Steelers With Slow Start To Long Season

Jim Wexell has some advice following the Steelers' abysmal 14-3 loss last night to the Minnesota Vikings in the Hall of Fame Game.

From the notebook of a sportswriter who thought he was watching one of last week's practice snoozefests again:

* I mean, Landry Jones, Cameron Stingily, Devin Gardner? In the first half?

* Well, you get what you pay for.

* There's going to be some complaining in this column, just to warn you, but the overriding theme is positive, because no team that's played in the Hall of Fame Game has ever won an NFL championship, and that goes back to 1962.

* Three teams that played in Canton have made the Super Bowl at the end of that season, and all three lost. The 2001 St. Louis Rams were the last.

* So with that knowledge, we can understand why Mike Tomlin has kept so many starters out of practice, and did so again in last night's game. It's a long, long season. Take care of your men.

* Tomlin did that last night in Canton, so that's a positive. He's grown from the 2007 debut when he opened the year in Canton and ground the players to a pulp in camp.

* Jones missed some scoring opportunities and his receivers missed some good passes in scoring opportunities. So Jones ended up with only three points on the board and the debate will rage about whether he belongs on the team or not.

* Bruce Gradkowski's so-called "dead arm" will be the determining factor in my mind, but it's not up to me. The Steelers plan to keep three quarterbacks. Kevin Colbert said that's the annual blueprint.

* Sammie Coates looked a bit lost, but he obviously hasn't been a disappointment to the coaching staff since he started the game.

* Jesse James dropped an easy touchdown pass in the first half, and on the one short pass he caught he looked more like Matt Spaeth with the ball than Mark Bavaro.

* Undrafted TE Cameron Clear might be a better athlete, but he doesn't have the work ethic and understanding of the game that James has.

* Rookies are always lacking something, aren't they?

* Like Bud Dupree getting blocked by a tight end on the Vikings' 18-yard run that led to their touchdown.

* The Minnesota touchdown was a pass to a wide-open tight end on which starting ROLB Shayon Green forgot to drop into coverage.

* I could go on all night ripping the rookies and newcomers but I'm getting to my point in the next note.

* I don't think I've ever seen Ryan Shazier and/or Stephon Tuitt play better. Shazier was lightning last night and Tuitt couldn't be moved. That's what happens to second-year players with great athletic skill.

* So give Dupree and some of these other rookie your patience.

* Undrafted rookie WR Shakim Phillips reached up to make a one-handed catch for a 38-yard gain and I wasn't surprised. In fact I would've started Phillips over Gardner. Phillips has a big body and is having a good camp. No one's heard of him because he had no quarterback at Boston College.

* Please, don't take any offense, Tyler Murphy. I know you were the BC QB, and you were the second-best QB the Steelers dressed last night, but that's not a real high bar at the moment.

* In Brandon Boykin's first practice, Phillips bodied him like a power forward posting up on a point guard to catch a 20-yard pass at the 1-yard line. That's the last receiver I've seen really beat Boykin.

* Boykin was outstanding last night. Looks like Tomlin's setting up a Boykin-Cortez Allen competition for the starting LCB job. That will only make Allen play better, and he's played well.

* Saw a couple of pure 4-3 alignments in the base defense last night. The first had Green at ROLB and the second had Dupree at LOLB, both stacked between the DE and DT.

* Dri Archer still threatens defenses with his speed but still goes down too easily. My instinct is that he's not tough enough for this league, but too many people smarter than me disagree. So I'll watch more.

* At least he brought a kickoff out past the 15. That's a start.

* But the kickoff to start the second half resulted in a knee injury to Shaun Suisham. No word on the prognosis yet. He has a month to recover.

* The Steelers' offense was just as inept for most of the second half. But Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva played well, and he played a lot. That's important for an inexperienced player with that much potential.

* On defense, Kevin Fogg had an interception and Jordan Zumwalt played very well against the run.

* Some good, a lot of bad, but remember that it's very, very early in a long, long season.


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