Day 2 Camp Notes, The Dirt

A player practices well one day and tanks the next. And then a guy you counted out steps up and grabs a roster spot. Erik Totten was my man yesterday, but then a guy named Troy Polamalu flew in and stole all the thunder. Sometimes the order of things before camp even begins is the best guide to how the final roster will shake out.

Right now, most fans are concerned about Casey Hampton's weight and his inability to finish Bill Cowher's "infamous" gassers. All Casey continued to do was dominate all the blockers he faced, demonstrating that quick burst of speed and strength that proved to be so disruptive last season. The order of things is that Hampton is a terror in the interior. Whether he eventually lets Phil Braxton out of his belly or not is immaterial.

I believe Lamar Slade stole Phil's jersey. Slade was hard to ignore during Monday afternoon's practice. Even the X-man took it upon himself to sling Slade to the turf, maybe to take the brash youngster down a notch or two. At least for one day, Slade flashed enough to garner some attention concerning that fifth receiver slot.

If Slade was grabbing some spotlight, Lee Mays is already center stage. Mays is another one that keeps turning heads. He's quickly separating himself from the camp fodder out there. While Chris Doering upped his game, Khori Ivy and Leonard Scott started dropping passes. The 5th spot should be an interesting battle. I still think Ivy has the inside track, but Doering looked very serviceable on Day 2 and Slade made some noise. I'll be watching to see if Slade can keep it going.

Of course, no one seems to be in the neighborhood of Hines Ward, Mr. Great Hands. Before Ward's career is all said and done, he will likely be the best receiver to ever put on a Steelers uniform. Spike and Antwaan Randle El are the second tier, with Mays closing in behind. Ward makes them all better than they otherwise would be.

As if on cue, the centers are having problems with the exchange again. Jimond Pugh was the morning culprit and he was out almost before any other player in the afternoon practicing snapping the ball. Pugh managed to keep a low profile for the rest of practice. Jeff Hartings, on the other hand, botched a snap and Cowher stopped practice while Hartings tried to iron things out. On a good note, Hartings looked a little more nimble out there and may be gaining confidence in his knee.

I have plenty of notes on the special teams for Day 2. Josh Miller was out there today, not in full pads, but punting the ball. He was cautious at first, but then proceeded to have a coach clock his hang time, kicking with much more authority. Barring any sudden setbacks, he should be back soon enough. Don't look for much competition coming from Mike Hayes. Jeff Reed is not so lucky. Jonathan Ruffin has been pressing Reed both days in camp. Cowher just wants his place kickers to be reliable within 45 yards. Ruffin can do that, but let's wait and see his kickoffs before we dismiss Reed.

Punt coverage got some work in. The first team looks like this (not counting the gunners): Clint Kriewaldt, Brett Keisel, James Farrior, Brent Alexander, Mike Schneck, Mike Logan, Clark Haggans, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. Verron Haynes is on the second team and looking to press Fu. Also on the second team is Larry Foote, Chris Hope, Justin Kurpeikis, Jerame Tuman, Jay Riemersma (who did some long snapping on Day 1), Dan Kreider, and Alonzo Jackson. Dan Rumishek is the other potential long snapper, but I don't think Schneck is sweating it.

Cowher took some time to come over and do some coaching of the coverage units. Zo Jackson seemed the most interested. He made a point to get up close and listen. Buried on the third string defense, Jackson knows where his impact will be felt. Troy Polamalu was also there as an observer, instead of practicing with the other safeties. I think he'll start the season on coverage. I haven't seen much of Ike Taylor on special teams at all, which is a bit disconcerting. Maybe the coaching staff feels that Taylor should just concentrate on learning the game of the corner back. The Steelers must desperately want him in the dime.

I thought Marvel Smith had a really good day. A few times in the isolation drills, he owned the pass rusher. On consecutive plays, Smith first threw down David Upchurch and then stopped him cold. Smith has great looking technique. I'm not seeing much competition coming from Todd Fordham in terms of the right tackle position. Oliver Ross didn't stand out as much as he did on Day 1, but Fordham didn't do anything to apply some pressure on Ross.

On defense, Aaron Smith continues to be unstoppable. He's blowing up plays in the scrimmages and blowing by blockers in the drills. If you wondered where Smith was last season, you'll get plenty of him in 2003. Next to Ward, I'd estimate that A. Smith is the best-looking player out there. Doesn't Jason Gildon play behind Aaron? I've seen much more from Clark Haggans already than from Gildon. I'd say that Haggans is clearly faster, and quicker, than the aging sack-master.

As I pointed out in the opening paragraph, what happened on Day 2 you probably already knew coming into camp. The day seemed mostly uneventful, even with Polamalu finally in Latrobe.

Jim Russell

Steel City Insider Top Stories