Going to St. Vincent?

Perhaps you are a camp veteran, making the pilgrimage each year to get the first glimpse of the new Steelers. Or, this year you are making the leap, deciding to see what life is like for the players at St. Vincent. We here at SteelCitySports.com have been there, on both sides of the fence. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your visit to Latrobe.

My first camp was just a few years ago. I sat on the wrong side of the practice field and I had no idea what I was watching. If you can spend more than just a few days at St. Vincent, you quickly figure out the best way to enjoy the afternoon.

However, if you aim to get a closer look at the Pittsburgh Steelers and see the team through your own eyes, seeing and understanding everything that is going on takes some practice.

First things first, you need a copy of the roster, listed by number and alphabetically by name. By day 3 you usually don't need such a reference any more, but if you are there for less time than that, memorize the roster. Most of you probably don't know what a player looks like without a helmet, so the jersey number is all you have to go by.

Prior preparation prevents poor performance, a.k.a. Peter's 5 P's. There's a lot going on at a practice. Units break off to their own spot on the field and the whole thing looks busier than a three-ring circus. Decide before you go what and whom you are going to follow.

You can't follow everything.

Quarterback and receiver drills catch much of the attention of everyone there. If there isn't any scrimmage going on, Lee Mays making a leaping sideline grab of a poor throw from the fourth-string QB alleviates some of the boredom.

If you want to know just how boring it is, watch the media down on the practice field. They amble in well after practice has started, not interested in any of the drills. The 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 is what makes good copy.

I think most fans agree, witnessing the closest thing to actual pro football that they've seen since February.

The scrimmage play is the least informative part of camp, but that's all you read about in the local papers.

I started out focusing on the drills for the offensive linemen because I understood that unit the least.

Who has good feet? Who is quick out of his stance?

Take notes and try and predict who you think will look good in actual play and see how close you are to what actually happens. You get a good chance to do this during the one-on-one drills, my favorite exhibition to watch at camp.

An offensive lineman will be put in isolation with either a defensive lineman or a linebacker. Which guys on the OL don't need much help? In a game, there is often help, but that comes at some cost. As with defensive backs, if an offensive lineman can handle the opposition's biggest guy by himself, that's a huge advantage.

Watching these one-on-ones is how I figured out that Mathias Nkwenti was a bust. He has great feet and was easily the most athletic of all the linemen. But he was feast or famine in the one-on-ones. Sometimes he would stone Kimo Von Oelhoffen, the toughest guy to handle in isolation. Other times, some scrub would blow by him.

This is a great drill because it is man-to-man. There is no hiding your weaknesses and if you screw up, even a novice can see it.

The same goes for the defenders. Alonzo Jackson was a one-trick-pony last year in camp. He had one move, which emphasized his quickness. That may have played in college, but the big boys at the NFL level are surprisingly fast, as well as strong.

Jackson looked good in the preseason games because the guy blocking him was some kid with excellent college-level talent. In practice, against the first-team, Jackson did squat.

That's something else to look for, first-year guys up against the starters. Hunt for those match-ups. Most of the press misses them. They rely on sources to tell them what is going on. You have to use your eyes.

When you see UDFA David Upchurch give OT Marvel Smith all he can handle, you take note.

Another thing to follow is what string is in and who is staffing it. Alonzo Jackson started with first-string special teams at the beginning of camp. Towards the end of camp, Jackson was third-string special teams.

That's not a good sign.

During the 11-on-11 scrimmages, I try to get a look at the schemes and formations. The Steelers do the big stuff during the closed practices in the morning, but you do pick up a few things during the afternoon, such as who is first-string nickel and which players are pushing to get in that scheme.

While I was at camp last year, I never saw Casey Hampton really push to get in on first-string nickel. That's merely an observation. But combine that with other information, the stuff you get here from Dale Lolley and Jim Wexell, and you have a story.

Camp is a good chance to see things that the press and the television don't allow you to see. You can see which players get along and which ones stand off by themselves. You notice which players have great talent and which ones put forth great effort. Usually, proof of one or the other is not enough to make the team.

You also see, all too well, which players struggle with the mental part of the game.

Overall, I suggest following the part of camp that isn't covered in the press. You can always read about that later. Besides, we are all anxiously awaiting your first camp report and we are hoping you capture something that the press overlooked.

So, sit on the shady side of the field and get high enough so you have a good view of everything going on. Just make sure that you don't sit off by yourself, away from the crowd, watching the practice through binoculars while taking a lot of notes.

Do that and Kevin Colbert will get mad at you.

I should know. That happened to me last year.

Beyond that, don't forget to meet your fellow fans. I've never met I nicer bunch of people and for me, they make camp a wonderful experience.

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