Friday, July 29, 2011

2011 Training Camp Primer

With the Steelers reporting to camp yesterday and most of the team beginning workouts today (based on the rules of the new CBA, some players like tendered Restricted Free Agents can't practice until August 4th), we decided to take a look at the Steelers training camp roster and give some perspective on the biggest storylines/position battles in camp this year.

Right off the bat, we don't care about what happened with Hines, James, or Rashard in the offseason. That's behind us. This is the 2011 NFL Season. If you're not geared up for it and are still thinking about the summer, you need to re-evaluate your life. All the reporters asking questions about what happened over the summer are jokes. You're better off asking them what they had for breakfast before they drove up to camp.

And signing Plax makes no sense from a salary cap or depth chart perspective. But we've already talked about that.

Looking at the roster as it stands right now, there are 31 players on the roster that are definite locks to be suiting up for the Steelers come September 11.

QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich
RB: Rashard Mendenhall
WR: Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown
TE: Heath Miller
T: Willie Colon, Jonathan Scott, Marcus Gilbert
G: Chris Kemoeatu, Ramon Foster
C: Maurkice Pouncey, Doug Legursky

DE: Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, Cam Heyward
NT: Casey Hampton
OLB: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worlids
ILB: James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons
CB: Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden
S: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Will Allen, Ryan Mundy

Beyond those 31, there are 12 more players that should make the team, assuming nothing drastic happens.

QB: Dennis Dixon
RB: Isaac Redman
TE: David Johnson
OLB: Chris Carter
ILB: Larry Foote, Stevenson Sylvester
CB: Crezdon Butler, Curtis Brown, Cortez Allen
K: Shaun Suisham
P: Jeremy Kapinos
LS: Derek Chard

I included the specialists on this list and not the "locks" list because if someone has a horrendous preseason there's always the possibility of getting cut.

That leaves a total of 10 roster spots open for competition during camp. It's safe to say that many of them will be won or lost based on special teams play, so keep a close eye on that as the preseason moves along. Of course, not all camp battles are for a spot on the team. There are also battles for spots on the depth chart. We'll take a look at both.

Depth Chart Battles

Left Tackle: Jonathan Scott vs Marcus Gilbert

Scott started the latter portion of last season at left tackle after Max Starks went down with an injury. He wasn't the greatest LT in the world and had some troubles with penalties and in pass protection. Gilbert, the Steelers second round pick out of Florida, might be good enough to challenge for the starting job right off the bat. We'll know more once they start hitting each other in camp.

Prediction: The Steelers try to re-sign Starks or Adams at a discounted rate. Jonathan Scott wins the job out of camp but is replaced by Marcus Gilbert sometime around November.

Right Guard: Ramon Foster vs Doug Legursky

This might be the hardest of all the camp battles to call. Foster played most of last year at guard (right or left depending on Kemoeatu's health) while Legursky played both center and guard, including starting at center in the Super Bowl. They both have the ability and Legursky's feet are faster than Foster's but I think Foster is the stronger of the two. Whoever wins the spot is going to have to be on their toes for all the guys Colon gets beat by on the outside.

Prediction: Too close to call. Could go either way.

Nickel Corner: Keenan Lewis vs Crezdon Butler vs Curtis Brown vs Cortez Allen

Gay is an unrestricted free agent and it remains to be seen if the Steelers will re-sign him. For now, Lewis, a 3rd round pick in 2009 has to either show he's got something or he's probably going to lose his roster spot. He was horrible in the preseason game against Denver last year, giving up touchdown passes and taking terrible penalties that led to the coaches benching him. When he did play on Special Teams as a gunner last year, he looked lost, constantly running out of bounds on punt coverage. The door is open for Crezdon Butler (2010 5th round pick) or Curtis Brown (2011 3rd round pick) to step in to the nickel role. Butler has great speed and makes great plays on the ball while Steelers brass called Brown "Texas' best cover corner last season." This should be a fun one to watch, with Lewis being the only one who needs to show anything to keep a roster spot. Cortez Allen (2011 4th round pick) has a lot of raw skill but he needs work on honing it and will likely only play special teams this year.

Prediction: Brown wins the nickel corner, Butler plays as the dime corner, Lewis gets cut.

Battles for Roster Spots

Third Down Back: Baron Batch vs Jonathan Dwyer

People were excited last year when the Steelers drafted Dwyer out of Georgia Tech. We quickly found that Dwyer was great with the ball in his hands but pretty much clueless without it. The Steelers drafted Batch in the 7th round out of Texas Tech and he has become an online sensation for his interaction with fans through his blog and twitter account. Mewelde Moore is a free agent and the Steelers could always look to bring him back if they feel the need for an experienced 3rd Down Back.

Prediction: Batch wins the 3rd down back role, Dwyer improves over last year but still gets relegated to the practice squad. The Steelers don't sign Willie Parker.

Third Quarterback: Dennis Dixon vs Charlie Batch

This battle should more be "Charlie Batch vs age." Dixon is a restricted free agent and assuming no other team out there wants to give up a 5th round pick to sign him, he'll be back in black and gold this year. While Batch was able to come in and play solid ball when we needed him last year, it's likely the Steelers will opt for Leftwich and Dixon (unless Lord Byron looks absolutely atrocious in camp) as their backups.

Prediction: Dixon, but Colbert keeps Batch's number on speed dial in case a quarterback gets hurt.

Third Tight End: Eugene Bright vs Weslie Saunders vs Vaughn Charlton vs Jamie McCoy

With Matt Spaeth departing in free agency for Chicago, David Johnson will likely step into the #2 tight end role while keeping his H-back responsibilities. This opens the door for a 3rd tight end. Bright was on the practice squad last year while the other three players were undrafted free agent signings this year. Saunders is the most intriguing of the group, having been suspended from South Carolina last year for improper contact with an agent. Many considered him one of the top tight ends in college football before last season, but it remains to be seen how his year away from the game will impact his abilities. If he pans out, it could be a huge pickup for the Steelers.

Prediction: Saunders wins the job with at least one of the others landing on the practice squad

Fifth Wide Receiver: Arnaz Battle vs Tyler Grisham vs Limas Sweed vs Limas Sweed's hands

With the departure of Antwaan Randle El, the job of 5th wide receiver is open. It's likely that only one of these guys will make the team. Grisham has great hands but is a little guy who doesn't contribute much on special teams. Battle is just the opposite. He was one of our best special teams players last year, but gave us basically nothing as a wide receiver. Sweed has everything it takes to be a receiver except the hands. He has the size, speed, and break-away ability that made him worthy of a 2nd round pick in 2008, but he just can't catch the ball. The rumor mill is still swirling about Plaxico, but once some of the other pieces start falling at wide receiver in the free agent market, someone is going to throw some big money at Burress.

Prediction: Battle wins the spot based on special teams play. Sweed is cut. Burress signs with New York, St. Louis or Jacksonville.

Back-up Nose Tackle: Steve McLendon vs Anthony Gray

With Chris Hoke a free agent, it's unsure whether he will return to back up Casey Hampton this year or not. So for now, the battle is open for a back-up nose tackle. McLendon bounced back and forth between the practice squad and the roster last year while Gray was an undrafted free agent signing out of Southern Miss. Gray has a massive body and could be a good backup. In all likelihood, the Steelers will probably bring back Hoke to fill the role with McLendon and/or Gray starting the year on the practice squad.

Prediction: Re-sign Hoke

Fourth Offensive Tackle: Tony Hills vs Chris Scott

In a battle of players who have been disappointments thus far, there is likely a roster spot on the line. Hills was drafted in the 4th round in 2008 and has shown very little. Despite all the injuries that have hit the Steelers line, Hills has gotten basically no playing time, despite his size. Chris Scott was drafted in the 5th round out of Tennessee last year, but spent the entire season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. The other option here is that Trai Essex is a free agent and the Steelers might be able to bring him back. Essex is a good option as he can play 4 of the 5 positions along the offensive line and has experience in our system. Signing Essex would take some of the pressure off Marcus Gilbert initially as well, giving him more time to develop.

Prediction: Re-sign Essex.

Fourth Offensive Guard: Dorian Brooks vs Keith Williams

Brooks spent last year on the practice squad and the Steelers drafted Williams in the 6th round this year. It's unlikely either of these guys would see much playing time with the loser of the Legursky/Foster battle being the top backup at guard. Williams has a great work ethic and mean streak while Brooks knows the system. Should be a good battle that might end with both players on the practice squad, particularly if Trai Essex is re-signed.

Prediction: Well, I said above that the Steelers should re-sign Essex, so if they do, it's likely neither of these guys will make the opening day roster.

Other Players to Watch

John Clay (RB) - Picked up as an undrafted free agent, Clay was the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after putting up huge numbers at Wisconsin. At 6'1" 250 lbs, he has the frame to be a great short-yardage back. Even if he doesn't make the team, he could use a year on the practice squad. It would be nice to see the Steelers use Redman more in a complementary role to Mendenhall, and Clay might be able to snag a roster spot as a short-yardage specialist.

Ra'Shon Harris (DL) - Drafted by the Steelers in the 6th round in 2009, he has bounced between the Steelers, Panthers and Bills practice squads and is back for another shot at the Steelers roster. With Smith, Keisel, Hood, and Heyward on the depth chart above him, it'll be tough for Harris to crack the rotation, but if the Steelers decide to keep 5 DEs, he'll probably be the guy.

Mario Harvey (LB) - Was a tackling machine for the Marshall Thundering Herd. If the Steelers choose not to re-sign Keyaron Fox, Harvey could win a spot on the team if he shows some ability to play special teams.

Free Agents the Steelers Might Look to Re-Sign

Mewelde Moore (RB)
Trai Essex (OL)
Chris Hoke (NT)
Keyaron Fox (ILB)
Willie Gay (CB)
Greg Warren (LS)

The Steelers might take a look at other free agents from around the league, but due to the terms of the new CBA, players signing new contracts aren't eligible to practice until August 4th anyways, so the Steelers have some time to do their due diligence on any free agents they might want to add to the team. We'll be updating our projected roster list fairly frequently. Damn, it's good to have football back.

Cuts, Signings, Farewells

After having to go months without football, everyone knew it was going to be a frenzy once things got started. The Steelers headed into the day somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million over the $120 million salary cap. We all knew this would mean cuts, and the biggest of which broke last night, when media sources reported that the Steelers planned to release left tackle Max Starks.

Starks was due over $7 million this year and saves us about $5 million in cap room. Max wasn't always the best player on the offensive line, but he earned his keep with the kind of effort and attitude Steelers fans have come to expect in their players. After being drafted in the 3rd round, Starks came in and played right tackle, a position that was not as natural for him as left tackle because he is left-handed. Then, after the Steelers drafted Willie Colon and Starks lost a training camp battle to Colon for the starting job, rather than whine and complain, Starks did everything he could to help the team, learning both tackle positions (eventually filling in at Left Tackle for an injured Marvel Smith) and spending time on special teams on the field goal and field goal block units. Starks was never considered one of the best tackles in the league, and he did struggle at times, but he also went on streaks where he was almost unbeatable, like when he shut down Elvis Dumervil and Jared Allen in back-to-back weeks in 2009.

The Steelers also parted ways with Antwaan Randle El, who was due $2.3 million this year. Many people assumed Randle El would be a salary cap casualty, as he was beaten out by both Manny Sanders and Antonio Brown last year, falling from the #3 WR to #5 by the end of the season.

On the other side, the Steelers inked contracts with two players today. Tackles Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott each signed contracts to stay with the team.

Willie Colon's deal was for 5 years and $29 million. Reportedly, the Bears offered him $3 million more than the Steelers, but he took the hometown discount to stay here. For those of you that have read the blog for a while, you'll know I haven't been Colon's biggest fan. He's a mauler in the run game but he gets absolutely roasted by speed rushers off the corner and is prone to committing at least 1 false start penalty per game (and usually a holding penalty too).

Re-signing Jonathan Scott was a good move. While he's not the greatest lineman in the world, he isn't terrible either. He's a mediocre player, but he's capable of getting the job done. He stepped in at both right tackle and left tackle last year, playing left tackle after Max Starks went down for the year. Scott will likely be the top backup at the tackle position and can step in if needed into a starting role. Hopefully, for all our sakes, we don't need Scott to start a plethora of games this season like we did last year.

The Departed

Nick Eason

Defensive End Nick Eason signed a deal with Pittsburgh West to become a member of the Arizona Cardinals. In all honesty, good for Nick. With the drafting of Cam Heyward, he was probably going to be the odd one out along the defensive front. He has been a solid backup/rotational player in the past for the Steelers and we wish him all the best in Pittsburgh West.

Matt Spaeth

Spaeth was a highly regarded 3rd round pick when he originally was drafted by the Steelers, but he never panned out into a dual-threat tight end like we had hoped. For his huge frame, he wasn't a stellar blocker and often got called for holding penalties. Initially, he looked like he had a great set of hands, and had one set of games early in his career when he filled in for Heath Miller where he caught everything thrown his way. But a lack of reps in the passing game seemed to set him back and his hands were never the same. This past season, when forced into action to fill in for Heath, Spaeth dropped a handfull (no pun intended) of balls against the New York Jets, including two passes in the end zone at the end of the game that could have won it for the Steelers. He now heads to Chicago where Mike Martz does basically nothing with tight ends, so he should fit in.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Four More Years of Swagger

Adam Schefter works for ESPN. His word is pretty much always as good as truth. So pumped that Ike is coming back.

Some people are hard on Ike, but here's something to consider: the Steelers got to both Super Bowl XLIII and XLV with the same 4 starting players in the secondary: Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, and Bryant McFadden.

Our buddy Steve Braband asked Ike at the Super Bowl last year about how to get into Swaggin' University

Four more years of Swagger. Hell. Yes.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Top Five Free Agents that WON'T Be Coming To Pittsburgh

With the NFL lockout seemingly drawing to a close, at least, in a similar way that Return of the King drew to a close, it's time to take a look at what the Steelers should do once they can finally do business again. The boys over at Blitzburgh Blog did an awesome job of outlining 8 roster moves the Steelers need to make once the lockout ends. In the wake of that, we're not going to basically re-post what they've said. They summed up everything we could think. So instead of saying what the Steelers should do, we're going to take a look at what they won't do. Regardless of what you've heard on TV or Radio, read in the paper or on Twitter, or might think in your own head, here are Five Free Agents that WILL NOT be wearing black and gold come September.

1. Plaxico Burress

There's been a lot of talk that since Plax is now out of the slammer, there's some reason why the Steelers would be interested in bringing him back. I guess if the Steelers are interested in guys who don't know how to run a fade route or will drop big balls at key moments of playoff games, then sure, they'd bring Plax back. But in reality, the Steelers have 4 solid receivers on their depth chart (Ward, Wallace, Sanders, Brown) and wouldn't be able to land Plax for any cheaper than the remaining guys currently on their roster (Battle - 1.3 million cap hit, Randle El - 2.3 million cap hit, Sweed - 938K cap hit). In all likelihood, Battle, El, and Sweed will fight it out in camp for the last roster spot. El Yeah might be a cap casualty or the Steelers could look to restructure his deal.

2. Nnamdi Asomugha

This one is pure and simply an issue of money. Asomugha is the best corner in the league and is going to land a monster deal somewhere. With the Steelers sitting about $10 million over the proposed salary cap, they just don't have the money to sign Asomugha. Look for someone like Houston, Tampa Bay or (worst case scenario) Cincinnati that needs to spend a buttload of money just to get to cap floor to land Asomugha.

3. Tiki Barber

About a month or so ago, Barber came out and said he wanted to try to return to the NFL. He also mentioned that the two teams he was most interested in playing for were the Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This started a wave of "Barber to the Steelers?!" talk, that was pretty much unsubstantiated. Barber is 36 years old and hasn't played in the NFL since 2006. What the Steelers need in a running back is a 3rd down back if Mewelde Moore doesn't come back. In other words, the Steelers are looking for someone who is quick, has good hands, and can block. Barber isn't going to come back for the veteran minimum and the Steelers won't be able to afford a back for much more than that. If 7th round pick Baron Batch pans out as a 3rd down back, the Steelers contingent of backs will likely be Mendenhall, Redman, Dwyer, and Batch.

4. Terrell Owens/Chad Ochocinco/Randy Moss

Yeah, not happening.

5. Willie Parker

The Willie Parker movement, somewhat surprisingly, was actually started by THE Fast Willie Parker himself. After leaving Pittsburgh last year to seek greener pastures, Parker found that there wasn't as high a demand as he thought for an aging running back with a history of injury issues. He wound up landing with the Washington Redskins, who apparently don't have the best locker room in the league. What a shocker. Parker has repeatedly said he wants to come back to Pittsburgh, but it doesn't seem likely the Steelers will sign him. We'll always have fond memories of Fast Willie's gamebreaking run in Super Bowl XL. That said, Parker wasn't the best at pass protection and wasn't a great receiver out of the backfield. Seeing as the Steelers biggest need at RB right now is for a 3rd down back that can be a receiver out of the backfield, Parker's skill set and the Steelers needs don't seem well-aligned. If Parker is looking for anything more than the veteran minimum, he won't find it in Pittsburgh with our current salary cap situation.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Local Media Panties In A Bunch Over James Harrison

When news first broke about James Harrison's comments regarding Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall yesterday, there were mixed reaction from Steelers fans. There was one contingent (which I admittedly am a part of) that thought Harrison's comments, while a little harsh, were understandable for someone on the defense. The other contingent, featuring at least two fairly prominent members of the Pittsburgh sports media, had the knee-jerk reaction that the Steelers need to part ways with Harrison as soon as possible.

Sure, we'll go down this road with you Mike. But let's not forget that this tweet was from Mike Vukovcan, KDKA-TV sports producer and producer of the #1 Cochran Sports Showdown. So basically, if it wasn't for "idiot athletes," Mike wouldn't have a job. Let's also remember that professional athletes aren't Rhodes Scholars or summa cum laude graduates. Sure there is the occasional few like former Florida State Safety Myron Rolle (drafted by Tennessee in 2010) that spent a year away from football in England on a Rhodes Scholarship. But for the most part, a lot of professional athletes are the same jocks that would shove kids in lockers in high school. The media runs a double-edged sword: they want athletes to be open and honest with them, and then they turn around and blast them if the athlete says something they don't like. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes, everybody has one (even professional athletes). You're running the same risk asking a professional athlete a question as you do when the 6:00 news goes to a gas station and asks someone what they think of gas prices.

As we know, Harrison's statement about Ben focused on Ben's play in the Super Bowl. Mike Vukovcan and Post-Gazette beat writer Gerry Dulac took exception to this, calling out Harrison's Super Bowl play.

Of course, I took to twitter to respond to Puke and Douchelac. In response to his comment about Harrison only having 1 tackle (which was a 7-yard sack on 3rd down) in Super Bowl XLV asked Gerry if we were judging players entire careers based one game. Gerry responded by saying no one was judging their careers. Except that's what he just did. I also mentioned that Harrison had as many tackles in Super Bowl XLV as he had 100-yard interception returns in Super Bowl XLIII. Let's be honest, we don't beat the Cardinals if Harrison doesn't make that interception.

Ken Laird from the Trib dropped some knowledge on us this morning in response to these criticisms of Harrison's Super Bowl:

The common theme of criticism here is that Harrison somehow didn't perform in the playoffs. So let's take a look at the numbers. Numbers in parentheses are where he ranked on the team in that category.

2010 Season 2010 Playoffs
Tackles  100 (3rd)  15 (3rd)
Sacks  10.5 (1st)  4.0 (1st)
Pass Defense  5 (5th)  1 (2nd)
Interceptions  2 (2nd)  0 (2nd)
Forced Fumbles  6 (1st)  0 (2nd)
Fumble Recoveries  1 (2nd)  0 (2nd)

In the turnover category, only Ryan Clark had an interception in the playoffs, and Harrison was not involved in the 2 forced fumbles or 3 fumble recoveries. To say that Harrison's supposed lack of performance in the playoffs was somehow the reason for the Steelers losing is simply ridiculous. Harrison was 2nd in the league with 4 sacks in the playoffs (Terrell Suggs had 5). Of the 9 players that recorded more than 2 sacks in the 2010 playoffs, only 2 players had more than 10 tackles - Clay Matthews (16) and Harrison (15). In the regular season, of players that finished in the top 35 in the league in sacks (6.5+ sacks) only 2 players had more than 70 tackles. Harrison, who finished 15th in the league in sacks with 10.5 and 100 tackles, and Justin Tuck who was 7th in the league with 11.5 sacks and had 76 tackles.

Digging a level deeper into Harrison's stats, only 27 of his 100 regular season tackles came on passing plays. Adding his 10 sacks to that means that 10% of his tackles were sacks, 27% were on pass plays, and 63% were on running plays. On the season, the Steelers defense faced 593 pass attempts (64%) and 333 rushing attempts (36%). Harrison made tackles or sacks on 6.2% of opponents passing plays and 18.9% of opponents running plays.

In the Super Bowl, the Packers ran 39 pass plays and 13 running plays, 2 of which were kneel-downs by Rodgers. So in reality, the breakdown was 39 passes (78%), 11 runs (22%). Against the Packers, the Steelers saw less running plays than they were used to during the season, which in and of itself diminished Harrison's impact on the game. Considering that Harrison was approximately 1/3 as likely to make a tackle or sack on a pass play than on a running play, is it any surprise that the Packers pass-heavy offense diminished his statistics?

Another point that was brought up in my twitter conversation with Douchelac was in respect to Harrison's comment about the defense being put in situations where they have to bail out the offense. The twitter conversation pretty much speaks for itself.

For those of you not familiar with Twitter lingo, "RT" is a "re-tweet" of something someone else said. So in this case, my comment was the "Stopped Pack[ers] 3x when down 21-17 to give O[ffense] a chance to take [the] lead" in response to Douchelac's question.

More on this and the prior post in a moment.

This was his direct response to my previous comment. Somewhat out of left field. Also, the world looks a lot better through black-and-gold glasses. They're the only kind to wear. No idea why a beat writer for the Pittsburgh Steelers would suggest I take them off.

@alphadelt decided to take a crack at Gerry's comment to me. The only comment of mine here is the "Wooo," which is a common expression amongst twitter folk and bloggers.

But apparently Gerry, who used "tho" and "u" in  his conversation with me, thinks using "Wooo" as an exclamation of a burn is too low-brow for him.

I really don't think I need to explain myself here with respect to his argument that drives after turnovers mattered more...But for argument's sake, I'll do it.

The Steelers committed 3 turnovers in the Super Bowl which led to 21 points for Green Bay. One of those turnovers was a pick-6 where the defense had no chance to stop it, so we'll take that one off the table. Therefore, the defense gave up 14 points off turnovers. My point centered around the 3 stops the defense had after the score was 21-17 in the 3rd quarter. But in reality, the defense came out of the halftime break with a fire under their ass.

Here are Green Bay's 4 drives after halftime of the Super Bowl:
Across: Start time of Drive, Quarter, Time of Possession, Starting Yard Line, Plays, Yards, Result

The Steelers went into the half down 21-10. The defense forced a 3-and-out and the offense scored to get us back within a score (21-17). The very next drive for the Packers, Harrison came through with his only sack of the game on a big 3rd down to force a punt. The defense would force two more 3-and-outs, giving the offense 3 cracks at the Packers defense with the game within 1 score.

Now, Geriatric's point (I think) is that these stops in the 3rd quarter were less important in the scope of the game because they didn't happen after turnovers. So, if my interpretation of his comments is correct, if the Steelers defense had prevented the Packers from scoring after the turnovers ("when it counted" in his words), then it wouldn't have mattered what they did the rest of the game. Okay, I'll play that "what if' game:
  • If the Steelers defense prevents the Packers offense from scoring on the 2 drives after the turnovers, that takes 14 points off the board for Green Bay, which means the Steelers would have won 25-17.
  • However, if the Packers had scored on the drives when it didn't "count" (drives that followed a Steelers punt or kickoff), let's say, the 4 drives at the beginning of the 3rd quarter, they could have put anywhere from 12 to 28 points on the board. Even if the Steelers defense had held the Packers to all field goals in those 4 drives that Gerry thinks didn't count, the Steelers still would have lost 29-25. If the Packers had scored touchdowns on those drives, it would have been a crushing 45-25 defeat.
The long and the short of it is to say that the only drives that "count" are the ones that occur after turnovers is asinine. We could play the "What If" game all day, but it's not going to change the result of the game and putting the blame on either the defense or the offense isn't really fair to either. Win as a team. Lose as a team.

And now we come to the last point, and really the crux of this whole situation. Dulac's sentiments might have been ridiculous and childish in his responses, but Mike Vukovcan takes the cake for least supported/most off-the-wall sentiment in this whole situation.


Of course, I replied back saying that I disagreed with this sentiment, mentioning that Harrison was the 1st Steelers player ever to have 10+ sacks in 3 consecutive seasons (Woodley would go on to join him as the second). I also mentioned saying the Steelers could survive without Harrison is like saying the Pens could survive without Fleury. But Vuk was on a roll, and just had to get his thoughts out there...

For starters, his history is wrong. We drafted 3 in the last 2 years. In 2010 we picked Jason Worlids in the 2nd round and Thaddeus Gibson in the 4th round (Gibson didn't make the 53-man roster and was picked up by the 49ers). In 2011 we picked Chris Carter. 

Secondly, we drafted the Outside Linebackers for youth and depth. Coming into the 2010 season, the #3 OLB on the depth chart was Patrick Bailey. We were big fans of Bailey as a special teams ace, but there was room for improvement in the depth chart (and Bailey is probably better suited to a 4-3 OLB role than a 3-4 OLB role). Before the 2010 season, Kevin Colbert also faced this dilemma: Harrison was 32 years old and Woodley was entering the last year of his contract. Youth and depth was needed at the OLB position and Colbert went out and got it. 

Finally, just because we invest a draft pick in an outside linebacker doesn't mean it's a slam dunk that they will succeed in the Steelers defense. Unlike some other defenses around the league, the Steelers don't have a "plug and play" defense. It takes a special type of player to be a 3-4 Outside Linebacker in Dick LeBeau's defense. For as many success stories as there have been under LeBeau, there have been a number of players that have fizzled out and never reached their potential as well. In recent memory, Bruce Davis (2008 3rd round pick), Nathaniel Adibi (2004 5th round pick), and Alonzo Jackson (2003 2nd round pick).

Of course, there have been some great ones too...

But as I said, the position takes a special type of player. You can't just plug anyone in there. Remember when people slammed the LaMarr Woodley pick? That worked out great for us, but there's also the counter-example of Bruce Davis. Saying the Steelers would be okay without Harrison takes stupidity to an entirely new level. As I discussed earlier, not only did he lead the team in sacks last year (which keeps double-teams away from Woodley), but he also racked up a TON of tackles in run defense. Harrison's ability to crash down the line and hold his cutback corner on running plays that go away from him is a big key to our defense and was huge in stopping Chris Johnson in Tennessee last year.

I think this sentiment is the most troubling for me because Harrison is NOT indispensable to this defense, at least not in its current form with Worlids barely having half a year of special teams experience and Woodley hanging on by the franchise tag. If this idea continues to spread through the fanbase, it's going to turn James Harrison into the poster child for complaints against the Steelers defense. These types of articles probably won't stop and I'd really hate to see another All Pro athlete get chased out of town because the media didn't like him (see: Bonds, Barry, et al). 

I'll leave you with one final stat from ESPN's Adam Schefter:

As Ryan Clark said, "Ride or Die with #7"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

James Harrison is badass

Apparently, James Harrison is an angry dude with a lot of thoughts and opinions.

I usually try to stay away from writing about what players do off the field and stick to more important things like dreaming up better scenarios for the BCS or talking about the best and worst uniform changes. You know, important stuff.

At any rate, here's the long and the short of it in case you were out doing something productive and/or golfing on what was a beautiful day here in Western PA.

A few months ago, Harrison did an interview for Men's Journal (which is stupid first off, because I always heard it wasn't "manly" to keep a journal, but I guess that's beside the point). He had the writer come to his house in Arizona where he was training, which wasn't a bad idea, but I'm sure they sat around and talked for a while, giving the writer the freedom to pick and choose what comments he wanted to use. This also probably gave Harrison a lot of time to get worked up talking about Goodell, fines, etc. Anyways, Harrison dropped some gems of quotes about what he thinks about Goodell (like saying "If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it"), NFL executive vice president and guy in charge of fines Ray Anderson ("another dummy who never played a down") and former 49ers DB Merton Hanks who is in charge of the appeals process for fines ("needs to be ashamed because he played D before, though he was never what you'd call a real hitter").

For starters, let's be honest. Harrison's sentiments about the league and those in charge of the league office are pretty much what most Steelers fans think/feel anyways after how last season went down. Is Harrison going to get fined or whatever for this? Possibly. Ironically, the NFL can't touch him right now because of the lockout. But when the lockout ends? Who knows. Can't say I disagree with Harrison's thoughts on this subject though.

The big thing that jumped out, at least to me, from the article was how much of a badass Harrison really is. Obviously, we know how he plays on the field and his reputation of having a gravelly demeanor off the field isn't far wrong. From the snippets of the article I saw, it was pretty clear that Paul Solotaroff wrote the article to make James sound as grizzly and "manly" as possible (this is the "Men's Journal" after all). However, there were a few stories mentioned that did stand out.

The first was from when he played in high school and told a group of kids on the other team they were going to die.

"The only hair on Harrison is the pointy beard he’s been trying to grow all spring. He’s kept his skull bald since his sophomore year of high school, when he approached his opponents before a game, doffed his helmet to show his new-mown pate, and told them they were going to die that day."


No, I'm not joking about this either.

" 'I grabbed a rattler by his tail and threw him over the fence last month.'
You grabbed a rattler bare-handed?
'Had to. My son was here visiting, so that bitch had to bounce. ASAP.'"

This is a dude that grabbed a rattlesnake barehanded. Do you really think Marshall Yanda is going to scare him?


Yeah, I didn't think so either. But let's also not forget the reason why he did it. His son was visiting. Harrison doesn't just go around picking up rattlers for the fun of it. He did it to protect his son.

Now comes the part that has the Pittsburgh media elite's panties in a bunch. Harrison had a few quotes about Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall and their performances last year.

With regards to Ben (and I don't know the context of this quote, just that it pertains to the Super Bowl), he said, "Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does."

For starters, and before anyone reading this gets up in arms about anything, we'll go to what Ryan Clark posted on Twitter.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Twitter, Ryan is saying "He's just James! You know what you're getting" in response to what the other person (jemelehill) said.
Same here. Ryan says in response "Locker room stuff gets handle[d] in the locker room not [on] twitter."

I think these 4 tweets pretty much say it all. What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. That's pretty much all you need to know.

Chances are, I'll be posting a few more times this week with counter-arguments to what those in the Pittsburgh media, including Gery Dulac who thinks #3 is the best hole at Birdsfoot Golf Club (I wouldn't even put it in my top 5...#2, #5, #7, #11, and #18 are all better holes), are saying about Harrison.

"That Bitch Had To Bounce" and "Ride or Die With #7" would make great t-shirts. Just saying.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Five Rejected Additions to NCAA '12

The NFL is locked out, there's really not much going on in the world of football. Every day there's a back and forth of "A deal is close!" and "The 2011 Season is screwed!" so we're not even going to get into that.

Unless of course you count what they call "football" internationally.

Then we could talk about the US Women's National Team and their brilliant come-from-behind victory over Brazil

Go America.

In other football-related news, NCAA Football '12 comes out today. If you're a college football fan, or a video game fan, you've probably played some version of the NCAA franchise in the past. EA has added some cool features over the past few seasons, but there are also some aspects of the collegiate game that EA has conveniently left out that would have made the game even better.

1. Recruiting Violations

Let's be honest. When you're playing in dynasty mode, going through offseason recruitment can get boring and repetitive. So why not give yourself a recruiting budget instead of a set amount of "time" per week to talk to recruits. The budget could be spent either by purchasing cell phone minutes to call recruits or paying for print materials to send information to recruits via snail mail. Or, you could be like the Southern Conference schools of old and buy cars or other things for recruits. Heck, why not just be like SMU and give recruits a big stack of cash? You could also prevent current students from leaving early for the NFL or transferring to another school by upping the ante with things like cars or off campus jobs.

Seriously, how much fun would it be to be able to commit recruiting violations? It would enable you to get a leg up on stacking your roster with 5-star prospects. To make it more realistic, if your team competes in BCS games, they'll receive a lesser penalty from the NCAA for your violations than if they were just some shmuck team. Also, if your school's name starts with "Texas" or "Oklahoma", you won't get penalized for anything you do. Getting caught by the NCAA would effect your Coaching Prestige rankings, regardless of if you move on to a different coaching gig or not and the Program Prestige rankings for the school.

2. Player discipline/Academics

In some of the older versions of the game (back in the mid-2000s), if you recruiting players with bad discipline ratings, they would commit football-related offenses like skipping practice or something. EA should make this feature more realistic, like "3 of your players robbed a convenience store in their game jerseys" or "half of your team sold memorabilia for tattoos." As with recruiting violations, your school will likely see a stiffer punishment for this if you're a MAC school than if you're an SEC school. That's just how the NCAA is. Deal with it.

In addition to player discipline rankings, recruits would have an academic rating. Players with lower academic ratings would be more likely to start failing their classes halfway through the season. In this case, you'd have the option to send them to tutoring, suspend them until their grades come up, or have other people take their tests for them.

3. School Budgets

Coaches would be put in greater control of their school's football budgets. Teams would add revenue by being more competitive in their league and playing in bowl games. Mid-major schools could also add revenue by stacking their non-conference schedule with big school opponents. No one likes to lose on a video game, but wouldn't it be worth getting slaughtered by some big conference schools one year to boost your recruiting budget for the next season? As a major conference school, you'll have to pay out of your budget if you want to bring in chump schools to beat the snot out of in non-conference play. Of course, you can also blow your budget on committing recruiting violations, land 5-star prospects, make BCS games, then take the money you get from that and commit more violations. Gee, I can't think of any school that has done that....

4. Publicity Ratings

In past NCAA games, there has been the "magazine" feature, but it doesn't really do anything for your school if you make the cover or are featured in a "story." Additionally, the amount of games that are the "Game of the Week" (rated both before and after the week -- before the week based on expected matchup as it is now and after the week based on the "Greatness Score"). This way, even if you're featured in the "Game of the Week" often, if you blow out your opponents consistently, you won't have many games that rate highly on the "Greatness" scale, giving teams that play competitive games an edge in this respect.

5. Playoff Mode

Yeah, an NCAA game probably isn't going to add this, but it would be a cool feature to offer in Dynasty Mode. You could either have "Traditional BCS" mode, "11 Team Playoff" mode (where only the champions of the 11 conferences would make the Playoff), and "8 Team Playoff" mode (where the 6 Automatic Qualifier conferences plus 2 "At Large" schools make the Playoff). Come on, you know this would be cool.

Of course, none of these changes were actually added to the game. The best feature they did add was customizable conferences where you can add or subtract teams from any conference, which is cool because it will allow you to move teams around conferences as they switch in real life.  The addition of the 'coaching carousel" is a nice feature as well, if you want to play enough seasons in dynasty mode to start off as a lowly coordinator and build your way up. On the whole, it looks like NCAA 12 is a pretty solid game, but if you bought NCAA 11 last year, there aren't a ton of new features that make playing $60 for this version worthwhile. Unless of course you really want to be able to build your way up from through the coaching ranks or make your own custom conferences.