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Steelers position-by-position review: wide receivers

February 19, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 5 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.

Today we will be looking at the Steelers’ wide receivers.

The wide receivers emerged as arguably the Steelers’ greatest strength in 2011.  The Steelers have always been known for having great linebackers, but the current crop of wide receivers may actually outshine the linebackers.  In fact, they may be the most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL.

What other team can boast two 1,000 yard receivers, a future Hall-of-Famer, another young wide receiver who has the potential to be a 1,000 yard receiver, and a veteran receiver who would start on some NFL teams?  That’s exactly what the Steelers have on their wide receiving corps.

Let’s take a look at them individually, starting with…….

Mike Wallace

Going into the year, we knew that Mike Wallace was going to have a great season.  He had already established himself as one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL, and he was building great chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger.  By the end of the 2010 season, Wallace had already become Big Ben’s favorite target.

Wallace had another 1,000 yard season in 2011, and he is a player who should play a significant role in the Steelers’ future.  The only problem is that Wallace is a restricted free agent this season.  Because of his incredible speed, Wallace will draw a lot of attention as a free agent.  The Steelers have said that signing him to a long-term contract is one of their highest priorities.  However, doing so is going to be expensive, and the Steelers are already over the salary cap.

The Steelers could slap the franchise tag on Wallace, but that will cost them almost $14 million.  So that’s not a very appealing option.  So the team has to hope that they can get even more veteran players to restructure their contracts.  LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have already restructured theirs.  But the team will need to find far more money than that.

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown came into training camp as the #4 receiver on the depth chart.  Hines Ward and Mike Wallace were established veteran starters, and Emmanuel Sanders had performed better than him during the previous season and was #3 on the depth chart.  But injuries among the wide receivers made Antonio Brown the primary wide receiver during the preseason.

By mid-season, Brown had supplanted Mike Wallace as Big Ben’s favorite target.  In fact, for long stretches it seemed like Roethlisberger had forgotten that Mike Wallace was even on the team.  That speaks volumes about how much talent Brown has.

WR Antonio Brown

Brown is probably the Steelers’ most talented receiver when it comes to gaining yards after the catch.  It’s those running skills that also made Brown a Pro Bowl kick returner.

Did I mention that Brown’s teammates voted him the team’s MVP?  Pretty impressive for a young guy.  I think this kid has a future with the team.

Hines Ward

Hines Ward is clearly one of the all-time Pittsburgh Steelers.  He holds just about every receiving record, and he’s basically been the face of the franchise since Jerome  Bettis retired.  Ward’s place is Steelers lore is assured.

However, Ward is no longer the most talented receiver on the Steelers’ roster.  After a brilliant career 14 year career, Ward will be 36 years old during the 2012 season.  By NFL standards, that’s ancient.  Moreover, Ward ended the 2011 season as the #5 wide receiver on the depth chart.  Even Jericho Cotchery had surpassed Ward.

Ward’s current contract pays him too much money to be a #5 wide receiver.  Moreover, a #5 wide receiver would have to play special teams, and it would be insulting to Ward to ask him to do that.

Ward has said that he wants to play another season for the Steelers, and that he’s willing to play for the league minimum for veterans.  But frankly, I don’t want to see Ward do that.  I love and respect Hines too much to see him sitting the bench behind younger, faster, wide receivers.

Emmanuel Sanders

2011 was basically a lost season for Emmanuel Sanders.  He struggled with injuries, and was only a shadow of the player that we saw in 2010.  Unlike Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Sanders isn’t a speedster.  He’s more quick than fast.  He specializes on finding gaps in the defense.  That makes him an ideal slot receiver.

Sanders’ future is going to depend largely on how successful he can be at remaining healthy.  But if he can put the foot injuries behind him, then he will be a part of one of the most dynamic receiving trios in Steelers history.

Jericho Cotchery

Cotchery ended the 2011 season as the #4 wide receiver on the Steelers’ depth chart.  Cotchery is an unrestricted free agent, and I would assume that he’d like to be a starter.  That’s just not going to happen with the Steelers.

I really liked what I saw from Cotchery last year.  He didn’t really get much playing time until the second half of the season.  But once he did, he showed that he could be a reliable target for Big Ben.

I’d love to see Cotchery return to the Steelers in 2012.  However, I doubt that’s going to happen.

Steelers position-by-position review: tight ends

February 15, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 4 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.

Today we review the tight ends.

In my opinion, the Steelers are in pretty good shape at tight end.  This is primarily due to…

Heath Miller

I readily admit that Heath Miller is one of my favorite players on the Steelers.  I love his business-like approach to the game.  He never whines.  He never complains.  He just goes out and does his job.

If Heath is asked to block, that’s what he’s going to do.  And he’s pretty good at it too.  In fact, he’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL.  Although that doesn’t seem to count for much these days, since tight ends are often used as primary receivers (see New England’s Rob Gronkowski).  But Heath doesn’t let that bother him.  He seems to get as much joy out of blocking as he does from catching passes.

And when it comes to catching passes, Heath is as good as any tight end in the business.  He has great hands, and he’s hard to bring down after the catch.  One of my favorite things is watching Heath run over a cornerback, or drag a safety.

TE Heath Hiller

If Heath got as many opportunities as some of the more visible tight ends in the league, he could definitely be a Pro Bowl caliber player.  But he doesn’t get those opportunities, and I’ve always viewed that as a problem.

One of the reasons that Heath doesn’t get the pass catching opportunities that some others get is that he is often asked to stay back and block.  That’s been one of the problems with the Steelers’ weak offensive line.  Miller is often used to cover up other players’ weaknesses.

Hopefully, Todd Haley will quickly realize what a dangerous weapon he has in Heath Miller.  More importantly, I hope that he’ll use Heath early and often in his offense.

David Johnson

Former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believed in using an H-back in his offense.  An H-back is essentially a tight end who plays the role of a fullback.  David Johnson has been the Steelers H-back for the past 2 years, and he’s done a decent (but not great) job at it.

Johnson is a powerful blocker who often seemed to be in the wrong place to make his blocks.  So we typically don’t get to see the punishing blocks that he’s capable of making.

Johnson was almost never used in the passing game.  He has a total of 18 regular season catches in the 3 years that he’s been with the Steelers.  That’s only 6 per season.  Rob Gronkowski catches that many passes in a quarter.

There are definitely tight ends out there who would be an upgrade to Johnson.  But first the Steelers will have to see how Todd Haley plans to use his tight ends.

Weslye Saunders

I really liked the little bit that I got to see of Weslye Saunders.  But that little bit may prove to be the last that we see of him.

Saunders was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2012 NFL season for violating the league’s banned substance policy.  That’s not a good thing when you’re a Pittsburgh Steeler.  The Steelers dont’ tend to look favorably upon such things.  Does anyone remember what happened to Santonio Holmes when he received such a suspension?  He was traded before the suspension ever got implemented.

Saunders has been a troubled player since college.  He was viewed as a potential 1st or 2nd round draft pick while he was in college.  But Saunders started getting in trouble, and his draft stock plummeted.  First, he was suspended by Steve Spurrier for “violating team rules”.  Saunders was later investigated by the NCAA, and ended up being declared ineligible for the 2011 NFL Draft.

Saunders came to the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, and looked to be on the cusp of making a name for himself with the team.  But this suspension now brings his future into question.

Based on the uncertainty with Johnson and Saunders, I won’t be surprised if the Steelers bring at least one new tight end into training camp this summer.

Steelers position-by-position review: Centers

February 13, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is the third installment in our series reviewing the Steelers’ 2011 performance on a position-by-position basis.

If you haven’t read the previous installments, click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.

Today we review the center position.

Center is a very easy position to review for the Steelers.  That’s because of……..

Maurkice Pouncey

The Steelers’ starting center is Maurkice Pouncey.  Pouncey was selected All-Pro at his position.  That means that he is seen as the best center in the NFL.  Need we say more?

Last year, Pouncey was 2nd team All-Pro.  Nick Mangold of the New York Jets was 1st team All-Pro.  But Pouncey surpassed Mangold this year, and was voted 1st team.  What an honor!

Maurkice Pouncey

The one complaint that I do have about Pouncey is that he sustains more injuries than I’d like.  This is particularly troubling due to his young age.  I expect older players to struggle with injuries, not young players.

We all remember Pouncey sitting out the Super Bowl because of an ankle injury.  He also missed several games this season due to injuries.

Perhaps I’m spoiled.  But I remember watching Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson man the center position for years.  They seldom missed a game.  I hope to see Pouncey create a similar “ironman” legacy.

Doug Legursky

Legursky is Pouncey’s backup at center.  Legursky will never be All-Pro, nor will he likely ever play in the Pro Bowl.  But Legursky is a pretty good option as a back-up center.  He’s gritty, hard working, and gives it his all.

And unlike Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky has started at center in the Super Bowl.  ;-)

Trai Essex

It’s getting redundant talking about Trai Essex at every position.  I guess that’s what happens when you have “position flexibility”.

Essex rarely plays center.  When he has to, it means that injuries have hit the Steelers’ offensive line pretty badly.  That happened this year, and Essex was forced to play center.

He did an acceptable job, but we don’t want Trai playing center on a long-term basis.


Steelers position-by-position review: Guard

February 11, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is Part 2 in our position-by-position review.  If you haven’t read Part 1, click here.

Today were are going to continue reviewing the Steelers’ 2011 offensive line play.  A big problem area for the Steelers was their guards.  The Steeler seemed to have a different group at guard every game.  Consistency is important on the offensive line, and the Steelers have very little of it at guard.

Let’s look at how the individual players performed at guard this year.

Chris Kemoeatu
I think it’s time for the Steelers to part company with Chris Kemoeatu.  I was really excited about “Kemo” when he took over after Alan Faneca went to the NY Jets.  Kemoeatu was bigger and stronger than Faneca.  He also was supposed to have a “nasty temperament”, which is a good thing for an offensive lineman.

Little did I know that Kemoeatu would end up being a penalty waiting to happen.  Kemoeatu must have accumulated more off-sides and holding penalties than all of the other offensive linemen combined.  Moreover, his “nasty temperament” translated into silly unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

The Steelers finally seemed to have had enough of Kemo’s penalties, and they benched him this past season.  He ended up behind Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky, two players who were acquired as undrafted free agents, on the depth chart.

Kemo is a big, physical run blocker, but he never seemed to excel at pass blocking.

Todd Haley and Sean Kugler may want to take one more look at him.  But frankly, my patience with Kemoatu has run out.  Good riddance.

Ramon Foster
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “I love Ramon Foster”.

If you ever get to stand next to him, you’ll see that Foster is a big dude.  More importantly, he’s a fighter.  He went undrafted, yet he’s worked hard and carved out a place for himself on the Steelers’ offensive line.

He’s done better than a lot of offensive linemen who were actually drafted like Chris Scott, Kraig Urbick, A.Q. Shipley, Tony Hills, Cameron Stephenson, Marvin Phillips, and Bo Lacy.  He’s even surpassed Trai Essex on the depth chart at guard.

He’s still a young guy, and I expect to see him get even better with time.  But at worst, Foster is a viable backup.  Not bad for a guy who didn’t even get drafted.

Trai Essex
We already talked about Trai Essex, when we evaluated the offensive tackles.  Essex played every position on the Steelers’ offensive line this year, so he is going to be included in the analysis of multiple positions.

The one thing that I’ll add about Essex is that at one point, he was behind Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky on the depth chart.  Both of them were undrafted free agents.  As the Steelers’ most senior offensive lineman, he should be better than that.

The Steelers should be able to find a guard in the draft of via free agency who is better than Trai Essex.  In my opinion, his “position flexibility” is the only thing that keeps him on the team.

Doug Legursky
Like Trai Essex, Doug Legursky played more than one position this season.  He started off playing guard, but also played center when Maurkice Pouncey was injured.

Like Ramon Foster, I like the fact that Legursky has managed to carve out a roster spot for himself despite being an undrafted free agent.

Legursky will never be a top-tier guard, and if the Steelers have the opportunity to draft one, they definitely should.  Yet, I like Legursky, and I like the position flexibility that he brings to the team.

Legursky can’t play tackle like Trai Essex can, but as a guard and center, he’s better than Essex.

Willie Colon
Yes, I know that Willie Colon is an offensive tackle, and not a guard.  But one potential upgrade that the Steelers could do is to move Willie Colon to guard.  I’ve been saying this for years.

Willie Colon is a mauler.  He excels in run blocking.  But he isn’t particularly quick footed.  So he has trouble with speed rushers on the outside.  That’s why he jumps off-sides and holds so often.  If he were moved from offensive tackle to guard, he would be able to play in a more compact area.  This would eliminate his need to anticipate, and I think his penalties would be reduced significantly.  Moreover, it would accentuate his strengths and hide his weaknesses.

But that’s just my opinion.  No Steelers coach has ever suggested that Colon should be a guard, and they never move him there during games (regardless of who gets injured), so I am going to assume that this move still isn’t going to happen.  But that won’t stop me from suggesting it again.

Other Steelers news.

The Steelers cut Bryant McFadden earlier this week.

That sound you hear is the collective cheers of Steeler Nation.

Steelers position-by-positon review: offensive tackle

February 08, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

Now that the Super Bowl is behind us, it’s time to start looking at what changes the Steelers need to make during the off-season.

While some prefer to jump right in and start suggesting players that the Steelers should draft or sign as free agents, I prefer to start by reviewing the season that just ended.

This is going to be Part 1 of a series in which I evaluate all of the Steelers positions, and analyze how the players at each position performed this season.

The first position that I’m going to look at is offensive tackle.

The offensive tackle position got off to a strange start this season, and things got stranger as the season progressed.

The very first move that the Steelers made was to cut Flozell Adams, their most consistent offensive tackle from the previous season.  Adams was deemed to be expendable, since Willie Colon would be returning from a season-ending injury.    But that move was just the start of a bizarre year at offensive tackle.

Let’s look at how the various players performed.

Willie Colon
Colon had missed the entire 2010 season with an injury, and the Steelers were happy to welcome him back for the 2011 season.  To show him just how happy they were, the team signed him to a new contract that paid him a bazillion dollars.

And to show the team just how much he appreciated all the cash, Colon proceeded to injure himself again, and he missed the entire season (Again!).

I’ve always thought that Colon was a bit over-rated.  He’s historically been a holding call, or an off-sides penalty waiting to happen.  But the Steelers coaches have consistently said that he was their best offensive lineman (prior to the arrival of Maurkice Pouncey).

It’s been so long since I’ve seen Colon play, that I don’t know what to make of him.  But I do know that he is going to make a lot of money this year.  The Steelers may not want to tie up so much money on a player who has missed two consecutive seasons.

Jonathan Scott
Jonathan Scott spent most of the 2010 season practicing new ways to get beat by defenders.  As a reward for his ineptness, the Steelers named him the starting left tackle heading into 2011.  Huh?

Obviously, the Steelers thought they saw something in Scott that I never saw.  But by the second game of the season, they realized that what they thought they had seen was actually a mirage.  They also realized that the team was in big trouble at left tackle.

Jonathan Scott is a backup.  He’s always been a backup.  He’ll always be a backup.  End of story.

Max Starks
Max Starks was the biggest surprise of the 2011 season.  Starks had missed most of the 2010 season with a neck injury, and then he allowed himself to get fat while he rehabbed.  He showed up at training camp weighing over 400 lbs.  The Steelers were having none of that, and sent him packing.

But when Jonathan Scott showed that he was better at being a matador than a left tackle, the Steelers gave Starks a call and begged him to come plug the gaping hole they had at left tackle.  Starks obliged, and played amazingly well.

Starks injured his ACL at the end of the season, and some say that it may be a career-ending injury for a player who recently turned 30.

If Starks is unable to come back from the injury, he leaves a gaping hole on the Steelers’ offensive line.

Marcus Gilbert
When Willie Colon went down with an injury, the Steelers didn’t have to bring back 70 year old Flozell Adams because they believed that rookie Marcus Gilbert was ready to fill the position.

Gilbert suffered more injuries during the season than I was comfortable with.  But despite that, he played surprisingly well for a rookie.

Some say that he is the heir apparent at left tackle for the Steelers.

Trai Essex
Trai Essex is the John Salley of the Steelers.  As you probably remember, John Salley was an NBA player who collected championship rings playing for the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls, and the LA Lakers, even though he never became a starter for any of those teams.  Essex has two Super Bowl rings, and played in a 3rd Super Bowl, despite never earning a starting job.

Essex has never impressed me, and I firmly believe that his “position flexibility” is the only thing that keeps him on the Steelers’ roster.

Essex played every position on the offensive line this season.  For that, he deserves a lot of credit.  The only problem is that he’s not outstanding at any of those positions.

I don’t believe that being mediocre at 5 positions is a good enough reason to make the roster.  Hopefully, the team will find an upgrade in the off-season.

Chris Scott
Despite the problems that the Steelers had at tackle, Chris Scott never set foot on the field.  The Steelers thought that playing two career backups, a rookie, and a 400 lb. guy who was sitting at home, were all better alternatives than giving Chris Scott a shot.  Need we say more?

Some say that offensive guard is the Steelers’ biggest offensive line concern this off-season.  But I’d argue that offensive tackle might be a bigger concern.

Do you readers agree or disagree?  What are your thoughts on the Steelers offensive tackles?