Daily Buzz V

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

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

TUESDAY, JUNE 4

8 a.m.: The Steelers announced the signings of first-round pick Jarvis Jones and seventh-round pick Nick Williams last night.

Jones, according to the Post-Gazette, signed an $8.5M four-year deal that includes a $4.7M bonus, and an option for a fifth season.

Fourth-round pick Landry Jones remains the only unsigned rookie.

MONDAY, JUNE 3

4:30 p.m.: Instead of practice, OTA No. 7 (of 10) turned into "team-building activity (TBA)" No. 1, to which the media was not invited.

Coach Mike Tomlin didn't discuss details of the activity, but said of tackle Mike Adams, who was stabbed by would-be robbers Saturday morning: "We expect a full recovery from him. I visited with him a couple days this weekend. He's got great team support and family support. We expect a full recovery."

Tomlin put that "full recovery" at "six weeks or so. He's going to go through a couple of weeks of inactivity until he can proceed with the next step."

As a wise man wrote in a note to me, think in terms of months, not weeks.

The Steelers also signed second-round pick Le'Veon Bell to a four-year contract.

SUNDAY, JUNE 2

4:30 a.m.: A report from KDKA-TV and an update from the Post-Gazette are clearing up the story surrounding the stabbing of Steelers right tackle Mike Adams.

Adams had apparently left a restaurant on the South Side -- past midnight, when that restaurant's valet closes -- and was standing near his truck without keys when three men approached in an apparent carjacking attempt. One of the men reportedly pointed a gun in Adams' face and another reportedly stabbed him in the stomach and forearm before the three ran away.

Adams underwent surgery at UPMC Mercy Hospital and will likely recover in time for training camp.

SATURDAY, JUNE 1

12:30 p.m.: On my way out the door I noticed this e-mail from the Steelers concerning second-year right tackle Mike Adams:

"... Adams was injured and is hospitalized after being stabbed in an apparent robbery attempt early Saturday morning in Pittsburgh's South Side.

"'We are aware of the situation regarding Mike Adams being stabbed earlier this morning,' Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said. 'We are in direct communication with both Mike and his family. Mike is expected to make a full recovery.'"

The Post-Gazette is reporting that Adams was attempting to stop a group of men from stealing his truck from his home. The paper quoted Adams' agent, Eric Metz, that Adams underwent surgery without vital organs being involved, and that Adams will be ready for training camp.

THURSDAY, MAY 23

5:30 p.m.: The Steelers today announced the signings of third-round pick Markus Wheaton, fifth-round pick Terry Hawthorne, and sixth-round pick Justin Brown to four-year contracts.

The signings leave the Steelers with only their Nos. 1, 2, 4b and 7 picks to sign.

Wheaton (5-11, 182), who was the 79th overall pick, played at Oregon State He appeared in 49 games, starting the final 30, and recorded a school-record 227 receptions. Wheaton ranks third on the school's all-time receiving yards list (2,994) and sixth on the school's all-time receiving touchdowns list (16).

Hawthorne (6-0, 195) was the 150th overall selection out of Illinois. The two-time All Big-Ten honorable mention (2011-12) saw action in 44 career games, making 26 starts. He recorded 163 tackles, 12.5 TFLs and six interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns.

Brown (6-3, 209) was the 186th overall selection out of Oklahoma. He started 39-of-49 college games played and recorded 146 receptions for 1,926 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Brown transferred to Oklahoma prior to the 2012 season from Penn State.

MONDAY, MAY 20

4 p.m.: The Steelers have signed the second of their two sixth-round draft picks from the 2013 NFL Draft, linebacker Vince Williams, to a four-year contract.

Williams (6-1, 250), who was the 206th overall pick, played collegiately at Florida State. He played in 50 games and made 26 starts in his final two seasons, and recorded 140 tackles, 13.5 TsFL and 3 sacks. Williams served as a team captain, earned All-ACC Honorable Mention honors, Phil Steele Postseason All-ACC Second Team honors and was an Under Armour Senior Bowl selection his senior season.

THURSDAY, MAY 16

10:20 a.m.: Because of the displacement procedures of the 51-man salary cap rule, the Steelers were able to sign fourth-round pick Shamarko Thomas to a four-year contract, even though they had little money over the cap with which to spend.

Thomas (5-9, 217), of Syracuse, was the 111th overall pick. He recorded 263 tackles, 16.5 TFLs and 4 sacks. Last season Thomas was named a consensus All-Big East first-team selection and a third-team All-America by the NFL Draft Report after starting all 13 games. He was a second-team All-Big East selection in 2011 and earned All-Big East freshman team honors in 2009.

Thomas will learn the strong safety position behind Troy Polamalu.

THURSDAY, MAY 9

4:30 p.m.: The retirement of Joe Greene from the Steelers' personnel department has been followed by these changes:

Phil Kreidler has been named the team's college scouting coordinator, replacing Ron Hughes, who will be staying with the organization as a senior assistant, college scouting. Kreidler has spent the last 22 years in the Steelers' player personnel department.

The team has also announced that Dave Petett will replace Kreidler as pro/college scout and Mark Bruener, former tight end and BLESTO scout, will be a college scout.

Additionally, Colbert's son, Dan Colbert, has been hired full-time as a college/pro scout, and Mike Butler has been hired as the team's BLESTO scout.

TUESDAY, MAY 7

7 a.m.: Another part of the great dynasty of the 1970s slipped into the shadows yesterday when the Steelers announced the retirement of Joe Greene from their player personnel department.

The player who's generally regarded as the greatest player in team history, Greene spent the last nine years as a special assistant for pro and college personnel for general manager Kevin Colbert.

"When I played, our success was based on the people there — the players, coaches and front office — and I felt the same way when I was in scouting," said Greene. "The people were very important to me, brought me along and made me feel comfortable, and I thought we made a pretty good team together. The people that I was working with made it all good for me — made it important to me — made it special. I will miss everyone in the Steelers organization."

"There are very few people in the history of the NFL who have had a greater impact on one franchise than Joe Greene has had on the Pittsburgh Steelers," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. 

* The Steelers signed veteran free agent offensive tackle Guy Whimper and undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Terence Garvin to contracts, the team announced Monday.

Whimper was originally drafted in the fourth round (129th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft by the New York Giants out of East Carolina. He played for the Giants from 2006-09 and was a member of their Super Bowl XLII Championship team.

From 2010-12, Whimper played for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's played in 67 career games with 22 starts in the regular season and has seen action in four career postseason contests.

(For those Steelers fans up in arms that the organization would sign one of the worst tackles in the league over their own starting LT last season, Max Starks, it's this: The team does not believe in bringing back former starters once the it has made the decision to move forward with a younger player. Don't look for burned bridges, and also don't look for an explanation that they don't want the better player -- right now -- sitting behind the guy with upside. It's a dynamic that doesn't help team unity.)

* Garvin, who intercepted a Landry Jones pass for a touchdown in Saturday's rookie-camp practice, is a 6-3, 221-pound inside linebacker from West Virginia University who attended the Steelers' rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis.

Garvin played in 47 career games at West Virginia, registering 235 tackles, 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He also intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown, to go along with 11 passes defensed.

To make room on the roster, the team released rookie center Ivory Wade and rookie defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White.

FRIDAY, APRIL 19

6:50 p.m.: The Steelers have agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, the team announced today. Financial terms of the one-year deal were not disclosed.

Stephens-Howling was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round (240th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft. He has played in 57 career games, two postseason contests and has made 10 starts. Stephens-Howling has three career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

FRIDAY, APRIL 19

PRESEASON

Week 1 (Sat., Aug. 10)....... NEW YORK GIANTS......................... 7:30 p.m. (KDKA)

Week 2 (Mon., Aug. 19)...... at Washington................................... 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Week 3 (Sat., Aug. 24)....... KANSAS CITY.................................. 7:30 p.m. (KDKA)

Week 4 (Thurs., Aug. 29)..... at Carolina........................................ 7:30 p.m. (KDKA)

REGULAR SEASON

Sunday, Sept. 8................. TENNESSEE.................................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Monday, Sept. 16............... at Cincinnati...................................... 8:40 p.m. (ESPN/WTAE)

Sunday, Sept. 22............... CHICAGO......................................... 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI)

Sunday, Sept. 29............... vs. Minnesota ***............................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Oct. 6................... Bye

Sunday, Oct. 13................. at New York Jets............................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Oct. 20................. BALTIMORE..................................... 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Oct. 27................. at Oakland........................................ 4:05 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Nov. 3.................. at New England................................. 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Nov. 10................ BUFFALO......................................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Nov. 17................ DETROIT *........................................ 1 p.m. (FOX/WPGH)

Sunday, Nov. 24................ at Cleveland *.................................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Thursday, Nov. 28.............. at Baltimore *.................................... 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI)

Sunday, Dec. 8.................. MIAMI *............................................ 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Dec. 15................ CINCINNATI *................................... 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI)

Sunday, Dec. 22................ at Green Bay *................................... 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Dec. 29................ CLEVELAND *.................................. 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

* Times and TV network may change due to flexible scheduling

** All times are Eastern

*** Game played at Wembley Stadium (London)

THURSDAY, APRIL 18

2:45 p.m.: The Steelers have signed restricted free agent nose tackle Steve McLendon to a three-year, $7.25 million contract with a 2013 cap hit of $1.4 million ($1.67 milllion signing bonus).

McLendon originally signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Troy University on April 27, 2009. He has played in 37 career games and one career postseason contest.

McLendon saw action in all 16 games during the 2012 season, recording a career-high two sacks and forcing his first career fumble.

5 a.m.: Just about when the Steelers thought it was safe to say they survived free agency, the Green Bay Packers hosted Steve McLendon yesterday, only two days before the deadline to sign restricted free agents to an offer sheet.

McLendon, the Steelers' heir apparent to Casey Hampton at nose tackle, received the draft-round compensation tender of $1.323 million from the Steelers, but, unlike Emmanuel Sanders, McLendon would bring no compensation since he came into the league as an undrafted player.

The Steelers, of course, would have five days to match any offer and retain McLendon, but have less than $800,000 to spend.

If McLendon signs to become a backup to B.J. Raji in Green Bay for anything over $2 million in salary this season, the Steelers' most likely option would be to restructure the contract of either Heath Miller ($2.16M) or Ike Taylor ($2.53M).

It's unlikely the Steelers would restructure the contract of injury-plagued Troy Polamalu, but his contract is one of the few available alternatives and could produce a maximum of $3.28 million in additional cap space. Or, it might just take something as small as a Shaun Suisham restructure ($293K), or an extension of Ziggy Hood, to retain McLendon.

Otherwise, the Steelers could just return McLendon's $1.323 tender to the kitty and re-sign Hampton -- who'll turn 36 on Sept. 3 -- for the vet minimum of $940K, of which only $555K would count against the cap.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 17

7:45 a.m.: It's not that I wanted to avoid Dont'a Hightower last year.

He was, you remember, the trendy prediction to land with the Steelers. Reporters still tell their readers that he was the guy, if only it hadn't been for those darned New England Patriots.

But I didn't predict Hightower to land with the Steelers. I went instead with a guy I thought would fill their greatest need. I also thought there was some bust potential with the tall, hip-stiff linebacker from Alabama.

Readers remember that I had become attached to watching Kevin Zeitler play right guard early in the 2011 season, knew the Steelers had a big hole at guard, and thought Zeitler fit the mental and physical make-up which the Steelers have traditionally sought in first-round picks.

I also realized, though, that Zeitler was considered to have better value later in the first round, and thought the ideal draft-day plan for the Steelers would be to trade down and then draft Zeitler. The plan worked perfectly, except it worked perfectly for the Cincinnati Bengals.

At pick 21, the Bengals passed on David DeCastro, traded down six picks, picked up an additional third-round pick, and drafted Zeitler with pick 27. He started early and had a solid, if not outstanding, season.

The lesson I learned from all of that wasn't that I was right in wanting to trade down, but that I was wrong, because the Steelers really wouldn't have had much room with which to trade down from pick 24, and really that if they like the guy they should probably just pick him.

That's how I'm beginning to feel about DeAndre "Nuk" Hopkins, the wide receiver I like far better than Cordarrelle Patterson, while also respectfully passing on the trendy media pick, OLB Jarvis Jones.

Just in reading back through our combine interview with Hopkins, I realize he is the perfect match for the Steelers. He's physically and mentally suited for the challenging road ahead -- that 4.57 40 time be damned.

That time is what makes Hopkins a trade-down candidate because his value doesn't match what the value board in the sky is telling us.

But it's becoming clear, to me anyway, as it did with Zeitler last year, that the Steelers should just take the guy who can play, regardless of any misguided perception of value.

There's also this: With Keenan Allen running into alleged urine-test trouble at the combine, the pool of trade-down candidates is diminished, and that means the Steelers would have fewer fallback candidates should someone grab Hopkins within "the trade-down interim," so to speak.

So, really, my feeling at this point, just about a week away from the draft, is to simply draft Hopkins at 17. My other feeling is that Ben Roethlisberger and the Patriots will be in agreement with me about three years from now.

(P.S. I'm not sure it will help Hopkins' case with the therapists a team might use to analyze prospects, but this story in USA Today recounts his many family tragedies and is a testament to Hopkins' mental toughness. I also would like to think there's a telling and key word in the headline.)

SUNDAY, APRIL 14

6:25 p.m.: According to Jordan Woy, via tweets from ESPN and NFL.com, the Steelers have matched the offer sheet for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

The cost for keeping Sanders will be $2.5 million for one season, or a little less than an additional $1.2 million from their original tender of $1.32 million.

The move also means the Steelers have opted to pass on the Patriots' third-round pick as compensation, and it's likely the Steelers believe they can extend the 26-year-old Sanders to a multi-year deal before the start of the 2013 season.

FRIDAY, APRIL 12

11:10 a.m.: The Steelers announced dates and times for both preseason home games today.

The Steelers will host the New York Giants on Saturday, August 10, at 7:30 p.m., travel to Washington on Monday, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m., and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, August 24, at 7:30 p.m.

6:30 a.m.: The Steelers haven't released the names of this week's prospect visits, but word of one of my favorite buck linebacker prospects leaked when Tony Pauline reported that Sio Moore of UConn visited Thursday.

Moore is a 6-0.6, 245-pounder who played strongside OLB his last two years in college, but would fit be an ideal fit inside for the Steelers.

In three years as a starter at UConn, Moore made 42.5 tackles for loss with 16 sacks, 4 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. He played well in the college all-star games and at the combine ran a 4.65 40 with a 38-inch vertical jump.

The stiffness displayed in his 7.5 3-cone drill is evident on tape, but as with the other ILB prospects the Steelers have hosted he's a solid, mid-round prospect.

I talked to Moore at the combine. He wore glasses and called me "sir" and spoke with such seriousness and earnestness that he reminded me of a young Mike Singletary or Levon Kirkland.

Q: Have you talked to the Steelers?

A: I talked to them briefly.

Q: Can you play inside?

A: Yes sir.

Q: Didn't you play mainly outside?

A: I played a bit of both. I played inside as well as outside.

Q: They play a 3-4. They need a strongside inside guy. Could you handle a take-on position?

A: Yes, sir. I've played the SAM linebacker position on the strong side taking on you-name-the block. And I've been able to do it at a pretty good pace. I'm comfortable how I played the position.

Q: Do you feel you're underrated, or unknown?

A: I've always felt like everything I go into I gotta go into with a chip on my shoulder. I haven't been given a lot. I'd rather earn everything I do have or I do gain. When it comes to proving people wrong, I'm used to it.

Q: Examples?

A: A lot of times I haven't had an opportunity. I've had to make my own opportunity, my own way, even when it came to getting into college. It was something that I had to decide that I wanted to do for me, and I was able to make that happen. But being at UConn, there were many years – every year I was there – people counted us out. They didn't think we could play with the best of them. They didn't think we were going to win. Three out of the five years I was there we went to bowl games, we won Big East championships, we went to the Fiesta Bowl. We have good players and we have good coaches and good people at our program. It's a great honor to come out to the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine game and to the combine to showcase that.

Q: Do you pattern yourself after anyone?

A: I love the game of Von Miller and Darryl Washington, two guys who really play the game athletically and they can play anywhere on the defense at linebacker. They play on the line, they can pass rush, they can cover, they can play in the box vs. the run, and they can play the pass game straight up. I like how that game is played. It's something that I want to prove to teams I can do at a high level.

THURSDAY, APRIL 11

6:45 a.m.: If sportswriting is about taking strong stances, then I don't feel like much of a sportswriter today.

Sure, I've taunted the New England Patriots into signing Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet. As a draftnick approaching a draft rich in third-round talent, I've wanted to take their third-round pick and run with it.

But on the other side, Sanders is a young, smart, fluid and soft-handed receiver at a position of need. And at $2.5 million, the price is relatively cheap to secure a starter.

On the negative side, Sanders is injury-prone and lack explosiveness. And while he's smart enough to know all of the assignments at each of the receiving positions, he never struck me as a split end, particularly one who can "take the top off the defense" in any manner resembling Mike Wallace.

The Steelers could also use that money to procure running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but then again he's another player with foot issues.

As you can see, this decision has nothing to do with rebuilding. It's about Player X and Player Z and what they will cost and how they can be replaced.

I'll just wash my hands of it and trust the Steelers. It's a decision they can afford to make, either way, and really they know better than I the chance of Sanders extending that one-year deal, just as they know the seriousness or lack thereof of each of the aforementioned player's foot problems.

MONDAY, APRIL 8

2 p.m.: Shamarko Thomas, a heat-seaking, 5-foot-8 7/8 missile of a safety, headlined a trio of visiting draft prospects at the South Side today.

* Thomas is a strong safety from Syracuse who has only 2 career interceptions but is a ferocious hitter in the Bob Sanders mold. A starter at cornerback and outside linebacker before settling at strong safety, Thomas ran a 4.42 40 at the combine with 28 bench reps, a vertical jump of 40.5 and a broad jump of 11-1.

Steelers DBs coach Carnell Lake attended Syracuse's pro day to watch Thomas work out. Thomas should be drafted by the end of the fourth round, if concerns about his history of concussions are eased.

* Will Davis of Utah State is a member of a very deep cornerback class. At 5-11.2, 186, Davis ran a 4.51 40 and led everyone at the combine with a time of 6.52 in the 3-cone drill. Davis had 5 interceptions last season (0 as a junior) and 8 in his one season of junior-college ball. The Steelers should have Davis slotted as a third-round nickel corner.

* Nik Embernate (6-3.6, 304, 21 reps at pro day) played all five line OL positions at San Diego State and was named a first team All-Mountain West Conference guard at the end of last season. He was a four-year starter for the ground-oriented Aztecs and is a late-round prospect.

THURSDAY, APRIL 4

6 p.m.: Steelers nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu was sentenced to serve 18 months probation, pay $11,000 in restitution, and perform 150 hours of community service after pleading guilty today to reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and drunken driving last fall on the South Side of Pittsburgh.

"I wrecked my car and panicked," Ta'amu told the judge.

* The Steelers announced their four-game preseason schedule which begins with a home game against the New York Giants and is followed by a Monday night game at Washington (8 p.m., Aug. 19), a home game against Kansas City, and the finale at Carolina. Times and dates of the other three games haven't been determined.

12:15 p.m.: The Steelers are hosting two of my favorite mid-round offensive draft prospects today.

* Readers here know of my infatuation with UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin. He turned his fumbling problem around (1 last season after 21 previous three seasons), after he turned his game around, after he turned his life around about last year at this time. He had a great story to tell me at the combine about it, and you can review it here inside of this column

* Josh Boyce is a 5-11.1, 206-pounder who looked so much bigger than that last season for TCU. He caught 161 passes the last three seasons and set a school record with 22 career TD receptions. No doubt the Steelers are looking into the foot injury that forced him to crutches for his Pro Day. Boyce posted outstanding times of 4.38 in the 40 and 6.68 in the 3-cone at the combine.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 3

12:15 p.m.: It's a big day for visitors, both free agents and draft prospects.

The UFAs are LaRod Stephens-Howling, Tavares Gooden and Antoine Caldwell.

Stephens-Howling was one of Dale Lolley's suggestions in his Free Agency Preview last month. The kick returner/running back from Johnstown has been a message-board favorite for years.

Gooden and Caldwell are recent third-round disappointments. Gooden was chosen by the Ravens out of Miami in 2008 and has spent the last two seasons with the 49ers. Caldwell was chosen by the Texans out of Alabama in 2009 and made 19 starts in four seasons. I'll have a scouting report from Lance Zierlein, who covers the Texans, and I'm prepared to be underwhelmed.

* As for the prospects, check out my story from the combine on Penn State ILB Michael Mauti for a complete review of his past, his three ACL rehabs, his James Harrison-like 99.5-yard interception return against Illinois as the seconds ticked toward halftime, and his thoughts on playing inside in a 3-4 scheme.

* The other visiting draft prospect is 6-4, 276-pound Malliciah Goodman, whom I watched play 5-technique at Clemson last season. He has 36.3-inch arms and huge 11-inch hands but never showed me enough functional strength to play the DE position for the Steelers.

Goodman always struck me as a 4-3 end, and from that position he destroyed an LSU freshman tackle for 3 sacks in Clemson's New Year's Eve bowl win. That was Goodman's first multi-sack game and gave him 7 for the season, 12 for his career.

At the combine I asked him if he could gain enough weight to play the 5-technique in the NFL and he said he'd rather lose weight and play outside linebacker in a 3-4. And -- voila -- the Steelers have him listed as a linebacker today, but, wow, that might be a difficult transition.

10:45 a.m.: Bob Labriola is reporting this morning that the Steelers will sign reserve ILB Stevenson Sylvester to a one-year deal. My guess is it will cost them about half of what the RFA tender of $1.32M would've cost the Steelers last month for the same player.

Sylvester gives the Steelers a bit more depth at ILB, along with practice squad player Marshall McFadden and street free agents Brian Rolle and Dion Wilson.

TUESDAY, APRIL 2

2:45 p.m.: The Steelers brought in three more linebackers and two safeties today.

* The premier prospect of the bunch is Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones, who left USC because of spinal stenosis but hasn't been bothered by the condition since transferring to Georgia. His 4.92 pro day 40 will likely give the Steelers a chance to draft him at 17, if they like what they see and hear from the 6-2, 245-pound pass-rusher today.

As most of you here know, I'm not a fan. I don't think Jones, who will turn 24 in October, can play OLB in a 3-4. I think he's too small, just like Lawrence Timmons. I had hoped he could maybe transition inside as the buck next to Timmons, because Jones is instinctive, but that 4.9 40 blew that idea out of the water. But, perhaps Mike Tomlin has a different perspective.

* The Steelers also brought in a second-round outside linebacker -- Jamie Collins of winless Southern Miss -- who shows plenty of explosiveness off the edge but also a peculiar motor that sputtered and even stopped from time to time last season. The 6-3.4, 250-pounder ran a 4.64 combine 40 with outrageous jumps of 11-7 in the broad and 41.5 in the vertical. He had 10 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last season.

* The Steelers brought in their second mid-round ILB of the week in Khaseem Greene, half-brother of Pitt running back Ray Graham. Greene (6-0.6, 241) is a late third or fourth-round prospect out of Rutgers. He ran a 4.71 40 at the combine with disappointing reps (17), vertical (30) and 3-cone (7.58), but is an instinctive and thick buck-type backer.

* Free safety Phillip Thomas led the country with 8 interceptions last season and has 13 career picks (4 returned for touchdowns) and is perhaps the best ballhawk in the country. Considering the Steelers' lack of turnovers in recent years, they probably wouldn't mind a lack of physicality at times from the 6-0.4, 208-pounder in the open field. Thomas ran a 4.65 combine 40.

* Jonathan Meeks is a late-round strong safety from Clemson who has 7 career interceptions. Meeks is listed at 6-1, 210 by his school.

6:15 a.m.: Let's give the Steelers credit for trying to get to know three enigmatic players who will remain a mystery to those of us on the outside.

The Steelers opened their parade of draft pospects visits yesterday with Texas A&M RB Christine Michael, Ohio State OLB/DE John Simon, and Florida State ILB Vince Williams.

* Starting with Michael, the Steelers continue to try to get a read on a player who just might be the prototype of their traditional running back, and to some is the most talented back in the draft. To others, though, Michael is red-flagged as a character risk after riding a roller coaster last season with new (and ultra successful) coach Kevin Sumlin. Michael explained his problems with Sumlin at the combine, but was later criticized by Gil Brandt for sleeping late at the combine and missing interviews.

Michael was the star of the East-West Shrine Game and then checked into the combine at 5-10, 220, ran his 40 in 4.54, his 10 in 1.49, benched 27 reps, had an all-position combine best vertical jump of 43 inches, and a position-best 3-cone time of 6.69.

Steelers RBs coach Kirby Wilson worked Michael out at the A&M pro day and Michael told him his problems at the combine had to do with a cold and sleep-inducing medication.

The one comment-oriented fact I will state: A&M soared to unexpected heights at the same time Michael was sitting the bench.

* Simon, as I wrote below after Steelers GM Kevin Colbert attended his March 25 pro day, was named Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year after what appeared to me to be a mediocre season through which he struggled with a shoulder injury.

While Simon (6-1, 257) appeared to be stuck in the mud as Ohio State's top pass-rusher, he has great character and ran a solid 4.62 40 at his pro day, obviously causing the Steelers to take another look at a player the tape says should last until the third day of the draft.

* Williams wasn't invited to the combine, but measured 6-0.4, 247 at the Senior Bowl, where he turned heads with an explosive hit that made scouts scramble back through their tape.

What I saw in two games was a linebacker who did flash that explosiveness, but who lacked instincts and appeared to be nothing more than a late-round consideration.

FRIDAY, MARCH 29

9:45 a.m.: As much as I like Ahmad Bradshaw, and as much as the Steelers could use James Sanders for depth at safety, the departures of the two visitors yesterday without signing a contract doesn't really bother me.

They can always sign later, and I've never really been a fan of these pre-draft free-agent hole-filling signings anyway. I've believed, over the years, that those type of signings limit the team -- however subconsciously -- in the draft.

Not that I have ever actually looked into whether this supposition had any factual evidence behind it ... until now.

I went back this morning to note all of the free-agent signings which occurred less than five weeks before the draft, and I attempted to judge whether the Steelers passed on key players at the position because of the holes they had just filled.

What I found, of course, was a mixed bag. Here are the results of the Kevin Colbert era:

2001 --The Steelers signed safety Mike Logan on March 23 and linebacker Mike Jones on April 20.

Pay off? Mixed results. The Steelers still traded up to draft linebacker Kendrell Bell in the second round. He became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year before burning out soon thereafter. The pick could've been used on safety Adrian Wilson, who became one of the best in the game (but who may have caused the Steelers to not draft Troy Polamalu two years later).

2002 -- Signed PK Todd Peterson on March 25 and LB James Farrior on April 5.

Pay off? Rousing thumbs up. Farrior became the defensive captain through two Super Bowl wins. Even though Peterson was 12 for 21 and was gone after the season, the only two drafted kickers -- Jeff Chandler and Travis Dorsch -- were massive failures. Chander was with 6 teams in five years (19 for 27) and Dorsch, a so-called dual kicking threat, has the lowest net punting average (1.8) in NFL history (minimum 5 punts).

2003 -- Signed TE Jay Riemersma on March 19.

Pay off? Thumbs down. OC Mike Mularkey was enamored with a tight end out of Tennessee, but now the Steelers didn't have to draft Jason Witten at pick 59. They instead drafted Alonzo Jackson, with Witten going two picks later. Of course, the great Heath Miller came along two years later.

2005 -- Signed safety Tyrone Carter on April 5.

Pay off? One thumb up. The guy they brought in yesterday, James Sanders, was drafted two picks after the Steelers chose the soon-to-be-cut Fred Gibson in the fourth round. Carter was a helpful reserve on two championship teams.

2007 -- Signed DE Nick Eason on April 17.

Pay off? Thumb up. They probably wouldn't have drafted medical question mark DE Ray McDoonald at pick 77 instead of TE Matt Spaeth. They liked DE Ryan McBean anyway, and unfortunately got him in the fourth. Eason played as a reserve in Super Bowl 43.

2008 -- Signed center Justin Hartwig on March 18.

Pay off? Thumb down, but as with Polamalu and Miller success came later with the drafting of Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. Hartwig did start in Super Bowl 43, and the only sacrifice was not drafting center Mike Pollak at 53 instead of WR Limas Sweed. Pollack started as a rookie with the Colts and stayed there at guard for four seasons.

2009 -- Signed CB Keiwan Ratleff the day before the draft.

Pay off? Thumb up. In desperate need of CBs, the Steelers may have drafted CB Darius Butler instead of DE Ziggy Hood. Neither player has blossomed, but the Steelers waited and drafted CB Keenan Lewis in the third round. Perhaps the trade down for Mike Wallace wouldn't have occurred either.

2010 -- Signed ILB Larry Foote on March 15.

Pay off? Thumbs down. ILB Sean Lee went three picks after Jason Worilds in the second round and ILB NaVorro Bowman went nine picks after Emmanuel Sanders in the third round.

2012 -- TE Leonard Pope signed on April 10.

Pay off? It depends on the development of OT Mike Adams, who was drafted instead of TE Dwayne Allen, who caught 45 passes as a rookie.

So, the compilation of thumbs gives a slight edge to what the Steelers did in signing these late hole-filling free agents. We can widen that margin a bit, too, if we factor in the later boom picks of Polamalu, Miller and Pouncey.

* In a housekeeping note, the Steelers will begin offseason conditioning workouts April 15, with OTAs scheduled for May 21-23, May 28-30, June 3-6 and minicamp set for June 11-13.

THURSDAY, MARCH 28

10 a.m.: Sorry to get off to such a late start today, but it is the start of the Easter holiday and I'll take any excuse and run with it!

Anyway, the Steelers were out in force at both the LSU and USC pro days yesterday. Let's start with the loaded LSU draft class.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and special guest star Ryan Clark showed up in Baton Rouge. "Path to the Draft" showed footage of Tomlin and Clark chatting up DB Tyrann Mathieu. Perhaps Clark is doing what Chase Thomas had suggested in my piece on character at Stanford. Thomas said his coaches depend on the players to find out if potential recruits are phonies or players. Perhaps that was Clark's mission yesterday because Mathieu is worth looking into.

On one hand he's had more than one problem with marijuana, and was eventually kicked off his team last August. On the other hand he's a natural-born playmaker. Even at 5-8.6, and in only two seasons, he reportedly set the school record for forced fumbles and is second in fumble recoveries. He also has sticky fingers, a knack for coming up with the ball, and is an explosive return man. And the coach who kicked him off the team made enthusiastic and glowing comments about Mathieu yesterday. So, what sayeth you, Ryan Clark, yay or nay?

Inside linebacker Kevin Minter and rangy safety Eric Reid would also fit Steelers needs, but are more likely to be chosen late in the first round and/or early in the second. Here's their report from pro day.

The legitimate first-round candidate for the Steelers from LSU is outside linebacker candidate Barkevious Mingo.

Even though he had only 4.5 sacks last season -- which Mingo explained had to do with keeping containment and how offenses attacked LSU -- Mingo is one of the few first-round 3-4 OLB candidates who can drop into coverage, and that'll have to be a factor for a team looking for someone to play opposite LaMarr Woodley.

Mingo didn't bench at his pro day, nor at the combine, so questions about his strength persist. But at 6-4.2, 241 pounds (with long 33.6-inch arms), Mingo ran a 4.58 40 with a 1.55 10 at the combine. In my opinion, he's the only true OLB first-round candidate for the Steelers.

About those pass-rushers, here's an interesting statistical breakdown from The Sideline View.

OK, out in Los Angeles another Steelers safety, Troy Polamalu, turned out with OC Todd Haley, QB coach Randy Fichtner and DB coach Carnell Lake, but Polamalu was there primarily to support his wife's little brother, center Khaled Holmes, who ran a 5.1 40 after coming off an injury-plagued season. Holmes could be a real sleeper for a Steelers team that needs depth along the interior.

Haley and Fichtner obviously came out to see my favorite QB in the draft, Matt Barkley. He might not have a great arm, but he's a leader, a winner, and is the only QB with whom I'd be happy in the second round (just say no to any of them in the first round).

Here's the full USC report from Rob Rang, who wrote in glowing terms about two far more legitimate Steelers prospects, WR Robert Woods and S T.J. McDonald.

Woods drew raves from all, including Barkley. As I wrote from the combine, Woods not only drew interest from the Steelers, but in my opinion fits what they look for in a ballplayer. However, the Steelers would have to nab him after either trading down in the first round or trading up in the second to secure proper value.

I've also written this week about McDonald (scroll down), who according to Rang was "the big winner" yesterday.

Here's what KC DB coach Drae Harris said of McDonald's workout:

"He's such an explosive athlete who is quickly able to take what we were asking him to do and apply it to the field. He's so explosive out of his cuts and covers such ground."

McDonald's game acumen and physical prowess might cause him to become a much better NFL player than college player, and he'll probably be gone by the end of the third round.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27

2:22 p.m.: The Steelers must've liked what they saw from Robert Golden in his bit appearance late last season, because they just gave up their second reserve safety today without a fight.

Will Allen -- turn on your mute button for this link -- signed a one-year contract a few minutes ago with the Cowboys.

Coupled with the earlier loss of Ryan Mundy to the Giants, the Steelers now have only Golden, Damon Cromartie-Smith and Ross Ventrone behind 33-year-old Ryan Clark and soon-to-be 32-year old Troy Polamalu.

It wouldn't come as a surprise to read later today that Mike Tomlin has followed up his visit to Texas (and safety Kenny Vaccaro) yesterday with a visit today to LSU (for safety Eric Reid) or even USC (for safety T.J. McDonald). For more, read my story on McDonald that was published yesterday.

5:50 a.m.: The good news this morning for Steelers fans is that running back Ahmad Bradshaw will make his anticipated visit to team headquarters on Thursday. Scroll down to read about his past -- particularly the interview with former college teammate Doug Legursky -- and how well I believe he would fit with the Steelers.

The Steelers have about $2.17 million in cap money to spend, according to Ian Whetstone's calculations (posted on our message board), which take into account the remainder of 2013.

The bad news this morning -- considering I had called him an ideal fit back in February -- is that safety Kenny Vaccaro could not attempt to improve upon his 4.63 40 time in front of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who showed up at the Texas pro day on Tuesday.

Vaccaro's suffering from the effects of a hip flexor injury and only performed positional drills, which were run by Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Vaccaro did inform DallasCowboys.com blogger Bryan Broaddus that "he had trained in the high 4.4s to low 4.5s and all you would have to do is watch the film to see that."

I'm not sure how that would work with a stopwatch and TV and all, and I'm really not sure if I can trust a blogger who spelled the star of his story's name incorrectly, but Broaddus also reported that defensive end Alex Okafor ran 4.91 and 4.95 40s at 262 pounds, and that a Steelers linebackers coach "worked him as a linebacker. It was clear to me during the drills that he is a much better fit as an end than linebacker ... he tended to labor and struggle."

* In another pro day note, Louisiana Tech WR Quinton Patton -- who said at the combine "I would LOVE to play for the Steelers!" so that he could practice against their defense every day -- ran his 40s in "4.43s to 4.48s," according to Tony Pauline. Patton, a likely second-rounder, also had dinner with the San Francisco 49ers.

TUESDAY, MARCH 26

10:30 a.m.: So much for the return of James Harrison. ESPN's AFC North inside blogger has re-written a story that reports the Steelers will not be bringing him back this season. So, that leaves Jason Worilds, or perhaps even Chris Carter or Adrian Robinson, to take over the main pass-rushing duties on the QB's blindside. Dwight Freeney remains a longshot at best, and the draft crop is limited at the position.

8 a.m.: James Harrison might not have any options around the NFL, but because he didn't say anything stupid upon his release from the Steelers 17 days ago, his agent, according to Adam Schefter, believes Harrison can still come home.

That appears to be the plan from the Harrison camp as he's finding no interest from around the league.

Since the Steelers cut Harrison from an existing contract, they wouldn't be able to sign him back for $840,000 and count only $555,000 against the cap, as any other team could. But the Steelers do have the $840,000 to pay him, if they're interested. It's possible the Steelers have grown enamored with the idea of allowing Jason Worilds to take over Harrison's spot as Worilds enters the final season of his rookie contract.

* GM Kevin Colbert yesterday attended the private workout of Ohio State DE John Simon, according to Rob Rang.

Simon, in my opinion, won the Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year award on reputation alone last season. He did have a career-high 9 sacks, but appeared stuck in the mud most of the season, apparently the result of a knee injury that lingered through the combine and the Ohio State pro day.

The 6-1, 257-pound 3-4 OLB candidate did run 4.62 and 4.7 40s in front of 12 teams yesterday, according to Rang, who calls Simon a second or third-rounder. But in my opinion -- and it's from someone who doesn't remember him as a healthy junior -- Simon is more of a fifth or sixth-rounder.

* The national media must've just learned what Steelers QB coach Randy Fichtner looks like because they seem to be making a big deal about him showing up at pro days. Yesterday he watched Miami Ohio's Zac Dysert, another mid-round prospect.

Again, it's my belief the Steelers should pass on these overrated quarterbacks and take a shot -- if they must -- on a late-rounder such as Duke's Sean Renfree, who had to skip yesterday's pro day because of a torn pectoral muscle.

* And finally, the Pro Football Researchers Association released its finalists for the Hall of Very Good Class of 2013.

Former Steelers safety Donnie Shell is on the list, along with Grady Alderman, Erich Barnes, Mike Curtis, Roman Gabriel, Cookie Gilchrist, Gale Gillingham, Larry Grantham, Ken Gray, Charlie Hennigan, Rich Jackson, Bob Kuechenberg, George Kunz, Daryl Lamonica, Tony Latone, Harvey Martin, Lemar Parrish, Duane Putnam, Bill Stanfill and Jim Tyrer.

The Class of 2013 will be announced in the spring. Among the Class of 2012 was former Steeler L.C. Greenwood.

MONDAY, MARCH 25

5:15 a.m.: Just to start the week with a little housekeeping, Brandon George of The Dallas Morning News reports that the Cowboys are bringing Will Allen in for a visit.

Allen, of course, is a free agent who's been a reserve with the Steelers the past three seasons.

The Cowboys, according to George, are only $100,000 under the cap, but if they sign Allen they would leave the Steelers with little to no experience -- Robert Golden, Damon Cromartie-Smith and January pick-up Ross Ventrone -- on the roster behind Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.

Also, the Steelers have scheduled a prospect visit with Tulane QB Ryan Griffin, a 6-4, 216-pounder whom we discussed around here prior to the Texas vs. The Nation Game. Here's Griffin's story again.

FRIDAY, MARCH 22

5:30 a.m.: Which is the more likely option for the Steelers as they attempt to replace star pass-rusher James Harrison:

A). A 33-year-old free agent from another organization coming off an injury-plagued season in which he had 5 sacks in 15 games (14 starts, including post-season).

B). A college prospect who'll turn 24 in October, has medical questions concerning spinal stenosis, and just ran a school-reported 40 time of 4.92 at his pro day.

C). A former second-round draft pick who just turned 25 this month and had 5 sacks in 16 games (3 starts) as mostly a reserve for the Steelers last season.

I think you know the answer is C). Jason Worilds.

Yet, Pro Football Talk cites the ever-resourceful "source with knowledge of the situation" in "reporting" that the Steelers are interested in signing Dwight Freeney with the "$2-3 million" cap surplus that SCI's Ian Whetstone reports the Steelers possess.

Of course, that money can be used prior to the $5.5 million windfall the release of Willie Colon will provide in June.

So if it's true the Steelers are going against every fiber of their own tradition to use that surplus to sign an aging and injured free agent, then not attempting to sign departed cornerback Keenan Lewis was an even bigger mistake than I had originally believed.

Not to bring up a sore subject.

Let's just move on to Jarvis Jones, a player I don't feel can play 3-4 OLB in the NFL. But I do agree with his assessment of himself yesterday that "I am a football player."

I just don't believe he's the 17th best football player in this draft. And his 4.92 40 yesterday blew out my wish that he be looked at as an inside buck linebacker.

Not that Larry Foote's any faster than Jones, but Foote was faster as a healthy fourth-rounder 11 years ago. As a scout told me when I asked him a few years ago if the Steelers would draft Harrison all over again: "No way. If he came out today we'd have the same problem with his size and speed."

So unless the Steelers really are bucking their tradition these days, the same will hold for Jones, as well as Freeney.

THURSDAY, MARCH 21

8:15 a.m.: The Steelers had dinner with Tennessee QB Tyler Bray on Tuesday night, according to ESPN tweeter Adam Schefter, but Steelers fans shouldn't be nervous if the team is serious about drafting Bray in the second or third round because A.) Bray has more natural ability than the rest of the QB crop, and B.) the Steelers weren't taking Mike Glennon to dinner.

Glennon, the too-tall QB from N.C. State, also had his pro day on Wednesday, and I can't determine whether Glennon can someday become Brad Johnson, or whether he'll just remain Kent Graham for the rest of his life. So, for not wasting time with Graham, er, Glennon, Steelers fans should be thankful.

Are the Steelers serious about Bray? Well, I kind of hope not. While I admire his skill set, he has done some pretty dumb things in the not-so-distant past. If he's as immature as that story makes him out to be, the Steelers would have found that out Tuesday night over dinner.

Readers of this site also know that I question the entire group of Vols and ex-Vols coming out this draft season. Here are their pro day results. But I do like Dallas Thomas, their 6-5, 306-pound starting left guard who would often move to left tackle during games. The Steelers need another guard-tackle on their depth chart and I'm thinking Thomas could be available in the third round.

* Speaking of the N.C. State pro day, I'm hoping the Steelers are keeping an eye on safety Earl Wolff, who played the quiet man role yesterday while the hordes came for Glennon and cornerback David Amerson.

* And back to the Steelers' interest level in former Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Bradshaw explained that he's waiting until his "twice-broken right foot is closer to 100 percent" before visiting NFL teams, according to CBS Sports.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20

10:45 a.m.: Dinner with draft prospects seems to be the latest addition to The Steeler Way. Keith Butler enjoyed a meal with Arthur Brown, and Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Kirby Wilson dined with Le'Veon Bell. These were the only two that made it to the public prints until today, when it was revealed that Steelers OC Todd Haley and QB coach Randy Fichtner had dinner Monday night with Florida State QB E.J. Manuel.

"The dinner with Pittsburgh was more to get a feel for the kind of guy I am," Manuel told blogger John Kryk. "It wasn't really about the X's and O's — it was more so about getting accustomed to each other, maybe, and forming a relationship."

Manuel then went out the next day -- yesterday -- and according to The Associated Press "threw a variety of passes with near perfect precision."

Well, one would hope!

What a waste of time it is for coaches to flock to pro days to watch someone throw against air. Not that I have a problem with having dinner and getting to know a QB (unless you think you're going to draft this one in the first round), but scouts are better off staying home and watching a confused and flummoxed Manuel labor through poor mechanics and decisions against rival Florida at the end of the year.

Scouts say he's had better games, but if those better games and that rocket arm are the reasons Manuel is climbing into the first two rounds as a prospect, I say good luck to the team that wants to deal with all of that because it looks like a long, hard slog.

Steelers fans should just hope this was a big night out for Haley and Fichtner as opposed to a serious meeting.

* I did notice Haley and Fichtner, along with Kevin Colbert and scout Mark Gorscak, showing up on film during the "Path to the Draft" news report on the FSU pro day. I assume Colbert and Gorscak were there to get a closer look at DEs Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine (along with a couple of other irrelevant FSU prospects).

If you remember my reaction from the combine, I was gaga after meeting Carradine. He had the manly, serious, no-nonsense maturity level of James Harrison, but with a Marine-like discipline that caused good manners and attentiveness to even the most sniveling of us reporters.

Carradine spoke of working out in April (April 20 date has been set) off of his ACL injury in November, and he was serious about it. And his stock had been rising among the sources I read on the 'net. so I was looking forward to getting home and breaking out the tapes.

And I was a bit disappointed. Carradine, I'm afraid, is strictly a 4-3 end, while his bookend, Werner, showed some nifty agility during his linebacker workout at the combine. That's how it's being reported today after Werner again showed the ability to drop into coverage as an outside linebacker.

I still consider Werner nothing more than a longshot to land with the Steelers. In fact, here's my complete look at how I see the Steelers' draft unfolding from the vantage point of the first day of spring.

TUESDAY, MARCH 19

9:45 a.m.: As highly as I think of Tavon Austin -- "one of the quickest guys I've ever seen and I've been around the game since 1973," said Ron Jaworski -- I have to agree with columnist John Harris that Austin's teammate and bookend at West Virginia University, Stedman Bailey, would be a terrific second-round pick by the Steelers.

Bailey, of course, led the nation with 25 touchdown catches and caught 114 passes last season. At the combine he measured 5-10.2, 193, ran the 40 in 4.52, with 11 reps, a 34.5 vertical and outstanding agility times of 6.81 in the 3-cone and 4.09 in the short shuttle.

At the combine Bailey told me he had not heard from the Steelers, but since he spent four years living in nearby Morgantown I asked him if he had any particular interest in playing for them.

"I'm very familiar with them and I know their star wide receiver, Antonio Brown. We grew up in the same neighborhood," Bailey said. "If I could go there and play alongside him, just knowing him so well -- we have very similar backgrounds -- that would be a good deal."

Since it's a well-known story that Brown had to live on the street, in cars, with friends and coaches, in Miami, I asked Bailey if he was familiar with that side of Brown, and how he avoided trouble the way Brown did.

"Growing up in Miami, it's very easy to get yourself into trouble," Bailey said. "I'm very proud of him, and the level of success he's at right now. I actually want to follow in his footsteps. He's doing some very good things in the NFL and I want to do that too."

And the key to avoiding trouble?

"Just having guidance in your life. My mom did a good job of raising me. She was a single parent raising me and my brother. She did a good job of raising me, teaching me right from wrong. That kept me grounded, so I didn't find myself falling into the many troubles that you can in Miami."

Bailey was a 6A first-team all-state receiver at Miramar High in Miami. At WVU he caught 210 passes at 15.3 yards per catch. Yet, he might be the least-known superstar coming out of college.

"I definitely feel like it's my measurables," Bailey explained. "From what I hear, time and time again, is ‘He's only 5-10, and he's probably not going to do that in the NFL against bigger corners.'

"I feel like if I was 6-3, 6-2 or anything over 6-foot with the numbers I put up, I'd probably be the No. 1 receiver. But that's not the case."

If the Steelers don't grab someone such as Austin or Keenan Allen in the first round, they could bolster roster holes at inside linebacker or safety by drafting Arthur Brown or Kenny Vaccaro first, and then pick from among a target group of second and third-round receivers that would certainly include Bailey.

They just had better not wait too long. The videotape paints a far more detailed picture than the measuring tape does.

6:20 a.m.: The NFL awarded the Steelers a sixth-round compensatory pick, which is a round higher than expected, for losing William Gay last year in free agency. The Steelers will receive the 38th pick in the sixth round. And since I've been undecided on whether to put a sixth or seventh-round projection on Pitt WR/TE Mike Shanahan, I'll put him right here at pick 206.

MONDAY, MARCH 18

1:20 p.m.: There are people who have the formula, and the time, to discern compensatory draft picks. This expert didn't surprise those of us who follow the Steelers and have assumed a seventh-round pick for losing William Gay last year.

7:45 a.m.: The names change on a daily basis, and today the names on the Steelers' free agency rumor mill are exquisite. And I could even see the Steelers signing one of them.

First of all, 29-year-old Elvis Dumervil, a pass-rushing star for a Super Bowl contender, has little to no chance of ending up in Pittsburgh.

Dumervil has 63.5 sacks in 7 seasons with the Denver Broncos and was released last Friday because of a paperwork snafu that resulted in Dumervil firing his agent. The Steelers are reportedly interested, but wouldn't every NFL team at least poke its nose into that situation?

Dumervil reportedly wants to return to the Broncos, who will most assuredly work to make that happen.

Ahmad Bradshaw is an entirely different matter. The 1,015-yard rusher last season for the New York Giants was cut nearly a month ago to save $2.7 million in cap space due to the presence of younger backs David Wilson and Andre Brown.

Bradshaw, who will turn 27 tomorrow, has 4,232 career rushing yards (4.6 avg.) and 132 receptions in six seasons with the Giants and has always been held in high regard by the Steelers' coaching staff and players. In fact, here's the transcript of an interview I had with Bradshaw's former teammate at Marshall, Doug Legursky:

Q: What can you tell me about Ahmad?

DL: He's a good guy. I played against him in high school. Our high schools played against each other. We came in freshman year together. Good hard runner, very talented guy. Plays hard out there on the field. That's all you can ask for out of a running back. He left a year early to go into the draft. He's had a good career so far.

Q: Was there a fall off after he left?

DL: Of course. Anytime a talent like that leaves your team there's always going to be a difference. We had good running backs still at the time other than him, but he was a great talent. Anytime somebody like that moves on to the next level there's definitely a difference in play.

Q: Didn't he go to Bill Dudley's high school?

DL: Yeah. He went to Graham. That's on the Virginia side of Bluefield.

Q: You played against him?

DL: Yeah, our senior year, Graham vs. Beckley. We went down there and played them. We won. No big deal.

Q: What most impressed you about him at Marshall?

DL: His quick short-area speed and his burst. He hits holes. We played against UTEP our junior years together. I think he had 6 touchdowns in that one game. It was one of those games where we really wanted to run the ball and that's what we did. We pounded the same play over and over again and he kept scoring. It showed what kind of player he is.

Q: Were you a captain?

DL: Yeah. He led too. He was more of a quiet guy. Everybody knew he was going to go on to the next level and do great things. For him to go out there on the field and do what he did every Saturday, a lot of the guys looked up to him.

Q: Do you stay in contact with him?

DL: Yeah. I've talked to him throughout the years here and there. Every once in a while we'll catch each other back at Marshall. He's one of my good buddies.

Just a couple of notes on the interview: Bradshaw rushed for 261 yards and 5 touchdowns against UTEP his junior season; he rushed for 2,982 yards (5.3 avg.) at Marshall before coming out early (seventh-round pick); and, Dudley was the last Steeler to lead the NFL in rushing (1946).

Here's what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had to say about Bradshaw before the Giants game last November 4:

"Ahmad Bradshaw is a tough and competitive runner. He finishes plays. I have a great deal of respect for how he plays and what he is capable of. He is their lead dog."

Playing with a foot injury that had him listed as questionable before the game, Bradshaw carried 15 times for 48 yards in the loss to the Steelers.

SATURDAY, MARCH 16

6:45 p.m.: A source in New England has informed me that no offer sheet -- as reported by a metro paper in Pittsburgh -- has been signed by Emmanuel Sanders, or even offered. But the source said not to rule one out in the near future as the Patriots mull their options.

6:45 a.m.: The Steelers may have lost the remaining members of their 2008 draft class when they lost Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Mundy a few days ago, but they appear intent on bringing back their 2007 class.

First they picked up fifth-round pick Will Gay last week, and last night, according to ESPN, the Steelers brought back that class's third-round pick, TE Matt Spaeth.

Spaeth, a 6-7 blocking TE, spent four seasons with the Steelers and caught 36 passes for 275 yards and 5 touchdowns. He spent the last two seasons with the Chicago Bears and caught 13 passes for 78 yards and 3 touchdowns. Spaeth was released because the Bears didn't want to pay him a $500,000 roster bonus and he signed last night with the Steelers, who needed help at the position due to the ACL rehabilitation of Heath Miller.

No word on the availability of fellow '07 class members Ryan McBean or Cameron Stephenson.

* The New England Patriots have reportedly agreed with Emmanuel Sanders on an offer sheet that would give the Steelers five days to match, otherwise they lose Sanders for a third-round draft pick from the Patriots.

In another season -- with more than Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, David Gilreath and Plaxico Burress as the only rostered Steelers receivers -- I'd take the third-round pick and run. Now, I'll have to think about it, but I still might take the third-round pick.

Funny, when you look around the 'Net and Steelers fans are smashing things over Sanders. I really have to wonder what the Patriots are thinking here. So, the guy's "quick to the tuck." And he's smart. And he's injured, small, and has average speed. I don't get it. Sorry.

You know what? Give me the third-round pick.

FRIDAY, MARCH 15

5 a.m.: Readers of this site know that Keenan Lewis wanted to stay in Pittsburgh and that his starting point in the negotiations was 5 years for $35 million.

Readers of this site trusted me with this information because I believed it. I didn't get it from Keenan during a locker room interview in which players spin PR for personal gain. I didn't get it from an agent. I didn't get it from his pal Mike Wallace, or from the team. I got it from a confidant of Lewis's, someone Lewis never expected to be friendly with someone who would put it in a blog.

That's why I trusted the information and believe in my heart that Lewis really did want to come back to Pittsburgh.

But the Steelers didn't give him a chance. They didn't want to set the market for someone with only 1 career interception since drafting him in the third round in 2009. They let him test the market, and then they decided they could live without him.

Perhaps spooked by their cap numbers, and at the same time impressed by Cortez Allen's turnover party late last season, the Steelers figured last week that they could persevere without their best cornerback last year, and they brought in Will Gay to feather the expected blow. Gay would become the new nickel upon the promotion of Allen.

On the surface, it's not a bad plan for the immediate and current present. But what about the day when 33-year-old Ike Taylor hangs it up?

Really, it's understandable that the Steelers would not want to sign Lewis to a contract and bring him back as a No. 3. But this determination was made after a season in which he was the team's best CB? I understand the lack of turnovers, but why wasn't this determination made last training camp when Allen was playing just as well as Lewis?

The problem for me, beyond the big picture, is that the Steelers overpaid for Gay, a minimum-wage talent, and they let Lewis go for a 5 year, $25.3 million deal to the New Orleans Saints. Gay's cap hit this season will be about $1.2 million; Lewis's will be about $2.2 million. That difference could've easily been resolved.

There's a lot of apologizing going on from fans in the media -- apparently fans of Gay's -- about either Lewis's guaranteed money in 2014 or how Lewis suddenly had the option of playing in his hometown, which he hadn't counted upon last December.

Sorry, but I'm not buying either. There was no effort made to keep Lewis, and that's the bottom line. And now another promising, soon-to-be 27-year-old is gone and the Steelers, who seemed to always have a bigger picture in mind, are left to tell fans about the promise of Justin King, a former starter for an awful Rams team who was picked up off the scrap heap late last season.

Perhaps King will one day replace Taylor, if Taylor ever really does get old. Then again, maybe Taylor will play forever. That seems to be the more readable plan.

THURSDAY, MARCH 14

7 a.m.: A quick run through the relevant pro days tells us that Eddie Lacy still isn't running because of an injury. That, of course, didn't stop NT Jesse Williams, who didn't run at the combine at 323 pounds, but ran yesterday in what "Alabama said" was in the 4.78-4.9 range.

There was no report of whether 'Bama grad John Mitchell was in attendance, but there's no doubt the Steelers' DL coach would've appreciated the big man's mobility.

Another prospect for Mitchell to keep in mind for the post-draft signings is DT/DE Damion Square (6-2, 293), who's still recovering from an injury that is a well-guarded secret.

At Marshall, a player I don't know much about, but should, looked like the deep threat the experts say Aaron Dobson is.

The 6-3, 210-pounder with long 33-inch arms ran 4.42 and 4.40 40s, benched 16 reps and jumped 35 vertical inches. He's considered a second-rounder and the Steelers were at Marshall looking Dobson over.

Finally, at Rutgers, Ray Graham's half-brother, Khaseem Greene, ran with 10 extra pounds and still came in with respectable 4.61 clockings. Greene is a 6-0.6, 241-pound ILB prospect and the Steelers had someone there taking notes.

As for the Oklahoma pro day, the only player of Steelers relevance is safety Tony Jefferson, and I wrote him off on Feb. 24 (scroll down).

6 a.m.: Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and running backs coach Kirby Wilson had dinner Tuesday night with Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell and tight end Dion Sims.

At the combine, Bell (6-1.3, 230) ran the 40 in 4.6 with 24 bench reps, had a 31.5 vertical jump, and turned in an impressive three-cone time of 6.75. He turned 21 years old in February and could be drafted anywhere from the middle of the second round to the top of the fourth. He's a bigger back who runs a bit upright. After watching one of his tapes during the season I jotted down comparisons to former Tampa Bay Buc James Wilder and current Bengal BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

Sims is a mid-round TE who reportedly played in the 280-pound range last season and looked like he was eating himself into the offensive line. But he measured 6-4.7, 262 at the combine and ran a respectable 4.75 40 with 22 reps and an impressive 35-inch vertical jump.

5 a.m.: The Steelers have re-signed long-snapper Greg Warren to a one-year contract that will count $555,000 against the salary cap.

Entering his ninth season with the team, Warren joins Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote and Brett Keisel as rostered Steelers who've been a part of all three recent Super Bowl seasons. Warren played in Super Bowls 40 and 45 and was on the injured reserve list for Super Bowl 43.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 13

2:45 p.m.: Rashard Mendenhall just signed a one-year $2.5M contract with the Arizona Cardinals.

2:30 p.m.: The Steelers announced the release of Willie Colon, last season's starting left guard.

11:30 a.m.: ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported the Steelers and QB Bruce Gradkowski have agreed on a three-year contract.

Gradkowski, of course, is well known to Steelers fans who remember him from his high school days at Seton-La Salle. They also remember Gradkowski throwing TD passes of 17, 75 and 11 yards in the fourth quarter to rally the Oakland Raiders to a 27-24 win over the Steelers at Heinz Field in 2009.

Gradkowski, 30, spent the last two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals and relieves the Steelers of having to search for someone to draft in this year's weak crop of quarterbacks.

TUESDAY, MARCH 12

9:45 p.m.: According to Adam Schefter, the Steelers will host free agent quarterback Bruce Gradkowski on Wednesday.

Gradkowski, 30, is a Pittsburgh native who attended Seton-La Salle High School and then Toledo University before playing for five NFL teams in the last seven years, most recently with the Cincinnati Bengals. Gradkowski has a career passer rating of 65.8.

2:35 p.m.: White smoke just appeared above the South Side facility, indicating the Steelers have reached an agreement on a three-year contract with Larry Foote, solving for now a crisis at inside linebacker.

1:45 p.m.: OK, let me take a breath and plunge into the rumors hitting the net concerning your Steelers free agents:

* The Steelers plan to release OG Willie Colon today and designate him as a June 1 cut, meaning the Steelers will save $5.5 million against the cap but not until June 1. So they'll use that money to sign draft picks and finance their late-summer, preseason and in-season moves.

* The Steelers are also trying to convince Larry Foote to remain in Pittsburgh, where he has repeatedly said he feels most comfortable. Arizona is also interested in Foote, but does he really want to go to a losing organization and play in that heat with a rookie quarterback?

* The Steelers will offer WR Plaxico Burress a one-year, vet-minimum contract sometime this week.

* Also, Ramon Foster was given a $900,000 bonus Monday and will hit the cap for $1.4 million this year. It's almost the price of a low-tender RFA, but those tenders aren't as cheap as they should be these days.

10 a.m.: The Steelers have restructured the contract of LaMarr Woodley and cleared $4.05 million in cap space, according to SCI capologist Ian Whetstone.

But don't believe that savings, combined with the $5.12 million in savings from the release of James Harrison, will allow the Steelers to delve deeply into the free-agent market.

The Steelers needed to slash $10 million in order to pay for the $5.3 million in RFA tenders (Isaac Redman, Jon Dwyer, Steve McLendon, Emmanuel Sanders), the $1.04 million due exclusive rights free agents (Baron Batch, DeMarcus Van Dyke), and eventually sign their draft pool, players Nos. 52 and 53, and a practice squad. That $10 million also allows for an injury-replacement pool for the coming season.

And, of course, the Steelers need to address the dire need at inside linebacker since they haven't re-signed Larry Foote nor have they tendered Stevenson Sylvester

MONDAY, MARCH 11

4 p.m.: At least there's a silver lining to the James Harrison release.

The Steelers signed guard Ramon Foster to a three-year contract the day before he was set to hit the open market. Foster could take over the left guard position opposite Dave DeCastro if the Steelers designate Willie Colon as one of their June cuts. Or Foster could remain the line's top guard-tackle backup ahead of Kelvin Beachum.

If the Steelers cut Colon now, they will save $1.2 million in cap space. If they designate him for a June cut, they will save $5.5 million and would be able to sign their draft picks, practice squad and carry an emergency fund into the season. The down side of the latter maneuver is that over $4M in dead money will hit the cap on behalf of Colon next season.

SATURDAY, MARCH 9

6 a.m.: Sorry, but I have to make this quick today. I have to jump in the car and head to Baltimore for a girls soccer game. The last time I was there the ref turned to one of our complaining parents and said, "Quit your whining. You'll get home in enough time to see your Steelers get their asses kicked."

Jerk.

Anyway, in Pro Day news, while GM Kevin Colbert and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau went to Ohio State to watch NT Johnathan Hankins do only positional drills, a strong contingent of Steelers went to Texas A&M to watch a cache of intriguing prospects.

One veteran NFL scribe reported that the Steelers were "spending a lot of time with Damontre Moore."

Moore added 10 pounds (260) apparently in an attempt to improve on his 12 reps at the combine, and he did 19 reps yesterday but of course in this athletic game of cat-and-mouse he didn't run the 40 with the added weight. So Moore sat on his 4.95 combine time.

And this guy's supposed to be the next Terrell Suggs?

More interesting to me was that The Dallas Morning News reported Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson was working out enigmatic RB Christine (Kris-tin) Michael, the 220-pound prototype of a Steelers power back.

Michael, of course, was benched twice last season by new A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, and then reportedly overslept and missed interviews at the combine. But Michael explained to Wilson that he overslept at the combine because of sickness and "night-time cold medicine."

I'll have more on Michael on Monday.

But my very favorite A&M Aggie is Hines Ward-playalike WR Ryan Swope, the 6-0.2, 205-pounder who ran a 4.34 official 40 at the combine. He didn't run yesterday, but made a fingertip catch that, according to AggieSports.com, ended up "wowing one Pittsburgh Steelers scout."

All I can say is that the rest of the league can have Luke Joeckel with the first pick, and the "next Terrell Suggs" with the 18th pick, or even the Heisman Trophy winner if he were to come out somehow. Just give me the big running back and the receiver who has the heart of, and blocks like, (while running faster than) Hines Ward.

FRIDAY, MARCH 8

11 a.m.: Let's backtrack a bit to talk about DE Corey Lemonier, the 3-4 OLB prospect Steelers LBs coach Keith Butler worked out at the Auburn Pro Day a couple of days ago.

I've compared Lemonier to former Steelers OLB Jason Gildon, a third-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 1994. Gildon was listed by the Steelers at 6-3, 255, and Lemonier, at the combine, measured 6-3.3, 255 (34.4 arms, 4.6 official 40, 1.57 10, 27 reps, 33 VJ, 9-11 BJ, 7.14 3C, 4.4 SS).

Lemonier played at 240 this past season and added 15 pounds, he said, by learning how to eat right at ARI, where he's been working out since the end of the season.

At Auburn, Lemonier won a national- championship ring as a backup DE before breaking out as a starter in 2011 with 9.5 sacks. Those outstanding rush skills continued this past season when he had 5 sacks in his first 4 games, but he recorded only half a sack in the final 8 games.

So let's pick up my interview with him in Indianapolis there. You may have seen parts of this in recent stories, but those quotes were only poorly transcribed bits.

Q: Your production really tailed off in the second half of the season. Was it because teams had identified you as the one player to block?

A: Yeah, but I figure that's part of the game. I just kept playing on. It just happens.

Q: What was going on?

A: Chip blocks, double teams, and all that stuff. It happens. It got to me in the middle of the season and then became nothing after that. It was normal getting double-teamed and chip-blocked and all of that.

Q: How important will technique be for you as you move to the NFL?

A: It's huge, especially for me trying to learn the linebacker position. It's all about technique. It's something I need to learn and I'm pretty raw at that. I think that's a good thing because I have no bad habits or bad techniques, so I can grow and improve off of that.

Q: Is 3-4 outside linebacker your niche?

A: Yeah. I think so. But whatever team decides to get me, and put in whatever spot they put me in, I'm going to play that.

Q: How often did you drop into coverage at Auburn?

A: We did a lot more than my two previous years. It was a few more times.

Q: Did you break up any passes?

A: No.

Q: What players and teams did you watch growing up?

A: I was born in Miami so I watched the Miami Dolphins a lot. I was a big fan of Jason Taylor growing up.

Q: How did things get so bad so quickly at Auburn?

A: I think there were just so many negative things going on with the team, players getting arrested, just trouble. I think that just carried on like a black cloud. It resulted in us becoming one of the worst teams in the SEC. It was tough but we still fought every game. But there was no question that every day in practice we came out and wanted to win. Our confidence wasn't down. It was just a bad year.

* Just a few personal observations on Lemonier: 1.) A draft expert tweeted that Lemonier -- who clearly has a burst but who, like Gildon and another comparison, Otis Wilson, clearly has some hip stiffness -- performed poorly in OLB drills at the combine, but Lemonier looked fine in the only rep I caught on TV (remember that some guys just aren't used to watching OLB conversion prospects as we in Pittsburgh are); and 2.) He was a nice guy, and maybe too nice, considering how nice of a guy Jason Worilds is and how much you want your linebackers to have the ornery demeanor of, say, a James Harrison or Joey Porter or, yes, Gildon.

I still like Lemonier as a prospect, as most readers here learned during the college season. I thought he would make an outstanding second-round choice, and I still like him there for the Steelers.

P.S. Lemonier won't turn 22 until Nov. 19.

7:45 a.m.: After attending Auburn's Pro Day on Wednesday to work out outside linebacker prospect Corey Lemonier (Lem-on-WAH), Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler, along with personnel assistant Joe Greene, attended the TCU Pro Day on Thursday to work out late-round prospect Stansly Maponga, a 6-2, 256-pound defensive end who came out after a junior season in which he produced 4 sacks. Maponga drew the attention of NFL scouts after recording 9 sacks as a redshirt sophomore.

Maponga ran 4.84 and 4.85 40s in spite of a sore left foot that Maponga said will need surgery soon. But at least Maponga worked out. The same couldn't be said for WR Josh Boyce, who ran a 4.38 40 at the combine, but was on crutches yesterday with a fractured fifth metatarsal of his right foot. He expects to be sidelined for 6-8 weeks.

The Steelers sent DBs coach Carnell Lake to Syracuse to work out 5-8.7 safety Shamarko Thomas, but according to NFL Network Thomas pulled up lame with a leg injury and did not attempt to improve upon his 4.42 (4.38 unofficial) combine time or his 40.5 vertical jump. Thomas told The Post-Standard and scouts that he's suffered two career concussions.

The Steelers also sent a scout to the Clemson Pro Day to watch WR DeAndre Hopkins.

According to one report in The Post and Courier, Hopkins improved on his 4.57 40 combine time with Pro Day times of 4.5 and 4.41 in the school's new $9 million indoor track facility. But the same outlet also reported that Hopkins ran a 4.55 40. Let's just call the 6-1, 214 strong-handed, long-armed, heady Hopkins a 4.5 guy.

The Steelers had scouts at Nebraska looking at late-round/priority free agent Daimion Stafford, a safety, but let's hope they also took a look at mid-round running back Rex Burkhead. According to the Journal Star Burkhead (5-10, 214) improved on his 4.73 combine 40 by running "in the 4.5s."

* The feature Pro Day atractions today are Ohio State and Texas A&M, but more interesting to the Steelers perhaps will be the workouts of Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien and Southern Mississippi DE/LB Jamie Collins.

THURSDAY, MARCH 7

7 a.m.: Only two running backs -- both fullbacks -- ran slower 40s at the NFL Combine than Pitt's Ray Graham, who ran a 4.8.

Not that it mattered much to me. My initial reaction after seeing Graham's time was that the Steelers could now draft him -- as a second quality running back -- in the sixth round.

Well, Graham did what most poor performers in Indy do, he ran well in the comfortable surroundings of his Pro Day yesterday. According to several reports -- I'll link to this one -- Graham ran 4.59 and 4.63 40s. He didn't improve much on the rest of his numbers, but, again, 40 times -- and particularly most Pro Day numbers -- don't matter much to me, only now the Steelers may have to jump for Graham in the fifth round if they're so inclined.

One interesting note from the Pitt Pro Day was that WR Mike Shanahan put on 10 pounds -- to 241 -- and is now hoping to play in the league as a tight end.

The Steelers like Shanahan, like his potential to cover kicks on special teams, and I've always assumed he would have to play more of a TE/HB position.

Even at 241, Shanahan might not block much in-line, but he'll give enough effort when called upon and his pass-catching skills would be a plus for the position.

I don't know if Shanahan will last until the seventh round, but he's my favorite sleeper in this draft, particularly since, with so many needs, the Steelers are unlikely to draft, say, Dion Sims, in the fourth round.

* Speaking of improved times, Wisconsin RB Montee Ball -- whom the Steelers interviewed formally at the combine -- reportedly ran a 4.46 at his Pro Day. The guy's been durable and productive, and that kind of 40 time could propel him to the top of the RB draft board.

* Today's choice Pro Day assignments are: Arizona to see sleeper QB Matt Scott; Clemson to see if WR DeAndre Hopkins can improve on that hideous 4.5 short-shuttle time he ran at the combine; and Syracuse to see the next Bob Sanders, 5-8.7 safety Shamarko Thomas.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6

8:30 a.m.: SCI capologist Ian Whetstone has updated his financial board in our message-board area after the addition of William Gay and his $1.17M cap hit.

According to Ian's numbers, the Steelers are $726,439 under the cap. But with two exclusive-rights free agents, five restricted free agents, draft picks, players Nos. 52 and 53 and a practice squad yet to sign, not to mention standard workout bonuses, plus a $2M in-season emergency fund, Ian figures the Steelers need to clear another $10.9M.

To get there, a full restructure of LaMarr Woodley's contract would provide a little over $6M, and the team is working now on doing something with James Harrison. A full restructure of Harrison's contract could provide $2.9M, while a termination would save $5.1M. Look for something in between with a one-year contract extension.

You can read the rest of Ian's board to pick out some possible cuts or restructures. One thing that caught my eye is the Steelers could save $667K by cutting William Gay.

Just kidding. I think.

* Also, according to NFLDraftScout.com:

Here's a link to more information on Brandon Williams.

TUESDAY, MARCH 5

2 p.m.: Ugh. It turns out William Gay is being paid the Bryant McFadden II salary. So Gay's $1M salary this year will result in a $1.17M cap hit for a guy I believe could've been signed for minimum wage in a month. The money would've been put to better use for Keenan Allen and a sixth-round draft pick.

10:45 a.m.: I knew I should've waited until Ian Whetstone responded to my query, but he just did and I have a minor correction to make: The minimum salary for a seventh-year player is the sixth-year number, which in this case is $715,000 and not $840,000 as I wrote below, thus Gay's cap number is in the $900K neighborhood rather than $1M.

Then again, that's presuming they're paying Gay minimum-wage salary his first season. It could be worse. They gave Bryant McFadden a first-year salary of $1M when he returned.

9:15 a.m.: Signing William Gay wasn't a bad idea; paying him a $500,000 bonus was, and in my mind cements the fact that Cortez Allen will replace Keenan Lewis as the starting left cornerback this season.

OK, so Ike Taylor was excited that a competent ex-teammate had become available. But the front office should've held Ike at bay the way they hold excited fans and media at bay, and they should've waited until Gay -- like Steve Breaston -- had returned from his "whirlwind free agency tour" to the reality of taking a minimum-wage contract.

And if Gay could've somehow convinced another team to pay him outside the parameters of the veteran-minimum discount, well then so be it. Someone else as equally talented would've been available, or the Steelers could've used the additional $602,000 used on Gay to re-sign Keenan Lewis.

But that ship, in my opinion, has sailed, and to say the signing of Gay will have no impact on letting Lewis go makes no sense to me.

Just to review the math: Instead of signing Gay for a vet minimum of $840,000 with a cap hit of $555,000 (as long as the bonus remains $65,000 or less), they gave him a $500,000 bonus, which likely adds up to a first-year cap hit of $1.01 million. This will displace CB Isaiah Green's contract of $405,000, costing the Steelers $602,000 that they could've used to bring Lewis back at a $2 million (minus displacement) hit.

My guess is they really don't want to bring Lewis back, that they want to promote Cortez Allen. But how do you promote Allen and bring Lewis back at the same time? You don't. You sign a veteran nickel back, and with Gay they did that.

I highly doubt Gay was brought back to be the No. 4 CB, not at that price, and not with Curtis Brown, Justin King, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke around to compete for the Nos. 4 and/or 5 spots. And especially not with what's considered a deep cornerback draft pool available for another cheap No. 4 option.

MONDAY, MARCH 4

1 p.m.: The Steelers announced the signing of William Gay to a three-year contract. The team did not release the financial details, as per policy, but neither has the agent, which is usually an indication of a small signing bonus.

That means Cortez Allen will most likely take the starting left cornerback job next season (read below for details) and that Gay will likely become the No. 3 man with Curtis Brown, Justin King and Josh Victorian fighting for the remaining available CB jobs.

It became apparent that Brown had not developed to the team's satisfaction after his embarrassing performance last season against the San Diego Chargers, which caused many in the Pittsburgh media to blame a general malaise within the team.

5:30 a.m.: Even though Keenan Lewis has let word out that he wants to come back at a reasonable salary, the Steelers appear on the verge of allowing Lewis to leave in free agency, promoting Cortez Allen to that left cornerback position, and re-signing William Gay to become the nickel back with what likely will be a minimum-wage contract.

Gay announced yesterday via twitter that he was coming back to his old team, and his agent confirmed that with local reporters.

Gay started 15 games for Arizona last season after signing a two-year contract as a free agent (which should ironically lead to a seventh-round compensatory pick for the Steelers when announced later this month).

Gay had 2 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles for the Cardinals last season. He spent five seasons with the Steelers, and in 80 games (37 starts) had 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.

Allen, in two late-season starts, produced 5 turnovers for a Steelers team that forced only 20 turnovers all season (22nd in NFL). For the season, Allen intercepted 2 passes, forced 3 fumbles, and recovered 1 fumble. Lewis forced 1 fumble last season and has only 1 career interception.

THURSDAY, FEB. 28

3:30 p.m.: The Ben Roethlisberger restructuring for $6 million savings is finished. Such an exciting news day.

5:30 a.m.: Cap-cutting continues with the restructure of Antonio Brown's contract yesterday for $3 million, and then today expect a $6 million savings from LaMarr Woodley. That should get the Steelers under the cap by enough for them to make their RFA tenders by March 12. The so-called "March Massacre" appears to be a non-issue.

Speaking of non-issues, the Steelers will host WR Steve Breaston today. While they're short on receivers, it's unlikely the Steelers can offer the former Woodland High star enough to halt his free-agent parade before it even begins. As my Kansas City source said on the first day of the combine, "Will they be able to pay him enough?" My guess is no, not before such enticing players such as Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Quinton Patton and Stedman Bailey are available in the draft.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 27

8 a.m.: As we've been reporting ad nauseum for the last six weeks, the Steelers need to re-work the contracts of some of their younger players' contracts to gain about $30 million that they will eventually need to A.) Clear room for RFA tenders; B.) Get under the cap by March 12; C.) Re-sign a sprinkling of their own free agents; D.) Sign their draft class, and E.) Have a million or so in "walking around money" at the start of next season.

That process began yesterday with the restructuring of Lawrence Timmons and the start of Ben Roethlisberger. They can also restructure LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, and also take on some of the other suggestions Ian Whetstone and I have made throughout the last six weeks in an attempt to hit that approximated $30 million goal.

The more interesting news, in my opinion, was the report from Gil Brandt that running back Christine Michael overslept at the combine and missed two team interviews. This sheds light on why a guy with Steelers' power-back potential was benched during the season at Texas A&M.

So is Michael still your favorite dark horse? I guess that's a personal preference. But I don't see the Steelers taking many character risks in light of last year's rookie fiascos.

MONDAY, FEB. 25

8:20 a.m.: I have so many notes and nuggets in my tape recorder, notebook and in my cranium that I'll be releasing in the coming few weeks from the Combine, but here's the only note I feel I must put out today. It's an answer to the question on the message board about why the Steelers didn't meet with the WVU WRs. Here's my reply, and I hope this sheds a little light on the entire journalistic process at the Combine:

"So many players don't know about their team meetings, they just have a room number. Or, if they don't know or care about the organization, the Steelers don't stand out to them in the previous night's free-for-all/meet-and-greet interviews. It's a blur to many of them. But, Austin and Bailey were firm that they hadn't talked to the Steelers. Maybe those plans were forthcoming, too. DeAndre Hopkins had a big list of room numbers and didn't know. Markus Wheaton was firm when he said no. It was a blur for me, too, so I have to go back through my notes and/or tape. Terrence Williams was a firm no. Cordarrelle Patterson I didn't even ask because I feel there's no way the Steelers are going to draft him at 17. He's a next-generation Troy Edwards, only bigger, faster and probably less intellligent. I didn't talk to Keenan Allen.

"Vaccaro, he's a bright kid. I asked him about meetings as he was done with his podium interview and he stopped and said, 'Wait, I deciphered this and wrote all the teams down.' He pulled out a list of formal meetings, in which teams sit him down with the position coach and probably the head coach and GM and put him on the chalkboard. These are much different than the basic, 'he talked to the position coach last night.' But Vaccaro's escort said, 'Come on, keep walking' as the escorts are used to the same 5 journalists who care about this stuff, and the escorts have to get them to their freakin' ESPN radio interview or some crap. Sunday's are less crowded though, so that made it easier for me. But it helped that Vaccaro told his escort, 'No. Wait.' And he pulled out his list and showed it to me. 'Steelers, 8 p.m.' Right in the middle. Prime time. He smiled, asked if I was good, and I said thanks. That kid's a greyhound, a champ. No way he lasts to 17 after this weekend."

SUNDAY, FEB. 24

1:50 p.m.: OK, let's end this with two great notes.

First, my sleeper at safety, Cal Pa.'s Rontez Miles, met for a third time since the end of the season with the Steelers. He's coming off an outstanding showing in the Texas-Nation All-Star game and the Steelers have been on his trail throughout the process. More on him later in a feature story.

And more for the front page Tuesday on Kenny Vaccaro, the brilliant free safety from Texas, who has a formal meeting scheduled tonight with the Steelers. This won't be the basic "meet and greet" with a position coach. I imagine the heavy artillery will be in the room for a guy who showed off a lot of smarts at the podium a few minutes ago, and of course a lot of great tape from this past season.

1:20 p.m.: The College of William & Mary has educated Thomas Jefferson, two other Presidents, a Supreme Court Chief Justice, a Speaker of the House, and 16 signers of the Declaration of Independence. So who's the most famous of the school's many great alumni?

"I'd have to say Mike Tomlin," said W&M cornerback B.W. Webb.

It's funny, but Webb couldn't have answered more intelligently at this, his biggest NFL job interview.

Webb, a talented corner who played well at the Senior Bowl, said he met Tomlin the last time the Steelers' coach returned to his alma mater.

"He told me that if I have any questions or concerns to just give him a call because he's always there for us William & Mary guys if I have anything to talk about."

Webb, an obviously bright young man who hasn't spoken with the Steelers here, has a degree in Kinesiology and Health Sciences.

* Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox also made his national breakthrough in the Senior Bowl. He's a converted running back, thick, and "a slow turtle," he said, in comparison with his cousin, Steelers cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.

"Hopefully his genes rubbed off on me," Wilcox said. "He's blazing. I'll find out Tuesday how fast I am."

Wilcox, clearly thicker than Van Dyke, said "he's more of a finesse, fast kind of guy. I'm kind of like a slow turtle, a big, thick kind of guy."

Wilcox is being humble, of course. His time could surprise on Tuesday, although he said the Steelers have yet to contact him.

12:20 p.m.: Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson said he met informally with Steelers DBs coach Carnell Lake on Saturday.

"We talked about the days at UCLA," Jefferson said.

That couldn't have been very pleasant for Lake, who was coaching DBs at UCLA in 2009 and had received a commitment from Jefferson the previous summer.

But, Jefferson de-commited after attending a USC-UCLA game as a high school senior because "the UCLA players really disrespected me before the game. When they saw me they were all cussing at me, telling me to never come around Westwood again, and things like that."

Oh, by the way, according to the Orange County Register: Jefferson had "showed up at the game wearing USC gear."

11:45 a.m.: Florida's Matt Elam measured in at 5-9.7, 208 and was asked how he's going to cover all of the tall tight ends in the NFL at that size.

"Technique," he said proudly. "I'll ball back on my technique and the sky will be the limit."

Asked three times during the nearly 9-minute interview session about his favorite NFL safeties, Elam started with his favorite, Ed Reed, and the second time said Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. Finally, the third time, he mentioned the player he most resembles in style, Troy Polamalu. However, Elam said the Steelers have not been among the many teams that have contacted him.

11:30 a.m.: We're off to a slow start Sunday morning here in the media room. And just to remind readers, we are not watching the workouts. To tell the truth, you at home are more in tune with the real work that's going on here at the Combine. We reporters are merely allowed to interview the prospects, i.e. feed the NFL publicity machine. So when I don't comment on, say, Tavon Austin's 4.25 40, please forgive me.

But, I do get some worthwhile information, like that the Steelers have a formal meeting scheduled Monday with USC safety T.J. McDonald. I'm afraid I can't get all enthused about him, though, since he's coming off a below-average season and strikes me as a 4.9 40 guy. That's to be determined, of course.

McDonald did have a comment to make about his old high-school teammate Robert Golden, which I'll dig out for the story tomorrow. Other than that, it's slow going around here, and unfortunately I have to begin my trek home at 2 p.m.

SATURDAY, FEB. 23

3:45 p.m.: WR Quinton Patton did not care -- and I came back to press him on it later -- but he absolutely did not care that the QBs didn't even look to his side of the field in the Senior Bowl. He gave me several reasons why he didn't care -- which I'll present in story form early next week -- and I told him his attitude is very un-diva like. He laughed and said that's just not him.

Naturally, I asked Patton if he's been in contact with the Steelers. "Oh, man, I would love to play for the Steelers!" he said. "I would love to play for any team with a great defense, so I could go against it every day."

He said the Steelers only talked to him in "meet and greet" fashion, "nothing formal in the room," he said. But mark me down for a Quinton Patton anyway.

3:25 p.m.: Just finished listening to Michael Mauti and I was very impressed with his attitude, intelligence and downright intensity. You could hear him breathing into the mike as he awaited the end of drawn-out questions. Promised he'd be ready for training camp and he said he's receiving interest from the Steelers. I talked to him personally after he left the podium and I'll have a story on him Monday.

One answer entertained me. When asked about the combine and the need for self-promotion, he said, "Yeah, I'm out of my element. But you adapt or you die."

My kind of guy.

3 p.m.: * Chase Thomas of Stanford talked to the Steelers, and they didn't say anything to him about moving inside as I had suspected they would. Thomas says he could do it, but only talked to the Steelers about potentially playing 3-4 OLB, where he played at Stanford. My guess is he's a mid-rounder.

* WR Chris Harper used to play QB, and I told him that the Steelers, for whatever reason, like that trait in their receivers, and he said, "That's because they're smart."

So I took a chance and asked Harper if he's too muscle-bound as a receiver, and he said, "Man, I have 8 percent body fat and I'm about to jump 40 inches. I'm doing OK with these muscles."

He's not lacking any confidence, either.

* Just watched Bjoern Werner talk to the media. He impressed me as a pass-rusher but I've been hearing from experts who say that he was outplayed by Florida State teammate and bookend Tank Carradine many times before Carradine tore his ACL late in the season. And in watching the balding Werner, with his German accent, I couldn't help but thinking that there is no way I'd take him before Carradine, who struck me as an ass-kicker in the classic sense. (Scroll down for more on the Tank).

* Alex Okafor checked in at 6-4.4, 264 and said he's been talking primarily to 3-4 teams about playing OLB. He wouldn't disclose those teams, but when asked about his Nigerian descent he did say, "Africa pumps out some beasts, man. We pump out some freaks."

Amen, man.

2 p.m.: Boy, you want to talk about a serious-minded specimen, I give to you Tank Carradine. He struck me as a James Harrison type with the powerful build, but at 276 Tank's about 20 pounds heavier.

A no-nonsense guy without the hate I sometimes see in Harrison's eyes, I told Carradine he strikes me as a Harrison type, and then he laughed the exact Joey Porter laugh, which alw


Steel City Insider Top Stories

\r\n\r\n

Here's a link to more information on Brandon Williams.\r\n\r\n

TUESDAY, MARCH 5\r\n

2 p.m.: Ugh. It turns out William Gay is being paid the Bryant McFadden II salary. So Gay's $1M salary this year will result in a $1.17M cap hit for a guy I believe could've been signed for minimum wage in a month. The money would've been put to better use for Keenan Allen and a sixth-round draft pick.\r\n

10:45 a.m.: I knew I should've waited until Ian Whetstone responded to my query, but he just did and I have a minor correction to make: The minimum salary for a seventh-year player is the sixth-year number, which in this case is $715,000 and not $840,000 as I wrote below, thus Gay's cap number is in the $900K neighborhood rather than $1M.\r\n

Then again, that's presuming they're paying Gay minimum-wage salary his first season. It could be worse. They gave Bryant McFadden a first-year salary of $1M when he returned. \r\n

9:15 a.m.: Signing William Gay wasn't a bad idea; paying him a $500,000 bonus was, and in my mind cements the fact that Cortez Allen will replace Keenan Lewis as the starting left cornerback this season.\r\n

OK, so Ike Taylor was excited that a competent ex-teammate had become available. But the front office should've held Ike at bay the way they hold excited fans and media at bay, and they should've waited until Gay -- like Steve Breaston -- had returned from his \"whirlwind free agency tour\" to the reality of taking a minimum-wage contract.\r\n

And if Gay could've somehow convinced another team to pay him outside the parameters of the veteran-minimum discount, well then so be it. Someone else as equally talented would've been available, or the Steelers could've used the additional $602,000 used on Gay to re-sign Keenan Lewis. \r\n

But that ship, in my opinion, has sailed, and to say the signing of Gay will have no impact on letting Lewis go makes no sense to me.\r\n

Just to review the math: Instead of signing Gay for a vet minimum of $840,000 with a cap hit of $555,000 (as long as the bonus remains $65,000 or less), they gave him a $500,000 bonus, which likely adds up to a first-year cap hit of $1.01 million. This will displace CB Isaiah Green's contract of $405,000, costing the Steelers $602,000 that they could've used to bring Lewis back at a $2 million (minus displacement) hit.\r\n

My guess is they really don't want to bring Lewis back, that they want to promote Cortez Allen. But how do you promote Allen and bring Lewis back at the same time? You don't. You sign a veteran nickel back, and with Gay they did that.\r\n

I highly doubt Gay was brought back to be the No. 4 CB, not at that price, and not with Curtis Brown, Justin King, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke around to compete for the Nos. 4 and/or 5 spots. And especially not with what's considered a deep cornerback draft pool available for another cheap No. 4 option.\r\n

MONDAY, MARCH 4\r\n

1 p.m.: The Steelers announced the signing of William Gay to a three-year contract. The team did not release the financial details, as per policy, but neither has the agent, which is usually an indication of a small signing bonus. \r\n

That means Cortez Allen will most likely take the starting left cornerback job next season (read below for details) and that Gay will likely become the No. 3 man with Curtis Brown, Justin King and Josh Victorian fighting for the remaining available CB jobs. \r\n

It became apparent that Brown had not developed to the team's satisfaction after his embarrassing performance last season against the San Diego Chargers, which caused many in the Pittsburgh media to blame a general malaise within the team. \r\n

5:30 a.m.: Even though Keenan Lewis has let word out that he wants to come back at a reasonable salary, the Steelers appear on the verge of allowing Lewis to leave in free agency, promoting Cortez Allen to that left cornerback position, and re-signing William Gay to become the nickel back with what likely will be a minimum-wage contract. \r\n

Gay announced yesterday via twitter that he was coming back to his old team, and his agent confirmed that with local reporters.\r\n

Gay started 15 games for Arizona last season after signing a two-year contract as a free agent (which should ironically lead to a seventh-round compensatory pick for the Steelers when announced later this month).\r\n

Gay had 2 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles for the Cardinals last season. He spent five seasons with the Steelers, and in 80 games (37 starts) had 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.\r\n

Allen, in two late-season starts, produced 5 turnovers for a Steelers team that forced only 20 turnovers all season (22nd in NFL). For the season, Allen intercepted 2 passes, forced 3 fumbles, and recovered 1 fumble. Lewis forced 1 fumble last season and has only 1 career interception.\r\n\r\n

THURSDAY, FEB. 28\r\n

3:30 p.m.: The Ben Roethlisberger restructuring for $6 million savings is finished. Such an exciting news day.\r\n

5:30 a.m.: Cap-cutting continues with the restructure of Antonio Brown's contract yesterday for $3 million, and then today expect a $6 million savings from LaMarr Woodley. That should get the Steelers under the cap by enough for them to make their RFA tenders by March 12. The so-called \"March Massacre\" appears to be a non-issue.\r\n

Speaking of non-issues, the Steelers will host WR Steve Breaston today. While they're short on receivers, it's unlikely the Steelers can offer the former Woodland High star enough to halt his free-agent parade before it even begins. As my Kansas City source said on the first day of the combine, \"Will they be able to pay him enough?\" My guess is no, not before such enticing players such as Tavon Austin, DeAndre Hopkins, Quinton Patton and Stedman Bailey are available in the draft.\r\n\r\n

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 27\r\n

8 a.m.: As we've been reporting ad nauseum for the last six weeks, the Steelers need to re-work the contracts of some of their younger players' contracts to gain about $30 million that they will eventually need to A.) Clear room for RFA tenders; B.) Get under the cap by March 12; C.) Re-sign a sprinkling of their own free agents; D.) Sign their draft class, and E.) Have a million or so in \"walking around money\" at the start of next season. \r\n

That process began yesterday with the restructuring of Lawrence Timmons and the start of Ben Roethlisberger. They can also restructure LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, and also take on some of the other suggestions Ian Whetstone and I have made throughout the last six weeks in an attempt to hit that approximated $30 million goal.\r\n

The more interesting news, in my opinion, was the report from Gil Brandt that running back Christine Michael overslept at the combine and missed two team interviews. This sheds light on why a guy with Steelers' power-back potential was benched during the season at Texas A&M. \r\n

So is Michael still your favorite dark horse? I guess that's a personal preference. But I don't see the Steelers taking many character risks in light of last year's rookie fiascos. \r\n

MONDAY, FEB. 25\r\n

8:20 a.m.: I have so many notes and nuggets in my tape recorder, notebook and in my cranium that I'll be releasing in the coming few weeks from the Combine, but here's the only note I feel I must put out today. It's an answer to the question on the message board about why the Steelers didn't meet with the WVU WRs. Here's my reply, and I hope this sheds a little light on the entire journalistic process at the Combine:\r\n

\"So many players don't know about their team meetings, they just have a room number. Or, if they don't know or care about the organization, the Steelers don't stand out to them in the previous night's free-for-all/meet-and-greet interviews. It's a blur to many of them. But, Austin and Bailey were firm that they hadn't talked to the Steelers. Maybe those plans were forthcoming, too. DeAndre Hopkins had a big list of room numbers and didn't know. Markus Wheaton was firm when he said no. It was a blur for me, too, so I have to go back through my notes and/or tape. Terrence Williams was a firm no. Cordarrelle Patterson I didn't even ask because I feel there's no way the Steelers are going to draft him at 17. He's a next-generation Troy Edwards, only bigger, faster and probably less intellligent. I didn't talk to Keenan Allen. \r\n

\"Vaccaro, he's a bright kid. I asked him about meetings as he was done with his podium interview and he stopped and said, 'Wait, I deciphered this and wrote all the teams down.' He pulled out a list of formal meetings, in which teams sit him down with the position coach and probably the head coach and GM and put him on the chalkboard. These are much different than the basic, 'he talked to the position coach last night.' But Vaccaro's escort said, 'Come on, keep walking' as the escorts are used to the same 5 journalists who care about this stuff, and the escorts have to get them to their freakin' ESPN radio interview or some crap. Sunday's are less crowded though, so that made it easier for me. But it helped that Vaccaro told his escort, 'No. Wait.' And he pulled out his list and showed it to me. 'Steelers, 8 p.m.' Right in the middle. Prime time. He smiled, asked if I was good, and I said thanks. That kid's a greyhound, a champ. No way he lasts to 17 after this weekend.\"\r\n\r\n

SUNDAY, FEB. 24\r\n

1:50 p.m.: OK, let's end this with two great notes. \r\n

First, my sleeper at safety, Cal Pa.'s Rontez Miles, met for a third time since the end of the season with the Steelers. He's coming off an outstanding showing in the Texas-Nation All-Star game and the Steelers have been on his trail throughout the process. More on him later in a feature story.\r\n

And more for the front page Tuesday on Kenny Vaccaro, the brilliant free safety from Texas, who has a formal meeting scheduled tonight with the Steelers. This won't be the basic \"meet and greet\" with a position coach. I imagine the heavy artillery will be in the room for a guy who showed off a lot of smarts at the podium a few minutes ago, and of course a lot of great tape from this past season.\r\n

1:20 p.m.: The College of William & Mary has educated Thomas Jefferson, two other Presidents, a Supreme Court Chief Justice, a Speaker of the House, and 16 signers of the Declaration of Independence. So who's the most famous of the school's many great alumni?\r\n

\"I'd have to say Mike Tomlin,\" said W&M cornerback B.W. Webb.\r\n

It's funny, but Webb couldn't have answered more intelligently at this, his biggest NFL job interview.\r\n

Webb, a talented corner who played well at the Senior Bowl, said he met Tomlin the last time the Steelers' coach returned to his alma mater.\r\n

\"He told me that if I have any questions or concerns to just give him a call because he's always there for us William & Mary guys if I have anything to talk about.\"\r\n

Webb, an obviously bright young man who hasn't spoken with the Steelers here, has a degree in Kinesiology and Health Sciences.\r\n

* Georgia Southern safety J.J. Wilcox also made his national breakthrough in the Senior Bowl. He's a converted running back, thick, and \"a slow turtle,\" he said, in comparison with his cousin, Steelers cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.\r\n

\"Hopefully his genes rubbed off on me,\" Wilcox said. \"He's blazing. I'll find out Tuesday how fast I am.\"\r\n

Wilcox, clearly thicker than Van Dyke, said \"he's more of a finesse, fast kind of guy. I'm kind of like a slow turtle, a big, thick kind of guy.\"\r\n

Wilcox is being humble, of course. His time could surprise on Tuesday, although he said the Steelers have yet to contact him. \r\n

12:20 p.m.: Oklahoma safety Tony Jefferson said he met informally with Steelers DBs coach Carnell Lake on Saturday.\r\n

\"We talked about the days at UCLA,\" Jefferson said.\r\n

That couldn't have been very pleasant for Lake, who was coaching DBs at UCLA in 2009 and had received a commitment from Jefferson the previous summer. \r\n

But, Jefferson de-commited after attending a USC-UCLA game as a high school senior because \"the UCLA players really disrespected me before the game. When they saw me they were all cussing at me, telling me to never come around Westwood again, and things like that.\"\r\n

Oh, by the way, according to the Orange County Register: Jefferson had \"showed up at the game wearing USC gear.\"\r\n

11:45 a.m.: Florida's Matt Elam measured in at 5-9.7, 208 and was asked how he's going to cover all of the tall tight ends in the NFL at that size.\r\n

\"Technique,\" he said proudly. \"I'll ball back on my technique and the sky will be the limit.\"\r\n

Asked three times during the nearly 9-minute interview session about his favorite NFL safeties, Elam started with his favorite, Ed Reed, and the second time said Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. Finally, the third time, he mentioned the player he most resembles in style, Troy Polamalu. However, Elam said the Steelers have not been among the many teams that have contacted him. \r\n

11:30 a.m.: We're off to a slow start Sunday morning here in the media room. And just to remind readers, we are not watching the workouts. To tell the truth, you at home are more in tune with the real work that's going on here at the Combine. We reporters are merely allowed to interview the prospects, i.e. feed the NFL publicity machine. So when I don't comment on, say, Tavon Austin's 4.25 40, please forgive me.\r\n

But, I do get some worthwhile information, like that the Steelers have a formal meeting scheduled Monday with USC safety T.J. McDonald. I'm afraid I can't get all enthused about him, though, since he's coming off a below-average season and strikes me as a 4.9 40 guy. That's to be determined, of course.\r\n

McDonald did have a comment to make about his old high-school teammate Robert Golden, which I'll dig out for the story tomorrow. Other than that, it's slow going around here, and unfortunately I have to begin my trek home at 2 p.m.\r\n\r\n

SATURDAY, FEB. 23\r\n

3:45 p.m.: WR Quinton Patton did not care -- and I came back to press him on it later -- but he absolutely did not care that the QBs didn't even look to his side of the field in the Senior Bowl. He gave me several reasons why he didn't care -- which I'll present in story form early next week -- and I told him his attitude is very un-diva like. He laughed and said that's just not him. \r\n

Naturally, I asked Patton if he's been in contact with the Steelers. \"Oh, man, I would love to play for the Steelers!\" he said. \"I would love to play for any team with a great defense, so I could go against it every day.\"\r\n

He said the Steelers only talked to him in \"meet and greet\" fashion, \"nothing formal in the room,\" he said. But mark me down for a Quinton Patton anyway.\r\n

3:25 p.m.: Just finished listening to Michael Mauti and I was very impressed with his attitude, intelligence and downright intensity. You could hear him breathing into the mike as he awaited the end of drawn-out questions. Promised he'd be ready for training camp and he said he's receiving interest from the Steelers. I talked to him personally after he left the podium and I'll have a story on him Monday.\r\n

One answer entertained me. When asked about the combine and the need for self-promotion, he said, \"Yeah, I'm out of my element. But you adapt or you die.\"\r\n

My kind of guy.\r\n

3 p.m.: * Chase Thomas of Stanford talked to the Steelers, and they didn't say anything to him about moving inside as I had suspected they would. Thomas says he could do it, but only talked to the Steelers about potentially playing 3-4 OLB, where he played at Stanford. My guess is he's a mid-rounder.\r\n

* WR Chris Harper used to play QB, and I told him that the Steelers, for whatever reason, like that trait in their receivers, and he said, \"That's because they're smart.\"\r\n

So I took a chance and asked Harper if he's too muscle-bound as a receiver, and he said, \"Man, I have 8 percent body fat and I'm about to jump 40 inches. I'm doing OK with these muscles.\"\r\n

He's not lacking any confidence, either.\r\n

* Just watched Bjoern Werner talk to the media. He impressed me as a pass-rusher but I've been hearing from experts who say that he was outplayed by Florida State teammate and bookend Tank Carradine many times before Carradine tore his ACL late in the season. And in watching the balding Werner, with his German accent, I couldn't help but thinking that there is no way I'd take him before Carradine, who struck me as an ass-kicker in the classic sense. (Scroll down for more on the Tank).\r\n

* Alex Okafor checked in at 6-4.4, 264 and said he's been talking primarily to 3-4 teams about playing OLB. He wouldn't disclose those teams, but when asked about his Nigerian descent he did say, \"Africa pumps out some beasts, man. We pump out some freaks.\"\r\n

Amen, man.\r\n\r\n

2 p.m.: Boy, you want to talk about a serious-minded specimen, I give to you Tank Carradine. He struck me as a James Harrison type with the powerful build, but at 276 Tank's about 20 pounds heavier. \r\n

A no-nonsense guy without the hate I sometimes see in Harrison's eyes, I told Carradine he strikes me as a Harrison type, and then he laughed the exact Joey Porter laugh, which alw","mobileBody":"

The Steelers announced the signings of first-round pick Jarvis Jones and seventh-round pick Nick Williams last night.

Jones, according to the Post-Gazette, signed an $8.5M four-year deal that includes a $4.7M bonus, and an option for a fifth season.

Fourth-round pick Landry Jones remains the only unsigned rookie.

Instead of practice, OTA No. 7 (of 10) turned into \"team-building activity (TBA)\" No. 1, to which the media was not invited.

Coach Mike Tomlin didn't discuss details of the activity, but said of tackle Mike Adams, who was stabbed by would-be robbers Saturday morning: \"We expect a full recovery from him. I visited with him a couple days this weekend. He's got great team support and family support. We expect a full recovery.\"

Tomlin put that \"full recovery\" at \"six weeks or so. He's going to go through a couple of weeks of inactivity until he can proceed with the next step.\"

As a wise man wrote in a note to me, think in terms of months, not weeks.

The Steelers also signed second-round pick Le'Veon Bell to a four-year contract.

A report from KDKA-TV and an update from the are clearing up the story surrounding the stabbing of Steelers right tackle Mike Adams.

Adams had apparently left a restaurant on the South Side -- past midnight, when that restaurant's valet closes -- and was standing near his truck without keys when three men approached in an apparent carjacking attempt. One of the men reportedly pointed a gun in Adams' face and another reportedly stabbed him in the stomach and forearm before the three ran away.

Adams underwent surgery at UPMC Mercy Hospital and will likely recover in time for training camp.

On my way out the door I noticed this e-mail from the Steelers concerning second-year right tackle Mike Adams:

\"... Adams was injured and is hospitalized after being stabbed in an apparent robbery attempt early Saturday morning in Pittsburgh's South Side.

\"'We are aware of the situation regarding Mike Adams being stabbed earlier this morning,' Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said. \u001b'We are in direct communication with both Mike and his family. Mike is expected to make a full recovery.\u001b'\"

The is reporting that Adams was attempting to stop a group of men from stealing his truck from his home. The paper quoted Adams' agent, Eric Metz, that Adams underwent surgery without vital organs being involved, and that Adams will be ready for training camp.

The Steelers today announced the signings of third-round pick Markus Wheaton, fifth-round pick Terry Hawthorne, and sixth-round pick Justin Brown to four-year contracts.

The signings leave the Steelers with only their Nos. 1, 2, 4b and 7 picks to sign.

Wheaton (5-11, 182), who was the 79th overall pick, played at Oregon State He appeared in 49 games, starting the final 30, and recorded a school-record 227 receptions. Wheaton ranks third on the school's all-time receiving yards list (2,994) and sixth on the school's all-time receiving touchdowns list (16).

Hawthorne (6-0, 195) was the 150th overall selection out of Illinois. The two-time All Big-Ten honorable mention (2011-12) saw action in 44 career games, making 26 starts. He recorded 163 tackles, 12.5 TFLs and six interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns.

Brown (6-3, 209) was the 186th overall selection out of Oklahoma. He started 39-of-49 college games played and recorded 146 receptions for 1,926 yards and eight receiving touchdowns. Brown transferred to Oklahoma prior to the 2012 season from Penn State.

The Steelers have signed the second of their two sixth-round draft picks from the 2013 NFL Draft, linebacker Vince Williams, to a four-year contract.

Williams (6-1, 250), who was the 206th overall pick, played collegiately at Florida State. He played in 50 games and made 26 starts in his final two seasons, and recorded 140 tackles, 13.5 TsFL and 3 sacks. Williams served as a team captain, earned All-ACC Honorable Mention honors, Phil Steele Postseason All-ACC Second Team honors and was an Under Armour Senior Bowl selection his senior season.

Because of the displacement procedures of the 51-man salary cap rule, the Steelers were able to sign fourth-round pick Shamarko Thomas to a four-year contract, even though they had little money over the cap with which to spend.

Thomas (5-9, 217), of Syracuse, was the 111th overall pick. He recorded 263 tackles, 16.5 TFLs and 4 sacks. Last season Thomas was named a consensus All-Big East first-team selection and a third-team All-America by the NFL Draft Report after starting all 13 games. He was a second-team All-Big East selection in 2011 and earned All-Big East freshman team honors in 2009.

Thomas will learn the strong safety position behind Troy Polamalu.

The retirement of Joe Greene from the Steelers' personnel department has been followed by these changes:

Phil Kreidler has been named the team\u001b's college scouting coordinator, replacing Ron Hughes, who will be staying with the organization as a senior assistant, college scouting. Kreidler has spent the last 22 years in the Steelers' player personnel department.

The team has also announced that Dave Petett will replace Kreidler as pro/college scout and Mark Bruener, former tight end and BLESTO scout, will be a college scout.

Additionally, Colbert's son, Dan Colbert, has been hired full-time as a college/pro scout, and Mike Butler has been hired as the team's BLESTO scout.

Another part of the great dynasty of the 1970s slipped into the shadows yesterday when the Steelers announced the retirement of Joe Greene from their player personnel department.

The player who's generally regarded as the greatest player in team history, Greene spent the last nine years as a special assistant for pro and college personnel for general manager Kevin Colbert.

\"When I played, our success was based on the people there — the players, coaches and front office — and I felt the same way when I was in scouting,\" said Greene. \"The people were very important to me, brought me along and made me feel comfortable, and I thought we made a pretty good team together. The people that I was working with made it all good for me — made it important to me — made it special. I will miss everyone in the Steelers organization.\u001b\"

\"There are very few people in the history of the NFL who have had a greater impact on one franchise than Joe Greene has had on the Pittsburgh Steelers,\" said Steelers President Art Rooney II. \u001b

* The Steelers signed veteran free agent offensive tackle Guy Whimper and undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Terence Garvin to contracts, the team announced Monday.

Whimper was originally drafted in the fourth round (129th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft by the New York Giants out of East Carolina. He played for the Giants from 2006-09 and was a member of their Super Bowl XLII Championship team.

From 2010-12, Whimper played for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He's played in 67 career games with 22 starts in the regular season and has seen action in four career postseason contests.

(For those Steelers fans up in arms that the organization would sign one of the worst tackles in the league over their own starting LT last season, Max Starks, it's this: The team does not believe in bringing back former starters once the it has made the decision to move forward with a younger player. Don't look for burned bridges, and also don't look for an explanation that they don't want the better player -- right now -- sitting behind the guy with upside. It's a dynamic that doesn't help team unity.)

* Garvin, who intercepted a Landry Jones pass for a touchdown in Saturday's rookie-camp practice, is a 6-3, 221-pound inside linebacker from West Virginia University who attended the Steelers' rookie mini-camp on a tryout basis.

Garvin played in 47 career games at West Virginia, registering 235 tackles, 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He also intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown, to go along with 11 passes defensed.

To make room on the roster, the team released rookie center Ivory Wade and rookie defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White.

The Steelers have agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, the team announced today. Financial terms of the one-year deal were not disclosed.

Stephens-Howling was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the seventh round (240th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft. He has played in 57 career games, two postseason contests and has made 10 starts. Stephens-Howling has three career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

Week 1 (Sat., Aug. 10)....... NEW YORK GIANTS......................... 7:30 p.m. (KDKA)

Week 2 (Mon., Aug. 19)...... at Washington................................... 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Week 3 (Sat., Aug. 24)....... KANSAS CITY.................................. 7:30 p.m. (KDKA)

Week 4 (Thurs., Aug. 29)..... at Carolina........................................ 7:30 p.m. (KDKA)

Sunday, Sept. 8................. TENNESSEE.................................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Monday, Sept. 16............... at Cincinnati...................................... 8:40 p.m. (ESPN/WTAE)

Sunday, Sept. 22............... CHICAGO......................................... 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI)

Sunday, Sept. 29............... vs. Minnesota ***............................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Oct. 6................... Bye

Sunday, Oct. 13................. at New York Jets............................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Oct. 20................. BALTIMORE..................................... 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Oct. 27................. at Oakland........................................ 4:05 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Nov. 3.................. at New England................................. 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Nov. 10................ BUFFALO......................................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Nov. 17................ DETROIT *........................................ 1 p.m. (FOX/WPGH)

Sunday, Nov. 24................ at Cleveland *.................................... 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Thursday, Nov. 28.............. at Baltimore *.................................... 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI)

Sunday, Dec. 8.................. MIAMI *............................................ 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Dec. 15................ CINCINNATI *................................... 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI)

Sunday, Dec. 22................ at Green Bay *................................... 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

Sunday, Dec. 29................ CLEVELAND *.................................. 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA)

* Times and TV network may change due to flexible scheduling

** All times are Eastern

*** Game played at Wembley Stadium (London)

The Steelers have signed restricted free agent nose tackle Steve McLendon to a three-year, $7.25 million contract with a 2013 cap hit of $1.4 million ($1.67 milllion signing bonus).

McLendon originally signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Troy University on April 27, 2009. He has played in 37 career games and one career postseason contest.

McLendon saw action in all 16 games during the 2012 season, recording a career-high two sacks and forcing his first career fumble.

Just about when the Steelers thought it was safe to say they survived free agency, the Green Bay Packers hosted Steve McLendon yesterday, only two days before the deadline to sign restricted free agents to an offer sheet.

McLendon, the Steelers' heir apparent to Casey Hampton at nose tackle, received the draft-round compensation tender of $1.323 million from the Steelers, but, unlike Emmanuel Sanders, McLendon would bring no compensation since he came into the league as an undrafted player.

The Steelers, of course, would have five days to match any offer and retain McLendon, but have less than $800,000 to spend.

If McLendon signs to become a backup to B.J. Raji in Green Bay for anything over $2 million in salary this season, the Steelers' most likely option would be to restructure the contract of either Heath Miller ($2.16M) or Ike Taylor ($2.53M).

It's unlikely the Steelers would restructure the contract of injury-plagued Troy Polamalu, but his contract is one of the few available alternatives and could produce a maximum of $3.28 million in additional cap space. Or, it might just take something as small as a Shaun Suisham restructure ($293K), or an extension of Ziggy Hood, to retain McLendon.

Otherwise, the Steelers could just return McLendon's $1.323 tender to the kitty and re-sign Hampton -- who'll turn 36 on Sept. 3 -- for the vet minimum of $940K, of which only $555K would count against the cap.

It's not that I wanted to avoid last year.

He was, you remember, the trendy prediction to land with the Steelers. Reporters still tell their readers that he was the guy, if only it hadn't been for those darned New England Patriots.

But I didn't predict Hightower to land with the Steelers. I went instead with a guy I thought would fill their greatest need. I also thought there was some bust potential with the tall, hip-stiff linebacker from Alabama.

Readers remember that I had become attached to watching play right guard early in the 2011 season, knew the Steelers had a big hole at guard, and thought Zeitler fit the mental and physical make-up which the Steelers have traditionally sought in first-round picks.

I also realized, though, that Zeitler was considered to have better value later in the first round, and thought the ideal draft-day plan for the Steelers would be to trade down and then draft Zeitler. The plan worked perfectly, except it worked perfectly for the Cincinnati Bengals.

At pick 21, the Bengals passed on , traded down six picks, picked up an additional third-round pick, and drafted Zeitler with pick 27. He started early and had a solid, if not outstanding, season.

The lesson I learned from all of that wasn't that I was right in wanting to trade down, but that I was wrong, because the Steelers really wouldn't have had much room with which to trade down from pick 24, and really that if they like the guy they should probably just pick him.

That's how I'm beginning to feel about , the wide receiver I like far better than , while also respectfully passing on the trendy media pick, OLB .

Just in reading back through our combine interview with Hopkins, I realize he is the perfect match for the Steelers. He's physically and mentally suited for the challenging road ahead -- that 4.57 40 time be damned.

That time is what makes Hopkins a trade-down candidate because his value doesn't match what the value board in the sky is telling us.

But it's becoming clear, to me anyway, as it did with Zeitler last year, that the Steelers should just take the guy who can play, regardless of any misguided perception of value.

There's also this: With running into alleged urine-test trouble at the combine, the pool of trade-down candidates is diminished, and that means the Steelers would have fewer fallback candidates should someone grab Hopkins within \"the trade-down interim,\" so to speak.

So, really, my feeling at this point, just about a week away from the draft, is to simply draft Hopkins at 17. My other feeling is that and the Patriots will be in agreement with me about three years from now.

(P.S. I'm not sure it will help Hopkins' case with the therapists a team might use to analyze prospects, but this story in recounts his many family tragedies and is a testament to Hopkins' mental toughness. I also would like to think there's a telling and key word in the headline.)

According to Jordan Woy, via tweets from ESPN and NFL.com, the Steelers have matched the offer sheet for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

The cost for keeping Sanders will be $2.5 million for one season, or a little less than an additional $1.2 million from their original tender of $1.32 million.

The move also means the Steelers have opted to pass on the Patriots' third-round pick as compensation, and it's likely the Steelers believe they can extend the 26-year-old Sanders to a multi-year deal before the start of the 2013 season.

The Steelers announced dates and times for both preseason home games today.

The Steelers will host the New York Giants on Saturday, August 10, at 7:30 p.m., travel to Washington on Monday, Aug. 19 at 8 p.m., and host the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday, August 24, at 7:30 p.m.

The Steelers haven't released the names of this week's prospect visits, but word of one of my favorite buck linebacker prospects leaked when Tony Pauline reported that Sio Moore of UConn visited Thursday.

Moore is a 6-0.6, 245-pounder who played strongside OLB his last two years in college, but would fit be an ideal fit inside for the Steelers.

In three years as a starter at UConn, Moore made 42.5 tackles for loss with 16 sacks, 4 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles. He played well in the college all-star games and at the combine ran a 4.65 40 with a 38-inch vertical jump.

The stiffness displayed in his 7.5 3-cone drill is evident on tape, but as with the other ILB prospects the Steelers have hosted he's a solid, mid-round prospect.

I talked to Moore at the combine. He wore glasses and called me \"sir\" and spoke with such seriousness and earnestness that he reminded me of a young Mike Singletary or Levon Kirkland.

A: I talked to them briefly.

A: Yes sir.

A: I played a bit of both. I played inside as well as outside.

A: Yes, sir. I've played the SAM linebacker position on the strong side taking on you-name-the block. And I've been able to do it at a pretty good pace. I'm comfortable how I played the position.

A: I've always felt like everything I go into I gotta go into with a chip on my shoulder. I haven't been given a lot. I'd rather earn everything I do have or I do gain. When it comes to proving people wrong, I'm used to it.

A: A lot of times I haven't had an opportunity. I've had to make my own opportunity, my own way, even when it came to getting into college. It was something that I had to decide that I wanted to do for me, and I was able to make that happen. But being at UConn, there were many years – every year I was there – people counted us out. They didn't think we could play with the best of them. They didn't think we were going to win. Three out of the five years I was there we went to bowl games, we won Big East championships, we went to the Fiesta Bowl. We have good players and we have good coaches and good people at our program. It's a great honor to come out to the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine game and to the combine to showcase that.

A: I love the game of Von Miller and Darryl Washington, two guys who really play the game athletically and they can play anywhere on the defense at linebacker. They play on the line, they can pass rush, they can cover, they can play in the box vs. the run, and they can play the pass game straight up. I like how that game is played. It's something that I want to prove to teams I can do at a high level.

If sportswriting is about taking strong stances, then I don't feel like much of a sportswriter today.

Sure, I've taunted the New England Patriots into signing Emmanuel Sanders to an offer sheet. As a draftnick approaching a draft rich in third-round talent, I've wanted to take their third-round pick and run with it.

But on the other side, Sanders is a young, smart, fluid and soft-handed receiver at a position of need. And at $2.5 million, the price is relatively cheap to secure a starter.

On the negative side, Sanders is injury-prone and lack explosiveness. And while he's smart enough to know all of the assignments at each of the receiving positions, he never struck me as a split end, particularly one who can \"take the top off the defense\" in any manner resembling Mike Wallace.

The Steelers could also use that money to procure running back Ahmad Bradshaw, but then again he's another player with foot issues.

As you can see, this decision has nothing to do with rebuilding. It's about Player X and Player Z and what they will cost and how they can be replaced.

I'll just wash my hands of it and trust the Steelers. It's a decision they can afford to make, either way, and really they know better than I the chance of Sanders extending that one-year deal, just as they know the seriousness or lack thereof of each of the aforementioned player's foot problems.

Shamarko Thomas, a heat-seaking, 5-foot-8 7/8 missile of a safety, headlined a trio of visiting draft prospects at the South Side today.

* Thomas is a strong safety from Syracuse who has only 2 career interceptions but is a ferocious hitter in the Bob Sanders mold. A starter at cornerback and outside linebacker before settling at strong safety, Thomas ran a 4.42 40 at the combine with 28 bench reps, a vertical jump of 40.5 and a broad jump of 11-1.

Steelers DBs coach Carnell Lake attended Syracuse's pro day to watch Thomas work out. Thomas should be drafted by the end of the fourth round, if concerns about his history of concussions are eased.

* Will Davis of Utah State is a member of a very deep cornerback class. At 5-11.2, 186, Davis ran a 4.51 40 and led everyone at the combine with a time of 6.52 in the 3-cone drill. Davis had 5 interceptions last season (0 as a junior) and 8 in his one season of junior-college ball. The Steelers should have Davis slotted as a third-round nickel corner.

* Nik Embernate (6-3.6, 304, 21 reps at pro day) played all five line OL positions at San Diego State and was named a first team All-Mountain West Conference guard at the end of last season. He was a four-year starter for the ground-oriented Aztecs and is a late-round prospect.

Steelers nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu was sentenced to serve 18 months probation, pay $11,000 in restitution, and perform 150 hours of community service after pleading guilty today to reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and drunken driving last fall on the South Side of Pittsburgh.

\"I wrecked my car and panicked,\" Ta'amu told the judge.

* The Steelers announced their four-game preseason schedule which begins with a home game against the New York Giants and is followed by a Monday night game at Washington (8 p.m., Aug. 19), a home game against Kansas City, and the finale at Carolina. Times and dates of the other three games haven't been determined.

The Steelers are hosting two of my favorite mid-round offensive draft prospects today.

* Readers here know of my infatuation with UCLA RB Johnathan Franklin. He turned his fumbling problem around (1 last season after 21 previous three seasons), after he turned his game around, after he turned his life around about last year at this time. He had a great story to tell me at the combine about it, and you can review it here inside of this column

* Josh Boyce is a 5-11.1, 206-pounder who looked so much bigger than that last season for TCU. He caught 161 passes the last three seasons and set a school record with 22 career TD receptions. No doubt the Steelers are looking into the foot injury that forced him to crutches for his Pro Day. Boyce posted outstanding times of 4.38 in the 40 and 6.68 in the 3-cone at the combine.

It's a big day for visitors, both free agents and draft prospects.

The UFAs are LaRod Stephens-Howling, Tavares Gooden and Antoine Caldwell.

Stephens-Howling was one of Dale Lolley's suggestions in his Free Agency Preview last month. The kick returner/running back from Johnstown has been a message-board favorite for years.

Gooden and Caldwell are recent third-round disappointments. Gooden was chosen by the Ravens out of Miami in 2008 and has spent the last two seasons with the 49ers. Caldwell was chosen by the Texans out of Alabama in 2009 and made 19 starts in four seasons. I'll have a scouting report from Lance Zierlein, who covers the Texans, and I'm prepared to be underwhelmed.

* As for the prospects, check out my story from the combine on Penn State ILB Michael Mauti for a complete review of his past, his three ACL rehabs, his James Harrison-like 99.5-yard interception return against Illinois as the seconds ticked toward halftime, and his thoughts on playing inside in a 3-4 scheme.

* The other visiting draft prospect is 6-4, 276-pound Malliciah Goodman, whom I watched play 5-technique at Clemson last season. He has 36.3-inch arms and huge 11-inch hands but never showed me enough functional strength to play the DE position for the Steelers.

Goodman always struck me as a 4-3 end, and from that position he destroyed an LSU freshman tackle for 3 sacks in Clemson's New Year's Eve bowl win. That was Goodman's first multi-sack game and gave him 7 for the season, 12 for his career.

At the combine I asked him if he could gain enough weight to play the 5-technique in the NFL and he said he'd rather lose weight and play outside linebacker in a 3-4. And -- voila -- the Steelers have him listed as a linebacker today, but, wow, that might be a difficult transition.

Bob Labriola is reporting this morning that the Steelers will sign reserve ILB Stevenson Sylvester to a one-year deal. My guess is it will cost them about half of what the RFA tender of $1.32M would've cost the Steelers last month for the same player.

Sylvester gives the Steelers a bit more depth at ILB, along with practice squad player Marshall McFadden and street free agents Brian Rolle and Dion Wilson.

The Steelers brought in three more linebackers and two safeties today.

* The premier prospect of the bunch is Georgia OLB Jarvis Jones, who left USC because of spinal stenosis but hasn't been bothered by the condition since transferring to Georgia. His 4.92 pro day 40 will likely give the Steelers a chance to draft him at 17, if they like what they see and hear from the 6-2, 245-pound pass-rusher today.

As most of you here know, I'm not a fan. I don't think Jones, who will turn 24 in October, can play OLB in a 3-4. I think he's too small, just like Lawrence Timmons. I had hoped he could maybe transition inside as the buck next to Timmons, because Jones is instinctive, but that 4.9 40 blew that idea out of the water. But, perhaps Mike Tomlin has a different perspective.

* The Steelers also brought in a second-round outside linebacker -- Jamie Collins of winless Southern Miss -- who shows plenty of explosiveness off the edge but also a peculiar motor that sputtered and even stopped from time to time last season. The 6-3.4, 250-pounder ran a 4.64 combine 40 with outrageous jumps of 11-7 in the broad and 41.5 in the vertical. He had 10 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last season.

* The Steelers brought in their second mid-round ILB of the week in Khaseem Greene, half-brother of Pitt running back Ray Graham. Greene (6-0.6, 241) is a late third or fourth-round prospect out of Rutgers. He ran a 4.71 40 at the combine with disappointing reps (17), vertical (30) and 3-cone (7.58), but is an instinctive and thick buck-type backer.

* Free safety Phillip Thomas led the country with 8 interceptions last season and has 13 career picks (4 returned for touchdowns) and is perhaps the best ballhawk in the country. Considering the Steelers' lack of turnovers in recent years, they probably wouldn't mind a lack of physicality at times from the 6-0.4, 208-pounder in the open field. Thomas ran a 4.65 combine 40.

* Jonathan Meeks is a late-round strong safety from Clemson who has 7 career interceptions. Meeks is listed at 6-1, 210 by his school.

Let's give the Steelers credit for trying to get to know three enigmatic players who will remain a mystery to those of us on the outside.

The Steelers opened their parade of draft pospects visits yesterday with Texas A&M RB Christine Michael, Ohio State OLB/DE John Simon, and Florida State ILB Vince Williams.

* Starting with Michael, the Steelers continue to try to get a read on a player who just might be the prototype of their traditional running back, and to some is the most talented back in the draft. To others, though, Michael is red-flagged as a character risk after riding a roller coaster last season with new (and ultra successful) coach Kevin Sumlin. Michael explained his problems with Sumlin at the combine, but was later criticized by Gil Brandt for sleeping late at the combine and missing interviews.

Michael was the star of the East-West Shrine Game and then checked into the combine at 5-10, 220, ran his 40 in 4.54, his 10 in 1.49, benched 27 reps, had an all-position combine best vertical jump of 43 inches, and a position-best 3-cone time of 6.69.

Steelers RBs coach Kirby Wilson worked Michael out at the A&M pro day and Michael told him his problems at the combine had to do with a cold and sleep-inducing medication.

The one comment-oriented fact I will state: A&M soared to unexpected heights at the same time Michael was sitting the bench.

* Simon, as I wrote below after Steelers GM Kevin Colbert attended his March 25 pro day, was named Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year after what appeared to me to be a mediocre season through which he struggled with a shoulder injury.

While Simon (6-1, 257) appeared to be stuck in the mud as Ohio State's top pass-rusher, he has great character and ran a solid 4.62 40 at his pro day, obviously causing the Steelers to take another look at a player the tape says should last until the third day of the draft.

* Williams wasn't invited to the combine, but measured 6-0.4, 247 at the Senior Bowl, where he turned heads with an explosive hit that made scouts scramble back through their tape.

What I saw in two games was a linebacker who did flash that explosiveness, but who lacked instincts and appeared to be nothing more than a late-round consideration.

As much as I like Ahmad Bradshaw, and as much as the Steelers could use James Sanders for depth at safety, the departures of the two visitors yesterday without signing a contract doesn't really bother me.

They can always sign later, and I've never really been a fan of these pre-draft free-agent hole-filling signings anyway. I've believed, over the years, that those type of signings limit the team -- however subconsciously -- in the draft.

Not that I have ever actually looked into whether this supposition had any factual evidence behind it ... until now.

I went back this morning to note all of the free-agent signings which occurred less than five weeks before the draft, and I attempted to judge whether the Steelers passed on key players at the position because of the holes they had just filled.

What I found, of course, was a mixed bag. Here are the results of the Kevin Colbert era:

The Steelers signed safety Mike Logan on March 23 and linebacker Mike Jones on April 20.

Mixed results. The Steelers still traded up to draft linebacker Kendrell Bell in the second round. He became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year before burning out soon thereafter. The pick could've been used on safety Adrian Wilson, who became one of the best in the game (but who may have caused the Steelers to not draft Troy Polamalu two years later).

Signed PK Todd Peterson on March 25 and LB James Farrior on April 5.

Rousing thumbs up. Farrior became the defensive captain through two Super Bowl wins. Even though Peterson was 12 for 21 and was gone after the season, the only two drafted kickers -- Jeff Chandler and Travis Dorsch -- were massive failures. Chander was with 6 teams in five years (19 for 27) and Dorsch, a so-called dual kicking threat, has the lowest net punting average (1.8) in NFL history (minimum 5 punts).

Signed TE Jay Riemersma on March 19.

Thumbs down. OC Mike Mularkey was enamored with a tight end out of Tennessee, but now the Steelers didn't have to draft Jason Witten at pick 59. They instead drafted Alonzo Jackson, with Witten going two picks later. Of course, the great Heath Miller came along two years later.

Signed safety Tyrone Carter on April 5.

One thumb up. The guy they brought in yesterday, James Sanders, was drafted two picks after the Steelers chose the soon-to-be-cut Fred Gibson in the fourth round. Carter was a helpful reserve on two championship teams.

Signed DE Nick Eason on April 17.

Thumb up. They probably wouldn't have drafted medical question mark DE Ray McDoonald at pick 77 instead of TE Matt Spaeth. They liked DE Ryan McBean anyway, and unfortunately got him in the fourth. Eason played as a reserve in Super Bowl 43.

Signed center Justin Hartwig on March 18.

Thumb down, but as with Polamalu and Miller success came later with the drafting of Maurkice Pouncey in 2010. Hartwig did start in Super Bowl 43, and the only sacrifice was not drafting center Mike Pollak at 53 instead of WR Limas Sweed. Pollack started as a rookie with the Colts and stayed there at guard for four seasons.

Signed CB Keiwan Ratleff the day before the draft.

Thumb up. In desperate need of CBs, the Steelers may have drafted CB Darius Butler instead of DE Ziggy Hood. Neither player has blossomed, but the Steelers waited and drafted CB Keenan Lewis in the third round. Perhaps the trade down for Mike Wallace wouldn't have occurred either.

Signed ILB Larry Foote on March 15.

Thumbs down. ILB Sean Lee went three picks after Jason Worilds in the second round and ILB NaVorro Bowman went nine picks after Emmanuel Sanders in the third round.

TE Leonard Pope signed on April 10.

It depends on the development of OT Mike Adams, who was drafted instead of TE Dwayne Allen, who caught 45 passes as a rookie.

So, the compilation of thumbs gives a slight edge to what the Steelers did in signing these late hole-filling free agents. We can widen that margin a bit, too, if we factor in the later boom picks of Polamalu, Miller and Pouncey.

* In a housekeeping note, the Steelers will begin offseason conditioning workouts April 15, with OTAs scheduled for May 21-23, May 28-30, June 3-6 and minicamp set for June 11-13.

Sorry to get off to such a late start today, but it is the start of the Easter holiday and I'll take any excuse and run with it!

Anyway, the Steelers were out in force at both the LSU and USC pro days yesterday. Let's start with the loaded LSU draft class.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and special guest star Ryan Clark showed up in Baton Rouge. \"Path to the Draft\" showed footage of Tomlin and Clark chatting up DB Tyrann Mathieu. Perhaps Clark is doing what Chase Thomas had suggested in my piece on character at Stanford. Thomas said his coaches depend on the players to find out if potential recruits are phonies or players. Perhaps that was Clark's mission yesterday because Mathieu is worth looking into.

On one hand he's had more than one problem with marijuana, and was eventually kicked off his team last August. On the other hand he's a natural-born playmaker. Even at 5-8.6, and in only two seasons, he reportedly set the school record for forced fumbles and is second in fumble recoveries. He also has sticky fingers, a knack for coming up with the ball, and is an explosive return man. And the coach who kicked him off the team made enthusiastic and glowing comments about Mathieu yesterday. 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