Training Camp Kick-off. Opening Weekend Observations
I made my annual voyage to Latrobe, and I must advise any Steelers fan who has never made the trip to do so. The atmosphere is always outstanding and it kick starts that feeling of Steelers football season. The small town atmosphere has the feel of Friday Night Lights high school football, only with the defending SB champs on the field. Access to player and coaches for autographs is always good as well. One of my favorite events of the summer right up there with the trip to the beach and blowing things up on the 4th of July. I hope to make it an annual trip for many years to come. Here are some of my observations after sitting through two days of camp.
I spent as much time as I could trying to watch receivers and the O-line. So much is going on it's tough to catch every detail, but here is what I observed.
Mike Wallace is a guy I am really hoping will break out in preseason. His speed is apparent even on the practice field. A few times I thought or heard somebody say "who is that guy" and each time it was Wallace who just looked a step or two faster than everyone else. His hands were good all weekend, no drops that I saw. His route running was decent, but there were some noticeably rounded routes and wasted motion that he needs to work out. Overall he looked as advertised to me.
Limas Sweed wasn't making bad drops like last year. He seemed to 'fit in' a lot better next to Ward and Holmes. Looked more confident in his routes and there weren't any awful drops. In the hurry up and redzone drills Sweed elevated and made a few nice catches. Looked like Limas from Texas, not the bum rookie here last year. Sweed was clearly the 3rd best WR on the team this weekend, but given the competition behind him that didnt take much.
Hines Ward shows up like it's week 8 of the regular season. He looked like his old self, catching balls all over the field. He beat Townsend on a fly pattern in one scrimmage and looked real sharp.
Holmes and Ben seem to have a developing friendship. The two were huddled and talking a lot on the field and on the sidelines a good bit. Both Ward and Holmes seemed to be give a lot of time off as they don't need as many reps and there is a lot of unanswered questions behind him.
Shaun Mcdonald seemed like just a guy. Not as bad as the camp fodder, but a clear notch below the starters. Didn't do a whole lot to stand out good or bad.
Dallas Baker got a lot of reps. I think this is clearly his "make the roster and contribute or never be heard from again" year. I'd point towards the latter after watching him play. Big lanky guy that just didn't locate the ball well or catch it well. No separation, just blah. On that note I have seen some imply that Brandon Williams could surprise and make the roster as a speedy slot guy. Don't listen to that noise. He was garbage. Small, soft, few bad drops, routes were sloppy. Looked like an immediate cut and maybe the worst of the 10 WR's there. Tyler Grisham was of similar stature, but performed a little better. Martin Nance struggled with routes, separation, and hands. He looked like a guy who should move on with his life's work.
The starting tackles made me crack a smile. I know it was just two days, but both Colon and Starks more than held their own in 1 on 1 drills and played fairly well in the scrimmages. Exception being Harrison blowing by Starks a time or two, but getting beat by Harrison is to be expected. Kemoeatu and Essex at the guard spots held their own. I can't comment on any bad or spectacular plays either made, but both seemed to hold their own.
Center spot was a rotating mess. Stapleton was there for a bit and played well, Legursky was with the top unit a bit too. Hartwig was around but limited in what he did. The drop off from Stapleton to Legursky was noticeable. Shipley was mainly up against lower competiton but looked like he belonged.
Tony Hills is a hot mess. Last year I was embarrassed for him in the 1 on 1 drills. Thought it may be just a rookie coming back from injury who was overwhelmed. Being as bad this year just confirms he sucks. He made Andre Frazier look like Lawrence Taylor. Patrick Bailey had his way with him. Bruce Davis and Hills went 1 for 1 against each other just like last year. Both made me want to puke.
Urbik had his ups and downs. The 1 on 1 drills weren't his thing obviously. Put him against Hood or Hoke and he had fits keeping them in check. Put him against Hampton, Smith, Harris, or Paxson and he showed some ability. Get the kid in a phone booth and he can have his way with somebody, but in space he struggled. At RG in a game situation I think he'll be fine. The idea of him ever at RT likely needs to be put to rest in my opinion. Any speed at all on the outside kills him.
Capizzi is still really big, and was o.k. vs the 3rd stringers. OK vs bums likely wont get him a roster spot. Ramon Foster was big and nasty. Like Urbik, if he locked on he just wins. Looked like he handled speed better and could also be a RT project. 1 on 1 vs A. Harrison he got a stalemate on a bull rush. He tossed Woods to the ground on another play. Pulled from guard and blasted a LB on another play. I liked Foster in college and he looked as advertised. On a power team like the Steelers he found a good fit for his skill set.
RB's and Backs on Backers
I've seen it live about a half dozen times and it's always exciting. This and the goal line drill are always camp favorites. This year it seemed shorter and a bit bland. Woodley and Harrison had a few reps and generally won easily. Timmons was gimpy and but dominated in the few reps he had in this drill. The back-up LB's were all so-so. Frazier was probably the best back-up OLB here. Parker again looked real solid in the drill just like last year. He may be an underrated blocker, gives a ton of effort at least in these drills. Davis, Mendenhall, and Moore were solid, but Mendenhall got run over by (Harrison or Timmons) can't recall which. Redman blew up Bruce Davis like it was his job on one play and got somebody else (Woods) up under the chin pretty good too. He also lost a few battles though. The kid has a nice build for a RB, didnt see him do much but block.
Willie Parker looked in great shape again. He spent a bit of extra time working on his hands and catching balls with Batch. Team ran a bunch of screen plays which took me back to the thread here about how bad the screen plays have been. Again it must have been Willie Parker's fault that the O-line was always missing blocks and the defense was busting up more of the plays than not. Whether it was Parker, Moore, or Mendy out there the screens generally were a failure.
Summers was solid in the blitz pickup drills with the LB's and bulldozed some defenders on some runs. Willie Gay just about KO'd him on a run around the corner though causing a fumble. Best play of the day. He was solo tackled by Bailey up the gut on another play where he should have been able to push for an extra yard or two. Overall he was wait and see in my book. Could go either way.
Davis Johnson really dominated the blocking sled. Out of all the backs and TE's he was clearly the most powerful. You could hear the pads pop when he hit the sled and his leg drive was head and shoulders above the rest.
Mendenhall looked solid as a runner. He struggled a bit as a blocker. James Harrison bull rushed him into the ground. A few plays later Mendenhall was beaten again. Harrison tried the bullrush later on DJ Johnson but got stoned.
Batch looked very rusty. He was picked a time or two and just over or under threw a lot of open guys. Dixon looked pretty good, He had a nice command of the offense and moved real well in the pocket.
Ben looked pretty sharp and made a lot of nice thows. He got picked by Polamalu in the 2 minute offense drills Sunday and by a LB (I forget who) on Saturday. Otherwise he seemed to be in good spirits joking around with his teammates, but was scarce before and after practice.
Backs on backers and LB's in general.
Mostly highlighted above. Bruce Davis just doesn't look like a Pittsburgh Steelers OLB to me. He doesn't have the fire or the power of a Joey Porter, James Harrison, Lamar Woodley, or Greg Lloyd. He still seems very slight in the upper body and if he cant beat somebody off the snap he's pretty much done on the play. Unless he blows people up in preseason games I've seen enough to cut him. Frazier and A. Harrison are clearly more talented and better fits for what the job calls for. The only positive for Davis was he looked competent when shifted to ILB. While his pass rush move are a colossal failure, he did a solid job tracking and tackling for the ILB spot. Timmons was explosive before he sat out with an injury and the one set of 1 on 1 drills he was in he dominated with a combo of speed, moves, and power that only James Harrison could rival. Aarnold Harrison and Frazier both had moments where they shined over the weekend.
Hood is a machine. Very quick and agile for a big man. I think he'll do a nice job in Keisel's spot sooner or later, could be sooner. Hoke also is tough to handle and gives 100% from snap to whistle. Smith, Keisel, Kirschke all looked just like they left off last season. Paxson and Harris got some reps, neither stood out.
Gay looks like a starter. His coverage was real solid in drills and his hit on Summers belongs on You Tube. Keenan Lewis was around a lot of passes, tipped one away from Sweed, batted one away from Baker, and broke up another vs McDonald. He got beat by Sweed twice, but both were big time throws and catches. Lewis reminds me a bit of Bryant McFadden as a rookie. He is pretty physical and just seems like he belongs on the field with the starters. Burnett was out there, didnt make any big plays or mistakes. Not much to report on him. Mundy was o.k. He was generally in position with one exception where Holmes beat him and Mundy got a talking to on his positioning. Another play Wallace just smoked him with pure speed. He was solid otherwise. Polamalu was limited in practices, but in the scrimmage he picked Ben and looked like mid-season Troy Polamalu.
It should be noted that Ben Roethlisberger really seemed to be loose once he hit the field. He was not around much before or after practice, but seemed comfortable between the white lines Hopefully football can be his sanity away from his legal proceedings this year.