Weird Scenes Inside Gold Mine

From the notebook of a sportswriter who started the spring season with a moist, fertile mind but who ended it ... with ... ah, forget it.

* Yes, that's a mind running on vapors.

* So bereft of thought was I on the last day of minicamp, I asked someone who's paid to judge talent whether Justin Cheadle can play or not.

* I don't watch backup linemen in shorts very closely, so all I had ever noticed about Cheadle was that he played center and guard on the second-team line from start to finish this spring. So, can he help a team that lacks OL depth?

* "You're a scout now. You tell me," said the scout who is paid by someone other than me to judge talent. I gave the scout an exasperated look, told him that I was not a scout but a writer, and all he could tell me was "Watch him move."

* So I watched for Cheadle to move at the last practice, and sure enough, on a one-man screen he was downfield blocking first a linebacker and then a safety, and he was gliding. I was surprised at how well he moved.

* That makes him my camp sleeper.

* Another expert at practice called Jarvis Jones "slippery" off the edge because of the way he used his hands and hips to cut back inside on a tackle after rushing straight up the field.

* They used to call Chad Brown something similar, but Brown was "slithery" off the edge because he collected snakes.

* Larry Foote has a stock answer if you ask him whether a rookie can play: "We're not in pads," he says. But I asked again about Jones and Foote said, again, "You can't tell without pads, but he looks athletic."

* And, a week later I asked Foote about another rookie, inside linebacker Vince Williams. "We're just in t-shirts and shorts right now," Foote reflexively prefaced. "But he doesn't look awful."

* My guess for those rookie linebackers is that Jones will be a core member of the special teams and will see action from scrimmage on passing downs, and that Williams will be on the practice squad.

* The South Side seems like the capital of the football world in the spring, and none of the many visitors here care if a reporter interrupts him amid the hop-to of football players.

* I told a BYU coach that I like his outside linebacker, the kid who dominated the last bowl game, Kyle Van Noy, and the coach said, "We have another really good one on the other side named Alani Fua."

* I told the Stanford coach that I thought Stepfan Taylor would've been a perfect fit for the Steelers, and the coach said, "Yeah, he's a Rocky Bleier type. He does everything well."

* The Stanford coach also told me to keep an eye on 3-4 buck inside linebacker Shayne Skov this season because he's regained his speed after playing hurt last season. He also said that Skov's really not the crazed dog off the field that he is on it.

* I told former Penn State coach Tom Bradley, who's now in the Pittsburgh media, that he should still be coaching. He said that he has a few other things in mind besides coaching. I wanted to tell him that's a shame and that he handled a difficult situation with class and dignity and would still be a great hire.

* One of the best coaching moves of the spring was promoting Isaac Redman to first-team tailback for the final week. It allows Jonathan Dwyer to think about how much he loves football lo these next six weeks.

* Until then, the best coaching move had been the use of Al Woods as the second-team nose tackle instead of Alameda Ta'amu, who struck me in an interview as the complete opposite of the person he was last year.

* I'm convinced that Ta'amu will use the next six weeks wisely, particularly after spending the spring on the third team.

* My daughter was working on a simplistic kicking drill with her goalkeeping coach the other day when I blurted out what Aaron Smith had told me during his visit to the South Side: "The difference between the great athletes who make it in this league and the great athletes who don't is that those who make it don't stop doing a fundamental task 2,000 times. They do it a 2,001st time and keep doing it."

* My daughter thinks I'm crazy.

* Her goalie coach, though, loved it.

* I saw William Gay get beat deep too often this spring.

* I saw Emmanuel Sanders covered deep too often this spring.

* No one showed much of anything as a punt returner, other than the guy they want moved out of there, Antonio Brown. He put on an impressive display of one-handed catching from the deep-ball JUGS machine one crisp morning.

* People love to tell Bill Nunn stories.

* So do I, but again, I'm running dry right now.

* Danny Colbert, when needled that he has more pressure on him as a new scout because of his dad, said, "Yeah, but I'm learning from Bill Nunn."

* Of course.

* Even with Heath Miller out, and David Paulson sidelined with a strained calf, the tight ends this spring hit the sled twice as hard as the tight ends did last year, when Leonard Pope, Weslye Saunders and Wes Lyons took way too many turns.

* Plaxico Burress isn't showing any burst or quickness. And you know he can't play special teams. His chances of sticking aren't very good.

* Then again, Greg Warren said Plax will be his pick for special-teams captain.

* Warren's just trying to avoid greatness. He has to be the special-teams captain this year. Curtis Brown isn't captain material, Will Allen and Ryan Mundy are gone, and Shamarko Thomas and Jones are mere rookies. It's either Warren or Shaun Suisham in my book, and Warren's been here five years longer.

* The specialists walked over to the sideline from another field when Drew Butler, settling in with a dip upon the completion of a kicking task, was surprised by Mike Tomlin, who asked: "Butler, you doing anything?" Without blinking Butler said, "Getting better, coach." Tomlin grinned. "Good answer," he said.

* He wasn't so cool a few minutes later. "We're not going to have any quarterbacks left if we can't block 94!" Tomlin shouted.

* Hate to say it, but they won't have any quarterbacks left if Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt again. The backups didn't look good this spring.

* Bruce Gradkowski has everything you want, mentally, in a backup quarterback, but seems to struggle just trying to see over the line. And Landry Jones lacks arm strength. John Parker Wilson has the strongest arm but the worst accuracy.

* If it helps, I never liked Jeff Garcia's skills and he turned into a decent quarterback. Tomlin calls Gradkowski "Garcia."

* Seventh-round pick Nick Williams, the 315-pound Adonis who wasn't supposed to impress in his first spring, didn't.

* Hey, don't shoot the messenger. Again, I don't watch third-team linemen. That's just the word from someone who watches the practice tape.

* If Williams isn't a lock for the practice squad, undrafted rookie Brian Arnfelt is. He went the distance as the second-team left defensive end.

* But I keep hearing about another undrafted defensive end named Cordian Hagans.

* Oh, this is all so confusing. That's what I was thinking while alone in the cafeteria. That's when Kevin Colbert walked past and said, "Sitting with all your friends?"

* Don't confront me with my failures, Kevin. I'm aware of them.

* To end on a positive note, Thomas, the rookie safety, is flashing more than just his gold teeth. He's showing the burst and explosiveness that Carnell Lake saw on tape before the draft. And the veteran safeties love him.


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