Thursday, February 7, 2013

Whether Offense Or Defense, Steelers Need Playmakers

by Jason and Jayden

If you watched the Super Bowl a few days ago, you probably noticed that, despite whatever differences, there were two things that both teams had in common: speed and playmakers.

The trends and rules of the current NFL make it so that no one should even expect to have real success without them. Whether Colin Kaepernick, Joe Flacco, Navarro Bowman, Paul Kruger, Frank Gore, Ed Reed, etc..., he list goes on for both teams. Look at the NFL's version of the final four, as well as the rest of the playoff teams, and numerous playmakers could be rattled off.

Now turn your attention to your Pittsburgh Steelers and see how many you can name who were true playmakers. Ben Roethlisberger? Definitely. Lawrence Timmons? For the most part, sure. Troy Polamalu or James Harrison? Maybe - at least when available or healthy. But, like Mr. Tony says, that's it. That's the list.

The dearth of speed and playmakers, reliable and consistent ones, was an issue for the Steelers last season and could be a real problem next season considering who all may be lost in free agency. Just as speed kills, the lack of it does also. - http://tinyurl.com/avkosga

Wednesday morning, Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider tweeted from his Twitter (@jimwexell) account: "Stop mocking these for #Steelers: {linebacker Alec} Ogletree, {nose tackle John} Jenkins, {linebacker Jarvis*} Jarvus Jones. Not that there's anything wrong with UGA. players.” (Brackets ours)

He then followed that immediately with: "Start looking at this guy instead: Tavon Austin. #Steelers”

We already have, Jim. If It Ain't Steel, being that we're WVU Mountaineers fans as it is and saw every game of his, provided a breakdown of Tavon "Awesome" in a previous article. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/01/do-kevin-colberts-comments-give-insight.html

As we stated in that posting, Austin is fast, quick, elusive and lined up at wide receiver, in the slot, as a returner and as a running back. When watching him play, it was often like looking at the old Bugs Bunny baseball cartoons where it was "Bugs Bunny: shortstop; Bugs Bunny: left field; Bugs Bunny: right field; Bugs Bunny: centerfield..."

Basically, like what Chris Rainey was supposed to have been last season. As well, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders were supposed to be some of the best playmakers in the league. Instead they dropped the ball - literally and figuratively. And as Brown told KDKA-TV recently, since he wants to be a Steeler for life, he and "guys like myself...we have to take this team to the next level." - http://tinyurl.com/ar7lme6

Austin is a perfect example of what the Steelers could use, as a compliment or a replacement, in their lineup. He's in high demand, though, so they must have other options in place as contingencies. One player who used the Senior Bowl to become several teams' main choice or contingency is Texas Longhorns wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.

SportsDayDFW offered this regarding Goodwin: "NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah compiled his list of Senior Bowl risers and sliders, and former Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is one who’s made quite the impression.

'Every time Goodwin lines up for a repetition in one-on-ones, there is a hush in the crowd,' Jeremiah writes. 'NFL evaluators have been intoxicated by his explosiveness off the line of scrimmage and ability to find another gear when the ball is in the air. He has been caught up in press coverage a few times this week, but his overall performance has left quite an impression on clubs in need of a home-run hitter at receiver.'"

For some reason, Goodwin only had 33 touches on offense all season for Texas, and that includes 13 carries. But he made those touches count. In spades. There were a couple of games in particular where this human pinball machine was directly responsible for the TILT of his opponents.

Goodwin, a 10.4 100-meter speedster and Olympic long jumper, had five total touches for 132 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon State, and another four touches for 182 yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss. Included in those stats were TD runs of 64 and 69 yards respectively. Definitely underutilized, but it could be a blessing in disguise if the Steelers are interested and are able to pick him up. - http://tinyurl.com/agg6txu

Since Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin values versatility, each of these players fits to a tee.

With all that speed a splash-play making ability on offense, someone has to be able to keep up on defense. The Steelers were bereft of an abundance of playmakers there too. This year's NFL Draft offers viable options for being that playmaker stopper. One who comes to mind is a safety we've highlighted before. Now, though, we offer him as the very solution to the "awesome" WVU player we so covet.

Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro has size, speed and athleticism and was on the short list of the best safeties in the Big-12 last season. He earned First Team all-conference honors while tackling 82 ball carriers, eight for a loss, recording two sacks, breaking up eight passes and intercepting two more.

That alone makes him worth a look. But, as we said earlier, we didn't miss one WVU game, so we know first-hand what Vaccaro is capable of doing. As does Tavon Austin.

When the Longhorns and Mountaineers met in week five of the college football season, Vaccaro lined up primarily against Austin. Much to the dismay of many Mountaineers fans, turning "awesome" into just "Aww..." A breakdown of the spread offense stopper's performance is provided here: http://www.rotoworld.com/articles/cfb/41661/321/kenny-vaccaro-spread-stopper

Don't tell Wexell, but on top of providing a Tavon stopper, we're also going back to Georgia. With the size and speed to play either safety position, Bacarri Rambo is a player who could possibly interest the Steelers.

The 6'0" 210-pound run stuffer is also a coverage guy who runs a 4.5 in the 40. At Georgia, he had 162 tackles (110 solo) and 16 interceptions. Rambo is a first blood type of player who fits the physical style of the Steelers defense.

Be it on defense or on offense, though, speedy playmakers are definitely needed. Because it's kill or be killed.

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TIDBITS: NFL Live on Wednesday suggested that free agent Reggie Bush could be picked up by the Steelers. With new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, jr. wanting athletic linemen who can play in space, that would lend itself to obviously having a running back who can play in space and run intelligently between the tackles.

It's at least plausible when you consider that with 443 carries for 2,072 (a 4.67 yards-per-carry average) and 12 touchdowns, by himself he surpasses the three "feature" backs for the Steelers the last two seasons. Between themselves, Rashard Mendenhall (2011) and Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman (2012) accumulated 494 carries for only 1,961 yards (3.93 YPC) and 13 touchdowns.

Bush is also a very dangerous receiver out of the backfield and returner. Best of all, after seven seasons in the NFL he's just 27 years old.

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley had a similar player in Dexter McCluster when he was the coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. As stated earlier, the Steelers drafted Rainey to be a similar player, so they clearly want that explosive, versatile player. Either Austin, Goodwin or Bush could fill the need for speed and versatility.

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Speaking of Rainey, he cleared waivers on Tuesday. The Steelers released him after the Super Bowl, but none of the other 31 NFL teams wanted to gamble (pun intended) on taking him. - http://tinyurl.com/b3hbdh3

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According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the 2013 salary cap will be $121.1 million and not barely-over $120.9 million as had been reported previously. Also, as Pro Football Talk reported, the Steelers also have a credit of $758,000 which is a carry-over of unused cap space from 2012. This is more than was originally reported, as we posted in a blog about a month ago. - http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/02/06/team-by-team-cap-adjustments-for-2013/