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Archive for July, 2010

Steelers Training Camp begins

July 31, 2010 By: Admin Category: training camp

The start of  Steelers Training Camp 2010 will be remembered more for what didn’t happen than for what did happen.

What didn’t happen, despite the expectations of many fans, sportswriters, and sports talk show hosts, was booing for Ben Roethlisberger.   Perhaps this should have been expected, since the people who make their way to St. Vincent College for Steelers Training Camp tend to be very loyal, die-hard fans.  They are probably the group that is least likely to boo a member of the Steelers, regardless of what that player may have done.

For the most part, the greeting that Big Ben received was very courteous.  He didn’t receive the loud, ground-shaking cheers that Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward received, but they didn’t boo him either.  In fact, a few female fans could even be heard yelling “We love you, Ben!”

Despite not receiving a hostile reaction from the fans, Roethlisberger’s jersey #7 was noticeably scarce.  There were plenty of #7 jerseys to be found in the crowd.  But many were worn by small children.  Anyone who has been to Steelers Training Camp in the past would have noticed the drastic reduction in the number of #7 jerseys in the stands.  Moreover, I’d be willing to bet that the Steelers organization is noticing a drastic decline in sales of Ben’s #7 jersey.

I’m sure that Roethlisberger was just as uncertain as I was of how he would be greeted.  Once he got out on the field, Ben seemed very loose and relaxed.  He took the first snaps in each of the drills, before turning the ball over to Byron Leftwich.

Roethlisberger, Leftwich, and Dennis Dixon all got a significant amount of work on Saturday.  However, there didn’t seem to be many snaps left over for Charlie Batch.  There just isn’t enough time to prepare four quarterbacks for the season, and Batch is apparently the odd man out.

Other than the aforementioned reaction to Big Ben, and the division of labor among the quarterbacks, the first day of Training Camp  was very uneventful.

Here are a few random observations from the first day of practice:

  • As in years past, Training Camp didn’t feel like it had officially begun until Chris Hoke performed his dance in the middle of the field.  This has become a tradition at Training Camp, and was met with thunderous applause by the fans and the other players.
  • LaMarr Woodley’s ascension as a Pro Bowler was evident.  I noticed far more #56 jerseys in the crowd than I’ve ever seen before.  In fact, there seemed to be more #56 jerseys than #92 (James Harrison) jerseys.
  • #86 and #43 are the most popular jersey numbers by far.  Those two number must have accounted for more of the jerseys worn by fans at St. Vincent College than all other numbers combined.
  • While Stefan Logan took most of the reps receiving punts, Antonio Brown and Crezdon Butler also fielded a few punts.
  • Chris Kemoeatu drew cheers from the crowd when he jumped in front of Mike Wallace and intercepted a pass.  Of course, Kemoeatu wasn’t supposed to be participating in the drill, so Wallace didn’t expect him to jump in front of him.
  • The crowd cheered loudly when Rashard Mendenhall got around the defense and broke a long run to the outside.
  • Emmanuel Sanders’ first catch of the day was a long bomb from Byron Leftwich.
  • WR Brandon London is a big target.  At 6’4″, he towers over the other Steelers receivers.
  • Mike Wallace burned William Gay for a long reception.  Both aspects of that play seemed strangely familiar.
  • Rashard Mendenhall got knocked on his butt by a hard hit after catching a short pass over the middle.
  • Rookie LB Stevenson Sylvester intercepted a pass near the end of practice.

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The cornerback battle

July 26, 2010 By: Admin Category: Players, training camp

With Steelers training camp less than a week away, many Steelers fans are anxious to see if Bryant McFadden will beat out William Gay for the starting left cornerback position.

Okay, that’s probably an understatement.  The reality is that most Steelers fans are PRAYING that McFadden will beat out Gay for the starting spot.  Fans remember McFadden, and they feel confident that he will do a much better job than Gay did last year.

CB William Gay making a play

Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to do a worse job than Gay did last season.  However, I think fans are missing the mark if they believe that the Steelers have a two-horse race on their hands this summer at training camp.

Sure, McFadden and Gay are the Steelers’ most experienced cornerbacks, outside of Ike Taylor whose starting position is basically assured.  However, Gay and McFadden are not the only players with a chance of emerging as starters this season.

William Gay shared snaps with McFadden in 2008, and then took over the starting position in 2009 after McFadden signed with the Arizona Cardinals.  Gay struggled as a starter.  He was often out of position, and he seemed to have difficulty covering his man (regardless of who he was covering).  He didn’t make a single interception during the entire season.  In fact, none of the Steelers’ cornerbacks recorded an interception until the final game of the season in 2009.  Gay did have 10 passes defensed, but that number is not particularly impressive considering how opposing quarterbacks seemed to go at him at least 20 times per game.

William Gay makes another play

While some believe that McFadden is the answer, I’m not sure that’s the case.  Remember that back in 2008, the reason that McFadden and Gay split playing time was that McFadden was better against the run, but Gay was thought to have better coverage skills.  Like Gay, McFadden also had no interceptions last year despite starting all 16 games for the Cardinals.  In fact, he only has 7 interceptions in his five years in the NFL.  By comparison, cornerbacks Asante Samuel (PHI) and Charles Woodson (GB) each recorded 9 interceptions last season.  McFadden also recorded fewer tackles than Gay last season (69 versus 78).  So I wouldn’t be so quick to anoint McFadden as the starter.

In 2009, the Steelers selected Keenan Lewis in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft.  Lewis was injured most of last season, so fans never really got to see what he could do.  But there was a reason the team took him so early in the draft.  He is long and rangy, and his size will remind fans of Ike Taylor.  Lewis is taller than either McFadden or Gay.  He is also almost 20 lbs. heavier than either of them.  Despite not getting to play last year, he has had a full year to digest Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme.  That experience should serve him well in training camp this year.

The Steelers also took another cornerback in the 2009 NFL Draft.  Joe Burnett was selected in the 5th round out of Central Florida.  Burnett was taken primarily for his All-American status as a kick/punt returner.  Stefan Logan seems to have won the primary returner spot for the Steelers, but Burnett still has a chance to win a spot as a cornerback.  Most fans probably remember Burnett most for dropping an easy, potentially game-winning, interception against the Oakland Raiders last year.  It is probably not fair that that is the play that most fans remember Burnett by.  He was actually quite a playmaker in college.  He set the record for career interceptions at Central Florida.  While he is a bit under-sized, I won’t be surprised to see Burnett show a lot more during training camp than we saw from him last year.  He’s a better athlete than William Gay, and with a year of experience under his belt, he should be ready to compete with Gay and McFadden for playing time.

William Gay makes yet another play

Crezdon Butler was drafted in the 5th round of this year’s NFL Draft, and expectations for him are high.  Like Keenan Lewis, Butler is a tall cornerback.  Butler has very good speed and athleticism.  However, in college he relied too much on his athleticism and did not develop good technique.  Like Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett before him, I think that Butler is going to spend his rookie season simply learning the Steelers’ defense.

Despite not having a great season last year, I believe that Ike Taylor’s position is secure.  He is the Steelers’ best cornerback, and he usually defends the opposing team’s best receiver.   I believe that last season was an anomaly for Taylor, and that this year he will return to being the same “cover corner” with hands of stone that he has always been.  The one thing worth noting is that this is the final season of Taylor’s contract, and the Steelers have not offered him an extension.

The Steelers did sign former Baltimore Ravens CB David Pittman during the off-season.  Pittman has spent his career as a journeyman, and has never made an impact in the league.  I doubt he will make the Steelers’ roster.

William Gay doing what he does best

Of all of the position battles that will take place during training camp, cornerback is the one that I am most interested in.  It is the position that looked the weakest last year for the Steelers.

The question that the Steelers will have to answer is “do they have a strong group of cornerbacks who simply looked bad due to Troy Polamalu’s absence, or do they have a weak group of cornerbacks who were exposed by Polamalu’s absence?”  One way or another, that question is going to be answered this season.


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10 Reasons to be optimistic about 2010

July 19, 2010 By: Admin Category: training camp

Many Steelers fans are already thinking pessimistically about the Steelers’ 2010 season.  I hear all of the usual excuses.  I’m sure that you’ve heard them too.  Here are a few of them:

“Big Ben is going to miss the first 4-6 games.”

“The defensive line is too old.”

“The offensive line was already weak, and now Willie Colon is out for the entire season.”

“The defensive backs suck!”

“We can’t run the ball effectively.”

“The team was 9-7 and missed the playoffs last year.”

Blah, blah, blah.  Yada, yada, yada.  I’m sick of all of the pessimism.  Maybe it’s just me, but I’m actually optimistic about the Steelers’ chances in 2010.

Here are 10 reasons why I am optimistic about the Steelers’ 2010 season:

1.  Troy Polamalu is back
I think the 2009 season showed us just how important Troy is to the Steelers’ defense.  Troy wasn’t healthy last year, and the defense suffered.  All indications are that “The Tasmanian Devil” is feeling great this year, and the rest of the NFL had better watch out.

2.  Byron Leftwich
If Big Ben has to miss games due to suspension, I am mighty glad that we have Byron Leftwich waiting in the wings to take his place while he is out.  Some fans may have forgotten that Byron is a former franchise quarterback who was selected just one year ahead of Big Ben.  In fact, he was drafted higher than Ben was (#7 versus #11).  Does anyone else remember how tough those games against Leftwich’s Jacksonville teams used to be?

3.  “Hines Ward is too old”
Every year they say that Hines Ward is too old.  And every year, Ward uses that as motivation to come into training camp in even better shape to prove everybody wrong.  Ward’s game has never relied on speed or jumping ability, so he won’t be as affected by age as players like Terrell Owens or Randy Moss might be.  But I hope people keep telling Ward that he’s too old.

4.  The re-emphasis of the running game
Don’t get me wrong.  I love the Steelers new passing attack.  However, I also want to see them be more effective in the running game.  I got tired of seeing the Steelers get stopped when they tried to run the ball in “3rd and 1″ situations.  I think that the Rooney’s ultimatum that the team re-emphasize the run will help the team in two ways.  firstly, it will ease the pain of not having Big Ben.  Secondly, it will resurrect a tough, physical attitude that the offense seemed to be lacking last season.  Frankly, it doesn’t seem feasible that a team with Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Frank Summers, and Jonathan Dwyer, can’t run the ball in short yardage situations.

5.  William Gay won’t be starting

As a starting cornerback, William Gay has to be one of the worst that I’ve seen wearing a Steelers uniform.  And if God is merciful, he will make sure that Gay is not a starter this year.  Hallelujah!

6.  Mike Wallace should get more opportunities
I’ve said it since last year in training camp; “I love Mike Wallace”.  The average cornerback just doesn’t stand a chance against him.  I loved seeing him burn cornerbacks for long touchdowns last year.  And now that Santonio Holmes is gone, Wallace should get even more opportunities.  Oh yeah!!!!

7.  Aaron Smith is back
Aaron Smith is possibly the most under-appreciated defensive end in the entire NFL.  He is one of the best at what he does, and he gets little credit for it.  Well Aaron, I am giving you the credit that you deserve.  I am soooooooo happy to have you back this season.

8.  Maurkice Pouncey
It was so good to see the Steelers take an offensive lineman early in the draft.

9.  LaMarr Woodley is more experienced
Last year, LaMarr Woodley quietly emerged as the best player on the Steelers’ defense.  This year, he is more experienced and should be even better.

10.  Did I mention that Troy Polamalu is back?


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Steelers extend Tomlin’s contract

July 13, 2010 By: Admin Category: Players

The Pittsburgh Steelers have extended the contract of head coach Mike Tomlin.  Coach Tomlin had one year remaining on his original contract, which was signed in 2007.

Terms of Tomlin’s new contract were not revealed.  However, the new deal reportedly will keep Tomlin with the Steelers through 2014.

Typically, the Steelers would extend former coach Bill Cowher whenever he had two years remaining on his contract.  When the Steelers didn’t do so with Tomlin, some wondered whether the Steelers were happy with Tomlin’s performance.  As silly as it may sound, I have even heard Steelers fans say that Tomlin should be fired.

Many blame Tomlin for the Steelers’ failure to defend their Super Bowl title.  Not only did the Steelers fail to defend, they didn’t even make the playoffs last season.  Despite key injuries to Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, and Darnell Stapleton, some fans still felt that the blame rested clearly on Tomlin’s shoulders.

I’ve heard other Steelers fans argue that Tomlin is the reason that the Steelers have abandoned the team’s traditional “smash mouth” running game.  They say that Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians wouldn’t have Ben Roethlisberger throwing the ball all over the field if Tomlin didn’t allow him to.  They say that Tomlin vowed to maintain the Steelers’ emphasis on the running game when he interviewed for the job, but then he failed to uphold that promise.  To these fans, that is ample reason for Tomlin to lose his job.

Finally, I have heard fans argue that it was Tomlin’s fault that players like Santonio Holmes, Jeff Reed, and Ben Roethlisberger were getting into trouble off the field.  They argued that Tomlin wasn’t as much of a disciplinarian as Bill Cowher was, and that Cowher never would have allowed those types of shenanigans to go on.

I have to disagree with all three of these arguments.  In my opinion, Tomlin has done a good job, and he deserved to have his contract extended.

The injuries that the Steelers suffered last year clearly hurt the team.  We all knew that Troy was important to the team, but last year made it very clear just how important he is.  But despite the injuries, the team had a chance to win just about every game that they lost.  In fact, most of their losses were by 7 points or less.  Had a play or two gone differently, the team could have easily made the playoffs.

As far as the team’s wide open offense goes, I am a fan.  There are not many teams in the NFL whose fans would complain about having a quarterback who passed for over 4,000 yards, two receivers who each had over 1,000 yards receiving, and a running back who had over 1,000 yards rushing.  Yet, that is exactly what many Steelers fans did.  They would have preferred for Roethlisberger to have 2,500 yards passing, and Rashard Mendenhall to have 1,600 yards rushing.  To them, that would have been Steelers football.  But the reality is that the NFL is now a passing league.  Last year’s Super Bowl featured Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.  Need I say more?

Finally, I disagree with those who say that Bill Cowher would have somehow kept the Steelers’ players from getting into trouble.  Just how would he have done that?  I seem to remember Joey Porter getting into trouble constantly under Cowher’s watch.  Would Cowher have traveled with Big Ben as part of his posse?  If not, how would he have prevented Ben from partying like a rock star?  Newsflash:  Ben partied like a rock star when Cowher was here.  Is there anyone who actually believes that Santonio Holmes didn’t smoke his first blunt until AFTER Mike Tomlin became coach?  I didn’t think so.

The truth of the matter is that Mike Tomlin has done a very similar job as Bill Cowher.  In their first three seasons, their records are almost exactly the same.  Cowher was 32-16, and Tomlin was 31-17.  Only one win separates them.  On the other hand, Chuck Noll was 12-30 in his first 3 seasons with the Steelers.  I guess many of today’s fans would have fired Noll before he ever led the team to their first Super Bowl.

It’s true that the Steelers did go 9-7 last season, and failed to defend their Super Bowl title.  But in Cowher’s last year, the team went 8-8, and also failed to defend their Super Bowl title.

The bottom line is that Mike Tomlin’s performance after 3 years is very similar to Bill Cowher’s.  Moreover, he has already won a Super Bowl, something Cowher didn’t do until his 14th season with the team.  Failing to extend Tomlin would have raised questions that I don’t think anyone in the Rooney family would have had a logical answer to.  The Rooney’s have been successful by standing by their coaches.  They know that continuity is a key component of success.

Congratulations on the contract extension Coach Tomlin.  You deserve it.

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LeBron jilts Steelers

July 09, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, We hate the Browns!

The nation waited anxiously last night to hear the big announcement.  NBA superstar LeBron James was going to make the official announcement of which team he would be signing with.

LeBron is such a celebrity, that even a simple decision required an hour long prime-time special on ESPN.

Fans in Chicago, New York, Cleveland, and Miami were all waiting to see if LeBron would be donning their team’s jersey.  But there was another group that also hoped that LeBron might be joining their team; Steeler Nation.

That’s right.  Steeler Nation had visions of LeBron playing tight end for the black and gold.  At 6’8″ tall and 250 lbs., LeBron would have been a prototype tight end.  Or perhaps some saw the possibility of LeBron coming out of the Steelers’ backfield in short yardage situations.  I’d like to see the average NFL safety try to stuff that play.  Others in Steeler Nation envisioned the multitude of ways that Dick LeBeau could have used LeBron in his defense.  Is there anyone who doubts that LeBron would have been an upgrade over James Farrior at linebacker?  And with LeBron’s height and athleticism, he would have been an upgrade over William Gay at cornerback (Admittedly, Paula Abdul would be an upgrade over William Gay, but you get my point).  Or with the recent injury to Willie Colon, I could have envisioned LeBron using his strength and footwork to fill our starting spot at right tackle.

LeBron James in black and gold.  The possibilities were endless.

LeBron James

But alas, it was not meant to be.  Rather than become a part of the greatest franchise in sports history, LeBron chose to move to South Florida and become a member of the Miami Heat (Is it just me, or is “Heat” the stupidest team name in all of sports?).

I still don’t understand LeBron’s decision.  What does South Beach have over the South Side?  Why would he choose the sandy beaches of the Florida coast, when he could have the Allegheny River?  Why would he choose to play in front of 15,000 fans at American Airlines Arena, when he could play in front of 50,000+ fans at Heinz Field?  When was the last time Western Pennsylvania had a hurricane?  Does the fresh seafood and Cuban inspired dishes that are served in Miami even compare to a Primanti Brothers sandwich?  Of course not.  And Pittsburgh would have been a mere 3 hour drive to LeBron’s hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Pittsburgh is clearly a better city than Miami, or that the Steelers are a better team than the Heat?  Of course not.  Some choices are just obvious, and LeBron bypassed the obvious choice.

Pittsburgh does not take being slighted lightly.  There will be consequences.  No team in Pittsburgh actually plays the Miami Heat, so we won’t be able to get our vengeance directly.  But when the Steelers play the Miami Dolphins, we’re going to pummel them.  I won’t be surprised if they run up the score to basketball numbers.  98-7 seems reasonable.  Moreover, just to make the message even more personal to LeBron, we’re also going to kick his home team’s arse.  The Browns are in for a beatdown.  Twice!

Go ahead and join the Miami Heat, LeBron.  You could have been a proud member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but instead you chose to leave the Steelers and their fans waiting at the alter.  Just remember that Pittsburgh doesn’t forget.  This is just another reason for us to hate Cleveland.

On October 24, the Steelers travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins.  The calamity that ensues is your fault, LeBron.  98-7.  You heard it here first.

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