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Final progress report from the Pittsburgh Steelers' spring season

A spring progress report on three interesting but relatively unknown and off-the-grid Steelers.

Reports on the many interesting rookies and newcomers to the Pittsburgh Steelers will flow through this site during the month-long run-up to training camp, but let's put a bow on the final week of spring workouts with a progress report I'm calling The Good, The Bad and ... The Yay/Nay?

THE GOOD

If Xavier Grimble had been the tight end brought in as the Steelers' primary free-agent acquisition this offseason, sportswriters covering spring workouts wouldn't have batted an eye by what they saw.

They -- we -- most likely would've watched the playmaker with the big, soft hands and said it's only a matter of him holding up to the rigors of physical contact at training camp.

No, Grimble isn't Ladarius Green, the big, fast offseason acquisition who missed every spring workout while recovering from ankle surgery. But Grimble gets the nod right now as the top newcomer.

Yes, he's been with the team's practice squad since Sept. 7 of last season, but Grimble showed he has the potential to help a team that really hadn't been counting on him.

"Minicamp went pretty good," said Grimble. "I think I made some strides. I got a good feel for what the coach is looking for, the staff, and I've just been trying to take in all the knowledge I can and come back to camp ready."

Grimble, 6-4 1/4, 261, was injury-plagued as a junior at USC but came out early in 2014 and went undrafted. He had been with three teams and struggled with injuries before landing with the Steelers, with whom he's finally been healthy.

After a productive spring, he's looking forward to a rest, also known as the calm before the storm.

"I'm really, really hungry," he said. "I really enjoy just working hard. The standard here is really high. It keeps that much more pressure on me to hone in on my details and be the best version of myself I can be, so I take stuff like that pretty seriously. I'm excited to get home, get some down time, but really just perfect my skills: get stronger, get in better shape and just try to come back to camp and have the same type of showing."

Is he on the verge of becoming the player he always thought he could be?

"I feel like that," he said. "It's been three years and I haven't made it to a Week One. I carry that chip on my shoulder wherever I go. When I'm working out that's the kind of stuff I think about. That's what pushes me. I want it bad. I want to play. And this is a great team, a great opportunity. What better situation to try to maximize it than right here, right now?"

THE BAD

It's not that Doran Grant performed poorly. It's just that the second-year cornerback, who was drafted in the fourth round last year, was virtually invisible this spring on the third team -- even in the nickel after Senquez Golson was injured -- behind second-teamers Artie BurnsDonald Washington and Montell Garner.

Of course, Mike Tomlin laughs when he reads stories pointing out spring-time depth charts. Once training camp begins, those days become moot, and Grant prefers to look at it that way.

"It's a starting point," Grant said of his spring. "I got reps. It's like Coach Tomlin said, 'Don't be thinking about it too much, just worry about the reps.'"

To that end, Grant evaluated his performance as "pretty solid."

Will he move up to the second team in training camp?

"That's his decision," Grant said of Tomlin.

The serious tone of the discussion turned light when Grant was asked how he's improved since his rookie season.

"One, I got my weight down," he said. "And also the game's starting to slow down a lot. I developed last year on the practice squad and am starting to see some routes, so my route recognition is better."

Grant said he lost 12 pounds since last season and that he "feels great" and is "more consistently fast."

That would also seem to dismiss the talk of him being moved to safety. He was asked if that had been discussed by coaches.

"Not that I know of," he said. "I'm playing corner."

THE YAY/NAY?

Casey Hampton used to shake his head whenever he was asked about scheme or the playbook. When Casey wanted to move a man right, he moved him right. Whenever it was left, he moved him left.

But rookie Javon Hargrave shook his head when that version of playing nose tackle was described to him.

"That's a Pro Bowl dude," Hargrave said of Hampton. "He could do what he wanted. Right now I'm just trying to learn the system and get better every day."

Hargrave, the Steelers' third-round pick, said his first spring went "pretty good."

But when asked if it was what he expected, his answer split two ways.

"Yeah," he started, but after a pause said, "Nahh."

Yeah/nahh?

"It's a yay/nay," he said with a chuckle. "You see a lot more than you envisioned coming from college, but I still haven't seen anything yet because we're just into Stage I of it. We'll see then."

Of course, playing nose tackle is all about putting on the pads, so to that end the spring was merely a walk-through for training camp.

"You're right," Hargrave said. "Basically we're just learning what to do right now. When the pads come on, it's the trenches then, and that's very physical with people getting thrown down. It will become a lot more aggressive."

With that in mind, it's all been about learning the mental game under demanding position coach John Mitchell.

"It wasn't really anything I wasn't used to," Hargrave said. "It was just somebody on me trying to get me better every day. He's on your back but you know it's for the right reasons."

That was how group leaders Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt treated Hargrave as well.

"To this point it's been all about learning," Hargrave said. "Everything's learning, trying to get better every day. We don't know what we're getting ourselves into because we've never seen it, but as much as they told us they've been preparing us for what's coming. They just want the best for the team and they're bringing along the guys they think can play and contribute. That's all it's been and now I know what I need to work on to get better."



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