Staying Out of Violation

Jim Wexell tries to stay out of violation while socializing with Ryan Clark, and watching rookie defenders, Baron Batch, Larry Foote, Kelvin Beachum and more.

PITTSBURGH – I've had good days with Ryan Clark, and I've had bad days with him.

Thursday was a great day with Clark, and it came as a bit a surprise because it started off with a complaint.

Clark approached me on the sideline, during practice, while I was talking to the PR staff about what had just been my fourth rules violation in four practices.

Not that anyone was upset with me. It's more of a clarification process as the team bears down on media regulations during spring practices.

But I was worried about being on some sort of record pace that might end in a head-on collision, so when Clark approached I could just see a fifth consecutive violation on the following rule: no socializing with players or coaches during practice.

"Jim, you're a guy I respect," said Clark, a guy who's given me both barrels in the past when he hasn't liked something I've written.

We've hashed things out, though, like reasonable men, so I appreciate his respect and in turn respect him.

"So I want to ask you a question," he continued. "Just because I am proactive in pursuing a career in pro football punditry, does it mean I love being on this grass any less?"

And then he raced back to the field to continue practice.

I wondered if this was some kind of Zen riddle, or if he had been hanging around with Troy Polamalu a bit too much, and then he turned back and hollered out: "That's what you wrote about me, remember?"

I guess I did. Maybe. It was a bit cloudy, though, so I looked it up.

With Ryan Clark entering the final year of his contract, and apparently preparing for his life's work in football punditry, it appears that Troy Polamalu is the free safety of the future.

I had written that in the most recent issue of Steelers Digest. I looked there first because I know some of the players read that column. I mean, who doesn't enjoy notes columns?

But Clark took exception to the fact I had implied that his impressive work with ESPN is a signal he's ready to retire.

I countered that I've covered the team long enough to believe they won't offer a 34-year-old a new contract, and that taking another option was a better way for him to bow out rather than just being let go.

"But I don't want to take that option right now," Clark said. "I want to keep playing. I love this game. I love this team. In fact, my agent is trying to get an extension for me right now."

And, really, the more I think about it the more I see Clark coming back. He's been one of the top free safeties in the NFL the last couple of years, hasn't shown any signs of slowing down, and the Steelers have a history of sticking with their free safety well into old age. (Just kidding, Ryan, but see Brent Alexander.)

And, to be honest, the Steelers don't have another free safety in the pipeline, unless Robert Golden surprises us this season.

I told Clark that I had come to this new conclusion the third time he stopped over – this time during a special-teams session – and he nodded without comment. We went on and had a friendly conversation about life in the media, his appearance at the LSU pro day, and how well he thinks Eric Reid and Shamarko Thomas are going to do as NFL safeties.

All in all it made for a great day, and all because I had written something a player didn't like.

And I wasn't found in violation by the team, either. That seems to be a miracle these days.


Standing alone while pondering that initial chat with Clark, I was interrupted by the sound of thunder from one of the defensive linemen who had just hit the sled.

I felt like I was at an opening-day practice with my old American Legion baseball team and had just heard a 90-mile-per-hour fastball explode into a catcher's glove.

So imagine Paul Newman hearing Tom Cruise's break on the pool table in Color of Money, and that was me turning to see that it was the rookie, Nick Williams, the seventh-rounder who's supposed to be two years away, getting up under the nodding approval of coach John Mitchell.



First-round pick Jarvis Jones didn't look like he had any kind of leg injury as the linebackers practiced dropping into coverage Thursday.

Jones looked quick and extremely fluid and he caught the ball without a sound. But right after I jotted down the note about his soft hands, Jones dropped one. And then after Chris Carter and Adrian Robinson showed some real concrete for hands, Jones went way up to pluck a ball out of the air, again without a sound, and that allowed my initial note to stand.


Lawrence Timmons looks thicker than I can ever remember. In fact, he's now built like a classic buck linebacker. So when I watched running back Baron Batch square up and stuff Timmons on a blitz during scrimmage, I was truly impressed.

The numbers at running back aren't going to be in Batch's favor this summer, but I have to think he's going to be very difficult for the team to cut. He just does all of the little things so well.


Brett Keisel's the captain, and Clark and Polamalu and Ike Taylor make sure the back end is tight, but there's no doubting that the heart and soul in the middle of the Steelers' defense is Larry Foote.

Foote was standing on the sideline when one of the veteran receivers cut his route short. The quick pass was intercepted by Kion Wilson and returned for an easy touchdown.

"Do you have a plane to catch?" Foote barked the receiver. "Is it 2:30 already?"

When asked about it later, Foote said, "The guy had one foot in the parking lot already. We can't practice that way."


Kelvin Beachum didn't miss a game in four seasons as the SMU left tackle, and as a rookie last year he played seven games at right tackle. This year the Steelers list him as a guard, and Thursday, according to Maurkice Pouncey, Beachum took reps at center with the first team.

The Steelers obviously want to make Beachum a five-position backup, but isn't that a bit much for the kid?

"It's going to be tough on him," said Pouncey. "But he's the type of player who can adjust to it real easy. He's been working his butt off."

Pouncey said that Beachum played "the last two plays with the first team. They wanted to see if he could get out there with the vets to see if he could ID and move around. He did a good job."

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