Are Steelers Desperate And Discombobulated?

Jim Wexell with analysis following the flurry of activity surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who scanned the message boards for almost 12 minutes to find an insult with which I can lead:

* The winner this morning is "desperate and discombobulated."

* I'm sure to the readers at home looking at a team that's been neatly analyzed, compartmentalized and defined by the beat writers the Pittsburgh Steelers must seem that way. But way back before this oversaturation of NFL coverage, fourth- and sixth-round picks were cut quite often, and without anything close to the kind of negative reaction we're seeing today.

* Tomlin explained it this way: "We're trying to put together a collection of men who give us the very best chance to do what we're trying to do."

* Of course, that means just win, baby.

* I can only speak for myself, but when I wrote about the players in question, Doran Grant and Anthony Chickillo, I wrote that Grant will be on scholarship this year and I predicted Chickillo would be cut. Tomlin apparently agreed on Chickillo. As for that scholarship year, Tomlin said screw that, we have to have guys who can help us win.

* There's something admirable about putting a team together that way.

* OK, you say, what about Landry Jones, Dri Archer, Roosevelt Nix, Tyler Murphy and Cam Thomas?

* Jones would be picked up. Personally, that wouldn't matter to me, but to a team that wants three quarterbacks, and lived through two worse seasons with Jones, it wouldn't make sense to cut him after he's shown improvement this preseason. Hey, maybe he'll come in and convert a third down at some point this season.

* Archer is still fast. No, he doesn't break many tackles, but again no sense on giving up on sub-4.2 speed right now. Maybe next week. But not right now.

* Nix might be a backup fullback, but remember that Will Johnson didn't work at all with the running backs this offseason. He's strictly a tight end now. Of course, he can easily motion into the backfield to lead block, but he's never been a buckethead lead-blocker in the Dan Kreider tradition. Nix has that potential. Maybe the Steelers really want a true lead-blocker for short-yardage situations. Sure they could've cut him and brought him back to the practice squad, but as I wrote yesterday in my hella-good James Harrison column, giving a young, high-character guy a taste of The Show -- before I presume he and Murphy are released to bring back Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant -- is not a bad idea. It really is a touch of class.

* Besides, maybe Harrison said something to the coach about keeping Nix.

* Just kidding, of course.

* And no, I didn't get much feedback on the Harrison column. Too long to get to the point. I know. But I liked it. And of the little feedback I did get, some people really, really liked it.

* OK, I'll give you folks a break on writing about Harrison for a while. I just find him so intriguing and such a central figure to this team's success or failure this season.

* Speaking of the discombobulation of the defense, I would agree that it seems as if they don't really know which scheme to make their staple, and then build from there. That's how it should work -- on paper. I think they're still searching and looking, and stuff really does come together as the season progresses. I do know that Joe Greene didn't tilt his stance in the A gap in an offseason.

* Just to look back at the starts of some of the greatest defensive seasons in NFL history, the 1976 Steelers lost their opener at Oakland, 31-28; the 1985 Chicago Bears beat Tampa Bay, 38-28, in their opener; and the 1986 New York Giants lost at Dallas, 31-28, in their opener.

* Now, the 1991 Philadelphia Eagles won their opener 20-3, and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens blanked the Steelers 16-0 in their opener. But in each of those team's second games the Eagles allowed 26 in a loss and the Ravens beat the Jacksonville Jaguars by 39-36.

* It's about adjusting on the fly and learning what you can and can't do with particular players. Let's give Tomlin and Keith Butler another minute to figure this stuff out.

* Speaking of the '85 Bears and the "46 Defense," the guy it was named after -- Norwin (Pa.) High School's Doug Plank -- wasn't on the team when it finally hit its championship stride.

* I'm expecting this season to begin the following week for the Steelers defense anyway. I have no expectation of anything close to a sound showing at New England.

* That way I can only be surprised.

* But I won't be writing an excuses column, either. This is it.

* Am I just making excuses for a "desperate and discombobulated" team? Well, I prefer to say I'm taking a contrarian stance. I do that when people are ganging up. Ask my Twitter and Facebook friends and foes.

* Sure, it looks bad that on the same day the Steelers cut a fourth-round pick and benched a guy they traded up to draft in the third round a few years ago. But that's the way the draft game goes for every team. And I would much rather those in charge here admit to their mistakes instead of forcing us to watch those mistakes compound.

* And of course that brings me back to Archer and Jones. But, I think I've explained their sides of the story. Don't give me any of that "gotcha" stuff.

* I never did explain away Cam Thomas staying on the roster. Well, he is experienced. The only other thing I can say about Cam is GO WASH YOUR JERSEY.

* Dude. Geez.

* Whoops. I'm not supposed to write about what I saw in practice.

* I wish I never did see those filthy jersey pants anyway.

* A couple of good news notes, Ross Cockrell is two inches taller than Grant and gives the Steelers their second cornerback at 6-foot or taller.

* Ross told me he believes the Steelers knew Bills GM Doug Whaley was going to recall him to the practice squad. I wondered about that, the way the Steelers snatched a guy who was cut in the first wave of cuts.

* I also wonder about Tampa Bay paying Howard Jones the minimum wage of a rostered player just to be on the practice squad. This after Jones had reportedly agreed to join the Steelers' practice squad. It made me wonder whether that played a role in the Steelers signing former Buc rookie DE Caushaud Lyons.

* The folks who wanted help for the defensive line have to be intrigued by Lyons. He's 6-5, 295, runs a sub 4.9 40 and was very active as a pass-rusher this preseason. I would rather have this kind of an athlete on scholarship than a 5-10 cornerback who hasn't shown any "wow" skills to this point.

* Don't get me wrong. I do like Grant as a solid corner prospect. Hopefully he joins the practice squad today.

* I think I'm allowed to write about things I heard at practice, so there was this beeping noise and me and the boys were waiting in the gripping heat for the end of the workout. Usually a beeping nose means the cameraman is coming down from his perch and that means practice is over. But as we heard the beeping, we looked at the cameraman and his lift wasn't coming down. We hypothesized that it was Belichick's cameraman up on the mountain overlooking the field.

* The tight end signed to the practice squad, Harold Spears, was called "an excellent fit" for the Steelers by draft expert Tony Pauline, who added that Spears is an "underrated athlete w/consistent hands. Catches all the underneath routes then sneaks it downfield when no one is watching." Packers beat man Bob McGinn also wrote Spears, who made a positive impression on McGinn with his receiving skills. Spears is a 6-3.5, 251-pound FB/H-back type with a 4.75 time in the 40. He caught 111 passes at the University of New Hampshire.

* So, yes, the Steelers personnel department is in fact working. I also like running back Dominique Brown, a rookie out of Louisville who was also signed to the practice squad. He's a powerful 6-2, 234-pounder who fits a zone scheme and was a wildcat QB for Charlie Strong during his freshman season. He doesn't have deep speed, nor is he very elusive, but he could help late in the season.

* Hopefully that won't be necessary.

* Enjoy your Labor Day. I've got to get to work. I'm going up that mountain to look for Belichick's boy today.


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