Steelers Sign Michael Vick as Back Up QB, Place Gradkowski on IR

It took longer that he wanted, but Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin got his wish on a day that saw the Steelers sign Michael Vick while they placed Bruce Gradkowski on the injured reserve list.

  • Michael Vick is a man who needs no introduction, and mostly the wrong reasons.

The Atlanta Falcons made Michael Vick the first overall selection in the 2001 NFL Draft based on his extraordinary athleticism as Vick offered the potential to redefine the quarterback position. Vick’s record in Atlanta was mixed, although he did reported get Dan Reeves fired, but his is of course best-know for his arrest for dog fighting which landed him in jail.

When Vick was released from prison, Mike Tomlin was interested in testing the waters to bring fellow Tidewater Virginia native Michael Vick to Pittsburgh but the Rooneys quashed the idea immediately. Vick instead went to the Philadelphia Eagles where he wrested the starting job from Kevin Kolb. Vick’s record in Philly was mixed and his out of the pocket style of plays caused injuries to pile up.

  • Vick played last year for the New York Jets and again his record was mixed, although he did deal the Steelers a bitter defeat.

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered training camp with questions marks at the bottom of their quarterback depth chart. Ben Roethlisberger’s status was never in doubt, by Bruce Gradkowski began on the PUP list and Landry Jones was fighting for his NFL life.

Gradkowski injured his finger after throwing just three passes in the Steelers preseason win vs. Green Bay. Landry Jones has gotten extensive work and has improved, but the Steelers brain trust is clearly not convinced that he’s ready to be an NFL number 2 quarterback.

Financial terms of the Michael Vick’s contract with the Steelers were not disclosed, but given Vick’s age and the Steelers salary cap situation it is likely to be near the veteran minimum. The team did annouce that the Steelers signed Michael Vick to a 1 year contract.

Vick Pick Stirs Controversy in Steelers Nation

The words “Steelers sign Michael Vick” are arousing their fair share of ire in Steelers Nation. That’s a subject worth of his own article and one will be forth coming here on Steel Curtain Rising. Stay tuned.

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Steelers Sign Doug Legursky Bolstering Depth @ Center & Guard

So much for the best laid plans of mice and men. No sooner did Steel Curtain Rising publish an article on Cody Wallace’s record as a Steelers starter than did news arrive the that Pittsburgh Steelers had signed Doug Legursky….

To make room for Legursky, the Steelers put wide receiver David Nelson on injured reserved. For those reading the later name and asking “Who?” the Steelers signed David Nelson when they put place kicker Shaun Suisham on injured reserve.

Doug Legursky’s Second Act in Pittsburgh

Doug Legursky broke into the NFL as one of the Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent finds. Legursky was part of the Steelers 2008 undrafted rookie free agent class and while he went on and off the roster James Harrison style, he joined the practice squad in October of that year and stuck.

The next year in training camp, Legursky proved himself capable enough that he earned a final roster spot, as Mike Tomlin labeled him “This year’s Darnell Stapleton.” and he made a strong enough accounting of himself that he made the team’s final roster.

  • Legursky didn’t see a lot of action in 2009, although the team did use him in spot duty as a fullback.

In 2010 Legursky made four straight starts at guard for the Steelers in place of Trai Essex, and after Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain in the Steelers AFC Championship victory over the New York Jets, Legursky stepped forward to start in Super Bowl XLV.

Legursky started 11 games for the Steelers in 2011, where he saw duty both at guard and center. When Pouncey suffered another late season ankle injury it fell to Legursky to take up the starting reigns at center for the Steelers in their Tebowing at Denver in the playoffs that year.

Despite his versatility and position flexibly, the Steelers let Doug Legursky go in free agency after the 2012 season. Despite having started the Steelers last two playoff games, his departure was considered so insignificant that neither of the Pittsburgh dailies covered Legursky’s decision to sign with the Buffalo Bills.

Cody Wallace will likely remain the starter, but the headline “Steelers sign Doug Legursky” signals that the Pittsburgh brain trust does not have full confidence in Chris Hubbard or B.J. Finney’s ability to back up Cody Wallace at center and/or Ramon Foster or David DeCastro at guard.

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When Cody Wallace Starts for Steelers, Pittsburgh Plays Pretty Well…

If you’re a citizen of Steelers Nation, unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that the Steelers preseason victory over the Packers came at the cost of Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey broke his ankle and will require surgery. The only question now is whether Pounecy will miss the whole season, or most of it.

With that in mind, Pittsburgh Tribune Review reporter Chris Adamski posted this rather ominous looking Tweet.

The numbers speak for themselves. The statistics geeks at Pro Football Focus and similar sites may argue that he’s overrated, but clearly Maurkice Pouncey’s been a difference maker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Pouncey is out of the picture and that only means one thing on a Mike Tomlin football team, “The next man up.” Or, “The Standard is the Standard” if you will. (Obviously.)

  • In the case of the 2015 Steelers, the next man up is Cody Wallace.

The Steelers acquired Cody Wallace when Kevin Colbert when wire waiver shopping after the NFL’s mandatory cut down to 53 men in 2013 (he also picked up Antwon Blake, BTW.) Wallace however couldn’t be “the next man up” when David DeCastro plowed into Pouncey’s leg in the opening day fiasco vs. Tennessee. He was in street clothes.

Instead, the Steelers went to Fernando Velasco who found himself a street free agent after the self-same Tennessee Titans made him a salary cap casualty. Velasco started for the Steelers and did well, until the Steelers Thanksgiving Day loss to the Ravens, where he too would fall to a season-ending injury.

  • Then it was to Cody Wallace’s turn to be “the next man up” taking his place in front of Ben Roethlisberger.

So just how have the Steelers done with when Cody Wallace starts? The answer is, not bad. With Wallace starting the final four games of 2013 at center, the Steelers finished 3-1.

Wallace’s first start was a rough one, as the Steelers lost to the Miami Dolphins in the snows of Heinz Field. But Wallace could hardly be labeled as a weak link in that game, as the entire Steelers roster from top to bottom put up subpar performances (except perhaps for Troy Polamalu.)

In Wallace’s next start the Steelers throttled the Bengals at Heinz Field and in the following week he started in the Steelers victory over Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Le’Veon Bell also rushed for his first 100 game in the victory over Green Bay. Wallace continued his starting streak as the Steelers defeated the Browns to close the season.

Wallace didn’t start any games at center in 2014, but he did start two at guard, where the Steelers went 1-1. With Ramon Foster injured, Wallace started for the Steelers vs. Carolina, in a game where the Steelers offensive line could only be described as “Scary good.” Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount combined for an astounding 245 yards. However, the Steelers didn’t fare as well in Cody Wallace’s final start of the season, which again came at guard in the Steelers embarrassing loss to Tampa.

The Steelers will miss Muarkice Pouncey who contributes to the team with his leadership both on and off the field in ways that go beyond his expert blocking. But as Mike Tomlin commands, “Injuries will not be an excuse.” Nor should they be because Cody Wallace is capable.

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Steelers Packers Preseason Video Highlights

The Pittsburgh Steelers 24-19 preseason victory over the Green Bay Packers may have been costly with injuries to Bruce Gradkowski, Stephon Tuitt and most ominously, Maurkice Pouncey.

The game wasn’t without its highlights, however, some of which we can share thanks to the magic of YouTube (available as of 8/24/15, watch now as Roger Goodell’s YouTube police will get this down soon.)

Based on the Steelers Packers preseason video highlights reel, the good news is that Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell look to be in mid-season form. So does Heath Miller, while Markus Wheaton announced to Steelers Nation that he is not letting Martavis Bryant take his starting slot without a fight.

  • James Harrison now has 2 sacks in, what 3-4 series during preseason.

Mike Tomlin and Joey Porter are right to limit Harrison to conserve his body for the duration of season, but if Harrison keeps that level of production up, it will be hard to keep him off the bench. Fortuantely, Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree also registered sacks.

Signs of life from the pass rush were not enough to please Mike Tomlin, nor should they be. Green Bay moved effortlessly down the field for its first touchdown, and Eddie Lacy scored his touchdown untouched.

But the defense also had its bright spots, with Antwon Blake tied with Shamarko Thomas for 6 tackles, while defensing a pass.

Steelers Roster Battles Come Into Focus

One of the things that the Steelers Packers preseason video highlights above doesn’t bring into focus is how the game helped define some of the Steelers roster bubble battles.

Ian Wild is making it hard for coaches to cut him, as is Kevin Fogg. Per Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider, both men have little chance of making the team but there is probably a spot for one of them, unless they can convince coaches that B.W. Webb and his experience are expendable.

  • Pouncey’s broken ankle will force some tough decisions by the Steelers on offensive line.

Cody Wallace will step into the starting role, while the Steelers will need to find a back up. The two candidates are B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard, with Finney likely getting the inside track.

Landry Jones of course rallied the team to victory, and in doing so he tossed touchdown passes to both Tyler Murphy and Shakim Phillips. The prospects of either man making the final 53 are bleak, unless the Steelers keep six receivers. But both men made a strong case for a slot on the Steelers practice squad.

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Maurkice Pouncey Injures Ankle as Steelers Defeat Packers 24-19 to Win Preseason Home Opener

Finally the Pittsburgh Steelers have won one, although the Steelers 24-19 preseason victory over the Green Bay Packers came at a high cost as Pittsburgh suffered multiple injuries.

While little detail is known about the severity of those injuries, top among the list appears to be one to starting Pro Bowl Center Maurkice Pouncey. During the first quarter Pouncey was blocking for Le’Veon Bell when the Packers Ha Ha Clinton-Dix rolled over Pouncey’s ankle while making a tackle. Pouncey walked off the field on his own power, but was later taken to the dressing room on the cart.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette, who appears to have fairly strong sources inside the Steelers medical department, shared this in-game update:

If the phrase “Maurkice Pouncey injures ankle” sounds familiar, it should.

Ankle injuries have been an issue for Pouncey throughout his career. Pouncey injured his ankle in the Steelersv 2010 AFC Championship victory over the New York Jets and saw Doug Legursky start Super Bowl XLV in his place.

A year later, Pouncey injured his ankle again vs. Cleveland in 2011. That injury forced Pouncey to miss the Steelers loss to San Francisco, and the same injury forced him to miss the Teebowing the Steelers suffered in Denver during the playoffs.

Following the game, Bouchette tweeted this, more ominous update:

Bouchette’s updates didn’t get any more positive:

If Bouchette’s report are confirmed, Pouncey is almost certain to miss the Steelers opener vs. New England several other games after that as Dejan Kovacevic reporting confirms:

Up until now, the Steelers have been relatively lucky on the injury front. The news that Maurkice Pouncey injured his ankle and needs surgery is not good, but at the very least the Steelers still have time to plan for it.

Pouncey Not the Only Injury Suffered by the Steelers vs. the Packers

The Steelers also suffered two other potentially significant injuries vs. the Packers. First back up quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who was seeing his first action of the preseason, left the game with an injury.

And starting defensive end Stephon Tuitt also left the game with and injury, although Ed Bouchette reports that his injury is not serious:

No more news has been released on Bruce Gradkowski, although any injury would be of concern to the Steelers, given that the Steelers only activated him from the PUP list 6 days ago.

Steelers Defense Goes on Sack Attack

One of the overriding concerns throughout the preseason has been the development of the Steelers defense in general, and their lack of ability to generate a pass rush has been a specific concern and one that Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler has spoken on the record about.

  • Taking things a level deeper, the Steelers have yet to see much this summer out of Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree, two first round picks drafted specifically to rush the passer.

The Steelers defense have heard the pleas of their coaches, and they responded in force vs. the Packers. James Harrison started the action for the Steelers, sacking Aaron Rogers for a safety on the Steelers second drive. This sparked and explosion by the rest of the Steelers defense, with Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree each recording a sack, and they were joined by safeties Shamarko Thomas, Ian Wild, and newly acquired L.T. Fort.

Roethlisberger “Usual Self” Jones Rallies Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger saw limited action, but he completed 11 of his 14 passes including a 5 yard hook up with Markus Wheaton for the Steelers first score. Roethlisberger left the game in the second quarter, giving way to Gradkowski.

However, once Gradkowski left the game injured, in came Landry Jones. Jones has seen extensive work this preseason, one which he entered with a target on his back. Although Jones performance in two preseason games has drawn mixed reviews at best, he has been solid enough to drive Devin Gardner and Tajh Boyd off of the team.

Against the Packers, Jones led the Steelers to 17 unanswered points, as Pittsburgh erased a 19 to 9 deficit that ultimately saw them win the game 24 to 9. Jones connected with Tyler Murphy and Shakim Phillips for two touchdown passes.

The Steelers offense also enjoyed another strong showing from DeAngelo Williams, which is a good sign, as they’ll be without the services of Le’Veon Bell for the first two games of the season.

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5 Roster Bubble Steelers Who Need a Big Game vs. Packers

The Pittsburgh Steelers take to the field vs. the Green Bay Packers today in what will be the Steelers third preseason contest. The Steelers starters will look to get more work, but this preseason contest will remain the province of the starters.

  • There are any number of roster battles in play and most of these are at the bottom of the depth chart.

Here’s a quick look at a 5 roster bubble steelers who can go a long way to helping themselves secure a spot on Pittsburgh’s 53 man roster.

Alejandro Villanueva. A year ago, he wasn’t even a Pittsburgh Steeler, as he was holding down a roster spot with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles cut him and the Steelers put him on their practice squad moving him from defensive line to the offensive line.

Physically, Villanueva is a monster, standing at 6’9” and with a weight listed at 277, but his actual weight could be close to 100 pounds higher. When training camp began, Villanueva was getting work as a back up left tackle, in the absence of Mike Adams. However, as camp progressed, the Steelers began working him at right tackle.

  • If Villanueva shows he can work both sides effectively, he could earn himself a roster spot.

Ian Wild. Wild is listed as a safety, but after injuries to Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams, Mike Tomlin moved him to inside linebacker, and has raved out him – something the Steelers head coach is not wont to do about rookies.

Neither Shamarko Thomas nor Michael Mitchell is going anywhere. Will Allen’s name has not been heard much, but given the lack of veterans on the defense, it would be a surprise to see him cut. The Steelers also have Ross Ventrone and Robert Golden on the team, both of whom would seem to have the inside track on a roster spot.

The Steelers did keep 6 safeties on their roster last year, but Ross Ventrone was a late addition. However, if Wild shows he can deliver on special teams, he could jeopardize Ventrone or Golden’s roster spot.

Shayon Green. Green actually started ahead of Bud Dupree in the Hall of Fame game, but Dupree’s spot is not in jeopardy. Neither is that of Jarvis Jones, James Harrison or Arthur Moats. The Steelers also have returning practice squad star Howard Jones and 6th round draft pick Anthony Chickillo at outside linebacker.

  • Green has been a leading special teamer thus far in preseason, but he needs to kill it there again to ensure himself a spot.

Roosevelt Nix. Rossevlet Nix is making a name for himself at a position that is dying in the NFL – fullback. The Steelers already have an accomplished fullback in Will Johnson. The Steelers will not keep two players at a position where many NFL teams no longer carry one.

  • Again, Nix needs to prove himself on special teams.

Terence Garvin. Garvin of fame from the 2013 matchup vs. the Bengals has been a star special teamer, but finds himself in a numbers game at inside linebacker, with Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, and Vince Williams all holding sure roster spots.

  • Against Green Bay, Garvin needs to separate himself from the Pack (pun intended.)

Do Salary Cap Ramifications Put Johnson, Golden in Jeopardy?

Two Steelers veterans who have extra reason to look over their shoulders are Will Johnson and Robert Golden. Both men signed restricted free agent tenders worth at just over 1.5 million dollars.

Success in the salary cap era is all about getting the most bang for your buck, so if strong performances by Roosevelt Nix and/or Ian Wild might tempt the Steelers into cutting them to gain what would figure to be 7 figures in salary cap savings.

How likely is that?

Not very. While Golden has played on special teams, he’s been with the Steelers since 2012, and that allows him to add much needed experience to the secondary. Will Johnson is also a proven commodity and someone the Steelers will not part ways with lightly.

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