Another great offseason goes, and goes and goes. This offseason has had its ups and downs. I will do my best to cover many of these topics from the retirement/firing of Arians, to the purging of the veterans, and the overall state of the Steelers union. First I will hit on some self-indulgence as I look back on previous topics and mocks and how they look in hind sight. And so it doesn’t look like a brag page (which it is not intended to be), I will tie it in with current issues/topics facing the Steelers this season. This turned into a very long piece (5000 words), so I am doing something I saw another poster do to make it easier. Each endnote is a topic we will cover. Read what you can/want, then come back and click where you want to start. That way, if you are say…at work and have to close the screen quick, you can remember where you were and skip back to it without having to scroll through everything else. I hope you enjoy.
Old article analysis
2009 Draft [i]
Coaching Calls [ii]
2010 Draft [iii]
2011 Draft [iv]
Young Money and our future at WR [vii]
Position Battles I am interested in
Running Backs [ix]
Defensive Line [x]
Inside Linebackers [xii]
[i] 2009 Draft – First, 30 minutes before round three of the 2009 draft I made some bold predictions for who I wanted to draft with our 3rd round picks and who I was most impressed with that was left on the board. I listed 12 likely players for the Steelers. Of those twelve, two were Wallace and Urbik. When I actually made my 3 choices I actually said Urbik would be picked but didn’t think Wallace would. I still fear we gave up too quick on Urbik, who graded out as one of the best guards in pass protection last year, but if DeCastro pans out, it was worth it. Two of the others I wanted were Ladarius Webb, who I said would be a pro bowler (although I said at safety not cornerback) and Antoine Caldwell (starting RG for the Texans this year). Not bad for a hobby draftnik, two starting interior linemen and two pro bowlers out of 12 guys I singled out for the 3rd round, 1/3 success.
[ii] Coaching Calls – I also talked coaching changes in 2009, and two guys I mentioned were Carnell Lake and Kevin Greene. Carnell is now our DB coach. I think Steelers nation needs no more commentary about that. Great hire. Kevin Greene was a coaching intern for years with the Steelers. I wanted him hired permanently as the OLB coach (assisting Butler until Lebeau retires and then take over LB when Butler becomes DC). I spoke about how Woodley credited his pass rush development to Coach Greene. Well, Dom Capers understood what Greene brought to the table and hired him at Green Bay. Clay Matthews and the LBs at Green Bay are a product of Kevin Greene, the man with the 3rd highest sack total off all time (highest total by a linebacker). These two coaches and their contributions will play a huge role this season, in Woodley’s big season, and the development of our young defensive backs.
[iii] 2010 Draft – I like to pride myself on being able to find those 3-7 round gems. I brought up a Jared Veldheer in January, well before any of the draft’s talking heads mentioned him, and before the Raiders selected him in the third round, where is now a very capable LT. Still was a little to high for my taste, so pass on that one. However, there were others. Jamar Chaney, I called a low round version of Sean Weatherspoon, Philly can’t seem to get him off the field no matter how many LBs they draft, nice problem to have with our question marks at LB. I wanted safety Kam Chancellor in the third. I argued with Hi5 (remember him) that Kam Chancellor was much better than Taylor Mays, who, as a DB coach, I stated wouldn’t make it in the NFL. Kam is a pro bowler, and Taylor Mays is struggling to latch on with the Bengals. Had to pick this image, it warmed my heart.
Jamar Chaney lasted until the 7th, Kam until early 5th. The Steelers picks in rounds 4-6: Thaddeus Gibson, Chris Scott, Crezdon Butler, Stevenson Sylvester, Jonathan Dwyer, and Antonio Brown. I am not saying these are bad picks, but would you trade Kam for Gibson and Butler for Chaney. I would. Still get a DB and a LB (although an inside one, we had already drafted Worilds) I also wanted late round DT Travis Ivey out of Maryland, who is turning it on in Raiders camp this season, another 6’4" 341 lb guy who can move. I did call Jason Worilds in the second, although the jury still out on whether or not Steelers fans like me for that. I like Ryan Mundy, but a guy like Kam Chancellor would provide two things for us this season, a starter opposite Polamalu who can play at an amazingly high level, as in Mile High Stadium, and would also likely have meant Ryan Clark would have been one of the veterans released to give more cap room to sign Mike Wallace to a long term deal.
[iv] 2011 Draft – Brandon Harris was the talk of BTSC for a while, so I did a DB analysis. I wrote that he was no better than Willie Gay, and his tackle totals were inflated by how many catches he allowed. I hated him as a first rounder and stated the 5th round (like Willie) was a better fit. May BTSCers loved what I said. Others called me a fool and stated the NFL draft pros are pros for a reason. The Texans took him 60th overall, in the second round. An article last week on their website lists him as no better than the dime back coming into the season after playing 28 plays last season. Is that worth a 2nd rounder? I did call Cortez Allen in the 4th, a pick I am glad I was right about. Cortez is Ike 2.0, and can catch. I have high expectations for him. More to follow in the next paragraph.
[v] Bryant McFadden and our Cornerbacks – I wanted them to dump him and his salary last season. I knew however that he would stay and Donovan Warren would be dumped with Allen and Brown staying to round out the 5 CBs. Like I thought, he wouldn’t stay the starter and now is dumped leaving us with about $169,000 in dead money, not a bunch but could have unloaded both last year. Now we have a 3 headed monster opposite Ike Taylor: Keenan Lewis, Curtis Brown, and Cortez Allen. Brown was the talk of OTA’s, the coaches are really high on him. However, I still feel by the end of the season Allen is the starter. This kid has prototypical size/speed. Also, he won playing time on defense last season, without the aid of an offseason. Imagine what a year does. Also, I will say this again and again, I think Terrence Frederick (T-Fred) makes the 53. He isn’t as inexperienced as many assume, he ran basically the same defense at Texas A&M under Lebeau disciple Tim DeRuyter. I did a big breakdown of him after the draft, comparing him to others drafted this year and one current CB. With his ability as a gunner on special teams, I think he stays on.
[vi] Woodley’s Play and Aaron Smith’s career – Last year, I talked about Woodley’s slow start. I looked at the stats from the first few games of last season and the first 6 of 2010 season, another slow start by Woodley. Both had one thing in common, Aaron Smith next to Woodley. It pained me then and still does now. In the first 6 games of 2010, Woodley had just 3.5 sacks, but had 6.5 after that and an additional 1 per post season game. In 2011, Woodley had 1.5 sacks through the first 4 games. In the fourth game, Aaron Smith was injured for the season, Hood replacing him for the second year in a row. The results: 7.5 sacks in the next 4 games before injuries derailed Woodley’s season. Those of you worried about Ziggy Hood this season, especially with the recommitment to his explosiveness, need to relax. A 3-4 DE does not produce sacks directly, but by keeping the OLB free to wreak havoc.
In the past 2 seasons, Woodley has started next to Ziggy 20 times, including playoff games (3 last season, 1 this season). In those games, Woodley has 17 sacks, an average of .85 per game. In the 10 games with Smith in the last two seasons, the average is .5 per game. Steel34D made a prediction that Woodley would have 16 sacks and a lot of people scoffed. If Ziggy’s explosiveness is even better, there is no reason to believe Woodley can’t increase his average by 0.15 per game to average 1 per. I will go further, if Woodley stays healthy he breaks the Steelers single season record.
Also, I fear Harrison may falter again some with health issues. Harrison is 2 behind Joey Porter for second all time (Porter has 60 and Harrison 58, Woodley 48 and in 5th ). By the end of the season, I think Woodley is #2 and Harrison is #3. For that to happen, Woodley will need 10.5 more than Harrison this season, and Harrison has at least 10 every year, right? This year I am saying Harrison sees his last in a Steelers uniform with 7.5 and Woodley has 18. A bold prediction, that is likely to stir up dissenting opinions. Don’t worry, realistically I hope Harrison still gets to 10 or more, but think Woodley does indeed get at least 15 and they end up 2 (Harrison) and 3 (Woodley) on the sacks list, until next season when Woodley finally passes him and Jason Gildon (who has 77). That’s right, a two year prediction that Woodley averages 14.5 per season in the next two years. Oh, and expect 7 or more sacks out of Ziggy Hood, giving us a Ray Seals-esque DE for the first time in a while.
New Topics I haven’t covered yet.
[vii] Young Money and our future at WR – The second Mike Wallace told the media about Young Money (Brown is Cash Money, Wallace is Fast Money, and Sanders is Quick Money) I started to worry. A group of three receivers who go by the title Young Money does not lead me to believe that they will take a home town discount. I fear Wallace has two years left on the roster if he doesn’t sign a long term contract before this season. I think he plays under the restricted tender this year and the franchise tag next year. I really think Antonio Brown is, and should be, the priority. He is a more complete WR. Plain and simple and I know people will dislike that opinion, but it is the truth. Sanders is the most like Ward, if he stays healthy, and I would say those two have a better chance of being on our roster long term than Wallace. Wallace is not worth Fitz and Megatron money, and the Steelers FO knows this. If he refuses $7-9 million a year, he will be tagged next year and sent packing or traded. Rooney is not happy, which doesn’t bode well for the long term future of Wallace with the Steelers. I am hoping Antonio Brown stays true to his word and doesn’t do the same, but for the sake of the salary cap, he may get a restricted tag next year as well. I would sign him and tag Sanders next year, but we will see. Now back to this year’s concern.
Here is a very outside-the-box suggestion that many of the Steelers fans will go crazy about. I am guaranteeing this will be hated by many readers, what about signing T.O.? Hear my reasoning before you judge. I don’t see this happening, but here is what I think it does for us. T.O. can still play, that has never been his problem, he is just a head case and a locker room headache. Why bring that in? If he is on the roster, Wallace loses any leverage he may have. Wallace can’t threaten to hold out until week 11 (must report date to accumulate year towards free agency). He risks losing any playing time and a shot at a big signing next year. T.O. is desperate and would sign for next to nothing. He is a future Hall of Famer, runs terrific routes, etc and could really help further the development of our young receivers. He would be especially beneficial in the development of Toney Clemons, who is similar in size/speed and was an unheralded WR in the draft like T.O. I am not saying a long term deal, but a 1 year deal to rejuvenate his career when he seems to be hungrier than ever, and may have actually learned a thing or two about humility with the Arena Football debacle. That would give us Terrell, Sanders, Brown, Cotchery, and Wallace to start the season with Clemons on the practice squad, or if Wallace holds out, Clemons is five. Just a thought.
[viii] Heath Miller’s career year – Many Steelers fans are reading into Todd Haley’s comments about working with Heath Miller. Haley said he is excited to coach a TE of Heath Miller’s caliber. Many fans interpret this to mean Heath Miller is going to have a career year, I say not likely. First off, we have a 1st year LT and a second year RT that will need a TE to stay in occasionally at least. More importantly, let’s look at the statistics for TEs under Haley since 2007 (2007 and 2008 at Arizona, 2009, 2010, 13 games 2011 in KC). For the purpose of the stats, player yards per game is based on number of games they played in, not total team games for the season. For total TE yards per game, it’s total yards divided by total games played by team.
So in the last 5 years, only one time have the TEs in a Todd Haley offense eclipsed 450 yards AS A UNIT in a season. For the top TE receiver, the line is 24.2 rec, 2.6 TD, 244.4 yards, for a 15.275 Y/G. If we look truly mathematically (math teacher readers will love this) we need to look at the standard deviation to find the expected outcome. The average high for yards in a season is indeed 244.4, but with a standard deviation of 161.69 (so 244.4 +/- 161.69). The average high for receptions is 24.2 with a standard deviation of 12.09 (24.9 +/- 12.09). The average TDs high is 2.6 with a standard deviation of 1.62 (2.6 +/-1.62). The average Y/G by the top TE each year is 18.5 with a standard deviation of 9.64 (18.5 +/- 9.64).
In another words, Heath Miller’s expected numbers should be:
Receptions – Between 12.1 and 36.29 total
Yards – Between 82.71 and 406.09 yards total
TDs – Between .98 and 4.22 total
Y/G – Between 8.86 and 28.14 Y/G
Only twice in the last 7 years has Heath had less than 500 yards in a season. Realistically, I think Tony Moeaki’s totals from 2010 are reachable, nearly identical to 2007, Heath’s 4th best (and 4th worst for that matter) season. In 2007, Heath had 47 rec, 566 yards, 7 TDs, and 35.375 Y/G. Not a career year, but with the weapons we have on offense, I think these are realistic numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised by lower totals though, and neither should you.
Position Battles I am excited for.
[ix] Running Backs – Redman is the starter and the most beloved UDFA running back since Willie Parker. He has been a good contributor the past couple season, this year he has the chance to sign. Many fans are predicting a 1200+ yard season. Baron Batch was last year’s training camp darling, until injury derailed his season. Jonathan Dwyer is hated by many for conditioning concerns. Chris Rainey is being predicted by some to be a spectacular playmaker that gets 12-15 touches a game, and by others to be an undersized non-factor with about 20 offensive touches all season. Finally, the most divisive RB on our roster, Mendy, is also recovering from an ACL tear.
Here is my take. Redman has been very productive, but has never carried the load. What worries me is the amount of carries he had on downs that we needed 12 yards or more. A lot easier to average 6 yards a carry when you need 12. However, he was also productive in short yardage situations. Bruce Arians’ play calling didn’t help anyone on our roster. I really think Mendy starts the season on the P.U.P. list, and will come on strong the second half of the season. A lot of people are talking about the competition between Baron Batch and Chris Rainey for 3rd down back, I don’t know why though. Rainey is a change of pace/special play back. He doesn’t have the size to stay in and block. He will be our Dexter McCluster role in Haley’s Offense. McCluster had 160 touches (46 rec, 116 rushes) or an average of 10 touches/game last season, but only 39 touches his first year, an average of 2.4375 per game. I think that Rainey will be somewhere in between, say 5-8 touches a game for 85-90 total touches. For third down back, Batch will be able to fill that role. He did well in training camp last year. He can block, catch, run; a true third down back.
That brings us to Dwyer. I still feel he was a steal where we drafted him. He has had some conditioning issues, and I refuse to compare him to Bettis who faced the same issue throughout his career. Running style, youtube highlight videos of Bettis at Notre Dame and Dwyer in college and they do actually appear similar. Dwyer will spend the next month training at Pete Bommarito Performance Systems in North Miami Beach, FL. This is the same place Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jonathan Stewart and others work out during the NFL's month off. Not a bad bunch of RBs to aspire to. If he shows up in shape and with a little more speed, Dwyer is the most likely to take touches from Redman. I will tell you, I thought when he was drafted, and still do, that he reminded me of Barry Foster. Foster played in an option offense at Arkansas under Offensive Coordinator Jack Crowe. Foster had to adjust to the pro style running game, but the size/speed is similar. I am excited for Dwyer and Redman to own opposing defenses this season, and then Mendy coming in with fresh legs mid-season to help lead us to championship number 7. For the record, I think there is a good chance Dwyer could very well lead the team in rushing yards, with Redman or Mendy as the #2 guy. If this is true, Dwyer could be a cheap alternative to resigning Mendy, or if Mendy comes on really strong, one or both could be trade bait next season.
[x] Defensive Line – Offensive line has been beaten to death. The only thing I will say about it is this: Max Starks only gets signed if Adams fails at LT, and don’t worry so much about a rookie LT. First off, Mike Mayock, the only draft guy worth anything, said Mike Adams was a boom or bust guy who should be a LT. He mocked Mike Adams to the Steelers in the first round. Plenty of rookies have succeeded as LTs in the league, let’s not pass judgment until the season is over on his failing. So for Defensive line, the starters are Hood, Keisel, and McClendon. Hood, as I said in the Aaron Smith paragraph, should be a monster this year. I really am looking forward to seeing him develop. Keisel will lose some playing time to Heyward. McClendon is not the future of the NT position, no matter what Coach Mitchell says in the off season. I see McClendon as the future Chris Hoke. He will be very good in spot starts for years to come, but not the main guy. Ta’amu will fill that role when Hampton retires. Ta’amu will get his time this year, preparing him for his future role as lead NT. DE is interesting this year. I can’t say who the 4th DE we will carry is. If Hampton can play early on in the season, they will carry 3 NT and 3 DE (McClendon filling both roles). However, I do want to mention one name, Ikponmwosa "Ike" Igbinosun from Southern Connecticut State University. Not a big time school, but this kid has serious size at 6’4" 288 lbs, and can move. He had 58 tackles, 12 TFL, 7 sacks, 2 FF, and 2 FR for the Owls in 2011. He reported ran a 4.94 at 288 lbs at his pro day and there is a youtube video of him dunking the basketball. I am more impressed by this video where he does draft preparations. I like this kid for practice squad development.
[xi] Safeties – This is my specialty, as a former player and DB coach. I believe this is one of the most important positions in a defense, and not because of my background. They are the QBs of the defense, changing coverages, taking care of top side, and making sure there are no big plays. Here is my take on this. Polamalu, Clark, and Mundy are locks. Mundy might be somewhat expendable if we weren’t playing Denver at Mile-High right off the bat. I think he would make the team regardless; he is our primary backup at both spots.
The fourth spot is where there is a question. Let’s pretend we are watching a wrestling match, four corners to the ring, one man in each corner. In this corner, we have "The Crafty Veteran." Will Allen is a former All American and a role player for the past couple of seasons. In this corner, we have "Practice Squad." Damon Cromartie-Smith, from UTEP is a big body we have had on our PS and occasionally on the active squad when necessary. A possibility he stays again, to be active for the Denver game. In corner 3, we have "The Story." Myron Role is a third former All American safety (from FSU) on our roster. He is also the media darling as a Rhodes Scholar who took a year off from football to get his Master’s Degree from Oxford in Medical Anthropology. He has the hearts, and minds, of many of the Steelers fans, based on his story more than his performance. He couldn’t crack the Titans 53 even when they kept 5 safeties in 2010. Now that he has more time back in football, many believe he is the answer long term at FS, using his brains to guide our secondary for years to come.
Finally, in the fourth corner, we have "The Camp Body." Robert Golden is a UDFA from Arizona. Golden is nearly identical to Ryan Clark in size and playing style, and like Clark, is a UDFA. Overly aggressive at times, especially in his run fits. He has position flexibility, starting 38 games in his last 3 years at both cornerback and safety. He broke up 26 passes and intercepted 4, returning 2 for touchdowns. Arizona has struggled mightily, Golden was a bright spot in a dark cloud. He may be more than a camp body. He might be a practice squad guy this year, but I think there is a chance he is surprises. Needs a little more development but this former 5 star recruit could end up being a future at FS. This year, I think Allen stays for the final year of his contract unless Rolle or Cromartie-Smith can win the job, and Golden ends up on the PS. I will let you know if I still think that after the first couple preseason games.
[xii] Inside Linebackers – So I think we keep our same for at OLB: Woodley, Harrison, Worilds, and Carter. I don’t think any of new guys makes the 53, especially because both our starters spent time on the DL last season, so having guys with some experience as backups just makes sense. But inside linebacker should be interesting this year. So Timmons is obvious. But I would say no one else is safe. There are three spots for four people: Brandon Johnson (signee from Cincinnati), Stephenson Sylvester, Larry Foote, and Rookie Sean Spence. So I can’t really say who the three will be. I will give my opinion on how things could shake out. Brandon Johnson was signed to help on Special Teams, but he seems to have the most tenuous hold on a roster spot. Sylvester’s athleticism and potential have him fighting for the starting Buck (Farrior’s spot) with the old veteran, Larry Foote. Many Steelers fans assume Sean Spence is undersized and likely to move to safety, something I tried to debunk in my post draft analysis. Is he a future back up to Timmons at Mack? Is Timmons moving to Buck to utilize his size?
First, to ensure the "move him to safety" rumors go away, they only played Spence at ILB during rookie camp and OTAs. And for those that think he is too small to play Buck, at rookie camp he reportedly picked up the playbook so well at Mack that he played Buck as well. Sean Spence has very good instincts and as Tomlin said post draft, always seems to move to the play before anyone else is moving at all. Many worry that he can’t take on blocks with his size. First off, for a 5’11" guy, 239 lbs is comparable to 6’1" 247 lbs. Second, let me put it to you from a defensive coach’s point of view, why take on a block at all? If you can beat the blocker to the point of attack, the block becomes worthless. If Spence’s instincts and initial burst are as good as they appear on tape, he will beat many of those blockers before they even get to him. Will he make mistakes, of course, but as I said in my analysis before, I believe he was brought on especially for one big reason, Ray Rice. Ray Rice has destroyed the Steelers with Foote and Farrior chasing him all over the field unable to keep up. Imagine a guy with real coverage ability like Spence covering him. Think of the nightmares opposing teams would have game planning for Coach Lebeau with Troy, Timmons, and Spence, three versatile athletes all able to blitz or cover.
Now for the hardest thing to argue with Steelers nation, no rookie plays in Lebeau’s defense, not even Troy. That is not true. Troy’s rookie season was 2003, Tim Lewis’ last year as DC in Pittsburgh. Dick Lebeau had just been fired from the Bengals after 3 seasons as head coach and was serving a one year sentence as Asst HC of the Bills. We will never know if Troy might have started as a Rookie in Lebeau’s Defense. What I can tell you is rookies have started for Dick Lebeau on many occasions. Let’s have a look at rookie starters in Dick Lebeau defenses and how many games they started that year:
Bengals DC from 1984-1991
1990 – Rookie James Francis, ROLB, started 16 games
1991 – Francis slides to LOLB, and Rookie Alfred Williams starts 15 games at ROLB
Steelers DC from 1995-1996
No rookie starters. However, so we don’t have the argument, well Steelers have always been better so never needed rookies I will point out one thing. 1992-1994, Lebeau was the Steelers DB Coach. In 1992, rookie Darren Perry started 16 games at Free Safety, can’t say Lebeau had no say in that.
Bengals DC again 1997-1999 and HC 2000-2002
1998 – Rookie Brian Simmons, LILB (Buck), 12 games. Rookie Takeo Spikes, RILB, 16 games. Rookie Artrell Hawkins, RCB, 16 games.
1999 – Rookie UDFA Rodney Heath, LCB, 9 games. Rookie Cory Hall, FS, 12 games.
Bills Asst HC 2003
Steelers DC 2004-present
I only really hit on the ones that started a bunch of games, I didn’t list any rookie who started less than 8 games, of which there were about another dozen.
So now to get rid of the argument that Timmons is more athletic than Spence and couldn’t crack the starting lineup in his rookie season. One, Timmons’ instincts were nowhere near as good as Spence’s coming out of college. Two, Timmons had a nagging Hamstring injury throughout training camp (missed 3 weeks of camp), was changing from OLB to ILB when the coaches realized what we had in Woodley, was poor against the run, and we had a much younger Farrior and Foote to lead the way. There was neither a real opportunity nor a real need for Timmons to start. However, this year we have a much older Foote, an unproven Sylvester, and Brandon Johnson, a journeyman OLB moving to ILB after being a Bengals special team’s ace. My confidence is overwhelming, can you tell. I think there is a chance Spence wins the starting Buck by midseason, or Mack with Timmons at Buck, but again, I would rather have a more instinctive Buck. Also, if he can win it during the preseason, one of the others is cut. My money, and more importantly, the salary cap money, would actually be on Foote if the Steelers think Sylvester is a capable backup. If they think Sly needs more time, they keep Foote for his reliability and leadership, and the new signee, Johnson goes away.
Well, there you have it. I hope you all enjoyed this and feel free to comment.
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