SATURDAY, AUG. 21
Last year, Mike Freeman visited St. Vincent College for one day and wrote the article that came to define the camp and the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Whether he was right or wrong in using the term "Camp Cupcake" can be debated, as can the article from his visit this season. And what a refreshing piece it is. I only hope "Football Paradise" comes to symbolize this camp and this season.
Freeman, of CBSSportsline.com and formerly of The New York Times, interviewed one of my favorites, Byron Leftwich, for the story.
Now, I had just watched Leftwich a few days earlier holler "Get yo' ass back!" at Emmanuel Sanders as Sanders inexplicably lined up offside by about five yards. It was the funniest audible I'd ever heard. A few days later, Leftwich strode into the cafeteria with his beautiful lady. In his left arm was their infant son. The players walked by to say hello, and I mentioned to a colleague how much more respect those teammates have for Leftwich than do Steelers fans, who seem to view him as necessary evil that'll be gone soon enough.
At least that's how I view the situation.
And then Freeman's story came out in which Leftwich called his place and time here "football paradise." He told Freeman, "This is where I want to spend the rest of my career."
You can read the rest of the story, and maybe you won't feel the same warmth that I did, but it resonated with me for two reasons: A.) my respect for Leftwich, and B.) my belief that St. Vincent College in August is the Disney World of football.
There are several reasons for B, and one is the night-time drive back to the dorm after, say, a night out at Sharkey's. The spires are lit and the moon's up and the organization is percolating on campus. Fireworks should go off every night here, the center of the football universe.
I'm proud to be a part of it, but I'm glad someone else put it into words.
* Give Leftwich a pocket (ahem, calling Mr. Pouncey) and I believe he'll team with Mike Wallace to become the scariest quick-strike combo in Steelers history.
Terry Bradshaw and Joe Gilliam could launch it with Leftwich, but I don't think any of their receivers were as smokin' fast as Wallace.
"He's faster on game day than he is in practice," Leftwich said with a laugh as he explained his slight underthrow in the preseason opener.
* Funny, because I was thinking about the defense the other day and what it must mean to coach a guy like Aaron Smith. He's a giant on the field, but here he is racing to every just-placed ball like a kid trying to impress his JV coach. Sometimes James Farrior wins the race. Sometimes Brett Keisel wins the race. And it's always a race. It's about setting a tone, and more importantly it's about setting a practice pace. The rest of the guys play along. I told Chris Hoke that it must be a unique situation, to have the biggest men on the team working the hardest, and Hoke said, "It's already been picked up by Ziggy Hood. He'll be doing the same thing 10 years down the road and everyone will be following his lead." I told Hoke that Hood would therefore be doing a great favor for Steelers D-line Coach Hoke, and Hoke said, "That would be a dream come true."
* I left James Harrison out of the aforementioned group of leaders because he belongs in a special section.
Harrison is a very different type of leader. Oh, he's racing to the ball with the rest of them, but he's far more aloof in terms of personality. If you don't follow him, he doesn't care. If you follow him, he doesn't care. He told me he's selfish, and if everyone thought like that it'd be better for the team. But I busted him not being selfish the other day. I busted him having the back of Ben Roethlisberger.
A few days ago, erstwhile ESPN radio reporter Chris Mack pulled Harrison aside for a live interview immediately after practice. Harrison was in an obliging mood, but Mack came out of the break by mentioning his colleagues back in the studio, Scott Paulsen and Mike Logan. Well, Harrison immediately put four fingers to the side of his neck and swung them back and forth to say, "Cut, cut, cut." The reporter realized Harrison was backing out of the interview, and then Harrison was gone.
If you're a step ahead, you guessed right that Harrison heard the name "Mike Logan" and left. Logan, of course, criticized Roethlisberger a few months ago for being a bad teammate.
It says something about Roethlisberger that Harrison would back him up like that, but it says even more about Harrison. I doubt he cared or even knew much about Roethlisberger the teammate when both were a lot younger. Whether Logan was right or wrong is not the point. The here and now of it is that no one's going to hurt this team and expect any help from Harrison. He's a team guy, just a different kind of team guy. One who plays for blood.
* Harrison told a group of reporters last week that even though he helps hawk his biography, Never Give Up, he hasn't read it.
"I don't need to read it. I lived it," he growled.
* While Roethlisberger never really felt comfortable with the older veterans while he was breaking in, he clearly developed a following of "his guys" as his stay in the league grew longer. I bring this up because Dennis Dixon is so quiet and easygoing that questions are being raised about his leadership ability.
I talked to Dixon the other day for a feature coming out in Steelers Digest next week. I asked him for the highlight of camp and he said the drive in which he and the line and the rookie receivers all played a part in the three conversions because of their communication and understanding of hot reads to beat blitzes. I asked Dixon if it's easier for him to work with the rookie receivers.
"They really are my people," Dixon said. "I can really talk to them. They look up to me and that's a confidence-booster. Whatever I say goes, and that's all that matters. I just feel like I've got more control and I'm more relaxed when I'm talking to them."
That's why leadership can't be forced. It emerges.
* The other criticism of Dixon has been his understanding of the playbook, or lack thereof. I asked QB coach Randy Fichtner about it and he said Dixon is making "enormous progress." Later in the interview, when answering a question about another topic, Fichtner said this:
"Boy, you talk about classroom; Dennis Dixon's trying to take this camp to another level. Mmm. The last one out the door. When I set ‘em loose, he stays. Every night."
* One of the problems with QB controversies is that the media – and reporters take their cue from coaches of course – often explain opinions with negative commentary about a player such as Dixon, who's actually making positive strides. I asked Fichtner whether this peculiar dynamic might affect Dixon.
"The thing I'm thankful for every night when I lay my head down" said Fichtner, "is that I don't have to talk to any of these guys about any of that. We just don't talk about it. All of us putting our hand in the pile are trying to get better every day. We all get better, and where that takes you, it takes you. You can't control those other things, so don't spend all your time thinking about it.
"It's going to happen for you, and when it does there's going to be a reason why you can look in the rearview mirror and see all the hard work you did and know why you got that opportunity. That's how it happens."
* Keenan Lewis ended camp by making two interceptions in the final practice, but don't believe that he's seriously challenging for a starting job right now. I've praised this lanky, physical corner the last two preseasons, but Mike Tomlin shouldn't see any reason to start Lewis over Bryant McFadden. That move will be made when and if McFadden runs through a very poor stretch of play or is injured. Tomlin, right now, is just pleased to see that he has a Steelers-style outside corner at the ready.
* While I'm on positional battles, Flozell Adams is miles ahead of Jonathan Scott at right tackle.
* Tonight, Hines Ward will play in the new Meadowlands Stadium to give him playing time in all but one NFL stadium. Ward can play in Cowboys Stadium at the coming Super Bowl.
* To that end, I'd like to thank Tribune-Review photographer Chaz Palla for saving the season.
Yes, you read me right. My friend Chaz was in the process of blowing off the final morning practice of training camp. He lives on the other side of town and felt he had enough work "in the can" that he could go home a night early and tend to his dog.
But after he got home, Chaz thought – no, he knew – that the one practice he'd blow off would be the one in which a major injury would occur and that his paper would be the only one in town without any "art."
So, Chaz came back to Latrobe for that last practice, and of course there wasn't an injury. On behalf of Steelers fans everywhere, thank you Chaz.
WEDNESDAY, AUG. 18
Sometimes, when you ask questions that are intended to produce clichéd answers, you don't listen.
Good thing I was listening the other day when I put a rather dull and insipid question to Brett Keisel.
Q: Brett, how would you sum up this camp experience?
A: Blah. Blah, blah, blah, blah. … Blah, blah. … Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah… and I think, to me, the O-line's been the most impressive part of this camp.
Q: Wait, wait, wait, Brett. Hold on. I was barely listening. Did you just say the offensive line has impressed you? Didn't you see the game the other night?
A: Yeah. I did. We'll see what happens as the games go on.
Q: So, you think the other night was an aberration?
A: Yeah. I think Big Flo's still getting used to being on that side. It doesn't come over night, making the switch from one side to the other. I saw that going to the right side after I was Aaron (Smith)'s backup. It takes time. It's an adjustment.
Most of us reporters, I reflected a bit later, had believed all of that talk about muscle memory and how it's going to take Flozell Adams some time to adjust to playing the right side after 13 years on the left side. And then Cliff Avril ran past him for a sack in the preseason opener. And then Thaddeus Gibson ran past him twice – once untouched – at the first practice back from the game.
This was becoming a troublesome trend, I reflected a bit later, because we're now into the third week of camp. Could we, as reporters, continue to promulgate this, this excuse for an old and slow player who's now past his prime? Are we just suckers? Or worse, apologists?
"An apologist?" asked Aaron Smith.
Yes, a reporter who apologizes for someone because the reporter's actually a fan.
"I think it's true, though," Smith said. "I think it's going to take some time. The man's played left tackle for 13 years. He's a talented guy but it's hard to make that kind of change. Considering what he's had to do, he's done pretty well and I think the more time he gets the more comfortable he'll get.
"You have to realize," Smith continued, "when you do something for so long your body has so much muscle memory and you're so acclimated to it. It may sound funny, but if you put your other hand on the ground, it's completely opposite. Everything's backwards. If you put me on the other side, and I had to put my other hand on the ground, I wouldn't do it because it's so awkward. So I think it's going to take some time."
If there's anyone with both knowledge of this topic and knowledge of playing against Adams, it's Smith. He spent five years in college learning and playing the 4-3 right defensive end position and just couldn't learn the techniques required to play the 3-4 right defensive end position for the Steelers.
"I couldn't play that technique and I couldn't change, because my body was so used to doing the same thing over and over," Smith said. "Then they started saying ‘this isn't going to work,' and I just couldn't figure it out."
But one day, left end Orpheus Roye went down with an injury and line coach John Mitchell moved Smith over to the left side. It was a new side, but because of his problems with learning the 3-4 techniques, he broke it all down to the bare bones.
"I was trying and trying, but then they put me on the other side and it was like learning from scratch because I had never done it. It felt like I was starting all over, and I actually had a good practice, so Mitch said, ‘Aaron, you won't play the other side as long as I'm here.' And I haven't been back in 12 years. That just tells you how difficult it is. Imagine doing that for 13 years."
So, there's still hope for Adams?
"He's going to help," Smith said. "I mean, he's a big, big man. When he gets his hands on you, there's not a lot you can do."
Sigh. So I guess I'll be the last reporter in Pittsburgh to write Flozell Adams off.
Or the first to revel in the virtues of patience.
TUESDAY, AUG. 17
Throughout his first three seasons as coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin hadn't experienced the gathering storm of a media-generated quarterback controversy. That is both amazing and a record.
Of course, that streak has ended this week and Tomlin now understands what the backup QBs mean in this town. And he doesn't like it.
"If they keep asking me about this," Tomlin muttered about the press corps in general, "I'm going to start telling them the truth."
Tomlin continued muttering, but with the cameras off and the reporters walking away, it was understood that his humorous comments were not meant for the public record.
He muttered anyway, because he has a plan that was formed after Dennis Dixon's abysmal performance during spring drills, when Dixon's hands-covering-the-face pose after committing game-changing mistakes became a daily ritual.
Tomlin had to choose between Dixon and Byron Leftwich that early. He didn't need to A.) get his Game 5 QB ready, B.) host an open competition between the other two, and then C.) somehow get the winner of that open competition ready for Game 1, all in one training camp.
No, Tomlin had to make some tough early decisions. One of those was that Dixon is not yet ready to lead this team. At one point, it was explained that Dixon performs best in a role of "little brother," and his pattern of play has fit the description.
1. Performed poorly during a very real spring competition.
2. Played well early in camp when he understood his role as backup.
3. Once that exceptional play became public knowledge, Dixon reverted to his mistake-prone days in the spring.
4. Played well as a backup against the Detroit Lions.
Talented, no doubt, but the necessary confidence and leadership is still lacking. Consider Tomlin's comment last week that Dixon hasn't gathered up the nerve to ask Flozell Adams to move from his spot in the stretch, and contrast that with Leftwich cussing out rookie receivers as an audible from under center, and you might better understand the leadership pecking order here.
No one's down on Dixon. Everyone's happy that he played so well in the preseason opener, when he entered second, with nothing really to gain, and performed well in the role of the team's little brother.
MONDAY, AUG. 16
Readers of this particular column already knew of my wish for Doug Legursky to replace Justin Hartwig as the first-team center. One problem though: That's a pretty big move for a pretty short period of time, since it's assumed that first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey will play the position next year.
But there's a solution: make Pouncey the first-team center now. After all, it appears the coaching staff is moving pretty quickly toward that move anyway.
The first-team line certainly needs an infusion of talent, and the first snap looked like so many last season with Hartwig being shoved into the Steelers' backfield by the Detroit nose tackle. Pouncey replaced Hartwig in the second quarter and played with three first-team linemen and starting quarterback Byron Leftwich, and the just-turned 21-year-old from the University of Florida immediately made his presence felt. Here's the quick breakdown:
Play 1: Pouncey shot to the second level and turned linebacker Jordan Dizon to open up a hole for Isaac Redman's 8-yard gain. Dizon, while engaged with Pouncey, was sideswiped by a teammate, injured, and lost for the season.
Play 2: Pouncey drove to his left and moved 330-pound tackle Sammie Hill 5-7 yards off the ball.
Play 3: Pouncey shot to the second level again and latched onto the middle linebacker and wouldn't let go. Talk about a finisher, Pouncey drove his man onto the pile, where the linebacker almost got lucky enough to grab a fumble from the prone Redman.
Play 6: Out in front of a screen, Pouncey made two blocks and both were key in the 13-yard gain on 2nd-and-15.
Play 9: Pouncey bolted to the right, turned the OLB, and buried him to open the hole for Redman, who was off for a 31-yard gain. But Pouncey wasn't done. He followed Redman down the field and while separating the tackling linebacker from Redman, Pouncey pushed Redman an additional five yards. Pouncey tripped over said linebacker, and as he was going to his knee pushed the strong safety though the air to keep him from jumping on Redman. Pouncey went to one knee and came up quickly, the only time I remember him being on the ground throughout the rest of the game.
If that play wasn't the one to force Pouncey into the starting lineup, his block at the goal line on the next series was.
Now, remember, Pouncey was slated to open his career at right guard because the center position requires more intelligence than a rookie can muster. Allegedly. But Pouncey's instincts – as described here in an earlier column by an approving scout – should be able to make up for any lack of NFL knowledge. Pouncey showed these instincts on Redman's touchdown run. While LT Tony Hills was making his best block of the game in blowing his man off the ball, Pouncey took a quick jump step to his left because he instinctively knew the nose tackle would crash that way. It gave Pouncey the leverage to stop the NT in his tracks and allow Redman to score. It was a subtle move, but one that last season most likely would've resulted in a five-yard loss instead of a touchdown.
While Pouncey still needs to get bigger, stronger and smarter – and what 21-year-old doesn't? – his intuition would serve him well as the starter on opening day. This was evident throughout the remainder of the game as Pouncey picked up blitzes, finished blocks (with an attitude), and showed the young legs that left Hartwig long ago.
Barring injury, cutting Hartwig will be the move to make. He'd be guaranteed his full $2.08 million contract should he make the opening day roster but he can't even play guard in a game-day emergency as a backup.
As for Legursky, he's showing well as a short-yardage fullback, so his role as the backup interior lineman is already taking shape for (or by) the coaches.
It looks for all the world as if it's now Pouncey time, and he could really use all of the first-team reps the rest of the preseason has to offer in order to sharpen his knowledge and polish the line's overall chemistry.
It's not something coaches like to do to a healthy first-teamer, but dropping Hartwig to a backup role today would be the prudent move to make. In this case, one game told us all we needed to know about the rookie.
SUNDAY, AUG. 8
How yinz doing?
Russ Grimm has come a long way as a speaker since he came to the Steelers in 2000. His public speaking skills, if I recall correctly, hurt him in 2004 when he interviewed with the Chicago Bears. He always appeared a bit uncomfortable when called for press conferences, but last night in Canton he was relaxed, entertaining and made us fellow Westmoreland Countians of the late 1970s proud.
"The class of '77, we graduated singing Freebird," Grimm said last night.
"If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?
"Not only did you remember me, you took a special interest. You stayed in touch. You supported and followed my career. For that, I will always remember you. Thank you."
Absolutely corny as hell. But it struck a chord with me. I got the chance to see Grimm the previous day, to finally congratulate him. He gave me a big smile and that powerful handshake of his. He's so strong you believe the yarns that some day will make a great book. I was also fired up to learn Grimm was the original "Hog," as everybody probably suspected.
* I was equally proud the other night when Grimm led off the list of dinner guests. He was introduced as "Russ Grimm, Pittsburgh." Next up was "Ricky Jackson, Pittsburgh." The third in the alphabetical order was Dick LeBeau, Mr. Pittsburgh. But of course they introduced him as being from Ohio State.
* Again, while Dallas and the NFL tried its best to make this "Cowboys Weekend," Pittsburgh took over.
* Later that Friday night I grabbed a bite in nearby Massillon. I sat next to four Cowboys fans in the throes of heated football discussion. They were not harmless. But I did admire their enthusiastic intensity. Anyway, as I was leaving, I saw a lone Steelers fan at the other end of the bar. I told him there were some Cowboys fans at the other end and that he outta talk to.
* "I know," he growled. "One of them's my brother and one's my best friend. And I hate 'em both."
* In the press box in Canton on Saturday evening, I received a text that the Steelers' bus had arrived. I walked to the gate outside the stadium but was ordered back to the press box by a state trooper who was in no mood to mess around. So, I backtracked up the little hill outside the fence near the walkway to the stage. And Dick LeBeau rolled in, to the delight of the Steelers fans waiting for the bus. I stopped halfway up the hill just to watch LeBeau. He got out of his limo with two bodyguards. The three of them began walking into the stage area, but LeBeau slowed. The bodyguards walked ahead and Dick must've been 30 feet down from me, by himself, as he passed. I felt the need to speak, so I said, "Go get 'em, Dick." He looked up, and stopped. He smiled, stepped toward me and said, "Hey, Jimmy, how are you?"
* All of the sudden it was about me. A bit embarrassing, but that's what this guy does. He makes YOU feel special. He makes YOU feel like it's your day. That's why he's Dick LeBeau.
* LeBeau told me before his fourth Super Bowl that during his third Super Bowl – the one in Detroit – he finally took the time to smell the roses, that it wasn't all about making sure he wasn't going to get beat deep. He told me that was his mistake during Super Bowl losses to Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, that he didn't take the time to smell the roses. That's what he was doing in Canton: smelling the roses. Not that I was any flower, but I saw that in him. His mind was taking it all in. You never stop learning from the guy.
* At the previous night's dinner, the seven enshrinees were introduced and stood on stage, from where they greeted about 20 other invited Hall of Famers. LeBeau, of course, connected with all of them since he'd played against, coached against, or coached with just about everyone. The guy who intrigued me most was his old corner-mate, Lem Barney. Dick had said "I've talked to Lem more in the last two days than in the previous 30 years." So I was intrigued about their reunion. Well, Barney kissed LeBeau on the check and the two held the longest hug of the night. They exchanged pleasantries and Barney moved on down the line of enshrinees as Charlie Sanders, another former Lion, was announced. LeBeau hurried to retrieve Barney and the three of them hugged together. Someone should have the picture somewhere.
* What song is it that yinz want to hear?
Well, I can't give you Freebird, but I can give you your weekly dose of Steelers Insider. First of all, the news that Jonathan Dwyer is overweight doesn't surprise me. I tried to convince myself that my eyes were lying, but he does carry too much weight, particularly after seeing him so fit last spring. The extra weight aside, I still like the way the kid hit the hole in his first practice before pulling his hamstring.
* Problem is, he might be the last hope as the No. 3 running back. The Steelers don't appear interested in using Frank Summers at tailback. He was impressive in his few reps as a one-back, or "aceback" as the Steelers are calling it. But they keep moving him back to fullback. The only other hope is Isaac Redman, but one scout feels Redman has little chance of making the team because he cuts every carry back and never hits the designed crease. Redman is also a liability on special teams.
* The lack of numbers at running back would be absorbed at wide receiver, where Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle are believed to be locks. Rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown are certain locks. Even Bruce Arians came out the other day to say that Sanders runs better routes than Mike Wallace. Word is Brown runs better routes, too.
* Wallace can't run a reverse. We saw a bit of that last year. The speedster's just a straight-line guy.
* Does Maurkice Pouncey have it? One veteran defensive lineman says definitely, but not right away. "He's like Ziggy (Hood) last year in that he's not quite sure what to do and it holds him back. Give him a year, like Ziggy, and he'll really come on."
* One guy said this about Flozell Adams: "Flozell still has it. Of course, you can tell he's 35. The older you get the more pain you have, the harder it is to do the simple things, even getting into your stance. But on Sundays, the adrenaline helps you with all of that. It helps you get it done at the high level you're accustomed to. I expect the same from him. He's very smart. He's not going to try to maul you like Willie Colon, but he understands the game and knows how to use his body. Max (Starks) could learn some things from him. Both of them are similar in that they're so big. They're not real aggressive, but they lean on you and it wears you out. They're like a building that collapses on you. The building's not aggressive, but damn it's heavy."
* While Justin Hartwig has improved along with the health of his shoulders, there's still not much difference between him and Doug Legursky. "Doug's probably got a better build for those nose tackles out there."
* "I might say this every year," one personnel man said, "but I really like the way our rookies are playing. They're showing a lot of movement skills. The two outside linebackers both look like players, and so are the two receivers. Pouncey's looking like a player. Crezdon Butler is showing he can compete. (Sly) Sylvester? I like him. The question is: Where does he fit?"
* Scouts believe that Stefan Logan has little chance to make the team, that someone, anyone, will show up as a kick returner during preseason games.
* Just remember, though: Mike Tomlin makes the cuts.
* The Steelers liked what Pouncey showed the other day during a blitz, when he slid naturally outside to pick it up. There've been other subtle moves Pouncey has shown that've made scouts consider him to be a natural.
* Thaddeus Gibson has impressed, even though most expected a very difficult camp for him after missing OTAs last spring. "You miss OTAs on this defense and you're back a ways," one scout said. "Knowing that makes him even more impressive."
* Keenan Lewis is showing vast improvement over his rookie year. "He has better focus, better techniques, and he's not biting the way he did last year. (Bryant) McFadden's an upgrade, too."
* Who's not playing well? "All the tight ends except Heath (Miller) and all the running backs except the first two."
* Only two running backs? "I think Dwyer's going to be OK, but we have to wait and see."
TUESDAY, AUG. 3
You give these guys a few days to breathe, and take it in, and then you pounce by asking if they see anything they like.
"The speed of the receiving corps," one of the scouts said after the first few days of workouts here at St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
"Special, special quickness," another scout had said about Sanders back in minicamp.
So the Emmanuel Sanders Watch has been in full bloom ever since. And then a funny thing happened: Sixth-round pick Antonio Brown had a better spring than Sanders and the team came to camp excited, and hopeful, that the two similarly sized 180-somethings could take a hit with the pads on.
So far, no one's laid either of them out. Sanders, in particular, shows a knack for avoiding the big blow, and the little ones for that matter.
"You also worry about them getting off the line," said the first scout.
Good point, but another personnel man offered this: "They're all going to have problems with that. What rookie wouldn't? Until they learn, corners are naturally going to press them. They'll be taught and they'll learn. They'd better if they're going to survive."
I tried to flag down new WRs coach Scottie Montgomery, but he's quicker at evading the media rush than Sanders is at evading Ryan Clark. But I found the assistant WRs coach, Hines Ward, holding court with a group of reporters. He was talking about Sanders when I shot him the question:
Is there a question in your mind about Sanders' ability to get off the line?
"I don't know, but he's a great ballplayer," Ward said. "One thing you can't teach is speed, so all these guys who want to jam him up, if they miss, it's over.
"We'll see. Each day he gets better and better."
As for the other new receiver, Antwaan Randle El, I asked the scout if he still has his former quickness.
"He does," the scout said. "He's not going to beat too many people deep, but he's showing me that he's still quick enough inside. With his smarts, he should still be very effective."
* Speaking of these small, smurfy receivers, I recall writing a story two years ago called "Land of the Giants" about the inordinate amount of tall receivers on the team: Limas Sweed, Micah Rucker, etc. Now, the only receiver taller than the 6-1 Arnaz Battle is 6-4 Brandon London, and he's battling Tyler Grisham for the No. 7 spot on a team that normally keeps only five. Of course, I feel the No. 6 WR will battle the No. 5 RB for a roster spot. But what about this startling transition in size on the receiving corps?
"It wasn't designed that way," said my personnel man. "That just had to do with finding value in the draft. Coaches and scouts value size at any position, but when the size isn't there you take the smaller guy with a lot of ability. Now, our offensive line, that's the way an offensive line should look. I don't like tall, linear offensive linemen. I'm not saying guys like that can't play, but I like guys with big asses, big legs. They may not look pretty but they have a better chance of surviving."
* Speaking of draft theory, the Steelers drafted four juniors this year – three out of their first four picks. Rashard Mendenhall, Lawrence Timmons, Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger, Plaxico Burress and Marvel Smith were also drafted after their junior seasons by Kevin Colbert and Co. That has to be a theoretical pillar, doesn't it?
"No," said my source. "It's happened that way because we like guys who are good players. It has nothing to do with their age. Are we aware of it? Yeah, because you can make a mistake. I worry about juniors because sometimes you don't get enough tape to evaluate them. That bothers me sometimes. But we pay more attention to who they're lining up against, level of competition, how they hold up over a period of time. There are a bunch of factors involved."
* OK, back to the real world. My top-o-the-morning scout asked me what I liked, and I said that the defense, when motivated here in scrimmages, is still so very tough to run on, and that they're really chewing Mendenhall up pretty good.
"I know," the scout said. "Mendenhall's still tentative. He still doesn't hit the hole with the kind of authority I'd like to see. That jump stop he made, when (James) Harrison lit him up with his elbow? That could've been Anthony Madison knocking him down just as easily, he was that unbalanced. That's one of the things I like about (Jonathan) Dwyer. In that option offense at Georgia Tech, he must've broken off five or six 50-yard runs. The kid has power and speed and he really hits the hole. He did that the other day before he got hurt."
True enough. In the 9-on-9 run scrimmage, Dwyer was the only back to break from the tackle box with a significant run. It was Dwyer's last practice before hurting his hamstring, but he's adamant that he's fine and will be back soon. Apparently, the Steelers don't want to put him at any risk.
* One more note before this becomes "The Afternoon After." I was watching a drab passing drill Monday morning when I noticed fullback Demetrius Taylor run a lazy underneath route on a pass that went to a receiver down the field. RB coach Kirby Wilson, on the other end of the field helping with a special teams drill, came charging over to berate Taylor for it. The kid was cut a couple of hours later.
* Oh, and one more: I wanted to include Sunny Harris in my story on Ziggy Hood because Harris also looks much more ferocious than he did a year ago. But line coach John Mitchell didn't want to come across as excited about Harris as he is about Hood, cautioning that he wants to see consistency from Harris this camp. "See me on Day 15," Mitchell said.