Watch Tower: Kudos for Wexell on Polamalu Retirement Coverage, Steelers Wire on Robinson Suicide

Steelers OTA’s may be in full swing, but this edition of the Watch Tower focuses its lights on Troy Polamalu retirement coverage, Adrian Robinson’s death, the Steelers safety position, and the disappearance of another Steelers scribe.

Jim Wexell Score Major Scoop with Polamalu Retirement

As a rule, major Steelers news only breaks when I am traveling and unable to write, and this off season was no exception, with Steelers legend Troy Polamalu retiring and Ike Taylor hanging it up while I was on the road. As such, the Watch Tower did not have time to give Jim Wexell his due.

  • Google’s “Define” functionality tells us that a scoop is “A piece of news published by a newspaper or broadcast by a television or radio station in advance of its rivals.”

Before the internet, a “scoop” was a true prize, as it generally gave the reporting outlet a monopoly on the, albeit a short one, on an exclusive story. The advent of the digital age diminishes scoop’s value is somewhat, but the prestige in landing an exclusive story is inversely greater.

On April 10th 2015, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell phone rang with a reporter’s dream come true. Troy Polamalu had retired, and he chose Wexell as his sole confidant in the press. Yes, Polamalu had informed Dan Rooney, but after that Jim Wexell was the only person he spoke with.

  • Troy Polamalu has often been described as one of the toughest interviews in the business.

That’s not because Polamalu assumed an adversarial role with the press, the way say, Greg Lloyd did, but rather because Polamalu disdained tooting his own horn (see his suggestion when he was injured in in 2009 that the Steelers defense would improve with Tyrone Carter instead of him.)

Jim Wexell is a tenured veteran of the Steelers press corps. but one of the very few credentialed journalists not affiliated with a major print or broadcast organization. And if Wexell lacks the notoriety of an Ed Bouchette or Gerry Dulac, he makes up for it by going the extra mile. Wexell is known for digging deep into the Steelers locker room to deliver readers stories that others miss.

  • The fact that Polamalu singled out Wexell to break his story is a testament to the time and effort Wexell invested in building relationships with the men he covers.

Wexell’s story on Polamalu’s retirement also broke some new ground, confirming that Polamalu was not particularly happy with the way his exit unfolded, and citing some of Polamalu’s concerns about the direction of the Steelers locker room culture. Previously, the blog Steel City Blitz had run a story to this effect adding that Polamalu was unhappy with Dick LeBeau’s exit, but that story was based on anonymous sources, whereas Wexell’s came directly from Polamalu.

Wexell went into further detail when he covered Polamalu’s appearance in Thomas Tull’s press box at PNC Park. As that article was behind Steel City Insider’s pay wall, the Watch Tower will not steal Wexell’s thunder, but will say that Wexell revealed that tensions between Polamalu and the organization pre-date Polamalu and Dick LeBeau’s exit.

(In doing research on Troy Polamalu retirement coverage, the Watch Tower also uncovered an article by Wexell on Troy Polamalu’s first days as a Steeler that is well worth the read.)

Steelers Wire on Adrian Robinson’s Untimely Passing

Former Steelers linebacker Adrian Robinson tragically took his own life a few weeks ago. Both the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune Review dutifully covered his death, as did other major outlets.

The stories were by in-large of the boiler plate variety, providing readers with details of his death, quoting Mike Tomlin and/or other Steelers and leaving it at that.

With no disrespect to the departed Robinson, it’s a fair guess that most Steelers fans saw the headline “Former Steelers Linebacker Adrian Robinson dies” and first thought “Who?” and then vaguely recalled Robinson’s role with the Steelers.

  • Neal Coolong put Robinson’s story with the Steelers in a human context.

Coolong reminded his readers of who Robinson was, and what he meant, at least potentially, to the team at one point. While it’s possible to suggest that my friend and fellow Steelers scribe exaggerated when he asserted that “Robinson looked like the future hero. The next in line to ascend a throne of dominant edge pass rushers that went well-beyond Harrison and Woodley” it is undeniable that there was a buzz surrounding Robinson during Steelers 2012 training camp.

And in that light, Coolong wins Watch Tower kudos for not only recalling how much of a human tragedy Robinson’s death represents, but also bringing to life just how transient of an existence the NFL is for so many young men.

While Robinson might not have achieved cult hero status the way Isaac Redman did in Redzone Redman heyday, Robinson was seen both coaches and fans as another undrafted rookie free agent who had limitless “upside” coming out of his first training camp, only to find himself as trade fodder for Felix Jones in his second.

These kudos for Coolong do come with extra “style points” because, unlike a beat writer, Coolong put this story together without access to the Steelers locker room.

Seeing the Swearinger “Story” Before Everyone Else

Steelers Wire also wins kudos for seeing being way, way ahead of the competition in spotting the Steelers interest in former Houston Texan’s safety D.J. Swearinger. Prior to the draft, word leaked that the Houston Texans were interested in dealing Swearinger.

Neal Coolong immediately wrote a story suggesting the Steelers might be interested in Swearinger, and cited Mike Tomlin’s lavish praise of the Swearinger before the Steelers mid-season matchup with the Texans. When the Texans cut Swearinger the Steelers Wire also struck again, informing readers that the Steelers had put in a wavier wire claim on Swearinger. Later Steelers Wire treated readers to a third story on the implications behind the Steelers wavier wire claim on Swearinger.

  • From a press traditionalist view point this might seem excessive.

And, if story space stuff suffered the limitations imposed by available column inches and advertiser sponsorship, the Steelers wavier wire claim on Swearinger wouldn’t have warranted more than 2-3 inches – and that assumes a fairly slow day for sports news.

But such limits are obsolete in the digital age, and such an approach has allowed Steelers Wire to achieve 4th ranking for the Google query “D.J. Swearinger Steelers” which is not bad for a website that’s less than 3 months old.

Also of interest to the Watch Tower: ESPN is the only “traditional” news outlet showing up in the first page of SERPs for the query “D.J. Swearinger Steelers,” which shows just how far behind traditional mainstays like the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Tribune Review are in competition for unconventional stories.

As Goes Robinson, So Goes Brown?

An earlier edition of the Watch Tower noted Alan Robinson sudden but unexplained disappearance from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review back in November. Not it seems that Scott Brown is following suit.

Scott Brown left the Tribune Review in to cover the Steelers beat for ESPN covered did without missing a beat until April 27th, the Monday before the 2015 NFL Draft. There is contributions suddenly stopped, with AFC West/Raiders beat writer Bill Williamson handling Steelers coverage initially, until the job fell to Jeremy Fowler, who up until now has been covering Cleveland.

  • Likewise, Brown’s Twitter feed went dark after April 27th, save for one retweet in early May

The Watch Tower has no knowledge of why this occurred or under what conditions, but rumor has it that Brown has indeed departed from ESPN. Which is an unfortunate loss for Steelers Nation.

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Watch Tower: Trib Reports Carter’s Explanation on Missed Call, Post-Gazette Mum

It looked like Mike Tomlin had a major controversy brewing on his hands. Shortly after the debacle in Kansas City, a number defensive players openly complained that they didn’t get the call on Matt Cassell’s 61 yard pass that led to Kansas City’s winning score.

At his Tuesday press conference Mike Tomlin informed that the play had been given on the previous down, totally dismissing such comments in clear an unequivocal language “knowledge of the call was not an issue in that circumstance.”

Speaking with reporters from the Tribuen-Review, Tyronne Carter clarified that the issue was on the field communication, not communication between the coaches and the players. Ryan Clark, for one stepped up to take responsibility, “No excuses. They just made a play. I knew what the play was. I’m not going to point the finger at anybody.”

It’s good to know that, for the moment at least, the Steelers locker room has not degenerated into a self-destructive finger pointing cycle.

It is also interesting to note that, at least to newspaper readers eyes, the Tribune-Review’s John Harris got a scoop on this one. The article appeared on the Tribune-Review’s website on Thanksgiving day, and there was no comparable mention of the same news on the Post-Gazette’s.

Friday morning came and went and, still, the news was not reported on the Post-Gazette’s on-line sports page. Ditto Saturday, no coverage of the communications mishap.

PG Plus?

The likely answer is that the Post-Gazette did cover the story, but in PG Plus. It is easy to see why the Post-Gazette would reserve such juicy story for this premium content section.

Yours truly did try to get a subscription to PG Plus, but ran into problems with Pay Pal and I simply not had time to “get around to it.” (For the record, I liked the Steelers related stuff on PG Plus during the time that I had access.)

The pratical effect of this is going to mean that I’ll make more of a point to check the Tribune-Review’s Steelers section, at least until I get the chance to sort out payment issues with PG Plus….

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Steelers Broncos Video Highlights

Check out these highlights from the Steelers 28-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.

Turthfully, if Steel Curtain Rising was cutting together the highlight reel, we’d include do it a little differently, but this does show you really sharp play from key players at key moments.

Check back later for a Steel Curtain Rising’s full analysis.

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Steelers 2009 Draft Needs at Wide Receiver and Secondary

Having dealt with the offensive and defensive lines earlier this week, Steel Curtain Rising now turns to the Steelers 2009 draft needs at wide receiver and secondary.

  • Unlike the lines, the Steelers have some of the best in the game at those positions. At wide out they count on Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.

In the secondary they have Tory Polamalu a man who is helping define the concept of playmaker and game changer. If Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark are not in that category, both are proven veterans.

Strictly speaking, neither of these areas are problem areas. But if problems are absent, needs are not. Here’s a look at both areas, and Steel Curtain Rising’s assessment on what, if push comes to shove, the Steelers should do if it becomes an either or situation when they’re on the clock.

Steelers 2009 Draft Needs in the Defensive Backfield

In addition to Taylor, Polamalu and Clark, the Steelers have William Gay penciled in as a starter with Deshea Townsend slated to become a nickel back.

The Steelers are big on William Gay. Losing Bryant McFadden hurt, but one of the reasons why the Steelers did not bend over backwards to keep him was Gay’s development. Gay started four games while McFadden was hurt, and alternated snaps with him later.

With Desha Townsend, the Steelers have a proven commodity. Byrant McFadden developed nicely while he was here. The reason why he didn’t play more was because Townsend kept him off of the field. At some point Townsend’s veritable fountain of youth is going to run out, but given his consistency it is unlikely that his play will suffer a dramatic drop off.

But behind him is journeyman Antonio Bryant, who is 32.

At safety the situation is similar. Ryan Clark returned last year with a vengeance. However, the only established back up is Tyronne Carter, who is 33.

Behind those players the Steelers have  last year’s sixth round pick who spent 2008 on IR, and Roy Lewis an undrafted rookie free agent. Lewis turned heads last year in training camp, and the decision to cut him caught some by surprise. He returned to the practice squad and saw some time on the regular season roster, but the fact that he went back to the practice squad could be a bad sign.

This draft is said to be wanting a shut down corner or dominating safety, but deep with quality defensive backs who are considered to be high value pick. The Steelers need to come out of this draft with one.

Steelers 2009 Draft Needs at Wide Receiver

Like Bryant McFadden, losing Nate Washington hurt, but he deserves a shot at starting. The Steelers success at wide receiver in hinges largely on Limas Sweed. Is the player who appeared to be only a step away from making some breakaway plays downfield? Or is he the player whose drops during the regular season only confirmed what the press saw in practice throughout the year?

Even if Sweed does develop like Steelers coaches hope he will (and Steel Curtain Rising thinks he will) the Steelers need to beef up their receiving corps.

  • Because behind Sweed they have Dallas Baker, Martin Nance, and Brandon Williams.

Dallas Baker spent 2007 on the practice squad during where his efforts won him hearty praise from Mike Tomlin a little over a year ago. He qualified that praise by saying that Baker’s work with pads on would be the true crucible. Baker did well enough in training camp to beat out Willie Reid, although what does that really say?

He only managed one catch before getting cut in late November, after which Dallas Baker landed on the practice squad. Nance played on the practice squad behind him, while Williams has bounced from team to team.

Depth at wide receiver is a real need for the Steelers, which they must address in the 2009 draft.

Steelers 2009 Draft Needs at Wide Receiver and Secondary – Which Are More Urgent?

Of the two areas, wide receiver is the greater need. No, if the Steelers get a high value DB, they certainly should not reach for a wide receiver.

But they need help at wide out. At defensive back they have proven (if rapidly aging back ups) and some maturing talent that at least has potential.

  • Neither can be said about the personnel behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes, and that assumes that Sweed makes a huge leap.

So if the choice comes down to a wide out and a DB that the Steelers have rated equally, the Steelers should opt to take the receiver.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for all of Steelers Curtain Rising’s assessment of the Steeler 2009 draft needs.

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Dissed Unfairly by the Media, Ben Roethlisberger Still Deliver in 2008 Playoffs

Its amazing how little respect Ben Roethlisberger gets from the media some times.

Since entering the league in 2004 Ben:

  • Was the first rookie quarterback to win 15 straight games
  • Became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl
  • Engineered 18 4th quarter comebacks
  • Won 50 games as a starter faster than anyone else
  • That apparently isn’t good enough for many of the pundits.

Prior to the 2007 season, ESPN put out a list of 100 surefire Hall of Famers. If memory serves, both Matt Leinart and Matt Schaub made the list.

  • Ben was left on the outside looking in, written off as a game manager.

During 2007 the “game manger” an all pro season which included throwing 32 touchdowns and only 11 picks.

Ben’s numbers for 2008 are not as good. He’s thrown fewer touchdowns and more interceptions. His also led his team to two more wins.

National Media Overlooks Roethlisberger

Don’t tell that to FOX Sports however.

They recently ranked the eight playoff quarterbacks, listing Roethlisberger at number six, behind Jake Delhomme, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Dovonan McNabb, and Kurt Warner.

Interesting pecking order, especially because Ben has a ring, something that three of the five people rated ahead of him cannot say.

Criticism of Ben Not Exclusively National

But the criticism of Ben is also home grown too.

Early last week Mike Prusita of the Tribune-Review wrote an article that concluded that Ben was the Steelers main question mark heading into the playoffs.

To be fair, Purstia’s article was balanced and reasonably objective.

While he does couch his words with some important qualification, Prustia ultimate conclusion is rather harsh:

Without question, his regression from the $100 million contract-earning franchise quarterback he was a year ago deserves an asterisk. The respective states of the offensive line and running game have contributed to his downfall.

“Downfall?” Regression from his franchise quarterback status?

Those are strong words. Too strong in fact, for a quarterback who lead 5 come from behind drives against blue-chip opponents.

Bottom Line: Ben Must Still Deliver

If the criticism of Roethlisberger is unjust, the pressure upon him is not.

About a year ago in one of our first posts, Steel Curtain Rising rose to Roethlisberger’s defense after the Jacksonville game.

The writer called into question Ben’s playoff ability.

True, Ben did not play well during his rookie season in the playoffs. Joe Flacco’s solid play against Miami and Tennessee notwithstanding, this is nothing to be shocked at.

His play in the 2005 playoff is the stuff of legend, although he did benefit from a few dropped interceptions.

He did not perform well in Super Bowl XL, but he did make a couple of key plays when he had to.

Last year against Jacksonville he threw three interceptions in the first half. Then he came back and established that held with less than a minute to go. It says here that if Tyronne Carter had been ready to swarm at the point of attack, instead of allowing David Gurrard to run for double digit yardage, he’d have a playoff comeback under his belt.

Very well.

The Pittsburgh Steelers playoff fortunes depend in Ben’s ability to come through. The running game might marginally improve, but there is no way this team is running over people they way it did in the 1990’s and even as recently as 2004.

Defense and kick coverage figure to be strengths this time around, but it only takes one big play to get seven on the board for the other team.

If that should happen, then it falls on Ben to right the ship.

Catch-22/Paradox about Ben’s Play

Call it a Catch-22 or a Paradox, but which ever term you choose it still describes something that Ben needs to work out.

  • Ben’s biggest weaknesses is that he sometimes holds on the ball too long… and that he sometimes gets impatient.

Ben Roethlisberger has proven himself to be the kind of quarterback you want handling the ball when the game is on the line.

Yet, there are also times when Ben tries to do too much by himself to win games or force the ball in difficult situations. That got him into trouble in the first half of last year’s Jacksonville game, and it got him into trouble at times this year, particularly against the Colts.

So Ben’s got to find a way to walk the tight rope.

  • Ben Roethlisberger, more than any one player has a responsibility for carry the team forward, yet at the same time he must not over reach.

How well he strikes that balance will determine the Steelers fortunes this January.

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