OTA No. 8

News, vignettes, musings, and ramblings from Wexell on the Steelers' latest spring practice.

Mike Tomlin spotted me at the end of OTA No. 8 and said, "OK, Wex, what's the news angle today?"

He says it with a sparkle in his eye, as if there's some kind of lurking sarcasm about how we reporters come out to spring practice and take "football in shorts" so seriously.

I do believe there are telling moves a coach makes during the spring, though, and that's probably why we're forbidden from reporting the in-practice maneuverings without a player actually reporting it himself.

Like Kelvin Beachum, who became certified yesterday, I believe, as the Steelers' No. 6 offensive lineman, my news angle of the day.

"That would be Kelvin Beachum moving from center to right tackle today, Mike."

"Beach, in the news!" Tomlin said with a laugh.

First, "Beach" had to report it himself.

"They gave me an opportunity to start at right tackle today, and I also got some reps at guard, and then still working on my snapping, so it was a little bit all over the place today, a good day," Beachum said.

I asked Beachum about his off-season work with a former player who also went from center (in college) to right tackle (with the Steelers) in his day, Tunch Ilkin.

"It's working out," Beachum said.

And the punch? The fabled "Tunch Punch"?

"It's getting better," Beachum said. "My hand speed and all of those things are starting to improve. Me and Dave, you just saw us out there working on the things he left for us. We've been working on it."

Beachum worked late after practice with David DeCastro after the two second-year players were reunited on the Steelers' right side during practice.

SEEN ENOUGH?

The most predictable Tomlin quote of the spring was uttered Monday.

After the coach had answered questions about Mike Adams' recovery from the weekend stabbing incident, Tomlin was asked if he "had seen enough of Jarvis Jones to form any first impression?"

Tomlin said this:

"No."

It's almost the same thing Larry Foote told me Tuesday after I asked him about the first-round pick's progress on the field.

"You can't tell without pads, but he looks athletic," said Foote. "Me and Butts (LB coach Keith Butler) were talking – you've always got to compare him to the other guys – but it looks like he's going to catch more interceptions. He's more athletic."

As I've reported here a few times, Jones is very fluid dropping into coverage and has soft hands. He's also getting down the field quickly in special-teams drills. In fact, Jones beat one of the ILB candidates, Marshall McFadden, by 5 to 10 yards during a kick coverage drill that involved dodging players who were holding pad shields. It made me think that Jones could run as well as any ILB dropping into coverage.

ILB anyone?

"Noooooooo," Foote said. "No. Nah. He's a little tall, lanky."

But Jones is the same size – 6-2, 245 – as Chad Brown when Brown came out, and Brown played ILB his first three seasons.

"Yeah," Foote conceded, "he's going to do some inside stuff. There's a package. He's going to do some inside stuff, but he does look fluid, like he can open his hips, he can catch the ball."

But, Jones won't stand up at the point in the run game like James Harrison, will he?

"No. Nobody's like James, but he could do a good job," Foote said. "He's going to line up and go one on one. We've got Jason Worilds, who can play. We've got guys. So there's not a rush for him – although your first-rounder is a rush. But he's going to help us. We need him."

SAME OL' ANSWERS

Speaking of inside linebackers, I have also reported here a few times that Lawrence Timmons appears thicker, more stout, stronger, this spring. Is he? And do I ask him that every year?

"Yeah, you do," he said. "But I'm still the same Lawrence, man. I'm still 245."

OK, onto another yearly topic: When's the throwing competition this spring?

"I don't think there's going to be one this year. There's no competition," said Timmons, who lost last season's "Bomb Off" by a yard.

What about Ben Roethlisberger? Can't he heave it 65, maybe 70 yards?

"I've never seen Ben do it," Timmons said. "I think he's like a 55, 60 guy."

You're a 70 guy, right?

"Seventy yards, yeah."

Was Byron Leftwich your only competition?

"Yeah, he beat me by a yard last year," Timmons said. "But Troy Smith was like 68 or 69."

Aren't Bruce Gradkowski or Landry Jones up to it?

"Nah. But the other kid looks like he has a strong arm," Timmons said of John Parker Wilson.

While Timmons hasn't thrown a linebacker option pass yet this spring, he did make a diving interception of a low Gradkowski pass during red-zone work.

LOOKING COACHLY

Cameron Heyward mentioned him the other day, "Big A," the retired great Aaron Smith, who has been helping Heyward this spring.

And so there was Smith on Tuesday looking coachly in his white golf shirt tucked into navy blue shorts, with the rope of a whistle hanging out of the front of his shorts pocket.

"Oh this?" Smith asked as he pulled the rope. "These are just my keys," he said, as he denied any current interest in coaching.

"You realize these guys have to really work," Smith said.

But Smith admitted it's a possibility down the road because he loves the game as much as those coaches out there grinding away at their jobs.

"Being home for the kids is great," Smith said of early retirement. "But I would also like for them to see me working, too."

It just won't happen right away. Smith's coaching Class A basketball for his kids' school district, and is razor fit from playing so much basketball, his "first love."

"I go out and do some old basketball drills in the driveway, come back in all sweaty, and my wife thinks I'm nuts," he said. "I think that obsession with doing something for the 2,001st time – instead of saying ‘I've done this 2,000 times; that's enough' – is what separates those of us who've made it from all the great athletes out there who didn't."

Smith continued to wax philosophically about what it takes to play this game, and what the Steelers do to facilitate those kinds of athletes, like a coach in search of his flock.

It won't be too long for the "Big A."


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