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Ask Ed: On Finding the Next Ben . . . or Brady

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 weeks ago

Good morning,

Your Ask Ed questions for the weekend:

--- YOU: You, Kevin Colbert, and many others have talked recently about how Ben has shown no signs of slowing down and that he could go strong for another 4-5 years. While it's true that he's playing as well as ever, and that his body seems to be holding up despite the hits he has taken and injuries he has suffered for the last decade, it's not his body I am concerned about. It's his brain.

How many reported or officially documented concussions has he suffered? I feel like I can count at least 2-3 on the field concussions on top of the one he suffered in the terrible motorcycle accident in 2006.

When you also consider his personal feelings on the issue, which you quoted in your article after the Seattle game last year, and how some players are choosing health over football (most recently with the Bills' A.J. Tarpley), it makes me seriously wonder if Ben is one more serious concussion away from walking away.

I'm not suggesting this means the Steelers should try to find Ben's replacement now as many have suggested, but I am afraid that Ben's career may end sooner than he, or any of us, would like it to.

As a lifelong Steelers fan, I would hate to see it happen. But I would also hate to see another Steelers legend putting the rest of his life in danger just to provide us all with a few more fleeting moments of excitement and happiness on Sundays.

 

ED: While I do not want to diminish your concerns about the health of football players, you could make the same generalization about virtually every one of them, especially those in their 30s. All players have had concussions, whether they were documented or not. You can get a concussion riding a bicycle, playing softball, or on the playground as a kid. One of these days, there may be laws that we must all wear helmets when we walk outside our doors.

You say you would hate to see another Steelers legend putting the rest of his life in danger just to provide us with more excitement, then what do you propose? Should the sport be banned? Should they make mandatory retirement for any player with two or three documented concussions, no matter what age? Should players not be permitted to play beyond 30? And while we concentrate so much on the dangers of brain injuries, what about other injuries? Did you know that both L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White died prematurely after complications from back surgeries necessitated because of their days playing football?

Football is and always has been a rough sport as many sports are from auto racing to baseball and rugby and all kinds of winter sports, not to mention the occasional track athlete who gets speared by a javelin. A man was killed while skiing at Seven Springs this winter, run over by an out of control skiier. Did you know that? If it had happened while he were playing football, you would not have missed it.

They’re trying to make football safer, but unless they remove the contact from it, it always will be a rough sport. Is it dangerous? Everything we do is relative in that sense, some riskier than others. Living in a cocoon might help solve some of it, if that’s how you want to live.

--- YOU: If your nose guy is playing 30% of the time it's because he's not good enough. If a guy is quick and can push he can play a lot. Not saying we should, just saying we should consider.

ED: No, the nose tackle plays 30 percent of the time because that is how the Steelers play pass defense. They pull the nose tackle out of the lineup and insert an extra defensive back. Now, if you deem your nose tackle to be better than one of your ends in those pass defenses, then I suppose you could keep him on the field and remove either Stephon Tuitt or Cam Heyward. But they have determined those two are forces in those defenses, so why would you have someone else play? Yes, I can see a rotation to keep them all fresh and that certainly could happen if they get someone like that as a nose tackle. With the draft so deep in defensive linemen, though, they might be able to get that player in that second or third round.

--- YOU: Inferring that it's hopeless to replace Ben, or to have a replacement in place, is going too far. Ben's good, but not that good ... yet. Many good and great QBs have been later round choices.

ED: Other than Tom Brady, I doubt you will find many good and great quarterbacks as late-round draft picks, at least in modern football.

--- YOU: You wrote: "The Steelers will not look to draft Ben Roethlisberger’s successor this year and they may not be in position to ever do so because it’s hard to find the next great one when you continue to draft in the 20s." Hard, yes, but two words clearly show it's not impossible: Tom Brady. Though, as you say, there's no need to work on that problem yet.

ED: The example of Tom Brady has been used so much that people actually believe you can find a Hall of Fame quarterback in the sixth round. Name me another. I have a series of two-word answers myself to clearly show it’s improbable: Landry Jones, Dennis Dixon, Omar Jacobs, Brian St. Pierre, Tee Martin – and that is just in this century.

--- YOU: I haven't noticed the Steelers being in the business of signing the offspring of former players, but also not sure how many opportunities they had to do so. With Mel Blount's son Akil trying to make his way into the league, what are the odds he opens camp in Latrobe?

ED: Akil Blount started the past three years at inside linebacker for Florida A&M, where he also made third-team all-conference and ran back two interceptions for touchdowns. He is listed as 6-2, 238 pounds with a 40-time of 4.6. NFLDraftScout ranks him 25th among inside linebackers and a possible free agent signing. It would surprise no one if the Steelers signed him afterward if he is not drafted or at least invited him as one of the tryout players in their spring practices.


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Tomlin: 'Can't Find Players Sitting in Office'

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 weeks ago

Good morning,

Mike Tomlin received a compliment the other day for his hard work on the draft and it came from one of the longest-running hard workers in the NFL.

Gil Brandt, who turned 83 last month, was the Dallas Cowboys’ first player personnel director when they came into the league in 1960 and is still hard at it as a senior analyst for NFL.com along with his regular radio appearances on the Sirius NFL Network. He’s no stay-at-home, travling to pro days, combines and he lines up all the college prospects for the NFL draft-day show.

So, Brandt knows a hard working football man when he sees one and he told me that Mike Tomlin outworks them all.

“Tomlin has the best attitude,’’ said Brandt after running into the Steelers coach any number of times this spring.

“I said, ‘Coach, you’re everywhere.’ He said, ‘Gil, I can’t find any players sitting on my chair in my office.’

“The guy is very accommodating. At Baylor, for example, a bunch of people wanted to take his picture and everything.”

He did.

If the Steelers do not draft well, it will not be for a lack of effort, Brandt said.

“I’ll say this, the Steelers work, they’re out there everywhere. The head coach, the GM and some places they have Keith Butler and four other coaches with them.”

As for who they might draft in the first round, Brandt believes “they’ve identified him” but is not privy to the answer.

He did predict one characteristic of their first-round pick that won’t come as too much of a surprise to anyone who follows the team:

“I think the Steelers are going to take a defensive player player.”

---

Onto some Stuff:

--- You may have noticed that the announcement about the timing of the NFL schedule announcement was made last night and the announcement of the schedule will be tonight at 8 p.m. Nice of them to do it around the Penguins playoffs and this afternoon’s Pirates game.

--- Brandt says the moving of the draft TV show from New York to Chicago, where it will be held for the second straight year, was a brilliant one.

“Chicago seems to be magical place to have the draft. New York is fine but there were 200,000 people in Chicago for the draft last year.’’

Brandt, of course, remembers the old days when the only ones who showed up for the draft were the coaches and personnel men and a few reporters. Now, all the coaches and personnel men stay in their home cities and call in their picks.

“In 1960, we drafted in a ballroom and guys came in with their Street & Smith football books, and the Pittsburgh newspaper.”

--- There are at least two players in this draft, at areas of the Steelers biggest needs too, that could be high rewards for those who might want to take them, but they come with injury risks. They include safety Karl Joseph of West Virginia and cornerback Kendall Fuller of Virginia Tech. If both had been healthy, the Steelers might not have had a chance to draft them at No. 25. As it is, they may have a shot at either. They put red dots on the injured players, some more red than others.

--- There also are those players who have had what we call “off field” problems. The Steelers have had at least one of those in for a visit recently, Robert Nikemdiche, a 6-3, 294-pound defensive end from Mississippi.

He would have been one of the top 10 players drafted if it were not for those “off field” issues that included him falling out of a hotel window, where investigators soon found drugs in the room.

After the various issues the Steelers have had with players and drugs (marijuana) recently, if they would draft this kid, they should have their own heads examined.


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Your Twitter questions answered

Ray Fittipaldo 2 weeks ago

Let’s get right to it on this hump day. Here are your Twitter questions and my answers.

From Michael

Q: does this draft have a bearing on the Steelers picking up Jarvis Jones' option or has it already been decided?

A: I think that’s already been decided one way or the other. I don’t know exactly how they’ll proceed, but if they draft an outside linebacker in the top three rounds that’s probably the signal that Jones will be playing his final season with the Steelers. If they don’t, I would imagine Jones would be with the Steelers in 2017. I just don’t foresee a scenario that they go into 2017 with only Arthur Moats, Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo under contract. So it has to be Jones or a relatively high draft pick with some promise that they can groom.

From Bobby Bentley

Q: do you believe we look at a veteran safety even if we select one high in the draft?

A: I don’t think so. They had a chance to do that in the prime part of free agency and passed on Eric Weddle. So I think they’ll go with Robert Golden and the guy they choose in the draft who will be the long-term answer. I don’t think there is any reason to bring another veteran in. Golden is a veteran, and he gained some valuable experience last season when he filled in for Will Allen and in the dime package late in the season.

From Eugene:

Q: Ray, so how many picks will be defensive and how many on the offense side?

A: I’m saying 5-2 defensive at least. Could be 6-1.

From Billy Nguyen

Q: do you think the Steelers will cut any vets (Timmons etc.) prior to training camp?

A: I don’t think Timmons is in danger. If the Steelers have players under contract at this time of year they usually keep them. If they want someone to take a pay cut or want to cut him they usually do it in March. Troy Polamalu retired around this time of the year last year. But that was a unique scenario because the Steelers wanted to give him time to make a decision. Now, I think they might ask Timmons to sign a contract extension to lower his cap hit for 2016, but I don’t think he’s in danger of getting cut. The one veteran who I think could get cut, or at the very least take a big pay cut, is Cortez Allen. I just don’t see how they keep him after what’s happened the past two seasons, especially with his salary. If they get the CB they want in the draft I don’t see why they would keep Allen.

From Colonial

Q: outside of injuries, biggest obstacle steelers will have to overcome during the season?

A: I think beating the team on their schedule that they’re supposed to beat. Every year they seem to find ways to lose to teams who aren’t in their league. Last year it was the Ravens twice. In previous years there were losses to Tampa, Oakland, Cleveland, etc. They have to eliminate those types of losses so they’re 13-3 and in contention for the top seed in the AFC rather than 11-5 or 10-6, sneaking into the playoffs and playing on the road.

From Calhammer

Q: Only 1 Steeler visitor Tuesday? How many are teams allowed now 30?

A: Yes, teams are allowed to play host to 30 prospects at their facility. I think the Steelers are at 26 now, so four more to go between now and the draft.

From SP

Q: the Browns are now big on analytics. Are the Steelers looking at SpARQ, KEI, and HIG factor in prospects?

A: Well, if the Browns are doing it the Steelers had better follow them because they are the leaders of the NFL… The Steelers have a director of analytics. His name is Karim Kassam. I wrote a story on him last summer and what he does for the Steelers.

From Jefferson Street Joe

Q: What are the chances they extend Wheaton before the season? I see him having a breakout year. At worst he's a solid starter.

A: Wheaton is not a priority this offseason. David DeCastro and Le’Veon Bell are. Wheaton might be a solid starter, but the Steelers have always had a next man up mentality when it comes to the No. 2 receiver. Most guys in that role over the past decade have left via free agency. They don’t pay two receivers top dollar. Mike Wallace left after the Steelers paid Antonio Brown. Emmanuel Sanders left because they didn’t want to pay him what he got on the open market. The same will likely be true of Wheaton. They’ve done such a good job of drafting and developing receivers that it shouldn’t be a big issue.


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First-round CBs can be risky picks

Ray Fittipaldo 2 weeks ago

The draft is a little more than two weeks away and there is a growing sense the Steelers will select a cornerback in the first round for the first time since 1997. But like any other position in the draft taking a cornerback in round 1 has its risks.

Here is a list of the first-round cornerbacks over the past five years:

2011

Patrick Peterson

Prince Amukamara

Jimmy Smith

2012

Morris Claiborne

Stephen Gilmore

Dre Kirkpatrick

2013

Dee Milliner

DJ Hayden

Desmond Trufant

Xavier Rhodes

2014

Justin Gilbert

Kyle Fuller

Darqueze Dennard

Jason Verrett

Bradley Roby

2015

Trae Waynes

Kevin Johnson

Marcus Peters

Byron Jones

For every Patrick Peterson there are Justin Gilberts, D.J. Haydens and Dee Milliners.

The Steelers actually got lucky in 2014. They would have taken Gilbert if he was there when they selected at No. 17. The Browns took Gilbert with the No. 8 pick and the Steelers got Ryan Shazier instead.

That’s looking like a fortuitous turn of events. Gilbert has been a colossal bust in Cleveland and Shazier, if he can stay healthy, has All-Pro potential at linebacker.

Evaluating corners can be dicey for NFL teams. NFL passing games are more intricate and corners are asked to do more than they do in college. There is a lot of drafting on potential. 

“It can be [difficult] because you look at what corners are asked to today in the NFL,” said Dane Brugler, a draft analyst for nfldraftscout.com. “The NFL wants press corners that can get up in your face and press receivers. You don’t see that a lot in college football. I don’t think the finer points of the position are being taught. Guys make it to the NFL without great understanding of the position. A lot of players have the traits you look for. Gilbert has the traits. There’s just more to it. Just like there is more to it at quarterback or running back. If you don’t have a corner who is fundamentally sound, you’ll be in trouble. There will be CB busts even in this class. It happens every year.”

The trick for the Steelers, if they go that route, is to find the right player for their system.

*Would the Steelers go to the trouble or trying to smokescreen other teams with picks late in the first round by bringing in Robert Nkemdiche for a visit Monday? Or are they seriously interested in the troubled defensive tackle from Mississippi?

Nkemdiche was suspended for the Sugar Bowl after he was arrested for possession of marijuana late last year in an Atlanta hotel room. Then Nkemdiche didn’t do himself any favors at the NFL combine when he attempted to throw Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil under the bus by telling the assembled media that Tunsil was in the hotel room with him. Tunsil is the likely No. 1 pick in the draft.

I doubt the Steelers would invest a first-round pick in a troubled player such as Nkemdiche, but I wouldn’t rule him out later in the draft. The Steelers took a calculated gamble on Martavis Bryant when they selected him in the fourth round of the 2014 draft. Bryant helped the offense soar to new heights the past two seasons. But after several failed drug tests he won’t play in 2016 and maybe never again for the Steelers.

It could be that type of gamble with Nkemdiche, who is regarded by many draft analysts as the top player in the draft. I don’t see the Steelers pulling the trigger in rounds 1, but they’ve rolled the dice before on players with off-field issues. Not a lot, but they’ve done it. And Bryant is proof of the good and the bad that can come along with taking such a risk.

*Nkemdiche was one of seven college prospects who visited the Steelers Monday. In case you missed it, three more safeties came in. That’s now 10 safeties who have visited the Steelers during the predraft process.

By contrast, the Steelers have only played host to five cornerbacks at their facility. But remember, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have been visiting with the top corners on the road at their respective pro days. Just because the some of the top corners haven’t been to Pittsburgh doesn’t mean the Steelers aren’t interested in them.


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Robert Nkemdiche among prospects visiting Steelers today

Ray Fittipaldo 3 weeks ago

The Steelers continued to shuttle defensive players through the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex today as they played host to another seven college prospects. One of them is the most controversial player in the draft.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is regarded by many as the top player in the draft, but he is in danger of falling out of the first round due to some off-field issues.

Nkemdiche, who played at Mississippi, was charged with marijuana possession last year and was suspended for the Sugar Bowl after police found seven marijuana cigarettes in his hotel room.

Nkemdiche was widely regarded as the top pick in the draft before this incident. He’s had some other off-field issues as well.

The Steelers also played host cornerbacks Ken Crawley and Cyrus Jones, safeties Karl Joseph, Justin Simmons and Sean Davis as well as receiver Pharoh Cooper and linebacker Dadi Nicholas.

The Steelers have played host to 10 safeties, five cornerbacks and five defensive linemen so far. They have can bring in six more players before the draft. They have played host to 24 players the past two weeks.


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