Observations From Steelers Rookie Camp

Jim Wexell spent Friday and Saturday on the South Side watching the newcomers. Here are some of his thoughts and observations:

Mike Tomlin told the media Saturday "we are taking an instructional approach to this camp," and that unfortunately described the inaction at this past weekend's Pittsburgh Steelers rookie minicamp.

Every so often, as I tried to position myself at the very crux of all action, where I had the ability to take notes off two practice fields and from just about every position group, I repeatedly found myself watching six or more circles of men standing idly around a position coach who was "taking an instructional approach."

Trust me, dear fan, you didn't miss much by missing this past weekend but I was able to make these observations off the first two days:

* The offensive player to watch was Sammie Coates. During drills, he was thrown a bunch of soft, easy throws and plucked them out of the air as he went through the rudimentary phase of NFL WR 101. I didn't see a drop. But I left the group to watch defensive drills and asked another reporter about Coates later. The reporter said Coates dropped about four passes, one an easy slant.

* So as you read various accounts, keep in mind that it's about what a reporter sees and when.

* No, Coates doesn't have the softest hands, but as you know by now he has NFL size and speed and I noticed a natural knee bend that allows him to cut so easily. I was watching an artist at work during his cone drills.

* I didn't notice Senquez Golson having to cover Coates much during scrimmages. The few times that he did, the ball was thrown elsewhere.

* Golson is small. That much you know, too. On the first day it didn't seem to matter as Golson played with a swagger. He once bolted down into the flat and leaped to challenge a high pass to Jeff Hill, a 6-4 receiver invited in for a tryout. Golson went way up and slapped the ball away.

* But on the second day, Golson was thinking way too much. His swagger gone, confusion and hesitation reigned instead. I guess it's the process of being coached: one step back to take two steps forward. At least that's the hope.

* Golson appears to be much more comfortable outside than in the slot, but the slot is where he'll have to begin his career.

* Doran Grant, the fourth-round pick, looked like the best cornerback on the field. I knew about his stocky build, but he surprised me with his quickness.

* Grant also surprised me with his number, 24, Ike Taylor's old number. Grant likes it. Won't give it back if he has the option. Kind of surprised they gave it out so soon.

* Every Super Bowl has been represented by someone who's played in the Big 33 Game, the Pennsylvania vs. Ohio/Maryland prep all-star game that's played every summer. Grant played in that game in 2011. He returned an interception 101 yards for a touchdown and dragged QB Jalen Fitzpatrick across the goal line to break that game open.

* After the recent draft, the Steelers signed three of what had to be the very best center prospects remaining -- all captains and all-conference performers on their respective college teams. I would put B.J. Finney at the head of the Steelers' list at this preliminary juncture. Finney played multiple positions and is an inch-and-a-half taller and 22 pounds heavier than Reese Dismukes. Collin Rahrig was there, but was held out of drills presumably with an injury.

* The coaches were giving it to defensive lineman L.T. Walton, the 6A-round pick out of Central Michigan. Not that he was doing anything wrong, but they want him lower, chasing the ball, and in better shape, as any coach would want from a rookie who's holding their high expectations.

* Howard Jones certainly moved around the field with a lot more confidence, swagger and aggressiveness than he did a year ago. I didn't get to ask last year's practice-squad OLB how much weight he's added in the off-season, but the guns were out and on display. They are much thicker than the long vines of yesteryear.

* As the team lined up for its post-stretch work with ladders, hurdles and cones, Tomlin hollered out, "Come on HoJo, step up and show everyone how it's done." Clearly more is expected out of Jones this summer.

* Cameron Clear, the 277-pound tight end from Texas A&M, made what I'm going to call a gorilla catch during a scrimmage. Similar to a gorilla dunk that is slammed home with great force, Clear went up to catch a ball with two or three defenders around him, grabbed it with authority and took a power step through the defenders once he crashed to earth.

* Gerod Holliman intercepted a deep but underthrown wobbler by tryout QB D.J. Williams for the only scrimmage interception in the two days. Then 6-foot-1 tryout RB Jawon Chisholm ran through the defense and past Holliman for a touchdown.

* Of course, no tackling or even contact is allowed in the spring, so it didn't indicate anything at all about Holliman's tackling issues. I'm thinking maybe the playcaller has a sense of humor.

* Chisholm, by the way, came out of Akron and was one of three Zips at the Saturday practice, after the team brought in DB Martel Durant that morning. Those two joined Shawn Lemon, the OLB out of the CFL, from the school.

* Grant, the fourth-rounder, grew up in Akron, as, of course, did James Harrison, who was at the facility Saturday (and looks like he's continued the torrid workout pace he started as a 275-pounder called in off the couch last September).

* Not that anyone expected otherwise.

* Anyway, with all of this buzz coming from Akron, I wonder if the Steelers will replace Stynx with The Black Keys as their guiding musical force this season.

* I'm going to ask James what he thinks of The Black Keys, and whether he ever went to one of their shows while growing up in Akron.

* My guess is the full answer will be "No."

* Did I drift off again? Sorry. There's more "instructional approach" going on at the two fields full of players who are standing still.

* It did give Tomlin a chance to walk over to a group of special-teamers and give his Ross Ventrone speech.

* Let your imagination guide you with that one. Pretty much what you would expect.

* Keep in mind that the running backs always look good during two-hand touch. But to run them down, Ross Scheuerman is the jack-of-all-trades guy out of Lafayette that I imagined him to be; Roosevelt Nix is the old-school squatty fullback who's been moved from inside linebacker; and Josh Bell is a nice-sized 6-0, 220-pounder from UTEP, no doubt courtesy of Sean Kugler.

* An honor-roll student, Bell rushed for only 256 yards (4.9 avg.) as a senior last season, so he would be the ultimate sleeper of the bunch. But Kugler would've recommended him for a reason.

* Jesse James caught a pass and rumbled past Golson as it appeared Golson was more confused than afraid of the big boy. But James, a 261-pounder at the Combine, will have those fearsome days, I'm certain, because he hasn't yet begun to grown. James has a frame that will allow him to pack on at least 20 pounds if he wishes.

* Coates came back to catch an underthrown deep ball from Tyler Murphy. Coates landed and turned upfield and took a step, but Grant stripped the ball. But I still haven't seen a drop.

* C.J. Goodwin ran past a flat-footed Golson but dropped the touchdown pass. Next I see of Golson he's being under by safety Alden Darby. Goodwin somersaulted in the air and landed on his neck/shoulder area. The practice field was quiet until Goodwin was helped up and off the field.

* Nope, didn't get to see Bud Dupree. He only attended the Sunday workout because he chose instead to attend his graduation ceremony at Kentucky.

* Going to one of those unending ceremonies never appealed to me. I passed on my graduation ceremony at Pitt, had the diploma sent to my house and never regretted it. But the Steelers view it differently I guess. They encouraged Anthony Chickillo to do the same as Dupree.

* Back to work on Saturday, Chickillo recounted to the media the story that his grandfather missed making the Steelers' roster in the 1950s because of a coal-mining accident in his hometown of Scranton that summer. I wanted to ask the rookie what his pap would think of him missing his very first pro practice because of a ceremony, but I didn't. Ceremony seems to mean more to kids these days anyway and I would just be the guy shouting at everyone to get off the lawn.

* I'm just the guy who's hoping for less instruction and more action when OTAs begin on May 26. I doubt I'll be disappointed.


Steel City Insider Top Stories