The Daily Buzz III

Read Jim Wexell's thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers here in the Daily Buzz.

(Discuss Jim's blog entry here on the message board.)

MONDAY, SEPT. 26

8:22 a.m.: Dale Lolley of the Washington Observer-Reporter check in from Indianapolis with his notes.

12:15 a.m.: It should've never been this close, but the Steelers turned a 10-0 lead into a deficit and then rallied for a 23-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Here are my thoughts.

Also, Mike Tomlin didn't sound too concerned about shoulder injuries suffered by RG Doug Legursky and RT Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert did return late to replace injured Jonathan Scott. Tomlin had no update on Scott's injury, but WPXI-TV reported he was on crutches and in a walking boot.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 23

4:30 p.m.: DE Brett Keisel has been ruled out with his PCL strain. He'll be replaced by Ziggy Hood. It's been reported in several places that LCB Bryant McFadden will miss a second consecutive game, but he's not listed on the Steelers' Friday injury report. The only players listed with Keisel are RB Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder) and C Maurkice Pouncey (hamstring). Both are probable.

QB Peyton Manning (neck) and LB Ernie Sims (knee)have been ruled out by the Colts. Listed as questionable are LB Gary Brackett (shoulder), S Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), TE Dallas Clark (foot), QB Kerry Collins (shoulder), G Ryan Diem (ankle), TE Brody Eldridge (knee), DT Eric Foster (hamstring), DE Dwight Feeney (abdomen), DE Robert Mathis (chest), DT Fili Moala (ankle), TE Jacob Tamme (concussion), and WR Blair White (back). Either the Colts are really beat up or they've been taking lessons on filing injury reports from Bill Belichick.

Also of note, two sources close to Max Starks have let me know that the former Steelers OT is a fit 335 pounds and is having no problems with his neck. He expects to sign soon with an NFL team, but he doesn't believe it will be with the Steelers. And if you remember, the coaching staff and front office went toe-to-toe over Starks a few years ago and the front office ended up franchising him.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 22

7:30 p.m.: Maurkice Pouncey returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday with a tight left hamstring.

He said he felt good, and said that it doesn't have anything to do with the sprained left ankle that kept him out of last year's Super Bowl and has bothered him early this season.

I have my doubts. No one ever thinks injuries are connected – until they're healed.

* The coordinators met with reporters today. It's become such a popular event that news outlets such as Steelers.com are now sending out two crews to capture the interviews of both Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau.

In spite of the eavesdroppers, I was able to get another question asked after everyone had shut down their gear, this time to Arians, the offensive coordinator. In the first of a two-parter, I asked if Doug Legursky is a better center than guard.

"Probably," Arians said. "He's a solid center. But he hasn't been overmatched at all at guard. Where he screwed up was fullback. Heck, his only bad plays were two fullback plays last week. His guy disappeared and he didn't know where to look."

OK, so he's a better center than guard. Would it behoove the Steelers to move Pouncey to guard and Legursky to center?

"No," Arians said quickly. "Pouncey's so dominant. It's really like having two centers out there as far as identification right now, but Maurkice is a much more natural center than he is a guard. He's not as comfortable there and Dougie is comfortable playing guard."

* Speaking of Pouncey – and that's all I seem to be doing today – I asked him about "his boys" and he immediately began smack-talking on Ramon Foster about Florida's 33-23 win over Tennessee last Saturday.

"Man, Ramon, that's not even a rivalry anymore," Pouncey said. "As a matter of fact, we spent most of the week working on Alabama."

* Jonathan Scott told a bunch of reporters Wednesday that he'd faced Dwight Freeney once. When asked how he performed, all Scott said was, "Well, we won."

Problem is, Scott lied. The only chance he had of going up against Freeney occurred in the 2007 preseason. Freeney started for the Colts and Scott entered in reserve for the Detroit Lions. The Colts won the game, 37-10.

Perhaps Scott's mind is riddled with anxiety. That's possible, since this is the matchup tilted most decidedly toward Indianapolis on Sunday night.

* Looks like the Bengals lost their stash of kush for the rest of the season. The cops found 8½ pounds of marijuana at the home of receiver Jerome Simpson. How are they going to win the "Suck for Luck" derby now?

* If you have some time, take a look at this Q&A I did with Emmanuel Sanders. It was needed for a feature on Sanders that'll appear next week in Steelers Digest. The kid impresses me more each time I talk to him.

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 21

5:40 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger said his knee was "doing a lot better" and then he went out and practiced today for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger of course was hit by Seattle DE Raheem Brock in the right knee after being leg-whipped and tripped by beaten rookie (debuting) RT Marcus Gilbert. Roethlisberger was asked if he at the time thought he would be able to play the following week.

"No. No. It was very scary. Very scary," he said.

Roethlisberger will have to be on his toes again this week against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis of the Indianapolis Colts. I'll have his comments on the prospect of those two DEs going up against the Steelers' tackles very soon.

The rest of the injury report: James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward were given practice off. Brett Keisel didn't practice because of his knee injury. Chris Kemoeatu and Bryant McFadden returned to work.

Limited at practice were RB Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder) and C Maurkice Pouncey (hamstring).

TUESDAY, SEPT. 20

12:40 p.m.: Mike Tomlin announced at his Tuesday press conference that RDE Brett Keisel's first-grade PCL sprain has him at "questionable at best," according to Tomlin, for Sunday night's game at Indianapolis. Keisel would be replaced in the starting lineup by Ziggy Hood.

* Tomlin will take a wait-and-see approach to OG Chris Kemoeatu (knee), WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring), and CB Bryant McFadden (hamstring) in practice this week.

* Rookie OLB Chris Carter's hamstring issues are "in the rearview mirror. He really perked up toward the end of last week," Tomlin said. "Really it's a big week for Chris Carter and Jason Worilds because they're going to be simulating [Robert] Mathis and {Dwight] Freeney."

* Tomlin, of course, says the team won't take the Peyton Manning-less Colts lightly with veteran Kerry Collins playing QB. "If you looked at their game against Cleveland, they didn't have a problem moving the football. They kicked field goals. Some drives stalled. ... I think that's a function of working with a new quarterback. Situational football will be difficult under those circumstances but veteran players like Kerry Collins have a quick learning curve."

* On his defense: "I thought they played better."

* On explanations his players gave about the difference in performances of first and second games: "I think sometimes those explanations are efforts to answer questions. ... You make plays or you don't."

* On the play of substitute LG Ramon Foster Sunday: "Ramon did some nice things. I liked his effort, his finish, his play demeanor. It's what we desire."

* Tomlin questioned the conditioning of his offensive line, particularly in the run game, which averaged 4.9 per carry in the first half and 1.9 per carry in the second.

* On WR Mike Wallace: "He's a one-trick guy. He's working. I like Mike."

* On CB Ike Taylor: "He's playing at a high level. ... He's a blueprint for young guys in terms of being a veteran player."

* On substitute No. 3 CB Keenan Lewis: "He did a solid job. He really did. ... It was a good start for him."

* Did the win take some of the sting away from the opening-day loss: "No. And it shouldn't."

SUNDAY, SEPT. 18

8:05 p.m.: Well, that was easy enough. All of the sudden there's a four-way tie for the lead in the AFC North. The Bengals actually came closest to 2-0 but for whatever reason eschewed a 48-yard field goal in the thin Denver air and lost by two. Some things never change, like my raucous and rampaging thoughts after a Steelers win.

Also, look here for game notes from Dale Lolley of the Washington Observer-Reporter.

And don't miss the post-game quotes on the South Side message board, either.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 16

2:15 p.m.: Before we get to the injury report, click on the link to the Casey Hampton transcript in Thursday's blog entry. Maybe you can tell me how reporters can beg the guy to say something he didn't want to say, and how after he finally agreed -- to an extent -- the headlines are sent around the Net blaring that "Steelers Accuse Ravens of Illegal Blocks."

Just bugs me. Sorry.

Anyway, here's what you came for:

* Out -- WR Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring).

* Questionable -- G Cris Kemoeatu (knee), CB Bryant McFadden (hamstring).

* Probable -- CB Curtis Brown (ankle).

Cotchery missed Friday's practice completely, while Kemoeatu and McFadden were limited.

THURSDAY, SEPT. 15

10:40 a.m.: Someone on the message board asked about the atmosphere at the Steelers' practice facility yesterday, so I'll bring my response here to the blog: In the locker room, the mood, I sensed, was one of supressed anger. They're taking in all the criticism, and not responding to it -- or, I should say, they're hoping to respond on the field. That's a good sign. No finger-pointing whatsoever, as I'm sure everyone expected.

On the field, some of the veterans were given a day off, and I have a feeling that's not sitting well with the nutty fringe of fandom that wants guys like Aaron Smith, James Farrior and Hines Ward cut anyway.

Yes, nutty, and I mean no offense, because I understand the season's still an open-ended question, that there's no certainty that players like Smith will pick their games up significantly, and that you could be right. But Mike Tomlin has his vets' backs. He believes in them, and I feel that's a good sign.

For those on the field, the mood was urgent, yet far from panicked. There were position coaches screaming about mistakes, but I of course took that as a good sign, too. A final touchdown pass, a bomb, sent everyone (except the defensive look team) out on an upbeat note as Tomlin called them all up for some final words.

In the locker room, players such as Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton refused to apologize for their play or complain about the other team's tactics. Polamalu in effect told reporters to let the tape speak for itself on the Ed Dickson touchdown catch. Left unsaid is that Polamalu will try to do better. His burst to break in front of a curl route for an interception on the practice field earlier showed that he can do better. Polamalu also broke up the group of reporters after he was asked why he got into the fight Sunday. "I think they were saying bad things about our reporters," he deadpanned.

Here's the Casey Hampton interview on the message board. He was besieged by reporters asking about the Ravens' cut-blocking.

And I may as well throw the Maurkice Pouncey interview up there as well. He took pride in answering questions about his former Gators teammate Marcus Gilbert.

TUESDAY, SEPT. 13

3:45 p.m.: The Steelers placed Willie Colon on injured reserve and signed former University of South Carolina LT Jamon Meredith to their roster. Meredith (6-4.5, 312) will wear No. 69.

Meredith was a three-year starter at South Carolina, where he was predominantly a left tackle, but also played right tackle and left guard. He was clocked as low as 4.92 in the 40 at the combine and was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft by the Green Bay Packers.

Meredith didn't make the team, but was signed by the Buffalo Bills, who kept him for a little over a year before waiving him on Oct. 4, 2010.

He was claimed by the Detroit Lions the next day and waived two weeks later. He was then claimed by the New York Giants, who kept Meredith throughout the 2010 season before waiving him on Sept. 3, 2011.

In his pro career, Meredith has played in 10 games and made four starts.

12:30 p.m.: Mike Tomlin confirmed today at his weekly press conference that right tackle Willie Colon had surgery this morning on a torn left triceps muscle and will be out for an extended period of time and will probably be placed on injured reserve to end his season.

Tomlin hasn't made the move yet, but may do so today if he finds an offensive tackle to his liking who can provide some depth at the bottom of the roster. Tomlin said that a couple of offensive tackles are due in today for workouts.

Replacing Colon at right tackle will be rookie Marcus Gilbert, a 6-6, 330-pound second-round draft pick out of Florida. Gilbert played both tackle positions and guard at Florida, and played both tackle positions at training camp and in the preseason for the Steelers.

"I like where he is. He's performed well for us," said Tomlin. "He's a talented young guy without much experience."

Tomlin said that Colon's injury was the only one of significance suffered by the Steelers in their loss Sunday in Baltimore.

When asked if he saw any positives in the 35-7 loss, Tomlin said only that "Daniel Sepulveda punted the ball well."

MONDAY, SEPT. 12

6:45 p.m.: The Post-Gazette is reporting that Willie Colon suffered a torn triceps and will miss the rest of the season. My guess is that rookie second-round pick Marcus Gilbert -- who didn't play like a rookie this preseason -- will start at right tackle.

3:15 p.m.: NFL.com is reporting that Willie Colon suffered an arm injury, believed to be in the triceps area, in Sunday's game, and that the "early indication is that it's a serious one."

Updates will be forthcoming.

Also, the Steelers announced they've signed former Pitt TE Dorin Dickerson to their practice squad and released TE Jamie McCoy.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 11

8:45 p.m.: Just finished adding some thoughts here on the message board.

6:45 p.m.: It's a shame when your football team has better news on a Saturday than it does on a Sunday, but that was the case for the Steelers this weekend. They signed Troy Polamalu to a contract extension but the next day were blown out by a Ravens team that was clearly hopped up from having its season ended by the Steelers in their last game.

Emotion plays a bigger role in high school than it does in college, where it plays a bigger role than it does in the pros. But sometimes the emotional edge on a hot day can strike in waves against an opponent that's fairly satisfied with itself.

So, that's my spiel for now. I have to get back to work. In the meantime, here are some quotes from the main characters in Sunday's blowout loss.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 10

2:45 p.m.: The Answer Man earlier this week warned us to watch for Saturday as a agreement date with Troy Polamalu.

Well, the two sides did it. They agreed today on a three-year contract extension that will keep Polamalu in black and gold through the 2014 season. Terms were not disclosed when the Steelers broke the news just after 2:30 p.m.

Polamalu wrote via Twitter: "I am happy to say that I will retire a Pittsburgh Steelers!"

TUESDAY, SEPT. 6

12:45 p.m.: These were the newsworthy points of Mike Tomlin's press conference today:

* On team's health: "The only real injury to speak of is Chris Carter (hamstring)."

* On James Harrison saying he's not close to being 100 percent healthy: "I'd imagine he's sandbagging. James Harrison likes to play and we expect James Harrison-like play."

* On any potential replacement for Harrison: "Jason Worilds has improved quite a bit. Lawrence [Timmons] is an option."

* When asked about Bryant McFadden's hamstring injury, Tomlin said the cornerback would've played last week had it been a regular-season game.

* On why William Gay is the team's inside nickel back: "He shows good awareness. He's combative in the run. He shows blitz capabilities. But more importantly, playing in the slot is usually exemplified by what a guy can take in from an above-the-neck perspective. It's probably more like safety, the position, than it is like corner, and he's shown an aptitude for it."

* On the team's age: "Keep talking about how old they are. I appreciate that. You make my job easy."

SUNDAY, SEPT. 4

2:45 p.m.: The Steelers stayed with their own training-camp players in making up their initial practice squad of the 2011 season.

The eight players signed include running back John Clay, tight end/fulllback Jamie McCoy, wide receiver Tyler Grisham, offensive tackle Trevis Turner, center John Malecki, defensive end Corbin Bryant, linebacker Mortty Ivy and safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith.

The Steelers also announced that Ben Roethlisberger has been reinstalled as a team captain, along with Hines Ward, James Farrior and Arnaz Battle.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 3

5:05 p.m.: Tony Hills was the surprise cut at deadline by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A starting right guard only two weeks ago and exclaimed as a reclamation project, Hills was released this afternoon along with CB Crezdon Butler, P Jeremy Kapinos, TE John Gilmore and DE Jarrett Crittenton.

Making the team, among some 50 others, are WR Arnaz Battle, No. 3 TE Weslye Saunders, OL Chris Scott, NTs Chris Hoke and Steve McLendon, and CB Keenan Lewis.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 2

4:30 p.m.: The Steelers have placed quarterback Byron Leftwich on their Reserve/Injured List and released 21 others, reducing their roster to 58 players.

The team needs to release five more players before Saturday's 6 p.m. deadline to get their roster to the league-mandated 53 players.

The 21 players released today include sixth-round draft Keith Williams, WR Tyler Grisham and CB Donovan Warren, a camp standout. Also cut were linebackers Baraka Atkins, Mario Harvey, Chris McCoy and Mortty Ivy, defensive lineman Corbin Bryant, defensive backs Brett Greenwood, Macho Harris, and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, running backs James Johnson and John Clay, offensive linemen Colin Miller, Kyle Jolly, John Malecki, and Trevis Turner, wide receivers Armand Robinson and Wes Lyons, tight end Jamie McCoy and kicker Swayze Waters .

TUESDAY, AUG. 30

9:35 a.m.: The Steelers cut the following four players to get down to the required 80-man limit by 4 o'clock this afternoon:

NT Anthony Gray, WR Terrence McCrae, CB Niles Brinkley and OLB Chris Ellis.

McCrae is the third receiver to feel the axe in this round of cuts. The Connellsville High product, out of Ohio University, was looking forward to a seeing extended playing time Thursday night.

Gray was once considered a draft possibility by the Steelers, but the strong camps of Chris Hoke and Steve McLendon diminished the need at the position behind Casey Hampton.

Both players, of course, are eligible to be put on the practice squad the week of the first regular-season game.

MONDAY, AUG. 29

1:15 p.m.: WR Emmanuel Sanders and LT Jonathan Scott are set for practice today. Sanders refused to admit he's feeling more urgency to re-establish himself since the rocketship Antonio took off and the team acquired Jerricho Cotchery.

Also, Maurkice Pouncey gave me a sincere interview for a feature I have coming out in Steelers Digest next week. Click the link to get there, and if you click this link it will take you to a message board thread with some thoughts I have on the upcoming season.

SUNDAY, AUG. 28

5:40 p.m.: The Steelers finally got around to putting RB Baron Batch on injured reserve. They also waived the following players: TE Vaughn Charlton, CB Kevin Dockery, WR Eric Greenwood, WR Kenneth Moore and TE Miguel Chavis.

The Steelers must release four more players by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

THURSDAY, AUG. 25

SURPRISE, SURPRISE: The two Steelers most deserving of Hall of Fame recognition are Dermontti Dawson and Jack Butler, and thanks to a pleasant surprise this week it appears that both have a great chance to go in together next summer.

Butler was the surprise nomination by the Seniors Committee yesterday. He's as deserving for his 52 interceptions during the 1950s as he is for the 46 years he spent with the BLESTO scouting organization, 44 of which he spent as the director.

Of course, nominees aren't chosen for their overall body of work – at least it must remain an unspoken notion by voters. But even Dick LeBeau believed that his work as defensive coordinator for the Steelers went a long way in voters' minds two years ago. LeBeau was elected as a Seniors nominee, as have 21 of the last 24 previous Seniors nominees.

The official vote on Butler, Dick Stanfel and 15 modern-day finalists will take place Feb. 4. To be inducted, a nominee must receive 80 percent of the vote. If both Butler and Dawson get those votes, the next two Steelers on the list become Jerome Bettis and Donnie Shell.

SS SHELF LIFE: Shell deserves recognition not only for his four rings and his highlight reel of hard hits, but for intercepting more passes (51) than any other strong safety in the game's history. Shell may have played the most physically demanding position in the game, but he managed to put together 14 quality years in the league, all with the Steelers.

I bring this up in light of the overwhelming chatter on Pittsburgh talk radio yesterday that Troy Polamalu is just about finished and did not deserve the extension the Steelers apparently will not give him as he approaches the start of the final year of his contract.

In spite of Polamalu's impressive performance in the second preseason game, in which he showed that he's recovered from last season's late ankle injury, Polamalu is considered by most Steelers fans to be on the verge of being washed up.

I understand he's been banged up of late, but this is a guy who takes great care of his body, eats right, goes to bed early, and has the great instincts to continue playing at a high level when that burst of speed leaves him, however far down the road that may be.

BUCK UP: I was surprised to hear Tuesday from James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons that Timmons is not being groomed as the successor to Farrior as the buck inside linebacker, or the play-caller of the defense.

I just assumed he was being fed a bit of the complexities of a position Farrior said he still hasn't completely mastered with all of its reads and adjustments.

Farrior, after all, is 36 years old. His backup, Larry Foote, is 31, so the future must be considered. So I asked Farrior if he thinks Timmons could be the buck of the future.

"He could be," Farrior said. "He can play any position on the field, I think. He was covering a wide receiver the other day streaking down the field and he made them force a bad throw. That was just a tribute to his athletic ability."

But, doesn't the buck require more cerebral play?

"Yeah, I think so," Farrior said. "I think you've got to take into account everything that's going on around you. It's something you can't just be thrown into. I'm sure they won't do that to him, but it's definitely a position he could take over once he gets it down and learns the ins and outs of everything that's going on."

"The good thing about it," said Timmons, "is you'd have the offseason and you could work on it from there."

I just assumed it would take more than one offseason.

ROSTER BATTLES: OC Bruce Arians was talking about David Johnson the other day as if Johnson had actually made the block that would've prevented Rashard Mendenhall from fumbling in the fourth quarter of the last Super Bowl. Arians was enthusiastic in that Johnson is a clear No. 2 at the TE position with the departure of Matt Spaeth, and that the No. 3 spot remains wide open.

It isn't. For as impressive as undrafted rookie Weslye Saunders has been at times, he's just not ready to step into a game situation for the Steelers, or likely for anyone. So John Gilmore will remain the No. 3 and Saunders should clear waivers and make it back on the practice squad.

At receiver, I'm not only choosing Arnaz Battle to beat out Tyler Grisham as the sixth WR, I'm choosing Battle to beat out CB Crezdon Butler for the 53rd roster spot. For a team that uses 5-WR sets but never puts five CBs on the field, a sixth WR is more important than a seventh CB, particularly when the WR is an experienced and healthy vet who's a better special-teams player.

Butler appears to have been beaten out for the No. 6 CB spot by Keenan Lewis, considering that rookie draft picks Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen will be "redshirted." Brown certainly deserves his spot, but Allen, who's just returned from an injury, will be kept because the word on the street is that he'd be claimed by another team in a snap. As for the rumor that Bryant McFadden will be cut, I'm just not hearing that from my sources.

To finish my offensive roster, I'm going with Dennis Dixon over Charlie Batch (unless they can get something for Dixon in trade) at QB, the obvious four running backs, and rookie guard Keith Williams over Chris Scott for the 10th O-line spot.

With Trai Essex now backing up LT Jon Scott, Marcus Gilbert becomes the fourth OT and Scott cane move to the practice squad with Kyle Jolly. I was tossing Williams and Chris Scott around in my mind as I watched Wednesday's practice, trying to use the logic of experience, versatility, numbers, and expectations of the waiver wire, but it became obvious as I watched the two play that Williams is bigger, stronger and better than Chris Scott. That solved that.

Defensively, my sixth and final D-lineman is Chris Hoke over Steve McLendon based on word that Hoke has played better of late. I'm going with eight linebackers, the aforementioned six cornerbacks, and the four obvious safeties.

AND FINALLY: Kudos to the front office for a brilliant offseason. I expected them to re-sign most of their valued free agents, and to extend most of their final-year contract guys, but I never expected them to get EVERY LAST ONE of them.

Just make sure Polamalu remains entrenched next March and then I'll give Art Rooney II an A-plus in putting the team in true championship contention for the foreseeable future.

Maybe they ought to cram their offseason into one month every year.

TUESDAY, AUG. 23

9 a.m.: The Steelers have extended the contract of inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons through the 2016 season at a total cost of $50 million. The 25-year-old has started 30 games for the Steelers since being drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft. In that time, Timmons has accumulated 15 sacks, 3 interceptions and forced 7 fumbles.

According to Ed Bouchette, the Steelers have closed the door on negotiations with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu and are taking the risk that Polamalu won't leave as a free agent when his current contract expires next March.

MONDAY, AUGUST 1

9:30 a.m.: I'm about to wrap up my work here in Southern California, and I'm told I haven't missed much while the Steelers enjoy their flag football tournament whilst waiting for the rest of the team to show up Thursday.

I'll show up Wednesday, but in the meantime, please enjoy some of the inanities I've posted on the message board.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 27

9:30 p.m.: A source with the Steelers says the team has released offensive tackle Max Starks.

A left tackle who's started two Super Bowls but who missed the last half of last season with a back injury, Starks was scheduled to make $6.575 million this season. The cap savings, though, will be reduced by $2 million in prorated bonus money from the four-year contract he signed in 2009.

The options at left tackle for the Steelers are shaky at best. Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott have played the position, while Tony Hills has served a three-year apprentice with very little playing time. Perhaps OL Coach Sean Kugler sees more in Scott than I do.

4:45 p.m.: Just to update Day II of NFL Chaos Week, the Steelers have reached an agreement with PK Shaun Suisham. No surprise there, and it's no surprise it occurred before the Steelers found their right tackle. According to Adam Caplan, Willie Colon is looking elsewhere, apparently not impressed with the Steelers' interest in him.

Earlier in the day, the Steelers announced the signing of undrafted rookie free agent punter Aaron Bates of Michigan State. Bates is the second punter on the roster, and the other is not free-agent veteran Dan Sepulveda.

And, in the national rumor mill, ESPN is reporting that Plaxico Burress has a meeting scheduled with Mike Tomlin Saturday. This was "leaked" to ESPN just before Burress meets with former coach Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants.

10:20 a.m.: I just heard a reporter on TV say this about the White House:

"The less that's on the schedule, the more that's happening."

I suspect the same is holding true in the Steelers' South Side offices today.

Facilities opened yesterday. Camp opens tomorrow. Free agents can't sign until Friday. The players can't practice, really practice, until Sunday. And the free agents can't play at all until Aug. 4.

So that leaves today wide open on the schedule, but trust that the Steelers are hard at work.

They got off to a blazing start yesterday. They announced a terrific crop of undrafted free agents in the morning, and then agreed to their No. 1 free-agent priority, Ike Taylor, at night.

The numbers aren't out there yet on Ike, and that often means the agent doesn't want them out there, that he got beat. I'd heard from a source last April the sides had agreed on $8 million per year, but I couldn't get confirmation. We'll get it soon enough, I guess. But we'll get more than that today.

Today's priority is finding a starting right tackle, whether it be Flozell Adams or Willie Colon.

In reading between the lines, it appears the Steelers' first choice is to lower Adams's cap number. If he won't budge, Colon would get the next crack at the, oh, $2.5 million cap hit for this season.

Either way, the Steelers have more leverage at this position than they had at cornerback. Or placekicker.

Shaun Suisham has more leverage today than he did before Tuesday morning's undrafted class was announced.

With several attractive college kickers in the undrafted pool, the Steelers – experts as they are at finding kickers in the undrafted pool – did not sign one. So unless they sign Suisham, their kicker is Swayze Waters.

After they find their right tackle and kicker, I suspect the Steelers will begin cutting cap space and/or players.

As Ian Whetstone pointed out, Ben Roethlisberger's contract is unplowed territory, as far as restructuring goes. And Aaron Smith could add a year, take a $4.5 million bonus, and cut his cap hit in half. Hines Ward and Casey Hampton could help out. Troy Polamalu – curiously a topic of debate in town – could take a $15 million bonus for five years and cut his hit this year almost in half. Some of the "tagged" contracts, like those of LaMarr Woodley, Dennis Dixon and Tony Hills, need restructured – or in some cases ripped up entirely.

If the Steelers can't do any more than just get under the cap number, free agents such as Dan Sepulveda, Mewelde Moore, Matt Spaeth, Will Gay and Chris Hoke could be replaced by rookies.

And it all could get done today. No sense reporting to camp Thursday without your team.

TUESDAY, JULY 26

11:20 a.m.: I'm in the process of typing up my opinions of what appears to be an outstanding crop of undrafted rookie free agents. The Steelers announced they've signed this group this morning:

Vaughn Charlton, TE/HB (Temple)

John Clay, HB (Wisconsin)

Terrence McCrae, WR (Ohio)

Armand Robinson, WR (Miami University)

Adam Mims, WR (Furman)

Weslye Saunders, TE (South Carolina)

Colin Miller, C (Central Michigan)

Trevis Turner, OT (Abilene Christian)

Brent Greenwood, S (Iowa)

Niles Brinkley, CB (Wisconsin)

Eric Clanton, OLB (Citadel)

Mario Harvey, MLB (Marshall)

Miguel Chavis, DE (Clemson)

Anthony Gray, DT (Southern Miss)

Eric Greenwood, WR (Idaho)

11 a.m.: Jerry DiPaola of the Tribune-Review reports that the Steelers will add Wisconsin RB John Clay and Clemson DT Miguel Chavis as undrafted rookies.

Clay, of course, has been known to Steelers fans who liken the 230-pounder in style to Jerome Bettis.

Clay rushed for 884 yards (5.7 ypa) as a redshirt freshman and followed with a 1,517-yard 2009 season in which he was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Clay's stock fell significantly last year (1,012 yards, 5.4 ypr) as he put on weight (estimated at 270 pounds), did not provide the skills necessary to play on third downs, and fell behind a couple of younger backs on the depth chart. The 6-0 1/2 Clay ran the 40 in 4.79 at the combine.

6:15 a.m.: The clock struck midnight and the Steelers, according to a league source, signed undrafted rookie wide receiver Terrence McCrae of Ohio University and nearby Connellsville High School.

McCrae is a 6-2 5/8, 194-pounder who set season (9) and career (19) records for touchdown receptions at Ohio. In the last two seasons, he caught 70 passes for 1,050 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Last season, four of his nine touchdowns came on fade routes in the end zone, so he'll give Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers quarterbacks a tall red-zone target at training camp next month.

For his career, McCrae caught 85 passes for 1,197 yards and 19 touchdowns. As a senior at Connellsville, McCrae caught 7 touchdown passes and intercepted 7 passes. At his pro day, McCrae ran a 4.45 40, had a vertical jump of 35 inches, and ran a 6.82 in the three-cone drill, but benched 225 pounds only 8 times.

According to at least one Internet site, the Steeles have also signed massive South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders (6-5 1/8, 270) and fireplug Southern Miss nose guard Anthony Gray (5-11 1/2, 338).

I've watched the talented Saunders on a number of occasions before Coach Steve Spurrier kicked him off the team prior to last season and would compare him to former Steelers TE Eric Green.

Gray is no surprise to readers here. He was one of the team's pre-draft visitors whom I'd predicted would become the team's fourth or fifth-round pick after a source with the team told me he'd "take him in the second." If the report proves correct, Gray might replace 35-year-old free agent Chris Hoke on the roster and would make for a sad day in Pittsburgh.

MONDAY, JULY 25

4:15 p.m.:Art Rooney just concluded a press conference at the Steelers' practice facility and reported that the team will report to training camp Thursday, but per the NFL agreement won't put on pads for a full practice until Sunday. The Steelers will practice without pads before that time.

11:30 a.m.: As promised, here are the timeline changes, according to NFL Network, which cited "sources" and not the league:

Tuesday 12:01 a.m. -- trades, sign undrafted rookies, begin free-agent negotiations.

Wednesday -- first 10 training camps open (Steelers would open Thursday).

Thursday -- waivers.

Friday 6 p.m. -- sign free agents.

10 a.m.: Early this morning, the NFLPA formally agreed with the owners on a new CBA. Now it's up to the vote of the NFLPA executive committee, the player reps and the players before the following timeline is put into effect (according to Adam Schefter of ESPN):

Today -- sign own free agents.

Tuesday -- sign other team's free agents.

Thursday -- Steelers report to training camp (15 days before Aug. 12 preseason opener).

Saturday -- trades.

Tuesday, Aug. 2 -- new league year.

Of course, this timeline seems to change every couple of hours, so stay tuned.

SUNDAY, JULY 24

2 p.m.: Some of you may recognize Aaron Wilson's byline from his work as publisher of Scout's Baltimore Ravens site. I know the byline from admiring his work as a Ravens beat writer. We'll all get to know Aaron a little bit better since Scout just made him the organization's new NFL reporter. Here's what Wilson's reporting today:

The new league year reportedly wouldn't launch until five days after new collective bargaining agreement is finalized.

Plus, according to CBS Sports, training camps wouldn't begin until a week after deal is ratified by NFL Players Association.

Under that time table, there would be enough time to conduct business as far as free agency before players hit the field.

And that would mean camps could open as soon as one week after Monday with the decertified players union expected to vote as soon as tomorrow.

One complaint players voiced after the owners ratified the proposed labor deal was they felt rushed to recertify and rushed to get back to work with virtually no time for a signing period.

"No way, you can't force us to sign a bad deal and shove it down our throats," Baltimore Ravens free agent cornerback Fabian Washington said in a telephone interview. "I feel like our guys, the NFLPA reps, will judge if it's a good deal or a bad deal. We want to make sure everything is right with no hidden loopholes."

"Hey, it's going to come in a hurry. I don't know how you can go into camp on Wednesday with 32 teams having to get 90 players on a roster. And you can't just sign with any team. You have to make a decision as fast as possible. It's going to be like water rolling downhill. It's going to be crazy."

SATURDAY, JULY 23

9:11 a.m.: With the new CBA expected to be ratified by the players on Monday or Tuesday, this appears to be the last weekend without football in the year 2011.

The NFL announced that camps will open on Wednesday. It's good news, for sure, but in my opinion it'll come a day or three too early.

The Steelers reported last year on July 30 for a Sept. 9 opener. And now – without a brief free-agency period – they're reporting July 27 for a Sept. 8 opener?

After all this, why the rush? Why not wait until a brief free-agency period has passed?

I guess it shouldn't make sense in an offseason that has made little sense, but it appears as if the owners have manipulated the situation down to the last detail. And that realization is most likely causing the delay in NFLPA ratification.

The players realize that the owners did not have to pay for spring football, then got the deal they were looking for, and are now going to get four weeks of revenue from preseason football.

From what I can surmise, the owners truly did get the deal they were looking for.

In exchange for dropping the players' share of revenue – an issue that goes back to at least 1970 (as far as I was willing to research) – to 47 percent, the owners gave up … um, gave up … uh … well, they gave up overpaying highly drafted rookies … and, some future medical benefits … and some more money to retirees … and what in real time appears to be the biggest of these issues: practice time.

In other words, it appears that the players got hammered.

Anyway, the latter issue concerning practice time is one that won't appeal to the Steelers, their coaches, or their fans, because over the past few decades the Steelers' coaching staffs have done it the right way. Veterans have stayed with the organization because of the ways Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin have kept them strong through the season. Troy Polamalu, for one, cites this as a reason he wants to end his career in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers have been one of the few teams to understand that beating down their men was counter-productive. Now, all teams will be forced into keeping their players fresh, whether their new, inexperienced coach is under the gun by an impatient owner or not. It's a subtle edge the Steelers have lost.

They've also lost with the inevitable passing of a rookie salary cap. What a vicious cycle that had been for losing teams. Top 10 contracts that the Bengals routinely had to pay not only ate up their cap, they lessened the rookie's motivation.

Other than that, the only bit of news that interests me in "the agreement" is the possibility of short-term injured reserve. If it comes to pass, a player injured early in camp, or an Aaron Smith who's injured in-season and could possibly return for the post-season, won't be pushed off the roster for the entire season. (In fact, this strikes me as a Steelers suggestion.)

I also appreciate the expanded roster in place of a No. 3 QB. But that's about it. And that's probably just me, since I'm getting old, fussy and have always resisted forms of manipulation. I don't expect most fans to agree, and will joyfully be at your service for this matter of August football.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 20

8:25 a.m.: With labor negotiations expected to wrap up any day now, the Steelers are on the verge of a hectic week before the players report to camp on or around July 29. So here's my checklist of the most important duties for the front office:

* Sign Ike Taylor. The window to re-sign a team's own free agents should allow two sides with like-minded goals to come to an agreement for, oh, $8 million per year.

* And of course that would put the Steelers over the estimated $123 million cap by about $15 million. So the next step would be to …

* … whittle away. Antwaan Randle El is expected to be the first to go. He'd save $2 million. A multi-year deal for LaMarr Woodley could lower his $10 million franchise hit, but not by much. Many analysts believe Aaron Smith and his $4.5 million salary should be jettisoned, but I don't want to see that happen to a guy who was still playing at a premium level before yet another injury. Perhaps a restructuring of Smith's contract would help both sides and give Smith the couple of years he thinks he still has left. Also, a source expects allowances will be made for such veterans in the new CBA agreement, for at least this season.

* Flozell Adams is 36 and carries a $5 million contract and would presumably be targeted for cap relief, but that's not what Coach Mike Tomlin was talking about after the season. He let it be known that Adams is welcome back, particularly after the way he played in the Super Bowl as the Steelers ran extremely well on the Packers' left side. Adams's agent, in turn, let Tomlin know through the media that Flozell would only come back as a starter.

* So, that probably leaves Willie Colon free to negotiate with another team for starter money. The Steelers either stick with Adams and re-sign backup tackle Jonathan Scott (because of the age risk with Adams), or sign the younger Colon at a high price and use either Tony Hills, Chris Scott or Marcus Gilbert as the top backup at RT instead of the more expensive Jonathan Scott.

* Complementary free agents such as Mewelde Moore, Matt Spaeth and William Gay shouldn't cost too much to keep.

* And then there are the undrafted free agents. Going into the draft, the Steelers liked the pool of nose tackles and discussed letting veteran backup Chris Hoke go. If they don't sign a rookie NT to their liking, Hoke would likely be resigned.

* And then there are next year's potential free agents. I mentioned Woodley earlier, but Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu must also be extended before opening day. Polamalu, 30, wants to continue his career with the Steelers, and could possibly provide cap savings with a contract that would restructure his $6.4 million salary for this season. Timmons, though, would be an expensive renegotiation. His salary this season is only $650,000.

* Resident capologist Ian Whetstone will be along shortly for a more in-depth look at how the Steelers stack up against the new cap.

MONDAY, JULY 18

9:40 a.m.: I can't say I woke up with a pit in my stomach after Team USA lost the World Cup final to Japan, but I will admit to a bit of indigestion after seeing the highlights this morning.

I can't say my 11-year-old daughter took it as well. She has the proverbial pit in her stomach. For her, it was a Super Bowl loss, and no one should have to endure two Super Bowl losses in such a short period of time. But that's how much she loved Team USA.

She was totally consumed. On the way home from the beach last week she picked a USA Today up off a table at a roadside McDonalds because of the spread on the soccer team. She read it voraciously, the first time I'd ever seen such enthusiasm from her over a sports page. Once home, she cut out the pictures, pasted them on poster board, and tacked it to her bedroom wall.

She's a goalie, and of course has an affinity for Hope Solo, but this was over the top for her. It was true love. I'm not sure if this team has inspired her to become an athlete or a journalist. Those became my two and only options when I fell for the Chicago Cubs at a similar age.

Of course, Team USA folded and gagged and gurgled just like the Cubs did in 1969.

It's one thing to deal with two "Super Bowl losses" in six months, but no one should be made to play the part of a young Cubs fan.

I recoiled in horror upon that realization, but that's not my point this fine morning. My point is that we, as adults, learn from our kids – or re-learn from them. And her love of Team USA reminded me of how kids take to their sports heroes. It's a lesson that never gets old.

Last week I was able to compartmentalize the DUI arrest of Hines Ward and the comments of James Harrison and report – and truly believe – that these incidents would not hurt the team and should in fact serve to motivate those two (and Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall) in these final eight weeks of the offseason.

Of course, what had been lost on me is the effect on the young fans, those who still idealize these athletes.

We as adults have learned that no one is perfect, and that if a circus-type spotlight were pointed at any group of rich, championship athletes through the duration of their 20s and early 30s, we'd find the inevitable flaws.

We've learned to deal with it – and even treat their transgressions analytically. As parents we've learned to explain this phenomenon to our children whenever they might ask about a troubled star player before, say, a Super Bowl appearance.

Not that it makes it right.

It's one thing to deal with an aching loss, as my daughter is this morning. But I can't imagine her feelings should, say, Hope Solo get arrested for drunk driving. It's something other parents faced last week as their kids learned a little more about their Pittsburgh football heroes. And it's something I'll try to remember the next time I begin to type up a cold and analytical response.

THURSDAY, JULY 14

10 a.m.: It never fails. Just when you think you're buried so far into a lockout that it's safe to take a week of vacation, the Steelers have their offseason. And this is what the Steelers do in the offseason: They distract each other.

It must be the residue of boredom or something.

Hines Ward got it off and running with a suspected DUI. It was texted to my wife by a co-worker while we were relaxing on the beach. I checked it out back at the resort and sure enough it was true.

The moral issues on this are pretty black and white, so at the time I felt that no one needed me to pontificate on the topic. I figured it could go without blog comment. While I realize this is a time to force manufactured news down the throats of customers, I instead retreated to my family without comment.

And then along came James Harrison.

By now, we all know that the star linebacker with the sinister reputation has ripped the quarterback, the running back and the commissioner in an interview for Men's Journal.

My initial reaction was to snicker, since I've been entrenched in the "Run The Ball" camp ever since Bruce Arians took over as offensive coordinator. But then I wondered why Harrison wants Ben Roethlisberger to hand the ball to a "fumble machine" such as Rashard Mendenhall.

The logic made me dizzy, but for the most part it's something most of us have been complaining about since the Super Bowl when the passing game fizzled and Mendenhall gave up the ball on the one play that killed all of the momentum early in the fourth quarter.

Still, as Pro Football Weekly wanted to know when my cell phone rang on the way to dinner: What about the locker room? Well, I really don't see a problem. I expect an overreaction from the boundless media that covers the team, but Harrison is highly respected in the Steelers' locker room because of his work ethic and production. There's no one on the team close to him on the former matter, and few close to him on the latter.

While the Mendenhall comment may not have been statistically correct, as Rashard pointed out on his Twitter machine, fans and media (and even coaches) for years have worried about his ball-security issues. My opinion is that the ridicule from Harrison will only serve to make Mendenhall think about it again this year, because, frankly, Mendenhall has gotten a pass from us in the media after costing the Steelers so harshly in the Super Bowl.

As for ripping Ben, Harrison said he was taken out of context. Yes, it's possible he was at a light point in the interview and was joking mildly, but today all interviews are taped and I doubt the author would've made those words up.

Either way, I'm sure Roethlisberger can take it. He's a big boy.

But will it divide the team?

Not by my estimation. This is a strong locker room and Harrison is THE hardest worker. And just in case, he has already called Roethlisberger to smooth out the matter. Say what you want about Roethlisberger, he understands team chemistry and what it takes to win and he will not let this become an issue. If anything, these comments will serve to motivate all three players – Harrison included – in the final stages of offseason training.

And then there's the matter of Goodell. Will Art Rooney II come down hard on Harrison for calling the NFL commissioner a "crook" and a "devil"? Will he suspend him? Will he cut him?

No chance. In fact, Harrison merely gave words to what most in the organization have been thinking. My only problem with his commentary on Goodell is that it appears as if Harrison stole those words from my blog.

Isn't that of form of plagiarizing? And if so, can I get anything out of it? After all, I'm buried deep in the middle of a lockout. And this vacation isn't helping matters.

FRIDAY, MAY 20

7:30 a.m.: I may have told you this story before, but it needs repeating:

I was interviewing Troy Polamalu one day for a feature on James Farrior. I asked Troy for some insight on James and Troy said something along the lines of, "James is a laid-back kind of guy who strikes me as someone who sits around the house in his bathrobe all day and watches MSNBC."

Since MSNBC is considered a liberal news channel, I repeated that part to Troy to get even more insight into Farrior: Is he a liberal?

"Or it could be Fox," Polamalu said. "It doesn't matter. That's not the point I was making."

So while I was there, I asked Troy if he watches MSNBC or Fox.

"Neither," he said. "It's all propaganda."

I bring this up because I used a similar response to a question from one of our most respected message-board posters. This morning he asked me why I have not been writing about the labor negotiations. This was my full reply:

"It's out of my area of expertise, but it's funny how my basic comments [from last year] still hold true.

"I expected them to squabble until mid-August before they get serious, then take a rushed week of free agency, in which teams sign mostly their own players, and then start the season maybe a week or two late.

"It's all about the 60 percent the players are getting and the owners having too many expenses to make a nickel out of the 40 percent they're getting. But they won't show their books.

"I don't know what else anyone is writing, other than the propaganda from both sides.

"Maybe I can write a blog entry from your question, but other than that I don't understand the legalese of the day-to-day machinations. And I'm thinking it doesn't matter because I feel it's all about one issue and one issue only: the 60-40 breakdown."

So I looked up a story this morning on what I expected to be a jumble of propaganda with the NFL's joke of a commissioner, Roger Goodell.

And I was right. But Goodell of course didn't miss a chance to anger the fans of real football by promising to continue to fine the hard tacklers, so that wasn't a good start to my morning. He also threw out the "rookie compensation" issue, which certainly can't be a problem with the players. And Goodell also mentioned helping the retired players, probably more so to gain my sympathy rather than spill any truth ... even if accidentally.

But Goodell got to the meat of the matter quickly by saying, the "owners are seeking a system that puts back balance into the collective bargaining agreement."

And there it is: the 60-40 split in which the owners are claiming their 40 percent is being gobbled up by growing expenses.

Like the rest of the national media that fancies itselt so important to the game these days, I want to back the owners. I want to believe they gave away too much to the players in the last CBA negotiations. But I can't believe it until they show the players their books.

Maybe I'm too naive to believe this is possible, but I'll stick to my belief that until the owners prove that their share of the pie is being gobbled up by expenses, it's all propaganda.

THURSDAY, MAY 5

11:15 a.m.: This stuff never ends. Early this morning, according to TMZ, Hines Ward was handcuffed by Los Angeles police in a misunderstanding over a stolen car in which he was a passenger. The female driver apparently had not called police to say that her previously stolen car was returned.

But, I'm not going to link to that story. It's all over the Internet and you can find it easily. Instead, I recommend linking to some good stuff on our message board. Here's a feature on Curtis Brown, and here are some notes that will be consumed and spit out by the fine locals in our cyber community.

SATURDAY, APRIL 30

11:40 p.m.: Well, it was worth the wait. The Steelers finished off their second day of the 2011 draft with a pick I had earlier contemplated -- before wiser heads prevailed -- as a first-rounder.

No, scouts told me, Curtis Brown is too slight and not fast enough and doesn't hit well enough to be a first or second rounder.

But Curtis showed better than that, at least to me, in staying healthy enough to play in all 52 career games at Texas. And he showed a fiesty attitude in the run game during the Senior Bowl. Steelers DBs coach Carnell Lake backed that up by saying Curtis "won't shy away from contact and is scrappy."

Of course, Brown is known for his long arms and loose hips and coverage skills, and that's why the Steelers expect him to help as a nickel back on third downs this season.

Brown only intercepted two passes in spite of possessing excellent hands. Lake explained that teams threw away from him.

I did get the chance to ask Curtis about the YouTube clip of him returning an interception for what should've been a touchdown. He was caught from behind by a running back.

"I don't like making excuses," the shy Brown said. "So I don't want to say because it will make me look like I make excuses. But it was a 12-play drive and I had lower back problems. Either way, he's a fast tailback. I'm going to give him his props."

And I'm going to give the Steelers props because I think Brown, late in the third round, is the best pick they've made so far.

9:40 p.m.: I wish I didn't have to be so negative, and there's always the very, very, most excellent chance that I'm wrong, but I don't like the Steelers' second-round pick Marcus Gilbert.

I watched Florida closely the last two years because of the Pouncey twins, and this past season it was a struggle to watch because of the rest of the Florida line. Gilbert was one of the reasons, as he was beaten too often for my taste at LT. He was moved to RT by the end of the season, but by then I had stopped watching. Perhaps he was better on the right side. Hopefully he was.

OL Coach Sean Kugler isn't sure where the 6-6.1, 330-pounder will play. He mentioned that he likes the way Gilbert pulls, and that he could end up at guard, but that "his position will come out."

Gilbert is the son of a Secret Service agent who guarded the last three presidents. The hope here is that Marcus develops better and more quickly than Tony Hills has, but count me among those on the negative side right now.

7:30 p.m.: Here's some extra stuff on Cameron Heyward, starting with his combine transcript that contained some interesting bits about his dad.

And here's the story on our odds board, which he led.

Finally, the defensive line preview.

* A couple of notes, good and bad. The bad: A source told me Max Starks has put on a lot of weight. The good: The Steelers are confident they'll re-sign Ike Taylor, but realize it'll cost them about $8 million this year.

6:40 p.m.: Cameron Heyward showed up this afternoon to talk to reporters. Here's the hometown kid's transcript.

Heyward was followed to the podium by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who's teaching the Ohio State staff the nuances of his 3-4 defense. In this transcript, LeBeau touches on that a little, and also jokes/hints in talking about another player the Steelers like from his alma mater, track-star CB Chimdi Chekwa (5-11.6, 191, 4.39). Chekwa's probably more of a third-rounder.

FRIDAY, APRIL 29

8 a.m.: The three names the draft world had bandied about for pick 31 -- Cameron Heyward, Derek Sherrod and Aaron Williams -- were all available when the Steelers ran to the podium with a card that said C. Heyward on it last night.

In drafting the son of the first superstar I ever covered as a beat reporter in the mid 80s, the Steelers got the most difficult part of their 2011 draft goal out of the way. The Steelers want to get younger at DE and improve at CB and OT/OG, and in Heyward they got the hard part out of the way with the last practical 3-4 DE on their board.

So far, so good for the Steelers as they head into a second day that should be fairly rich in cornerbacks and big tackles they can develop at either RT or slide inside as a mauling guard.

Here are my favorite candidates:

CB: Brandon Harris, Shareece Wright, Curtis Brown and Johnny Patrick.

OT/OG: Orlando Franklin, Will Rackley, Jah Reid and Clint Boling. (I don't expect the Steelers to solve their guard issues with an OG/C type, since both Maurkice Pouncey and Doug Legursky have that position in capable hands.)

Of course, the order of these two positions will depend on value. Everyone would love to see both Harris and Franklin in town, but a more practical prediction would be Rackley and Patrick. Just as long as it's not Davon House and/or Marcus Gilbert.

As darkhorse contenders in the second round, go with my favorite TE, Lance Kendricks, or Willie Parker-like speed back Taiwan Jones.

FRIDAY, APRIL 22

6:10 a.m.: The news yesterday that soon-to-be 36-year-old right tackle Flozell Adams will finish his contract with the Steelers next season means the Steelers' need at the position has increased.

Wait what?

Of course, Adams was one of the keys to the Steelers' Super Bowl run last season when he added a serious run-blocking punch to the strong side. When he said after the Super Bowl that he wanted to think about whether he'd return next season, the Steelers put a first-round tender on possible restricted free agent Willie Colon to secure the position.

But now that Adams will return, it's unlikely that Colon will. And if the 28-year-old former starter is out of the plans now, the Steelers have a greater need for a young right tackle, someone like Orlando Franklin, who has the potential to play with similar violence and strength on the right side as Adams.

Not that the Steelers MUST draft a tackle early, as many assert these days. The Steelers still have Jonathan Scott as a backup on both sides. He's a free agent, but he's a free agent who loves his line coach and his new environment, in which he finally found success down the stretch last season. Still, even with Scott, Adams and a returning Max Starks, the Steelers are more likely to draft a tackle today than they were yesterday, when the news about Adams finally reached their desks.

TUESDAY, APRIL 5

2:10 p.m.: I haven't heard any complaints about our current news vaccuum, and that's to your credit. In fact the only restlessness I'm sensing is my own since I tend to feel utterly useless without something to write.

But that's going to end tomorrow with the start of our draft series.

Michael DiJulio of NFL Scouting has been hired by Fox/Scout to bring his expert draft analysis to our sites. He'll break down the positions with rankings and analysis while I'll sidebar with a local perspective on the position.

This series will parallel the expected news of draft visitors coming out of the South Side, which the Steelers have been holding off as they attended league meetings and pro days. This week they're meeting as a staff to conclude their positional readings.

The series will lead us up to the draft, from which there'll be a few weeks of analysis. If the league opts to conduct some form of free agency through the lockout at that point, we'll be there to cover it. If not, I'll conduct interviews with current players in the hope we remain entertained until the end of the lockout.

Again, thank you for your patience.

FRIDAY, APRIL 1

1:30 p.m.: I love the talent that's been assembled at North Carolina, and, frankly, who doesn't? The NFL had more than 100 scouts at Chapel Hill for the UNC Pro Day on Thursday. Mike Tomlin was there as well watching guys like Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Quan Sturdivant work out. It was a big deal because A.) so many of the UNC players were suspended last season and B.) they're pretty damn good. Of course, the Steelers have no chance of drafting Robert Quinn, but the rest should be fair game, including injured stars Bruce Carter (OLB) and Deunta Williams (FS), even down to late-rounders Kendric Burney (nickel CB) and Johnny White, a backup running back. Isn't that right, Willie Parker?

Tomlin also showed up for Cameron Heyward's workout on Wednesday. Today, the Steelers' coach capped a busy week by hosting SEC left tackles Marcus Gilbert of Florida, James Carpenter of Alabama and Jarriel King of South Carolina.

Anyone who watches even a little bit of college football has seen Carpenter and Gilbert. I personally wouldn't touch Gilbert, a weights and measures guy (6-6.1, 330) who was a huge disappointment at Florida. But Carpenter (6-4.3, 321) showed off terrific potential as a third-rounder in both the run and pass game for Alabama. In his case, potential means that he actually played well and was a factor in his team's success. Gilbert was a factor, too, but in Florida's problems.

As for King (6-5, 317), he was a bit inconsistent and was in and out of the South Carolina lineup with injuries last season. I'd take him in the fourth round.

For more of my analytical "guesses" on the draft, I have some thoughts here on the message board.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30

1 p.m.: Before getting back into some draft talk, let me provide a little update of Steeler Nation.

As explained Monday, I'm in Flagstaff and bolted a click north to Monument Valley to spend the night on the Navajo Reservation in one of the prettiest places in the world. At the gate a tribesman asked about my home and his response to mine was, "Oh, the Steelers. I love the black and gold."

I probed and he responded with, "Well, actually I loved the colors before I ever even heard of the NFL."

So, he loves the Steelers because he loves the colors? He laughed and said, "It helps that the colors I love belong to a great team." He also said that the Steelers let the Packers win the Super Bowl because "it was time to let someone else have one."

This was typical of most conversations with inquiring Steelers fans while I'm on the road. The concierge here in Flagstaff, for instance, cited "colors" first and her "father's favorite team" second as the reasons why she loves the Steelers.

But I was a little surprised by the native American's decree -- and I guess I shouldn't have been. I was ready the following day when an elderly Navajo clerk at the general store greeted me from under his Steelers hat. I told him that I was detecting a pattern here in this part of the country. I asked the man if the Steelers are THE team in the Navajo Nation.

"They could be," he said. "They could be."

In catching up with the draft news from Tuesday, the top story was the showing by the Steelers at the Texas Pro Day. In attendance were Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and "the entire defensive staff" according to The Dallas Morning News' report.

The paper also reported that defensive end/linebacker Sam Acho was "chatting it up with Tomlin a lot." Not that it means much, due to the Steelers already possessing three quality players/prospects at the 4-deep OLB position. But if Acho drops to the bottom of the second round, Tomlin might consider a player whose quickness caused me to think of Joey Porter during the season.

The Steelers obviously are interested in the Texas cornerback triumvirate of Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown. The two Browns opened the season as starters, with Williams a rotational starter. A junior, Williams eventually replaced the injured Chykie Brown for the second half of the season but he didn't play all that well.

Williams, though, is the higher regarded by most draft experts because of his size. The 6-foot CB weighed in Tuesday at 204 pounds and ran a 4.36 40 (up from his 4.52 combine time). It must have been a fast track because Chykie Brown (5-11.2, 190 at combine) also posted a blistering time of 4.35. Curtis Brown (5-11.5, 185 at combine) didn't run after being knocked down by the flu for the previous four days, but he did participate in ball skills.

Most analysts, of course, assume the Steelers are interested primarily in Williams. Both Ed Bouchette and James Walker identified Williams as the Steelers' man in their Tuesday reports. And they may be right, because Williams certainly fits the organizational prototype at the position. But I'm going to stick with my man Curtis Brown. The fact he was knocked out by the flu didn't do much to change the perception of him as being on the small side and a bit frail, but I love the way the guy hits and believe he's a better cover man than Williams.

Of course, I always lose these arguments with the Steelers, who, after striking out on nearly all six of their draft picks at the position since Ike Taylor in 2003, should be looking to change the prototype.

And one other note to report, the Steelers have scheduled a visit with G/C Rodney Hudson, according to the National Football Post.

Forget for a moment that this highly-decorated Florida State left guard is short (6-2.3) and squatty (299 pounds) and that he could've used some sort of undergarment support system to run his 40 at the combine. Just remember that this guy can flat out play. He's proven it against the best in the country throughout his career, and the Steelers know a player when they see one.

Hudson would be about my fifth or sixth option at pick 31 right now, but he's perfect for the trade-down pool or as a surprise at the bottom of the second round.

MONDAY, MARCH 28

11:15 a.m.: I realize you, as a customer here at SCI, don't care much for excuses. But I've got one, and I apologize. I'm out here in Flagstaff, Az., on a family retreat that's been planned for a year. It coincides, unfortunately, with one of the biggest work weeks of the draft season because the Steelers will begin parading their visitors by the mini-bus-full. I'm presently waiting for a return call about today's visitors, so in the meantime I'll catch up on some of the notes that've piled up in my e-box.

First of all, The New York Times has a decent article in its Fifth-Down Blog called "What the Film Revealed" about the Steelers. You'll appreciate the ultra-positive notes on Mike Wallace and Lawrence Timmons, while the author's characterization of Ziggy Hood as "stiff" has been used too frequently during this off-season of analysis.

Also, Pro Football Weekly analyst Nolan Nawrocki released his third mock draft that eerily called for the Steelers to select Orlando Franklin, about whom I'd written over a week ago. But my column was a bit different in that I asked that the Steelers please don't draft him.

And finally, I was pleased to read The National Football Post's report that the Steelers have scheduled a visit with Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor. He's a mountain of a defensive tackle who was dismissed from Penn State after being charged with felonious assault. But the charge was dropped and he finished his collegiate career at Baylor. However, it wasn't until Taylor lost weight and dominated the Senior Bowl practice week that he grabbed my attention. The 6-3.2 defensive tackle checked into the combine at 334 pounds and benched 31 times with his massive 10 3/4-inch hands. His 40 time was 5.2, but who cares? If you watched any of the Senior Bowl practices, you won't, and you might not care about his alleged troubled past either. I've heard from some that it was a bogus arrest, but will check this out upon my return.

And here's the postscript from the Pittsburgh Steelers: They've informed me there'll be no visitors today. I'm hoping to update tomorrow from Monument Valley at the Arizona-Utah border, but if I can't I'll be back with a vengeance Wednesday and promise to hit the South Side facility all next week for the draft news that you crave.

THURSDAY, MARCH 24

6 a.m.: After the Super Bowl, James Harrison was asked how he felt, and he said rather famously, "I don't feel anything but pain."

How long will the pain last?

"I lost an AFC Championship game one time and the pain was there for about four to six weeks. I don't know how long this is going to last but I hope it is over with fast."

It's been about seven weeks now. Maybe "pain" is a strong word for Steelers fans, but you can color this writer as still feeling blue, even depressed at times, particularly on cold, gray mornings when I awake to learn -- during a lockout that has no end in sight -- that the Idiots Who Run Football have made more changes.

I find any rule that has to do with an expansion of replay deplorable, and I find the rule moving a kickoff back five yards in the name of safey akin to cutting NPR funding as a way of dealing with trillion dollar budget deficits.

Not that I want any more changes from the IWRF concerning safety. Those fools will only choke off the game completely. And if they don't do it while tinkering with safety violations, they'll do it by adding more replay.

By comparison to college football, the NFL had a perfectly fine system in place. I was just coming around to it after watching the college game cannibalize itself with a system that was running amok with replay available before every snap. At least in the NFL there was some strategy and some constraints to dealing with "getting it right" in the name of modern technology. But the IWRF can't help themselves and they'll continue to water down the game because they don't believe that bad calls eventually even themselves out. What a shame. What a gray, cold and grim shame.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 23

10:45 a.m.: We tried last week, but forgot to post an advertisement. So here it is: Tonight from 7-8 I'll host a draft chat in our chat room. Get your draft questions ready and also prepare any complaints about the NFL's pitiful new rules, which I'll comment on shortly.

FRIDAY, MARCH 18

7:30 a.m.: As expected, the Steelers attended the WVU Pro Day on Thursday. According to The Daily Athenaeum, running back Noel Devine ran a 4.32 40 on an ankle he said was "about 80 percent healthy." Other reports had Devine's time anywhere from 4.26 to 4.43.

The Steelers also showed up at Lehigh University to watch the workout of offensive tackle Will Rackley, according to The Express-Times. At the combine, Rackley measured 6-3.2, 309 with short 33.2-inch arms. He benched 225 pounds 29 times and had a vertical jump of only 23 1/2 inches.

In another report, the Steelers are showing "serious interest" in Hampton nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, "according to league sources with knowledge of the situation."

In this instance, bet on the "league source" being nothing more than the kid's agent.

According to the report, Ellis at one time failed a drug test and was forced to transfer from South Carolina.

In other prospect news, Virginia Tech CB Rashard Carmichael reportedly ran a 4.39 40 at his Pro Day as his high ankle sprain continues to heal.

THURSDAY, MARCH 17

1:30 p.m.: The Steelers don't have any visits planned today or tomorrow, and it could have something to do with St. Patrick's Day and the NCAA Tournament.

But I doubt it.

My instincts tell me Kevin Colbert and the coaching staff will be on the road at the top Pro Days today and tomorrow. But which ones?

Someone will surely be at West Virginia today, even if 5-8 injury-prone running back Noel Devine is the only draw. The Steelers have great respect for Bill Stewart and WVU, so I expect a figure head type of showing. And there's always Brandon Hogan. He's a good-looking corner, but there have to be major concerns about his character. No doubt he's right now getting one final look from the Steelers.

The Steelers will surely have someone at Virginia and Virginia Tech today. Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling is built like the Steelers' prototype at the position, but in my opinion he's a timid tackler and too often injured. Virginia Tech has a third-round CB in Rashad Carmichael and a couple of interesting backs in Darren Evans and Ryan Williams. Evans is a 227-pounder who ran a 4.58 at the combine.

On Friday I expect the Steelers' top brass to attend the Temple Pro Day for an up-close look at 3-4 DE prospect Muhammad Wilkerson.

I don't remember Wilkerson from his game against Stefan Wisniewski and Penn State, so I hope he's not being ranked as a first-rounder these days because of his combine numbers. Those were impressive: 6-4.1, 315, 35.2 arm length, and 4.96 40. And he won't turn 22 until Oct. 22. I just don't know much about him from the two Temple games I yawned my way through. Perhaps the yawning was the problem and not the player.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 16

2:15 p.m.: Some six hours ago I wrote here about the impressive draft class coming out of Pitt and, dang, if the Steelers didn't honor that group themselves.

Today the Steelers started the parade of pre-draft visitors by hosting Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard, Jon Baldwin, Henry Hynoski, Dion Lewis, Jason Pinkston and Dom DeCicco, all of Pitt. You can read about their Pro Days yesterday and my opinions of these players in the entry below.

The Steelers are allowed 30 visitors, but none of the Pitt players count toward the total because they're considered "local" visitors.

8 a.m.: Pitt may have the most interesting group of prospects this side of Madison, Wisconsin, and yesterday Jon Baldwin, Jabaal Sheard, Jason Pinkston, Dion Lewis and Henry Hynoski worked out for NFL teams, including, of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here's Kevin Gorman's report in the Tribune-Review, the only such report in town on the topic.

Gorman leads with Greg Romeus, a 4-3 defensive end with medical issues, and reports that Hynoski met with the Steelers. But to me the more interesting players are Baldwin, Sheard and Lewis. Hynoski may be a devastating lead blocker, but that type of fullback has been cast to the wind by Bruce Arians, the meeting yesterday notwithstanding.

I found it interesting that Sheard says he's heard he'll go in the third or fourth round, when the people I've talked to call him a fringe first-rounder and possibly the first Panther chosen.

Sheard, who as an 11-year-old went into a burning building to pull an old lady to safety, has the classic attributes of a 3-4 outside linebacker with the power of a LaMarr Woodley. If the Steelers weren't scheduled to soon make linebacker their highest-paid position grouping, I'd give Sheard an outside chance to go 31st in this draft.

Baldwin does have an outside chance to land with the Steelers, if we are to believe Kevin Colbert's combine raves about the receiver. But in spite of Colbert's insistence that Baldwin will be long gone by pick 31, the experts I've contacted believe otherwise, meaning Colbert will get a chance to back up his words and draft the freakish 6-4.3, 228-pound receiver.

Baldwin sat on his combine time of 4.50, in spite of misguided reports that he'd performed poorly in Indianapolis. In fact, only one offensive player -- Auburn third-down RB Mario Fannin -- weighed more than Baldwin and ran a better time. Baldwin also posted a 42-inch vertical jump to top all wide receivers.

The Panther with the best chance to remain in Pittsburgh, though, in my opinion, is Lewis, the 5-6.5, 193-pound running back. Gorman reported that Lewis improved his combine 40 time of 4.57 to 4.50 at yesterday's workout. Lewis can run and catch, and in my opinion can block well enough for a man his size. That's been his knock throughout this process. But if the Steelers -- who are looking for depth at the position -- are interested in WVU's 5-8, 179-pound injury-prone Noel Devine, as Devine told me at the combine, than the Steelers should also consider Lewis in the fifth or sixth round, and certainly in the seventh if that becomes possible.

Throw in safety prospect Dom DeCicco and it's easy to understand why a Pitt fan who's now working in an NFL front office told me at the combine that "If people were down on (Dave) Wannstedt before this, they're really going to be ticked when they see how talented these Pitt kids really are."

In other Pro Day news, the Beaver County Times reports that the Steelers attended Robert Morris College for the D1-AA school's first Pro Day. The Steelers also attended Florida's Pro Day but are realizing that Mike Pouncey will be long gone by pick 31.

In some catching up from last Friday, Ohio State held its Pro Day, but the player who would interest the Steelers most, DE Cameron Heyward, didn't work out because of a previous surgery on his elbow. He'll work out March 30. And Mike Tomlin showed up at LSU presumably just to soak in the atmosphere and watch CB Patrick Peterson go through the paces. The rest of the LSU prospect list consists of overrated defenders, an interesting third-round receiver in Terrence Tolliver, and a late-round 230-pound runner in Stephen Ridley.

FRIDAY, MARCH 11

6 a.m.: Forgot to mention a couple of other draftable 'Canes yesterday, but the rain washed it away anyway so we can hash about ILB Colin McCarthy, WR Leonard Hankerson and 4-3 DE Allen Bailey when it's re-scheduled.

Today, the best Pro Day is at Ohio State and I expect a strong Steelers contingent there, and perhaps a story about Cameron Heyward. I've also concluded my research on "fallers" and it might surprise you. I won't post that story until Sunday or Monday because I'm off to NYC to see one of my favorite bands, the Allman Brothers, perform at the Beacon. I figure it's about time to make this trip and see one of their legendary Beacon shows. But I'll check back early next week, hopefully with news that Clapton or someone of his ilk walked onstage to jam with Gregg, Derek, Warren and the boys.

On a final note, I expect the prospects to begin visiting the South Side next week, so I'll get down there and talk to some people and get this thing in high gear.

THURSDAY, MARCH 10

4 p.m.: Now that's more like it, Mike.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin loves attending Pro Days in Florida and today he's in Miami -- according to South Florida Sun Sentinel writer Omar Kelly -- looking at a couple of Hurricanes who might interest him in the first and second rounds of the draft.

Cornerback Brandon Harris is one. The 5-9.4, 191-pounder might be available to them in the first round after his poor job of covering Michael Floyd in the Sun Bowl. Harris appeared overmatched against the 6-3 Floyd, who went back to Notre Dame after being given an early second-round grade by the NFL Draft Advisory Board.

The Steelers are also taking a look at Miami T/G Orlando Franklin, an oftentimes sloppy and soft lineman who at 6-5.4, 316 fits what the Steelers have often looked for in offensive linemen on draft day.

2 p.m.: The Steelers took their search for a tight end to Portland State on Wednesday, according to NFL.com.

The Steelers went there to see Julius Thomas, a converted basketball player who looked like a great developmental prospect at the combine. At Indianapolis, the 6-4.5, 246-pounder ran a 4.68 40 and a 6.96 3-cone drill. His vertical jump of 35 1/2 was second best at his position. Thomas had a position-low 16 bench reps, but then again he'd only been on the football team for one season.

After establishing himself as one of the best basketball players in school history, Thomas moved to football last spring and went on to make the All-Big Sky first team by catching 29 passes for 453 yards and 2 touchdowns.

As a basketball player, Thomas played in more games (121) and more winning games (78) than anyone in school history, and he set school records for single-season (.671) and career (.663) field-goal shooting percentage.

Thomas was a four-year letterwinner in basketball and played in the NCAA Tournament in 2008 and 2009. As a power forward, he averaged 10.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a senior.

Thomas played football his freshman year in high school before rejoining the sport as a college senior. His light footwork and soft hands were obviously noticed by the Steelers at the combine.

8:10 a.m.: The Steelers also attended Pro Days at BYU and Texas A&M yesterday, although for whom is a question I don't care to dig into since the Steelers have no chance at A&M OLB Von Miller. Maybe they want to get an early jump on a guy who has a great chance of becoming a Brown or Bengal in the first hour of the draft.

I'm reading more and more about how LT Gabe Carimi might fall to pick 31, and that he's the reason Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Sean Kugler attended Wisconsin's Pro Day (along with D-Line coach John Mitchell.) I had just assumed -- after watching Carimi dominate Cameron Heyward and play Adrian Clayborne to a stalemate in back-to-back weeks -- that he was out of the Steelers' reach. Perhaps he's not. Or perhaps Tomlin's using Carimi to shield his interest in Lance Kendricks and/or John Moffitt. Oh, let the smokescreens begin.

8 a.m.: The Steelers sent Ray Jackson, their director of player development (the front-office position made famous by Donnie Shell in Carolina), to Kent State to watch defensive end and probable 3-4 OLB Monte' Simmons, who had 21.5 sacks and 38.5 tackles for loss during his college career.

A native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Swissvale, Simmons, according to the Akron Beacon-Journal, ran a 4.6 40, benched 22 times, and had a 10-2 broad jump.

Jackson compared Simmons's build to former Penn Stater Courtney Brown and said, "If you go off looks, he's a day-one guy."

Then again, since Simmons wasn't invited to the combine, looks aren't everything.

7:30 a.m.: There's a pretty good rundown of Wisconsin's Pro Day from the Scout affiliate in Madison.

A couple of things stood out to me. Kendricks, a 6-2.7, 243-pound tight end, lowered his 40 time from 4.75 at the combine to 4.54 yesterday. He also improved his vertical jump from 34 1/2 to 38. The weight I listed was from the combine, so perhaps he lost a few pounds to improve his speed. The link also provides an interesting quote about his improved blocking skills, which is one of the reasons the Steelers are interested in him and perhaps why Mike Tomlin attended yesterday.

Speaking of quotes, one of my favorite second-round guards, strong man John Moffitt, was asked why he didn't run the 40 yesterday. He said he's standing on his 5.4 combine time, which he called "a swift seven seconds and 30 yards too far." Moffitt said that he excelled at Indianapolis in two tests that better gauge his position: vertical jump (30 1/2) and short shuttle (4.53). He was 2nd and 1st, respectively, with those numbers at his position.

Also, when asked about the NFL labor negotiations, Moffitt said, "I really hope they figure it out because my parents don't give me an allowance anymore."

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9

4:30 p.m.: Mike Tomlin normally can't pass on a top SEC school for a warm Pro Day stop, but today Tomlin went to Wisconsin instead of Alabama and watched the workouts of four of the more intriguing prospects coming out this draft season.

Of course, there's no chance Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt will fall to the Steelers at pick 31, and there's only a flicker of hope that OT Gabe Carimi will slide to them in the first round. But there could be a Badger or two available at the bottom of the second round. That's where the Steelers could snag playmaking TE Lance Kendricks or powerful LG John Moffitt. I'll be back later with a link to their results.

8:15 a.m.: Nothing concrete from the Arkansas Pro Day concerning the Steelers, but the Baxter Bulletin ran some worthwhile quotes from tight end D.J. Williams.

Williams, we learned last week, had met formally with the Steelers at the combine. They previously had met with Lance Kendricks, so it appears the Steelers are in the market for an H-back/fullback type of move tight end. We all know that Williams is a heck of a playmaker, but the comments at the bottom of the story flesh out his character a bit for us. He seems like a leader who has his act together.

7:50 a.m.: We can assume the Steelers were represented at yesterday's feature Pro Days at Arkansas, Auburn and Oklahoma. I'll dig into those shortly. But the Steelers also showed up at Alabama A&T for a look at 6-4, 315-pound defensive tackle Frank Kearse.

The Huntsville Times quoted Steelers scout Mark Gorscak extensively about Kearse. Among other things, Gorscak said "The biggest thing about his resume is his game tape and that's why we're here."

Kearse was a second-team All-Southwest Athletic Conference performer last season with 14 tackles for loss.

MONDAY, MARCH 7

1:10 p.m.: Hines Ward said that the two sides in the NFL labor agreement are "adding on time for nothing" during an interview with WCNN radio in Atlanta.

Ward is reportedly practicing five hours a day for his appearance on "Dancing With The Stars." Here's the interview.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2

1:10 p.m.: You have to wonder how he played so well last season. James Harrison admitted today that he'll need more surgery on his back. He said it'll add another week to his recovery process.

TUESDAY, MARCH 1

3:15 p.m.: According to Len Pasquarelli, the Steelers have offered a first-round restricted free agency tender to offensive tackle Willie Colon, who spent last season on injured reserve.

Under 2010 rules, players with five years or less service are restricted free agents, meaning the Steelers could match any offer made for Colon. If they don't match an offer, they'd receive a first-round draft pick as compensation.

The new fiscal season begins March 4, when the NFL is expected to lock out its players unless a new CBA is negotiated.

10 a.m.: Happy March to all as we slowly crawl out of winter. I took a rest from my combine trip yesterday, but returned to my computer today and found an interesting story on the Steelers' interest in D.J. Williams.

The source here is the catch-all "league source," which can mean anything from another reporter to an office secretary to a team president, but in this case -- with four teams listed -- it appears to be an agent trumpeting the Steelers' interest in Williams.

Williams, most college fans know, was a pass-catching tight end at Arkansas. But he can block when asked, and so many times these pass-catching H-backs are never asked. But Williams did it occasionally, when he wasn't shredding secondaries to the tune of 96 recpetions for 1,038 yards (10.8 avg.) and 7 touchdowns the last two seasons.

At the combine, Williams checked in at 6-2.1, 245 and ran a 4.67 40 with 20 reps and a 33 1/2 vertical jump.

This apparently means that Williams will join Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks for the Steelers' consideration in the second round of the draft.

Kendricks, who caught 72 passes for 1,019 yards (14.2 avg.) and 8 touchdowns the last two seasons, measured 6-2.7, 243 at the combine and ran a 4.75 40 with 25 reps and a 34 1/2-inch vertical jump.

In other Steelers news, Hines Ward will dance on TV. But I still won't watch it.

SUNDAY, FEB. 27

1:45 p.m.: OK, one last entry before I hit Route 70 East. I caught up to Rashad Carmichael in the hall after his press conference and asked him if he's getting any love from the Steelers.

"Oh, man, I hope so," said the boundary corner from Virginia Tech. "Jason Worilds is my best friend. I'd love to play there."

But you haven't met with them?

"I have a formal meeting scheduled tomorrow with them," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Carmichael was impressive in his press conference. Really wish I could say the same about another of my favorites, Curtis Brown, who'll have trouble impressing in his interviews with his slow drawl.

Noon: The cornerbacks just hit town last night and their meetings with teams are slow to be scheduled. However, but Utah cornerback Brandon Burton (6-0, 190) not only sat down with the Steelers last night, he said he has another meeting scheduled with them today.

Pittsburgh fans may remember Burton for the work he did in the college opener against Jon Baldwin. Burton agreed today that "my high point was covering Baldwin" and agreed that his low point occurred in a 47-7 loss to TCU. "There was probably one play there that probably shouldn't have happened," Burton said of his missed tackle at midfield that turned into a 93-yard touchdown pass.

A junior who'll turn 22 on July 31, Burton called Michael Floyd of Notre Dame the best receiver he's faced. Burton said he was "100 percent man" on Floyd this past season and allowed him only 4 catches for 39 yards and a 3-yard touchdown.

First-round prospect Brandon Harris also gave up a touchdown pass to Floyd, the only touchdown pass Harris said he gave up all season. Floyd caught 6 passes for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns that day in the Outback Bowl, but Harris said he only covered Floyd on "probably five or six snaps."

10:20 p.m.: Jerrell Powe of Ole Miss said he checked in at 6-2, 335 and also told reporters, "I'm the best nose in this year's draft. You're not going to find anyone else who pushes the pocket the way I do."

That said, he still struck me as a humble guy. But he guy who played so well two years ago doesn't appear to have fallen within the Steelers' scope, since there are no meetings planned.

SATURDAY, FEB. 26

5:20 p.m.: I've been too busy writing to get up and talk to some of the running backs, particularly WVU's Noel Devine, who weighed a mere 160 pounds at the Senior Bowl. But my friend from Green Bay, Bill Huber, just told me that Devine met with the Steelers here and "went through the chalkboard, the whole thing" with them.

So, there's that. See you tomorrow.

5:10 p.m.: J.J. Watt showed up at 6-5 3/8, 290 without an ounce of fat on him. The guy's built like the perfect 3-4 defensive end, and of course said he'd play that position even if it meant occupying blockers and letting the linebackers make the plays.

That would seem like such a waste for a guy with his speed and motor, but it's unlikely the Steelers will even get the chance to draft him with the 31st pick. In fact, a source just told me that "the Patriots are all over him."

Watt said he transferred to Wisconsin a few years ago from Central Michigan in order to get a real shot at making it to the NFL. When reminded that five Chippewas recently played in the Super Bowl, Watt laughed, lauded his former teammates, and said that his problem had more to do with being a tight end in a spread offense and not being able to get anyone to consider moving him to defense. Wisconsin even made him walk on, but it didn't take Watt long to show his pass-rushing skills.

Watt also was reminded that Mike Vrabel pulled out his old tight end skills in the NFL and Watt said he'd think about that at a later time. I do know that Brett Keisel regrets not stressing to the Steelers' offensive coaches his skills as a tight end when he was a younger player.

I also listened in on Quan Sturdivant's media interview. The North Carolina linebacker's former teammate, Steelers offensive tackle Kyle Jolly, told me months ago that he thougght Sturdivant was one of the smartest players he knew in college and that he'd make a great replacement for James Farrior some day.

Sturdivant was happy to hear such a compliment, but he didn't want to comment and have it taken the wrong way by someone he respects as much as Farrior. Sturdivant did say that he hasn't heard from the Steelers here.

3:50 p.m.: A while back I asked Steelers rookie Crezdon Butler about the upcoming draft prospects coming from his alma mater Clemson. I asked in particular about DT Jarvis Jenkins and Butler spoke enthusiastically about his former teammate. Butler also said that he'd recently told Kevin Colbert the same things he was telling me.

Well, Colbert must've been listening because Thursday night he sat down with Jenkins for a lengthy interview. I asked Jenkins if he sensed a genuine interest from the Steelers.

"Yes, sir, I do," Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he could play nose tackle and defensive end in a 3-4, or defensive tackle in the nickel defense the Steelers used so frequently last season. When pressed by another reporter, the 6-4, 310-pound Jenkins said he's most comfortable as a 4-3 tackle but that it doesn't really matter to him.

Two days ago, Lee Ziemba had named Jenkins and Marcell Dareus the best defensive linemen he's ever faced. Jenkins returned the favor today when asked to name the best offensive linemen.

"Honestly, I didn't know he had said that," Jenkins said with a laugh. Jenkins listed Danny Watkins along with Ziemba.

"Watkins is the strongest guy I've ever gone up against," Jenkins said of the 26-year-old prospect. "He old, but you'll see him start to shoot up the draft boards."

2:40 p.m.: It was in Reno last spring, at the University of Nevada's junior pro day, when defensive end Dontay Moch started a legend.

Scouts say it's impossible to run the 40 in a faster time than 4.2, but Moch was timed in 4.18 seconds.

"Hand held," Moch said from the podium a few minutes ago.

It was as if Moch was allowing for human error, but he claims it as the truth nonetheless.

That was at least 13 pounds ago, he said. And at 248 pounds, Moch says he'd be satisfied to run a 4.4 when he runs here tomorrow.

"A 4.4 electrically would be a good time, like a 4.3 hand-held," said the two-time Arizona state high school sprint champ.

Moch speaks and smiles just like former Steelers receiver Lynn Swann. He comes off that smooth, like the time he was asked to cover Boise State's speedy wide receiver Titus Young.

"I lined up in a 4-3 situation and dropped back on a flat route and Titus Young came right around the corner," Moch said. "I had underneath coverage on him and broke up the pass right then and there."

Not bad for a defensive end. Moch said he's hearing from the 3-4 teams about playing OLB and the 4-3 teams about playing both DE and OLB. But he hasn't heard from anyone who wants him to play inside linebacker in a 3-4. That might be something for the Pittsburgh contingent to look into.

1:20 p.m.: For the purpose of analysis, you can't beat those telling one-on-one matchups during the regular season. But Gabe Carimi's impressive showings against Cameron Heyward and Adrian Clayborn seemed to have the opposite effect in the draft media.

Carimi's stock seemed to fall among draftniks, not rise, after what I thought were outstanding back-to-back performances in the middle of the season.

So, what was I missing?

Nothing, according to Heyward and Clayborn, who both just finished saying that Carimi was the best college lineman they faced last season. Clayborn even said Carimi was the best he's ever faced.

As for Clayborn, he said his disappointing senior season had to do with "double teams, triple teams, tight ends chipping me, running backs chipping me. It led to frustration at the beginning of the season."

Clayborn said the nerve damage in his right shoulder had nothing to do with his play.

"I've heard more about that this week than I care to," said the Iowa defensive end. "I've been playing with it since the seventh grade. It doesn't bother me at all."

12:30 p.m.: Just as I was getting over the enjoyment of Mike Pouncey's entertaining press conference yesterday, along comes Cameron Heyward.

I'll provide a full write-up later -- not that there's any news pertaining to the Steelers other than he doesn't mind playing defensive end in a 3-4.

Heyward didn't respond to queries about team interest, but it's probably foolish to even ask such a question, because, yes, the Steelers would have to have interest in a player who was as dominating as Heyward in the Sugar Bowl.

Of course, his stock seemed to fall like a rock after a stretch of games at midseason. The Wisconsin game against Gabe Carimi in particular was one Heyward called disappointing.

Before that stretch, he appeard to be a Top 10 prospect, but now on some media reports he's listed near pick 31 where the Steelers are lying in wait for free-fallers with his kind of talent.

Heyward once again showed that talent in his bowl game when he dominated DeMarcus Love and Arkansas. And Heyward did it with a damaged elbow ligament. The injury occurred in the second quarter but it didn't appear to slow Heyward down at all.

He underwent surger on the UCL on Jan. 12, so Heyward won't work out at the combine, "and it's killing me," he said.

But judging by his personality, he'll be able to pass the time by regaling coaches and personnel men with stories of how he and Papa Ironhead used to "beat up" Falcons teammates after Craig moved his family out of Monroeville, Pa. and into Atlanta. And he can tell one team in particular how much he'd enjoy playing 3-4 defensive end for them.

FRIDAY, FEB. 25

5:30 p.m.: The Mike Pouncey transcript is up on the message board.

4:30 p.m.: Mike Pouncey finally showed up in the combine media room and he put on quite a performance for a throng of reporters. I'll post the transcript as soon as it's finished, but here are some of the high points in chronological order:

Q: Knowing your brother's injury was so severe, why did you think he'd still play in the Super Bowl?

A: We've been playing football since we were six years old and never missed a game. So it was shocking.

Q: Are you crossing off the Steelers from drafting you?

A: I'm not crossing them off. I hope they do. I want to play center, though.

Q: What's your goal on draft day?

A: I got to be drafted higher than Maurkice, 18 or better.

Q: Why?

A: I'll never hear the end of it.

Q: What are they saying about you in comparison to your brother?

A: They say we look the same on tape. Some scouts were saying I look better.

Q: Are you hoping the Steelers draft you?

A: It'd be nice. But I'm not hoping for anything because when you hope for stuff it never happens.

Q: What are the chances the Steelers will draft you?

A: It's not looking too good, but there's free agency in the NFL.

Q: Who has more tattoos?

A: I do.

Q: Any negatives in your game?

A: Oh, no. There ain't nothing negative about either one of us.

Q: Did you meet with the Steelers?

A: I had a real good meeting with the Steelers yesterday (earlier said that he'd met with Mike Tomlin).

Q: What do you do better than your brother?

A: I think I block in the open field better.

Q (female reporter): What do you do better off the field?

A: There's a lot I do better off the field, but we can talk about that later.

Q: When Maurkice was at the combine, the Steelers drew plays on the chalkboard, erased them, and he re-drew them almost exactly as the original. Did they do that with you?

A: They did the same exact same thing with me.

Q: And how'd you do?

A: Great.

Pouncey has the same mannerisms as his brother and of course looks the same. Some of us from Pittsburgh expected him to walk and ask us what was up. Seems a little more relaxed. Too bad he's going to be drafted way before 31.

2:10 p.m.: Every time I watched Pitt LT Jason Pinkston I thought of Willie Colon. Well, Pinkston checked in at the combine at a very Colon-like 6-3 1/4, 317 with 34 1/2-inch arms. Colon came to the 2006 combine at 6-3, 315 with 34-inch arms. Colon, of course, played right tackle for the Steelers while all but Bruce Arians clamored for him to be moved to guard. It might be the same question for Pinkston, who played LT at Pitt.

"I understand that I'm not the size of some of the left tackles in the NFL," said the alert and enthusiastic Pinkston. "Whatever team drafts me I'm going to do whatever they need me to do. If it's ‘move into guard,' I'll be a guard. If it's ‘move into center,' I'll play center. If I have to play right tackle, I'll play right tackle."

Pinkston entertained reporters with scout-like comments on teammates Jabaal Sheard, Jonathan Baldwin and Dion Lewis. He also talked about dating the cousin of Stanford's Owen Marecic and how he tried to get Marecic to come to Pitt. That and much more here on the message board.

12:20 p.m.: Jonathan Baldwin spoke to reporters a few minutes ago. He measures 6-4 3/4, 228 with a wingspan of 79 inches and 10 1/2-inch hands. He's a physical freak, and he has pedigree. One scout, when asked about the Pitt WR, said, "How can he fail? He's from Aliquippa." Baldwin took the comment with a smile and ripped off the names Darrelle Revis, Ty Law, Sean Gilbert and Mike Ditka. Baldwin forgot to mention perhaps the greatest football player ever to come out of the rusting Pittsburgh-area steeltown: Tony Dorsett, who matriculated to Hopewell H.S.

Anyway, the word, as written before, is that Baldwin will be chosen in the middle of the first round.

7 a.m.: Anyone who watched the Outback Bowl has to be hoping for the Steelers to draft Florida G/C Mike Pouncey and line him up next to his twin brother here in Pittsburgh. So Mike's many fans were probably disappointed that I didn't list him among those who visited with the Steelers here in Indianapolis. But don't fear, because Pouncey didn't show up in the media room yesterday. We're expecting him early this morning. All 3 of the Pittsburgh reporters are waiting on him. We checked with the officials here and they assured us they'll have their fastest transcriber at his media session, so the update should come fairly early here.

We've already asked Kevin Colbert about Mike Pouncey and Colbert doesn't think the Steelers will have a chance to draft him, that he'll be gone before they pick, and that he can play center in the league. Colbert also said he doesn't think the Steelers would bump his grade up over any perceived extra chemistry with his brother, but I'm not so sure of that.

Anyway, Mike's transcript will likely be full of Steelers questions, and some info, so be patient. Many O-linemen didn't show up yesterday.

Late last night, Auburn OT Lee Ziemba showed up and told me he did have a quick meeting with the Steelers. We also talked a bit about Kendall Simmons, the former Auburn LT who was drafted by the Steelers and moved to RG. Simmons is now a part of the Auburn coaching staff and Ziemba said that Kendall's one of his favorite people. He was one of mine, too. That's what made it so hard to criticize him when he was with the Steelers.

A couple of other notes: Derrek Sherrod and Steve Schilling are a couple of linemen who didn't visit with the Steelers, for whatever that's worth.

As for my impressions from yesterday, I'd have to say the two most impressive physical specimens were guards Zach Hurd and Andrew Jackson. They are massive men who are also very serious men. The Steelers visited with both and I'll have more about them in my Pouncey/guard story later today.

THURSDAY, FEB. 24

5:10 p.m.: In the front-page report filed about Ike Taylor, I reported that interior linemen Zach Hurd, Brandon Fusco, Andrew Jackson and Stefen Wisniewski met with the Steelers on Wednesday night. Please add Florida State superstar Rodney Hudson to the list. He just showed up in the media room and said he met "informally" with the Steelers.

A left guard at Florida State, the smallish Hudson was asked about playing guard, which is seemingly his NFL destination.

"My college coach said the same thing a couple of years ago," said Hudson. Because of that, he explained, he often worked at center in practice and was moved to the position twice during blowouts in his sophomore season.

As for his weight, Hudson checked in at 299 with his goal of reaching 300 to 305. Hudson said he played at 285-288 this season before playing in the Senior Bowl at 299.

On another note at another position, one personnel man told me that Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin should be drafted in the middle of the first round, and that he isn't worried about a perceived attitude problem because "he's just a kid." The talent evaluator said that I'd forget about those "little things" after I watched the Pitt-Rutgers tape. Not sure I'll get that chance, though.

3:15 p.m.: Here are the Kevin Colbert transcipts on the message board.

2:35 p.m.: Just received word that the Steelers will not be using the transition tag on Ike Taylor. Tells me the team feels good about reaching a long-term agreement with him.

1:45 p.m.: Kevin Colbert told a couple of us this afternoon that the Steelers have talked to Ike Taylor about a new contract and that Taylor is the only player up for negotiations in their "one player at a time" philosophy.

The deadline for assigning the transition tag on Taylor would be today, but Colbert wouldn't comment on the Steelers' intentions. The transition tag would require the Steelers to pay Taylor $11.817, or the average of the league's top 10 cornerbacks. It's unlikely the Steelers will pursue this course since they're quietly confident of re-signing Taylor to a long-term deal.

Colbert also said the team has told all of its free agents they'd like all of them back, including Willie Colon because Flozell Adams has not confirmed to the team that he will play next season, that he's still assessing his future.

I'll have specific quotes from that interview, which followed Colbert's general combine press conference. I'll post a copy of the latter as soon as possible.

10:45 a.m.: The No. 1 pick is a hot potato for the Carolina Panthers. Word is they're holding their collective breath that the owners come away with a rookie wage scale in the current CBA negotiations. Word is that a cap would make it easier for the Panthers to trade the pick. And if they're "stuck" with it, they don't want to give $40 million to any of the candidates.

I understand their trepidation because I look at Nick Fairley as one crazy S.O.B. of a defensive tackle. That much is pretty clear on tape. But the question is: Is Fairley crazy like Mean Joe Greene or crazy like Ernie Holmes?

My hunch is that if you give Fairley $40 million, he gets crazy like Holmes.

7:55 a.m.: Good morning from Indianapolis. My wake-up call came in the form of my own smack in the head. I just realized that what Ed Bouchette had told 970 AM FAN Radio in Pittsburgh, that Willie Colon's agent says there's little chance Colon will return to Pittsburgh, should have been understood a long time ago.

The FAN had me on later in the day and asked what I thought about Bouchette's report. I figured it was just part of the negotiating dance and that Colon's agent is probably frustrated over a.) Mike Tomlin's comment the previous day that he hopes Flozell Adams returns to play RT, and b.) Willie's seemingly perpetual status as a restricted free agent.

Wrong on both counts.

It's pretty clear that the Steelers won't ask Colon back, and it's pretty clear that they're not up here at the combine sniffing around for a replacement because -- how stupid was I? -- they're set at tackle.

Think about it. Adams was sensational last season as a run-stomper. He was their point man on the strong side and it continued all the way through the Super Bowl as Adams repeatedly destroyed Clay Matthews to clear the way for Rashard Mendenhall. Adams has one year left on his contract, ergo, he's the man, clearly and deservedly.

On the other side at left tackle, Max Starks has at every turn said his neck/back will be fine and has no doubt he'll be ready for training camp. While Starks was out, replacement Jonathan Scott grew into a serviceable -- even championship-caliber -- No. 3 tackle. This was probably pointed out to Colon's agent, and that if he'd like to return he'd have to accept a backup salary and fight for the No. 4 spot with Tony Hills and last year's 5th-round draft pick Chris Scott.

Yeah, the tackle positions are filled. How did that happen?

Sure, Adams is old, but the Steelers obviously would like to give Chris Scott the chance for second-team reps after he missed last year's training camp on the PUP list. As the LT at Tennessee two years ago, Scott looked every bit like the Marcus Cannons and Joseph Barksdales, the converted left-to-right tackles, that draft analysts keep trying to force-feed to the Steelers in the second or third rounds of this coming draft. But in Chris Scott the Steelers already have their young develpmental prospect to go along with their starters, their experienced backup (J. Scott), their fading developmental prospect (Hills) and their practice-squadder (Kyle Jolly). They also have a veteran backup guard in Trai Essex whom they could easily re-sign and use as an emergency tackle on game days.

As for Colon moving to guard, I've written here in the past that new line coach Sean Kugler has never spent a day with Colon in pads, so why in the world would Kugler think Colon could make that transition? And why in the world would he agree to the team giving Colon a big contract before attempting to make such a transition?

It should've been so easy to read.

I, for one, won't like to see Colon go. He's a good guy all the way around and will be missed in the locker room. But it really looks like there's no room on the Steelers' O-line for him at the price he'll eventually command. The bodies really are starting to pile up on this Steelers' O-line.

As for the combine, today I'll be talking to the offensive linemen and tight ends. The specialists will also report to the media room. Various NFL dignitaries will also speak from the podium, so I'll have updates all day long.

In the meantime, here's Mike Mayock's updated rankings. Not much with which I disagree, except what in the world is he seeing in safety Marcus Gilchrist? And why all the love for Temple D-lineman Muhammad Wilkerson? And where in the world has Cameron Heyward gone? I wasn't all that impressed with his senior season, but I'd gobble Heyward up in a minute at pick 31.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 16

7:30 a.m.: They are thick news items, make no mistake. But there's nothing surprising this morning about these stories. Let's take them one at a time:

1. Dick LeBeau to return. Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette called LeBeau after he got off the golf course (it might be more of a story that Dulac the Duffer wasn't actually on the course with him) and LeBeau said, to paraphrase, "Hell yeah I'm coming back to coordinate the Steelers' defense." After LeBeau had mentioned he needed a bit of time to think about it, this news is a bit of a relief to Steelers fans, who knew all along it was either the Steelers or retirement for LeBeau.

2. Adam Schefter -- and I'm sorry but I'm not sure where he works these days, I think for the league -- reportedly tweeted that LaMarr Woodley will receive the Steelers' franchise tag before the Feb. 24 deadline, as per the speculation surrounding the Steelers and free agency this month. It's more good news for Steelers fans, particularly since Woodley was outstanding in the most recent Super Bowl.

3. Frank Summers has signed with the San Diego Chargers. I linked to the initial report from Inside Pittsburgh Sports that this was going to happen, and then the Chargers got around to signing Summers on Tuesday. No surprise that Summers would cite some type of mis-use of his talents with the Steelers since most of us have been saying for two years that the guy's more of a one-back than a fullback. Good luck to a player who couldn't get it rolling here in Pittsburgh.

MONDAY, FEB. 14

7:30 a.m.: I used to think that accepting defeat with class was, well, reserved for losers. Until I saw real losers such as the fans who still can't stop whining about perceived bad calls from an 11-point loss in Super Bowl XL.

I wonder if listening to those pathetic fans the last six years has caused Steelers fans to think twice before crying after a loss. But anyway here's a pretty cool article from someone who appreciates the good sportsmanship emanating from Pittsburgh after the loss to the Packers.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 9

1:10 p.m.: Pulled into Pittsburgh about 10:45 last night. I notice we're experiencing more of that Dallas, Texas weather, but I guess Punxy Phil had some good news for us while I was gone.

So, there's that. And here's this.

MONDAY, FEB. 7

11:30 p.m.: Would I have felt this broke, fat, stupid and hopeless had the Steelers won last night?

Wow, talk about getting slapped back into reality. I just stopped to let readers know I'm here to post Dale's excellent column, which offered hope to me anyway, and also to report that I'm hitting the road in a few minutes out of Dallas and hope to send a column tomorrow morning from Memphis.

Hard to believe the season starts again in a couple weeks at the combine, but that's a big time of year around here and I'm sure I'll rebound by then.

SATURDAY, FEB. 5

2:30 p.m.: In horse racing, everybody loves the closer that comes off the pace and down the stretch and pulls out the win. The problem with closers, though, is that sometimes they don't get there.

That's my concern with Ben Roethlisberger in this Super Bowl. He's the finisher, the closer, the adrenaline junky who's done it time and again. But you worry that one of these times he won't get there and the other team will dance off the field because, say, a penalty wiped out a touchdown and Roethlisberger couldn't convert the ensuing 4th-and-25.

I have to go with him though. The Steelers are the experienced team, the unified team, and the underdog. That's quite a lethal mix. But because the Packers should be able to throw the ball against a Steelers secondary that hasn't shut down a great offense yet, I see another white-knuckler coming. I see a repeat of last year's game when these two teams took it to the wire.

Will Roethlisberger complete the pass on the last play this time? Or will he be stymied by something or someone that's not within his control? That's the big question I have. But I'll go with my heart here and call it … Pittsburgh, 27-26.

FRIDAY, FEB. 4

4:33 p.m.: This just in from Peter King:

FORT WORTH, Texas — The guessing game with two key Pittsburgh Steelers for Super Bowl XLV is over: Center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Aaron Smith were both declared out for the game by coach Mike Tomlin Friday afternoon.

Smith, out since Oct. 24 with a torn triceps, never got close to playing again here in the final days before the Super Bowl matchup with Green Bay. But the Steelers held out faint hope that the rookie keystone to their offensive line, Pouncey, might be ready with concentrated rehab. Pouncey didn't appear at practice for the third straight day Friday, rehabbing inside the TCU trainers' room, and Tomlin said as his team left the practice: "He's out.''

Asked after the Steelers' two-hour Friday practice inside the Sam Baugh Indoor Practice Facility on the snow-swept TCU campus how Pouncey's absence will affect the Steelers' offensive gameplan, Tomlin said: "It won't. Obviously he's a quality player, and how it affects the game, no one knows. But as far as what we do, we have a plan, and that won't change.''

Talk about stepping into a pressurized situation: Undrafted center Doug Legursky from Marshall will make his first NFL start at center in the Super Bowl — and he'll be facing 2009 first-round nose tackle B.J. Raji of the Packers to boot. Legursky has made four previous starts at guard for the Steelers, but never in the middle of the line, at such a key spot making line calls and handling the exchanges with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. There were times in the three days of Steeler practices here at TCU that Legursky looked like a misfit in the land of the giants, at 6-1 and 315. On average, his four starting linemates are four inches taller and 19 pounds heavier than Legursky.

"The NFL is made up of lots of players like him — guys who somehow got an opportunity and seized it,'' said Tomlin. "We're completely confident that he will seize this opportunity and play well. That's why we're not changing what we do.''

As has been the case for the past three months, second-year defensive end Ziggy Hood will man the left end spot for Smith Sunday against Green Bay.

Friday's workout was the third straight this week inside the TCU practice facility for the Steelers, and the third straight in shells, sweats and helmets. The Steelers, not surprisingly, didn't wear shoulder pads and didn't tackle all week, befitting a team trying to stay healthy and fresh after six months of practices and games.

Tomlin had crowd noise piped in for the first time this week as the Steelers went through their normal Friday routine of goal-line, short-yardage and two-minute plays. The team seemed loose, as it has all week. When Troy Polamalu picked off a Charlie Batch pass near the goal line, fellow safety Ryan Clark chanted: "MVP! MVP! MVP!''

"We've had a very good practice week, very normal,'' said Tomlin. "We're lucky to have guys who just love football and love one another. It's a special group.''

The Steelers are welcoming team families into the practice facility Saturday for their final practice of the week, a light walk-through Saturday at 10 a.m. On Saturday afternoon, the players and coaches will part with their families and go to a secret hotel for their last night before the game, the same practice the Steelers followed before the championship game two years ago against Arizona.

2:58 p.m.: Just heard Suzy Kolber report that Maurkice Pouncey did not practice today, therefore he will not play Sunday.

10:23 a.m.: I think the untold story down here is all the fans missing their flights or stranded in airports up north. The beautiful people began filing into the Dallas Sheraton here yesterday but the main throng is still M.I.A. Don't care so much about the Dallas economy as I do those who paid the big bucks for tickets and are on standby lists right now saying prayers.

This hotel, by the way, wasn't built to handle winter, and that makes it colder than anything in Pittsburgh. But, there's more talking going on. Here's Mike Tomlin from earlier this morning.

THURSDAY, FEB. 3

7 p.m.: Here's the pool report on the Steelers' practice by Peter King:

With no change in the injury situation to two prominent starters, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stole the show at the Steelers' second practice of Super Bowl week at Texas Christian University Thursday, throwing red-zone touchdown passes on four straight plays on a sharp afternoon.

The Steelers worked mostly on nickel and red-zone offensive and defensive situations for exactly two hours in the Sam Baugh Indoor Practice Facility on the TCU campus. For the second straight day, defensive end Aaron Smith, idle since Oct. 24 with a torn triceps, was limited in practice and didn't play in any scrimmage work, while center Maurkice Pouncey (high ankle sprain) wasn't present. He was inside the Horned Frogs' training room getting rehab on the right ankle. Coach Mike Tomlin said he didn't know if Pouncey would practice Friday, but said time is growing short for the rookie center to prove he can be mobile enough to play in Sunday's game against Green Bay.

"It's getting to be the witching hour for Maurkice,'' Tomlin said after practice. "He's going to have to show us something very soon.''

Roethlisberger, preparing to play his third Super Bowl in his seventh NFL season, showed Tomlin something throughout practice — that he's ready to play. "I thought he had a good day,'' Tomlin said. "I thought it was a good day of preparation overall.''

Spreading the ball around well to all his receivers, Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Heath Miller and rookie Emmanuel Sanders for touchdowns on the 80-yard indoor practice field. Roethlisberger was sharp on other series Thursday as well.

"I'm glad we were sharp, but I'm not sure it really means anything for the game,'' Tomlin said. "I've seen us practice great on Thursday and play poorly on Sunday, and then I've seen us practice not worth anything Thursday and then come out and play great.''

The first-team defense was on its game too, with safety Ryan Clark picking off two balls and corner Ike Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu intercepting one apiece against scout-team quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.

TCU football coach Gary Patterson was in attendance, with a couple of his assistants and a few players from his Rose Bowl championship team. "To have the Steelers out here at our facility is awesome and great for our program,'' Patterson said, watching the early stages of practice from the sidelines. "A lot of their guys have picked up our [Rose Bowl] trophy and been impressed with it.''

"I have great respect for the TCU program and what they've been able to build here,'' Tomlin said.

The TCU campus was closed for a third straight day due to the ice storm that hit north Texas Tuesday, and temperatures again were frigid. The wind-chill temperature on campus this afternoon was 10 degrees, compared to 16 degrees back at the Steelers home in Pittsburgh. So the indoor practice facility was a must. Whereas Tomlin's Steelers practiced outside at the University of South Florida for all four practices before the Super Bowl two years ago, it's apparent that all four of their practices this time around will be held indoors, as will Sunday's game. The retractable roof at Dallas Cowboys Stadium will be closed for Super Bowl XLV.

The Steelers will hold two more practices before Sunday's game: Friday at 11 a.m. at TCU, emphasizing goal-line and short-yardage plays as is customary with a Friday practice, and a short walk-through practice on Saturday at 10 a.m. Tomlin said he expected both workouts to be inside the Sam Baugh facility.

The Steelers will have curfew each of the next three nights leading up to the game, Tomlin said. Following their Saturday workout, the team will relocate from their downtown Fort Worth hotel—19 miles west of the site of Sunday's game—to a secret hotel, as is customary for most teams the night before the Super Bowl. Tomlin did the same thing the night before the Steelers beat Arizona two years ago in the Super Bowl.

... And here's the Packers' pool report by Jim Trotter:

The notable news from Packers' second day of practice for Super Bowl XLV was wideout Donald Driver sitting out team drills after tweaking a quadriceps injury the previous day. Coach Mike McCarthy said the move was precautionary.

"He's fine," McCarthy said Thursday at the conclusion of the 1-hour, 45-minute, no-pads workout at Highland Park High School's indoor facility. "He wants to practice and all that, but I'm not taking any chances with him. I'll probably hold him out tomorrow, as well."

Driver was placed on the inactive list Nov. 7 against Dallas and missed significant stretches in two other games because of a quadriceps injury. The 12th-year veteran still finished second on the team with 51 catches and was fourth with 565 yards.

In other injury news, linebacker Erik Walden did not participate in team drills after testing his sprained ankle the previous day in practice.

"He was very sore, which is why we limited him today," McCarthy said. "It's up the air with him right now. We'll see how he feels tomorrow. Even if he feels a lot better, he'll be limited. I'm going to hold him back and give him every chance to be ready for the game."

Walden sustained the injury in the third quarter of the Jan. 23 NFC Championship Game at Chicago and did not return. Frank Zombo continued to work with the first team in his absence.

The Packers focused on red-zone work, blitz periods, and punt return and kickoff coverage Thursday. Things got chippy during the blitz period when offensive lineman Evan-Dietrich-Smith, working with the scout team, and linebacker Rob Francois got into a pushing and grabbing match. Teammates stepped in and separated them, and there were no further incidents.

McCarthy said he felt the practice was good, adding: "Frankly, we feel like we're ready to go. We've got everything in, so tomorrow will be completely review for us."

The Packers conducted the jog-through portion of practice at the team hotel in Las Colinas for the second consecutive day. They did, however, alter their routine by waiting to change for their practice at Highland Park until they arrived at the school. On Wednesday they dressed at Southern Methodist University before busing 5 minutes to Highland Park.

The practice was attended by the game-day broadcast crew from FOX, which will carry the game against the Steelers. Afterward, McCarthy spent a few minutes chatting with two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Jimmy Johnson, who is part of the FOX studio team.

"He had a lot of encouraging words," McCarthy said. "He was very complimentary. It was neat to have a chance to talk to him. It was the first time I've ever met him in person."

The Packers will take their team photo Friday morning at Highland Park High before conducting their final on-field practice.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 2

6:45 p.m.: Peter King is the pool reporter for the AFC team in the Super Bowl this year and he filed today's report following the Steelers' workout at TCU. Go to the message board for details.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 26

5:45 p.m.: So it's confirmed that Maurkice Pouncey is in a hard cast for his high ankle sprain. Trai Essex tells me the cast is an option the club gives players. The team likes this method to secure the foot and hopefully promote quicker healing. Essex said it will be all about Maurkice's pain threshold.

Essex, by the way, is the third-team center. He worked at the position the same week two years ago when Justin Hartwig was a question mark for Super Bowl 43. Hartwig played and the Steelers won.

* Cornerback Bryant McFadden didn't start last Sunday because of his strained abdomen, but today said, "I feel a lot better today than at this time last week." Good news.

* In another note, the Steelers will wear white, as they have their last two Super Bowl appearances. They also wore white in the Super Bowl following the 1974 season, so they're 3-0 in white.

* Oh, one more note, a good news note: Rumblings out of the Hall of Fame Committee have this being Dermontti Dawson's year to make it. The source said several outstanding linemen are coming eligible in the next few years and the committee doesn't want the deserving Dawson to get lost in the shuffle.

12:30 p.m.: Just a couple of notes before heading down to the locker room:

* Saw Maurkice Pouncey in what appeared to be a hard cast, and he was of course using crutches. I asked him when it's coming off and he smiled and said, "Well, I'm not sure." He didn't want to talk about it, but it didn't look promising. I'll get the lowdown soon enough.

* Watched the replay of last season's Packers-Steelers game and was appalled at the poor coverage by the Steelers' secondary. Of course, Tyrone Carter was playing for Troy Polamalu, and Bryant McFadden was still in Arizona, replaced by a struggling William Gay. And Joe Burnett was out there struggling, too. He's since been cut.

* To go along with that big mess, the Packers were utilizing tight end Jermichael Finley pretty regularly. He's a big loss for the Packers – blew out his knee last October – while Polamalu, McFadden and the rehabilitated Gay are big additions for the Steelers.

* The Packers have a better running back right now in rookie James Starks, but Starks is due to cough one up. Mark me down for one fumble from the rookie with the large strike surface.

* Another consideration: the Steelers' speed receivers on a fast track. You can throw Rashard Mendenhall into the mix, too, with Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. They could, in fact, be more dangerous than the Packers' celebrated pass-catchers.

* Before last Sunday's games, I thought the Packers and Steelers would win and then the Packers would win the Super Bowl. I don't think that way anymore, not after the public bet the Packers up from -1.5 to -3 as a favorite. That won't sit well with the Steelers, who'll wonder why a two-time champ is an underdog to a No. 6 seed that lost the last time the two teams played. The underdog role will erase a level of pressure and will serve the Steelers very well. I expect them to win.

* My only concern is that Peter King is back on the Steelers' bandwagon. He did the Steelers' fan base a favor by jumping off when things looked shaky a month ago. That's when he said the Patriots would win it all, so you all owe him a huge thank you for mushing the No. 1 seed. However, the horror is he's back on the Steelers.

* I watched a couple of Senior Bowl practices on TV yesterday and really like the three top prospects that I hadn't seen this season. Cameron Jordan, the 3-4 DE from Cal, was outstanding. No one could block him, and he went up and down the line from Castonzo, to Solder to Carimi, all of them.

* I also like the two Baylor prospects quite a bit. NT Phil Taylor is the most impressive big man there. He weighs in the 330-340 range but looks like he can add another 20 and keep his quickness. He can play NT, DT, anywhere he wants. Problem is, he has some splainin' to do about getting kicked out of Penn State. But, wow, that man could play in Dallas in 10 days if he had to.

* Also out of Baylor, guard Danny Watkins is someone I'd love to see at LG next year in Pittsburgh. He handled all the big men yesterday and looks like he could easily add 20 or 30 pounds, too. But he also has a problem: He'll be 27 as a rookie. Or 28 if the lockout holds.

MONDAY, JAN. 24

12:30 p.m.: OK, got those precious few hours of sleep and am back with a few thoughts over at the message board.

2:30 a.m.: I'll get to the creative stuff when I wake up, but first I wanted to update Steelers fans on the status of center Maurkice Pouncey, who was helped off the field during the first series last night with what appeared to be a badly injured left ankle.

Because a tough guy like Pouncey left the field in such a big game, I feared the worst. But he says not to worry.

On crutches on his way into the locker room, Pouncey said it's a high ankle sprain. I asked if he'll be ready in two weeks. "Two weeks?" he said with astonishment. "Try three days."

In the locker room, Pouncey said he's dealt with a high ankle sprain before and that he knows exactly how to "attack it" and said he's looking forward to rehabbing right away and that we could count him in for the Super Bowl. Gotta love this kid.

* Ryan Clark led the troops into the locker room with a shout of "Can't wait!" People lined up outside the locker room smiled as wide as Bart Scott's big mouth. Scott ranted after the Patriots game, and answered a question about playing the Steelers with "Can't wait!" Well, the Steelers all shouted that as they filed into the locker room.

The players were asked how that started and how they held it in all week.

"Every time we had something to say we'd say ‘Can't wait. Can't wait,'" said James Farrior. "We couldn't wait to do anything. It gave us a chuckle but we really don't put too much into that. The game's played out on the field."

"We took no offense to it," said Clark. "I mean, they were pretty respectful up until about Friday. I got a couple of comments about me saying something about 6 Lombardi trophies early in the game, so I guess that kinda messed with them. But if we go win this one, they won't have to hear me talking about 6 next year. I'll be talking about 7."

Clark was asked by an out-of-town reporter why the Steelers didn't talk during the week.

"I think that's always with us, just the town we're from, the way our owners are," Clark said. "They don't like that stuff. They want us to talk about winning around here. They want us to talk about competing. I think that's what our fans want us talking about, too."

* Here's what Clark said about the tale of two halves:

"There was a big focus about starting fast. But that was so long ago. The way the second half went, I forgot we played good."

Anything else, Ryan?

"Yeah. I can't wait to get on this jet and go to the Super Bowl. I cannot wait!"

* LaMarr Woodley set a record by being the fastest player to record 10 post-season sacks (since the stat was first kept in 1982). Woodley also broke another in this most modern category of records by recording a sack in his sixth consecutive post-season game.

"I've got to give credit to my cornerbacks and everybody else," Woodley said. "I get the glory but the other 10 guys make it happen."

* Was Casey Hampton nervous at the end of the game?

"There was no point in the game we felt we were going to lose," Hampton said. "They're a good team, so every good team is going to make a run. We were ready for that and at the end of the day we won. That's all that matters."

And Hamp's take on the topic of trash-talking?

"We're accustomed to winning," he said. "When you're not used to winning, you do a little bit more talking to try to talk yourself into it. We don't have to talk ourselves into it. Maybe when they win championships they'll learn how to keep their mouths closed and play."

Good to be going home, Hamp?

"It's to the crib," said the Galveston native. "Texas is my home. It's not the house house, but it is Texas so it's going to be good for me."

* Farrior wasn't surprised by coordinator Dick LeBeau using the nickel defense at the 1-yard line.

"I really didn't know what they were going to do on that third down play because they tricked us the last time and everybody was thinking about that. I definitely was," Farrior said. "I think everybody read their keys and we all stayed focused and got the job done."

A nervy call by Lebeau?

"No doubt about it. That's why he's the best."

On fourth-and-1, the Jets rushed their big men onto the field. The Steelers responded by sending their big men racing out. Great sight seeing all those big chess pieces in all-out sprints.

* Brett Keisel was happy. Not so much his wife.

"That's what I was talking about in there," the bearded one said of his bushy playoff beard. "She's going 'dammit.' Nah, that's great news. She can live with it for a couple more weeks. I love her for dealing with it for this long."

The Beard had a good game, didn't it?

"That's right. It wasn't me, it was the beard making those plays today."

SATURDAY, JAN. 22

9:30 a.m.: The anonymous amongst the Steelers' vast support staff on the South Side may have shuddered at the sight of former organizational tyrant Bill Cowher when he visited last week before the Ravens game. But the players loved it. They greeted and hugged Cowher after practice and exchanged pleasantries with a coach they truly loved, even though he once sucked them into his childish world of us-against-them.

Most coaches use that as a tool; Cowher lived it.

But Cowher's part of the "them" crowd this week after predicting on a New York radio station that the Jets will beat the Steelers. I talked to Brett Keisel about it yesterday. Here's the transcript:

Q: What did you think of Cowher's prediction?

BK: Hey B.C. what's the deal, baby? You were just here giving us love. And now you shut us down like that? I guess that's OK. People are going to make their picks.

Q: Is it something you can use?

BK: Sure. We'll use it. Anyone that talks bad about us or says negative things you can use.

Q: Do you think he did it on purpose to motivate the team?

BK: I think he did it on purpose for our benefit. He knows when that happens we can usually respond, and hopefully we'll respond to B.C.'s horrible comments.

Q: Didn't he engrain that chip in you guys?

BK: Yeah. (Makes Cowher-like face and changes voice) ‘Have a chip on your shoulder. Feel it when you're on the field. Take all that negative energy and turn it around.' Yeah, we learned all that from him.

Q: Would he normally bring a quote like this to the attention of the team before the game?

BK: Not really. It was more like, ‘No one thinks you can win. All we've got is what's in here. No one expects you to win the game, so just go out there and play ball.' We've heard that from him.

The New York media encircled Keisel (and his beard) as he gesticulated wildly and spoke with hearty laughter, and us local guys walked away and commented -- upon wave after wave of approaching New York media -- that Keisel's a smash hit in the Big Apple.

"Unfrozen caveman defensive end," joked 93.7 The Fan's Jon Burton.

I told Keisel later that he now has some free-agent options for his next contract. But anyway, back to Cowher. Another reporter told me about Tony Kornheiser's take on Cowher's prediction, that Cowher's more jealous than helpful, that he deep down doesn't want Mike Tomlin to win a second ring in only five seasons.

After watching Cowher's massive ego at work here for 15 years, I tend to agree with Kornheiser. But I'm also expecting Cowher to back off of his prediction during his TV pre-game show Sunday.

* Now, let me get this straight: Bob Holtzman divulging that the Steelers will use a trick play without Antwaan Randle El is a breach of reporting ethics. But Jason LaCanfora, who's paid by the leauge, and uses the word of another NFL employee, can report that the Jets will use Darrelle Revis on Hines Ward in man coverage?

I think that such an important staple of a defensive game plan -- and one that's obvious to the local media and NFL pooh-bahs who are allowed to watch team practices -- was a much more believable and therefore useable bit of information than anything involving Holtzman's generality on a possible trick play. If I were Rex Ryan, there'd be Hell to pay with the league.

* What do I think of Revis on Ward? Many think Ryan's making a mistake, but it's a savvy move. Ward is a money player, someone who can still beat you on any of the game's most important plays. Also, Revis has an iffy hamstring that continues to cost him practice time. Even if Revis were to be used over Mike Wallace, the Jets would still need a safety over the top. They may as well not waste Revis -- their best cover man -- as part of a double team.

* Much has been made of the Jets' quiet this week, but I expected it. As Mark Kaboly points out in today's excellent column, the Jets spent their real emotions last week.

Seriously, think about any time you've been involved in sports at any level, and for any number of reasons you've had to step up to become the "ass" your team needs. Several Jets, including the coach, did that last week in order to upset the Patriots.

Now, ask yourself how you felt after such a game. My guess is you felt pretty bad, and were determined to have some dignity the next time out.

Maybe it's just me, but I've been there a few times. And I've come back and lost Dignity Week every time. It's a sign of being tapped out emotionally, and that you're opting for style points instead.

The Jets will get it revved up again by Sunday, for sure. But the hairs on the back of their necks won't be standing at full adrenal attention as they were last week.

* My prediction: I like the Steelers, have since the Jets beat them in December. Not that I expected the Jets to make it back to this game, but they're not better than the Steelers, who played that last game at an emotional low after division wins against Baltimore and Cincinnati. The Steelers had a two-game lead with three left, and they played like it against the Jets -- flat.

I don't see Mark Sanchez faring well in the bitter weather that's being forecast. His only role should be that of game manager, and the Jets won't be able to run well enough to win with that plan. A quick, short passing game? The Steelers are too quick up front and will shut that down, too.

So it's up to Sanchez to challenge the Steelers on first down, as Ben Roethlisberger did during his sophomore playoff run to the ring. And in this weather, that just wouldn't work with the required consistency, particularly from a QB with such an average arm.

The Steelers know they can be patient with their game plan and know they don't have to take any unnecessary risks. And even if they don't pull away quickly -- as I expect -- the Steelers know Roethlisberger will find a way to pull it out in the fourth quarter. Their relaxed confidence, their talent, and their emotional edge will carry the day.

Steelers 27, Jets 17.

FRIDAY, JAN. 21

3 p.m.: With only Saturday's walk-through left before Sunday's 6:30 p.m. AFC Championship game against the New York Jets, the Steelers practiced Friday with Troy Polamalu, Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle for the first time this week.

Polamalu (Achilles' tendon) and Battle (illness) will play Sunday, while McFadden (abdomen strain) and Will Allen (knee) are questionable. Aaron Smith (triceps) is listed as doubtful but, as reported here early in the week, will not play.

While the loss of Allen would hurt the kick coverage units, the loss of McFadden would cost the Steelers their starting left cornerback. Will Gay would start in his place and Anthony Madison would become the nickel back.

"I felt OK," McFadden said after today's practice. "I'm not quite where I want to be at. I just want it to get to where I can handle the pain."

McFadden said a decision will likely be made Saturday once his recovery from today's work is taken into account.

THURSDAY, JAN. 20

2:15 p.m.: In a twist I'm going to update you on Troy Polamalu with my own timeline so that you maybe understand my sense of relief today:

* Tuesday -- Someone on our message board reports that Polamalu was limping heavily after the last game. Poster says he heard it from a friend.

* Wednesday morning -- I learn that Ron Cook had reported on his WFAN radio show that he'd waited an hour and a half in the locker room for Troy after the game, and that when Troy showed up he was limping heavily.

* Wednesday afternoon -- Troy doesn't practice and doesn't show up in the locker room. I begin to worry that what Cook saw could keep Troy out of the game completely.

* Wednesday night -- Watched the NFL Network's replay of the Ravens-Steelers game and watched Troy -- from start to finish -- run around the field with his typical abandon and athleticism. I begin to worry less.

* Thursday noon -- Troy meets with reporters in the locker room and tells them he feels much better today and that he now feels just like he did before the Ravens game.

So, my worries have dissipated. I'm assuming Polamalu will take his regular place in practice on Friday and will bring the same superior athleticism on Sunday that he showed against the Ravens.

12:15 p.m.: Mike Wallace and Brett Keisel stopped by the media room today and spoke to the expanding group of reporters. Before heading down to the locker room I wanted to post the following exchange with Keisel from the group:

Q: Nice beard.

A: It is, isn't it?

Q: How do you put a chinstrap on that?

A: Just lock it down, baby.

Q: When did you start growing that?

A: I started growing it right after minicamp, so like the middle of June.

Q: Was there a purpose?

A: Yeah. To look like this (laughter). No it was something I decided to do. Playoff beards are big around here in Pittsburgh and obviously we missed the playoffs the year before, so this is something I tried to do to convince myself we're getting back to the playoffs.

Q: It's spawned copycats, hasn't it?

A: There are. Coach LeBeau said the biggest form of compliment is when someone copies you, so I guess I'm complimented.

Q: Doesn't the Beard have a Facebook page?

A: Yeah, someone's doing that. I just want to lay it out there that that's not me. I think there's a Twitter page, too. That's not me, either. But someone's having some fun with it, which I don't really mind.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 19

4:15 p.m.: I didn't see the entire practice, but from what I saw Troy Polamalu, Bryant McFadden and Aaron Smith were sidelined. Jason Worilds practiced and said he was inactive last game because of his knee, but is now healthy. I'll have a couple reports from the locker room as soon as possible.

2:25 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger

On the Jets: "A really good defense with a lot of great players. They try to confuse you. That's the biggest thing they do. Rex Ryan's a mastermind at bringing guys from all over the place. He did that in Baltimore and he's doing it in New York."

On rebuilding your relationship with the city: "That's about the last thing on my mind. I'm thinking about winning football games."

On what Heath Miller playing in this game means: "It's huge. He's one of the best tight ends in the game. Even when he's not getting the ball he's opening guys up on the outside and is a great safety valve for me."

On Antonio Cromartie saying he loves you: "I love him, too. … They went to New England and Indy and beat the two best quarterbacks in the game. Enough said."

Are you responsible for the Steelers having to unload Santonio Holmes? "That's a question for the front office."

On not getting respect as an elite quarterback: "It's OK. … I know I'll probably never win league MVP or win the passing title, but that's not my goal. My goal is to win games."

On Bart Scott saying nice things about you: "He delivered one of the hardest hits on me that I've ever felt, so I take what Bart Scott says with a grain of salt."

On Bruce Arians: "I have nothing but the utmost respect for Bruce for not only his playcalling but for the type of man he is. … He gets way, way too much blame and criticism. He just laughs about it, and guys here know he knows football. … He gets too much heat but he lets it roll off his sleeves. That's one of the reasons why we respect him so much."

2:10 p.m.: Hines Ward

On the young wide receivers: "They don't get many opportunities, especially Antonio Brown. But we like to get him out in space. Emmanuel (Sanders) is really coming on strong. He'll end up with the third cornerback on him, so he's a guy we'll need to make a lot of plays, particularly with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie following me and Mike (Wallace) around."

On the Jets' defense: "They play man-to-man and try to confuse the quarterback and hope a guy comes free and gets a sack. … The quarterback has to make perfect throws against man-to-man."

Does it take an extraordinarily long time to get through a Jets tape? "Rex isn't going to show the same scheme from week to week, so we have to pay attention to details in regard to what we do."

On Santonio Holmes: "I know he wants to win this one more than anything. … I texted him about his catch. … I'm so proud of him."

On going against Revis most of last game: "He's a great cornerback, no question. Can he be beat? Yeah, but he's one of those guys you really don't want to mess with because he's a game-changer. … And you can't get frustrated because it's not about me against him, it's about Steelers versus Jets. … He's probably the best cornerback in our league. … He played at Pitt so I've always been a fan of his. … I'm an old vet but I've got some tricks up my sleeve. Hopefully they can help me get open."

James Farrior

On what Aaron Smith brings to the team even if on a limited snap count: "We feed off his energy. To have him out there, even for a few plays, would provide a boost."

Why did the Jets run on you guys last time? "They had a good balance of run and pass … and they didn't put (Mark) Sanchez in bad situations. He had some manageable third downs."

On what losing Roethlisberger early in the season did to the team: "It built our character and made us a closer group. It made us focus in."

Does nearly losing him make you appreciate this opportunity a bit more? "What a great opportunity this is for us. No one expected us to be at home for this championship game. To be here in front of our fans will be awesome."

Was Heinz Field louder last week with the extra seats? "I think so. It was pretty loud last week. We definitely enjoyed the extra seating."

With two rings, what's the level of motivation? "It doesn't change. This year's no different, even though we have two."

Does the taste of it make you even hungrier for more? "Once you've been there before and won a championship, you're thriving to get that same feeling back."

On the Jets' decision not to trash talk: "It's a little surprising. I was expecting something but they haven't given us anything. I'm a little disappointed. That stuff's funny to me."

On the aging defense: "They've been saying it around here for years now, especially about me. But we don't feed into the media hype."

On what it will take to beat Sanchez: "We didn't get enough pressure on him last game. We let him get too comfortable back there. That'll be the key to this game. We have to get him in third-and-long."

Is Mike Tomlin any different this year? "Besides his bank account being bigger, he's the same guy. He's been the same guy ever since he's been here."

1:40 p.m.: We'll start with the highlights from Mike Tomlin today in front of the national media:

On his greatest challenge this season: "This journey's not different than any others ... I always enjoy the journey. It's been a fun one."

What Aaron Smith needs to show you to play: "He's got to perform above the line. ... He'll be given an opportunity and if it's above the line, we'll discuss the amount of snaps."

How long does it take to prepare for a Rex Ryan defense? "It depends on whether or not you give them our plays."

On your relationship with Rex: "We came from a similar coaching tree. He worked at (the University of) Cincinnati two years ahead of me. I got to hear some stories about Rex and his experience there."

Who's your guy in the locker room? "Our unquestioned leader is James Farrior. If you polled anyone in the organization .... they would say he sets the pulse of this operation."

11 a.m.: OK, today's a big media day here on the South Side, and fans can watch the press conferences of Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and James Farrior live starting at 12:15 p.m. on the NFL Network.

Transcripts will be provided by the team, and the national press corps normally asks rudimentary, training-camp type questions at these press conferences, but I'll be there to synthesize and post the important comments that are made by the more interesting parties of the locker room. See you then.

MONDAY, JAN. 17

5:30 a.m.: Due to the New York Jets upset of the top-seeded New England Patriots yesterday, the Steelers will host the Jets on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in the AFC Championship Game.

The Steelers had never lost a home game to the Jets until Dec. 19 of this season when the Jets came to Heinz Field and won, 22-17. The Steelers were coming off of crucial divisional wins over Baltimore and Cincinnati and had a 2-game lead over the Ravens at the time with three to play.

The Steelers played that game without tight end Heath Miller and safety Troy Polamalu, who will both be healthy for Sunday's game. Injured Saturday against the Ravens were Flozell Adams (flu), Will Allen (knee) and Bryant McFadden (hip). Adams, of course, will return but Allen and McFadden will likely be questionable. Allen sprained his knee but was walking after the game and probably won't require surgery. McFadden's "hip" injury, he said, is related to the abdominal injury that kept him out of practice the last two weeks. He aggravated the injury in the first series Saturday.

The last time the Steelers hosted the Jets in the playoffs, after the 2004 season, the Steelers survived missed Jets field goals from 47 and 43 yards by Doug Brien in the final 2:02 and won in overtime on Jeff Reed's 33-yard field goal.

Last month, the Jets rushed for 106 yards against the Steelers, a high for any Steelers opponent this season. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 49 yards (4.5) and Shonn Greene rushed for 40 (3.3) for the Jets. Braylon Edwards was their offensive star with 8 catches for 100 yards while Santonio Holmes caught 6 passes for 40 yards.

The Steelers led by 17-10 in the third quarter, but Jets quarterback Mark sanchez tied the game later in the quarter with a 7-yard bootleg. The Jets took the lead with a 34-yard field goal and added to it when Jason Taylor tackled Mewelde Moore in the end zone for a safety. The Steelers drove to the New York 10-yard line in the final seconds, but Ben Roethlisberger threw three incompletions (one a spike) before time expired. (Scroll down to link to game notes.)

SUNDAY, JAN. 2

9:30 p.m.: By beating the Browns today, the Steelers have won the division and locked up the No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a 12-4 record. They'll have a bye next weekend and will play the highest remaining seed (No. 3 Indianapolis, No. 4 Kansas City, or No. 5 Baltimore) on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 4:30 p.m.

My guess is that the Steelers will play the Colts. They host the No. 6 New York Jets this weekend, while Kansas City hosts Baltimore. The lowest remaining seed travels to New England.

Here are some more thoughts of mine on our message board.

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 29

3:20 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger was just named winner of The Chief Award, given to the member of the Steelers organization whose cooperation with the media best follows in the spirit of team founder Art Rooney.

Also, in a unanimous vote, Maurkice Pouncey was named winner of the Joe Greene Performance Award, symbolizing the team's Rookie of the Year. Both awards are voted upon by the Pro Football Writers of America, Pittsburgh Chapter.

2:24 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger spoke to reporters in the locker room Wednesday during lunch and much of the conversation had to do with rookie center Maurkice Pouncey making the Pro Bowl. It was both light and informational, but I have a hunch Ben will be making another appearance in front of the cameras this afternoon. Check back in an hour or so.

MONDAY, DEC. 27

9:10 a.m.: [Edit 9:20 a.m.] The 11-4 Steelers need to beat the 5-10 Browns on Sunday in Cleveland in order to clinch the AFC North Division title and secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye.

If the Steelers lose, they'll likely finish as the No. 6 seed and would play at probable No 3 seed Kansas City the following week.

However, the Indianapolis Colts (9-6) could swap seeding spots with the Chiefs (10-5) if the two teans finish in a tie, since the Colts hold the head-to-head advantage over the Chiefs, just as the Jets hold the head-to-head advantage over the Steelers.

If the Steelers lose to the Browns and the Ravens lose to the 4-11 Bengals for a fourth consecutive time, the Steelers would win the division based on a better division record and would also retain the No. 2 seed.

Also, let's go to the message board for not one, but two stories I typed up on Sunday.

FRIDAY, DEC. 24

10:10 a.m.: Brett Keisel stopped before entering the locker room after his Steelers had easily snuffed out the Carolina Panthers 27-3 last night. Keisel looked around at the assemblage of media, fans, and team support staff, and he bowed.

"Merry Christmas!" bellowed the big man with the Claus-ian beard.

And it is a Merry Christmas, particularly upon further review. Initially, it seemed to be more of a struggle than necessary, particularly for the offensive line and again inside the red zone. But the review went rather well today. The Steelers do look like a contender. Either that or my fever's causing hallucinations again.

Anyway, here are some more thoughts over yonder on the message board.

SUNDAY, DEC. 19

10:10 p.m.: The Steelers lost to the New York Jets, 22-17, Sunday at Heinz Field but still clinched a playoff berth. They'll probably need to win their final two games against Carolina and Cleveland to wrap up the AFC North and claim a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed.

The only injury appears to have been suffered by special-teamer Arnaz Battle, who hurt his shoulder. Mike Tomlin had no further info. As for the return of Troy Polamalu, Tomlin would only say, "We'll see."

As always, let's go to the message board for more.

FRIDAY, DEC. 17

5:25 p.m.: TE Heath Miller returned to practice today and is listed as questionable on the Steelers' final injury report before Sunday's game against the New York Jets. In a text, Steelers.com stressed that Miller "is truly 50-50."

The bad news, though, is that SS Troy Polamalu has been listed as doubtful with his lower-leg injury. Also doubtful is reserve nose tackle Steve McLendon with a stinger that's kept him out of the last two games. DE Aaron Smith, of course, is out with his partially torn triceps and is making progress in the hope of returning for the first playoff game.

Ruled out by the Jets on their final report are reserve DE Trevor Pryce (hip), starting SS Eric Smith (concussion), and starting RT Damien Woody.

Smith, a replacement the last two weeks for the IR'd Jim Leonhard, will be replaced by either James Ihedigbo -- listed as questionable with ankle and knee injuries -- or CB Dwight Lowery, who was moved to SS this week in practice. Replacing Woody will be 7-year vet Wayne Hunter.

SUNDAY, DEC. 12

8:25 p.m.: The Steelers remain on a path that will net them a first-round playoff bye after coming away with a 23-7 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

There weren't any injuries to report, and possibly no fines to pay. But that's the least of it for these 10-3 Steelers. Here, on the message board are far more frivolous thoughts.

THURSDAY, DEC. 9

7:25 p.m.: In case you didn't get my tweet earlier today -- and I apologize for being presumptuous -- but Flozell Adams returned to practice today. He limped a bit but is expected to play RT for the Steelers against the Bengals on Sunday. TE Heath Miller (concussion) and SS Troy Polamalu (ankle), on the other hand, missed their second practices this week.

Missing their second practices with the Bengals on Thursday were TE Jermaine Gresham (non injury) and CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle).

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 8

2:25 p.m.: Here's the first half of a group interview with Ben Roethlisberger today before practice. I thought it was urgent to get this info up as soon as I could.

In the second half of the interview -- which was one of Ben's best -- some of us got into specific plays, and that will be the topic of my story to be posted later today.

MONDAY, DEC. 6

12:35 a.m. :The Steelers needed a late sack/forced fumble by Troy Polamalu and a late 9-yard touchdown pass from a bloodied and battered Ben Roethlisberger to fullback Isaac Redman in order to beat the Ravens, 13-10.

Roethlisberger suffered a broken nose when hit by Haloti Ngata on the first series, but he finished the game and will play next week, according to Mike Tomlin. But Tomlin reported that punter Daniel Sepulveda is done for the season after tearing his the ACL in his right knee. After Sepulveda was informed of the injury, he remained in the game to hold placements for kicker Shaun Suisham, who also punted. Other injuries included a high ankle sprain by RT Flozell Adams and a concussion by TE Heath Miller.

It was another brutal and emotional Steelers-Ravens game. I typed up these thoughts as the game unfolded. Also, look for reports from Dale Lolley and Mike Prisuta later this morning when they return from Baltimore.

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 1

7:10 p.m.: The Steelers were in full throat in the locker room today, all seemingly trying to outdo one another in their criticism of the league concerning the $25,000 fine of James Harrison for his hit on Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick last Sunday. Harrison has now been fined $125,000 by the league this season for leading with his helmet while tackling.

Terrell Suggs of the Ravens got the ball rolling with his noon conference call with Pittsburgh reporters. It was followed by media sessions with Ben Roethlisberger (see transcript at the top of the page), Hines Ward, James Farrior and Harrison himself.

Read the full transcripts of each interview here on our message board.

SUNDAY, NOV. 28

9 p.m.: The Steelers improved to 8-3 and kept pace with the Baltimore Ravens by beating the Buffalo Bills in overtime today. I have some not-so-inspiring thoughts here on the message board, but you might enjoy them anyway.

The Steelers play the Ravens for the AFC North Division lead next Sunday in Baltimore.

SUNDAY, NOV. 21

9 p.m.: My assignment after the game was to talk to the defensive players and find some insight into their terrific performance today in their 35-3 mud-hole stomp of the Oakland Raiders. You never know what a guy like James Harrison's going to say when he's just kicked ass all over the field. But guess what? James spent the entire time talking not about football, not about defense, not about slobber-knockering, but about the league, and fines, and suspensions, and penalties, and all the stuff he's been talking about for a month. And rightfully so.

Anyway, I have some thoughts on the matter. They're right here on our message board.

FRIDAY, NOV. 19

4 p.m.: The Steelers announced that reserve safety Will Allen will miss his second game with complications from a concussion suffered against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Right defensive end Brett Keisel has been listed as questionable with his hamstring injury. Even if he doesn't play Sunday against the Raiders, the Steelers believe Keisel will play next Sunday in Buffalo. The important part is that the injury isn't expected to linger.

Speaking of Keisel, he had some interesting comments to make about James Farrior, along with the rest of their teammates, in a feature posted here on the message board.

MONDAY, NOV. 15

12:35 a.m.: The Steelers were whipped in every phase of the game last night by the New England Patriots, 39-26, at Heinz Field.

The loss not only dropped the Steelers to 6-3, but it was such a thorough whipping that the direction of the team should come into question. Here are more of my thoughts in stream-of-consciousness fashion.

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 10

9:35 a.m.: Well, a little over an hour after my last post, the Steelers did in fact put LT Max Starks on IR and activated rookie fifth-round pick Chris Scott off the PUP list. Expect veteran Jonathan Scott to replace Starks in the lineup, although that wasn't indicated in the Steelers' announcement.

While the timing is awful for Starks, the Steelers, and Steelers fans, it couldn't have come at a better time for Chris Scott, who was down to his last day before having to be placed on IR himself. Scott started at LT at the University of Tennessee in his last 31 games and has NFL size (6-4.5, 319 at combine) and lower-body strength. His drawback on draft day was mobility (5.54 40), but the Steelers are high on him.

Last week after practice, Scott went into the middle of a small ring of players to go one-on-one with a couple defensive linemen, a la an Oklahoma drill. I asked Scott later if the team was looking to see if he was ready, and he said "No, they were looking to see if the defensive linemen were ready." I asked him how he did. He smiled confidently and said, "I showed them that I was ready, too."

8:15 a.m.: The Post-Gazette is reporting that Max Starks has a serious injury to a disc in the neck area and could miss the rest of the season.

The P-G lists the replacement candidates as Jonathan Scott, Tony Hills, Flozell Adams, Ramon Foster and Kyle Jolly.

Also under consideration should be former left tackle Trai Essex, who's currently the first-team right guard. Rookie Chris Scott, who played LT at the University of Tennessee last year and is due off the PUP list, could figure somewhere into the depth chart.

Since coach Mike Tomlin prefers not to move established starters to fill holes, my guess is that Starks's replacement would be Jonathan Scott, who played both tackle positions for line coach Sean Kugler when the two were in Buffalo last season. Scott, a left tackle at the University of Texas, started for Starks against the Titans and replced him Monday night in Cincinnati.

TUESDAY, NOV. 9

12:25 a.m.: The Steelers came within a broken up fourth-down pass at the 3-yard line of blowing the first 20-point lead in franchise history, but they held on for a 27-21 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that improved their record to 6-2. My running thoughts on the game are here on the message board.

WEDNESDAY, NOV. 3

12:10 p.m.: The Steelers just announced the signing of DE Sunny Harris to their practice squad. Harris, of course, was drafted by the team in 2009, was cut after training camp but returned to the team later in the year after the Carolina Panthers had waived him. Harris was cut after this year's Steelers camp but filled out the practice squad this morning.

5:20 a.m.: Jason Worilds was once Chris Ellis's backup at Virginia Tech. Today, the Steelers have added Ellis to their practice squad, where in effect he's Worilds's backup with the Steelers.

A third-round pick by Buffalo in 2008, Ellis was waived by the Bills on Oct. 11. He was signed to replace Thaddeus Gibson, whom the Steelers had waived before Sunday night's game in New Orleans.

At 6-4.1, 263, Ellis ran a 4.78 40 at the combine after recording 22 sacks during his career at Virginia Tech.

The Steelers have another hole to fill on their practice squad after losing DL Al Woods, who was signed to the active roster of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

MONDAY, NOV. 1

6:20 p.m.: According to Steelers Digest, the San Francisco 49ers have claimed rookie OLB Thaddeus Gibson off the waiver wire. The Steelers cut Gibson, their fourth-round pick, Saturday to make room for NT Steve McLendon.

12:20 a.m.: This one was do-able, but the Steelers couldn't get their offense untracked against a team that had only one healthy cornerback on its roster.

Perhaps their misteps will wake the Steelers up for a more important game next Monday night at Cincinnati.

Here are the rest of my thoughts -- rushed as they are -- on our message board after the Saints' 20-10 win Sunday night.

SATURDAY, OCT. 30

2:30 p.m.: With an overload of rookie linebackers, the Steelers waived one -- fourth-round pick Thaddeus Gibson -- to make room for DL Steve McLendon, who was activated from the practice squad.

McLendon is a nose tackle who will free up Chris Hoke to rotate into the game at defensive end, with the injuries to Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith.

FRIDAY, OCT. 29

2:30 p.m.: Brett Keisel didn't practice today and is listed as doubtful for Sunday night's game in New Orleans because of a hamstring injury. The Steelers are expected to activate NT Steve McLendon from the practice squad to help replace Keisel and Aaron Smith in the rotation. The Steelers would have to release another player.

OLB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring), RT Flozell Adams (ankle) and RG Trai Essex (ankle) practiced Friday and all three are expected to return to their positions in the starting lineup.

THURSDAY, OCT. 28

4:30 p.m.: RT Flozell Adams (ankle) and LOLB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) returned to practice today, but RDE Brett Keisel (hamstring) did not. If Keisel can't play Sunday night in New Orleans, the Steelers will activate NT Steve McLendon off the practice squad and cut another player. Backup NT Chris Hoke would help at defensive end.

Center Maurkice Pouncey missed practice because he was ill, but is expected to play Sunday.

In New Orleans, RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas missed practice. CBs Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter were limited.

1:30 p.m.: A source with the Steelers said that Aaron Smith "got lucky" in that his triceps injury was a combination of partial muscle and partial tendon tear, and that the team expects Smith to return to the field in eight or nine weeks.

That would put Smith's possible return date as the 14th game of the season, against the New York Jets, on Dec. 19, a day short of eight weeks from Smith's surgery. Four days later, the Steelers host the Carolina Panthers in a Thursday night game.

SUNDAY, OCT. 24

8:20 p.m.: The Steelers improved to 5-1 with a big conference win that opened a three-game road swing. My, my, my, things couldn't be better.

Unless you're a crabby sportswriter. If that's the case, you might enjoy these thoughts.

They also explain why it pays to be on the side of law and order.

SUNDAY, OCT. 17

8:20 p.m.: I'll admit the Browns and rookie QB Colt McCoy have alligator blood. They kept hanging around and hanging around until the Steelers finally put them away, 28-10, in Ben Roethlisberger's return to football.

It wasn't pretty, but there was a lot to like about the win. In fact, here are some examples on our message board.

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 6

7:30 a.m.: Mike Tomlin appeared on Sirius Radio yesterday and talked about Ben Roethlisberger's first practice with the Steelers. Here's Tomlin:

"If today was any indication he looked very good today. [He] had great velocity on his ball, accuracy. He spread the ball around. You know, it's kind of like the first day of school for him. He's excited to be back in school and he's utilizing all his eligibles. So it was a good day today. Of course, ultimately he's going to be measured by his ability to perform in stadiums and we're preparing for that. His first opportunity is going to be next Sunday versus Cleveland."

**********

"His conditioning is not a concern at all and if you lay eyes on him you'll understand what I'm talking about. He's in great physical shape. His arm is in great shape. He's ready for work. It's just about being sharp, being football sharp, being able to recognize and identify pressure packages and change protection points and distribute the ball. And that's football. That's why we're working today. But ultimately you've got to be able to do that under duress and sometimes the only duress that is legitimate is inside stadiums so we understand that his progress is going to be measured on how he does in the stadium next Sunday and moving forward, as is ours."

**********

"He's going to get his normal reps in terms of preparing for the game that he's gotten since I've been here in terms of preparing a starter to play. And, of course, he's going to start next Sunday."

TUESDAY, OCT. 5

6:50 a.m.: Maybe someone who doesn't understand team sports would be surprised that the Steelers welcomed back Ben Roethlisberger with open arms Monday. No one else was.

Roethlisberger will practice with the team today, Wednesday and Thursday. Of course, the Steelers have Sunday off this week. Here's the video of Roethlisberger's press conference, courtesy of Steelers.com.

SUNDAY, OCT. 3

8:10 p.m.: The Steelers ended a successful first quarter of the season with a sickening 17-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers were 32 seconds away from putting a spike into the Ravens' hearts with Ben Roethlisberger returning after the bye, but it was not to be.

The 3-1 Steelers will have to do it the hard way after the bye week, but it appears they'll be close to full strength from a health (and suspension) standpoint.

Go to the message board for the rest of my deep thoughts on the game.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 26

7 p.m.: The Steelers didn't suffer a letdown after the grueling win at Tennessee. They may even be a bit rested coming into the Baltimore game after whipping Tampa Bay, 38-13, earlier today.

Coach Mike Tomlin was able to rotate his players at will with the big lead, and it appears that only one player -- NT Chris Hoke -- came out of the game injured. Tomlin said the early prognosis on Hoke is a sprained MCL.

Anyway, here are the rest of my thoughts on today's win.

WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 22

3:45 p.m.:Mike Tomlin confirmed after practice today that Charlie Batch will start at quarterback for the Steelers Sunday at Tampa Bay.

Batch, 35, has 50 career starts, but none since the final game of the 2007 season when he started at Baltimore and completed 16 of 31 passes for 218 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and a passer rating of 69.0 in a 27-21 loss.

In relief of Dennis Dixon last week, Batch completed 5 of 11 for 25 yards and a passer rating of 52.5.

MONDAY, SEPT. 20

9:30 p.m.: The Post-Gazette is reporting that QB Dennis Dixon suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee and will be out 3-5 weeks. It's the same knee Dixon injured during his final season at the University of Oregon.

4:30 p.m.: The Steelers today re-signed QB Byron Leftwich and waived NT Steve McLendon, who will be added to the practice squad should he clear waivers.

Also, Fox Sports is reporting that the Steelers have scheduled a workout this week with former Troy State quarterback Levi Brown, a 7th-round pick last April by the Buffalo Bills.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 19

8:30 p.m.: I could probably write stories from this game to last the rest of the season. I was actually moved by the intensity of effort in the Nashville heat. I now believe the Steelers to be a championship-caliber team after today's game. Call me one of those hype guys, but I'm really not looking for clicks. I'm just that impressed, and a game like this will only bond the group.

So, anyway, let's go to the message board for the rest of my thoughts.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 18

7:15 p.m.: The Steelers today released QB Byron Leftwich and activated NT Steve McLendon from the practice squad. McLendon is needed as a backup in the Nashville heat behind Chris Hoke, the team's only nose tackle after Casey Hampton injured his hamstring last Sunday.

The Steelers expect to re-aquire Leftwich early next week, particularly since his sprained knee is "far from 100 percent," according to the player.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 17

5:15 p.m.: First of all, I'd like to apologize for the error in the previous entry about Chris Hoke's W-L record as a starter. The Steelers are 15-2 in his 17 starts, not 16-1.

Which leads me into the Friday injury update for the Steelers, who indeed will start Hoke at NT because Casey Hampton has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. I don't know when the big man will return, nor will I pester anyone with a pulled hamstring, because it could be a long or little absence.

Also ruled out for the game is LT Max Starks. He'll be replaced by Jonathan Scott, while Scott's former backup at the University of Texas, Tony Hills, will be active for the second time in his two-plus seasons with the team.

While Trai Essex told me last Sunday that he felt Hills was ready to step in and start at LT, Willie Colon cast a vote for Scott later in the week, and Colon did so with enthusiasm.

Doubtful for the game are rookies Emmanuel Sanders (thigh) and Jason Worilds (shoulder). The latter injury raises a flag in my mind since Worilds had some pretty serious shoulder issues in college. I'll ask him about any connection as soon as possible.

Of course, the rooks' injuries make for an easy rotation involving fellow rookies Antonio Brown and Thaddeus Gibson. Both were inactive last week and likely will step in for special-teams work Sunday.

* Hines Ward will be sworn in Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol building as part of a group of new members of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The Commission works to improve the quality of life and opportunities for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders through increased access and participation in federal programs by providing advice to President Obama and the co-chairs of the White House Initiative, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

MONDAY, SEPT. 13

9:30 a.m.: He's 34 years old, but Chris Hoke keeps chugging along as the valuable backup nose tackle for Casey Hampton.

Hoke stepped into the starting lineup in the second quarter Sunday and was a big part of a defense that limited the Atlanta Falcons to 2.3 yards per carry. The Steelers, of course, won the game, as they usually do in the regular season when Hoke plays. In fact, as a starter -- a role Hoke may have to take on Sunday in Tennessee -- the Steelers are 15-0. Counting playoff games, the Steelers are 16-1, with the only loss, in the 2004 playoffs, deserving of the B.C asterisk (Belichick was Cheating).

Of course, Hoke has never started a game at nose tackle while Tony Hills was starting at left tackle. That could be the scenario in Tennessee, although coach Mike Tomlin will certainly clear that up at his noon press conference today. Unsubstantiated reports have Jonathan Scott starting in place of Max Starks this week, but when asked after the Atlanta game, RG Trai Essex said, "It'll be Tony Hills. He's ready."

Hills, who's only been active for one game his first two seasons, should be named the starter, in my opinion. Otherwise, why else would he be on the roster? Hills doesn't play another position and has been kept on the roster these three seasons because he has the feet and natural athleticism to handle the speed rushers on the QB's blind side.

Up until this preseaon, Hills hasn't shown anything more than that natural athleticism, but it's not an easy position to learn, and his teammates believe he's grown into the spot by now. It's a good time to start him, too, since the Titans are a bit lacking in the edge-rusher department.

* I finally got around to re-watching Sunday's game on tape, and just had to write down the pre-snap utterances by the broadcasters late in the game. Here it is for posterity:

Charles Davis: "With a chance to stamp the greatness that people have anointed on him, with this drive here, if it can result in a game-winning field goal or game-winning points, Matty Ice is on his way in 2010."

Dick Stockton: "From the 21, Matty Ice's first pass -- and it's picked off. Troy Polamalu with the interception."

* And finally, to stop the Titans, the Steelers must stop running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for 147 yards Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. It was Johnson's 12th-consecutive 100-yard game, but to break Barry Sanders's record of 14 consecutive 100-yard games, Johnson will have to come up big against a Steelers defense that's allowed only one 100-yard rusher (Ray Rice late last season) in the last 39 games.

During Dick LeBeau's 6-plus seasons as defensive coordinator, the Steelers have allowed only five 100-yard rushers: Rice, Fred Taylor, Thomas Jones, Edgerrin James, and Cedric Benson. The Steelers are 2-3 in those games. Johnson, by the way, rushed for 57 yards on 15 carries in last year's loss to the Steelers.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 11

8 a.m.: In bringing up the Steelers' glorious tradition at the center position, Dermontti Dawson on draft day told Maurkice Pouncey to "make sure you study that."

Pouncey said he did, and that he even watched film of Dawson, whom Pouncey called "a beast."

I also took Dawson up on his suggestion, and through painstaking research have learned that Pouncey on Sunday will become the first rookie center to start for the Steelers in an opener in 54 years.

Not since Jim G. Taylor started the Steelers' 1956 opener at center has a rookie started a season at the position.

A third-round draft pick out of Baylor, Taylor replaced Bill Walsh that year before a knee injury late in the season ended Taylor's stay in Pittsburgh.

Walsh, incidentally, should be considered the great-grandfather of a tradition generally assumed to have begun with Ray Mansfield in 1966 and continued with Mike Webster in 1976, Dawson in 1989, and Jeff Hartings in 2001.

Walsh was a third-round draft pick out of Notre Dame. As a rookie with the Steelers he was named second-team All-League by the New York Daily News, and went on to play in Pro Bowls following the 1950 and 1951 seasons. In 1952 he was named first-team All-NFL by UPI, and in 1954 Walsh was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. He retired in 1955.

*Just to help out researchers 54 years from now, here's Pouncey's timetable:

1. On draft day he was expected to play right guard as a rookie.

2. After spring drills, coach Mike Tomlin said that Pouncey's potential to start at center as a rookie was "not out of the question."

3. On the first day of training camp, Pouncey opened as the second-team right guard and took a few reps with the first team where he made an impression as "a nasty finisher," according to one scout.

4. That afternoon, Pouncey was given a couple reps at center with the second team and fared well against since-cut Scott Paxson.

5. In one-on-one drills that practice, Pouncey split decisions against since-cut Doug Worthington, But after Ziggy Hood whipped Pouncey in a one-on-one rep, Tomlin exclaimed about Hood, "What a difference a year makes!"

6. Pouncey then sat out the next four practices (two days) with a tender hamstring.

7. It wasn't until the third and final week of camp – following his outstanding performance in the preseason opener – did Pouncey begin rotating with former starter Justin Hartwig as first-team center.

8. Pouncey took sole possession of the position the first day of practice (Aug. 24) back in Pittsburgh.

* You had to be there to believe just how stupid a sportswriter can be. And, yes, that stupid sportswriter was me. You could ask Eugene Bright.

Here's the long of it:

In the last five minutes of locker room, the players – many of whom linger in the cafeteria to avoid the media – return to their locker and begin dressing for practice. Along the middle portion of one side, the lineup, in order, is Aaron Smith, Ziggy Hood, LaMarr Woodley, and Bright. I approached Woodley as he was teasing Smith that Smith was a part of the Steel Curtain.

"The original Steel Curtain, with Mean Joe Greene," Woodley said with a laugh.

I interrupted to get Woodley's take on how he'd handicap the team sack race this year. I told him I have James Harrison as the slight favorite over him, with Lawrence Timmons as a dark horse. Smith shouted over, "What about me?" I told him he was fourth on my list and he said, "Dang!"

Then Woodley asked why I had him second to Harrison, and I said because Harrison was the team leader the last two years. Woodley countered that he, in fact, was the team leader last year.

"Are you counting the playoffs?" I asked.

Woodley's smile widened. "We didn't make the playoffs last year."

I slapped my head in amazement over my own stupidity. And that's when Bright jumped in.

"Dude," said the unknown practice-squad tight end, "you got to go do your homework."

Woodley just smiled and told me not to be such a stranger at his locker. It's obvious he's had experience with dumb reporters in the past.

* I'm stunned whenever I read that the decision to start Dennis Dixon over Charlie Batch doesn't matter, that the Steelers will need to win with a running game and defense, and that the quarterback doesn't really matter when it's the third-teamer.

Stunned and appalled.

These are the same people who every year write that the No. 3 QB on a roster doesn't matter because "if you get that far down the depth chart, you're in trouble anyway."

It's truly ignorant reporting. I'd much rather try to get by a single game with Dixon over, say, Brian St. Pierre any and every time out because this game could be viewed as a pretty important result when all is said and done.

* Batch, by the way, won two games as a No. 3 QB in 2005, the year the Steelers needed all of their wins to sneak into the playoffs before winning the Super Bowl.

* The punt gunners Sunday will be Anthony Madison and William Gay. Arnaz Battle will move inside on the coverage team. My source also indicated that Emmanuel Sanders will be part of the coverage unit, so I'll assume that leaves Antonio Brown on the inactive list and that Antwaan Randle El will return punts. But that's just an assumption.

* In the Post-Gazette's question of the day to its Pitt reporter, someone asked why defensive end Greg Romeus had such trouble getting to the Utah quarterback. The reporter gave his explanation, but all I could think of was Chuck Noll's response in the 1980s when asked why he yanked defensive end John Goodman.

"He was being blocked," Noll deadpanned.

And, really, that's how the reporter should've answered the question. Romeus was just blocked.

As a 4-3 end, Romeus wouldn't fit the Steelers' scheme anyway, but the other guy being blocked by Utah, Jabaal Sheard, could prove more effective than Romeus as a pro if he shows he can play outside linebacker in a 3-4. Otherwise, both were disappointing to watch as future prospects last week.

* Not that Jonathan Baldwin was disappointing. No, the future Pitt first-round WR was being covered by an exceptional athlete. Keep an eye on Utah's junior cornerback Brandon Burton.


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