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06-19-2009, 07:47 AM
Steelers report: Inside slant
June 19, 2009
The Sports Xchange

ICustomarily, first-round draft choices draw plenty of attention in their rookie training camp. That won't be any different for defensive end Ziggy Hood, the last player picked in the first round of the 2009 draft.

However, he'll have company because two other first-round draft choices might attract even more interest in August and beyond.

One is running back Rashard Mendenhall, who has returned to full health after his shoulder was broken in the fourth game of last season when Ray Lewis smashed into him. The Steelers drafted Mendenhall first in 2008.

The other is linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who moves into a starting role in his third NFL season. The Steelers drafted him first in 2007. He is their only first-round draft pick since 1996 not to become a regular in his first two seasons with Pittsburgh.

Mendenhall, though, could join Timmons in that category because Willie Parker remains the Steelers' starting halfback. The idea, as it was at the start of 2008, is to work Mendenhall into games and let his and Parker's performances determine how they use them.

Timmons played behind Larry Foote last season at inside linebacker, but he played plenty in their nickel defense when Foote came off and he came on. He also was their No. 1 backup at outside linebacker and started two games there, one for injured LaMarr Woodley and one for James Harrison.

He played so well that Foote, due a $2.9 million salary this year, saw the writing on the wall and convinced the Steelers to release him so he could go to Detroit, where he'll be a starter.

Coach Mike Tomlin believes both Timmons and Mendenhall have made good progress in many ways this spring.

"Watching those guys move around the building and be comfortable in their shoes, I like where they are," he said at the conclusion of spring OTAs June 11. "They understand how we do business here. I think they are developing an understanding of how they fit in the big picture.

"Ultimately, the quality of their play will determine what their roles are. No question we held those guys in high regard when we drafted them, that is why we drafted them where we drafted them. They are going through a process to become the players they aspire to be."

Tomlin loves Timmons, who was his first draft pick as the Steelers new head coach in 2007.

"Lawrence is a year closer than Rashard. We are excited about what he is going to do for us. We have visual, tangible evidence of what he is capable of doing for us. He played quite a bit for us last year and made critical plays at critical times. We expect that to increase and continue."

Mendenhall has more to prove. He had a decent if unspectacular rookie training camp and preseason, when he had 222 yards and a 4.1-yard average. He had only 19 carries for 58 yards before he was injured in the fourth regular-season game, a game he started because of an injury to Parker.

"Rashard, I am simply asking him to have the savvy and the awareness of a second-year player, even though his rookie year was cut short due to injury," Tomlin said. "He has been around here, around his teammates and he knows what this culture is. I expect him to display that with his actions as we push forward. How he plays is how he plays, and that will determine his role."

Copyright (C) 2009 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

Steelers report: Notes, quotes

June 19, 2009
The Sports Xchange

--When you have a 27-year-old quarterback with two Super Bowl rings, there's little debate about who should be No. 2 -- unless you're in Pittsburgh, where backup quarterbacks are as popular as Iron City Beer.

Many a backup has gone on to start in Pittsburgh: Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, Neil O'Donnell, Mike Tomczak and Tommy Maddox, among others. Some made it because of the failures of others, some through injuries.

Injury is the only way anyone in Pittsburgh will overtake Ben Roethlisberger for the next decade or so, but as often as he has been sacked, that's not farfetched.

Byron Leftwich could have had the job as No. 2 behind Roethlisberger again in 2009, but he opted to compete for the No. 1 job in Tampa Bay. The Steelers re-signed veteran backup Charlie Batch, a Pittsburgh native popular with the home crowd. But keep an eye on Dennis Dixon.

Dixon has a chance to move up to No. 2 in his second season in the NFL for many reasons. One, he could be the perfect "wildcat" quarterback for them, if they chose to use that offense. They did so in the preseason last year in a short-yardage play and he ran around end for a 47-yard touchdown. He played only once in the regular season, the finale against Cleveland in which he completed his only pass attempt and ran twice for minus-three yards.

However, coach Mike Tomlin believes Dixon could move up to No. 2 this season.

"I like to think that he does," Tomlin said. "What he is capable of doing above the neck is going to ultimately determine that. We all acknowledge that this quarterback position is a little different than other positions in this game. Does he have talent to be a competitor or have a horse in that race? Absolutely. But all of the other things that you can't measure will ultimately determine if that is a possibility or not."

The Steelers drafted Dixon in the fifth round in 2008 from Oregon and considered him a bargain. He was a Heisman Trophy candidate until he tore his ACL in his left knee Nov. 3, 2007, with three games to go.

This is an important time for Dixon, Tomlin said.

"Ultimately at that position he has a big summer ahead of him and I am not talking about once we report to Latrobe. I am talking about between now and then. I know that he is gearing himself up for that."

Even if he does not "win" the No. 2 job, the Steelers could designate him as No. 2 for games and use him in various situations. Then, if something happens to Roethlisberger, they could still go to Batch at any time.

--When the Steelers released veteran punter Dirk Johnson last week, it signaled their satisfaction with the progress made by Daniel Sepulveda, who missed last season with a torn ACL. Sepulveda also had surgery this spring to repair a meniscus tear in his right plant leg, but he punted over the final two weeks of OTAs in June.

"I'll hit it pretty hard when I'm home," said Sepulveda, a Texas native. "And that'll get the kicking muscles in shape."

--The Steelers have signed six draft picks, including two of their trio of third-round choices, wide receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis. The others signed are two fifth-rounders, CB Joe Burnett and RB Frank Summers, along with DL Sonny Harris (sixth round) and C A.Q. Shipley (seventh). Three remain unsigned, including first-rounder, defensive lineman Ziggy Hood.

--Luke Palko will join his brother, quarterback Tyler Palko, with the Arizona Cardinals. Palko, a Pittsburgh native, served as a scouting intern with the Steelers the past two years. He was hired as a fulltime college scout by the Cardinals, where his brother is competing for the No. 3 job.

"Hopefully I will do a cleaner and more efficient job here in '09." -- Mike Tomlin, the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, on his own performance.

Copyright (C) 2009 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

Steelers report: Strategy and personnel

June 19, 2009
The Sports Xchange

OT Max Starks: Tendered at $8.451M; signed tender Feb. 23.



--P Mitch Berger (not tendered as UFA June 1).

--TE Jon Dekker (not tendered as ERFA).

--DE Orpheus Roye (not tendered as UFA June 1).



--G Jeremy Parquet was a backup who played little.


--WR Mike Wallace (3/84): $1.74M/3 yrs, $555,000 SB; 2009 cap: $495,000.

--CB Keenan Lewis (3/96): Terms unknown.

--CB Joe Burnett (5/168): 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--FB Frank Summers (5/169): 3 yrs, terms unknown.

--DE Ra'Shon Harris (6/205): $1.249M/3 yrs, $64,000 SB; 2009 cap: $331,333.

--C A.Q. Shipley (7/226): $1.227M/3 yrs, $42,000 SB; 2009 cap: $324,000.


--QB Charlie Batch: UFA; $895,000/1 yr, $50,000 SB.

--CB Fernando Bryant: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--OT Willie Colon: RFA; $2.198M/1 yr.

--FB Carey Davis: ERFA; terms unknown.

--OT Trai Essex: UFA; $1.94M/2 yrs, $500,000 SB.

--LB Keyaron Fox: UFA; $1.8M/2 yrs, $380,000 SB.

--LB Andre Frazier: UFA; $1.375M/2 yrs, $125,000 SB; 2009 cap: $687,500.

--LB Arnold Harrison: Not tendered as RFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--OG Chris Kemoeatu: UFA; $20M/5 yrs, $3.885M SB/$6M guaranteed.

--CB Anthony Madison: RFA; $1.01M/1 yr.

--TE/FB Sean McHugh; RFA; (tendered at $1.01M with seventh-round pick as compensation); $2.57M/3 yrs, $390,000 SB.

--OT Max Starks: FFA; $8.451M/1 yr.


--RB Stefan Logan: FA CFL; terms unknown.

--WR Shaun McDonald: UFA Lions; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Keiwan Ratliff: UFA Colts; terms unknown.

--WR Brandon Williams: FA; terms unknown.


--LB Larry Foote (released).

--LB Mike Humpal (released/failed physical).

--QB Byron Leftwich: UFA Buccaneers; $7.5M/2 yrs; $3.5M RB 2010.

--CB Bryant McFadden: UFA Cardinals; $10M/2 yrs, $1M RB/$5M guaranteed.

--RB Gary Russell (released).

--OG Kendall Simmons (released/failed physical).

--S Anthony Smith: Not tendered as RFA/Packers; $1.485M/2 yrs, $100,000 RB.

--OT Marvel Smith: UFA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.

--WR Nate Washington: UFA Titans; terms unknown.

Copyright (C) 2009 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

Galax Steeler
06-20-2009, 04:49 AM
I can't wait for the season to start. I keep hearing positive things from the team. Timmons, Mendenhall and hood should make for a good year.

06-20-2009, 07:19 AM
I like that the Steelers didn't just depend on rookie players to step it up. Bringing in vet insurance for competition. Insured that nobody will get a job by default. You will have to earn playing time in Pittsburgh !

06-20-2009, 07:47 AM
This is going to be an interesting year to say the lest. Unlike others I think we will run the ball a lot better this year. I expect the line to be better than last year. Ben has shown himself to be an elite QB, even if some won't admit it. As for as the rookies go, I think it will be hard for them to break in, but I do expect to see some playing time for some, and a lot of playing time for one.


06-20-2009, 08:25 AM
True hard to break in but not impossible.

Urbik has a nice opportunity to play early.

With Stapleton struggling off and on.

Kraig could start day 1 , all up to his performance in camp.

I am assuming he was your one that you mentioned that would get a lot of playing time.

Burnett I think could end up being a solid return specialist, he could see the field a lot this year in that capacity.

Lewis if he flashes early could see some dime duty if Deshea is used in some safety situations. Which is possible now that killshot is gone and Carter being another year older.

Tank could be short yardage and goal line / special teams all year long , if he impresses in that role.

Getting Ziggy with it.....could be rotated in on passing downs to keep the others fresh.

So yes hard for more than one to get a start, but based on their on the field performance many could see significant playing time.

06-20-2009, 01:52 PM
True hard to break in but not impossible.

Urbik has a nice opportunity to play early.

He is the one I was talking about, I really like this kid and think he can and will make out interior line much stronger, long before mid season.