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Archive for July, 2009

Steelers Training Camp Preview: Quarterback

July 31, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

July 31, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is Part 5 in a series.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

Part 1:  Defensive linemen

Part 2:  Linebackers

Part 3:  Safeties

Part 4: Cornerbacks

Now That we’ve finished discussing the defense, it’s time to turn our attenti0n to the offense.  The first position that we are going to preview is quarterback.

Most Steelers fans are aware that the team always carries 3 quarterbacks on the roster.  2009 will be no different.

Let’s look at the quarterbacks who will battle to make the Steelers’ 2009 roster.

Ben Roethlisberger - In his first 5 years in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger has quarterbacked the Steelers to 2 Super Bowl championships.  That means he has delivered championships 40% of the time.  If he continues at that pace, and has a 10-15 year career, is is guaranteed to be make the NFL Hall of Fame.  Moreover, he will surpass Terry Bradshaw as the greatest Steelers quarterback of all time.

The Steelers acknowledged Big Ben’s potential in 2008 when they signed him to an 8-year extension that will pay him $102 billion (or was that $102 million?  I’m not sure, but I know it was a lot).

Big Ben has now entered the rarefied air previously reserved for Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.  He is an elite franchise quarterback that teams have to game plan for.  Moreover, in 2008 he was the single highest paid player in the NFL.


Big Ben is going to be the Steelers’ starting quarterback for a long time, provided he stays healthy (and his health is not a given, considering how often he gets sacked).  Is there really any question whether Ben will make the roster and be the starter in 2009?  I thought not.

Andrea McNulty is far more likely to knock Ben out of his starting job than Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon are.

Charlie Batch - The Steelers have enjoyed having the dependable Batch waiting in the wings for a long time now.  Batch is an experienced, dependable veteran who is not likely to lose the game for the team if called upon to play.

Perhaps Batch’s most important characteristic is his apparent comfort with the idea of being a back-up.  This characteristic is what was missing in Byron Leftwich, and is the reason why Leftwich is not with the Steelers today.  Leftwich saw himself as a starter.  He was never going to be comfortable with being relegated to a backup role.  Charlie Batch has no such problem.

Eagles Steelers Football

Both fans and coaches are extremely comfortable with Charlie Batch.  That is why most fans have already penciled Batch in as the #2 quarterback in 2009.  I am not so quick to anoint Batch to the #2 spot.  While Batch is admittedly competent and dependable, he has a few glaring flaws.

  1. Batch will be 35 years old this season.  His best days are clearly behind him.
  2. Batch has a career QB rating of only 77.9.  While he probably won’t lose many games for the Steelers, he also can’t be expected to carry the team on his back and win many games either.
  3. Batch has a history of injuries.  This was most recently evident in 2008 when he missed most of the season with a shoulder injury.

Rather than hand the #2 quarterback role to Batch, I’d much rather see another player win the spot in training camp.  That player is……..

Dennis Dixon -  Prior to injuring his ACL during his last year in college, Dennis Dixon was leading Oregon to a potential national championship.  Moreover, he was the front-runner for the Heisman trophy.  The kid was a star, and NFL scouts were drooling over him.

I read many of the Steelers websites and forums, and there is a piece of false information that I find repeated over and over again.  Many fans say that “Dennis Dixon is just an athlete who would rather run than throw the ball.  He is just another Michael Vick or Vince Young”.  Sure, all three are black quarterbacks, and all three are athletic, but the comparisons end there.

Dennis Dixon was an accomplished quarterback at Oregon.  He has a powerful arm, and can make all of the throws.  In fact, prior to his injury, he was viewed as a better prospect than last years’ NFL freshmen sensations Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.

All three quarterbacks came out of college the same year.  That year, Dennis Dixon had a QB rating of 161.19.  Joe Flacco’s QB rating was 144.91, and Matt Ryan’s was 127.04.  Advantage: Dixon.

Dennis Dixon’s pass completion percentage was 67.7%.  Joe Flacco’s was 63.5%, and Matt Ryan’s was 59.3%.  Advantage: Dixon.

Dennis Dixon threw 4 interceptions.  Joe Flacco threw 5, and Matt Ryan threw a whopping 19.  Advantage: Dixon.

Most impressive of all, Dixon averaged 8.4 yards per pass.  Joe Flacco averaged 8.2, and Matt Ryan averaged 6.9.  So not only was Dixon a more accurate passer than Flacco or Ryan, but he also tended to make longer passes than them.   Advantage:  Dixon.

Eagles Steelers Football

Both Flacco and Ryan did very well in their first year in the NFL.  So why are Steelers fans so concerned that Dixon is only going to be useful as a wildcat quarterback?  Moreover, why have some Steelers fans called for Dixon to be placed in a “slash” role and to only be used for gimmick plays?  I’ve even heard Steelers fans suggest that Dixon be converted to a wide receiver.  Dixon has never played receiver.  Why try to turn him into one?

I don’t want to offend any readers, but many of the comments that I have read about Dixon verge on being racist stereotypes.

Dennis Dixon is NOT an athlete pretending to be a quarterback.  He is an accomplished quarterback who needs to learn the Steelers playbook so he can show fans and coaches just what he is capable of doing.

Dennis Dixon is younger than Charlie Batch, taller than Charlie Batch, faster than Charlie Batch, and he has a stronger arm than Charlie Batch.  If he can master the playbook, I believe he will emerge from Steelers training camp as the #2 quarterback.

Mike Reilly - After redshirting his freshman year at Washington State, Reilly transferred to Central Washington.  He ended his career at Central Washington as the third leading passer in Division II history with 12,448 passing yards.

Reilly impressed scouts with his confidence at the NFL Scouting Combine, but many were turned off by the lack of arm strength that he displayed at the East-West Shrine Game.

Reilly is a gutsy player who has to be commended for making it to an NFL training camp from a Division II school.  However, making the roster of the reigning NFL champions may be too much to ask of him.

If he plays reasonably well in camp, Reilly is likely to be placed on the practice squad.

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Steelers sign Heath Miller to extension

July 30, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players

July 29, 2009

The Steelers ended 2008 with lots of players going into the last year of their contract.  During the course of the off-season, they have done an excellent job of locking up most of them.

Yesterday, the team signed tight end Heath Miller to a six-year extension.  The deal is reported to be worth $35.3 million, including a $12.5 million signing bonus.

This writer has often argued that Miller is one of the best tight ends in the NFL.  Because Miller plays in the Steelers’ run-oriented offense, he doesn’t get as many opportunities to catch the ball as some of his counterparts do.  But Miller’s hands are as good as any tight end’s in the league.  Moreover, Miller may be the best blocking tight end in the NFL. 


Despite being an afterthought in the Steelers’ passing game, Miller has always done his job with quiet efficiency.  He is a blue collar player who does whatever is asked of him.  He never complains or demands more catches.  It is this quality that makes him the perfect tight end for the Steelers.

While Miller may not be the most important signing of the Steelers’ off-season, he is the player that I am happiest to see get an extension. 

Congratulations, Heath.  You deserve it.

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Steelers Training Camp Preview: Cornerbacks

July 29, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

July 29, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is Part 4 in a series.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

Part 1:  Defensive linemen

Part 2:  Linebackers

Part 3:  Safeties

The final defensive position to look at is cornerback.

If we look at Mike Tomlin’s history as head coach, we see that he has always come out of training camp with 6 cornerbacks on the roster.  Five of those cornerbacks were usually worked into the actual defensive rotation, while  one was kept strictly as a special teams player.

In 2007, Allen Rossum was listed as a cornerback, but he never actually lined up at the position.  He was exclusively a return man on special teams.  In 2008, Anthony Madison played a similar role.  While he didn’t return punts or kickoffs, he was nevertheless relegated to special teams play only.

With that in mind, let’s assume that the Steelers will come out of this year’s training camp with 6 cornerbacks, one of whom will be primarily a special teams player.

Now that we’ve established that, let’s take a look at the candidates and determine who is likely to make the 53-man roster.

Ike Taylor - I absolutely love Ike Taylor.  I think he is possibly the most under-rated cornerback in the entire NFL.  Every week he has to face the opposition’s #1 receiver, and yet how often does he get burned?  Not very.

Last season Ike had to go against Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Plaxico Burress, Chad Johnson, Andre Johnson, Braylon Edwards, and Larry Fitzgerald.  None of those receivers came out on the winning side of that match-up.  Ike just doesn’t get beat.  Period.

The only reason that Ike isn’t a multi-time Pro Bowler is that Ike’s hands have a permanent coating of the world’s most powerful lubricant.  Ike just can’t catch.  And unfortunately, cornerbacks tend to be judged based on their interceptions, not their passes defensed.

Ike Taylor

I guess Ike will just have to be satisfied collecting Super Bowl rings rather than Pro Bowl appearances.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that Ike is going to make the team.

William Gay - Bryant McFadden departed after the Super Bowl to play for the Steelers West.  However, the impact of his departure will barely be felt due to the presence of William Gay. Gay was already splitting time with McFadden, so replacing him full-time should be relatively easy.

Gay’s place on the roster is assured.  Nevertheless, I still haven’t forgiven him for wearing Arizona Cardinals colors and a NY Yankees cap to the Steelers’ Super Bowl victory parade.  What was up with that?

Deshea Townsend - If memory serves me correctly, when Deshea Townsend joined the Steelers, Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, and J.T. Thomas were still on the team.  I could be wrong, but it certainly seems like he has been on the team that long.

Now 34 years old, and in his 12th year in the NFL, Townsend is almost guaranteed to emerge from training camp as no worse than the #4 cornerback on the roster.

If Townsend were to learn to play the free safety position, he could make himself even more valuable to the Steelers and extend his career even more.  I’ve always said that Deshea’s skills were perfect for playing free safety.

Keenan Lewis - The third round pick out of Oregon State is almost a mirror image of Ike Taylor.  While he doesn’t have Taylor’s superhuman athleticism,  he does have his long, lean build.

Lewis’ skills are going to need honing, but with wide receivers getting bigger and bigger, his size is a valuable asset.  If he can show a grasp of Dick LeBeau’s playbook, and prove that he is a willing participant in run support, he should be able to snag a spot on the roster.

Keiwan Ratliff - Ratliff was signed this off-season as a free agent from the Indianapolis Colts.  Ratliff brings experience to a team that can use another dependable veteran in the defensive backfield.

While Ratliff has return skills, I believe that Joe Burnett, Mike Wallace, and Stefan Logans are going to be given first crack at winning the return positions.  Thus, Ratliff is going to have to make the team based purely on his skills as a cornerback.  I’m betting that he is going to do exactly that.

Roy Lewis - After spending 2008 on the practice squad, Lewis should be ready to compete for a roster spot in 2009.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that his knowledge of the Steelers’ playbook is going to be enough to offset his height disadvantage versus Keenan Lewis, his experience disadvantage versus Keiwan Ratliff, or the return capabilities of Joe Burnett.  Sorry Roy.  It was nice knowing you.

Anthony Madison - Madison always enters Steelers training camp as an underdog.  Yet somehow he always seems to stick around.  He will enter training camp as an underdog again this year.  Unfortunately, I don’t think he is going to be able to hold off newcomer Keiwan Ratliff.  Ratliff is bigger and more experienced than Madison.

Madison has been used almost exclusively on special teams.  That was fine, because Coach Tomlin always carries a cornerback on the roster exclusively for special teams.  However, this year that position is going to go to……..

Joe Burnett - The fifth round pick out of Central Florida is going to be the 6th cornerback on the Steelers’ 2009 roster.  Burnett is an absolutely electrifying punt returner.  He will add a dimension to the Steelers’ return game that has been missing for a very long time.

While Burnett’s greatest impact will be as a punt returner, he can also return kicks, and has surprisingly good ball skills as a cornerback.  He is UCF’s all-time leader in interceptions.  He is not as physical as the Steelers like their cornerbacks to be, but once he gets sees the priority that Dick LeBeau places on run support, he will have to become more physical.

So there you have it.  I believe that Ike Taylor, William Gay, Keiwan Ratliff, Deshea Townsend, and Keenan Lewis will be the Steelers 5 cornerbacks, and Joe Burnett will earn the 6th position as a punt returner.

So what do you fans think?  Agree?  Disagree?  Your comments are welcome.  Tell me what you agree with or where you think the flaws in my argument are.  Who do you think will be the Steelers’ 6 cornerbacks coming out of training camp?

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Steelers Training Camp Preview: Safeties

July 28, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

July 28, 2009
By Donald Starver

Three more days until the start of training camp.  I was hoping to have this series completed before training camp began, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen now.   Darn!

In part 1 of this series we looked at the defensive line.  In part 2 we looked at the linebackers.  In this installment, we are going to turn our attention to the safeties.

In the 2 years that Mike Tomlin has been coach, he has typically carried 4 safeties on the roster.  This number has gone as low as 3 at times due to injuries.  However, 4 seems to be his preferred number.

With that in mind, let’s assume that this year, the Steelers will come out of training camp with 4 safeties on the roster.  The Steelers will go to training camp with 5 safeties, so our task is to identify who is likely to be the odd man out when training camp ends.

Troy Polamalu - Had it not been for James Harrison’s super-human season in 2008, most Steelers fans would have been pimping Troy Polamalu for Defensive Player of the Year.  Polamalu rebounded from a sub-par, injury-riddled 2007 season with a vengeance.  In 2008 he recorded 73 tackles, 7 interceptions, and 24 passes defensed.  Those are exceptional numbers by anyone’s standards.

I think the Steelers should keep this kid.  Don’t you?


Ryan Clark - Clark has always been a competent, if unremarkable safety for the Steelers.  He does his job well and without fanfare.   However, Clark made some devastating hits last season that made fans stand up and take notice.  His hit on Patriots receiver Wes Welker particularly stands out.  That play alone probably made him a favorite of many Steelers fans, and earned him a spot on the 2009 roster.

Tyrone Carter - It is no secret that I am not a fan of Tyrone Carter.  While Carter has been adequate when called upon to play, I have always felt uneasy about his physical stature.  There just aren’t many 5’9″, 195 pound strong safeties in the NFL.  Carter is okay in a pinch, but if anything were to happen to Troy Polamalu, I wouldn’t want to depend on Carter as a long-term solution.

"Hey there little fella."

"Hey there little fella."

Carter is a 10 year veteran, so his experience counts for something.  However he is 33 years old.  That’s 79 in football years.  His time with the Steelers will not last much longer.

Ryan Mundy - Mundy lost his rookie season due to injury.  With the loss of Anthony Smith, Mundy is going to have to step up and earn his paycheck.  This is likely, since the Steelers’ coaching staff has had nothing but good things to say about Mundy since he joined the team.  I feel confident that Mundy is going to be given every opportunity to make the team.

Derrick Richardson - The free agent from New Mexico State has a real chance of making the Steelers.  He was a second team All-WAC selection his senior year.  He led the nation in tackles per game with 12.5 per game.  That was more that .5 tackles per game more than his closest competitor.  He recorded 8 games with double digit tackles, and had a 21 tackle performance against UTEP.  In 2008, no NCAA defensive player was more of a playmaker than Derrick Richardson.

Richardson is a tough, aggressive safety who is excellent in run support.  That will play well in Dick LeBeau’s defense where safeties MUST be strong in run support.  He is physical, and is always around the ball.  He is also an aggressive special teams player.

Richardson is not as strong in coverage, and has marginal ball skills.  He is not going to lead the league in interceptions.

Richardson is primarily a strong safety, so he will be going head-to-head with Tyrone Carter.  While I would like to see Richardson beat out Tyrone Carter, I just don’t see it happening.  Ryan Mundy is essentially a rookie, and I just can’t see the Steelers coming out of training camp with 2 rookies as the back-ups at safety.  That would leave the team too exposed if one of the starters suffered an injury.

Therefore, I project that Derrick Richardson will be placed on the practice squad, and Tyrone Carter will maintain his position on the 53-man roster.

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Steelers Training Camp Preview: Linebackers

July 26, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

July 25, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is part 2 in a series.  In part 1 of our Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 Training Camp Preview, we took a look at the defensive line.  We looked at all of the defensive linemen who will be in camp, and gave our picks of who would make the final roster.

In this installment, we are going to take a look at one of the most important positions in Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense; the linebackers.

This may be a blasphemous thing to say, but the Steelers’ 2008 linebackers may have been the best in team history.  My apologies to Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Andy Russell, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Mike Merriweather, Jason Gildon, and Joey Porter.  They were all great in their time with the Steelers.  But in what they did both collectively and individually, the 2008 linebackers reigns supreme.

As good as the 2008 linebackers were, the 2009 version may be even better.  Larry Foote is gone, and his starting position will be filled by the younger, faster Lawrence Timmons.  Pro Bowler James Farrior remains ageless,  Lamar Woodley is an emerging superstar, and James Harrison is NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Did I mention that these guys are pretty good?

So, how do you improve upon perfection?  The answer is, “you don’t”.  As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  That’s pretty much the approach that the Steelers took this off-season.  They didn’t draft any linebackers this year, and they only signed 2 undrafted free agent linebackers.  They’re pretty much going with the same guys they had last year.  Probably not a bad strategy.

In the two years that Mike Tomlin has been coach of the Steelers, he has always carried 9 linebackers on the roster.  Therefore, it is pretty likely that he is going to come out of training camp with 9 linebackers.  Let’s see if we can figure out who they’re going to be.

James Harrison - What more can we say about James Harrison?  101 tackles.  16 sacks.  NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  Could have easily been MVP of the Super Bowl after his 100 yard interception return.  I don’t think anyone is taking his job.  Do you?


LaMarr Woodley - In his second season in the NFL, and his first as a starter, LaMarr Woodley blossomed into an emerging star.  Not many first-time starters get 11.5 sacks.  But that is exactly what LaMarr Woodley did.  Yeah, I think his job is safe too.

James Farrior - Another Pro Bowl season for the ageless wonder.  Aside from being the defensive captain, he had an amazing 133 tackles.  Other players get older.  Farrior gets better.  I think it’s safe to say that he is going to make the team.

Lawrence Timmons - It isn’t very often that a substitute player records more tackles and more sacks than the starter that he is substituting for.    But that’s exactly what Lawrence Timmons did last year.  He recorded 65 tackles versus Larry Foote’s 63, and 5 sacks versus 1.5 for Foote.  Timmons should record even better numbers as a starter.  Yup, his roster spot is safe too.


Keyaron Fox - Fox was a special teams ace last season.  With Mike Tomlin’s emphasis on special teams, that is enough to assure Fox’s roster spot.  But with Lawrence Timmons becoming a starter, Fox will also emerge as the top substitute at inside linebacker.

Patrick Bailey - Another special teams ace, Bailey beat out Rashard Mendenhall, Bruce Davis, Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, and the rest of the 2008 rookies for Rookie of the Year honors.  That accomplishment alone should secure his roster spot.

Bruce Davis - I was a big fan of Bruce Davis when he came out of UCLA.  Unfortunately, he was slow making the transition from defensive end to linebacker.  Moreover, he didn’t show a passion for special teams, and made almost no impact there either.  He is a big, strong kid who really is very good at getting to the passer.  If he can show the Steelers’ coaches the player that I saw in college, he could emerge as the top back-up at outside linebacker.  I think his roster spot is safe.

Andre Frazier - The biggest of the Steelers inside linebackers, he has yet to truly distinguish himself as a playmaker.  He should be able to hold onto his roster spot, because other players are a bit more vulnerable.  However, it would be great to see Frazier make his presence known this season.

Arnold Harrison - After injuring his ACL, Harrison ended the season on injured reserve.  It is unclear how well his recovery from ACL surgery will go.  He is probably the most vulnerable of last year’s linebackers due to the injury.  Additionally, he is primarily an outside linebacker where he will have lots of competition.  I don’t expect Harrison to make the team.

Donovan Woods - The second year player was activated a few times last year due to injury.  But for the most part, we got to see very little of him.  He will be helped by the fact that he is primarily an inside linebacker, where there is less competition.

Tom Korte - The odds of a 5’11″ linebacker from tiny Hillsdale college making the roster of the reigning world champions are infinitesimal.  Sure, James Harrison is essentially the same height as Korte, but Harrison is from the planet Krypton.  Keep as many training camp souvenirs as you can Tom.  Otherwise your friends will never believe that, for a brief time, you were a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Andrew Schantz - I have never seen the rookie from Portland State play.  However, Portland State is a quality program that has placed a linebacker in the NFL each of the past 2 years.  Schantz was the MVP of the Portland State squad, as well as second team All-Big Sky Conference.  If he plays well in camp, particularly on special teams, Schantz could battle  Donovan Woods, and Arnold Harrison for the final roster spot among the linebackers.

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