Back to the Drawing Board: Steelers Cut Mason Cole, Will Seek Center in 2024 NFL Draft

The NFL’s 2024 off season isn’t quite in full swing but Omar Khan made another decisive move as the Steelers cut starting center Mason Cole. The Steelers signed Mason Cole in 2022 after Kendrick Green’s one year starting stint ended in disaster.

Mitch Trubisky, James Daniel, Mason Cole, Steelers 2022 Offensive Line

Mitch Trubisky at the line of scrimmage. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune-Review.

Although sources from inside the South Side expressed skepticism to Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell that Cole was up to the task, Cole’s play was solid during his first year in Pittsburgh. 2023 told a different tale. Whether Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky or Mason Rudolph stood under center, one of the first things that fans looked for was an errant or low snap.

Fortunately there were no signature disaster moments such as Maurkice Pouncey opening the 2020 playoff loss to the Browns by hiking the ball so far above Ben Roethlisberger‘s head that neither Ben nor James Conner could recover it before the Browns Karl Joseph did in the end zone.

But Cole’s low snaps were a disruption for an offense line that didn’t find its footing until about Halloween and an offense that literally struggled with the basics until Christmas.

Ironically or perhaps not so ironically, Omar Khan made his move on the day when the NFL officially increased the salary cap 30 million for 2024. Prior to cutting Cole, the Steelers were estimated to be about 8.5 million under the cap.

By releasing Mason Cole, the Steelers will gain about 4.75 million dollars in salary cap space, although they will add to their 1.5 million in dead money.

Who Has the Next Shot?

Although Cole does not have an heir apparent in Pittsburgh, the Steelers do have options at center already on their roster. Reserve guard Nate Herbig can also play center as can starting guard James Daniels. The Steelers also began the off season by signing Ryan McCollom to a reserve/futures contract.

But the 2024 NFL Draft is said to be deep in interior lineman, and the Steelers have already been linked to several top centers.

The franchise’s lineage at the position is second to none, having proceeded seamlessly from Ray Mansfield, to Mike Webster, to Dermontti Dawson, to Jeff Hartings. And while the Sean MahanJustin Hartwig interregnum disappointed, the Steelers responded by drafting Maurkiece Pouncey.

So perhaps the 2024 NFL Draft will deliver Pittsburgh its next worthy successor.

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Just How Big of a Need is Center for the Steelers in the 2021 NFL Draft?

It was once explained to me that the quarterback is football’s most important position because the quarterback is the only player who touches the ball on every play. No real argument there, other than the fact that the statement not actually true.

  • The center also touches the ball on each play.

While that reality doesn’t make center football’s 2nd most important position, in football, it does highlight the critical role it plays in the offense. With that in mind, just how big of a need is center for the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the 2021 NFL Draft?

J.C. Hassenauer

Steelers center J.C. Hassenauer. Photo Credit: AP

Steelers Depth Cart at Center: The Starter

When it comes to the Steelers needs at Center in the 2021 NFL Draft the fact that Pittsburgh has no starting center tells us a lot.

While no one dispute the fact that Pouncey was the latest in a legacy of great Steelers centers, starting with Ray Mansfield, and continuing through Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings, the truth is that his play slipped.

High snaps bedeviled Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph at throughout 2019 and of course the first snap of the 2021 post season sailed high above Ben Roethlisberger’s head, and the Steelers never recovered.

But there’s mistaking the fact that the Steelers will miss Pouncey’s leadership in the locker room.

Steelers Center Depth Chart: The Backups

Current the Steelers have two backup centers, J.C. Hassenauer an unrestricted rookie free agent from the 2021 squad, and B.J. Finney who joined the Steelers via the practice squad in 2015, work himself into a regular roster spot in 2016 and started 13 games over the next four season.

B.J. Finney departed in free agency in 2020, but was ultimately traded by Seattle to Cincinnati, who cut him earlier this year.

  • The Steelers wasted little time in bringing B.J. Finney back to Pittsburgh.

At this point, both J.C. Hassnuer and B.J. Finney project more like the next Sean Mahan or the next Justin Hartwig as opposed to the next Dermontti Mansfield, the next Mike Hartings or the next Maurkice Webster. But the Steelers did win a Super Bowl with Justin Hartwig and he was seen as a strong enough player to warrant a 2nd, 4 year contract prior to the 2009 season.

The Steelers 2021 Draft Needs at Center

steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2021 NFL DraftBy bringing back B.J. Finney Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin brought themselves the luxury of not having to reach for a center early in the draft. This is critical.

The Steelers have too many needs in at too many other spots on the depth chart to tie their hands at center. And besides, when Colbert and Tomlin reach, Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns happen.

  • But make no mistake about it, center is one of Pittsburgh’s top needs.

The Steelers don’t need to draft a center who can come in and start right away the way Pouncey did after arriving via the number 1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, but they do need someone who at least projects as a full-time starter from 2022 onwards.

Therefore, the Steelers need at center entering the 2021 NFL Draft should be considered as Moderate-High.

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Maurkice Pouncey Retires Signaling the Beginning of the End of an Era for Steelers Offensive Line

Pittsburgh Steelers center and perennial Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey has announced his retirement, marking the official beginning of the end of an era in Steelers offensive line history.

Fans can be forgiven their frustration over the last two seasons as the Steelers offensive line has slipped for one simple reason:

  • For almost half a decade, it was almost a given the Steelers had the best offensive line in NFL.

The Tomlin era certainly didn’t start that way. Mike Tomlin inherited a strong, albeit aging offensive line that promptly fell apart in after the 2007 season and then had to be rebuilt during the 2008 season. What followed was a “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building that saw the Steelers sign an entire starting offensive line to 2nd contracts only to cut all of them before they completed their deals.

Indeed, Pouncey arrived at St. Vincents, in Latrobe, with Super Bowl veteran Justin Hartwig as the incumbent and forced him off the team less than a year after he’d signed a 4 year contract with the Steelers. From there Pouncey was a fixture at center, continuing the legacy of excellence at the position that began with Ray Mansfield, continued through Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings.

But it was anything but easy.

Maurkice Pouncey, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Bengals

Maurkice Pouncey and Ben Roethlisberger. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

Overcoming Injury a Constant for Pouncey

During the 2010 AFC Championship win over the New York Jets Maurkice Pouncey suffered a dreaded “high ankle” sprain. The team “kept the light on for him” but he was unable to play in what would be his only Super Bowl.

  • This was the first of many times injuries would challenge Pouency.

A high ankle sprain would hobble him again against the Browns in 2011 keeping him from the 2011 playoff loss to the Tim Tebow Broncos. In 2013 David DeCastro would fall on Maurkice Pouncey’s leg, breaking it and finishing his season after just 8 snaps. In 2015, Pouncey season end after an injury suffered against the Packers in the preseason.

  • Behind these injuries were numerous surgeries, and numerous complications.

But Maurkice Pouncey never let it slow him down on the field, and he always remained a presence in the locker room.

Best Offensive Line in Football

Building a dominant offensive line takes time. Maurkice Pouncey gave the Steelers a piece. Ramon Foster, a product of “Plug and Patch” proved himself worthy of being another. In 2011 the Steelers drafted Marcus Gilbert, who remained a force until injuries derailed his career. In 2012, David DeCastro arrived, as did Kelvin Beachum. In 2014, the Steelers took a flyer on Alejandro Villanueva, and by the end of 2015 he was a starter.

David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Chukwuma Okorafor, Steelers vs Rams

Steelers offensive line. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Whether they were protecting Ben Roethlisberger or opening holes for Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams or James Conner, from 2014 to 2018 the Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the most, if not the most dominate offensive line in the NFL.

  • At the center of it, literally and figuratively, was Maurkice Pouncey.

Maurkice Pouncey led the line with his superior play. When discipline needed to be enforce, such as when Myles Garrett assaulted Mason Rudolph with a deadly weapon, it was Maurkice Pouncey who retaliated.

That example stands out, but there were numerous smaller ones which either escaped the camera and/or memory. But those plays cemented Pouncey’s role as locker room leader.

  • When Pouncey spoke, people listened.

When Le’Veon Bell held out in 2018 and Pouncey ripped him, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell warned the wayward rusher, “Losing Pouncey? That’s analogous to Lyndon Johnson losing Cronkite. Google it.”

Life’s Work Looms

Shortly after Ben Roethlisberger declared prior to the playoff loss to the Jaguars that would not retire, Maurkice Pouncey let it be known that he too would return. This was the first indication that Pouency was considering starting his “Life’s Work.”

Indeed, as they sat together following the Hindenburg Rescues the Titanic playoff loss to the Browns, Roethlisberger apologized to Pouncey, “I’m sorry brother, you’re the only reason I wanted to do this.”

Shortly thereafter, word leaked that Pouency was considering retirement. On Friday February 12th, he made it official. By retiring, Maurkice Pouency simplified the Steelers salary cap situation by giving them back over 8 million dollars.

But make no mistake about it, those 8 million dollars will never replace the leadership and character that Maurkice Pouency contributed to the Steelers Way.

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How Steelers Signing of Stefen Wisniewski Returns Pittsburgh to Its Free Agency Roots

The Cronoa Vrius (or CORVID-19 if you prefer) has turned our world upside down. The NHL and NBA have stopped cold while MLB hasn’t even started. The NFL off season is proceeding, albeit in an unusual fashion, but at least one of the Steelers free agent signings brings things “back to normal,” at least for fans who have long memories.

Given their limited salary cap space, the Steelers have perhaps been a little more active the expected, signing Derek Watt and Eric Ebron and traded for Chris Wormley. All of these moves are in character with recent practices and match with team needs.

But the Steelers signing of guard Stefen Wisniewski at once breaks from Tomlin-era tradition and brings the Steelers back to their free agency roots.

Stefen Wisniewski

The Steelers 2020 free agent Stefen Wisniewski. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

How Stefen Wisniewski Brings Steelers Back to Free Agency Roots

It is fitting that Western Pennsylvania native Stefen Wisniewski restores what was once a Steelers tradition. The Penn State grad returns to Pittsburgh with 134 NFL games, 103 starts and two Super Bowl Rings under his belt. He’s played for the Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and, most recently, the Kansas City Chiefs, where he started in the Super Bowl.

  • In other words, Stefen Wisniewski gives the Steelers starter-capable offensive lineman who can play guard or center.

And that is exactly the type of free agency signing that has been rare under Kevin Colbert and rarer on Mike Tomln’s watch. Sure, the Steelers signed Ryan Harris in 2016 and Justin Hartwig in 2008. One of Mike Tomlin’s first personnel moves was to bring in Sean Mahan, but he didn’t work out.

  • That about exhausts the list of starter capable free agent lineman signed during the Tomlin era.
  • Their combined start total stands at 48.

During the 1990’s however, spring arrivals of veteran starter/starter-capable offensive lineman was a staple of free agency. More importantly, these stayed and played.

When it comes to free agency, the 1990’s are best remembered for the free agents that the team lost, as opposed to the ones that Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe signed. Dan Rooney didn’t believe in building through free agency, and in those pre-Heinz Field days, the Steelers didn’t have the money to compete.

  • Yet, throughout the 1990’s, the Steelers brought in a steady stream of free agent offensive lineman.

The trend started in 1992 when the Steelers signed Duval Love as a Plan B Free Agent to replace Terry Long, Love stayed for 3 seasons, staring 48 games. Todd Kalis arrived in 1994 as a defacto replacement for Carlton Haselrig. Kalis made 11 starts in 1 season in Pittsburgh, and was replaced by Tom Newberry in 1995, who started 15 regular season games and called it quits after Super Bowl XXX.

The Steelers replaced him with, Will Wolford arrived in 1996, and remained one of the team’s best lineman until he retired after the 1998 season, after making 45 starts.

  • Tom Myslinski also arrived with Wolford in 1996, and he started 13 games over the next two seasons.

The trend started to lose steam at the end of the decade, when the Steelers (at Jerome Bettis’ behest) signed Wayne Gandy and Anthony Brown. Both had God-awful seasons in 1999. Gandy rebounded to turn in two honest efforts in ’00 and ’01, while Brown was done with football after ’99. Still, the two mean started a combine 74 games.

Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000, and one of his first moves was to sign Rich Tylski who immediately improved the line, making 25 starts over two years. A year later Colbert replaced Dermontti Dawson with Jeff Hartings. Hartings made 89 starts, but since his arrival starter capable offensive line signings have been rare in Pittsburgh.

By bringing Stefen Wisniewski back to Pittsburgh, the Steelers are returning to their free agency roots.

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2020 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2020 free agency focus articles.

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Ramon Foster’s Steelers Career Helped Shape Offensive Line Transformation in Pittsburgh

All good things come to an end. And so it is with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Ramon Foster.

While most expected this parting of the ways, Ramon Foster threw everyone a bit of a curve last week by announcing his retirement. Today we take time to step back, look at Ramon Foster’s Steelers career and the role he played during his time in Pittsburgh.

Ramon Foster, Steelers vs Jaguars

Ramon Foster lines up against Jaguars in 2017. Photo Credit: PennLive.com

Ramon Foster, ever the class act and always willing to talk to the media, released this statement:

When the time comes, you just know, and now is the time for me to take a bow. I’ve made some friends for a lifetime, had some moments that I’ll never forget and seen some things I never thought I would because of this game. I’m glad to say I was a Steeler for life, and there is no other organization I would have rather played for in my career.

Ramon Foster’s retirement sets in motion a shakeup on the Steelers offensive line that has been remarkably stable for that last several seasons. With B.J. Finney having signed with the Seattle Seahawks in free agency, Foster’s slot will almost certainly be taken by moving Matt Feiler from tackle to guard, opening the way for either Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor to start at right tackle.

In a way, it is fitting that Ramon Foster’s departure will spark changes on the Steelers offensive line because Foster’s arrival, unhearded that it was, started the stabilization process.

Ramon Foster’s Steelers Career – From Transition to Transformation

When the book The History of the Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Line is written, Ramon Foster’s name won’t earn mention alongside guards from the Super Steelers like Sam Davis and Gerry Mullins. He won’t be seen in the same light as colorful figures like Craig Wolfley, nor will he be considered a peer of should be Hall of Famer Alan Faneca. Objectively speaking, Ramon Foster probably wasn’t as good as the talented, but deeply troubled Carlton Haselrig.

  • But those omissions mask the role that Ramon Foster played authoring a critical transformation of the Steelers offensive line.

One fact that the “Mike Tomlin only won with Bill Cowher’s players” crowd conveniently ignores is that Tomlin didn’t enjoy continuity of Cowher’s offensive line. Jeff Hartings retired in 2006, and Tomlin enjoyed a one year rental from Alan Faneca. Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons performed well in 2007, but both men’s bodies fell apart in 2008.

  • You can best describe the Steelers strategy on offensive line at that point as “Plug and Patch.”

Opportunity would grant 15 minutes of fame to obscure players like Darnell Stapelton and Doug Legursky, who started in Super Bowl XLIII and Super Bowl XLV respectively.

Out of both necessity and choice, the Steelers would sign players, guys like Justin Hartwig, Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex and Max Starks to multi-year deals, only to cut them midway through the contract. Indeed, when the Steelers signed Willie Colon in 2011, La Toalla Terrible joked that the Steelers planned to cut him in two years.

Ramon Foster, who arrived in Pittsburgh as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2009, and was very much a piece in that plug and patch offensive line strategy. Foster started four games as a rookie, then started another 8 in his second year including Super Bowl XLV.

  • By the 2011 season, Ramon Foster was starting 14 of 15 games.

Yet, the Steelers still saw Foster as a transitional figure, as evidenced by their simultaneous decisions to draft David DeCastro in 2012 and move Willie Colon to guard.

But injuries to both men allowed Foster to stake his claim as permanent starter, and since 2012 Ramon Foster has started 119 regular season and 7 playoff games for the Steelers. And during that time, the offensive line has transformed itself from being a perennial liability, to an area of undisputed strength. And make no mistake about it:

  • Ramon Foster wasn’t simply present for that transition, he actively participated in authoring the the transformation.

And through it all, Ramon Foster has served as a source of stability, helping protect Ben Roethlisberger while opening holes for Rashard Mendenhall, Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and James Conner. Through it all, Ramon Foster was a locker room leader, whose work ethic on the field and commitment to physical football set an example for all.

  • That’s not a bad resume for an undrafted rookie free agent out of Tennessee.

Suffice to say, Ramon Foster will be missed as he beings his “Life’s Work.” Steel Curtain Rising thanks Ramon Foster for his service and wishes him the best.

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2020 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2020 free agency focus articles.

 

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Celebrate Chris Hubbard as a Steelers Success Before He Leaves Pittsburgh as a Free Agent

Times have changed. As NFL free agency turns 25, Steelers fans who remember the 1990’s will recall when Steelers routinely developed young talent only to see it leave in free agency.

  • The Rooneys kept their word when Heinz Field opened, and the Steelers have been much more competitive in retaining home-grown players.

But sometimes tough choices mean that a budding star will seek greener pastures. The conventional wisdom that Steelers free agent tackle Chris Hubbard is all but certain play 2018 somewhere other than Pittsburgh. Today our Steelers 2018 Free Agent Focus looks at whether that should and will happen.

Chris Hubbard, Steelers vs Colts

Chris Hubbard in the Steelers 2016 Thanksgiving win over the Colts. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Capsule Profile of Chris Hubbard’s Steelers Career

In about five months or so we’ll be flooded with blog posts, tweets, Facebook comments and full-blown articles bemoaning preseason football that call for sharply curtailing it or perhaps eliminating it altogether.

  • When you see such rants next August remember Chris Hubbard’s story.

The Steelers 2013 Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Class was heavy on offensive lineman, and included the much ballyhood Mike Golic Jr. and Nik Embernate aka Nik Embernasty. No one paid any attention to Chris Hubbard.

And when Steelers Nation got its first look at the undrafted rookie free agent out of Alabama-Birmingham, it seemed like on one should pay attention to him. As Steel City Insider reader “Heinzsight” observed:

Hubbard was a good lesson/reminder for me. I remember his first preseason game against the Giants at LG. I thought he was so irredeemably awful that they should do everyone a favor, including Hubbard, and cut bait and not waste any more of anyone’s time on him. He really was that bad. His pass pro was nonexistent, and spent most of the run game on the ground, getting shrugged, jerked, or ragdolled. No center, always getting out over his hands, and tossed/discarded. Look at him now. Obviously wasn’t irredeemable.

Non-Steel City Insider subscribes will have to accept this author’s assurances that “Heinzsight” knows more about the fundamentals football than 90% of bloggers, including this one, will ever forget.

Chris Hubbard made the Steelers practice squad in 2013 and returned in 2014 to make the active roster. He saw his first professional action in the Steelers 2014 win at Carolina, one of the first truly impressive “scary good” performances of the offensive line of the entire Tomlin era.

Hubbard would see action in 7 games in 2015, saw action in 15 games in 2016 including four starts. Chris Hubbard started 10 games and appeared in 16 regular season games for the Steelers in 2017, proving himself to be that all-so-invaluable 3rd starting swing tackle charged with opening holes for Le’Veon Bell and protecting Ben Roethlisberger.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Chris Hubbard

You can never have too many good offensive lineman? How many times during has fate taught that lesson to the Steelers during the Mike Tomlin era?

Chris Hubbard is the real deal. He’s a legitimate, quality starting tackle in league that puts a premium on this position. On top of that, he’s another guy like his counterpart Alejandro Villanueva or Kelvin Beachum who the rest of the NFL looked over, and said, “No Thanks” to. The Steelers were smarter, invested the time and effort into developing him. Why shouldn’t he stay in Pittsburgh?

  • Sentimentally doesn’t and shouldn’t drive free agent decisions.

The truth is that the will turn 27 this year, while Marcus Gilbert will turn 30, and Gilbert has more than his share of injuries on his frame having missed significant time in 2017 to injuries. The smart salary cap money says cut Gilbert, who’ll get signed in a snap, and resign Hubbard.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Chris Hubbard

It’d be easy to say that cutting Marcus Gilbert in favor of Chris Hubbard isn’t part of “The Steelers Way.” And it would give Steelers fan a warm and fuzzy feeling inside if we said it.

  • Unfortunately its not true.

The Steelers cut veterans before the end of their contracts, and during the early portion of the Tomlin era this was standard operating procedure especially on offensive line (just ask Justin Hartwig, Willie Colon, Kendall Simmons, Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu.)

But the truth is the if the Steelers cut Marcus Gilbert, they’d take close to a 5 million dollar dead money salary cap hit, and this is the game that needs to get every bit of football out of its salary cap dollars as it can. And given that the Steelers extended Gilbert in 2014, Hubbard would certainly command a higher salary cap number.

You’d like to keep a guy like Chris Hubbard, but the numbers just don’t add up.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Chris Hubbard

Kevin Colbert is a wiz a plucking gems from the undrafted rookie free agent pool, and Mike Tomlin is a coach whose dedicated to giving those young men a fair shot. You know their names. Roosevelt Nix, Ramon Foster, Willie Parker, and James Harrison. To name a few.

  • In another year, with a healthier cap situation, the Steelers might take a shot at keeping Hubbard.

But the Steelers salary cap situation simply doesn’t afford them that luxury. The Steelers gave Chris Hubbard an opportunity, he took full advantage of it, and he deserves to cash in. It won’t be in Pittsburgh, but that’s simply the way things work out.

Has Steelers free agency left you scrambling? Click here for our Steelers 2018 Free Agent tracker or click here for all Steelers 2018 free agency focus articles.

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Is James Harrison on the Roster Bubble? Or are the Steelers “Bettising” Him?

Is Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison roster spot in jeopardy? Recent comments by linebackers coach Joey Porter seem to open that door.

  • Yet it is also possible that the Steelers are “Bettising” their linebacking legend.

Joey Porter’s announcement that first round draft pick TJ Watt will start at outside linebacker across from Bud Dupree and that neither will rotate is welcome news.

James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons

James Harrison roars at practice while Lawrence Timmons looks on. Photo Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Finding a starter-capable player at right outside linebacker was one critical question the Steelers needed to answer “Yes” two during training camp, and it appears they leave St. Vincents having done so. But they will also leave St. Vincent’s without James Harrison having practiced with the team, which isn’t all that out of the ordinary, given that Harrison doesn’t need the reps.

But before the Steelers preseason opener against the Giants, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell identified 15 potential open slots on the Steelers roster and 38 locks, leave Harrison and William Gay as “almost locks.”

  • In Wexell’s view a combination of a numbers game with Harrison not showing enough speed could put him in jeopardy.

Regardless of whether Wexell was simply speculating or musing about something he’d heard off the record, Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter’s conversation with Joey Porter thickened the plot, as Porter declared:

We know what he can do. At the same time, you want to see a little bit to make sure he still has got it,” Everybody has to be tested to see if you still got it. We can assume something. But the NFL, sometimes you just wake up one day and that pop is gone. There will be a time when we take the wrapping off of him and let him go out there so we can see if it’s still that James from last year.

That, combined with James Harrison being held out of practice, was enough to get Dale Lolley to question whether the Steelers were preparing to move on from James Harrison.

While that’s certainly a possibility, such a move would be out of character for the Steelers. It’s well known that Chuck Noll held on to too many of his starters from the 70’s for too long, but institutional memory has largely kept the team from making the same mistake, as James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward learned during the 2012 off season.

The Steelers not only brought Harrison back, but offered him a two year deal, with Harrison proclaiming his desire to play into his 40s. The Steelers cut plenty of players before their contracts expire – think Justin Hartwig or Willie Colon, but it’s rare for them to cut someone after signing them to a new contract (Greg Warren excepted, although word is the Steelers did it this way so that Warren would benefit financially.)

Are the Steelers Bettising James Harrison?

The other possibility is that the Steleers are “Bettising” James Harrison. “Bettising” of course refers to Steelers Hall of Fame Running back Jerome Bettis, who began hearing calls from the experts (Mike Prisuta, for example) as early as the 2002 season.

  • And while Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Dan Rooney didn’t pay much heed to those calls, outside criticism his ability still served to motivate Bettis late in his career.
Jerome Bettis, Ryan Clark

Jerome Bettis and Ryan Clark at St. Vincents in 2015. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Could the Steelers be doing something similar with James Harrison? It is possible but unlikely. James Harrison, who was in the weight room at 5:00 am the morning after the Steelers playoff win over the Chiefs, epitomes the concept of “self-starter.” He needs no motivation.

So on the one hand, you have the Steelers who don’t typically sign veterans and then cut them, on the other hand you have two veteran reporters who are not wont to suggest that someone of James Harrison’s stature is on the roster bubble as a matter of idle speculation.

To be clear, Jim Wexell has reiterated that he expects to see Harrison on the final roster. And even offered this after Harrion’s “mob interview” at St. Vincents:

As someone who would love nothing more than to see James Harrison hosting Lombardi Number 7 alongside Ben Roethlisberger, the hope here is that Wexell’s instinct is right and  Mike Tomlin and Joey Porter are in fact “Bettising” Deebo.

Time will tell. But until then, we’ll chalk this up as a case of 2+2 not quite equaling four.

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Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin Attack Amounts to Pure Idiocy

Why Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack amounts to pure idiocy

One of the great personal ironies of the global economy is that, trips to the United States either prevent or seriously impair my ability to watch, follow and write about the Pittsburgh Steelers. So it came as a great shock Thursday morning in San Francisco to see that my friend Ivan Cole had taken it upon himself to defend Mike Tomlin against Colin Cowherd on Rebecca Rollet’s Going Deep with the Steelers.

  • My first thought was, “Are we really having this conversation? Aren’t the Steelers 2-0?”
colin cowherd's mike tomlin attack, ben roethlisberger, mike tomlin,

Ben Roethlisberger stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mike Tomlin. Photo Credit: broncos.com

Well, yes, we are. And perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, because the year began with then BTSC scribe Chris Carter obliterating Jason Whitlock’s contention that Tomlin was “coddled” simply because he was African American. Ironically, or not, Whitlock launched his attack on Cowherd’s show.

My friend Mr. Cole launched a two pronged attack on Cowherd, first taking aim at Cowherd’s argument, and second speculating about Cowherd’s motives. Cole’s article amounts to must read for Steelers Nation, and there’s no reason to rehash his arguments here.

There is every reason to pile on additional reasons to prove that Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack is pure idiocy.

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin Attack Rooted in Stale Criticisms

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack begins in the same old stale criticisms that have been leveled against Tomlin for years. The only one that holds any validity is Tomlin’s almost Thanksgiving Day trip of Jacoby Jones.

  • Cowherd criticizes Tomlin’s assistants for getting into fights with opposing players on the sideline.

Is this the best you can do? The charges leveled against Joey Porter and Mike Munchak during the circus in Cincinnati have been debunked by video evidence. Neither coach acted as an instigator, nor were any of their actions inappropriate.

  • Cowherd then proceeds to say that Tomlin’s no good late in games.

Really? Last January Mike Tomlin led a Pittsburgh Steelers team into a division rival’s stadium on a rainy night and January. His third string quarterback, Landry Jones threw an interception from the Steelers 14 with 1:43 left to play with Pittsburgh down by 1.

  • Let’s see, how did that one turn out?

Oh, yeah, the Steelers came back and won that one, and one of the franchise’s most dramatic playoff come backs since the Immaculate Reception (and that’s not a comparison one makes lightly.) Yeah, Mike Tomlin really mangles clock management, and if he doesn’t, his teams choke with the game on the line.

Tomlin Was Simply Lucky to get Roethlisberger

The basis of Cowherd’s argument is that Tomlin was lucky to inherit a roster with Ben Roethlisberger and others.

There’s no doubt that Ben Roethlisberger has made Mike Tomlin a better head coach just as Bill Cowher suddenly became a Super Bowl winning instead of a Super Bowl contending head coach after Roethlisberger arrived in Pittsburgh. And Bill Parcells was a better coach with Phil Simms than he was with Drew Bledsoe, Vinny Testaverde and whoever else he had under center with Jets, Patriots, and Cowboys.

  • But Cowherd betrays himself here without even knowing it.

You see, when Mike Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger was “an effective game manager,” and of who it was said that “nothing to this point suggests that Roethlisberger can carry an undermanned team on his shoulders to playoff success.” This missive was written on ESPN back on August 2, 2007, before Mike Tomlin had called his first game as Steelers head coach. (The same article suggested that Matt Leinart was a sure-fire Hall of Famer while Ben would never get to Canton.)

  • A decade later those words seem laughable.

In fact, during the Steelers rebuilding seasons in 2012 and 2013, Roethlisberger’s presence was cited as a reason why the Steelers could go all the way. Cowherd himself extols Roethlisberger as one of the best three quarterbacks in the AFC. He’s right. But doesn’t Mike Tomlin deserve credit for helping develop Ben Roethlisberger, or at the very least providing him an environment to thrive in?

  • And while we’re at it, has Colin Cowherd always thought that Ben Roethlisberger was an elite quarterback?

Or did Cowherd sing the “Big Ben’s just a ‘game manager’ chorus” a decade ago?  I don’t know, but perhaps some questions are best left unasked.

Mike Tomlin is a George Seifert, not a Barry Switzer

Colin Cowherd’s Mike Tomlin attack is laced with comparison’s to Barry Switzer. The argument is that, like Switzer, Tomlin inherited a talented team and rode on his predecessor’s coattails. It IS true that Mike Tomlin took charge of a Super Bowl ready team.

Tomlin started James Harrison whereas Bill Cowher kept him on the bench. Unlike Cowher, Tomlin didn’t have the benefit of the services of Jeff Hartings and Alan Faneca, instead he made it work with Justin Hartwig and Darnell Stapleton. What’s more, Mike Tomlin’s 2010 Steelers team featured even more new faces.

  • Barry Switzer got handed a Super Bowl caliber team, and within two years, he brought home another Lombardi Trophy.

Kudos to him. But two years later, Switzer’s team had imploded and his players quit on him late in the season. Has last game featured Troy Aikman imploring his teammates in vain to hustle to the line of scrimmage to run the hurry up offense. Jerry Jones fired him.

  • Comparing Mike Tomlin to Barry Switzer is completely off base.

The better comparison is between Mike Tomlin and George Seifert. Like Tomlin, George Seifert got handed the keys to a Super Bowl-ready team, and like Tomlin, Seifert drove his team home. Seifert however, kept his team in contention and in 1994 won another Super Bowl.

  • No one in Steelers Nation should count Lombardi Trophies before they’re won.

But today the Pittsburgh Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, with a roster that only contains three players from their last Championship team….

…Not bad for a coach who simply got “lucky” to inherit a talented team.

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The Colbert Record: Grading Steelers 2010 Draft Class

Tonight, probably before the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft is complete, you’ll begin to team’s draft performances graded. Bold franchise-saving first round moves will be praised. Catastrophic mistakes will be castigated. Oversights will be lamented.

  • In the end it all means nothing.

That’s right, nothing.

Legitimate evaluations of any draft come, at the earliest, three years after the fact, and ideally at least four years later. Five year draft evaluations give an even more complete picture.

This latest edition of The Colbert Record goes about grading the Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 Draft Class, which should rightly be considered the crown jewel of the draft class of the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin era.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

2010 Draft First Round – Maurkice Pouncey – Striking Gold at Just the Right Time

The Pittsburgh Steelers neglected offensive line building via the NFL Draft between 2006 and 2009 for reasons never fully explained or explored . Even when they used premium picks on offensive lineman they failed to find value, such as taking Kraig Urbik in 2009.

That changed in 2010, when the Steelers used their first round pick on Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey not only forced Justin Hartwig’s retirement, he’s made 4 straight Pro Bowls. The Pro Football Focus types will tell you that Pouency is overrated.

It says here that the Steelers resurgence on offensive line began the day they picked Pouncey. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Draft Second Round – Jasion Worilds – Unspectacular But Sold Shot at Replacing Replace Silverback

When the Steelers passed on Sean Lee and picked Jason Worilds, Worilds was clearly picked as heir apparent to James Harrison….

…What was that about best laid plans of Mice and Men?

Worilds ended up replacing LaMarr Woodley, and he’s now out of football while James Harrison returns for a final season. Which isn’t to say that Jason Worilds was a bad pick. He did have difficulties finding a place in the Steelers lineup, but did well in his time before assuming a starting role in mind 2013.

Worilds was a good outside linebacker, but suffers by comparison to the tremendous legacy the Steelers boast at this position. And given how high they took Worilds, you’d expect a little more. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

2010 Draft Third Round – Emmanuel Sanders — Finding Excellent Value in the Value Round

You expect third rounders to develop into starters, and that’s exactly what Emmanuel Sanders did. Injuries limited him in 2011 and 2012 to a lesser extent, but Sanders made plenty of the opportunities given to him at the time.

In early 2012 comparisons between Sanders and a young Hines Ward were not inappropriate. When he finally broke the starting lineup full time in 2013, he didn’t quite reach that level, but he did quite well. Grade: Quality Value Pick +

2010 Fourth Round – Thaddeus Gibson — Striking Out on the Inside

The man who got the ink coming out of mini camp and during the early days of the Steelers 2010 training camp was Thaddeus Gibson. Yet, as the competition progressed, Gibson couldn’t keep up. He made the roster, but the Steelers cut Gibson in October and San Fran picked him up (prompting Ed Bouchette to cry “Dwaine Board” once again). However, unlike Dwaine Board, Thaddeus Gibson never did anything of note in his stays with San Francisco, Chicago, or Tennessee. Grade: Bust

2010 Fifth Round – Chris Scott, Crezdon Butler, Stevenson Sylvester, — A Mixed Bag

The Steelers drafted 3 players in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh was big on Chris Scott, even after he injured himself in before training camp, ruining his rookie year. Scott made it back to play in two games in 2011 but couldn’t hold on. He did land in Pittsburgh Northeast in 2012 but saw little action. However, Carolina picked up, where he made 8 starts in 2013 and returned to play in 10 games in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

The record shows that Crezdon Butler actually appeared in four games for the Steelers in 2010, but he got cut in 2011. However, he’s hung on since then, playing for Pittsburgh West aka Arizona, Pittsburgh Northeast aka Buffalo, Washington, San Diego, and Tampa. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers third 5th round pick of the 2010 NFL Draft was none other than Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester played well on special teams as a rookie and looked to make a big leap during his sophomore season. He didn’t, lasting all of a handful of plays in his first start in the Steelers upset over New England. Still, Stevenson developed into a reliable back up, and Sylvester’s return in 2013 helped bring the Steelers back to their winning ways. That’s fine for a 5th rounder. Grade: Quality Value Pick

2010 Sixth Round – Jonathan Dwyer, Antonio Brown — Hitting the Jackpot

The Steelers first pick in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft saw them grab Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers was checkered, as Dwyer seemingly showed up to training camp over weight and only made the team due to injuries and/or late pre-season surges. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers might be labeled a disappointment by many and perhaps there’s some justification to that. But you don’t expect to draft a stud in the sixth round and, taking that into consideration, Dwyer delivered excellent value for his draft position. Grade: Over Performer

  • You don’t “expect “ to draft a stud in the sixth round, but sometimes you do.

Antonio Brown proves that good players remain on the board in every round. Brown made his mark early as a rookie in the Steelers upset vs. the Titans. He made it again in the playoffs vs. Baltimore and again vs. the Jets. His play in 2011 made Mike Wallace expendable, and the franchise hasn’t looked back since. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Seventh Round – Doug Worthington — Another Farm Team Pick

The Steelers picked up Doug Worthington with their last pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and Worthington never held on. He got picked up in 2011 by the Washington Redskins, and appeared in six games in 2012. He was back in DC in 2013 but saw no action, and held a roster spot at some point for the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2010 Draft Clearly Colbert and Tomlin’s Best

It’s been five years since Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin picked the Steelers 2010 Draft class, and only two players remain on the team from that group. Normally that would be a damming commentary, but the truth is that the Steelers came out of that draft with two studs, and got solid contributions from several other players during the course of their rookie contracts – a key to success in the salary cap era. Overall Draft grade: B+/A-

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Steelers 2015 Draft Needs at Center – Pittsburgh’s Basically Set

The clock is ticking towards the 2015 NFL Draft and Steel Curtain Rising’s evaluation of the Steelers 2015 draft needs continues, with center holding the focus of attention.

Analyzing Steelers Depth at Center – The Starter

Ray Mansfield. Mike Webster. Dermonti Dawson. Jeff Hastings. The Pittsburgh Steelers legacy yields nothing when it comes to center. Sean Mahan might not have proven able to the task, and even if Justin Hartwig did provide solid play during the Steelers run to Super Bowl XLIII run, the franchise went into the 2010 NFL Draft looking to get a blue chip player there.

  • The Steelers of course drafted Maurkice Pouncey with their first round pick in 2010.

Pouncey won the starting job during the summer of 2010, and he has been named to the Pro Bowl in each season which he’s remained healthy enough to start.

Pounecy is also becoming a leader of the unit, and the Steelers signed Pouncey to a long term contract last summer, leaving no question as to where they see their future at the position.

Analyzing Steelers Depth at Center – the Back Ups

When Kevin Colbert went bargain shopping after the initial 2013 cut downs, one of the players he brought to Pittsburgh was Cody Wallace. But at the time, Wallace was seen as an insurance policy, a “nice to have.” Of course by season’s end, Wallace was starting, as the Steelers lost not one, but two starting centers in a single season.

Wallace appeared in 15 games in 2014 and started two, at guard, and did quite well. He’s a serviceable back up, and the Steelers certainly appreciate what that means after the 2013 opening day disaster.

Priority Status of Center for Steelers in 2015 NFL Draft

With Maurkice Pouncey set as the starter, and Wallace available as a capable back up the Steelers are pretty well set at the position, save for another uncanny 2013 like rash of injuries at center.

Steel Curtain Rising’s credo was, is and will remain “you can never have enough good offensive lineman.” You can’t. But the Steelers have two centers, which is more than they started 2013 with, and that should be enough. Should a tackle or guard who has the position flexibility present himself in the draft, then by all means the Steelers should take him.

But given the Steelers depth and their needs at other positions, drafting a pure center in 2015 is simply a luxury they do not have, and the priority status of center for the Steelers in the 2015 NFL Draft must be considered Low.

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