Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Post-NFL Combine Look At Steelers Draft: Cornerbacks

“I don't think corners in our scheme are as unique as maybe the outside linebackers would be. You're looking for a guy who can cover and who can tackle." - Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert on cornerbacks

If you watched the Super Bowl a few weeks ago, you probably noticed two things that If it Ain't Steel has preached in social media and in our articles: defense wins championships and that, in order to accomplish that reality, you need 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 Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Bruce Irvin or Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith, the list just goes on.

Now turn your attention to your Pittsburgh Steelers and who were their playmakers? Lawrence Timmons, Troy Polamalu, Jason Worilds and maybe Cortez Allen are basically the list. The dearth of speed and playmakers was an issue for the Steelers last season and could be one again next season if ones like Worilds are lost in free agency. Just as speed kills, the lack of it does also.

The Steelers, because of a pass-happy NFL, played their sub package defenses, Nickel, Dime or Quarters, approximately 60% of the time. With depth issues at cornerback and safety, this being a strong draft class in the secondary, especially in the first four rounds, is a needed blessing for the Steelers.

Let's take a post-Combine look, then, at the cornerbacks who could and/or should be on the Steelers' radar for the NFL Draft weekend:

Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State - 5'11", 199 LBs, 4.51/40 (1st round) - (Assuming that Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert will already be gone) First-team All American, Jim Thorpe award winner and's top-ranked CB; official 4.51/40 time (best time of 4.42), 15 bench press reps of 225 LBs, likely a top-15 lock based on Combine workouts and his game tape.

Where I'm not sold is in the fact that he hardly ever pedals and there is little fluidity in hips. Not a question of whether he can learn/unlearn this given his ability, but there is a question of his fitting the Steelers scheme. Since he excels ("specializes"?) in press, man-to-man coverage, does that move him out of the Steelers radar range given that they play much more off-coverage?

Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech - 5'11 3/4", 190 LBs, 4.49/40 (1st round) - The position comes naturally to Fuller, as CBS Sports' Dane Brugler confirms. When commenting on Twitter (@dpbrugler) of his "natural" athleticism, he said that the position comes very easily to Fuller who "uses his length (32 7/8" arm length) well and shows tremendous anticipation." - parenthesis ours

NFL Media and Draft analyst Mike Mayock sees Virginia Tech CB Kyle Fuller as one of the most underrated players in the draft, saying that "he's a first-round player."

Marcus Roberson, Florida - 6'0", 191 LBs, 4.61/40 (2nd round) - While not as explosive or fast as others, he has good size and versatility, can play both on the outside (is used to being on an island) and in the slot, has an great motor and also plays the run very well.

Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida - 5'11 1/2", 190 LBs, 4.61/40 (2nd-3rd round*) - Very athletic, good size for a cornerback with great hips and agility - can turn and run on a dime and is also exceptional in tight coverage. The only two issues may be his ability to play the run and his hands. The former is a must for Steelers CBs, as they are expected to help in run support (see Colbert's quote above). Purifoy may have had only two interceptions and 11 passes defended in his career, one college season for a typical defensive back, but that could be because of the fact that quarterbacks didn't throw his way a lot.

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska - 6'2 1/2", 218 LBs, 4.61/40 (2nd-3rd round*) - He isn't as fast as some, but uses his length well and also has tremendous instincts and anticipation. He is a mauling, bump-and-run guy who can also play off. Almost a safety, which means, if he doesn't pan out at CB, the Steelers would have a fallback plan.

Bradley Roby, Ohio State - 5'11", 194 LBs, 4.39/40 (2nd-3rd round*) - Had an up-and-down year, but still picked off three passes. Was expected to be one of the top CBs by this point in his career, but he simply never matched the expectations. Still he has very good upside and potential.

Keith McGill, Utah - 6'3", 211 LBs, 4.51/40 (3rd round*) - At the Senior Bowl, Mayock said that McGill reminded him of the Seahawks' corners. High praise. Has only one full season under his belt, but made the most of that time with an interception and 12 pass defenses. Has also played safety. (See Jean-Baptiste)

Pierre Desir, Lindenwood - 6'1", 198 LBs, 4.59/40 (4th round) - Because of being from a small school, Desir proved that he could do well against a higher level of competition by playing (well) in the both the East-West Shrine game and the Senior Bowl. He intercepted 13 passes in two seasons at Division II's Lindenwood University (Missouri) despite the word being that, like Purifoy, quarterbacks seldom threw his way.

Phillip Gaines, Rice - 6'0", 193 LBs, 4.38/40 (6th-7th round) - Size, speed and length. He could be a steal in the later rounds.

* - Steelers have no 3rd round pick at present, but we firmly believe they will get a compensatory pick for Mike Wallace

TIDBITS: As far as we have been able to determine thus far, the Steelers' NFL Scouting Combine interviews were: Justin Gilbert, (CB) Oklahoma State; Karim Martin, (DE) North Carolina; Jalen Saunders, (WR) Oklahoma; Louis Nix III, (NT) Notre Dame; Eric Ebron, (TE) North Carolina; Trey Millard, (TE/WR) Oklahoma, Ka'Deem Carey, (RB) Arizona; Kelvin Benjamin, (WR) Florida State; Donte Moncrief, (WR) Mississippi (unverified); Allen Robinson, (WR) Penn State; Calvin Pryor, (S) Louisville; Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, (S) Alabama; and Kyle Fuller, (CB) Virginia Tech. Still digging for the other approximate 16 interviewees.

Monday, February 24, 2014

With Free Agency Looming, The Worilds His Oyster

Pittsburgh Steelers free agent outside linebacker Jason Worilds would like to stay in the the Steel City. The Steelers would like Worilds to stay. Done deal, right?

"If the circumstances are right, for sure," Worilds told ESPN approximately a month ago. "They haven't been right for me in the past."

Ok, well what circumstances?

"I wouldn't want to fall back into (not starting) again. I've just been patient and (am waiting to) see how the Steelers view me," Worilds further said.

In that case, let's just lay this one out there: assure Worilds his starting spot and re-sign him. This needs to be GM Kevin Colbert's main priority

Worilds says he is open to re-signing with the team before the start of free agency on March 11th, as long as he is a starter. This is by no means an outlandish request, either.

He is after all a former second-round draft pick who is entering his fifth season. He sat behind James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley his first three years, and also endured some (hamstring and wrist) injuries that kept him out of starting opportunities as well (opportunities inauspiciously filled by Lawrence Timmons and Chris Carter). So his wanting a sense of security is completely expected.

Once Worilds had enough playing time to finally prove himself and gain invaluable experience, he made the left outside linebacker spot his own.

So much so that when Woodley came back from yet another injury, he was moved to the right side. Then when Jarvis Jones was subbed into the game, Woodley came off the field instead of Worilds.

Worilds' second-half performance this past season was no fluke, either. Some players just need a little extra time to have it all click. Something along the lines of Keenan Lewis the year before. Success builds confidence. He had put up similar numbers in even less time on the field, and is now increasing his repoitore of moves. 

Worilds finished the season with eight sacks - seven of which coming in his final eight games of the year. He also had 16 of his 21 quarterback hurries, and 20 of his league-leading 21 quarterback hits in that same span. He also recorded 63 tackles and two forced fumbles in his 15 games and 11 starts. Very good numbers for a 3-4 outside linebacker.

The future is now, and his is a brighter one than Woodley's at this point. Worilds is just 25 years old and should only get better.

The problem is that other know all of this as well

Tony Pauline of wrote Monday morning that "at least a dozen teams" are interested in Worilds. He says that signing Worilds is a near impossibility because of the problems with Woodley's contract.

"LaMarr Woodley’s contract (is) likely to make re-signing Jason Worilds very difficult if not impossible. I’m told at least at least a dozen teams here at the combine have expressed great interest in Worilds if he hits free agency." -

Woodley, who will be 30 in early November, suffers from chronic, repetitive soft tissue injuries. Injuries that, in the name of business and for the sake of the team, all but require him to be cut. Unless he takes a pay cut (not likely), he is likely to be cut.

Doing so after June 1st would be a savings of $8 million over the next two years each. But, per Ed Bouchette, cutting him now would be "a significant cap savings -- a total of $25.5 million (his salaries) in both real money and cap savings over three seasons with none of it counting after this one. -

But, once again, what has to be remembered is that Worilds wants to stay. So, if someone does make him a bigger offer, would he want to uproot and re-learn?

Possibly not per Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola. He responded to a similar question a couple of weeks ago on his Twitter (@BobLabriola) account by saying, "Not so sure Worilds even wants to leave. A competitive offer can get it done. It doesn't have to be the most $$$."

Now that the NFL Salary Cap has been projected even higher at $132 million, with the definitive word coming as of the owner's meetings in March, the Steelers now have more room to make something happen.

Plus, the Steelers have approximately $1.35 million left over from 2013 that they can use. So the Steelers' adjusted Cap at this point, assuming these projections are accurate, is $133.35 million. That puts them almost even as far as the Rule of 51 is concerned, being only about $2 million over at that point minus dead monies.

Though Colbert has stated that the Steelers won't be using them, the Franchise Tag, which would be around $10M, might be to their advantage as it would give them time to get a long-term deal done and then remove the tag. This would be done ONLY as a last resort, though. They've done it before, both with the Transition and Franchise Tags, and could do it again here.

If not, if he's allowed to test the free agent waters, one of those 12 teams who've expressed interest in him will definitely overpay (as someone always does) an amount the Steelers match, and then the Worilds would be Jason's oyster.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Interview Process Of NFL Scouting Combine Imperative For Steelers; Salary Cap Rises

The annual beefcake bonanza that is the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis is once again upon us and the Pittsburgh Steelers are right in the thick of it. -

All told, the entire process runs form February 19-25 - meetings and weigh-ins/measurements are from the 19th-21st, while the actual Combine workouts and drills are from the 22nd-25th.

As each player is measured, poked, prodded and scrutinized like prize cattle, we get the chance to find out which potential prospects might fit the team's needs. It is truly the penultimate event.

Then again, it could be much ado about nothing and all that is actually needed is to have watched three or more years of actual games.

In truth, the real value of the NFL Combine is the subject of debate as the players go through their various drills from the general to the specific. The real import of the Combine likely lies behind the pomp and circumstance.

The Steelers, as with all teams, will put players through assiduous medical examinations, interviews and in possibly even psychological testing.

By now, for the most part, Kevin Colbert and company have settled on their preliminary draft board, so the Combine acts as the proverbial icing. It allows them to adjust based on the aforementioned psych eval, their background, medical questions and, maybe most of all, their character.

Will he fit in with their locker room? What are his practice habits? Is he competitive? Can he learn a playbook? Can he recognize schemes and formations? Does he have a real football IQ? Etc...

Not only that, but they'll also want to know about players' work ethic.

There have been as much as eight weeks for some to stay prepared or at least to get prepared for the Combine drills. Are they?

As for the interview process itself, each team can meet with up to 60 player interviews players they specifically requested for 15 minutes at a time and players have an itinerary that lays out which team they will be meeting with and when.

The interviews can involve the particular position coach, a coordinator(s), the head coach and other personnel brass. The conversation can be as casual as can be in order to just get a feel for the player, or as technical as possible. Whatever necessary to better gauge the player.

So far, the Steelers have met with at least Arizona Wildcats running back Ka'Deem Carey, Oklahoma Sooners FB-TE Trey Millard (SICK blocker), and some guy named Kelvin Benjamin.

More to come starting Saturday.


TIDBITS: Per ESPN's John Clayton from his Twitter (@ClaytonESPN) account, "the projection for the 2014 salary cap is now at $132 million."

This greatly helps the Steelers. When just considering the Rule of 51, the Steelers are only now $3.5 million over the Salary Cap.Add in the dead money and it's approximately $8.1 million over. Hopefully, they'll raise it again...


In this pass-happy NFL is so pass oriented, the Nickel and Dime sub packages of the defense become paramount. The Steelers themselves used such packages approximately 60% of the time last season. The Steelers have issues at cornerback and safety (needing about least one each), and this is considered to be a top heavy draft class in the secondary that could provide starter-type help into the fourth round.


Markus Wheaton recently had "clean-up surgery on the broken pinky finger that kept him out about a month last season. Otherwise, Colbert said, the Steelers are healthier coming out of this season than he can remember in any previous year." - Alan Robinson of the Tribune-Review

Friday, February 21, 2014

Steelers Want Roethlisberger For Life, Look To Get Him Big Target

"We've got to have Ben (Roethlisberger) retire as a Steeler. There's no doubt about that."

Those were the words of Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II last month when talking about a contract extension for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He said that he wants the franchise quarterback to finish his career where he started it.

Fast forward to Wednesday of this week and General Manager Kevin Colbert mimicked that same sentiment during an interview on 93.7 The Fan.

“We all recognize we are very fortunate to have a franchise quarterback,” Colbert said. “He still has a lot of tread on the tires. We feel great about how last season finished and we hope to build on that. It’s unanimous we all want Ben to finish his career here.” -

To win in the NFL, you need some skill as well as some luck. To win consistently in today's NFL, as in three Super Bowl appearances and two wins in 10 years type of consistently, you need great quarterback play. And the Steelers have great quarterback play.

Last season, despite his horrendous start, ended up having a very good year. He ranked among the top NFL QBs (with a minimum 290 pass attempts) in QB Rating (92.0), touchdown passes (28), passing yards (4,261), completion percentage (64.2%) and in comp. pct. when under pressure (per Pro Football Focus).

Big Ben also played every snap in throwing for those yards while setting a Steelers record for completions in a season (375). He had a 2-to-1 TD/INT ratio and becoming the franchise's career leader in TD passes (219).

Since 2004, his rookie year, Big Ben also ranks fourth among QBs in the regular season with 95 wins (T.Brady-114, P.Manning-113, and D.Brees-100), and second in Super Bowl wins.

Naturally, then, they should and do want to extend him in order to keep him in town. The question is as to when as both Rooney II and Colbert have both been confident yet non-committal.

"When both sides are able to come together on an extension," Rooney II further said. "I don't know when that will be, but there's no doubt we look at Ben as somebody who's going to be here for the long term and hopefully five or more years."

In the meantime, what is known is that, according to Beaver County Times last week, WRs Markus Wheaton, Derek Moye and Justin Brown traveled to Irvine, CA to work with Big Ben.

"It was really about (Roethlisberger) getting a feel for some of us a little bit more," said Moye. This was also done in part because Emmanuel Sanders is not expected to return. -

As far as what is known that the Steelers as an organization is doing is that they are looking to do something else that will potentially please the franchise passer.

In an interview with Adam Lefkoe of the, Gerry Dulac reiterated information that If It Ain't Steel had quoted him as saying before - that the Steelers will go after a big/big-play wide receiver early in May's NFL Draft. He elaborated on what he'd formerly said.

"I believe that they are going to target a tall wide receiver in the first round of the draft. .... I don't think there's any question, Adam, that one of the guys they've liked all along is Mike Evans from Texas A&M. He's...a former basketball player, big guy - 6'5", 225 pounds. Goes up and gets the ball, very athletic."

ASIDE: As the NFL Combine has begun its measurements of QBs and WRs, with the actual pageantry beginning this weekend, we now know that Evans is actually 6'4 5/8" and 231 pounds.

Dulac continued with the other WR that he believes the Steelers want to possibly get for Big Ben when he said, "It's hard not to like Sammy Watkins, the kid from Clemson.

As Dulac pointed out, Colbert saw the (currently) 6'1", 205-pound Watkins in person earlier this year and he believes that one of the two is at the top of the Steelers list.

"When Kevin Colbert talks about wide receivers, tall WRs, he talks about guys who can play big. But there's no question the Steelers wants to get a receiver who was tall enough that makes it easier for Ben Roethlisberger to complete passes to."

The only foreseeable problem with this is that I can't see either of those players still around at pick No. 15 where the Steelers sit. Nor will the Steelers reach. If they aren't available, there are several other big WRs who could be gotten between their first and second (46) picks.

Kelvin Benjamin, 6'5"/240 LBs, Florida State: 1st round - A rare combination of size (4% body fat) and speed - says he hopes to run a 4.3/40 at Combine on Sunday. A physical mismatch vs. defensive backs and linebackers. Very smooth with the media at the Combine podium. Says he's "gonna come work everyday." -

Strong, will go across the middle, great at catching jump-balls at apex (ask Auburn), superb body control, fluid, good separation speed, adjusts and tracks well over his shoulder, very good YAC, and does not go down easy. (Not that I've followed him or anything...)

Allen Robinson, 6'3"/210 LBs, Penn State: 1st-2nd round - 2012 and 2013 Big 10 Receiver of the Year. Third-team AP All-American. "Fluid and flexible athlete for his larger frame with room to get stronger. Deceiving acceleration with sharp cuts to be a dangerous catch-and-go pass catcher," per

Jordan Matthews, 6'3"/205 LBs, Vanderbilt: 2nd round - Good size/speed combination along with very good his hand/eye coordination and body control. Has pedigree as well: is cousin of Jerry Rice.

More in the coming weeks.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

NFL Salary Cap Increase Greatly Benefits Steelers

As Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has said in his media tour this week as prepares for the NFL Combine, the Pittsburgh Steelers have tough "decisions to make" to be able to comply with NFL Salary Cap rules.

“We have some decisions to make,” Colbert said. “We have some cap issues, but it’s not overwhelming. We have got to go through the whole process and make the best decisions we can. There are so many moving parts. This will continue up to the free agency March 11 deadline and beyond."

That sound you hear is the collective sigh of relief from countless on the South Side as the things just got a little easier Thursday. 
Per league sources, the "NFL will raise its Salary Cap to about $130 million." -

The news of the NFL's increase in its Cap greatly benefits the Steelers, along with a handful of other teams that have moves to make by the start of the new NFL year on March 11.

When I spoke with Capologist Ian Whetstone of Steel City Insider and a little over a month ago on Twitter about the Steelers Cap situation, he let me know where the team stands as far as their Salary Cap, with respect to the Rule of 51 and dead money, is concerned.

@IanWhetstone: @SteelerJsun I have them at $135,572,583 in top 51 contracts plus $4,552,933 in dead money. Here's a breakdown:

That now means that the Steelers are less than $6 million over the Cap as far as the Rule of 51 (top 51 current contracts) is concerned. Add the dead money in and they have roughly $10.1 million to trim. A lot better than the approximate $13.5 million thought to be needed to shave when the Cap was expected to be around $126.6 million.

One swipe and Levi Brown, acquired from the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional 2014 draft choice in Week 5 this season (which was nullified by the fact he didn't suit up for any games, thus allowing the Steelers to keep their draft pick) will be cut creating $6.25 million of cap room. 

Immediate Cap compliance. 

Then the Steelers could restructure the contracts of a couple of player, say wide receiver Antonio Brown and maybe inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. That will free up over $7 million in cap space combined (i.e. converting most of their 2014 salaries, except for their league minimums, into signing bonuses).

Cap compliant, plus at least a couple of million.

Then, add to that the other inevitable releases (Brett Keisel), an extension or two (Ben Roethlisberger and/or Troy Polamalu), and a possible pay cut (Ike Taylor), as well as the small amount not used last season that will carry over, and the Steelers suddenly have quite a bit to spend. Then, once they decide what to do with LaMarr Woodley, that amount could change yet again. Stay tuned.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Louis Delmas Visits Safety-Challenged Steelers

If you're failing to prepare, you're preparing to fail.

There is usually safety in numbers. Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the number in their safeties' ages are too high to bring any sort of comfort. They know this all-too-well, and it looks as if they may want to make their secondary a primary concern.

The Steelers took the first step at preparing to remedy their problem at safety specifically Monday by bringing former Lions free safety Louis Delmas in for a visit.

They checked Delmas' knee because of his having battled knee problems in the past.

The Steelers need to get younger in the secondary. Last season's starters, free safety Ryan Clark and strong safety Troy Polamalu, are 34 and 32 years of age respectively.

They also need depth, especially at FS considering their having more strong safeties on the roster. There's also no doubt that the Steelers would rather not have a rookie playing FS next season. Getting a free agent veteran would therefore allow them to focus on a cornerback early in May's NFL Draft.

In comes Delmas.

The first pick of the 2nd round of the 2009 draft has made two pro bowls in his five years, and will only be 27 in April. Delmas resembles RC25 in terms of coverage in his prime and is almost as big of a hitter.

Delmas has other visits, including the Denver Broncos, so this is by no means a lock. He would be a great fit for the Steelers, but free agency hasn't even begun yet and there is time.

As for the rest of the Steelers' safeties:

Shamarko Thomas - a physical strong safety with hitting ability who can cover in the slot. Sound familiar? The Steelers need the man they call "Headache" to be just that for the opposition next season.

Will Allen - he did a very good job again in 2013 and with RC25 leaving, they need him either to start until Thomas is ready or to be their third safety behind Thomas and Polamalu.

Robert Golden - core special teams player who led Steelers in special teams tackles (14). Showed himself to be a ballhawk last preseason. Can he step up and do so in the regular season, too, this time?

Ross Ventrone - another shot at making the final roster.

Jordan Dangerfield - gets no respect (but was signed to a Futures/Reserve contract on January 10th).

Aptitude As Well As Attitude Behind Steelers Hire Of Joey Porter

The horrendous field conditions and lightning-filled weather that plagued the game that Monday night in 2007 reminded one a different era in the NFL and looked, amidst the mud and muck, as if it should've been played in black and white. Despite the all-too memorable conditions dominating the story that night, there is one thing I remember, will always remember, more than anything else.

"You know you love me!"

That night, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey "Peezy" Porter returned home - and picked up right where he left off.

The Steelers opening drive ended with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being intercepted by Peezy who had been cut by the Steelers in the previous March. His pick came along the Steelers' sideline, and then yelled those famous words at their bench after being tackled.

That epitomizes Peezy and exemplifies why head coach Mike Tomlin brought him in as an assistant linebackers coach as Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola would later point out on Twitter.

"@BobLabriola: Since 1992, the 2 best @Steelers OLBs re: sacking the QB & intercepting passes: Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter. He can help Jarvis and Timmons."

During that time until now, per the criteria set by Labriola, Peezy leads all Steelers outside linebackers with 60 sacks and 10 interceptions. He wasn't just the fire-and-brimstone, sack-the-quarterback menace most remember. He could also cover, and knows how to translate his skill set into a teaching format. Just ask his alma mater, Colorado State.

"Porter’s tutelage, assisting the defensive coaches with the team’s outside pass rushers, produced significant results for the 2013 Rams, who posted their best record since 2002, at 8-6, and earned a victory in the New Mexico Bowl over Washington State. Senior outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett posted 12.0 sacks and set a Mountain West record with 20.5 tackles for loss en route to winning MW Defensive Player of the Year honors." -

As the title of Labriola's article brought out, and referring back to the tweet quoted earlier, 'Jarvis Jones isn't Peezy's only pupil.'

"Joey can bring a certain element of pass rush expertise, and the exciting thing is that Jarvis and him are a very similar stature,” said Steelers GM Kevin Colbert. .... "But Joey wasn’t brought in here just for one player. The expertise he can lend to all of our pass rushers, interior people as well as the outside linebackers, can only help us.” -

Part of that "element" is something that is missing with the current corps of linebackers. They don't have...let me see, how can I explain this?

Since 1974, the Steelers have always had at least one linebacker who just scared everybody. That one who personified the words from the rap group U.T.F.O. on their 1987 cut "Diss": "I never say excuse me, move out my way, sucker! You use 'Mr.', I use 'Motherfu**er!'"

And that is something this group is lacking. So, sure, he can show them how to beat up half the Cleveland Browns team, but his expertise  benefits in more ways than just that as was a fierce pass rusher and great cover linebacker as touched on before. He could help teach Jones, Spence and even Timmons in those categories.

Jones is more laid back and is, as If It Ain't Steel has described him before, more sleek and sudden than powerful and disruptive. Though Jones says he understands the import of the offseason, Peezy will still provide a real challenge on a daily basis. -…

Spence, as Labriola pointed out, "is a complete unknown." He still has to overcome the peroneal nerve damage that he suffered when he tore ligaments in his knee. If he avoids further damage, as this type of injury can lead to other injury conditions like the inability to even lift the distal are of the foot, he still has to get used to being on a football field after being away for two years.

He is currently working hard at the renowned Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami, Florida. Spence has trained there before and is also from Miami where he played college ball.

According to Michael Coffey, owner of "Coach Coffey" and formerly of Velocity Sports Performance, "Pete Bommarito does a great job with Muscle Activation Technique. I'm sure that will help Spence."

Peezy will definitely be able to help all the linebackers in some way or another. He will be able to light a fire under them and get results.

"You know you love me!"

Yeah, Peezy, we do.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Seven Musts For The 2014 Steelers Offseason

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told a handful of local Pittsburgh writers on Wednesday that the team has work to do this offseason. It is work that will include “terminations, restructurings, and extensions.” -

As Colbert himself stated, a second straight 8-8 season is "disappointing," but it differs from that of "2012 because of {the} 6-2 finish.” Therefore, per Colbert, the Steelers are "never going to say, OK, we're not going to be a contender, let's gut this thing and start over.” 

So, then, If It Ain't Steel discusses that and the seven things the Steelers need to do this offseason to avoid 'gutting it' and to hit the ground running in 2014.

Despite missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Bill Cowher's 1999 and 2000 teams, the Steelers finished strongly. This was due mainly to their offense, an offense led by Ben Roethlisberger.

EXTENDING BIG BEN should be priority No. 1 this offseason. Even with his horrid start (he himself accounting for nine of the team's 20 turnovers before the bye), he still had one of his best seasons, setting team records for attempts and completions, and was largely responsible for the offense truly clicking as many knew it could.

It was an offense that averaged 28.2 points in the final nine games, led by Big Ben's nearly brilliant second half as well. Though he suffered nine interceptions in the first half of the season, Big Ben cleaned up his act and had only five the rest of the year. He also improved his overall QB Rating to 93.5 in the second half of the season to finish with a 92.0 rating overall. 

He finished the season as the 11th-rated QB in the league and 8th among all quarterbacks when under pressure according to Pro Football Focus - which might have been a higher ranking were it not for his ineffectiveness in the first part of the season, and despite suffering from an inordinate number of drops (36 - 6th highest) from his running backs, receivers and tight ends. 

The franchise quarterback turns 32-years old next month and has plenty of good play left in him. The Steelers, as we have written before, need to extend his contract now in order to ensure that finishing his career in Pittsburgh is a reality. Something with which many agree. -

With all of this being true, the next thing that must come to pass is that there need to be, regarding both players and coaches, FEW CHANGES ON OFFENSE.

“I like the way we finished and some of the things in terms of how we finished — the improvement of the offense,” team president Art Rooney II said. “Those, I think, are positive signs. In general, I think there's a lot of younger players we feel good about....I thought we were pretty effective on offense coming down the stretch."

That effective offense allowed just 11 sacks in the second half (and just seven in the last seven games), was 14 for 20 in the red zone in the final six games and ran for 99.3 yards per game in the final eight games, including 115.3 YPG over the final four, as opposed to the pedestrian 73.6 YPG in the first half of the year.

Also, the infusion of more of the no-huddle energized the offense, allowing the Steelers to finish the 2013 season with 20 or more points on offense in their last nine games. 

For all you revisionist history majors, the Steelers never did that once under Bruce Arians. Not once. 

The few changes that are to happen should mainly come from what has to be a CAN'T-MISS NFL DRAFT, which Colbert says is "as deep across the board" as any he's "seen in 30 years." 

In saying that, Colbert brought wonderful news to many, but also put a possible noose around his own neck if he doesn't produce because of it. -

Over the next two months, we'll chronicle the players who would fit the needs the Steelers have. One need which may be a present for Big Ben if beat writer Gerry Dulac was correct when he wrote, "Their intent is to take a tall receiver early -- they have already indicated that to Ben Roethlisberger." -

Those who follow the If It Ain't Steel Facebook page or my (Jason's) tweets on Twitter know I have finally been an advocate of a big receiver this offseason. If for no other reason except that there are a bevy of talented big receivers in this draft. So strike while the iron is hot. -

If, though, the rare combination of size and speed that is Kelvin Benjamin isn't in the cards, there are about five or six others we'll soon be highlighting as part of our offseason wish list. 

The other aspect of how the draft needs to be addressed is the approach, i.e. DRAFT HEAVY FOR DEFENSE.

That said, other possible first rounders are nose tackle Louis Nix III (especially if he can stay on field as sub package rush DL also), defensive tackles Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan (if the Steelers feel they already have their NT), cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert, or even safety HaHa Clinton-Dix. 

Due to a trade of their 3rd rounder last year, the Steelers currently have six draft picks. They will likely end up with a total of nine (barring any action by the league) via the compensatory picks. So more defensive selections than offensive, especially in the higher picks, and more hits than misses are both paramount.

Even so, the draft may not be enough. The time may be to LOOK TO FREE AGENCY to fill in gaps and procure the players they need. 

That doesn't mean making a big splash the moment the FA period opens, but getting players who can contribute immediately. 

B.J. Raji, Brandon Spikes and Brent Grimes are names that come to mind. The reason being that the Steelers highly value a quality NT, Spikes knows how to win and the Miami Dolphins' secondary wasn't the same when Grimes wasn't in there. And while they themselves may not be the exact names desired, it is definitely those types of players they should covet as Kevin Greene, James Farrior and Ryan Clark once were. 

Speaking of free agents, the RE-SIGNING OF JERRICHO COTCHERY is imperative. They must find a way to keep a guy who was tied for 10th in the NFL with a career-high 10 touchdown passes, the most by any Steelers player since 2010. 

As I've always said about him, Cotchery is clutch ("Clutchery?") - all of those touchdowns came in the red zone. An approximate 2/3 of Clutchery's career touchdown receptions have come inside the 20-yard line as well.

Clutchery (ok, I'll stop) also caught 46 passes in 2013, the most since he's come to the Steelers. 

Colbert said that he would like to see certain players signed before the start of free agency and the new NFL year (March 11th). It's likely that Cotch was one whom he meant. 

Speaking of re-signings...

Colbert said that the team 'could keep both LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds.' He wouldn't estimate, though, the chances of RE-SIGNING JASON WORILDS.

Colbert said it's a "concern" when a player like LaMarr Woodley has "constant injury issues.” He wouldn't say, however, if Woodley's injury issues are enough to consider cutting him and eating $14 million in dead money this year (or taking lesser Cap hits over the next two years).

Regardless, Worilds is a priority. The 25-year old outside linebacker had a career-high eight sacks last season, seven of which came in his last eight games when the Steelers finally just put him on the left side and...well, left him there like we had been advocating for a year that they do. 

Worilds wants reassurances that he'll continue to be a starter before he'll sign. Rightly so. He is a more dangerous pass-rusher on the left, and Pro Football Focus ranked him the Steelers' second-best run defender behind nose tackle Steve McLendon.

Point blank: the Steelers need to re-sign him. Though it's a less likely scenario, they could place the franchise tag on him, as we've brought out in the past, which would cost between $10-11 million.

Colbert has said that it is unlikely they'll use the Transition or the Franchise tags, though it would be a wise investment. 

They say that a cynic is someone who knows the cost of everything yet the value of nothing. The value of Worilds far exceeds his cost, and he is a key component to truly, as Colbert alluded, building a team to compete for Super Bowl again.


TIDBITS: Ryan Clark turned last Thursday's episode of ESPN's First Take into "First Toke," when he said that some of his teammates smoke marijuana and that the NFL is "fighting a losing battle" in that regard. - 

Though Colbert said that RC25's comments were a 'player's thoughts and not the organization's, Marijuana use in the NFL is still a blazing topic lately, yes, and players - I would imagine an approximate 2/3 of them - turning to it to help with pain and stress is to be expected. So I don't now, nor did I ever, understand the uproar behind RC25's statements, for which he did later apologize saying, "To Steeler Nation I apologize that I didn't say 'I know people who smoke but not on my team.' Just didn't think that was believable.”

As I privately said at the time and as Scott Brown, AFC North writer for ESPN, has written since, it was much ado about nothing and the general public "misses the point." -

Per Mark Kaboly, "Steelers LB Sean Spence working out at renowned Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Brett Keisel Cuts Beard For Charity, Will Steelers Cut Him?

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel has been cut.

Sort of.

In what has become an annual thing, teammates, coaches and local celebrities took part Wednesday night in shaving Keisel in the “Shear Da Beard” event. -

What has also now become an annual event is the Steelers having to cut aging players, especially from the defensive side of the ball where several starters qualify for the NFL's version of the AARP card - four starters on defense were over the age of 30, including three in the secondary.

That age, though, finally took its heaviest toll during the 2013 season. The Steelers saw their worst defensive performance (14th in points allowed, 13th in yards allowed and 27th in turnovers forced) in over a decade.

The Steelers are moving in the right direction regarding this, however, having shaved two years off the average age of the defense over the last two seasons.

That's where Keisel comes in. Cutting ties with him, as well as at least a couple of others this offseason, would move the team further in that direction. But that's something for which Keisel isn't quite ready.

“I feel like I can still play," Kesiel said back on December 25 just before the end of the season. "We will see what happens. I try not to think about it too much because I am still here and still part of the team and still fighting with these guys. When the time comes, I will sit down with my family and decide what is best.” - 

That time is coming rapidly now. Keisel's contract will expire at 4 p.m. on March 12 and, if he is asked to come back for a 13th season, he'll be 36 years old in September. He holds out hope in his heart, but his head is tells him something else.

“I know it's a business,” Keisel said. .... "(But) I bleed black and gold. Everybody knows that. I am a Yinzer, and I love this city and plan on raising my family here.”

“I think I’ve got a couple [years] left in me,” Keisel recently told Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Russillo. “I feel great and still feel like I can play. We’ll see what happens.”

That's all well and good, but the Steelers made a similar mistake when holding on to Aaron Smith too long a few years ago. Injuries took over and ended his career before he actually hung up his cleats. Keeping him on the roster, partially due to sentimentally and partially due to a lack of a viable replacement behind him, hamstrung the team.

Keisel has seen his playing time diminish because of injuries lately as well. It may not be as bad of a situation as it was with Smith, but a similar such move can't be repeated.

If he does return, though, he’ll certainly make far less than the $2.825 million he earned in 2013. Also, though he has been big for the Steelers in the past, sentiment can't be allowed to sway thinking again.

While If It Ain't Steel leans toward bringing him back for the veteran minimum, $940,000 for someone of his tenure, and to have him play Mentor to the team's version of Telemachus, we realize that the timing for both parties is an issue.

Is an old dog ready, willing and/or able to be taught a new trick in another team's system? Juxtapose the Steelers in that question regarding being able to move on with the lot they have.

The Steelers are in a slightly better situation this time around on the defensive line in that both Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward are playing better or are simply better players than what was behind Smith. Also, Al Woods stepped up and showed that he could be the new Chris Hoke - if not more.

Questions still remain with the D-Line as well, though. Should Ziggy Hood be released or signed for minimum as backup nose tackle/defensive end? Do the Steelers draft a nose tackle or let Hebron Fangupo step into that role? A player the coaching staff is high on, actually.

Regardless, those questions can be addressed as we move further into the offseason. Decisions regarding the newly shorn Brett Keisel begin March 12 as to whether or not we'll have the shear delight of No. 99 kicking the follicle out opposing linemen for one more year.