Camp Dirt, in Review

My two-week stint is over. No more long drives from the North Hills to Latrobe. No more post-practice decompression at Sharky's and the wonderful ladies working behind the bar. All the things I've neglected are gnawing at the pit of my stomach. I can't wait until next year.

There were many highlights and lowlights during the 2003 camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A player looks good one day and horrible the next. The same often happens from play to play. Generally speaking, there were two sides to every story, with the reality slow to develop.

Lowlight… Jerome Bettis convinces Casey Hampton to take over the weight watchers convention at St. Vincent's. Apparently, Casey Butt thought that gassers meant a pork ‘n beans eating contest. Kendrell Bell picks up the slack, showing more speed than he ever will at right defensive end.

Highlight… Hampton spends his afternoons abusing Jeff Hartings and blowing up any and every offensive play Mularkey tries. Is Casey that good or is the offensive line that bad? The debate rages on.

The best hit of camp belongs to Chris Hope on Verron Haynes. Didn't Bell tell us what a fierce hitter Haynes was at Georgia? Hope has had it with "Troy will do this" and "Troy will do that." Sometimes football is a simple game. Go out and hit someone.

Lee Mays owns the best catch, stretched out on the sideline during the 1-minute drill. Mays came in and just dominated camp. The contest with Chris Doering never developed. If anything, Antwaan Randle El must be feeling the heat.

Jeff Reed wins the ladies man award. Plaxico Burress is a close second, but you have to wonder if he really knows what he is gawking at. Somebody get that man some glasses.

I hope Reed is not married or engaged. If so, it was Ruffin.

I remember how bad Tommy Maddox looked during his first week of camp with the Steelers. He came on fast as he figured out the scheme of things. Brian St. Pierre is accomplishing the same thing, though you wouldn't know it watching him run for his life in the first preseason game. However, the guy really revving it up as camp goes along is Jay Riemersma. He looks better every day after starting out slow, real slow.

I have high hopes for special teams. Clint Kriewaldt has not taken long to show why Kevin Colbert went after him. He's a hitter that Larry Foote could learn a thing or two from. Foote impressed me early, but my doubts about him returned soon enough.

Best eating out experience was Red Star Brewpub in Greensburg, hands down. The bar was a bit sterile for my taste, but the beer was very good and the food was even better. If you are looking for real Burgh fare, go to Halula's, off of route 30 on the left, east of the Arnold Palmer Airport intersection. Never did make it to Bobby Dale's to see what schemes are hatched to grab some of that money floating around town this time of year. Sharky's ended up being my home away from home.

Most disappointing camp would be Verron Haynes. I didn't think the Steelers could do any wrong with those Georgia Bulldawgs. J.T. Wall also looks like a flop. I can't explain my attachment to these two players. I just thought they would be better. Did Wall help Dante Brown beat out Haynes against Detroit? So much for school loyalty.

Hard to be better than Dan Kreider. If there is such a thing as "Steelers football", Kreider has it down. Sometimes I forget how much fun it is watching a very good fullback do his work.

All the talk about Brett Keisel during the off-season and I just was not seeing it in camp. Not that I know what to look for anyway, but he seemed much more in Aaron Smith's shadow than a clone. Of course, Brett (that's Mr. Keisel to me) went to Detroit and did his best impersonation of a one-man wrecking crew.

Aaron "The Trailer Park Titan" Smith, can you imagine him wrestling Jeremy "White Trash" Shockey? Smith would be my favorite Steeler with whom to drink cold beers on a hot Colorado summer afternoon.

Deshea Townsend wins the "camp is fun" award. I know Hines Ward is the smiley guy, but there is something about Townsend that says to me, "just another afternoon of good time sandlot football." Perhaps he's one of those players that is the glue that helps hold a team together.

Maybe this team just gets along too well. I still don't see a leader who fires up the troops and ratchets up the intensity level. You might say that is Cowher's job, but there are times when he can do it and other times when he can't (such as on opening day). Is Bill Cowher the Chad Scott of coaches, in that he believes he can just turn it on when he needs to?

Somebody go out and hit somebody. Camp brawler is Oliver Ross. He was in the only fight I saw my entire time at camp and also tangled with Jason Gildon on Day 1. I'm not sure what James Harrison is doing out there. I don't think he's playing football. Throwing yourself into a wall for 2 hours does not qualify as playing a game, let alone skill.

If you have seen the movie "Back to School", you have a pretty good idea of what a dorm full of the press is like at St. Vincent's. I think this whole internet/fansite thing is cutting into their party time. Do you realize that most of these goofballs live on campus for the duration of camp?

That's it for my 2003 camp reports. If you haven't made the pilgrimage, I highly recommend that you do. And do it sooner rather than later. Each year the practices seem a little more formal and the NFL already smells another opportunity to make a buck, just ask the fans of the Washington Redskins. Camp is somewhat of a throwback to the days when professional athletes were more visible in the towns they played in, often part of the local community instead of living in gated neighborhoods with wealth that few can understand. At Latrobe, at least for a few weeks each year, you can enjoy the players as people.

Jim Russell

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