Won't be long for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Javon Hargrave to fit on DL

Steelers rookie nose tackle Hargrave knocking on lineup door.

LATROBE -- Javon Hargrave is a nose tackle with the speed to ... cover running backs in the flat?

Yep, the rookie who was drafted in the third round because of his pass-rushing quickness was covering Fitzgerald Toussaint in the flat Wednesday, and after the pass fell incomplete he received a loud "Atta Boy" from inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky.

That might be about the only compliment Hargrave will hear for some time, because, well, Hargrave plays for John Mitchell, who, in his 23rd year coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive linemen, would rather drink poison than compliment a rookie.

"A compliment?" Hargrave said with a look at his questioner with genuine disbelief. "Ain't too many." Hargrave then started to laugh.

"I can't think of too many compliments right now," he said. "Sometimes when I have good technique (Mitchell) recognizes that, but right now he's just trying to get me better with every little thing."

Not that Hargrave is fishing for compliments. He's played for demanding coaches in Salisbury, North Carolina, and then at South Carolina State. There he had 37 career sacks, but no one paid him much attention because it was against Division I-AA competition.

But the Steelers liked his quickness, drafted him in the third round and are not surprised by the fact that he's blowing up second-teamers in one-on-one drills and finding his way onto the first-team line in place of Big Dan McCullers, who, because of a 6-7, 350-pound frame and a motor that doesn't run hard all the time, draws more derision from Mitchell than any rookie could.

So Hargrave keeps his mouth shut while he seemingly climbs the ladder.

He is moving up the ladder, isn't he?

"Naaaaahhhhhh," Hargrave says with a good-natured chuckle. "I didn't even know I been looking that good to be honest with you."

But he is. Ask Chris Hubbard. Ask B.J. Finney. Ask Cody Wallace.

Those veteran reserves have dealt with the ball of knives Hargrave likes to imitate as a 305-pound pass-rusher in drills.

"Yeah," Hargrave admits when reminded of his success. "It's just (that) I'm a rookie so I ain't going to get too much of that praise and stuff. It's just me showing up and getting better every day right now."

What about those first-team reps? It's not any old rookie who can find a place between Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt during team scrimmages as Hargrave has so early in his first camp.

"I don't think it's as big as everybody makes it," Hargave said. "I kind of play everything. Coach kind of puts me in with every group right now. They're not consistent reps right now, so I'm just working every day just to improve right now."

He's not expecting compliments from his coach, nor praise from the media. Hargrave is truly surprised by the attention. And when asked what it's like to go up against Maurkice Pouncey, the rookie smiles with admiration.

"He's the best in the game," Hargrave said, before laughing sheepishly. "He's the best in the game."

Hargrave isn't just simply showing coaches his quickness, and his understanding of two positions (0-technique over the nose in the base; 3-technique as a tackle in the nickel). He's also beginning to understand how to use his hands. He didn't need much of that at South Carolina State, just a forearm shiver and a burst to the quarterback was all he needed to succeed.

"That works about one out of 10 times here," he said. "Most of the time you've got to really be fundamentally sound, technique wise."

Hargrave said he feels his hands are "getting better every day. It's a major improvement from when I first came out." But he refuses to believe that all of this is adding up to being called a first-teamer anytime soon -- even though the potential for that is very real.

"Right now, it's just a beating, man," he said. "For me, I've got to learn the system, do whatever role they want me to play right now. For me, it's just about getting better in camp and seeing how that works out."

GOLSON A SETBACK

Will Gay, the senior member of the Steelers' secondary, was literally asked if the loss of Senquez Golson was a big setback, or nah.

Gay didn't like either of his choices.

"Big setback," he said, but "I wouldn't even want to use that. We lost a true corner, a true nickel, a great asset that we had this year. But we've got a lot of guys who are improving, a lot of guys who are willing to go out there and put everything on the line, so I wouldn't use the word 'setback.'"

FOLLOWING HEATH

Tight end Jesse James said that in his rookie season a year ago he learned everything he could from veterans Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.

"I took a ton away from them," James said. "In my preparation and how I handled myself off the field came directly from them. I tried to take as much advice as I could, the way they studied film, the way they prepared for practice."

And then he asked Miller about offseason conditioning.

"I went to Heath and asked him what he worked on and who he worked with. From that I started working out at the same place he worked out, the same trainer -- at ESI in (Bridgeville) -- Evolution Sports Institute. (The trainer) does a great job with the core and just putting everything together as a whole and getting me ready for the season. He does a lot of functional things that help prepare you for football."

James was told by former player Craig Wolfley that his core strength looks much improved.

"Yeah I feel a lot better coming into camp," James said. "A couple days in I feel really good."

QUOTABLE

Inside linebacker Vince Williams on his obvious joy on the practice field.

"I love football in general. I think that's all I ever wanted to do. Not the only thing I wanted to do but it was definitely what I wanted to do. I just enjoy everything about it. I really do. DeAngelo (Williams) made a comment that I might be the only professional athlete who enjoys training camp. But I really just love playing football."


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