NFL from the Sidelines
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Second-third rounds
Look for the Steelers to take an offensive lineman and receiver in rounds two and three.
posted by Dale Lolley at 6:46 PM 0 comments  


Revis not likley, Timmons maybe
I'm hearing that the Steelers don't think Darrelle Revis will be a possibility for them at pick 15, but that linebacker Lawrence Timmons is a possibility.
posted by Dale Lolley at 12:46 PM 0 comments  


Wednesday, April 25, 2007
First Mock Draft
1. Oakland, JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU. Al Davis fired Art Shell, in part, because Shell convinced him to pass on Matt Leinart last year.

2. Detroit, Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech. The Lions go for another wide receiver in the first round. But this one can’t miss.

3. Cleveland, Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma. Peterson has an injury history, so he’ll fit right in with recent Cleveland first rounders.

4. Tampa Bay, Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin. A need pick for a team that couldn’t block a toilet in 2006.

5. Arizona, Gaines Adams, DE, Clemson. The Cardinals can score with anybody. They haven’t been able to stop them.

6. Washington, LaRon Landry, S, LSU. The Redskins get a safety to pair with Sean Taylor.

7. Minnesota, Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame. Just can’t pass on the quarterback.

8. Atlanta (from Houston), Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas. Lost Patrick Kearney in the offseason.

9. Miami, Amobi Okoye, DT, Louisville. A youngster with plenty of upside to bolster an aging defense.

10. Houston (from Atlanta), Darrelle Revis, CB, Pitt. Texans have to play the Colts twice a year.

11. San Francisco, Adam Carriker, DE, Nebraska. The Steelers really like this guy, but don’t get a chance at him.

12. Buffalo, Leon Hall, CB, Michigan. Bills allowed Nate Clements to leave in free agency.

13. St. Louis, Alan Branch, DT, Michigan. Some have Branch slipping, but the Rams need a big run-stuffing lineman.

14. Carolina, Patrick Willis, LB, Mississippi. Dan Morgan is likely done. Willis fills the void.

15. Steelers, Anthony Spencer, DE/OLB, Purdue. Led the nation in tackles for a loss and also had 10 1/2 sacks in 2006. Would love to trade down to make this pick.

16. Green Bay, Marshawn Lynch, RB, California. Packers lost Ahman Green in the offseason. Lynch fills the void.

17. Jacksonville, Reggie Nelson, S, Florida. Deon Grant left in free agency and the Jags stay in state to get his replacement.

18. Cincinnati, Greg Olsen, TE, Miami (Fla.). With Chris Henry out half the season, the Bengals grab another weapon.

19. Tennessee, Ted Ginn, WR, Ohio State. The Titans grab a speedy weapon for Vince Young.

20. N.Y. Giants, Levi Brown, OT, Penn State. The Giants have several needs and this is a big one.

21. Denver, Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida. The Broncos need help up front. Moss is a rangy pass rusher.

22. Dallas, Aaron Ross, CB, Texas. Cowboys looking for secondary help stay in state to get it.

23. Kansas City, Ben Grubbs, G, Auburn. Retirements have ravaged Kansas City’s once-awesome offensive line.

24. New England, Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State. Posluszny is an inside backer in a 3-4 defense, but can play outside in a 4-3.

25. N.Y. Jets, Chris Houston, CB, Arkansas. This is the perfect trade-down partner for the Steelers, especially if Revis or Hall are available.

26. Philadelphia, Jon Beason, LB, Miami (Fla.). Eagles have serious linebacker problems and address the position.

27. New Orleans, Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee. The Saints couldn’t stop anybody on the ground last season.

28. New England, Michael Griffin, S, Texas. Find an eventual replacement for aging Rodney Harrison.

29. Baltimore, Joe Staley, OT, Central Michigan. The Ravens aren’t sure Jonathan Ogden will be back this season. He won’t be back in 2008 for sure.

30. San Diego, Dwayne Bowe, WR, LSU. Chargers add some size and speed on the outside.

31. Chicago, Lawrence Timmons, LB, Florida State. Bears think Lance Briggs is going to sit out the season.

32. Indianapolis, Robert Meachem, WR, Tennessee. Brandon Stokley left in free agency and Meachem could help ease the eventual loss of Marvin Harrison.
posted by Dale Lolley at 11:48 PM 2 comments  


Thursday, April 19, 2007
Looking at the defensive line
Priorities are what often drive a draft more than anything else. As much as teams like to pay lip service to the old "best player available" mantra, let’s be honest about something for a second: Few teams, if any, actually work their draft in that matter.

We're going to take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, position by position, over the next month as we try to get a better handle on what directions the team will go on April 28 and 29.

Today: The defensive line

Where's the depth?

We know that new head coach Mike Tomlin plans on sticking with the 3-4 defense for the Steelers – at least through this season. One reason for that is that the team just doesn't have much depth on the defensive line.

Starters Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel are a solid group and are a big reason why the Steelers were so good against the run last season, allowing just 88.2 yards per game. Smith and Keisel were also solid rushing the passer, combining for 10 sacks and 44 pressures.

In fact, you could easily argue the defensive line was the best unit on the team last season.

But behind those three heading into this draft are aging Travis Kirschke, Chris Hoke and Nick Eason, signed earlier this week after spending the previous two seasons with the Browns. The team also has defensive tackle Scott Paxson and end Shaun Nua waiting in the wings after spending last season on the practice squad, but the team isn't expecting much from either of them.

Kirschke enters his 10th NFL season as a player who is clearly on the decline. A nagging back injury has limited his practice time in each of the previous two seasons and the new coaching staff has to be looking for an upgrade at the end position, especially if plans for Keisel to log some time at linebacker work out. At this stage of his career, Kirschke isn't a player the Steelers want to put on the field for 20 to 25 plays. In fact, Kirschke logged 20 or more plays just once last season – at Carolina.

Hoke is a nice complimentary player to Hampton in that he gives the team something as a nose tackle that Hampton does – a pass rush. And he also proved three years ago when Hampton was lost for the season with a knee injury that he could step into the starting lineup and perform. But, like Kirschke, Hoke is no spring chicken. Hoke turns 31 in a couple of weeks.

The 6-3, 310-pound Eason will help the team ease the loss of Rodney Bailey, who signed with Arizona as a free agent. The 25-year-old Eason is the youngster of this bunch and has experience as a 3-4 end after his days with the Browns. Given that experience did come with Cleveland, he may need some time to adjust to a different – winning – program.

At 6-4, 292 pounds, Paxson has good size, but also plays too high. Maybe a season on the practice squad will have cured him of that, but that remains to be seen.

This will be a make-or-break season for Nua, who has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad. He entered the 2006 season expected to beat Bailey out for a reserve spot on the roster, but was unable to make it happen. Nua just doesn't have the motor of fellow BYU graduates Keisel and Hoke.

Because of the excellent crop of defensive linemen available, the team's lack of depth at the position, and Tomlin's past experience with a 4–3 defense, this looks like an excellent place to start when looking at first–day prospects in this draft. In fact, don't be surprised if the Steelers take a couple of defensive linemen in this draft to begin stockpiling talent at the position.
posted by Dale Lolley at 11:59 PM 0 comments  


Sunday, April 15, 2007
A look at the specialists
Priorities are what often drive a draft more than anything else. As much as teams like to pay lip service to the old "best player available" mantra, let's be honest about something for a second: Few teams, if any, actually work their draft in that matter.

We're going to take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, position by position, over the next month as we try to get a better handle on what directions the team will go on April 28 and 29.

Today: The specialists

As they have begun their preparations for the 2007 season, the Steelers have made no secret of the fact they'd like to replace 37-year-old punter Chris Gardocki.

The problem is, the Steelers wanted to replace Gardocki last year as well but he still came out of training camp as the team's punter, holding off Mike Barr for the third consecutive year.

The difference between last year and previous camps for Barr, however, was that he was given every opportunity to unseat Gardocki. He was just unable to do so.

But Gardocki's punting average has fallen in each of his three seasons with the Steelers, from 43.0 in 2004, to 41.3 last season, his lowest since 1995. Gardocki has never been a strong-legged punter - his value came from his ability to place the ball directionally and from the fact that he's never had a kick blocked.

But last season, he became an obvious liability and there's little chance he’ll still be with the team when training camp opens in July.

The Steelers signed Barr again following the completion of the 2006 season and he will get another opportunity to compete for the punting job. But it's obvious the Steelers aren’t comfortable handing the position to him. Their first foray in team history into the restricted free agent market was by making an offer to San Francisco punter Andy Lee, an offer sheet the 49ers matched.

Spurned in their efforts to acquire a new punter through free agency, the Steelers could look to this draft to bring somebody in to compete with Barr. There is still the off chance that the team could bring in a veteran to compete with Barr, with Matt Turk being the player most often linked to the team.

Placekicker Jeff Reed had an off season in 2006, making 20 of 27 field goal attempts. His 74 percent conversion percentage doesn't look all that bad until you consider that five of those misses came from 40 yards or shorter. That's just too many.

Reed's kickoffs, while adequate, could still be improved upon as well and it will be interesting to see if the Steelers go after a punter in the draft who can also handle kickoffs.

Long-snapper Greg Warren has quietly put together a solid two seasons for the Steelers, making just one bad snap during that period. But Warren also does not play another position, so there is always the off chance that he could be replaced. The Steelers, however, are not actively pursuing a replacement.

After a rough start last season, Santonio Holmes showed some promise as a punt returner as he got more comfortable with the speed of the NFL. Ideally, however, the Steelers would like Willie Reid, who played in just one game last season, to handle those duties instead of Holmes, who will start at wide receiver.

Reid has fully recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him last season and should be able to work his way into the wide receiver rotation, something that will keep him active on game days.
posted by Dale Lolley at 10:16 PM 0 comments  


Friday, April 13, 2007
Looking at the QBs
Priorities are what often drive a draft more than anything else. As much as teams like to pay lip service to the old "best player available" mantra, let's be honest about something for a second: Few teams, if any, actually work their draft in that matter.

We're going to take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, position by position, over the next month as we try to get a better handle on what directions the team will go on April 28 and 29.

Today: The quarterbacks

Admit it. There's just a little bit of doubt in the back of your mind about Ben Roethlisberger. Is he the quarterback who led the team to a Super Bowl championship in his second season and had a 98.3 quarterback rating, or is he the guy who stumbled through 2006, throwing 23 interceptions and posting a 75.4 rating?

It's only natural. After Kordell Stewart's breakout season in 1997, he went in the tank in 1998 and 1999 and many fans never forgave him, even after he rebounded in 2000 and 2001.

Pittsburgh is an unforgiving town with its quarterbacks.

The boos weren't too quick in coming for Roethlisberger in 2006, but by the end of the season, they were there. A Super Bowl championship, apparently, will only take you so far.

Certainly his offseason motorcycle accident played a factor in his poor season – regardless of what Roethlisberger has said about it. His appendectomy that caused him to miss the first game didn’t help either.

But one thing is certain, Roethlisberger is much more hungry for success now. He wants to get back to the level that he played at in his first two seasons, when things seemed to come easily for him – perhaps too easily.

Some have said he didn't work hard enough because of that early success. And if that's true, last season should have been a nice dose of reality for the young QB.

Backing up Roethlisberger on the roster is veteran Charlie Batch, who played extremely well last season when Roethlisberger missed time, first with the appendectomy and later with a concussion.

Batch doesn’t have Roethlisberger's arm, but he does have a lot of moxie and he's proven that he can come in and get the job done when called upon. The other great thing about Batch is that he's content in his backup role – or at least as content as a competitor can be with not playing. He's not somebody who’s going to rock the boat or stab the starter in the back, something other quarterbacks may have done last season when Roethlisberger was struggling.

The Steelers brought Brian St. Pierre back for a second look last season after rookie Omar Jacobs didn't work out.

St. Pierre will never be more than a third quarterback, though the team looks as if it could be OK with him serving in that role again in 2007.

With Roethlisberger and Batch firmly established as the top two quarterbacks, anybody the Steelers add in the draft would be looked at as a possible replacement for St. Pierre.

Because of that, it's unlikely the team would spend a high or even mid–level pick on a quarterback in this year's draft as it did last year when it took Jacobs in the fifth round.

It's more likely the team would use a seventh-round pick on somebody to challenge St. Pierre or just wait to sign a rookie off the street to battle for that spot.
posted by Dale Lolley at 12:23 AM 0 comments  


Sunday, April 08, 2007
A look at the linebackers
Priorities are what often drive a draft more than anything else. As much as teams like to pay lip service to the old "best player available" mantra, let's be honest about something for a second: Few teams, if any, actually work their draft in that matter.

We're going to take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, position by position, over the next month as we try to get a better handle on what directions the team will go on April 28 and 29.

Today: The linebackers

Joey Porter's release prior to the opening of free agency this offseason leaves a void in the Steelers' lineup that could give us a good glimpse of where the Steelers may be looking for the most help in this year's draft.

New head coach Mike Tomlin has said repeatedly that he feels that James Harrison can step into Porter's spot at outside linebacker and do the job. And Harrison has certainly done so for a game here and a game there in the past.

But we haven't seen the 6-0, 242-pound Harrison play the spot on a weekly basis.

Harrison should be able to match Porter's seven sacks of last season. Rushing the passer is his specialty as he uses his stature to get up under potential blockers and then his impressive power to go through them.

The Steelers, however, also ask their linebackers to do a lot of the run stopping and dropping into pass coverage as well. And there, Harrison may not be up to Porter's level.

On the other side, veteran Clark Haggans recorded nine sacks in just 13 games in 2005, but tailed off to six sacks in 15 games in 2006. The Steelers need a return to form by Haggans in 2007 and must also begin thinking about replacing the 30-year-old at some point in the future.

On the inside, James Farrior and Larry Foote were solid in 2006 as the Steelers ranked among the best run-stopping teams in the NFL. Part of the reason for that was the excellent play of the defensive line, but Farrior and Foote ranked first and second on the team tackles, with 154 and 118, respectively. The duo also recorded four sacks each, while also picking off a pass each.

They aren't the problem on this defense, though again, the Steelers have to start thinking about replacing the 32-year-old Farrior at some point. Farrior is still effective due to his great instincts, but he's obviously lost a step.

There's not a lot of depth behind those four – hence the Steelers flirtations with several free agent linebackers this offseason. Despite all their efforts, the Steelers have been unable to bring in any veteran help at the position and will head into the draft with a group of backups that includes Arnold Harrison on the outside and Rian Wallace, Clint Kriewaldt and Richard Siegler on the inside.

As you can see, the depth inside isn't bad – though there’s no obvious eventual replacement for Farrior. It's the outside linebacker depth that is lacking.

Arnold Harrison showed some potential in a pair of starts when Porter and James Harrison were out with injuries, but still has a way to go as a pass rusher at the NFL level.

Because of that lack of depth, the Steelers are considering using defensive end Brett Keisel at outside linebacker at times – especially if they are unable to acquire a top-flight talent at the position in the draft.

Kriewaldt is a serviceable veteran backup who excels on special teams, while Wallace has yet to impress despite spending the past two seasons on the roster. Siegler looked good in training camp last season, but the Steelers released the former San Francisco 49ers' draft choice at the end of camp. He was re-signed later in the season when injury problems depleted the team's depth.

Given that we know the Steelers plan to continue running the 3-4 defense, the linebackers will remain one of the focal points of the team. But the Steelers need a difference maker at the position, something that is lacking with the current group.
Because of that, it wouldn't be surprising to see the team select two or even three linebackers in the upcoming NFL draft. It may make the most sense to get somebody who could be ready to play now, even as a situational player to compliment Harrison, while also taking a project later in the draft who may be Haggans' replacement down the road.
posted by Dale Lolley at 7:52 PM 0 comments  


Thursday, April 05, 2007
Looking at the running backs
Priorities are what often drive a draft more than anything else. As much as teams like to pay lip service to the old "best player available" mantra, let's be honest about something for a second: Few teams, if any, actually work their draft in that matter.

We're going to take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, position by position, over the next month as we try to get a better handle on what directions the team will go on April 28 and 29.

Today: The running backs.

One of the first things new head coach Mike Tomlin talked about when he joined the Steelers was how he believes that teams need two good running backs to make their offense work in today's NFL. It was something former head coach Bill Cowher believed as well.

But the Steelers certainly didn't have two good running backs in 2006. The Steelers tried Duce Staley, Verron Haynes and Najeh Davenport in a complimentary role to Willie Parker and none was able to get the job done.

Because of that, the 5-10, 210-pound Parker was forced to handle 337 rushing attempts to go along with 31 receptions. No other running back on the team carried the ball more than 60 times.

The Steelers definitely want to change that despite the fact that Parker produced a 1,494-yard season with 13 rushing touchdowns without missing a game. Tomlin would be much more comfortable with cutting Parker’s rushing attempts back to about 300.

So far, the Steelers have been unsuccessful thus far in adding another runner, re-signing Davenport while releasing Haynes. That leaves Parker, Davenport, fullback Dan Kreider and 2006 rookie John Kuhn as the only running backs on the Steelers' roster right now. None of those players were drafted by the team, as Davenport was signed as a free agent at the start of last season after being released by Green Bay, while Parker, Kreider and Kuhn joined the Steelers as undrafted free agents.

For a team that prides itself on running the football, that’s not a badge of honor.

It's highly likely that the Steelers will use a first-day pick in this year's draft in an attempt to find that second runner to pair with Parker.

Davenport stepped into that role for much of the 2006 season, but wasn't really the answer. The 250-pounder gained 221 yards on his 60 rushing attempts, but didn't show much as a short-yardage back. At 6-1, he runs too high to be effective in those type of situations, though he was effective as a third-down back, proving to be good receiver and a willing blocker on blitz pickups.

Kuhn, a former NCAA Division II standout at Shippensburg, isn't a long-term answer either. Though he picked up 18 yards on his two rushing attempts and another 15 yards on one reception, the team has to be able to do better if it hopes to contend in 2007.

The Steelers said when they released Haynes right before the opening of the free agent period that it would like to re-sign him at some point, but his injury history is a long one.

As for Kreider, he remains one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL, but the Steelers are going to have to start thinking about replacing him at some point. The 30-year-old Kreider has taken a beating in his seven seasons with the team and is heading into his contract season.

The chances are very good that the Steelers will not add just one, but possibly two running backs - with one being a fullback-type - in this draft.
posted by Dale Lolley at 10:47 PM 0 comments  


Sunday, April 01, 2007
Looking at the corners
Priorities are what often drive a draft more than anything else. As much as teams like to pay lip service to the old "best player available" mantra, let’s be honest about something for a second: Few teams, if any, actually work their draft in that matter.

We're going to take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers, position by position, over the next month as we try to get a better handle on what directions the team will go on April 28 and 29.

Today: The cornerbacks.

The Steelers have arguably spent more money and high draft picks on the cornerback position than any other in recent years. Yet the position is still considered a weakness as it heads into the 2007 NFL draft.

From 2003 through 2005, the team spent premium picks on Ike Taylor, Ricardo Colclough and Bryant McFadden. Yet somehow, none has been able to permanently displace veteran Deshea Townsend in the starting lineup.

At 31, Townsend is certainly starting to slow down. But the nine-year veteran remains the team's most reliable corner – even though his lack of ideal size (5-10, 190 pounds) often gets him in trouble against larger receivers.

But until the team's other corners can come close to Townsend's consistency level, he’ll likely stay in the starting lineup.

The Steelers gave Taylor a five-year, $22-million contract last season and he responded by landing himself in Bill Cowher's doghouse.

At 6-1, 191-pounds, Taylor has excellent size to go along with his blazing speed. His problem seems to be a lack of focus. At times, Taylor seems more intent on being a celebrity rather than perfecting his craft. Instead of worrying about off-the-field stuff, Taylor should concentrate more on his play on the field. He, and the team, would be better off for it.

Maybe his benching last season will serve as a wake-up call for the talented Taylor. He's too good a corner to be sitting the bench for this team.

McFadden took advantage of Taylor's benching to jump into the starting lineup on a full-time basis in just his second season. Like Taylor, McFadden has excellent size (6-0, 190), though he lacks Taylor’s top-end speed.

McFadden makes up for that with his aggressiveness and tackling ability and is a player who is only going to get better.

Even more than a wildcard for the Steelers this season is Colclough. Though he failed miserably as a punt return man last season, Colclough was making some strides as a cover man before a mysterious neck injury landed him on injured reserve.

The 5-11, 195-pound Colclough has coverage skills. He's a player who always seems to be in position, he has just failed to make the big plays early in his career. If he can make that jump and improve his ball skills, he could surprise in 2007.

Rookie Anthony Madison made the team as an undrafted rookie last season and showed some potential. But his overall lack of size (5-9, 180) is working against him as being anything more than an end of the bench player.

Veteran Chidi Iwuoma was released at the end of training camp last season and bounced around the league to New England and St. Louis before landing back with the Steelers by season's end. But Iwuoma, whom the team re-signed this offseason, is nothing more than a special teams gunner – though that is an important job that he excels at.

Given that the Steelers still see Cincinnati and its potent passing game as its main long-term threat in the AFC North, cornerback is an important position on this team in the grand scheme of things. Poor cornerback play against the likes of Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson is going to equal a lot of headaches.

And with Townsend near the end of the line and Colclough and Taylor somewhat question marks - though the team has a lot at stake financially with Taylor - cornerback could be seen as a need position early in this year's draft, especially if that is where the value is.

Even if the Steelers don't select a cornerback in the first couple of rounds, look for them to address the position at some point in the draft.
posted by Dale Lolley at 11:56 PM 0 comments