Colbert vs Donahoe – Why Do We Never Ask “Can Kevin Colbert win without Tom Donahoe’s players?”

The Super Bowl has arrived and, just as they have since 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers are spectating with the NFL’s 30 also-ran teams. For a franchise that measures successful seasons in Lombardis and fan base with a “What have you done for me lately” mentality, 6 years without a trip to the Big Dance is a long drought.

And the lapse has gone on long enough, that even the most serious Steelers homer must acknowledge the elephant in the room, and the question we’ve strived to ignore has some legitimacy:

  • Will Kevin Colbert ever prove he can win a Super Bowl without Tom Donahoe’s players?
Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher

Kevin Colbert sits along side Bill Cowher during the press conference announcing his hiring. Photo Credit: Toledo Blade

What’s that? Have you gone crazy? Isn’t that the wrong question to ask (it is)? Doesn’t everyone know that Mike Tomlin is the man with the proverbial monkey on his back? Musn’t Mike Tomlin STILL need to prove he can win the big one without Bill Cowher’s players?

Well, yes, there still are large segments fans in Steelers Nation along with a cohort of the press (see Colin Cowherd, Jason Witlock and sadly Terry Bradshaw) that insist that Tomlin’s inability to win without Cowher’s players this remains Dan and Art Rooney II’s fatal blind spot.

  • This site has debunked those arguments before, and will do so again as needed.

But really, if you buy into the Tomlin only won on Cowher’s coattails nonsense, then your intellectual honesty demands you apply the same standard to Kevin Colbert with respect to his predecessor, Tom Donahoe. Let’s see what happens when you do just that….

Tom Donahoe’s Overlooked Role in Architecting Super Bowls XL and XLIII

Tom Donahoe was of course the man Dan Rooney tapped in 1992 to be the Pittsburgh Steelers first ever Director of Football Operations following Chuck Noll’s retirement and Dick Haley’s departure for the Jets. For much of the 90’s, Donahoe was the most powerful person in the Steelers organization not named Rooney, until the Rooneys sided with Cowher in a power struggle, and sent Donahoe packing.

Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert vs. Tom Donahoe

Tom Donahoe, Steelers Director of Football Operations, 1992-99. Photo Credit. Stillcurtain.com

  • Donahoe had full control of the Buffalo Bills from 2001 until 2005, but was unsuccessful. He now advises the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Tom Donahoe made his mistakes, particularly as friction between him and Cowher got worse, if you really want to see his impact on the Steelers, look no further than the Steelers Super Bowl XL roster. Take a good look and ask yourself, could the Steelers have won Super Bowl XL if they had:

Hum… Take away Hines Ward, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend, and Alan Faneca – all Donahoe draftees, and Jerome Bettis whom Donahoe acquired via trade and it’s a lot harder to imagine “One for the Thumb” arriving in 2005, even if this alternate timeline still saw the Steelers drafting Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

By the time Super Bowl XLIII rolled around, the Bus had been parked, Alan Faneca had moved on to New York and Joey Porter was in Miami. But I defy anyone subtract the contributions of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and Deshea Townsend and map out a route for the 2008 Steelers that ends in a 6th Lombardi Trophy.

And if you really want to get picky about it, had the Steelers pulled out a win in Super Bowl XLV, Hines Ward would have likely won his second Super Bowl MVP award. But that, as well as the rest of this, misses the point.

Time to Retire a Tired Argument Used on Mike Tomlin

The argument that Kevin Colbert’s achievements are somehow diminished by the fact that Tom Donahoe acquired several critical contributors to both of Colbert’s Super Bowl teams is idiotic. Part of being a good leader is being smart enough and secure enough NOT to clean house for the sake of cleaning house.

  • So why conduct this exercise?

There are two reasons:

First, to highlight the fact that while people always put Tomlin in Cowher’s shadow, no one ever follow suit with Kevin Colbert and his predecessor. Why shouldn’t the same standard apply to both men? The answer is that it shouldn’t apply to either man, which was the second and most important objective of this exercise.

Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, Tomlin wins with Cowher's players

Rare photo of Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher together, taken in 2010. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

The fact that Mike Tomlin enjoyed his greatest success (thus far) with a large number of men who’d previously played for Bill Cowher doesn’t taint his accomplishments in the slightest. And the pundits in the press as well as critics within Steelers Nation need to stop making that suggestion.

As Kevin Colbert himself observed after Super Bowl XLIII, the Six Lombardi equaled 6 Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a franchise, instead of four Chuck Noll and one for Bill Cowher.

  • So please, let’s bury the “Tomlin only won with Cowher’s players” argument for good.

Although, if at this point, you remain unconvinced, then by all means please hold Kevin Colbert to the same standard and do it with equal enthusiasm and frequency.

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Steelers Free Agent Doug Legursky – Letting Legursky Walk Is Right Call. This Time…

In free agency, you rarely get do overs and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception. The rules of the game are clear, a team needs to decide they want a player back, make their offer and then move on.

This Steelers free agent profiles details a quasi-free agency do over and the player is Doug Legursky, whom the Steelers let go in 2013 only to welcome back three years later. Now they get to make the decision again. Should they decide differently…? Let’s take a look.

Capsule Profile of Doug Legursky’s Career with the Steelers

Doug Legursky got a foot in the door with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2008. Legursky failed to make the team, but did earn a spot on the practice squad in October, where he stayed for the rest of the year.

In 2009 Doug Legursky made the team, with Mike Tomlin declaring him “This year’s Darnell Stapleton.” While that is to Legursky’s credit, in many ways Legursky is the perfect poster boy for Pittsburgh’s “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building during the early part of the Tomlin era.

Doug Legursky saw action in 9 games for the Steelers during 2009, mainly serving as a reserve guard, but also blocking as a fullback for Rashard Mendenhall in the Steelers Monday Night victory over San Diego. In 2010, Legrusky saw extensive action, making starts for Trai Essex during the regular season, and stepping in for injured Maurkice Pouncey in the Steelers AFC Championship game victory over the New York Jets.

  • Legursky also started for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

The Steelers intent in 2011 was to install Legursky as a starting guard, and Legursky did make several starts at guard, while also stepping in for Pouncey. In 2012 Legursky made 3 starts at guard and at center due to injuries to Pouncey and Ramon Foster. During the Steelers 2012 upset of Baltimore, Legursky started at Center while Pouncey moved to guard.

Legursky became a free agent in 2013, and the Steelers opted not to sign Legursky, despite an obvious lack of depth on the offensive line. Although they’d never admit it, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin doubtlessly felt pangs of buyer’s remorse on opening day vs. the Titans when Pounecy went down and Kelvin Beachum had to play center for the first time in his football life….

  • But Legursky was in Buffalo where he would make 11 starts during 2013.

Legrusky’s stint with the Bills only lasted one season, although he did catch on with San Diego, were he made two starts at center, before his season ended in injury. He was unemployed when Maurkice Pouncey was injured during the preseason, and returned to Pittsburgh to back up Cody Wallace.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

Doug Legursky knows the Steelers offense. While he might not be starter material, his play at center has always been solid, and he can fill in at guard in a pinch. The Steelers rolled the dice with offensive line depth in 2013, and the result was Ben Roethlisberger playing some of his worst football under an unabated pass rush.

Doug Legrusky has played in 76 NFL games and made 30 starts; he’s also appeared in 6 post-season contests, and started two of them. Reserve offensive lineman with those types of resumes do not grow on trees and Legursky has always been on the roster fringe, he can only improve under Mike Munchak

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Doug Legursky

The math is pretty simple. Legursky is basically a center who can do spot duty at guard. So is Cody Wallace and the Steelers already have a significant salary cap investment in Wallace. Wallace is also better. With Maurkice Pouncey coming back, the Steelers can’t really afford to carry three centers.

Plus, it has been suggested that the Steelers might look at bringing Kraig Urbik back, another player who “got away.” Urbik is a guard who can also to duty at center, and is probably an upgrade over Legursky.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Doug Legursky

Legrusky’s return to Pittsburgh was a legit “feel good story” last summer, but it is hard to make the case that resigning Doug Legursky should be a high priority for the Steelers.

  • However, given the uncertainty the Steelers face at guard, an opening for Legursky might be found.

Should the Steelers be unable to keep both Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum, Legursky’s familiarity with the Steelers system and his position flexibility and his availability at the veteran minimum could tip the scales back in his favor.

But that presumes that the Steelers don’t find another guard in free agency or perhaps in the draft. The bottom line is, Doug Legursky can probably help the 2016 Steelers, but others can probably help more. And there’s a fair chance the he’ll still be available during the summer should the need arise.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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X-Factors Cloud Steelers Choices on Free Agent Kelvin Beachum

Of all the free agent choices the Pittsburgh Steelers must make in 2016, perhaps none is surrounded by as many X-Factors as the decision they must make on soon to be free agent left tackle Kelvin Beachum.

Capsule Profile of Kelvin Beachum’s Career with the Steelers

The next time someone tells you that 7th round picks are worthless, remind them of Kelvin Beachum’s story. The Steelers drafted Beachum in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, making him one of 4 7th round picks that season.

All of the other picks washed out, save for some limited contributions from David Paulson, but Kelvin Beachum began paying immediate dividends. As a rookie Beachum appeared in seven games and started in five, making his first start in the Charlie Batch led Steelers road upset over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens.

Beachum tarted the final 5 contests at right tackle for the injured Marcus Gilbert, and heading into his sophomore season, the Steelers plan was to use Beachum as a 3rd tight end and backup at all five offensive line positions….

….That plan did not live past the Steelers first series, as an inadvertent David DeCastro collision with Maurkice Pouncey cost Pouncey the season, and Beachum was there playing center for the first time in his football life.

Fernando Velasco’s arrival alleviated freed Beachum from his duties at center, but Steelers coaches quickly began rotating him in with Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert in an effort to shore up the Steelers porous pass protection.

Following the Steelers loss in London to the Vikings, where Jared Allen tormented Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers benched Mike Adams and installed Kelvin Beachum as their starting left tackle, where he would not miss a game until tearing his ACL in the Steelers win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Kelvin Beachum

The Steelers wanted to extend Kelvin Beachum’s contract before the 2015 season began, but the two sides could not reach an agreement. In doing so, Beachum probably sacrificed several million dollars of signing bonus. Clearly, the Steelers coaches like Beachum.

Alejandro Villanueva stepped in as the starter, and while he struggle, he improved down the stretch, and gives the Steelers a more prototypical left tackle at a bargain rookie contract rate. The Steelers plan was to resign Beachum and move him to guard, but Beachum is ruling out a move to guard.

If salary cap considerations could be ignored, the Steelers could probably sign Beachum to a reasonable contract, given his injury status, and have Villanueva play as a swing tackle. But the Steelers salary cap situation does not give them that kind of flexibly.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Kelvin Beachum

If the Steelers believe that Alejandro Villanueva is a long term starter at left tackle, then it is impossible to make the case that the Steelers should resign Kelvin Beachum as a tackle, and if he does not wish to play guard, then there really is no place for Beachum on the 2016 Steelers.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Kelvin Beachum

How serious is Kelvin Beachum when he says he will not move to guard for the Steelers or any other NFL team?

That really is the operative question. His language was clear and unequivocal, but quite frankly this is exactly what prospective free agents are supposed to say.

Even if Beachum meant it when he said it, there’s no assurance that some NFL team is going to offer him the type of starting money as a left tackle that he wants, not when he’s coming off an ACL tear. If that happens an offer from the Steeler to play guard could suddenly get more attractive.

But if the Steelers allow both Ramon Foster and Kelvin Beachum to reach free agency, they are taking a huge gamble with their left guard position heading into free agency.

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin rarely base their personnel decisions out of fear, they opened free agency in 2009 by cutting Kendall Simmons and without either Chris Kemoeatu or Trai Essex under contract, so change in the Steelers offensive line could very well be in the air.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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5 Random Thoughts for the 2015 Steelers 1st Quarterly Report

The 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers have passed the quarter pole and find themselves at 2-2. Lot’s of Steelers quarterly analysis has been bandied about, some good, some bad, and some systemic. This 2015 Steelers 1st Quarterly Report will simply offer 5 random thoughts on the state of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

steelers 2015 1st quarterly report, mike Tomlin

The 2015 Steelers 1st Quarterly Report shows Mike Tomlin using is noodle

1. The Death of the Steelers Defense has Been Greatly Exaggerated

If there was one article of faith heading into the Steelers 2015 season it was that the defense would struggle. Objectively speaking the case for a resurgent defense was strong. But during preseason the unit looked lost.

  • Four games into the season the Steelers defense looks to be a source of strength.

No one is ready to say that Keith Butler’s defense is the equal of the units Dick LeBeau fielded in 2008 or 2010. But the Steelers defense is playing well under Keith Butler. The Steelers defense is once again securing turnovers, albeit in modest numbers and, perhaps more importantly, pressuring the quarterback.

Butler has unleashed Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. Tuitt already has 3.5 sacks, and Heyward has two. Butler has also skillfully devised an outside linebacking rotation which maximizes the talents of James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones.

2. The Steelers Secondary Isn’t a Primary Concern

The Steelers secondary figured to be it’s the most worrisome spot on the depth chart, with Troy Polamalu retiring, Brice McCain bolting for Miami and big question marks surrounding Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas.

  • Indeed, it seemed that the success of the Steelers secondary would hinge on the resurgence of Cortez Allen and emergence of Shamarko Thomas.

Four games into the season, nothing could be further from the truth. Cortez Allen has logged 32 snaps with the defense, or 11.4% while Shamarko Thomas has logged just four, per Pro Football Outsiders.

Despite this, the Steelers secondary, while perhaps not a strong suit of the team, is playing well enough to win. The Steelers are not giving up big plays, and both Antwon Blake and Michael Mitchell have shown an ability to deliver some vicious hits.

3. Kevin Colbert & Mike Tomlin Don’t Make Good Fear-Based Personnel Decisions

Steel Curtain Rising has long lauded Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert for their “collective pair” in refusing to make personnel decisions out of fear. After all, as the 2009 free agency period began, they cut Kendall Simmons before either Trai Essex or Chris Kemoeatu was signed.

Yet during the Steelers 2015 training camp, the duo appeared to lose their nerve.

Boykin has logged all of 12 snaps with the defense, and the Josh Scobee experiment ended in disaster. Perhaps its is a little harsh to say that the Steelers brain trust lost their nerve, but trading away draft picks is decidedly out of character for this franchise, and thus far neither trade has yielded any benefit.

4. Will the 4th Time Be the Charm for the Steelers Kicking Situation?

The 2015 Steelers woes at placekicker are well documented. There is no need to repeat the parade of injuries here. The Steelers have signed Chris Boswell, who has the resume of a versatile but untested kicker.

steelers, Chris Boswell, NCAA, kicking stats, punter,

Chris Boswell NCAA Kicking Stats

The Steelers can only hope the law of averages works in their favor with respect to Boswell.

5. Can the Steelers Prove the Other ½ of “Life without Roethlisberger”

According to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, the Steelers are entered last Thursday’s overtime loss to the Ravens with a 1-6 record against Baltimore without Ben Roethlisberger. Now they’re 1-7 vs. the Ravens without Big Ben.

  • However, the Steelers are also 9-2 without Ben since 2004.

There’s no secret to the Steelers relative success without Ben Roethlisberger. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin believe in deep depth chart at quarterback. That’s why when Bruce Gradkowski went down, the Steelers immediately signed Michael Vick.

  • With games against San Diego, Cardinals, Bengals, Chiefs and Raiders, Michael Vick has no cake walk.

But he also has Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, arguably the NFL’s most dynamic running back and best wide receiver. He has a solid offensive line, and dependable weapons in Markus Wheaton and Heath Miller.

Vick has the tools around him, now it’s time to see if he has enough left in the tank to make it happen. His success or failure will define the Steelers 2015 second quarter.

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The Colbert Record: Steelers Third Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

Steel Curtain Rising’s annual installment of the Colbert Record began this morning with our evaluation of Kevin Colbert’s performance in the the Steelers 2010 Draft.

Now that the Steelers have drafted Bud Dupree with their first pick, focus shifts to day two of the 2015 NFL Draft which brings us to the third round. Accordingly, Steel Curtain Rising shines a light on Kevin Colbert’s draft record with third round picks.

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

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Tom Donahoe Leaves Kevin Colbert Tough Third Round Act to Follow

The NFL Draft’s third round is often called “the value round” as that is the spot in the draft where you still have a high probability of finding and impact player, yet the risk associated with missing on a third rounder is lower than the first and second rounds.

  • The NFL Draft’s third round was the Steelers money round during Tom Donahoe’s tenure.

Colbert’s predecessor simply excelled in the third round drafting Joey Porter, Hines Ward, Amos Zereoue, Mike Vrable, Jon Witman, Brenden Stai, Jason Gildon, Bam Morris, Andre Hastings, and.

Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s Steelers did draft a few busts in the third round – Kris Farris, Chris Conrad, Steven Conley and Paul Wiggins all come to mind, but looking look across the 8 Donahoe-Cowher drafts  and you’ll literally cannot find a year in which the third round was a total loss for the Steelers.

How well has Kevin Colbert done by comparison? Time to find out.

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Steelers 2000 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kendrick Clancy and Hank Poeat

Joel Steed remains an overlooked key to the 90’s Blitzburgh defenses, but his abrupt in January 2000 left newly arrived Kevin Colbert with a gaping hole to fill in the Steelers defense. First Colbert’s signed Kimo von Oelhoffen and second he drafted Kendrick Clancy in the third round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Clancy played in nine games as a rookie. In 2001 he actually kept Casey Hampton on the bench – for three games, before yielding the starting spot. Clancy never started another game in Pittsburgh, but he played in 15 games in 2000 and 17 games in 2002 and 2003. The Steelers cut him in 2004, but brought him back after Hampton torn his ACL. Clancy went on to play – and start, for the Giants, Cardinals, and Saints, playing all the way until 2009.

It’s hard to call a guy a “bust” because he couldn’t beat out Casey Hampton and Kendrick Clancy certainly wasn’t a bad pick. But still you expect more from a third rounder. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

Kevin Colbert used his second third round pick in 2000 on Hank Poeat, a cornerback from Pitt. Yet Poeat’s primary contribution in Pittsburgh was as a kick returner, where he excelled as a rookie, returning a punt for a touchdown in the Steelers final game at Three Rivers Stadium.

But Poeat’s fortunes as a return man declined after 2000, and he never made an impact as a corner. The Steelers let him go after 2003, but Poteat played for Tampa Bay, New England, the New York Jets, and the Cleveland Browns until retiring in 2009. Grade: Disappointment

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Steelers 2001 3rd Round Draft Pick – Forfeited

When the Steelers signed Will Wolford to play guard in 1996 his contract contained a stipulating that Wolford got an extra $500,000 if he got switched to tackle. The page of paper that that clause was typed on (yes, typed) got lost, but Dan Rooney remembered it, and the Steelers honored their word to Wolford.

Unfortunately, paying that extra $500,000 resulted in a salary cap violation, which the Steelers turned themselves in for. As a result, they lost their third round pick in 2001.

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Steelers 2002 3rd Round Draft Pick – Chris Hope

The Steelers drafted Chris Hope in 2002 with an eye towards replacing Bret Alexander, who was turning 31. Hope neither started as a rookie nor as a sophomore, but earned a starting slot by his 3rd year, which was 2004 the year the Steelers went 15-1 and had the NFL’s number 1 defense.

Hope returned to start 16 regular season games in 2005 and started throughout the playoffs, playing his last game for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. The Steelers never really felt that Hope was a long-term answer at safety – and Ryan Clark represented an upgrade there – but he did what a third round pick should do – develop into a reliable starter. Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2003 3rd Round Draft Pick – Traded to Kansas City

The Steelers didn’t have a third round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft because Kevin Colbert traded it to Kansas City, as part of moving up to take Troy Polamalu….

…That was perhaps his wisest draft day decision.

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Steelers 2004 3rd Round Draft Pick – Max Starks

Kevin Colbert’s third round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Max Starks, has perhaps the most colorful history of any in the group.

Max Starks gets knocked around a lot. He even had doubters on both Bill Cowher’s final coaching staff in 2006, which carried over to Mike Tomlin’s initial staff in 2007. The Steelers front office disagreed, making Starks their transition player in 2008. The coaching staff was unmoved, starting the season with Starks on the bench in 2008, and even giving Trai Essex the initial nod when Marvel Smith went down in the critical Steelers 2008 road win over Jacksonville.

It says here that Max Starks saved the Steelers season in 2008. Arguably, he did it again in 2011 and one can shudder to think of what would have happened had the Steelers not brought him back in 2012. Max Starks started 2 in Super Bowl XL and again in Super Bowl XLIII. Can you really ask more of a third round pick? Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2005 3rd Round Draft Pick – Trai Essex

Kevin Colbert again went the tackle round in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, this time picking Trai Essex.

 

Essex never developed into a full time starter at tackle, nor could he hold down the starting job at guard. But Trai Essex became a valuable 6th lineman who was able to back up at all five positions on the line. While that’s commendable, you do expect a third round pick to become a starter. Essex never quite fit that bill. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2006 3rd Round Draft Picks — Anthony Smith, Willie Reid

Bill Cowher’s last draft left a lot to be desired particularly in the third round. First the Steelers drafted Anthony Smith. Smith was a hard hitter.

But he was an even bigger prima donna, showboating after a big play in 2006, and then moronically guaranteeing victory prior to the Steelers game vs. New England in 2007, only to have Tom Brady torch him with relish. He also injured a player in during the 2008 training camp, drawing Mike Tomlin’s ire. There’s a word for players like this. Grade: Bust

Willie Reid, the Steelers second 3rd round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, didn’t generate the ink that Anthony Smith did, but he was just as disappointing. He appeared in 1 game as a rookie returning 1 kick and 1 punt in a loss vs. San Diego. He returned six more kicks in 2007 and caught 4 passes in that season then was done. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2007 3rd Round Draft Pick – Matt Spaeth

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin surprised a lot of people when they picked Matt Spaeth in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. And since that time it has become clear that the Steelers picked Matt Spaeth too early. That’s not a knock on Spaeth per se. It’s not his fault he was drafted so early. But he really never delivered value commensurate with his status as a third round pick.

Certainly, the Steelers have a quality second tight end in Matt Spaeth. His blocking has been a critical element to Le’Veon Bell’s success. And he’s far underutilized in the passing game. But third round picks should perform at a higher level. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2008 3rd Round Draft Pick – Bruce Davis

During training camp 2008, Jim Wexell reported in Steelers Digest that Mike Tomlin would pit Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together in one-on-ones while yelling, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you, I just don’t know which one yet.” The infamous Steelers 2008 Draft Class will go down as Colbert’s worst, with perhaps Bruce Davis serving as the poster boy.

  • As it turns out, Tomlin failed to make a player out of either man.

The Steelers drafted Bruce Davis as an outside linebacker, but he only played in 5 games on special teams, and he couldn’t cut it there. The Steelers wasted little time in cutting him in training camp the next summer. Davis resurfaced with the Raiders in 2010 and 2011 were he recorded 4 tackles in 10 games, and then Cincinnati in 2012 although he never played for the Bengals. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2009 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis

As a rookie Kraig Urbik didn’t play a down, but the Steelers had high hopes for him as they saw great progress in his second summer at St. Vincents. Word was that Urbik, a guard, skills as a back up center were part of what sent Justin Hartwig to the waiver wire. Alas, Byron Leftwich’s preseason injury forced the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch on the roster, and that meant Urbik had to go.

The Steelers wanted to sneak him onto the practice squad, but the Buffalo Bills had other ideas. Urbik has started 53 of 69 games for them since then…. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers knew Hines Ward’s time was coming to an end by 2009, and drafted Mike Wallace with the second of their 3 third round picks. While the decision not to offer Mike Wallace a long-term deal was controversial at the time, the Steelers wisdom in choosing Antoinio Brown instead has been vindicated.

But that doesn’t alter the evaluation of Mike Wallace as a draft pick, because he it was an excellent pick. Wallace made an immediate impact as a rookie, posted in inhuman yards-per-catch average in his first season as starter, and was a legit home run threat on every play. The drop off in his play during his second two years does impact his overall grade, but clearly Colbert made the right pick here. Grade: Over Performer

With their final 3rd round pick in 2009 NFL Draft the Steelers picked Keenan Lewis. Lewis was a late bloomer, as injuries ruined and Joe Burnett kept him off the field. 2010 was little better, as Lewis disappointed. Carnell Lake personally oversaw his rehabilitation, and Lewis began to work himself into a quality corner in 2011 and established himself as the starter by 2012.

 

The Steelers did get some value out of Lewis before he left via free agency, but just a little short of what you’d expect and need as a third round pick. Had he stayed in Pittsburgh, his grade would be higher, but this draft evaluation only covers performance of players as Steelers. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2010 3rd Round Draft Pick – Emmanuel Sanders

The third round pick in 2010 of Emmanuel Sanders got covered in our analysis of the Steelers 2010 NFL Draft. Emmanuel Sanders impressed coaches as a rookie, even keeping Antonio Brown on the bench early in the season, with Mike Tomlin invoking the “Two dogs one bone” metaphor. Sanders got hurt in Super Bowl XLV, and injury that Bruce Arians said hurt the team’s game plan.

Injuries limited Sanders in 2011 and then again in 2012, but he emerged as a full time starter in 2013 and made the most of his opportunity. The Steelers optned not to resign him, but Sanders was still a quality third round pickup. Grade: Quality Value Pick+

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Steelers 2011 3rd Round Draft Pick – Curtis Brown

Super Bowl XLV made it glaringly clear that the Steelers needed to improve at cornerback, and Kevin Colbert addressed the position in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by picking Curtis Brown….

…And he undoubtedly regrets the pick to this very day.

As a rookie, Brown forced a fumble during an ugly Steelers loss vs. Houston. He apparently played well on special teams, but it was Cortez Allen who saw action at corner. Brown never started a game, but saw a lot of action as a nickel back vs. San Diego in 2012, which was one of the most horrific performances by the Steelers of the Tomlin era. Brown only played in 7 games in 2013 and the Steelers gave up on him after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 3rd Round Draft Pick – Sean Spence

The Steelers had already parted ways with James Farrior and were looking to groom a replacement for Larry Foote by the time the 2012 NFL Draft arrived. Kevin Colbert picked Sean Spence out of Miami. Early in preseason, Spence looked like a stud in the making. Then disaster struck, costing Spence not only his rookie year, but also his sophomore year.

Nonetheless, Spence returned for his third season, and started nine games splitting time with Vince Williams after Ryan Shazier’s injury. Spence helped force a fumble in the Steelers 2nd quarter explosion vs. Houston, and recorded a sack vs. Cincinnati. Any formal grade on Spence will need to wait, but he looks like a solid pick up on Colbert’s part. Grade: Too Early To Tell

Steelers 2013 3rd Round Draft Pick – Markus Wheaton

Kevin Colbert drafted Markus Wheaton in the 2013 NFL Draft with an eye towards replacing Mike Wallace and the soon to depart Emmanuel Sanders. Wheaton did next to nothing as a rookie, but he did earn the starting nod in 2014 and turned in a solid season.

 

Wheaton might not have gotten the ink that Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant get, but he made a lot of key catches. Again, one season as a starter is NOT enough to evaluate a player, but right now he has the look of a quality value pick, if not more. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Steelers 2014 3rd Round Draft Pick – Dri Archer

The Steelers traded their 2014 third round pick to get Shamarko Thomas in 2013, but got a compensatory pick for losing Mike Wallace. They used it on Dri Archer, who was the fastest man in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers idea was to use Archer as a kick returner and utility back/wide receiver in the mold of Eric Metcalf (yes, I just dated myself!)….

It’s way, way too early to write off Dri Archer, but his rookie year can only be described as disappointing. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Conclusion – Kevin Colbert’s Checkered Third Round Record

The NFL Draft’s third round has not been as kind to Kevin Colbert as it was Tom Donahoe. Which is OK, as Colbert’s money round has been the first round of the NFL Draft.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Steelers draft

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin discuss the Steelers Draft

Still, Colbert is charged with making the right pick in each round, and the record shows that he’s done it several times for the Steelers, most notably with Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Hope, Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.

However, Colbert has had his share of under performing third round picks, and he’s picked more than one outright bust with both Cowher and Tomlin (see Willie Reid Davis and Curtis Brown.)

While its too early to tell on some of his later picks, the arrow does appear to be trending up for Colbert’s third round record, but for now his grade must reflect a balance between his 3rd round successes and 3rd round failures. Grade: C+

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Tomlin Says Kelvin Beachum Threatening Starters; Le’veon Bell Injury Less Severe than Feared

Trai Essex held down a roster spot, and a lifeline to the NFL, with his ability to be the 6th offensive lineman. But that took time, as Essex was drafted as a tackle in 2009, only moving to guard full time in 2009, and didn’t see action at center until 2011.

During training camp Beachum has practiced at all five offensive line positions. And while that versatility is golden as the Steelers depth at offensive line remains precarious, Mike Tomlin is not ruling out giving Beachum a shot at starting at either right or left tackle.

As the Steelers head into their third preseason game vs. the Kansas City Cheifs, if nothing else Tomlin’s words should serve as a wake up call to incumbent starters Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.

Bell’s Injury Less Severe than Feared

The Steelers got some good news on the injury front, as reports that 2nd round pick Le’veon Bell’s foot injury is less severe than feared. Bell has sprained ligaments in his foot, including apparently the lisfranc ligaments, but he is progressing rapidly and will not need surgery.

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Steelers Prudent on DeCastro IR Decision

When word filtered out that David DeCastro had in fact not injured his ACL, Steelers Nation celebrated.

The much ballyhooed rookie who inexplicably fell to the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft might be available for part of the 2012 season afterall, but….

Yes, there was a big but. The Steelers are a team that’s ailing, already carrying a number of players on its opening day roster who cannot or should not be playing (Steveonson Sylvester, Ryan Clark, Rashard Mendenhall, you can probably add Jason Worilds to that list too.)

Just in time the NFLPA seemed to step forward to the rescue, approving a new rule that would allow a team to place one designated player on injured reserve list and then activate him after week 8 of the season.

Rules stipulate that the designated player must be on the team’s 53 man roster when final cuts are due into the league office. But after all others clear waivers, teams can make their roster moves.

The Steelers dutifully trimmed roster to 53 men, and Trai Essex, veteran jack of all trades offensive lineman, was one of those who got a visit from The Turk.

No one expected another team to sign Essex, and everyone expected the Steelers to place DeCastro on IR and them resign Essex as soon as they could.

So far the Steelers have done nothing….

Experience, Economics Temper Steelers Decision Making

There’s little doubt that the Steelers want David DeCastro available to them by mid-season. It would be immeasurably good for the rookie to get some reps this year, and past history suggests that the Steelers will need a healthy lineman to step in.

The Steelers haven’t moved yet for two simple reasons.

They’ve been there, done that.

Knock on wood, this hasn’t been an issue for some time, but the Steelers have lost key starters on week 1 more than once. In 1995 it was Rod Woodson (and Neil O’Donnell.) In 1996 it was Greg Lloyd. In 2009 it was Troy Polamalu.

If David DeCastro can fully recover by mid-season then there’s a real chance he can contribute. But DeCastro at the end of the day is a rookie. And there are other Steelers whom the Steelers could lose and want to bring back who player bigger roles with the team.

The second motive is purely economic.

If Trai Essex is on Pittsburgh’s roster on opening day, then Steelers are on the hook for his entire salary for the full year. The Steelers have a complicated salary cap situation and they need every inch of flexibility they can get with it.

Signing Essex next week gives them the ability to cut him later (if need be) without tying up money to someone who is no longer on the team.

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Steelers Cut Essex, Kapinos 14 Others

The Pittsburgh Steelers trimed their roster today to get within the NFL designated 53 man limit, with veteran offensive lineman Trai Essex and punter Justin Kapinos leading the list of cuts.

Charlie Batch, assumed by many to be on his way out, was spared the ax.

As expected, third round draft pick Sean Spence, who tore two ligaments in the Steelers preseason finale vs. Carolina, was placed on injured reserve.

It is possible that first round pick David DeCastro will be placed on the injured reserve list, making use of the new rule that allows teams to bring back one player from IR after the first eight weeks of the season.

Sound that move materialize, it is widely expected that Trai Essex will return to the Steelers, yet it would not be surprising if the Steelers were to look to the waiver wire to bolster their ailing linebacker corps.

Among those waived included 7th round picks wide receiver Toney Clemons and cornerback Terrence Frederick. DeJuan Harris, a running back the Steelers picked up on waivers only a few days ago, also got a visit from The Turk.

The rest of the Steelers cuts include:

Quarterback Jerrod Johnson,
Safety Damon Cromartie-Smith,
Cornerback Josh Victorian,
Linebackers Brandon Hicks and Marshall McFadden,
Defensive lineman Corbin Bryant, Ikponmwosa Igbinosun and Jake Stoller,
Wide receivers Derrick Williams, Marquis Maze, Tyler Beiler, and David Gilreath
Offensive linemen Ryan Lee and John Malecki

Damon Cromartie-Smith spent time on the Steelers practice squad last year but was beaten out by Robert Golden. Derrick Williams and David Gilreath both had their moments in preseason, but the Steelers opted to go with only 4 wide receivers. Corbin Bryant also had a strong preseason and will likely return via the practice squad.

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Steelers Cut Jonathan Scott

One day after resigning veteran offensive tackle Max Starks the Steelers made another move by cutting reserve tackle Jonathan Scott.

Johnathan Scott was part of the Steelers 2010 Free Agent Signing Spree that included the returns of Antwann Randel El and Larry Foote. Scott brought on to be a back up but injuries forced him into the starting line up.

Scott struggled, mightily at times, during the regular season, but stepped up his game impressively during the playoffs and Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers thought so highly of his progress that he began the 2011 season as the starter.

That changed fast, however, as he was unable to protect Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side, and the team quickly moved to bring back Max Starks. Scott continued to receive action however, as repeated injuries forced the Steelers to play musical chairs on offensive line.

The Steelers likely waived Scott now, a week before training camp, to give him a chance to sign on elsewhere. The move also potentially opens up a roster spot for either Chris Scott, the Steelers 5th pick from the 2010 NFL Draft and/or Kyle Jolly, an undrafted rookie Free Agent who from 2010 who has spent the last two years on the practice squad. Trai Essex, who can play tackle, also remains on their roster.

Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review reported that the move will save the Steelers 1.7 million dollars against the salary cap – funds that could be used towards a long-term deal with restricted free agent Mike Wallace.

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Steelers Send Message With Decision to Resign Max Starks

The Steelers sent a message in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft: 

  • The era of “Plug and Patch” offensive line building in Pittsburgh is over.

Mike Tomlin’s offensive staff quickly confirmed this move after drafting DavidDiCastro and Mike Adams when they called Willie Colon to inform him that theoft-rumored shift to guard was going to become real.


The Steelers shifted Colonbecause they’re projecting Mike Adams to start at right tackle.

Today in resigning Max Starks the Steelers sent another unequivocal message: 
  • You have to earn your role as a starter when you’re a Pittsburgh Steeler

The latter message was just as important as the former. Mike Adams brings more than his fair share of baggage to the NFL – Adamsknocked himself off the Steelers draft board with a positive drug test at the NFL scouting combine.


Adams worked himself back into the Mike Tomin and Kevin Colbert’s good graces, and they rewarded him by giving him a chance.

But when news of Colon’s shift to guard was accompanied by confirmation that Marcus Gilbert would remain at right tackle the idea that the Steelers braintrust might be giving Adam’s more than a chance wasn’t so outlandish.

Afterall, the only two people he’d have to beat out were Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott – both mean whose track record at the left tackle position is checkered – to be charitable.

But with Max Starks on the roster, the Steelers have brought in a veteran whom Adams will have to push himself to beat. They’re also giving themselves the luxury of allowing Adamsto grow into the position.

Steelers Sign Starks – an Annual Off Season Rite

Perhaps when I launched Steel Curtain Rising in January of 2008 I it never occurred to me to  write up a batch of generic articles to cover typical, recurring, events.

One such story could have been “Steelers Resign Max Starks.” 

That would have come in handy as hardly a year has passed without Max Starks putting ink to paper with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That four year contract got cut short, however as Starks injured his neck during 2010 and had to finish the season on IR.

The Steelers “Resign Max Stark” yarn took an unexpected twist in 2011 as Starks, after weighing in at over 400 pounds at Ben Roethlisberger’s wedding, was cutas soon as the lockout ended.

When WillieColon went down after the Debacle in Baltimore, many fans expected the Steelers to rush to the Red Phone to resign Starks (or perhaps Flozell Adams who actually offered his services to the Steelers — for a price.)
That plan lasted all of 3 games when it became crystal clear that Jonathan Scott was not a 16 game starter at left tackle. Discretion is that better part of valor, and the Steelers turned to Max Starks, initially thinking he would provide depth, but Starks started immediately — and the Steelers offensive line improved as a result.

Starks appears to be happy with the Steelers, Alan Robinson of the Tribune Review indicated that Atlantawas interested in signing him, despite the fact that the Steelers never seemed to have made up their collective mind on him.

However rumor is that Starks was never high on Bruce Arianslist, and that of course is a moot point now. Welcome back to Steelers Nation Max (again).

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