(Discuss Jim's blog entry here on the message board.)
To read entries from Daily Buzz VI, click here.
SUNDAY, JAN. 4
1 p.m.:This blog is busting at the seams, out of character space at the exact moment the Steelers' season came to an end. Since I can't squeeze another digit into this (and I'll fire a new one up for draft season very soon), here's a link to our message board, where you'll find notes, quotes and anecdotes from the final night.
THURSDAY, JAN. 1
5 p.m.:I took the day off -- and I love the excited buzz at Thursday practices -- but according to reports James Harrison and Landry Jones missed with illness and Le'Veon Bell missed with his knee. Troy Polamalu worked again and Dick LeBeau expects him to play, so I expect Troy to start his final game at Heinz Field. Love that dude and agree that he should start. Also, heavy rains are expected Saturday, but we all know Ben Roethlisberger is a warrior in bad weather. Todd Haley said as much today.
Q: Are you ready for this? Are you going to sleep well the rest of the week?
JH: Oh, yeah. I'm just trying not to make it too much and just stay as calm as I can.
Q: It's going to be hard, isn't it?
JH: Yeah, but it's cool.
Q: Le'Veon looked good walking around today.
JH: Yeah. Me, personally, I hope he does play. He's a big, huge part of our offense, so I feel we have a much better chance with him. But if he doesn't, I feel I can spell him and do some of the things he has done.
Q: How's your pass-blocking?
JH: I'm pretty good. It's more about understanding who you have. So as soon as you know who you have and where you need to look, that's the battle.
Q: That's not easy for rookies, is it?
JH: No, it's not.
(Le'Veon Bell rushes over with serious look to interrupt.)
LB: Put this on the interview: Josh Harris, he likes running from me on PlayStation All-Stars. He runs from me all the time. Why you run from me?
JH: Hit me on the phone, bro.
LB: Man, I hit you on your phone yesterday but you didn't answer. Because you was nervous.
JH: Right. OK.
Q: But it is hard for rookies.
JH: It is hard for rookies just for the fact you're seeing a lot, you've got a mission, you know the play, and you're more worried about that than actually who you need to block. I feel as soon as you know the play that's called, and then you're able to see everybody, I should be all good.
Q: I've been asking the defensive players how the Ravens might approach you after Ben carved them up the last time. I asked them if they would be more worried about the pass game. All of them said, 'They haven't seen 40 yet.' How have you gotten everybody's respect so soon?
JH: I don't know. I just make sure I do all the things I need to do and try to practice as hard as I can, so as soon as my time comes I'll be all set.
Q: I remember talking to you soon after you signed at training camp. I had read all of those good things about you in the spring at Dallas, but you got cut and you told me then that you hadn't been given a fair shot. It's been a big turn for you, hasn't it?
JH: Oh, yeah. It's nice to see your hard work pay off. You work hard your whole life and to finally get to the spot like this, when you have an actual shot to show it, it's - it's - it's nice.
WEDNESDAY, DEC. 31
Q: How do you feel?
LB: I feel good. A couple days ago I couldn't do much. It feels good to be able to move around, not really think about it much, and continue about my day.
Q: When can you test it?
LB: I'm going to see what I can do tomorrow. I don't know how much I'll be able to do, but I'm going to take my time. I'm not going to rush it. I'm going to make sure everything's OK. I'll take care of myself and go out there and see what I can do tomorrow.
Q: Will you lobby to play if he says no?
LB: If I feel ready I'll definitely try to get on the field and play. I mean, it's a huge game. I'm definitely going to want to play if I'm able to play. We'll see what happens.
Q: Did you do anything today?
LB: Practice-wise, no, I didn't practice, but obviously I did things off the field, testing it, little things like that. Like I said, I'm going to continue to take it day by day and see how I feel tomorrow.
Q: You rode the bike?
LB: Yeah, I rode the bike, ran a little bit, a few little things. I'm going to try to do more tomorrow.
Q: If you had to put a percentage on it, what would it be?
LB: I just know right now if I had to practice today, I couldn't practice. I don't want to put any percentages on it because I'm not sure. I just want to take it day by day.
Q: What did you make of the hit by Reggie Nelson?
LB: It was a legal hit. I felt like -- I don't know. It's football. It's a dangerous sport, so he got me down the way he could. That's that.
Q: Does it matter that you play Saturday and have one less day?
LB: It's a short week but that doesn't affect us or the way we're going to prepare.
Q: But what about for your injury?
LB: It gives me one less day, but I'm going to take it day by day anyway and see how I feel. Hopefully I'll be doing great.
Q: Will it be a pain-management issue? Could playing make it worse?
LB: It's not one of those injuries like an MCL where if you go out there and play on it it could get worse. The doctors are telling me that's not what it is. So that's a good thing to hear. I don't want to play fearing my knee getting hurt. When I play, I want to be comfortable not thinking about cutting or jumping or whatever it is I may have to do.
Q: Is there a scenario in which you play but play limited snaps?
LB: I'm not sure. That's up to the coaches. If I play, I want to do everything to help us win. If I'm not 100 percent healthy I probably won't take all the snaps I took, but that's up to the coaches. That's not my call.
Q: When you run a guy over like you did Nelson, are you cognizant he might go low on you? And do you think that's why he did that later in the game?
LB: I don't know why he did that later in the game. The majority of DBs go for my legs because I'm a bigger guy. But a lot of times it's different because I have the ball and see them and can prepare for it. It was different this game because I didn't see him. I caught it and then he caught me in the legs. DBs usually go low on me. There's nothing new about it.
Q: Is there any part of you that says this isn't just a regular game, this is the Ravens?
LB: It's not just a regular game. It's the Ravens, it's the playoffs, a playoff game here in Pittsburgh. It's not just a regular game, it's a huge game. I'm ready for it.
* As for the Steelers' injury report from Wednesday's practice, Bell, OT Mike Adams (illness), TE Heath Miller (no injury) and Ben Roethlisberger (no injury) missed all of it. Limited were NT Steve McLendon (shoulder) and TE Michael Palmer (groin). Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor were full participants.
12:35 p.m.: The locker room was sparse this morning as most of the players were involved in meetings, but I did run into Ben Tate. I asked the new RB if he had a minute for an interview, and he said this:
Well, that's about what I expected from a guy with an alleged attitude problem. But he did explain to me that he had to get to a meeting and the PR staffer explained that Tate's head is in a thousand different places as he joins his new team, so I understand. In fact, the only reason I wrote what I did was to be funny.
Some, though, are running hard with the bad-attitude memo we all got from people we know in either Cleveland, Minnesota and Houston who've dealt with Tate. But, really, is the guy going to demand the ball in the first PLAYOFF game of his new Steelers career?
Someone asked Ben Roethlisberger if he's concerned that Tate "may not be a team player."
"I know he stood up in our team meeting room and said he's just here to help us win," said Roethlisberger. "If that's the attitude, the mindset, we're all for it."
I asked Roethlisberger if Le'Veon Bell's scant contribution in the previous Ravens game -- 20 yards on 10 carries -- was due to the Ravens taking something from their pass defense, and Ben said that, yes, it "leaves more 1-on-1 opportunities in the back end, some zone holes for tight ends and wide receivers to get into. When you've got Antonio Brown, it makes passing the ball a lot easier."
So the idea that the loss of Bell will be negligible because of his previous scant contribution doesn't wash. Roethlisberger did throw six touchdown passes with the Ravens focused on stopping Bell.
Bell, by the way, looked fine walking down the hallway today. He'll talk to reporters after practice, so expect him to be excited about his chances of playing Saturday.
Also of note, Josh Harris, the expected starter in Bell's stead, has created a buzz around the building here because of his 59-yard run that was called back due to a holding penalty. But as I've reminded those who are buzzing, that holding penalty had much to do with blowing open the hole that allowed the long run.
If we don't talk later, have a Happy and Safe New Year's Eve.
TUESDAY, DEC. 30
3:47 p.m.: The Steelers have signed running back Ben Tate and released WR Justin Brown.
The 5-10, 220-pound Tate was drafted out of Auburn in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Houston Texans. He played there until signing with the Cleveland Browns in 2014. He was waived in November, claimed by the Minnesota Vikings, and then waived on Dec. 23.
In the NFL, Tate has 540 carries for 2,363 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns while adding 67 catches for 347 yards in 51 games (15 starts).
1:30 p.m.: No real surprises out of the Mike Tomlin weekly press conference but these were the highlights:
* Tomlin was going to meet with former Texans-Browns-Ravens RB Ben Tate after the media to "explore not only his health but his mindset, where he is and how he potentially fits."
* Le'Veon Bell was riding the stationary bike "training like he's preparing for the Tour de France." But Tomlin said he's preparing the team "for if he does not play." Tomlin said he will "leave the light on" in case Bell's hyperextended right knee heals. But it doesn't sound like Bell will be able to practice at all this week and sets up classic a game-day decision.
* Tomlin emphasized "We won't be swayed by circumstance," meaning the importance of the game will not add to the decision. "If he's healthy, able to protect himself and can be a positive contributor to our efforts, we'll play him."
* Tomlin believes the Antonio Brown-Lardarius Webb battle at WR-CB will be "central to the outcome of the game for both teams." Brown caught 7 for 90 in the early loss to the Ravens in which Webb did not play, and caught 11 for 144 and 1 TD in the Steelers' win in which Webb did play.
* Tomlin was asked why likely Bell-replacement Josh Harris, an undrafted rookie signed at the start of training camp, appealed to him. "He was willing and available. I like those two things," Tomlin said, before adding with a laugh: "The same can be said of this moment right now. He's willing and available."
* Tomlin said -- as several players had mentioned earlier in the season when choosing Harris for their all-team 4x100 relay -- that the players have come to respect Harris for his work ethic and athletic ability.
* Tomlin was asked if Bell's availability will hinge solely on team doctors. "Guys have been cleared by doctors in the past and I've decided not to play them, as recently as last week." Inactives last Sunday for the Steelers included Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Michael Palmer.
* Tomlin was happy with Ryan Shazier's performance in relief of Vince Williams in the nickel defense. Tomlin explained the use of those two, and starter Sean Spence, will be determined by the personality of the team it's facing. So, I'm guessing Shazier was better against the quicker Bengals and Williams will work against the tougher Ravens.
* On whether Polamalu and/or Taylor would play if healthy, Tomlin said: "There are complexities to these things and we're going to deal with them on a case-by-case basis at the appropriate time. Overall health ... is the significant element of the decision but not the sole element of the decision."
* On why the secondary has played so well of late, "Time," Tomlin said. And he explained that the secondary was making progress and he expected a payoff no matter who has been on the field of late.
11 a.m.:Mike Tomlin will step to the microphone for his weekly press conference in an hour and no doubt explain the running back situation with injured Le'Veon Bell and his two rookie backups. The Steelers reportedly are checking out Ben Tate, a 5-10, 220-pounder out of Auburn, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings. He was waived by the Browns in November and three teams claimed him, going to the Minnesota Vikings. He was then waived Dec. 23 after five games, 13 for 38 yards (2.9), and was not claimed.
At 26, Tate is said to be washed up as a runner, but he was the pass-blocking back for the Browns this season and that's what the Steelers need right now. Dri Archer is too small and undrafted rookie Josh Harris is too inexperienced. I would guess Harris starts and Tate plays with three WRs.
In other breaking news, here's Jamie Newberg's new Scout.com Mock Draft. I agree with the position but the player needs a long look. Google P.J. Williams and hit-and-run for the story.
The Steelers' 2015 schedule isn't too inviting. In fact, it might be the toughest in the entire league.
In addition to division foes, the Steelers host Denver, Oakland, Indianapolis, Arizona and San Francisco. They travel to Kansas City, San Diego, New England, St. Louis and Seattle.
8:40 a.m.: I just did a quick work-up of the numbers from the last five games and from a Steelers perspective I don't like the findings.
Since Thanksgiving, with Le'Veon Bell playing and Ravens star DT Haloti Ngata missing four games, the Ravens have had much better success at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens averaged 4.2 per carry and allowed 3.6; the Steelers gained 2.7 per carry and allowed 4.4. That gives the Ravens a whopping 2.3 yards-per-snap advantage.
On pass defense, where I keep hearing the Ravens "stink," the Ravens have allowed 9.4 per completion and the Steelers have allowed 10.8. The bigger difference is in defensive passer rating, in which the Ravens have allowed a 76.7 the last five games and the Steelers 105.7. But, as noted yesterday, the Steelers have improved in that department the last two games. Still, that's a marked difference.
Where the Steelers have the advantage is in yards per point. This is an efficiency number and shows an improvement in the Steelers' work in the red zone. When I look at this number, 15 yards per point is about average for both offense and defense. The Ravens score a point every 15.3 yards and allow a point every 16.1. The Steelers score a point every 14.2 yards and allow one every 17.8. Since three numbers are over 15.0 and the fourth is close, I expect a low-scoring game. Usually the numbers are more scattershot than this. But, the good news is that the Steelers have been more efficient on both sides of the ball.
To better gauge these stats, the Steelers played five teams with an aggregate .538 win percentage. The five Ravens' opponents went .450.
It will take close to a perfect game for the Steelers to win without Bell. If Ben Roethlisberger is truly this team's MVP, it's his time to show it.
MONDAY, DEC. 29
3 p.m.:Adam Schefter of ESPN has reported that an MRI of Le'Veon Bell's right knee did not show any ligament damage.
1 p.m.:Amid all of the positive talk about Le'Veon Bell's hyperextended right knee comes this from Dale Lolley: "Just saw Lev Bell at #Steelers facility. Can barely walk"
7:40 a.m.:Good morning fans of the newly crowned AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Just to top off the major details after my three-hour nap as I get back to writing about your favorite team:
* The Steelers finished 11-5 after a 3-3 start and will host the sixth-seeded but most-hated Baltimore Ravens on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. If the Steelers win, they'll travel to Denver the following week.
* Here are the comments from both teams following last night's game: Click here.
* In Mike Tomlin's section, you'll notice he said that Le'Veon Bell suffered a hyperextended right knee last night but might be able to play Saturday against the Ravens. Much will depend on the extent of the swelling in Bell's knee this morning.
* Bell finished second in the NFL (first in the AFC) with 1,361 yards rushing, Ben Roethlisberger tied Drew Brees for first with 4,952 yards passing, and Antonio Brown led the NFL in receptions with 129 and yards receiving with 1,698. It's the first time in NFL history three players from the same team finished among the top two in the those major yardage categories.
I'll be working first on an interview with Ike Taylor about what he would do with the players who've been playing so well as injury fill-ins in the secondary, and then I'll write my notes column.
Enjoy the day, Steelers fans. You deserve it.
MONDAY, DEC. 15
10 a.m.:Ten days till Christmas and the Steelers have their Nation in a festive mood coming off a 27-20 win at Atlanta that gives them a two-game winning streak and 9-5 record.
The Steelers remain a half-game behind the 9-3-1 Cincinnati Bengals with two games to play at home: against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Bengals. But the Steelers are the top 9-5 team in the AFC and can clinch a wild-card berth with a win Sunday over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.
MONDAY, NOV. 24
11:05 a.m.: OLB Jarvis Jones is practicing today with the Steelers, according to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. Jones has a three-week practice window and can be activated any time through Dec. 15. He was placed on IR with a broken wrist suffered in Week 3 at Carolina, and was designated for return.
11 a.m.: The Steelers today signed Joe Kruger -- younger brother of former Raven and current Brown OLB Paul Kruger -- to their practice squad.
It was reported earlier in the morning by Ian Rappaport that Kansas City was in the process of signing DE Nick Williams off of the Steelers' practice squad. Williams was last year's seventh-round draft pick who sat out the 2013 season on IR and has been on the team's practice squad since the start of the season.
At the 2013 combine, Joe Kruger measured 6-6 1/4, 269 with long 34 3/8-inch arms. He ran the 40 in 4.83 and had a vertical jump of 34 inches. He left the University of Utah a year early after registering nine sacks as a two-year starter at defensive end in the Utes' 4-3 scheme. The 22-year-old will work as an end in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme.
Kruger, one of my sixth-round hopefuls in the 2013 draft (story here and prediction here, was drafted in the seventh round by the Philadelphia Eagles and spent the 2013 season on IR. He was released last August, signed by the San Diego Chargers and released a few days later, and then signed to the Green Bay Packers' practice squad on Oct. 7. He was released Nov. 3.
The Steelers lost another DE off their practice squad 10 days ago when the Arizona Cardinals signed Josh Mauro. He was replaced by running back Ladarius Perkins, another former SCI Value Board target. Perkins was mentioned three times in this blog (April 30, May 8, May 10) as a seventh-round target.
Perkins is a tough little back (5-7.3, 195) whom I liked at Mississippie State, where he was a team captain, kick returner, and a running back who can run inside and outside, block and catch. Perkins ran a 4.46 40 at the last combine after playing hurt as a senior.
SUNDAY, NOV. 2
"Mean" Joe Greene wasn't so mean the night they retired his jersey, No. 75.
The Steelers unveiled a stadium wall-sized memorial to Greene alongside Ernie Stautner last night in The Great Hall at Heinz Field prior to the game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The jerseys of the two defensive linemen from different eras were put behind glass, and it choked the big man up.
"This is completely overwhelming," Greene told a group of family, friends, former teammates, organization members and fans.
"My teammates, they probably guessed when I was going to get cracked up," Greene said, "because they know that I am an emotional guy and this is truly, truly overwhelming."
As a player, Greene used that emotion to lead the Steelers to four championships during his playing years of 1969-81. He was asked after the ceremony for his definition of leadership.
"Leadership is doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason," he said. "During my experience, you never designate yourself a leader. I don't think anyone on our football team did. It just evolved. The leadership role passed along to each and every one of us. Those guys that you saw up here a few minutes ago, they all had a leadership role at some point in time, as I did at some point in time. It is impossible for one person to provide the kind of leadership that is needed to win football games for 16 games. You can't do it. I don't think it's possible. That's why the leadership role passes along from player to player. When it hits you, you have to rise to the occasion."
Greene rose to the occasion just about every week as a player and a leader and because of it became the conscience of what many consider to be the greatest NFL team of all time.
Here are a few of his other interesting comments from the ceremony and ensuing interview:
* "And of course, Steeler Nation. Steeler Nation. All over the place. I love them. Some days I feel like loving you; some days I feel like flipping you over on my knee. But I still love you."
* "Super Duper Mel Blount. We all knew he caused some mayhem on the football field. The question is: Did he kill somebody?"
* "John (Stallworth), you probably made me experience one of my most embarrassing moments when you made the tremendous catch over your shoulder in Super Bowl XIV and went into the end zone, and I jumped about that high (holds fingers inches apart). That was very embarrassing."
* "I signed my first contract with Dan (Rooney). My first day going to training camp, Dan escorted me. I didn't know he would be escorting me into a trap but he did (laughter)."
* "I want (fans) to think that Joe Greene was a part of a fantastic football team of the 1970s that probably set the tone and tempo for history for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They helped create what was the most dynamic and fantastic football city and football fans in the world -- the Pittsburgh Steelers."
MONDAY, OCT. 27
1 a.m.:The win over the Colts puts the Steelers at 5-3 and into a second-place tie with -- drum roll, please -- the Baltimore Ravens, whom the Steelers host next Sunday. Both teams are a half game behind the 4-2-1 Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.
TUESDAY, OCT. 21
12:30 p.m.:Mike Tomlin's news conference was uneventful, but the Steelers' coach did update his injury list.
The only player to suffer a significant injury Monday night was right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who left the game with a concussion. Tomlin said Gilbert will "go through the normal protocol" for concussions before returning.
Tomlin also said that ILB Ryan Shazier (knee) and S Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) didn't play Monday because "at the 11th hour we decided to use some other people." Tomlin expects both players "to be extremely close and potentially available to us" Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
6 a.m.:Looking down, out and forgotten about, the Pittsburgh Steelers erupted for 21 late first-half points in 73 seconds -- and 24 points in three minutes -- to defeat the Houston Texans, 30-23, and jump back into the AFC North race.
The Steelers are 4-3, mere percentage points behind the 3-2-1 Cincinnati Bengals and one game behind the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens, whom the Steelers play on Nov. 2. This week, the Steelers host the 5-2 Indianapolis Colts.
Aside from the four division leaders, the following AFC teams have winning records: Steelers, Bengals, San Diego Chargers (5-2) and the Buffalo Bills (4-3).
Go to our South Side message board to read the comments from players and coaches after last night's game.
SUNDAY, OCT. 12
9:30 p.m.:The Steelers opened strong in Cleveland. They moved the ball and forced a pair of three-and-outs. However, they only put three points on the scoreboard and then botched a second field goal attempt before the Browns caved in on them and ran away with a 31-10 win.
The loss dropped the Steelers to 3-3 with a Monday night game against the Houston Texans on deck.
TUESDAY, OCT. 7
12:30 p.m.:I'll be back with a more in-depth report off the Mike Tomlin press conference, but first I just wanted to touch on the highlights:
* The injury report included only Ike Taylor, Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas.
Taylor, the starting right cornerback, will miss his third game with a broken forearm. He's expected to miss at least two months and all Tomlin said was "He's doing fine."
Shazier has missed two games of an expected three or four. Tomlin reported that the rookie inside linebacker ran in the pool yesterday, is expected to run again today, and could practice in a limited capacity tomorrow if he responds well to today's work.
Thomas, the reserve safety, injured his hamstring this past Sunday, but Tomlin said "it's not a significant one." Thomas will undergo the same course as Shazier and could practice this week.
* Perhaps the only newsworthy comment about the Steelers' play in the 17-9 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars was Tomlin's disappointment about his team's play in the red zone.
The Steelers moved inside the Jacksonville 20 four times in the game, but on the fourth they took a knee to end the game. In the other three, the Steelers scored a touchdown, kicked a field goal and fumbled. Tomlin was asked if the play-calling -- no runs inside the red zone -- was the problem.
"Looking back at it," said Tomlin, "I wish maybe we had run the ball some. ... I'd be re-miss if I didn't acknowledge some of the good things Jacksonville did defending against us in the red zone. But we've got to execute better. We've got to look at our play selection. We'll do both."
SUNDAY, SEPT. 28
10:30 p.m.:Maybe I didn't expect the Steelers to lose to the Tampa Bay Bucs, but there was no doubt I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and did everything I could to persuade my readers this past week that this game was not going to be an easy one.
The Steelers, of course, know what it's like to be embarrassed on Thursday night TV and come back to pull off an upset on the road. That's exactly what the Bucs did Sunday in stunning the Steelers in the final seconds, 27-24.
TUESDAY, SEPT. 16
9:15 a.m.:Coming off a loss to the hated Ravens, and dealing with a league in officiating flux and leadership turmoil, it's easy to dismiss the Steelers and in fact all of football right now. Read the comments section following any story and the same guys who hated Mike Tomlin last year really hate him this year. Sometimes I fight it, because I think Tomlin is a terrific coach. Other times I just watch practice, keep my opinions to myself, and report the news.
That's what I thought I was going to do at yesterday's practice, where I found the coaching to be, as they like to say, above the line. I was appreciative of the tempo and focus of the players, and of the stern but positive direction provided by the boss, who watched over it all without trying to be anyone's friend, as everyone else's friend just assumes from watching Tomlin press conferences.
I've also written in the past about how the entire organization stands behind Tomlin, even to the point of tattling to him if I so much as make one Jacoby Jones joke or cackle about his soft run defense. I believe Tomlin really is a leader of men, whether the people who only see him on TV want to believe it or not.
Anyway, I firmly believe he's coaching a team in transition and will come out on the other end -- through classic Rooney patience -- successfully. It's Tomlin's eighth season of "coaching Bill Cowher's team," as Tomlin's critics like to say, and in Cowher's eighth season of "coaching Chuck Noll's team," as the critics used to say back in 1999, Cowher went 6-10 after a 7-9 season and before a 9-7 season.
Transition is difficult, but, really, I'm tired of fighting these battles for Tomlin, because it's like politics: No one will change any minds no matter how correct the points may be.
But two scenes I noticed yesterday gave me a shot of optimism, and for those who believe in this coach and this organization, maybe it will do the same for you:
1. OLB Jason Worilds dropped about 20 yards into coverage and dove to break up a pass. He got up and jogged back toward the line and got high fives from Lawrence Timmons, Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier. It struck me that those four guys barely know each other. This wasn't Potsie, Peezy, Aaron and Big Hamp coming together on the field at practice after a loss. No, it's a unit with comparative babes playing new positions. And I have no doubt the current players are talented. So this was a reminder to me that time and patience are required.
2. With the No. 1 defensive unit on the practice field, the No. 1 offensive unit was on the sideline awaiting the "Riverside" call. But off from that group, farther down the sideline, were five offensive linemen numbered 68, 73, 53, 66 and 77 in a circle around a coach who was talking and motioning and gesticulating as the five players nodded. I looked away at the snap, and then looked back at the same scene with the same guy talking and the same players nodding. I swear Mike Munchak spoke for 10 straight minutes, and I wondered if Maurkice Pouncey had ever kept his mouth shut that long.
I only kid the Pounce to make a point, that there is some valuable teaching still going on, and another group of young players going through a transition with the understanding that they have a lot to learn. And I believe they will.
FRIDAY, SEPT. 12
7:30 a.m.:The Ravens outgained the Steelers by only 323 to 301, but the Steelers were thrashed where it matters, on the scoreboard, 26-6, last night.
The Ravens caused three Steelers turnovers and only committed four penalties for 35 yards, compared to the Steelers' 9 penalties for 75 yards.
I have more on those penalties, as well as some other thoughts on the game over on the South Side message board.
Go there and discuss the game with our knowledgeable fans. But if you're not in the mood to discuss anything, read the Steelers' quotes. Just make sure to have a relaxing weekend.
SUNDAY, SEPT. 7
5:15 a.m.:The Steelers signed cornerback Cortez Allen to a new five-year contract that will keep him with the team through the 2018 season. The deal was completed on the eve of the Steelers' annual self-imposed deadline of opening day.
The five-year deal is for $26 million. Allen had a previous cap number of $1.53 million and the Steelers were $2.3 million under the cap going into Saturday night's agreement.
Allen is in his fourth NFL season after being selected by the Steelers in the fourth round (128th overall) of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has appeared in 44 regular-season games and made 11 starts.
The Steelers now have only two starters -- Jason Worilds and Ike Taylor -- working on the final year of their contracts.
WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 3
6:45 p.m.:The injury report for the Steelers today is the same as it was from Monday, except the team is releasing the information for official league purposes:
DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE
DT Desmond Bryant (wrist), G Paul McQuistan (ankle).
LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
DE John Hughes (hamstring).
FULL PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
CB Pierre Desir (knee), CB Joe Haden (foot), LB Eric Martin (concussion), CB Buster Skrine (thumb), LS Christian Yount (shoulder).
DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE
WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder), WR Lance Moore (groin).
LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
CB Brice McCain (groin).
FULL PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring), LB Sean Spence (knee), LS Greg Warren (knee).
10:45 a.m.:OK, I'm back into my regular-season routine down here at the South Side. I'll start with the updated numbers changes:
39 -- B.W. Webb, CB.
92 -- Daniel McCuller, DT.
44 -- Howard Jones
65 -- Nick Williams
78 -- Alejandro Villanueva
I'll be back throughout the day with updates.
SUNDAY, AUG. 31
5 p.m.:The Steelers have signed 10 players to the team’s practice squad, the team announced today.
The Steelers signed wide receivers C.J. Goodwin and Derek Moye, offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, defensive backs Shaquille Richardson and Ross Ventrone, defensive linemen Josh Mauro and Nick Williams, running back Josh Harris, tight end Rob Blanchflower and linebacker Howard Jones.
Villanueva is the only newcomer, and he's the former Philadelphia Eagle who played college football at Army before serving as a captain and an Army ranger in Afghanistan.
Villanueva is a 6-9, 277-pounder who started his college career as a defensive lineman, then played left offensive tackle for two years, before becoming a 290-pound wide receiver at Army. He tried out for the Eagles as a defensive lineman.
The Steelers resume practice on Monday at approximately 10:45 a.m. in advance of their Week 1 game versus the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.
SATURDAY, AUG. 30
8:45 a.m.:The Steelers yesterday claimed second-year cornerback B.W. Webb off the waiver wire after he was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday. To make room, the Steelers placed rookie linebacker Jordan Zumwalt on injured reserve for the season.
Webb, 5-10.2, 184, comes from William & Mary, the same school that turned out one Mike Tomlin.
You may remember the story after my conversation with Webb at the 2013 combine. It appeared in the Daily Buzz the next day:
The College of William & Mary has educated Thomas Jefferson, two other Presidents, a Supreme Court Chief Justice, a Speaker of the House, and 16 signers of the Declaration of Independence. So who's the most famous of the school's many great alumni?
"I'd have to say Mike Tomlin," said W&M cornerback B.W. Webb.
It's funny, but Webb couldn't have answered more intelligently at this, his biggest NFL job interview.
Webb, a talented corner who played well at the Senior Bowl, said he met Tomlin the last time the Steelers' coach returned to his alma mater.
"He told me that if I have any questions or concerns to just give him a call because he's always there for us William & Mary guys if I have anything to talk about."
Webb, an obviously bright young man who hasn't spoken with the Steelers here, has a degree in Kinesiology and Health Sciences.
Webb had an outstanding 2013 combine. His 40 time of 4.49 was rather ordinary, but he had a vertical jump of 40 1/2, a broad jump of 11 feet, and a short shuttle time of 3.84, all positional bests that year.
Webb was drafted in the fourth round by the Cowboys and saw action in 15 games as a rookie.
He may be the solution at the No. 5 CB, where rookie Shaquille Richardson has been injured and veteran Brice McCain was injured Thursday night. Webb also returned punts in college, and that was a Steelers weakness this preseason.
The second bit of good news, at least in my opinion, is that the Steelers put Zumwalt on IR to in effect provide him with a redshirt year. Zumwalt has the potential to help the Steelers in both their base and nickel, but would need to add much more weight to play OLB in the 3-4.
TUESDAY, AUG. 26
7 p.m.:If you've been keeping up with our reporting here, you weren't surprised to hear that a couple of last year's players -- NT Loni Fangupo and DE Brian Arnfelt -- were cut late this afternoon by the Steelers.
Also cut were C/G Chris Elkin, OT Emmanuel McCoy, LS Luke Ingram and RB Tauren Poole.
The cutting of Ingram means long-snapper Greg Warren, as he told us last week, expects to recover for the opener after surgery on his meniscus.
All of the above players are eligible to return to the practice squad.
8:50 a.m.:The Steelers made nine roster moves this morning, reducing their roster to 81 players. The team is still required to release six more players to get to the league-mandated 75 players prior to today’s 4 p.m. deadline.
The Steelers have released running backs Jordan Hall and Miguel Maysonet, wide receivers C.J. Goodwin and Kashif Moore, tight end Eric Waters, safety Jordan Dangerfield, cornerbacks Devin Smith and Lewis Toler, and linebacker Vic So’oto.
The obvious surprise to me is So'oto, the only player on this list whom I predicted to land on the final 53. I had him making the final squad ahead of Chris Carter and Howard Jones, both of whom remain with the team.
I also had Dangerfield on my final practice squad, which remains a possibility. In fact, all of these players remain eligible to be called back to the Steelers' practice squad after final cuts on Saturday.
THURSDAY, AUG. 21
11 p.m.:After the 31-21 loss to Philadelphia, Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin made his only comments about Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount getting popped for smoking marijuana on the way to the airport:
"I have no reaction other than the statement we released. We’re aware of it. Obviously that conduct is detrimental to our efforts. They’ll be dealt with appropriately, from my perspective. In terms of their participation tonight, I didn’t view it as punishment to send them home, to not play in this preseason game. I’d rather them play more than to remove them from the game, so that’s why we took the stance that we took tonight. Obviously we’ve got some things to do regarding the matter moving forward, but not a lot to say regarding it at this point in time."
7 a.m.:We've now come to the point of the show at which I'm expected to write a long rant about the citations issued to the Steelers' running game for smoking weed.
But I won't. You can read about Le'Veon Bell's and LeGarrette Blount's unfortunate drive to the airport all over the 'net this morning. There are plenty of media out there who will give the public exactly what it wants by mocking these two.
I'm just not there yet, and only writing because I can't ignore the possibility that either one of the two, or maybe even both, could be suspended for the 2015 season opener.
That makes it dumb. Otherwise, it's a misdemeanor in which citations will be mailed. It's not worthy of much more than a stamp in the legal world, but worthy of absolute derision and a potential and massive game-check being withheld from the image-conscious NFL.
My view without knowledge of the rest of their habits and/or long-term medicinal intake:
* Bell has a clean past and in my opinion is an outstanding young man. I've enjoyed every encounter with him. He's wide-eyed and enthusiastic.
* Blount is not. He has a noticeable edge and makes me nervous while I talk to him. But maybe that's because I know he has a violent past, which maybe he's toned down through the use of his medicine, which again is worthy of a citation in the real world and scorn and derision in the one that deals more with perception than anything else.
End of rant. Sorry that I wasn't mean enough, but it just doesn't bother me that much.
TUESDAY, AUG. 12
1:30 p.m.:The Steelers placed punter Adam Podlesh on the Reserved/Did Not Report List.
Podlesh remained out of camp initially because his wife Miranda was due with the couple's second child. But it became known a little over a week ago that "she was struggling" with the pregnancy.
“Adam has decided not to report to training camp at this time due to family obligations,” Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert was quoted as saying in the team's press release.
The eighth-year pro was drafted by Jacksonville in the fourth-round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He played four years with the Jaguars before spending the past three seasons with the Chicago Bears.
The Steelers will continue to search for a punter to compete with newcomer Brad Wing for the job. Podlesh signed a one-year contract with the Steelers on April 15, 2014.
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 6
The Steelers signed wide receiver James Shaw, who most recently played for the Pittsburgh Power of the Arena Football League. Shaw spent parts of the 2013 season on the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad. He played collegiately at Jacksonville State University.
To make room on the roster, the Steelers waived/injured wide receiver Danny Coale, who needed surgery on a displaced fracture in one of his fingers.
Shaw was one of three members of the Power to sign with NFL teams yesterday. The 5-11, 195-pound Shaw caught 21 passes for 192 yards and 3 touchdowns in 8 games for the Power, who went 15-4 in the Arena Football League this past season.
MONDAY, AUG. 4
10 a.m.:I thought this would happen over the weekend, but the Steelers have announced that safety Mike Mitchell passed his physical and has been activated from the team’s Active/PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) List.
Mitchell is scheduled to practice today and is expected to line up as the first-team free safety.
FRIDAY, AUG. 1
11:30 p.m.:The Steelers practiced in front of a crowd estimated at slightly less than 10,000 at Latrobe Memorial Stadium, and the main event, as per the norm under Coach Mike Tomlin, is the backs-on-backers drill, which is always more spirited under the lights than at camp. The linebackers, who had been beaten soundly on Thursday by the tight ends, were revved up Friday night under the direction of assistant coach Joey Porter, who stood back at the quarterback position and encouraged his charges to hit him after beating the back attempting to block him.
Porter often leaped into the air to meet the oncoming linebacker, who would also leap into the air for a flying chest bump with the "quarterback."
To start the session, Tomlin introduced Le'Veon Bell to the linebackers, a bit of a jab at Bell who was making his first appearance since his hamstring tightened up in the first camp practice.
Tomlin then called out "The Law Dawg," Lawrence Timmons, who easily beat Bell twice. And the rout was on.
Will Johnson's only rep was a power-packed draw with Jason Worilds. But after Johnson, it was Bell, a group of running backs who've been picked up off the street, and tight ends Heath Miller, David Paulson and Bryce Davis against a hungry pack of linebackers and a "quarterback" in Porter, who was shouting encouragement to the linebackers.
LeGarrette Blount, who wasn't in pads for the second consecutive day, attempted to match Porter's fire with screams of "Tighten up! Tighten Up!" at the backs after Timmons, Sean Spence, Arthur Moats, Terence Garvin and Ryan Shazier ran off a string of impressive wins that included violent collisions.
Bell then went back out to face Vince Williams, and Williams ran Bell over. Bell tried to hang tough and the two continued rolling and grappling out the back of the end zone. Blount saw enough and dove on Williams and the units clashed. Porter grabbed Blount off the pile and the two exchanged words and appeared ready to go after each other at the next provocation. But order was restored and the drill continued with Spence running over Paulson and chest-bumping Porter. On the next rep, Worilds and Tauren Poole got into a tussle that didn't escalate as the previous one had.
To end the periood, Howard Jones ran by Miller twice and Shazier blew up Davis, the long-snapper/tight end. But the most impressive blitz of the night was perhaps Timmons' hit on Bell that made the running back stagger to his right as Timmons had a clear path to Porter.
"It's the ebb and flow associated with team development," was how Tomlin explained the linebackers' emotional edge. "The tight ends kicked the linebackers' butt the other day. The linebackers came back today with a vengeance. I would imagine the backs and tight ends will come back tomorrow with a get-back attitude."
TEAM SCRIMMAGE: Garvin continued beating up running backs, such as the just-signed Jawan Jamison and Josh Harris, and he was joined by safety Jordan Dangerfield in the live tackling session as Dangerfield continued his hard hitting.
When the first team came back on the field, Miguel Maysonet caught a short pass over the middle and turned up the field. Safety Will Allen came up but whiffed on the tackle to surprise anyone who had just watched the backs-on-backers drill followed by the consistent and violent tackling of Dangerfield against the third-teamers.
ONE-ON-ONES: Moats, who replaced Jarvis Jones (groin) at ROLB, beat Kelvin Beachum on the first rep and continued running until he reached a Steelers.com cameraman behind the quarterback. Possibly thinking the cameraman was the QB, Moats reached up and gave a hard slap at the camera.
In his next turn, Moats beat backup left tackle Guy Whimper to complete another good practice for the free-agent pickup from Buffalo.
INJURIES: Along with RB Blount, OLB Jarvis Jones, TE Michael Palmer, TE Matt Spaeth, RB Dri Archer (wrapped knee), TE Eric Waters (back), TE Rob Blanchflower (ankle) and LB Jordan Zumwalt (groin), who all missed the entire practice, rookie CB Shaq Richardson left early with a tight groin.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 30
3 p.m.: The Steelers announced today the team will retire Joe Greene’s No. 75 in a ceremony on November 2, when the team hosts the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.
Greene, the leader of the “Steel Curtain” defense during the 1970s, helped lead the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories and six AFC Championship game appearances.
“I’m overwhelmed with emotions,” Greene said. “I’m extremely pleased and I know that Dan (Rooney) and Art (Rooney II) put a lot of thought into making this decision.”
“Joe was the cornerstone of the Steel Curtain,” Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney said. “This isn’t something you can do for everyone. He was a catalyst and to retire his number is something we feel is a special thing. I am so happy we are honoring Joe this way.”
Throughout his 13-year playing career, all with Pittsburgh, Greene earned All-NFL honors five times and all-conference accolades 11 consecutive years to begin his tenure with the Steelers. He was twice named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1972 and 1974.
The team’s No. 1 draft pick in 1969, Greene quickly emerged in the league as he was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year and received the first of his 10 Pro Bowl selections.
Greene was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.
Greene’s number 75 has not been issued by the Steelers since his retirement following the 1981 season. He will join Ernie Stautner (No. 70) as the only players in franchise history to officially have their number retired.
Said Greene: "I was just very, very surprised and I almost fell out of my seat. My number, along with Terry (Bradshaw) and Franco (Harris) and Jack’s (Lambert), were taken out of commission. I’m definitely honored.”
On emotions leading up to Nov. 2: “I don’t want to allow myself to think about that. I’m just extremely pleased and I know that Dan and Art II put a lot of thought into that to make that decision. The last number to be retired was (Ernie) Stautner back in 1964. It’s just overwhelming to think about it. I’ve been a fan of football and the National Football League since the earliest I can remember going back to 1958. All those guys that I looked up to from that time when I was in junior high and high school and in college were people that I admired and thought highly of. The guys that we won championships with were good people that bought into the program. They bought into the Steelers organization. They bought into Chuck Noll (and) his coaching staff. That was the primary reason that we had the success we had and if we didn’t have the success that we did I doubt we would be talking about this subject right now.”
On retiring jersey vs. winning Super Bowls: "It’s right there. They are all joined together but it’s right there and because it’s Pittsburgh. Retiring jerseys is not something that the Steelers do (often). That makes it even more significant. I have never seen a championship banner at our stadium. We have won more Super Bowls than anybody at this point in the history of the National Football League and we don’t flaunt it. Winning is a statement and it stands alone. That, to me, and the idea about this organization and the philosophy (when they) say we are going to retire this number that’s extremely special to me because it’s not something that they do. I’m extremely, extremely happy and excited about it. I’m overwhelmed.”
Art Rooney II: “I think Joe clearly was surprised. I don’t think he was expecting it. We sat down (and) I don’t think he had any idea that that was going to be what the subject of the conversation was going to be. He was surprised and a little emotional, and I think a little taken back. Again, it was really something that I don’t think he was expecting and he was almost speechless for a little bit. It was a special, special moment. He gathered himself and said what an honor it was. Obviously we had a good conversation after that, but clearly his initial reaction was very much surprised.”
Dan Rooney: "Joe was the cornerstone of the Steel Curtain. He was the first (player) that we drafted (with) our first pick after Chuck Noll was there so it was Chuck Noll’s first pick. He made it what it meant to be a Steeler. He made sure as he got older that people stayed in line (and) that they weren’t going to cause trouble, and he took care of that. When we went to the first Super Bowl in 1975, he just made sure everybody did what they were supposed to do.”
Dan Rooney on significance of jersey retirement: “He is a special guy. He really grew up and was a gentleman, did what it took (and) was an outstanding player. This isn’t something that you can do for everyone. He was a catalyst. He was the one that did it all and so to retire his number is something that we feel is a special thing. It’s something that we can do that he gets to be known as a Steelers legend forever.”
More Dan Rooney: “He was a lot like Ernie Stautner, (who) was the first (to have his jersey retired). Stautner was tremendous, a great player, but a different era. What it means to us, what it means to the team, what it means to the city and everything else. I am so happy we are honoring Joe this way.”
6:15 a.m.:A week before the draft, NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt wrote a story called 49 no-name prospects on the rise, in which Brandt wrote of just-signed Steelers RB Josh Harris:
"Harris (5-foot-9 7/8, 206 pounds) played very well against Army in September, rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns. He's a good athlete who can catch and ran a hand-timed 4.46-second 40 and 35 1/2-inch vertical jump at his pro day."
But Harris wasn't drafted and he blasted his Wake Forest coaches, whom Harris believes put out the word that he had a poor work ethic.
The former head coach at Wake Forest, Jim Grobe, had resigned, but Harris's former offensive coordinator responded by tweeting Harris has a great work ethic.
In four years at Wake, Harris rushed for 2,230 yards at a 4.6 clip. He reportedly benched 28 times at his pro day, and tried out for the Dallas Cowboys in the spring but wasn't signed in spite of glowing media reports.
Harris was signed by the Steelers on Tuesday to replace the waived-injured David Snow, who broke his right foot in the team's first practice at training camp.
The injury to Snow not only gives Harris his opportunity, it opened the door for Chris Elkins, one of the stars of the first day of contact.
Elkins performed admirably as a guard in the one-on-one line drills, even stonewalling Cameron Heyward twice with his leverage and hand placement.
Elkins is listed at 6-4, 300, but told me yesterday that he's only 6-2 1/4. He looks even shorter on the field, where no one could get low enough Monday to beat the former Youngstown State center. Perhaps the Steelers will mix Elkins in with Vanderbilt's Wesley Johnson as the third-team center behind Maurkice Pouncey and Cody Wallace when the team returns to the field this afternoon.
* In case you're interested in a few more of my opinions about the season-long overview of this Steelers team, click here.
MONDAY, JULY 28
1:30 p.m.:Several of us local reporters welcomed Steelers GM Kevin Colbert into our dorm suite this morning as he answered questions about the team. Here's the transcript, with several questions left out (such as "Do you buy into the theory that teams need a great quarterback to win?" or "Will you have to make cuts with money in mind?" even though they're $6 million under the cap!)
OK. I've settled down. I guess some guys just need to feel they belong. But here are the informational questions and/or answers:
Q: Are you $6.5 million under cap?
KC: No, I think it's less than that. It's not that. You have to check it every day but it's not that high.
Q: Have you started negotiations with anybody?
KC: We still have the group of pending free agents for the 2015 offseason. We still have a good four weeks to try to get something done. That's where we are right now. ... Again, we'll see. We'd like to be able to do as much business as we can within our constraints, time-wise and cap-wise.
Q: How much of an emergency fund for the season do you need?
KC: It's changed over the years. We used to be comfortable having enough money to replace four players. You base that on a minimum salary, and you have to add some to it because there will be times when you add a veteran player as opposed to a rookie minimum. You try to figure out how much you want to have, but in recent years our number's been over 10 that we've had on Reserve Injured. I believe it's been over 10 the last two years, on an average, so that (old) number has gone up. That's the reality of the injury situation, and it's not unique to us.
Q: So you're not looking at merely $2 million for in-season fund?
KC: You estimate what a minimum salary will be and you try to put together an average and estimate what to budget for, and you keep your fingers crossed that you don't have that many.
Q: Can you push the unused money into next year?
KC: Yeah, you always have that. The surplus you have you can forward it to next year, but usually we don't end the season with much surplus.
Q: Are you pushing a negotiation with Ben Roethlisberger back to next year because you have a fairly large group of pending free agents?
KC: Correct. As Art (Rooney II) said, we have business pending we'd like to take care of first. These guys can hit the market before Ben could, obviously. I don't think the negotiation will be anything that time-consuming. Most negotiations aren't that complicated or time-consuming once they get started when you have two parties who want to get it done.
Q: Are you taking any kind of chance that he blows up and has an All-Pro season, wins a Super Bowl?
KC: That would be awesome.
Q: Is he taking any kind of chance that he gets broken in half?
KC: There's always a player's risk, sure. That's the game they play. There's risk for the team if you do a deal that could happen as well. ... But that would be wonderful if he had his best career year ever and we won the Super Bowl. There wouldn't be any complaining, for sure.
Q: So this doesn't make it any more likely that he wouldn't play here if he gets to within a year of free agency?
KC: I don't see any circumstance where Ben won't finish his career here.
Q: Could you franchise or transition tag Jason Worilds again next year?
Q: How far on or off your radar is Brett Keisel?
KC: We haven't eliminated any players from consideration. We'll always just look at where we are, because we don't know what's going to happen in the preseason, even into the season. There have been times when we've brought back veteran players due to injuries. We won't eliminate any player. If we eliminate a player we always tell the player.
Q: Have you checked on his conditioning?
KC: I won't talk about a specific player. That's up to the individuals who are on the street whether they stay in condition or not. If we decide we want to move (on) a player, then we'll obviously bring him in, see where he is physically, medically, and then decide if we want to make the move.
Q: Where did you improve the team the most this offseason?
KC: I think it's youth. We're a younger team. Right now we only have four starters over the age of 30, and that's Ben, Heath (Miller), Troy (Polamalu) and Ike (Taylor). We're a much younger team and I think the success of this team will be determined by the pace at which the young group develops; not only this year's draft class, but last year's draft class. We expect more from Jarvis Jones. We expect more from Le'Veon Bell. We expect more from Markus Wheaton. If they progress like we expect, then in addition to this year's class we might have something.
Q: What does having this much extra cap space allow you to do at this time of year?
KC: It allows us to talk to more players. We have a group that will be free agents if we don't sign them by next year, and that includes Jason, (Marcus) Gilbert, Cortez (Allen), (Shaun) Suisham. That's the four starters I believe.
SUNDAY, JULY 27
5:40 p.m.:The Steelers have diagnosed third-team center David Snow with a fractured foot with surgery looming, so Cody Wallace returned from LG1 to C2 for today's practice, and Chris "Mother" Hubbard moved into the LG1 spot vacated by Ramon Foster, who'll return to practice on Monday.
Snow's injury is the only serious one among players not on the PUP list. But RB Le'Veon Bell left practice today as his hamstring tightened, and rookie WR Martavis Bryant missed today's workout with a tight groin. Also, C.J. Goodwin fell on his shoulder during practice and was being examined as Mike Tomlin addressed the media.
Tomlin spoke to reporters in the conference room in the media dorm after a thunderstorm chased the team off the field with 15 minutes left in their practice.
In other noteworthy items from yet another touch-football session, undrafted rookie free agent Josh Mauro was used as the second-team defensive end along with Stephon Tuitt in the sub-packages, which should be taken as a positive development for the priority free agent from Stanford.
Also, the punt returners during special teams work were, in order, Markus Wheaton, Dri Archer, Lance Moore and Jordan Hall.
Archer, by the way, continued to thrill the crowd with his breakaway runs in the non-tackling workouts. And speaking of thrilling the crowd, Wheaton hauled in a bomb from Ben Roethlisberger during team scrimmage.
The pads come on tomorrow. On that topic, Tomlin said, "I'm always excited about who ascends in those situations and who shrinks in those situations. It's the reality of the situation. It's a big step in the process, one I'm sure we're all excited about taking."
FRIDAY, JULY 25
6:30 p.m.:Just this morning I was celebrating these injury-free Steelers, but of course I mushed it. Mike Tomlin announced this evening that free safety Mike Mitchell will start training camp on the PUP list with a groin injury. Tomlin said Mitchell should only miss a week of work. Tomlin also announced that backup running back Alvester Alexander has the same injury and should miss the same amount of time as Mitchell.
Also missing from camp are punter Adam Podless, "whose wife is very pregnant," said Tomlin.
Offensive guard Ramon Foster will report Monday while mourning the death of his mother.
SATURDAY, JULY 12
5:30 a.m.: Here is the transcript of Mike Tomlin's interview last night on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access, courtesy of NFL Network:
On how the off-season went and what they worked in throughout the practices:
Mike Tomlin: “First of all, I love the offseason. We’re all undefeated in the offseason. It makes the work fun, but we had a very productive offseason. I think the significant thing for us is -- more than anything -- our veteran players went into the offseason healthy. We had more guys building this year as opposed to rehabilitating. Then you add some exciting young people to that. We feel comfortable with where we are heading into Latrobe – really starting to lay the groundwork for 2014. It’s been very positive and very productive for us.”
On winning six of the last eight games and how it carried over into this offseason:
Tomlin: “I’m not really looking for carry-over positively or negatively. I think you set yourself up for failure when you do that. I respect this process that we are going through to build this team for this year. I respect the fact that we have some new significant components and even guys that were a part of last year’s team or 2012’s team -- if you will -- are ascending or descending in terms of roles and what we ask them to do. I’m really just excited about getting started with this group and seeing what this group is capable of.”
On if it was important to get younger on the defensive side of the ball:
Tomlin: “I think it’s just something that happens over time. You work with a core group of guys. You get to try to get them ready for a certain level of readiness so they can pursue greatness. As time goes on, those guys get into their mid-thirties and move on with life. Then, you replace those guys with new, inspired ones. That’s kind of what we’ve done, not only this year, but the last several years. I really feel comfortable about the way this core group is taking shape and the leadership that we have within it. [I’m] excited about watching them play.”
On bringing in Mike Munchak as the new offensive line coach to address the offensive line’s issues from last year:
Tomlin: “First thing’s first, Mike [Munchak] is a football lover. He can’t hide it. He has a great deal of passion about not only football, but offensive line play. He’s a sharp guy. He’s got a great way of relating those feelings and passions about football to the guys. I really think it’s going great thus far. We just look forward to him continuing to put his imprint on that group.”
On the new running backs and the division of labor:
Tomlin: “We’ve got some really good options, some ones that we are excited about. Obviously, I’ll let the play determine that. I know we’ve got some guys that are highly competitive. Le’Veon Bell has had a great offseason. He’s really shown that he is excited about taking the next step in terms of the work that he’s done thus far -- particularly from a conditioning standpoint. LeGarrette Blount has a definite football playing personality – one that is not only evident on the field, but in the locker room. I think he’s going to be a positive contributor to our efforts. Then, we got some young guys that are change-of-pace-like guys. Dri Archer, of course, is a speed guy that’s not only going to play running back but wide receiver. We’re going to work to get the ball in his hands in space. I’m excited about letting these guys sort themselves out from a division-of-labor standpoint. I know that they’re all committed to being significant components to what we do.”
On if the turnover battle is an emphasis going into training camp:
Tomlin: “I think it is significant obviously and something that we need to focus on. But I think so many of those variables that determine the outcomes of football games are interrelated – whether it’s time of possession or your ability to run the football or turnovers. To be quite honest with you, we’re trying to excel in all those areas because quite simply, it increases your chances of winning.”
THURSDAY, JUNE 19
7 p.m.:A source with the Steelers confirmed to me that they are interested in recently released cornerback Brandon Flowers.
"When a Pro Bowler under the age of 30 comes available," he said, "you make the phone call."
The Steelers believe Flowers is still playing at a high level, and for that reason don't believe he'll get out of his current visit with the San Diego Chargers without a contract.
Even though the Chargers have only $2.5 million in available cap space, their pass defense is so bad -- and first-round pick Jason Verrett is recovering from shoulder surgery -- that "they'll find a way to get it done." It's also accepted that players "like to stay in their division to play against the team that gave up on them."
As for Antwon Blake, the feeling on the South Side is that the No. 4 cornerback did have a bad day Wednesday, but that "he's still our third-fastest player on the team behind Dri (Archer) and Shamarko (Thomas)."
The Steelers timed Blake at a 4.36 coming out of college and maintain he has had a solid spring.
7:30 a.m.:On Tuesday morning, right before the start of the final week of spring practices, I tweeted the following: "Sean Spence wins Mr. OTA, easily, but CB Antwon Blake a solid runner-up."
Blake should sue me for inadvertant "mushing."
You know the term, out of "A Bronx Tale," with Eddie "The Mush," who caused the wise guys to tear up their tickets once they heard Eddie cheering on their front-running horse.
So it looks like I may have "mushed" Blake, because since my proclamation the Steelers' No. 4 CB this spring has looked short and slow.
Well, he is 5-9, but the last couple of days he hasn't come anywhere close to the 4.18 speed he told me he flashed at his pro day for this story that I wrote on June 3.
Hey, maybe he's slowed by an injury. I don't know. But in the last few days Blake has been beaten deep by Antonio Brown on Tuesday and on Wednesday, and again on Wednesday by Martavis Bryant.
Of course, this kind of thing happens to the best of cornerbacks, but when that cornerback is basically in the tryout of his life to become a slot corner for a team that expects to contend, that cornerback has little margin for error.
That's why I can't help but believe the tweet Wednesday evening by CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, that the Steelers are monitoring the free-agent movements of CB Brandon Flowers.
Flowers is a 5-10, 190-pounder who used a Steelers-like physical style at Virginia Tech before the Kansas City Chiefs drafted him in 2008. He spent the last six years there and intercepted 17 passes and tackled as well as any corner in the league. But a knee injury was part of the reason he was moved to the slot, and recently the Chiefs cut him to save $7.5 million in cap space.
The Steelers have approximately $7 million in cap space and could afford a healthy, 28-year-old nickel corner. But that's if Flowers sees himself as a nickel corner, or whether he still has dreams of being a starter. Perhaps the Steelers could sell him that dream by pointing out that 34-year-old Ike Taylor is in the final year of his contract. Or they could just sell the notion that the Steelers are contenders this season.
Flowers visited San Diego ($2.5 million cap space) on Wednesday, and the Steelers, along with the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings, are said to be monitoring the visit. After watching Blake the last couple of days, I have no reason to doubt the report. The rest will depend on how and what the Steelers can sell Flowers, because they have the money to pay him.
(For more on Flowers, I recommend reading this column by Pat Kirwan.)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18
10:20 a.m.:The Steelers have signed their second-round selection from the 2014 NFL Draft, defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Financial terms of the four-year contract were not disclosed.
Tuitt (6-5, 303) started 29-of-35 games at Notre Dame, recording 127 tackles, 21.5 sacks, 25.0 TFLs and 27 quarterback pressures. He also forced four fumbles and had one fumble recovery, which he returned 77 yards for a touchdown. Tuitt's 77-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown was the second-longest fumble return in school history. In 2013, he received the Notre Dame Moose Krause Lineman of the Year and was on the watch lists for the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award.
The Steelers have now signed all nine of the team's selections from the 2014 NFL Draft.
8 a.m.: The Steelers have signed rookie free agent running back Jordan Hall and released rookie free agent cornerback Deion Belue.
Hall (5-9, 191), from nearby Jeannette, participated in the Steelers' 2014 rookie minicamp as a tryout player. He saw action in 45 games at Ohio State, making 10 starts. Hall posted 3,486 all-purpose yards, which was good for 12th best all-time on the school record chart. He also posted the single-season school record with 683 kickoff return yards in 2011. Hall rushed for 1,568 yards with 14 rushing touchdowns, and he totaled 19 overall touchdowns in his collegiate career (2009-2013).
TUESDAY, JUNE 17
7 p.m.: When you turn the tape recorder off, you like to talk to the player about his family, make chit chat, get to know him on a more personal level. It shows that you don't just want to take from the player, that you care about his life.
So after I finished interviewing Heath Miller, I asked him about his neighbor. His locker room neighbor. Because Brett Keisel's locker was still pristine from the end of last season.
The family pictures were still up. The practice jerseys were laundered and hanging neatly. Mail that had been ripped open was strewn along the floor.
Is he coming back?
"Oh, I have no idea," said Miller. "But it would be nice."
It would be nice because the Steelers' defensive line coach, John Mitchell, knows he has a group of young linemen competing for Keisel's old job who could use some wisdom.
"Right now they're still in the learning stage," Mitchell said of a young group of linemen that includes draft picks Stephon Tuitt and Daniel McCullers.
"Right now they're still making a lot of mistakes and they're trying to feel and find their way around, so we're just going to keep coaching them, go to training camp, and see where we are when we get there."
Is Mitchell encouraged at all by what he sees out of the youngsters?
"Well we've got a lot of guys who've got a lot of speed," Mitchell said. "But like I said, they don't have any idea what we're doing right now."
Has Tuitt shown any potential that it will come together for him soon?
"He's got some potential," Mitchell said. "We've thrown a lot at him. We've got the whole defensive playbook in. Right now he's making some mistakes. When he's in there he gives a good effort, but it's going to take some time for him to sort out some things. The guy's strong, he's fast. As soon as he can comprehend what we're doing and learn how to do it our way, he'll be a guy we can go to war with. But you can't go to war with him today, tomorrow, or next week."
So, the Steelers could use a veteran like Keisel?
"Well, you know, I've got to coach what I've got here," Mitchell said. "Everybody can have a wish list. It's my job to get these guys ready to play, and right now, hey, I don't have him right here.
"It's good we don't play tomorrow, so we're going to go to training camp and have some time. I hope by the opener in September we'll be ready to go."
ONLY ONE MISSING
The only player missing from the first of the three mandatory minicamp practices Tuesday was rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who contracted a virus on Monday and was home sick on Tuesday.
Back to work are Troy Polamalu, Jordan Zumwalt, Ike Taylor, Michael Palmer, Jason Worilds and Nick Williams. The latter two, Worilds and Williams, took off their jerseys halfway through Tuesday's practice and rehabbed their respective injuries. Williams said his knee felt good and that he would be ready to scrimmage at training camp.
Markus Wheaton, who skipped scrimmage work the last week of OTAs, turned in a full practice Tuesday, but rookie Dri Archer went to the sidelines halfway through the practice and had a bag of ice put on his knee.
Also on the sideline was the new Penn State coaching staff led by head coach James Franklin. And joining the Steelers' coaching staff for the minicamp was Darnell Stapleton. The former Steelers guard drew a tough assignment as the day's "get back" coach.
SOUNDS OF SILENCEStrangely, all was quiet. And no one said a word until the play was made. So the sounds of football were all that rang through the June air:
Ben Roethlisberger GRUNTED as he heaved a long pass to Antonio Brown, who appeared to give up on the ball but put his hand up and the ball STUCK spectacularly to it as his feet danced to stay in bounds. That's when the sideline ERUPTED and the practice chatter resumed.
With Archer on the sideline, Roethlisberger became the focus during the special-teams period in which kickoff return was the focal point.Special teams coordinator Danny Smith looked up at his kickoff team and saw the quarterback lined up a few spots down from Shaun Suisham. Smith walked up to the quarterback and said, "If you get hurt, I'll get fired."
"Good," Roethlisberger cracked. "That's what I'm hoping for."
"OK," sighed Smith. "The rest of you have to turn Ben loose."
And Roethlisberger trotted down to cover the kick. He was not touched on the play.
This could easily become a weekly feature, considering new outside linebackers coach Joey Porter's enthusiastic takes on football. But today I asked him how he became such a patient instructor.
"I'm a 37-yard-old," he said. "I was a baby when I came in at 22. I see all these young guys now, I used to be that. But 15 years in this business of working as a player and now being a coach, in time, I don't care who you are, you will humble yourself at some point in time when you get older, and I can just say I'm older. I'm wiser than I was as a young man of 22."
THURSDAY, JUNE 12
4 p.m.: If you read my blog entry on Wednesday, you noticed that Dri Archer tried to tell me he was working -- or going to be working -- with the wide receivers group.
Well, today was his first day.
Archer, who sat out most of Wednesday's practice after working early with the RBs, returned to practice with the WR group today. But Mike Tomlin said it's not a change, just a move to enhance Archer's versatility. Tomlin said that Archer will attend both the WR and RB meetings going forward.
"If you can get him the ball in open grass, then you're cookin' with gas," Tomlin said of a player who very well could be the fastest in the league.
Tomlin pointed out that fullback Will Johnson works with both the RB and TE groups and hasn't been overburdened. Tomlin doesn't expect it to be a problem with the rookie Archer, either.
"You don't know if it's an overload until you try it," Tomlin said. "I think he'll be fine."
While Archer has flashed his immense speed as a running back, his first day as a WR didn't go off as well.
Ben Roethlisberger tried Archer over the middle in the first scrimmage but Robert Golden went over the top of the 5-7 3/4 Archer to break up the pass. And in the third scrimmage, during red-zone work, Roethlisberger overthrew Archer with Golden again in tight coverage.
* The Steelers finally got around to working on their techniques on kickoff returns, and Archer was first among the returners. He was followed by Danny Coale and Kashif Moore.
* Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Jordan Zumwalt and Cody Wallace were absent for the final OTA workout. All are expected to attend next week's mandatory minicamp.
Wallace, the backup center, has missed this week because of the birth of his child.
Maurkice Pouncey didn't practice but helped out from the sidelines. He was replaced as first-team center by David Snow, while Wallace was replaced by rookie Wesley Johnson.
For the second consecutive day, Nick Williams worked with his fellow defensive linemen during individual drills and then continued to rehab his knee with a trainer on the side. Tight end Michael Palmer also jogged on the sideline with his lower leg injury. Jason Worilds pedaled a stationary bike and then helped teammates from the sidelines.
And, in the final health note, undrafted rookie cornerback Deion Belue was beat deep by Darrius Heyward-Bey, but DH-B dropped the perfect throw from Jones. Belue tapped out, spoke to a member of the training staff about a leg issue, and didn't return.
* Not expecting an answer, I asked Tomlin if Archer was OK the day after Archer had been sidelined with what he called a minor injury.
"He's great," said Tomlin. "He and Jason Worilds, they're great, man."
* Before I forget about Golden's tight coverage on Archer, Golden, the second-team safety, also intercepted two passes, the first off Landry Jones and the second off Roethlisberger during red-zone work.
* And before I forget about Tomlin's sideline comments, I told him that it appears Roethlisberger is on a mission this year.
"Man, we're all on a mission," Tomlin said. "There's only one confetti game, one trophy game. But you can make yourself believe anything you want to believe. If that's your story, partake."
I have. And I will again.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11
6 p.m.: Rookie receiver Dri Archer ended last week on a high note, and, as I noted yesterday, was the star of Tuesday's practice at Heinz Field.
But today he was down, and he was out. Archer worked early, but stood around his running backs group during individual drills -- and later with the working punt returners -- just holding his helmet and not practicing.
"It's something minor," was all Archer would say about missing OTA No. 9. "They're waiting for the MRI to get done. I'll be fine."
Of course, no rookie or coach will discuss spring injuries, even off the record, under Mike Tomlin's watch, so this will have to be followed.
Archer came up with another surprising line when I asked him about all of the different tasks he's been asked to perform offensively in his previous two practices.
"Yeah. I'm a receiver first," said Archer. "Whatever they ask me to do I'll do it to help the team."
A receiver first?
"Receiver first, then running back second," he said.
In the slot?
"Yeah. I'm playing in the slot, playing out wide."
He's also running the ball. And on one outside play last week he looked like Young Willie Parker.
"Dri's amazingly fast," said rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier. "He has world class speed. I feel he can outrun anybody.
"He's actually helping us, as a defense, because his speed is amazing. I feel the offense is going to have a different aspect than what everybody thinks it has right now."
Does Archer believe that his sub-4.2 speed is working at this level?
"Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "I'm a football player. God blessed everybody with different attributes. He blessed me with speed, so it's something I'm going to use."
Before the first snap of live scrimmage today, Mike Tomlin turned and shouted to a rookie standing on the sideline.
"Shaq, what do we got?"
Rookie cornerback Shaquille Richardson's answer wasn't as audible as the question.
It seems to be a running, daily gag between Tomlin and his fifth-round pick.
Does Tomlin ask every day?
"Yeah, he does it a lot," said Richardson.
"He wants to heighten my awareness and bring up my intensity and make sure I'm wired in and ready to go," Richardson said.
Has the rookie answered correctly?
"Yeah, I have," Richardson said. "Well, he caught me sometimes. Most of the time I got it right."
It's obvious that Tomlin is getting Richardson ready for a reason: He sees some talent in the 6-foot, 194-pound corner.
"Yeah, he's expecting me to up my intensity and be more focused," said Richardson.
Richardson once again received more reps with Ike Taylor absent. The veteran cornerback missed another OTA, as did Troy Polamalu, Jordan Zumwalt and Cody Wallace.
Sidelined along with Archer were Jason Worilds and Michael Palmer.
I didn't notice Nick Williams at his usual spot along the sidelines, and tweeted that he was absent. But another reporter tweeted that he spotted Williams in uniform and taking a few reps.
That should be a headline somewhere tomorrow morning.
Martavis Bryant was showing his innate sideline skills again, and Rob Blanchflower was still fighting the ball, and Ben Roethlisberger was patiently going over the nuances of Matt Spaeth's pass routes and talking intently to Lance Moore at the end of the period, but the image that stuck with me after watching the receivers work individually was the soft hands and nifty body control of the just-signed 6-3 wide receiver C.J. Goodwin.
I walked over to tell a scout how surprised I am with Goodwin's ability since he caught only 11 passes in his lone season at Division II California (Pa.).
"We scout the intramural league," the scout joked.
Goodwin spent two years at Bethany College playing Division III basketball before transferring to Division II Fairmont State to play football (24 catches). He then last year followed his fired football coach to Cal U, where Goodwin didn't play much.
But Goodwin appears to have some skill, as Tomlin, after one Goodwin catch during scrimmage, shouted, "I see you Cal U!"
"I see you Bethany, Fairmont State, California PA," laughed the scout.
BIG DAY FOR BIG WRs
Justin Brown seems to be getting the Twitter love for his leaping high-point of a Roethlisberger fade pass for a touchdown over cornerback Devin Smith. But some others fared just as well as the BIG WR competition heated up Wednesday.
Bryant, the 6-4 fourth-rounder, made a diving touchdown catch of a fade pass from Landry Jones on the far side of the field, possibly out of sight from most reporters.
My favorite was Derek Moye's diving catch of a Bruce Gradkowski fade that took Moye into the cinders behind the end zone.
Not all was rosy in Fade-ville on Wednesday, though. Cornerback Cortez Allen, victimized by Bryant for a touchdown the previous day, intercepted a Roethlisberger pass that was intended for Bryant.
TUESDAY, JUNE 10
1:30 p.m.: The Steelers held OTA No. 8 (of 10) at Heinz Field and it was a proud Director of Stadium Management, Jimmy Sacco, who took congratulations from Mike Tomlin upon the unveiling of a new 35 feet by 72 feet HD scoreboard in the upper NW corner of the stadium.
"It's about as big as the one in my basement," Tomlin cracked as he shook Sacco's hand.
The screen, according to Sacco, was installed "to service fans who'll be a part of the South Plaza expansion next year."
The installation of this screen opposite the South Plaza began approximately two months ago and was fully functional by late last week.
In comparison, the screen inside the main scoreboard in the South Plaza measures 28 feet by 96 feet.
Consideration is also being given to erecting another 35x72 screen in the upper NE corner.
* The roll call for OTA8 includes the following notations: Cody Wallace, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Jordan Zumwalt absent; and Nick Williams, Jason Worilds, and Michael Palmer rehabbing. Fullback Will Johnson was back practicing after spraining an ankle last week.
* It was confirmed by one of the defensive leaders that rookie fifth-round offensive tackle Wesley Johnson worked at center today with one of the backup units. It allowed undrafted rookie Chris Elkins to move over from center and get some time at guard.
* The star player today, in my opinion, was rookie running back Dri Archer, who was used in a variety of ways. He not only showed off his quickness but displayed decent vision between the tackles as well.
On one swing pass that Archer caught at the 8-yard line, Tomlin, standing near the pylon, yelled "Score!" and Archer burst past a pair of defenders and dove into the end zone.
* LeGarrette Blount, the 250-pound running back, pestered Tomlin about returning kickoffs, something the Steelers have yet to work on this spring. Blount remembered that Tomlin had once used another large running back, Najeh Davenport, to return kickoffs. Tomlin came back with another big back he once used, Gary Russell, but said that doesn't really mean much right now.
The two were having fun with each other, so it's impossible to glean any real information, but my strong guess is that Tomlin will look at Archer first on kickoffs.
9:15 a.m.: The Steelers will report to St. Vincent College for the start of training camp on Friday, July 25 and will hold their first open practice on Saturday, July 26. Go to Steelers.com for the complete schedule.
6:30 a.m.: Just some housekeeping as the Steelers return to Organized Training Activities today at Heinz Field:
* The Steelers signed fourth-round pick WR Martavis Bryant to a four-year contract. The Steelers have only two unsigned draft picks, second-rounder Stephon Tuitt and third-rounder Dri Archer.
* The Steelers will celebrate the 40th Anniversary of their first championship, Super Bowl IX, with a variety of events and features throughout the 2014 season. The team will wear a special Super Bowl IX 40th Anniversary patch on their uniform versus the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, November 30, and the team will invite several members to a Nov. 29 gala dinner the to share stories from the 1974 season. Those players will be recognized at halftime the next day.
* As part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 40 Great Days of Summer, Steelers safety Will Allen and kicker Shaun Suisham will be at the Hall of Fame for "Steelers Day" on Saturday. The Pittsburgh veterans will be on hand from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. to take part in a panel discussion and a meet-and-greet with fans. Other specials for "Steelers Day" includes a $4 discount for visitors wearing Steelers gear, a special exhibit dedicated to Steelers history, a Win-it Wheel with Steelers prizes, team highlight films, and a photo booth featuring vintage uniforms and Steelers cutouts.
THURSDAY, JUNE 5
8 p.m.: The Steelers have signed an Ohio State guy with a Michigan's guy's money.
In the first signing with the $8 million stash the team has from cutting LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers signed Ryan Shazier.
The first-round pick agreed to a four-year deal worth $9.5 million. His signing bonus is $5.23 million, according to the Post-Gazette.
Shazier (6-1, 237) played in 39 games, starting the final 29 contests at weak-side outside linebacker at Ohio State. He recorded 316 tackles, 14.0 sacks, 44.5 tackles-for-loss, 9 quarterback pressures and forced 9 fumbles in his collegiate career.
Shazier's currently battling Sean Spence for the starting mack inside linebacker position.
TUESDAY, JUNE 3
4:45 p.m.: No one has to file an injury report. No one has to be accountable to the media about injuries. Meaning sometimes they can be a big guessing game.
So it is with Jason Worilds, who continues to miss OTA practices with an upper left leg injury that he called a cramp at the end of his first and only workout this spring.
The Steelers' left outside linebacker was replaced in the middle of that first practice at left outside linebacker by Arthur Moats and today Worilds missed his third workout since.
The difference today is that Worilds rehabbed on the sideline and without noticeable impingement.
Normally the gregarious sort, Worilds wouldn't discuss the injury, urging this reporter to "Talk to coach."
Mike Tomlin didn't go into detail, saying only "Man, he's great."
Will Worilds be back practicing soon?
"Yes," Tomlin said.
Are you worried about him?
So you won't be signing James Harrison tomorrow?
"Not at all."
HEAT ON BACKUP QBS
It was back-to-work Tuesday for a Steelers team that included Ike Taylor, Dri Archer, Matt Spaeth and last week's nicked up players. But Ben Roethlisberger was out.
The QB joined Troy Polamalu and Jordan Zumwalt on the absentee list, with Worilds and Nick Williams still rehabbing.
With Roethlisberger out, Tomlin took the opportunity to turn up the heat on his backup quarterbacks.
It was confirmed that Tomlin used Landry Jones first and repeatedly urged last year's fourth-round draft pick to make quick decisions. Tomlin also repeated that there was "blood in the water!" as the defense picked up its intensity.
Jones was indeed more decisive than last year, but he did throw two interceptions off deflections. One, a pass behind Spaeth, was returned for a touchdown by Lawrence Timmons.Gradkowski also ran hot and cold, but enjoyed the competition.
"It's been like that from the start and I don't expect anything less," said the ninth-year veteran. "That's what we're here for. Landry's a good, young quarterback and it's time to see what he can do, and also I have to compete day in and day out. So it's good."
Does Gradkowski believe he's Roethlisberger's primary backup?
"Oh yeah. I'm confident I'm the 2, but, in the same sense, they drafted Landry for a reason. And I'm an older veteran guy and I have to keep proving I can still do it. Nothing's ever handed to you. So, yeah, everything's a competition. In this league you never can be complacent."
Does the competition include the alleged camp arm?
Brendon Kay, the undrafted QB from Cincinnati, threw the two best passes of the day. The first was a bomb that allowed Darrius Heyward-Bey to show off his track speed. Kay hit DH-B in stride after the receiver blew past a grabby Deion Belue. And in the waning moments of practice, Kay received another rare turn and threw a 15-yard strike to Markus Wheaton that was caught in stride and taken to the end zone.
WELCOME BACK, IKE
Taylor returned and afterward held court with the media, as has been his norm the last couple of years. Here are his interesting comments:
• On his handshakes on the field: "Football is all I know. So just coming back with the boys – and the boys means the whole team, from the coaching staff all the way down to the rookies. It's a blessing to be out here for one, let alone going on my 12th year. So I am just enjoying myself."
• On his conditioning with Tom Shaw: "I've been working since the end of January. So working doesn't have anything to do with it. If you want to talk about someone that's in the best shape, you are looking at him."
• On rookie CB Shaquille Richardson: "I was with Shaq and coach Shaw. He has the attitude. I think that's the first thing you need to have as a cornerback. He definitely has the attitude. Everything else will fall in line. But playing cornerback, you have to have an attitude, and that's what he has."
• On the Steelers' defense: "Super-duper fast. William Gay texted me all last week saying, ‘Hey man, I am telling you it's like a track meet on defense, from the defensive line all the way back to the secondary. These boys are running.' When you look at it on the field and you actually play with them, you can see that they are running."
• On whether he's still super-duper fast: "No question."
• On free-agent James Harrison: "Harrison is probably in the best shape, the best shape."
• On free-agent Santonio Holmes: "He's looking really good. He's looking solid, like a little rock that can move. But James Harrison, by far, is probably in the best shape."
• On new outside linebackers coach Joey Porter: "Peezy. I told him he has to get rid of that gut. He was an all-time teammate, the ultimate teammate, from hanging with the offensive linemen to coming back to the secondary, he was just an all-around people person. He is the people's champion. He was probably one of the best teammates you could have. I am excited to see him as a coach."
WELCOME TO THE BIG LEAGUESRookie fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant is tall and fast and can jump and can shield defenders from the ball and snaring sideline passes. Until today.
Against Taylor, Bryant rounded off a 10-yard out a little bit and the extra time and space allowed Taylor to swoop in off his cushion and knock the high pass away from a player who thought he had an easy catch.
Taylor just kept running back to the huddle after leaping through the air and breaking up the pass. Bryant stood motionless with his hands clasped around air as he looked out beyond the sideline and wondered what the heck just happened.
Chalk it up as a learning moment.
WILLIAMS SEES LIGHT
Body beautiful defensive end Nick Williams injured his knee late last training camp but when he showed up in the cafeteria on crutches last December, the natural question was: Did he undergo a second surgery?
"No, no, no," said last year's seventh-round draft pick. "That's how long I was on crutches."
Still rehabbing the injury this spring, Williams runs without pain on the sideline during OTAs in the hope that he can return to individual drills by minicamp. But he feels certain the knee subluxation will be fully healed by the start of training camp.
"I had extensive surgery," Williams said. "People don't know what kind of surgery I had. They think I had just a regular knee scope. They had to cut down into my tibia and move my ligament that held my knee cap in, had to move it over. It's kind of like a similar rehab to an ACL, but it's not.
"It's picking up. As you see I was running and stuff today. It's getting a lot better."
FRIDAY, MAY 30
8:30 a.m.: Even though he didn't participate in any of the Organized Training Activities this week, Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth said "I haven't felt this good in a long time."
Spaeth missed most of last season with a Lis Franc injury, and in surgery had some screws put in his foot. But those screws loosened and Spaeth had them removed almost four weeks ago. He has spent the week running on the sideline as the foot has improved dramatically.
Spaeth, appearing fit in spite of the recovery process, said he's excited to play without foot pain this season.
* The Steelers are excited about one of the roster moves they made Thursday. After releasing undrafted rookie tackle Kaycee Ike and signing OL Emmanuel McCray, the Steelers released guard Nik Embernate and signed cornerback Deion Belue, on whom they had placed a draftable grade this spring.
Belue (pronounced Blue) is a 5-11, 182-pounder out of Alabama who signed with the Miami Dolphins after the draft. A full-time starter the last two seasons, Belue had 3 interceptions in those two seasons before being slowed by a turf toe last season, which caused him to miss the combine.
Cleared medically by the Steelers, Belue was released by the Dolphins after wilting to 174 pounds in the Miami heat. The Dolphins were also desperate for defensive linemen and released Belue.
As for Embernate, last year's undrafted priority free agent had a few decent camp moments last August before tearing an ACL, from which he has yet to recover.
McCray is a 6-4.5, 316-pound guard from Ole Miss whom the Steelers have listed as a tackle on their roster.
* Mike Adams had been backing up Kelvin Beachum as the second-team left tackle but confirmed that he was the first-team right tackle in the team's final scrimmage set on Thursday.
* In keeping up with the attendance on Thursday, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Jordan Zumwalt, Jason Worilds and Dri Archer were absent, and Maurkice Pouncey, Jasper Collins (WR) and Miguel Maysonet (RB) were sidelined. Pouncey no doubt was ordered to take a rest as a precautionary measure but was on the sidelines helping centers Cody Wallace and Chris Elkins anyway.
THURSDAY, MAY 29
8:15 a.m.: I was waiting out a reporter mob scene around LeGarrette Blount after Wednesday's practice because I prefer one-on-one interviews. But I didn't just want to ask Blount questions. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind -- in a good way, of course. But I wanted to tell him that I thought the Boise State player whom Blount decked after the opener in 2009 basically got what he deserved.
While waiting for Blount, I said hello to Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro and ran past them my belief that the Boise State player deserved a punch in the face.
"He did, man," said Pouncey. "But you can't do that stuff on TV."
"Yeah," said DeCastro with a laugh. "I remember seeing that. Yeah, I don't know what exactly happened but it looked like he was talking some trash and he had already won the game, so, I think you would be correct in saying that."
OK, Blount was done with the group of reporters, so I walked over and introduced myself and said that I always wanted to tell him that the Boise State guy got what he deserved.
"Yeah," was all he said.
* While I had the two O-linemen, I asked for their opinions of their new line coach, Mike Munchak.
"O-oh, man. He's awesome, man," said Pouncey. "I know you done heard all the great things about him, but for him to go out there and teach us technique stuff, the drills we do, the encouragement, the sets he teaches us, it's just awesome to be a part of it. We're just glad to be a part of it."
Pouncey was a big supporter of Sean Kugler, the first of his three O-line coaches with the Steelers. So I asked Pouncey how Munchak might be better than "Koogs."
"Well," Pouncey said, trying to be diplomatic, "he made the Hall of Fame.
"He's just awesome, man. If you can't listen to a guy like that and take in that coaching, and take it to the next level, you don't need to be here, man."
DeCastro didn't say "man" as much as Pouncey, but he did explain that it's not so much Munchak's teaching of technique that sets him apart as a coach.
"He's very, very, very good," DeCastro started. "Finishing (the technique), and also all the calls and making everything simple. I think he'll simplify things for guys and make sure we're not messing up. Someone's going to get beat one-on-one. That's technique. That's OK. But you can't let the mental stuff beat you, if that makes sense. If you have four guys (rushing), those guys are getting blocked. That's the stuff that's been really good. The technique's obviously great, too."
* Just some notes from Wednesday (and, again, many of my daily nuggets and opinions will be compiled into one weekend notebook):
-- Jason Worilds missed Wednesday after finishing Tuesday's practice early. He left that day with a wrap on his thigh and said he was suffering from cramps.
-- Dri Archer missed Tuesday's practice after being sent home with an illness. He also missed Wednesday's practice.
-- The running back I mentioned during rookie camp as a possible camp sleeper -- Miguel Maysonet -- again stood on the sidelines with an undisclosed injury. He was joined by wide receiver Jasper Collins.
-- Matt Spaeth, Nik Embernate and Nick Williams continued to rehab on the sidelines. All three suffered serious injuries last year.
-- Kaycee Ike was the starting right tackle at rookie camp, but he was waived yesterday and replaced by CB Deion Belue, who had been waived by the Miami Dolphins. Ike was the tackle from UAB who was signed after the last draft. He played with Chris Hubbard in college. I saw Hubbard in the cafeteria during rookie camp and he introduced me to Ike.
Kaycee, I hardly knew ya.
-- Belue is a 5-11, 182-pounder from Alabama. He started all 12 games after joining the Crimson Tide out of junior college in 2012, but last year he struggled with a turf toe injury and missed two games. The injury kept him from working out at the combine.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 28
7:20 a.m.: It's difficult to gauge a player's strength in spring practices, but you can always just walk right up to Jarvis Jones and ask him -- for the 50th time, judging by the mob of reporters surrounding him -- how much stronger he is over his rookie season.
"I'm real strong," Jones answered. "You seen the video on youtube?"
Well, a quick search has Jones on youtube for many college highlights, a fw pro highlights, and an interview with ... Tall Cathy?
"I'm playing," said Jones, an easygoing, laid-back sort who's taken over the pass-rushing right outside linebacker position from the crusty, mean and media-wary James Harrison, who had taken his job from the high-intensity, media-mocking Joey Porter. Jones, as that old hipster Bruce Arians would say, is a different sort of cat.
"But things are going good," Jones said. "I've been working in the weight room every day. Just going hard, man, doing what I'm supposed to do. If you saw Justin Houston on ESPN this morning, that's who I was training with from January until I came back out here in April. The stuff he's been doing and where he done came from, that's where I was working. I've gotten a whole lot stronger. It probably ain't showing. But you can be strong in the weight room, come out here and not make any plays."
So, I asked Jones, are you feeling it out here on the field?
"I am, man, it's been great. Joey's been a big help for me. I'm learning a whole lot. As a linebacker we've been learning a lot from him. We're glad to have him. We're going to continue to learn and continue to get better."
Porter, the aforementioned high-intensity ball of raging fury, who sacked the quarterback 66 times (counting post-season) while playing for the Steelers from 1999-2006, is now the Steelers' outside linebackers coach. And Jones couldn't be more happy about it.
"It's a blessing to have somebody here mentoring us that actually played here and played the same position," Jones said. "He knows what it takes to be great. He pushes me every day. He motivates us. He makes sure we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. He gets us right. He has the mindset of a football player. He showed that when he was playing. We are trying to do that as a linebacking unit. We all push each other. We all challenge each other day-to-day. We lift together as a group. Everything we do, we pretty much do it collectively. We are trying to build this camaraderie, so when it's time to step on the field, everything we have can be left out there, and we do it for each other."
Camaraderie. That's our "Peezy."
But has Porter gotten angry and ripped into Jones or any of the linebackers yet?
"We ain't messed up yet," Jones said with a laugh. "He's a good motivator. He's a good coach as well. He's a great coach. He understands the game. He done played it. Played this same position, wore the same uniform that we're wearing, so he understands what it is to be a player and he's now on the coach's side. He's not one of those guys who yells and cusses you out."
Like he did on the field?
"That was him the player," Jones said.
How much does Jones know of Porter's on-field fire? And can Jones ever be like that?
"I'm more quiet," he said. "I play physical and do all the stuff but I don't think I do all the yelling and stuff. I don't know. He'll probably rub off on me though. (Laughs) He's been rubbing off on me a lot, so we'll see what happens."
Is Jones more comfortable on the field this spring than as a rookie?
"It's not night and day," Jones said, "but it's a whole lot better. I actually know what's going on. My instincts are a whole lot better. I am not out there second-guessing myself or waiting to see what happens. I can react. I can line myself up when I come out and look at the formations. This system is hard. Anybody that plays in this system is going to tell you it's hard. You have to really put work into it. That's what I've been doing."
* Sean Spence looked fluid and fast in his return to the field and there didn't appear to be any remnants of the horrible knee injury in the 2012 preseason that cost the then-rookie linebacker the last two seasons.
But Spence not only rehabbed during those two seasons, he learned the playbook. Lawrence Timmons even called him the next Larry Foote, in terms of Spence's understanding of the defense.
"Those two years that I didn't get to play, I learned the playbook," Spence said. "It helped me out a lot today. I just want to continue to get better."
Spence was asked if he's a bit more motivated by the fact that rookie Ryan Shazier was playing inside linebacker with the first team Tuesday.
"It's all friendly competition," Spence said. "He is trying to better himself. I am here trying to better myself. If he needs help, I will help him. If I need help, I am pretty sure he will help me. He's a hometown guy, Fort Lauderdale. I am just happy to be working with him."
(Check below in Tuesday's entry for a link to the important notes from OTA No. 1. A more expanded notebook will appear at the end of the week.)
TUESDAY, MAY 27
2:30 p.m.: The questions last week coming into the spring drills dealt mainly with the linebacker positions. Well, I believe I have most of your answers and will be working on that story this afternoon, as well as some practice notes that will hopefully put you in the middle of the field.
In the meantime, click here to go to our message board for the important information from today's practice. Some of it's available only here at SteelCityInsider.net.
MONDAY, MAY 19
11:30 a.m.: The Steelers still had more than $300,000 above the salary cap and they used most of it to sign sixth-round draft pick Daniel McCullers and seventh-round pick Rob Blanchflower to four-year contracts this morning.
McCullers is a defensive tackle and Blanchflower is a tight end.
The remainder of the draft class will fall into line in a few weeks after the $8 million saved from the release of LaMarr Woodley becomes available on June 2.
SUNDAY, MAY 11
7:45 a.m.: For those who are new to the site, you may be interested in this interview I did with Jordan Zumwalt at the combine. Just scroll down a day in The Morning After.
6:45 a.m.: I'm just going to touch briefly on the Day 3 proceedings from my hotel room here in Newark, Delaware.
Getting Martavis Bryant in the fourth round was the kind of pick this draft -- so deep in receivers -- had promised. It took guts to hold to the board and take the sheer talent on the first two days, but it paid off with a guy who seems to have only been held back by his lack of commitment. Being a fourth-round pick might be the kick in the pants Bryant needed, because he has all of the natural talent.
The same can be said for Daniel McCullers, a gargantuan defensive lineman with 36 1/2-inch arms. A scout wrote that he would never pick McCullers in the second round, where the scout's colleagues had ranked McCullers, because his bonus check would be too high.
"What is fourth-round salary and bonus?" this scout rhetorically asked Nolan Nawrocki. "It's not a lot compared to the top. That's where I'd feel comfortable with him."
Well, the 6-6 3/4, 352-pound McCullers went in the sixth round. So, goodbye, big bonus; hello, life.
BTW, I thought McCullers was just dreadful at the Senior Bowl. And the aforementioned scout brought up a great question: Why is the 270-pounder the one playing on the nose at Tennessee?
Still, a big man who's now motivated by the potential end of his career could turn into more boom than bust.
You all know my feelings about Jordan Zumwalt; heady inside linebacker who plays with emotion. And to get Howard Jones and Josh Mauro in free agency is quite a plus to what I believe is a great haul.
Jones is another with long 34-inch arms. He's an outside backer with speed and 35 career sacks. Mauro was a reserve at Stanford until proving his skinny butt could actually play the 5-tech. He'll need to pack on some weight, but he has a great attitude about the game.
I'll be back with more upon my return from Delaware. My daughter's soccer team is in the East Region Premier League final four and we upset the No. 1-ranked team (on paper) in the country in the first round. We were losing 2-0 with six minutes left when a hailstorm hit. In the chaos we tied it up and won in OT. Championship game today.
Such a great feeling to add that to coming off such a long stretch of work, so please excuse my absence. Dale Lolley and Matt Steel have the analysis today, as soon as I post it.
SATURDAY, MAY 10
7:45 a.m.: There won't be a Mini Beast Board or Grandson of Beast Board today, but I will get to the leftovers after I make a few notes this a.m.:
* I never really did warm to Martavis Bryant, the big wide receiver from Clemson, but it turns out he was a finalist for the Steelers at the end of the third round. They picked Dri Archer instead.
* That makes the 5-7 1/2 Archer "the tall receiver" the Steelers supposedly promised Ben Roethlisberger.
* Wow, I'm sure there are some pissed of Ben Roethlisberger fans this morning.
* Hey, I want to get Roethlisberger some weapons, too, but serving him is not the be-all, end-all that some of these internet warriors demand from all of us. It's about team and I believe this team made two great picks and then a third about which I can't quibble.
* That quibbling is about another one of these lightweight RBs who get wishboned too early in NFL life. But, Archer is the fastest man in the draft. No denying that. And there's no denying I'm excited about watching him.
* Ryan Shazier was the target in the first round. I keep reading that picking him was a reaction to losing out on Kyle Fuller the pick before. Is this how it's going to be remembered? The way the Darrelle Revis myth is remembered?
* The Steelers went in looking to draft Shazier just like they went into the 2007 draft looking to draft Lawrence Timmons. Case closed.
* The Steelers are ecstatic about being able to field a defense with the speed of Shazier, Timmons and Troy Polamalu at "the second level on third downs." That's how it was put to me. So it sounds like Polamalu will continue playing some of that hybrid linebacker stuff.
* The Steelers believe Shazier will help the secondary immensely with his ability to drop.
* Tuitt, ranked No. 2 on Beast Board Jr., is another outstanding pick. And to think at 20 years old he's such a grown-ass man.
* Aw, c'mon, if the players can swear like sailors in interviews, why can't I?
* One problem is going to be cornerback. While we were sold a deep crop of cornerbacks in this draft, the Steelers, I learned last night, don't really feel that way. Oh, after they draft someone in the fourth or fifth rounds today they'll say different, but I hear they have a drastic drop-off on their board after Phillip Gaines.
* I still like Pierre Desir, and Ross Cockrell, and Terrance Mitchell, but Gaines is 6-1 and ran a 4.38 40. Desir is 6-1 and ran a 4.58 40. You can understand why the difference in perception from a guy whose job is on the line when choosing between the two.
* After Gaines went off the board, the Steelers had three guys in a group that they wanted for their pick in the third round. Archer and Bryant were left after Donte Moncrief was selected.
* The other Gaines we all like, CB E.J. Gaines from Missouri, may have medical issues. That's a rumor someone sent me on draft twitter, not something I heard in the Steelers' facility.
* Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin might be that valuable possession receiver that will help Ben in the red zone. I also like Tracy Moore of Oklahoma State, a guy who's not even on most analysts' rankings. But, man, Moore is tough.
* And Devin Street. I remember watching Pitt practice a few years ago with Mike Tomlin and Tomlin said he felt Street could be so good if he got some consistent and hard coaching at a school that was changing its coach every other month.
* Trey Millard, the fullback/H-back from Oklahoma, he's my favorite beast left. But I don't see the Steelers using a late pick on that position. Shame.
* So here is what I have left on my Value Board. Sorry that I won't be around today. I'm going to Delaware to watch Samantha Wexell play soccer in the Premier League Final Four. We're looking to upset the paper tigers from Manhattan. They're ranked No. 1 in the country and we're stoked. Dale Lolley will be here to drive this thing home for us.
Third Round: Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (CB); Taylor Hart, Oregon (DE); DaQuan Jones, Penn State (NT).
Fourth Round: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (RB); De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon (RB); Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (WR); Carl Bradford, Arizona State (OLB); E.J. Gaines, Missouri (CB); Ross Cockrell, Duke (CB); Terrance Mitchell, Oregon (CB); Brock Vereen, Minnesota (S); Brent Urban, Virginia (DE).
Fifth Round: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (WR); Kevin Norwood, Alabama (WR); Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (CB); Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame (CB); Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State (S); Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech (S); Beau Allen, Wisconsin (NT); Deandre Coleman, Cal (NT); Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State (NT); Charles Leno, Boise State (OT); Cameron Fleming, Stanford (OT); Brandon Linder, Miami (OG-OT).
Sixth Round: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (OLB); Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State (OLB); Shaquille Richardson, Arizona (CB); Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State (S); Ryan Groy, Wisconsin (OG-OT); Devin Street, Pitt (WR); Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina (RB); Trey Millard, Oklahoma (FB-TE); Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (RB); Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky (RB).
Seventh Round: Khyri Thornton, Southern Mississippi (NT); Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma (WR-RS); Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State (WR); Ladarius Perkins, Mississippi State (WR); Rob Blanchflower, UMass (TE); Connor Shaw, South Carolina (QB); Jeff Mathews, Cornell (QB); Dustin Vaughn, West Texas A&M (QB).
FRIDAY, MAY 9
6:45 p.m.: It seems like everyone in the media room here has picked up on my new favorite, DE Scott Crichton.
You saw him at the bottom of my Beast Board today. He was considered a late first-rounder, but I kept moving him down because I really didn't have a place for him. But the word I heard on twitter from a national reporter is that the Steelers like him as a 5-tech. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of another quick-twitch defender.
He's only 273 pounds, but you saw him play nose tackle in the Civil War. He was blocked when Oregon wanted to move him in the run game, but was nearly unblockable when he wanted to rush the passer. I've written about Crichton in the past. He's a Samoan with a love for the game. He's the guy I'll be watching in the next hour.
7 p.m.: What's with all the boo-hooing for the Browns? This is what happens when you walk the fine line with a druggie.
Oh, was it just marijuana? And that's not really a drug? Well, I can tend to agree with that, but I can't forget the handful of tweets I received during Browns-Steelers II last season. After Gordon caught 1 pass for 11 yards in the first half, as I just assumed he was being covered closely, several tweets rolled in asking seriously if I thought he was high.
Now if he's doing it during the game, that ain't no recreation drug there. And the fact the Browns passed Sammy Watkins last night, now THAT's recreation. Mine.
7:10 p.m.: You start the second round with a guard? Hey, whatever. I didn't have Xavier Su'-a-Filo on my Beast Board. He's a guard. Seems average to me. Next!
7:16 p.m.: There goes DeMarcus Lawrence, the first subtraction from the Beast Board, and, seriously, the Steelers weren't going to draft an OLB. Next!
7:20 p.m.: The Browns took Joel Bitonio, the OT-OG from Nevada. I thought they were going to take Marqise Lee, and then suffer through the rumored knee problem for which half the teams have reportedly flagged Lee. Alas, the Browns took a guard. I think it's smart. And boring. Next!
7:25 p.m.: Derek Carr, the new Raiders QB, was the most interesting guy at the combine. He took all of the questions about following in his bust-of-a-brother's footsteps with humor and aplomb. The Texans should've drafted Carr with the first pick this round. Instead, they took a guard. Next!
7:30 p.m.: The Falcons, with the fifth pick of the second round, take my top Beast Jr., Ra'Shede Hageman. Only two DEs left now and I'm not feeling so cocky. Next, please.
7:37 p.m.: Tampa Bay has some pretty large receivers and just added jumbo TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Look for the big CBs to start going into that division. AS-J was just a fallback option on the Beast Jr. Board. Really didn't see the Steelers taking him.
7:41 p.m.: Well, the snake-bit Jags just took WR Marqise Lee, so you figure the rumors about him having a bum knee must be true. Bad jokes aside, Lee is the first WR to be picked this round. Start the run and let the DLmen fall. Next!
7:43 p.m.: I guess my man-crush on Kyle Van Noy ended when the Steelers filled their open ILB spot with Ryan Shazier. The Lions just made it official. At least he's not on the Beast Board. Six picks before the Steelers.
7:48 p.m.: The Rams traded up to draft a 5-7+ nickel corner? C'mon. I mean, Lamarcus Joyner is a feisty player and all, but he's too short to go this early. Next!
7:54 p.m.: The Eagles traded up to draft WR Jordan Matthews. That one hurts a bit. I wouldn't have minded those sure hands here in the city. But three more picks before the Steelers choose and three DLmen are left. I know some/many of you despise this line of thinking, but it's the biggest need on the team and can be filled with real value.
7:57 p.m.: Rams took a center and the Bills took an offensive tackle. One pick to go and Stephon Tuitt, Scott Crichton and Louis Nix are available, as well as all sizes and shapes of WR.
8:05 p.m.: The Steelers' pick is in. They must've ran past the Seahawks to the podium, because the Seahawks' pick is in and unannounced.
8:07 p.m.: According to LaCanfora reports it's Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt, who provides exceptional value at pick 46. He's a 3-4 DE, the prototype, at 6-5 1/2, 304. And, hey, his picture's already on our front page. Be back with some of the top quotes from John Mitchell in a few.
8:24 p.m.: Steelers DL coach John Mitchell: "This guy can stack, shed and run to the ball. His sophomore year this guy was one of the best defensive linemen in college football. Before 2013 he had a hernia and couldn't train. He got heavy. If look at 2013 and compare it to 2012, you'll see a different guy. He can push the pocket, play the run, get off blocks, get to the ball. If he's healthy this year, he would've been in the top 10. We feel we got a steal."
THURSDAY, MAY 8
8:30 p.m.: I'm going to blog this in reverse, time wise, as the draft goes along. I decided to start this just after the Jaguars took Blake Bortles and I heard my first Ben Roethlisberger comparison. A bit, yeah, but Roethlisberger was a much better prospect than Bortles and had proven much more, even in the MAC, and Roethlisberger still went 11th. While I like Bortles as a prospect, the overdrafting of him here can't possibly help him.
But, I believe it will help the Steelers as the slim QB crop just became slimmer and teams without QBs will start getting nervous.
8:40 p.m.: What's the point of drafting a wide receiver if you have E.J. Manuel throwing to him? Seriously. That guy will be gone in a year or two, and, unfortunately, Doug Whaley will probably have to go with him.
8:43 p.m.: What are the Browns angling for? Mike Evans? I gotta say, he just wouldn't scare me opposite Josh Gordon like a true speed receiver would. Maybe they're doing what the Jaguars should've done and trading down to get in proper value range for one of these QBs. Derek Carr? Do the Browns have that kind of steady leadership these days? I do like Carr a bit.
8:55 p.m.: OK, I get why that Tampa wants to have the Chicago twin towers with Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, but, again, who's going to throw them the ball? Mike Graham, er, Glennon? Lovie Smith needed Teddy Bridgewater, or even Aaron Donald there.
8:57 p.m.: Luke McCown is Tampa Bay's QB. OK. They can win with him. But, Aaron Donald in the first and Davante Adams in the second makes more sense to me.
9:02 p.m.: Anyone scared that the Browns traded down from pick 4 to draft a CB who can't tackle? Nah, I'm not bitter. I do believe Justin Gilbert's a playmaker, but the more I watched him the less I liked. The Browns just made sure I get to watch him more and like him less every year for a while.
9:07 p.m.: Dale Lolley just pointed out to me that if kickoffs still mattered in the league, the Browns just made a great pick.
As the Vikings take Anthony Barr. Now there's a guy I would've come to fear for the Browns. Oh, the comedy show that keeps on giving.
9:21 p.m.: After the Titans, in the post-Munchak era, take the LT Lewan, there are three more picks before the Steelers go at pick 15. Left are Odell Beckham, Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard, C.J. Mosley, Ryan Shazier, Calvin Pryor and Ra'Shede Hageman. I know everyone doesn't agree with me, but that's my pool.
Since the Browns are trying to trade up again, makes me wonder if the Steelers should trade them pick 15 and give them their quarterback. I would if they wanted Johnny Manziel, but not Teddy Bridgewater.
9:40 p.m.: So the Bears took Kyle Fuller. That leaves this group for the Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, C.J. Mosley, Ryan Shazier. Calvin Pryor, and Ra'Shede Hageman. Gerry Dulac says it won't be Dennard. I say trade down. Tomlin might want Shazier, the run-and-hit son of a pastor who ran a 4.38 40 (1.3 faster than the CB).
It's Ryan Shazier. Had him at 9-1 on my odds board and said I was worried someone would take a swing at me. He's a three-down middle linebacker. I'm sure some will insist he's an OLB, but we'll get that straightened out.
So welcome the speedball son of a Preacher Man.
Steelers' Value Board
First Round: Mike Evans, Texas A&M (WR); Odell Beckham, LSU (WR); C.J. Mosley, Alabama (ILB); Anthony Barr, UCLA (OLB); Eric Ebron, North Carolina (TE); Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (ILB); Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (CB); Calvin Pryor, Louisville (S); Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (CB); Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (CB); Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State (WR).
Second Round: Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State (OLB); Dee Ford, Auburn (OLB); Scott Crichton, Oregon State (OLB); Deone Bucannon, Washington State (S); Jason Verrett, TCU (CB); Davante Adams, Fresno State (WR); Donte Moncrief, Mississippi (WR); Allen Robinson, Penn State (WR); Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (WR).
Third Round:Jarvis Landry, LSU (WR); Troy Niklas, Notre Dame (TE); Kyle Van Noy, BYU (OLB-ILB); Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (OLB); Marcus Smith, Louisville (OLB); Phillip Gaines, Rice (CB); Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (CB); Taylor Hart, Oregon (DE); DaQuan Jones, Penn State (NT); Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee (OT); Jack Mewhort, Ohio State (OT).
Fourth Round: Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern (RB); Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (RB); De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon (RB); Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (WR); Trent Murphy, Stanford (OLB); Carl Bradford, Arizona State (OLB); E.J. Gaines, Missouri (CB); Ross Cockrell, Duke (CB); Terrance Mitchell, Oregon (CB); Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin (S); Brock Vereen, Minnesota (S); Brent Urban, Virginia (DE); Brandon Thomas, Clemson (OG-OT); Spencer Long, Nebraska (OG); Michael Schofield, Michigan (OT).
Fifth Round: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (WR); Josh Huff, Oregon (WR); Kevin Norwood, Alabama (WR); Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (CB); Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame (CB); Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State (S); Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech (S); Beau Allen, Wisconsin (NT); Deandre Coleman, Cal (NT); Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State (NT); Charles Leno, Boise State (OT); Cameron Fleming, Stanford (OT); Brandon Linder, Miami (OG-OT); Billy Turner, North Dakota State (OT).
Sixth Round: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (OLB); Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State (OLB); Shaquille Richardson, Arizona (CB); Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State (S); Will Clarke, West Virginia (DE); Ryan Groy, Wisconsin (OG-OT); Devin Street, Pitt (WR); Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina (RB); Trey Millard, Oklahoma (FB-TE); Tyler Gaffney, Stanford (RB); Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky (RB); Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State (TE).
Seventh Round: ; Khyri Thornton, Southern Mississippi (NT); John Brown, Pittsburgh State (WR); Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma (WR); Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State (WR); Ladarius Perkins, Mississippi State (WR); Rob Blanchflower, UMass (TE); Connor Shaw, South Carolina (QB); Jeff Mathews, Cornell (QB); Dustin Vaughn, West Texas A&M (QB).
WEDNESDAY, MAY 7
10 a.m.: Marvin Lewis was in the news today for saying the NFL draft is "like watching paint dry."
I'll take it another step: Reading about the NFL draft is like watching paint. Period.
Yeah, it's over. Been over for a while. Someone said watch the beat men for the late news. Watch the beat men!?!
Ugh. I can't do that. They'll make me read their mock drafts.
I quit reading mock drafts in early March.
With that in mind, and out of respect for your fine sensibilities, I humbly and carefully present my final position group for analysis. And it's the group that's received so much analysis from Steelers-centric experts these last four months that I'm going to just hit the top of the group and move quickly into the middle to late-rounders.
So here, once again, is the rundown of the first-round cornerback prospects who interest a team that's had the fewest interceptions by cornerbacks in the last five NFL seasons, and it hasn't even been close:
* Justin Gilbert (6-0.1, 202, 4.37, 33.1 arm) is big, fast, long-limbed and returns kicks. In four seasons at Oklahoma State he intercepted 12 passes and forced 2 fumbles. But he's not physical, and while he runs with receivers on fly and post patterns, he loses ground out of breaks on intermediate routes.
* Darqueze Dennard (5-10.7, 199, 4.51) fits the Steelers' ideal of a physical corner and was Michigan State's press man in their cover-3. Convincing cases have been made on his behalf by analysts who've seen him play every Saturday. In four seasons, he had 10 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles. He's certainly not the ideal, athletically, for pick 15, but he might be the perfect target in a trade-down scenario.
* Kyle Fuller (5-11.6, 190, 4.49) is the skinny one, but a nice combination of the above two corners, is only 21 years old, and can jump out of the gym. He's my highest-rated corner because he can do so much so well and with such toughness. He had 6 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles in four seasons at Virginia Tech.
* Jason Verrett (5-9.4, 189, 4.38) is an outstanding talent, tough as nails, and visited the Steelers last month. But I'm not drafting a 5-9 corner in the first round. I'm just not. Four years from now, when the 15th pick has developed into an All-Pro, Verrett will still be 5-9. That's a line I hear from Steelers scouts every time I ask about one of these short corners.
* Bradley Roby also visited the Steelers' facility, but I've had him off by personal board for character issues since even before his latest arrest.
On to the cornerback depth.
While the position may not be quite as rich as wide receiver, it's rich nonetheless. The best of the king-kong korners are Stanley Jean-Baptiste (6-2.5, 218, 4.61), Pierre Desir (6-1, 198, 4.59, 33 arm) and Phillip Gaines (6-0.3, 193, 4.38).
Jean-Baptiste, according to draft experts with sources in NFL war rooms, just might be picked in the bottom of the first round. A receiver until early in the 2011 season, Jean-Baptiste broke up 22 passes with 7 interceptions in 19 starts at Nebraska. He's rather dull on tape in that he doesn't envelop receivers the way his size says he should, and isn't all that physical, but he has improved. How much more can he improve as a 24-year-old rookie? Another team will likely pay a higher price than the Steelers to find out.
Gaines of Rice was quite impressive at the combine, and not just because of his sub-4.4 40 and 6.62 3-cone. His work in field drills was sublime, and the Steelers brought him in for a visit. At that size and speed, they probably won't mind his poor tackling in the run game if they can get him with an acquired third-round pick.
Desir is another who would be a fine third-round pick. He's a big zone corner with 25 career interceptions (at two D-2 schools), but he doesn't run like Gaines and will also be a 24-year-old rookie.
If the Steelers want a zone corner with mid-round value, they can sort though prospects such as Ross Cockrell (6-0, 191, 4.56), Terrance Mitchell (5-11.1, 192, 4.61), E.J. Gaines (5-9.5, 190, 4.51), Andre Hal (5-10.3, 188, 4.51) and Bennett Jackson (5-11.7, 195, 4.51).
Cockrell is Duke's all-time leader in interceptions (12) and pass break-ups (41), and he visited with the Steelers.
Mitchell is a gambler from Oregon who came up with 7 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles in three seasons at Oregon. He had the best 3-cone time (6.57) and 20-yard shuttle time (4.0) among cornerbacks at the combine, but he's not all that physical in the run game.
E.J. Gaines had 8 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles his last three seasons at Missouri. A smart team captain, Gaines also returned punts and was aggressive in the run game, so he could have an immediate spot on several special teams.Hal and Jackson both returned kickoffs and both intercepted 6 career passes at Vanderbilt and Notre Dame, respectively. I have both ranked as fifth-rounders.
As for the safety position, the Steelers extended Troy Polamalu, signed free-agent Mike Mitchell, and traded this year's third-rounder to draft Shamarko Thomas last year. They have five experienced safeties on their roster, but still brought in two high-priced prospects -- Calvin Pryor (5-11.1, 207, 4.58) and Deone Bucannon (6-1, 211, 4.49) -- for visits. It's probably because those are the two hardest-hitting safeties in the country and the depth chart does not matter when game-changers present value on draft day.
The Steelers also met with safety-cornerback types such as Brock Vereen (5-11.5, 199, 4.47) , Shaquille Richardson (6- 0, 194 estimate) and Jemea Thomas (5-9.2, 192, 4.54), which would seem to indicate they're looking for hybrid types for their sub-packages in the mid to late rounds.
Steelers' Value Board -- DB
First Round: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech (CB); Calvin Pryor, Louisville (S); Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (CB); Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State (CB).
Second Round: Deone Bucannon, Washington State (S); Jason Verrett, TCU (CB).
Third Round: Phillip Gaines, Rice (CB); Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (CB).
Fourth Round: E.J. Gaines, Missouri (CB); Ross Cockrell, Duke (CB); Terrance Mitchell, Oregon (CB); Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin (S); Brock Vereen, Minnesota (S).
Fifth Round: Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (CB); Bennett Jackson, Notre Dame (CB); Dontae Johnson, North Carolina State (S).
Sixth Round: Shaquille Richardson, Arizona (CB); Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State (S); Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech (S).
TUESDAY, MAY 6
9 a.m.: The pronouncement Monday by Mike Tomlin that Sean Spence has been given "a clean bill of health" after nearly two years of rehabilitation on his knee was certainly good news to the many people supporting the good-natured and hard-working linebacker.
But it still hasn't cleared up the confusion at a position grouping that's always been considered the heart of the Steelers' 3-4 scheme.
Lawrence Timmons is one answer. He's the weak-side inside linebacker, or the mack.
Jason Worilds is another answer. He's the strong-side outside linebacker, but he's still operating on a one-year deal.
Jarvis Jones is supposed to be another answer. He was the No. 1 draft pick a year ago and should start again on opening day at right outside linebacker. If he fails, it will be a surprise. But, he's still unproven at this point.
That's about it for answers. Arthur Moats was signed this off-season to be a top backup at all four positions. Chris Carter is an outside backup. Vince Williams was an emergency starter at the play-calling strong-side inside spot, or buck, and proved he had the brains but not the three-down capability.
So, the Steelers have three starters and three backups for "the heart of the defense." And the only Pro Bowl on the resume belongs to new assistant coach Joey Porter.
This unit needs a Pro Bowler, and perhaps that's why the team brought Anthony Barr in for a visit, even though they drafted an outside backer in the first round last year.
Barr (6-4.7, 255, 4.66) is a spectacular athlete with NFL bloodlines and great upside because of his size and speed. He went to UCLA as a running back but moved to outside linebacker two years ago. In his first season at the position, he finished second in the nation (behind Jones) with 13 1/2 sacks. Barr has knocked out a couple of quarterbacks, but also has been blocked easily by tight ends in the run game at times. He lacks instincts, understandably, but his length and athletic ability are rare.
A plus for the Steelers is that UCLA defensive coordinator Lou Spanos was the long-time quality control coach under Bill Cowher and certainly still has good relationships back on the South Side.
Another potential Pro Bowler is inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (6-2, 234, 4.66), the Alabama captain with two national championship rings.
Mosley directed the Crimson Tide defense from the weakside inside spot, and also has the quiet temperament of Timmons. So while Mosley does everything right and would stay on the field for three downs, he's not quite everything the Steelers are looking for in a buck.
The Steelers might also be nervous about Mosley's medical resume, which includes a dislocated right elbow, a dislocated hip, and a torn right labrum that two seasons later caused him to sit out of combine drills. The question the Steelers must ask themselves is this: How much of a toll have more than 500 high-school tackles and 321 college tackles taken on Mosley?
There's a third first-round option for the Steelers, and it's not without flaw either because lightning-quick vocal Ohio State captain Ryan Shazier (6-1.1, 237) played the 4-3 will outside backer position in college and would be a projection to the Steelers' buck.
Shazier led Ohio State the last two years in tackles (249) to join James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Chris Spielman and Pepper Johnson as the only OSU backers ever to accomplish such a feat. Those were true mike linebackers who showed more instincts and toughness inside, but none came close to matching Shazier's burst of speed, which was backed by a 4.38 40 clocking at his pro day.
Tomlin loves that kind of speed, and frankly who doesn't? Tomlin also coached the player Shazier has patterned his game after, former Tamp Bay superstar Derrick Brooks. Shazier is also young enough (turns 22 on Sept. 6) to hone his instincts, and he has ideal personal and football character (read Dave-Te' Thomas' profile on Shazier.)
Most media mocks have Shazier ranked later in the first round, but NFL personnel men have been known to move quickly on linebackers who can run 4.38 40s.
Steelers' Value Board -- LB
First Round: C.J. Mosley, Alabama (ILB); Anthony Barr, UCLA (OLB); Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (ILB).
Second Round: Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State (OLB); Dee Ford, Auburn (OLB); Scott Crichton, Oregon State (OLB).
Third Round: Kyle Van Noy, BYU (OLB-ILB); Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (OLB); Marcus Smith, Louisville (OLB).
Fourth Round: Trent Murphy, Stanford (OLB); Carl Bradford, Arizona State (OLB).
Sixth Round: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas (OLB).
Seventh Round: Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State (OLB).
MONDAY, MAY 5
8 a.m.: Turns out Steve McLendon played through an injury last season and that might have had something to do with the Steelers' dismal 4.3 yards-against rush average.
It also can be partly blamed on the three rookie linebackers who all started at least one game last season.
It also could've been due in part to the failed experiment that was Ziggy Hood, a born-to-be 3-tech who was drafted in the first round by the Steelers in 2009 and has just left via free agency.
The Steelers not only lost Hood, who had lost his job to Cameron Heyward early in the season, but they lost super-sub Al Woods, who played both defensive end and nose tackle.
The Steelers also, for the time being, have lost the starting end opposite Heyward, Brett Keisel, who waits in limbo at the age of 35 and wonders whether the team will re-sign him when the money spigot gets turned back on post June 1.
So McLendon's healthy, Cam Thomas was signed in free agency to replace Woods, and last year's rookie free-agent surprise, Brian Arnfelt, replaces Hood on the depth chart. That leaves one starter to be named in place of Keisel.
And if Keisel doesn't replace Keisel, who does?
Well, the media's been calling the defensive end at Oregon, Taylor Hart (6-6.1, 281), a Keisel replica ever since I began pining for Hart back on March 14. I spoke with Hart at the combine on Feb. 23, when he told me the Steelers sat down with him for a formal interview. But he wasn't the only one.
The Steelers, of course, have dug deeply into the cases of first-round prospects Ra'Shede Hageman (6-5.7, 310, 5.02, 34.2 arms) and Stephon Tuitt (6-5.4, 304, 34.6 arms), but both would likely be only targets in a trade-down scenario, or if they somehow last until the middle of the second round.
Hageman and Tuitt, of course, would both get in line to become starters as 5-techs, or defensive ends in the Steelers' 3-4.
Hart played there in college as well, as did draft prospects such as Ed Stinson (6-3.2, 287), Brent Urban (6-6.5, 295), Josh Mauro (6-5.7, 271, 5.21) and Will Clarke (6-6.1, 271, 4.77, 34.5 arms).
The 3-4 has become more popular in college, but of course so have the sub-packages which allow 4-3 defensive tackles such as DaQuan Jones (6-3.6, 322, 5.34), Deandre Coleman (6-4.6, 314, 4.77, 34.3 arms), Shamar Stephen (6-5, 309, 5.26), Jay Bromley (6-3.1, 306, 5.06) and Khyri Thornton (6-2.5, 304, 5.03) to spend time at 3-4 end and on the nose as well.
The Steelers are looking at nose tackles as well. Louis Nix (6-2.3, 331, 5.42), like Hageman and Tuitt, is a trade-down prospect in the first or a surprise in the second type. Other true nose tackles are Justin Ellis (6-1.4, 334, 5.27) and Ryan Carrethers (6-1.3, 337, 5.47), the enthusiastic late-rounder who had the right answer when I asked him at the combine if he had any favorite pros.
"Casey Hampton, when he was playing," Carrethers said. "I was always big on football and I watched him. Just his tenacity. I loved how up-tempo he got. For being such a big guy he moved really well."
Carrethers played that way last season at Arkansas State, where he, as a nose tackle, made 93 tackles with 8 for loss and 4 sacks. He also scored a touchdown on his only carry as a fullback and blocked two kicks, one of which secured a bowl game win over Ball State as time expired.
"I don't give up," Carrethers said. "It doesn't matter what the situation is. It doesn't matter if we're playing Auburn or we're facing Georgia State, I play at the same level all the time. If I see the ball, I go get it. If it's upfield and I get a tackle for loss, or if it's 10 yards down field, I keep going."
Carrethers made 7 tackles against Auburn and 12 against Georgia State. His high was 16 against Louisiana-Lafayette as he averaged 8 tackles per game as a senior. That's kind of remarkable for a 330-pound nose tackle, isn't it?
"I think it is," he said. "And I think teams will realize that, too."
Have the Steelers realized that? Had they shown any interest?
"Not per se," the two-time Tennessee state wrestling champ said at the combine. "But I seen them looking at me. They checked out my stuff while I was doing the medical. They were showing interest."
Steelers' Value Board -- DL
Third Round: DaQuan Jones, Penn State.
Fourth Round: Taylor Hart, Oregon; Brent Urban, Virginia.
Fifth Round: Beau Allen, Wisconsin; Deandre Coleman, Cal; Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State.
Sixth Round: Will Clarke, West Virginia.
Seventh Round: Khyri Thornton, Southern Mississippi.
SATURDAY, MAY 3
8 a.m.: So the Steelers are set along the interior of their line with Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster, and they have Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams ready for the competition of their lives at tackle under new line coach Mike Munchak.
That scenario has great potential. And behind those six are serviceable (and versatile) veterans Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper, and behind them are last year's priority free agents Chris "Mother" Hubbard and Nik Embernate, who spent their rookie seasons on the practice squad and injured reserve, respectively.
The Steelers will also get first crack at free agent Fernando Velasco when/if he passes his physical upon returning from last year's Achilles' injury.
Not counting the street free agents they've also added, that gives the Steelers 11 players who are set to get to work under Munchak, the line coach who has electrified the organization with the belief they can return to the elite of the league's rushing teams.
Accordingly, the Steelers don't need to worry about the offensive line in this draft. They can re-stock their defense and add the cherries on the top of their skill positions.
Well, here's a little story former GM Charlie Casserly told on a recent episode of "Path to the Draft" that should be remembered by all of us:
"Will Shields, guard, Nebraska," Casserly started. "We had a mid first-round grade on him. We're in the third round of the draft and he's sticking out like a sore thumb on our board. And I say, 'You know what? We don't need an offensive lineman.' And we didn't at that point in time. We were pretty good. But we needed a linebacker and a punter. And that's how we spent both of our two third-round picks. Neither one ended up being good enough. Will Shields? Fourteen years, 12 Pro Bowls and a finalist for the Hall of Fame.
"Now what do you do from there? What do you learn? A couple of years later we're in the fourth round. We don't need a running back. We've got Terry Allen, who just broke the single-season Redskin rushing record. On the board is Stephen Davis. We have a second-round grade on him. No hesitation. We took Stephen Davis even though we knew he wasn't going to play for us. But four years later he broke Terry Allen's single-season rushing record. Take the best player available."
That probably won't happen in the first round this year, unless Munchak makes a great case for Notre Dame's Zack Martin.
And it probably won't happen in the second round, either. But the mid-rounds are where Munchak has found some pretty good, albeit underrated, prospects.
Overall, Munchak's previous employer drafted 18 offensive linemen in his 17 years. The average pick occurred in the fifth round, as the Oilers/Titans with Munchak took 5 fourth-rounders, 4 sixth-rounders, and 4 seventh-rounders.
The best picks occurred during the 2005 revamping, when they chose tackles Michael Roos of Eastern Washington in the second round and David Stewart of Mississippi State in the fourth.
Both were considered third-rounders who lacked great strength. Both were 6-6. Roos, the left tackle, was the better athlete but both could move their feet.
So, with all of that background, the Value Board today reflects Munchak's history, the lack of need at the position, with a nod to common sense by listing players a round late just in case. I also believe the Steelers would prefer a tackle-guard over a guard-center.
And also remember this: Don't pass on Will Shields for anyone, especially a punter.
Steelers' Value Board -- OL
Third Round: Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee; Jack Mewhort, Ohio State.
Fourth Round: Brandon Thomas, Clemson; Spencer Long, Nebraska; Michael Schofield, Michigan.
Fifth Round: Charles Leno, Boise State; Cameron Fleming, Stanford; Brandon Linder, Miami; Billy Turner, North Dakota State.
Sixth Round: Ryan Groy, Wisconsin.
FRIDAY, MAY 2
8:15 a.m.: Yesterday at the Steelers' South Side practice facility, a beat reporter trying to catch up on the draft with only seven days left asked me if I thought there was any chance Mike Evans could fall to the Steelers at pick 15.
I told him there was a chance because, with so many good receivers in this draft, a team picking in the top 14 might decide to take one who's almost as good in the second round.
In fact, I believe the Steelers should take that approach. Instead of drafting the great route-runner and return man Odell Beckham (5-11.2, 198, 4.41) or Antonio Brown-clone Brandin Cooks (5-9.6, 189, 4.33) at 15, they should wait until pick 46 to draft Davante Adams (6-0.7, 212, 4.58), Allen Robinson (6-2.5, 220, 4.59) or Donte Moncrief (6-2.3, 221, 4.39).
There's even a guy I might like more than all three, but Jarvis Landry (5-11 1/2, 205) ran a 4.77 at the combine and had a vertical jump of only 28 1/2 inches.
Those numbers improved at Landry's pro day, but the more impressive numbers for me are Landry's 2 percent drop rate last season and his 20 special-teams tackles his first two years at LSU.
Yeah. He's Hines Ward.
I know, I know. Every year I look for the next Hines Ward. But I truly believe Landry to be him. At least right now.
Anyway, you can throw some more names into that three-round mix, like Cody Latimer (6-2 1/2, 215, 4.44 pro day), Marqise Lee (5-11.6, 192, 4.46), and Jordan Matthews (6-3.1, 212, 4.47), and I think the Steelers would be happy with any of them joining Brown, Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore to form a strong corps nucleus.
But, yes, I will still take Evans or even Kelvin Benjamin at 15 because of the target size they present for Ben Roethlisberger, who hasn't been allowed to play above the rest of the crowd with another king-sized receiver since his rookie year when he brought out the best in Plaxico Burress.
And, of course, the Steelers need help in the red zone, where they finished 16th in the league last season and have lost 15 of their 20 touchdowns from the 20-and-in when they lost Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders in free agency.
Evans is 6-4 3/4, 231 with 35.1-inch arms and 9.5-inch hands. He ran a 4.53 40 at the combine.
Benjamin is 6-5, 240 with 34.7-inch arms and 10.2-inch hands. He ran a 4.62 40 at the combine.
In my heart, I like Benjamin better because I believe he has better body control and a better demeanor than Evans.
In my head, I rank Evans higher because at 20 years old he's three years younger than Benjamin, played with a scrambling quarterback, and at 35.1 in the VJ actually jumped 2 1/2 inches higher than Benjamin at the combine.
Benjamin also had a 9 percent drop rate last season, but in getting back to his demeanor, I liked his enthusiasm, his effervescence, when I talked to him. Evans might be more polished, maybe even more mature, but in talking to him I got the nagging impression that he'll be looking for that max contract in four or five years and will simply go to the team that offers him one dollar more.
Of course, I have no evidence of this, other than my gut instinct.
But to answer the question, no, I don't think Evans will fall to pick 15. But there is a chance. This crop is that deep.
Steelers' Value Board -- WRs
First Round: Mike Evans, Texas A&M; Odell Beckham, LSU; Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State.
Second Round: Davante Adams, Fresno State; Donte Moncrief, Mississippi; Allen Robinson, Penn State; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt.
Third Round: Jarvis Landry, LSU.
Fourth Round: Bruce Ellington, South Carolina; Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley State.
Fifth Round: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; Josh Huff, Oregon; Kevin Norwood, Alabama.
Sixth Round: Devin Street, Pitt.
Seventh Round: John Brown, Pittsburgh State; Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma; Tracy Moore, Oklahoma State.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30
8:15 a.m.: Pittsburgh is a town that loves a tough, smart running back, and wouldn't it really love a tough, smart running back who could somehow find a way to add punch to the local baseball club's offense?
Talk about a dream athlete.
Well let me introduce yinz to Tyler Gaffney, a 5-11 1/2, 220-pound running back who graduated with a double major from Stanford and a .297 batting average in the Pirates' farm system.
Gaffney was a backup to Stepfan Taylor in 2011 before being drafted by the Pirates in the 24th round in 2012. He quit football and played outfield for 38 games at Class A State College, where he flashed speed and power and was on base 48.3 percent of the time.
Gaffney, though, went back to Stanford last year and rushed for 1,709 yards (5.2), caught 15 passes, and graduated. He ran a 4.49 40 at the combine and figures to be drafted in or around the fifth round.
As a later-round back with size, decent speed, good hands and toughness, Gaffney fits in with guys -- Lorenzo Taliaferro and Trey Millard -- for whom I've made cases to land with the Steelers, a team that has a wide-open roster spot for a third running back.
But the hunch is the Steelers won't be looking for that type of back. Instead of developing an all-around back, the Steelers probably want someone with more speed. Someone who can return kickoffs and change the pace. Someone who can help them now. Someone like De'Anthony Thomas, the 5-8.5, 174-pound "Black Mamba" from Oregon.Black Mamba?
"Snoop Dogg gave me the nickname," Thomas said at the combine. "I played in the Snoop Youth Football League growing up in Los Angeles. My first game against his team, we blew them out 52 to zero. That's when he established me the name 'Black Mamba.'"
I told Thomas I had heard that moniker on someone else. Wasn't it Kobe Bryant?
"Yes," he said. "But I feel like everyone knows that I was that way before Kobe Bryant. He was just in the spotlight more than me. It was my childhood days. But it's great to be looked up to him. Hopefully one day we could do a commercial about it or something."
After reporters stopped chuckling, Thomas, out of South Central L.A., said that he some day wants to be an actor, not a rapper, but more importantly, "I can play receiver. I can play running back. Kick return. Punt return. ... I feel like I'm a playmaker."
Anyone who's watched Oregon the last few years has witnessed Thomas' quickness. Save for Kent State's Dri Archer, Thomas very well could be the quickest playmaker in this draft.
Then again, so was Chris Rainey a few years ago, and Archer and Thomas just might be a little top similar to that failed experiment in that they just might be too small.
Perhaps that's why the Steelers brought in a couple of backs as pre-draft visitors who are a mix of the bigger, full-duty back and the scatback: Lache Seastrunk and Jerick McKinnon.
While they may not be the caliber of thick-and-quick prospects Tre Mason and Devonta Freeman, the Steelers won't have to draft either Seastrunk or McKinnon in the late second or early third rounds, either.
Seastrunk (5-9 1/2, 201, 4.51) has a past that includes track accolades, but also a $25,000 payment that put his first school, Oregon, on three years probation. He transferred to Baylor and in two seasons rushed for 2,189 yards at a 7.6 per-carry clip.
Seastrunk has a low center of gravity and quick feet, and rocked the combine with jumps of 41 1/2 (vertical) and 11-2 (broad). But at Baylor he also took advantage of those wide running lanes that won't be available in the NFL. Another drawback is that he caught only 9 passes and returned only 1 kickoff. Questions still surround his character, as well.
The more intriguing prospect, at least to me, is McKinnon (5-8.7, 209), the former option quarterback at Division I-AA Georgia Southern. He rushed for 3,899 yards in his career and at the combine ran a 4.39 40, and had 32 bench reps and a 40 1/2-inch vertical jump.
McKinnon's receiving and return experience are also minimal, but after playing cornerback, quarterback and two running back positions to serve his annually contending team wherever it needed him at the moment, it might be time for a player who takes football very seriously to take one position very seriously and see how far he can take it.
Steelers' Value Board -- RBs
Fourth Round: Jerick McKinnon, Georgia Southern; Lache Seastrunk, Baylor.
Fifth Round: De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon.
Sixth Round: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina; Trey Millard, Oklahoma; Tyler Gaffney, Stanford; Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky.
Seventh Round: Ladarius Perkins, Mississippi State.
TUESDAY, APRIL 29
11 a.m.: The Steelers don't just have camp bodies at their tight end position, they have four veterans -- Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson and Michael Palmer -- who caught passes for them last season.
Now, their abilities can be debated, heatedly, but the Steelers brought only one tight end prospect in for a pre-draft visit, and late-rounder Rob Blanchflower (6-4.1, 256), a respected captain at UMass with blocking skills and "a solid special-teams temperament," according to analyst Nolan Nawrocki, had some medical issues they needed to check.
While a great first-round case has been made for 21-year-old Eric Ebron (6-4.3, 250, 4.58, 33.2 arms) as a scheme-shifter for OC Todd Haley, I can't wrap my arms (or mind) around a tight end with an 11.4 drop percentage who reportedly had a poor pro day. [But I have just added his name to the first-round list all the same.]
Just the same, I can't get all that excited about a second-round tight end in Austin Seferian-Jenkins (6-5 1/2, 262, 33.6 arms) who reminds me of Eric Green (6-5, 280) because of his size and lazy approach to blocking, and even life, considering Seferian-Jenkins' arrest for DUI (0.18) last year. He also showed up at the combine with a stress fracture in his right foot.
In the third round, I have to pass on C.J. Fiederowicz (6-5.4, 265, 4.76) of Iowa because I believe the Steelers already have him in Spaeth. But I am intrigued by Troy Niklas of Notre Dame because of his size (6-6 1/2, 270, 34.1 arms) and bloodlines. He's a nephew of Bruce Matthews, which in the NFL is akin to the Secretariat gene pool in horse racing.
The problem with Niklas is that he's too inexperienced -- and he didn't run a 40 at the combine -- for serious consideration in the second round. And he's unlikely to last until the Steelers' compensatory pick of the third round. But I'll put him on my Value Board just in case the Steelers acquire a mid-third.
As for late in the draft, the Steelers may as well stick with Paulson and Palmer, but there is one player who stands out to me because of his soft hands, the way he blocked when I watched him play Alabama, and his touchdown catches in both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl: Crockett Gillmore (6-5.7, 260, 4.89, 33.6 arms, 10.3 hands) of Colorado State.
A converted defensive end who just missed a chance to be coached by former CSU DE Coach Joey Porter, Gillmore is a tall, scrappy newcomer to the position and caught 111 passes at 11.8 yards per catch in three seasons. He also scored 8 touchdowns, and that didn't include the two post-season scores that he punctuated with dunks over the crossbars.
"In college you're not allowed to do any of that stuff," Gillmore explained at the combine. "In practice one day I spiked it just messing around and coach got on me. But that was something I told my guys, 'Whenever I get an opportunity without a penalty, then I'll do it.'"
Gillmore, of course, won't be allowed to do it in the NFL, thanks to a new rule, but he wants to be know for something other than touchdowns anyway:
"A blue-collar, work-hard mentality," he said. "I'm a run blocker. That's what I'm good at. That's what I like to do. Anytime we get that opportunity that's what I want to show, and that's what I want to showcase."
Hopefully, new Steelers assistant Porter will remind his boss about that attitude on the third day.
Steelers' Value Board -- TEs
First Round: Eric Ebron, North Carolina.
Third Round: Troy Niklas, Notre Dame.
Sixth Round: Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State.
Seventh Round: Rob Blanchflower, UMass.
MONDAY, APRIL 28
9:45 a.m.: Ten years ago, after the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger, they were hoping for a day like today, when the crabbiest of bloggers has nothing much to say about the upcoming draft as it pertains to the quarterback position.
Roethlisberger just turned 32 and is coming off arguably the best second half of a season of his career.
Roethlisberger played all eight second-half games last season with a passer rating of 95.8 and guided the team to a 6-2 record. He threw 16 touchdown passes, 5 interceptions, and was sacked only 11 times. It erased any question about trading him and completely rebuilding after a first half in which his numbers read 88.5 PR, 2-6 record, 12-9 TD-INT ratio, and 31 sacks.
So, there's no need for me to waste your dwindling pre-draft time with comparisons of Johnny Manziel to Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles for the 2,400th time since the season ended 120 days ago.
And there's really no need to look at mid-round prospects, either. While the Steelers, in my mind, could use another back-up, neither Bruce Gradkowski, who signed a three-year contract prior to last season, nor Landry Jones, who was drafted in the fourth round last year, threw a pass last season, so it's unlikely the Steelers will change their opinions at this point. But I will throw out a few seventh-round and/or free-agent prospects just to officially call this Part I of my Steelers Draft Preview.
(As always, numbers from combine, if attended; decimal points in size = eighths of an inch.)
* Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois (6-0.1, 217, 4.74) -- Led the Huskies to 24-4 career record as more of a runner than thrower. As a senior he completed 60.2 percent of his passes and twice rushed for over 300 yards in a game. Had combine best 6.55 3-cone time to show off his agility, but my recommendation is that he become a safety.
* Jeff Mathews, Cornell (6-3.6, 223) -- Ivy Leaguer with a strong arm, size, football IQ and leadership skills. Good enough for me. Bonus point: has the potential to replace Randy Fichtner some day as the position coach.
* Stephen Morris, Miami (6-1.7, 213, 4.63) -- Might have the strongest buggy whip of an arm since Joe Gilliam. His many problems at Miami may have had to do with playing for three different offensive coordinators, but he might be too much work for a team with three QBs already. Priority free agent only.
* Bryn Renner, North Carolina (6-3.2, 228) -- Doesn't show the strong arm or the football IQ to make it worth the Steelers' while.
* Connor Shaw, South Carolina (6-0.3, 206, 4.66) -- Had a 27-5 record under Steve Spurrier after replacing Stephen Garcia. Plays like Jeff Garcia.
* Dustin Vaughn, West Texas A&M (6-4.7, 235) -- Big guy with small hands who put up Dan Marino-like numbers in Division Two. Not sure why he wasn't invited to the combine, but he's said to be very competitive, tough, vocal and durable. I'd like to see more.
* Keith Wenning, Ball State (6-2.5, 218, 5.01) -- Four-year starter with great football character but only average arm strength.
Steelers' Value Board -- QBs
Seventh Round: Connor Shaw, South Carolina; Jeff Mathews, Cornell; Dustin Vaughn, West Texas A&M.
FRIDAY, APRIL 25
7:45 a.m.: The Steelers yesterday hosted pass-rusher Demarcus Lawrence and running back Jerick McKinnon.
Lawrence is a pass-rusher in the James Harrison mold and can probably be had in the second round because of a slow 4.79 40 at the combine.
Lawrence measured 6-2.7, 251 with 33 3/4 arms and 11-inch hands, and he put up some interesting stats in his two years at Boise State out of the junior-college ranks.
In 2012, Lawrence had 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles-for-loss, an interception, 4 forced fumbles, a blocked kick, a fumble return for a touchdown, and had 2 suspensions.
In 2013, Lawrence had 10.5 sacks, 20.5 tackles-for-loss, 3 forced fumbles, another blocked kick, and another suspension.
The suspensions haven't been explained by the school, nor a journalist, but if there's one position the Steelers don't need another choirboy it's outside linebacker, and Lawrence has been compared to Harrison in both demeanor and rush ability (can bend and run the arc), as well as the lack of timed speed.
McKinnon stands 5-8.7, 209 and opened combine eyes with a 4.39 40 and a position-high 32 bench reps. He's strong and fast and was raised as a triple-option QB at Division I-AA Georgia Southern.
McKinnon actually went to the school as a cornerback, but as a junior started 10 games at QB and rushed for 316 yards against Central Arkansas. As a senior he started 5 games at QB, but was predominantly a tailback and rushed for 1,050 yards (6.5 avg.), including a 9-for-125 performance in the win over Florida.
For his career, the small, stout and powerful runner had 3,899 yards but only 10 receptions. He's considered a fifth-round prospect.
THURSDAY, APRIL 24
10:45 a.m.: You've no doubt heard and read the work of acclaimed draft analyst David-Te'Thomas, and today Scout.com proudly announces a new working relationship with him.
His work can be read right here, right now with profiles of his top 100 prospects.
Te'Thomas' work will no doubt provide more fodder to a message-board conversation we've been having about the 2014 draft for what seems like the last 15 years.
Don't worry. The draft is only two weeks away.
6:45 a.m.: The Steelers will play five prime-time games this season: two each on Sunday and Monday nights and one on a Thursday, and will also be at the mercy of an increased flexible scheduling set-up that puts attending fans at scheduling dilemmas in Weeks 5-10 in addition to the normal Weeks 11-17.
During Weeks 5-10, flexible scheduling can be used in no more than two weeks by shifting a Sunday afternoon game into prime-time and moving the Sunday night game to an afternoon start time.
Flexible scheduling will be used in Weeks 11-17 as it has been in recent years. In Weeks 11-16, the schedule lists the games tentatively set for Sunday Night Football. Only Sunday afternoon games are eligible to be moved to Sunday night, in which case the tentatively scheduled Sunday night game would be moved to an afternoon start time.
A flexible scheduling move would be announced at least 12 days before the game. For Week 17, the Sunday night game will be announced no later than six days prior to December 28. The schedule does not list a Sunday night game in Week 17, but an afternoon game with playoff implications will be moved to that time slot.
Steelers 2014 Preseason Schedule:
Saturday, Aug. 9, at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m. (KDKA-TV)
Saturday, Aug. 16, BUFFALO, 7:30 p.m. (KDKA-TV)
Thursday, Aug. 21, at Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. (KDKA-TV)
Thursday, Aug. 28, CAROLINA, 7:30 p.m. (KDKA-TV)
Steelers 2014 Regular-Season Schedule
Sunday, Sept. 7, CLEVELAND, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Thursday, Sept. 11, at Baltimore, 8:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Sunday, Sept. 21, at Carolina, 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI-TV)
Sunday, Sept. 28, TAMPA BAY, 1 p.m. (FOX/WPGH-TV)
Sunday, Oct. 5, at Jacksonville*, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Sunday, Oct. 12, at Cleveland*, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Monday, Oct. 20, HOUSTON, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN/WTAE-TV)
Sunday, Oct. 26, INDIANAPOLIS*, 4:25 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Sunday, Nov. 2, BALTIMORE*, 8:30 p.m. (NBC/WPXI-TV)
Sunday, Nov. 9, at New York Jets*, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Monday, Nov. 17, at Tennessee, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN/WTAE-TV)
Sunday, Nov. 30, NEW ORLEANS*, 1 p.m. (FOX/WPGH-TV)
Sunday, Dec. 7, at Cincinnati*, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Sunday, Dec. 14, at Atlanta*, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Sunday, Dec. 21, KANSAS CITY*, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
Sunday, Dec. 28, CINCINNATI*, 1 p.m. (CBS/KDKA-TV)
*Times and TV network may change due to flexible scheduling
(All times are Eastern)
TUESDAY, APRIL 22
3 p.m.: The Steelers today picked up the fifth-year option on defensive end Cameron Heyward, a "no-brainer" in the opinion of resident capologist Ian Whetstone, who said the $6.969M salary for Heyward in 2015 won't cost the Steelers anything until the first day of the 2015 season. The money is guaranteed for injury only, "so there's limited risk even if he weren't such an up-and-comer," said Whetstone, who pointed out the money becomes fully guaranteed on the first day of the next league year.
"They'll presumably look to negotiate a long-term deal next off-season, so I don't think he's likely to play under it, anyway," he added. "It just becomes a jumping-off point for negotiations. It is effectively a lot like a cheaper, built-in franchise tag for the 2015 year."
* The Steelers opened their strength-and-conditioning portion of the off-season today, but continued hosting draft prospects. Today the team hosted Duke CB Ross Cockrell, a 6-0, 191-pound ballhawk who ran a 4.56 40 at the combine after intercepting 12 career passes at Duke.
Cockrell, you may remember, frustrated Texas A&M WR Mike Evans into two early personal fouls in a New Year's Eve bowl game. It was Cockrell's final game before playing in the East-West Shrine game, during which broadcast analyst Mike Mayock raved about Cockrell's ball skills and said the player intercepted at least one pass every practice that week.
MONDAY, APRIL 21
11 a.m.: I'm back from my daughter's soccer tournament in Dallas and the Steelers are back to work after a three-day Easter hiatus. Today they're hosting UCLA 3-4 outside linebacker prospect Anthony Barr and Wisconsin nose tackle Beau Allen.
Barr, of course, is a first-round prospect with raw and exceptional pass-rushing tools.
As for the raw part, he missed his senior season of high school with a broken ankle and played running back (team's Offensive Rookie of Year in 2010) for two college seasons before coach Jim Mora convinced him to move to defense.
As for the exceptional part, in two seasons as an outside linebacker, Barr recorded 23 1/2 sacks and 41 1/2 tackles-for-loss. At the combine he measured 6-5, 255, ran a 4.66 40 (1.56 10) with a 34 1/2 vertical jump, 15 reps and a third-best at his position 3-cone time of 6.82.
Two weeks later at the UCLA pro day, Barr improved his bench to 19 reps and Mora told reporters Barr had an "electronic" 40 time of 4.44.
Barr's weaknesses are strength and instincts, which could cause him to drop to the Steelers at pick 15.
Allen is the guy who kept MLB Chris Borland clean to make plays for the Wisconsin Badgers the last four seasons.
Allen is a 6-2 1/2, 329-pound nose tackle to who set the school record with 54 games played. He didn't miss a game in four years as he played defensive tackle in a 4-3 the first three seasons and nose tackle in a schematic shift to the 3-4 last season.
Allen wasn't invited to the combine, but put up outstanding numbers at his pro day: 30 reps, 31 vertical jump and a 1.7 10-yard dash time.
A three-time Academic All-Big Ten member, Allen was smart enough to run only a 10 instead of a 40 at his pro day due to a "tweak" in his hamstring.
A mid-round prospect, Allen had 8 sacks, 15 tackles-for-loss and 2 blocked kicks in his college career.
THURSDAY, APRIL 17
1 p.m.: The Steelers today are hosting Minnesota DE Ra'Shede Hageman, UMass TE Rob Blanchflower, and Rice CB Phillip Gaines.
Hageman, of course, has been discussed several times in past stories on this site. He's a 6-6, 310-pounder with 34 1/4 arms who played all across Minnesota's line but projects best as a 3-4 defensive end.
At the combine, Hageman ran a 5.02 40 with 32 reps and a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump. I believe he would be a solid first-round pick for the Steelers.
Gaines is a 6-0, 193-pound cornerback with 4.38 combine speed. He also repped 15 times with a vertical jump of 36 1/2 inches. Gaines was outstanding in his combine field drills and is coming off a 4-interception season. He's considered a second or third-round prospect.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16
10 a.m.: The Steelers have made another outstanding albeit underrated free-agency signing by landing eighth-year punter Adam Podlesh.
You may remember Podlesh as the other punter in whom the Steelers had shown interest in 2007. After Podlesh was drafted in the fourth round, the Steelers seemingly panicked and traded up to draft the other one, Daniel Sepulveda.
Podlesh (5-11, 200, 8) was originally drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round (101st overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. He spent the 2007-2010 seasons with Jacksonville and the 2011-2013 seasons with the Chicago Bears.
He has punted in 107 regular-season contests, recording 467 punts for 19,816 yards with a long punt of 76 yards. Podlesh has averaged 40.0+ yards per punt in every single season of his career and has 157 career punts downed inside the opponent's 20-yard line in the regular season.
MONDAY, APRIL 14
11 a.m.: The Steelers aren't taking Easter week off, or at least the first part of it. They're hosting three players today, including one of my favorite college players of the past season, DE-OLB-DT-NT Scott Crichton. I'll have more on Scott tomorrow. I have a combine interview stashed away and then will be an appropriate time for it.
Crichton (6-3, 273) ran a 4.84 40 (1.62 10) at the combine with 24 reps and a vertical jump of 31 1/2 inches. More than his weights and measures, Crichton will be drafted for his production. He only made 47 tackles last season but 40 percent of those were behind the line of scrimmage. Among those 19 tackles-for-loss were 7.5 sacks.
As a three-year starter at Oregon State, Crichton had 51 tackles-for-loss (31 percent of his tackles) and 22.5 sacks.
Crichton was so quick off the ball and so versatile and productive that he could sneak into the bottom of the first round.
The Steelers are also hosting cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Shaquille Richardson today.
Richardson measured 6-0.1, 194 at his Arizona pro day, where he ran a 4.43 40 and had a vertical jump of 38.5 inches. He wasn't invited to the combine, but is highly regarded by scouts who like his fluid hips, long arms, size, speed and potential to play free safety.
As a corner at Arizona, Richardson had 10 career interceptions as a three-and-a-half-year starter.
Verrett is another of my favorite players and just might last until the 46th pick because he's short (5-9) and slightly built (189) with short arms (30 1/2). But he can run (4.38/1.47, 6.69 3-cone), lift (19 reps), jump (39 vj, 10-8 bj) and is oh-so-tough on the field. I can just hear Carnell Lake telling us on Day Two of the draft that Verrett is a first-rounder who fell to them in the second round because of his lack of size.
FRIDAY, APRIL 11
11:15 a.m.: Yesterday, scout-turned-TV analyst Daniel Jeremiah tabbed Ohio State CB Bradley Roby as the Steelers' first-round pick in his mock draft.
I shuddered. The 5-11, 194 Roby did run a 4.39 40 (1.47 10) at the combine, with a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump, but he was suspended for a game last season after being arrested at a bar for a battery charge that was reduced to disorderly conduct. I've learned from a source that this incident typified Roby's character.
Of course, the Steelers will learn more about Roby today.
The Steelers are also hosting a mid-round ILB prospect with safety speed in Kevin Pierre-Louis of Boston College.
The 6-0, 232-pounder had the fastest combine 40 time (4.51) of all linebackers and repped 28 times with a vertical jump of 39 inches.
A four-year starter at OLB at BC, Pierre-Louis had 108 tackles last year with 10.5 tackles-for-loss and 6 sacks.
Of course, all of the college OLBs the Steelers have been hosting are projected as ILBs in the Steelers' scheme, and more specifically as buck linebackers.
That may even hold true for the third visitor today, Carl Bradford, who played defensive end at Arizona State but who projects best as an ILB with the Steelers.
Bradford is 6-1, 250 and ran a 4.76 combine 40 with an impressive vertical jump of 37.5 inches. In the last two seasons, Bradford recorded 39.5 tackles-for-loss with 20 sacks. His resume is marred by a run-in last season with overweight teammate Will Sutton and members of coach Todd Graham's staff. It resulted in a second-half benching, but it's unknown to me whether the incident was sparked by poor character or strong leadership.
And, yes, that's a remark directed at both Sutton and Graham.
Bradford, like Pierre-Louis, will likely be drafted in the third or fourth round.
THURSDAY, APRIL 10
4 p.m.: The Steelers' home preseason games have been scheduled:
* Week 2's game against the Buffalo Bills will be played Saturday, Aug. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
* Week 4's game against the Carolina Panthers will be played Thursday, Aug. 28 at 7:30 p.m.
Noon: We go from offensive playmakers to some of the heaviest hitters in college football last season as LBs Ryan Shazier and Jordan Zumwalt and LB-like strong safety Deone Bucannon are visiting the team today at their South Side headquarters.
If you're walking the halls today, be careful.
Shazier is an interesting ILB prospect from Ohio State whom I wrote about late last week in a notes column. Apparently, the report that he had visited two weeks ago was incorrect. Shazier is a 6-1, 237-pounder who at the combine ran a 6.91 3-cone, repped 25 times, jumped 42 vertically and 10-10 horizontally. At his pro day, he reportedly ran a 4.36 40 to make him a first-round lock.
Zumwalt, 6-4, 234, ran a 4.76 40 with a 6.99 3-cone and jumps of 33 and 9-8. He's the guy who knocked out Virginia Tech's king-sized QB Logan Thomas during a bowl game. Zumwalt talked to me about it at the combine. You can read the interview here if you scroll down one day in The Morning After. Zumwalt also talked about laying out De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon, among other linebacker-ly topics. He's a mid-round prospect.
Bucannon might be the hardest hitter of the three. The Washington State strong safety is called a "tone-setter" whose weakness is "overaggressiveness."
At the combine, Bucannon measured 6-1, 211 and ran his 40 in 4.49 with 19 reps and jumps of 36 1/2 and 10-5. He led the Pac-10 in tackles with 114 and intercepted 6 passes and forced 3 fumbles. A four-year starter and three-year captain, Bucannon had 384 career tackles, 15 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles. He's likely to be drafted in the second round.
6:45 a.m.: A 22-minute radio interview with Greg Cosell on the wide receiver prospects.
5:20 a.m.: Here's more Odell Beckham, showing off the 10-inch hands that were topped at his position at the combine by only Kelvin Benjamin, Jarvis Landry and Willie Snead at 10 1/4 and Jordan Matthews at 10 3/8.
5 a.m.: Former LSU WR Odell Beckham Jr. was a guest yesterday on SiriusXM NFL Radio with hosts Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller, and he was asked which teams are showing interest in him.
Kirwan: "Who is showing interest, who was there today [at LSU's Pro Day] to make sure they spent time with you?"
Beckham: "To be honest with you, I think everybody was here. I saw all different colors, I saw the whole rainbow today. I spent time with the 49ers. I had dinner with the Steelers last night. I'm going to Buffalo tomorrow, actually. So pretty much everybody was here and today was a great day."
Beckham, of course, has been a personal favorite of mine and many on this site throughout the past season. Here's Beckham talking to reporters after his workout yesterday, courtesy of Tiger TV.
More on Beckham below, but the 5-11 1/4, 198-pound speedster averaged 19.5 yards per catch last season, 26.9 per kickoff return and 10.1 per punt return.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9
3:30 p.m.: This preseason the Steelers will play (at) the New York Giants, the Buffalo Bills, (at) the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Carolina Panthers.
3:25 p.m.: To add to the report below, David Helman just reported that Jarvis Landry ran a 4.58, unofficial.
3:15 p.m.: No surprise that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert showed up at the LSU pro day to take a look at an array of prospects led by first-round wide receiver/return man Odell Beckham.
Beckham is a 5-11.2, 198-pounder who ran a 4.43 40 and jumped 38 1/2 inches at the combine. He caught 59 passes at 19.5 yards per catch with 8 touchdowns last season and would provide legitimate value at pick 15.
WR Jarvis Landry could interest the Steelers if he improves upon his 4.77 40 at the combine. But the 5-11 1/2, 204-pounder will also need to improve greatly on his combine vertical jump of 28 1/2 inches, a full 10 inches short of Beckham's jump. Landry caught 77 passes at 15.5 per with 10 touchdowns last season.
The Steelers might have an interest in either of the defensive tackles, Ego Ferguson (6-3, 315) or Anthony Johnson (6-2, 308), in the middle rounds.
Two other highly regarded LSU prospects -- QB Zach Mettenberger and OG Trai Turner -- are likely too rich, as second-rounders, to match Steelers needs.
And power back Jeremy Hill has the kind of checkered past -- punching people -- that would make Dan Rooney shudder.
8:15 a.m.: One of the publishers here at Scout.com put together a fun toy called The Mock Muncher, which takes into account all of the media mock drafts and spits out a player for each team.
The problem with such compilations is that it dumbs the pick down via consensus media, and we know how little -- and behind the times -- the media can be.
In the instance here with the Steelers, I believe it's becoming understood that Mike Evans will be gone and that Darqueze Dennard isn't quite worthy of pick 15. But, hey, don't let me ruin your fun. The second-round pick seems to be in line with the times.
TUESDAY, APRIL 8
2:30 p.m.: Here's what Greg Pickel of FightOnState.com forwarded to me about Penn State DT/NT DaQuan Jones from today's pro day:
"DaQuan Jones looks good. He trained in Florida with [former Penn State linebacker] Glen Carson and [former USC running back] Silas Redd. The tackle checked in at 6-4, 324 and will now train with [Penn State strength and conditioning coach] Dwight Galt and company in State College before the draft. He did not have any of his testing numbers. He said teams are talking about 3-tech and nose and not so much 4-3 and 3-4."
For more information about the Penn State pro day, check out Pickel's information at the links in the following entry:
2 p.m.: Don't expect news about any visitors to the South Side today because Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are at Penn State's pro day, no doubt watching wide receiver Allen Robinson and nose tackle DaQuan Jones.
The Steelers met with both players at the combine, and with good reason since both are schematic fits as early to mid-round prospects. But neither prospect did much of note at the combine. Today, at least Robinson changed that.
According to FightOnState.com's Greg Pickel, Robinson was told by scouts that he ran between a 4.42 and a 4.47 40. That must be a relief to the 6-2.5, 220-pound Robinson after he was timed at a disappointing 4.60 (1.54 10) at the combine.
Robinson, who averaged 14.1 yards per each of his 174 catches the last two seasons, also improved his jumps today. His vertical of 42 inches and his broad of 11 feet bettered his respective combine numbers of 39 and 10-7.
I'm waiting for an update from Greg (@GregPickel on twitter) on Jones' pro day performance. At the combine, the 6-4, 322-pounder ran a respectable 5.35 40 but only put up 21 reps of 225 pounds.
Robinson probably solidified a second-round draft grade, while Jones, in my opinion, is a late third-round consideration.
MONDAY, APRIL 7
12:45 p.m.: It's highly unlikely he'll be chosen by the Steelers at pick 15, but Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, considered a late first-round prospect, is visiting with the team today.
Probably the top-ranked strong safety -- and my second or third overall safety behind HaHa Clinton-Dix (and Jimmy Ward, based solely on Ward's Senior Bowl practices and game) -- Pryor is most likely being considered by the Steelers as either part of any trade-down pool or as a second-rounder.
Pryor is a quick-twitch, hard-hitting safety who measured 5-11, 297 at the combine and ran his 40 in 4.58 with a 34 1/2 vertical jump. He has 7 career interceptions and will turn 22 on July 2.
The Steelers just signed free-agent FS Mike Mitchell to a five-year contract and have Shamarko Thomas in the pipeline as Troy Polamalu's replacement at SS. The Steelers also have quality depth at the position with Will Allen and Robert Golden.
FRIDAY, APRIL 4
1:20 p.m.: The Steelers are hosting a pair of draft prospects today who know all about life in the NFL.
South Carolina WR Bruce Ellington is the cousin of Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington and is a highly regarded prospect in his own right.
A former big-school prep state championship quarterback in South Carolina, Ellington also was a starting point guard for three years on the USC basketball team. As a freshman he averaged 12.8 points per game to lead the team.
As a WR, the 5-9.3, 197-pounder is a shifty slot type who has the potential to return kicks. He returned 23 kickoffs in two years in college for an average of 23.4. He only returned 3 punts with a 5.3 average. Ellington caught 89 passes the last two seasons for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass against Wisconsin in the Capitol One Bowl.
At the combine, Ellington ran a 4.45 40 and had a vertical jump of 39 1/2 inches. In a deep crop of receivers, Ellington is likely a third-round prospect.
The Steelers also hosted Minnesota S/CB Brock Vereen, younger brother of New England RB Shane Vereen, son of former Tampa Bay draft pick Henry Vereen, and a first cousin once removed of actor Ben Vereen.
Vereen started 32 games at both strong safety and cornerback as a Golden Gopher and had 4 career interceptions. He's known for his work ethic, instincts, and special-teams play, but at 5-11.5, 199 has a slight build. At the combine he ran a 4.47 40 and repped 25 times.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 2
1:30 p.m.: The Steelers just announced the signing of speedy wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey to a one-year contract.
For more information on the 6-1.5, 210-pound former track champ, read this morning's entry below (7:30 a.m.).
11:30 a.m.: The Steelers are hosting cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive end Stephon Tuitt today. The team has met with them at least once before.
Tuitt told me he met with both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert at the combine, and Tomlin showed up at the Notre Dame pro day as well. Dennard had dinner with Tomlin and Colbert the night before his pro day.
Dennard, who'll turn 23 in October, is a 5-11, 191-pound press-man corner who ran the 40 in 4.51 at the combine and put up 15 bench reps. His strength is his main asset, but he's also intercepted 10 career passes and forced 3 fumbles in 40 starts at Michigan State.
I have him ranked third at his position behind Justin Gilbert and Kyle Fuller, but Dennard's physical style of play will certainly endear him to the Steelers.
Tuitt, who'll turn 21 in May, is a 6-5, 304-pounder who put the bar up 31 times at the combine with his long 34 3/4-inch arms.
Built like the Steelers' best 5-techniques of the past, Tuitt has 21 1/2 career sacks, with his best season in 2012 when he recorded 12 1/2.
Hernia surgery in the off-season plagued Tuitt throughout his junior (2013) season, and his straight-line speed and lack of quick-twitch muscle fiber make him a late first-rounder with a chance to last until the Steelers pick in the second round.
7:30 a.m.: According to the Post-Gazette, the Steelers today will host former sprint champion Darrius Heyward-Bey, the wide receiver who was infamously drafted seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders in the 2009 draft.
Heyward-Bey spent four years with the Raiders and then signed a one-year $3 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts last season. With the Colts he caught 29 passes for 309 yards and 1 touchdown. In his five-year career, Heyward-Bey has 169 catches and 12 touchdowns. He averages 14.1 yards per catch.
A Maryland state 100 (10.44) and 200 (23.44) meter prep champion, Heyward-Bey reportedly turned down "elite" track scholarships to play football and "make friends" in collge. He attended the University of Maryland, and left after his junior season (42-609-5) for the NFL.
At the 2009 combine, Heyward-Bey measured 6-1.5, 210 and ran an official 4.30 with a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump.
The Raiders played three games against the Steelers during Heyward-Bey's time in Oakland, but he was inactive for the first two games and was knocked out of the third by safety Ryan Mundy. In that game, Heyward-Bey caught 2 passes for 14 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown that tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter, before leaving in an ambulance in the fourth quarter.
According to the updated April 1 numbers of SCI.net capologist Ian Whetstone, the Steelers still have $451,934 in available cap space, more than enough -- considering roster displacement -- to land Heyward-Bey.
TUESDAY, APRIL 1
1:45 p.m.: The Steelers signed former Texans CB Brice McCain to a one-year contract.
A sixth-round draft pick out of Utah in 2009, McCain is 5-9, 185-pounder who started 10 games in 5 seasons and has 5 interceptions. He was on the field for 315 special-teams snaps the last 2 seasons for the Texans, and that will likely be his niche if he makes the Steelers' roster.
1:15 p.m.: The Steelers began the process of hosting pre-draft visitors today with the arrival of wide receiver Donte Moncrief from Ole Miss and running back Lache (pronounced Lake) Seastrunk from Baylor.
Moncrief is a 6-2, 221-pounder who caught 59 passes for 938 yards and 6 touchdowns last season. He met with the Steelers at the combine, where he was timed at 4.40 in the 40, 1.50 in the 10, had a vertical jump of 38 1/2 inches and a broad jump of 11-0. Those jumps missed his personal bests of 41 and 11-5, respectively.
Moncrief is likely a second-round prospect.
Seastrunk is a 5-9, 201-pound back who is quick in the hole but did not catch a pass last season (nine in 2012). He rushed for 2,189 yards the last two seasons at a ridiculous average of 7.6 yards per carry, and five of his 19 career touchdowns were 68 yards or longer.
At the combine, Seastrunk had times of 4.51/1.60 and jumps of 41 1/2 and 11-2. He's most likely a third-round prospect.