Monday, April 30, 2007

Dr. Z: Steelers Draft Report Card

Lawrence Timmons


The deal used to be that whomever the Steelers drafted, Billy Cowher's staff would coach 'em up to a championship level. With this staff? Well, we'll see. Mike Tomlin's draft just about told us that his team will be defense-oriented, which translates to LBs, which translates to the first two picks, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley, who will be like a jolt of electricity in that defense. Just to show how serious they are about ball control, the Steelers actually traded up to get punter Daniel Sepulveda, a two-year Ray Guy Award winner and a left-footer who they say puts weird spin on the ball. What the heck, let's call it a B- for two LBs and a weird spin, why not?

Steelers took 'special' direction in draft

Daniel Sepulveda

By Scott Brown
Monday, April 30, 2007

Given that the Steelers took a wide receiver whose first name can be traced to his father's love for the Dallas Cowboys, it is not surprising that the second day of the NFL draft qualified as being, well a little different for the team.

The Steelers went international, in a sense, when they drafted defensive end Ryan McBean and guard Cameron Stephenson. Earlier, the Steelers probably went against a lot of their fans' wishes when they traded up in the fourth round so they could select a punter.

The picks of Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda and Florida wide receiver Dallas Baker bookended the selections of McBean, Stephenson and cornerback William Gay on Sunday and revealed something about Steelers' strategy.

They were intent on improving their special teams through the draft, just as they were determined to add depth and talent to their linebacking corps.

They are confident they did both by drafting Lawrence Timmons, an outside linebacker, in the first round, and LaMarr Woodley, a defensive end who will be moved to outside linebacker, in the second round.

But, as director of football operations Kevin Colbert said, shortly after the Steelers made their eighth and final pick of the draft yesterday, "You never know if (you're) right or wrong until we see if we win more games than we lose. Two, three years -- we'll see."

The Steelers opened themselves up to some criticism by drafting Minnesota tight end Matt Spaeth in the third round late Saturday -- that didn't appear to be a position of need -- and moving up in the fourth round so they could get Sepulveda.

The Steelers had targeted taking a punter in the fourth round and concluded that Sepulveda and Maryland's Adam Podlesh were the only draft-worthy punters.

Not long after the Jacksonville Jaguars took Podlesh with the second pick of the fourth round, the Steelers struck a deal with Green Bay, giving up their sixth-round selection so they could pick seven spots higher.

"Quite frankly, we felt like we were trading up to get a starting position," Colbert said.

Sepulveda is a two-time winner of the Ray Guy Award, which is given annually to the top punter in Division I-A.

"We really feel like we've taken a step forward and made sure that special teams is a legitimate phase of our football team," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

That the Steelers drafted a punter for the first time since 1985 all but signals the end of 37-year-old Chris Gardocki's days with the team.

Tomlin said the Steelers will take two punters into training camp, and they could release Gardocki and have Mike Barr compete with Sepulveda for the starting job.

When asked whether he expects to be the team's punter next season, Sepulveda said, "I think the fourth-round (selection) sends a pretty strong message. I also recognize that if you don't get the job done, you're not going to be the guy."

The four other picks the Steelers made yesterday were notable mostly because of their contrast.

Two (Gay and Baker) were highly productive players in college, while the other two (McBean and Stephenson) were drafted with an eye toward how they can help the Steelers in future years, not necessarily next year.

McBean, a defensive end from Oklahoma State, hails from Jamaica and didn't start playing football until he was in high school.

Stephenson, an Australia native, also didn't start playing football in high school and didn't settle into his position of right guard until his senior season at Rutgers.

The one position of note that the Steelers didn't address in the draft was running back.

They took Spaeth with the 77th overall pick, even though some big running backs, such as Penn State's Tony Hunt and Louisville's Michael Bush, were still available.

"There were guys that we looked at," Tomlin said, "but we stayed true to the (draft) board and looked at the value of the picks that we had on the board and how we aligned them on the board, and we approached it that way."

Colbert said the Steelers followed the plan they took into the draft.

"We had options at every pick," Colbert said. "We felt we picked the best options and only time will tell."

Note: Timmons will be introduced today at a news conference at the Steelers' South Side practice facility.

Scott Brown can be reached at or 412-481-5432.

Steelers' Tomlin meets goals for first draft

Mike Tomlin

By John Harris
Monday, April 30, 2007

On the second day of the NFL draft, the Steelers bagged a defensive tackle, a cornerback, a punter -- punter! -- a guard and a wide receiver.
This, after selecting two linebackers and a tight end in the first three rounds.

So ends the first draft for new coach Mike Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert, partners in a joint venture called Winning Football.

"I like football in the trenches. We got better in the trenches this weekend,'' Tomlin said.

"Heck, I wish we had more picks,'' Colbert said. "We feel good about it. Everybody does.''

Put it this way: The Steelers got what they came for.

They wanted to get younger and faster on defense; they got younger and faster on defense with the selection of Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons in the first round and Michigan linebacker LaMarr Woodley in the second round.

Timmons, who already has his critics who believe he's too small, too short, too slow and too inexperienced, is the Steelers' hand-picked replacement for Joey Porter. He'll back up veteran James Harrison.

Not starting right away isn't necessarily a bad thing for Timmons, who, like Woodley, will play on special teams and passing downs until both players learn the defense and warrant more playing time.

Two of the top pass rushers in the draft, Timmons and Woodley have speed to burn on the edges. A lack of speed on the edges killed the Steelers' pass rush last season.

"With Joey leaving, we were thin at outside linebacker, and quite honestly, we have to be better than we were last year as a pressure team, especially on third down,'' Colbert said Sunday. "I look at that as a personnel issue, because we didn't get to the quarterback good enough, and that leaves your secondary exposed because you're not getting enough pressure.''

A defensive coach, Tomlin wanted to draft defensive players. Mission accomplished.

Colbert complied by acquiring players to fit Tomlin's system. Four of the Steelers' first six selections were on defense.

Of course, the Steelers didn't make Timmons the No. 15 pick in the draft because he's a good special teams player. But Timmons' selection -- along with the Steelers' willingness to put him on special teams and draft Baylor punter Daniel Sepulveda in the fourth round -- indicates the level of understanding and trust between Colbert and Tomlin.

In their first draft together, the general manager and coach fooled some of the local media when Tomlin spoke glowingly about Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis prior to the draft without mentioning Timmons.

The New York Jets traded up to take Revis at No. 14, one pick ahead of the Steelers, who never contacted Revis before he was selected, according to his agent.

The Steelers felt they needed a cornerback so badly they didn't draft one until Louisville's William Gay ... with the 170th pick.

"Coach understood what we were doing and why we were doing it,'' Colbert said. "He and his coaches were in agreement, and he thought we put together a good board. It worked the way we wanted it to. You are judged on the wins and losses, and in two or three years, we'll see. But the process was great.''

Colbert entered the draft with a goal in mind: find players to fit Tomlin's system.

Tomlin's happy, so Colbert's happy.

At least for now.

John Harris is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bob Smizik: Timmons Far From a Sure Thing

Standout Florida State University linebacker Lawrence Timmons, center, hugs his cousin, Brenda Lee, second from left, as his aunt, Catherine Brown, left, shows her emotion after hearing his name called on television during the first round of the National Football League Draft in Miami Beach, yesterday. Timmons was selected by the Steelers as the team's top selection in the draft this year.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Minutes after the Steelers made their first selection of the NFL draft, coach Mike Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert faced the media with smiling faces and words of praise. They couldn't have been happier. How else would you expect two football men to behave after making the 15th choice of the first round?

The subject of their affection yesterday was Lawrence Timmons, a 6-01/2, 232-pound outside linebacker from Florida State.

Tomlin went so far as to compare him to Derrick Brooks, a similar-sized outside linebacker from Florida State who played in his 10th Pro Bowl earlier this year.

"We are really excited to have Lawrence," Tomlin said. "His football character is what we seek. He is a guy that loves the game. He is very versatile. His skill set defies scheme."

Colbert, true to his Pittsburgh roots, made a more local comparison. To him, Timmons brought to mind former Steeler Greg Lloyd, who played in five Pro Bowls in the 1990s.

"He is relentless and he loves the game," said Colbert.

That all may be true, but beyond the praise there's a body of evidence that indicates Timmons could be a project at a position where the Steelers look to be in need of immediate help.

Let's not forget the praise that followed the previous time the Steelers took a linebacker from Florida State. That was Alonzo Jackson, the No. 2 pick in 2003, who made eight tackles in nine games in his short-lived Steelers career.

The problem with Timmons is this: He is undersized and inexperienced.

As Brooks has shown in his career with Tampa Bay, outside linebackers don't have to be rangy. But it helps. They don't have to weigh 250, either, but that helps more. Outside linebackers must deal with 300-pound tackles on their way to the quarterback.

Tomlin said Timmons projects as a right outside linebacker, the position from where the team traditionally has generated its strongest pass rush. Joey Porter, who started at right outside linebacker from 2000 through 2006, played at 6-3, 250 pounds.

"Sure, ideally you want them 6-3, 260 pounds and running a 4.5," Colbert admitted. Timmons was timed at 4.66 in the 40 at the Combine.

What's more alarming about Timmons, who left Florida State after his junior season, is his lack of playing experience. He started only one season for the Seminoles. Granted, Florida State usually is awash in highly athletic players. But how many first-round draft choices started only 13 college games? How many came off the bench mainly to play special teams in 25 games?

Sure, Timmons played behind Ernie Sims, a first-round draft choice of the Detroit Lions last season. But Sims wasn't the only linebacker for Florida State. Great players find a way to get on the field and start.

In discussing the many assets of Timmons, Colbert said, "Lawrence is an outside linebacker, but we think he has the versatility to play inside as well. He can play at the point, he can chase the ball, he can cover and he can sure rush the passer, so there isn't anything at the linebacker position that this kid hasn't done."

If he's that versatile, why couldn't he get on the field on a regular basis before his third season at Florida State?

It was no surprise the Steelers went after an outside linebacker in the first round. It's a key position in their 3-4 defense and a spot where the team needs help.

With Porter gone, backup James Harrison is penciled in as the starter, but he hardly is a lock. Harrison, who will be 29 next month, has been a valuable reserve for the Steelers, but there is doubt about whether he can start regularly in the NFL.

Timmons will come to camp as a backup, but with a chance to win the starting job.

"We're going to create a competitive environment," Tomlin said. "Guys are going to get an opportunity to compete. That's what football is about. Those decisions we decide inside the white lines, as it should be."

The Steelers have a recent history of No. 1 draft choices making an impact. The 2001 No. 1, Casey Hampton, started 11 games as a rookie. In 2002, Kendall Simmons started 14 games. In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger started 13 games and in 2005 Heath Miller started 15.

The exceptions are 2003 No. 1 pick Troy Polamalu, who did not start a game as a rookie, and Santonio Holmes, who started four games last season. Regardless of their rookie playing time, all have been or figure to be important contributors for the Steelers.

That might hold true with Timmons, but it's way to early to make such a pronouncement.

(Bob Smizik can be reached at

Gene Collier: Steelers' 75th anniversary is also Dan Rooney's life

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The first Pittsburgh Steelers team took the field in the fall of 1933 and, within months, came the end of Prohibition.

That's all I'm sayin'.

You might think the need for Steelers football and the rediscovered need for legal intoxicants were completely unrelated, but I'd suggest, maybe, you didn't see enough of the early Steelers, by which I mean, generally, the first 40 years.

OK, really, that's all I'm sayin'.

More importantly, on July 23 in Latrobe, just days after Dan Rooney's 75th birthday, the 75th edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers is to convene in Latrobe, which is only exactly why Rooney felt compelled to start the kickoff of a season-long celebration with this historical footnote:

"I'm the only one who can say I was here at the beginning," he said at a Friday luncheon to announce a myriad of promotions and special events. "I was at the 25th anniversary season and the 50th, and of sound mind. I'm not sure about the sound mind for the 75th."

The Steelers chairman's easy self-effacement never seems to obscure the truth about a franchise that rolls into a new century with momentous success. Similarly, the fact that Dan Rooney approaches his 75th birthday as much as an intellectual as a football man can't begin to obscure the sense that the story of the Steelers is inescapably the story of his life.

There will be plenty of reminders of great moments and great players and great teams between now and the end of Mike Tomlin's first season as head coach but, perhaps, no one will experience the gravity of it like the oldest son of the Steelers' founder, the late Arthur J. Rooney.

The Chief, as his sons came to call him, started taking the boys to training camp when Dan was 8. Dan's football education began that day and continues to this.

"I've learned more from coaches down through the years than anyone," he said. "It's been a great, great time."

It's one thing to say you grew up around the game; it's another to say the game that became the league that evolved into the most successful entity in the history of American sports grew up with you. Anyone who thinks Dan Rooney grew up blissfully idle, with the Pittsburgh Steelers, just by happenstance, among his playthings should get familiar with the far grittier reality, specifically that he did just about every job there was to do in this business.

At 14, he was in training camp in Hershey during Jock Sutherland's coaching tenure, when he was again pressed into service.

"There was this guy, Frank Scott," he remembered over a post-luncheon cookie at a bar inside Heinz Field. "Frank was Jock's administrative guy and worked with him when Jock coached at Pitt and other places. Really a good man, Frank, but he was afraid of Jock. Scared to death of him.

"The first year Jock was coach, he used a blackboard to draw plays right on the practice field. So, one day, Frank comes out and can't find the blackboard. And he's going berserk. It's only a little while before the players are supposed to come out for practice. He says to me, 'Hey kid, can you drive?'

"I said, 'Yeah, but I don't have a license.' It's 1946. I was 14.

"He says, 'That's all right!' And he gives me 20 bucks and his car keys and tells me to drive into town as fast as I can and get a blackboard and some chalk. Well, I'm a little concerned. I don't mind driving out on the road, but I'd never been in traffic. I'm getting pretty scared, but I get into town and I think, wait, I don't know how to park. I find this department store, and I just leave his car in the middle of the street.

"I run into the store and the first person I see who looks like he works there I ask where I'd find a blackboard. He said they're down in the basement. I run down to the basement, buy a blackboard and some chalk, run back out to the car, and drive back to camp. I get back to camp and I think, 'Wait, I still don't know how to park.' But I found a place that was big enough, and I bring Frank the blackboard and the chalk. You never saw someone smile that big. He was happy as a lark. A minute later, the players came out.

"I said, 'Here, it was 13 bucks, I think.' He said, 'Keep it!' "

That's one of Rooney's primary instincts on the team's 75th anniversary, to flip through his memory and the 8 million stories like that one, and better. I asked him if there's anything currently in his workday that makes him feel old.

"Yeah," he says, "the fact that this has been going on for 75 years."

Uh-huh. That and stupid questions.

(Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Scott Brown: Steelers' 1st pick Timmons man of few words

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Lawrence Timmons is about as far from the player he will try to replace at right outside linebacker -- at least in terms of personality -- as Pittsburgh is from Miami Beach.

Where even a severe case of lockjaw probably couldn't stop Joey Porter from talking, Timmons is a man of few words.

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said as much Saturday shortly after the Steelers selected Timmons with the 15th overall pick in the NFL Draft.

Timmons then proved it shortly after the Steelers made him the latest in a long line of first-round picks out of Florida State and gave him an early birthday present in the process.

He hardly came across as someone experiencing one of the best days of his life during a conference call with reporters. Apparently, that is Timmons' nature.

The Steelers are hoping -- heck, they will soon be banking on it -- that Timmons, who watched the draft in Miami Beach, is not nearly as reserved on the field as he appears to be off it.

They took him with their first pick yesterday because they see Timmons as a relentless pass rusher and one whose versatility is such that he can do more than simply get after the quarterback.

He started just one season at Florida State -- Timmons played behind Ernie Sims, the ninth overall pick of last year's draft, his first two seasons -- but made the most of his opportunity.

Timmons had 18 tackles for losses, five sacks and two blocked kicks in 2006. He also scored three touchdowns.

"I think I can be a very good (linebacker) in Pittsburgh," Timmons said.

If Timmons is, uh, economical with his words, it was also learned yesterday that he comes from a close-knit family, has a Pittsburgh tie (his father, Lindsley, played basketball for one season at Duquesne University in the mid 1970s) and is so athletic that he once turned in this stat line from a high school game: 10 catches for 189 yards and three touchdowns; 16 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

"The best single performance I ever saw on a high school football field," said Darryl Page, Timmons' coach at Wilson High School in Florence, S.C.

Not that it should have surprised him.

Two years earlier, when Timmons was a sophomore, he intercepted a pass in a playoff game and returned it more than 70 yards for a touchdown.

"The thing that kind of blew you away as he ran down the field, his heels were actually touching his buttocks," Page said. "That kind of athleticism from a kid his size at that particular time was amazing."

Timmons excelled as a wide receiver in high school as well as at linebacker. He also anchored Wilson's 4x100 meter team in track and competed in the 200- and 400-meter runs and the long jump.

Despite those attributes, speed became the biggest question about the 6-0, 234-pounder as he went through the pre-draft evaluation process.

During the NFL Scouting Combine and his Pro Day workout at Florida State, Timmons never ran better than a 4.59 in the 40-yard dash.

And, for the first time in his life, it looked like his speed might work against him.

"Just because you run fast on the track doesn't mean you're a good football player," longtime Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "Lawrence Timmons plays on the field faster than his (40) time."

The Steelers apparently share Andrews' opinion that there is speed and then there is football speed, and that Timmons is blessed with the latter.

While Timmons said the Steelers have not talked to him about putting on more weight, they do expect him to grow.

He doesn't turn 21 until May 14, and Timmons started just 13 games at Florida State before declaring for the draft after his junior season.

"No doubt, his best football is in front of him," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

Andrews agreed.

"A lot of people like to play, but they don't all like to prepare," Andrews said. "He showed up to work every day. It's fun having a guy like that on your football team because that kind of attitude and work habit is contagious."

If Timmons' personality is contagious, then the Steelers' locker room will become as silent as a monastery.

"You don't think I say many words," Colbert said, "but this kid is very quiet, very soft-spoken."

Timmons, Page said, comes across as quiet because he is guarded until he gets to know somebody. Contrary to first impressions, Page said, Timmons has a wry sense of humor and has an engaging personality.

The kind of engaging the Steelers expect Timmons to do takes place on the football field, and they'll want him to do it in a variety of different capacities: as an edge pass rusher, as an inside linebacker and as a special teams player.

The one position at which Timmons won't line up is wide receiver, even though he played the position in high school and wore No. 83 at Florida State.

Asked about the rather curious choice of jersey number for a linebacker, Timmons said, "I don't like to do stuff that everybody else does. I like to be original."

One original could be the eventual successor at right outside linebacker to another one, and if Timmons turns out to be Joey Porter without the noise, that will be just fine with the Steelers.

Scott Brown can be reached at or 412-481-5432.

Steelers take Michigan DE Woodley in 2nd round

By John Grupp
Saturday, April 28, 2007

Michigan first-team All-American defensive end LaMarr Woodley used to pretend he was Jerome Bettis while growing up outside Detroit.

"When I was in junior high, I was a big guy playing fullback," Woodley said. "I put on number 36 and called myself the Bus. Ever since then, I've been rolling."

Woodley's next job is trying to be another Joey Porter or Jason Gildon.

The 6-foot-2, 266-pound Woodley joined the team he grew up rooting for, when the Steelers selected the Saginaw, Mich., native with their second-round pick, 46th overall.

Woodley will attempt to make the transition to outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme, following similar -- and successful -- switches by Clark Haggans, Gildon and Porter.

"No big deal at all," Woodley said. "I've got linebacker blood in me."

Woodley is familiar with the position. He played outside linebacker as a sophomore and junior at Michigan, before returning to defensive end this past season. He was among the top pass rushers in the nation with 12 sacks, and he teamed with fellow second-rounder Alan Branch to help the Wolverines lead the nation in rushing defense.

As a rookie, Woodley is expected to provide depth behind starting outside linebackers James Harrison and Haggans, rush the passer on third down and play special teams.

"LaMarr Woodley is going to help us quite a bit," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We feel real good about it. We need to have somebody who we can bring in on third down who can spell Clark and James Harrison."

Woodley, 22, is one of the most decorated defensive linemen in Michigan history. He won the Lombardi Award (top lineman) and Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end), but saw his draft value plummet after an injury-plagued, unproductive offseason.

A hamstring injury forced him to drop out of the Senior Bowl after two days and later prevented him from working out at the NFL Combine. Woodley was a regular on virtually every NFL draft experts' list of players with falling stock.

But Woodley, ranked the No. 2 linebacker in the nation coming out of high school, used his pro day workout at Michigan in the spring to catch the eye of Steelers' coaches.

"Before that day, no one knew what LaMarr Woodley had," Woodley said. "I had to put all my eggs in one basket and show everybody what I can do. Everything happens for a reason. I'm going to go out and make the best of the opportunity that I've got. I'm not going to complain about it. I'm going to go out and compete every day like I would if I were a first-rounder.

"I can come in and contribute, because I am going to come in and work hard right away."

Woodley's days at fullback ended after junior high. He started at left tackle as a freshman for Saginaw High School -- helping them to the state title -- and has been punishing players ever since.

"The first time I asked him what position he wanted to play, he said, 'I just want to hit,'" Saginaw coach Don Durrett said. "Most guys want to catch or run. He wanted to hit and block. When he said that, I knew I had something there. ... You got a good one."

John Grupp can be reached at or (412) 320-7930.

Steelers go with need, take linebacker Timmons

Steelers first round draft pick Lawrence Timmons.

Woodley, Spaeth round out NFL Draft Day One selections

Saturday, April 28, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers today fulfilled their biggest need on their depth chart when they drafted outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons of Florida State with the 15th overall pick.

The selection, made at 3 p.m., was long anticipated as a possibility and became more apparent as other players the Steelers coveted were drafted before their turn.

Timmons is a 6-0 1/2, 234-pounder who opted for the draft after his junior season, his only year as a starter.

He also becomes part of a unique club on the Steelers -- only the third linebacker they've drafted on the first round in the 75-year history of the franchise. The others were Huey Richardson, drafted in 1991 and a mammoth bust, and Robin Cole, drafted in 1977 and a solid starter for a number of years.

Kevin Colbert, the team's director of football operations, and coach Mike Tomlin insisted Timmons was the player they wanted above all others they thought they had a reasonable chance of drafting. They entertained one inquiry from another team before their pick, but quickly moved to send Timmons' name on a card to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

Tomlin said Timmons has "Derrick Brooks-like qualities," comparing him to the former All-Pro linebacker with the Bucs when Tomlin was the secondary coach in Tampa Bay.

Tomlin also said firmly "we're a 3-4 team and he's a right outside linebacker."

As such, Timmons will compete with James Harrison, who had moved into Joey Porter's vacated spot at right outside linebacker this spring. Tomlin said Timmons also can play right rush end in a dime defensive scheme, a position Porter also played.

Tomlin praised Timmons' special teams play as well and said he also can play inside in a 3-4 defense, although he will put him first on the outside.

His father, Lindsley Timmons, played basketball at Duquesne University in 1976 and told his son that Pittsburgh is a "beautiful city."

Two defensive ends the Steelers might have loved to take with their first-round pick were gone before they had a chance.

Jamaal Anderson of Arkansas was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the eighth pick and Adam Carriker of Nebraska went 13th to the St. Louis Rams.

The Steelers were foiled somewhat when the New York Jets made a trade with Carolina to slip into the No. 14 slot and draft Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Steelers might have drafted him, but also would have been offered another high draft choice to switch with Jacksonville at No. 17 so the Jaguars could pick Revis.

The Steelers drafted another outside linebacker in the second round today when they took LaMarr Woodley of Michigan.

The position was the biggest need on the ballclub before the draft began and the Steelers attacked it by taking Lawrence Timmons of Florida State on the first round and Woodley on the second.

Woodley played defensive end the past two seasons at Michigan but the Steelers will convert him to a 3-4 outside linebacker, much the way they did with other college defensive ends, including their starter on the left side, Clark Haggans.

At 6-1 1/2, 266 pounds, Woodley is an inch taller and 32 pounds heavier than Timmons. That's why they will put Woodley on the strong or left side and Timmons on the right.

The two rookies will compete with starters Clark Haggans and James Harrison at outside linebacker and also to perhaps get some time as pass-rushers on third down.

"There will be a lot of competition right away," said Woodley, who started three years at Michigan, one as an outside linebacker as a sophomore. "There will be a lot of guys on that field."

Linebackers coach Keith Butler noted that it takes rookies awhile to learn to play outside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 scheme, especially for someone such as Woodley.

"It takes time for transition movement from defensive end to outside linebacker," Butler said.

Butler also tried to end any speculation that the Steelers might morph into a 4-3 defense.

"Right now we have no plans to go to a 4-3," Butler said.

The Steelers closed out the first day of the draft by selecting Minnesota tight end Matt Spaeth with the 13th pick on the third round.

Spaeth stands 6-7 and weighs 270 pounds. Spaeth has overcome a shoulder injury that prevented him from doing a lot of post-season workouts, a factor that may have hurt him in the draft.

"I think we got a steal,'' said offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

Arians said Spaeth can go deep and will allow them to move tight end Heath Miller around in the offense more.

"He's big, tall and fast and can block,'' Arians said. "He can stretch the field.

Arians said he likes to use three tight ends.

John Harris: Timmons has right tools for Steelers

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Why Florida State outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons?

Why not?

Timmons, 20, is younger than Nebraska defensive end Adam Carriker and faster than Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer, and he has more upside than Miami linebacker Jon Beason -- three other defensive players the Steelers have targeted in the first round of today's NFL draft.

Veteran Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews believes he knows why.

Andrews has coached several talented linebackers who were drafted into the NFL. From Marvin Jones and Derrick Brooks, to emerging stars Ernie Sims and Kamerion Wimbley, to former Steelers second-round bust Alonzo Jackson.

Timmons is the latest of an impressive group of FSU linebackers with great potential, but Andrews said Timmons, who left school a year early, is suffering from underexposure.

"His name's not been out there like some of those other guys that win the Butkus Award or are All-Americans, but he can do so many things," said Andrews, FSU's defensive coordinator since 1983. "He's a guy that can fit into a 4-3 or a 3-4 system because he can rush the passer, he can blitz, he can cover, he can run.

"Derrick Brooks, some of those guys, are probably a little bit farther along because they played four years rather than three. But as far as being a dependable, attacking-style football player, he compares with all of them."

This is the first draft for the partnership of Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert and new coach Mike Tomlin. It's too early to determine how well Colbert and Tomlin will co-exist in the war room, but they already have a common interest in Florida State players.

The Steelers under Colbert selected safety Chris Hope in the third round of the 2002 draft, Jackson in the 2003, cornerback Bryant McFadden in the second round in 2005, and wide receiver Willie Reid in the third round in 2006.

Tomlin and Colbert observed Timmons at FSU's pro day in March.

"I've been to about six in a row. It's become normal for me to go to the FSU workout," Tomlin said this week. "That was my mentality, but they have some quality players, it's a good program, and they're going to have guys come out every year."

Andrews said NFL teams draft Florida State players because "they know how to work. They're going to have a good work ethic, or they're not going to play."

Jackson didn't pan out because he failed to make the transition from college defensive end to NFL linebacker. He and Timmons are connected because they both attended FSU. But Timmons, like first-round picks Jones, Brooks and Sims before him, is a natural outside linebacker who won't have to learn a new position in the pros.

Timmons played over the tight end, defended receivers one-on-one in the slot and led the Seminoles with 18 tackles for loss in 2006. He also starred on special teams in his first two seasons while backing up Sims and had four blocked kicks.

Colbert told reporters the Steelers want to get younger on defense through the draft. Three of their starting linebackers will be 32, 30 and 29 when the season opens.

Veteran James Harrison, a former special-teams standout, has replaced Joey Porter in the lineup. If the Steelers draft an outside linebacker in the first round, they won't expect him to start in 2007. However, they will expect him to contribute immediately on special teams.

"Lawrence is a great special-teams player," Andrews said. "You're talking about a guy that's going to lay it on the line and play hard."

Time will tell if Timmons, if drafted by the Steelers, is a good fit.

John Harris is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at

The Steelers unveil big plans to celebrate their rich tradition

A special season

Saturday, April 28, 2007

By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

First come the throwback uniforms with mustard-colored helmets, circa 1940s-1960s, an era closer to the gory days than the glory days in the historical rise of the Steelers franchise.

Wide receiver Hines Ward models the Steelers' throwback uniform while standing yesterday with the team's new -- but yet-to-be named -- mascot.

Then there is a new mascot reminiscent of their original logo, with a burly, bearded steelworker brandishing a beam.

What's next to commemorate the Steelers' 75th anniversary season?


Noooooooo, owner Dan Rooney assured yesterday, after club officials announced an array of all-time team selections, mementoes and commemorations over the next eight months to mark the anniversary.

A trial balloon about reviving the 1961-69 Steelerettes -- and joining the rest of their NFL brethren in the sideline-cheesecake business -- indeed was floated up the administration flow chart to Mr. Rooney.

"That didn't get past me," he said.

If the mascot and requisite naming contest don't draw rave reviews from the Steeler Nation, the boss said he might have to alter something there, too.

"We really want to make this special for the fans," he said of the overall anniversary festivities.

"This is going to be a fun time for our fans," his son and Steelers President Art Rooney II added at the Heinz Field West Club news conference also attended by the club's front-office staff, new coach Mike Tomlin, former players, area politicians and corporate partners. "We feel we have the best fans in America. We just wanted to have a lot of ways for them to participate in the 75 seasons."

Fittingly, they did go to their glory days to find a general chairman for this anniversary season: special assistant Joe Greene, whose Steelers No. 75 is enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

The 75th anniversary celebration all kicks off today, when the throwback uniform, the mascot, the naming contest and the anniversary merchandise get unveiled to the Steelers faithful at the Fan Blitz from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. inside Heinz Field for the NFL draft proceedings. Admission to the event is through Gate A and costs $10 for adults and $5 for children.

The uniform, for starters, likely will become a lightning rod for fans of a franchise that won four Super Bowls in the mid- to late-1970s plus Super Bowl XL in 2006, but beforehand endured mostly sad-sack seasons ripe with NFL Films football follies. Strangely enough, Dan Rooney selected an ensemble that harks to those S.O.S. days, for Same Old Steelers -- a term coined in frustration by his own father, the late Art "The Chief" Rooney.

The mustard helmet was last worn in 1962, when, for a rare time, the Steelers made a playoff game that was more of a consolation contest. It comes with a black stripe down the middle and the hypocycloid logo on the right side.

The black jersey has gold numbers, a gold stripe set on each bicep, the Reebok trademark on the left shoulder and, on the right breast, a new special-edition patch, which carries the Steelers logo between the 7 and the 5 above a gold banner portraying the anniversary seasons of 1933-2007.

The mascot wields a foam rubber steel girder.

The white pants contain on their outside edges a gold piping sandwiched between thinner black stripes. And the socks are black fading into a gold-stripe set to match the biceps, followed by a white foot.

Pro Bowl receiver Hines Ward, who modeled the uniform alone (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had "a prior engagement," he said), announced that the Steelers players embraced the new duds when they were shown the outfit last week in mini-camp. "They loved it, they loved it," said Mr. Ward. Even the helmets, which they recognized as like the one worn by former running backs coach Dick Hoak back in the day. Way back.

The team will wear the uniform twice in the 2007 season: the Sept. 16 home opener against Buffalo, and the Nov. 5 Monday night national broadcast against AFC North rival Baltimore.

"We can go out and turn back time," Mr. Ward said, though fans might hope he was referring more to the 1970-2006 model than the Steelers who failed to compile winning seasons in 30 of their first 37 seasons and went a combined 116-146-10 in that uniform's 1940-1962 period. "For us players, we're going to cherish this year. Get a chance to pay them back, the guys who paved the way and set the trend. Everybody's excited about the upcoming year."

The mascot, the brainchild of Art Rooney II, is a fellow with a black hardhat in Steelers colors, black overalls, a gold long-sleeve shirt with black piping, a surprisingly blond beard, black eyebrows and carrying a steel beam made of Styrofoam and, of course, a 75th-anniversary edition Terrible Towel. In short, he resembles the spawn of Craig Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin, alumni turned Steelers broadcasters. The square, cleft jaw, the pronounced nose, the eyebrows and stern forehead reminded others yesterday of a recently retired head coach.

"[Bill] Cowher might be under there," Mr. Ward kidded. "We have to lift up the mascot [head] to find out."

On a team that retired Stevie Steeler and a fur-wearing Terrible Towel in the 1990s, Mr. Ward added, "A mascot's something new. You see it around other teams. The kids love it." Information about the naming contest is available at and

Also at, PNC Bank locations and in a ballot published in the Post-Gazette, fans will find 102 names of former and current Steelers on a list from which they get to pick their 24 selections -- 11 starters each on offense and defense, plus two kickers -- for the All-Time team. The 33 winners, a number in honor of the Steelers' inaugural season, will be announced during that Nov. 5 Baltimore game. The night before, Steelers past and present will be feted at a gala inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Other anniversary events on the schedule:

* A pre-1970 Legends team will be named, as picked by a selection committee of former players, Steelers officials and media.

* Each Steelers home game will reflect a theme decade in team history, starting with the 1930s --when Dan Rooney was a 1-year-old toddler at the time his father launched the ballclub and his mother carried him to games.

* A Steelers historical exhibit will be shown at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, in July and August, when the team plays an Aug. 5 preseason game there. Then the exhibit moves to Heinz Field for September and October, and finally to the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center through December.

* A historical marker for Three Rivers Stadium will be dedicated at the Nov. 5 Baltimore game.

* The 75th also will be celebrated at the June 1 men's fantasy camp and late-July women's training camp at St. Vincent College, the Aug. 11 home preseason opener against Green Bay, the Aug. 29 Kickoff Luncheon, the 2007 Rib Fest Aug. 30-Sept. 3, the Sept. 3 Steelers 5K Race and Fun Run and the Oct. 5 Steelers Fashion Show.

"This is really an exciting time," Dan Rooney said. "I think this is great to start this off and think about the history of the Steelers and what has happened."

(Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724.)

Steelers take linebacker Timmons

Saturday, April 28, 2007

By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers today fulfilled their biggest need on their depth chart when they drafted outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons of Florida State with the 15th overall pick.

The selection, made at 3 p.m., was long anticipated as a possibility and became more apparent as other players the Steelers coveted were drafted before their turn.

Timmons is a 6-0 1/2, 234-pounder who opted for the draft after his junior season.

Two defensive ends the Steelers would have loved to take with their first-round pick were gone before they had a chance.

Jamaal Anderson of Arkansas was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the eighth pick and Adam Carriker of Nebraska went 13th to the St. Louis Rams.

The Steelers were foiled somewhat when the New York Jets made a trade with Carolina to slip into the No. 14 slot and draft Pitt cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Steelers might have drafted him, but also would have been offered another high draft choice to switch with Jacksonville at No. 17 so the Jaguars could pick Revis.

Snell silences Reds for Pirates' fifth win in row, 3-1

Record above .500 for first time this late since 2004

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Starter Ian Snell delivers to the Reds' Brandon Phillips at PNC Park last night.

By Dejan Kovacevic
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

One game above .500.

Should be no big deal, not for any team in any sport, but Ian Snell and the Pirates were plenty happy to have it after silencing the Cincinnati Reds, 3-1, last night at PNC Park.

For Snell, his record finally moved to 2-1 after his seven scoreless innings lowered his ERA to 1.59, fourth-lowest in the National League.

Pirates right fielder Brad Eldred gets position on a Javier Valentin single in the seventh inning.

For the Pirates ...

Well, sit down for this: Their five-game winning streak has pushed their record to 11-10, the latest in a season they have been above .500 since May 29, 2004, when they were 23-22.

And, somehow, they have managed this despite a deficient offense and erratic work from their closer.

"It's scary," that closer, Salomon Torres, said after sweating through his seventh save. "At the same time, you can look at it as a blessing. As individuals, some of us, a lot of us -- myself included -- are not where we want to be. When we get there ..."

Torres wagged his finger.

"Look out for us."

"With the offense, it feels like we're right on the brink of breaking through," right fielder Brad Eldred said. "But, hey, it's a good thing to know we have this record and that we're still not playing up to our potential."

Manager Jim Tracy, perhaps recalling that his team was 5-16 at this point a year ago, expressed similar satisfaction.

"When your car has eight cylinders and only 4 1/2 of them are firing, and you're still finding ways to get to your destination, that's the sign of a pretty good ballclub," he said. "That's kind of where we're at right now. We've got some people who are still trying to figure some things out. In the meantime, we're doing things to put ourselves in a position to win."

Above all, of course, they are getting quality starting pitching. And none better than what Snell has produced in his five starts.

He was not a strikeout machine in this one, registering four against a generally poised Cincinnati lineup. But, relying heavily on a dynamic changeup, he still limited the Reds to six hits and two walks while never losing command.

"Ian threw all his pitches for strikes," Tracy said. "And, when he does that, the task becomes awfully difficult on the other side of the field."

No kidding. Snell has not allowed more than two runs or six hits in any of his five starts. And, with some support, he easily could have matched the 5-0 record of the Boston Red Sox's Josh Beckett, best in Major League Baseball.

Does that bug him?

"Sometimes, it does bother you," Snell said. "But that's baseball, and it happens. I understand it."

The Pirates got their offense early, as has become the trend of late, pouncing on Cincinnati starter Eric Milton in the first inning for a 3-0 lead.

Chris Duffy led off with an infield single, and Jack Wilson walked. One out later, Jason Bay doubled to left-center for two runs. He has nine RBIs in the past five games.

Eldred singled, and Adam LaRoche followed suit for another run.

Then, as Tracy would put it, "That was it. We're just not getting a lot of runs."

The Pirates' total of 77 runs and their .237 batting average each ranks second-lowest in the league. Even during this winning streak, they have averaged 4.4 runs and have a total of 13 extra-base hits.

That early fold brought about the other familiar trend, the one where the starter makes the flimsy lead hold up until the late innings, which Snell did until his pitch count reached 100 and, according to Tracy, "he started to show fatigue."

Damaso Marte put up another zero in the eighth, and Torres came on to boos from the 22,638 in attendance, many no doubt aware that he blew a save Wednesday, then nearly threw away a four-run lead the next day.

Those boos would blossom when Adam Dunn catapulted Torres' first pitch, a flat fastball, beyond the center-field seats to pull Cincinnati within 3-1.

And the din became deafening when, on Torres' next two pitches, Edwin Encarnacion's blast to left was caught at the wall by Bay and Javier Valentin's sharply struck single up the middle brought the tying run to the plate.

But Torres got Jeff Conine and Ryan Freel each to fly out to right, then pumped his right arm emphatically upon walking off the mound.

To hear him tell it, just about everything went by the plan.

"It wasn't pretty, but I'll take it," Torres said. "My problem has been that I haven't been aggressive enough and, so, I'm out there with a 3-0 lead, I'm going with my best stuff."

He said that attitude did not change after the Dunn blast.

"The next guy came up, and I'm thinking, 'Want to hit another one? Here, hit it.' I challenged everyone."

Tracy gave a hearty endorsement.

"The one thing Salomon did, there were a heck of a lot of strikes thrown," he said. "OK, fine, the guy hit a solo home run to start the inning. That's the starting point to get back to where he was at the beginning of the year. Go after people. Adam Dunn can't hit a three-run home run with nobody on base. I liked what he did."

Tonight, the Pirates will try for their first six-game winning streak since taking 10 in a row June 26-July 5, 2004.

(Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at

Friday, April 27, 2007

Bucs' Tracy doing whatever it takes in save situations

Jim Tracy

By Joe Starkey
Friday, April 27, 2007

Some managers would have blindly backed their hand-picked closer and left him out there. Others might have stayed put for fear of damaging the pitcher's confidence.
Jim Tracy did otherwise.

Tracy put aside everything but the will to win -- and to do it by any means necessary -- Thursday when, for the second consecutive game, he pulled Salomon Torres in the middle of the ninth inning.

No, Torres isn't finished as the Pirates' closer, but it might be time to re-define his role as something like this: starting closer.

Which is to say, Tracy won't hesitate to make that ninth-inning walk again.

"We'll do what's necessary to win the game," Tracy said, after John Grabow cleaned up a big Torres mess to save a 5-3 victory over the Houston Astros and complete a three-game sweep.

Grabow, coming off an injury rehab assignment in the minors, wasn't even supposed to pitch yesterday because he had relieved the 35-year-old Torres the night before.

Torres had never begun a season as a closer and doesn't look like a great bet to finish the year there. He might not finish April, the way he's going.

In his past seven appearances, Torres' line looks like this: blown save, loss (on a ninth-inning home run), save, blown save, save, blown save and really, really close to a blown save.

The Pirates entered the ninth with a 5-1 lead yesterday.

Torres retired the first batter before he went 3-0 on Chris Burke and walked him. Mark Loretta singled, and Lance Berkman walked to load the bases.

Salomon Torres

After Carlos Lee's sacrifice fly, Tracy took the ball, so Grabow could face lefty Mike Lamb, who singled in a run.

After walking Morgan Ensberg to put the go-ahead run at first, Grabow induced Adam Everett to ground into a fielder's choice to end the game.

Torres left PNC Park without speaking to reporters.

Tracy didn't sugarcoat Torres' recent problems, saying the pitcher has failed to attack hitters aggressively. Tracy also said a "conversation is necessary" with Torres and that the recent problems could be attributed to over-thinking and flawed mechanics.

Torres' three blown saves led the league heading into last night's games and were three more than Mike Gonzalez had all of last season. Should Tracy decide to pull the plug on the Torres experiment, the Pirates have an enticing option in Matt Capps.

"I think there's a little bit mechanically that (Torres) needs to put in place because his pitches are not sharp right now," Tracy said.

When asked if it's fair to say the Pirates are officially in closer-by-committee mode, Tracy reiterated that he would do whatever it takes to win but added, "To suggest that I'm taking something away from (Torres), I'm not doing that, OK? I'm not doing that. Not right now. He'll get it straightened out."

There's some evidence to support that notion.

Torres, after all, converted 12-of-13 save opportunities when Gonzalez was hurt late last season. And in Wednesday's game, he was more a victim of bad luck than anything else.

On the other hand, there's a big difference between closing games for a team that is light years out of contention and one that still has hope in April and is playing games that matter.

"We've seen (Torres close well) before," Tracy said. "We saw it for five weeks last year, and it was awesome. That same guy is still wearing that uniform."

That might be the problem.

Torres doesn't deserve a complete demotion just yet. A partial one already has occurred.

Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at

Pirates sweep Astros despite Torres' woes

Starter Tony Armas throws out the Astros' Carlos Lee yesterday at PNC Park.

By Chuck Finder, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Friday, April 27, 2007

For a second consecutive day -- actually, for the second time in 17 hours -- Salomon Torres failed to close matters for the Pirates.

Wednesday, he blew his second save opportunity in three chances since Saturday and yielded two ninth-inning runs to the Houston Astros that touched off a 16-inning marathon.

Yesterday, he transformed a four-run lead into a save opportunity that he blew for a third time in his past four chances.

Still and all, the Pirates prevailed, like they seem wont to do this season against longtime nemesis Houston. Their 5-3 win marked their second sweep and a perfect, 6-0 start against Astros who heretofore owned them both on the road and at PNC Park, where Houston won 14 of 18 games before this week.

It seems a shame that the Pirates, winners of four games in a row, .500 again at 10-10 and feeling better about their to-date inoffensive selves, get to play Houston only nine more times and not again until late July.

Yet that's getting ahead of the story, which remains the Pirates' ninth-inning pitching problems.

Torres' closer role isn't open.

Put it this way, though: On a Pups In The Park day, when a handful of the announced 12,056 fans brought their canines to the North Shore, Torres appeared to be placed on a shorter leash.

"We'll do what's necessary to win a game," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said after he forced fresh-off-rehab John Grabow into a second consecutive day of mopping up a Torres mess.

That doesn't mean bullpen by committee. That doesn't mean Torres no longer holds the job in which he amassed 12 saves last September and October. Tracy was quick to add: "He'll stand up to this. He'll get it straightened out. I think he's thinking an awful lot now.

"I think some of it has to do with thought processes, realizing where you're at and trusting your stuff. Go after people, you have a four-run lead. Go get them with your best stuff. That's what we saw him do over the course of the last five weeks of last season."

Added Jason Bay, who drove in the Pirates' first two runs with a bases-loaded, full-count single in the sixth: "I don't think anybody's concerned. Everybody goes through a little funk. You don't jump ship when anybody has a rough week or a rough couple of days."

A similar refrain came from Grabow, who pitched four innings of rehabilitation assignment with Class AAA Indianapolis before coming off the 15-day disabled list and returning to action in the Pirates' marathon, 4-3 victory Wednesday: "Everybody goes through that slump ... where the game doesn't go right for you. I've been with Salomon almost four years. He's a smart guy, an intelligent guy."

In other words, he'll fix himself.

To be fair, Wednesday was not a complete meltdown on Torres' part, for half of his ninth-inning trouble was caused by infield hits. Yesterday, opening the ninth with a 5-1 lead, Torres walked a Chris Burke (batting .225), allowed a single to Mark Loretta and walked Lance Berkman to load the bases. He induced a sacrifice fly from Astros slugger Carlos Lee, but that merely brought the tying run to the plate.

The same as Wednesday, when he was welcomed back to the majors with two baserunners and one-out damage control, Grabow returned to the PNC Park mound and found Torres' trouble around him. He promptly allowed a Mark Lamb, run-scoring single and walked pinch-batter Morgan Ensberg to reload the bases. But Adam Everett hit into a force play to end the inning, series, sweep in tenuous favor of the Pirates. Grabow finished with his first save since August 19, 2004.

Through the first eight innings, there was an abundant supply of Pirates positives:

Catcher Ryan Doumit, recalled from Class AAA after Humberto Cota was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained left shoulder, got a hit in his first at-bat. It was a dribbler that bounded off third base and into left field for a double.

Adam LaRoche notched his first hit off a left-handed pitcher this season, ending an 0-for-15 start (and seven strikeouts) with a single to right against Wandy Rodriguez (0-3).

Tony Armas, who entered the game with a bloated 18.90 ERA and too much rest between April 7 and April 20 starts, put his first home start to use with five-plus innings, six hits and just one earned run. "There's no question he was better," Tracy said.

Jonah Bayliss (2-1), yet another Pirates reliever who also pitched the long night before, extricated Armas and the club from a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth. "A turning point," Bay called it.

Bay lashed a bases-loaded, two-strike single in the sixth to stake the Pirates to a 2-1 lead.

Xavier Nady, sent to the plate as a pinch-batter despite an aching hamstring, got hit by a Chad Qualls pitch to score a run in the eighth and keep the ailing Nady from having to run out a play.

Doumit followed with a bases-loaded, two-strike single to score two more runs, making it 5-1, Pirates.

(Chuck Finder can be reached at or 412-263-1724.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

LaRoche's final pitch is 16th-inning hit

Pirates make up for Torres' blown save, outlast Astros, 4-3

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jose Bautista slides past Astros catcher Brad Ausmus scoring the Pirates second run in the fourth last night at PNC Park.

By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It was the unquestioned highlight of Adam LaRoche's unremarkable start to his Pittsburgh career, the bases-loaded single in the 16th inning that ended the Pirates' 4-3 outlasting of the Houston Astros last night at PNC Park.

And yet ...

Jose Castillo jumps on top of Adam LaRoche after LaRoche delivered the winning hit in the 16th inning to beat the Astros, 4-3.

"In one sense," he allowed with a wry smile afterward, "it was a little disappointing."

No, not because all that hit did for his average was inch it above the Half-Mendoza Line to .106.

And no, not because it was knobbed softly enough that it had a hard time knocking down the first blade of outfield grass.

Rather, it was because LaRoche came oh-so-close to making his Major League Baseball pitching debut.

Turns out that, with John Wasdin the Pirates' last man out of the bullpen, manager Jim Tracy already had made up his mind to use LaRoche next. The only other option might have been Tony Armas, the scheduled pitcher for today, but he was sent home early last night because of the 12:35 p.m. start time today.

"It would have been awesome," LaRoche said. "I would have loved it."

It would not have been entirely fluky: LaRoche, son of former All-Star reliever Dave LaRoche, was a better pitcher than hitter in his high school days in Kansas, and he twice made mound appearances in Atlanta's minor-league system. He even learned the eephus pitch, a golden rarity anymore.

Tracy's view?

"I'll tell you what: He's done some good things down in the bullpen with Colby on occasions," Tracy said, referring to pitching coach Jim Colborn. "But God forbid we'd have gotten to that situation."

They never did.

The Pirates' offense failed to score for 10 consecutive innings with only three hits -- all singles -- in that span, but the alarm clock went off with the fateful 16th.

After one out, Chris Duffy singled off Houston reliever Brian Moehler, stole second and took third on catcher Humberto Quintero's errant throw. But Duffy was nailed in a rundown on Jack Wilson's fielder's choice.

Looked dreadful at the time, but turned out to be no big deal.

Jose Bautista followed with a hit up the middle that moved Wilson to third. And Jason Bay was intentionally walked so that the Astros could face LaRoche.

Hey, why not? LaRoche came to the plate 0 for 4 on the evening, leaving him 0 for 18 at PNC Park since joining the Pirates.

Houston shortstop Adam Everett was shading well behind second base, and LaRoche noticed it. Moehler would throw him the steady diet of low-and-away sinkers he has been seeing -- and not hitting -- all season. And LaRoche was aware of that, too.

"How can you not be?" LaRoche asked.

He took a pitch, then willfully squibbed one of those sinkers right to where Everett would have been. It barely eluded Everett's backhand try to reach the outfield, and Wilson touched home to end the Pirates' longest game since the 18-inning gem they won against the same team at the same venue May 27, 2006.

"I didn't even want to stroke the ball," LaRoche said. "I just wanted to guide it right through that hole, just like a game of pepper."

Jack Wilson makes an attempt to outrun the ball before it goes foul in the first inning against the Astros last night.

However many fans were left -- no more than 200 -- out of the paid crowd of 8,201 cheered and clapped as much as their chilled hands would allow, as the Pirates' players sprinted from the field, dugout and bullpen toward first base to mob LaRoche.

He seemed genuinely moved.

"I've had the feeling all year that they've been pulling for me ... and this shows it," LaRoche said. "It's pretty special right now for me, to be honest with you."

There was much else for the Pirates to like about this one, not the least of which was that it extended a three-game winning streak, raised their overall record to 9-10 and brought a fifth consecutive victory against Houston, first time for that since 1991.

Individually, there was plenty, too.

Zach Duke shrugged off those two awful starts -- 14 runs in just six innings -- by going seven strong and limiting Houston to one run on six hits.

Brad Eldred snapped an 0-for-17 slump with his fifth-inning solo home run -- to the deepest part of PNC -- that put the Pirates ahead, 3-1.

And, after Torres gave up two runs in the ninth to allow the Astros to tie, Shawn Chacon pitched four scoreless innings of relief, and John Wasdin the final two for the victory.

That was part of a staff-wide effort that caused Houston to strand a mind-numbing 18 runners.

"I really feel like everyone did there part in keeping this game going," Chacon said. "Salomon did his job, too. You look at Salomon's outing ... they really didn't hit anything hard."

There is a point there: Two of Houston's four hits that inning did not leave the infield, and a throwing error by second baseman Jose Castillo pushed things along for the Astros. Even the two that did leave the infield, RBI singles by Luke Scott and Craig Biggio, touched infield first.

"I take responsibility. I should always put down the ninth," Torres said. "But ... you saw what happened. Can anything go my way?"

Torres' blown save was his third - tied for most in Major League Baseball -- in nine chances, the sort of ratio that leads to doubts about any closer. But nothing like that was raised by Tracy.

"Nothing was driven in that inning," Tracy said. "Balls got hit and found a way through. Happens to the best of them."

"We're happy to have picked it up for Salomon, and we're just happy in general because it was fun to be part of that," Wasdin said. "You look at our whole staff, look at Ronny Paulino catching 16 innings and imagine how sore he's going to be tomorrow. And Zach ... man, it seems like he pitched yesterday."

Wasdin caught himself, remembering it was after midnight.

"He did pitch yesterday."

(Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Maholm blanks Houston with efficient three-hitter

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Paul Maholm celebrates with Adam LaRoche after shutting out the Astros last night at PNC Park.

By Paul Meyer
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Talk about a quick fix.

Paul Maholm accomplished that feat in rapid-fire fashion last night at PNC Park.

The left-hander tossed a three-hit, one-walk gem at the Houston Astros in the Pirates' 3-0 victory.

Paul Maholm recorded his first career shutout against the Astros last night at PNC Park.

It was Maholm's first professional complete game, and he finished it in three minutes under two hours and one pitch under 100.

"A fantastic performance," manager Jim Tracy said. "He was terrific."

Maholm threw his shutout minutes after Tracy went through Maholm's problems before the game.

Falling behind on counts. Not throwing first-pitch strikes. Allowing runs in first innings. Running up high pitch counts that forced early exits.

All that was rectified with stunning quickness.

"He was around the plate with everything," Tracy said. "He got early-count swings. He did exactly what he's capable of doing on a regular basis."

"I was throwing my changeup for strikes, my sinker for strikes," said Maholm, who notched 64 strikes in his 99 pitches. "It was one of those nights when I was in a zone."

Houston manager Phil Garner didn't quite see it that way.

"I think it was us more than him," Garner said. "He pitched well, but we didn't do a good job at the plate. We stunk. We hit one ball good. We didn't square up the ball much, and, when we did, we missed it."

Maholm got 14 ground-ball outs, and all three Houston hits were on ground balls.

Craig Biggio had two of three hits. He opened the game with a first-pitch single to left.

"The focus then is on getting a ground ball and getting a double play," Maholm said.

As easy said as done.

Chris Burke bounced to shortstop Jack Wilson. Two outs.

Biggio also led off the fourth with a single to right, but Ronny Paulino threw him out trying to steal.

Humberto Quintero led off the sixth with a bouncer to the left of third baseman Jose Bautista. He gloved the ball a few feet in front of Wilson, who seemed to have an easier play, then threw hurriedly high and wide to first base.

That was the third and last Houston hit and baserunner.

Paulino made a good play on pitcher Woody Williams' popped-up bunt and forced Quintero at second.

Maholm retired the next eight batters routinely, then went to the mound for the ninth.

"It's been a few years since I even got to go out for the ninth," said Maholm, the Pirates' top draft pick in 2003.

"You want him to finish it," said left-hander Tom Gorzelanny, picked in the second round behind Maholm in 2003. "He'd been dealing the whole game."

"We were all rooting for him," left-hander Zach Duke said. "You just hoped he get quick outs."

Maholm, perhaps rushing a bit, went 3-1 on pinch-hitter Morgan Ensberg, who was scratched from the starting lineup because of a hyperextended left ankle.

"I threw a four-seamer to challenge him," Maholm said. "I thought, 'It's me or you,' and considering the way it had been going for me, I was banking on me."

Ensberg fouled out to Paulino near the Pirates' dugout -- from where Tracy was poised to come had Ensberg reached base.

"If Ensberg [had gotten on], I'm taking him out," Tracy said. "And I'd have been soundly booed. But I think with [Lance] Berkman and [Carlos] Lee looming, you have to give your closer some room for error."

Paul Maholm pitched the first shutout and complete game of his career to lead the Pirates over the Astros, 3-0.

Salomon Torres, though, never moved from the bullpen.

Maholm got Biggio on a bouncer to Wilson, and then, with the crowd on its feet, finished his masterpiece by getting Burke on a fly to left.

"Awesome," said Duke, who authored the previous complete-game shutout by a Pirate last May 2 in Chicago.

Offensively, as Tracy said, the Pirates "got just enough to win."

The Pirates scored a run in each of the first three innings.

Williams hit Chris Duffy with a pitch to begin the first, a good sign for the Pirates.

"He has a chance to be a tremendous offensive catalyst," Tracy said of Duffy. "We get easy runs when he gets on base."

And apparently easy runs when he isn't on base any longer.

Quintero threw out Duffy trying to steal with a great throw, but Wilson, who entered the game 2 for 27 lifetime against Williams, doubled over right fielder Jason Lane's head.

Freddy Sanchez failed to advance Wilson, bouncing to shortstop, but Jason Bay doubled over center fielder Burke's head, scoring Wilson.

Paulino's first home of the season -- a drive into the center-field shrubbery on a 3-2 pitch -- made it 2-0 in the second.

Wilson opened the third with a double inside third. Again, Sanchez couldn't advance him, bouncing to the mound, but Bay, 1 for 9 lifetime against Williams at game time, picked Sanchez up with a run-scoring single to center.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ron Cook: Can Shero keep this going?

Ray Shero

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

One by one, they proved themselves. Michel Therrien proved he can be a big-time hockey coach. Sidney Crosby proved he's the best player in the world. Marc-Andre Fleury proved he should be good enough one day to be a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, that 1-4 record against the Ottawa Senators be damned. Evgeni Malkin proved he can adjust to the NHL in a big way, those five goalless games against the Senators notwithstanding. Jordan Staal proved he has more going than any 18-year-old hockey player on the planet.

Now, it's Ray Shero's turn.

We're about to find out just how good of a hockey manager he really is.

All indications are that Shero will be terrific. His first 11 months with the Penguins went better than anyone could have predicted. The proof is his young team's stunning 105-point season. More proof is the way he has brought the organization -- especially the scouting department -- into the 21st century. Looking at the Penguins now, it's hard to believe they were a franchise that didn't have Internet access for its coaches until Therrien took over late in '05.

More Shero innovations are on the way. Next week, he will be in Moscow to scout the world championships, a trip his predecessor, Craig Patrick, never made. In July, the Penguins will conduct their first conditioning camp for rookies. In early September, they will send a team of rookies to play a series of games against rookies from three other NHL clubs.

Those are small things, to be sure. But they could add up to something big for the Penguins down the road.

"I've always believed a manager's job is to give direction to the franchise," Shero said yesterday.

"My big thing coming in was change. 'We're going to change the culture here, change the expectations, change the professionalism. We're going to move this franchise forward.' "

Shero has been brilliant doing just that. But it's still too early to completely judge him. He gets an incomplete grade as a talent evaluator.

When Shero took the Penguins' job May 25, he talked about having "vision, patience and a plan." It quickly became clear that plan involved moving cautiously. One reason was the financial parameters imposed by the Lemieux ownership group. There was no promise of a lucrative new arena then. The last thing Shero wanted to do was jump deep into the free-agent pool and commit the franchise to a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal with a player. Another reason was Shero wanted to evaluate the players he had. That's where patience came in.

Shero made some wise decisions. He didn't trade the No. 2 overall pick in the June entry draft -- despite having numerous chances -- because he loved Staal's potential. He brought back veteran winger Mark Recchi to provide leadership for his young players. He signed defenseman Mark Eaton, a pretty good player until a serious wrist injury.

But Shero also traded a No. 2 pick for winger Nils Ekman.

Shero gets the same mixed reviews for his conservative work at the February trade deadline. You get the feeling he really didn't want to do anything -- that he accurately realized the Penguins still were a bit short of being a serious Cup contender -- but that wouldn't have sent much of a message to his team, which had worked so hard to get into playoff contention. "I really felt it would have been demoralizing to fall back and miss the playoffs," he said.

Shero hit a home run by getting veteran winger Gary Roberts in a trade for young defenseman Noah Welch. That will be remembered as a great deal even if Welch becomes a top four defenseman and Roberts turns out to be a rent-a-player and moves on. Roberts had a tremendous impact in the dressing room.

But Shero also traded a third-round pick for winger Georges Laraque and a fourth-round pick for defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski.

Now, Shero is back at the plate again.

He used the same words -- "vision, patience and a plan" -- again yesterday. "I don't think a 105-point season changes that."

That was a bit disheartening to hear. So was Shero's response when asked if he will have more resources to use this offseason because the new arena is a done deal. "A little bit. But I still have to talk to management about that." And his response when asked about having a window to compete for a Cup with Crosby and the others. "I don't believe in windows. ... Players are going to come and go. They had Lemieux, Jagr and Francis here. They all left.

"I want to build a franchise that's going to be good for a period of time."

That's prudent strategy, no doubt.

But we don't have to like it, do we?

Here's hoping Shero and the Penguins are a lot more aggressive going after players this summer. They need a goal-scoring winger to play with Crosby despite Shero's assertion that "we scored plenty of goals this season." They need a banging winger to play on a line with Staal and Malkin. And they need at least one defenseman, probably two.

It doesn't make sense to wait with this group of young players. Strike now and take your shot. There is a window, contrary to what Shero said. It's hard to imagine him being able to keep Crosby, Fleury, Malkin and Staal together for the long term under the NHL salary cap. Beyond that, those young players really did prove plenty in this marvelous regular season. They also learned plenty about playoff hockey in the not-so-marvelous series against the Senators. They clearly believe a Cup is in their near future. Why shouldn't the rest of us believe it?

"My job would be a lot easier if we had improved from 58 to 75 points," Shero said, grinning, probably only half-teasing about the suddenly heavy expectations.

Shero can blame his players for messing that up.

They speeded up his plan dramatically.

Now, Shero must catch up and keep the thing moving.

How he does will determine how we judge him.

(Ron Cook can be reached at

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mike Prisuta: Crosby doesn't wilt in playoff spotlight

Saturday, April 21, 2007

His first experience with the NHL's postseason was more brief than it was brilliant, but while Sidney Crosby didn't dominate against the Ottawa Senators, he certainly didn't disappoint.

The record will show that the NHL's leading scorer failed to register a point in the series' final two games, that his three goals merely matched rather than surpassed the total posted by Senators third-line center Chris Kelly, and that Crosby's team was dispatched in five at-times one-sided games, mostly because the power-play unit Crosby commands failed miserably in its final 15 chances.

That's one way to look at it.

Another is to recognize that Crosby took to the playoffs as if he'd been in the league for 19 years rather than alive that long, that he led the Penguins with five points and finished just one behind the series' leading scorer, Daniel Alfredsson, and that Crosby did it all under suffocating pressure and intense scrutiny.

The hockey world was watching closely.

Crosby responded by acquitting himself in a manner that confirmed what Penguins fans already knew: He's already perhaps the NHL's best player, and that whether he is or not he's just getting started.

"He played well," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "He played really well. He works hard; that's Sidney Crosby."

His signature moment was the third-period goal he scored that won Game 2. Crosby was on the ice against the defensive pairing of Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov, as he seemingly was all series.

That individual matchup went the Senators' way more often than not; the scoreboard said so.

Still, Crosby wasn't finished battling even late Thursday night in the aftermath of Game 5.

"They played well," Crosby said of Phillips and Volchenkov. "They're a tough pairing, but I think I was still able to create things. It wasn't like there weren't chances. I'm not going to sit here and say they didn't do a good job because they did, but I think the competitive side of me says I had my chances, too."

He'll have more, and the hockey world knows it, which is why the disappointment of the quick exit will fade faster than the Penguins probably suspect.

Crosby may have been educated to an extent in this series, but he wasn't rattled.

He showed up and he was heard from.

Crosby didn't pull a Barry Bonds.

And when the Penguins get him a little more help on the wing ...

Perhaps that's what he and Therrien were discussing when they shared a private moment in the bowels of Scotiabank Place, as Therrien was leaving the podium and Crosby once again was taking center stage.

"That's between me and him," Therrien said.

As Crosby spoke, it was difficult to differentiate his demeanor from what he had displayed Thursday morning following the morning skate.

The kid is that unflappable.

And he made it clear he has unfinished business.

"We had two games where I think we were trying to get our feet wet, and we got caught watching," Crosby said. "That's not going to happen again because we know what it's like now."

The rest of the NHL has been notified.

Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He can be reached at or 412-320-7923.

Pirates close doors, then slam Dodgers, 7-5

Team meeting leads into inspired showings from Duffy, others

Monday, April 23, 2007

Dodgers first baseman Olmedo Saenz lunges but misses a tag on Chris Duffy in the first inning yesterday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

By Dejan Kovacevic, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

LOS ANGELES -- The Pirates closed the doors to their Dodger Stadium clubhouse yesterday morning.

They did so again later in the afternoon.

And in between whatever happened within those walls, Tom Gorzelanny pitched six sound innings, Chris Duffy generated three runs with his speed, and Salomon Torres put down a late threat to fend off the Los Angeles Dodgers, 7-5.

That snapped the Pirates' four-game losing streak and -- dare anyone say it? -- kept their season from spiraling out of control.

As manager Jim Tracy put it, "It's a big one."

Freddy Sanchez reacts to an inside pitch in the sixth inning.

The sentiment seemed unanimous, even in the morning, which undoubtedly explains the meeting that took place two hours before the first pitch. It lasted nearly a half-hour and, by all accounts, Tracy, the coaches and players took turns speaking their minds in the aftermath of that 7-3 loss Saturday night in which a ninth-inning lead was thrown away.

The specifics of what gets said in such settings invariably stays there, but several players described the session as being as intense as it was helpful.

"We needed it," one veteran said. "To have guys stand up and remind us of what was on the line ... it makes a difference."

And how many such meetings, another player was asked, did the Pirates have last season?


Tracy would divulge only that his players had a clear carryover of emotion from the bitterness of Saturday.

"What I sensed in our clubhouse after that one was extreme disappointment," he said. "I really did. And I think that's a good thing because I didn't see that early last year."

The Pirates finished this trip 3-4 and flew home with a 7-10 record.

Had they lost this one, had they taken a five-game slide back to PNC Park, where they have lost all four games so far ...

"Don't even want to think about it," Duffy said. "Believe me: A lot of guys were really ticked off when they showed up here this morning. We knew what it meant."

No player was more demonstrative in that regard than Duffy, right from the start.

He beat out a sweet bunt single with the game's opening at-bat, stole second and took another base on catcher Russell Martin's errant throw, then scored on Freddy Sanchez's groundout.

He was the first up in the third, too, and lined a shot to right before stealing again. He took third base on a wild pitch, then scored on Jack Wilson's infield single.

In all, Duffy wound up with a fine leadoff line of 3 for 5 with three runs, raising his average to .292, his on-base percentage to a team-best .361.

Starter Tom Gorzelanny improved to 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA with yet another quality start of three runs and five hits in six innings.

"He set the tempo," Tracy said.

Los Angeles manager Grady Little shared that view.

"He's one of those guys who can really put pressure on a team," Little said.

Duffy had been unusually cautious in stealing, trying only two before yesterday while worrying about pitchers' timing, slide steps and the like.

"Basically, I got pretty frustrated with my running game and just threw all that out the window," he said. "I just ran."

He was not alone. Jose Bautista legged out two hustling doubles, including one that led to a run in the sixth.

The Pirates entered that inning with a 3-2 lead and, given the pattern established on this trip, that might have seemed like all the offense was going to muster.

But Adam LaRoche drove Brett Tomko's first-pitch fastball over the fence in left-center for his third home run, a solo shot. Bautista followed with a laser into center field and, seeing that it went to weak-armed Juan Pierre, took the extra base. Nate McLouth's single brought him home, and the Pirates were ahead, 5-2.

Still, there was little room to breathe, as Olmedo Saenz homered against Gorzelanny in the bottom half to make the score 5-3.

Gorzelanny was done after that inning and would improve to 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA with yet another quality start of three runs and five hits in six innings.

Can he keep it up?

"I hope so," he said. "I'm just going to battle, compete and keep us in the game."

The battle was just beginning, even after Jason Bay's two-run double in the seventh put the Pirates ahead, 7-3.

A Sanchez misplay at second base in the eighth -- a Pierre liner skipped off his glove -- was generously ruled a single, and it led to two runs against relievers Shawn Chacon and Matt Capps. Damaso Marte came on for the final out, his 94-mph fastball drawing a meek groundout from pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson and stranding two.

Another miscue opened Torres' ninth, McLouth twisting, turning and dropping Andre Ethier's fly ball at the track.

But Torres, tagged with a blown save Saturday when catcher Ronny Paulino committed two costly errors, bailed out his defense this time by sandwiching strikeouts of Rafael Furcal and Saenz around a Pierre single, then getting Jeff Kent to bounce out off a 1-2 splitter.

"Our closer ... give him credit," Tracy said. "We haven't made things very easy for him, I can tell you that. And this man is still standing out there with his head held high."

Afterward, the clubhouse was closed an extra five minutes for another brief talk, this from Tracy.

"We should feel good," he said. "As I said to my players, the important thing now is that we're going home and we're going to build upon what we've done through 13 games on the road."

That would be a 7-6 record.

"We've got a nice nine-game homestand coming up, against all Central Division teams. We need to get busy."

(Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at