AFC North: Isaac Redman

PITTSBURGH – Isaac Redman, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in four-plus seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, should not have any regrets after announcing his retirement on Friday.

Redman
Redman
Redman, who is only 29, has to walk away from the game because of a career-ending spinal injury. No one can question whether Redman left anything on the field.

“Last season I tried my best to play through a neck injury but I just wasn’t myself on the field,” Redman wrote on his Twitter account. “After being released I sent to Cali to see Dr. Watkins [doctor who did Peyton Manning’s neck surgery]. After 2 MRIs and a CAT-scan he then told me I had suffered a career-ending injury to my spinal cord. Various teams have called but as you can see I was unable to go. I would like to thank all my fans for the tremendous support throughout my career.”

Redman spent most of his rookie season on the Steelers’ practice squad before making the team in 2010 and playing four seasons in Pittsburgh. He opened 2013 as a starter because of an injury to Le’Veon Bell but rushed for just 12 yards on 10 carries.

The Steelers released Redman in the middle of October last season after he had been deactivated for three consecutive games.

The injury helps explain why Redman struggled so badly in his final NFL season as he averaged 4.2 yards per carry from 2010-12 and just 1.2 yards per carry in 2013.

Redman captured the fancy of Steelers fans in 2009 when he starred in the goal-line drill at training camp.

Little was known about the undrafted rookie from Bowie State in Maryland until the defense couldn’t keep him out of the end zone during one of the most anticipated drills at camp.

After bursting onto the scene, Redman found himself surrounded by reporters. As coach Mike Tomlin walked past Redman to give his daily camp briefing, he coolly said, “Sorry to interrupt you, Isaac.”

The day turned Redman into something of a cult figure and while he only made the practice squad that season, he played his way on to the 53-man roster in 2010 and rushed for 247 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.

Redman always ran hard, and he thrived in the role of complementary back and spot starter.

He should be remembered fondly by Steelers fans despite the unfortunate end to his career.
PITTSBURGH -- A month into free agency few could have expected the Steelers to be as active as they have been in reshaping their roster. They have signed more than 10 free agents, including seven from other teams.

The Steelers are around $300,000 under the salary cap and are done signing players for now, having shifted their focus to the draft. With free agency having slowed to a crawl following a furious spending spree, let’s take a closer look at the outside free agents that the Steelers added with ESPN NFL analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson weighing in on each player:

Mitchell
Mike Mitchell

Position: S

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-0, 210

Deal: five-year, $25 million contract with $5.25 million guaranteed

2013 statistics: Set career-highs in tackles (66), interceptions (4), sacks (3 1/2) and forced fumbles (2) for the Panthers, blossoming after leaving Oakland for Carolina.

Skinny: The Steelers signed Mitchell to take over for Ryan Clark at free safety and get younger in the secondary. Mitchell prepares and plays with an edge. Next up for one of former Raiders owner Al Davis’ most infamous drat picks is proving those wrong who say his breakout season had more to do with the talent around Mitchell than his growth.

Matt Williamson’s take: “I think the arrow is very much going up on him because he’s big and fast and now he knows how to play the game. I think he’s a better coverage player than he is a run defender. I think he’s going to be your deep centerfield more often than not and let Troy (Polamalu) do his thing. Tackling is one thing he needs to work on but he can blitz.”

Thomas
Cam Thomas

Position: DL

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-4, 330

Deal: two-year, $4 million contract with $1 million guaranteed

2013 statistics: Recorded 23 tackles while starting 10 of 16 games at nose tackle for the Chargers and also made his first career interception.

Skinny: The Steelers signed Thomas to provide depth at nose tackle and defensive end. The player known as “Baby Zilla” could get an opportunity to start at the defensive end spot opposite Cameron Heyward depending on the players that the Steelers draft or sign in free agency.

Matt Williamson’s take: “I thought it was a decent pick up. I think he’s versatile enough to play any of their defensive line spots as is (Steve) McLendon. They certainly need d-line help but it’s not like boy they have to get a Casey Hampton or boy they have to get a (Brett) Keisel. It’s giving them more options going into the draft and he’s young, big body, fits the mold of what they want from that position.”

Moore
Lance Moore

Position: WR

Age: 30

Ht/Wt.: 5-9, 190

Deal: two-year, $3 million contract with $645,000 million guaranteed

2013 statistics: Caught 37 passes for 457 yards and two touchdowns while starting five of the 13 games he played in his final seasons with the Saints.

Skinny: The Steelers moved quickly to fill their opening at No. 3 wide receiver after Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Panthers. They landed Moore, who was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2012, and had some other good seasons in New Orleans. Moore, like Cotchery, knows how to get open and has reliable hands. He is a little younger than Cotchery but isn’t as effective as Cotchery is in the red zone. Eight of Cotchery’s 10 touchdown receptions last season were from inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.

Matt Williamson’s take: “I think having a veteran in that room is really important, but I just wish he was a bigger guy. Cotchery was a pretty good red zone weapon where now they’re extra small at receiver. Moore had a bad year last year. He didn’t play much because of injuries but the few seasons before that he was a good player. He was always very reliable.”

Moats
Arthur Moats

Position: LB

Age: 26

Ht/Wt.: 6-2, 250

Deal: one-year, $795,000 contract with $65,000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Played in every game last season, starting 12 at inside linebacker, and recorded a career-high 54 tackles.

Skinny: This under-the-radar signing could turn out to be a significant one for the Steelers. Moats will provide depth at outside linebacker and play special teams. He also could get a shot at challenging Vince Williams for the starting job at left inside linebacker, though Moats has said the Steelers will first try him at outside linebacker.

Matt Williamson’s take: “He’s unique. I can’t really come up with a guy off the top of my head in the league who can play all four linebacker spots at a 3-4. They’re very different skill sets. At a minimum he’s your fifth linebacker. He’s a very good special teamer. He’s still really young.”

McCain
Brice McCain

Position: CB

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 5-9, 187

Deal: one-year, $795,000 contract with $65,0000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Started a career-high four games for the Texans and recorded 32 tackles with an interception and seven passes defended.

Skinny: The Texans cut ties with McCain after opposing teams picked on the fifth-year veteran a good bit last season. The Steelers only had three other cornerbacks with significant NFL experience before signing McCain so he gives them some insurance and will be plenty motivated to bounce back from a rough 2013 campaign.

Matt Williamson’s take: “He’s a fourth or fifth guy that plays sparingly and might not even make the team if they draft one or two (cornerbacks) that are real impressive. He has at least played a lot of snaps in this league. He’s good enough to get on the field but bad enough to get burned when he’s on there and he’s little. He’s the (signing) I’m least excited about.”

Williams
Blount
LeGarrette Blount

Position: RB

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-0, 250

Deal: two years, $3.85 million, with $950,000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Rushed for 772 yards and seven touchdowns and averaged 5.0 yards per carry while emerging as the Patriots’ best back by the end of the season. Blount went off in a Patriots playoff win over the Colts, rushing for 166 yards and four touchdowns.

Skinny: The Steelers were looking for a proven back to provide depth and injury insurance behind Le'Veon Bell and they found a young one at a reasonable price. If Blount can shoulder some of the workload at running back that should keep Bell fresh throughout the season and perhaps add some seasons to his career.

Matt Williamson’s take: “If you watch SportsCenter and watch his highlights you think he’s better than he is. There’s times that he doesn’t play as big and strong as he really is. If there isn’t a hole there he doesn’t make his own, but he is powerful and I think he’s got really good feet. He doesn’t really offer anything in the passing game but the best thing is he’s better than (Jonathan) Dwyer and (Isaac) Redman. They upgraded there.”

Heyward-Bey
Darrius Heyward-Bey

Position: WR

Age: 27

Ht/Wt.: 6-2, 219

Deal: one-year, $795,000 contract with $65,000 guaranteed

2013 statistics: Played a career-high 16 games, starting 12 of them, and caught 29 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown in his only seasons with the Colts.

Skinny: The seventh overall pick of the 2009 draft has never lived up to expectations with suspect hands often neutralizing his unique blend of size and speed. Heyward-Bey gives the Steelers a bigger wide receiver and one who is still young enough to have some upside. If he doesn’t work out the Steelers took virtually no risk in signing Heyward-Bey

Matt Williamson’s take: “Highly unreliable and it really only comes down to drops. He drops so many passes. It wasn’t his fault that he was the seventh pick of the draft and didn’t live up to it. Nobody thought he should be (picked that high) except for Al Davis. He may not even make the team.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers' season is riddled with what-ifs. In (dis)honor of their eight losses here are eight things that shaped their fate.

Near miss in opener: The Steelers took a shot deep down the right sidelines after getting a safety on the opening kickoff, but Emmanuel Sanders couldn't haul in Ben Roethlisberger's pass. It would have been a good catch but it turned into the kind of near-miss that defined Sanders' season as much as the big plays he delivered. You have to wonder if the Titans would have recovered had that play led to a touchdown and an early 9-0 Steelers lead. Instead the Steelers lost Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to a season-ending knee injury on the first drive of the season and didn't score when Isaac Redman fumbled out of the end zone.

Hard to handle in Cincinnati: The Steelers were leading 3-0 in the second quarter when tight end David Paulson lost a fumble at the end of a 34-yard catch and run. Had Paulson held onto the ball the Steelers would have had a first down on the Bengals' 16-yard line. They would have been looking at least a 6-0 lead with Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggling with his accuracy. That play pivoted the game toward the Bengals and loomed large in a 20-10 loss at Paul Brown Stadium.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezTerrelle Pryor left the Pittsburgh defense in his wake en route to a 93-yard TD run.
Off and running in Oakland: Terrelle Pryor broke free for a 93-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage and that set the tone for another bad trip to Oakland. A handful of Steelers were caught out of position on the scamper, and that run exceeded the number of passing yards Pryor had (88). It also set an NFL record for longest run by a quarterback. The Steelers seemed to be a step slow all afternoon and the loss blunted any momentum they had generated following back-to-back wins.

Not so automatic: Shaun Suisham missed just two field goals all season and was as good as any kicker this side of Justin Tucker. But his misses couldn't have been timed any worse as both came in what turned out to be a three-point loss in Oakland. Nothing is as hard to comprehend about what happened this season then Suisham losing it for one game -- and one game only in an otherwise outstanding season. Both of his misses came inside of 35 yards and Suisham blamed himself for the worst loss of the season afterward.

Costly drop in Baltimore: The Steelers nearly rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit, but Sanders dropped a 2-point conversion pass that would have tied the game, and the Ravens recovered the ensuing onside kick. The Steelers were nearly out of offensive linemen by the end of another brutal battle of attrition with their archrivals, and the injuries that decimated them up front might have put them at a disadvantage in overtime. On the other hand, the Steelers clearly had the Ravens on their heels after scoring three touchdowns in the second half. And they would have loved to take their chances in overtime.

No doubting Thomas: A backup running back playing on a bad wheel turned in the biggest play of the game when he broke free for a 55-yard run to set up the Dolphins' go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Dolphins blocked the play well though Troy Polamalu said after the Steelers' 34-28 loss that he had not gotten to his assigned gap. The run propelled Daniel Thomas, who played on an injured ankle, to only the second 100-yard game of his career and first since his rookie season in 2011. It also led to another improbable loss for the Steelers.

Almost a miracle: The Steelers came within inches of pulling off what would have been one of the greatest endings in NFL history. Sanders caught a pass at around the Steelers' 40-yard line and triggered a series of laterals after he gained about 5 more yards and tossed the ball back to Jerricho Cotchery. The ball reversed field and ended up tucked under Antonio Brown's left arm. Brown weaved his way through the Dolphins defense with no time left on the clock and reached the end zone. Officials however, correctly ruled that he stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard adding another heartbreaking chapter to the Steelers season. Brown probably could have avoided stepping out and still scored but snow made it difficult to tell where he was on the field. No single play epitomized the Steelers' near-miss season than this one.

No call shuts door on Steelers: Wouldn't you have loved to hear what Mike Tomlin was yelling at his TV when he noticed the Chargers were lined up illegally before Ryan Succop's 41-yard field goal attempt? Succop should have gotten a mulligan -- and moved 5 yards closer -- after barely missing the field goal that would sent the Steelers to the playoffs but no penalty was called. A quick whistle may have also cost the Steelers in overtime when Eric Weddle was ruled down before a Chiefs player ripped the ball out of his arms and raced into the end zone. Tomlin is a member of the NFL's competition committee and you can bet he will have plenty to say on the state of officiating.
    Taylor
  • The Steelers have restructured cornerback Ike Taylor's contract, a source told ESPN, freeing up around $3 million under the salary cap this year. The Steelers and Taylor agreed to turn his base salary this year into a signing bonus that can be spread over the remaining two years on his contract. The Steelers may still have to pay Isaac Redman close to $850,000 after releasing the fourth-year veteran last week. Redman signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract last April and the deal was not guaranteed. Redman, however, has the option of claiming the rest of the money on the contract via a termination payment that the collective bargaining allows players to exercise one time during their career.

  • All of the Steelers players were listed as full participants in practice Thursday. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert (quadricep), defensive end Brett Keisel (ribs), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (ribs), tight end Richard Gordon (toe) and tight end Heath Miller (coach's decision) had been limited Wednesday. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was non-committal about Gilbert playing Sunday in Oakland, but Gilbert said he should be good to go against the Raiders. "Feeling great," he said.

  • Haley said he is happy with the Steelers' running backs and that goes beyond rookie Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for a career-high 93 yards in the Steelers' 19-16 win over the Ravens. "I like the way all of those guys go about their business," Haley said. "They are acting like professionals. When their number is called, they are getting things done for us. Guys are hungry and want to play. That's always a good thing."

    -- Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said the Steelers face a similar challenge in containing dual-threat quarterback Terrelle Pryor as they did last season when they faced Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. The 6-4, 233-pound Pryor's size and speed make him as difficult as any quarterback to tackle, LeBeau said. "He's like having another tailback in the game,” LeBeau said. "He's a great athlete." Pryor leads all AFC quarterbacks with 285 rushing yards but Ike Taylor said one thing the Steelers cornerbacks cannot do is peek into the backfield when they are covering a Raiders receiver. Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake calls that watching TV. Said Taylor, "You don't want to watch TV because nine times out of 10 its going to be on the wrong channel."

Isaac Redman's exit was inevitable

October, 21, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- The only surprise with the Pittsburgh Steelers' release of Isaac Redman is that it didn’t happen sooner.

The fourth-year running back had clearly fallen out of favor with the Steelers, and not because Redman went public with a claim that he had fooled team doctors after suffering a concussion in a Sept. 18 game at Cincinnati so he could keep playing.

Redman
Redman
Redman had simply exhausted the chances Steelers gave him to carve out a role in their backfield, which now clearly belongs to rookie Le'Veon Bell.

Redman didn’t seize the starting job last season when a knee injury sidelined former first-round pick Rashard Mendenhall for the first part of 2012. And he faltered badly when an injury that sidelined Bell gave Redman another chance to start at running back.

The Steelers made a mistake when they cut Jonathan Dwyer in late August and installed Redman as the starter with Bell still recovering from a mid-foot sprain. They corrected that error when Bell’s emergence made it clear the Steelers only needed to carry three running backs on their 53-man roster -- and they kept Dwyer over Redman.

That is not to discount Redman’s contributions to the Steelers or the value they received from a player who made the team as an undrafted free agent from Bowie State.

Redman rushed for more than 1,000 in three-plus seasons, and the 6-foot, 230-pounder ran hard if not always effectively. Redman could latch on with another team as a short-yardage back and spot starter, a role he handled with some success prior to this season.

But he had clearly become expendable in Pittsburgh, and it was only a matter of when, and not if, the Steelers would cut ties with Redman.

Steelers play it safe with Jarvis Jones

October, 20, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Right outside linebacker Jarvis Jones will miss his first NFL game after suffering a concussion in the Steelers’ 19-6 win over the Jets last Sunday.

Jones
That Jones is among the seven Steelers inactives today does not necessarily mean he didn’t receive medical clearance to play against the Ravens. The Steelers may have de-activated Jones as a precaution, especially after he said he did not take part in any team drills on Friday, even though the team listed him as a full participant in practice.

Jason Worilds will start in place of Jones.

Just as noteworthy is the Steelers are dressing eight offensive linemen today with Mike Adams and Cody Wallace joining Guy Whimper as the backups. The decision reflects the Steelers’ desire to leave Kelvin Beachum at left tackle if there is an in-game injury along the line.

It is also an indication that coach Mike Tomlin learned his lesson last week after a pregame injury to Levi Brown left the Steelers with six offensive linemen while a dislocated wrist sidelined tight end and emergency offensive tackle David Johnson early in first quarter.

Running back Isaac Redman, who opened the season as a starter, is inactive for a third consecutive game. Cornerback Isaiah Green got the nod over Curtis Brown, who is not dressing today.
PITTSBURGH -- What in past years could have been hailed as the way to finish a run has instead taken a bite out of Jonathan Dwyer’s wallet.

Dwyer
Dwyer has been fined $21,000 for using the crown of his helmet in the Steelers’ 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears last Sunday night. The fourth-year running back did not draw a penalty on the play but an NFL review of it resulted in a fine.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, meanwhile, received separate fines totaling $15,750 for unnecessary roughness.

Brown was flagged for unnecessary roughness after grabbing a facemask during a punt return. He received the same penalty after making a tackle following a Ben Roethlisberger interception near the end of the game.

Brown said he plans to appeal the fines.

Dwyer’s fine is a result of a rule change enacted during the offseason. Players are no longer allowed to use the crown of their helmet to strike a blow against defensive players.

The rule change that is part of the NFL’s player-safety initiative has drawn its share of criticism.

One player-safety issue that cropped up with the Steelers this week won’t be investigated by the NFL.

Running back Isaac Redman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he played in the Steelers’ 20-10 loss at Cincinnati after sustaining a concussion on the opening kickoff. Redman said he lied to doctors so he could get back into the game.

The Steelers have refuted Redman’s claim and said they followed the mandated protocol when a player suffers a possible concussion before clearing Redman to return.

The NFL said it is satisfied with how the Steelers handled Redman’s injury though ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick wonders how Redman could have fooled doctors so easily.

Riddick, a former NFL safety, said it is not uncommon for players who have sustained a concussion to do everything they can to stay in a game.

But a league that is doing everything it can to minimize dangerous head hits has to also protect concussed players from themselves.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 3

September, 23, 2013
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A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 40-23 loss to the Chicago Bears.

[+] EnlargeLaMarr Woodley
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarLaMarr Woodley and the Steelers weren't able to make enough key plays on defense in the fourth quarter to rally past the Bears.
Change coming on O-line: The Steelers used a three-man rotation at offensive tackle Sunday night, and Kelvin Beachum could get a chance to unseat Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams. "We're going to turn the stones over in an effort to find a winning formula," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, "and we’re not going to be bashful about that. Kelvin Beachum has earned the right to play in the rotation." The bookends of the offensive line have struggled, raising both short-term and long-term questions, particularly about Adams at left tackle. The second-year man does not look like the answer there, and his future may ultimately be at right tackle.

Falling down the depth chart: Isaac Redman opened the season as a starter but he could be the odd man out in the Steelers backfield when rookie Le’Veon Bell returns from a mid-foot sprain. Redman barely saw the field Sunday night and did not get a carry against the Bears. The fourth-year veteran has 12 yards on 10 carries this season. Take away an 8-yard run and Redman has 4 yards on his nine other carries, and his lost fumble on the Steelers’ first possession of the season set the tone for an offense that has struggled. Bell, the highly touted rookie, could return Sunday against the Vikings. Barring a setback he is at least on track to suit up Oct. 13 against the Jets following the Steelers’ bye week. The running game showed improvement against the Bears but it still has a long way to go. The Steelers have rushed for fewer than 100 yards in nine consecutive games dating back to last season.

Get off the field: The lack of turnovers forced by the Steelers defense has been well documented. Just as costly against the Bears was the defense’s inability to get off the field after whittling a deficit that had twice been 17 points down to four. The Steelers allowed Chicago to convert on third-and-10 and third-and-12 in the fourth quarter when the Bears were on their side of the field and clinging to a 27-23 lead. Credit Jay Cutler for using his legs to pick up the first down on third-and-10 and then for making a big-time throw three plays later on third-and-12. The 41-yard pass to Brandon Marshall led to a Bears touchdown, and Chicago was 3-for-3 on third down during that critical scoring drive. "We had them in a third-down situation and we gave up a big play and allowed them to score a touchdown at the end," outside linbebacker LaMarr Woodley said, "so that was on us as a defense."

Not all is bad: The Steelers special teams, thought to be a question mark heading into the season, have been one of the few bright spots during the 0-3 start. The Steelers rendered return specialist Devin Hester a nonfactor the week after he piled up a Bears record 247 yards in kickoff returns. Hester managed just 26 yards on two kickoff returns, and the Bears’ average field position after those returns was their 11-yard line. Steelers punter Zoltan Mesko drew a roughing the kicker penalty that gave the offense a new set of downs and new life in the second quarter. The Steelers turned that miscue into a touchdown that pulled them to within 24-10. Kicker Shaun Suisham drilled all three of his field goal attempts, and he is a perfect 4-for-4 this season.

Jonathan Dwyer could be upgrade at RB

September, 9, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Another injury at running back led to the Steelers bringing Jonathan Dwyer back to Pittsburgh. The sorry state of the ground game may compel coach Mike Tomlin to play Dwyer if not feature him when the Steelers visit Cincinnati next Monday night.

The Steelers generated next to nothing on the ground in their season opener, and starting running back Isaac Redman fumbled twice, losing one of them after the offense had driven inside the Titans 10-yard line.

Redman spent considerable time on the sidelines after the second fumble, and he may not have gotten back into the game had LaRod Stephens-Howling not gone down with a knee injury.

When asked after the 16-9 loss to the Titans whether he expects to start against the Bengals, Redman said, “Coach Tomlin told me on the sidelines he still has all the confidence in the world, so we’ll see.”

The competition at running back will at least be wide open this week in practice, and there is no reason why the Steelers shouldn’t give Dwyer a long look.

He was the Steelers’ most talented runner when they released him on Aug. 31 and instead kept the recently acquired Felix Jones.

And the Steelers don’t have many other options until rookie Le’Veon Bell returns from a mid-foot sprain, an injury that could sideline the second-round draft pick for a couple of more games.

Jones probably takes over as the Steelers’ third-down back with Stephens-Howling out for the rest of the season.

That leaves Dwyer, who led the Steelers with 623 yards last season, and Redman to battle for the starting job. And the latter certainly didn’t help himself with his ball-security issues against the Titans or the 9 yards he mustered on 8 carries.

Another signing on Monday provided clarity on the offensive line and probably immediate help for the beleaguered unit.

Fernando Velasco started 13 games at center for the Titans last season, and the 6-foot-4, 320-pounder looks like the obvious choice to step in for Maurkice Pouncey.

Cody Wallace, whom the Steelers signed on Sept. 1, is better suited to provide depth at center and guard. Kelvin Beachum, who took over at center for the injured Pouncey on Sunday, is more valuable as the Steelers’ top reserve along the offensive line.

They also want to use Beachum as a sixth lineman/eligible receiver, at least until starting tight end Heath Miller returns from reconstructive knee surgery.
The AFC North built a reputation on physically beating up on other divisions. In Week 1 of the 2013 season, they beat themselves up.

The division teams allowed too many hits on their quarterbacks, made too many costly penalties and turned the ball over too many times. The result: the first winless Week 1 for all of the AFC North teams since 2002, the division's first year of existence. According to ESPN Stats & Information, this is the first time the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers all lost in the same week since Week 10 of the 2010 season.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsCleveland's Brandon Weeden and the rest of the AFC North quarterbacks took their lumps in Week 1.
This has been regarded as one of the best divisions in football recently. Three teams made the playoffs in 2011, and two returned in 2012. But no one in the AFC North made a championship-caliber first impression in 2013.

The Steelers had the most devastating defeat, losing three players (Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, inside linebacker Larry Foote and backup running back LaRod Stephens-Howling) to season-ending injuries in a 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens had the most embarrassing defeat, falling by 22 points on the road against the Denver Broncos on national television -- the worst season-opening loss for a defending Super Bowl champion. The Bengals had the most frustrating loss, failing to hold an 11-point lead in Chicago with 23 minutes left to play. And the Browns had, well, another season-opening loss (their 14th in the past 15 seasons).

Here are the common themes in the losses for the AFC North teams:

Too many hits on the quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Weeden and Joe Flacco combined to get sacked a total of 15 times. It's no wonder they also combined to throw six interceptions. Weeden was hit 16 times by Miami. Has he ever been hit that much before? "I don't think so," he said. Defenses could tee off on the quarterbacks because there was no threat of a running game. All four teams averaged less than 3.7 yards per carry. The days of Jerome Bettis, Jamal Lewis and Corey Dillon are long gone.

Too many penalties: The Bengals, Browns and Ravens were flagged 24 times for 194 yards. This is a reflection of a lack of poise. Browns guard Oniel Cousins' holding penalty in the fourth quarter negated a touchdown. The Ravens were called for three personal fouls. The biggest blunder was committed by Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga, who has been on the hot seat with fans for more than a year now. His unnecessary roughness penalty with 1:06 to play gave the Bears an automatic first down when they were looking at having to punt. The Bengals lost by a field goal. “We had a lot of guys lose their composure today," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

Too many turnovers: The AFC North teams collectively turned the ball over 10 times. Weeden threw three interceptions in the first half. Flacco was picked off twice, including one that should have been returned for a touchdown. Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu fumbled at the Bears' 19 in the fourth quarter with Cincinnati ahead by four points. And Steelers running back Isaac Redman fumbled into the end zone on the opening series. "It was kind of slow coming from center -- we were working with a new center," Redman said after the game. "It's a quick-hitting play, a bang-bang, and we messed up the quarterback-running back exchange. I never felt like I had it."

It will be a better week for half of the teams in Week 2, and I can guarantee it. The Ravens play host to the Browns on Sunday, and the Steelers play at the Bengals next Monday night.
PITTSBURGH -- The black-and-gold faithful cheered and twirled Terrible Towels as the Pittsburgh Steelers ran onto the sun-splashed field that they usually own in September.

Some of the die-hards who stayed until the bitter end of a teeth-gnashing and soul-searching loss booed those same players as they walked dejectedly off the turf at Heinz Field.

The Steelers gave fans every reason to turn on them in a span of about three hours.

The list of what went wrong in a 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans turned out to be longer than Brett Keisel's beard.

The Steelers couldn't run the ball, and starting running back Isaac Redman couldn't even hang onto it.

The offensive line couldn't protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and the wide receivers couldn't make a play when the Steelers needed it most.

The defense played well enough for the Steelers to win, had the offense been merely average. But, as was too often the case last season, the defense also didn't make enough plays.

The Steelers sacked Titans quarterback Jake Locker just one time and didn't force any turnovers.

In other words, the defense couldn't win the game even after it became obvious that the Steelers wouldn't be able to scrape enough offense together to beat the Titans.

"We need to stop giving the ball up and start getting the ball," Keisel said.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBen Roethlisberger was sacked five times as the Steelers' offensive line struggled.
It sounds simple enough, but if Sunday is an indication, nothing will come easily for the Steelers this season -- particularly on offense.

The Steelers averaged 3.7 yards per play, and even the one time they punched the ball into the end zone they made it look more difficult than calculus.

It took four plays after the Steelers reached the Titans' 4-yard line for the offense to score the first touchdown of the season.

It came with less than two minutes left in the game and much too late to prevent the Steelers from losing at home in September for the first time under coach Mike Tomlin.

The offense set the tone for a drab game on the Steelers' first possession.

Emmanuel Sanders couldn't haul in a long Roethlisberger pass on the first play after Titans kickoff returner Darius Reynaud gave the Steelers a gift safety. The drive ended with Redman losing a fumble in the end zone after the Steelers had the wrong personnel grouping in the game.

In between those plays, the Steelers lost Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to a likely season-ending knee injury, a devastating blow that also served as a mitigating factor to the offense's general ineptitude against a defense that isn't exactly loaded with Pro Bowlers.

Larry Foote will also need surgery on a ruptured biceps.

"Not an excuse," Tomlin said of the injuries that piled up at an alarming rate Sunday. "We didn't play well enough. We didn't coach well enough. I won't accept it. This team better not accept it. We've obviously got some work to do."

One of Tomlin's favorite sayings -- "The standard is the standard" -- greets the players as they walk into the home locker room at Heinz Field. The standards are always incredibly high for the Steelers, and rightfully so for an organization that showcases six Lombardi Trophies at its practice facility.

[+] EnlargeMike Tomlin
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsMike Tomlin said injuries will not be accepted as an excuse for performances like the one Sunday.
Tomlin reminded his players of that standard in a somber postgame locker room, and Keisel intends to make sure his voice is heard, too, at some point this week.

"I think I need to calm down first before I do," Keisel said when asked if he plans to say something as one of the team's four captains. "But I definitely think there needs to be more of a sense of urgency. Hopefully, we can prove we are a tough team."

Toughness isn't an issue with this team. It could be about talent. And whether the clunker the Steelers crafted on Sunday is an aberration or harbinger could be answered shortly.

The Steelers' next three games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, starting next Monday night in Cincinnati. Two of those games are on the road, with one of them in London.

The three-week stretch could further expose an offense that is shaky up front and lacking in difference-makers, at least until rookie running back Le'Veon Bell and tight end Heath Miller are ready to return from their injuries.

The defense could help the offense by providing some short fields, but it has to force turnovers and do a better job of getting after the quarterback. In other words, it can't have many more games like Sunday, especially when the schedule has served up a relatively inexperienced quarterback.

Tomlin showed plenty of resolve when talking about the team that slipped to 8-8 in 2012, went winless in the preseason and played one of the most unsightly home openers in franchise history.

And the seventh-year coach at least seems realistic about the many challenges facing him and the Steelers.

"Nobody cares about our problems," Tomlin said. "They're glad we have them. We need to stick together."
Troy Polamalu and Jake Locker Getty ImagesJake Locker will have to face a fresh Troy Polamalu and one of the league's top defenses.
Pittsburgh is a tough place to play. The Pittsburgh Steelers don't often stay down long. The Tennessee Titans will bring a lot of unknowns to Heinz Field.

It’s an intriguing opening day matchup for two teams looking to bounce back from seasons that didn’t meet standards and fell short of expectations.

ESPN.com Steelers' blogger Scott Brown joins me for his first edition of Double Coverage, and I know he’ll understand if we skip the pleasantries and dive right in.

The Titans' rebuild is centered around their offensive line. They’ll be way more physical with a new interior of Andy Levitre, Rob Turner and Chance Warmack.

Scott, I know the offensive line has been an issue in Pittsburgh, too. What’s the status of things there, and how much better can we expect the Steelers to be up front?

Scott Brown: Paul, that is one of the biggest questions facing the Steelers. The offensive line is one of the youngest and most inexperienced the Steelers have assembled in decades. But the group is athletic and has plenty of what coach Mike Tomlin likes to call "pedigree."

Two of the starters are first-round draft picks. Two others are second-round selections. The Steelers have clearly made a big investment in the offensive line, and they need a major return on that investment for this team to return to the playoffs.

I think the interior of the line with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and guards David DeCastro and Ramon Foster has a chance to be really good. I'm not as sold on tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams, who will protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.

The Titans, I'm sure, will test that line with plenty of blitzes, as the first-team offensive line struggled with pass-blocking in the preseason.

Speaking of blitzes, Titans quarterback Jake Locker will see his share with the ageless wonder Dick LeBeau still calling defenses in Pittsburgh.

How is Locker progressing, and is he the long-term answer at quarterback in Tennessee?

Paul Kuharsky: The verdict on whether Locker is the guy for the long haul won’t come until after we see this season.

He steadily improved in camp and the preseason and has reason to feel good about the state of things. I don’t think he’s going to have many games in his career in which he throws for 300 yards, but the Titans aren’t built to ask that of him. They’ll get him on the move to make simple throws and decisions, especially early, when he often needs to settle down and find a rhythm.

That line will give him time and be far better at creating space for Chris Johnson and newcomer Shonn Greene. If the Titans run effectively -- and the preseason suggested that’s one thing they are definitely good at -- they can build play-action off that and Locker will be in a perfect setting to succeed.

The two big questions are about his accuracy and how he will react to new, unforeseen circumstances. You know, the kind of stuff Lebeau has designed for this game especially for him.

Does LeBeau have the pieces to do the sort of things to confuse a young quarterback?

Brown: He has one of the most valuable pieces of all in Troy Polamalu. The dynamic strong safety allows LeBeau to do so much because he plays all over the field and opposing quarterbacks don't know where he is going to be from snap to snap.

Polamalu missed nine games last season because of a recurring calf injury, but he looked like his old self in training camp and the preseason. In that sense, the timing isn't good for the Titans to play the Steelers because Polamalu is at full strength. Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley also seems poised to bounce back from an injury-plagued season in which he registered just four sacks.

With those two and other players such as inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, LeBeau won't hold back -- particularly against a relatively inexperienced quarterback who is still finding his way in the NFL.

Paul, the Steelers have never lost at Heinz Field in September under Tomlin. My question for you is what will it take for the Titans to pull off the upset on Sunday?

Kuharsky: I think it’s possible. They’d have to show poise, withstand the bad moments, minimize mistakes. You know the drill.

This is a team that has been run on by lesser running backs in the recent past, so it can’t take Isaac Redman lightly, and we’ll find out fast if Sammie Hill and Ropati Pitoitua are going to help answer the run-defense deficiencies.

The Titans must get Roethlisberger to the ground when they have the chance. After an offseason talking of press coverage, they haven’t changed at all at cornerback, and I imagine Roethlisberger will find things to attack. He knows Titans strong safety Bernard Pollard from his time in Baltimore. I won’t be surprised if the Steelers plot to get Pollard in coverage situations they feel they can exploit.

The other big question here, the elephant in the room: Your first game for ESPN.com? You ready?

Brown: To help myself to some Tomlinisms: This is where the rubber meets the road, but this is not my first rodeo. I believe I have sharpened my pen (does that still apply in the dot.com world?) for battle, but I will have to pay attention to detail. Ultimately, it comes down to making plays (or deadline in this case) inside stadiums with the lights on (yes, I know it is a 1 p.m. start, but gray days in Pittsburgh are as noteworthy as grass on a golf course). Such is life in the National Football League (and ESPN.com), and I embrace the challenge.

PITTSBURGH -- Heath Miller is not practicing with the Steelers just yet, but the veteran tight end acknowledged that coming off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) is a big deal.

The Steelers added Miller, who is coming back from reconstructive knee surgery, to their 53-man roster last Saturday making the team's 2012 MVP eligibile to practice and play in games.

“Obviously I'm close,” said Miller, who hurt his knee in the penultimate game of 2012. “It's just a few more steps I've got to take. I'm feeling good.”

Miller did not offer any timetable for his return. Coach Mike Tomlin could do so Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Miller would not have been allowed to practice or play in any games until after the sixth week of the season had he stayed on the PUP list when the Steelers set their 53-man roster.
  • Isaac Redman, who expects to start at running back Sunday against the Titans, said he practiced on Monday and felt fine. Redman had been hampered by a pinched nerve, an injury that caused him to miss the Steelers' final three preseason games.
  • Rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones practiced for the first time since bruising his chest in the Steelers' third preseason game. The first-round pick will play against the Titans barring a setback.
  • Second-round pick Le'Veon Bell, meanwhile, said he is not longer in a walking boot. The rookie running back is already doing some jogging as he works his way back from a mid-foot sprain. Bell said he hopes to return for the second game of the season. But, he added, “I'm not going to rush this process. I'm just going to make sure I get back to 100 percent before I do anything else.”
PITTSBURGH -- The starting job at running back, at least for now, became Isaac Redman's as soon as the Pittsburgh Steelers cut Jonathan Dwyer.

Redman
Redman
Coach Mike Tomlin and his staff simply have no other viable starting options with Le'Veon Bell out and Felix Jones still trying to find his way around Pittsburgh.

Jones has looked terrific, and better than the Steelers could have hoped when they acquired him from the Eagles. But the sixth-year veteran has been with the team little more than a week and is still learning the offense.

Jones' speed and burst figure to be a good complement to Redman's power, and LaRod Stephens-Howling looks secure in the role of third-down back, giving the Steelers another chance-of-pace runner.

The player Redman ultimately has to worry about losing most of his carries to is Bell.

The Steelers will give the rookie second-round draft pick every opportunity to win the job of feature back -- something the former Michigan State star was on his way to doing until knee and foot injuries sidetracked him.

Redman said Monday that he plans to make the most of his opportunity. Probably Redman's most realistic hope is that he plays well enough to convince the coaches that he should be a part of the running game even after Bell is ready to take over as the starter.

In other words, fantasy owners, don't rush to add Redman to your team unless you need a short-term fix at running back.

If Redman needed a reminder as to how quickly things can change in the NFL, the fourth-year veteran got it last Sunday when the Steelers waived Dwyer, who led the team in rushing in 2012 and this preseason.

“He was a good player, a good kid, no problems around here character-wise, and I just wish him the best of luck,” Redman said. "It's the nature of the game."

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