Day 3 Camp Notes, the Dirt

Only the third day and camp is already dragging. I'm tired of watching linebackers work on their positioning. As a few guys shouted towards the end of the Day 2 practice, "We want to see some hitting!" That will come tonight at Latrobe High School, where the Steelers will stage the fan favorite goal line drill.

Day 3 was a bit more mundane than the first two open practices. The players certainly were not as crisp and the frustration showed. Alonzo Jackson was struggling in the pass rushing drill, when a defensive lineman and an offensive lineman go at it in isolation. That has proven to be one of the most entertaining drills and perhaps one of the most telling.

Jackson was stoned twice by a camp body tackle and tore off his helmet, obviously upset with himself. He moved away from the drill to cool down and collect his thoughts. Like most rookies, Zo is having trouble standing out. This isn't college any more, where Jackson excelled. Right now, Jackson appears to be thinking too much, instead of letting his athletic abilities speak for themselves. He wants to learn badly, but he also has to find a way to showcase the talent he already has.

Comparing Jackson to Troy Polamalu, I can already see how Troy is something special. Polamalu is a sponge, trying to learn everything just like Jackson is. The difference is that Polamalu still finds a way to go out there and play football. When Kendrell Bell was a rookie, he just sniffed out the football and made plays. Jackson is at the other end of the spectrum, trying to learn everything he can. Polamalu will do both. Mike Logan better start learning the free safety position.

Back to the isolation drills for the OL and DL. I've had a few requests for information on the tackles. In the drills, LT Mathias Nkwenti often gets burned, easily. In fact, most of the offensive linemen were struggling, save Marvel Smith. Smith is a clear step better than all of the tackles. Oliver "The Mauler" Ross will be a drop-off from Smith at right tackle. In fact, the starting front seven of the defense is destroying the entire starting offensive line, as a unit, during the scrimmages. Jeff Hartings is struggling and the rest of the line has not gelled.

In terms of depth, Nkwenti is the backup left tackle right now. The second team offensive line sports Josh Burr, who got schooled by Jason Gildon and Clark Haggans in the isolation drills, at right tackle and Todd Fordham is playing right guard. Fordham is playing the role of swingman that Ross held the last few seasons. I gather that Jack Fadule is supposed to challenge Nkwenti for the backup LT job, but I have not followed Fadule closely enough to know if he is pushing Nkwenti or not.

The Pittsburgh Steelers carried nine offensive linemen on the roster last season. Fordham essentially replaced Wayne Gandy. Burr is not getting any looks at left tackle, while Nkwenti is flashing just enough to keep the coaches interested. Right now, I don't expect any major roster shakeups on the offensive line. Burr could make it if the Steelers decide to carry 10, depending on how Kendall Simmons shapes up.

Speaking of Simmons, he was out there early on in his jersey warming up and stretching with the team. His readiness will depend more on his physical conditioning than anything else. He just needs to get his upper body strength back.

Another request from the fans concerns the tight ends. How is Jay Riemersma doing? He's not looking all that great from what I am hearing. Jerame Tuman is the best receiving tight end out there right now and runs with the first team. Riemersma may even be third team right now. Of some interest, Riemersma is the back-up long snapper. He's been snapping the ball on the second team special teams punting unit.

I started following the quarterbacks more seriously yesterday, after ignoring them the first two days. I'm not impressed with Charlie Batch at all. He's indecisive and really struggled throwing the deep out yesterday. Batch is not posing any serious challenge to Tommy Maddox. If anything, Tim Levcik is pushing for Batch's number two spot. Brian St. Pierre looks buried at the #4 spot, but it is still very early. St. Pierre will be given some more chances to strut his stuff, but Levcik is the #3 right now.

Blitzburgh asked about Chris Hope. Hope looks confident running the second team defense as the free safety. His special teams play is also well valued. Can he challenge Brent Alexander for the starting free safety spot? I'd say no. Alexander looks fantastic so far. Unless there is an injury, we will not see Hope starting at either safety position for the Steelers. I think Hope's best course of action is to master the free safety position so he can assume the starting role in 2004. We'll get a better sense of where Hope is at during the preseason games.

Concerning the big camp battles, the number 5 wide receiver spot is up for grabs. Lamar Slade had a poor day. He's not precise in his routes and doesn't sport the most reliable of hands. Chris Doering is a big guy with very soft hands. He had his second good practice in a row. Lee Mays is clearly the number 4 guy, playing in the 4 wide out sets with Antwaan Randle El, Hines Ward, and Plaxico Burress. Doering's main challenger is Khori Ivy, who continues to draw compliments from the coaching staff. I get the sense that the staff would like Ivy to win out, but Doering has the edge. If the Steelers decided to go with six wide outs on the roster (which I doubt), Ivy would own the last spot right now.

I watched the running backs and fullbacks for a spell on Tuesday afternoon. Dan Kreider moves really well. J.T. Wall is no threat. As for Verron Haynes, he's much more mobile than Fu, but I think Fu just hits harder. Fuamatu-Ma'afala currently sits on the first team coverage unit. Fu is still reckless, hence the injuries, and that's a big asset. I suspect Fu will hang with the Steelers and Wall will be cut. Wall will be a nice addition to the practice squad.

Chad Scott was back to pouting after Jason Armstead, who has an impressive second gear, blew by him. Scott is a little boy out there and after he started moping, one of the coaches came over, held him by the elbow and tried to console him. I kept thinking back to Scott's injury to his hand and how Cowher seemed miffed that Scott wouldn't play hurt. Scott is definitely the spoiled child that the coaching staff has to coddle. I'd feel a lot better about the Steelers secondary if Scott would finally grow up.

I'll end with the gunners and jammers session. Ike Taylor, who was working with Erik Totten as the jammers, injured Hank Poteat, the gunner. Taylor was a bit aggressive, throwing Poteat to the ground. The injury looked pretty serious, either a dislocated shoulder or broken collarbone would be my guess. A player that stood out during this drill was Nashville Dyer. My theory is that Dyer is a charmer. He appears to have already befriended a few veterans, while the press and coaches also have seemed to come under his spell. He's another one of those players that seems to be around all the action and just grabs your attention. He could find his way onto the practice squad.

And yes, Jabari Issa should unseat Chris Hoke.

Jim Russell

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