Since we're not allowed in the locker room until the official minicamp, we have about 10 minutes to interview on the field, and if we're lucky a one-on-one takes up about six of those minutes. If we're even luckier, the words are not plucked out of the air by anyone else's tape recorder.
That's almost an impossibility as someone in the vast mob sees your choice and thinks, "Yeah. That's a good idea."
So as Heath Miller began drawing the flies following Wednesday's practice, I had two other guys in mind: LaMarr Woodley and Jonathan Dwyer. The first may not want to talk about those comments from an anonymous teammate that pretty much labeled him a shirker last season, but Woodley was looking fit. And my second choice, Dwyer, may not want to talk about his poor conditioning last season, but he has been getting the first-team reps this spring (as he – and this is important for media regulations – confirmed to me later).
Well, radio man Joe Starkey solved my dilemma by taking Woodley off to the side, while readers here know Dwyer gave me honest answers to my difficult questions.
It also helped that the mob encircled Starkey and Woodley and the transcript was posted in the media section of Steelers.com. Here are the highlights:
* "The anonymous person is right next to me, my locker. It's my locker so there is no one there. I don't know who said it."
* "It just comes with the territory. You deal with it and you continue to march on with your day."
* "Everybody thought that last year I was out due to hamstring injuries but it wasn't that. It was due to a high ankle sprain in the Cleveland Browns game early in the first quarter when somebody fell on my ankle."
* "I'm good to go. Ask the anonymous person. They can answer it better than I can."
As for my opinion, Woodley looks fit. Or, I should say, he looks like he always has. But perhaps I'm the wrong person to comment because I thought he was large and lumbering coming out of college, and he's surprised me with his range ever since. I just haven't seen this out-of-shape linebacker that so many have criticized the last few years. He's the same guy to me.
But then again, that's just me.
As for Miller, the transcript of his interview was also released, allowing reporters who didn't even show up for practice to get some work in.
I talked to Miller after the mob interview and he chided me with, "I made some pretty bold predictions to those guys."
We talked about the college players who seem to be recovering from ACL tears seemingly within months, but Miller responded with, "Yeah, but I'm old."
And he added that the Steelers are not changing their philosophy "because of one freak" named Adrian Peterson, but that they're allowing Miller to recover at his own pace, and that he may or may not be ready for the opener.
Without Miller, the best hands on the field belong to WR Emmanuel Sanders, who twice went to the ground Wednesday to corral low passes. I can understand why Ben Roethlisberger needs him as a safety valve.
Sanders also held on to a tough pass while taking a hard hit from Gay. Those three catches were all nice recoveries for Sanders, who started the day by letting a short pass bounce off his chest. The ball should've been intercepted by Woodley, who dropped the easy pop-up.
In other "Without Miller" news, 6-foot-7 tight end Matt Spaeth pulled in a high pass over the middle from John Parker Wilson over rookie safety Shamarko Thomas. The 5-9 Thomas wasn't able to utilize his 40-inch vertical jump when he broke on the ball, and Spaeth was able to turn the 15-yard catch into a long touchdown.
I tried to point out before the draft that the Steelers have solid depth at OLB, and Jarvis Jones is finding that out.
In another media mob scene after Wednesday's practice, Jones was asked about reports the previous day of hamstring and/or knee injuries. Jones gave varying answers.
Here is the point at which I joined the mob:
"... the coaches are making a decision and at the end of the day it's not my decision to make, so I'm just going to continue doing what I'm doing."
Did you reinjure yourself?
"Nah, I'm healthy man. Just doing, like I said, I'm doing what coach asked me to do."
You didn't do much today, did you?
"I did a lot. Not a whole lot but I did a lot. Things are going good, man. I'm just going to take advantage of the opportunity I'm given."
Did you tweak it at rookie camp?
"I kind of tweaked it at rookie camp. I think it started with my 40 time. I kind of tripped on my 40 time at pro day. Everything good. I'm just going to keep working and grinding."
After the mob dispersed, I was able to talk to Jones for a future feature. One topic that amused him is the belief that he'll be quicker to understand his position with the Steelers because he played the same position in a similar scheme at Georgia. He said this is far more complex and that he'll need time to understand.
I will tease the future feature by saying the rookie gave me an honest and revealing interview.
HAWTHORNE'S BIG PICTURE
Fifth-round draft pick Terry Hawthorne decided to undergo a minor knee procedure that will keep him out of spring practice, but he should be full speed for training camp.
Smart decision. With the cornerback depth so stacked, Hawthorne may as well resign himself to doing this the right way, even if it means starting his career on the practice squad.
Yesterday, it was Green flashing his tremendous speed by recovering to sprint past a receiver who thought he was open and breaking up a deep ball. Green supposedly ran a 4.29 while at Fresno State, and he looked that fast Wednesday. He was undrafted in 2012 before signing with Buffalo. The Steelers signed him to their practice squad last December.
I've been tough on fourth-round pick Landry Jones and his wobbly passes this spring, so to be fair I must report on the series of three spirals he threw yesterday, because his playing time is so limited.
During the 7-on-7 passing drill, Jones threw a bullet of an out to Reggie Dunn, who slipped coming out of his break and the ball fell incomplete. Jones then threw a laser beam about 15 yards down the middle of the field to TE Jamie McCoy as McCoy caught the ball between Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu to delirious hooting from the offensive bench. And finally, Jones spiraled a checkdown pass to RB Baron Batch as the period ended.
It's not much, but maybe it's a start for the rookie QB.
* Polamalu can still diagnose like no one else, but I have to disagree with Internet raves about him being in college shape. Yes, his weight is down, but there's still a limp in his giddy-up.
* With Clark wearing 21 in practice, per his norm, I've been wondering why he's been getting so much practice time. And then I realized Robert Golden wears 21, too.
* Ike Taylor hasn't lost a step. Ben Roethlisberger unloaded a deep ball for Antonio Brown, but Ike was a step ahead of Brown as they both watched the pass sail over their heads.
* A reader asked me what happened to the Steelers' interest in local prospect Rontez Miles, the big, thick, fast safety with the Steelers' logo tattooed on his shoulder. Well, the Steelers apparently told him he was too old, and he told the Steelers – or at least my source – that they're going to pay for letting him sign with the New York Jets after the draft. Word is that Rex Ryan loves Miles, tattoo and all.
* Jack Bicknell Jr. may not look like the classic O-line coach, but yesterday he sounded like one as he loudly ripped into one of his guys for a mental mistake.
* RAC Mendenhall may be gone, but the new Run-After-Catch stud is Isaac Redman, who's showing off quick feet after the catch due to a drastic weight loss.
* Gradkowski, by the way, is going to make a perfect backup QB, both physically and mentally.
* Gradkowski delivered a deep touchdown pass to a wide-open Kashif Moore, who ripped past Victorian with a double move.
* Roethlisberger also shows a limp in his giddy-up, when – like Polamalu – he's not been prepped physically for a game. But the big guy showed off his sleight of foot during the final scrimmage Wednesday when he reversed his rollout to escape a rush and then flipped, while contorted, a sidearm pass to David Johnson breaking into the clear on the other side of the field.