LATROBE – Because of a ridiculous NCAA rule that forces most players coming out of the Pac-10’s quarters academic system to sit out of most spring practices, Jordan Zumwalt is more rookie than most rookies.
And because Zumwalt suffered a groin injury on the second day of non-padded practices here at St. Vincent College, he missed the first week of hitting in pads with the Steelers, who drafted Zumwalt out of UCLA in the sixth round last year.
Zumwalt instead spent his first week of real practices rehabbing on the far field while waves of young linebackers blew up everything they could hunt down.
“Oh, man, you just sit there and watch it,” said Zumwalt. “You have to earn respect in this league – that’s how it’s built. So I haven’t had any opportunity to earn anybody’s respect. It kind of just sucks watching and knowing that I can be out there doing that stuff, too.”
Well, Zumwalt finally got his clearance yesterday and took his place with the third team at the inside mack linebacker spot. He didn’t make any plays, but at least he was out there.
It’s a start.
“It was a learning point,” he said.
Not that he needed that practice to realize he lacks an understanding of the Steelers’ defense. Dick LeBeau likes to give everyone everything right off the bat. And then he’ll do it two more times, and each time the newcomers gain a better understanding. Zumwalt has missed the majority of the first two waves.
What is his level of understanding?
“My understanding is that I need to be in my book as much as I can,” Zumwalt said. “I mean, I’ve only had five full practices with the Steelers.”
And he’s behind some serious talent. In Mike Tomlin’s seven years, he’s kept an average of 8.7 linebackers coming out of training camp, never more than 9. And right now, the apparent roster locks at the position are the four starters and then Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Arthur Moats, Chris Carter (or Howard Jones) and Terence Garvin. That’s at least nine right there.
“You don’t make it in the tub. That’s all everybody says,” Zumwalt said. “We have a lot of guys, so, yeah, it’s go time.”
Zumwalt may not have made any plays Wednesday, but he wasn’t the only one.
“A little sloppy,” was how Tomlin described the work. “Some pre-snap penalties on defense; too many dropped balls on offense. I acknowledge from time to time you’re going to have those days but you can’t like it. We can’t stack ’em one after another, so we’re going to challenge this group to come back out and have a more productive day tomorrow.
“We (have to) come out here every day with the mentality that we’re going to thrive and not survive, and I just think we had too many survivors today, guys looking to get through it as opposed to improving within it.”
ADAMS ON FIRST LINE
On the first snap of live scrimmage, Le’Veon Bell ran around Adams’ side for a long gain as Adams looked typically solid as the strong-side tackle in the run game.
In the pass game, Adams did not give up a sack, or even a true pressure, but the pass rush from a variety of OLBs and Des was lacking in its ferocity.
Perhaps Tomlin took that into his account of the sloppy practice, but he said he didn’t watch Adams.
“I wasn’t looking at him directly. I’ll look at the tape,” Tomlin said. “Mike’s been working on both sides. This isn’t his first shot at it so I don’t expect him to be a novice.”
At lunch time, LeBeau called Lawrence Timmons “an amazing guy ... He really looks at home, to me, on the strong side.”
In practice a few hours later, Timmons looked more than at home as the buck inside backer. He looked like the next coming of the great Jack Lambert.
On the third snap of what was supposed to be a non-tackling scrimmage, 250-pound LeGarrette Blount took a stretch play wide before cutting it back into the middle, where Timmons knocked him down with a crushing blow. In the second team scrimmage, Timmons had to run deep down the middle with Brown, the slot man, and Timmons broke up the pass.
“I’ve said for three years he’s been playing at a Pro Bowl level, for three years now” said LeBeau. “A couple of those years we led the daggone league in defense, and he should’ve gone. But, again, that’s just my opinion.”
UP AND DOWN
If this were the Roman Coliseum, this is how I would’ve judge the practice performances of a few players Wednesday:
* Adams – thumbs up for his run blocking and “clean sheet” in pass protection as the hope continues that Mike Munchak’s coaching is sinking in.
* Blount – thumbs up, not for his consistent and effective grinding between the tackles, but for running sprints during the special-teams session.
* Markus Wheaton – thumbs down for a case of the dropsies. But the two drops I saw were both difficult plays. However, after he dropped a long bomb while running full speed past Isaiah Green, a leather-lunged fan yelled “That’s four drops today!”
* Brown – thumbs down, not for being covered by a future Pro Bowl linebacker on a deep pass, but for getting chewed out by his quarterback on a short incompletion. “Keep coming back!” hollered Ben Roethlisberger.
* Ike Taylor – thumbs down for dropping an interception that hit him in the chest. In Ike’s defense, the pass was a surprise overthrow as he stood alone in zone coverage, and he immediately dropped down and did 10 pushups to the delight of the crowd.
* Carter – thumbs up for consistent pressure as Jones’ replacement at ROLB. He also gave rookie LT Wesley Johnson a few harsh lessons during one-on-one drills.
* Martavis Bryant – thumbs down for getting chewed out by Todd Haley a play earlier after Bryant had run the wrong route during a raggedy no-huddle period.