Voters faced a difficult task this year when trying to pick the Steelers' rookie of the year.
There was little production from their draft class. Top pick Rashard Mendenhall was knocked out for the season in the fourth game. No. 2 pick Limas Sweed has only six catches. No. 3 Bruce Davis has barely played, No. 4 Tony Hills and No. 5 Dennis Dixon have not played, No. 6 Mike Humpal is on injured reserve and No. 6B Ryan Mundy is on the practice squad.
What are Pro Football Writers, the ones who make the pick, supposed to do?
Fortunately, linebacker Patrick Bailey, an undrafted player from Duke who was released twice by the Steelers this year, not only stuck with the team but became one of their best special teams players and made the choice unanimous.
Bailey, who has an electrical engineering degree, became the 25th winner of the Joe Greene Great Performance Award.
The local chapter of the PFWA also chose veteran safety Ryan Clark as winner of The Chief Award, presented annual to the Steelers organization member who best exemplifies the spirit of cooperation with the media that was established by franchise founder Art Rooney.
Bailey made his mark on special teams, but not before some bumps in the road. He was released before the start of the season, Aug. 30, and signed to the practice squad the next day. He signed to the 53-man roster Sept. 20 but was released Oct. 4. He rejoined the 53-man roster Oct. 25 and has been active since.
Despite missing four games while not on the roster, Bailey is tied for third on the team with 12 special teams tackles, eight of them solo.
"I have always been kind of a wild kid; I love running down the field," said Bailey. "Just to go out and to sprint, that is just me being me. My coaches saw that in high school and they said that they were going to move me over to defense; and we are going to try you in pole vault. They saw it in me, and it is me."
The Steelers have the best kickoff coverage in the league, allowing only 19.4 yards per return, and the fourth-best punt coverage, allowing 6.1 yards per return.
Keisel practices again
Defensive end Brett Keisel, who missed the past three games with a sprained left MCL, went through a full practice for the first time yesterday since his injury.
"I'm excited to get back out with my boys and stop watching," Keisel said.
Travis Kirschke has started in his absence.
Collins happy for Paterno
Tennessee starter Kerry Collins, who led Penn State to victories in his final 17 games as the Nittany Lions quarterback, was happy to hear that Joe Paterno will return as their coach next season.
"I think everyone is excited that Joe is coming back. He has the ability to put a winning team on the field and has the desire to do it. I think he deserves to coach as long as he wants. I think the whole Penn State community is excited ...
"Everything I've heard and everything I've seen from up there, he still has the energy, still has the desire and he still has the ability to do a good job. I think he deserves the opportunity to coach more."
An NFL spokesman said the league could come up with "no visual evidence" that Ravens cornerback Frank Walker spit into the mouth of Steelers punter and holder Mitch Berger. ... The Steelers need eight more sacks to tie their record of 55, set in 1994 and repeated in 2001. ... This Sunday the Steelers can become the only defense in NFL history to hold opponents to under 300 yards in 15 consecutive games to start a season.