SCS Blog - "Morning After"
Camp Cowher 2004 is over and I, for one, couldn't be happier. It's an intense few weeks and you start off with plenty of vigor, but how much practice can a person watch without completely losing their sanity? . One thing for sure, I'm really happy I won't have to make that drive out I-70 any more, except of course today when I'm driving to Philadelphia. But at least I'll have the family along on this one. It's a cheap way to take the wife and kids to the in-laws. Plus after not seeing everyone for the past few weeks other than in passing, you need to get back in touch with the family. . The Steelers are beginning to think Larry Foote will be starting along side James Farrior at inside linebacker next season. How much money do you invest in Kendrell Bell? Nobody seems to know. . In 12 years, I've never seen a quarterback perform as badly as Kurt Kittner. To be fair, however, Kittner hasn't been here long enough to know the offense. He still stinks, though. . Thursday night's game is a big one for Alonzo Jackson. He's got to show something in this game or it's over. That's the consensus, anyway. But will Cowher have the guts to pull the trigger on it? I think so. He seems to be learning from past mistakes. . It's interesting for me to think about the fact that Cowher was one year younger than I now am when he took over for Chuck Noll. It explains a lot about his past mistakes. . I'm just cutting the coach a little slack, here. I think he's orchestrating things with this current roster perfectly. Calling Hines Ward the day before camp opened and convincing him that holding out was a bad idea shows a great deal of growth. I'm not sure the Cowher of old would have taken such a step.
08/24/04 - Jim sez:
The Trading Game with the running backs is making the rounds and folks are talking about the particular scenarios. Duce Staley, of course, is the man here so Jerome Bettis would be the ideal back to trade. He may be of some help in a reserve capacity here, but Dave Wannstedt of Miami has made some bad personnel moves in his time and he's in a jam once again. He's the guy to talk to just in case a third-round draft pick can be had for Bettis. Of course, the Steelers would give Bettis the final say in the matter, being the consummate pro that he's been. Verron Haynes? I'd trade him for a fourth-rounder. He's showing grit, but little else. I guess he's just not quick enough to compensate for his lack of size. Dante Brown? How could you trade him or trade for him? Nobody really knows enough about him. Wonder if he's the guy Bill Cowher was talking about when he mentioned yesterday he'd like to play some of the back-ups with the first team Thursday night. I think one of those players will be guard Jim Jones, whose value has risen with the injury to Kendall Simmons. Jones started at LG yesterday as Alan Faneca took a break. Jones spent 2002 on the Baltimore practice squad and took an injury settlement from the team in 2003. I learned that he's very well-spoken during an interview yesterday, but that doesn't come as a surprise since he's from Notre Dame. Not that I'm a fan, but Notre Dame guys over the years have been some of the best speakers. ... Max Starks, according to one veteran, has a pass-blocking mentality, which should come as no surprise since he played at Florida. But he also said Starks still doesn't come off the ball hard and isn't very aggressive. That fits the scouting reports from his senior season. ... Cowher is trying to pump up WR Huey Whittaker now that Zamir Cobb is down for the year. Cowher mentioned Whittaker's big block against the Texans that sprung Willie Parker for the touchdown. Whittaker's problem though is the ball he didn't catch on the final play of the Detroit game. It would've been a tough catch, and it's quite possible Whittaker would catch that ball if given another chance, but he didn't catch it then and that' s when they needed it. Timing is everything for undrafted free agents. ... Tunch Ilkin wrote a great article in Steelers Digest on the tackles. He raved about Marvel Smith's camp, said Oliver Ross has improved but that Todd Fordham is better. Ilkin even stepped out and wondered why the Steelers seem so intent on handing the RT job to Ross. Very good column. Tunch probably never wanted to do it, but he's becoming more critical in his analysis. It's the step he needed to take in making the break from ex-player to the media. ... Tunch also had some fun with Steelers preseason sack leader Chris Hoke during an interview. I couldn't get my question in -- What's it take to become a great pass rusher? -- and Hoke laughed later and said, "Everything's a joke to you guys isn't it?" ... Aaron Smith is really loosening up these days. I wrote earlier about the bond we share -- both of us have 4-year-old daughters -- but we also have in common the fact we don't drink anymore. I'd asked Aaron a few years ago to let me do a story on his sobriety but he said no because "then I'd have to tell you why and I don't want to." Sounds like a good story, probably one similar to mine and I ain't tellin that one either. ... I'll put the Smith interview up later. It's pretty long and will be used for a feature next week in the Digest.
08/23/04 - Jim sez:
The sunrises at St. Vincent are immaculate. We have to take a picture of one for "The Morning After" instead of that slab of meat. Raw is nice, but I prefer a sun rising on a dewey field with my coffee, easing my way into the day as opposed to taking it by force. ... After blogging, I'll be writing the team preview for Pro Football Weekly and I'm going to predict a first-place finish in the division for the Steelers. Their lines appear to be solid and they have the skill personnel. That's enough to win this division since the Bengals are changing quarterbacks and have big holes in their secondary; the Browns seem to be in complete disarray; and the Ravens still don't have a quarterback. This could be a fun year for the Steelers. ... I thought Ben Roethlisberger had a bad outing the other night, but two other writers disagree with me. What I called a Tomczak pass while he was falling backwards, they called a smart move to get the ball out of bounds. He also fumbled inexplicably, missed twice on what should've been two touchdowns, overthrew a number of passes and was in general very jumpy in the pocket. Now, I realize this is his second preseason game and that he shouldn't be expected to be real smooth. I'm just pointing out that he was off and has a long, long way to go before he should start. His timing with receivers is non-existent. Other than that, the guy obviously has the necessary tools. Now he has to take that next step, and it's the difficult one for young quarterbacks. He'll do it though, in time. ... Jerome Bettis had some juice in his legs the other night. I'll upgrade him over Willie Parker at this point because I feel Parker can be kept on the practice squad. But if Parker runs wild in the last two games, all bets are off. ... No big plays from the linebackers again; Oliver Ross played rather well; the run defense is outstanding; Antwaan Randle El may indeed be a young Lynn Swann; Chris Hope still hasn't hit anybody since hurting his shoulder taking Bettis down; Aaron Smith might be their best defender; Nathaniel Adibi showed some pop in the game. ... Let's have a great week now.
08/22/04 - Dale sez:
All you need is blog. Blog is all you need. . You know, nothing pisses you off more than busting your butt to get your stories in before an 11:15 p.m. deadline - the newspaper business is all about the deadlines - and then getting into your car for a nice ride home only to find out PennDoOThas decided to FUBAR the parkway. What genius decided to close the damn thing down from three to one lane when a Steelers game was letting out? . Earth to Alonzo Jackson, come in Alonzo Jackson. Message: Don't let the door hit you on the way out. . It doesn't matter what Jerome Bettis did Saturday night. Duce Staley is this team's starter. Staley will get 80 percent of the carries this season and I'm not sure Bettis will even be the No. 2 back. . If the Steelers get themselves into too much of a bind cutting a running back, I'm sure they could trade one to Philadelphia, which lost Correll Buckhalter the other night. Don't think Staley won't notice that. . There were quite a few national writers at Saturday's game. They spent the night talking about everything but football. I'm not even sure they watched the game. . That's twice now in the past two days I've gotten stuck in traffic for an hour because of PennDOT. And both times I was leaving Steelers camp or a game for home late in the evening. Is somebody trying to tell me something? . Maybe the Steelers could trade Freddie Millons back to the Eagles as well. He's not doing anything here.
08/21/04 - Jim sez:
What a peaceful feeling being at home in fall-like weather and sleeping in on game day. It's hard to believe the season is upon us, and with only three or four minutes of radio duty on the pre-game show, I have no work to do. Think I'll take the little one to see Yu-Gi-O The Movie. ... Wow, both newspapers really screwed up yesterday by saying Kendall Simmons COULD be done for the season. Hey, I dislike hyperbolic reactions to news as much as anyone, but both big papers underplayed this story into a glaring error. They were so caught up in talking to the injured victim himself, that they actually believed him, that a second opinion might change things. Boy, the Trib could've made up all that lost ground in their daily coverage on this one, but they fumbled, too. Simmons is out. End of story. ... I'm of the opinion that Jeff Hartings was moved to center by the Steelers because he was not big enough or physical enough to play guard anymore. And with the Raiders and Warren Sapp and Ted Washington coming up, Keydrick Vincent is the only choice. Remember, Vincent broke in as a right guard. I heard him telling a radio reporter the other day, that yes this could take time to move back from left guard, when he knew all along right guard was his original position. He was just setting up an excuse and the reporter bought it. ... That's part of the serenity of being home. I don't have to wake up and talk about previous day's stories with six other grown men. That leads to a lot of sniping on blogs, but being at home shifts the problems to a more normal mode. Good thing the blog is ending in a few days. You wouldn't want to hear me sniping about my wife and who she thinks should be playing right guard. Have a great weekend.
08/20/04 - Dale sez:
Before Kendall Simmons' injury, I would have given the Steelers a good chance to win the AFC North. Cincinnati's still soft on defense and is starting an inexperienced QB, while Kyle Boller stinks and has no receivers to throw to. Now, the odds have gotten a little longer. But the division is still there for the winning. . I didn't mention Cleveland there, did I? The Browns may be playing for the No. 1-overall pick this season. Butch Davis must have pictures of somebody screwing Michael Jackson or something. . If just about anybody else had gone down with a season-ending injury, you just chalk that up to the game. But hasn't Simmons had it tough enough? He's a good guy and really wants to be a good player. He really worked hard during the offseason to put last year behind him. And now this. At least his wife has a baby due this week, so Simmons will have something good happen in his life. . We're down to the last few days of this camp and the guys here couldn't be happier. I've at least gotten home. Some of these guys have slept in these rock-hard beds for almost three weeks now. I'm betting St. Vincent doesn't allow kids who come in to visit to lay down on these devices of torture. . Wex and I had lunch with Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley Thursday and they kept us laughing with the stories. It was definitely one of the highlights of this camp. . Myron Cope was back yesterday and looking better than he has in several years. He's still frail, but he looked a hell of a lot better than he did two weeks ago when Sally Wiggin interviewed him and he was still in a wheelchair. That one really bothered me. . The team tried like crazy to keep the Simmons injury under wraps until they could talk about it. Were they worried the Texans would use that information to their advantage for Saturday's preseason game? Sometimes I wonder about the lack of media savvy on part of some in management on this team, especially those who are supposed to know a little something about the business. Haven't they heard of the internet? Information spreads like wildfire now.
08/19/04 - Dale sez:
There's nothing like trying to get out of bed because you know you have to get ready to go listen to a Bill Cowher press conference. At least it's only down the hall instead of me having to drive to Pittsburgh to be lied to. . I waited after the morning practice Wednesday to speak to Troy Polamalu. And waited. And waited. And waited. Polamalu is consistently the last guy to leave the practice field every day. If some of these other guys did the same, the Steelers might be pretty damn good. And that wasn't just me saying that. Polamalu said it as well. . By the way, he hasn't cut his hair in 2 1/2 years. . I was bitching to someone who might know a little something about Alonzo Jackson taking up a roster spot on this team at the expense of a good young player like Dedrick Roper and I got a look and a "don't be so sure," out of him. I couldn't follow up on that to ask whether I should not be so sure Jackson would be cut or Roper would make the team along with Jackson because two other guys decided they had to jump into my conversation. Somehow, I convinced them I was talking about Adrian Ross. And they were both shocked I didn't think Ross would make the team. Puhleez. . They were watering the fields here yesterday afternoon. Then it rained all night. Good job guys.
08/18/04 - Jim sez:
The workout is in the books, the sun is coming up and one of Neil's great works, "On The Beach" is easing out of the music box. It's one of the last mornings here at St. Vincent College, and it's a great one. In fact, it's a great life with the room overlooking the practice field, the jogging trails, the gym, healthy food and dormitory camaraderie, but it's time to go home. I've had enough. So with that, let's cut the team. The best battles on offense are at running back and wide receiver, where the Steelers will likely only keep five each. At running back, since they won't cut Jerome Bettis, the last spot is being contested by Dante Brown and Willie Parker. I really like Brown, but the Steelers might keep Parker instead because they like him with a screen pass. He's lightning. Brown couldn't help them as much this year, but I'd like to know for sure. They should play him against the first team in a preseason game. At wide receiver, the fifth spot will be won by either Lee Mays or Zamir Cobb. I'd go with Cobb, but since he's eligible for the practice squad the Steelers may keep Mays in order to have six legitimate receivers around. Four tight ends will probably make the team since Matt Kranchick wouldn't last on the practice squad and he can't block, so they have to keep Matt Cushing. On the offensive line, Bo Lacy goes to the practice squad as they keep nine. They'll keep seven defensive linemen, possibly nine linebackers since they won't have the nerve to cut Alonzo Jackson and they should keep nine defensive backs since Chidi Iwuoma is an outstanding special teams player. That means Willie Williams and Terry Fair will be cut. Add it up and that's 54 players, so one has to go. The three extras are Cushing, Dedrick Roper and Iwuoma. One of them has to go. Perhaps an injury will provide the answer.
08/17/04 - Jim sez:
Black hole day is here. This could be the worst day of camp for those who stay here all the time. There's still a long week left and then half a week next. People are becoming grouchy with each other. I ripped the Tribune-Review on the radio last night, and on a station that bleats constantly about the great work the Trib does, so I felt inclined to rip with extreme prejudice. Sorry if my friends, the columnists, were hurt by the collateral damage. I like those guys. The rest just stink at their jobs, from the top on down. So that's an indication of the gaminess (some might say pettiness) of living in close quarters. As the great Neil Young would say, Sooner or later it all gets real. Walk on. Walk on. ... I get up and work out every day and on Tuesdays the players come in early. First one in again (second time in three weeks) was Ben Roethlisberger and the second and third were Matt Kranchick and Zamir Cobb. Guess the rookies have to work harder. I went for breakfast soon after and Joey Porter, Mike Schneck and Jerome Bettis were there and dressed in sharp shorts and golf shirts. They were headed out to golf. I wonder if the rookies will be allowed to go to the movies or will they have to lift weights that day too? ... Not much new to report on the football scene. Myron Cope is back up here. He's supposed to be resting his vocal cords but was up late last night partying away and yapping it up with a couple of the other late-nighters. Pray he makes it through the season, although my hunch is he wants to go down with his headset on.
08/16/04 - Jim sez:
No morning practice means a later blog, but it didn't mean I could sleep in. No, I've been gathering enough info to write an Answer Man column, but instead have come up with the general buzz after films have been reviewed. ... Ben Roethlisberger is stirring up talk of Terry Bradshaw from some of the old-timers, and they don't give into hyperbole easily. Once he begins hitting receivers out of the break, like Tommy Maddox, he'll be ready to play. ... Dante Brown's knock in college was fumbling, so no one was happy about a fumble of a perfect hand-off Saturday. But one coach still calls him "special" and pointed to the cut he made Saturday on the touchdown run. He could make the team with J.T. Wall going on the practice squad again. ... Jerome Bettis is on his last legs but it's highly doubtful he'll be cut. ... Darryl Kennedy blew somebody up, injured him actually, on the opening kickoff. You may remember him as being signed for that very purpose. Russell Stuvaints and James Harrison also had outstanding special teams kill shots, Harrison on nearly every kickoff. Alonzo Jackson left his lane and Detroit exploited it on its best kickoff return. Jackson was awful in the game but no one believes he'll be cut -- this season. ... Dedrick Roper is a better football player than Jackson, and may make the team. Hope they don't let Adrian Ross stand in his way. Ross, after a few poor practices, played a poor game. ... Zamir Cobb is making a serious bid for a fifth or sixth WR job. Freddie Milons isn't very bright. Lee Mays could've caught the bomb from Roethlisberger but slowed down and prepared to get up for a jump ball, only to learn, as it sailed out of reach, that it wasn't Maddox throwing. ... While Matt Kranchick was infuriating the head coach with his motion penalty, Matt Cushing, the lesser athlete, was hustling downfield to recover Troy Polamalu's fumble. ... Speaking of which, the raves are pouring in for Polamalu's game. He was around the ball all the time. Stuvaints was also impressive on tape. ... Bo Lacy is now being viewed as a practice-squad player; Keydrick Vincent played very well; Max Starks got off to a slow start but the Lions' DE slapped him in the face and it woke him up. The Steelers were very encouraged by the way he responded. ... Chris Hoke played very well at the point of attack and Brett Keisel might have been the best second-team player on the field. He only had one tackle, but his stats don't tell the whole story. He put a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterback. ... Ricardo Colclough had three tackles, a beautiful pass defensed, 131 yards in returns and a special teams tackle. He's a player. ... Nick McNeil was disappointing. He appeared lost. Roper, on the other hand, played very well, including special teams. ... Joey Porter gave no indication he's going to come out of a slump that has seen him record 8 sacks and force 3 turnovers in his last 25 games. He talks too much and isn't making plays. ... Kendrell Bell is nowhere near the player he was as a rookie. At this point, judging from that game, he's not going to receive the big money next season. ... Larry Foote and Clint Kriewaldt showed they are quality reserves at ILB. They were solid.
08/15/04 - Dale sez:
I like Bob Pompeani as much as anyone, but he's got to stop drinking the team Kool-Aid. Not everyone on the team can be having a great camp Bob. Just because Bill Cowher says it, doesn't mean it's true. . Considering the number of injuries they've had in camp, the Steelers have to be pretty happy to get out of that first game healthy. They get Jerame Tuman back Monday and Clark Haggans gets the pins out of his broken hand the next day. If this team can stay healthy, that offense looks like it can be pretty damn good. Duce Staley was getting four and five yards a carry on plays Amos Zereoue and Jeome Bettis were getting two yards on if they were lucky. The best thing about Staley's night? On 11 attempts, he only had one carry for negative yards - that being his last one. Those were the plays that killed the Steelers last season. . Who says Plaxico Burress can't catch a ball down low - Ok, I do. Burress made a nice catch on a low ball from Tommy Maddox on the Steelers' second drive. . That offensive line, even with Oliver Ross at right tackle, looked pretty good. They were really driving the Lions off the ball. . By the way, I'm having a great camp, just ask Bob Pompeani.
08/14/04 - Dale sez:
Kurt Kittner. The Steelers beat the bushes for a quarterback and came up with Kurt freaking Kittner. At least Roethlisberger is now the unopposed No. 2. … The happiest man in Pittsburgh Friday was Brian St. Pierre. He ran onto the team's plane yelling "I'm No. 3. Everybody look at me, I'm No. 3." … OK, not really, but he might as well have. … One thing Charlie Batch's season-ending injury guarantees is that we'll see Ben Roethlisberger at some point this season. While Tommy Maddox is by no means the China doll some believed before last season, it would be extremely foolish to say he'll make it through the entire season injury-free. It just doesn't happen to anyone not named Brett Favre or Peyton Manning. … Here's just some of players I'm anxious to see in live competition today: Kendall Simmons, Zamir Cobb, Dante Brown and Duce Staley. There are several others, but I'll be watching those players in particular for obvious reasons. … If the Steelers were looking for a camp arm, I was available. Kurt Kittner. Nearly made me puke. … What, Eric Zeier or Kent Graham weren't available? … All joking aside, I'm surprised the Steelers were able to get anyone to come into camp at this point. Two weeks before the first cut downs. Kittner has to know he's just here for a few meals and the food at St. Vincent College hasn't been that great this year – not that I've missed any meals, mind you.
08/13/04 - Jim sez:
"Oh, so we're going to sit here and lie to each other?. How about this one: You're a great coach, particularly with time winding down in a close home game." That was the general reaction in the media after listening to Bill Cowher tell us that Barrett Brooks is having a great camp. Why not just cancel these press conferences if that's the kind of filth we have to listen to? Brian St. Pierre's having a great camp? OK, I'll take that from the coach since he's coaching through the media. St. Pierre has a hang-dog look befitting the dead-man-walking persona he apparently wishes to take on. OK, Brian, we understand you were in line for a raw deal but pick up your head, straighten up your body posture and smile a little more. Even if you would get cut, someone would pick you up. All Cowher's doing here is trying to give the fourth-string QB some confidence, particularly now that he's back in the race after Charlie Batch's injury. That, I can buy. But when you start telling me Barrett Brooks is having a great camp, that's when I start raving about your time-management skills and bubbly personality. ... One argument that needs to be made for Mike Schneck in the great long-snapper competition: He puts it on the money every single time. What price do you put on that? We'll see Saturday whether Drew Caylor can begin a seamless field-goal process consistently. A slower and less experienced long-snapper may not matter on punts, as I pointed out the other day, but field goals are more important. It's going to be a close call here. ... Consider Ricardo Colclough for a second. Here's a second-round pick who's received very little attention from the media, and who's very shy to begin with and comes from one of the smallest schools in the NFL farm system. But Cowher's press conference changed his stock in the eyes of the herd. We all realized he was going to have significant playing time in the preseason opener, so we mobilized outside the cafeteria. And as soon as he stepped off the golf cart to go into lunch, the entire mob descended on him. From zero to mob scene in seconds, and there hadn't even been a practice. He must've thought there'd been a death in his family or something. ... Practice was rained out (players sent into the gym for a quick session, no media) for no real good reason. Sure, the grass was slippery, but the injury risk had to be just as great in the gym. The Steelers spent millions on reconditioning these fields, and for what? To pat each other on the back over how pretty they are? I couldn't understand why they went indoors yesterday. They must not be expecting any rain this season.
08/12/04 - Dale sez:
Wednesday night's practice opened my eyes to something I hadn't seen before - Dante Brown. Now I know Brown has been a favorite of some people on this site, but I didn't think he was anything special. Until, that is, I saw the cut he made while I was standing 20 feet away during the goal-line drills. Brown took a handoff from Ben Roethlisberger and headed off left tackle, where Ike Taylor was waiting to wrap him up. But Brown, who was at full speed, cut back to the inside, leaving Taylor grasping at air. He was tripped up on the play, but turned a loss into a four-yard gain. Now I know it was just Ike Taylor and not Joey Porter waiting to tackle him, but the cut was magnificent. Brown now makes my team. . No matter what head coach Bill Cowher says about this camp being no different injury-wise than others, it has been. The Steelers have a ridiculous number of injuries - nearly 20 guys have missed time with some kind of injury. That sounds like an indictment of the team's strength and conditioning staff. . Cowher was asked about Zamir Cobb last night and got very serious when saying Cobb was having a great camp. Cobb is really going to have to screw the pooch in the games not to make this team. See you later Lee Mays.
08/11/04 - Jim sez:
At a stinky, lackadaisical practice, Bill Cowher erupted yesterday, and it was no show for Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, either. That was the cynicism sweeping the sidelines among reporters as Cowher subsequently nagged and raged at his team. King was on the sideline and half paying attention. He'd interviewed Ben Roethlisberger earlier in the day and stood at the sideline only to shoot the breeze with other reporters before leaving an hour early. He was oblivious to Cowher and in spite of the better story we cynics were imagining, Cowher was oblivious to King. He wasn't showing off, nor was this one of those scripted blow-ups coaches so often have. The practice really was just bad. ... OK, here's some football talk: Drew Caylor impressed me with his long-snapping during his work with the second punt team. He's in a battle with veteran long-snapper Mike Schneck for a roster spot and Chris Gardocki is helping the rookie. Gardocki, of course, has never had a punt blocked. He takes one step and it's gone. I'm beginning to believe the time saved with the recently acquired Gardocki this year will make up for any nanoseconds by which Schneck beats Caylor in snapping speed. Caylor is cheaper, a better cover man and has the potential to become a useful component as an offensive lineman -- in time. ... Speaking of potential, I just bet someone that Bo Lacy will make the roster. They all laughed at me. Apparently some of the younger reporters spend more time at the line drills than I'd suspected and one is adamant that Lacy can't play. But every time I see him he's hustling his rear end off and is quite tenacious, but of course sometimes he is overwhelmed. I think he has a future if he puts weight on that 295-pound frame, but that would mean keeping five tackles. I just thought Lacy made the team when he was drafted and has showed nothing less than what I expected when they took the unimpressive phsyical specimen who wasn't highly regarded by most prior to the draft. ... It was guest bartender night at Sharkey's, the local watering hole for reporters and all those (except the players) associated with the Steelers. Dan Rooney Jr., Bob Labriola, Mike Prisuta and Bill Hillgrove were the guest bartenders, but Bill Nunn was the honored guest. Nunn, of course, scouted the dynasty and he regaled those who approached with stories of the past. I'd heard many of them and will have some goodies in my upcoming book, but I asked Nunn about the player who impressed me on the tape I recently re-watched, the one of the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams nearly 25 years ago. I thought Larry Brown was very impressive in that game, and I asked Nunn what he thought about Brown, the right tackle for the Steelers. I wished I had a tape recorder for Nunn's entire response but I'll quote the great scout from memory: "Oh, now Larry Brown. You know, I fought Chuck Noll for two years to move him to tackle from tight end because he reminded me of my great friend Roosevelt Brown, the Hall of Fame tackle who played for the New York Giants. Finally Chuck made the move and Brown went on to be one of the great players of those years. But if he would've moved to tackle earlier, he would be in the Hall of Fame today. It's funny you bring up Larry Brown. He really was a good one." I thought I'd impressed Nunn with my eagle eye and was quite pleased with myself. ... Speaking of legends, Pittsburgh writing legend Gene Collier also stepped out last night. Knowing he's a music buff, I asked him if he was going to the Bob Dylan-Willie Nelson show tonight in Altoona. I figured he was probably at camp for the practice tonight at Offutt Field and kind of kidded him that if someone broke his arm, it's very important he be there, at Offutt Field, instead of sitting on the stage at a ballpark with us watching Dylan and Nelson. Collier became very excited about the show and I told him to talk to my travel partner, Prisuta, about tickets, and reminded him again of the Offutt Field practice. It all began coming together in his mind that, yes, there was a night practice and, no, he probably couldn't make the show. He became upset and I began laughing because it seemed like we were living out one of his off-the-wall columns. Well, I guess he was more upset than I figured because as I continued chuckling over the irony, he up and walked away, just like that. So in the legend department, put me down for a 1 for 2 evening.
08/10/04 - Jim sez:
Don't read too much into the signing of Adrian Ross. The Steelers just signed him to provide depth since they had no veteran depth there since releasing Jason Gildon. It doesn't mean Alonzo Jackson has disappointed them any more or any less since camp has started. The Steelers in fact have some good young players at the position. But the fact is, Jackson, with only two games of special teams play as a rookie on his resume, was the top backup at both positions. Not that Ross is guaranteed a spot on the roster, either, but he gives them veteran depth at the last position on the team without it. ... The best hit of practice, perhaps of camp, was dished out by tight end Jay Riemersma on linebacker Kendrell Bell. No, I did not get the order wrong there. Riemersma was rolling right in front of a running play and popped Bell in the chest with his shoulder. The hit surprised Bell, whose head snapped back. It surprised me on the sideline, too. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt told me Riemersma could block. I can't say I'm ready to buy that he can do it on a consistent, in-line basis, but I have to give him credit for this one. ... Jerome Bettis told me not to worry about the offense's problems at the goal line. He points to the 9 on 7 running drills which nobody pays attention to. And he's right. The offense finds plenty of breathing room in that running drill. That's where this stable of backs shines. Bettis, by the way, is taking pride in the fact that Chris Hope hasn't hit anyone since he tackled Bettis at the goal line at Latrobe last week. To Hope's credit, he admitted to feeling "tipsy" after the hit while rubbing his shoulder (you read about the potential for a lingering injury here first, by the way...just thought I'd brag a bit). Hope returned to practice Monday but I can't remember him making a tackle. He was being monitored and held out of some drills, but we'll continue to monitor his state of mind in this camp. ... A couple of us joked with Kevin Colbert yesterday about picking up another ex-Lion. He said Herron doesn't count because "he's on the practice squad." We didn't know if he meant the Lions' practice squad or that he's simply fodder for this team, which he is. ... Ben Roethlisberger said he hasn't been called "Rowdy", the nickname listed on his website, in a long time. I asked him if it fit, and he said "kind of." ... Zo Jackson, by the way, could not put any pressure on the quarterback during the one-minute drill, and I ain't about to call the man blocking him -- Oliver Ross -- the next Anthony Munoz. It wasn't a good sign for Jackson, whom reporters up here are taking advantage of because of his non-stop motor ... mouth.
08/09/04 - Jim sez:
It's a great day to ask why, as in Why would so may people come out to watch Saturday's practice? Well, there's the franchise quarterback for one. The quicker word leaks out about this guy, the bigger the crowds will be and the less patience they will have for Tommy Maddox. Ben Roethlisberger is already the team's second-best quarterback. His athletic ability will make up for the mental edge Charlie Batch has over him. Until yesterday I was a little apprehensive about Ben's mobility. Maybe that's not saying it right. I knew he had mobility, but since he's so big, I was doubting whether his speed would be a factor at this next level. But yesterday Ben proved, on his roll out and bullet downfield pass to Antwaan Randle El, that he in fact can run around outside linebackers. So with that arm, those wheels and that leadership, which we've already talked about, we indeed have the makings of a franchise quarterback. I was excited when they drafted him; now I'm more excited because I know for sure he's the real deal. He'll have to go through the entire coaching process, the checkdowns and whatnot, but in five years he'll be championship timber. Anyway, the other reason the fans flocked to St. Vincent yesterday is, I theorize, that the goal-line drill is being promoted so heavily by the media. That began after Kendrell Bell lit up Jerome Bettis in the 2001 training camp. We continually harkened back to that moment as a turning point for a program coming off three non-playoff seasons, and we keep pounding the goal-line drum, even writing previews as if it were a game. Now, it is an exciting drill but let's face it, we've overhyped this thing unbelievably. ... Why did the Steelers pick up Adrian Ross? The injury to Dedrick Roper probably clinched it. I'm not sure if it's more serious than the hyperextension which Bill Cowher reported. Don't be surprised if, when we all report back Monday morning, that turns out to be the case. They were already down one linebacker, then Alonzo Jackson was hurt (and has returned), so they don't want to get caught up in a numbers game again. This signing puts the futures of Roper and Nick McNeil (who had another great practice Saturday) in jeopardy. Nathaniel Adibi practiced better Saturday, so he leads the battle for a potential fifth OLB job if Ross can still play. ... Why didn't Duce Staley carry the ball in the goal line drill Saturday? Well, it was Bettis' turn to run first team, so that's half the reason. The other half is that the coaches want to take a real close look at Verron Haynes, who's showing every bit as much as Bettis and Staley. Don't want to let a young back become lost in the shuffle. ... Why can't the offense score? 1. This might be the best run defense in the NFL. Look at that three-man line, then you have Kendrell Bell and James Farrior behind them. That's a tough nut to crack, particularly when they know a running play's coming; 2. They knew running plays were coming. Got a little ahead of myself in the first point. 3. The poor blocking at tight end. I don't want this to sound like I'm bashing Matt Cushing, because he's providing quality depth for a third-teamer. But again, he's a third-teamer, a solid contributor, not the main guy. Having Jay Riemersma and Matt Kranchick in the thick of things requires a third guy who can blow em over when needed. Also, Jeff Hartings is having a below average camp, so perhaps he's being beaten, but I can't be sure. ... Why does Cowher promote foolish post-play fights? It's a sign of weakness, and what better poster boy than the immature Jackson. I watched the whole thing develop. The two traded very light hand pushes as Jackson was walking back to the defensive huddle. Then he turned around and slugged Morgan Pears in the face. The two punched each other's face masks and then grabbed and twisted each other's masks. And this is macho? Lucky one of these idiots didn't break his hand. Maybe then Roper, McNeil and James Harrison make the team. Dumb. Just dumb.
08/08/04 - Dale sez:
It's nice to see Adrian Ross finally decided to accept the Steelers' contract offer. But I'm not sure if I'm the Steelers I give Ross much of an opportunity to make this team. He'd better really be head and shoulders above some of these younger guys for jerking the team around as he has for the past week. … Poor Dedrick Roper. Everyone starts paying attention to him and he sprains his knee. Plus, the kid's got a lot of family in Detroit, where he was born. Here's hoping he's ready to play when the Steelers line up against the Lions Saturday. … How desperate are the Steelers for a blocking tight end? Everyone who matters was there Saturday to watch Bobby Blizzard in the one-on-one blocking drills. Blizzard, of course, was a pass catching tight end at Kentucky before transferring to North Carolina. Of course on this roster, he might look like the second-coming of Mark Bruener. … Yes, Bruener's starting in Houston. For those of you who remember him, Walter Rasby is the starter in Washington. The Steelers? They have nobody worthy of starting at that position. … Which brings me to the question? Was Bruener that bad here or did he just need a full year to recover from his microfracture surgery? He obviously was no longer the blocker he once was, but he could have served a purpose on this team. Then again, maybe Dan Rooney, being the honorable sort, didn't want to ask Bruener to take a big pay cut for a second-straight year. What I'm saying, I guess, is that the salary cap could have played a part in Bruener's release. … That still doesn't explain why the Steelers didn't feel the need to upgrade the tight end position with anything more than Matt Kranchick, who couldn't block an artery with five pounds of lard. … I remember writing during the offseason the Steelers should go after Tennessee's Erron Kinney as a free agent and getting roasted for it. Doesn't look like such a bad move now, does it? … I hate to rant about a meaningless position like tight end, but what the hell. That's why we're blogging here, right?
08/07/04 - Jim sez:
On Friday, the running game was hot. Someone must've lit a fire under them. Duce Staley came out in the 9-on-7 drill and ripped off a long gain through a hole on the left side of the line and Jerome Bettis followed with a long gain on the right side. Back to the left side went Verron Haynes for a third consecutive long gain. All three backs looked very good. Funny, one of the radio guys said on the air that Wednesday night's hit by Chris Hope on the Bus at the goal line marked the end of the line for the running back. Well, he was half right. It marked the end of the line, but for Hope, who hasn't practice since. People keep looking to bury Bettis but he keeps proving people, including me, wrong. ... Another favorite media pasttime is fussing about the third-string quarterback. In the Post-Gazette on Friday, a columnist wrote that Brian St. Pierre is in danger and isn't it a damn shame because his dad went to Harvard, or something like that. I figured it was an indication of what's passing for conversation on talk radio these days, but more and more I'm of the belief the Steelers are going to keep four quarterbacks. Charlie Batch hasn't really looked good up here, but I can't believe Bill Cowher would go into the season with an inexperienced back-up, but I also can't believe they'd part with a potential back-up QB such as St. Pierre so quickly. You can't just throw picks like that away. I don't necessarily see other positions as being so deep that they can't keep extra depth at QB, and they've kept four lesser quarterbacks in the past. The practice squad is not an option since another team would certainly take St. Pierre away. On a side note, Danny Rooney Jr., the scout, was standing on the sideline with us and told of a recent coversation with his dad, the chairman of the board. Danny Jr.: "He said 'Number 2 looks good. What do you think?' And I said, 'Ricardo Colclough?' And he said, 'No, the quarterback.' And I said, 'Well, he's OK I guess.' " About five minutes later, St. Pierre was intercepted for a touchdown by Russ Stuvaints to end the two-minute drill and practice. I walked by the chairman and Danny was egging me on, but I just couldn't give him any guff about it. ... Now, the fourth-team QB, Ben Roethlisberger, is looking better than both Batch and St. Pierre, but they're coaching him. Yes, unfortunately, he's looking sideways for the fullback and over the middle for the tight end or Randle El way too quickly. I'd been wanting to see Ben air one out and yesterday he threw his longest pass of the week. He casually flicked his wrist and lobbed a 35-yard pass to Randle El, who'd beaten Colclough on a double move. The ball lofted beautifully into the streaking Randle El's hands for a touchdown. That must've been the play on which Colclough hurt his hip flexor. I'm still waiting, though, for Ben to really air one out. ... After the morning practice, I was looking to interview Nick McNeil. He was walking off the field, as were the rest of the players, and he was talking to James Harrison. I didn't want to interrupt them because I didn't want Harrison to murder me. He's one mean dude. Cowher's going to cut him one too many times I'm afraid, and Harrison's going to come into the practice facility for his final say. I just hope that when it happens he makes a left turn into the coaches' hallway and not a right into the media room.
08/06/04 - Dale sez:
It's now been a week of training camp 2004 and we've all pretty much seen all of the drills we can stomach watching. God, I wish the Detroit game was tomorrow. . It's just preseason, but we need the answers to some questions. Who are the best special teamers from the group of fringe players? Can Roper and McNeil play against other teams or are they just eating up this team's offensive linemen? . Ben Roethisberger has looked OK during practice. But after practice Thursday, you could really see why teams got excited about him. Working with Mark Whipple and Zamir Cobb, Roethlisberger was practicing throwing on the run. He'd take the ball, sprint out as fast as he could and hit Cobb on the sideline 20 yards away. He's very fast and hit Cobb perfectly every time. . Note to self, stay away from Sharky's - the local watering hole, on Karoke night. That was freaking torture. . One the plus side, it seems the tradition of the kickers going there and making the new kickers sing left with Josh Miller. Slappy, slappy, slappy.
08/05/04 - Jim sez:
I bet five dollars on the defense last night and then realized I was doing so in support of Larry Foote and Nathaniel Adibi. The two were filling in for Kendrell Bell and, well, Alonzo Jackson and I kind of wanted to back out of the wager but held on as Casey Hampton, Chris Hope and James Farrior came through for me. Hope is playing extremely well and everyone naturally believes he would've done as well last year instead of Brent Alexander, but I never like to follow the herd in these kinds of arguments. Darren Perry admits Hope is still having problems setting the defense before the snap, but his confidence will never be higher than it is now. I'm just concerned about his shoulder, which he was rubbing after his hit on Jerome Bettis last night. ... Speaking of Casey Hampton, he checked in at 330 pounds last week and is down to 327. Last year he weighed in at 338 if I recall correctly. It's impressive, considering he's coming off a Pro Bowl season and could've been pretty cocky and undisciplined. ... The Steelers' defensive line is outstanding. It's a pleasure to watch Kimo von Oelhoffen in line drills because of his precise technique. Travis Kirschke is a real workhorse and Brett Keisel seemed to finally shake off some rust last night. Of course, Aaron Smith is outstanding, too. I stopped to chit-chat with Aaron the other day and he asked me about my daughter. I gave my stock reply, that 4-year-old Samantha is the light of my life but that I know her teenage years will be put me through hell. Smith told me I have nothing to worry about, that the bond between father and daughter is too strong and that I'll have nothing to worry about. As I was walking away he continued with his optimism and made sure I got it. He really cares. He doesn't have to, but he's just a great guy. ... Isn't this what blogs are for? To round out the details on these players? Sure. Take Ben Roethlisberger. I'm very impressed with him on the field, but more so off the field. He's a very aware young guy, no ego problem at all. He hung around after his first press conference up here, after his signing, and made some small talk. He was amused that I picked up the wrong tape recorder and shut it off before realizing it wasn't mine. It was nothing; but it was everything. The guy's going to be a great leader for this team some day. ... Talked to former Steelers guard Craig Wolfley about Max Starks last night. He said Max is showing better feet than he'd initially thought and that his problems stem more from indecision, that he's thinking his way through the play and even rising up too high because of it. "He's not in the zen stage yet," Wolf said. Is he concerned? "No. I wouldn't be concerned, unless I'm the quarterback in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions next week." Wolf also praised the work last night of Kendall Simmons and Oliver Ross, calling their performances in one-on-one drills their best yet.
08/04/04 - Dale sez:
You'd better believe all eyes will be on Ben Roethlisberger when we head out to the morning practice. But for those of us who actually took the time to go to mini-camp and the offseason workouts, there won't be any new things to see. He has a big arm and can move in the pocket. He's just got some learning to do. . Bill Cowher was not amused by Joey Porter's sack Tuesday, but those of us in the media who have been the focal point of a Cowher explosion sure didn't mind it. . Tommy Maddox is throwing more sidearm in this camp, flicking the ball to his receivers. Could it be he's been watching his tight ends and running backs trying to block people in the one-on-one drills? A below-average right tackle and backs and tight ends that can't block are not a good combination. . Leigh Steinberg, Roethlisberger's agent, looks a lot less like Tom Cruise or even Arlis Michaels, and a lot more like somebody who might need a few good meals. OK, make that a lot more good meals. . Chris Hope is going to lay somebody out - ala. Lee Flowers with Jaclang Arnold a few years ago - before this camp is over. He's hit some guys already, just pulling up at the last second. At some point, he's just going to say, 'ah, what the hell.'
08/03/04 - Jim sez:
Monday's practice was very encouraging, particularly after the morning stand around. For a coach with so much experience, you'd think Bill Cowher would have everyone moving, hopping and jumping, but as I said in the practice report, these players stand around more than the media. Anway, in the afternoon, Cowher stressed physical play not only with his words but with his drills. After the WRs highlighted Day 1, the tight ends and RBs took over on Day 2. In the one-on-one drills, the TEs went up against the OLBs, who revealed a group of weak-blocking TEs. Something must be done here. Jay Riemersma can't block much more than his shadow, but rookie Matt Kranchick can't even do that. I've never seen a worse blocking TE than Kranchick. He did impress me with a catch and run during the team scrimmage, but he may never put his hand down in line. He's an H-back and that's all I see him ever becoming. It's not just his thin build, but his attitude. He doesn't want to block. Anyway, the linemen then went one-on-one and Zo Jackson showed much more in that drill, as well as the entire day, than he had in his entire time here combined. Someone lit a fire under his rear I think. Then the team moved to a 9-on-7 run game drill (see notebook for details) and carried over the intensity in the team scrimmage. I don't like to delve too much into specifics of individual players because camp is such a long and up-and-down grind that it's foolish to concentrate too hard on individual practices and reps. By the way, I can watch from the sideline, get a good feel for the up and down nature of the play and also talk to sources for more clear overviews. Not all sportswriters are morons. ... I felt like a moron in the post-practice interview session though. I asked Cowher who No. 40 on offense was. I swear I saw one working with the TEs, as did (I found out later) two other reporters. It made sense since the TE position has been thinned by injuries. But Cowher looked at me and said "I don't know what you're looking at." And the PR director showed his great disdain for the media by shouting out, "There's no No. 40, Jim." And then proceeded to shake his head and smile, from behind Cowher, like some kind of psycho. Yes, the media liasons here hate the media. I can respect that until it's you they're hating at the time. Anyway, I learned later why the PR director had such confidence in his psychoses. Another reporter had approached him during practice and asked who No. 40 was, so he dug around and couldn't find anything. But something's up, and at least I'm not the only loon on the premises. ... Every time I want to write off running back Dante Brown he shows me that little Sayers glide step of his and I become enthusiastic again. Sure, I'm a loon. I just proved that, but I still hold out hope for this tall, upright runner with real grace. I also like Verron Haynes more and more and predict he will have a strong preseason.
08/02/04 - Dale sez:
One practice doesn't necessarily show a lot, but you had to be impressed with the Hines Ward-Plaxico Burress show that took place Sunday at St. Vincent. They were dominant. . Then again, when they were making those big catches, it was usually Chad Scott who was in psuedo coverage. . Scott doesn't have any streamers hanging from his body this year. Maybe Bill Cowher finally clued him into the fact he's not only not a super hero, he's barely passable as an NFL corner. . We're only three days into camp and I've already grown weary of some of the questions asked by a certain faction of my fellow media members. Purposely trying to get a rise out of Joey Porter with a loaded question is one thing, continually asking stupid questions because you're too busy talking on your cell phone or to your entourage - don't ask me why a member of the media needs to bring a posse to camp - is another. Asked to Duce Staley Sunday: "So how did your first day of practice in full pads feel?" Duce, standing there in his shorts, his shoulder pads being carried up the hill by some rookie, looked at the reporter as if he were from Mars. Then again, maybe he is.
08/01/04 - Jim sez:
The first practice will be held today and obviously eyes will be on whether Plaxico Burress runs onto the field with the first team. He almost laughed at the prospect of being benched after he reported the other day. He missed minicamp of course but nobody expects Bill Cowher to come down hard on him. My suspicion is Burress blew off coaching sessions because he felt he could undergo a more rigorous training regimen on his own, rather than with the Steelers. Nobody I know close to the team doubts that, either. Burress appeared to be in great shape and certainly has a chip on his shoulder. He assumes he'll be a force this season, and he is a giant with speed, and the word is he's even taking notes in meetings because he's so obsessed with proving the world wrong. We'll see. He still can't jump and he still has those rock-hard hands. My gut tells me he'll have a decent year and then it's time to let him go. He's just not worth the trouble. A quarterback killer, if not a coach killer. ... The run test was a sham this year. I question the difficulty of running 14 40-yard sprints anyway, but in the gym? It was a piece of cake and made it difficult for anyone to tell who is in the best shape. From my notes, Alan Faneca, Todd Fordham, Marvel Smith, Chukky Okobi, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel did well with the linemen; Clark Haggans, Verron Haynes, Dan Kreider and Brian St. Pierre did well with the mid-sizers; and Chad Scott, Troy Polamalu, Burress and Antwaan Randle El ran well with the ponies. Scott won the last sprint of the last group, which had most of the team's fastest players. The notable exception was Polamalu. Don't ask about Ike Taylor. I'm not sure. All I can tell you is he didn't distinguish himself ... After the run test, a pale, skittish, runny-nosed Hank Williams Jr. agreed to field questions from the media. He was enthusiastic and engaging but the one question nobody asked was 'What are you snorting, dude?' I could be wrong, but he appeared to be in a bad way. ... So the preliminaries have concluded. The real training season is upon us. I'm still having a difficult time pinning this team down. I'm naturally pessimistic because of the problems with Burress and the lack of help given the offensive line and the stale air surrounding Cowher. I'm also wondering if keeping Jerome Bettis is a good thing or not. He has followers on the team. Hopefully, nothing fractious will come of the competition with Duce Staley. Then again, on a good day, I can see them winning it all. Back and forth I go on this team. Maybe it's best to just sit back and watch them work for a couple of weeks before putting a well formulated opinion to the keypad.