Tuesday Morning Blitz

Chris Hope has been a good soldier. But his is a battle all but lost. Lost in perceptions, lost in politics. Lost. Hope handled his demotion last week from first-team dime to second quite admirably. He continued to fly around and lay the wood, and carried that same approach over to Saturday's scrimmage against the Detroit Lions. But nobody who's anybody seems to care.

"All I can do is wait on my time," said Hope. "But if you look on the film, and out on the field from the sideline, you definitely see [number] 28 running around and making plays. So hopefully my game will speak for itself."

Fat chance.

Hey, maybe this is rocket science, after all. And maybe, just maybe, Brent Alexander is the reincarnation of Robert-freaking-Goddard. The Steelers coaches would seem to think so, dumping even more pre-snap responsibility on Alexander. That in itself has ended any position battle that appeared imminent this offseason. That and a first-round rookie strong safety from Southern Cal. Oh, and the supposedly lights-out play of a never-been-a-starter, failed-to-win-a-job, oft-injured, six-year vet from West Virginia.

Am I bitter? Damn straight.

The Good

Some good stuff in Saturday's glorified scrimmage against the Lions. The score? To heck with the score. Talk score when the game counts. Instead, talk youth at quarterback; Brian St. Pierre looked about as good as a rookie can look running for his life. Love his ball position -- held the rock high, elbows down. Confident young man, too. Talk young passrusher with a rare wiggle; Alonzo Jackson was active and flashed some of the promise we are all hoping for. Remember, though, he's still a rookie. Talk a young back showing his stuff; take your pick of Verron Haynes, Dante Brown, or J.T. Wall. All three looked solid.

The Bad

The offensive line is in disarray, no doubt about it. Detroit ran through and around the starting five, and every back-up on the roster. Honestly, Tommy Maddox and Co. had better eat their Wheaties. The return of Kendall Simmons to practice yesterday is certainly good news. His return to RG will solidify the interior. Of course, Simmons doesn't play left tackle, and that is the only legitimate concern. Oliver Ross for all of his brawling physicality just can't seem to get it done. Todd Fordham is a back-up; a journeyman; a swingman. He may well be a starter, too. Yoi!

The Ugly

Ugly is the overblown reaction some fans have this early in August. Its been said, so this is no original idea. How much fire do you expect from a bunch of undrafted rookies with no shot at making this team? Me? None. And that's how it should be. After all, its not like they are living out a dream, right? Dreams never end with you getting cut.

The Outlook

Still, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have concerns. They are just tempered by who we played, who played, and how they played. Tempered, too, is any excitement over an improved pass defense, or the production from the running game, or a better-looking Jerome Bettis. Stats in the preseason are worthless, as are performances against third-rate professional football teams from Detroit.

Three to watch

Camp wraps up next Thursday, and the last open practice is a week from today, so the time is now to catch your Pittsburgh Steelers sweating in the August sun. If you're making the pilgrimage to St. Vincent's this week, you'll want to watch these cats, most definitely:

:: Brian St. Pierre -- Tom Brady did it. Marc Bulger did it. Why not Saint? All are later-round picks, and Brady and Bulger have proven they can win --and win often -- in this league. St. Pierre has shaken the rookie jitters that plagued him early and has impressed the Steelers coaching staff with his air and approach. Is he consistent in his drop-backs, his reads, and his delivery? Does he communicate in the huddle and at the line with his receivers? More importantly, does he have their attention? And does he listen, observe, and execute? I have a good feeling about this kid. I'd love to be right.

:: Verron Haynes -- Haynes played well against the Lions Saturday; what that all means is anyone's guess. While fans looking for that next great Steelers running back have certainly embraced him, the truth is, Haynes has done little to date to deserve such undying faith. Unimpressive in camp thus far, he is all but guaranteed a roster spot as the fourth ballcarrier behind Jerome Bettis, Amos Zereoue, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. Jim Russell had an interesting perspective on Haynes; his good, long look against Detroit may mean the staff is truly undecided on his value to the backfield rotation. Get to camp and judge for yourself.

:: Mathias Nkwenti -- The body-beautiful, enigmatic LT from Temple will get a look at RT, signaling the displeasure and unease with Oliver Ross' play to date. Credit Jim Wexell for planting that seed, as well as unearthing camp sleeper Dante Brown. Nothing wrong with a RT with great feet, so long as he doesn't give up DPOW honors the first two weeks of the season. What you look for with Nkwenti is his play-to-play attitude and consistency. How is his technique, his hand-placement? Does he look comfortable? Can he stone the great Jason Gildon? Let's hope so. His development at this juncture would be a godsend.

This week's camp schedule

Today, August 12 -- Morning Lift (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Wednesday, August 13 -- Morning Practice (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Thursday, August 14 -- Morning Lift (Closed); Afternoon Practice
Friday, August 15 -- Day before exhibition
Saturday, August 16 -- Exhibition: Steelers vs. Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. kickoff
Sunday, August 17 -- Players day off
Monday, August 18 -- Afternoon Practice
Tuesday, August 19 -- Morning Practice (Closed); Afternoon Practice*

*LAST OPEN PRACTICE


Random thoughts

:: How must it feel to be Roy Attieh? Called back by the Steelers only to be cut a week or two from now? What a joke.

:: If Chukky Okobi gets on the field for any length of time this year, he'll be hard to get off the field. Okobi looked very good in 2002 filling in for a dinged-up Jeff Hartings. Problem is, if Hartings again goes down, and struggles with injuries, he may well hang them up in 2004. Why is that a problem? Okobi will be a restricted free agent in the spring, and is sure to get his share of offers.

:: Didn't that happen with Oliver Ross? Yikes!

:: Truth is, the Steelers front office has made their fair of share of blunders. Letting Wayne Gandy go, however, was not one of them. I found it quite humorous that the only in-game highlights the Monday Night Football video guys could scare up featured Gandy getting schooled by, and ultimately holding, the Eagles' N.D. Kalu. Twice.

Let this one marinate …

A lot of fuss goes into tweaking the playbook each offseason. Getting Casey Hampton into the nickel, and Kendrell Bell into the dime are all intriguing. The one wrinkle I most look forward to, and that makes the most slap-yourself-in-the-forehead good sense, is where the shackles are taken off of Kendrell, and his instincts are allowed to take over. One of the biggest mistakes the San Diego Chargers made with a young Junior Seau was trying to structure his fury within a defensive scheme. Bell is this decade's Seau. If route recognition and all that cumbersome nonsense is indeed Bell's issue in coverage, then why not line him up as a chase-the-ball rover? Responsibilities a drag? Fine, go get the ball then, Kendrell. Light somebody up. I, for one, can't wait to see it.

Donny Drummond
SteelCitySports.com


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