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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ohio State still under scrutiny - Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Preview -

+5 as of 12:20

Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Preview

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2010, lost to Green Bay, 31-25, in Super Bowl XLV

COACH (RECORD): Mike Tomlin (48-23 in four seasons with Steelers, including 5-2 in playoffs)



OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 11th rushing, 14th passing, 12th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS, 2010 (NFL): 1st rushing, 12th passing, 1st scoring

KEY ADDITIONS: TE John Gilmore (Buccaneers), DE Cameron Heyward (first round, Ohio State), CB Curtis Brown (third round, Texas), RB Baron Batch (seventh round, Texas Tech), TE Weslye Saunders (undrafted free agent)

KEY DEPARTURES: TE Matt Spaeth (to Bears), OT Max Starks (released), WR Antwaan Randle El (released), OT Flozell Adams (released)

PLAYING THE SAME HAND: Welcome to Team Status Quo. They were one drive -- with the ball in their hands and less than two minutes left -- from grabbing their seventh Super Bowl triumph. So the Steelers, through the labor-stuck summer, opted to ante up and stand pat. Once the CBA was forged, they brought back CB Ike Taylor and OT Willie Colon, who was replaced by Flozell Adams after a season-ending Achilles' injury. They also re-signed a bevy of other free-agents who were backups or special-teamers: nickel corner William Gay, NT Chris Hoke, third-down back Mewelde Moore, K Shaun Suisham, P Daniel Sepulveda, LS Greg Warren and OT Jonathan Scott, who may assume the starting spot where he replaced an injured Max Starks late last season. If it ain't broke ... and the bulk of this club has played in three Super Bowls of the past six.

LAY IT ON THE LINE: They won two of those three Super Bowls with Ben Roethlisberger running for his life and a so-so offensive line that had holes in pass protection but created them in the run game. In short, the organization learned it could thrive with offensive-line inconsistencies. Besides, isn't Roethlisberger a bigger threat and a better option when he's on the run? The 2010 first-round addition of C Maurkice Pouncey solidified a shaky group, one whose sack total promptly dropped from a consistent 49, 47, 49 and 50 (average: 3.0 per game) to only 43 last season. No wonder Pouncey made the Pro Bowl -- he switched from guard to his natural, collegiate center position only one day into training camp and made the line around him that much improved. In fact, when Roethlisberger returned from his four-game suspension, he was sacked just 32 times in 12 games (2.6 per) for his least abuse since his rookie season. The line's area of expertise, though, was run-blocking. RB Rashard Mendenhall, who improved at finding holes and making yards after first contact, rushed for 1,273 yards and 13 TDs -- the best of his three seasons. The Steelers averaged 120 yards rushing per game, which allowed them to return to their grinding, ball-hawking, win-with-defense style that brought them most of their previous half-dozen Lombardi trophies.

FRONT-LINE QUESTIONS: Still, there are subjects of wonder ... about both lines for a Steelers organization that lives by its trenches. Can Scott -- who started the last two months of 2010 -- continue to play well at left OT, or would they bring back Adams for that natural, left OT presence? Will they bring back Adams anyway, at right OT, and move Colon back to his college position, guard? And on the defensive side, can the all-important, thirty-something front three not only stay healthy, but stay on the field together? Pro Bowl DE Aaron Smith already is talking about taking his place behind Ziggy Hood, after the way Hood played in his injured place last season. NT Casey Hampton will drag his 325-plus-pound body into the middle of offensive double-teams for the 11th season. But can Smith still play effectively after arm surgeries scrubbed two of his past four seasons? Can Hampton still play effectively at his size and age (34)? That's the same age as the other DE, Brett Keisel -- again empowered by a mystical beard. Such advancing age is the reason the Steelers drafted Ohio State DE Cam Heyward in the first round. If he plays often, though, that could be a bad sign: defensive line coach/assistant head coach John Mitchell almost abhors playing rookies.

SECONDARY CONCERNS: The Steelers brought back all the usual suspects, starting with Taylor. But that also comes with a downside: New England's Tom Brady, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (for 304 yards, three TDs and no INTs in the Super Bowl) and Drew Brees shredded that exact same secondary for 300-plus yards apiece last season. It wasn't merely the marquee names, either. Joe Flacco and Chad Henne combined for three games worth of 779 yards, three TDs and two INTs. It is an area that definitely requires tightening, especially with Brady -- and, of course, an angry young Flacco twice -- back on the schedule along with Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub and Sam Bradford. Maybe draftees Curtis Brown or Cortez Allen could unseat William Gay as nickel back or provide coverage help ... but it's doubtful, in this abbreviated preseason without an offseason to learn Dick LeBeau's system. That system is the critical factor in the Steelers' persnickety approach to veteran free-agent help: They hardly ever go there for the secondary.

FINAL WORD: A Super Bowl participant with every starter back essentially, except one (Adams)? An older, more-experienced team on a level playing field where nobody had OTAs or offseason work together? No wonder these Steelers feel confident about their 2011 chances. The NFL schedule-makers did them no favors, though: The Steelers visit Baltimore, Indianapolis and Houston in the opening four weeks. So it is imperative through this preseason that the aging Steelers, warts and all, get into game readiness, and quickly. S Troy Polamalu (Achilles) plus surgically repaired LB James Harrison (back) along with WRs Hines Ward (wrist) and Emmanuel Sanders (foot) prime among them.

Ohio State still under scrutiny
pat forde espn.com
Pat, you and espn need to get rid of your hard-on for OSU! They are the biggest money maker the NCAA has, so sorry about your luck!!!!!

INDIANAPOLIS -- As Ohio State heads into its Friday meeting with the NCAA Committee on Infractions, it appears the university's dealings with the NCAA over problems within its football program will not end there.
The NCAA notified Ohio State by letter last week that it is still investigating other issues involving the program.
The result could be a second notice of allegations and a second trip through the NCAA justice system.
OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said president Gordon Gee got a letter from the NCAA on Aug. 3 but that it said "absolutely nothing about additional allegations."
"The university has not received any additional allegations from the NCAA." Lynch said. "As a member institution, we are committed to working together with the NCAA to examine any information concerning potential violations of NCAA legislation. We do not anticipate discussing any additional allegations with the Committee on Infractions on Friday other than those self reported in March, 2011."
In its July 21 official case summary, the NCAA enforcement staff notified Ohio State that it was not charging the school with the serious "failure to monitor" charge at its hearing Friday as a result of violations related to memorabilia sold to a local tattoo parlor owner. The staff concluded that the charge, which can bring heavy penalties, was "unwarranted" due to the athletic department's efforts in educating players and coaches about NCAA rules about extra benefits. However, NCAA protocol does allow for the Committee on Infractions to add penalties if it sees fit. The July 21 case summary also addressed only the allegations related to the tattoo parlor -- no statement was made in the NCAA's 17-page report about the status of any the other allegations that have come forth since scandal erupted.
There have been multiple media reports that came out after the school received its notice of allegations April 25. That notice alleged that then-Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel committed ethical misconduct, among other charges.
Among the reports since then: an ESPN "Outside The Lines" story alleging that former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was paid thousands of dollars in exchange for signed gear by local memorabilia collector, photographer and Buckeyes fan Dennis Talbott; an "OTL" report about Pryor and other Buckeyes playing free rounds of golf with Talbott at a Columbus-area country club; and a Columbus Dispatch report that scrutinized dozens of automobile sales to Ohio State athletes and family members from a pair of Columbus-area dealerships.
If any of those reports are verified by NCAA investigators, they could result in additional major allegations against the school.
In the wake of those media reports, there was speculation that the Committee on Infractions might postpone Ohio State's scheduled hearing. That did not happen, but it does not signal an end to the process.
When Ohio State spokesman Jim Lynch was questioned last week specifically about Talbott by ESPN's Tom Farrey, his response indicated that the investigation of the football program is ongoing.
"... We will not be able to discuss details of our active investigation with the NCAA until the matter has been resolved," Lynch wrote in an email to Farrey.
Also Wednesday, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told The Associated Press in an email that the NCAA investigation has cost the school's athletic department about $800,000. The AP reported that Smith declined to discuss the investigation other than to confirm the cost, which he said was about $800,000 "at this point."

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