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Farewell Hines Ward

February 29, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

February 29th is Leap Day.  It doesn’t happen very often.  In fact, it only comes around every 4 years.  But February 29, 2012 is a Leap Day that we would like to have skipped altogether.  It’s a Day that many in Steeler Nation hoped would never come.

But come it did.  On February 29, 2012, the Pittsburgh Steelers cut veteran wide receiver Hines Ward.

Ward is one of the most popular Pittsburgh Steelers of all time.  He’s been the face of the organization since Jerome Bettis retired after the 2005 season.

Ward holds most of the Steelers’ all-time receiving records.  His 1,000 career catches is almost double John Stallworth’s 537 catches.  His 12,083 yards is over 3,000 more than Stallworth achieved.  And his 65 receiving touchdowns is also the most in team history (once again, Stallworth is in second place).

Not only is Ward the all-time leading receiver in Steelers’ history, but he’s also a two-time Super Bowl Champion, and he played in a third Super Bowl but lost.  He was the MVP of one of those Super Bowls.  Those credentials ought to get him into the NFL Hall of Fame.

But when I think of Ward, I don’t think of any of those things.  In fact, the numbers are a very small part of who he was.

When I think of Hines Ward, the first thing that I think of is that ubiquitous smile.  When Ward caught a pass, he always had a smile on his face.  When he scored a touchdown, there was that smile.  And even when he got smashed into the ground by a safety or a linebacker, he still managed to get up with a big grin on his face.  It was almost as though Ward was asking the defender, “Is that the best you can do?”

Steelers WR Hines Ward

In an age of prima donna wide receivers, Hines Ward was never a diva.  He didn’t whine when he didn’t get the ball.  He didn’t cuss out his quarterback.  He didn’t showboat when he caught a pass.  He didn’t pull out Sharpies or cell phones when he caught a touchdown pass.   Instead, he’d look for a fan who was wearing his jersey, and hand them the ball.  How classy was that?

The other thing that I’ll always remember about Hines Ward was his devastating blocks.  Ward was only 6 feet tall, and just barely weighed over 200 lbs., but defenders knew that he could hit like a Mack truck.  They knew that they had to keep their eyes open when they played the Steelers.  Just ask Ed Reed.  Or Bart Scott.  Or Keith Rivers.  Heck, the NFL had to change their rules because of Hines Ward.  The new rule was even called the Hines Ward rule.

Hines Ward will be 36 years old in about 1 week.  So it was inevitable that his time would come.  But just like Leap Day, many of us hoped that it wouldn’t come for another 4 years.

Good bye, Hines.  Steeler Nation loves you.

Steelers position-by-position review: wide receivers

February 19, 2012 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is part 5 in our position-by-position review of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

If you haven’t read Part 1 (offensive tackles), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 2 (guards), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 3 (centers), click here.
If you haven’t read Part 4 (tight ends), click here.

Today we will be looking at the Steelers’ wide receivers.

The wide receivers emerged as arguably the Steelers’ greatest strength in 2011.  The Steelers have always been known for having great linebackers, but the current crop of wide receivers may actually outshine the linebackers.  In fact, they may be the most talented group of wide receivers in the NFL.

What other team can boast two 1,000 yard receivers, a future Hall-of-Famer, another young wide receiver who has the potential to be a 1,000 yard receiver, and a veteran receiver who would start on some NFL teams?  That’s exactly what the Steelers have on their wide receiving corps.

Let’s take a look at them individually, starting with…….

Mike Wallace

Going into the year, we knew that Mike Wallace was going to have a great season.  He had already established himself as one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL, and he was building great chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger.  By the end of the 2010 season, Wallace had already become Big Ben’s favorite target.

Wallace had another 1,000 yard season in 2011, and he is a player who should play a significant role in the Steelers’ future.  The only problem is that Wallace is a restricted free agent this season.  Because of his incredible speed, Wallace will draw a lot of attention as a free agent.  The Steelers have said that signing him to a long-term contract is one of their highest priorities.  However, doing so is going to be expensive, and the Steelers are already over the salary cap.

The Steelers could slap the franchise tag on Wallace, but that will cost them almost $14 million.  So that’s not a very appealing option.  So the team has to hope that they can get even more veteran players to restructure their contracts.  LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have already restructured theirs.  But the team will need to find far more money than that.

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown came into training camp as the #4 receiver on the depth chart.  Hines Ward and Mike Wallace were established veteran starters, and Emmanuel Sanders had performed better than him during the previous season and was #3 on the depth chart.  But injuries among the wide receivers made Antonio Brown the primary wide receiver during the preseason.

By mid-season, Brown had supplanted Mike Wallace as Big Ben’s favorite target.  In fact, for long stretches it seemed like Roethlisberger had forgotten that Mike Wallace was even on the team.  That speaks volumes about how much talent Brown has.

WR Antonio Brown

Brown is probably the Steelers’ most talented receiver when it comes to gaining yards after the catch.  It’s those running skills that also made Brown a Pro Bowl kick returner.

Did I mention that Brown’s teammates voted him the team’s MVP?  Pretty impressive for a young guy.  I think this kid has a future with the team.

Hines Ward

Hines Ward is clearly one of the all-time Pittsburgh Steelers.  He holds just about every receiving record, and he’s basically been the face of the franchise since Jerome  Bettis retired.  Ward’s place is Steelers lore is assured.

However, Ward is no longer the most talented receiver on the Steelers’ roster.  After a brilliant career 14 year career, Ward will be 36 years old during the 2012 season.  By NFL standards, that’s ancient.  Moreover, Ward ended the 2011 season as the #5 wide receiver on the depth chart.  Even Jericho Cotchery had surpassed Ward.

Ward’s current contract pays him too much money to be a #5 wide receiver.  Moreover, a #5 wide receiver would have to play special teams, and it would be insulting to Ward to ask him to do that.

Ward has said that he wants to play another season for the Steelers, and that he’s willing to play for the league minimum for veterans.  But frankly, I don’t want to see Ward do that.  I love and respect Hines too much to see him sitting the bench behind younger, faster, wide receivers.

Emmanuel Sanders

2011 was basically a lost season for Emmanuel Sanders.  He struggled with injuries, and was only a shadow of the player that we saw in 2010.  Unlike Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, Sanders isn’t a speedster.  He’s more quick than fast.  He specializes on finding gaps in the defense.  That makes him an ideal slot receiver.

Sanders’ future is going to depend largely on how successful he can be at remaining healthy.  But if he can put the foot injuries behind him, then he will be a part of one of the most dynamic receiving trios in Steelers history.

Jericho Cotchery

Cotchery ended the 2011 season as the #4 wide receiver on the Steelers’ depth chart.  Cotchery is an unrestricted free agent, and I would assume that he’d like to be a starter.  That’s just not going to happen with the Steelers.

I really liked what I saw from Cotchery last year.  He didn’t really get much playing time until the second half of the season.  But once he did, he showed that he could be a reliable target for Big Ben.

I’d love to see Cotchery return to the Steelers in 2012.  However, I doubt that’s going to happen.

Steelers tame Bengals

December 04, 2011 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

The Steelers entered the game expecting to do battle with a pack of ferocious tigers.  But instead, they faced a litter of gentle kittens.  At least that’s what it seemed like when the Steelers played the Cincinnati Bengals today.

The Bengals entered the game as surprising playoff hopefuls who were only one game behind the Steelers and Ravens in the AFC North.  A win over the Steelers would help keep the Bengals in playoff contention, and announce to the world that Cincinnati was ready to play with the big boys.

But none of that would matter, as the Steelers easily bested the over-matched Bengals 35-7.

The Steelers set the tone for the game on the Bengals first offensive possession.  The Bengals  tried to go for a field goal from within the red zone, and the Steelers blocked it.  From there, things got even worse for the Bengals.

The Steelers scored 4 touchdowns in the 2nd quarter, and put the game out of reach before halftime.  Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 2 touchdowns, Ben Roethlisberger threw a TD pass to Mike Wallace, and Antonio Brown returned a punt for another touchdown.

Antonio Brown returns punt for TD

By the time the 2nd half began, the Steelers already enjoyed a 28-7 lead.  But Big Ben threw another touchdown pass to Mike Wallace in the 3rd quarter to give the Steelers a 35-7 lead, and put the game out of reach for good.

Other Steelers notes:

  • Hines Ward led the Steelers with 5 catches, and became the 19th receiver in NFL history to accumulate 12,000 career receiving yards.
  • James Harrison had 3 sacks, and increased his season total to 8 sacks.  That leaves him one sack behind LaMarr Woodley’s team leading 9 sacks.


Is it Hines’ time?

October 20, 2011 By: Admin Category: Players

The Pittsburgh Steelers have wrestled with the question of age for several seasons.  The majority of the starting players on their defensive front 7 are over 30 years old.

Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, James Farrior, and James Harrison are all closer to the end of their careers than either fans, or apparently the Steelers’ coaches, seem to want to admit.  The same is true for Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.  And key backup players like Chris Hoke and Larry Foote, aren’t spring chickens either.

We’ve all heard the cries for more youth on the defense.  But what I haven’t heard very much is cries for youth on the offense.  Specifically at wide receiver.

The Steelers have a talented group of young wide receivers who have given fans reason to believe that the team’s future at the position is bright.

Mike Wallace is already the team’s top receiver, and he’s also emerged as one of the most dangerous receiving threats in the NFL.  Wallace will lead the Steelers’ receiving corps for years to come.

Second year receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are dynamic playmakers.  They both have speed to burn, and are proving to coaches that they deserve more playing time.

Antonio Brown has caught 18 passes for 262 yards through 6 games.  He’s averaging 14.6 yards per catch.  Emmanuel Sanders has caught 8 passes for 127 yards, and is averaging 15.9 yards per catch.

Hines Ward is the veteran of the receiving corp.  He’s 35 years old, and in his 14th season in the NFL.  More importantly, Ward is the Steelers’ all-time receptions leader, and he’s one of the most beloved players in Steelers’ history.

And therein lies the problem.  Fans love Hines.  Coaches love Hines.  Players love Hines.  Nobody want to be the one to disrespect Hines.

But at this point in his career, Hines Ward is no longer the player he once was.  Ward was never a fast player.  But at 35 years old, Hines is just plain slow.  He still has great hands, but he can’t really get separation from defenders.

Ward is still targeted routinely by Big Ben.  In fact, only Mike Wallace has more receptions than Ward.  However, Ward has the lowest yards per catch of the 4 primary wide receivers.  Antonio Brown has fewer catches than Ward, but he has more yards.  And Emmanuel Sanders is averaging over 5 yards more per catch than Ward.  Do you know how much 5 extra yards per catch would help the Steelers?

Sanders excels as a possession receiver, just like Ward.  The difference is that he’s much faster.  So he can get to the spot faster than Ward.  The same is true for Antonio Brown.  If the Steelers played Wallace, Brown, and Sanders, they’d have a trio of speedy receivers who could blow the top off of any defense.  That would open up things for the running game, and it would allow Heath Miller to run free underneath.  Or it would simply allow Big Ben to pick his target as he launches bomb after bomb over the top of the defense.

None of that can happen with Ward in the lineup.  But I believe that both coaches and fans are willing to accept the status quo out of respect for Ward, and in appreciation for the contribution that he’s made over the years.

It’s hard to say goodbye to star players.  Just think about when Jerome Bettis was no longer good enough to start.  Or Franco Harris.  Or John Stallworth.  or Louis Lipps.  Nobody wanted to see them go.  But for the good of the team, we knew that the time had come.

I love Hines Ward.  He’s still probably the best blocking receiver in the NFL.  But he’s no longer an elite wide receiver in the NFL.  Moreover, he’s not going to be able to hold Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders off for much longer.

Respect keep Hines on the field for now.  But pretty soon, the raw talent of Brown and Sanders is going to trump respect.  And that’s going to be a hard day for fans and coaches alike.  But that day is coming.  And it’s coming soon.

Maybe it’s already here.

Tomlin responds to Hines Ward’s comments

November 30, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players, Post-Game Reports

Losing can have unexpected effects on a team. Like causing frustrated players to make stupid comments. That’s exactly what Hines Ward did.

Ward, one of the Steelers veteran leaders, made comments in an interview with Bob Costas that I’m sure he’d like to take back.

Ward implied that Big Ben should have played in a game that was as important as the Steelers’ game against the Baltimore Ravens was.  Ward’s frustration seemed to be due to the fact that the team thought that Big Ben was going to play, and weren’t informed until Saturday that he wasn’t.

The video below shows coach Tomlin’s response to Hines Ward’s comments.

From what I can tell, both Hines Ward and Coach Tomlin were at fault in this incident.

Tomlin should have explained to the team exactly why he wasn’t playing Big Ben. Whenever there is a lack of information, people tend to use their imaginations to fill in the vacuum.

Hines Ward was equally culpable. Since, by his own admission, he didn’t have adequate information, he should have kept his mouth shut. Instead, he put his foot in it.


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