Hampton, Hills and Humpal
...just my opinion
by Jim Wexell
From the notebook of a sportswriter who hasn’t seen much cohesion early in training camp:
• It’s almost expected of a former championship team that the older players would form an old-guard clique of leadership. Casey Hampton is one example.
• At the core of team leadership, Hampton is well liked and respected by his teammates. He’s a teddy bear off the field and a grizzly bear on it. But players at his position tend to lose it quickly, and the fading run defense last year must not be blamed solely on the loss of Aaron Smith. My guess is Hampton wasn’t his old self, and the lack of conditioning this offseason might only exacerbate the situation. That’s why it was critical for Mike Tomlin to intervene.
• Embarrassing? Yes, particularly to a core leader. But that’s why Tomlin’s presence at this point is so important. He’s the transition agent between the old and the new. By
striking at the heart of old-guard leadership, he went on the offensive for the sake of future cohesion. Hampton’s teddy bear-like personality changed overnight, and now
it’s Tomlin’s job to build his humiliated nose tackle back up.
• My guess is the reason Tomlin has been so assertive — even ruthless — this camp is it’s an attempt to knock the malaise from the ranks of the core of that Super Bowl team.
• No doubt the new guys are buying in. Guys like Willie Colon, Santonio Holmes, James Harrison, Ryan Clark, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons — they’re Tomlin guys. The only problem is they’ve never won anything. They may be buying in, but should we?
• If anyone can bring cohesion to a team that’s naturally split, it’s Tomlin. The guy’s scope, his range of intelligence, has been impressive. However, it’s a concern that he’s
taking on too much, such as screening media interview requests. While Art II is standing by with an ownership update, and Kevin Colbert is standing by with the scoop on a kid
punter from Shepherd U., Tomlin is deciding whether Wexell should talk to Fichtner about the progress of Rucker. Talk about your shortterm misery.
• Tomlin should delegate the menial stuff in order to get on with this business of “team building.”
• Cohesion is the No. 1 worry here. No. 2, once again, is the offensive line. It’s getting hammered early in camp.
• It must be remembered, though, that cohesion takes longer than a week to accomplish, whether it’s with the O-line or The Men as a whole.
• With one day — and not even a full day at that — to watch Eddie Drummond, I came away unimpressed. And if the rest of the return men are so lackluster that Drummond
was needed, it appears this area is concern No. 3 right now. I can’t see an average return man, who doesn’t play another position, taking a roster spot away from a Ryan McBean or a Darnell Stapleton just because he can catch the thing. That’s not enough.
• No one works harder every play of every practice than Chris Hoke. So I’m thinking this ordeal with Mighty Casey just might prove to be a blessing in disguise, considering the improvement that must be made at center this season.
• Imagine that. Depth on the defensive line saves the season.
• It’s become obvious that Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed can play this game a bit, so it’s another big score for a personnel department that rarely misses anymore on the first day of the draft.
• In that vein, Lawrence Timmons looks like a different player this year. He even looks taller, if that’s possible. I’m anxious to see him tackle. I know he can cover. I know he can blitz. But can he sort through the trash and find the ball carrier the way Larry Foote can?
• Not much else needs to be said about LaMarr Woodley. It’s obvious to even sportswriters that this guy’s as powerful a strongside OLB as this team has had. Ever.
• Bruce Davis could use some of that strength, but he has the passrush moves and the speed to become a force — in time.
• Tony Hills looks like John Jackson. He’s raw, but has a great build, long arms and quick feet. Mike Humpal is also making my team. He’s much quicker than expected and is as tough as they come. As for Dennis Dixon and Ryan Mundy, step up now or settle for a practice squad check later.