Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Tick-tock ...

Just four years ago today, on April 23, 2010, the NFL was beginning the second day of the 2010 NFL draft.  The first round was already in the books. Quarterback Sam Bradford was the first overall selection, and people were generally applauding the Steelers for selecting University of Florida center Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th pick in the first round.


Today, April 23, 2014, we still have more than two weeks to go before the 2014 draft even begins, on Thursday, May 8th.  This is dragging out too long.  How many more mock drafts do we have to endure?  How much stock can we put into any more analysis?  Mel Kiper has already had nine mock drafts -- why should we have paid any attention to any of them?  Draft-day trades can happen, which throw any mock draft out the window.

Much of the discussion about "risers" and players whose "stock has fallen" is smokescreen-stuff meant to obfuscate teams' real draft-day inclinations. Or, maybe teams truly don't know.  Drafting is an inexact science, that's for sure.

Here we go, Steelers, here we go ... 
At No. 15, the Steelers could go in any number of directions, they have so many holes, but most prognosticators are predicting cornerback or wide receiver.

It should be pointed out three teams ahead of the Steelers also need to address those positions: The Rams (picks No. 2 and 13), the Bills (No. 9) and the Lions (No. 10) could pick corners. Or wide receivers.

It's unlikely the top-rated corner, Justin Gilbert, gets to No. 15, although that's where the NFL Network's highly respected Charles Davis projects him, and so do draftperts Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBS Sports.  All three of their (latest) mock drafts came out this week, and that's the first we've seen Gilbert dropping to the Steelers.

There is debate about whether the second-best corner is Darqueze Dennard or Kyle Fuller, Bradley Roby (no, thanks) or even Jason Verrett, who is 5'9" (like Hall of Famer Darrell Green, so don't discount him).

Not Exactly Narrowing It Down ...
At pick No. 15, good players will be available.

Of the ones who might be available, Joey Porters Pit Bulls like a handful that include (in no particular order): Odell Beckham, Jr. (WR, LSU); Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State; not likely to be available); Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville); Hasean Clinton-Dix (S, Alabama), Aaron Donald (DL, Pitt); Zack Martin (OL, Notre Dame); Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA); and C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama).  An argument could be made for each of them.

Those are probably the players, right now, who we feel good about for the Steelers at No. 15. Again, we have another two-plus weeks to sort this out, for crying out loud.

We also like a lot of other players projected to go a bit later (Jarvis Landry, Jordan Matthews, Deone Buchanon, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Pierre Desir, Troy Niklas, etc.), and maybe one of those guys will still be available at pick No. 46 in the second round.

We don't like some other players often projected to go at or around No. 15 (Bradley Roby, Taylor Lewan, others). No matter.

An early run on QBs?
What's interesting in this year's draft is there could be a run on quarterbacks early, or there may not be.

We could see a lot of early draft-day decisions driven by teams making QB picks based on "marketing" decisions as much as football decisions: the Jaguars, possibly, with local QB Blake Bortles (UCF) at No. 3;  Cleveland, with QB Derek Carr or rock star Johnny Manziel at No. 4; Oakland, with either local favorite Carr (SJSU) or the celebrity Manziel at No. 5, and so on.

Really, it's not a great year for quarterbacks, so teams needing one may reach early. If so, that would leave more "position players" available for the Steelers at No. 15.

Whatever. Let's get to the draft already. This is getting old.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's Left Unsaid ...

We'll find out soon enough.

But the following paragraph, below, caught our eye. It's from Adam Brandolph's article about the trial scheduled to start on Tuesday for three men accused of stabbing Steelers' tackle Mike Adams last June.
"Lawyers for the three men claim Adams lied about the incident — telling police the men tried to carjack him — because he was already on thin ice with the team after testing positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine before the 2012 draft. The lawyers said Adams had a blood alcohol content of 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit, when he parked his truck near the men, got out of his truck and started a fight."
That's it? That's their defense? The lawyers' defense argument will be that Mike Adams started a fight with three guys? ... at 3 a.m. on the South Side?

That doesn't sound even remotely credible. Surely they're going to claim something else, right? ... you can see where this is going, right?

As if anticipating the possible need for reputational damage control and trying to get in front of it, Steelers.com published a puff piece last week about Adams striving to "rebound" from being demoted last year.  Incredibly, Teresa Varley, who wrote the piece, mentioned not a word about Adams getting stabbed in the abdomen at 3 a.m on June 1 on the South Side.  Not a word, as if the incident and the injury had no effect on his lousy play early last season.

All of which begs the question, "What really happened that night?"

We'll learn soon enough. Or not.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"With the 15th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers ... "

With the 15th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers ... should pass on players with "red flags," question marks, lack of motivation, "character issues" and unresolved legal problems, criminal charges and general douchebaggery.

Just our opinion.

One player projected to go in the Top 15 is Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan, who still faces arraignment, on May 19th,  related to assault charges, including aggravated assault. Lewan's name has also been linked to consistently dirty play and other ugliness. No, thanks.

Less serious, but still a bit of a concern, is when we hear about reports like Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin "blew off" a meeting with an NFL coach because he was "tired." If Benjamin was that worn out from the job-interview process for a job that could pay millions of dollars, he and his agent shouldn't have scheduled the meeting.

Aside from that one reported incident, Benjamin looks like he could be a big-time receiver in the NFL, but his on-field film also shows a raw player who drops a few too many passes to merit being the 15th overall pick, in our opinion.

With so many other excellent receivers (and other players) available in this draft, the Steelers don't need to roll the dice on a player who is a developmental project with "upside." Not at wide receiver or any other position.  Not with the 15th pick; not after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

There is room for improvement on this team, that's for sure, and the 15th overall pick should be an immediate plug 'n play starter and immediate upgrade over the incumbent. Not just a guy, but an impact player. Sound reasonable?

Lots of players in this draft have had various issues, ranging from suspensions for "team violations" to  fairly serious legal problems, etc. The Steelers themselves have been bitten in recent years with wasted draft choices such as Alameda Ta'amu and Chris Rainey, who were later-round picks, but still wasted picks -- and a waste of time, money, and effort.

We can tolerate a certain amount of leeway, but there is no reason to spend the 15th overall pick (or any draft choice) on a guy with red flags, question marks, legal problems and "character issues."

Speaking of character issues, The Onion reports offers a story headlined "NFL Increasingly Worried About Character Issues of Fans." In an unrelated story, The Onion also report that "Dad Announces Plan to Honk When He's Out Front."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Not to get too excited ...

You knew the Steelers were going to bring in a veteran punter to compete with Brad Wing for the job this training camp. They did just that on Tuesday, with the signing of cancer survivor Adam Podlesh, who spent the last three seasons with the Chicago Bears after four years in Jacksonville. The Jaguars had made him a fourth-round draft choice (101st overall) in 2007, the same year the Steelers traded up to draft Daniel Sepulveda with a fourth-round pick (112th overall).

That trade and the selection of Sepulveda in the fourth round has always been a sore spot with Steelers' beat writer Ed Bouchette, as noted in a reader comment over at Behind the Steel Curtain:
__________________________________________________________

Another thing

In addition to whether he’s any good… the main downside to signing Podlesh is having to read Eddie B at the PPGcomplain about the Sepulveda draft pick. Again.
__________________________________________________________

Podlesh has had some success in the NFL, however, and the Steelers' punting game last year was awful. The Steelers abruptly cut Drew Butler (now with the Bears, ironically enough) in 2013 training camp in favor of veteran Brian Moorman, whom they promptly cut in favor of Zoltan Mesko, who was dreadful and then was unceremoniously cut. Veteran punter Mat McBriar closed out the season. While McBriar had some good punts and one notable trick play, he was mostly, eh, not so great.

Adam Podlesh
Podlesh also had a bad year. As Neal Coolong at Behind the Steel Curtain notes, Podlesh ranked last in the NFL in punting (40.6 yard average; 37.9 net) last year, "so obviously the right move is to cut Zoltan Mesko, not re-sign Mat McBriar and hire the only punter in the league who failed to out-perform either of them."

There's hope, though, for Podlesh and also for Brad Wing, the other punter who will be in training camp.  Both have interesting stories.

At some point, we'll take a closer look at Wing, but if you want a bit more insight on Podlesh, read this piece and this article about his bout with cancer in 2011, and also this entry on Wikipedia, where you will learn he was a really fast runner on in the 200 meter and 400 meter events on his high school track team, posting the best times in New York State in those events. Who knew?

Either Podlesh or Wing may work out well and actually upgrade the Steelers' punting. There is room for improvement.

Low-risk, high reward? What's to lose?
The Steelers seem to be on a Pirates-like trend of signing scrap-heap, veteran cast-offs with some "pedigree" ( to use one of Mike Tomlin's favorite words) and hangers-on looking for one last chance at redemption. Hey, you never know.

In the Pirates' case over the past couple decades, they've had an ignoble history of signing such guys too numerous to mention. You might sign 25 broken-down players like, say, pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, who have lost their mojo and never get it back. But then you find a gem like pitcher Francisco Liriano, who had been written off but found new life in Pittsburgh.

Probably every NFL team does it, too. This off-season, the Steelers have made a couple of low-risk signings of "name veterans" who probably won't make much difference in the long run but are worth a shot to see what they've got.

From DVD to DHB
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (DHB) no doubt signed with Pittsburgh hoping to finally fulfill his potential as a star receiver who was the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft not so long ago. The Steelers certainly also hope that, but may simply intend for him to fill the more limited role as a gunner on special teams. That's what he did toward the end for Indianapolis, and he did it well, too. There's nothing wrong with having an unstoppable gunner on punt coverage. The Steelers have gone from DVD (DeMarcus Van Dyke) to DHB (Darrius Heyward-Bey).

Give him a chance; see what he's got. The same goes for Adam Podlesh and Brad Wing. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Free Pouncey?

What team doesn't over-value some of its own talent from time to time? Certainly the Steelers, yes, or they wouldn't be coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons and teetering on the the brink of sustained mediocrity and even irrelevance.

Derrmontti Dawson
Is Maurkice Pouncey as good as he thinks he is, or as good as the long-time Steelers' braintrust have seemed to think he is? Has Pouncey ever performed as well as he did during his 2010 rookie year, when the first-round draft choice earned a spot in the Pro Bowl?

With that rookie season, Pouncey gave Steeler Nation hope that the the team had found a worthy successor to the decades-long lineage of centers that included Hall of Famers Derrmonti Dawson and Mike Webster, and very good centers such as Jeff Hartings and Ray Mansfield.  Nobody's had better centers over the past five decades than the Steelers. It's a proud tradition.

In 2011, Pouncey notched a second Pro Bowl appearance and then, in 2012, was given a third, which surprised some. To the casual observer, it appeared his play had declined during both the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but you know how Pro Bowl selections are -- the incumbents keep getting named once they're in.

Maurkice Pouncey, about to be carted off with a
knee injury in the 2013 season opener, with Antonio Brown
offering words of encouragement 
Overvaluing Their Own Talent?
We've had the sense for some time now -- and this goes back three, four, years, at least, that this Steelers' management team overvalues much of its own talent. And we all know they've had, ahem, mixed success, at best, in the draft (see: 2008-09 drafts).

Management has shown misplaced faith in some players, held on to some others for too long, given others probably too much rope, and let some others go they probably should have kept. It's that way to some extent for most teams, but the most successful teams do less of that, of course, and make adjustments along the way.

Which brings us to the crossroads at the center position, brought to a head over the past few days by Cleveland's signing of Alex Mack to a $42-million contract that includes $18 million guaranteed over the first two years. As noted on Friday's post on this blog, what's bad for the Steelers, and other NFL teams, is the deal is overpriced and sets a new level of expectation for centers across the league.

Ray Mansfield, The 'Ol Ranger
Trade Possibilities?
Question No. 1: Might the Steelers entertain pre-draft (or draft-day) trade offers for Pouncey? With holes galore, cap space tight, and lacking a true third-round draft pick this year (not counting the compensatory selection at the end of the third round), trading Pouncey has to be a consideration.

Question No. 2:  Go ahead and scoff if you want, Steeler insiders, but would another team even be interested? That depends on how they rate Pouncey, how much he would cost, and whether he'd be an upgrade over what they have already or might get on the open market. It's basic Return on Investment (ROI).

The hard truth is, the Steelers might not get much value in return for Pouncey, who is coming off a season lost to a torn ACL/MCL knee injury, and going into the last year of his contract.

Nobody at Steelers' offices will say it publicly, of course, but many people think Pouncey is over-rated. Many more were put off by his association with alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez (including Pouncey's clueless "Free Hernandez" B.S.); antics like hosting dinner for the Miami offensive line the night before the Steelers lost to the Dolphins; and some of his Twitdiocy (Twitter Idiocy) over the past few years, including inane comments like, "I’m rich play for the steelers and have a awesome life!! Are u mad loser", which he posted shortly after the playoff loss in Denver.

Mike Webster,
Hall of Famer
Many in Steeler Nation would not be heartbroken to see Pouncey on another team.

We'd been thinking for a while now -- even before the Mack signing in Cleveland, that the Steelers may be able trade Pouncey, and that a third-round choice in return (along with, possibly, a conditional choice next year), might be a reasonable return for a 305-pound three-time Pro Bowler coming off injured reserve and facing the last year of his contract.

The excellent Neal Coolong over at Behind the Steel Curtain makes an excellent case for such a trade, and he even proposes a potential trade partner: the Jacksonville Jaguars, who lost out on Mack when the Browns retained his rights.

The Trouble: Other Teams See What We See
The trouble with expecting much return for Pouncey is that other teams also know his play was not stellar in 2011-12, despite being named to the Pro Bowl. He got pushed around too often. The whole line was a sore spot, and Pouncey, the linchpin, was a big part of it. Pro Football Focus rated Pouncey 25th among centers in 2012. You can take that sort of rating with a grain of salt, but we didn't need Pro Football Focus to tell us what we saw.

Then came the 2013 season opener in which Pouncey injured his ACL/MCL in the first game and was put on injured reserve. Fernando Velasco stepped in off the street and the line solidifed as the season progressed. While Velasco was not as mobile as Pouncey, he seemed to hold the point of attack and pass-protected better than Pouncey had been doing in 2011-12.

The partying Pouncey twins, wearing their
cute little "Free Hernandez" hats expressing support
of accused murderer Aaron Hernandez
Is There a Trade Market?
All of which brings us back to a potential trade market for Pouncey. If we fans can see the dropoff in performance before Pouncey got hurt, it's reasonable NFL talent evaluators also saw it.

Would the Jacksonville Jaguars, say, be willing to surrender a third-round draft choice for a player coming off an ACL injury, whose performance had arguably been so-so before the injury, and who is looking to receive a massive contract when his current one expires after this upcoming season?

The Steelers have salary cap issues and at least one possible replacement for Pouncey, if they decide to trade him. Cody Wallace would be that replacement, although the current Steelers' depth chart lists David Snow as the starting center.

Cody Wallace
Wallace played well in his limited playing time. Wallace is a career journeyman, but he showed mobility, ferocity and tenacity in his four starts. The Steelers re-signed Wallace to a new three-year contract this off-season, it's reasonable to think the team was hedging its bets in anticipation that they may have trouble signing Pouncey to an extension before he hits free agency after the 2014 season.

For all intents and purposes, the Steelers currently don't have a third-round pick. Conceivably, it's possible the Steelers could use Pouncey as a trade chip -- but only if other teams are willing to assign him the value the Steelers think he's worth. And that may be problematic -- if so many fans in Steeler Nation believe Pouncey is over-rated, so too must a number of scout and personnel people at other NFL teams.

Enter Mike Munchak
And that brings us full-circle to the question of to what extent the Steelers may over-value their own players. While the Steelers brain-trust in recent years may have been guilty of that, there is one key person new to the staff who brings a fresh perspective: Offensive line coach Mike Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman himself. He stated last week on Steelers.com that he will "have a chance to coach some young offensive linemen that I think can be really, really good."

We wonder which offensive linemen Munchak has in mind?

One footnote about Cody Wallace:  He hasn't had an easy path to get to this point, if the following excerpt from his page on Wikipedia is any indication:
"Wallace was raised by his paternal grandparents, since both his parents died when he was young. When he was 8, his father, aged 43, died in prison—which he was in for charges that include theft—due to liver failure and a ruptured esophagus, both caused by alcoholism. 
"His mother died of an unknown illness when he was 16, and was unable to take care of her two children many years before that. To feel his mother's presence, he wears her stud earrings. His older brother by two-and-a-half years has served four years in prison for drug charges. 
"Wallace stated: "Going through so much at a young age, it seems like I can handle more difficult situations maybe easier than most people. I just kind of look at everything in a little bigger picture."

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Price of Centers Just Went Up

Centers all over the NFL are celebrating tonight. The Pouncey twins must be raising glasses of champagne in a toast to Cleveland center Alex Mack.

That's because of the new, five-year $42-million deal the Browns coughed up to match the "transition tag" offer Jacksonville dangled to entice Mack to join the Jaguars. The new contract, which makes Mack the highest-paid center in the NFL, dramatically raises the salary bar for centers across the NFL.

For Mack, it's a tremendous deal, loaded with clauses that will force the Browns to pay, and pay, and pay, starting with $18 million guaranteed over the next two years. Jacksonville structured the deal to make it tough to match, but the Browns had almost no choice. Not after a tumultuous off-season marked by ineptitude, churn and chaos. They'd already lost a Pro Bowl safety, T.J. Ward, to free agency, and they wouldn't have gotten any better by losing their Pro Bowl center.

The Browns have plenty of salary cap room, so they could afford to pay Mack. They were stupid for letting it get to this point, though. Clearly, the Browns never thought another team would make a play for Mack, but an aggressive Jacksonville front office stepped up with an offer that neither Mack nor the Browns could refuse.

Now, the Browns have to pay more for Mack than if they would have if they'd treated Mack like they valued him in the first place. Now, Cleveland has less cap space to work with long-term -- and that's good for the Steelers.

What's bad for the Steelers, and other NFL teams, is the deal is overpriced and sets a new level of expectation for centers across the league.

Not to read too much into anything, but the Steelers did sign career backup Cody Wallace, who started the final four games of 2013, to a new three-year contract this off-season.  Wallace played well in his limited playing time. It's reasonable to think the Steelers were hedging their bets that they may have trouble signing Pouncey to an extension before he hits free agency after the 2014 season.

Might the Steelers even entertain pre-draft (or draft-day) trade offers for Pouncey?

Coming off a season lost to a torn ACL, and going into the last year of his contract, it's a tough proposition to think the Steelers would get much value in return for Pouncey, but ... lacking a true third-round draft pick this year (not counting the compensatory selection at the end of the third round), it's gotta be a consideration.

Nobody at Steelers' offices will say it publicly, of course, but many people think Pouncey is over-rated, and many more were put off by his "Free Hernandez" crap and some of his Twitter comments over the past couple of years.  Many in Steeler Nation would not be heartbroken to see Pouncey on another team.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

LSU Pro Day Report from The USA Today

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls are not the only ones bullish on LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. 

The USA Today's Russ Lande was on hand for LSU's Pro Day and filed his report in an article titled, "LSU's Wide Receivers Stole the Show at Their Pro Day."

The article contains the following excerpt (bold-faced type added byJPPBs):
Things are looking up, for
LSU wide receivers
Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry.
Photo courtesy of
StreetArtUtopia.com
"While (quarterback Zack) Mettenberger was a big story, there were two others who stole the show. Receiver Odell Beckham did not do any of the combine testing drills, as he stood on his results from there, but during the positional drills he looked like a superstar and convinced me that he should be selected in the top 10 ahead of Texas A and M's Mike Evans. Exploding off the ball into his routes, Beckham never seemed to slow down, even getting in and out of his cuts. 
He changed directions remarkably fast and showed a burst out of his cuts that is rare amongst NFL receivers. 
Unlike many fast, explosive receivers, Beckham displayed outstanding body control, precise route-running and the ability to get his head and hands around quickly when coming out of his cuts. Not only did he catch every pass that was within his catching radius, but he made a number of highlight-reel catches on off-target passes, both high and low. After his display, there was a buzz going around that he is worthy of being a top-10 selection."

The Proverbial Best Player Available

With the 15th overall pick in this year's draft, there is no way the Steelers should "reach" for the player they select. There is absolutely no reason for the 15th overall player to be a "project" or one drafted based on indeterminable upside, long-term potential or the possibility of converting from one position to another to fill a need. Not for this team; not after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

There are only 22 position players. The Steelers pick 15th.  They shouldn't have to roll the dice on a player.

Some positions on the Steelers are at a stage of critical need. The debate is open as to what positions are most critical, but let's say for the sake of argument they include in no particular order (or maybe in approximately this order, more or less): wide receiver, cornerback, offensive tackle, defensive line, rush linebacker, safety, inside linebacker, tight end, speed running back, and developmental quarterback.

That's 10 position groups, and some of those could use more than one player. As of today, the Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 draft.  They'd better draft wisely and add some good undrafted free agents after the draft, too.

The two top-rated receivers, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, will be gone by No. 15.

There's a good chance the top two corners, Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard, also will be gone.

If all four of those players at those two positions of critical need are gone, the Steelers will have some tough decisions. Do they reach for the third-best corner (Kyle Fuller)? Or a 20-year-old receiver with tremendous upside (Kelvin Benjamin) who has dodgy hands and has an unpolished game?

Personally, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls like LSU's Odell Beckham, Jr. better than Kelvin Benjamin, but Beckham may also get picked among the top 14, based on his college productivity, 2014 Combine performance and this week's LSU Pro Day workout. As Mike Tomlin would say, Beckham's arrow is pointing up -- and keep in mind, Tomlin, Todd Haley and Kevin Colbert reportedly had dinner with Beckham this week (just as they did with Benjamin when Florida State had its Pro Day).

Say three to five quarterbacks (Manziel, Bortles and Carr and/or Bridgewater) get drafted in the top 14, and three tackles (Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and either Taylor Lewan or Zack Martin), and three pass rushers (Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and either Dee Ford or Anthony Barr; maybe even Kony Ealy).  Tight end Eric Ebron might also make the top 14.

Maybe both of the top two safeties (Ha-Ha Clinton Dix or Calvin Pryor) will be gone.  Maybe one of them is still available at No. 15, though. Would it make sense for the Steelers to take either Dix or Pryor? ... over a defensive lineman like Stephon Pruitt?

Will the Steelers bypass wide receiver in the first round because they figure it's a deep draft for receivers and they might be able to get a good one with Pick No. 46 overall, in the second round?

Tough decisions.

The Steelers should be able to draft the top-rated player at a position of need. And the Steelers have so many needs, they should be able to draft a player who will make an immediate impact and be a perennial Pro Bowl player for years to come. That's how it should work with the 15th overall pick.

There's about a month to go. For all intents and purposes, the Steelers are lacking a third-round pick (unless you count the compensatory pick at the end of the round), so it is absolutely imperative that they get the first-rounder right.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Jarvis Landry Jarvis Jones Landry Jarvis Jones Landry Jarvis Jones Landry Jarvis Jones Landry

Lynn Chandnois, wide receiver,
Pittsburgh Steelers, circa 1955
Cornerback. Wide Receiver.  Wide Receiver.  Cornerback. Either/or.  In that order.  Should be. Probably. The Steelers' first two picks.

In the NFL Draft next month (why so late, anyway, Mr. Goodell?), at picks No. 15 overall and No. 46 overall, the Steelers will select a cornerback and wide receiver.

Let's get this out on the table right now: Both top-rated receivers will be gone. Sammy Watkins (South Carolina) and Mike Evans (Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University) will be off the board by pick No. 15.

LSU's Pro Day is tomorrow, Wednesday, April 9, and Steelers' coaches, scouts and Kevin Colbert will be there, in force. It's a deep draft for receivers, and the Tigers have two very good ones in Odell Beckham, Jr. (who is expected to be selected mid-first round) and Landry Jarvis Jones Jarvis Landry Jones Jarvis Landry,  who is projected as a second-rounder. LSU also has a pretty good quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, but the Steelers almost certainly won't be able to get him.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls really like both receivers. Both Beckham and Landry are playmakers, both have great hands, and both appear to be very polished. Having said that ... if the Steelers are able to draft Darqueze Dennard with overall pick number 15, they should probably take him.  The Steelers are long past due fortifying the corner position with high-end talent.

For no reason at all, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls suspect Dennard may turn out to be the better NFL player than Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State), who is generally regarded the top-rated corner in this year's draft, although the NFL Network's Mike Mayock has Dennard rated No. 1, Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller No. 2, and Gilbert No. 3. Mayock seems to be the only one espousing that opinion, but there's a case to be made for Fuller to be in the top three.

We need a corner, but ... 
Mayock's opinion notwithstanding, there's a decent chance both Dennard and Gilbert will both be off the board by the time the Steelers pick. Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller might be a consideration, considering it's a deep draft for receivers, but we'd be more excited about getting Beckham than Fuller.  If the Steelers select a corner in the first round, Jarvis Landry would be a good option (if available) in the second round, as would Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews (if available).

Actually, it would be pretty cool if Jarvis Landry ends up with the Steelers. Then we'd have Jarvis Jones, Landry Jones, and Jarvis Landry.  It would make Bill Hillgrove's head spin, which would be awesome.

Then again, if all four players (Dennard, Gilbert, Watkins and Evans) are gone, the Steelers may well look at, yes, offensive tackle (although we don't think they will), or defensive line (Stephon Tuitt? Anthony Barr? Dee Ford? Louis Nix?).

So, with their first two picks, the Steelers will pick a receiver and a cornerback ... unless, that is, the Steelers address any of a multitude of other needs, such as offensive tackle (we're looking at you, Marcus Gilbert); or defensive line; or pass-rushing linebacker; or monster-sized, speedy pass-catching tight end.

Yeah, we're plugged in.

Back to Zach Mettenberger for a moment: There are plenty of question marks associated with Mettenberger, but after sustaining a torn ACL in November, the LSU QB  is gaining a lot of media attention this week as a "fast riser" in pre-draft talk. Previously projected as a third or fourth rounder, now he is likely to go early in the second round, with Arizona, New England, Oakland and Minnesota being discussed as possible landing spots. He might be a good fit in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers have other needs right now, including receiver, and simply don't have the luxury of a pick early in the second round. If he does well at LSU's Pro Day, Mettenberger may even get taken in the first round. If you think that's too high, take a look at some of the NFL-caliber passes he threw to Beckham and Landry in the receivers' highlight videos here (for Beckham) and here (for Landry), especially the throws at about the 23-second, 34-second, and 2:34 marks of the latter video.

If you watch either of those videos -- keeping in mind that YouTube highlight reels of college football players by nature show selective plays and can be highly misleading -- you'll see why so many scouts and observers are geeked about Beckham in particular (rated as one of the top 15-20 prospects overall), but also why Jarvis Landry is rated among the top 10 receivers.

Landry may not be quite as fast as Beckham, but some of his catches in the highlight reel are downright Lynn Swann-esque. And Landry was the guy LSU counted on  for first downs.  Neither of those guys is especially tall, but either one of them would look good in a Steelers uniform.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Watch this: Odell Beckham Jr. Highlights



Like anybody else who watched the NFL Combine, we came away impressed with two receivers who really stood out: Mike Evans and Odell Beckham, Jr. 

The only knock against Beckham was that he looked smallish.  Yeah, of course, Beckham (listed at 5'11", 198) looked smaller compared to Evans, who is 6'5", 231.

As a result, with so many outstanding and tantalizing big receivers in this draft (Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordan Matthews, Donte Moncrief, Martavis Bryant, etc.), nobody until this week had projected Beckham to go as high as Pick No. 15 in the draft, which is where the Steelers pick.

So, when Mel Kiper Jr. predicted the Steelers would select Beckham with their first-round choice, we thought we'd take a closer look.

YouTube highlight reels of college football players can be misleading. We realize that.

Great Hands; a Polished Receiver
In the video above, however, Beckham, playing against top-flight SEC competition, showed the polish and everything else you want in a big-play wide receiver, with stellar kick-return abilities thrown in for good measure.  Great hands; explosiveness; breakaway speed; body control; fluidity; burst; separation; moves; yards after the catch; high-point leaping ability; shiftiness; sideline awareness; tenacity; the ability to catch contested balls; evasiveness; smooth, natural hands; and, it bears repeating, great hands.

Kiper's projection of Beckham to the Steelers at No. 15 was roundly lambasted in Steeler Nation -- check out the Reader Comments in this post at Behind the Steel Curtain and in this post at Steelers Depot -- but Joey Porter's Pit Bulls don't think Beckham would be a reach at No. 15. Not at all.

It seem like the Steelers favor the bigger but less refined and less sure-handed Kelvin Benjamin at this point, but to our amateur eyes, Odell Beckham looks like he has all the tools to succeed in the NFL. Beckham appears to be a play-maker and, frankly, he looks like he has more game, although Benjamin has "upside" and "potential."

If both top-rated corners (Gilbert and Dennard) are gone, and both top-rated receivers (Walker and Evans) are gone, Beckham could be a good choice at No. 15.

We're not saying he should be the choice; we just don't see what's not to like (aside from the bow tie).

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Another signing for the special teams, and DHB comes in for a visit (from DVD to DHB)

Presumably, the Steelers' addition of former Houston Texans' cornerback Brice McCain is for the Curtis Brown role, which was special teams gunner and deep depth at corner. That's a fungible role that was filled at the end of last season by 5'9" Antwon Blake, who is still on the roster.

The Texans' defense was dreadful last year, and McCain was a part of that. For what it's worth, Pro Football Focus ranked McCain as 110th of the 110 corners it rated in 2013.  McCain is listed as 5"9, 185, which means he's probably 5'7", 173.

McCain is fast, but so was DeMarcus Van Dyke, another gunner/corner the Steelers tried for a while. Mike Tomlin always called him by his initials, DVD, but he was basically just a really fast, overdrafted guy from Oakland who couldn't play.

Darius Heyward-Bey scoring a touchdown for Oakland
vs. the Steelers in 2012, with Ryan Mundy
being dragged into the end zone. 
Speaking of really fast three-name guys from Oakland who can't play, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey ("DHB") visits Pittsburgh on Wednesday.  Eh.

Heyward-Bey was notoriously and spectacularly overdrafted by Al Davis as the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, a pick that was roundly criticized by just about anybody outside of Oakland, and DHB lived down to the low expectations.

Heyward-Bey's career has been marked by drops, sporadic flashes and, at the end of last year's stint in Indianapolis, a lack of playing time -- except on special teams, where he played admirably well as ... you guessed it ... as a gunner on the Colts' punt-coverage units.

For all we know, the Steelers may want to see if he can help on special teams, too. They need a kick returner, although DHB has never had much success at it.

One guy who has had some success at returning kickoffs is new running back LeGarrette Blount. Here's what Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest wrote:
"... a description of Blount’s running style can be found in his kickoff return statistics. Doing it for the first time in the NFL during the 2013 season with the Patriots, Blount averaged 29.1 yards per return with a long of 83 yards. He is a big guy who is quick to speed, and while he cannot be described as nifty, Blount has enough of a speed-power combination to make him dangerous to a defense."
No kidding. Have you ever tried to tackle a big, fast guy like that, a determined battering ram already up to full-momentum speed, head down, with a 15-20 yard head start? It isn't pleasant. Nope, such collisions tend to be violent, but then again, collisions on kickoff returns (and most other plays) tend to come from all sorts of angles and with multiple players converging on the ball carrier. They're rarely, head-on, one-to-one collisions.

It wouldn't hurt to see if a really fast guy like Heyward-Bey can avoid those collisions altogether.

Frankly, we have no idea what the Steelers have in mind for DHB, just like we don't understand so many of the Steelers' personnel decisions. Maybe they just want DHB to replace DVD.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ray Fittipaldo Nails It: Lousy Special Teams Cost the Steelers in 2013

Antonio Brown, out of bounds
Fans who watched the Steelers in 2013 remember the frustration and dismay we all felt over continuously poor field position on both sides of the ball.

The Steelers' punters were, for the most part, abysmal. They rarely flipped the field. It seemed the opponents' offense was always starting possessions after punts near mid-field.

Meanwhile, because the Steelers' own kick-return game (on kickoffs and punt alike) was so lousy, the Steelers' offense always seemed to be starting on about their own 20-yard line.

Jacoby Jones
Special teams put the Steelers in a hole all season. Then, for every rare positive big play the Steelers made on special teams, it seemed they would allow a negative one on the other side. The Jacoby Jones kick return in the pivotal loss to Baltimore is Exhibit 1 in that department.

The Post-Gazette's Ray Fittipaldi documents all these woes, and more, in excruciating but compelling detail in an excellent article that you can read here.  The photo accompanying the article shows the infamous "everything-but-the-Stanford band" kickoff return at the end of the Miami loss, when Antonio Brown veered barely out of bounds with the left half of his left foot on the sideline white stripe. If not for that gaffe, the Steelers would have made the playoffs, although it's not likely they would have gone far. The caption for that photo ironically points out that Brown and kicker Shaun Suisham were the two bright spots on special teams.

While both were mostly very good, Fittipaldi notes they also had major flaws. Brown made too many fair catches on returnable punts. Suisham missed two crucial field goals that may have won the Oakland game. Worse, and this has been the big flaw in Suisham's game all along, his kickoffs don't go deep.

If you remember when the Steelers came out of training camp last August-September, they made a series of roster moves that continued through the 0-4 start to the season.  In the week between the final pre-season game and Game 1 of the regular season, the Steelers made five roster moves. This sort of maneuvering continued. Players were waived or added. Others were moved to and from the practice squad. In 2013, the Steelers had a roster of between 20-30 percent new players.  They weren't ready to start the season. And the result was an 0-4 start that buried them.

You'd think Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin would know better. This year, let's hope they give special teams their due. Coaches always blather about the importance of special teams and how they are "one-third of the game," but then special teams get treated as an afterthought. Punters and kickers are disparaged as not being "real" football players.

The reality is, huge chunks of field position can change on any kick or punt.  Kickers and punters are absolutely crucial, as are returners, gunners and other specialty players. For the Steelers, there is ample room for improvement.

One footnote: When the Steelers signed punter Brad Wing early this off-season, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wrote a lengthy, researched post that got lost in Blogger-space somehow and was never posted. We'll try to recreate it at some point. Wing has an interesting story, and we have cautious, tentative hope that he will seize the job and make a difference. Wing has potential to be the best punter the Steelers have had in a long time.

Bigger picture, there is room for improvement in all phases of the special teams, as Fittipaldi painstaking explains in his excellent article. It's worth reading.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

LeGarrette Blount Joins the Steelers


LeGarrete Blount, on his Twitter account,
looking happy after signing
 with the Steelers.  What's up with the hand signs?
The Steelers' signing of LeGarrette Blount can mean only good things for the running game. We hope.

Blount should be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh, the 250-pound sledgehammer that backs up the 244-pound hammer that is Le'Veon Bell.

Steelers' fans: Don't expect Blount to be The Bus. Nobody is. It's been 18 years since a 24-year-old Jerome Bettis joined the Steelers on Draft Day in 1996 and went on to carve out a career that should put him in the Hall of Fame. Many fans have been looking for another Bus ever since Bettis retired after the 2005 season. 

It's unrealistic to expect the 27-year-old Blount, or anybody else, will approximate what Bettis did. Bettis had unusually quick, nimble feet to complement brute force, surprising speed, ruthless power, relentless determination and consistent focus that lasted all the way through his 10 years in Pittsburgh. Those attributes helped him rack up a career total of 13,662 yards rushing. He was The Bus.

The Winnebago
The Steelers become the fourth NFL team for Blount, who at one time was nicknamed The Winnebago. What the 250-pound Blount can do, hopefully, is provide a powerful one-two punch for the Steelers, a reinforcement to Bell, as well as a legitimate force on third down, in the Red Zone and in the fourth quarter. 

Bell seems happy:
 Retweeted by 
RT : At & !! Whew, the Steelers will be down hill. Put your big boy pads on people!! --ohh yeahh!


Meanwhile, people in Baltimore seem unhappy, or at least concerned, if the following from The Baltimore Sun is any indication, as the Ravens were reportedly interested in signing Blount in the wake of a dreadful running game in 2013 and the subsequent arrest and off-season legal woes of Ray Rice:

"The Ravens had difficulty tackling Blount during a 41-7 loss to the Patriots in December. Blount rushed for 76 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.  The 6-foot, 250-pounder player has a hard-nosed, old-school running style. He rushed for 772 yards and scored seven touchdowns last season for New England. The former Oregon standout gained 189 of those yards in the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Bills.  During a playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts, Blount rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns."

That is all well and good, and it sounds auspicious for the Steelers and Blount alike. At 27 years of age, Blount should be in the prime of his career. He's had some success in the league, but it's been spotty. It's been an uphill climb. Unlike Bettis, Blount was not a first-round draft choice. He came into the league as an undrafted free agent, signed by the Tennessee Titans. He bounced from Tennessee to Tampa to New England, where, to his credit, he had some late success.

His new two-year contract with Pittsburgh gives him a window -- really, his last, best chance -- to make his mark as an NFL player. Why, you ask, would this be his last, best chance?  By the time this contract runs its course, Blount will be 29.  If you think 29-year-old running backs are still considered prime commodities in this day and age, ask Maurice Jones-Drew. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls don't buy into that sentiment, but that's the way it seems to be in the NFL these days.

If Blount is serious about his career, his life and his legacy, he will make the most of this opportunity with the Steelers. 

Other Perspectives:

LeGarrette Blount on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/LG_Blount

Steelers Depot: Blount Still Has Work to Do Despite Improvement

Steelers.com:  Steelers Get Reinforcements at Running Back

Behind the Steel Curtain:  Power and Power Now in the Steelers Backfield

LeBackfield: Steelers add LeGarrette Blount to Le'Veon Bell for best rushing combo in AFC North

Bob Labriola, Steelers Digest:

"A description of Blount’s running style can be found in his kickoff return statistics. Doing it for the first time in the NFL during the 2013 season with the Patriots, Blount averaged 29.1 yards per return with a long of 83 yards. He is a big guy who is quick to speed, and while he cannot be described as nifty, Blount has enough of a speed-power combination to make him dangerous to a defense."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

DaBody52


It's official I'm a Pittsburgh Steeler! Definitely enjoyed my time in Buffalo & all the support that I received from the fans! Thank you!

For some reason, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have a good feeling about new signee Arthur Moats ("DaBody52" on Twitter). He should be a welcome addition at linebacker.  Maybe part of the reason the Steelers signed him is for help on special teams, where he was a mainstay for the Bills. Surely, however, the Steelers want to see what he can do at linebacker, where the team needs major help, whether they want to admit it or not.

Moats is not likely to provide major help immediately, but he should help. Reading the tea leaves, it appears he will play inside linebacker, mostly, at the position formerly occupied by Larry Foote, where Moats will compete with Vince Williams for playing time.  The Steelers had considerable trouble stopping the run last year. Not all of that difficulty can be ascribed to the front three; the absence of Foote hurt the run defense. Maybe Moats can help. Somebody needs to help.

Interestingly, Moats has a body type (listed at 6'0", but call it 5'10", and 250) similar to James Harrison, so maybe he plays with leverage. He had success in college as a pass rusher (the Buck Buchanon Award winner) at Division II James Madison University, which is ancient history for the 26-year-old, but still: It is not inconceivable the Steelers might try him at Jarvis Jones's spot, as a backup to Jones.

Then again, it's entirely possible Dick LeBeau will continue to expand the scheme of three safeties on the field at one time, along with two corners and three linebackers (Jones, Timmons and Worilds). The four safeties to get playing time will be Troy Polamalu, Mike Mitchell, Will Allen and Shamarko Thomas.

We expect to see more three-safety sets this year, with Shamarko playing closer to the line of scrimmage and disrupting crossing patterns.

One thing, though: There's not much height back there, or in the linebacking corps. Listed at 6'0", Mitchell's the tallest of the safeties. Who covers the tall tight ends and receivers so prevalent in the league these days?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Weighing in ...

Lance Moore
Once again this year, Steeler Nation has watched NFL free agency come and go (mostly now) with bated breath only to be frustrated by lack of cap space and a series of mostly underwhelming additions and unsurprising subtractions.

Safety Mike Mitchell is the only roster addition we can say with confidence is an upgrade. Mitchell succeeds the inimitable but aging Ryan Clark, who became suddenly slow during a 2013 season in which the defense surrendered a gazillion plays of 20 yards or more.

Jessica Burciaga, who is supposedly
Lance Moore's girlfriend
At wide receiver, Lance Moore replaces Emmanuel Sanders -- not Jericho Cotchery, as most people seem to conclude from the timing of Moore's signing coinciding with Cotchery's lamentable departure. We're not sorry to see Sanders gone; we are sad to see Jericho no longer in Black 'n Gold.

Hampered by injuries last year, Lance Moore had only 37 catches for the Saints, but he tallied an average of 63 catches a year for the previous three seasons. The Steelers hope he regains that form to replace Sanders, who had 67 catches last year for the Steelers (740 yards; 11.0 ypc). Sanders also had more than few drops, and too many of those at crucial times. Sanders came up small in the biggest moments; clutch, not so much. The Steelers should have let Sanders go to New England last off-season, and we said so at the time.

As for the Moore-Sanders comparison: Similar body type; similar physical attributes; similar speed -- the main difference is Moore is three-and-a-half years older than Sanders, and on the north side of 30. Plus, reportedly, he has a stunning girlfriend (and maybe Sanders does, too, for all we know).

If Moore doesn't return to form, and even if he does, the Steelers are looking for 2013 third-rounder Markus Wheaton to step up his game in a big way. We have high hopes for Wheaton, who was injured much of last year and made next to no impact. If neither Moore nor Wheaton pan out this year, the Steelers will be in trouble. There is nobody else, unless 2013 fringe rookies Derek Moye or Justin Brown develop, or somebody out of the blue. Or a draft choice.

As for the other moves, they're underwhelming and appear to be for depth, which is not a bad thing, just not very exciting. Glaring holes remain on defense, especially on the defensive line and at cornerback. There's room for improvement at inside linebacker, too. (C.J. Moseley, anyone?)

Next Up at Running Back: "The Winnebago"?
Running back remains a big concern, and maybe LeGarrette Blount will sign; maybe not. Nicknamed "The Winnebago," Blount's size makes Steeler fans hope for the arrival of the next Jerome Bettis ("The Bus"). More realistically, Blount may be closer to Najeh Davenport ("The Dump Truck"). Like Davenport, Blount has some history he'd no doubt prefer people would forget.

The Draft
Wide receiver and cornerback remain the top two target areas for the draft. We're guessing corner, if either of the top two (Justin Gilbert or Darqueze Dennard) are available.  Wide receiver, otherwise, probably, unless an absolutely can't-miss offensive tackle or impact defensive lineman is available. The needs are many, and they are great.

If North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron is available, we'd consider him in the first round. We don't think the Steelers will, but Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would. The Steelers have four tight ends on the roster and probably figure they're set for the time being. Heath Miller's still very good, but a player like Ebron could be a difference-maker, especially in the Red Zone. At 6'4, 250, Ebron would be a monster slot receiver.

In any case, the Steelers need immediate help at corner, wide receiver, the defensive front seven and running back.  Probably in that order.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Departures: Eve of Free Agency Period

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls are sad to see the departure of Larry Foote from the Steelers. Foote may have some football left in him, but he missed pretty much all of last season with a torn triceps. He turns 34 in June, and after 12 steady, rock-solid NFL seasons, mostly with the Steelers, it was not much of a surprise the Steelers were ready to move on. He will be missed, though, especially for his leadership on the field, in the locker room and off the field. We'll miss his highly entertaining appearances on local radio shows, too. Good luck to you, Larry.

More moves are likely to happen before the start of the NFL free agency period on Tuesday. Longtime safety Ryan Clark is likely to be released, and he will be missed, too, although the quality of his play appeared to dip considerably last season. It was as if he suddenly got slow, and he was never the fastest guy to begin with. Big shoes to fill, though. And he's been one of the most entertaining, candid and insightful personalities in the media. He should have success in whatever he chooses to do next. Good luck to you, too.

Speculation has been rampant that Brett Keisel also could be released. To a layman, it appeared he played at a high level last year, and that he still has a lot of good football left in him. We will not be happy if he is let go.

Predictably, the Steelers have made no moves to sign players who came on the open market the past couple weeks. No Red Bryant (Jaguars); no D'Quell Jackson (Colts). Nothing like that was going to happen, and we're used to it.

Typically, the Steelers make no big early splash in free agency. If they can find another Ryan Clark, however, a relatively low-profile free agent who makes an impact, well, there would be be nothing wrong with that.

We shall wait and see.