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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What I'm Reading - 8/26/10

The Further Chronicles of Conan contains three novels featuring Conan the Barbarian; all written by Robert Jordan.

Though I read it far less than I used to, I am quite a sword and sorcery fan (especially multi-book series'). I've got books by Eddings, Tolkien, Brooks, McCaffrey, Kurtz, LeGuin, Watt-Evans, Donaldson, Pratchett, Rosenberg, Anthony, Gygax, Hardy, Flint, Boyer, the Hendees, Cook, DeChancie, Blaylock, Moorcock, Lieber and some more I can't think of at the moment.

For the first six books or so, the BEST writing in any sword and sorcery book/series I've found was Jordan's The Wheel of Time. The last few books lapsed into long, descriptive passages with little happening, and I don't think it is a top flight series anymore (Jordan died and the last three books in the series are being completed by Brandon Sanderson, using materials Jordan left behind). But for a time, Robert Jordan's writing style and story-telling scope was outstanding.

Before embarking on The Wheel of Time, Jordan wrote six original novels featuring Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian, as well as a movie tie-in for the second Arnold Schwarzenegger flick.

Robert E. Howard was a prolific writer of pulp fiction stories in the twenties and thirties before taking his own life at the age of 30. He wrote in several genres, but far and away his most famous creation was Conan the Barbarian. L. Sprague de Camp spearheaded a Conan revival in the fifties and sixties, though some criticize his rewriting of some of Howard's originals. Many authors have written new tales of Conan (who is still under copyright in the US), and it seems to be generally agreed that Jordan's works are among the best of the non-Howard efforts (of course, some will disagree).

I'm going to give this collection, which goes with The Chronicles of Conan; Volume I, a read (you don't have to read the Conan stories in order, and since Barnes and Noble had the second book on sale, here I am), then try one of the recent Del Rey Conan collections featuring Howard's originals. We'll see how they compare.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Steelers 2010 - The Secondary (is better)

This was an achilles leg last year; forget just a heel. But, things look a lot better.


Based on his play last year, I've come around on IKE TAYLOR. Every week, he plays against the other team's best receiver and most of the time he comes off pretty well. He is a top level cover corner. The problem is he can't catch a cold, let alone an interception. I'm reasonably sure that Taylor has dropped more interceptions than any starting cornerback the past five-plus years. He just can't catch. Which is too bad, because I think he'd be somewhere around the seventh best corner in the NFL if he picked off, say, five passes a year. But the drops seem to hurt the team.

Opposite Taylor is a new old face. BRYANT MCFADDEN started the majority of the 2008 Super Bowl season. Then a free agent, he went to Arizona where he had an average year. The Steelers traded for him on draft day (using the fifth round pick they got for Santonio Holmes) and he's already beaten out his replacement, WILLIAM GAY. McFadden is good and I wanted him to stay, but the Cards gave him more money than he was worth. He signed a three year contract when he came back and I think he's a good #2 corner.

Gay really struggled last year, but since the whole secondary stunk, it's tough to pin it all on him. A part-time starter during the Super Bowl season, he didn't blossom as expected. I did read an article that said he's good in man-to-man but has a hard time in zone. And Pittsburgh played a TON of zone last year while trying to compensate for missing Troy P. I'm not sure Gay is even going to be the nickel back with the other young corners on the roster.

KEENAN LEWIS was a third round rookie from Oregon State last year and missed a considerable part of the season due to injury. The Steelers were high on him when they drafted him and he's gotten a lot of PT this preseason. I think he's in their long term plans, as opposed to Gay.

JOE BURNETT was a fifth round rookie from Central Florida last year and played a fair amount. Coming off the bench late in the Oakland game, his first play he dropped a pass that hit him in the chest. It was a win if he had held on. But the Steelers seemed to like him and he is also playing this preseason. Again, I think Gay is the loser because of this.

The Steelers took CREZDON BUTLER from Clemson in the fifth round this year. Bit of a surprise with five corners on the roster with experience (counting Lewis' limited time). ANTHONY MADISON is a special teams wizard who only plays on the defense when emergency dictates.

DAVID PITTMAN was a third round pick of the Ravens in 2006 who was in the United Football League by 2009. That's not a good thing. Pittsburgh brought him to camp this year. I wouldn't expect him to stick.

Overall, this is a pretty good crop of cornerbacks. Taylor and McFadden are better than good and would contribute a lot if they could snare a few passes. Gay may return to his 2008 form as an ocassional fill-in and nickel/dime guy. Lewis and Burnett are young but show signs of being NFL-caliber CBs. That's five decent corners, plus anybody else who makes it. With decent safety play, I think this is a team strength, not the case last year.

(would be a four if they could catch)


When he's healthy, TROY POALAMALU is arguably the best safety in the game (a lot of folks give that honorific to Bob Sanders. It's certainly a valid discussion, at least). But he wasn't healthy last year and the entire defense collapsed as Dick LeBeau tried to scheme around the loss. It didn't work. Troy should not be on special teams. He's too important.

When healthy in 2008, he was a demon against the run and the pass. He's the best all around safety I've ever watched play. I've heard media pundits have said he's not playing well in the preseason and is playing slow.

He's not playing his 100% kamikaze style, but it's preseason and he's coming off an injury. I thought he looked plenty fast and played well in his limited preseason action.

RYAN CLARK is back on the other side. Better against the run than the pass, he had a pretty bad year with Troy out. I think even when Troy is in, Clark has trouble helping out in the pass game and I'm not a big fan. We'll see how he does this year.

Tyrone Carter has been the main fill-in the past three years, but they let him go and he recently signed with the Redskins. Carter's biggest fault was that he was no Troy P. But neither is anybody else.

RYAN MUNDY got a fair amount of PT last year and had some good and some bad. It's not clear if he's the #3 safety wtih Carter's departure.

That's because former Buckeye WILL ALLEN (he of the HUGE interception against Michigan) was signed as a free agent. He's had an okay NFL career and has been coming off the bench during the preseason. I think he can be a nice #3 safety this year.

JUSTIN THORNTON is a rookie free agent out of Kansas. The Lions were driving in the first preseason game and Dede Dorsey went up the middle and was about to score when Thornton came up and leveled him. Ball popped loose, Steelers recovered a score was averted. It looked pretty good. I hope he gets a chance.

TUFF HARRIS was on the practice squad last year and in camp this year. But he hurt his shoulder and has been cut. DA'MON CROMARTIE-SMITH, a rookie free agent safety had been in camp but cut already. He was brought back in Harris' roster spot.

Trae Williams was signed to the practice squad last last year but cut in June, so he's not in the picture.

If Mundy progresses and Will Allen stays healthy, they've got some depth at safety. Which they'll need, because Troy has missed some serious time since being drafted. But when he's healthy, WOW! Clark is perceived to be better than I think, so I guess he's okay back there.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How About Taking Responsibility?

I don't know why stories like this surprise me any more. Taking responsibility for your own actions and life is an archaic concept that seems to have no place in today's society. People and organizations constantly look for someone or something else to blame for thier own lack of responsibility.

Computer/Video games can certainly eat up your time. A buddy of mine referred to Diablo 2 as 'Electronic Crack.' But as with everything in life, you have to determine your priorities and allocate your time accordingly. This guy is clueless, like so many others who simply refuse to point the finger at themselves.

Gamer Sues Over Being Addicted to MMO Gaming

A gamer has filed a lawsuit against publisher NCSoft, claiming that he is unable to function because of his Lineage II addiction.

Craig Smallwood says he has played a total of 20,000 hours of Lineage II over a period of five years, from 2004 to 2009. Smallwood believes his addiction has affected his quality of life and alleges in the suit that he is "unable to function independently in usual daily activities such as getting up, getting dressed, bathing or communicating with family and friends."

Smallwood is citing negligence in his claim for an unspecified amount of damages and says in the suit, according to Wired, that NCSoft should have issued a warning with the game, cautioning users about its addictive nature.

Wired reports that U.S. District Judge Alan Kay refused to dismiss parts of Smallwood’s complaint this month.

"In light of plaintiff’s allegations, the court finds that plaintiff has stated a claim for both negligence and gross negligence," the suit cites Kay as saying.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Steelers 2010 - Best LB Corps in the NFL

What a group of players!

It is simply unbelievable how often JAMES HARRISON gets held. If you watch the slow mo replays, guys are consistently committing holding penalties as he tries to get around the corner on them. I don't know how he ever gets any sacks, which he's had 26 of the past two years. I think he'd get about two dozen sacks a year if he didn't get held so much.

Age on one side, youth on the other. LAMARR WOODELY has 25 sacks in the past two seasons and has surpassed Lawrence Timmons, who was drafted before him in 2007. Woodley is unhappy with his contract and is a free agent after this year. He's going to break the bank for somebody, as this guy looks like a real star on the rise.

JAMES FARRIOR is a team captain and locker room leader. Unfortunately, he looked two steps slower last year. Hopefully that was temporary and he'll be back up to speed. If not, he's going to be sitting out some third down plays. I will say he looked a lot more like his younger self against the Giants.

LAWRENCE TIMMONS has struggled with injury and only shown flashes of the talent that made him a first round pick. If he doesn't get more consistent, I think he's gonna find himself sitting a lot for LARRY FOOTE. Timmons looks like he can be a star, but he's been pretty uneven. Hindered last year by a high ankle sprain, he's running fine so far this year.

Foote is back after one miserable year in Detroit. I think he will see the field a fair amount, spelling both Timmons and Farrior. He's a very good run stopper.

KEYARON FOX shined when he filled in for Timmons last year and I think he's our next star linebacker and I hope he doesn't lose all of his PT to Foote.

The coaching staff is high on second round draft pick JASON WORILDS, though he's having hamstring problems in camp.

Ex-Buckeye THADDEUS GIBSON had to sit out due to school year rules and is behind schedule in camp.

ANDRE FRAZIER got hurt last week and is out for the year. The Steelers signed BRANDON RENKART to replace him. Renkart has been on a couple practice squads in his two years since leaving Rutgers.

PATRICK BAILEY is a good special teams player who rarely gets on the field for defense. Rookie STEVENSON SYLVESTER is having a good camp and may end up starting on special teams. Sylvester made a couple of nice plays against the Giants.

Woodley and Harrison completely dominate games. Farrior is a run -game tackling machine. Timmons is a sometimes dangerous pass rusher. Foote is the best #5 linebacker in the league. Fox is waiting for a chance to break out.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Steelers 2010 - D-line and Kicking

It's nice to turn to an area not full of questions. The line has depth and talent. But it also has age.
Aaron Smith, the best defensive end playing in a 3-4, missed the last 11 games due to injury in 2009. This was a big loss. Smith is equally effective against the run and the pass and an underrated part of the defense. Having him back healthy makes this the D much better.
On the other side is BRETT KEISEL. The Diesel has been solid and more than holds up his end of things. Not great but a good player, which is all Pittsburgh needs there with Smith and Hampton on the field.
ZIGGY HOOD got some PT as a rookie and it looks like they're grooming him to start when some contracts expire. Hood has shown some athletic ability for a big end. I like him.
NICK EASON has been an adequate fill-in the past two seasons, though he's also been put on the practice squad and cut. I'd expect him to be the #4 end this year.
RASHON (SONNY) HARRIS, the former draft pick out of Oregon who the Steelers lost to Carolina but got back later in the 2009 season, is in camp, though I haven't heard anything about him.
Former Buckeye DOUG WORTHINGTON was the 242nd player taken in the draft. I'm hoping he shows enough to make the practice squad this year.
EUGENE BRIGHT, a second year free agent out of Purdue, is in camp after being on the practice squad last year. I missed him earlier; as he actually has been converted to tight end. Unlikely he's going to make the squad. Also in camp is second year free agent STEVE McLENDON out of Troy.
LINDSEY WITTEN was signed as an undrafted free agent, cut already and is now in the United Football League. His older brother is former Buckeye Donte Whitner.
CASEY HAMPTON is still the best nose tackle in the game. He occupies two guys, clogs up the middle and even gets into the backfield once in awhile. They could not have taken a better player in the 2001 draft to build a 3-4 around.
He's backed up by veteran CHRIS HOKE. Hoke does a nice job giving Hampton a break and is a good fit for his role.
Smith is 34 and his contract expires after 2011. Kiesel turns 32 next month and is under contract through 2013. Eason is 30 and on a one year contract. Hampton will be 34 next month and his contract expires after 2012. Hoke is 34 and a free agent after this season.
The line is aging fast and with contracts coming up the next few years, it's going to have to get younger quick. Hood was the first step in that direction, but they're going to need to replace all three starters over the next three to four years. And as these guys get older, injuries will become a bigger factor. Without a quality d-line, the linebackers won't be free to make the big plays. So, this aging line is an important situation to address.
Yep, five Steelers. Smith and Hampton are about the best at what they do and Kiesel is solid. Hood is a nice young guy off the bench. They'll be lucky to get through this year without anyone losing major time to injury, but for one last season, this is one of the best D-lines in the game.
We'll hope that JEFF REED doesn't miss a game because he's in a holding cell for being really stuipd. Reed is extremely accurate and can handle the tricky winds at Heinz Field. Something Kris Brown couldn't do.
Off the field he's an idiot and he's publicly complained about being named the franchise player for 2010. I think his days are numbered: they aren't going to give him big $$$ as a kicker. I'm glad he's kicking field goals, though.
He sucks as a kickoff guy. Two touchbacks the whole year, I believe. Pittsburgh needs somebody else to kick off, even if it takes up a roster spot. Hopefully Sepulveda impresses when he's given a shot this weekend against the NY Giants.
STEFAN LOGAN was the kick return guy last year. There's been lots of grumbling that he shouldn't be back this year. BULL PUCKEY! I know he didn't have a TD return and he got caught on his season long 83 yarder.
He was second to Josh Cribbs in yards per return in the AFC. Logan - 26.7; Cribbs - 27.5. And he was third overall in the NFL. Logan was much better than the return guys the preceding several seasons (you want Najeh Davenport, Gary Russell and Allan Rossum back)?
It would help if Logan could go all the way. Of course, he probably would have had several touchdowns last year, except he doesn't get to return against our kick coverage unit in real games. But our historically crappy kick return game was THIRD in the entire NFL last year. He certainly deserves another season.
Both rookie receivers, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, returned kicks and college and will probably get chances.
GRADE -  (this would be a four if we could get 10 touchbacks and one TD return)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Steelers 2010 - O (no) Line and Punting

The Steelers' QBs have been sacked on average, 47 times per year over the last four seasons. Even with Ben's propensity for not throwing away the ball, that's pretty bad. Combine it with a seemingly total inability to convert third and fourth and one and the line has not been good.

JUSTIN HARTWIG was a vast improvement over the undersized Sean Mahan in 2008, but he seemed to struggle in 2009. Reports are that he'll be let go when his contract expires after this season. The drafting of Florida center MAURKICE POUNCEY makes this seem likely. DOUG LEGURSKEY is a vanilla backup.

Pouncey played a lot of center in the first preseason game, which could be aan indicator of things to come.

CHRIS KEMOEATU took over for Alan Faneca when they let the possible hall of famer go. He has played well some times and struggled others. Seems to be better for the run than the pass.

TRAI ESSEX was a useful utility lineman, playing both guard and tackle. When Darnell Stapleton (just released by NE last week) went out for the year in preseason, Essex stepped in and started the whole year at left guard. He actually wasn't too bad, but Essex is an average starting guard.

First round pick Pouncey is being given a chance to beat out Essex and start the year at right guard. That would put Essex on the bench at least until Pouncy moves to center next year.

RAMON FOSTER is a useful backup who has seen playing time (I think at tackle as well as guard) due to injuries. KRAIG URBIK was inactive for his entire rookie season. I kinda thought they drafted him out of Wisconsin hoping he could work his way into a starting spot in a couple of years. He's off to a slow start so far. DORRIAN BROOKS is an undrafted free agent out of James Madison.

I wouldn't consider the guards a strength.

Marvel Smith, Kendall Simmons, Darnell Stapleton: nobody wracks up season ending injuries like Pittsburgh's o-linemen. Add right tackle WILLIE COLON to the list. He ruptured his Achilles and is out for the year. Most (me included) would argue he is the team's best lineman, so this hurts.

I'll give Pittsburgh credit: they moved quickly to make the best of a terrible situation. They signed FLOZELL ADAMS, cut after last season by the Cowboys. 6'-7" and over 330 pounds, he's big. He's probably stronger than Colon, though at 34 he's on the downside of his career. I don't really think Adams is going to hurt this line, and if he's still got it, he may be the best player on it. While a three time pro bowler in Dallas, that was all on the left side, so he's learning a new position. He definitely struggled in the Detroit game.

MAX STARKS is back at left tackle. Phil Steele (who I trust on stats more than anybody else) credited Starks with giving up 10 sacks last year. To be fair, Starks has played better than I thought he would, but I wasn't expecting much. Overall, he has done a decent job against the league's best pass rushers.

Big TONY HILLS hasn't played a down yet and is already injured in camp. Pittsburgh took a flyer on him out of Texas and he hasn't panned out. Probably not around for much longer.

JONATHAN SCOTT was signed as a free agent from Buffalo, where he didn't impress last year, in addition to being injured.

CHRIS SCOTT is a fifth round pick out of Tennessee and he was already injured when camp started.

Pittsburgh has a new offensive line coach, Sean Kugler. He's been in Buffalo the past two seasons. The line certainly appears to be a weak spot again this year. If Adams can still play, the loss of Colon will be significantly minimized, but Hartwig and Kemoeatu need to play better.

Grade - 2.0

I'll stick this in here. DANIEL SEPULVEDA did about as well in 2009 as he did his rookie year. And he was certainly better than Mitch Berger (who is a free agent. Surprise). Sepulveda needs to improve his average: hopefully the knee will be stronger after this second surgery. He's also practicing kick offs this preseason: something DESPERATELY needing improvement.

STEFAN LOGAN was 7th in the AFC in punt returns last year, averaging 9.3 ypr. His longest was only 25 yards. But Wes Welker led the league at 12.5 per return, so Logan wasn't that far behind. He just needs to break a few more long ones.

In 2008, Santonio only averaged 6.6 during the year, but he ripped off that game changer against San Diego in the playoffs. Just one or two long ones can validate an entire season of punt returns.

Rookie receiver ANTONIO BROWN was a dynamic punt return guy at Central Michigan and will almost certianly get a look in the preseason.

Sepulveda is solid after the disaster that was 2008. A couple of long returns would help out a lot.

GRADE - 3.0

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ann Coulter - Clueless

I'm both a Christian and a Republican. And it is SO disappointing to hear the blatherings of shallow blowhards like Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck. They typify right-wing extremists who embarrass rational Republicans and certainly missed the boat on Christ's message.

I saw a book at Barnes and Noble this weekend (Actually, I saw several). But this one was a piece of revisionist history that posits that Joseph McCarthy had it right. Joseph. McCarthy. Good guy. Yeah. Right.

But it was the quote from Coulter on the cover that grabbed me.
The most important book since the Bible.
It's both ridiculously wrong and overblown hyperbole. And it's kinda funny, because McCarthy had a lot more in common with the moneylenders in the temple than he did with Jesus Christ. I'm betting she missed the irony in that reference.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Steelers 2010 - Pass Catchers

One player can certainly effect depth at a position. Of course, Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes is gone. He'll be starting his new career with the Jets on a drug-related four game suspension. Ha! I can't imagine having a star player suspended for the first four games...
It starts with HINES WARD. You know, it's been a treat to watch his career. This guy has five of the top seven single season passes caught records for the Steelers and he's a solid #1 in all time catches, yards and TDs. Stallworth and Swann burned brighter, but Hines is the greatest receiver in team history.
With two more solid seasons, Ward will finish his career in the top 10 all time for catches, and already he trails only Marvin Harrison as the all time catches leader to only play for one team. He's going to be a borderline Hall of Famer.
Ward is 34 years old, but he's coming off a 95/1,167 year. Wow. If he can stay healthy, expect him to have another big year. And he's a team leader who gives 100% every play.
MIKE WALLACE moves up from #3 to #2 after a very nice rookie year. The fastest player on the team, he extends the field and keeps the safeties from creeping up for the run. Not that we run it much.... All indications are that Wallace kept a level head last year (he's no Plax) and will be a solid #2 receiver and make some more big plays deep.
ANTWAAN RANDLE EL is back! I loved El at Indiana and in his first run as a Steeler. Washington gave him big money to be the go-to guy, and that's not his role. If he gets back into the offensive scheme he should be the #3 guy, play in the slot and catch maybe 40 passes this year.
With Ward, Wallace and Miller getting more passes, Randle El can contribute at that number. I think bringing him back was a good move if he's still got it.
The Steelers passed on Texas star Jordan Shipley (the dude caught 205 passes over the past two years and is a good punt returner) to take EMMANUEL SANDERS out of SMU.
Now, SMU was a doormat program when June Jones left Hawaii to bring his high-octane offense to Dallas. SMU was 18-52 in the six years before Jones. After starting out 1-11, he was 8-5 last year and in a bowl. He had even greater success turning around Hawaii. He runs a  wide-open offense that lets QBs and WRs put up really big numbers, and that fit Sanders perfectly.
Sanders caught 98 passes his senior year and will be the second fastest receiver on the team. I think he's going to get some PT this year, early, and probably be given a chance to run back some kicks. He could really help with some rookie contribution.
You know, the Bengals took Quan Cosby and Shipley from Texas. We took Limas Sweed. Score on for their scouting department.
ARNAZ BATTLE was a good possession receiver in San Francisco before hurting his knee in 2008. If it's healed, he may make some third down catches in four and five wide receiver sets. Reminds me of Chris Calloway (who I liked), but with more speed. If Randle El turns out to be washed up, Battle could get his spot. Battle had a nice 51 yard catch and run in the preseason opener.
Rookie ANTONIO BROWN started three years at Central Michigan, catching 98, 93 and 110 passes! He was the ninth guy the Steelers drafted, but he has a chance to make the roster. Especially if Battle doesn't impress.
TYLER GRISHAM was an undrafted free agent out of Clemson who spent most of last year on the practice squad. He did catch one pass against the Ravens. He's probably bound for the PS again, but he may be around a little this season if guys get injured.
BRANDON LONDON has spent three years on practice squads and being cut. ISAIAH WILLIAMS was a talented under-achiever at Maryland. He signed as a free agent to replace LIMAS SWEED last year but didn't catch any passes. Don't expect either of them to matter this year.
Ah, Sweed. out for the year with a ruptured achilles tendon. Sweed has caught seven passes in his Steeler career. I'd be willing to bet he's dropped seven passes as well. What a disappointment. None of the receivers taken after him have done much yet, but some fellow named Ray Rice went two picks later to Baltimore. Argh!
The receivers lack the impact player now that Holmes is gone. He really only 'game changed' about two a year, but still, it was nice to have that threat. However, in a pass happy team with a strong-armed QB, Mike Wallace can go deep almost any down. I think he'll have a couple of quick strike TDs this year.
Also, keep in mind that Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall are very good pass catchers out of the backfield. I understand why, with the personnel on board (and Santonio was here), BA runs a pass-oriented offense. The problem is that it seems to have contributed to the inability to run for one or two yards when necessary., and also, it gets Ben killed. Those problems need fixed if BA wants to keep flinging the ball around.
This isn't a bad receiving corp if Randle El or Battle can be steady. Rookie contibutions would be nice. They'll miss Holmes (but don't forget, Holmes spent half a season dropping passes and running poor routes before turning it on in 2008) but Ward, Wallace and a third guy could be a pretty strong bunch.
Grade - 
As you know, I am the president of the HEATH MILLER fan club. There's not another TE in the NFL I would take over him. He's coming off a career high in catches and yards, blocks great and releases as a safety valve for Ben as well as anybody we've ever had. Just a superstar.
It's unlikely that anybody who's 6'-7", 270 lbs blocks as poorly as MATT SPAETH does. I just don't get it. Since he only caught five passes last year, you'd like to think he'd try and help out more blocking. I still think he can be a very difficult-to-cover tight end, but that's going to happen somewhere else. He was re-signed to a one year deal for 2010.
SEAN MCHUGH is back as a tight end playing full back. He didn't even catch a pass last year. If Bruce Arians wasn't so weird about full backs, McHugh probably wouldn't be on the roster. I'd use him over Spaeth in two tight end sets since he can block and they don't throw the ball to Spaeth anyways.
DAVID JOHNSON replaced McHugh as the backfield blocker last season. He did catch two short passes. He was a decent pass catching tight end at Arkansas State. Numbers might force him out, but I think there's a place for him in the NFL.
Miller is the best, but BA doesn't use any other tight ends in the offense, except as full backs. If Miller went down, BA would probably just have Spaeth block (poorly) and the TE would disappear from the offense. But Miller adds a huge piece to the passing game, so it's still a position of strength.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Steelers 2010 - The Backfield

Well, it's about that time. The Steelers open the preseason slate at home, 8 PM, Saturday, against the Lions. And, Dick LeBeau was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past weekend. He went in as a player, but since his stats haven't changed in the thirty-something years since he retired, I think his accomplishments as the Steelers' DC had something to do with the honor.

This is the first look at this year's squad and we're starting out with the glamour positions. Free agency is a jumbled picture with no collective bargaining agreement at present, so my comments will assume something similar to the current system gets put in place.

You want to put into perspective what a huge dofus BEN R. is? Quarterback is the deepest, most talented position on the roster outside of linebacker, but it's also the biggest concern. That's not an easy state of affairs to achieve.

All signs are that Ben's six game suspension is going to be reduced to four by the Commish. I mean Roger Goodell, not Michael Chiklis. Ben's allowed to practice with the team, though he's getting a lot less time with the first string than normal, since somebody else will be running the team for the first quarter of the season. At least he should be healthy when he starts playing.

BYRON LEFTWICH is back after one very, very unsuccessful season in Tampa Bay. I like Leftwich and think he's a capable backup. It wouldn't be shocking to see him go 3-1 while Ben is out. Of course, since being benched in 2006, he has only started five games in three years, throwing a total of 201 passes. He was good as our backup in 2008, but not so much with Atlanta and Tampa Bay the other two years.

I'm comfortable with Byron (who is only 30: seems like he's been around a long time), but who knows how he's actually going to play this year? I'd bet he'll do better than worse and we'll be glad he came back. But...

DENNIS DIXON is back. He looks to be #3 on th depth chart. I like the kid, he seems to have recovered from the blown out knee at Oregon and might very well get an offer to compete for a starting job next year, when he's a restricted free agent. As I've said, I'd like Tomlin to start Dixon and see if he's a part of the future plans or not. Leftwich is under contract through 2011, which isn't good for Dixon.

CHARLIE BATCH - Odd man out, Batch is a good soldier who the franchise genuinely likes. But he's played in one game the past two years, having been injured nearly the whole time. At 35, it's more likely he ends up a Steelers coach or scout or something than a backup quarterback for the next two years (his contract expires in 2011). Or career manager for Terell Pryor. And despite Jeff B's wishes, I hope that career is someplace other than Heinz Field.

I don't see how they can carry Batch on the roster this year. They signed him to a two year deal in March, then a month later traded for Leftwich and gave him about double Batch's money. Sorry, Charlie.

The Steelers have three backups who can fill in here and there and hold their own. That's a luxury. But because of Ben's suspension, the position is likely to be a question mark for the first half of the season. I think Ben is going to be very focused and be ready to play when the season starts. In fact, probably more ready than the years he had the motorcycle wreck and the apendectomy.

GRADE - 4.0


With Willie Parker fourth (yes, FOURTH!) on the depth chart in Washington, this is RASHARD MENDENHALL's spot. He ran for over a thousand yards and averaged 4.6 ypc last year. He also picked up about 10 yards a catch. The guy is a dual threat with a nice burst but enough size to move it inside. And what a fun spin move! If he can stay healthy and the Steelers mean it when they say they're going to run more, Mendenhall could approach the 1,500 yard mark. He's got that kind of talent.

MEWELDE MOORE, who helped save the 2008 Super Bowl season, saw Parker and Mendenhall get nearly all of his playing time last season. Especially with Mendenhall a good third down back.

This year, he should be the speedy relief back for Mendenhall as well as an ocassional pass catcher. I'd like to see Bruce Arians (grrrrr) use him out on the wing again. Linebackers and safeties had a terrible time covering him in 2008. So, of course, Tomlarins didn't use him at all that way last year. A capable backup who is a free agent after this season. Somebody will take him to be the third down guy in 2011 if we don't retain his services. I really like what Moore offers the team.

Unfortunately, it's a mess after that. JONATHAN DWYER, a speedy bruiser from Georgia Tech, fell to the sixth round. I think this guy should be the starting fullback and get 6 or 8 carries a game. He's 235 pounds, ran for 1,395 yards last year and had five runs of forty yards or more. He can be THE steal of the draft. You know, if Pittsburgh used a fullback and ran the ball a lot...

I did see a Pittsburgh Tribune Review article that said Dwyer has been unimpressive in camp. Hopefully he'll get on track.

ISAAC REDMAN, the touchdown maker, had a great 2009 camp and spent last year on the practice squad. He's back in camp this year. He should have been the short yardage back last season but will have a tougher go of it with Dwyer around. Plus, because he can catch the ball so well, Mendenhall will probably be on the field a lot of third downs and get some short yardage carries. Redman doesn't seem to fit so well this year.

FRANK SUMMERS manged to get injured and land in Tomlin's doghouse about the same time last year. I'm not convinced he's got a future in Pittsburgh after his rookie season. He was a ball carrier and TD guy at UNLV and didn't block very well when given the chance to play fullback early last year. He needs to transition from star to blocker.

Apparently Summers did outperform rookie free agent fullback Demetrius Taylor, who was cut. Of course, BA gets rid of fullbacks at every opportunity.

DAN KREIDER, the last good blocking back we had, was let go by Arizona and is a free agent. I'd bring him back for one more year if Pittsburgh is going to use a fullback. I guarantee you Jerome Bettis would not have gotten as many yards as he did without Kreider.

JUSTIN VINCENT helped LSU win a national championship (over Oklahoma, not OSU) but has spent most of the past three years on the Steelers' practice squad. He's in camp but doesn't seem to be a factor.

Mendenhall seems poised to break out as a star and most teams would love to have Moore coming off the bench. But there's not a proven back behind them. In fact, none of the others have carried the ball in an NFL game. That's a bit worrisome when you remember how many injuries Parker and Mendenhall had the past few years. The Steelers have some talent and potential at running back, but virtually no depth.

GRADE - 3.0

Next up, WR/TE.


Howdy folks,

This wide-ranging blog will cover whatever the heck I feel like commenting on. The name is derived from my all time favorite football player, Rod Woodson.

With football season getting underway, we're entering a run of Pittsburgh Steelers-related posts. And Sherlock Holmes will certainly be gracing the blog on a regular basis. If I can get my research organized, I'll be taking one view of why the electoral college votes should be awarded proprotionately by state, not 'all or nothing.' I jump around a lot.

So, moving on...