FRIDAY, AUG. 21
The Keith Butler interview might be the defining interview/story of the Steelers' 2015 training camp. It painted a picture of a guy thrust into the eye of a changing world, a guy who has to coach the old method while the players learn the new method. And that sounds like an impracticality from the get-go.
Butler said the key to the evolution of this defense -- from a cover-3/zone-blitz team to the desired Tampa 2 (or Chuck Noll 2) -- is the ability to rush with four.
Haven't we all wanted that for every team we've ever watched?
And how can that happen here?
I see Mike Tomlin standing over by the OLB competition period every day in search of the answer as Jarvis Jones improves slowly and Bud Dupree continues the early phase of his long journey. As much as Tomlin hopes and wishes, those two aren't going to be any more than helpful pawns this season.
What the Steelers need is a superstar up front, someone who can turn the guys around him into superstars themselves. And I'll take one at either the tackle or end spots.
Only James Harrison has that kind of potential, but that's an awful lot to put on the shoulders of a 37-year-old who's still running with the second unit.
* Of course, the offense might be able to carry this team until the transition on defense begins to take a foothold. I'm not sure I've ever felt so confident in an offense as I have this one at this camp. Take yesterday's "coming out" period.
The ball is placed at the two-yard line and Ben Roethlisberger works out of his own end zone. That used to be a frightening scenario, but now it's snap, fake, hit Heath Miller for 20, or hit Antonio Brown for 12, or hit Le'Veon Bell coming out of the backfield for 10. And all with such confidence and ease. I've never seen a Steelers offense so ready for the start of a season.
* When you consider the superstar triplets, and an offensive line that's together again under an outstanding position coach for a third consecutive season, and playing like it, and a developing superstar in Martavis Bryant, and an emerging slot receiver in Markus Wheaton, you forget about a guy like Miller, who has genuine savvy and will be a killer on third downs this season. You also forget about one of the more underrated performers at this camp, Will Johnson, the FB/TE who has speed, hands and toughness. And you also forget about a fourth receiver with the speed of a Darrius Heyward-Bey. He may drop one, maybe two, but he still frightens coordinators with the long speed that was apparent again yesterday when he took a short pass and outran everyone -- including the converging free safety Robert Golden, who had the angle -- to the goal line.
* The final threat is Dri Archer. He has the speed -- sub 4.2, if we are to believe the Steelers' watch -- and every time he gets the ball on a short dump-off, you can't help but become excited. But then he goes nowhere, or down. It appears that he's still lacking in confidence. The advice of a long-time line coach -- "Let 'em drop, son" -- becomes crystal clear whenever I watch Archer attempt to mature into an NFL player at the start of his second season.
* Speaking of John Mitchell, his name came up when I asked Butler how rookie defensive lineman L.T. Walton was coming along. "A rookie under John Mitchell," Butler said with a chuckle. "That's not a fun place to be. That's not comfortable."
It's understandable with Mitch when he tells you stories about playing college ball under Bear Bryant and his group of assistants also known as the Texas A&M "Junction Boys." Mitch tells stories of how Bryant could watch 150 players on six different fields and never miss a mistake by anyone. "You did not want to see him come down from that tower," Mitchell says. "Nor did you want him hollering your name to one of his guys. So you just prayed that he didn't see you miss a tackle or a block. But it seemed like he always saw it, and I don't know how."
* Just to finish up with the offensive firepower, there's another prospect toiling in relative anonymity, but rookie Sammie Coates has had a good week holding on to the ball. However, his attention to that detail is derailing his greatest attribute, and that's running after the catch. "You have to have a plan, a run-after plan," Tomlin told Coates after a catch and short run yesterday. Tomlin pointed out "the lag" in Coates turning up the field as he secures the ball.
* How could I mention nine offensive skill players and not mention DeAngelo Williams? This guy is still showing a great burst, and he's running very low to the ground. He's going to be an outstanding replacement for Bell in the first two games. And as long as he understands his role following Bell's return, all will be well.
* Hey, we all assumed LeGarrette Blount understood his role, too. Not saying Williams is Blount, but all I can tell you is that Williams has little to say to the media, and what little he says isn't always with kind intentions. He's reminding me of Mewelde Moore, and in a more current situation Mike Mitchell, as guys who've come in from other cities with utter distrust and distaste for reporters. Moore eventually realized the media here wasn't out to get him, or his teammates, and he turned into a go-to guy who provided plenty of wisdom about the game. I can't see Williams coming around in his advanced veteran-ship, but I do believe he'll be a success on the field.
* So far the only real casualty this summer has been kicker Shaun Suisham, one of three whose season came to an end with knee injuries on the high school field in Canton. I asked special teams coordinator Danny Smith if there's anything to the Pittsburgh sports-talk rabble that a coach should've told Suisham to back off from his coverage duties. "You can't tell competitors not to do something," Smith said.
* The three top sleeper prospects this camp have been Kevin Fogg, B.J. Finney and Ian Wild. Fogg had another fantastic day Thursday. He added to his team-high practice interceptions total and also had several pass breakups.
* While watching Finney pull to the left and open up a huge hole for Braylon Heard, and then move Bud Dupree clear out of the "picture" on the next snap, a source told me Finney was warned to lose weight before showing up for training camp. Well, Finney lost weight -- two pounds. But his play might overcome the issue.
* Wild continues to excel as a 205-pound linebacker. During a goal-line drill, Wild crushed Heard in the hole to take the RB down at the one. Walking across the field and back to the huddle, Tomlin could only shake his head and say, "That sumbitch likes linebacker, don't he?"
* In order to focus solely on the football team, I've forsaken the wonderful changes being made at Scout.com, and not all of them have to do with video. I have a class today in using the new story template, I have a stack of emails from which everyone has tired of me asking "What does this mean?", and I probably have to do some video soon, maybe out of Tomlin's press conference today. But it is the last day of camp and I'm hopeful these anxiety attacks will end with it. So when I write to you tomorrow morning, in wrapping up the last day of camp, you'll know that my goal today of not having a heart attack has been achieved. * And as always, thank you for your patronage.
TUESDAY, AUG. 18
OK, folks, today's the day we're gonna win.
No, wait. That's Knute Rockne.
No, today's the day I'm not going to piss anyone off.
Except maybe Meghan Klingenberg.
Yes, I have a special treat on Pittsburgh's new cool kid coming up, but today's the day I want to thank the PR department for the avalanche of players who left practice the old-fashioned way: past the reporters and up Autograph Hill.
Problem was it caught everyone off guard. The reporters had become used to not getting players after practice and pretty much had their stories done. And Autograph Hill was near barren. It's possible the heat had an effect on the lack of attendance there, but a better explanation is that fans have stopped expecting any of the players to walk past them and into the locker room. Probably 95 percent of the players now hop on carts and buzz out the back of the field where no one but team personnel is allowed.
But it all changed yesterday, and I appreciate it.
* I guess you can call me the squeaky wheel who got the grease. Or the cranky old man who got the kid off his lawn.
* Let's start with our star of The Morning After this season, Mike Prisuta, who turned to us lounging on the porch at Sharkey's the other night and said, "Here's my prediction: At some point this year Mike Tomlin will order an onside kick with a fourth-quarter lead."
And I found myself nodding in agreement.
I'm sure we all remember the game against the Green Bay Packers in 2009. The Steelers took a 30-28 lead and dribbled the ensuing kickoff to their own 39. Ike Taylor touched the ball illegally so the Packers took the ball there with 3:58 remaining. Six plays later, they were leading 36-30 on an Aaron Rodgers TD pass. But that left enough time -- the gist of Tomlin's genius -- for Ben Roethlisberger to drive 86 yards in 2:01, with a TD pass to Mike Wallace as time expired.
The defense was so bad in 2009 that Tomlin gave the Packers a shorter field to score in order to have enough time left for his offense.
Think that has a chance of happening this year?
* Heh, how about this week? The Steelers host the Packers on Sunday. Since combining for 73 points that day, the teams totaled 56 in Super Bowl 45 and then 69 in a Steelers' win in 2013. The over-under for Sunday is 41. Of course, Roethlisberger and Rodgers won't be dueling much past the second series on Sunday, but still you figure these teams to score some points.
* The pass-defense stats I posted last night are eye-popping. In the first halves of two preseason games, the Steelers have allowed 77 percent of passes to be completed with a defensive passer rating of 128.
Not that I'm trying to cause panic, because there are so many vets being held out and the defensive changes are still being implemented. But there's little reason to expect all of it to be ironed out before the start of, oh, October.
* On the changes front, Dale Lolley asked Tomlin yesterday about the occasional 4-3 looks the Steelers have given this preseason. Tomlin said that his defenses have always given 4-3 looks in sub-packages.
The difference is that this preseason they've been doing so on first downs with base personnel. They've just moved either Shayon Green or James Harrison back as a stack strong-side OLB. It's clearly been a 4-3 base at times.
* They're probably just trying to give the New England Patriots something on which to work, but I still believe it's headed in that direction and I don't understand why the Steelers are drafting true 3-4 players. I mean, OK, Bud Dupree could turn out to be a freak in any scheme, but why not a 4-3 end later in the draft? Or a 3-technique DT earlier? It doesn't seem as if their draft strategy is meshing with their scheme strategy.
* That's usually a good thing -- for teams that change coaches more than three times in 47 years.
* I would hate to think the Steelers traded a fourth-round pick for a player in a rental year. But the Brandon Boykin negotiations are tricky because the potential 2016 free agent hasn't had the opportunity to prove he should be in the starting lineup. Until then, they won't pay him more money than the starters. And with Will Gay's contract also expiring, the Steelers really don't want to upset chemistry by attempting to read the future. That kind of thinking wouldn't be based in logic, which has always been the Steelers' mode of operation. So it's all quite delicate. But I have to admit I wouldn't mind seeing Omar Khan take a ballpeen hammer to that delicacy, because Boykin can play.
* Back when B.W. Webb was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, I asked Tomlin about drafting guys from his old school, William & Mary. He said he would hesitate in fear that such a draft pick could become an albatross to him. But when he got the chance to pick Webb up off the waiver wire, he did, and Webb stayed throughout the 2014 season and played in 10 games. But I don't know how they can keep him over Kevin Fogg. If we check the roster fits, they'll keep Gay, Boykin, Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake and Doran Grant. I presume Senquez Golson will spend the season on IR, and since he's part of the reason it's looking like an uninspiring draft class, the Steelers will no doubt keep Grant, the steady-if-unspectacular fourth-round pick. And they have to keep Fogg. He's making too many interceptions, tackling too well, and is obviously an energy-bringer with that bubbly personality. Will they keep Webb as veteran insurance? That would be the only viable explanation.
* These are the two-game ratings of the Steelers' CB group as compiled by Pro Football Focus: Fogg +2.5, Boykin +1.6, Blake +0.3, Allen +0.3, Gay 0.0, Grant -2.1 and Webb -2.6. I realize PFF has its critics -- and I'm often one of them -- but this seems right on the money.
* In the "I Saw A Headline" portion of our blog, we turn to "Soft-spoken Pouncey grows into role ..." I remember reading that Sunday morning and thinking to myself, "Pouncey? Soft-spoken? Are you kidding?" But if you read Mark Kaboly's story, he never called Pouncey any such thing, and so we can blame it on the headline writer I guess. But anyway, Tomlin saw that headline, too. And he was giving it to Pouncey yesterday during the stretch. So was DeAngelo Williams. Pouncey took the jabs from his coach with a smile, but he turned sharply to Williams and said "You better keep my name out your mouth." Pouncey went on to say some other things that I'll have to leave out there on the field.
* Pouncey and his sidekick Ramon Foster did look up to see me standing there grinning. Pouncey said, "Hey, why don't you write that it's Fan Appreciation Day?" I asked why. "Because the fans get to go home. It's too hot. Fan Appreciation." I told him that might be more like Media Appreciation Day, to which he said, "Fans, Media, Players, we're all working together, aren't we?" I told him it's too late for that ploy to work now, but that I might be able to use his trick to get Tuesday off. He nodded grimly with the knowledge they had Tuesday (today) off anyway. "Thanks a lot," he said, and turned away.
* Boykin, Alden Darby and Fogg had the picks yesterday. Eventually you stop believing these are fluke occurrences when it's the same guys doing the same things repeatedly.
* I finally got to see Braylon Heard run the ball. But not for long. His run around left end was blown up by the wrecking ball that is Ian Wild. The safety-turned- linebacker blew up Herd and someone shouted "Whoaaaa, Wild man!"
* I kind of prefer "Wild Thing" but we all get the point. The boy can play.
* Brad Wing struck a punt that sailed about 40 yards and out of bounds to Tomlin's delight. Tomlin turned to the other punter, Jordan Berry, and said, "Let's see what you got, four. I'm looking for a varsity kick here." But Berry sent up an ugly end-over-end punt, to which Tomlin commented, "Awwww, JV. JV." Wing then sent one out of bounds on the other sideline, to which Tomlin said, "That's nice."
And that brief exchange might very well sum up the punting competition to this point.
* Interesting to listen in on Tomlin giving Markus Wheaton some fine, detailed points about returning punts. Seems young Mr. Wheaton drifts into his catches instead of finding a stationary point from which he can catch and dart quickly in either direction. And also, he's not to do what Kenzel Doe just did and squat low as you receive the punt. That causes you to lose a step as well.
* You'll never guess Monday's Catch Of The Day winner, so I'll just tell you it was new tight end Ray Hamilton, who reached behind him to pull in a Landry Jones pass and then held on as Terence Garvin blasted him full on.
* But Garvin's wasn't the Hit Of The Day. That belonged to Wild, with Sean Spence the runner-up. Spence saw the big hole through which Le'Veon Bell was about to cruise, and Spence broke for the hole and unloaded -- except he drilled the pulling guard, Foster, and knocked the big man down and momentarily out.
* Heath Miller beat Spence down the middle and reached high to pull in a 25-yard floater just before the two safeties could converge. That's exactly how you attack the Cover-2.
* Mike Mitchell found RB Heard yesterday as well, and lowered his shoulder to finally hit someone in practice. Lolley turned to me and said, "That's what Mitchell wanted to do to me yesterday."
* Maybe you had to be there. Or maybe you just need to know that Mitchell isn't real fond of being interviewed.
* Charlie Batch normally doesn't care about being interviewed, but he wanted no part of any question involving James Harrison sending back Charlie's trophies in the much-discussed saga of Participation Trophies. Charlie said any comment he makes would take one side or another in what's become a hot-button parenting debate. Charlie just said that he's always happy to see a father as involved with his children as Harrison is.
* Oh, the soccer story. OK let's wrap 'er up today. I was walking back from lunch and saw what appeared to be a St. Vincent College co-ed sitting on a bench with her Bearcat Soccer shirt on. I asked if she was at the big game at Heinz Field on Sunday, and she said she couldn't make it, and I said I couldn't either, but we both agreed that Meghan Klingenberg's goal and subsequent Terrible Towel wave was pretty cool. The young lady, who turned out to be a member of the St. Vincent coaching staff, said she once played against Klingenberg, and that she has a bit of a potty mouth. "She said to me, 'Your mother's a whore.' And I laughed and said 'You don't even know my mother.'"
OK, flash forward to dinner. I sit down and tell the guys at my table that my daughter was a ballgirl at the Heinz Field game and that Alex Morgan stopped by to pose with her for a selfie. I showed them the photo and one of them thought it was a shot of Klingenberg. He said, "You know, my daughter played against Klingenberg in high school and you wouldn't believe what she said to her." He told me, and it was basic, and yes a tad vulgar, but funny. And that's the end of the story.
* Yep, shooting down heroes is what we in the media do best. But I still like Meghan Klingenberg. Hopefully you do, too.
FRIDAY, AUG. 14
This has been the worst camp yet for player access and it has me thinking conspiracy theory.
I'm always the one shooting those down, so maybe someone can shoot this one down for me. But it's almost absurd how little access the local media gets anymore. Couple that with the billions that are coming available for Internet advertising this fall, which will be based on August numbers, and I have to believe the league is in competition with media sites for news. I have to believe there's a real race for site clicks that the league needs to win, thus the leaks to NFL.com and the NFL Network, thus the massive presence of the team's own news site, and thus the anger over a simple good news tweet that "Robert Golden is NOT out for the year!"
Anyway, you just shake off these thoughts, watch practice closely and talk to the few who haven't been threatened by the team to keep quiet and you come up with these honest and independent morning thoughts:
* Garrett Hartley may have made 11 of 13 field goals the other day, but his leg is far from impressive. He was fresh and there wasn't any weather and his long was a 49-yarder that bounced off the crossbar. He's a little guy who doesn't generate much power and I'm hoping the Steelers don't lie down on this one by ignoring the camp competitions being waged by younger kickers. Don't wait for Hartley to miss easy kicks during the regular season before making a move.
* Finding a kicker shouldn't be difficult. It seems that only in Pittsburgh does media believe that placekicking and playing first base are difficult.
* Saw a headline that read "Bryant, Wheaton ease way back into practice" but there was no easing with either of them. They use so many 3-WR sets it's difficult to gauge whom the Steelers believe is winning that competition, but in my mind it has to be Bryant, the freaky stud. On the other hand, Wheaton had a great Wednesday and is well-liked by Ben Roethlisberger. Not that Bryant isn't. No QB would have a problem with Bryant, at least physically. But I'm excited to watch the entire offense on display for the first time tonight, even if it's for only two series.
* Heard a good Canton story about Brad Wing warming up for the next kickoff following Shaun Suisham's injury. Wing walked over to the kicking net, but the net was still pushed up over the top of the bar. Wing kicked the ball through the bars anyway and of course it went under the net, through the open space, and slammed a teammate in the head. Craig Wolfley, the sideline reporter and intrepid SCI.net columnist, turned him in.
* No one likes a snitch, unless it's a snitch on a punter who does something that dumb.
* The first practice of the week starred James "Deebo" Harrison, and during the first drill he bull-rushed massive Alejandro Villanueva straight back into Landry Jones' lap. The drill ended and the players broke off into groups with Harrison following Tomlin after the coach yelled, "Deebo come with me!" They went over to a group running the modern-day Oklahoma drill where Harrison showed all of the OLBs and TEs the meaning of setting the edge.
* Deebo was then excused to go to another group of LBs dropping into pass coverage.
* Harrison is running second team, as he did all spring, but there's no doubt that his presence is pushing Jarvis Jones, who has already added weight and just might be primed for a breakout.
* "Don't look back," Satchel Paige once said, "Deebo might be gaining on you."
* Josh Harris was a quiet return from the injured list this week. Either his legs were ultra-fresh or he's a lock to become the third RB, because he looks like a different guy this training camp.
* In the Is-it-good-or-bad-news department, Shamarko Thomas practiced, finally, and came hard on a blitz, but was picked up by DeAngelo Williams, who looked so bad in the opening-day backs-on-backers drill as a blocker. So, either DeAngelo can pick up blitzes like a savvy vet RB or Thomas isn't as explosive a player as we had all believed.
* I know. One play.
* One practice. One week. One game. That's why I cringe at the up/down grading that goes on with each player at every practice. Are these writers watching the practice film or just keying on one player per snap and missing all the rest? Tough thing to do, so readers should suspend belief if possible.
* I -- and everyone else -- forgot to ask Tomlin at his press conference about the groin injury sustained by Jordan Zumwalt following his outstanding showing in Canton. That news will now be locked away tightly with all of the other injury news. Such state secrets anymore.
* Tomlin was asking Mitchell Van Dyk if there was an E at the end of his name, because Tomlin saw the jersey at the Hall of Fame Game and thought the jersey-name guy had screwed up.
* Just thought you needed to know that. But Van Dyk said "No E."
* The best nickname in camp though -- at least that the media knows about -- is "Obscure-Guy Question Guy" which Tomlin dubbed the reporter who asks him about rostered players 91 through 94, 95 ...
* Maybe Ramon Foster won't have his contract extended and maybe he'll leave the team in free agency next season because maybe he's the slow guy in the zone-blocking schemes that are rarely used. Maybe he's the reason for that. I don't know. But he's a great leader. Listen to Foster coaching up the backups during practice and you will understand the term "energy-giver."
* And Foster's always joined by Maurkice Pouncey, another "EG." Makes for great chemistry.
* I don't know how you can leave Kevin Fogg off this roster. I'm really not sure whether he's executing his assignments or playing his techniques properly, but he keeps coming up with the football. The guy has better hands than some of these receivers, if that means anything.
* So maybe I was right about naming Fogg the "Sleeper of the Spring." But then I was wrong when I wrote that Sammie Coates has better hands than advertised. He dropped everything this past week. That will have to change if he's the roster lock I expected him to be.
* I was talking to a former pro cornerback who was in camp watching the wide receivers. I asked him about C.J. Goodwin and all the acrobatic catches he had been making, and the ex-pro said, "I've been watching him and think that physically he needs another year. In fact, I want to get right up on the line and never let him off. He's still got the body of a high school player."
* The WR depth may not be as good as hoped.
* So maybe "easing" Wheaton and Bryant through the rest of camp might be a more wishful headline than anything.
* And maybe Dri Archer deserves a spot after all. Yes, in the Hall of Fame Game he piled up yardage, and actually returned a kickoff past the 15, but he went down so easily. Again. Well, ha, that's what Matt Conrath thought the other day in practice. Archer ran into both Conrath and Terence Garvin on the edge, and Conrath grabbed Archer by the shoulder pads and attempted to throw him to the ground, but it only gave Archer further impetus to gain more yardage.
* Yes, and it should've been a headline: "Archer Does NOT Go Down!"
* No headline, but I did get the requisite one-liner from Prisuta: "You never got me down, Ray. You never got me down."
* That's right, "Raging Bull."
* Late in the last practice this week, Deebo dropped into coverage as a middle linebacker. There wasn't an offensive player in his zone, so he was surprised when Jones whipped a pass over the middle. Harrison got one hand on it as he dove, but thought he should've reeled in the interception so he punched the ground not once but twice. The Richter scale registered a 3.8 and 4.5. Yeah, he punched the ground harder the second time.
* I've written about the beautiful bomb Roethlisberger laid up there for Wheaton to run under in sprinter's stride. The snap before that, Jones had thrown a far-hash out to Shakim Phillips. This was two snaps after Jones was intercepted by Fogg and Jones probably needed some love from the coaching staff. "I see ya 3!" Tomlin shouted after the pass to Phillips. Tomlin then turned to us on the sideline and said, "That was a varsity throw right there."
* So after Roethlisberger stepped in and threw the 60-yarder to Wheaton, to illustrate true aerial domination, Tomlin turned again to us and said, "You know 7's not going to let someone else make the perfect throws around here."
* Yep. can't wait for the first two series tonight.
SATURDAY, AUG. 8
By now I'm sure -- at least I'm hoping -- that you've watched one of my videos on the site. It's the coming wave, and I know that makes true football fans nervous.
Nobody who likes football likes video over text. I get that. But guess who does like video? Major corporations who pay millions -- nay, billions -- to drop ads into
videos on the Internet. At least that's what I'm told.
So we're plowing ahead, and why not? We would be foolish not to compete for that kind of money. This organization has so much hidden value, and our new front office -- and hopefully the aforementioned major corporations -- will bring that value forward and take Scout to the next level where it belongs.
The front office is giving away several huge prizes to publishers for video numbers because the front office believes we're going to score big time with the ad money this fall. So they're gambling with these huge prizes, and it's probably as good a gamble as taking the Vikings on Sunday night.
* Not that I'm going to come close to winning anything. They've dragged this guy kicking and screaming out of the Dark Ages, and I'm begrudgingly coming along. I'm not about to go video-crazy on you fine readers, but I'm going to do my part. Let the more techno-savvy carry the rest of us, but I'll do my part, and in the meantime I swear I'm going to work just as hard at producing the finest written content within my capabilities.
* On a conference call, the CEO told us to clean it up, to put on a jacket, shave your face, and for the love of God comb your hair. My reply was "Just show the girl."
* Love the host, Kaitlyn. And she loves the Steelers. I don't know if the rest of Scout is supposed to know this, because she's the host for every publisher's video, but she always tells me she can't wait for me to check in at Scout Studios, and she always has questions about her favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
* God does love the Steelers, doesn't He?
* And my job is to provide news, so how about getting to that sometime soon this morning, huh, Wex?
* Let me start by quoting someone smarter than me about the linemen. I hated to ask, but I tried watching L.T. Walton simply out of duty to our readers, since Clifton Geathers was placed on IR, and Walton was doing his Rodney Bailey imitation and that caused me to miss a great pick by Brandon Boykin. And I love watching Brandon Boykin!
This ticked me off, so I stopped picking out guys who aren't flashing just to pretend I can discuss their flaws and/or virtues, and I went back to watching the ball.
* And so I instead asked a paid professional about the linemen, starting with Walton:
"I didn't really watch him much, but I have been watching a little bit of (Stephon) Tuitt lately. Tuitt is really starting to develop a second move. He's got a nice, little move where he goes inside then swims back to the outside. He got (David) DeCastro twice on it (Thursday). I remarked to David, 'David, you've got to finish a little more violently.' And the third time he did. But Tuitt is just getting better and better and better."
Did you see him beat Antonio Brown to the pylon on an end around Friday?
"No, I didn't see it. It was away from me on the other side. But he is impressing me. Marcus Gilbert is also playing solidly if unspectacularly. He's just getting smoother and smoother and smoother. He's coming to that point in his career where he's really starting to settle in and play with confidence and shave those extracurricular steps that you don't need. He doesn't get himself out of position. I admire that when I see it in a guy. It's like he's refining his toolkit, the set of skills that he's got, so that he's not always having to recover, like Alejandro (Villanueva). Alejandro's always in recovery stage. Those sorts of things are happening. Kelvin Beachum is also looking good."
What about the younger guys?
"The guy I'm really starting to pay attention to is B.J. Finney. I like him. I like him. He's rarely on the ground. He doesn't eat much dirt and he's always locked on to somebody in front of him. You know what I mean? He's not going to win any beauty contests. He is truly a big ugly. As highly motivated as he's shown to be, you can't help but root for the story that he's becoming. I'm anxious to see what he can do Sunday night, because I think that's a great step out onto a big stage and I'm kind of excited for him."
What about Alejandro?
"I've got to see him against some other people. Right now he still reminds me of the newborn colt, all knees and elbows and stuff like that. I thought he made great progress but has just kind of leveled a little bit. That can happen during camp. You're going to have those ups and downs, but the thing that I like is when he gets in the proper position, he's immovable. It's just that oftentimes he's in a recovery stage and that's a difficult thing for him to do."
Sometimes I swear he looks like Boselli.
"Oh, when he comes off the ball and he gets it right, it can be frightening. He's like Danny McCullers bullrushing a young guard, makes them look like one of those waiters at Sonic -- on skates and zipping around. Danny really gets it going when he gets it going."
* One guy I forgot to ask my source about is Kevin Palmer. Once again the late pickup at left tackle stoned Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo in back-to-back one-on-one reps. I asked someone else about Palmer and was told, "There's definitely a buzz about him with the coaches."
* Sorry that I can't put names with sources. It's about halfway through a long camp and everyone just gets tighter and tighter when stuff like this comes out. One of the new guys is now trying to take away my breakfast privileges away. He doesn't seem to like the media, and I understand that, but I've been going to breakfast here for 21 years now and somehow the team has managed to go to four Super Bowls.
Hopefully I can get through this uber-tragedy, because as most of you know I don't drink anything but coffee. I get up early, drink my three cups, write and go to breakfast. I love mornings.
* Thus, this column.
* By the way, I hope you like the newest photo. I saw that sunrise through my dorm window, went outside to snap the picture, and the door closed and locked behind me. Good thing my friend Mike Prisuta was up and doing his radio show for WDVE.
"You and your sunrises," he said groggily after he got my text and came to open the door.
* Wait, I'll find another Prisuta-ism in my notes somewhere. OK, here it is. There's a big-mouth fan who announced his presence with authority all week long. If you've been to practice this week, you've heard him. Prisuta asked me if I thought he was from New York City. I shrugged and Prisuta said, "You can bet money he is." I asked why, because my guess might've been Philly. "Nah," Prisuta said. "This guy's loud but he's positive. If he was from Philly he would've waited for A.B. to drop a ball and yelled 'You suck!'"
* And speaking of isms, someone gave me a great idea for my next book: A small, easy-to-read, jokey book of Tomlin-isms. That could be some fun compiling that.
* Tomlin was on the aforementioned DVE Morning Show yesterday and was asked why he's been keeping James Harrison out of practice. "I'm not keeping James out of practice to keep him healthy. I'm keeping James out of practice to keep the rest of the team healthy."
* I don't know if you need to read this, but A.B. and Le'Veon Bell are looking truly special this camp. A.B. and Ben Roethlisberger are taking their pass combination to the next level, and Bell looks noticeably quicker after losing 10 more pounds. I know it's hard to believe, but my memory tells me it's true.
* But my memory hasn't had breakfast this morning, so take that for what it's worth.
* The aforementioned Walton made a diving tackle of a running back at the line of scrimmage on Friday. That was the first time I noticed him without having to watch him from the snap.
* I compared him to Bailey earlier because Bailey was a solid if unspectacular sixth-round pick who went on to help the team. While Walton is boring to watch, I haven't seen him get knocked on his can. And the diving tackle was pretty cool.
* I saw a headline this morning that read, "Steelers rookie safety a hot commodity" and was hoping I was opening a story about Ian Wilds, maybe even Alden Darby. But it was about the most overglorified seventh-round pick in NFL history: Gerod Holliman.
* Got no problem with Holliman trying to learn his position, but I'm just more interested in Wild, about whom Tomlin even said admitted to being excited to watch Sunday night.
* Yeah, if you were wondering, that's Creedence playing in the background. Cops finally got my tapes and eight-track back the other day.
* But back to Wild. He's a 6-foot, 205-pounder from Baldwin High School. Yes, THAT Baldwin, with no more big-school football tradition than my Norwin Knights. I even covered him back in the day, against Peters Township, but don't remember him. I just like his presence back there, and apparently so does Tomlin, who's made him first-team personal protector on the punt team.
* First team at this point, with 30 or so players missing every practice, doesn't mean what it usually means, but still Wild was barking out signals like a grizzled vet yesterday. It caused me to think back to Troy Polamalu's first year when they had him at the PP, or fullback spot, on the punt team and he called out those signals with much, much less authority. The great Polamalu seemed like a little kid trying to sound all grown up. It's actually a pretty neat memory in retrospect.
* I understand it's become team vs. media now that the team has its own media, but what about the fans who are lining up and down both sides of the pathway that exits the practice field? The players are allowed to take carts out the back in order to avoid the non-Steelers media, and again I get that, but what about the autograph seekers? Yesterday I watched Tyler Murphy, Joe Kruger and Niko Davis carry the full load. Naturally, kids don't care who signs their pennants, but they really do enjoy meeting guys who will actually be here during the season.
* No disrespect to those three players. Hey, they might all make the team. I'm just making a point. I know players get tired after standing on the sideline with a bruise and missing practice, but isn't the marketing going to suffer just a bit?
* I think one of the problems was the guy from NYC. He's probably scaring the players away from walking up the hill. So here's an autograph tip: Players are NOT going to follow the sound of an adult begging for an autograph. You kids out there, stay clear of the grown-up leather-lungs. Even if it's your father.
* I was listening to Doran Grant talk about his family of Steelers fans and how he openly rebelled as a child by rooting instead for the Dallas Cowboys. Le'Veon Bell grew up the exact same way. Must be something about talented, Steelers-bound Ohio kids.
* I can't say I saw much from Eli Rogers -- who was placed on IR with a foot injury -- but I know the team liked him and let that leak to other reporters. My guys, the sleepers I personally like, are C-G Finney, TE Cameron Clear, OTs Palmer and Villanueva, S Wild, CB Kevin Fogg and OLB Shayon Green.
* Green is the guy they signed on the pro-day spot after he sat out a year, that's also known as the Will Johnson maneuver.
* I may have missed one or two sleepers, so if you're reading and not on the list remember that I am a writer, not a scout, even though I pretend to be one every draft season.
* Jordan Zumwalt had another excellent practice, and it made me wonder -- after looking over the carnage at the safety position -- why it's always the most shallow positions that are hit hardest by injuries. Murphy's Law of football I guess.
* Zumwalt may have moved past Terence Garvin for that fifth ILB spot, but Garvin can play special teams. Might be an interesting side story to watch Sunday night.
* Will be very interesting to see what Tomlin does with Boykin. Yesterday he put Boykin outside with the first unit and Will Gay in the slot for the first time. But how and when does Tomlin make the move of putting Boykin on the first team, which he appears to deserve? And how does the team go about slottong Boykin and Gay on the pay scale as the renegotiation season of 2016 free agents winds to a close? The contracts for both corners will expire following the season. I don't think you want both, or either, to test the waters, but I also think it's playing with fire to pay one more money than the other if you haven't yet had time to let competition settle the dust of the starting lineup.
* I know, some will just say promote Boykin now and forget about any hurt feelings. But my belief is there's a lot more for Tomlin to finesse than that.
* My social life doesn't always revolve around breakfast cereal. I did make it out to Sharkey's the other night. I walked with Prisuta, Dale Lolley and Bob Labriola from the main bar to the new outdoor porch and was shocked. It was light and breezy and full of gorgeous women and friendly men. I felt like I had stumbled into the same world George Costanza had stumbled into with the models. I highly recommend it.
* But for now, I gotta get another cup of Joe. Have a great weekend.
TUESDAY, AUG. 4
On the trade that sent cornerback Brandon Boykin to the Steelers for a fourth (60 percent of defensive snaps) or fifth-round draft pick, Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly said the Steelers "actively pursued him," which morphed into Pro Football Talk's report that the Steelers "have been calling the Eagles for months about acquiring him."
That drew an eyeroll from the Steelers' front office. A source explained that the trade was the result of a perfunctory phone call made prior to the start of training camp.
There are three times a year that personnel departments put calls into all teams to see who might be available for a trade: the draft, the start of camp and the 53 (after final cuts). The Eagles told the Steelers that Boykin was on their list of potentially available defensive backs on draft day. They keep a list of guys like that and called back at the start of camp to see if he was still available.
So it's not as if the Steelers were intent on landing Boykin, but the source did call him "the best nickel in the game."
That's saying a lot since the Steelers already have a tremendous slot corner in William Gay, but Boykin is five years younger than Gay and no doubt faster.
Boykin was still running with the third team during his second practice at St. Vincent College but the Steelers are excited about watching him practice daily against Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.
"He covered A.B. (Sunday) and was right with him until Ben (Roethlisberger) and A.B. did some of their magic and A.B. caught the ball and Brandon was like in shock. But those receivers will make him better. I can't wait to see him compete."
* The ripple effect is akin to a baseball team adding a staff ace. Now, Gay's a fine No. 2, Cortez Allen's comeback from an awful 2014 isn't a dire must, Antwon Blake is the freakishly athletic No. 4, B.W. Webb is an experienced vet at No. 5 in case of an injury, fourth-round pick Doran Grant gets a scholarship year at No. 6, Kevin Fogg can develop on the practice squad, and second-round pick Senquez Golson can spend the year on IR.
It was an all-breathe-easier kind of deal for the Steelers.
* Not sure about this talk of how cover-2 corners face the quarterback and are better able to make plays on the ball. That's actually more of what a cover-3 cornerback did with those big cushions in Dick LeBeau's scheme. Cover-2 corners will press and hand off deep before facing the quarterback.
* Boykin came up to stuff the run in practice yesterday. Looks plenty tough enough.
* Undrafted rookie Eli Rogers sprained a foot in Monday's practice after getting his chance to play in the slot with Bryant and Markus Wheaton injured. One of Rogers' first snaps was an end-around in which he put moves on two defenders to get into the end zone for a two-point conversion.
A coach approached me on the sideline and had some praise for the 180-pounder. I ran the quotes past Rogers -- who was Teddy Bridgewater's go-to receiver in high school and at Louisville -- and asked him to respond.
-- "He has a different kind of quick than we've had in the slot over the years. He's quick and tough."
Rogers: "I've been playing slot for a long time. I just like it in there. I can read the defense better. It seems like I can find the holes in the defense."
-- "He has the same build as A.B. and some of the same physical characteristics."
Rogers: "I actually model my game after A.B. We're cool on and off the field. He's coaching me up on the field and off the field I just try to follow what he does as far as taking care of his body and how he carries himself. He's a hard worker on the field. I just try to follow behind him."
-- "He can return punts, too. I predict he'll make at least one big play on a return this preseason."
Rogers: "I'm going to do my best. You can expect me to make a big play back there if I'm given a chance."
* I wrote over the weekend how Mike Tomlin shamed Rogers into putting his helmet back on and doing some post-practice work with Brown. The next day Rogers, of his own free will, was doing post-practice sprints with Lawrence Timmons.
* I've seen good and I've seen bad from ILB Jordan Zumwalt this camp, and any of the bad probably has to do with the fact he had to take a break the other day to use his helmet to roll out his groin, which underwent offseason surgery. But Zumwalt makes plays. He's a slithery blitzer and will also pop you. He came up to smack a running back with his chest and shoulders the other day and I thought he was going to make that "go to sleep" gesture he had made after one college hit. But he didn't.
I'm just hoping that groin isn't causing him too much trouble because as a playcalling backup buck ILB he seems to understand the defense.
* The horn sounded and Gie Giemont shouted for the "Pass under pressure!" drill. Friend and colleague Mike Prisuta turned to me and said, "Pass under pressure? How they going to do that? Are they bringing the Ravens in?"
* One of the interesting undrafted rookies is big safety Ian Wild from nearby Baldwin High School and Erie's Mercyhurst University. He's 6-0, 205, seems to run as well as most safeties, and comes up to hit time and again. He's one of broadcaster Tunch Ilkin's favorite sleepers.
* Kevin Palmer, the undrafted offensive lineman out of Baylor who was signed the day before camp opened after being released by two teams, isn't that bad. He's listed at 6-4, 290, and up close looks like a taller Kelvin Beachum. I asked Palmer how he did at Baylor blocking Shawn Oakman, the freakish 6-9, 280-pound defensive end who'll go in the top 10 of the next draft.
"It was hell at first," said Palmer. "But I came around. He made me better."
On being cut by other teams, Palmer said, "Arizona told me I was too small and Kansas City said they found someone cheaper."
Palmer, like Beachum, doesn't have the classic tackle build, but like Beachum seems to have good feet and an innate understanding of how to get the job done.
* Yes, rookie fifth-round tight end Jesse James is going to make the team, and so might undrafted rookie Cameron Clear, a physical athlete with soft hands who seems to move more fluidly than James. Both youngsters made it easy for the team to release Michael Egnew the other day in order to make room for Boykin.
"All the problems teams are having finding tight ends in the league and we have two young ones like that," one coach said with a smile.
* I was talking on the sideline about undrafted rookie tackle Kevin Whimpey with the aforementioned Prisuta, and I said, 'Hey, at least he made it past the first cut," to which Prisuta replied, "They would gladly cut him Tuesday."
* You would have to be old enough to remember Popeye cartoons to appreciate that one.
* So I asked Ross Ventrone -- who's out of his walking boot and working on the sidelines -- if the players still call him Rusty, because I wondered if I was confusing that for his brother Ray's nickname. "No, my name's Rusty," Ventrone said. "My brother's name's Bubba."
* The Washington Redskins, for one, had a second-round grade on Boykin before he broke his fibula at the Senior Bowl. Not sure about the Steelers' grade.
* Cam Thomas has played well this week as a replacement for Steve McLendon.
* Hey, don't shoot me. I'm just the messenger.
FRIDAY, JULY 31
OK, so no one understood my Rodney Dangerfield quote in Wednesday's practice report. And I get it. I kind of squeezed that one in there. But this is how it went down:
It was a miserable day for the backup quarterbacks. I counted four fumbled snaps; others reported six. So up stepped Landry Jones, who threw a spiral for a 10-yard completion. It was an oasis in a desert, and colleague Mike Prisuta said, "Landry needs those other guys around." And I said, "How so?" And he said, like Rodney Dangerfield said, "If you want to look thin, hang around with fat people."
But on the next snap, Jones threw a pass straight into the dirt to a wide-open Michael Egnew in the flat. So much for that oasis.
* I know, Jones is taking a lot of grief for not showing much polish in his third season, but he did play better in the preseason games last season than he did in practice. That's the hope once again, otherwise I'm going to have to agree with Ed Bouchette that signing Michael Vick might be the smart move right now.
* Speaking of Bouchette, he had a great exchange with James Harrison yesterday. On his way to lunch a couple of days after confounding a group of national reporters who expected on-the-spot analysis and insight, Harrison was stopped by a group of locals. He was telling us that we had to instead ask Mike Tomlin when Harrison was allowed to return to the practice field. That's when Bouchette walked up.
EB: Have any impressions of the young linebackers yet?
JH: Um, yeah, I do. (Pause) Keep them to myself.
EB: Do you like them?
JH: Oh, of course I like them. They're my teammates.
EB: Have you liked every teammate?
JH: Yeah. (Pause) Do you like all these reporters?
EB: (Quickly) No.
JH: You don't? Which ones don't you like?
EB: I'm keeping that to myself (laughs).
* In looking that exchange up in my files, I noticed I had written a Rodney Dangerfield-esque headline for this site on this day a year ago for a feature on recently released safety Jordan Dangerfield. Just sayin'.
* A guy who's smarter than me gave me a few one-liners about some of the talent at hand:
-- "I liked 40 on offense (Ross Scheuerman) in OTAs and the way he showed up late in backs-on-backers."
-- "Cortez Allen has looked good the first couple of days here. He's got to be our Ike (Taylor) with opponents' big receiver."
-- "I like Kevin Fogg, but he'll have the same problem our other small corners will have."
-- "Jarvis Jones has added some weight and is playing with more power."
* With the QBs struggling Wednesday, an offside penalty wiped out a turnover, which irked DC Keith Butler. So at the start of the next day, in the "get-off" drill that opens front-seven group work, Butler walked over and said, "Stay onside today. We had a few that cost us yesterday." And just as those words were out of his mouth, the line jumped en masse before Joey Porter snapped the ball. "Offsides! All of you!" Butler shouted in crazed disbelief.
* I asked someone else in-the-know if my report on what I felt was excellent work by second-team LT Alejandro Villanueva on Wednesday was indeed correct.
"Oh yeah. He's got a good chance of making the roster as a backup," the source said.
I had also written that Villanueva showed some stiffness when he was beat wide on one snap.
"He's not stiff," I was told. "Sometimes he has trouble with his footwork, and he doesn't use his arms and length as well as he will as he learns, but he's not stiff. He's an athlete. Hey, how many tours did he do and not get shot? Hell, the guy's 6-9. He was a bit of a target, wouldn't you say? He apparently can dodge bullets. So, no, any trouble he has right now has to do with inexperience because he's an athlete. I even liked his tape as a D-lineman."
* A few front-office nuggets: 1.) The Steelers aren't close to signing Kelvin Beachum yet; 2.) The expectation is to keep three quarterbacks; and 3.) Practice squad players will make $6,600 per week minimum this year, with the only maximum being your team's salary cap.
I was told that increasing the salary is the best way to keep players from jumping teams when claimed off a practice squad, because rarely is a team going to activate said player off its own PS after he's claimed. The host team would've done so already if it had liked the PS player that much.
* The great Art Rooney Jr. has been at camp. He's one of the Chief's sons, brother of Dan. We've always had a good relationship due to our literary ventures. I asked him if the lady accompanying him was the same who was groped by President Jimmy Carter when the team visited the White House back in the 1970s.
"Yes, that's my wife Kay," Rooney Jr. said with a twinkle in his eye. "You know, I never really believed her until a couple of years later one of my friends told me Carter had pinched his wife's rear end, too. I ran to the phone and said, 'Kay, please forgive me. You've been telling the truth all these years.'"
* As Rooney Jr. and Kay exited their golf cart, I said to the reporters at the cafeteria entrance to "make room for the guy who built the Steel Curtain." He turned to me and said, "You know, I'm 80 years old and I will take that and run with it. Of course, you know as well as I that no one buys that."
Rooney Jr. of course held the position equivalent to general manager at the time. He wanted to give Bill Nunn the lion's share of the credit, but I asked him who allowed Nunn to do his work. "Well, that would be me," Art Jr. said.
"And that's why you're the man," I said. "Case closed."
* I wrote this past spring about Tomlin calling out the first off the ball in each rep of the "get-off" drill, and how Cameron Heyward explained that Tomlin gives preference to Lawrence Timmons, "his first son." Well, Tomlin walked over to the pit late Thursday, and when he got there shouted out "Law Dawg!" And then Tomlin said to Heyward, "I don't know why you're mumbling 97."
The pursuit of your coach's love never ends, even for those with $60 million contracts.
* After Cameron Clear beat Bud Dupree on three consecutive reps in backers-on-tight ends, a tired Clear was beaten by Anthony Chickillo to end the session. Here's the intel I received on the latter two players:
-- "I like Clear. Excellent athlete. He's 270 but with that frame could end up 300. He just has to decide if he's going to work for it. But he can make this team."
-- "Chickillo, I like Chickillo. Everyone says 'He had no sacks' but look where he played: defensive end in a 4-3 and 5-technique in their 3-4. But he's down to 245, 250 and he's moving well. And I like his demeanor. I also like the way he plays with his hands. He's a tough kid, no-nonsense. Just a football player."
* NFL officials are on campus to explain the new rules and points of emphasis to team and media today. Yesterday they worked the practice and I overheard one talk about an old Sports Illustrated photo he's in with Fast Willie Parker during Parker's Super Bowl-record jaunt against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. And then the official said, "Everyone in Seattle was (complaining) about us. Well, why don't you stop a simple dive play?"
Some arguments never get old.
TUESDAY, JULY 28
It was such a wild scene. And I have no idea why I didn't take video.
As you know, video is king in "journalism" these days. I'm told the dollar ratio for video to print is 10 to 1. I'm told by the Scout front office that I need to take more video, that I need to do what Dejan Kovacevic does and tape interviews with your phone camera.
I say it looks utterly ridiculous, and I believe that a camera always, always, always lessens the flow of information. But I was told that my opinions on the topic don't matter because money talks. An advertiser can embed an ad in said video and the viewer can't get away from it. So there.
But I don't listen.
I'm an idiot.
And yesterday was a prime example.
I was standing way in the back of the field, per my typical approach, because I want a player in a one-on-one setting after he's waded through the rest of the journalistic jungle. So as I stood in the back waiting for either Will Allen or Ike Taylor to talk about the impressive cover-2 coaching display put on by Mike Tomlin earlier in practice, I watched a mob scene -- fueled by the fact the Steelers are one of only two NFL teams in a camp right now, and by the fact the ESPN circus was in town -- unfold around an empty microphone backed by a Steelers/advertisers wall board for all of the video machines to capture in a money-making orgy for everyone.
The mob waited by the vacant stage set-up in the middle of a now-empty practice field as if a major announcement was about to take place. Maybe Roger Goodell was going to make a pronouncement about Le'Veon Bell's appeal?
Ben Roethlisberger was scheduled to speak and the media waited patiently as players finished their post-practice individual work. And then Ben made his move.
This is where I failed my video lords because the pack went wild. I remember Josina something or other scrambling to get into a position that was worthy of some kind of queen of ESPN. She was the one who stood out most to me as members the mob scrambled wildly to get into proper position.
My guys, the DBs, were still stretching as a unit in the middle of another field, so I had time to walk over and listen to Ben for a few minutes. How he has not grown nasty and snarky and impatient with these mobs and their stupid questions makes me admire him more each passing year. And when he said the most important thing for this offense is "staying healthy," I nodded in agreement, because the most important thing for this TEAM is for HIM to stay healthy. After all, I've spent the spring and the last few days watching his backups, which don't include the sore-armed Bruce Gradkowski.
But that's the topic for tomorrow's story, so I left. And then the DBs broke up. That's when I realized I had missed another golden video moment earlier in practice: Tomlin coaching like an assistant.
* Readers here know that I'm a fan of Tomlin the coach and Tomlin the man. I like to think he feels the same about me as a reporter and a person. I report some of our friendly exchanges here, just as I report some of the exchanges that aren't so friendly. But I've regarded the relationship as one of mutual respect, and so that sometimes gets thrown back in my face after the Steelers lose to, say, the Raiders and I don't call for his firing or even rip his abilities. I'm told that my feelings about him are clouded by his respect for me. I respond with facts about his won-loss record, his guiding the team to two Super Bowl appearances and one win, and the fact it was inevitable for a team that went to three Super Bowls in six years to face a couple of down seasons as a rebuilding job unfolded. The fact the Steelers won long ago with a young quarterback who is now old enough and good enough to keep the team from falling to 4-12 and drafting true superstar talent has helped Tomlin maintain his streak of non-losing seasons but has also hurt the rebuilding effort.
Anyhow, I've always like the leadership Tomlin has displayed on the practice field and in the locker room, which are really the only times I can watch him operate. But yesterday I watched a completely new dimension. I watched Tomlin coach details of the cover-2 as if he were an assistant coach again. He was forceful, yet patient. And he got in there and mixed it up himself to illustrate points he was making. It made me realize that he not only knows a helluva lot more details about the game than he he had ever shown as a head man, but that he was also lacked ego as he allowed Dick LeBeau to teach his own methods.
How a coach so young could let someone else teach his baby, in his first big shot as an NFL coach, is very impressive. But so was yesterday's display of coaching.
Sure, the Steelers have used some cover-2 in the past, but the way he got down and taught the very basics of the cover-2 to his secondary, and told them they have a long way to go, that "we're not going to build it all today," told me this will be more than something they use in games every now and then. It told me he's going to begin looking for cover-2 DBs and perhaps even cover-2 assistant coaches, like Dexter Jackson, Tomlin's old safety at Tampa Bay, who's a volunteer assistant in camp at the moment.
* Speaking of Jackson, you remember him as the Super Bowl MVP-turned-free agent in 2003 who was about to sign with the Steelers, but who then backed out at the last minute and signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Jackson played only one year in Arizona before going back to Tampa Bay and then on to Cincinnati.
But the Steelers didn't miss out on much. It forced them to look for a safety in the upcoming draft. Hello, Troy Polamalu.
* I criticized Cortez Allen in my Digest notes column that's coming out for publication in a few days, but I'll look foolish if Allen continues to practice the way he did yesterday. Allen's highlight was an interception of Roethlisberger in the two-point conversion drill that's held daily.
* A few snaps later in the same drill, Landry Jones was intercepted by Doran Grant, who could've returned it 100 yards for a score had it been a game. I bumped into the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette a bit later. He had been watching practice from the top of the hill and made his way down to ask if it was Jones who had also been intercepted by Allen. I said I thought it was Roethlisberger. Ed left and a few minutes later he called me over to where he was standing with Peter King. Ed said that King also saw Jones throw the interception to Allen.
I was surprised. I walked back over to the sideline and told about 10 reporters that they were all wrong, that it was Landry Jones who had thrown both interceptions.
They argued, but I told them it didn't matter what they thought because Ed Bouchette and Peter King will report differently. And who's the public going to believe?
* One of the more interesting plays yesterday saw Roethlisberger scramble before setting his feet to heave deep. Now, if a guy like Roethlisberger escapes pressure and has the time to look deep, we can expect a big play. Well, this big play was made by Ryan Shazier, who was running step for step with fullback Will Johnson. Shazier wasn't fooled by the wheel route nor was he moved off his mark by the scrambling quarterback and he broke up the pass.
With inside linebackers who can run like Shazier and Lawrence Timmons, the cover-2 has a great chance to succeed here.
* Like the time Jack Lambert dropped into coverage to make the interception that clinched the 1979 championship. Cover-2 has been very good to Pittsburgh.
* Someone told me a story about Lambert being scared. Yeah, one of my all-time favorite players and tough-guy personalities, Lambert got on a plane in Oakland after an AFC Championship Game loss and watched Ernie Holmes polish off a bottle of Courvoisier. The legend is that Lambert was scared to death that "Fats" was going to punch open an exit door in mid-flight. Can't say I blame Lambert.
* Funny to read Fantasy writers raving about Martavis Bryant's scoring potential this season as if they're the first to consider it. I have to believe any Fantasy leaguer in Pittsburgh had that one marked as a no-brainer since he reported to spring drills in such great shape and with a great attitude.
* Bryant caught a beautiful bomb from Roethlisberger yesterday. Gorgeous pass that arched right into the big receiver's chest.
* Gerod Holliman was beaming after yesterday's practice. The rookie seventh-round pick who led the nation in interceptions last season saw few reps all spring and just as few in the opening practice. But there was Holliman in the third scrimmage yesterday playing with the first team as the replacement for Mike Mitchell. It only strengthened my post-spring belief that the Steelers like Holliman but don't have room for him right now and have a spot on the practice squad with his name on it.
* Howard Jones made the funniest play yesterday. He dropped beautifully into coverage in an intermediate zone and the poor pass from Tajh Boyd was headed right for Jones' face. But Jones batted it down as if it were a volleyball. I don't know if he was so surprised to see the ball, or if his hands are so bad that a spike is his natural reaction.
* Kevin Fogg -- like the aforementioned Cortez Allen -- had a reversal in form from the first practice. But Fogg was the opposite of Allen in that the CB was very good the first day and struggled the second.
* With ESPN and other national reporters waiting for players outside the lunch-time cafeteria, James Harrison walked into a real mob scene. But only for a couple of minutes. I was told by some pissed-off reporters that Harrison said nothing, and was even rude. RUDE! James? It can't be. But someone tweeted some snark about Harrison being in mid-season form. It made me like him even more.
* DeAngelo Williams isn't making friends with reporters. I'm told the Charlotte-area reporters didn't care much for him, either. But I don't care. My one interaction with the new running back was strange in that he did a lot of yelling at me, but as Joe Starkey said yesterday, that's great stuff. Williams yelled at me with a smile on his face and the quotes were great. Hey, I don't care if he likes me or not. I only care that there are different personalities in the locker room, and Williams and Harrison are certainly unique in that regard.
* Special teams coaches always practice a play in which the field-goal unit has to rush onto the field as the clock winds toward zero. So Danny Smith did that yesterday and counted down from 15 as players scrambled wildly to get into position. As Smith got to five, Shaun Suisham was into his set position and then kicked with about two left on Smith's vocal clock. Smith was walking with his back to the play and shouting "... five, four, three, two, one, Get on the bus we win!" as Suisham's kick sailed through the uprights. Smith never even saw it. But he knew he was right.
* I asked a source about Jordan Berry, the punter with the monster leg who supposedly can't hold or play football well enough to unseat incumbent Brad Wing. The source said, "Don't believe it. Jordan's a better holder at this point than Brad was last year at the same time."
* Just heard from another source that the Steelers have LT Kelvin Beachum as their new No. 1 priority for a contract extension. The sides aren't close. Yet. But the Steelers of late seem to have a knack for getting these things done.
* Polamalu's gone but not forgotten. He came up when I asked Mike Mitchell about his infamous tweet last year when he responded harshly to a critic. Mitchell said that pulled him aside afterward and "He said, 'Mike, you can't take that stuff personal. You're never as good as they say you are and you're never as bad as they say you are,' and I thought that was brilliant. To me it's all outside noise, whether it's good or bad. I just stay focused on the people I hold dear to my heart and what my coaches say because ultimately that's what matters."
I told Mitchell that I often find myself quoting Polamalu to lift my daughter's spirits after a unsuccessful performance by saying, "You know, Troy says that ..." You can fill in the blanks because Troy has made so many wise and usable statements throughout the years.
Nah, his like will never be forgotten.
* The players are off today, so the cafeteria was close to empty at dinner last night as Dale Lolley and I sat in the back finishing our meal. Tomlin walked past with his hands full of styrofoam cups. He was taking them to the soda machine, which presumably was low on cups. Tomlin looked at us as he walked past. He usually has something funny to say, but seemed to wait for me this time. So I gave him the old camp mantra, "The more you can do." He nodded his head as he continued walking and repeated, "The more you can do."
SUNDAY, JULY 26
Two people sent me the same question via text yesterday: Is camp different without Troy, Brett and Ike?
My response to each was that James Harrison is still here.
Not that I've so easily moved past those three retired stars and sometime-confidants, but I've become accustomed to how the life cycle in the NFL works. This is my 21st year covering the team and I've watched a lot of great people come and go.
As for Harrison, I wish everyone would report to training camp the way he did yesterday.
As you may know, I'm a bit of a curmudgeon about this most awful of days. I despise reporting day, and I hesitate to say it because it's such a joyous day for Steelers Nation. But as a reporter, I just loathe the overhype over nothing. Take Antonio Brown's appearance.
Brown rolled up in an autographed Rolls Royce, slowed down for photographers, parked it, got out and was mobbed. Richie Walsh took charge of the interview, as he does, and asked repeatedly about the car, and then he went on and on and on with typical nonsense. Just awful stuff.
As I stood on the fringe of the massive huddle, as A.B. whispered cliches to the throng, I saw a man with huge arms pulling luggage out of the back of a basic black truck. As he approached, I figured that, no, this was not a short offensive lineman but a ripped and shredded linebacker. It was Harrison, and he strolled behind the mob and tried to duck into the players' dorm unrecognized.
Not with me around.
I stopped Harrison and he seemed pleased to see me. Maybe he appreciates the trouble I get into on Twitter. I think we have some of the same enemies. Or maybe that's just my imagination. But he stopped and suffered a few of my beat-up questions that we had already discussed in the spring. When I asked him how the pass rush is going to improve, he said, "I don't know. We'll see. That's why we're going through camp. Put the pads on, get out there, and see what happens."
Absolutely. I mean, that's the problem with these reporting-day questions. Nothing has happened yet. We're going to see.
I asked Harrison about the re-trip to Arizona, about which the young linebackers seemed so excited in the spring.
Well, that didn't materialize; not the group trip anyway.
"Yeah, I always go back," said the guy who's still weighing 265 pounds, except the gut Harrison was carrying last September is now wrapped around those sleeveless guns.
Did the rest of the guys go?
"No," Harrison said. "I think (Sean) Spence and (Ryan) Shazier might've come for a few weeks. I think Spence stayed three or four weeks."
Was that disappointing?
"No," Harrison said. "Guys got places they like to go."
The crowd around A.B. began to decline at this point as the crowd around Harrison grew. Someone else -- a new radio guy I think -- began asking a few questions. He asked Harrison what's going to be the biggest key in getting after the quarterback more this year -- almost the same exact question I had asked earlier.
"What's going to be the biggest key in getting after the quarterback more this year?"
Harrison repeated. He paused before glaring into his questioner's eyes and saying, "Beating the guy in front of you."
There was another slight pause and then Harrison said, "It's a stupid question. Bye." And the interview was over.
I couldn't help but smile and think how much I do appreciate the hardened vets on this most slappy of days.
* Can't help it. Even though I'm part of the media, I can't help but enjoy a coach or veteran player stopping another member of the media in their tracks. Sometimes a laugh comes bursting out of me, like at the end of Mike Tomlin's press conference yesterday.
"Did Kevin have to rush to get in here?" asked a new reporter.
I assumed he was asking about Kevin Colbert. Tomlin asked, "Who's that?"
"Kevin Palmer," came the reply.
Palmer is an offensive tackle the Steelers just signed off the street. He's an undrafted rookie and I doubt Tomlin really knows much about him, or anything about him.
"Oh, shoot, it don't matter," Tomlin answered. "I'm sure he's glad to be here."
"Was he coming from across the country?" the reporter followed.
Tomlin had a blank stare before saying, "I have no idea where he came from. I'm just glad he's here."
I figured Tomlin had no idea who this guy was, and why should he? I mean, that's the personnel department's business. So this elicited my laughter, and after it came out I looked straight at the ground in the hope the moment would pass. When I looked back up, Tomlin was staring at me with a big smile.
"Why you laughing?" he asked.
And he knew why, and he laughed.
"Good to see you guys," Tomlin said as he stood up to leave. "Let's roll."
* I later asked Tomlin if he knew anything at all about Le'Veon Bell's appeal process and Tomlin said that he really has no information. He also said that he wished the media would stop asking about it, because he believes that never helps the person who's trying to win an appeal. So my thought for the day is that we all should ask someone in the NFL -- via Twitter I suppose -- what's going on with Tom Brady's appeal.
* This last note doesn't have anything to do with the Steelers, but it may be of some value. Or not.
As some of you know, my daughter's in the middle of a recruiting process for soccer. A big school yesterday asked on very short notice if she could visit their campus for a three-day ID camp. They're in a desperate situation at her position, but my daughter's exhausted from a long season that just ended in a national championship for her Riverhounds team. And she has a school project due. And she likes the smaller local school that's already offered her.
But I don't want her getting stuck on the small school just to make this long process easy. I want her to experience and see a major program, even though she's completely exhausted.
So I asked Tomlin if a bigger school than William & Mary had recruited him. He told me that Duke was after him until Steve Spurrier left for Florida, and then Tomlin said his offer got lost in the cracks. So for him it came down to William & Mary and East Carolina. He wanted to go to ECU, "because of Jeff Blake and those guys, you know?" But his mom said no way, that he's going to the better school for the world-class education.
The experience changed Tomlin's way of thinking. "If my sons are so fortunate, I will tell them the same thing: They're going for the education," said the wizened father.
I told Tomlin that I'm dealing with the opposite, that I want my daughter to explore the big-school sports program as opposed to the smaller school with the better education.
"You're sick," he said with a smile. "But I like it."
* Be back throughout camp with more details as they come in. Have a great day.