AFC North: Flozell Adams

Upon further review: Steelers

September, 26, 2011
Revisiting the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-20 win at the Indianapolis Colts:

The Steelers' struggling offensive line is beginning to break down just three weeks into the season.

Three starters -- left tackle Jonathan Scott, right guard Doug Legursky and right tackle Marcus Gilbert -- left the game with injuries, and their availability is uncertain for Sunday's game at Houston. The injury to Scott, who was beaten repeatedly by Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, looks to be the most serious.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin didn't provide an update after the game and wouldn't specify the injury to Scott. "I don't know what it is," he said. "I am not going to speculate."

It appeared as if Scott sprained his ankle. Gilbert hurt his shoulder, and Legursky separated his shoulder. Because the Steelers only suited up seven offensive linemen, Gilbert had to return to the game when Scott had to be helped off the field.

If Gilbert and Legursky are sidelined, the Steelers would start Ramon Foster at right guard and Trai Essex at right tackle.

To address left tackle, the Steelers might have to reach out to Flozell Adams or Max Starks, both of whom were released by the team at the end of July. Adams, a left tackle who switched to the right side for Pittsburgh last season, would seem to be the preferable option to the team because the Steelers have remained in contact with him.

STAT THAT STICKS: 27 -- Game-winning drives in the fourth quarter that Ben Roethlisberger has delivered (which includes playoffs) in eight NFL seasons.

OVERHEARD: "We walked out of here with a win. Did we play well? No, we know we didn't play well. Do we got to get better? Yes, and we will get better." Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward on the tougher-than-expected win at Indianapolis.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Steelers (2-1) play at the Texans (2-1), who are coming off their first loss of the season (a 40-33 defeat at New Orleans).
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has said countless times that he's all about winning. On Monday, he took another step to prove it.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Roethlisberger has agreed to restructure his $102 million contract to help the Steelers get under the salary cap. It is well-documented that Pittsburgh began the summer more than $10 million over the cap and needs to shave salaries by the end of this week to reach compliance.

Pittsburgh already has made several veteran cuts with receiver Antwaan Randle El and offensive tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams. But Roethlisberger is Pittsburgh's highest-paid player, and his restructuring should go a long way to help Pittsburgh keep the rest of its veteran talent.

Several high-profile quarterbacks have taken less money or restructured deals to help their franchises, including Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and, most recently, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts.
LATROBE, Pa. -- Distractions and controversy? What distractions and controversy?

The opening of training camp was business as usual for the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite offseason incidents that ranged from Hines Ward's arrest to Rashard Mendenhall's misuse of Twitter to James Harrison ripping commissioner Roger Goodell and teammates, players quickly deflected any issues and seemed genuinely happy to get back to work.

The Steelers believe their off-the-field problems are a thing of the past, and the team is ready to move forward and attempt to make another title run in 2011.

"Any time we come to training camp, our goal is the Super Bowl," Ward said. "Anything less than the Super Bowl is a down year for us. Having experienced and tasted a loss in the Super Bowl is not a good feeling. So, hopefully we can get back there and come out on the winning side."

The Steelers have a lot of work to do before the start of the regular season. Here are some early questions:


1. How will the Steelers get under the cap?

According to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Steelers have until Thursday to get under the $120 million salary cap. Despite a flurry of roster moves last week, Pittsburgh remains about $7 million to $10 million over, which is where the team started this summer.

The Steelers made several key salary cuts, including veteran receiver Antwaan Randle El and offensive tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams. But the re-signings of in-house free agents such as cornerback Ike Taylor have basically nullified those moves.

Expect more tough decisions to be made this week.

"We have to find ways to get under [the cap] and in compliance," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "We're going to look at every and all possibilities."

There is some good news for the Steelers.

The new CBA allows teams to use three $1 million exceptions in 2011, and Colbert says he will use them all. Teams have this onetime flexibility to add an extra $3 million to the cap, which essentially brings the Steelers' number up to $123 million. This could allow Pittsburgh to retain some veterans it otherwise would lose.

[+] EnlargeIke Taylor
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesIke Taylor has 11 interceptions in eight NFL seasons.
2. Has Pittsburgh fixed its pass defense?

The last memory Steelers fans have of their defense is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers carving up the secondary for 304 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XLV. Since then, Pittsburgh hasn't made any significant additions to the secondary, leaving many to wonder whether this problem is fixed.

Because Pittsburgh is fielding the same players in the secondary, it's difficult to imagine the pass defense being better than it was last season. The Steelers re-signed veteran corners Taylor and William Gay and drafted rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.

"You can't worry about what people think outside the locker room, because we've been so successful on the field," Taylor said of the criticism. "So it really doesn’t matter. Everybody has their own opinion. It comes with the territory."

Expect many teams to spread the Steelers out this season by using three- and four-receiver sets. That will force backups such as Gay or some of the young corners to play important roles on the defense.

3. How thin is Pittsburgh's offensive line?

Pittsburgh's offensive line could be the thinnest group in the league.

Outside of second-year center Maurkice Pouncey, who is a stud, the rest of the line is littered with questions. Jonathan Scott plays the important role of left tackle and was inconsistent last year. Guards Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu are decent run-blockers but struggle in pass protection. And right tackle Willie Colon is coming off an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season.

Cutting Starks and Adams severely hurt the talent and depth of this group. Those were two of the most experienced linemen Pittsburgh had. Cap issues make it unlikely the team will sign another starting offensive lineman in free agency.

"You can't go into it and expect to have veteran depth at every position," Colbert admitted. "It just doesn't work out financially. You have to trust some of your young guys."

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the rock of the Pittsburgh offensive line.

It's only the first weekend of camp, but backup cornerback Keenan Lewis has been a pleasant surprise. Lewis is gaining valuable experience working with the first-team defense. Taylor signed a four-year contract in free agency and isn't allowed to practice with the team until later this week.

Despite a rocky two years in Pittsburgh, Lewis is a good athlete. He has good size and quickness and is making fewer mental mistakes, which is key. The competition for the important nickel role in the secondary will be intense this summer, and Lewis could have the inside track.


With the lengthy NFL lockout, someone was bound to show up out of shape. Backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was that person for the Steelers.

I expected to see more from Dwyer, a sixth-round pick in 2009. But he struggled mightily during the conditioning evaluations and hasn't done much in the practices. The Steelers' running back corps is deep, and Dwyer is definitely on the roster bubble.


  • I like the swagger this year of Pittsburgh's "Young Money" crew of receivers. Last year, Mike Wallace was going into his first year as a starter, and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were rookies just trying to fit in. But you can see that last year's success, particularly in the second half of the season and the playoffs, has helped this group and improved confidence. Instead of getting yelled at by Ward, Wallace is on top of everything so far in practice and is even helping Ward tutor other receivers. Sanders and Brown look much more comfortable in their roles and are displaying the same quickness and competitiveness they showed last year.
  • Pouncey already looks scary-good in his second season. In my seven years covering the NFL, I've never seen a center who moves as well and fluidly as Pouncey. Last week, longtime NFL writer Damon Hack of Sports Illustrated and I were sitting next to each other watching Pittsburgh's conditioning evaluation. We were amazed with how easily Pouncey, who is listed at 304 pounds, was running 100-yard sprints, while the rest of the linemen were lagging far behind. Pound for pound, Pouncey is easily one of the top athletes on the Steelers.
  • Linebacker Lawrence Timmons appears to have added considerable muscle in his upper body. Timmons, who is in a contract year, said he trained mostly in Florida this summer. Timmons also is one of the best pure athletes on the team. The key will be for him to maintain his quickness and acceleration while also adding strength.
  • The fact that the Steelers tried hard to recruit big receiver Plaxico Burress says a lot about the status of Limas Sweed. The former second-round pick enters this training camp on thin ice and is down to his last shot. Sweed is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and had issues with drops before that. Pittsburgh is taking the approach that anything it gets from Sweed is considered a bonus. He is currently the No. 5 receiver.
  • Keep an eye on rookie seventh-round pick Baron Batch. The running back has showed good explosiveness through the hole and the ability to pass-protect, which is very valuable. He has been a pleasant surprise in camp so far.
  • Overall, Pittsburgh's situation at running back is getting crowded. Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Batch were all impressive during the first weekend of training camp. The Steelers also re-signed veteran backup Mewelde Moore. There were rumors about Tiki Barber being interested in the Steelers, but I don't see it. Pittsburgh has considerable depth at that position.
  • Finally, another sleeper who is actually having a good camp is backup tight end and de facto fullback David Johnson. What the third-year veteran lacks in athleticism he makes up in effort. Although not his specialty, he's made several nice receptions in practice and remains one of the best run-blockers on the team. The Steelers are still in the market for a No. 2 tight end after the departure of Matt Spaeth to the Chicago Bears.
Business has been harsh to the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, who began the week about $10 million over the cap. The latest cap casualty is offensive tackle Flozell Adams, who reportedly refused to take a pay cut from his $5 million salary.

Pittsburgh needed cap relief and was expected to release or renegotiate with Adams, who signed a two-year deal last season. Adams played admirably last year and became a locker-room favorite. The Steelers even made it a point during Super Bowl week in Dallas to "win one for Flozell," who played most of his career with the Cowboys.

But the team simply couldn't afford the 36-year-old at his current salary. Now the Steelers have gaping holes on the offensive line.

The signing of Willie Colon should help. He could play one of the tackle spots. But spots for the other tackle and for one guard are open in Pittsburgh. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin dodged questions Thursday about which linemen would suit up with the first team in training camp.

Pittsburgh will hold its first practice of camp this afternoon, and we will have more of an indication of what the offensive line will look like. But right now, it's a thin unit.

Steelers' guide to cap relief

July, 20, 2011
AM ET senior writer John Clayton recently wrote an insightful piece updating the projected salary-cap figures for NFL teams. One note that stood out in the AFC North is that the reigning division champion Pittsburgh Steelers are projected to be more than $10.51 million over the cap.

That means Pittsburgh has plenty of work to do this summer. But fear not, Steeler Nation. The AFC North blog has provided Pittsburgh an easy-to-follow guide for cap relief.

Step No. 1: Release OT Flozell Adams

[+] EnlargeFlozell Adams
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesReleasing Flozell Adams would get the Steelers almost halfway to being under the salary cap.
Analysis: Adams quickly acclimated himself in the Steelers’ locker room and filled in admirably last season. But he makes $5 million in 2011. Releasing Adams alone would get the Steelers halfway to being under the cap. Maybe the Steelers can re-sign him at a lesser number later, but Adams is not irreplaceable. The Steelers drafted offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round and also could look for a vet in free agency. But if the Steelers can convince Adams to return for, say, $2 million next season, that makes sense for both sides.

Step No. 2: Release WR Antwaan Randle El

Analysis: Randle El signed a three-year, $7 million contract last season but had a subpar 2010 campaign. He was eventually beat out by rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, who are both younger and more athletic. Now Randle El is fifth on the depth chart. He's a good locker-room presence and plays hard, but cutting Randle El makes business sense.

Step No. 3: Restructure DE Aaron Smith's contract

Skinny: Smith is a great leader and presence in Pittsburgh's locker room. He's also a good player when healthy, but season-ending injuries are taking a toll on the 35-year-old defensive end. Smith is on the books for $4.5 million in the final year of his contract. But you don't just cut a leader and career Steeler like Smith. So asking him to restructure and perhaps save $2 million makes sense. Smith has been an excellent mentor to Ziggy Hood and could be to rookie Cameron Heyward in what could be Smith's final season.

Step No. 4: Release WR Limas Sweed

Skinny: The Steelers have held onto the former second-round pick for three seasons, but both sides should probably go their separate ways. Sweed displayed several flashes but dropped balls in big spots and could never recover. Sweed is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and enters the final year of a four-year, $3.3 million deal. Similar to Randle El, Sweed would probably be the fifth receiver on Pittsburgh’s depth chart if he stayed. Sweed needs a fresh start and the Steelers need the cap room.

Step No. 5: Sign LaMarr Woodley to a long-term deal

Skinny: Woodley received the franchise tag for a one-year deal worth $10.2 million in February. Woodley, who made just $550,00 last season, is very happy with that amount. But players would prefer long-term security. Woodley, 26, is eating up a huge chunk of this year's cap, and that number could be lowered if the Steelers reach a long-term agreement before the start of the season. That way, both sides would benefit.

If the Steelers follow these five steps, they will be back under the salary cap and ready to make a push for a corner in free agency. None of these decisions are easy, but that's the harsh reality of the NFL.
We continue our "Hope and Concern" series Friday with the offensive line of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Biggest reason for hope: Health

There were games last season when Pittsburgh's depth was thoroughly tested. Starting left tackle Max Starks suffered a season-ending neck injury in November in addition to lesser injuries to others members of the line. Jonathan Scott was inconsistent filling in for Starks, leading the Steelers to draft tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round. Gilbert should provide depth as a rookie and a potential fill-in behind Starks or aging veteran Flozell Adams. Rookie Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who missed the Super Bowl with an ankle injury, is healthy again and should be even better in his second season. Chris Kemoeatu is a solid but not great left guard. Pittsburgh still has questions at right guard. Pending free agent Willie Colon is a possibility to return.

Biggest reason for concern: Pass protection

Pittsburgh's sack numbers are staggering. Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 221 times the past five seasons. That’s an average of 44 times per season, and Roethlisberger even missed four games in 2010 due to a suspension. Roethlisberger does have a penchant for holding the football, but that doesn’t absolve the Steelers’ offensive line of 200-plus sacks. The Steelers have good run blockers up front, but they are mostly average or below average pass protectors. Roethlisberger is often forced to run around and fight off defenders after his first read. As a result, he has taken a beating and suffered multiple injuries the past few years. As Roethlisberger, 29, gets older, Pittsburgh needs to find a way for its quarterback to take less of a pounding.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
  • The Baltimore Ravens are optimistic former second-round pick Sergio Kindle will play football again.
Morning take: The Ravens could use Kindle's ability to rush the passer next season. But Baltimore rightfully is taking every precaution. Head injuries are very serious, and Kindle needs to be 100 percent before returning.
  • Early odds peg Cincinnati Bengals receiver A.J. Green as one of the top candidates for rookie of the year.
Morning take: Green certainly has the talent, but a lot will depend on the development of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. If Dalton struggles as the starter and can't get Green the football next season, Green can't put up big numbers.
  • Will Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon move back to guard?
Morning take: With Flozell Adams and new draft pick Marcus Gilbert both at right tackle, Colon likely will play inside. Colon did a decent job at right tackle in the past, but that was out of necessity.
  • Can Cleveland Browns rookie tight end Jordan Cameron make a name for himself in the NFL?
Morning take: Chances are it won't happen in his rookie year. Cameron has more basketball experience than football experience and will develop behind starting tight end Ben Watson and backup Evan Moore next season.

What's next for the Steelers?

February, 12, 2011
SteelersNelson Chenault/US PresswirePittsburgh will need to improve its secondary and offensive line if it wants another shot at the title.
As the confetti fell at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, a look of despair and disappointment immediately came over the faces of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The newly crowned Green Bay Packers were in full celebration mode, while Pittsburgh felt the sting of falling short of its seventh championship.

History weighs heavily against the Steelers -- seven of the past 10 Super Bowl runners-up have failed to make the playoffs the next year.

How do the Steelers avoid becoming another statistic? It will take some smart moves and solid upgrades in the offseason.

"Our goal is to try to get into [the Super Bowl] again, and just don't be on this side again," Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said. "Just get back in the lab and work harder. That's all."

Here is a preview of what's next for the Steelers:

Where are Pittsburgh’s biggest needs?

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Al Bello/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers took advantage of Pittsburgh's secondary -- completing 24-of-39 for 304 yards and a 111.5 passer rating.
Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Steelers are in better shape than most teams. But they are by no means perfect.

Three losses this season -- to the Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints -- have provided a blueprint of how to beat the Steelers. It takes a top-flight quarterback and a precise, short and intermediate passing game to put enough points on the board against Pittsburgh's vaunted No. 2 ranked defense.

Forcing the Steelers' offense to play from behind makes the team one-dimensional and susceptible to the pass rush. Pittsburgh's offensive line is one of the weakest areas of the team. Those three losses to Green Bay, New England and New Orleans all played out in similar fashion.

To counter these tough matchups, the Steelers need to improve their roster in several areas.

Pittsburgh's two biggest needs are at cornerback and offensive line. Upgrades to both positions would help the Steelers combat opponents like New England and Green Bay. The Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (304 yards, three touchdowns) beat Pittsburgh's defense by running a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, which exposed the Steelers' lack of depth in the secondary.

Pittsburgh starting cornerback Ike Taylor is solid, but he will be an unrestricted free agent (we will get to that later). After Taylor there is a dropoff to Bryant McFadden and backups William Gay and Anthony Madison. High-powered passing offenses will continue to give Pittsburgh fits unless it addresses this issue. I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers draft a cornerback in the first two rounds.

The Steelers need to improve at guard and tackle on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Max Starks is solid and returning from a season-ending neck injury. He will replace the inconsistent Jonathan Scott. Right tackle Flozell Adams, 35, is under contract for one more year with Pittsburgh and is uncertain about his future. Guard Chris Kemoeatu and center Maurkice Pouncey are set, but the Steelers could use another starting-caliber guard.

The Steelers traditionally are not big players in free agency, so don't expect a lot of turnover. Most of their needs will be addressed in April's NFL draft.

"I think we still have a core group of players that we can build around and hopefully make another run at it," Steelers president Art Rooney II said after the Super Bowl loss. "I don't think we'll be sitting there saying we're going to make a lot of changes. We'll prepare for the draft and add some players here and there, and be ready to go."

Who are the Steelers' key free agents?

[+] EnlargeLaMarr Woodley
Andrew Weber/US PresswireRetaining LaMarr Woodley is one of Pittsburgh's top priorities.
Where Pittsburgh does spend its money is retaining its key free agents. The Steelers have two big ones this year in Taylor and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

Pittsburgh has every intention of retaining Woodley, who was one of the NFL's best bargains after making just $550,000 in the final year of his rookie contract. Including playoffs, Woodley recorded 60 tackles, 13 sacks, two interceptions and got stronger as the season went on.

The Steelers are expected to use their franchise tag on Woodley, 26, while trying to negotiate a long-term deal. The deadline to tag Woodley is Feb. 24. But it will be challenging for Pittsburgh to work out a large extension until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Under the current CBA, the 30-percent rule is a major holdup in working out an extension with Woodley, who is a former second-round pick.

Taylor's situation is more fluid. The unrestricted free agent will be 31 in May and has spent his entire career with Pittsburgh. Returning will be Taylor's first preference, but he will certainly garner interest from other teams. Pittsburgh has to determine what is the right price to try to keep its No. 1 cornerback.

Other free agents of note for Pittsburgh include backup quarterback Dennis Dixon, tailback Mewelde Moore, kicker Shaun Suisham and offensive linemen Willie Colon and Trai Essex.

Can Pittsburgh remain a contender?

As we mentioned earlier, history is not kind to Super Bowl runners-up. Pittsburgh also will have to overcome its own negative history. The last two times the current Steelers made the Super Bowl -- both victories -- they missed the playoffs in the following seasons, 2006 and 2009.

The Steelers are usually at their best as underdogs. That was the case this season; most experts wrote off Pittsburgh because of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension at the beginning of the season. But the Steelers showed they could overcome setbacks and made it to Super Bowl XLV.

Expectations will be high for Pittsburgh next season, because a lot of talent and veteran leadership remain. But is it enough to get to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis?

"I love this group; I think it is a heck of a group," said Steelers linebacker and captain James Farrior. "There is a lot more football left in us. We just have to stay together. Hopefully, everything works out in the offseason and we get back here next season."

Steelers-Packers halftime notes

February, 6, 2011
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Green Bay Packers lead the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10 at intermission of Super Bowl XLV.

Here are some notes at halftime:
  • Pittsburgh's passing game, for the most part, looks out of sync. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got hot late but for most of the first half he missed throws he usually makes. He underthrew a pass that was intercepted by Packers safety Nick Collins and returned for a touchdown in the first quarter. Green Bay's Jarrett Bush also jumped a route for a second interception. Roethlisberger threw for 143 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the first half
  • The Packers have done a good job of attacking Pittsburgh's second and third cornerbacks. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is testing Pittsburgh's Bryant McFadden and William Gay and is finding success. Green Bay's first touchdown pass was a 29-yard strike to Jordy Nelson over Gay.
  • Pittsburgh struggled with injuries and penalties in the first half. Offensive tackle Flozell Adams (shoulder) and McFadden both suffered injuries but returned. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders also was hurt in the second quarter. The Steelers also committed four penalties that negated several good plays.
  • This might be the biggest test all season for Pittsburgh. This is the second biggest deficit for the Steelers in the postseason. The Baltimore Ravens led 21-7 at intermission in the divisional round.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the NFL's most-experienced teams. That is a major reason they are participating in Super Bowl XLV Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

But here is a breakdown of several key Steelers who will see their first action on the NFL's biggest stage:

WRs Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown

Analysis: Known in Pittsburgh as the "Young Money Crew," Wallace, Sanders and Brown have stepped up huge for the Steelers. Wallace is an elite deep threat and has carried the Steelers' passing game this year. Sanders has come on as a legit No. 3 receiver, while Brown has made his mark in the playoffs with back-to-back big catches to end games. This trio needs to step up for Pittsburgh to win its seventh championship.

RBs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman

Analysis: Both running backs are playing in their first Super Bowl but under different circumstances. Mendenhall was on the roster in 2008 but broke his shoulder as a rookie early and missed the playoff run. Now Mendenhall is playing well in his first postseason. Redman has earned his way on the active roster this season after impressing the coaching staff while on the practice squad.

C Doug Legursky

Analysis: It was questionable if Legursky would make the team out of training camp. Now the backup center is starting in the biggest game of the season. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain in the AFC title game against the New York Jets. Legursky filled in admirably for more than three quarters and also had two full weeks to prepare.

DE Ziggy Hood

Analysis: Hood is another injury replacement. He filled in for Aaron Smith (triceps) most of this season and played well. Pittsburgh still led the NFL in run defense and the Steelers finished second in total defense, despite Smith's injury. Hood also is playing his best football in the playoffs.

OT Flozell Adams

Analysis: Although one of Pittsburgh's oldest players, Adams, 35, has zero Super Bowl experience as a longtime member of the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers have taken the approach all week to "win one for Flozell." Not only does Adams have a chance to win his first ring, but he can do it in the same city he played most of his career.

Final Word: Super Bowl XLV

February, 5, 2011
Super Bowl XLV Final Word: Steelers | Packers

Five nuggets of knowledge about Super Bowl XLV:

[+] EnlargeRashard Mendenhall
Al Bello/Getty ImagesRashard Mendenhall has been a potent weapon for the Steelers, rushing for 167 yards in two playoff games.
Big stage for Mendenhall: The play of Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall has been under the radar throughout the playoffs. But Mendenhall's performance will be very important for Pittsburgh to beat the Packers. Mendenhall has rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns in Pittsburgh's two playoff games. Playing in his first Super Bowl, Mendenhall has the ability to keep the chains moving and keep Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers off the field. The Packers' run defense has struggled at times, ranking just No. 18 in the NFL this season.

Win one for Flozell: Nearly all the veteran players on the Steelers own at least one Super Bowl ring. But one veteran who doesn't own any jewelry is starting right tackle Flozell Adams. He played a dozen years for the Dallas Cowboys and signed with the Steelers before training camp. With Adams returning to his old stomping grounds, Pittsburgh is taking the approach to "Win one for Flozell." Offensive linemen all wore throwback Michigan State jerseys of Adams on the flight to Dallas on Monday as a show of solidarity.

Keeping the streak: One of the safest bets in sports has been the Steelers in Super Bowls. Pittsburgh is 6-1 all time in the big game, with the only loss coming to the Dallas Cowboys following the 1995 season. (Credit Neil O'Donnell.) Pittsburgh's current group of veterans such as receiver Hines Ward, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Farrior are looking to go 3-0 in Super Bowls. Experience definitely favors Pittsburgh and may play a factor in this game.

Taking shots: Steelers receiver Mike Wallace hasn't made many big plays in the postseason, as defenses have been geared to stop him. But Super Bowl XLV could be an opportunity for Wallace to get back to making those game-changing plays. Packers defensive coordinators Dom Capers blitzes often, and that will present chances for Wallace to go over the top of the defense against single coverage. Much has been said about Green Bay's speed advantage indoors. But Wallace will undoubtedly be the fastest player in this game.

The big Legursky: It was questionable if Doug Legursky would make Pittsburgh's roster out of training camp last summer. Now he's replacing Maurkice Pouncey as the Steelers' starting center in the Super Bowl. It has been a wild ride this season for Legursky, who made the team once veteran center and former starter Justin Hartwig was cut. Legursky filled in at various positions this season. He feels center is his best position, and the Steelers hope he's correct when he faces the Packers on the biggest stage.

Ben Roethlisberger soaking it all in

January, 31, 2011
FORT WORTH, Texas -- From the moment Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walked off the team plane Monday afternoon, his pocket camera hasn't left his side.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger
AP Photo/David J. PhillipPittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger soaks up the atmosphere after landing at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Monday.
Roethlisberger is capturing the moments with his teammates, coaches, media, and even briefly put the camera on a certain AFC North blogger Monday while on his way to the podium for interviews.

"How's it going?" Roethlisberger asked.

"Hey, what's up?" I replied, while rushing to change the batteries in my voice recorder.

Roethlisberger is soaking in every moment this week. Despite this being his third trip to the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh's quarterback has the enthusiasm of someone going through this experience for the first time.

This is a year no one expected Pittsburgh to return to the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, but the Steelers went 3-1 to start the season. Even when the playoffs began, most predicted the New England Patriots to come out of the AFC as the heavy favorites.

But instead, the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets for the chance to compete in their third Super Bowl in six seasons, this time against the Green Bay Packers. Roethlisberger is 2-0 in title games and is looking to join Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with three rings.

It's been a long year for Roethlisberger in many ways, but he seemed genuinely happy to get his team back to the Super Bowl for the third time.

"You just don't take this for granted, because you never know," Roethlisberger said. "This could be your last one."

Here are some other notes on the Steelers:

  • As a show of respect, every member of Pittsburgh's offensive line wore throwback Flozell Adams jerseys from his college days at Michigan State on Monday. Adams, who spent 12 seasons with Dallas, will be playing in his first Super Bowl, at Cowboys Stadium.
  • Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin didn't rule out center Maurkice Pouncey, who is dealing with a high ankle sprain. Tomlin said the Steelers are aggressively rehabbing to see if he can return. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Pouncey will not play and has a broken bone in his ankle.
  • Schefter also reports that Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith will have an MRI on his surgically repaired triceps on Wednesday. Smith was listed as questionable for the Super Bowl on last week's injury report.
  • Roethlisberger and Tomlin addressed a Sports Illustrated report that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said no teammates came to Roethlisberger's defense during interviews this summer at training camp. "Well, I know for a fact that the commissioner came to training camp to talk about it," Roethlisberger said. "I'm not sure. I wasn't there and I'm not exactly sure what was said." It's no secret that Roethlisberger wasn't the most popular player in the Steelers' locker room, and the quarterback has spoken several times about working on being a better teammate this season. "Ben is a highly respected member of our football team, not only because of what he's done this year, but his line of work in previous years," Tomlin said. "We all fall short of perfection. We all make mistakes. His are well-documented, and he's doing as best he can in terms of moving forward with it."

The Steelers have officially arrived

January, 31, 2011
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have officially touched down in the Lone Star State. And they are not heading home until the conclusion of Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 against the Green Bay Packers.

Pittsburgh's team plane arrived at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport at approximately 12:30 p.m. ET Monday. The Steelers then loaded several buses, along with a police motorcade, on their way to their headquarters in Fort Worth.

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin and several players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Hines Ward and offensive tackle Flozell Adams, will meet with the media this afternoon. The AFC North blog will have some early reaction from the Steelers to kick off Super Bowl week.
PITTSBURGH -- By the end of last Sunday's AFC Championship Game, the Steelers were attempting to punch a ticket to Super Bowl XLV with four offensive linemen who were backups at the beginning of the season.

Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky all entered training camp without much fanfare or high expectations. But as offensive linemen continued to go down at different points of the season, this foursome was key to leading Pittsburgh to a 24-19 victory over the New York Jets.

On Sunday, the backups joined starting guard Chris Kemoeatu, who stayed healthy virtually from start to finish and started in 17 of Pittsburgh's 18 games, including the postseason. This patchwork group will be key against the Green Bay Packers' tough defense, which ranked No. 5 in the NFL this season.

[+] EnlargeDoug Legursky
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireIf Maurkice Pouncey is unable to play, Doug Legursky (64) will start at center for Pittsburgh.
Blocking Packers defenders such as Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji will not be an easy task. But despite various injuries, the Steelers feel they are up for the challenge.

"I have all the faith in the world in those guys," said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has always been supportive of his offensive line. "The last time we were in Tampa [for Super Bowl XLIII] we had a 'makeshift line' and guys filled in. The standard, as coach [Mike Tomlin] says, doesn’t change. Guys know that."

Pittsburgh's MASH unit has battled through injuries well this season. Here is a breakdown:

  • The Steelers suffered their first big loss on the offensive line in the spring when starting right tackle Willie Colon went down with a season-ending Achilles injury while working out. That led to the team signing 13-year veteran Flozell Adams, who will be playing in his first Super Bowl in the home stadium of his former team: the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Pittsburgh starting left tackle Max Starks suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 9 against the Cincinnati Bengals and was put on injured reserve. He was replaced by Scott at left tackle for the past nine games.
  • And the most recent injury was to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered a high ankle sprain on the opening drive against the Jets. Legursky did a solid job filling in for almost the entire game and helped pave the way for tailback Rashard Mendenhall to rush for 121 yards and a touchdown against New York. Pouncey’s status for the Super Bowl is in question, as players who suffer high ankle sprains typically sit out four to six weeks.

Legursky could play a key role for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Despite being a rookie, Pouncey is Pittsburgh's best offensive lineman. If he cannot play, it would be a big loss in the middle of the offensive line.

Legursky would have the tough assignment blocking Raji, who is becoming one of the NFL's fastest rising stars and is having a breakout run through the playoffs.

"He's a playmaker. You've seen that through the playoffs alone," Legursky said of Raji. “He's a big, old guy, stout there in the middle and we’re going to have our hands full."

If Legursky doesn't start, he will remain one of the first subs off the bench. As Pittsburgh's most versatile lineman, Legursky has the ability to play center, guard, tackle and has played tight end this season in goal-line situations.

Legursky's blue-collar work ethic earned him a spot with the Steelers. Already cut once by Pittsburgh, Legursky entered training camp as a long shot behind Pouncey, a first-round draft pick, and last year's starter, Justin Hartwig.

But Pouncey's rapid development made Hartwig expendable and he was released, while Pittsburgh preferred Legursky's ability to play various positions. The AFC North blog asked Legursky this week if someone told him a few months ago he could start in a Super Bowl, what would be his reaction?

"I would have said you were crazy," Legursky responded.

Legursky isn't the only versatile player. Both Essex and Foster have the capability of playing both guard and tackle positions. Pouncey, when healthy, is a Pro Bowl center but also is a very good guard, as well. There have been times this season, due to injury, where players have been shifted around during games and it's hard to keep up with who's playing where.

"Looking at this group, to see what they've done with the multitude of positions and guys' versatility, I think it's one of the deepest in the NFL," said Starks, who will watch his teammates from the sideline this year.

Offensive skill players such as Roethlisberger, Mendenhall and receivers Mike Wallace and Hines Ward will get most of the acclaim leading up to the game. But the play of a versatile and battle-tested offensive line helped get Pittsburgh this far, and the Steelers need another solid effort for this group in Arlington, Texas, to win an NFL-best seventh Super Bowl title.