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Notes from the first day of practice
So here are my observations from the Steelersí first practice. In order to understand the notes, you have to understand that, unlike Cowherís and Nollís practices, which moved smoothly and methodically from stretching, to individual drills such as pylon hopping and ball reaction drills, to one-on-one drills, then culminating with a long scrimmage at the end of practice, Tomlinís practices (I didnít have the privilege of seeing any last year) seem more geared to the MTV crowd, a bunch of small scrimmages scattered through practice around the basics. The practice took about 30-45 minutes longer than a Cowher practice, but the actual work done seems to be the same, they just spent more time moving from one venue to the next. So my notes will seem scattered and haphazard, but thatís because the team is jumping from drill to drill. I thought I could concentrate on some specific players, but itís just easier when things are moving this fast to jot down numbers and worry about who the number belongs to later. Sorry if I missed your favorite player, I tried to jot down as much as I could.
One preemptive strike before I get to the meat and bones of this, realize that this is the first practice of the year, if I say someone isnít playing well, itís just an observation on this particular practice. So donít get your panties in an uproar because I say something derogatory about ďyour guyĒ.
Here we go, in chronological order, just like I saw it and thought it:
- I see Casey Hampton in a tee shirt. I try real hard not to exaggerate, but anyone who has seen the movie ďWildcatsĒ should picture Finch, and you will know how freakiní fat he is. Heís got the thunder thighs and spindly calves, so that his knees are pushed together like a fat chick at the mall. His jowls are handing down from his face, and I swear, even his eyelids are fat. Not happy with the first thing I see in camp.
- I notice right away that the setup is more tailored for the crowd. Before, it was more of a case of watch what you can, weíre working here. Now the grass is manicured like a golf course, the ďexcitingĒ part of the practice is performed in front of the crowd in the stands, and the players seem much freer to play around and joke. They seem happier. Not sure if thatís a good thing or bad.
- In the warm-ups, I notice that Dixon throws a sinker. You know what Iím talking about, itís a beautiful spiral, but the delivery is so overhand and his hands are so big that it nosedives the ball. Heís gonna have to watch that.
- Thereís a coach in the warm-ups working with Humpal about his reads and his slides. The coach came and sought him out about it (itís not Butler, I donít recognize the coach) so he may have had a problem with it in the first practice of the day (the cameras are rolling above, catching everything from warm-ups to scrimmages)
- The offense and defense split after warm-ups, and they run some plays with their helmets and shoulder pads off. Ward starts it off by catching the first pass from Ben to a big ovation from the crowd. (Ward would get an ovation every stinkiní time he touched the ball, I donít get it) By the way, the crowd was only around 5-6 thousand, a far cry from the biggest crowds Iíve seem at the first practice which were in ď05 after the 15-1 season and looked to be about 20 grand)
- Limas Sweed is asking a lot of questions about where to line up, and Washington is helping him as best as he can. Moving him in or out, depending on the play. Good for Washington.
- The defense across the field is running several crossing stunts, the one theyíre working on this morning is to overload the left and stunt Woodley inside with the ILB swinging around the outside. Right away I can tell that the defensive practice is going smoother than the offensive.
- Max Starks comes out and is the starting right tackle, he looks as slim as Iíve seen him. Hope thatís good news for him.
- Across the field, the defense is running the middle blitz over and over. Might be something the personnel offer this year. Curious to see Timmons in action.
- Dixon throws a bad pass in padless drills. Not a good sign. Heís either nervous, or he canít throw the short to intermediate stuff.
- Dixon throws a pass to Walker, complete, but high, Walker goes up for it and makes a nice catch. Looks like Dixon needs to work on his touch.
- Ben has hit his first 5-7 passes in stride. He looks better than Iíve ever seen him. No worries about the Qb spot as long as heís healthy,.
- Potts hits Anthony Trucks over the middle with a nice pass, but Potts looks stiff. He doesnít look to be in the same league athletically as Ben, Dixon or Batch.. Still, it was a nice effort and he works hard. Weíll see if he gets paid off for it.
- Nice pass on the tight end hook to Spaeth. Damn, this guy looks surprisingly smooth. He has a great awareness of where the defenders are and he comes back for the ball very well.
- Mendenhall makes his fist appearance and catches a swing out pass in which he drifts out to the flat them runs an in-pattern about 5 yards down field. He makes the catch, but I hear a bit of a ďslapĒ when the ball hits his hands. His hands arenít as soft as we were lead to believe.
- Ben hits Miller with a nice flare out to the right. Miller makes an over-the-shoulder catch over the outside shoulder on a perfectly thrown ball then cuts it upfield and looks good doing it. They seem to be concentrating on the short stuff to the backs and the tight ends. No question as to whether or not Ben and Miller are on the same page. They are.
- They switch drills and now they have the special teams firing off the line in coverage with nobody across from them. As for shear quickness off the line, Woodley is the quickest off on the first group.
- Ryan McBaen is the quickest off the line in the second group.
- Dezmond Sherrod is quickest off the line in the next group.
- Gary Russell is doing a good job of spring down field in the drill as is Mike Humpal.
- Micah Rucker and Matt Spaeth are the slowest ones getting off the line, as though they donít want any part of this. (either that, or they are really slow getting out of their stance)
- They have the punt returners catching balls. Holmes makes the smoothest catches out of all of them.
- Mewelde Moore is making the catches, but you hear the ball slapping against the pads when he does. Iím a bit nervous here. I was expecting him to be the punt returner.
- Hold the bus. Willie Reid actually looks good making the catches. Could it be that he has seen the light?
- Travis Williams looks very smooth catching the ball on punt returns. Not sure who he is, but other than Holmes, he looks the best at actually pulling the ball in. Of course, they arenít really taking the ball back at this point.
- They have Ryan McBean running down on punt coverage, and he looks to be a little stiffer than his 230 pound counterparts, but he is the most powerful guy they have covering punts. Remember Orpheus Roye and his wedge busting? This may be the second coming. Of course, he needs to play the d-line first.
- Jonathan Dekker is working real hard at downfield blocking on punts. I wish the rest of our guys worked this hard.
- During the change to the next drill, Roy Lewis did a very cool dance to get the other defensive backs fired up. The crowd loved it. Whoís Roy Lewis?
- The team stretches and gets ready for the ďrealĒ part of practice to start. Tomlin squats with Washington and Reid. Washington tries to convince Tomlin of something. Tomlin is skeptical.
- The players put on the helmets and itís time to start the festivities. In passing drills, Wards starts it off with a nice one-handed catch of Benís pass.
- Batch hits Mewelde Moore on a screen, and itís immediately evident why they got Moore. He squats real nicely in the pocket and heís really hard for the defenders to see. Then he turns is up-field quickly and goes for daylight. Mooreís a nice addition.
- Iím watching the QBís go though their fakes before passing the ball, and Ben goes through the fake and sells it much better than any of the other QBís. He gets a high shoulder lift after the handoff, and it really looks like heís got the ball and gonna throw it. I canít help but see Kenny Anderson in those mannerisms. If Anderson is good for nothing else, he has made Benís fakes top-notch.
- Dezmond Sherrod makes a nice catch on a button-hook. Heís playing well.
- Ben hits Carey Davis out of the backfield in the hands, and Davis bobbles the ball. Turns what could have been a 10 yard gain into a 2 yard gain.
- Billy Lasko tries hard when heís coming out of the backfield, but he looks really stiff when heís trying to turn around to catch the ball. Really stiff.
- The tight ends are trying to block, and Cody Boyd looks to be the worst blocking tight end we have. He has his arms way too extended, and heís just leaning on the defender, trying to push him out of the way.
- Dezmond Sherrod makes a nice block in the blocking drills. Gets his hands under the pads nice and firmly, and drives his man.
- They have the blocking racks set out with a blocking sled at the end of the chute. If youíve never seen these racks, they are a little like bicycle racks, only they are chutes low enough to force the blocker to fire out low. Spaeth is topping out every time he fires out. He is hitting the top and itís messing up his blocks. He needs to somehow learn to keep his asss down.
- Justin Vincent looks great catching the ball over the middle. Who knew?
- Sherrod looks better than everyone except Miller at firing out of the chute and hitting the sled. Whoever the hell this guy is, heís making a serious attempt at making the team.