AFC North: David Johnson

Steelers re-sign Michael Palmer

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers added depth at tight end Friday when they re-signed Michael Palmer to a one-year contract.

Palmer, whom the Steelers signe last August, played in every game last season and caught one pass for eight yards. He was a core special teams player in 2013, and the fourth-year veteran joins Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth and David Paulson as the tight ends on the roster.

The Steelers lost tight end David Johnson last week when the fifth-year veteran signed a two-year contract with the Chargers.

Palmer is the fifth of the Steelers' free agents to re-sign with the team, joining center Cody Wallace, offensive tackle Guy Whimper, safety Will Allen and long snapper Greg Warren in that group.

Lance Moore to visit Steelers

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers, faced with losing yet another veteran free agent, will host former Saints wide receiver Lance Moore for a visit on Tuesday, a source confirmed to

Moore's visit will come a day after the Panthers meet with Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery in Charlotte, N.C.

Cotchery, who turns 32 in June, caught a career-high 10 touchdown passes last season, and he appeared to be among the most likely unrestricted free agents to re-sign with the Steelers.

With Cotchery, who caught 46 passes for 602 yards, also considering other options the Steelers have turned their attention to Moore, 30, who was released earlier this month by New Orleans.

The 5-9, 190-pounder caught 37 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns last season, but Moore is less than two years removed from his only 1,000-yard season in the NFL.

Moore caught 65 passes for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.

The Steelers are thin at wide receiver with Emmanuel Sanders signing a three-year contract on Sunday that could be worth as much as $18 million with the Broncos. The Steelers have little in the way of experience at wide receiver behind Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

In addition to Moore, the Steelers are scheduled to host former Packers running back James Starks on Tuesday. Wide receiver and running back are among the positions where the Steelers are most lacking depth.

The Steelers have already lost a handful of free agents, including Sanders, defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods, running back Jonathan Dwyer and tight end David Johnson.

They have signed two free agents from other teams, safety Mike Mitchell and nose tackle Cam Thomas.
PITTSBURGH – Add running back to the position at which the Steelers have a need.

Jonathan Dwyer has signed a one-year contact with the Arizona Cardinals, leaving the Steelers with depth issues behind Le’Veon Bell.

Dwyer wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday night:

Dwyer, released at the end of the 2013 preseason, re-signed with the Steelers in September and rushed for 197 yards on 49 carries while backing up Bell.

Dwyer, ironically, will provide depth at running back for the Cardinals following the retirement of former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall.

The only other running back on the Steelers' roster is Alvester Alexander, who spent all of last season on the practice squad.

Felix Jones and LaRod Stephens-Howling, who tore his ACL in the Steelers’ season opener last season, are both unrestricted free agents.

The Steelers have lost three free agents, with defensive end Al Woods signing with the Titans, tight end David Johnson signing with the Chargers and Dwyer becoming the latest former Steelers player to relocate to Arizona.

Free-agency primer: Steelers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Al Woods, DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, RB Jonathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, OT Guy Whimper, C/G Cody Wallace, TE David Johnson, LB Stevenson Sylvester.

Where they stand: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers may be more active in free agency than in recent years, but don’t expect their philosophy to fundamentally change. The Steelers will focus on their own players and are likely to sit out the first wave of free agency and target midlevel free agents after the marquee names have signed with other teams. Colbert hinted that the Steelers could try to land a potential starter via free agency, and they could use immediate help as well as depth at just about any position on defense. Nothing would help the Steelers more than if they could sign a free agent who will make an impact like Ryan Clark (2006) or James Farrior (2002) did, though they would have to splurge to get a free agent the caliber of Farrior.

What to expect: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team's top free agent, is going to command more money than the Steelers are willing to pay. He will almost certainly sign elsewhere, though look for veteran Jerricho Cotchery to re-sign with the team after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is likely to sign elsewhere, making it imperative that the Steelers bring back Al Woods. They could also re-sign Brett Keisel for one more season if the two sides can find common ground on compensation. The Steelers have a good chance of signing most of their free agents with the exceptions of Sanders and Hood, and that is how they will add depth to their offensive line. Free agents they could target include former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. The Steelers met with former Lions safety Louis Delmas last month, but his knee issues may be too much of a red flag for them, and they have since re-signed veteran Will Allen.
PITTSBURGH -- This is the fourth in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season -- and take a look ahead.


2014 free agents: David Johnson and Michael Palmer

The good: Heath Miller came back sooner -- and played better -- than anyone could have expected less than a year after he tore several ligaments in his right knee, including his ACL. Miller played the fifth-most snaps (874) among offensive players despite missing the first two games of the season and seeing limited action in the third. Miller caught 58 passes, third most on the Steelers, for 593 yards. He also proved to be just as valuable as a blocker, and Miller and Matt Spaeth really bolstered the ground game when they were on the field together.

The bad: Miller had uncharacteristic drops and scored just one touchdown. Spaeth played in only four games, missing the first 12 because of a foot injury. The Steelers did not get much out of David Paulson and Palmer beyond special teams, and Johnson played in just five games before dislocating his wrist and landing on injured reserve. Miller's absence at the start of the season exposed the Steelers' lack of quality depth at the position.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Miller's cap hit will be just under $9.5 million but the Steelers can lower that number by signing the ninth-year veteran to a new deal. Miller is going into the final year of his contract, and I will be shocked if the two sides don't reach an agreement on a new deal sooner rather than later. The drop-off after Miller is significant, and he is still one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL. The work ethic that allowed Miller to return to the field less than a year after reconstructive knee surgery also bodes well for him continuing to play at a high level despite the advancement of age. Spaeth's cap hit this year is just over $1 million, making him a bargain if he can stay healthy. My guess is the Steelers will bring Johnson back since the price will be right given that he has played just five games in the last two seasons. The Steelers would probably feel pretty good going into training camp if Miller, Spaeth and Johnson are their top three tight ends and they add another one in the draft.

Draft priority: Higher than it looks. Miller isn't getting any younger and the Steelers certainly aren't oblivious to the matchup problems big, athletic tight ends with soft hands create in a league that is clearly a passing one. There are a couple of tight ends in this year's draft with the potential to be that kind of player. Eric Ebron tops that list, and the former North Carolina star looks like a transcendent talent. Ebron could be in play with the 15th overall pick even though the Steelers have more pressing needs, particularly on defense. I think the Steelers draft a tight end this year, but where they take one is anybody's guess.

Brown, Johnson could be lost for season

October, 13, 2013
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Injuries were an issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers even before kickoff Sunday, and they may have cost the team two more players for the rest of the season.

Levi Brown, acquired recently from the Arizona Cardinals to help shore up the left tackle position, hurt his right triceps during pre-game warm-up, and he was unable to play in the Steelers’ 19-6 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

Kelvin Beachum had been slated to start at left tackle even before Brown got hurt, but the latter was expected to push for the starting job as he got more comfortable with the Steelers' offense.

Brown missed the 2012 season with a torn right triceps, and the Steelers have to hope he did not sustain the same injury though coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that it is “potentially serious.”

Tight end David Johnson sustained a serious injury early in the game, one that is expected to end his season. Johnson said he dislocated his left wrist, and the injury that will require surgery also chips away at the Steelers’ depth at tight end.

Johnson, who has caught four passes for 70 yards, missed all of last season with a torn ACL.

Starting defensive end Brett Keisel sustained a rib injury that sidelined him for most of the second half.

But the 12th-year veteran said he will play next Sunday against the visiting Ravens. Tomlin said Keisel will probably just be limited in practice during the early part of the week.

“He should perk up towards the end of the week,” Tomlin said.

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

October, 13, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 19-6 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: The Steelers' season still has life. Let's not go all Ryan Clark and say the Steelers are on their way to the playoffs, but they finally stopped the bleeding following a shaky start at MetLife Stadium. The Steelers controlled the game after falling behind 3-0 in the first quarter. The offense didn't piece together a Picasso, but it made drastic improvement after netting 8 yards on its first two possessions.

Stock watch: The defense is trending up after keeping the team in the game until the offense settled down. It also atoned for an atrocious performance in the London loss to the Vikings that dropped the Steelers to 0-4 for the first time since 1968. The Steelers limited the Jets to 165 yards through the first three quarters while building a double-digit lead. They also avoided becoming the first team in NFL history to go the first five games of a season without a takeaway. Clark ended the turnover drought in the third quarter when he intercepted a pass that Geno Smith threw into heavy coverage. But he also dropped an interception in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers later needed a Lawrence Timmons pick to put away the Jets.

Getting by at LT: Kelvin Beachum is clearly not the long-term answer at left tackle after getting flagged twice for holding and nearly yielding a sack that would have given the Jets an early safety. The problem for the Steelers is their options are really limited when it comes to protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. Levi Brown, acquired from the Cardinals in a recent trade, injured his right triceps during pregame warm-ups, and he couldn't play against the Jets. Brown missed the 2012 season with a torn right triceps so his injury could be a worrisome one for the Steelers. Starting defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs) and tight end David Johnson (wrist) sustained injuries during the game.

What's next: The Steelers hope to build off their momentum next Sunday when they play the Ravens in a 4:25 p.m. ET divisional game. The defending Super Bowl champions dropped to 3-3 following a loss to the Packers in Baltimore, but they have beaten the Steelers the past three times the fierce rivals have met during the regular season at Heinz Field.
PITTSBURGH -- Fullback Will Johnson is probable for the Steelers' season opener Sunday despite being limited in practice this week by a hamstring injury. Johnson, who got hurt in the Steelers' final preseason game, is a solid lead blocker who also has some pass-catching skills.

If he is limited Sunday against the Titans or isn't able to play, tight end David Johnson could play fullback as he has experience at the position. The Steelers, however, are already thin at tight end with starter Heath Miller still working his way back from reconstructive knee surgery and Matt Spaeth on the short-term injured reserve list.

Miller is listed as doubtful for the 1 p.m. game, but it's hard to imagine any scenario in which he plays. The Steelers' 2012 MVP is only a week removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and has only been practicing on a limited basis.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (chest) and defensive end Brett Keisel (non-injury related) are listed as probable.

Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell (foot) is the only Steelers player who has been ruled out for Sunday.
Pittsburgh Steelers team reporter Scott Brown will handle the morning links for the rest of the week, but here are some Steelers headlines to kick off your Monday ...
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook believes the Steelers can't afford to lose rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones, who was hospitalized over the weekend with a chest injury. "If Jones is out for a significant period of time, he will be very much missed by the team's defense," Cook wrote. "He has played so well that he deserves to be the starting outside right linebacker in the opening game Sept. 8 against the Tennessee Titans."
  • There have been encouraging signs from safety Troy Polamalu this preseason, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette. "For the third preseason game in a row, Polamalu played like it was 2010," Bouchette wrote. "That was his NFL Defensive Player of the Year season. If he can keep this up, the Steelers will have added a valued piece to a defense that mostly went missing in 2012."
  • Steelers tight end David Johnson passed his first test in Saturday's preseason game, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Ralph N. Paulk reports. Johnson missed all of the 2012 season after severely injuring his right knee in last year's preseason opener. “We are low on tight ends right now and Heath (Miller) is still working on his comeback,” Johnson said. “So, it just felt good to get in there and start to get things going.”
  • The Steelers made 15 roster moves today, reducing their roster to the league-mandated 75 players prior to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. The most notable moves were placing linebacker Sean Spence on the reserve-PUP list (which means he'll miss at least the first six games, although he is expected to be out for the season) and cutting linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, running back Baron Batch and wide receiver David Gilreath. The Steelers' official team web site has the full list of transactions.
PITTSBURGH -- From the what-was-I-thinking file, of course running back Felix Jones is playing Saturday night.

The guy has less than a week to make the team, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to give him a look as a kickoff returner as well as as a running back against Kansas City.

Isaac Redman (stinger) will apparently miss his second consecutive preseason game, meaning Jonathan Dwyer will start at running back against the Chiefs.

Tight end David Johnson will play, less than a week after the Steelers activated the fifth-year veteran from the physically unable to perform list. Cornerback Cortez Allen also will play after missing last Monday night’s game with a sprained ankle.

Allen will open the regular season as the starting cornerback opposite Ike Taylor, assuming he doesn’t have any setbacks. Johnson missed last season with a torn ACL, and the Steelers are likely to ease him back into action. His return is a welcome development for a team that will open the season without its top two tight ends, Heath Miller (knee) and Matt Spaeth (Lisfranc sprain).
Steelers tight end David Johnson practiced Wednesday for the first time in more than a year, and the fifth-year veteran is cautiously optimistic that he will play Saturday night against Kansas City.

The Steelers activated Johnson from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list early Wednesday afternoon. Following practice, Johnson, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in August 2012, said he expects to play in at least one of the Steelers’ remaining two preseason games.

“We’ll see how his body responds to the work that he did today,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s a process and there’s really no script for it.”

Johnson’s return is a welcome one for a team that is thin at tight end with starter Heath Miller working his way back from a major knee injury and Matt Spaeth still on crutches as he recovers from a Lisfranc foot injury.

Johnson has just 18 career receptions but his forte is blocking, something the Steelers could use while Miller and Spaeth are out.

The 6-foot-2, 280-pounder moved to fullback last season, but Will Johnson played well enough after David Johnson went down to hang onto the starting job. David Johnson’s re-acclimation to tight end started in earnest Wednesday, and it wouldn't have happened without the second surgery he underwent in late July.

Johnson had scar tissue removed from his right knee at the beginning of training camp, and the procedure allowed him to start fully extending his leg. It also put him on a track to be ready for the start of the regular season.

“Things started really progressing after that,” Johnson said of the surgery. “I’m just glad I was able to get out there and make it through one practice. It's been a long road.”

In other news from Wednesday:
  • Running back Isaac Redman practiced and he is hopeful of returning to action Saturday night.

Redman didn’t play Monday night at Washington because of a pinched nerve.

“I feel a lot better,” Redman said before practice. “We’re a little banged up (at running back) and I’m looking to step up and lead this room.”
  • Steelers starters are expected to play into the third quarter against Kansas City. The game is essentially the regulars' final dress rehearsal for the season opener, as they will play sparingly in the Steelers’ fourth preseason contest.

The Steelers spent Wednesday morning analyzing film from the 24-13 loss to Washington. They installed the game plan for Kansas City in the afternoon. This is the first and only preseason game in which the Steelers will specifically prepare for their opponent.

“We’re going in this thing as if it’s Week One,” starting left guard Ramon Foster said.
Everyone knows playing in the NFL can be dangerous. But the most dangerous position in the AFC North seems to be tight end.

Just like the Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers are now without two top tight ends. Matt Spaeth, who is considered the No. 1 tight end with Heath Miller (knee) on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, was carted off the practice field Wednesday. Coach Mike Tomlin offered no update on Spaeth on Thursday.

"He's being evaluated in Pittsburgh," Tomlin said.

Spaeth, who was re-signed by the Steelers this offseason, had just returned to practice after having his knee drained. While the Steelers would prefer to have Spaeth available, David Paulson is the tight end who is going to really replace Miller if Miller's not ready to play at the start of the regular season.

Spaeth's strength is run blocking, and Paulson can make more of an impact in the passing game, especially in the red zone. The Steelers have yet to give a timetable on Miller, who is on the PUP list along with tight end David Johnson.

Without Miller and Spaeth, the only healthy tight end with any extensive NFL experience is Paulson. A seventh-round pick from a year ago, Paulson made seven catches for 51 yards in 16 games as a rookie.

The other tight ends on the roster are: Jamie McCoy, who has played in one NFL game (last year with Steelers); Peter Tuitupou, an undrafted rookie out of San Jose State; and John Rabe, an undrafted rookie from Minnesota.

The Steelers are unlikely to get any sympathy from the Ravens, who are without Dennis Pitta (hip) and Ed Dickson (hamstring).
Since the players and coaches are returning this week from their vacations, I decided that it was time for me to do the same. As far as my training camp schedule goes, I will be heading out to the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday for their first media availability. Next week, I will head out to Cincinnati to visit the Bengals. The plan is to hit the Browns and Steelers after that. Here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Corey Graham went from a Pro Bowl special-teams player to a starting cornerback in the Super Bowl in his first season with the Ravens. Now, Graham, who turns 28 this week, would like to finish his career in Baltimore. "It's a great place to play football," Graham told The Baltimore Sun. "They take care of the players. They support their players. The fans are great. It's a great place to be. It's amazing." Graham is due $2.05 million in the final year of a two-year contract with the Ravens.

BENGALS: This may be the Bengals' deepest roster in coach Marvin Lewis' 11 seasons with the team, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I think you are always encouraged to have some depth at our positions. We have some great competition at most positions,” Lewis said. “We have an experienced team to play with urgency at the end of the year. Your concerns always are being able to work through the injuries that you know are going to happen and being able to fill in and have other guys step up.”

STEELERS: Pittsburgh's tight ends are still on the road to recovery. Heath Miller sat out all of the offseason camps after tearing knee ligaments at the end of last season, and David Paulson was slowed during minicamp with nagging injuries. David Johnson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the preseason opener, is also a question mark. “I'm about 85 to 90 percent," Johnson told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It continues to get better and better each day. I'm coming out to work in hopes of getting the feel back. Every day, something knew comes back to normal."

BROWNS: Linebacker Barkevious Mingo became the last first-round pick in the AFC North to sign when the No. 6 overall pick reached a fully guaranteed four-year deal Sunday morning worth a little more than $16 million. It also includes a $10.7 million signing bonus. In doing so, the Browns got the "offset language" that they wanted, which allows the team to save money on guaranteed portions of a contract if the player is released and signs with another team. In exchange for the offset language, Mingo will receive his entire signing bonus between now and the end of the year, a league source told The Plain Dealer.
It was a fast start to free agency. It was so hectic that 20-plus posts weren't enough to cover everything in the AFC North on Tuesday. Time to hit the other news happening in the division ...

  • The Browns and Buccaneers have expressed interest in trading for Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, a source told The Boston Herald. But the paper said no deal is imminent.
  • Browns receiver-returner Josh Cribbs is leaning toward signing with the Cardinals, according to Fox Sports. The Patriots are also interested in Cribbs.
  • Cardinals outside linebacker Quentin Groves, another pass rusher, is scheduled to visit the Browns, according to The Plain Dealer.