Wolfley: A View From The Sideline

Former Steeler Craig Wolfley walked the sideline for the Steelers Radio Network, and then he sat down and wrote what he saw for SteelCityInsider.

Listening to the pre-game chatter about yet another "hum-drum pre-season game" makes me wonder if I'm a demented football maniac, or that other people are missing something. I love football. "Football been berry, berry good to me" to quote an old Garrett Morris SNL skit. Pre-season, season, post-season, whatever, I've loved this game since I can remember, and I don't get bored by it. The intensity of the game draws me like a moth to flame.

I guess that may be why I love being on the sidelines instead of up in the booth. The opportunity to stand there and observe throughout the course of training camp and preseason the development of young guys as they attempt to up their games weekly, to see if their lifelong dreams will be realized or smashed to pieces, is a privilege that's hard to describe.

The drama of preseason football unfolds week by week like a story being told about the life and times of each of the players. You see these guys wrestle with confidence and doubt issues up close and personal. To see the players as people, not merely names and numbers but guys with dreams that will end for some, keep rolling on for others, intrigues me to no end. Each week plays out like an act in a play that's written over the course of a season. Twists and turns lie in wait every week. John Grisham couldn't pen a better thriller than the upturns and downturns of an NFL season.

Who will the next Patrick Bailey be? Will Patrick Bailey be the next Patrick Bailey to re-emerge from obscurity to claim a seat on the bus? Making the team one year doesn't automatically provide housing for the next year. Bruce Davis is another linebacker fighting for his football life. Andre Frazier has been cut enough times to merit a place on the James Harrison superstar–to-be-cut-and-named-later watch list. Joe Burnett steps forward as a return man, but lays a couple on the ground. Stefan Logan doesn't see the field in the first game but flashes in meteoric brilliance in the second. Can he do it again? And keep on doing it?

The trio of Tony Hills, Jason Capizzi and Jeremy Parquet. Will one of these guys step forward as the swing tackle and claim a hat? It's there for the taking if one of them starts putting together some serious series back to back and game to game.

Will Kraig Urbik be the real deal or will free agent Ramon Foster sit one seat ahead of Urbik on that bus? Limas Sweed has taken steps forward but Shaun McDonald has, too. Mike Wallace is so fast that Hugh Downs and Morley Safer couldn't cover him in 70 minutes, much less 60. On and on it goes, each week another step forward for some, or a backward step for others. As Chuck Noll used to say, "You either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same." No, there's no better substitute for the daily soap opera fan than preseason football.

Better indeed was Stefan Logan. The Turk up in the booth was wrong about this guy. Logan can't dodge rain drops (his jersey was as wet as everyone else's'), but he sure can dodge Redskins. This guy is 5'6" of fast-twitch muscle, a walking bicep. After having a few catching issues in his first week of camp, "Joystick" showed the how and why of returning kicks, whether punt or kickoff.

The how of returns is with sizzling speed, and dramatic cutting ability that made Logan look like he was running on artificial turf while everybody else hoofed it on rain soaked natural grass. The why is in why hasn't he been in this league doing this thing earlier? Maybe it was only one game, but I'm giddy about the 200-plus return yards in one preseason game. I had some trepidation that the Canadian halo rules that gives the return man 5 yards of clearance would make him indecisive. There is no such animal as the halo in the NFL. A guy can be parked on your grill whistling "Goodnight, the party's over" while you're attempting to catch the ball. No problem with Stefan's decision making that I could see.

I couldn't help but have a sense of anticipation as any of the four punts he fielded was launched into the air and Logan was circling under the ball. Kickoffs drew a similar response. And I was obviously being joined by some of his teammates. A lot of guys normally sitting on the bench during a punt/kickoff return sucking down Gatorade were standing on the sidelines watching "Half-pint" become a full quart. Look for this guy to stick and be very popular with his teammates.

Another guy whose upward curve looks to be climbing for quite some time is Ziggy Hood. Three sacks in two games and three hurries while being so cold-hearted to former Mizzou teammate Chase Daniel say that the Zigmeister is making progress. Ziggy has a natural knack for playing with low pad level. Hood has a great lean and keeps his balance point natural and flowing. He moves in a coordinated way that is anything but robotic, which is what happens sometimes with young guys that are trying to remember their plays, read the opposition, trying to keep from being pounded into a smelling salt junkie and then make something happen all at once. Ziggy hand fights reasonably well given his age, which is something that took Aaron Smith -- the gold standard -- years to accomplish. There is a real technique to the constant battle for the centerline position where all the trench fighting goes on in the NFL. College guys have a tough time adjusting to leading with their hands versus leading with their pads. It makes all the difference in the world.

Hood looked better to me than he did last week, and avoided the temptation to try to run around some blocks as he tried last episode, er…game. Ziggy is always picking the brains of Smith, and Diesel Keisel and company. The difference is that unlike a lot of young guys, Ziggy actually tries to apply the lessons learned. His natural strength gives him a steady base while neutralizing opposing offensive linemen. I think the slash and burn mentality of college (penetrating at all costs rather than holding the point and playing gap control) has been a tougher adjustment than Ziggy may care to admit. Certainly though, you got to like what you see so far.

These may not be "The Days of Our Lives," but they certainly are for the rookies and the bubble boys. Tune in next week and see if ….ah, just tune in.


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