Steelers not ready to panic after 2-3 start

Steelers not ready to panic after 2-3 start

PITTSBURGH (AP) Larry Foote will save the politically correct talk for his teammates. The veteran Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker has never been much for spinning things anyway.

Asked Monday he's more than a just little concerned about Pittsburgh's uncharacteristically slow 2-3 start, Foote just nods his head.

``The panic button, we tapping on it,'' he said. ``We ain't got two hands on it, but we're kind of nibbling on it a little bit.''

Foote laughed as he spoke, but the reality is the Steelers are quickly running out of wiggle room. Pittsburgh is mired in third place in the competitive AFC North heading into Sunday's game at Cincinnati (3-3) and hardly looked like a team capable of making a postseason run while blowing fourth-quarter leads to the likes of also-rans Oakland and Tennessee.

The Steelers allowed the Titans to score 10 points in the final 4:19, including Rob Bironas' game-winning field goal at the gun. Another stumble on the road would put the Steelers in a precarious position, and they know it.

``We can't lose no more, that's the approach,'' Foote said. ``Five, six losses you ain't going to be in the playoffs.''

It's a destination the Steelers have missed just four times this millennium and just once since Tomlin took over in 2007. Pittsburgh began each of Tomlin's previous five seasons 6-2, a remarkable run of prosperity in a league where parity is the norm.

The Steelers insist there's plenty of time to turn things around.

``We don't have to have this great fire-and-ice speech,'' left tackle Max Starks said. ``It's just we're behind the eight ball. We've dug a ditch for ourselves. We can still dig out of it though.''

They'll have to do with a patched together offensive line. Center Maurkice Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert both left the Tennessee game with leg injuries and backup Doug Legursky spoke Monday as if he'll be in Pouncey's spot against the Bengals and rookie Mike Adams is expected to replace Gilbert.

Cobbling together enough healthy - or healthy enough - bodies along the line is nothing new for the Steelers. They did it during their Super Bowl run two years ago, but that team could rely heavily on its defense to bail them out of tight situations.

At the moment, it's the defense that needs all the help it can get, at least on the road. Pittsburgh is giving up 29.3 points per game away from Heinz Field. Cornerback Ike Taylor was victimized repeatedly by Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, and now the Steelers face one of the best quarterback-receiving duos in the NFL in Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.

And Pittsburgh will almost certainly do it without All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu, who is nursing a strained right calf.

For a locker room featuring more than a dozen players with two Super Bowl rings, there is a sense of urgency but not desperation. Safety Ryan Clark refuses to place blame in any one direction and has no plans to have a sit-down with Taylor to give him a pep talk.

``When we start saying what can we do to help him, we make him a charity case,'' Clark said. ``Ike's not a charity case. Ike's a very good football player who had a rough night.''

The game, however, was hardly the end of Pittsburgh's troubles over the weekend. Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu was arrested early Sunday morning following a chaotic run-in with police that ended with Ta'amu facing more than a dozen charges, including three felony counts.

The fourth-round pick out of Washington apologized to his teammates on Monday but was not available to the media. Ta'amu was tabbed as the eventual successor to Casey Hampton whenever Hampton retires but has yet to dress this season. Hampton, who has taken on a mentor role with Ta'amu, doesn't think the arrest will be a distraction and is more concerned about Ta'amu's future.

``We still love him, but the guy made a mistake,'' Hampton said. ``Not taking away from what he did, because it was a terrible thing. So, you definitely can't do that, but any time you make a mistake, you've got to ride this out and see what happens.''

General manager Kevin Colbert said Sunday the team would gather facts before making any sort of decision, though the team has a pressing need for depth along the offensive line and the only way to make room on the roster would be to cut at least one player.

The Steelers have shown little patience lately with players who have run into trouble, cutting second-year tight end Weslye Saunders last Friday just four days after he finished serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.

Either way, Ta'amu is unlikely to make any impact on the team this year, leaving it to the other 52 guys on the roster to get it together. As difficult as the season's first six weeks have been, the Steelers are one of eight teams with three losses - including New England, the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos - in the jumbled AFC.

``You've got the Ravens and Texans who are `running away with it' right now,'' Clark said. ``I think we're right in the thick of it. We haven't played up to our standards. But we're not out of it.''


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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 23, 33 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins  and NBC Sports Washington.

Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense—NFL coaches and others like to tell you that competition determines who wins roster spots in the league. And that may be true to an extent. But many roster spots are predetermined by a player’s contract situation and/or draft status. It is unlikely that an undrafted player like Fish Smithson will win a roster spot over Troy Apke even if the former outperforms the latter in every way during training camp. Apke was a fourth-round pick and they aren’t going to give up on him in favor of an undrafted player. It would cost $3.2 million in dead cap to cut Stacy McGee and only $150,000 to move on from Ziggy Hood so McGee will win a “competition” that is even remotely close. (Offensive projection here)

Redskins will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor at training camp—While this is something that could add a little spice to the Jets’ visit to Richmond, don’t look for much of anything to happen. Zach Brown might give a little extra shove to Pryor here and there but he’s not going to do anything that will draw blood or even cause a deep bruise. If nothing else, a big hit on Pryor would invite retaliation by the Jets on Josh Doctson or Paul Richardson. And that might lead to more retaliation and you end up with a brawl like the Redskins and Texans had a couple of years ago.

Trent Williams very much of approves of Smith and Guice—Williams is going into his ninth NFL season and he has yet to be on the winning side of a playoff game. He thinks that Alex Smith and Derrius Guice can help change that. 

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list—I normally greet this list with a big yawn and this year was no exception. But I do find the omission of Smith, who led the NFL in passer rating and was third in adjusted net yards per attempt, odd. In an update to this post, the NFL released the names of the top 10 players and Smith is not on it. He shouldn’t be, but he should be somewhere on the 100, perhaps in the middle of the pack. The only Redskins player to appear on the list was Trent Williams at No. 57.

The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger—It’s likely that nine players who are 25 or younger will line up as starters for the Redskins this year. I don’t have a rundown of how that compares to the rest of the league but it’s notable that in the last two years six of them have replaced players who were either approaching age 30 or over it. I’ll engage in some speculation here and say that five of the young players—Daron Payne, Derrius Guice, Preston Smith, Jonathan Allen, and Montae Nicholson—are good enough to potentially make a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Former Redskins defensive tackle Dave Butz was born on this date in 1950. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 33
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 47
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 70

The Redskins last played a game 174 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 78 days. 

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GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson


GM Brian MacLellan: Capitals are close to re-signing John Carlson

DALLAS—The Caps are “really close” to signing star defenseman John Carlson to a long-term extension, GM Brian MacLellan said Friday night.

“We’re getting closer,” MacLellan said following the first round of the NHL Draft. “Hopefully we can get it done here over the next few days. We’re really close.”

Earlier in the day, the Caps cleared significant space under the salary cap ceiling by trading Philipp Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to Colorado for a second round draft pick (47th overall). 

That space will now be used to lock up Carlson, who could become the best defenseman on the open market if he were to reach it.

MacLellan met with Carlson’s agent, Rick Curran, here on Thursday night.

MacLellan did not divulge any figures, but it’s expected that Carlson’s new contract could come in at eight years and $8 million per—or perhaps a bit more. 

He earned $4 million last season.

Carlson had a career year in 2017-18 and was critical during the Caps' run to the Stanley Cup. He led all defensemen in the regular season with 68 points (15 goals, 53 assists). The 28-year-old also skated a career-high 24:47 per game.

MacLellan has long said that re-signing Carlson was the Caps’ top priority this offseason. And now it looks like that could happen within days, assuming the talks do not hit any snags.

“We’re going to do our best to sign John,” MacLellan said. “We’ve said it all along. We waited until the end of the year. We’ve had discussions. We’re close and hopefully we can close the deal here over the next 24 hours.”