Looking Closer At Some Steelers Training Camp Battles
Looking at Steelers Training Camp
WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, 2012
Today, the Pittsburgh Steelers started their 2012 Training Camp at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA.
In the past week, the Steelers resigned left tackle Max Starks (which I will touch more on later in this article) and first round draft pick David DeCastro.
And there was also one big omission today, Mike Wallace failed to report, and until he reports to camp the Steelers will not negotiate on the long-term deal that he covets.
This week, Mike Tomlin signed a three year extension to remain the Head Coach in the Steel City.
Things are looking good going into training camp for the Steelers, so lets look at some of the battles that are going to be happening in camp this year.
Mike Adams vs Max Starks, Left Tackle: Mike Adams, the rookie second round draft pick, is currently penciled in as the starter at left tackle. However, in a slightly surprising move this past week, the team resigned Max Starks who started at that position last season but was injured in the playoff loss to the Denver Broncos.
So why did the Steelers resign Starks? Well it could be for one or more reasons -- a backup who can play both tackle positions so if there is an injury to either starting tackle the entire line doesn't have to be reshuffled, they aren't sure if Adams can start at left tackle this season so if they don't like what they see in camp Starks can step in, or they have already changed their mind on Adams starting and will place Starks in that spot quickly in camp.
Whatever the reason is, Mike Adams now has some competition at left tackle in camp. Mike Tomlin will put his best five linemen out there, be it Starks or Adams.
Keenan Lewis vs Cortez Allen vs Curtis Brown, Cornerback: William Gay, last season's starter across from Ike Taylor, left in free agency for Pittsburgh Wes......err, the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers didn't trade for a starter or pick anyone up in free agency, therefore they must believe that one of these three can start at that position.
I think that it's going to be Keenan Lewis that come out of this as the starter, and hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. That will leave Allen and Brown competing for the nickel corner spot.
However, while I feel Lewis will be starting this season, I wouldn't be surprised to see one of the other two possibly snagging the spot in preseason games if they do look better.
Jonathan Dwyer vs Baron Batch vs John Clay, Backup RB: It's basically known that Issac Redman is going to be the starter at the beginning of this season while Rashard Mendenhall recovers from a torn ACL. Depending on how Redman plays, Mendenhall may not get the starting job back.
So in camp, it's the battle to back up Redman. All three of these backs bring something different to the table. I think in the end, it will be Dwyer who is the backup to Redman, at least until Mendenhall returns from his injury.
Larry Foote vs Stevenson Sylvester vs Sean Spence, ILB: During the offseason, the Steelers released veteran inside linebacker James Farrior who had started in Pittsburgh since the 2002 season. Last year, it looked like he had lost a step. He just wasn't the same. So the Steelers released him because of that and to get under this season's salary cap.
His replacement will either be Larry Foote, who won a Super Bowl starting next to Farrior in 2005, or Stevenson Sylvester.
Foote has the experience, but he is considered a liability in pass coverage. He is also 32 years old, an age when many feel players outside of kickers, punters, and quarterbacks begin to decline on the field.
Sylvester is young and could turn out to be a good linebacker. He's shown a lot playing special teams and playing in limited rotation on defense.
Then you have the rookie, Sean Spence, who there have been reports during mini camps that he was wowing the coaches. He, in my opinion, was drafted as the eventual starter in the middle of the Steelers 3-4 defense next to Lawrence Timmons.
I think that Foote will be the starter at the beginning of the season, but that either youngster can end up unseating him if he doesn't play as well as the coaches are expecting him to this season.
Emmanuel Sanders vs Jerricho Cotchery, Wide Receiver: Yes, Mike Wallace did not report to training camp because he doesn't want to play under his restricted free agent tender. However, he's going to eventually show up and he will be starting. Across from him will be Antonio Brown.
So what's with this Sanders vs Cotchery thing you may be asking yourself? Well, the third receiver is very important in today's pass happy NFL. And while I expect new offensive coordinator to help fix the problems with the running game that the Steelers had last season, the nickel will still be used quite a bit.
Sanders has speed and a ton of talent. People were saying he'd be the starter across from Wallace. However, injuries have derailed him and he hasn't played an entire 16 game season yet in his career. If he can stay healthy, the sky is really the limit for this kid.
Cotchery is a veteran of eight seasons and has had only one 1000 yard season in his career. However, he reminds me a lot of Hines Ward where he isn't afraid to go across the middle and make the tough catches. He's going to do what's asked of him. Of his 16 receptions last season, 13 of them went for first downs. He's reliable when you need to move the chains.
In the end, I think Sanders wins the third receiver job as long as he stays healthy. He's got the talent, and the kid is fast. Trying to cover Wallace, Brown, and Sanders? Yeah, I don't think many teams have three corners that can do that.
It is now time to focus on climbing that stairway to our seventh Lombardi Trophy. Preparation for the 2012 NFL Season has now commenced. All I have to say now, is one phrase:
HERE WE GO STEELERS, HERE WE GO!
I'm curious if people think Sylvester really is starting material or if he's just a good back up to spell the starter from time to time and a good ST player?
Day one is in the books
Teresa Varley - Steelers.com
The Steelers held their first practice of training camp on Thursday afternoon, finishing up just before a massive storm came through the campus of St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.
“Good start for us today,” said Coach Mike Tomlin, who had to move his post-practice media availability inside because of the weather. “Thankfully the weather was cooperative and we were able to get our work in.
“I like how we started today. Our guys had a lot of energy. I’m not going to read too deeply into it. I like to fashion this group as a mentally tough group. We understand that this is just the beginning and we don’t have to trick ourselves into believing it’s something that it’s not. Good work today, a lot more ahead of us, and just getting acclimated to our environment is a big part of it.”
The team won’t have their first practice in pads until Saturday afternoon, but Tomlin thinks every time they take the field it is valuable.
“I think we’re going to have plenty of opportunities to evaluate them playing football,” said Tomlin. “I’m not as concerned about that as you might think.
“I’m just going to take advantage of the non-padded opportunities to teach skill development, technique and some of the nuances of the game to make sure there is an understanding of the game of football. Part of the evaluation is who knows how to play, who understands the game and there will be plenty of those opportunities and there will be plenty of padded opportunities to evaluate the actual play as well.”
* * *
Tomlin talked about reps the team’s rookie offensive linemen, including the top two picks David DeCastro and Mike Adams, are expected to get.
“We’re going to put them in obscure positions of course, some with the first group, some with the second group,” said Tomlin. “More than anything, it’s making sure they’re ready to go from an assignment standpoint. We acknowledge they missed some time because of the universities that they went to from an academic standpoint in the spring. We’re not going to allow that to be an excuse. They’re not either. We’ll get them acclimated and put them in some situations and get to know them. But obviously a big part of their evaluation, as is everyone’s, is what happens inside these preseason stadiums. That’s what’s awesome about preseason football for me. I’m an advocate of preseason football.”
* * *
From an injury standpoint, tight end Heath Miller left practice early with what Tomlin referred to as a “minor ankle injury.”
“We’ll see where he is but we don’t expect it to be significant,” said Tomlin.
In addition, rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu did not practice due to a foot injury.
“We evaluated that and that doesn’t appear to be significant either,” added Tomlin.
The Steelers hold their first open practice of training camp on Friday, July 27 at 2:55 p.m.
Will the Steelers Keep More Than Two Nose Tackles?
by Steely McSmash on Jul 27, 2012
Interesting proposition. While I think they can view McLendon as a nose tackle and a defensive end (in sub packages) and get him reps in both positions, it does make an interesting point to suggest keeping three pure nose tackles is a bit of a stretch.
I've been reading through all of the roster projections lately and have noticed that there's a lot of 3 NT rosters out there. I think the active roster will have no more than 2 guys who are solely nose tackles. Considering the number of snaps out of this position it seems ridiculous to carry 3. Considering that we've gone with 5 WR or 3 Safeties in the past. That's effectively 25-50 percent reserve in players (Needing 4 WR and 2 S on the field at once). Why would we have 200 percent reserve in nose tackles?
To review the players:
Casey Hampton: Restructured his contract to stay with the team. Coming off an ACL, currently on PUP. Conventional wisdom is that since he restructured, the gentlemanly thing for the misters Rooney to do would be to keep him around. He's clearly at the twilight of his career however. For a big guy coming off the injury, nothing is certain. There's been a lot written about how he only needs his knees to be 85% etc. Considering his issues being hit low on doubleteams last year, I can't say that I can buy that.
Steve McLendon: Curiously mis-listed on the official roster at 6-4 280 pounds for his entire career. He set the record straight in the media this spring claiming to weigh in at a lean 325 pounds. He's filled in capably for Casey when called upon. When Ta'Amu was drafted, DL coach Mitchell cautioned all and sundry to not look past McLendon. So he's a starter quality, dirt cheap young player with some experience, a good work ethic and the respect of the coaches.
Alameda Ta'Amu: This off season Ta'Amu started out as the must-have of the Steeler faithful. As a size/weight prospect he looks ideal for the role. Further studies (Baylor and Stanford games?) questioned his tenacity and conditioning. At the time he was seen as a first round prospect and seemed to quickly pick up the overvalued tag. At the Sr. Bowl he looked good at times in drills but wasn't head and shoulders above the rest. Post combine he seemed like the odd man out in the mock drafts as the Dontari Poe love affair burned long and strong right up to the draft. Ta'Amu slid to the 4th and the Steelers moved up a little to nab him. He certainly has the upside to be a future starter but he has the question marks to be a draft day bust as well. As a good player on a terrible Washington team, it's hard to say what we have in this guy.
Al Woods: 6-4, 307 Woods is more of a DE backup prospect but he might look to fill a Chris Hoke type role and be a backup across the line. He was originally drafted by the Saints and was cut at the end of camp. He signed with the Steelers PS then but was picked up by Tampa who cut him the following year. He was then picked up on waivers successively by the seahawks then the Steelers. He seems to garner some respect as a potential backup and should be in the mix with Corbin Bryant at the last DE spot. Some position flexibility on his resume might serve him well.
Kade Weston: Third year player signed off the street in January. He was drafted by the pats in '10 then spent the season on IR. He spent last year on the Colts PS. At 6-5 315 he has the size more typical of a 4-3 NT or a LDE in the 3-4. He's most likely just a camp body.
Ziggy Hood: not a contender for the role but a possible fill-in if needed for a couple of weeks. He's worked at the position this spring.
I think the likely course is that as Hampton as a well seasoned vet, knows what he needs to do to prepare and play so the team can afford to leave him on the PUP without worrying about him missing a beat. McLendon is clearly a lock as the only seasoned and healthy guy. The performance of Ta'Amu in camp is critical to how they handle Casey. If Ta'Amu flames out entirely, probably Hampton is off the PUP before the end of camp. Otherwise, I think they let Casey ride on the PUP in case of Injury then when it's time to activate him or release/IR him then they need to make the call on who to keep. Hard to guess whether Ta'Amu would make it though waivers to the PS but it seems doubtful. If I GMed another team and needed a good 3-4 D-lineman, I'd be sniffing all over the Steelers waiver wire.
Another interesting competition is at WR and this has nothing to do w/ Wallace but it could turn out that way.
Maze vs. Clemons. Possibly someone else. Clemons is a tall WR w/ speed. Maze is dynamic... almost makes me think of Antonio Brown
The pads go on at Steelers' training camp
July 28, 2012
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Maurkice Pouncey knows all about first impressions, especially impressive ones.
As a No. 1 draft choice in 2010, Pouncey's first day in pads at training camp was an eye-opening experience for all who witnessed his debut.
All, that is, except for defensive end Brett Keisel, who said he already knew what to expect from Pouncey before the Steelers arrived at training camp.
"I felt that way about Pouncey when we were in OTAs," Keisel said. "His explosiveness, his leverage, his technique -- a lot of those things are hard to coach. He came in doing those right away. He came in ready to go."
Today, much the same attention will be paid to the top two draft choices -- guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams.
After two days of light practices without pads, the Steelers will don full equipment for the first time and test the two prized rookies who were drafted to bolster an inconsistent offensive line and protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
DeCastro, in particular, will receive the bulk of the attention, primarily because he comes to training camp with a skill set and reputation similar to Pouncey -- tough, athletic, relentless, nasty.
"I know David's going to have a lot on his plate [today]," Pouncey said. "Everyone will be watching -- the media, the fans, family members, the coaches. He has a big eye on him."
"All eyes are going to be on him," said tackle Marcus Gilbert, a No. 2 draft choice in '11. "He's a first-round pick. He has to live up to his expectations. We brought him here for a reason, and he just has to show the coaches and everyone why they drafted him that high."
And what do the coaches want to see from their No. 1 draft choice?
"Him just playing physical," Pouncey said. "They don't care about anything else.
There's going to be mistakes at practice, but if he's out there dogging other guys, they'll love that."
That is DeCastro's calling card. Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who played against DeCastro at the University of Washington, said he never has seen a college lineman who stayed on his block and played through the whistle like the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder from Stanford.
DeCastro has been compared to Alan Faneca, a nine-time Pro Bowl guard who was the Steelers' No. 1 draft choice in 1998. But he has a chance to be just like Pouncey, who needed only one preseason game to work his way into the starting lineup.
Pouncey was the first rookie to start a season opener since Mike Tomlin became coach in '07.
"That's what's on you," DeCastro said Friday between practices without pads. "You have all the pressure and everyone watching you. All eyes are on you. You have to perform."
And what does DeCastro think he has to show the coaches immediately?
"That I can play the game, that I can hang with the best," said DeCastro, the 24th overall selection in the draft. "It's hard to show anything or earn a spot without playing in pads."
And it starts today.
Tomlin said he always is excited to practice in pads, but downplayed the significance of the moment and declined to refer to it as the official beginning of training camp.
"You can point to the beginning whenever you want," Tomlin said.
"The reality is, we're not into making quick decisions. Our goal is to put them in as many situations over an extended period of time to get legitimate information."
Perhaps, but there is no mistaking the anticipation of seeing DeCastro and Adams in pads.
Right now, both rookies are working with the second unit -- DeCastro at right guard, Adams at left tackle. It will be only a short amount of time before DeCastro moves up and replaces Ramon Foster as the starting right guard.
Adams might have a little longer wait, especially after the Steelers re-signed Max Starks, who started 12 games at left tackle in 2011.
"Whenever you put the pads on, you want to show you can play real football," said Adams, who grew up in Farrell and played at Ohio State. "We're out here in shorts and stuff, and the game is not played in shorts. You want to show you can actually play the game."
They get their chance today.
NOTES -- Jason Worilds, the backup at both outside linebacker positions, is expected to be out two to four weeks because of a left wrist injury. Worilds is one of six players on the physically-unable-to-perform list and cannot practice until he is removed from the list. ... Tight end Heath Miller (ankle), punter Jeremy Kapinos (back) and Ta'amu (foot) did not practice. ... The afternoon practice today, slated for 2:55 p.m., is open to the public. ... Tomlin, when asked about the condition of running back Jonathan Dwyer, who hasn't always reported to camp in top shape: "He's better than he's been."
Kapinos being out with back issues should give Drew Butler a chance to open some eyes now that he'll be getting all of the punting duties for however long Kapinos is out.
Here are five observations from training camp:
1. Wait and see: The Ben Roethlisberger-Todd Haley relationship ought to work, but no one will really know until the regular season begins. Both have their philosophies for offensive success. Roethlisberger is one of the league's five best quarterbacks and loves to control games through the air. Haley likes a good passing game, but his days with Bill Parcells taught him the value of running the ball. Working with Kurt Warner in Arizona taught Haley to trust the quarterback's throwing intuitions. Roethlisberger's incredible throwing display in the offseason and on the first day of camp has reminded Haley that he doesn't need to call a Jeff Hostetler game plan. Meanwhile, the Steelers' quarterbacks understand the wait-and-see approach. Roethlisberger and backups Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich have 34 years of combined NFL experience. Theoretically, under Haley's scheme, we'll see a little more running, more throws to the tight end and more short passes to set up the play-action.
2. An opening at RB: Running back Rashard Mendenhall is expected to be on the physically unable to perform list until at least October recovering from his knee reconstruction. Although he is running well straight ahead, he's not ready to make the cuts needed to be an every-down runner. Haley will take a running-back-by-committee approach into the season, and Isaac Redman will be the chairman. Just because Redman was undrafted doesn't mean he's not good. As many as seven or eight undrafted running backs could start in the NFL this season. Redman is that big "north-to-south'" runner who can pound the ball on early downs and if the Steelers have the lead in the fourth quarter. Redman came to camp light. "I want to be 'all-the-way Redman' this year instead of 'red zone Redman,' so I'm trying to get into the 230-pound range,'' Redman said. Jonathan Dwyer is working behind him but doesn't seem to have the quickness needed. Baron Batch is a low draft choice who could beat Dwyer for backup duty. Keep an eye on Chris Rainey, a 5-foot-8, 178-pound scatback with incredible speed. He could be an exceptional threat on screen passes and throws into the flat.
The Steelers could change how they use tight ends this season, which might mean more catches for Heath Miller.
3. How will the tight ends be used? Parcells always had a tight end heavily involved in his offenses. Haley will keep that in mind as he looks at the skill sets of the Steelers. Heath Miller has had only one season in which he caught more than 51 passes, but don't be surprised if he catches 70 this season. It's a shame that Weslye Saunders will be suspended the first four games of the season. Saunders adds a Jermichael Finley look when the Steelers line up in two-TE sets. He's massive and can run. He can be flexed out like a slot receiver and be a matchup nightmare. Haley also recruited 6-8 tight end Leonard Pope from Kansas City, and he could be a factor as a backup.
4. A shored-up line: For years, Roethlisberger operated behind an offensive line scrambling to keep starters. Right guard David DeCastro and left tackle Mike Adams now form the foundation of what should be one of the NFL's best blocking units by 2014. But how quickly they will be incorporated this year? At the moment, DeCastro and Adams are working with the second team, a signal that rookies have to earn starting jobs. DeCastro should excel on running downs and learn how to be a good pass-blocker. Adams looks natural when he's going one-on-one against a pass-rusher. But a rookie tackle can be counted on to give up eight to 10 sacks. For example, look at the 49ers when they drafted Mike Iupati at guard and Anthony Davis at right tackle. The 49ers gave up 44 sacks that year. Roethlisberger has been sacked an average of 43.5 times a season the past six seasons. Willie Colon should do well at left guard if he stays healthy. Maurkice Pouncey is already one of the best centers in football. The Steelers just have to make sure DeCastro and Adams are ready. They have Trai Essex at left tackle until Adam is ready.
5. Depth at cornerback: Free agency wiped out two-thirds of their starting cornerback crew. Gone are Bryant McFadden and William Gay. Injuries caught up to McFadden last year, robbing him of speed and playing time. Gay left the Steelers to join the Cardinals, but his struggles in coverage had been exposed the past few years. That leaves 32-year-old Ike Taylor and 2009 draftee Keenan Lewis. Lewis could head into the season as the starter, but that might not last. Cortez Allen, 6-1 and long-armed, looks good in press man coverage and at worst is the team's third corner. The scouting department also feels good about Curtis Brown, a fourth-round pick from last year. For the first time in years, the Steelers look four deep at corner, but the question is whether the young corners can step up against top offenses.
Inside the ropes: Johnson improving as blocker
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Saturday, July 28, 2012
• Tight end David Johnson might not catch a lot of passes, but he proved on Saturday he’s vastly improved as a blocker. Johnson, who had 12 receptions and a touchdown last season, was dominant at fullback during blocking drills back-on-backers drill. With Heath Miller sitting out practice, Johnson stole the spotlight.
• Cornerback Curtis Brown, who was slowed some by nagging hamstring injuries last season, was working hard to make an impression. He has tried out on both flanks and turned in some duty as the nickel back. But he was working overtime on special teams, where he excelled as a rookie with a team-high 15 tackles.
• With money comes responsibility, and WR Antonio Brown was challenged by coach Mike Tomlin to fire up the receiving corps. He did so by reeling in an acrobatic catch, one topped only by a twisting, diving grab on a come-back route by Emmanuel Sanders, who is working with the first team during Mike Wallace’s holdout.
• Tomlin is fueled by enthusiasm and caged anger. So, he was pleased as guard Willie Colon ignited a brawl on the first snap of a controlled scrimmage. Colon tangled with a handful of defensive players, including LB Chris Carter.
• Ohio State products OT Mike Adams (2nd-round pick) and DE Cam Heyward (2011 first-rounder) reunited during an intense drill. Adams may have more to prove, but Heyward won a split decision.
• RB Baron Batch was in contact drills for the first time since suffering a season-ending knee injury during the final practice before last year’s preseason opener. Batch didn’t blink an eye in the back-on-backers drill. “I like that there was no hesitation in his play,” Tomlin said.
• Starting inside linebackers Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons didn’t overwhelm the coaches during blocking drills. A frustrated Foote pulled himself together after twice getting challenged by Tomlin. “We’re putting them in the process of them being in competitive situations,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, we won’t read much into it.”
Steelers’ Tomlin: ‘I set the schedule’ in camp
By Alan Robinson
Published: Saturday, July 28, 2012
Nose tackle Casey Hampton, recovering from a torn knee ligament, still intends to play in the Sept. 9 opener in Denver. The question is whether his body will allow it. He is on the physically unable to perform list and cannot practice, and there is no definitive return date.
“I just want to get it right and be right when I’m out there,” Hampton said. “I don’t want to be out there hobbling, messing around. I want to be out there ready to go.”
REINING IN RAINEY
Tomlin trotted out some of his preferred drills on the first day contact was permitted. But he pulled 5-foot-9 rookie Chris Rainey from the backs. versus ‘backers drill because cut blocking was not permitted.
“I’m not going to pull my boat with a Ferrari,” Tomlin said. “If he can’t cut in that drill, I’m not putting him in the drill, and obviously I don’t want him cutting LaMarr Woodley and others.”
Rainey showed off his impressive speed several times.
TOMLIN: ‘I SET THE SCHEDULE’
If there was any question who runs Steelers camp, coach Mike Tomlin quickly answered it.
Asked by a visiting reporter if anything has changed now that coordinator Todd Haley is setting up the daily schedule for the offense, Tomlin replied, without hesitation: “Nothing has changed. I set the schedule.”
LB Sean Spence (shoulder) was limited in some drills. … TE Heath Miller (ankle) remained out. … Blaine Stewart, the son of the late Bill Stewart, the former West Virginia coach, is one of the camp ball boys. … First-round draft pick David DeCastro practiced at times with the offensive line starters, but second-rounder Mike Adams did not.
• “Man, he’s a Stanford kid, (so he’s) a lot smarter than the Florida guy.” — center Maurkice Pouncey, saying first-rounder DeCastro is ahead of where Pouncey was as a rookie two years ago.
• “We’re going to light up the scoreboard.” — guard Willie Colon, on the new Haley offense.
• “You’d see a ball in the air, and he’d be coming down with it against our starting defense. It just seemed like he kept making plays.” — GM Kevin Colbert, on wide receiver Antonio Brown making an impression as a sixth-round pick last season.
• “We can frame his story in that he’s a sixth-round pick, or he’s had three career starts. The reality is the guy’s been electric for us since he’s been here.” — Tomlin, on Brown’s rapid emergence.
• “Life.” — Tomlin, on what prompted Colon to tussle with linebacker Lawrence Timmons while blocking him upfield.