Training camp notes ... from my living room

Blogger Ryan Wilson isn't in Latrobe, but he knows that position battles are already taking shape, that Nate Washington might be this year's Willie Parker, and that even though Antwaan Randle El is now in Washington the Steelers have maybe the most explosive player in the league to take his place.

... Okay, I'm willing to give Pittsburgh Steelers first-round pick Santonio Holmes the benefit of the doubt on this one. I know, I know, not everybody was psyched by his press conference performance Sunday, but hey, let's not forget that we're talking about a 22-year-old kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders before he even signed his first professional contract. Thanks to KDKA I saw the entire session and I came away with the feeling that Holmes wanted to put all his troubles behind him and considered training camp his clean slate. Yep, I admit it, I'm a naïve Steelers fan, who's willing to overlook a lot of stuff because I believe that people are inherently good – well, at least those people who don't play for either the Ravens or Bengals. And who knows, maybe Holmes is just a really good actor, but at least he's trying to fool me. With guys like Troy Edwards and Plaxico Burress, two former first-rounders, you got the distinct impression that whatever thought popped into their heads – no matter how ridiculous – came straight out their mouths, bypassing the "If I verbalize this will I sound dumber than I look?" filter most of us are born with.

Plus, this story gives me even more hope:

Holmes, the first receiver taken in the 2006 NFL draft, felt soreness in a hamstring during the Steelers' only on-field practice on Monday. Instead of taking the rest of the day off, he stayed for extra work catching passes thrown by a machine and was the last player off the field.

And who suggested the extra work? None other than Ward, the four-time Pro Bowl receiver and Super Bowl MVP and one of the league's hardest-working players.

Now if this were Edwards or Burress, things might be a little different. In fact, Ward admitted that both first-rounders weren't all that interested in taking advice from a guy who somehow managed to get himself drafted in the third round. Hmmm, let's see, Edwards is barely in the league and Burress makes Jeremy Shockey seem reasonable by comparison in New York. Yeah, I'm okay with Hines mentoring the new guys. And the fact that Holmes actively follows Ward's advice is certainly a good thing. Not only does it mean that the 2006 first-rounder is coachable, but it also means that the probability that he gets arrested anytime soon is drastically reduced. Now if you see him taking advice from O.J. ...

... While most of us were concerning ourselves with all the off-the-field activities of various professional athletes this off-season, Nate Washington apparently took this opportunity to actually get better. It started with the run test on Saturday and he's only improved since then. And with Cedrick Wilson battling the dropsies, we're even having the "Can this guy actually be a starter?" conversations. Yeah, maybe we're getting a little too far ahead of ourselves here, but it sure beats what we were all talking about a year ago.

All of Washington's early success has seemingly been at the expense of Ryan Clark, which is something to keep an eye on. From the Tribune-Review:

CATCH OF THE DAY: Washington hauled in a long TD pass for the second consecutive day, this time beating free safety Ryan Clark to haul in a deep ball from quarterback Charlie Batch.
I'm not going into full-blown crisis mode on the free safety position because, well, it's the first week of training camp, and one paragraph below this story was this:
UNCHARACTERISTIC: Normally sure-handed tight end Heath Miller dropped two passes for the second consecutive day.
So yeah, it's not quite an End of Days scenario, but if Clark is saving his sub-4.50 forty for game days, somebody might want to explain to him that if he continues to get burned during practice, he'll be kicking it in civvies come Sundays this fall. The good news is that even if Clark struggles early, Tyrone Carter and Mike Logan are two guys with starting experience.

… Last week I wrote that I hoped Kendall Simmons returned the his 2002 form and it looks like he's gotten off to a good start:

The best hit of Monday's practice may have been Kendall Simmons's blind-side block of linebacker Clark Haggans, who was trailing a running play before Simmons used his shoulder to level Haggans. He got up slowly.

... It was also good to see that Troy Polamalu, despite some off-season rumors, does enjoy playing in Pittsburgh, even though he's originally from the West Coast.

"I told my wife, around my second year, that there's no better place to be than here in Pittsburgh ... That's one thing Pittsburgh has over everybody else is this camaraderie of this team and the great coaching situation, how coach Cowher takes care of you, the training staff and the ownership."
His rookie contract is set to expire in two years, and a lot can happen in that time, but it's good to know he really appreciates what football means to this city and its fans.

... With Antwaan Randle El now in Washington, the Steelers are actively searching for a punt returner. Nate Washington, Ricardo Colclough, Cedrick Wilson, Willie Reid, Santonio Holmes, Eugene Baker, Isaac West and Anthony Madison are the current crop of players getting looks. Reading this in the Tribune-Review the other day made me a bit nervous:

"TRY, TRY, TRY AGAIN: Cornerback Ricardo Colclough muffed three punts during a punt-catching drill."
In my unprofessional opinion, I think a lot of Colclough's struggles have to do with confidence. He returned a kick for a touchdown in a preseason game against the Eagles last year. He also had several big kick returns early in the regular season, but by mid-season Quincy Morgan, a player who had never returned kicks, had won the job outright.

Not to fear however, I have an idea if Colclough continues to struggle this training camp. Well, it's not so much my idea as one that someone else suggested to me and I'm stealing it.

"I think [Pittsburgh] should try Troy on punt returns. The guy seriously has to have one of the highest TD to touch ratios in NFL history - whenever he gets the ball in his hands, there's a very good chance he's going to do his Tasmanian Devil routine all the way to the end zone"
I chuckled when I first read this, but you know, it ain't a half-bad idea. Now, there is the issue of Troy getting killed on special teams, but Rod Woodson returned kicks too. And remember when Polamalu asked Cowher to give him the ball on the one-yard line, right before Roethlisberger scored the first touchdown of the Super Bowl? Who doesn't think he would've cleared the pile, Barry Sanders style, but instead of landing in the end zone, he would've somehow managed to clear the crossbar and taken care of the extra point too?

I'm quite certain Troy will never ever find himself returning kicks, especially since that's why Reid and Holmes were drafted, but it's still something fun to think about.

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