Watch Tower: Insight into What Makes Tomlin Tick, Steelers Situation @ Safety and Much More

The  NFL’s “true off season” doesn’t leave many Steelers stories for the Watch Tower to shine its light on, but a few do stick out ranging from the new insight into how Mike Tomlin operates, Steelers situation at safety, the evolution of the Steelers defense and creative approaches to “content” in this otherwise dead period for Steelers news. Read on…

Mike Tomlin, Bruce Arians, Art Rooney II

Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians; Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press

Insight into How Tomlin Ticks via Arians Interview

The Bruce Arians firing made news recently. Again. If you’re reading this, you already know the details and have your own opinion formed on it. No need to repeat. HBO’s Real Sports mostly milked an established story for shock value, but in doing so it lent some insight into Mike Tomlin:

I got a call on Monday and said, ‘I can’t get you the money.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ He said, ‘No, I can’t get you a contract.’ I said, ‘Are you firing me?’ He said, ‘No…’ ‘Well… it’s just a matter of words, Mike. Okay. If I don’t have a contract, I’m fired.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to fly down and talk.’

So where’s the insight, you ask? Unlike Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin has never had an itchy trigger finger when it comes to firing assistant coaches. Yet, if Arians’ account is correct, shows that not only does he have a difficult time doing it, he also struggles with breaking bad news.

  • This is the second example we have of Tomlin breaking bad news by distancing himself from it.

As the Watch Tower noted last July, Dani Bostic, then writing for Behind the Steel Curtain, reported that when the Steelers cut Isaac Redman, Tomlin took much of the same tact, declaring “’I tried fighting for you.’” The Watch Tower freely concedes that this insight into Tomlin falls into the category of “interesting, but not terribly useful.” Nor should it suggest anything negative about Mike Tomlin as a person, coach or leader.

Chuck Noll, a man of unquestioned integrity, struggled when delivering bad news to players or coaches headed out the door. But its oft been argued that the Tomlin that Steelers Nation sees in front of the cameras isn’t the same Tomlin behind the scenes, and the HBO report helped pull back the veil.

“New” Name in Mix for Steelers @ Safety?

For the second consecutive year, Steelers secondary remains the team’s biggest question mark heading into training camp. In fact, one could argue that the question mark has grown from 2015 to 2016.

There’s perhaps in bigger position battle than that at free safety. Robert Golden enters camp as the front runner, with second round draft pick Sean Davis in the mix and Shamarko Thomas in contention (on paper at least.)

In an article covering Robert Golden’s determination to claim the starting roster spot, Kaboly observed: “…and there even is talk about Will Allen being an eventual option.” Will Allen is of course not a “new” name to the Steelers, but Mark Kaboly is the first credentialed Steelers journalist to report that there’s a serious possibility of Will Allen returning.

If the Steelers do turn to Will Allen all will not have gone well in training camp, but Mark Kaboly will be able to claim bragging rights.

Popjoy Adds Something Significant to the Archer Story

In 2016 “Content aggregation” forms a fundamental part of the sports media landscape. By necessity, any site (including this one) that doesn’t have access to original sources practices it. At its best it works like this: Someone else publishes a story, a blogger rehashes that story; the better bloggers either expand upon the story or find some way to add their own twist.

  • The news that the Jets cut Dri Archer and that Archer then refused show up for practice when claimed by the Bills offers a perfect example.

Nearly every Steelers blogging site wrote an obligatory post on the failed Steelers third round draft pick continuing to flounder outside of Pittsburgh. Curt Popejoy of USA Today’s SteelersWire however, provided a good example of content aggregation at its best. Popejoy went beyond the “this shows Archer did have off the field issues” angle of the story, by informing his readers that the Steelers, by all accounts, did not have a pre-draft visit with Archer.

In other words, instead of simply recycling someone else’s story, Popejoy found a way to add new information by connecting dots that no one else thought to connect. And for that Curt Popejoy wins Watch Tower Kudos.

Wexell on Evolution of Steelers Defense

The evolution of the Steelers defense from a 3-4 zone blitz focused unit pioneered by Dom Capers, Dick LeBeau and Bill Cowher to a 4-3ish Cover 2 is hardly a unique topic in Pittsburgh and has been discussed frequently in the 2016 off season. But perhaps no one has covered it in as much detail as Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell and an early May piece by Wexell caused the Watch Tower to raise its antenna.

After detailing how the Steelers personnel has evolved away from the scheme Dick LeBeau and Bill Cowher built, Wexell shared this:

That’s reportedly what the great Tampa-2 defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, actually liked about the Steelers’ defense this past season. When Kiffin visited practice for a short spell, I perceived it as a consultation session. I perceived the wise old genius was brought in to help out a first-year coordinator bridge two systems.

Monte Kiffin visiting the Steelers was news to the Watch Tower.

A quick Google search confirms that Kiffin had in fact been present at practices at some point in the Steelers 2015 season. In fact, Tomlin discussed Kiffin’s visit at length in a interview (presumably during a press conference, doesn’t clarify the context.) The news that Mike Tomlin’s mentor stopped by Steelers practice is hardly a bombshell, nor is the revelation that Kiffin offered advice to Keith Butler exactly ground shaking.

  • Similar to insights gained from the Arians interview, the Monte Kiffin factoid falls into the category of “more interesting than useful.”

But this was a story out waiting to be told or at least a fact out there waiting to be used to support a larger story. And once again Jim Wexell separated himself from the pack by using it to deliver an extra bit of added value to his readers and for that again he wins Watch Tower Kudos.

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Watch Tower: Predicting Steelers Pick of Artie Burns, Almost Picking Jevon Kearse and More

A lot has happened since the Watch Tower last shined its lights at the end of March and today its focus is on the Steelers Draft, free agency’s finish, other Steelers-related comings and goings along with another round of “Taking Our Own Medicine.”

artie burns, steelers, steelers draft 2016, art rooney ii

Artie Burns addresses the press as Art Rooney II looks on; Photo credit:

Paulk Wins Steelers Draft Prediction Prize

Who will we draft? Answering that question was once a simple water cooler conversation fueled the previous night’s banter AM sports-talk radio station. Now it’s a cottage industry. Mocking the next year’s draft begins before this year’s is complete with some pundits going as far as grading teams’ performance in mock drafts (seriously).

Grading mock draft IS excessive, but mock drafting is fun and arouses imaginations of pros and armatures alike, but the Steelers 2016 Draft Class shows just how much of a minefield it can be. Everyone knew that the Steelers would look to cornerback early in the 2016 NFL Draft, but the question of which corner the Steelers would take a hot potato.

  • Steelers Nation’s true winners in its 2016 mock draft sweepstakes is Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, who correctly tagged Artie Burns as the Steelers first round pick.

Other national writers made similar predictions, but Paulk was almost only Pittsburgh writer the Watch Tower is aware of that accurately predicted Burns going to the Steelers.

The “almost” qualifier might seem odd, but Jim Wexell also picked Burns going to the Steelers in the Steelers Digest pre-draft edition, but Wexell’s “official” pick 36 hours prior to the draft was cornerback James Bradberry from Stanford. (Alas, the Zino iPad App that I read Steelers Digest on has no linking functionality….)

Shift in Steelers Drafting Philosophy?

In an age where post-draft analysis/post draft grades is as instantaneous as it is meaningless, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review distinguished himself by providing his readers with some meaningful insight the morning after that draft.

The Steelers 2016 draft class, in Kaboly’s estimation, confirms that the “Steelers have changed their drafting philosophy.” The change, in Kaboly’s view, comes down shifting form an emphasis on projection to one on production, particularly on the defensive side. As Kaboly expands:

The organizational shift away from deferring to what a player may be able do to what a player has already done continued for the Steelers for the second consecutive draft over the weekend.

One could certainly quibble with Kaboly’s conclusion, as both Artie Burns and Bud Dupree have been panned more as “Projects” as opposed to finished products, but Kaboly backs up his claim with Mike Tomlin’s “Speed without production is less attractive…” quote, and in pointing out that Pittsburgh have gone a dozen years since a Steelers cornerback has made 4 interceptions in a season and contrasted that with the 21 interceptions that Burns, Senquez Golson and Doran Grant recorded in their collegiate careers.

  • But even if he’s ultimately wrong on the project vs. production question, Kaboly wins Watch Tower Kudos for attempting to provide substantive post-draft day analysis.

So Steelers Almost Drafted Jevon Kearse….?

The Steelers decision to pick Artie Burns drew a lot of criticism from both the press and from Steelers Nation at large all of which prompted Jim Wexell to mount a vigorous defense of the pick. The logic of Wexell’s defense can perhaps be read here (the article sits behind his pay wall,) but it also included an eye-opening Steelers draft history nugget:

…But, still, the anger rolled in. One reader even called Burns “Troy Edwards,” in honor of the reach Tom Donahoe made in 1999 when — and I learned this a few days ago — they had the great Jevon Kearse ON THE PHONE AT THE TIME.

While it’s a little late to award a “scoop” on the Steelers 1999 draft, Wexell’s Jevon Kearse story qualifies as a major bombshell both in terms of reporting and in terms of what it potentially unveils about the depths of dysfunction that existed between Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher at the time.

  • On the site’s message board conversation yours truly suggested the nugget could be grown into a full-length story and the Watch Tower reaffirms that here.

A year ago the Watch Tower observed that stories abounded to explain how players like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and the other Super Steelers arrived in Pittsburgh. In contrast, since then, stories from inside the Steelers draft war room have grown more and more scarce.

  • In just 46 words, Jim Wexell has taken a small step towards rectifying that, and the Watch Tower offers him thanks on behalf of Steelers Nation citizens who crave enlightenment.

Thank you Mr. Wexell.

An Overlooked Artie Burns-Jarvis Jones Link?

Finally, the Watch Tower’s analysis of Steelers draft coverage ends with a look at a long-form piece by Coolong on USA Today’s Steelers Wire.

  • Count Coolong squarely in the camp of the Artie Burns skeptics.

In his article, Coolong bases his skepticism on solid footing, and in doing so he draws out an interesting parallel to one of the questions Kevin Colbert was asked, about whether the rain influenced Burn’s workout times, as they apparently did during the workout of Jarvis Jones.

  • While that’s not an earth shaking connection, it is an interesting one tying together two picks who critics label as “reaches”

Beyond that, Coolong manages to make his case on Artie Burns in an article that weaves together treads concerning Bruce Arians’ firing and Todd Haley’s accomplishments. That’s no easy feat, but he pulls it off, leaving the Watch Tower to hope aloud that Coolong will manage to find more time to write similar pieces now that he’s been kicked upstairs to the position of Senior Editor of NFL Sites USA TODAY Sports Media Group.

Scoops on Jarvis Jones and Senquez Golson

As everyone in Steelers Nation now knows, the Steelers declined to offer a 5th year tender to Jarvis Jones, but Jason Mackey of DK on Pittsburgh Sports knew it before anyone else and beat the rest of his competition to the punch. Mackey was of course the first Steelers reporter to break the Martavis Bryant suspension story, so it would seem that he has a knack for finding news.

We now know that Senquez Golson’s MRI was not related to his shoulder injury, but is due to another “soft tissue injury.” Fair enough. And missing OTA’s in May for an MRI is hardly a reason to hit the panic button.

But the Steelers have a lot riding on Senquez Golson’s development – perhaps too much – and any news of an injury which might impede his development merits attention, so Lolley wins Watch Tower kudos for breaking it.

Watch Tower Takes Its Own Medicine

Watch Tower’s role to document and analyze press coverage of the Steelers with an eye toward understanding what makes it tick, offering positive or negative criticism when warranted. But if the Watch Tower is going to take reporters to task from time-to-time, then it this site’s own errors must receive the same critical eye.

  • And I’ve made a bunch of goofs of late.

Some have been trivial, such as forgetting to include cornerback in our Steelers pre-draft needs poll (something easily remedied). Others have resulted from legitimate confusion, such as mentioning that Dale Lolley’s blog was going behind a paywall (its hasn’t) or misstating that Jim Wexell is a self-identified alcoholic (he is not.)

Corrections have been made and apologies to Lolley and Wexell issued.

…Then there was the blog post that had Will Johnson following Steve McLendon to the New York Jets. Ah, yeah, Will Johnson went to New York alright, but as a Giant not as a Jet! Thankfully a reader on Twitter alerted me to the error and the post had a half-life of about 20 minutes.

  • Sure, the post came after a hectic workday and just before a 2 week long international trip.

Those were contributing factors, but the real culprit was getting so caught up in a sexy “Pittsburgh on Hudson” storyline that I missed the most fundamental of facts. Such lapses are inexcusable and to you my readers, I offer a heartfelt apology.

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Watch Tower: Steelers Press Coverage of Martavis Bryant Suspension, Free Agency & Salary Cap

Easter Sunday 2016 finds the Watch Tower shining its lights on the press coverage of the Steelers two top off season stories thus far Martavis Bryant’s suspension and the Steelers salary cap situation.

DK on Pittsburgh Sports Breaks Bryant Suspension

As noted by the Watch Tower a little more than a year ago, a “scoop” might not mean as much in journalist terms – as rival publications and post their own stories rehashing the same information in minutes rather than days or hours that it took in yesteryear.

  • Yet, a reporter who can go out and get the news before his peers is doing good work.

In that case, Watch Tower kudos go to Jason Mackey and Dejan Kovacevic of DK on Pittsburgh Sports for breaking the story. This was huge news that will have a tremendous impact on the Steelers 2016 offense, and the duo out hustled the competition in getting the story.

As mentioned above, in the digital world the benefits of breaking a story are short lived. Jim Wexell had the exclusive on Troy Polamalu’s retirement, yet his story only ranks 6th on a desktop Google search for the keyword “Troy Polamalu retires” despite being the first and still only reporter to speak to Poalmalu about his retirement.

  • Case in point, the desktop Google query “Martavis Bryant suspension” does not return any first page results for DK on Pittsburgh Sports.

Nonetheless, Mackey and Kovacevic have well-earned bragging rights for getting their first.

Steelers Nation Scribes React to Bryant Suspension

Bryant’s suspension drew a mix of scorn and concern from Steelers Nation, and produced more than a few interesting reflective pieces. Among the best was penned by Jon Ledyard on USA Today’s The Steelers Wire. You can read Ledyard’s work for yourself, but his piece helps readers answer the “How can he throw all this away?” question by offering first-hand insight gleamed from helping similar people fight battles with substance abuse.

[Editors note: the original version of this article referred to Jim Wexell as a recovering alcoholic. Mr. Wexell has started on Twitter that was not the case. We apologize for the mistake and are happy to correct.]

Interestingly enough, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, who has publicly abstained from alcohol for the last 18 years, opened his piece by confiding that while he was glad he was spared from having to rip a local high school team for a lackluster effort in a championship loss, he wasn’t so lucky when it came to the Steelers admitting, “I really don’t know the man [Bryant] well enough to do what I think I have to do, which is rip him.”

While Wexell’s disappointment in Bryant the person is clear, his complex piece does show an appreciation for Bryant’s struggle. But where Wexell really earns his Watch Tower kudos is in taking the football loss of Bryant head-on. A Super Bowl window’s opening is tenuous at best and Bryant’s suspension could be what kicks it shut for the Steelers, argues Wexell.

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Joe Starkey admonished readers to not to demonize Bryant, and asked a question that should be asked in connection with these types of off the field incidents more often:

  • Has CTE or some other head trauma an issue contributed to Bryant’s behavior?

Everything we’re learning about CTE suggests that the brain disorder is afflicting football players far earlier in their careers than was at first thought, and questions such as Starkey’s are going to be asked more frequently moving forward.

Kudos to Starkey for being ahead of the curve.

Kaboly Calls It on Kelvin Beachum

Here in 2016 free agency predictions are a dime a dozen. But as Gerry Dulac pointed out in an on-line chat a long time ago, a good journalist doesn’t predict on what will happen, he or she reports on what will transpire.

  • To that end, Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review earns Watch Tower Kudos for his reporting on Kelvin Beachum.

It was Kaboly who got Beachum on the record indicating he would not move to guard, as the Steelers had wanted him to, and he correctly predicted that this meant Beachum would not return to the team. The Steelers did of course attempt to bring Beachum back on a shorter, “prove it” contact to play tackle, but at the end of the day, Beachum departed….

Steelers Salary Cap Situation Clarifies….

How much salary cap space did the Pittsburgh Steelers have going into free agency? Depending on who was talking the number was 3, 6-7, or even 10 million dollars. As noted in the last edition of the Watch Tower, most fan sites pegged the number at a higher total, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette begged to differ.

  • Bouchette cited sources that indicated that the Steelers salary cap number would be lower due to the need to pay backs from earlier seasons shortly after the CBA was approved.

Bouchette doubled down shortly before free agency, writing yet another report arguing that the Steelers had about 3.2 million in salary cap space – far less than popularly thought.

Given that the Steelers have resigned five of their own players and three from other teams, it would seem like the larger amounts cited the likes of Ian Whetstone of Steel City Insider as well as many others, were closer to being correct.

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Watch Tower: Steelers 2016 Salary Cap, Will Allen Retirement, Mike Florio Hypocrisy and More

As the Steelers 2016 off season picks up steam, the Watch Tower focuses its lights on coverage of the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation, potential retirements, the Steelers kicking conundrum and more.

Confusion Reigns on Steelers 2016 Salary Cap Situation

Perhaps it’s appropriate that the off season began with Kevin Greene’s election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame because much of Steelers Nation feels that the Steelers must have a Kevin Greene like signing in the secondary to climb the Stairway to Seven.

  • Indeed, many saw Art Rooney II intimating that in his post-season press conferences.

But free agent signings require salary cap space so just how much salary cap space to the Pittsburgh Steelers have as the 2016 off season looms? It depends on who you ask, but until late last week there seemed to be consensus.

  • Over the Cap pegged the Steelers top 51 at about 1,490,000 giving them a 5-6 million cushion
  • On Steel City Insider, Ian Whetstone concluded the Steelers were “…at least $4 million under a $156 million team cap, without any veteran cuts or restructures.”
  • Simon Chester of USA Today’s The Steelers Wire calculations left “…the Steelers with a practical amount of $5,106,016.”

On the 10th of February a source no less authoritative than Ed Bouchette himself pronounced, “With a projected salary cap for each team at $155 million and change, the Steelers are under it at this point in the year for the first time in awhile.” Yippe Steelers Nation! Let’s open Art Rooney II’s check book!

Not so fast.

A day after publishing his comments on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Steelers blog, Ed Bouchette startled Steelers Nation with some sobering salary cap news, sharing:

The Steelers are $2.5 million over their projected salary cap, a league source with intimate knowledge of the cap told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. That is in stark contrast with various public Internet sites that track each NFL team’s salaries.

The Watch Tower credits Simon Chester for refusing to accept this at face value. Chester reached out via Twitter to several journalist who cover the Steelers salary cap to gauge reaction to Bouchette’s bombshell. While no one disputed Bouchette’s report, several suggested that perhaps the source is counting all of the Steelers contracts as opposed to the top 51.

You can read the all of the responses here, but the Watch Tower suspects that Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell’s appears to be on to something:

While there’s a lot of documented about the the NFL salary cap its true workings remain somewhat of a mystery. And the league appears to like it this way. Shortly after the new CBA was adopted in 2011 word was that the salary cap would be relatively flat for a few years but then increase when the new TV contracts kicked in.

However, in 2012 the word was that the NFL was in the “Flat cap era.” John Clayton reported that despite a spike in revenues in 2014, the salary cap would go up little if at all in coming seasons. Kevin Seifert called Clayton’s report one of the most important of the 2012 off season and reminded readers that the NFL salary cap for 2015 was being projected at $122 million.

  • The NFL’s base salary cap for 2015 was 143,280,000…

There are two explanations for this discrepancy: Either NFL revenues grossly overshot estimates or false information leaked and no one in the league cared enough to correct it.

The Steelers themselves have played this game regarding their own cap situation. In 2013 Kevin Colbert went on the record saying the Steelers would need to wait until June 1st to sign most of their draft picks, and then the team proceeded to sign most of the 2013 Draft class before the end of May.

Ed Bouchette is the anti-Ian Rapport (Rapport of the Ben Roethlisberger trade demand); he would never base a story like this on spurious sources.

  • But that’s also reason to pay heed to Jim Wexell’s interpretation.

The Steelers do try to shape the coverage the team receives, as Wexell pointed out during the playoffs, when the Steelers PR office made players available to the press the Sunday after the Bengals game to ensure that the rest of the week’s stories would focus on the Broncos game.

Could the Steelers be leaking something to Bouchette for similar reason? Steelers Nation will know in a few weeks….

[Shortly after the original version of this article ran, Kevin Colbert provided an update on the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation.]

Later comments by Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert would add further credence to Jim Wexell’s interpretation of the story, as Colbert conceeded that the Steelers 2016 salary cap situation was “‘pretty good’ compared to other years.”

Interestingly enough, while the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Gerry Dulac did mention Colbert’s update, he did so in a story about James Harrison’s possible return, as opposed to in a new story on the Steelers salary cap. To his credit, Dulac did mention the juxtaposition between Colbert’s comments and Ed Bouchette’s earlier story.

Lolley Scores Minor Scoop on Will Allen

Steelers safety Will Allen has to be one of the team’s most underrated and underappreciated free agent signings in history. What’s Allen done? Well he’s simply boosted the Steelers secondary by stepping off the bench 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, providing an upgrade when Ryan Mundy, Shamarko Thomas, and/or Troy Polamalu were either unable or not healthy enough to deliver on the field.

  • That almost didn’t happen in 2015.

And Steelers Nation knows that thanks to Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley who reported that “The Steelers had to talk Allen out of retiring after 2014….”

That’s an interesting comment. The Steelers resigned Will Allen the day after Polamalu retired, implying that he was their second choice, which could have led to some interesting conversations. Beyond that, this is the first time that the Watch Tower is aware of anyone reporting Will Allen considered beginning his “Life’s work” following 2014, and hence it awards Watch Tower Kudos to Dale Lolley for the scoop.

Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Steelers Kickers

After a nightmare experience that saw the Steelers lose three kickers to injury, Chris Boswell’s arrival in Pittsburgh finally gave the Steelers some relief. Boswell not only put up a nice kicking percentage, he also showed several times that he could kick under pressure and in the elements. Boswell’s outstanding performance has led to speculation that Shaun Suisham’s job could be in jeopardy.

  • One of the pro’s in Boswell’s favor (aside from salary) is his stronger leg.

Boswell might have a stronger leg that Suisham but if he does, it is not backed up by the stats. As Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review has pointed out, Boswell’s touchback percentage of 35.13% is near the bottom of the league, and just a hair worse that Suisham’s 2014 touchback percentage. Adamski also points out that Boswell’s 29 of 32 on field goal attempts was identical to Suisham’s performance in 2014.

While Adamski isn’t breaking any “news” here, he is making a valuable contribution by being the first to connect some dots, and he earns Watch Tower kudos accordingly.

Carter Stands Up for Steelers Nation on BTSC

The brouhaha that was the Steelers Bengals Wild Card playoff game drew national attention an numerous fines and suspensions. Most of the attention focused on Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pac Man” Jones illegal conduct with regard to Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but Jason Whitlock used the occasion to take aim at Mike Tomlin, esseintally asserting that Tomlin deserved a much greater share of the blame.

  • Whitlock’s comments did not sit well with Behind the Steel Curtain’s Chris Carter.

As well they shouldn’t. Many, if not most, of Whitlock’s criticisms of Mike Tomlin were off base, and simply not supported by the facts. Chris Carter did Steelers Nation a HUGE favor and wrote a detailed, 5,003 word point-by-point refutation of Whitlock, supporting his point with both photo and video evidence.

  • Simply stated, Chris Carter proved that Jason Whitlock’s assault of Mike Tomlin is completely baseless.

Anyone can take to Twitter and say, “So-and-so is full of _hit” but unlike Whitlock, Carter chose to counter opinion with cold, hard facts, and for that he wins Watch Tower kudos. His article is must read. (As is his piece on Chuck Noll’s being named as coach to the Super Bowl 50 Golden Team.) Kudos to you Chris!

Mike Florio Highlights His Own Hypocrisy

Peyton Manning’s name is in the news again because of an alleged incident dating back to 1996. While there are a lot of interesting elements to this story from a media analysis perspective, the Watch Tower only focues on Steelers coverage, so we’ll leave others to discuss those elsewhere.

  • However, the Watch Tower cannot let a comment by Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio go by unanswered.

Mike Florio took aim at the New York Daily News’ Shaun King, asserting:

Shaun King presented a one-sided summary of a 74-page document filed by Jamie Naughright’s lawyers in the case against Manning, with no balance or objectivity or apparent effort to contact Peyton Manning or Archie Manning for a response.

Among other things, Florio is criticizing Shaun King for reporting allegations without an attempt to verify their validity. That’s a legitimate criticism for Florio to make, but it was only in 2012 that the Watch Tower took Florio to task for lambasting Mike Tomlin for comments he made in jest while receiving an honor from his alma mater, William and Mary.

At the time, it appeared that Mike Florio simply took press accounts of Tomlin’s remarks, didn’t bother to gather context, and called the Steelers standard bear’s character into question.

In other words, Florio was guilty then of what he is criticizing Shaun King for now. And for the record, at the Watch Tower attempted to contact Florio offer him a chance to explain his words, but email messages from the Watch Tower to Florio remained unanswered.

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Watch Tower: Kudos for Wexell on Polamalu Retirement Coverage, Steelers Wire on Robinson Suicide

Steelers OTA’s may be in full swing, but this edition of the Watch Tower focuses its lights on Troy Polamalu retirement coverage, Adrian Robinson’s death, the Steelers safety position, and the disappearance of another Steelers scribe.

Jim Wexell Score Major Scoop with Polamalu Retirement

As a rule, major Steelers news only breaks when I am traveling and unable to write, and this off season was no exception, with Steelers legend Troy Polamalu retiring and Ike Taylor hanging it up while I was on the road. As such, the Watch Tower did not have time to give Jim Wexell his due.

  • Google’s “Define” functionality tells us that a scoop is “A piece of news published by a newspaper or broadcast by a television or radio station in advance of its rivals.”

Before the internet, a “scoop” was a true prize, as it generally gave the reporting outlet a monopoly on the, albeit a short one, on an exclusive story. The advent of the digital age diminishes scoop’s value is somewhat, but the prestige in landing an exclusive story is inversely greater.

On April 10th 2015, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell phone rang with a reporter’s dream come true. Troy Polamalu had retired, and he chose Wexell as his sole confidant in the press. Yes, Polamalu had informed Dan Rooney, but after that Jim Wexell was the only person he spoke with.

  • Troy Polamalu has often been described as one of the toughest interviews in the business.

That’s not because Polamalu assumed an adversarial role with the press, the way say, Greg Lloyd did, but rather because Polamalu disdained tooting his own horn (see his suggestion when he was injured in in 2009 that the Steelers defense would improve with Tyrone Carter instead of him.)

Jim Wexell is a tenured veteran of the Steelers press corps. but one of the very few credentialed journalists not affiliated with a major print or broadcast organization. And if Wexell lacks the notoriety of an Ed Bouchette or Gerry Dulac, he makes up for it by going the extra mile. Wexell is known for digging deep into the Steelers locker room to deliver readers stories that others miss.

  • The fact that Polamalu singled out Wexell to break his story is a testament to the time and effort Wexell invested in building relationships with the men he covers.

Wexell’s story on Polamalu’s retirement also broke some new ground, confirming that Polamalu was not particularly happy with the way his exit unfolded, and citing some of Polamalu’s concerns about the direction of the Steelers locker room culture. Previously, the blog Steel City Blitz had run a story to this effect adding that Polamalu was unhappy with Dick LeBeau’s exit, but that story was based on anonymous sources, whereas Wexell’s came directly from Polamalu.

Wexell went into further detail when he covered Polamalu’s appearance in Thomas Tull’s press box at PNC Park. As that article was behind Steel City Insider’s pay wall, the Watch Tower will not steal Wexell’s thunder, but will say that Wexell revealed that tensions between Polamalu and the organization pre-date Polamalu and Dick LeBeau’s exit.

(In doing research on Troy Polamalu retirement coverage, the Watch Tower also uncovered an article by Wexell on Troy Polamalu’s first days as a Steeler that is well worth the read.)

Steelers Wire on Adrian Robinson’s Untimely Passing

Former Steelers linebacker Adrian Robinson tragically took his own life a few weeks ago. Both the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune Review dutifully covered his death, as did other major outlets.

The stories were by in-large of the boiler plate variety, providing readers with details of his death, quoting Mike Tomlin and/or other Steelers and leaving it at that.

With no disrespect to the departed Robinson, it’s a fair guess that most Steelers fans saw the headline “Former Steelers Linebacker Adrian Robinson dies” and first thought “Who?” and then vaguely recalled Robinson’s role with the Steelers.

  • Neal Coolong put Robinson’s story with the Steelers in a human context.

Coolong reminded his readers of who Robinson was, and what he meant, at least potentially, to the team at one point. While it’s possible to suggest that my friend and fellow Steelers scribe exaggerated when he asserted that “Robinson looked like the future hero. The next in line to ascend a throne of dominant edge pass rushers that went well-beyond Harrison and Woodley” it is undeniable that there was a buzz surrounding Robinson during Steelers 2012 training camp.

And in that light, Coolong wins Watch Tower kudos for not only recalling how much of a human tragedy Robinson’s death represents, but also bringing to life just how transient of an existence the NFL is for so many young men.

While Robinson might not have achieved cult hero status the way Isaac Redman did in Redzone Redman heyday, Robinson was seen both coaches and fans as another undrafted rookie free agent who had limitless “upside” coming out of his first training camp, only to find himself as trade fodder for Felix Jones in his second.

These kudos for Coolong do come with extra “style points” because, unlike a beat writer, Coolong put this story together without access to the Steelers locker room.

Seeing the Swearinger “Story” Before Everyone Else

Steelers Wire also wins kudos for seeing being way, way ahead of the competition in spotting the Steelers interest in former Houston Texan’s safety D.J. Swearinger. Prior to the draft, word leaked that the Houston Texans were interested in dealing Swearinger.

Neal Coolong immediately wrote a story suggesting the Steelers might be interested in Swearinger, and cited Mike Tomlin’s lavish praise of the Swearinger before the Steelers mid-season matchup with the Texans. When the Texans cut Swearinger the Steelers Wire also struck again, informing readers that the Steelers had put in a wavier wire claim on Swearinger. Later Steelers Wire treated readers to a third story on the implications behind the Steelers wavier wire claim on Swearinger.

  • From a press traditionalist view point this might seem excessive.

And, if story space stuff suffered the limitations imposed by available column inches and advertiser sponsorship, the Steelers wavier wire claim on Swearinger wouldn’t have warranted more than 2-3 inches – and that assumes a fairly slow day for sports news.

But such limits are obsolete in the digital age, and such an approach has allowed Steelers Wire to achieve 4th ranking for the Google query “D.J. Swearinger Steelers” which is not bad for a website that’s less than 3 months old.

Also of interest to the Watch Tower: ESPN is the only “traditional” news outlet showing up in the first page of SERPs for the query “D.J. Swearinger Steelers,” which shows just how far behind traditional mainstays like the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and Tribune Review are in competition for unconventional stories.

As Goes Robinson, So Goes Brown?

An earlier edition of the Watch Tower noted Alan Robinson sudden but unexplained disappearance from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review back in November. Not it seems that Scott Brown is following suit.

Scott Brown left the Tribune Review in to cover the Steelers beat for ESPN covered did without missing a beat until April 27th, the Monday before the 2015 NFL Draft. There is contributions suddenly stopped, with AFC West/Raiders beat writer Bill Williamson handling Steelers coverage initially, until the job fell to Jeremy Fowler, who up until now has been covering Cleveland.

  • Likewise, Brown’s Twitter feed went dark after April 27th, save for one retweet in early May

The Watch Tower has no knowledge of why this occurred or under what conditions, but rumor has it that Brown has indeed departed from ESPN. Which is an unfortunate loss for Steelers Nation.

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Watch Tower: Coolong Leaves BTSC for USA Today Steelers Wire, Plus Insight on Jarvis Jones

The Pittsburgh Steelers have weathered two full weeks of free agency, but the biggest event from a Steelers media analysis involves one Steelers Nation scribe who doesn’t even have press credentials (yet.) The Watch Tower takes a look at that, plus an interesting nuggets on James Harrison and Jarvis Jones.

Neal Coolong Bolts BTSC for USA Today Steelers Wire

Brice McCain’s defection to the Dolphins might be the Steelers biggest on the field free agency loss this off season, but perhaps the biggest off season “free agency” move for Steelers Nation in general involves a Steelers scribe.

Two weeks ago Neal Coolong announced that he was leaving Behind the Steel Curtain after nearly 6 and a half years with the publication, with close to the last three as the site’s editor.

  • Just how big is the move? In a word it is major.

Before proceeding some important disclosures are in order. Yours truly is an occasional, non-paid contributor to BTSC. More over, I both know Coolong well and consider him to be a friend. In fact, it was a Watch Tower column analyzing Stanley Druckenmiller’s media savvy (when Druckenmiller was trying to buy the Steelers) which put Steel Curtain Rising on the map for Coolong.

Behind the Steel Curtain is a venture sponsored by SB Nation, which in turn is owned by VOX Media, an emerging media company. Michael Bean was BTSC’s founding editor, and even before Coolong joined in 2008, BTSC had already established itself as the top Steelers fan site on the net.

Coolong has a background in journalism, having worked for the Minnestota Star, having cut his teeth on tasks such as covering “track meets in the freezing April temperatures of the upper Midwest.” Coolong left the Star to work in the corporate sector, but still found himself longing to write which drew him to Steelers Fever.

Steelers Fever provided what the Star lacked – immediacy. But Coolong’s ambitions quickly outgrew his role at Steelers Fever – publishing just once a day wasn’t enough. Happenstance brought him in touch with the owner of Die Hard Steel and in Coolong’s words:

That’s when I got the immediacy I wanted. And no editorial oversight. It was awesome.
Suddenly, I found myself wanting to get up early so I could write before I went to work. I’d pound a few cups of coffee, write out a few stories and I’d keep my eyes glued on the site’s traffic numbers.

Unfortunately for Coolong, the Die Hard Steel network suddenly shut down in 2007 without even an explanation, let alone a final pay check, to Coolong. Undaunted, Coolong moved on to Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider and Real Football 365.

  • He also started his own short-lived site On the Black Side blog which featured excellent work during its short lifespan.

But On The Black Side neither gave Coolong the exposure he sought, nor did it give him the exposure he deserved.

That wouldn’t come until Coolong saw Michael Bean put out a call for writers at the end of October 2008. Coolong’s contributions began with his “Pregame Zone Blitz” and quickly morphed into multiple entries per day.

Regular BTSC writers won’t bat an eye when learning of what Coolong considers his greatest accomplishment on the site:

…is the amount of people who appear convinced I’m a beat writer. That I’m at the South Side facility, firing questions at Mike Tomlin, every day. I tell them I’m not a beat reporter, and that I have a full time job outside the site. The question is always the same: “How do you write that much?”

Indeed, anyone who has ever tried to blog, if only for a few weeks, asks the same question. Coolong’s production at BTSC was both legendary, sometimes writing as many as 9 articles per day. While Coolong’s features can stand with the best and most experienced pro football writers (see his commentary on the day the Steelers cut James Harrison), he’s become a true master at the art of “Content aggregation.”

“Content aggregation,” for those unfamiliar with the term, is the process of taking a news story published elsewhere, summarizing it and, when done right, adding your own spin, interpretation, or additional value-added observation. Content aggregation is a staple of any fan-based sports blog and this site is no exception.

  • But Coolong has learned to do it better than just about anyone else. And at BTSC he did it. Everyday for over 3 years.

Coolong explained the process of taking a 140 character tweet and “Learning to recognize the bigger story in the small details, then figuring out how to get it written (heds, lede, copy and teasers) in five or six minutes along with keeping an eye on regular work takes a slight amount of work.” Coolong learned his craft well and to his credit, and unlike some other “big name” Steelers fan sites, he did it ethically, always crediting the original source and always providing a back link.

With Coolong gone BTSC remains in good hands with new editor Jeff Hartman, someone who is already showing his own knack for content aggregation, and someone whose capble of writing strong features as well.

Preview of USA Today’s Steelers Wire

In his new venture, Coolong is going to be editor of USA Today’s Steelers Wire, a stand alone site dedicated to the Steelers. It is believed that USA Today will be creating similar stand alone sties for all 32 NFL teams.

  • At Steelers Wire, Coolong’s task will be similar to what it was at BTSC, but it will be more visually focused, relying more heavily on USA Today’s impressive photo and video archive.

In addition to his BTSC experience, Coolong will bring the same passion to “Prove it again” that has driven him out of bed at 4:15 every morning for over 3 years. The Watch Tower wishes him the best of luck.

Potential Problem for SB Nation’s Model

The motto of SB Nation is “Fans passion, professional” and during the tenures of both Michael Bean and Neal Coolong the Watch Tower repeatedly praised BTSC for producing features that offered depth and insight that the professional press rarely provides.

  • But Coolong’s departure also hints at a weakness of that model.

SB Nation editors are paid for their work, and while it’s unknown how much, most of those editors have primary jobs elsewhere. The sites also pay minimal stipends to some of their regular writers.

  • But beyond that, the site’s model is based on semi-professional, quasi-volunteer contributors.

Coolong’s has now just parlayed his work a bigger opportunity with a “mainstream” outlet, and he is not the first editor of an NFL SB Nation site to do so. What makes this so interesting from a business perspective, is that USA Today’s Steelers Wire isn’t the only mainstream media outfit that’s gearing up to greatly expand its Steelers coverage.

  • This would not be happening if the NFL wasn’t a hot commodity, and there wasn’t money to be made in generating page views covering the NFL.

It will be interesting to see who sites with models similar to SB Nation adapt to the new competition.

Interesting Insight on Jarvis Jones from Wexell and Lolley

There’s also been new news regarding Jarvis Jones that carries a journalistic twist. Jarvis Jones of course has been the subject of intense discussion this off season, which is logical because when free agency began he was the only outside linebacker under contract AND because after two year’s he still represents a big ? on the Steelers depth chart.

One of the biggest arguments in favor of bringing James Harrison back both in 2014 and for 2015 was because Harrison could serve as a role model or mentor for younger players, including Jarvis Jones.

  • In early March, Steel City Insider threw a monkey wrench into that story where Jim Wexell explained to his readers that Harrison indicated Jones had never approached him about being mentored.

That’s news which warrants legitimate worry, but because it came in a subscription-only article it wasn’t wide spread.

But knowledge of it made reading a Dale Lolley piece all the more interesting. Just days before the Steelers resigned James Harrison, Lolley wrote that he expected Harrison back, and shared a picture of Vince Williams, Jarvis Jones, Sean Spence, and James Harrison and Ryan Shazier training together in Arizona.

James Harrison, training, Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Ryan Shazier

James Harrison mentoring Jarvis Jones, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, and Ryan Shazier

This photo certainly doesn’t contradict Wexell’s story, and one might even wonder if Wexell’s work in “outing” Jones somehow prompted the young player to seek out the veteran.

Regardless, the whole sequence of events shows how subscribing to a paid service can and does enhance the value a reader gets from information gleamed from free news sources.

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Watch Tower: Kudos for Jim Wexell, Ed Bouchette on Le’Veon Bell; 2nd Toughts on Shazier…?

The Killer Bees led the Steelers to a total team victory over the Falcons, raising Pittsburgh’s record to 9-5, but the Watch Tower focus today is the coverage the Steelers press corps. is giving to Le’Veon Bell and Ryan Shazier.

Bragging Rights for Wexell, Bouchette on Bell

Walter Payton, Le'Veon Bell, 200 yards, scrimmage, 3 games, Steelers vs. Bengals

Le’Veon puts himself in some elite company…

Even if the Steelers end up losing their final 3 games this season to finish 8-8, one unequivocal positive to this campaign will be the emergence of Le’Veon Bell as the Steelers first legitimate feature back since Rashard Mendenhall’s ACL injury to close the 2011 season.

  • Bell is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Steelers Nation.

So popular in productive is number 26 that it is easy to forget that it wasn’t always so. Not by a long shot. Bell did arrive in Pittsburgh with a lot of fanfare, but his Lisfranc injury delayed his debut on the field and his somersault end zone flip in the Steelers London Loss seemed to sum up everything that was wrong with the then 0-4 club.

  • While no one was calling Bell a “Bust,” plenty people inside and outside Pittsburgh pointed to his sluggish start.

Bell looked strong through the tackles at times, but in 12 games during his rookie season he had 5 games where his rushing average was below 3 yards. He didn’t break the 100 yard mark until the 15th game of the season. Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy, whom the Steelers passed on, out performed him.

Credit Jim Wexell for stepping out early and raising his hand, and saying, “Hold on folks, let’s not give up on this young rookie yet.” After Bell turned in a 34 yard 16 carry performance in the 2013 Steelers win vs. the Jets, Wexell took to Steel City Insider to publish a column titled “Give Bell a Chance.”

Not only were Wexell’s words warrented, but the context in which he chose to frame his arguments all the more ironic 14 months later:

Le’Veon Bell’s no Walter Payton. We can all agree on that.

But with so many reporters and fans questioning Bell’s high rookie expectations as the Steelers’ next “bell cow” running back, perhaps it’s time to take a look at how the late, great Payton fared as a rookie:
* In his first two games, Payton carried 29 times for 95 yards.
* In his first seven games, Payton averaged 3.1 yards per carry.
* Payton came on late to average 3.5 ypc. that season; his team averaged 3.7.
* Payton’s team started 1-4, finished 4-10, and the offensive line was so bad the Bears drafted there in the first rounds of the next two drafts.

If not for the next 12 years of Payton’s Hall of Fame career, Bell’s name could be substituted in the above notes. [Emphasis added]

Wexell didn’t simply make the Bell-Payton analogy once and let it slip away into oblivion. During the course of the 2013 season, charted Bell’s game-by-game production against Walter Payton’s rookie season, just to keep things in context:

During the Steelers victory over the Bengals, Bell became the first back since 1977 to amass over 200 yards from scrimmage in 3 straight games. The back who did it in ’77? Walter Payton of course.

  • Kudos to you Wex for your wise words.

While we’re doling out kudos for those who believed in Bell early, its also time to throw in a kind word for Ed Bouchette (and eat a little crow in the process.) Before the Steelers 2013 preseason opener, Bouchette compared Bell to Franco Harris and declared that a new era could be beginning for the Steelers.

While its certainly true that Bell as a long, long way to go to put himself in the same category as Franco Harris and Walter Payton, his achievements thus far show that he’s got a shot of getting (if, God willing, he stays healthy.)

So as it turns out, Bouchette was on to something when he invoked Franco’s name during Bell’s first training camp. That’s buds for you Mr. Bouchette.

Second Thoughts on Shazier….?

During 2014 NFL Draft the Steelers surprised and shocked the world by drafting inside linebacker Ryan Shaizer in the 1st round. Then they broke protocol and immediately installed him as a starter. Shazier drew raves, even as Sean Spence’s amazing recovery drew plenty of attention.

Of course Shazier got hurt in the Steelers victory over Carolina, and Sean Spence and Vince Williams have manned inside linebacker along side Lawrence Timmons since then.

Shazier is now back to health, but he didn’t play a down vs. the Bengals, which given Spence and William’s play isn’t a surprise. But is there more to the story there?

Well, for that, look to the one man who wasn’t surprised by the Steelers decision to pick Shaizer – Jim Wexell:

The Watch Tower already patted Wexell on the back for that scoop, and now it focuses on something tucked into a column about Stephon Tuitt. Wexell’s column details the evolution of the the Steelers 2nd round pick from Notre Dame, quoting early caution from Johnny Mitchell and then he works in this little bomb:


Steelers fans didn’t want to hear that at the time, or any time when it comes to rookies. Many fans want their top draft picks thrown into the fire right away, to learn, they reason, the way Ryan Shazier learned.

Of course, Shazier, the first-round draft pick, is not getting any snaps these days. The grumbling around the team is that he doesn’t work hard enough, that he was given too much too soon, and now he’s paying the price on the bench.

Tuitt, on the other hand, has been forced to work for everything he’s now getting. And with Brett Keisel down, Tuitt’s getting quite a bit. [Emphasis added.]

Wexell of course don’t quote anyone about Shaizer, and keeps the focus of the rest of the article on Tuitt. But this is one of the first negative pieces of news to surface about Shazier since he was drafted. Almost all of the coverage has focused on the young man’s athleticism, his desire, and the fact that he deserved the starting spot.

  • Someone on the South Side clearly is having second thoughts about this.

In his article documenting Tomlin’s press conference leading up to the Chiefs game, Wexell suggests that “someone” could be Tomlin himself, as he revealed:

Ryan Shazier was expected to regain the starting position that was handed to him on the first day of spring drills, but sources revealed last week that Tomlin wasn’t happy about Shazier’s work ethic.

Wexell of course doesn’t provide any hint as to who those “sources” are but one can imagine that its an assistant coach, although that’s only speculation on the Watch Tower’s part.

That doesn’t mean that Steelers Nation need worry about Shazier, not yet, but it’s an important piece of information and a story what bears watching. Again, the Watch Tower gives out kudos to Jim Wexell for bringing this news to our attention.

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Watch Tower: Bleacher Report & Roethlisberger’s Non-Injured Wrist, Belichick’s Machinations in the Spotlight

The Steelers slip to 7-5 certainly did create a buzz, but it is the off the field issues which give the Watch Tower its material, highlighting the divide between the old and new press.

Roethlisberger’s Wrist

As any Pittsburgh resident can tell you, stories about Ben Roethlisberger’s generate attention. Traffic on the day of Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident exceeded that of Super Bowl XL.

  • The slightest hint of a Roethlisberger injury is enough to prompt the local news to interrupt programing to preview a story about the signal callers issues with hang nails.

So the Bleacher Report made news with their sport medicine writer Will Carroll broke the story that Ben Roethlisberger had in fact broken an bone in his wrist in the loss to the Saints. The fact that he was held out of practice only seemed to add credence.

  • All of which provides a window into how press coverage of the Steelers works.

Yours truly learned of the news during a quick scan of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC on occasion.) Site editor Neal Coolong wrote a quick article referencing the story, and then publishing a tweet from Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola.

Publishing such an article makes sound business sense, even if, on this occasion, Coolong (who does have sources on the South Side) did not have any new information to add. Any report of a Roethlisberger injury is going to generate Google searches, and a big part of the SB Nation business model is to capture those.

  • Interestingly enough, the BTSC article was titled: Ben Roethlisberger injury: Steelers QB didn’t practice Wednesday but it wasn’t injury-related.

Leading with the key word “Roethlisberger injury” both in the title and the URL kind of reminds you of the Kevin Nealon Saturday Night Live character, “Mr. Subliminal,” but the Watch Tower can’t quite bring itself to criticize our esteemed colleague and friend, as both moves represented smart business decisions, even if journalism purists might demure.

The traditional press quickly attacked the report.

Bouchette’s tweet was backed by a story with quotes from Roethlisberger himself. Dale Lolley slammed the report too, comparing it to the Roethlisberger trade rumors of a year ago (something which the Watch Tower unfortunately never had a chance to cover….), and citing multiple sources in the organization which discredited it.

At the end of the day, it looked to be much to do about nothing. But it does show the power that one reporter with a national media outlet has to set the Steelers news cycle for least for a day.

Blount’s Departure Revisited

The previous edition of the Watch Tower discussed how coverage of LeGarrette Blount’s going AWOL at the end of the Titan’s game drew contrasting coverage from Steelers beat writers, with Ed Bouchette effectively signaling is departure.

  • The story thickened when Blount was quickly signed by the New England Patriots.

The quickness of the move raised eyebrows. Dale Lolley was one of the first in the Steelers press corps to address the issue sharing:

Some people within the Steelers organization feel that Blount made a calculated move by leaving the field prior to the end of regulation in the team’s 27-24 win over Tennessee Monday night because he wanted out of Pittsburgh.

Lolley also made it clear that he doesn’t buy into such reports. Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette also weighed in on the issue, issuing the following tweet:

The tweet was backed up by a story. Bouchette did not cite any indirect sources the way Lolley did, but he did explore the hypothetical ways in which Blount and the Patriots could have colluded to secure his release. (He also chided the Steelers for not doing more to punish Blount.)

From a media analysis stand point these stories tell us a number of things:

1. There are people in the Steelers organization who at least suspect that Bill Belichick under handed ways at work
2. This kind of thing is plausible

Bouchette made a point of telling his readers that contact between players and opposing teams happens all of the time. Agents do it all the time, and often times let reporters in on the story.

Assuming Le’Veon stays healthy for the balance of the season (God willing) this is a story that will die, but it’s interesting to discuss in the here and now.


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Watch Tower: Kudos for Bouchette on Blount Story, Persistent Steelers Media Guide Error

The Steelers may have reached their bye week, but there’s plenty for the Watch Tower to shine its light on including LeGarrette Blount’s departure,a persistent error in the Steelers media guide, and some kudos for “Matt C. Steel” a contributor to Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider.

Being Blunt on Blount

A glaring negative that shines through the Steelers win over the Titans was LeGarrette Blount’s decision to go AWOL during the game’s final moments. Once the news broke, speculation immediately turned to what action Mike Tomlin would take to discipline him.

The interesting thing from a media analysis stand point, is how the press covered the event. As the Watch Tower has observed, the press that covers the Steelers, generally know more than they print, which isn’t to say they’re remiss in holding back.

But that insider knowledge does influence coverage of news that sees the daylight of public consumption, and Blount going AWOL is a perfect example. For example, at 1:15 am Dale Lolley made this observation:

If Blount did, indeed, leave before the game was completed, that was not a good, or smart, move by him. I’m sure head coach Mike Tomlin will have some kind of punishment for him, even if it’s not made public.

While that’s a reasonable observation, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette clearly outhustled him (and much of the rest of the Steelers press corps.) Theirteen minutes before Lolley pubished the above on his blog entry, Bouchette landed this bombshell:

Blount has been an internal problem for at least a month for the Steelers and sources told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he is dragging down star halfback Le’Veon Bell, even though that obviously was not the case Monday night when Bell ran 33 times for 204 yards.

Bouchette also offered that one player told him privately that the team should have left Blount in Nashville. While few specifics of how Blount was a “problem” surfaced, Ray Fittipaldo got Antoino Brown, Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward on the record endorse the decision to cut Blount.

Journalism professors are fond of saying that “the media’s role is to prepare the public for what is to come.” Well, Bouchette didn’t predict the Steelers would cut Blount, when they did it wasn’t a surprise based on his reporting.

The Bud’s for you Mr. Bouchette.

NFL Network Strikes Again?

The Steelers of course needed to replace Blount. Before news broke that Josh Harris was being promoted, speculation turned to available free agents, with Cleveland’s Ben Tate chief among them.

The NFL Network immediately jumped on the story, with Aditi Kinkhabwala tweeting:

Kinkhabwala made her tweet at just before four pm. However, ESPN’s Scott Brown fired back with this about 90 minutes later:

But running back Ben Tate, who was waived by the Browns on Tuesday after falling out of favor in Cleveland, has not drawn any interest from the Steelers, a source told ESPN.

Differing stories in a situation like this isn’t necessarily fodder for the Watch Tower, but Kinkhabwala’s track record with these stories is. Back when the Steelers fired Jack Bicknell, she claimed to have foreseen the move, yet could produce nothing to back up that claim. The Watch Tower commended Dejan Kovacevic for taking her and the NFL Network to task.

  • Brown’s story doesn’t mean that Kinkhabwala didn’t actually talk to someone who told her that the Steelers made inquiries with the Browns about Tate. Such conversations may have taken place.

But the Watch Tower is inclined to believe Brown….

Persistent Error in the Steelers Media Guide

The problem with incorrect facts being reported is that they get repeated, and if it happens often enough conventional wisdom leads them to become accepted as true.

For example, the Steelers traded Huey Richardson at the end of his second training camp (to the Redskins for an 8th round pick), yet more often than not, you’ll see it reported that he was cut.

  • It’s one thing for scribes to get these facts wrong – it’s another when the Steelers themselves are the source of the error. And so it is with the Steelers History section of the Steelers Media Guide.

Page 316 of the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Media Guide reads like this:

In 1988 the team suffered through its worst campaign in 19 years with a 5-11 record. The next season got off to an similar start with losses of 51-0 and 41-10 in the first two games as the offense failed to score in the first month of the season…. [Emphasis added.]

Sounds about right doesn’t it? The 1989 Steelers started off in total disaster only to finish in the playoffs. That is true.

But the Steelers offense most certainly did score during the first month.

In fact, Bubby Brister hooked up late in week 2 with Louis Lipps to add window dressing to a blowout. But the Steelers didn’t stop there. Merril Hoge, Tim Worley and Mike Mularkey all scored touchdowns in the ’89 Steelers week 3 upset of the Vikings. The 1989 Steelers scored touchdowns in week 4 vs. the Lions.

  • These facts are all well documented, including in the Pittsburgh Steelers 1990 Media Guide.

Yet year after year, the Steelers PR office keeps reprinting the same mistake. The error first surfaced in 1997. Yours truly wrote a letter (yes, a pen and paper letter) and the next year the error was corrected. But the Steelers PR man moved on after 1998, and the error resurfaced again in 1999 and has remained since then.

In an effort to catch their attention, Santiago Murias, Vice President of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires, even sent letters (yes, pen and paper letters) in 2003 and 2004 pointing out the error.

Yet they keep printing it, year after year.

  • For the record, the Steelers offense did once go a month without scoreing a touchdown. That happened in 1990 under Joe Walton.

Perhaps this public calling out will prompt a correction.

5 Minutes of Fame for Matt C. Steel

A few weeks back the Watch Tower looked at the work of Matt C. Steel on Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider site, complementing him on his detailed, nuanced critique of how and why Todd Haley’s offense was struggling early in the year.

One of the points Steel kept hammering was how effective Ben Roethlisberger was as a quarterback using play action under center.

Late in the game vs. the Titans, Steel got his wish (available 11/23/14, watch now before Goodell’s YouTube police find it):

Sometimes, it is really fun to be right. Here’s to hoping you’re right more often as we close down the season Mr. C. Steel.

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