Sunday, March 30, 2014

Secondary May Be Key, But Steelers Cannot Neglect Defensive Line

After the end of the annual Beefcake Bonanza, aka the NFL Scouting Combine, If It Ain't Steel started to write several articles covering the Pittsburgh Steelers' positions of need in May's NFL Draft.

We wrote about the Steelers' needs at both linebacker spots. Needs that were quelled somewhat by the signing of Arthur Moats whose proclivity is particularly on the outside, though he is versatile enough to play inside as well. -

Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, exit stage left. Enter understudy sophomore wideout Markus Wheaton and veteran Lance Moore. They can also further deepen the position in a big way with possible draft selections like Mike Evans, Martavis Bryant, Jordan Matthews or maybe even an Eric Ebron. -

We also covered the possibility of drafting a safety, though that is now unlikely, at least in the first several rounds, with the Steelers grabbing former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell in free agency. -

That, along with the re-signing of free safety Will Allen, the restructuring of strong safety Troy Polamalu, and Polamalu's heir apparent in Shamarko Thomas, allows the Steelers to focus elsewhere in the draft.

Mitchell's signing and then also that of defensive tackle Cam Thomas effectively takes players like Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and Louis Nix III off the board for the Steelers at the 15th pick. That leaves said focus to be on the position of cornerback. -

The need to get better in the secondary can't be overstated, as the Steelers were tied for 5th in the NFL for the fewest takeaways in 2013 with 20 and even worse in interceptions with 10 only. So, for now, the piece we wrote on whom we believe best fits the Steelers' scheme at cornerback seems now to be even more relevant. 

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin certainly believes that the secondary is a key area of need, though he isn't neglecting the rest of the defense. He understands the need to be flexible in the way they attack. 

“We have to be multiple,” Tomlin said at the owners meetings this past week. “We have to be capable of providing pressure, but more importantly than that, [we] have to be able to provide pressure with four [players] or less. I think that’s what gives you the flexibility to be something to deal with.” (brackets ours)

The reason he says they have to be able to pressure with four or fewer players is because of the increase in sub packages because of pass-happy offenses. 

“I think in today’s NFL it’s about situational football and what offenses do, and how many receivers they have on the field,” Tomlin also said. “Often times, we spend a lot of time in sub-package football, whether you are a 3-4 or a 4-3. In today’s NFL, most times you have five or six defensive backs on the field.”

Whether in the Nickel, Dime or Quarters packages, the Steelers did have as many as six defensive backs on the field between 60%-65% of the time in 2013. A definite increase over previous years and one that causes defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to construct a speed bump to slow these high-powered offenses. 

"You're going to see these up-tempo offenses more and more across the league," said LeBeau in an offseason interview. "So very early during our practice sessions, the offense will go a lot of no-huddle attack so our guys get comfortable with not only their up-tempo conditioning, but they get comfortable with the mechanics of getting the call relayed when you can't get huddled up. You need to practice that because the up-tempo is another tool offenses have now to pressure defenses."

This means that holding the point of attack becomes even more paramount. So does, as Tomlin alluded to, doing the same or more with less. The core of any and all teams lie in the offensive and defensive lines. The defensive line, therefore, definitely needs to be addressed. -

As was said before, such a pick won't happen very early in the draft. There is, however, value to be found as early as the third and as late as the sixth round. Look, in that case, for names such as:

Daniel McCullers, DT/DE, Tennessee: 6'7", 352 LBs, 225-LB Bench Press 27 reps (3th-4th Round) - McCullers is big for even NFL standards. He isn't overly quick or explosive, and is about four or five inches too tall for a nose tackle in the Steelers scheme. However, he is a very good athlete for his size, moves his feet well in space and plugs holes well. With nine picks in May's draft, it could be worth taking a trip to Mount McCullers. -

JUSTIN ELLIS, (pictured) DT/NT, Louisiana Tech: 6'2", 334 LBs, Bench 25 reps (3rd-4th Round) - "I love playing nose tackle," says Ellis. The true NT has quick and active hands to ward off blockers, and a thick-but-agile lower body that makes it tough for blockers to keep hold of him, per Dane Brugler of Think Joel Steed or Casey Hampton. -

Ryan Carrethers, DT, Arkansas State: 6'1", 337 LBs, Bench 32 reps (5th-6th Round) - 2013 All-Sun Belt 1st Team and a real value pick for the Steelers if he falls to one of their four selections 5th and 6th rounds. -

Deandre Coleman, DE, California: 6'5", 314 LBs, Bench 24 reps (5th-6th Round) - A DE in an NFL 3-4 defense, Coleman has the power and athleticism that Steelers D-Line coach John Mitchell can definitely use to mold. And as states, "Coleman's value in the NFL will come as a run-stuffing presence." -

Holding the point of attack, rushing the quarterback and creating turnovers is what is basically being said and what was once the core of the Steelers defense. 

These free agent moves juxtaposed by a mirror-like draft can be the petard which hoists them back there - with the fuse being lit by the defensive line.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Steelers Attack Offseason With Blount Force Object

Let me be Blount...the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be very serious about ending their streak of 8-8 seasons at two. Very serious. 

First, the Steelers signed safety Mike Mitchell formerly of the Carolina Panthers on the very first day of Free Agency. Not long after, they signed defensive tackle Cam Thomas (Chargers), wide receiver Lance Moore (Saints) and then linebacker Arthur Moats (Bills).

Now, true to the Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson's words that they'd have a veteran running back to help Le'Veon Bell by Friday, they have signed LeGarrette Blount. Thanks, in part to former Steelers draftee Patrick Bailey. (More on that in a minute.)

Per ESPN's Adam Schefter in a post on Twitter (@AdamSchefter), "Steelers gave RB LeGarrette Blount a two-year, $3.85M deal, including a $950K signing bonus." 

In a recent blog article, If It Ain't Steel referred to Blount as "battering ram" and a "Blount Force Object." The 27-year-old is just that as he ran for 772 yards last season with the New England Patriots. Those yards came on just 153 carries. That's a 5.04 yards per carry average. 

Blount is a strong, physical force. Just ask Byron Hout. -

That marred Blount early on, showing a temper that got him suspended and also pushed him out of the 2010 NFL Draft. Blount, who had been projected to be a 5th-round draft prospect, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans. But after initially making the Titan's roster, they waived him to make room for needed linebacker help. One of those LBs was Patrick Bailey.

Blount was claimed off of waivers by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had a 1,000-yard rookie campaign. Two subsequent inconsistent seasons led him to being picked up by the Patriots - a move that paid off for both parties. 

Now the Steelers make it official that they have signed the 6'1", 250-pound back. -

The divisional-round domination of the Indianapolis Colts (24 carries for 166 yards) shows the potentially unstoppable combination of he and Bell. ("Killa B's"..."Bash Brothas"..."Bangers Ball"..."Blount Force Trauma, Inc"...? I'll work on their nickname.)

While Blount may not contribute much in the passing game and has 12 fumbles in four seasons, losing eight, his hard-nose running style (4.7 career YPC) makes for a valuable third-down, short-yardage and goal line ball-carrier. 

Add to that, his propensity for kick returns (29.06 yards per return last season) means an instant return on the Steelers' investment. Both of those traits give the Steelers something they've sorely been needing. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Steelers Talk Free Agency, Lance Moore Signing; Compensatory Picks Awarded

UPDATED: Tuesday, Mar. 25

“We’re right on schedule,” Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Sunday in regard to free agency. 

On Sunday, Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin spoke to the Pittsburgh media, specifically the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac and the Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson, with the subject mainly being free agency. According to Colbert, as the quote above states, the team is right where they want to be in free agency. 

This is what has transpired in free agency to this point:

Signed: S Mike Mitchell (Panthers); DT Cam Thomas (Chargers); WR Lance Moore (Saints); Arthur Moats (Bills).

Lost: DE Ziggy Hood (Jaguars); DE Al Woods (Titans); WR Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos); RB Jonathan Dwyer (Cardinals); TE David Johnson (Chargers); WR Jerricho Cotchery (Panthers).

Re-signed: OLB Jason Worilds (transition tender); FS Will Allen; G/C Cody Wallace; LS Greg Warren; G/T Guy Whimper; TE Michael Palmer.

Cut: LB LaMarr Woodley (Raiders); LB Larry Foote; CB Curtis Brown.

Unsigned: DE Brett Keisel; WR Plaxico Burress; S Ryan Clark; RB Felix Jones; P Mat McBriar; RB LaRod Stephens-Howling; LB Stevenson Sylvester; C Fernando Velasco; LB Jamaal Westerman; C Eric Olsen (ERFA; no tender).

Colbert spoke on several issues, including the loss of veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and the subsequent gain of former New Orleans receiver Lance Moore. 

Of Cotchery Colbert said that "other people saw in him what we did," but that the Panthers offered more than the Steelers could. 

They still lost valuable experience and a valuable role player when Cotch left. Fortunately, they found another on Friday in the form of Moore, signed to a two-year deal, whom Colbert described as a "very smart, experienced receiver...who knows how to work in the slot" as Cotch did. -

The 30-year-old Moore was released by the Saints last season. After just 37 receptions last year when injuries slowed his production, he had averaged 61 receptions per year the previous three seasons.

Colbert also said something to which all Steelers fans should pay attention - there is no need "to panic" about lack of running back depth behind Le'Veon Bell. 

A point which Tomlin reiterated when he spoke with the media Sunday for the first time since the season ended. He was asked about the team's running back situation, specifically Le'Veon Bell and their recent meeting with free-agent running back Maurice Jones-Drew.

"I felt good," Tomlin replied. "We are open to it. I'll stop short of saying 'have to,' but we need to add quality depth to that position, whether it's through free agency or the draft."

Tomlin then elaborated on what he wanted to see happen regarding Bell.

"Le'Veon Bell is a talented player but a young player. It would be good to get a been-there, done-that type of guy in the room to maybe help him with growth and development. But I don't view it as a necessity, quite honestly, because Le'Veon is a very grounded and humble young man and is open to getting better, and is a good listener." -

MJD could definitely be considered to fit the bill as he has been the feature back for most of his eight years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not to mention being somewhat in Bell's position early in his career when was being mentored by running back Fred Taylor.

However, he isn't the only RB who'll be on the South Side this week. The Steelers will also meet with LaGarrette Blount on Friday, after the NFL Meetings end.

The 6'0", 250-pound Blount would seem to fit with the Steelers better than MJD. At least in financial terms. In terms of style, though, Blount fits the what Steelers fans prefer to see. He is a battering ram, a true Blount force object (sorry, couldn't resist).

UPDATE: Speaking from the NFL Meetings again on Tuesday, Tomlin reiterated that the team would be getting depth to complement Bell. Though the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson tweeted (@arobinson_Trib) that the "Steelers likely to have deal with experienced running back by end of week," Tomlin has a broader timetable.

"We need to have depth in that area and we will in the not-too-distant future, whether it's in free agency or the draft." -  


It was announced Monday that the Steelers have been awarded three Compensatory Picks - in the 3rd, 5th and 6th rounds - in May's NFL Draft. This is one more than we had been led to expect, which includes the highest Comp Pick, No. 97 in round three. They now have nine total selections. 

Teams can't receive more than four compensatory picks in a year, as did the New York Jets this year, and the picks cannot be traded.

The formula the NFL uses is a closely guarded secret, but it can be extrapolated based on given data. 

As Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly tweeted Monday (@MarkKaboly_Trib), "Compensatory free agents are determined by formula based on salary, playing time, postseason honors. Not every FA lost or signed applies."

The Steelers lost several free agents in 2013 who factor into the NFL’s compensatory formula. As Steelers PR man Burt Lauten tweeted (@SteelersPRBurt), "Players the @steelers lost as FAs last year that factor into compensatory picks: Wallace, Lewis, Allen, Mendenhall, Mundy & Legursky.”


TIDBITS: Steelers attending North Carolina, Duke, Texas A&M pro days this week. Were at Florida St., Notre Dame and Michigan St. last week. Colbert, Tomlin will likely both be on A&M trip.

Steelers Sign LB Arthur Moats To Strengthen Thin Corps

"I don't want to see anybody hurting and not playing any more....But if he doesn't, and I was the guy to end the streak, all right. That's a little notable, yeah." -

The notable hit in question was to now retired NFL quarterback Brett Favre when the then-Buffalo Bills' linebacker Arthur Moats hit him on the third play from scrimmage in the December 5, 2010 contest against the Minnesota Vikings. He hit him so hard that it ended Favre's streak of NFL starts at 297 consecutive games. 

Moats hit him so hard that Favre even started spelling his own name correctly. 

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Mr. Moats. 

Per Steelers beat writer Gerry Dulac, the Steelers brass had met with Moats before they headed off to Orlando, Florida. 

They have signed him to a one-year contract to strengthen a thin, especially on the outside, linebacking corps. The terms of Moats' deal are $795,000 in total - $730,000 in salary with a $65,000 signing bonus - making them almost even with the NFL Salary Cap (maybe having approximately $250,000 or so to spare) depending on the terms of the Lance Moore deal.

Moats started 12 games at weak-side linebacker for the Bills last season and also played inside at the Buck. Word is that he can play either inside or outside in all four LB positions for the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. 

That is exactly the type of player the Steelers covet: tough, yet position flexible. 

The 26-year-old Moats was selected out of James Madison in the sixth-round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He ran an official 4.64/40 at that year's combine, but his fastest time was a 4.54/40. The 6'0", 250 pounder will be a major contributor on special teams, also. 

At the NFL Meetings in Orlando over the weekend, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin spoke of running back Le'Veon Bell as being "a talented player but a young player. It would be good to get a been-there, done-that type of guy in the room to maybe help him with growth and development."

The same can be said of the Steelers 2013 first-round draft pick, OLB Jarvis Jones. Jones showed flashes of real promise at the end of the season, so a "been-there, done-that" Moats can help in that maturation. 

Moats' addition likely signals the end of the 'James Harrison return' talk, and make the Steelers linebackers group one of the youngest in the league. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Will Recent Free Agency Moves Affect Steelers Drafting Of A Defensive Lineman?

The Pittsburgh Steelers uncharacteristically acted quickly on the first day of free agency to sign safety Mike Mitchell. 

Wait, it gets better.

The Steelers signed yet another free agent on Friday, former San Diego Chargers nose tackle Cam Thomas. The 6'3", 330 pounder will add needed depth on the defensive line. -

We emphasize "depth" here because the Chargers benched the true nose guard late last season, despite having 26 tackles, two passes defended and an interception. If he is in middle, Steve McLendon could move to defensive end. Though, we simply doubt Thomas will step in as starter. 

While, yes, a Casey Hampton-type space eater in middle could upgrade a declining run defense, is today's NFL completely conducive to that? Also, is Thomas even that man? After all, he was benched toward the end of the season. 

One upside to Thomas (@Baby_Zilla76 on Twitter), though, is his age - he just turned 27 years old this past December. So he does at least have youth on his side. 

Still, it doesn't quite balance the losses of free agent defensive ends/nose tackles Al Woods (Tennessee Titans) and Ziggy Hood (Jacksonville Jaguars). Their departure makes the Steelers paper thin across the defensive line, with the biggest loss being Woods, who, in just two starts at nose tackle, still recorded more sacks last season than Jarvis Jones. He has definite upside that was certainly in the team's plans. 

Now, with just Brian Arnfelt, Hebron Fangupo and Nick Williams under contract, the signing of Cam Thomas is a needed depth signing if nothing else. 

I bet Brett Keisel looks a lot more attractive now. (Anybody have Alameda Ta’amu's number?)

Which now begs the question of what the Steelers will do regarding the position in the NFL Draft? 

Since the Steelers strayed somewhat from the norm in free agency, might they do so in May and go after a Louis Nix III? No, we simply don't expect a high pick to be spent on a defensive linemen. Especially if the guys at are correct.

Their interpretation of the new CBA suggests that it limits the number of compensatory picks to the number of teams in the league. As a result, the Steelers may not receive a "net value" pick. This is dependent, naturally, "on how the NFL values the qualifying players, and which of the qualifying players is used when multiple 7th round value players are involved. One of the earlier listed teams could lose their pick instead."

If the Steelers are one of the earlier listed teams, they may not be compensated for the loss of safety Ryan Mundy. That would mean the Steelers would need to get as much value in each round as possible.

As far as the defensive line is concerned, that could mean players such as Daniel McCullers (3th-4th round), Justin Ellis (4th-5th round), Ryan Carrethers (5th-6th round) or Deandre Coleman (6th round). But, more on them in a later article.

Instead, therefore, look for the Steelers to keep going right along with their original plans. They have been reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac to want a big/big-play receiver in the first or second round. That won't change.

Speaking of receivers, per Joe Person, the Carolina Panthers beat writer for the Charlotte Observer, on his Twitter (@josephperson) account Monday: "Jerricho Cotchery's free agent trip to Charlotte began tonight with dinner with Ron Rivera and Mike Shula. Continues tomorrow. #courting.” 

As a way of free agency balance, what do the Steelers do? Bring in another free agent. reported that the Steelers will host former New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore on Tuesday. 

Business as usual this offseason. 


TIDBITS: “@steelers: We have re-signed veteran offensive lineman Guy Whimper.


We expect Cam Thomas' contract to be somewhere in the realm of two years, $2-$3 million with a minor signing bonus.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Steelers Sign Free Agent S Mike Mitchell; Latest On Salary Cap

UPDATED: 3/12/14
After two seasons of being in rarely-traveled waters, the Pittsburgh Steelers took measures to counter going into rarely-traveled waters.

On the first day of free agency, the Steelers unexpectedly dove into the free agent pool and signed former Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers safety, Mike Mitchell. 

The 6'1", 216-pound Mitchell, 26, was drafted by the Raiders in 2009 and spent his first four seasons in Oakland. He saw his best season in 2013, though, after signing a one-year deal with the Panthers. A first-time starter, Mitchell recorded 72 tackles, 10 passes defenses, four interceptions and two forced fumbles in 13 starts (15 games total) on the NFL's No. 2 defense.

This is a day after the Steelers announced other transactions affecting their secondary as cornerback Ike Taylor accepted a pay cut to stay with the Steelers. A cut from his original $7 million salary to $2.75 million, which saves the team $4.25 million in Salary Cap room.

Taylor's Cap hit was lowered to $7.692 million, down from $11.942 million. Meaning the Steelers started the day at approximately $7.3 million under the Cap.

Also on Monday, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley was released with a June 1st designation. Officially released Tuesday, Woodley is now free to sign with another team, but the Steelers won't benefit from the $8 million Cap savings until June 2nd. He also carries a $5.59 million dead money hit this year and $8.58 million in 2015.

The aforementioned amount made it possible to sign Mitchell. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the "Steelers gave former Panthers S Mike Mitchell a five-year, $25 million deal, per source." If It Ain't Steel is expecting $7.5-$10 million guaranteed. UPDATE: Per ESPN's David Todd, it carried a $5.25 million with a $4.75 million signing bonus prorated over five years. He will count $2.2 million against the Cap this year.

Mitchell's receiving what basically can be considered a starter's contract means that he will replace free safety Ryan Clark in the Steelers secondary.

He will replace RC25 in more ways than one: he's a hard-hitting player who can play both safety positions and is adept at getting to the quarterback. According to Pro Football Focus, he is "one of the best blitzing safeties in the league, generating 11 pressures and four sacks on just 23 pass rushes.”

Mitchell was ranked as PFF's 10th best FA safety on the market. In their ranking they also speak on his shortcomings in writing that he has "major questions against the run. No safety missed more tackles than his 18.” -

Most of that can be chalked up to aggression, however, as Mitchell is known to look for the big hit.

Despite his four interceptions, he isn't a great cover guy. Good, but not great. His 4.39/40 speed does help, however.

Still, Troy Polamalu seems to be the Steelers better safety in coverage, therefore. Since defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau likes to use his safeties interchangeably, don't expect a move from strong safety to FS for Polamalu. Though it will allow him to step outside the box (no pun intended), as he had the most snaps among safeties in the box at 79.8%.

His addition, plus the presence of recently re-signed Will Allen and 2nd-year man Shamarko Thomas takes away safety as a position of need in the draft.


TIDBITS: Steelers finally announce the re-signing of safety Will Allen. The Steelers also announced the signing of C/G Cody Wallace to a three-year contract, which likely sounds the death knell of C/G Fernando Velasco, and of 10-year veteran Long Snapper Greg Warren. Term have to be disclosed.


Defensive end Al Woods will visit the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday.UPDATED: Per Ed Bouchette, Woods has signed with the Titans.


Don't assume the Steelers are done for now, though. If the Steelers stay in the free agent waters, their next move might be a backstroke to a linebacker.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Steelers Post-Combine NFL Draft Look - Big-Play Receivers; Reality Of A Restructure

Toward the end of February, If It Ain't Steel wrote a mini-preview of possible wide receivers the Pittsburgh Steelers might look to in the NFL Draft. The thought behind it being that the organization is looking to get a big target this May. -

There is no doubt that the draft is teeming with BIG-time talent. And with the departure of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders being imminent, the need to get a reliable and, as we quoted Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac as saying, a "big" or at least a "big-play" receiver.

In the weeks since writing that, though, I've fallen out of love with Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin, but only with regard to the Steelers. "A rare combination of size (6'5", 240 LBs, 4% body fat) and speed (4.61/40)....(who is) a physical mismatch vs. defensive backs and linebackers" is someone who'll still likely go in the first round.

Just not for the Steelers.

We say that partly because if the Steelers' plethora of needs on defense - so if a WR is drafted first, he'd better be game-ready.

But we say it mainly because of the raw aspect of his game, including his propensity for drops, that lends itself to more of a bottom of the 1st-round selection. We in no way think he'll be a bust (Jerry Rice had a problem with drops in college too), just that he may not be the best fit for the Steelers.

With Antonio Brown and soon-to-be re-signed Jerricho Cotchery being the only wide receivers to be counted on, and Heath Miller being the only true tight end receiving option, who do the Steelers turn to as those potential game-ready candidates come May?

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: 6'5", 231 LBs, 4.53/40, 37" vertical jump, 65 receptions, 1,322 yards, 12 touchdowns (1st round) - On March 5, Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle tweeted (@ChronBrianSmith) that he hears that Evans hears he's a top-five guy: "#Texas A&M's Mike Evans said he's hearing more and more he could be a top-10 pick in #NFL draft. Met with 20 teams at combine."

If so, that's bad for the Steelers. If It Ain't Steel has thought this all along, however. Thus our initial push for Benjamin. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will be (long) off the board by the time the Steelers select, but Evans just might be around still. Playing the type of offense he did with the type of quarterback that he did, he is the most likely candidate should the Steelers go that route in round one. -

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: 6'4", 250 LBs, 4.60/40, 24 reps/225-LB Bench Press, 62 rec, 973 yds, three TDs (1st round) - I know, Ebron isn't a WR, but he is both a "big" target and capable of the "big play." Just as importantly, he can block...and Heath isn't getting any younger.

If Evans is already gone by the 15th pick, don't be surprised if the Steelers feel the best player available is a versatile, mismatch-making tight end. -

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State: 6'2 1/2", 220 LBs, 4.60/40, 39" VJ, 97 rec., 1,432 yds, 6 TDs (2nd round) - Per Frank Cooney of The Sport Exchange, Robinson is a "fluid athlete for his size with room to get stronger. Deceptive acceleration with sharp cuts to be a dangerous catch-and-go pass catcher. Physical ball carrier with balance and body strength to shake off defenders and pick up chunks of yards after contact." The biggest question surrounding him is if he has enough speed (4.60/40) to separate from NFL defensive backs. -

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: 6'3", 212 LBs, 4.46/40, 35.5 VJ, 112 rec, 1,477 yds, 7 TDs, (2nd round) - Matthews' final two seasons with Vandy were prolific. He finished as the SEC's all-time leader with 262 catches and 3,759 yards. Per, Matthews has a "chiseled frame (and)...size/speed combination along with his hand/eye coordination and body control makes him an attractive prospect, showing the ability to make plays at all levels of the field and do damage after the catch."

The cousin of NFL legend Jerry Rice, who shined at the Senior Bowl, is strong (21 reps of the 225-pound bench press), has a long stride and can take a quick swing pass and go the distance. According to's Chase Goodbread, "he's a big-time prospect." -

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss: 6'2", 221 LBs, 4.4/40, 39.5 VJ, 59 rec, 938 yds, 6 TDs (2nd-3rd round) - Between game play and highlights, what jumps off the screen (no pun intended) and what tips the scale for me with Moncrief is his hops, his vertical leap. His ball-tracking ability and catching apex make him dangerous and highly desirable. Then when doing research on him, one word used often in describing his play was "sudden." -

And while this won't be the only piece we do on possible WR draft picks, it covers the ones we expect we might see taken at the top of the draft. To then sum up, the one we would most like to see in Black and Gold is...

Martavis Bryant (pictured), WR, Clemson: 6'4", 211 LBs, 4.42/40, 39" VJ, 42 rec, 828 yds, 7 TDs, (2nd-3rd round) - "He is a terrific athlete with the speed/size combination to create mismatches at all levels of the field." - Dane Brugler

Bryant was overshadowed all season by teammate Watkins, but he made the most of his opportunities late in the year, including in the Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State when he scored two red-zone touchdowns.

Point blank, Bryan is tall, lithe, has long arms (32 5/8"), is flat out fast (had unofficial 4.34/40) and can jump out of the building. He has short-area burst for short and intermediate routes, but also has the body control and long strides to take the tops off of defenses. Needs to learn to catch better with his hands instead of his body to overcome his drops, but that's pretty much the worst that can be said about him. -

~ Addendum ~ There are certainly other top-flight possibilities. Ones such as USC's Marqise Lee (6'0", 192 LBs, 4.52/40, 38" vertical jump), LSU's Odell Beckham, jr. (5'11", 198, 4.43/40, 38.5 VJ), Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (5'9 3/4", 189, 4.33/40, 36" VJ) and Fresno State's Devante Adams (6'1" 212 LBs, 4.56/40, 39.5) are all smooth, shifty, speedy athletes with burst and separation ability for the big play. (They all are also possibilities, we just don't feel they're probabilities.) In other words, they're each another Antonio Brown and potentially Markus Wheaton. We believe the Steelers will look to go away form that in this draft and look toward a little more size.


Speaking of Antonio Brown... Let's get one thing straight: players are neither in any way doing anything special, in any way magnanimous, nor especially loyal to their teams when they restructure. This is just as true with AB. All he did was take a check. Albeit one that now has the Steelers at approximately $3 million under the Salary Cap.

The restructure, for want of a lengthy explanation, is mainly an accounting measure. The team is allowed to turn a certain percentage (I believe up to approximately 90%) of the earnings a player would get for a season into a bonus that is paid as a lump sum.

The team's Salary Cap issues are eased and the player gets a new Escalade and matching suit. That's it. Nothing more (on the players' parts), nothing less (on the teams' parts).

So stop deifying the players when all they're doing is lining their pockets.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Look At Steelers Linebackers And Post-Combine Draft Possibles

 Do one thing and do it better than anyone else - Anonymous

Blitzburgh. Linebacker, Inc. Whatever you want to call them, the Pittsburgh Steelers' linebackers have terrorized NFL offenses for much of the last quarter of a century. 

The Steelers have run the 3-4 defense continually since 1982, but returned to a particular degree of excellence in 1992 by running a zone-blitzing scheme built around its linebackers. 

Hardy Nickerson. Greg Lloyd. Kevin Greene. Chad Brown. Levon Kirkland. Jason Gildon. Earl Holmes. Joey Porter. James Farrior. Larry Foote. Clark Haggans. James Harrison. LaMarr Woodley. Lawrence Timmons. It's an incredible list of names that any team would love to have as part of its history. 

What is more impressive is that those names only cover the last 25 years - and it isn't even a complete list. There have been some, Mike Vrabel comes to mind, who were lost amongst the depth and left in free agency.

Now, with the aforementioned veteran inside linebacker Foote being released, a new corps of backers takes the field led by Timmons, along with second-year men OLB Jarvis Jones and Buck ILB Vince Williams and new starter OLB Jason Worilds. -

The Steelers overall, though, are thin at a position that used to be a factory unto itself. 

To reignite a flame under the current regime is a man who has never been accused of being politically correct, Joey Porter. -

More is needed, though, to return the team to form. Depth is needed as well. Especially among the outside guys. 

Whereas the ILBs have definite game experience and depth, via Kion Wilson (former failed starter but solid on special teams), Terrance Garvin (saw increased playing time after excelling on ST) and Stevenson Sylvester (provides depth if nothing else), the OLB only boasts fourth-year also-ran Chris Carter. 

Not one of those names scares anyone, nor are any of them true "next man up" candidates. And even though Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette's Gerry Dulac says 3rd-round 2012 NFL Draft choice Sean "Spence is significantly ahead of where the Steelers thought he would be at this point," that still isn't a guarantee. -

Therefore, Linebacker, Inc. will definitely draft a linebacker, the question is, "When will they pull the trigger?"

It is most likely that at least three or four of the top names - Khalil Mack, C.J. Mosley, Anthony Barr, Chris Borland, Ryan Shazier - will be gone by the time the Steelers draft at No. 15. C.J. Mosley, however, has been linked to the them. Because, while Williams was a surprise for a 6th rounder last season, there is always room for improvement. The two-time first-team All-American selection (2012-2013) and 2013 Butkus Award winning Mosley, though who didn't perform all events at the NFL's Beefcake Bonanza, would be just that. 

Also possible, but not probable, is Ohio State's Ryan Shazier who ran an unofficial 4.36/40 at his Pro Day on Friday. Neal Coolong of Behind The Steel Curtain wrote about the chances the Steelers may look his way if his name hadn't been called through the 14th pick. -

Further possible prospects:
Dee Ford, defensive end/OLB, Auburn: 6'2" 244 LBs, 4.53/40, 225-LB Bench Press - 29 reps, 29 Tackles, 14.5 Tackles for Loss, 10.5 Sacks (2nd round) - Will have to gain some bulk to be a consistent terror on the field, and must build his repertoire of moves, but has the frame to build upon and the requisite raw talent to deepen his bag of tricks. -

Kyle Van Noy (pictured), OLB, BYU: 6'3", 243 LBs, 4.71/40, Bench - 21 reps, 68 Tckl, 17.5 TFL, 4 sacks (2nd round) - The BYU defensive coaching staff spent a week with the Steelers last spring. I don't know if that will factor in at all, but the Steelers brass was effusive when speaking about his character. He has an excellent physique and plenty of upside. 

He is no one-hit-wonder, either. According to, in 2012, "Van Noy was the most impressive player on the BYU defense and that includes the 2013 NFL Draft's fifth overall-pick, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah." With no Combine numbers, and before his Pro Day is set, here's how he looked against top-level competition. -

Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama: 6'6", 257 LBs, 4.69/40, 33 Tckl, 5.5 TFL, 3 sacks (4th round) - Hubbard is a solid mid-round pick who could start in the special teams part of the game as he learns. He started at Sam linebacker for the Crimson Tide and did fairly well at the Senior Bowl. But the quick and physical OLB definitely fits well into a 3-4 defense. 

Late-round gem:
Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State: 6'1.5", 260 LBs, 4.86/40, 80 Tckl, 20.5 TFL, 12 sacks (6th-7th round) - In our piece that introduced Joey Porter to the coaching staff, we stated that his "tutelage, assisting the defensive coaches with the team's outside pass rushers, produced significant results for the 2013 Rams..." Including helping Barrett in "winning MW Defensive Player of the Year honors." With Peezy's continued tutelage, this could eventually prove itself to be a steal. -

The talent level at the position drops off after the fourth round. So, outside of Barrett or maybe a Jordan Zumwalt (UCLA - 5th-6th round), if the Steelers want a linebacker for more of an immediate impact to help put the Blitz back in the Burgh, they'll do it before then.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Steelers Extend Miller, Polamalu; Cut Foote In Salary Cap Moves

Everyone just stay calm. What you smell from the South Side is just the smoke coming from the pens of Omar Khan and GM Kevin Colbert as the Pittsburgh Steelers cut costs.

The biggest two names involved in the process are strong safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller as each signed three-year extensions, first reported by NFL Network's Ian Rappaport and the National Football Post's Len Pasquarelli and since confirmed by

Miller, who's negotiations were first announced Tuesday, is now to receive base salaries of $1.02 million in 2015, and $4 million in both of the subsequent years. Though, from what I've gathered, there is no guaranteed money in 2015 and 2016.

More immediately important is that his Salary Cap number down to $6,133,166 for this year. That is an approximate $3.4 million Cap savings from the previous $9.5 million Cap hit the Steelers were due to take.

The normally sure-handed Miller is essentially set up to retire a Steeler now. He is considered by many, most of whom tend to say "yinz" a lot, to be the best all-around tight end in the game. Something that one of his former coaches still touts. -

Polamalu, currently 32 years old, signed a similar extension. His was a three-year extension that lowers his 2014 Cap number by $4.5 million (it was $10.887M).

Per The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette from his Twitter (@EdBouchette) account, "Polamalu gets no new money to extend his deal by 2 years. #Steelers converted $6.75M of his $8.2 M '14 salary into bonus. Gets $1.5 M base."

Entering the final year of his four-year, $36.5 million contract, the guy with the hair, who had been very erroneously rumored to be cut. The City of Bridges would have seen jumps from some and burnings of others if the Steelers had made that move.

But, the man who is tied for seventh all-time on the Steelers interception list and who was rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 5 safety in the league last season will retire a Steeler.

As for the other moves, it was announced first thing Wednesday morning that free safety Will Allen re-signed with the team, according to he and his agent Blake Baratz.

In just 12 games last season after returning to the team from Dallas, Allen, 32 in June, had 35 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass defense. His solid, veteran play and leadership will be needed again as the Steelers look to get younger in their secondary.

Speaking of getting younger, the Steelers announced the release of veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote. After signing a three-year extension last season, If It Ain't Steel said that he would likely only see one year of that deal. One year later...

He was set to earn $1.5 million this season. This gives the Steelers a Cap savings of $833,333 minus the $666,667 still owed him (dead money).

His ruptured biceps injury, and the steadily improved play of 2013 sixth-round NFL Draft choice Vince Williams, made his departure a sure thing.

The 11-year Steeler will be 34 in June and may hang up his cleats. He leaves with 621 tackles, 21 sacks, 19 PDs, nine FFs, seven FRs, three INTs and a safety for his career.

Offensive lineman Levi Brown was released as expected. The 2013 mid-season acquisition from the Arizona Cardinals never played for the Steelers and will clear $6.25 million from the Cap.

Curtis Brown, third-round Texas product from the 2011 Draft, never really panned out and was cut. His release frees up $645,000.

Injuries played into his exit as well. NFL writer and reporter Brian McIntyre reported via his Twitter (@brian_mcintyre) account that the "Steelers released Levi Brown and Curtis Brown with "Failed Physical" designations."

Add the money saved from the extensions, which essentially just moves money forward, to the contract cuts and the Steelers shaved approximately $15,628,333 million from the Cap and are very close to being compliant.

Next up are the contract situations with cornerback Ike Taylor, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, the re-signing of wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and people keep suggesting another extension, one for someone named Ben...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Run Down Of Steelers Transition Tag; Worilds Accepts Tag

Poor Jason La Canfora...

Jason Worilds has accepted the $9.754 million Transition Tag the Pittsburgh Steelers placed on him on Monday. It completely takes him off of the free agent market and the Steelers are now working on a longterm deal with him that would pare his Cap number down from the aforementioned amount.

If It Ain't Steel posted the article below that explained what this all meant for Worilds and for the Steelers. Then this came down the pike Tuesday morning from the same person who had not long before that stated that he'd be gone:

"@JasonLaCanfora; Jason Worilds has signed his transition tag w/PIT worth $9.75M. No offer sheets can come now."

Per Ed Bouchette from his Twitter (@EdBouchette), the Steelers are working on making it so that Worilds stays in the Steel City for years to come. As usual, they've taken care of home, of their own free agents, first.

Below is the article that covers all of the particulars surrounding the contract situation before Worilds' accepting (nothing was actually "signed") of the tag.


“@BobLabriola: The @Steelers designate OLB Jason Worilds a transition player. Tender is average of top 10 salaries; @steelers can match any offer”

That was the information that came down Monday morning from within the Pittsburgh Steelers organization shortly after it was announced that the Washington Redskins had put their Franchise Tag on outside linebacker Brian Orakpo.

Facts - The Transition Tag, as referenced by Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola in the above quote, costs the Steelers $9.754 million which puts them approximately $10 million over the NFL Salary Cap, per the Rule of 51, at the printing of this piece including the $1.35 million carry over from last season's Cap (and before adding dead money owed). -

The Steelers announced the move less than an hour before the 4 p.m. EST NFL deadline to make the move. They now, as with every other team, must be under the Salary Cap by March 11th.

Possible Moves - Cutting Levi Brown will erase $6.25 million.

Restructuring contracts such as Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons would cut another approximate $7 million off of the books.

Troy Polamalu, who turns 33 years old in April, is likely to be asked to take a pay cut, as his 2014 Cap number is $10,887,500 million. But it could be done in such a way so as to work such a reduction into an extension that lowers his Cap number and still allow him to retire a Steeler.

Ike Taylor, 34 in May, will count $11,942,404 million against the Cap and has a non-guaranteed base salary of $7 million. He could be cut or asked to take a (significant) pay cut.

Moves - Ian Rapoport of reported early Monday morning that the Steelers are in negotiations with tight end Heath Miller to restructure his deal. Being that he is in the final year of said deal, it would have to actually be either an extension of his contract or a pay cut. I and all whom I trust believe that the Steelers will extend his contract and use a signing bonus to reduce his $9.5 million Cap number this year.

What It Means - The Transition Tag allows the Steelers some control as Worilds assuredly tests the market. The team, though, has right of first refusal and can match any deal he may get. It essentially forces Worilds' agent to go and find a deal.

A risk is taken nonetheless. Worilds has said that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh and simply asked, if they truly wanted him, that he be named the starter. One big way to do that is to pay starter money.

By putting the tag on him, the Steelers gave their answer in the affirmative.

The nearly $10 million Worilds would potentially be owed is a figure that would be paid out in 17 game checks. Both Worilds and the Steelers would prefer that number turned into a multi-year contract - it provides security for the player and then this year's number comes down to $5-$6 million which helps the team.

In other words, a potential good situation for the Steelers and for Worilds. He can still test the market and leverage his number up. He's guaranteed $10 million and, if the bottom falls out, can be a FA again next year.

The Steelers can match what he may look to accept as a longterm deal. If he stays, the Steelers have the makings of another set of OLBs set to wreak havoc if Jarvis Jones picks up where he left off in the final game of 2013.

Drawbacks - There is no compensation if they don’t match an offer Worilds accepts.

Nothing can be done with LaMarr Woodley until the situation with Worilds is finalized. If he is to be cut, it can't be done before June 1st.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Addressing The Secondary: Post-NFL Combine Look - Safety

In our last piece, If It Ain't Steel began covering the positions the Pittsburgh Steelers are in greatest need of filling as the new NFL year approaches, as well as the players likely to fill those positions. Though free agency will play into the equation, the NFL Scouting Combine gave us the first offseason look.

Speaking of which, and in no particular order, those needs going into March 11 are cornerback (covered in previous blog), safety, wide receiver, defensive line and linebacker.

Last Sunday during the Combine, ESPN NFL Draft analyst and commentator Todd McShay football in shorts is "never a replacement for tape." While this is basically true, the annual Beefcake Bonanza does, however, bring insight into things that might otherwise go under-evaluated.

Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola recently explained how this could be when wrote that the "Combine can be a big help in the evaluation of defensive backs for this specific reason: when watching the player in a game, you never can be sure what he’s being coached to do. .... Maybe a safety is playing too deep, or not attacking the line of scrimmage. Whatever it is", the Combine helps to filter it out. -

That said, who are those safeties whose intangibles backed game film? And how do they potentially fit into the Steelers draft plans?

Calvin Pryor, Free Safety, Louisville: 5'11", 207, 4.58/40, 75 Tackles, 3 Interceptions, 4 Passes Defended, 2 Forced Fumbles* (1st round) - Draft analyst Mike Mayock calls Pryor: "a bigger, stronger Bob Sanders....flies around, hits people, a little better in box than back end." calls him a "big, physical, hammering run defender brings an enforcer mentality to the box and an intimidating, punishing presence to the back end. Is arguably the most violent hitter in this year's draft class..." -

Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama: 6'1", 208 LBs, 4.58/40, 51 Tckl, 2 INTs, 4 PD (1st round) - The 2nd-team All-American and first-team All-SEC free safety has good size and length (32 3/8" arms). Had surgery in December, 2013 for a torn meniscus, but rebounded well at the Combine.

Has what Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would call "good see-to-do" speed, is an effective run supporter and isn't afraid of contact. Mayock describes Clinton-Dix as "better range [than Pryor], more of a deep third or half guy, covers well, complete player." -

Free agency likely dictates whether either of these men will be taken in the first round. With free safety Ryan Clark likely leaving, a big hole will need filling. Would cornerback Ike Taylor be the short-term solution there? -

But being thin all over the secondary, the Steelers may also want to bring in a veteran who can complete to start rather than to have a rookie playing free safety next year.

If they do go with either of these two, however, we lean toward Clinton-Dix because, as Mayock pointed out, he has the better range of the two. The Steelers already have a hitter in the box and slot cover guy in last year's strong safety draft pick, Shamarko Thomas.

Dion Bailey, Strong Safety, USC 6'0", 201 LBs, 4.66/40, 62 Tckl, 5 INTs, 6 PD, 1 FF (2nd-3rd round) - Bailey is a classic tweener who started off playing linebacker in college before moving to strong safety. His best shot in a hybrid role (think Myron Rolle). Though he compares himself and his game to Troy Polamalu, he won't play that role in Pittsburgh. -

Terrance Brooks, FS, Florida State: 6'1", 211 LBs, 4.49/40, 56 Tckl, 2 INTs, 5 PD, 2 FF (4th round) - The former cornerback took over the starting FS role the last two seasons using his range, athleticism and ball skills to make him a truly viable option for the Steelers. Has good vision and that see-to-do thing mentioned earlier. Good tackling and jumping ability (38" vertical) has others believing the senior graduate would be a fit for the Black and Gold as well. -

Possible late-round gems -

Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt: 6'0", 207 LBs, 4.7/40, 91 Tckl, 5 INTs, 4 PD, 5 FF (5th-6th round) - A three-year starter who has experience at both safety positions. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau does at times use his safeties interchangeably, so that could work in Ladler's favor. His penchant for turnovers does also - he had 10 in 2013 alone. -

Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota: 5'11", 199 LBs, 4.47/40, 59 Tckl, 1 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF (6th-7th round) - Per, he has extensive experience starting in the Golden Gophers' defensive backfield, so that versatility should help him. (See Ladler) -

While there are actually a few others who might be on the Steelers' radar, these here are the ones we feel could find themselves in the Steelers' Training Camp on the roster next season. By May 10th we'll know whether that will be the case.