It has been a significant news week. The team recorded two wins in their final two preseason games. All the veterans came on line with two coming off of the PUP list and one ending a holdout. Two of the team's top draft picks were lost to injury. The league adopted a new rule that was the brainchild of Steelers brass. And we experienced the downside of having a lot of pretty good dogs chasing a limited number of bones as some quality people were shown the exit as we reached the deadline for roster cuts.
But in honor of the holiday weekend, in celebration of the end of the off and preseason, and to put an exclamation point on a bit of a dustup that occurred on one of the threads involving BTSCers and visitors from Dawgs By Nature we begin with something trivial, but IMO fun. Buried in Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback feature at SI.com was this little nugget.
I think my wish-I'd-written-that line of the week belong to Mike Florio, of ProFootballTalk.com, on likely Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam sitting with the fans Friday night at the Eagles-Brown preseason game: "Prospective Browns owner Jimmy Haslam spent some time in the Dawg Pound on Friday night. (Fans recognized him by the Steelers jersey he was wearing.)"
De Castro and Spence
This is the skunk at the otherwise pretty optimistic picnic. Last week a big part of the excitement that Steeler Nation was feeling in anticipation of the 2012 season had to do with the prospects for members of the fine draft class that was joining the team this year. In less than seven days two of the top three picks in that group have been lost to similar rather gruesome knee injuries. The information I have as I write this is that we have likely seen the last of Sean Spence in a football posture until next season. There is hope that guard David De Castro will be returning to action by mid season after successful surgery earlier this week; a hope that has been augmented by the adoption of a new rule related to how teams can use the injured reserve designation. (More about that later)
It's interesting to note that the three major injuries incurred this preseason (Johnson, De Castro and Spence) all were knee injuries that took place during games. Some members of Steeler Nation will, in their frustration, want to speculate as to whether something could have been done to prevent these setbacks: is there something wrong with the training regimen, are there too many preseason games, did Spence, in particular, have to be playing at this late stage of the process? Let me suggest that we not torture ourselves in this manner. This is more of a football gods sort of thing. To repeat a well worn cliche, injuries are a part of the game. The ones that occur at this time of the year are always the hardest to take because they did not take place in the heat of battle, but are viewed as training accidents. But the reality is that they can happen at anytime to anybody anywhere. And we will count ourselves fortunate if these are the only setbacks we have to endure this season.
While all three players will be missed, the losses should not significantly impact the team's prospects for success this season. Even with the somewhat precarious situation of the linebacker corps currently, Spence's role was likely to be relatively minor this season. His development will be slowed and his contributions to special teams will be missed. If the tight ends and the running game continue to perform in the regular season as well as they have so far, Johnson's loss won't be noticed. Indeed, I doubt if he is in the forefront of anyone's thinking even now. De Castro is part of an ensemble that would be better with him, but should manage quite well without him. At least let's hope so. And of the three he may yet make his presence known before all is said and done for 2012.
Harrison and Worilds
The last two denizens of the PUP universe were activated this week. Big questions remain concerning both the short and long term readiness of both linebackers and whether there will be any setbacks once they begin training in earnest next week. So far the thinking seems to be that Harrison, at least and maybe Worilds as well will be ready to go against Denver. Carter has played well during the preseason, but nobody is pretending that anyone can adequately replace a healthy Harrison at this stage. If both Harrison and Worilds can reliably contribute at a high level early on, and Sylvester returns in reasonable time from his difficulties then the concerns about the linebacking corps go away. Most importantly, the worst case scenario is avoided where Lawrence Timmons is forced out of position once again.
Overshadowed by more spectacular events in the final preseason game was the return of nose tackle Casey Hampton to the playing field. Unlike Mendenhall who, it is assumed, is still some weeks away from contributing and Harrison and Worilds of whom we are uncertain, Big Snack will be participating on at least a limited level immediately. (In fact, he had the tackle on the game's first running play.) The main concern moving forward is more the condition of his elbow than that of his knee. Not that the defensive line has been struggling without him. The emergence of Steve McLendon remains one of the big success stories of the preseason. Ziggy Hood appears to have taken his game up a notch. Brett Keisel has been sidelined, probably more for precautionary reasons for a minor ankle nick, but is expected to be ready for Denver. The D line appears to be one of the team strengths this season even without Hampton. His return just serves to amplify this belief.
When asked by reporters whether he thought the new rule allowing teams to designate one player to be on injured reserve for only a portion of a season was a change that he favored, coach Mike Tomlin answered tersely that "...we voted for it." But as Gerry Dulac pointed out, what he didn't mention is that the rule was the brainchild of Steelers President Art Rooney II that had been originally floated at the owners meeting in March. It was tabled at that time and then decided that it was an issue that needed to be negotiated with the players union. All was finally resolved just a few days ago. And as fate would have it, the Steelers may realize an immediate benefit as the new rule may be applied to the injury situation of David De Castro, thereby allowing for a circumstance where the rookie guard could be available later in the year without sacrificing a roster spot for a contributor early on. Yet another example of Steelers leadership.
Our long national (as in Steeler Nation) nightmare finally came to an end as Wallace reported to the team and signed his tender. League rules prevented him from participating in team activities (practices and games) until Monday when the players return from a weekend break, but he is expected to be in the starting lineup against Denver.
Two good things come out of this. First, obviously, we have the services of our Pro Bowl wideout and along with Antonio, Manny and Jericho have one of the best receiving corps in the league. Second, we are finished for the time being with all the ruminations, hand wringing and vitriol about Mike Wallace. What I would hope for now is some sort of long term deal being reached before the beginning of the season. Time is short but there is precedence. Troy Polamalu was signed right before the team got on the plane to Baltimore for the season opener last year. Otherwise we may just be on hiatus and the whole nonsense begins again at the end of the season. For all of our sakes I'd rather not.
The initial roster cuts came on Monday, and the final ones (more or less) occurred Friday afternoon. Practice Squad decisions will come after this piece is published. I won't waste your time going over all the particulars. That will be heavily discussed elsewhere on this site, as well as Steelers.com, and the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review websites.
There were plenty of both surprises and some possible distortions due to the team's injury situation as well as the result of a highly competitive camp. Its probably hard to find anyone who wasn't disappointed by one decision or another of this process. As is always the case there are certain newbies that we become enamored with as well as some returning players with whom we become disenchanted. Between adopting perspectives that are inappropriately flattering of our favorites or dismissive of our goats, and not being privy to all the information and dynamics involved in the decision making process, we're shocked, absolutely shocked that certain players were cut while others were retained.
With the understanding that some of this will change in the coming hours, days and weeks some of the controversial or simply disappointing cuts included: WRs Derrick Williams, Tyler Beiler and David Gilreath; G Ryan Lee; DBs Josh Victorian and Myron Rolle; QB Jerrod Johnson; K Danny Hrapmann; and P Jeremy Kapinos. On the other side of the ledger the retention of RB Baron Batch; QB Charlie Batch; OL Kelvin Beachum; LB Adrian Robinson were mystifying to some.
As is always the case some players may very well play themselves off the roster or will yield as injured players such as De Castro, Stephenson Sylvester and Rashard Mendenhall return. Today is clearly the climax of the roster building process, but not the end.
"Don't hit the head---Don't use the head" is the latest Tomlinism, and the signature slogan of a concussion awareness campaign headed by the Steelers head coach and the Executive Director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, Mickey Collins. The campaign targets youth, middle school and high school football players, and is focused upon playing techniques that would minimize the possibility of incurring head injuries. What I found interesting about this program is that its inspiration, and the origin of the slogan, came from Tomlin's promoting it to the Steelers during spring drills. So the campaign reflects changes that are being installed at the highest level of the game.
The NFL Officials Union and the league have returned to the negotiating table. The league announced earlier that the replacement officials would be working the week one games of the regular season. Concerns have been expressed that the level of performance has not been 'above the line' as the saying goes and that poor officiating could be a factor in wins and losses. I haven't seen this as being high on the radar of Steelers fans, but as our attention now can turn in an undivided manner upon the regular season, it may be something that we had better focus upon.
Toxic Football Contracts
This won't be for everyone, but Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com did an intriguing piece on the ten mistakes that teams make in their contract negotiations with players. A pretty good read for those interested in learning about what the front offices of NFL teams should not do when trying to put players under contract.
Blue Chips and Red Chips
Neal Coolong brought our attention to this piece by Michael Lombardi on NFL.com listing red chip players and coaches (high praise) and blue chip (highest praise). There were separate listings for offensive players and defensive players and coaches. It all seem fairly reasonable to me until he listed the Harbaugh brothers, JIm and John as blue chippers and Mike Tomlin as red chip. Now I freely admit to being biased in favor of the Steelers coach, but as they say, c'mon man!