an unrestricted rookie free agent on the 2005 Super Bowl XL championship team. Washington’s best play as a rookie may have been the pass defense he made to save an interception in the AFC Championship game against Denver.

Year-by-year Washington got better, his hands became steadier, and he make himself into an integral part of the Steelers offense to the point where yours truly suggested that the Steelers might dump Santonio Holmes in favor of Washington after Holmes 2008 arrest.

Kevin Colbert’s astute pick up of Washington paid handsome dividends in Super Bowl XLIII as Nate Washington’s last pass as a Steeler came during the game winning drive.

Kevin Colbert’s 2006 Rookie Free Agent Special Teams Stud

Anthony Madison
Anthony Madison may have only played in 59 games and started none of them for the Steelers, but those numbers by no means measure his importance to the team. Madison is an outstanding special teams player and, as John Harris from the Tribune Review predicted, the team suffered mightly when they tried to do without him in 2009.

The Steelers brought him back, and their special teams improved accordinglyu.

Kevin Colbert’s 2007 Rookie Foster Free Agent Signing

Gary Russell
As a rookie in 2007 Gary Russell ran with the power and decisiveness that led Ed Bouchette to compare him to Barry Foster. And like Foster, Russell seems to have had attitude problems which lead to his dismissal following Super Bowl XLIII.

Nonetheless, during his time in Pittsburgh, Russell filled a badly needed short-yardage specialist role and scored the first touchdown of Super Bowl XLIII.

Kevin Colbert’s 2008 “Flash” Rookie Free Agent Class

Patrick Bailey
Ultimately, Patrick Bailey disappointed, but his sharp special teams play won him 2008 rookie of the year honors.

Darnell Stapleton
Darnell Stapleton may not have had the staying power of some of the other offensive lineman on this list who made the team as undrafted rookie free agents, but he did step into the starting role when Kendall Simmons was injured against Baltimore in 2008.

And if his post-season performance and his knee injuries at Latrobe in 2009 made the coaches leery of bringing him back, Darnell Stapleton was good enough at right guard for 14 games on a Super Bowl championship team, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Kevin Colbert’s 2009 Rookie Free Agent Foursome

Who would think that four free agent rookies would make the roster of the defending Super Bowl Champions? It happened with Colbert’s 2009 free rookie agent class, and a year later three of those four would play a vital role in bringing the Steelers to the brink of capturing the team’s 7th Lombardi.

Stefan “Joystick” Logan
Stefan Logan aka “Joystick” was another 2009 training camp sensation who did a commendable job as a kick returner in 2009. The emergence of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown made Stefan Logan expendable in 2010, but he was a bright spot on an otherwise dismal special teams unit.

“Mr. Versatility” Doug Legursky
Mike Tomlin has routinely praised “position flexibility” and perhaps no player has epitomized that more than Doug Legursky throughout is 24 games played and four starts. After making the practice squad in 2008, Legursky cracked the 53 man roster in 2009 seeing spot duty.

But in 2010 the team needed every bit of of Legusrsky’s versatility, and Legursky lined up at Center, Guard, fullback, and it would surprise me none to learn that he perhaps played a few snaps at tackle.

Ramon Foster
Ramon Foster found no love on draft day 2009, but the Steelers had plenty of love for him in late 2009 when injuries thrust him into the starting line up. He began 2010 on the bench, but by mid-season Mike Tomlin sent Trai Essex to the pine and Foster again joined the starting line up all the way through Super Bowl XLV.

Isaac “Redzone” Redman
Perhaps never has a Steelers player been move of a sensation without even taking a regular season NFL snap. Isaac Redman came out of no where in training camp 2009, and even held a roster spot for one game. In 2010 he earned a full roster spot, scored the game winning touchdown against Baltimore in the regular season.

At this point the only question about Redman is why don’t the Steelers give him more carries? Not bad for a Bowie State alumni.

Kevin Colbert’s 2010 Rookie Free Agent Signing

Steve McLendon
Steve McLendon’s stats will impress few, but McLendon saw serious playing time on a brutally hot Tennessee Sunday afternoon contributing to a defensive line that shut down Chris Johnson. McLendon only saw acting in 6 other games he has shown promise.

Undrafted Rookie Free Agents – Pittsburgh’s Competitive Differentiator

Normally undrafted rookie free agents fill out training camp rosters, play special teams, and perhaps grow into role players. If a rookie free agent holds his own in spot duty then he’s considered a success. Developing into a number one back up or unheralded starter is a decided plus.

Over the past decade Colbert, his scouts, and the Steelers coaches have developed just shy of one starting-caliber rookie free agent per season, and his two greatest finds, James Harrison and Willie Parker, authored the two of the most dramatic plays in history.

The Steelers success in staying competitive speaks for itself. Outsiders marvel at their record, asking “how do they do it?”

Those on lookers need do nothing more than browse the list above.

Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin have drafted well, but their consistent success with rookie free agents has pushed Pittsburgh over the top. Lombardi’s number five and six offer proof.

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Joe Burnett, Stefan Logan Top Steelers Final Cuts

The Steelers released 7 more players to get down to the NFL’s 53 man roster limit, and the cuts included a few surprises.

2008’s rookie of the year? Gone, as Patrick Bailey has hit the waiver wire.

Those young defensive lineman which the Steelers all but promised to develop? That development will either have to take place on the practice squad or with other players as the Steelers cut Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington, two late round picks from the 2009 and 2010 drafts.

What about the training camp sensation and feel-good story of 2009? Well, Stefan Logan might have been the NFL’s oldest rookie last year at age 28, but if he is to be the NFL’s oldest second year man then it will be somewhere else, as he too got his walking papers.

Some had thought that Tyler Grisham might be another feel-good story in 2010, but someone will need to get hurt for that to happen, as Grisham will not join the active roster, although the Steelers will almost certainly attempt to sign him to the practice squad.

The other big surprise is Joe Burnett, who was the team’s 5th round pick in 2009, and actually got some playing time. The Steelers would probably also like to bring Burnett back to the practice squad, but he might get picked up by another team.

The Steelers rounded out their cuts with safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and defensive tackle Steve McLendon.

Check back for further analysis on the Steelers personnel moves.

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Steelers Choke, AGAIN, and Lose to Raiders 27-24

A week ago an injury-depleted Steelers squad came up short in Baltimore after a very gutsy performance. Steelers Nation generally responded by crediting the men for their effort, and arguing that Pittsburgh was headed in the right direction.

Steel Curtain Rising took exception, arguing that the loss to the Ravens revealed that the 2009 Steelers are doomed to be consistently inconsistent.

How good it would have felt to write “Steel Curtain Rising was wrong, the Steelers are back on their feet.”

Sadly, Steel Curtain Rising was right. About the only revelation to come out of the loss to Oakland is that the Steelers excel in discovering ways to self destruct.

Falling from 6-2 to 6-6

In four weeks the Steelers have fallen from 6-2 to 6-6. It is getting to the point where adjectives fail to describe the four-loss fall, but here’s a shot:

What about the loss to the Raiders? Right now there’s even money on “devastating” and “demoralizing.”

“Only the Raiders”

In two and three quarters seasons, Mike Tomlin has shown himself to be a top notch head coach. There’s no other way to describe a man who guides a team through the NFL’s toughest schedule in a generation and ends it by claiming a 6th Lombardi Trophy.

But during his third season, Mike Tomlin’s Achilles Heel has become horrendously apparent.

  • Mike Tomlin teams play down to the competition.

Coming into the game, Oakland was 1-5 on the road. It had the 31st ranked offense. The Raiders had scored 10 touchdowns in 11 games – that’s less than one per game.

The Steelers defense gave Oakland three touchdowns, in a single quarter.

Fully half of the Steelers losses (thus far) have come at the hands of teams jockeying for draft position. Injuries and freak mishaps are fine, but when a team consistently drops games to inferior talent, place the blame squarely on the coach’s shoulders.

The Steelers Did Rectify Several Wrongs, Except…

Throughout the course of this 6-6 season, several deficiencies have ailed the Steelers.

  • Costly special teams breakdowns
  • Touchdowns dropped in the end zone
  • An inability to pressure the passer at key moments
  • A (perceived) lack of commitment to the run

Yet against the Raiders, none of those ills were apparent.

  • Kick coverage was good, and Stefan Logan finally broke a long one, and he had another very good run back
  • Ben’s receivers caught everything he threw at them
  • Pittsburgh’s defenders racked up 3 sacks, and pressure forced plenty of Oakland punts
  • The Steelers in fact found excellent balance on offense, passing 24 times and running 27 times

Since the losing streak started, the Steelers seemingly have righted a lot of wrongs, but in the end, that effort has not been sufficient.

…As It Was in the Beginning It Shall Be in the End

The key to the sentence above is “right a lot of wrongs,” because the two big wrongs, namely coming up empty in the Red Zone and folding in the fourth quarter, returned to haunt Pittsburgh with a vengeance.

Red Zone Failures
In the first half, the Steelers got into the Red Zone three times.

  • Starting from the Oakland 15, the Steelers managed just three points
  • Advancing to the Oakland 5, they gave it up on downs
  • Driving from mid-field to the Oakland 15, Ben threw an interception in the end zone.

If the Steelers score as little as three more points on any of those Red Zone possessions, the Raiders do not finish regulation with the lead.

A touchdown on any one of them gives the Steelers an advantage.

Fortunately, the Steelers offense adjusted, and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

An impressive turn around, almost tempting enough to let the offense off the hook, for it would have been enough, had there not been a total and complete defensive collapse in the fourth quarter.

Folding in the Fourth
The Raiders first touchdown was hard to take, but the Steelers had given them the ball at midfield and Oakland simply drove 47 yards in workman-like fashion. Nothing to be proud of, but no cause for panic either.

But the next two drives were inexcusable.

The first saw the defense give up a 75 yard touchdown pass.

Then came the final drive where Gradkowski had completions of 17, 12, 19, 23, and 11 yards. As if five double-digit plays were not enough, the Steelers defense was kind enough to give them another 11 yards on an unnecessary roughness call.

To find a more shameful fourth quarter performance by a Steeler defense, you need to go back to the dark days of 1998 or 1999.

And that observation is more damming than any number or statistic.

Tomlin’s Test

Throughout this losing streak the question has been, “a rally is still possible, can Tomlin rally the troops?”

Now the question is simply, “Can Tomlin keep his team from quitting?”

Mike Tomlin himself seemed to concede as much. When asked about playoff possibilities a dejected Tomlin simply responded:

“I am just trying to win a game.”

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Arians, Kemoeatu & Line, Holding James Harrison and Other Final Thoughts on the Chargers Game

The Steelers victory over the Chargers gave Steelers Nation a lot to chew on. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order.

Arians Innovates

For the second consecutive game, Bruce Arians showed that he can tinker, this time by lining up an offensive lineman as a fullback in the backfield. The play worked wonders, as Doug Legursky made a key block on Mendenhall’s first TD. Apparently, they won’t be doing much more of this when David Johnson gets back, but you have to love thinking.

That was only the beginning of Arian’s tricks. Santonio Holmes was looking to throw on the reverse, and he showed a lot of faith in his offense in calling Mewelde Moore’s half back option pass.

Coming Out Party for Kemoeatu and the Offensive Line

Watching Chris Kemoeatu play against the Chargers, it is easy to see why the Steelers kept him instead of paying Alan Fanaca or trying to rehab Kendall Simmons. Kemoeatu tantalized the Steelers from the day they drafted him, but it wasn’t until last night that he played as the one man wrecking crew that his measurables said he could.

In general the line’s play has improved with each week. Ben is getting better protection that he has had for a long time, and it was a pleasure to see power running between the tackles make its return to Pittsburgh.

  • Curtain’s Call: The line’s improvement is no mirage, but the real test is yet to come.

Qualification on Accolades for the Defense

Steel Curtain Rising devoted a good portion of the Charger game analysis to defending the Steelers defense. That defense still stands, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out I completely skipped over the fact that San Diego scored so quickly.

Strategy and play selection change more based on the time and score in football perhaps more than any other sport. So the Chargers, with all of their weapons, were in “nothing to lose” mode, at least in terms of mentality if not actual play calling.

  • Curtain’s Call: But that still does not take the Steelers defense off of the hook. They played better than they got credit for, but the critique that San Diego made score look too easy is legit.

Stefan Logan Must Master Fundamentals

Stefan Logan has the ability to be a good kick returner in this league but, he needs to be “on the details.” He’s had two fumbles in four games. The second one wasn’t his fault strictly speaking, how do you defend against six guys trying to strip you, but he never should have field that punt in the first place.

James Harrison Steps Up Despite Continued Holding

The blatant holding of James Harrison has gone from annoying to infuriating. For the second time this season, but almost certainly not the last, Steel Curtain Rising wonders aloud if the NFL didn’t take La Toalla Terrible’s tongue and cheek commentary about legalizing holding James Harrison too seriously.

One hopped at the time that James Harrison’s status as NFL Defensive Player of the year might reverse the situation, but alas, that only seems to have exacerbated the problem.

Nonetheless, Harrison did disrupt the Charger’s passing game, and it was nice to see him end the game with his strip sack.

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Steelers Make Cuts: Logan in, Redman, Davis, Madison Waived

The Steelers got down to their 53 man roster today, and there were some surprises. Former CFL star and special teams stand out Stefan Logan made the team, but undrafted rookie free agent Isaac Redman wasn’t so lucky. Nor were running back Carey Davis, cornerback Anthony Madison, or 2008 third round pick Bruce Davis.

Or Were They?

Earlier today the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette reported the information above, yet the team has made no official announcements, and other media outlets are reporting that the Steelers are attempting keep their final cuts secret.

The Post-Gazette later informed that these cuts were not offical, but one can trust Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac’s journalistic sleuthing skills.

Tomlin to Attempt Deception and Misdirection?

Perhaps the only element of mystery is weather Mike Tomlin will have a change of heart, as he does not need to report the cuts to the league until tomorrow. The more likely scenario is that he wants to keep his options open should trade opportunities arise.

In addition to the players mentioned above, the Post Gazette reports that 2009 7th round pick Sonny Harris got his release as well as fellow seventh round pick A.O. Shipley. Linebacker Donavan Woods and defensive lineman Scott Paxton were also cut.

The team will apparently come to an injury settlement with running back Carey Davis.

A third round pick in 2008 out of UCLA, Bruce Davis has disappointed, and apparently lost a roster sport oft injured but always scrappy linebacker Arnold Harrison.

Steel Curtain Rising’s “Curtain’s Call” Starts at .500 as Summers Makes the Team

Last night Steel Curtain Rising introduced “Curtain’s Call” and went .500. “Curtain’s Call” correctly predicted that Stefan Logan had made the team (as did the rest of Steelers Nation), but “Cutain’s Call” was way off on Redman and Summers, predicting that Issac Redman would make the team and Summers would be cut.

Ed Bouchette reported that Frank “the Tank” Summers, although only getting one carry, ran hard, and also impressed with his ability as a run blocking fullback.

Ryan Mundy, another player who made a splash last night, also made the team. Mundy was a 6th round draft pick in 2008 who was waived in an injury settlement last year, but later returned to the practice squad. Mundy gives the Steelers some youth at the back up safety position, where Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark’s primary back up is Tyrone Carter who is 33 years old.

There has been no news about the fate of defensive back Roy Lewis, one of last summer’s stand out undrafted free agents. Lewis made the 2008 practice squad and spent time on the regular season roster. Mike Tomlin repeatedly praised him for his “position flexibility” last year, but Lewis name has been seldom heard this summer.

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