NFL Injury Gods Hath No Mercy on the Steelers

Veteran Pittsburgh sport print and broadcast journalist John Steigerwald holds a well-earned reputation for controversy. But love him, hate him, agree or disagree with him everyone must accept that he has a way with words. Just ask Levi Brown:

The Levi Brown era was fun while it lasted.
— John Steigerwald (@Steigerworld) October 15, 2013

Oh Levi, it feels like Steelers Nation hardly knew you. Which we did. After Jared Allen literally ran circles around Mike Adams in the Steelers Loss in London, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert went looking for help, and their search took them to Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals.

Bruce Arians sent his former employer a former number 5 overall pick in the form of Levi Brown for, well nothing.

Brown of course never saw action as a Pittsburgh Steelers, injuring his triceps in pre-game warmups ending his season as the Steelers put him on IR.

  • The injury gods were far from done with Pittsburgh, however.

David Johnson, who’d struggled back from a 2013 preseason ACL tear and was working his way into a quality No. 2 tight end injured his wrist vs. the Jets and will have season-ending surgery.

The “causes” of these injuries are anyone’s guess. But this is not the first time the Steelers have seen their roster devastated by injury. 2011 was one of the worst on record, 2012 was worse yet.

  • In 2013, the Pittsburgh Steelers are averaging one season ending injury per game.

Season ending injuries are up all over the NFL, but the Steelers have to figure to be one of the team’s pushing that average up.

Gordon, Green Signed as Replacements

To replace Levi Brown and David Johnson the Pittsburgh Steelers (again) activated Isaiah Green from the practice squad, and also signed former Oakland Raiders tight end Richard Gordon. Gordon is very much a blocking tight end, although he did catch his only touchdown vs. the Steelers in the upset at Oakland in 2012.

Door Open For Starks….?

Somewhat conspicuous in the Steelers that the Steelers replaced Brown with a tight end. It also leaves the door open for the return of Max Starks, who is currently on the unemployment line. Starks recently confirmed that he remains available and assumes that although his good friend Ben Roethlisberger has almost certainly put a good word in for him, the Steelers have not contacted him.

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Stevenson Sylvester a Steelers Again; Will Allen Next?

Mike Tomlin vowed to make changes after the Steelers loss in London gave them their first 0-4 start since the Bill Austin era. In rapid succession:

Behind the Steel Curtain has also reported that Shamarko Thomas will get more snaps at the expense of Ryan Clark. William Gay was apparently running with the first team head of Cortez Allen…. These moves may or may not come to pass, but there’s another that is far less hypothetical.

The Steelers drafted Sylvester in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Sylvester played well on special teams and in spot duty. However, he did not make much of a leap between his rookie and “sophomore” year. Sylvester started in the Steelers ’11 upset of the Patriots, but was quickly pulled from the game.

Injuries and inconsistent play kept Sylvester off the field for much of 2012, and the Steelers did not even bother to extend him a restricted free agent tender.

No other team took him, and the Steelers brought him back to training camp, but his Sylvester’s name headlined the first round of cuts.

  • Like Jonathan Dwyer, Stevenson Sylvester can apparently come home again.

How much upside Sylvester can bring an 0-4 team is unknown, but he does offer one value that neither Wilson nor Vince Williams can boast – knowledge of Dick LeBeau’s defense.

Allen Next?

One of the more underrated players in the Steelers 2012 defense was safety Will Allen. Playing without Troy Polamalu for much of the year, the Steelers struggled with Ryan Mundy playing in his slot.

  • When they benched Mundy and played Allen, the Steelers defense improved.

So it was some what of a minor surprise when Allen defected to Dallas. Dallas waived him after the loss to the Broncos, and look where he appeared next:

Will Allen working out w Steelers as we tweet. Will Gay ran 1st team RCB today. Cortez Allen practiced as nickel bc of “injury issues.” ???
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) October 9, 2013

  • Could the Steelers be planning another roster move?

It is certainly possible. Outside of Clark and Polamalu the Steelers have next to no experienced depth at safety. Allen would provide that, although at the expense of some younger player’s roster spot.

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Levi Brown to Steelers as Roster Shuffles Continues

The Steelers have not started 0-4 since Bill Austin was coach, and likely made a move that has decidedly been uncommon since Austin’s days on the sidelines:  They made an in season trade for a player.

Apparently, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coaches have seen enough. During the Steelers loss in London to the Vikings, Jared Allen almost literally ran circles around Mike Adams.

The Steelers had planned to rotate Adams with Kelvin Beachum, but Beachum’s services were needed at guard, and could be needed at any of the other 4 positions on the line.

  • Hence, the Steelers dealt a conditional draft pick to Pittsburgh West, aka the Arizona Cardinals, for offensive tackle Levi Brown.

Brown was of course the man whom the Cardinals picked over Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft, but has fallen woefully short of the expectations that came with his 5th overall pick status.

Nonetheless, he could and most certainly should represent an upgrade over Mike Adams, who has graded out as one of the worst tackles in the league (as if Steelers Nation needed statistical analysis to know that.)

Green Gone, Again

The good news about the move is that it is salary cap friendly. The Cardinals will pay the balance of his salary for the 2013 season, minus the veteran minimum. The move also signals that the Steelers really have decided to part ways with Max Starks. In the space of a month Starks has been cut by San Diego and St. Louis.

  • That will leave the Steelers with some salary cap space to work with, should they need to make additional moves.

The loser in this deal is Isaiah Green, who just rejoined the active roster last week. Green made the final roster cut, only to be released before the season. Presumptively the Steelers will add him to the practice squad, but that move has not happened yet.

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Tomlin’s Options at Tackle Appear Thin…. But Max Starks Just Became Available Again….

I have great patience. We’ll continue to work and get better as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail because that’s what’s going to change the outcome of these games. Those who don’t, they won’t be a part of it, whoever it may be. It’s just that simple. – Mike Tomlin after the Vikings loss

Those are strong but hardly surprising words from an 0-4 NFL head coach.

While there are a number of players to whom this might apply, none seems more obvious than beleaguered left tackle Mike Adams. Adams has not played well all season, and looked hopelessly lost vs. Jared Allen. On the Steelers first goal line sack Adams almost appeared to get out of Allen’s way.
That’s not what happened, but it looked that way.

  • But here’s the problem:  Tomlin has an itchy trigger finger, a clear target… but does not have any ammunition.

Kelvin Beachum would be the obvious replacement. But there are two problems there. First, he’s the primary backup across the line. Second, he may need to continue to play for Ramon Foster, while Foster recovers from a sprained pectorial muscle injury he sustained in the loss to Chicago and worsened vs. the Vikings.

Guy Whimper? The Steelers tried to move heaven and earth to replace him during training camp and preseason. Joe Long? Are you really going to activate a guy from the practice squad and start him at left tackle?

  • The Steelers have been here before.

It happened in during the dark days of 1999. At right tackle Anthony Brown and Chris Conrad alternated starts in a quest to see who was worse.

Late in the season the Steelers secondary became a sieve. Bill Cowher promised change unless he saw improvement. The problem was that rookie Scott Shields was as bad if not worse than starter Travis Davis, who stunk.

  • Tomlin’s threat is seemingly made an empty one by the fact that you can’t just go out and find a starter-capable (or even back up capable) offensive tackle walking the streets.

Or can you?

Could Starks Return to Steelers for One Final Swan Song?

There is one out there, one who has even started and won Super Bowls at right and left tackle.
What’s more the Steelers are familiar with him.

The Steelers have tried, and tried, and tried to part ways with Starks. Yet they kept getting back together like that couple you knew in high school.

The Steelers appeared ready to end things for good by letting Starks go in the spring and then passing on the opportunity to bring him back after he got cut by San Diego. That door appeared to close for good when the St. Louis Rams signed him in mid-September, but now Starks has been cut again….

  • So Starks is out of a job again and his wife is from Pittsburgh….

Will it happen? Who knows?

Starks bailed out the Steelers in 2008 and then bailed them out again in 2011. But he’s two years older now and no one ever confused him with Anthony Munoz when he was in his prime. Bringing Starks back would be another step backward of sorts for the organization – similar to the decision to cut and then bring back Jonathan Dwyer.

The fact that Starks best days are behind him is pretty much established. He’s now been cut by two teams in less than a month.

  • But the key questions are: Is Max Starks is he better than Mike Adams at this point, and can the Steelers afford him even at the veteran minimum?

If the answer to both questions is yes, then the Steelers strongly need to consider bringing him back because Ben Roethlisberger’s body can’t absorb too many more 5 sack games….

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Ramon Foster Sprained His Pectoral Muscle

After losing three players for the year vs. Tennessee, namely Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote, and LaRod Stephens-Howling, the Steelers have remained winless, but largely unscathed.

If anything their health improved en route to 0-3, as Heath Miller, Cortez Allen, and Le’Veon Bell all rejoined the roster.

The news was broken by Behind the Steel Curtain, but later also reported by the Tribune Review. The Post-Gazette has made no mention of the issue, at least on its main Steelers page.

  • The “good” news for Foster and the Steelers is that he only suffered a sprained pectoral muscle whereas a clear tear would have ended his season.

Nonetheless, Foster’s injury further depletes offensive line depth which is already one of the thinnest areas on the team. Kelvin Beachum took over Foster’s spot at left guard.

  • And while having Beachum available to step in is good, unfortunately that prevented the Steelers from pulling beleaguered offensive tackle Mike Adams and replacing him with Beachum.

If the Steelers want to make a move at left tackle, coaches will need to be creative. One option might involve activating Joe Long from the practice squad – although don’t expect Long to go from the practice squad to the starting lineup. Another would involve starting Guy Whimper at guard and moving Beachum back out to tackle.

All moves involve the Steelers staff, coaches and most especially Ben Roethlisberger praying to be spared yet another offensive line injury….

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Heath Miller to Return vs. Bears? One Reporter Says “Yes”

At his weekly press conference Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that injured tight end Heath Miller would return to a normal week of practice this week, albeit with a caution that no one should expect Miller to be Super Man.

While many have forecast Miller’s return for following the Steelers trip to London, veteran Oberver-Reporter journalist Dale Lolley reports that Heath Miller is expected to play when the Steelers host the 2-0 Chicago Bears at Heinz Field this week.

Millers return, should he be able to perform to past standards and should he not be jeopardizing his knee by coming back so quickly, could provide a real boost to the Steelers offense.

While Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery have been solid this year so far, its painfully obvious that the trio cannot compensate for the absence of Miller.

Repaclement tight ends David Johnson has one catch and has been invisible in the offense, while David Paulson blocking ability is woeful. Paulson does have 3 catches on the year, but he fumbled his most important one away.

Steelers Change Graham for Green

The Steelers 2013 roster shuffling continues.

As it turns out, emergency place kicker Shayne Graham will not get a chance to live up to the fighting standard set up by long ago emergency punter Shayne Edge. The Steelers signed Graham as insurance for Shaun Suisham injured his hamstring vs. Tennessee. Suisham was able to kick vs. the Bengals, and the Steelers waived Graham.

To take Graham’s place on the roster, the Steelers activated cornerback Isaiah Green from the practice squad. Green primarily is on the team for his special teams ability, but could see time if Curtis Brown and/or Cortez Allen do not return to health.

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In Through the Out Door – Jonathan Dwyer Returns; Steelers Sign Kicker Shayne Graham

The biggest surprise for the Steelers on cut down day was the decision to cut Jonathan Dwyer. While the move had been rumored for some time, Dwyer was at once their only healthy experienced back.

Regardless of whether that report is correct or not, someone on the South Side has a severe case of egg on their face, as Jonathan Dwyer is returning to the Steelers in light of the season ending injury to running back LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Dwyer, however, doesn’t seem to be taking his waiver personally, per his Twitter account:

Glad to be back home #steelernation
— Jonathan Dwyer (@JDwyer27) September 9, 2013

Dwyer will rejoin Isaac Redman and Felix Jones, adding to the irony of the situation. Dwyer’s propensity to fumble made him expendable yet it was Redman who coughed up the ball twice, while Jones did not see a single carry.

Another Shayne to Give the Steelers a Kicking Edge?

The Steelers loss vs. the Titans was really costly for the Steelers. When the game ended, fans didn’t know the half of it. After the game it was revealed that Larry Foote should torn a biceps and will miss the season.

And the poor kick that resulted in the Steelers safety? Well, Shaun Suisham injured his hamstring in pre game warm ups. To occupy pregame kicking duties and to take Foote’s spot on the roster, the Steelers have signed kicker Shayne Graham.

Graham is a veteran kicker who has kicked in the NFL since 2001 for the Bills, Panthers, Bengals, Patriots, Giants, Dolphins, Ravens and Texans.

  • The Steelers have had good luck with replacement kickers named “Shayne.” 

During 1996 the Steelers punter Josh Miller got injured and the team brought in CFL punter Shayne Edge. Edge’s punting wasn’t quite NFL quality, but he got fined for getting into a fight with the then Houston Oilers….

…You’ve got to love a punter that gets fined for fighting!

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Could John Malecki and Marshall McFadden Return to the Steelers?

The sting of the Steelers 16-9 opening day loss to the Tennessee Titans is not yet 24 hours old, and the news continues to get worse.

All of these players will go on injured reserve ending their seasons.

That also means the Steelers will need to replace them. Quickly. Where to turn? There are a number of possibilities.

One of the surprise cuts that the Steelers made was of John Malecki, who started one game for the Steelers and served as a back up. The Steelers cut him in favor of Cody Wallace, who didn’t even dress vs. the Titans. Malecki didn’t get picked up, and the Steelers will likely bring him back.

Larry Foote’s injury also creates another vacancy at linebacker. One candidate is Marshall McFadden, who was another surprise cut. McFadden landed on the Raiders practice squad, but the Steelers can sign him with the provision that he stays on the active roster for 3 games (which shouldn’t be a problem.)

The Steelers also need to make a move a running back.

Its possible but doubtful. Doubtful that the Steelers would seek his serveices and probably equally doubtful that Dwyer would agree to return.

Another potential move the Steelers could make would involved Max Starks. That depends on what they wish to do at center.

Kelvin Beachum had been serving as an emergency tight end and as the team’s top back up at tackle, guard and center. If he is to continue to start in front of Ben Roethlisberger at center, the Steelers will need to add depth, and Starks is currently without a job (although his experience in San Diego was terrible.)

Either way, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Roster is about to get reconfigured again.

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Watch Tower: Dissention in Pittsburgh Over Jonathan Dwyer? Plus Hail to the Chief, Art Rooney Sr.

Cut down day always brings a flurry of news around the NFL, this year things were more active than ever at the South Side as the Steelers 2013 Roster contained some surprises, giving the Watch Tower plenty to focus on. And it begins by shining its light on a story that wasn’t told.

Dwyer:  The Glory and Agony of 140 Characters 

The biggest cut that the Steelers made the release of Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer was not only their season leading rusher, he was also the only healthy back.

  • Nonetheless, he got a visit from the Turk.

The fact that Dwyer’s roster spot was in jeopardy was not a surprise in Steelers Nation. On the blogesphere, (or at least at Behind the Steel Curtain) several articles and many fan exchanges rested on the premise that the numbers game would dictate that either Dwyer or Isaac Redman would be a goner.

But among the professional press, the conventional wisdom was that Dwyer was safe, esp. in light of the injury to Le’Veon Bell, as Jim Wexell’s tweet indicates.

This is why #Steelers wouldn’t have cut Dwyer. They can win with him as feature back.
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) August 15, 2013

To be fair, the arrival of Felix Jones complicated the picture, but the move to cut Dwyer was nonetheless a surprise.

Shortly after the move became public, Mark Kaboly  of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review dropped a bomb via Twitter:

One last thing on Dwyer … it wasn’t the coaching staff that wanted him gone.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 2, 2013

In journalism speak, Kabloy had a scoop.

News of the front office overruling the coaching staff on a personnel selection, regarding a past and potential future starter, is a tremendous news coup for Kaboly. In fact, such a morsel literally screams for more.

  • Yet none was forth coming.

Not in the regular Tribune Review, not in the Steel Mill Blog (which still remains inaccessible from the Trib’s main Steelers site – yours truly had thought the blog had gone dark and needed to find it by Googling it), not anywhere else.

To make matters worse, Kabloy himself seemed to validate the need for more information in an additional Tweet.

24 hours later and it still makes no sense whey #Steelers released Dwyer.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 1, 2013

  • The Watch Tower agrees… or at least it makes no sense that a further explanation was given.

Kaboly obviously learned that Dwyer had supporters on the coaching staff, perhaps the entire coaching staff, but that they were overruled by someone else in the organization, and since you can rule out the business and scouting departments, that leaves the front office.

Which means that someone named Colbert and/or someone name Rooney spoke up on the issue. What happened?

  • Did the coaches split and Colbert/Rooney provided the deciding influence?
  • Were the coaches united, but a cap conscious Kevin Colbert, with backing from Rooney, overruled them?
  • Or did Art Rooney II just pull rank?

We know from Bob Labriola’s tweets that coaches had concerns about Dwyer, but no matter how you slice it there’s a story screaming to be told there, and one that goes far beyond the confines of Twitter’s 140 characters.

5 Bars of Hail to The Chief

August 25 marked the 25th Anniversary of the passing of a legend, namely the death of Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.

The death of Art Rooney Sr. was a touchstone moment for me, as it coincided with my renewed following of the team (not very easy to do from suburban Maryland in the pre-internet era.)

And although his passing had little impact on the Steelers, clearly Pittsburgh lost some of its finest citizens then.

  • Credit the Post-Gazette for remembering the anniversary.

It was entirely appropriate to do so and the Tribune Review did not run anything on the Chief. Neither did ESPN, nor did any of the other major fan sites.

  • Yet the commemorative piece(s) were not without problems.

The article dealt with the way in which the five Rooney sons divided their father’s possessions, and then offered perspectives on how each of the five Rooney sons, Dan, Art Jr., Tim, John, and Pat, felt about that day and provided some insights into the relationships that the men had with their father.

  • The real issue was with the Post-Gazette’s presentation of the articles. There was one article which told the entire story. And then there were five other articles on each of the Rooney brothers.

The problem was that the individual pieces on the Rooney brothers were written as part of a single story, and not intended to be stand alone pieces. So if you clicked on one of the individual links, such as the story on Tim Rooney, the stories were disjointed, making references to events in other stories.

The Post Gazette did later provide some clarifying text and a link to the main story, but that was only after several people complained via Facebook.

PG Takes Shot at SEO?

One possible reason behind the Post-Gazette’s decision to publish multiple articles on the Rooney brothers is to catch more search engine traffic.

  • SEO, for those not familiar with the term, is the art of trying to get your pages to rank well on Google (and Bing, for what that’s worth) so that you get more visitors to your site.

While the Watch Tower has not (yet) done any comprehensive assessment of how the various major Steelers news sites fare in SEO, some cursoury analysis shows them lagging behind the competition.

Search rankings for major Steelers related stories are frequently dominated by the likes of Behind the Steel Curtain and the Bleacher Report.

The decision to break the Rooney stories up into multiple pieces, could be a step towards changing that, as could their decision to create a separate landing page for what has been a rather impressive series of regular season previews.

Post-Gazette Goof on Dwyer

While the Post-Gazette’s regular season preview coverage was generally very good, they did let one rather glaring error slip through in Ed Bouchette’s Five Keys piece as the screen shot reveals:

Jonathan Dwyer had been cut by the time this ran…
  • The problem with this piece is that Jonathan Dwyer had already been cut by the time this article ran.

Its normal (and highly advisable) to write stories like this in advance of publication, but going back and making these corrections is also necessary.

Steelers Today Goes Dark?

Finally, the Watch Tower notes, and laments, what appears to be the passing of a long established, well written fan site Steelers Today.

Steelers Today has been around for several years, dating back to about 2006 if memory serves. While the site was known for long periods of inactivity during the off season, it had been active up until the NFL draft.

However, attempts to access it now reveal that the domain registry has expired, seemingly signaling that the days one of the more prominent fan-based sites has unfortunately come to an end.

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Steelers 2013 Roster Analysis, Defense: Safety and Cornerback Are Not Secondary….

Steel Curtain Rising’s analysis of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 roster concludes with a look at the secondary.

Starters:  Cortez Allen, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, and Ryan Clark
Back Ups:  William Gay, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Damon Cromartie-Smith, Curtis Brown, and Antwon Blake

Strengths: Cortez Allen looks to be the real thing, and Troy Polamalu is looking like he’s in 2008/2010 form. If either of those two trends are sustained, the turnover dearth could be reversed in 2013

Weaknesses:  Like other areas of the team, proven depth is thin in the secondary, particularly at safety.

The Skinny: The Steelers gambled that they could get more bang for their buck by letting Keenan Lewis walk, and promoting Cortez Allen; they also made the unheard of move of trading a future draft pick to get Shamarko Thomas, who looked good in preseason. On paper this until looks like its ready to excel, but several unproven players must execute. If they do, good things can happen, assuming that Troy Polamalu doesn’t get hurt….

Click here and scroll around to read analysis of other position areas on the Steelers 2013 Roster.

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