Scouting for Steelers: It’s an Ill Wind


I first ran across the old expression “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good” in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, back in my teenage days. It took me a bit to figure out what on earth it meant, but I finally did. It is particularly apropos for the Steelers at the moment.

The news that Bud Dupree is going on IR was not something any of us wanted to hear. But it did result in one minor consolation—Steven Johnson, the linebacker I hated to see go, is back in the black and gold, only about 24 hours or so after he first parted ways with the Steelers.

And for that matter there was some good news in terms of the practice squad. The Steelers didn’t lose Travis Feeney, who I personally think has a lot of upside but also a long way to go. Running back Brandon Brown-Dukes, who Tomlin liked well enough to give a nickname, is back, as is fellow RB Cameron Stingily. I wondered if the fumble he had on his sole carry in the Carolina game would doom him, but fortunately the coaching staff is a bit more far-sighted than we are.

They are joined by Demarcus Ayres, a guy I thought had a shot at making the 53-man roster, and WR Cobi Hamilton, who was inconsistent in the preseason but flashed some real potential. Another guy I thought might make the roster, Al-Haji Shabazz, is a CB who had some impressive moments in the preseason. But conspicuously absent are Doran Grant and Montell Garner, both of whom I thought had a chance. [Grant was signed by the Bills, so we might end up having traded fourth-round picks…] Caushaud Lyons, who I thought had a chance of beating out L.T. Walton, didn’t, but is back on the practice squad. Johnny Maxey, the Man from Mars, is still with us. The squad is rounded out by OT Matt Feiler, who I thought had some good moments in the final preseason game, and a waiver wire pickup, TE Raushan Allen.

Another piece of good news, if you will, is that after seeing them play during the offseason the Steelers liked this year’s draft class well enough to keep all of them, one way or another. Their project offensive tackle is safely stashed on the IR list. Two of the guys are now on the practice squad. The rest are on the 53-man roster. At least one of them, Javon Hargrave, is the starter at his position. Amazing, especially when you are talking about a third-round pick in the Steelers’ defense. SERIOUSLY ANNOYING UPDATE: Hargrave left practice yesterday with a knee injury. We can hope it is minor, but heaven only knows at this point…

There is a curious thing—not a single one of the guys the Steelers originally signed as UDFAs made it, even to the practice squad. But a couple of guys they picked up later—Maxey and Feiler—did.

And although the news about Dupree is quite disappointing, with the way Arthur Moats was playing in the preseason, I wondered whether the same thing was going to happen on Moats’ side as on Harrison’s—that there was a good possibility that the veteran “back-up” was going to end up being the actual starter, with the younger player being the starter in name only, as happened with Jones and Harrison last year.

Of course, Dupree is more intriguing at this point than Jones, but if Jones makes as big a leap as Joey Porter has hinted he might this year, that would take at least a bit of the sting out of losing Dupree. And there is the possibility of Dupree returning, because the Steelers waited to IR him so they could at least keep that possibility open.

If the Steelers had also put Senquez Golson on IR, it would mean that either he or Dupree is out for the season. So far, though. the Steelers haven’t made a move to put Golson on IR, so perhaps they have information indicating he will be back sooner than expected.

The big surprise in the roster moves was the Steelers eschewing all three of the possible cornerbacks I thought might make it onto the roster and instead trading for Justin Gilbert. And Gilbert is definitely a case in which an ill wind, (in this instance the injury to Golson) turned out really well for someone, whatever happens. Here is how Teresa Varley’s article on begins:

For an NFL player, learning you were traded can come as a big surprise, and sometimes not a pleasant surprise.

But for cornerback Justin Gilbert, getting traded from the Browns to the Steelers on Saturday is a welcome change for the former first-round pick.

“I was a little bit surprised,” said Gilbert. “I was more happy and shocked at the same time. I am just excited for this new opportunity, fresh opportunity, with these guys. Everybody has welcomed me with open arms and I am just ready to get to work.

“Words can’t even explain how excited I am right now. I am just grateful.”

We like to make fun of our neighbor to the north. We may not be able to do so for too much longer, if Hue Jackson is successful (and if he is given sufficient time to do so.) But there is no doubt that Cleveland is not a premiere destination for NFL players at the moment. Generally the attitude seems to be that you play your allotted four years and go somewhere else as quickly as possible.

I think that may change sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, the Cleveland experience has been pretty dreadful for Gilbert. His situation reminds me a good deal of our own Darrius Heyward-Bey, a player taken too high in the draft and saddled with expectations he couldn’t fulfill. This can’t be fun.

Heyward-Bey has come down a good bit in the world, in terms of salary, position, and all that other good stuff, and he seems to be having the time of his life. He’s willing to play special teams, and does so very well. He’s willing to mentor younger receivers who pass him on the depth chart, and in general do whatever he can to be a help to the team and a great teammate.

Whether Gilbert’s story will end as well remains to be seen. For one thing, it seems the Steelers may need him to be something more than a special teams player and back-of-the-depth-chart guy. But there is a lot to be said for a fresh start. It is going to be very interesting to see whether the fresh start reveals the deficiencies in his previous situation or the deficiencies in him. Hopefully it isn’t the latter. It certainly seems like it’s worth a sixth-round pick in two years to find out.



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