Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Steelers sign 13 rookie free-agents

Following are the 13 rookie free-agents signed by the Steelers after the draft (in alphabetical order). Hopefully there is a James Harrison, Willie Parker or Nate Washington among this group.

Steven Black, WR, Memphis
Jeff Bradley, DT, Western Carolina
Mark Estermeyer, LS, Pittsburgh
Ramon Foster, OT, Tennessee
Cedric Goodman, WR, Georgia
Tyler Grisham, WR, Clemson
Tom Korte, LB, Hillside (Mich.)
Kevin McCabe, QB, California (Pa.)
Steve McLendon, DT, Troy
Isaac Redman, RB, Bowie State
Mike Reilly, QB, Central Washington State
Derrick Richardson, S, New Mexico State
Andrew Schantz, LB, Portland State

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wonderlic scores of the Steelers' draft picks

For what it's worth, following are the Wonderlic scores of the players selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2009 NFL draft. Most prospects take the test twice; the first number is the total number of correct answers (out of 50) on the first administration of the test. The second number is the total number of correct answers on the test administered at the Combine. DNT stands for "did not test"

1. Ziggy Hood (18, 21)
2. Kraig Urbik (28, 31)
3. Mike Wallace (DNT, 19)
4. Keenan Lewis (10, 14)
5. Joe Burnett (9, 12)
6. Frank Summers (unknown)
7. Ra'Shon "Sonny" Harris (12, 14)
8. A.Q. Shipley (DNT, 40)
9. David Johnson (19, 16)

For reference purposes, the lowest score (this year) of which I'm aware is that of DT Demonte Bolden of Tennessee (who went undrafted), and scored a 5 on his first test. (In fairness, Bolden posted a score of 18 at the Combine.)

As far as I know, the only score better than that of Shipley was that of CB Kevin Barnes out of Maryland (drafted by the Washington Redskins in the third round), who posted a score of 41 at the Combine.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Steelers trade 2nd, 4th round pick to Denver Broncos

Today Pittsburgh traded its second-round pick (#64) and fourth-round pick (#132) to the Broncos in exchange for Denver's two third-round picks (#79 and #84). As a result, Pittsburgh will now have three choices in tomorrow's third round (including its own 3rd-rounder, #96). The draft resumes at 9 a.m. (Eastern) on Sunday.


Hines Ward, Steelers agree on extension

Best news of the day is that WR Hines Ward will have the chance to retire as a Steeler, having agreed to a four- or five-year contract extension that virtually assures he will never play for another team. The deal should also give the Steelers much-needed cap relief, as Ward was scheduled to earn $5.8 million in salary in 2009 with a cap number of $8.55 million.


Steelers select Evander 'Ziggy' Hood

With the last pick of the first round the Steelers selected Evander 'Ziggy' Hood, DT, Missouri. Although he played inside at Missouri, he'll no doubt be a defensive end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Steelers sign CB Keiwan Ratliff

Today the Steelers signed free-agent CB Keiwan Ratliff to a one-year contract, perhaps lessening the chances that Pittsburgh will select a cornerback on the first day of the draft. The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Ratliff in the second round in 2004; he has been a backup for most of his career, which has also included stints with Tampa Bay and Indianapolis.


Offensive linemen the Steelers might draft

Guest post by Nick Beckwith ...

Last year’s offensive line performance was, as the Emperor Chaz might put it, “want.” Offensive line is not the Steelers’ only need, of course, and in fairness the line did play significantly better as the season went on. But for the Steelers to defend their Super Bowl title or build and maintain a foundation for success over the next few years the O-line must improve. Dramatically.

My analysis will focus on players the Steelers can get at #32 (or in later rounds). Left tackles Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe would be too expensive to trade up for, and will be long gone before the end of the first round. Many have wondered where Ole Miss LT Michael Oher, [subject of the book "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis] will go? I would guess somewhere between #12 and #20, probably out of range to trade up for even if the Steelers wanted him. Like many of the professional scouts, I admire Oher and consider his story to be quite moving, but I am not crazy about his game (too much finesse). James Harrison (who uses a low, leveraged, bull rush) is the kind of player that would give Oher fits on the next level.

The only first round tackle Pittsburgh could reasonably hope to acquire is Eben Britton (Arizona). Britton is a better football player than athlete with a great work ethic and competitiveness. Nonetheless, he has reasonably quick feet and a year in the Steelers’ weight room would improve his already good hand punch. He might start ahead of Willie Colon right now and has the potential to start at right tackle for ten years. Philadelphia’s trade for tackle Jason Peters earlier this week makes Britton’s acquisition by the Steelers at least plausible, if not likely.

Many draft guides regard this as a terrible year for offensive guards. In my opinion, the prognosticators are wrong. There are a number of good guard prospects, it’s just that many of them played center or tackle in college. The one that I have rated most highly (and could start in place of RG Darnell Stapleton) is Alex Mack, a center from the University of California. Mack has great intensity, good footwork, a good hand punch and a killer instinct. What he doesn't have is ideal core strength, so he struggles against large nose tackles if he does not get a good initial ‘fit’ on his man at the snap. He also winds up on the ground occasionally because he whiffs at second level defenders in an effort to deliver a kill shot. Nonetheless, I view him as the best prospects at his position and with his work ethic and commitment, one of the safest selections in the draft.

Another late first round guard-center prospect is Eric Wood (Louisville). He had some success blocking nose tackle prospects B.J. Raji and Ron Brace at the Senior Bowl (Raji is compared by many to the Chargers' Jamal Williams and our own Casey Hampton). This illustrates the difference between he and Mack. Wood has a bit more core strength, and is better able to straight ahead block powerful defensive lineman. However, he is not as mobile and less able to pull and pick off downfield defenders.

Penn State center A.Q. Shipley is another notable player, and will be available on the second day of the draft. This is because he has limited versatility, center being the only O-line position he is likely to be able to play at the NFL level. Shipley (6-1, 301, 5.2) is smart and makes all the line calls. He has good technique, athleticism, and fantastic upper body strength (39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press at the Combine). So what's the problem? He is too small. There is concern that big defensive tackles will be able to ‘walk him back’ in pass protection and that his short arms will leave him unable to fend off pass rushers. But so-called overachievers like Shipley have traditionally done well in the NFL, particularly on the offensive line. He is worth a fourth round pick. Unfortunately, Kevin Colbert has made no secret of how much he likes this kid, so that might force the Steelers to spend a higher pick than they would like. (Honesty is the greatest sin an NFL personnel man can commit.) And it’s uncharacteristic of Colbert, who is usually wonderfully tight lipped and noncommittal.

An interesting big school ‘sleeper’ is Xavier Fulton (6-4, 302, 4.91) out of Illinois. A tremendous athlete with exceptional speed for the position, Xavier played left tackle for little more than a year; previously he was a defensive end. He’s not yet strong or experienced enough to start; in fact he is at least two years of good coaching and weight room work before being able to start. But he has athletic ability rarely found at his size and could be a prototypical left tackle if he works and studies hard and is diligent in the weight room. A boom or bust pick, I expect another team may grab him higher than the Steelers would be willing to, but he is intriguing and if he can translate his potential into production he could be a regular at the Pro Bowl. A third- to fifth-round pick perhaps.

T. J. Lang (6-5, 305, 5.21) of Eastern Michigan lacks Fulton’s inherent athleticism, and has only faced small school competition, but he brings the heat and leaves everything he has on the field. Lang has the height and arm length to play right tackle, but not the feet to play on the left side. While it is unclear how high his ceiling is, his dedication makes him the kind of player one wants on the roster, both for his character and his ability to play multiple O-line positions. He’s believed to be a fourth- to sixth-round pick.

Meanwhile, Andy Levitre (6-3, 305, 5.29) of Oregon State is a left tackle who has everything but power. He makes line calls, has excellent technique in pass blocking and in run blocking, has short area quickness and setup, and is adept at pulling and nailing second level defenders. Moreover, most evaluators feel he is versatile and athletic enough to play all five offensive line positions. Yet he doesn’t bring a lot of thump, something that is more critical in the AFC North than in some other divisions. A fine football player, but the Steelers’ offensive line coaches will have to make the final determination on whether his skills suit Pittsburgh’s scheme or if he would be better off in a zone (read finesse) scheme. A second- or third-round prospect, but in what system does he fit?

Fianlly, Dallas Reynolds (6-4, 314, 5.4) of BYU is unlikely to become a starter, but a will be a good contributor, the kind of guy a shrewd scout wants to acquire. He's intense, smart, and has good size. But he has slow hands and feet and can be walked back by a bull rush. Yet he has played every position on the offensive line; we are talking about the ultimate sixth lineman or ‘swing man.’ Depth is hard to come by in the modern NFL and players like Reynolds demonstrate how good decision making matters, even in the later rounds and free agency. Reynolds should go in either the sixth- or seventh-round or be a priority free agent.

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OL prospects that are wrong for the Steelers

Guest post by Nick Beckwith ...

There are a number of offensive line prospects that have generated considerable national press that would seem to be a poor fit for the Steelers’ scheme, flawed in some crucial way, or just plain overrated. Here are a few:

Center Max Unger (6-5, 309, 5.29) of the University of Oregon. Unger is tabbed as Pittsburgh’s first pick in many mock drafts, but I don’t see it. I watched him closely in the Senior Bowl, where he played alongside Alex Mack. Unger had a horrible game and could not deal with the kind of bull rush he would see on a regular basis in the AFC North. A smart, hardworking player, but he belongs in a zone blocking scheme.

Center-guard prospect Antoine Caldwell (6-3, 309, 5.19) out of Alabama, is well liked by some scouts but not by me. Good technique but a “slow-twitch” athlete, his good 40 yard dash time notwithstanding. In the NFL, I fear speed rushers would simply shoot the gaps on him.

Guard Duke Robinson (6-5, 329, 5.29) and tackle Phil Loadholt (6-8, 332, 5.54), both of Oklahoma, can be considered together. There is no nice way to say this but both these guys are lazy. They do not train to capitalize on their considerable natural gifts, and they tend to tail off and give up big plays in the fourth quarter. Maybe a good coach could motivate these two but I, like the Emperor Chaz, prefer guys who motivate themselves. The success of the Patriots and the Steelers and the failure of the Cowboys in the last decade show that character, commitment, intensity and teamwork trump talent.

Meanwhile, guard-tackle Andre Smith (6-4, 332, 5.4e) from the University of Alabama is a great inline blocker with extraordinary power, but has done little to build on his inherent abilities.

Finally, Herman Johnson (6-7, 370, 5.56) is a king-size guard prospect out of LSU, the same school that produced Alan Faneca. If there’s one thing Johnson has it’s size. In fact, he is thought to be one of the largest babies ever born in Louisiana (15 lbs, 14 ounces). I admit I kinda like Herman; he seems like sort of an entertaining, goofy dude. But he has no stamina, no speed and his weight has been known to balloon over 400 pounds. Football is a big man’s game but also a game of movement.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Steelers player injures right arm in offseason motorcycle accident?

It's strange that this escaped the media's notice until now, but today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that long-snapper Jared Retkofsky apparently arrived at yesterday’s voluntary workout with his right arm in a sling “following surgery after a motorcycle accident.” No doubt we’ll hear more about the incident in the coming days, especially in light of recent Steelers’ history. Certainly, the injury further jeopardizes Retkofsky’s chances of holding onto the Steelers’ long-snapping job.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bengals claim Gary Russell

It didn't take long for ex-Steelers RB Gary Russell to find a new home. Pittsburgh released Russell on Thursday; the Cincinnati Bengals claimed him on waivers on Friday.

Well, if nothing else, at least one player on the Bengals' roster will have a Super Bowl ring.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Steelers' 2009 strength of schedule

In 2008 the Steelers faced the most difficult schedule in the league - actually, the most difficult schedule in the NFL in decades. This coming year Pittsburgh faces one the easier schedules in the NFL (29th among 32 teams, in terms of strength of schedule) as its opponents have a mere .434 winning percentage. In fact, only the Packers, Vikings and Bears have a lighter slate of games.

Monday, April 13, 2009

James Harrison signs extension with Steelers

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, James Harrison has signed a contract extension with the Steelers that will pay him $51.75 million over six years. The deal includes $20 million in bonus money.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Report: Steelers offer Leftwich a two-year contract

Good news. Word is that the Steelers have offered backup QB Byron Leftwich a two-year contract. Hopefully, Leftwich will sign it. Of course, Leftwich's signing would most likely mean the end of road for Charlie Batch, though it seems possible that the team would offer Batch a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. It's difficult to imagine how he would beat out Leftwich and second-year man Dennis Dixon for a roster spot, however.

I know there are some Steelers' fans who believe that Batch is a better backup than Leftwich, but I totally disagree. In terms of ability, Leftwich is a better QB than the starters on at least a half-dozen teams. It's just that in the past, Leftwich's lack of durability has been known to affect his play (a big reason why he's not a good option as a starting QB), but durability shouldn't be much of an issue if he only starts or appears in a handful of games per season.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

No national championship for Carlee Roethlisberger

For a while there, it seemed as if Carlee Roethlisberger - a sophomore forward on Oklahoma University's women's basketball team - might follow in her big brother's footsteps and win a championship in 2009. But it seems it wasn't meant to be, as the Sooners were upset earlier this evening by Louisville in the national semifinals.

However, the loss is most significant for Oklahoma's senior center Courtney Paris (daughter of former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Bubba Paris), who last month guaranteed that the Sooners would win the national championship, and that if they didn't, she would repay the cost of her entire four-year athletic scholarship.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

New York Giants release Plaxico Burress

This afternoon the New York Giants announced that they released WR Plaxico Burress. Any Steelers' fans wish they could have him back? Or would you rather do without? Here's the latest Associated Press report.

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