As amazing as Saturday’s draft activity was for the Steelers, I found day two mystifying. Pittsburgh pulled some Saturday magic by trading up to get Santonio Holmes and adding more speed with Willie Reid from Florida State and address safety concerns with Anthony Smith of Syracuse.

But today, the Steeler roll stopped. They selected a center — of all things — and the other picks were lineman on both sides of scrimmage. Also, will someone please tell me why this team is drafting another tight end? Yes, they do throw to their tight ends but I believe they are already well-stocked at that position. They did not address their running back needs until the seventh round and while Cedric Humes of Virginia Tech is big and burly, he will not remind anyone of the bus. I was impressed with the pick of quarterback Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green. He’s big and athletic and his touchdown to interception ratio is something like 10-1. Another Mid-American conference coup for the Black and Gold.

Overall, I would rate the Steelers draft a B. They address some needs early and beefed up the passing game along with the special teams in the first three picks. The QB Jacobs is an exciting choice, but I thought they reached by bringing in a tight end and a center in the later rounds and they waited way too late to land a running back.

I spent my draft day at the Steeler offices with the rest of the media — waiting for Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert to work their draft day magic — and they did not disappoint.

Pittsburgh went with quality over quantity, trading up for receiver Santonio Holmes as well as well as Syracuse safety Anthony Smith and speedy Florida State receiver Willie Reid. Having seen Holmes at Ohio State, I like his versatility and his flat out ability to stretch the field. Is he the next Randle El? I don’t think you can truly replace El’s unique ability to run, pass and catch but I think Holmes gives Ben Roethlisberger a legitimate number two receiver and don’t be surprised if this kid is starting opposite Hines Ward on opening day.

I like Holmes comment about being a Steeler fan since 1995. Most college kids can’t remember the Steelers 2001 AFC Championship game appearance much less Super Bowl XXX. A little bit of knowledge about history never hurts when you’re in Steeler Country.

I think it’s interesting that in a draft where defensive players dominated the first round picks, the defensive-minded Steelers decided to go offense — and pass offense no less. It tells me the
Steelers are satisfied with their current defensive personnel and realize if they want to win the AFC North, they need to open up their offense which I believe means moving away from the run and possessing the ball through the air.

Steelers still have six picks today — and even on the second day of the draft there is quality out there. I think they will find some sort of running back and draft a linebacker. Also, don’t be surprised if they spend a pick on a local kid — perhaps Penn Stater Michael Robinson or Bruce Gradkowski from Seton-LaSalle.

Steelers Pick Holmes

April 29, 2006

I think the Steelers have a really good player in Santonio Holmes. I’ve watched him play a few times at Ohio State, and I like his speed and versatility. He should fit in nicely as a slot receiver and he’s also decent at returning kicks. He’s not all that big, but he’s very fast and he’s hungry to make it in the NFL. Kudos to Kevin Colbert and his staff for making the pick!

Never in the history of the Steeler draft has there been a player so perfectly suited to the Steeler offense and style that was so close to being available to the Black and Gold in round one. Southern Cal RB LenDale White is that player and should be available in the later rounds. He may not fall to #32, but with 10 picks, the Steelers may very well package some of their picks to move up and get White. I know the Steelers won’t draft ten players because they don’t need to pay ten players.

This is my fearless prediction and if you think I don’t know what I am talking about — you might be right.

Then, again, I predicted the night before the 2004 draft a guy named Roethlisberger out of Miami of Ohio would fall to the Steelers at #11.

One caveat: If there are a lot of deals in the first round involving other teams — all bets are off!

Honor Thy Contract?

April 27, 2006

Tonight, WVU basketball coach John Beilein called reports that he would be leaving for NC State “erroneous”. What he doesn’t say is that had NC State been able to swallow his sizable buyout clause, he would have made tracks from Morgantown to Raleigh.

Now I’m willing to give Beilein some slack for looking into greener pastures. After two straight sweet 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament, he was decimated by graduation and had little left in the cupboard. But is that any reason to join the legions of college coaches who bail out of long-term contracts after a couple of years and go for a bigger and better deal? ( Are you listening Ben Howland? ) Sometimes, its not even about looking for another job. Jamie Dixon was able to turn serious interest from Arizona State in more money at Pitt.

While all this might be considered shrewd business, I think it smells of disloyalty and arrogance. I have a contract and I can’t just walk into my boss’ office and say I’m leaving for more money. I would be sued, fired and ostracized from my profession. Maybe college coaches have a little more leverage, but maybe schools need to stick to their guns and hold their coaches to the contracts they sign — otherwise why have a contract at all. Give the Rooneys credit: They had something going with that “handshake” agreement they used for years with employees before the Tom Donahoe fiasco.

Cuban Craziness

April 25, 2006

I’ve had just about enough of all this Mark Cuban craziness! Cuban has a way of shooting his mouth off when he knows he can get a rise out of people and get some of the attention he must have been lacking while growing up in Mount Lebanon. All this talk about what he would do if he owned the Pirates is just that: talk. I hear Pirates fans tell me all the time about how great it would be if Cuban owned the Bucs, how he would spend money to get top-notch players to come to Pittsburgh regardless of what it would mean to Cuban’s bottom line. I also keep hearing about what a “great” job he’s done as owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. It’s all hogwash! First of all, no business owner, including the free-spending Cuban, will take a financial loss in order for his business to succeed, so forget all that! Second, Cuban has done a good–not great job owning the Mavs. Sure, they make the playoffs every year, but they’ve never won a championship. Plus, Mr. Big Bucks let Steve Nash leave for the Phoenix Suns and all he did was win the league’s MVP award! Trust me Pirate fans, if the Bucs were to make the playoffs every year and never win a World Series (Say, like the Atlanta Braves) you would all be complaining about how the Pirates can “never win the big one.” Much like the grief you’ve given the likes of Bill Cowher and Jamie Dixon over the years. Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: THE PIRATES ARE NOT FOR SALE!!! So let’s silence this Cuban talk already!

Draft Day Blues

April 24, 2006

Every year Steelers Director of Operations Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Bill Cowher meet with the media to discuss their plans prior to the NFL Draft. Sort of. It’s really a dog and pony show where they won’t answer any specific questions about which players they may be interested in selecting. I can certainly understand, no team wants to tip their hand as to which way they are leaning, but it certainly doesn’t stop a few media members from trying. One reporter today asked Colbert: “I know you said you weren’t discussing specific players, but with regards to LenDale White…….” Another one asked: “Kevin, I know you said you don’t want to talk about specific players, but what are your impressions about Michael Robinson of Penn State?” It’s pretty comical, but I guess there’s always that one media member who thinks he or she can get a definitive answer out of the Steelers top brass. Good luck. Hey, I have an an idea, why don’t we wait until Draft Day and we can all find out who the Steelers are interested in picking together!

I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. That doesn’t make today’s departure of Craig Patrick any easier. The Pens GM did not have his contract renewed after one of the longest tenures for any personnel boss in modern day sports. Remember, he first was hired in 1989. Mario was still under 30 and most of Pittsburgh could remember the Steelers last Super Bowl win.

Patrick’s dismissal came from a combination of factors. After 17 years on the job, you get stale sometimes and that’s what happened to the one of the most creative minds in hockey. At the same time, he was faced with the kind of financial pressures rarely seen in pro sports. Dealing with salary cutbacks and team bankruptcy, Patrick could not be the free-wheeling and daring dealmaker he was in the early ’90’s when he pulled off the trade with my hometown Hartford Whalers that brought Ron Francis and some key parts of the championship puzzle to Pittsburgh.

Canning Patrick is what Penguin nation wanted, but even as they say “good riddance”, they should remember that if not for Patrick, Pittsburgh would not be a championship hockey town — twice. Heck, I doubt we would even have hockey because I doubt there would have been the effort made to save the team by Mario had #66 not had the pleasant memory of knowing how good this franchise could be — having won the cup. Good Craig and thanks for making hockey matter. You deserve as much credit for saving hockey in Pittsburgh as does mario.

We figured the Pens would be packing up this time of year. Packing up to head for their first playoff game, not for the off-season. With the retirements, defections and just bad play, this dream season quickly became a nightmare. The Pens went from being pre-season play-off contenders to the second-worst team in all of hockey.

So was this season a complete disaster? I don’t think so. It’s not every year the heir apparent to Mario Lemieux falls into your lap and Sidney Crosby is just that. He has proven to be not only Mario’s worthy successor, but also one of the most exciting young players in hockey. Pittsburgh also has developed a young stable of performers who will be the foundation for the future ( Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Malone, Colby Armstrong ). Perhaps most encouraging of all: the Pens fans themselves. Pittsburgh fans have never been known as a patient bunch, but they way the supported this team through thin .. and very thin .. is nothing short of amazing.

But this team will change. There is a strong belief Craig Patrick’s tenure as general manager is over and Michel Therrien’s return is no guarantee — especially if there is new ownership and a new general manager in place.

The Pens will likely pick no lower than third following tomorrow’s NHL draft lottery and they hope to have Russian superstar Evgeni Malkin in place by next season. All signs point to the return of winning hockey in Pittsburgh and that’s why I’m bullish about the Pens making a real play-off run — perhaps as soon as next spring. Then again, I was ready to purchase playoff tickets last November.

Sid The Kid

April 18, 2006

I remember when I first heard about Sidney Crosby. I heard things like: “He sees the ice better than any player since Lemieux and Gretzky.” And: “He will retire as one of the all time great players in NHL history.” I’m a pretty Glass-is-half-full kind of guy, but even I thought there was no way this kid could live up to all the hype. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Somehow, all the hype hasn’t been enough to describe him. He is a phenomenal playmaker, his savvy and ice awareness are uncanny, and he couldn’t be more polished and prepared for what has been a never-ending media crush all season. I normally don’t root for the athletes I cover, but it’s hard not to get behind this guy. Penguin fans, you got a real star on your hands, cherish him! He recently became the youngest player ever to score 100 points in a season, look for Sid The Kid to eclipse many more records before he hangs up his skates for good. Be sure to catch our next edition of McDonald’s Action Sports Sunday when we break down the Pens season and look ahead to next year.

Steelers Draft

April 17, 2006

USC Tailback LinDale White is certainly an intriguing pick for the Steelers at first glance. He’s a big, powerful back and if there’s one thing I’ve learned since moving to Pittsburgh, it’s that you Steeler fans love a big, powerful back. I must say I don’t like what I’m hearing about White’s work ethic or his attitude. His pro workout was certainly less than inspiring; I mean, it’s one thing to have a sore hammy and not be able to run, but come on, even Andrew Stockey can put up 225 pounds 15 times!! His poor workout numbers will almost certainly cost him money, so the Steelers wouldn’t have pay of a lot for him, but I’m not sure he’s worth the headache. Be sure to watch our next edition of McDonald’s Action Sports Sunday when we’ll be talking about the upcoming NFL Draft in length.

Pitt Spring Game

April 16, 2006

I was on the sidelines for the Pitt spring game and had the chance to briefly chat with Jamie Dixon. The basketball coach was an unexpected guest at the game, having just buried his sister on Friday at West Point. He seemed to be
in good spirits when I spoke with him. It’s really amazing how stoic he has been during this tragedy.

As for the game, Pitt showed signs that they are embracing Dave Wannstedt’s offensive philosophy. They are a much
more physical team than they were last season, but they still could not run the ball very well and the lack of depth on the offensive line is obvious when we get to the second team. Tyler Palko will once again have to be the playmaker he was two years ago at Notre Dame if they hope to be successful.

The defense will be quicker and more agile than they were a year ago and Darrelle Revis maybe playing his final year at Pitt. According to people that are close to the Pitt situation, Revis is good enough that he could play on the next level right now.

I think Pitt will be a much better team than they were last fall, but it may not be enough for this team to win the Big East title. A title I think will once again wind up in Morgantown.

Pirates Game

April 15, 2006

Just got back from watching our Buccos battle the Cubs at PNC Park. I’m writing this before the conclusion of the game, so know that anything I say here is done without knowing the final result.

* The Bucs have got to find a way to have Craig Wilson in the lineup every day until he starts to slump. Wilson
hit another homer today after replaying the injured Sean Casey. Right now, the only way to slow down Wilson
might be cutting that long flowing hair of his.

* The bullpen is not going to make it out of April at this rate. Pittsburgh has got to get some decent starting pitching.
Consider that tonight’s starter — Victor Santos — had the only win for any of the starters and he made it five innings tonight. Right now, he’s the closest thing to an ace this staff has.

* Is PNC Park the most beautiful ballpark or what? I wish you had my view from the pressbox high atop home plate. It’s magnificent and it’s nice to have when the team on the field is difficult to watch.

Hey, we talk sports every Sunday night on McDonald’s Action Sports Sunday ( 11:30pm ). Tune in and watch this blog come alive as we discuss some of the topics of the day with panelists from ESPN Radio 1250 and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Penguins Late Run

April 14, 2006

Except for Sidney Crosby, the Pens have flown under the radar most of the season.

But I just got back from the Pens game with the Rangers. Let me tell you — this team has really grown up and gotten much better in the season’s second half. Even when they lose, they are more competitive and more cohesive as a hockey team. Tonight, they outskated the Rangers – a Ranger team that’s trying to clinch its division andget a higher seed in the playoffs! They outhustled New York and Sidney Crosby was at his best when he set up teammates like Colby Armstrong. I only hope the Pens are playing in Pittsburgh next fall because they are improving and heading in the right direction.

BY the way: Just talked with Jim Krenn from the DVE morning show and he will be joining us next Sunday night for McDonald’s Action Sports Sunday on Channel 4. If you have not seen our Sunday night show, give us a try. Its a fun half hour where we debate, discuss and hav fun with the pressing sports issues of the day. I have enjoyed doing the show and don’t mind mixing it up with Mark Madden. If you can’t stay up that late, this is why you have TiVo.

Ward’s Trip

April 12, 2006

For someone who didn’t want media coverage of his trip to Korea, Steelers wideout Hines Ward is sure getting his fair share. The Korean media has followed his every move, and it seems like there’s a different story about his trip each day in the local papers. I’m all for Hines honoring his mother by taking her back to where she’s from and acknowledging his Korean heritage, but this is a bit much. I just hope Hines has found time to really enjoy his trip and learn about the land where his mother is from, doesn’t really look like he’s had much time to relax and kick his feet up. I must say I do admire his talking with children of mixed race over there, I’m sure his presence did wonders for their self esteem. I certainly give him kudos for admitting he was at one time ashamed of his Korean heritage and realizing it was wrong, I just hope the trip wasn’t too distracting form him with all the media coverage and that Hines was able to get the most out of his journey.