AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers
Wide receiver isn’t a pressing need for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but they sure are giving the appearance that they won’t rule out drafting one early.
Jaelen Strong is meeting with the Steelers Friday at their team headquarters, making the former Arizona State standout the third high-profile wide receiver to pay a pre-draft visit to the Steelers.
Strong caught 82 passes for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given annually to the top wideout in college football.
The concern with Strong is he played with a broken bone in his wrist last season and the Steelers might want to give him another medical check. Strong has insisted that the injury is not an issue, though it is not known if he will need surgery at some point.
Strong, a Philadelphia native, played two seasons at Arizona State after transferring from a junior college. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound receiver tested well at the NFL scouting combine in February, running the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds and topping all wide receivers with a vertical leap of 42 inches.
Strong is widely projected as a first-round or early second-round selection. The Steelers met with UCF wide receiver Breshad Perriman, who could be a top-20 pick, late last week. They visited with Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates, a projected second-round or third-round pick, earlier this week.
All three are receivers with good size who run well.
Wide receiver might be the strongest position in the draft for the second year in a row. The Steelers landed Martavis Bryant in the fourth round last year and he caught eight touchdown passes as a rookie despite not playing in the first six games of the season.
Bryant, Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton give the Steelers one of the better wide receiver trios in the NFL. But the team does not have much proven depth behind those three, and veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey is primarily a special-teams player.
The Steelers have met with 19 out-of-area draft prospects. Teams are allowed to host 30 out of area visits in advance of the draft.
Neither will count against the 30-visit rule because both Clemmings and James are considered local prospects.
Mike Tomlin made an addition to his staff on Wednesday when the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that Terry Cousin has joined the organization as its player engagement coordinator.
Cousin, who played cornerback for 12 seasons in the NFL, will work with players on life skills and help with their transition after football.
Cousin replaces Ray Jackson, who took a job earlier this year as the Denver Broncos’ director of player development.
Cousin, 40, made the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 1997. He played in 172 career games for the Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns.
It remains to be seen whether Tomlin will hire a defensive coach to round out his staff.
The Steelers might have an opening for a defensive assistant after Joey Porter and Jerry Olsavsky were each promoted to co-linebackers coaches.
Tomlin, however, said last month at the NFL owners meetings that he is happy with his staff and might not add any more assistants.
In other Steelers news:
- The team did not host any NFL draft prospects on Wednesday. The Steelers had been busy meeting with college players at team headquarters before taking a mid-week break. Teams are allowed to host 30 out-of-area prospects in advance of the draft.
- John Norwig, who has long been a key behind-the-scenes figure for the Steelers, will be inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Hall of Fame in June. Norwig is entering his 25th season as the Steelers’ head athletic trainer. He was honored earlier this year as the Fain-Cain Memorial Award winner, which goes to the NFL’s outstanding athletic trainer of the year.
Polamalu, who turns 34 on April 19, started 142 regular-season games for the Steelers, emerged as one of the faces of the franchise and won a pair of Super Bowls during his time in Pittsburgh.
The 2003 first-round draft pick will go down as one of the greatest -- and most memorable -- players in franchise history.
Polamalu made eight Pro Bowls -- two fewer than Mel Blount and Donnie Shell combined -- and earned All-Pro honors six times, including first-team recognition in 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
Polamalu won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010 after he tied his career high with seven interceptions and also recorded 82 tackles and a sack.
Here are 10 things to know about Polamalu from his time with the Steelers.
1. One of the mysteries of Polamalu is how someone who is so soft-spoken and unfailingly polite off the field was able to morph into a human missile during games. Defensive end Brett Keisel and cornerback Ike Taylor are the only players who were teammates with Polamalu for all 12 of his seasons. Keisel isn't sure when the transformation would take place, but he knows Polamalu gave himself plenty of time before games. “He’s always the first guy at the stadium. Always,” Keisel said last season. “I don’t know exactly what he does because he’s there hours and hours before everybody else. I’m assuming he transforms into this psychopath that comes out and plays. I don’t know if it takes six hours before game day to make the transformation complete, but for some reason he’s there way before everyone else.”
2. There may have never been a louder roar at Heinz Field than after Polamalu read the eyes of Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter of the 2008 AFC Championship Game and picked off the rookie quarterback. Polamalu weaved his way 40 yards before diving into the end zone to all but clinch the win that sent the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII. Believe it or not, that is Polamalu’s only career interception against the Ravens but not the last time he made a big play in a crucial game against the Steelers’ archrival. Two seasons later, Polamalu blitzed from Flacco’s blind side with the Steelers trailing 10-6 with less than four minutes left in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. He pounced on Flacco as the Ravens quarterback was cocking his arm, forcing a fumble that LaMarr Woodley returned to the Ravens’ 9-yard line. The Steelers don’t make the Super Bowl if they don’t win that game. And they don’t win the game without Polamalu’s strip-sack giving them the short field they needed to score the decisive touchdown in a 13-10 win.
3. Polamalu intercepted 32 passes, tied for seventh in Steelers history, and added three more in the postseason. He intercepted passes against 17 different teams, but forgive the Cleveland Browns if they feel like Polamalu, well, picked on them. Eight of his career interceptions came against the Browns, which is one reason why Pittsburgh lost just three times to Cleveland in Polamalu’s 12 seasons. The Browns weren’t the only team Polamalu tormented in the AFC North. He intercepted five passes against the Cincinnati Bengals and two his three interception returns for touchdowns in the regular season came after Polamalu picked off Carson Palmer, his former roommate at Southern California.
4. Polamalu isn’t even in the NFL’s top 100 for career interceptions, something that could be an issue when he is eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But he passes the eye test for Canton because of how timely and spectacular he was when he was picking off passes. He crafted his own highlight reel of interceptions, from the leaping one-handed pick he made against the Tennessee Titans in 2009 to his diving, cupped-hand interception against the San Diego Chargers in 2008. “He’s like a [Dick] ‘Night Train’ Lane or Lem Barney,” former Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of the players who, like him, are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “The splash plays that those guys made, you never know when one’s going to hit. There’s something innate and special in that type of an athlete.”
5. If you can name the Browns players -- with an emphasis on players -- whom Polamalu intercepted, consider yourself an expert on him. If not, here is the most obscure of trivia answers. Polamalu picked off Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb, Derek Anderson, Josh Cribbs, Colt McCoy (twice), Seneca Wallace and Thad Lewis when they were with the Browns. And no, Cribbs is not a misprint. Polamalu intercepted the Browns’ return specialist/wide receiver in a Steelers 27-14 win in 2009.
6. Polamalu’s most timely interception may have been the one that ultimately did not count in a 2005 AFC divisional-round game against the Indianapolis Colts. He made a diving interception with just under six minutes left in the game and the Steelers leading the heavily favored Colts 21-10. Polamalu lost the ball when he got up to run with it and the Colts challenged the call of interception on the field. The call was reversed after an official review, but the NFL later admitted that Polamalu’s interception should have stood. The Colts took advantage of the reprieve to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion, setting up one of the most dramatic finishes in Steelers history. Imagine the anguish Steelers fans would have been spared had Polamalu’s interception counted. Instead the Steelers had to survive a Jerome Bettis lost fumble and a missed Mike Vanderjagt field goal to topple the heavily favored Colts and keep moving toward their first Super Bowl title since 1979.
7. Polamalu got the better of Kerry Collins when he made the one-handed pick of the Titans quarterback in the first game of the 2009 season. But the veteran quarterback had to be more surprised by Polamalu a season later with the line-of-scrimmage leaps that became Polamalu’s signature as much as his flowing hair. Polamalu timed a jump perfectly near the goal line and landed on Collins’ back right as the QB received the snap, blowing up the play before it started in a 19-11 win. Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell unwittingly showed how difficult it is to time a snap and dive over the line of scrimmage last season. Mitchell, near the end of a New York Jets 20-13 win, launched himself at quarterback Michael Vick. But he got flipped into the air by an offensive lineman and landed on his back, drawing the ire of the Jets.
8. The flowing hair that trailed Polamalu as he tore across football fields, chopping down running backs and tormenting quarterbacks, helped make him one of the most distinctive players of his generation. It landed him a job as pitch man for Head & Shoulders shampoo and also got Polamalu taken down in an unorthodox way after one of his 32 regular-season interceptions. Polamalu picked off a deflected pass in the third quarter of a 45-7 rout of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006 and started running it back at Heinz Field. Chiefs running back Larry Johnson pulled down Polamalu by his hair at the end of a 49-yard return. Johnson did not get penalized for the tackle since hair is considered part of the uniform, and Polamalu did not take offense to it. “If I've got the ball in my hands, they can tackle me all day like that,” Polamalu said after the game. “It really doesn't matter to me. He can tackle me by my hair or my ankles.”
9. Freelancing has been such a big part of Polamalu’s game and identity. But his staying put set up one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history. The Arizona Cardinals were at the Steelers’ 1-yard line right before halftime in the 2008 Super Bowl when Polamalu recognized the formation and knew a slant pass was going to Anquan Boldin. Polamalu, however, was on the other side of the field and stayed there instead of trying to rush over to Boldin. Good thing for the Steelers as outside linebacker James Harrison dropped into coverage even though he was supposed to blitz. Harrison picked off Kurt Warner’s pass and rumbled 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the half. The two probably would have collided had Polamalu also tried to make a play on Warner’s pass. “It’s the second-greatest play in Steelers history,” Polamalu told ESPN.com last June. “Everyone wants to look Santonio’s catch as winning a Super Bowl but James’ play was a 14-point turnaround. It won us a Super Bowl.”
10. The Steelers have traded up in the first round of the NFL draft just twice since Kevin Colbert joined the organization in 2000 as the director of player operations. Colbert, now the Steelers’ general manager, and coach Bill Cowher struck gold when they moved from 27th to 16th in the first round to take Polamalu. The Steelers gave up third- and sixth-round draft picks to swap spots with the Chiefs in the first round. Steelers fans could be forgiven if they initially wondered whether Pittsburgh had made a mistake. Polamalu did not start a game in 2003 as he struggled, as most rookies do, to learn the defense. But he led the Steelers with 25 special-teams tackles.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are hosting two outside linebacker prospects, a cornerback and a tight end Wednesday at team headquarters as they crank up their pre-draft visits.
Harold is the only one of the four who is a possible first-round pick after recording 15½ sacks his last two seasons at Virginia and testing well at the NFL scouting combine. Orchard led all FBS players with 18½ last season at Utah but there are questions about his speed – the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Orchard did not run particularly well at the combine – and his effectiveness at dropping into coverage.
Orchard is widely projected as a second-round pick.
The Steelers are also taking a good look Wednesday at one of the top cornerbacks in college football last season.
Golson intercepted nine passes on the way to earning consensus All-American honors. The former Ole Miss standout ran well at the combine – Golson posted a time of 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash – but he is only 5-9 and 176 pounds.
The Steelers are visiting with another former SEC player in Uzomah, a former Auburn tight end.
The 6-5, 264-pound Uzomah caught 11 passes for 145 yards and three touchdowns last season. Uzomah, a converted wide receiver, has the potential to be more productive at the next level, though he has to become a better blocker.
The Steelers are allowed to host 30 out-of-area visitors in advance of the draft.
The Steelers last month offered the contract to Blake, one of three restricted free agents to whom they tendered one-year deals.
Blake could have signed with another team, but the Steelers had the right to match any offer made to the former undrafted free agent in order to retain him.
Blake emerged as more than just a special-teams player in his second season with the Steelers. The 5-foot-9. 198-pound cornerback started one game last season and had significant playing time as a nickelback after Cortez Allen struggled and eventually ended up on injured reserve.
Blake recorded 36 tackles in 2014 – 14 of the stops came in the Steelers’ final two regular-season games -- and made his first NFL interception.
He also made a big play in the game that delivered the Steelers’ first AFC North title since 2010.
Blake forced a fumble after an A.J. Green catch and recovered the loose ball. The turnover thwarted a late rally attempt by the Cincinnati Bengals and the Steelers beat their AFC North rival 27-17 to cap an 11-5 season.
Blake’s deal already counted against the salary cap because it was a tender offer, so the Steelers are still about $6.5 million under the cap.
To get an idea of what the Pittsburgh Steelers might do with their first-round draft pick at the end of the month, look no further than their current roster.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, center Maurkice Pouncey, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown are among the players on the Steelers’ roster who played three years of college football before declaring for the NFL draft.
All were Pro Bowl selections last season. Pouncey, Bell and Brown are on a very short list of the best players at their position.
The Steelers have made no secret of their affinity for drafting young players. Coach Mike Tomlin explained why at the NFL owners meetings last week.
“As a coach, I fashion myself a teacher and I just enjoy the process of helping young men grow personally and professionally,” Tomlin said. “When you get an opportunity to work with those guys, I think that it’s beneficial.”
Four of the Steelers’ eight first-round draft picks since Tomlin became head coach in 2007 were third-year juniors, including Timmons, running back Rashard Mendenhall, Pouncey and Shazier.
Will the Steelers make it a fifth third-year junior in nine years?
Here are five third-year juniors who could be available when the Steelers make the 22nd overall pick at the end of the month.
DE Arik Armstead, Oregon: This isn’t a position of need for the Steelers with Cameron Heyward and Tuitt set as the starters and both still young players. But the 6-foot-7, 292-pound Armstead is a tantalizing prospect because of his size and ability to disrupt up front. ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Steelers taking Armstead in his fourth mock draft, reasoning that he provides too much value at No. 22 overall to pass on.
CB Jalen Collins, LSU: Tomlin had dinner with Collins and defensive end/outside linebacker Danielle Hunter before LSU's pro day and both are clearly on the Steelers’ radar. Collins has ideal measurables for a cornerback and while his inexperience is a concern – the 6-1, 203-pound Collins started just 10 career games at LSU – he has a lot of upside. For a team that has to add young talent at cornerback Collins should receive strong consideration by the Steelers if he is still on the board when they make their first pick -- unless his recent foot surgery, which Collins has said was minor, raised concerns.
S Landon Collins, Alabama: The best safety in the draft – and probably the only one worthy of a first-round pick – would give the Steelers a potential heir to Troy Polamalu. Collins, a consensus All-American in 2014, is a big hitter who is strong in run support and has a lot of big-game experience even though he only played three seasons for the Crimson Tide.
OLB Eli Harold, Virginia: Harold might be a bit of a reach at No. 22, but don’t discount the Steelers’ need to acquire young pass-rushers. Tomlin pays extra attention to prospects who hail from the Tidewater area in Virginia. Harold, who had seven sacks and 1 ½ tackles for losses in 2014, tested well at the NFL scouting combine and won’t be around when the Steelers pick in the second round.
CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: I’m really starting to warm up to Williams as the Steelers’ first-round pick, which would be the first time they took a cornerback in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997. The 6-foot, 194-pound Williams has good size and plenty of experience. Williams might have allayed some concerns after he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. At Florida State’s pro day earlier this week, Williams reportedly shaved more than a tenth of a second off his 40-yard dash time and he appears to play faster than one measure of straight-line speed indicates.
The Pittsburgh Steelers turned to one of their own free agents to add depth at defensive end.
The team signed Clifton Geathers to a one-year contract on Wednesday, bringing back a player they signed at the beginning of last September.
The well-traveled Geathers appeared in six games for the Washington Redskins last season and recorded six tackles before being released.
He spent five games on the Steelers’ 53-man roster but did not suit up for any of them. His most memorable moment with the Steelers came when Geathers got into a fight with several offensive linemen during his first practice with the team.
The re-signing of Geathers likely means the Steelers won’t look for defensive end depth in free agency.
Geathers, 27, has spent time with eight teams since the Cleveland Browns took the 6-foot-8, 325-pound Geathers in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft.
The Steelers have re-signed five of their own free agents during the last month. They also signed veteran long-snapper Greg Warren before he became an unrestricted free agent.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will apparently take a closer look one of the most talented players in the NFL draft after Randy Gregory’s stock took a potential hit following an admission of a failed drug test.
The Steelers will host Gregory for a pre-draft visit, according to Tony Pauline of Draft Insider.net, in case the Nebraska defensive end/outside linebacker falls in the draft.
Gregory is one of the top pass-rushers in the draft after recording 17½ sacks in two seasons at Nebraska. He has one of the highest ceilings in the draft -- click here to watch a snapshot of his sheer power -- and the Steelers would be crazy not to at least do their homework on him.
Gregory told the NFL Network earlier this week that he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine last month. He reportedly failed multiple drug tests at Nebraska and his latest admission will compel teams to do extra homework on Gregory.
Will it also bring teams like the Steelers, who pick No. 22 overall and have a need for pass-rushers, into play for him?
Kiper doesn’t think so.
“I’d say the range for him is still 5 to 13 because of the [failed drug] test,” Kiper said. “Could he drop down to 12, 13? Maybe. He’s going to be kind of a wild card.”
If the Pittsburgh Steelers are ever going to use a first-round draft pick again on a cornerback – they have not done so since 1997 – this would appear to be the year to do it.
Cornerback and outside linebacker are the Steelers’ biggest need with the draft five weeks away.
And with the draft “rich” in pass-rushers, according to coach Mike Tomlin, it makes sense for the Steelers to address cornerback first and then target outside linebackers.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said the three most likely cornerback candidates for the Steelers to pick in the first round are Washington’s Marcus Peters, LSU’s Jalen Collins and Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson.
All three come with concerns.
Peters was kicked off Washington’s team last November after a series of run-ins with coaches. Collins started only 10 games in three seasons at LSU and recently underwent foot surgery. Johnson, meanwhile, might be better playing off coverage and the Steelers like to use their cornerback in press coverage.
But all three are widely projected as first-round picks – the Steelers have the No. 22 overall selection -- and for good reason.
Peters might be the most talented cornerback in the draft and Collins might be the best long-term prospect at the position. Johnson, meanwhile, is polished and experienced and oozes confidence, a trait that is critical for cornerbacks.
Jones tested as well as anyone as the NFL combine, is a high-character kid and has position flexibility. Like Jones, Rowe tested well at the combine and also has experience playing safety.
“He tested like a first-round and played like a high pick as well at a variety of positions,” Kiper said of Rowe.
Jones did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine because he was still recovering from shoulder surgery. But he set a broad jump record with 12 feet, 3 inches – no one had ever exceeded 12 feet at the combine -- and also recorded a vertical leap of 44½ inches.
“He's a really good 40 time away from having one of the better corner workouts we've ever seen," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said after the combine.
Jones is slated to run next Tuesday at UConn’s pro day and it will be interesting to see who the Steelers send to Storrs to watch the workout.
Florida State is also staging its pro day on March 31, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that is among the annual showcases he never misses.
Jones will only boost his draft stock if he runs at his pro day. Kiper said on Thursday that it would not “shock” him if Jones works his way into the first round and is selected in the range where the Steelers pick.
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers added depth at wide receiver when they brought back another one of their free agents.
The team re-signed Darrius Heyward-Bey to a one-year contract. The former first-round draft pick caught just three passes last season, but established himself as a key special-teams player.
This signing won’t budge the needle, but the Steelers needed proven depth behind Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton and also a player who is willing to accept a limited role in the offense.
The return of Heyward-Bey makes it unlikely that the Steelers will sign an outside free agent at the position. It is another strong draft for wide receivers, so look for the Steelers to add one in the later rounds and also take a long look at C.J. Goodwin, who spent last season on their practice squad.
Heyward-Bey is just 28 years old and is one of the fastest players on the team. He recorded five tackles on special teams and snuffed out a fake punt by the Cincinnati Bengals in a victory that delivered the Steelers their first AFC North title since 2010.
The seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft, Heyward never fulfilled expectations in Oakland -- he averaged 517.8 receiving yards in four seasons with the Raiders –- and played a season with the Colts before signing with the Steelers.
Heyward made $795,000 in 2014 but counted just $635,000 against the salary cap, as he signed a veteran-minimum contract.
The eighth-year coach is confident the Steelers will be more than capable at cornerback in 2015 despite the inexperience they have at the position and finishing 27th in the NFL against the pass last season.
"I expect the guys that we have to continue to grow and get better," Tomlin said at the NFL owners meetings. "I expect to add credible, competent men to add to that mix to provide competition and put them in a competitive environment and see who comes out on top. I'm completely comfortable that at the end of that we're going to have above the line corner play."
The Steelers have just three cornerbacks with NFL experience on their roster, though Antwon Blake is expected to sign the one-year, $1.554 million contract the team offered him as a restricted free agent.
Tomlin cited Blake as a young cornerback who made some big plays last season and is on the rise.
The Steelers expect him to at least replace Brice McCain, who signed a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Miami Dolphins earlier this month. Tomlin said he is also confident Cortez Allen will rebound from a season in which he battled injuries and twice lost jobs because of ineffectiveness.
Both Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert said this week the Steelers are most likely to add to the position through the draft. The team could draft several cornerbacks early and use a first-round pick on one -- which would be the first time since 1997 when the Steelers selected Chad Scott.
The Steelers have largely shrugged off questions and concerns about the cornerback position after allowing 253 passing yards per game last season, and so far losing instead of adding players at the position.
Tomlin explained why Tuesday at the media breakfast for AFC coaches.
"We believe in the process that we go through and we also believe in the men that we have," Tomlin said. "I know some of the guys that we have on our roster at the position right now don't have extended resumes. That's always the case. How do you gain experience without going through the process of gaining experience? These guys are driven and they want to be positive contributors to our efforts and reasons why we're successful and some of those guys played key roles down the stretch last year."
PHOENIX -- The seeds for James Harrison's second return to the Pittsburgh Steelers were planted during his first one -- specifically when both player and team wondered if they had made a mistake right after the Steelers talked Harrison out of retirement last September.
“To be perfectly honest [after] the first practice I don’t know if we thought he could do it,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said at the NFL owners meetings. “I don’t know if he thought he could do it because he was in great lifting shape but wasn’t in cardiovascular football shape but he fought through it.
“I just can’t underscore how much he means to those guys or how much he meant to those guys when he came back and got himself into James Harrison football-type shape. The respect that he commanded from those young guys, I think it really opened their eyes because a couple guys hadn’t seen him.”
It may seem natural that Harrison would be a team leader given his experience and maniacal work ethic. But Harrison’s personality, which can be prickly, never seemingly lent itself to the 12th-year veteran throwing an arm around a younger player and offering to teach him the ins and outs of the Steelers' defense.
But Colbert said Harrison, who turns 37 in May, embraced a leadership role at the end of his career simply because the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year may be more comfortable with it.
“It looks different to me because it’s him and younger guys. Before it was always him and his peers,” Colbert said. “Now it’s James and his students in our eyes.”
Harrison’s importance as a mentor is such that Colbert said it was a significant factor in the Steelers signing him now instead of waiting until after the conclusion of offseason practices or even during training camp.
The logic to waiting to sign Harrison is it would allow younger player to get more work since he doesn’t need it and can easily work his way into football shape.
“We actually thought about that but the values that he provides right now for those young guys we think trumps that waiting because he’s valuable in the building right now,” Colbert said. “He’s been in the building voluntarily since really the end of the season. It’s been amazing to watch. Those young guys see it and they’re like, ‘OK, I think I’m supposed to do that too.’ We can’t have them there mandatory but they’re all kind of following his lead.”
“His decision to retire really didn’t affect us one way or another, because he really wasn’t in our plans,” Colbert said at the NFL owners meetings. “I am surprised that Jason [retired] at this point, but I respect his wishes to move on with his life. He had a good career with us. He helped us win a lot of games. We wish him nothing but the best.”
Worilds led the Steelers with 15½ sacks in the previous two seasons and seemed poised to cash in on the open market, given how coveted pass-rushers are.
But Worilds announced his retirement on March 11, the day teams were allowed to start signing unrestricted free agents.
The Steelers would have considered doubling back on Worilds had the market completely bottomed out for the former second-round draft pick. But that wasn’t going to happen, as Worilds had just turned 27 and had been productive since becoming a full-time starter during the 2013 season.
When asked, in retrospect, if the Steelers saw any signs last season that Worilds was contemplating retirement so he could pursue a religious calling, Colbert said, “Nothing whatsoever. We knew Jason was deeply religious, and we respected that. But not to the point to say that we weren’t surprised by the decision when it was made. But again, we respect it and we wish him well.”
PHOENIX -- As loyal as James Harrison is to Dick LeBeau -- the latter talked Bill Cowher out of cutting Harrison in 2004, the year the outside linebacker finally stuck in the NFL -- it could not trump something as simple yet also as powerful.
And, simply put, it made as much sense for Harrison to return to the Steelers as it did for them to bring back the five-time Pro Bowler for one more season.
Hence, the two-year contract that Harrison signed Sunday morning at the Arizona Biltmore. Harrison has been training nearby and the deal that brought him to the swank resort where the NFL is holding its owners meetings elicited a collective sigh of relief from fans who had grown increasingly anxious as the Steelers showed about as much interest in free agency as they would changing their colors to black and purple.
Harrison is not a game changer at outside linebacker. Not at the age of 37, which he turns in May.
But the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year is still a difference maker even at his advanced football age. And the Steelers did not have a better option unless they wanted to pick an outside linebacker prospect early in the draft and hope he can play right away.
The Steelers can still take an outside linebacker prospect early in the draft and have him learn from Harrison, who drew raves from general manager Kevin Colbert for embracing a mentor role at this stage of his career.
Harrison, meanwhile, gets to finish his career where it started, finish it where he and his family are rooted and finish it with a team that is coming off an 11-win season, and can contend for the Super Bowl in 2015 if it some things fall into place on defense.
The Tennessee Titans, coming off a two-win seasons, could really only offer the chance to play for LeBeau, the Steelers' former defensive coordinator, as they pursued Harrison.
“I always thought that if James would play again after he came back this year I always thought he’d finish his career with us,” Colbert said Sunday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think he just had a deep admiration for coach LeBeau and I think he wanted to respect that because he felt that coach LeBeau did so much for him and his career.”
That Harrison will finish his career with the Steelers won’t stop some fans from still wanting to cancel the 2015 season because of questions that remain at outside linebacker and persist at cornerback.
But the Steelers could not have helped themselves any more at outside linebacker than they did by bringing back Harrison.
And in the end it made too much sense for both sides not to finish what they started more than a decade ago when Harrison made the Steelers for good on his fourth attempt.