´ Steel Curtain Rising

Screwed by Bloggers Polling, Again

Folks, it looks like Blogger's polling has decided to stop working. We had a good poll on the Steelers draft which suddenly got dropped to zero.

Guess you get what you pay for on these free platforms. Thanks to all those who voted.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bell and Blount's Arrests Obscure Surprise that Comes with Keisel's Return

The haze over Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s arrests helped obscure the fact that the Brett Keisel’s return to the Steelers came with a surprise. The first was that the Steelers had signed Brett Keisel to a two year deal, which is not what you’d expect for player about to turn 36.

However, the length of the contract is little more than salary cap maneuvering as explained by Jim Wexell:
Talk of bonuses naturally leads one to ask about the nature of the deal, which led to another exchange:

The other big piece of news was that the Steelers wasted little time in putting Kesiel back at his old spot on the depth chart, at starting right end, sending sent Cameron Heyward back to the left side. ESPN’s Scott Brown was among the first to report the change, although he pointed out that Mike Tomlin pays “scant attention” to during the preseason.

But Brown did indicate that the Steelers clearly had not brought back Kesiel to serve in a sort of “player-coach” mentoring role. Jim Wexell took the story further by reporting that:
I'm finding out, didn't come back to be a reserve. He'll likely be a starter at some point, but whether it's in two-and-a-half weeks for the opener is up to his conditioning.
So not only will Kesiel not be a mentor, but he will also be getting a lot more than the sort of spot duties that Jerome Bettis got in 2005.

While the move does appear to be a “set back” of sorts for a defense committed to getting younger, it does make sense, at least on paper. As discussed on Behind the Steel Curtain, rookies rarely play and never start for Johnny Mitchell, except those named Casey Hampton (ok, Brensten Buckner was another exception, but he didn’t pan out long term).

That rules out Stephon Tuitt, the second rounder from Notre Dame. Cam Thomas would seem to be the “loser” in this scenario, but the fact is that he is needed to back up Steve McLendon in the middle, a situation made all the more urgent by the Steelers decision to cut Hebron Fangupo to make room for Kesiel. In essence, Cam Thomas becomes the new Al Woods.

In the abstract this all works out perfectly, but Keisel's play on the field will ultimately vindicate Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell's decision to start him.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount Arrested on Drug Charges, DWU....

For 24 hours Steelers Nation basked in the glory of the decision to resign Brett Kesiel. The 2014 off season, it seemed, had been a picture of excellence. It had been free of the damming, judicial, distractions of the 2010 off season and the salary cap problems and painful veteran departures which came in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
  • Alas, the calm was not to be.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting that Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount have been arrested for marijuana possession. Bell faces a potential additional charge of driving under the influence of marijuana and possibly a DWU, according to Colin Dunlap.
  • The Steelers Le’Backfield has the potential to be devastated before the season even starts.
If the charges are substantiated, in addition to their legal woes, both players will find themselves afoul of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. As Steel Curtain Rising has documented, Roger Goodell’s NFL justice has been anything but consistent.

While Ray Rice got a mere 2 game suspension for domestic abuse, a substance abuse violation can result in a 4 game suspension. This does not bode well for the Steelers.
  • Ben Roethlisberger's looks poised to get his desire for a more pass-oriented offense. And then some.
Blount and Bell are the only two Steelers running backs with an NFL carry to their names. Rookie Dri Archer has looked promising in preseason, but lacks a feature back frame….

Earlier in the off season yours truly suggested the Steelers should give Isaac Redman a second chance. Needless to say Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were not similarly inclined.

But I’d bet someone with Isaac Redman’s resume would be looking pretty good on the depth chart right about now….

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Steelers Resign Brett Keisel; Da Beard Back for Final Year

The Pittsburgh Steelers today answered what has perhaps the biggest question of the 2014 off season  “What would the Steelers do about Brett Keisel?” by resigning the veteran defensive end to a one-year deal.
Entering free agency, Kesiel made twin vows – One that his playing days were not over, and two that he didn’t see himself making the minimum salary.
  • The free agency period started and the Steelers almost immediately lost Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, their numbers 3 and 4 defensive ends. 
While the Steelers did add Cam Thomas, Kevin Colbert immediately pronounced him to be a back up. And still, Kesiel got no offers. The Steelers further muddied the situation by drafting Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Jim Wexell predicted Keisel would get lost in the numbers game, while Scott Brown revealed that Heath Miller told him “Keisel’s not here yet” and Dale Lolley informed Steelers Nation that the Steelers never cleaned out 99’s locker.
  • Yet, during OTA’s Cameron Heyward moved to left defensive end, and remained their through out training camp.
Perhaps it took Bruce Arian’s attempt to entice Keisel to come to Pittsburgh West, perhaps it was their plan along, but the Steelers committed to bringing back Keisel for one final year.
  • In the final analysis, this is a smart football move. 
Brett Kesiel’s best days are behind him, but he clearly showed last season that he has something left to contribute on the field, and the leadership that Kesiel will bring off the field remains priceless.

Keisel's Return Creates Numbers Game on the Defensive Line

While no set role has been announced, Mike Tomlin did commit to continuing to rotate his defensive ends.

The safe money says that Kesiel will remain the nominal starter, but quickly yield to the younger players behind him and if that happens, he'll be playing a role similar to the one that Jerome Bettis played in the 2005 season that culminated in Super Bowl XL.
  • And one of those younger players just found his claim on a roster spot a lot more complicated.
Two Steelers rookies, 6th round pick Daniel McCullers and undrafted rookie free agent Josh Mauro, are hoping to make the team, in addition to 2013 7th round pick Nick Williams and practice squad stand out Brian Arnfelt.

Prior to the news of Keisel's resigning, veteran journalist Dale Lolley predicted that the Steelers would only keep 6 lineman, and that Williams and Arnfelt would be the odd men out. Now it looks like someone else will join them.

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Steelers Resign Marcus Gilbert to 5 Year, 30 Million Dollar Contract

When starting right tackle Willie Colon went down on opening day 2011 in the Debacle at Baltimore, many in Steelers Nation expected Kevin Colbert to head to the red phone for Flozell Adams. Adams, turned the table and offered his services to the Steelers, but the response was “No thanks.”
In starting Gilbert doing so, the they made a deliberate shift away from the “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building that plagued the Steelers during the Mike Tomlin era. (OK, they only stuck with Jonathan Scott for few weeks more, before deciding to bring Max Starks back.)
  • Today the Steelers reaffirmed that commitment, whey the resigned Gilbert to a 6 year 30 million dollar contract with 7.65 million signing bonus.
The move marks a stunning turnaround for the Steelers attitude towards Marcus Gilbert. Although has started 34 of the Steelers last 36 games, poor play early in 2013 forced Mike Tomlin to rotate Kelvin Beachum at both tackle slots in the Steelers loss to Chicago.

However, the Steelers have seen enough of Gilbert to offer him a long term contract, and one must assume that new offensive line coach Mike Munchak had input on the decision.
Adams has not pushed either Gilbert or Beachum for a starting spot, and according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Alan Robinson, is competing with Guy Whimper for the Steelers number 3 tackle position.

Third Offensive Lineman Resigned

Following the 2009 season the Steelers began a commitment to rebuilding their offensive line by picking Maurkice Pouncey in the 1st round of the 2010 draft. Earlier this spring the Steelers resigned Pouncey to a 48 million dollar, six year deal. Gilbert is the third lineman resigned during this rebuilding phase, with the second being Ramon Foster, who signed a 3 year deal in 2013.

All of this good cheer round Gilbert's deal must come with a caveat.
  • While the Steelers intentions at right tackle are clear, recent history suggests reality often fails to match intentions.
During the Mike Tomlin era, the Steelers have signed a full starting line up on the offensive line (Max Starks, Jonathan Scott, Sean Mahan, Justin Hartwig, Chris Kemoeatu, and Willie Colon), only to cut them well before their contracts expired....

Defense to Get Some Love?

In addition to Pouncey and Gilbert, the Shaun Suisham is the only other Steelers summer contract negotiation. It’s been widely suggested the Cortez Allen would get a new deal, but that has yet to materialize.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shazier Sizzles as Steelers Defeat Bills in Preseason @ Heinz Field

There was much to like about the Steelers 19-16 victory over Buffalo at Heinz Field, Saturday night.
After missing the Steelers first exhibition game last week at MetLife Stadium in New York with a knee bruise, Shazier started at inside linebacker alongside Lawrence Timmons against the Bills and immediately made it clear why his new team is expecting so much of him so soon. 

Shazier was credited with 11 solo tackles, a pass defensed, and, in a play that maybe demonstrated the kind of difference-maker he can be, Shazier (OK, its ONLY preseason, but he's looking very much like safety Troy Polamalu) intercepted a pass down the middle that was intended for Bills' tight end Scott Chandler and returned it into Pittsburgh territory. 

The Steelers quickly capitalized on Shazier's "splash play" and capped a 37 yard scoring drive when Ben Roethlisberger connected with second year receiver Markus Wheaton on a 16 yard touchdown pass to take a 13-3 first quarter lead. 

It was the second touchdown pass of the first quarter for Roethlisberger, who connected with star receiver Antonio Brown for a 76 yard score on Pittsburgh's second offensive play after the Bills took a 3-0 lead on their first series of the night. 
  • In game-action that actually extended into the second quarter, Roethlisberger, working extensively from his coveted no-huddle formation, went 8 of 11 for 128 yards and the two scoring passes. 
It wasn't a great night for Pittsburgh's second and third string quarterbacks--Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones, respectively--who combined for 100 passing yards and three turnovers. 

For Jones, the Steelers fourth round pick out of Oklahoma in the 2013 NFL Draft,  it was an especially difficult night, as he threw an INT and fumbled while being sacked after replacing Roethlisberger in the second quarter. 
  • Trailing 13-6 midway through the third quarter, the Bills tied the score on an Anthony Dixon one yard touchdown run. 
In the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh re-took the lead on a 48 yard field goal by Shaun Suisham that was the culmination of a 31 yard scoring drive led by Gradkowski. 

With the game tied again in the waning seconds, and with overtime almost a certainty, Steelers reserve linebacker Vic So'oto sacked Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel and forced a fumble that fellow linebacker Howard Jones scooped up and returned to the Bills' one yard line with 15 seconds remaining. 

Two plays later, Suisham connected on a 20 yard field goal as time expired to give the Steelers their first exhibition victory since 2012.

Next up for the Steelers is a date in Philadelphia Thursday night against the Eagles. 

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Greg Warren to Miss up to 4 Weeks with Meniscus Injury

The Steelers escaped their first preseason game without any major injuries, but they couldn't escape the joint practices with the Bills totally unscathed.

It is being reported by the USA Today and several other outlets that long-time long-snapper Greg Warren suffered a torn meniscus in a joint practice with Buffalo on Wednesday at the Steelers training camp site in Latrobe, Pa., and could miss up to four weeks after having surgery to repair it.

"That's going to be fixed here soon, so obviously he's going to be out for a period of time. I don't have a detailed picture of what that is. But maybe four weeks or so," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin while addressing the media regarding Warren's status.
  • If Tomlin's recovery assessment is accurate, that would mean Warren would miss at least Pittsburgh's season opener against the Browns at Heinz Field on September 7.
And if it's an even longer time away for Warren, it could be an unexpected and underrated critical blow for a Steelers team that has suffered through its fair share of key injuries in recent years.

A long-snapper's performance isn't normally included in a list of reasons why a team will succeed or fail. However, with the line so fine for victories and defeats in most NFL games these days, sometimes a win or a loss can come down to a single play--like a poorly executed snap on a potential game-winning field goal try.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Spence Sparkles in Steelers 1st Preseason Game of 2014

Preseason football games aren't really about wins and losses; they're mostly about finding out about specific players and how they'll help shape the upcoming regular season.

But while the Steelers still have many questions about a lot of players--both young and old--one in particular they may be feeling good about today is Sean Spence, the third year linebacker who played in his first exhibition game since suffering a horrific knee injury in the preseason finale of his rookie season in 2012.

Spence started at inside linebacker and recorded three tackles, a total that doesn't seem impressive on paper, but if you watched Saturday night's game at MetLife Stadium, you know Spence was all over the field and in and around a lot of the action.

As for the Steelers as a whole, it was predictably a short night for quarterback Ben Roethlsiberger, who only played a series before exiting. But before he did, he led the offense on a field goal drive.

  • However, Giants running back Rashad Jennings raced 73 yards on the next play from scrimmage for a 7-3 advantage.

Pittsburgh trailed most of  the game and failed to score an offensive touchdown, as back-up QBs Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones faced pressure most of the evening.

But trailing 13-9 early in the fourth quarter, backup linebacker Howard Jones scooped up a backwards lateral and galloped 28 yards to give the Steelers their only lead of the night, at 16-13.

The Giants answered with a go-ahead touchdown with less than three minutes remaining. And after rookie receiver Martavis Bryant fumbled deep in New York territory, the Steelers were 0-1 for a third straight August.

Next up is a home date with the Bills Saturday night at Heinz Field.

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