Pittsburgh outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley took to Twitter to voice their displeasure over the NFL's announcement that teams will be subject to fines for players who violate the player safety rules.
Under the rule, teams could be fined and even lose draft picks for players who have multiple flagrant hits that result in fines. NFL vice president Adolpho Burch said at the owners meetings that it falls under the "notion of club accountability."
Harrison was fined a total of $100,000 for illegal hits during the 2010 season.
"I'm absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots," Harrison tweeted Tuesday night after the league made its announcement.
Woodley tweeted: "Thoughts on "the Steelers rule"??? lol im sorry that im not sorry we hit 2 hard."
Team president Art Rooney II declined to criticize the new rule, but acknowledged the Steelers would have been one of the three or four teams that would have been affected last season. He wants to see the specific details before forming a full opinion.
"I'm not going to say I'm opposed to it," Rooney told USA Today. "I would hope that it's something that is used judiciously, that is sort of reserved for repeated type of conduct. I think if it's handled that way, it'll probably be effective. It's still under discussion."
--Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall wrote a clarifying statement on his blog following a day in which he stoked considerable controversy with tweets he posted after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Two of the most talked-about tweets were:
--"What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side ..."
--"We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."
That latter tweet was eventually removed, but the others remained, including:
--"I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge."
--"Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves."
--"For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn ... I ask how would God feel about your heart?"
--"There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to think."
As the tweets began circulating and discussed, the Steelers issued a statement in which club president Art Rooney II said, "I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon."
Mendenhall then wrote on Wednesday: "I appreciate those of you who have decided to read this letter and attain a greater understanding of my recent twitter posts. I see how they have gotten misconstrued, and wanted to use this outlet as a way to clear up all things that do not truthfully represent myself, what I stand for personally, and any organization that I am a part of.
"First, I want people to understand that I am not in support of Bin Laden, or against the USA. I understand how devastating 9/11 was to this country and to the people whose families were affected. Not just in the US, but families all over the world who had relatives in the World Trade Centers. My heart goes out to the troops who fight for our freedoms every day, not being certain if they will have the opportunity to return home, and the families who watch their loved ones bravely go off to war. Last year, I was grateful enough to have the opportunity to travel overseas and participate in a football camp put on for the children of US troops stationed in Germany. It was a special experience. These events have had a significant impact in my life."
In citing his tweet that about celebrating death, he continued, "This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder. I don't believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics. In the bible, Ezekiel 33:11 states, "Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!...". I wasn't questioning Bin Laden's evil acts. I believe that he will have to face God for what he has done. I was reflecting on our own hypocrisy. During 9/11 we watched in horror as parts of the world celebrated death on our soil. Earlier this week, parts of the world watched us in horror celebrating a man's death.
"Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I've said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought. I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm. I apologize to anyone I unintentionally harmed with anything that I said, or any hurtful interpretation that was made and put in my name.
"It was only meant to encourage anyone reading it to think."
One thing it also did was cost himself a sponsorship.
Champion, the athletic apparel company that Mendenhall endorses, has announced it would no longer be associated with him.
In a statement, the company said, "Earlier this week, Rashard Mendenhall, who endorses Champion products, expressed personal comments and opinions regarding Osama bin Laden and the September 11 terrorist attacks that were inconsistent with the values of the Champion brand and with which we strongly disagreed.
"In light of these comments, Champion was obliged to conduct a business assessment to determine whether Mr. Mendenhall could continue to effectively communicate on behalf of and represent Champion with consumers. While we respect Mr. Mendenhall's right to express sincere thoughts regarding potentially controversial topics, we no longer believe that Mr. Mendenhall can appropriately represent Champion and we have notified Mr. Mendenhall that we are ending our business relationship."
--They may have needed a cornerback more, but the Steelers showed where it places its most importance when for the third straight year they drafted a lineman in the first round.
Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, born in Pittsburgh and son of a famous University of Pittsburgh running back, was the second defensive end taken by the Steelers on the first round in three years, following Ziggy Hood in 2009. The Steelers drafted center Maurkice Pouncey first last year.
Coach Mike Tomlin called it "fortifying the line of scrimmage" by drafting Heyward, who is 6-5, 288 and fits nicely into the Steelers' 3-4 defensive scheme.
"We feel this is one of those special players I talked about the other day," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "It's hard to find a hole with this guy. This is a special moment."
Many thought the Steelers might try to move up in the draft in order to take Pouncey's twin, Mike, but that was not much of a consideration and they never made an attempt to do so.
Heyward follows his father, the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, a Pitt running back who also was drafted in the first round, by the New Orleans Saints at No. 24 in 1988. His mother, Charlotte Heyward-Blackwell, is a Pittsburgh native. His uncle Nate Heyward followed his brother as a running back at Pitt.
"I know he's watching," Heyward said of his dad, who died in 2006 of a brain tumor after playing for the Saints, Bears, Falcons, Rams and Colts over an 11-year NFL career. "I'm going to try to do everything to make him proud of me and live his legacy on."
"I've always loved the team, I'm from there ... To be somewhere you want to be is an unbelievable feeling."
Steelers officials were thrilled to draft Heyward and never thought of drafting anyone else at No. 31 as he slipped to them.
What they still need is a cornerback, another offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a running back as they head into the second and third rounds of the draft Friday. They are thinnest at cornerback, where their only good one is Ike Taylor and he is an unrestricted free agent who could leave them soon if the end of the lockout continues. That should be their biggest priority of round two.
On round three, they could grab either an offensive lineman or a wide receiver.
But Tomlin loves big men who can rush the passer and he believes if you can rush the passer, it puts less pressure on those cornerbacks.
"Defensively, it generally starts with the men up front," Tomlin said. "I think you look at how players are drafted, it bears that out. Big people go first. If you're applying pressure to the quarterback, you don't have to cover. If you're stopping the run, you don't have to cover."
Pittsburgh had three glaring needs entering the draft and they used their first four choices to address them: Defensive end, offensive tackle and two cornerbacks. The one drawback is that cornerback is the Steelers' most pressing need and they waited until the third round to get one, then added another in the fourth.
If Curtis Brown of Texas does not come in and start, the Steelers' cornerback situation won't be improved in 2011 and if free agent Ike Taylor leaves, they would be in real trouble there. Fourth-round pick Cortez Allen comes from a small school and doesn't have much experience so he'll take time to develop at cornerback.
Kevin Colbert has hit on every first-round pick since he became the Steelers director of football operations in 2000 and there's no reason to believe that success won't continue with defensive end Cameron Heyward of Ohio State.
Somewhat surprisingly, Colbert and Mike Tomlin concentrated on defense in this draft with four of their first five picks on that side of the ball.
Defensive end Cameron Heyward: He fits their 3-4 scheme perfectly and has a chance to learn behind two veterans, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. A four-year starter at Ohio State with the kind of attitude that also fits right in with the organization.
Cornerback Curtis Brown: While many had the Steelers going for his Texas secondary mate, Aaron Williams, in the first round, Brown actually suits their needs more. They need a cover cornerback, desperately so, and Brown has those kinds of skills.
A closer look at the Steelers' picks:
Round 1/31 - Cameron Heyward, DE, 6-5, 294, Ohio State
Son of former Pitt great RB Ironhead Heyward, Cam is a Pittsburgh native who should find himself right at home in the Steelers' 3-4 defense. Strong and athletic, he looks like one of their typical ends who will push the pocket and engage the blockers.
Round 2/63 - Marcus Gilbert, OT, 6-6, 330, Florida
Gilbert has good movement, good feet and could be a left tackle for them in the future. Has versatility because he's played both guard and tackle, but he will settle in at tackle in the pros.
Round 3/95 - Curtis Brown, CB, 5-111/2, 185, Texas
Good cover cornerback who will stick his nose in on the run, but he needs to get stronger and that should not be a problem when he hits the Steelers' strength program.
Round 4/128 - Cortez Allen, CB, 6-1, 197, The Citadel
Unpolished but with all the tools, similar to Ike Taylor when he was drafted on the fourth round in 2003, although not as fast. Needs time and lockout will not help.
Round 5/162 - Chris Carter, OLB, 6-1, 247, Fresno State.
Typical Steelers pick, an undersized college end who will be converted to OLB. Good pass rusher but must learn position.
Round 6/196 - Keith Williams, G, 6-4, 318, Nebraska
Good run blocker who needs to improve pass protection, but Steelers like his nasty, aggressive disposition and play.
Round 7/232 - Baron Batch, RB, 5-10, 203, Texas Tech
Veteran Mewelde Moore is a UFA and team has been looking for a third-down back to replace him.
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