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Archive for August, 2010

Steelers cut roster

August 31, 2010 By: Admin Category: Players

Tuesday was the deadline for NFL teams to  cut their rosters to 75 players.   In order to get down to 75, the Steelers made several roster changes.  Frankly, most of the names that were released are players that most Steelers fans are unfamiliar with anyway.

The most well known of the players who was cut was veteran linebacker Andre Frazier.  Frazier has been a backup linebacker for the Steelers for many years.  He has primarily played special teams, but he has also played as a backup linebacker as well.

Frazier got hurt this summer and was placed on the injured reserve list.  However, linebacker is going to be one of the hardest positions to make the team at this year.  The Steelers brought back Larry Foote, and then they also drafted 3 rookies who are all challenging the veterans for a roster spots.  So backup linebackers like Andre Frazier and Patrick Bailey were going to have a difficult time remaining with the team unless they had an outstanding training camp and preseason.  Once Frazier got hurt, his chances of remaining with the team went out the window.

The team also cut fullback Dwayne Wright, guard Adrian Jones, linebacker Brandon Renkart, and cornerback David Pittman.

In another move, rookie offensive lineman Chris Scott was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list.

This was the easy cut.  None of these players are going to be missed.  The next one is going to be much more difficult.  I am waiting anxiously to see how the linebacker position shakes out.  There are some very difficult decisions that are going to have to be made.


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Steelers lose to Broncos

August 30, 2010 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

Penalties, penalties, and more penalties.  That pretty much sums up last night’s Steelers game.  They lost to the Denver Broncos 34-17, but the game was much worse than the score.

Some of the penalties were understandable.  Those we can forgive.  But others were just inexcusable.  For example, will somebody please tell Flozell Adams that he’s not supposed to move until AFTER the ball is snapped.  He seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding of that concept.  Instead of Flozell “The Hotel” Adams, his nickname should be Flozell “Off-sides” Adams.

Other penalties were just plain stupid.  Like Keenan Lewis getting a personal foul for retaliating on a wide receiver who was talking trash to him.  Immediately after the play, Coach Tomlin called Lewis to the sideline and chewed him out.  I couldn’t tell what Tomlin was saying, but the fact that he grabbed Lewis by the collar and held him the whole time that he was talking to him indicated to me that he wasn’t giving him compliments about his excellent technique.  As if we needed even more proof that Tomlin wasn’t happy, he sent lewis to the bench following their “discussion”.

Lawrence Timmons also got in on the blunders with his silly roughing the quarterback penalty.  Ummmm Lawrence, if you’re going to throw the quarteback to the ground, please try to do it a little sooner.  Doing it 30 seconds after the whistle blows is usually going to draw a penalty.

But even without the rash of penalties, the Steelers just didn’t play well.  The Broncos’ offense seemed to be able to move the ball at will.  And they did it on the ground and through the air.  The Steelers’ defense looked eerily like the 2009 version that couldn’t stop anybody.

The quarterbacks also looked bad.  It’s never a good thing when Charlie Batch looks like the best quarterback on the roster.  But that’s exactly how it looked last night.

Dennis Dixon learned the hard way that it is a lot tougher playing against the opponent’s first string defense than it is going against their 3rd string defense.  He threw two costly interceptions that probably cooled off the throng of fans who had been calling for Coach Tomlin to name Dixon as the starter during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension.

Unfortunately, Byron Leftwich didn’t look much better.  So it looks like the quarterback race is going to go all the way down to the wire.   Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon will have one final preseason game in which to make their case to be the starter.

Despite the many bad things that happened during the game, there were also some very good things that happened.  Probably the most important was that rookie center Maurkice Pouncey made his first start at the position.  Moreover, he did quite well.  Most centers don’t have to make their first start against Jamal Williams.  Williams is a 350 pound monster who is a perennial Pro Bowler, and one of the most feared nose tackles in the NFL.  But Pouncey held his own, and completely neutralized Williams.

Another bright spot was rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer.  Dwyer was injured for most of training camp, so fans and coaches haven’t really gotten to see what he can do.  Because he hasn’t been able to perform, he was in jeopardy of not making the team.  However, he had a great showing last night.  He led the team in rushing with 89 yards on 13 carries.  But even more impressive than the actual yardage was the way that he got them.  He had three long runs of 17, 18, and 40 yards.  He also had several runs where he showed that he can be a very physical runner as well.  On one particular play, he seemed to carry at least 3 or 4 tacklers for almost 10 yards before they finally brought him down.  That is what Steelers fans have been longing to see since Jerome Bettis retired.

The Steelers have one final preseason game in which to evaluate players.  Hopefully, that game will not feature as many penalties and stupid plays as we saw Sunday night.


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The age question

August 26, 2010 By: Admin Category: Players

Now that the Steelers are halfway through their preseason schedule, a very obvious question is emerging; the age question.

The age question is simply this; should a team stick with an established veteran who is in the latter stages of his career, or should they give a young player an opportunity to gain experience and prove what he can do?

The age question is as old as sports itself.  And to be honest, there is usually no “right” answer to the question.

The Green Bay Packers faced this question when they had to decide between future Hall-of-Famer Brett Favre and the talented young Aaron Rodgers.

The San Francisco 49ers eventually got to a point where they had to choose between the aging Joe Montana and the heir-apparent, Steve Young.

Through most of the Bill Cowher era, and into the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers have tended to be a patient bunch.  Young players have not been called upon to perform as rookies.  And the team often stuck with older players when their was a talented younger player waiting in the wings.  A prime example of this was James Harrison.  In my opinion, James Harrison was better than Joey Porter for the final 1.5 years of Porter’s tenure with the Steelers.  If you watched him in training camp, it was obvious that Harrison was unstoppable.  Yet, Cowher proved to be very loyal to the veteran Joey Porter.  Once Harrison was finally given his shot, the rest of the NFL got to see what I was seeing in him at practice.  And a star was born.

As we look at the roster battles that are currently taking place with the Steelers, I see quite a few  “youth versus experience” questions arising for the Steelers coaching staff.

The most obvious of these age questions is at quarterback.  Should the Steelers go with the proven veteran, Byron Leftwich, during Ben Roethlisberger’s absence, or should they give Dennis Dixon some valuable regular season playing experience?  Quarterback is a crucial position, and most coaches tend to be more comfortable with experienced leadership at the position.  But how is a talented young player like Dennis Dixon supposed to get experience if the coaches won’t let him play?

Dixon is making a strong case for himself during the preseason, but despite his best efforts, the coaches may still decided that experience counts  most.

Similar battles are occurring at other positions as well.  Take the defensive line for example.  Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are both on the wrong side of 30.  The Steelers used a first round draft pick to select Ziggy Hood.  Yet, Ziggy’s playing time has been limited because Smith and Keisel are so solid at their positions.  Aaron Smith’s injury did give Hood more opportunities to play last year, but even when those opportunities arose, Dick LeBeau often chose to play the more experienced Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke over Ziggy Hood.

The Steelers also have Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington fighting for roster spots on the defensive line.  I’ve never been a fan of Sunny Harris, but I really like what I’ve seen from Doug Worthington so far.  Unfortunately, Nick Eason is outplaying Worthington so far in preseason.  Eason is already 30 years old, and it seems unlikely that he’ll ever be a starter for the Steelers.  So should the team hold a roster spot for the older veteran, Eason, who likely won’t be with the team 2 years from now, or should they hold onto one of the younger players who may become just as good, but who will potentially be with the team for the next 10 years?  With what Worthington has already shown in training camp, and with his Ohio State pedigree, he is unlikely to make it through waivers if the Steelers try to sneak him onto the practice squad.  So it’s likely that they will lose him if they don’t keep him on the 53-man roster.  And the team already lost Sunny Harris to the Carolina Panthers last year.  Do they want to take the risk of losing him again?

On the offensive line, the Steelers have struggled for years.  And it looks like rookie Maurkice Pouncey is going to be given an opportunity to start.  However, other tough decisions are going to have to be made.  Is Trai Essex that much better than Kraig Urbick or Ramon Foster?  Is Jusin Hartwig that much better than Doug Legursky?

At wide receiver, the Steelers also have major questions.  With the loss of Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward is the only veteran that is guaranteed a roster spot.  Mike Wallace only has one year under his belt, so despite the fact that he had a great season last year, he is still very young and inexperienced.  Rookie Emmanual Sanders has shown enough in training camp and preseason that he is almost assured of a roster spot.  So that’s even more inexperience at the position.  In my opinion, Antonio Brown has looked better than Antwaan Randle El at training camp and in the preseason.  But can the team afford to have him ahead of Randle El since they already have so much youth at the wide receiver position?  And should they keep the much more seasoned Arnaz Battle at the expense of young Tyler Grisham?

Perhaps the most difficult roster battle will occur at linebacker.  James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, and Lawrence Timmons are guaranteed roster spots.  The Steelers also have Keyaron Fox, who is a special teams ace,  and who often plays better than Lawrence Timmon when he plays in his place.   They also brought back former Steelers LB Larry Foote.  Foote was allowed to leave as a free agent two years ago because he was getting a little long in the tooth.  And now he is back, but he is even older than he was the first time.

Any other year, this would be a great group of linebackers to enter the season with.  However, the Steelers also have 3 rookie linebackers who are making strong cases for themselves.  Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson, and Stevenson Sylvester have all shown glimpses of potential greatness.  Yet it is unlikely that the team will be able to keep all three of them.  So the coaching staff is going to be forced to make some very difficult decisions.

To make matters even more difficult for the coaches, the Rooney family has asked the coaches to do a better job of finding playing time for the younger players.

Cutting the roster down to the final 53 players is always difficult.  However, this year it will probably be even more difficult than it usually is.  And the burning question on everybody’s mind will be, “should we choose youth or experience?”


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Steelers win 24-17 over Giants

August 22, 2010 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 2-0 in the preseason, after defeating the New York Giants 24-17.  The Giants were without starting quarterback Eli Manning, who is still recovering from an injury received during the Giants’ first preseason game.

Though Eli Manning didn’t play, one quarterback who DID play was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Big Ben did not play in the Steelers first preseason game, but he was the starter for this game.

Ben looked a bit rusty, and the rust was evident in his statistics.  Roethlisberger completed 6 of 8 passes for 76 yards.  However he was sacked once, and he threw an interception during his short time in the game.  And as he usually does, Big Ben held onto the ball waaaaaaay too long.  Because of this, he was often running for his life.  The Steelers’ porous offensive line didn’t help the situation.  New York Giants players were constantly in the Steelers’ backfield applying pressure.

Big Ben passes under pressure.

Big Ben ended his short stint in the game with a sub-par 64.6 quarterback rating, the lowest among the three Steelers’ quarterbacks who played during the game.

When the second quarter began, Roethlisberger was replaced by Byron Leftwich at quarterback.  Like Roethlisberger, Leftwich was constantly under pressure.  However, unlike Roethlisberger, Leftwich got rid of the ball.

On one play in particular, Leftwich made a play which we seldom see from Roethlisberger.  Leftwich saw speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace racing down the field, and he threw the ball past him so that Wallace could run under the ball and catch it in stride.  Steelers fans have gotten used to seeing Roethlisberger under-throw Wallace on his deep routes so Wallace usually has to come back to the ball rather than catch it in stride.  Because Wallace was able to catch the ball in stride, the play resulted in a 68 yard touchdown.

Leftwich played the entire second quarter, and completed 3 of six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.  His final quarterback rating was 135.4, the highest among the three Steelers’ quarterbacks.

In the second half, Dennis Dixon started at quarterback, and he played the entire half.  Just like he did against the Detroit Lions, Dixon appeared to be the most effective of the Steelers’ quarterbacks.  He marched the team down the field for touchdowns on both of his first two offensive series.  Dixon also provided a running threat that neither of the other quarterbacks offer.  On one play, Dixon broke a 22 yard run that he probably could have gotten into the end zone.  However he was running along the sideline, and his momentum carried him out of bounds.

Dixon completed 7 of the 8 passes that he attempted.  He ended the game with 82 passing yards and a 109.4 quarterback rating.

So just like in the Steelers’ first preseason game, Dennis Dixon made a strong argument for why he, rather than Byron Leftwich, should be the Steelers starter during Ben Roethlisberger’s 4-6 game suspension.

Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin may ultimately decide to go with Leftwich as the starter, but Dixon is certainly making his decision much more difficult than he anticipated.

Other points of interest:

  • Punter Dan Sepulveda handled all of the kick-offs for the Steelers’ second preseason game.  Sepulveda practiced kick-offs regularly during Steelers Training Camp, but was not called upon to kick-off during the team’s first preseason game against the Detroit Lions.  Several of Sepulveda’s kicks seemed short.  However, he did get 2 of his 6 kick-offs into the end zone, and one was downed for a touchback.  Last week, Jeff Reed only got one of his 5 kicks into the endzone, and none were downed for touchbacks.
  • Rookie Antonio Brown handled the majority of the Steelers’ kick and punt return duties last night.  He averaged 10.8 yards on 4 punt returns, the longest of which was for 18 yards.  He also averaged 25 yards on 2 kickoff returns.
  • Isaac Redman once again made a strong case for being the backup to starting running back Rashard Mendenhall.  Redman rushed for 34 yards on six carries.  He also scored a touchdown.

Isaac Redman scores TD.

  • Justin Vincent was the Steelers’ leading rusher with 37 yards on 6 carries.  However, most of his carries came in the 2nd half against the Giants’ second and third string defenses
  • Rashard Mendenhall didn’t look particularly impressive running the ball.  He carried the ball 8 times for a total of 11 yards.  His 1.4 yards per carry was the lowest among the Steelers’ running backs.  He also continues to do that annoying spin move anytime he senses contact coming.  Mendenhall almost seems reluctant to face contact head-on.
  • Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor was ejected from the game after getting in a fight in the opening minutes of the game.  Dumb, Ike.  Really dumb.


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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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