Monday, August 22, 2005


I guess it doesn't matter where they actually play the Dolphins - Steelers game because wherever they end up, there's guaranteed to be a lot of lightning and torrential rains. Saturday's preseason game was delayed an hour or so because Mother Nature was re-enacting Hurricane Jeanne. When the game finally did get underway, both teams tried to see if they could collectively set the preseason record for most turnovers in a contest. And they gave a valiant effort. In 60 minutes of work, the two sides combined for eleven turnovers. The Dolphins ran away with first prize however, accounting for eight of the them (eight!). Despite the conditions, it was still worth watching, if for no other reason than to see the new mullet Tommy Maddox is now sporting.

To the game...

... Ben Roethlisberger didn't get much of a chance during the first preseason game primarily because the Steelers special teams and defense kept scoring touchdowns. Saturday he played for a quarter and a half and the results were mixed. He missed on several passes, most notably, a wide open Cedrick Wilson in the end zone and an equally wide open Jerame Tuman in the middle of the field. On the Tuman play, Roethlisberger overthrew him by roughly 50 feet and the end result was an interception. Looking at the big picture, I don't consider this a big deal, primarily because it's only the second game against live competition. Not only that, but both Tom Brady and Carson Palmer have had control problems at various points during the preseason, and from what I hear, they're not bad players (notice I didn't mention the human interception, Kyle Brady, who now has three picks in three quarters of work. if that pace holds up through the regular season, we might see something like 64 picks). One thing I did notice however, is that Roethlisberger has a knack for staring down his primary target, and it seems like defenses have picke up on this this, and roll their coverage to whichever side Roethlisberger focuses his attention after the snap.

... Hines Ward was back in action, promptly caught a three yard out on a third-and-four and the crowd cheered as if he'd just scored the winning touchdown in any AFCC win against the Patriots. That pretty much sums up what Hines Ward means to Pittsburgh (the city and the team), and how much the fans appreciate his effort. He played for one more series, but spent the rest of the game on the sidelines with an ice pack on his knee. Luckily, he's already signed his new deal, so there's no need to worry about him getting injured during the preseason and making only the $1.6 million remaining on the contract that was set to expire after the 2005 season. Oh wait, he hasn't yet signed a new deal.

OK, this is getting silly. But it's not clear who's to blame, the Steelers or Ward's agent, Eugene Parker, the guy also responsible for Cedric Benson's month-long holdout with the Bears.
Ward returned to the Steelers last Monday and insisted he's not looking to make top-tier wide receiver money. The Steelers have been willing to play him "second-tier" money all along and feel they should be able to reach a quick agreement.

Ward expressed frustration about the impasse this week at St. Vincent College.

"Let's get it done," he said. "Let's sit down in a room, lock everybody up, don't come out until the deal is done. I don't see the harm in that. It takes one day."

If the Steelers are frustrated, Colbert didn't show it.

"We're still talking," he said with a smile. "Stay tuned."
Hey, there's an idea, actually getting together in a room and hammering out a deal. That might actually be a little more effective than having these discussions through the media.

... There is some other potentially good news on new contracts, however. It looks like the Steelers have talked to every player whose contract is set to expire in 2005: Casey Hampton, Verron Haynes, Chris Hope, Brett Keisel, Lee Mays, Antwaan Randle El, Deshea Townsend, Jerame Tuman and Kimo von Oelhoffen. Every one of these players have improved every season they've been in Pittsburgh, and maybe with the exception of Lee Mays, the Steelers would be smart to try and lock these guys up. And yes, I know that von Oelhoffen is something like 64 years old, but that guy can still get it done. If he plays 2005 like he played 2004, I don't see why you wouldn't want to bring him back if the price is right.

I know that Chris Hoke surprised everybody with his performance last season for the injured Casey Hampton, but given that Hampton is one of the best nose guards in football, I think it makes sense to try and re-sign him too. And apparently so do the Steelers:
The Steelers brought Casey Hampton in for a talk before last night's win over the Miami Dolphins, but Hampton's not the only one.

"We're talking to all of them," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert...

Colbert said it's that time of year for the Steelers to take a final attempt at signing next March's potential free agents.

The September 11 regular-season opener is three weeks from today and the Steelers do not negotiate with players during the regular season.
Sounds good to me. But then I came across this, maybe the funniest sentence of the whole article:
As late as Thursday, a source with the Steelers called Hope's demands "unreasonable." Colbert, though, wouldn't rule anyone out.
Who knows the veracity of this rumor, but I guess it's important to know a few things before passing judgment. For starters, why's the deal "unreasonable?" Is it because the Steelers are notoriously tight-fisted with their money (except when they're giving insanely large bonuses to guys like DeWayne Washington, Chad Scott and Jason Gildon), or because Hope wants to be the highest paid safety in the game? If it's somewhere in between, then I'm guessing there's some wiggle room on both sides (by the way, it's worth noting that safeties are some of the lowest paid players in professional football, so I can't imagine that Hope's demands are too outrageous). Either way, we'll see.

... That Willie Parker guy is pretty good. He averaged over nine yards a carry and bounced one run to the outside for 37 yards. He even managed to avoid getting "Jacked Up Sean Taylor Style" and caught a pass coming out of the backfield for a 20-yard gain. Parker still has trouble blocking, and he'll need to improve in that area if he wants to see more of the field. Either way, the guy is a lot of fun to watch. Mike Bires of the Times Online had an interesting article about Parker last week:
Willie Parker's eyes lit up when asked if he could name the five fastest Steelers.

Without hesitation, he rattled them off.

"Willie. Willie. Willie. Willie. Willie," he said with a smile.

Parker, the fleet-footed, 24-year-old running back, was talking about himself and not 34-year-old cornerback Willie Williams.

"I can go out and run a 4.3 right now," said the man called "Fast Willie" by his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates.


So who do other Steelers say is the fastest man on the team?

"Me, Ricardo, Sean Morey and Chidi," [Ike] Taylor said.

Morey is a reserve wide receiver. Chidi Iwuoma is a reserve cornerback.

When asked about No. 39 - that's Parker's number - Taylor said, "Who?' Oh, I forgot about Willie. I'll put Willie at No. 5."
Nice. The funny thing is, the Steelers were one of the slowest teams just a few seasons ago, especially in the defensive backfield. Names like Lee Flowers, Brent Alexander, Washington and Scott don't evoke images of Deion Sanders (well, they remind me of Neon Deion circa 2004, but not when he was actually good, you know, when he played for the Cowboys). Still, the most surprising revelation from the Bires article is that somebody on the Steelers actually thinks Sean Morey is fast. I know I was surprised. Now if the Steelers could just figure out how to make him a more reliable pass catcher. Then he'd be really dangerous.

... Next Friday the Steelers come to Washington to face maybe the only QB with more self-esteem problems than Kyle Boller: Patrick Ramsey. You know, the guy that I thought the Steelers should trade for prior to the 2004 NFL draft (hey, I never said I knew what I was talking about). Given that the Steelers have been pretty solid thus far, in a perfect world, they'd get out of D.C. with no injuries. In my mind that would be a good game.