SUNDAY, Aug. 23
The Steelers didn't beat the Redskins, but they provided plenty of fodder for conversation. Best to take it to the message board for the notes and the conversation.
SATURDAY, Aug. 22
The note sent to my twitter-box shook me to the core:
"Wex, you're a dead man. Signed, Tyrone."
This is Tyrone Carter we're talking about. We all know that Tyrone Carter doesn't sleep. He waits. And he's waiting for me after my remark about his softball prowess – or lack thereof.
The thing is, Tyrone knows he can't play. Manager Hampton knows it. They all know it, and they argue every year about whether "TC" has to play.
This year, Manager Hamp flat out refused to take him, so Tyrone watched the Steelers' annual Offense vs. Defense Softball game from the top of the hill with everyone else. And without Carter, the Defense had a chance.
The Offense countered with its own secret weapon. With Manager-Shortstop-Cleanup Hitter Ben Roethlisberger sidelined with his sore foot, the Offense unveiled Ken Griffey Junior-lookalike Dennis Dixon.
Dixon played on a couple of Rookie League teams in the Braves' organization in 2007, but he struck out 22 times in 74 at-bats and the centerfielder went back to football.
At least in those 74 at-bats, Dixon made contact 52 times, which was 52 more times than he made contact Thursday evening at St. Vincent's ballfield. Dixon struck out all three times – mighty swings, mind you – and he never came close to making contact. It's obvious that his speed and fielding skills got him into pro baseball, because he made the greatest catch I've ever seen
With the Defense holding a rare 1-0 lead and looking for more with two men on, Brett Keisel hit a drive between the left fielder and the left field line. Justin Vincent charged in and over for the ball and, just when it appeared the ball would fall, Griffey, er, Dixon flashed in front of Vincent from left-center to make a diving catch.
If you don't count Ike Taylor's blinding run down the first-base line on a ball that rolled foul, the catch was the most athletic play of the game.
So the Defense took that 1-0 lead back into the field, where it showed off some slick infield gloves. With Troy Polamalu manning the hot corner as usual, and big Keisel at first base (and Tyrone Carter on the hill), legendary South Panola High QB Deshea Townsend took over at shortstop. It was a rare find for a team that normally plays with hands of rock. Ryan Clark also played for the first time and brought his finely honed middle-infield skills to second base.
Now, if only LC Donovan Woods, LF James Farrior and RF Chris Hoke could put their bodies in front of the ball in the outfield, any potential damage could be minimized. That's what Hoke did when he knocked down a shot in the gap and held a hitter to a single. And that's what Potsie did when he bobbled but caught a fly ball with two outs and the bases loaded.
The Defense behind pitcher Taylor held the Offense scoreless until the sixth inning. Carey Davis hit what appeared to be a double.
It would be close at second, and Davis dug in as he rounded first base. But Keisel didn't get out of his way and the two collided. In what became the game's most controversial call, base ump Ray Jackson ruled that Davis be awarded second base on interference. Davis then advanced to third with one out, and the next batter hit a rocket to Polamalu at third. Polamalu came up with the ball, faked a throw to first in order to catch Davis off base, but Davis wasn't fooled. So Polamalu -- who still had time – overthrew Keisel at first and Davis scored the tying run.
The Offense, even with normally reliable hitters Hines Ward and Heath Miller, went down meekly in the seventh and the Defense walked away with its first bit of success in what Coach/Umpire Mike Tomlin promotes as an end-of-camp team-building exercise.
After the game, I hoped to talk to Manager Hamp about his team's success, and also to Dixon about his hitting woes and the great catch. But someone whispered in my ear that Tyrone Carter was looking for me. And we all know that Tyrone Carter doesn't kick ass and take names. Tyrone Carter kicks ass and assigns the corpse a number.
* * * * *
I watched the first half of the Tennessee game last night. While impressed with the Titans' physical nature, particularly in their secondary, I had no choice but to cross them off the list of potential Super Bowl candidates.
See, I'm looking to cross the Steelers off the list. I'm always looking to cross the defending champs off the list, just because the odds say that I should. I'm also hoping to appear objective when I make my extremely self-important preseason prediction for Pro Football Weekly. But, frankly, I can't find a team to beat them.
Tennessee's certainly not it. They have too few playmakers on offense and no real difference-makers on defense. Keith Bulluck is a fine linebacker, but he's not the game-changing threat in the mold of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley or even Lawrence Timmons. The Steelers have those playmakers on defense, to go along with Troy Polamalu, a trio of capable cornerbacks, and a stout run defense. The Steelers appear to have it all, including the playmakers on offense.
It'll come down to keeping Roethlisberger healthy, of course, and it'll come down to New England's defense.
Neither the Ravens nor the Chargers will score enough on Pittsburgh's defense, but the Patriots could. My only concern about New England is its defense. Its line is big, fast and physical, and linebacker Jerod Mayo just might become a great playmaker. But the heart and soul, the "winners" on the defensive side of the ball, are gone. Are they still the Patriots without Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Assante Samuel, Ty Law and the Tedy Bruschi of old? I don't know the answer, but I really believe they're the only team that can give the Steelers a run come January.
The edge, if they meet then, would probably come down to which team gets homefield advantage. That, I feel, is when the Team of the Decade debate will be answered.
WEDNESDAY, Aug. 19
When we last left Aaron Smith, he was playing along with our hilarious storyline about the two No. 73s and how – and I pretended here – it was one guy who was dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage. Being an old vet and a nice guy, Aaron pretended, too, that my gag was funny, and so he played along with a nifty quote for top-of-the-story use. Then he got serious and began talking about how all three of the rookies – or, "this group of kids we have" – were playing well: Sonny Harris, Ziggy Hood and Steve McLendon. And then I got serious and asked Aaron this:
So, the team can let Brett Keisel go next year, right?
Aaron sputtered. On one hand he was talking up the rookie class and the depth that was now in the organizational pipeline, but on the other hand was the stark reality that young D-linemen need time – sometimes lots of it – and that discarding valuable veterans for pipeline dreams might not be prudent.
"Realistically," Smith said, "I think they can play sporadically. But, until they can play a significant role? Ziggy may be a little earlier because he is a first-rounder and will maybe get more opportunities, but I'd say it'll take till mid-year to play sporadically and maybe make an impact."
So, I countered, by next year they'll be ready and the team could let Keisel walk.
"But it takes a long time," Smith said. "It usually takes a couple of years for a D-lineman to make a difference. Usually, you go through your first year and everything moves so fast. Then next year you show up and that's when you can see if you have anything. If they make the jump in the second year, then you know you have something. But how do you know that before the second year? Keisel's in his last year (of his contract), so I don't know what they're going to do. It's a dilemma.
"Kiesel's in his last year and he's proven. Then you've got these young guys that you really don't know about yet. It's obvious they have ability. There's no doubt about that. And I think Ziggy is going to be a good player. I mean the way he approaches the game, the way he's eager to learn and listen, and he has all the skills.
"But I would hate to see Keis go. He's a great player. To be honest with you, I think they should re-sign him. To me, he's a young player. His first four years he didn't even play. He was just a backup. Same with (Chris) Hoke. Hoke's a young player. They're in their 30s but their bodies are still young. So you have a guy that's 30 years old with a young body that knows the game and understands the game and how to play the game. He might be an old veteran but he's not beat up like an old veteran. His body's still young. I think Keisel still has a lot of upside.
"It's funny," Smith continued. "We played one preseason game and Ziggy got what, 15-20 snaps? And people think you can get rid of these guys. My first year of starting, and even Keisel's first year of starting, it's a totally different perspective than playing 15-20 snaps. It's a grind. It's brutal. You don't know what you're stepping into when you're moving into the lineup for the first time. You think you're in shape, but by the end of the year when you're just trying to hold on, that's when you realize what it takes to get ready.
"When I played 70 snaps a game, I knew I had to pace myself. Now, when I do get tired and come off I don't worry that the guy going in for me can get the job done. In a sense you need that so you can rotate bodies, keep them fresh, and everyone plays better. It'll be interesting to see, because we have such a great group. It'll be interesting to see."
Keisel will turn 31 on Sept. 19. He's entering the final year of his contract and, on paper, is not the type of player the organization would normally re-sign prior to that final season. But Coach Mike Tomlin went to the front office on Keisel's behalf, and serious talks are expected to begin once the preseason concludes and Keisel's still healthy. It's likely one of the reasons Tomlin was quick to yank Keisel out of the opener when he complained of calf soreness during pre-game warm-ups.
The Steelers don't have much cap room left, and that's part of the reason why Casey Hampton, Willie Colon and Willie Parker are not on the renegotiation docket. They are big-ticket items. Also, Hampton turns 32 on Sept. 3 and doesn't share the team's conditioning ideals, so he's likely a goner next year. Colon, a 26-year-old tackle, could endure another year as a restricted free agent and remain with the team if the CBA is not extended this season. Parker, 28, has gone through two injury-plagued seasons and has a couple of capable runners behind him on the depth chart.
So that leaves kicker Jeff Reed, who'll likely be franchised next March, and free safety Ryan Clark, who, at 29, is 13 months younger than Keisel, but isn't likely to become a renegotiation target in the coming months. Clark, like Keisel, wants to stay in Pittsburgh and would likely come at an affordable price. So, why not Clark instead of Keisel?
"It's because you guys voted me the Chief Award," Clark said. "I told you not to do it. I told you this would happen."
Of course, Clark's problem, in the eyes of the organization, has more to do with health issues. He's lost his spleen and gall bladder after playing for a second time in the thin air of Denver. And with Denver on the schedule this season, the Steelers are probably wise in taking a wait-and-see approach. But Clark doesn't see it that way.
"You talk about my health and surgeries and all that, my first surgery was when I had my spleen taken out," Clark said. "That was my first – ever – in my life. Other guys have had surgeries and things like that. To me that's not a valid argument."
But isn't Clark curious about what might happen to him in Denver?
"Who says I have to play, though?" he said. "That's the thing."
And from the look in Clark's eye, his question could soon become his stance.
(Here's an afternoon edit. The list of Steelers eligible for the practice squad can be found here.)
MONDAY, Aug. 17
Sometimes the tape makes it clear. But sometimes, and this morning was one of those times, no one sees nuthin'.
In trying to uncover whether Isaac Redman's 3-for-3 performance against the first-team defense at the goal line Sunday was his doing, the line's doing, or the fullback's doing – or any specifics of any combination during the 5-for-7 total output for Redman – all I received from the two assistants who would know is that it was a complete team effort.
But it seems like more than coachspeak, so I'll let you decide if either interview with line coach Larry Zierlein or running backs coach Kirby Wilson was worthwhile. Here are the transcripts:
Well, there you have it. They were two backs last week that I supposed were battling each other for the fifth and final running back job, but it appears that Redman and Frank "The Tank" Summers have greatly improved their prospects. Perhaps both can win jobs at the expense of Carey Davis, a player who this spring and summer has carried the look of a core special-teams player. And, as one coach pointed out, "Don't dismiss the importance of knowing what to do on every play. Carey's a very consistent player in that regard."
Larry Zierlein, OL coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Q: Did you see goal line tape yet?
Q: Was it the O-line? The running back?
A: Well it's always the same thing: Kid's a good goal-line runner; we blocked it pretty good.
Q: Any key blocks?
A: They were all key blocks. You're looking for a story here, Jim, and there isn't one.
Q: I just want to know what happened.
A: We blocked pretty good, the fullbacks blocked good, and the guy ran good. Hey, there's no magic formula. If only one man gave a little less effort, there wouldn't have been a touchdown. It was a well-executed play.
Q: It was well-executed five times.
A: Is that what it was?
Q: After the first touchdown, one of the defensive players yelled at Redman to ‘score standing up the next time,' and he did. It was a huge hole. Somebody must've opened it up.
A: Sometimes a good play is a result of maybe a guy not maintaining gap control. I don't know. Sometimes it's us; sometimes it's a mistake on their part.
Kirby Wilson, RB coach, Pittsburgh Steelers
Q: What was it at the goal line? RB? FB? OL?
A: I think it was a combination, but definitely hats off to the offensive line. Any time you can get push down there, get leverage, and move people to create a new line of scrimmage, it makes running the ball much easier. That occurred yesterday. It's hard. It's a rough lifestyle. There are 20 people, all 250, 260 and above, butting heads down there, and you've got to find that white line. That's what we all stress to the running backs, find the white line, lower your pads, reduce your hitting surface and go for it.
Q: But not every running back can score, even with holes, right?
A: Well, when there's a hole, you and I can score. The guy that makes the difference is the guy that understands daylight running. You've got to find that crease, you're always looking for the crease, and you've got to stay on your feet and give yourself a chance to stay alive and fight for that extra yard, because it's so close and a wrong decision, an improper ball placement, is critical down there.
Q: So it looks like the kid Redman's got it.
A: It appears to be. It's still early, but it appears he's got a knack for it, and that's what you're always looking for. They're hard to find.
Q: Is he fast enough for other things?
A: No doubt about it. He's real quick. He's quicker than fast. He's got good playing speed. He's still working to get in the shape he wants to be in, and we want him to be in. He's getting there. I think it's part of the learning process. He's a young kid and he does young things that show up from time to time.
Q: Tank seems to be doing a good job as a lead blocker.
A: Tank has shown a good appetite for violence down there. That's what you want, but you can't teach the violence, and that's something that he has a real good feel for. We noticed it immediately, and we want to feature that aspect of his game, the violence. We feel we can always correct technique and footwork and pad level and proper leverage and things like that, but it's the violence that really whets your appetite and gets you excited.
Q: I understand he knocked someone around on one of Redman's carries.
A: Yeah, he knocked a couple people around. And that's a give-and-take thing. Sometimes the dragon slays you. You can't always slay the dragon. But he's going to give out his share of punishment as well.
Q: How successful are converted tailbacks normally when they move to fullback?
A: Well, that's what you look for a lot of the times. You look for a guy that's been a tailback because they're athletic, and the reason you want someone athletic is they change directions real well. And he does for a big man. He's a natural 260-pounder so he's not a guy you have to bulk up. He's already got the ideal fullback weight, if you want, and he's also got leverage and he's got some pop and knee bend, so he can actually move people and get movement on a defender. Right now we're just taking baby steps; start out nice and slow, sustain it, and finish it. He's making great progress in that end zone. We're excited about those two young guys.
Q: Did Tank make any blocks Sunday that were crucial or needed?
A: Well, down at the goal line they're all crucial, and he did a really nice job on the kickout blocks on the follow plays. The offensive line and the tight ends did a fabulous job of sealing the edge, and at that point it's a one-on-one. He's got to create that separation so that running back can see that white line, and he did.
Q: It looks like David Johnson can seal the edge better than lead block. Is that where he is right now?
A: It's still early on him. We like him as a lead blocker as well. I know the tight ends coach is very excited about him. Our offensive coordinator's very excited about him. And I like him. We can go up there and lead block on those linebackers because he's a big-bodied young guy, and you love young guys because they aren't afraid of anything right now.
Q: Is he getting low enough?
A: I think that just comes with understanding entry points and leverage and angles. He's a smart kid, a smart football player, and that will come. He can play.
Redman is a 24-year-old who's been sidetracked by injuries and grades since rushing for over 1,500 yards at Division II Bowie State in 2005. And Summers is a soon-to-be 24-year-old who's taken quickly to a new position.
It's unlikely that either rookie would be claimed off the waiver wire right before the start of the regular season, but there is that chance. So the question becomes: Does Mike Tomlin take the chance of losing a rookie so that a core special-teamer can cover the opening kickoff against the last team to beat the Steelers?
Tough question, but with 23 days till that opening kickoff, it's probably a question that will answer itself soon enough.
MONDAY, AUG. 10
In attempting to put yesterday's goal-line scrimmage into proper perspective, I'll lean on a couple of posters from our message board. They asked me the questions that I feel everyone wants answered, so allow me to use those as our framework.
The first set of questions comes from NumberOneSteelerFan. Since he is No. 1, I'll give him the same respect Morty Seinfeld commandeered as No. 1 Dad.
No. 1 asks:
Does Redman punching it in against 2nd team D mean anything? When are they going to give him a shot at 1st team D?Isaac Redman did what Gary Russell did two camps ago: He scored as the last back against the No. 2 defense after no one could score against the No. 1. It meant that Russell didn't need an injury to get on the short-yardage prospects list the following camp, as Redman needed Sunday from Willie Parker.
On another note, who is playing 1st team special teams right now?
And on another another note, who is playing 2nd team D and 2nd team O?
Redman is on the radar now. Even though Mike Tomlin won't make a move now, Redman has passed a test and may have even made at least the practice squad with his touchdown runs. It matched a toughness the coaching staff had previously perceived.
As for special teams, the first-teamers won't be known until cutdown day, and then the ST coaches must scramble. It's something all teams go through, because coaches do give their roster an entire camp and preseason slate of games to reveal itself.
As for second team D and second team O, the O-line, from left to right, during goal line was Tony Hills, Ramon Foster, A.Q. Shipley (Doug Legursky on first line), Kraig Urbik and Jeremy Parquet. Two tight ends (didn't get the numbers) were used with Carey Davis lining up on a wing as the motion man, which he did on all seven snaps. Davis was never the lead fullback. Frank Summers was the fullback for Redman. Sean McHugh was the fullback for the first four runs.
The first team defense played the first three snaps Sunday. Guys like Andrew Schantz and Steve McLendon were part of the second team defense.
So, OK, great for Redman, but he has a long way to go to become the guy. Who is the guy? That's the question omeany, who doesn't use capital letters, asked:
does (Rashard) mendenhall look like a player? just seems underwhelming versus his draft status and all the other backs that were drafted last year. I mean, a big back that we are not sure can run inside? and can't handle lb blocking assignments? and at his size someone who seems ineffective at short yardage? what does he do well? b/c usually you know pretty quickly what you've got when a running back comes into the league.Legitimate questions, o mean one, and frankly I'm not sure the coaching staff knows the answers yet. Mike Tomlin is a big believer in the thinking that a good running back can overcome a bad line. Mendenhall has not done that yet, and his performance in the goal line drill was disappointing. Of course, without the threat of a pass, the mountain of humanity in front of Mendenhall was nearly impossible to scale. On the first snap, he wanted to show Tomlin he could bang inside, but that wouldn't have worked yesterday for Jerome Bettis in his prime. On the second snap, Nick Eason converged at the point of handoff, so Mendenhall attempted to bounce it outside, but Brett Keisel tackled him for a two-yard loss. Those were Mendenhall's only attempts and nothing definitive should be drawn. No one was able to check "yea" or "nay" for Mendenhall, who'll need to prove he's the guy who can chew clock between the tackles with a lead in the fourth quarter. Willie Parker doesn't do that, and Tomlin knows this team needs someone who can.
Mendenhall's showing in the Ravens game, right before he was injured last year, is his saving grace – that and his receiving ability, which meshes nicely with his speed and strength in the open field. Of course, we all want that speed and strength at the point of attack this year. It's still a wait-and-see proposition.
On another note -- or series of them -- I present this Notes Column for those with a few more minutes to read my drivel.
Also, the Steelers' Bob Labriola this morning has a story on the signing of Alex Stepanovich. The 6-4, 296-pound center/guard was drafted out of Ohio State in the fourth round in 2004 by the Arizona Cardinals. He started 16 games as a rookie, but was beset by injury problems the next two years. He signed with the Bengals as a free agent in 2007 and played for the Falcons in 2008.
To make room for Stepanovich, the Steelers released defensive tackle Jordan Reffett, who apparently could only beat rookie guard Kraig Urbik.
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 5
Little surprise for you this morning. Let's call it the Mid-Morning After. I ran my Doug Legursky-Hank Fraley comparison past one of the football men up here this morning. The source hemmed and hawed a bit and came to something of an agreement.
"Doug's a little bigger than Hank," my man said. "Doug's about 326 pounds, without a gut. He was a big-time weightlifter in college and high school, too. But Hank's probably more athletic. Hank was good."
So Hank was the better camp player?
"I'd say so, but Doug has a chance. He's also played guard, so that helps. He had a few snap issues (fumbles) yesterday, but I don't think it's anything to be worried about. Casey was away from him and Doug had to reach for him and just rushed it."
How's A.Q. Shipley doing?
Oh? In what way?
"He's much better in open space. He's not as big as Doug, but he's a better athlete. He also understands his assignments and picks blitzers up very well."
Will not being able to play guard hurt Shipley?
"Well, that's up to the coaches. But I like him as a center."
* OK, I promised a Dick LeBeau update and here goes.
There are five members of the Seniors Committee that vote on the Hall of Fame, and one is prepared to make LeBeau his No. 1 priority if LeBeau makes it to the list of 15.
To backtrack, the group was given 90 names and has voted to whittle them to 15. The results will become known to them on Aug. 24. By the next day, those 15 will be whittled to two.
It's not a stretch for LeBeau to make the list of 15 Seniors candidates, and from there, with one of five Committee members throwing his full support behind him, LeBeau will be compared to John Madden in that Madden – without anyone saying so or even acknowledging the fact – was inducted not so much for his brief coaching career and one Super Bowl but for his pioneering work as a TV analyst.
LeBeau – "Who I've always pushed for the Hall as a player anyway," said my source – will receive similar un-acknowledged support for his work as an assistant coach and pioneer of the zone blitz.
So again, if LeBeau makes the group of 15, and the talks bring him to the final two, the next step would be a yes-no vote by the entire 48-man Hall Committee. LeBeau would then need 40 yes votes, and the Seniors candidates nearly always receive the yes votes. And, really, who would vote no for LeBeau, the kind-spirited genius, at that point?
Needless to say, I'm very excited for one of the best people in the game. I mentioned this to him and he said he's just thankful for the consideration.
* One of the other reporters approached and asked if I thought Deshea Townsend would be cut. It hadn't occurred to me, but I like to keep an open mind so I asked one of the defensive starters and was told "No way." I asked someone in the front office, and he was surprised by the question and said "I doubt it." So in the crowded cornerback derby, it appears that Deshea stays, along with William Gay, Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis. That's four.
As for any other remaining spots, Joe Burnett showed – according to colleague Dale Lolley – at Tuesday's practice that he could become an effective gunner. He needed to show that physicality because he's so small. That's also a problem for him as a D-back, so being able to play gunner would give Burnett one edge, but hardly makes him Anthony Madison. The latter has learned to play gunner at the knee of the great Chidi Iwuoma, and helped the team finish with superb coverage stats last season. But Madison has a bloated contract and would lose all ties on cutdown day.
I asked a football source about Madison and was told, "He's making strides as a corner. He could now get us out of an emergency if he had to play, but if you had to game plan for him, he wouldn't be nearly as effective."
The source also told me that Keiwan Ratliff has played very well so far at camp and has the added value of being able to help at safety. Roy Lewis is the final consideration. He showed some deep speed Tuesday and could also play safety in a pinch.
TUESDAY, AUG. 4
There's a purple sunrise over the mountain's majesty to the east of St. Vincent College this morning. It nearly matches the photo taken by John Sterling, which we've used to stamp this blog the last five years or so. I normally see the sunrise here while I'm out jogging, but I wasn't jogging this morning; I was sitting outside my dormitory pod drinking coffee, locked out of my room because in the dark I had put my field pass around my neck instead of my pass key and the door locked behind me. I didn't even have my phone, so I couldn't twitter for help. I just sat there drinking coffee until Mike Prisuta arose to do the WDVE Morning Show.
"I would've gotten up earlier if I had read your ‘tweets' for help," he cracked.
Everyone has a twitter joke for me, and I have to tell you I almost missed one of the key plays at yesterday's practice because I was standing on the sideline twittering like a fool.
Ryan Clark had just scolded the crowd sitting in the stands behind me for not applauding the defense. "Did y'all forget last year already?" he asked.
The crowd had just finished roaring over a great catch made by Willie Parker with Lawrence Timmons draped all over him in coverage. Willie doesn't have the greatest hands, but he's been working hard on them this year and the crowd was showing its appreciation. But, now, after hearing Clark's plea, the crowd started up the loud and familiar chant for "Defense! Defense! Defense!" This amused me so much that I set out on a two-part tweet to tell the story. Just as I pushed send, I looked up to see Rashard Mendenhall knifing through a hole in the middle of the Steelers' line. He then put a move on a linebacker and was into the secondary. It's the kind of run for which the Steelers' coaching staff has been looking.
While Mendenhall can get his 230 or so pounds outside and turn the corner, the Steelers desperately need a runner who can chew up yards between the tackles. Jerome Bettis is a distant memory, but one that flashes through the collective mind of Steelers Nation every time the Steelers attempt to salt a game away with two futile inside runs by Parker and a third-and-long pass attempt. The Steelers need an inside runner, and fifth-round pick Frank "The Tank" Summers is light years away from viability in that role.
"Tank runs too tall," a source was telling me seconds after Timmons had just blown the rookie up. "That's why you're always hearing (RB coach) Kirby (Wilson) yelling at him to get his pads lower."
And, just then, at the morning practice, Mendenhall took a handoff, missed seeing the wide open lane to his left, and slammed into a massive pile of rear ends for a one-yard loss.
The worry is that Mendenhall doesn't have enough vision inside, that the scouting report was muddied by his work in the power spread offense at Illinois, where the cutback lanes were always bigger and better and nearly impossible to miss. The Steelers and everyone else knows what Mendenhall can do in the open field with his power and speed. Now they want to see him pick the right hole between the tackles. Thankfully, I stopped twittering just in time to see him do that later in the afternoon.
* I missed the one-on-one line drills yesterday in order to watch 7-on-7 passing drills, where safety Tyrone Carter drilled rookie receiver Mike Wallace over the middle a la Anthony Smith v. Willie Reid. No one came to Wallace's defense because he held on to the ball and got up to run. He never complained, and Carter even came over to pat him on the butt and tell him no hard feelings.
It was an informational choice I'd made, but I had to know how the line drills went, so I asked Mark Kaboly, a writer for the McKeesport Daily News and contributor to our site. He's an O-line aficionado, so I sought his take. I asked him how Tony Hills performed.
"Who's Tony Hills?" he responded with a smirk.
"OK," I paused, "How was Kraig Urbik?"
"He was a little better."
"Did any of the young guys impress you, Mark?"
"Yeah," Kaboly said, "Ziggy looked very good. Very good."
Chalk up another fan for first-round pick Ziggy Hood. Earlier in the day, I'd asked Aaron Smith about the young defensive end. Aaron has seen young linemen come and go. His brother told me, during an interview for my book Steeler Nation, that Aaron can tell within one or two practices whether a young, hotshot lineman is going to put in the necessary work to contribute to the Steelers' three-man line. So I asked Aaron about Ziggy's work ethic.
"I really like him," said Smith. "I like him as a player. I like him as a person. I love his heart. He's going to be a good one, trust me."
I do, Aaron. Thanks.
* Back to the young offensive linemen. I asked line coach Larry Zierlein about undrafted free agent Ramon Foster.
"He's doing some good things," Zierlein said. "I like him. I think he has a chance."
Well, he'd better, I told Zierlein, whose facial expression became puzzled. I responded that with second-year man Tony Hills being such a disappointment, the team needs depth in the worst way.
"I don't agree with you on that," Zierlein said. "Tony's playing better than he ever has with the team."
But he's been so bad in one-on-one drills.
"You can't judge a player on those drills. There's a lot more to it than that," Zierlein said in conclusion.
Another source told me that Hills does some good things, "but then takes two steps back." The source also said that depth at tackle isn't as bad as I want to make it out to be, because, he said, Jason Capizzi is showing great improvement. I'd been worried since Capizzi hasn't received many reps in the one-on-one drills.
"No, we like what Jason's showing us so far," the source said.
Inside, Trai Essex has impressed the Steelers at right guard, but, even if Darnell Stapleton stays healthy, the source said, the Steelers don't expect him to replace Justin Hartwig at center if Essex wins the job at guard.
I, being a fan of Colon's potential, was pleased to hear that, but since the Steelers aren't taking the collapsing CBA into account when extending contracts, I wondered why the team isn't looking to negotiate with the 26-year-old Colon. So I went to see my good friend The Answer Man.
"Remember the disconnect between the coaching staff and the front office on Max Starks?" he questioned by way of an answer.
And, yes, I remember. The coaching staff didn't think Starks was worthy of a starting position; yet, the front office – rightly so, in retrospect – slapped the franchise tag on Starks, who eventually became the left tackle during a championship run. The point my most reliable source was making is that it appears the coaches and the front office don't so much have a failure to communicate as they've once again agreed to disagree.