Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers

The long lockout might have benefited the Pittsburgh Steelers more than it did most teams. They have a veteran coaching staff, a veteran lineup including quarterback and few open spots, particularly in the starting lineup -- and they were one of two teams that played football into February."I think having a veteran team can be an advantage in a lot of different circumstances," said Art Rooney II, the Steelers' president. "But it's hard to predict."
They are not without a few problems and other potential issues, but as such things go the Steelers' troubles are minor compared to even others in their division. TheCleveland Browns have a new coaching staff and the Cincinnati Bengalsmay have a new starting quarterback.
"We're a veteran team so a lot of guys didn't participate that much in offseason workouts," linebacker Larry Foote said regarding the practices many players organized during the lockout on other teams. "This is the weekend we were supposed to start training camp anyway. Thank God it all worked out with the lockout. There was a lot of anxiety. We had an extra month and a half more than other teams besides Green Bay, so I think we're ahead of a lot of teams right now."
The Steelers have two big moves to make: sign their best cornerback, Ike Taylor, to a new contract so he does not flee as a free agent; and decide what to do at right tackle.
Flozell Adams started every game at right tackle last season and at 36 he believes he's capable of doing it again. He might because it did not seem as though they Steelers were going to make a big pitch to bring back previous starter, Willie Colon, a free agent who missed last season with a torn Achilles. Adams has a $5 million salary due this season.
"Obviously, my heart is in Pittsburgh," said Colon. "I want to be here, but things happen, the business side takes over and we'll have to wait."
Colon was the team's starting right tackle in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He was set to start his fourth consecutive season when his Achilles tendon tore in June 2010.
It's not likely the Steelers will go outside to sign many free agents for several reasons: They rarely sign many, especially the bigger names; they have few holes to fill, and they prefer to sign their own, especially with the limited amount of time available to assimilate new players into their offense or defense.
There's also the matter of the $120 million salary cap. The Steelers, as currently constituted, would be far over.
"Being prepared to get under the cap is something we've been through before," Rooney said. "Again, the challenge this time around is to handle that business in such a short period of time. Our guys are back there riht now trying to work on how we will get there and trying to piece together the roster. It's not that different other than doing it in such a compressed time frame."
-- Steelers president Art Rooney II said he plans to discuss with Roger Goodell and the NFL office two situations that developed over the past several weeks involving two marquee Steelers. One is the DUI arrest of wide receiver Hines Wardin Atlanta. The other involved the well-publicized comments in a magazine made by All-Pro linebacker James Harrison, who called the commissioner a crook, the devil, stupid, a puppet, a dictator and used a gay slur to describe him.
"I think obviously these things will be under review by the commissioner's office in due time," Rooney said, "and we will be communicating about these things."
-- The first post-lockout activity at Heinz Field will take place Tuesday night. It's a U2 concert that has been sold out for months.
-- At least one teammate who attended Ben Roethlisberger's epic wedding in Pittsburgh Saturday estimated its cost at $1 million. Roethlisberger and his bride Ashley held their reception at the Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh for 700 guests.
-- Dan Rooney, the former Steelers president and chairman and now the US Ambassador to Ireland, is in Pittsburgh and plans to spend the next few weeks here, which usually means a daily trip to training camp in Latrobe, 45 miles away. The second-generation Pro Football Hall of Famer in his family, Rooney also plans to attend the ceremonies in Canton Aug. 6.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I am relieved that we got it down in time that allows us to have a training camp and a full season." -- Steelers President Art Rooney II.
PERSONNEL PRIORITY: The Steelers have 66 players under contract, counting their seven drafted rookies. They have 14 unrestricted free agents and two restricted free agents. It means they have 24 players to sign to reach a 90-man roster; 15 or more will likely be undrafted rookies.
Among those they will pursue from their own roster: cornerbacks Ike Taylor andWilliam Gay, offensive linemen Willie Colon, Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott, nose tackle Chris Hoke, and kicker Shaun Suisham. They also will make offers to their two RFAs, quarterback Dennis Dixon and tackle Tony Hills.
Colon started for three seasons before a ruptured Achilles tendon eliminated 2010 for him. He'd love to return to his spot at right tackle and expects to hear from the Steelers this week.
"I think I'll get a call, but a lot of things have to get worked out," Colon said.
There have been reports they will try to sign running back Tiki Barber, but that is unlikely. The Steelers won't go after wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who played with the team before he spent several seasons with the Giants.
It's unlikely the Steelers will pursue top-grade free agents. They will more likely follow the same path they have through the years when free agency began in March, waiting things out and seeing if there are any middle-of-the road free agents ready to start.
Without a doubt, however, Taylor is the No. 1 priority. They have felt confident all along that they would be able to re-sign him, despite reports that several teams have targeted Taylor themselves. The Steelers have not had a Pro Bowl cornerback sinceRod Woodson 15 years ago but Taylor is the closest thing to one since then. They were weak at the other corner, on the left side with Bryant McFadden last season. If Taylor were to leave, they would be forced to either start both of those or promote one of their young corners (Keenan Lewis or Crezdon Butler) or one of their two rookie draft picks.
MEDICAL WATCH: LB James Harrison, who had two offseason back surgeries, is "80-85 percent" according to his agent.

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