Category:NFL
Posted on: August 4, 2009 8:09 am
Edited on: August 4, 2009 8:10 am
 

Look Ma...See How Good My Hands Are Now

Last season we watched a rookie make rookie mistakes.  None more apparent then a missed catch while he was looking up to catch himself on the jumbotron.  If training camp is any type of a barometer, Steelers wide receiver Limas Sweed is on his way to atoning for his rookie mistakes. 

Sweed, a second round draft pick in the 2008 draft, considered one of the top wide receivers in the draft, was speculated to have been picked up because Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, had a tall wide-out on his wish list for that draft.  One of the top concerns going into last season, was Sweed’s seemingly reluctance to block.  That was dispelled in the AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Ravens.  Now the questions going into this season is, will the second year Steelers wide receiver be ready to assume the part of the third wideout slot, left open by Nate Washington, who was signed to the Tennessee Titans through free agency.  If training camp is an indication, then it looks like he’s on his way to being ready. 

Gary Dulac, in today’s edition of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that Limas Sweed looks much more confident going into this season, knowing his routes and making catches with much more ease then he did last year.  Of course, it’s too early to tell, since there’s no opposing team to chase him down and there’s no jumbotron for him to catch a glimpse of himself.  Still, if his coaches are correct, and Sweed continues to look for ways to improve, it’s extremely possible that he’ll find himself in that third wideout slot at the start of the season. 

And although that slot is his to lose, don’t think he doesn’t have competition.  Rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace and former Detroit Lions wide receiver Shaun McDonald are also salivating at that open third wide out slot.  Wallace, picked up in the third round of the 2009 draft, was speculated to have been picked up to answer the need on punt and kickoff return.  McDonald was a late free-agency pickup.  Add Martin Nance and Dallas Baker to the mix, both who spent last year on the Steelers practice squad, and there’s definitely competition.  And both Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and head coach Mike Tomlin would tell you that the slot is anyone’s to win.  Still, if Sweed continues to shine like he’s doing in camp, then expect to see him running the routes as the third wide-out this season.

And if one thinks that training camp is a cakewalk when it comes to facing defenders, ask both Mike Wallace and rookie running back Frank Summers about their welcome to the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers offense.  Guess it’s a good thing that the coach has them practicing in pads. 

Source:  Steelers receiver finding his Sweed spot early in camp , Gary Dulac, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, August 4th, 2009



Posted on: July 30, 2009 12:37 pm
Edited on: August 2, 2009 6:51 pm
 

There's Work to Be Done

After each Superbowl win, former Steelers head coach, Chuck Noll, would appear in front of the cameras, and in response to certain questions, seemed not to capture the elation of the win, but would remark that there was still a lot of work to do.  That mentality in coaching led to four super bowl titles, two of them being back to back wins.  In essence, it was as if he was saying, this game is played now we have to start preparing for the next. 

It was almost a déjà vu at the end of last season, as current head coach of the Steelers, seemed to allow himself only a minimal amount of celebrating after the Steelers win in Superbowl 43.  While sportscasters, analyst and experts were touting how this might have been the most exciting win, Mike Tomlin seemed to keep himself well grounded and some might say, stoic, in the aftermath.  Indeed, it seemed that many outside of the Pittsburgh area may have missed and failed to see a similar mindset that Mike Tomlin seemed to have adopted from Chuck Noll in regards to what was next.  Basically, Tomlin would tell reporters, there was work to be done.  This comment was a momentary blurb in print, to be replaced with the next days news, and eventually find itself completely off the radar. 

A lot has happened since that comment was made.  Dan Rooney would move to Ireland to become the US Ambassador there, his son, Art Rooney II taking over the reigns.  A new draft class would be presented and selected, attrition and additions would occur through free agency and team members would participate in OTA’s, community events and mini-camps.  Fans will continue to anticipate opening day of regular season with echo’s of Bocephus in their minds answering the question “Are you ready for some football?”  Most would probably tell you they’ve secretly been ready for it since May.

Around the league teams have been gearing up and have begun their preparations for the upcoming season.  Training camps began and analysts are now reporting how well so and so looks in camp.  For the Pittsburgh Steelers, their down time is about to come to an end.

On the afternoon of Friday, July 31st, the players and staff of the Steelers will report to St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania to prepare in earnest for the work that they have to do. 

No doubt there are a lot of burning questions going into this camp.  How big of a distraction with the lawsuit against Ben Roethlisberger turn out to be?  Will OLB Lawrence Timmons prove to be worth what he was paid as a first round draft pick in 2007, now that he has an opportunity to start as a replacement to Larry Foote?  What on earth will kicker Jeff Reed show up in this year to make teammates chuckle?  The answers will be revealed in time, until then all eyes will be on the team and individual performance during training camp. 

There’s a lot of history in Latrobe itself.  It’s believed that the first professional football game was played there, as well as it being the originator of the banana split,  however, the small city itself gained it’s nationwide acclaim, in part, due to being the place where the Steelers hold their training camp.  Each year, Steelers faithful plan for their annual pilgrimage to the small campus to watch the players practice on a field, now named for the former Steelers coach, Chuck Noll.  Many come to get a glimpse of or perhaps get a coveted autograph of their favorite players and watch to see how the rookies and the new acquisitions might do come regular season.  It is here where we’ll start to speculate who will eventually make the team and/or perhaps start the season.  For the players, it will be about who gets a job. 

For the well known veterans like James Farrior, James Harrison, Hines Ward and others, their role will probably be more in a mentor status to the newer players.  For the most part, barring unforeseeable circumstances, these will be individuals whose slots are predetermined long before the season began.  For others, it’s not just going to be about securing themselves a job but transitioning themselves into the cohesive unit that has made the Steelers a formidable force in the NFL for decades. 

Somehow though, the anticipation of this years camp seems to be a little different then previous years. This time not only is there the realization that the Steelers have a major bulls eye on their back for being the reigning SB champs, but there’s also seems to be a genuine hunger from the personnel to actually win the back to back SB’s, something that was missing after they won SB XL. 

Don Banks of Sports Illustrated reminded his readers that the year after SB XL, the Steelers, when faced with a distraction went 8-8.  I would argue that this is different.  That year, the star quarterback was rehabbing from injuries sustained in an accident and then recouping from an operation, not to mention the Steelers had recently said goodbye to the heart of the Steelers team when Jerome Bettis retired.  Add a coach that seemed to have lost his passion for the game that year and it was not going to be pretty. 

No, despite the legal distraction, there still seems to be a sense of energy and belief that this team will not allow it to effect them and will fare quite well going into the stretch.  But then again, despite all the speculation, faith and hope, only time will tell. 

For now, the Steelers and their fans look towards this weekend, a gateway to the inevitable, the start of football season.  For Mike Tomlin, there’s work to be done and it starts in earnest here. 


Posted on: July 4, 2009 3:13 pm
 

Looking for Life on this Fourth of July

Is there life out there?  No, I’m not talking about the Hubble telescope or Voyager or any other space or astronomy project set to answer the age old question of life beyond earth.  I’m just wondering if there’s any beyond my doors.

Lately I’ve come to realize that my computer has become a major part of my life, wittingly or unwittingly, and I fear that if I continue on the path that I’m taking, that I will become like one of the “higher beings” that you find in Dean Koontz’s “Midnight” (though, I do admit it could be worse and be a storyline from the “Demon Seed, so it’s not a complete nightmare).  Realizing this, (as well as trying to calm the growing dissatisfaction), I’ve decided to try to answer the question that Reba McEntire asks in her song “Is There Life out There?”.  Of course, to do this, I have to first wean my addiction from the internet (I say this as I sit listening to Jimmy Buffett on the headphones and typing this up). 

Actually I know there’s life out there.  I had one at one time, of course it was before I had to be responsible (in other words, before the baby).  It was a life that included taking off for road trips or a weekend of horseback riding and dancing.  It included many things, to include travel.  I ate fresh crab and warm sour dough bread in the marina in San Francisco, wrote poetry on the lawn of the Summer Palace in Norway, bought silver and gold in the markets of Riyadh and drank german beer on the sidewalks of Frankfurt with students from Czechoslavaki (and later sat for an hour in an OSI office recounting my encounter with the citizens of communist country).  Of course, that all came before I had to be responsible (in other words…when I had money to burn).

Now, some twenty years later, I’m ready for a life again.  Although my husband and daughter are content to spend hours on the Xbox and the computer, I’m finding myself not so content just to sit around the house and do nothing.  Okay, I’ll admit, through the past ten years, we had a life.  We went places, visited people, took trips.  I’ve seen Maui and the Bahama’s, but lately, it hasn’t even been close.  If you were to ask what I do…go to work, come home, maybe go to the grocery store once a week.  Last time I did anything significant was to fly home for a funeral, so needless to say, I’m a bit antsy.

So this morning I woke my husband up and told him we were heading to Gilbert for some ice cream.  This was my way of telling him that I wanted to go to the annual Peach Festival that is held on the Fourth of July.  We went once, many years ago and I remember getting some very good peach ice cream.  Of course, he was confused and, after ten years together, I should know better then expect him to be able to read my mind when he’s first waking up.  Well, needless to say a little contention came to play and eventually we compromised. He decided he would take me for ice cream after we picked up a couple of games for the 360.  Eh, at least it got us out of the house and I opted for gyro’s instead of ice cream. 

Now it’s not like I couldn’t go to the Peach Festival, but then I’d be going alone, what fun was that?  However, while looking for something to do that wouldn’t cost much money and that I wouldn’t mind doing alone, I came across a news article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that tend to put things in a bit of perspective for me.

Today, on the day we celebrate our nations birthday with cookouts and fireworks and festivals, thousands of our servicemen and women will be spending it away from home, many living in tents and makeshift huts in the desert, wishing they were at home with their families.  These are individuals who voluntarily put their lives on “hold” to serve their country. 

As an attempt to help make their time and stay a little more tolerable, the USO regularly plans visits from celebrities and sports personalities.  This fourth of July weekend, the troops in Iraq received a visit from many of the coaches in the NFL.  Tennessee Titans coach, Jeff Fisher, Ravens coach John Harbaugh and retired Steelers coach Bill Cowher were among several other NFL coaches that participated in the first NFL-USO coaches tour to Iraq.  Troops in Baghdad, as well as other bases, were able to spend time with and talk with these celebrated coaches, making their fourth a little bit brighter.

Although I’ve never been in a war zone, as a former member of the military, I understand the importance that the USO and their respective tours to the morale of the men and women who are thousands of miles away from their loved ones.  The USO has been an instrumental part of and away from the military from the time of the “Donut Dolly’s” during WWII till now.  And in the NFL, it is not uncommon to find many a player taking time out of their schedules to visit our troops away from home.

Okay, so I’m bored and discontent, at least I have an air conditioned house and am out of harms way to be bored in.  I know that one day I’ll have a life again…probably when the electric bill isn’t so high and the daughter is earning her own money after graduating from college.  Maybe being connected to the computer is not necessarily a bad thing, I have to pay the cable bill anyway.  And of course, I could go downtown to one of the theaters where a local radio station is trying to break the worlds record for doing the “Time Warp” and participate in that, though, now at 47, I doubt you’d get me to dress up like Columbia. 

Note:  Coaches and former coaches participating in the NFL-USO coaches tour include Jeff Fischer, John Harbaugh, John Gruden, Tom Coughlin and Bill Cowher.

Source:  "NFL Coaches, Cowher in Iraq" , Pittsburgh Post Gazette, July 4, 2009 





Posted on: May 31, 2009 9:19 am
Edited on: May 31, 2009 9:24 am
 

Loyalty Still Exists - Just Ask Mean Joe

Mention one name…Mean Joe Greene and some will tell you about how he would play on the field, recounting times they saw him play.  Others may only know him through the coca cola commercial where an angry and hurt football player returned a kind gesture of a small boy who offered up a coke, by throwing him his jersey.  For those of us, who were old enough to see him play, we would argue he is probably one of the best defensive linemen in the history of the NFL.  For others, well, his is a name of legend and lore. 

Greene, drafted from the North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), in 1969 by the Pittsburgh Steelers, went on to be a dominant force on a defense that had earned the name “the Steel Curtain”, one of the best defenses in NFL history.  During his career, exclusively with the Steelers, he would play 181 games, accumulate 78.5 sacks and one interception.  He would also accumulate four Superbowl rings and be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. 

After retirement as a player, Greene would go on to being a coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolpins and the Cardinals, returning back to the Steelers organization as a special assistant for player personnel. 

This past Thursday, on the South Lawn of the White House, the Steelers players and management met with the President of the United States for the second time in the past five years.  Mean Joe Greene was among the individuals who was there when Steelers President Art Rooney III presented the President of the United States with a Steelers jersey, the number 44 on his back.  It would be his second meeting with a sitting president if the past decade. 

Come the beginning of the season, when the Steelers who were members of the 2008-09 team, are presented with their rings from SB XLIII, the former defensive tackle for the Steelers will be on hand to receive his, making him the only player in the NFL to have accumulated six super bowl rings.

This season, when many players, to include Hines Ward, Ike Taylor, James Harrison and Heath Miller, are looking to cement deals that would allow them to retire as a Steelers player, Greene’s sixth super bowl ring, represents, not only a great history of a franchise, but also the loyalty that the team and management inspires with it’s players and their fans. 

For those who argue that there is no loyalty anymore, I just have to argue, you’re not looking deep enough. 


News source:  Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Sunday, May 31




Posted on: April 24, 2009 9:59 am
 

A Tradition of Building Success

 When the Steelers organization hired Chuck Noll to be their head coach in 1969, a tradition was started.  Noll, along with the Rooney’s had chosen to build the team up in the draft instead of focusing on acquisitions through free agency.  The new head coach for the Steelers would use his very first draft pick in the NFL to acquire defensive tackle, Joe Greene.  In the years to follow, he’d use his first round draft picks for quarterback Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris. 

Through his tenure as coach, Chuck Noll would continue to pull in high caliber talent utilizing the draft.  His most memorable draft, considered the best draft not only in franchise history, but also in the history of the NFL would be in 1974, when four of his picks that year would go on to be enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. In that draft class, were the likes of Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster.  No other team in the history of the NFL had a draft that netted four HOF players before or after that 74 draft. 

The Steelers would go on to win four Superbowls with this philosophy with Noll, becoming the first dynasty in a Superbowl era NFL.  After Noll retired, the Steelers organization would continue on with the mindset of build their team through the draft.  The teams under Bill Cowher would go on to win 8 division titles, two AFC Championship titles and one Superbowl ring. 

Once Bill Cowher retired, enter former Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator, Mike Tomlin.  Tomlin would take over the slot of  Steelers, after an .500 season.  His position would be any head coaches dream.  An organization that provided stability for it’s head coaches, and a team that was not hanging together by chicken wire and glue, but that had a solid veteran leadership and lots of young talent in the wings waiting to step in, thanks to the draft. 

Tomlin, in his first year as the Steelers head coach would advance into the first round of the playoffs, in his second year, have a Superbowl ring and going into his third year, poised to do a repeat, due to the low number of turnover through free agency, and the backfill available through previous drafts. 

Come this weekend, eyes will be on New York City and the NFL draft.  Most fans will be hoping for this person or that to drop to their team to fill immediate needs.  If you’ve been a long time Steelers fan, like many of us, you know that you’re not going to end up with what you believe the Steelers should pick, and we may end up cursing Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert as to why he felt he had to pickup ANOTHER tight end in the draft, or why go so high for a punter, or why not use the first round to shore up the offensive line.  Somehow though the picks seem to work out for the best.

Don’t expect an exciting draft for the Black and Gold.  Steelers will more then likely draft for the future and not “immediate” needs. But then, that’s how the Steelers have had such success since bringing in Chuck Noll, by building a team to be winners, not bringing in winners to build a team. 

Posted on: April 22, 2009 12:42 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2009 12:44 pm
 

Off-Season Blues...almost over

Well if you’re like me, you’ve probably looked over the potential draft picks, watched as many replays and NFL Films as you could, just to try to sedate your hunger for professional football.  Yep, there were some things that we could sink our teeth into and chew over a bit, like Jay Cutlers trade to the Chicago Bears, or the new rules instituted by the NFL for player safety. 

Still you have to admit, even with free agency, there’s that “dead” period between the end of the season and the NFL draft.  And yes, come Saturday, you’ll find me watching the draft.  No, I didn’t make up a mock draft, I leave that up to my husband.  He’s pretty good at spotting talent, but he usually does so only for trying to address the Indianapolis’s Colts needs.  Me, I groaned when the Steelers picked up a quarterback in the first round in the 2004 draft.  Then again when they picked up a punter in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.  So, hint, never listen to me about draft choices.

So we’re now three days away from the draft and not only are they gearing up for their picks, teams are starting to hold their voluntary training camps, including the Pittsburgh Steelers.  We now actually have activities that we can actually start watching and contemplating for next season. 

So there’s still a lot of the year to go before kickoff of the regular season, but hey, it’s promising.  Last years first round draft pick for the Steelers worked out with the team this week.  Running back Rashard Mendenhall had missed most of the season with a broken shoulder, so we really weren’t able to tell if the Steelers picking him up in the first round was a bust or not.  His ability is still promising…now if he remembers to lower his shoulder when he runs into Ray Lewis this season, which he will. 

With the departure of Nate Washington, this could be Wide Receiver Limas Sweed’s year to shine.  If he doesn’t try to watch himself on the jumbotron, he should be fine and could have a year like WR Santonio Holmes had in his sophomore year. 

The veterans who remained after the 2005 Superbowl win are looking to avoid the hangover that they experienced in 2006.  Okay, so it’s still the same old, same old, but hey, at least I get to see current pictures of players working out and don’t have to resort to watching repeat of cold weather games.

It hasn’t been that bad though.  I did manage to plant a butterfly bush which will probably bloom right about the time pre-season hits.  Sports wise, it’s exciting to see the Penguins in the hunt for the Stanley Cup and leading the current series 3-1.  Ya know, if the Pen’s do win the cup…wonder if there’s hope for the Pirates this season.

Okay…just three more days to go…can it get here soon enough?

 

 

Posted on: March 25, 2009 5:30 am
 

Thanks for the Memories Mr. Rooney

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at this weeks NFL owners meeting.  Not because of the discussions on rule changes or discussion about the CBA.  Had I been there, I’m sure that I’d have witnessed a bittersweet moment.

According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette this morning, Dan Rooney,  current President and one of the owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, stepped down from all committees and said goodbye to the NFL ownership.  Rooney, in anticipation for his upcoming appointment as Ambassador to Ireland, handed the reigns of the Steelers organization over to his son, Art Rooney, II. 

It’s the end of an era for the Steelers, and for the NFL.  Rooney had been “influential and involved in league matters for half a century” (1) .  The “Rooney Rule” opened the door for minorities to become head coaches within the NFL.  For the Steelers organization, Mr. Rooney carried on the tradition that was started by his father, Art Rooney, Sr, in such that made the players feel like family.  As a testament to that, when asked in an online chat session at NFL.com, on his induction to the Hall of Fame, former Steelers CB, Rod Woodson sited Dan Rooney as the primary reason that, if he had to choose a team to get inducted under, it would be the Steelers.  There has always been an air of mutual respect between players, coaches and ownership.

There’s no doubt that the tradition of the Steelers franchise will continue on with Art Rooney II, and I have no doubt that upon a trip to Ireland in the next few years, we’ll see black and gold being worn there.  Still, Mr. Rooney’s presence and influence in the NFL will be missed by players, coaches and fans alike. 

Personally, I’d like to thank Mr. Rooney for his dedication and would like to ask, should he find a four leaf clover or capture a leprechaun, to send him my way.  Thank you Mr. Rooney, go raibh mile maith agat (2).

 

1- "Dan Rooney Bids NFL Owners Fairwell" , Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post Gazettte, March 25, 2009

2- go rabh mile maith agat is gaelic for thank you,

 

Category: NFL
Posted on: March 11, 2009 6:25 am
 

Quiet in the Land of Steel - Kind of, Sort of

There’s a reason the Cardinals have the nickname “Steelers West”.  Okay, not only is Whisenhunt taking the mentality he had as the Steelers OC (not to mention some of the former Steeler coaching staff) but he also has been slowly acquiring former Steeler players, most recently, cornerback Bryant McFadden.  It was no secret that Whisenhunt is looking at reshaping the Cardinals defense into a 3-4 defense and it was also no secret that he wanted McFadden, and he got them.

Of course, in the land of the black and gold, the city of Steel, the original Steelers, we’re watching them leave.  Well, not really.  Only two major losses through free agency.  Wide receiver Nate Washington and cornerback Bryant McFadden.  Can’t blame them for taking the money, both have two superbowl rings.  But for the most part, while other teams were trying to bring in players to help their chances, the Steelers were trying to shore up the contracts of the one’s they currently have.  

There were some quiet acquisitions, mostly to the practice squad.  Of course, with Washington’s leaving, it now opens up the opportunity for Dallas Baker to contend for the 3d receiver slot.  

Now with the majority of contracts being laid out and at least in negotiation stage, there is some movement inside the Steelers camp.  No, not signings, but at least interviews.  This week the Steelers will have interviewed former Buccaneers Wide Receiver Joey Galloway and Titans FA cornerback Chris Carr.  Of course the interesting of the two is Chris Carr.  

Two glaring and immediate needs for the Steelers lay with the offensive line and the return for Special Teams.  The acquisition of Chris Carr could become a viable weapon when it comes to punt and kick returns.  Of course, there is the added benefit of adding depth to the position at cornerback.   

Last season, special teams had improved immensely in it’s kickoff and punt return coverage, but was still glaringly weak when it came to actually returning the ball.  It was inconsistent at best and at worse, well, being ranked 29th  in the league for punt and kickoff returns kind of explains it all.  Should the Steelers acquire Carr, then this could possibly address the need in this area.

Of course, don’t look for the Steelers to use FA to build on their strengths, but more to address their immediate weaknesses.  The acquisition in FA last preseason of running back Mewelde Moore was to address a need that was glaringly apparent when Willie Parker went out for the season with a broken ankle in the St. Louis Rams game.  Moore proved to be invaluable in this past season when he became the starting running back when both Parker and rookie draft choice, Rashaad Mendenhall went out with injuries.  

Despite, the interview process, no matter how many come through the gates to talk to Steelers management, those of us who have followed the black and gold know that, as with every FA period, this one will be another without excitement or major splash. Is it time for the draft yet?

 

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com