With Pittsburgh Steelers training camp in full swing at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, here are some news, notes and observations of the first couple days of action.
The Running Backs Look Strong
Rashard Mendenhall and Willie Parker look solid. They both are healthy and running hard. Mewelde Moore has also looked good, especially coming out of the backfield on passing situations.
The Wide Receivers Need to Be More Consistent
Starters Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes look good. They came to camp in great shape and are catching everything thrown at them. Veteran free agent Shaun McDonald has been his usual reliable self—running tight routes and catching with his hands, not his arms or chest.
Limas Sweed, the favorite for the No. 3 job, looks much better this year. He played stiff and a little scared last season. He looks very comfortable out there.
Mike Wallace is fast, boy is he fast. The key is consistency. Like most rookies, he looks like an All-Pro one practice and an undrafted free agent the next. He has fluid hips and runs decent routes. Once he gets some seasoning, the Mississippi State product could be a real gem for the organization.
Dallas Baker and Brandon Williams have been inconsistent. Baker was even given a chance to work with the first unit in practice, but he may be no more than a fifth or sixth receiver if he makes the team. Baker and Williams have dropped balls thrown right at them. At one point, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gave Baker a real tongue lashing.
Undrafted rookie Tyler Grisham has made some acrobatic catches. His chances of making the team are slim, but if Baker and Williams continue to struggle, you never know. What he lacks in size (he's only 5'11", 180 pounds), he more than makes up for in heart.
The Defense Looks in Midseason Form
Dick LeBeau's troops are practicing fast, working hard, and looking like they're ready for another Super Bowl run. No matter how much the offense puts up points, the Steelers will always be about tough defense. In this league, there is no defensive unit tougher.
NT Casey Hampton is in much better shape than a year ago and rookie DE Ziggy Hood looks like he could be a future mainstay at defensive end for years to come.
At linebacker, James Farrior is having a solid camp and James Harrison is just a beast. A great word to describe him is "thick." The man is built like a tree trunk. On a down note, LB Lawrence Timmons has been having cramp issues and SS Troy Polamalu is being limited due to hamstring and calf problems.
Polamalu is a real cause for concern. Hamstring injuries have a tendency to linger and get worse if pushed too hard. The coaching staff is making sure he gets proper rest and attention.
The Offensive Line is Much Improved
The offensive line was shaky last season and beaten up pretty bad on several occasions.
OT Willie Colon stated at the opening of camp that the line is determined to get better this season. If training camp is any indication, the o-line is doing just that.
With a full year together, the line is starting to jell.
They've looked sharp in camp, but only in a live game situation will we know if the improvement is real or imagined.
The Steelers are a First Class Organization Because of Their People
Once you've been around camp for a few days, it's easy to see why the Pittsburgh Steelers are such a successful franchise.
It's the people within the organization.
The media relations people are the best. They make you feel welcomed as soon as you enter camp.
Communications Coordinator Dave Lockett bends over backwards to help in any way humanly possible. He's a first-class individual. One of the good guys.
One of the good gals is Emily Scerba. She's been so helpful to me—I would have been lost without her help.
A heartfelt thank you to all the great individuals in media relations, the Steelers football staff, and the fine people of St. Vincent College for their hospitality.
A Good Start
Camp is shaping up quite nicely for Pittsburgh. If the Steelers can avoid the injury bug, look for them to make a successful run at ring No. 7.