Wilson: 'It is what it is'

The Steelers won their fifth game of the year, in possibly the most boring fashion imaginable. Sure, the 2006 season is all but lost, but blogger Ryan Wilson has a few suggestions on how Pittsburgh can turn things around in a hurry.

Things I would rather watch than be subjected to a replay of the Buccaneers-Steelers game:

  • Ben Roethlisberger Fathead commercials on an endless loop;
  • Casey Hampton clipping his toenails;
  • Barrett Brooks performing topless jumping jacks;
  • Chris Gardocki and Jeff Reed sumo wrestling;
  • Brian Jackson giving Brian St. Pierre tips on how to meet girls.
  • And these are just a few I came up with off the top of my head. Still, I think you get the point: this might've been the most boring game in Pittsburgh Steelers history. It's a victory – and that's a good thing, I guess, but taking 13 weeks to win your fifth game is kinda like kicking a field goal with no time on the clock to avoid a shutout. Big whoop. For some perspective, consider this: The Steelers are currently 11th in the AFC playoff race. Eleventh. And they trail such powerhouses as the New York Jets (7-5), Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) and the Buffalo Bills (5-7). Oh yeah, Pittsburgh's 5-7 record tops only eight other teams in the NFL. Eight. And you know what? They're still not out of it. Amazing, for sure, but I'll keep watching, no matter how mind-numbing these games get.

    So while I always want the Steelers to win, excuse me for only being able to muster the cursory "Huh, there's three hours of my life I'll never get back" thoughts as Matt Bryant kicked that historic 27-yard field goal.

    Despite the tedium meter for this game registering "Joe Bendel column" status, it still puzzles me when some fans, once the season seems lost, are quite content to see the hometown team lose for the sole purpose of improving the April draft position.

    Sure, I guess you could make an argument based on future discounting – maybe one loss today is worth two fewer losses at some future date – but I'm pretty sure no one's doing that. And if they are, I'd love to see how they came to such a conclusion.

    Whatever. I understand the underlying logic – no matter how faulty – but rooting against your team kinda defeats the whole idea of being a fan. Well, unless you're willing to add "fair-weather" to the description. Or, maybe, you have some insight nobody else does. Like which top 15 draft pick will have an immediate impact, win Rookie of the Year, play in a dozen Pro Bowls and end up in Canton. But hey, that's just me. (And just so we're clear, D.J. Gallo is kidding when he writes: "Winners of three of their past four games, the Steelers are primed to finish the regular season strongly – just like last season when they got hot and rolled to a Super Bowl title. Only this season they're going to roll right out of the area in the draft where they can get a player who will really help them in 2007.")

    Now that I've made it clear that rooting against your team is never acceptable – except, maybe, in really extenuating circumstances – let me share some of my crazy thoughts on what the Steelers should do this April.

    First, since the Steelers success rate finding impact players with Day 2 draft picks is somewhere south of the Mendoza line, here's a thought: draft a punter. Seriously. Use a fourth-round pick to draft a strong-legged punter. With former fourth-rounders like Danny Farmer, Mathias Nkwenti, and Fred Gibson – who made zilch in the way of contributions – why not?

    Admittedly, I don't know much about punters, but I'd have to think it's a little easier to predict professional success based on college output with such players than, say, quarterbacks or wide receivers. I mean, it's not even like the guy has to kick field goals or anything; just catch the ball, kick the ball. Repeat.

    Let's just say Pittsburgh drafts a punter who ends up underperforming in the NFL when compared to his college numbers. Well, as long as this guy can manage better than 35 yards an attempt, it's an improvement on what currently passes for a punter on the 2006 Steelers. And at least he'll be contributing unlike, say, two thirds of Pittsburgh's fourth-round picks in recent years.

    I admit to being a Gardocki supporter during training camp. I too was blinded by the "He's never had a punt blocked … ever!" silliness that seemed to trump commonsensical observations like, "Yeah, but he can only kick the ball 20 yards in the air," or "Gardocki's never met a touchback he didn't like." Okay, so Skippy Reed thinks Gardocki is a swell holder. That's great, but if it weren't for all the other special teams problems, Gardocki's punting woes would be a much bigger issue. As it stands, punting ranks low on the list of Why This Season's in the Tank right after "Cowher's penchant for wearing mock turtlenecks and Seinfeld-white shoes on game day" and "Sean Morey not getting enough snaps at wideout." If Skippy can't consistently convert field-goal attempts without Gardocki, I suggest he learn how to drop kick.

    So who do I have in mind? I'm glad you asked. Thanks to the good people at NFLDraftScout.com my top two guys are Daniel Sepulveda (Baylor) and Adam Podlesh (Maryland).

    From CollegeFootballNews.com: Daniel Sepulveda

    Named the nation's best punter last year winning the Ray Guy Award, Sepulveda has to come back healthy after injuring his knee playing basketball. He's a big bomber with a career average of 44.85 yards per kick on a whopping 211 boots, and he has put 62 inside the 20. As long as his knee is fine, which it's supposed to be, he'll be one of the nation's best.
    Sepulveda seems to be fully recovered from his injury and he's averaging 46 yards a punt this season. (Which means, with only one leg he's 25 percent more effective than Gardocki.)

    And here's a video – and somebody in the scouting department might want to sign No. 37 for special teams while there at it.

    Adam Podlesh

    Podlesh has been tremendous over the last three seasons averaging 43.2 yards per kick with 60 put inside the 20. He's consistent and can do it all from deep bombs to putting it away deep.
    And Podlesh runs a 4.53-forty which means the next time the Steelers get the bright idea to fake a punt, at least it'll have some probability greater than zero of being successful.

    I know it sounds like I'm kidding about drafting a punter, but I'm not. The special teams is a joke and Gardocki is one of the punch lines. I hope the guy can retire never having a punt blocked, but that little record-book footnote will only get you so far. And this year, "so far" equals about 35 yards a kick.

    My other brilliant draft-related idea is to take a left tackle in the first round and move Marvel Smith back to right tackle (remember, he played there in 2000-2002). I wrote last week that I didn't think the Steelers needed a major overhaul, but instead needed a few tweaks. I also wrote that the offensive line – with the same personnel from the 2005 Super Bowl team – needed more backups pushing for starting jobs since competition breeds success. Currently, no one is threatening to crack the starting lineup even though the offensive line has been shockingly bad at times this year.

    I'll be honest, I don't start ramping up on the draft until the Steelers' season ends (which means I should get a five-week head start this year), but that doesn't mean I can't wildly throw out suggestions and hope something sticks. (Plus, I'm lost until Mike Mayock tells me who I'm supposed to like and who's overrated.) That said, my current (and very early, mostly uneducated) favorites are: Joe Thomas (Wisconsin), Levi Brown (Penn State) and Joe Staley (Central Michigan).

    In its most recent mock draft, The Sporting News has Thomas going second overall to the Cardinals so it's probably safe to assume that he'll be long gone by the middle of the first round. Brown might be available, but this TSN quote makes me a little worried: "Brown either will become a rock at left tackle or get his quarterback killed." Uh, okay. Finally, Staley sounds interesting because (a) Jim Wexell seems to like him, and (b) if he joins the team Duce won't be the fattest Staley on the roster (of course, that's assuming he's not cut before they turn off the lights at Paul Brown Stadium following the Week 17 game [Editor's note: Staley never made it past this Monday afternoon ... ]). He'll still be the slowest though; Joe Staley allegedly ran a 4.7-forty last year. That's 6'6", 305 lbs. Joe Staley for those of you keeping score at home.

    I realize there are a lot of people with more nuts-and-bolts knowledge of college players' NFL potential, so feel free to amend these lists as you see fit. Nonetheless, my point remains the same: Pittsburgh needs desperately to find a good punter, and using a high-round pick on a left tackle makes the entire offensive line better (in theory, anyway). Also, the trickle-down effect will create more competition, a more consistent effort, which means a more consistent running game (again, in theory).

    If Pittsburgh's front office needs some inspiration in preparation for the draft, maybe this will help.

    Random Leftovers

  • I know some people thought the Buccaneers kicking a last-second field goal to avoid the shutout was bush league, but head coach Jon Gruden had a really good excuse. Honest:
    "I'm sure I'll be criticized for that [field goal], but I wanted our young quarterback [Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski] to leave Pittsburgh with something …"
    Um, okay.

    Frankly, I'm fine with Tampa Bay kicking a field goal. If Pittsburgh doesn't want the other team to score, then that's on them. And anyway, no matter how many field goals the Bucs kick, nothing changes the fact that Clint Kreiwaldt got an interception. CLINT FREAKIN' KRIEWALDT, BABY!

  • From Wex's column:

    So is [Nate] Washington now the leader of the wideouts?

    "No," he said. "The only true leader we look to is Hines. Other than that, we don't look for any leaders. We play off each other. There are times I don't know things that Santonio might know, even though he's younger than me. We all play off each other."

    A headline from Sunday's Post-Gazette:
    "Ward Welcomes Eight Biracial Korean Children on Trip to Pittsburgh Sponsored by His Foundation"
    I wonder if Nate Washington's comments, along with the Post-Gazette story changes some fans' opinions of Hines Ward as selfish. I'm almost sure it won't – and anything short of curing cancer probably wouldn't either, but I thought I'd ask anyway.
  • Can any fans living in Pennsylvania pressure their representatives to pass legislation making it illegal for Ken Whisenhunt to call a screen pass for the rest of the season? Is that asking too much? Here, I'll help you get started. I thank you, and an entire Steelers nation thanks you.
  • Finally, after reading this, I think I've got it now:
    Shorter Bill Cowher press conference: "It is what it is."

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