NFL Nation: Al Woods

Titans Camp Report: Day 19

August, 13, 2014
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Tennessee Titans training camp:

  • Receiver Justin Hunter continued to make things difficult on cornerbacks on jump balls. He went up and got one over Coty Sensabaugh from Jake Locker. He jumped over rookie Marqueston Huff for another. He skied to the crossbar in the back of the end zone to pluck another with Sensabaugh nearby.
  • Charlie Whitehurst had to call “ball” on one throw up the right side for Michael Preston, who turned but wasn’t ready and watched it sail through his hands, though he had some room on Micah Pellerin.
  • Locker threw a duck that found the ground quickly when it looked like he was aiming for Nate Washington with Blidi Wreh-Wilson in coverage. Locker seemed to be trying to stop himself from throwing it, but the motion was well underway and it came out of his hand. Wound up harmless.
  • Other red-zone TD catches besides Hunter’s: Marc Mariani from Whitehurst and Chase Coffman stretching at the back line from Zach Mettenberger.
  • Linebacker Zaviar Gooden didn’t get his head around on a Whitehurst throw for Taylor Thompson, but Gooden got his arm up to hit the ball for a breakup.
  • While the Titans have been very reserved with their kickers, Brett Kern punted for the second day in a row.
  • Whitehurst was "sacked" when the he dashed left and ended up swallowing the ball. It looked like the play was supposed to be a handoff to Bishop Sankey but was unclear who made the mistake. Sankey made some nifty moves on a couple of carries.
  • Whitehurst threw an interception to Huff in a ball intended for Isaiah Williams.
  • DaQuan Jones is working as the second nose tackle, and Al Woods is also in the loop there behind starter Sammie Hill. Antonio Johnson has been out for a while in recovering from a knee scope. Jones and Woods can play inside or out, while Johnson doesn’t bring the same versatility. He’s likely in trouble.
  • Travis Coons hit field goals of 38 and 44 yards at the conclusion of two-minute drill work by the offense. Whisenhunt said Maikon Bonani's groin was bothering him a little bit. Coons hit both field goals on a better trajectory with room to spare. He told me he was hitting the ball a bit lower than usual as he worked with snapper Beau Brinkley and holder Kern to speed up the snap, hold, kick process. Now that they’ve made progress on that he’s getting his natural swing back and getting more height on his kicks.
  • Whisenhunt said he will allow players to go home after they return from their trip to New Orleans for Friday night’s game. That ends camp in one way. But Whisenhunt said while the Titans will structure next week like a normal practice week, that they will still work ones against ones and rotate people in competitions. For him, camp really ends when the first round of cuts come and as the team focuses on planning for an opponent.
  • That likely means the practice rules change next week and you won’t be seeing any more of these practice reports. Hope you enjoyed them and they gave you some insight.

Steelers offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason moves.

[+] EnlargeMike Mitchell
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsSigning Mike Mitchell gives the Steelers another speedy playmaker in the secondary.
Best move: The Steelers wasted little time in getting younger and faster in the secondary as they landed former Panthers safety Mike Mitchell on the first day of free agency. Mitchell, who turns only 27 next month, blossomed last season in Carolina as he intercepted four passes and recorded 3.5 sacks. He gives the Steelers a playmaker to pair with Troy Polamalu on the back of their defense. And Mitchell was cost-effective for a team that had limited room under the salary cap. Only $5.25 million of the five-year $25 million deal that Mitchell signed is guaranteed, and the contract is backloaded to make it cap friendly.

Riskiest move: The Steelers shopped more than usual in free agency, but they added only one player to their defensive line while losing defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods. Cam Thomas, who signed a two-year, $4 million contract, would ideally fill Woods’ role as a swing man between nose tackle and defensive end. But right now he is the Steelers’ best option at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward. The Steelers need second-round pick Stephon Tuitt to develop quickly and at least play in a rotation at defensive end. They would also be wise to keep Brett Keisel’s number handy.

Most surprising move: The Steelers didn’t draft a cornerback until the fifth round, and that is a position where they have only one long-term starter in Cortez Allen. The prevailing thought prior to the draft was that the Steelers would take a cornerback early and select two of them. Shaquille Richardson, their fifth-round pick, and free-agent signee Brice McCain are the only addition they have made at cornerback. That means the Steelers better be right that the answers at cornerback are already in their building,

What’s next: The Steelers appear to be done adding -- for now -- and most of the $8 million they'll receive in salary cap savings after June from the release of outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley will be used to sign draft picks. They have a handful of players going into the final year of their contracts that they should try to sign to long-term deals. The list includes center Maurkice Pouncey, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and Allen. The Steelers could also try to sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract, though nothing is imminent on that front. The Steelers may wait until after the 2014 to sign Roethlisberger to a new deal since he still has two years left on his contract.

Free-agency review: Steelers

March, 18, 2014
Most significant signing: The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t wait long to get younger and faster in the secondary as they lured Mike Mitchell away from the Carolina Panthers with a five-year, $25 million contract. Mitchell, who turns 27 in June, will replace Ryan Clark at free safety, and the Steelers are hoping they added a playmaker to a defense that intercepted 10 passes last season, tied for the third-fewest in the league. Mitchell, who picked off four passes in 2013, has the speed to cover ground in the secondary and is also a good blitzer. Did everything come together for him last season because he played on a defense that led the NFL with 60 sacks or was the jump he made a natural progression for a player with an impressive skill set? The Steelers are banking on the latter.

Most significant loss: Steelers fans grumbled about Emmanuel Sanders and his lack of consistency, but his signing with the Broncos cost them a starter and left them Kleenex thin at wide receiver. Second-year man Markus Wheaton is the most experienced wide receiver on the roster after Pro Bowler Antonio Brown but he played just 157 snaps last season. Jerricho Cotchery, who led the Steelers with 10 touchdown receptions last season, is no lock to return. The 10-year veteran is visiting Carolina and it could be a good fit for both sides. The Panthers needs wide receivers in the worst way and Cotchery badly wants the chance to play in a Super Bowl.

Biggest surprise: The Steelers probably anticipated losing Ziggy Hood but they couldn’t have predicted that Hood and Al Woods would sign with other teams so early in free agency. The losses of those defensive ends left the Steelers in need of sheet bodies at the position, and yet it didn’t seem like they were any more inclined to bring back 12-year veteran Brett Keisel for one more season. Maybe that changes if they don’t land Alex Carrington, who visited the Steelers last Friday but is also meeting with other teams before signing somewhere.

What’s next: The Steelers are less than $3 million under the salary cap, which means they have to free up more cash since the $8.58 million they saved this year by releasing outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley doesn’t become available to them until after June 1. Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons could be on deck as far as a contract restructure. His base salary in 2014 is $6.75 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and the Steelers can lower his cap number ($11.82 million) by converting a big chunk of that into a signing bonus. The Steelers could also reduce Jason Worilds’ cap hit of $9.754 million by signing the outside linebacker to a long-term contract.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers could move quickly to sign a defensive end after losing Al Woods and Ziggy Hood in the last two days.

A source confirmed to an earlier NFL Network report that free agent defensive end Alex Carrington will visit the Steelers on Thursday night.

Carrington, who turns 27 in June, has upside and could come at a reasonable price since he is coming off a season in which he missed the final 13 games because of a torn quadriceps.

If the 6-5, 307-pounder checks out physically, the Steelers could try to sign Carrington before he leaves Pittsburgh.

Carrington, a third-round pick of the Bills in 2010, is probably the best free-agent option for the Steelers as far as defensive ends, and they need sheer bodies at the position.

There are just three defensive ends on the roster, and only Cameron Heyward has any significant NFL experience.

Hood, the Steelers' first-round pick in 2009, signed Thursday morning with the Jaguars and Woods signed with the Titans on Wednesday night.

The Steelers could bring back Brett Keisel for one more season as the 12th-year veteran has no intention of retiring and would love to play his entire career in Pittsburgh.
PITTSBURGH – Add running back to the position at which the Steelers have a need.

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

Dwyer wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday night:

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

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

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

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

The Steelers have lost three free agents, with defensive end Al Woods signing with the Titans, tight end David Johnson signing with the Chargers and Dwyer becoming the latest former Steelers player to relocate to Arizona.
PITTSBURGH -- Defensive end is starting to shape up as a position where the Steelers could be woefully thin.

A source confirmed to earlier reports that defensive end Al Woods visited the Titans today and also has scheduled visits with the Packers and the Cardinals.

That looks anything but promising for Woods returning to the Steelers following a season in which he saw the first extended playing time of his NFL career and made the most of it.

Woods played in all 16 games last season, starting two of them, and recorded 20 tackles and a pair of sacks.

The 6-foot-4, 307-pounder can play both defensive end and nose tackle, and I would have thought the Steelers would make re-signing him more of a priority, especially since Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood are also unrestricted free agents.

Whether the interest that Woods has received this early in free agency caught the Steelers off guard remains to be seen. But he looks like a long shot to return to Pittsburgh given the interest the fourth-year veteran is attracting from other teams.

Hood, meanwhile, visited the Jaguars today, according to the Florida Times-Union’s Ryan O’Halloran, and there doesn’t appear to be anything happening on the Keisel front.

As it stands the only defensive ends the Steelers have on their roster are Cameron Heyward, Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams.

Arnfelt, who spent most of last season on the practice squad, played in two games in 2013. Williams, a seventh-round pick last year, spent the entire season on injured reserve, and he was considered a project when the Steelers drafted him.

The Steelers obviously have to add more defensive ends, but it doesn’t look like a great year to fill that position in free agency or the draft.

That could bode well for Keisel, who has said he feels like he still has a couple of seasons left in him and wants to play his entire career for the Steelers.

Right now fans are probably nervous about where the Steelers stand at defensive end, and rightfully so. But they should give the organization the benefit of the doubt that it has a plan at defensive end, one that will come together in due time.

Free-agency primer: Steelers

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

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

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

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

Retirement not on Brett Keisel's mind

January, 28, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Brett Keisel took part in Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday asking hair-related questions as part of a promotion for Head & Shoulders.

The Steelers defensive end, however, made it clear after the media extravaganza/parody that he is not in the New York City area this week auditioning for post-football jobs such as professional pitch man or some sort of NFL analyst.

Keisel, nearly a month after his 12th NFL season ended, told ESPN's SVP & Russillo that retirement isn't on his radar even though he is 35 and has played out the five-year contract he signed in 2009.

"I think I've got a couple [of seasons] left in me," Keisel said on the syndicated talk radio show. "I feel great and still feel like I can play and we'll see what happens."

The question Keisel may soon face is how far he is willing to go to continue his career -- and that could be literally.

Keisel has said he can't imagine donning a different uniform, and he and his wife have fallen so in love with Pittsburgh that they plan to raise their family here after his playing days are over.

But the Steelers are more likely than not to move forward without Keisel. It is something they have done the last two years with other cornerstones from the teams that won two Super Bowls and played in another from 2005-10.

Hines Ward, James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith, Keisel's onetime mentor, are among those whom the Steelers released or did not re-sign, and Keisel could soon join that list.

He would have to accept a drastic pay cut -- he made $4.9 million in 2013 -- and probably a reduced role for the Steelers to even considering bringing him back for another season.

If Keisel is amenable to both I think the Steelers should re-sign the 6-5, 285-pounder, especially since fellow defensive ends Ziggy Hood and Al Woods are also set to become unrestricted free agents on March 11 and face uncertain futures.

Keisel had four sacks last season and 26 quarterback pressures, third most on the Steelers, despite missing four games and playing sparingly in another because of a nagging foot injury.

Bringing him back as a situation pass rusher, a role he filled before becoming a full-time starter in 2006, would make a lot of sense.

That is if the dollars and cents work for the Steelers and Keisel.

There are a lot of variables at play as far as Keisel's future with with the Steelers.

One that isn't: his desire to keep playing.

A look at the Steelers' free agents

January, 6, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11th, the start of the NFL’s new year. Here is a quick look at 11 of those unrestricted free agents – and the priority the Steelers should place on re-signing them.

OLB Jason Worilds: The former second-round pick led Steelers with eight sacks and came into his own after a calf injury sustained by LaMarr Woodley provided an opening at left outside linebacker. Priority: Keeping Worilds should be at or near the top of Steelers’ to-do list.

WR Emmanuel Sanders: Showed flashes in his first year as a starter but also was plagued by inconsistency. Priority: Let market determine Sanders’ value and then see if he is worth bringing back.

DE Brett Keisel: Unlikely to return but I think the Steelers should seriously consider bringing back Keisel for one more season if the price is right. Priority: The Steelers can be patient here as Keisel, 35, won’t draw a lot of interest, at least initially, on the free-agent market.

DE Ziggy Hood: Hasn’t lived up to expectations as a first-round draft pick but I wouldn’t call him a bust either. He is one of the tougher ones to call since Hood has been serviceable and is one of three defensive ends who are impending free agents. Priority: Much like Sanders, the Steelers should let the market determine Hood’s value and then see if they are willing to pay it.

S Ryan Clark: He has had a tremendous run in Pittsburgh – and in the NFL in general considering he is still playing 12 seasons after making the Giants as an undrafted free agent. Priority: The Steelers need to get younger in the secondary and that almost certainly spells the end of Clark’s playing days in Pittsburgh.

WR Jerricho Cotchery: Is coming off a career-best 10-touchdown season. Loves Pittsburgh, loves playing for Mike Tomlin and catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger. Is a consummate professional and great locker-room guy. Priority: The Steelers need to make this happen as they should be able to find common ground with Cotchery in terms of bringing the 10th-year veteran back in 2014.

DE: Al Woods: Woods saw the first significant playing time of his career and started a pair of games at nose tackle for the injured Steve McLendon. He can play both end and nose tackle and still has upside. Priority: The Steelers, assuming the price is right, should bring back Woods. I don’t see both Keisel and Hood returning and there is a chance each has played his last game in Pittsburgh. Uncertainty at defensive end beyond Cameron Heyward makes re-signing Woods a key.

RB Jonathan Dwyer: Love him as a No. 2 running back who can be a spot starter if Le’Veon Bell goes down with an injury. The question is will Dwyer seek a larger role elsewhere and will there be much interest in him as a potential starter? Priority: Dwyer is another player whom the Steelers will let test the market and then see if they want to make a run at bringing him back.

C Fernando Velasco: One of the most unsung players of the season, Velasco stabilized the center position following the loss of Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey. Ruptured Achilles ended his season after 11 games. Priority: Velasco would be ideal as the first center/guard in reserve, and recent history shows how important depth is along the offensive line. The Steelers should have a good chance of re-signing Velasco because of his injury.

G/OT: Guy Whimper: Proved to be a valuable fill-in and started a game at each guard spot. Whimper would bolster the offensive line depth if he returns. Priority: The Steelers should be able to bring back Whimper, assuming he wants to return, and his position flexibility is a bonus.

S Will Allen: The veteran rejuvenated his career after re-signing with the Steelers following his release by the Cowboys. Allen played significant snaps as a third safety in the quarter package and was a core special-teams player. Priority: Allen wants to return and I think there is a good chance that the Steelers bring him back for another season because of their comfort with him and his ability to play special teams.

Rest of the free agents: RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, RB Felix Jones, WR Plaxico Burress, TE David Johnson, TE Michael Palmer, C Cody Wallace, LB Stevenson Sylvester, LB Jamaal Westerman, P Mat McBriar and LS Greg Warren.

Al Woods could be on the spot for Steelers

November, 28, 2013
BALTIMORE -- It will be interesting to see how much the Ravens challenge Steelers nose tackle Al Woods, who is expected to make his first NFL start tonight at M&T Bank Stadium. Woods played well after replacing the injured Steve McLendon last Sunday in Cleveland, recording his first two sacks with the Steelers and helping limit the Browns to just 55 rushing yards.

The Ravens are next to last in the NFL in rushing offense, but they will test the Steelers more than the Browns did simply because they have Ray Rice.

Rice is having a down season by just about any statistical measure, and he rushed for 45 yards on 15 carries in the Ravens’ 19-16 loss to the Steelers last month at Heinz Field. But he is still a significant upgrade over Browns running backs Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker if only because of his receiving ability -- and his history against the Steelers.

The Steelers could try to cover for the absence of McLendon and the inexperience of rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams by playing their quarter package, something they used extensively the last time the AFC North rivals met.

The Steelers haven’t hesitated to use the personnel grouping of three safeties and three cornerbacks in most down-and-distance situations since Troy Polamalu essentially becomes a linebacker in the quarter package.

Polamalu has easily been more valuable to the Steelers this season when he has played closer to the line of scrimmage, and the seven-time Pro Bowler will be a key to containing Rice and disrupting the Ravens' offense.

Woods, for his part, isn’t likely to get overwhelmed making his first start in a nationally televised game that means everything to both the Ravens and Steelers. The fourth-year veteran is listed as a defensive end, but he has worked extensively at nose tackle.

Woods has also been in Dick LeBeau’s defense long enough -- he has been in Pittsburgh since the Steelers claimed him off waivers in November 2011 -- that the 6-foot-4, 307-pounder isn’t thinking nearly as much when he is on the field.

“I’m getting to the point where I’m comfortable,” Woods said. “I know the guys around me. It’s becoming second nature to me and I really appreciate that. I want to continue to help this football team in any way possible because I love the Steelers.”

Woods will only help himself if he plays well while filling in for McLendon, and establishes himself as a lineman who can move between end and nose tackle.

"We thought that he had the anchor ability certainly to sit down in there and police the middle of the formation," LeBeau said of playing Woods at nose tackle. "I think he did a good job last week when he went in there doing it, but I think he does a good job at end, too. I think he can play both of those positions."

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 12

November, 25, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-11 win against the Cleveland Browns:

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger had a solid game in a win against the Browns, throwing for 217 yards and two TDs.
Big Ben shows his value: The absurdity of why the Steelers would consider trading Ben Roethlisberger was highlighted late in the second quarter. Browns fans booed Brandon Weeden, a first-round draft pick in 2012, as he jogged onto the field to take over for the injured Jason Campbell. A Weeden incompletion led to a punt and two plays later Roethlisberger threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger's primary target on the play that changed the complexion of the game had been Jerricho Cotchery. But when he saw the Steelers' No. 1 receiver race past Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Roethlisberger launched a throw into a stiff wind. Brown made a nice adjustment on the ball to haul in his sixth touchdown catch of the season. While Roethlisberger continues to torment the Browns, the Browns continue to cycle through quarterbacks. They already have given up on Weeden and are likely to use their first pick in the 2014 draft on a quarterback. The Browns, who passed on Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft, know as well as any team that finding a franchise quarterback is not easy. And when you have one, you hang onto him.

Hurry back: Jason Worilds hasn't just put pressure on opposing quarterbacks the past two games. He also may have turned up the heat on left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Woodley has missed the past two games with a calf injury, and the highest-paid defensive player in Steelers history can't seem to stay healthy. Woodley has missed 11 games since injuring his hamstring in a late October 2011 win against the Patriots. In the 25 games he has played in since returning from that injury, Woodley has managed only nine sacks. Worilds has started for Woodley the past two games, and the fourth-year veteran has recorded a sack and accumulated double digits in quarterback hits. Worilds was credited with six pressures against the Browns.

Line shines against Browns: The Steelers averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, but they ran the ball well enough to stick with it and achieve a perfect 50-50 split in running 34 times and attempting 34 passes as well. That balance helped keep the Browns from teeing off on Roethlisberger. So did an offensive line that has allowed only one sack in the past two games and didn't yield any to the Browns. "I thought they did a nice job," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the offensive line. "I appreciate keeping him clean."

Defensive line shuffle? Defensive end Al Woods recorded two sacks and two quarterback pressures, and he could play significant snaps if starting nose tackle Steve McLendon is lost for the rest of the season because of a broken ankle. The Steelers went with Woods instead of nose tackle Hebron Fangupo after McLendon went down at the end of the first quarter, and the former took advantage of his first extended playing time this season. Tomlin will provide an update on McLendon later today, but if he is sidelined for the rest of the season, Woods, Fangupo and Ziggy Hood could form a rotation at nose tackle.

Tomlin takes advantage of versatility

September, 8, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are only dressing seven offensive linemen and five defensive linemen for their season opener against the visiting Titans.

The move is a bit of a surprise since coach Mike Tomlin usually dresses an extra defensive lineman early in the season because of the heat and humidity. Defensive end Al Woods, however, can also play nose tackle, allowing the Steelers to make Hebron Fangupo one of their seven inactives for the 1 p.m. game.

Kelvin Beachum’s versatility, meanwhile, is the reason the Steelers didn’t dress an eighth offensive lineman. Beachum can play every position on the offensive line. He also could see the field today as a sixth lineman/eligible receiver.

I’m a little surprised that the Steelers did not dress No. 3 quarterback Landry Jones. I think it’s always a risk to go into any game with two quarterbacks, but the Steelers' inactives reflect Tomlin’s determination to get his best special-teams players into uniform.

That explains why five safeties are suiting up for the Steelers, who were shaky on special teams during the preseason.

The Steelers also dressed five wide receivers, and Derek Moye will make his NFL debut not far from where he grew up in Rochester.

The Steelers opened the preseason with a 24-23 loss at Philadelphia, where the Eagles kicked a 51-yard winning field goal with 12 seconds remaining. Here are my thoughts and observations on a game the Steelers led 13-0 at halftime:
  • The Steelers had three players (two starters) knocked out of the game: fullback/tight end David Johnson (knee); left tackle Mike Adams (knee); and backup running back Jonathan Dwyer (shoulder). Pittsburgh is using the fullback more under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but Johnson's injury appeared to be the most serious of the night.
  • Pittsburgh showed its depth at running back with starter Rashard Mendenhall on the physically unable to perform list. Isaac Redman ran hard in between the tackles, rookie Chris Rainey showed his elusiveness in converting a third-and-13 on a draw and Dwyer broke a 33-yard gain. Rainey later scored a 57-yard touchdown off a quick screen pass. The Steelers produced 68 rushing yards on the first two drives, which led to two marathon drives (16 and 10 plays).
  • The offensive line showed some major growing pains, specifically in pass protection. Adams gave up two sacks (which led to two fumbles) as well as another pressure in two drives. The second sack on Ben Roethlisberger was the result of a miscommunication between center Maurkice Pouncey and left guard Ramon Foster. Right tackle Marcus Gilbert allowed a pressure on the first drive when he failed to connect on a cut block.
  • The Steelers defense had no trouble with Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who left with a hand injury. Pittsburgh forced Vick into two three-and-outs. Nose tackle Steve McLendon, who was starting for the injured Casey Hampton, was able to get off blocks, recording a sack and a tackle for a loss.
  • As far as the quarterbacks, Roethlisberger was efficient in his one series, completing 7 of 8 passes for 49 yards. His only incompletion was overthrowing Emmanuel Sanders deep down the sideline. Backup Byron Leftwich showed his experience in the Steelers' only touchdown drive of the first half. Checking off a play, he hit an uncovered Sanders for a 2-yard touchdown pass. It was a broken coverage by Nnamdi Asomugha, who had a rough night. He also got beat by Antonio Brown on a quick 14-yard slant.
  • Pittsburgh's coverage teams need some work. The Steelers, who ranked 16th in kickoff coverage, gave up 46 yards on their first return of the night. They also allowed a long punt return, which was negated by a block in the back.
  • The Steelers, who struggled in getting turnovers last season, got a gift from the Eagles. Backup defensive lineman Al Woods stepped in front of screen pass by Mike Kafka for an interception and ran it back 52 yards to the 5-yard line. That led to a field goal.
  • Shaun Suisham got off to a strong start. He hit a 46-yard field goal after going 6-for-11 from beyond 40 yards last season. He also kicked a 39-yarder.

Gallery, Hawthorne, Rice miss for Seattle

September, 11, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Seattle Seahawks will be without three starters for their regular-season opener against San Francisco.

Two came as little surprise. Guard Robert Gallery (knee) and receiver Sidney Rice (shoulder) did not practice all week. A third, linebacker David Hawthorne, was limited during practice, but Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had sounded optimistic about Hawthorne's chances.

Rookie K.J. Wright will start at middle linebacker in Hawthorne's place. Carroll has lauded Wright as being ready to play as a rookie, but Hawthorne's experience would have carried value.

James Carpenter will start at left guard for Gallery. Breno Giacomini starts at right tackle, where Carpenter had played during preseason.

Seattle inactives: quarterback Josh Portis, receiver Kris Durham, Rice, Hawthorne, Gallery, tackle Jarriel King, defensive tackle Al Woods.

San Francisco inactives: quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver Kyle Williams, free safety Dashon Goldson, offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore, offensive lineman Mike Person, nose tackle Ian Williams and defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs.

Veteran safety Madieu Williams will start in Goldson's place, as expected. Reggie Smith is also active among safeties after missing time to injury over the summer. He's expected to play on special teams as well as on defense.

Lots of little moves as rosters in flux

September, 4, 2011
Catching up with various moves around the edges of NFC West rosters Sunday:
Teams are also assembling practice squads. The 49ers announced adding seven players to theirs, all released by the team on the reduction to 53 players. I'll round up those additions once they become official.