Mike Tomlin Suspends Mendenhall, Makes Statement

Fans throughout Steelers Nation questioned the team’s commitment to winning in the wake of the shocking defeat to the Chargers.

Mike Tomlin has asked similar questions, but unlike the rest of the fan base, he’s acted upon it.

Late on Tuesday word spread that the Steelers have suspended 2008 first round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall for “Conduct detrimental to the team.” Specifically, Mendenhall did not show up at Heinz Field after he’d been told earlier in the week that he would not dress for the Chargers game.

Two fumbles and a poor performance vs. the Cleveland Browns led to Mendenhall’s demotion to third string. Mendenhall said all of the right things and was visible on the sidelines of the Steelers victory over Baltimore.

But now Mendenhall’s actions have spoken far louder than any words he might have uttered. Rashard Mendenhall had an obligation to be with his teammates for the Chargers game. First, he needed to show he is a “hand in the pile” type player, second he needed to offer support and advice to his fellow rushers.

But it goes beyond that. Even though Mendenhall had been told he would not dress for the game, there is a chance the Steelers might have needed him. Guys can and do get hurt in warm ups. That’s how Bubby Brister earned his first start back in 1986. Jerome Bettis showed up for the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff game vs. Baltimore expecting to play, but the pain killing shot made his entire leg numb.

These things happen. Who knows? Had something like that happened, Mendenhall could dressed, gotten into the game, and won his starting job back. But he wasn’t there for his team.

The chances of Mendenhall is a free agent resigning with the Steelers were slim to begin with. Now its fairly safe to say that he will not be a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2013.

Mike Tomlin made a statement in benching Mendenhall two weeks ago. Perhaps it might have been a little harsh, considering that neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Issac Redman had done much better in the debacle vs. Cleveland.

  • But it was the right move then. 

Suspending Mendenhall now is even more right. This type of nonchalance contributed mightily to the loss vs. San Diego, and sending someone home without pay sends a strong signal that it will not be tolerated.

Willie Colon Out, DeCastro to Start

One first round pick begins exiting stage left, another steps into the spotlight. As Ivan Cole of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write at BTSC) pointed out at the time, Willie Colon’s pancaking of Vontaze Burfick during the Bengals game marked a turning point for the Steelers offensive line and its running game. From that moment the Steelers offensive line began to consistently win battles up front.

Unfortunately, Colon got injured in the loss to the Ravens, and the line has not been the same since, particularly the run blocking.

Colon started the San Diego game, but could not finish. Mike Tomlin confirmed that he’ll have surgery this week. How he responds will determine whether or not he heads to IR for the third straight year.

In Colon’s absence, the Steelers solution has been to start Doug Legursky at center and move Maurkice Pouncey to guard. That worked well in the victory over the Ravens. Not so much vs. the Chargers. But as Colon will be out for a while, to say the least, Mike Tomlin has discarded the band aid approach, and instead is starting rookie first round draft pick David DeCastro.

DeCastro was of course injured in preseason, and made his return to the active roster a few weeks ago. But he’s only played special teams thus far.

Ramon Foster will shift over to left guard and DeCastro will start at right guard.

Its yet another incarnation of the Steelers offensive line in what has been an almost three year, non-stop musical chairs expirement.

The Steelers will need more from their offensive line if they’re to prevail vs. Dallas.

Hopefully David DeCastro can bring it for them.

Allen and Lewis Injured Too….

It never rains but it pours. As in monsoon.

Both Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen suffered hip flexors vs. the Cowboys. Lewis is expected to play but Allen is doubtful. That means that Curtis Brown, who did not play well last week, might start and that Josh Victoria and David Van Dyke will also likely see time in the secondary.

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Which of the Steelers 2012 Draft Picks Will Fail?

IF you’ve found this page in June our July of 2012, you might be head scratching over the current poll because the Pittsburgh Steelers2012 Draft Class is being met with tremendous fanfare. An overwhelming number of fans in a previous poll were ready to anoint David DeCastro as the next Alan Faneca.

Fortune shined the Steelers favor, allowing them draft the best players available without needing to reach. 

  • Or so the tale goes.

Truthfully, having David DeCastro slip to them in the first round was likely an incredible stroke of luck for the Steelers. And, prior to his positive drug test, Mike Adams had been pegged as a sure first rounder.

There’s no doubt that the Steelers 2012 Draft Class is a group brimming with potential. 
  • But with every draft class the challenge lines in transforming that potential into to production.

In other words in when the Steelers convene camp in Latrobe a month from now reality will begin to set in.

  • And that reality dictates that some of these draft day superstars will fail in the NFL.

As pointed out here recently, many of the same things begin said about the Steelers 2012 draft class were also being said about Pittsburgh’s 2008 draftees (click here for the article.)

Kevin Colbert leads one of the finest scouting efforts in the NFL. Colbert’s record in the first round is the envy of the league (click herefor a pick-by-pick breakdown of Kevin Colbert’s first round success.)
Yet my quick, back of the envelop calculations reveal that even Colbert has only picked average 2.5 quality contributors per draft. 
Rebecca Rollett, writing on Behind the Steel Curtain, has done a more exhaustive study of Colbert’s early, middle, and late round picksand, while her conclusions are slightly more generous than mine, they show that Kevin Colbert is ahead of his peers. (Full disclosure: I also write for Behind the Steel Curtain.) 
  • So be it. It’s likely that Colbert has drafted a couple of three studs in waiting.

But that doesn’t change the simple fact that some of these men simply won’t make the transition to life in the NFL.

I don’t say this to be a naysayer, but rather inject a little dose of reality into a conversation where many are already ranking the Steelers 2012 Draft along side the Steelers historic 1974 Draft.
No one would be happier if the 1974 prediction comes to bear because that would likely mean more Super Bowls in the Steelers future.
But basic math tells us that a 1974 repeat, or a even a near repeat is not likely. And that means that some of Aprils “Can’t Miss” prospects will. 
  • Who will fall through the cracks?

Will David DeCastro prove to be the new Huey Richardson? Might Mike Adams prove to be a Ricky Williams soul mate? Could Alameda Ta’amueat himself out of the league?

I don’t pretend to know, but I do offer you the chance to make your voice heard.
Take a moment to vote in the poll above or better yet, offer your reasons behind your vote in the comment section.

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Steelers 2008 Draft Serves as Cautionary Tale for 2012…

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

No, Santa Claus really did visit the Steelers.

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating the Steelers 2008 Draft

  • 1st Round, Rashard Mendenhall, RB

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

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

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

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

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

  • 6a Round, Mike Humpal, LB

Got cut in camp. Bust.

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

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

Steelers 2008 Draft vs. Steelers 2012 Draft….

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

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

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

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

Every draft pick comes with an X-Factor.

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

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

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

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

In 3 or 4 years we’ll know.

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Watch Tower: Merril Hoge Misused? Impatience with Kordell? Neglect of Secondary?

The Watch Tower’s purpose is not to nitpick, but some of Ed Bouchette has come out with some head-scratches during this off-season.

Misusing Merril Hoge?

Several weeks ago, Bouchette focused on the Steelers running backs in his “On the Steelers” column. Bouchtte argued that despite the loss of Frank “The Tank” Summers and the potential loss of Mewelde Moore, Steelers Nation need not worry, as running backs are always to be found.

He’s right, as the Steelers have rushed for more yards since Chuck Noll’s arrival than any other franchise. Then he makes a curious statement:

They drafted Tim Worley on the first round in 1989 and Merril Hoge on the 11th in 1987 and their philosophy was so messed up on offense that often they misused both.

He may be on to something with Tim Worley. Dick Haley told Noll that Worley was an I-Formation back and should stay there to succeed. Noll promptly put him in a split backfield. Worley had a good rookie year nonetheless, but then blew his signing bonus up his nose.

The Hoge comment is harder to figure. “Messed up” only begins to describe Pittsburgh’s offense during Joe Walton’s rein. But Hoge however, was the only constant during that time.

After relegating starters Frank Pollard and Ernest Jackson to the bench mid-way through the 1988 season, Hoge went on to rush 724 times for 2708 yards through the end of the 1991 season. He also caught 173 passes for 1479 yards in addition to scoring 27 touchdowns.

If that is misuse, then Pittsburgh needed more. Hoge of course should have been used more when Barry Foster went down in 1993, but that is another story….

Bill Cowher Lacked Paitience with Kordell Stewart….?

Writing in PG Plus, Bouchette offered this eye-opener in response to a fan who questioned Bouchette’s statement that Kordell Stewart lacked the coaching staff’s support.

Bill Cowher could be a very impatient coach and he was all of that at the quarterback position… In 1997, Cowher chose Stewart and he had such a good season that the Steelers reached the AFC championship game at home, where they lost to Denver. In 1998, he and they had a bad season. Only a few games into 1999, Cowher benched him in favor of Tomczak. This came right after the Steelers had given Stewart a new contract with an $8.2 million signing bonus! Two years later, his teammates voted Stewart their MVP and he made the Pro Bowl. The next season, Cowher benched him again. THAT’s what I meant. [Emphasis added.]

It’s funny, because during the dark days of 1998 and 1999 the press, although I don’t remember Bouchette being in that chorus, tipped over themselves accusing Cowher of being too patient with Kordell Stewart.

The mystifying part of Bouchette’s statement is the bit about benching him after “only a few games.” Kordell Stewart started the first 11 games for the Steelers in 1999.

Kordell certainly got a quick hook in 2002. While that might reek of a knee jerk reaction, during the Latin American broadcast of Steelers-Colts Monday Night game later that season Raul Alegree shared this insight:

Hablé con Bill Cowher sobre Kordell Stewart, y él me dijo que no quisiera cambiar a su mariscal, pero sentí que tendría que hacerlo, porque Kordell Stewart había perdido la confianza del resto de los miembros del equipo.

For those of you who do not speak Spanish, Allegre revealed that Cowher had told him he hadn’t wanted to bench Stewart, but felt he had no choice because he sensed that Stewart had lost the confidence of the locker room.

That revelation reported by Allegre, which to my knowledge was never repeated in the English language press, crystallized Cowher’s motive behind the 2002 QB change.

I’ll also add that if Allegre was somehow able to get that nugget out of Cowher in a pregame meeting, you’d have to figure Bouchette would have or should have caught wind of it too.

Neglecting DB?

Bouchette also made another debatable comment in a PG Plus Post a little while later.

The Steelers have ignored their secondary far too long. It’s imperative they stock it with some good, young talent this year.

Bouchette is absolutely correct that the Steelers must get younger and better in the secondary. But does that necessarily mean that Pittsburgh has neglected the position?

A quick look back at the Colbert Record reveals this:

2001 – No DB taken
2002 – Chris Hope, 3rd round; LaVar Glover, 7th round
2003 – Troy Polamalu, 1st round; Ike Taylor 4th round
2004 – Richardo Colclough, 2nd round;
2005 – Bryant McFadden, 2nd round;
2006 – Anthony Smith, 3rd round;
2007 – William Gay, 5th round;
2008 – Ryan Mundy, 6th round;
2009 – Keenan Lewis, 3rd round; Joe Burnett 5th round
2010 – Crezdon Butler, 5th round

In ten drafts, Kevin Colbert has seen to it that Bill Cowher or Mike Tomlin has drafted a defensive back each year, with the exception of 2001 for a total of 11 DB’s in 10 years. Six of those picks have been premium picks coming in the first three rounds.

So does Bouchette have a point…? Maybe, but as we’ll see, he fails to go far enough in making it.

Behind the Steel Curtain to Bouchette’s Rescue?

Shortly after Bouchette’s comment about the Steelers “ignoring DB for too long,” Behind the Steel Curtain’s Tim Gleason, aka “Mary Rose” brought the issue into perspective in compelling fashion (although Gleason did not reference Bouchette’s article.)

In keeping with this site’s policy of not stealing another writer’s thunder, we will not recite his entire argument here. Steel Curtain Rising strongly encourages you to read his article “The Importance of Shopping at the Corner Market.”

Gleason ties the Steelers need to beef up at corner by telling one of the great untold stories of the 1980’s, namely that of the San Francisco 49er’s defense.

He then goes back and quantifies the number of defensive backs that have been taken in the first and second rounds since 2006 and, well, you can see where the Steelers fall into that category by scrolling above. Going a step further, he analyzes the correlation between multiple DB selections in the first two rounds and Super Bowl success.

While going at pains to avoid criticizing the Steelers (as Gleason points out, we have been in 3 Super Bowls and won 2) his argument that the Pittsburgh needs to draft a defensive back is persuasive.

In the final analysis, both men have something to their arguments. But Tim Gleason’s nuance and depth of analysis make his piece all the more powerful.

The Watch Tower has praised Bouchette plenty and respects his work.

But as has also been asked many times before in this space, why is it that a fan site like Behind the Steel Curtain offers a much more complete analysis when contrasted with coverage in the professional press?

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The Long View from Latrobe: Steelers Training Camp 2010 Opens

Friday the Pittsburgh Steelers will converge at St. Vincent’s to begin Mike Tomlin’s 4th training camp.

Fans and media will focus on how Tomlin handles the quarterback rotation, who replaces Willie Colon, who back ups Rasshard Mendenhall, and Troy Polamalu’s health. And so they should. The answers to those questions will have the greatest impact on the Steelers fortunes in 2010.

But the Steelers must answer additional personnel development questions in Latrobe this summer and the impact of the answers to those questions will be felt long after the 2010 season concludes.

Steel Curtain Rising commences training camp 2010 with a look at which players and at which positions must show promise this summer for the Steelers to prosper in the future.

Looking Back Before Looking Ahead

The Steelers have a problem, although neither the press nor Steelers Nation seem to be very aware of it, if a poll conducted here during the spring is any indication.

The problem is quite simple.

The Steelers drafting has been subpar of late.

Few have noticed this fact. This happens with two Super Bowl victories in 4 years. In the summer of 1980 who worried the quality of the Steelers 1977 and 1978 drafts?

But consider this.

The Steelers won One for the Thumb in 2005. There is no coincidence that Super Bowl XL came four years after the 2002 draft, Kevin Colbert’s best ever.

Steel Curtain Rising has reviewed the Colbert Record extensively, and there is no reason to rehash that again.

But the Steelers 2010 free agent signing spree turned heads. To its credit, management acted aggressively to address key need areas. But, has has been indicated here before, you can tie each free agent signing to a major draft disappointment.

Draftees from the Steelers 2006 draft should be blossoming now and the 2008 class should be coming into its own.

Santonio Holmes’s trade and Willie Colon’s injury mean the Steelers will not have a single member of their 2006 draft class on their 2010 roster.

Likewise, if Tony Hills gets cut, as he almost certainly would have save for the injury to Colon, the Steelers will start 2010 with an equal number of players from the 2002 and 2008 drafts.

Neither trend is encouraging, but it need not be fatal either – if the players below step it up.

Ryan Mundy

The Steelers final 2008 draft pick got hurt in camp but rejoined the practice squad in November.
Mundy looked sharp in preseason in 2009 and earned a roster spot and some playing time during the season joining one of the most shell-shocked Steelers secondaries in memory.

For awhile, there was talk that the Steelers might let Ryan Clark might depart and promote Mundy to the starting role. But the Steelers signing of Will Allen splashes cold water on that theory.

Regardless, Clark is 31 and Polamalu is 28, Allen is 27 and Mundy is the only player behind team. A productive camp in 2010 for Mundy will pay dividends in the future.

Kraig Urbik

In the 2009 NFL draft the Steelers returned to the Bill Cowher era’s unofficial policy of using at least one premium pick on an offensive line man by taking Kraig Urbik in the third round.

Some sounded alarm bells when 2009 rookie free agent Ramon Foster started while Urbik failed to dress. Such panic is premature.

In 1992 rookie, free agent Gary Howe eclipsed third round pick Joel Steed by starting after Gerald Williams went down. Everyone forgets that today, after Howe ate himself out of the league and Steed developed into a Pro Bowler.

The Steelers have suffered from far too much instability on their offensive line of late, but Urbik can stabilize a lot of things by at least signaling that he’ll someday be starter worthy.

Keenan Lewis

Ike Taylor’s contract expires after 2010. Bryant McFadden’s return helps, but McFadden will never develop into a shut down corner.

You will not find the terms “under achieve” or “over achieve” much on this site because by and large you are what you put on tape, as Mike Tomlin likes to say. However, William Gay probably over achieved in 2008 and under achieved in 2009.

At the end of the day, Gay’s place in the NFL is as quality number 3 corner, which is good for a 5th round pick.

But the Steelers need a strong corner for the future to emerge this summer, and Keenan Lewis must be that man. He need not transform himself into a stud; if Lewis establishes himself as the secondary’s up and coming corner everyone forgets Joe Burnette beat him out for playing time in 2009.

Lawrence Timmons

Steelers Nation worried when Timmons did not play in 2007, wondered why he didn’t start in spite of his penchant for splash plays in 2008, and wavered after watching Timmons’ inconsistent play in 2009.

James Farrior finally started slowing a step in 2009. Larry Foote’s return gives the Steelers a little bit of a cushion at this key position, but Pittsburgh can in no way afford to replace both inside linebacker positions.

The real Lawrence Timmons must step up in 2010, and the Steelers need the real Timmons to be the splash play specialist that has flashed so promisingly.

Emmanuel Sanders

Last year Mike Wallace showed that immediate impact wide receivers can be found in the draft’s third round.

Fortunately, 2010 third round pick Emmanuel Sanders need not feel pressure to walk in Wallace’s footsteps. Randel El’s return and Arnaz Battle’s arrival should give the Steelers solid veteran depth at wide out in 2010.

But 2011 and beyond bring another story. Hines Ward is 34, and (knock on wood) continues to go strong. However, Ward has already said he would hang it up should the Steelers win another Super Bowl, and if the 2011 season ends in lock out, he might just decide to retire anyway.

The Steelers need to groom a eventual starting wide out, and this summer Sanders needs to show he is capable of being that man.

Jason Worilds

James Harrison is 32 and LaMarr Woodley could be an unrestricted free agent on the open market depending on how the league’s labor situation works out.

Like Sanders, Jason Worilds need not produce let alone play much in 2010, but he most certainly does need to show he is capable of making the transition from college defensive end to starting outside linebacker in the NFL.

Preview of the Next Half Decade

Dig into the quarterback derby; cross your fingers in hopes that Sean Kluger can pull rabbits out of hats on the offensive line; pray for Polamalu’s health; enjoy all of these and the other story lines that will emerge in Latrobe in the days to come.

But keep an ear and an eye attuned to subplots about the players mentioned above. Their development, or lack there of, this summer at St. Vincents will provide a pretty good preview of the Steelers fortunes for the next five years or so.

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Sweed Out, Roethlisberger Evaluations Complete, Steelers Sign Isaiah Williams…

The news that the Steelers placed Limas Sweed on the injured reserve list came as no surprise after the unlucky wide receiver had injured his Achilles tendon a few weeks back during spring practice.

By placing him on IR, the Steelers were making Sweed ineligible to play for the duration of the 2010 season. Sweed most likely will want to attempt a comeback, but the beleaguered former second round pick from the 2008 draft faces an uphill battle.

To take Sweed’s spot on the off season roster, the Steelers signed former Baltimore Ravens free agent rookie Isaiah Williams. Williams was signed by the Ravens following the 2009 NFL draft, but was cut before opening day.

Roethlisberger Evaluations Complete, For Now…

The NFL has reported that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has completed the medical and psychological evaluations ordered by the NFL. He has still not been given permission to return to the team.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could allow the Ben resuming activities with the team in advance of his 6 game suspension, or he could order more tests. The Post-Gazette report indicated that Roethsliberger’s team felt he would rejoin the team soon.

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Limas Sweed Injures Achilles Tendon

Perhaps some things are just not meant to be.

Limas Sweed entered the 2008 draft as a potential first round pick, only to fall to the bottom of the second round because of injury concerns. The Pittsburgh Steelers wasted no time in snapping Sweed up when it came their turn to pick in the second round.

Sweed made it onto the field late in 2008, earning a reputation for burning past coverage only to drop perfectly thrown balls, has now suffered another set back. More of the same continued in 2009, including a drop that arguably cost the Steelers the first Cincinnati game.

The Steelers placed Sweed on the non-football injury list, and it is largely believed that this was due to psychological issues that Sweed had as a result of his on the field failures.

The Steelers, clearly did not count on Sweed making a rebound, resigning Antwaan Randle El and drafting Emmanuel Sanders in the 2010 draft’s third round.

Undeterred, Sweed started a new, switched numbers, and prepared to fight for a starting job.

Unfortunately disaster, it appears, has struck again for Sweed, as both the Post-Gazette and ESPN.com are reporting that Sweed injured his Achilles tendon during the Steelers 2010 mini-camp.

An Achilles tendon injury is one of the most serious injuries that an athlete can face, particularly a wide receiver. The severity of the injury is not yet known, but he did leave the Steelers complex on the South Side on crutches.

Anything other than a mild injury would certainly end Sweed’s year and could easily jeopardize his career.

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Steelers Draft Needs Offensive and Defensive Lines

Two years ago Mike Tomlin inaugurated the off season with the edict that the Steelers needed to get “younger and stronger on both lines.” As Steel Curtain Rising has indicated in the time since then the Steelers, with help from father time, have indeed embraced a youth movement on both lines.

But how much younger and stronger have they gotten, and how should that affect their draft plans?

The Steelers Situation at Offensive Line

Gone are Alan Fanaca, Marvel Smith, Kendall Simmons, and Sean Mahan. As Yoda might say, “Younger, at offensive line the Steelers have become.”

But have they become stronger?

The answer is, “not much, if any.” Max Starks, Willie Colon and Chris Kemoantu give the Steelers three solid starters, although non one is comparing them to John Jackson, Leon Searcy, and Will Wolford yet. Justin Hartwig is and upgrade from Mahan, but is aging, and Trai Essex is perhaps a very good sixth lineman.

Behind these men the Steelers have no depth. 2008 and 2009 draft picks Tony Hills, tackle, and Kraig Urbik, guard, are behind unrestricted rookie free agents on the depth chart.

What the Steelers Must Do At Offensive Line

Time was that the Steelers seemed to have an unofficial policy of using a premium pick on a lineman every year. Some of those did not work (Jermaine Stephens, Paul Wiggins, Chris Conrad and Kris Farris ring bells?).

But it was a good policy, and one the Steelers need to revive.

The Steelers need help at all three positions on the offensive line, and they must get it early in this draft.

The Steelers Situation at Defensive Line

In contrast to their counterparts on offense, the Steelers still have the same starting defensive line they had when Mike Tomlin arrived. In fact, two of those men have signed contract extensions in the last year.

Nonetheless, the unit counts on two back ups, Ziggy Hood and Sunny Harris, taken respectively at the top and bottom of the Steelers 2009 draft.

What the Steelers Must do at Defensive Line in the Draft

Hood came on strong late in the year, and his presence will only help elevate the play of the other three. We’ve seen less of Harris, but he got good reviews in training camp and since his return from his stint on Carolina’s practice squad.

Still, the Steelers need depth on the defensive line, particularly at nose tackle. While this also needs to be a top, early round priority, it nonetheless takes a back seat to needs on the offensive line and secondary.

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Watch Tower: Steel Curtain Rising Reviews Its 2008 Goofs

Regular readers know Steel Curtain Rising relishes holding the media accountable. In our Watch Tower column we critique, analyze, pick apart, (nit pick), and comment on the performance of those who cover the Steelers.

As Steelers Nation begins offering its predictions and prognostications for the 2009 season, it is only fair that Steel Curtain Rising take its own medicine.

So following the tradition established by legendary Washington Post writer David Broder, Steel Curtain Rising offers its “goofs column,” where we fess up to what we got wrong.

That’s right. Never too shy to gloat when right, we must also face up to our 2008 errors, which spanned the 2008 Draft, the pick of Dennis Dixon, Max Starks and the Offensive Line in general, pace of Tomlin’s second camp , 11th hour signings that never happened, Santonio Holmes’ future with the team, the non-turning point for the offense, and joining the chorus against Bruce Arians and Bob Ligashesky .

Really, You Should Have Taken Colbert His Word

Prior to the 2008 draft, Steel Curtain Rising urged readers to ignore Kevin Colbert’s promise to “take the best available player.” Instead, we pointed to previous statements, such as 2003 when Colbert defended the status quo in the Steelers secondary prior to the draft only to trade up big time to pick Troy Polamalu.

We thought they would do the same thing in 2008 and focus on getting an offensive or defensive lineman at all costs in early rounds. And Steel Curtain Rising urged everyone to watch what Colbert did, not what he said. Perhaps Mendenhall and Sweed would beg to differ….

Maybe Dennis Dixon Wasn’t a Bad Pick Up

Giving in to knee jerkism, Steel Curtain Rising lambasted Colbert and Tomlin for picking a quarterback in the 2008 draft.

While the pick seemed illogical at the moment, Dennis Dixon has progressed well thus far, and if he can seriously challenge Charlie Batch for the back up spot, he will deliver excellent value as a 5th round pick.

The Offensive Line Did Shuffle, Just Not the Way We Predicted…

Prior to the draft, Steel Curtain Rising published a well-crafted piece seemingly exploring all of the scenarios that the Steelers would have to undergo to settle on their starting front 5 for 2008.
The training camp offensive line shell game never even came close to evolving. Sure there was “competition” between Hartwig and Sean Mahan, while Essex and Max Starks split time at the backup right tackle slot, but the starting 5 remained stable through camp.

Of course injuries did force the Steelers to rebuild their line during the 2008 season, but Steel Curtain Rising certainly takes no credit for predicting that.

The Max Starks Situation

Treading close to Steel Curtain Rising’s “Football Only” rule, let me paraphrase a once famous Boston Senator: Steel Curtain Rising was in favor of the Steelers transitioning Max Starks, before we were skpetical about it, which preceded our ultimate approval of the move.

Confused?

Then you’ve got a good reason, because Steel Curtain Rising was all over the map on the Max Starks issue.

Bottom line? Stick with your instincts, because the man who was derided for being a very expensive back up tackle on opening day had a huge role in saving the season.

Tomlin Wise Not to Push It Too Hard in Latrobe

When Pittsburgh repeatedly failed to close tight games in 2007, many in Steelers Nation questioned under their breath “Would Bill Cowher have let this happen….? Have the Steelers lost their killer instinct?”

In this light Steel Curtain Rising questioned the long injury list early in training camp and urged the team to heed James Harrison’s entreaties to pick up the intensity.

Pittsburgh’s performance against Jacksonville in week 5 established the Steelers as the NFL’s toughest.

If anything, Mike Tomlin’s refined pace is what kept the team fresh down the stretch. Tomlin knew something we didn’t. (And yes, that is something that will come true again and again.)

For Whom the Bell Doesn’t Toll When It Strikes the 11th Hour

In recent years the Steelers have resigned a veteran during the week leading up to opening day. In 2006 it was Ike Taylor and in 2007 it was Kendall Simmons.

Immediately after the final roster cut the Steelers shipped 2007 starting center Sean Mahan back to Tampa Bay. Steel Curtain Rising immediately saw this an attempt to clear cap room to make a final signing.

No 11th hour signing took place in 2008.

They did try to resign Marvel Smith, but Smith balked at re-upping, choosing instead to test the free agent waters.

The Offensive Turning Point That Wasn’t

The glory of the Sixth Lombardi Trophy rightly defines the Steelers 2008 season. This triumphant glow will cause many to forget the madding inconsistency that characterized the Steelers offense for much of the year.

The offensive line rebuilding and injuries to Willie Parker and Ben were big parts of that.

But when Pittsburgh piled up tons of yards, but few points against San Diego in the regular season, Steel Curtain Rising declared that the Steelers had turned the corner and would put it all together on offense.

While that game did mark improvement, consistency continued to elude the Steelers offense for the rest of 2008 – except of course when the game was on the line.

Which counts in the Steelers favor, but alas not ours.

It Looks Like Santonio Holmes Is Going to Stick Around

Santonio Holmes had only been having an OK year when got busted for marijuana possession. In contrast, Nate Washington had been establishing himself as a dangerous deep threat – especially on third down.

That coupled with the Steelers semi-consistent policy of not tolerating players who run afoul of the law led Steel Curtain Rising to suggest that the Steelers might opt to resign Washington and unload Holmes.

Ooh…. Do we wish we had that one back now…. Perhaps not, but Steel Curtain Rising was dead wrong there. Washington continued to perform, but Holmes slipped it into high gear, and was at the center of the big plays that defined each of the Steelers three playoff victories.

Blaming Too Much on Bruce?

This one makes the list if for no other reason than the impassioned and well-argued defense that one of our readers made of Bruce Arians after the Super Bowl.

Bruce Arians took a lot of heat in 2008 from this site and the rest of Steelers Nation as the Steelers offense lacked rhythm and our once vaunted running game was shackled.

While we’re not ready to back off all the criticism we made during 2008, Bruce Arians certainly got the last laugh, and we’re thankful for that.

(In our own defense, we did say in training camp last year that Arians probably did not have the line to establish a power running game, and as the season wore on it became clear that he didn’t.)

So Bob Ligashesky Wasn’t the Special Teams Culprit of 2007

Special teams had been a horrendous weakness in 2007. When Mike Tomlin decided to retain special teams coach Bob L. Steel Curtain Rising officially gave Tomlin the benefit of the doubt. But it didn’t take too savvy of a reader to understand know how we really felt.

If they Steelers special teams did not become strength last year, they did improve dramatically.

We’ll keep that in mind the next time Mike Tomlin declines to make a knee-jerk decision.

Looking Forward to 2009

If you read Steel Curtain Rising often enough you’ll undoubtedly recall other moments of err. (Not to mention the mundane typos, the skipped prepositions, or the slip up that renders an entire sentence unreadable – thank you to everyone who pointed these out!)

So be it. Sometimes you call it right. Sometimes you call it wrong.

But Steel Curtain Rising will always call it as we see it.

We had a blast doing it last year, and we hope you’ll join us as we get ready to do it again in 2009.

Who watches the watchmen? Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower casts a critical eye on those who cover the Steelers. Click here to read all articles carrying the Watch Tower label.

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Pittsburgh Chapter of PFWA Honors Bailey, Clark

Steelers linebacker Patrick Bailey was honored by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association as the team’s 2008 rookie of the year.

While Bailey’s certainly distinguished himself on special teams, his selection underlies the fact that thus far the Steelers 2008 draft class has been very, very short on results. Rashard was lost for the season in the four game of the season, Limas Sweed only has six catches, and the rest of the picks have played little, are on IR, or the practice squad.

The association also honored Ryan Clark with its “Cheif Award,” which they present to the member of the Steelers organization who best embodies the spirit of cooperation with the media as established by Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.

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