Tales From Minicamp III

In the final segment of "Tales From Minicamp," we encounter tricky editorial questions, such as where to place the Q&As, when to add the stream-of-consciousness, and how to explain one rookie's reaction to questions about his drunken college rampage. Aw, we'll figure it out.

Chris Hope was given a day to consider the topic of our interview: What about the one-year contract?

Hope appeared eager to talk, but the next day thought better.

"I can't control that," he said. "I can't get caught up in that."

Hope, of course, is the free safety, the position - or place on the field -- that was exploited by the New England Patriots last January.

Replays indicate strong safety Troy Polamalu was equally culpable, but the Steelers may have found fault with Hope, considering they only offered him the one-year tender.

Did Hope or his agent try to negotiate a multi-year deal?

"I'd rather not talk about that," Hope said. "Hopefully everything will work out. I want to be here. I like the city. I like the team. I like my teammates. Just playing with Troy, I definitely think we can continue to grow. If we stay healthy, we can be a pair of great safeties in the NFL for a long time, being we're so young."

So you don't take the one-year contract as a comment on your future here?

"I don't look at it like that," he said.

Perhaps the Steelers are simply setting up competition between he and Mike Logan at the position, and letting the questions answer themselves.

Logan will turn 31 on Sept. 15. He spent half of last season on injured reserve after serving as the back-up at both FS and SS.

ML: I feel good. I'm moving around pretty good. I dropped a couple pounds. I moved back to free safety. I think that'll help me with my range and covering a little better. I feel kind of like it's my rookie season out there. I'm just excited. I'm excited to get back to playing ball and being around the guys.

Q: There are only five safeties on the roster. Are they counting heavily on you?
ML: Yeah. From my conversations with the coaches, they know what type of person I am. They know I'm going to prepare myself to get back out on the field. It's just a matter of maintaining the health. I'm a swing man out there. I can play different roles on this team and I think that works into my favor. People say I might be getting old and everything, but I'm moving around and feeling good.

Q: How old are you?
ML: Thirty.

Q: Well, you are old.
ML: To me, I'm not. I know a lot of guys in this league who are 30 years old and playing to their highest potential right now. I'll use that as encouragement, and as long as I'm out here moving around here pretty good, I feel like I can go out there and compete. And all I want is an opportunity. Just give me an opportunity to go out here and compete and I think I'll be fine.

Q: Is winning the starting job a realistic possibility?
ML: I want to compete for a spot on this roster. I think that's where I'm at right now. I didn't really even think like that until the end of last year. After I got hurt, I was thinking, OK, now you do have to go out and prove you're the same player, that you can compete with these guys. And I think I can do that, especially out here after moving around a couple of days.

Q: Wasn't it a rather minor injury?
ML: It was a hamstring. You do what you can for them and try to take care of it a little bit, but I'm eager. I'm out there in packages, on special teams, I was out there running around and I re-injured it, aggravated it and ultimately had a slight tear in it. Maybe if I took the proper time off I probably would've made it through the season. So I had to shut it down and clean the attic. But I came back and I feel good. The excitement's there because I'm moving around so well. I'm not hesitant about my movements, I feel a good burst in there, and I feel faster. I've lost 8 to 10 pounds, down to 206, and I feel it. It's rejuvenating me.

Someone said there was a Tuiasosopo in the house.

Not Manu, the defensive end who spent 1979-86 with Seattle and San Francisco. Not Marques, the 2001 Rose Bowl hero and back-up QB with the Raiders. And not Matt, the hot shortstop prospect for the Seattle Mariners. No, the interesting Tuiasosopo was in the house.

Zach Tuiasosopo, 23, was once so angry after leaving a sorority party that he smashed the windshields of at least four vehicles with his fists and head.

His head?

"That is what they said," said Tuiasosopo. "As far as I'm aware, that's what was done."

Tuiasosopo never admitted guilt because he doesn't remember the night. "I wish I could, just to tell a different side," he said. "But I could've done it too."

So he entered what's called an Alford plea, and a year-long jail sentence was averted as long as Tuiasosopo remained out of trouble, avoided alcohol for a year, underwent treatment, served 40 hours of community service and paid $6,800 in restitution. He was suspended for one game, the 2003 season opener, by his coach at Washington.

"It was just a bad decision to drink," he said. "I wasn't under control. I think that was the worst thing of all. Now, I can't really respond because I don't remember any of it."

Tuiasosopo took in the questions with a smile. Obviously, as an undrafted rookie, that's his posture. He doesn't know a reporter from a team psychologist from any ol' former drunken stumblebum.

So is he still off the sauce?

"I went about two years," Tuiasosopo said. "Now I like a glass of wine at dinner. I don't go out. I don't party. I don't take drugs. And I can say that truthfully. I mean, I don't. It doesn't appeal to me."

A birds-eye view: Tuiasosopo should make the team. He flashed quickness and elusiveness after catching a couple of passes and might be their best offensive threat at fullback. He's also considered a true lead blocker. … It's a position in which the Steelers obviously invested. They drafted Noah Herron in the seventh round and added Tuiasosopo and 250-pound Shippensburg tailback Jim Kuhn after the draft. Both are well-regarded by the team. Dan Kreider, the starting fullback, isn't worried. "We don't really have any back-up fullbacks with J.T. (Wall) gone," he said. It should be quite a battle for the one spot. … Chris Hoke was very upset to learn The Sporting News drew attention to "his balky knee." Hoke explained that last year's knee problem was "superficial." Could it have been propaganda planted by the Steelers? It's possible. Both Hoke and Casey Hampton are in the final years of contracts. The Steelers would deal first with Hampton. If they can't agree, Hoke is the fall back. The scenario works if the market believes Hoke to be damaged goods. … I'm not questioning. Just asking. … Hampton, by the way, must weigh close to 350 pounds. No one would help with the information. That's when you know it's bad. They like Hampton closer to 320. … Bettis is also overweight, and I worry about his motivation. He was all set to retire, you may remember, before he finished strong. … Trai Essex bounces too much blubber during footwork drills. I've installed Essex as the odds-on favorite for The Jamain Award this coming run test. … Zamir Cobb made the best catch of the practices I watched. Cutting over the middle, Cobb had to stop and leap back to catch a high-and-wide Brian St. Pierre pass. Cobb doesn't appear to have lost a step after being injured last pre-season, and will press for a roster spot. … Dick LeBeau, I am told, sat down at a pre-draft positional meeting and said "I may be dating myself here, but this Dan Cody looks a lot like Ted Hendricks to me." I was told that because I'd made the same comparison in print and on air. Sometimes you get lucky. … Sorry, but I can't get past it. They liked him. They liked him as a 3-4 OLB. They should've drafted Dan Cody. … You can't watch them all, and I didn't pay much attention to massive guard Chris Kemoeatu at minicamp. But I noticed him when he jumped early one time. "If this were training camp, Cowher would've blistered him," said a bystander from behind his binoculars. … Cedrick Wilson concluded the first practice by putting a beautiful stop-stutter-start move on Willie Willams and hauling in a deep pass from Ben Roethlisberger. Cowher called them in after the play. It was smart to end on a high note. I'll do the same.

Q: Rod Woodson's also from Fort Wayne. Is that part of the reason you were a big Steelers fan growing up?
Trai Essex: Yeah, definitely. Him, and the fact that when I was younger Jerome Bettis went to Notre Dame, right up north of Fort Wayne.

Q: So why did you turn down their scholarship if you were a Notre Dame guy?
TE: I wouldn't say I was a Notre Dame guy. I was a Jerome Bettis guy. When it came down to me choosing a school, I chose Northwestern and it was a good decision for me because they ended up having two, three coaches. I had one coach at Northwestern. We weren't as successful as I wanted to be, but it was a really good experience. The degree is like none other.

Q: Do you have the degree now?
TE: No. I will in June. My majors are computer study and information systems.

Q: Where will that lead after football?
TE: I don't know. I'll worry about that after football, but it'll be something in computers because I'm a geek, I guess you could say a computer geek.

Q: So how have the first few days gone?
TE: Oh, it was good. Today I felt like I really started to catch a hold of their scheme and everything. Yesterday was just kind of on the fly, on the run, and I was just trying to catch up. I wasn't able to be aggressive, to come off the ball like I wanted to. I was thinking too much. But now I'm getting the mental part down a little bit. I had a better practice this (Saturday) morning than I did yesterday. I think it'll only get better from here.

Q: Are you close with Noah Herron?
TE: Oh, yeah. He's my buddy.

Q: Were you good friends in college?
TE: Yes. I'm part of the reason he gained 1,300 yards. We'd better be close.

Q: He had a big game against Penn State.
TE: Two years in a row. He had like 175 the year before.

Q: I assume the people here really looked at the Penn State tape. Did both of you play that well against Penn State?
TE: Yeah. They had like the No. 4 or 5 defense in the country, and we ran the ball pretty well, but for some reason we couldn't get the ball in the end zone. But we both got here and it makes it a lot easier to have Noah here. Noah is a media darling.

Q: Is that him over there with all the reporters?
TE: Yeah. He thinks he's cute.

Q: Why did you guys play so well against Penn State?
TE: We played well the last two years because my sophomore year we went to Happy Valley, when they had Michael Haynes and Jimmy Kennedy and those guys, and they beat us 49 to zero. That was the low point in my college career.

Hey, I gotta go. I can't miss any meetings you know.


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