Rolling With Tomlin's Punches

Notes, nuggets, stories, opinions from Jim Wexell after the Steelers' second day of rookie orientation.

The 235-pound Jordan Zumwalt was lined up opposite the undrafted 238-pound Howard Jones at the outside linebacker spots again Saturday as they received basic instruction from defensive coaches Keith Butler and Dick LeBeau, while standing in front of tackling dummies with inside backers Ryan Shazier and Dan Molls.

I couldn't resist turning to GM Kevin Colbert and telling him that his outside linebackers get skinnier every year.

Colbert, his mind possibly elsewhere, just shrugged. He wasn't in the mood to joke the way Mike Tomlin did earlier.

Tomlin was talking to Jason Worilds after Worilds had emerged from the weight room to watch the rookies practice. When Zumwalt walked past wearing his No. 56 jersey, the one LaMarr Woodley packed, even stretched, the previous seven seasons, Tomlin couldn't resist.

"We're giving numbers away!" he shouted to Worilds. "Wait till I'm finished with you, Worilds. I'll give your number away like that!"

Zumwalt, in fact, is working at Worilds' spot this weekend and doesn't know if he'll be moved back to his more familiar inside position once the veterans report to OTA practices on May 27.

"I have no idea yet," said the gregarious rookie from L.A. "I'm literally doing what they're telling me to do."

It's likely the Steelers are giving Zumwalt the position flexibility he'll need to make the team the way the similarly built Stevenson Sylvester and Terence Garvin had been taught in recent years.

"I like that," Zumwalt said. "I feel like I'm a versatile guy and I actually really appreciate that opportunity. I'm really grateful for it. Learning all the different spots is difficult but I'm working for it 100 percent."

Zumwalt's also keenly aware he'll need to stand out on special teams, too. He was on the block and kick-return units at UCLA.

"I really plan on being a big special-teams guy here if coach gives me the opportunity," he said. "I'd love to be on every special team if I get the chance."


Tomlin likes to joke with the reporters, too, and this year he again expressed surprise that anyone would want to cover spring football drills instead of, say, baseball.

But where else would we get such an up-close view of his cut-ups? Or watch LeBeau talk to Shazier about linebacker communications and the inevitable what-if scenarios? And where else can a reporter stand 15 yards away from a Hall of Fame line coach and watch him teach non-stop and gesture and prod and pat each of his neophyte linemen?

Mike Munchak was clearly born to coach. It didn't take me long to notice that down in the deep corner of the second field where the offensive linemen were working on their individual skills. Munchak didn't stop talking for any perceptible period of time, and judging by the listening that was going on, it had to all be thick, rich information.

Not that I could hear any of it. I'm not sure I ever stood so close to a coach and his men without hearing what was being said, except for the "HUT!" Munchak would holler for every imaginary snap. His men would then engage with the man across the line with Munchak teaching, correcting and coaching the entire time.

"He knows what he's doing," said Chris Hubbard, a member of the practice squad who worked with one-year coach Jack Bicknell last year. "I feel the energy from him. Every time he talks, I listen closely to get the details."

The circle of energetic coaching and receptive listening was quite obvious from 15 yards away. Rookie fifth-round pick Wesley Johnson, who was born and raised in Nashville while Munchak was coaching the Tennessee Titans, was told by his college coach at Vanderbilt to "'appreciate this opportunity because it is a great opportunity,'" Johnson said. "He's been around the block and is obviously a great coach."

Johnson added that, "As a Titans fan, it was him, Bruce Matthews and Kevin Mawae, so this is awesome. Who else would you want to be coached by? I mean, he's a Hall of Famer."

As for any specifics new to the Steelers' line this year, Hubbard only said, "Coach Munchak has made it simpler for us. He broke it down to where we only have so many calls, a lot less than last year, maybe only one, two, three calls this year. It makes it simpler for us."


Walking with my tray in the cafeteria, after practice, I heard Tomlin behind me say, "Hey, Wexell, I heard yesterday you fell down and hit your head and when you got up you wrote that No. 8's better than Landry Jones."

I was still stuck on the falling down and hitting my head part when I figured out what he was saying.

Tomlin, of course, had a big smile on his face. He was jacking me without making me feel like a fool. But I asked him if he actually read what I wrote, which was far from what he relayed back to me.

Tomlin laughed and said no. He didn't care. In fact he pointed out the person who passed the info along. But Tomlin didn't bring it up to quibble about my facts, or anyone's interpretation of them. He just wanted me to know he has a high opinion of Jones.

And after watching Kay endure a much worse practice Saturday than the one I watched on Friday, I appreciate the help.


* Martavis Bryant was sidelined yesterday morning after Tomlin said he fell while catching a ball on Friday. I wondered if Bryant detected my distaste for seeing a highly regarded rookie wide receiver already standing on the sideline after one day of rookie camp, because as I walked past him he glared back at me and wouldn't stop.

* Maybe someone relayed to Bryant something else I may have written.

* I asked Tomlin if giving Stephon Tuitt jersey No. 91 was intentional or coincidental. "I didn't think about it until you just mentioned it, so it's probably coincidental," Tomlin said.

* Fifth-round pick Shaquille Richardson looks like last year's fifth-round pick, Terry Hawthorne. Richardson is listed at 6-0, 194 and was the 157th pick of the draft; Hawthorne was listed at 6-0, 195 and was the 150th pick. Both are/were extremely raw in off-coverage and aren't real instinctive coming out of their pedal. And both played much better in press man in showing off their raw potential. While Hawthorne was faster, he was also sidelined early and never had a chance to learn much last spring. It hurt him in the end. Richardson appears healthy but will also be taken from the field. He and Zumwalt will have to miss most of OTAs because their schools -- like Markus Wheaton's last year -- are still in session.

* Two players who need the practice and should be allowed to practice this weekend -- Nik Embernate and Nick Williams -- can't because they were on injured reserve throughout their rookie seasons. Yeah. Makes a TON of sense.

* Dri Archer retreated to the other end of the field to shag punts for the punt-coverage work, and he flashed good, maybe even great, hands. The second punt went straight up and Archer had to come a long way to catch it. The third was similar, but Archer couldn't get there in time so he short-hopped it naturally and with the ease of a professional shortstop. Both catches brought commendations from coach Danny Smith.

* Wesley Johnson appears to be a solid long-term project at left tackle, and he confirmed to me that he played guard during scrimmages yesterday. Johnson will need to join Zumwalt and Josh Mauro in my extended weight-room group, but his feet and mind appear to be at the next level already.

* Seventh-round tight end Rob Blanchflower is a load, but he doesn't look slow. Now the undrafted tight end from Missouri, Eric Waters, he looks slow. Both have good hands.

* Street free-agent running back Miguel Maysonet looks like a load -- or at least more than his listed 210 pounds -- and has some speed. He could be your sleeper running back at camp.

* On the next rep, after Maysonet had showed for a second time that he might be an inside runner with some speed, Archer found a hole and popped through it, and like Willie Parker he was suddenly gone, and laughing it up later with a determined cornerback just before Archer crossed the goal line.

* Archer has a great practice demeanor. After another play he was wrestling with Molls, the buck backer, and both were laughing. The previous day it was Zumwalt smacking the pads of his bookend, Howard Jones, with a big smile on his face.

* Some of these rookies look worried and confused and are thinking they need to get into their books as soon as the final whistle blows. But some of these guys, namely Archer and Zumwalt, just seem to love playing football.

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