Monday's Training Camp Notes

Jeff Reed made 17 of 19 field goals as a rookie last season to finish second in the NFL in field-goal percentage behind Adam Vinatieri. <br><br> Reed obviously is quite accurate but he may not even be the most accurate kicker on his team this summer. His competition at training camp, former Groza Award winner Jonathan Ruffin, put on a display of accuracy Monday afternoon that might rival any kicker in the NFL -- Vinatieri included.

"That kid's really accurate. I'll give him that. He's very accurate," Reed said after the two dueled in a drill fashioned after corner kicks in soccer. The two attempted field goals from the sideline, approximately 10 yards in front of the goal posts.

"If you look from the sideline, the uprights are about like Arena League uprights," Reed said of the severe angle.

But the angle wasn't too severe for Ruffin, who split the middle on each of his kicks. Reed, meanwhile, blasted one kick up near the practice-field videographer that wasn't close to going through the uprights. He missed two more before bearing down and making his last attempt. Reed agreed that Ruffin's display forced him to concentrate.

"That's what he's here for," Reed said. "If there's one guy here, there's no one to beat out; there's no one to compete with."

Ruffin won the Groza Award as the nation's top place-kicker his sophomore season at the University of Cincinnati. He made 26 of 29 field goals that year. It's still the sixth-highest number of field goals made in NCAA history. As a junior, Ruffin made 12 of 16 attempts and last season he made 19 of 22.

Ruffin, 5-feet-10, 182 pounds, wasn't drafted and signed with the Steelers as a free agent. Scouts knocked him for a lack of leg strength, but he kicked a career-long 49-yarder last season against Ohio State and has been extremely accurate, as Reed found out yesterday.

"He's on top of his game," Reed said. "He came ready to play."

The Steelers worked out for the first time Monday morning on their new practice field on top of the hill behind the dormitories at St. Vincent College. The field was forged out of a cornfield, although the far sideline and one end zone remain bordered by corn stalks, much like the baseball field in the movie 'Field of Dreams.'

Said Coach Bill Cowher: "I told them, 'If you run into the cornstalks and disappear, you must be a legend.' They all keep coming back out though."

After practice, the players were bused the quarter-mile downhill back to their locker room. Former player Craig Wolfley, standing along the sideline, rolled his eyes.

"We didn't have air-conditioned rooms when I was here," Wolfley said. "Now they have air-conditioned buses to take them to practice. I'm jealous."

West Virginia University held a reunion of sorts at the Steelers' practice field yesterday. Coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff watched practice before meeting and posing for pictures with former Mountaineers Amos Zereoue, Mike Logan, Khori Ivy, Wes Ours and David Upchurch.

"It's two-fold," Rodriguez explained. "One is to learn from Coach Cowher and his staff, and, two, it's an opportunity to see some of the former Mountaineers up here and wish them well."

Rodriguez is entering his third season as coach at his alma mater. West Virginia was 3-8 his first season but rebounded to finish 9-4 last year. The team's first practice is next Monday.

"I know it sounds like coach speak but when people ask me how good we're going to be we really don't know because we have so many freshmen. I think 45 of our 85 kids are freshmen or redshirt freshmen and a lot of them will play," he said. "But I'm excited because we've got enough upperclassmen who are talented kids and can lead the way. We open up with Wisconsin. If we can get off to a good start and stay healthy we'll be OK."

Jim Wexell

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