Playing on a Different Plane

Stevenson Sylvester is making plays all over Latrobe this year, but he had to overcome an opening-day gaffe last year, according to Mike Prisuta.

When the Steelers depart on Aug. 11 for their preseason opener at the Redskins linebacker Stevenson Sylvester might be the first guy at the airport.

Sylvester was the last guy there last Sept. 18 for a trip to Tennessee, late enough that he never made the team plane.

"That was an insane time," Sylvester, then a rookie No. 5c pick from Utah, recalled this week at St. Vincent College. "I don't know; I got the wrong directions to the wrong airport. And the lady at the wrong airport was sure that the Steelers flew out of there.

"I was going and I was like ‘this doesn't look right.' I finally called and I was way out of the way."

Sylvester wound up at the Allegheny County Airport, which wasn't close enough to where he needed to be, the Pittsburgh International Airport, for him to get himself turned around and still catch the team's charter flight to Nashville.

"They just left me," he said. "I had to take a commercial (flight) all the way to Tennessee."

Given that he was a rookie, Sylvester was driving himself to the airport for a road trip for the first time (in the preseason the rookies arrive on team buses).

But such circumstances earned him zero sympathy.

"Mike Tomlin wouldn't talk to me until after the game," Sylvester said. "I was freakin' out. You should have seen me, whatever hair I did have it was not in there in the game. I pulled all my hair out. I was going crazy. I was thinking the worst.

"But I just came out at Tennessee and tried to have a game."

Sylvester at least got that much right, executing a key block on Antonio Brown's 89-yard reverse-return touchdown on the opening kickoff and contributing two tackles and a forced fumble on special teams in the Steelers' 19-11 victory.

"Mike Tomlin, the first thing he said in the locker room was I was a lucky guy for playing so well," Sylvester said. "I really got lucky."

Sylvester will be expected to be more than punctual this season.

He had a good camp and was a good special-teams player a year ago. This year veteran backup Keyaron Fox is no longer around and linebackers coach Keith Butler wants Sylvester to learn all four of the linebacker positions, including the ‘Buck' linebacker spot normally manned by James Farrior.

"He knows all of them, I think, maybe with the exception of ‘Buck,' where he's got to make the calls, got to run the show like ‘Potsie' (Farrior) does," Butler said. "We want to try to get him in that situation a little bit and see how he responds."

The Steelers don't just want Sylvester at the airport on time this season. They want him to take off on schedule.

"This is Sly's second year, as well as Jason Worilds'," Butler said. "And both of those guys need to make a huge jump for us in terms of knowing what they're doing out on the field. With Lawrence (Timmons) and (LaMarr) Woodley, both of those guys really improved quite a bit in their second year."

Sylvester and Worilds will be linked that way this season, playing under the same set of expectations.

But after what happened a year ago on the way to Nashville, Sylvester is already in a class by himself.

"Some of the veterans were like, ‘Man, I've heard of people being late to the plane but we have never left somebody, you're the first,'" Sylvester said. "That's what I'm going to take for the rest of my career.

"Looking back it was funny. At the time it wasn't."

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