Man, could you picture Harrison wrapping up the new punter?!.... Poor guy probably didn't know whether to wind his watch or light a cigar!...
Hits keep coming for Steelers' karma
Thursday, July 31, 2008
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Maybe it was just the negative momentum that has been building within Steelers news cycles, but, when a high snap from center left the club's new punter in the maw of James Harrison here yesterday morning, you couldn't help but flash back to Harrison's rough justice with a Cleveland fan who'd come onto the field a couple of years ago.
In that case, perhaps you'll remember, Harrison grabbed the trespasser with both arms, turned him downside up and planted him like a sugar maple in the rich Ohio soil.
Fortunately for the Steelers' fast-fraying training-camp roster, the Pro Bowl linebacker released Paul Ernster playfully, a bored cat fooling with a dazed mouse, and the personnel department exhaled collectively.
The Steelers truly didn't need additional punter breakage yesterday, the day after Daniel Sepulveda discovered that his anterior cruciate ligament was no longer fully contiguous, nor did they need any bad news to pile on top of the physically unable to perform (PUP) status of All-Pros Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu, joined by fellow PUPster Chris Kemoeatu, and most recently, the exit from yesterday's practice by second-round draft pick Limas Sweed via motorized cart.
Hampton is enduring with good humor a kind of public humiliation over his weight problem, and, while I'm all for sending a message, having the little kids bounce up and down on him as part of the NFL Experience is a little over the top, no?
And have you heard the franchise might be for sale?
Yeah, there's that, too.
All of that framing the general emotional climate of Mike Tomlin's second training camp, it's no wonder people are starting to look for good news in places more commonly ignored. I'm wondering this week, for example, if there might not be some soothing karma in the person of kick-returner Jeremy Bloom, who likely isn't in the running for anything other than Least Conspicuous Steeler, but you never know.
"Those are the kind of guessing games that I always try to stay away from," said Bloom, a candidate for the punt-return gig whose resume is delightfully unconventional. He is a champion skier (Salt Lake City Olympics, 2002) and a male model. "I just try to concentrate on myself and what I can do with the opportunity. I might not have that pedigree of a typical returner, but I can do it and I think I can help as a receiver, too."
In a week in which no one has exactly sprung to the top of the depth chart in the return game, Bloom's quickness stood out. He's got a little wiggle, and his speed is the stuff of Big 12 legend.
After deferring his scholarship to Colorado so that he could make the U.S. Olympic ski team, Bloom returned a punt 75 yards to score the first time he touched the football in college. His biggest plays seemed to come against the fastest opponents, making him conspicuous enough that the Philadelphia Eagles took him in the fifth round of the 2006 draft. He tore a hamstring, got released a year later, and still is working through the difficult physiological transition that afflicts everyone who goes from being a world-class skier to a pro football player, all one of them.
"They couldn't be more different," Bloom said of his two sports. "It's not like comparing football and baseball or football and track. In skiing, you don't run, so all of the little muscles that enable you to run, you kind of take them for granted. And I did."
The Steelers took for granted a year ago that Allan (rhymes with but is not a synonym for awesome) Rossum would solve their disastrous punt-return profile, but Rossum's average of 6.4 yards was downright feeble compared to the league average (9.1), to say nothing of any outrageous comparison to people like Chicago's Devin Hester (15.5) and Buffalo's Roscoe Parrish (16.3). Only the Cincinnati Bengals and Oakland Raiders, who won 11 games between them, averaged fewer yards on punt returns last year than the Steelers.
Bloom settled under punts again yesterday with rookie corner Travis Williams, third-year enigma Willie Reid, who can't seem to catch one without an audible clack from the front of his shoulder pads, and Santonio Holmes, the last human to return a punt for a touchdown in a Steelers uniform (Dec. 17, 2006 at Carolina). Holmes isn't taking a regular turn in that rotation and doubts Tomlin is going to deploy him as such.
Mewelde Moore, the free-agent signee from the Minnesota Vikings, can return kicks and might make a roster spot for Bloom impossible, but he missed practice yesterday with an illness Tomlin didn't identify.
Based on the current karma, perhaps it was an acute ennui.