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» OFI: Letdown Saturday

A week after big upsets of Stanford and Ohio State, the USC and Virginia Tech themselves fell to less-talented opponents. Georgia also fell to South Carolina after pummeling Clemson in the opener.

14 May 2007

Four Downs: AFC North

by Jeff Bathurst

Baltimore Ravens

Draft Review

Look, no fan base is ever going to get super-charged when their team drafts an offensive lineman in the first round -- especially when that team reportedly had Brady Quinn on the line in an attempt to trade up -- but the Ravens spiced things up in the later rounds (see Troy Smith) and worked to solidify some hard-to-fill positions. There is a lot to like about the Ravens' pick of Ben Grubbs at number 29. Grubbs was the best available at his position in the draft, and he has the chance to be a productive right guard for years to come.

Baltimore certainly seemed to draft for need -- they hit four of FO's five predicted "areas of need" with their seven picks -- but not having a second-round pick hurt. Picking return specialist and all-around speedster Yamon Figurs of Kansas State was the subject of much debate on draft day, and the Ravens finished Day One by picking big Marshal Yanda of Iowa, a guard who will move to tackle.

Day Two was more fascinating, with a speed-rushing linebacker kicking off their fourth round, Antwan Barnes from Florida International. Baltimore also took best pure fullback in the draft, Alabama's Le'Ron McClain, who will replace Ovie Mughelli as a lead blocker.

Then came Troy Smith in the fifth round, ending the Heisman Trophy winner's anticipation. Smith could replace Kyle Boller as the backup in 2008, or not even make the roster. But if the Ravens wanted a young, groomable quarterback, why not go for the guy. And even Michigan's Prescott Burgess in the sixth round could provide depth at outside linebacker.

Remaining Needs

The Ravens may not think that cornerback is an area of need, but at Football Outsiders we know that the ravages of time are wearing away Samari Rolle. Baltimore also could use a more experienced backup tackle than Yanda to bolster Ogden and Adam Terry.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Ravens boast of having found guys like Priest Holmes and Bart Scott in the discard pile, but they didn't seem to add much this year, at least based on pre-draft rankings. Offensive tackle Kyle Williams started for one year at USC, and given the Ravens' lack of tackles he could contribute. They also brought in Edgar Jones, a 6-foot-3, 263-pound defensive end from Southeast Missouri State who led Division I-AA with 12 sacks and was compared by one scouting service to the Eagles' Trent Cole. From the legacy file, running back Greg Pruitt Jr., whose father starred for the Ravens' ancestors in Cleveland, signed out of Division II North Carolina Central.

Cincinnati Bengals

Draft Review

Character carried the days for the Bengals, who took a cornerback first for the second straight year in Michigan's Leon Hall. Add Hall to Johnathan Joseph in the secondary, heat, and serve, is Cincinnati's hope. Hall may not unseat Deltha O'Neal this year, but if not he will learn as a nickel back and take over soon.

"Solid, productive, not flashy but effective," is part of how the Bengals' website summed up the draft, and although that may be just what the doctor (and lawyers) ordered after a tumultuous season in the police blotter, Cincinnati also didn't add enough to a defense that was hurting last season and lost guys like Brian Simmons and Kevin Kaesviharn.

They did find a playmaker in Auburn running back Kenny Irons in the second round, and if you want to get technical, they spent their third-round pick last year on Ahmad Brooks, who may start at linebacker this season. Fourth-round free safety Marvin White of TCU is being touted as a big hitter.

The head-scratchingest move, for some, was the pick of Nevada quarterback Jeff Rowe in the fifth round, given the presence of Carson Palmer. The Matt Schaub story shows that the upside on Rowe is if he develops and Palmer stays in place, a breaking-through quarterback like Rowe can be very valuable in trade.

Remaining Needs

Linebacker was a definite need that went unaddressed in the draft, but the Bengals have signed Ed Hartwell to a one-year deal after he flamed out in Atlanta. They are also high on an undrafted free-agent linebacker they brought in (see below), which is a testament to their scouting and also Cincinnati's bevy of job openings.

Defensive tackle was touched on in the draft by sixth-rounder Matt Toeaina of Oregon, but Sam Adams, Michael Myers, and company might not be good enough.

Undrafted Free Agents

Florida weakside linebacker Earl Everett was rated higher in some quarters than Antwan Barnes, the Ravens' fourth-round pick. BYU tight end Daniel Coats, if he can get time away from the family (the 23-year-old is married with three kids), could pitch in at an area of weakness. And from the all-name team, Missouri defensive end Xzavie Jackson was rated on some draft boards, as was Hawaii offensive tackle Dane Uperesa.

Cleveland Browns

Draft Review

Sure, the Browns can walk away with a franchise left tackle and a franchise quarterback. That was the opinion of most draft observers before the Selection Meeting got underway. Seriously, though, that the Browns made it happen is a testament to the team's willingness to 1) put aside the hype and center on Wisconsin's Joe Thomas as their first choice and 2) focus on the here and now and deal away next year's number one to make it happen with Slidin' Brady Quinn.

Incidentally, how many teams' draft parties would have erupted in high-fives, chants and toasts (as happened in Cleveland) when their team chose a left tackle over a quarterback at number three? Good for the Dawg Pound. Plus, taking Quinn at 22 instead of three ensures that the Browns will sign him for a much lower number.

As for trading pick number 36 this year and next year's number one for Quinn ... Using the holy "value chart" for trading draft picks, if we assume that Quinn was, to be conservative, the fifth-best prospect in this year's draft, he's assigned 1,700 value points. The Browns, then, will have to draft number 13 or lower next year to have "won" the trade (pick 13 in 2008 and this year's 36 having a cumulative value of 1,690 points.) The team drafting at number 13 this year was the Rams, who were 8-8.

Can the Browns finish .500? Signs point to "not likely," but one can't fault Cleveland for pulling the trigger now and worrying about tomorrow ... next year.

As for the rest of the draft, the Browns nabbed UNLV cornerback Eric Wright in the second round, and despite a troubled college career, Wright was ranked among the top five corners available and gave the Browns three potential studs for Day One. They did not draft again until the fifth round, and picked up more corner help on Day Two in Memphis' Brandon McDonald (who is cousins with Steve McNair and Correll Buckhalter), along with defensive line depth in ends Chase Pittman (LSU) and Melila Purcell (Hawaii), along with wideout and probable return specialist Syndric Steptoe of Arizona.

Remaining Needs

Having filled their top need with Quinn, the Browns still face a bit of a void at running back, which they can't really have convinced themselves was filled with Jamal Lewis. Change-up guys like Jerome Harrison and Jason Wright are still around, but there's no long-term answer there yet. Having no picks between rounds two and five limited their chance to add some help now.

The late-rounders will help on the defensive line, but the Browns could certainly use some front-line talent and, if not, some depth.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Browns signed only nine this year, as opposed to the usual 12-15. A potential bruiser is running back Tyrone Moss from Miami, who is powerful at 5-foot-9 and 230 pounds but tore his ACL in 2005 and may still be feeling the effects. Center Scott Stephenson from Iowa State started his career on the defensive line at Minnesota, and he is a project who could pay dividends. Speedy wideout Mike Mason from Tennessee State washed out at North Carolina but has talent, and Arizona State kicker Jesse Ainsworth brings a big leg. And from the "early training camp story" file, expect to read about Division III offensive lineman Rick Drushal, a local kid from Wooster.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Draft Review

A pass-rushing presence at outside linebacker was a top area of need for the Steelers, and they doubled up in the first two rounds, choosing Florida State's Lawrence Timmons in the first and then Michigan's LaMarr Woodley in the second. Most mocks had the Steelers drafting a linebacker if they couldn't get Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis, and when the Jets traded up to 14 to get Revis one slot before Pittsburgh, the die was cast.

Timmons only started one year at Florida State, having backed up in Ernie Sims in 2005, and is just 20 years old and could get bigger than his current 6-foot-1, 234 pounds. And Mike Tomlin joked that he has "the R-H factor ... he's a runner and a hitter." The choice of Woodley was widely applauded, and as he transitions from college defensive end to outside linebacker, he'll chip in as a third-down pass-rusher.

Fans expected running-back or other impact help in the third round, but the Steelers took giant tight end Matt Spaeth of Minnesota (6-foot-7, 270). Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians sounds excited about using Spaeth together with Heath Miller near the goal line. A surprise in the fourth round was trading up to get Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda, a two-time Ray Guy Award winner who put 82 punts inside the 20 in four years after walking on as a linebacker. If you have to blow a fourth-round pick on a punter, you might as well take one who knows how to make a tackle.

Late-round depth guys like defensive lineman Ryan McBean of Oklahoma State and Rutgers guard Cameron Stephenson will do their part, and the team sounds high on Louisville corner William Gay (comparisons to Deshea Townsend), and seventh-round wideout Dallas Baker from Florida, who adds size (6-foot-3) to the receiver squad.

Remaining Needs

Fans wanted a backup running back to join Willie Parker and perhaps Najeh Davenport, but the team bypassed the position in the draft and signed Kevan Barlow this week (which technically still qualifies as bypassing the position). Stephenson could make some noise at guard, but with Alan Faneca unhappy and Kendall Simmons' time perhaps growing short, the team could have used more of an upgrade there. Likewise, Gay could help at cornerback but doesn't address the need to get better at the top.

Undrafted Free Agents

Minnesota running back Gary Russell is an intriguing name. Russell joined Laurence Maroney as a 1,000-yard rusher in 2005, but then flunked out and tested poorly for scouts. If he can find the will again, he could give the Steelers a lift at the position. And still another 6-foot-7 tight end, Washington State's Cody Boyd, got the call. Center/guard Darnell Stapleton makes it two former Rutgers Scarlet Knights moving on together.

Later this week: AFC East.

(This is Jeff Bathurst's last article for Football Outsiders, and we thank him for helping fill in on Four Downs the last few months while we've been in high-panic book-writing mode.)

Posted by: Guest on 14 May 2007

72 comments, Last at 21 May 2007, 3:39pm by MattB

Comments

1
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 12:21pm

Interesting thought regarding the Browns: the perennial suckitude of the Browns combined with the extreme strength of their division has pushed them to the top of the draft way too often, and so, salary cap-wise, it probably was very smart for them to trade their future first away.

Especially if Quinn and Thomas both work out, there's little need for the Browns to have a first-round draft pick next year.

That is, assuming they can ever get rid of the curse that's hanging over their franchise. If their best players constantly are getting staph infections and other injuries, nothing's going to help them.

2
by Riceloft (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 12:38pm

Tyrone Moss was already cut/waived/whatever. The Browns signed RB Jerome Jackson of Michigan, though.

3
by Mark (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 12:55pm

As a Steelers fan, I cannot wait for the browns to put in Quinn and to see him fail as the next Rick Mirer.

4
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:02pm

The good news as far as the Browns and curses go is that neither Thomas nor Quinn got injured in minicamp.

For Pittsburgh, one has to understand that cornerbacks really aren't the Steeler way. You can improve the pass defense by either strengthening the secondary or strengthening the pass rush, and Pittsburgh do the latter. (Also, Tomlin thinks Ike Taylor can develop into a top-tier cornerback. Maybe he's planning to tell him that he's facing the Bengals every week).

On the other side of the ball, the offensive line has great potential to really suck this year. Of course, it mostly sucked last year too and it wasn't exactly great the year before that at least in pass protection. We shall see.

5
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:11pm

Why isn't there more general panic/concern with the Steelers and the offense? I mean, Tomlin's a former DC, so he's not bringing much to the offense. Arians' last OC job was for the Browns from 2001-2003 - not exactly a ringing endorsement. Steelers fans have got to be worried about the offense, right?

6
by Luz (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:19pm

Pat,

as ilanin noted, the offensive line is a big concern. i think most fans are pretty content with the talent at the top of the depth chart at the "skill" positions. i am trying not to get too worried about arians...

7
by oljb (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:21pm

Despite the lack of high-profile upgrade and the loss of Hartings, I don't think it's a given that the offensive line will get worse now that Grimm is gone. For the amount of resources in the Steelers' line, its performance was questionable. It was really really good at manhandling mediocre defenses, especially in terms of running. But Big Ben has repeatedly sustained some nasty hits that can be attributed to shoddy line play.

The Browns game at Pittsburgh last year made the offensive line look like gods, but the game at Baltimore showed there was something fundamentally awry there. It would not shock me if they got better overall with Grimm gone, but that's by no means a given.

8
by ravenjoe (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:22pm

McNair not too old. Defense still mean. Billick real genius. Ravens fly to Phoenix 2008. Ray Lewis forever.

9
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:27pm

There are various ways to think about Pittsburgh's offense. There are reasons to expect improvement from the Steelers in this area:
1) Ben Roethlisberger is unlikely to have a motorcycle accident and an appendectomy in this offseason.
2) The WR corps is unlikely to get decimated to the point at which Sean Morey actually caught a pass (really unlikely this year as he's gone to Arizona), plus further maturation from Santonio Holmes ought to offset Ward's inevitable slight decline (note: he played much of last season injured, so his full-season PAR/VOA is an underestimate of last year's performance).
3) Arians has been talking about 4WR sets from under center and 2TE sets and various other things which make it sound like he's actually been paying attention to recent trends in offensive play, and furthermore that he's realised the offensive skill position players are best suited for a spread-'em-out offensive style.
4) Willie Parker is still learning how to play tailback. Given his lack of carries in college he's much rawer than your average third-year starter and could continue to improve.
5) Drafting a tight end implies the offense might actually use the one they already have, which was kind of missing last year.

This is offset by one whacking great reason to think they'll get worse:
1) The line, the line! Gah! Subtract Hartings from what was already the team's worst unit and you have...well, not much. Between Roethlisberger (QB least affected by being sacked, apparently) and Parker (speed back who can turn the very occasional good blocking he gets into big gains) arguably this might be minimised, but...

10
by John (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:35pm

"if we assume that Quinn was, to be conservative, the fifth-best prospect in this year’s draft" Say what??? To be CONSERVATIVE? If Quinn really and truly was, conservatively, the fifth best prospect on average across NFL teams draft boards, there is no way in hell he would have ever lasted to 22. Someone would have picked him up, regardless of what their QB roster looked like. That statement is totally illogical. It's no different than if you said Aaron Rodgers was conservatively the fifth best prospect in his draft year.

11
by Derek (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 1:50pm

Marshal Yanda was a 2nd team All-Big Ten Offensive Tackle at Iowa, not a Guard. From ESPN: "In 2006, he started all 13 games, nine of those coming at right tackle with four others at left tackle."

12
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 2:25pm

#10 - Being the 5th best prospect isn't always the best choice for a team. Most of the teams felt more cofortable with the QBs currently on their team (and didn't want to pay that high QB pay to a rookie QB who wasn't going to play for them.) The only real team who people can say didn't have Quinn rated that high was (apparently) Miami...but even then, they could very well have had him at #5...but had Ginn at #4 instead.

I am (somewhat) comfortable with Clevelands draft. I applaud the Joe Thomas pick...I've been preaching that to anyone who would listen for quite some time. For me, it was JT or trade down and collect. Not sure that Quinn was such a smart pick to trade up for (I'm not a huge fan of his) but he does appear to be better than anyone coming out next year. Personally, I think we should have traded up for Grubbs (ahead of the Ravens) and really solidified our offensive line. That way, we could get a good evaluation of Charlie Frye and/or Derek Anderson.

13
by MJK (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 2:28pm

I wonder why Pittsburgh fans aren't more worried about offense, too.

Seriously. They have a pretty good O-line, although that could change if Faneca holds out, so that counts for something. But Willie Parker has never impressed me at RB, I'm not all that clear on who their go-to WR's will be, and Ben Roethlisperger looked pretty bad throughout last year. Are Pittsburgh fans convinced that Ben will revert to his old form (which may have looked better than it actually was because so many other pieces are in place)? Plus, one of the Steeler's strengths has always been coaching continuity, which is gone now. Plus, they've had the luxury of playing in a relatively easy division of late (the Browns have been bad since their rebirth, and until last year the Bengals and the Ravens were never good at the same time)--that's gone now, as the Bengals and Ravens look to both be good next year, and the Browns may be on the rise.

14
by centrifuge (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 2:31pm

#13: See #9.

15
by Jerry (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 2:54pm

I wonder why Pittsburgh fans aren’t more worried about offense, too.

Pittsburgh fans who enjoy worrying about offense have the Pirates to obsess over.

Right now, I would say the Steelers' talent is at least adequate everywhere. The transition to a new head coach/offensive staff is the big question, and there's no way to answer that until the season starts.

16
by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 3:18pm

#10: You're taking "conservative" the wrong way. It's "conservative" to the Browns, not to Quinn. The lower Quinn is, the worse it looks to the Browns.

The transition to a new head coach/offensive staff is the big question, and there’s no way to answer that until the season starts.

That's partly what I'm surprised about - I'm surprised that people aren't scrutinizing Arians practices, ideas, etc. - instead, there's been more talk about how Tomlin and Le Beau are going to merge, which seems like a minor concern comparatively.

17
by Patrick (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 3:25pm

#13,

last year the Steeler's O-line was 25th in pass blocking, 22nd in run blocking, and the offense was given the 29th best starting field position in the league,

yet the (5th-ranked) offense still scored more TDs than in 18 of the 20 seasons before Ben arrived.

So it's not clear to me how you look at that and say "The o-line is great, but how come the fans aren't worried about their QB/(pro bowl) RB/WRs?"

18
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 4:20pm

The division is shaping up to look far different. Faneca is a huge voice for that Steelers Line...and him attending only the mandatory meetings/workouts/practices is going to make a huge difference. I think Baltimore will come down to earth a little more from last season...and Cincinatti is one of the hardest teams to place. They have the potential to be the Colts from a few years ago...but...there's all the distractions. I'm hoping the Browns are a team on the rise...but we're still awfully young...and the injury bug seems to kill us every year!

19
by John (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 4:22pm

#16 I see your point. I was not looking at it from that point of view of the browns, but league wide. Still, this draft gave me renewed faith in NFL GMs (although it makes me question the Cleveland GM if he really had him #5). Rather than buy into the ND hype, Brady Quinn went in the later part of the 1st round, which is right where he should have been, IMO.

20
by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 4:52pm

I wonder if having Charlie Weiss for a coach, actually hurt Quinn's draft stock.

I mean, if you look at what he did in college (lots of starts, reasonably good completion percentage, tended to fall apart against better defenses), I think a lot of teams would say, "Give him a season or two under NFL-caliber coaching, and he could be really good."

Except Charlie Weiss *is* NFL-caliber coaching, at least when you consider the development of a young quarterback. So instead of my first thought, teams look at him (especially his quantum leap in performance starting in his junior year) and say, "This is it. He's reached the top of his potential, and it's not good enough for us to spend our first-round pick on."

21
by perrin (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 5:11pm

Nice article(s), Jeff.

Update on the Bengals: They've released DT Sam Adams and signed DT Kenderick Allen. (See link in my name.)

Not that I can really tell, but Domata Peko seemed to do well last year when he played; I hope another one of the Bengals' newly acquired castoffs (or rookies) works out so they can pressure the quarterback once in a while.

The main thing Sam Adams seemed to do last year was take very long to walk/limp off the field before third down. I mean, like twenty-five seconds. It was nerve wracking; I don't know why the opposing teams didn't just snap the ball.

22
by diarmuid (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 6:10pm

9,13: Ilanin, you're not kidding about the potential awfulness of that line. I'm not a Steelers fan but I had to wince in sympathy at that miserable trainwreck of a game against the Ravens where Ben got sacked like 29 times. I know that it was just one game, that it was the Ravens' defense, that Ben was all kinds messed up, etc. but that image of Ben having the look of a dude who knows that inevitably, no matter what he does, he is just going to get wrecked is still burned into my brain. Plus you mentioned all the ALY/DVOA and other sound, logical reasons.

23
by Ilanin (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 7:23pm

22 - the only thing worse than what you've said about the Ravens game is that I legitimately have to ask "which one?"

There may be something to what ojlb said about Russ Grimm and the relative underperformance of the line given the amount of resources in terms of free agents and high draft picks lavished on it. However, mostly when I think this I feel I'm clutching at straws.

I don't *think* the line will be significantly worse than it was last year (though it could be horrible). But I don't see it getting much better either.

A reason for optimism is one of the stats Patrick posted in #17 - the Steelers were 29th in starting field position for the offense. A lot of that has to do with poor special teams, and to that end the pick of Daniel Sepulveda and keeping hold of Chidi Iwouma (whose re-appearance coincided with the ST climbing out of the basement last year) should help the field position battle.

24
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 7:25pm

re: 4

For Pittsburgh, one has to understand that cornerbacks really aren’t the Steeler way.

Rod Woodson?

25
by Craigo (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 7:57pm

23: It's sad to think that ranking 29th in starting field position is the result of the successful Steelers special-teams plays. How many times did Santonio and Colclough lose the ball? Willie Reid better stay healthy this time.

26
by fiddycentbeer (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 8:14pm

At the Combine, Lawrence Timmons measured smaller than most OLB including Tampa 2 types such as Quincy Black. No one imagined Black as a 34 OLB prospect. In the same way, Timmons has no chance at that position. None at all. If the Steelers remain a 34 team, he is an ILB, which a complementary position in that set.

Matt Spaeth was the 3rd TE taken, 52 spots ahead #4, Scott Chandler. I appreciate that Spaeth and Chandler aren't the same kind of TE (even if Spaeth's blocking skills are a subject of some dispute). However, I doubt that Spaeth is nearly two full rounds better than Chandler. Spaeth is slated to be #3 on the depth chart this season. The need was not, well, obvious, nor are his BPA credentials.

I agree with those citing the OL as need #1 for the Steel-no-more Steelers. Not to put too fine a point on it, but...

They imagine Roethlisberger to be a franchise level QB. His second deal will come on-line, say, a year from now. In the interim, he'll play behind a OL unit that projects to be far worse than those declining aggregates fielded over the past couple seasons.

Oh, and Kendall Simmons defines the term stunningly awful.

27
by MCnugget (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 9:03pm

Not related to the article but did anyone else see the featue on espn. WOW that 17 year ol David-Mark Waterman was a pyshical stud. 4.29 40 is beastly considering his size

28
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 9:19pm

re: 11

Some people don't think Yanda has the length (wingspan) to play RT, but he is agile enough. So his future will eventually at guard (although not with Brown, Grubbs, and Chester manning the interior). Hence Bathurst saying Yanda is a "guard who will move to tackle."

re: 18

What makes you think Baltimore will come back to earth? Any regression on defense will likely be offset by gains on offense (remember how units that excel in the second half of the year are projected to do well the next year?). With Grubbs, McGahee, and more experienced WRs in Clayton and D. Williams, I'm thinking the Raven's offense should be pretty good next year.

re: Raven's CBs

I'm guessing the Ravens are happy with the CBs they picked up in last year's draft (Pittman, Martin, and Prude), they certainly have depth in numbers now. I know they think Pittman will be a very good CB once he matures as a person (DeCosta's words). Also, people should be aware that Rolle got toasted often early in the season when he had a foot injury and Reed was freelancing too much, the second half of the year he wasn't a liability.

29
by the K (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 9:24pm

Sam Adams really might not be good enough now. The Bengals released him today.

30
by Balaji (not verified) :: Mon, 05/14/2007 - 10:41pm

#5: I wouldn't be too quick to write off Arians because of his nondescript tenure in Cleveland. After all, it's not like he'd be the first coach to leave that disaster area and find success with another franchise.

As a Steeler fan, I'm worried about special teams, but mostly out of habit. Hopefully Holmes won't be fielding kicks this year.

31
by steelbear (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 12:26am

Re: #26 -

Timmons has NO chance of playing OLB because he is smaller than most? Did you say that about Jack Ham when he was drafted? Was Jack Lambert too skinny to play ILB? Why don't we wait to see Timmons play before we dismiss him as being unable to play the position.

32
by oldnumberseven (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 1:10am

My thoughts on the Steelers; I think they were about five turnovers away from a ten win season, and would point to the Bengals game in Pittsburgh and the Oakland game. They probably would not have gone very far in the play-offs, though. The offensive line has to play better, special teams have to play better, they can not turn the ball over a bunch of times, and can not spot the opposition ten or fourteen points anymore. All easier said than done, though. so, I am hopefull, but reserving judgement.

I thought the Browns had a pretty nice draft. It will be interesting quarterback-wise in the AFC north if Quinn lives up to his potential. Could be like the old days of having Bradshaw, Anderson, and Sipe.

33
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 8:58am

Re: 30

Arians was responsible for the most productive offense the Browns have had since their return. That's not saying a lot, but it is true.

When he was in Clevelnad they had a pretty good passing game. Heck even Quincy Morgan (yeah, that Quincy Morgan) was a 1000 yard receiver (almost) in 2002. But they never had a decent running game.

Arians previous success (to the extent there was success) doesn't seem consistent with Tomlin's stated goals of physical/smashmouth play on both sides of the line. That will make it interesting, if nothing else.

34
by DB (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 9:30am

RE 31 : Was Ham considered small for his time? If he was, good point. If not, you can't really compare the size of 70's era linebackers to the size of players today. Everyone is so much bigger it's just not valid.

That being said, I don't think Timmons is too small to play rush linebacker. Especially given his age, and potential to bulk up. A lot of players coming out of college are 22. Timmons is 20. Those years can make a big difference. Of course, I'm sure the Steelers would know better than I if his body type has the potential to grow.

35
by joel in providence (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 10:01am

Memphis’ Brandon McDonald (who is cousins with Steve McNair and Correll Buckhalter)

Should we just go ahead and schedule him for his season-ending surgeries now?

36
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 10:25am

"If you have to blow a fourth-round pick on a punter, you might as well take one who knows how to make a tackle"

Ther's a clip of this guy making a tackle on youtube. I'd say he knows what he's doing.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FhCgLeuO0I

37
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 12:52pm

So what are the preseason rankings of this divison?

1. Ravens 2. Bengals 3. Steelers 4 Browns? I guess the first 3 can be pretty close, but you'd have to peg the Browns as 4th.

38
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 1:19pm

Are the Bengals really going to go into the season with Doug Johnson as Palmer's back-up? Aaron Brooks? Kelly Holcombe?

39
by Steely Glare (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 1:39pm

31 and 34: It was Lambert who was considered by some to be too small to play in the NFL. As it turned out, he wasn't.

36: Great clip!

37: Sounds about right, but I would in a homerly way put the Steelers ahead of the Bengals.

40
by Luz (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 2:49pm

#39

i don't think it's homerism to put the steelers ahead of the bengals. they both ended 8-8 last year and the steelers problems can be mostly traced to roethlisberger's injury and a significant decline in special teams, both of which should be rectified. plus, which team has the track record of success? you have to give the nod to the ravens, then steelers, bengals, browns.

41
by Chris (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 2:52pm

The Steelers have a new coach though. You could easily put the Bengals/Steelers/Ravens in any combination of orders, but the Steelers have to grow with a new coaching staff.

Bengals have the best QB, Ravens have the best D, Steelers are probably inbetween with their O and D but also have the new coach.

42
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 4:28pm

Does anyone else worry that McNair looked awful inthe Colts playoff game. Total lack of ambition, he didn't seem to have any confidence in his own arm. To say how bad he looked, I thought that they should have put Boller in. It makes me reticent to 'crown their ass ' yet anyway.

43
by fiddycentbeer (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 4:32pm

#31: playing off the LOS, as 43 LB do, mainly, is not the same as playing on the LOS, as, mainly, do 34 OLB. Timmons may become a functional speed rusher; he may be able to drop in coverage. That's good but in my opinion he has no chance to execute the 3rd portion of 34 OLB duty. That is line up as a DE when the Steelers' 34 morphs into an OKIE 52.

The prototype for 34 OLB, these days, varies little from the prototype for openside 43 DE, these days. Shawn Merriman, for example, is ~6-4, 270#; Ware ~ 6-4, 255/60#. In 2005, these players were taken 1.12 and 1.11, 3 and 4 spots (respectively) before Timmons,1.15 in 2007.

But, as you say, we'll see.

#34: In mini-camp, Timmons celebrated his 21st birthday by blowing a groin, reportedly about an hour into drills. After that, he sat. Disturbing in combination with his miserable Pro Day show, and his mediocre Combine numbers.

44
by Pat (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 5:17pm

#34: In mini-camp, Timmons celebrated his 21st birthday by blowing a groin

Blowing out a groin muscle. Otherwise it just sounds really, really horrible (and almost filter-worthy).

45
by MJK (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 5:25pm

Granted, I'm not an NFC North expert, but I wouldn't so quickly peg the Browns as 4th and so quickly say that the other three could go in any order.

I do not understand why people think the Ravens will regress? They were arguably the third or fourth best team in the AFC last year. I know that they were stronger on defense than offense, and that defenses are more variable, but a lot of the flak they seem to recieve seems to be because they couldn't move the ball on what was thought to be a horrible Indy defense. Well, that Indy Defense proved against KC, BAL, NE, and CHI that, in the playoffs at least, it wasn't all that horrible.

Meanwhile, the Browns may be on the rise. I could easily seem them passing the Steelers or the Bengals if either team falters this year. They've had some of the most horrible luck a franchise has had in the last few years, and that can't continue. Granted, that's not exactly reasoned analysis (I'm not familiar enough with the team to make reasoned analysis), but I wouldn't be surprised if the Browns were this year's version of the Chiefs...a team no one talked about much early in the year that puts together enough of an effort to scrape out 9 or 10 wins and make the playoffs. Or maybe they only go 8-8 or 7-9, which would still be an improvement, and enough to pass one of the other teams if they implode (as the Steelers may, between a new coach, suspect talent level at many positions, and a damaged QB).

46
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 6:15pm

"Well, that Indy Defense proved against KC, BAL, NE, and CHI that, in the playoffs at least, it wasn’t all that horrible."

That defence gave up almost 40 points to NE, and 17 to a pretty awful bears offense.

I'd hardly say that the defense "stopped" anyone (including the KC Chiefs, who were stopped by HERM).

I think its safer to say that Indy's offense was so good that it put their defense in some good situations.

That being said, Baltimore was trending up at the end of the season, so I expect them to stay pretty good.

47
by dougjohnsonjoe (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 6:27pm

Doug Johnson will light up NFC North. Carson Palmer out with legal trouble. Palmer doing crack, soliciting prostitute. Doug Johnson not need prostitute, Doug Johnson king stud. Doug Johnson connect with Chad Johnson. Johnson to Johnson, good for 30+ TDs. Johnson to other guy, good for 15+ TDs. Johnson handing off to Rudi Johnson, good for 15+ TDs. Doug Johnson to Hawaii in '08. Buy tickets now.

48
by dougjohnsonjoe (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 6:29pm

Correction. Doug Johnson light up AFC North. Kyle Orton light up NFC North. Dougjohnsonjoe get conferences confused.

49
by Penrose 10,000 (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 6:54pm

DREW BREES IS THE STRONGEST THERE IS.

50
by rk (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 7:32pm

43: Timmons isn't expected to start right away. He's behind James Harrison on the depth chart. So he's only going to be used in situations he can handle, supposedly. Perhaps, with time he can bulk up and take over all of those duties you mentioned. He's 18 lbs lighter than Joey Porter, the man he will eventually replace.

51
by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Tue, 05/15/2007 - 8:11pm

re: 43

I'm totally with you. Casually observing one game of a QB playing is much more valuable than 12 years of statistical evidence.

re: 45

You really must not be an NFC North expert if you think the Browns are in that division;)
The Ravens weren't arguably the 3rd or 4th best, they were arguably the best team in the NFL, at worst tied with SD for #1. There is this thing called DVOA, you might want to check into it.

52
by Tom (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 3:01am

Re 46:

Well only 10 to Bears offense as Hester had a return for a TD.

And only 27 to the Patriots as the had a defensive TD. They also had a 80 return to set up one score, and the crazy fumble recovery TD.

53
by Chris (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 10:06am

The Pats crapped on the colts offense. KC was one dimensional and on the road, the ravens played ultra conservative and didn't have an offense anyway, and the Bears had grossman +rain.

The playoffs is such a short window of games with a higher beta. Let me guess, Manning choaked but Dungys defense came through? I wonder what the final score would have been if the Colts were playing the Bengals ( in a dome) or the Saints in non wet conditions.

54
by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 11:09am

Let me address a few points..

First, the coaching change does not mean the Steelers will do poorly this year. The last time they changed coaches (Noll to Cowher) they ended up making the playoffs the next 6 years (going to the AFC championship 3 of those 6 years). Does that mean that the same thing will happen? No, but it proves that the opposite isnt a given either. I like what Tomlin has done so far...and LeBeau is still there so the defense will be solid.

Second, Timmons is too small? Lets look at that.

Timmons: 6-3, 232
Derrick Brooks: 6-0, 235
Julian Peterson: 6-3, 235

So basically he is the same size as Julian Peterson (3-time pro-bowler). He is young, so it isnt outside the realm of possibility for him to put on 10-15 pounds pretty quickly, which would make him considerably bigger than Derrick Brooks (9-time pro-bowler).

Now dont get me wrong, I am not comparing him to Peterson or Brooks in terms of talent, since nobody know what this kid is capable of, but to say he is too small when other players of similar (or smaller) stature have had great careers seems a little short sighted to me.

55
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 11:37am

54.

Neither Brooks nor Peterson play in a 3-4. Their roles are completely different.

Roosevelt Colvin: 6-3 250
Mike Vrabel: 6-4 261
Joey Porter: 6-3 250
Shawne Merriman: 6-4 272
Shawn Phillips: 6-3 262
Demarcus Ware: 6-4 257
Greg Ellis: 6-6 270

Now, we can get into hybrid defense that bring in wierd OLB/DE tweeners, like Jason Taylor, Adalius Thomas, etc, but generally, 3-4 OLBs are about 30 lbs heavier than 4-3 OLBs.

56
by Phil (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 12:08pm

1) The Steelers have to deal with a new coaching staff?

What are you talking about? A new HC, yes. The DC is the same, and Arians was already on the staff. Also, the D is going to get a lot better because it won't be the same stale crap that Cowher ran. The blockhead was afraid to change. This year it will be 3-4, Hybrid 4-3, different looks, etc. Lots of stuff LeBeau had wanted to do, but Cowher was too gutless to allow.

2) Matt Spaeth and the o-line. Faneca will play, that leaves Mahan at center and you have the line. Speath is on the team to block against the Ravens, and where it is needed since Max Starks can't handle outside speed rushers.

3) The offense. First of all, those who are wondering why the Steelers fans aren't worried utterly failed to notice how many points the Steelers scored last year. Holmes got almost 800 yards as a #4 option for half the year, then as a #3 options for most of the rest, and I think 1 start as a #2. Then we will have another burner in Willie Reid as hopefully #4.

Then changing to 2 TE sets. No more Willie Parker waiting for Kreider to turn the corner. Spaeth sealing the right side, and Willie burning to the corner. Willie will be able to accelerate as soon as he hits the ball, and not wait for the FB to block.

For the last 14 years, with very few exceptions, Cowher ran the same predictable offense. Some changes in 94 with the 4 wideouts under Gailey, but otherwise, predictable. He also wouldn't change from the base 3-4. All of that will change.

The Steelers lost 2 games because of stupid turnovers on ST (Bengals I, Denver). Add in Ben throwing away a game in a concussion daze (Oakland, we $@#$@#$ lost to Oakland) and you have a team that should have been 11-5.

As for the mighty Ravens, Marty played gutless and lost to them, and Frye messed up. The Ravens are one solid hit away from losing the human fracture-mill back at QB.

The Bengals still haven't noticeably upgraded their D, their O lost its best lineman, and they aren't any more mature.

57
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 12:52pm

Re: 56 - "Lots of stuff LeBeau had wanted to do, but Cowher was too gutless to allow."

I'm thinking Cowher's status as Steeler icon may be shortlived.

Regarding the Ravens, I thought there was a fair chance they would take a significant step back due to age related decline, injury risk, and potential finger pointing if they had a rocky start. But taking a look at their schedule, I was really surprised at how soft it looked (at least the first 3/4)for a division winner. Prior to a game with San Diego in week 12, they play one 2006 playoff team (the overachieving Jets). Chances of them struggling at the start look remote.

58
by James, London (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 12:55pm

"The Bengals ... their O lost its best lineman".

Can't agree with that. Anderson and Levi Jones (who wasn't fit for much of last year) are still there. The Bengals might not win their division, but I'd be mighty suprised if their O-line was the primary reason.

59
by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 1:08pm

re 56: "you have a team that should have been 11-5."

Ah, should-have-been's are always great. If Shane Graham kicks a 39 yard FG against Pitt, Tampa doesn't get a ridiculous roughing call late in the game, and the team doesn't blow a 21 point lead at home versus San Diego, then the Bengals also go 11-5. Isn't this should-have thing fun!?

"The Bengals still haven’t noticeably upgraded their D, their O lost its best lineman, and they aren’t any more mature. "

The Bengals started no fewer than 7 different LB combinations last year. 4 different players started at MLB, including 5 starts by Ahmad Brooks, a rookie supplemental draft pick who hadn't played any college ball the previous season. Simply having fewer injuries at LB this season will be enough to upgrade the D to some extent.

I think Levi Jones and Willie Anderson are more important to the O-line than Eric Steinbach was. Management got this one right in my opinion, by locking up these two and letting Steinbach get his $50 million from Cleveland.

60
by Pat (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 1:19pm

I’m thinking Cowher’s status as Steeler icon may be shortlived.

This is Pittsburgh - land of the "yes, but what have you done for me now?" Seriously, Pittsburgh fans discard old fan favorites really fast. I even heard some fans say they'd be better in 2006 because Bettis was holding Parker back.

61
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 2:28pm

Re: 59 Isn’t this should-have thing fun!?

People always remember the games that could have been won except for a fluke play/bad call/bad luck. Interestingly, memories get a bit hazier regarding the games that could have been similarly lost.

Regarding Willie Anderson, isn't that dude collecting social security by now? (Just checked and Anderson is only 32 this year. I would have thought he was four years older, seems like he's been around forever.)

62
by Luz (not verified) :: Wed, 05/16/2007 - 3:35pm

"Seriously, Pittsburgh fans discard old fan favorites really fast."

great point pat. that's why all the 70s steelers are barely remembered.

seriously, pittsburgh is a town where a significant portion of the population could identify rocky bleier.

the reason cowher gets a lot of crap from some fans is that he was always good but rarely finished the job. a more reasonable criticism of steelers fans is that their too spoiled by success.

however, having listened to philadelphia fans moan about a lack of championships for years, it's obviously not something that's restricted to teams with a winning tradition.

63
by MattB (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 2:39am

1. Browns: No proven core of players to speak of (except LBs). 7-9

2. Bengals: Can Carson P battle through injuries to overcome a young and reckless team's inconsistencies? No. 6-10

3. Ravens: Even if Mcnair is great, ( or if need be Smith makes it happen, ) who are their WOs? How old is Ogden? Without Adalious T they are simply less than the team that couldn't get it done last year. Ray Ray isn't getting any better, while all the other AFCN starting HBs are dependable feature backs (uh, yeah...). A good scoring D can't score enough. 10-6 (11-7)

4. Steelers (my heroes) Questions at CB, LDE, KR, PR, ST coverage, OLB. Very thin on the O-line and the D-line, though all-pro cores are intact on both sides. Will injuries mount at the point of attack? If so Tomlin is immediately on the hotseat. If not a mid-season home game vs. the Seahawks will tell their tale. 10-6 (10-7)

Steelers win the Div., but are ousted by the Ravens wild card weekend. The Ravens quickly crash somewhere in NE. The Bengals fall apart and need a new QB as Ocho Cinco calls him out and says he wants out. The Browns are just bad but atleast their not the Bengals.

64
by fiddycentbeer (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 9:42am

#54

Once upon a time Timmons' height was estimated as 6-3. Perhaps, that was his FSU listing. In fact he measured 6007 at the Indy combine. Therefore, the comparison made with Peterson is not factual (except as it's true that, while in SF, JP was the lightest 34 OLB goin'). On a D-system basis, the comparison made with Derrick Brooks is irrelevant, presently.

65
by Pat (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 10:20am

great point pat. that’s why all the 70s steelers are barely remembered.

That's long-term memory. I'm talking about short-term. Every single player/coach that leaves the Steelers, I've always heard criticisms of him the next year.

Then again, that's probably not that uncommon among teams.

66
by Patrick (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 11:57am

59:

I think Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, and Cinci were all much better than their records indicated in 2006.

Checking out Drive Stats, the Net/yards per drive ranks teams:
1) NO
2) Indy
3) Pittsburgh
4) SD
5) Chicago
6) JAX
7) Baltimore.

The only team that was in the top 7 of this list in '05 that didn't make the playoffs was San Diego, who I also thought at the time was a better team than their record indicated.

Anyway, all three of these teams had some horrible luck this season. Life goes on.

67
by Jerry (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 12:20pm

That’s long-term memory. I’m talking about short-term. Every single player/coach that leaves the Steelers, I’ve always heard criticisms of him the next year.

Then again, that’s probably not that uncommon among teams.

See any number of overlong threads about players leaving the Patriots.

Getting back to the subject that started this particular discussion, as long as Cowher stays retired, he'll be well-received in Pittsburgh. Even the people who were thrilled to see Chuck Noll retire cheered him when he returned to Three Rivers.

68
by rk (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 3:38pm

63: The Steelers have a question at LDE? Did something happen to Aaron Smith?

69
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 4:28pm

The Ravens D-is declining (aging) and lost one of their best playmakers in Thomas. McNair isn't getting any younger...and there's not much on his offense that inspires confidence (spare me the McGahee comments.)

The Steelers have dissension on their O-Line...Big Ben has had 1 really good year...and their WR corps isn't much (aside from an aging Hines Ward).

The Bengals have had 1 good year...an offense with no D. And trouble on both sides of the ball.

The Browns have no luck. Seems to me that the AFC North is up for grabs.

70
by MattB (not verified) :: Thu, 05/17/2007 - 10:06pm

----> rk

"Steelers (my heroes) Questions at CB, LDE, KR, PR, ST coverage, OLB"

I guess I meant RDE.

Keisel isn't the question. Just what pos. is he gonna play? Based on that article about the "99" D I have to wonder. Combine that article with an aging Farrior and an undersized(?) Timmons and the hypothetical 3-4 depth chart looks like this:

ROLB 1. J Harrison2. ?????
RDT 1. B Keisel 2. S Nua/Kirshke???
RMLB 1. 50 2. C Kreidwalt
NT 1. 98 2. 76
LMLB 1. 51 2. L Timmons
LDT 1. 91 2. R Baily/Kirshke
LOLB 1. 53 2. L Woodley

Think about how the NE D is gonna line up for run stop. Even with A Thomas at their ROLB/rover they still have Seymour, Wilfork and Warren always down. Always 3 DTs for run stop. With several 300lb backups (L Smith, J Green).

My point about the questions at ROLB & RDT is simple, we have udersized and unproven commodities there, questions.

The saving grace in my scenario is if Woodley can play into replacing Porter ASAP, keeping Harrison as quality depth and Adalious Keisel can remain a down lineman all season.

71
by gleebergloben (not verified) :: Mon, 05/21/2007 - 5:08am

the O-line will give the stillers their biggest headache. against the chargers and ravens last year, the stillers were absolutely manhandled. hartings looked like he was a stunned rookie in those games. last year, the stillers had a lot of off-the-field stuff that affected the on-field performance, but i think they'll make the playoffs. the O-Line is the biggest question mark going into the season right now.

72
by MattB (not verified) :: Mon, 05/21/2007 - 3:39pm

The Steelers O-line plays up to the score mostly. What I mean is that if we're down, and the rush is on, than yeah the Ts & C are liabilities. But, those very same lineman are great assets for early scoring, lead holding, and clock killing. The TE pos. is sured up now with 6'7" 270lb M. Spaeth in addition to Miller, who is a better red-zone threat than Heap or Winslow.
""Who Dey" Gonna Lock Up Next"!?