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fordfixer
08-31-2011, 01:10 AM
Damon Hack>INSIDE THE NFL

Postcard from camp: Steelers
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... nfl_t11_a9 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/damon_hack/07/30/pittsburgh.steelers.postcard/index.html?sct=nfl_t11_a9)

SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Damon Hack had to say about Steelers camp in Latrobe, Pa., which he visited on July 29. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
Where's SI.com?

I've been coming to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., home of the Steelers training camp, for years. I remember interviewing Kordell Stewart one summer about the pressures of being a quarterback in Pittsburgh. I remember doing a story on Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress and Antwaan Randle El when they were young and dynamic and one the best receiving trios in football. But I never noticed the small sign on the main road into campus: Winnie Palmer Nature Reserve.

Western Pennsylvania is Steelers Country, but it is also the province of Winnie and Arnold Palmer. Arnie, of course, is the King, the son of Latrobe who became golf's first transcendent star. Winnie was there every step of the way, lending her name to good causes until cancer took her at 65 in 1999. The most famous is Orlando's Winnie Palmer Hospital For Women and Babies, home to the fourth-largest Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the country. Less known is the 26-acre nature reserve in Latrobe that she worked to save from development, a large swath of land that is home to trails, meadows and a Monastic garden.

I made a brief stop Friday and spied a rabbit grazing in the grass. School kids go on field trips here. The Steelers train up the hill. All these years I'd never noticed it. Now, I'll never forget it.
Three Observations

1. The Steelers have aged gracefully. Will that continue? Seeing the 35-year-old Hines Ward begin camp on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he recovers from thumb surgery reminded me just how many prominent thirtysomethings the team has on its roster. On defense alone, Brett Keisel (32), Casey Hampton (33), Troy Polamalu (30), James Farrior (36), James Harrison (33), Aaron Smith (35), Larry Foote (31) and Ryan Clark (31) have all been through arduous seasons extending deep into winter.

In an important way, their cohesion is an asset, especially following a lockout that robbed rookies and young players of much-needed learning time. Still, how much longer can Pittsburgh's veterans be effective? "[Coach Mike Tomlin] understands the type of people he's working with," Clark said. "He knows he can come to us and ask, 'Is this too much guys?' We'll be honest with him. We have the best interests of this team at heart also. He's still going to bring us along in the way he feels like he needs to so we're prepared to play in that first game [against Baltimore], but he's not going to try to kill us. We're a little bit older."

2. If there has been a consistent theme to recent Pittsburgh seasons -- even great Pittsburgh seasons -- it is an offensive line in flux. The release of veteran tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams before training camp even started has the 2011 season beginning in a similar vein. Starks started 68 games with the Steelers since being drafted in the third round out of Florida in 2004. (Last season, a neck injury limited him to just seven starts, and he missed the Super Bowl). The 36-year-old Adams was the only Steelers lineman to start every regular season and postseason game last season.

Their departures figure to leave Jonathan Scott and Willie Colon as the probable left and right tackles. Mitigating the shifting bodies is the emergence of center Maurkice Pouncey, who turned in a tremendous rookie season before a high-ankle sprain cost him a spot in the Super Bowl. Watching Pouncey rip through the Steelers' conditioning evaluation Thursday -- from a distance he looks as swift as a strong safety -- is a reminder that the Steelers will be their usual beasts in the running game.

3. The Steelers were lobbying free-agent wide receiver Plaxico Burress to return to Pittsburgh, where he played from 2000-2004, and they were lobbying hard. "Plax and I have been talking for the past couple of months," Ben Roethlisberger said on Thursday, three days before Burress agreed to sign with the New York Jets. "We [have] a good young group [of receivers], and Plax is a veteran guy who can come in with Hines who can help our young guys."

As rookies last season, receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown combined with Ward and Mike Wallace to form a productive and, at times, highly prolific receiving corps. But they all stand 6 feet in height or less. The 6-foot-5 Burress would have added a different dimension to the offense.

The Steelers already have a tall, lanky receiver in camp -- Limas Sweed -- who ruptured his Achilles tendon during minicamp last year and missed the entire 2010 season. Asked about Pittsburgh potentially landing Burress, Sweed said he would welcome him. When asked about the impact of a tall receiver in the Steelers offense, Sweed says, "I am that guy. That's how I like to look at it. It's just a matter of me showing my teammates and my coaches that I am that guy. That's the attitude I'm going to have throughout this whole camp."
Step On Up

Rashard Mendenhall has logged back-to-back rushing seasons of 1,108 yards and 1,273 yards. He raised his rushing touchdowns total from seven in 2009 to 13 last season. And with third-down back Mewelde Moore a free agent, Mendenhall could see an increased workload on third down. But Mendenhall's fumble in the Super Bowl against Green Bay was a costly error that some believe diminished his regular season play. "I think for a lot of other people it did, but for me, no," Mendenhall said. "It was just one play of many plays." Asked if he is ready to take on an even larger role in the offense, Mendenhall said, "I'll be ready to do that. It just depends on what the coaches ask me to do and what our identity is."
New Face, New Place

With no minicamps or OTAs to attend, Cameron Heyward, a 6-foot-5, 288-pound rookie defensive end from Ohio State, spent the lockout working out in Columbus, Ohio, waiting for his first NFL season to begin. He finally signed his contract Friday. How much he contributes as a first-year player will depend on how quickly he overcomes the lost months of learning. He has a number of factors in his favor, including the playbook he was able to receive during the brief lifting of the lockout in April. The Steelers need his depth along the line. He's also the son of former NFL fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who died in 2006.
Looking At The Schedule ...

A 12-4 record is possible, thanks to Pittsburgh's penchant for winning games and also a potential soft finish to the season. The Steelers close at home against Cincinnati on Dec. 4, home against Cleveland on Dec. 8, at San Francisco on Dec. 19, home against St. Louis on Dec. 24 and at Cleveland on Jan. 1. The start of the season is a bear, though, with three of the Steelers' first games on the road (Baltimore, Indianapolis and Houston) as well as back-to-back home games against the Patriots and Ravens on Oct. 30 and Nov. 6. The Steelers will play five prime time regular season games.

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fordfixer
08-31-2011, 01:20 AM
Postcard from camp: Browns

Damon Hack
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... fl_t11_a10 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/damon_hack/08/23/browns.postcard/index.html?sct=nfl_t11_a10)

SI.com has dispatched writers to report on training camps across the country. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
Where's SI.com?

It is a new era (again) in Berea, Ohio, where the Browns clock in each day. I made two visits here in 2010 and watched the optimism of a three-game stretch where Cleveland went 2-1 against Pittsburgh, New Orleans and New England evaporate in an overtime loss to the New York Jets. Walking out of the stadium that night, I'll never forget the image of Jets head coach Rex Ryan with his head tilted back, smoking a cigar. He'd beaten his brother, Rob, who was the Browns defensive coordinator. Rob has gone to Dallas. Eric Mangini is now in the TV business. The Pat Shurmur era is under way.
Three Observations

1. The Browns are very young. Veteran linebacker Scott Fujita tells a funny story about the first defensive huddle of training camp. "Three of the guys, I didn't even know who they were," Fujita says. Such is life in the post-lockout NFL, where new regimes and giant rosters have many teams shifting bodies in and out.

Fujita says the Browns know how important every snap in practice is with such a young team. The Browns have two rookies -- Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor -- starting on the defensive line. They have a rookie fullback in Owen Marecic, the former two-way player from Stanford who has ditched his linebacker gig. They have a rookie receiver, second-round pick Greg Little, who is pushing hard for playing time. And, of course, they have a second-year quarterback in Colt McCoy and second-year defensive backs Joe Haden and T.J. Ward.

Fujita says he's never been on a team so young, but he's also been impressed by how quickly the Browns are learning. Cleveland doesn't face the Steelers or Ravens until December, which should give the team some time to ramp up to a spirited finish. It won't be easy.

2. Colt McCoy exudes the leadership of a veteran. One of my favorite anecdotes about McCoy is from last season. On the eve of his first start, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, McCoy stood up and addressed his teammates. The Browns had lost Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace to ankle injuries. McCoy told his teammates not to worry about him, that he was ready to play well and lead. The gesture was appreciated in the room.

And though McCoy went 2-6 as a starter, he displayed a calm in the huddle that belied his youth. Joe Haden said it best: "Colt's just a winner."

During the lockout, McCoy organized several team workouts at both the University of Texas and Baldwin Wallace College, further cementing his status as the young face of the Browns franchise.

New coach Pat Shurmur, who last season was the St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator, did wonders with Sam Bradford. The early reviews of the Shurmur-McCoy union are also positive. McCoy ran a version of the West Coast offense for four years at Texas. "Just physically, emotionally, and how they're wired to play the position, there are a lot of similarities in Sam and Colt," Shurmur says.

3. With the new NFL rule moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line, the Browns will have to figure out new ways to get Josh Cribbs involved. In Friday night's preseason game against the Lions, McCoy targeted Cribbs four times in the first half as Cribbs lined up at wide receiver. He caught two passes for 10 yards. On Wednesday in Berea, Cribbs voiced his displeasure with the league's decision to move kickoffs up from the 30-yard line. Cribbs says it was an unnecessary change. "[The league's] intentions are good, but the [injury] stats aren't there to back up the reasoning," he said. Cribbs has returned eight kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, including a personal best of three in 2009. Last season was the only year he failed to return a kickoff for a score.
Step On Up

Tony Pashos, right tackle. The Browns boast a terrific left side of the offensive line in tackle Joe Thomas and guard Eric Steinbach. Cleveland needs better production along the right, in particular from tackle Tony Pashos. At 6-foot-6, 325 pounds, Pashos has the build and the nasty streak to make right tackle a position of strength in Cleveland. But he has to stay healthy. Pashos started just six games last season before landing on the injured reserve list in October with an ankle injury. He had similar bad luck in 2009, breaking his shoulder blade in October with the San Francisco 49ers.
New Face, New Place

Dick Jauron, defensive coordinator. Dick Jauron joined the coaching staff as defensive coordinator and has changed the Browns' scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Fujita says the shift in philosophy will allow the Browns to play at a quicker pace than they did last year. With so much youth along the defensive line, it will be crucial that the Browns think fast and play fast.

"It does let athletes make a lot of plays," Fujita says of Jauron's scheme. "We were in a 3-4 system last year with so many checks on a play-by-play basis that it was mentally exhausting for everybody. This year, you line up, you might have a check or two, but for the most part it lets guys play fast." Finding ways to pressure opposing quarterbacks will be a top priority.
Looking At The Schedule ...

The Browns begin with three home games in their first four. They open at home against Cincinnati, travel to Indianapolis, and then have back-to-back home games against Miami and Tennessee. Socking away some wins early is a must.

In a scheduling quirk, the Browns face the Steelers and Ravens four times in the last five games of the season. That's a tough ask any time of the year, but especially in December and January. If things break right for the Browns, an eight- or nine-win season is not out of the question.

Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... z1Wa3rR8aR (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/damon_hack/08/23/browns.postcard/index.html#ixzz1Wa3rR8aR)

fordfixer
08-31-2011, 01:24 AM
Damon Hack
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... nfl_t11_a8 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/damon_hack/08/05/ravens-postcard/index.html?sct=nfl_t11_a8)

SI.com has dispatched writers to report on NFL training camps across the country. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
Where's SI.com?

I've always liked the name "Owings Mills," but try saying it while eating a Fig Newton. Owings Mills is the town in Maryland where the Ravens work and work hard. The facility is a beauty, with a large lobby covered in dark-paneled wood and purple and white flowers lining the entrance to the practice field. But don't let the petunias fool you. The vibe here is all business. I've had some great conversations with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome over the years, but my all-time memory might be a long ago sit-down with Mike Singletary. He was a linebacker coach with the Ravens for a bit, and he wore glasses that framed the most intense eyes I have ever seen. When Singletary talked about his love of football, of teaching players the finer points of the game, his voice rose into a boom. The guy is into his craft. You've probably heard.
Three Observations

1. Even in his 16th training camp, Ray Lewis plays like he's an undrafted free agent trying to stick. During Thursday's practice, Lewis was running from sideline to sideline, barking instructions to the defense while trying to rattle the offense. "Flacco!" Lewis shouted. "Flaaacccooooooo!" Where does he get the energy? Every offseason, Lewis says he finds a new training regimen that keeps his body in peak condition. (This offseason it was cycling, he says). At 36, Lewis continues to set a standard that his teammates know they must meet. "I've lined up with Ray Lewis for nine years, and that man studies like Master Yoda," says linebacker Terrell Suggs. Lewis has been at it so long it's nearly impossible to imagine the Ravens without him.

2. One of the smoothest transitions in Ravens history was the handoff from tight end Shannon Sharpe to Todd Heap. With Heap's release before the season, Baltimore is counting on a pair of second-year tight ends -- Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta -- to emerge. Dickson, who has good speed, caught 11 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown last season while Pitta, who is projected to have good hands, caught one pass for 1 yard. "They're doing well, they're very willing, and they're very smart guys," says Ravens tight ends coach Wade Harman. "Todd was a second-year player once, and so was Shannon Sharpe. [Dickson and Pitta] are going to grow at their rate." For many young tight ends, blocking consistently takes time. "[Blocking was] something in college they weren't asked to do a lot, at least in that normal, traditional role," Harman says. "They got some time last year doing it, and they're going to keep getting better."

3. First-year defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will bring the Ravens defense back to its attacking roots. After tallying only 27 sacks last season under coordinator Greg Mattison (who now holds the same job at the University of Michigan), the Ravens are expecting that number to rise. "That's the only way we'll get over the hump," Suggs says. "We like the aggressiveness that [Pagano] portrays at times, and we like the smartness that he portrays at times. Whether we're being aggressive or we're playing coverage, I think we still have enough great players on this defense to get the job done." Says head coach John Harbaugh of his defensive players: "They are going to be reckless in the best sense of the word."
Step On Up

Joe Flacco, quarterback. I pulled Flacco aside after Thursday's practice, as I hadn't seen him since he defeated Miami in the playoffs as a rookie. "That was a long time ago," Flacco says.

I was impressed with how mature Flacco looked Thursday in Owings Mills, how comfortable he seemed as the leader of the Ravens offense. Despite the occasional criticism from the outside, his outlook for 2011 is positive. For starters, head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron are allowing Flacco to have a louder voice in putting together the Ravens' gameplan. Flacco sees it as a natural progression. He also doesn't shy away from the challenge of raising his level of play.

"You definitely have more of an opinion," Flacco says of his input into the offense. "The other thing is, we have a lot of young guys on the team. They need someone out there to help guide them around and coach them up -- other than a coach. That's a big job for me."
New Face, New Place

Safety Bernard Pollard, who spent the last two seasons in Houston, is a physical hitter who should fit nicely in the Ravens' scheme alongside Ed Reed. Last season Pollard made 111 tackles and forced four fumbles in 15 games. (He was also fined $40,000 for a hit on Tennessee receiver Justin Gage). During Thursday's practice -- his first with the Ravens - he intercepted a pass from rookie Tyrod Taylor.
Looking At The Schedule ...

With the Ravens getting the NFC West and four games against transitioning teams in Cleveland and Cincinnati, 11-5 feels right. Of particular interest are Baltimore's Week 1 and 9 matchups with the Steelers, Week 4 at home against the Jets, Week 14 at home against the Colts, and Week 15 at San Diego. These five games should say everything about the long-term prospects of the 2011 Ravens.

Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... z1Wa5mlsE2 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/damon_hack/08/05/ravens-postcard/index.html#ixzz1Wa5mlsE2)

fordfixer
08-31-2011, 01:26 AM
Damon Hack
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... fl_t11_a11 (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/damon_hack/08/24/bengals.postcard/index.html?sct=nfl_t11_a11)

SI.com has dispatched writers to report on training camps across the country. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
Where's SI.com?

I just missed the Bengals at their training camp home in Georgetown, Ky., but I caught up with them on Friday upon their return to Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. The middle of the Bengals locker room was crowded with the temporary stalls that scream summertime and overcrowded rosters. The image always tells a powerful story. A lot of these players won't be here in a couple weeks. Even rookie quarterback Andy Dalton had his belongings in a temporary stall. Call it paying dues. He'll move to a permanent stall soon enough. It might be his only comfort this season.
Three Observations

1. Where have you gone, Ochocinco? Just by habit, I walked into the Bengals locker room and looked toward the right side, middle of the room, where Chad Ochocinco once held court. He's gone now, and so is the "retired" Carson Palmer, two of the more identifiable Bengals of recent vintage and, really, of all time. No more Ochocinco manning the stereo. No more Palmer sitting at his stall in the front, right corner of the room. The vibe feels different. It is different. "We still have a good locker room and good players," center Kyle Cook pointed out, looking around the room. "We still have the guys like [guard] Bobbie Williams and [tackle] Andrew Whitworth and [running back] Ced [Benson]." Of the absence of Ochocinco and Palmer, Cook said, "Them being gone, it's tough because they were good players, but this is a new year. It's a totally new team, and we've got to move on." The Bengals really have.

2. Jay Gruden will bring energy -- and long work hours -- to his role as Bengals offensive coordinator. And with a rookie quarterback, he will need it. I met Jay for the first time last year while I was moonlighting as a sideline reporter for the United Football League, and I immediately recognized the focus and determination that runs through the Gruden family tree (Jay is Jon's younger brother). Though not nearly as animated as Jon, Jay is a coach's coach who loves to talk about the intricacies of the offensive game. (He is installing the West Coast offense in Cincinnati). He played quarterback at Louisville, starred in the Arena Football League as a player and coach, and was an offensive assistant on Jon's Buccaneers team that won Super Bowl XXXVII over the Oakland Raiders. In my year covering the UFL, Jay coached the Florida Tuskers to the title game, losing to Jim Fassel's Las Vegas Locos.

I asked Jay about taking on his new role with a rookie quarterback, and he emphasized how well Dalton was digesting the verbiage of a complex offense. "He's handling all of the audibles and all of the good things that you have to do as a quarterback," Gruden said. "He's a calm, cool customer right now. We definitely like what we see in his progression." One of the big questions will be how much the Bengals max protect versus how much they turn their weapons loose. "Especially with the exotic blitzes you see on second and long and third down, the problem is when you max protect, you don't get anybody out [on routes] hardly, and if [the defense] plays Cover 2 man or drops eight [defenders], you've got problems," Gruden said. "We have to have a good combination of both."

That Dalton's first two preseason games were against the Detroit Lions -- who unleashed Ndamukong Suh on him -- and the New York Jets will only help him in the long run, Gruden guessed. "Let's see worst-case scenarios for him and prepare and show him what it's going to be like in the regular season," Gruden said. "It's not going to be easy any week, any game that we play. He's going to see some things, take his licks, get up and come back at 'em."

3. Dalton is going to love throwing the football to A.J. Green. The rookie wide receiver from Georgia stands 6-foot-4 and is already making an impression on the coaching staff. "He's the real deal," Gruden said. "So far he's everything as advertised." Gruden says the biggest adjustment Green is going to have to make as a pro is using receiver fundamentals to combat the best defensive backs in the world. "He's going to see some different looks," Gruden said. "He's been able to use his raw talent to get open his whole career. Now he's going to have to make sure his depth and his routes are consistent, to set up people, and find holes. That's going to take some time, but as far as raw talent goes, he's a special character."
Step On Up

Cedric Benson, running back. Two years ago, Benson led a renaissance in Bengals football. He had 301 carries for 1,251 yards in helping lead Cincinnati to the playoffs. Last season, he carried the ball 20 more times but had 140 fewer rushing yards. With a rookie quarterback under center, Benson's production will be the key to the Bengals' offensive success. "Cedric hopefully is going to be a major part of the offense," Gruden said. "It opens up the play action and bootlegs and all that. Without the running game, our playbook diminishes considerably. [Benson] is very, very important."
New Face, New Place

Nate Clements, cornerback. Clements grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and played college football at Ohio State. And after 10 seasons in Buffalo and San Francisco, he is happy to be playing in his native state. He also noted that rumors of the Bengals' demise are greatly exaggerated. "Two years ago, this team swept the division," Clements said. "We have what it takes. It's been proven and guys realize that. Success doesn't discriminate against anybody. With winning comes confidence. That's the key, to start fast, win games and that breeds confidence within the group. This is a young, talented team. I'm excited."
Looking At The Schedule ...

Cincinnati opens the regular season as it should -- against intrastate and division rival Cleveland at Browns Stadium. For the two teams chasing the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, the game should reveal plenty about their prospects in 2011. None of the Bengals' first five opponents (Browns, Broncos, 49ers, Bills and Jaguars) had a winning record in 2010. Of course, neither did the Bengals. With a rookie quarterback under center, the odds for a playoff season are long. Another losing season appears likely.

Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/w ... z1Wa6EDYvU (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/damon_hack/08/24/bengals.postcard/index.html#ixzz1Wa6EDYvU)

hawaiiansteel
08-31-2011, 01:34 AM
fordfixer, you are the best... :Cheers

fordfixer
08-31-2011, 02:11 AM
fordfixer, you are the best... :Cheers
Just trying to keep up with you :tt1 :tt1