First Impressions

The first day of Steelers rookie camp brings about notes on Tuitt, Shazier, the budding QB controversy, Dri Archer and much, much more.

Even if he's not wearing his new jersey, rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt adds to the Steelers' step-off-the-bus factor from the start.

But in his jersey, his No. 91 jersey, Tuitt brings back memories. And when he gets those long 34-inch arms out on some poor, undrafted, unrefined rookie offensive tackle, images of Aaron Smith are only natural.

Of course, no one's calling him the next Aaron Smith after one practice with a bunch of rookies. But at least the Steelers respect their second-round draft pick enough to ask him to put on the number and play left defensive end in the first place.

Does Tuitt understand the significance of his number?

"Just that some great players wore it," he said.

Does Tuitt know anything about Smith? Does he understand that he was the quintessential Steelers strong-side 5-tech?

"I'm going over my history now," Tuitt said softly with an easy smile. "It would be tremendous if I could live up to how he wore this number in the past."

Tuitt, the 6-5, 303-pound 20-year-old from Notre Dame, didn't hesitate when asked by the Steelers to don Smith's number. And of course he didn't hesitate to step in to the left of nose tackle Daniel McCullers, opposite the other defensive end, Josh Mauro, on the rookie line today.

Tuitt did lose his spot one series to Ethan Hemer, but that was just a taste of the coaching Tuitt's going to receive this spring from veteran line coach John Mitchell.

"It's pressure," Tuitt said of becoming oriented. "I just need a chance to get in the playbook and learn the system."

No doubt Aaron Smith said that one day, too.


McCullers said he was happy to be back on the nose. The gargantuan 6-7, 352-pounder was the Tennessee nose tackle in 2012 but was moved to the playmaking 3-tech position when the Vols went to a 4-3 last season.

Why wasn't the 352-pounder the shade tackle in that scheme?

"I don't know," McCullers said yesterday. "Coach never said. He just told me the position I was playing and I never asked why."

McCullers looks far less sloppy, physically, than he was at the Senior Bowl in January. In fact, McCullers moves with ease, has natural bend in his knees and ankles. But the big man with the long legs and long 36 1/2-inch arms needs to get lower.

"That's the key right there," he said. "If I get low enough I can be an effective nose tackle."

How often has McCullers been told to get lower?

"Probably every day since I've been in football," said the big man.


It was 11 a.m. and the stretching had ended and the defense took the near field while the offense went to the far field to work on individual skills.

From afar I quickly noticed that undrafted QB Brendon Kay of Cincinnati threw a tighter spiral than the two "tryout" QBs -- Mason Espinosa of Ohio Wesleyan and lefty Terrance Owens of Toledo -- and I wrote the following in my notebook:

"How long until the call goes up for Kay to replace Landry Jones?"

I walked over to watch No. 8 more closely, and Kay was accurate with his dinking and displayed a compact release and hit almost every receiver in the chest with his dunking.

"Number eight's better than Landry," said the reporter next to me.

I looked at my watch and it read 11:12 a.m.

Hey, I'm not saying the reporter is wrong. Later, when the positional drills turned to a non-contact scrimmage, Kay showed mobility and some interesting improvisational skills. Trapped by a rush once, Kay was able to sidestep and flick the ball from a funky angle to complete a 10-yarder to the tight end. On the next play he threw back to a safety valve off his wrong foot.

So I don't think it's a reach to say Kay is showing more now than Jones showed last year at this camp when he served a pick 6 right into the chest of a tryout linebacker named Terence Garvin.

But I'm expecting more from Jones this spring. A lot more. I believe Jones struggled with a sore arm last spring and I'm expecting him to show off a strong arm once OTAs begin. So I'm going to withhold comment on the inevitable Kay-Jones storm that will be the talk of the town at some point soon.


* First-round pick Ryan Shazier looked as cat-quick as one would expect this blur of an inside linebacker to be. When asked about any playcalling responsibility he's being given this weekend, Shazier said, "They didn't give me that much responsibility. All of us as a whole, we all did the same amount. I don't feel they put too much on my plate."

The plan is for Shazier to learn the inside "mack" position, which is the playmaking weak-side spot next to the playcalling, strong-side "buck" linebacker. It's diffult to gauge a linebacker in non-contact practices, particularly when you don't know his assignments, but on one play Shazier burst underneath a tight end to break up a short pass over the middle.

* Jordan Zumwalt thought he was doing the right thing when he bolted behind the line of scrimmage to put his two hands on scary-quick running back Dri Archer after Archer caught a short swing pass. But coaches erupted with cries of "Get your hands on him!" while giving Zumwalt a grabbing gesture at the same time. Hopefully Zumwalt won't have to resort to putting Archer to sleep the way he did De'Anthony Thomas during last year's Oregon game.

* According to Shazier, Zumwalt and undrafted sack specialist Howard Jones were the starting outside linebackers flanking the aforementioned front three. As for Archer and his sub-4.2 speed, Shazier said, "He's extremely fast and you can tell on the field. His quickness and speed are amazing."

* During positional drills, Archer ran under a long, looping pass from Kay that forced Archer to strain and stretch. But at the last instant, right before the pylon, Archer pulled back his arms and the pass fell incomplete. "C'mon," hollered one coach. "That's why we got you in there."

* Without pads, Archer looks just as small as his 5-7 1/2, 173-pound frame would suggest. But he moves with a lively step, no doubt. I'm going to reserve judgement until the pads are on, because I have never seen 4.16 before.

* I asked Archer if he has a nickname. "Well, they're calling me 'Flash' around here," said the former Kent State Golden Flash.

I told him it makes sense, but that I like "Faster Than Willie Parker" better.

* Joey Porter surprised me with his patience in teaching his raw, even ragged, rookie outside linebackers. Porter looks like a natural with these guys.

* Zumwalt doesn't nearly fill out his 56 jersey the way his predecessor, LaMarr Woodley, did. The sixth-round linebacker is more like the lean and lanky guy who hurts you with his knees and elbows more than his muscle. And he tripped awkwardly and stumbled trying to "stab and punch" the tackling dummy during one of Porter's drills. But Zumwalt came out of the stumble with balance as he turned the corner and made a beeline around the edge. In that one moment he showed why he was a sixth-round pick and also why the Steelers like him.

* Perhaps McCullers can't get low enough because his massive calves are getting in the way. He and Loni Fangupo should have a "calf-off" some day.

* My first impression is that both Zumwalt and Mauro need to live in an NFL weight room for a full year as they sit with redshirts.

* Martavis Bryant can get up and grab the tough passes easily and suddenly, but he can also drop the 5-yard pass over the middle, too. And way too much of his body is flailing as he sinks into his cuts.

* Danny Coale was easily the most polished receiver on the field. He was sure-handed and precise in every step he took, including special-teams coverage. The former fifth-round pick of the Cowboys is going to be a difficult player to cut.

* Howard Jones is skinny and leggy but he can drop better into coverage than I had expected. I definitely want to see more.

* Remember, these are first impressions. I won't take them too seriously if you won't.

* Archer said he didn't return punts last year at Kent because he was getting over an ankle injury and his coach didn't want to give him too much. And, of course, he was the guy who was too valuable to the Kent State offense. Like Antonio Brown here. So, Archer gets the dynamic and understands what the coaches are hoping for. "Yeah," he said. "I'm here to help out."

* We'll roll the credits over this last quote from Archer: "It's definitely a motivator. I've been hearing it my whole life. That's why I play with a chip on my shoulder. Everyone tells me I'm too small, I can't take hits, I can't do this, I can't do that, but I'm just out here playing football, and I know what I can do."

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