Scenes From A Busy Week

Jim Wexell with a long, detailed notes column from a news-filled week in Steelers football.

Some of the scenes that I'll remember from this week:

* Dri Archer flat out told me he would play this week. That was on Monday, before they all start playing injury games with the media.

* LeGarrette Blount doesn't like playing games with reporters, or even talking to them, but I haven't had much need to talk to him since the spring when he answered all of my questions. Then came the pot bust, so you know he's not about to stand around his locker and wait for reporters. But as he was walking past me on Monday I asked if he had ever heard of "Skeets" Nehemiah. "No. Who he?" And I said he used to be a world-class hurdler. "Then that's who I am," Blount said as he kept walking.

* I asked one of the defensive players about Arthur Moats, the replacement at ROLB for Jarvis Jones. "He knows everything," the player said. "You'll see. You'll be surprised." And to punctuate it with honesty, the player said, "Don't quote me on that."

* So I walked up to Moats, who's always in a good mood, and said, "Is it possible that an NFL team would play a younger player only because he's a high draft pick and they wanted him to develop? And is it possible in the NFL that a backup might actually be better than that starter?" Moats smiled and I added, "I'm just speaking hypothetically, of course." So Moats began to answer the question like someone had just told him a joke in church and he was trying not to laugh. And you know how that only makes you want to laugh louder. "I don't even look at it like that," he said while suppressing a giggle. "Those decisions come from above my pay grade. All I know is when my number's called I just try to make sure I produce." And then he let the laughter out to the bewilderment of the other reporters.

* Not that I'm down on Jarvis Jones. I am liking the improvement he's making this year. I just think that today the team will perform better with Moats in there.

* Someone else asked Moats what he likes about playing off the edge. "Being that I -- I don't like to say short guy -- I'm a compact guy," Moats said, "I have good leverage and burst, so that helps out a lot on the edge. There are definitely pros and cons to having my size and stature, but I feel as a defense, the way the scheme is set up, it definitely benefits me being on the edge." Someone reminded Moats that a guy who used to play here, James Harrison, was also short. "Very true. Very true," Moats said. "And I know early in my career he was definitely a guy I would watch."

* Players never, ever look ahead to the game after, but since I was working on a Steelers Digest piece that won't come out until next week, I took a chance that CB Antwon Blake was eyeballing the game against Jacksonville, the team that cut him last year. And I was right. "Anytime you get the chance to step on the field against your old team and against some of the guys you still miss in that locker room, it's pretty big," Blake said. "It's definitely a game I have circled on my calendar, at least mentally." I asked Blake if he was bitter. "Uhhhh, I wouldn't say bitter. I feel like everything happens for a reason. I'm happy for the opportunity I got down there. But as it shows it's different than the situation here. I can't be mad about that."

* In checking on LG Ramon Foster's health, we got to talking about how well the O-line played at Carolina. I asked him about the new OL coach, Mike Munchak. "He's goooood," Foster said with obvious admiration. "He's good and he hones in on the technique stuff, consistently working our craft, man. You've got to love playing for the guy because you know his word is golden." Foster added, "He's not going to set us up for failure. He says that. He will never put us in a situation where we'll fail, which is one of the reasons I sat out that game, too."

* On Wednesday, the team signed Harrison and announced he was No. 92 and rookie Daniel McCullers would now be No. 62. Asked how much he charged Harrison for his old number, McCullers said: "He was a great player. I mean, that was the number he wore and I haven't even been on the field yet. I just gave it to him."

* There's a story going around that Harrison walked over to "kicker corner" and said hello to Greg Warren and Shaun Suisham, but when kid punter Brad Wing said hello, Harrison supposedly said "---- you."

* I was expecting something similar when I looked up from my notebook to see James walking toward me. We simultaneously stuck our hands out, shook, and he gave me a smile. So I asked him if he missed me. "Not really," he said as he kept walking.

* But James was more human with the media than at any time I had seen him. After a practice in which his noticeable extra weight slowed him down to a crawl, he knows the end is near and is just trying to squeeze one last stretch run out of his body after he gets it into shape.

* His arms are massive. A lot of the extra weight is muscle. I've just never seen his torso so, um, expanded.

* I went on the Tunch and Wolf radio show and told them I thought Harrison was way too slow right now and that he might have to be inactive this week. "They don't have much choice," Tunch said in pointing out Harrison's the only true OLB behind the starters. Wolf said that the main reason he was so slow in practice was that he was setting the edge so often. "He'll be great for the run defense," Wolfley said.

* So I went back to Moats and asked him if he still looks up to Harrison after he met him. "Oh, yeah, he's a really nice guy." And I said that, no, he's not. "Yes he is. You just don't know him." And I said that it's all right, that linebackers aren't supposed to be nice guys like you. "I know," Moats said with a smile that only got bigger. "People have told me I'm too nice to play the way I do on the field. But I am who I am."

* The other big story of the week is the scheduled first start for Sean Spence, who missed two years with a blown out knee. My favorite quote of his came when I asked him if he felt God didn't want him to come back when he broke his finger during last year's return. "Or you could look at it that I wasn't ready and He wanted to rest me more so I could truly heal up," Spence replied. "I chose to look at it that way."

* Just one note from practice, a blur of speed caught my attention as it flew past one of the first-team linebackers to catch a long pass. I wondered what the heck a linebacker was doing covering Antonio Brown, but when I looked again I saw it was No. 13, Archer. That made more sense.

* On Thursday, I wanted to do a little something on Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David, who was a high school teammate of Spence's. That team, Northwestern of Miami, Fla., won two state titles and a USA Today national title. Those two were the outside linebackers and former New England Patriot Marcus Forston was the nose tackle. I asked Spence how anyone ran on that team. "They didn't," he said. He also listed a bunch of offensive players who ended up joining him at The U and I told Spence that may have been the greatest high school team of all time. "Yeah, but all I've heard from Pouncey is that he and his brother and Chris Rainey would've pounded us. We never played though."

* Maurkice Pouncey was holding court with a media horde and so I stopped by and asked him if he heard what Lavonte David had said about him. "What?" said an alerted Pouncey. "He said his old high school team would've killed yours." Pouncey replied, "He really said that?" And I shook my head no and smiled. "That was Spence wasn't it?" Pouncey said. "Yeah, that sounds like Spence. That's all I ever hear from him."

* One of the great things about sports is how a great story such as Spence's can serve to inspire others. And sure enough I received a note from a coach in Hawaii, a Steelers fan, who has a highly recruited player who tore his ACL in the opener of his junior season. Then his father was killed in a diving accident six months later. But the kid kept working, and returned for his senior season in great shape. In his first game, he piled up 120 yards on 12 touches before blowing out his other ACL. Similar to Spence, the boy told his coach that he's "in darkness right now." The coach gave him my interview with Spence and wrote that "I believe this article will help him see that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel."

* It's a ripple effect, which became even wider after I told my daughter the whole story about Spence and the boy from Hawaii during dinner last night. Now she's going to write a story for her school paper about it, which could help even others. I told her to title it, "Why Sports Are Still Great". She agreed. And, believe me, that's rare.


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