AFC North: Michael Palmer

The Film Don't Lie: Steelers

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
11:00
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- A weekly look at what the Steelers must fix:

Penalties continue to plague the Steelers, and they have to be more disciplined if they want to challenge for supremacy in the AFC -- or even just the AFC North, where the Bengals are off to a 3-0 start and playing as well as any team in the NFL.

The Steelers have committed 31 penalties; only the San Francisco 49ers have been flagged more through the first three weeks of the season.

The Steelers were penalized 11 times for 91 yards in their 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

They established a trend of dumb penalties early when they were flagged for having too many men in the huddle on the second play of the game.

The head-scratching penalties didn’t end there.

David DeCastro nearly cost the Steelers at the end of the first half when the right guard shoved Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly after the whistle had blown the play dead, earning an unnecessary roughness penalty. The Steelers got most of those yards back on the following play, setting up a Shaun Suisham field goal at the end of the first half.

The good news for the Steelers is the penalties they accumulated Sunday night weren’t the result of getting overpowered or not having the speed to play with Carolina.

The Steelers’ offensive line was flagged just once for holding, and the pass interference penalties called against the Steelers were on tight ends Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer.

The Steelers simply need to play smarter to clean up the penalties, something that coach Mike Tomlin is sure to emphasize this week as they prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


PITTSBURGH -- It certainly looked like a fourth preseason game, from the swaths of empty seats at Heinz Field to the uneven play with many starters from each side playing sparingly, if at all.

Carolina parlayed a big pass play into the game’s only touchdown ,and the Panthers beat the Steelers 10-0 Thursday night with the specter of final cuts looming for fringe players on each side.

Landry Jones started at quarterback and completed 14 of 18 passes for 97 yards before giving way to Brendon Kay midway through the third quarter. Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, didn’t lead any scoring drives but probably did enough to make the 53-man roster as the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback.

No Steelers player battling for a roster spot made a particularly compelling argument to stay with the team beyond 4 p.m. ET Saturday, the NFL deadline for finalizing 53-man rosters.

Brad Wing looked like he was on his way to nailing down a roster spot after pinning the Panthers deep in their own territory several times. Then the Aussie unleashed a 25-yard clunker, something that will make the coaches ponder whether Wing is consistent enough to be trusted.

Players such as Wing have made their final argument as far as making the team.

The Steelers’ coaches and front office personnel will meet on Friday to start paring down the roster and could make some cuts then, with the rest coming on Saturday. The Steelers have to cut 22 players to get to the 53-man limit by late Saturday afternoon.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ fourth preseason game:
  • It was a very nice bounce-back game for starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones after the second-year man struggled a week ago in Philadelphia. Jones made his presence felt early against the pass and the run, and the Steelers coaches had to love his hustle after a snap sailed over the head of Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson in the second quarter. Anderson tried to pick the ball up, and when he couldn’t get a handle on it Jones made a diving recovery. He then got up and started to rumble downfield, drawing a personal foul penalty when former Steelers center Fernando Velasco dragged Jones down by his hair. Jones recorded three tackles, including one for a loss, and the fumble recovery before calling it a night.
  • If the Steelers only keep five wide receivers Justin Brown might be headed back to the practice squad. The wide receiver who created such a buzz during offseason practices caught five passes for 32 yards in four preseason games despite playing more snaps than any other Steelers skill player. Hard-charging Darrius Heyward-Bey caught six passes for 44 yards against the Panthers and solidified his spot on the 53-man roster even if the Steelers only keep five wideouts. His speed and experience -- and his production in the Steelers' final two preseason games -- will make Heyward-Bey too difficult to cut
  • David Paulson and Rob Blanchflower needed to beat Michael Palmer for the No. 3 spot at tight end, and neither was able to do it. Palmer had a couple of nice blocks early when the Steelers were able to run the ball, and the fifth-year veteran is solid on special teams. He solidified his spot on the 53-man roster, and Blanchflower looks like a strong candidate for the practice squad.
  • Cornerback Antwon Blake had played well before getting beat badly on a 53-yard catch by wide receiver Philly Brown, setting up the Panthers’ only touchdown. Blake will make the Steelers as a core special-teams player but Brice McCain has clearly established himself as the No. 4 cornerback assuming the groin injury he suffered against the Panthers isn’t serious.
  • The Steelers showed an interesting defensive look late in the second quarter. Josh Mauro, Roy Philon, Daniel McCullers and Ethan Hemer were up front with Vince Williams and Terence Garvin as the only linebackers in the game. However, Shamarko Thomas played close enough to the line of scrimmage that it looked like the Steelers had their big nickel package on the field with four down linemen.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers again worked on their no-huddle offense Thursday, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appears to have more peace of mind about the attack than he did a couple of weeks ago.

“I think everybody’s doing a good job and that we can get back on track pretty quick,” Roethlisberger said following the Steelers’ final practice of this week.

Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger expressed some reservation about the no-huddle offense at the start of organized team activities. He said how much the Steelers use the attack that worked so well for them last season would depend on how quickly the new wide receivers became comfortable with it.

So far, so good on that front, said Roethlisberger, who added that the Steelers have worked more on their no-huddle offense in OTAs than they have in past years when it comes to the voluntary practices.

“I think it’s something that we’ve realized what we can be and what we did last year,” Roethlisberger said on one of the nicest days of the year in Pittsburgh. “We’ll use it more. I don’t want to call it our base offense but I think you’ll see more of it so I think it was important for us to get in it early and often.”

Roethlisberger, running the no-huddle offense at the end of practice, led the Steelers on a scoring drive that he capped with a short touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. It was a good way for the first-team offense to end practice, especially since Will Allen had stopped an earlier drive when the veteran safety intercepted a Roethlisberger pass along the left sideline.

“I thought it was a good play and Will came and picked it off,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re not going to score on every series that we go no-huddle.”

Also of note from Thursday’s OTA session:
  • Roethlisberger didn’t bite when asked about the six-year, $110 million contact that quarterback Colin Kaepernick signed with the San Francisco 49ers. “Congratulations to him and his family and the 49ers franchise,” Roethlisberger said. “We’re on opposite sides of the coast. I’m over here just worried about being a Steeler and that’s all that matters with me. It’s just about getting better out here with these guys.” Roethlisberger has two years left on his contract – the same number he had left on his rookie deal when he signed an eight-year, $102 million contract in 2008. The Steelers are expected to sign their franchise quarterback to a new deal at some point though nothing is imminent.
  • Center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Markus Wheaton were among the players who didn’t practice on Thursday. Fullback Will Johnson was out of the walking boot he wore Wednesday but he watched practice on Thursday, as did tight end Michael Palmer. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who is nursing a calf injury, spent part of the practice riding a stationary bike.

Steelers re-sign Michael Palmer

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
12:30
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers added depth at tight end Friday when they re-signed Michael Palmer to a one-year contract.

Palmer, whom the Steelers signehttp://proxy.espn.go.com/blogadmin/pittsburgh-steelers/wp-admin/edit.php?page=statusPaged 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.
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.

TIGHT ENDS:

2014 free agents: David Johnson and Michael Palmer

Spaeth
Miller
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.

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