The Daily Buzz II

Jim Wexell's blog, the Daily Buzz, moves into its second full season. It's where you'll find his thoughts and updates on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

(Discuss Jim's blog entry here on the message board.)

SATURDAY, SEPT. 4

5:30 p.m.: The Steelers kept injured QB Byron Leftwich and cut the following: LB Patrick Bailey, CB Joe Burnett, S Cromartie-Smith, WR Tyler Grisham, DE Sunny Harris, C Justin Hartwig, WR Stefan Logan, NT Steve McLendon, RB Frank Summers, OG Kraig Urbik and DE Doug Worthington.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 3

5:30 p.m.: The Steelers released 10 players today: TE Eugene Bright, OG Dorian Brooks, OT Kyle Jolly, WR Brandon London, TE Sean McHugh, DT Scott Paxson, LS Matt Stewart, S Justin Thornton, RB Justin Vincent and LB Renauld Williams.

FRIDAY, AUG. 27

5 p.m. Mike Tomlin met with the media today to talk about Sunday's preseason game in Denver. It's the Steelers' third preseason game and therefore the "dress rehearsal," as it's known throughout the league.

Tomlin provided the following nuggets of information:

* Rookie receiver Antonio Brown will again return punts and kickoffs.

* Punter Daniel Sepulveda will handle all kickoffs.

* Matt Stewart will handle all kick snaps. Tomlin explained the move by saying (of the player re-signed after being cut July 30), "We wanted to get him back in here and give him the opportunity we intended to give him before we went to training camp."

* Brown and fellow rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders will switch positions, with Brown moving to split end (X) and Sanders moving to flanker (Z). "X is a catch and run position, hopefully Antonio Brown will be able to highlight some of his skill sets in that position," Tomlin said. "In Z, which is the position Hines Ward plays, they are in a lot of combative situations in the run game with strong safeties. Emmanuel Sanders has proven to be somewhat surprisingly aggressive and physical. We want to see if that can continue. We want to see if potentially he can block a guy the caliber of Brian Dawkins, who is going to be around or on the line of scrimmage."

* Maurkice Pouncey will make his first start at center and will be up against veteran nose guard Jamal Williams. "I intend to see a lot of Maurkice," Tomlin said.

* The only quarterback Tomlin mentioned in the same sentence with "first-team reps" is Dennis Dixon, but didn't mention who would start. Tomlin said Dixon has been more consistent this camp. Tomlin also mentioned the improved consistency of Tony Hills, Kraig Urbik and Keenan Lewis. Tomlin did say that the three top quarterbacks will play.

* The starters will play into the third quarter, but Tomlin warned they could remain on the field longer if their play was "below the line of performance."

* Lewis will start at left cornerback in place of injured Bryant McFadden and Will Allen will start at free safety in place of Ryan Clark.

MONDAY, AUG. 23

12:35 p.m. The Steelers re-signed long-snapper/linebacker Matt Stewart, a player whom they'd signed this spring and then released before training camp.

To make room for Stewart, the Steelers released wide receiver Isaiah Williams.

SUNDAY, AUG. 22

12:35 p.m. Aaron Smith had a sack, James Farrior stuffed the run, Troy Polamalu's unimpeded, young linemen are getting downfield out in front of plays, the quarterbacks are playing well. No wonder normally hard-to-please fans such as fellasheowed are posting threads that read like this: I HAVE NOTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT!! after last night's game.

Read those thoughts, and then read my thoughts here on the message board.

MONDAY, AUG. 9

8 p.m. I'll have a full set of practice notes up at about 9:30 p.m. (EST). Until then, here's the important stuff:

OT Tony Hills sustained a right ankle sprain during a one-on-one pass-rush drill with DE Doug Worthington. Also in practice Monday, NT Steve McLendon sprained an MCL. ... Coach Mike Tomlin rested Byron Leftwich to begin a rotation of rest for his three older quarterbacks. ... James Harrison missed his second consecutive practice with "some discomfort in the shoulder and it appears to be minor," according to Tomlin.

FRIDAY, JULY 30

4 p.m. Ben Roethlisberger showed up early, tanned and fit, and Hines Ward said his hamstring's 100 percent and he's "full go" for Saturday's practice. But today's top news deals with the offensive line.

First-round pick Maurkice Pouncey agreed to a five-year contract. He'll line up first at right guard, but my sense tells me that he'll replace either Justin Hartwig at C or Trai Essex at RG early in the season. Also, newly signed tackle Flozell Adams will play right tackle, according to Max Starks.

Starks told reporters that he, the left tackle, had volunteered to move to the right side, but that Coach Mike Tomlin wants Starks to stay where he's at since Adams will move to right tackle.

THURSDAY, JULY 29

6:30 p.m. The Steelers have signed 35-year-old offensive tackle Flozell Adams to a two-year contract, according to the Post-Gazette.

Adams, deemed by the Steelers' personnel department as "starter ready" after a workout earlier this summer, fills a void left by injured right tackle Willie Colon.

Adams made five Pro Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys as a left tackle. Fans will find out tomorrow at training camp which tackle position Coach Mike Tomlin will start Adams, who could swap sides with Max Starks.

My guess is the Steelers will try to keep the line as stable as possible and keep Starks on the left side, where he's proven to be more effective since moving over from the right side early in the 2008 season.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 28

9:30 p.m. According to several Internet sources, including NFL in-house reporter Jason Lacanforna, the Steelers have signed second-round pick Jason Worilds to a four-year contract. Only first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey remains unsigned. The team must cut one player for each of the two players it signs.

FRIDAY, JULY 23

Noon: Here's an update on some of those thoughts I had going on yesterday. Good place to argue your points, too.

THURSDAY, JULY 22

7:20 a.m.: Vacations help us to forget, to scatter the pieces. But how are we to put those pieces back together once the vacation ends? That's my cause today:

* Paying attention to the media helps. Upon returning to Pittsburgh -- after spending 18 days without TV and only checking the Internet sporadically -- I listened, watched and read all of the doom and gloom surrounding LaMarr Woodley's contract status, and I wonder if anyone realizes Woodley will only be a restricted free agent next March under the current labor agreement. If that agreement is re-negotiated, so too, presumably, will be the "30 percent rule" that's hampering any current extension effort with Woodley.

* Not that the 30 percent rule will be much of an impingement, according to the Steelers' chief negotiator Omar Khan, who said back in April that "there are ways around it."

* The gamble is that the Steelers don't extend Woodley before the start of the season, and then a new CBA is negotiated during the season, which causes Woodley's free agency status to change from restricted to unrestricted. Woodley could then jump teams in March. However, the Steelers could still use the franchise tag to keep him.

* Conversely, the Steelers could also lose a gamble by giving Woodley a huge re-signing bonus this summer and then watch him sit out the 2011 season in a league-wide work stoppage.

* Once again, the patient approach will prove best for the organization.

* Do you really care whether Maurkice Pouncey borrowed $100,000 from an agent before a bowl game? Pouncey might only be 20 years old, but he seems to realize that college bowl games are a joke.

* The Steelers signed offensive lineman Adrian Jones yesterday to replace Willie Colon on the roster. All I know about Jones is that I liked him in the 2004 draft coming out of Kansas, where he'd played tight end. And the only reason I liked him then was because the Steelers had a bit of success with another former Kansas tight end-turned-tackle. In fact, Larry Brown was the greatest tackle in Steelers history.

* Excuse me whilst I piece the O-line back together: Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Doug Legursky, Pouncey, Tai Essex, Jonathan Scott, Ramon Foster, and Kraig Urbik. So, yes, with only eight legitimate players, perhaps they did need to sign Jones.

* I didn't count Tony Hills because he would only be gravy if he shows improvement in his next camp, and I'd already extended Urbik that courtesy of presumption.

* I looked back at a series of questions I'd answered the day after the draft for the recently released Foxsports.com Fantasy Magazine. One question dealt with "over-the-hill" players, and I answered James Farrior. I'd like to change that answer to Justin Hartwig.

* I must admit that the doom-and-gloomers are making some sense to me lately. There's the O-line, the secondary, the WR depth, and the early-season QB issue. But I'll keep in mind what Hines Ward said recently about the doom-and-gloomers: "It seems like every year we won the Super Bowl, nobody gave us a chance. And when everybody thought we were going to win it, we didn't make the playoffs."

* Since I'm generally a contrarian with the media and general public, I'm enthusiastic about Ward's take. I just wish it was Larry Brown coming in to play right tackle instead of Adrian Jones.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 30

5:30 a.m.: Willie Colon will miss the entire season with a torn Achilles' tendon and Chris Scott will miss three months with a broken foot, but it appears that Flozell "The Hotel" Adams won't miss any time after being released by the Dallas Cowboys in April. The 35-year-old Adams visited the Steelers' facility yesterday for a physical and is mulling over offers from other NFL teams as well. The five-time Pro Bowler is entering his 13th season in the league.

TUESDAY, JUNE 29

10:05 a.m.: An MRI has confirmed that Steelers right tackle Willie Colon will miss the 2010 season with a torn Achilles' tendon, according to Scout.com's Adam Caplan. Surgery is scheduled for Wednesday.

8:50 a.m.: Fifth-round pick Chris Scott was one of three rookies to miss the league symposium this week, and Scout's Adam Caplan informed SteelCityInsider.net that Scott's absence is due to a foot injury. No further details of the injury are available.

Scott played left tackle for the third team this spring, and with a full camp could move himself into contention for the right tackle job that will apparently be surrendered by Willie Colon.

Colon, of course, injured an Achilles' tendon Monday morning and is awaiting MRI results today. It's feared he'll miss the entire season because of the injury.

MONDAY, JUNE 28

5:25 p.m.: Steelers right tackle Willie Colon injured his Achilles' tendon during a routine agility drill at the team's headquarters today and would miss the season if an MRI reveals that it's torn.

According to Colon's agent, Joe Linta: "Willie is devastated. He was really excited for the season, both for himself and the Steelers. It's a catastrophic situation but he'll recover from it and bounce back for the 2011 season."

If the tendon is torn, Colon would undergo surgery Wednesday and endure a five to six-month rehabilitation process.

The second-team tackles this spring were third-year veteran Tony Hills and newly acquired Jonathan Scott. The players flipped sides on a consistent basis this spring. Also on the roster are converted tackles Trai Essex and Ramon Foster, the first and second-team right guards throughout the spring.

2:25 p.m.: According to Scout.com's Adam Caplan, Steelers right tackle Willie Colon injured his Achilles while working out this morning. According to Caplan, Colon expects to undergo an MRI soon. Stay tuned for updates.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 16

12:25 p.m.: And then there were two. The Steelers just announced the signing of 5B draft pick Crezdon Butler, a cornerback from Clemson who's coming off a solid spring. The deal leaves only the top two picks, Maurkice Pouncey and Jason Worilds, unsigned.

10:50 a.m.: The Steelers today signed 5A draft pick Chris Scott, an offensive tackle from Tennessee who also worked at guard this spring. Only Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Worilds and Crezdon Butler remain unsigned from the 10-man draft class.

The Steelers also cut undrafted rookie safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith to pare their unofficial roster to 82. Of course, unsigned rookies don't count on the official 80-man roster.

TUESDAY, JUNE 15

2:45 p.m.: The Steelers made official the signings today of 3rd-round pick Emmanuel Sanders, 5C pick Stevenson Sylvester, 6A pick Jonathan Dwyer, and 6B pick Antonio Brown. Only the first and second-round picks, Maurkice Pouncey and Jason Worilds, and fifth-round picks Chris Scott and Crezdon Butler remain unsigned out of the 10-man draft class.

The Steelers also cut seven players: WR Jason Chery, K Piotr Czech, LB Derrick Doggett, P Adam Graessle, NT Cordarrow Thompson, C Bradley Vierling and CB Trae Williams.

Also, the team has released its training camp schedule.

7:30 a.m.: Third-round pick Emmanuel Sanders has apparently signed a three-year contract with the Steelers. The loquacious rookie broke the news on his Twitter account. Our friends at Steelers Depot have a solid breakdown of the event.

FRIDAY, JUNE 11

8:30 a.m.:

The news of the day is that the Steelers have signed their draft picks from Ohio State, OLB Thaddeus Gibson and DE Doug Worthington, fourth and seventh-round picks. But instead I want to focus on a conversation I had the other day with Troy Polamalu.

The All-Pro safety interrupted his workout regimen in Southern California to walk through the final two OTA workouts in Pittsburgh this week. Mike Tomlin doesn't seem concerned about a player who has yet to return to his opening day 2009 form, when his PCL was stretched and strained as Polamalu attempted to recover a blocked kick.

Polamalu doesn't seem concerned either – at least that's what he told the mob of reporters hounding him after Wednesday's workout.

I'd been talking to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for a Steelers Digest piece, and walked over to the Polamalu session that was wrapping up. Reporters were asking Polamalu for his thoughts on the offense's transition from a run-first scheme when he first arrived in Pittsburgh to the pass-first scheme of today. I waited out the final question to get some one-on-one time with Polamalu in order to ask him about LeBeau.

When I finished with those questions, Polamalu said, "Now, can I ask you a few questions?" And he asked about my opinion of the Steelers' pass-first offensive philosophy. He agreed wholeheartedly with these two points:

1. Developing and nurturing a quality ground game does not mean the team has to throw its quarterback back into the draft pool, that those who argue a run-game emphasis involves a harkening back to the Kordell Stewart era might not realize that the team can still keep and utilize Ben Roethlisberger.

2. The game is cyclical, and once teams overdraft DBs and small LBs to defend the passing game, a power team will rise up and dominate play, just as Alabama did last season in college football, which is always at the cutting edge of NFL trends.

Polamalu, as mentioned, agreed with me, and that's when he became interesting.

"We look at teams with all of those receivers on the field and have always believed the solution is to blitz them and attack the source," he said. "It's usually successful. Really, the only time it didn't work at all was the 2004 AFC Championship game against the Patriots. No matter what we called, or how many players we blitzed they kept just enough blockers in to pick it up. It happened on every single play. They were perfect. Before we found out what had happened, we thought they had gotten into our playbook.

"I never experienced anything like it before or since. I walked away from that game thinking Bill Belichick was the greatest coach the game had ever seen."

Of course, "what had happened" was that the Patriots filmed the Steelers' defensive calls and were wise to what was coming. In that sense, the Patriots "had gotten into our playbook" to score 41 points against a defense which had allowed an average of 15.7 points per game that regular season.

I don't know why Polamalu wanted to get into "Spygate" at this point, but he seemed upset, as if he felt he'd been cheated.

* As for the signings of Gibson and Worthington, I'd cite a source but it seems as if everyone on the Internet has the information. Once the signings become official, the Steelers must release two players. Draft picks don't count against the roster until they're signed, and right now the Steelers have a 10-player surplus.

MONDAY, MAY 10

2:10 p.m.: Part V of Steelers A to Z:

* Demetrius Taylor – Looked good with his one reception and rumble down the sideline. Not bad for a guy who hasn't played fullback since high school. When told he appeared to weigh less than the listed 273 pounds, Taylor pointed to the scale and said, "Wanna see?"

* Ike Taylor – A veteran of Tom Shaw's touted speed regimen, Taylor is said to be working out harder and faster than ever. And, hey, why not? It's salary-drive time.

* Justin Thornton – Couldn't find anyone who knew much about this undrafted rookie safety, except that he played cornerback at Kansas as a junior. So on clerical information alone he's interesting. Then he went out and picked off a few passes and forced a fumble at minicamp.

* Kraig Urbik – Looks bigger this spring, particularly when playing center on the second line after the smaller Doug Legursky finishes with the first.

* Mike Wallace – If you watch the quarterback, you miss this guy running by the corner, and then the safety, and you follow the ball to him all alone in the end zone. Same as it ever was.

* Hines Ward – Call him an attention seeker if you must, but instead of standing and chatting to buddies while rehabbing/resting, he coaches the younger ones – even guys who have no chance. Same as it ever was.

* Johnny Williams – Only noticed him because he stood on the sidelines with an apparent injury. Had he participated in minicamp, I would've watched him about as much as I watched Renauld Williams.

* Renauld Williams – Sorry about that. Give me some time with these two CFL linebackers.

* Trae Williams – Realizing that perceptions help frame an opinion, Trae doesn't look like much more than camp fodder. At least that's what my amateur scouting eyes saw. He was shorter than I expected, and shorter than David Pittman, who, to me, has a bit of an edge on Williams at the cornerback position.

* Lindsey Witten – A bit stiff, but much taller than Jason Worilds or Thaddeus Gibson. He looks like Andre Frazier with a higher ceiling.

* LaMarr Woodley – On the sticky 30 percent salary rule that Woodley will run up against next March, the Steelers say "there are ways around it." But at this point they're judging him as a future restricted free agent and won't reassess that thinking until training camp.

* Jason Worilds – Said he was confused about his coverage responsibilities, and that notion was seconded by LaMarr Woodley, but Worilds sure looked confident and fluid to me. When I told him he found the ball rather easily every time, he said, "Yeah, but that's just football." And I said "OK."

* Doug Worthington – Unlike Ohio State teammate Thaddeus Gibson, Worthington has finished school and will participate in every OTA session. Those will resume next Tuesday.

FRIDAY, MAY 7

12:30 p.m.: Part IV of Steelers A to Z:

* Troy Polamalu – Didn't move too well around the field, but I assume he was purposely taking it easy. He looks a little thick. I'm hoping he spends the next 10 weeks in Southern California with his personal trainer. But that's just me.

* Maurkice Pouncey – Big, quick … and heavily tattooed. "I can't even count 'em," he said. Written broadly across his chest is: "Mind on a Million." And over his stomach is M.O.B. … M.O.B.? … "Man of Business," he said. … I had Mike Iupati listed ahead of Pouncey in the first round of the draft – and it happened, barely – but it's a fact that the Steelers didn't.

* Antwaan Randle El – Is a leader; catches everything, punts or passes; but didn't flash any quickness. Like last year, the No. 3 job can be had by an enterprising rookie.

* Isaac Redman – Didn't get many reps, but looks like a guy who's going to be in serious competition for carries this season.

* Emmanuel Sanders – "Quick to the tuck" is how the new WRs coach, Scottie Montgomery, described this third-round pick. "He has the ability to catch the ball and get it north and south," Montgomery said. "That's something I value quite a bit. Two to three yards could win you a football game." And I saw it happen, right in front of me. Sanders had to crouch near the sideline to snare a pass that was low and away. He caught it and in the same motion got an extra five yards. Someone told me Sanders has "special, special quickness." So I'll keep an eye on this guy. He also seems to enjoy being interviewed, so keep an ear out, too."

* Chris and Jonathan Scott – Same name. Same weight. Same position – backup tackle. Can't say I remember watching either one, but both are expected to make the team – unless Tony Hills puts his best training camp together.

* Aaron Smith – Hines Ward got some rest. Troy Polamalu got some rest. Justin Hartwig rested all three days. But there was Aaron, coming back from a season wrecked by rotator cuff surgery, out there the entire time. Nobody noticed; everybody noticed.

* Frank Summers – Didn't watch him much at fullback, but talked to him and he said his back's feeling great. Missed his rookie season, but he needed the redshirt anyway.

* Limas Sweed – So confident was I that Mike Tomlin would call off the Sunday practice, per tradition, that I instead attended my daughter's soccer game. Tomlin didn't call it off, and lost Sweed with an Achilles' tendon injury. He should've called it off. The team gave him four great practices in two hot days.

* Stevenson Sylvester – Was told that he excelled in Utah's bowl game against Cal. Shame I didn't pay attention to No. 10 that day, but now this exciting-but-small ILB is wearing No. 47. I'll pay more attention to him in the coming weeks. That's a promise.

THURSDAY, MAY 6

10:30 a.m.: Part III of Steelers A to Z:

* David Johnson -- This is another guy who gave them nothing last year, when we really shouldn't have expected much out of a 7th-rounder from Arkansas State who was playing a new position. Johnson is another of those tight end-fullback hybrids, and I do expect much more out of him as a lead blocker and blocking TE this season. Caught a few passes last weekend, but hands will always be more sturdy than soft.

* Kyle Jolly -- Agent pushed him late, and Steelers said OK, effectively ending any move for Ciron Black.

* Brett Keisel -- His locker is an oasis. We talk about nothing; we talk about everything. Plotting to go fishing with him in Montana some day this summer. Long live 99.

* Chris Kemoeatu -- Needs to stay healthy this year since he'll be key to improving run game.

* Byron Leftwich -- A player's quarterback; appreciated in locker room for humble and serious approach. Knocked rust off by the fourth practice. He said he really likes Bruce Arians's offense, so maybe he's a better fit here than other places.

* Doug Legursky -- I have no idea whether he carried out his proper assignments as the first-team center, but no one ever mentioned his name. That has to be a positive sign. I really think he has a shot to win the job this summer.

* Keenan Lewis -- Told me he'll be "awesome" this year; said back injury was serious last year but said he didn't want to complain about it. Only beat by a step by buddy Mike Wallace when I remember Keenan getting beat by much more last camp. Again, looking like an ideal Steelers CB, fast and physical. But I said that too often last year, so will now shut up.

* Stefan Logan -- Was used on a couple of interesting run plays. If the Steelers are preparing to let him go for a new return man, they have a strange way of showing it. On one run, Logan spun Keyaron Fox in a circle to the delight of the rest of the team.

* Brandon London -- Stands out with his size (6-4, 210). Caught a few balls; didn't have an obvious mistake or drop.

* Anthony Madison -- Still running first-team punt gunner, but has serious competition from No. 4 WR Arnaz Battle. Madison is not the No. 4 CB, so the odds don't favor him. Ah, the life of an NFL punt gunner.

* Bryant McFadden -- Looked like the exact same B-Mac to me. Should breeze to the starting job.

* Sean McHugh -- I agree that this guy was missed last season. He's a better lead blocker and pass-catcher than young Johnson, so he should not be forgotten. But did he need that much work at minicamp? Or is he the missing link and therefore did need the work? The genius of Arians gets so confusing some times.

* Ryan Mundy -- Not sure if he missed the entire minicamp with an injury (that I forgot to check on), and I can't remember if he did practice. That can't be a good sign.

* Akwasi Owusu-Ansah -- IUP cornerback was deemed a safety prospect by the Steelers, who also deemed him a medical risk because of his shoulder.

10 a.m.: While I work on this morning's A to Z, here are some thoughts to mull over.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 5

1:45 P.m.: Again, I'm running down the roster and popping off when necessary. Here's Part II of V:

* James Farrior -- LBers coach Keith Butler, like Dick LeBeau before him, said Farrior hasn't slowed down, that his fourth-down coverage of Brian Leonard and Ray Rice last season had more to do with poor technique. And again I'll point out Farrior's superb fourth-down coverage of Rice at the end of the Steelers' win over the Ravens.

* Larry Foote -- In a nice-to-see-you-again bull session, Foote said to me, "I saw you wearing your hat out there." And I said, "I have a bit of skin cancer." And he said, "That's no big deal." And I said, "That's not my only problem." And told him about this and that and warned him, "You start breaking down when you're 50. I got old all of the sudden." And he said, "Age has nothing to do with it. You're old once you start walking around telling everybody about your problems." And I said, "Thanks a lot, Larry." And he said, "No problem."

* Ramon Foster -- The Steelers began tracking his linemate, current rookie Chris Scott, two years ago while watching Foster. They liked what they saw from Foster, but felt Scott was better on tape.

* Andre Frazier -- This No. 1 reserve at outside linebacker last year played 3 defensive snaps.

* William Gay -- Gay looked better at nickel and gunner than he's ever looked. Probably overstepped his limits last season.

* Thaddeus Gibson -- Is more experienced as a 3-4 OLB than Jason Worilds, and LaMarr Woodley said that became obvious at minicamp. Woodley doesn't begrudge Gibson that he went to Ohio State. At least not yet.

* Casey Hampton -- Looks the same as he always looks: round. But the fact he's here for OTAs means plenty.

* James Harrison -- He played in 1,032 snaps last season, two more than Woodley. So, he's allowed to miss a practice or two at minicamp.

* Chris Hoke -- Laughed at the reporters who expected the team to draft a nose tackle. Says he has two good years left, minimum.

* Ziggy Hood -- Much more assertive in the locker room with his teammates. Sorry, but that's all I have on him. It's tough to watch linemen closely when they're playing in shorts.

TUESDAY, MAY 4

8:15 a.m.: Instead of emptying my notebook and/or brain on what I learned about the Steelers at minicamp, I'll roll down my roster and jot down any word associations. Here's Part I of V:

* Will Allen -- Had the first interception of the weekend, and later caused Mike Tomlin to bellow: "I thought you were a killer, Will," after Allen hit Tyler Grisham over the middle, but not with his full force, after Grisham went up to pull in a high pass. Tells me Tomlin has some specific expectations for the guy, but also that Allen's not dumb enough to light up a teammate on May 1.

* Charlie Batch -- Don't count him out because he has the best short game and offensive understanding of the three quarterbacks. While his arm isn't what it used to be, he's smart enough to know how and when to loft high, arcing deep balls.

* Arnaz Battle -- Will give Anthony Madison his toughest roster battle yet because he can really get down the sideline as a punt gunner. Showed enough to help as a No. 4 or 5 receiver.

* Ciron Black -- Steelers called him after the draft but never offered him a contract because ...

* Dorian Brooks -- ... they were looking for a guard/center type, such as Brooks, who's considered one of their better rookie free agents.

* Antonio Brown -- Small guy who caught just about everything. After one particular spree of sticky-fingered grabs during one practice, Michigan State Mike Prisuta growled "Where does this guy think he is, Spartan Stadium?" Brown apparently killed the reporter's alma mater last season while playing for Central Michigan (as a junior). Showed some burst as a punt returner at minicamp. Was helped by Limas Sweed's injury.

* Joe Burnett -- Doesn't believe he's out of the punt returner derby, but coaches used him as a gunner only during special teams sessions. Says he's a completely different player this year as a cornerback, and he looked as confident as most second-year players.

* Crezdon Butler -- Could surprise me. I thought this fifth-rounder was their worst pick, but No. 40 had a decent camp -- at least to these amateur eyes. Broke up a few key passes during the two-minute drill and wasn't beaten for a big play.

* Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith -- All I can say is that he has good size (6-2, 210) for a free safety. No one that I talked to seemed to know much about this rookie from UTEP.

* Dennis Dixon -- Starting to remind me of "Meat" from Bull Durham with his utterly worthless cliches. Come on, Dennis, if you don't start saying something in interviews, we're going to start wondering about your ability to comprehend the playbook. Still throwing from his ear, but of course that won't change. Also hear that he's not a favorite of Bruce Arians, but that's just the grapevine speaking.

* Jonathan Dwyer -- Nice guy, smart guy in the locker room. Strong guy, fast guy on the field. Closest thing to a lock out of third-day draft picks, and not only because of the lack of numbers at running back.

SATURDAY, MAY 1

8:35 p.m.: The quarterbacks are finally starting to heat up. "Mad Bomber" Byron Leftwich threw a 25-yard touchdown strike to Antwaan Randle El on the first play of team scrimmage. Leftwich appeared more comfortable and released the ball more quickly, as he did to Heath Miller on an out in front of Troy Polamalu. Heath then caught a touchdown pass over the middle on the next play. Another interesting pass went to big rookie fullback Demetrius Taylor on a slip screen. Taylor rumbled down the sideline like he knew what he was doing with the ball in his hands.

In the second scrimmage session, red zone work, Leftwich again opened up with a touchdown pass, this one to Mike Wallace over Keenan Lewis. Leftwich followed that with a strange jump pass over the middle to Tank Summers.

Charlie Batch, the team's best short-game QB, completed a fade to Miller in the back of the end zone over Renauld Williams. He followed it with another fade in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown by Brandon London.

London also took a screen pass in the third and final scrimmage and motored up the sideline to the pleasure of Coach Mike Tomlin, who might've been hooting about right guard Maurkice Pouncey getting out in front of the play on the other side of the field.

Defense, of course, had its moments. Brett Keisel batted down Leftwich's fourth-down pass during the morning two-minute drill. Rookie cornerback Crezdon Butler broke up both Dennis Dixon's third and fourth-down passes to stop the second team's two-minute drill. The third team moved the ball well with Batch throwing the key pass over the middle to Isaac Redman. He barreled up the middle of the field untouched to the 14, where the drive stalled.

Defensive highlights in the afternoon practice included another interception by undrafted safety Justin Thornton, who's beginning to bother Leftwich a bit. The QB growled "OK, 46" after tapping Thornton to end the return. Thornton, playing strong safety for the third team, also broke quickly on another play to stop Jonathan Dwyer before he got rolling with a pass in the flat.

8:50 a.m.: Just wanted to make a note here that this day will be extremely busy with the two practices, construction on the Parkway, daughter's ball game. If I don't get a chance to make remarks after a practice -- such as last night's -- don't worry, because I do have a full notebook that will only expand today. I'll lighten that load here as soon as I can.

FRIDAY, APRIL 30

2:15 p.m.: Byron Leftwich opened minicamp as the Steelers' first-team quarterback, and second-teamer Dennis Dixon said that's how it's going to stay for the weekend. Of course, Dixon could be in for a surprise as early as this afternoon, but I'll be there to report on any changes.

Coach Mike Tomlin apparently isn't in the mood for being courteous to his incumbents because recently acquired Bryant McFadden also opened as a first-teamer. He replaced William Gay at left cornerback. Gay worked as the nickel back and the first-team gunner opposite Anthony Madison, so it appears Tomlin has a clear plan with Gay.

Beyond suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisber, only one player, James Harrison, missed the first workout, and one rookie, A.J. Trump, has been scratched from the roster. No reason was given for either, but I'm expecting to learn more about Harrison later this afternoon. A source with the Steelers was surprised by Harrison's absence since it wasn't mentioned at the previous night's meeting.

Andre Frazier filled in for Harrison at ROLB. Behind Frazier was second-round draft pick Jason Worilds. On the other side of Worilds was fourth-round pick Thaddeus Gibson. Both rookies moved well when dropping into coverage, but that was to be expected after both defensive ends showed linebacker skills at the combine.

Speaking of mobility, first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey surprised me with how quickly he jumped out in front of a sweep to the right side. Pouncey, of course, is the second-team right guard.

With Justin Hartwig still recovering from shoulder surgery, Doug Legursky was the first-team center in front of second-teamer Kraig Urbik.

Another rookie showing some speed in the first practice was running back Jonathan Dwyer, the sixth-round pick who played in the Georgia Tech triple option. Dwyer is trimmer than he was at the combine. He explained that he'd added weight throughout the season to better withstand the pounding in his college offense. But today he looked like a different back when he took a toss right, cut sharply up the field and sped down the sideline. He said he hasn't played tailback since his freshman season and enjoyed it very much.

As for the quarterbacks, Leftwich looked rusty, and even underthrew Mike Wallace, who had Keenan Lewis beat by a step deep down the field. Wallace had to come back to break up Lewis's interception. Leftwich, who'd remarked on the new speed at WR since his last stint here, promised he'd never underthrow Wallace again.

Just as Leftwich still uses his trademark wind-up, Dixon is still throwing from his ear. Charlie Batch was the most effective quarterback, but kept everything short.

Will Allen, the new No. 3 safety, intercepted the first pass of minicamp off a deflection. Undrafted rookie safety Justin Thornton stepped in front of a receiver for the best interception of the day. McFadden intercepted a blind Leftwich pass over the middle.

TUESDAY, APRIL 27

12:12 p.m.: The Steelers confirmed the addition of C Bradley Vierling from Vanderbilt.

8:05 a.m.: According to The Tennessean, the Steelers today will sign Vanderbilt center Bradley Vierling as an undrafted free agent. According to Vierling, the Steelers went back after the draft to look at the tape of Vierling against first-round nose tackle Dan Williams.

"I did an exceptional job against him," said the 6-3, 295-pound Vierling, who started the last 25 games for Vanderbilt and also played some guard.

MONDAY, APRIL 26

4:15 p.m.: The Steelers have signed another undrafted free agent, Lindsey Witten (6-4 1/2, 250), a DE/OLB from UConn. The addition of Witten gives the Steelers yet another rookie outside linebacker prospect and pushes the unofficial roster total to 90. A draft pick isn't an official member of the 80-man roster until he signs a contract.

Witten is the younger brother of Buffalo safety Donte Whitner. He recorded 11.5 sacks last season, and early in the season -- after recording seven sacks in two games -- was considered a sure-fire NFL prospect. But he was hospitalized with a stomach virus in September, lost weight and didn't regain his explosiveness, although he was the only defensive lineman at the combine to time under 1.6 seconds in the first 10 yards of his 40-yard dash.

2:25 p.m.: The Steelers have released Ben Roethlisberger's statement. Click the link.

12 p.m.: The Steelers finally released their undrafted free agent list:

* Offensive guard Dorian Brooks, 6-2, 306, James Madison.

* Safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith, 6-2, 210, UTEP.

* Offensive tackle Kyle Jolly, 6-6, 300, North Carolina.

* Fullback Demetrius Taylor, 6-0, 273, Virginia Tech.

* Defensive tackle Cordarrow Thompson, 6-2, 301, Virginia Tech

* Safety Justin Thornton, 6-1, 213, Kansas.

* Center/guard A.J. Trump, 6-3, 300, Miami.

The addition of the 17 rookies gives the Steelers a total of 89 players on their offseason roster. The Steelers must get down to 80 players (draft picks don't count until signed).

SUNDAY, APRIL 25

11 a.m.: Couple of quick notes: The web site linked to below has pulled Daryll Clark and Andre Dixon off its list of Steelers UDFAs, and Ed Thompson of Scout.com reports the Steelers have signed North Carolina OT Kyle Jolley.

Have a great and sunny Sunday. Be back early Monday.

SATURDAY, APRIL 24

8:45 p.m.: I'm going to provide more commentary early Monday on what appears to be a fine draft by the Steelers, who finished by landing some players many of us on the message boards have been watching all season: RB Jon Dwyer and DE Doug Worthington. The Steelers also drafted an interesting late-round receiver in Central Michigan's prolific Antonio Brown.

Kevin Colbert told reporters he expects to finish his free-agent class early tonight, and some of those names are already coming in, courtesy of this web site.

At this point, the site's reporting that the Steelers have signed Daryll Clark, QB, Penn State; Ciron Black, OT, LSU; Andre Dixon, RB, UConn; Damon Cromartie-Smith, S, UTEP; A.J. Trump, OT, Miami; and Cordarrow Thompson, DE, Virginia Tech.

1:15 p.m.: So the Steelers got their cornerback ... back.

They acquired their former cornerback Bryant McFadden in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals for the fifth-round pick the Steelers had acquired in the Santonio Holmes deal.

McFadden is coming off a poor season with the Cardinals, a year after helping the Steelers win a Super Bowl as a starting CB. But after last year, his stock dropped to the point where his younger brother Walter was taken earlier in this draft than Bryant. But, of course, Bryant should give the Steelers better cornerback play than they had last year on the left side.

As for the first fifth-round pick, Chris Scott, most of my readers know he's a player I've liked since early last season. Scott has great size and strength, but likely not the feet needed at left tackle. However, the big man from Tennessee could certainly make the move to RT or even inside to a mauler guard position.

The one play I remember from Scott is the way he shot out on South Carolina OLB Eric Norwood and grabbed him by the neck as RB Montario Hardesty cut behind the block for a touchdown. Nasty, strong, big man who played well enough in the SEC to earn second-team conference honors. I think it's a great pick at the spot, and it probably spells the end for Tony Hills, or maybe even Trai Essex, here in Pittsburgh.

12:15 p.m.: If Steelers fans didn't like the pick of pass-rusher Jason Worilds in the second round, they're going to hate the pick of pass-rusher Thaddeus Gibson in the fourth.

Makes me love it all the more.

Seriously, the Steelers had zero depth at their all-important OLB positions. James Harrison turns 32 in a week and LaMarr Woodley could become a restricted free agent -- or, if the CBA gets pulled together, an unrestricted free agent -- next March. The Steelers had to do something about the depth there, and they addressed it this draft.

You wanted a cornerback? Well, after the first round you're looking at players with no better chance of replacing William Gay than last year's rookies, Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis, so it made sense for the Steelers to stick with the value board, and they did that with Worilds and Gibson. Both of those guys shocked me with their fluidity during linebacker drills at the combine because, of course, they were both defensive ends in college.

As for their Pro Days, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler just confirmed that Worilds' workout may have been better than the one Woodley had in the spring of 2007 that caused the Steelers to "fall in love" with him before the draft. As for Gibson, he's the guy who dressed up in black and gold for his Pro Day at Ohio State, and so his vision has come to pass.

Another interesting point Butler made with me is that the drafting of these two hybrids should put an end to the annual talk of the team preparing to switch to a 4-3 defense.

Looking ahead to the fifth round, some big backs are still on the board. Out of Jonathan Dwyer, Anthony Dixon, LeGarrette Blount and Charles Scott, I prefer Dixon, who produced in the SEC even though defenses could key on him, the centerpiece of the weak Mississippi State offense. I also wouldn't mind Scott in the sixth round, or even fullback John "Terminator" Conner, but that would be a step back in Bruce Arians' plan to "Terminate" the position from Steelers lore.

FRIDAY, APRIL 23

8:40 p.m.: Surprising amount of hate on the twitter machine regarding Jason "All" Worilds, a player I've like for the Steelers' scheme as a 3-4 OLB ever since I watched him closely -- for the first and only time -- in Virginia Tech's bowl game against Tennessee. Worilds wrecked Tennessee that game, even knocked a running back out. His sack and forced fumble late in the game wrapped up the win. But the best way for me to provide info on Worilds is to go through some of the questions I received on Twitter:

Q: U dont think Worilds is a reach or anything of the sort as a lot of people out there do? considering other plays available then?!

A: No, I don't think he's a reach. I don't think Sean Lee's that much better. Terrence Cody? Just a backup two-downer for two years as he gains weight.

Q: Remember Jim, All Worilds.

A: Yes, SteelerBill, as I promised, I stole nickname All Worilds from you 2 months ago and will take full credit. :-)

Q: Please tell me this is a replacement for Harrison in a couple years and not because Woodley will leave via FA next year...

A: I assume Worilds will be groomed behind Harrison, although he played other side at VaTech. Extending Woodley better be a priority.

Q: Why do you love this pick? How much will he play?

A: Worilds, per Steelers tradition at position, will redshirt. Needed depth there bad, much more so than ILB. Timmons NOT an OLB

Q: Do you see the Steelers trading up at all in the third?

A: I kind of do see them trading up in the third. Couple CBs I like: AOA from IUP and Spievey from Iowa.

11:15 a.m.: It's a good day to fix the defense, and that's the reason I chose OLB Eric Norwood and CB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah for the 2nd and 3rd rounds in Wednesday evening's prediction column.

I've since been told by amateur and pro evaluators alike that I probably have the two names reversed. Well, fine. Owusu-Ansah in the second round still interests me. I know he's raw. And I know, as Bob Labriola told me this morning on the radio, "Ricardo Colclough did that guy no favors," as Colclough also came out of a small school similar to AOA's IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).

Jim Haslett came out of that school. So did the Steelers' new pro personnel director Brandon Hunt. Might make for a good story later, particularly if the 6-0, 207-pound, sub 4.4-40 AOA can be molded into the big cornerback Steelers fans enjoy so much. If not, AOA's a potential safey. He's also returned 9 kicks for touchdowns, albeit in D-2. Akwasi, by the way, in Ghana means "Born on Sunday."

If the Steelers are looking at cornerbacks, as most of us feel they should be, Iowa's Amari Spievey also fits their style. Brandon Ghee, the soft tackler with one career interception, is the one to avoid, IMHO.

As for Norwood he's a bit stiff in the hips, I know, but he can burst to the quarterback, and I think he'll play better on the line than off it, where he played last year for South Carolina. Jason Worilds and Thaddeus Gibson are other 3-4 OLBs I'm keeping an eye on.

If the Steelers opt instead to take one of the many, late-round OLBs they've been looking at, they might look at nose tackles today.

The only player Labriola mentioned this morning during our guest appearances on WDVE was Linval Joseph, the nose tackle from East Carolina. But I think the Steelers can get similar value in the fifth round from the many big bodies that will be available. Joseph's stock has been rising. He's an underclassmen with above-average workout numbers. Myself? I didn't see it in the two ECU games I watched.

Mike Prisuta of 'DVE said he wants Penn State ILB Sean Lee in the second round. Good player, but I don't see the need and/or room.

Other third-round options include Stanford's big tailback, Toby Gerhart, and WR Eric Decker, the Joe Jurivicius clone from Minnesota.

Looking back at yesterday's first-round pick, I wondered if Maurkice Pouncey would've been picked 18th had he played guard at Florida. He's not Steve Hutchinson, nor Alan Faneca for that matter. Those were first-round guards, athletic, powerful guys without holes in their game.

Pouncey isn't as athletic as those two. But, as a center, Pouncey provides size, nastiness and intelligence. Hey, I wanted big Justin Blaylock as a center in the first round a few years ago, so I have to be happy about Pouncey this year.

And, again, Pouncey looks a lot better when compared and contrasted with Trent Williams. I've written this several times here and on the message board, but I can't stress it enough. Williams, the No. 4 overall pick, played center in his bowl game and wasn't nearly as effective at the position as Pouncey, who has a clear understanding of what pass-rushers want to do. He's alert, understands his position, loves the game and will be a team leader some day, a guy to build around.

Should there even be any question about how the Steelers feel after they rushed Pouncey's name to the podium?

I was on the radio just mentioning Pouncey's name along with Bryan Bulaga as the two candidates available here, right after the 49ers took Mike Iupati, and before I finished the sentence my phone buzzed. The Steelers were texting to say they had picked Pouncey, as the nice man from the 49ers was walking off the stage.

Was it love? Or was it the plan with whomever they drafted?

Probably the plan. Probably didn't want a 10-minute review of what the Steelers have been up to lately.

Good move.

THURSDAY, APRIL 22

9:50 p.m.: The Steelers couldn't get the card up to the podium any faster to draft center Maurkice Pouncey from Florida. Pouncey will open practice at the right guard position, but Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin did not way where Pouncey will stand on the depth chart, or whether he'll force RGs Trai Essex or Kraig Urbik to another position. Pouncey said the Steelers were the team he was hoping to join, saying he fell in love with them after they interviewed him at the combine.

8:40 p.m.: Just heard someone promise me the Steelers like Earl Thomas. Not sure where he stands in relation to Mike Iupati and Maurkice Pouncey, but at leasst Thomas is in play. ... Also, someone else tells me Kyle Wilson is off their board for college transgressions. So, that's why these blogs and tweets are dangerous, considering my previous post, but I know most of you want to hear the rumors as I hear them.

7:40 p.m.: The consensus here on the South Side is that Maurkice Pouncey will be the pick at 18. ... Sources are split on whether Earl Thomas would be chosen if available. ... The Steelers cornerback rankings are 1. Joe Haden, 2. Kyle Wilson, and 3. Kareem Jackson.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 21

1:40 p.m.: The Steelers have just confirmed ESPN's morning report that Ben Roethlisberger has been suspended for six games to start the 2010 season. Roethlisberger will undergo behavioral evaluation, which could reduce the suspension to four games.

To listen to Art Rooney II field questions on the suspension, go here to Steelers.com.

8:30 a.m.: I'll be hosting a draft chat tonight from 8-9 here at SteelCityInsider.com. Hopefully someone at practice today will give me all the picks and I can share it all with you! Ha, wouldn't that be nice?

MONDAY, APRIL 19

8:20 a.m.: Today's entry features a pro-Roethlisberger letter sent to me from Shant S. of Los Angeles. I'm running it because he asked nicely, and in his words "I deserve a chance to let my opinion be known, just like the media does every day." So here it is:

"I'll make it short and concise here.

"Ben's actions off the field have been reprehensible. At the same time, there are many who believe that he deserves another chance with the Steelers. I am one of many in this group of fans. Although there are many who have followed the team longer and more closely, I have been a very loyal fan since 1976 when I was six years of age. I watched the Super Bowls as a kid (and read about the 1974 and 1975 Suber Bowls), and in 1978, since we didn't have a TV, my Dad allowed me to run down to my Aunt's and Uncle's house to watch the game on their TV. I have been a very loyal fan for many years.

"I had been waiting (ailing and agonizing is more appropriate) 25 years for another SB victory after 1980 and wrote to everyone I could to draft Ben in 2004 because we didn't have a real QB since Bradshaw. I believe, as a supportive fan from Los Angeles, California, who watches every single minute of every single game with my wife and friends (and reads all the articles posted here every single day), that Ben deserves another chance. I want to communicate this to all of the media outlets and the team before the draft and before it is too late."

FRIDAY, APRIL 16

8 a.m.: I'm struck by the oft-repeated message-board plea to Art Rooney II to not give into "the mob mentality." But I don't know how he can help it. The mob is going both ways on this one. Trust me, I know.

After stating my preference to trade Ben Roethlisberger, the mob that sides with winning football wants to run me out of my job. Which is fine. It's the risk run by anyone who gives a strong opinion. I also understand the mob that cares about human decency and wants Roethlisberger run out of his job. Right or wrong, that's their choice.

All I can say, and have said, is that I've stated my opinion and am done. Some are still taking my opinion personally and taking shots at me, and I will address those shots if that's what they really want. Other than that, all I have to say is good luck to Roethlisberger and the Steelers, and may God bless.

THURSDAY, APRIL 15

2 p.m.: Adam Caplan of Scout.com has passed along news that Willie Colon will sign his first-round tender today for $2.521 million, and it comes on the heels of Matt Spaeth signing his tender for $1.101 million.

Also, Darnell Stapleton, who was not tendered and is therefore a free agent, is working out for the New England Patriots today. He worked out with the New York Giants last week.

* Steelers President Art Rooney II has called a press conference for 2:30 p.m. We'll be quick with a transcript.

TUESDAY, APRIL 13

9:45 a.m.: Well, this story didn't quite match the rumors I'd been hearing. No, the actual story was worse. Ben Roethlisberger is a sleaze ball. The part about following the girl into the bathroom, that really put the nail in the coffin.

Wow. A QB with two Super Bowl rings has to resort to that? And then the lack of contrition from Roethlisberger at the end of the day showed he really is not going to grow up. Where's the ache in his soul that the rest of us are feeling?

OK, enough of the soap box. You all get it. You're either following the strict letter of the law and giving the QB and his creepy band of enablers a break, or you're disgusted and calling for his suspension. Put me in the latter camp. Suspend him and suspend him for so long that it hurts him and his teammates, who have to learn there's more to leadership than what's said in the huddle.

The part that really bugs me, though, the part that could make me go the other way if I were in charge of doling out punishment, is the moralistic outrage from those who see racism in keeping Roethlisberger and dropping Santonio Holmes.

I hadn't even thought of black and white until it was brought up by the outraged columnists this morning. I doubt the Rooneys had been thinking with black and white blinders on, either. And, frankly, if I were them, and reading the morning outrage, I might change my mind and NOT suspend Roethlisberger. But then again, that would be ridiculous, and make me a part of his never-ending creepy band of enablers.

MONDAY, APRIL 12

11:15 a.m.: There is much anger among Steelers fans, and even a columnist as accomplished as the Post-Gazette's Bob Smizik is characterizing those attempting to rationalize the low compensation for Santonio Holmes as members of the "Steelers' PR department." But I have to say it's what I expected.

When asked Sunday morning what the Steelers could expect in a trade for Holmes, I said a fifth-rounder. But I also said at the time that I wouldn't make that trade.

On second thought, I'm coming around to the Steelers' point of view, and that is they wanted a guy -- who's surly on his bad days and an actor on his good ones -- out of the locker room. Whether it sends a message or not, the Steelers should want a festering cancer gone. Alan Faneca could barely control himself throughout his final contract season here. Knowing the two men, I believe Holmes would have done a worse job of keeping his cool.

It's my hope that the Steelers' PR department won't prescribe some kind of overriding moralistic quote from a Rooney in its press release, as the Steelers did with Cedrick Wilson. Wilson was a bad guy with a long rap sheet who was a potential salary cap casualty even before he punched a woman in the face in a bar. Holmes has a similar rap sheet and was also being viewed as a casualty at the end of his contract next March. They'd be better off letting the action stand for itself rather than comment on Holmes's conduct.

It also appears that Antwaan Randle El's March 9 comment that "we just talked about being No. 3 (receiver)" was an indication that the team already knew Holmes was facing a four-game suspension this season. And it makes obvious that the recent parade of college wide receivers through the facility was done with a purpose. The Steelers, in fact, are talking to Central Michigan wide receiver Antonio Brown today.

There's no doubt the Steelers will miss Holmes. He was being lauded by experts for his work last season. But he's simply a bad guy and it was time for him to go. The fifth-round compensation, I believe, was the best they could have done.

* In draft news this weekend, the Steelers attended the workout of Florida defensive end Jermaine Cunningham. He ran an impressive 1.57 10-yard split but finished his 40 in 4.92 because he strained a quadriceps muscle.

While I like Cunningham as a player, I've watched him struggle while dropping into coverage and don't believe he's anything more than a 4-3 pass-rushing end. The Steelers, of course, are looking for defensive ends they can convert to 3-4 outside linebackers.

SATURDAY, APRIL 10

7:50 a.m.: ESPN last night reported that no charges will be brought against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the alleged sexual assault case in Milledgeville, Georgia. Roethlisberger, does, however, face a potential suspension from the NFL, and the speculation remains that it could be for one or two games.

FRIDAY, APRIL 9

1:35 p.m.: The district attorney in Georgia's Baldwin County will announce his decision on whether to charge Ben Roethlisberger on Monday at 2 p.m. according to the Post-Gazette.

10:30 a.m.: As reported earlier in this blog, Texas safety Earl Thomas is visiting the Steelers today, along with wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Arrelious Benn. Here are my thoughts on each:

* Earl Thomas (5-10.2, 208, 4.46) -- Q: Why draft a Troy Polamalu imitation when you already have Troy Polamalu?

A: Because you can.

Thomas would walk right onto the field as a nickel safety in an era of football that demands teams to employ multiple coverage safeties. Thomas can run like Polamalu, and can cover like him, perhaps to the point of playing cornerback someday. The naysayers point out that the Steelers have enough safeties with the signings of Ryan Clark and Will Allen, but I say that with a secondary which struggled to intercept passes last season there's no reason to overthink the situation when a true ballhawk is available. And it's quite possible Thomas will fall to pick 18 since smaller safeties are proving to have a short shelf life in the NFL.

* Arrelious "Rejus" Benn (6-1, 219, 4.58) -- I'll admit up front that I've never seen anything positive from this guy, but I'm also not someone who follows blue-chip recruits through their first few college seasons. Those who have, rave about Benn. But those of us who just tuned in this year -- albeit with Illinois' awful quarterback -- have not been impressed. Benn has been compared to Hines Ward with his physical style of play, but at the combine Benn seemed overly muscled and struggled to catch the ball.

* Emmanuel Sanders (5-10.7, 186, 4.44) -- All I know about this SMU speedster is that he's also a return man who caught 98 passes in a spread offense last season, was suspended for a couple of games his junior season by Coach June Jones, and drew raves from draft analyst Charles Davis for his work the week of the East-West Shrine Game. But I watched the game and can't remember Sanders' performance, good or bad.

THURSDAY, APRIL 8

9:45 a.m.: There are some big men posing as draft prospects at the Steelers' facility today. Here are my thoughts on each:

* Mike Iupati (6-5.1, 331, 5.28) -- A first-round prospect about whom debate has raged among Steelers fans all draft season: Does his potential as a run-blocker outweigh the pass-blocking problems he showed at the Senior Bowl? Coaches and scouts who like Iupati say his flaws are correctable since he hasn't had much coaching since moving to this country from Samoa. On the other side, doubters say that no guard chosen 18th should have any flaws.

* Maurkice Pouncey (6-4.4, 304, 5.24) -- Pouncey has less upside as an athlete than Iupati, but the guard/center has fewer, if any, flaws. Pouncey won't turn 21 until July 24.

* Clifton Geathers (6-7.4, 299, 4.98) -- Jumpy's nephew is as raw as they come but has great upside and rich NFL bloodlines. He was a surprise early departure from South Carolina, but will turn 23 in December.

* Linval Joseph (6-4.4, 328, 5.13) -- Underclassman had his weight down to 319 at his Pro Day. He looked like a natural NT playing in East Carolina's 4-3 last season. Will turn 22 in October. Considered a late second, early third-round pick.

* Carlton Mitchell (6-2.7, 215, 4.49) -- Considered the Marques Colston of this draft because he flew under the radar at South Florida and has great size and speed. Mitchell's a developmental prospect who won't last until the seventh round, as Colston did.

* Rob Gronkowski (6-6.2, 264) -- Massive tight end out of Woodland Hills H.S. and Arizona State has been taken off some boards as a medical reject. Gronkowski has denied Mike Mayock's report that he suffers from spinal stenosis. Good chance the Steelers are checking for themselves just in case they have a chance to draft a first-round talent at a later point.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7

11 a.m.: The Steelers are hosting five players today, bringing their visits total to 19 out of a possible 30:

* Dez Bryant (6-2, 225) -- Finally ran at his delayed Pro Day and ranged from 4.52 to 4.68. He plays like a top 10 pick, but has been troubled all the way back to his childhood. Can't see the Steelers taking him in the first round, even after his inevitable slide.

* Golden Tate (5-10.2, 199, 4.48) -- An ideal second-round pick if the Steelers decide they'll let Santonio Holmes leave when his contract expires next March. Tate has been compared to Hines Ward because of his build and his after-the-catch run skills.

* LaGarrette Blount (6-0.4, 241, 4.71) -- Can't see the Steelers facing the media fire by drafting this troubled power back. Not only did he miss most of last season after his infamous punch, he was suspended the previous February for missing offseason workouts, and was suspended in November of 2008, and also reportedly threw a punch at an opponent during a junior college game. It's a bit of a surprise that the Steelers didn't cancel this visit after the most recent player altercation.

* Koa Misi (6-2.5, 251, 4.74) -- An ideal 3-4 OLB conversion prospect after playing DE at Utah, Misi's stock rose dramatically after showing linebacker agility at the Senior Bowl. But anyone who watched him have trouble getting off blocks in his bowl game against Cal won't draft him before the middle rounds.

* Adrian Tracy (6-2.5, 248, 4.81) -- This is more than a courtesy by Mike Tomlin to his old school. Tracy played DE at William & Mary and set a school record with 31 sacks. He didn't miss a game in four years, was a team captain, and showed linebacker-like hips and agility in the Texas vs. Nation all-star game.

TUESDAY, APRIL 6

11:30 a.m.: Getting back to work after an Easter break, the Steelers are hosting Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga today. The team is taking at look at the draft's second best offensive tackle, but won't be able to touch him in the draft, save for a major trade up.

SATURDAY, APRIL 3

10:30 a.m.: It was a Great Friday for the Wexell family as we made the trip to Washinington D.C. for the peak of the cherry blossoms, and to show young Samantha the sights of the big city.

Willie Parker also made the trip, but he signed with the Redskins for one year that could pay him up to $3.1 million if he gets enough playing time on a roster that includes Larry Johnson and Clinton Portis.

That Fast Willie and Samantha visited the city on the same day brought a smile to all of us. The two share the same Veterans' Day birthday and FWP has made a big deal about it with pictures and autographs adorning Samantha's desktop. FWP will be missed on a personal level, and that's why I'll try again to set the record straight: Parker did not blast the organization, as seems to be the perception among the national media.

This bit of news, that Parker was unahappy last year, was told to the Post-Gazette by "an associate" of Parker's. Ever have a friend pass along information for you? Yes, sometimes the truth gets lost in someone else's interpretation.

Hey, perhaps Parker was bitter, but he did not say this for the public record. Yet, he went out of his way to smooth it over with Mike Tomlin a few days before he left.

I hope he also smoothed it over with Steelers fans, who already think Parker's the guy who, in 2008, wanted the ball more, when he really only wanted to run the ball more effectively. And isn't that what the team president asked for a year later?

So farewell to Fast Willie, and may he play in a third Super Bowl.

THURSDAY, APRIL 1

7:15 a.m.: Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert traveled to Austin yesterday, and according to CBS Sportsline it wasn't so much to see the Texas Longhorns as it was to see QB Colt McCoy.

Huh?

Oh, right, it's an April Fool's joke. Has to be.

Perhaps this Ben Roethlisberger nonsense has gone too far, because the Steelers won't be drafting McCoy -- or any other QB -- in the first two or three rounds, if at all.

Undoubtedly, the Steelers' head of personnel made the trip to watch free safety Earl Thomas run one 40-yard dash.

That Thomas ran in the 4.3s before pulling up lame (hamstring) was no surprise on Texas' fast surface. Thomas is following in the exact fashion that similarly sized Troy Polamalu proceeded during the 2003 draft season.

That Thomas has been falling in media mocks of late HAS been a surprise though. And if the Steelers are fortunate, they can add Thomas as a free safety in what could eventually become the most interesting and formidable safety combination in league history.

Thomas, in my opinion, is the only truly desirable prospect for the Steelers in the first round. The offensive linemen all have their flaws and the cornerbacks are better suited for the bottom of the first round. Thomas could replace nickel back Deshea Townsend as a rookie and in the future replace Ryan Clark as Polamalu's running mate. In my opinion, Thomas would be the only first-round selection capable of lifting the heavy cloud of the Roethlisberger news off of the fan base this spring.

In other Pro Day news from Wednesday, Eric Norwood, a pass-rusher who played out of position as a 4-3 linebacker this past season for South Carolina, worked out and then hopped a plane to be in Pittsburgh today for a visit. He'll join Wake Forest CB Brandon Ghee, and possibly others before the Steelers take the next four days off to celebrate Easter.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31

12:30 p.m.: Visiting the Steelers today are three cornerbacks about whom I've written much this past week: Kyle Wilson of Boise State, Kareem Jackson of Alabama, and Nolan Carroll of Maryland. All three run in the high 4.3s to low 4.4s. Wilson is a first-round prospect, Jackson is a second-round prospect, and Carroll, who's only started six college games due to injuries, is an unknown who'll probably be drafted in the middle rounds.

The Steelers also brought in Joe Webb, a three-year starter at quarterback with Alabama-Birmingham. Webb (6-3, 223) played a bit of WR his sophomore season and is hoping to be drafted at that position. The Steelers attended his Pro Day, where Webb posted eye-popping numbers, such as a broad jump of 11-5 1/2. The rest of his numbers were reported in my March 12 entry below.

The fifth visitor is Marshall defensive end Albert McClellan (6-1, 247, 4.79), who'd project to outside linebacker in the Steelers' scheme. McClellan was a four-year starter at Marshall and recorded 20 career sacks. His best season was 2006, when he had 11.5 sacks. McClellan sat out the 2007 seaon with a torn ACL before returning, and last season McClellan was a team captain and returned an interception for a touchdown in the Texas vs. Nation all-star game. He's considered a late-round prospect.

* Scout.com's Chris Steuber informed me the Steelers have scheduled an April visit with California (Pa.) cornerback Terrence Johnson.

Johnson (5-9.3, 190) is yet another NFL prospect from Pittsburgh-area high school Woodland Hills (Jason Taylor, Steve Breaston, Ryan Mundy, etc.). The D-2 two-time Little All-America finished his college career with 178 tackles and 16 interceptions. All three of Johnson's interceptions last season occurred in the postseason as league foes avoided throwing in his direction.

TUESDAY, MARCH 30

4:30 p.m.: Two draft prospects visited the Steelers today, bringing the two-day total to six. And half of those six are offensive guards.

Today's visitors were Indiana's Rodger Saffold and Tennessee's Jacques McClendon. Safford (6-4.5, 316), of course, was a four-year starter at left tackle for the Hoosiers. Even though he held his own against speed rushers at the position (one sack allowed as a senior, O'Brien Schofield), Saffold's body type projects best to move guard in the NFL. He's a second-round prospect, while McClendon (6-3, 324) is a late-round prospect.

MONDAY, MARCH 29

4:10 p.m.: Ben Roethlisberger didn't show up for the start of Voluntary-Veteran Offseason Weightlifting and Stretching (sometimes known as the V-VOWS), which sent a media herd of approximately 25 reporters, writers, broadcasters and camera men home disappointed.

However, since it is draft season, we have some news to report. The Steelers on Monday hosted Penn State linebacker Navorro Bowman, Wake Forest guard Chris DeGeare, Purdue defensive tackle Mike Neal, and Kansas safety Darrell Stuckey. Here's a note or two on each:

* Bowman (6-0.4, 242, 4.74) played outside for Penn State but projects inside in the Steelers' 3-4. He's been in some trouble at Penn State -- sentenced to probation for fighting and violated his probation by smoking pot -- making him a poor draft candidate for a team looking to restore its reputation, but Bowman would represent tremendous value in the middle of the second round.

* DeGeare (6-3.5, 325) is a natural guard who played left tackle as a senior at Wake. He's a mauler who'll likely be drafted late.

* Neal (6-3, 294, 4.89) is a quick 4-3 tackle in the Ziggy Hood mode. I didn't watch much of Neal, since he doesn't figure to fit the Steelers' scheme, but what I saw I really, really enjoyed. He has the strength to help the Steelers' 3-4 line as a mid-rounder.

* Stuckey (5-11.5, 205) is a player who grew on me as my expectation level waned. As a first-round candidate early in the season, Stuckey was a disappointment. But now that his media grade has fallen and he's become something of an afterthought, he's a sleeper who has the look of a polished leader that can play either free or strong safety. He'd provide great value in the middle rounds. At the combine, Stuckey stood out in position drills with his quick feet and change-of-direction skills. He also had a 39 1/2-inch vertical jump.

11:15 a.m.: Just received word that the Steelers are interested in North Alabama DE/OLB Mike Johnson, who measures 6-1, 256 and recently ran his 40s in the "low 4.6s." Johnson is likely a candidate to be signed after the draft.

7:45 a.m.: Ben Roethlisberger won't report for today's offseason workout, according to Steelers PR chief Dave Lockett, who told ESPN that the quarterback would create too much of a distraction for today's weightlifting session.

In truth, media "distractions" aren't all that distracting. To those on the outside, they may seem like a "distraction" because that's all the public hears from any team's headquarters. But in reality, meeting the media takes at most 15 minutes, during which no information is passed.

Roethlisberger must utter his "no comments" at some point, and there's no better time than now. He's better off speaking briefly during a rainy-day walk across the parking lot in March than he is in the locker room after a minicamp practice in May.

The Steelers will hold OTA practice sessions April 19 and 21 to take a look at the team before the draft, and then a minicamp will be held the following week before resuming the OTA schedule.

FRIDAY, MARCH 26

6 p.m.: First-round CB prospect Kyle Wilson ran in the 4.39-4.47 range today at his Pro Day at Boise State. The Idaho Statesman reports that Wilson has a visit scheduled with the Steelers.

12 p.m.: The Steelers just announced the signing of QB Charlie Batch to a two-year contract. It gives the team two backups to troubled Ben Roethlisberger and lessens the chance the team uses anything more than a 7th-round draft pick at the position next month.

9 a.m.: In addition to the Adrian Tracy visit reported earlier this morning, the Steelers have recently scheduled visits with a pair of cornerbacks: Kareem Jackson of Alabama and Nolan Carroll of Maryland.

Jackson was a personal favorite throughout the season as Alabama's "shutdown corner," but in 40 starts over three seasons Jackson intercepted only five passes. The junior declared for the draft after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee. At the combine, Jackson measured 5-10.4, 196, ran a 4.40 40 (4.48 official), had a 1.53 10 and a vertical jump of 37 1/2. He'll turn 22 on April 10.

Carroll broke his leg in the second game of his senior season, so he's made only six career starts. He was a receiver/returner as a freshman, but moved to cornerback as a sophomore and became a part-time starter as a junior. At the combine he measured 5-11.4, 204, and at his Pro Day, according to three different sources, ran either a 4.39, 4.42 or 4.45. He had a vertical jump of 37 1/2 and had 17 bench reps. He's considered a mid to late-round prospect.

* The Steelers attended the East Carolina Pro Day yesterday and watched nose tackles Jay Ross and Linval Joseph, defensive end C.J. Wilson, and safety Van Eskridge. The only number made available was Joseph's weight of 319 pounds. The junior weighed 329 at the combine.

* One other notable Pro Day occurred at Mississippi State, where 240-pound inside linebacker Jamar Chaney ran a 4.56 40 and 233-pound running back Anthony Dixon ran a 4.61.

7:05 a.m.: If anyone can dig up reliable information on Adrian Tracy, it's Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, who has scheduled a visit with the William & Mary defensive end, according to Scout.com's Ed Thompson.

Tomlin, of course, once played at W&M, where Tracy set school records with 31 sacks and 47 games started. Tracy's 62.5 career tackles for loss were the most of any active player in the nation last season. He's a two-time All-Colonial Athletic Association first-teamer who moved to linebacker in the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game.

At the combine, Tracy measured 6-2.5, 248 and ran the 40 in 4.76 and had a vertical jump of 35 1/2.

THURSDAY, MARCH 25

9:20 a.m.: On an earlier date in this blog, I noted how much better I thought Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead looked in his bowl game in spite of his scary numbers. Well, apparently the Steelers have interest in the strong-armed QB as well. Two days after Ole Miss's Pro Day, TFY Draft Insider reports that the Steelers "showed heavy interest in the quarterback before the recent incident involving Ben Roethlisberger, and it could grow stronger" because of Snead's impressive workout.

Meanwhile, another mid-round quarterback, Dan LeFevour of Central Michigan, reportedly had trouble throwing deep, which is no surprise to anyone who watched him this past season.

* The Steelers attended the North Carolina State Pro Day and watched DE/OLB prospect Willie Young run a 4.91 40. If you watched Pitt run successfully at Young during the game at Raleigh last season, you're sure this poor 40 time will knock him out of Steelers' consideration.

* If you think the Steelers should be looking for a kickoff specialist, you're probably hoping the Steelers were at the North Texas Pro Day where the diminutive Tobe Nwigwe converted 3 of 4 60-yard kicks with a slight breeze.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24

8:25 a.m.: The NFL changed the overtime rule to award the kicking team possession if the receiving team kicks a field goal on its first drive. Even though I'm a staunch traditionalist, I'll begrudgingly give the NFL credit here because it did not come up with a hideous new OT rule, as expected. But I have to say that this change reeks of amateurism at the top since the NFL will only enforce the rule in playoff games. That's too weak. If you're changing a rule, change it.

And that's all I'll bore you with on that matter.

* In draft news, the Steelers attended a couple of noteworthy Pro Days yesterday. One, at North Carolina, saw underachieving NT prospect Cam Thomas (6-4,331) reportedly run a 5.09 40. Thomas was a senior in the middle of a defense studded with junior talent and he failed to distinguish himself. Yet, Thomas is regarded as a second-round prospect as he moves through the post-season draft workouts. Linemate E.J. Wilson (6-3, 289) ran a 4.82 40 and drew mention from Mike Mayock on "Pat to the Draft" last night as a late-round sleeper.

The real workout, though, was at Ole Miss. You can read a great report from Scout.com for an update on stars Jevan Snead, Dexter McCluster and Greg Hardy, but the players who interested me were a couple of underrated defensive backs -- CB Cassius Vaughn and FS Kendrick Lewis.

Vaughn (5-10, 185) ran 4.30 and 4.34 40s and drew lavish praise from his former coach, Houston Nutt. Vaughn intercepted five passes the last two seasons.

Lewis (6-1, 195), the Ole Miss defensive captain, had an awful combine (4.73-4.87 40 range) but yesterday ran 4.61 and 4.64. He led the team in tackles last year for a second consecutive season. He was a teammate of Steelers Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis at O. Perry Walker HS in New Orleans.

TUESDAY, MARCH 23

9:45 a.m.: A source informed me the Steelers were at the BYU Pro Day on Monday to look at BYU fullback Manase Tonga, who's rushed for 16 touchdowns on only 178 carries (696 yards) the last three seasons, or a touchdown every 11.1 carries. He's being compared to Minnesota Vikings fullback Naufahu Tahi, who, in his last three seasons at BYU, rushed for 12 touchdowns, or one every 18.7 carries.

Tonga measured 5-11.2, 245 and ran a 4.84 40 at the recent combine, but his Pro Day results from yesterday were not released (he reportedly ran a 4.72 earlier in the month). Tahi, back at his combine in 2006, measured 5-11.7, 254 and ran the 40 in 4.85. Tahi wasn't drafted, but signed with the Bengals before the Vikings took him off their practice squad. The Bengals attempted to re-acquire Tahi in restricted free agency, but the Vikings matched the offer and he's been blocking for Adrian Peterson ever since.

Like Tahi before him, Tonga is a deft receiver who's caught 85 passes for 799 yards in his last three seasons at BYU. He missed the 2008 season because of academic issues.

6:30 a.m.: There weren't any surprises this year from the NFL Owners meetings. The Steelers were awarded two compensation picks in the fifth round and another in the seventh for losing free agents Bryant McFadden, Nate Washington and Byron Leftwich without signing a comparative free agent in return last season.

The picks are the first (164) and third (166) of the fifth round and the third (242) of the seventh round.

* Mike Tomlin told reporters at the meetings that Ben Roethlisberger didn't save Bruce Arians's job, so let me again make clear what I reported in January: Arians asked Tomlin about his job stats; Tomlin told him he wasn't going to talk about it today, that they would talk at their scheduled conference; Arians took that as a lack of support and called at least Ben Roethlisberger and Ken Whisenhunt to say he would be out of a job; Roethlisberger called Tomlin for what was termed by one source as "a Hail Mary" and later by another as "just a phone call." The second source, an impeccable source, said it had never been determined that Tomlin was going to fire Arians, so he couldn't tell me whether Roethlisberger's appeal was necessary. Some of the steps along the way were picked up off my Twitter account and heralded. I learned something about reporting in small steps via Twitter, but I stand by the information and my sources.

MONDAY, MARCH 22

10 a.m.: Just to clean up some info that crossed my desk Sunday, the Steelers showed up in force at the Virginia Tech Pro Day last week and were closely watching offensive tackle Ed Wang. You may remember Wang from Senior Bowl week as the guy who made a folk hero out of Brandon Graham.

Don't get me wrong, I love everything about Graham, but I had to put an asterisk next to his Senior Bowl practice footage because I did not respect his daily competition, which included Wang.

The O-lineman I like as a sleeper from Virginia Tech is LG Sergio Render, but we all know how the Steelers like to push any LT up their draft board. At this point I wouldn't draft Wang until the sixth round, and only if Render's off the board.

Also at Tech, according to Scout's Chris Steuber, the Steelers gave plenty of attention to king-sized FS Kam Chancellor, whom I believe is too big, too leggy, too lacking in agility and coverage skills to draft at all. I wrote back to Steuber that the Steelers -- Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Sean Kugler -- were probably looking at these guys to shield their interest in Jason Worilds, my favorite second-round DE/OLB. Worilds reportedly ran a sub 4.5 40, prompting reader SteelerBill to slap him with a new nickname: "All Worilds." And, Bill, I'll be taking charge (and ownership) of this nickname from here on out, although I kind of doubt he'll be available at pick 52.

* Something else to report: I received my second email from a Clemson observer and it sounds like the Steelers are monitoring RB C.J. Spiller pretty closely. The Steelers need another running back, and Spiller can run inside, outside, catch passes, pass block, and return kicks, but I'm of the belief the team should find their second back in the third round. However, I wouldn't quibble if they drafted Spiller. It IS all about the haul, not filling immediate needs, and Spiller should become a star in the league.

* Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette is at the Owners' Meetings and filed this report after talking with Colbert, who reaffirmed his pre-Milledgeville statement that the Steelers would not draft a quarterback in the first round -- only Colbert here goes on to say they're not looking to draft a quarterback at all. "We can add depth anywhere, except save the quarterback," Colbert said. "That position appears to be set."

Of course, the Steelers are looking at late-round QB prospects such as Tyler Sheehan of Bowling Green and Armanti Edwards of Appalachian State. Perhaps they're hoping to sign one after the draft, but after re-watching Sheehan's bowl game the other night I have to believe he'll be drafted by someone before the draft ends. I'd like the Steelers to perhaps use one of their compensation picks for Sheehan.

* Speaking of which, compensation picks will be awarded Tuesday and the Steelers should receive a pair of fifths and a seventh for losing Bryant McFadden, Nate Washington and Byron Leftwich last year.

* Finally, this rather strange report claims that Ben Roethlisberger will be charged today, under a headline that claims he's already been arrested. Just thought I'd point this out in case the writer actually has a family member in the Milledgeville Police Department.

SATURDAY, MARCH 20

7:10 a.m.: The news that LeGarrette Blount is coming to Pittsburgh for one of the Steelers' pre-draft prospect visits has temporarily altered the Ben Roethlisberger watch as a topic among Steelers fans. The fans' main focus with Blount, of course, is "the punch" of a Boise State player and his ensuing fight with fans that got him suspended for 10 games this past season. Fans are focusing on this issue and siding one way or the other about the guy, but, really, that incident should only lead to an investigation into his entire career to determine whether the Boise State rumpus was a one-time blowup.

I've read MB "experts" who say Blount was in and out of former coach Mike Bellotti's dog house at Oregon, and I do realize that Blount was suspended from spring drills last year for skipping offseason workouts. That Blount worked his way back onto the field after the punch is a plus, but blowing off 20+ scouts at his first Pro Day is a negative. Because of that, Blount deserved to workout for only the Browns and a CFL scout at his re-scheduled workout on Thursday.

I'd like to know a little more about Blount's pre-2009 "dog house," but any time I Google his name + suspended, I'm delivered millions of sucker-punch stories and I refuse to wade through them. So I'd do what the Steelers are doing and bring this guy in for a talk. They may find him as surly and uncoachable as some say he is, or they may find him to be the loving father that this profile makes him out to be.

* The action was slow on the Pro Day trail Friday. The Steelers showed up at Vanderbilt to scout 6-2, 203-pound cornerback Myron Lewis, who ran a 4.52 40 at the combine, but who, in positional drills, appeared high and slow in his backpedal.

On Friday, a Houston Texans scout was asked to compare Lewis to D.J. Moore for The Tennessean. The 5-9 Moore, of course, was a fourth-round pick out of Vandy last year. Here's some of what the scout had to say:

"Lewis is a little better cover guy overall and he's instinctive. His size is such a big plus with that height, long arms and long legs."

Lewis, who's similar in size and game to his namesake Keenan Lewis of the Steelers, is also considered a third-round prospect.

FRIDAY, MARCH 19

9:50 a.m.: It came as a bit of a shock to me this morning -- particularly since I expect the Steelers to be in emergency PR mode due to Ben Roethlisberger -- but the Steelers have scheduled a visit with the notorious Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount.

Truly a Steelers-style big back at 6-0 1/2, 238 pounds, Blount was infamously suspended for 10 games last season after sucker-punching a loudmouthed jerk from Boise State, who taunted the Oregon running back after an early-season upset win over the Ducks. Blount had also been suspended from the team in February of 2009 for missing conditioning workouts and academics.

A 1,002-yard rusher in 2008, Blount followed his 2009 in-season suspension by abiding the team rules throughout the remainder of the season and he returned to play in the final two games.

Things haven't gone too well for Blount this draft season. He was invited to the Senior Bowl and showed some of the worst pass-blocking skills at his position. At the combine, he ran one 40 in 4.86 seconds, the slowest of all backs, including fullbacks. But at his Pro Day, Blount got his time down in the mid 4.6s range according to one source, and in the 4.5s according to another.

Any Steelers fan who watched Blount bulldoze his way through the Oregon State defense late last season had to consider him as a late-rounder to wear the black and gold. And, during a 4.7 40 run at the combine, he clocked in at a swift 1.52 at the 10-yard mark. He also ran his 3-cone drill in a 6.85, an excellent time for a big back. The overall set of numbers, as well as the trangressions, are something the Steelers are obviously going to investigate further.

* Speaking of troubled running backs, the Steelers showed up at the Virginia Pro Day yesterday and watched, among others, Rashawn Jackson, the No. 1 ranked fullback in this draft class. Jackson (6-1, 239, 4.75 combine) was charged in 2008 with grand larceny for breaking and entering a dorm room in 2007. Charges were dropped due to lack of evidence, but Jackson admitted to the Daily Progress of Charlottesville that "I made some mistakes" and "I decided to change my personality."

A converted tailback known more for his offensive skills than his lead blocking, Jackson only performed position drills yesterday, as did 6-2, 212-pound cornerback Chris Cook, who had some of the best combine numbers of any prospect, including the No. 2 overall broad jump of 11-0. Cook is a big cornerback who's risen to second-day (of three) status on the strength of his draft-season numbers.

The Steelers made their presence known in Morgantown yesterday to watch the WVU Pro Day. The Daily Athenaeum reported that the Steelers met once again with right tackle Selvish Capers, who "received a lot of attention from scouts, particularly the Pittsburgh Steelers." Capers has been under the Steelers' watch for two years, but the mobile, long-armed tackle is coming off a disappointing season and might be available on the third day of the draft. Yesterday, Capers ran a 5.06 40 and benched 225 pounds 22 times.

The Steelers also, according to Scout.com's Chris Steuber, showed up at the Florida State and Temple Pro Days. At FSU, CB Patrick Robinson ran a 4.38 40 as he tries to convince us all that his poor 2009 senior season (one interception) should not affect his status, which many analysts still believe to be in the first round.

At Temple, the Steelers watched 6-3, 215-pound safety Dominique Harris and 6-6, 275-pound tight end Steve Maneri, whom Steuber regards as the best blocking tight end in the draft along with Pitt's Nate Byham.

The Steelers also visited the campus of thre Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders to watch DE/OLB Chris McCoy, the Sun Belt Conference's co-Defensive Player of the Year with 20 tackles for loss and seven sacks. McCoy measured 6-3.2, 251, ran the 40 in 4.7 and benched 23 times. He's considered a 5th to 6th-round prospect by NFL Draft Scout.

Finally, Virginia Tech DE/OLB Jason Worilds, a second-day prospect the Steelers have been watching, ran a 4.47 40, according to The Washington Post.

* Yesterday's blog entry told of the Steelers' scheduled visit with Penn State ILB Navorro Bowman. Here's a solid report from the Reading Eagle on Bowman's transgressions while at Penn State.

THURSDAY, MARCH 18

2:15 p.m.: I received some good news this afternoon from Scout.com's Chris Steuber, who says that one of my favorite offensive linemen, Indiana LT Rodger Saffold, has scheduled a visit with the Steelers.

Saffold (6-4.5, 316) was one of my sleepers throughout the season, but the dream ended when Saffold drew raves from scouts at the East-West Shrine Game. He's now projected to be a second-round pick -- maybe even a late first -- after completing a season in which he allowed only one sack, to Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield. Saffold started at left tackle for Indiana the last three and a half years but some scouts feel his best position in the NFL will be guard.

9:30 a.m.: By now, readers of this blog know of my interest in LSU safety Chad Jones. I wrote about his Monday workout below, and a couple of Louisiana media outlets followed up on their initial reports today, with both praising Jones's ball skills. NOLA.com reported that Jones has been the butt-end of jokes concerning his combine bench press, and that Jones responded this way:

"Jones was unfazed. He said he's willing to let the game film and the kind of ball skills he impressively showcased during secondary drills Monday speak louder. More than once, Jones raced across the field and made an acrobatic catch and then, just as importantly, somehow kept his balance and sprinted back with the mock interception." A reporter from Tiger Rag apparently saw the same from Jones.

Once again, to state my case, Jones is a 6-2.1, 221-pound safety who ran a 4.59 40 and a 6.83 3-cone at the combine, but benched 225 pounds only 9 times. The lack of reps could be an indictment of a lack of commitment. But instead of spending his offseasons in the weight room, Jones was the center fielder and star relief pitcher of LSU's national championship baseball team. His movements and ball skills were impressive at the combine, and someone (else) in the media finally noticed it at his Pro Day. He intercepted only five passes in three seasons, but only became a full-time starter this season, when he had three interceptions. Jones was used as a chess piece by his coaches on both defense and special teams. In fact, he returned and blocked punts in LSU's bowl game against Penn State. He'll turn 22 during the next football season and is just now commiting full-time to football. My prediction is he'll be drafted later than workout warrior Taylor Mays next month, but will outplay him by a wide margin in the NFL.

In other Louisiana Pro Day news, Steelers scout Joe Greene went from LSU to Louisiana Tech for yesterday's workout of defensive tackle D'Anthony Smith (6-2, 298, 35-5 VJ, 9-5 BJ, 4.93 40, 30 reps), who told the school's web site that talking to "Mean Joe" gave him "the feeling of being in the presence of greatness."

The Steelers also had a scout at Illinois to see muscled-up wide receiver Arrelious Benn (6-1, 220) run sub 4.4 40s. Benn looked awful at the combine, but the Steelers have scheduled a visit with him anyhow.

The Steelers have also scheduled a visit with Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, who projects to ILB in the Steelers' 3-4. So does Sean Lee, who hasn't firmed up his visit to the South Side but said it's in the works. Bowman has been in hot water with Joe Paterno for separate incidents of fighting and smoking pot throughout his time at PSU.

The Steelers, of course, were at State College, where the 237-pound Bowman ran a 4.61 40. And Lee told Scout.com's FightOnState.com that he ran a 4.59. Defensive end Jared Odrick ran in the 4.9s.

Steelers scout Dan Rooney Jr. visited Tennessee, where RB Montario Hardesty, OT/OG Chris Scott and NT Dan Williams participated in positional drills only. Top-10 safety Eric Berry sprained his toe early in the workout.

Coach Mike Tomlin went to The Swamp to watch the celebrated Florida Pro Day, and drew attention for being the first to congratulate Tim Tebow after the quarterback showed off his new delivery.

Call me a pessimist, but throwing motions can't be changed at this late stage in life (after six years old). My belief is the Steelers should let someone else draft Tebow in the third round and then draft Tyler Sheehan of Bowling Green in the fifth. (Anyone who watched ESPN Classic last night will agree with me.)

As for the rest of the Gators, little information on the other players (who would interest the Steelers) was released, except that CB Joe Haden ran his 40s in 4.44 and 4.46. Those times, according to The Gainesville Sun, came from UF officials with the note that scouts were taking .05 seconds off everyone's times because of the wet conditions, so mark Haden down for 4.39 and 4.41 officially. Oh, and ILB Brandon Spikes slipped into the sixth round with times of 5.01 and 5.05. Don't know if those times had been weather-altered, and really don't care at this point.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 17

11:40 a.m.: Mike Tomlin is at the Florida Pro Day today and The Orlando Sentinel is running a blog today for our entertainment.

9 a.m.: Happy St. Patrick's Day, and in this small window of sobriety this morning you can get the rundown of the Steelers' activity at five Pro Days yesterday.

First of all, Steelers Director of football Operations Kevin Colbert walked across the parking lot to watch Pitt's Pro Day. The highlight was a pair of late-round tight ends, but that's a position at which the Steelers – with four experienced tight ends on the roster – are showing little interest.

Maybe Colbert had his eye on Bill Stull as a post-draft signee, because it does seem as if the Steelers are looking for a developmental quarterback. That's what took them Tuesday to Bowling Green University, where quarterback Tyler Sheehan "drew a lot of interest from the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers," according to The Bowling Green News. (The NCAA's leading receiver, Freddie Barnes, told reporters he ran in the 4.6 to 4.7 range.)

Sheehan, who orchestrated BGU's opening-day upset of Pitt in 2008, measures 6-3.1, 223 and runs a 4.8 40. He capped his career with school records of 4,051 yards and 27 touchdowns this past season.

The Steelers also appeared at Appalachian State to watch Armanti Edwards, the quarterback who engineered the famous upset of Michigan in 2007. An Antwaan Randle El type of prospect, Edwards is the only player in Division 1 or 1-AA history to pass for 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000 yards. He's also the only two-time winner of the Walter Payton Award. Edwards is 5-11 and dropped five pounds from the combine to weigh in yesterday at 182. His coach said he ran a 4.43 40 for scouts with a 34.5 vertical jump and 13 reps on the bench. Considered a late-round prospect, Edwards worked out for scouts at quarterback, wide receiver, and punt returner.

The Steelers also joined the rest of the league at Georgia's Pro Day, where, according to the school paper, nose tackle Jeff Owens ran a 4.96 40. The National Football Post reported that Owens ran a 4.83. Geno Atkins, a 4-3 lineman, did not run. Safety Reshad Jones measured 6-1.5, 209 and ran a 4.53 40.

Finally, the Steelers showed up Tuesday at Toledo to watch SS prospect Barry Church, one of three players to ever have been chosen first-team All-MAC four times (Brian McClure, Dave Zastudil). The 6-1.4, 222-pound Church ran a 4.62 40, according to The Toledo Blade. Church played high school football at Pittsburgh suburb Penn Hills. One of his former coaches told me that Church is not an innate tackler, "but will never be out of position, has great hands, and will never get into any trouble."

* Results from Monday's Youngstown State Pro Day have been released, and they're quite good for Donald Jones, a wide receiver who was deemed too slow – "he can't run" – by one scout at the Senior Bowl. But the 214-pounder who styles his game after Anquan Boldin and Hines Ward reportedly ran a 4.47 40 with a 41-inch vertical jump. The Steelers attended the workout, but can also ask their new quality control coach, Jerry Olsavsky, for an in-depth report on his former Penguin.

* Also forgotten in my weekend coverage of the Ohio State Pro Day was the scintillating show put on by IUP cornerback Akwasi Owusu-Ansah (6-0, 207), a Columbus native who ran in the 4.34-4.36 range with 21 bench reps, according to the Dayton Daily News. The web site also reported that Dr. James Bradley of the Steelers will perform shoulder surgery on Owusu-Ansah.

* Today's a big day for draft prospects. It'll be interesting to see whether Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin attends one of the workouts at Penn State, Tennessee or Florida.

TUESDAY, MARCH 16

9:20 p.m.: The Steelers and the rest of the league showed up at the LSU Pro Day on Monday. Some interesting numbers were put up by safety Chad Jones, running back Charles Scott, and nose tackle Al Woods.

Jones weighed in at 225 pounds and shaved some time off his combine 40 with a run of 4.54. According to NFL.com, Jones also ran a 6.84 3-cone drill. He also pushed the bar up 11 times in the bench press, up from 9 at the combine.

"That just shows improvement," Jones told The Monroe News Star. "I think the scouts saw that if I get in the weight room more, I'll definitely get a lot stronger."

Jones, of course, was a star player on the national championship baseball team, as well as a junior who just completed his first full season as LSU's starting safety. If the Steelers don't grab Earl Thomas in the first round, Jones is one of my favorites in the second.

Scott, a 232-pound running back whose season was cut short by injury, ran a 4.53 40 and should be viewed as a mid-round sleeper for the Steelers, who need help in their short-yardage game.

Woods is a 307-pound nose tackle who ran a 4.98 40 and could be an interesting late-round prospect for a team looking for youth at the position.

The Steelers also visited Youngstown State to watch wide receiver Donald Jones. The 6-0, 214-pounder made 77 catches last season but is coveted more for his size than his speed. His 40 time from Monday's workout was not reported.

The Georgia Tech Pro Day drew a large NFL contingent to watch another power back, Jonathan Dwyer. The 225-pounder, whose status had slipped after a sloppy combine, ran a 4.52 40. But he was overshadowed by safety Morgan Burnett, who ran a 4.42 40 (according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution) and posted exceptional distances of 11-0 in the broad jump and 39.5 in the vertical jump.

The Pro Day schedule the rest of the week includes Georgia (today), Penn State, Tennessee and Florida (Wednesday), and Virginia Tech and West Virginia (Thursday).

MONDAY, MARCH 15

2 p.m.: Scout.com's Chris Steuber just informed me that the Steelers have scheduled a visit on April 8-9 with Texas free safety prospect Earl Thomas, perhaps the best ball-hawking defensive back in this year's draft.

Last season, the 5-10, 208-pound safety intercepted eight passes and returned two for touchdowns, both school records. In 27 career starts, Thomas intercepted 10 passes. He left Texas after his redshirt sophomore season. Some analysts believe Thomas can also play cornerback in the NFL.

12:45 p.m.: The Steelers today re-signed inside linebacker Larry Foote to a three-year, $9.3 million deal that includes a $1.8 million signing bonus, according to ESPN. Foote will turn 30 in June and was with the Steelers from 2002-08. He played for the Detroit Lions last season and will return as a back-up at both inside positions with the Steelers.

* Marcus Hartman of Buckeyesports.com, Scout's Ohio State site, has provided us with some additional information about Ohio State's Pro Day last Friday. If you read some of the quotes from Saturday's entry, you might be left to wonder whether OLB Thaddeus Gibson grew up as a Steelers fan. But here's the complete transcript of the interview reporters held with Gibson:

Reporter: The Steelers had a big presence today. What do you think about that?

Gibson: It's just another opportunity. A great team, great program, and I'm thankful for them watching me, watching us.

Reporter: You had a black-and-gold outfit today. Any foreshadowing?

Gibson: (laughs) Nah, it just happened that way. If they liked it, I love it.

Reporter: Did you talk to any teams today?

Gibson: I talked to basically every team here. I had great conversations with those guys, and I'm happy they're here.

Hartman also provided us with comments made by safety Kurt Coleman and defensive end Doug Worthington after they spoke with Steelers DC Dick LeBeau.

Coleman: "He said he really likes me, likes how I play. I said, ‘Hopefully I can play for you coach.'"

Worthington: "It's always a great time seeing that guy. He's a legend. I spoke to him for a while and he was impressed with the things I did and it was good to see him and some of the Steeler guys come down."

Ohio State uses a base 4-3 defense, but incorporated plenty of 3-4 principles with Worthington working as a two-gapping end and Gibson standing up and dropping into coverage. Gibson is a second-round prospect, while Worthington could be drafted in the fifth round.

SATURDAY, MARCH 13

9 a.m.: As expected, the Steelers attended Ohio State's Pro Day where they were greeted by 3-4 OLB candidate Thaddeus Gibson, who dressed in black and gold for the occasion and ran his 40s in "the low 4.6s," according to a scout in today's Cleveland.com.

Gibson, who declared for the draft after a junior season in which he recorded 13 tackles for loss as a defensive end, performed brilliantly in linebacker drills at the combine, and, when asked about the potential position switch yesterday said, "... outside linebacker? There's no doubt in my mind."

Gibson, a native of Euclid, Ohio, was asked about his wardrobe and the Steelers, and told The News-Herald, "If they like it, I love it."

"They" included Steelers Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert and Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, as well as two others who assisted in the linebacker drills.

Most media experts had considered Gibson a second- or third-round draft pick after the regular season, but his combine performance, and perhaps his workout Friday, may have boosted his stock into the first round.

FRIDAY, MARCH 12

9:45 a.m.: So it's about time I give my opinion on Ben Roethlisberger, right?

Well, no. I have no idea what went on in Georgia and I'm not about to bore you with some treatise on the pursuit of liberty in America, nor am I going to stun you with "news" that the Rooneys are upset about this. But I do want to make one statement:

While I don't pretend to be a friend of his, nor friendly with him, I will say that Roethlisberger has been nothing less than professional with me since the very first day we met in the spring of 2004.

We were in the lunch line together, and I introduced myself. We shook hands, and, like a smart aleck, I told him his ballcap was on crooked. It's a fashion statement that I rank down there with pants on the ground, and I really expected the next leader of the team to put his damn hat on straight. Mike Tomlin seems to make it work. But anyway, Roethlisberger gave me a smile like, "Yeah, right, old man," and took off to join Plaxico Burress and his pals at their table. So, we got off to a bad start, but at least I established my position as the guy from the 70s whose pants are probably too tight.

Anyway, he never looked down on me from that point, even though I write for suburban papers and this web site -- hardly influential to any progress Roethlisberger needed to make. But anytime I needed help with a story, and needed Roethlisberger for some rare one-on-one time, he obliged me with his full attention. And I never needed to kiss his ring in the hope that I'd be granted one of those killer interviews that might put me over the top one day. I see a lot of that going on, and I've seen Roethlisberger get a bit nasty with other reporters (mainly national reporters, as he's finding out in these days of media pilings-on), but I just thought I'd give my point of view, that he isn't the ogre many are making him out to be – at least from what these two eyes have seen from under the brim of a finely straightened ballcap.

* Now, on to the important trivialities of draft season. But, unfortunately, there's not much to report. I was really interested in the Oregon pro day, but safety T.J. Ward postponed his workout until next week. And I can't find any news on injured cornerback Walter Thurmond, who hopefully will join Ward and RB LeGarrette Blount next week.

Scout.com's Chris Steuber sent me a list of teams at the Boston College workout to see center Matt Tennant, but none of those teams was Pittsburgh. So I'm going to push tough guy center J.D. Walton of Baylor up ahead of Tennant on my second-round draft card.

Nebraska's Pro Day featured a couple of Steelers hopefuls, SS Larry Asante and ILB Phillip Dillard. Asante, according to NFL.com, ran 4.68 and 4.66, but he told local reporters that he ran a 4.55. Dillard lowered his short-shuttle time to 4.29, which tells me he's a bit stiff.

The only news on Mike Iupati's Idaho Pro Day comes from DraftInsider.net, which listed only four teams from "almost a dozen teams" that attended, and none of those four teams was the Steelers. However, the site did report that the Steelers attended UAB's workout and watched QB-turned-WR Joe Webb weigh in at 223 pounds and post times of 4.43 in the 40 and 3.91 in the short shuttle. Those are impressive numbers, but nothing like these numbers: 42.5 in the vertical jump and 11-5.5 in the broad jump. Keep an eye on Mr. Webb.

Another of my favorite late-round QBs worked out yesterday, and Northwestern's Mike Kafka drew raves from Gil Brandt of NFL.com, who noted that Kafka had a "tremendous throwing session" and "missed only one throw the entire workout."

I don't know if the Steelers were one of the 25 teams at Northwestern, but they should have been. Kafka's arm is strong enough, but it's his mobility and decision-making that I appreciate. He may be growing out of the late-round status that I had first envisioned for him.

Today's highlighted workouts are at Arizona, Michigan, Ohio State and TCU.

At Arizona, TE Rob Gronkowski, out of local football factory Woodland Hills HS, could finally put his back problems to the test, but I'm more interested in CB Devin Ross, a tough leader type who possibly played the worst bowl game of any CB I watched this past season. It might have dropped a decent prospect into the late rounds, where he'll be worth a chance.

The Steelers always attend Ohio State's Pro Day, and I know they've already shown interest in safety Kurt Coleman. DE Thaddeus Gibson is another intriguing prospect after showing outstanding agility in OLB drills at the combine. The guy to keep an eye on is 3-4 DE prospect Doug Worthington, who might come cheap in the later rounds.

Finally, at TCU, I'll be interested in the workout of LT-OG Marshall Newhouse, who certainly fits the Steelers' body type, but who also showed some remarkable agility for a big man at the combine. I consider him a third-round candidate.

THURSDAY, MARCH 11

10:10 a.m.:

Just to get back to some semblance of triviality here, the Steelers attended several college Pro Days on Wednesday, including the biggie at Alabama, where the 3-4 buck backer for the national champions, Rolando McClain, ran 4.71 and 4.74 40s and reminded the media of his battle with Crohn's Disease, an inflammatory disease of the intestines with which he's dealt since his freshman year in high school.

McClain's admission made me wonder if that's the reason he seemed to take so many plays off throughout the season, but McClain said something else that made more sense: He told scouts he'd been dealing with a hamstring injury since Oct. 24, which was the reason he didn't participate in the combine. That makes more sense, although Crohn's Disease should be taken into consideration by the 17 teams picking ahead of the Steelers. Those teams should in fact be very worried about it and allow the Steelers to select McClain as their next defensive captain.

The Steelers were also represented yesterday at Oklahoma State, where – and this is certainly newsworthy – cornerback Perrish Cox did not work out. He was banned by Coach Mike Gundy, who explained to The Tulsa World that Cox remains on team suspension for two curfew violations that resulted in his suspension from the team's bowl game.

Cox had told reporters at the combine that he'd only missed one curfew by 30 minutes, so this news should hurt his draft standing with the Steelers. While local media are having a field day with what they perceive as hypocrisy with the organization's alleged self-proclaimed moral high ground, the Steelers stay away from such players because of their potential to hurt the team on the field as opposed to its repuation. A player who blows off two curfews the week of a bowl game clearly has priorities beyond his team. If the Steelers know this before the draft, they will take that player off their board.

Wide receiver Dez Bryant didn't participate in the OSU Pro Day, which means he matched his performance of zilch at the combine (skipped) and in the regular-season (suspended).

Bryant said he'll work out later in the month in his hometown of Lufkin, Texas. The Tulsa World quoted Steelers scout Mean Joe Greene, who, after admitting he knew beforehand that Bryant wouldn't work out, said, "I haven't been to Lufkin in all my years in Texas, and I don't plan to go to Lufkin any time soon."

So that left one draftable prospect for the Steelers to watch: QB Zac Robinson. And the Steelers of course have to do more than their due diligence in scouting college quarterbacks these days.

Robinson, according to one scout, showed "surprising" velocity and accuracy. Robinson is a 6-3, 212-pounder with a quick release and good mobility. He should be a consideration in the fifth round.

The Steelers were one of 15 teams at the Kentucky Pro day, where middle linebacker Micah Johnson lowered his 4.99 combine time into the 4.7-4.8 range, according to Kentucky.com.

"I ran a 4.9 when I was in ninth grade," Johnson told the reporter. Of course, Johnson's knee injury in Kentucky's bowl game should be taken into account by scouts this draft season.

The Steelers also scouted Kentucky DT Corey Peters and timed CB Trevard Lindley in the 4.5 range. Fullback John Conner stood on his 4.72 40 time and 24 reps from the combine.

At Kansas, the Steelers didn't have the opportunity to work out safety Darrell Stuckey, who pulled a hamstring at the combine. They did see late-round prospect Jake Sharp, a running back and return man, run a 4.43 40 (reported at 4.34 by the local papers). Also, wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe, whom some draft experts consider a first-round prospect because of his hands and route-running, improved his 4.63 combine time with a pair of 4.5s yesterday.

Another Pro Day of note Wednesday was at Rutgers, where offensive tackle Anthony Davis, already tagged in the media as lazy, left before drills after speaking to a couple of teams. CB Devin McCourty only ran positional drills, while late-round ILB prospect Ryan D'Imperio (6-1.3, 241) was timed at 4.68 and 4.69 in the 40, and 6.84 in the three-cone drill.

I'll be back tomorrow with some info on today's workouts at Boston College (Matt Tennant), Idaho (Mike Iupati), Nebraska (Larry Asante, Phillip Dillard) and Oregon (T.J. Ward, Walter Thurmond).

TUESDAY, MARCH 9

12:45 a.m.: Just as soon as I'd posted a column Monday morning stating that the Steelers should forget about Will Allen and instead sign Darren Sharper, they signed Allen. And then they signed Arnaz Battle. And Jonathan Scott. And then they signed Ryan Clark. And then Antwaan Randle El.

It was a deluge of 28- to 31-year-old backups, with good guy stories about Clark and Randle El thrown into the mix.

Part of my reasoning for signing Sharper was to help the fan base forget about its idiot quarterback. Yet, as the Steelers often do, they achieved the same goal but with their money being spread out over several more intelligent choices.

As for my intelligent choice of Sharper, he showed up Monday in New Orleans on crutches.

So, what did the Steelers accomplish? Well, the fans are still buzzing about the night the devil went down to Georgia. But the Steelers have improved their special teams, and their wretched depth at safety, and they've posted their warning sign for Limas Sweed -- that he certainly can't just show up and keep his redshirt for another spring, let alone another season. And Randle El will be a terrific addition to the locker room. Hopefully he can take Tyrone Carter's locker way back in the Larry Foote corner.

Next thing you'll be telling me is that Foote's taking that locker, since linebacker depth is still a need. I suppose there's room for Foote inside, but the Steelers would still need a backup outside backer. Perhaps it's a position they'll hit in the draft. A Sean Weatherspoon-Jason Worilds 1-2 punch would suit me fine, since there's no way inside starter Lawrence Timmons should be viewed as the top backup outside.

But I digress. The Steelers also helped themselves with Scott, the backup offensive tackle. He started seven games at LT and three at RT last season, so perhaps the Steelers have a legitimate backup tackle, and perhaps, as with Sweed, Tony Hills must fight for his roster life this spring and summer. That's another positive sign from what should be viewed as a free agency blowout, Steelers style.

MONDAY, MARCH 8

1 p.m.: Well, the Steelers went ahead and agreed to terms with Will Allen on a three-year deal.

Allen, of course, is the safety I was hoping the Steelers wouldn't sign when I wrote this morning that they should take a look at Darren Sharper.

So, they now own the rights to a 28-year-old who lost his starting job in Tampa Bay in 2007, but made the 2008 Pro Bowl as a special-teams player. Allen started two games last year before going on injured reserve in November with a broken thumb.

A fourth-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 2004, Allen played two seasons for Mike Tomlin when the Steelers coach was the secondary coach at Tampa Bay. Allen has four career interceptions.

Noon: Draft talk seems so futile, even infantile, in light of the news out of Milledgeville, but right now it would be silly to ignore the quarterback situation.

Just in case the worst-case scenario evolves concerning Ben Roethlisberger, that base has to be covered. Then again, even if this scare is a temporary one, it should shock the Steelers into their good senses because they have little depth behind Roethlisberger.

Yes, Dennis Dixon had some fine moments in his start against the Baltimore Ravens last season. But it's doubtful the young QB's performance would've been greeted with such warm reviews had he been the full-time starter. After all, the Ravens dropped a certain pick-six on the first series before a defensive lineman effectively ended the game with an easy interception in overtime.

Dixon moved well, too, but, we were told, he didn't move too often because the offensive coordinator was worried about Dixon getting hurt. If you'd ever had an up-close look at Dixon's pencil-thin legs, you'd have thought twice about running him in that game, too, since his backup, Charlie Batch, was on injured reserve once again.

Batch, of course, has been a China doll throughout his career. Because of injuries, he's taken only four snaps in the last two seasons. Since coming to Pittsburgh in 2002, Batch has played in only 23 of 140 possible games. He mopped up without throwing a pass in nine of those games.

At 35, Batch can hardly be counted upon, nor can the potential of the young and skinny Dixon. So even if it all goes well with Roethlisberger, the Steelers might want to draft someone next month.

My preference would not be for one of the overrated quarterbacks in the first round; nor does Tim Tebow interest me in the second round. Tony Pike? Ahhhhh, a bit skinny for the third round.

The fourth round feels about right if Tebow or Pike fall that far, but I'm thinking of someone else in the fourth or fifth round, someone I dismissed early last season when media barons such as Peter King were calling him a first-rounder. I'm talking about Jevan Snead.

Have you finished chuckling? Good, because I re-watched tape of the Cotton Bowl and it's clear that Snead has the arm, quick release, toughness and leadership skills to be an NFL quarterback. What he lacks in accuracy you'd hope can be minimized by a reunion with his old go-to guy, Mike Wallace. At the least, the loss of Wallace might explain Snead's poor 2009 campaign.

"He's missing the kid," Wallace said when I asked him about his old college quarterback last season.

Wallace, of course, had plenty to do with Snead's outstanding 2008 season at Ole Miss when Snead enjoyed a TD-interception ratio of 23-12.

Coming out of a Texas high school in 2006, Snead was one of the nation's top recruits, but revised a decision to attend Florida when the school landed Tebow. Snead instead went to Texas, but lost a competition with fellow freshman Colt McCoy, so Snead transferred to Ole Miss, where Wallace, the Steelers' Rookie of the Year last season, boosted his coming out party in 2008. However, last year, ballyhooed as a premiere NFL prospect, Snead fell flat with a 20-20 TD-interception ratio.

Three of those interceptions were thrown in the Cotton Bowl, but the first two weren't Snead's fault. Shay Hodge ran the wrong route on the first pick and then missed a pass that hit him in both hands and bounced away for the second.

On that second interception return, Snead was injured by a vicious crackback block. He came back two series later and was intercepted – this time it was his fault. He then fumbled before regaining his composure in the second half and leading Ole Miss to a win.

If you saw the blast that Snead took during the interception return, you wouldn't question his toughness. And no one questions his release and arm strength. As they say, he can make all the throws. So it might behoove the Steelers to give Wallace a call about his old teammate, whether Roethlisberger's situation implodes or not.

FRIDAY, MARCH 5

10 p.m.: Well, here's a kick in the gut for every Steelers fan: Ben Roethlisberger is being investigated on charges of sexual assault early this morning in Georgia. Join in on the depressed coversation on our free message board.

8:30 a.m.: Just one more note on Ryan Clark: Does anyone remember the highly regarded Darnell Bing? Well, yes, he was highly regarded coming out of college, after he played next to a guy named Troy Polamalu. But whatever happened to Darnell Bing?

Not that I'm hoping the Steelers get rid of Clark. No way, because, if he goes, that increases the chances of Tyrone Carter staying. Yowza.

Also, go to our premium message board for the complete list of the NFL's RFA tenders.

THURSDAY, MARCH 4

7:45 a.m.: Ryan Clark, after his fit about my work last season, told me he doesn't read anyone else. Backhanded, but a compliment nonetheless, and I'm running with it. But every time you turn on a radio station or click on a link, Clark is crying about the way he's being handled by the Steelers as the unrestricted free agency bewitching hour approaches tonight at midnight.

If Ryan was still faithful to our site here, he'd have read that the Steelers planned to let him hit the market and let the other teams establish his salary parameters before they would begin serious contract talks. But, now, with Ryan cryin so much, I fear his complaints about "no love" will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

We'll learn more throughout the weekend and first week of what promises to be a flat UFA period. Meanwhile, enjoy yourself by gorging on these draft notes.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 3

7:30 a.m.: The Steelers released their restricted free agent tender offers this afternoon. Willie Colon, as expected, received a tender corresponding with first-round compensation should another team sign him away. Matt Spaeth (3rd round), Dan Sepulveda (4th round) and William Gay (5th round) would require compensation in the round in which they were originally drafted.

* The Steelers engaged in a formal combine interview with Stillman DE/OLB Junior Galette. Galette is a 6-2, 244-pounder who transferred from Temple to Stillman College -- the school that produced rookie DL starter Sammie Lee Hill last year -- for his senior season.

Galette had 7.5 sacks his junior season at Temple before he was suspended indefinitely for an unspecified off-the-field incident. At Stillman, Galette led his DII conference with 9.5 sacks and also had 17.5 tackles for loss, 12 QB hurries, and three forced fumbles. He's considered a late-round prospect.

11:30 a.m.: The Steelers won't release to the public their RFA tender offers until Friday, but the Post-Gazette has cleared up the mystery surrounding what the agent for Daniel Sepulveda has been telling reporters.

Sepulveda has been offered the low salary, but not the tender that will result in the lowest compensation.

So, if a team entices the Steelers' punter to sign an offer sheet, and the Steelers don't match it, they'll receive a 4th-round draft pick in return. (If you need to really fall asleep with this stuff, read the complete breakdown below.)

6:30 a.m.: With the deadline approaching to tender offers to restricted free agents, word has leaked that Willie Colon will be offered $2.521 million by the deadline on March 4.

That means if Colon signs a long-term contract with another team, the Steelers will receive a first-round pick as compensation. In fact, to re-hash, here are the corresponding salary offers and team compensation:

1.) $3.168 million -- 1st and 3rd round picks.

2.) $2.521 million -- 1st round pick.

3.) $1.759 million -- 2nd round pick.

4.) $1.176 million* -- round player originally drafted.

5.) $1.176 million -- nothing.

* -- Or 110 percent of previous year's salary (whichever's higher).

Now, the above, under the new labor rules, is for players with four accrued seasons in the NFL. With the Steelers, those players are Colon and Carey Davis.

There's another set of numbers (3.043, 2.396, 1.684, 1.101*, 1.101) for players with three accrued seasons. Those players are Dan Sepulveda, Matt Spaeth and William Gay.

Ok, stay with me, because this is what I don't understand. The Post-Gazette, Tribune-Review and Washington Observer-Reporter are reporting that Sepulveda has been offered the lowest tender of $1.176 million and the Steelers would receive nothing in the form of compensation.

If you look at the above definitions, this doesn't quite compute. First of all, why would the Steelers opt to receive no compensation when they could receive a 4th-rounder for Sepulveda? They wouldn't even save the 10 percent, since Sepulveda made $460,000 last year. Also, Sepulveda has only three accrued NFL seasons, so the low tender number would actually be $1.101 million.

Maybe I'm all wet on this, but it doesn't make sense, and as soon as the doors (or phones) open at the South Side, I hope to clear this up.

TUESDAY, MARCH 2

7:45 a.m.: Adam Caplan has reported that the Steelers will not offer a tender to restricted free agent Darnell Stapleton, who started at right guard throughout the team's 2008 championship season. Stapleton lost his job last year when he suffered a knee injury in training camp and was placed on injured reserve for the season.

Stapleton was replaced by Trai Essex and, according to Caplan, won't be offered much of a chance to return. Any team would be able to pick up the 24-year-old guard/center with championship experience without much of an offer.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to Steelers fans, since center/guard Doug Legursky made such great strides last season. That, and the fact the Steelers used guard/tackle Ramon Foster as a fill-in for left guard Chris Kemoeatu at several points in the season, and that last year's third-round draft choice, Kraig Urbik, is moving into his second season as a backup right guard. If the Steelers draft another interior lineman this spring, the oft-hobbled Stapleton would only take away valuable reps.

The deadline for tendering restricted free agents is 4 p.m. Thursday.

* According to Scout.com's man on the spot, Ed Thompson, the Steelers have met formally with a pair of second-round defensive ends, and both players project to outside linebacker, a position that's lacking in depth on the roster.

According to Thompson, the Steelers are interested in Virginia Tech's Jason Worilds and Florida's Jermaine Cunningham.

Worilds measured into the combine at 6-1.5, 252 and posted some of the best times and measurements for defensive linemen yesterday. He ran a 4.72 40, benched 24 reps, and had a vertical jump of 38. Better are his football stats: In the last two seasons, Worilds has 29.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks before leaving Tech a year early.

Cunningham is the Florida defensive end who plays hard on every snap. The underrated Cunningham, playing opposite Carolos Dunlap, posted 18.5 career sacks at Florida. He measures 6-3.1, 252 pounds.

SUNDAY, FEB. 28

10:40 a.m.: Limas Sweed, who left the team mysteriously last December, has been working out at the Steelers' South Side practice facility and is expected to participate in spring drills, but it doesn't appear as if the Steelers are counting on him for much.

With three legitimate pro WRs already in tow, and Sweed on the fringe, the Steelers appear intent on finding another highly regarded receiver at the combine. First it was Golden Tate, and now it's Citadel WR Andre Roberts, who measured in at 5-10.7, 195 and confirmed he sat for a formal interview yesterday with the Steelers.

Roberts is regarded as a slot receiver, punt returner, special teams cover ace, and a young player who obviously, if we are to judge his college, is a young man of character. Ed Thompson of Scout.com tells me Roberts is a third or fourth-round prospect, and I'd have to agree after watching him perform during Senior Bowl week, a week during which Roberts' status grew markedly.

For more on Roberts, here's a great breakdown from Scout.com's Brad Keller over at the Colts' site.

FRIDAY, FEB. 26

1:45 p.m.: The Steelers have scheduled an interview tonight with Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate, bringing back memories of a brief conversation with a scout at mid-season. Tate had just turned in another brilliant performance in a college game and a scout approached me at lunch the next day at Heinz Field. Knowing I'd often compared Tate to Hines Ward, the scout asked, "Did you watch your boy yesterday?" Knowing he had to mean Tate, I asked him if I was far off base in comparing Tate to Ward. The scout flashed a wicked smile and said, "Not at all. It's exactly what I see, too."

Do the Steelers need another wide receiver? Well, did they need two in 1974 when they already had Ron Shanklin and Frank Lewis as starters? Of course, it's a long shot, but the Steeelers have never felt too stocked at that position.

* One of the question marks advanced in yesterday's column was whether Boston College center Matt Tennant -- one of my favorite linemen -- could add weight. Well, he showed up yesterday at 6-4.4 (number to right of decimal point indicates eighths of inch) and 300 pounds. That's up 10 pounds from his Senior Bowl weight, and only four pounds less than the 6-4.1 Maurkice Pouncey. In my mind, that makes Tennant much more palatable in the second round.

* While we're answering questions from yesterday, yes, Ole Miss guard John Jerry lost a few more pounds. He checked in at 6-5.2, 328. One of my other favorite guards, Mike Iupati, is up to 331 at 6-5.2.

* Don't put too much stock into Kevin Colbert's comment that the Steelers are still interested in first-round nose tackles even with the re-signing of Casey Hampton. Terrence Cody is simply not a first-rounder, no matter what the media thinks, and Dan Williams would've been a reach at 18 even with a Hampton-less crisis at hand. I'd have rather gone with Chris Hoke and Scott Paxson than reaching for Williams.

However, I do think the Steelers should show some interest in Geno Atkins, now that he'd have time to develop physically. Atkins, even at 286, gave Iupati all kinds of trouble at the Senior Bowl and proved at Georgia that he can split double teams while rotating at the NT spot.

* Also, here's a link to Chris Stueber's combine chat tonight from 9-10 o'clock.

THURSDAY, FEB. 25

11:30 a.m.: The Steelers and nose tackle Casey Hampton agreed this morning to a three-year, $21 million deal that includes $11 million guaranteed.

The Steelers also placed the franchise tag on kicker Jeff Reed and will pay him $2.814 million this season if the sides can't work out a long-term deal.

As reported here several times since last training camp, the Steelers' long-term plan had been to slap Reed with the franchise tag before the start of free agency March 5. It makes fiscal sense, considering Reed's position. But it appeared the Steelers would need that tag for Hampton. But Hampton agreed to a long-term deal after the Steelers had leaked to the media they were prepared to slap the tag on Hampton before today's 4 p.m. deadline.

What makes this deal a win for the Steelers is that Hampton agreed to a three-year deal. With Hampton turning 33 on Sept. 3, the veteran was looking for one last big pay day in his career, but the typical four-year deal was not something that interested the Steelers, who felt Hampton's fine play last season was due in a large part to him being motivated by a salary drive. So the Steelers believed that a one-year contract for close to $7.74 million, via the tag, would keep Hampton just as motivated.

Hampton, realizing the 2011 season is in question because of the unsettled labor negotiations, obviously felt the compromise of a three-year deal was a winning move for him as well.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 17

10 a.m.: Just in case you missed our reports from last week, the Steelers are just getting around to announcing the signing of new WR coach Scottie Montgomery and CB David Pittman. Any day now, they'll announce the signing of former CFL middle linebacker Rey Williams. Details of these men are listed and linked to below.

FRIDAY, FEB. 12

7:30 a.m.: According to the web site DraftInsider.net, where our old friend Tony Pauline often works, the Steelers will work out Saskatchewan middle linebacker Rey Williams today (and this has some Roughriders fans upset). The 6-0, 238-pound Williams, who turns 29 in 11 days, played collegiately at Hofstra and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 2004. He spent time with four other NFL teams before moving to the CFL in 2007.

* Also in the rumor mill, the Steelers, according to FootballScoop.com, will soon announce that Duke assistant coach Scottie Montgomery is their next WRs coach. Montgomery played WR at Duke from 1996-99 and caught 171 passes to rank second on the school's all-time list. He was a two-time team MVP who played professionally for Denver and Oakland from 2000-03. He's been on the Duke coaching staff since 2006.

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 10

3 p.m.: The Steelers have hired one of their former personnel department interns, Brandon Hunt, to replace the departed Doug Whaley as pro scouting coordinator, according to the Tribune-Review.

Hunt is a graduate of nearby Pine-Richland High School and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he played center. Hunt served his internship with the Steelers in 2005-06 before being hired as a full-time scout by the Houston Texans in 2007.

11:30 a.m.: If the Steelers are going to open the 2010 season against the New Orleans Saints, they'd better find a pass defense. That appears to be their top off-season priority after signing yet another veteran from the scrap heap.

According to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post, the Steelers have signed former Ravens cornerback David Pittman.

A third-round pick in 2006, Pittman played in seven games for the Ravens in 2007 before drifting to the New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans and last year to the New York Sentinels of the UFL.

Pittman is the second cornerback the Steelers have signed this off-season, joining former South Florida CB Trae Williams on the roster. This April the Steelers will be drafting 18th in the first round, which will be a no-man's land for the position after Joe Haden is selected. The second round will provide the better value for the Steelers if they are still searching for a cornerback.

TUESDAY, FEB. 9

11:30 a.m.: Two weeks ago, we reported here that the Steelers had worked out a trio of players, and today they signed two of them, adding former Pitt punter and kickoff specialist Adam Graessle and wide receiver Brandon London, the son of the new head coach at the University of Virginia.

Graessle (6-4, 225) was signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Pitt in 2009, but was released prior to training camp. He was then signed to the California Redwoods of the United Football League (UFL) for the 2009 season.

London (6-4, 215) was originally signed by the New York Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Massachusetts in 2007. He spent the 2007 season on the Giants' practice squad and was released prior to the 2008 season. London was then claimed by the Miami Dolphins on Aug. 31, 2008, and appeared in 14 games (one start) with three catches for 30 yards. He was released by the Dolphins prior to the 2009 season.

More details of the players can be found below in the Feb. 1 entry of this blog.

SATURDAY, FEB. 6

11 a.m.: Today's the day we're gonna win. I forget which coach said that. I think it was the start of a Knute Rockne speech, but I'm using it as my pre-game wish for Dick LeBeau. At 5 p.m. today, the Hall of Fame Committee will announce its newest enshrinees. LeBeau, the Steelers' beloved defensive coordinator, has to be a slam dunk as a Seniors nominee. Today's Detroit Free Press includes a story on LeBeau with this old quote from Larry Foote: "Hopefully they can get him in there before he taps out." Foote always did have a way with words.

* Also ran across a couple of other interesting links involving the Steelers of the 1970s. Here's a story on the great wide receiver Frank Lewis from his hometown paper in Houma, La. And here's a story in the Los Angeles Times about NFL Films. Steve Sabol tells a Super Bowl XIII story I'd never heard about a stranger in the Steelers' post-game locker room.

* Since I watched 90 percent of the draft prospects during this past college season, I've been treading very slowly through my bowl tapes. I just turned on the Nebraska-Arizona game with the determination that I would take my eyes off of Ndamukong Suh and watch linebacker Phillip Dillard, and I'm glad I did. Dillard showed the same coverage skills that he showed in the Senior Bowl in breaking up an early deep pass to a running back. He looked like Jack Lambert getting deep in coverage on the play. But he also showed a real thirst for contact in the box. I really like this guy. He's a bit short at 6-1, but can thump in the running game and get back into coverage with ease. He's playing in the Texas vs. The Nation game today. Give him a look. He wore No. 52 during the season and No. 59 in the Senior Bowl, where he was a late replacement. He looks like a great mid-round prospect with speed, toughness, leadership and enthusiasm. His coach, Bo Pelini, is a Steelers fan, too, so that might help.

* Like everyone else, I'm picking the Colts to beat the Saints in the Super Bowl. In statistics against five common opponents this season (didn't count the Buffalo games), the Colts come out with a slight advantage at the line of scrimmage and a big advantage in yards per point, which is my favorite efficiency factor. The Saints come out slightly ahead in pass defense.

Throw in the experience factor with the Colts winning a few years ago at the same site, and the fact that the Saints needed five turnovers in their last game to beat the Vikings at home, and I'll pick the Colts by 10. Yes, I know, that's as boring as watching dome passing teams in the playoffs.

MONDAY, FEB. 1

9 a.m.: According to Scout.com's Adam Caplan, the Steelers worked out the following three players last week for consideration on their 80-man roster:

* Brandon London, 25, is a 6-4, 210-pound wide receiver who earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the New York Giants' practice squad in 2007. He'd been signed by the Giants as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Massachusetts, where he's second on the school's all-time receiving list with 148 catches. He compiled 2,022 receiving yards and 15 career touchdowns, and was the first-team Atlantic 10 receiver in 2006. The son of the University of Virginia's new coach Mike London, Brandon was cut by the Giants in August of 2008 and signed the next day with the Miami Dolphins. London played in 14 games with Miami in 2008 and caught three passes for 30 yards before he was cut on Sept. 5, 2009 and sat out the 2009 season.

* David Pittman, 26, is a 5-11, 185-pound cornerback out of Northwestern State. He was drafted in the third round of the 2007 draft by the Baltimore Ravens and played in seven games with two interceptions that season. He was released Sept. 1, 2008 and signed with the New Orleans Saints, who waived him Dec. 9 that season. Pittman signed the following week with the Houston Texans, but was released Sept. 1, 2009. He played this past season for the New York Sentinels of the United Football League.

* Adam Graessle, 25, is a 6-5, 232-pound punter from Pitt who had a 42.6 gross average and a 36.8 net average for the Panthers from 2004-06. He was also Pitt's kickoff specialist and knocked 32 percent of his 249 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. Graessle didn't play for two seasons but signed with Green Bay in May of 2009 before being released prior to the 2009 season. Graessle punted this past season for the California Redwoods of the UFL and had a gross average of 40.2.

TUESDAY, JAN. 19

2:45 p.m.: The Steelers today announced the reassignment of WR coach Randy Fichtner to QB coach. Fichtner coached quarterbacks at Memphis University from 1990-93 and 2001-06, and at Arkansas State from 1997-00. Fichtner worked with Mike Tomlin on the Arkansas State staff in 1997-98.

The Steelers also got around to announcing last week's signing of CFL special-teamer Derrick Doggett.

And, according to the Post-Gazette, the Steelers are close to reaching an agreement with Al Everest to become their special teams coordinator. Everest coached the 49ers' special teams the last three seasons. His contract was not renewed.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 13

8:45 p.m.: According to NFL.com's Jason La Canforna, the Steelers have hired this guy: Sean Kugler as their new offensive line coach to replace Larry Zierlein.

Kugler spent the last two years as the Buffalo Bills' line coach and last year oversaw a rebuilding job that featured two rookie starters for most of the season. The Bills allowed 46 sacks, fourth most in the league. The Steelers allowed 50.

Kugler was fired along with the rest of the Bills' 2009 assistants by GM Brad Nix, who wants the next head coach to put his own staff together. Another of those deposed Bills coaches, Bobby April, has interviewed with the Steelers about their special teams coordinator opening.

The Steelers must also find another defensive assistant after the departure of 15-year employee Lou Spanos, who joined Jim Haslett's defensive staff in Washington. The Steelers might also need to replace linebackers coach Keith Butler, who's interviewing for the Miami defensive coordinator position.

2:15 p.m.: Voila! Just as I finished writing how much I liked Derrick Doggett in college, I learned Doggett has signed with the Steelers.

Doggett was a backup linebacker for the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but had 27 special teams tackles in 15 games. As noted below, I liked this undersized OLB when he played at Oregon State and always wondered if he could play safety. Maybe the Steelers are wondering about it as well.

1:50 p.m.: According to Scout.com news hound Adam Caplan, the Steelers worked out the following players this week at their South Side facility:

* Derrick Doggett, LB, Oregon State

* Renardo Foster, T, Louisville

* Jake Helms, T, Lenoir-Rhyne

* Kenny Lewis, DB, Bowling Green

* Titus Ryan, WR, Concordia, Ala.

* Geoff Tisdale, DB, Pittsburg, Kan.

The only familiar names are Foster, the older brother of Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster, and Doggett, who was a terrific albeit undersized linebacker in college. He's been playing in the CFL and could help the Steelers' depth at safety and on special teams.

MONDAY, JAN. 11

8 p.m.: Well, it appears A.Q. Shipley read the writing on the wall with the Steelers and decided to sign a futures contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 2008 seventh-round draft pick, Shipley spent the season on the practice squad, where he stood in line at center behind Justin Hartwig, Doug Legursky and perhaps even Darnell Stapleton.

In other Steelers news today, the team announced it had interviewed everyone's favorite special teams coach, Bobby April, for the open position of special teams coordinator.

The Steelers also granted permission to the Seattle Seahawks to interview Omar Khan for their GM position. Khan is the Steelers' Business and Football Administration Coordinator.

The Steelers also granted permission to the Washington Redskins to interview defensive assistant Lou Spanos, who has been with the team since 1995.

FRIDAY, JAN. 8

7:30 p.m.: Dermontti Dawson and Dick LeBeau are members of the official Hall of Fame Selection Committee's 17 finalists (15 Modern-Era and two Senior Nominees*).

A group of 4 to 7 of these finalists (no more than five from the modern era) will be elected to the Hall of Fame on Feb. 6. Here's the list with their positions, teams, and years active follow:

Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins

Don Coryell – Coach – 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals, 1978-1986 San Diego Chargers

Roger Craig – Running Back – 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings

Dermonti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers

Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles

Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins

Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys

Rickey Jackson – Linebacker – 1981-1993 New Orleans Saints, 1994-95 San Francisco 49ers

Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks

Dick LeBeau* – Cornerback – 1959-1972 Detroit Lions

Floyd Little* – Running Back – 1967-1975 Denver Broncos

John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks

Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins

Jerry Rice – Wide Receiver – 1985-2000 San Francisco 49ers, 2001-04 Oakland Raiders, 2004 Seattle Seahawks

Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

Emmitt Smith – Running Back – 1990-2002 Dallas Cowboys, 2003-04 Arizona Cardinals.

THURSDAY, JAN. 7

7 p.m.: Just to repeat: Bruce Arians went to Mike Tomlin on Tuesday for confirmation he was keeping job. Tomlin said they'd talk later. Arians took that as sign he wouldn't be back, and told people that. Word leaked. Ben Roethlisberger then talked to Tomlin and made case to keep Arians. He was kept.

2 p.m.: Before giving you the list of Steelers signed to the futures roster, here's a great story from Larry Zierlein's son, Lance Zierlein, a blogger for the Houston Chronicle. It should interest many of you. He's a great writer and better person. I, for one, will miss this family in Steeler Nation.

I think firing Zierlein falls right in line with not firing Bruce Arians, meaning the coach is simply following the most popular path. Don't be fooled for one second into believing most fans wanted Arians gone. That's what the BA-influenced media will have you believe as they root through all the fresh stats their beloved BA has provided for them. It was also just as easy to fire the coach of an O-line that's shown improvement even though it has little talent and depth.

* OK, these are the newly signed Steelers: TE Eugene Bright, WR Jason Chery, S Tuff Harris, DT Steve McLendon, RB Isaac Redman, RB Justin Vincent, CB Trae Williams, K Piotr Czech and DT Scott Paxson.

My first reaction is that Czech is being brought back in case they can't re-sign Jeff Reed, and that's troublesome because, a.) Reed should only require a simple slap of the franchise tag to be kept, and b.) Czech didn't show much leg strength on kickoffs and that's the only partial flaw I see with Reed. Of course, Czech didn't show much accuracy in preseason, either, going 3 for 5 with misses from 36 and 40.

My second reaction to the list is a question: Why in the world couldn't Tuff Harris replace a.) Tyrone Carter, or b.) any of Carter's backups who were deemed unworthy of replacing Carter?

That's why teams can't keep these old vets around. It just blocks up the pipeline and lets the coaches become lazy and gets them off the hook as they rely on the experienced vet.

You know, I must disclose this to you, that after Mike Tomlin kept Arians, after backing up his OC's season-breaking playcalls in Kansas City and Cleveland, I've found that I don't trust any decision Tomlin makes anymore. I don't know if it's just me, or whether the confidence of fans throughout the country has eroded, but it's going to take a while for me to rekindle the enthusiasm I once had for this coach. And it has nothing to do with his "Unleash Hell" type of comments or him not making changes after promising to CONSIDER making them, which seems to have needlessly undone the rest of the Pittsburgh media. It has more to do with the "I'd do it again" 2-point conversion from the 12 and on third-and-2 in Kansas City, along with keeping a guy who's feminized the offense.

I'll also tell you this: I've learned that Ben Roethlisberger "completed a Hail Mary" to save Arians's job. Ben went to Tomlin and asked him to keep Arians.

That is actually more disconcerting to me than keeping Arians in the first place. The QB has too much power within the organization, and this will only enhance that power.

Here's to hoping tomorrow will be a better day.

11:45 a.m.: Mike Tomlin just fired his second assistant coach of the off-season. The Post-Gazette reports that Tomlin fired special teams coach Bob Ligashesky today. We'll have to wait and see whether that means a promotion for long-time Tomlin buddy Amos Jones, or whether the Steelers will bring in Bobby April, one of the great ST coaches in Steelers, and perhaps NFL, history.

April of course was captured by microphones suggesting the "surprise onside" against Dallas in Super Bowl XXX. Bill Cowher took time to consider it, talked it over with Chan Gailey on the headset, decided to do it, and after it was successful Cowher crowed to an official about the call. April walked past Cowher and congratulated him with "great call, coach."

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 6

6:30 p.m.: First, let me apologize for leaving readers hanging on the Bruce Arians news. I've been running around with doctors and x-rays today, and did talk to someone in the Steelers' front office who repeated he has heard nothing.

"Unless they're intentionally trying to keep me out of the loop, no one has heard anything about him being fired," the source said.

So before I got to my computer, I've learned from other outlets that Arians will be kept and offensive line coach Larry Zierlein has been fired.

As for Arians and the fact he leaked rumor of a firing -- a la Tim Lewis following the 2003 season -- I stand by the story. The source is just too strong. Perhaps Arians will withstand that mistake in a way Lewis could not.

TUESDAY, JAN. 5

10:45 p.m.: It's getting real weird out there with the Bruce Arians news. First of all, a third source tells me that Arians has not been fired. I'm also hearing from another reporter that Mike Tomlin has told his coaches that he's not making any changes.

OK, so why is ESPN Radio 1250 reporting -- now with near certainty -- that the Steelers' offensive coordinator will be fired?

Well, I just received a call from an impeccable source that Arians made up the rumor himself!

Why would anyone do that? My only guess is that he did it to embarrass the media, or parts of it, or one particular person. That's just a guess. Otherwise I have no idea. So I asked the source what will come of Arians now.

"His rumor will probably become a self-fulfilling prophesy," he said.

Stay tuned as The Arians Nation turns.

5:10 p.m.: OK, here's the info that I have, but please don't whine about me giving both sides of the story or not having multiple sources. It's a new age in journalism and I'm giving you my information as I get it. Hopefully, my radio show on Fox 970 tonight won't get in the way of any more real work.

Now, I talked to a source in the Steelers' front office and he had talked to Dan Rooney at length today. Rooney never mentioned that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had been fired. Their conversation took place prior to ESPN 1250 breaking the news that the firing of Arians is imminent, so he never asked Rooney directly.

However, had the firing been imminent, my source believes he would have heard something.

He does, I should tell you, believe Arians will be fired within the week. It's common knowledge on the South Side that the Rooneys disagree with Coach Mike Tomlin, who wants to keep Arians. The Rooneys normally let the coach do as he wishes, but my front office source believes the Rooneys will force the firing soon.

Also, a player with the team has called his position coach and been told that, yes, Arians has been fired. I have calls out to other players, but they have not been returned. I'll let you know if and when I hear anything else. But the offices at the South Side are now closed, so I doubt my phone will be ringing. My instincts, added with what I've heard, tell me that ESPN Radio reporter Ken Laird has the story right and that Arians will soon be gone.

MONDAY, JAN. 4

1:10 p.m.: The Steelers will select 18th in the first round of the 2010 draft, the NFL confirmed today. They'll rotate to the end of the group of 9-7 teams for the second round, and then rotate up throughout the remainder of the process.

Also, here are the home and away opponents for next season: Home: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New England, New York (Jets), Atlanta, Carolina, Oakland; Away: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Buffalo, Miami, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Tennessee.

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 30

6:45 p.m.: Here's a transcript of Ben Roethlisberger's conference call today with Miami reporters.

6:30 p.m.: Troy Polamalu practiced on a limited basis today. It was his first workout since injuring his knee a second time this season on Nov. 15. Chris Kemoeatu did some light running, while Brett Keisel, Travis Kirschke, Hines Ward and James Farrior missed practice to rest bumps and bruises.

5 p.m.: OK, just learned some good news about the Steelers' Pro Bowl alternates, and all certainly deserving: QB Ben Roethlisberger, TE Heath Miller, and OLB LaMarr Woodley. They're all first alternates.

4 p.m.: First of all, I wantd to apologize to our loyal customers in advance because I'll be sitting this week out with a bout of walking pneumonia. I've tried to ignore this worsening cold until the end of the season, but couldn't quite make it, so I apologize if the news becomes a slow trickle this week.

Just to recap from last night, James Harrison and Casey Hampton were named to the Pro Bowl team. While I believe each has enjoyed solid seasons, I thought LaMarr Woodley was the most deserving Steelers player. I suppose his time will come a year after he should go, as has become the norm with this all-star game.

Also today, James Farrior was named winner of The Chief Award, given to the member of the Steelers' organization who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media, which was established in honor of Steelers' founder, Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. While Farrior's a great choice, I'll admit that my vote went to Willie Colon.

In another annual team award voted upon by the local Pro Football Writers of America, Mike Wallace won the Joe Greene Performance Award as the team's top rookie. That was probably a unanimous choice.

I hope to be back with practice updates as I get them.

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 23

3 p.m.: Troy Polamalu said the MRI results on his knee were "encouraging" but that he won't practice today. Polamalu would not give an indication either way of his status for Sunday, but he hopes to practice Thursday.

As for Hines Ward, the receiver admitted he "re-aggravated" his hamstring injury last Sunday, but laughed at the suggestion that he won't play Sunday against the Ravens. "I wouldn't miss this game for the world," he said.

MONDAY, DEC. 21

7:30 p.m.: The Steelers have placed long snapper Greg Warren and wide receiver Limas Sweed on injured reserve and the two players will miss the remainder of the season. No players have been added to the roster as replacements yet.

Warren tore the ACL in his right knee on the final snap of Sunday's game, an extra point that provided the margin of victory. Sweed has an undisclosed illness that forced him to miss practice last week and the game.

SUNDAY, DEC. 20

11:45 p.m.: Don't ask me to explain, because it should be understood. I was looking for something, anything, to change my mood this holiday season, and this win did just that. Not that I'm some kind of homer, but the anger and frustration had been building up around here, on all sides. So, now there's some hope for this season after all, at least through this week anyway.

Here are a few more thoughs on the matter.

FRIDAY, DEC. 19

11:45 a.m.: Back in August, Pro Football Weekly asked its correspondents to predict the Super Bowl matchup, and this is the one I predicted: Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers.

Well, Green Bay's doing its part as Mike McCarthy's club is achieving balance in all four areas as it heads down the stretch.

The Steelers? Not so much. However, it appears that three of the four parts have a chance to thrive on Sunday.

Coming off the pass-happy debacle in Cleveland, the Steelers are expected to lean on their running game against the Packers. Behind Rashard Mendenhall, that running game has potential but needs a bit more creativity and attention, along with, of course, help up front. The passing game is there, and would only improve with a running threat behind it. The run defense is good enough to contain Ryan Grant, but the concern, of course, is the pass defense.

Without Troy Polamalu, the Steelers are 2-6, or Browns-like. And you don't need to see coaching tape or know the assignments to see with the naked eye that the pass defense has been truly and consistently bad this season. In fact, if Ryan Clark and his pals hadn't sucked so bad, the Steelers would be battling for the division lead and Heinz Field would be the scene for the NFL's top showdown of the day.

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Ha. Did you like that one, Ryan? I'm only half-kidding, you realize that. But I just know you've got your nose in all of this. You pretty much told the rest of the media that when you went off on me – to them, peculiarly – two weeks ago.

Funny, because I always figured you were smart enough to understand this is only an oasis for people on the Internet who aren't into porn, or Facebook, or politics, and who don't have the money to do really cool things, like live the life of a pro football player. No, we waste our time chatting about football, and really, that's not very interesting if you don't write things like "Ryan Clark sucks" every once in a while.

Not that I remember writing that. I realize you don't suck. Ike Taylor does, though. He didn't used to. It's startling what's happened to him the last few games. He's lost his confidence. Makes you wonder if someone, someone who should be leading, is instead funneling all of this turd-ly wisdom his way. Ike's always been smart enough to rise above this stuff, but he, too, carped about the media this week in the Tribune-Review.

Champions don't do that kind of stuff. Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu don't read this stuff. They're gladiators. But they're gone now. And Ben and Hines are busy squabbling in public. So the team, the fans for that matter, needed someone to step up and assume a leadership role in this dire time, someone with experience and intelligence, someone who understands how and why the media works. Someone like you. Instead, Ryan, you've thought it best to bring your teammates down into the muck and mire with you. I saw those killer eyes Ty Carter gave me the other day in the hallway. I read the hurt in Ike Taylor's voice. Yeah, this stuff will help their confidence.

So anyway, Ryan, good luck in your new media endeavor. But don't believe for a second that identifying the turds is any kind of fresh approach. It's been done to death on message boards all over the Nation.

That's the thing: The Nation doesn't even need the media to tell them that the Steelers can't cover Mohamed Massaquoi, or Louis Murphy, or Mark Clayton, or Chris Chambers. Fans don't need to see the coaching tape or understand the nuances of the assignments to know that the Steelers' secondary, under the leadership of big-mouthed Ryan Clark, has sucked.

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I was talking to a source within the organization the other day. You may know him as Answer Man. I call him Mister. But anyway, he says he hasn't heard anything about any changes on the coaching staff. Yet, he's predicting those changes will be sweeping in the off-season, and primary among those to leave will be offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

AM did some checking and learned it's an untruth that Arians had written into his contract, by Bill Cowher, that he'd become coordinator once Ken Whisenhunt left. No, Tomlin hired Arians and is free to fire him. And it's no stretch to believe that ownership, in the form of Art Rooney II – "The Deuce" – wants Tomlin to get this well-heeled offense fixed.

But why would an organization that prides itself on giving its coaches free rein order a third-year man to find new assistants? Didn't Dan Rooney wait until Chuck Noll had almost 20 years under his belt before forcing him to find new assistants?

"Why wait?" my source said. "Wouldn't you want to train this guy while he's young? Wouldn't you want him to understand right now that he's accountable?"

Before the Answer Man transformed into the Question Man, I asked him to predict which of the assistants he might promote to replace Arians.

"None of them," he said. "You go out and you find someone Ben has never met. In my opinion, he needs an entirely new dynamic. And after you do that, you call Ben into your office and remind him that he's not in charge of this organization; you remind him who signs those big checks; you remind him to buy in completely; and you make sure that it's understood."

Answer Man also threw in his annual pitch for the team to give Dick Hoak a call "just until this mess is cleaned up," and then AM made sure I understood him when he said he's heard none of this from anyone, that it's not even being whispered around the water coolers.

But as we've learned in the past, his instincts do have a way of becoming reality.

TUESDAY, DEC. 15

9 a.m.: Tyrone Carter is showing just how much the team misses Troy Polamalu because Carter is killing the Steelers at strong safety.

You saw the latest version Thursday night. While the Browns made only three significant offensive plays in scoring 10 points against the Steelers' defense, Carter was a big factor in two of them: (1.) He had a clear shot at tackling Josh Cribbs early in a 37-yard run that led to the only touchdown, a (2.) play on which Carter angled back into the end zone for a non-tackle attempt of Chris Jennings during his 10-yard scoring run into the strong side of the defense.

We've known all along that Carter's not much in pass coverage, and now he's failing in a big way in run support.

Of course, strong safety is one of the most difficult positions to play on this team. In fact, the last two times Carter lined up as the free safety, he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

After the Denver game, in which Carter intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown, he credited Polamalu with his success.

"He might see something and say, ‘Go down there. I'm going backside' and I end up getting the pick," Carter said. "When they look at Troy, they throw away from him and here I am with the opportunity."

That's why Ryan Clark looks so much better when Polamalu's playing. Then, Clark is a complementary center fielder who need only be the fourth best athlete in the secondary, or even fifth best in nickel packages. But without Troy, and mixed with the inexplicably poor performances of cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, Clark is numero uno in the deep patrol. Ergo, it's not difficult to understand why the secondary has been scorched this season when teams need to come from behind with the passing game in the fourth quarter.

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It appeared the Steelers had received a long overdue break when Anthony Madison recovered a fumbled punt return at the Cleveland 44 late in the first half. However, the play came back when Carter, the punt-team fullback, was called for holding Arnold Harrison.

To cut Carter some slack, it appeared Harrison would've blocked the punt had he not been held, so this brings us to Harrison.

In talking to Chris Hoke two days before the game, I told him how I missed Harrison, his locker-room neighbor. I told Hokie that Harrison is one of those guys who doesn't judge you, that Harrison's only thoughts deal with getting better at his craft. Hokie agreed.

We all know the story of how Harrison came back from two blown out knees, and how he made the team this year because of a late injury to youngster Donovan Woods. Harrison is one of those try-hard guys who never presents a whisper – or even the appearance of a whisper – of bad attitude at any moment of any day. If someone told me there's a guy in the locker room who bleeds black and gold, I would've guessed it's Harrison. Yet, he was cut and picked up by the Browns after Tomlin took the chance that Woods would better help his coverage units.

So I have no choice but to look at that play, that moment of holding, as the turning point of the game, courtesy of Arnold Harrison. The Steelers went from having the ball across midfield in a 6-0 game to re-punting and watching the Browns embark on a touchdown drive that put the game away at 13-0.

Of course, the final score was 13-6. Karma really is a bitch.

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If the draft were held today, the Steelers would select 12th and fans with a keen sense of the prospects are eyeballing Alabama junior middle linebacker Rolando McClain.

And why not? McClain's 6-4, 256 pounds, can run, and clearly is the leader of and brains behind the Crimson Tide's complex 3-4 defense. He'd be the physical presence this team clearly lacks and would fit comfortably next to Lawrence Timmons, who's more of a run-and-hit linebacker than a thinker and leader.

One problem: While McClain can cover backs and tight ends, who'd come off the field to prevent a mismatch with a wide receiver? Usually one inside backer and the nose tackle leave for two extra DBs in the dime defense. How could Tomlin ask one of his two top-15 picks – McClain or Timmons – to leave the field on those ultra-important third-and-long plays?

Well, one solution is to not draft another inside backer that high and force feed the buck position to Timmons, whether it suits him or not.

The other solution is one that Nick Saban and Urban Meyer employ at Alabama and Florida: Use the big inside backer – McClain and Brandon Spikes – as a pass-rusher on the four-man line on third downs. Currently, the Steelers use LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison in that capacity, with only Timmons as a potential backup. Of course, Timmons is pushed around when the opponent runs the ball in that situation, but McClain, even Spikes, would be a different animal in that regard as they rotate with Woodley and Harrison.

McClain, like Spikes, has shown he can get to the passer with his hand in the dirt, so it's something the Steelers might want to consider when eye-balling James Farrior's eventual replacement.

-----

I know I harp on the media too much, but this week has brought about an avalanche of media stupidity.

The latest – beyond the blanket statement that the team didn't care in Cleveland – is that Tomlin's pre-game promise to consider lineup changes blew up in his face when he opted against it. The theory being that the players have now tuned him out because they can't believe anything he says.

This ranks right up there with the concept that his promise to "unleash Hell" actually meant something beyond headline fodder.

First of all, who would be upset with Tomlin for not making changes? Keenan Lewis?

The Steelers already have one rookie playing without having won a job in competition. And you saw fullback David Johnson drop a first-down pass wide open in the flat. Those are the kinds of problems rookies cause, and they have nothing to do with being flat, or not giving 100 percent, or tuning Tomlin out.

So when Tomlin looked around and decided to use Joe Burnett to rotate with Gay, and that Lewis was his only other legitimate choice for a fresh face in the lineup, Tomlin probably thought back to training camp when Lewis was beaten deep a few three times on double moves by his buddy Mike Wallace, and realized it might be better to get Taylor's head straight with another attempt as a starter.

Lewis has been compared to Taylor because of his size and toughness – physical toughness – but he's not as fast. So this could portend a move to safety for Lewis next spring, which could then mean that a cornerback would be the better high draft pick instead of a safety, which in turn could mean a hard look at Florida junior Joe Haden with the 12th pick. But that's another run-on sentence to be examined on another run-on day.

FRIDAY, DEC. 11

12:30 p.m.: Well, nothing much can really be said about the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have my game thoughts here but don't expect the vitriol that I'm sure most feel the organization deserves. I just tried to point out the facts, do a little research, and make a few points that weren't covered in the morning paper. My only advice is to not let it get to you. Get a jump on your New Year's resolutions and enjoy the holidays.

THURSDAY, DEC. 10

9:30 a.m.: Casey Hampton loves his Texas Longhorns, so I had to ask him what he thought of their last game in general and Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh in particular.

"Animal," said Hampton. "That boy, he's a different breed right there. He reminded me of maybe Sapp when Sapp -- no, not even Sapp. I ain't never seen no tackle like that in college just dominate like he did."

Suh had 4.5 sacks against Texas and the one we'll all remember culminated an all-Suh series in which he took on a chop block for a 15-yard penalty, then tackled the running back for a loss, and then beat a double team to throw QB Colt McCoy 7 yards through the the air for the sack.

Ironically, you could also pin the loss on Suh because his sudden burst at McCoy -- who had no clue he was running out of time -- forced the QB to throw the ball out of bounds in time for the game-winning field goal.

Hampton may not have ever witnessed such a performance out of a college defensive player, but Steelers director of operations Kevin Colbert has.

"Bruce Smith did that a couple of times," Colbert said of the NFL Hall of Famer. "That might be about it, though."

To praise Suh, I tried to come up with the ultimate compliment: Trade the entire draft for him. Of course, this sent several Internet tools over the edge: "Doesn't that idiot know we need a cornerback!" Or better: "Suh doesn't even play the nose! He's a 4-3 tackle!" If Chuck Noll had heard such nonsense, he may never have drafted Joe Greene. Or, he would've drafted Dan Marino over Gabe Rivera.

Now, that doesn't really help my argument, but what's important is what the great Noll thought of the position. Tackle is the cornerstone of a defense. If you can draft a Hall of Fame tackle -- whether you have to change your scheme or turn the player into a Hall of Fame nose -- it's much more important than any defensive back, as Rod Woodson and all the rings he won with the Steelers will attest.

The big fish out there for the Steelers fans who watch draftboards is Florida junior CB Joe Haden. But if those "experts" actually watched closely, Haden wasn't even the best DB on the field Saturday. That would've been Alabama junior CB Kareem Jackson.

While Haden is a tough guy with ball skills, he's still only 5-10. He's just not top-10 elite, and there isn't one of those CBs this year. There are second-round tough guys like Rutgers' Devin McCourty and Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox, and there are some interesting big corners from Virginia and IUP (yes, IUP), but they're raw projects.

The one great safety, Eric Berry, is an exceptional football player with no holes and a near-nil chance of becoming a bust, but I've watched Tennessee all year and he's not superhuman. If I'm trading up to draft someone to play centerfield next to Troy Polamalu (which is a waste of draft value in my opinion), he'd better have Woodson-like athletic skills, and frankly Berry doesn't. So to make a long story short, using Haden or Berry as an excuse not to take one of the greatest defensive tackles in college history -- even if you don't need him -- is small-time thinking.

Not that the Steelers would even consider trading their draft. After all, they have to have a reason for paying their personnel department all of that money. It reminds me of asking Hines Ward why the Steelers don't just run the no-huddle all the time. "Then why would we be out there practicing all these plays?" he said.

No, it wasn't a good answer, but everyone has to justify wasting time.

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 9

1:40 p.m.: There isn't a reporter in Pittsburgh who'll say with certainty that he's ever seen Tyler Grisham drop a pass. Today, the Steeles promoted the wide receiver from their practice squad and released quarterback Tyler Palko.

Grisham is a 5-11, 180-pounder who caught 132 passes for 1,390 yards and eight touchdowns at Clemson. He signed with the Steelers after the draft, made the practice squad, and has worked with the team all season before today's promotion. If active, he'll wear No. 19 Thursday night in Cleveland.

TUESDAY, DEC. 8

3:35 p.m.: William Gay hasn't shown any post-concussion symptoms and returned to practice Tuesday and resumed his place as the Steelers' first-team cornerback. Gay said doctors would check him out later in the afternoon, but he expects to be fine and ready to play Thursday night in Cleveland.

As for other changes being contemplated by Coach Mike Tomlin, none were apparent at the only practice before the Browns game.

10:50 a.m.:

Mike Tomlin's promise Monday that he'd look closely at making changes gives us exactly one day to speculate before the Tuesday practice at which we'll inevitably notice that no changes have been made. But in this one day, the media can and will pounce. So last night I posted – off the top of my head – a list of changes I'd consider:

* Joe Burnett/Keenan Lewis for William Gay at cornerback.

* Ramon Foster for Trai Essex at right guard.

* David Johnson for Matt Spaeth at No. 2 tight end.

* Dan Sepulveda for Jeff Reed on kickoffs.

* Rashard Mendenhall for Mewelde Moore as third-down back.

I also pondered moves for Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor, but couldn't come up with feasible replacements.

OK. That's where I was Monday night. So after shooting off from the keypad, I went back and watched the game again.

Now, in a loss to the Oakland Raiders, you'd figure that closer examination would reveal more changes need to be made, but in fact I've opted against most of my initial opinions.

So let's look at those suggestions again:

* Burnett/Lewis for Gay? That's a no-brainer because of Gay's injury.

* Foster for Essex? Nope. Cancel that. Trai played well. The first time I watched the game, Essex's two mistakes stood out, but upon an isolated look he played pretty well. Foster wouldn't improve the situation, and probably would only hurt it with a rookie gaffe or two.

* Johnson for Spaeth? Well, the problem here is you'd lose your developing hammer at fullback, Johnson. The option might be to use less two-TE sets, particularly in the red zone, but I've been complaining about this for two years to no avail.

* Sepulveda for Reed? I don't know what the punter can do as a kickoff man; I'm just guessing he has the stronger leg. I know he's a better tackler. It's still worth a look. By the way, Sepulveda clearly outplayed his record-setting counterpart Shane Lechler on Sunday.

* Mendenhall for Moore? Oh, please, yes. I've been calling for this for a month, and so have many others, so this isn't a big move. Although, the coaches are enamored with Moore.

* As for Clark and Taylor, who's left to replace Taylor with Gay injured? I'm also of the belief that Taylor's problems are more mental, that he needs to forget about being so cool and get back to playing hard. I also noticed he blitzed (and was double-teamed) on the game-winning TD pass. Tomlin stated Monday that a corner was supposed to be back helping Ryan Mundy cover the receiver and that a blitzer was missing. I wonder if Ike was the problem here, if he just blitzed on his own.

On Clark, he played a much better game than I'd originally thought. He was the only one of the four starting DBs I wouldn't look to replace in the off-season. I'd just assumed that many of the big-play problems were his, but it appeared Ty Carter was supposed to help Taylor deep on the big pass to Louis Murphy. One Clark mistake wasn't called – a pass interference at the 1, which instead saw Mundy flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.

* As for Mundy, he wasn't as bad as I'd originally thought, so that's the additional change: Mundy for Carter at SS until Troy Polamalu returns.

* Oh, and continue playing Casey Hampton as a stand-up defensive end, if for nothing else but comic relief. I believe he did this twice versus Oakland in the first half.

DRAFT CHATTER: Talk is heating up about drafting a defensive back in the first round, but I see two problems: 1. There isn't an elite corner in this draft. The best by consensus appears to be Joe Haden, the underclassman from Florida who has yet to declare. But while he may be fast and physical and possess exceptional ball skills, he's still short. I don't trust the 5-11 at which he's listed. So, while the Steelers would be happy to draft such a player in the 20s, a top 15 slot with continued losing would not, in my opinion, warrant the drafting of Haden. 2. It's a deep crop of safeties, so there's no need to put a big package deal together for a move up to land Eric Berry. A guy like Deunta Williams or Major Wright (undeclared juniors) could be had in the third round and would provide the Steelers with all they need in center field. I see the Steelers re-signing Clark for a couple more years and using him to mentor both Mundy and said third-round pick.

BOWL CHATTER: I might be the only one in town excited about Pitt's matchup with North Carolina in the Car Bowl because I've grown fond of UNC throughout the year. They may not have more than one draftable senior, but their juniors are impressive. In fact, I wouldn't mind the Steelers using a draft strategy based on these Tar Heels: 1. Marvin Austin, DT; 2. Quan Sturdivant ILB; and 3. the aforementioned Williams, FS. Check out those three players in Pitt's next game. More on the draft prospects as we close in on bowl season.

SUNDAY, NOV. 22

9:45 P.m.: An offense that was on the verge of turning the corner two weeks ago after beating Denver has fallen into a pustule of gimmicks and guesses. Seriously, why isn't Rashard Mendenhall running the ball more often? Why isn't Mewelde Moore running it less? Why the empty sets at the worst possible moments? Why the predictability inside the 10? And where is Mike Tomlin to oversee some of this stuff?

Of course, the secondary is still a mess without Troy Polamalu and the coverage units are miserable, but the well-heeled offense had better start ending drives and finishing games, and try to keep the quarterback healthy.

If you're up for some of my more thoughtful rantings, go here to the message board.

FRIDAY, NOV. 6

9 p.m.: No one can deny the Steelers' edge in punting against the Broncos on Monday night, considering the Broncos just picked up Mitch Berger. He replaced injured Daniel Sepulveda last season with the Steelers and averaged 41.3 gross and 37.7 net.

Sepulveda is back and averaging 44.8 gross and 40.2 net this season. It's also noteworthy that Sepulveda has dropped 10 kicks inside the 20 with only one touchback after posting a team-record 28-2 ratio in 2007.

Anyway, I asked Sepulveda if the Steelers' edge might be mitigated by the thin air in Denver. Would Sepulveda now bomb his kicks into the end zone bleachers while Berger plopped his inside the 20?

Sepulveda smiled and said no, but did agree the thin air makes a difference, "a small one," he said while holding his thumb and index finger about a half inch apart.

Sepulveda's experience in thin air is minimal. He played one game in Boulder during his college days, and in the Steelers' 2007 game in Denver he punted twice for a 38.0 average.

Berger punted eight times in his first game with the Broncos, in Baltimore, and averaged 38.4 gross and 36.3 net. He told reporters he hopes the thin air in Denver will help those averages, as it had for the guy he replaced: Brett Kern grossed 46.1 at home and 42.9 on the road before he was released.

That increase doesn't hold for every Denver punter. Tom Rouen, for a random example, grossed 43.0 at home and 43.5 on the road during his first seven years with the Broncos. He played four more years in Denver, but I was too tired to add up those stats.

The thin air might better help the Steelers' kickoff distance. A study of 2000-2001 kickers showed that visitors averaged 7.3 more yards per kickoff at Mile High Stadium than their work in other stadiums. That'll be good news for Jeff Reed, who ranks 31st of 33 in distance among NFL kickers with 10 or more kickoffs this season. Reed averages 59.3 yards per kickoff (to the 10.7 yard line). Broncos kicker Matt Prater is fourth in the NFL with a 68.8 average.

* According to Scout.com draft expert Chris Steuber, the Steelers will have scouts at the following games: UTEP-Tulane, Kent State-Akron, Ohio State-Penn State, Syracuse-Pitt, and Northeastern-Massachusetts.

The key prospects at those games include Tulane WR Jeremy Williams, Syracuse NT Arthur Jones, Pitt DE Greg Romeus (Jr.) and DT Mick Williams, UMass OG Vladimir Ducasse, Ohio State SS Kurt Coleman and DE Doug Worthington, and Penn State DT Jared Odrick and LB Sean Lee. Pitt and Penn State also have senior tight ends who could interest the Steelers.

In my opinion, nose tackle is a critical position for Steelers scouts. The best, Alabama's Terrence Cody, will likely be drafted somewhere in the middle of the first round, but, at 365 pounds and with a background of weight problems, Cody may not even interest the Steelers.

Syracuse's Jones is much lighter at 295, but strong enough to hold the point, and with a great motor. On the downside, he'll be 24 years old on opening day 2010.

The guy who's emerging as a nose tackle to watch is Tennessee's Dan Williams, who has his weight down to 320, at 6 feet 2, and has played well this past month. Number 55 and the Vols will host Memphis tonight in a TV game on ESPNU.

TUESDAY, NOV. 3

12:45 p.m.: Mike Tomlin talked to reporters after Monday's practice, so there's no need to type up the transcript after Tomlin talked to entertainers on Tuesday. These are some of the additional points Tomlin made on Tuesday:

* "(Denver's) screen game is rock-solid, as is their misdirection passing."

* "Eddie Royal … plays similarly to how Wes Welker played in New England under Coach (Josh) McDaniels. They really do a nice job of featuring him in some match-up areas, getting him against linebackers, and working him in tight spaces."

* Ramon Foster has back discomfort that may limit him in practice this week.

* Travis Kirschke has a calf strain and Lawrence Timmons has an ankle sprain. As Tomlin said Monday, both are questionable for the Denver game.

* The rookies worked through the bye week. "We did some fundamental development, some individual instruction. We went out and worked on elements of their game that technically they need to improve in. We hit some weights. We had some classroom instruction."

* "(Denver's offense) really looks a lot like New England, other than they don't have Tom Brady playing quarterback. They've got Kyle Orton."

* "(Ziggy Hood) is showing improvement on the practice field. He's a tough guy to block on Wednesdays and Thursdays, which means at some point he's going to be a tough guy to block on Sundays. We'll see when that happens."

MONDAY, NOV. 2

3:45 p.m.: Missing practice today were Willie Parker (illness), Travis Kirschke (calf), Lawrence Timmons (ankle), Troy Polamalu (day off), and Ramon Foster (undisclosed). Kirschke walked with a slight limp in the locker room and Timmons did not. Mike Tomlin said they're both questionable for next Monday, and that he's more optimistic about Timmons.

* The team is hopeful that any positional absences and/or changes are not reported this week. Ryan Clark's status for Monday has yet to be determined, but Tomlin said he could veto Clark if Clark decides to play. They will sit down and talk it over later in the week.

* The Steelers signed TE Eugene Bright to the practice squad and released TE Kevin Brock. Bright was a defensive end at Purdue but moved to tight end with the Philadelphia Eagles. More information about Bright is in the previous blog post.

* Kickoff team got back to training camp basics today. I interviewed a couple kick coverers for a later story. On that same note, Keenan Lewis stepped in front of Mike Wallace to catch a Dennis Dixon out pass and return it for a touchdown today. I can't understand why he's not on special teams.

THURSDAY, OCT. 29

12 p.m.: According to Scout.com's NFL reporter, Adam Caplan, the Steelers on Wednesday worked out defensive ends Eugene Bright and Kareem Brown, which may be a sign that defensive end Travis Kirschke's calf injury is more serious than the team believed during Sunday's game when it announced to the media that Kirschke's return to the game was possible (questionable).

While Kirschke's status won't be updated by Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin until his post-bye week press conference next Tuesday, it's also possible the Steelers are simply updating their reserve lists.

Both Bright and Brown are listed at 6 feet 4, but their weights have fluctuated since both attempted to play tight end with their most recent teams.

Bright replaced Anthony Spencer as a defensive end at Purdue and finished his career with 7.5 sacks. He came out of Harriton High School in Rosemont, Pa., and received notoriety after a win over Indiana in 2006 when he intervened with police and partygoers and allegedly assaulted police, who in turn tasered Bright. He was undrafted in 2008 and signed with the Philadelphia Eagles last spring. He was moved to tight end before being waived in September.

Brown was a college defensive tackle at Miami (Fla.), where he compiled 20.5 career sacks. He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 draft by New England, but Brown could only make the Patriots' practice squad. The New York Jets picked him up in November, played him in one game, and brought him back to their practice squad in 2008 before releasing him. Brown spent a week on the New York Giants practice squad this season.

* In other news from Scout.com, draft analyst Chris Steuber informs me the Steelers had a scout at Tuesday night's East Carolina-Memphis game, where they no doubt kept an eye on ECU defensive linemen C.J. Wilson and Jay Ross. Wilson is the better prospect, and, as a 278-pound college 4-3 end, might project to 3-4 defensive end with the Steelers.

The Steelers, according to Steuber, will also have a scout at tonight's North Carolina-Virginia Tech game. The top seniors there are Virginia Tech's too-tall free safety Kam Chancellor, mid-round cornerback Stephan Virgil, and late-round offensive linemen Ed Wang (LT) and Sergio Render (LG).

The players who interest me, though, are the North Carolina juniors, particularly defensive tackle Marvin Austin (No. 9), a big man who can run. Other talented UNC juniors include injury-hobbled OLB Bruce Carter (No. 54), free safety Deunta Williams (No. 27) and personal favorite ILB Quan Sturdivant (No. 52).


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