Camp Dirt, Tuesday

The Lone Gunman on the grassy knoll is no more. The Steelers brass would prefer that I languish with the rest of the press under the burning sun down on the field. The fan in me is excited to be closer to the players and all the action, but the writer in me trying to establish himself misses the perspective from up on high.

I'll admit that I enjoy rubbing elbows with the media, writers I've read for years. I soak in the banter of the players and the expressions of toil on a hot and humid day. Was that drizzle or spit from Bill Cowher? I can eavesdrop on a conversation between Jeff Hartings and Wes Ours. I don't learn anything about Hartings' knee, but gather a few tips on the finer points of golf and basketball.

Best of all, I've met Jim Wexell and Dale Lolley. They have been very kind showing me around, introducing me to this small Steelers community, and teaching me how to watch practice and understand what is going on.

The Steelers fan in me is sated and quite happy. The budding beat reporter is not. This new perspective and environment will take some adjustment. Following practice at eye level is difficult. There are even more distractions and the players themselves are often in the way. I can understand why Kevin Colbert might prefer a diligent note taker on the practice field.

I can't help wondering how my report would differ sitting back up on the hill, in the shade.

Alonzo Jackson is starting to assert himself. I can temper that with Cowher yelling at him during the punt coverage drill, "That's on you Alonzo!" Jackson has been less than stellar, languishing on the second team special teams units.

His pass rushing is what is coming around. He's beginning to beat the tackles, even Marvel Smith. Dale stated that you can't tell a lot from one-on-one because that rarely happens during a real game. Still, I was happy to watch Zo enjoy some success, which did translate onto the field during the 11-on-11 scrimmage. Zo got a sack, at least in my estimation, during the one-minute drills.

Kendrell Bell, on the other hand, is not enjoying much of any success at the RDE position. During the one-on-one drills, Justin Kurpeikis beat Mathias Nkwenti but Bell did not. This may kill the "Porter Dime" package because Bell might be better off giving up his spot in that scheme to Jackson or Clark Haggans or even Rodney Bailey. Heck, Kurpeikis looks better than Bell right now.

I'm not sure if the two variations on the dime are in some sort of competition. Tim Lewis likes the option of providing a number of looks to confuse the opposing quarterback. But I think he can do that anyway with the 3-2-6 configuration. Bell's abilities are much better showcased here.

Bell at right defensive end is a shame. He's half the player he is capable of being.

A fellow SteelCitySports associate, John Steving, said after the practice that Troy Polamalu finally flashed some of his talent towards the end of the session. I didn't really see it down on the field, unfortunately. Troy is still with the first team nickel and dime packages. I'm even more certain now that the Steelers landed themselves a very special player. Forget Ed Reed. Polamalu is better, much better.

Concerning the center situation, Jimond Pugh is looking much better. You might even say he had a decent practice. Dale brought up the point that the Steelers are desperate to turn Pugh into a serviceable center so he doesn't get one of the quarterbacks killed during a preseason game. Pugh was bad during the first week, but he's come a long way. He hasn't come far enough, though.

Sticking with the offensive line, Alan Faneca did practice, but was avoiding drills that caused him to bend his knees. I wouldn't make anything of it except that playing football is a crazy way to make a living. If you can't play in pain, then you shouldn't play at all.

Todd Fordham is standing out, with his play at guard. I'd not have a problem with Fordham filling in for Keydrick Vincent. The Steelers do seem reluctant to play him at tackle to push Oliver Ross, who is still having a great deal of trouble in pass protection.

I don't think any of the quarterbacks look all that sharp. That's okay because the receivers are on their game. Lee Mays is now making circus catches. He draws more "ooohs" from the crowd than any other player. Plaxico Burress looks to me as if he has trouble judging the ball. Can someone have his eyes checked? These kinds of things can slip through. Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals about Peter Warrick. The ball appears to surprise Burress. He definitely does not like the pepper that Brian St. Pierre and Phil Stambaugh put on the football. I don't see much change coming for the receiving corps unless Jason Armstead or Leonard Scott really impress on punt returns. Watch these two during Saturday's preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Hines Ward still looks fantastic and Antwaan Randle El is solid. Could Mays push him for the 3rd spot?

The running game is shaping up nicely. The offensive line is ready to brawl and Dan Kreider is still destroying linebackers and anyone else he can put the pads on. J.T. Wall is not providing much competition. I doubt many fullbacks in the NFL could. That's one benefit to being down on the field, watching Kreider smack around the defenders.

The first team defense continues to look very good. The coverage is tight and the blitzes are effective. The second team even has a few standouts in Chidi Iwuoma, Clint Kriewaldt, and Clark Haggans. The depth is there. I'm not seeing as much from Larry Foote as I did during the first week. I look for him to step up in the Detroit game, a bit of a homecoming for him.

The third teams are getting much more practice time now. The coaching staff needs to start making some decisions and these players will get plenty of time in the first preseason game. Josh Burr and Jack Fadule need a good game against the Lions. Casey Poppinga also is on the bubble, but has flashed some at camp. I've already commented on Scott and Armstead. Khori Ivy has been awfully quiet. Jackson needs to improve on special teams. David Upchurch could start chasing Chris Hoke and perhaps even Kendrick Clancy. Nashville Dyer is playing for a spot on the practice squad, same situation for Russell Stuvaints and Rashad Faison.

Jim Russell

Steel City Insider Top Stories