Camp Notes: Day 1 ... The Dirt

The pads are finally back on and the players seem just as anxious as the fans to see some hitting. Loud mouth Bettis, laid back Spike, and the X-man have all returned for another round football during the dog days of summer. While I have some difficulty following three rings (sometimes four or five) of practice, here are some impressions of the first open practice of camp.

The parking lot was not big enough for all the people who showed up to glimpse their 2003 Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time. You can easily spot the veterans of summer camp at St. Vincent's. They got there early, grabbing a level shady spot up on the hill, where they could survey all the action. Some were on the other side where the players enter and exit the practice field, looking for autographs. But these camp creatures are in their finest form swilling beer during the heat of the day, yelling at Fu whenever he made a play to "be careful!"

No mercy for the notorious China Doll.

I took my place away from the rabble, as high up and positioned at midfield as possible. I asked myself, "How do I do this again?" Then I heard Jerome Bettis mouthing off as usual and I decided to see how the "new-look" Bus shaped up.

Honestly, I really couldn't tell with all the pads on just how lean and mean Bettis actually is. However, he almost looked spry in the various drills, which reminded me of how he appeared in camp before the 2001 season started. Then again, I've never seen Amos Zereoue look so good. Folks, this is a running team again.

That brings me to the offensive line. Kendall Simmons was watching from the sidelines and all is not well with center Jeff Hartings. Hartings was wearing a sizable brace on his left knee, looked rather gingerly at times, and did not participate fully in all the linemen drills. I suspect that the Steelers will be looking for insurance at the position at that guy appears to be Jimond Pugh. Both Russ Grimm and Bill Cowher picked on Pugh, which is usually a good sign. The coaching staff is hoping he will respond.

Hard to say at this point how Pugh will pan out, but early word on new starting right tackle Oliver Ross is "mauler." Ross manhandled Jason Gildon on two consecutive occasions, with tempers rising. Ross looked as if he was saying, "Jason who?" The 2003 version of the offensive line is big and physical. They want to run the ball and punish the defense. The confidence of Keydrick Vincent, who is filling in for Simmons, is already showing why a running Steelers team is plenty deep on the offensive line.

Sticking with the offense, the receiving core does look impressive and if you can tell anything at all from just one day of practice, Lee Mays will beat out Chris Doering for the #4 spot. In fact, don't be surprised if Khori Ivy or Leonard Scott grabs the fifth spot. Ivy in particular was singled out for praise a few times. Scott is also getting a look as a punt or kick returner. If Doering made any impression on Day 1, it was a bad one.

Moving to defense, whenever I am at a camp practice, I mostly wait for a player to jump out at me. There is a lot of the mundane going on during practice, but certain players just grab your attention. That player yesterday was Erik Totten. Totten looks confident out there and moves very well. He knows that he is on the bubble and that there is plenty of talent ahead of him on the depth chart. His only hope is that the Steelers decide to carry nine defensive backs into the season and that 5 of those DBs will be safeties. The Steelers are even trying him as a returner on special teams. There will be a three-way competition for that ninth spot between Hank Poteat, Chidi Iwuoma, and Totten. Iwuoma is small, but looks smooth in coverage. He too is getting looks on the return game. Right now, I'd give the edge to Iwuoma, even though Poteat is the one running with the second team.

Ike Taylor didn't flash anything yesterday. He mostly looked lost. He's a camp project for sure. He is a long way from a spot in the dime. His camp progress, or lack thereof, will be one to chart. As you may have read elsewhere, Dewayne Washington looked sharp. He's all business in his approach and quite the contrast to Chad "X-man" Scott. I'm looking forward to seeing how Troy Polamalu adds to the mix.

Moving up to the linebackers, Kendrell Bell looks focused and moves very well on the field. Still, he struggles in coverage. I've decided that I think Bell is best used around the line of scrimmage. It is a waste to use him defending the pass. Joey Porter got burned during one pass coverage drill prompting Bettis to taunt him. Porter can jaw with the best of them, but I could only hear Jerome's reply, "Shut up!" I believe Clint Kriewaldt is running with the second team and wearing #57, not 95 as reported. His partner in crime is Larry Foote, who seems ready to impress everyone this year. As for Gildon, I already told how Oliver "The Mauler" Ross handed Jason's helmet to him.

On the defensive line, Casey Hampton looks like he ate Phil Braxton. However, Casey still looks very quick in the drills. He's got a few moves and gave both Hartings and Chukky Okobi fits. Brett Keisel may look like Aaron Smith physically, but he's not in Smith's league in terms of play. Smith looked ferocious on the pass rush/pass protection drills. He has speed, agility, strength, and a few moves to boot. He also just looks plain mean. Keisel, on the other hand, looked like he'd been learning from Gildon. Keisel still has a way to go. And don't count out Kimo Von Oelhoffen. He appeared recovered from his injuries and is still ever the cagey veteran. He's a real technician who beats the offensive linemen easily by out-thinking them. Rodney Bailey also has a few nice moves and looks bigger than ever. He looks like he could crush Alonzo Jackson, a player that was hard to find yesterday. The rookie draft class as a whole looked rather timid. I wouldn't put too much stock in it, being the first day of school and all.

I'll finish with listing who is currently staffing the second string defense, which is the unit I believe will see the most changes as camp moves on. The front three are Rodney Bailey, Kendrick Clancy, and Brett Keisel. The linebackers are Justin Kupeikis and Clark Haggans on the outside, and Larry Foote and Clint Kriewaldt (I believe) on the inside. Deshea Townsend and Hank Poteat are your corners, and Erik Totten and Chris Hope make up the safety tandem. Note, Totten looked to be playing free safety with the second team and Hope was at strong safety.

Jim Russell

Steel City Insider Top Stories