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  • Ike Taylor to intern as coach during OTAs for Steelers

    Ike+Taylor+NFL+Network

    Veteran cornerback Ike Taylor may have officially retired on Tuesday after twelve years of on-field action with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he isn’t leaving the city permanently according to several sources.  Per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Taylor will not only work with the NFL Network and NFL Films, but will join the Steelers during OTAs and training camp as a defensive coaching intern.  He is likely to join defensive backs coach Carnell Lake.

    Taylor saw his retirement creeping up on him as he faced the free agent market and a potential exit from Pittsburgh, but he was quoted on the Steelers’ official website as saying, “I wasn’t cut, I wasn’t released.  It was just my contract was up and it was time to retire…From the time I walked in the door until the time I left, this is where I wanted to be.”  Taylor told Kaboly on a TribLive Radio show that he would be happy to remain with the Steelers organization, even if it mean that he had to work his way up, be in the office or an assistant.

    Taylor spent most of the 2014 NFL season with a broken forearm.  The images of the moment of his injury went viral in one of those ‘freak incidents’ in the NFL.  Taylor spent his time watching younger players move into starting positions and encouraged teammates to improve and communicate.  “I’m the coach, dad, player role. I’m the big-brother role.  I’m whatever you need off the field role…That’s just the kind of bond we have,” said Taylor in January.

    Taylor will get another opportunity to be the “whatever you need” guy albeit in a non-player role.  With the Steelers needing to address the defensive backfield, especially the cornerback position, via the draft and following undrafted rookie free agency period, Taylor will be a resource the team should tap.  His experience can help mold the Steelers’ defense into a stronger unit in 2015.

    (Note:  This article originally posted by author on Examiner.com under a different headline)
     
  • Steelers claim Brandon Hartson off waivers from Kansas City Chiefs

    Robbie Gould, Brandon Hartson

    On Friday, the Pittsburgh Steelers claimed long snapper Brandon Hartson.  Hartson was on waivers from the Kansas City Chiefs.  The Chiefs had signed Hartson to a reserves/futures contract in January.  Hartson went undrafted (2013 NFL Draft) and spent the last two offseasons with the Chicago Bears.  The Steelers have long-time long snapper Greg Warren on the roster as well.

    Hartson attended college at the University of Houston.  As a redshirt senior (2012), Hartson was named Second Team All-Conference USA after being perfect on 131 snaps.  During his junior season, Hartson was one of the nation’s top-rated deep snappers and helped Matt Hogan break the NCAA record for consecutive extra points made in a single season (78).  He was named to the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll three consecutive years (2008-11).  Hartson handled all snapping duties for punts as a sophomore and added tackles against Tulsa and UCF.  In 2009, Hartson was one of only 29 players to compete in all 14 games and was part of the special teams unit that converted 63 PAT attempts and 18 field goals.  Hartson made the highlight reel for recovering a muffed punt against Northwestern State and in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl he tied a Houston single-season record with 14 games played against Air Force.

    Hartson was recruited by Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M before selecting Houston as his college home.  His cousin, Grady Allen, played with the Atlanta Falcons for five seasons.  His second cousin, Dennis Allen, was head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2014.

     
  • Steelers hosted Arizona State Wide Receiver Jaelen Strong on Friday

    Jaelen-Strong-Arizona-State

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have now hosted nineteen of their thirty allowed pre-draft visits; the latest Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Strong.  Strong is the fourth wide receiver the Steelers have hosted in the past two weeks, making it appear that the team is interested in finding depth at the position via the NFL Draft.  They could use a slot receiver that is effective in the redzone.

    Strong was named first-team All-Pac 12 and a Fred Blietnikoff Award semifinalist following his redshirt junior year with the Sun Devils.  At six-foot-two, 217 pounds, Strong has been compared in draft profiles with Sammie Coates, another prospect the Steelers have brought in for a visit.  At the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this year, Strong posted a 4.44 second 40-yard dash time and a top performance 42.0 inch vertical leap.  His broad jump went for 123.0 inches.  At his Pro Day, Strong posted a 4.19 (seconds) 20-yard shuttle and 7.33 (seconds) three-cone drill.

    In 2014, Strong started in 12 games at the receiver position.  In 2013, Strong was a second-team All-Pac 12 nominee and played in all 14 games with 13 starts.  Strong transferred to Arizona State from Pierce College where he recorded 67 receptions for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns in ten games.

    NFL scouts have given Strong a high grade for the balance in height, weight and arm length.  The former high school basketball and football player is known to adjust routes and return to the ball from the top of the route as necessary.  Strong has proven he is comfortable in the slot and has soft hands that allows him to make catches even when being contested.  Strong had the ability to get vertical but isn’t afraid to secure a low throw.  Arizona State utilized his ability on hitches, bubble screens and shallow crossing routes.

    Areas where scouts felt Strong needed fine tuning included his play speed and ability to compete against top cornerbacks.  While Strong isn’t quick off of the snap, his long strides take him time to build up speed to breakaway.  He will need to challenge himself to get separation in man-to-man coverage.An NFC West Scout told NFL.com, “He’s not going to run fast, but it won’t matter because any team who drafts him is going to have a plan for him.  When he has a quarterback who can throw him open, his speed won’t matter much…”

     
  • Checkdown Audible: Brett Keisel deserving of latest award

    Beard_KeiselCheckdown Audible

    Ok, yes, I realize that I am not nearly as sexy as Brett ‘Da Beard’ Keisel, especially once I used the BeardMe app to add a beard that I would be lucky to grow.  Brett Keisel has long been one of my favorite Pittsburgh Steelers players and news that he was to retire weighed heavy on me.  With Keisel’s departure, among other Steelers greats, it seems like the team is really turning a page on an era that had a lot of success.

    News that Keisel had won the Bob Prince Award this week brought me out of my funk.  Art ‘The Chief’ Rooney, Sr., was the type of man who constantly sought out those who were in need and found a way to better their lives.  He saw that the Catholic Youth Association needed a financial boosts in the 1970s, and being the man that he was – stepped up and created an award dinner and auction in his name that would annually benefit the neighborhood and community through the CYA.  Keisel was among the honorees at the dinner this year and was given the award, named after late Pittsburgh Pirates radio announcer Bob Prince, that honors “someone who embodies (Bob’s) enthusiasm for Pittsburgh sports.”

    I can think of few people who are more deserving of such an honor.  Keisel has given his heart to Pittsburgh.  At the dinner, Keisel said,

    “Pittsburgh is special to me…I love being a part of the community here, love being part of what Pittsburgh is about.  And everybody knows, Pittsburgh is about sports.  I have always appreciated the support fans have given me, and I like to support all of the teams in the city. Pittsburgh will always be a part of me, and I will be a part of this great city.”

    Keisel was the embodiment of Pittsburgh sports on the football field.  There were many interviews given in which the bearded beast-man admitted that his love for the sport went only as far as his brotherhood with his teammates.  In this day and age, it is hard to find a player that gave to his team so selflessly.  As a leader and a friend, Keisel was as happy to mentor a younger player as he was to celebrate a victory in the locker room with the veterans.  Keisel was a fierce competitor but showed true heart and courage.  It was so much a part of who he was as a man that it carried with him off of the field.

    Keisel and his family have made Pittsburgh their home despite his western roots.  Involved in charitable events from his famed ‘Shear Da Beard’ to work with young cancer patients at Children’s Hospital (UPMC), the almost mythical man has shown that he can wrap his arms around more than an opposing quarterback. Following his latest shearing event, Keisel said,

    “Pittsburgh is a special city and maybe the only city in the world that could do such a crazy event. People have really jumped on this thing. I constantly get emails and letters from fans that are doing similar events, whether they are cutting off their hair that they have grown for years or their beard. There are people out there who are aware and trying to do something good. That is what I am most proud of. Other people have grabbed onto the idea and are making a difference.”

    Excuse me if I am a bit teary-eyed.  Not seeing Keisel in a number 99 jersey this season is going to hurt, but at the same time it is one of those pains that constantly strokes the heartstrings.  That Dan Rooney, Sr., gave Keisel the award and said he was “a leader of men on the field…and then off the field he was the same way,” just validates my belief that Keisel is one of the best of the Steelers in the last decade.  I will be proudly wearing my Keisel jerseys (both the home and away) in 2015-2016 no matter what any Ravens, Browns or Bengals fan may cat-call to me.  Yes, Brett Keisel retired from football, but he didn’t retire from life.  To me, he was a hero and remains one.

     
  • Steelers: Searching For The Next Interior Offensive Line Gem

    #66 David DeCastro #77 Marcus Gilbert

    Offensive guard Ramon Foster has been a consistent stable player for the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past six seasons.  Foster, an undrafted player out of the University of Tennessee, will be a free agent after the 2015-2016 season.  With Foster approaching the age of 30 it may be the right time for the Steelers to look for his replacement.

    As the years have gone by, offensive guards have not been selected (overall) as early as they used to be. If a guard is considered to be a top prospect he likely is drafted late first round to early second round. In this year’s NFL draft, no guards are expected to be picked in the first round which works well for the Steelers.  The Steelers crave guards who can play both positions and some center as well. Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace, Kelvin Beachum, David DeCastro and Foster fit that mold.  When searching for a guard  in this draft, the Steelers will be looking for a player that is able to pull as well because running back Le’Veon Bell has excelled on counter and stretch runs.

    In the 2015 NFL draft, certain prospects come to mind such as Quinton Spain who the Steelers have brought in for a visit out of the University of West Virginia. Prospects who have not visited with the Steelers that could possibly be drafted are: Arie Kouandjio, whose older brother Cyrus Kouandojio plays for the Buffalo Bills, and Ali Marpet.

    Kouandojio does a masterful job of picking up blitzes, dominates bull rushers and excels in the run blocking game.  Kouandojio has improved greatly, mirroring in pass protection, and can get to the second level play after play.  Kouandojio is the guard you want to run behind on a third-and-one and fourth-and- one. Kouandojio needs to improve his pad level, and pre-snap movements, and could stand to lose five to ten pounds.  A couple weeks of preseason workouts and training camp should solve that problem.

    Marpet is an impressive Division Three prospect out of Hobart University.  Marpet impressed in the Senior Bowl, outperforming many of the Division One prospects. Marpet is a natural knee-bender, versatile, and an above average athlete. Work is needed in his technique, and Marpet needs to improve his lower body strength so he drive into his blocks more.  A lack of competition could take a while to adjust to, but Marpet would not be asked to start right away, making him an intriguing possible backup option.

     

     
 
 
 
 
 

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