4.30.2009

Kevin Colbert Still Likes Signing Lions Players


This time it's receiver Shaun McDonald, thus aptly filling out a receiving corps that was looking depleted after Nate Washington skipped town. Hey, the Lions connection worked okay with Sean McHugh and obviously Jeff Hartings. I'm much happier with this signing as opposed to taking a flyer on Ashley Lelie. McDonald was a good slot guy in '07 (79 catches for 943 yards) when the Lions had a healthy Jon Kitna and semblance of an offense. I think this is actually a great fit for the team and more than an adequate replacement for Nate Washington. I know it's an odd thing to say for a defending Super Bowl champion, but I already feel like the Steelers are a better team than the one that took the field on Feb. 1.

4.28.2009

Timmons, Cap Force Foote's Ouster

As most expected at the outset of free agency, Larry Foote has become a cap casualty, as he'll be released by the Steelers to save the team $2.8 million in room under the cap. By all indications, the Michigan grad looks to be heading home to Detroit. Hopefully with this and the Ward extension, it will free up enough money to get the rookies, Ashley Lelie or another veteran receiver, as well as another extension or two in the books before next year.

Foote will certainly be missed, being that he won two titles with the team and was a quiet, consistent contributor. That and the stomping the dirt celebrations were fun to watch. But it had become apparent that he had become expendable as a starter with the emergence of Lawrence Timmons.

I have a lot of confidence that Timmons will thrive full-time at the position. He was already obviously getting significant playing time there this season and doing well enough to generate a lot of excitement among fans. It will be interesting to see how the team will opt to spell Timmons next year. Keyaron Fox has recently showed a lot and could see some snaps in that capacity.

I'd like to know how the team shopped him during the draft. I'm sure there were probably a few offers, though officials on other teams would have to know he wasn't long for the Steelers' roster, thus driving down the value. Not having garnered much, the Steelers would just assume let him go to sign where he wants.

4.26.2009

Ziggy, Frank The Tank, Mike Wallace And The Rest Of The '09 Draft Class

This year's was a predictably austere but encouraging draft by the Steelers, one that putatively addressed an array of team needs, from shoring up the secondary, adding a possible starting interior lineman, providing much-needed depth to the receiving corps, picking up a bruising short yardage back, taking another shot at drafting a kick returner and, inexplicably, another tight end.

In the days leading up to the draft, Steelers fans were greeted with the auspicious news that Hines Ward agreed to a four-year extension that will practically ensure he retires with the team and that the Steelers signed Keiwan Ratliff to bolster the secondary depth (eh, well, he is marginally better than Fernando Bryant). Hines more than proved last year that he has a few more seasons of productivity left in the tank and his leadership is going to be immeasurably beneficial regardless of output. Now hopefully the same can be done with Heath Miller and Casey Hampton before the start of training camp.

As for the picks:

1. Ziggy Hood (DT/DE - Missouri) A best talent available situation that addresses a need on the horizon. Having Alex Mack or Eric Wood fall to 32 would have been nice, but this lessens anxiety with an aging D-line. Depth there was already an issue, as we saw when Aaron Smith went down near the end of the '07 season.

3a. Kraig Urbik (OG - Wisconsin) Described as a versitile Max Unger type (I thought they might have taken Unger at 32 but in a lot of ways he versatility seemed to be praised to mask a lack in standout talent) I wouldn't be at all surprised if he can challenge Stapelton for the starting job in training camp.

3b. Mike Wallace (WR - Mississippi) Pushes Dallas Baker a bit further down the depth chart, though by no means pretties the picture at the position. As Limas Sweed has fully illustrated, rookie receivers aren't always apt to make an impact right out of the gate. That said, the team could still benefit from nabbing a veteran after cuts within the next few months. Tomlin, though, does acknowledge that Wallace will at least get a look at kick returning duties. The risk of Willie Reid 2.0 aside, it can't be much worse than Gary Russell/Carey Davis and Mewelde running kicks back to the 25.

3c. Keenen Lewis (CB - Oregon State) I've seen a lot of places make the Ike Taylor comparison as a larger physical cover guy, which could serve as a nice contrast to the more diminutive William Gay.

5a. Joe Burnett (CB - Central Florida) Looks more likely to contribute as a nickle or dime guy, presumably Deshea Townsend insurance for the next few seasons. Could also be in the mix on return duties.

5b. Frank Summers (RB/FB - UNLV) Easily the most buzzworthy of the Steelers picks, evoking as he does Bus-style power running. And why not? Goal line offense dogged the Steelers time and again this past season. If they had a decent short yardage game, the Super Bowl wouldn't even have been close. Of course, that had as much to do with blocking as the backs themselves, but a huge bruising back certainly makes the proposition a little easier. The most intriguing aspect of this pick is what it means for the back situation. With Summers, the team has six fullbacks or halfbacks: FWP, Mendenhall, Mewelde, Carey Davis and Sean McHugh. If pressed, my guess is that the Summers' selection could spell the axing of Davis or McHugh. I'd actually prefer Davis to go between the two of them. Carey's not much of a blocker. Tomlin has always seemed enamored of his pass catching abilities, though that has yet to translate into big plays in the passing game. The playoff game against San Diego stands out when they tried to get the ball to Carey in space and he got brought down short of the sticks on 3rd and 3.

6. Ra'Shon Harris (DE - Oregon) Another projected solid 3-4 defensive end. Kirschke, Smith and Keisel all 30 or older, it was a must to address this position sooner rather than later.

7a. A.Q. Shipley (C - Penn State) As popular a pick as Summers for the Penn State ties, Shipley gets dogged for being undersized but the team has plenty of huge maulers who are short on talent. Good to have someone who can excel at the position through technique. Will be a useful reserve this year.

7b. David Johnson (TE - Arkansas St.) Steelers with a surfeit of tight ends? Why not? But it's no secret that, much to our consternation, Arians and Tomlin love the multi-tight end sets. This guy is supposed to be a good blocker, which Matt Spaeth most assuredly is not. May get a shot at 3rd string tight end for use in running packages.

4.14.2009

Caterwauling Ravens Get Their Precious Primetime Game


The new schedule is out and looks awfully promising (hardest game of the year in Week 1, nice late bye in Week 8), though that could mean little between now and September. One notable shake out is the Ravens' carping resulted in the primetime game in their house in Week 12. Which is fine. I don't think it has much, if any, impact on the outcome of the game, yet if you read Ravens message boards after it was revealed that they appealed to the league office, all you'd see was how all the Ravens fans thought the league would never grant the team's wish coupled with their usual tirades about how the league hates the Ravens and that's why the team blows goats.

Primetime games:

TNF Week 1 -- vs. Titans. Yeah, yeah. We knew about this one beforehand. A good early test to gauge effectiveness of the return of Mendenhall and any progress from the O-line. Also, LenWhale gets that low-cal comeuppance.

Week 4 -- SNF vs. Chargers. Previous year playoff matchups are always following season primetime fodder. I'm also happy this game falls within the first few weeks of the season. Sure, you want a soft few opening weeks to pile up some wins, but there's nothing wrong with having the harder games frontloaded in the schedule.

Week 9 -- MNF at Broncos. This game in primetime makes more sense if Cutler were still on the team.

Week 12 -- SNF at Ravens. Delight in getting your way despite your constant bitching to the contrary, Ravens fans. "Waaahhhhh, the NFL hates us!" "They always favor the Steelers!" Now your team has to put up.

Week 14 -- TNF at Browns. Shades of the late Thursday game against the Bengals this past season?

4.12.2009

Buh-Bye, Byron



A few weekends ago, I was talking with a woman who bartends at the backstage court-level bar at the Verizon Center. She said Leftwich (a D.C. native) was in attendance at a Wizards game about a month or so ago and copped an attitude when she didn't recognize who he was. One of his boys exclaimed, "That's the Super Bowl quarterback!" Obviously, this isn't the attitude of a guy (or a guy's posse) who envisions himself a backup quarterback. So it comes as little surprise that Leftwich turned down an admittedly meager two-year offer from the Steelers for one from the Bucs that will allow him to challenge for that team's starting role.

I wish Byron well. I think he'll have some success in Tampa, aided as he is by fucking soldier Kellen Winslow and Antonio Bryant. Meanwhile, his legacy from his one-year ring-attaining year with the Steelers will remain his second half performance in the Monday night game against the Redskins. There was a stretch, specifically after the Colts game, where it looked like Roethlisberger's injuries had caught up with him and it made sense for Byron to be starting. But Ben's play stabilized and that was the last we saw of Leftwich until Ben's concussion brought him in for mop-up duty in Week 17 against the Browns (he even scored a rushing TD!).

So fare thee well, Super Bowl quarterback! Chaz Batch has one more year as no. 2 to take in.