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What position(s) should be the Steelers highest priorities in the draft?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Whether Its Podlesh or Wing, Should Pittsburgh Pray for Its Punting to Stink?

Steelers Nation’s reaction to news that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed punter Adam Podlesh ranged from ho-hum to derision as documented by Behind the Steel Curtain.* Some of this is logical, as Adam Podlesh’s punting averages were actually worse than both Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko.
  • But the more refined response is: Who cares?
Seriously. Assuming he can avoid blocked kicks, how much impact does a punter have anyway?

Sure, I am sure Pro Football Focus has some saber metric that reads like this:
  • “Analysis shows that pass defenses on teams with a favorable gross/net punting ratio enjoy a statistically significant “passing yards per attempt allowed” advantage.
Or something.

Maybe Pro Football Focus has no such stat. Even if they do, it says here that the Steelers have won more Super Bowls than anyone else, and it further says that in that respect, good punting doesn’t count for squat. Read on:
Steelers punting super bowl miller colquitt walden
Does good punting = grim harbinger for the Steelers? Hum...
Number don’t lie fellow citizen of Steelers Nation. Let’s take a closer look for those who remain unconvinced.

Bobby Walden handled the punting duties for the Steelers in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. The Steelers ranked just above the middle of the pack and in fact were right about average in terms of punting.
  • Very little was average about those 1974 and 1975 teams laden with NFL Hall of Famers.
No offense, but the presence of players like Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert explain a lot more about the 1st two Lombardi’s than does Walden.

Craig Colquitt took over the chores for Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV and the Steelers punting performance perked up just a tad. Now Pittsburgh’s defense was in decline by that point, and perhaps better punting put them over the edge.
The Steelers 6-10 ’86 season stands as an aberration. Harry Newsome had arrived, but the Steelers still ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of punting. Newsome picked his performance by 1988, and the Steelers led the NFL in punting.
  • They also had their worst post-1971 finish.
Legend has it the Bubby Brister scrawled “Playoffs 1989” on the chalk board to open training camp that summer, but it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh’s punting advantage in Newsome inspired him to do so.

In 1995 Rohn Stark filled the gap between Mark Royals and Josh Miller and the Steelers were the third worst punting team in the league. Nonetheless, the Steelers came heart breakingly close to “One for the Thumb” vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.
Josh Miller was a fine punter, and during the “My buddy’s the cop” phase of Kordell Stewart’s starting tenure he became somewhat of a cult hero and Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon and yours truly was one of his prime promoters. Yet in 2003, Miller had the Steelers punting ranked above average, but they still had a 6-10 record.
  • The Steelers replaced Miller with Chris Gardocki, who punted on in Super Bowl XL, but One for the Thumb Came in spite of a 22nd ranking punting game.
And of course the Steelers attained further glory in Super Bowl XLIII despite the having the second worst punting game thanks to Mitch Berger and Paul  Ernster.

Rounding it out you have 2010 and the loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV, a season in which the Steelers broached the top 25% in punting.  Could getting on the other side of that 25% mark have negated Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, Mike Wallace’s ghosting, or Mendy’s fumble? Count me a skeptic.

Prayer’s and Shout Outs

Of course this analysis only looks at punting average, and not inside 20 numbers or anything like that. And of course crappy punting can hurt you, just remember the Oakland game. But let’s repeat it:
  • Number don’t lie
In the “Post Immaculate Reception Era” there is no correlation between good punting and winning Super Bowls. In fact, if anything the data suggests something quite the opposite.

So whether Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh wins out, perhaps its best to pray for Pittsburgh’s punter to stink.

*Full disclosure. I also write for BTSC. And by complete happenstance (on my honor as a Life scout), it I saw that their Tony Defeo, a good friend and soul mate, had the same idea and beat me to the punch. Check his out here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Steelers Scrounge in Couch Cushions, Sign Adam Podlesh, Punter

The Pittsburgh Steelers, with all of 300 thousand (and a little change found in the couch cushions in Dan Rooney’s office) in salary cap space made yet another free agent signing.
  • They did so by coming to terms with former Chicago Bears punter Adam Podlesh
Podlesh brings a mixed pedigree as a punter to Pittsburgh. Last year he gross punting average was 40.6 yards which was enough to net him 33rd position in the league – not exactly a distinction of honor in a league with 32 teams.

Yet, as Dale Lolley indicates, he did pin opponents inside the 20 yard line 27 times, which is something that Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko together only accomplished 16 times last year.

Podlesh’s best year in the NFL came in 2011, when he sent the Chicago Bears single season record for punting. Ironically, Podlesh was drafted 11 spots ahead of Daniel Sepulveda, whom the Steelers picked in the 4th round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

Nor is this the only (comic book like?) cross over – Drew Butler will replace Podlesh in Chicago.
  • In addition to Podlesh, the Steelers also have Brad Wing under contract. 
Wing spent the summer of 2013 in training camp with the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut before camp. In addition to fighting Podlesh, Wing is also fighting is reputation – having been charged with simple battery in 2011, and thrown out of LSU for failed drug tests and arguing with coaches in-game.

When asked about Wing’s character issues, Kevin Colbert told Jim Wexell, “Again, players mature as the years go on.”

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jason Verrett, 5 Others Visit Steeles, Aaron Barr Expected in Pittsburgh Soon

The Pittsburgh Steelers continue vetting the NCAA’s finest as part of the vetting process in advance of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers closed last week by hosting another threesome at the South Side consisting of:
  • Carl Bradford, linebacker from Arizona State
  • Kevin Pierre-Lous, outside linebacker from Boston College
  • Bradley Roby, cornerback from Ohio State
The Steelers opened this week as cornerback Jason Verrett made his long-anticipated visit to Pittsburgh, while the team also entertained:
  • Scott Circhton, defensive end Oregon State
  • Saquiell Richardson, Arizona Cornerback
ESPN’s Scott Brown described Circhton’s visit as a “surprise” given projections that of him as more of an NFL 3-4 defensive end and someone who is not seen as a prospect to  be converted to a 3-4 outside linebacker .

Behind the Steel Curtain is also reporting that the Steelers will bring UCLA linebacker Aaron Barr to the South Side this week, a move which has been rumored for some time.

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Ryan Shizier, Deone Bucannon, and Jordan Zumwalt Pay Steelers Pre-Draft Visits

The 2014 NFL Draft is 27 days away and if public reports are any indication, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have 19 pre-collegiate visitors to invite to their training complex on the South Side.

This past week the Steelers have welcomed three such NCAA hopefuls:
  • Deone Bucannon, strong safety out of Washington State
  • Jordan Zumwalt, linebacker out of UCLA
  • Ryan Shizier, out of Ohio State linebacker
News that Shizier would visit Pittsburgh broke weeks ago, but Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong characterized Zumwalt’s visit as a surprise, although the Steelers were linked to him at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

While the Steelers are potentially deep at inside linebacker with Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Terence Garvin and, health allowing, Sean Spence, neither Williams or Garvin are looked at as 3 down players. Newly signed free agent linebacker Arthur Moats is primarily an outside linebacker, but has position flexibility to move inside should the need arise.
  • Zumwalt is projected as a mid round prospect, and would need to be groomed for the position.
Shizier is projected as a late first round pick and someone the Steelers would have interest in should they trade down or should Shizier fall to day two, but given his athleticism he is not likely to fall.
  • Deone Bucannon’s name also raises eyebrows, given that he’s the second safety, after Calvin Prior, of Louisville, to visit the South Side. Like Prior, Bucannon is expected to go early in the draft.
The Steelers of course recently signed Michael Mitchell, extended Troy Poalmalu’s contract, traded up to get Shamarko Thomas, and resigned Will Allen to a one year deal. The Steelers are certainly not targeting safety in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft, but due diligence is a must.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Antonio Brown, Jason Worilds Head Up Steelers Camp in... Mexico!

As they did in 2010 the Pittsburgh Steelers returned to Mexico to hold a fan based camp. The Steelers have a huge following south of the Rio Grande in large part because it was during the 1970’s that the NFL began showing games there.
  • In fact, their 2000 preseason game at Azteca Stadium vs. the Indianapolis Colts drew over 80,000 fans and at the time was the largest audience in the NFL to see an NFL football game.
Trivia buffs will remember that the Steelers lost due to a call that could not be reviewed because there was no replay equipment. That was also arguably the game where Tee Martin Beat out Anthony Wright for the third string spot behind Kent Graham and Kordell Stewart. Not that anyone cares that much…
  • The Steelers popularity in Mexico has only increased since then.
In fact, the wife for former Mexican President Filipe Calderon, Margarita Zavala, was such a rabid fan that she took leave from the World Cup in South Africa to attend the camp the 2010 Steelers held in Mexico with Ziggy Hood, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, and Daniel Sepúlveda in attendance.

  • Calderon and Zavala have also been guests of the Steelers at Heinz Field when Dan Rooney served as ambassador to Ireland.

This year the Steelers contingent was led by Antonio Brown, Cortez Allen, Kelvin Beachum, Maurkice Pouncey, Markus Wheaton, and Jason Worilds. Veteran Steelers tackle and current Steelers.com radio network reporter Craig Wolfley and former Steelers running back Willie Parker also made the trip.

Why Not Extend the Reach of the Nation End-to-End in Latin America?

Steel Curtain Rising fully cheers the Steelers’s foray into Mexico, but is nonetheless forced to ask the question, “Why stop there?” Why not extend the reach of Steelers Nation further into Latin America? In fact, just stop at crossing  the Rio Grande, why not extend it all the way to the Tierra del Fuego?
  • That’s right, why not hold a similar Steelers camp here in Argentina…?
Esperen un par de días mas, y voy a escribir explicando porque es un muy buen idea. Arriba los Hombres de Acero!

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Steelers Do Due Diligence, Host Safety Calvin Prior Ahead of Draft

Never let it be said that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert weren’t prepared for the unexpected.
After all its less than a year after the team did something it had not done since before its first Super Bowl – trade a draft pick from next year’s draft to get one this year – to get safety Shamarko Thomas. Its less than a month after the Steelers made a rare day 1 free agency signing in the form of Michael Mitchell. Which came on the heels of a decision to extend Troy Polamalu’s contract by two years.
  • So why, pray tell, would the Steelers entertain a safety prior to the 2014 NFL Draft?
If cornerback and wide receiver are well known as the Steelers top early round priorities, safety is decidedly at the other end of the pecking order. Yet, as Dale Lolley explains, this is a wise move on the part of the Black and Gold Brain Trust.

The Steelers are picking 15th. It is little secret that the Steelers covet Michigan and Tennessee cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and  Darqueze Dennard and Texas A&M’s Mike Evans. However, what if those players are gone?
  • Well, the first reaction will be to try to trade? But what if they can’t? Prior is projected as a mid-round pick. 
The Steelers clearly would like to invest such a high draft choice elsewhere, but success in the NFL Draft isn’t about selecting the players you know you want, it’s about knowing who to pick when your top choices are unavailable.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Steelers Closed Last Week with Visits from Vereen & Ellington; Reports of Unconfirmed Visits Surface

The Pittsburgh Steelers closed out last week with two more confirmed collegiate visits ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft, playing host to Brock Vereen, a defensive back for the University of Minnesota and Bruce Ellington, wide receiver of South Carolina.

Vereen 34 games as a Gopher, but only is only listed as playing in 1 during 2013. During that time he logged 3 interceptions. Bruce Ellington has played for three years at South Carolina, and caught 106 passes and for 1586 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Additional Unconfirmed Visits Reported

Each NFL team is permitted to entertain 30 visits prior to the NFL draft, minus visits from local schools such as the University of Pittsburgh. Thus far, there have been 8 confrimed visits to the South Side:

1. Donte Moncrief, wide receiver Ole Miss speedy wideout
2. Lanche Seastrunk, running back Baylor
3. Jason Verrett, cornerback
4. Ryan Shizier, Ohio State linebacker
5. Stephon Tuitt, defensive end Notre Dame
6. Darqueze Dennard, cornerback Michigan State
7. Brock Vereen, defensive back, Minnesota
8. Bruce Ellington, wide receiver South Carolina

The site Walter Football is associating the Steelers with 2 other NCAA prospects who would count against their limit of 30.

Seantrel Henderson, offensive lineman from University of Miami
Bradley Roby, cornerback, Ohio State
Anthony Barr, linebacker UCLA
Martavis Bryant, wide receiver, Clemson

Behind the Steel Curtain is also reporting that the Steelers visited with Aaron Donald, from Pitt. Donald is a senior who played defensive tackle for the Panthers , and amassed 29.5 sacks during 3 seasons in the Big East and one in the ACC.

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