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Will Steelers’ 2011 cornerbacks be better than 2010?

September 06, 2011 By: Admin Category: Players, training camp

Most Steelers fans would probably agree that the team’s weakness over the past few years has been their cornerbacks.  Some would even argue that the weakness at cornerback is what cost the Steelers another ring in  Super Bowl XLV.

In Super Bowl XLV, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers used a formula that is becoming the template for beating the Steelers.   They used 3, and even 4, wide receivers to spread the Steelers’ defense.  They focused on the passing game, knowing that running on the Steelers’ defense is basically futile.  They picked on Bryant McFadden early and often.   And they took advantage of mismatches against the Steelers’ 3rd and 4th cornerbacks.

This wasn’t a new battle plan.  The New England Patriots have used this formula for years against the Steelers.  In fact, I remember one game several years ago in which Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw the ball on over 90% of the offensive plays.  They used short passes to Wes Welker as their de facto running game.  The Patriots understood that running on the Steelers is almost impossible, but passing against them is relatively easy.

We’re less than a week away from the first game of the 2011 season, and the obvious question is,  “Have the Steelers strengthened the cornerback position?”

To answer that question, we have to look at the Steelers’ roster at cornerback.  The starters at cornerback in 2010 were Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden.  According to the Steelers’ current depth chart, the two starter for the 2011 season opener will be………..Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden.  The only difference will be that both players will be a year older, and Ike Taylor will be playing with a broken thumb.  Yikes!

The Steelers’ 3rd and 4th cornerback in 2010 were William Gay and Keenan Lewis.  Neither player inspired much confidence in Steelers fans.  Gay would occasionally make great plays.  But he was just as likely to get burned for a touchdown.  And Lewis seemed to be such a knucklehead that his mental errors offset his significant physical tools.

So what have the Steelers done to upgrade their nickel and dime defenses?  According to the Steelers’ current depth chart, the 3rd and 4th cornerbacks in 2011 are ……..William Gay and Keenan Lewis.  Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Admittedly, Lewis has looked a little better than he did last year, but William Gay looks like the exact same guy.

William Gay gets burned....again.

In 2010, the Steelers’ 5th & 6th cornerbacks were Anthony Madison and Crezdon Butler.  But the truth is that Madison was used almost exclusively as a special teams ace, and Butler saw about as much playing time as I did.  In other words, they were both non-factors in the Steelers’ defense.

So how have the Steelers upgraded their 5th & 6th cornerbacks for 2011.  Butler and Madison are both gone, and they’ve been replaced by two rookies; Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.  Both Brown and Allen were hurt for much of training camp and the preseason, so neither got on the field very often.  So in essence, the Steelers kept two rookies who have little chance of seeing any action this year.  In other words, Brown and Allen are likely to be non-factors, just like Butler and Madison before them.

Simply based on physical tools, I would say that Brown and Allen have an advantage over Butler and Madison.  But until they translate their physical tools into actual on-field play, it’s hard to determine whether they’ll ultimately be better than Crezdon Butler and Anthony Madison.

So, it seems that the Steelers have 4 cornerbacks who are likely to see the majority of the playing time, just like in 2010.  In fact, the 4 cornerbacks are the exact same guys.

Only time will tell if the Steelers’ cornerbacks will perform better in 2011 than they did in 2010.  But the fact that the first 4 guys on the roster are exactly the same, doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of optimism.

Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.  For the Steelers’ sake, let’s all pray that he was wrong.

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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 defeat Philly “Dream Team”

August 19, 2011 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports, training camp

During the off-season, the Philadelphia Eagles made some high profile free agent signings.  Nnamabamdi Asomuga (or however you spell the all-world cornerback’s name), Vince Young, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Jason Babin were added to an Eagles team that had already won the NFC East a year ago.  This prompted Vince Young to label them as a “Dream Team”.

Unfortunately, the dream turned into a nightmare when the Eagles rode into Heinz Field last night.

The Steelers defeated the Eagles 24-14 in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.  The Steelers led the Eagles 24-0 before the Eagles scored two late touchdowns on the Steelers’ 5th string players who have absolutely no chance of actually making the roster.

Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked sharp as he passed for 125 yards and two touchdowns during limited action.

When Roethlisberger went to the bench, Byron Leftwich came in and threw for another touchdown, hitting the newly acquired Jericho Cotchery for a touchdown.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, Dennis Dixon came into the game and threw for another 90 yards, but was unable to get the ball into the endzone.

The 3 Steelers quarterbacks made the Eagles’ backfield look like a bunch of high school players.  Asante Samuel, Nnababmi Ashugmo (you know who I mean), and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were supposed to be the best cornerback combo in the NFL, but I guess the Steelers destroyed that fantasy.

Not only did the Steelers pass all over the Eagles’ defense, but they also ran right through them.  The Steelers rushed for 144 yards, led by overweight and out-of-shape running back Jonathan Dwyer, who ran (rolled?) for 44 yards.

Despite the impressive offensive output, it was the Steelers’ defense that was the real star of the game.  The Steelers held the Eagles to under 100 rushing yards while intercepting the Eagles’ passers 4 times.

Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote, and Keenan Lewis (yeah, I can’t believe it either) all intercepted passes in the Steelers victory.

It’s too early to get excited about what we’re seeing from the Steelers.  However, it was great to see a good outing by the team following the terrible showing they had against the Washington Redskins.

As for the Eagles, well they still need a bit more work before they can live up to their “Dream Team” billing.  If you don’t believe me, just ask Nnabdi Ashkomghmo.

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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Steelers wide receiver update

August 19, 2010 By: Admin Category: training camp

Training camp is starting to wind down, so it’s time to start reviewing what I’ve seen here at St. Vincent College.

Most Steelers fans thought that the wide receiver position was going to be a glaring weakness for the team after the loss of Santonio Holmes.  But surprisingly, I think that the exact opposite is true.  In my opinion, the wide receiver position is going to be one of the team’s greatest strengths this year.

Don’t get me wrong.  The loss of Santonio Holmes definitely hurts.  Holmes was our best receiver after the catch last year.  Holmes was the receiver who was the most elusive after getting the ball in his hands.  Holmes also seemed to be the receiver who worked best with Ben Roethlisberger when Big Ben was scrambling and playing “sandlot football”.

But the Steelers drafted two receivers in the NFL Draft, and then they brought in several free agents, and suddenly, a weakness is looking like a strength.  In fact, I think that this is the position that is going to give coaches the most difficult time when it comes time to decide who will make the final 53-man roster.

Let’s look at the receivers.

Hines Ward - Everyone knows who Hines Ward is.  He holds just about every Steelers receiving record.  This will be Ward’s 13th season in the NFL.  James Farrior is the only Steelers player who has been in the league longer.  However, Ward’s game has never depended on speed or athleticism, so age seems to affect him less than it would other receivers.  Ward will probably lead the team in receiving this year too.

Mike Wallace - This is the player that I am more excited about than anyone else on the Steelers’ roster.  Wallace was amazing last year.  And Santonio Holmes’ departure will mean even more opportunities for Wallace.  Wallace led the entire NFL in yards/catch.  That’s pretty good for a rookie.  Oh yeah, and he also had more touchdowns than a certain receiver who now plays for the NY Jets.  Santonio who?

Wallace was able to rely strictly on his speed last year, since he was typically facing the opposition’s #3 cornerback.  This year, he will be facing the opponent’s top cornerback, so he is going to have to be much more precise in his route running and in his receiving technique.  Wallace has been focusing on this throughout training camp.

Antwaan Randle El - Like Santonio Holmes, Randle El is best remembered for one heroic play in a Steelers’ Super Bowl victory.  But aside from that one play, Randle El’s career as a wide receiver has been rather ordinary.  He has never come close to having 1,000 receiving yards in a season.  He has never scored more than 4 touchdowns in a season.  Last season, he didn’t score a single touchdown despite playing in all 16 games for the Redskins.

When they signed him, I was pretty certain that Randle El was going to be the #3 receiver for the Steelers this season.  But now, after watching all of the receivers in training camp, I am not 100% certain that Randle El will make the final 53-man roster.

Tyler Grisham - I was probably the biggest advocate of Tyler Grisham last season.  I was the first media outlet to write about him.  Moreover, I predicted that the Steelers would keep him on the practice squad before most people had even heard of him.

Tyler Grisham at training camp.

Grisham is still the same gritty, “give it 110%” player that I saw last year.  However, the Steelers have so much talent at wide receiver this year, that I don’t think Grisham has any chance of making the team.  He may be kept on the practice squad like he was last year.  But the Steelers have some VERY TALENTED young players in training camp.  I just don’t see Grisham being able to beat them out for a roster spot.

Emmanuel Sanders - This kid has been the star of Steelers Training Camp.  Take my word for it.  He’s good.  Very good.  If you didn’t read my review of him following the NFL Draft, please click here.

Emmanuel Sanders lines up.

Sanders is both fast and quick.  He has great hands, and he has a knack for getting open.  The impressive thing is that I have seen him catch quite a few passes from Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich during training camp.  That means that the coaches have been playing him with the first team at times.  Not many rookies get that opportunity.  If I were picking the Steelers’ final roster right now, I would take Emmanuel Sanders ahead of Antwaan Randle El.

Isaiah Williams - Williams is the only wide receiver on the Steelers roster who did not play in the preseason game against the Detroit Lions.  That probably says a lot.  I have been impressed by Williams during training camp.  However, there is so much talent at the wide receiver position, that he has just not been able to separate himself from the crowd.  Sorry Isaiah, but you chose the wrong year to be in Steelers Training Camp.

Brandon London - This kid has been the Tyler Grisham of this year’s training camp.  He has played with incredible consistency.  He’s not the fastest receiver on the field, but he is clearly the tallest wide receiver in training camp.  At 6’4″, he towers over all of the other receivers.  And we all know that Big Ben prefers tall receivers, so this may work in London’s favor.

I really like what I’ve seen from London.  But I don’t think that he’s done enough to beat out all of the competition at his position.  He’s too good to simply let him go, but he’s not quite ready for prime time.  I’m going to predict that the Steelers will keep him on the practice squad.  However, because this is technically London’s 3rd year in the league (he was on the Miami Dolphin’s roster in 2008, but was out of the league in 2009), I will have to check the rules to see if he is eligible for the practice squad.

Arnaz Battle - Arnaz Battle’s primary value to the Steelers is as a special teams player.  However, fans got to see what Battle can do as a receiver in the preseason game against the Lions.  Battle caught a 51 yard reception that definitely caught the attention of Steelers fans.

Fans tend to get overly excited about individual plays that are made during preseason.  So to bring them back to earth, I have to mention that this is Battle’s 8th season in the NFL.  He spent the last 7 years with the San Francisco 49ers.  He is a seasoned veteran, but his best years are behind him.

Antonio Brown - Like Emmanuel Sanders, this rookie has been lighting it up at Steelers Training Camp.  I don’t think that he is a well-regarded as Sanders is, because I have rarely seen him practicing on the same unit as Ben Roethlisberger.  Instead, Brown almost always practices with Dennis Dixon.  But this may work to his advantage.  Brown has clearly become Dennis Dixon’s favorite target.  And with the impressive showing that Dixon had against the Lions, there is a possibility that Dixon may actually be the starting quarterback for the Steelers’ first 4 games.  If that is the case, then being his favorite receiver should work in Brown’s favor.

Antonio Brown works with Dennis Dixon.

If you didn’t read my review of Antonio Brown following the NFL Draft, please click here.

As I said earlier, the Steelers are going to have a lot of talent at wide receiver this year.  However, they are not going to have a lot of experience at the position.  It should be interesting.  Stay tuned.


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