Pittsburgh's personnel merry-go-round

A lot has happened since the Pittsburgh Steelers won the season opener: Patrick Cobbs, Omar Jacobs and Najeh Davenport have transitioned; Ben Roethlisberger has been upgraded to questionable and Troy Polamalu has been downgraded to questionable; and Chidi Iwuoma remains a man without a team. So what does blogger Ryan Wilson make of this? He's glad you asked ...

... So the Steelers went out and signed the only person more injury prone than Duce Staley. In four seasons, Najeh Davenport has played in 35 of a possible 64 regular season games, and according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Injuries dogged Davenport every season. He missed eight games in 2002 with hamstring and orbital injuries, one game in '03 with wrist and hamstring injuries, five games in '04 with hamstring and shoulder injuries and 11 games in '05 with a broken ankle.
If you can get over the fact that Davenport is probably only good for half the season, then he's a great pick up. At 27, he's four years younger than Staley, and this is only a hunch, but he must be light years ahead of Staley in terms of conditioning. I only say this because to be in worse shape than Staley means you are, in all likelihood, comatose.

Fat jokes aside, this could work out very well for the Steelers. Davenport compares favorably to T.J. Duckett, who was voted "The player fans of a particular AFC North Team are most likely to have a man crush on." Pardon the sentence-ending preposition, but you man crushers know who you are. And given Pittsburgh's in the market for a big back, Davenport could fit the bill:

Duckett    2002   13.9   10.6%
Davenport  2002    2.7    0.3%

Duckett 2003 -2.1 -42.0% Davenport 2003 4.8 0.0%
Duckett 2004 16.6 21.2% Davenport 2004 10.7 23.0%
Duckett 2005 -0.4 -14.7% Davenport 2005 -0.4 -18.5%
These stats are from Football Outsiders and for DPAR and DVOA, just remember: DPAR means a running back with more total value. DVOA means a running back with more value per play.

If nothing else, all those people jabbering on about how the Steelers should've given up a fourth- or even a third-round pick for Duckett, can take solace; Davenport offers the same great performance, but at only a fraction of the cost. Just like T.J. Maxx … but different.

Other than adding depth at running back, Davenport also provides people like me hours of entertainment because of Poopgate (alleged, of course). I graduated from college in 1995 and I'm not embarrassed to admit that virtually all of my college buddies still giggle at poop-related humor. The day I don't laugh at a story about a guy crapping in a hamper is a day not worth living, in my book. My wife, who also happens to be a teacher, has a different take on my great appreciation of bathroom humor, and she'll usually say something to the effect of: "You know, I deal with kids all day who act just like you're acting now except, well, they're freshmen in high school." And you know what? I take that as a compliment.

Anyway, here are some of my all-time Najeh Davenport pooptastic favorites (by the way, if you don't appreciate middle school humor like, say, me, just skip down a couple of paragraphs):

"Surprisingly, the Steelers didn't drop (a) Duce to sign Davenport"

"I think he'll make a great #2 back in Pittsburgh. Granted, I'd have liked to see him catch on with the Browns, but that's life."

"A scouting report on Davenport: He can carry the load. His bench press is average, but his squat is out of sight. He has tremendous lower body explosion. "

And then there's this.

If you haven't heard, Davenport will wear No. 44. The obvious question is why didn't he make a deal with Brian St. Pierre for No. 2, but I like his choice for its subtlety: double deuce. Okay, that's it, I swear.

Seriously, I like the signing because Willie Parker isn't built to carry the ball 29 times a game. Verron Haynes only getting one carry was notable, but I have a hunch that had more to do with how the game unfolded. The Dolphins did a great job of sniffing out and stuffing the screen passes – Haynes's bread and butter – and Pittsburgh didn't find themselves in a lot of third-and-whatevers where they could utilize the patented Haynes draw play. Staley, on the other hand, didn't get any carries for the exact reasons you might expect: He's slow and out of shape.

With Davenport now in the mix, it'll be interesting to see how long they keep Staley on the 53-man roster. I wrote during the preseason that whether Staley returned to form or not, the Steelers' offense would adjust. And not only would it adjust, it would be just as efficient as it was last season. For sentimental reasons I'd love to see Staley running like he was during the first seven games of the 2004 season, but with each passing day that looks less and less likely.

The odd man out in this most recent game of running back musical chairs is Patrick Cobbs. He lasted for just about a week, and now he's following in the footsteps of Fred Gibson. Instead of signing on to Pittsburgh's practice squad, Cobbs has instead taken his game south to Miami. I can't say I blame the guy – he has to do what he thinks is best, and I hope he does well. If I could offer him any advice, it's this: If Ricky Williams offers you some homemade brownies, just say no.

More and more, newspapers are starting to get in on this whole internets thing. Granted, they're still light years behind online-only sports sites, but the traditional print outlets are making progress, nonetheless. Online chats are one such example. The Washington Post's Michael Wilbon has been doing a weekly online chat for a couple of years and now Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette has joined the party.

Here are some noteworthy Q & A's from his most his most recent chat:

JPeezy: Do you really think Miami's 6-game winning streak was more impressive than the Steelers' 8-game roll?

Ed Bouchette: You'll have to read what I write before you question it. I wrote that Miami's 6-game streak at the end of the REGULAR SEASON was more impressive than the Steelers 4-game streak at the end of the REGULAR SEASON.

Let me say that I like Bouchette; Jim Wexell introduced me to him at training camp and he seems like a nice enough guy, but that doesn't mean I can't disagree with something he writes.

The Dolphins ended their 2005 regular season against the Raiders, Bills, Chargers, Jets, Titans and Patriots. First, the Pats game doesn't even count because Bill Belichick made it pretty clear that he preferred to face the Jaguars instead of the Steelers in the playoffs when he played rookie quarterback Matt Cassel (you know, the guy who backed up both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC and threw only a handful of passes during his college career) and had Doug Flutie drop-kicking balls all over the field. The other five teams on Miami's schedule won a combined 26 games; and only San Diego had a winning record.

The Steelers ended their regular season with victories against the Bears, Vikings, Browns and Lions. These four teams combined for 31 wins and two of them were battling for playoff spots. And Pittsburgh's 41-0 drubbing of the Browns on Christmas Eve seals the deal.

Moving on:

BeanerBob: What did/didn't the Steelers see in Patrick Cobbs to make for such a quick departure? Do they think Davenport, with his injury history, is that much better of an option?

Ed Bouchette: Davenport certainly fills their description of the role better. He's also a veteran. Cobbs seemed to be a panic move. Davenport can be just what they need, provided he stays healthy, an issue with him.

I've been unusually hard (for me, at least) on the team about some of their personnel decisions but I have no idea how the Patrick Cobbs acquisition was a panic move. Veteran contracts are guaranteed if a player is on the roster to start the season; undrafted rookie free agent contracts are not. The Steelers traded Cobbs for a conditional draft pick, maybe to hedge their bets that another team could take a flyer on Davenport before the start of the season. After that didn't happen, and Week 1 was in the books, Pittsburgh signed Davenport, released Cobbs and all it cost them was a one-year, veteran minimum contract. The "conditional" part of the Cobbs trade was never met so Pittsburgh didn't owe New England anything. Giving up nothing hardly sounds like a "panic move."

Now when the team drafted Omar Jacobs

You really didn't think I was going to let this go, did you? I don't even care about Omar Jacobs being on the team, but I wish somebody would explain the organization's rationale for drafting the guy. If he's dumb, just say it; if he'll never be a decent backup quarterback in the NFL, just let me know … I'll quit beating this drum. As it stands, I have no idea what the Steelers are doing.

Brian Jackson St. Pierre isn't an upgrade over Jacobs. Sure, he might know the playbook but he'll never be better than he is right now. And right now, he's not any better than Jacobs. Remember, this is the guy who was just released from the Ravens, a team that started Kyle Boller for three seasons. And before Brian Billick was literally forced to bench his pet project this year, St. Pierre was still last on the totem poll behind Anthony Wright, the same dude Pittsburgh cut way back in 1999.

You'll say: "The Steelers took a chance on Jacobs, he was much worse than they imagined, and they're cutting their losses." Fair enough, but if the team is looking for a low-upside, game-ready quarterback, why didn't they draft Bruce Gradkowski? And it's not that I care about Gradkowski one way or the other; how about this: why not trade a seventh-round pick to the Ravens for St. Pierre in the first place? Yeah, a seventh-rounder might sound like a lot for a dude who got cut, but the Steelers wasted a fifth-round pick on Jacobs and ended up with St. Pierre anyway.

I know some people don't see eye to eye with me on this (or, more likely, they just want me to shut up about it … point taken), but I think we can all agree that Pittsburgh had a lousy second day of the draft last April. Yes, the draft, by definition, is a risky proposition – especially rounds four through seven – but Pittsburgh has made a habit of finding diamonds in the rough. This year, it was just a bunch of coal.

Enough with all the Debbie Downer talk, let's end this on a good note.

Last week I wrote about Nate Washington, Tiffin University, and their 4,500-seat stadium that I guessed was often half-empty on most Saturday afternoons during football season. Apparently, I was being optimistic. According to the Tribune-Review Washington played in front of 350 people in his last collegiate football game. It was the big Tiffin-Walsh rivalry.

I think that's about as far away as you can get from Heinz Field without actually playing on the moon.

Finally, one last thought: Free Chidi!

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