Tales From Minicamp II

We all could've done without the violence that marked the end of our first segment, but the pictures, they sprang to life didn't they? Well, it all went down at Minicamp 2005. Here's more.

The rational voices tell you to relax, that it's minicamp, that he's rusty from an injury, that he hasn't worked out. And all of it's true. But it must be reported that first-round draft pick Heath Miller was unimpressive.

Not bad. Just not impressive.

The first pass thrown to Miller bounced off his hands and was intercepted by Alonzo Jackson.

Now let that sentence waft by you for a second. OK. As the obscenity passes, know that Miller is certainly not awful. He showed much better hands later. He got open a little bit. Probably blocked about as well as expected without pads in the spring. So, no, he's not bad. He just wasn't impressive the way a first-round, 6-foot-5 tight end should have been. He didn't blame the lay-off from his January sports-hernia operation.

"I feel good," Miller said after the first practice.

He's a humble guy who could be mistaken for lacking quick wit, but don't be fooled. He's smart. And he didn't seem to care much for the reference to his high Wonderlic intelligence score. Says he never heard of "Bullet" Bill Dudley until he went to UVA. Then Miller was engulfed by the media throng for several more rounds of questions that went nowhere.

The second day was more of the same. Miller caught a few short passes and seemed to move around OK. Although Jerome Bettis later admitted he saw Miller limping, Miller said there was no second-day soreness, and that's what doctors want to know.

"No, I felt good again today," Miller said.

He has a blood-shot left eye.

"It happened a couple weeks ago, right before I came here to meet the press," he explained. "I found out the hard way I'm allergic to shellfish."

Or maybe the press?

"No. It was before the press, so it wasn't you guys," he said. And then the sprawling, probing mob engulfed him once again for another Q&A that was as bland as the big guy's performance on the field.

The best description for Miller's body build is blocky. At 255, he doesn't appear to have the potential to add 15 pounds or so and remain a receiving threat.

He's the opposite of Matt Kranchick, who's carrying an extra 25-30 pounds since the end of the season, and appeared to be carrying it well. The 6-7 tight end frequently lined up in the slot and, although he wasn't thrown to much, was an imposing figure on the field.

It's peculiar, though, that reporters ignore him. He is a local product, being from the middle of the state and Penn State and all. TV people usually trip over themselves trying to talk to local products. And Kranchick's very quotable, insightful, funny, enthusiastic. He's also a good story right now, and one that could develop into a great one if he can show at training camp that the extra weight helps his blocking. Stay tuned to this one.

Q: Fast Willie Parker, is that a new hairstyle?
A: It's aerodynamics.
Q: A 'fro? That won't help your aerodynamics, will it?
A: Nah. I'm going to cut it off. I don't want no hair on my head.
Q: Are you enjoying the dizzy looks on the rookies?
A: It feels good not to have that look on your face because everything's coming at you so fast.
Q: So how are you looking at this year?
A: I'm coming in this year with a little more experience. I know what I've got to do. Everything will work out for the best.
Q: I suppose they'll try to find ways to get you the ball. What did Bill say at the end of last year?
A: He encouraged me. He said I've got to get into that second year with experience so he can throw me out there a little more.
Q: So what do you need to do?
A: Just experience. Do what I'm doing, but have more experience with it: know when to go down, when not to go down, stuff like that.
Q: Are you excited?
A: I'm real excited.
Q: What about kickoff returns?
A: Yeah. I'm going to try to get on some kick returns. I love returning the ball. I like when the ball's in my hands, just reading blockers and stuff.
Q: Did you do that at North Carolina?
A: Nah, I didn't do nothin' at North Carolina.
Q: Why?
A: I don't know. I didn't want to do it at North Carolina. I wanted to play running back.
Q: Are you bigger than you were last year?
A: That's what everybody says but I think I'm the same size. I weigh about 2, 3 pounds more. That's it.

They are the key decision-makers for the offense, and both Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm answered questions about the drafting of Trai Essex in the same manner.

Essex, the third-round guard-tackle, has a reputation for laziness, according to draft experts. But both the coordinator and line coach point to Max Starks, a rookie last year, and said that he too came in with a reputation for laziness, but that it's an impossible execution with guys like Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings around, that those two leaders set the tone for practice, which in turn sets the tone for games.

"There's nowhere to hide," Grimm says of any young and potentially lazy linemen.

"We don't say anything. It's just the way we play," said Hartings, the Pro Bowl center. "And, really, I could almost throw that comment back to Russ. Russ is the guy that sets the tone. He's not going to let anyone be lazy. I'd like to take the credit, but me and Alan basically set the example. Russ is the guy that sets the pace and does the talking. He's not going to let anybody be lazy and he's not going to let anybody not be physical."

Starks, if nothing else, is physical. He's done a 180 and turned into a run-blocker from Florida. He's 350 pounds and Grimm wants him at 338 for training camp, when Starks is expected to line up as the starting right tackle in place of Oliver Ross.

Starks and Kendall Simmons will fill the holes left by Ross and Keydrick Vincent, the departed free agents. Hartings isn't worried.

"Kendall's an unbelievable talent. He's due to have a great year," Hartings said. "And Max showed me a lot of power and physical presence just in the few plays he had last year."

(TALES to be continued) - ( TALES I )

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