A caller to the Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley morning show on Fox 970 AM introduced himself Friday as a friend of Bill Cowher's and said this has been in the works for some time, and that Law will sit out the 2005 season and sign with the Steelers in 2006. Well, perhaps, but crackpots often call with such stories that never pan out. Then again, the Steelers did admit to making a mistake when they allowed Rod Woodson to leave the organization. Could Law fall into that same category as a future, wily free safety?
I left my sick daughter with a babysitter for a quick trip to the South Side to find out. I asked a source this question: Why?
"Why not?" was the reply. "You know, not everything is a conspiracy. You listen to too much Neil Young."
I did some quick work and left. The Post-Gazette, I find out this morning, listens to Neil Young, too. The headline asked the same question: Why?
Turning to the Tribune-Review, always my second choice, I found the answer. "He was here to visit his mother," said Dan Rooney.
EYE ON THE MEDIA
I have to hand it to Mike Prisuta of the Trib. He did a good job last week. After the paper fell on its face on the opening day of the NFL's new fiscal year -- fencing instead of football -- the paper has done a better job than the P-G.
Prisuta, first of all, had the numbers right in the Chad Scott-Jay Riemersma releases, then reported Cedrick Wilson's visit. Prisuta was also the only reporter with the Law visit, as well as the only explanation, albeit a day later.
Now, Prisuta is also the guy who warned Pittsburgh that Plaxico Burress is Randy Moss and that fans will rue this day -- the first day of free agency -- but he's allowed some of that nonsense since he and Plax went to the same college.
SPEAKING OF WHICH ...
Burress's bizarre behavior in New York was chronicled in Friday's papers. The Bergen Record reported that Burress said he was ill Monday, showed up late Wednesday and refused to take a physical Thursday. The reporter believes the behavior forced the Giants to walk away with only a million dividing the two sides.
The New York Post reported that the Giants also brought in Tiki Barber in order to persuade Burress, and that Barber was impressed with Burress. But, alas, no deal.
Burress left Minnesota on Friday for Philadelphia without an offer. Several reports this morning insist Burress is running out of suitors, but this is the week several teams -- such as Jacksonville, who'd been staying out of the derby for financial reasons -- will jump in and try to sign Burress on the cheap.
With the Baltimore Ravens signing Keydrick Vincent for a mere $1.25 million bonus, the Steelers are turning their attention to Seattle's Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack to fill the back-up guard-tackle swing spot.
Ardent followers of the draft remember the nickname. Pork Chop (6-4, 333) went to the Seahawks in the fourth round in 2001 and started 22 games, most of them at guard, over the last four years. He also filled in at right tackle when Chris Terry was hurt. Womack will turn 27 on Nov. 15, which is my birthday too.
Me and the Chop, hangin' out. I can see it.
The other position the Steelers would like to bolster before the draft is tight end. Shad Meier was scheduled to visit, but signed with Tennessee. Another target, Anthony Becht, is on the verge of signing with Tampa Bay.
The Steelers may as well draft a tight end on the second day. This guy has size, speed and a cool name: Jimmy St. Louis from Murray State. He runs under a 4.6, and that's all I know about him. Again, the Steelers always have Jay Riemersma to fall back upon.
Yesterday, Cowher went to Morgantown for West Virginia's pro day . He spent time with Rasheed Marshall, the quarterback-turned-receiver. Marshall measured a fraction under 6-feet tall at the combine, but ran a 4.51 and did the same at his pro day. The eye-popping stat Friday was his 41-inch vertical jump. My understanding is he's a bright guy and a leader. He'd fit that fifth receiver spot as a Steelers project.
There was no word, however, on Kay-Jay Harris. I'm taking an interest in this running back. Because he played minor-league baseball he's 26 years old, but he weighs 243 and can run inside or outside. He'd be a solid third or fourth-rounder.
STATE OF THE UNION
For the most part, the Steelers have stood pat this off-season. The trade-off of Cedrick Wilson for Burress, I believe, will be positive. Wilson is an overachieving team player who gives the Steelers receiving corps a New England Patriots look, both on paper and in the locker room. QB Ben Roethlisberger will improve. I re-watched the AFC Championship game and believe he played rather well. Perhaps the disappointment felt at the time, after those three interceptions, overshadowed the skills he showed in that game. Trust me, he's still got it, and has been at the practice facility working out and watching tape with LeBeau, the defensive coordinator, in an attempt to master pro defenses.
I'm confident the Steelers's passing game will improve, but I'm beginning to worry about the running game. It's not the right side of the line that bothers me. I appreciate that the team is looking for a veteran back-up such as Womack as a fallback for Max Starks at RT, and RG Vincent played a poor final game here. My worries are at running back. I'm worried that even if Jerome Bettis comes back, he won't match the condition he was in last year. It's just a gut instinct. And with Duce Staley's injury problems last year, and Verron Haynes's injury problems every year, I'm beginning to think they need a good, solid draft pick at the position.
Now, the review of the AFC Championship game only revived my fears about the deep defensive middle. When left alone, cornerbacks Deshea Townsend and Willie Williams can be exposed. And since Troy Polamalu is an in-the-box safety, perhaps free safety should be upgraded. Signing a guy like Darren Sharper, I think, would be the type of addition that Staley was last year. Sharper would be the player the team could market as one who'll put them over the top. But he'd cost them. I'm sure I'm wishing in one hand and spitting in the other.
March 8, 2005 -Fans aren't taking to the negotiations with WR Cedrick Wilson, but I like the Steelers's intention here. He's only 26, is by all reports a solid player with solid character and heart. What's not to like?
That he's only 5 feet 10? Why does a receiver have to be tall? And why am I asking so many questions? Will I stop long enough to finish this blog entry?
Whew. That was close. For a minute there it looked like I'd been caught in that March Madness black hole I've been hearing so much about. Back to Wilson, again I like the move -- when it's completed, of course. Antwaan Randle El will play split end and Wilson will be the third receiver. You weren't expecting them to bring Derrick Mason in and keep Randle El on the bench?
I'm telling you for the 115th time, Randle El was spectacular last training camp but it went under-reported because Plaxico Burress had a great first day in his return from ... from ... from -- well, I don't know where he was last summer, but the reporters stopped working after that first day. It's a common phenomenon called close-mindedness. A story develops early and becomes the story for the rest of camp, no matter what happens. It was beat over our heads, when in my mind Randle El went on to have the better camp of the two receivers. Randle El then showed those wares again in his final two starts when he caught 12 passes for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns. He's a playmaker with the ball in his hands and should be on the field every offensive snap. It wouldn't have been smart to spend big bucks in free agency when you have that kind of potential on the bench. Nobody's upset about Matt Starks replacing Oliver Ross at right tackle, and I believe the same scenario is unfolding at split end.
With Wilson, the Steelers would have a corps comprised of one star, one potential star, a solid third receiver and a veteran fourth receiver in Lee Mays who should be hitting his stride as an athlete. That leaves one spot open, and there's camp surprise Zamir Cobb coming back from injury; 6-4 practice-squadder Walter Young; and a draft pick to compete for the fifth spot. So it'll be a decent corps for Ben Roethlisberger, and therein lies the key to the passing game, not the split end. It's the quarterback, and he's in town working on it right now. Speaking of which, I can't remember the last time I saw a sweaty quarterback in the lunch room in early March, but that sweaty quarterback was Roethlisberger on Monday.
So with the solid Wilson soon to be on board, the Steelers won't have to draft a receiver in the first round. Really, the only hole in the lineup is the second tight end. If they have enough cap room left, after signing Wilson, to sign Anthony Becht this coming week, the Steelers will have filled their holes and will enter the draft unencumbered by any particular need. They can simply draft the board.
March 7, 2005 - The Steelers returned late from the combine last week because they didn't want to miss any part of the show put on by the DBs. That ought to tell us something about their interests this draft season.
The Steelers returned late from the combine last week because they didn't want to miss any part of the show put on by the DBs. That ought to tell us something about their interests this draft season. Anyway, reports are coming in and I have plenty of fresh and accurate information today, an otherwise bland news day for your favorite team. We also have a great interview about DeMarcus Ware.
The halfbacks ranged in size from Darren Sproles (5-6 1/8, 187) and Anthony Davis (5-6 5/8, 200) to Brandon Jacobs (6-4 1/4, 267). Although I'm biased against little backs, I like both Davis and Sproles. I didn't like Fred Russell (5-7, 195) last year, and he didn't make a roster. ... North Carolina fullback Madison Hedgecock (6-3, 266) topped all backs with 29 reps but lacks athletic skills. ... WVU's Kay-Jay Harris weighed in at 243. He's a nice-sized slasher type who had a strong Senior Bowl. ... Maurice Clarett's best time was 4.75. He also ran in the 4.8s and opted out of the agility and position drills. Word is he went from a fourth-rounder looking to move up to a fifth-rounder at best, probably a sixth or seventh-rounder. ... The duel between Auburn teammates Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams excited scouts. Brown was judged the most fluid and explosive in position drills. The 233-pounder ran a 4.44, with some hand-helds clocking him in the 4.3s. The 217-pound Williams ran 4.45, but topped Brown's reps with 19 (to 18). Williams showed fine pass-catching skills, too. Scouts love the competitiveness of these two backs. Williams didn't have to play in the Senior Bowl, but did. Neither "star" had to run at the combine, but did. Cedric Benson did neither, and is judged to be lagging behind the Auburn backs as a competitor because of it. ... With Brown and Williams around, little wonder Jacobs transferred from Auburn to Southern Illinois. Scouts say Jacobs is raw and lacks wiggle, but was impressive in interviews and has good skills. The 267-pounder also ran a 4.59 40. ... The disappointments were Lionel Gates, T.A. McClendon, Bobby Purify and Walter Reyes; those who didn't time were Marion Barber, Benson, Ciatrick Fason, Frank Gore, Ray Hudson and Vernand Morency; the injured was Cedric Houston (hyperthyroid). ... The favored fullback is Keith Joseph (6-1 7/8, 254, 27 reps, 4.69), a fluid pass-catcher.
Braylon Edwards he showed scouts he has more than skills. While receivers aren't asked to bench press, Edwards interrupted the second group of running backs and, in front of what was described as "a confused, yet energetic crowd", put up 22 reps and received "a raucous ovation as he departed the room." Edwards's action set off a run of others who weren't required to lift. Is Edwards ultra-competitive? Or is he a part of the new NFL Network generation? Perhaps putting the combine on TV was the move scouts needed to force more "stars" to workout. ... Matt Jones didn't impress with his route running, but his soft mitts amazed scouts who are judging the converted quarterback. Jones (6-6 1/4, 242) also ran 4.38 and 4.39 40s. His arms are 33 1/2 inches long. USC's Mike Williams's arms are the longest of the receivers, 34 1/8 inches. ... Troy Williamson (6-1 3/8, 203) ran 4.38 and 4.39. He ran smooth routes and showed good hands and moved ahead of Williams ( 6-4 5/8, 229, 4.59) on some boards, although scouts were pleased with Williams. ... Community College product Larry Brackins (6-4 3/8, 205) disappointed with his 4.66 40, poor route-running, intelligence and work ethic. ... Utah's Steven Savoy disappointed with his 4.65 40. ... Edwards didn't run. Neither did injured receivers Crag Bragg (hamstring), Lance Moore (shoulder), Craphonso Thorpe (hamstring) and Roddy White (hamstring). Geoff McArthur had a family emergency. ... White has the smallest hands at 7 5/8 inches.
The only blue-chipper at the position, Heath Miller, didn't work out because of a sports hernia. ... Only Joel Dreessen (6-4 1/4, 260) ran under 4.7 with a 4.69 40. He also did 22 reps and improved his stock. ... The injured who did not run were Alex Smith (knee bruise), Kevin Everett (shoulder) and Jonas Crafts (ACL). ... Smith did not impress during pass-catching drills. ... Adam Bergen (6-4 3/8, 265) caught 50 passes last season at Lehigh, but disappointed with a 4.83 40. ... Dave Kashetta (6-3 3/8, 247) ran a 4.91. ... Don't lose Jay Riemersma's number.
Jason Campbell is being criticized for not working out at the combine as the battle continues over the third spot in the QB rankings. Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith of course are the top two. ... Adrian McPherson (6-3 1/2, 218), who was booted off Florida State's team for gambling allegations, is the workout warrior of the bunch. He followed Braylon Edwards's lead and benched 225 22 times. He had the fifth-best QB 40 time at 4.69, behind Stefan Lefors (4.53), Josh Haldi (4.65), Dustin Long (4.65) and Bryan Randall (4.68) but is at least an inch taller than all of them. McPherson might also have the strongest arm, but is erratic. ... Timmy Chang (6-1, 211, 5.15) is considered the best late-round sleeper. ... My favorite sleeper, Sonny Cumbie of Texas Tech, was not invited.
The first player the Steelers interviewed after losing to the Patriots was Syracuse tackle Adam Terry at the Senior Bowl. At the combine, Terry measured (6-8, 330 with 32 1/2-inch arms and 10 3/4-inch hands. He didn't lift (or play in the Senior Bowl) because of a strained oblique muscle, but ran a 5.31 40. ... Khalif Barnes (6-5 3/4, 305) was the only tackle to run under five seconds. He ran a 4.93 and impressed scouts during position drills. His work ethic is questioned. ... Jammal Brown (6-5 7/8, 316) had the next-best tackle time at 5.06. He and Barnes are considered late first-rounders at this point. ... Marcus Johnson (6-6 1/2, 321) disappointed scouts with his footwork and may be not be able to play tackle in the league. ... The consensus top tackle, Alex Barron (6-7 1/2, 320), has the longest reach with 37 1/2-inch arms. ... Pitt's Rob Petitti embarrassed himself when he weighed into the Senior Bowl at 361, but was down to 347 at the combine. He didn't run because of a toe injury. Didn't lift either. ... Other injured tackles were Michael Watson (shoulder), Erik Pears (torn labrum), Wes Britt (fibula), Chris Colmer (shoulder), Joe Dunn (pectoral), Trai Essex (hamstring), David Stewart (hamstring) and Ray Willis (ankle). ... Willis, with 35 1/2-inch arms, put up 27 reps. ... Evan Mathis (6-5 1/4, 304) had the best 40 time (4.91) of the guards and put up 35 reps. He played both guard and tackle at Alabama and would be a great third-round pick for the Steelers. ... If not Mathis, Logan Mankins (6-4 1/4, 307, 4.99) is another guard-tackle who'd fill the Steelers's need for a back-up swing man. ... For pure physical potential, some team will take a chance on Maryland guard Clinton Brooks (6-5 1/2, 309, 36 3/8-inch arm). Scouts feel he has he frame to put on more weight, but his work ethic is questioned. ... BYU guard Scott Young (6-3 5/8, 312) put up 43 reps with long 34 3/8-inch arms. He also ran a 4.93 40. ... Nebraska center Richie Incognito (6-3 1/4, 305) ran the top 40 (4.91) of any lineman, and also put up 29 reps, but injured his knee in a pass-protection drill. He's not on the Steelers's radar screen anyway because of a history of team suspensions. ... The top center in the draft is Michigan's David Baas (6-4 1/2, 319, 29 reps, 5.09 40), who's developing rapidly at the position after moving from guard early in his senior season. Scouts loved his lateral movement and balance during drills. ... Ole Miss's Chris Spencer (6-2 7/8, 309, 33 1/2 arms, 26 reps, 5.18 40) is another Day One center prospect and North Dakota's Rob Hunt (6-3 3/4, 301, 31 reps, 4.93 40) is the top sleeper at the position.
READ OF THE DAY
Since I won't have any news on defensive players until the middle of the week, this interview about DeMarcus Ware will have to suffice. I see Ware tantalizing the Steelers at pick 30 as they decide whether to draft a wide receiver or a cornerback.
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