Thursday, August 30, 2007

What I saw, Carolina

I would not want to be making the cuts at running back for the Steelers.

I wonder if the Steelers were featuring Verron Haynes a little Thursday night in an effort to drum up some trade interest.

At this point, Haynes – who certainly has talent and can play in this league – is the odd man out in the backfield.

© Love the quarter defense that caused David Carr to burn the Panthers' third timeout in the first quarter. Talk about confusion. The only two guys on the field who weren't moving were Aaron Smith a nose tackle and Troy Polamalu, who was standing over the left tackle.

© First round-pick Lawrence Timmons showed some flashes Thursday night after a dreadful game Sunday against Philadelphia. He still can't get off a blocker, though, something I saw as a problem with him in college.

Timmons is outstanding when he's out in space running. He sure looks like a 3-4 inside linebacker to me.

© Willie Reid, that's what we've been expecting out of you all preseason long. It's a shame the coach had to call you out to get that kind of effort.

© Am I the only one who hates it when the stadium sound effects guy makes the panther growl after a Carolina's defense gives up a positive gain?

On one play, Gary Russell got a 5-yard gain and the slappy sound effects guy hits the growl button. Hey stupid, watch a few football games.

© William Gay has made a lot of good plays this preseason. Failing to field a punt at the 1 with 3:43 left in the first half was not one of them.

© As a color man, Edmund Nelson is a pretty good insurance salesman. He must also be related to Bryan Randall as much as he talked about him.

© Jason Capizzi didn't do much to help himself make this roster. Then again, neither did Trai Essex.

© Nice hustle by Mike Lorello on forcing a fourth quarter fumble on a punt return. That's how a man fighting for a roster spot has to react.

© None of the young tight ends did anything too spectacular to make the Steelers notice them. Matt Spaeth makes this roster strictly because he was a third round-pick.

© Tough break for Marvin Philip, who was getting a look at guard again in an effort to win a roster spot before leaving the game with an injury. It was a good break for Chukky Okobi.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tuesday's update

Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel is appealing the $12,500 fine he received from the NFL for his hit on Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell two weeks ago.

Heath Miller (shoulder), Jerame Tuman (back) and wide receiver Hines Ward (broken nose) did not practice Tuesday. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Ward, who underwent minor surgery on the nose Tuesday, will likely play Thursday.

Tomlin said he will likely stick with his starters – with some exceptions – for one quarter in the game.

Tomlin said he challenged Willie Reid in front of the team to do a better job on punt returns. Reid was expected to bolster the team’s return game this season, but has struggled and is in danger of losing that job.

Monday, August 27, 2007

What I saw, Philadelphia

If Mike Tomlin is only going to keep one fullback on this roster, his decision is going to be difficult.

Both Dan Kreider and Carey Davis played well Sunday night, blocking with reckless abandon.

Davis was whistled for a holding penalty early in the game, but it certainly didn't look like a hold to me.

© Ben Roethlisberger will make a couple of plays per game that will make you look on and wonder how he did that.

Unfortunately, he'll also make a couple each game where you asked yourself why he did that as well.

His first quarter interception was one of the why plays.

A lot of times, those kind of passes fall harmlessly to the ground. But when they don't, they can lead to disaster.

He's got to limit those type of plays if he wants to take the next step to greatness.

© Tomlin's decision about the right side of his offensive line isn't going to be an easy one.

The starting right side of Kendall Simmons and Willie Colon looked OK pass blocking, but blah run blocking.

The second unit of Chris Kemoeatu and Max Starks looked OK run blocking and blah pass blocking.

It's not a decision I'd want to make at this point, but my guess is that Colon and Simmons open the season as the starters.

© Lawrence Timmons looked good running down to cover a punt late in the fourth quarter and he was certainly flying around the field, but it's obvious the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick has missed too much time to contribute much defensively this season.

He was out of position on more than one occasion in the fourth quarter, leading to some big plays.

© How does Chukky Okobi feel about losing the center job to Sean Mahan? Okobi was moping so much before Sunday night's game that he did not shake hands with any of the team's defensive starters when they were announced before the game, instead standing there with a long face.

Mahan, meanwhile, looks pretty limited at center. That could be a problem position for this team.

© At what point did the Steelers switch Ricardo Colclough's number to 15 and what number is Willie Reid now wearing.

If Reid isn't the punt returner on this team, he could be on the bubble to make this roster. And he's done nothing to prove that he deserves that job.

© Marvin Philip played extensively at left guard instead of center. That tells me the team is interested in keeping him over Okobi and wanted to see if he can handle another position if he is going to be active on game days.

© LaMarr Woodley could very well lead this team in sacks this season.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Trimming to 53

With just a few more days remaining before NFL teams must trim their rosters – to 75 on Aug. 28 and 53 by Sept. 1 – the Pittsburgh Steelers have a pretty good idea of who is going to be with them when they open the season at Cleveland Sept. 9.

But there are still some decisions to be made.

Here’s the way I feel the 53-man roster will shake out:

Quarterbacks (3): Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch are locks. Brian St. Pierre has played well enough this preseason to be close to one as well. Only a bad performance against Philadelphia could ruin that.

Running backs (5): Willie Parker, Najeh Davenport and yes, Carey Davis are locks. Gary Russell is close to one. He’s the second-best pure runner on this roster behind Parker. That will leave the coaching staff deciding between Verron Haynes and fullback Dan Kreider. Haynes will be the team’s third-down back, leaving Kreider on the outside looking in. Davis will handle the lead-blocking duties.

Wide receivers (5): Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Cedrick Wilson are locks. Willie Reid likely is as well, even though he hasn’t shown much as a return man this preseason. That leaves Nate Washington fighting with Walter Young for the final spot. Washington’s speed gives him the edge over Young’s size.

Tight end (3): One of the few no-brainers as Heath Miller, Jerame Tuman and Matt Spaeth get the nod here.

Offensive line (10): Starters Marvel Smith, Alan Faneca, Sean Mahan, Kendall Simmons and Willie Colon – yes, I believe Colon will be the opening day starter – are joined by Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Marvin Philip, Trai Essex and Jason Capizzi. Chukky Okobi gets the call from the Turk. Essex has been OK at guard, but mistake-prone at tackle. But he’s worth keeping around another year. Capizzi is on the bubble, but I don’t think the Steelers will be able to get him onto the practice squad.

Defensive line (7): Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Chris Hoke are locks. Travis Kirschke and his troublesome back likely are as well. Nick Eason and Ryan McBean will get the final two spots. McBean has promise and will get a year to learn the system and beef up a little. Shaun Nua, we hardly knew ya.

Linebackers (8): Clark Haggans, James Harrison, Larry Foote, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and Clint Kreiwaldt are locks. That leaves one spot open and Arnold Harrison wins it. It leaves the team thin at inside linebacker, but Timmons could be groomed to play inside in a pinch and Arnold Harrison has played inside a bit. Woodley will continue to be groomed as a pass rusher.

Defensive backs (9): Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Deshea Townsend and Ike Taylor will be the starters. They will be backed up by Bryant McFadden, Anthony Smith, William Gay, Ricardo Colclough and Tyrone Carter. Chidi Iwuoma doesn’t make the cut despite being a captain during the preseason. Mike Tomlin could surprise here, however, and release Tyrone Carter instead. You don’t think Towsend has been working at free safety for his health, do you?

Specialists (3): Jeff Reed, Daniel Sepulveda and Greg Warren. Enough said.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

What I saw in Washington

Mike Tomlin talked this week about saving spots for two or three guys who make this team better.

Verron Haynes has to have one of those spots. I know he's brittle and the Steelers have some talented young backs, but Haynes runs harder than anyone else on this team.

© The Steelers can't cut Gary Russell, one of those young backs. He's the second-best pure runner on this team behind Willie Parker.

Russell did whiff on a block on kickoff coverage, though. He has to do a better job there.

© The next guy that Matt Spaeth blocks will be the first one.

© Same goes for Trai Essex.

© William Gay opened in the first-team quarter defense in place of Deshea Townsend. But after Washington converted its first two third downs, Townsend was back in.

© Townsend started and played the first two plays, but was replaced at right corner by Bryant McFadden.

© The Steelers' run defense may be better than it was last season, which is saying something considering they were the only team in the league not to allow a 100-yard rusher.

© That pass defense, however, was pretty bad in this game. It wasn't so much the downfield stuff that was killing them, though. It was more poor tackling on dumpoffs to the tight ends and running backs.

But when the season starts, we won't see Tyrone Carter trying to tackle a tight end in the flats. Anthony Smith will be handling that third safety spot.

© Lawrence Timmons got one snap in the first half quarter in place of LaMarr Woodley and then played more in the fourth quarter. He looked OK. Nothing great, but the kid's still getting his feet wet.

© Sean Mahan didn't help his cause at center with a bad shotgun snap late in the first half. There was also another snap in the first half that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger nearly mishandled. It's a good thing for Mahan that Chukky Okobi is still hurt. Mahan may win the center job by default.

© At this point, I'd take Willie Colon as my starting right tackle and Kendall Simmons as my starting right guard.

Colon is just plain nasty and Simmons makes fewer mistakes than Chris Kemoeatu.

© Punter Dan Sepulveda's net average was 48.5 yards on four kicks. Still think he wasn't worth a fourth-round pick?

Heck, even giving up the sixth-rounder they did was worth it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

That's a wrap

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their last practice of this training camp here at Saint Vincent College, finishing off with some preparation for this weekend’s preseason game at Washington.

I know, teams say they don’t really prepare for preseason contests, but they do at least give their offense and defense a look at what they are going to face.

Marvel Smith practiced sparingly today seeing only a few snaps at left tackle, but I was told he’ll be ready to play Saturday.

With Smith back, Max Starks moved back to the right side of the line – albeit with the second team – with Trai Essex working at left tackle with the second unit.

It doesn’t appear that first-round pick Lawrence Timmons is going to see a ton of action against the Redskins. He saw some action with the second-team Okie at right outside linebacker, but Arnold Harrison took the majority of the snaps there.

Timmons is running better and his groin injury seems to be behind him.

Ben Roethlisberger was back for a full practice. Head coach Mike Tomlin was true to his word and Charlie Batch didn’t see a lot of action throwing the ball today.

After practicing without a sleeve on his left knee Wednesday, Willie Parker had the sleeve back on today. It was just a precautionary thing, however, and Parker is ready to go Saturday.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Zierlein says o-line needs to be set

We’re getting near the end of the competition on the offensive line according to Pittsburgh Steelers coach line coach Larry Zeirlein.

Zeirlein told me Wednesday that, ideally, he’d like to have his starting offensive line decided upon following Saturday’s preseason game at Washington.

You can read more about the decision process and what it likely means in my story in Thursday's Observer-Reporter.

For the second day in a row, Bryant McFadden ran with the first-team defense at right cornerback in place of Deshea Townsend. Santonio Holmes also practiced with the first team at wide receiver in place of Cedrick Wilson.

Townsend, in fact, didn’t play corner for the second day in a row, lining up at free safety with the No. 3 units.

Willie Parker worked without a sleeve on his left knee today for the first time and appears to be running at 100 percent after missing nearly two weeks with some soreness in that knee.

Ben Roethlisberger was held out of the passing drills and didn’t throw any in team drills, but head coach Mike Tomlin said that was a planned rest and had nothing to do with the quarterback banging his hand on a teammates helmet Tuesday. Charlie Batch will get a similar rest Thursday according to Tomlin.

Derrick Jones, Darnell Stapleton, Chris Hoke, Marvel Smith, Anthony Smith and Okobi did not practice today. Najeh Davenport was added to the injury list today with a sore foot. The extend of that injury isn’t known yet and we’ll get an update on that Thursday.

Lawrence Timmons did more work today than he had in previous practices this week after returning from his groin injury. Timmons replaced Arnold Harrison in the second-team base 3-4 defense at right outside linebacker, with Harrison moving to left outside linebacker on the third unit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A look at the d-line

Since I have no clever lead-in today, we’re just going to jump right into what I saw Tuesday afternoon at the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.

As I got down to the field, the defensive line was working one-on-one against the tight ends run blocking. I wanted to keep an eye on young Ryan McBean to see if the morning session with John Mitchell had made any difference. Plus, I just love it when Mitch starts yelling at those guys.

Interestingly, the only defensive linemen working against the tight ends were McBean, Shaun Nua, Nick Eason and Scott Paxson. Those will probably be the four guys fighting for the sixth defensive line spot, so it really got my interest.

McBean showed some flashes and you can see why Mitchell loves his athleticism enough to spend extra time working with him. He still makes some rookie mistakes though.

Eason looked the best in the drill, which is to be expected, I guess. He’s a veteran and the biggest of the group. He easily shoved the tight ends into the backfield.

Paxson was OK, but I would expect a nose tackle to dominate the line of scrimmage more against a tight end. Working against Heath Miller, he basically just stood him up at the line of scrimmage.

Nua really struggled. He was fought to a stalemate by rookie Matt Spaeth, causing Mitchell to excalim, “You can’t get off of him. They want a stalemate. A stalemate is still a touchdown.”

Later, Nua worked against John Dekker and slipped on his first attempt, with Dekker driving him to the ground. Dekker then rode Nua completely out of the play on the second attempt, with Nua giving Dekker an extra shot at the end.

Mitchell made Nua go for yet a third time and he finally beat his man, Cody Boyd, who had replaced Dekker.

Brian St. Pierre ran the team through a couple of two-minute drills, throwing a beautiful touchdown pass to a leaping Nate Washington on third down from the 24 with 13 seconds remaining on the first attempt. St. Pierre looked sharp on the first drill.

The second attempt wasn’t quite as sharp and he completed only a -12-yard pass to Walter Young and a seven-yard pass to Eric Fowler. Troy Polamalu got a look at cornerback – with Deshea Townsend at safety – on this one and broke up a fourth-down pass to Fowler to end the drill. But Tomlin also called a defensive hold on the play on Polamalu.

Anthony Smith was injured at some point during the two-minute drill. He had an ice pack on his side and Tomlin said he has an abdominal injury. We’ll find out more about it Wednesday, but Tomlin said it didn’t appear serious.

Lawrence Timmons did a little more work today – though the team still isn’t using him in any one-on-one pass rush drills. He does look fluid dropping into coverage and he could help the team in that respect. The questions about his pass rush skills remain, however.

Bryant McFadden lined up with the first team at cornerback, replacing Townsend, for the final 11-on-11 drill. Tomlin said Townsend will start there on Saturday, however.

Ben Roethlisberger got rolled up on a pass play toward the end of practice, as Carey Davis picked up a blitzing Ryan Clark and knocked him to the ground. James Harrison then tripped over them and Roethlisberger stepped onto the pile as he threw a pass. The ball was intercepted by Jovon Johnson and Roethlisberger got up holding his right pinky. He completed practice, however.

Chukky Okobi, Marvel Smith, Darnell Stapleton, Derrick Jones and Chris Hoke were held out of practice, while Jerame Tuman returned after sitting out the morning session.

A morning to remember

All eyes – or at least mine – were on Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Lawrence Timmons this morning as he worked for the second day in his second comeback from a groin injury.

Timmons, the team’s first-round draft pick, got a crash course in special teams play this morning in a practice that dealt specifically with that portion of the game.

Special teams coach Bob Ligashesky was in Timmons’ ear throughout the morning session, helping the rookie line up in the right spots and telling him exactly what’s expected of him.

Timmons did get to test his groin – which was initially injured on the opening day of mini-camp in May – while working on some kickoff drills, sprinting downfield before turning to set up to block. He looked like he got through that OK and also did some extra running after the practice.

Timmons’ return was good news for at least one Steelers’ veteran. Linebacker James Farrior, who had been forced to sit through the morning special teams practices even though it was unlikely he would play any this season, got to leave early this morning for the first time of this camp. It does not appear now that Farrior will be used on special teams unless there is an emergency, though he did see some time on that unit in 2006.

Those not in pads this morning included defensive lineman Derrick Jones, offensive tackle Marvel Smith, defensive tackle Chris Hoke, tight end Jerame Tuman and guard Darnell Stapleton.

Of note this morning was that I spent the night in Washington and was driving out to camp this morning listening to John Steigerwald’s daily radio show. He had Steelers’ scout Bill Nunn on the radio and Nunn was speaking about his days as sports editor for the Pittsburgh Courier, which used to put together an All-America squad every year for the traditionally black colleges.

In 1967, the fullback on Nunn’s squad was one Edward Tomlin, father of Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin.

Just as Nunn and Steigerwald were discussing this, Mike Tomlin happened to be walking by the radio tent at Saint Vincent College. Steigerwald called Tomlin over and Tomlin actually went on the air live - and unplanned – to talk about it.

It was just another unplanned moment in Tomlin’s camp and gives you a little insight into what Tomlin is really like.

I asked Steigerwald afterward if he would have done that with Bill Cowher, even in 1992, Cowher’s first year.

He said categorically that he would not have. But Tomlin just has a way that makes people feel so much more at ease than Cowher did. Let’s hope he doesn’t lose that.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Day off

I just wanted to let all of my faithful readers – both of you – that I'm not at practice today and therefore won't be giving a practice update from this afternoon's session. But don't worry, I'll be back in Latrobe Tuesday for the morning and afternoon sessions.

Also, for those of you who are not aware, once the Steelers break camp, the rules on what we can and can't report change a little bit. I can't give you the detailed rundowns on what's going on with practice that I'm able to now.

But I'll still be blogging with some observations and such, so keep on coming back.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What I saw

The Max Starks at left tackle experiment took a hit in Saturday night's preseason 13-9 loss to Green Bay.

Starks struggled in pass protection at left tackle, looking lost at the position this week.

At right tackle Willie Colon looked good, especially run blocking. But that was never a question for him. He did a good job in pass protection as well, but did have a holding penalty.

© Many may have been wondering what happened to Carey Davis, the team's leading rusher in the preseason opener?

The Steelers are apparently happy with what they saw from Davis last week running the ball and wanted to get a look at him as a lead blocker.

They had to like what they saw. Davis, who also had the tackle on the opening kickoff, had an outstanding block to spring Kevan Barlow on a 17-yard run. Later, he was killing guys as a lead blocker for Gary Russell.

Davis has this team made.

That's bad news for John Kuhn, who likely gets cut now that Davis has shown he can play both fullback and halfback.

© Russell is also pushing for a roster spot, but at whose expense?

He likely has to prove that he can play as a third-down back and pick up the blocking duties that entails to have a shot to unseat Verron Haynes, who's an outstanding pass blocker.

He'll probably get his shot at that next week.

© Sean Mahan looked much better at center than Chukky Okobi. I wouldn't be surprised if Mahan gets the start at center again next week in Washington.

He's just a stronger player.

We didn't get to see Mahan getting out in front on any screen plays like Okobi did last week, but I have to believe he can do that as well.

© The Steelers dodged a big bullet when Chris Hoke got leg-whipped by William Gay on a missed tackle in the third quarter.

The initial diagnosis is a hyperextended knee, but it could have been much worse.

Though he's a backup, Hoke could start for a lot of teams. And he's more than capable of giving Casey Hampton a rest at any time or place on the field.

Had Hoke been lost, the team would have been forced to move Travis Kirschke to nose tackle to back up Hampton.

© All that work on special teams and they still don't know how to block on a PAT.

It looked like long-snapper Greg Warren just kept his head down and didn't block anybody on that blocked kick. He also got no help whatsoever from Kendall Simmons, who was lined up to his left, or Chris Kemoeatu, who was on his right.

They all appeared to try to block down on their men.

© Walter Young has been around forever and now has the inside track on being this team's No. 6 receiver this season. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it myself.

Young has been catching everything at practice and now it's translating over to the games.

At 6-5, he's the biggest of the Steelers receivers and gives the team something none of the other receivers can.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rain delay; Parker returns

Rain washed out the Pittsburgh Steelers morning practice and threatened to do the same with the afternoon session – even though the team traveled back to Pittsburgh from Latrobe to work out at its indoor practice facility.

Midway through the afternoon session, another thunderstorm ripped through the area and knocked out the lights here, stopping practice for 15 minutes.

The players erupted in a loud cheer when the blackout occurred, but head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t let them off the hook that easily, waiting out the loss of power to finish up practice.

Though Tomlin didn’t announce anything about him at his morning press conference, left tackle Marvel Smith did not practice – bringing his status in Saturday’s preseason game into question. Smith wouldn’t talk to reporters and Tomlin was not available following practice to clarify why the left tackle sat out.

One player who made a surprising return was running back Willie Parker. Parker was dressed for the first time in nearly two weeks – this coming just a couple of hours after Tomlin declared him out of action for Saturday.

While Parker didn’t take part in a full practice, he did do a little running in position drills, testing out his sore left knee. He'll be back Monday at full speed.

Guard Alan Faneca, defensive end Derrick Jones, center Chukky Okobi and linebacker Lawrence Timmons also did not practice.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Roethlisberger injured

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was taken from the field on a cart at the conclusion of practice here Wednesday afternoon after having his foot stepped on near the end of practice.

The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback finished practice after having his foot stepped on during 11-on-11 drills, but Roethlisberger, who was walking with a slight limp, headed straight for a medical cart at the conclusion of the session.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said the injury was no big deal.

Center Chukky Okobi, however, was no so lucky.

Okobi, working with the second team after the return of Sean Mahan, went down in a heap two plays after Roethlisberger was stepped on and was on the field for several minutes as trainers looked at his lower back.

The injury news clouded an otherwise good day for the Steelers, who had gotten linebackers Larry Foote and James Harrison, and quarterback Brian St. Pierre back in action today.

Tomlin said rookie linebacker Lawrence Timmons was in Philadelphia today having his sore groin looked at and that there had been a breakthrough in that area. But, he said he would not speak about it until Thursday, when Timmons is scheduled to return.

Defensive end Derrick Jones was also still out of practice, nursing a sore right calf.

The highlight of practice was the two-minute drill in which Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch both did excellent impersonations of Joe Montana.

The two were a combined 11-for-13 in the drill, with Roethlisberger’s lone incompletion coming when he spiked the ball to stop the clock. He was seven-of-eight, including a 7-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington to finish things off. Batch of four-for-five, including an 18-yard touchdown to Walter Young, who did an outstanding job of getting both feet in bounds and slipping the ball past the pylon for a score.

Mahan, who is back from an excused absence, will start at center on Saturday against Green Bay, as will Willie Colon at right tackle.

Tomlin said today that running back Willie Parker’s timetable is 14 days and that he’s in day 11 now. That would bring Parker back to action when the team resumes practice next week.

Harrison returns

James Harrison returned to practice Wednesday morning for the Pittsburgh Steelers and jumped right into his customary role as the team’s ace in the hole on special teams.

Harrison, who had been out of action for more than a week with a rib injury, was being used with the first team on all the special teams units during a special teams only practice.

That was about the only exciting news to come out of this one.

I had a long talk with Wilie Parker and he won’t be playing again this weekend. But there doesn’t seem to be any long-term problem with his knee.

It doesn’t appear that Sean Mahan is back with the team as of yet, while Lawrence Timmons is now heading into his third week of inactivity.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Minor injuries mount

The Pittsburgh Steelers got lucky with the rain for their preseason opener Sunday, but weren’t as fortunate Tuesday afternoon as they returned to practice here at Saint Vincent College.

A storm rolled through the area, forcing head coach Mike Tomlin to cut his practice a half-hour short Tuesday afternoon.

The big news of the day was that a number of players weren’t practicing due to minor injuries suffered in Sunday night’s win over New Orleans – inlcuding guard Alan Faneca and linebacker Larry Foote. Tomlin also made a switch in the starting lineup at right tackle, inserting Willie Colon in place of Max Starks.

Foote sat out with a sore ankle. He was replaced inside by Rian Wallace.

Faneca has a sore shoulder and was replaced at left guard by Chris Kemoeatu.

Could that have been an early look at next year’s offensive line as both Starks and Faneca are free agents? Perhaps.

Other new injuries included third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre (thumb) and rookie defensive end Derrick Jones, who has some kind of minor leg injury.

Willie Parker, James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons were also still out of action – the same as last week.

Center Sean Mahan, meanwhile, still hasn’t returned from his excused absence, though Tomlin said he expects Mahan to return tonight or Wednesday.

As he did in Sunday’s game, Starks worked with the second team at left tackle. Trai Essex was at left guard, Marvin Philip at center and Cameron Stephenson at right guard.

Monday, August 06, 2007

What I saw

The new Steelers' offense looks somewhat like the old one – throw the ball and get a lead and then pound the football.

The formations and way that they do it may be a little different, but the end results were the same.

© You couldn't help but watch Sunday night's game and be impressed by how the Steelers pushed the Saints around on offense and defense. New Orleans is a team that could again challenge for the NFC title.

But it does show you the difference between the AFC and the NFC.

I think this is a very good Steelers team. But it's also a team that could finish anywhere from first to third in the AFC North.

And it's also a team that will be battling all season just to make the playoffs in the AFC. Put the Steelers in the NFC and they'd be one of the favorites to go to the Super Bowl.

© The Steelers may not lose a preseason game. The starters are solid and the JVs are pretty darn good too, which is a tribute to their scouting department.

© Which if the so-called JVs impressed the most?

Regular readers of this blog know that I've been touting Carey Davis for a while now. He did nothing to embarrass me in that regards. Gary Russell also looked strong running the ball.

Walter Young didn't do anything to hurt his chances as a wide receiver - though I didn't see much of him on special teams, where he'll have to earn his roster spot.

Jason Capizzi and Trai Essex did a good job on the offensive line – though Essex did have a false-start penalty.

And Ron Stanley did some good things at inside linebacker as well.

© Who didn't impress?

Start with Kevan Barlow. He just doesn't seem to have any desire to hit the holes hard. That coupled with his poor character and the fact he doesn't want to play special teams add up to his release.

Willie Reid didn't exactly knock my socks off returning the ball, struggling to catch a punt and a kickoff. But I'll chalk some of that up to the fact the lightstands at Fawcett Stadium aren't as high as those at an NFL stadium. The ball could get lost pretty easily up there.

Chukky Okobi didn't exactly solidfy himself at center as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see Sean Mahan take that starting center spot soon – once he gets back from his excused absence.

I've heard what Mahan's absence is due to and though I can't say what it is, he should take his time getting back.

© Max Starks played a good left tackle replacing Marvel Smith there after the first series. Remember, he was working against Will Smith.

Starks is going to make a lot of money in the offseason.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Mozes done for year

I got some bad news this morning from Dan Mozes' father. Mozes, the former WVU/Washington Prexies center who is attempting to latch on with the Vikings, tore his ACL in a scrimmage with Kansas City and is done for the year.

The upside? Mozes will be placed on IR and will basically get a scholarship year this season with the Vikings. According to Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert, the base salary for a guy like that would be $190,000.

Friday, August 03, 2007

More roster shuffling

The Pittsburgh Steelers released linebacker Marcello Church Friday to make room for outside linebacker Matt King, a 6-3, 245-pound rookie from Maine who had been in camp with the Jets this Spring before being released.

What does that say about Church that the team didn’t think he was better than a guy the Jets gave up on two months ago? Not much.

Sean Mahan missed practice this afternoon to attend to personal issues. No word on what those issues were, but it did cause an interesting shift on the offensive line.

With Mahan MIA, Kendall Simmons and Marvin Phillip shared time with the second-team offensive line. I don’t know what that means for Phillip that they didn’t trust him to run with the second team by himself, but it can’t be all that good either.

It was another practice lacking in overall intensity as the team spent most of the session going over the little things with little to no hitting.

Mike Lorello had a nice leaping pick of Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone as the team worked on its two-minute offense, appearing out of nowhere to snatch a pass in front of Nate Washington. It was a nice athletic play.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Looking at the d-line

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their first night practice at the newly dedicated Chuck Noll Field here at Saint Vincent College Thursday, but it was a less-than-spirited effort.

Even the goal-line drill, which is usually a raucous event, couldn’t pep up this practice.

The offense won this one, 4-3, scoring touchdowns on runs by Najeh Davenport and Brian Russell, and Brian St. Pierre passes to John Dekker and Matt Spaeth.

Willie Parker, James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Darnell Stapleton were out again today. In fact, head coach Mike Tomlin said Stapleton had an MRI that revealed a torn meniscus. He’ll undergo surgery and be out three weeks. That’s a tough break.

Marcello Church was a new addition to the injury list with a hamstring injury, while Chris Hoke was limited and did not partake in any contact drills today.

Watching the young defensive linemen today, I was impressed by Derrick Jones, who showed off some nice power moves. On one play, he got up under Brandon Torrey and one-arm tossed the big man to the ground to get to the quarterback.

He looks farther along at this point than fourth-round draft pick Ryan McBean, who doesn’t look as if he has that kind of power. McBean did show a nice outside move against Trai Essex, but he's not going to get things done on speed.

Veteran Nick Eason looks like a an undrafted rookie free agent at times. He needs to step up his game if he hopes to make this team.

Another veteran who didn’t impress is Shaun Nua. He just doesn’t have any strength at the point of attack. I just don’t think he can cut it as a 3-4 end.

Reid shows off

Another day, another special teams practice.

Today’s emphasis was on what to do after a safety, so many of those guys weren’t needed.

James Harrison, Derek Rehage and Lawrence Timmons were the only guys not practicing today. I didn’t see Willie Parker, however.
The most interesting thing I saw today was while waiting on Willie Reid after practice. Reid was the last guy off the field as he took some extra time receiving punts from a Juggs machine.

Before he finished, he did a little showing off. He held one ball in his arm while another was shot at him out of the machine. Just before the second ball would reach him, he’d toss the first ball into the air, catch the second one, and then grab the first one out of the air. It was a nifty little trick he did four or five times before calling it quits.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Parkergate solved

We’ve gotten to the bottom of Parkergate here at the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.

Head coach Mike Tomlin was told by trainers Tuesday that Willie Parker’s sore left knee was no big deal. But the soreness lingered into today, hence Tomlin’s proclaimation Tuesday that Parker was only going to sit out a day.

It doesn’t appear to be a long-term problem and there’s no damage or anything like that.

Also not practicing this afternoon were Lawrence Timmons – of course – James Harrison and Darnell Stapleton.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was also given some rest during the passing drills in an effort by Tomlin to rest his arm. Charlie Batch will be given similar treatment Thursday.

The team got a bit of a scare during 11-on-11 when Jovon Johnson and Larry Foote collided in coverage of John Dekker. Both Johnson and Foote took several moments to get up off the field. Dekker, meanwhile, was unable to leap high enough to haul in the pass from Bryan Randall despite being wide open.

In an interesting twist to the offensive line versus defensive line blocking drills, instead of just having one guy rush and one guy block, the team today practiced with two of each rushing. The defenders would stunt and the offensive linemen would pass them off to each other. It was pretty neat to watch and seems like a pretty good drill to work on, though I’d never seen it before.

Parker's still out

The Pittsburgh Steelers held their first practice of August Wednesday morning and it’s beginning to look as if head coach Mike Tomlin is going to be somebody who is not to be trusted when it comes to talking about injuries.

After Tomlin said running back Willie Parker was being held out of practice Tuesday for rest, Parker missed practice again this morning and had a large ice pack on his left knee while he spoke with trainer John Norwig.

Could be a bone contusion or just a little swelling – and that’s likely what it is – but when the head coach won’t talk about it, it sets off the reporter radar. Guess that's something the coach is going to have to learn.

The same goes for linebacker James Harrison, who sat out again today with what Tomlin said Friday was just sore ribs. Those sore ribs have now kept Harrison out for nearly a week.

Travis Kirschke and Chris Hoke returned today after getting a day of rest Tuesday – though Hoke didn’t do any team work.

Also out of action were Darnell Stapleton and, of course, Lawrence Timmons.

This Timmons injury is beginning to really drag on and if it continues, he may struggle just to stay active on game days this fall. He's missed that much time.

Hines Ward and Cedrick Wilson are definitely running as the first-team receivers right now. Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington and Willie Reid – who continues to look good – are next in line.

Reid made a tremendous catch just in front of the goal line on a Charlie Batch pass during team drills, leaping above safety Grant Mason to pull the ball away. He just needs to stay healthy.