Thursday, July 31, 2008

Capizzi done

Offensive tackle Jason Capizzi, a fan favorite as a local kid, is done for the year. He re-injured his left foot and will require surgery.

The Steelers reached an injury settlement with him and it's unknown whether this is the end of the road for the former Pitt and IUP player.

But by reaching an injury settlement with him, the Steelers aren't keeping him on their roster, which means he may have played his last football here.

© The team used the morning off to check wide receiver Limas Sweed's vision. They found out he needs glasses.

© Many of the other injured players returned to practice today, with the exception of safety Anthony Smith, who tried to practice, but called it quits after position drills.

© Linebacker Mike Humpal was taken off with a hamstring injury that may be heat related.

© The Steelers signed kick return man Eddie Drummond – late of Kansas City and, where else? Detroit.

Drummond was immediately back returning punts with Jeremy Bloom, Travis Williams and Willie Reid.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday's thoughts

Trai Essex is making a strong case to make this team, something that wasn't a given at the start of camp.

Of course part of that is because he's quickly becoming the last experienced man still healthy on the left side of the line.

Marvel Smith sat out Wednesday with a sore groin and Essex slid out to left tackle, with Darnell Stapleton moving in at left guard.

But Essex, who looks more trim this year than in previous seasons, looks to be taking advantage of the extra playing time.

That, and the fact that rookie Tony Hills doesn't look ready to play this season, could make Essex a lock.

© The second-team offensive line with Chris Kemoeatu and Smith out was, from left to right, Hills, Matt Lentz, Justin Hartwig, Jeremy Parquet and Jason Capizzi. When Parquet left later in practice with cramps, Essex moved to right guard with the second unit.

Hey, the more you can do.

© Stapleton looks like somebody who plays up or down to his competition.

He'll go out and look so-so against a below average player, then go out and hold his own against a starter.

Some guys are just like that.

LeCharles Bentley rumor

I keep hearing about the Steelers signing LeCharles Bentley – from everywhere but here in Latrobe.

I'm not saying the rumor doesn't have some legs, but many times, things like this get started by an agent fishing for a contract offer for a client.

I'm not saying the Steelers couldn't use Bentley, particularly if Chris Kemoeatu continues to miss time. But I'd be surprised if the team panicked and did something. It's just not usually how the Steelers work.

If they were going to sign Bentley, they already would have done so and had him in camp from the beginning.

This morning's practice was in full pads and featured plenty of work on the running game.

James Farrior was out this morning, but it doesn't appear to be anything serious. Lawrence Timmons moved into the starting lineup, with Larry Foote sliding over to Farrior's spot.

Timmons really looks at home at inside linebacker.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Looking at the draft picks

I kept a close eye on some of the draft picks today and here's what I came away with.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall is a quick study, which is not surprising considering his Academic All-Big Ten status in college.

The team was working on ball control with the running backs Tuesday afternoon, having the backs yank and pull on each others arms as they ran while carrying the ball in one arm.

Mendenhall had the ball pulled out of his arm on the first attempt in both his right and left arms by Mewelde Moore. But Moore wasn't getting the ball out again after that no matter what he did.

This kid doesn't make the same mistake twice.

Limas Sweed works very hard and makes an attempt to catch everything, diving for overthrown balls and giving 100 percent effort at all times.

He's going to be a good one.

Third-round pick Bruce Davis, a linebacker, is a little disappointing in the strength department. He doesn't get much of a push when working on one-on-one blocking. But some of that may be because he missed all the offseason workouts because his class at UCLA hadn't graduated yet. That's an archaic rule the league needs to do away with.

I'm also unimpressed with fourth-round pick Tony Hills, who doesn't look to have the quick feet to play tackle. He is consistently beaten to the outside by whoever he lines up against.

Maybe his future is at guard, but he'll need to get stronger to play there. That also puts the Steelers in a bit of a bind with their future plans if Hills can't play tackle.

But hey, it's early.

Sepulveda done for season

Punter Daniel Sepulveda had tests done on his sore right (non-kicking) leg Tuesday and they showed that he had torn his ACL.

Sepulveda, a fourth-round pick last season, is done for the season.

The Steelers have claimed Paul Ernster off of waivers from the Detroit Lions.

It's a huge blow to the Steelers' special teams, especially considering the team had just one punter in camp this year and had high hopes for Sepulveda in his second season.

I can't drive, 365

According to Jim Wexell of SteelCityInsider.com, Casey Hampton weighed in at an impressive 365 pounds when he showed up at training camp, 25 more than the team wanted him at and 40 more than his listed weight.

That pretty much makes Hampton one of the biggest fat athletes in Pittsburgh history, though a now trim and slim Max Starks was pretty close to that weight last season.

Actually, that's not all that much heavier than what Hampton has reported at in previous camps as well.

The only difference is that Mike Tomlin decided to put his foot down with it this year. Gotta send a message.

Hampton also cost himself a nice chunk of bonus money for reporting overweight, but apparently that was not a concern to him.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Afternoon delight

Either LaMarr Woodley is going to be a beast this season or the Steelers' offensive line - and right tackles in particular - really stinks.

Woodley was unblockable in the one-on-one drills this afternoon by either Willie Colon or Max Starks.

Neither is going to be a Pro Bowler anytime soon, but they are legitimate NFL offensive linemen. So maybe Woodley is just that damn good.

I spoke with the second-year linebacker after practice and he's really raring to go this season after languishing on the bench a bit last season as a backup to Clark Haggans (?).

I know. Haggans had one of the least productive seasons of any outside linebacker in the past 15 seasons for the Steelers. And for whatever reason, they still kept running him out there.

That won't be the case this season and Woodley is going to put up monster numbers.

Somebody else who stood out this afternoon was second-year defensive lineman Ryan McBean.

They were using McBean on punt coverage and he was really getting down the field well for a 290-pounder. This team hasn't had a young defensive lineman to use as a wedge buster the past couple of seasons, but McBean could be that guy.

Rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall shows good learning ability. After being beaten a couple of times in backs-on-backers blocking, the No. 1 pick picked up his game after that and stoned some guys.

He looks good with the ball in his hands, too, slipping through holes.

One thing I forgot to mention

One thing I forgot to mention that I wanted to make note of Sunday has nothing to do with the football aspect, but everything to do with it.

When I was pulling into camp to unload my stuff, I noticed that they had already placed the parking signs out for the higher ups in the organization. They also placed Myron Cope's reserved sign up.

It was a reminder that Cope isn't with us this year.

A bunch of us media types went to dinner Sunday night and started telling Myron stories.

He hadn't been to camp much - if at all - the past couple of years, but Cope would call guys or send them notes on stories they did. He was that kind of guy.

The writers, in particular, will miss him. Cope was always a writer at heart, even when he was doing nothing but radio and TV.

Initial thoughts

The first practice is now in the books and it showed that some of these guys realize the window of opportunity is closing for them.

Anthony Smith took another hard shot at wide receiver Willie Reid - as he did several times last year in camp - and Reid popped up and fired the ball at him, touching off a scrimmish between the two that had to be broken up by teammates.

Reid later tangled with linebacker Andre Frazier on a running play after cracking down to block the bigger man.

Reid didn't back down on either occasion.

I waited to talk to Reid after practice and he had a long conversation with Ben Roethlisberger, who told the third-year receiver to let the coaches handle the cheap shots and to let that stuff go.

But the clock is ticking on Reid and he knows it. A third-round pick three years ago, he hasn't quite worked out to be what the Steelers envisioned.

And with the addition of second-round pick Limas Sweed this year, Reid is not guaranteed a roster spot.

He's clearly playing with something to prove.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hampton starts on PUP

Nose tackle Casey Hampton was unable to complete the team's run challenge on the opening day of training camp and will begin camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list.

Hampton, who skipped the team's offseason workout program, finished just five of the eight 100-yard sprints and jogs back to the starting line.

Hampton looked very much out of shape when he arrived here at Saint Vincent College.

Head coach Mike Tomlin would not put a timeframe on when the Pro Bowl nose tackle will be removed from the PUP, but did say that it could be some time.

Safety Troy Polamalu arrived with a sore hamstrong, but completed his run test, as did guard Chris Kemoeatu, who has some weakness in his triceps.

Both could be held out of practice Monday morning when the team takes the field for the first time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

All in

Friday, the Steelers assured that all of their players will be under contract when they report on Sunday as the team signed its two remaining unsigned draft picks, running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed.

Mendenhall, the Steelers’ top pick, agreed to a five-year deal worth $12.55 million. Sweed, a second-round selection, came to terms on a four-year deal believed to be worth $3.5 million.

Mendenhall’s deal includes nearly $7 million in guaranteed money and could – at least at times this season – give the Steelers a very high-priced backfield.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Thoughts from Tomlin PC

Mike Tomlin held a pre-training camp press conference Wednesday. Here are a few of my thoughts of about what was said.

© Tomlin was asked about the team's defensive line depth and if it was a concern and he proceeded to give a long answer about how when he made his statement about the lack of depth and age issues at the position, it was before Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason were re-signed.

Now, I like Mike, but he sounded a lot like a guy trying to convince himself that things aren't all that bad.

It is my understanding, though, that second-year man Ryan McBean has been practically living at the team's facility since getting the walking boot off his injured foot and the team has some high hopes for the 2007 fifth-round draft pick.

Also, keep an eye on undrafted rookie Kyle Clement from Northwood.

If Eason makes this team, it will be because those two didn't pan out and this team could have problems down the stretch as it did last season.

© Tomlin spoke very highly of free safety Ryan Clark and his recovery from having his spleen removed last season.

Clark's weight is back to normal and he got through the team's offseason program with no problems. But you'd better believe the team will keep a watchful eye on how he handles contact.

This team needs Clark as the deep man in the secondary. He's a heady guy and a good all-around football player as we saw last season when he was out of the lineup.

That's not to say Anthony Smith didn't learn and get better from last year's debacle, but Clark makes very few mistakes.

© Tomlin said Max Starks will start camp primarily at right tackle, which tells me there will be a competition there between he and Willie Colon.

Last year's battle never really materialized because Starks was forced to play left tackle for much of training camp after Marvel Smith's back became troublesome.

I still think the best line may incorporate Starks at right tackle and Colon at one of the guard spots. If Chris Kemoeatu struggles at left guard replacing Alan Faneca, that could happen.

© Lawrence Timmons will open as the backup to Larry Foote, but Timmons will get plenty of action as a linebacker on passing downs as the team begins to phase James Farrior out of that role.

It may not happen right away because Farriror is such a smart player and is still very effective. But it wouldn't hurt to give the aging vet a chance to catch his breath every once in a while.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Good seats still remain

More than 10,000 tickets remain for the Steelers' preseason game against Buffalo in Toronto, Canada.

If you've never been to Toronto before, you should get there. Of course you will need a passport.

And it's an easy drive from Pittsburgh, right up I-79 through Buffalo.

© Here's an interesting story I came across breaking down NFL contracts.

http://www2.tbo.com/content/2008/jul/21/sp-nfl-contract-breaking-down-an-making-sense-of-d/?sports-bucs

Things are a little different on the road for the Steelers than for some other teams.

I travel on the team plane, so I get a little different look than writers do that cover some other teams that don't allow that.

The food available to the players on the plane is abundant. They also have a team snack after meetings the night before games and a breakfast the morning of.

The $90 given to them for meals per day really turns out to be pocket money.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

One week to go

As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part.

As I write this, it's officially one week until the Steelers training camp opens next Sunday at Saint Vincent College with players reporting.

It's hard to believe another NFL season is upon us.

For me, I always look forward to training camp opening with some regret.

While I do enjoy very much what I do - otherwise I wouldn't be doing it - training camp opening up means that, at least for me, summer is over.

I'll spend much of the next six months watching practices and games and what unfolds in another NFL season.

© As of this writing, the Steelers still have two draft picks unsigned, second-rounder Limas Sweed and first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall.

Look for Sweed to get his deal done sometime later this week, with Mendenhall to follow Saturday or Sunday. At least that's the word.

© There may be another deal coming later this week as well with a veteran player already on the roster.

My source wouldn't tell me who, but the team does have some players it would like to get something done with, with perhaps Max Starks being first on that list.

Getting something done to lower Starks' salary this season and getting him signed past it would give the team some cap room to do some other things.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Good news, bad news

It was a good news, bad news thing for me this week.

I was tooling around the net looking for something - anything - interesting out there in the world when I came across the mondesishouse site.

On the site there was a poll for media people in Pittsburgh and you could vote whether you approve or disapprove of that person.

The good news was that I made the list – I guess.

The bad news was that my approval rating was like 29 percent.

Then again, guys like Joe Bendel and Bob Smizik were below me, so I've got that going for me, which is nice.

Now if I could only achieve total consciousness on my deathbed, I'd be set.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Some random thoughts

I just got off the phone a little while ago with former West Virginia University star center Dan Mozes.

For those of you outside the area, Mozes is a Washington native and signed with the Minnesota Vikings after last year's draft.

The 2006 Rimington Award winner as college football's best center, Mozes is a high-motor player who gives his all on the field.

He suffered a torn ACL in camp last summer with the Vikings while trying to make a tackle following an interception during a scimmage with the Kansas City Chiefs.

But Mozes is back on the field with the Vikings this year and has a good shot at making the roster. Starting center Matt Birk is considered one of the best in the business, but he's sat out the OTAs while trying to get a new contract. And Minnesota may not want to give him one considering he's on he wrong side of 30.

The Vikings selected John Sullivan from Notre Dame in the sixth round of this year's draft, but he's by no means a lock to make the roster ahead of Mozes. The team could, in fact, keep both around considering Birk's age and impending free agency.

© So Brett Favre now wants the Packers to release him. Who is really surprised by that?

Favre will likely be looking for one last shot at a Super Bowl – though he pretty much kept the Packers out of one last season with his NFC Championship performance – and my best guess is that he'll wind up in Baltimore for at least one season,

Miami is also a possibility and certainly he would make a nice mentor to Matt Ryan in Atlanta, but the Ravens have a better chance to win some games this season.

© The very public sale of the Steelers - or adjustment of the team's stock - has to be killing Dan Rooney, who prefers to do such things in private.

One thing for sure, when it's all said and done, the Rooneys will still be running this team.

It may cost Dan and Art III more money than they wanted, but it will happen.

© The Steelers agreed to terms with sixth-round picks Mike Humpal and Ryan Mundy Friday, leaving only first and second rounders Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed unsight.

Humpal and Mundy each got three-year contracts. Humpal receives $71,600 signing bonus, and Mundy gets a $67,600 bonus.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Dixon a done deal

As per several sources, the Steelers have signed fifth-round pick Dennis Dixon to a three-year contract that includes a $130,000 signing bonus.

Also, don't make too much of the Rooney family's shifting of some of the team's stock. This is something that has been coming for some time now as the NFL works to remove itself from any kind of gambling.

The family itself doesn't want to divest itself of its race tracks or the football team. You won't see the team sold to an outside source anytime soon - if ever.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Hills in the house

Fourth-round draft pick Tony Hills has become the Steelers' first choice to sign, putting his name to a three-year deal worth $1.45 million.

The deal includes a signing bonus of just over $300 thousand.