Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day ... For Some People

Well, this weekend the Steelers officially trimmed their roster to 53 players and probably the most surprising name to get cut was fourth-round pick, Fred Gibson. Gibson was certainly a sentimental favorite of mine, primarily because shortly after getting drafted I went out and bought a Fred Gibson t-shirt. I was hoping he could work through all the reports that alleged he couldn't get off the line of scrimmage, had trouble with the playbook, ran the wrong routes, and ran away from the ball.

Well, he didn't, and now he's on the Miami Dolphins practice squad. Some fans are a little upset that the Steelers weren't willing to give Gibson a chance despite his early struggles, and they pointed to the Alonzo Jackson's and Troy Edwards' of the world as two examples of players who were given myriad opportunities to improve only to eat up roster space and eventually end up getting the ax. Yeah, it's hard to argue that Lee Mays deserves a roster spot over ... well, anybody, but that just underscores how crappy Gibson's training camp must have been. It's not every player that can start a story with, "I was beat out for a roster spot by an ivy league special teams ace (Morey), a seventh sixth round pick with 11 career receptions (Mays) who at the time had a "severe" hamstring injury, and a rookie who played at Division II Tiffin University (Washington).

And while the Steelers lost 6'5" Plaxico Burress this offseason, many people can attest to the fact that height doesn't solve everything. In fact, it's not even close to being the cure-all most fans (and some coaches) hope it to be. If you don't think so just ask the Ravens and that tall drink of water, Clarence Moore. Or ask David Terrell, the former first round pick just released by the Patriots after previously getting cut by the Bears. I was fine with them signing Cedrick Wilson, and surprisingly, his output was similar to that of Burress, and in fact, it was a little better in the red zone -- you know, the part of field where tall receivers should dominate. And this was the same guy who played on a 49ers team that won two games and had the future Hall of Famers, Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey under center at various points during the 2004 season.

Plus, if you're worried about Roethlisberger having a dearth of big targets now that Gibson's hit the road, don't forget about Heath Miller and Matt Kranchik in the middle of the field. Kranchik looked to be a worse blocker than Fred Gibson (I'm solely going on the fact that Gibson laid out an Eagle player during Week 1 while Kranchik was knocked on his ass at least once during the preseason ... so take that for what it's worth), but the guy can certainly run routes in the middle of the field and haul down passes. Apparently, the Steelers were all set to send Kranchik back to the practice squad and keep Walter Rasby, but the Dolphins were all set to put Kranchik on their 53-man roster, which forced Pittsburgh to adjust accordingly. Fine by me since Tuman is a blocker first, and Miller's blocking ability has been a surprise, thus making Rasby superfluous. And since Pittsburgh hasn't really had a true receiving threat at the tight end position since Eric Green, it's a welcome change, made even more so by the fact that Gibson's out.

It's also worth noting that no other team wanted Gibson either -- he was signed to the Dolphins practice squad which means that he could have chosen to re-sign in Pittsburgh but didn't. I hope the guy does well, but I'm not going to lose any sleep over the fact that Gibson was cut -- I'm saving that for Mike Schneck.

OK, not really. Schneck has been the long snapper since 1999, and if they're any position that's more underrated than long snapper, I don't know what it is. But Greg Warren, the new long snapper, also served as Jeff Reed's snapper in college, so at least there is some familiarity there. And not only that, Pittsburgh can pay Warren the rookie minimum, which allows them to save a few bucks on Schneck's contract (and when I say a few bucks, I'm not exaggerating -- I literally think it's something like $30). And just in case you're still worried (although, I can't imagine anyone worrying about a long snapper except, well, me), I came across this little piece of information:
A walk-on at North Carolina who started in 2000 as a junior, Jeff surprised with his accuracy and leg strength. In his two seasons of college football at UNC, he missed only one extra point attempt, setting a school record of 66 consecutive extra points. Also in those two seasons, he missed only two field goals within 47 yards. His longest field goal was a 49-yarder his senior year. Jeff was an honorable mention All-ACC pick as a senior and was a second-team pick as a junior.
So at least we know that Warren can get the ball to the holder without much trouble, which should allow us to again place the blame squarely on Jeff Reed when he starts duck-hooking 24-yard field goal attempts.

I thought it kind of curious that the Steelers would cut both Andre Frazier and Dedrick Roper and start the season with only seven linebackers -- one of whom has yet to see the field since having knee surgery last month -- but they were still able to re-sign both of them (thanks Israel for the update):
The Steelers also announced the names of the eight rookies/first-year players who were signed to the team’s practice squad. The players include LB Andre Frazier, OG Jim Jones, DE Shaun Nua, LB Dedrick Roper, WR Chris Samp, DE Eric Taylor, FB Zach Tuiasosopo and WR Walter Young. All of the players spent training camp with the Steelers with the exception of Samp, who was in camp with the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers as a rookie free agent.
Captain Pantload Watch Update
Jeez. I think it's safe to say that people aren't really impressed with the Steelers coverage offered by the major local news outlets. After this post generally criticizing all that is wrong with the Pittsburgh media and suggesting a watch list of the worst of the worst, I got a bunch of responses -- all interested in making sure the list is as complete as possible.

You can read all the comments here, and if you'd like to nominate a CPW-worthy news story, just email me here and I'll make sure it gets a mention.

Also, I don't plan on devoting my life to crucifying the local Pittsburgh media for doing a crappy job -- that would require me to quit my job, and work 20 hour days -- but I will add the occasional heads up when I come across something particularly egregious, or if I get an email pointing me to an especially silly example of "Pittsburgh sports reporting." And just so you don't have to waste any more of your valuable time looking for CPW-inspired posts, I'll title each update with a "CPW" subheading and you can also use the archives to find past examples of Captain Pantload reporting. And with that, here's the latest.

This story in Saturday's Post-Gazette is titled, "Between The Lines/The Breakdown: Position battles," which would leave most people to believe that the author, Ed Bouchette, would actually breakdown the position battles from an insider's perspective. Well, most people would be wrong because all I learned from this article is that the editor doesn't read it before slapping on a title. Not only that, but consider the lede:
"Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette takes a look beyond the stat sheet and analyzes the position battles in the wake of the Steelers' first loss of the preseason and with only one game still to play. A look at some of the players who helped their cause Thursday."
Uh, here's the thing. This article was dated September 3. You know, two days after the Steelers played their last preseason game. This means that they don't have "one game still to play." Not unless the Post-Gazette thinks that the Titans are so bad that the NFL is actually making the Week 1 regular season matchup a special case Week 5 preseason game.

But it gets worse.

Under the subtitle, "The Breakdown: Position battles" we get nuggets like this:
QB Ben Roethlisberger: He's throwing off balance and rarely on target, not leading his receivers. He just has not looked comfortable in the pocket this summer and his 32.8 passer rating reflects that.
First, I willingly admit that Roethlisberger has struggled this preseason, but this is the first I'm hearing that the quarterback position is a "position battle." Doesn't that imply that he's battling for a starting job? Bouchette offers nothing in the way of explanation when it comes to including Roethlisberger here, and his "analysis" certainly seems a lot more like "opinion." I'm not going to go through all the examples here, but it's definitely worth taking a look at, if for no other reason than this article is so bad, it's funny. For real insight into the Steelers inner workings, just take a look at the Willie Williams bullet and please tell me how that's not "analysis." (Me shaking my head in between uncontrollable fits of laughter.)

CPW #2
And just to show that I'm not biased against one paper, I'll also call out the Tribune-Review's Joe Bendel here too. His article yesterday on the final 53-man roster wasn't bad, per se. It listed the players who didn't make the team, but I can read the waiver wire just as easily and Bendel and get the same information.

On the other hand, the Washington Post's Jason La Canfora writes an interesting article on the Redskin's final roster, but instead of just, you know, listing the players, he also gets some reactions from current Redskins who had been on the short end of the stick in the past.
"The reality is, what are you going to do next?" said Redskins starting defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, who spent 2002 out of football and thought his career might be over. "Do I have to go back and finish college? Do I have something to fall back on? Am I going to be able to pay my bills? And in a lot of cases the thing is, you're trying to sell whatever possessions you have to get by until something else comes along.

"Some guys are willing to pawn all kinds of things to make ends meet, because if you're not equipped to have a second plan, then it's drastic. Some guys can do it, and for some it's a really harsh reality, because all you've done is play football. And then you couple that with relationship and kids? Man, that's tough. You've really got to be a man about it and find a way to bring that income home. It feels like the end of your world."
Hey, look at that -- I actually learned something that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to figure out on my own. Now there's an idea.