Steelers OTAs: Under The Radar

Spring updates on an "old" RB, a young WR, Robotron the Punter, and HoJo.

PITTSBURGH -- DeAngelo Williams didn't look like a 32-year-old running back at Thursday's OTA. He appeared to still possess his explosiveness, his burst of speed.

But it's better to let the player say it, so I asked Williams -- whom the Pittsburgh Steelers made the centerpiece of their off-season free-agency plan -- if he still has it. Here's how that exchange went:

Q: Do you still have your burst of speed?

DW: "Did you see it out there?"

Q: I did.

DW: "Do you think I got it? You tell me if I got it. So you answer that question. You tell me if I think I've got it or not."

Q: I do.

DW: "You tell me, do I look like a 32-year-old running back out there?"

Q: Does that question bother you?

DW: "Nah, it doesn't bother me at all."

Q: Was it a question in Carolina?

DW: "No. Wasn't a question in Carolina. I know the reason I'm not in Carolina is they didn't have enough balls for the running backs, the quarterback AND the receivers. I respect their decision. I understand the game. I respect it."

Q: You came back from an injury late last year and had good stats. Did you show your burst then? Is that what Mike Tomlin saw?

DW: "I'm not really sure what Coach Tomlin saw, but I don't think he's seen the best of me. So this year and next year, or however many years the Steelers give me, you'll see it."

GOODWIN FEELING COMFORTABLE

Sammie Coates missed Thursday's practice to attend the rookie symposium, but one of the other young receivers stepped up to show his wares.

C.J. Goodwin, the player the Steelers signed after the 2014 draft at the urging of Mel Blount, made several catches including a couple of the acrobatic variety. There's no doubt the 6-3, 190-pounder can go up and get it.

"That's what Mel saw," Goodwin said with a chuckle. "I think that's what kept me around last year. I was kind of athletic and they wanted me to build on it, so that's what I'm trying to do."

Goodwin has a chance to become a better rags-to-riches story than even Nate Washington, the 10-year NFL veteran whom the Steelers signed out of Division II Tiffin following the 2005 draft.

Goodwin was a basketball player at Bethany College before transferring to Division II Fairmont State to play football. There, he caught 24 passes but transferred to Division II California (Pa.) for his senior season and caught only 11 passes while playing mainly special teams.

Cal timed Goodwin at 4.28 in the 40 and the Detroit Lions measured his vertical jump at 40 inches. Both of those characteristics have been on display this spring with the Steelers.

"I think last year helped me so much," Goodwin said. "I think I improved from playing against pros every day. I feel a lot more comfortable this year."

Goodwin made the Steelers' practice squad last year and was signed to the futures roster in January. He qualified to practice in the rookie camp earlier this month and was fortunate to bounce back from a scary spill that resulted from him going up to catch a ball. He was cut underneath by safety Alden Darby and landed on his head/neck/shoulder area. He was helped off the field but didn't miss any time.

"That's part of the game. It comes with the territory," Goodwin said. "I'm fine. I came back for more."

Goodwin clearly has the physical tools, and said he understands the offense, that the game is "a lot slower, so I'm getting a lot better."

His is a story that illustrates how players can get here from anywhere.

"It's about having opportunities and someone to believe in me, and a lot of coaches here do," Goodwin said. "It's just a blessing. When I was up at Cal, it was just a different feel. They didn't know me. I was only there for a semester. It was just not a good decision by me to not do my research. Up here, man, they see I'm athletic. They want me to build on it and see how far I can take it."

NEW PUNTER: BOMBS AWAY

Jordan Berry said he doesn't have a nickname, but he should. The way the new punter bombs moonshots the 6-5, 211-pounder from Melbourne, Australia, should have some type of moniker -- Robotron or something similar.

"Thanks," said Berry. "I came here trying to win the job and have been working on it really hard since I finished college. I just have to do it consistently."

The 24-year-old finished school at Eastern Kentucky in 2013 and has been working on his punting game since, but without a team. The Steelers signed him April 14 and released punter Richie Leone two days after the rookie minicamp. It's likely that Berry put on a show of sonic blasts with coffin-corner landings during that camp as well.

In college, Berry had several big kicks but his gross average of 43.4 seems rather light considering his potential and powerful leg.

"I was still growing," Berry explained. "I was pretty light when I first went into college, 170 pounds. Plus we ran a lot of different plays, a lot of things we would try to get a first down, fakes, a lot of that sort of thing. We were also running a lot more rugby punts rather than sitting in the pocket and punting it away. So, you're getting here to this first punting session with the team (Thursday) and you're getting to punt behind the formation. The pro level here is a really good experience."

If Berry is going to wrest the starting job away from second-year man Brad Wing, he'll need to continue to shock and awe, but also, it's been said, Berry will need to polish his all-around game, particularly his holds for the placekicker.

HOJO FILLING OUT

Howard Jones came to the Steelers as a pass-rusher with 35 career sacks but was undrafted out of Shepherd College because he was a slight 235-pounder.

Jones flashed his speed at the 2014 training camp and was placed on the practice squad and has been kept for the 2015 off-season.

But Jones was barely mentioned as a replacement for Jason Worilds as the Steelers signed Shawn Lemon out of the CFL, re-signed Arthur Moats and then drafted Bud Dupree in the first round.

Jones, though, is making his bid with 12 extra pounds of muscle this spring.

"I'm at 247 now, up from 235," Jones said. "And I can move with it."

Jones said he can now more easily turn speed into power because "with some of my moves I needed a little more weight, leverage-wise, to get around that edge so they wouldn't wash me out."

Jones had a chance to go to Arizona to train with the other linebackers in March, but opted instead to stay in Pittsburgh to "get some work in with these guys and watch some extra film."

His understanding of the defense?

"I feel good about my understanding," he said. "I still have a little bit more to learn but I feel good. My confidence level is up and that's always good to have."


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