The Journey Begins: Pittsburgh Steelers' First Mini-Camp

Jan BankoContributor IMay 4, 2008

With one mini-camp down, the Steelers appear to be a big happy family.

After a bit of surprise that the Steelers drafted a running back (Rashard Mendenhall) with their number one pick, Willie Parker has reportedly acted with total professionalism and is planning to mentor Mendenhall much the way Jerome Bettis mentored him.

Prior to the draft, Willie embraced the idea of a running back joining the Steelers, to extend his career and make the team better. By all reports, that’s exactly what will happen.

So how did Hines Ward react to the second round choice, Limas Sweed? He’s the ‘tall receiver’ QB Ben Roethlisberger wanted, but those who closely watch the Steelers know they have several tall receivers—two tight ends who receive regular game time are over 6'3", as are two or three others who are competing for the fourth position.

Heath Miller said he was the ‘runt’ of the group at 6’5”, and Tomlin and Ward were discussing the wide outs and tight ends in basketball terms.

Regardless, reports are that Ward was working with Sweed “demonstrably” on the sidelines. Ward didn’t practice—he’s recovering from surgery on his knee, and Tomlin assured him that his job was secure, to take his time returning to active practice.

That’s something Ward appreciated a great deal. And he paid his coach back by continuing to be a ‘second’ wide receiver coach, just as he did with Santonio. Anyone who watches Santonio can tell he’s learning from Hines, and taking it to heart.

And what did Ben have to say about a QB being drafted in the fifth round? He commented that he had seen Dixon play in college and was impressed—looking forward to seeing what he could do.

He made some jokes about being able to see Dixon “lead us to some wins.” And that said, “I’m not worried about losing my job, if that’s what you’re asking.”

No, he wouldn’t be. So in the top three skill positions there’s harmony, and just enough competition to help raise the team to a new level.

On the offensive line, a new center and a delightfully healed Marvel Smith who feels like he has a new lease on life should infuse some new energy.

And on the defensive line? Well of course that remains to be seen, but remember the Steelers drafted some d-linemen last year who will have a year under their belts this year. So along with all but one starter returning and Timmons and Woodley ready to compete for a spot, the lines seem to be in better shape than many have feared.

The first mini camp of the ’08 season is history. There are no real distractions or controversies. Everybody is happy. The coaches evaluated the rookies, the rookies got overwhelmed by the experience, and the veterans who should have looked sharp, looked sharp.

And once again, Tomlin gives us a wonderful sound bite to take us through to the next get-together in mid May.

“It’s football in shorts.” He said, cautioning the talking heads not to take too much out of a mini-camp during which pads are not put on and hits are not made. “Taking hits is a big part” of football, cautioned Tomlin. "And we won’t know how well the new guys are going to do for months, if not years."

There seems to be a sense of excitement and anticipation for Steelers fans that wasn’t there two or three weeks ago when the schedule was released. Could this be the year we go for six?

Face it; any year could be that year. And the fun is in the journey. I’m one Steelers fan who is glad the 2008 journey is underway.