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 Steelers.com interview (presumably during a press conference, Steelers.com 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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As Shamarko Thomas Steelers Career Hangs in Balance, Safety Hits a Risky Precedent

Let’s get something straight: Shamarko Thomas Steelers career has not reached a crossroads. He arrived at that milestone last summer at St. Vincent’s:

  • Shamarko Thomas entered the Steelers 2015 preseason poised to fulfill his anointed role as Troy Polamalu’s successor.
shamarko thomas, steelers safety, pittsburgh steelers, tom brady,

Shamarko Thomas tries to sack Tom Brady, comes up short; Photo Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

At the preseason’s conclusion, the Steelers benched Shamarko Thomas. Thomas logged 20 snaps with the defense in 2015, up from 3 in 2014 but still a far cry from the 190 he logged as a rookie in 2013. Put poetically, as Shamarko Thomas reached a crossroads last summer, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake opted to send the safety on the road less taken.

  • This summer at St. Vincents, Shamarko Thomas will likely compete with Ross Ventrone for a roster spot.

That reality made Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider’s morsel from Steelers mini camp all the more interesting:

Shamarko Thomas laid the hit of the spring on rookie receiver Demarcus Ayers over the deep middle as Ayers tried to catch up to a wide pass from Landry Jones. It was a crushing blow, the sound of which surprised onlookers who had become accustomed to what otherwise is touch football.

As Wexell confirmed in the comments section to his article, hitting during Steelers Mini Camp is supposed to be a no-no. While Shamarko Thomas’ hit of Steelers 7th round draft pick Demarcus Ayers generated no controversy, it does bring to mind past precedents of Steelers safeties attempting to make an impact with exaggerated hits in practice.

Pittsburgh’s Precedent of Safeties Taking Out Teammates in Practice

Lee Flowers paved the way at St. Vincents in 1998, when he laid out 3rd year receiver Jahine Arnold.

Pittsburgh had drafted Flowers in the 5th round of the 1995 NFL Draft, and Flowers played mostly on special teams remaining buried behind Carnell Lake and Myron Bell on the Steelers depth chart at safety, until Donnell Woolford faltered and Flowers stepped in at strong safety while Carnell Lake shifted to cornerback.

The next summer, with Chad Scott’s injury forcing Lake to again shift to corner, Flowers smashed Jahine Arnold’s collarbone and Bill Cowher tore into the safety in front of the entire team.

  • Flowers attempted to apologize but Arnold would hear none of it.

Ten years later, Anthony Smith followed in Flower’s footsteps 2008 when he took out Willie Reid with a hit so vicious that the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Gene Collier accused him of “training camp thuggery.” Mike Tomlin took exception to Collier’s remarks, but kept Smith in street close for the next preseason game.

The Steelers had drafted Anthony Smith in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft has Chris Hope’s replacement . As a rookie, Smith post-interception showboating shenanigans drew a sharp sideline rebuke from Dick LeBeau. A year later, starting for the injured Ryan Clark, Smith idiotically guaranteed victory prior to the Steelers game vs. the Patriots, only to get torched by Tom Brady.

  • Intentionally or unintentionally, Shamarko Thomas is following the path blazed by Flower’s and Smith.

What result will hit have? Unfortunately, Steelers history offers little help. Bill Cowher might have been angry with Flowers, but he stuck with his plan to start Lee Flowers at safety while keeping Lake at cornerback.

As for Anthony Smith, he contributed on special teams during the 2008 season that saw the Steelers emerge as victors in Super Bowl XLIII. But the Steelers opted to let Smith go, and he bounced around between the Rams, Jaguars, Packers and Titans over the next three season.

  • Can Shamarko Thomas still salvage his career with the Steelers?

The Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly says “there is hope that hope Shamarko Thomas can turn his career around…” but in the very same sentence, says that there is talk of bringing Will Allen back. Carnell Lake assured the press that “he’s improving form the neck up.”

  • The Steelers think enough of Shamarko to give him one final shot.

To take full advantage of his final chance, Shamarko would do well to figure out a way to deliver his fire power against opponents in preseason. Because Steelers safeties taking out teammates in practice is a tactic that only has had a 50/50 percent success rate in the past.

And Shamarko Thomas needs better odds than that.

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Steelers Sign Sean Davis – Is Pittsburgh Safe at Safety?

The big “news” out of Pittsburgh last week saw the Steelers sign safety Sean Davis, their second round pick from the 2016 NFL Draft (Brandon Boykin also made other “news” but let’s save that for another post.)

Signing draft picks, even first rounders, is basically a pro forma exercise following the rookie wage scale mandated by 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, so much that some rookies are even forgoing agents. So the essential question behind the Steelers signing Sean Davis is simple:

  • Are the Steelers safe at safety with Sean Davis?

Sean Davis comes to the Steelers after a successful NCAA career with the Maryland Terrapins, where he played at both safety and cornerback. It was no secret that the Steelers needed a safety heading into the draft, and many fans wanted Pittsburgh to draft Vonn Bell out of OSU.

Matt C. Steel of Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider argues that Davis is the better pick than Vonn Bell:

…I don’t think Neal will ever be more than a solid coverage safety. He will hit you like Ronnie Lott, but Davis isn’t exactly shy when getting a ball carrier to the ground. It’s one of the reasons I wasn’t as high on Bell, who doesn’t bring the wood when tackling. Bell has the average size of a corner with average athletic measurables. If the Steelers want a safety to match-up physically with the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Tyler Eifert, Davis is the better choice.

If Steel’s sources are correct, the Steelers actually had Keanu Neal as the top safety of the 2016 NFL Draft, but Neal was long gone by the time the Steelers picked at 25, having been taken by the Atlanta Falcons at 17. In Steel’s view however, Pittsburgh didn’t miss much:

But there was only one safety in the draft over 6-0 with 4.4 speed, top-ranked agility, corner experience and the physicality to explode through a player’s soul with a hard hit. That was Davis. And Davis wasn’t coming off an ACL injury, either.

Those are all positives, and unlike the Steelers first round pick Artie Burns, most of the draft nics are hailing the pick of Sean Davis. Fair enough. But, as Art Rooney Sr. once cautioned, reflecting back on the franchise’s first 40 years of futility, “Everyone’s a winner on draft day.”

  • To that end, Sean Davis arrives in Pittsburgh on the heels of a long Steelers search for stability at safety.

Actually, that over states things. From 2004 to 2013, the Steelers Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Chris Hope provided plenty of stability for the Steelers at safety. The problem is that the Steelers succession plan at safety has seen one miss fire after another.

The Steelers drafted Anthony Smith in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft with an eye towards paring him with Polamalu. Smith however preferred to showboat, make trash talk he couldn’t back up and injure his own teammates in practice. Steelers discarded Smith after his rookie contract was up, and drafted Ryan Mundy and signed Will Allen as a free agent.

Alas, that experiment ended during the Steelers 2012 self-destruction at Oakland’s black hole, when Mundy made an illegal hit on Darrius Heyward-Bey (video available as of 5/21/16).

The Steelers turned to Will Allen for the balance of the 2012 season, and let Mundy go, perhaps in err, as a free agent. Their next move was to trade up to get Shamarko Thomas in the 2013 NFL Draft. A year later, they let Ryan Clark depart as a free agent, and signed Mike Mitchell as a free agent.

Between injuries and unfamiliarity of playing with Polamalu, Mitchell struggled in 2014 in Pittsburgh, but Michael Mitchell played well in 2015. As for Thomas….

  • Shamarko Thomas got snaps early in his rookie season, but since then his seasonal snap counts seem best measured in single digits.

Ostensably, Sean Davis will start on the depth chart behind both Shamarko Thomas and Ross Ventrone on the Steelers depth chart at safety, but the real man to beat is Robert Golden. The Steelers resigned Robert Golden prior to the start of free agency, and his play in 2015 shows that Golden has the skills to be a serviceable starter.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but the Steelers are looking for Sean Davis to be far more than serviceable at this crucial position in the secondary.

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Steelers Nation Speaks: Steelers Free Agency 2016 Poll Results Complete

In the end, Brandon Boykin got a lot of love from Steelers Nation. Or at least this corner of it. As the Steelers 2016 pre-draft visits have begun, Steel Curtain Rising has taken down its Steelers free agency 2016 poll. While it is possible, perhaps even probable the Steelers will make move free agent moves before convening training camp in Latrobe at St. Vincents, the organization’s focus has clearly shift to the draft.

steelers 2016 free agents, steelers nation, votes, william gay

Steelers Nation voted on Steelers 2016 Free Agents

  • But over the last 45 days or so, Steelers Nation has had a chance to vote on what they think Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should be doing.

Brandon Boykin was the third most popular Steelers free agent, William Gay was first with 51 votes and Ramon Foster was second with 46, followed by Boykin’s 41. The Steelers resigned William Gay and Ramon Foster, but let prance to the Carolina Panthers. Darrius Heyward-Bey came in fourth, whom the Steelers also resigned.

No one outside of that group got more than 30 votes. Almost as many people wanted to see Kelvin Beachum protecting Ben Roethlisberger (25), as want to see Bruce Gradkowski back him up (24). No one else got more than 20 votes.

  • The next highest vote getter is somewhat of a surprise: Doug Legursky who got 19 votes.

Steel Curtain Rising sung Legursky’s praises when he first reached free agency in 2013 and warned the losing Legursky could carry consequences (it did) and scolded the Pittsburgh media for not even bothering to cover it when he signed with the Buffalo Bills. Nonetheless, this site did not call for Legursky’s return to Pittsburgh, but a good chunk of our readers have.

Both remain unsigned and at this point will likely stay that way until after the draft. The Steelers may still bring back Will Johnson, but word is Will Allen will not return. Steelers long snapper Greg Warren also got 18 votes, although the Steelers had already resigned Warren before the voting began.

Below Warren and the Wills, only Antwon Blake and Terence Garvin found double digit support in Steelers Nation, with Michael Vick, Byron Stingily, Clifton GeathersCam Thomas, Jordan Todman and David Nelson (who?) all polling in single digits.

Of the group above, only Jordan Todman has signed elsewhere, and the Steelers are not likely to resign any of those players. Steel Curtain Rising thanks everyone who voted in our poll, and encourages you to vote in our Steelers 2016 Draft Needs Poll.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Pittsburgh Goes Golden @ Safety – Steelers Sign Robert Golden to 3 Year Contract

Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II opened the 2016 off season by declaring that the franchise needed to bolster its secondary and the first move in free agency saw the Steelers sign Robert Golden to a 3 year contract.

While the Steelers did not relase the terms of the contract, the details, as they’re prone to do, have leaked out:

Based on the numbers available on the site Over the Cap, the 1.7 million per year average of Robert Golden’s 3 year 5 million dollar contract puts him in the top quarter of NFL safeties, but well below the top 44. For comparison’s sake, Steelers starting strong safety Mike Mitchell’s contract average puts him at 20th out of 200.

Golden Moment for an Undrafted Rookie Free Agent

By any measure, Robert Golden’s new contract works out to win-win for both Golden and the Steelers. Golden joined the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012. Golden got a smattering of snaps with the Steelers secondary in 2012, but largely played special teams in 2013 and 2014.

  • Still, Golden’s teammates elected him as special teams captain in 2014 and 2015.

During 2015 Robert Golden made 3 starts in 2015 for Will Allen, and saw his most extensive playing time. While he might not have established himself as a superstar, he did show himself as a viable, starter-cable safety, which is welcome news to the Steelers who’ve all but given up on Shamarko Thomas, who was once Troy Polamalu’s heir apparent.

The Steelers will still probably look to the 2016 NFL Draft to add to their depth chart at safety, and reports conflict as to whether Will Allen will return for a final season.

Either way, the Steelers like’d what they saw in Robert Golden, and have made him part of their plans for 2016 and beyond.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Once Again, Kevin Colbert Can Play “Wait and See” with Steelers Free Agent Will Allen

Art Rooney II’s pronouncement following the 2015 season that the Steelers needed to improve their secondary was clear and unequivocal. Undoubtedly Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert already knew that, but there’s nothing like getting reinforcement from the top to ensure a sense of urgency.

The decision the Colbert and Tomlin make on Steelers free agent Will Allen will speak volumes about how the Steelers translate that urgency into action.

Capsule Profile of Will Allen Career with the Steelers

Let’s play a game. I say “Steelers safety Will Allen” and you say the first word that comes to mind.

  • How about “indispensable afterthought?”

That might sound like an oxymoron but it accurately describes the role that Will Allen has played since arriving as “the other” free agent in 2010 on the heels of Larry Foote and Antwan Randel El’s return. The Steelers signed Allen, arguable as insurance in case Ryan Clark walked (that’s how it looked, solid reporting disputed that however.)

  • Then the Steelers promptly forgot Will Allen.

Ryan Mundy was Mike Tomlin’s “next man up” when ever Troy Polamalu or Clark needed to come out, and Tomlin stuck to that plan during all of 2010, 2011, and through the Steelers 2012 loss at Oakland’s black hole. That lose got Allen into the Steeelers line up.

While Allen helped improve their defense, the Steelers let him go as a free agent in 2013, only to bring him back in after Dallas cut him. Allen again helped stabilize the Steelers defense, as the stability he provided can at the expense of getting Shamarko Thomas snaps.

  • Allen was back in 2014, and while it feels disrespectful to write this, the Steelers defense was better with him in and Polamalu on the bench.

Still, the Steelers waited until Polamalu retired to resign Allen for 2015. But as always, the thinking was that Allen would back up Shamarko Thomas. Of course, Shamarko Thomas got benched, Will Allen started for the Steelers at safety.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Will Allen

In four straight years, Will Allen’s role was projected to play a secondary role in the Steelers defensive backfield, and in four straight seasons circumstances forced Allen to do more than expected and each time he delivered.

  • That’s a nice track record for someone who did little more than sit on the bench for two seasons.

When the history of Pittsburgh Steelers safeties is written, no one’s going to confuse Will Allen with Donnie Shell, Mike Wagner, Glen Edwards, Carnell Lake, or even Darren Perry. But Allen has provided consistent, competent play at a critical position and is a good man to have on your team.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Will Allen

Will Allen is going to be 34 in 2016, and while his play was solid in 2015, he did begin to show signs of losing a step. And the Steeler secondary cannot afford to lose many steps. In some ways, Will Allen’s career arch with the Steelers mirrors that of Max Starks.

  • He’s a player the Steelers have wanted to move on from, but have never been able to do so.

The analogy isn’t perfect, but it makes a lot of sense. At some point management has to decide enough is enough and commit to moving on. The Steelers did it in 2013, even though Mike Adams was clearly in over his head at left tackle. There were certain growing pains, but by the end of 2013 Kelvin Beachum had silenced the calls to bring back Max Starks one more time.

  • And so it must be with Will Allen.

Will Allen has been one of the Steelers most underrated and under appreciated free agent pickups. He’s provided dependable depth and done all that has been asked of him. But it is time for the Steelers to move on.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Will Allen

Does Will Allen even want to come back and continue playing? Will Allen considered retiring after 2014, and had to be talked into returning, if Dale Lolley is correct. If he does want to play, then the Steelers can consider bringing him back, but resigning Robert Golden and finding a younger safety in the draft take prority.

If the Steelers think that Will Allen has one more season of football left in him, and Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, and Carnell Lake are far more qualified to make that decision than yours truly, then they can do what they’ve always done – plan to fall back on Will Allen if their other plans don’t pan out.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Should the Steelers Resign Free Agent Robert Golden?

One of the many “under the radar” free agents the Pittsburgh Steelers must make a difficult choice on is none other than safety Robert Golden.

[Editor’s note: The Steelers resigned Robert Golden on March 7th. Click here for more.]

Capsule Profile of Robert Golden’s Career with the Steelers

Has there ever been a player who has played his entire NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and reached free agency with a lower profile than Robert Golden? Perhaps, but the list would be a short one.

Robert Golden made the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012 and did something that few rookies, even draft picks, did under Dick LeBeau’s system – he saw time with the Steelers starting defense. To be sure, Golden’s snap count was a low 46, but the fact that he got time at all was revealing.

The with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark aging, the word was that the Steelers where high on Golden going into 2013, but his development took a back seat to the team’s desire to get Shamarko Thomas on the field, and Will Allen’s return.

Unable to get a helmet with the secondary, Golden made a name on special teams during the next two seasons, including completing a 25 yard pass to Antwon Blake on a fake punt in the 2014 season opening win over Cleveland.

That changed for Golden in 2015, as Shamarko Thomas’ benching and injuries to Will Allen led to Robert Golden playing in 33% of the Steelers defensive snaps in 2015, per Pro Football reference. (Video available as of 3/1/2016):

While no one would confuse Golden with being the second coming of Troy Polamalu, he did make his first NFL interception in the Steelers regular season win over Cincinnati, and his 27 yard return set up DeAngelo Williams insurance touchdown.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Robert Golden

Why didn’t Robert Golden see more time with Steelers secondary sooner? It is hard to say, but the Steelers motive could be rooted in a change of heart by Mike Tomlin. Mike Tomlin played Ryan Mundy every chance he got in 2010, 2011, and at the beginning of 2012 with an eye towards grooming him as a starter.

  • He took a similar track with Shamarko Thomas early in 2013, but kept Thomas on a much shorter leash.

In both cases, Will Allen surpassed Mundy and then Thomas as “The next man up” and the trend continued in 2014 as Golden only saw 4 snaps with the Steelers defense. Yet in 2015, Golden passed Thomas on the depth chart. Fans didn’t hear his name too often, but with a safety that can be a good thing.

The Steelers need help at safety, even if Will Allen does return. Shamarko Thomas clearly isn’t the answer, and Robert Golden knows the system and will only be 26 years old.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Robert Golden

The operative phrase above is “the Steelers need help at safety.” Robert Golden might be a serviceable playing, but is he the playmaker they need? So far there’s scant evidence to support such a claim. With Mike Mitchell the Steelers have one quality safety, they need another quality safety to start along side Mitchell, and at least one more on the bench.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Robert Golden

In some cases the pro’s and con’s match up fairly evenly, in others not so much. Robert Golden is an example of the latter.

As Jim Wexell observed on Steel City Insider, the Golden showed he could play both safety slots for the Steelers, and interchangeability at safety is important to the Steelers defense. He can also function as a in the box safety in the Steelers Dime defense. And he’s a special teams captain.

 

  • The Steelers also have a distinct advantage over the rest of the NFL here.

The Steelers have seen a lot more of Robert Golden than has the rest of the NFL. He’s had enough tape to prove he can do it in big games, but he has not assembled the type of resume to command big dollars on the free agent market.

Dare we say, Pittsburgh has a golden opportunity here, and Steelers Nation should hope and can reasonably expect  see the headline “Steelers resign free agent Robert Golden” in the fairly near future.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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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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Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Defensive Report Card

Taken from the grade book of a teacher began the year by telling his students that he expected them to outperform the low expectations that others had for them, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Defensive Report Card.

steelers, report card, grades, 2015 season, defense, secondary, defensive line, linebackers,

Defensive Line
2015 marked a new era on the Steelers defensive line, as it was the first time since 2000 that a Smith, a Hampton, or Keisel was not a start on the defensive line. 2015 also saw John Mitchell’s long standing practice of rotating defensive lineman taper off. Cameron Heyward stepped forward as a leader of the Steelers defense, and he did it with authority registering 7 sacks and 55 tackles. Stephon Tuitt was not far behind, with six and half sacks. Steve McLendon had a quieter year, but the Steelers improve run defense does not come unless he is playing well.

While the trio of Heyward, Tuitt and McLendon provided Steelers Nation with a lot to like, not much can be said of the men playing behind them. Daniel McCullers played 105 snaps – up from 63 a year ago, but that pales to compared to the 216 snaps that Al Woods logged in 2013. Cam Thomas saw his snap percentage drop from 44.9% to a mere 16.9%, and rookie L.T. Walton only logged 29 snaps.

  • Heyward’s snap count was close to 90% and Tuitt’s was just under 80%.

It’s doubtful that Tomlin, Bulter and Mitchell would have played both men so much had they the luxury of rotating someone else in. Overall, the performance of the Steelers defensive line was very good, but Steelers defense came up flat whenever they couldn’t pressure the passer, and the defensive line must shoulder some of that responsibility. Grade:  B+

Linebackers
The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacking corps boasted four 1st round draft picks for the first time in franchise and possibly league history. Lawrence Timmons continued to lead this group and arguably had his best seasons since2012. Ryan Shazier came into his own, from his breakout game vs. San Francisco, to his stellar performance late in the season and in the playoffs.

Regarding the Steelers outside linebackers, Bud Dupree showed promise in his first year in the NFL. Three years into his NFL career, Jarvis Jones remains somewhat of a mystery. Coaches are always at great pains to point out how well he’s playing in pass coverage, but he still only added 2 sacks to his career total. By comparison, Arthur Moats managed 4 sacks and was more involved in creating turnovers.

  • James Harrison‘s showed that he certainly had something left in the tank – and then some.

Overall the grade of the Steelers linebackers must reflect the fact that they until was generally good, but not quite consistent tough to be considered as something special.  Grade: B

Secondary
The Steelers accidental secondary is one of the most maligned units in franchise history, perhaps since the days of Lupe Sanchez and John Swain. While the Steelers secondary can in no way be considered a team strength, some of that criticism is slightly overboard.

On the positive side, Mike Mitchell had an excellent year, and vindicated the Steelers decision to make him into a priority-free agent signing. William Gay again showed he was probably, dollar-for-dollar, the NFL’s best cornerback. Will Allen also continued to make plays and Robert Golden looked solid in relief.

Antwon Blake has been the target of both fans and media criticism, and his poor tackling technique hurt the team on a number of occasions. In fairness to Blake, he’s probably a number 4 or number 3 corner who shouldn’t be starting. Ross Cockrell was a nice edition to the secondary, and has a nose for the ball. Brandon Boykin did what was asked of him.

When the Steelers front seven got pressure on the quarterback, the Steelers showed they could win with the secondary. Moreover, the secondary showed it could translate pressure upfront into turnovers. But without this support up front, the Steelers secondary was vulnerable.  Grade: C

Part I of our Steelers 2015 Report Card series graded the Steelers offense.
Part III will grade the Steelers 2015 special teams, coaches and name the Unsung Hero.

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Hedging Their Bets, Steelers Sign 3rd Place Kicker, Plus 3 Other Futures Contracts

The Pittsburgh Steelers continued to add to their off season roster by signing four more players to reserve/futures contracts. The players are free safety Jacob Hagen, offensive tackle Brian Mihalik, place kicker Ty Long, and running back Daryl Richardson.

https://twitter.com/steelers/status/689919640940711937

The signing of Ty Long gives the Steelers an unprecedented 3 place kickers on their off season roster with Shaun Suisham coming off of injured reserve and Chris Boswell signed through 2016. When asked about carrying so many kickers, Mike Tomlin simply commented that the Steelers were in a good situation.

Of the quartet of futures contract signees, Daryl Richardson is the most experienced, having been drafted by the then St. Louis Rams in the 7th round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Per Pro Football Reference, Richardson appeared in 24 games over two seasons for the Rams, and rushed for 690 yards and caught 38 passes for 284 yards. He did not score a touchdown for the Rams although he did make a two point conversion.

The Rams cut him after the 2013 season, but Richardson caught on with the New York Jets, although he did not appear in any games from them. He spent time on the practice squads and active rosters of the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns in 2015, but did not dress for any games.

The Steelers likely signed Daryl Richardson as another training camp body, but he will have a shot to compete with Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jordan Todman, and Mr. John Q. Draft Pick to back up Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams.

Brian Mihalik played defensive line for for Boston College but was drafted as an offensive tackle by the Phialdelphia Eagles in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Mihalik neither made the team nor the practice squad, and while the Steelers are listing him at offensive line, they have been known to switch ex-Eagales to new positions as they did with Alejandro Villanueva.

Jacob Hagen played his college ball at Liberty University where he started all 14 games his senior year and led his team with 108 tackles and 8 interceptions. He was signed to the St. Louis Rams training camp roster as an undrafted rookie free agent, but neither made the team nor the practice squad.

Again, the Steelers are most likely projecting Jacob Hagen as a training camp body, but with Will Allen pushing 34 and Shamarko Thomas showing nothing in 3 years outside of special teams, Hagen will certainly have is opportunity.

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