Pittsburgh outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley took to Twitter to voice their displeasure over the NFL’s announcement that teams will be subject to fines for players who violate the player safety rules.

Under the rule, teams could be fined and even lose draft picks for players who have multiple flagrant hits that result in fines. NFL vice president Adolpho Burch said at the owners meetings that it falls under the “notion of club accountability.”

Harrison was fined a total of $100,000 for illegal hits during the 2010 season.

“I’m absolutely sure now after this last rule change that the people making the rules at the NFL are idiots,” Harrison tweeted Tuesday night after the league made its announcement.

Woodley tweeted: “Thoughts on “the Steelers rule”??? lol im sorry that im not sorry we hit 2 hard.”

[HIGH-LIGHT]Team president Art Rooney II declined to criticize the new rule, but acknowledged the Steelers would have been one of the three or four teams that would have been affected last season. He wants to see the specific details before forming a full opinion.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

“I’m not going to say I’m opposed to it,” Rooney told USA Today. “I would hope that it’s something that is used judiciously, that is sort of reserved for repeated type of conduct. I think if it’s handled that way, it’ll probably be effective. It’s still under discussion.”

• Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall wrote a clarifying statement on his blog following a day in which he stoked considerable controversy with tweets he posted after the death of Osama bin Laden.

Two of the most talked-about tweets were:

• “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side …”

• “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”

That latter tweet was eventually removed, but the others remained, including:

• “I believe in God. I believe we’re ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge.”

• “Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves.”

• “For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn … I ask how would God feel about your heart?”

• “There is not an ignorant bone in my body. I just encourage you to think.”

As the tweets began circulating and discussed, the Steelers issued a statement in which club president Art Rooney II said, “I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon.”

Mendenhall then wrote on Wednesday: “I appreciate those of you who have decided to read this letter and attain a greater understanding of my recent twitter posts. I see how they have gotten misconstrued, and wanted to use this outlet as a way to clear up all things that do not truthfully represent myself, what I stand for personally, and any organization that I am a part of.

“First, I want people to understand that I am not in support of Bin Laden, or against the USA. I understand how devastating 9/11 was to this country and to the people whose families were affected. Not just in the US, but families all over the world who had relatives in the World Trade Centers. My heart goes out to the troops who fight for our freedoms every day, not being certain if they will have the opportunity to return home, and the families who watch their loved ones bravely go off to war. Last year, I was grateful enough to have the opportunity to travel overseas and participate in a football camp put on for the children of US troops stationed in Germany. It was a special experience. These events have had a significant impact in my life.”

In citing his tweet that about celebrating death, he continued, “This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder. I don’t believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics. In the bible, Ezekiel 33:11 states, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!…”. I wasn’t questioning Bin Laden’s evil acts. I believe that he will have to face God for what he has done. I was reflecting on our own hypocrisy. During 9/11 we watched in horror as parts of the world celebrated death on our soil. Earlier this week, parts of the world watched us in horror celebrating a man’s death.

“Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I’ve said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought. I apologize for the timing as such a sensitive matter, but it was not meant to do harm. I apologize to anyone I unintentionally harmed with anything that I said, or any hurtful interpretation that was made and put in my name.

“It was only meant to encourage anyone reading it to think.”

One thing it also did was cost himself a sponsorship.

Champion, the athletic apparel company that Mendenhall endorses, has announced it would no longer be associated with him.

In a statement, the company said, “Earlier this week, Rashard Mendenhall, who endorses Champion products, expressed personal comments and opinions regarding Osama bin Laden and the September 11 terrorist attacks that were inconsistent with the values of the Champion brand and with which we strongly disagreed.

“In light of these comments, Champion was obliged to conduct a business assessment to determine whether Mr. Mendenhall could continue to effectively communicate on behalf of and represent Champion with consumers. While we respect Mr. Mendenhall’s right to express sincere thoughts regarding potentially controversial topics, we no longer believe that Mr. Mendenhall can appropriately represent Champion and we have notified Mr. Mendenhall that we are ending our business relationship.”

• They may have needed a cornerback more, but the Steelers showed where it places its most importance when for the third straight year they drafted a lineman in the first round.

Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, born in Pittsburgh and son of a famous University of Pittsburgh running back, was the second defensive end taken by the Steelers on the first round in three years, following Ziggy Hood in 2009. The Steelers drafted center Maurkice Pouncey first last year.

Pittsburgh has had an aging defensive line - ends Aaron Smith (35) and Brett Keisel (33) and nose tackle Casey Hampton (34).

Coach Mike Tomlin called it “fortifying the line of scrimmage” by drafting Heyward, who is 6-5, 288 and fits nicely into the Steelers’ 3-4 defensive scheme.

“We feel this is one of those special players I talked about the other day,” said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers’ director of football operations. “It’s hard to find a hole with this guy. This is a special moment.”

Many thought the Steelers might try to move up in the draft in order to take Pouncey’s twin, Mike, but that was not much of a consideration and they never made an attempt to do so.

Heyward follows his father, the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, a Pitt running back who also was drafted in the first round, by the New Orleans Saints at No. 24 in 1988. His mother, Charlotte Heyward-Blackwell, is a Pittsburgh native. His uncle Nate Heyward followed his brother as a running back at Pitt.

“I know he’s watching,” Heyward said of his dad, who died in 2006 of a brain tumor after playing for the Saints, Bears, Falcons, Rams and Colts over an 11-year NFL career. “I’m going to try to do everything to make him proud of me and live his legacy on.”

“I’ve always loved the team, I’m from there … To be somewhere you want to be is an unbelievable feeling.”

Steelers officials were thrilled to draft Heyward and never thought of drafting anyone else at No. 31 as he slipped to them.

What they still need is a cornerback, another offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a running back as they head into the second and third rounds of the draft Friday. They are thinnest at cornerback, where their only good one is Ike Taylor and he is an unrestricted free agent who could leave them soon if the end of the lockout continues. That should be their biggest priority of round two.

On round three, they could grab either an offensive lineman or a wide receiver.

But Tomlin loves big men who can rush the passer and he believes if you can rush the passer, it puts less pressure on those cornerbacks.

“Defensively, it generally starts with the men up front,” Tomlin said. “I think you look at how players are drafted, it bears that out. Big people go first. If you’re applying pressure to the quarterback, you don’t have to cover. If you’re stopping the run, you don’t have to cover.”

Pittsburgh had three glaring needs entering the draft and they used their first four choices to address them: Defensive end, offensive tackle and two cornerbacks. The one drawback is that cornerback is the Steelers’ most pressing need and they waited until the third round to get one, then added another in the fourth.

If Curtis Brown of Texas does not come in and start, the Steelers’ cornerback situation won’t be improved in 2011 and if free agent Ike Taylor leaves, they would be in real trouble there. Fourth-round pick Cortez Allen comes from a small school and doesn’t have much experience so he’ll take time to develop at cornerback.

Kevin Colbert has hit on every first-round pick since he became the Steelers director of football operations in 2000 and there’s no reason to believe that success won’t continue with defensive end Cameron Heyward of Ohio State.

Somewhat surprisingly, Colbert and Mike Tomlin concentrated on defense in this draft with four of their first five picks on that side of the ball.

Best Pick

Defensive end Cameron Heyward: He fits their 3-4 scheme perfectly and has a chance to learn behind two veterans, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. A four-year starter at Ohio State with the kind of attitude that also fits right in with the organization.

Could Surprise: Cornerback Curtis Brown: While many had the Steelers going for his Texas secondary mate, Aaron Williams, in the first round, Brown actually suits their needs more. They need a cover cornerback, desperately so, and Brown has those kinds of skills.

A closer look at the Steelers’ picks:

Round 1/31 - Cameron Heyward, DE, 6-5, 294, Ohio State

Son of former Pitt great RB Ironhead Heyward, Cam is a Pittsburgh native who should find himself right at home in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. Strong and athletic, he looks like one of their typical ends who will push the pocket and engage the blockers.

Round 2/63 - Marcus Gilbert, OT, 6-6, 330, Florida

Gilbert has good movement, good feet and could be a left tackle for them in the future. Has versatility because he’s played both guard and tackle, but he will settle in at tackle in the pros.

Round 3/95 - Curtis Brown, CB, 5-111/2, 185, Texas

Good cover cornerback who will stick his nose in on the run, but he needs to get stronger and that should not be a problem when he hits the Steelers’ strength program.

Round 4/128 - Cortez Allen, CB, 6-1, 197, The Citadel

Unpolished but with all the tools, similar to Ike Taylor when he was drafted on the fourth round in 2003, although not as fast. Needs time and lockout will not help.

Round 5/162 - Chris Carter, OLB, 6-1, 247, Fresno State.

Typical Steelers pick, an undersized college end who will be converted to OLB. Good pass rusher but must learn position.

Round 6/196 - Keith Williams, G, 6-4, 318, Nebraska

Good run blocker who needs to improve pass protection, but Steelers like his nasty, aggressive disposition and play.

Round 7/232 - Baron Batch, RB, 5-10, 203, Texas Tech

Veteran Mewelde Moore is a UFA and team has been looking for a third-down back to replace him.


When the NFL competition committee in March first proposed rules changes aimed at further policing late hits or what it deemed as unnecessary roughness and excessive contact, The Sports Xchange dubbed the tweaks the “James Harrison Rules,” since the Pittsburgh linebacker and former league defensive player of the year was fined $100,000 in 2010 for roughhouse play.

This week, some of the media termed the changes “The Steelers Rules” when the proposals were passed by a 32-0 vote at the league meeting in Indianapolis. Of course, league officials took umbrage to that characterization - not to mention the reactions of Harrison (who termed the rules makers “idiots”) and fellow linebacker Lamarr Woodley and comments of team president Art Rooney II—and stressed that several other franchises would likely have drawn punishment in 2010 had the new rules, which permits the NFL to fine club for repeat violations, been in effect.

It’s difficult to say which teams were under the microscope, but a team official, who is not on the competition committee, told The Sports Xchange that Tennessee and Philadelphia were “almost probably” among them. The Eagles had seven players fined a total of $135,000 in 2010; Tennessee accrued $130,000 in fines, not counting the $40,000 meted out to then-defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil for an obscene gesture, to seven players. That included $45,000 to cornerback Courtland Finnegan, who was sanctioned on four occasions.

There were eight players fined more than once in the league and eight franchises that had four or more players fined for on-field conduct. Amazingly, Harrison and Woodley were the only Pittsburgh players fined during the regular season. The league dispensed 99 fines for on-field or field-related acts, and it’s believed that Miami and St. Louis were the only franchises that did not have a single player draw a fine.

• Wide receiver Hines Ward will have surgery to repair ligament damage to his left thumb, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-review.

Ward won “Dancing with the Stars” with professional partner Kym Johnson on Tuesday night, beating out actresses Kirstie Alley and Chelsea Kane in the finals. Ward, 35, worked through the thumb injury during the show after finishing last season with 59 catches for 755 yards and five touchdowns.

[HIGH-LIGHT]• Cornerback Ike Taylor is scheduled to be a free agent when the lockout ends, but he made clear on the Jim Rome is Burning show that there won’t be a hometown discount.

“I need that market value. I work so hard,” Taylor said. “I’ve been through so much, I feel so unappreciated, feel so underrated at my position, I feel like it’s my time to get my worth, in whatever city that’s in.”

As for staying with the Steelers, he said, “I would love to, but they usually sign player a year before (free agency), so we’ll see what happens.”[/HIGH-LIGHT]

• Safety Troy Polamalu received his degree on Friday in ceremonies at Southern Cal.

In addition, while finishing work on his degree, Polamalu has been rehabbing an injured Achilles at his home in Los Angeles.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Polamalu should be ready for the start of training camp and that he has been working with an orthopedic surgeon that is “friendly with the Steelers’ medical staff.”

[HIGH-LIGHT]• The Rooney family, including Steelers Chair Emeritus Dan Rooney and President Art Rooney II, topped the list of the best NFL owners in a poll conducted by ESPN.com. The Rooneys were voted first or second on all eight panelists’ ballots.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

The Patriots’ Robert Kraft was second, followed by the executive committee of the Packers, John Mara and Steve Tisch of the Giants and Jeffrey Lurie of the Eagles. Rounding out the top 10 were Steve Bisciotti (Ravens), Jim Irsay (Colts), Jerry Jones (Cowboys), Arthur Blank (Falcons) and Woody Johnson (Jets).

• Wide receiver Hines Ward was detained at gunpoint for a short time early Thursday morning (May 5) in North Hollywood, Calif.

Ward is on the West Coast while participating in “Dancing With the Stars.”

Hines was with a woman friend when the car was stopped at 1:30 a.m. because it had been reported stolen on April 19.

Ward was briefly handcuffed, but he and the woman were let go when she was able to prove the car was hers.

According to Sgt. Maria Morrison, “She had gone somewhere, misparked it, reported it stolen and found it later” but then neglected to cancel the police report, Morrison said.

The woman’s name wasn’t released, but Morrison said it wasn’t Ward’s partner on the dance show.

Reached by ESPN for comment, Ward said, “There’s not a story. It was a misunderstanding and the police apologized to me. I didn’t get arrested. I don’t have a reaction to a non-story.”

[HIGH-LIGHT]Ward also had some comments on Twitter and the hot water teammate Rashard Mendenhall found himself in last week when he had a succession of tweets after the death of Osama bin Laden.

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinion,” Ward told ESPN. “But that wasn’t a good opinion.”

As for Twitter, Ward said, “If that’s your opinion leave it as your opinion. When you tweet that out there, you have to deal with the backlashes that come with that. You put everybody out there because everywhere we go we get asked questions about the comments you made. When you tweet like that, you’ve got to be careful. I’m not a big tweeter because sometimes your emotions get caught up, you speak your mind and it’s not always the best thing to say.”[/HIGH-LIGHT]

• OT Willie Colon remains in limbo. He is, for the third straight year, a restricted free agent if the 2010 rules apply to 2011. The Steelers again did not make him a multi-year contract offer and he’s coming off Achilles surgery from last summer that ended his season. OL coach Sean Kugler was asked over the weekend if Colon might be a candidate to move to guard.

“We haven’t even discussed anything like that. I do know that I would like to have Willie back.”

• Another position coach wants another one of his players back. Carnell Lake, the Steelers’ former Pro Bowl safety in his first season as their secondary coach, wants to see them re-sign CB Ike Taylor.

“I hope we get him signed. I think Ike is probably one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the league. He does a very good job of duck and run, and that’s a rare talent.”

• [HIGH-LIGHT]Among the phone calls Cameron Heyward received the morning after he was drafted came from Dancing With the Stars competitor Hines Ward, welcoming him to the Steelers.

“Unbelievable,” Heyward said. “It just shows how much of a class act he is. He told me he was getting ready for his dance moves. I just wished him luck on that. He will be fine though and I will be voting for him. He has just done so much for this game and he is a true competitor.”[/HIGH-LIGHT]


Medical Watch: No updates.

Franchise Player

• LB LaMarr Woodley (re-signed).

Transition Player: None.

Players Re-signed

• LB LaMarr Woodley: FFA: 1 yr, terms unknown.

Players Acquired: None.

Players Lost: None.