Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sirius/XM Radio at Latrobe

As part of their "Training Camp Tour 2008" Sirius NFL Radio sent the hosts of their "Movin' the Chains" show, Tim Ryan and Pat Kirwan joined 5,000 Steelers fans at St. Vincent College for a look at the Steelers. Here are the highlights (it's interesting that there wasn't a single question about Steelers' ownership situation) :
  • The Offense: Steelers are gravitating to a spread pass offense and a zone blocking scheme on the run. Mr. Kirwan believes that the Steelers are moving away from the "blue collar," helmet-on-helmet blocking schemes of the Cowher era.

  • Wide receivers: Limas Sweed had cramps during the practice -- no big deal -- but he also is having problems with his contact lenses. Mr. Kirwan sees him as a rising star who will have an immediate impact (third wide receiver). Kevin Colbert described him as "very smooth," and good on intermediate routes but not good on the deep ball.

  • Kevin Colbert: Interviewed by Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kirwan, he expressed excitement about the upcoming season. Other items discussed in this wide-ranging interview included:

    As draft philosophies go, whenever the team drafts a junior (see Sweed and Santonio Holmes) "they get them for their senior year" -- i.e. the player will make a bigger contribution in the second season.

    On Willie Colon, he described him as having "a classic guard" body, but because he was at tackle in 2007 the team will keep him there this season.

    He described the competition between Justin Hartwig and Sean Mayhan as "a good battle."

    At running back, Rashard Mendenhall is a bigger, "thicker guy" than Willie Parker who is likely to be called upon to pick up "tough yards" between the tackles.

    The offense will continue to grow around its best player, Ben Roethlisberger who Mr. Colbert believes has not yet reached his full potential.

    Mr. Colbert found Casey Hampton's lack of conditioning "disappointing" that will "hold the team back." The strength coach and medical staff are working with Mr. Hampton in an effort "to get him out there as soon as he can."

    The return of Aaron Smith is great news because he is "critical" to the left side of the defense.

    LaMarr Woodley has "stepped into a starting role" [news to Larry Foote?] but has to prove he can do it over sixteen games; but he's very powerful and is always moving towards the quarterback.

    Lawrence Timmons is going to work inside and outside.

    Bruce Davis is going through a transition from being down at defensive end and up at the outside linebacker -- he is going to be a speed rusher versus a power rusher [think Joey Porter].

    Ike Taylor is moving to right cornerback, but having a good camp. Coach Tomlin likes bigger cornerbacks and that is what has predicated this move -- Taylor's skills and size are good, but he has to work on his hands [no kidding].

    Having Ryan Clark back is huge -- he is a quarterback in the secondary.

    Training camps are being negatively effected by the 80 man rosters -- a change from previous years -- and as a result most NFL camps are less physical than has been the case in the past. Mr. Colbert endorses a plan to have a 90 player roster for camps.

    Daniel Sepulveda is not on IR yet -- because he is not a "vested" player yet he would have to clear waivers in order to make it to IR -- but will be, Paul Ernster is with the team for now, but the team is looking to see "what else shakes out."

    Mr. Colbert is very anxious to see Dennis Dixon play in the preseason, and the team was very fortunate to get him in the fifth round.

  • More commentary from Pat Kirwan on Casey Hampton -- his poor condition puts all of the nose tackles at greater risk of injury. Because Mr. Hampton is not taking reps in practice Chris Hoke and Nick Eason are getting a greater work load.

  • Max Starks interviewed -- he enjoyed the morning off (Coach Tomlin gave everyone a break) and the temperate weather. Other thoughts from Mr. Starks:

    The competition between himself and Willie Colon is "great" but he has had zero reps with the first team, and has no reps against the first team defense, so far this week. He expects to get some next week. His take is that the coaches are trying to determine whether or not he fits into what is still a new system.

    The scheme is much more pass oriented, single back, play action pass oriented.

    LaMarr Woodley has improved his pass rush tremendously from last season, and has had "Kevin Green in his ear for the past four days."

    "G-Power" blocking -- i.e. power blocking schemes -- were installed Wednesday.

    Trai Essex has done "a great job" playing left guard, and the center battle "is pretty heated."

    The Steelers' offensive personnel is still built around hard core running and is transitioning to a "more finesse" style of offense.

    Bruce Davis looks "average right now" but is still finding his way in the system --m he showed flashes in Wednesdays practice.

    Rashard Mendenhall "loves to power between the tackles" and Limas Sweed is "a great vertical receiver."

  • Chis Hoke: Casey Hampton being out isn't having a terribly big effect on the amount of work he's getting.

    Aaron Smith looks good, looks healthy.

    Lawrence Timmons is doing well, he's delivered some big hits -- the competition between him and Larry Foote is very spirited.

    Rashard Mendenhall looks very good.

    The young players did a great job of preparing for camp. They are not making the typical rookie mistakes.

    Dick LeBeau is installing some new blitzes into the defensive playbook.

  • Aaron Smith: He's doing well and feels great.

    Watching the defense struggle at the end of last season was the most frustrating part of the injury he suffered.

    The players are rallying around Casey Hampton, and he's confident that he will be on the field soon.

    Because the defense is a veteran group the camp "seems to be progressing much faster" than in previous years.

    Dick LeBeau draws up plays "that [are] amazing."

    LaMarr Woodley looks great, is transitioning well to "playing in space," has lost weight, and much is expected of him this season.

    Coach Tomlin is doing a good job of pushing the team hard but not too hard. He is someone who the players gravitate towards.

  • Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kirwan posit that Justin Hartwig will eventually be the starting center (once he learns the system), and that Sean Mayhan is going to end up being the backup guard.

    Additionally, Dennis Dixon looked good in the practice they watched -- the knee looks as though it is sound.

    Deshea Townsend has moved to left corner and Ike Taylor has moved to right corner. The reason(s) for the switch are not immediately clear.

  • Heath Miller: The best player on the offense is the quarterback, and the offense is being built around him.

    Willie Parker looks good and will be ready to go.

    Mike Tomlin is approaching his second training camp in a manner similar to his first.

    Matt Spaeth is great blocker and someone who can learn from.

    Ryan Clark is "back with a little bit of a vengeance."

  • Larry Foote: He's feeling very tired and is grateful for the morning off.

    The media is talking about the competition between himself and Lawrence Timmons but he hasn't heard anything from the coaches.

    He's feeling good, feeling quick, and is healthy.

    He declined to discuss the situation with Casey Hampton but did say that he "went through some issues" during the offseason.

    The competition between the offensive linemen ("everybody knows how dirty offensive linemen can be") is very intense.

    "I've lost to the [Browns] once in seven years. When they start winning some games we'll start talking about them."

  • Lawrence Timmons: Is working mostly MAC linebacker (the linebacker who lines up on the open side of the offense), but has worked some outside, and some special teams as well.

    Justin Hartwig is doing well.

    Casey Hampton is "going to be fine" and has "already shown what kind of player he is."

    Dick LeBeau is spending time showing him how to improve his pass rush.

    Rashard Mendenhall reads the field well, is low to the field, and very compact.

  • Bryant McFadden: The schedule is going to be a challenge, and camp is an opportunity to gel as teammates.

    Dick Lebeau's playbook is designed to put players in a position to make plays and take advantage of their abilities.

    Most offenses come out in three receiver sets and that requires that the Steelers defense spend a majority of the time in the nickle or dime package.

    The AFC North has a large number of outstanding wide recivers.

    The mental aspects of the NFL -- i.e. learning schemes and understanding how offenses operate -- is the toughest part of the transition from college to pro football.

    The rules of the NFL make it very difficult to cover receivers.

    Limas Sweed is doing a good job of picking up the offense, does a good job of getting off of press coverage, and has soft hands.

    Rashard Mendenhall has good feet and is having a good camp so far.

    The pass rush is looking good.

    Coach Tomlin is pacing camp a bit differently than last year -- not quite as physical.

  • Tunch Ilkin: So far the camp has been physical and the team looks good.

    Ben Roethlisberger is practicing with great confidence. The offense is featuring lots of no-huddle.

    The Steelers' defense is going all-out to stop the Steelers' offense.

    Despite the changes in the offense, fans can expect the team to play a physical brand of football that will feature the run.

    Willie Colon is run blocking well, but does struggle a little on a defender playing wide. Mr. Colon plays with more attitude than even Alan Faneca.

    Marvel Smith is in good condition and playing well.

    Limas Sweed found out he couldn't see without contact lenses, and is now picking up the ball much better.

    Ben Roethlisberger is only 26 years old and is still improving.

    Deshea Townsend is the best at tracking the ball in the air, and never gets lost going from the ball to the man.

  • Santonio Holmes: Practice is tough but it's going well.

    Ben Roethlisberger is throwing the ball well.

    He feels as though he's practicing better -- i.e. when to go all-out and when not to -- than he ever has before. Hines Ward has taught him how to do that.

    He is improving his ability to scramble with Ben Roethlisberger.

    He's becoming a "2-and-5 guy" (five yards in two strides).

    The Nike Vision contacts cut down glare, especially during day games.

    Ben Roethlisberger is communicating with his receivers much better.

    Hines Ward is a student of the game and a teacher.

    Deshea Townsend "knows everything."

  • Carey Davis: Playing mostly at fullback so far in camp.

    In the stretch play the fullback has to read the defense with the running back.

    Coach Tomlin understands his players better, and camp this year has been different.

    He is playing on every special team.

    Lawrence Timmons "doesn't understand that we're teammates . . . he's a linebacker" [he said with a chuckle].

    The Steelers' defense moves around more than most of the defenses that the Steelers will actually play against.

    Dennis Dixon is doing well -- he is fast and has a strong arm.

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Move Along Everybody, Nothing to See Here

"“We’re pretty well set . . . [w]e’ll see what happens with the center thing once we get into the preseason games. But I’d have to say we’re pretty well set.”

So says Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein in recent comments to the press. The comment raises a number of questions:
  • Why in the world did the Steelers utilize the transition tag on Max Starks? : We acknowledge that this is a question that was asked by quite a few much earlier, but we are also naive enough to believe that Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, et al are skilled and intelligent enough to make sound personnel moves. If the "battle" between Willie Colon and Max Starks has been decided after a few days then perhaps are faith is a bit misplaced.

  • Chris Kemoeatu wins the starting left guard position from the PUP list? : Who knew that replacing Alan Faneca would be so easy? What's interesting is that, as we write this, according to the Steelers' official roster there is no left guard. Just an oversight we're sure.

  • Is Larry Zierlein the right offensive line coach for the Steelers? : This item from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, in which Max Starks and Willie Colon state explicitly that Alan Faneca, not Coach Zierlein, was the man in charge last season makes us wonder if Mr. Zierlein has the emotional makeup to lead his group of players.

  • What exactly is the point of training camp? : We understand that the NFL is a year-round endeavor and that organized team activities (OTAs) throughout the offseason help inform personnel decisions. But -- and again our naivetee may be showing through -- we have lived under the delusion that training camp is where players actually earned the right to be a starter in the NFL. Additionally, under Bill Cowher, training camp was often a place to create a sense of competition and urgency that was designed to build momentum going into the regular season -- something that we also endorsed. A statement like the one from Coach Zierlein leaves us with nothing except questions and concerns.

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Art Rooney Speaks

Describing it as a "sad situation," Art Rooney Jr. sat down for an interview on KDKA television Wednesday to discuss both the possible changes in the ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers and his book Ruanaidh.

For those who were not able to see it on television here's a link to the video at


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Beat Goes On -- Update

Update: The latest reports are that Mr. Sweed was suffering from a cramp -- thank goodness that's all it was!

Original Post

It's been almost four whole days since training camp began, so naturally there have been injuries and pseudo-injuries, but this is getting ridiculous.

To review, we have the PUP Trio ~ Troy Polamalu, Chris Kemoeatu, and Casey Hampton.

Then Daniel Sepulveda, out for the season.

Now comes word that Limas Sweed has a "hamstring injury."

Perhaps this latest player injury in nothing serious, but with camp concluding in just nineteen days, and the season beginning in 39 days (and counting down), the injury bug is hitting the Steelers early and hard.


Daniel Sepulveda Out for Season,
Josh Miller Returning?

We don't want to seem hysterical or anything, but the report that Daniel Sepulveda is out for the 2008 season hit pretty hard. No one is going to say he had a perfect rookie season but he certainly performed well enough, and there was hope at least that the punt team for the Steelers was going to continue to improve. However the reality now is that the team now needs a punter -- and someone to hold on Jeff Reed's field goal and extra point attempts -- and we're nothing if not helpful.

Of course the team immediately signed Paul Ernster (waived by Detroit), and as the Steelers own website points out, Mr. Ernster was "[o]riginally a seventh-round pick of the Denver Broncos from Northern Arizona, Ernster, 26, has only one full season in the NFL. In 2006, he punted 80 times for a 41.7-yard average, with 23 kicks down inside the 20-yard line and seven touchbacks." Pretty good numbers (in 2007 Daniel Sepulveda punted 68 times for a 42.4-yard average, with 28 kicks inside the 20-yard line and 2 touchbacks), and he may well prove to be the answer. However there are a number of other punters who the Steelers are, no doubt, looking at including some who are currently on the rosters of other NFL teams.
  • Josh Miller: We admit that this is our favorite amongst the bunch. The former Steelers punter/Bill Cowher whipping boy is, after having been waived by New England, currently on the Tennessee roster in a camp challenge to incumbent Craig Hentrich. In his twelve year career Mr. Miller has punted the football 750 times for an average of 43.1 yards, 248 kicks inside the 20 yard line, and 83 touchbacks.

  • Durant Brooks: This rookie punter, rated as the #1 punter available in the 2008 draft by Ourlads Draft Services, is currently challenging Derrick Frost in Washington. In his senior year at Georgia Tech Mr. Brooks averaged 45.1 yards per kick and had average hang time per kick of 4.39 seconds.

  • Billy Vinnedge: Another rookie kicker, this one is in San Diego. During his final season at Wyoming Mr. Vinnedge averaged 42.66 yards per kick.

  • Zac Atterberry: The fact that we are highlighting a third rookie kicker underscores just how daunting it can be to find an experienced kicker. Mr. Atterberry was an undrafted free agent out of Lindenwood College who was signed by Chicago. Brad Maynard is the incumbent there. NFL Draft Scout rated Mr. Atterberry as the 20th best punter available in the 2008 draft.

  • Jay Ottovegio: Signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent, this rookie was a second team All-PAC 10 selection at Stanford, and averaged 41.2 yards per kick placed 21 kicks inside the 20 yard line, and only had three touchbacks in his senior season.

  • Mike Dragosavich: Rated by Ourlads as the #2 punter available in the 2008 draft (described as "[b]ig long-levered punter that kicks through the ball"). According to Scott Wright's Draft Countdown Mr. Dragosavich averaged 44.5 yards on 158 career kicks at North Dakota State including a long of 79 yards. He placed 61 of those kicks inside the 20 yards line (38.6%).

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Shorten the Preseason? Add a Regular Season Game? Someone Better Ask Gene Upshaw First

In his "Weekly Message," NFL Player's Association President Gene Upshaw has made it clear that the players are, apparently, going to fight the commissioner on every front:
"The topic of a longer season has not been raised by the NFL lately. In their haste and early discussions about creating more revenue, some from their side have suggested adding a 17th game. Seems simple, if you agree with the NFL. The discussion will not advance in any way until they are willing to pay the players to play. As we approach the pre-season, the talking heads will follow the NFL lead, saying that pre-season is too long: “Let’s go to a 3-17 schedule.” Unless and until the NFL is willing to pay the players an additional game check, this will be a short discussion."
On its face the statement seems provocative enough, however we have to wonder just how many owners want to eliminate even one of the pre-season games.

As a fans and season ticket holders we'd love to quit paying full-price for exhibition games. However, the fact that owners are not required to pay their players until the regular season begins (and also do not pay them in the postseason) while collecting full-price for tickets to exhibition games makes it unlikely that owners will be lining up to fight this battle.

While some have posited that the additional game could increase television revenue the feeling here is that one more game will increase television revenue marginally. Instead, we'd like to suggest that the league offer an online version of "Sunday Ticket" for out of market, preseason games only thereby allowing the hardcore and/or displaced to watch their favorite team; and at $29.95 per subscriber (our suggested price point) net revenues would meet or exceed the commissioner's suggested plan.

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Steelers Ownership: Everyone Cares

Update: The commentary is now available, in its entirety, online.

Original Posting

As mentioned frequently, Pro Football Weekly is one of our favorite publications and one that we depend upon quite heavily for the few intelligent comments that we make. So it was with great interest that we read the commentary from publisher and editor Hub Arkush in the August issue.

[While a subscription is, for now, required to read the column in its entirety PFW has a tradition of eventually making a great deal of their content available on the open web, so we'll post a link once it becomes available.]

Mr. Arkush offers one of the most digestible explanations of exactly what is going on and why the situation is so complicated, and goes on to explain ~ to Steelers fans and non-Steelers fans alike ~ just why everyone should care. Here is what we consider to be the heart of the column:
"And now to the part of this saga that disturbs me the most . . . [a]s the National Football League approached by far the greatest challenge it has faced in its long a storied history -- the need to put a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place prior to allowing 2010 to become an 'uncapped season' -- there is no single NFL owner more accomplished or respected on league issues, and in particular on labor issues . . . than Dan Rooney."
News on the ownership front has been quiet following the hysteria that associated the initial announcement that the Rooney family was seeking an outside investor, but as Mr. Arkush advises, "[k]eep an eye on this story folks, because not only do Steelers fans desperately hope Dan Rooney will maintain ownership off their favorite club, the rest of us NFL fans need him even more."

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Casey Hampton: Not So Different
From You or I

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported online that Casey "Big Snack" Hampton was unable to run the required number of 100-yard dashes, quit the drill, and was promptly placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

We're the last ones to criticize someone for not being in shape, and 800 yards is a long way to run, but isn't being in some semblance of game shape year-round pretty much expected of today's NFL players?

With no time to waste in this year's training camp, saying that this is an inauspicious beginning for Mr. Hampton is an understatement.

More disturbing to us is the report that both Troy Polamalu (who made much of his SoCal training program) and Chris Kemoeatu also found themselves on the PUP list.

Precautionary perhaps, but not the start everyone had hoped for.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Watch Games Live on the Internet?
This is a Start

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the National Football League and the National Broadcast Corporation have reached an agreement to offer NFL games online. Reportedly, the agreement would encompass the Sunday night telecasts already available on your local NBC affiliate, but we can only hope that this is the start of a shift in how the NFL makes its games available.

The Directv monopoly in the United States of the "NFL Sunday Ticket" package is an onerous thing (though Directv's desire for such an arrangement is completely understandable), seemingly short-sighted (imagine how much more money the league could make by making the package more widely available through other satellite and cable providers), and flies in the face of how the package is delivered in Canada (on cable and satellite). Additionally, NFL games are already streamed live, online outside of North America.

All of this makes us wonder if there aren't some in the NFL hierarchy who are more concerned with creating new fans of the league than in taking good care of all the fans. The Directv package is up for renewal in 2010, and we can imagine a scenario in which television and "new media" revenues become part of what are certain to be contentious negotiations with the NFL Player's Union. Whether or not the owners will agree to share those revenues with players remains to be seen, however ensuring that the maximum return is achieved for its product is always good business. The guess here is that increasing access to NFL telecasts to the maximum number of willing subscribers is one decision in which all interested parties ~ owners, players, and fans ~ would benefit.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Top Two Picks Sign, How Does it Compare?

As predicted by Mike Tomlin, and reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed have signed contracts and will report on-time to Latrobe.

For your consideration here, as reported by Pro Football Weekly, are the terms of the Steelers' first-round picks from 2000-2008.
  • 2000: Plaxico Burress, Michigan State, 8th pick, $14,398,000, $5,5000,000 signing bonus

  • 2001: Casey Hampton, Texas, 19th pick, 5 years, $6,760,000, $3,090,000 signing bonus.

  • 2002: Kendall Simmons, Auburn, 30th pick, 5 years, $6,214,000, $3,214,000 signing bonus.

  • 2003: Troy Polamalu, USC, 16th pick, 5 years, $8,265,000, $4,400,000 "total bonuses."

  • 2004: Ben Roethlisberger, 11th pick, Miami of Ohio, 6 years, $40,000,000 maximum, $9,000,000 signing bonus.

  • 2005: Heath Miller, 30th pick, Virginia, 5 years, $6,890,000, $3,950,000 guaranteed.

  • 2006: Santonio Holmes, 25th pick, The Ohio State State University, 5 years, $8,100,000, $5,700,000 guaranteed.

  • 2007: Lawrence Timmons, 15th pick, Florida State, 5 years, $11,900,000, $8,300,000 guaranteed.

  • 2008: Rashard Mendenhall, 23rd pick, Illinois, 5 years, $12,550,000, $6,830,000 guaranteed.

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So Many Decisions, So Little Time

This coming Sunday the Steelers begin their shortest training camp e-v-e-r. Twenty-two calendar days, and eighteen days of actual practice (with a couple of games thrown in to breakup the monotony) will be utilized to decide just who the best players are and they will best be utilized. From our perspective here are the pressing issues, presented in no particular order (except for the first one) facing Mike Tomlin and his staff:
  • The Ghost of Alan Faneca: The offensive line is mess. At tackle, is Marvel Smith capable of playing like a man playing for a big, free agent contract or have the previous eight seasons revealed all that he is capable of doing? The transition player contract that Mr. Smith signed ($6,850,000) makes it tough to put him on the bench, but is Trai Essex ready to step up in his fourth seasons; and what of Jeremy Parquet? Of course all eyes will be at left guard where Chris Kemoeatu is being asked to replace a perennial All-Pro ~ no big deal, right?

  • Which Larry?: Larry Foote has been terrific at right, inside linebacker ~ a solid run-stuffer. However, despite the fact that he is currently listed at right outside linebacker on the Steelers' roster, it is expected that Lawrence Timmons is expected to be given the opportunity to unseat the veteran. Very rarely is the second season for a first round draft pick described as "make-or-break," but the team is anxious to upgrade the speed of its defense, and it is hoped that Mr. Timmons will be a big part of that.

  • They're back, but are they ready?: The Steelers suffered some significant injuries on both sides of the football ~ Aaron Smith, Ryan Clark and Willie Parker must notable amongst them ~ so one of the important tasks for the coaching staff will be to assess where those players are physically. Additionally, the declining performance of Troy Polamalu has, in our opinion, coincided with a decline in his physical well-being. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Polamalu's non-traditional off-season regimen will yield positive, long-lasting results.

  • Shakin' Out at Wide Out: It seems that we have been predicting the demise of Nate Washington and Willie Reid as members of the Pittsburgh Steelers since the day they landed on the roster. But this time we really mean it ~ the axe is going to fall on one or both of these players this summer. At one time it was believed that Mr. Reid would have an impact as a return man on punts and kicks. His inability to field kicks cleanly certainly had an impact, but not exactly the one that was hoped for. If Jeremy Bloom can perform well in this role Mr. Reid's hold on a roster spot will be even more tenuous. On the other hand, in 2007 Nate Washington showed flashes of being the player the team thought he could be, but he was inconsistent at times both as a receiver and as a blocker. With Dallas Baker and Limas Sweed now on the roster Mr. Washington will be pressed to deliver consistent results.

  • Just how tough are we?: In 2007 the Steelers rushing defense ranked twenty-second in the league on plays up the middle, giving up an average of 4.36 yards per carry ~ the first and only time the defense has performed that poorly in the past eight years (i.e. from 2000-2006 the defense yielded fewer than four yards per carry on plays up the middle); and anyone who saw last season's two games versus Jacksonville realizes that the Steelers were far from being their dominant selves. So, was 2007 an aberration or a harbinger of things to come?
Naturally this list is far from comprehensive, but there is little doubt that just addressing the issues we've outlined will occupy much of the time available in this year's training camp.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Preparing for Training Camp: Save the Dates

Tuesday, July 22nd marked the deadline for players who were tagged/tendered (i.e. franchise player or transition player) to sign a new contract. That deadline passed with nary a word about so much as a negotiation with the Steelers' transition tackle, Marvel Smith. As a result it appears that the eight year veteran will be leaving the team at the end of the 2009 season.

As with every summer there are multiple dates that loom large on the horizon, and without further adieu who are some of them:
  • July 27, 2008: Steelers open training camp

  • August 3, 2008: Hall of Fame Game (Colts v. Redskins)

  • August 8, 2008: Eagles v. Steelers

  • August 14, 2008: Steelers v. Bills (@ Toronto)

  • August 23, 2008: Steelers @ Vikings

  • August 26, 2008: Roster Cutdown Day (75 players)

  • August 28, 2008: Panthers v. Steelers

  • August 30, 2008: Roster Cutdown Day (53 players)

  • August 31, 2008: Practice Squad established (maximum eight players)

  • September 7, 2008: Opening Day


Monday, July 21, 2008

Good Monday Morning!

Friday was a great day as the 2008 Steelers' season tickets were delivered! Despite the distance between SoCal and the 'Burgh I'll be attending a couple of the games in person (plans have already been made for the game versus Indianapolis), most of the others will be available for purchase at the Steelers ticket exchange.

Also, with training camp less than a week away it's time for fans of the Black & Gold to begin their own preparations, and to that end here's a video from the NFL Network that reminds us of how far the franchise has come in thirty-six years (we're number one! we're number one!).

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Steelers for Sale: Why Now?

The Wall Street Journal believes that the uncertainty surrounding the ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers has arisen now "thanks in part to a sacking from the realities of estate and capital gains taxes."

The WSJ opinion piece represents an opportunity for the conservative publication to launch a broadside at the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, Barack Obama, but without any other explanation being publicly offered it's difficult to refute.

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Something Else to Worry About?

Sam Farmer, the great writer on all things NFL for the Los Angeles Times, has a column outlining an effort by the league to reduce or eliminate the use of gang signs by players.

According to the report
NFL game officials will not be responsible for identifying gang signals but will alert league headquarters of anything unusual or suspicious they see. League executives declined to outline what action might be taken against offenders, but [Mike] Pereira said, "it will be dealt with harshly. The commissioner is not going to stand for gang signals on the field."
To consult a new gameday resource click here


He's Nobody's Fool

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that Duquesne Capital Management founder Stanley Druckenmiller has his limits:
According to a source who has intimate knowledge of the New York hedge fund manager's dealings with the Rooney brothers, Mr. Druckenmiller will not get caught up in a high-stakes bidding war to purchase the shares necessary to become majority owner if Goldman Sachs & Co., the Wall Street investment bank that is serving as financial adviser for the Rooney brothers, opens the process to public bid.
Far be it for us to tell a group of millionaires (i.e. the Rooneys) how to treat a billionaire they are recruiting to bail them out, and this is not the first place you will have read this, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are more than a football team ~ it is a public institution and the Rooneys have always managed it as such. While ensuring that the family receives a fair price for the 84% of the team that is, apparently, for sale is smart business playing competing billionaires off one another in an effort to grovel for every possible penny would be . . . unbecoming. Additionally, this team, this institution shouldn't simply be open to the highest bidder.

In Chicago and Los Angeles residents are witnessing what happens when someone of limited creativity and vision, but with a great deal of money and/or creative financing, gains control of respected local institutions. The franchise celebrated its 75th anniversary last season, and the Rooney family owes it to the city of Pittsburgh and the legion of Steelers' fans to ensure that the greatness of this franchise endures for another 75 years ~ if not more.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

More Financial News than You Wanted

With the "official" confirmation that the Rooney family is seeking new partners to invest in the Steelers, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the value of the team could be enhanced considerably by a change in its tax status (subscription required).

We're barely capable of navigating TurboTax in order to file our returns every year, but according to the WSJ the Steelers currently operate as a "C Corporation" which requires that the team pay taxes on both its income and any dividends that are paid each year. Conversely, a move to an "S Corporation" classification shifts the tax burden from the corporation to the shareholders, and permits for the depreciation of assets. It appears, on the limited information we have, that the Steelers would qualify as an S Corporation, and according to the WSJ such a shift could add as much as $200,000,000 to the value of the franchise.

Finally, according to the WSJ report, if Stanley Druckenmiller makes an offer for the team it "would likely be all cash, buying out all owners except Dan Rooney, who would continue to run the Steelers and retain his 16% stake."

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Was Najeh Davenport Really the Problem?

The release of Najaeh Davenport, almost immediately, left us feeling rather ambivalent.

On the one hand there seems to be a general sense amongst fans of the Black & Gold that he was hardly an adequate replacement for the retired Jerome Bettis. We certainly shared that perception ~ when watching games it seemed that Mr. Davenport had very little success doing the "tough" running (i.e. short yardage, between the tackles) at which Mr. Bettis excelled.

On the other hand we had to question our own objectivity as well as that of all of you. Let's face it, Steelers fans are notoriously critical, not to mention impatient, and it just seemed as though a bit of investigating was in order. With that in mind we turned to the numbers because, as my man Nick Bakay always says, "they never lie."

For the purposes of assessing Mr. Davenport's performance as a replacement for Jerome Bettis we decided to look at his carries over the course of the 2007 regular season relative to yards needed for a first down (or touchdown). More specifically, we decided to look at his short yardage performance during the season. We defined "short yardage situation" as any play requiring three or fewer yards for a first down/touchdown. The reason for this is obvious: those are the exact situations in which opposing defenses would be deployed specifically to stop the run, thereby providing the maximum test of Mr. Davenport's individual skills (i.e. speed, strength, etc.). Using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet we recorded the down and distance required of each of these short yardage plays and the yardage actually gained. We then subtracted the actual yardage gained from the yardage required creating a spreadsheet in which a zero or negative number represents a successful play while a positive number represented a failure (e.g. if three yards was required for a first down but two yards was gained the net difference of +1 was the yardage short of that required). What we discovered only served to fuel our ambivalence.

During the 2007 regular season we counted thirty-four occasions on which the Steelers' offense had to gain three or fewer yards and called upon Mr. Davenport to rush the football in an attempt to gain those yards. The aggregate yardage required on those thirty-four plays was sixty-two yards, and the total yardage gained was 119. The net difference on the season for these plays was -57. Moreover, on those thirty-four plays Mr. Davenport managed to gain (or exceed) the required yardage more than 70% of the time. He may not have been all that the Steelers and their fans wanted, but it seems that Mr. Davenport was pretty good none-the-less.

Additionally, this focus on rushing ignores his significant contributions on special teams ~ he returned seven kicks in 2007 and was credited with nine special teams tackles (5 solo, 4 assists).

So, while some optimists see the drafting of Rashard Mendenhall and the signing of Mewelde Moore as part of the "solution" to the Steelers' 2007 rushing struggles, we believe that the issues facing Bruce Arians complex and unlikely to be resolved with the release of a multifaceted athlete who contributed well when given the opportunity.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A New Face

Despite all the breathless media reports that the Steelers are for sale, it seems much more likely (as reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) that the Rooney family may look for someone willing to invest in the team without actually being desirous of taking over its operation. And Stanley Druckenmiller, founder of Duquesne Capital Management, appears to have been approached by the Rooney family. Who is Stanley Druckenmiller? Here's a look at a few pertinent facts:
  • He's Wealthy: Forbes Magazine ranks him at #91 amongst America's wealthiest 400 people, with an estimated net worth of $3,500,000,000.

  • He's a philanthropist of the first order: According to in 2006 Mr. Druckenmiller gave $25,000,000 to the Harlem Children's Zone, a "non-profit, community-based organization that works to enhance the quality of life for children and families in some of New York City's most devastated neighborhoods." Additionally he provided $14,000,000 in funding (see press release) for the Stanley F. Druckenmiller Hall on the campus of Bowdoin College, his alma mater -- the total cost for construction of that facility was $16,400,000. Most impressive, at least from a raw dollars perspective, was the gift of $45,000,000 he and his wife, Fiona, gave to the N.Y.U. Medical Center (reported in the New York Times, April 8, 2008).

  • He's a Republican, sort of: It doesn't appear that Dan Rooney's support for Barack Obama would be much of an impediment for the motivated investor -- according to records at Mr. Druckenmiller gave $2,300 to the campaign of Mitt Romeny, the Huffington Post reports that he donated $4,600 to John McCain's campaign (while others with Duquesne Capital have donated to Democratic candidates), however he also gave $28,500 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In previous election cycles he has donated to both Republican and Democratic candidates. Additionally, according to a report by Mr. Druckenmiller provided financial support for Michael Bloomberg's presidential exploration committee (subscription required).
Despite being one of the wealthiest and generous individuals in the United States, "[t]hose who know him -- friends, in-laws and people in the money-management business -- say he prefers staying out of the limelight" (New York Times, April 18, 19093). If it should come to pass that Mr. Druckenmiller becomes part of the ownership group of the Pittsburgh Steelers the limelight is certain to find him.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

A Perfect Day to
Begin Posting Again

According to the Wall Street Journal the Steelers' ownership situation is a bit more in flux than the team's statement would lead one to believe.

According to the WSJ report "[t]he storied Pittsburgh Steelers football franchise has been secretly shopped to potential buyers amid continuing divisions among the five sons of the team's founder, Art Rooney Sr."

Well that certainly changed things for us -- we just assumed that the "divisions" were amongst Art Sr.'s grandchildren, not his children. God bless them all for being energetic enough, despite their advanced years, for wanting to try something different -- but woe betide the member of this iconic family who screws things up for the team and its fans.


Back on Duty

With the major summer holidays having now concluded (Labor Day? That's the end of summer for us, and thereby excluded from that statement) it's time to get back to work bringing you the very best Pittsburgh Steelers news and perspective available almost anywhere!

As a way of easing back into our blogging responsibilities here are a few thoughts on some of the things that have occurred since our last posting.
  • Terry Bradshaw comes clean: Much of the attention revolving around Mr. Bradshaw's June 19th interview with Dan Patrick centered on his admission that he had used steroids "to speed up injuries." More surprising however was his profession of man-love for Matthew McConaughey.

  • Steve Courson's Tome: On a related note the late Steve Courson is in the news for his 5,000 "letter" to an unnamed, intended recipient discussing the ills of the steroid culture in the National Football League. Few, if any, players were more outspoken about the lengths to which some players will go to succeed -- in 1985 Mr. Courson (then a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) was the only play to speak on-the-record in a Sports Illustrated article on the topic -- so there is no doubting the sincerity of whatever it is that Mr. Courson wrote. The concern here is that Matt Chaney, described as a "friend [of Mr. Courson's] and author" is holding the contents of the letter hostage in order to sell a book he is writing. Mr. Chaney says that "Steve [Courson] deserves this chance to continue to speak, and it was a godsend in a way to get this." We agree, and call upon Mr. Chaney to release the complete contents of the letter.

  • Troy Polamalu's Offseason: Over the past two seasons there hasn't been a more overrated defensive player in the NFL than Troy Polamalu.

    There, we said it.

    Injuries have robbed Mr. Polamalu of his ability to produce impact plays; however he is using an unconventional training regimen (not far from the SoCal headquarters of Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic) in an attempt to recapture his Pro Bowl form. NFL Network provides as video look-see.

  • LeCharles Bentley in Pittsburgh?: There's no doubt that a couple of years ago the signing of Mr. Bentley by the Steelers would have been hailed as a tremendous move. However, in 2008 the very idea that the Steelers are seriously interested in Saints' Pro Bowl center who suffered a devastating knee injury during his first practice as a member of the Cleveland Browns is an alarming admission at just how shaky things are along the Steelers' offensive line.

  • Just How Shaky is it?: According to New Era Scouting the Steelers are replacing the #3 offensive guard (Alan Faneca) with #103, Chris Kemoeatu. The Steelers' highest rated offensive guard is Kendall Simmons (#26).

  • Long-term Changes in Ownership?:The Steelers' website reports that some of the Rooney clan are looking to get out of the football business and focus on race tracks (Art Sr. would be proud). The statement released by the Rooney family assures us all that no changes in ownership are in the offing. However, we would like to suggest that the Rooney family consider moving towards a Green bay Packers model, and allow the public to purchase shares in the team. Of course such a move would require a change in NFL rules -- rules that have been upheld in court -- but the capitalization that could be achieved by selling just 49% of the team (to a bunch of hard core Steelers fans) would be mind-boggling. The NFL and the Rooney family should give it some serious thought.
The first day back after a long layoff is usually the toughest, but in this case it feels like coming home!

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