Art Michalik, Steelers Linebacker, 1955-1956

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First, can you let readers know about your start in the NFL. You were drafted by San Francisco in round 17 in 1951 – how did you learn about being drafted and were you happy about being drafted by San Francisco?

I was still in school and Larry Moon Mullins told me I was drafted. The funny thing is, I got another notice at the same time from the service, telling me I had to report to an internment center. So I went to the Marine Corps instead. I told the 49ers and they suggested I go and return to the team when I came back.

I was in the service for twenty-three months – in fact I was still in the service when I returned to 49ers camp. I took my fifty days of leave – I had them in the books – so used them at the end of my stay and made the team.

That’s when I also started pro wrestling with Leo Normellini. I was a wrestler in college and he suggested that he and I start wrestling to make some extra money.

You were in San Francisco for two years before finding yourself in Pittsburgh. How did you end up in Pittsburgh and were you disappointed in being traded to Pittsburgh?

I was traded to Pittsburgh in my second year. I blew out my knee and back then you only signed for a year with a one-year option. There weren’t multiple year contracts then so it made it easier. The team doctor was also a stakeholder in the team so he felt like I wasn’t going to play again there before the contract ended. So they traded me to Pittsburgh. The funny thing is I got a raise when I got to Pittsburgh! Rooney was a great guy.

Walt Keisling was the head coach then in Pittsburgh- what was he like to play for – and how hard was it then playing for a team that was struggling at the time?

Keisling was a good man, but he was old school. We’d practice for 2 1/2 hours in the morning and in the afternoon. They wanted to try me out at center in Pittsburgh. I came into camp early – a week before the veterans all came in. I came in at 228 pounds, At the time all we had was a skeleton crew – quarterback, receivers and centers. By the end of the first week I was down to 212 pounds!

Pittsburgh was  a great city. It was night and day between San Francisco and Pittsburgh. In San Francisco you were just another person. In Pittsburgh you stood out. The people were outstanding. They used to send us to a special car dealership – they’d give us all great deals! After my last year in Pittsburgh I was traveling to Calgary to wrestle when the general manager of the Calgary Stampeders asked me what I was doing in Clagary – and he asked me to come back and play for them. The coach was Jim Finks – former quarterback of the Steelers. Back then, you could only have twelve Americans on a team and only six could start at a time.

Tell us more about your time as wrestler and tag team champion in the National Wrestling Alliance. How did you get into the wrestling profession and how did your time in the NFL help your wrestling career?

Well I was a conference champion in college for four years. I started wrestling in the offseason when Leo Nomellini – a teammate in San Francisco – suggested that I go with him to talk to a promoter in San Francisco. I started working with Leo as my tag team partner and as a single wrestler. I found it very interesting – it allowed me to travel six times to Japan. On one trip, they had the American servicemen play football against the Japanese wrestlers. The American guys weren’t allowed to weight more than 160 pounds – the Japanese were sumo wrestlers! I was asked by the promoter to help coach the Japanese team! As a job, it helped me make more money. Football didn’t pay so well. It helped me see lots of the world and the Japanese loved us. They would all come to the stadiums and sat on mats. We would have 8,000-10,000 people but we didn’t get a cut of that – just our guarantees! When the train we rose on stopped at depots, the fans would all wave and cheer for us.

Do you watch the NFL today? What do you think of the want the game has changed?

Yes, I do. It’d really different now. Now it’s mainly about money. We played hurt. We’d use novacain to kill the pain. When we had a concussion we’d use smelling salts and that was it. After football, I coached for thirty-eight years. I coached in high school and junior college and taught them what Moon Mullins taught me about that old school mentality – that’s winning is mostly about attitude.

You’re famous in part for causing the introduction of the facemask into the NFL. How did that occur?

Oh yeah – that was Otto Graham. We played the Rams in L.A. and flew back to San Francisco afterwards. My two eye teeth were knocked back, so they pulled them both out Monday. On Wednesday we flew to Cleveland and they hemorraghed on the plane. They rushed me to the hospital and I got out that Saturday, just in time for the walk-through, and I played on Sunday. That game, I hit Graham across the face and he had to have eleven stitches – he was sewed up at halftime. He was allergic to novacain so he did it without any help. But the next game, he needed a facemask I guess and that’s how it started.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Football gave me my livelihood. It put me in college and gave me my education. No one can take that away from anybody. I enjoyed the time we had and tried to instill that in the players I coached in high school and junior college.

I see the coaches I used to play with and against sometimes. We get together once a year – we call it the Legends Golf Tournament. Twenty-five to thirty of us get together – former players and coaches – those of us who are left.

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Brandon Williams, Steelers Wide Receiver, 2009

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So, first, can you let us know what you are doing with yourself since the NFL?

I’m a speaker and an author – I wrote a book last May on the Millionaire Mindset and am now doing speaking engagements and am out selling my book. I moved back to Madison, Wisconsin and got my communications degree and am a consultant for the university as well. I teach my financial principles to the athletics department. I also do the Gridiron GQ podcast and another one to start soon interviewing athletes who are running their own companies. It’s very cool – it’s for young kids and older players – teaching them about leadership and marketing – helping them learn entrepreneurial skills. It’s got a great response!

I’m still a certified financial planner – I don’t practice but worked for Morgan Stanley or three-and-a-half years. It was a good time but it was too micro. I wanted to work on a macro scale and speak the financial gospel. With compliance, which is understandable in the industry, it didn’t allow me to move the way I wanted.

And, I am also still doing radio for ESPN in Madison covering college football and interviewing former Wisconsin players.

So, skipping around to your travels to Pittsburgh. How did you find your way to Pittsburgh in free agency?

In 2008, I played for half a year but was out of football the rest of the year. I switched agents and was in transition. I had a few teams interested and like the Steelers – I liked what Tomlin was doing with the team. I thought there was an opportunity – Santonio and Hines were the main two guys and Hines was on his way out. Limus Sweed was there and some other guys – I thought it gave me a real shot. It was a great opportunity. I had also never been to Pittsburgh. It was an awesome city – I never knew that. I didn’t know it rained more in Pittsburgh than in Seattle. Not more often, but more inches.

When you were in Pittsburgh, who helped you to adjust to the team?

It wasn’t one particular person. Ryan Clark – me and him had a fee scuffles in camp but we had trained together a couple of summers and were friends. I knew Santonio too from our Big Ten days.

The defensive players – they were the bread and butter of the team at the time. They were always cool. Polamalu, Farrior, they were great. Harrison, Deshea, Ike T….they were all good people.

In my short time there, it was the  best organization I played for, with their community outreach and the way they take care of their players…

What are some of the funnier memories you have of your time there?

The funniest thing I remember was the competition at the pool table. It was in the middle of the locker room. It wasn’t gambling – no money or anything. It was just about who was best and they played before and after practice. They were always going hard -pool and I think dominos. It wasn’t a gambling culture like other places I’ve been, but it was about who was beat.

Who really was the best?

Santonio was a beast. He was really good. Limus was decent too. But Santonio had his own stick and was very good.

So you’re in Pittsburgh but you didn’t stick around long – what happened?

In Spring I was playing my best ball. I was hungry – it was the best I had played. Tomlin pulled me aside and told me he didn’t know how I had gotten there but he was glad I was there. He said I was playing well. But I was injured in training camp – I strained my oblique. I was practicing blocking punts – which I never would have really done in a game. I never did it before and I reached out to block the punt and heard two pops. I was out for a week. As a free agent – I was just a guy – not a name. It gave other guys the opportunities and they capitalized on them.

And you decided to retire when you didn’t make the team?

I knew that was my last shot. That it was done. I had decided to retire if I didn’t make it and that’s what happened. In 2010 I officially retired and left the game. I went immediately into commentating. In 2013 I hit my stride in commentating. I had financial issues and bounced back – had kids and got married and stayed close to the game. My brother Art Powell plays for the Bills. I try to help and mentor him and give him my blessings as well.

I’m tired of all of the bankruptcy stories. From ten on up – you can’t wait until guys are twenty-two. Who listens to guy when he’s been given a million dollar check? It goes right over their head.

On your commentating career, you got started quickly. How did you do so?

I called up my old university and they put me in contact with the Big Ten radio producer who gave me an audition. I bombed it – I was terrible! But thirty days later I was accepted into the NFL broadcasting boot camp and the same producer was there, I don’t know what happened over those thirty days but he said I was exponentially better and gave me a shot.

What advice would you give younger players today?

I’d stress to them to build their team and build a great brand. A high school kid can build a massive brand  and carry it through the NFL. Improve your value off the field – you have to constantly put in the work – and you’ll see results. You have to build a team around you as well. I watched LeBron James since he was in high school – he was like a savant with his business strategy. He had a great team around him since he was a rookie.

No man is an island – I listen to a lot of speakers. You need a team.

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Terry Hawthorne, Steelers Cornerback, 2013

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First, can you let readers know what you are ding with yourself since your time in Pittsburgh?

Well, I’m back at home helping my high school football team in East St. Louis. I’m coaching the defensive backs for them and helping to teach there.

Any coaches and lessons influence the way you coach them?

I tell them every day they are going to go through adversity There are times when they will be down and need to be picked up. There are ups and downs in games – several coaches at Illinois helped me in this. They gave me feedback like a father – guys like Ron Zook.

In PIttsburgh?

In Pittsburgh it was more up to the players. I wasn’t there enough to gain a bond with the coaches. Players stuck together and lifted each other up.

What players really helped you the most?

Ike Taylor helped a whole lot. He and Shamako Thomas – he and I came into the league together and stuck together a lot.

How did Ike help?

Ike put me through the ropes and showed me how things should be. What to expect…

You were drafted in the 5th round by Pittsburgh in 2013. Were you surprised, and how did you find out you were drafted?

I was surprised. I did visit Pittsburgh before the draft but I ever expected them to draft me. I was sitting with my family when they called me. Coach Lake called and asked if I was excited to be a part od the Steelers family.

Tell me about the visit – what did that entail?

It was fun – it was just me sitting down with the coaches and letting them know about my background. They let me know how it is in Pittsburgh. It was more like a meet and great just to get to know me personally.

It’s interesting that you came into the NFL as a defensive back as you were one of the highest rated wide receiver recruits in high school. How did that transition occur?

I was recruited as an athlete – I was happy to make the move. Coach Zook said that he thought I could play both way but it was faster than I expected. One of our All-American defensive backs hurt is ACL and MCL so he asked if I would play defenive back and help the defense. We were loaded at the time at wide receiver.

In Pittsburgh as a rookie, how much did humor affect you and the team?

They were all fun moments for me. Being around guys that love the game and share that same passion…. We all joked around. We played pool – and ping pong was the big thing. We challeneged each other a lot.

In the defensive backs room, Ike Taylor would always crack a joke when the meetings started to keep everyone happy.

So you’re there as a rookie but don’t make it past that rookie season. What happened?

I had an injury – messed up my knee. It happened in mini-camp – I came down on it wrong and it’s hurt ever since. In OTAs I had it scoped and cleaned out. But in camp it swelled up again really bad and that was pretty much it.

What did the coaches tell you?

They didn’t really approach me about the injury. When I re-tweaked it in camp they didn’t know what was up with it. The trainer – Norwig – told me it woudl be hard for me to play – it was so swollen. Due to the injury I couldn’t perform – I couldn’t practice enough. Coach Tomlin told me that I just missed too many practices and I was cut. I didn’t have anough opportunities to show what I had.

How are you handling that now?

Not very well. I’m struggling – it’s difficult to come back to reality. It’s hard for me to watch a game. To know what I could have done… I wasn’t able to showcase my talent or what I had in store. It’s hard to watch a game – to not be able to do something I have a passion for…

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Harold Bishop, Steelers Tight End, 1998-1999

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First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself now?

Well, I moved back to Tuscaloosa – I bought a house there when I was playing in Pittsburgh. I have three children – a nineteen year old son, a son who’s a sophomore, and a daughter that’s twelve. I’ve been married to my wife now for twenty-three years.

I’m a hospital rep for Baxter Health – I sell anesthesia to OR’s in hospitals.

How did you get started in pharma?

When my career ended in Pittsburgh, I soul-searched. I had nine hours left to finish my degree at LSU. I chose pharma – it was a lucrative business. I wanted to mimic what I was making in the NFL and pharma sales was booming at the time. I hooked up with AstroZeneca in 2000 – that’s how I got started.

How hard was that adjustment for you?

It was pretty tough. I didn’t realize how tough it was until afterwards. I had that competitive drive – you get that somewhat in pharmaceutical sales but nothing compares to the comradery with athletes. The sport is something you grow up with learning and you can’t replace that. It’s even tough now – I can’t do the same things I could do when I was in my 20’s. It’s a life adjustment – fortunately I could transition well to the corporate world. That really helped to have that success early.

So stepping back and looking at your NFL career ..

I got most of my playing time in Cleveland. I got hurt though after we moved to Baltimore, I hurt my knee and then tore my hamstring. I got bogged down and was cut by the Ravens. I sat out the ’97 season and got healthy. Then I went to play for the World League’s Rhein Fire and the Steelers picked me up after that.

How surprised and affected were you by the move to Baltimore?

Initially no one knew anything. We heard rumors, but no one thought Modell would ever move the Browns. We started off strong that year. Then it came out we were moving and everything just dropped. You don’t realize the intermakings of that’s going on inside the organization. But you could tell the older players – the guys there ten to eleven years – their focus went away. We tanked afterwards – it was tough for everyone.

When I think back, it was tough on the city. We played Cincinnati at home our last game and you could see the fans were distraught. As a youngster you don’t realize the impact the team leaving the city has. It was really tough on the people of Cleveland. You see it when you watch that game on NFL Films – fans tearing the stadium up to take a piece of the team with them. You could see how distraught they were.

How did Baltimore receive you when you moved there?

Cleveland was fire and Baltimore was ice. The people of Baltimore were ecstatic. They experienced a similar thing and understood Cleveland’s pain but were just so happy to have a football team back and welcomed us with open arms.

After Baltimore let you go you found yourself in Pittsburgh. How did that happen?

I think Pittsburgh would have drafted me if Tampa Bay didn’t. Tom Donohoe and I had a good relationship. Tom called me and asked if I was interested in flying up and working out for the team. My head coach and offensive coordinator at the Rhein Fire both had ties t the Rooneys, and during the season they contacted Galen – the head coach – about me.  I had a good workout and they signed me that day.

Who were the guys you bonded with when you got to Pittsburgh?

I can tell you Earl Holmes and I did. We were in the same fraternity and he pulled me to the side and told me I was going to make the team. He said the team needed a vertical threat at tight end. We had Mark Bruener who was a bulldozer and under-rated receiver, but he was 235 pounds. He was the blocker for Jerome. They wanted a guy who was a third-down tight end. I had one start versus Seattle – that was my best game. I got the game ball. But Mark was the guy.

Who were the guys that joked around a lot – and how did humor help you there?

I used to rib a lot with Earl – he and I were both ribbers. During camp we’d go out to different venues. Pittsburgh was a great city – we used to go out to a place on the water called Donzis when we had free time. We were all tight in the locker room. The NFL – everyone is their own person. But in Pittsburgh we call stuck together. All the positions hung out together. Each person took are of the next man.

Kirkland was also a big influence by the way. He started a football camp in South Carolina and flew eight-to-nine of us down. We all went and ate with his family and their house – it was one of my most memorable times. When we played in Detroit Jerome brought us all to is house and we ate with his family. I remember that well.

What happened though that caused your career to end shortly after you arrived in Pittsburgh?

I got another injury. I got a viral infection – sarcoidosis – which is the same thing Reggie White had. But mine was more controllable. I was put on a high dose of steroids for the inflammation and lost a lot of intramuscular strength. I was healing but tore my meniscus in my left knee. They just took it out but it was just bone on bone. I couldn’t run after that. I stayed with the team for part of the season but then we came to an injury settlement.

What did the team say to you?

They were disappointed. Cowher had plans for me – he liked my ability to get down the seam. When I got hurt they drafted Jerame Tuman …

Looking back on your career, what advice would you give guys entering the game today?

My advice to the younger guys is to respect the game and themselves. Hold yourself to a high standard – Pittsburgh expects that. Fans will love you or hate you if BS them. So look at the people who were there before you – the Hines Wards, Franco Harris’, Mel Blounts, Rocky Bleiers. When you want into those guys they’d pull you aside and were great guys – they talked to you. So respect the craft, your body, and enjoy the game. If you do that, you’ll have a great career and great life afterwards.

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Four Under the radar players that could influence Steelers offseason/draft

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OLB Anthony Chickillo – The way the team views his development and potential at LB/DE could impact the team’s need to add OLB depth this draft

ILB’s Jordan Zumwalt and LJ Fort – Can either take the place of Garvin if he leaves in FA as a backup ILB and ST’s ace? If not they’ll need to draft someone.

DL LT Walton – The Steelers are woefully thin at DL. Can Walton become one of the at least two players needed to provide key depth here? he came in raw but with promise. If he can become part of the DL rotation that saves the team a draft pick.

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DeMarcus Van Dyke, Steelers Cornerback, 2012-2013

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First, can you let readers know what you are doing with yourself now?

Well, I’m training, and at the same time I’m sending out resumes to coaches – I want to be a coaching assistant for someone and learn  the business.

Any coaches and coaching lessons influence you the most?

I was coached by what I think were three Hall of Fame players – Rod Woodson in Oakland, Carnell Lake in Pittsburgh, and Al Harris in Kansas City. I took something from all three of them. They were all players first – and that player-coach mentality was good- it helps them show players what needs to be done on the field. They knew what to do – they’ve been there before.  They were also leaders – not just bosses.

How have you adjusted to life after the NFL? Have you taken advantage of the NFLPA programs?

I took advantage of them yes. Charlie Batch – I spoke to him earlier this year about opportunities. I’m also going to go out to LA for the All-Star game to watch the coaches – learn how they do things.

You were a great track athlete in college – why did you choose football over track?

I only did track because I was fast. I never wanted to do track before college – I played basketball and football. All of the sudden I became fast, so in college I just went for it. But football was my first love. I never took track seriously.

You were drafted by the Raiders in the third round in 2011 – were you surprised?

I was surprised – I thought I’d go in the fourth or fifth round. I was playing video games with my cousin and my phone was charging in the next room when it rang. I asked my cousin to pick it up – he said it had a 747 area code but he didn’t want to be the one to pick it up. So I ran into the room and got it. The Raiders Head Coach Hue Jackson called – he said the Raiders would be taking me with the next pick. I thought someone was crank-calling me – earlier my cousin called me from a different area code and said he was drafting me.

Did you ask Coach Jackson if he was crank-calling you?

I did – he said I should look at the area code – that this was for real. “It was me” he said!

After a year they released you – what happened – and were you surprised?

It took me by surprise yeah. I was there for a year when Hue Jackson was fired after an 8-8 season. The new coach cleaned house. As a young guy, you don’t expect that. Two days later Kevin Colbert called me and asked me to come in for a workout.

What did they tell you when they brought you in – why you?

I thought the Pittsburgh guys showed the most interest in me before the draft. At my Pro Day my mom, dad, and grandma all said they showed interest. Colbert said they were planning to take me in the third round but the Raiders took me two picks earlier. I guess it was God’s plan!

Who helped mentor you as a new Steeler – both on and off the field?

Going from Oakland to Pittsburgh was like going from high school to college. It was all professional for those guys. Clark and Polamalu – I looked up to them when I was in college. They showed me how to be a pro – to take care of my body and stay out of trouble. The Pittsburgh fans expect you to be a professional  – they don’t like players who get into trouble.

I remember when I downed the ball on the one-yard line after one of my first plays on special teams, as I ran off the field Brett Keisel said to me “You’re a Steeler now!”

I miss Pittsburgh. Playing pool….Me, Antonio Brown and Sean Spence – we all grew up in the same area. Antonio and I played ball together there. They were hilarious – Antonio had his own sense of humor. And Sean always had funny things to say too…

A little over a year later you were released by the Steelers. What happened and how hard was that for you?

I was injured in training camp. Colbert told me that they’d waive me with an injury settlement in week nine, and they did. They brought me back, but three weeks later we had three offensive linemen go down with injuries though, so they needed more linemen and needed to release me.

It was real hard leaving Pittsburgh. If they gave me a contract for $1 I would have signed it. I loved Pittsburgh on and off the field – I wanted to be there forever.

Any thoughts for younger players entering the game today?

Special teams is the key. You have to take care of your body. It’s a different mindset for special teams – beating double teams as the gunner… The NFL will give you a chance – you just have to make plays.

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Steelers 2016 roadmap

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The roadmap for 2016:

The Steelers have seven potential holes to fill. CB, S, 2 DL, 1 ILB, 1 OT, 1 OLB.  Here is the roadmap for how the Steelers will address their needs:

Cornerback:

Issue: The Steelers have a clear need for a starter/#3 here to play opposite Gay. Golson is ideal for the slot and may win a starter job, but the team needs someone to step in
and take over with solid play. This won’t be done in free agency due to the cost of CB’s in free agency.

Resolution: The Steelers will likely take a CB rd 1 or 2. Eli Apple, Mackensie Alexander, or William Jackson III are some likely targets for a round 1 selection. If round 2, Kendall Fuller or Artie Burns.

Safety:

Issue: This is a tricky one. The team re-signed Golden but as likeable and hard-working as he is, he’s a placeholder at safety. The team does not want Allen back and is attempting to sign FA S Weddle, but he will likely command too much money. Rookie safeties will have an extremely difficult time starting in Pittsburgh (see Troy Polamalu), hence why a veteran safety makes the most sense. But they may not be able to afford one. If not, they’ll need to draft one in the first 2 rounds and roatet them in with Golden as they learn the position.

Resolution: Free agency options like Weddle exist, but are likely too costly. Some of those targets besides Weddle could include Walter Thurmond and David Bruton. But the likely scenario is a safety in round 1 or 2 – Darlan Thompson, Vonn Bell, Jeremy Cash, Karl Jospeh, and Keanu Neal are names to watch.

Defensive Line:

Issue: Currently, the Steelers are minus 2 of their only 4 real contributing lineman. They have serious depth issues here and this would likely need to be resolved in both free agency and the draft. With McLendon and Cam Thomas both exploring FA, they need some experience here to backup Tuitt and Heyward and another player to rotate in as well. McCullers showed early promise but since has been relegated to spot duty. The team does not see him as a serious contributor at this point.

Resolution. In free agency, the Steelers have shown interest in Jason Jones and would like to re-sign McLendon. Re-signing McLendon would be the idea move to fill the NT role and remove the need to take a DL early in the draft. If not neither of those come to fruition, you’re looking at guys like Long, Canty, Hatcher, Jenkins, and Biermann that are still out there. They’d be placeholders at best. If they don’t sign anyone in free agency, that will throw the entire draft off in my opinion. It gives them three spots with dire needs as they  have to have a rotation guy they trust – adding DL to S and CB. If so, a DL in the top rounds becomes a need, possibly pushing those DB picks down.  If that happens, top DL picks could include DTs Billings, Reed, Nkemdiche or edge guys like Spence (if they risk his character concerns) or Dodd. Should they re-sign McLendon or sign Jones, then DL needs can be filled lower in the draft at the 3rd or 4th pick with guys like Nassib, Tapper, Fanaika, or tackles like Hargrave and Collins.

Inside Linebacker:

Issue: This is purely a depth issue. Garvin and Spence may leave in free agency. Williams is there behind Timmons and Shazier and he’s shown he can be a starter on many teams, so the issue here is not great. Fort could contribute as well. But if neither Garvin or Spence is re-signed, they’re likely going to want to add someone.

Resolution: I think you’re looking at a lower round pick here. A 6th round guy like Norris, Kwiatkowski, or Rhodes.

Offensive Tackle:

Issue: This is another depth issue, though the severity in which the Steelers have treated this position surprises me. Beachum will likely leave in free agency and the team apparently doesn’t have great faith in Adams. With Villinueva still young, it seems they have their LT of the future and Gilbert is a lock at RT. All the same, they clearly want a backup.

Resolution: The Steelers seem bent on fixing this via free agency, bringing in three OTs – Okung, Hairston, and Harris. One will likely be signed. If not, they’ll either look in the later rounds to take a development guy for Munchak to work on like Shell, Lewis, Young, or Slater and ride Adams out.

Outside Linebacker:

Issue: Perhaps the most overlooked team need, at ROLB they currently have Jones and Harrison. Harrison may or may not return for one last year and Jones has been average at best as a pass rusher. Both would likely depart next season barring a special year from Jones that causes the team to lock him in. They have Chickillo to help at backup but he’s a limited player. Moats rotates at LOLB.

Resolution: Lots of things at play here. The team plays a number of sub-packages that could lessen the need for a pass rushing OLB. A guy like Jason Jones could help spot this position in free agency as he’s a hybrid DL/OLB type guy, but there really is no other free agency solution here. In the draft is where this will need to be fixed and I’m not sure that guy exists this draft for Pittsburgh. It’s a strong draft for DL but not for pass rushing OLB types. Some guys that could be targeted are Spence if they want to risk his character concerns early. More likely is someone in the lower rounds to develop with an eye for addressing this next year. Someone like Cowser, Schobert, or Jenkins in round 4 or Ochi or Ngakoue round 6 makes sense.

Likely scenario:

Steelers Re-sign Mclendon and add a backup OT in free agency:

Draft:

Rd 1: CB Eli Apple/Mackensie Alexander
Rd 2: S Karl Joseph/Vonn Bell
Rd 3: DL Nassib, Hargrave
Rd 4: OLB: Cowser, Schobert
Rd 6: OT Shell or Young
Rd 6: ILB Kwiatkosky, Norris.

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Jarrod Johnson, Steelers Offensive Lineman, 1991

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First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?

I received my MBA and have been building my career as a health care executive.  I have moved around the country to work for various organizations and gained a plethora of experiences.  Currently, I work for a large medical center in Buffalo, NY as a Senior Vice President, where I reside.  In addition, I currently officiate college football at the FCS Division I level.  I work in the CAA, Patriot League and the Ivy League as Line Judge.

How hard was the post-NFL adjustment for you? What made it easier?

It was extremely hard.  When you can no longer do what you love and worked hard for, normally there is a definite sense of loss.  I really loved playing the game of football and all the work that came with it.  However, I knew that I always had to have another plan because of the nature of the game.  My transition was easier knowing that I had a degree and plan to get another degree. I learned I could stay close to the game by staying connected with it.  I coached middle school football and officiated football games.

You were always a Steelers fan, even as a kid in New Jersey. Why the Steelers, and how much did it mean for you to later play for your favorite team?

I loved the Steelers growing up.  Watching those teams in the 70’s and 80’s was very special.  When I had a chance to sign with the team, it was a no brainer.  Coach Noll always had late round draft picks and free agents on his roster.  Because of this, I thought I had a great chance to make the roster and contribute, so I chose to sign with the Steelers.  It meant so much to be able to play for the Steelers, a team I still follow and love today.

Despite wanting to play linebacker in high school, the coaches had you play center, even though you were undersized for the position. How did you grow into the position, physically and mentally?

I didn’t play organized football until high school and growing up I played football and basketball in the neighborhood with the older kids.  I thought I was a good enough athlete to play linebacker.  The coaches, my freshman year, thought I could better help the team as a center.  I was 143 lbs at the time.  Since I was going to play center, I wanted to be the best.  As a result, I started to prepare my body for that. I gained about 100 pounds over the four years of high school.  I was fortunate enough to play for a legendary coach in NJ, Tony Verducci, who was also my gym teacher.  All I did was long snap footballs every gym period for three years.  This made me a great long snapper, and I also became a first team All-State player as a senior.  Mentally, I prepared myself because I was always self -motivated to work harder than the next person.  I got that from competing in Karate tournaments from 10-15 years old.  I trained so hard to win state championships three years in a row as well as two national championships.  This helped me in my football career.

You went undrafted out of Lehigh in the ’91 draft. Was that a disappointment or was that expected – and what did you agent tell you to expect about the process?

I pretty much knew that I was going to be an undrafted free agent.  I had eighteen teams work me out at my school.  Jim McNally, who coached for the Bengals at the time, worked me out and told me that I could be a good player in the NFL.  My agent told me that I would be a free agent.  Two guys that graduated before me from Lehigh, Jim Harris and Rob Varano were free agents, so it was what I expected.

You ended up signing with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent. Why Pittsburgh – what about the opportunity and people there made you ultimately choose to sign with them?

I was very excited the Steelers offered me a free agent contract.  I also had an offer from Seattle.  I chose Pittsburgh because there were many late round draft picks and free agents on the roster.  In addition, it was my favorite team growing up while spending my summers in Johnstown, PA.  My agent and I thought it was the best opportunity for me to be able to make a roster.

As a rookie, who helped you to adjust to life in the NFL, both on and off the field. Any examples on how they did so?

Being a rookie is tough, especially a free agent from a small Division I-AA school.  Dermontti Dawson, Terry Long and Carlton Haselrig were teammates that helped me adjust to the life in the league.  On the field, Carlton always encouraged me to work hard.  He used to tell me to keep working and kept me mentally strong.  Terry Long used to work with me to make me technically sound.  He always would take me aside to work on technique and footwork.  Dermontti was like a big brother and always helped me see the importance of football, but to also see the aspects of life off the field and how to conduct yourself.

Who were the toughest guys you faced in camp – and what made them so?

All the guys were tough because we were all competing for jobs.  Gerald Williams was an excellent nose tackle.  I learned a great deal from competing against him in practice.  He was strong, quick and smart and truly made me a better player.  The speed at the NFL level is what you have to adjust to in order to compete.

What were some of the funniest occurrences you remember as a Steeler – on or off the field. Can you share a few memories?

There were many funny memories.  Listening to Tim Worley tell his stories in the locker room kept me in laughing.  You couldn’t always tell if he was telling the truth in some of the stories.  Keith Willis calling everyone “Good Buddy” was memorable.  However, the funniest memory was watching Terry Long and Brian Blankenship trading funny jabs at each other all the time.  It was very comical.

That was the last season for legendary Coach Chuck Noll. What do you remember most about him as a coach and could you tell his time was winding down there?

Coach Noll was a great man.  He told me one day that football was only a short part of my life and that I will take so many of the lessons I learn there into the future.  He was that type of teacher and it was a true honor to play for him.  I was a wide-eyed rookie, so I couldn’t tell that he was about to retire.  I just tried to work as hard as I could.  However, in this business when you don’t win enough to make the playoffs, I learned there is a great deal of scrutiny.  He coached the team well like he always had done in prior years.

You ended up going to the World League of American Football, winning the World Bowl with the Sacramento Surge. How was the World League different from the NFL and how did you find yourself there?

After my rookie season, I signed with San Diego.  As a condition of my contract, I was allocated to the World League by the Chargers, where I played for Sacramento.  The World League was a lot of fun.  It was made up of young players, like me, that needed grass time on the field, as well as players that had been playing for a few years trying to get back into the NFL.  You had some very good players that eventually went on to have great NFL careers.  I enjoyed it because it was another chance to play football as well as build great friendships I maintain to this day.  Also, it was nice to win a championship ring.  That is always a bonus.

After the World League you suffered a knee injury while in the Chargers training camp. How serious was that injury and did that in effect end your playing career?

Unfortunately, that knee injury was the beginning of the end of my football career.  I had a very bad knee injury that really took me two years to recover from it.  After rehab, I spent the next two years on CFL rosters for parts of seasons, but really couldn’t perform the way I was accustomed to, so I had to retire from the game.  The mind was willing but the body was not able.  It took a while to get over this.

What advice would you give to players entering the league today?

I tell players to work very hard to achieve your dreams and become the best player that you can.  However, keep perspective and have another plan for success as well.  If you can obtain a college degree, you should.  Most importantly, having strong faith, surround yourself with good people and stay focused on your goals.  There can be so many distractions, but you have to stay away from the distractions and temptations.  When all else fails, remember what got you to the NFL: hard work and dedication.

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C. J. Goodwin, Steelers Wide Receiver, 2014-2015

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First, you’re still with Atlanta right?

Yeah- I’ve been here for about eight weeks now after being released by the Steelers. I had a tryout with Oakland. I stayed ready and the Falcons called me in for a workout. I made the practice squad off of that workout – I had to stay there.

How hard is that process – going from tryout to tryout?

It’s stressful, but the outcome is better than the process. You have to enjoy the process – be in the moment. It is stressful being at home, working out and not knowing.

Well, tell us how you got started in the first place. You didn’t even start playing football until you were a senior in high school right?

Yeah – I played as a senior in high school. I only played then because I never really thought I’d play again. I didn’t play after that again until I was a junior in college at Fairmont State. That only happened because I was playing intramural basketball with my roommate at the time “Dewey” McDonald who’s now with the Raiders. We played the football team coaches and I dunked on the head coach!  I considered myself more of a basketball player then but the coach told me I should try and play football – my roommate said he had been telling me that for a long time.

So I played and did ok. I wasn’t great – I was more athletic but didn’t know much about football. At the end of the season they started featuring me more and in my second year I started creating a buzz. After that first year the coach was fired so I went with him when he got a new job at California University of Pennsylvania and my roommate and played there, I didn’t get much playing time – it was competitive and there were three senior wide receivers I was behind.

And after that season, you looked to the draft…

I knew my 40 was good and some were saying I may get picked in the late rounds, but I told them  whatever – I knew better. I just wanted a chance. Before the draft I got calls from about twenty-six of the thirty-two teams. But after the draft the calls stopped.

I talked to Mr. Mel (former Steeler Mel Blount) after that and he said he’d make a call to the Steelers to see if they’d have me in for a workout. Nothing more than that. They did and I did ok. The next week they signed me and I made the practice squad.

Who was present at the workout?

Coach T. – they were all there really. They could see I was a raw athlete – I had ability and could be molded. I didn’t know much but could learn.

Stepping back – tell us about your connection with Mel Blount.

I was working for Mr. Mel at his youth home since I was 17. I knew him since I was fourteen or fifteen – I went to school with his sons. He gave me a job as a farmhand when I was seventeen. I cut the grass for him – he had over three-hundred acres. There was so much grass to be cut!

When I got to college I couldn’t work during the week so I worked weekends there. His wife had me take training and gave me the opportunity to work with the kids as a counselor. I enjoyed that – it was really rewarding. I worked there for over seven years.

So you make the practice squad…who helps mentor you and shows you the ropes in the NFL?

Pittsburgh was a great place – everybody was approachable – from Antonio Brown to the practice squad guys, Even Coach T. would just come over and talk to you. The main one was Markus Wheaton. We connected – he was about the same age as me – he came in a year before me. Information flowed from him to me.

Coach Mann was a great help. He was a blessing. He didn’t care if you were a first round pick or not – he sat you down and went over things with you like you were the number one guy.

What do you think helped you most to make the team?

My work ethic….You can’t take days off – there’s someone vying for your job every second. Especially at this position. Even in the classroom – off the field. But it was fun more than anything.

Prior to my second season with the Steelers I was told by Coach T that if I didn’t make the team but just made the practice squad I should view it as a failure, meaning that he believed in my ability

Speaking of fun…who were some of the characters on the team then and hat made them so?

Antonio Brown was  one of the funniest people I have ever met. Every day it was something new with his crazy outfits. He was a real genuine dude – nice. He would joke with you if you came in with flashy outfits – “You can’t afford that!” he’d say!

It was a bunch of clowns … there was always an opportunity to have fun.

How was Martavis Bryant to play alongside with? As an “insider”, is he a bit misunderstood by fans?

Bryant’s a good dude. Some things didn’t go his way. He is a great player and Coach Mann really has his back. He worked with him a lot when I was there. He learned a lot also from Antonio Brown – he saw what Antonio could do and working with him helped him see what he could do too. He was still a kid when I was there. He took some steps back but he’s made some great leaps forward.

How was Ben Roethlisberger to work with?

Ben is another great dude. My father passed away last year – at the end of March – two weeks before the offseason. But when I came back he was he first person to offer his condolences – he, then Coach T. It was humbling.  Ben didn’t have to say anything – I was surprised he knew my dad passed and that he would be the first person to send his kindness.

Your second year you were released and went to Atlanta. What did they tell you heading into the season?

I’m not sure who the dude was I spoke with, but before the season they told me it would be the same situation as the last season where I’d be placed on the practice squad. But it didn’t happen.  So I thought it was kind of fishy when it didn’t happen but I have no hard feelings. It’s a business.

When they called me into the office after the first day of cuts I figured it would be the same thing, but it worked out. It was hard waiting for a call but now I have a better opportunity here.

Any advice for young players going through the same thing?

Anything is possible. Take the opportunities and run with them. I know it’s a cliché but those clichés really work. I was thinking of all of them while I was  trying to make it, and they helped me.

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Jovon Johnson, Steelers Cornerback, 2006

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First, can you let readers know about your academy and how you got started?

It was something I was inspired to do. I attended camps at an early age and it was very beneficial. But it is very expensive for kids to attend these camps so my goal was to create an affordable camp for kids. We’ve added different events – this year we’re helping mentor the kids – to allow them to express themselves. Sometimes kids have things they don’t want to tell their parents or schools – things like bullying. We give them advice on how to handle things like that.

The academy is also skills and drills for football players. We do a combine style – things kids need to know as they come out of high school and into college. If I had known some of those types of skills earlier that we teach I would have been much better – the  position-specific drills…

We also just also added a parent café to give young parents the opportunity to attend parents workshops. We teach them everything from how to change diapers to handling the stress of being a new parent.

How did you  know how to get started?

When I played with the Steelers, Tyrone Carter held a similar camp in Florida and asked me to come down and be a guest coach. That inspired the idea for me. At the time I was still fighting for a job on the team so I didn’t have the time to start the camp then. But when I was set in my career and didn’t have to fight for a roster spot, I was able to explore the opportunity.

How hard is the post-NFL adjustment for you so far?

Well, I’m still playing in the CFL. But things are different in Canada – you have much less time constraints here. In the NFL, it’s a full-time job – you come in at 7:30 and you don’t leave before 5:00. In Canada, you work from 8:00-1:00. You have a lot more time to explore other opportunities and network. You have much more free time – it’s different because of the lifestyle.

As a coach, what coaching and playing lessons most influence how you coach?

The thing I learned most about coaching is that we all go through adversity. Perseverance and a positive attitude go a long way. Coaches will constantly harp on you and tell you what you need to do better. To get positive reinforcement is like getting a monkey off of your back.

Your work ethic is the most important thing. If you’re not willing to put in the work you’re not willing to get better. As a coach I want to coach players to their ability and to help them exceed that ability. That little extra could be the difference between being good and being great. I focus on the details – the fundamentals. I want to see the development so they go from a raw athlete to an athlete with great technique.

You were signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2006.  Why Pittsburgh?

Coming out of college I spoke to a bunch of teams before the draft but none of them drafted me and gave me an opportunity. During the draft I got a call from the Steelers’ Defensive Backs coach Horton – he told me that in round six they’d either take a wide receiver or me. They ended up taking Dallas Baker instead, but he called me back and told me to be patient. He said that if I wasn’t drafted they would sign me as a free agent and I would be the only defensive back they’d be bringing in so I’d be able to make the team. I wouldn’t really have to compete.

After the draft my agent called me and told me the Jets had the best deal. I was confused because I never spoke with the Jets at all before the draft. I went to New York and they released me three times in six weeks. It was a headache. So I ended up signing with the Steelers. They signed Anthony Madison since then but signed me to the practice squad and added Madison to the active roster. Madison ended up playing for years with the Steelers and won a Super Bowl with them. I felt like I was destined to be that guy but it didn’t turn out that way. I fired my agent when Madison and I were both released.  I knew Madison got like twelve workouts in two weeks and I wasn’t getting any. My agent said no one was working anyone out at the time, but I knew that wasn’t true. I got a new agent and he got me into Canada and I’m still there now.

As a rookie, what Steelers helped mentor you?

A number of guys helped me. Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark helped show me how things are done – in and out of football. Ike and I had a long conversation once about the friends you have when you are playing. Ike said that now when you get paid all of this money, people are starting to want things from me. He told me I had to be willing to say no. That I shouldn’t let others steal my money, because I won’t get it back. I needed that conversation – it was all affecting me. My family kept asking for money. and after that conversation I made them send me bills for everything first before I’d agree to pay anything.

How competitive were the defensive backs with one another?

In the NFL it’s always competitive. In practices and in the games – even outside of the facility. You never know who’s watching – you’ve got to make the most of every opportunity. It’s often not about who is working the hardest though – it’s about politics. Who’s getting paid more. The guy that gets paid most is the guy that gets the most opportunities. They want to get the most out of the money they invested in that guy. They have to play that guy – general managers don’t want to look dumb.

How much did humor help in how you approached the game?

It eases the stress. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder for the guy that’s going to replace you. The personnel people tell you that every day they are looking to replace you. You have to have some humor – and it makes the guys feel like family. It eases the stress factor and makes you feel more comfortable being yourself on the field.

Any funny experiences you remember?

One thing I remember. In the first game of the season we played Baltimore. We were playing Cover Two – I was pressing the receiver. Troy Polamalu was supposed to be the safety covering my side but I looked over and he was in the box. I was waving to him – I didn’t know if he knew what the play was – I was yelling at him asking what he was doing. Well, they threw the ball, and I looked and saw Troy had intercepted the ball twenty yards downfield! When we got to the sidelines I told him he had me clueless. He just told me  not to worry about him!

How hard was it for you when you were released the next season and what did they tell you?

It was difficult. I felt like I was the better defensive back. I had a good preseason – I made plays and got praise. When I spoke to the general manager in his office he was very blunt – he said they drafted Ricardo Coclough a few years ago in the second round and it was down to me and him, and they needed to see if he would evolve going into his fourth season. They had money invested in him and that was the end of it.

What are your thoughts on the team now, looking back?

Pittsburgh is a first-class organization – they are upfront about everything. They don’t sugarcoat things. They are a professionally run organization – they are honest and flat-out told me about why I didn’t make the team. They are first class guys and they get guys that play hard, most stay out of trouble, and put it all on the line. I admire that about the players and the staff.

Any advice you’d give players entering the game today?

The more you can do…. If you’re on special teams, a return guy, defensive back….the more you can do… Do more than just your role. You have to be willing to do more and do the dirty work. You will beat out the guys who won’t. I wish I would have done more on special teams if I could go back and do it all over again. I would have done a lot more…

 

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