´ Steel Curtain Rising

Screwed by Bloggers Polling, Again

Folks, it looks like Blogger's polling has decided to stop working. We had a good poll on the Steelers draft which suddenly got dropped to zero.

Guess you get what you pay for on these free platforms. Thanks to all those who voted.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Are Mike Mitchell's "Growing Pains" a Cause for Concern?

Jerome Bettis rushing debt with the Pittsburgh Steelers amounted to all of 57 yards. In all fairness to Bettis, the should be Hall of Famer:
  • His average was good and the Steelers spent the day playing from behind…
  • AND the Jim Miller experiment as a starter had last all of 2 quarters…
  • AND Greg Lloyd had just been lost for the season…
  • AND injuries to the linebacking corps were so severe that coaches were talking 4-3 for week 2.
To understand the last factoid in its full context, consider that the Steelers had kept 10 linebackers on their opening day roster. Suffice to say, by the chaos generated during one awful afternoon in Jacksonville certainly muted any cries of “Bettis is a bust.”

This entire preamble is necessary to establish that 3 preseason is woefully insufficient to make any sweeping pronouncements on the success or failure of a free agent.
  • But with that said, Michael Mitchell’s play does warrant a few caution flags.
The Steelers 2014 off season free agent signing spree notwithstanding, Pittsburgh has always been a quality not quantity free agent player. They don’t make many moves often, but when they do, they do it with a bang. Think Kevin Greene. Think John L. Williams. Think Will Wolford. Think Wayne Gandy (NOT!) Think Kimo von Oelhoffen. Think the man Mitchell replaces, Ryan Clark.


So when Kevin Colbert broke character and made a day one, big money free agency signing with Mike Mitchell, fans can be forgiven for assuming an automatic upgrade was in place.
  • And Mitchell may prove to be an upgrade.
Except that one of the first plays yours truly observed in the Steelers preseason loss to the Eagles was Mike Mitchell making a sloppy effort and missing a tackle (to be fair, he wasn’t the only one.) And the numbers show that in preseason the Steelers run defense is even worse than it was in 2013.
  • Of course you don’t normally point fingers at the safeties when run defense falters.
They are, as the position title suggests, the last line of defense. But the Steelers have given up long runs in bunches, and a big part of a free safety’s responsibility is to prevent that. How did that work out vs. Philadelphia?
  • The Eagles have five running backs make at least one run of 15 yards or longer.
Transparency demands that I confess that the second half of the Steelers-Eagles preseason game is the only preseason action I’ve observed. But others have picked up on Mitchell’s struggles. ESPN’s Scott Brown observed that Mitchell has been “shaky.”

Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review quoted fellow safety Will Allen Mitchell as going through as “growing pains” in the 4-3 to 3-4 transition. Mitchell denied that he and Troy Polamalu were having difficulty getting on the same page.

Although Paulk says that Mitchell has delivered a “mix bag of good, bad and indifference,” Mitchell attitude is in the right place. Discussing his play vs. Philadelphia, he offered:
It's a bitter taste in your mouth because you don't want to play like that. It was a great learning experience for us. You don't learn a lot about yourself when you win, but you learn a lot when you lose.
That’s exactly what we need to hear from Mitchell. While Ryan Clark made news for the headlines he made off the field, the truth is that he was the Steelers most consistent defender from 2010 to 2012, and his slowing a step hurt the defense immensely in 2013.

It is unfair to expect him to do everything Clark did, but Mike Mitchell is one free agent acquisition the Steelers need to work out.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Brian Arnfelt, Vic So'oto, Eric Waters Lead Steelers 1st Cuts

The Pittsburgh Steelers trimmed down their roster today to 75 players per NFL regulations, and the cuts included some surprises.
  • The Turk made two rounds at the South Side today. 
During the first wave he visited outside linebacker Vic So'oto, tight end Eric Waters, defensive backs Jordan Dangerfield, Lew Toler and Devin Smith, wide receivers C.J. Goodwin and Kashif Moore, and running backs Miguel Maysonet and Jordan Hall.
  • That left six more players for the Steelers to cut.
Before the day was over, the Turk darkened the doors of offensive lineman Chris Elkins, Emmanuel McCray, nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, defensive end Brian Arnfelt, long snapper Luke Ingram and running back Tauren Poole.

Luke Ingram's release is a possible sign that the Steelers anticipate having the services of Greg Warren for their season opener vs. Cleveland. Warren tore his meniscus during training camp, and his status for the beginning of the regular season has been in doubt.

The biggest surprises were Eric Waters, who was hampered by his inability to stay healthy, and Vic So’oto who forced two fumbles in the preseason opener.



Arnfelt represents another surprise, as he did a full year on the Steelers practice squad until getting activated at season’s end. Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola even went as far as to compare Arnfelt to a young Chris Hoke.
The Steelers will play their final preseason game vs. Carolina on Thursday, and must trip their rosters down to 53 by August 31st.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Mike Tomlin Must Pair Le'Veon Bell with Right Mentor

The ebb and flow of Steelers news last week couldn’t have provided a sharper contrast. On Wednesday, news broke that Brett Keisel had resigned with the team. The move won adulation from both fans and press alike that Da’Beard would be back.



Thursday arrived with the shocking revelation that Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount had been arrested for marijuana, a move which seemingly threw the team into a tail spin as the Steelers came up small in their big preseason test vs. the Eagles.
  • But perhaps the two events aren’t as juxtaposed as it first appears.
While the Steelers have clarified that Brett Keisel will start, part of the reason for his presence is to mentor younger lineman such as second round pick Stephon Tuitt and 6th round pick Daniel McCullers. In that sense, it seems appropriate that these two events would coincide as it seems that Le'Veon Bell could benefit from a mentor of his own.

Mentorship in the NFL

Mentorship in the NFL takes on many forms. Sometimes it involves old hands showing rookies the ropes, a role that Jerome Bettis took upon himself with rookie Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Other times it involves an established starter instilling the necessary work ethic in a younger player, as Hines Ward did with Plaxico Burress in 2001.
  • Other times it involves a player enforcing attitude adjustments.
Steelers assistant Jerry Olsavsky has recounted how, after making a tackle as a rookie on the 1989 Steelers, he extended an hand up to the opposing ball carrier, only to have Greg Lloyd slap it away, commanding “We don’t do that here!”
  • And sometimes mentors role model off the field behavior.
It is said that early in the Tomlin era, Charlie Batch took Roethlisberger aside and had a heart to heart about Big Ben getting too big for his britches inside the locker room. But it can go beyond that.

Rod Woodson arrived in Pittsburgh as a cocksure first round draft pick. It would be impossible to say he rubbed his teammates the wrong way during his first training camp, because he wasn’t there – he held out all through camp and for the season’s first 8 games.
  • Such behavior couldn’t have endeared him to Chuck Noll or Dan Rooney
But there were other, more ominous signs. As recounted by Ed Bouchette in his book Dawn of a New Steel Age, Woodson ran with the fast crowd, and frequently socialized with bad boy Delton Hall. One of the steps the Steelers took was to pair Dwayne Woodruff and Rod Woodson as roommates on road trips.

Woodruff of course was the remaining defensive veteran from the Super Steelers and was in the process of finishing his law degree at Duquesne Law. It is impossible to know how much influence Woodruff had on Woodson, but Woodson clearly got the message. He never caused off the field distractions, and blossomed into a Hall of Famer.

Who Should Toll the Bell?

The life of an NFL running back has always been short, and is only getting shorter. Le’Veon Bell came to the Steelers with a certain sense of bravado, as evidence by his first somersault touchdown. A little bravado is a good thing, but it can quickly degenerate into arrogance. And arrogance can derail a career.
  • If Bell’s comments about not knowing he could get a DWU for driving while stoned are any indication, the young man has a lot to learn about life.
Since his arrival, LeGarrette Blount has been nearly inseparable from Bell. That is not to suggest that Blount is responsible for Bell’s transgression. But as Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review points out, Blount had discipline issues which kept him from being drafted.
  • Off the field mentoring offers  no guarantee that the mentoree will not go astray.
During 1995, Steelers quarterback Neil O'Donnell noticed that Bam Morris was hanging with the wrong crowd. He offered to help Morris, even inviting him to come and live at his home. Morris ignored the request for help and was arrested for marijuana and cocaine possession just months after Super Bowl XXX.

But that doesn’t mean the Mike Tomlin shouldn’t try to surround Bell with a positive influence by pairing him on the road with someone such as say, Heath Miller or Ike Taylor, player knows what it takes to get a Super Bowl ring.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Steelers Nation Hails Isaac Redman, Wishes "RedZone" Well in Retirement

Isaac Redman’s most memorable play in Pittsburgh serves as the perfect metaphor for his career.
  • The play itself came in a key AFC North Showdown Sunday, December 5th at Baltimore. 
With Pittsburgh down 10-6 and under four minutes remaining, Troy Polamalu strip-sacked Joe Flacco. LaMarr Woodley recovered, returning it to the nine. Pass attempts to Rashard Mendenhall and Hines Ward fell short. In between, Terell Suggs broke Ben Roethlisberger’s nose.

Its 3rd and 9. Isaac Redman shows up in the huddle – he’s not even supposed to be one the field, but it’s too late, he must stay in. Ball is snapped. Redman “Goes out and gets open” here’s what happened (available as of 8/24/14):



Unfortunately, thanks to Roger Goodell’s You Tube Police, we lack a better quality video. But a high-quality video isn’t necessary to capture the essence of Isaac Redman:
  • He wasn’t  supposed to be there, yet with dogged determination he defied the odds to impose his will. 
Isaac Redman, the undrafted rookie free agent who took Steelers Nation by storm in during the Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 training camp, retired from football last week 10 months after his release from the Steelers.

Isaac Redman, from Undrafted Free Agent to Steelers Nation Cult Hero

Even on the Steelers, a franchise crafted on giving undrafted rookie free agents a fair shake, these players face long odds. That’s especially true when they’re trying to make the roster of a defending Super Bowl Champion.
  • None of that deterred Isaac Redman.
Maryland’s Bowie State University will never serve as an NFL launching pad, but Redman’s career there earned him the school’s all time rushing title, and that landed him a spot in the Steelers 2009 undrafted rookie free agent class.

In the 21st century NFL training camps have become fairly mundane affairs, with contact minimized to a level that might perhaps make them unrecognizable to their form during Chuck Noll’s heyday. At St. Vincent’s, under Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, the goal line drill offers a contrast.
  • Redman got his shot in the goal line drill and scored twice. 
Tomlin saw enough to give him a shot in the team’s first preseason game vs. Arizona, and Redman scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Redman didn’t fare as well in the team’s next two preseason games, but led the team in rushing in the preseason finale vs. Carolina, and scored another touchdown.
  • Still, it wasn’t enough to make the team.
Mike Tomlin opted to give roster spots to Frank Summers and Stefan Logan. The Steelers instead signed Redman to the practice squad, where he’d be released and activated several times during the 2009 season.

From Cult Hero to Solid Backup

While Steelers management had taken a “Wait and see” attitude, Steelers Nation fell head over heels for “RedZone Redman.” He might have entered training camp behind 2010's 6th round draft pick Jonathan Dwyer on the depth chart, but that did nothing to deter fans.

To wit, when Behind the Steel Curtain polled asking fans who should win the training camp quarterback derby between Byron Leftwich, Dennis Dixon, and Charlie Batch, BTSC jokingly included Redman’s name, and Redman did well.

With a practice squad apprenticeship under his belt, Redman not only beat out Frank “The Tank” summers for a roster spot, but served as Mendenhall’s top backup for the year. If Redman lacked the speed and athleticism of Mendenhall, he was a bruising runner between the tackles who excelled at yards after contact.
  • He didn’t start any games in 2010, but saw carries in all 15 save for the mid-season speaking administered by New England.
By early 2011, Redman’s workman like performances had fans calling for him to start ahead of Mendenhall. By season’s end, Mendenhall’s ACL tear vs. the Browns gave fans their wish. Redman closed the game with 92 yards rushing, and gained 121 in the Tebowing suffered by the Steelers in Denver.

2012 Opportunity Slips Away

With Mendenhall recovering from his ACL, and Jonathan Dwyer consistently inconsistent, the stage was set for Redman to seize the starting role.
  • Yet, that didn’t happen.
Redman injured in groin in training camp, and neglected to tell the trainers about it. The team hurriedly activated Mendenhall from IR.  Redman started the Steelers first three games but was ineffective. An injury vs. Tennessee kept him out for the next two weeks.
  • Nonetheless, destiny gave Redman a final moment of glory.
Injuries thrust Redman back into the starting role in week 8 vs. the Giants, where he exploded for 147 yards rushing. He got another start the following week, but was ineffective. He played out the rest of the season, delivering his greatest impact vs. Baltimore.

2013 Redman’s Ride Reaches an Unceremonious End

Rookie Le’Veon Bell’s lisfranc injury and Jonathan Dwyer’s waiver made Redman the Steelers opening day starter in 2013. He promptly fumbled away his first carry and did nothing to redeem himself. A week later he suffered a concussion vs. Cincinnati, and later admitted to lying about it. Bell and Dwyer’s return saw Redman relegated to the bench, then the inactive list.
Yet in spite of his on the field accomplishments and former cult-hero status, the news wasn’t the bombshell it should have been. The press wrote very little about his departure. Fans didn’t care.

When yours truly suggested the team grant Redman a second chance in the offseason, fan reaction ranged from indifferent to hostile, and just plain hostile after Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s arrest.
  • Yet there seemed to be a 2+2 = 3 nature to Redman’s story.
Not only did the Steelers fail to show interest in resigning him, his name simply didn’t surface. Last Friday Redman revealed why on Twitter:
Apparently, during those final eight games, Redman suffered a neck injury that went unreported. We’ll never know if he could have saved his career by admitting to his injury. Either way, Redman’s time came to an unfortunate end.

But, as ESPN’s Scott Brown remembered “Isaac Redman gave the Steelers his all.” Steel Curtain Rising thanks Redman for his service and wishes him the best in retirement.

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Steelers Come Up Small in Big Test vs. Philly

Since early in the Bill Cowher era, the third preseason game has been the Steelers “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Mike Tomlin has followed suit, and he went as far as to say he was looking testing the no huddle in a hostile environment.
  • In the first big test of the 2014 the Steelers came up small. Very, very small.
The offensive line gave Ben Roethlisberger good protection, yet he was off target and inaccurate, although Antonio Brown and Heath Miller did save a couple of his cookies from the fire. Justin Brown, the “OTA sensation” was out of place drawing Roethlisberger’s ire. Derek Moye dropped the one pass thrown his way.
  • As bad as the offense was, the Steelers defense was worse.
Nick Foles had all night to throw – neither Jason Worilds (before he got injured, again) nor Jarvis Jones generated any pressure, and shredded the Steelers defense despite missing on several throws. Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen were both flagged multiple times.
  • But worse yet Philadelphia was more physical than Pittsburgh.
Both Michael Mitchell and Ryan Shazier, supposedly two key upgrades to the 2014 edition of the Steelers, missed easy tackles that then went for long gains.

But the truth is the Pittsburgh Steelers looked like they were playing in a purple haze vs. Philadelphia.


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bell and Blount's Arrests Obscure Surprise that Comes with Keisel's Return

The haze over Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s arrests helped obscure the fact that the Brett Keisel’s return to the Steelers came with a surprise. The first was that the Steelers had signed Brett Keisel to a two year deal, which is not what you’d expect for player about to turn 36.

However, the length of the contract is little more than salary cap maneuvering as explained by Jim Wexell:
Talk of bonuses naturally leads one to ask about the nature of the deal, which led to another exchange:

The other big piece of news was that the Steelers wasted little time in putting Kesiel back at his old spot on the depth chart, at starting right end, sending sent Cameron Heyward back to the left side. ESPN’s Scott Brown was among the first to report the change, although he pointed out that Mike Tomlin pays “scant attention” to during the preseason.

But Brown did indicate that the Steelers clearly had not brought back Kesiel to serve in a sort of “player-coach” mentoring role. Jim Wexell took the story further by reporting that:
I'm finding out, didn't come back to be a reserve. He'll likely be a starter at some point, but whether it's in two-and-a-half weeks for the opener is up to his conditioning.
So not only will Kesiel not be a mentor, but he will also be getting a lot more than the sort of spot duties that Jerome Bettis got in 2005.

While the move does appear to be a “set back” of sorts for a defense committed to getting younger, it does make sense, at least on paper. As discussed on Behind the Steel Curtain, rookies rarely play and never start for Johnny Mitchell, except those named Casey Hampton (ok, Brensten Buckner was another exception, but he didn’t pan out long term).

That rules out Stephon Tuitt, the second rounder from Notre Dame. Cam Thomas would seem to be the “loser” in this scenario, but the fact is that he is needed to back up Steve McLendon in the middle, a situation made all the more urgent by the Steelers decision to cut Hebron Fangupo to make room for Kesiel. In essence, Cam Thomas becomes the new Al Woods.

In the abstract this all works out perfectly, but Keisel's play on the field will ultimately vindicate Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell's decision to start him.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount Arrested on Drug Charges, DWU....

For 24 hours Steelers Nation basked in the glory of the decision to resign Brett Kesiel. The 2014 off season, it seemed, had been a picture of excellence. It had been free of the damming, judicial, distractions of the 2010 off season and the salary cap problems and painful veteran departures which came in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
  • Alas, the calm was not to be.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting that Steelers running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount have been arrested for marijuana possession. Bell faces a potential additional charge of driving under the influence of marijuana and possibly a DWU, according to Colin Dunlap.
  • The Steelers Le’Backfield has the potential to be devastated before the season even starts.
If the charges are substantiated, in addition to their legal woes, both players will find themselves afoul of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. As Steel Curtain Rising has documented, Roger Goodell’s NFL justice has been anything but consistent.

While Ray Rice got a mere 2 game suspension for domestic abuse, a substance abuse violation can result in a 4 game suspension. This does not bode well for the Steelers.
  • Ben Roethlisberger's looks poised to get his desire for a more pass-oriented offense. And then some.
Blount and Bell are the only two Steelers running backs with an NFL carry to their names. Rookie Dri Archer has looked promising in preseason, but lacks a feature back frame….

Earlier in the off season yours truly suggested the Steelers should give Isaac Redman a second chance. Needless to say Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin were not similarly inclined.

But I’d bet someone with Isaac Redman’s resume would be looking pretty good on the depth chart right about now….

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