Friday, August 31, 2007

Preseason Impressions: Steelers @ Carolina

Was there ever a professional sporting event in which both teams were more inclined to forfeit to avoid playing at all? Jake Delhomme, perfectly well (physically), didn't play. Willy Parker, perfectly well (physically), stood behind Dan Kreider for a single play, watched Mr. Kreider take the handoff, and stood on the sideline for the rest of the evening.

The question then is, how to evaluate such a contest? With the deadline for roster cuts just hours away here's one take on who distinguished themselves and who did not.

1. Tyrone Carter: His spot on the roster was already solidified, but last night's performance only enhanced and solidified his position on the depth chart. Mr. Carter led the team in tackles, recovered a fumble (though as you will see shortly, not everyone sees that as a matter of skill) and was the only Steelers player to make it into the end zone.

2. William Gay: Sometimes being lucky is better than being good. The good folks at Football Outsiders believe that "[s]tripping the ball is a skill. Holding onto the ball is a skill. Pouncing on the ball as it is bouncing all over the place is not a skill." However true that is, when a player is fighting for his spot on the roster of 53 coming up with a turnover in the final preseason game is an extraordinarily good thing.

3. Mike Lorello: Whether or not he played well enough to stick, or even warrant a spot on the practice squad remains to be seen, but if he doesn't it won't be because of his performance Thursday evening. He was the defender on two passes (one complete, one incomplete), had two tackles, one assist, and two special teams tackles.

4. Gary Russell: It's tough to choose a standout offensive player after an evening when the offense mustered four field goals (unless of course the field goal kicker was the player be applauded), but following a lackluster first half (4 carries, 1 yard) Mr. Russell bounced back in the second half (albeit against defenders who were third or fourth on the Carolina depth chart) for 61 yards on 17 carries.

5. Willie Reid: After being called out by Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic and his head coach for doing a poor job on punt returns during the preseason, Mr. Reid had a 30-yard return, and averaged 9.8 yards on four returns.

1. Chukky Okobi: He played for a great deal of the game, and didn't perform especially well. This was an opportunity to back up his stated belief that he is one of the 53 best players on the Pittsburgh roster -- we are not convinced.

2. Brian St. Pierre: Came out of the game with an injured toe. An injured toe. Really. Fighting for spot on the roster and he couldn't tough it out? Of course his 3-for-10 passing performance didn't exactly leave anyone wanting more.

3,4, & 5. Matt Spaeth, Jonathan Dekker, Cody Boyd: The top two tight ends on the depth chart sat out the game, and none of the backups caught a ball. Or blocked especially well. Playbooks please!

The Steelers finished the preseason with a 4-1 record. The last time they played five preseason games (1997) they were 5-0, and finished the regular season with an 11-5 record. That season they went on to the AFC Championship game, losing to Denver 24-21.

This preseason's record is the best the Steelers have had since 2001, when the team was 3-1. That squad went 13-3 in the regular season, and lost in the AFC Championship game to New England, 24-17.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chukky's Campaign

"Mike Webster was chosen for nine Pro Bowls at this position for the Steelers. Dermontti Dawson made it for seven. Jeff Hartings was an All-Pro there. Chukky Okobi understands what being Pittsburgh's starting center means, not only in the past but now.

That's why he will be so disappointed -- no, make that angry -- if he isn't.

So begins an article from today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that leaves us shaking on our heads. Rather than earning the starting center position by effective play on the field, this article makes it appear that Mr. Okkobi has been forced to campaign for the position:

" 'I started camp as No. 1 ... but, right now, it seems to be the same (backup) role I've had . . . I've worked really hard this offseason -- look at me, I think I look pretty good -- but whatever happens, happens . . . I missed a bunch of days with an injury and obviously it didn't help my cause any, but I think when I've been in there I've played really, really well . . . [t]his is the NFL and you're trying to get the best 53, and I'm definitely in the top 53 of the guys in this locker room'."


If that's the case then why is it that everyone with even a passing interest in the Steelers understands that the possibility of being cut (and, according to Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette, then picked up by the Arizona Cardinals -- or perhaps by Cleveland where LeCharles Bentley has landed on the Physically Unable to Perform list) is a distinct one? Mr. Okkobi has performed poorly this preseason, and if any of the other centers in camp had risen to the challenge Mr. Okkobi would probably be on his way to Phoenix already.

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More Pub for Mike Tomlin

Last week's issue of Pro Football Weekly featured Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin on its cover, as well as a two page article that, like most of the articles that have appeared in other media outlets about the new head man in Pittsburgh, is very complimentary. The full-text of the article can now be accessed at (Insider subscription required) or the entire issue can be purchased for $4.99 in either print or electronic format at Pro Football

With the commercials out of the way, here's a taste of
what the article offers:

"Just in case his head gets a little too big, either from becoming only the third Steelers head coach in the past 38 years or perhaps by doing so by the tender age of 34, Mike Tomlin knows that there are still people in Pittsburgh who need proof that he's ready take over one of sports' most hallowed jobs -- including some in his own house.

'My kids are totally and utterly unimpressed,' said Tomlin . . . 'I was getting ready to go to a function . . . and my five-year-old was flipping through the channels, and when my face came on the screen from one of my press conferences, he went straight past Dad and onto the Cartoon Network . . . Never even paused. You gotta love that.'

". . . [Bill] Cowher was 34 when he got the job. He had limited coordinator experience, too. So the idea of hiring Tomlin wasn't against what team officials like to call The Steelers' Way.

It just sent a message that things would be changing in 2007 . . . 'I think there was a need for change,' said a former Steeler who is on another team's roster this season. 'Not that (Cowher) had lost the team. I just think guys got a little too comfortable. We all did.

'We had just won the Super Bowl. You didn't notice it at first, but when we started out the way we did (2-6 to open the season), it was pretty obvious.'

There's much more to the article, including a discussion of the varied responses by individual Steelers to the hiring of Mr. Tomlin.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More Cutdown Insights

The good folks at Pro Football Weekly offer up this information regarding the impending roster cutdowns (emphasis added):

"Plenty of intrigue surrounds how the Steelers will structure their RB and FB depth chart. At running back, Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport are secure in the top two spots, but the battle for positioning thereafter bears watching. Undrafted free-agent RB Gary Russell’s strong play in training camp and preseason looks to have secured him a spot on the roster. Another surprising newcomer, FB Carey Davis, also looks like a lock to make the team, according to a source close to the club. What’s more, he appears to have pushed veteran Dan Kreider to the bench, despite Kreider's role as an integral part of the Steelers’ power-running game in past seasons. Davis is simply a better fit in offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ scheme. However, Kreider's rugged style of play is such an asset as the weather gets colder that he will have a chance to make the roster as a reserve. The status of backup RB Verron Haynes is also up in the air. Haynes is not especially big, quick or fast, and he’s coming off a knee injury, but he’s useful on special teams. The burning question, the way we hear it, is whether both Haynes and Kreider will survive the final cuts."

If this item was from anybody else I would completely discount the idea that Dan Kreider is in danger of being moved aside. However, given PFW's unshakable credibility this situation obviously bears watching.

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Who's In, Who's Out?

With cut-down day looming large on the horizon -- the Steelers have to cut 22 players Saturday morning -- here are the players who on Thursday will be playing for a roster spot:
  1. Dallas Baker (WR): Needs a miracle, though at 6'3", 206 lbs he may warrant a spot on the practice squad.

  2. Cody Boyd (TE): At 6'8", 264 lbs it's a pity he can't play offensive tackle.

  3. Marquis Cooper (LB): He and Cody Boyd have both worn #48 this preseason giving rise to the question is this the "Curse of Matt Cushing?"

  4. Carey Davis (RB)
  5. Gary Russell (RB)
  6. Verron Haynes (RB): These guys are all very similar, but the numbers would seem to indicate that at least one, and probably two, of them is going to be on the outside looking in.

  7. Jon Dekker (TE): A favorite of Bill Cowher's. Unfortunately for him Mr. Cowher is now at home in North Carolina.

  8. John Kuhn (FB): A crowd favorite who, because he was active for eight games last season, is not eligible for the practice squad.

  9. William Gay (CB): His crushing hit, delivered during the Hall of Fame game, got everyone's attention. However, not much has happened for this young man since.

  10. Jovon Johnson (CB): The memory of his fumble recovery and return for a touchdown may help lessen the sting of being one of the Steelers' final cuts.

  11. Mike Lorello (S): He has played well in spurts and has contributed on special teams, but being buried on the depth chart behind Troy Polamalu and Tyrone Carter means Mr. Lorello will be looking for work come Saturday afternoon.

  12. Grant Mason (S): Finds himself behind Ryan Clark and Anthony Smith on the depth chart.

  13. Darnell Stapleton (C): Whatever else happens, at least one center on the depth chart will be cut.

  14. Brandon Torrey (OT): With the way that the Steelers' tackles have struggled in the preseason, the Eagles' game not withstanding, the fact that Mr. Torrey hasn't played speaks volumes.

  15. Scott Paxson (NT): Limited work in camp, simply did not do enough to supplant anyone else.

  16. Ryan McBean (DE): Ditto.

  17. Gerran Walker (WR): Given his history of injuries in college, and his inability to block effectively, it's a credit to his work ethic that he wasn't cut already.

  18. Ron Stanley (LB): Has had a good, not great, camp both on the field and as a special teams player. May be a Practice Squad invitee.

  19. Cameron Stephenson (G): Simply has not distinguished himself.

  20. Bryan Randall (QB): Very limited play may be a prelude to the Practice Squad.

  21. Brian St. Pierre (QB): Had a reasonably good camp, but it seems unlikely that the Steelers will be willing to carry three quarterbacks -- at least early in the season.

  22. Matt Spaeth (TE): A big disappointment, may not be worthy of even a spot on the Practice Squad.

  23. Jason Capizzi (OT): Has had a good camp and will either be claimed on waivers or added to the Practice Squad. The only reason Mr. Capizzi will be the odd man out is because of the uncertainty at center.

  24. Marvin Philip (C): This preseason was a great opportunity for Mr. Philip to show himself capable of at least being the backup to Sean Mahan. Mr. Philip didn't step up. As a result the Steelers will keep experienced, if ineffectual, Chukky Okobi for at least one more season.
Once cut players clear waivers a maximum of eight can be added to the team's Practice Squad.

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Preseason Impressions: Philadelphia v. Steelers

I wanted to watch the game a second time before unleashing my comments upon the world, and having done that here's what I I'm pretty sure I saw:

#1. Barring injuries, the Steelers defense may be the best in the NFL this season: How much worse could things have gone for the Steelers during the first quarter? A horrible interception, a Gardocki-esque punt from their own end zone, a goal line fumble -- the scoreboard could have been an ugly thing. Instead, following the interception and after an initial first down, the Steelers' defense pushed Philadelphia's offense back towards midfield. Building upon that early effectiveness the front line defense limited the Eagles to 89 total yards in the first half, and a third down efficiency of 14%. But beyond the numbers what has been especially impressive has been the way the unit is hitting (see William Gay in preseason game #1, and Anthony Smith in preseason game #3). It appears that the defense is developing into not just an effective group, but a nasty group as well -- something that all fans of the Black & Gold would celebrate.

#2. The different faces of Ben Roethlisberger: At times the Steelers' quarterback showed some good decision-making skills (e.g. checking off to underneath receivers, using his feet to avoid pressure, throwing the ball away when nothing was available) and was fairly accurate with his passes. Then, at other times, he flashed the poor judgment (i.e. one pass intercepted, and a second "pass" seemingly thrown -- from inside the Philadelphia 20 yard line -- while falling backwards) that ruined his 2006 season. Ben Roethlisberger's performance against the Eagles illustrated what fans have known for some time: when he'good, he's as good as anybody. When he's not . . . he begins to resemble something akin to David Klingler.

#3. Speaking of inconsistent, ladies and gentlemen please welcome Santonio Holmes: On a number of occasions Mr. Holmes could be seen vigorously blocking downfield on running plays -- a wonderful sight to behold! His second quarter, 22 yard catch (on 3rd and 4) demonstrated his fearlessness in going across the middle, and good hands. However, in the first quarter (following Daniel Sepulveda's 14-yard punt) he failed to recognize an impending Eagles' blitz and the fact that he was the hot receiver. Mr. Holmes never looked back for a quickly thrown ball, and Mr. Roethlisberger's pass nearly hit him in the back. Then, in the second quarter, on a deep route Mr. Holmes seemingly quit on the play, only to have the pass thrown in his direction. Despite a seemingly half-hearted attempt to get to the ball, the pass fell incomplete. Mr. Holmes has the physical skills to be an impact player in the NFL, but it seems apparent that his education as a professional player still has a long way to go.

#4. The offensive line would like to know why everyone is so worried: Zero sacks. Seventy-six yards rushing. Perfect blocking on a numerous screen passes. Here's hoping that the performance versus the Eagles augurs well for the upcoming season.

#5: Willie Reid and Ricardo Colclough -- separated at birth?: As punt returners go, someone tell me what the difference is between Willie Reid and Ricardo Colclough. Fair catches despite having room to run, muffed punts . . . Cedric Wilson has been the most effective returner of the preseason, and Mr. Reid has three catches as a receiver -- how patient should an organization be in waiting for potential to translate into performance?

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Monday, August 27, 2007

First Cuts are Announced

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the Steelers have cut ten players from their roster, including former Pitt star and NFL veteran Kevan Barlow.

The others being released are:

Mike Barr (P)
Larry Croom (RB)
Eric Fowler (WR)
Connor Hughes (K)
Derrick Jones (DE)
Richard Koonce (LB)
Donovan Raiola (C)
Jared Retkofsky (Long Snapper)
Dan Sheldon (WR)

All NFL teams have until 11:00AM this Saturday to reduce their roster to 53 players. After those cuts are made players can be added to the Practice Squad.

A quick check of the roster, as listed on shows 75 players remaining.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Coming into Focus?

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an article in today's paper, and it seems that a starting offensive front may have been decided upon:
"The Steelers' search for an offensive line has entered the bonus round and may well be settled.

Mike Tomlin said he is closer to deciding on his starting line, yet with the most important preseason game coming up for starters, he already may have picked one.

After admittedly going over the video from the game Saturday night at Washington 'with a fine-tooth comb,' Tomlin's starting offensive line yesterday could be the one that opens the season in Cleveland Sept. 9.

From left to right they are tackle Marvel Smith, guard Alan Faneca, center Sean Mahan, guard Kendall Simmons and tackle Willie Colon

Of course a development of that sort calls into question the future -- both short-term and long-term -- with the Steelers of Chukky Okobi. His $2,000,000 salary this year escalates above the $3,000,000 level in 2008 and 2009, so it seems very unlikely that he would survive for long.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Preseason Impressions: Steelers v. Redskins

One thing that will almost always impinge upon one's writing/blogging time is being hit by a car while cycling.

I definitely don't recommend it to any of you. However, having picked the asphalt out of my wounds I can provide the amazing insights that you have all come to expect. So without further adieu, here are four thoughts I came away with Saturday evening.

#1. The Red Zone offense left something to be desired: The Steelers had nineteen offensive plays inside the Redskins 20 line and could only come up with 12 points? The conclusion of the Steelers' final drive was especially disappointing -- appearances are almost always deceiving, but didn't it appear that Gary Russell was more than a little hesitant "hitting" the line? Of course the root of the problem was some very mediocre play by the still-evolving offensive front. Which leads seamlessly to . . .

#2. The Offensive Line is starting to scare me: Listening to Tunch Ilkin trying to guess as to why the Steelers' coaches are utilizing their offensive linemen the way they are makes me realize that if there is a method to the madness it isn't readily apparent even to those close to the team. The hope here is that a left tackle will be discovered soon -- as Ed Bouchette points out in his article Trai Essex looked horrible against Washington; but truth be told the whole unit has played rather poorly the last two weeks.

#3. Blitzing may be plan "A," but what is plan "B"?: While the starting units of both teams were on the field it seemed as though the Washington offense was able to effectively, and consistently, combat the Steelers' propensity for blitzing by passing over the blitzer. I certainly do not want to hit this point too hard (i.e. how much criticism does the defense deserve inasmuch as they gave up ten points?), but Chris Cooley (5 catches, 60 yards) probably wishes he could go up against the Steelers defense all preseason long.

#4. Daniel Sepulveda is the MAN: On four kicks the Steelers new punter averaged 50 yards per kick, and more importantly had a net average of 48.5 meaning (obviously) that the Redskins simply didn't return his kicks with any effectiveness. In three games MR. Sepulveda is averaging 46.8 yards per kick (after averaging 37.3 yards per kick in the Hall of Fame game he averaged 49.8 yards per kick versus Green Bay, and 50 versus Washington) with a net of 44.5 yards. Additionally Mr. Sepulveda is doing a good job as holder for extra points and field goals.

Like most fans I'm very conflicted when it comes to preseason. On the one hand I want to see the lesser known players play so that I can make my own assessments. On the other hand, if the game is worth playing it's worth winning. The play of the Steelers on Saturday was less than inspired, but a win -- any win -- is always a good thing.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

The End of an Era

During the early, formative, years of the Bill Cowher era there was one player who seemed to be the recipient of the coach's wrath more than any other -- punter Josh Miller.  It seemed as though there wasn't a single kick that pleased the former special teams coach, and the coach never hesitated to rip into his young kicker.

No wonder he made a bee line out of town once he had the chance.

Now comes word that Josh Miller's time in New England has come to an end:

"The New England Patriots released 11-year veteran punter Josh Miller yesterday, leaving the team with two punters in camp, neither of whom has appeared in a regular-season NFL game.

The 37-year-old Miller played his first eight seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers before sign ing a free agent contract with the Patriots in March 2004.

His 43.6-yard punting average in 42 regular-season games with New England ranks second in franchise history only to Tom Tupa, who had a 44.7-yard average from 1996 to 1998. Miller's 45.1-yard average in 2005 is the second best single-season mark in team history, behind Tupa's 45.8-yard average in 1997.

In 164 regular-season career games, Miller has a 43.1-yard average and has placed 247 punts inside the 20-yard line with 83 career touchbacks. He has also played in 11 career playoff games, helping the Patriots win the Super Bowl in February 2005

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Making the Big Time

All of the attention of the Steeler Nation is one thing, but a person -- say, a young head coach in the NFL -- really knows they've arrived when they are the subject of an article in the New York Times. Such is the case of Mike Tomlin who is the subject of an article by Clifton Brown.

There isn't much that is new, but it's an indication of just how far the Steelers' head man has come and just how quickly he's arrived.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Post Game Wrap: Separated at Birth ?

Jeff Reed



Preseason Impressions: Saints v. Steelers

Like all of you, joy reigns supreme at Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic as the 2007-2008 season begins. However it is difficult to put too much emphasis upon the final score (Steelers win!!) of what amounts to a glorified scrimmage. Despite that fact, to paraphrase Sports Illustrated's Peter King, here's what I think I saw:

#1. It's amazing what not hitting a car while riding a motorcycle can do for a player: Sure he only took six snaps, but Ben Roethlisberger looked sharp. He was 3-for-3 on his throws (the drop by Nate Washington hit him right in the hands), and showed good pace and accuracy on his deep throw to Cedric Wilson. In the first preseason game of 2006 Ben Roethlisberger was 3-for-4 in passing attempts for a grand total of 29 yards. In 2007 he was (officially) 2-for-3, for 73 yards.

#2. I hope Willie Reid and Nate Washington have their degrees: The first roster cuts will not be made until August 28, 2007 but if these two young receivers/punt returners/kick returners cannot do a better job of holding on to the football then the guess here (actually, it's more of my silent hope) is that they will both be selling insurance . . . or real estate somewhere other than Pittsburgh.

#3. Play fast? Indeed: Who wasn't pleased by the performance of the defense? Troy Polamalu looked as though the ill-effects of his knee injury in 2006 are a thing of the past, LaMarr Woodley looked as though he had been playing in the Steelers' defense for years rather than weeks (or was that impression created by his jersey number? The feeling here is that, if possible -- the NFL rules are very prescriptive as to what positions wear which numbers -- a number change would be appropriate). Even Ricardo Colclough made his presence felt defensing passes and batting away a pass attempt while blitzing. As always the numbers never lie: with 8:54 left in the second quarter (i.e. the point at which the Steelers went up 14-0) the Steelers defense had given up 1 first down, and 24 net yards on 14 Saints offensive plays.

#4. It wasn't much but it may be the only time I mention Greg Warren all season: On a punt early in the game a hustling Greg Warren got a hand on the returner sending him stumbling out of bounds. To see that kind of effort from the long snapper was absolutely beautiful!

#5. Carey Davis?: According to the Steelers' radio announcers Mr. Davis was a member of Pittsburgh's practice squad last season, and while hesitant to allow our enthusiasm to rum amuck his performance was the highlight of the game. Also impressive, in the second half, was running back Gary Russell, the rookie out of Minnesota. Between the two of them they rushed the football 15 times for 109 yards.

Odds & Ends: Jeff Reed . . . you cannot be missing field goals (is 42 yards really too long for an NFL kicker?). Daniel Sepulveda . . . so far you're not Chris Gardocki, and that is a good thing (did I see a New Orleans punt returner take a fair catch?). William Gay, a wicked hit on Robert Meachem AND an interception? That's how a young player makes an impression.

It was only a preseason game, against an opponent who didn't do anything especially exotic, but a win is a win; and this win will keep the wolves away from Mike Tomlin's door -- at least until next week.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Mike Tomlin Announces Hall of Fame Game Strategy

Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin announced Friday that, heading into the first game of the preseason, it was his "intention to play Ben [Roethlisberger] a little less than most of the starters and go with Charlie Batch after that."

On the surface that would seem to be a prudent move, after all there isn't much sense in risking an injury to the injury prone starting quarterback. However a look back at 2006 gives one pause. Coming off their Super Bowl victory the Steelers limited Mr. Roethlisberger to eight passing attempts during the entire preseason (the average starting quarterback threw 20.29 passes during last season's preseason). Of course the fact that Mr. Roethlisberger was also coming off his motorcycle accident certainly didn't help matters (though at the time Bill Cowher indicated that Mr. Roethlisberger was physically ready to play) but the paucity of passing attempts -- and live game work with his new wide receiver, Santonio Holmes -- also contributed to the woeful early season performance by the Steelers starting quarterback.

So as Mike Tomlin and Bruce Arians make their plans for the preseason here's hoping that they don't give in to the temptation to be overly protective/conservative with their QB.

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Brett Keisel: The X Factor?

The following is an article from the Williamson Daily News that discusses a new role that is in the offing for Steelers' defensive end Brett Keisel. Apparently Dick LeBeau is considering using the 6'5", 285 pound, six year veteran ina kind of flex role a la Troy Polamalu and Adalius Thomas.

"Brett Keisel is a pass-rushing defensive right end who put more pressure on the quarterback last season than any other Pittsburgh Steelers player.

At 6-foot-5 and 285 pounds, Keisel doesn't begin to resemble in size or makeup the more mobile Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' evasive strong safety.
But, to take advantage of Keisel's ability to get to the quarterback, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is experimenting with having Keisel be something of a Polamalu Part II - a player who moves, shifts and flip-flops positions from down to down.

LeBeau, who was retained by new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, believes Keisel can be as disruptive and deceptive as Polamalu is when he moves in from the deep secondary to line up as an outside or inside linebacker.

Think Polamalu, but in a size XXXL.

Keisel still lines up at his customary position of right defensive end but, just before the snap, he may stand up and become an outside linebacker.

At other times, Keisel may shift from one side of the line to the other immediately ahead of the snap, possibly creating overloads that offenses will find difficult to manage when they have two linemen trying to block three defenders.

‘That's what training camp's for, to get comfortable with everything so it's second nature,' Keisel said.

Some players find it hard to adjust from putting their hand on the ground as a defensive lineman to being upright as a linebacker, but Keisel feels comfortable doing either.

His ability to play numerous positions could help transform the Steelers from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense within a season or so.

‘It is fun, man,' Keisel said. ‘I really enjoy it so far. I just hope it works and we can use it in every game. I think it can definitely cause the offense problems and hopefully it will work.'

While Keisel is listed as a defensive end, LeBeau considers him to be a roving linebacker - the Steelers' biggest linebacker since Levon Kirkland played there at nearly 300 pounds. Keisel can move for a big man and has played on special teams in the past.

The AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens used the 6-2, 270-pound Adalius Thomas in a similar role last season, but he signed with New England during the offseason.

Since LeBeau came to him with the idea, Keisel has studied how the 5-10, 207-pound Polamalu - a Pro Bowl player each of the last three seasons - adjusts from positioning himself near the line on one play but drops 15 yards back into coverage on the next. Keisel may occasionally drop into pass coverage himself, something not many 285-pounders do in the NFL.

‘Troy is definitely the master of deception,' Keisel said. ‘He looks like he's rushing, and he'll get back into the deep third (of the coverage), and I'm trying to learn from him and see how it goes.'

With longtime starting outside linebacker Joey Porter gone after being released, the Steelers are looking at various ways to improve a pass rush that was limited to 39 sacks last season - their third fewest in the last 15 seasons.

Porter had a team-high seven sacks last season, but Keisel was credited with pressuring the quarterback 23 times, or nearly twice as many as Porter's 12.

'Troy's still moving around, so we're both kind of doing our own little thing,' Keisel said. ‘It's kind of neat.'

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