Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An FYI

In case you haven't noticed, the blog has been moved off of the Observer-Reporter's server. I'm told by our tech people that this is a safer route to take since apparently the blogs shut down more often when they are on somebody else's server. Because of that, you should re-bookmark this page – assuming you did to begin with – to make the blog easier to find.
Thanks
Dale

Early ending, Parker sits out

All the pressure was on Jeff Reed this afternoon as head coach Mike Tomlin told him Monday night that he would end practice about 45 minutes early Tuesday afternoon if Reed could make a 42-yard field goal.

The Pittsburgh Steelers placekicker did not let his teammates down, nailing the 42-yarder despite plenty of heckling from defensive players Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend.

Reed was mobbed by all 70 or so teammates after making the kick with chants of, “Reed, Reed, Reed,” breaking out.

The coach is getting soft in this second week of practice. That's a skipped morning session and three others cut early since the first week of boot camp.

The big news of the day was that running back Willie Parker joined those who were out of practice. Though Tomlin said the day off was just for rest, Parker did have a wrap on his left knee. Parker said it was no big deal, however.

Also sitting out practice were defensive ends Travis Kirshke and Chris Hoke, linebackers Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison and Derek Rehage, and offensive lineman Darnell Stapleton, who hyperextended his knee Monday.

With Parker out, the pecking order at running back went Najeh Davenport, Carey Davis, Kevan Barlow, Verron Haynes, Gary Russell, Larry Croom and John Kuhn. Kuhn did, however, work as the second-team fullback behind Dan Kreider.

Two new injuries

There wasn't much going on here this morning as it was another special teams practice.

If this team gives up a touchdown or its special teams play hurts it early in the season, you can expect a real uproar in the media, which has been forced to watch hour upon hour of this stuff.

The only real news of the morning was Travis Kirschke and Darnell Stapleton joining those who are among the walking wounded. We can assume that Kirshke – a veteran defensive end – sat out with his cranky back, while Stapleton – a rookie guard – was getting work done on his left knee.

Verron Haynes was back at practice this morning, while James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Derek Rehage remain out.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Saint

Apparently Brian St. Pierre’s parents were in town today as St. Pierre was given two opportunities to run a two-minute offense Monday afternoon at Saint Vincent College.

Both times, St. Pierre led the offense to touchdowns and looked relatively sharp in doing so.

In his first attempt – working against the second-team defense – St. Pierre completed his first two passes – to Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes – before throwing wide of Willie Reid, who couldn’t get his feet inbounds to make the catch.

A draw to Carey Davis was blown up for a 4-yard loss, but St. Pierre completed a pass to Reid to put the ball at the 8. He then completed a 6-yard pass to Holmes at the 2 before throwing incomplete on a fade pass to Holmes. The pass was broken up by Anthony Madison.

Kevan Barlow then took the ball in from two yards out for the score.

Working against the No. 3 quarter defense, St. Pierre had an even easier time. After a pair of incompletions, he completed a 30-yard pass to Walter Young at the 10. He then went back to Young on the next play, finding the 6-4 receiver in the back of the end zone. Young did an outstanding job of getting both feet in bounds and looked better than he ever has in his previous camps here.

James Harrison, Verron Haynes, Lawrence Timmons and Derek Rehage did not practice this afternoon. Haynes was held out as a precaution to make sure his surgically repaired knee doesn’t act up, while the team is trying to figure out a way for Rehage to get back to work with a cast on his surgically repaired thumb.

Monday, Monday

Mike Tomlin apparently liked what he saw from the Steelers over the weekend. He let the boys out of practice early Monday morning.

The Steelers released wide receiver Chris Jackson – a Milsaps product – and re-signed Gerran Walker, who had been working with them in the offseason before getting released July 19. Apparently, with Santonio Holmes back , the Steelers felt they didn’t need another return man such as Jackson.

Speaking of return men, the punt return guys were Holmes, Reid, Cedrick Wilson, Jovon Johnson and Eric Shelton. No Ricardo Colclough for the second straight day. Who said this coaching staff didn't know what it was doing?

Kendall Simmons and Tomlin talked for about 10 minutes during practice. Simmons' blood sugar was low and Tomlin was asking him about it.

Walter Young caught my eye today when the team was working on its red zone offense. The 6-4 Young snatched a couple of Charlie Batch passes out of the air for touchdowns and looked good doing so. Maybe he could be like Cris Carter – you know, all he does is catch touchdown passes.

James Harrison was out of action again this morning and LaMarr Woodley was at left outside linebacker, with Clark Haggans sliding over to Harrison’s spot.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Goal line ending

Mike Tomlin called the troops together before the final session of Sunday afternoon's practice. As has been the case throughout this camp, we’re not quite sure what to expect in these situations. In this instance, he was calling the boys together to let them know to keep things clean in their final drill - goal line.

Setting up at the 2, the first-team offense tried a dive by Willie Parker. He was stuffed cold by nose tackle Casey Hampton for no gain.

On the second attempt, the pitch went to Parker, running left, who made it into the end zone untouched.

Next, it was Najeh Davenport’s turn. He took the handoff off right tackle and was stopped intially by the duo of Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor – high and low – before the rest of the defense came in to clean things up.

Hampton made the big move after that, switching over to offense, where he lined up at fullback in front of Davenport. The play went behind right guard and Hampton hit the hole full speed, running into linebacker Clint Kriewaldt. It was a wasted effort as Davenport was stopped at the 1.

After that, it was defensive end Brett Keisel’s turn to line up with the other side. Keisel set up on next to left tackle and ran a drag across the end zone and Batch lofted a pass that Keisel hauled in along the back line with two defenders in tow.

With the defense ahead three stops to two scores, the next play went to Carey Davis. Davis took the pitch to the right, but was stopped by Rian Wallace and William Gay at the 1.

James Harrison missed practice today with what Tomlin deemed a rib injury. Interestingly enough, instead of moving Arnold Harrison into the starting lineup, the team decided instead to move Clark Haggans to right outside linebacker and insert LaMarr Woodley in at left outside linebacker.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

What I've learned

I'm back in Washington today, so I won't be attending Saturday afternoon's practice. It's the first one I've missed in this camp, so cut me a little slack. Everybody else out here - save my good friend Jim Wexell - takes regular days off. I don't, but I was called back to work in the office tonight. Guess you'll have to complain to the powers that be here at the paper about that one.

Anyway, since I'm not witnessing practice today, I thought it would be a good time to update you on the youngesters I've seen that I like.

Big tackle Jason Capizzi has shown me something as a blocker. He's got good feet and has held his own blocking both James Harrison and Brett Keisel.

Carey Davis, the first-year running back out of Illinois, is getting a strong look from the team. He's lining up as a wing on the line for the first team punt coverage unit and Friday night they started looking at him as a fullback as well. That has to mean the kid has a shot.

On the other hand, Kevan Barlow looks like he's got nothing in the tank. That, coupled with what I learned about his lack of character, leads me to believe he has not shot of making this team.

New punter Daniel Sepulveda kicks the ball a very, very long way. In fact, I'd be tempted if I were the Steelers, to have him drop kick the ball on kickoffs rather than have Jeff Reed tee it up. His leg is that strong. He's also had no trouble as the holder, something that cost Mike Barr the job last year in favor of Chris Gardocki.

Friday night lights

Both players who were on the Physically Unable to Perform List made it back to practice before Santonio Holmes. That can’t be a good sign for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Verron Haynes and Derek Rehage were activated from the PUP list for Friday night’s practice, while Holmes and Lawrence Timmons, the team’s past two first-round picks, were out of action again.

Ron Stanley looked good in backs on backers drills, the best he’s ever looked in that drill.

Kevan Barlow looked lost at times as a blocker.

Young Carey Davis, who is now also seeing time at fullback, also looked good.

Nate Washington has to get more aggressive over the middle. During passing drills, Tyrone Carter stepped in from of Washington to pick off a pass from Charlie Batch. Washington was looking around for a pass interference call that wasn’t going to come. He didn’t fight for the ball.

Gary Russell also continues to look good running the ball. He made a special cutback on one play, breaking the play to the backside.

The first-team offense looked sharp in red zone, scoring touchdowns on three of five plays versus the first-team defense.

Hines Ward caught a 16-yard TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger, who then threw TD passes to Cedrick Wilson and Heath Miller. Roethlisberger looked pretty sharp.

Rookie defensive end Derrick Jones showed some stuff working against Chris Kemoeatu in one-on-one rushing drills, beating Kemoeatu on back-to-back plays – one of which was a straight slap down.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Isn't that special

It seems even the players and some coaches are getting a little tired of the specials teams work that has been going on here at the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.

Most of the offensive line, all of the quarterbacks, wide receiver Hines Ward and rookie linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who’s out with a groin injury, left practice after just 10 minutes Friday morning to go watch film. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and line coach Larry Zierlein were leading the troops off. I’m not sure where Timmons fits into that group, however.

The defensive line - save rookies Ryan McBean and Derrick Jones – also got a get out of jail early card and left halfway through the practice to go watch film.

Santonio Holmes and Verron Haynes were both sliding well working out together on the side and it can’t be much longer for them to get out on the playing field.

That's about all I've got this morning. It was just an hour long practice and the rain is coming.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

More hits than errors

It’s now official, first-round pick Lawrence Timmons is out of action for at least a while after aggravating the groin injury that kept him out of mini-camp and OTAs.

Timmons said the injury was the result of two-a-days, while head coach Mike Tomlin said it was a twinge Timmons felt in his groin. Neither would give a timetable on the rookie’s return, though.

Arnold Harrison took Timmons’ spot with the No. 2 defense at ROLB.

There were some big hits delivered today.

For the second day in a row, Anthony Smith leveled Willie Reid after a reception, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

Just as impressive was running back John Kuhn’s hit on defensive tackle Scott Paxson. Kuhn lowered his shoulder and blasted Paxson to the ground.

Over in the offensive line-defensive line drills, Trai Essex showed off a solid punch, nailing Brett Keisel on the snap and knocking Keisel to the ground. Essex actually looked good today. Maybe the light is going on.

In fact, the entire second team line looked strong. Willie Colon took LaMarr Woodley off the snap and pancaked him to his back. When the two lined up again, Colon again slapped Woodley backwards.

Chris Kemoeatu also looked good.

There will be fireworks following Friday night's practice at Latrobe Area High School. But the Steelers haven't needed any fireworks yet. With all the hitting they've done, they've provided their own fireworks.

Maybe the city of Latrobe, which benefits from the nominal admission fee to the practice, is hoping to draw away some of that Pirates/Wild Things crowd.

First injury

The first injury of this Pittsburgh Steelers training camp reared its ugly head Thursday and it’s somebody the team can’t afford to miss much time.

First-round pick Lawrence Timmons aggravated his groin injury that kept him out of the team’s offseason workouts midway through Thursday morning’s practice and spent the remainder of the session with trainers John Norwig and Ryan Grove testing the injury.

There’s no initial prognosis, but the injury didn’t seem serious and Timmons looked to be staying off the field more as a precaution than anything. But given the fact that he missed all of the OTAs and most of mini-camp, it’s certainly something that is going to hold him back in terms of his growth as a player.

The injury came just a few plays after Timmons, a linebacker, made his first big play of this camp. Dropping into coverage, Timmons jumped a pass in the flats in zone coverage and picked off the Charlie Batch ball, making a juggling catch along the sidelines.

The highlight of the morning was a new twist on the backs on backers pass-rush, pass-protection drill. This time, it was safeties and nickel backs rushing the running backs.

The offense looked to have gotten the better of it, but Troy Polamalu and Anthony Smith were everything but unblockable, beating practically everybody they went up against.

Polamalu even beat unofficial blocking champion Dan Kreider in a heavyweight matchup. He uses a variety of spin moves and looks more like a defensive end rushing rather than a safety.

Smith, meanwhile, was just explosive, running through people to get to the QB. He hits like a truck.

The offensive star of the drill was Carey Davis. The first-year running back went 5-0 in the drill, even stopping Smith on the final attempt of the drill. Smith slipped coming in and never really made it to Davis with any force, but the young back already had stoned Ricardo Colclough, Bryant McFadden, Harrison Smith and Deshea Townsend.

Perhaps that’s why Davis is the only surprise player on the No. 1 punt coverage team – where he plays one of the wings.

QB Ben Roethlisberger looked sharper today. He made a great pass deep over the middle while rolling to his right to Hines Ward. Ward had gotten behind the safeties and the duo made it look easy.

Ryan Clark was back working with the No. 1 Okie base defense this morning.

Also of note is that sources tell me that running back Kevan Barlow, signed as a possible backup to Willie Parker, is the worst character guy the Steelers have had since this source has been here. That dates back nearly 10 years.

The players are also upset that they do not have a scheduled day off in the first two weeks of camp. They're not complaining publicly about it - yet.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Trouble for tight ends

It was tight ends attempting to block linebackers one-on-one in a running drill that caught my eye early on in Wednesday afternoon’s practice.

And boy, do the Steelers’ young tight ends have a ways to go as run blockers.

James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley pretty much dominated whoever they lined up against, with only Heath Miller and Jerame Tuman holding their own at the point of attack.

Jon Dekker pretty much got tossed around by whomever he faced and Cody Boyd got a couple of pretty good chewing outs from coach James Daniels after allowing his man to slip off blocks.

Matt Spaeth was also uneven in his blocking, though he did win his individual matchup a couple of times.

Spaeth also got an earful from Daniels and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians when the team broke for 9-on-9 inside running when he lined up at the wrong position, causing the team to re-huddle.

The only change in the lineup this afternoon was Anthony Smith replacing Ryan Clark at free safety. But as I reported this morning, those two will rotate on a practice-by-practice basis.

The team spent a good portion of today’s practice working on its two-minute offense and defense. In both cases, the defense kept the offense out of the end zone, though both were in field goal range.

The first-team offense, however, blew any chance for a score. On fourth down and six from the 13 with eight seconds to go, both Alan Faneca and Marvel Smith false started, causing the clock to be run down for zero. Those are the kind of kinks that need to be worked out now.

Santonio Holmes and Verron Haynes are still out.

Garbage time

In a practice dominated by special teams, the story of the morning for the Pittsburgh Steelers involved … garbage cans?

The old throwing the ball from different distances into a garbage can made a comeback here Wednesday morning as the quarterbacks – with nothing better to do while the rest of the squad worked on special teams – had a little competition trying to throw the ball into a can.

It was a drill made famous here during the Kevin Gilbride days as offensive coordinator. But new offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wasn’t working on the drill so much for skill – though obviously some is involved – as much as for fun.

In fact, it wasn’t only the quarterbacks who got into the action as Arians and a number of other coaches got into the action as well, scoring three points for hitting the can on the fly and five for a slam dunk. Hines Ward, who had worked as the QBs receivers while the rest of the group practiced special teams, also got into the action, as did Santonio Holmes, who is still out after having his undisclosed surgery.

The one good thing that came out of the game was Holmes showing off his throwing accuracy. He hit the can a number of times and put one in, showing better touch than many of the others who attempted it. Since head coach Mike Tomlin was on hand watching that rather than yet another special teams practice, maybe he saw some possibilities for Holmes to run some gadget plays.

Down on the other field, special teams coach Bob Ligasheshky was having his run of the morning as the team focused on kickoff returns and coverage.

The primary kick returners were Chris Jackson, Najeh Davenport, Dan Shelton, Cedrick Wilson and Willie Reid. No Ricardo Colclough here.

The first-team coverage and kickoff units included a number of starters or possible starters: James Harrison, Heath Miller, Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden and Anthony Smith among them.

But really, the morning hour practice was so meaningless for many of the players that the entire offensive line cleared out after 45 minutes of standing around, while Ward also called it quits early, giving up on the garbage can football game with 10 minutes to go – mainly because he was well behind the other competitors.

One nugget of news I gleaned this morning was that despite Tomlin saying that Ryan Clark will be the No. 1 free safety coming in, he and Smith will rotate with the first team defense throughout camp until one wins the starting job.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rainy day afternoon

After getting beat up in their morning practice, the Pittsburgh Steelers caught a break from Mother Nature Tuesday as an afternoon rainstorm moved their second session to Saint Vincent College’s gymnasium.

The indoor practice meant no pads and no hitting as Mike Tomlin led the team through a glorified walkthrough.

The only news of the session was that running back Verron Haynes, who’s on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list while recovering from knee surgery, took part in it.

Or did he?

“I was just getting out there and doing a little something,” said Haynes. “I got in there a little just playing around. I didn’t really practice.”

In fact, according to Tomlin, Haynes didn’t do anything at all, despite running some patterns out of the backfield and catching some passes.

“He’s on the PUP list,” said Tomlin. “He didn’t do anything today.”

After a couple of fumbled snaps in the morning session, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spent some extra time working with centers Chukky Okobi and Sean Mahan on the side while the rest of the team practice a fake field goal play.

Roethlisberger also worked extra with running back Willie Parker on pass catching, throwing Parker about 30 passes at different heights and angles.

First-round pick Lawrence Timmons, meanwhile, lined up with the second team base defense at right outside linebacker, moving ahead of Arnold Harrison at that spot behind James Harrison.

Morning has broken

So much for the easy stuff.

While Monday’s run test may have been easier than what many of the players expected, Tuesday’s opening practice of training camp for the Pittsburgh Steelers involved hitting - and plenty of it.

After some position drills, head coach Mike Tomlin brought the linebackers and running backs together for a little backs on backers – something that had never been done in the morning drills under Bill Cowher.

By my scoring, the offense won the drill by a slight margin, with undrafted rookie running back Gary Russell showing very good skills as a blocker on blitz pickup. Russell stoned Clint Kriewaldt, Lawrence Timmons, Larry Foote and Richard Koonce in his one-on-one blocking, showing good leverage.

On the defensive side, James Harrison, as usual, looked good in this drill, dominating Willie Parker, Kevan Barlow, Larry Croom and getting good pressure on Najeh Davenport despite being fought to a draw. That’s four experienced NFL running backs Harrison went up against.

Davenport had the drill’s most embarrassing moment, getting run over by rookie linebacker LaMarr Woodley on the final repetition of the drill for a pancake into the quarterback.

After that, it was on to 10 minutes of 9-on-9 inside running drills with only the corners and wide receivers not taking part. There was plenty of hitting here and it almost looked like a goal-line drill with its intensity and hitting.

Team portion of the morning practice came next, with the only notable moments being fumbled center exchanges by Ben Roethlisberger and Chukky Okobi, and later by Sean Mahan and Charlie Batch.

Nate Washington opened at wide receiver in place of Santonio Holmes, who’s out after having some kind of minor surgical proceedure. Holmes was at practice and is moving around fine, so he shouldn’t be out long.

During punt drills, the return men were Washington, Willie Reid, Dan Sheldon, Cedrick Wilson, Jovon johnson, Chris Jackson and, yes, Ricardo Colclough. Only Wilson mishandled a punt, though.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Opening salvo

So much for the tougher training camp.

Mike Tomlin had promised a more difficult training camp. And maybe that will be the case.

But Monday's run test certainly wasn't more difficult than Bill Cowher's.

Cowher's test consisted of 14 timed 40-yard sprints, something that always tested players.

Tomlin's test of 16 110-yard runs at mid-speed seemed more difficult at first glance, but wasn't so in reality.

In fact, it was so easy, he stopped the drill after 14.

We'll see what happens with the rest of camp.