Training camp has many great things to watch. Backs on backers blitz pickup, tight ends run blocking against the outside linebackers, and the one I love most, one on one pass pro with the hogs and the defensive line. If they would only bring back the Oklahoma, my joy would be complete.
However, some of the best action comes during a period on the field when there's no competitive action, but plenty of teaching going on. It comes near the beginning of practice; say if you're a fat-guy aficionado, then you might trot over to where the hogs are sequestered in the corner of the end zone. Here, offensive line Coach Sean Kugler reigns supreme directing the action as he puts his guys through what Chuck Noll always referred to as the "Individual" period.
Normally that period is a snoozer, and as a player it seemed more of a pain in the rump than anything. Rep after rep of basic fundamental football is done over and again. Proper stance, punch on pass pro, double team work. Sean works on it all and I have to tell you I love what I'm hearing. I'm in hog heaven listening to Sean instruct on technique, because he brings a throwback mentality to what has traditionally been home to some of the best lines in the NFL. One can really learn a lot about a coach if you pay attention to how and what he coaches.
Because there's a new Sherriff in town, there's been an adjustment in techniques taught. Every coach has his own philosophy in run/pass techniques. Last year's line had more techniques that weren't as technically powerful, in my humble estimation, as the new ones being introduced this year. And when I say new, they really are old, as in old-school.
One of the problems last year was the inability of the line to get movement on double teams. Using the Jim McNally (former line coach for the Bengals) flipper and step-slide technique that was so successful for Cincinnati and Anthony Munoz, the Steelers were not able to produce much in the way of road-grading power on their double teams. The McNally technique has the drive man throwing a forearm into the down lineman and the other (post man) wrestling almost nose up on the guy, and in my simple mind this is not as powerful as two hogs getting cheek to cheek and mushing.
So I'm watching as the Steelers are working double teams and the first thing that jumps out at me is that the drive guy (former flipper and step slider)is now attacking the hip of the down defensive lineman. Yeah baby! There's no way that you can move a 350 pound Mastodon if you attack him in his upper body. The hip is exposed when a defender takes on the post man, and in today's NFL the down defensive linemen are taught to throw their hip into the double team which then exposes the hip even more.
When the drive man gets to the hip, "Breaking down the hip" in NFL terminology, he has a lower center of gravity through bending his knees and leverage to pile drive the three pointed colossus. And that means movement. It's like pushing a car when you have misjudged how far the needle goes below the empty line. Try doing that while step-sliding and throwing a flipper.
The first results in the second, which means that moving the down man is making the linebacker have to declare quicker. With a big ol' keester flying backwards into your lap, a linebacker has to figure out whether he can run through (to the inside of the double team) and make a play, or continue to the outside of the double team and make the stop. If the linebacker runs through on the side of the post man, the post man comes off and the drive man takes over for the post man.
If the linebacker bubbles over the top of the threesome of dinosaurs wrestling in the pits and attempts to get outside, then the drive man has the responsibility to come off "in a timely fashion" as Coach Noll used to say, and get the ‘backer.
Not doing the first thing can result in the third thing which is that the linebacker can play peek-a-boo with the offensive line. When he does that by hiding behind the double team, both hogs get anxious and prematurely attempt to jump up to the second level and block the ‘backer. This can have disastrous results because the down linemen can now split the double team and make the play.
If the defensive tackle can hold his ground during the onslaught tying up both linemen and not allow either to release to the second level, the linebacker gains precious milliseconds to read the play. It is the difference between 2nd and 5, or 2nd and 9. Without movement on the down man the Ray Lewises of the NFL can have a field day playing hide and seek with the hogs.
Over and over I watched two hogs get linked at the hip, then attack a hip and practice moving the down man while eye balling the ‘backer, and making like sled dogs running the Iditarod. If the offensive linemen can do this on the field of play, and put into practice some of the other drills I observed, then Rashard Mendenhall has a shot at 1,500 yards.