Whew, that’s over. There have been many brutal preseasons around here, but that one ranks near the top and not because the Steelers went 1-4 in that extended exhibition showing.
The games were dreadful and the individual performances ranked right with them. Part of the reason is that the reluctance for coaches to play their first-teamers much was even more so for Mike Tomlin with his offense. There really was no need to play them at all and that showed in the second game when Ben Roethlisberger drove them 80 yards in six plays for a touchdown and then called it a night.
Then on defense, an area in which Tomlin wanted to see more, he could not because so many players had minor injuries and did not play much. Those who replaced them did not play much when they played.
Two players were singled out by Tomlin last night for taking advantage of the final opportunities presented to them. The punters and Roosevelt Nix, or Rosie” as the coach calls him.
Let’s take a look at Nix. You could figure he would be a candidate as a defensive end for the draft after he had 24 sacks at Kent State and made the all-Mid-American Conference four times. But he’s only 5-11 and the NFL quickly dismissed him as a future pro end and the Steelers signed him to play fullback.
Here is a good story on Nix by Ray Fittipaldo in June.
In a short time, Nix made the transition to offense and on Thursday night came up with that big blocked punt, something Tomlin loves. Will they go with him over established veteran fullbback/tight end Will Johnson? I think they might.
With a rookie salary of $435,000, Nix would save the Steelers more than $1.1 million under the salary cap if they keep him over Will Johnson, who was given a one-year contract of $1,542,000 as a restricted free agent in March.
As we found out last week, creating salary cap room has become a priority for the Steelers because of all the injuries they must carry, plus the extra $2.5 million they did not count on going to another kicker.
Nix might not be the only victim to that $1.5 million RFA tender. Two others received them, cornerback Antwon Blake and safety Robert Golden. Are they worth the extra $1 million in salary cap to keep them? Both are excellent special teams players, but the Steelers probably could find some nearly as good in players such as rookies Alden Darby at safety or Kevin Fogg at cornerback. Or maybe they don’t want to have too many youngsters on a defense already overrun by them.
Still, when you’re looking to get money under the cap and you’re not talking about releasing established starters, that’s $3.3 million of cap space the Steelers could create in one swoop today.
By now, you know enough about the Tom Brady ruling and you do not need any more. But allow a few things:
--- Those Steelers who professed early in training camp that they preferred to play the Patriots with Tom Brady than without him were merely being football correct. They had no choice. What were they going to say, no? That would have gone over big. Of course, they’d rather play Jimmy Garoppolo than Tom Brady. They prefer a victory over a moral loss.
--- There were no victors in this thing. The Patriots lost a first-round draft choice and were fined – and those will stay because they were not part of the appeals process – and the NFL lost face. But anyone who thinks the owners are about to fire Roger Goodell over it are nuts. He did precisely what most owners wanted him to do in the Brady case – press on.
--- He said he will press on too, by appealing the judge’s decision. This time next year, Tom Brady could again face a four-game suspension depending on how an appeals court rules.
--- I had to laugh at one story that called this among the biggest legal setbacks ever against the NFL. They need to look at a few cases brought by Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders against them in the 1980s, cases Davis and the Raiders won.
--- Goodell has the authority to re-issue the suspension, despite the ruling. What he and the NFL should have done was accept the two-game suspension reportedly offered by the Brady camp provided the quarterback was not found guilty in the tampering of the footballs but merely not cooperating in the investigation. Both sides could have saved face and the NFL still would have gotten half a pound of flesh. But the league was so convinced it would win, it passed on that offer.
--- The big losers in this case were not Goodell and the NFL but the Steelers. Their defense has little chance against Brady’s Patriots, although the Steelers offense still could have a say in the outcome Sept. 10. Their defense against Brady and the Patriots will put up the same kind of resistance as the brickyard to the race cars at the Indy 500.
--- Enjoy Mike Vick’s first start with the Steelers. I see no protesters around the stadium.
The cutdown to 53 players should not be a difficult one for the Steelers. When it comes to who makes the last few roster spots, there will not be a lot of anguish, at least not in those making them.
Remember that one of these players will be cut and brought back because Maurkice Pouncey has to make the 53-man roster on Saturday and the go on short-term injured reserve and someone else will be brought back. Also, two other players will make the team because of the suspensions to Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant. One will have to be cut after two games to make room for Bell – presumably halfback Josh Harris. Another will have to go after four games to make room for Bryant.
Those on the “bubble” as it is often called would be players such as rookies Anthony Chickillo and L.T. Walton one or two defensive backs and perhaps Tyler Murphy, although he has made a great impression in his conversion from quarterback to wide receiver and has become my strongest dark horse. I also have Jordan Berry beating out Brad Wing as the punter in an extremely close call. I just think Berry has a bigger upside and it was he they turned to when they needed someone to kick off in Buffalo after Garrett Hartley’s injury.
It’s also possible they will add someone from another team’s final cuts, especially in the defensive line, where they have little depth and would like to upgrade. If that happens, Walton goes on the practice squad instead of the 53.
Let’s take a look at the possible 53-man roster gleaned from their current roster:
QUARTERBACKS: Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Vick, Landry Jones
RUNNING BACKS: DeAngelo Williams, Will Johnson, Dri Archer, Josh Harris, Le’Veon Bell (suspended four games)
TIGHT ENDS: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James
WIDE RECEIVERS: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Tyler Murphy, Martavis Bryant (suspended four games)
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: T Kelvin Beachum, G Ramon Foster, C Cody Wallace, G David DeCastro, T Marcus Gilbert, G/C Chris Hubbard, T Alejandro Villanueva, G/C Doug Legursky, C Maurkice Pouncey (short-term IR)
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: E Cam Heyward, E Stephon Tuitt, NT Steve McLendon, NT Daniel McCullers, E/NT Cam Thomas, E L.T. Walton
LINEBACKERS: O Arthur Moats, I Ryan Shazier, I Lawrence Timmons, O Jarvis Jones, O James Harrison, O Bud Dupree, I Sean Spence, I Vince Williams, I Terence Garvin, O Anthony Chickillo
DEFENSIVE BACKS: CB Cortez Allen, CB William Gay, S Mike Mitchell, S Shamarko Thomas, CB Brandon Boykin, CB Antwon Blake, S Will Allen, S Ross Ventrone, CB Doran Grant, S Robert Golden, CB Kevin Fogg,
SPECIALISTS: K Josh Scobee, P Jordan Berry, LS Greg Warren
Good September morning,
--- The way the Steelers are dealing away picks, it will be a short third day of the draft next spring. They have traded away their fourth (or fifth) for Brandon Boykin and their sixth for Josh Scobee. They did not lose much in free agency so there won’t be much compensatory return, if any.
--- People already are blaming Keith Butler for the poor defensive play in the preseason. Chuck Noll in his prime could not have done a better job with what they have had in the preseason.
--- The real problem for that defense is the preseason is coming quickly to a close and the real games begin when all those big plays will count.
--- Someone asked me for a surprise player from this summer for the Steelers. I was at a loss. Rookie Anthony Chickillo had a good first week and was made out to be the next Joey Porter but he now looks like he is practice squad material. There were no surprises from training camp or the preseason. No pleasant ones for them anyway. The surprises came in the other direction – that Cortez Allen has not asserted himself and that they needed to find two kickers, a backup quarterback and a veteran cornerback during the preseason.
--- I can never remember two kickers injured in the preseason. Never.
--- Jacksonville, where there has not been much good news lately, at least got a little lucky when the Jaguars traded Scobee for a sixth-rounder. They were going to cut him anyway. The Steelers could have waited and picked him off waivers but they must have felt that someone with a higher waiver claim would have grabbed him.
--- It’s not so much the four-game suspension Martavis Bryant received that has the Steelers worried, it’s that he already has failed four drug tests since – we must assume – the combine before he was drafted. The next failure brings a 10-game suspension, which is why, as Gerry Dulac reported, the Steelers drafted Sammie Coates in the third round this year.
--- As part of their moves yesterday, the Steelers placed rookie cornerback Senquez Golson on injured reserve, officially ending his season that unofficially ended with that shoulder surgery. They also placed kicker Garrett Hartley on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Hartley could be released when that hamstring heals.
--- By placing defensive end Niko Davis and tight ends Cameron Clear and Ray Hamilton on the waived/injured list, they will return to the Steelers IR when they are not claimed by another team and if the Steelers do not reach injury settlements with any of them.
--- What the Washington Redskins have done at quarterback is yet another cautionary tale for the Steelers and their fans: Just because you draft a quarterback high does not guarantee future returns. They paid a heavy price to move up to No. 2 in the 2012 draft to select Robert Griffin III. Yesterday, they announced that Kirk Cousins beat him out to start the season for them. “It’s Kirk’s team,’’ Redskins coach Jay Gruden said.
--- It is assumed that at some point over the next several years, the Steelers will draft Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement. Maybe they will, but no one should assume that there will be a seamless transition there.
--- The three best transitions I have witnessed at quarterback during my time covering the sport came in San Francisco when Steve Young replaced Joe Montana, in Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers replaced Bret Favre and in Indianapolis when Andrew Luck replaced Peyton Manning. Two are in the Hall of Fame, Favre will go in next year, Manning will go in his first year and Rodgers looks headed there as well. In all three cases, the veteran quarterback left or was traded to play elsewhere.
There are many more cases where the transitions were more unseemly, like the one with the Steelers from Terry Bradshaw to Cliff Stoudt/Mark Malone/David Woodley and the lesser transition from Neil O’Donnell to Mike Tomczak/Kordell Stewart/Kent Graham.
--- Chat today at 1:30 p.m. Send any Ask Ed questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
The Steelers need a backup running back for the first two weeks of the season when Le’Veon Bell is suspended. Josh Harris was expected to be that player, but he battled two injuries during training camp and is coming off a poor performance in the fourth preseason game against Buffalo.
Coach Mike Tomlin singled out Harris a few days before the game when he said: “There’s a certain level of urgency coming back for those that are injured, guys like Josh Harris, it’s a big week for him.”
How did Harris respond?
He had 20 yards on 10 carries and allowed two sacks in pass protection. It’s always difficult to judge running backs when reserve offensive linemen are in the game, but not being able to pick up blitzes is the bigger problem for Harris in an offense that passes so often.
And don’t forget, the Steelers did not trust Harris enough last January when they needed a running back for the playoff game against the Ravens. They went out and got Ben Tate off the street and started him four days after signing him.
Don’t be surprised if the Steelers cut Harris and sign a running back after the teams make their final cuts next week. If they started Tate in a playoff game four days after signing him they won’t hesitate to sign one as a backup and prepare him to be the backup for two weeks.
And no, Dri Archer can’t be the backup for a two-week stretch. He’s a liability in pass protection, too. Read into it what you want, but Archer played 65 snaps on offense in the first two preseason games. He’s played 11 combined snaps the past two weeks, including only three against the Bills.
*Where else might the Steelers look for depth when other teams make their final cuts?
The offensive and defensive lines are possibilities.
Of the 75 centers who have snapped the ball in the NFL during the preseason, Chris Hubbard is ranked 69th, according to Pro Football Focus. He is new to the position, having snapped a ball in an NFL game for the first time against the Packers, but the Steelers might want to upgrade if someone better is released by another team.
*The defensive line lacks depth, too. If Stephon Tuitt cannot play against the Patriots, Cam Thomas is likely to start and the top reserve would be rookie sixth-round pick L.T. Walton or Ethan Hemer. Defensive line coaches like to rotate players, especially early in the season when the weather is hot, but if Tuitt cannot play against the Patriots you’d be asking someone with no NFL experience to play at least a few snaps to spell Cam Heyward and Thomas. That’s not an ideal situation.
*The Steelers must trim their roster from 90 to 75 by Tuesday. Let’s take a stab at the 15 players who might be cut: TE Cam Clear, DT Niko Davis, G Miles Dieffenbach, C Reese Dismukes, WR Kenzel Doe, LB L.J. Fort, OLB Shayon Green, RB Braylon Heard, DT Joe Okafor, CB Jordan Sullen, DT Mike Thornton, WR Jarrod West, T Kevin Whimpey and S Alden Darby and TE Ray Hamilton.