Ed Bouchette On The Steelers: It's a Mystery
Despite Tomlin's reasoning, acquisition of Allen Rossum still doesn't make sense
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Coach Mike Tomlin wanted to improve his team when the Steelers acquired return man Allen Rossum from the Atlanta Falcons last week for an undisclosed, conditional draft pick that's likely a seventh-rounder.
Rossum, now with his fourth NFL team, made the Pro Bowl three seasons ago after he averaged 12.4 yards a punt return, and a year after he averaged 14.0 yards. Since then, Rossum averaged 8.5 yards in 2005 and 8.0 yards in 2006.
Rossum was a good punt returner and he still may have it in him at one month shy of his 32nd birthday. But Tomlin had a better punt returner on his own team, Santonio Holmes. Holmes averaged 10.2 yards on punt returns last season and scored a touchdown, one more than Rossum scored in his past two seasons.
It's not the seventh-round draft choice the Steelers will give up for Rossum that's a problem -- they routinely cut their seventh-round pick after his first training camp anyway -- it's the roster spot they gave up. Because they acquired Rossum, they released second-year center Marvin Philip, leaving them with no backup center with NFL experience at the position. And because they signed Philip to the practice squad, they did not sign 6-9 Jason Capizzi, who showed promise as a rookie left tackle in training camp.
Tomlin explained that he did not want Holmes to return punts because he wanted him to concentrate on his position as the team's starting split end. But wasn't this supposed to be a new era in which starters played on special teams?
Holmes would not be the first starting wide receiver to return punts. Lynn Swann, Louis Lipps and Antwaan Randle El all returned punts and none of their careers as receivers seemed to be held back because of it.
This comes, of course, after the Steelers used two draft picks on a rookie punter when they had one on their roster capable of handling the job.
A fine line between success and failure
When Hines Ward said "We didn't get sorry overnight," he meant virtually the same talent on the Steelers did not reflect their 8-8 record last season after they went 15-1 in 2004 and won the Super Bowl in 2005.
The same could be said about the offensive line. The line has been identified as the most problematic area of the 2007 Steelers, mainly because of its perceived problems in 2006 and the changes to it this season.
The same line that blocked for the Super Bowl champs was intact last season when quarterback sacks increased by 17 -- or 53 percent -- to 49. But more goes into sacks than blocking by the five men in the line. There are "hot" routes to be run, there is blocking by others such as tight ends and third-down backs, and decisions made by the quarterback himself.
That same line provided enough blocking for Willie Parker to rush for 1,494 yards, third-most in club history.
As for the changes, Marvel Smith and Alan Faneca remain on the left side. Smith, 29, has made a Pro Bowl. Faneca, 29, has made six of them. Linemen normally get better with age, even into their mid-30s, not regress. Kendall Simmons has started at right guard since he was drafted in the first round in 2002.
That leaves new center Sean Mahan and new right tackle Willie Colon. The Steelers had a long, distinguished line of centers before Mahan and it remains to be seen if he can uphold it. However, Jeff Hartings, a two-time Pro Bowl selection at center, did not have one of his better seasons last year before retiring after six seasons as a Steelers' starter.
As for Colon, this may be his first year starting, but he also beat out Max Starks, who started at right tackle the past two seasons. It should be presumed that if Colon beat out Starks, he must be better than Starks; thus, there should be improved play at right tackle this season.
Most every team has problems in its line and most every team, if it loses its left tackle, is in trouble and must do things such as move a guard to that spot. While the line right now does not look to be a strength of the 2007 Steelers, it's not among the bottom half of the league, either.
You can find video clips of center Mike Webster hunkering over a football, then turning his neck around to tell Terry Bradhsaw something. Often, it was to tell Bradshaw to get out of a play or some other instruction.
That won't happen this year with the Steelers. The offensive linemen, who always called out adjustments to the blocking protection or shouted other commands, have been told not to do that this season.
As guard Alan Faneca noted, "We can't do it." It's probably to avoid confusion with linemen trying to tell Ben Roethlisberger one thing and the quarterback trying to issue his own instructions. It should prove interesting to see how it works.
To the dogs
Perhaps it is mere coincidence that with the Michael Vick dogfighting conviction still ringing through the land, both the New York Giants and the Steelers quarterbacks announced this week that they will throw their support to the dogs.
The Giants joined with Purina to create Pets First, a performance-based charitable venture that will allow both organizations "to share their passion and commitment for the well-being of local animals.''
Roethlisberger announced he will present weekly grants to police departments' K-9 units, starting with Cleveland.
If others follow, Vick could be the best thing to happen to dogs since Saint Roch.
Under the wire
Vested veterans such as Chukky Okobi likely will be signed this week by teams. Had they been signed last week, they would have been guaranteed their full year's salary.
That is how the Steelers acquired Najeh Davenport last year. The Packers cut their veteran running back and no one wanted to sign him that first week because of the salary guarantee. The Steelers caught a break by playing the first game on Thursday and signed him on Friday.