Despite Mike Tomlin's pleas to guard against a sense of "finality" now that the Steelers are vacating St. Vincent College and his accurate assessment that there remains a great deal of preseason left with which to contend, it's time to pause and reflect.
What better way than with a series of awards recognizing those who had the most fun in the sun at SVC?
BEST NEWCOMER (VETERAN PLAYERS): Flozell Adams. The Steelers' castoff from Dallas has supplanted Dennis Dixon in the stretching formation, supplanted Will Allen atop the alphabetical roster and at least joined James Harrison atop the organization's unofficial "bad ass" depth chart.
Forget the sack, he'll handle right tackle. And he'll provide for the offense in general and the O-line in particular a swagger and intangibles that hadn't been anticipated at the time of Adams' signing. The Steelers got more than they bargained for with this guy.
BEST NEWCOMER (ROOKIES): Maurkice Pouncey. One veteran defensive player told Fourth & Goal Pouncey inspires reminders of Alan Faneca because, like Faneca, Pouncey practices with the proper technique, as opposed to holding people, leaning on people or trying to get by with brute force all the time, which is apparently the standard common practice. The Steelers hit a home run with this guy.
BEST NEWCOMER (COACHES): Sean Kugler. He's a teacher and a communicator, two things former offensive line coach Larry Zierlein was not. And because he's a teacher and a communicator Kugler has been able to introduce an expanded zone-blocking scheme designed to get Rashard Mendenhall isolated one-on-on in pursuit of opportunities to break off long runs. The Steelers really needed this guy.
(That's three awards and all three are offensive-line related; that has to be a good omen)
HARDEST WORKER: Ryan Clark. He's apparently taken last season's shortcomings in the secondary personally, and Dick LeBeau's imploring of the defense to "finish" to heart. Nobody ran out more plays to the very end or covered more ground in Westmoreland County. The Steelers might yet wind up happy they re-signed this guy.
MOST-IMPROVED PLAYER: Isaac Redman. Ziggy Hood is much better, too, but Hood was pretty good for a rookie last year. Redman has made strides measured in "light years" by running backs coach Kirby Wilson, establishing himself as a short-yardage option and a guy who can be trusted catching the football and pass blocking. He's also dabbled at fullback, and might get a shot there on Saturday night at the New York Football Giants. The Steelers seem determined to find a place for this guy.
MOST-OVERRATED DEVELOPMENT: Dan Sepulveda kicking off. It'll be up to the 10 guys covering the kickoffs to avoid a repeat of last season's disaster. Hang time and placement are great, but you still have to get the guy on the ground. And that's not nearly as difficult as the Steelers made it appear a year ago. The Steelers still need to find the right guys on either side of the kicker no matter who is doing the kicking.
MOST-DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Jonathan Dwyer. He seems to have a hard time staying in shape and staying healthy. No wonder he was still available in the sixth round. The Steelers may have a hard time keeping this guy.
BIGGEST TEASES: Joe Burnett and Keenan Ivory Lewis. They were all over the practice fields a year ago, and they always seemed to be getting their hands on the football. But the most memorable play either player made in the regular season was Burnett's dropped interception against the Raiders, which contributed mightily to the Steelers losing that game. Watching both again appear poised to contribute this preseason reminds us that, as A.I. so eloquently put it, "we talkin' 'bout PRACTICE." The Steelers still can't be sure they can count on these guys.
BEST PLAYER: Ben Roethlisberger. Can't wait to see what he'll do once he's eventually reinstated. Good thing the Steelers held onto this guy.