Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bettis in Hall of Fame and other NFL awards thoughts

Finally, Jerome Bettis can officially count himself among the greatest players in NFL history as he was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday.

Bettis is part of an eight-man class that includes Junior Seau, one of the best defensive players I've ever seen in person, and Tim Brown.

But the guess here is that Bettis' induction will draw the biggest crowd to Canton for the induction ceremony Aug. 8.

We all know how well Steelers fans travel and Bettis is among the most popular players in team history. The close proximity to Pittsburgh doesn't hurt, either.

Because of that, as I reported a couple of weeks ago, you can expect the Steelers to play in the Hall of Fame game to open the preseason Aug. 9.

That would mean the Steelers would open training camp Aug. 26 or 27, 14 or so days before that first game.

@ The NFL announced its season awards on Saturday night and there were no surprises among the winners.

Aaron Rodgers deservedly won the MVP award, while DeMarco Murray and J.J. Watt won the offensive and defensive player of the year awards.

Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell got a combined seven votes in OPOY voting, which was quite respectable.

I was, however, surprised that no Steelers got a vote in the Comeback Player of the Year award voting won by Rob Gronkowski.

Initially, I was surprised James Harrison didn't get any votes. Harrison was barely used in 2013 by Cincinnati and rebounded with a very solid season for the Steelers.

And as a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, he certainly had the name recognition.

As somebody pointed out to me on Twitter, Maurkice Pouncey also would have been a good choice after missing nearly the entire 2013 season with a torn ACL.

Neither got a vote. But Justin Forsett got two and Kyle Orton got one. Heck, Rolondo McClain finished second with seven votes.

Larry Foote even got one.

I've got no problem with Gronkowski winning the award. But Harrison and Pouncey would have been better choices than some of those other guys.

@ Somebody asked me on Twitter about Sean Spence possibly being considered. But he had actually never really played in an NFL game. His is a great story, but he also didn't have the name recognition to win a national award.

Then again, if Rolondo McClain was considered, who knows?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Super Bowl news, notes

In a couple of days, I expect that Jerome Bettis will take his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There has been a bigger push than ever before to get Bettis, the NFL's sixth-leading rusher, into the hall. That push has been led by the Steelers, who have put a full-court press on the issue this season.

Bettis has been passed over in recent years for other running backs - and I can't argue that he should have gotten in over any of those guys.

But the time has come.

@ I've gone back and forth on my pick for this game. Earlier in the week, I picked the Patriots while on ESPN-970.

But I've changed my mind. I'm going with the Seahawks, 24-20.

@ People talk about watching the game and rooting for one team or the other.

Maybe I'm different, but I can just watch a game with no rooting interest, Perhaps covering the NFL for the past 22 seasons has made that possible. I don't know.

But for those who can't find a rooting interest in this game, there's this: One way or another, one of these teams is going to lose.

And that, in itself, could be something to root for.

@ Once the Super Bowl is finished, things will start heating up with free agency and the scouting combine.

Look for the Steelers to open contract talks with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker Jason Worilds.

I will be attending the combine in Indianapolis this year for the first time, so I'm hopeful to get some interviews in with some potential Steelers draft picks.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Just ignore the dude

Once again, my media brethren fell into the trap of making a big deal out of covering a guy who doesn't want to be covered.

In this case, I'm talking about Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, a good player who has a bad attitude.

Lynch has had a couple of run ins with the law during his career - carrying a concealed weapon without a permit and, worse, a hit-and-run. He's not a particularly smart guy.

But in this case, he outfoxed the media.

Lynch doesn't want to fulfill his contract and talk to the media. He's been fined for his ducking of his duties by the NFL.

But Tuesday at media day, a number of the morons who attend that event - and believe me, it's a circus, not a media event - made a point of peppering Lynch with questions at his podium.

He gave the same stock answer to every question, as he has done all season - "I'm here so I don't get fined."

Great. But he also did so with a bad of candy that he has become associated with and while wearing his own brand of clothing.

Had the media paid no attention to him, nobody would have noticed the candy or his hat. Instead, Lynch got the publicity both of those companies wanted - for doing nothing.

Here's a better idea. Nobody cares what this moron has to say. And if nobody pays attention to him, the endorsements will dry up. Companies want their product out in front. If nobody pays attention to Lynch, that doesn't happen.

Lynch also has lashed out at the NFL for coming down on him with fines for not talking and other incidents. Here's an idea, Marshawn, quit.

Nobody is forcing you to play in the NFL. You are doing so because you are being well compensated to do so. And part of that compensation is to play under the rules set forth by the NFL - one of which is to make yourself available to the media. It's in the contract that YOU signed.

But I could care less if Lynch speaks or doesn't speak. I wouldn't talk to him anyway. There have been Steelers in the past to whom I did not speak. They made it obvious that they didn't want to talk to me - or anyone else. So I didn't talk to them.

It only hurt them because they didn't get any stories written about them. I once turned down a large sum of money from a national magazine in 1995 to write a story after the Super Bowl about a member of the Steelers because I didn't talk to him.

Instead, they asked me to write a story about Bill Cowher.

And guess what? When that player now comes back to Pittsburgh for Steelers events, he can't wait to talk to the media. He's as nice about it as can be. It's almost like he's begging to be relevant again.

But those days have passed. Marshawn Lynch will learn that soon enough.

That's my rant for the day. I don't expect some people to understand it. And this isn't a member of the media "crying" because a player doesn't want to talk to me. As stated, if they don't want to talk to me, fine. But they shouldn't get angry because there are repercussions.





Monday, January 26, 2015

I'm afraid to open this can of worms, but . . .

SI.com's Monday Morning Quarterback did an in-depth story on Pro Football Focus.

It should be noted that two summers ago, MMQB's Peter King permitted the head of Pro Football Focus to travel around with him on his bus as he toured NFL training camps, so there's definitely a relationship between King and PFF owner Neil Hornsby.

Here's the story on PFF and what it does: http://mmqb.si.com/2015/01/25/pro-football-focus-nfl-neil-hornsby-cris-collinsworth-analytics/

As many of the followers of this blog know, I don't take what I read on PFF as the be-all, end-all of the NFL. As the story correctly notes, the guy sitting next to his computer has no idea what a certain player's responsibilities were on a given play.

That makes judging offensive linemen, defensive linemen and coverages difficult, in my opinion. It's also not always apparent when a wide receiver runs an incorrect route, etc.

Does this mean I don't look at their stats? No. They can be helpful when looking at player participation, quarterback pressures, pass defenses, etc.

But I don't use their grading to tell me whether a player had a good or bad game. I can see that with my own eyes.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Time to do away with the Pro Bowl

The Pro Bowl will be played this weekend.

I know. You're waiting on pins and needles to see whether Team Carter, which includes Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey and Lawrence Timmons, will best Team Irvin, which includes a bunch of other guys.

The fact that the NFL decided to do away with playing the game by conference and using guys, who happen to work for the NFL Network, to pick the teams is only part of the problem.

At least in the old days, the Pro Bowl was an AFC vs. NFC thing. Now, it's who knows what.

It's just made the game more of a farce than it already was.

I'll admit. I've never watched more than five minutes of a Pro Bowl. That's all I needed to see to figure out it was nothing more than a glorified touch football game.

And even at that, injuries happen. Former Steelers All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson suffered a hamstring injury during 1998 Pro Bowl and was never the same after.

New England rookie running back Robert Edwards blew his knee out during a rookie beach football game - when the game was still in Hawaii - and nearly had to have his knee amputated. Seriously.

The latter injury forced the NFL to end its rookie touch football game on the beach. And the time has come to end the farce of a Pro Bowl game as well.

For goodness sakes, so many quarterbacks backed out of this year's game that Andy Dalton, who finished 13th in the Pro Bowl voting at his position, will play in the game.

While we're at it, they can end the all-star games in hockey and the NBA, as well. There's no defense played by anyone at the games and they're nothing more than glorified skills competitions.

Only the Major League Baseball All-Star game bears any resemblance to a regular season game - and that's only in passing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Rooney speaks about number of subjects

Steelers president Art Rooney II met with a few media members today to talk about the 2014 season and what he expects in 2015 - among other things.

Rooney said he was pleased that the team achieved one of its goals - winning the AFC North - but that the other goals were not reached so there was obvious disappointment.

He said he was especially happy with how the team responded down the stretch in some critical games.

Rooney said the team obviously needs improvement on defense and cited the pass rush as one of the areas where the biggest improvement is needed.

He said the team would like to keep outside linebacker Jason Worilds but wouldn't commit one way or another to tagging Worilds again this season.

@ When asked about former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Rooney said he appreciated everything LeBeau did for the Steelers and will miss having him around.

Rooney did say that if LeBeau had stayed, he would have been in a different role. It sounds as if LeBeau was given the choice of staying and Keith Butler moving into the defensive coordinator role with LeBeau as an adviser, or leaving.

LeBeau chose to leave. You can call that forced out or whatever you'd like, but it sounds as if it was LeBeau's choice.

He's likely to serve in an advisory role wherever he lands. He just chose not to do so in Pittsburgh, likely out of respect for Butler.

Had LeBeau stayed, it would have been assumed that he was still the defacto defensive coordinator, with Butler holding the title.

This way, Butler gets to do things his way with no confusion about roles.

@ Rooney said he'd like to get a deal done with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sooner rather than later for obvious reasons.

It would give the team a better feel where it is at in terms of cap space being first and foremost.

He did say that negotiations have not yet begun but that he expects the deal to get done.

One thing that he did note was that contracts signed by other quarterbacks around the league this offseason would not matter to the Steelers. He admitted that Roethlisberger's agent might try to use them as a starting point, but that the Steelers wouldn't be swayed by them.

@ The team expects the roughly 3,000 additional seats at Heinz Field to be in place for the start of next season. Construction has already begun, though Rooney said it is a tight window.

Those tickets will be offered to people on the waiting list. And there will be a PSL as well. So if you've been on the waiting list, you could be contacted soon if that hasn't happened already.

@ The Steelers had been scheduled to go to New York in training camp to practice against the Bills this summer as Buffalo did at Saint Vincent College last summer.

That is now up in the air with Doug Marrone leaving and being replaced by Rex Ryan.

The joint practices came due to an agreement between Mike Tomlin and Marrone. Ryan might not want to hold the joint practices.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Steelers news, notes

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell will be honored as the AFC co-offensive players of the year at the NFL 101 Awards in Kansas City next month.

It marks the first time in the 45 years of the award that it will be given to two players - let alone two players from the same team.

Brown and Bell will be the first Steelers to win the award since Kordell Stewart in 2001. Barry Foster also won the award in 1992.

@ The Steelers will likely name Jerry Olsavsky their inside linebackers coach and Joey Porter their outside linebackers coach in the next two days.

@ The Steelers have officially signed former CFL linebacker Shawn Lemon.

The 6-2, 250-pound Lemon, a former star at Akron, had 13 sacks and a CFL-record eight forced fumbles in 2014.

Lemon ran a 4.77 40-yard dash at his college pro day and did 26 reps of 225 but went undrafted.

With James Harrison, Jason Worilds and Arthur Moats all scheduled to become free agents, the Steelers needed some depth at outside linebacker. Lemon could provide some depth  with possible upside and was worth a roll of the dice.

@ I'm scheduled to sit down with Art Rooney II tomorrow - unless he has to reschedule. Have quite a few topics to touch on, including Ben Roethlisberger's contract, the state of the team and the LeBeau replacement.