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Steelers don’t re-sign Shipley

January 08, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

The Steelers signed nine players to their off-season roster.  Seven of the nine players were expected, since they were on the Steelers’ practice squad this past season.

The practice squad members who were signed are RBs Justin Vincent and Isaac Redman, TE Eugene Bright, WR Jason Chery, S Tuff Harris, DT Steve McCLendon and CB Trae Williams.

The team also signed defensive tackle Scott Paxson.  Paxson spent time on the Steelers practice squad and active roster from 2006 - 2008.

Lastly, they signed kicker Piotr Czech.  Czech was at Steelers training camp last year, but lost the competition with Jeff Reed.  Reed is now a free agent.

However, one player who was expected to be re-signed was not.  The Steelers did not sign center A.Q. Shipley.  Shipley is a local kid, who played at Moon High School and Penn State.  The Steelers selected Shipley in the 7th round of the 2009 draft.

With the problems that the Steelers have had with their offensive line, it is surprising to see that they didn’t keep one of the young players that they’ve been developing.  Perhaps this means that the Steelers have determined that Shipley does not have the potential to contribute to the team in the future.

Steelers center A.Q. Shipley

I was at every day of training camp this past season, and I must admit that I can’t remember a single play that Shipley impressed me on.  He seemed small and weak compared to the other Steelers offensive linemen.

Coming out of college, many scouts said that Shipley’s arms were too short for the NFL.  However, the Steelers felt that his heart and work ethic made him worth giving a shot.

It’s not clear where Shipley will end up.  It’s still possible that he could end up with the Steelers.  However, I wish him well wherever he may end up.  He was a tough kid from Pittsburgh who made us all proud.  Good luck, A.Q.


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Steelers training camp: Offensive line

August 24, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

August 25, 2009
By John DeWald

This is Part 9 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

Part 5: Quarterbacks

Part 6: Running backs

Part 7: Wide receivers

Part 8: Tight ends

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for - the offensive line.   Regardless of what Bruce Arians might think, the offensive line did not have a good year in 2008.  During the off-season, they lost their best (although often injured) lineman in Marvell Smith, as well as Kendall Simmons.  The incumbent starters entering training camp are (from left to right) Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig, Stapleton, and Colon.   Added to this are 9 other veterans, rookies, and practice squad players.  Last year the Steelers carried 9 linemen on the active roster and, in all likelihood, they will do the same this year.  So, we are looking at 14 players fighting for 9 spots on the 53-man roster.

Although the line is a much maligned unit, there is ample reason for hope.   Once the current line was in place, they steadily improved throughout the year.  Continuity is very important in line-play, so with an off-season and training camp under their belts, the Steelers obviously hope their play will continue to improve (otherwise they wouldn’t have spent so much money keeping them).  The Steelers would also like to see some of the young backups step up and push the starters.  Without further ado, here are the prospective linemen.

Max Starks - The starting left tackle was a bit of a joke at the start of last season when, as the transition player, he couldn’t even crack the starting lineup.  He more than proved his worth, however, when Marvell Smith went down with back problems.  Starks stepped in and played solid for the rest of the year.  This off-season the Steelers were so thin at tackle (all 4 tackles were either restricted or unrestricted free agents) that he was designated as the franchise player.  Most thought that this would actually act as an impediment to a long term contract since he was guaranteed $8 million for 2009 under the franchise tag.  In June, however, he signed a 4-year contract for $27 million, which is quite respectable for a starting left tackle.

Max Starks

Max Starks

Chris Kemoeatu - is a big, strong, nasty, mauling guard…with occasional temper issues.  He also commits far too many penalties and mental mistakes.  The saving grace is that he is young and this was his first year as a starter.  After signing him to a 5-year $20 million contract, the Steelers obviously hope his play improves.  This contract, however (unlike Kendall Simmons’ contract), had a modest $3.885 million signing bonus, so it offers an inexpensive “out” should Kemo fail to live up to expectations.

Justin Hartwig - is the old man of the group at 30.  He was signed as a free agent last year and was a noticeable upgrade over Sean Mahan.  Probably best known for the safety he committed during the Super Bowl, he actually had a very solid year.  If anything, the biggest knock against him is that he is not Webster, Dawson, or Hartings.  Over 30 years of excellence at the center position creates high expectations.

Darnell Stapleton - was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2008 draft.  He made the team last year as a backup center and proceeded to beat out Trai Essex for the right guard position after Simmons went down.  Stapleton played extremely well for an undrafted free agent just one year out of college.  Coming into camp he was set to compete with Essex and  Urbik.  Unfortunately for Darnell , he suffered a knee injury at the beginning of camp and had to undergo  arthroscopic surgery.  This will essentially keep him out of camp and he will likely lose his starting job as long as either Essex or Urbik prove competent.

Willie Colon - Willie “false start” Colon, the starting right tackle, did not have a very good year last year.  In fact many analysts feel he would make a better guard than tackle.  Even so, as a restricted free agent, he was offered a first round tender at roughly $2 Million.   This is relatively cheap for a starting tackle and, as Colon is still young, the Steelers obviously hope he will improve.  If he does improve, they can sign him long term.   If not, they can let him go or move him inside to guard at a lower cost.  So far in Camp, Zierlein and Arians have been raving about Colon - let’s hope that is an indication of his play and not simply an attempt to pump up his confidence.

Willie Colon

Willie Colon

Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig , Stapleton , and Colon are all locks to make the team.  That leaves 9 people fighting for the 4 remaining spots.

Trai Essex -  A 3rd round pick in 2005, he has been a top backup but has never shown enough to crack the starting roster.  Able to play tackle and guard, he was resigned this off-season to a 2 year deal for about $1 Mill/year - respectable for a guy who can backup multiple positions.  This year, with Stapleton out,  he has staked a strong claim to the starting right guard position and appears light years ahead of Urbik.  If he maintains his play throughout the pre-season he could keep the starting job even after Stapleton returns.  In any case, he seems to have a roster spot locked up.

Kraig Urbik - The guard out of Wisconsin was the Steelers’ first 3rd round pick in this year’s draft.  Urbik has the size and pedigree to be a dominant guard, but it appeared during camp that he is a bit over-matched right now.  He needs time to adjust to the speed of the NFL and, as a high 3rd round pick, the Steelers will likely give that to him.  Urbik may never see the field this year but I project that he will make the team.

Tony Hills - Selected by the Steelers in the 4th round in 2008, last year was essentially a red-shirt year for Hills.  This year he needs to show more to make the team.  Lucky for him the team is rather shallow at tackle.  As Steelers Today has reported, Hills did not start camp off very well.  His play, however, has steadily improved and he appeared to hold his own in the first pre-season game.  He is competing against Jason Capizzi and Jeremy Parquet for the last tackle spot.  I see it coming down between Hills and Capizzi, with Hills currently holding the edge.

Jason Capizzi - played at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is from Gibsonia, Pa.  He was originally signed by the Steelers as a rookie free agent in 2007. He has bounced around on the practice squad of a number of teams before being resigned by the Steelers last December (after Marvell went on IR). He has put in a lot of work in the off-season and is fighting Hills and Parquet for the last tackle spot.  As mentioned above, I believe Hills currently has the edge and Capizzi really needs to impress if he wants to overtake him.

Jeremy Parquet - A 7th round pick in 2005 by the KC Chiefs, Parquet spent time with the Rams before joining the Steelers in 2007.  He was promoted to the active roster in October of last year.  I don’t believe he is eligible for the practice squad anymore so he will probably be on the outside looking in when the cuts come in.

Ramon Foster - was signed this year as an undrafted free agent.   He was a 4 year starter for Tennessee at tackle but projects as a guard in the NFL.  The book on Foster is that he is BIG and could develop into a pounding  guard (or play right tackle in a pinch) but that his footwork is slow.  Foster has impressed during camp and has a decent shot to win the final roster spot.  If not, they will definitely try to sign him to the practice squad.

Doug Legursky - played center for Marshall in College and was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008.  He spent part of last year on the practice squad but was never added to the active roster.   He is competing against A.Q. Shipley, Alex Stepanovich, and Foster for the final backup center/guard spot.  As mentioned above, I believe Foster currently has the edge to make the active roster and Legursky’s fight is primarily against Shipley to make the practice squad.

A.Q. Shipley - The center out of Penn State was the Steelers’ first 7th round pick in this year’s draft.  Shipley is another early fan favorite due to his blue collar work ethic.  Heck, let’s just call him the NFL equivalent of “Rudy.”  His height and arm length are too short to play in the NFL…everyone has told him that but he keeps plugging away.  Unfortunately, I don’t see him making the active roster.  There is a good chance, however, that he will be signed to the practice squad.

A.Q. Shipley

A.Q. Shipley

Alex Stepanovich - A 4th round pick in 2004 by the Arizona Cardinals, he started 34 games in his 5 year career, most of them for Arizona during his first 3 years.   The past 2 years he has been a backup for the Bengals and the Falcons.  He was signed recently as insurance given the injuries to Hartwig and Stapleton.  On the positive side, he has far more NFL experience than Shipley, Legursky, and Foster put together.  On the negative side, there is a reason he hasn’t been able to stick with a team.  At the end of the day, he only makes the team if Hartwig and Stapleton are not healthy at the beginning of the season AND if neither Shipley nor Legursky are able to impress the coaching staff.

So in summary, I predict that Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig , Stapleton , Colon, Essex, and Urbik are in.  Hills and Foster appear to have the edge for the final two spots.  Capizzi, Shipley, and Legursky are fighting to make the practice squad and Stepanovich and Parquet are out.  Agree?  Disagree?  Your comments are welcome.

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Pick #226: Steelers select A.Q. Shipley

April 26, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

April 26, 2009
By Donald Starver

With their first pick in the 7th round, the Steelers selected A.Q. Shipley, center, Penn State.   Shipley stands 6’1″, and weighs 304 lbs.


A natural leader, Shipley was the first center to serve as team captain since 1996.  He was the winner of the 2008 Rimington Trophy, given annually to college football’s best center.  He was also named a 1st-team All-American.

A local boy from Moon Area High School, Shipley has been on the Steelers’ radar for quite some time.

Shipley is an intelligent player who comes from a very high quality program at Penn State.  He has good vision and recognizes blitzes.  He has excellent technique and his physicality and tenacity are unmatched in this year’s class of centers.  If anything holds Shipley back, it won’t be his desire or effort.

Unfortunately, Shipley has physical limitations that caused some scouts to downgrade him as a potential NFL center.  He is short for the position, and has very short arms.  He also needs to increase his lower body strength.  He can be bull rushed by larger defenders and pushed into the pocket.  This may be an even greater liability in the AFC North, where huge nose tackles abound.

Shipley lacks mobility, and is unable to offer guards much help in run  blocking.  He also isn’t a powerful blocker, and he struggles to generate movement by himself in the running game.

The bottom line is that Shipley is limited physically, but his heart, determination, and high football IQ should help him find a way to make an NFL roster.

To read about the Steelers’ previous pick, click here.

To read about the Steelers’ next pick, click here.

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The offense and the Steelers’ draft (part 3)

April 17, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

April 17, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is part 3 in a series.  If you haven’t read  the previous installments, please click below.

part 1

part 2

BTW guys, if you have a wife or girlfriend who watches the games with you, but doesn’t really understand the game, you might want to have her read this series.  It is meant to be a primer for novice football fans.  I have gotten feedback from several women who have told me how informative they’ve found this series and the previous series “The 3-4 And The Steelers’ Draft“.

In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we talked about the offensive tackle and guard positions.  In this installment, we will be looking at the center position.

While  left tackle may be the most physically challenging position on the offensive line, center is probably the most mentally challenging.  The center position consists of more than just snapping the ball to the quarterback.

Centers often act as coaches on the field.  While the offensive linemen must be set prior to the snap, the defensive linemen are allowed to move.  Thus, the center must watch the movements of the defense,  analyze what they are likely to do, and quickly call out adjustments to his fellow offensive linemen.  If the center is unable to coordinate the line’s blocking assignments, someone is likely to get through to the quarterback.

Beyond being intellectually challenging, the center position is also more physically challenging than it may seem.  Centers must possess exceptional quickness.  The center has to successfully execute two motions before the defensive lineman can execute one.  Specifically, the center must snap the ball to the quarterback and then quickly reset himself and get his hands up to block the on-coming defender before the defender can get by the center. 

Because the center  often doesn’t have a man playing directly above him (e.g. if he is facing a 4-3 front), the center must also be able to play in space.  The center must be able to get to the second level and make cut-off blocks to help clear a path for the running backs.  Centers who are able to run and pick off linebackers on screens, draws, or traps are quite valuable.

In addition to intellect and quickness, the ideal center will also have a great base and exceptional strength.  This is particularly true in the AFC where they are likely to face many 3-4 defenses with 320+ pound nose tackles.  Solid college centers like Arkansas’ Jonathan Luigs, TCU’s Blake Schlueter, Penn State’s A.Q. Shipley, Alabama’s Antoine Caldwell, and LSU’s Brett Helms are just not ready to face NFL nose tackles at this point in their development.  They may add bulk and strength later, but expecting them to be able to combat nose tackles during their rookie year is probably asking too much of them.

Because most centers are not able to contribute right away, few centers are ever taken in the first round.  Few teams feel comfortable using a 1st round pick on a player who isn’t going to be able to play right away.  The New York Jets’ Nick Mangold was the last center to be taken in the first round back in 2006.  In 2008, the first true center wasn’t drafted until the 6th round.  The Indianapolis Colts actually drafted 3 centers last year, but they used Mike Pollack and Steve Justice as guards.  Other centers taken before the 6th round like the 49ers Cody Wallace and the Broncos’ Kory Lichtensteiger were also used primarily as guards.

California’s Alex Mack stands head and shoulders above all of the other centers in this year’s draft.  He may even join Nick Mangold as a 1st round draftee.  If he is available, the Steelers may even consider drafting him at pick #32.

Alex Mack

Alex Mack

The Steelers will need to draft a center to replace Justin Hartwig when his contract expires in 2010.  As I mentioned earlier, few centers are able to start during their rookie year, so to find a replacement for 2010, he probably needs to be selected in 2009.

A player like Alex Mack could start immediately for the Steelers at guard (in Darnell Stapleton’s spot), and then move to center in 2010.

The class of 2009 has only one star caliber center, but lots of quality players. Here are a few of the most noteworthy.


Alex Mack (6’4″, 312 lbs.), California.  Mack has all the qualities needed to become a great NFL center.  He has exceptional athleticism and delivers a hard initial blow.  He excels in both pass blocking and run blocking, although he will need to get stronger to handle mammoth NFL nose tackles.

Max Unger (6’5″, 299 lbs.), Oregon.  In my opinion, Unger does not excel as a center.  He is competent, but not exceptional.  In fact, I don’t believe that he is among the top 5 centers available in this draft.  However, Unger’s flexibility will get him rated much higher on some teams’ boards than his skills as a center might otherwise dictate.  Unger started his career at Oregon as a left tackle, and later made the transition to center.  He can also play guard.  This ability to play every position on the line will work to his advantage.

Jonathan Luigs (6’4″, 302 lbs.), Arkansas.  Luigs has excellent quickness for the position.  He may be the best center in the draft at playing in space and getting to the second level.  As I mentioned earlier, he won’t be able to handle larger NFL defenders right away, but he could start right away in a zone blocking scheme.

Eric Wood (6’4″, 304 lbs.), Louisville.  A team captain in college, Wood is an intelligent player who excels at making line calls.  He’s a hard worker who should have a long NFL career. 

Antoine Caldwell (6’3″, 307 lbs.), Alabama.  An aggressive blocker with good athleticism.  He struggled at the Senior Bowl, and will need to get a bit heavier and stronger at the next level.  Better at drive blocking than playing in space.  He has the potential to be a quality center or guard.

A. Q. Shipley (6’1″, 297 lbs.), Penn State.  Shorter and lighter than teams would ideally like to see.  He also has somewhat short arms.  However, he gives tremendous effort, and uses his low center of gravity to maintain leverage.  Shipley is simply a tough S.O.B. who doesn’t let his physical shortcomings prevent him from playing well.  Shipley won the 2008 Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center.

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