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Steelers finalize roster

September 04, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players, training camp

There were questions about who would make the Steelers’ final roster.  But on Saturday, all of those questions were answered.  The Steelers, along with the 31 other NFL teams, submitted their final 2011 rosters to the NFL.

Most of the Steelers roster moves were expected, but a few surprises were slipped in.  Let’s take a look at the final roster.


Just like last year, most Steelers fans thought that the Steelers would carry Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, and Dennis Dixon as the 3 quarterbacks on the roster.  Charlie Batch got almost no work during training camp or preseason, and it was a foregone conclusion that Batch wasn’t going to make the roster.  But just like last year, an injury to Byron Leftwich in the final preseason game caused the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch.  Can you say “deja vu”, boys and girls?

Running backs

Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman were locks to make the 2011 roster.  Rookie Baron Batch was starting to make a name for himself in training camp.  It appeared as though he was going to make the 2011 roster until he suffered an injury.  The injury to Batch helped two players.  Firstly, it meant that Mewelde Moore was coming back as the 3rd down back.  It also meant that Jonathan Dwyer, who came to training camp out of shape and looked unlikely to make the team, would be saved by a miracle.

Wide receivers

Hines Ward’s spot was assured.  So were the 3 young receivers from last year, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown.  The question was which other two receivers would be kept on the roster.  The Steelers had brought Jerricho Cotchery into training camp to add another veteran receiver.  Apparently, they never wavered from that desire, and Cotchery made the final roster.  Finally, Arnaz Battle retained his roster spot, primarily due to his special teams contribution.

Tight ends

Heath Miller and David Johnson were locks to make the team.  But the third tight end was not as certain.  Veteran John Gilmore was brought in to fill the spot, but rookie Weslye Saunders outplayed him in the preseason.  So Gilmore is gone, and Saunders in in.

Offensive line

Jonathan Scott, Chris Kemoeatu, Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky, and Willie Colon will be the starters.  Rookie Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster, Trai Essex, and Chris Scott will be the backups.  The backups came as a bit of a surprise.  I actually thought Tony Hills would be among the group.  Hills, a former 4th round draft pick, had finally begun to justify all of the space that he’s wasted on the Steelers roster for all these years.  It even looked like he might be named the starter at right guard.  Readers of Steelers Today know that I’ve never been a fan of Hills.  In fact, I thought he was destined to be the next Trai Essex (a former mid-round draft pick who has remained on the roster for what seems like decades, despite never being good enough to break into the starting line-up).  But when the Steelers decided to bring the original Trai Essex back, it apparently made Hills redundant.  So they kept Chris Scott instead.

Goodbye Tony Hills.

Defensive line

Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Chris Hoke, Cameron Heyward, and Steve McClendon.  No surprises here.  Next!


There were no real surprises on what may be the most dynamic group on the Steelers roster.  LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, and James Harrison will be back to wreak havoc on Steelers opponents.  Larry Foote, Jason Worilds, Stevenson Sylvester, and Chris Carter will back them up.


This is the group that makes Steelers fans nervous.  Ike Taylor was a lock.  But everybody else was a question mark.  There were  rumors that Bryant McFadden might not make the roster.  And Steelers fans have prayed for years that William Gay would be cut.  But in the end, both McFadden and Gay were kept around for another year.  Keenan Lewis also managed to hold a roster spot despite his history of mental errors.  The two draft picks, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, both made the roster without being able to show much during training camp and preseason.  I guess the Steelers felt confident in their potential.  That means they had to give up on the potential of last year’s rookie Crezdon Butler.  However, my guess is that Butler will be added to the practice squad.


Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Ryan Mundy, and Will Allen.  Any questions?


There was little doubt that Shaun Suisham and Greg Warren were going to make the team.  But there actually was a competition between Dan Sepulveda and Jeremy Kapinos.  Sepulveda was injured last year, and has a history of injuries that dates back to his college days.  Kapinos filled in well for Sepulveda last year.  However, I think everyone will agree that when he’s healthy, Sepulveda is a better punter than Kapinos.  The question will be whether Sepulveda can remain healthy.

Overall, I think the Steelers did a nice job assembling their roster.  They’ve kept a large core of veteran players.  However, they’ve also done a good job of infusing youth into the team.

So barring injury, it looks like the Steelers will go into the 2012 NFL draft with the hope of finding a young nose tackle to eventually replace the aging Casey Hampton.  They’ll also be searching for young cornerbacks who can eventually push Bryant McFadden and William Gay out the door.  Sound familiar?

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Steelers extend Timmons

August 23, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

The Pittsburgh Steelers have two important players who will become free agents at the end of this season; Troy Polamalu and Lawrence Timmons.  After signing Willie Colon, Ike Taylor, and LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers didn’t have enough money left to sign both of them.  I thought it was obvious which of them the Steelers should sign, and it looks like the Steelers agreed with me.

The Steelers chose to sign Lawrence Timmons to a new six-year, $50 million contract.

Don’t get me wrong.  Troy is a crucial part in the Steelers’ defensive machine.  He’s the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  He can do things that few other players in the NFL can do.  But despite that, signing Timmons was more important.

Troy Polamalu is the past, and the present.  Lawrence Timmons is the future.

We all know that despite Polamalu’s amazing talent, he has had a hard time staying healthy in recent years.  Troy is 30 years old, and his best years may be behind him.

Lawrence Timmons, on the other hand, is only 25 years old, and his best years are ahead of him.

Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons

Timmons led the Steelers in tackles in 2010 with 135.  That’s more than double Troy Polamalu’s 63 tackles.  Timmons also had more sacks, more forced fumbles, and more fumble recoveries than Polamalu.  In fact, the only key category that Polamalu led Timmons in was interceptions.  Polamalu had 7, while Timmons only had 2.

Timmons was Mike Tomlin’s first draft pick when he took over as Steelers head coach.  Tomlin took Timmons in the first round in 2007.  The San Francisco 49er’s Patrick Willis was the only linebacker taken ahead of Timmons that year.

Timmons didn’t break into the Steelers’ starting lineup until his 3rd season, and many fans were disappointed by that.  But since being moved to the inside and becoming a starter, Timmons has been an unheralded star.

Timmons is the fastest of the Steelers’ linebackers.  Moreover, if you ask the team, they’ll tell you that Timmons is the hardest hitting.  That’s high praise when you consider that the Steelers include James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley among their linebackers.

As an inside linebacker, Timmons doesn’t accumulate as many sacks as his outside counterparts Harrison and Woodley.  And in the world of linebackers, sacks are the sexy statistic.  It’s the statistic that everyone talks about.  But Timmons had almost 3 times as many tackles as Woodley.  That’s critical to the team’s success, even if it’s not sexy.

With his new contract, Timmons is now locked up through the 2016 season.  That’s good for Timmons, and good for the Steelers.

Congratulations, Lawrence.  You’ve earned the new contract.

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Steelers training camp update

August 06, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, training camp

I haven’t been writing as much as I usually do during Steelers Training Camp because for the first time in 4 years, I am not at training camp.  Ordinarily, I would be at St. Vincent College giving daily updates on who looks good and who looks bad.  But with the uncertainty due to the lockout, I didn’t make plans to attend training camp this year.

I will be at Training Camp next week, so I’ll be providing more detailed updates then.  But in the meantime, it’s time to update what’s happened so far, and provide my thoughts on each move.

Key Signings

The two biggest signings that the Steelers have made have been Ike Taylor and LaMarr Woodley.

Signing Ike was absolutely necessary.  We all saw what happened in Super Bowl XLV.  Aaron Rodgers picked the Steelers’ secondary apart.  And Rodgers wasn’t the first quarterback to do it.  The Steelers’ cornerbacks got picked on all year.  Bryant McFadden was a liability, and opposing quarterbacks knew that.  William Gay wasn’t much better.  Ike Taylor was really the only dependable cornerback the Steelers had.  So had the Steelers let him get away, Bryant McFadden and William Gay would have been at the top of the Steelers’ cornerback depth chart.  If that duo had been the starters, the Steelers probably would have lost most of their games by 40 points, and opposing quarterbacks would have averaged 400 yards passing per game.

Surprisingly, the response on our Facebook page to the Ike Taylor signing was overwhelmingly negative.  Fans didn’t seem to be happy to have Ike back.  Frankly, I don’t understand that reaction.  Ike has been our best cornerback for years, and he’ll likely be the best this year.  Without him, the Steelers would have been in trouble.

LaMarr Woodley’s signing was a no-brainer.  “Wood” outplayed his rookie contract.  He has been one of the  best bargains in the NFL since he became a starter.  He’s had double digit sacks for each of the last 3 years.  Woodley and James Harrison make up the best linebacker duo in the NFL.  So I had no doubt that Woodley was going to be signed to a long-term contract.

Other signings

Aside from the two key defensive signings, the Steelers also made several other signings.

Willie Colon was signed.  The Steelers have often said that Willie Colon was their best offensive lineman (prior to the addition of Maurkice Pouncey).  I’ve never agreed with that.  Colon has been too prone to mental errors in my opinion.  Frankly, I thought that Flozell Adams played just as well as Willie Colon while Colon was out with his injury.

Chris Hoke was also resigned to a 1-year deal.  Hoke has quietly been a very dependable back-up nose tackle for years now.  I’m glad that Hoke is back, but I hope to see the young undrafted nose tackle that the Steelers have in camp give Hoke some competition.  In fact, the Steelers need to get younger, so I hope he wins the position from Hoke.

Mewelde Moore was also signed.  Like Hoke, I hope Moore loses his job.  Baron Batch has been making some noise in training camp, and it would be great to see the young guy beat out the veteran.

Dennis Dixon also signed after announcing that he wanted to be traded.  Bad move.  Dennis is going to have to have a great camp.  He isn’t good enough to endure being in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse.

I was surprised to see the Steelers sign Dan Sepulveda to a new deal.  Sepulveda has been injury prone, and I didn’t think the Steelers would give him another chance.  However, when Sepulveda is healthy, he is a very accurate punter.  He can get it inside the 10 yard line almost any time he wants to.

Notable departures

I was surprised to see the Steelers release tackles Flozell Adams and Max Starks.  That’s a lot of beef.

Starks was said to be out of shape, and Adams refused to accept a smaller contract, so he was released for salary cap reasons.  Rumor has it that the Steelers would like to bring Adams back if he’ll accept a reduced contract.

Players on the hot seat

There are a few guys who find themselves on the hot seat at training camp.  No, I’m not talking about William Gay and Bryant McFadden.  Despite their shortcomings, both of their positions are probably secure.

Several players need to make an impact in training camp, or their time with the Steelers may be up.  The first is Limas Sweed.  Sweed is supposed to be healthy and in a good state mentally.  He’d better show something, or his days are numbered.

Tony Hills is also in a make-or-break situation.  How often do you hear Hills’ name mentioned?  That’s a problem for a guy who has been on the team for as long as Hills has.  The Steelers have some young offensive linemen who are likely to supplant Hills on the depth chart.

Sunny Harris is the defensive version of Tony Hills.  Need I say more?

Sadly, I also have to add Keenan Lewis to this list.  I love Lewis’ size and athleticism, but he just hasn’t been able to put it all together.  We’ve already talked about how badly Gay and McFadden have played at times.  Yet, Lewis hasn’t beaten either of them out for playing time.  That’ a problem.

Even though this is only his second year, Jonathan Dwyer is also on the hot seat.  Dwyer came into camp fat and out of shape.  I’ve heard that he looks like his off-season workout consisted of eating donuts and drinking beer.  Moreover, I’ve heard that he doesn’t look like he’s giving a solid effort in camp.  I liked what Dwyer showed in preseason last year, but there’s no excuse for being out of shape.  Unless something changes, Dwyer’s days are likely numbered.

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Final thoughts on the Steelers’ 2011 Draft

May 04, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

The 2011 NFL Draft has now come and gone.  Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to look back and evaluate how the Steelers did.

Many websites, newspaper, and magazines like to assign letter grades to each team’s draft selections.  I don’t really like doing that.  I don’t think that it’s fair to evaluate a player until after he’s gone through training camp and then had the opportunity to show what he can do against NFL competition.  I remember guys like Ryan Leaf, Robert Gallery, Tim Couch, and Tony Mandarich all getting rave reviews after they were selected by their respective teams.  Each of them got “A+” grades as draft picks, but all of them turned out to deserve a much lower grade as players.  So I will resist the urge to grade the Steelers’ picks.

What I do know is that the Steelers were very strategic in their selections.  They had glaring needs, and they filled most of them.

Going into the draft, I did a position-by-position review of the team, and I identified cornerback, defensive line, and offensive line to be their top needs.  And coming out of this draft, they’ve filled each of those needs.  They also picked up a linebacker to replace the one that they (stupidly) let get away last year.  They also picked up a running back to potentially replace aging Mewelde Moore.  Not a bad day at the office.

I’m sure there are some fans who didn’t like the order in which the team chose certain positions.  There were some fans who complained because the Steelers didn’t take a cornerback in the first round.  Others complained because the Steelers didn’t take an offensive lineman in the first round.  But these things are purely subjective.  You can’t please everybody.  And I learned long ago that no matter what the team does, there will always be fans who complain about it.  Heck, there were fans who were saying that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert should both be fired after the very first pick in the draft (obviously, they didn’t take the player that those fans thought that they should have).

The one thing that I’ve learned about the Steelers is that they tend to be long-term thinkers.  They seldom make the most expedient decisions.  The decision that helps us the most in the short-term may actually have a detrimental effect in the long-term.  So the Steelers try to make the decision that will have the greatest impact over the long haul.  That’s what I saw them do during this draft.

The only other position that I would have liked to have seen them draft would have been a nose tackle.  But we all know that nose tackle is the most difficult position to find in the draft.  There just aren’t a lot of those guys around.

Overall, I think that a defensive line rotation that includes Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, and Cameron Heyward is going to be very good in both the short-term and the long-term.

The offensive line now has lots of bodies to take into training camp.  It’s unclear what’s going to happen to the free agents, but I believe the Steelers are going to do everything in their power to keep Willie Colon.  However, in traditional Steelers fashion, they are not going to break the bank for him.

Finally, I like what we have going into training camp at cornerback.  I also think the Steelers are going to make a concerted effort to keep Ike Taylor.  They realize that without him, they are screwed this year.  Very few rookies have successfully broken into the starting lineup in Dick LeBeau’s defense.  I don’t foresee either rookie cornerback doing much more than playing special teams and a little bit of nickel and dime defense.  But let’s not forget that Keenan Lewis will have another year under his belt, and Crezdon Butler should now be ready to contribute.

So overall, I like what the Steelers did in the draft.  And let’s not forget that once the players and owners reach a collective bargaining agreement, there will be free agency as well.  The Steeler will sign some undrafted free agents.  Moreover, they’ll have the opportunity to sign veteran free agents as well.  The Steelers don’t sign many high priced veteran free agents, but we can alway rely on them to pick one or two out of the bargain bin.

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Steelers select Baron Batch in 7th round

May 01, 2011 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

With the 232nd pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Baron Batch, a 5’9″, 200 lb. running back from Texas Tech.

7th round draft picks are highly unlikely to make most NFL rosters.  This is particularly true for a veteran-laden team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming off of a Super Bowl appearance.  But writing off Baron Batch would be a mistake.

Batch played at Texas Tech, which is a pass-happy team.  Because of that, he got lots of opportunities to catch the ball coming out of the backfield.  It’s this skill that may allow Batch to make it in the NFL.  But if he does stick with a team, he’ll likely only be used as a 3rd down back.

Some might question why the Steelers would waste a pick on a guy who will likely play such a limited role on the team.  But you have to remember that the Steelers have kept a guy on the roster for just that role.  His name is Mewelde Moore.  And he’s a free agent.  Moreover, he’s an aging veteran player who is entering his 8th year in the NFL.  His experience level means that he’s not cheap.  So it may be time to replace him with a younger (or more importantly, cheaper) alternative.

Batch could be just the alternative that the Steelers are looking for.  He was a very productive runner and receiver for Texas Tech.  He accumulated 816 yards rushing in 2010 (4.6 yards per carry), and caught 32 passes for 226 yards (7.1 yards per catch).  2010 was actually his worst season receiving since becoming a starter.  In 2009 he had 57 catches, and in 2008 he had 45 catches.  So as you can see, he has a lot of experience catching the ball out of the backfield.

As a runner, Batch is nothing special.  He has decent speed, and runs with surprising power for such a small back (think Ray Rice, only not as elusive).  He’s unlikely to be used very often as a pure runner.  Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and perhaps Jonathan Dwyer have that covered already.

He will have to make the adjustment of playing in an NFL offense.  In college, Texas Tech ran a pass-oriented spread offense.  So once Batch caught the ball, he had huge lanes to run down.  That’s why he was able to average 10 yards per catch in 2008, 6.9 in 2009, and 7.1 in 2010.  NFL teams don’t use college-style spread offenses, and the defenders are much faster.  Batch will have to adjust to these differences.

Batch’s diminutive size may actually help him in the NFL.  Shorter running backs like Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew are often hard for the defense to pick up behind the larger offensive linemen.  So don’t assume that because he’s only 5’9″, Batch has no chance of making it in the NFL.

The one concern that I do have about Batch is his injury history.  He’s been injured quite a bit, and the NFL is significantly more physical than college football.  He had a broken ankle that ended his season as a freshman (2006).  He then had staph infections that required him to have 7 surgeries, and robbed him of his entire 2007 season.  He had an elbow injury in 2009, but didn’t miss any games.  Then he had surgery for a sports hernia prior to the 2010 season, but he didn’t miss any games.

Some might argue that the Steeler should have spent their 7th round pick on another offensive lineman or cornerback.  But I believe that the team now has enough bodies at those positions to make the competition in training camp interesting.  It made sense to go in another direction with their final pick.

This pick isn’t likely to make anyone overly excited, but it definitely fills a team need.

Analysis of all 2011 Steelers Draft picks:

Round 1 - Cameron Heyward

Round 2 - Marcus Gilbert

Round 3 - Curtis Brown

Round 4 - Cortez Allen

Round 5 - Chris Carter

Round 6 - Keith Williams

Round 7 - Baron Batch

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