Rookies: Let The Day Begin

Here's the rundown from SCI's Jim Wexell on the Steelers' first rookie practice of the 2013 spring season:

First-year players with less than four games on an active roster, rookies, and eight tryout players took the practice field Friday in the first official Steelers practice of the 2013 season. These were my observations:

* Fourth-rounder Shamarko Thomas stood out immediately with his thick, squat, muscular body, all the way down to calves that popped out of his uniform like the arms on sixth-round middle linebacker Vince Williams.

* Both of the Joneses, Jarvis and Landry, struck me as shorter than expected, while seventh-rounder Nick Williams stood out because of his size and fitness.

* Maybe your child has taken part in a team's side session called "small groups." Well, with only 41 in attendance here on the South Side, these players are in "small, small groups."

* Veteran LBs coach Keith Butler worked with only two outside backers, Jones and Alan Baxter. RBs coach Kirby Wilson stood on the far field with only two runners, 6-1½ Le'Veon Bell and 5-7 undrafted free agent Curtis McNeal out of USC. They were the Mutt and Jeff of the practice field.

* Speaking of Baxter, he's one of the undrafted free agents held in high esteem by the Steelers. The 6-0½, 238-pound OLB with the 4.76 40 time had 9 sacks last year for Northern Illinois. His motor as a pass-rusher is his strength; his size is the reason he wasn't drafted.

* "Man," one scout said as he looked at Williams, the rookie DE, "I wish I was 315 with washboard abs."

* "Too high, too high, too high," DL coach John Mitchell was telling Williams over at the blocking sled, as yet another project began his process.

* Ben Roethlisberger and three of his body guards – Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey – sat on the benches outside the weight room and watched practice. They were dressed as if they had just finished a workout. Roethlisberger seemed preoccupied with the quarterbacks throwing on the far field.

* From a distance, Landry Jones and tryout QB Caleb Terbush of Purdue seem statuesque and strong of arm. Up close, Terbush seems to have the stronger arm as some of Jones' passes wobble and struggle to cut the strong wind.

* Another of the tryouts, tight end Will Shaw, has those soft hands that don't make a sound when they meet the ball. He's 6-1½, 242 and ran a 4.73 40 at his pro day. Shaw caught 35 passes for 429 yards and 5 touchdowns last season at Youngstown State, a season that began with his 2 touchdown catches in the upset of Pitt.

* WR Markus Wheaton's explosiveness is obvious, even in skeleton passing drills. He's quick into and out of his breaks and is showing good hands.

* I stood in the back of the end zone as Wheaton came up empty while diving for a deep pass in the end zone. He skidded to my right and the ball skipped to my left.

* That blur during a special-teams gunner drill was No. 13 Reggie Dunn, the tiny wide receiver/return specialist from Utah. I can tell you that his 4.25 40 time is no lie as I watched him sprint down the field.

* During another drill that taught kick coverers how to come off blocks, Shamarko Thomas came off a block and wrapped up the runner so suddenly that assistant coach Jerry Olsavsky couldn't help but be impressed. And Jerry O isn't the type to let rookies know he's impressed on the very first day.

* Pencil in Thomas for a special-teams spot in the opener.

* No, put it in ink.

* New special teams coach Danny Smith has this session in up-UP-tempo mode. There isn't a ball-on-a-stick in sight and he's swearing up a storm. I like him already.

* It seems that more emphasis is being put on stripping the ball this season. "You're going to GET that ball Jarvis!" Smith hollered, but Jones did not.

* The first snap from scrimmage sure took a long time to come off. First, left tackle Mike Golic Jr. jumped and sent everyone back to their huddles, and then a defensive lineman jumped to send them back again. When Landry Jones finally took the snap, he handed it off to Bell.

* So if you're looking for symbolism, or omens, or whatever, it went like this: hi-diddle-diddle, Bell up the middle.

* Jones might sound like Roethlisberger while barking signals under center, but when the pocket broke down before his second pass attempt he of course didn't scramble and throw like Ben. No, that scouting report on Jones is on the money so far.

* Bell showed a lot of wiggle and shake, and that really wasn't a part of his scouting report.

* Jarvis Jones is showing plenty of that, too. He can really sort through the trash while crashing down the line in pursuit of ball carriers. Jones certainly doesn't stand out on the field, physically, the way you would expect from a first-rounder, but that Chad Brown "slither" is obvious.

* If you're too young to remember – or were drinking heavily back in 1996 – you may not remember the snake man, Chad Brown, who moved from inside to outside backer and became a pass-rushing sensation before leaving at the end of the season as a free agent. Brown and Jones are the same size, and from the looks of the first spring practice could be a valid comparison.

* Another reporter mentioned toward the end of the scrimmage that Landry Jones hadn't completed a pass. I wasn't counting, but trust that the comment was either true or very close to it.

* One safety-valve attempt to TE Shaw was broken up by OLB Jones.

* QB Jones did throw a bomb in the 7-on-7 passing drill that wobbled through the stiff wind. Derek Moye burst past Isaiah Green to make the touchdown catch.

* In the final scrimmage series, Kashif Moore, who played at UConn in 2011, made a diving catch along the sideline to win the very first Catch of the Day.

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