E Sanders catching a TD from Ben. (photo by Boss Lou Bouris)
Baron Batch healthy and running tough. (photo by Boss Lou Bouris
Ben and Haley appeared on the same page. (photo by Boss Lou Bouris)
A FEW THOUGHTS FROM CAMP
The Leisurely one was able to catch a few Steeler practices this weekend in Latrobe, and came away with a few thoughts. I was fortunate enough to get sideline passes, and the main difference I noticed standing that close to the action was you could really hear what the coaches were saying. Very telling at times.
Here’s a few thoughts I had after the Saturday afternoon practice.
• The players seemed to be responding to new OC Todd Haley. Haley ran the routes, and basically went through each motion he expected from his WRs. He manhandled the TEs coming across the middle, holding their jerseys and showing them different hand positions to get free. Couldn’t quite hear what the WRs were saying, but they continuously were nodding their heads with Haley screaming “Great job!” after each completion.
• The Ben vs Haley feud appears (at least to me) to be nothing but a media driven story. Ben looked sharp on almost every throw, and Haley was standing next to him after each play, most of the time with a smile on his face. They could be seen going over the play chart, deciding on a play together, and when it was run to perfection, they simply nodded to each other and moved to the next. One incident we were able to witness not only showed how competitive they both are, but also demonstrated that they seem to be getting along just fine. The QBs were tossing ‘fade routes’ down the sidelines, and trying to drop the pass into a garbage can. Ben put it in a few times and the crowd exploded, and that is when Haley stepped in and gave it a try. Ball after ball Haley and Ben went back and forth, bouncing a few of the rims. Although neither dropped one in during their “duel”, they were both laughing and slapping each other on the backs. That’s not something you’ll see on Sports Center.
• Leonard Pope is HUGE. He walked past me, and he’s just a monster. He’s listed at 6’8, but he looked much bigger in person. Ben just might have a pretty decent red zone target there.
• David Decastro is a bad, bad man. The 1st round O-line selection looks like the real deal, and could very well start all 16 games. He wears #66, Alan Faneca’s old number, but listening to a scout on the sideline, he said most feel DeCastro is better than Faneca at this stage in his career. He said they’ve never seen anyone get so low so fast, and know how to really use that leverage to his advantage. Watching him in run blocking drills could give Steeler fans flash backs to the days of the great O-lines. I have a feeling the O-line is going to be nasty this year, and whoever the RB is will love them.
• Wallace who? Sure, it would be nice to have Mike Wallace in camp, but Brown, Sanders, and Cotchery all appear healthy and extremely in sync with Ben. Sanders route running looked crisp, and even got past Ike for a nice 35 yd TD reception. (see pic) Lets just say the ball didn’t hit the group much when Ben was throwing to these guys. With or without Wallace, this is a deep and talented bunch of WRs.
• Money hasn’t changed AB. Antonio Brown just scored a long term, multi million dollar contract, but you would never know it by how he acted at camp. Before practice he was joking with fans, signing autographs, flashing his million dollar smile, and basically just loving life. Once it was time to play though, he was deadly serious. He ran route after route. Caught pass after pass. Worked on his cuts, his breaks, did extra sprints, stayed after to get some extra work in. He was doing everything you would expect from a player still trying to make a roster, not necessarily one that just signed a long term deal. The Steelers rewarded his record breaking season last year with a new contract, and it looks like that’s just going to push AB to get even better. To put it simply, AB looks driven to be the best WR in the league, and is willing to put in the work to get there. With his blue collar work ethic, it’s easy to see why he’s a fan favorite.
• Steelers have the weapons to really run the ball. Besides having a nasty O-line, the Steelers had Redman, Dwyer, Batch and Rainey all taking snaps at RB this weekend, and each one looked impressive. With Mendenhall out, Redman is the default starter, but should share time with some explosive youngsters. Dwyer came to camp slimmed down, and bulled his way for big yards right up the gut on a few plays. Last year’s camp favorite, Baron Batch, looked healthy, and ran with authority both inside the tackles and hitting the edge. Remember that name, you could be hearing a lot from him this season. Rookie Chris Rainey might not get many snaps at RB, but his speed and elusiveness will dictate that he get playing time. A few times in the scrimmage, Ben dumped it down to Rainey, or hit him in the flat, and nobody could touch him. Slot receiver and kick returner should be his specialty this season and look for him to really affect field position this season.
• It was a very odd and unnerving feeling not seeing #86’s smiling face on the field. I love our young WRs, but it just felt like something was missing. Hines seemed to be at camp every year for as long as I could remember, so it will just take getting used to not having him in the Black and Gold.
• The Mafia and Steeler fans are already in mid season form! I know, that goes without saying, but spending the weekend with thousands of Black and Gold faithful, and hanging out with Famiglia from all over the place really lets you know that football season is actually here!
Time will tell how this season will turn out, but watching the work they are putting in at St Vincent’s tells me this team will not be satisfied with just making the playoffs. They have a good core of veterans, and infused into that a group of dynamic youngsters at some very important positions and I think this version of the Black and Gold has what it takes to make another deep run in the playoffs. Some familiar names might slowly be giving way to the next generation of the Black and Gold, and while it might be a little distressing at first to some fans to see this type of turnover, just give these newbies time to prove their worth.
They won’t make you forget the names Ward, Smith, Farrior…but they will strive to perform up to the same standards as the Black and Gold greats that came before them.
Seeing the intensity and determination in each player’s eyes, they are ready for the season.
Bring on the Broncos.