Daily Buzz VI

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

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


9 a.m.: We have an exciting array of features, mock drafts, and columns scheduled for this coming week, upon my return from Las Vegas. In my absence, thankfully, there's only been a recycling of the financial news we've known for months.

Below in this blog I listed three RBs the Steelers should've considered upon losing Jonathan Dwyer in free agency, and the third, LeGarrette Blount, will meet this week with Mike Tomlin upon Tomlin's return from the owners' meeting in Orlando.

My guess is that Tomlin -- who didn't meet personally with the others, James Starks or Maurice Jones-Drew -- wants to meet with Blount due to Blount's reputation as being, oh, a tad moody, or even punchy, as the wise guys might say.

Blount is a power back with a reputation for surliness after he hurt his draft stock coming out of Oregon by sucker-punching a Boise State player taunting Blount after a bowl loss.

Blount has played with New England and Tampa Bay and would help the Steelers in short-yardage situations.


10 p.m.: I apologize for taking my sweet time in reporting the signings today of WR Lance Moore and TE Michael Palmer, but I'm in Las Vegas for my daughter's West Coast soccer league games and I finally got a minute to type this up.

If you read below in an earlier blog entry, you'll get a good rundown on Moore, a 5-9, 190-pounder who signed a two-year contract with the Steelers.

To repeat in part, Moore was originally signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Toledo in 2005 and was released before the season. He signed with the New Orleans Saints and spent the majority of the 2005-06 seasons between the Saints' practice squad and active roster, and was also allocated to the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe.

In eight seasons with the Saints, Moore started 30-of-101 regular season games played and 1 of 6 postseason contests and helped New Orleans win its first Super Bowl (XLIV).

Moore's 346 receptions during the regular season rank fourth in Saints history, while his 38 touchdown receptions rank fifth and his 4,281 receiving yards rank sixth. The Columbus, Ohio, native also had 47 punt returns for 387 yards with a long of 72 yards, and 354 yards on 18 kick returns with a long of 36 yards.

In the postseason, Moore caught 13 passes for 132 yards and 1 touchdown as well as 11 yards on 2 punt returns.

Palmer is the Steelers' fourth veteran tight end and played well enough late last season to be considered a threat to David Paulson's third season with the team.

Palmer played in all 16 games last season and caught only 1 pass for 8 yards, but he blocked and played special teams as well as Paulson.

Before coming to Pittsburgh last season, Palmer spent three season with the Atlanta Falcons.


2 p.m.: Mike Tomlin, meanwhile, is at Notre Dame getting an up-close view of nose tackle Louis Nix.

So, trade down for Nix or CB Kyle Fuller, and draft two wide receivers among the next three picks?

Sounds like a plan. I'll take it.

1:30 p.m.: The Steelers scored 18 touchdowns from the 20-and-in last season, and 10 of those just walked out the door when Jerricho Cotchery chose to sign with the Carolina Panthers.

Combined with the 5 red-zone touchdowns scored by the previously departed Emmanuel Sanders last season, the Steelers have now lost 15 TD catches of Ben Roethlisberger passes from the 20-yard line and closer.

The Steelers can still sign 31-year-old WR Lance Moore, or they can dip more than once into a rich crop of WR prospects in this year's draft to add with Antonio Brown, Derek Moye, practice-squadders Justin Brown and Kashif Moore, and a trio of street free agents led by Danny Coale.


3:50 p.m.: James Farrior wanted to come back. So did Casey Hampton. Hines Ward, too. And now it's James Harrison.

According to Ed Bouchette, "there have been talks about bringing Harrison back." And I'm sure there were talks about the others that ended with the word "no."

These are my reasons for not bringing Harrison back:

1. The coaches may actually play him over one of the young OLBs. That's what kept the front office from bringing Hampton back. The difference in Harrison and Jarvis Jones at this point would be minor, and the hindrance to Jones' career would be more than that.

2. Do you want that surly mug sitting on your bench? Not me.

3. The Steelers don't give deposed starters a roster spot. Jerome Bettis was an exception and he carved out a niche as a "closer." Would Harrison have a niche? Maybe as a special-teams captain, but is he even fast enough to contribute on special teams? Linebackers MUST play teams.

4. The depth isn't all that bad. Chris Carter's third year will define his career. Let him have at it. They also can bring back Sly Sylvester and they have Terence Garvin as a reserve swing LB. Those guys really can play special teams. (And where was all the concern over depth the year they drafted Worilds instead of Sean Lee a week after Andre Frazier and Arnold Harrison were starting at OLB during a minicamp?)

5. This is Ben Roethlisberger's team. Those crusty old defensive players who begrudged the young QB are now gone. Keep them gone. And, really, Harrison was one of the biggest Ben haters of them all. It's Ben's locker room now. Let him lead for real.

6. Jarvis Jones doesn't need any more of a mentor than Joey Porter. If Jones or Worilds get injured, call Harrison, and not until then.

And let me just add this: I told you not to draft Jarvis Jones, but you had to run to the podium and draft a 24-year-old guy who wasn't stout enough to put his hand on the ground and play DE like most of the other OLB projections your team has made since 1987. I mean, you ran up there like you were smarter than everyone in the room. Now, I'm willing to allow that maybe you are, and maybe I'm just a dullard in my mom's basement. And I thought Jones looked OK last year. Well, now you've got to live with him. So, do it. Let the kid play. Let's see if you really are the smartest guy in the room, Mike Tomlin. It's Jarvis Jones' time. It's Jason Worilds' time. It's Chris Carter's time. Now draft another one and let's get on with this thing and stop talking nonsense about old warriors.

11:15 a.m.: According to my twitter feed, Adam Schefter reported just 23 seconds ago that the Steelers will host former Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew today.

As noted below in my list of three possible contenders for the backup job behind Le'Veon Bell, Jones-Drew, who turns 29 next week, rushed for 803 yards (3.4) last season and caught 43 passes. He enters his ninth season in the league coming off a 15-start season, despite struggling with a variety of leg injuries following a 2012 season that was shortened by a Lis-franc injury.

The 5-7, 210-pounder has 1,804 career carries, 335 receptions, 70 kickoff returns and 18 punt returns. That's a lot of hits on a little guy who loved contact.


6:15 a.m.: The Steelers may have to make running back a priority in the upcoming draft after James Starks opted to re-sign with the Green Bay Packers and cancel his scheduled visit this week with the Steelers.

Behind Eddie Lacy on the Packers' depth chart with promising young backs DuJuan Harris and Johnathan Franklin, Starks reached an agreement with the Packers on a two-year contract late last night. Financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

There are still a handful of veteran running backs available in free agency, with the best probably being Knowshon Moreno, who'll turn 27 in July.

The former Bronco came off two injury-plagued seasons to rush for 1,038 yards at a 4.3 clip in 2013. He also caught 60 passes in his fifth NFL season.

Also available are LeGarrette Blount, the moody power back from New England, and Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for 803 yards (3.4) and caught 43 passes during his eighth season in Jacksonville.

The Steelers can also re-sign their own free agents, Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling, to join a thin depth chart that includes last year's team Rookie of the Year Le'Veon Bell, practice squadder Alvester Alexander, and recent street pick-ups Tauren Poole and Miguel Maysonet.


1:40 p.m.: The Steelers have re-signed G-T Guy Whimper to a one-year contract to give the team eight veteran offensive linemen after entering last season with very little depth.

The Steelers are also expected to re-sign another veteran lineman, Fernando Velasco, later in the summer once he recovers from his Achilles' tendon injury and can pass a physical.

With Nik Embernate returning from a rookie camp injury and Chris Hubbard coming off a year on the practice squad, the Steelers may not have to draft an offensive lineman this year.

Whimper started two games at guard last season after spending most of his first eight seasons at tackle.

* Also of note today, Mike Tomlin gave a talk to the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Florida. It's assumed he went from there to the University of Florida pro day and will attend the Florida State pro day tomorrow.

8 a.m.: For a team that finished 16th in red-zone touchdown percentage, the Steelers certainly are taking a cavalier approach to re-signing free agent Jerricho Cotchery, he of the 10 touchdown catches from the 20 and in this past season.

Having already lost Emmanuel Sanders and his 5 red-zone touchdowns, the Steelers are watching Cotchery -- a player who wants to come back and who provides leadership in a locker room that's growing younger by the day -- visit the WR-depleted Carolina Panthers today.

But, according to one of the paid "reporters" for the NFL, the Steelers will be hosting a veteran leader themselves this week in Lance Moore, who was released earlier this month by the New Orleans Saints in a cost-cutting move. So let's compare and contrast the two veteran receivers:

* Cotchery will turn 32 before next season, his 11th in the league; Moore will turn 31 before the season, his 10th.

* Cotchery was a fourth-round draft pick in 2004 by the New York Jets out of North Carolina State, where he was Philip Rivers' go-to receiver; Moore was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005 by the Cleveland Browns out of Toledo, where he was Bruce Gradkowski's go-to guy.

* Cotchery remained with the Jets for seven seasons, started in his third, and signed with the Steelers in 2011; Moore moved from the Browns' practice squad to the Saints' practice squad, was allocated to NFL Europe, and also started in his third season.

* Cotchery is 6-1, 200; Moore is 5-9, 190.

* Cotchery was timed at 4.54 in the 40 coming out of college; Moore was timed at 4.52 in the 40 coming out.

* Cotchery's career was rejuvenated last season as he moved up to the No. 3 WR spot and caught 46 for 602, his best season since 2009; Moore had his first 1,000-yard season in 2012 but lost his starting job last year after an injury allowed rookie Kenny Stills to pass him as he slid to the Saints' No. 3 WR spot.

* Cotchery has 437 career catches at 12.7 yards per catch and 30 touchdowns; Moore has 346 career catches at 12.4 per catch and 38 touchdowns.

* Cotchery's potential loss in free agency would count as a plus in the Steelers' comp-pick ledger next season; Moore's potential addition in free agency would not count against the Steelers' comp-pick ledger next season since he's considered a street free agent due to being released.


7:50 a.m.: The Steelers don't like to keep demoted starters around, and that's my take on the reason they didn't make an offer to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who signed last night with the Denver Broncos.

It became clear through Sanders' four years here that Sanders is best suited for the slot as a good team's No. 3 WR. The Steelers matched New England's offer last year and gave him his chance as a starter, but his production was pedestrian: 67 catches at a career-low 11.0 yards per catch.

It became clear to me that it was time for Sanders to move on. The Steelers expect to re-sign Jerricho Cotchery in free agency, and he can bridge the flanker position to either last year's third-round pick, Markus Wheaton, or any in a deep crop of receivers from which the Steelers are expected to pick in this upcoming draft.

* The Steelers will address a position of need on Monday when they host Green Bay Packers running back James Starks.

Starks is a 6-2, 218-pound running back who turned 28 last month. Pittsburgh fans remember him as the fine rookie in Super Bowl 45. He ended a 315-yard breakout post-season that day by leading the Packers with 52 yards on 11 carries in the win over the Steelers.

But Pittsburgh fans may remember Starks from two years prior, when he rushed for 97 yards on 20 carries for the University of Buffalo in a close loss to the Pitt Panthers.

Before Khalil Mack at U of B there was Starks, who set the school's career rushing record with 3,140 yards. In his final two seasons, he rushed for 2,436 yards, caught 93 passes and scored 31 touchdowns. He was drafted in the sixth round by the Packers in 2010.

In four seasons with Green Bay, Starks rushed for 1,427 yards on 322 carries (4.4) and scored 8 touchdowns. Last year against the Steelers, as a reserve behind rookie Eddie Lacy, Starks rushed for 47 yards on 10 carries.

* According to my unofficial calculations, the Steelers are $3.75 million under the cap after Cam Thomas' two-year, $4 million contract was calculated at a $1.5 million hit this year.

That's more than enough to afford Starks and DE Alex Carrington, with whom talks are reportedly ongoing.

* The publishers here at Scout.com are in the process of putting together a three-round mock draft. The Steelers will pick today.

Ten picks have already been made: Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, Khalil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Johnny Manziel, Greg Robinson, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridewater, Taylor Lewan and Justin Gilbert.

Since my pick won't cause me to lose my job, I can take a hard-line approach about best available athlete and pick strictly off my last Beast Board, with these five players next in line:

Anthony Barr, Mike Evans, C.J. Mosley, Kelvin Benjamin and Kyle Fuller.

Have a great Sunday.


7 p.m.: According to Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette, Alex Carrington left Steelers headquarters today without a contract. It looks like Brett Keisel, finally, is the man they'll have to turn to.

2:15 p.m.: David Canter, the agent for defensive lineman Cam Thomas, just tweeted that his client has signed a two-year contract with the Steelers. Canter did not release the financial terms, which is a sign that the Steelers got the nose tackle/defensive end at a low cost.

Thomas, who was benched last December by the San Diego Chargers during his first season as a starter, at least adds depth to a Steelers line that is thin at defensive end.

Read more on Thomas below, as well as in my column this morning.

6 a.m.: I'll have more, much more, today on my visit to the Steelers' South Side practice facility Thursday for the Mike Mitchell press conference, but I just wanted to update the visit list today with NT Cam Thomas. You may remember him from that North Carolina defense of a few years ago that we all had our eyes on a few years ago.

Thomas, 27, is a 6-4, 330-pounder who was drafted in the fifth round by the San Diego Chargers. He started five games in three years before moving into the starting lineup last season. He started 11 games but was benched for Sean Lissemore last December after the Cincinnati Bengals rushed for 164 yards -- 101 in the second half, including 35 yards on 8 consecutive runs to ice the game.

I'll have more on Thomas later today from my source in San Diego. And I'll undoubtedly have more on Alex Carrington, the 27-year-old defensive end from Buffalo who's described as a 3-4 player in a 4-3 scheme.


2 p.m.: Mike Mitchell just met with the media. Sounded like the brainy type of free safety to which we've become accustomed around here. These are some of the snippets that I jotted down:

* "Definitely a life-changing experience. ... One of the most storied franchises in all of sports and me and my family can't be more excited."

* "My agent was fielding phone calls around the eighth. He ran off a lot of teams. As soon as I heard Steelers ... being a Bengals fan as a kid you're afraid of them. I jumped at the opportunity."

* "(Playing with Troy Polamalu) is going to be a great experience. In Oakland I didn't have an older player to learn from and now I'm going to be playing with the greatest safety to ever play the game. ... I don't know if I'll be jumping over the line of scrimmage to make plays but hopefully I can learn something."

* "I'm a work in progress. As human beings we're all getting better at life. I'm no different."

* "I know two guys: Ramon Foster, we trained together when he was preparing for the combine and I was preparing for my pro day, and I met Maurkice Pouncey at the Louis Murphy Football Camp."

* "Since I announced I signed with the Steelers at 6 p.m. my Twitter followers have improved by 10,000 followers."

12:15 p.m.: The NFL Network just reported that the Steelers will host Buffalo Bills defensive end Alex Carrington tonight.

The 6-5, 309-pound Carrington was the first player listed in Dale Lolley's pre-free agency preview (linked below) and has always seemed to be a better fit for a 3-4 defense.

In four years with the Bills, Carrington started 9 games and made 53 tackles (BuffaloBills.com). The third-round pick in 2010 was hampered by a quad injury after starting the first 3 games last season.

11 a.m.: He was the last pick of the first round of the 2009 draft, but Ziggy Hood's second contract was just signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

A 4-3 defensive tackle who never quite fit into the Steelers' 3-4 scheme, Hood spent five years with the Steelers. He moved into the starting lineup in the middle of his second season and stayed there for the next two and a half seasons. Hood started three of the first four games last season before losing his job to Cameron Heyward.

Hood made 143 tackles, had 11.5 sacks and recovered 4 fumbles.

The Steelers remain perilously thin at defensive end, with starting right defensive end Brett Keisel still able, willing and available in free agency.

I asked Keisel, who'll turn 36 in September, if he feels he could start and last the season. He said, "I think so. I realize that I can't play every snap in the game and they've got to have sufficient help in that area. They need someone to come in and not allow a significant drop-off."

Could that reserve be Brian Arnfelt?

"Brian is a lot like (Chris) Hoke," Keisel said. "Works his tail off and is consistently getting better every day, so much that when I was hurt they brought him up knowing in a worst-case scenario he could go in and know what to do and know the techniques expected of him. He really had a great year on the practice squad learning and giving the offense great looks. I like Brian a lot. He's a great, hard-working kid. He's not someone who talks a lot and says what he's going to do, just laces his shoes up quietly and goes to practice and works."

5:30 a.m.: So after almost 40 hours of free agency, here's the Steelers' body count following RB Jonathan Dwyer's departure last night for the Arizona Cardinals:

The Steelers have gained a starting free safety (Mike Mitchell) and re-signed their reliable long-snapper (Greg Warren) and a valuable reserve offensive lineman (Cody Wallace); they've lost a valuable reserve defensive lineman (Al Woods), a back-up RB (Dwyer) and a hybrid FB/TE (David Johnson) who hasn't played in two years.

The team appears uninterested in re-signing DE Ziggy Hood and WR Emmanuel Sanders, who both spent the day visiting with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Just as it appeared the first week of January when I broke down team depth unit-by-unit, the Steelers have issues at DE and RB, particularly DE where only one player, Cameron Heyward, has made a tackle in game action.

At RB, the Steelers at least have starters returning at TB (Le'Veon Bell) and FB (Will Johnson). The Steelers also have a back who spent last season on the practice squad (Alvester Alexander) and the option of re-signing two cheap free agents (Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling).

That's the body count. As for the money count, Ian Whetstone calculated that the signing of Warren and Mitchell ($2.2 million cap hit minus $420,000 roster displacement) leaves the Steelers close to $5.4 million under the cap.


8:30 p.m.: With so many on Twitter seeking attention and followers, it's getting difficult to sort through the trash anymore. But after two misfires earlier today, it appears that Al Woods actually has signed with the Titans this time. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported it with the numbers: Woods signed a two-year deal for $5 million.

That leaves the Steelers with Cameron Heyward, and unproven Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams as their only defensive ends. It's time to call Brett Keisel, who has at least a year left in him.

5:30 p.m.: There were conflicting reports earlier in the day about Al Woods signing and then not signing with the Tennessee Titans, but it's been confirmed that Woods is going ahead with his scheduled visits with Green Bay and Arizona.

The Steelers did lose tight end David Johnson, who hasn't played in two years due to knee injuries.

Also, defensive end Ziggy Hood and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders were in Jacksonville today visiting with the Jaguars.

11:40 a.m.: Most of us figured the Steelers could easily sign their own free agents, and the morning roll call continues today with the signing of reserve center-guard Cody Wallace to a three-year deal.

Going into his fifth year out of Texas A&M, Wallace saw action in nine games last season, starting four, after being picked up the week of the opening game.

Wallace started at center after Maurkice Pouncey's replacement, Fernando Velasco, suffered an Achilles' tendon injury.

10 a.m.: The Steelers announced the official signings this morning of free agents Will Allen and Greg Warren to one-year contracts.

It was reported last Wednesday that Allen had reached an agreement with the team, while Warren becomes the fifth player on the Steelers' 2014 roster to have played through the three recent Super Bowl seasons. He joins Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller in that regard, with Brett Keisel still a potential add as a free agent.

Allen and Warren are ranked 13th and 14th respectively on the SCI.net priority list of the 21 Steelers free agents.

7:15 a.m.: With the safety position shored up, the Steelers must turn their attention to defensive end where only one player -- Cameron Heyward -- has made a tackle among those rostered.

It's not helping that SCI's second-rated Steelers UFA priority, Al Woods, is visiting the Tennessee Titans today.

The Steelers have made an offer to Woods, the valuable back-up end and nose tackle, but he's obviously taking advantage of the open market to better gauge his value.

The Steelers also have Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood available in free agency, but are seeing first what Woods will do. The only other defensive ends on the roster are Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams. Both were rookies last year.

Williams, a seventh-round pick, was on IR all season, and Arnfelt, an undrafted free agent, appeared in two December games after being activated from the practice squad.


8:45 p.m.: Check out the South Side message board under Daily Buzz for Mike Mitchell's workout video and an excellent profile by the Charlotte Observer.

8 p.m.: The Steelers signed free safety Mike Mitchell to a 5-year, $25 million contract in the opening hours of the fiscal new year.

4:15 p.m.: The Steelers made it official by releasing LaMarr Woodley with a post-June 1 designation.

3:15 p.m.: CBS Sports is reporting that Dennard, mentioned earlier in the blog today, improved his vertical jump from a 35 1/2 at the combine to 36 today at his pro day. He also improved his broad jump from 10-5 at the combine to 11-2 today. That would've tied for the longest broad jump at Indianapolis.

CBS is also reporting that Steelers GM Kevin Colbert joined Tomlin in East Lansing, leading one to surmise that the Steelers are sitting out the first day of free agency, per their norm.

2 p.m.: After watching the way Bill Cowher went about his drafts, I felt I had a good idea whom he was going to take in the first round most years.

I'm feeling the same way about Mike Tomlin any more, and I think Darqueze Dennard is his type.

Whether I like Kyle Fuller better or not is beside the point, because Tomlin is at Michigan State's pro day today no doubt watching Dennard, the physical press cornerback, go through his paces.

No word on whether Tomlin took him out to eat the previous night, as he did Le'Veon Bell the night before last year's MSU day.

6 a.m.: Dale Lolley wrote the defensive free-agency preview so long ago -- or so it seems when anything is done pre-combine -- that it's probably wise to review it right now.

Here's the link to the defensive side, and here's the more recent link to the offensive end of it.

While I'm at it, I may as well provide the link to my story on the Steelers' own free agents.

Again, the Steelers have $7 million with which to deal. Happy New Year!


3:30 p.m.: It seems as if the entire Internet is racing to report the Steelers' most obvious move of the off-season: They'll release LaMarr Woodley on Tuesday, the start of the fiscal new year, and designate him a post-June 1 cut in order to save $8 million against the salary cap.

That money will be used to pay for the draft class, the practice squad, players nos. 52 and 53 on the roster, contract extensions for players entering the final year of their contracts, and for an in-season injury fund.

The bad news is the Steelers will push $8.6 million of pro-rated bonus money into the following season, which will count against the 2015 salary cap.

Woodley, who'll turn 30 on Nov. 3, remains an effective pass-rusher when healthy. In 11 starts last season, he recorded 5 sacks (tied for second on team) and 17 quarterback hurries/pressures (fourth on the team). But in the past three seasons Woodley has missed 14 games with a variety of leg injuries.

The second-round draft choice in 2007, Woodley finishes his seven-year Steelers career with 57 regular-season sacks to rank seventh in team history. He added 11 sacks in 8 post-season games.


7 a.m.: After the Antonio Brown restructuring, Ian Whetstone has the Steelers approximately $2.75 million under the cap. The number takes into account the close to $500,000 in workout bonuses that will come due on March 11.

Of the savings options that remain, the most likely to occur are an approximate $5 million savings from a Jason Worilds long-term agreement and $3 million in any cost-cutting measure with Ike Taylor, which would bring the Steelers to almost $11 million under the cap. No wonder Omar Khan wasn't as worried as fans, or even his boss, this winter.


7:30 p.m.: According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Steelers have restructured Antonio Brown and "freed up $4 million worth of cap space."

Specifically, it freed up $3.952 million, as SCI capologist Ian Whetstone explains here on his chalkboard.

Brown has four years left on a contract in which he was due a base salary of $6 million this year.


8 a.m.: The trendy new cap site, OverTheCap.com, doesn't have the Steelers' new numbers posted yet, but I prefer Ian Whetstone's numbers anyway.

The resident capologist here at SCI had more precise numbers going into the Steelers' active financial day yesterday, and today he has the Steelers still $1.26 million over what will be the March 11 cap limit.

There are still some juicy contracts to tear into for that "small change," and once the Steelers reach a long-term agreement with Jason Worilds, or extend Ben Roethlisberger, they'll have enough money to sign a mid-tier free agent or two, not to mention the several minimum-wage free agents already on their roster.

Whetstone also calculates that the Steelers will need to clear an additional $6.03 million before the start of the season to pay for their draft class, players 52 and 53, a practice squad, and a $2 million in-season emergency fund. I presume that money will be cleared by cutting LaMarr Woodley after June 1.

Whetstone, by the way, objects to that move. He would prefer to restructure Woodley's contract and keep him, but the Steelers don't make a habit of keeping former starters around unless they can re-invent themselves in a new role, a la Jerome Bettis.

Do the Steelers have enough depth at OLB without Woodley? I believe they do. With Chris Carter and possibly Stevenson Sylvester or Terence Garvin -- two ILBs with OLB capability -- the Steelers have enough depth, which can also be padded in the draft.

* The consensus among pundits seems to be that Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller extended their contracts without taking extra money out of the goodness of their hearts.

I agree that those hearts are good, but their brains aren't stupid. What they gained is a salary turned to signing bonus that is right now drawing interest in the bank. They also signed three-year deals with salaries high enough next year to satisfy the players. Management couldn't just cut them next year without financial consideration, either, since the final third of the pro-rated bonus would come due as a form of penalty.

* So long, Larry Foote. I've tried all morning to come up with a good Foote story for you readers, but I'm coming up empty.

All I can say is that he's a guy who would sit down with reporters in the cafeteria and show the young players how to treat outsiders. He would also call us by our first names as he walked off the practice field with his teammates. Those are small things, but they meant plenty to us.

Last spring he took my sunglasses off my head as he walked off the field. He put them on and said "These are cool." I told him they were just cheap knockoffs, and when he gave them back he said, "They ARE cheap," and laughed.

Cool guy. And you know he was a big part of that great chemical balance this team had in its locker room during its three Super Bowl appearances.

I do remember a minor story about Foote at Super Bowl XL in Detroit, and how I thought I had a great story idea: With all of the attention being given to Bettis's triumphant return home, Foote's return home was being ignored. I talked to him about it, but he didn't give me a story. He just said that this was Jerome's time, that he had no problem celebrating his own homecoming without any fanfare. And then he thanked me anyway for the effort. Now I do the same for him. He was a pleasure to watch as a small, underrated, tough and smart inside linebacker, and a pleasure to be around as a big-hearted human being.

Let me update this with something Detroit's M.C. Steel wrote today on our message board:

I had meant to share this when it occurred but time passed and so did my thoughts on it. Now seems to be an appropriate time.

A few weeks back, Foote was on a local Detroit news station. He was one of 5 people on a panel. The topic was about a top recruit from a Detroit high school who body-slammed the school security guard. There is a no hood-wearing policy at the school. However rudely the security guard asked the student to remove it, in no way should the result have been getting body-slammed on his head. The incident was caught on video. The video had been all over the news. One of the reasons it was such a big story is the kid plays QB and had already committed to Michigan State.

On the panel there was a reverend who was making excuses for the behavior while indirectly playing the race card. Larry let him have it for that. Foote explained how these kids are allowed to slide by without consequences because of their talents and they pay for it later. He brought up Pac Man Jones as an example, said if someone would have given him consequences early on, maybe Jones wouldn't have had so much trouble later on throughout his career.

Foote said the kid had to learn consequences and learn about respect right now. He suggested that he thought the kid should be in school on weekdays and in the country jail on weekends, then in the summer be on some type of work release program.

Foote said one of the reason he's taking a stand is the way the kid walked out of the police station "with his pants sagging" among other things about the way he presented himself clothing wise. It was made obvious to Foote that the kid had no respect.

Foote's passion on the panel for instilling discipline and respect in a young person and understanding how it is an important part of saving that person just showed how much he gets it. No coincidence this guy was a big piece on 2 championships teams.


5 p.m.: The Steelers finished their busy Ash Wednesday by cutting three players: Larry Foote, Levi Brown and Curtis Brown.

Foote, a veteran of all three recent Super Bowl appearances, was released with one year remaining on his contract as the Steelers saved $1.167 million.

Levi Brown, acquired last season from the Arizona Cardinals, was released to save $6.25 million.

And Curtis Brown, the disappointing third-round draft pick from 2011, was cut to save his $645,000 salary.

The three releases saved the Steelers $8.06 million, or about enough to take their cap number to the allowable limit for the March 11 fiscal new year.

2:30 p.m.: Adam Schefter of ESPN just reported that Polamalu signed a three-year deal for $20 million that will save the Steelers $4.5 million against the cap this season. That, with Miller's $3.33 million in savings, leaves the Steelers approximately $8.2 million over the cap.

1:55 p.m.: The numbers in the Heath Miller deal have been leaked. His three-year deal is for $14 million total with a $5 million signing bonus.

According to SCI.net capologist Ian Whetstone, the Steelers saved $3.33 million against the cap on Miller's extension.

1:30 p.m.: The Steelers have announced that two-year contract extensions have been reached with safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller.

Both players were about to enter the 2014 season on the final years of their contracts. Polamalu was due to make $8.25 million and Miller $6.02 million. Terms of the deals weren't announced but no doubt the extensions will free up quite a bit of cap room for the team as it attempts to chop approximately $16 million by 4 p.m. March 11.

Polamalu, who turns 33 on April 19, started all 16 games last season and was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl, his first since 2011. He was third on the team with 85 tackles, and had 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles and 1 recovered fumble. He was third on the team with 12 passes defensed, two behind leader Cortez Allen.

Miller, who turns 32 in October, missed the first two games last season as he rehabilitated a torn ACL suffered late in the previous season. Miller's speed returned by the end of last season as he caught 58 passes for 593 yards and a touchdown.

10:15 a.m.: Have the Steelers given up Ryan Clark for Lent?

Multiple sources are reporting this morning that the Steelers have re-signed backup safety Will Allen. Terms haven't been disclosed, but it's likely 11th-year veteran Allen was given a minimum-wage contract with a small signing bonus.

Allen left the Steelers during this month last year to sign as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys. He started two games for the Cowboys but was released on Oct. 8. The Steelers signed him two days later and he became the third safety in the quarters package on Nov. 17, due to an injury to rookie Shamarko Thomas.

Allen made a key fourth-quarter interception that day against the Detroit Lions to set up the game-clinching Steelers touchdown. Earlier in the game he had forced a fumble and recovered it to set up a Steelers field goal.

Allen remained the team's third safety the rest of the season and allowed Troy Polamalu to play a hybrid linebacker position at times.

Allen finished the Steelers' portion of his season with 33 tackles and 2 interceptions in 12 games. The move may be an indication the Steelers will promote Thomas as a starting safety next to Polamalu.


5:45 a.m.: To our users and customers,

We apologize for the forums issues this past week. They arise from having to replace obsolete hardware that had not been updated under previous ownership. These updates had originally been planned for after NCAA basketball season, to minimize intrusiveness, but we obviously now will be accelerating this work. We will do whatever it takes to provide stability, speed and capacity, but will err on the side of getting things right for the long haul as opposed to a Band-Aid approach.

Scout Engineering

* OK, that business out of the way, I forgot yesterday to include Penn State NT Daquan Jones in my list below. He met with Steelers DL coach John Mitchell on Saturday night.


4 p.m.: With a 6-hour drive ahead of me I won't have time to write a new story for tomorrow, so I'll just give you the Steelers-player meeting news I've been able to glean today:

* Terrence Brooks, FS, Florida State met with the team.

* Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State to meet with team tonight.

* Dion Bailey, SS, USC to meet with Steelers tonight.

* Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville to meet with Mike Tomlin on Monday night.

* Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame met with Tomlin among his seven formal interviews.

* Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame met with Tomlin and Kevin Colbert (some people give more information than others; doesn't mean Nix didn't meet with Colbert also).

* HaHa Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama scheduled to meet with team.

* E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri had an informal meeting with Steelers (informals are brief and usually not with the head coach).

* Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State meets tonight with the team, and the 270-pounder said some teams want to look at him as 3-4 OLB. Played NT vs. Oregon. More on that later.

* Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor talked with Tomlin at the Senior Bowl and said an area scout with the team followed that up here.

I haven't spoken with Darqueze Dennard, and Kyle Fuller wasn't sure if he met with the Steelers. I really liked Fuller's personality. I know he's physical, as boundary corners at Virginia Tech have to be, but he said he has to run a 4.37 40 Tuesday to beat his brother Corey's time. Would make him a top half of the first lock.

9:30 a.m.: Really, it's not the player being interviewed that means all that much when looking to predict a team's draft. The position, though, is usually a good indicator.

So far the Steelers are looking hard at big receivers and defensive ends.

Of course, the defensive backs are due to appear in the media room today, and they'll provide a big part of the Steelers' draft story.

The long defensive ends were discussed in my Day 3 story this morning. I'd like to make one correction though: I wrote that the tallest defensive ends here are 6 feet 6, but I missed Brent Urban of Virginia, who measured 6-7, 295 the other day. You can bet the Steelers have talked to this mid to late-round 5-tech.

And to add to my Day 2 story on the Steelers looking at big receivers, some next-day stragglers updated that.

NFL.com interviewed tight end Eric Ebron (6-4.3, 250) after he ran his 4.6 40. Ebron revealed he had a sit-down interview with coach Mike Tomlin.

I would link to the video, but the reporter spent most of his time prying into Ebron's remark that Jacksonville "came at him" at their interview. After the third time the reporter brought it up, Ebron just said, "I think me and Mike Tomlin had a great conversation. We were in there just cutting it up as if we've known each other for a long time. As I was explaining my history, I felt he felt me more than anybody."

Penn State's Allen Robinson showed up Saturday and said he has met with 12 teams, the Steelers being one of them. Mike Evans of Texas A&M also took to the podium and smoothly displayed his intelligence, but he told me later that he has not talked to the Steelers.

I joked on twitter that Evans just might be there guy. Hey, sometimes there's smoke and sometimes there's misdirection. This could turn out to be an example of the latter.


1:30 p.m.: Ra'Shede Hageman, the exceptional interior defensive lineman for Minnesota, has a formal interview set up with the Steelers on Sunday night.

Hageman is built like a classic 5 technique defensive end for the Steelers, but he probably played more nose tackle in college. He said he tells coaches he can play anywhere from the 0 to the 9 technique, but seemed to prefer the 3 technique (in a 4-3) and called the 0 (nose tackle) "claustrophobic."

As for criticism that he sometimes lacks motivation, Hageman said that having a child has changed his perspective, that he "has someone to play for" now.

1:15 p.m.: With Jadeveon Clowney drawing a mega crowd to lead off the parade of defenders today, I was able to get some alone time with Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan, who checked in at 6-1 1/2, 299.9. He gave the latter number with a straight face as if weighing 300 pounds mattered to him.

Jernigan could be considered one of the new breed of nose tackle. He played all of the interior techniques at FSU and talked about the evolution of his position, which I'll get into later.

I can report two things from my talk with Jernigan: One, he's not scheduled to talk to the Steelers here. And, two, I asked him to talk about the transition at FSU from middle linebacker Vince Williams -- now a Steeler, of course -- to Telvin Smith this season.

"Vince, he's a little bit more knowledgeable, I would say. He's real smart. He dissects things inside and out," Jernigan said. "Telvin, I just love the way he plays. He's a wild man when he gets on the field. He goes to get the ball. Wherever the ball goes, he's there. It doesn't matter who makes the play, you can always find 22 around the ball."

Will Smith be big enough to hold up at that position in the NFL?

"Oh yeah. He'll prove it. And it won't take him long to prove it, either."


4 p.m.: The Post-Gazette is running the entire transcript of the Kelvin Benjamin interview after not asking a question themselves. Such is life in today's journalism.

Well of course I'm bitter, since I kind of liked the way Benjamin answered my questions. I want to keep them all to myself. But I'll salve my massive ego by publishing here Kelvin's answers to the questions I asked:

Q: People who know you say you've matured a lot the last few years. In what way have you matured?

KB: Just growing up and being a man. I've learned to do the things you have to do to be a man. Before I was basically just being a kid, doing kid things.

Q: Like what?

KB: Not putting in the work you need to put in to be a great receiver.

Q: What turned that around?

KB: Just seeing the season we had (in 2012), knowing that we could have gone to a national championship, knowing that we left a lot out there. I just wanted to turn it around for the team, for the organization.

Q: Did you jump before Jameis Winston threw you the pass that won the national title?

KB: Yeah. Sometimes I jump early. It throws the DB off. They go, 'Oh man.'

Q: Were you held back in grammar school?

KB: Yes, I was held back in first grade and third grade.

Q: The Muck, is that what they call your hometown?

KB: Muck City, because of the rich soil.

Q: And did you chase rabbits as a kid there?

KB: Yeah, everybody chased rabbits back in the day, when you were small. I mean, they were good to eat. They're really good if you've never had them before. But that also helps you with speed and agility and stuff like that.

OK, readers, thank you for letting me get that out there and off my chest.

4 p.m.: OK, sorry for the lack of updates. If you've been following my twitter feed you know the Steelers are going to meet with Donte Moncrief and Kelvin Benjamin, among others, later today.

Benjamin impressed me from the podium. I'll provide the exact quotes later but he said he did jump before Jameis Winston threw him the TD pass to win the national championship, that he's never told Winston to throw him the ball more often, that he's definitely matured in his three years at Florida State, that he grew up in Muck City and chased rabbits. Said they taste great. Much more on him later.

Oregon scatback De'Anthony Thomas had an interesting story about his nickname, "The Black Mamba."

I asked him why it seemed no one called him that this past season.

"The Black Mamba came on me my freshman year so I feel like I established the name for myself."

Didn't someone else have that nickname? Kobe Bryant?

"Yeah. Everyone knows I was way before Kobe Bryant. He was just in the spotlight more than me. Hopefully one day we can do a commercial about it or something.

"Snoop Dog gave me the nickname. I played in the Snoop Youth Football League growing up in Los Angeles. My first game against his team we blew them out 52-0. That's when he established me the name Black Mamba."

1:45 p.m.: Derek Carr was impressing the media mob with his leadership and charisma, so I had to slow down the express by asking him about his top WR, Davante Adams.

"Oh, he's the best. He is the best guy. He's going to come out here and shock some people with how he runs. Some people say he's not as fast on tape and stuff. I still haven't seen him get caught. He'll definitely have one of, if not THE, highest verticals. If he needs to go catch the ball at the roof, he's going to go to the roof. I've seen the guy dunk and he's looking down into the rim. I don't think that's supposed to happen with how tall he is."

Noon: While most reporters are posting up for the upcoming Johnny Manziel interview, I hope to get face time with the wide receivers who'll be entering the interview room all day. The parade started with one of my favorite receivers, Davante Adams of Fresno State. He seemed a little surly, but that's all right because he also came off as intelligent and someone who doesn't like to waste time. Here are some of his comments:

On whom he admires: "I like Brandon Marshall's game. He's a bigger receiver who can run."

Adams said he measured in at 6-1 plus, 212 pounds.

On why he went to Fresno State: "I was going to play basketball and football there, but it didn't work out because of the time I had to dedicate to both. ... I was always a hooper growing up and didn't play football until my junior year in high school."

On how basketball helps his game: "It makes it real easy to go up and get those 50-50 balls. ... That's why we were so effective in the red zone this season."

On how and whom he can help: "I know I'm ready to play immediately. ... In my eyes, whatever team takes me will get the best receiver in this draft class. ... I know I can make an impact immediately, wherever I am."

Adams' numbers this season were mind-boggling: 131 receptions, 1718 yards, 24 touchdowns. In my opinion, Adams helped QB Derek Carr more than the vice-versa that most seem to believe.


Noon: Kevin Colbert talked again to the local media after his time at the podium. Here are some of the highlights:

* On Markus Wheaton's recent follow-up surgery: "It was just a follow-up procedure where he had further (work done) on the pinky. It was follow-up surgery to clean it up."

Are there high expectations for him? "Sure. You take a kid in the third round, you want him to produce, expect him to produce, and we hope that's the case."

* On changes in the way you grade nose tackles since drafting Casey Hampton 13 years ago:

"Our numbers were close to 60 percent sub-package defense this year, so it has increased because of the change offensively. But it doesn't change the way we evaluate. In a 34 defense you're still going to start with a nose tackle because you have to get to third down. If you don't have a player help you get to those extended downs then you're going to have problems, so nose tackle will always be important to our defense."

* On reported cap increase to $130M: "That's a welcome rumor but we've gotten no information on the cap, and I don't anticipate us getting it until real close to March 11. So whether it goes up or not, we have to prepare for the worst."

* On whether he seeks particular traits in a CB for Steelers' scheme: "I don't think so. I don't think corners in our scheme are maybe as unique as say outside linebackers would be. You're looking for for a guy that can cover and somebody that will tackle. I don't think that's unique to us. But if it's more zone or more man, I think it's the old adage I learned from Coach Shula a long time ago: When you've got red paint, paint your barn red. It's a matter of the individual player."

* Any injury updates? "I believe we're as healthy coming out of this season as any season. We had a few late injuries, Fernando Velasco, who's an unrestricted free agent. Curtis Brown tore his ACL later in the year. He's progressing. Fernando's recovering nicely from the Achilles'. So aside from those two season-enders, we actually finished with getting Heath Miller better and more healthy, and Matt (Spaeth) coming off the foot injury. We feel good about where we are medically this season more than any in recent years."

Velasco said he would be back for spring. Doesn't an Achilles' injury wipe a player out longer than that?

"Yeah it can. Individuals heal differently. Hopefully he could be ready for the spring but we'll err on the side of caution if he's still with us."

* On whether new punter Brad Wing had to prove his character had improved: "No. Brad got married recently. He has a child. Again, players mature as the years go on. If we weren't comfortable with his character we wouldn't have signed him."

9:45 a.m.: Steelers GM Kevin Colbert will take the podium in a half hour, and then he'll meet again with local reporters in case we have any more questions that we didn't ask last week.

One question for Colbert will involve the NFL announcing this morning that its salary cap will be set at close to $130 million, up from the previous estimate of $126.3 million.

That will change the amount the Steelers have to clear by March 11 from $13 million (by Ian Whetstone's estimation) to about $9.3 million. And once they cut Levi Brown that will drop to $3 million.

So we're off to a good start in Indianapolis.


8 a.m.: Before I leave for Indianapolis this morning, I would like to share with you the highlights from the Mike Mayock conference call with NFL reporters:

* Regarding Ravens at pick 16: "It's the best wide receiver draft I've seen in years ... (Sammy) Watkins will be long gone and then you start to get into what flavor do you like. Marqise Lee is a completely different receiver than Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin. So I really believe when the Ravens get on the clock at 16, that probably at least one, if not two of those three, will be available and they bring different things to the table. Lee can play inside or outside. He's a dangerous kickoff return guy. Evans and Benjamin are kind of today's flavor in the NFL, those 6 5, 230 pound wide receivers, the back shoulder throws, outside the numbers in the red zone. I think if you're a Ravens fan, you're going to know that at least one, if not two of those three guys, will be available in that slot."

* On CB Kyle Fuller: "The Fuller kid I really like. I have got him as my third ranked corner. I think he's a first round talent. He's long, he tackles, he has ball skills. I think the key for him is what he runs that 40 in. If he comes in as a sub four, five, I think he's a first round lock."

* What does he want to see at the combine? "I really like the tailback from Washington, [Bishop] Sankey, and I want to see him catch the football. ... I feel like he can be a lot like the kid out of North Carolina, Giovani Bernard, if he can catch the football like that. ... I'm looking forward to seeing how fast Marqise Lee runs. I want to see the tight end from Oregon [Colt Lyerla], how he reacts to people. I watched film what little tape I could get on him from 2012, he's a gifted, gifted kid, but he's got a bunch of off the field issues. [Darqueze] Dennard and [Fuller, the two corners, I think they are awesome. But my concern with both of them is long speed, and if they both run well, I think they are going to climb even higher, especially the Fuller kid. ... I want to see the freaks, [Jadeveon] Clowney,[Khalil] Mack, and there's a kid from Georgia Southern, Jerick McKinnon, who is going to work with the running backs."

* On potential combine freaks: "The kid from Minnesota, Ra'Shede Hageman, he's really going to be interesting. He's 6-6, over 300 pounds, he was a high school basketball player. He's got freakish athletic ability and if he puts up the kind of numbers I think he can, in addition to [Jadeveon] Clowney, we're going to be talking about him. ... Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington, oh my goodness, does he have a great throwing radius but is he going to run in the 4 7 range or not? Troy Niklas from Notre Dame, same kind of thing is how fast is he really?"

* On the Wisconsin prospects: "(Chris) Borland is one of my two or three favorite players this draft and the way I came on him was funny. I was getting ready to do a Notre Dame game, I think I was doing homework on BYU and the tape I happened to put in was Wisconsin and I was like, this 44 is everywhere. So I was kind of hooked on him early and every tape I've seen since then reinforces that he could have the ability to be the Kiko Alonso of this year's group. I think he's probably going to go in the second round. ... The kid makes plays. He's around the football all the time and I love watching him play football. ... (Jared) Abbrederis is a wide receiver that understands routes more than most wide receivers in college do. He gets in and out of the breaks and he's got good speed. I think he's got to get stronger so he doesn't get beat up at the line of scrimmage. I think he's probably a third or fourth-round pick."

* On vertical threats: "I think [Odell] Beckham from LSU is a tremendous wide receiver, has a chance to go late one to mid two. [Davante] Adams from Fresno, another kind of late one to late two type pick. I really like him as an outside receiver who is going to develop over time. I think Paul Richardson from Colorado, he's undersized, probably won't go until the third round, a little bit like Mike Wallace, didn't have quite as much production but he slides. So there are some names to get you through three rounds anyway and [Allen] Robinson you can put in there from Penn State, also. ... Robinson to me is a solid second round pick, good production, can get up the field, he has good strength and good size. I just want to see some more burst and the ability to separate."

* On the other LSU WR: "One of my favorite players in the draft is Jarvis Landry. And when I look at those two wide receivers, Landry to me, with his toughness and ability to play inside or outside reminds me a little bit of Hines Ward. He's one of the physically toughest players in this draft, for any position. He catches everything, he's the kind of guy I'd like to have as a teammate, so I really like him."

* Comparing/contrasting safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor: "They are different players. For me, Calvin Pryor is like a bigger, stronger Bob Sanders. He flies around, he hits people, he explodes everywhere. I think he is a little better in the box than he is on the back end. It might be just because of the way Louisville used him. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on the other hand, has got better range, and I think he's more of a deep third, deep half guy, he tackles well and he can invert up into the box. I think he's a complete player, so both of those guys, I wouldn't even blink if they went at No. 10."

* More on TE Troy Niklas: "He's an interesting guy, first of all, because of his size. You're talking 6-6 and a half, 265, played outside linebacker, his freshman year, converted to tight end. Only had two years of college football at tight end. The first year he had Tyler Eifert who had most of the attention while he was trying to learn the position. So effectively, you're looking at one year of production as far as catching the football, so I think what he is, if he commits to becoming a good in-line blocker, he could be the best blocking tight end in the NFL in two or three years. And if I was him, if I was his father or I was his coach, I would try to impress upon him that he should try to become the best blocker he can. He'll make a lot of money for a lot of years. Secondly he's a better receiver than people think. He is not Tyler Eifert, he's not a 4.5 guy, but a 4.8 kind of guy, he can catch the ball short or intermediate, understands how to use his body to position it. So I don't think he's getting out of the second round because I think there's a drop off after him."

* More on Dennard: "If he runs well, Dennard is a Top 15 pick. He's my favorite corner in the draft. I'd like to see him run well."

* More on Seferian-Jenkins: "He should be a better blocker than he is, given his size, but he's athletic enough to block. I think he's tough enough to block. ... I was just impressed with his catching radius, his ability to use his body against defenders and his ability to twist in the air and catch the football. He's got great hands. I don't think it matters what the scheme is, and I have him as my second tight end, and I think he's a first round pick."

* More on Evans: "The one thing he has to learn is he has to become a better route runner. Because of his quarterback and the style of play at Texas A&M, most of his catches were verticals, back-shoulder fades and wide receiver screens. At the next level, that's great, and it can get him production early, but he's going to have to learn how to run routes."

* On the Notre Dame D-linemen: "Regarding (Louis) Nix, some teams and general managers really like him. He's a prototypical nose tackle, big kid. He's got good short area quickness for a 330-pound guy but he had the knee last year, he flashed but didn't play at a high level all the time. He's got to be a little bit lighter. He's got to play at 330. Can he push the edge a little bit? Can he gain an edge and push the pocket? And if you believe in that, then he's probably a top 20 pick because he's a 330-pound nose tackle with some movement skills. If you don't believe you can get some pass rush out of him, he probably isn't a top 20 pick for your team. Stephon Tuitt, this kid had a groin issue coming off 2012. He was a little bit heavy. He's probably at this point, 6-6, 330 pounds, he's probably grown into a five technique which is the defensive end in a 3-4. ... If he went somewhere between 25 and 50, it wouldn't surprise me."

* On mid-round safeties: "Deone Bucannon from Washington State, probably a third-round guy, [Terrence] Brooks from Florida State, third round, [Ed] Reynolds from Stanford third round, free safety. They are three guys I like. One of my favorite safeties in this draft is Jimmy Ward from Northern Illinois, but I'm not sure he's getting out of the second round."

* On the Steelers at 15: "If you're going to live at 3-4 which they do, the nose tackle position is pretty important. They like (Steve) McClendon. He's a pretty interesting guy. The only guy that's even worth looking at that early would be Louis Nix and you have to buy into the fact that you're going to get a significant number of snaps from him and I'm not sure you can. Kyle Fuller makes a lot of sense for what they do and how they do it. He plays a lot like the kid they lost to New Orleans as a free agent. Fuller makes a lot of sense, and you would have to buy into Nix at 15 if you were going to go there but Fuller I like and Jason Verrett is a second-round corner and a nickel, I like him, also."


4:45 p.m.: The Steelers named Joey Porter a defensive assistant coach and he'll work with outside linebackers.

"We are excited about having Joey back with the Steelers' family," said Mike Tomlin. "Joey spent a number of years with Pittsburgh as a player, and now he's back to assist the coaching staff. We look forward to his efforts and contributions."

Porter is entering his 14th season in the NFL, and his first as a coach. The former outside linebacker was originally drafted by the Steelers in the third round (73rd overall) for the 1999 NFL Draft. Porter started 171-of-188 career games, spending time with Pittsburgh (1999-2006), the Miami Dolphins (2007-09) and the Arizona Cardinals (2010-11).

For his career, Porter registered 98 sacks, 721 tackles (552 solo), 25 forced fumbles, 12 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries, three touchdowns and one safety. He recorded 60 sacks as a member of the Steelers, which rank fifth in franchise history.

He was selected to four Pro Bowls (2002, '04, '05, '08), named All-Pro four times and was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000's. When he registered his 70th career sack during the 2008 season, he became the first NFL player with 10 career interceptions and 70 career sacks.


4:45 p.m.: The Steelers today signed WR Danny Coale to a futures contract, and also hired James Saxon to coach their running backs in what turned out to be a trade of RBs coaches.

Saxon coached the Minnesota Vikings' RBs the last three seasons and moves in to replaced Kirby Wilson, who had left to coach the Vikings' backs.

Saxon is entering his 23rd season in the NFL as either a player or coach. He also coached running backs for the Miami Dolphins (2008-10), Kansas City Chiefs (2001-07) and Buffalo Bills (2000) after spending eight seasons as a running back in the NFL.

Coale (6-0, 187) was a fifth-round draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 2012 out of Virginia Tech.

The son-in-law of former Steeler Tunch Ilkin, Coale broke a toe his rookie spring and missed OTAs and then training camp. He was kept on the practice squad, but tore an ACL on Nov. 15.

The knee didn't recover fully by 2013 and he was waived on Aug. 31, and then waived from the practice squad on Sept. 17. Coale also spent a week on the Indianapolis Colts' practice squad.

At Virginia Tech, Coale was a four-year starter with 165 catches for 2,658 yards (16.1 avg.). He also returned 9 punts for 63 yards and even punted 13 times for a 43.5 average.

At the 2012 combine, Coale measured 5-11.7, 201 and ran a 4.42 40 and a 6.69 3-cone with a vertical jump of 35 inches. He married Ilkin's daughter Natalie on Feb. 23, 2013.


6:45 p.m.: The Steelers signed two players to Reserve/Future contracts, linebacker Vic So'oto and running back Tauren Poole.

So'oto (6-3, 263, 3) has appeared in 13 career games with three different teams, Green Bay, Oakland and Arizona. He also spent time with the Washington Redskins, on the Packers' practice squad, and he finished the 2013 season on the New Orleans Saints' practice squad. He originally signed with Packers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Brigham Young University on July 28, 2011.

Poole (5-10, 210, 2) spent parts of the 2013 season on the Indianapolis Colts' and Carolina Panthers' practice squads. He was placed on the Panthers' Reserve/Injured List due to injured ribs on September 1, 2012 and missed the entire 2012 season. Poole originally signed with the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Tennessee on April 30, 2012.


6:30 a.m.: As expected, the hiring of Mike Munchak as the Steelers' offensive line coach was met enthusiastically by the true football men who are part of the Pittsburgh media.

One of them -- one of Munchak's former coaches at Penn State, Tom Bradley -- declined to comment, but Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley said they are impressed with the new coach.

"Great hire," Ilkin told Steelers.com's Bob Labriola yesterday. "He will teach how to play, how to prepare, how to work. He'll instill some nasty, too."

Wolfley, who declined my offer to write a column on the matter, in turn gave me a long series of comments, and at a much better rate: free.

* "I remember Mike Munchak for the complete player that he was as a guard for the Houston Oilers. Mike was a huge, solidly based in his lower body, grinder. Functionally intimidating whether he was run blocking or pass blocking, Mike was equally blessed with a complementary mental skill set. In other words, he 'had his game brains on,' rarely making mental errors on the field that I recall."

* "Mike possessed fierceness on the field that ran contrary to the good dude he was off the field. He was fully capable of flipping the switch when the ball was snapped. Consistently consistent at a very high level in his play, both mentally and physically, Mike was reminiscent of another Mike, that being the late great Mike Webster."

* "There is also the side of Mike many have never seen, and that is one of humility. Mike was and is, as far as I know to this day, a humble man who has never lost touch with his Scranton, Pa., roots. A funny story is when he was recruited by Joe Paterno to Penn State; he actually told Coach Paterno that he 'wasn't sure that he was good enough to play at Penn State.' (Told to me by none other than Tom Bradley)."

* "Mike's track record of producing hogs in the trenches with a 'thick face and a black heart' speaks for itself. As a coach I think he brings the toughness guys love to emulate and measure themselves against, not to mention the Hall of Fame credentials (including Pro Bowls when they used to mean something). The ability to say something and have your resume of 'Been there, done that' speak louder than your words and tends to cut to the quick of any technical discussion or disagreement."

* "Overall I'd say you got a Hall of Fame person in a Hall of Fame player as your offensive line coach Pittsburgh."

Thanks, Wolf. You are indeed the man. Even if you do at times have a thick face and black heart.


7 a.m.: They named a street after Mike Munchak in his hometown of Scranton. And if he were to turn Mike Adams into a star, Munchak might get a street named after him in Pittsburgh, too.

That possibility came up yesterday when Munchak, the NFL Hall of Fame guard from Penn State, visited Steelers headquarters and spoke with Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley about the vacant OL coaching position, as reported by Bob Labriola of Steelers.com.

Munchak spent the last 32 years with the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Titans but was fired recently after his third season as head coach. Munchak had played 12 years at left guard before spending 17 years there as an assistant coach, mainly in charge of the offensive line.

Munchak had a 22-26 record as a head coach. And if hired by the Steelers would become the fourth current or former head coach on the Steelers' staff, and second Hall of Famer along with Dick LeBeau.

* Also of interest to Steelers fans this morning is this feature from Melbourne, Australia on new Steelers punter Brad Wing, the talented but troubled former LSU star who's hoping to revive a once-promising career.

The Herald Sun reports that Wing had invitations to train with 10 teams, but the Steelers offered Wing a contract after a workout in "-2C," or 36 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wing is one of four Aussies currently on NFL rosters, and the Steelers have two including their other punter, Mat McBriar.

* And finally, if you're affiliated with a high school in the tri-state area and would like to host a charity event with the Steelers' basketball team, contact Tom O'Malley at 412-835-5936 or tomalley@aol.com.

The seasons begins the first of March and concludes in the middle of May.


Noon: Steelers' PR director Burt Lauten is with me on the Jerome Bettis-for-HoF front with the following stat he just tweeted: "His 13,662 career yards (are) two times more than any back 240+ pounds."

I wrote earlier about the importance of Bettis' longevity as a big back in my "Ask Wex" column last week, so obviously I agree with Lauten on this.

Lauten also tweeted this stunner today: "President Art Rooney II will hold an interactive Q&A conference call with all season ticket holders today at 4 p.m."

Wow. God bless you, Art. And for those intending to call in, perhaps you should read some of my thoughts on ARII and his Steelers that I just posted on our message board.


6:30 a.m.: The Steelers signed a pair of players to Reserve/Future contracts, wide receiver Jasper Collins and safety Jordan Dangerfield.

Collins (5-10, 190, 1) originally signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Mount Union on May 3, 2013. He was waived/injured by Miami on July 31, 2013 and signed to the Cleveland Browns practice squad on September 2, 2013 before being released on September 10, 2013. Collins was signed to the Dolphins' practice squad on November 19, 2013 and was released on November 26, 2013.

Dangerfield (5-11, 199, 1) originally signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Towson on May 3, 2013. He spent the offseason and training camp with the Bills before being released on August 30, 2013.


9:15 a.m.: The Steelers signed four players to Reserve/Future contracts: cornerback Devin Smith, linebacker Dan Molls, running back Miguel Maysonet and wide receiver Lanear Sampson, the team announced today.

Smith (5-11, 186, 1) spent parts of the 2013 season on the Steelers' and Miami Dolphins' practice squads. He spent the majority of the 2013 training camp with Pittsburgh and recorded five tackles and one interception in preseason action. Smith originally signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Wisconsin on May 10, 2013.

Molls (6-0, 238, 1) was with the San Diego Chargers for their 2013 training camp but was released on August 30, 2013. He originally signed with the Chargers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Toledo on April 27, 2013.

Maysonet (5-10, 210, 1) spent parts of the 2013 season on the practice squads of the Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Chargers and Indianapolis Colts. He spent the entire 2013 training camp with the Cleveland Browns. Maysonet originally signed with the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Stony Brook on April 29, 2013.

Sampson (5-11, 205, 1) spent the majority of the 2013 season on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad. He originally signed with the Colts as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Baylor on April 30, 2013.

SUNDAY, JAN. 5, 2014

7:45 a.m.: You turn the sports pages these days and some things never change. Bill Cowher isn't going to coach this season, and Todd Haley is. Or maybe I should say that Ian Rapoport is correcting/reversing an earlier report of his that Haley wasn't going to remain the Steelers' offensive coordinator.

The other annual January news item -- or so it seems -- is that Mike Tomlin is looking for an offensive line coach for the Steelers. The good news for Tomlin, though, is this appears to be a great time to be searching for such a coach.

The news yesterday was that -- according to venerable Yahoo! reporter Jason Cole -- the Steelers are trying to set up an interview with Carolina assistant OL coach Ray Brown.

Brown, 51, was the assistant to former Tomlin OL coach Sean Kugler at Buffalo in 2008-09 before Dick Jauron was fired and both OL coaches moved on.

Kugler became the Steelers' OL coach, while Brown went to San Francisco as an assistant. Brown spent a year there before Jim Harbaugh was hired and brought in an OL coach, Tim Drevno, who had coached with him since Harbaugh's days at San Diego State.

That hiring relegated Brown's duties to coaching RTs and TEs, but Carolina called and that's where he's coached as an assistant to John Matsko since 2011.

Brown started 205 games in 20 years as a player in the NFL (1986-2005) and was named to one Pro Bowl (2001) and won one Super Bowl ring (Washington 1991). According to a source familiar with Brown, he's "solid" and is expected to be permitted to interview with the Steelers after the Panthers' playoff run.

But the Steelers should also give consideration to another couple of OL coaches who've suddenly become available: John Benton and Mike Munchak.

Benton, 50, learned yesterday he will be fired along with the rest of the Houston Texans' staff by new coach Bill O'Brien.

Benton spent the last eight seasons as the Texans' OL coach and was part of the top three rushing seasons in team history (2010-12). The Texans led the league in time of possession in 2011 and 2012.

Benton coached for two seasons (2008-09) under assistant head coach Alex Gibbs, considered one of the masters of zone-blocking techniques.

The 53-year-old Munchak, of course, is the former Penn State and Houston Oilers great who's just been relieved of his head coaching duties with the Tennessee Titans.

Of the two, Benton would be the easier to hire, but the Steelers shouldn't miss this opportunity to see if Munchak -- the Oilers/Titans OL coach for 14 seasons before becoming head coach -- would like to ease back into what he does so well, with a former division rival, back in his home state.

SATURDAY, JAN. 4, 2014

9:15 a.m.: Just an update on the Jack Bicknell firing: I've read the conspiracy theories, and those who are calling him a scapegoat, but from what I'm hearing from people outside the organization is that it was just a bad hire from the start, that the guy isn't much of a coach.

Great guy. Loved his dad, who was great to me during my time covering college ball. But sometimes firings are done for a simple reason: poor performance.

* Two great games last night but I really didn't need to see a record-setting performance from Clemson WR Sammy Watkins. That was just rubbing salt in the wounds because there's almost no chance he'll still be on the board when the Steelers pick 15th.

I would've liked to have seen Ohio State's injured CB, Bradley Roby, cover Watkins. Roby's been up and down this season but in the little I've seen of him I like his long arms and physical mentality. I would've liked to have seen how his speed withstood the Watkins challenge.

The cornerback I did enjoy last night was Missouri's E.J. Gaines, who appears to be a much better fit for the Steelers than his counterpart for Oklahoma State last night, Justin Gilbert.

Gilbert might be the better ballhawk, and he did intercept a pass last night (as did Gaines), but Gilbert didn't want to have much to do with the run game. He did come up once, late in the game after he had warmed up, and he does have good size, but you can tell when guys enjoy contact, and that's what I saw from Gaines, who was much more comfortable in off-coverage than was Gilbert, who clearly prefers press man and will go to a team looking for a pure cover corner. I just wonder if Gilbert's fast enough for the word "pure."

Since this was my first viewing of Missouri this season, I didn't know until this morning that the 5-11, 195-pound Gaines held Texas A&M giant Mike Evans to 4 catches for 8 yards, or that Gaines was coming on strong down the stretch this season. After my first exposure to him, I have to believe he would make a solid second-round pick for the Steelers, but I'm sure there's more to discover about this player before draft day.

As for sleepers last night, I liked Oklahoma State's big, tough possession WR Tracy Moore, who came through several times in clutch moments. I also liked the Cowboys' enthusiastic big man, Calvin Burnett. The 4-3 NT could stand to lose a few pounds, but he showed good quickness and made a handful of one-armed tackles while engaged with an offensive lineman. Probably poor technique but it was a sign of strength.

FRIDAY, JAN. 3, 2014

5:15 p.m.: The Steelers fired offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. on Friday afternoon, and it set the conspiracy theories in motion throughout the Internet, and perhaps beyond.

"It had to be Art Rooney II behind this, so that he could impose his will on the running game, marginalize Ben Roethlisberger's bargaining power, and ..."



Thank you.

Had this been done at mid-season, few would've batted an eye. But of course Bicknell was fired after the Steelers' OL had seemingly been straightened out.

After Ben Roethlisberger had been sacked a personal-worst 31 times in the first half of the season, Roethlisberger was sacked a personal-best 11 times over the full eight-game second half season. But I believe much of that was due to Roethlisberger buying into Todd Haley's quick-throw pass game and Roethlisberger calling the majority of the plays at the line of scrimmage.

The statistics for the run game didn't really improve much in the second half. Yes, with an increase in yards-per-game from 74 to 99 there was more running done in the second half of the season, but the Steelers averaged only 3.5 per carry in each half.

The fact the Steelers went 6-2 in the second half just wasn't enough to carry Bicknell into a second season, and the reasons can only be guesses.

One is that 2012 second-round pick Mike Adams didn't improve as a pass-blocker.

Adams lost his job at left tackle after four games and was replaced by Kelvin Beachum. Perhaps Mike Tomlin believes another coach can do more to make a player out of Adams.

Or perhaps it was the inability of the Steelers' line to pick up the outside zone blocking schemes Tomlin had wanted to implement for years but hadn't been able due to slow-footed tackles.

Bicknell taught ZBS techniques in individual drills, but rarely in scrimmage during the spring or summer practices. And the schemes were rarely used in preseason games, and then used only once in the opener, and the result was the knee injury to Maurkice Pouncey.

Regardless of the reason, Bicknell's firing really wasn't a big surprise. In fact, it was a surprise on the level of the Steelers signing former LSU punter Brad Wing to a futures contract Friday.

Talk about sliding news into the Friday afternoon nap shuffle.

And this was done right along with the news of Bicknell's firing.

You may remember Wing for his spectacular punting during LSU's 9-6 overtime win over Alabama in 2011. The left-footed Wing averaged a school-record 44.6 yards per punt during his career at LSU, but was kicked off the team before his third season.

Born in Melbourne, Australia, Wing played Australian Rules football before moving to Baton Rouge as a senior in high school.

He became Louisiana's All-State punter and went to LSU, but was arrested for simple battery in the summer of 2011 and reportedly failed multiple drug tests before being suspended for the 2012 Chick-Fil-A Bowl. He was reportedly kicked off the team at the time as well.

"He's a problem child," an anonymous NFL special-teams coach told the Milwauke Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn before the 2013 draft. "I interviewed him at the combine. I think it was all con. I don't think this guy is remorseful for any of it.

"If it was me, only way I would take him is if we didn't have anything invested in him. First time he (expletive) up he'd be out the door. There's too many red flags on this guy."

But for one of 80 roster spots and a minimum-wage contract, the Steelers don't have much invested in Wing. And they've probably told him he won't be given a second chance if he does expletive up.

In that way, it's a low-risk signing. But still a bit of a surprise. Just like the former OL coach.


7:45 a.m.: Joe Long was one of the nicest people in the Steelers' locker room, and, who knows, he may never turn out to be a productive NFL offensive tackle, but everyone who's known him had to feel a little sting when the Chicago Bears claimed him off the Steelers' practice squad yesterday.

I talked to Joe last week after the Steelers had gone through a sequence of having lost center Fernando Velasco to injury, signing tackle Rashad Butler only to watch Butler quit a few days later, and replacing Butler not with Long off the practice squad but with center-guard David Snow.

No offense to Mr. Snow because, again, who knows, he may be a player, but one look at his body would make anyone wonder why the Steelers didn't promote the tall, fit, hard-working Long, the younger brother of Rams All-Pro Jake Long.

"Yeah, it hurt," Long said last week. "But my guess is they needed an interior lineman. I'll just continue to work hard and hope something breaks for me eventually."

Long and rookies Brian Arnfelt and Chris Hubbard had been a three-man fixture together in the weight room throughout the season. Arnfelt, a defensive end, was promoted from the practice squad last week in part because of injuries to Brett Keisel and Steve McLendon, but also to prevent roster raiding, which typically goes on at this time of the year, and which cost the Steelers a good guy in Joe Long.

* Long was replaced on the practice squad by Bryant Browning (6-4, 325) a guard who was signed by the Carolina Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in 2011. Since then he's been with the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and this year the Buffalo Bills.

Browning was valedictorian of his graduating class at Glenville (Ohio) High before starting at right guard and then right tackle at Ohio State, where he was team captain in 2010.

* One of the Steelers' potential undrafted rookie success stories is linebacker Terence Garvin, whose hit on Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber resulted in a $25,000 fine yesterday from the NFL. Garvin inadvertently broke Huber's jaw and cracked a vertebrae with a high block during Antonio Brown's return for a touchdown, and Garvin said yesterday that he's "praying for him."

Garvin might want to pray that the NFL reduces his fine, too, and as blogger Dave Bryan pointed out yesterday in his Steelers Depot story, the rules require it. Bryan cited Article 46 of the CBA which states that "a fine may be reduced ... only if it exceeds 25 percent of one week of a player's salary for a first-time offense."

Garvin's fine was more than 100 percent of his weekly undrafted rookie pay of just under $24,000 per game.

* Ike Taylor has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him a $7 million salary next season. Taylor's play has declined and next year he would not likely be assigned his usual task of defending the opponent's No. 1 receiver. Those who pay attention to the salary cap also wonder if the Steelers can afford Taylor at 34 years of age.

Taylor didn't want to talk yesterday about contracts, or obviously discuss whether he would take a pay cut, but I did ask him if he wants to play for the Steelers next year.

"Yeah," he said. "If it ain't here, though, it ain't nowhere."

* Football fans love draft talk, and we're gearing up for a big off-season of draft talk here at SCI.net. But for now we're allowing the celebrities to gauge some of the players who could fill Steelers needs. I asked Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy to comment on three of his former Alabama teammates -- left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix:

"He's a great left tackle," Lacy said, starting with Kouandjio. "He protects well, he moves his feet well and he has great hand placement. C.J. is going to find the ball. He's going to make the tackle. There aren't too many plays that he can't make and won't make. Ha Ha is just a ball-hawking safety. He can hit and defend the pass."

I also asked Lacy if he would've prevented Auburn from beating the Tide this year. "Oh man, that's a funny question," he said with pain in his laugh. "I think we would've pulled it off."


7:40 p.m.: Well, we're having some technical problems here at Scout, so I'll just link to my LaMarr Woodley story on the message board. Click here.


12:15 a.m.: So the Steelers are still alive. At 6-8 they're hoping for a five-way tie for the sixth and final playoff berth in the AFC.

For that to happen, the Steelers need to win out, the Ravens need to lose two of three, the Dolphins need to lose two, the Chargers need to lose one, and the Jets need to win two.

That's all?

Yeah, it's a long shot. In the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on the Steelers' 30-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last night, and here are some quotes from the locker room.


11 p.m.: The Steelers lost to the Miami Dolphins, 34-28, and already the fans are discussing the changes.

I'm trying to fight it, though. The time for changes will come. Some maybe even this week.

I'll get into that as the week unfolds. Right now all I have are these thoughts and some quotes from the locker room.

That and a quarter won't get you a cup of coffee.


4 p.m.: The NFL has handed down its decision on Mike Tomlin for stepping on the field and possibly interfering with Jacoby Jones' kickoff return last Thursday night.

The league fined Tomlin $100,000 after his right foot inched on to the field at the Pittsburgh 35 and possibly forced Jones to cut inside, where he was tackled by the gaining Cortez Allen at the Pittsburgh 27.

The NFL is also threatening the Steelers that it "will consider modification or forfeiture of draft choices after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined," according to NFL.com.

The Steelers released this statement from Tomlin early Wednesday:

"As I stated yesterday, I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. I accept the penalty that I received. I will no longer address this issue as I am preparing for an important game this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins."


Ben Roethlisberger's thoughts on the league's hefty fine of Tomlin pretty much stood for the rest of the team in the locker room on Wednesday. Here's how one conversation with Roethlisberger went:

Q: What's your reaction to the fine of Tomlin?

BR: "Same as it was the last couple days, about football. That's something Coach Tomlin deals with and we'll get ready to play ball. That's what we're here for."

Q: Do you think the fine was excessive?

BR: "I don't even know. I've been working out. I don't know what's going on. Sorry."

Q: One hundred thousand.

BR: "OK."

Q: It might affect a draft pick.

BR: "OK. (Pause) I'm ready to play football this week."


Cody Wallace won't be the only Wallace watched closely Sunday at Heinz Field. But Cody won't be running any deep patterns, or any patterns since he'll be snapping to Roethlisberger as the fourth Steelers center this season.

Wallace signed with the Steelers on Sept. 1, the day after he was released by Tampa Bay. He had played in eight games with the Bucs in 2012, his busiest season since being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2008 draft out of Texas A&M.

Wallace didn't immediately replace the injured Maurkice Pouncey in Pittsburgh because Wallace was inactive for the opener. And then the Steelers claimed veteran Fernando Velasco to replace emergency fill-in Kelvin Beachum for the second week, and Wallace remained a game-day inactive until Game 6.

He's since played in six games, mainly on special teams, but Wallace did play 38 snaps at right guard against Oakland and two snaps at center against Baltimore last Thursday after Velasco ruptured his Achilles' tendon.

"I have no problem expecting Cody Wallace to play winning football at the center position for us because he's going to practice and prepare all week," said Tomlin.

"It's definitely helped having the extra couple of days," said Wallace, who'll be up against a Miami front that's tied for fifth in the league with 37 sacks.

"They are good," he said. "Their nose tackle (Paul Soliai) is a big and strong guy. They bring some speed off the edge. They have some good changeups in there."


Emmanuel Sanders dropped the two-point conversion pass that would've tied the game late in Baltimore, so he was asked how he's dealt with the criticism from media and fans since.

"It's been all right," he said. "You take the good with the bad. Sometimes you have a bad game and fans aren't happy. But if you turn around and have a good game, they'll praise you. It comes with the territory."

Sanders repeated the philosophy when asked about his friend Mike Wallace, who dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass against Carolina two weeks ago.

"It's just the nature of this game," Sanders said. "That's crazy how it works but it always works that way. (Wallace)'s just like me, taking the good with the bad and just continuing to work. It'll all work itself out."

11 a.m.: The NFL Network is reporting that Mike Tomlin was fined $100,000 for his near collision with Baltimore return man Jacoby Jones during the Thanksgiving night game.

The network is also reporting that the Steelers could face potential "draft pick modification."

According to NFL.com, the league "will consider modification or forfeiture of draft choices after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined, per a statement issued by the league."


6 a.m.: The NFL is expected to rule today -- according to CBS' Jason LaCanfora -- on the near sideline interference by Mike Tomlin during the Thanksgiving night game with the Baltimore Ravens.

According to an ESPN report that cited "a source familiar with the league's thinking," Tomlin could face a six-figure fine and the team could be penalized a draft pick for Tomlin's action when he nearly collided with Jacoby Jones, who was returning a kickoff.

FOX's Jay Glazer reported that the day before the incident, the league sent a video to teams about sideline interference after the Jets had been penalized for it the previous weekend.

This was Tomlin's explanation after the game:

"I always watch the returns on the jumbotron. It provides a better perspective for me. I lost my placement as he broke free and saw at the last second how close I was to the field of play."

Did he feel he interfered with the play?


What was his reaction to it being replayed on the scoreboard?

"They always like to show me on the jumbotron here in Baltimore. I appreciate that."

Did he know he was not supposed to be on the white stripe on the sideline?

"Tell me something I don't know. I do it quite often, like everybody else in the National Football League. I was wrong, I accept responsibility for it."

He was wrong, as I wrote in my post-game column, but not six-figure/draft-pick wrong.

* Here are some of the other opinions expressed after the game:

Tom Jackson -- "Mike Tomlin took responsibility for it. He was in the wrong. He was too close to the field of play. He made Jacoby Jones veer inside. We all are aware of that. I don't believe he did it intentionally. If you know him, he was not trying to impede his (Jones') progress. Exactly what he said, ‘he looked up, saw the guy was going to be right on top of him, he tried to get out of the way – couldn't do it in time to not affect Jacoby Jones.' A fine is going to come down. You have to judge intent before you start talking about draft picks."

Mike Ditka -- "I am on the coach's corner. Get over yourself. That guy was not going to score a touchdown … He was going to be caught anyway. It doesn't change the outcome of the play in my opinion … I don't think he did it on purpose."

Bill Belichick: -- "Obviously we have to give the officials and the players room to play. Sometimes that just happens where you get guys caught up a little bit on the sideline. But yeah, I saw the play last night. I was like, ‘Oh my God, yeah.' That could easily happen to any of us. It's a good lesson, I have to be careful."

* On the field, the Steelers will begin today to assess the injury damage accrued Thursday night when the most severe injury occurred to center Fernando Velasco, who tore an Achilles' tendon and is out for the rest of the season.

The Steelers added center Eric Olsen (6-3, 305), who has played in 17 games with four starts. He was released by the New Orleans Saints on September 9, 2013. Olsen originally was drafted in the sixth round (183rd overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft.

To bolster their depth in case the injuries to left tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee) and/or Beachum's backup Mike Adams (ankle) are severe, the Steelers released CB DeMarcus Van Dyke and added Rashard Butler 6-4, 310), who has played in 50 games with four career starts.

Butler was released by the Cleveland Browns on November 5, 2013. He spent time with the Houston Texans from 2007-11. He was originally drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the third round (89th overall) of the 2006 NFL Draft.


7:30 a.m.: Happy Black Friday, but of course it's "Black" to Steelers fans today for reasons other than runaway consumerism.

The Steelers rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter, but came up a conversion pass short in losing to the Baltimore Ravens, 22-20, on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore.

The loss stopped the Steelers' three-game win streak as they fell to 5-7, a game behind the Ravens in the wildcard chase.

Mike Tomlin gave little injury information, other than Brett Keisel (foot), Kelvin Beachum (knee), Mike Adams (ankle), David DeCastro (foot), Fernando Velasco (ankle) and Le'Veon Bell (concussion) were being evaluated.

Here are some quotes from the locker room and here are some of my thoughts from the game.


7:30 p.m.: The Steelers became the first AFC North team to win a road game within the division Sunday, and they did so with little trouble. They dispatched of the Cleveland Browns, 27-11, after rolling to a 27-3 lead.

There were so many stars, and off the top of my head I can list Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, the O-line, Cameron Heyward, Jason Worilds, William Gay and Troy Polamalu as standouts.

The Steelers are still only 5-6 but are tied with five other teams for the sixth and final playoff spot out of the AFC.

To read quotes from the locker room, click here, and to read some more of my thoughts on the game, click here.


5:05 a.m.: The Steelers defeated the Detroit Lions, 37-27, Sunday in a wild game in stormy weather to improve to 4-6 and jump into a three-way tie for second place in the AFC North 2.5 games behind the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers appeared finished after a 27-point Lions blitzkrieg in the second quarter, but persevered by sticking with their game plan.

"We had a feel for them," Ryan Clark explained. "They repeat a lot of plays. When you have good people you run a lot of the same things, so when we would see the formations we'd understand them, we'd acknowledge them, communicate how we wanted to play them."

With two consecutive wins and four in their last six games, the Steelers hit the road for two division games within five days: Sunday at Cleveland and Thanksgiving night at Baltimore.

Here are some of my thoughts on the game and the season to this point, and here are some of the quotes from the locker room after the game.


2:30 p.m.: LaMarr Woodley has been listed as doubtful for Sunday's game with a calf injury.

Woodley, DE Brett Keisel (foot) and LG Ramon Foster (ankle) all missed Friday's practice, but Keisel and Foster are listed as questionable on the end-of-week injury report.

If Woodley doesn't play, Jason Worilds would slide over to the LOLB spot and first-round pick Jarvis Jones would start at ROLB. The three outside linebackers have rotated in games all season, and would be joined by veteran reserve Chris Carter on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

Veteran reserves Ziggy Hood and Guy Whimper would replace Keisel and Foster, respectively.


6:10 p.m.: You're a fantasy football GM today, and your choices today are:

A.) The Steelers' offensive line.

B.) Calvin Johnson.

Tick, tick, tick.

Of course you took Johnson, the great wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.

The question only came up because four-fifths of the Steelers' offensive line returned to practice Thursday, while Johnson missed his second practice of the week for the Lions with a knee problem.

But Steelers fans -- and fantasy owners -- shouldn't get too excited. Johnson told Detroit reporters Thursday afternoon that he's dealing with "maintenance issues" and is expected to return to practice Friday and play Sunday at Heinz Field.

The Steelers' offensive line, meanwhile, saw everyone but left guard Ramon Foster return from a Wednesday practice missed by the entire line with a variety of injuries.

Foster has an injured ankle. If he can't play Sunday, he would be replaced by Guy Whimper.

Also missing practice Thursday for the Steelers were nickel safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle), defensive end Brett Keisel (foot), and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf).

Keisel and Woodley expect to play Sunday. Thomas has been ruled out.

Missing for the Lions were starting defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle) and nickel cornerback Dwight Bentley (knee).

Limited for the Lions were three starters: WR Nate Burleson (forearm), safety Louis Delmas (knee) and right tackle Corey Hilliard (knee).


Emmanuel Sanders had a word of warning for Lions DT Ndamukong Suh, who's already been fined a total of $209,000 by the league in only three-plus seasons in the league.

"We're definitely not going to get bullied," said Sanders, the Steelers' flanker. "That's not going to happen around here. No one's going to bully no one around here. You don't want to put your team in a bad position by getting a personal foul, but as far as matching their intensity, we'll definitely match their intensity. No one's going to walk over us."

Suh, of course, is the primary "bully" on the Lions' defense. In addition to his fines, he's been voted "dirtiest player" by players in a poll conducted by Sporting News, and was named NFL's Least-Liked Player in October, 2012.

"You've seen stuff on tape. You know about Ndamukong Suh," Sanders said. "He's paid the NFL offices a lot of money. It's evident. Everyone knows who's the dirtiest player in the league right now. I think he takes pride in that. He takes pride in being one of the dirtiest players. On defense you've got to have that mentality, but we're not going to get bullied. They can come in with all the intensity in the world, but we've just got to match it."


Most reporters in the Steelers' locker room are lucky to get a personal one-on-one interview with a player, but Chris Hoke, who works part-time in TV, had a one-on-four going on with the Steelers' defensive line.

It was actually more of a pep talk for Hoke, who re-acquainted himself with Steve McLendon, Cameron Heyward, Al Woods and Ziggy Hood, whom Hoke had coached last August as a volunteer assistant at training camp.

"It wasn't a pep talk," said McLendon. "He just wanted to talk to us to see how we're doing. Just conversation, simple conversation between us."

No coaching? No atta boys for last week's performance? No talk about the little things?

"Always," McClendon said. "He's always staying on top of me about the little things. He's just another coach who's not in this building."


The number 21 is remembered in Pittsburgh as the jersey number of the great Roberto Clemente.

In Atlanta, or more specifically Georgia Tech, it's the number that was worn by Johnson, the great wide receiver who's now with the Lions.

Or, Jonathan Dwyer, the backup running back who's now with the Steelers.

"Yeah, I guess it's historical," said Dwyer. "Calvin wore it and then they picked me to wear it. Coach (Chan) Gailey thought I could handle it in a responsible way and live up to the hype of the number."

Johnson hosted Dwyer during his recruiting visit and Dwyer went on to average 5.3 per carry playing on Johnson's offense as a true freshman.

The next season, after Johnson left, Dwyer became the ACC Offensive Player of the Year by rushing for 1,395 yards, a total he matched in 2009.

Dwyer was drafted by the Steelers in 2010 but didn't start until 2012, when he led the team with 623 rushing yards. But he was cut prior to this season, re-signed, and then re-emerged this past week by converting all three of his third-down opportunities and earning praise from Mike Tomlin at his weekly press conference.

"I heard about it," said Dwyer. "It's encouraging. It's good that I guess I'm doing my job and working hard at it and just want to do more than what I am doing."

Dwyer was asked to explained the difference in him between the time he was cut and now.

"Nothing," he said.


8:45 p.m.: The Steelers didn't need much more than a firm defensive effort to beat the Buffalo Bills, 23-10, in a game that wasn't even that close.

The Steelers improved to 3-6 and remained in longshot contention in the AFC North, but the important thing is that Steelers fans can stop hating each other.

That's important in the interactive media world, believe me. Here are some more of my thoughts on the game and here are the quotes from the Steelers' locker room.


1:50 p.m.: After the press conference, the Steelers announced the following move:

The Steelers signed cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke, who was placed on the team's Waived/Injured List on August 25.

He signed originally with the Steelers on September 7, 2012, and saw action in nine games last season. Van Dyke was originally drafted by the Raiders in the third round (87th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft. He appeared in 14 games with four starts during his rookie season in Oakland.

12:45 p.m.: Mike Tomlin just finished his weekly press conference and did not announce a demotion, a cut, a trade, a firing, or even a beheading, and as expected he found no evidence of a lack of effort in the tape of Sunday's game.

"There were no blatant breaches of that," Tomlin said. "More than anything, we were beaten."

Tomlin spoke optimistically about moving forward, and put up support for the talent level of his team.

But what else could he say?

When asked later whether he was concerned about a lack of team speed, Tomlin said, "No, it's not a concern. And if it were there wouldn't be much I could do about it anyway."

Tomlin later took responsibility for the players who've been drafted since he became coach.

"Because it's the truth," he said.

On the injury front, Tomlin said three players will be limited early this week: LT Kelvin Beachum (left hip flexor), DE Cameron Heyward (left knee contusion) and C Fernando Velasco (thigh).

Tomlin said that G David DeCastro (ankle) and WR Markus Wheaton (finger) will return to practice on Wednesday, while the team will monitor those who were injured during Sunday's game: RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle), CB Ike Taylor (concussion) and ILB Vince Williams (concussion).


10:45 p.m.: The Steelers lost to the New England Patriots, 55-31, to drop to 2-6 on the season and break a franchise record for points allowed in a game. The old record was 54 by the 1985 San Diego Chargers and the 1941 Green Bay Packers. So Tom Brady steps ahead of Dan Fouts and Don Hutson in the history books.

The Steelers actually fought back from a 14-point deficit to tie the game at 24-24 midway through the third quarter. But the roof collapsed and the bottom fell out at the same time. The Patriots, behind Brady's 432-yards and 151.8 rating, outscored the Steelers 31-7 down the stretch.

Here are some of my thoughts on the game, and here are some of the quotes from the locker room.


1:45 p.m.: After Guy Whimper stepped in for right tackle Marcus Gilbert against the Baltimore Ravens, and played well, Steelers fans and media wondered why they had been so down on Whimper throughout the preseason.

Well, Whimper will play the position -- guard -- at which he struggled in the preseason.

A natural tackle, Whimper took the place of David DeCastro (ankle) at right guard Friday for the third consecutive practice, and will play the position for the Steelers on Sunday at New England.

DeCastro was ruled out -- along with WR Markus Wheaton (finger) and CB Curtis Brown (personal reasons) -- of Sunday's game by the Steelers today.

Left guard Ramon Foster -- listed as probable -- must pass one more concussion test on Saturday. Jarvis Jones had been cleared two weeks ago but failed this Saturday test.

In the unlikely event Foster fails, Cody Wallace will play left guard. That would leave the Steelers with only Mike Adams as a reserve offensive lineman, and would likely necessitate a promotion of either Chris Hubbard or Joe Long from the practice squad. OG David DeCastro (ankle), WR Markus Wheaton (finger) and CB Curtis Brown (not injury related) ruled out by Steelers for New England game.


5:30 p.m.: Curtis Brown missed another practice without the Steelers providing an explanation other than "not injury related."

David DeCastro also missed the practice, and WR Markus Wheaton was limited. More on both players below.

3:45 p.m.: Dick LeBeau talked about his demoted rookie OLB, Jarvis Jones, among other topics, after practice today. Here are some quick quotes:

"I think J.J. is gonna be fine. I don't think he's any more ahead or behind than a first-year linebacker should be."

Is it important to keep Jarvis involved, 10-15 snaps per game?

"Oh, more than that. Jarvis is a playmaker and I've got to find ways to put him in where he can make plays."

* LG Ramon Foster practiced today and is optimistic RG David DeCastro can return Friday. If not, it'll be Abdullah the Butcher, a.k.a. Guy Whimper, at RG.

* Mike Tomlin said the decision date for Sean Spence is sometime next week. Another source said Wednesday is the exact day.

But a Spence activation is unlikely. The broken hand has really hurt his comeback attempt, according to a source.

Spence seems to be running well, although I didn't catch an instance of him having to sprint or cut sharply.

* Rookie WR Markus Wheaton was limited. He showed me his broken pinky finger and it was in what appeared to be a permanently bent position. He said he'll be able to straighten it forward soon, but I doubt he'll play Sunday.

11:45 a.m.: I just went over the Wednesday transcripts done by the team. Some of the interviews I was in on, some I wasn't. Regardless, here are some nuggets I came across from Ben Roethlisberger and also Antonio Brown.

Q: Is Antonio still pushing to get more balls?

BR: "All of them are. Everyone except Heath Miller. Heath never asks for more passes."

Q: Talking with Coach Tomlin about the timeout situation last Sunday:

BR: "We talked. Like I said, I'll take the blame for that incident on Sunday. It won't happen again. He preferred me, in that situation with that much time, to save the three timeouts and take the penalty yards. He also saw where I was coming from in my thinking. That's my fault for not getting it better at the time."

Q: What was the argument part of that with the referees?

BR: "When you horse-collar the starting tailback, that's how injuries happen. That's supposed to be a point of emphasis. So, I know people want me to get back in the huddle. I still have to get the play. The play doesn't come to me once I get in the huddle. The play comes to me at any time. It's not like I was blowing the coach off or the play to argue. I was over there trying to protect my players. And I feel as a quarterback and as a captain of this team, you have to do that. You have to protect your players."

Q: The team hasn't scored that much in the first quarter this season. Are you guys doing too much feeling out or are you not being as aggressive?

BR: "I think you talk to our offensive coordinator tomorrow. I think that would be a good question for him. He is the guy that draws up the plays for us, so that's a question for him."

Q: Is it challenging keeping this group together?

BR: "Not at all. It's been a good locker room, a good group of guys that have good leaders. Young guys are frustrated, obviously, at times but know what it takes to turn it around."

OK, let's move on to Brown.

Q: Ben said you and him had a conversation on the plane ride back. What was the general gist of that?

AB: "It's daily conversation to reflect on the game after a loss. I came to him on the back of the plane and thought I could've done some things better to help us win."

Q: So you went to him?

AB: "Absolutely. Over the course of a long game that you feel like you were less than ideal and below the line with your performance, you always want to rally around your quarterback and make sure everything is on par. We still believe and want to get better."


4:15 p.m.: The Steelers have released punter Zoltan Mesko and signed 10-year vet Mat McBriar, an Australian who played eight seasons for the Dallas Cowboys. A two-time Pro Bowler, McBriar has career averages of 45.4 (gross) and 38.0 (net).

2:30 p.m.: Today at his weekly press conference, Mike Tomlin announced the demotion of first-round pick Jarvis Jones and the promotion of fourth-year veteran Jason Worilds at right outside linebacker.

According to Pro Football Focus, Worilds already has logged more snaps (258-209) than Jones, and according to the Steelers, Worilds has the only sack of the two rushmen while both have 19 tackles.

"He's got to play better from an assignment standpoint," Tomlin said of Jones. "If he's still capable of showing that, he'll be given an opportunity to contribute now."

When asked if Jones was struggling or regressing, Tomlin said, "He's just not doing enough detail work right now and, really, Jason Worilds is. That's just the reality of it. Part of playing really good defense and playing really good football period is having detail with your work, and there's more detail in Worilds' work right now."

The good news on the injury front is that all three offensive linemen who left Sunday's game could be available for this Sunday's game in New England. RG David DeCastro (ankle) appears to be the more questionable of the three, since LG Ramon Foster (concussion) has been cleared to practice and reserve T-G Guy Whimper (hyperextended knee) is expected to practice Thursday.

Tomlin also said that rookie WR Markus Wheaton (finger) could return after missing three games.

In a sign of news to come, Tomlin was asked if he expected any activity by the 4 p.m. trade deadline today, and he said, "I'm open to it. We'll see."

So, we'll see.

6:30 a.m.: The whining has been overwhelming the last couple of days. The guys who jumped the gun and wanted to fire the entire front office after the Steelers lost the opener are now back to firing everyone as their twitter peeps cheer them on for allegedly having courage.


How do Steelers fans take reading this garbage over and over and over? Maybe I'm wrong, but I just find it all so silly.

* Ryan Clark had the quote of last week when I asked him if losing in Oakland the last two times taught them any lessons about not taking that team lightly.

"First of all," he said, "we're not a very good football team."

Now, I'm sure the whiners will go berserk, but there was so much truth to that answer because my question assumed all the Steelers had to do was get a rousing pre-game speech and they would walk out and destroy the Raiders. It doesn't work for talent-depleted teams that have ridden the crest for most of the past decade, have a natural bloat in their cap, have to find room around a $100 million quarterback who can't manage the clock, and have been drafting late in just about every round since 2005.

* The Steelers beat the Ravens because the Ravens have similar problems, and the Steelers ground them into the dirt with their running game because the Ravens have a horrible front seven. The Steelers aren't going to run the ball like that every week and Ben's not going to find an open stud every third down, and the next new injury on the O-line makes a starter of Cody Wallace.

But go ahead and fire the coach. Fire the GM for all I care anymore. I'm behind in my college tapes anyway.

* Here's a link from the San Francisco Chronicle on a slight change to the Raiders' first play that makes a whole lot of sense to me, considering Darren McFadden's game last year.

* And that reminds me of this: If you have to get up in front of a team and spit your pre-game speech at them to motivate guys like LaMarr Woodley and Clark, you should be coaching in high school. Those guys knew what to do, they just fell for a smart move by the opposing coach. They were overaggressive, not lazy or unprepared.

* I watched Bob Stoops put on his typically ridiculous sideline routine for Oklahoma the other day and was reminded of how so many Steelers fans love a guy who screams all the time on the sideline. It makes him look smart, and I guess makes his team look more prepared.

* But back to the links: Here's another story from a reporter who believes Maurkice Pouncey will also be served with a subpoena if he travels to New England next week.


11:30 p.m.: Not much to say after the Steelers' 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders except this: 2-5.

Yep, the Steelers fell to 2-5 and here are some of my thoughts and comments, and here are some quotes from the locker room.

In some sidebars surrounding the game, Mike Pereira called the league office about the actions of a Raiders assistant coach during the game, and Mike Pouncey has been subpoenaed for alleged gun transactions with Aaron Hernandez.


2:45 p.m.: The Steelers today ruled TE Richard Gordon (toe) and WR Markus Wheaton (finger) out of Sunday's game in Oakland. The Steelers listed the following as probable:

T Kelvin Beachum (ribs), WR Jerricho Cotchery (abdomen), T Marcus Gilbert (quadriceps), DE Cameron Heyward (illness), LB Jarvis Jones (concussion), DE Brett Keisel (ribs), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), LB Lawrence Timmons (hand) and LB LaMarr Woodley (knee).

Gordon, who was released by the Raiders Aug. 31, has practiced only one day with the Steelers since being picked up Oct. 15. He sprained his big toe after that first practice.

A 268-pound blocking tight end with special-teams skills, Gordon caught a 1-yard touchdown pass in the Raiders' win over the Steelers last season.


5 p.m.: Marcus Gilbert is back at right tackle where he belongs, and the walking wounded -- with the exception of the already-ruled-out Markus Wheaton -- all practiced.

So, since no news is good news, here's a little treat that one of our gallant posters transcribed for the message board. Enjoy:

Greg Cosell is the producer of NFL Films' NFL Matchup show with Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge, which is an excellent show for breaking down NFL film every week, and is becoming a pretty prominent NFL analyst now. His main strength is that he watches a ton of game film every week for his show and knows how to analyze it.

He does a weekly podcast with Fantasy Guru, and this week's is here. The Steelers-relevant section begins at 41:25 here: Weekly Matchup.

And the transcript is here:

Host: Pittsburgh at the Oakland Raiders, and I really like Le'Veon Bell, I mean -

Cosell: So do I, glad you mentioned that. You know, I think that, it's funny, I think the Steelers will be a team on the rise. I think that they've decided a little bit who they will be offensively now, a lot of 6 O-line personnel, they ran Bell, and I like Bell an awful -- you can make an argument easily that Bell looks better than Eddie Lacy.

But I really like their approach, and I think their defense has played well. The concern for their defense is that they have not created turnovers, but they play well. They're now playing dime, which you know Dick LeBeau's defenses have over the years not played a lot of dime, they've played nickel, but now they have Troy Polamalu and the rookie Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse as sort of interchangeable wild cards in their dime package. I kind of like the direction the Steelers are moving.

Host: And it looks like the key has been Polamalu. We pointed out in the preseason that he was really flying around the ball. He is really - he has been healthy, and made a huge difference. How about that Ike Taylor? This guy, he may the best corner no one ever talks about -

Cosell: Yup!

Host: Because, boy, he has been like a shutdown guy for like ten years!

Cosell: He's a good player. They use him more in man coverage concepts over the last two-three years than they have earlier in his career. Again, these are sort of adjustments - see this is what coaches do, good coaches, is they make adjustments and they evolve over time. No matter how long you've been doing this you can't keep doing the same thing, it just doesn't work that way in the NFL, it's just too hard.

Host: And they usually lock him up in man on the top receiver ---

Cosell: At times, I mean, they don't do that the way the Jets did with Darrelle Revis, but they do that at times, yes.

Host: Yeah, back to Bell, though. He runs, he runs heavy, if that makes sense. He's a real sturdy guy, but he's got a little zuzu there.

Cosell: Yeah, he's got quick feet for a 230 lb back. He runs more like a tailback, not a grinder. I think he's got short-area quickness, he's got some shiftiness, I think he's got some patience to get through small cracks, but you're right, he's got natural power. He gets yards after contact. And everything's I've seen of him so far, and I watched him college, everything I've seen of him so far I really like.

Host: And are they running, I know they were talking about outside zone, working that edge---

Cosell: Well, this week they ran downhill. A lot of double-teams. Six O-line, double teams at the point. Their O-line was really, really good this week against the Ravens D. And by the way the Ravens have a very good rotational front, so it's not as if they played a bad team. They played their best game of the year in the run game and I felt they controlled the game. Not dominated, but controlled.

Host: A lot of that was DeCastro, wasn't it.

Cosell: I thought he had his best game as a pro.


4:50 p.m.: The Steelers waived RB Isaac Redman and signed LB Kion Wilson off the practice squad.

1 a.m.: I hate to say this, but the Ravens miss Ray Lewis. And Ed Reed. And Anquan Boldin. And Matt Birk. They looked listless at times, and downright dumb at other times. But they made a game of it when the Steelers refused to put them away.

That the Steelers did gives life to their season. This was another step off of which to build. As for the Ravens, they look like Steelers circa 2006, a hungover team that couldn't recover until it was too late.

Click here for more of my thoughts, and click there for quotes from the locker room.


2:20 p.m.: Jarvis Jones practiced again Friday, but the rookie OLB has yet to take a scrimmage snap as he awaits clearance for a concussion in order to play Sunday. He is listed as questionable by the Steelers.

"We're still taking precautions and going through the steps," said Jones. "Just taking it slow. Still got two more days before Sunday."

Jones doesn't know when the concussion occurred last Sunday but said he got home about 8 p.m. feeling tired and went straight to bed. He woke up with a headache and reported it to the Steelers' medical staff, which diagnosed the concussion on Wednesday.

Jones practiced in individual drills Thursday and Friday and said "I feel good today. Got out there and ran around and did some things. I'm feeling fine. Just waiting on them and we'll go through this process and we'll see what happens."

Mike Tomlin was asked if the lack of practice would keep the rookie from playing, even if he would be cleared. "It's going to affect the decision, it's going to affect potentially his role," Tomlin said. "Obviously we'll treat each guy, each case individually. We're doing so with this."

New TE Richard Gordon (toe) and rookie WR Markus Wheaton are ruled out of Sunday's game. Probable are RT Marcus Gilbert (quad), DE Brett Keisel (abdomen), TE Heath Miller, and LB LaMarr Woodley (knee).

The Ravens today ruled out starting ILB Josh Bynes (thigh, finger) and labeled reserves C Ryan Jensen (foot) and WR Brandon Stokley (thigh) doubtful.

Questionable for the Ravens are CB Chykie Brown (thigh), DT Terrence Cody (knee), LB Albert McClellan (shoulder), DT Haloti Ngata (elbow), OLB Courtney Upshaw (foot) and CB Lardarius Webb (thigh).


1:20 p.m.: Jarvis Jones returned to the Steelers' practice facility on Monday, from the game in New York, with a headache that persisted into Tuesday. On Wednesday, when Steelers neurologist Joseph Maroon makes his weekly appearance, Jones was determined to have a concussion. He's hoping to be cleared in time for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Update to follow.


11:20 a.m.: The Steelers signed former Fresno State wide receiver/return specialist Devon Wylie (5-9, 187) to their practice squad today.

Wylie was an injury-plagued by explosive college player who ran a 4.39 40 at the combine with a vertical jump of 39 inches. He was drafted in the fourth round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012, made the roster, played in 6 games, and caught 6 passes for 56 yards. He was released this past Sept. 1, signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 25, and released Oct. 9.

At Fresno State, Wylie caught 98 passes for 1,327 yards and 8 touchdowns. He averaged 13.5 yards per punt return. As a senior that average was 15.4.


11 a.m.: The Steelers placed offensive tackle Levi Brown and tight end/fullback David Johnson on the Reserve/Injured List, the team announced today.

To fill the roster spots, the Steelers signed free-agent tight end Richard Gordon and promoted cornerback Isaiah Green from the practice squad.

Gordon (6-4, 268) is in his third NFL season and was drafted by the Oakland Raiders out of the University of Miami in the sixth round (181st overall) of the 2011 NFL draft. He appeared in 27 games for Oakland, starting two contests and registering three career receptions, one for a touchdown. Gordon also appeared on special teams, making 17 tackles and recovering a fumble. Oakland released Gordon on August 31, 2013. Gordon will wear No. 44.

Green (5-10, 180) is a first-year player who has spent time on Pittsburgh's active roster and practice squad this season. He was on the Steelers' 53-man roster during Weeks 3 and 4, but was inactive for both contests and has yet to appear in a regular-season game. Green will wear No. 39.


9:15 p.m.: It doesn't matter that the New York Jets' only legitimate playmaker was a rookie quarterback, or that they may have been emotionally flat today, the Steelers beat the Jets, 19-6, on the road, and that's a start for the Steelers.

To what? No one knows. Maybe it'll mean nothing more than the No. 12 pick of the draft instead of the No. 5. But it might also mean a puncher's chance in the division race in December.

We can't know, but Steelers fans can at least dream again on a Sunday night and start the work week in a good mood.

Here are some of my thoughts from the game, and some quotes from the locker room.


10 a.m.: I don't often worry too much about you fans, but it seems that this week you've suffered enough. An 0-4 football team coming off a bye shouldn't actually generate much interesting reading, but you've been subjected to another week of piling on Todd Haley, and more information on the pool and ping-pong tables than those who actually use the locker room care about.

So I'll try my best to interest you this morning with items that are buried deep in my notebook, the kind of stuff you just jot down in case you're looking for small details to include in a book about an 0-16 team some day down the road.

Whoops. Sorry. This was supposed to be an uplifting column, so let's see what kind of notes I can come up with, going back to Monday's practice:

* I watched Levi Brown practice for the first time in his No. 67 and the name that came to mind was Shar Pourdanesh. Yeah. Ugh. But it had nothing to do with style or form. I was pretty sure 67 was Shar's uniform number, and when I returned to my desk I looked up the last five players to wear 67 for the Steelers: Kimo von Oelhoffen, Pourdanesh, Jamain Stephens, Duval Love and Gary Dunn.

Not a bad number for defensive linemen, and Love did play in a Pro Bowl as a guard, but Pourdanesh and Stephens remind me too much of those shuddering, shake-my-head Steelers of the late 1990s.

* In 2000, at one of the very last workouts at Three Rivers Stadium, a spring workout, I was one of three reporters interviewing Richard Huntley about some scrapping he had been doing on the field, when a fist poked through the three of us over my right shoulder. It just missed Huntley's face. The fist belonged to Earl Holmes, and a brawl ensued, replete with linebackers waving stools and threatening to bash Huntley and any of his friends.

"Come get some!" one player yelled.

"I GOT some!" was the rebuttal as my tape recorder continued to roll.

Pourdanesh noticed the reporters watching this in-house brawl and approached and told us we couldn't use any of it.

"Yeah right," was pretty much the general response.

* But back to Brown, in the locker room, with his helmet off as he spoke to reporters, he is the spitting image of Kendall Simmons. On the field, Tunch Ilkin said Brown reminds him of Wayne Gandy. So out of Pourdanesh, Simmons and Gandy, I'll take Gandy.

* Again, just to prepare you for today's game against the Jets, if Ramon Foster finds that he can't play effectively with his chest injury, the Steelers will either insert Brown at LT and slide Kelvin Beachum over to LG, or they'll just end it all and insert Guy Whimper at LG.

Again, just so you're ready.

* Injured tight end Matt Spaeth walked past me without a boot, a soft cast, a brace, a limp, or even a hitch in his giddy-up. He said he had been walking like that for a couple of weeks now. "I'm feeling really good," he said.

With this being the sixth weekend of play, Spaeth should return to practice next week. He could return to active duty following the eighth weekend of the season, and his blocking would obviously be a help.

* As the young defensive backs turn: Rookie Shamarko Thomas told me he's receiving more work at both the free and strong safety spots and will be playing deep instead of over the slot receiver in the quarters package. That would lessen the playing time of Robert Golden, who said he's still involved in the dime defense. Curtis Brown, Golden's neighbor in the locker room, said he's also been inserted in the dime package, but not the same dime package as Golden. When I looked back to Golden for more clarity, he said, "Hey, man, I just do what I'm told."

* Fernando Velasco won the Iron Man Award at the University of Georgia twice. To qualify for the award, a player can't miss a practice or a summer workout all year. To win that twice says something, and it's probably close to the award's description: "Shows up every day for work, never late, and strains his potential in every endeavor."

Velasco -- who overcame the life imprisonment of his drug-dealing Colombian father -- is "a very unselfish human being. I wish I had a thousand of him," said his late high school coach, J.B. Arnold.

* From the first day I watched Velasco, I was reminded of Chukky Okobi because of his long arms and similar mannerisms. But Nando's not nearly the angry young man Okobi was.

* Geno Smith is the first Jets rookie to throw for 300 yards in a game. Joe Namath had three games in the 280s as a rookie who led the Jets to 3 wins, 5 losses and a tie in 9 starts in 1965, or 48 years ago.

* So it's Wednesday and I'm looking at the left side of the O-line and I see Pourdanesh, an injured guy, and Okobi. OK, it may not be 1968, but it sure as heck isn't 2005.

* And it sure as heck wasn't some joke. Nothing was that day. Coach Mike Tomlin, in chewing out rookie RB Le'Veon Bell's missed block, called him "a terrorist" because he blew up an otherwise good play. Standing with the backups and coaches behind the play were Larry Foote, Maurkice Pouncey, Spaeth, Markus Wheaton and Nick Williams. The injured guys were all trying to help out in any way possible.

* Sean Spence was on the other side of the field working out with his physical therapist, and having a difficult time cutting. He's also eligible to begin practicing next week, but I just don't see him playing this season.

* Tomlin wasn't all salt and vinegar this week. He had compliments for Will Johnson after the fullback crushed Alan Baxter in pass protection.

* William Gay, Cortez Allen and Lawrence Timmons all had interceptions in Wednesday's practice. It's percolating, baby. That's all I can say about the goose egg in the turnover category.

* After practice Thursday, Emmanuel Sanders didn't want to say much about his potential for returning kickoffs, other than "I'm ready for whatever they want me to do."

* Bruce Gradkowski threw a long pass that Troy Polamalu couldn't quite run down. The ball skipped past me on the sideline and Polamalu chased after it. Upon returning to the field with the ball, Troy said, "Maybe three years ago I would've caught that, Jim."

* If that's a sign he's at least contemplating retirement, we must attempt to soak in all that is Polamalu, because I fear that once he's gone he'll become an even greater mystery than Jack Lambert. So I approached Troy to talk about the London trip and continue our soccer conversation from the previous week.

I showed him my new Liverpool Football Club ballcap and said that the blue-collar Liverpool fan base and the team's tradition remind me of those of the Steelers.

"There's a German team (Borussia Dortmund) that has a fan base I found even more similar to the one here," Polamalu said. "I watched them play a team that could be considered the equal of the Dallas Cowboys (Bayern Munich) in the Champions League final. They are the fancy team with all the money, but it was a great game and the blue-collar team lost by a goal, but they were a great story. And they wore black and gold, too."

* I told Troy that when I took my wife and Liverpool soccer-crazed daughter to tour an empty football stadium in the city three hours northwest of London, we later toured Beatles sights, but that night we ran into a different pillar of the British Invasion, Ray Davies, the founder of the Kinks.

"The Kings?" Troy asked.

No, the Kinks. They did "Lola."

"Is that the song Eric Clapton did?"

No, that would be "Layla."

"Oh. Was he nice?"

He was extremely nice.

This made Polamalu smile. "I wonder if it's that accent that makes the English seem so friendly," he said with a chuckle. And then he told me that whenever the Steelers play one of these big games, like a Super Bowl, the NFL security people address the players and tell them what kind of trouble they might find in the city and how to avoid it.

"For this trip they just said there's not much to worry about in London except maybe a little prostitution. Other than that they said it's pretty much a safe and friendly city."

And that was my impression as well.


10 a.m.: It was a questionable -- even a bit disturbing -- move early this week when the Steelers re-signed ILB Stevenson Sylvester and released ILB Kion Wilson.

The disturbing part was that the Steelers promised Wilson he would make the team if he provided quality special-teams play. And, he was leading the team in special-teams tackles (and was first downfield on several other kicks) when he was released.

But this morning the Steelers re-signed Wilson to their practice squad. However, they released OLB Alan Baxter to make room for Wilson. Baxter played well as a pass-rusher this past preseason.


10:15 a.m.: According to the Post-Gazette the Steelers have re-signed their former safety, Will Allen, who was released this week by the Dallas Cowboys after starting the first two games and intercepting Eli Manning.

Allen, of course, spent the last three seasons in Pittsburgh, and the 10th-year vet likely will replace injured safety Damon Cromartie-Smith on the roster.


5:30 p.m.: Will Gay ran first-team cornerback this afternoon but wouldn't come out and say it's his job, just that Cortez Allen -- the man he replaced -- has "injury issues." I'll have full quotes in my story later tonight.

About Allen, he admitted he was able to work as the nickel corner all practice, but, he said, he has "issues to straighten out."

CB Curtis Brown also told me about his increased role and Shamarko Thomas said he's moved back to deep safety in sub-packages. Robert Golden would likely take the hit on playing time.

Ramon Foster (chest) returned to play right guard in the spirited, padded workout. Of course, first-team newcomers Kelvin Beachum and Cameron Heyward confirmed that they took their places at left tackle and left defensive end respectively.

Former Steelers safety Will Allen, just released by the Dallas Cowboys, was in for a workout for team officials, who could be seeking relief for injured safety Damon Cromartie-Smith (hip flexor).

10:43 a.m.: The Steelers signed linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and released Kion Wilson, a longshot who made the team, started 2 games after Larry Foote went down, made 4 special teams tackles (co-leader) and represented himself with class and intelligence.

In Stevenson, who was released while dealing with an ankle injury in training camp, the Steelers have an experienced inside linebacker to complement sixth-round pick Vince Williams, who had replaced Wilson in the starting lineup in the fourth game.

Sylvester has appeared in 41 career games (one start) and 4 postseason contests, and he recorded 23 tackles and 2 forced fumbles on special teams.

6:10 a.m.: Someone seeking an expert e-mailed me the other day. It's like someone calling you Mr. Wexell and you turn around to see if your dad's here. But anyway, this media -- and I can't remember which -- wanted my thoughts on the Steelers' recent drafts. Here are those thoughts:

I hope that you - as a leading Steelers expert - will help me, spend a few minutes on this and answer these e-mail interview questions:

1) How would you characterize the Steelers recent draft classes? (since 2008)

2) Some say that the Steelers have mostly drafted "guys" but not "elite players" that have made a difference in the last few years. Agree?

It's easy at 0-4 to rail against the recent draft picks, but the main problem with the Steelers is the offensive line. And at this point I'm not ready to call Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams recent draft mistakes. They've been thrown together for the first time this season and on the first series their captain and signal-caller, Pouncey, went down and out for the season. DeCastro is improving and Gilbert is showing more consistency and Adams has unlimited potential. Another draft pick, Kelvin Beachum, will now replace Adams at LT, but I'm not stamping any final judgments on Adams just because of his struggles. After all, he remains their best run blocker, even if he'll be on the bench. That means he could still become a quality guard in the future if he doesn't improve as an edge pass protector.

One other problem with the Steelers' drafts of late is the fact they've been a contending team with a franchise QB, so no matter how hard these guys, Kevin Colbert -- or even Ozzie Newsome for that matter -- stress they are drafting the best athlete available, the holes in their starting lineup are uppermost in their minds too. So they end up taking a mix of need and value. These are not the Cincinnati Bengals drafting for pure athleticism at the top of each round for 7 out of the last 10 years, or however long some of these teams have "started over" as opposed to filling needs to get back to a Super Bowl with end-of-the-round picks. This is also year 6 of dealing with one player -- Ben Roethlisberger -- working through a $100 million contract.

To address specific problems since 2008, look at that 2008 draft. Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed should be the playmakers this offense so desperately needs. We in the Pittsburgh media couldn't help but hail that haul as an A-plus draft. We were all wrong, and now the team has been trying to make up for those busts even as recently as this past draft with RB and WR in the second and third rounds.

In 2009, they were desperate for a 3-4 DE to groom behind the aging Aaron Smith. Ziggy Hood has been average, and the next three picks -- including Mike Wallace -- are all starting elsewhere. With a franchise QB taking up a large percentage of the cap, and the front office acquiescing to fan and media sentiment by re-signing and paying the players who won two Super Bowls for them, there was no way they could pay Wallace and/or Keenan Lewis to remain with the team this past off-season. Of course, the Steelers did go back to the Super Bowl in 2010.

In 2010, the Steelers hit a solid double off the wall, to borrow some baseball phraseology, with Pouncey in the first. In the second, with a screaming need at OLB after re-signing ILBs James Farrior and Larry Foote and drafting Lawrence Timmons in 2007, the Steelers went with OLB Jason Worilds instead of ILB Sean Lee, whom many in the organization wanted and had watched closely at nearby Upper St. Clair H.S. and Penn State University. Need overtook value for a team that, yes, went back to the Super Bowl and used one of those ILBs, Timmons, as an OLB much of the year.

In 2011, drafting 31st, the Steelers needed another DE because Brett Keisel was aging and Smith was done and you never want your DL to stink, particularly with their stop-the-run missive from coordinator Dick LeBeau. They loved J.J. Watt, and had Muhammad Wilkerson and Cameron Heyward rated as first-rounders. Was Houston a drafting genius for taking Watt 11th? Of course not. And then Wilkerson, who's just now becoming a dominant player, went 30th. The team getting the third and last 5-technique in the first round is now the dumb draftor? I don't think so. Besides, Heyward is proving himself as a quality player. It takes time at that position, and he still has Keisel and Hood in front of him. Heyward's time will come. Also in 2011, the Steelers procured their starting RT, who's playing well enough right now, and a starting CB, Cortez Allen, who they wanted to promote to the starting lineup this year because of his avalanche of turnovers late last season. He's missed two games this season, but is a quality young player.

In 2012, they snatched up DeCastro (to continue revamping their O-line that desperately needed it), who gets better every week after blowing out a knee in his rookie preseason. They also drafted Adams with the 56th pick. He's still developing. Their third-round pick, Sean Spence -- who would be playing ILB now (with Foote injured) instead of a sixth-round rookie -- blew out his knee in his rookie preseason and suffered nerve damage and may never play again. Bad luck there.

I like this year's draft. Three of them are already starting, a fourth is a nickel CB and a fifth is on the field often as a No. 4 WR coming off his best game.

There are extenuating circumstances, and there have been some poor picks as well as unlucky happenstances. I realize the fan base wants its pound of flesh for losing 9 of their last 11, and to outside media the cause-and-effect seems easy to identify, but there's no way that I would change any philosophy or method that was behind the drafting of a team that went to 3 Super Bowls in 6 years.


2:30 p.m.: Just to update today's locker room following practice and a meeting, Ramon Foster expects Kelvin Beachum to start at LT Sunday against the Jets as the newly acquired Levi Brown gains an understanding of the offense.

Beachum and Brown rotated at LT today, and Beachum rotated with Guy Whimper at LG with Foster out (pectoral), but Foster said he'll be back in time for the Jets game.

Also, rookie WR Markus Wheaton said he won't play this week with a broken pinkie finger on his right hand and that he'll see a doctor Monday for clearance the following week. And RB Le'Veon Bell (foot) says he's fine and expects to play in New York.

1:30 p.m.: Mike Adams believes he's still in competition for the left tackle job that had been his throughout this 0-4 start, but today he found himself working both sides of the look, or scout, offensive line. He was asked if that was "a bit drastic."

"Yeah, it's drastic but deserving," he said. "I've just got to go out and control what I can control and keep trying to get better."

Adams struggled in pass-protection at left tackle this season, and the problem became unsustainable after Jared Allen recorded 2.5 sacks for the Minnesota Vikings in the Steelers' last loss.

The Steelers traded after the game for Levi Brown, who's in the mix for the starting left tackle job Sunday against the New York Jets.

Neither Brown nor Kelvin Beachum was available following practice, as the team went straight to a meeting room, but Adams was available briefly and said of his struggles, "I didn't get the job done when I was in there. We're competing now. I'm working a little bit at both sides. We'll just take it from there. I've just got to prove myself and get back on the first team."

Adams said his problems "can be corrected. I would say just my pass-pro wasn't good enough. Ben (Roethlisberger)got hit too much. I've just got to get better."

Adams said there's been no talk of him moving to guard.


5:25 a.m.: Thanks for giving me a chance to catch a few Zs. Now I can take you to our message board for some opinions and notes and quotes that I hope will lead to good feelings all around.

OK, so it's an impossible dream. But we head into the bye week anyway.


8:40 p.m.: A harried night in London spent chasing (and failing to catch) the last underground train out of Wembley Park followed another Steelers loss, so I wasn't able to write more than the one game story that's appearing at the top of the page. But I'll be back early Monday morning with my take of the Steelers' plight.

In the meantime, go to our message board for quotes from Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Cortez Allen and Ryan Clark.

Be back in the morning.


7 a.m.: Keep telling myself, "Keep it simple, stupid" because I firmly believe the problem is an O-line that needs time and injuries at the skill positions, and things actually improved in those areas Sunday night against the Chicago Bears.

But the Steelers lost and the anger grew. So I breathed it in, and jotted it down:

"So your opinion is to stay status quo with Colbert, Tomlin, Haley and Lebeau??? Until when?"

I just have not lost confidence in the coaching staff. I have no reason. I don't see the lack of discipline, the lack of intelligence, the lack of player evaluation skills. The record says otherwise. I know. But I'm not letting a bad start, or even a bad year, cause me to lose patience. I've seen this too many times here. My only concern on the coaching staff is offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, because I don't know if the time investment -- the time it will take to develop young talent -- will prove worthwhile with this coach. That's for the head coach to determine. I have no reason right now to think badly of him because I doubt Joe Bugel would've done much better in these three weeks.

"But what about the offensive line? They're alternating their tackles!?"

If that was an in-game decision, I would've been worried. It wasn't. It was a set plan. And if you're going to motivate young players, there's nothing like competition.

"I'm done listening to your excuses."

I know. But I'm going to tell you them again.

Le'Veon Bell is due back this week, and I saw another real running back emerge Sunday night in Jonathan Dwyer. That had been a big problem, finding a professional running back. Dwyer did the job. And he ran hard. And he stayed in the game.

"What does it tell you about Tomlin that Dwyer is actually pretty good after all?"

It tells me that he needed to do what he did to get Dwyer running that hard.

"So your answer is to wait? And that they have Jonathan Dwyer?"

I also saw improvement at tight end and at wide receiver. My excuses have been the line and the lack of playmakers. Well, the playmakers are getting healthy. The line is getting the time it needs. David DeCastro played his best game yet.

"Doesn't the defense deserve blame? No turnovers again."

No. The defense is never to blame.

"You suck."

OK, but this season ended on the eighth play. Go ahead and remind me the Steelers played (and lost) a Super Bowl without Pouncey, but that was a veteran line. This is not. He was their guy and it's clear that not even Fernando Velasco is helping the communications up front.

"They're done. They're tumbling. Tumbling."

What I choose to remember about Sunday's descent into 0-3 is that the Steelers came back from 21 down to within 27-23 and had the Bears on the ropes, third-and-10 at their own 25 with 9:15 left and the crowd in full throat. Jay Cutler walked to the line looking at Brett Keisel, Cameron Heyward, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones and Troy Polamalu staring back at him. Broadcaster Cris Collinsworth even remarked about the Steelers' advantage here, because those were the exact people who should've been standing there.

The ends -- Woodley and Timmons -- collapsed the pocket and Cutler stepped up as the DBs covered his beastly receivers. Cutler checked down, but Jones instinctively dropped off to cover Matt Forte. Cutler had nothing to do but run. Polamalu was spying him, but got picked by Shamarko Thomas in coverage. So Cutler was able to run for the first down, and eventually the back-breaking touchdown.

As a former coach used to say, there's a fine line. Right now the Steelers are not on the right side of it. But I've been here before. We've all been here before. As I wrote last week and the week before, you just hope the "tumble" is minimized, and I believe the right people are in place to do just that.

I'll be back next week to write it again.


5 a.m.: Before the Steelers lost Sunday night to the Chicago Bears, 40-23, I wrote how Ben Roethlisberger's first eight games under coordinator Todd Haley resulted in a 101.1 passer rating. Well, he just finished his second 8-game set under Haley with a passer rating of 85.6, and last night's game put the exclamation on what will need to become a reclamation with 2 interceptions and 2 turnovers.

Roethlisberger led the Steelers back from a 24-3 deficit to within 27-23 but fell apart down the stretch. Here are some in-game thoughts that I jotted down during the game, and here are some quotes from the Steelers after the game.


2 p.m.: I walked over to Ryan Clark's locker to ask about the "quarters" package with four safeties that was so helpful Monday night against the Bengals, and some life lessons broke out.

That part was cute, but more interesting today -- the day after reports of mass chaos in the locker room -- to Steelers fans who might believe all of the media madness is what Clark said about the recent players meeting. Here it is:

Q: What does Jay Cutler bring?

Ryan Clark: He's just Jay Cutler, man. Jay Cutler. Same Jay Cutler you guys have been seeing for a long time now. He's just Jay. He's going to make some plays; he's going to give you opportunities to make some plays.

Q: When you start to stack losses--

RC: You don't stack losses. They just pile up. You stack things you want to keep. You stack things you like. You stack money. Trash piles up. Laundry piles up. Two different things. You don't stack losses.

Q:You can't pile up money?

RC: No. You've got to keep it neat. You gotta know where your money is. You've got to know how much you've got. You let it pile up, you can't keep it. It's not organized. But if you stack it, you count it while you put it down. Real life, man. It's a real life talk. I'm trying to educate you.

Q:How did your meeting go? Did you resolve anything?

RC: Our meeting was our meeting. It's why you all weren't in there.

Q:Do you take whatever came out of that meeting and go to the young guys with it?

RC: That wasn't what it was about. Honestly, it wasn't 'Ok we're going to talk about this and then we're going to talk about it with you.' Because then we'd just meet with everybody at one time. It's about ways to get better. It's about ways to improve our culture. And so you leave that meeting taking the things that you've learned from the other leaders, and then you go out and try to live that way. You try to bring that to the locker room. You try to keep everybody positive. You've got to try to keep everything moving forward to the one goal this week, and that goal is to beat the Chicago Bears. I think that's the overwhelming sentiment/feeling/focus in this locker room, which I think is good. When you feel really successful, I think you can become -- as far as the players, coaches, organization, fans, media -- you become very big-picture oriented. In Pittsburgh, we're Super Bowl-oriented. Everything has to point to the Super Bowl. Everything has to point to that ultimate prize. If you don't focus on the day to day, or the week to week, if you don't focus on the team you play Sunday, you'll never get to that goal. But because we're always in that hunt, because it's always very present for us, that's what we focus on. And I think this week we understood that we're not a good enough football team to focus on those things. We've got to focus on beating the Chicago Bears. Losing two games have put us in that mode where we need to win one, and that's been everybody's mindset, and I think that's really good for our team.

Q: Were they receptive to the message?

RC: We didn't give anybody a message. It wasn't a rah-rah, let's get out and win one for the Gipper kind of deal. It was a meeting of the minds of people with a lot of football experience, and trying to figure out a way that that can be helpful to us. That's what it was about.

Q: Why wasn't that there before the meeting?

RC: I'm not saying that it wasn't. A lot of times in relationships, until you understand what the other people around you are thinking, you can't make decisions or move forward. If I'm thinking one thing and I don't know what you're thinking, we can't move on together. And that was it. It was like, 'Let's come together and let's see if we're all on the same page.' And we really were. Everybody was on the same page with the understanding of how they felt about the situation.

Q: Was this meeting necessary because this third game is uncustomarily important to you guys who've never seen 0-2?

RC: I don't know. It's something Ben came to. Obviously he's THE leader of this team, and it's something that he wanted to do. I think he kind of just wanted to clear the air and just communicate. He wanted us to have the opportunity to communicate with each other. Me, personally, I know it's going to come down to football. It was more of a situation to put everybody at ease and keep us together. I think it went well. It served its purpose.


5 a.m.: When you hear reporters ask questions like "Did you call the plays yourself on that touchdown drive?" it almost sounds like someone in this town really cares about such nonsense anymore. Blame the playcaller, blame the coach, blame the quarterback who repeatedly missed third-down passes, or blame the general manager responsible for putting that putrid offense on the field. But just know that it's putrid.

The Steelers lost to the Bengals, 20-10, last night, and just as last week I'm surprised the final score was that close. And, hey, if not for a turnover by David Paulson or a ticky-tack tripping call on Marcus Gilbert, the game could've actually gone down to the wire.

As it is, we're left either to watch the Pirates or begin tracking the draft after only two games.

Yeah, it's that bad.

Here are a few more thoughts that I posted on the message board live as the game unfolded. And here are some quotes from the players after the game.


6 a.m.: Just to top off my self-amusing story below about what it's like for reporters covering the Steelers to break news that Mike Tomlin doesn't want broken, another paper has announced that Fernando Velasco will be the starting center.

It's next to impossible to keep news from being reported, but Tomlin might want to borrow from Bill Cowher from the days when Cowher didn't want the news that Carnell Lake would play cornerback reported.

First, Cowher went to Dan Rooney to ban reporters from practice. Tomlin has probably tried this, too, but Rooney would never allow that to occur. So Cowher resorted to his personal charm. He called the reporters together and asked them to not report that Lake would be his starting CB this week. And it worked.

We're not in this business to expose the Steelers' plans for the upcoming game. Most of us either have a boss to please, or a competitive urge to feed. And getting beat on news does not please or feed either. If we have a legitimate excuse, to either give our bosses, or ourselves, there's no problem in complying with a coach's wish. Tomlin could pull this off with no problem, and he should keep it in mind the next time he needs to shield part of a game plan that's obvious to reporters in attendance.


9 a.m.: If you came here this morning to find an update on the one position that remains unresolved in the Steelers' starting lineup, you are going to be disappointed.

Yes, I'm a Steelers Insider. I dubbed myself such when I interviewed to work at this site. Being that I was hired and am still working, and have even ascended to publisher, I believe I've fooled quite a few people.

But the gig is up. I have not, and cannot, tell you who will start at center on Monday night.

Oh, I'm sure it will come out somewhere by then, but not from me because I have given it my best shot and fell short.

Let me explain.

As the media troupe gathered in our massive conference room on Thursday afternoon -- "Coordinator Thursday," as we like to call it -- it became apparent that Todd Haley would be the topic du jour, what with the anonymous e-mail story going around.

If you haven't read that story, look around the 'net. It's kind of sad, pathetic even for what it says about some fans, and that's why I figured this predicted mob scene would give me solid cover as I attempted to go elsewhere in search of a football story.

* Who's going to replace Maurkice Pouncey in Cincinnati on Monday?

* Does newly signed Fernando Velasco have enough time to learn the terminology?

* Is it worth the time to invest in converted tackle Kelvin Beachum?

* Does Guy Whimper have any say whatsoever in this matter? And can you promise me that he won't?

Now, just to explain the process, we can't report what we see in practice. Attendance is a privilege granted to the local media, and we cannot share what we see in private, unless a player in question gives it up to us in the locker room.

That's why you see tweets such as this: "Jarvis Jones confirmed that he was the first-team ROLB in practice today."

That was one of my tweets Wednesday, because, as Mike Tomlin likes to say, "the players will tell you anything you want them to tell you."

It's more of an exasperation than a truth, but there is some truth there. Ask the reporters who went around the locker room this summer and delicately worded their questions to inquire about dissension last year. It's proof that a skilled reporter can cobble together any semblance of truth that fits his agenda, if he wants.

So Tomlin rarely bothers to battle the process that he himself laid down.

Until yesterday.

"You have to ask Coach Tomlin that," Velasco said as he walked off the practice field.

I merely asked where he had played in practice, but Velasco explained that he was "just taking it one day at a time," and that he probably would like to be here again for a second day.

So as the media horde gathered around Haley after practice, I continued walking toward the locker room to get something useful for football fans.

Hey, Ramon ...

"Ahhh, you've got to talk to Coach Tomlin about that," said Ramon Foster. "We are not at liberty to discuss that today."

You guys had a meeting, didn't you?

"No meeting. It's just that we looked good today as a unit. Five as one today."

Ramon, can you confirm or deny who was working with the first team at center?

"I can't confirm anything," he said.

So the head man laid down the law?

"Something was said," Foster said. "That's all I can tell you. I can also tell you that Joe Long here is getting better every day."

"Um, don't get me involved in this one," said Long, Foster's bemused locker-room neighbor.

But it didn't look like I could get anyone involved in this one, let alone the friendly practice-squad tackle who would also like to be here for another day.

So, back to the practice field I went, and the first person I passed was Tomlin. I figured a mischievous smile and an "I got ya, Wex" was to follow. But this isn't the week for mischievous smiles, because, well, I'm sure you saw the last game.

Tomlin just looked up and gave me a routine "Hey" as I walked toward what I figured would be the entire TMZ broadcast company surrounding Haley. I got there just in time to hear Tim Benz finish grilling Haley on his alleged use of the word "gay."

Ah, boy.

So I waited to ask my question, and it was merely perfunctory, because I hate to ask for information in front of the rest of the media. I mean, where's any "scoop" in doing that? But I reflexively asked Haley about his center position, and thought he might provide a grain of truth, just because he was happy someone asked him a football question.

But no such luck.

"We're trying to get two guys ready to go," Haley said. "Any way it turns out we've got to have both guys ready to play. Beachum was the backup to Pouncey and did, I thought, a commendable job after practicing at tight end all week. To move after one series and play center, where he had no snaps during the week, I think it's important to be said that I thought Beach did a great job.

"So, now, we need an additional center with Pouncey out, so we're happy to have Fernando here and we're trying to get him up to speed, and we're also trying to get Beach going."

And so that's your center position, ladies and gentleman, a franchise secret. And by making it a franchise secret, you figure there is good reason, that it must mean something to the game plan and therefore something to the prying eyes of the Cincinnati Bengals.

But it's not helping me, or you, today at the home of the Steelers Insider.


1:30 p.m.: This apparently is the week for technical difficulties. First, that abortion of a game. Then, the embarrassing Wolfley, um, incident (read below). And now, a blacked out TV for the Mike Tomlin press conference. I'll credit DISH with the assist there. At least I'm getting them out of the way-- 1, 2, 3 -- early this year.

Here's what the tweeters are saying about the news from Tomlin:

* Isaac Redman will remain the starter at RB because Le'Veon Bell (foot) hasn't participated in individual drills, let alone scrimmage yet, and Felix Jones (brain) hasn't inspired confidence in his knowledge of the offense. Jonathan Dwyer (belly) is listed as third team on the depth chart.

* Kelvin Beachum will remain at center to start the week. They're in the process of getting to know just-signed Fernando Velasco.

* Lawrence Timmons will make the calls and changes for the defense. Kion Wilson will replace Larry Foote at what's being labeled LILB. That's normally where the buck -- or strong-side -- inside LB plays, but has switched in past depending on the strength. May not switch now. Key point being Timmons will wear the speaker helmet.

* CB Cortez Allen (ankle) won't practice early in the week, and the hope is he'll still return in time to play. He's the guy who shadowed A.J. Green late last season when Ike Taylor was injured. Allen intercepted two passes and forced a fumble, but the Steelers lost 13-10. It's presumed that nickel CB William Gay would again replace Allen and rookie safety Shamarko Thomas would again be the nickel CB.

* Bit of chatter about Heath Miller (knee) possibilities. As with Bell, I'm going to believe it before the bye when I see it.

* PK Shaun Suisham's hamstring is feeling better and he might kick Monday night in Cincinnati. Shayne Graham is on the roster just in case.

6:15 a.m.: If this were a normal Tuesday morning at a site without such a screw-up in the publisher position (that would be me), you would see a brand new story at the top of this page titled "View From The Sideline," by Craig Wolfley.

Instead, you have this, a guess of a re-hash of an interview with Wolfley, the former Steelers guard now working for the Steelers Radio Network as a sideline reporter.

Wolfley has done this column here for years, but is now such a media superstar that he doesn't have enough time to pen his weekly column.

And then there's this: "Writing is hard, Wex."

That's what he told me when he asked if I could just interview him on Mondays and ghost-write the column myself.

So, we tried it that way.

And 16 minutes into a good interview, I realized I hadn't turned on the speaker-phone in the other room where the tape recorder was running.

Incompetence seemed to pay off for Jonathan Dwyer, a guy who was cut for what Wolfley told me was "lack of attention to details" and then called back yesterday. So hopefully you'll call me back next Tuesday when I get this thing right with the Wolf Man.

Anyway, these are some of the topics Wolfley covered that I could remember yesterday:

* Joe Greene, who presumably had retired because he had had enough football, was back prowling the sidelines before the game yesterday. The great ones really can't stay away.

* Wolfley watched Shaun Suisham before the game and noticed he was taking many half-swings at the ball, and that new punter Zoltan Mesko was practicing kickoffs. Wolfley said that some of Mesko's kicks traveled into the stands behind the end zone, and some of them flew into the stands near midfield. Wolf never heard the news that Suisham had injured his hamstring, and didn't even know at the time why Suisham had squibbed the opening kickoff that ultimately gave the Steelers two points for the safety. Of course, the Steelers brought in Shayne Graham yesterday to cover for Suisham until he recovers.

* On the cut block that David DeCastro had fired into teammate Maurkice Pouncey's knee, Wolfley said he did that one time to the great Mike Webster, and that someone took a picture of the moment of impact and that it hung in the Hall of Fame at Canton for a time. Webster wasn't hurt. Pouncey, of course, is out for the year.

* Wolfley said he watched DeCastro for the rest of the series and had no doubt that DeCastro's mind was elsewhere, and that it had deflated the rest of the line, too, for a while.

* On the fumble into the end zone, Wolfley agreed that the hand-off was a bit high but that Redman should've handled it. I asked him about Felix Jones not running out on to the field for the play -- in which David Johnson had to improvise as the tailback -- and Wolfley said he wouldn't punish Jones, but would just make sure he's coached up on his responsibilities as well as the playbook before next week.

* That's probably why big-hearted former players go into the media instead of coaching.

* He loved the performance of nose tackle Steve McLendon. Of course, Big Mac wasn't Big Hamp on third-and-1s, but McLendon's penetration skills will bother a quarterback more than Casey Hampton ever did.

* The offense's main problem is the lack of communication up front, Wolfley said. Nothing can cure that but time. Wolfley did agree with me that Redman missed some gaping cutback lanes, and that getting only 2 carries in the preseason -- way back on the first series of the opener -- may have played a role in the back's lack of awareness and generally poor play on Sunday.

* I talked to Wolfley prior to the acquisition of Fernando Velasco, last year's starting center (and sometimes starting guard) for Tennessee, so perhaps he would change his mind on Kelvin Beachum, the backup tackle, blocking tight end who filled in at center. But Wolfley thinks center might be Beachum's natural position and that "he could develop into a good NFL center with a little bit of time."

* After the game, Mike Tomlin said "there was enough misery to go around." I thought of that after I walked into my back room and noticed that 16 minutes of tape had gone by without a sound. So I stopped Wolf there and told him I'll try to do better next week.

* "Trust me, I will," said Jim Wexell-Dwyer, when given a second chance.


5:15 p.m.: The Steelers announced the signing of kicker Shayne Graham, along with the previously reported signings of G-C Fernando Velasco and RB Jonathan Dwyer. The three replace Maurkice Pouncey, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Larry Foote, who were placed on injured reserve.

Graham is a 12-year vet who was cut by the Browns after training camp. He's the seventh most accurate kicker in NFL history with a conversion percentage of 85.4 percent. He'll kick in place of Shaun Suisham, who injured his hamstring in pre-game warm-ups, which led to his opening "squib" kickoff that resulted in two points for the Steelers.

3:20 p.m.: According to Adam Caplan of The Sideline View the Steelers signed Fernando Velasco to replace Maurkice Pouncey.

Velasco is a quality pick-up, and I'm surprised he was available. I watched two Titans games this preseason and Velasco showed NFL strength and even moved well when asked to pull around end from center.

Velasco(6-4, 312) is 28 and played in 49 games since coming out of Georgia in 2008 as an undrafted free agent signed by Tennessee. He started 19 games, 16 of them last year when he started at center for 13 games and guard for 3 games.


9:20 a.m.: Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers will re-sign Jonathan Dywer to replace the injured LaRod Stephens-Howling.

Dwyer was the team's leading rusher last season with 623 yards. His fumbling and yo-yo weight issues were the reasons he was cut.


10:20 p.m.: Mike Garafolo of Fox Sports just tweeted that RB/KR LaRod Stephens-Howling tore an ACL and will miss the rest of the season.

That leaves the Steelers with two healthy running backs -- Isaac Redman and Felix Jones -- until Le'Veon Bell (mid-foot sprain) and Will Johnson (hamstring) return.

The Steelers will most likely promote Alvester Alexander (5-11, 213) off the practice squad. Alexander did the little things and ran with urgency in camp.

8:20 p.m.: At the two-minute warning, with the Steelers two scores behind and driving, the Heinz Field scoreboard ran a promotional montage to the strains of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

Since there were about 50 people in the stands at the time, it was a pretty grim scene and representative of a pretty grim day.

The Steelers did score a touchdown with 1:23 to play, and there was some hope, but Chris Carter "representatively" alligator-armed a popped-up onside kick that appeared to be within his grasp. He didn't get it, didn't seem to want it, and so he went home with a 16-9 loss.

That wasn't the worst of it. The Steelers also lost center Maurkice Pouncey. I presume the Steelers will start second-year tackle Kelvin Beachum there. His build and his brain suit the position.

The Steelers also lost Larry Foote for the year. My guess is Kion Wilson will step into his spot. LB coach Keith Butler said at camp that he likes an experienced mack LB such as Lawrence Timmons to help the inexperienced buck LBs, so I don't look for Timmons to move over.

Both Wilson -- a three-year vet (first year here) -- and rookie Vince Williams played the position all camp. Williams is liked by the coaches but Wilson would seem to have the experience edge at this point.

Here on the message board are a few other thoughts I have on the game, and here are some quotes.


7:40 p.m.: Just posted my condensed notebook from the day, but there will be much more Tuesday morning.

6 p.m.: Sorry I'm a little late on this news, but I was transcribing tape from an interview I did this afternoon with Isaiah Green, before he was cut.

But here's the press release:

The Steelers signed punter Zoltan Mesko and also claimed cornerback Antwon Blake.

Mesko, in his fourth NFL season, was originally selected by the New England Patriots in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Michigan. He spent three seasons with the Patriots, averaging 44.2 yards per punt.

To make room for Mesko, the Steelers released second-year punter Drew Butler.

The Steelers also claimed Blake from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Blake was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Jaguars in 2012, and he played in all 16 games as a rookie. Blake led the team with 12 special teams tackles.

To make room for Blake on the active roster, the Steelers released cornerback Isaiah Green.

6 a.m.: The Steelers last night announced the signing of journeyman center-guard Cody Wallace and the release of John Malecki.

Wallace is a 6-4, 300-pounder who has played in 2 NFL games since being drafted in the fourth round out of Texas A&M in 2008 by the San Francisco 49ers. Wallace spent two years with the 49ers and played in one game before his release prior to the 2010 season.

Since then he has played a game with the Detroit Lions, and spent time on the practice squads of the New York Jets, Houston Texans and Tampa Bay Bucs.


2 p.m.: The Steelers have signed eight players to their practice squad, the team announced today.

The eight players include offensive linemen Chris Hubbard and Joe Long, running back Alvester Alexander, defensive end Brian Arnfelt, linebackers Alan Baxter and Terence Garvin, defensive back Devin Smith and wide receiver Justin Brown.

The Steelers resume practice on Monday, September 2, in preparation for their Week 1 matchup against the Tennessee Titans. Kickoff at Heinz Field is set for 1 p.m.


4 p.m.: Whether it was his roller-coaster of a weight problem or whether it was his fumble -- the second of the preseason -- Thursday night that did it, running back Jonathan Dwyer is no longer a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dwyer was one of 22 released by the Steelers this afternoon. Tight end Heath Miller was activated off the PUP list.

The rest of the cuts, by position, are:

RB: Alvester Alexander.

WR: Justin Brown, Reggie Dunn, Kashif Moore.

TE: Jamie McCoy, Nathan Overbay.

OL: Mike Golic Jr., Chris Hubbard, Joe Long, Joe Madsen.

DL: Alameda Ta'amu, Brian Arnfelt.

LB: Marshall McFadden, Brian Rolle, Alan Baxter, Terence Garvin.

DB: Terry Hawthorne, Josh Victorian, Devin Smith, Ross Ventrone.

P: Brian Moorman.


12:15 p.m.: Jarvis Jones (AC sprain in chest), Le'Veon Bell (foot), Heath Miller (knee) and Isaac Redman (precautionary) were the only players ruled out of Thursday's preseason finale at Carolina.

Tomlin normally only deals with eligible players, so he was asked if he had activated Miller from the PUP list.

"No, I just acknowledged that he was not participating. Obviously it was a discussion," Tomlin said. "He's doing great. He really is. We're going to look more hardcore at him when we get back from Carolina, obviously, but the fact that I mentioned his name would give an indication that things are progressing, and progressing nicely."

10 a.m.: Sorry about taking Monday off following my return from my Valley Forge encampment this weekend. (Soccer related, don't ask.)

But the important stories out of the South Side had to do with Jarvis Jones' positive health and Reggie Dunn missing practice with a shoulder injury.

The Dunn story is worth following because he's my MUST KEEP bubble-player of the few I have left battling for spots 52 and 53.

I have a few thoughts here (among many others) on the tight end situation, but I'm also thinking that Terry Hawthorne (behind Josh Victorian) and Vince Williams (behind Kion Wilson) are losing their jobs to Dunn and Felix Jones on a roster that doesn't include a back-up nose tackle.

Of course, the Steelers will call back one player to replace Matt Spaeth, and that player won't have to be a tight end, thanks to Kelvin Beachum.


10:50 a.m.:

The Steelers announced Sunday that rookie OLB Jarvis Jones has been released from the hosptial after X-rays came back negative. Then the Steelers made 15 roster moves Sunday night, reducing their roster to the league-mandated 75 players prior to Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline.

The Steelers have placed linebacker Sean Spence on the team's Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) List. In addition, the team has placed offensive guard Justin Cheadle and cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke on the team's Waived/Injured List.

The Steelers have released offensive tackle D'Anthony Batiste, running back Baron Batch, offensive tackle Mike Farrell, wide receiver David Gilreath, wide receiver Tyler Shaw, cornerback Ryan Steed, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, tight end Peter Tuitupou, quarterback John Parker Wilson, wide receiver J.D. Woods and running back Jeremy Wright.

The Steelers have also placed rookie defensive end Nick Williams on the Reserve/Injured List.

The Steelers conclude their preseason slate at the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium.

They must reduce their roster to 53 players by Saturday at 6 p.m.


10:50 a.m.: According to NJ.com, the Steelers have traded outside linebacker Adrian Robinson to the Philadelphia Eagles for running back Felix Jones.

Robinson, of course, plays a position of considerable depth for the Steelers, and undrafted rookie Alan Baxter added to that depth this summer and made the second-year Robinson expendable.

Jones will help a running back position that will likely be without rookie Le'Veon Bell for the next six to eight weeks.

The 5-10, 215-pound Jones is in his sixth NFL season. He spent the previous five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys after being drafted two spots before the Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in 2008.

Jones, like Mendenhall, has disappointed because of injuries, but has rushed for 2,728 yards at 4.8 per carry. Jones has also caught 127 passes (8.4) and returned 64 kickoffs (24.0).

Last year, Jones played in all 16 games and rushed for 402 yards (3.6) and caught 28 passes. Jones had signed a one-year contract with the Eagles in May.


2:10 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger met with a group of reporters on the hill outside the cafeteria today. The questions came scattershot from different reporters. I asked him the horizontal-offense and relationship-with-Todd questions.

Q: How's the offense?

Ben: Every day you try to make improvements, from better drops to dropped passes, blocking schemes. You see mistakes on Day 1 and you see mistakes on Day 2. As long as you don't see the same mistake twice, that's improvement.

Q: Does the young O-line present challenges?

Ben: I don't really think they're that young, truthfully. Maurkice has been in the league for a little while. Ramon's been in the league a little while. Gilbert's been here for a couple years now. DeCastro and Mike are the two younger guys but they're both second-year guys and I'm excited for that group. I think they're really jelling and meshing together. I can't wait to see how it goes with them.

Q: How's Will Johnson doing?

Ben: Will is a special kind of back. He can block, he can catch, he can play a tight end-type role. But it's neat to see his improvement and his growth. So we're excited about being able to use him this year a lot more.

Q: Did you cringe when your top backs went down within 15 minutes of each other in practice?

Ben: You never like to see anyone get hurt but usually it's the guys in front of me that make me cringe a little bit more when they go down than the guys behind me. I know that Red will be fine. I'm not sure what's going on with Le'Veon. I don't think it's anything too serious, from what I understand.

Q: You changed your workouts. How has it paid off?

Ben: My arm feels a lot stronger. It feels I can get the ball down the field with better zip. Even receivers, coaches, have said the same thing. That's what was most important, making sure my arm stayed strong, or got strong and stayed strong.

Q: Against the Giants, your passes traveled past the line an average of 5 yards. Is that a preview? Or was it how the game plan worked out that day?

Ben: That was intentional. That was game plan. We really wanted, against a 4-3 type defense, to work on our screen games, our short underneath type passes. Even the one to Antonio was more of a conversion route. He wasn't supposed to go that deep. More game plan than anything. I still think that that will be a weapon for us, throwing the short ball, but like I said that particular game was more about game-planning.

Q: So the philosophy is the short stuff sets up the deep stuff?

Ben: That's the hope. And running the ball sets up the play-action. That's the game of football. So many things set up other things. That's why it's a game of chess between coordinators, usually, and then the players have to execute it. Whether it's coverages, blitzes, you have to be prepared to make adjustments on the run and try and fool the other team.

Q: When you do you think peak strength is for an NFL quarterback?

Ben: I guess it depends on how they work out, how their body is, if they're healthy. For me it was just about, with the injury last year to the shoulder/chest area, I wanted to get my arm strength up, get stronger, so I did different things. Rather than lifting weights I was out kayaking and doing things that were kind of unconventional, but receivers and coaches have said the velocity on my passes has gone up, so I guess that's a good thing.

Q: Kayaking?

Ben: Yes.

Q: Does that strengthen the rotator cuff?

Ben: Everything. Ever done it?

Q: Yeah it hurts like hell.

Ben: There you go.

Q: How's the knee?

Ben: It feels really good. Obviously standing on it a lot and running can wear it down a bit, but no setbacks and nothing negative.

Q: How's Antonio Brown looking?

Ben: The sky's the limit. He can be as good as he wants to be. I've seen growth from him, some improvements, and that's what you want to see.

Q: Your relationship with Todd has been sufficiently investigated I take it?

Ben: (Chuckles) Yes. It's not much different than it was last year, except that the reports are a lot different. It's as good as it's been. I think anyone that watches can see that.

Q: Do you ever wonder why nobody investigates LeBeau's relationship with his signal caller?

Ben: (Chuckles) I think he's been here such a long time and his defense hasn't changed since he's been here, really. It's funny because I was talking to him about that the other day. I asked him how often he changes defenses and he said 'very rarely.' So that's a nice thing. I suite with Keisel and I tell him it must be nice never having to learn anything new. He shakes his head and says 'yeah.' But it's well-documented about Todd and I. We have a great relationship and I think it will show this year.

1:20 p.m.:

Le'Veon Bell wonders, what's the fuss?

After limping off the practice field Thursday with a knee injury, he made his first public appearance at lunch time at St. Vincent College and was engulfed by reporters. He told them he's fine, that he only aggravated the bruise he had suffered two weeks ago under Friday Night Lights.

Unfortunately I missed the mob conference with Bell. I was interviewing Larry Foote for an investigative piece I'm doing on his relationship with the coordinator.

Hey, everyone else has done the offensive side of it, so why not?)

Anyway, Le'Veon came back out to give me a one-on-one. Here's how that good news went:

Q: What can you tell me about your leg?

LB: I hurt it. I just re-aggravated my previous injury.

Q: No MCL or ACL?

LB: No. No tears or nothing.

Q: You're going to be ready for the opener, aren't you?

LB: I should be. I should be ready Monday.

Q: Oh, Monday? Are you going to play?

LB: I'm going to try. We're going to see.

Q: Don't you have to show in practice?

LB: Yeah. He said we would take it day by day and let my knee progress.


1:20 p.m.: Cornerback Cortez Allen has missed the last three days with a troublesome right knee and today he underwent what Mike Tomlin termed "minor surgery."

Here's Tomlin's statement from Steelers.com:

"Earlier today, Cortez had minor surgery on his right knee. We wanted him to get the surgery done now so he can begin rehabilitating immediately. This surgery was a minor procedure and will have no long-term effects on his return to the field. We look forward to his rehabilitation process and having him back on the field in a couple of weeks."

Allen will join fellow cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke (hamstring) on the sideline, while another cornerback, fifth-round pick Terry Hawthorne, has missed the last two practices with knee trouble as well.

At Thursday's practice, the Steelers started Ike Taylor, Will Gay and Curtis Brown on the first snap against the offense's 3-WR set. The next cornerback off the bench was Josh Victorian, followed by Isaiah Green, a 4.2+ sprinter who was picked up late last season.

Ryan Steed, who was signed earlier in the week, also received several reps in scrimmage, and the Steelers just added CB Buddy Jenkins yesterday off the waiver wire.

Steed came out of Furman in 2012 and signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets. He was waived, signed by the New Orleans Saints, and waived last week.

Jenkins came out of Pitt in 2012 and has been with three teams, most recently the Kansas City Chiefs.


6:30 a.m.: I haven't commented on the "Free Hernandez" hats the Pouncey twins wore the other day because, well, no harm, no foul. And Maurkice has since apologized.

I understand how this silly moment undermined the organization's integrity, but to tell the truth I'd been worried that something worse might break regarding Maurkice and his former Florida roommate Hernandez. Not that I think Pouncey is a criminal, but I know that he's young and possibly loyal to a fault.

Anyway, I dug up these old quotes from Pouncey about Hernandez during both players' rookie seasons, as the Steelers prepared to play the New England Patriots. Feel free to throw your $0.02 into the thread.


5:30 a.m.: Since I plan on making extensive use of this corner spot for quickie inside information and opinion during training camp, let's re-set this new version of Daily Buzz right now.

In fact, I can link to the training camp schedule at Steelers.com and also take you further inside the madness here at SCI with this link to some good stuff on the message board.

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