2001 position by position Preview.
Quarterback:� Kordell Stewart is the guy for at least one more season.� While Stewart has not established himself as a QB who will beat any opponent with his arm, he has used his athleticism to make some winning plays running the ball and, probably, will do so again this year.� In the past, Stewart has endured long periods of futility in the passing game punctuated by absolutely horrendous errors.� In 2000 though, this man did limit his mistakes.� That is progress and if in 2001, Kordell can manage, say, 18 TD passing with 12 INT and something like 3200 yards total offense, then the Stillers will have a real playoff opportunity.� Stewart is the QB and, as such, must be a contributor in the offense. However, he is not the centerpiece; the Stillers need him to execute in a low-risk mode similar to McNair in Tennessee and augment that with his break-out running ability.� Face it, there will be few Manning-esque interludes at Heinz Field this year.� ����
Tommy Maddox looked great in Atlanta, stunningly awful in Minnesota and very competent at Heinz against the Lions.� It is tough to get a read on this man.� Maddox seems to be a touch, timing passer in the Montana-mode; that�ll play in arenas and out in Vegas, LA or SF but, if winter actually arrives in the �Burgh this year, the field will shrink and passes will flutter.� Maddox does have experience and may be a functional emergency starter.� I�m hoping for the best for this player; I�d guess that to be somewhere in T�czak territory.
Tee Martin had a tough time in pre-season.� Like Maddox, Tee was effective leading the reserves against Atlanta�s worst.� Tee competed in the Twin Cities but got no help from his WR.� Martin played most of the Bills game but, running for his life behind the Stillers 2nd O-line, got nothing going.� Martin�s pre-season totals, 16/37/135 with a TD and an INT, suggest that he is not ready for primetime.� On the plus side, he has lasted longer than Quinn, Gonzales and Wright.
Outlook: �Cautious optimism, Stewart has ability but couldn�t function in Gilbride�s regime of terror.� Coach Mularkey has spent (9) months or so tailoring his offense to the players he has on hand.� That has got to be an improvement.� The jury is out on Maddox but, for sure, he moved the team better in the 2001 pre-season than Graham did during the same period in 2000.� Martin has a year of experience and, I guess, that will help.� All in all, the Stiller QB situation should be better this season; whether this is merely marginal, or really significant, improvement remains to be seen.
Lost:�� Kent Graham��������������������������� Gained:� Tommy Maddox
Wide Receiver:� Generally, long on potential but short on achievement; the Stillers enter 2001 with no established #1 type WR.� Spike is the best hope but while it was widely reported that this man has turned it around, his pre-season performance presented little supporting evidence.� Burress looked good in Atlanta with Maddox at the helm but, pretty much, disappeared thereafter.� His failure to come down with the EZ catch vs. Ken Irvin of the Bills was quite disappointing.� True, this was just (1) play but Spike has given us little cause for optimism.�
Hines Ward is a winner but miscast as the #1; this man may be a decent 2nd WR but would ideal be a #3 and ST captain.� Ward plays hard and plays smart but simply lacks game-breaking talent.� Bobby Shaw has put up impressive numbers as a slot receiver but seems disinterested in going over the middle and, when he does that, is prone to clutch drops.� IMO, this is not a player you can win with.� Will Blackwell is Shaw reincarnated but with slightly more ST ability.
Troy Edwards plays very hard but has suspect hands.� Toy is burdened by the expectations that came with his being selected #13 overall in the 1st round of the �99 draft.� This was far too high; by most accounts Edwards was a late 1st type that year.� For sure, he was ranked closer to KJ and Peerless Price (WR taken in the 2nd round) than Torry Holt and David Boston (WR taken in the top 10).� Now, while Holt and Boston are developing, the other (3) have had their struggles.� Edwards may contribute on returns or out of the slot but this man just doesn�t have it as a #1 type WR.�
Outlook:� Obscure, we know what to expect from Ward, Shaw and Blackwell and we know that isn�t enough.� The Stillers hopes this season rest with Spike and, to a lesser extent, Toy.� If these men play to their ability then the Stillers will have a respectable WR group but if not, not.� It is noteworthy that this unit has to be one of the slowest in the NFL.
Lost:�� Courtney Hawkins ������������������ Gained:� None.
Running Back:� If the Stillers believed that they had a QB with the leadership ability of, say, Manning, Gannon or McNair then they may have let the Bus go and retained Richard Huntley to form a RB troika with Amoz and Fu.� Or maybe not; for sure though, Bettis does take a primary leadership role on this team and, as was the case for most of the last (5) years, the Stillers will try to ride the Bus from here into late January.� Bettis has looked sharp in pre-season; we�ll see what happens when opponents break out the run blitzes but, more than likely, this man will roll for about 1100 in 2001.�
There has to be some concern about how many years the Bus has left; the Stillers gave him a 6- year deal and, while no one expects (6), (4) years would make more cap-sense than (2).� However, (4) isn�t reasonable so long as Bettis keeps getting 350+ carries per season; figure him to be good for 3500 career carries, note that he is closing on 2500 now and do the math.� In pre-season, the Stillers have brought Amoz as a change-up during possessions when Bettis has gotten most of the time.�� That�s all good, if Coach Mularkey can balance Amoz with the Bus on any given drive, this may blunt some defensive substitution packages.� Further, if Amoz can get around 85-100 carries, then the Bus will be at, say, 275.� That�s well down from years past, and this could extend his career.� The Stillers haven�t made effective use of a RB tandem like this since Pegram/Morris; in fact, the Bus/Amoz duo projects to be considerably more dangerous.
Fu was a solid 3rd down contributor in 2000 until he moved to FB.� That position switch lasted about 20 minutes; while Fu�s injury wasn�t directly related to any FB duty, the fact remains that this man is best cast as a back-up I-back, ST coverage player and 3rd down specialist.� Fu runs with determination, has good hands and possesses enough size to deal with blitz pick-ups.� He is the Stillers best option on 3rd down, as Amoz is the best change-up option for the Bus.�
Outlook:� Highly promising, Coach Mularkey�s familiarity with the Stillers personnel may be even more important here than in the passing game.
Lost:�� Richard Huntley����������������������� Gained:� None.�
Fullback:� The Stillers have (2) players with starting experience at this position; however, neither enters the season in good health.� Dan Kreider blew a calf in some non-contact walk through.� FB is a contact position; it�s anyone�s guess how Kreider will hold up.� Due to his chronically ailing back, Jon Witman missed (3) of (4) PS games.� For the last, against the Bills, he was injured while tying his shoe.� Barefoot, Witman would be no help; hopefully, he can get shod more often than not this season.� Matt Cushing was pressed into service at FB; Cushing was okay in that role but no more than okay.� He seems able to locate someone to block but doesn�t get a lot of movement.� Matt did have a surprise carry against the Bills; this was not impressive, he reached the LOS but crumpled at impact.�
Outlook:� Obscure, if Kreider is healthy, then the Stillers should be fine but if not, not. Witman is on pace to be active for 4/16 games and Cushing, while willing, is no bowling ball.� The FB is crucial in the power-I and that set will be needed this season; the Bus needs a driver and the Stillers will need Fu behind Bettis at RB more than before him at FB.� This situation resolves entirely if Kreider and Witman can stay healthy; that�s not likely but the Stillers could help themselves at FB simply by improving at TE (see following).
Lost:�� None.�������������������������������������� Gained:� None
Tight End:� There are many mysteries in our world: What happened to Atlantis?� How did the Egyptians build their pyramids?� How is it possible that Regis has had a career in the entertainment industry?� All of these are amazing but no more so than that Jermane Tuman remains on the Stillers roster.� I can�t guess at how Coach Mularkey will utilize this player; he is incapable of blocking a moving target and, though billed as a pass-catcher, doesn�t actually catch the ball.� Matt Cushing is on due to his tenacity and his willingness to attempt an FB/H-back role; Cushing didn�t sparkle in pre-season but he was, generally, serviceable.� However, neither back-up fits the Breuner-type tackle-eligible mode. Breuner is a solid starter, an outstanding in-line blocker and, given some assignment in the passing game, looks capable of, say, (32-48) grabs this season.� Mularkey was a TE and so Breuner should get his chances; that�s all good, but if this man goes down the Stillers will have to drastically revamp their TE role.� The health issues at FB exacerbate the depth questions here; if Cushing sees any considerable time in the backfield, then the Stillers are a snap away from bringing Tuman.� God help us.
Outlook:� Thin,a solid starter but little useful depth.�� The Stillers need a back-up TE� who can give them what Geason brought last season.� This man was a junior-Breuner, a decent in-line blocker who also flashed some downfield receiving skills.� Given that the situation at FB will compel Cushing to swing between that position and this one, the Stillers simply have got to locate a capable fulltime #2 TE.�
Lost:�� Cory Geason��������������������������� Gained:� Matt Cushing (sort of)
Offensive Tackle:� Gandy had shoulder surgery last winter but given his solid play in pre-season seems to be fully recovered.� Wayne played hurt for nearly all of 2000, during that time he established himself both as a reliable LOT and a team leader.� Marvel Smith came on at the end of last season but appears to have regressed since.� In about (5) quarters of pre-season play, spread from the Twin Cities to the Mustard Jar, Marvel allowed (3) sacks and several pressures.� The Stillers need this man to step up his play because there is no one behind him.�
Oliver Ross has been active for all of (2) games in his 2-year NFL career; the staff has seen some merit in his play but that quality has eluded me.� In essence, twice-dressed Ollie replaces Shar Pourdanesh who had started some (40) games in Washington, has started at both LOT and ROT, came cheap and, when allowed on the field here, played very well.� Larry Tharpe was a pleasant surprise in 2000; he never did get in shape that year but given that he spent 1999 down in his basement with a stack of pies his massive girth was forgivable.� Not this year; the fact that he returned to Latrobe in a state of advanced bloat made it absolutely clear that this man had refused the price of admission to the active roster.�
No doubt, the Stillers needed to get younger on the O-line; last season, they had no developmental reserves.� Given that, I do like Mathias Nkwenti; however, there is no way he will help in 2001.� Nkwenti isn�t ready and Smith is shaky; clearly, the Stillers need a proven vet reserve at this position.� If not Shar, if Tharpe ate himself back into retirement then why did the FO not pursue Erik Williams?� I�ve got no comfort level with Ross; for that reason, I �d like to see the Stillers pursue an OT such as Todd Fordham, a young vet with starting experience.� The equation should be: two (2) youngsters, (1) starting and (1) developing with (2) vets, (1) starting with (1) a capable reserve who could function on either side.
Outlook:� Emaciated.� The Stillers have effectively removed any trace of useful depth at this crucial position.� An injury to Gandy would be catastrophic. Smith might develop and Nkwenti may help in the long-term; if so, the future looks good.� For 2001 though, this unit looks to be far weaker than the 2000 edition.
Lost: � Shar Pourdanesh��������������������� Gained:� Oliver Ross (from PS)
Larry Tharpe��� ����������������������������������� �� Mathias Nkwenti
Interior O-Line:� Jeff Hartings has justified the Stillers belief that he could transition from OG to OC; Hartings was a top tier FA signing and, off the pre-season, will upgrade play at the OC slot.� Faneca is what he is, a winning, if not spectacular, inside player.� Tylski is a tough guy who makes few errors but will be overmatched against some teams, notably the Ravens and possibly the Jags.� All in all though, the interior group looks solid.� Roger Duffy remains the top reserve; this man can function with reasonable effectiveness at all (3) interior positions.� Chukky Okobi looks to be developing a bit ahead of schedule and Keydrick Vincent has the makings to be a road-grader at ROG and, perhaps, could develop as a G/T type.
Outlook: Solid.� Dawson is a HOF 1st round lock; Hartings may have to pay his way to Canton.� However, Dirt was a part-timer for two seasons and Hartings is fit and ready.� The OC play should be upgraded and the starting OG return.� The reserve mix, (a solid vet and a couple youngsters) notably absent at OT, is good here.� The Stillers have acquired (2) promising developmental players and that is (2) more than they had here in 2000.�
Lost:�� Dermonti Dawson�������������������� Gained: Jeff Hartings
����������� Tom Mylinski�������������������������� ������������ Chukky Okobi
����������������������������������������������������������������������� �Keydrick Vincent
Defensive Line:� Entering 2000, this unit figured as one of the worst in the history of professional football.� However, KVO exceeded most expectations at NT and Aaron Smith did develop.� The D-line overachieved in 2000 but still didn�t arrive; this unit had only (6) sacks total and struggled against the run.� Improvement here was job #1 last off-season and, at least on paper, the FO has done a fairly good job.� Hampton projects as a run-stuffing NT; with this man in the line-up, KVO can move outside to RDE.� KVO is an up-grade from Henry; Aaron Smith has bulked up and so for the first time since �95, the Stillers can field (3) 300# DL.� That�s all good.
Depth remains an issue; last year, the Stillers had essentially no rotation.� Clancy played sparingly then and so did Combs, Sullivan was hurt for most of the year and Staat did nothing in his limited duty.� Clancy has looked good this pre-season and rookie Rodney Bailey has shown some energy; these men may contribute especially as rushers in �obvious passing situations.�� On the downside, Combs has shown little development and Hoke, while willing, seems to be, pretty much, just a big body.� The Stillers will need a rotation here; whether they have the personnel past Clancy remains to be seen.
Outlook:� Promising, the changes in this unit define the term �addition by subtraction.�� (8) rookies made the final roster; (3) are D-linemen.� Hampton is a mature 24, Hoke is 25; these men should be able to contribute (to the limit of their ability) immediately.� The Stillers have gotten bigger upfront and finally seem to have the size to work their system.� Off pre-season, it seems that this unit will be improved against the run; if so, that will free up the LB and S.� On the downside, this group has only (10) career sacks combined.� That has got to go up and, if this DL can provide some pressure, then the Stiller D-side will be very formidable overall.� (20) sacks from this unit in 2001 would be outstanding; even with, say, (16), the D-side total might get deep into the fifties.� On paper at present, the D-line appears to be an above-average gang of pluggers; improvement beyond that point both will depend on Smith and KVO in the base with Hampton collapsing the interior and a solid scheme for utilizing Clancy and Bailey in some rotation.
Lost:�� Kevin Henry���������������������������� Gained:� Casey Hampton
����������� Jeremy Staat���������������������������������������� ��� Rodney Bailey
����������� Chris Sullivan��������������������������������������� ��� Chris Hoke
Linebackers:� In 2000, the Stillers had far too much money tied up at the LB position.� As a result, the team was forced to field retreads and suspects elsewhere, especially on the D-line.� Then too, the staff rightfully believed that the LB corps had to get a speed upgrade.� Moving Kirkland out accomplished both goals; Levon was once a great player and, even to the end, remained a team leader.� However, this man�s continuing tenure (and escalating bulk) did illustrate the Mill�s favorite phrase �the good is the enemy of the best.��
Today, the Stillers can field (2) LB, Porter and Bell, whose speed and athleticism approach the state-of the �art at the position. �Holmes can play and Gildon has his admirers.� Fiala is a fine reserve at MLB and excels on ST; Mike Jones may help there too but will be most valuable as a mentor to Bell.� Haggans and Kurpeikis are the OLB back-ups.� Both are strong-side types; the Stillers have no one behind Porter but in fairness that was true in 2000 too.�
Outlook:� Highly promising, the Stillers cut their D-side captain but may actually have improved this unit.� Bell will give the Stillers an inside rushthreat absent here since Chad Brown moved out to ROLB in �96.�� From all reports, Porter is better than ever and, as is well known, both Holmes and Gildonare in their contract year(s).� With these (4) on the field, this could be a dominating group.�
On the downside, the Stillers remain scheme-challenged; IMO, Porter does his best work off the LOS but, in package situations, both he and Gildon line up as faux-DE. What�s worse is that, at present, both Holmes and Bell will be off the field when the dime pack is on.� Those men are, or certainly project as, (2) of the top Front 7 defenders on the roster.� In the base, the Stillers have upgraded at LB but I�ve got my doubts about Mike Jones in the dime; I�ve seen no evidence that this man will provide the speed upgrade that the FO imagined here.�� If that is so, hold your breath on 3rd and long.
Lost:�� Levon Kirkland����������������������� Gained: Kendrell Bell�������������������������
����������� Mike Vrabel���������������������������������������� � Justin Kurpeikis
���������� Donnell Thompson������������������������������� � Mike Jones
����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� ����������� ����������������������������������������������������������� ��
Defensive Backs:� The Stillers return all (5) CB from 2000; that year, DW and Scott formed a tandem that was, on paper anyway, as effective as any in the league.� As camp opened, the FO made a significant move in extending both of these men into what passes in the NFL for the long-term.� The Stillers seem to have some depth at this position; in pre-season, Townsend was effective starting for Scott and Hank Poteat appears to have developed enormously during the off-season.� Jason Simmons is #5 on my list and while I�d rather see some size in the sub-CB ranks, Simmons should do fine on ST in this, his last season in B&G.
The Stillers have smarts, speed and hitting ability at Safety; however, these attributes exist in separate packages.� Alexander is the secondary-QB; this man makes everyone around him more effective but lacks the speed to give much help over the top.� Flowers is a downhill hitter but remains laterally-challenged and prone to whiffing in space.� Logan runs and hits on ST and in the dime but has yet to master the base defense.� Bell is a slightly more battered version of Flowers.� Facing opponents with diversified passing attacks, these safeties may be asked to match-up with TE and RB.� If they�re up to the task then the OLB, and Bell, can run free.� If not, the Stiller D-side will suffer.
Outlook: Solid, none of these men could be described as state-of-the�art types; Scott and Logan might project as such but neither has arrived.� Still, this unit functioned effectively in 2000 and should do the same in 2001.� It would help if the D-line can bring pressure; if the Stillers can move towards a 50-sack count, this secondary would be that much better.
Lost:�� Scott Shields��������������������������� Gained:� Mike Logan
����������� (Nakia Codie, partial)�������������������������� �� Myron Bell (partial)
����������� Ainsley Battles
WR Demetrius Brown: A big wide-out who had (6) catches and (1) TD in pre-season; Brown showed some polish working the sidelines and, as far as I remember, didn�t drop any balls.� Played in Euro-NFL last summer where he contributed as a possession receiver but hardly dominated.� Spent 2000 on the practice squad; I�d be surprised if he isn�t claimed by another team this season.� No huge loss though, I�d rather Brown than Blackwell were the Stillers #5 WR but this is far from crucial.
WR Tim Baker: A huge WR who was the prize of spring mini-camps, Baker started strong in pre-season but did drop more than he caught in the last two games.� Played well on coverage teams and, as a collegian, led the Big 12 in receptions.� Baker is an interesting prospect with a top end somewhere in the vast range between Ed McCafferty and Malcolm Johnson.
DB Payton Williams:� Inch for inch, pound for pound a really good football player but is far too small to play in the NFL.
FB RJ Bowers:� Ran over Edinboro and Slippery Rock to the top of the college career rushing ranks.� Signed as an FA by Carolina but was cut there in the first wave.� This suggests that he does not fit the 49er-type system in vogue there; in addition, this man has no experience blocking.� Having tried baseball first, Bowers is 26 or so.� He didn�t do well there and his football career is not off to any promising start; this seems to be a signing with all the impact potential of, say, LaMont Coleman.
TE Dave Thomas:� Tuman sized TE who washed out with the NYG and Chiefs; looks like a practice player only.