Daily Buzz IV

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

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


11:30 p.m.: The Steelers drafted Miami's terrific inside linebacker Sean Spence in the third round. He's only 5-11.3, 231 pounds but I have no doubt he made every one of the 106 tackles that the University of Miami credited him with last season.

Spence ran a quick 4.66 40 at the combine but benched-pressed 225 pounds only 12 times. He explained that he had a deep shoulder bruise at the combine but wanted to "show scouts I wasn't scared."

Steelers LB coach Keith Butler said he'll put Spence behind Lawrence Timmons at the mack ILB spot, and that Sly Sylvester will learn the complicated buck position behind veteran Larry Foote, who's succeeding captain James Farrior as the defensive playcaller.

Here are the transcripts of every interview at Steelers headquarters yesterday on our message board.

9:30 p.m.: The Steelers drafted OT Mike Adams after an up-and-down draft season for both sides. Here's the basics of what went down:

Adams, who had been suspended for two games as a sophomore for "drug paraphanalia" charges that were later dropped by authorities, tested positive for marijuana at the combine. He lied to the Steelers about it, but when he learned he had been caught, called the Steelers for a meeting.

"We told him he was off our board," said GM Kevin Colbert.

But Adams requested a meeting with Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and Art Rooney II at which the Steelers gave him a list of demands required to get back on their draft board. Adams complied, and, voila, the Steelers have a new 6-7 1/4, 323-pound tackle.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reported that part of Adams's requirements was a bonus deferrment that has yet to be confirmed. Colbert would not divulge the requirements.

Adams comes to the Steelers with "one strike" on his resume, and another failed drug test will mean an automatic four-game suspension. After that, he would be suspended for a year.

Neither Colbert nor OL coach Sean Kugler would say where Adams will begin working for the Steelers. My guess is the Steelers will put him at right tackle behind Willie Colon. Adams would have to work his way into the starting lineup and will at the least provide motivation to the rest of the tackles, just as David DeCastro will provide motivation to the starting guards.

Another guess: The Steelers will cut OT Jonathan Scott and save $2.2 million in cap money -- IF, Adams can stay off the ganja long enough.

11:30 a.m.: Off to a good start but it's time for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to go to work, because it can't be this easy, can it?

Well, if ILB Lavonte David falls to the 56th pick, I'll believe this is indeed a blessed draft weekend. But according to this mock draft, from Pittsburgh draft expert Shane Hallam, the bubble will burst. And soon.

Hallam has David going to the Rams with the seventh pick tonight. He studied the needs so I'll trust him there. He has the Steelers, his Steelers, drafting LB Mychal Kendricks.

It sounds logical, but I view Kendricks as Lawrence Timmons Lite. I believe he'd have to play the mack, and we all know this team is looking for a leader. Maybe it will be Timmons if the team is forced to phase him into the buck ILB spot as this season progresses. I have more confidence in Sly Sylvester learning and succeeding at the mack anyway.

But to get back on track, some other second-round possibilities according to Hallam will be NT Alameda Ta'amu, LB Bobby Wagner, OT Jeff Allen and OT Mitchell Schwartz, among others.

Remember the Timmons draft? Remember when the team needed an OLB but it drafted the ILB first and then the OLB in the second? Remember how well that worked out? Well that's how I want this one to unfold. They've drafted the OG first, and now it's time for the almighty OT position. As opposed to the first round, the value's better in the second.

My guys are Schwartz and Allen. If Schwartz's back checked out medically, the Cal LT is my pick. He replaces Jonathan Scott as the backup RT. The Steelers can sign Max Starks as the backup LT and enjoy their best quartet of tackles in years.

If Schwartz isn't there, or didn't check out medically, Allen would be my choice.

In the third round, Hallam has the Steelers drafting RB Isaiah Pead, a favorite of mine, one pick after RB LaMichael James goes off the board.

Hallam chose Pead with NTs Mike Martin and Josh Chapman and WR Ryan Broyles still available, and boy that's some tempting value, particularly if Chapman's knee checked out. Also worth considering are ILBs James-Michael Johnson and Demario Davis.

Out of all those guys, I'll go with OG Luke Nix. Yeah, just for kicks. I wouldn't mind the Steelers making that kind of a statement today.


12:15 p.m.: Dontari Poe is leading a final group of five college prospects through the halls of the South Side this afternoon. I'll start with Poe and run through the group, as well as the two prospects who visited on Tuesday.

* Poe (6-3.4, 346, 4.91) is the DT from Memphis, and one would assume he could project successfully to NT. He's a workout warrior who loves the weightroom and ran a sub-5.0 40 at the combine, but as a full-time starter the last two seasons Poe made only 74 tackles in 24 starts. He had 14 1/2 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. The lack of production makes him a question mark on draft day and he could slip to the 24th pick.

* TE Adrien Robinson (6-4, 264, pro day 4.54 and 40 vj) is the fourth Cincinnati Bearcat to visit the Steelers. He caught only 12 passes as a senior but judging by his pro day numbers is clearly an interesting athlete.

* OL Kelvin Beachum (6-2.7, 303, 5.42) is yet another vying to become one of the Steelers' four 7th-round draft picks. Beachum didn't miss a start the last four years as SMU's left tackle. He's said to have slow feet, and with only 19 bench reps at the combine probably needs to get stronger to play inside.

* WR Toney Clemons (6-2.1, 210, pro day 4.36 40, 36 vj, 10-8 bj) is like Robinson in that hedidn't receive a combine invite but turned heads with an outstanding pro day. A graduate of nearby Valley High School in New Kensington, Clemons went to Colorado and caught 43 passes each of the last two seasons. He became the Buffs' deep threat last season and averaged 15.8 yards per catch and scored 8 touchdowns. Yet another sleeper in a deep wide receiver pool.

* WR Greg Childs (6-3.1, 219, 4.54) would immediately become the Steelers' biggest wide receiver. He's another late-round darkhorse candidate. He led Arkansas in receiving (48-894-7) as a sophomore, and was on his way to bettering those numbers as a junior when he suffered a patellar tendon injury in his right knee. The injury continued to bother him last season and he fell off pace in the deep Arky WR corps and caught only 21 passes.

* OT Mitchell Schwartz (6-5.3, 318, 5.43) is a four-year starter from Cal who spent significant time at both tackle spots. He's considered a RT prospect, but held his own at LT throughout his career. The brother of Carolina lineman Geoff Schwartz, Mitchell is an ideal second-round prospect for the Steelers; however, he's been troubled by a back problem that finally required surgery in the spring of 2011.

* WR Stephen Hill (6-4, 215, 4.33) might be the greatest athlete you've never heard of, and you've never heard of him because he dropped as many clutch passes at Georgia Tech last season as Limas Sweed dropped with the Steelers. Will be too far overdrafted to worry about here.


1:30 p.m.: The Steelers are hosting four college prospects today:

* DE/OLB Andre Branch, Clemson (6-4.2, 259, 4.7), yet another pass-rusher, albeit not good enough for 24 and won't last until 56.

* TE Ladarius Green, Louisiana-Lafayette (6-5.5, 238, 4.53), nice offensive threat, but no more than any other bulked up wide receiver. Green doesn't block much and should be gone by the Steelers' pick in the fourth round.

* Keshawn Martin, Michigan State(5-11.4, 188, 4.45, 39 1/2 vj), was the lesser publicized Sparty wide receiver but was quicker and more explosive than B.J. Cunningham; quality return man who should go in the third round.

* John Hughes, Cincinnati (6-2.4, 309, 28 reps), was a two-year starter at nose tackle; in the Chris Hoke mould athletically and likely a seventh-round target for the practice squad.

12:30 p.m.: The Steelers have re-signed veteran quarterback Charlie Batch to a one-year contract, the team announced today. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Batch, who'll turn 38 in December, is now in his 15th NFL season and 11th season as a Steeler. He finished the 2011 season 15-of-24 for 208 yards and guided the Steelers to a 27-0 shutout over the St. Louis Rams in Week 16. With the win, Batch improved to 5-2 career as the Steelers starting quarterback.


12:30 p.m.: Hebron "Loni" Fangupo (Loan-ie Fan-GOO-po) from BYU and Jeremy "J.J." Jones from Wayne State are visiting the South Side this afternoon.

Figuring out what to call these guys won't be nearly as difficult as figuring out where to play them.

Let's take the easier player first. Jones played strong safety for two years at Division II Wayne State (near Detroit) and moved to free safety last season when he intercepted 9 passes and had 6 1/2 sacks. In his career, Jones intercepted 17 passes.

But, because he's only 5-9 1/2, 194, Jones worked out at cornerback at the combine and put up a decent time of 4.56. He also pushed up a safety-like 20 bench reps. It's likely the Steelers are looking at this player as a nickel defender, whether he's labeled as a safety or a cornerback.

Jones is reportedly solid in both man and zone coverage and is a physical tackler, and would be another prospect the Steelers are considering for their practice squad with one of their four 7th-round picks.

Fangupo is 6-4 3/4, 323 pounds and played defensive end last season in BYU's 3-4 alignment. That would make him strictly a run-down defender, whether the Steelers use him at nose tackle or end, where they prefer linemen with his length.

Fangupo is strong (36 reps) and explosive for a big man (31 1/2 vertical, 8-3 broad jump) and put up a decent 40 time of 5.18 at the combine. On the downside, this transfer from USC will turn 27 in July, which should keep him out of the top three rounds.


12:30 p.m.: Trai Essex tweeted today that he re-signed with the Steelers, and I'm sure no one needs a link for proof. Without any backup behind Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky, signing Essex was a no-brainer, particularly since he showed he could also play a fifth OL position last season -- center.

One mistake on my previous post about visitors: Courtney Upshaw is not among the quartet at the South Side this afternooon. His teammate, Dont'a Hightower is, and so is my latest favorite at pick 24, OG Amini Silatolu. I wrote about both players late last week.

From preferred first-rounders to a preferred seventh-rounder, the Steelers also brought in Oregon move tight end David Paulson, about whom I wrote today.

I spoke to Paulson at the combine and he said he had heard absolutely zero from the Steelers. That echoed the response of my other favorite "move" tight end/fullback Rhett Ellison of USC. So perhaps the Steelers are making up for lost ground in an attempt to upgrade over David Johnson.

Paulson caught 55 passes and scored 10 touchdowns his last two seasons at Oregon. When I told him he reminded me of Houston Texans TE Owen Daniels, Paulson said that former teammate Jeff Maehl had told him the same thing while playing with Daniels as a rookie in Houston.

The fourth visitor is yet another speed back, and LaMichael James needs no introduction. The heart and soul of Oregon's last two seasons, James measured 5-8, 194 at the combine and ran a 4.45 40. He's small but lightning-quicker and plays faster than his timed speed. The Steelers would be lucky to have a chance to draft James in the third round.

8:30 a.m.: Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are in town today for pre-draft visits with the Steelers.

Hightower, of course, is the 6-2 1/4, 265-pound inside backer who also played defensive end on passing downs effectively for Alabama. He has power and straightahead speed but questionable agility.

Upshaw was the MVP of the national title game as an outside linebacker in the LaMarr Woodley mould. The 6-1 5/8, 272-pounder ran a 4.79 40 at the combine and has recorded 15 1/2 sacks in the last two seasons.

* In wide receiver news, ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported that Mike Wallace will not sign his RFA tender for $2.7 million and will skip voluntary workouts in order to kickstart negotiations on a long-term contract.

Of course, Wallace will have no option but to sit out the season if he doesn't sign his tender. Also, the Steelers do not need "kickstarted" into doing something they already want to do, which is pay Wallace more money for a long-term deal and tear up the tender.

Both sides want the same thing; only obstinance on either side would get in the way, so this is not a good sign from Wallace.

Also, Ed Bouchette reportedly tweeted last night that Jerricho Cotchery's two-year deal is worth $3 million.

Cotchery's salaries over the two years would combine for a minimum of $1.75 million, so a signing bonus of $1.25 million would mean Cotchery's cap charge this year will be an estimated $1.45 million.


2:50 p.m.: The New York Daily News is reporting that WR Jerricho Cotchery has signed a two-year contract with the Steelers.

Cotchery was the Steelers' top priority in free agency after he caught 16 passes for 237 yards and 2 touchdowns last season as the part-time No. 4 receiver. He developed a good relationship with QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers wanted to use Cotchery in place of Hines Ward this season. Cotchery also provides insurance for oft-injured Emmanuel Sanders behind starters Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

Wallace won't officially be back with the team until the end of restricted free agency on April 20.

2:15 p.m.: Mycal Kendricks and Cam Johnson made their expected visits today. A third linebacker prospect visited as well: Miami's Olivier Vernon, a 6-4, 265-pound college defensive end who came out early after recording only 1 1/2 sacks last season. The previous year, as a true sophomore, Vernon had six sacks.

Vernon started only three games last season and played in only six after serving a 6-game suspension for accepting impermissible benefits from former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro.

Potentially a third or fourth-round pick, Vernon will turn 22 in October.

Information on Kendricks, a potential second-round inside backer, can be found in Monday's blog entry.

Johnson (6-3 1/2, 268, 4.78) played defensive end his last two seasons at Virginia after playing outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme as a sophomore. Johnson has 12 1/2 sacks in three seasons and figures to be drafted in the third round.


4:15 p.m.: So much for the drafting of TE Coby Fleener with pick no. 24. The Steelers today solved their TE dilemma with a player new offensive coordinator Todd Haley has coached at his last two stops.

The Steelers signed the 6-foot-8 Leonard Pope to a one-year contract.

Pope was originally drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round (72nd overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft out of the University of Georgia. After spending his first three seasons in Arizona (2006-08), Pope played for the Kansas City Chiefs the past three years (2008-11). Pope has started 49-of-87 career games played, including 10 of 16 in 2011. Pope set career highs in receptions (24) and receiving yards (247) last season.

For his career, Pope has 102 receptions for 973 yards and nine touchdowns. He started all four postseason games in which he has played, including Super Bowl XLIII.

12:45 p.m.: Just got word that free-agent tight end Leonard Pope is visiting the Steelers. Read about the 28-year-old, 6-foot-8 tight end here in Dale Lolley's story about the best available bargains in free agency.

12:15 p.m.: Visiting the South Side today are a long-bodied 3-4 defensive end, a forgotten tight end, and perhaps the most athletic defensive end/outside linebacker of them all. Here's the breakdown:

* Akiem Hicks is a 6-4.5, 318-pound 3-4 defensive end prospect with 35 and 1/8-inch arms out of the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Hicks ended up there because of recruiting transgressions while signing with LSU out of junior college.

In two seasons at Regina, Hicks had 8 sacks and last season led the team with 35.5 tackles. He was the school's fourth participant in the East-West Shrine Game, but after drawing accolades throughout the practice week Hicks was disappointing in the game. He was easily knocked off the ball, but perhaps is only in need of good coaching to live up to his potential. Hicks would be an interesting choice by the Steelers in the fifth round.

* Michael Egnew (6-5.1, 252, 4.62) was a highly regarded prospect heading into the 2011 season, but after catching 90 passes as a junior he caught only 50 as a senior.

Statistics were only part of the reason he fell out of favor with scouts, who point to the fact Missouri rarely uses its tight ends to block in-line and beccause Missouri tight ends have underachieved in the NFL in recent years.

Egnew, though, has good hands, good size, and can run and jump. He had a 36-inch vertical at the combine and a 10-11 broad jump, which was the third best overall among the combine's offensive players.

Egnew, according to my notes, was rarely used in-line but did blow Quinton Coples off the line on a key third-and-1 play in a 2011 bowl game. Perhaps Egnew has fallen so far under the radar that he's become a solid darkhorse candidate in the fourth round for a team that needs another tight end.

* Nick Perry (6-2 3/4, 271, 4.64) played defensive end at USC but is likely being viewed as a Lamarr Woodley-type outside linebacker by the Steelers. Perry recorded 21.5 sacks in three seasons at USC and came out after his junior season. He'll turn 22 on Thursday.

While Perry didn't show much ability in coverage last season (and ran a slow 4.66 20-yard shuttle), he was one of the most explosive big men at the combine. No one his weight or heavier came close to his 38.5 vertical or 10-4 broad jumps. And only one athlete at the combine his weight or lighter had more reps than his 35 (251-pound Ronnell Lewis had 36).

The Steelers most likely are taking a closer look at Perry's agility in coverage in the hope they can steal a monster at pick 24.


1 p.m.: Cal's Mychal Kendricks will visit the Steelers this week,according to a report from Scout.com's Aaron Wilson.

Kendricks was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 as Cal's middle linebacker. Kendricks was an outside linebacker as a junior, when he had a career-high 8.5 sacks (3 last year).

One of the top performers at the 2011 combine, Kendricks led all defensive players with a vertical jump of 39.5 inches. Kendricks was topped in the 40 (4.47) by only 6 cornerbacks and in the broad jump (10-7) by only 2 cornerbacks and 2 safeties. Still, Kendricks is considered a second-round prospect because of his sub 6-foot frame (5-11.1, 239).


4 p.m.: The Steelers announced their preseason schedule with times and dates to be determined:

1. at Philadelphia

2. Indianapolis, Sunday, Aug. 19, 8 p.m.

3. at Buffalo

4. Carolina

12:40 p.m.: Bobby Massie, a 6-6, 316-pound offensive tackle from Ole Miss, is visiting the South Side today.

Massie has 35-inch arms and played mainly right tackle at Ole Miss, so he has a reputation for a strong anchor, but that didn't appear to be the case here against Alabama.

To me, he looks better suited to left tackle, and perhaps that's what the Steelers will be thinking in the second round.

* On another note, or notes, here are some of my thoughts as we move to within three weeks of the draft.


2 p.m.: Anyone who's followed my reporting since the combine knew this visit was inevitable, and the appearance of Isaiah Pead was confirmed on the South Side today by our Mike Prisuta.

Pead, a running back from the University of Cincinnati, has good quickness, great hands and can double as a return specialist, and we all know the Steelers have been scouring this good earth for a return specialist this offseason.

As for Pead's combine comments about interest from the Steelers, I'll save those and more for my end-of-week story on the running back class and this third-round prospect.

6:45 a.m.: OK, today I'm going to quote Todd McShay and you are going to listen ... dammit.

Yes, I had to come out strong because I am quoting the McShay-meister. I understand he's just another ESPN conehead but I'm going to quote him because he said something the other day that fits my feelings about Dont'a Hightowher, about why the Steelers should draft him with the 24th pick, and more importantly why he won't be there, why he'll be drafted earlier.

Here's what McShay, the draft analyst the Internet loves to hate, said about Hightower, the Alabama inside linebacker, in a conference call with media:

"To be honest, the guy I'm most surprised with finally finishing up tape study in the past weeks is Dont'a Hightower. I think he's a top 20 player in this draft. I know he had the knee injury, and he doesn't have elite speed, but he's 265 pounds, somewhere in that range, great versus the inside run. Pass rusher that can get off the edge, which was an addition to his game this past year. It's not just something that he did that was cute to help out for Alabama this year. He's got great hands, quick, can swim, can get off the line."

So why again are we caring about what McShay has to say? Well, because I'm lazy and it's easier to copy and paste an opinion that's the same as mine.

And, two, this stuff isn't rocket science. Three-fourths of scouting is simply isolating on the guy, which most of these so-called experts don't do during the season. They watch the ball too much. But it's obvious that McShay finally got around to isolating on Hightower and saw the same pass-rush skills in the national title game that I did.

We know he's big and can run. His 4.68 combine 40 at 265 pounds compares favorably to Lawrence Timmons' 4.66 at 234 pounds.

Hightower can stuff the run and rush the passer, so he can eventually stay on the field all three downs even if he's not going to cover Ray Rice or anyone of that ilk one-on-one down the field. Hey, that's why they have Timmons anyway.

(P.S. As for the last fourth of scouting, 10-15 percent of that is overanalysis anyway.)

OK, back to Alabama. The Steelers hosted one of their outside linebackers yesterday, and I have to admit that even though I probably watched 7 Alabama games last season I do not remember outside linebacker Jerrell Harris. I'm just going to call him a post-draft prospect because I assume the Steelers are looking for a 3-4 OLB to develop on their practice squad.

I do know and respect their other visitor yesterday: CB Keith Tandy out of West Virginia.

My notes from the season are quite simple on Tandy: tough, physical, smart. I also appreciated the fact he was a gunner on WVU's punt team. He was a team captain and threw for 90 touchdowns and over 8,600 yards as a high school quarterback. The 5-10, 202-pounder has 10 interceptions the last two seasons and figures to be one of those mid-round corners that make up what Kevin Colbert called a deep crop of cornerbacks this draft season.

What I've learned about draft visitors over the years is this: Don't study the player so much as the position and what range he's expected to be drafted. That tells you more about the team's plans than anything.


7:40 a.m.: Kevin Colbert attended the Alabama pro day on Thursday. Dont'a Hightower didn't work out (he did earlier in the month) but the rest of the gang did -- except of course injured NT Josh Chapman.

Gathering updated info on Chapman may in fact have been Colbert's mission statement yesterday. The guy I've compared to Joel Steed played the second half of the season with a torn ACL and underwent surgery following the national title game.

At the combine Chapman said he was ready to start jogging, and said he felt he was ahead of his recovery schedule, and said he felt he would be ready for training camp. Of course, that's what they all say. Colbert probably got the real inside on a guy who could last until the bottom of the third round.

In the above report from The Birgmingham News, outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw talked about how his goal was to lose 7 pounds from his 272 but that he instead gained 7 pounds.

"Honestly, I feel 250," he said, and the 279-pounder ran in the 4.73-4.76 range according to NFL Network. It's doubtful, however, that the Steelers will draft another LaMarr Woodley in the first round, although I would be quite pleased if they did.

* I've asked for about five autographs in my life. One was a concert shirt that Derek Trucks signed. He and his wife are coming to town Friday, June 1 and I just wanted to give music lovers a heads up. Tickets for The Tedeschi Trucks Band go on sale Saturday morning. Take a listen.


7:30 a.m.: The NFL owners yesterday voted to make all turnovers reviewable without challaenge this coming season, with the Steelers the only team to vote against the proposal.

"That's why we have coaches' challenges," Art Rooney II told the Tribune-Review.

My sentiments exactly. A lifelong opponent of instant replay, I've accepted its existence only because of its limited use. But last year all touchdowns were reviewed and now all turnovers will stall the flow of the game. Soon it will be as commonly used as in the college game.

Also passed yesterday was the Steelers' proposal that the same rules used in playoff overtime games be used in regular-season overtime games. Only a touchdown on the first possession can end any overtime game now.

* The Post-Gazette has a sad story about the difficulties inherent with hiring a new offensive coordinator.

"At age 30, [Ben] Roethlisberger must learn a completely new system for the first time in his nine-year career. How he takes to that task could signal the success or failure of Todd Haley in Pittsburgh."

And we're certain the P-G -- likely still angry over the firing of Bruce Arians -- will follow Roethlisberger's travails with extreme prejudice.

* GM Kevin Colbert attended the South Carolina pro day yesterday to take a look at potential first-round prospects Melvin Ingram (OLB), CB Stephon Gilmore, and WR Alshon Jeffery.

Once considered a top-10 prospect, Jeffery dropped his weight to 213 (from a rumored in-season weight of 233) and ran in "the high 4.4s to mid 4.5s," according to The Daily Gamecock.

The 6-2.7 Jeffery is a big-bodied receiver who scored 23 touchdowns at USC and could be considered a darkhorse candidate for the Steelers at pick no. 24.


6:30 p.m.: I'm actually surprised someone asked Mike Tomlin about the Pittsburgh media's runaway perception that Art Rooney II had fired Bruce Arians, hired Todd Haley, and was in general reducing Tomlin to the role of village idiot this offseason.

I mean, the majority of the media held that perception and the rest seemed to be buying it. Why chance a different answer by asking Tomlin about it?

Well, today Tomlin gave them that different answer in a long interview at the NFL Owners Meeting.

Here's what Tomlin said when asked if Rooney II had told Tomlin to fire Arians:

"He didn't. I don't know where some of these perceptions come from. I don't break my neck and try to combat them in any way. I don't know where they come from, I don't. And I hired Todd Haley as well. Was that your next question? That's another funny one to me. Don't get me wrong, Art Rooney II owns the football team. He can do what he wants to do, but those directions did not happen."

Tomlin should've dumped another beer on the guy who tried to put words into his mouth in the later question about the ridiculous notion that Ziggy Hood and not Steve McLendon would play nose tackle with Casey Hampton. Tomlin answered with respect to Hood, but I have to wonder what Steve McLendon did, or didn't do, last season to earn so little respect from some reporters?

Anyway, read the transcript at Steelers.com and enjoy.

* Also today, the Denver Post is reporting "there is a strong chance" the Steelers will open the 2012 season in Denver on Sunday night. Ryan Clark has already tweeted that he guesses he'll have to open the season the following week.

11:45 a.m.: Four days after Jerricho Cotchery left Kansas City without a deal, and two days after the admittedly interested Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said "Jerricho has a strong interest in staying," there is still no deal.

It prompted these logical questions from one Steelers fan today on our message board:

"Seriously, what's the hold up on re-signing this guy? Why can't we get a deal done?"

Good questions for a team that has some $6 million in salary-cap space and a player who shouldn't take much more than $1.5 million of that amount.

But to answer simply: It's Mike Wallace. The Steelers have repeatedly stated they'll do everything possible to keep Wallace, and since he's a restricted free agent that means they'll have to keep enough money to match any kind of reasonable offer.

Restricted free agency ends on April 20, so the Steelers have probably told Cotchery to wait until then. Meanwhile, Cotchery is smart enough to continue to look around and see which way the wind's blowing.

* There are a couple of interesting small-school prospects hosting pro days today.

At Coastal Carolina, 6-0.2, 197-pound cornerback Josh Norman will workout. He's a physical corner who intercepted 13 career passes, but after impressing scouts during Shrine Week he ran a 4.66 40 at the combine and the buzz has cooled on him.

Colbert has commented positively on the depth of the cornerback position in this draft, and no doubt had Norman in mind when he said that.

At Arkansas State, inside linebacker Demario Davis will host scouts. Davis played well at the Senior Bowl and measured 6-2, 235 at the combine. He ran a 4.61 40 with 32 reps and jumps of 38 1/2 (vertical) and 10-4 (broad) that were both second among all linebackers behind Mycal Kendricks.

Both Norman and Davis figure to be picked in rounds three and/or four.


3 p.m.: The NFL awarded three 7th-round picks to the Steelers for their losses last season of free agents Matt Spaeth, Keyaron Fox and Nick Eason.

The picks, of course, will be taken at the end of the seventh round, so they're little more than glorified free agents, but it's still a surprising allotment, considering the Steelers expected only one seventh-round pick today.

The exact picks are nos. 240, 246 and 248. Since the draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1994, the Steelers have drafted three starters in that range: David Johnson (241), Brett Keisel (242) and Carlos Emmons (242).

6:30 a.m.: As expected, starting left cornerback William Gay left the Steelers over the weekend when he signed a two-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Gay becomes the second free agent (behind Jamon Meredith) to leave the team this fiscal season, but was the first starter.

Gay, who started 14 games in 2009 and then lost his job in 2010, only to regain it last season, was being pushed by Keenan Lewis and 2010 draft picks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. So he signed with "Pittsburgh West," so dubbed because of its numerous acquisitions of former Steelers since hiring Ken Whisenhunt as coach in 2007.

Gay will likely be replaced by last year's No. 3 cornerback Keenan Lewis, who enters his fourth season with the team after being drafted in the third round in 2009. When Lewis entered the field, he played outside and Gay moved inside. Lewis was 14th on the defense in snaps per game at 23.8.

However, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is also high on Allen, last year's fourth-round pick. At one point last season Tomlin said privately that Allen could start at left cornerback in 2012.

According to general manager Kevin Colbert, who spoke to reporters attending this week's owners' meeting in Phoenix, the Steelers are interested in re-signing the other starting free agent, injured left tackle Max Starks, and would also like to bring back running back Mewelde Moore, wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, and quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch.

The Steelers are also arranging a prospect visit from mid-round defensive tackle Akiem Hicks of the University of Regina in Canada. Hicks (6-5, 318) transferred from LSU to UR because of recruiting violations while coming out of junior college.

* In the top links of the morning, 93.7 The Fan radio talked to TCU inside linebacker prospect Tank Carder about his interest in playing for the Steelers, Broncotalk.net reports on a visit to Denver planned by QB Dennis Dixon, and the Post-Gazette quotes Colbert on the possibility of re-signing Cotchery: "Jerricho has a strong interest in staying."


7:45 a.m.: Dontari Poe may be the darling of the Pittsburgh media, but when Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin decided to divide and conquer on the last strong schedule of pro days this draft season, neither of them went to Memphis.

Instead, Tomlin went to LSU and Colbert traveled to Stanford.

At Baton Rouge, Tomlin got a close look at defensive tackle Michael Brockers and wide receiver Rueben Randle.

Brockers, who won't turn 22 until Dec. 21, left school after an outstanding redshirt sophomore season but tested poorly at the combine. At 6-5, 322, he ran a 5.36 40 and pushed up the bar 19 times.

Yesterday, Brockers showed up at 316 and dropped his time to 5.18 and improved his bench to 21. Those numbers remain uninspiring, but numbers rarely matter to the Steelers, who had to appreciate his film (not to mention his age). Brockers could be a surprise first-round pick for them.

Randle, on the other hand, could not show much on tape last season with his miserable quarterback situation at LSU, but yesterday he ran his 40s in 4.43 and 4.45 at 6-3.1, 212. He's now being talked about as a late first-rounder.

At Stanford, Colbert and O-line coach Sean Kugler were joined by 150 credentialed media, a live broadcast crew, a wall of personnel men, and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, according to the Associated Press.

QB Andrew Luck was the star attraction, while OG David DeCastro cemented a spot well ahead of pick 24 and Coby Fleener positioned himself as the top tight end by running a 4.51 40, according to Mike Mayock.

But the Steelers were there to watch OT Jonathan Martin, and, according to Rob Rang, Martin "disappointed" with times of 5.33 (with the wind) and 5.43 (against the wind), and did only 20 bench reps. This is another player who could force a decision by the Steelers at pick 24, so it was probably a wise move by Colbert to head west and see Martin for himself.

Speaking of decisions about heading west, the Idaho Statesman is reporting that the Steelers had no one at the Boise State pro day. Of course, Boise State is loaded, and Drew Brees-like QB Kellen Moore, according to the paper, had an outstanding workout. One unnamed scout said this:

"A couple scouts there who are very much anti-Kellen Moore guys, who don't see any way his body type can last in the NFL, even those guys said, 'Wow, that was a good workout.'"

As for the aforementioned workout of Poe, the 4-3 DT who's being fancied by the Post-Gazette (and in turn robotically followed by the rest of the Pittsburgh media), the Commercial Appeal reported that Poe did no running or lifting, "only portions of the drill work."

So it was another good call by the Steelers' braintrust, and a good way to wrap up the meaty portion of the pro day segment of draft season.


12:30 p.m.: Mike Wallace is already responding to the outcry about the report out of Sacramento that he wants Larry Fitzgerald type money. And his responses seemingly contradict each other.

First, Wallace responded on Twitter by virtually sticking out his tongue: "I love when Haters hate!!" An hour later, Wallace typed the opposite: "Dn't believe everything u hear!"

So perhaps he's come to his senses and will seek a more appropriate contract such as the 5-year, $51 million contract signed recently by DeSean Jackson.

* Let's take a spin around yesterday's pro days:

At Boston College, The Boston Globe reports on an "impressive" workout by MLB Luke Kuechly. The LB coach for the Philadelphia Eagles worked him out, but of course the Eagles could be out of the running after trading for Demeco Ryans this week, so Kuechly could possibly slip to pick 24.

Would the Steelers pass? Some think so, and they cite the myth that Mike Tomlin had overruled the entire organization two years ago by drafting Jason Worilds over Sean Lee.

And that myth promoted another myth, that Tomlin is prejudiced against white players.

Neither myth is true. I checked this out a while ago and the Steelers had Worilds ranked 16th on their board and Lee was 27th.

At Nevada, Rob Rang reports on an underrated group of players, but the guy in whom I'm interested, ILB James Michael Johnson, apparently did not workout.

At North Carolina State, I found two reports from Scout.com's Pack Pride on two of my personal favorites, LB Audie Cole and TE George Bryan, and there's a general story from the Raleigh News-Observer on WR T.J. Graham.

Now, the oddity is that I like Cole and Bryan but they're slow, and I don't really like Graham, but he's fast.

Bryan might be my favorite from NCState, but Scout reports he ran a 5.2 at the Shrine Game before shedding 20 pounds and running a 4.8+ yesterday. At 5.2, it's little wonder Bryan wasn't invited to the combine. Cole, a 6-foot-4 linebacker, ran a 4.81 yesterday.

One of my favorite receivers, Mohamed Sanu, ran under 4.5 at Rutgers' pro day, while an interesting linebacker, Mike Burris, ran a pair of 4.6s with a fantastic 6.68 3-cone drill at San Diego State's pro day.

Read about Sanu and Burris in Tony Pauline's report here at the Sports Illustrated site.

* The top pro days today are at Boise State, Memphis and Stanford. Look for the Steelers to have someone at each.


Noon: The Steelers formally announced what we had from West Virginia Illustrated in yesterday's blog entry, that they have signed WR Wes Lyons and H-back Will Johnson.

Johnson was dubbed a fullback in the Steelers' release. The 6-2, 238-pounder went undrafted in 2011 and did not sign with an NFL team. He played tight end and wide receiver for the Mountaineers from 2007-2010.

This is the second consecutive offseason that Lyons (6-8, 233) spent with the Steelers. He spent last offseason with Steelers but was released after training camp. He is a native of North Braddock, Pa., and attended Woodland Hills High School.

Lyons and Johnson were teammates at West Virginia from 2007-2009.

7:50 a.m.: Steelers GM Kevin Colbert attended the Iowa pro day in Iowa City on Monday, but was nowhere to be seen at the Iowa State campus in Ames, only 130 miles away, on Tuesday.

Didn't Colbert want to see offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele while he was in the neighborhood?

Probably. After all, Osemele is a prospect the pundits believe will be drafted in the late first to mid second-round range, and Colbert is an evaluator who never learns enough about a prospect.

While the Steelers most likely had a scout on the scene, it wasn't Colbert, who was back in Pittsburgh to attend Hines Ward's retirement announcement at the Steelers' South Side facility.

Colbert of course is the kind of scout who loves the road, loves the feel of a stopwatch in his hand, and is a natural-born personnel man. But his appearance at a pro day anywhere would've been a morsel of news and the Steelers don't care to cause even the smallest distraction on a day when one of their own is being celebrated.

Anthony Hill? Not on this day. The blocking tight end will have to wait another day to meet with the Steelers as a visiting free agent, for this day belonged to Ward. Instead of Anthony Hill, it was Jerome Bettis. And Brett Keisel. And Aaron Smith. And James Harrison who all showed up at the South Side for Ward.

It said a lot about what those great Steelers think of Ward, and it also said a lot about what Ward and those players think of the organization as both parties put everything aside for something that really won't benefit their future.

Or will it?

Class is as class does, and the class acts we don't even know about are out there somewhere observing this mutual attraction. Perhaps one era is ending; but it's likely another is just beginning to come together.

* As for the other pro days yesterday, Joe Greene was in Texas working out DT Kheeston Randall, a 6-4, 293-pound mid-rounder. It should also be noted that LB Keenan Robinson could only bring his 4.79 combine 40 time down to 4.7 on Texas's fast track.

I still like Robinson in what now could be the fourth round. Randall didn't show me much all season, but then again I never seem to see what the Steelers see in defensive linemen.

I'm not sure if anyone went to the North Carolina pro day to watch the Tar Heels' mess.

There, WR Dwight Jones sat out for reasons that should take a borderline talent off the Steelers' board, while 2011's greatest underachiever, Quinton Coples, did a few drills and watched CB-playing-LB Zach Brown run a sub-4.5 40. Yawn.

Today's schedule is more interesting with Boston College, Nevada, and North Carolina State showing off some decent linebackers, while Baylor will certainly take center stage on TV with Robert Griffin serving up the sound bites.


10 a.m.: The Steelers have announced a noon press conference for Hines Ward. I presume he's going to announce his retirement. If you haven't read my "retirement" column on Hines from March 1, here it is.

8:30 a.m.: The first free-agent visit of the offseason will occur today when Anthony Hill, a 6-6, 278-pound blocking tight end, visits the South Side, according to Scout.com's Aaron Wilson.

The 27-year-old Hill caught 2 passes for 10 yards last season and likely would cost the team little more than minimum wage.

8:20 a.m.: Kevin Colbert showed up at the Iowa pro day yesterday to get a look at offensive linemen, a wide receiver and a potential inside linebacker.

Today, my guess is Colbert will show up at Iowa State to look at Kelechi Osemele, a 6-5 1/2, 333-pound guard-tackle with long 35 7/8 arms. Osemele wouldn't be my choice in the first round after an inconsistent and sometimes sloppy 2011 season, but he shouldn't be ruled out for the Steelers either. At the least, Osemele is a possible target in any trade-down scenario.

At Iowa, Colbert did his due diligence on first-round offensive tackle Riley Reiff (6-5.6, 313).

Reiff has been considered a top-10 pick, but not by me. In spite of his size and nifty feet, I worry about his narrow base and lack of anchor strength. To that end, Reiff did only 23 bench reps at the combine but improved that to 26 Monday at his pro day. He's a player who could surprise the experts and fall to pick 24, so Colbert would be ready with an opinion at that point.

Other interesting Iowa prospects include OG Adam Gettis (6-2.3, 293, 5.0), RT Marcus Zusevics (6-5, 303), WR Marvin McNutt (6-2.4, 216, 4.54, 37 vj) and LB Tyler Nielsen (6-3, 237, 4.74).

First of all, the numbers in parenthesis are always combine numbers, and the decimal point after height represents eighths of an inch.

As for Gettis, he's a light but mobile guard who also worked out Monday at center. He's a mid to late-round prospect because of strength issues. He did only 20 reps on Monday.

Zusevics is a fine late-round sleeper prospect as a right tackle. He tore a pectoral muscle while benching at the combine and didn't workout Monday.

McNutt last season caught 82 passes for a school-record 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. He caught 170 passes in his career at Iowa with an average of 17.0 per catch and a school-record 28 touchdown catches. Some knock his stiffness, but no one knocks his hands and ability in the red zone, which could appeal to the Steelers in the fourth or fifth round.

Nielsen is a potential ILB prospect. He played strong-side OLB at Iowa but dealt with injuries the last two seasons (neck, hand, ankle) that will knock him into the late rounds. Monday he ran a 4.64 and had a vertical jump of 37 inches.

6:30 a.m.: Mike Tomlin attended the West Virginia University pro day last Friday and on Monday the Steelers signed former WVU TE/WR Will Johnson.

The Steelers might also have re-signed 6-foot-8 WR Wes Lyons, if we are to read the small print in the West Virginia Illustrated story about Johnson, who pushed 225 pounds up 30 times and ran an unofficial time of 4.49 at the pro day.

Johnson is a 6-2, 242-pound H-back who hasn't played since 2010, when he caught 9 passes for 107 yards and 2 touchdowns. In his career at WVU Johnson caught 25 passes for 255 yards and 4 touchdowns and said he got lost in the lockout last spring before taking on three part-time jobs. He started conditioning seriously last December and with all of that strength and speed could be a new player and man today.


9:45 p.m.: Here we go again. The Post-Gazette gets a thought and Pro Football Talk runs with it. Just remember that Kevin Colbert went into the Rashard Mendenhall injury topic at the combine, and if he didn't think Mendenhall would play this season he'd cut him and save $2.35 million.

I'm sure Colbert has a pretty good understanding about Mendenhall's potential availability with all of that money involved.

Anyway, here's my exchange with Colbert at the combine:

Q: Would Mendenhall's salary and bonuses all count against the cap if you put him on PUP and then he finished on IR?

KC: "Yes. If there are performance bonuses and the guy doesn't get to perform, it could affect him. Anything that's concrete is concrete. They make the same money on PUP that they do on the active roster. You're actually an active player until you go on reserve, and even on reserve you still get compensated fully."

Q: Would he be in danger of being cut to save cap money if you think he'll spend the year on IR?

KC: "We're not expecting him to be on IR for the year. What I had said a few weeks back was an ACL could take a year. I don't think they're 100 percent. That doesn't mean you can't play. A lot of guys play at 70, 80 percent. So after six weeks he gets three weeks to practice. After those three weeks you have to make a decision as to whether you activate him or put him on reserve for the season. We anticipate he will be active at some point."

2 p.m.: So ends the confusing tale of running back Mike Tolbert.

Last Wednesday someone directed me to this story that told of Tolbert's enthusiasm to play with the Steelers. Two days later, a San Diego Chargers beat writer tweeted that the Steelers and Carolina Panthers were finalists for Tolbert's services, as noted below.

Also noted below was my puzzled reaction as to why the Steelers would blow money they had just found to secure their interest in Mike Wallace.

Well, today Tolbert signed with the Panthers and his agent said he left "$1 million on the table" in San Diego because his client wanted to play for Ron Rivera and with Cam Newton.

Was the media manipulated into helping Tolbert sign with the Panthers? Don't know, don't care. It didn't make sense to me from the start, and now we can get back to the business of pro days and college prospects.

This week will be the last big week for such pro days. Today is an important day for second through fourth-round wide receivers: Brian Quick at Appalachian State, Juron Criner at Arizona, Marvin McNutt at Iowa, and Rueben Randle at LSU.

Tomorrow I'll get into the prospects at North Carolina, Texas, Iowa State, Fresno State and Louisiana-Lafayette.


10:45 p.m.: Perhaps the Steelers will be spending part of their newfound cap money on a running back and not a wide receiver.

San Diego Union-Tribune sportswriter Kevin Acee tweeted tonight that the Steelers and Carolina Panthers are the finalists for the services of running back Mike Tolbert.

A 5-9, 243-pounder out of Coastal Carolina, Tolbert scored 10 touchdowns, rushed for 490 yards (4.0 avg.), and caught 54 passes for 433 yards last season, his fourth in the league since signing with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2008.

Tolbert has rushed for 1,410 yards (4.1 avg.) in his four NFL seasons and caught 109 passes for 1,012 yards. He's a hard-running, enthusiastic player who can catch and block, and he won't turn 27 until the day after Thanksgiving.

Tolbert is everything the Steelers look for in a player, both on and off the field. However, he had better come cheaply since the Steelers have more holes on their depth chart at wide receiver.


7:45 a.m.: It was an easy guess yesterday that the Steelers would send their main men to Ann Arbor for the Michigan pro day, and sure enough Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and defensive line coach John Mitchell showed up to watch Mike Martin, the 6-1+ nose tackle.

For details, see Gil Brandt's blog. You can also read more about Martin in my blog entry from yesterday.

There's also a pretty good rundown of Virginia Tech's pro day from The Virginian Pilot.

* A wise man would probably tab today's Prospect of the Day as 3-4 OLB Bruce Irvin at the West Virginia pro day. And the Cleveland Browns would probably make a case for MLB Vontaze Burfict at Arizona State's pro day. But I'm going to send my best scout to Temple to watch RB Bernard Pierce.

Last season, the three-year starter rushed for 1,481 yards (5.4 avg.) and scored 27 touchdowns. But he caught only 3 passes. Was it bad hands? Or was it the offensive scheme?

At the combine, Pierce measured 5-11.6, 218, ran the 40 in 4.49, did 17 reps, and had a vertical jump of 36 1/2.

While in Philly, the Steelers can also take a long look at 3-4 OLB hopeful Adrian Robinson, who was snubbed by the combine after a solid career at Temple as a defensive end. He looks like another Chris Carter to me and would be a solid 7th-round pick or free agent.

The Steelers could also look at one of my favorite TE/FB prospects, Evan Rodriguez. However, Rodriguez won't find a way onto the Steelers' draft board, considering his character concerns that include charges for alleged assault on a female RA and later for alleged disorderly conduct.


1:30 p.m.: Well, I can't make contact with any of "my boys" down at HQ, and I just realized it's opening day of the NCAA Tournament, so I'm just going to go ahead and link you to Mac's Football Blog, where "Mac" reports that Casey Hampton took a pay cut of just over $2 million and his workout bonus of $1 million has been waived to add to the Steelers' play money this offseason.

With the savings of $3.09 million, the Steelers are at least $5 million, and probably more, under the cap, according to SCI capologist Ian Whetstone, who is trying to nail down some additional details.

This will help insure the Steelers against an RFA raid on Mike Wallace, and/or help them re-sign WR Jerricho Cotchery.

7 a.m.: Just yesterday I wrote that Mike Tomlin's way too busy to waste time with "smoke" at Michigan State's pro day.

And then reports surfaced of his dinner with QB Kirk Cousins.

Not that I have any particular problem with Cousins, other than he's way too highly regarded by other NFL teams. I see no chance at all of the Steelers spending a third-round -- even a fourth-round -- pick on this future backup.

So on second thought, perhaps Tomlin does have time to waste on blowing smoke to the media, and perhaps that was his attempt to juke reporters and get a free and unfettered close-up look at Michigan State FS Trenton Robinson on Wednesday.

Of course, Tomlin's cover was blown (read below for Robinson details).

* Today's pro day schedule includes Michigan, Oregon, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Since speedy RBs LaMichael James of Oregon and David Wilson of Virginia Tech will be drafted too high to interest the Steelers, and since the Tomlin-Kevin Colbert duo are already in East Lansing, I'm going to choose Michigan NT Mike Martin as my Prospect of the Day.

Martin has already been on the radio in the Detroit area saying that his combine interview with Tomlin was his most memorable one.

No, he's not a perfect fit for Tomlin's 3-4 defense, but Martin is a very interesting NT candidate nonetheless because of his motor, his ability, his enthusiasm for the game, and his personality.

At the combine, the two-time Michigan state heavyweight wrestling champ measured in at 6-1.3 and 306, ran the 40 in 4.88, and pushed up the bar 36 times. I got a chance to interrupt a gang of reporters surrounding him in the media room and he answered a series of my questions (although I don't think he heard my first question correctly):

What can you tell me about the de-evolution of the once-proud Michigan defense before it started to return to form late last season?

"The mentality that coach Madison brought. He coached defense at Michigan and he knows what it takes to win. When he came in he set the bar at a whole nother level. We thought we were doing the things we needed to do to get better. But watching film, being more technically sound, all the details, are what coach Madison really harped on, and that made us better as a team and as a defense."

Did Rich Rodriguez just forget about defense when he got there?

"It wasn't very emphasized. He didn't really spend too much time on the defense. We were kind of a supplement, just kind of there trying to help out the offense."

Are teams seeing you as a nose in certain schemes?

"I did a lot of switching. I played the zero in a 3-4 and I played a 1-tech and a 3-tech in a 4-3. I played with both hands down. It just helps me and I have all of that on film."


"No, I really don't have a preference. I have more snaps playing a 1-shade so naturally I'm just more comfortable there, but really I'm comfortable at both positions."

You don't have the size to play zero-tech, but could you do it full-time?

"Oh, yeah. Yeah, I could do that. Definitely."


"Just because of my leverage, and I love being called small, you know? I love it. I have a chip on my shoulder and I've been called undersized my whole life, really, when it comes to playing the position. My leverage and everything that goes into playing nose I'm just really good at."

* At Virginia Tech, I'll be interested to learn whether the Steelers show interest in one of the wide receivers. Jarrett Boykin received most of the attention last season, but I met Tech's other receiver, Danny Coale, at Sharon Ilkin's funeral.

I know, it sounds awful, but Tunch directed me over to him. Danny is Tunch's daughter Natale's fiance.

Tunch told me he had heard that Danny is a potential third-rounder, but I didn't know of Coale and had my doubts. Since then, I've talked to a scout who backed Tunch up and heard Mike Mayock rave about Coale's ability in the slot and on returns.

At the combine, Coale measured 5-11.7, 201, ran a 4.5 40 and had a 35-inch vertical jump. Good, solid numbers, but the one that stood out was the 6.69 3-cone time. This mark of agility was the second best among all receivers at the combine. Since the Steelers have been stockpiling return men this offseason, I wonder if I'll be talking to Mr. Coale again sometime soon.

* While I'm on Virginia Tech, I have to state the obvious, that I'm a fan of CB Jayron Hosley (5-10, 178, 4.47), but under the radar is Tech's three-year starting RG Jaymes Brooks. He wasn't invited to the combine, but Brooks impressed me throughout the season as a fine sleeper prospect. Today is a chance for us to find out more about him.

* Of course, the free-agent scene is playing out just as expected. There's nothing going on with the Steelers. All we need to know is that Tomlin is having dinner with college quarterbacks he has no intention of drafting, and not guys like Kellen Davis, who by the way re-signed with the Bears yesterday.


5:45 p.m.: The last time Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin ventured into the state of Michigan in March, they drafted LaMarr Woodley in the second round of the 2007 draft.

Well, the Steelers' braintrust showed up in East Lansing today to scout the Michigan State pro day, and they apparantly weren't there for DT Jerel Worthy, WR/RS Keshawn Martin or TE Brian Linthicum. According to a tweet from draft pundit Tony Paulice, Colbert and Tomlin were "all over safety Trent Robinson."

Trenton Robinson is an athletic, quick three-year starter at free safety for Michigan State who intercepted seven passes the last two seasons. He's a 5-9 3/4, 195-pounder who just turned 22 last month.

At the combine, Robinson ran a 4.52 40 with 15 bench reps and a 35-inch vertical jump. Catch him on a replay of the Big 10 championship game when he made 12 tackles against Wisconsin. I believe he's a third or fourth-round prospect.

Was it smoke for the aforementioned three players? Doubtful, since Tomlin and Colbert are not the types to waste time, but Worthy (6-2.3, 308, 5.08) and Martin (5-11.4, 188, 4.45, 39.5 vj, 6.85 3-cone) are certainly interesting prospects.

I also like Linthicum as a late-round, two-way tight end. He was stun-gunned during a bar fight in Colorado a year ago, but came back to make 31 catches for 364 yards last season while serving as a dutiful in-line blocker.

* Correction: Offers can now be made in restricted free agency. I erroneously wrote earlier today that the period doesn't begin until Saturday. My apologies.

5:45 a.m.: Aw, you know nothing's going to come of it, but when Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review reported that the Steelers intend to meet with tight end Kellen Davis, formerly of the Chicago Bears, it was at least fun to look him up.

Steelers fans of course remember Davis, the 6-6 1/2, 267-pounder. He's been in the league four years and has only caught 28 passes for 300 yards and 9 touchdowns, but he had his career day in the Bears' 17-14 win over the Steelers early in the 2009 season.

Davis caught a career-high 5 passes that day and one was a 6-yard touchdown reception on a third-and-6 play with 19 seconds left in the first half. It tied the score and sent the Bears into their locker room with momentum that carried over at Soldier Field.

Davis was regarded as an underachiever at Michigan State, which is why at his size and with a 4.63 combine 40 time he was only drafted in the fifth round. But he became the Bears' No. 1 TE last season ahead of Matt Spaeth and caught 18 passes for 206 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Again, it's unlikely the Steelers will be able to afford a 26-year-old with Davis's size and speed and upside, but it's nice to see they're interested -- and at the right position, considering the thin TE crop in this year's draft.

* WRs Pierre Garcon and Vincent Jackson switched teams on the first day of free agency and Mike Wallace did not. But don't get too excited. Offers to restricted free agents can't be extended until Saturday.

Not that I expect Wallace to be offered much, if anything. I expect that when the RFA period expires on April 21 he'll be under contract for some $2.7 million with the Steelers, who will then work to sign him to a multi-year deal before opening day.

The question is: What will he cost the Steelers?

Well, according to their pay scale, Wallace would probably fit perfectly between LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu in the $9-10 million per year range. Considering that Marcus Colston just re-signed with the Saints for $8 million per year, that may be a little high for Wallace. Or at least that will be the Steelers' argument.

* It's worth noting that Steelers left cornerback William Gay, an unrestricted free agent, told TribLive Radio yesterday that the Steelers "expressed interest that they wanted me back, which is good because I want to stay."

* Today's pro days include Cal, Florida State, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Penn State.

Good thing the Steelers have two linebackers coaches. They can send Jerry Olsavsky to Cal to look at Mychal Kendricks and Keith Butler to Florida State to scout Nigel Bradham. Coordinator Dick LeBeau can attend Oklahoma for Ronnell Lewis and Travis Lewis (not related).

No. Check that. Send one of the special teams coaches to Oklahoma because Ronnell Lewis is the most violent teams performer I've seen in years, but he hasn't shown much as a linebacker (or backup 5-tech, as Oklahoma used him). Send LeBeau to Michigan State to gauge DT Jerel Worthy and send line coach John Mitchell to Penn State to look at Devon Still. Work Mean Joe in there somehow, too.


7:35 a.m.: As expected, the Steelers tendered the lowest possible offers to restricted free agents Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy, David Johnson, Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky.

Those players will bring -- in return for the team not matching any potential signing -- a draft pick in the round in which those players were drafted.

Lewis (3rd), Mundy (6th) and Johnson (7th) were the players among those five who were drafted, so there was repeated concern from the Post-Gazette that the Steelers would put the mid-tender on Foster and Legursky.

However, the Steelers opted to save $667,000 apiece by tendering the low offer of $1.26 million to all five players. They can match whatever offers are made to the two starting guards before the restricted free agency period ends on April 21, and will most likely appreciate another team writing up the contract.


5:10 p.m.: The Steelers have tendered offers to six players, including wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Ryan Mundy, tight end David Johnson, offensive guard Doug Legursky and offensive guard Ramon Foster, the team announced today.

By tendering the offers, Steelers reserve the right to retain the players by matching any offer sheets they would sign with another team for the RFA period that ends April 21. Wallace would bring a first-round pick in return, but the team did not announce the level of offer to the other five players.

One restricted free agent, guard-tackle Jamon Meredith, was not tendered an offer and can be re-signed for the minimum wage of $700,000, more than P0,000 lower than the low RFA tender of $1.26 million.

Also today, coach Mike Tomlin said that running backs coach Kirby Wilson is due to return to duties at some point this season.

"He has surprised the doctors with the rate of recovery," Tomlin said. "Obviously, we still have a long way to go, but it has been just awesome to watch him go through this process and see the improvement in him."

9:45 a.m.: As they say on ESPN at about 5:30 every night, Pardon The Interruption.

As I explained on the message board last Thursday morning, I shut down the computer and headed to New York City to visit my brother and his family and to watch the Allman Brothers open their 10-day stand at the Beacon Theater. Happy to report there is much greatness on both fronts, but it's a back-to-work Monday and that's important in this corner because the news should be coming fast and furious as the new fiscal year starts tomorrow.

To review the late-developing stories last week, the Steelers' braintrust showed up at both the Ohio State and Miami pro days.

At Ohio State, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert wanted to take yet another look at 6-7, 323-pound offensive tackle Michael Adams.

Adams was suspended for half of his senior season (for nothing that should hurt his draft stock) but was unimpressive upon his return to the field (and that should hurt his draft stock). But he played well at the Senior Bowl and the Steelers need to perform their due dilligence with a big tackle who will likely fall to the 24th pick, or even lower if they're interested in trading down.

Yes, Adams has a laid-back demeanor, but some tackles are just that way. It hasn't hurt Max Starks on the field. The bigger problem is Adams's 21 bench reps, and the question the Steelers need answered is whether Adams cares enough to get in the gym or is just a victim of the long-arm syndrome on the bench.

In my mind, the more interesting player for the Steelers in Columbus was wide receiver DeVier Posey. The 6-1.5 wideout could go anywhere from the second to fourth rounds. He runs excellent routes and has great hands and could be a big help in the red zone for the Steelers.

Running back Dan Herron ran a 4.55 and is the type of all-around back that always interests the Steelers in the middle rounds.

Tomlin and Colbert also attended the Miami pro day, but it's doubtful they were scouting the Hurricanes' potential first-rounder, RB Lamar Miller. More than likely they were looking at second-rounders Brandon Washington and Sean Spence.

Washington didn't impress me much at left tackle this season, but he is an underclassmen whom experts claim played much better the previous season as a guard.

As for Spence, he put up only 12 reps on the bench at the combine, but don't let that cloud your judgment of an exceptional inside linebacker, and one who would fit nicely as James Farrior's eventual replacement. Spence also claimed at his pro day that he normally puts up 225 pounds 19 times and that he was hindered by a shoulder injury at the combine.

In today's news, I'm looking for the RFA tenders. The Steelers don't normally announce the specific tender for each RFA but the league office has been leaking this type of news to its own site and a few of its favorites in the media.

The only real point of interest concerning the Steelers is whether they offer their starting guards the low or mid tenders. I would be stunned if the Steelers place the mid tender on Ramon Foster and/or Doug Legursky at higher cost of $667,000 per player.


12:30 p.m.: As I quoted from Machiavelli below, "Commit all your atrocities at once."

And so it is this morning with the additional release of defensive captain James Farrior.

The Steelers will pare $2.83 million from their salary cap, and true leadership from the locker room, with today's release.

While Aaron Smith was gone from the locker room most of last season, and Hines Ward was banished to an embarrassing role and had already passed the offensive leadership torch to Ben Roethlisberger, Farrior was still there every day and was in the defensive huddle making the calls and keeping his mates on an even keel. That's what the man they call Potsie did best, and it is what the Steelers will miss most next season.

For further reading on Farrior, here's the link to a feature I did on him for Steelers Digest in 2010.

8 a.m.: Yesterday was certainly a solemn day of reflection for those of us who care about great football and greater character.

Hines Ward and Aaron Smith will no longer entertain us on the field, nor will they help me with my work in the locker room.

Hey, sometimes this stuff gets personal.

But those great Steelers will soon be released, as will reserve guard Chris Kemoeatu. Their departures put the Steelers an estimated $10-11 million under the salary cap, according to our expert Ian Whetstone, and will provide the team with enough ammunition to sign their draft picks and restricted free agents and have enough left over to insure against a quick-strike attack on Mike Wallace. The Steelers have even begun talking to free-agent-to-be wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.

About these mundane facts there was much written yesterday by the writers who seem to care more about their Twitter followers than football. And I don't want to leave out those talk-show hosts who were intent on ripping the ghost of Ward just to stir up life on the phone lines where their normally wouldn't be any.

Yes, it was that kind of repulsive, repugnant day in Pittsburgh.

But I found redemption here on a message board that's seemingly populated by out-of-town fans. One quoted Machiavelli:

"Commit all your atrocities at once." The fan explained that "If you are going to cut these vets anyway, purge and heal is best. Don't drag it out."

Exactly. But it's not like anyone is surprised. These cuts have been looming all along. One more possible cut remains, because one of the buck inside linebackers, James Farrior or Larry Foote, would seem to be expendable.

I'm not going into the monetary details or the age and decline in productivity or any of that stuff about Potsy and Foote, because it's already been written and debated about for the last two months here at SCI.

None of this should come as a surprise to anyone, nor should it be celebrated. Instead, I'm going to continue with some of the fan comments.

"I wore all black to work today. Somebody asked me if I was in mourning. I suppose I kind of am."

So am I, and I'm not near the fan most think I am. I'm more of a fan of the guy who helps me get my work done, and if their winning makes my job easier, I'm all for it.

I'm hoping you buy that, but I'm also a fan of great character, as has been stated previously.

"Growing up in the 70s, we had to go through this quite a bit ... Now we're going through the cycle again."

Indeed. Many wrote to me yesterday in appreciation of my column on Ward. But I must confess that before I wrote that column I re-read an old column by my old boss at the Standard Observer, Vic Ketchman, on the day Jack Lambert retired.

I'll post it here on the message board. I always appreciated Vic's emotional takes while his competitors in his field hacked about at the mishmash remaining on the team and how the David Littles of the world were going to form the nucleus of the next dynasty. Vic always made the great ones seem even greater. I'm hoping I learned a little from him.

"That catch in Denver, when he tipped the ball away from Bailey and held on despite Lynch delivering a headshot that would get James Harrison thrown in prison, was truly something special."

My shortcoming in the Ward column was its lack of actual football plays. So thank you for reminding me of this, and thank you for another dig at the ever-growing sickness that's invading the NFL.

You know – and here comes an aside that you can skip and not miss at all – I can barely stomach watching the NFL Combine, or any NFL shows, because of the perversion TV and all the popularity has done to over-regulate the game, and with it the people who think they're bigger than the game itself. Rich Eisen makes me puke. Mike Mayock, with his aversion to Twitter and Tebow and crappy music and trying to equate football with cool living, is all that keeps me from blowing up my TV.

Sorry about that.

Back to one more exceptional reminisce about Ward from one of the SCI posters:

"My favorite Hines moment was when he scored a touchdown right in front of the Dawg Pound. He proceeded to turn his back and kick up dirt like a dog covering his crap. Just thinking about it now makes me laugh."

It makes me laugh, too. Thanks for another great memory, Hines. And with that I'll close this segment with this:

"Thanks for reminding me why I feel so blue today."

You're welcome.

* And then there's Aaron Smith. He's a rare player that I'll boldly call a friend, and I do insist that it's bold.

How can a reporter possibly consider himself a friend and peer of someone 15 years younger and $15 million richer? A reporter is only someone who should consider himself lucky to spend his days watching and writing football and talking to the greatest athletes in the world so that he can get his job done. Please, do not tell me you are their friend because you're overestimating your importance in the world.

But Aaron always made me feel like a friend. Just like Chris Hoke did. Just like Brett Keisel and Heath Miller still do. At least I have half of a foundation left in that locker room.

Don't get me wrong, most of the others are great, like Hines. But no one else – eh, with the exception of Troy Polamalu – asks about my family or my car or my house or my troubles like the aforementioned group. Aaron always asked about my kids because ours are similar ages. So we had that in common, and to Aaron family is just about everything.

We've been preparing for Aaron's retirement, really, since the beginning of last season. And if you haven't read this interview from training camp last August, you probably should. Also, read his chapter in my book "Steeler Nation." I was able to talk to two of his brothers at their home in Colorado Springs, and they gave me a great appreciation for the man Aaron has become.

I can't bear to go through an entire synopsis on Aaron the way I did on Ward, but I will share a few of my favorite No. 91 moments:

-- Him running out of the tunnel in 2008 before the Giants game after he had learned earlier in the week that his young son had developed leukemia. I tear up thinking about the way Aaron surprised his teammates by showing up in the locker room that day, and then the way he ran out of the tunnel to a standing ovation with his arms wind-milling like a madman. He told me later in the week that it was all a blur, that he really didn't remember much of it. The Steelers lost that day but his son has recovered. Last I heard he is completely out of the woods.

-- Him running down Shaun Alexander from behind on the opposite sideline in Super Bowl XL. I remember this only because it was an example of Smith's heart on the field.

-- Him sitting by himself quietly in the locker room as a rookie, ever alert to what was going on around him but never saying much to anyone. I took an immediate liking to a fourth-round pick who had the audacity to hold out. But as Aaron told me this past season, he was scared to death while holding out, and when Bill Cowher cut Jamain Stephens on the first day of camp after an horrific performance in the run test, Aaron said he called his agent and demanded that the holdout end.

-- I'm embarrassed that I can't remember any more of his plays without looking through old clips, so I'm not going to try. I will forever remember the way he used his long arms to control blockers so the linebackers could make easy plays on his side. He was the greatest 3-4 end in team history, and that about says it all.

-- Off the field, I'll never forget driving home from Super Bowl XL in Detroit and stopping at a turnpike rest area for a sandwich. The place was crawling with happy Steelers fans. It was packed. I turned the corner and there was Aaron and his wife leaning against a small bar while finishing off their lunch as their kids scrambled about. No one was bothering Aaron, which he appreciated. But I kind of didn't. He said it didn't bother him that he wasn't recognized. But it kind of bothered me. He laughed at my agitation, so as I left I tapped another customer, a 40-something male, on the shoulder and said, "Hey, you know that's Aaron Smith over there." The guy shook his head in the negative and furrowed his brow at me as if I were trying to set him up for a prank. Aaron, watching this, just chuckled like the cool, big daddy that he is.

* And that is why I am still blue on Day Two of the great purge.


6 p.m.: The Steelers have told Hines Ward they plan to release him before the 2012 season, according to the team's website.

Steelers.com announced the news with the following comment from owner Art Rooney II:

"Hines has been an integral part of our success since we drafted him in 1998 and we will forever be grateful for what he has helped us achieve. He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and we appreciate his efforts over the past 14 years. Hines' accomplishments are numerous, and he will always be thought of as one of the all-time great Steelers. We wish him nothing but the best."

Ward will finish his Steelers career with exactly 1,000 catches to lead the franchise. He also leads the Steelers in all-time receiving yards (12,083), receiving touchdowns (85) and 100-yard receiving games (29). The MVP of Super Bowl XL is a four-time Pro Bowler.

Ward has two years remaining on his contract. When he's officially released, the Steelers will pare $3.39 million from their salary cap.

Ward hopes to continue playing elsewhere and issued the following statement:

"This is not how I wanted this chapter of my career to end. I did everything in my power to remain a Steeler and finish what I started here 14 years ago.

"I want to thank the organization, my teammates and coaches and everyone who made my run as a Steeler the best years of my life."


3 p.m.: Lance Zierlein isn't just an outstanding draft pundit out of the Houston media, he's the son of former Steelers OL coach Larry Zierlein and is a natural expert for not only this year's Steelers draft, but for the position at which the Steelers need the most help.

Lance is in Indianapolis doing radio work and blogging for the Houston Chronicle and he had time for a lengthy interview. Here's the full transcript on our message board. The condensed version in story form will be along a little later.

7 a.m.: Normally at this time I'd be posting my thoughts from the first day of the combine, but I have to pay my way to the full library of transcripts here by typing one up myself. I chose Lucas Nix, the Pitt guard who interviewed Wednesday night with the Steelers and said "I'm pretty pumped about it."

Both Steelers and Pitt fans should be entertained by Mr. Nix. There were only a couple of reporters at his table Thursday, so I was able to ask most of the questions. Here's the transcript.


4:06 p.m.: OK, it's been a long time coming but here are the Kevin Colbert transcripts on our message board.

Please note that the link takes you to the second and third sessions Colbert did after he stepped down from the podium. The podium session is also tacked onto our message board, but is a difficult read due to the width of the transcription.

1:30 p.m.: Let me start by saying I have 30 minutes of tape with Kevin Colbert to get through, and that's AFTER he spoke for 13 minutes at the podium for national reporters. I will have all of the Colbert transcripts for you on our site later (with the O-linemen coming through), but first let me paraphrase the highlights:

Colbert believes Rashard Mendenhall and Casey Hampton will both play for the Steelers this season. Mendenhall will play after a stint on the PUP list and Colbert said there's no chance he will be a cap casualty. Colbert also believes the third ACL rehab for Hampton is a positive in that Hampton understands the rehab process and what is required to get back in playing shape. Colbert's not worried about a loss of speed, of course, at that position.

As for Hines Ward, Colbert said his hands are tied until the league lets teams know the cap number and the franchise and RFA numbers. Colbert also said the Steelers will do everything possible to keep Mike Wallace, and that Wallace wants to stay in Pittsburgh. Colbert couldn't provide specifics because of his lack of knowledge about the entire cap situation with the league.

Some minor points: The first-round RFA compensation is the team's original pick, not its higher pick; punter Jeremy Kapinos is an exclusive rights free agent and has already been tendered, along with Steve McLendon and Isaac Redman, as a mere formality.

Again, full transcripts to come.

10 a.m.: OK, I'm situated here in Indianapolis at the combine. The only change is the $10 daily parking fee, up from $0 in previous years, so us independents are taking a bath. Ah, heck, who needs lunch anyway?

Today we'll be interviewing the offensive linemen and tight ends throughout the afternoon, after Kevin Colbert at noon.

The only nugget I have early is that Geoff Hobson, who now writes for the Bengals' team site, tells me he doubts the Bengals will make a play for Mike Wallace because "it's not their style" and because "they have 20 free agents they have to sign" with all of their excess cap money.

The Bengals, who pick 21st, were one of the teams the Steelers probably wouldn't have minded taking a first-round pick from at that point in the draft. As I reported so long ago, the teams to watch are the 49ers (30th) or the Patriots (31st).


8 a.m.: After a scintillating weekend of sixth-grade girls sports (won soccer AND basketball championships), I needed a break. So after providing the twitter-verse a round of fresh and smart-aleck remarks about the news of the Steelers' world -- you know, the kind of stuff you get here all season -- I opted to enjoy Mondays as I normally would after a weekend of thrills and spills: I shut it down.

So when I awoke this morning I expected to have missed some things, but I opened my laptop to the same ol' same ol': "Rooney II's medddling with Tomlin's staff very un-Steelers-like" by Mike Freeman, a national writer who's been with some of the top newspapers in the country.

His secret sources agree -- surprise! -- with the local secret sources that A.) Mike Tomlin told Bruce Arians that he was returning, and B.) no one on the Steelers has denied any of the angry bias we saw in the Pittsburgh papers the day after their favorite news source was fired.


Can anyone find one source who will give a name? Even one of these assistant coaches?

It all rings of garbage to me, and no one is mentioning that Rooney wanted to fire Arians two years ago, or that Arians' offense pretty much ... well, it sucked. Freeman even pointed at the defense, as all of these guys do. But he pointed at Troy Polamalu for blowing the Denver game. Yeah, nice job there, Mike. Way to watch the game.

Anyway, I figured I'd look away, and on my twitter feed came salvation in the form of Lance Zierlein.

You may remember him as the son of former line coach Larry Zierlein. Lance is a radio man in Houston and a blogger for the Houston Chronicle. He actually wrote about football, Steelers football, in the following tweets:

1. Ben Roethlisberger can run any offense that Haley brings his way. Biggest concern for Steelers isn't Roethlisberger, it's LT and RG.

The top half speaks for itself. In a time when most are debating whether Roethlisberger will pout his way through the Todd Haley tenure (and if he's pouting it means he's not smart enough to change offenses at 30 years old), someone has something positive to say. And it's actually news because Zierlein knows more than most about what Roethlisberger's capable of mentally. His dad certainly discussed it after spending three seasons up close and personal with Ben's brain. So there's that.

As for the second half of the tweet, it may tell us more about Ramon Foster than it does Marcus Gilbert, the guy who's moving from RT to LT. I do know the Zierleins think highly of LG Doug Legursky, but I thought Foster was becoming entrenched at RG. I do know Ben has a high regard for Foster. Now this has me thinking back to the beginning of last season when Foster had lost his starting job before a couple of guards failed and Foster got the job back. Maybe the Steelers do need a RG before a LG. Ah, well. It's confusing, but at least it's football.

2. If I'm the Steelers and I know that Mendenhall might not be able to go in 2012, I approach this offseason like RB is a top priority.

This stems from GM Kevin Colbert's interviews yesterday in which he said that RB Rashard Mendenhall, with his ACL injury from the regular-season finale, may have to open training camp and possibly the season on the PUP list.

OK, no one's surprised by that, but to look for a RB as a top priority? I'm not going that far. This is Mendenhall's final contract season, and one can assume he will be replaced a year later. They already have Isaac Redman and three interesting young backs in Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay and Barron Batch, so I had assumed that RB wouldn't be a necessity. I still don't, but if the Steelers feel that way we'll understand the basis.

3. While there are physical traits I like about Mendenhall, his vision is very, very average and he can be replaced by a player commanding less.

This is spot on, but would probably be a newsflash to the local media. (Sorry, can't help it.) He's also spot on about the need to find someone cheaper. According to Ian Wheststone's updated numbers, cutting Mendenhall would save the Steelers $2.35 million. I guess that is enough to throw RB into the list of top priorities, but my gut tells me that with Redman that priority shouldn't be higher than a second rounder.

* Speaking of Colbert's interviews, most of the information was fairly rudimentary. Colbert is as worried as I am about losing Mike Wallace in RFA and would consider using the franchise tag instead of the top RFA tender, which will be a difference of close to $4.5 million. That's a lot for a team battling for "cap zero" at this time of the year.

Colbert also said he doesn't expect his own free agents to sign back with the team before March 13, and that a decision on Hines Ward has not been made.

Colbert also reiterated that the team still has work to do to get to "cap zero." Whetstone estimates that $17 million still needs to be cleared to account for everything, including draft picks, roster nos. 52 and 53, practice squad, and in-season replacements. Of course, there's time for much of that.

* On the other "big news in February front," there's the Ward saga. I see three stages that need to occur before anyone can say for certain that he'll be back.

First, he has to agree to a pay cut -- probably about half of the $4 million due salary -- to get him past the start of the fiscal new year on March 13.

Second, the Steelers will pass through the talent acquisition stage. He's fourth on the team right now, but would fall to fifth if the Steelers re-sign Jerricho Cotchery. They would also like to add a legitimate return man as Antonio Brown steps into the full-time starting lineup.

Speaking of Cotchery, he had an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger in which he said staying in Pittsburgh is "an ideal situation." That's what I expected after talking to him during the season and in talking with Roethlisberger about Cotchery. It's a situation consisting of mutual respect, so this interview is good news for football fans, and even those who like talking about real football instead of imaginary power struggles.

And, third for Ward, he'll have to make the team in training camp. So there's a long way to go -- for all of us.


8:20 a.m.: Ike Taylor's reconstruction brings the Steelers' cap "overage" to $6.46 million and that's without having cut anyone other than Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle, two obvious moves.

So it's turning out that there's a lot of wiggle room for the Steelers, so much so that it isn't really necessary to cut Hines Ward and/or Casey Hampton.

But this report from Jason LaCanfora says Ward will be gone anyway.

I would give the odds of that information coming true at about 67 percent.

On one hand, it could merely be a case of negotiating through the media because Ward has been haggling with the Steelers about a salary reduction. He wants to play, and on March 13 -- unless Jerricho Cotchery foolishly gives up his chance to test an entire market and sign an extension before then -- Ward will be the team's No. 4 wide receiver. Therein rests the reasons why I give the report a 33 percent chance of not coming true.

Why I think it will come to pass? Well, for reasons I can't go into right now I believe it's an honest leak from the Steelers. I think right now that it's an accurate report, which of course is subject to change with four weeks remaining in the fiscal year.

Another reason: The Steelers could be willing to give Ben Roethlisberger the consolation prize of cutting his rival for offensive leadership.

Yes, Roethlisberger and Ward get along, but only as much as they have to for the sake of the team because they're both intelligent and they're both winners. But if Todd Haley were to call Roethlisberger into his office and say, "Hey, Ben, I've got some good news and some bad news. The bad news is that I'm here and your Uncle Bruce is not and I'm going to challenge and push you to become the Hall of Fame quarterback your destiny says you will be.

"The good news is that we've cut Hines and are signing Cotchery to a four-year deal. How's that suit you?"

"Suits me fine, coach. When do we start?"

"At minicamp. And, oh, Ben, I also want you to meet our only free agent signing. His name means little, but his position is what we in the world of physical football call a fullback. I think you'll get to like him. See you at minicamp."

OK, now, just to re-iterate: This is not a breaking news story, nor have I received any tidbit of information on any of the above from anyone associated with the team. It's just a HYPOTHETICAL situation. So thank you for listening.

* Speaking of listening, my cellphone blew up yesterday after my appearance on The Fan with Joe Starkey and Co. It's the only sports talk show to which I listen, but only if there's bad music being played on 91.3 or 103.1. I'll admit, when I'm in the rare mood to get a headache, I listen to their night guy, but I NEVER listen to Ron Cook, and the mornings are all about music and "Morning Joe" for me.

But anyway, on the Starkey show I merely went through my reads and my checkdowns, and my family and friends seemed to love it. So I'll capsulize here. It went something like this:

"Why is this town so shocked about the firing of Bruce Arians? This is a guy Art Rooney wanted to fire two years ago before Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger came to his rescue, this time after the offense regressed again and could muster only 4 more points all season than the Tarvaris Jackson Seahawks. But this time Tomlin did not come to Arians's rescue and the very first report of the firing was filled with shock, anger, bias, a finger-pointing harangue about the defensive coaches, and a conclusion that Art Rooney II was being influenced by Arians's detractors, i.e.: He's a stupid yinzer like the rest of those who can't see the real genius behind Arians as we in the media can.

"This initical report, Joe, was followed by a wave of reports condemning Rooney as some sort of yuppie, new-wave meddlesome owner, and WHAT ABOUT BEN'S FEELINGS?

"Left unsaid, of course, is that most of the anger over the firing was for selfish reasons: Reporters lost their best source of inside information -- and please don't think this wasn't apparent to Rooney.

"Joe, I remember a story from someone in the front office who was listening to a reporter doing a radio spot. This reporter normally has no clue about the draft, but today, a week before the draft, he knew all of the Steelers' targets. After hearing this, the guy got up from his desk, walked down to Kevin Colbert's office, and said, 'Did you know (so and so) just read your draft board on the radio?' Colbert nodded his head glumly. They all knew where it came from, probably just as they all knew the origination of the reports about how the Steelers would use the injured Roethlisberger down the stretch last season.

"Now, Joe, shouldn't Rooney and the team, even if they weren't tired of the offense's consistent suck-ti-tude, be a little tired of a coordinator who can't keep his mouth shut?"

Then, after Josh Miller tried to change the subject, I moved into the media shock over the hiring of Haley as Arians' replacement.

"Were the reporters upset because they couldn't see it coming? Who COULDN'T have seen it coming? I was with you guys the day after Arians was fired. We were talking about the short list of candidates and we all agreed those were the only viable candidates. They, as former head coaches and/or coordinators, were the only people who could successfully step into a premium spot on an existing staff that will not be promoted this season. Tomlin couldn't hire another position coach from another team over his own position coaches, the best of whom, Randy Fichtner, just isn't ready for the job yet.

"The local media never saw this, but the list was easily pared after learning there's nothing behind Jim Caldwell's thousand-yard stare, that Hue Jackson is completely out of his element in the NFL, and that Tom Clements was staying with Green Bay. That left only Haley, and some reporters speculated that it was a mere courtesy to his old man and that Haley will never be the coach here."


"Then," I continued, "when Haley was hired, those local reporters, angry again over missing the obvious, went on a crusade to say that the meddlesome owner had forced this down the throat of the suddenly deaf-and-dumb coach (with the 55-25 record) and that the helpless QB would pout his way out of town because he wasn't considered/consulted.

"Without realizing it, the Pittsburgh media had ridiculed the owner by saying he's as dumb as the team's fans, and they had ridiculed the coach and the QB, and I presume they did all of this because their gravy train with Arians had come to a predictable end."

All I could call this on The Fan was "A joke." And when I was finished, the great Joe Starkey said, "Jim, that was a legendary rant."

"Thank you, Joe."

"And Jim?"

"Yes, Joe."

"We have to go now."

"Thanks, Joe. I feel much better now."

* Because of that rant, and my earlier barbecue of Mike Florio on Twitter, folks assumed I had awakened on the proverbial wrong side of the bed that day. Not true. Actually, I awoke in a surprising state of grace.

It surprised me because the previous day I had skipped the Haley press conference to get a haircut and fix my car so that I could put on a suit, drive an hour through South Hills traffic, stand in line at a funeral home for another hour, and then drive back home to pick up my daughter at her coach's house, and she was furious because she had so much homework to get to after basketball practice and it was already 10 p.m.

But I was basking in good vibes the next morning, and I think it had everything to do with my ever-growing respect for Tunch Ilkin.

Of course, he's the reason I did all of the above. I only get a haircut and put on a suit and disrupt my family for an entire night for special people, and Tunch is that.

He, of course, was at the funeral home after the passing of his sweet and beautiful wife Sharon. I had only met Sharon once. My wife and I went to a Jackson Browne concert, and sitting next to us (in the section where media freeloaders use their comped tickets) were Tunch and Sharon. By way of introduction, I said to my wife, "You realize we're sitting next to someone who's been on the cover of Sports Illustrated." My wife went to congratulate Tunch when I said, "No, it was Sharon."

Of course, Sharon, a cheerleader at Indiana State where she met Tunch, was on the cover of SI in 1979 with Larry Bird.

So I walked into the funeral home expecting Tunch to stand strong in the face of tragedy and greet every one in the long line as if HE were the one trying to console THEM.

You get the picture. Some people are man enough to hold up and put on that face, and we all expected Tunch to be one of those men. And he was. But, damn, it couldn't have been easy.

Tunch did what was expected of him. He always does. This consistency of character should be reported on, and that's why I'm blundering my way through this here and now.

My respect for Tunch Ilkin is immense. And his buddy Craig Wolfley greeted the long lines at the halfway point to take the edges off of all of us. People like this are rare. Even when they're just doing what's expected.

So rest in peace, Sharon. Your family and friends will miss you, of course, but they will bounce back. They have too much character not to.


5 p.m.: The Steelers purged another $3.54 million from their cap today by releasing CB Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million) and WR Arnaz Battle ($1.04 million), along with a couple of players who've been on injured reserve since last training camp: TE Miguel Chavis and LB Erik Clanton.

The Steelers also announced that they have added FS Myron Rolle, WR Juamorris Stewart, and LB Brandon Hicks. I'll have more on those three players tomorrow, as well as an update on where the Steelers stand with regard to the salary cap and what the next 30+ days could look like.

As for the release of the veterans, both were easy moves to make, even though both were mentor-type vets with a lot of class and savvy. Their problems had more to do with their ages, their salaries and their skill-crippling injuries over the last few years.

8 a.m.: I know, I know. I said I wouldn't listen to the Idiot Who Loves Ben and Bruce the Best (IWLBBB) on night-time talk radio anymore, but I had to break my promise last night. I had to hear the explanation from the guy who first claimed that Todd Haley was merely a courtesy interview, that Art Rooney II was merely helping out an old family friend (of his grandfather) with an interview that would show the rest of the league that Haley was still relevant.

Of course, the tune from the IWLBBB has changed. Now, it's a complete Rooney family conspiracy, that they forced Mike Tomlin to hire Haley and WHAT THE HELL DOES THIS MEAN FOR BEN?

Oh, poor Ben.

I get so tired of this stuff. Not only do these jock-sniffing sycophants demean and misunderstand Roethlisberger, they make the normal fan want to root against him. At least in the offseason. So on that front, to the IWLBBB and the many others like him, please stop this crusade. Ben's not that weak and does not need that much attention.

But back to the original topic: Was Haley so bad of a choice that he needed a "courtesy interview" to help him get a QB coach's job with the Cleveland Browns or some other such bottom-feeder? Or is Haley such a find that he was railroaded through the process by the meddling owner?

Pick one and live with it, because it can't be both.

I'm going with the theory that Haley was one of a small handful of former coaches or coordinators who could be brought aboard without upsetting the fine balance of the staff that's in place.

Forget all the nonsense about Haley being difficult to work with. He has the gravitas that comes with being a former head coach, and that's what's needed in a situation in which no one on the current staff is being promoted.

We identified early in the process the exact four -- Haley, Tom Clements, Jim Caldwell and Hue Jackson -- who became the Steelers' candidates. Any other current coordinator or position coach, after being granted permission in the first place, would've been a difficult hire over your own people. That's when dissension creeps in. So when you're able to eliminate the other three candidates for the obvious reasons, the hiring of Haley makes perfect sense.

Not only was he the best of the available candidates, but Haley knows the offense, understands balance, and comes with experience in challenging successful quarterbacks. All Haley needs is to regain his sanity and he'll be fine. It can be done. In fact, I've done it a couple of times. It's really not that hard.

* According to our numbers man Ian Whetstone, who humbly credited another numbers man at another site here on our message board, the Steelers have restructured the contract of LaMarr Woodley and cut $6.5 million off their cap number.

Ian had predicted last month that the Steelers would be able to do this, and he predicts it will happen with Lawrence Timmons as well. Throw in the fact the Steelers will be able to restructure Roethlisberger and you can see why the Steelers need not worry about cutting everybody with age and a hefty salary, as has become the accepted media myth.

Now, they'll still need to cut Chris Kemoeatu, and cut deep into the contracts of Hines Ward and Casey Hampton. They can also cut close to $5M by keeping only one of their aging buck ILBs at a reduced salary. But because of the Woodley restructuring, I'm not as concerned about losing Mike Wallace today as I had been yesterday. Still, I do believe there's going to be a smart team that makes a big play for the speedy receiver in the restricted free agency period that ends just before the draft.

* Not only have the Steelers failed Timmons and themselves by not having him learn the rudiments of the buck position, but his poor play at OLB last season means the Steelers need to draft an inside linebacker who can play outside either in an emergency or as a DE on third down. That's why I have to put Dont'a Hightower ahead of the great Luke Kuechly on the Steelers' draft board. On my draft board, Kuechly is the man, but I have to think along with the Steelers when I put pen to the paper (or fingers to the keyboard).

* Speaking of the draft, tight end has become a bigger need with the suspension facing Weslye Saunders. Not that I think the team will cut him. No, that's not how they operate.

They got rid of Santonio Holmes because A.) He was undependable with meetings and in the locker room, and B.) He was heading into contract negotiations and the team figured he'd become a bigger internal problem during the season when they didn't give him the big contract he felt he deserved. As for cutting Cedrick Wilson after his bout of lunacy a few years ago, and not the similarly troubled James Harrison, readers here know that the Steelers had been considering cutting Wilson at the time anyway because of his potential cap hit.

I know those statements don't fit the myth promulgated by the town's media, but those are the facts. And while they won't cut Saunders, they will take a longer look at tight end in the draft than they would have otherwise.


6 a.m.: One day after the Steelers hired Todd Haley as their next offensive coordinator, there is frustration over the suspension of tight end Weslye Saunders and great sadness over the passing of Sharon Ilkin, the wife of former Steelers Pro Bowler and currant radio game-day analyst Tunch Ilkin.

Sharon Ilkin, a former cheerleader at Indiana State, lost her battle with cancer on Monday. Further information is not available at this time.

As for Saunders, news of the four-game suspension was passed along to me earlier this morning by Scout.com colleague Aaron Wilson. Again, details are forthcoming, but it's clear the suspension of the raw-but-promising second-year player leaves the Steelers in need of another tight end from the free-agent or draft pool this spring.


4:40 p.m.: A radio man in Kansas City named Mark Carman tweeted that the Steelers have agreed with Todd Haley to become their next offensive coordinator and that the announcement is forthcoming. I wouldn't be surprised if this turns out to be true, and here's why.

I called a source this morning for some info on the search. He said the place was buzzing about the interview Haley had with Mike Tomlin last week. I asked if it was a "courtesy" interview, as reported by the Post-Gazette, and he initially said "no." When I asked again later on in our conversation, he said "Hey, it may have started out that way. I don't know. But I do know Tomlin was impressed by Haley and that your question is moot."

I was going to sit on this information until tomorrow morning, but I guess now is as good a time as any. I have a few reasons why I think Haley would be the right man for the job, and most of that has to do with him hitting bottom and being desperate for a chance to save his career.

Ben Roethlisberger knows all about this, and for all the volatility I see with a potential Haley-Roethlisberger relationship, I can also see that they need each other and could possibly form a perfect union. So for that reason I'm hoping this report is true.


7 a.m.: Happy Groundhog Day, the first sign of spring, or at least the first day anyone uses the word "spring."

Let me start with another sunny sign, that of running backs coach Kirby Wilson. We heard early in the week from Lance Zierlein, who tweeted that his father Larry, the Steelers' former offensive line coach, told him that Wilson was "sitting up, watching ESPN and progressing well."

The next day Wilson's family issued the following statement: "Mr. Wilson remains in serious condition in the Trauma Burn Center at UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh. His status is stable, and he has started his physical rehabilitation. The Wilson family would like to thank everyone for their prayers and support."

Speaking of Lance, he's one of my favorite draft pundits and last night he tweeted this: "After watching defensive tackles tonight, I can safely say that I have Fletcher Cox ahead of Devon Still and didn't think twice about it."

Not that it surprised me because I think Cox, a junior with a much, much better motor, is far superior to the lazy and inconsistent Penn Stater. But I am surprised in a way because none of the other draft pundits had been seeing it that way. In fact, Still's value seems to be on the rise. But in my mind, Mississippi State's Cox is the one 3-4 defensive end prospect the Steelers should consider if he somehow lasts until pick no. 24.

One more topic, the Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly, or "Kaboom," as we call him, did a story on new Colts OC Bruce Arians and came up with some surprising numbers. Kaboly calculated that Arians's pass-run ratio as Steelers OC was 51.8-48.2 over the last five years.

That sounded pretty close to 50-50, so I did the math and came up with the same numbers -- without factoring sacks.

With the 231 sacks, the playcall ratio is 54.3-45.7 pass-run. And that's not including QB scrambles, which at this point are impossible to calculate. Last season, the Steelers' pass-run ratio was 57.2-42.8.


8:45 a.m.: Well, Todd Haley came, interviewed and presumably left. Or is in a holding pattern, because it would make sense for the Steelers to wait on hiring their new offensive coordinator until at least this weekend when the Green Bay Packers have said they'll announce the hiring of their new offensive coordinator.

Tom Clements. the Packers' quarterbacks coach, is in line for the spot, but there've also been cases made for other position coaches in Green Bay who would presumably handle a "puppet" position under head coach and playcaller Mike McCarthy much better than would Clements.

Speaking of Haley, I was listening to talk radio last night here in Pittsburgh and the host was apoplectic because he believed Art Rooney had intervened on behalf of Haley's father, Dick Haley, to help his son's career with a courtesy interview.

I just changed the channel and vowed not to turn it on again until next September, but this morning I read both Post-Gazette writers. One promulgated this ridiculous theory and the other was surprised by the interview. Now I'm surprised.

Haley and Jim Caldwell (and Randy Fichtner and Clements) were on my original list of candidates on Jan. 20. And I certainly wasn't the only one who had previewed those four. Yet, the P-G was surprised by the Haley interview and we all know how they reacted to Caldwell's interview. Yes, I am surprised because they are competent reporters.

Speaking of competence, Steelers Digest reported that offensive line assistant Harold Goodwin has joined the Colts' staff and that defensive quality control coach Jerry Olsavsky was granted permission to interview with Tampa Bay.

In other Steelers news, former Florida State safety Myron Rolle announced on his Twitter feed that he not only worked out with the Steelers, but signed with them.

It could portend the cutting of backup safety Will Allen by the start of the new fiscal season (March 13), but the Steelers have yet to make any such move official. The presumption is that Rolle, who played for the Tennessee Titans' practice squad in 2010, would compete with Damon Cromartie-Smith for a roster spot.


7:40 a.m.: The Steelers' offseason maneuvers to stock their coaching staff won't be able to remain hidden at Super Bowl week the way they were last week at the Senior Bowl.

For starters, the Sports Xchange's Len Pasquarelli updates us with the news that linebackers coach Keith Butler has decided to stay in Pittsburgh instead of interviewing with the Colts for their opening at defensive coordinator.

On the Steelers' search for an offensive coordinator, NFL.com's Jason LaCanfora has tweeted that the Steelers are making inquiries and compiling information about former Kansas City head coach Todd Haley and former Pitt and Steelers quarterback Alex Van Pelt.

I've written plenty about Haley, the volatile and passionate son of Dick Haley, but one Kansas City fan put it best on a message board when he said asking Haley to "tweak" Ben Roethlisberger "would be like having the Lufwaffe do renovation work on your apartment in 1939 Warsaw." Maybe a bit extreme, but I do enjoy an historical analogy.

As for Van Pelt, he was an eighth-round pick of the Steelers, out of Pitt, in 1993, but never played for the team. He did play for the Buffalo Bills from 1994 to 2003 and began a coaching odyssey that included a stint as Bills offensive coordinator in 2009. I covered his years at Pitt for the Standard Observer when he came from out of nowhere to break Dan Marino's passing records and I enjoyed how he did so in a humble and intelligent manner.

Speaking of interesting dark horse candidates, our friend Neal Coolong over at Behind The Steel Curtain makes a great case for another former Tomlin connection in Rip Scherer. But I must advise to keep this theory away from Ed Bouchette, who most surely will rip any conjecture about an offensive coordinator the way he did my conjecture about Jim Caldwell (below in my previous blog entry) after Caldwell joined the Ravens' staff.

Also, in the aftermath of the Senior Bowl, two of the best evaluators in the business released new lists today, and both share a surprising respect for a particular Big 12 OT/OG. I'll let you find the name in both Lance Zierlein's top 50 offensive players and Wes Bunting's second mock draft.


4 p.m.: Just to be clear, this is not the Steelers' short list.

Wait. Maybe it is. But I don't know that.

I'm just putting the pieces together in the Bruce Arians fir-, er, retirement, and I can only come to one conclusion: Jim Caldwell.

Caldwell was the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts until Tuesday. On Wednesday, word leaked that Arians might not be back.

Coincidence? Possibly. But I doubt it because Arians wanted to return. I talked to him in the cafeteria after the Mike Tomlin press conference. That day Tomlin said of Arians's potential return, "I anticipate it, but of course we all understand what the end of the season is about, and movement is a part of it in today's NFL for both players and coaches, so we're going to work to maintain continuity, like we always do. We believe that's a benefit to us, but we also understand that things could happen and we'll deal with those as they arise."

Tomlin left himself an out, and a week later, after his old friend Caldwell was fired, Arians suddenly changed his mind and decided to retire.

Hey, it may have happened just that way. I do know that Arians' wife has wanted him to retire ever since he left Tampa with a new Super Bowl ring. But I have a feeling this sudden change had more to do with Tomlin's old friend.

Caldwell became friends with Tomlin in 2001 when both were beginning their NFL coaching careers in Tampa under coach Tony Dungy. Tomlin was the DBs coach and Caldwell was the QBs coach.

Earlier this season, before Caldwell's Indianapolis Colts played Tomlin's Steelers, Caldwell was asked about their relationship at a press conference. "Alan Williams, Mike (Tomlin) and myself," Caldwell said, "I think we were the three new guys on staff that particular year, and we got along well."

Caldwell also said that he and Tomlin remained friends after Caldwell left Tampa with Dungy for Indianapolis, where Caldwell succeeded Dungy in 2009 and won his first 14 games. But with the top seed clinched, Caldwell sat several starters and lost the final two games. The Colts reached the Super Bowl -- the fifth NFL team to do so with a rookie head coach -- but they lost to the New Orleans Saints.

The Colts reached the playoffs again in 2010, but without QB Peyton Manning they crashed in 2011 with a 2-14 record, and Caldwell was fired.

Would Caldwell be worth the trouble? Well, he's never been an offensive coordinator. Prior to coaching QBs for Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, Caldwell was the head coach at Wake Forest for eight years and had only one winning season (7-5) and one bowl berth (Aloha). While Wake Forest turned to the passing game, its running game stalled. In one season Caldwell's leading rusher had only 300 yards.

Prior to his stint at Wake Forest, Caldwell coached Penn State's quarterbacks from 1986 to 1992. Only Tony Sacca compiled top-10 passing-yardage seasons (1990-91) in school history under Caldwell's tutelage.

He may be Tomlin's friend, and he may have coached in a Super Bowl, and he may not even be the choice, but his record's not too inspiring. I'm still hoping for Tom Clements.

3:10 p.m.: The Steelers signed six players today to Reserve/Future contracts for the 2012 season.

Pittsburgh signed QB Troy Smith, who began his career with the Baltimore Ravens (2007-09) before playing for the San Francisco 49ers (2010) and the Omaha Nighthawks (2011) of the United Football League. In 2007 he beat the Steelers and remains the only rookie quarterback to beat them since Dick LeBeau returned in 2004

The Steelers also signed CB Walter McFadden after he spent a portion of two seasons with the Oakland Raiders (2010-11) and the remainder of the 2011 season on the practice squads of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals. McFadden is the cousin of Steelers CB Bryant McFadden.

Pittsburgh also signed four wide receivers to the offseason roster that all have spent time with other NFL teams. WR Tyler Beiler started his career as a rookie free agent with the San Francisco 49ers last July and then spent time on the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad during the 2011 regular season. WR David Gilreath began his career with the Indianapolis Colts as a rookie free agent in 2011 and was on the practice squads of the Colts, St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills. WR Derrick Williams played for the Detroit Lions from 2009-10 before being released at the end of the 2011 training camp. WR Jimmy Young spent the 2011 training camp with the Chicago Bears before being released.

11:45 a.m.: The Steelers released the following statement from coach Mike Tomlin concerning offensive coordinator Bruce Arians:

"Bruce Arians has informed me that he will retire from coaching. I appreciate his efforts over the past five years as the team's offensive coordinator and for helping lead our offense to new heights during his time with the Steelers. I am grateful to Bruce for contributing to our success and wish him nothing but the best in his retirement."


2:45 p.m.: Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette tweeted that "Bruce Arians not expected to return" and it appears change is at hand with the Steelers. My guess is they'd like to hire one of two big-time candidates on the open market: Tom Clements or Todd Haley.

Both have strong Pittsburgh ties. Clements was born here and coached here. Haley was a former ball boy when his dad, Dick Haley, was building a dynasty in the 1970s.

It takes more than Pittsburgh ties, of course, but both can coach. Of the two, I'd go with Clements.

Of course, I'm not the only one interested at the moment. Clements has scheduled an interview with Tampa Bay for the Bucs' head coaching job. They like him for the same reason I believe Art Rooney II would like him: his work with young quarterbacks.

Clements just ended his seventh season with the Green Bay Packers. He's been Aaron Rodgers' QB coach since Rodgers' second season in the league.

Before that, Clements was an offensive coordinator for two years in Buffalo where he coached Kelly Holcumb through his best season. Before that, Clements turned Tommy Maddox into the 2002 NFL Comeback Player of the Year. And before that, Clements sent Kordell Stewart (2001) and Elvis Grbac (2000) to Pro Bowls.

Detecting a trend?

Clements even gave birth in New Orleans to the career of undrafted QB Jake Delhomme. And in Notre Dame, in 1992, Clements made Rick Mirer look like the second pick of the 1993 draft.

Quite a resume. Clements is firm, but not fanatic about control. He figures if you don't want to listen, it's your own problem. And he proved in his time here that he's no wavemaker or media pal. I'm sure Rooney would appreciate that for a change, and I'm sure Clements would in turn quickly gain Ben Roethlisberger's respect and full attention.


10:35 a.m.: The Steelers signed 10 players today to Reserve/Future contracts for the 2012 season. Five members of the Steelers' 2011 practice squad were among the 10 players signed to the team's 2012 offseason roster.

The 10 are: OG John Malecki, TE Jamie McCoy, OT Chris Scott, OT Trevis Turner and DT Corbin Bryant off the practice squad, and quarterback Jerrod Johnson, defensive lineman Mike Blanc, defensive tackle Kade Weston, cornerback Marshall McFadden and defensive back Antonio Smith.

I'll delve further into the newcomers in our five-part roster analysis. What I can tell you is that Weston and Blanc were pretty good interior linemen in the SEC (Georgia and Auburn), and that I once thought QB Johnson would be the next great thing out of Texas A&M. I even hoped he would come out the year after his legendary Thanksgiving night duel with Colt McCoy. But he stayed in school, lost his job at A&M, didn't get drafted, and got lost in the cracks. So here's to revived dreams.


9:20 a.m.: The more I get away from the game, the more my anger lessens.

The more it lessens? Sheesh.

Well, anyways, here are some more of my thoughts as the week unfolds.

I've also settled on a top candidate for the first round in Peter Konz. He's a center at Wisconsin and projects to left guard in Pittsburgh.

I'm following a few guys "jumping on the Konz bandwagon" in our Draft War Room forum, and this letter he wrote to fans after he turned pro a year early is the final straw for me. I'm sure many of you will agree.


8 a.m.: I just posted Craig Wolfley's final View From The Sideline column of the season and felt the need to update readers on our near future plans.

For one, I'm taking a few days off. The last couple of weeks have been non-stop, so all I've been doing the last couple of days is answering questions on the message board. If you're new and unsure of protocol, click into our forums. I'll be hanging out mainly on the South Side Complex and in the Draft War Room.

On the South Side, we already have questions being posed to me for a column called "Ask Wex." I'll also begin a rundown of the roster starting tomorrow, but it won't be anything like the others floating willy-nilly through cyberspace. I'll have some inside info and some stories and some harmless-but-entertaining gossip with which to keep you informed as we await the early changes and then the draft combine.

Thanks for giving me these couple of days to unwind, but I'll be back tomorrow as we begin the Steelers' road to redemption.


1:55 p.m.: Max Starks (ACL), Casey Hampton (ACL) and Brett Keisel ("significant groin injury") could all be facing surgery following this week's evaluations.

Also, from today's Mike Tomlin press conference, it was revealed the Steelers' defense was in an "inverted cover-two" on the 80-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game, meaning the safeties were supposed to be up and the corners were supposed to be back and presumably with a more applicable technique.

Go here to our message board for the quickie transcript from today's Tomlin press conference.

5:30 a.m.: Mike Tomlin will hold a noon press conference today that won't be televised, so before I head there I'll post a notes column this morning.

The sudden loss last night left me speechless at the time, and it's probably a good thing I didn't write then. But Dale Lolley did. His notes are here on the message board. We also have quotes, courtesy of the Steelers' PR staff. Quotes from the Pittsburgh locker room are here and quotes from the Denver locker room are here.


8:50 a.m.: The difference in the looks on their faces on their way to practice, and the looks on their faces in the locker room after practice, reflects brightly on the leadership skills of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Before Friday's practice, Tomlin broke the news to the team that popular assistant Kirby Wilson had been badly burned in a fire. After practice, Tomlin called the group together in the middle of the field and was loud enough for reporters on the sideline – those not engaged in gossip with colleagues – to get a good listen. Tomlin talked to the players about overcoming adversity, about this upcoming challenge, about getting the job done. To me, it sounded like your basic coachspeak.

But later – and I realize the end of the practice week refreshes an attitude anyway – the players appeared to have bought in completely.

I talked to four players and they all said the same things: "That's life, and in life you have certain adversities you have to overcome, and that in overcoming that adversity you become tougher and better."

They didn't use those exact words, but Heath Miller, Isaac Redman, Max Starks and James Farrior used the message. When that happens, be certain they're parroting someone else's message. In this instance, Tomlin's.

Whether you want to write it off as mere coachspeak, go ahead. Because it is. But I talked to four very important leaders on this team, and they're all buying in. That's the most important thing.

* I've certainly grown less wary of the Broncos than I had been Wednesday when the Steelers' quarterback and center – both clearly in pain – were the cause of so much concern. And Tomlin's abilities at that point were under much scrutiny around town.

* When predicting the Steelers in playoff games, I eventually get a feeling whether I'll be working the next week. Well, on Wednesday this squirrel was wondering if he'd saved enough nuts for the winter.

* Today, while looking up the Steelers' record without Maurkice Pouncey, I got a powerful feeling about next week: I'll be working, and more specifically adding a 1 to the plus side of the following stat.

* The last two seasons the Steelers are 25-7 (.781) with Pouncey, 1-2 (.333) without him.

* One reason for optimism in regard to those numbers is Chris Kemoeatu. Yes, the guy I've been beating up pretty good ever since the last Super Bowl is providing confidence that he can fill in for Pouncey (as the left guard).

Kemoeatu had undoubtedly deserved his demotion in Game 11. He was benched for five games, and in two of those his replacement, Doug Legursky, was injured. So Kemoeatu sat two games as the third-teamer behind Trai Essex. But Kemoeatu started to play well as a backup and that led to him getting a start in Game 16. Now he's expected to start this playoff game with a focus he forged from hitting rock bottom. Additionally, he's been able to rest a knee that had been giving him trouble.

* Is Kemoeatu focused? Well, he looks at me as if he is. I was talking to John Clay when Ramon Foster interrupted to tell me it was Clay's birthday. I said "Happy Birthday!" And Foster said, "It's Juicy's birthday, too!"

Now, I had to have the same excitement level in my voice when I turned to wish Kemoeatu "Happy Birthday!" But he just glared at me from four seats down. His look said, "I read what you write." So, I kind of just looked away and mumbled "happy birthday" to the trash can.

* In talking to Starks yesterday about blocking Elvis Dumervil, because, you know, "your quarterback's not at full mobility," Roethlisberger, who was dressing hurriedly next to Starks, popped his head up and said, "What do you mean? Not full mobility? Look at this." And he walked away and out the door with nary a hitch. He looked pretty good in practice, too.

* Let's talk about "Drama Queens." Every time Roethlisberger gets hurt, I hear comments and am asked questions about him being overly dramatic. The national reporters – always and ever a step behind – are now blasting away with this old tag without any reservations whatsoever. But let me just say this: He is the quarterback. When Roethlisberger re-fractures a thumb and has to practice with a splint and a glove, he may as well come clean with the media about it during his weekly Q&A before the week's first practice. And that's what he does. He's the quarterback. Even we local reporters on the sideline can stop gossiping long enough to notice a splint on a quarterback's hand. Same with an ankle brace.

So while Roethlisberger may have an instinct to talk a little bit more about his hurts than say a Troy Polamalu, I'm glad he does clear up some of this stuff at the beginning of the week.

* This naturally brings me to Ryan Clark. We talked outside the locker room early in the week and I told him I had tried to get him one-on-one for a question, but I couldn't since he had had a steady stream of reporters at his locker throughout the session – even though his story of not playing was a day old.

"Yeah, it'd be a story if I WAS playing," he said, and he couldn't have been more correct.

"Ryan, have you made out your will?" I mimicked. "Have you picked out a plot?"

Clark said that, yes, the line of questioning would go on like that, and with him answering "yes" to all of it.

* So I got Clark the next day, asked him if he had that minute. "Sure, Jim," and then he said, "You know, I'm starting to like you. You're not a turd. You're just honest."

And I had never been more proud.

* Early in the week, when half the joint was muttering to themselves because of Roethlisberger's statement regarding his "setback" in Cleveland, one of the suits leaned over and said, "If I were Tomlin, I'd tell Ben this: ‘It's time for you to be great. And if you're not great starting Sunday, no more B.A. That's right. He's gone if you're not great. No more gravy train.'" And then the suit threw this in: "And I'd tell him ‘We'll sign Hines to a six-year extension, too.'"

* Whether it reflects all or none of the sentiments of those who actually make the decisions on the team is moot. It fired me up for a day and that's what's important.

* The comment by Roethlisberger on Friday about his improved mobility started me thinking that the Steelers could and would beat the Broncos. Then I noticed the confidence rooted deep in the eyes of Farrior when I asked him if Roethlisberger had shown him enough in practice.

"Yeah. I'm not worried about Ben. He's a stud," Farrior said point blank.

Because of what he showed this week? Or because of his past?

"Because I know the type of guy he is," Farrior said. "I know the competitor he is. I know he's going to do everything in his power to help this team win. That's about it."

* It was a great reminder.

* And then I was greeted with a hearty set of handshakes from Brett Keisel. He loves going back to what he calls "my mountains." He's had some great games, even his breakout game, in Denver. He assured me he was feeling fine and ready, and then I asked him about his friend, the quarterback.

"He's fine," Keisel roared. "Stop worrying so much, Jim."

* OK. Starting … now.


1:20 p.m.: The Steelers haven't released anything official on running backs coach Kirby Wilson, but word from several sources on the South Side is that he's badly injured but will be OK, that the injuries sustained in this morning's fire are not life-threatening.

Kirby's been placed in a medically induced coma to ease the pain from burns on what's said to be 30 percent of his body. No word on whether any of his five children were in the house at the time.

Missing Friday's practice were C Maurkice Pouncey, RB Mewelde Moore and CB Cortez Allen. Pouncey is listed as questionable and the other two have been ruled out. Moore will be a big help to the young running backs on the sideline with Kirby in the hospital.

The remaining injured Steelers are listed as probable. Ben Roethlisberger was joking in the locker room that all of his mobility has returned. It's not true, but he's certainly doing better than he was Wednesday, and none of his close friends seem worried about his ability to perform well in this game. The locker room was definitely more upbeat than I expected.

10:45 a.m.: The bad news just keeps getting worse for the Steelers this week. Today there's horrible news about running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who was reportedly burned badly in a fire early this morning.

Here's a statement from the Steelers:

"First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with Kirby and his entire family. We are saddened to hear about this unfortunate situation but we know that he has the best medical care in the country treating him. The entire organization is praying for Kirby to have a full recovery and we will be by his side through this difficult time."

Wilson, 49, came to the Steelers in 2007 after the retirement of long-time running backs coach Dick Hoak.

Wilson is a unique character and one of the most loved people in the building here on the South Side.

The fire reportedly occurred at his home around 3 a.m. and rescue personnel dragged him from the house. The news broke at about 10:15 a.m. here as the players walked to practice in stunned silence.

Hit the South Side message board for updates throughout the day on Kirby.


8:45 p.m.: In Steelers news today, the worst fears about Rashard Mendenhall were realized when it was revealed the running back has a torn right ACL and will undergo surgery when the swelling subsides. The normal rehabilitation takes 6 to 8 months. The Steelers are now down to only two running backs -- Isaac Redman and John Clay -- with news about the possible return of Mewelde Moore to be announced by coach Mike Tomlin at his Tuesday press conference.

Tomlin will also report on the health of cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen who left Sunday's game with hamstring and shoulder injuries, respectively. They are the Nos. 3 and 4 cornerbacks and also the starting punt gunners since another CB/gunner, Curtis Brown, was placed on injured reserve last week.

It's expected that the Steelers will sign Anthony Madison, 30, to help in the secondary and on special teams. Madison announced he will be re-signing with the Steelers on his website.

If you are sick of college football and need more Steelers reading material, look here for transcripts of general media interviews today.

10:15 a.m.: Slowly ambling our way to an early finish of the work day on this fine bonus holiday.

The Steelers beat the Browns, yawn, and here are the quotes on our South Side message board.

We also have notes from my friend Dale Lolley upon his return from the lakefront.

And of course, there are always my inanities on the South Side as well.


5:45 p.m.: Antonio Brown was the surprise choice for the Steelers' Most Valuable Player award, but it was a pleasant surprise.

I would've voted for Ike Taylor. To paraphrase Ryan Clark when I asked him the previous day about Taylor's Pro Bowl snub, the Steelers are the No. 1 defense, with the No. 1 pass defense, and Taylor is the No. 1 cornerback who checks the opposition's No. 1 receiver in press-man coverage the entire game.

But I that assumed Taylor would NOT be voted MVP by his teammates, that those teammates would reflexively vote for Ben Roethlisberger.

However, in my view, the quarterback of a winning team could always garner an MVP award. I like to look beyond the obvious and perhaps put more thought into it than I should. But that's just me. And beyond that, I don't feel the Steelers' offense has taken the jump to the elite level that I expected this season, and part of the reason is Roethlisberger.

Yes, he's the toughest QB in the league. Yes, if he misses the game the team is hurt by his loss more so than any other player. But I expected more from him this season and so my vote would've gone to Taylor.

The fact that Brown won the award was a surprise, but not a mistake.

You may remember training camp when I repeatedly called him the best player on the field. He was. And he was the best player in preseason games.

The reason? He worked harder than everyone else. In an offseason of league-contrived labor strife, Brown found a way to come to camp better prepared than anyone else.

That work ethic carried over into the season when veterans marveled at the fact that coaches had to tell Brown to stop working so hard, to save himself.

Brown didn't crack the starting lineup until Nov. 13, but that was only because he had been playing behind an icon. And yet, Brown eventually dislodged Hines Ward from the lineup and finished strong enough to not only gain 1,000 yards receiving, but set a team record for all-purpose yardage.

The record he broke belonged to Barry Foster, team MVP in that 1992 season.

Ernie Mills, now No. 3 on the list for all-purpose yardage in a season, was not the MVP of that 1995 season (QB Neil O'Donnell was), but No. 4 on the list, Louis Lipps, was the MVP of his historic 1985 season.

All-purpose yardage and MVPs seem to go hand-in-hand – at least three-fourths of the time.

Throw in the fact that Brown is acknowledged as having worked harder than anyone else, both on and off the field, and add the fact that Brown is so likeable, and I understand the vote.

I'm more disappointed in the media voting for The Chief Award.

Anyone who's read my work at this site knows of my great respect for James Farrior. He's a real gem with whom to work. But so is Ward. So is Brett Keisel. Those two have already won the award, and we like to spread it around.

Farrior won it in 2009, and giving him a second Chief Award makes no sense, particularly in a season in which he hasn't been nearly as helpful as many of the others who are in the locker room for every open session with the media.

Farrior rarely made noontime appearances. Not that I care, because after practice he's always helpful and insightful. But this is an award that should be passed around. That's why I thought it was the perfect way for Chris Hoke to end his career.

Oh, Hokie, I know, you haven't retired yet. If you make it back, that will be great.

Or, I should say, great!

But this was the perfect time for the media to return Hoke's kindness with something he would have certainly cherished. And if not Hoke, than Taylor, Mike Wallace, Bryant McFadden, Heath Miller, Aaron Smith, or any number of helpful players in that locker room would've been worthy winners.

Farrior? He'll just throw the plaque in the closet and forget about it.

As for the Rookie of the Year award, who else but Marcus Gilbert? It does cause me to chuckle a bit that the Joe Greene Performance Award winner had to give an acceptance speech a few days after a disciplinary benching, but no other rookie came close to Gilbert this season.

Makes me think it wouldn't have been all that ridiculous to have traded the 1-3 picks to move up for Mike Pouncey in the draft. I just can't get past the fact that Pouncey would be starting at left guard – and playing extremely well – at a time when there's still drama at left guard between Chris Kemoeatu and Trai Essex as we enter the last practice of the regular season.

And that's twice as shocking as passing on a quarterback for team MVP.


10:10 a.m.: As promised, here are my thoughts on the game. I apologize for the length, but it's an extended version with, egad, a locker room anecdote that really doesn't help anyone.


6 p.m.: The Steelers trounced the Rams, 27-0, and the ease of their win surprised me a bit. I was worried about an upset for many reasons, and I'll go into that Monday morning.

I know there are a few of you out there wanting more info on this game, but I apologize because I'm in a hurry to get home to my family.

In the meantime, here are the post-game quotes. Merry Christmas, everyone!


4:50 p.m.: The Steelers announced today they will start 37-year-old Charlie Batch at quarterback to replace the injured Ben Roethlisberger.

Even though both Roethlisberger and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin say Roethlisberger suffered no setback in his left ankle Monday night, Tomlin has opted for Batch to start his seventh game in the last 10 years. Batch starteed two games last year during Roethlisberger's suspension and the Steelers split games against Tampa Bay and Baltimore.

The Steelers also put rookie CB Curtis Brown on injured reserve with a knee injury that kept him out of Monday night's game. Brown leads the Steelers in special teams tackles with 15, six more than runner-up Ryan Munday. Brown's place on the roster will be taken by rookie RB John Clay, who was signed off the practice squad.

The Steelers also listed C Maurkice Pouncey out of Saturday's game.


3:15 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger was shocked to hear about Jason La Canfora's report saying it's "wideley believed in the front offfice that Ben Roethlisberger will rest his high ankle sprain Saturday." The report went even further and said the quarterback would miss the rest of the regular season.

Anyway, here's the transcript from a mob interview (as opposed to bloggers crediting their favorite beat writer or the reporters whose goal is to tweet the fastest): Roethlisberger transcript.

Also, Maurkice Pouncey says he will practice today with a brace, but the practice is a mere walk-through, so tomorrow's the big day. (And thankfully most of the tweeters will stay home.)


9:40 a.m.: Here are the post-game quotes from the Steelers' locker room.

1:10 a.m.: Ben Roethlisberger turned the ball over four times against a physical 49ers defense and the Steelers lost on Monday night in San Francisco, 20-3.

The loss dropped the Steelers to 10-4 and cost them a genuine chance to grab the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They'll need to get healthy enough to win their final two games and hope for more holiday gifts from the Ravens and Texans if they're going to get a bye in the playoffs.

In the meantime, here are some of my in-game thoughts over on our message board.


10:15 a.m.: With the game not being played until Monday night, today -- Saturday -- is the important day for injury news.

While Ben Roethlisberger's status won't be determined until pre-game warmups, and with Maurkice Pouncey probably out, there's the matter of Troy Polamalu and his hamstring injury that will be determined today.

And I won't be there. Sorry, but I have a sixth-grade girls basketball tripleheader to attend, so my apologies are immense. I'll try -- try -- to update from the road, but in case I can't find a Starbucks, I leave you with these locker-room notes from the past week:

* I believe the Polamalu injury is merely a Vulcan mind game being played by Mike Tomlin. Not that Troy's hamstring isn't injured, but when asked about his injury this week, Troy said, "What injury?" Someone said, "hamstring" and Troy responded with a look that said, "Oh, yeah, they're saying my hamstring's hurt." Of course, he didn't actually say that but that was my gut impression.

* Troy did say that he'll suit up whenever Tomlin tells him to suit up.

* Great line in the press room about the surprise on Friday's injury report that Roethlisberger had practiced in a limited capacity. Now, understand that reporters don't watch the entire practices, but no one I know saw him on the field. Anyway, someone said, "Saying Ben practiced is like announcing there are 60,000 at the Pitt game."

* Maybe it's only a joke for locals, but that's what those Pitt attendance totals have become over the years.

* Been a revealing week in terms of reporters who've never played the game. Those are the ones who were impressed by the news that Roethlisberger's ankle felt worse in the days following the game than it did when adrenaline helped him through his second-half return.

* Or, maybe those reporters played sports but were never injured.

* The players are convinced that Roger Goodell hammered James Harrison as revenge for his comments to Men's Journal last March. I refused to believe anyone with that kind of power would be so very small, but I'm coming around to that way of thinking. Ergo, the players have absolutely no respect for a guy who's that small. And this in a locker room that's one of the most sophisticated and intelligent that I've covered in my 17 years on the job.

* Brett Keisel had to turn serious for a moment because all three local TV stations put cameras in his face while we were enjoying some small talk Friday after practice. (I think it was about the batch of hunting interviews he had to do that week and how it tied in with his beard and my new camouflage duck-hunting hat.) Keisel was asked by one of the TV guys if the league had sent a strong message by denying Harrison's appeal, or some other sort of blah-blah.

"Yeah, I guess," Keisel said. "We'll see. We'll see if other guys get suspended aside from James. There definitely is an emphasis on head and head trauma so we've got to be careful. That's just where the game's at today."

So I asked the follow-up loud enough for the cameras: You don't think office politics had anything to do with the suspension?

Keisel stared straight into the camaras and deadpanned: "No. Not at all."

Well played, Brett.

* My duck-hunter's hat? I bought it for a buck or two while sightseeing in NYC last March. Just grabbed it and wore it for the first time because it's clean, I needed a haircut, and it held my head together rather handsomely, or so I thought. But Ed Bouchette walked in and immediately dubbed me "The Duck Hunter." Mike Prisuta asked me if I had an interview planned with Doug Legursky, whose wardrobe seems to consist only of camouflage-type hunting gear. Anyway, I finally got my haircut.

* Now I remember what I was talking about with Keisel: His salsa is supposedly muy bueno. One of my friends from Irwin came to Friday's practice and said it's the best salsa he ever tasted and that I should get it while it lasts at the local Giant Eagle. I was telling Keisel this, and that I would press "like" on Facebook for him. It's the least I can do.

* James Farrior might be the coolest cat in the locker room and I really wanted to get to the bottom of a somewhat disturbing story I had read (sorry, can't even remember by whom or where to link it) in which the out-of-town author connected a Farrior quote and a James Harrison tweet to promulgate some sort of rift in the Steelers' locker room. Farrior's quote was about how Harrison had to change his tackling style, and I told him about Harrison's tweet that was along the lines of "snakes in the grass are showing" and how the writer tied the two together. James laughed softly. "He's one of my best friends." And he didn't seem to care what that writer thought or what he was attempting to advance. It's what I mean by a sophisticated locker room. They know the truth will find its way without them getting all frantic about it.

* And so I continued with Farrior. I wanted to know how in the world Harrison -- who wouldn't piss on one of us local reporters if we were on fire, and how we understand that and don't really care about it -- trusted this writer from Men's Journal enough back in March to unload a stream of cliche-ridden invective against Goodell. "That's what I don't get either," Farrior said. "I know it was a bad time for James, with the back surgeries and coming off the Super Bowl loss, so I'm just guessing he was in a vulnerable state. But I'm just as shocked as you are."

* Which reminds me: For you players out there, you can probably -- probably -- trust the local reporters because they have to show up in the locker room the next day, and the day after, and the day after that, and probably -- probably -- won't take something you asked to be kept off the record and run with it, the way the guy from Men's Journal did.

I understand that you don't hate the smooth-talking new guy from the magazine because he doesn't bother you every day about your hamstring or whatever, but then again, you'll never see him again the rest of your life. THAT guy will run with whatever he can get.

* I asked a source why Dick LeBeau is still rotating Farrior with Larry Foote. I wanted to know if LeBeau considers Farrior to be in steep decline.

"No, not at all" said the source. "LeBeau loves him. He just wants him healthy for the stretch run."

* Hello, stretch run.

* Not every interview can be as fun, or as theatrical, as those with Casey Hampton, or Keisel, or Farrior. Some interviews are flat-out dull, and it has nothing to do with the player. It has everything to do with the interviewer, and I was in the middle of the world's dullest interview with Jason Worilds because I needed to know if he's more comfortable on the left side where he played in college, or the right side where he's been practicing for most of the last two years (he said he's more comfortable on the left side). Then, since LaMarr Woodley will be rusty at best Monday night, I wanted to know about Worilds's state of conditioning and how many snaps he's been building up to over the last few games.

I had to repeat the question about the snaps because he was looking over my right shoulder at another reporter who had sidled up to me. And so I asked him again about the snap counts, and he looked over my shoulder again with a sheepish smile. I turned and it was no reporter, it was Mike Tomlin. They both laughed. I was just embarrassed that Tomlin now thinks I'm the most boring reporter in his room.


10:45 a.m.: James Harrison's appeal of his one-game suspension has been denied by Ted Cottrell. Harrison will miss Monday night's game with the 49ers. He'll be replaced by Jason Worilds, with LaMarr Woodley set to return on the other side from his hamstring injury.

Along with Harrison, the Steelers will likely be without rookie reserve Chris Carter, leaving the team thin at outside linebacker. If needed, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons would move outside and Larry Foote would take Timmons's mack position inside.

Woodley certainly isn't a sure thing. He's played only two series in the last five games after falling in "open grass" while rushing Tom Brady. Woodley is practicing now, and hopefully will give me a word or two when the team finishes early this afternoon.


1:45 p.m.: Steelers linebacker James Harrison said he hasn't heard from the league regarding his helmet-to-facemask hit Thursday night on young Colt McCoy, the 215-pound quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, and that he doesn't expect to.

"I don't think it's suspension-worthy," Harrison said. "I don't think it's worthy of anything, but that's just my own personal thoughts."

Harrison added that referee Ed Hochuli "didn't even call it helmet to helmet. He called it roughing the passer."

Harrison was asked if McCoy ducked into the hit.

"Well he took off running with it and at the last second he chucked and ducked," Harrison said.

Here's the complete Harrison transcript from the locker room on Monday.


11:20 a.m.: It wasn't pretty. In fact, at times it was gruesome. But the Steelers are 10-3 with the entire weekend free for their recovery after surviving the pesky Cleveland Browns, 14-3, last night at Heinz Field.

I have some thoughts here on the matter, and so does Dale Lolley.

After that, enjoy the comments of the Steelers and the comments of the Browns after the game.


4:30 p.m.: Chris Hoke will undergo the same neck surgery as Aaron Smith underwent a few weeks ago -- a "neck fusion," according to Smith -- and will soon be placed on injured reserve by the Steelers.

The move will likely signal the end of the 35-year-old's playing days, and I'll have a column on this as soon as possible. Hoke is one of a dozen Steelers who played in all three Super Bowls this past decade.

Hoke, of course, missed Tuesday's walk-through, as did OLBs LaMarr Woodley and Chris Carter, WR Emmanuel Sanders, and RB Jon Dwyer.


8:50 p.m.: The Steelers put all three phases of the game together in beating the Cincinnati Bengals, 35-7. It put the Steelers at 9-3 in the division with four games remaining -- two against Cleveland and then NFC West teams San Francisco and St. Louis.

There wasn't much to complain about in these notes, but the night's still young. One note I did forget to mention: Wayne Douglas Legursky kicked ass at left guard, and it might've had something to do with the 50th birthday of Wayne Legursky, according to the Heinz Field scoreboard. Forgot to check in the locker room, but that is Doug's father's name. So happy birthday, Big Legursky Sr., and thanks for having an ass-kicker of a son.

Here are some quotes from Steelers players and here are quotes from Mike Tomlin.


4:10 p.m.: All right, we have fresh notes that were written after the game as opposed to those I wrote during the game.

Here's Dale Lolley of the Washington Observer-Reporter and SCI: Fresh Notes.

I'll be back early in the morning with some interesting nuggets from my film review.


11:55 p.m.: I have no doubt that Steelers fans will rip the offense for its inability to put the Chiefs away last night, but I can't join in on the fun. I was wary of this game because of the Chiefs' desperate situation, their tough defense, and the volume at Arrowhead Stadium in prime time.

Keenan Lewis's interception ended the white-knuckler as the Steelers pulled out a 13-9 win over the Chiefs. Since it was a tight deadline, most of my thoughts here revolve around the group of AFC contenders as the season moves into the homestretch.


4:05 p.m.: Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians reminded his unit today to put personal goals aside in the pursuit of a championship, and he wasn't talking to Hines Ward, the demoted flanker who's often unfairly -- and inaccurately -- portrayed as a selfish player by media members who don't cover the team.

Ben Roethlisberger said Arians was instead talking to the younger receivers such as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

"Coach said that if you're a team that's not doing very good and you're not a Super Bowl contender, then you're fighting for Pro Bowls," Roethlisberger said. "The teams that are Super Bowl contenders, you shouldn't really care about the Pro Bowl. You should care more about Super Bowls. And I think we've got a locker room full of guys who just care about Super Bowls. That's what's most important."

Roethlisberger was asked if the speech was even necessary.

"No," he said. "But I think it's good for our offense to hear it because we've got a lot of young guys, guys who can put up huge numbers. If they're starting to double guys like Mike Wallace, who's on pace for unbelievable numbers, he shouldn't get frustrated for the simple fact that if we're winning games that's all that matters. Same thing with Antonio Brown and what he's done the last couple weeks. I think it was a good message for all of us -- for some guys to re-remember those things and for some guys to think about it."

* In other notes from Wednesday, Emmanuel Sanders was encouraged by the strength of his knee in his first practice back from arthroscopic surgery. He said the team is waiting to see how he responds Thanksgiving morning at practice before deciding on his status for Sunday.

* Roethlisberger (thumb), Arnaz Battle (hamstring) and LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) were limited at Wednesday's practice. Of the three, only Roethlisberger is certain of playing Sunday. Woodley has the longest odds of the three.


6:45 p.m.: William "My Main Man" Gay made the play of the game the week after getting beat like a drum as the Steelers beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-17, Sunday afternoon in Cincinnati.

The win gives the Steelers a 7-3 record with which to enjoy the bye week coming up. The Steelers should be 100 percent healthy for the first time this season when they resume their schedule Sunday night, Nov. 27, at Kansas City.

As usual, go to the message board for more of my thoughts about the game.

Also, here are some of the post-game quotes from both teams.


2:30 p.m.: Troy Polamalu (rib) and James Harrison (toe) had been two late injury concerns, but both players practiced Friday and are listed as probable for Sunday's game in Cincinnati.

The probable list also includes WR Jerricho Cotchery (knee), LB James Farrior (calf), OG Doug Legursky (toe), LB Stevenson Sylvester (knee) and WR Hines Ward (head).

The only other classification this week for the Steelers is OUT, and those three players are WR Arnaz Battle (hamstring), WR Emmanuel Sanders (knee) and LB LaMarr Woodley (hamstring).

Obviously the loss of Woodley is big. He'll be replaced the same way he was last Sunday, with a rotation of Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons.

The loss of wide receivers Sanders and Battle is reminiscent of last season's Super Bowl when both missed the second half. They were missed then because of their ability to play all of the receiver positions in all of the packages. The addition of Cotchery this season helps that problem a bit.

The Bengals have ruled out TE Donald Lee and called CB/RS Adam Jones (hamstring) doubtful. Questionable are these key players: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) and RB Brian Leonard (knee).


12:20 a.m.: This one was a tough loss for the Steelers, and one in which we see why Dick LeBeau disdains bump-and-run coverage.

Was that last defensive series all about what Mike Tomlin wanted? It may be years before we hear the truth about this philisophical shift, one that seemed more suited to New England than Baltimore.

Anyway, here are my in-game stream-of-consciousness notes over on the message board.


4:45 p.m.: Daniel Sepulveda's hard luck continued Saturday when the Steelers placed the punter on injured reserve for the third time in his five-year career because of an injury to the knee of his plant leg.

Sepulveda missed the last two Super Bowl appearances by the Steelers with the knee problem. He missed four games and the playoffs last season and he missed all of the 2008 season.

Sepulveda punted only once – with 28 seconds left – in last Sunday's win over New England. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday before sitting out part of Friday's practice.

He was replaced on the roster by Jeremy Kapinos, who averaged 41.1 yards per punt (32.3 net) last regular season and 48.1 (38.5 net) in the playoffs.


4:45 p.m.: James Harrison received some good news from team doctors today and was declared probable for Sunday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

The return of the right outside linebacker is important because the Steelers can move Harrison's four-game replacement, Lawrence Timmons, back inside to his RILB position where he'll team with LILB Larry Foote for at least a portion of the game inside. Foote has been an able replacement inside for James Farrior, who remains still questionable with a calf injury.

Another important returnee will be Jason Worilds, who'll start at left outside linebacker in place of LaMarr Woodley. Woodley was declared out with a hamstring injury.

Also ruled out by the Steelers backup guard Doug Legursky (toe) and last week's starting flanker Emmanuel Sanders, who suffeed a minor knee injury last week and then lost his mother the following day.

Hines Ward (ankle) should return as the starting flanker, although he's listed as questionable.

Punter Daniel Sepulveda was added to the injury list as questionable with a knee injury. It's the same knee (plant leg) that has cost him two previous trips to the IR. No further information on the injury was available.


3:10 p.m.: Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens entertained Pittsburgh reporters (and judging by The FAN radio on my drive home, all of Pittsburgh) with his conference call today.

He's recently ripped his own team's offense of late and didn't back away from that criticism today. He also talked about his love for Max Starks and Hines Ward.

Starks was surprised and said that he still doesn't like Suggs. Ward talked about Suggs, as well as his own injury.

So, here's Terrell.

* In other notes today, the Steelers released DT Elisha Joseph from their practice squad to make room for WR Jamar Newsome, an undrafted rookie who made the Jacksonville Jaguars roster this season before he was released Sept. 20.

Newsome is a 6-0 1/2, 200-pounder from Central Florida. He caught 37 passes last season for 616 yards and returned 10 kickoffs for 306 yards. At the combine he ran a 4.46 40 and had a vertical jump of 38 1/2 inches.

* Also today, Ben Roethlisberger was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against New England.

* The NFL made scoring changes in the New England-Pittsburgh game. The safety originally credited to Troy Polamalu is now being credited to Team; and Shaun Suisham missed a 44-yard field goal, not a 43-yarder as originally scored.


6:15 p.m.: OK, let's start with the injuries. LB James Harrison (eye), NT Chris Hoke (neck), G Doug Legursky (toe), WR Hines Ward (ankle) missed practice, while James Farrior (calf) and Jason Worilds (quad) were limited.

Dick LeBeau is optimistic about Farrior. "He was pretty good today, I thought," LeBeau said.

LeBeau of course was peppered with questions about stopping the New England Patriots on Sunday. He was adamant after losing to the Patriots last year that it wouldn't happen again, but today he was understandably respectful and the only hint of any game info was that he wants his players to "tackle the catch." That was a familiar refrain from the players today, or a "talking point."

I asked Bruce Arians about Mark Kaboly's stat in his blog in the Tribune-Review, that the Steelers run right 89 percent of the time. Arians accepted that as a fact and explained "the right side's been double-teaming very well. We kind of broke that tendency at the end of the game the other night and went behind Max [Starks] and Juicy [Chris Kemoeatu]. They've been lobbying to run our No. 1 play, 22 double, to the left. And they did pretty well, so maybe we'll run over there a little bit more."

This was Starks's explanation: "Because of our play-action game, and traditionally we ran to the right anyways because Alan [Faneca] was pulling and any of our power game always had Alan pulling, so we've always been a right-handed heavy running team."

Aren't most teams right-handed because of the tight end?

"Exactly," Starks said. "Your strength was always the right side and also because it was always the visual side for the quarterback because he was right-handed. So it was always a strength because the tight end was over there and your quarterback could see that direction. Most teams usually are. You see teams now that are trying to be more balanced but they do have more of a tendency to run to the right to set up the play-action game."

On another note, I asked Aaron Smith whether he was going to retire and he said "I don't know." He said that before the neck had become an issue he had told his daughter not to make important decisions when you're emotional. So he's going to live by that, give it some time and thought.

Finally, on James Harrison, immediately after his eye injury, (broken base of the right orbital bone), Harrison told the team he wasn't experiencing double vision. He lied, and so they let him get back on the field at Houston. Since then, Harrison has been truthful and the team is waiting for the bone to heal. My hunch is Harrison will be back for the Baltimore game. But it would've been a stronger hunch had Harrison not been caught in a lie already.


7:35 p.m.: Save for the second half of the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Steelers' offense has been hot of late.

In five of their last six halves of football, the Steelers have scored 87 points. They scored 32 last week at Arizona and 38 three weeks ago against Tennessee.

But will they be able to keep up with the New England Patriots? Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was careful with his answer.

"If I sit here and say I feel like we need to score every time, that means I don't think our defense will do a good job," Roethlisberger said. "I think our defense will do a great job. But if you look just at the numbers, they put up a lot of points, therefore we need to put up a lot of points because that's what we want to do and need to do as an offense."

Roethlisberer's coming off his best game of the season. Against the Cardinals he threw for 361 yards with a season-high passer rating of 121.8. Is Roethlisberger hoping the game turns into a shootout?

"I hope not," he said. "I hope that we score a lot of points and they don't."


Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu was fined $25,000 by the league for two dirty plays Sunday against the Cardinals.

As of yesterday afternoon, Hines Ward had not heard whether Adrian Wilson would be fined for the helmet-to-helmet hit on the defenseless receiver, a hit that also sprained Ward's ankle.

"It's football," Ward said. "I don't look at it in any bad way. He put a good hit on me and my foot got caught in the ground. … I'm not going to worry about the league fining people or not."

Ward, who left the game with a sprained ankle and did not practice Wednesday, said he'll play Sunday against New England.


Nose tackle Casey Hampton missed the last three games with a shoulder injury but returned for a full practice Wednesday and believes he'll play Sunday.

James Harrison is waiting for his double vision to clear and for the threat of infection to pass from his broken orbital bone before he's cleared to play again. He also said that when he plays he'll wear a visor because he's still "light sensitive."

Harrison, of course, missed Wednesday's practice, along with Ward, Chris Hoke (neck), Doug Legursky (toe) and Jason Worilds (quad). Limited at practice was James Farrior (calf).


10:35 p.m.: It was perhaps the most important win of the season for the Steelers, who have two very difficult games coming up against New England and Baltimore.

The Steelers HAD to beat the Arizona Cardinals, so now they can go 1-1, even 0-2, the next two weeks and keep their playoff chances alive as the season softens considerably down the stretch.

Anyway, I have some oddball thoughts about today's win. They're over here on the message board.


8 a.m.: Just a few notes after reviewing tape of the Steelers' win over the Jaguars:

* There's Curtis Brown with another tackle on a kickoff. For a little guy, he sure throws his body around on special teams. I'm gaining a better understanding of why he won that award for special teams play at Texas.

* Craig Wolfley pointed this one out in his notes: Trai Essex completely buried Paul Poslusnzy on Rashard Mendenhall's 68-yard run. And we had much discussion about that play in the press box. Turns out it was the pike play, or counter power, through the right guard hole. Jon Scott and Ramon Foster caved in their side of the line to make it look like Mendenhall ran through left guard, so I understand better those who were wrong about the origin of that run.

* Where's my smiley-face emoticon?

* Who says coaches don't let their egos get in the way of playcalling and decision-making? Putting Mendenhall at the goal line immediately after sprinting 68 yards should be the cause of some type of reprimand. If it was a player, he'd be benched. But it was just the stubbornness of a staff that wants everyone to know they like Mendenhall at the goal line more than Isaac Redman. Result: loss of one, two incompletions, field goal.

* Didn't help that Essex fell down on his pull this time.

* Troy Polamalu continues to amaze and entertain me. You'd think offenses would not let him get away with timing the snap the way he does. He did it again on 2nd-and-6 in the second quarter. He timed it up perfectly and almost had a sack on a one-step now pass.

* Funny to see three white shirts (qb, center, pulling left guard) collapse on top of Polamalu after he pulled the QB down and broke up that one-step pass. And then he walked calmly back to his side with only James Farrior giving him a slight hand slap. Everyone else seemed to expect it.

* I expect it and am still thrilled when he does something like that.

* Dan Fouts: "Is he offsides? Nope. Just perfect."

* Someone asked me on twitter for the last time Daniel Sepulveda downed a punt inside the 20. This problem's a real mystery because as a rookie Sepulveda set a team record for best ratio of downed-inside-20 punts to punts that ended up in the end zone: 28 to 2. He hasn't come close since. This year his ratio is 6 to 5.

* Punt-blockers take pride in diving and aiming for a point that's one yard in front of the punter's imaginary extended foot. Ryan Mundy must not take such pride. He was all over the punter and clearly deserved his penalty, a critical one in the game. You'd think a guy spending so much time on special teams would polish it up a bit.

* The week before, Mundy's special teams play was the toast of the town. This week, he would've been vilified had the Jaguars come all the way back.

* For the first time I got the feeling that Cameron Heyward will be a true man at defensive end for this team. And it came just by watching him take down Deji Karim in the third quarter. He looks like a John Mitchell end for sure.

* Ziggy Hood still does not, but I've given up on that. He's clearly a different style and can be a winning player anyway. But that's why the other young prospect at end had to be in the Mitchell style.

* I don't understand the consternation about the "inconsistent" run defense. Just because they stopped the Titans' run game meant nothing. They were averaging, what, 2.1 per carry coming in? The Titans' run game was garbage, no matter if Chris Johnson can run a 4.1 40 or not. Maurice Jones-Drew came in averaging 5.0 per carry on an offense with a rookie quarterback. That was no mirage. The Jags can run the ball and the Steelers can't stop it, so I'd say the results of this past game were pretty consistent with who they really are.

* Last year's gone. No more looking back.

* I love Lawrence Timmons as a young man and as an athlete, but he's got to move back inside before he loses all confidence. Keep telling yourself he can play the run like a converted defensive end over there. He can't.

* Because the Jags' run game is no will-of-the-wisp run game like the one they saw the week before, I expected more Larry Foote instead of Mundy, and I got him. Foote delivered a solid game, and he came within a nanosecond of breaking up Blaine Gabbert's touchdown pass by nearly breaking up Gabbert. Foote still got there, just not in time. Kudos to Gabbert for hanging in there the way he did.

* Brett Keisel said he likes Gabbert a lot, that he'll be a great QB someday. Look at the tape immediately after the Hail Mary. Keisel's telling Gabbert that himself.

* What a class act. As I've said a hundred million times, I'm going to be sad the day these veteran D-linemen begin leaving.

* Jags tight end Mercedes Lewis owned Timmons in the run game. I feel bad for the kid. Put Chris Carter out there. Anyone. But put Timmons back at a comfortable position.

* Watch the intros and you'll see Jon Scott snorting and revving up and pointing his Longhorns to the sky like he's Bevo or something. And he played well. The right side suits him. The coaches and media who take instruction from them are already saying Marcus Gilbert will return as the starter. Must be trying to justify another drab and overdrafted O-lineman I guess.

* Someone else pointed this out, and I could verify it with the new mikes in the center of the line: Every Steelers play is "Black 80."

* The last four 3rd-down plays in the fourth quarter were busted up by sacks or near-sacks, and that's a problem that had better be resolved. Third downs in the fourth quarter are premium pass-rush downs. Coaches, quarterbacks and players should all be scheming to protect because there's really nothing else for a defensive end to consider. The Steelers failed miserably in this aspect down the stretch. Max Starks was whipped three times and Scott the fourth. Luckily, one fumble was recovered by the Steelers and on another Roethlisberger was able to scramble for the first down.

* For those wondering about the close score, 1.) Jacksonville's not that bad and was a poor matchup for the Steelers' porous run D; and 2.) Heinz Field had zero emotion; guys could hardly sell their tickets out front. The fact the Steelers scored on their first three possessions tells me more about Mike Tomlin's motivational skills than anything else.

* Arizona, in dire need of a tackle and yet did not contact Starks, will know the Steelers can't protect Roethlisberger when it counts. The hope here is that Starks was exhausted in the fourth quarter Sunday and that his conditioning will naturally improve.


8 p.m.: Everyone in town will be in an uproar this week. It's what we do after narrow wins against inferior opponents.

The Steelers built a 17-0 lead and held on for a 17-3 win over the Jaguars. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.


8 p.m.: I told you so. Yep, I called the win last week and no one believed me. In fact, I didn't believe me and I changed my mind before the game and predicted the Titans would win. That's when you all knew the Steelers would win, and of course they did.

Anyway, if you thought that made sense, try some of this. It makes even less sense.


3:10 p.m.: Sorry. Forgot the Titans' injury list. Out is Steeler-for-Life S Chris Hope with a broken forearm. Questionable are G Leroy Harris (knee) and TE Craig Stevens (rib).

3 p.m.: Regardless of how the Texans do without Andre Johnson, they'll be remembered in Pittsburgh as a big, tough, physical team that left the following Stelers ruled out of Sunday's game against Tennessee:

NT Casey Hampton (shoulder), LB James Harrison (eye), G Chris Kemoeatu (knee), RB Mewelde Moore (ankle), DE Aaron Smith (foot) and OLB Jason Worilds (quadricep).

These injuries have been expected and discussed, except for Hampton, who'll be replaced at nose tackle by both Chris Hoke and Steve McLendon.

QB Ben Roethlisberger (foot) is probable.

Questionable are CB Cortez Allen (ankle) and RB Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring).

Mendenhall missed two practices and was limited today. On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was asked about running backs playing on Sunday after little work.

"If he's healthy and full speed, missing Wednesday and Thursday just gives him some rest because the running plays don't change and the reads don't change," Arians said. "He studies tape extremely well. He's a pro so he'll be more than ready and as rested as he's been in a while. That may even help him instead of hinder him. That doesn't concern me as much, but I want to make sure he's 100 percent because it's a long, long season."

In an economic note, our resident capologist, Ian Whetstone, reports that Aaron Smith's contract was extended a year and re-worked so that the Steelers could shave $875,000 from this year's salary cap to pay Max Starks. Here's the link to our South Side message board.


5 p.m.: The coordinators met with the media today, so I asked offensive coordinator Bruce Arians about Isaac Redman's playing time and the newly configured guard tandem. Arians also talked about the chances of Max Starks starting at left tackle Sunday after only three practices. Here's the transcript.


9 a.m.: The Steelers signed running back Tristan Davis to their practice squad and released S Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith.

An undrafted free agent out of Auburn in 2009, Davis spent time with Detroit, Miami and Minnesota. He was brought in to simulate RB Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans in practice.

7:38 a.m.: Just found out the Steelers released OT Chris Scott to make room for Max Starks.

7:15 a.m.: We told you last night about Max Starks's visit and a source this morning informed me the signing is done and official and Max will be with the team today.

On another topic, the Professional Football Researchers Association, an organization to which I belong (don't hold that against them), announced its Class of 2011 Hall of Very Good selectees.

Created in 2002, the PFRA Hall of Very Good seeks to honor outstanding players and coaches who are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and seem unlikely to be selected.

The class of 2011 includes quarterback Ken Anderson, wide receiver Cliff Branch, defensive back Bobby Dillon, safety Cliff Harris, wide receiver Harold Jackson, linebacker Andy Russell, coach Lou Saban, defensive tackle Tom Sestak, and tight end Jerry Smith.

"We have an excellent class this year," said PFRA executive director Ken Crippen. "Our members care deeply about the history of the game and their passion is obvious when you look at the variety of backgrounds of the men on this list."


9:22 p.m.: Bob Pompeani of KDKA just tweeted what a source has just confirmed to me, that OT Max Starks visited with the Steelers and is expected to report to the team's facility to sign a contract tomorrow.

Starks has been telling those close to him that his neck is fine and that he's back in shape after reportedly showing up at Ben Roethlisberger's wedding in July at close to 400 pounds.

But Starks worked out for the Minnesota Vikings last week and weighed 350 pounds. He tweeted that he had a good showing and that he expected to sign with a team within a week.

If Starks does sign with the Steelers, he could play either right or left tackle. He played right tackle from 2005 until late in 2006 when he lost the job to Willie Colon. Starks remained a backup until Marvel Smith went down in the fifth week of the 2008 season and Starks moved to left tackle.

The left-handed Starks appeared to be more comfortable on the left side and remained there through 2009 and into 2010 before suffering a neck injury midway the 2010 season. He was replaced by Jonathan Scott and released by the Steelers before this past training camp.

With Colon on IR and replaced by rookie Marcus Gilbert, and Scott coming back from an injury after struggling mightily at LT, the Steelers could put Starks at either spot. My guess is they'll play him at left tackle once he's back in playing shape, with Scott moving over to right tackle and Gilbert becoming the swing tackle off the bench.


5:10 p.m.: I normally don't do this, but here's a terrific report from behind the Steelers' bench by South Side poster Crispy Rat.

2 p.m.: ESPN is reporting that Ben Roethlisberger's left foot is sprained and not broken, as had been feared. No determination has been made on his availability for Sunday, but I'm assuming Charlie Batch will play and the Steelers will focus on the run game and pass off of it ... and find success.

1 p.m.: Reviewing tape and ...

... all I see is effort from the Steelers. They just got pulverized by a bigger, stronger team in a dome. Kind of sad.

... Timmons put his hand down way down the line next to Woodley. Easily blown off the ball for Tate's 20-yard run. No way is he an OLB in this scheme.

... Ike Taylor twisted Andre Johnson's foot on the tackle the play before Johnson crumpled in the open field. It was the same leg.

... Not just because of the TD pass he gave up, but Timmons looks totally lost. On the other hand, Pouncey is playing his ass off. I didn't expect either to be the case.

... There were two blocks in the back on the TD return of the FG block. I think it was called for the block on Hood, not the one on Sepulveda, as Dierdorf claimed.

... Watching Mendenhall block today I now better understand why Mewelde Moore handles third downs.

... This is clearly Pouncey's best game of the year. I'm enjoying the heck out of watching him again. BTW, his penalized block was in the back, not late.

... Dierdorf: "Look at the emotion the Steelers are playing with," after Redman's 3rd-and-short conversion. He carried one more time for 8 yards and was pulled.

... I've got to give the much-maligned David Johnson credit, too. This is the best he's looked as a lead blocker.

... Except for Ziggy's missed block on the field goal attempt, the Steelers' special teams played very well. I was surprised by this. Credit Houston for downing critical late punt inside 1.

... Really, Woodley's only poor play was the 42-yard TD run by Foster. Error in backside fundamentals.

... Funny how "the one mistake" metastasized. It was one of those days.

... Like the pop-up deflections that fell harmlessly incomplete instead of into Steeler arms.

... Only one player is allowed to try to do too much: Polamalu. And the "Polamalu series" following Foster's TD showed that it's with good reason.

... A decade of flopped draft positions evident in this game. J.J. Watt vs. Cam Heyward the perfect microcosm. Heyward will be steady run-stopper who gets the occasional sack. Watt will be Aaron Smith, only quicker.

... Great game, rookie: Curtis Brown.

... WTFRU doing out there, you're a 7-year vet: Chris Kemoeatu.

... Defense and special teams set up the Steelers' offense at the Houston 48 with 3:34 left. Three incompletes and a 3-yard scramble as they sully the bed.

... Just as I expected, they didn't play as poorly as suspected on first viewing. With Roethlisberger out, I expect a more focused game plan for Batch and a win over Tennessee.


8:05 p.m.: Hopefully readers aren't taking this loss too harshly. It's early in the season, and with that in mind I came up with these thoughts and theories and posted them on the message board.

5:05 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger left Reliant Stadium on crutches with an injured left foot incurred during the final drive of the Steelers' 17-10 loss to the Houston Texans.

Roethlisberger was apparently injured in the back of his own end zone after he threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Johnathan Joseph. However, the touchdown was called back because Texans end J.J. Watt had crashed into Roethlisberger's lower legs after appearing to trip over Marcus Gilbert after fighting his way past Maurkice Pouncey.

Roethlisberger continued to play, but couldn't rally the Steelers.

Also injured during the game were RB Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring), DE Aaron Smith (mid-foot sprain), OLB Jason Worilds (quad) and OLB James Harrison (right eye). Harrison returned to the game once his double vision cleared up.


6:30 p.m.: The Steelers aren't going to mess around with Brett Keisel (knee), Doug Legursky (shoulder), and Jonathan Scott (ankle). They've all been ruled out of Sunday's game in Houston.

Replacing each in the starting lineup will be super-sub Ziggy Hood at defensive end, former starter Ramon Foster at right guard, and spot starter Trai Essex at left tackle.

Listed as questionable is rookie OLB Chris Carter (hamstring). Probable are WR Arnaz Battle (knee), NT Steve McLendon (illness) and WR Mike Wallace (rib).

The Steelers expect WR Jerricho Cotchery to see his first action with the team.

For Houston, reserve RB Derrick Ward (ankle, shoulder) has been ruled out and reserve CB Sherrick McManis (hamstring) is doubtful. Starting CB Kareem Jackson is questionable (knee).


8 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger left practice early today and coach Mike Tomlin said, "No issues with Ben. He had a conference call to make inside. Healthy. He's fine." One staffer said that Roethlisberger had completed his conference call with Houston reporters before practice and did not know what conference call he was attending.

In other news that's not news, Antonio Brown was fined $7,500 for a low block. Here's the link.

Bill Cowher was added to the list of Hall of Fame candidates. Someone told me he doesn't have much of a chance because voters believe he'll coach again.

Several Steelers missed Wednesday's non-contact practice: WR Arnaz Battle (knee), DE Brett Keisel (knee), G Doug Legursky (shoulder), and T Jonathan Scott (ankle). … LB James Farrior, DE Aaron Smith and WR Hines Ward were given the day off. … WR Mike Wallace's participation was limited by sore ribs. … Missing practice for the Texans were WR Andre Johnson (knee, toe) and two reserves.

Finally, Rashard Mendenhall talked to a group of reporters and was determined to get more attention for the running game.

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