Ike Taylor had a simple answer to the many questions this week about the Steelers potentially playing their final games today:
“It’s not up to me,” said Taylor.
But there’s one player with whom Taylor will hold sway, and that player, Keenan Lewis, is the Steelers’ most important free agent.
This season, after signing a low, original-round tender as a restricted free agent, Lewis stepped in for the departed William Gay at left cornerback and played like the guy to whom he was compared on draft day: Taylor.
“Keenan still has a little bit more to work on,” Taylor said. “He still has a little bit more to work on, but from my perspective he’s a N’awlins guy, so he’s ready.”
Similar playing styles, same hometown, and now a similar business situation, Lewis is following in Taylor’s footsteps.
Taylor twice took “hometown discounts” to stay with the Steelers instead of testing the free-agent market, and he’s happy with those career choices.
“No question. No question,” he said.
So what advice will he give Lewis?
“Free agency isn’t for everybody, no matter who wants to say so, or what your agent may say, or looking at other guys,” Taylor said. “Other guys’ situations aren’t your situation, even though you might feel like you’re better than that guy, and you might be better than that guy. It doesn’t mean that situation will be like yours.
“Ain’t nothing like Pittsburgh,” Taylor added. “The only reason why I’m saying that is I’ve heard it from other guys coming from other teams. I’ve never been on another team so I couldn’t say, but I’m going off what guys have told me when they come in here from other teams and they see how the organization works and how things are run around here.”
THE DEPARTING VETS?
* Casey Hampton’s contract is up and his backup is ready step in. Would Hampton come back at a low salary just to finish his career with the Steelers?
“That doesn’t apply to me,” Hampton said. “I want to play and I feel like if somebody wants me to play for them I’m going to play. That’s just what it is. I’m a little different than Hines [Ward].”
* Max Starks’s contract is up and the team’s last two Rookies of the Year play offensive tackle. Would Starks come back at close to minimum wage to be a backup?
“I feel I have value somewhere,” Starks said. “I’m not a backup yet. [Laughs] I have a few more years in me before I consider that role.”
* James Harrison has two years left on his contract, but next year, at the age of 35, coming off by far the lowest sack total (currently 5) in his six seasons as starter, he’ll count just over $10 million against the cap.
One rival said Harrison’s still got it.
“He’s one of the greatest outside linebackers in the NFL,” said Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas. “I think right about the time we played him (Nov. 25) it seemed that he was back to his old self. He’ll probably admit that the first couple games back he was maybe a little bit slow and a little bit rusty. I think by the time we played him he definitely seemed like the same old James Harrison.”
* Troy Polamalu will also count $10 million against the cap, and today will mark only his seventh game played this season. He’s flashed his trademark speed and won’t be released, but might he retire?
“I don’t plan to, but really I don’t know,” he said. “God forbid something seriously were to happen to me or in my family. So I couldn’t guarantee yes or no.”
Will he be there in the spring if does decide to continue playing?
“Oh, I don’t know,” Polamalu said. “It didn’t work out so well the last time.”
On the injury front, the Steelers won’t be as bad off today as the Browns.
Ruled out for the Steelers are WR Mike Wallace, OT Mike Adams, nickel CB Curtis Brown, and reserve ILB Marshall McFadden.
Out for the Browns are QBs Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy, and RB Trent Richardson.
Thad Lewis was called up from the practice squad and will make his NFL debut as the Browns’ starting QB.
“There’s a reason Coach [Pat] Shurmur brought him from St. Louis to be here,” said the Browns’ Thomas. “He does a good job running the West Coast offense. He’s got a good arm and makes good decisions. He’s a good leader out there. I think he’s got all the tools and all the intangibles. He just doesn’t get a lot of experience. He’s a cool, calm and collected guy, and I don’t think the stage will be too big for him. I think he’ll be able to go out and play good under pressure.”
Steelers rookie linebacker Sean Spence – at the South Side rehabbing his injured knee – played against Lewis in both high school (Hialeah Miami Lakes) and college (Duke).
“Twice in high school and twice in college,” Spence said. “He never beat us, but he’s pretty good. He has a great feel for the game. At Duke he had a couple of close games against us. He’s professional. He has a great, strong arm.”
THE BOW AND ARROW
Brett Keisel won’t be fined by the league for his “unsportsmanlike act” of simulating the shooting of an arrow with an imaginary bow after a sack last week. But he still isn’t happy about the 15-yard penalty.
“I’ve been going down to a knee with that bow-and-arrow for four years now. It’s not something that I’ve just done this year,” Keisel said. “You can see pictures of me, pre-beard – and I’ve had this beard for three years – where I’m down on one knee and shooting it. It was just one of those calls that I had no idea was coming. It’s still pretty mind-boggling to me.
“I’m an archery hunter,” he added. “Steeler Nation loves it. So, it’s kind of sad that it’s no more.”
Taylor on 75-year-old coordinator Dick LeBeau still having his energy and enthusiasm for the job:
“It’s just like being a grandparent having little grandkids, and I feel like we’re Coach LeBeau’s grandkids. We keep him young, keep his mind going. We love him and respect him a lot. And he loves us.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The Steelers haven’t been swept in the regular season by the Browns since 1988. That year, the Browns beat the Steelers with Mike Pagel and then Bernie Kosar starting at quarterback. … The Steelers have beaten the Browns eight consecutive times at Heinz Field. … The Steelers are 11-1 against the Browns at Heinz Field (including postseason.) … The Steelers are 4-0 in final regular-season games at Heinz Field. Two of those wins (2001 and 2008) were against the Browns by scores of 28-7 and 31-0.