Steelers Draft Joshua Dobbs, Quarterback, Tennessee – The “Shouldn’t Have Been” Surprise

“Steelers Draft Josh Dobbs, in 4th round, quarterback, Tennessee.”

Raise your hand if you were both surprised and dumbfounded by the Steelers 4th round draft pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. (Mine’s raised.)

Raise your hand if you felt the Steelers had far more pressing needs to address with a pick as valuable as a 4th round draft selection. (Mine’s raised.)

Raise your hand if you felt that, given Ben Roethlisberger’s sentiments towards retirement, you felt that ALL of the Steelers 2017 draft capital should be devoted giving ben the weapons and players need to bring home one last Lombardi before Big Ben begins his “Life’s Work.” (Mine is STILL raised.)

  • If you’re hand has been raised, then you’ve likely got a lot of company in Steelers Nation.
Steelers draft Josh Dobbs, Joshua Dobbs

Steelers 2017 4th round pick Joshua Dobbs, former Tennessee Volunteer. Photo Credit: Jamie Squire, Getty Images

But you know what? All of us should have known this was coming back in January. Why argue that? Look no further than to the words of Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II who declared, “We haven’t drafted a quarterback for several years now, so we’re probably due to look at the position.”

  • While the Steelers President didn’t quite commit to anything, there’s also not a lot of ambiguity in Art II’s words.

As Observer-Reporter scribe Dale Lolley put those words into context for his readers, offering, “The Steelers will likely take a shot at a quarterback in the middle rounds of this year’s draft, much like they did with Jones a few years ago.”

Which is exactly what happened.

  • Let’s be clear, given the Steelers needs at inside linebacker and tight end, Steel Curtain Rising isn’t on board with using a 4th round pick on a quarterback.

But, as we’ve admitted more than once in recent days, there’s a reason why Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are drafting players, and yours truly is blogging. After the Steelers disastrous 2008 NFL Draft, the one player that this site took issue with was the pick of Dennis Dixon.

And while it’s true that Dennis Dixon never developed into the replacement quarterback for Charlie Batch, he did compile a 2-1 record as a starter, which isn’t bad for a 5th round pick.

Reviewing the Steelers Pick of Josh Dobbs on Its Merits

Necessary or not, Josh Dobbs is now a Pittsburgh Steeler. Dobbs brings the Steelers a 22-13 record, and combines strong arm strength with excellent mobility and an ability to throw well under pressure. While at Tennessee, Dobbs also earned a degree in Astrospace Engineering, which is not something you see every day in the NFL.

As Dobbs highlight reel reveals, excellent football players can indeed by smart:

https://youtu.be/3qBkV3ZMmu4

When asked why he’s subjecting his body (and potentially his mind) to the rigors of playing football, Dobbs offered this:

I love the game of football. I have loved it since I played it when I was five. My mom signed me up at five years old, when we were running around in helmets bigger than your body. Football is all I know. Going to college, I could have played football or baseball, but I chose football because that was the sport I couldn’t see myself not playing. I love the game. I give it all, every time I step onto the field. It’s great to have a backup plan for 15 years down the road when I can’t play football. But until that day, I am giving it all to the sport I love.

When ask for his take on the Steelers 2017 fourth round selection Neal Coolong, Founder of NFL Wire Network which is part of USA Today Digital Properties, provided this evaluation:

Joshua Dobbs is a nice prospect. I see more in him than I did or do Landry Jones. Brings a nice athletic element. Forces competition for Landry Jones’s job next year, the final year of his contract, and they’d have him cheap for two years after that. While I can’t say overall I’m thrilled with the position they selected, I don’t mind Dobbs in the fourth.

So be it. Like it or not, the Steelers made Joshua Dobbs their 4th round pick. As noted a year ago when evaluating Kevin Colbert’s history with 4th round draft picks, the 4th round represents the balance point of the draft.

In time, we’ll know which direction Joshua Dobbs will go in. For now we’ll simply say Welcome to Steelers Nation Mr. Dobbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent Steelers offensive tackles have flipped the script

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerald Hawkins to Write “His Own Story”

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

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

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

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

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The Colbert Record: Steelers 4th Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

In its current incarnation, the 4th round represents balance point of the NFL Draft. Rounds 1-3 represent the cream of the crop. Rounds 5-7 represent the bottom feeders.

  • Round four falls squarely in between.

A fourth rounder maturing into a starter should surprise no one; yet a fourth rounder who only develops into a part-time role player cannot be written off as a bust. This year’s edition of The Colbert Record looks at Kevin Colbert’s history with 4th round picks.

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

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2000 Fourth Round Pick – Danny Farmer

Wide receiver had been a weakness of the Steelers in 1998 and 1999. Based on the early returns, Troy Edwards had given the Steelers a foot hold on rectifying the problem, and the earlier pick of Plaxio Burress looked to improve the Steelers further. No one paid much attention to Hines Ward, so the pick of Danny Farmer seemed enticing.

  • At least until the Steelers opened camp at St. Vincent’s in Labrobe

Danny Famer couldn’t cut it, so Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert cut him. Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decried the move, pointing the Farmer’s absence after the Steelers 16-0, 2000 opening day loss to the Ravens. Smizik doubled down in December (when the 2000 Steelers had turned around their season), extolling Farmer, by then a Cincinnati Bengal for a great game against Jacksonville.

Farmer, however was out of football by 2003, and never had more than 19 catches in a season. He didn’t do much for the Bengals, which is better than what the Steelers got from him. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2001 Fourth Round Pick – Mathias Nkwenti

Unlike wide recievers, there are few stats measure offensive lineman. But one stat that does stand out is this: Mathias Nkwenti appeared in two games for the Steelers one in 2001 and another in 2003. Then he was out of football. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2002 Fourth Round Pick – Larry Foote

If you were looking to define a prototype for a “quality 4th round pick” you’d need to look to Kevin Colbert’s 2002 4th round pick of Larry Foote.

When news broke that 2001’s rookie stand out Kendrell Bell was injured and wouldn’t be able to suit up for the opener, most Steelers fans figured that John Fiala would be the “Next man up.” Fiala wasn’t a superstar, but he’d paid his dues on special teams and as a backup since 1998, and sort of fit the Jerry Olsavsky mold.

  • Bill Cowher instead looked to the rookie Larry Foote to start.

Foote got the first three starts of the season, and while Bell kept him on the bench in 2003, Foote assumed the starting role in 2004 and started from that moment until the Steelers hoisted Lombardi Number Six over their heads after Super Bowl XLIII.

Foote of course departed in 2009, but was back in 2009 as a backup, only to reassume the starting role after James Farrior’s retirement. 105 regular season starts and 11 playoff starts including two Super Bowls is pretty impressive for a fourth round pick. Grade: Over Performer

Steelers 2003 Fourth Round Pick – Ike Taylor

If Larry Foote fulfilled all that can be expected of a 4th round pick, then 2003’s fourth round pick is an example of a 4th rounder who completely exceeds expectations. And to think, Mark Madden declared the pick of Ike Taylor as the worst pick in franchise history.

  • Something tells me that Mike Holmgrem and Matt Hasslebeck would beg to differ.

Ike Taylor won’t get recognition alongside the Jack Butler, Mel Blount and Rod Woodson as one of the franchise’s true great cornerbacks because he couldn’t hold on to interceptions. But from 2005 until 2012ish, Ike Taylor was able to shadow the opponents best receiver and often times take him out of the game. Grade: Grand Slam

Steelers 2004 Fourth Round Pick – Nathaniel Adibi

If Steelers lore is correct, a faction of the Steelers draft room wanted to use this pick on Michael Turner. Bill Cowher wanted Nathaniel Adibi. Unfortunately Cowher got his way. Nathaniel Adibi never played a down in a regular season NFL game, Michael Turner rushed for 7,338 yards in a 9 yard career. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2005 Fourth Round Pick – Fred Gibson

Just as he did in 2000, Kevin Colbert drafted wide receiver in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Like Danny Farmer, Fred Gibson never played a down for the Steelers. Unlike Danny Farmer, Gibson never played anywhere in the NFL. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2006 Fourth Round Picks – Willie Colon and Orien Harris

Many times during Mike Tomlin’s early tenure, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette refered to a lack of alignment between the front office and the coaches on the offensive line, and looked to the Steelers seemingly bipolar treatment of Max Starks.

Bouchette might have had a point, but Steelers coaches were already angling to replace Max Starks with Willie Colon by the end of his rookie year. Colon did beat out Starks on the right side, and held down the fort there from 2007 to 2009. Injuries of course ruined his 2010 and 2011 season and derailed it in 2012 when he’d settled in at offensive guard. Grade: Quality Value Pick

Orien Harris, defensive tackle out of Miami was the Steelers second fourth round pick in 2004. He never played a down for the Steelers, but did appear in 18 games for the Bengals and Browns in the next three season. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2007 Fourth Round Picks — Daniel Sepulveda and Ryan McBean

The Mike Tomlin era began with two fourth round picks and it started with a bang, of sorts.
Mike Tomlin looked to make a statement with his first draft by trading up to get a punter to emphasize the importance of special teams. Daniel Sepulveda was the pick.

Sepulveda had two decent seasons punting, until injuries cost him the 2008 season. He injured himself again in 2010. To the surprise of many, the Steelers brought him back in 2011, but his last game was the Steelers All Saints day upset of the Patriots. It is not Sepulveda the Steelers picked him first, but if you pick a punter in the fourth round, he’d better be All World. Sepulveda wasn’t that even when healthy: Grade: Disappointment

The Steelers second 4th round pick was of Ryan McBean, a defensive tackle out of Oklahoma State. McBean played one game as a rookie in Pittsburgh during 2007 for the Steelers, and then 46 the three years afterwards including 21 starts. Unfortunately, McBean played his last four seasons for Denver and Baltimore. His stats indicate OK value for a 4th round pick, unfortunately, the Steelers didn’t benefit from any of that value. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2008 Fourth Round Pick – Tony Hills

As mentioned when profiling 2008’s 3rd round pick Bruce Davis, Jim Wexell wrote that Mike Tomlin would match Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together during training camp and extol both men on, saying, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you.”

  • Unfortunately, Tomlin was wrong about both men.

Davis was gone in a year. Tony Hills however, stuck around. However, he did not dress in 2008 nor did he suit up in 2009. Hills got a little bit of a reprise under 2010’s special teams coach Sean Kugler, and he actually saw action in four games. The Steelers experimented with him at guard during the 2011 preseason, but cut him.

Since then Tony Hills has stuck on with Denver, Indianapolis, Dallas, Miami and most recently in 2015 New Orleans, seeing spot duty (and one start) in 18 games. But when you draft a tackle in the 4th round, you really need more than four games in 3 seasons. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2009 Fourth Round Pick – Traded

The Steelers traded their 4th round pick along with their second to get Denver’s two 3rd round picks in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Steelers 2010 Fourth Round Pick – Thaddeus Gibson

The Steelers used their 2010 4th round pick on linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. The early reports on Gibson out of Latrobe were positive. However, when the Steelers needed to make a roster move in October, Gibson’s spot was sacrificed. San Francasico snapped him up, where he saw spot duty in two teams. He’d get spot duty in two more games the next season with the Bears, and then a roster spot sans the spot duty with the Titans. Gibson was out of football after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2011 Fourth Round Pick — Cortez Allen

Kevin Colbert certainly has had bigger 4th round disappointments than Cortez Allen (see 2012’s) and the same can be said for Art Rooney, Dick Haley and Tom Donahoe before him. But none have had a stranger trip than Cortez Allen.

The Steelers took Allen in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft and as a rookie, Allen played a role in shutting down (or at least containing) the Patriots Rob Gronkowski in the 2011 Steelers upset of the Patriots. Word was that in 2012, Allen pushed Keenan Lewis hard for the starting slot. Lewis won, but when injures opened the door for Allen to start late in 2012, Allen responded with two interceptions and one forced fumble vs. the Bengals and then two forced fumbles in the season finale vs. the Browns.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers, it appeared, had found their cornerback.

Allen got injured in the Steelers season 2013 opener vs. the Titans (who didn’t get injured that day), and struggled when he returned to health. However, his pick six in the snow at Lambeau sealed the Steelers win over Green Bay.

  • That was the Cortez Allen the Steelers had been waiting for.

The Steelers went out on a limb, and resigned Cortez Allen to a 25 million dollar contract before the 2014 season. IT was a good deal for Allen. He pocketed just under 6.3 million for just 12 games. The Steelers of course have cut Allen and moved on. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2012 4th round pick – Alameda Ta’amu

By 2012 Casey Hampton was on his last legs and, while Steve McLendon was looking good, the Steelers still were not ready to anoit him as Hampton’s successor. So Kevin Colbert traded up to get the last pure nose tackle in the draft Alameda Ta’amu.

  • One of the ironies about the pick, was that David DeCastro’s highlight reel showed him manhandling Ta’amu earlier in the year.

That was worrisome, but not nearly as worrisome as Ta’Amu’s drunken rampage through the South Side that could have easily killed someone. To the chagrin of many, the Steelers kept him around, but eventually let him go. Ta’Amu landed in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals, where he played in 21 games. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2013 4th round picks – Shamarko Thomas and Landry Jones

The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t trade future draft picks. It simply runs against the franchise’s philosophy. In 2013 the made an exception, however, and traded up to grab Shamarko Thomas, a safety out of Syracuse.

  • The word was that Shamarko would have gone 1st had he been 2 inches taller.

The Steelers put their money where their mouth was by working Shamarko into the slot early in the season. Shamarko got hurt, Will Allen returned, and after the Steelers 2013 debacle vs. New England, Shamarko’s snaps with the secondary can be counted in single digits (or almost.)

The Steelers haven’t give up on Shamarko yet, but at this point he’s doesn’t look to get off of special teams outside of an emergency. Grade: Bust

The Steelers surprised many when they drafted Landry Jones in the 4th round of 2014. Many speculated he was arriving as Ben Rothlisberger’s replacement. Instead, he replaced Charlie Batch. Landry Jones struggled in both the 2013 and 2014 preseasons, making fans long for the days when Brian St. Pierre held the clipboard.

  • The Steelers challenged Jones in 2015 at St. Vincent’s and Jones responded.

Landry Jones quite frankly still must prove he’s a competent number 2 NFL quarterback, but his off the bench performances vs. the Cardinals and the Raiders prove he’s a competent number 3 NFL quarterback. Grade: Serviceable Pick Up

Steelers 2014 4th Round Draft Pick – Martavis Bryant

When the Steelers turn comes to pick in the fourth round, it would be wise for Dan Rooney to veto any decision to pick a wide receiver…. As he did in 2000 and 2005, Kevin Colbert looked to build wide receiver depth in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Unlike Danny Farmer and Fred Gibson, his pick, Martavis Bryant, has played in the NFL.

  • And unlike Farmer and Gibson, Bryant has shown he has transformational talent.

But Bryant is of course dogged by off the field substance abuse issues, and will miss his third season due to a suspension.

Please Mr. Colbert, do not draft any more wide receivers in the 4th round. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2015 4th Round Draft Pick – Doran Grant

When the Steelers cut Doran Grant to make room for some waiver wire pickups, Steelers Nation reacted as if Mel Taylor Woodson had been sent packing. The reaction was exaggerated as the Steelers resigned Grant to the practice squad, and then the active roster.

  • But Grant only had one snap in 3 games.

Normally one would caution that it is far, far too early to come to any conclusion on a 4th round pick after a rookie year, and it IS too early to give up on Doran Grant. But given Kevin Colbert’s track record here, one would like to see more encouraging results. Grade:  Farm Team

Kevin Colbert’s Record in the 4th Round

In his seven drafts with Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert had some bad misses with his fourth round picks, but he also found Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, and Willie Colon in the fourth round, and those men have 5 Super Bowl rings between them for games in which they started.

  • Unfortunately, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have been a disaster in the 4th round.

They’ve traded up three times and only have an oft-injured average punter, a nose tackle most famous for an off the field incident, and safety who was supposed to replace Troy Polamalu but can only seem to play on special teams. Cotez Allen flashed ability, but faded even more quickly. Martavis Bryant tantalizes, but his toking might cost him an NFL career.

Landry Jones has grown into a respectable player, but his late development in 2015 isn’t enough to compensate for all the other outright busts. Grade: D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers 2010 OTA’s & Minicamp the Roethlisberger Suspension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steelers 2008 Draft Class Now Officially a Wash

There’s a peculiarity in the methodology of those who do “serious” NFL Draft evaluation and it lies in basing a drafting organization’s grade on whether or not the player is still in the NFL as opposed to still with the drafting organization.

  • By that measure, the Steelers performance in the 2008 NFL Draft could still grade out well – not that anyone in Pittsburgh will benefit

The “Serious” qualification is necessary, because NFL Draft Evaluation is plagued by day after “who won and who lost” draft analysis that generates page views and sparks discussion but is ultimately meaningless.

Not 48 hours had passed since the end of the 2008 draft and the so-called experts were praising the Steelers for claiming Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed, two of the supposed “steals” from the 2008. Beyond that the Steelers had added needed depth at linebacker, offensive line and perhaps had netted themselves a long-term back up quarterback.

Steelers Nation has had painful reminders in just how far target the instant analysis of the 2008 draft fell. The 2013 season promises to offer an equally clarifying less on more serious analysis.

Maturing of a Draft Class

Serious NFL draft evaluation can only begin 3 years after a draft and ultimately should extend further. Yes first round picks should contribute or at least “show something” in their first year. Other draft picks should carve out back up slots and/or contribute on special teams.

But developing talent and working it into your system takes time.

Kevin Colbert’s best NFL draft came in 2002. In the class 2002’s third season the Steelers won 15 games and in their fourth NFL season the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.

  • That’s no coincidence. 

True, Kendall Simmons started right away, Antwaan Randle El blossomed as a third receiver and kick returner, while Larry Foote started a few games for Kendrell Bell.

But the full impact of the Steelers 2002 Draft Class wasn’t felt until those players fully matured with El taking on a starting role, Foote and Chris Hope becoming full time starters, Verron Hayes showing himself to be capable reserve running back, and even Lee Mays showing himself to be a serviceable practice squad/53rd man on the roster who can make a couple of catches when you need them.

  • Brett Keisel’s case shows why the evaluation window must be extended, as he did not break the starting lineup until 2006 but has been a fixture ever since.

Given that example, the Steelers 2008 Draft Class should be peaking into their primes, to the Black and Gold’s Benefit…

No Player for the 2008 Draft Remains with the Steelers

…Those still playing from the Steelers 2008 Draft Class might in fact be peaking into their primes in 2013, but unfortunately none of them will be doing it for Pittsburgh.

  • Linebacker Mike Humpal, the Steelers 2008 6th round pick never saw an NFL roster, so “Life’s Work” began for him at a young age.
  • Limas Sweed of course is famous for dropping sure touchdowns in the playoffs vs. San Diego and Baltimore and then tearing his ACL during the 2010 off season. He’s been out of football since.

Legend holds that during summer 2008 at Latrobe Mike Tomlin matched Bruce Davis one-on-one vs. Tony Hills with the challenge that he was “going to make a player out of one of you.”  Davis, the Steelers 3rd round pick from 2008 was a total bust and out of the NFL by then end of ’09.

Tony Hills presents a more curious case. Jim Wexell once compared the Steelers 2008 4th round pick to John Jackson. But while Jackson was starting in his second year, Hills stayed on the Steelers roster for two years without dressing.

In 2010 he shocked Steelers Nation by not only pushing for a roster spot but pushing for time under the tutelage of Sean Kugler. He saw spot duty during 2010, and got a shot at guard during the 2011 preseason. Hills couln’t cut it at guard and got cut.

But that was not the end of the line for Hills. He got signed by Denver, and then Bruce Arians brought him to Indianapolis, where he not only played in five games but started in one.

  • Perhaps Hills is another late bloomer like Brett Keisel. Regardless, it won’t be to the Steelers benefit. 

Dennis Dixon was one of the most surprising and intriguing picks of the Steelers 2008 draft class. He only started three games in Pittsburgh and wanted out after being unable to unseat Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. Dixon is in Philly now, where the word is he’ll get a shot at starting.

Ryan Mundy entered free agency looking like someone the Steelers could and should get back if they wanted back. New York signed him away. Mundy might salvage something from a career that was trending down, but he can’t help salvage the 2008 draft class.

The “Star” of the 2008 draft class was of course to be Rashard Mendenhall. Rashard Mendenhall was no bust, and played as top five back in his best games. Mendenhall wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh East and is now in Pittsburgh West, with another shot at attaining the consistency needed to attain his potential.

“Potential.” “Potential” was the watch word here after the 2008 draft. The Steelers had stockpiled potential. Unlocking that potential at first frustrated and ultimately remained elusive.

Now Arizona, Indianapolis, New York and Philadelphia can see if they can benefit from what Pittsburgh has termed a “mistake” or in other words, their 2008 draft class.

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Steelers 2008 Draft Serves as Cautionary Tale for 2012…

Christmas came early at the South Side. And we’re not talking about the Christmas in April volunteer effort.

No, Santa Claus really did visit the Steelers.

To start, he allowed a high first round pick to fall throughout the entire first round of the draft, until he landed right at the Steelers feet.

For an encore, he allowed another pick whom many scouts had graded as first round talent to fall all the way to the bottom of the second round, where again, the Steelers snapped him right up.

Not be outdone, old St. Nick did it again, allowing another player to fall to the Steelers in the fifth round who shouldn’t have been there. Some people are already calling it the steal of the draft.

Sound familiar?

This is of course the narrative that many are affixing to the Steelers haul in the 2012 NFL Draft. Hopefully, they’re right.

But recent history provides a cautionary tale. Because everything that is being said about the Steelers 2012 draft was said, almost word for word, about their 2008 draft.

You remember, the 2008 draft that pundits such as John Harris implored the Steelers to avoid?

In 2008 Rashard Mendenhall was one of the players that the Steelers decided they would not pass on if he fell to them. Yet fall Mendenhall did, and viola, he was a Steeler.

The same process repeated itself with Limas Sweed. Many had Sweed rated as an otherwise first round pick with the only knock against him an ailing wrist. Sweed fell and the Steelers got him.

While no one was quite calling Dennis Dixon “the steal of the draft,” many said that were it not for injuries suffered during his final year in college, he too had talent worth of a first or second rounder.

Days after the 2008 NFL Draft, many rushed to declare the Steelers a success. Peter Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC) went so far as to declare the Steelers 2008 effort as “The Best Steelers Draft in Years.” He explained his view this way:

And this year, unlike several of recent past, our Steelers drafted tremendous football players who didn’t necessarily fit the fans’ ideas concerning pressing needs. Pittsburgh’s brass probably didn’t plan the draft out the way it eventually wound up, but when the draft unfolded as it did, they took advantage.

That’s good drafting, and the Pittsburgh Steelers should be – in my opinion – on any short list of teams which performed best on draft day.

Four years later, any assessment of the Steelers 2008 effort must carry a decidedly different tone.

Rating the Steelers 2008 Draft

  • 1st Round, Rashard Mendenhall, RB

Mendenhall has been generally been a good running back who has flashed greatness. Were better players on the board passed over? Perhaps, but Mendenhall was a good pick.

Sweed was best known his drops in the divisional playoffs vs. San Diego and in the AFC Championship game. Injuries and mental health issues made him an early camp casualty in 2011. Bust.

Bruce Davis dressed for 5 games and recorded no stats for the Steelers. Total Bust

Hills held a clipboard in 2008 and 2009, got a taste of action in 2010, but even Sean Kugler was unable to help him. Bust.

Dixon had his shot at the big time in 2010. He did “OK” but Charlie Batch earned credit for carrying the Steelers in Ben’s absence. If its true that the Steelers did get decent value from Dixon, its also true that they didn’t get a groomable backup.

  • 6a Round, Mike Humpal, LB

Got cut in camp. Bust.

Mundy made the practice squad and has since developed into a serviceable back up.

That’s one quality starter at a crucial skill position, a solid back up, and a spot role player rounded out by four busts.

Steelers 2008 Draft vs. Steelers 2012 Draft….

There are important differences between the two drafts. Neither running back nor wide receiver were urgent needs in 2008, yet when players fell to them, the Steelers took them. That’s called sticking to your board.

The same thing happened in 2012, but this time the falling players also coincided with the Steelers needs.

And while any objective analysis must render Limas Sweed as a total bust, many forget that what made those drops so spectacular was the fact that he had totally burned the secondaries covering him.
In other words, Steelers scouts correctly evaluated Sweed in terms of talent. But that’s why Sweed remains such a cautionary tale.

The NFL Draft is as much an art as it is a science.

Every draft pick comes with an X-Factor.

In 1991, the Pittsburgh Steelers had Huey Richardson rated highly. So did many other NFL teams. Yet he was so bad that Bill Cowher traded Richardson to the Redskins before his second season and the Redskins cut him shortly thereafter.

Steelers Nation is excited about the arrival of David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Alameda Ta’amu, and Chris Rainey.

And so they should be. Each man represents a huge potential shot in the arm at an area of need. The key there is “potential.”

The 2012 draft could go down as one of the best in Steelers history. Or it could go down like the 2008 draft, where the team hit on a few players, but missed on many more.

In 3 or 4 years we’ll know.

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Steelers Cut Tony Hills, Crezdon Butler, Jeremy Kapinos, John Gilmore, and Jarrett Crittenton

The 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers final roster cuts are in. To get to 53 men, the Steelers cut punter Jeremy Kapinos, veteran tight end John Gilmore, undrafted rooke free agent Jarrett Crittenton and in two surprise moves, veteran guard/tackle Tony Hills and sophmore cornerback Crezdon Butler.

The departure of Butler is surprising because he recently had a strong preseason outing against Atlanta, although he had a difficult night against Carolina.

Daniel Sepulveda will again start the season as the Steelers punter. The Steelers have flirtered with letting him go for some time, but just can’t seem to pull the trigger — even a moster performance in preseason by Kapinos couldn’t pus them to do it.

The move to cut Tony Hills draws even more surprises, given that Hills was in contention for the starting right guard spot just a week ago.

John Gilmore’s departure is less of a surprise and amounts to a huge vote of confidence for Weslye Saunders.

Practice Squad Candidates?

The Steelers will most certainly attempt to bring Crezdon Butler back via the practices squad.

It will be interesting to see if Tony Hills makes the practice squad. Although drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL draft, Tony Hills has only played in 3 NFL games, which may leave him eligible for the practice squad.

The Steelers can sign 8 players to the practice squad and may begin doing so tomorrow.

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Steelers Cut Max Starks, Randle El

Kevin Colbert y Mike Tomlin Tienen Huevos de Acero
Steel Curtain Rising’s description of Tomlin & Colbert’s decision to cut Kendall Simmons in 2009

As a coach, Mike Tomlin refuses to coach scared. Tomlin plays to win, whether its going for 2 even when he’s just been penalized for holding or calling an on-sides kick in a game where quaterbacks are throwing TD’s a will.

Kevin Colbert mimics his counterpart.

Fear does not guide Colbert and Tomlin’s decision making, a tendency which they displayed again this morning while cutting former starting left tackle and one time franchise tag holder Max Starks.

Less than 24 hours before the start of free agency the Steelers now have under contract at the all important offensive tackle position:

Is this how the Steelers get back to the Super Bowl?

Fear not faithful in Steelers Nation. The Steelers cut Kendall Simmons in 2009 leaving them with no “starter capable” guard bound to the team, yet they quickly came to terms with Chris Kemoatu.

As Homer J. from Behind the Steel Curtain pointed out, Tomlin and Colbert have a plan.

They are negotiating to bring Willie Colon back (although how much fruit those questions are likely to bear remains an open question) and will likely bring Jonathan Scott back, who replaced Starks last year at left tackle.

The decision to cut Starks nonetheless counts as a surprise. Bragging rights go out to Michael Bean, found of Behind the Steel Curtain, who apparently went on the radio earlier this year and suggested that Stark’s roster spot might be in jeopardy. Hat’s off to you Michael!

On PG Plus, Ed Bouchette reported that Starks weight in the off season had topped 400 pounds during the lock out and was still at 375.

Randle El Redux Lasts One Year

A year ago Randel El returned to Pittsburgh with great fanfare, but his return to Pittsburgh was to be short lived. Bringing El back was a good move, even if he’d lost a step – or two, since leaving in 2005, but he was simply surpassed by astonishing development of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.

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Watch Tower: Ed Bouchette Right on Steelers Offensive Tackles, But…

Post-Gazette Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette was unusually critical of the Steelers earlier this week in PG Plus when he came down hard on the organization for “ignoring the tackle position.”

Regular Steel Curtain Rising readers know that I essentially agree with him. In the Colbert Record columns and other run ups to the 2008, 2009, and 2010 drafts, I have repeatedly called for the Steelers to return to the unofficial policy of the Cowher years to use a premium pick (1-3) on an offensive lineman.

One could argue on that, if the Steelers were to exclusively draft for need, offensive and defensive lineman should have been their focus on the first three rounds.

As feared, Max Starks injury has ended his season, and injury ended Willie Colon’s before it started. The Steelers began the season thin on the offensive line, and are now thinner.

So while agreeing with Bouchette in spirit, it’s hard to give his argument an unqualified endorsement.

Danger of Distortion When Drafting in 20/20 Hindsight

Redoing drafts in 20/20 hindsight is easy to do. But sometimes that 20/20 hindsight can obscure the forest for the trees.

Quality offensive tackles, and offensive lineman in general (and defensive line for that matter) have frequently been scarce when the Steelers has come to pick in premium rounds of most of not all of the drafts in the Mike Tomlin era.

Drafting for need has certain appeal, but the fact of the matter is that drafting for need easily leads to reaching, and reaching can get you into trouble. Does the name Troy Edwards ring a bell?

And Furthermore…

One final point. Bouchette reminds readers that had the Steelers not signed Fozell Adams, Tony Hills and Jonathan Scott would be their two starting tackles (and let’s not breath a sigh of relief yet, this could happen before all is said and done.)

Bouchette is right of course, that would be a bad situation for the Steelers.

But any NFL team would quickly find itself in dire straights if it lost both of its starting offensive tackles.

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Report Card: Steelers vs. the Titans

Welcome to the first installment of “Report Card” a new feature for Steel Curtain Rising, the title of which is self evident. The caveat I will add (on Scout’s Honor), I have not consulted Gerry DuLac’s grades or those of any other. Here are the grades for the Steelers performance against the Titans.

Quarterback

Dixon got hurt, just when he seemed to be making something happen, albeit with his legs. Batch looked rusty, but he did well considering the circumstances. Grade: C

Running Backs

Mendenhall, Moore, and Redman all got carries. If their average fails to impress, they carried the burden of an offense that was down to its 4th string quarterback and playing its 6th, 7th, and 8th string offensive lineman. Grade: C+

Wide Receivers

No one had too many balls thrown his way, but Ward dropped a certain touchdown pass that he must catch in a game like this. The Steelers needed more from their receivers than they got. Grade: C-

Offensive Line

They didn’t keep the quarterback very clean, nor did they open much in the way of holes for the lineman. But as Mike Tomlin said, it was musical chairs, as the line was held together with spit, tape, and bubble gum before it was all over. Steelers need either Scott or Hills to step up, as neither distinguished himself. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

The Steelers defense didn’t just make Chris Johnson look human, they humiliated him. That starts up front. And while Chris Hoke, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith deserve all the accolades they get, the coaches rotated in the second line and the defense did not miss a beat. Credit Tomlin, LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell, but credit Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McClendon even more. Grade: A +

Linebackers

James Harrison is mean. James Harrison is nasty. James Harrison makes plays. James Harrison raises Hell. Harrison’s numbers: 2 sacks, two forced fumbles and 11 tackles. Lawrence Timmons was simply on fire, in on every play with 15 tackles and 1 forced fumble of his own. LaMarr Woodley netted an interception. James Farrior was James Farrior. Grade: A+

Secondary

Once again, Troy Polamalu reminded everyone of how much we missed him, with a pick and a sack. Bryant McFadden also had a pick. Although it was more a result of the Prevent Defense, the Titans made the final drive look a little to easy. Still, they made up for it by defending a sure touchdown to Nate Washington later. Grade: A-

Special Teams

Wasn’t it nice to be the scorer on a kick return and not the scoree? Jeff Reed was 4-4 on field goals and the Steelers needed everyone of them. Still for the second time in less than a year, the Steelers special teams got suckered on an on-sides kick and they shouldn’t have. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero

Stevenson Sylvester – It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized that he wore 55, Jerry O’s old number. How appropriate. If anyone wondered why the Steelers made a roster spot for this guy, they need not wonder anymore.

Sylvester was all over the field on special teams, making things happen. Guys like that, and the spirit they display, are the reason why the Steelers were able to win yesterday.

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