Steelers Claim Zach Mettenberger Off Waivers, Put Bruce Gradkowski on Injured Reserve

The Pittsburgh Steelers clarified their quarterback depth chart today by making two moves. The first move saw the Steelers claim Zach Mettenberger off of waivers, less than a day after the San Diego Chargers parted ways with the quarterback. The Steelers also placed Bruce Gradkowski on injured reserve, ending his season, and perhaps his career in Pittsburgh.

steelers vs. titans, zach mettenberger, zach mettenberger steelers, james harrison, vince williams, zach mettenberger vs. Steelers, november 2014

James Harrison and Vince Williams close on in Zach Mettenberger in the Steelers 2014 win over the Titans. Photo Credit: Associated Press, used on Titans.com

Landry Jones will back up Roethlisberger as his number two, much to the chagrin of much of Steelers Nation. The third slot would appear to be headed to Zach Mettenberger, although the Steelers have previously said they plan to start 4th string quarterback Bryn Renner against Carolina in their 2016 preseason finale.

For most of the preseason, Dustin Vaughan worked as the Steelers 3rd string quarterback, but he broke his thumb in the preseason loss to the Eagles and the Steelers have since placed Vaughan on the injured/waived list.

A Closer Look at Zach Mettenberger

Ken Whisenhunt of Tennessee Titans originally draft Aach Mettenberger by the in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, taking him with the 178th overall pick. In 2014 Mettenberger started weeks 8 through 16.

That span included the Steelers week 10 victory at Tennessee, where Mettenberger went 14 of 25 for 2 touchdowns and one interception. While William Gay did transform one Mettenberger pass into a pick six, Mettenberger also burned the Steelers on an 80 yard touchdown to Nate Washington, and left the Chargers with a 24 to 13 lead in entering the fourth quarter.

In 2015, Mettenberger started weeks 7 and 6 as well as week’s 15 and 16.

  • Overall Mettenberger has logged 10 starts and played 14 games played in his career.

Zach Mettenberger has never won a game as a starter, and he has completed 208 passes for 2,347 yards and 12 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Following 2015, Mettenberger followed Ken Whisenhunt to San Diego, but could not secure a spot on the Charger’s depth chart behind Philip Rivers.

It is unclear whether the Steelers plan to give Zach Mettenberger a chance to play vs. the Carolina Panthers Thursday night.

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7 Confessions of a Steelers Blogger – Welcome to Our “Annual” Goofs Column

Being a Steelers blogger comes with a dose bliss. Steelers fans start blogging not simply because they bleed Black and Gold, but because they have something to say that they feel no one else is saying.

  • And it’s pretty awesome when you beat Ed Bouchette to the punch.

Not that it happens terribly often, but it does happen. But blissfulness  can lead even the most conscientious blogger to take himself (or herself) too seriously.

  • Steel Curtain Rising’s delivers its remedy in our “annual” goofs column.

Annual comes in quotes, because after doing one in 2009 and 2010, time pressures from working two jobs prevented me from writing others. But this year Steel Curtain Rising’s annual goofs column is back with a vengeance. As always, we pay homage and acknowledge the example set by the late, great Washington Post columnist David Broder who wrote an annual goofs column.

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Steelers tight end Jessey James can’t hold on in 2015 preseason. Photo credit: Don Wright, Associated Press, used on the Post-Gazette

1 – Shamarko, Cortez & Jarvis Weren’t Keys to 2015 Defense

A good number of the goofs from the last year relate to the Steelers defense. Such was the case with a poll conducted here, where yours truly non-too subtly suggested that the key to improving the Steelers defense in 2015 lay with the development of Shamarko Thomas, Cortez Allen, and Jarvis Jones.

  • Thankfully, you, my faithful readers knew better.

You voted Ryan Shazier as the player the Steelers most-needed to see development from. And you were right. Keith Butler did lead a turnaround of the Steelers defense in 2015, but Cortez Allen and Sharmko Thomas had nothing to do with it. Jarvis Jones did improve, particularly in run defense, but he still couldn’t keep James Harrison on the bench.

2 – Cop-Out on the Steelers 2015 Defense

This one had the potential to earn Steel Curtain Rising “bragging rights,” but a goof negated that opportunity. Last year just before the season, I argued that the Steelers 2015 defense shouldn’t regress under Keith Butler. The argument flowed like this:

  • The Steelers defense greatly improve during 2014, closing the season out with for extremely strong performances.
  • The Steelers defense was loaded with young draft picks, poised to make the next leap
  • Cover-2 should have been easier for younger players to pick up than Dick LeBeau’s Fire-Zone/Zone-Blitz

Ah, it was all there for the taking, but unfortunately that piece was preceded by a copout. As the Steelers defense played like a sieve during the 2015 preseason, I wondered aloud if it was officially time to “worry” about the Steelers defense under Keith Butler, concluding that outright worry wasn’t warranted, but concern was.

3 – No Antonio Brown Hadn’t Already Peaked

Just before the season, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette expanded on Joseph Juan numberfire.com article, which traced wide receivers peak production to their age and number of years of service. Juan’s analysis indicated that most NFL wide receivers peaked at 3 years of service and/or at age 26.

Of course Antonio Brown improved on his 2014 season in 2015, and arguably would have improved even more had he been able to establish a rhythm with Michael Vick. To be fair to myself, the piece didn’t simply parrot back Joseph Juan’s research, but reviewed in in the context of past Steelers wide receivers.

  • The conclusion was that Steelers history suggested that Brown did have a chance to beat the odds.

But the headline “Has Antonio Brown Already Peaked” certainly qualifies as a goof.

4 – Dri Archer Fails to Fill the Void

When news of Martavis Bryant’s (first) suspension for substance abuse broke, focus rapidly shifted to who would pick up the slack. I thought it wise to suggest that one Dri Archer had a golden opportunity.
Of course Archer did have an opportunity.

  • But Dri Archer didn’t even remotely even attempt to capitalize the opportunity in front of him.

And with 20/20 hindsight, there was little indicate that he could or even that he would. So yeah, was it theoreically possible that Dri Archer could have thrived in Bryant’s absence? Yes. Was it at all plausible? Not so much.

5 – Filling the Void Created by Antonio Brown’s Concussion

Thanks to Vontaze Burfict, the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to play their 1st Divisional playoff game since 2011 without the services of their 2015 MVP, Antonio Brown. That led to speculation over who would fill the void. While it was obvious that Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton would take on larger roles in the offense, most speculation surrounded the third receiver slot.

And most of that speculation centered on rookie Sammie Coates.

That made sense, because Brown’s injury meant Coates would return to the active list for the first time since early in the season. But this site disputed the suggestion that Coates could contribute arguing:

But to expect a rookie with one catch to his name to fill the void left by Antonio Brown borders on ridiculous.

No, the more logical player to fill the void was Darrius Heyward-Bey. Following the logic that:

There are several reasons for this. First, distribution of targets and catches shows that it is the top three and not top four receivers that are the focus of the Steelers offense. That means Heyward-Bey automatically gets in the game more frequently. Second, with defenses focusing on Wheaton and Byrant, Bey should have more opportunities to get open.

That made sense, but when all was said and done, Darrius Heyward-Bey had 2 catches for 64 yards, and Sammie Coates had 2 grabs for 61 yards and acutally had one more target….

…I guess the reporters who watch practice every day AND get off the record access to coaches knew something when they were writing those stories about Sammie Coates.

6 – Mike Vick’s Role (or lack thereof) in the Playoffs

I’ve never been a Landry Jones basher. In fact, I defended him against those who questioned Landry Jones’ roster spot entering the 2015 regular season. And Jones performed above expectations against the Cardinals and then the Raiders, even if he was less than stealer in action against the Chiefs and Seahawks.

As even Bob Labriola recently suggested, Jones looked like a deer lost in the headlights, and made an interception that, by all rights, should have ended the game. With that in mind, and knowing that Ben Roethlisberger was less than 100%, Steel Curtain Rising issued the following plea on behalf of Mike Vick:

Vick’s playoff passer rating just a shade below his career passer rating and is below his rating for the Steelers this year. But Vick has started four playoff games on the road, and won in hostile environs such as Lambeau Field. Mike Vick has been tested by the NFL’s playoff crucible.

At this point, Landry Jones is almost certainly in the Steelers plans for 2016 and perhaps beyond. Given that, and given the positives from him earlier in the year, Mike Tomlin is wise to name him his QB number 2 for the divisional show down vs. Denver.

But if Roethlisberger can’t play and Jones falters, Tomlin should make sure that Michael Vick is ready to step in.

Mike Tomlin it appears, doesn’t read Steel Curtain Rising, as Mike Vick didn’t even dress for the Steelers game against the Broncos. Tally one more goof.

7 – In Bruce We Trust… Not So Much

The memory of Landry Jones’ playoff performance lingered into the off season (and no, I’m still not part of the “Cut Landry Now” crowd.” But in looking at the Steelers free agents, Steel Curtain Rising made this case:

The case for keeping Bruce Gradkowski comes down to this: 2-3-22-0-0.
That was Gradkowski’s stat line from his only action under center for the Steelers. Yes, that is mundane, but it came in the 4th quarter of a playoff game, and the Steelers offense didn’t miss a beat.
Now take a look at this stat line: 2-5-11-0-1. That’s Landry Jones post-season resume, which came in the 4th quarter of the Steelers win over the Bengals….

…if he’s healthy, the Steelers should consider bringing Gradkowski back.

Unlike with Mike Vick before the playoffs game vs. the Broncos, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert apparently DID get this memo, as the Steelers resigned Bruce Gradkowski. However, Gradkowski entered training camp as the Steelers number 3 quarterback, and while he looked good in limited action in the Steelers preseason loss to the Lions, he also got injured.

It seems like Mike Tomlin is planning on leaving the door open for Bruce Gradkowski to hold a spot on Steelers 2016 roster in some form or fashion, but he’s clearly now their emergency option, and not the next man up.

Looking forward to Making More Goofs in 2016

This of course does not cover all of the goofs I made over the last year or so. Certainly there have been others. And its even more certain that more will follow in the year to come. That’s human nature.

Regardless, a heartfelt thanks goes out to everyone who has read along over the last 12 months, and rally the last 8 years here at Steel Curtain Rising. Thanks for reading and please continue to come back again.

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Steelers Designate Ladarius Green PUP, Cut Jacob Hagen, Devaunte Sigler and Kevin White

Pittsburgh made its final four roster moves to meet the NFL mandated limit of 75, and the biggest move saw the Steelers place Ladarius Green on the PUP list. Heath Miller’s retirement began the Steelers 2016 off season, and the Steelers responded to Heath Miller’s retirement by signing tight end Ladarius Green from the San Diego Chargers.

  • By moving so swiftly, the Steelers freed themselves to address their secondary during the 2016 NFL Draft.
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Ladarius Green’s PUP designation will keep him out until at least week 6. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

Thus far the Steelers strategy has failed to bear fruit, as Matt Spaeth failed his physical and retired, and Ladarius Green has sat out all of OTA’s. While a slow recovery from an ankle issue landed Green on the PUP list during training camp, he is also suffering from headaches and is reported to be in the NFL’s concussion protocols.

  • Ladarius Green’s PUP designation means that he cannot practice or play for the Steelers during the first six weeks of the season.

After six weeks on the PUP, the Steelers can bring Green back and allow him to practice, then they have 2 weeks to either activate him, or place him on injured reserve. All told, Ladarius Green’s PUP designation will keep him out of action for at least eight weeks.

Steelers Cut Defenders Hagen, Sigler and White

In addition to making Ladarius Green’s PUP status official, the Steelers also cut safety Jacob Hagen, defensive tackle Devaunte Sigler and cornerback Kevin White. Even the most die-hard Steelers fan would struggle to recognize these names, so perhaps the most suprising thing is that the Steelers waited to announce them today, as opposed to doing it on Sunday when they cut Jordan Zumwalt and several others.

Still Hope for Gradkowski, Washington?

The more interesting thing about the cuts the Steelers announced relates to the names not announced. First, the Steelers have made no move with Bruce Gradkowski, who injured a hamstring in the Steelers preseason loss to the Lions. Word was that Gradkowski would be out 4 to 5 weeks. The fact that the Steelers have done nothing with him suggest they see him returning in 2016, in one form or another.

  • Another player who can hold on to his NFL dream for another 48 hours is Donald Washington.

The Steelers plucked Donald Washington out of oblivion, signing the former Kansas City Chiefs safety to play cornerback after Washington had been of the NFL since 2011, and even washed out of the CFL.

Little has been heard about Washington during training camp in preseason, but if the Steelers have kept him around this long, it’s because they’re ready to give him every last chance to show he belongs.

Even with the Steelers depth issues in the defensive backfield, Donald Washington is a long shot to make the team. But Steelers Nation does love good underdog story, and Washington clearly qualifies.

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Pittsburgh QB’s Catching Too Many Breaks: Dustin Vaughan Breaks Thumb, Steelers Sign Bryn Renner

Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterbacks are catching too many breaks. Steelers 4th string quarterback Dustin Vaughan broke his thumb in the Steelers preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, prompting Pittsburgh to sign Bryn Renner.

Dustin Vaughan, Pittsburgh Steelers, steelers eagles preseason,

Dustin Vaughan broke his thumb in Steelers preseason loss to Eagles. Photo Credit: Don Wright, Associated Press; used on The Morning Call

Dustin Vaughan breaking his thumb comes on the heels of backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski suffering a hamstring tear in the Steelers preseason loss to the Detroit Lions. Landry Jones, who thus far has handled the bulk of the Steelers preseason work this summer is still standing as is Ben Roethlisberger.

Mike Tomlin is expected to play Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers 3rd preseason contest vs. the New Orleans Saints, although the case for sitting Ben Roethlisberger for the duration of preseason is persuasive.

Who is Steelers Quarterback Bryn Renner?

Bryn Renner is a native of Springfield, Virginia who played his college ball as North Carolina Tar Heel, where he appeared in 28 games, throwing 1005 passes and completing 668 of those for 64 touchdowns and 25 interceptions. Going into his senior year he was touted as a possible 1st round draft pick, but an injury ended his senior season at 7 games, as Renner went undrafted.

The Denver Broncos brought Renner to training camp, but he failed ot make the final cut and spent time with the Arizona Rattlers, of the Arena Football League. From there he spent the 2015 off season and preseason as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, hanging on their practice squad for 10 days in September only to return in in December, where he earned a promotion to the active roster for a week’s time, until the Ravens signed Ryan Mallett.

From there the Tennessee Titans added Renner to their practice squad but declined to sign him to a futures contract. The San Diego Chargers signed Renner in March of 2016, but cut him during spring workouts in May of 2016.

  • So there you have it.

While there’s legitimate debate around Landry Jones evolution as a quarterback, his four interception performance vs. Philadelphia renewed pleas of many fans for the Steelers to give up on Landry Jones and “sign someone else.” (Never mind that Landry Jones has played without the benefit of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Markus Wheaton.)

Well, Dustin Vaughan breaking his thumb has prompted the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to do just that. His name is Bryn Renner, and his resume is about what you’d expect of an unemployed NFL quarterback in mid-August.

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Landry Jones Evolution as a Steelers Quarterback

When discussing the performances of certain individuals in the Steelers 30-17 loss to the Lions at Heinz Field Friday night, Landry Jones, the backup quarterback who started in place of Ben Roethlisberger and played the entire first half, has been placed in the “losers” category by more than one expert and fan.

  • That type of criticism is understandable, I suppose.

When a player completes just six of 12 passes for 55 yards and a touchdown, he’s certainly going to open himself up to slings and arrows–even in the aftermath of the very first preseason game.

landry Jones, Steelers Lions preseason, pittsburgh Steelers, landry jones evolution

Landry Jones reads the Detroit defense as David DeCastro blocks in Steelers preseason loss to Lions. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

However, given that it was a preseason game–the very first preseason game–head coach Mike Tomlin really didn’t do Jones any favors by deactivating Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Maurkice Pouncey and a few other key components for the evening.

Not that Tomlin had to hand Landry Jones the keys to a Porsche with a full tank of gas (it almost seems insane to play your superstars in exhibitions games in 2016), but you might think such obstacles would give the fourth round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2013 NFL Draft a little leeway with regards to criticism.

But it didn’t.

On the surface, aside from a very pretty 29-yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey late in the second quarter that couldn’t have looked better if Roethlisberger had connected with Brown on the play, Jones turned in a lackluster performance Friday night.

But preseason football isn’t about judging performances at face-value. Sometimes it’s about looking at the intangibles. For instance, even though Heyward-Bey made an absolute gem of a catch when he pulled in that touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone, you can’t forget that he also dropped a pass over the middle in the first quarter that Jones placed in-between several Lions’ defenders.

Maybe that’s why, on the heels of a bobbled bubble screen and a fumble by the second-year receiver, Jones appeared to give Sammie Coates the what for as he ran back to the huddle late in the second quarter after failing to come up with a sliding catch over the middle.

  • That also could be why Jones looked a little annoyed and irritated as he stood on the sidelines in the second half, while Bruce Gradkowski and then Dustin Vaughan took over quarterback duties.

Perhaps Jones wasn’t annoyed or irritated. It could be that he’s matured into a poised leader. But even if he was a little upset about the performances of his teammates, that’s a good thing. After all, regardless of how big of a superstar Antonio Brown is or how great of a leader Maurkice Pouncey has always been, the leader of the offense should always be the quarterback.

Remember when Alan Faneca gave his sarcastic response to the media when he learned that the then rookie Roethlisberger would be starting his first game against the Dolphins in Week 3 of the 2004 season? Faneca seemed annoyed, because, at that point, he probably envisioned having to babysit a wide-eyed rookie quarterback. Even though Faneca was in his seventh season and had long-since established himself as one of the best guards in the NFL, he probably didn’t want the added responsibility of directing traffic and being vocal in the huddle.

Jones made his NFL debut in a game against the Cardinals in Week 6 of last season, when he came on in the third quarter in place of an injured Mike Vick. Even though Jones passed for 168 yards and two touchdowns, as he led the Steelers to a 25-13 victory, his appearance wasn’t without controversy, when Brown became visibly upset after a play in-which he and the young quarterback didn’t appear to be on the same page.

  • While it’s never ideal to have those kinds of blow-ups, the natural order of things is for the quarterback to be chewing out his receiver.

If you’ve ever watched NFL Films highlights of the Steelers 21-10 victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, you may have seen veteran receiver Hines Ward sitting on the sidelines next to Roethlisberger (playing in just his second season) and urging him to “Take control of that huddle.”

Regardless of an offensive player’s stature (Ward was a decorated receiver at that point of his career and moments away from being named Super Bowl MVP), he wants his quarterback to know the plays, direct traffic and demand accountability.

  • Judging by his demeanor on Friday and the way he directed the likes of Jesse James and Coates to the correct spots right before the snap, Jones confidence in himself appears to have grown.

If that’s the case, its a far-cry from what his state-of-mind must have been last fall following his heroics against Arizona, when he told the assembled media, “I still can’t believe I got in the game and to play. I’m still kind of reeling from it.”

Jones got a ton of practice last preseason, which prepared him for the spotlight. In addition to his relief appearance against the Cardinals, Jones started his first two regular season games and had to come on in another substitute role in the fourth quarter of the wild card game against the Bengals after Roethlisberger left with a shoulder injury.

Landry Jones may never duplicate what Roethlisberger has done throughout his career (there are only about three dozen passers in the history of the league who have similar resumes), but Landry Jones evolution as a Steelers quarterback may have reached the point where his coaches and teammates believe in him.

Sometimes, such belief is all a backup quarterback needs when called upon to win an important game.

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Lack Luster Steelers Drop Preseason Game to Lions, 30-17

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened their 2016 preseason schedule with a 30-17 pasting at the hands of the Detroit Lions Friday night at Heinz Field, as several key members on the offensive side of the ball were given the night off.

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Sammie Coates can’t hold on as Steelers Lose to Lions 30-17 in 2016’s first preseason outing; Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, AP via ESPN.com

Pittsburgh jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, after cornerback Doran Grant intercepted a pass from Detroit backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky and raced 39-yards down the near sideline and into the end zone.

Later in the second quarter, with the Steelers leading, 7-3, backup quarterback Landry Jones, starting in-place of Ben Roethlisberger, hooked up with Darrius Heyward-Bey to increase the advantage to 14-3.

  • From there, it was all Detroit, as the Lions scored 27 of the next 30 points.

Detroit dominated in every facet of the game–including total yards (379-187), time of possession (34:02-25:58) and first downs (20-10).

Preseason or not, first game or not, the overall performance of his team couldn’t have been pleasing to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who didn’t appear to be very happy on the sideline, even as his team nursed a 14-13 lead in the first half.

The Steelers second string defense and special teams missed countless tackles in the second half, namely during the 96-yard kickoff return by Dwayne Washington and on the 27-yard touchdown catch and run by Jace Billingsley.

Some Steelers Shine, Despite Lackluster Performance

Despite the Steelers lackluster performance, Pittsburgh does take some positives away from the game.  For starters, Landry Jones looks like he has solidified his position as the backup to Ben Roethlisberger. Despite completing just six of 12 passes for 55 yards and a score, Jones looked to be in command of the offense and probably deserved a better fate, as his receivers appeared to drop several catchable passes.

  • Second round pick Sean Davis saw extensive action in the secondary, and while he didn’t dazzle, the stage didn’t appear to be too big for him, as Mike Tomlin might say.
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James Harrison closes in in Matthew Stanford in Steelers preseason loss to Lions; Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Daryl Richardson, a virtual unknown at running back, may have put himself firmly on the radar of his coaches and the fans, after rushing for 45 yards on 12 carries. With Le’Veon Bell‘s suspension looming and DeAngelo Williams pushing 33, the Steelers need a solid number 3 running back.

Ricardo Mathews, the reserve defensive end Pittsburgh signed in March, had a big night pressuring the quarterback, and his near-sack of Orlovsky in the second quarter led to a horrible decision that landed in the waiting arms of Grant, who scored the night’s first touchdown.

And, finally, James Harrison, the 38-year old wonder of a linebacker, beat left tackle Taylor Decker, the Lions’ first round pick, on a play in the first quarter and stripped Matthew Stafford of the football (the first of two takeaways for the defense).

As for negatives. Aside from the lopsided box score, Sammie Coates, a receiver being counted on heavily  this year to replace the suspended Martavis Bryant, had a night he’d like to forget; not only did Coates catch just three passes for 18 yards, he dropped another pass and fumbled twice.

On the injury front, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who missed all of last season, left the game in the second half with what was reported as a hamstring injury and never returned.

Next up on the preseason schedule is a date with the Eagles next Thursday night at Heinz Field.

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5 Takeaways from Steelers 2016 Mini Camp

Steelers 2016 Mini Camp has come to an end signaling the beginning of SteelersNation’s “true” off season. Because barring a relapse of the Steelers June curse, “real” Steelers news will be scant between now and July 29th, when the team convenes training camp at St. Vincents in Latrobe.

Steelers Mini camp is really just an extension of OTA’s aka “football in shorts,” and the truth is there isn’t much in the way of meaningful insights that can be gleamed from the time there. Case in point, take the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s story about Robert Golden planning to fight to keep his staring job.

Nonetheless here are 5 take aways from Steelers 2016 Mini Camp:

1. Le’Veon Bell Looking Good But….

Le’Veon Bell ran at the beginning of OTA’s and then was held out of activities until Mini Camp. Bell confirmed that he indeed suffered a MCL and PCL tears in the Steelers loss to the Bengals, but Bell claims to be on the road to a full recovery, and was running routes during mini-camp training camp.

However, Dale Lolley reports that Todd Haley and James Saxon will look for ways to split the rushing load between Bell and DeAngelo Williams. While this might seem like a no-brainer given how good Williams looked last year with Bell out, this is the first time Steelers coaches have indicated that they will try to actively spell Bell.

They never got the chance, and it may simply not be possible to extend a starting running back’s shelf life by splitting carries, but it is wise to try.

2. Coates is Catching On

The Steelers will need someone to pick up the slack with Martavis Bryant suspended for the 2016 season. In the Steelers playoff loss to Denver, Sammie Coates flashed ability to be that player.

While its unwise to draw too many conclusions, if any, based on spring workouts, reports of Sammie Coates making impressive catches of balls thrown by Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones provide welcome news.

3. A Leaner and Meaner David Johnson Returns to Pittsburgh

The only Steelers roster move following the 2016 NFL Draft, save for cutting and replenishing roster bottom feeders, was to resign David Johnson two years after allowing their 2009 7th round pick to depart as a free agent.

  • With Ladarius Green, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James and Xavier Gimble heading up the Steelers tight end depth cart, the move was a minor surprise.

Per Jim Wexell’s report on Steel City Insider, David Johnson has lost 15 pounds since last season, and 20 since he last darkened doors on the South Side and Johnson himself claims that he’s faster on his feet. Given that the Steelers let Will Johnson depart to New York but opted to sign David Johnson for slightly less, the later Johnson isn’t even assured a roster spot.

But this should be one of the more interesting, under the radar stories to follow.

4. Sean Davis Means Business

Jim Wexell has reported that 2nd round pick Sean Davis has been working extensively in the slot, but was cautioned by Keith Butler and Carnell Lake not to assume the Steelers are planning to play him at corner, explaining that safeties carry similar responsibilities as slot corners.

  • But if much has been seen by of Sean Davis at OTA’s little or nothing has been heard.

Wexell reported that he attempted several times early during OTA’s to get an interview with Davis, only to have Davis decline to put in extra reps after practice. Doing extra work following practice is path well worn by former Steelers greats Mike Webster, Merril HogeHines Ward and Antonio Brown.

That’s a welcome sign from the new comer.

5. It’s Not Time to Worry about Senquez Golson… Yet

Senquez Golson perhaps represents the Steelers biggest question mark heading into training camp. The Steelers 2015 2nd round pick lost his rookie year to a shoulder injury, and word that Golson had to undergo an MRI raised eyebrows.

  • The MRI was not related to his shoulder, but a “soft tissue” injury on his lower body.

Word is that Golson will travel to Florida to train for the next six weeks with William Gay, who works out at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex with Tom Shaw, who also oversaw Ike Taylor and James Farrior’s off season workouts – three players known for their durability.

That’s a good sign, but the fact that Golson sat out an entire year and isn’t quite ready to fully participate in spring workouts is not….

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Senquez Golson’s MRI Highlights Steelers Precarious Situation at Cornerback

Sometimes it only takes one tweet to send the hearts a flutter in Steelers Nation. And so it is with the Steelers secondary:

News of a Senquez Golson MRI is not encouraging…..

As the Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley indicated, “But Golson was at the facility and then left. I learned that he was leaving to get an MRI.” There are a couple of interesting points to this. First, none of the other credentialed reporters appear to have picked up the story, so if this story has legs, then Lolley will have made another Steelers secondary scoop, just as he did when he broke the news of Shamarko Thomas’ benching.

  • Second, as Lolley points out, this move could be a precaution.

Senquez Golson, who was the Steelers second round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, lost his rookie season to shoulder surgery. Thus far Golson has participated fully in Steelers OTA’s and has reported felling well.

While fans and bloggers really don’t have enough information to make informed judgment, to an outsider’s eye, the Steelers do sometimes seem to procrastinate when it comes to medical issues. In 2012, James Harrison had knee surgery deep into training camp, slowing his start for the rest of the year. Last season, both Bruce Gradkowski and Mike Adams showed up at training camp on the PUP list, and both ended up needing surgery.

  • So perhaps the Steelers are just being cautious with Golson.

If so, then the Senquez Golson MRI story will quickly fade from memory before the first drop of lighter fluid douses a brick of charcoal to inaugurate the first Memorial Day cookout. But if there is fire behind the smoke created by Senquez Golson’s MRI then the Steelers will have a real problem on their hands.

William Gay now qualifies as the Dean of the Steelers secondary, with Ross Cockrell, he of the 7 starts, standing as the unit’s second most experienced cornerback. After that, the only other experienced corner the Steelers have is Donald Washington, the same Donald Washington who last played an NFL game in 2011 and had trouble holding on to a roster spot in the CFL.

  • So be it. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went all in on Steelers youth movement at cornerback during free agency.

And Brandon Boykin getting cut last week lent a lot of credibility to their addition by subtraction philosophy. Roster building in the salary cap era involves making calculated risks by weighing trade offs and opportunity costs. Sometimes these workout, sometimes they don’t.

A year ago, the Steelers lost Kelvin Beachum and lucked out when Alejandro Villanueva stayed healthy and played above the line. Yet, injuries to Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams have forced the Steelers to start their 4th string running back in their last three post-season contests. And who can forget the offensive line depth disaster that led to the 2013 Steelers 0-4 start.

Hopefully, Golson’s MRI is nothing more than the NFL equivalent of a “Well baby visit,” because this is one spot on the depth chart where the Steelers have little margin for error.

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Steelers Sign Tyler Matakevich and Demarcus Ayers, 7th Round Draft Picks

Who says “the last shall be least?” It doesn’t work that way, at least it terms of which NFL draft picks get their signing bonus checks direct deposited to their bank accounts. The 2016 NFL Draft hasn’t been in the history books for even a week, yet the Pittsburgh Steelers have already signed two of their draft picks.

  • Steelers.com announced that the Steelers had come to terms with 7th round draft picks Demarcus Ayers and Tyler Matakevich.

As 7th round picks, neither man is guaranteed a roster spot, but Demarcus Ayers, the wide receiver out of Houston, will do himself wonders if he can show the he’s capable of returning punts instead of Antonio Brown (Mike Tomlin’s protests to the contrary.) It would also behoove Ayers to catch whatever passes, Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones and/or Dustin Vaughan throw his way this summer at St. Vincents.

  • Tyler Matakevich, the inside linebacker out of Temple, has a slightly straighter line to a roster spot.

The Steelers lost inside linebackers Sean Spence and Terence Garvin in free agency, and only picked up Steven Johnson. Theoretically, that opens at least one roster spot, although 2014’s 6th round pick Jordan Zumwalt will get one final shot at making his NFL dream a reality.

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Steelers Resign Bruce Gradkowski, Who’ll Compete with Landry Jones for QB No. 2 Slot

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert seemingly left the door open for the Steelers to pick a quarterback during the 2016 NFL Draft, but when the picks where in a quarterback was not among them. Nor did the Steelers bring a quarterback in with their 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class. Then word broke that Brian Hoyer, whom the Steelers liked, signed with the Bears.

  • The stars seemed to align for a Bruce Gradkowski return and it appears that will happen.

Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting that the Steelers have resigned Bruce Gradkowski to a one year deal. The move comes with a bit of a twist, as the Gradkowski will apparently have to compete with Landry Jones for the right to backup Ben Roethlisberger.

This development hardly comes as a surprise, as Gradkowski’s repeated last summer caused Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola to compare Gradkowski to Byron Leftwich. As Steel Curtain Rising argued when it made the case for Gradkowski’s return, Charlie Batch also bore the “brittle” label, yet proved to be more durable than either Leftwich your youngster Dennis Dixon.

Gradkowski is a Pittsburgh native, hailing from Green Tree and is a graduate from Seton-La Salle. He’s been in the league since 2006, having played for Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Oakland and Cincinnati before landing in Pittsburgh in 2013. Gradkowski has not thrown a pass in a regular season Steelers game, but did look sharp in relief of Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers 2014 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

While Landry Jones improved tremendously in 2015, ultimately unseating Michael Vick as the Steelers QB number 2, his play in the Steelers playoff win vs. the Bengals left a lot to be desired. In addition to Roethlisberger, Jones and Gradkowski, the Steelers also have Dustin Vaughan on their roster.

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