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Steelers players help decide final roster

September 04, 2009 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Carolina Panthers in their final preseason game of the 2009 season by a score of 21-10.  However, winning or losing was the least of coach Mike Tomlin’s concerns.

With final 53-man rosters due to the NFL on Saturday, Tomlin and his staff have some very tough decisions to make.  The players who hadn’t yet secured a place on the Steelers’ roster had one final opportunity to do so.  The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and this game was the ultimate example of that.

Because the goal of the game was to evaluate players who were “on the bubble”, Tomlin barely even played most of his starters.  Instead, players like Mike Reilly, Justin Vincent, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy got to show their stuff.

“I don’t make the decisions,” said Tomlin, “They make the decisions by how they play.”

The player who did the most to help his cause was Stefan Logan.  On his first and only punt return of the game, he returned the ball 80 yards for a touchdown.  Welcome to the Steelers, Mr. Logan.

Stefan Logan scores TD

Stefan Logan scores TD

Others who helped their causes included Isaac Redman, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy, and Arnold Harrison.

Isaac Redman led the team in rushing with 79 yards on 12 carries, while also scoring a touchdown.  He averaged an impressive 6.6 yards per carry.  He also fought for some tough yards on his touchdown run.  Redman ends the preseason as the Steelers rushing leader and touchdown leader.  Not a bad resume to leave for the coaches.

Rookie RB Isaac Redman

Rookie RB Isaac Redman

Rookie cornerback Keenan Lewis also helped himself.  Lewis had been very impressive at Steelers training camp, but hadn’t shown as much during the first 3 preseason games.  However, in this final opportunity to shine, Lewis led all tacklers with 10 tackles while also adding 2 passes defensed.

Second year safety Ryan Mundy also helped his cause.  Mundy had 5 solo tackles and one assist.  But much more important than the tackles was the fact that Mundy intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown.

“Any time you run one back, that gets your attention” Tomlin said.

Linebacker Arnold Harrison helped his cause by doing a very good imitation of James Harrison.  He recorded a sack, forced a fumble, and recovered the fumble, all on the same play.  He also combined with Ryan Mundy to stop the Panthers on a fourth and one play.

One player who could have done more to help his own cause was rookie RB Frank “the Tank” Summers.  Summers only gained 4 yards on one carry.  However, Summers does benefit from the fact that he had several nice blocks, and he is a good special teams tackler.

The Steelers don’t have much time before their first game, since they kick off the NFL season next Thursday against the Tennessee Titans.  Thus, coach Tomlin said that he is going to announce his final roster at a press conference today at 4:00 PM.

We will all be waiting anxiously to see who makes the team.


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Pittsburgh Steelers training camp day #4

August 04, 2009 By: Admin Category: training camp

August 3, 2009
By Donald Starver

Today marked the fourth day of the Steelers 2009 training camp.  The crowd was blessed with great weather, and things are starting to get heated on the field.

The competition between the offense and the defense is starting to show, and several fights broke out today.  There was also some non-fight related contact that was harder than necessary.

A couple of players are starting to stand out to me.  They are:

Mike Wallace - This kid is a player.  He has caught passes along the sideline, made sliding catches, and beaten everybody deep (more than once).  Unless the sun explodes, he is going to make the team.  He may even shock the world and win the #3 receiver position.

Keenan Lewis - He has made nice plays everyday.  He always seems to be near the ball.  He has made a few interceptions, and deflected quite a few passes.

Tyler Grisham - I was the first one to write about this kid.  He probably won’t make the team, but if he keeps playing like he is, he may be kept on the practice squad.

#19 rookie WR Tyler Grisham

#19 rookie WR Tyler Grisham

David Johnson - Can’t catch very well, but he seems to be the most powerful blocker  among the tight ends.

Guys who have played poorly so far include:

Martin Nance - Drops too many passes.  He is in last place among the wide receivers.

Tony Hills - It’s hard to believe that this guy was an All-American in college.  He gets dominated far too often.  My new name for him is “Neo”.  You’ll see why later.

Joe Burnett - He is going to have to show something as a punt returner, because he keeps getting beat and dropping interceptions as a cornerback.

With that said, here are my notes from today’s practice.

-Hines Ward is in street clothes again.

Imported Photos 00055

-Team is doing casual drills in their respective units.

3:20PM - Horn sounds and the whole team comes together for team stretching and running.

-Casey Hampton walks through all of the running drills.  He takes a knee and talks during the stretches.  He doesn’t even get down with the other players and pretend to be stretching.  He just sat on his knees talking to the coaches.  I think he was afraid that if he layed down to stretch, he wouldn’t be able to get back up.

Imported Photos 00051

Don't work too hard, big fella.

-Big Snack is not the only one who coasts during running and stretching drills.  Big Ben also walks while the other players are running/jogging.  However, he starts before the whistle blows each time, so he always finishes first.

3:31PM - Horn blows.  Team breaks up into offense and defense.  All units split up to work on drills.

-Quarterbacks and wide receivers have been working on LOTS of short outlet passes.  I think they are going to be a much more important part of the offense this year.  They’ve worked on them everyday so far.

-Dennis Dixon and Mike Reilly both have a very nice spin on their passes.  They throw a tight spiral.

-Big Ben actually throws the wobbliest spiral of any of the quarterbacks.  It’s a good thing he has a strong arm.

-Stefan Logan had been on the PUP list, but he is out there practicing today.

-Martin Nance drops his first pass.

-Once again, I’m impressed by WR Steven Black.  He has good size and good hands.

3:52PM - Defense and offense come together again.

-Dallas Baker beats William Gay for a nice reception across the middle.

-Mike Wallace beats Ike Taylor for a 20 yard reception and the crowd cheers.

-Tyler Grisham beats Ryan Mundy for a catch along the sideline.

-Shaun McDonald beats Ike Taylor across the middle, and Taylor pushes him to the ground HARD.  I don’t think Taylor liked getting beat.

-Mike Wallace beats Roy Lewis and Joe Burnett for a long pass.  He has 4 steps on both of them, and he would have had more if the ball hadn’t been under-thrown.

-Mike Reilly over-throws Limas Sweed on a long pass.  Limas could have had it, but he didn’t even put his hands up.

-Another wide open catch by Mike Wallace.  Is he THAT fast, or are the DBs that slow?

-Limas Sweed catches a pass from Big Ben and the crowd breathes a sigh of relief.

4:02 PM - Horn blows and offense & defense meet at the 20 yard line.

-1st team offense and 1st team defense take the field.

-Limas Sweed catches first pass.  A short out pass outlet pass from Big Ben.

-Dezmond Sherrod dives for a pass but drops it.

-Big Ben throws a pass that is almost intercepted by Anthony Madison.  The WR must have run the wrong route, because there was no WR in the area.

-Charlie Batch takes over and completes first pass to Martin Nance.

-Brandon Williams catches a short pass, but then puts a nice spin move on Joe Burnett that gains him an extra 10 yards.

-Keenan Lewis deflects a pass along the sidelines.

-Mike Wallace makes a nice sliding catch.

-Ryan Clark intercepts Charlie Batch’s pass across the middle.

-The Horn blows.

-Keiwan Ratliff, Joe Burnett, Shaun McDonald, Stefan Logan, Mewelde Moore and Santonio Holmes field punts.

-Isaac Redman wrestles Lawrence Timmons to the ground in a blocking drill.

-Andrew Schantz gets beat badly on a special teams blocking drill and gets yelled at by coaches.

-Tyler Grisham delivers a hard blow on Roy Lewis in a blocking drill.  Lewis meets him after the play and pats him on the butt.

-4:25 PM - 1st team offense and defense take the field again.

-James Farrior is in Ben Roethlisberger‘s face in a nanosecond.  If this were full contact, it would have been a sack.

-Willie Parker beats Lawrence Timmons on an out pattern and actually catches the ball.  The crowd goes wild.  (Note to those of you who are unaware: Willie Parker can’t catch).

-Rashard Mendenhall breaks a long run and the crowd cheers.

-Rookie safety Derrick Richardson dives to break up a pass to Martin Nance.  The crowd cheers.

-Dennis Dixon goes right back to Nance for a completion.

-Martin Nance drops a short pass from Dixon.

4:33 PM -  Horn blows.  Field goal team practices hurry-up drills.

-Jeff Reed boots a 48 yard field goal in 8-second drill.

-Reed boots a 56 yard field goal right throught the uprights.

4:40 PM - Offense and defense take the field again.

-Ben completes passes to Sweed, Holmes, and Mendenhall.

-Dallas Baker misses a long sideline pass from Roethlisberger.

-Joe Burnett makes a beautiful juggling interception off of Roethlisberger.  I believe that is Burnett’s first interception of training camp.

-Shaun McDonald beats Joe Burnett for a short reception.

-Chris Hoke has Tony Hills bent back so far in a blocking drill that it looks like Hills is doing the limbo dance.  The technique is actually effective.  Hoke is so surprised to be dominating a blocker this badly that he falls down.  Coaches take Hills aside and talk to him.

Tony Hill's blocking technique.

Tony Hills' blocking technique.

Or perhaps Hills was practicing his bullet dodging technique like Neo in The Matrix.

Tony Hills dodges Chris Hoke.

Tony Hills dodges Chris Hoke.

-Tyrone Carter puts a hard hit on rookie WR Mike Wallace, but Wallace holds onto the ball and the crowd cheers.

4:51 PM - Dennis Dixon takes over.  Dixon completes first pass to Tyler Grisham.  Dixon and Grisham are becoming quite a duo.

-Mike Reilly throws 2 incomplete passes.  He is 0-2.

4:54 PM - Offense and defense take field for 11-on-11 drills.

-Charlie Batch over-throws Shaun McDonald on a long pass.

-Tony Hills gets into a fight with a defender.  I can’t see who it is.  Mr. Smith maybe?

I'll get you Tony Hills!!

I'll get you, Tony Hills!!

-Charlie Batch over-throws Brandon Williams on a long pass.

That is pretty much all that happened in camp today.  If you want to hear about a particular player, leave a comment and let me know.

If you haven’t read my recap of Day 2 click here.

If you haven’t read my recap of Day 3 click here.

See you guys tomorrow.

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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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Pick #96: Steelers select Keenan Lewis

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

April 26, 2009
By Donald Starver

With their third pick in the 3rd round, the Steelers selected Keenan Lewis.  Lewis is a 6’1, 198 pound cornerback out of Oregon State.


Like Mike Wallace before him, this pick comes as a surprise.  Few scouting reports had Lewis rated this high.  Most had him listed as being between the 12 - 30th best cornerback in this draft.

Lewis has exceptional size for a cornerback, and I’m sure that is what attracted the Steelers to him.  Lewis is a solid defender who benefits from having played in the pass-happy PAC-10.

Best in bump and run coverage, Lewis likes to get his hands on receivers and use his long arms to jam them.

He is good in run support,  though he sometimes avoids contact.  He tends to duck his head when tackling, so he misses some tackles that he should probably make.  Nevertheless, he is a willing participant in run coverage, and can be coached in this area at the next level.

Because of his height and long arms, Lewis gets his hands on a lot of passes.  He reads and reacts quickly.


On the negative side, Lewis is a long-legged strider who doesn’t change directions quickly.  He lacks great athleticism and has only average speed.  He doesn’t have soft hands, and sometimes drops interceptions.

A solid week of practice at the Senior Bowl probably helped raise Lewis’ stock.

When you look at Lewis’ size and athletic attributes, he almost projects better as a safety than as a cornerback.  It will be interesting to see how the Steelers choose to utilize him, since safety is also a team need.

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

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

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