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Old 08-10-2009, 07:34 AM   #1
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Default Steelers auditioning for wide receiver supporting roles


Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Steelers auditioning for wide receiver supporting roles

By Scott Brown
Monday, August 10, 2009

The candidates

The Steelers are set at wide receiver this season as far as the starters. But the spots behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are open. Here are the players battling for those spots:

Dallas Baker, 6-3, 206: Good practice player has to convince coaches that he can carry it over to games.

Steven Black, 6-2, 205: Undrafted free agent from Memphis is probably playing for a spot on the practice squad.

Tyler Grisham, 5-11, 180: Clemson product is probably in same situation as Black.

Shaun McDonald, 5-10, 183: Intriguing as a slot receiver, he is also a candidate to return punts.

Martin Nance, 6-3, 212: Practice-squad player for Steelers last season has been slowed by a slightly pulled hamstring.

Limas Sweed, 6-4, 220: A breakout season by the second-year man would ease the loss of Nate Washington.

Mike Wallace, 6-0, 219: Rookie has blazing speed and could make an impact if he picks up the offense.

Brandon Williams, 5-11, 170: Former third-round pick of the 49ers is convinced that all he needs is an opportunity to shine.

Of the many pointers Limas Sweed got from Hines Ward during his rookie season, one should have stood out above the rest.

It came after Sweed made a choppy cut rather than a sharp one in practice, and it happened right near All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. Ward told Sweed he had tipped off that he was going right instead of left.

Had it had been a game, Ward said, Sweed would have gotten leveled and possibly left the field in an ambulance. Talk about impressing upon someone the importance of crisp route running. And as Sweed relayed the anecdote, he made it clear that Ward wasn't exaggerating to make a point.

"I wasn't the best route-runner," Sweed conceded of his rookie season, in which he had just six receptions for 64 yards and a memorable drop against the Ravens in the AFC title game. "I wasn't the best coverage-reader. Those are things I have to work on."

Sweed, a second-round pick in 2008, is the most likely to emerge from a group of talented but largely unproven wide receivers as the No. 3 man behind Ward and Santonio Holmes.

The 6-4, 220-pounder has good size and speed. Just as important, Sweed has a much stronger grasp of the Steelers' offense as well as what it takes to succeed and stay in one piece at this level.

Coaches and teammates have said there is no comparison between the Sweed who is having a strong camp and the one who would set up at the line of scrimmage last August with several thoughts running through his head, which ultimately slowed him down.

"He's that much more comfortable and that much more assured of himself," Steelers wide receivers coach Randy Fichtner said of Sweed.

Nothing, however, is assured at wide receiver behind Ward and Holmes given how inexperienced the other players are, save for seventh-year veteran Shaun McDonald.

"You're always comfortable if you have your guys in line and they've played for you before and they know what you need from them," Fichtner said. "But I like (the situation) because it's made for a really competitive type of camp. There's going to be some new guys, which can be refreshing, too."

It is critical that the Steelers find reliable receivers after Ward and Holmes, because an injury to either of the Super Bowl MVPs thrusts one of the reserves into the starting lineup. And even with no injuries, the Steelers need depth for their three- and four-receiver sets.

"It's a good group of receivers," said McDonald, who set career highs in receptions (79) and receiving yards (943) two seasons ago in Detroit. "A lot of us could probably go on another team and make another team. There's going to be a guy left out that probably should have made the team, but there just wasn't a spot."

Sweed doesn't figure to be one of the men left out and not just because he is young and a player in which the Steelers have made a significant investment.

He expects to make a quantum leap from last season and give the Steelers the tall wide receiver they have lacked in recent years.

"I'm my toughest critic," said the 24-year-old Sweed, "so I know if there is something I need to work on, I'll work on it until I perfect it."

His struggles last season may have been a combination of adjusting to the speed and complexity of the NFL game and the fact that Sweed missed the second half of his senior season at Texas because of a wrist injury that required surgery.

He used neither as a crutch in talking about the struggles he had last season.

Sweed didn't dwell on his hard-knock rookie campaign, taking only 10 days off following the Super Bowl before he starting training with the intent of making an impact this season.

"I'm enjoying football again," Sweed said, "and that is the biggest key."

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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Old 08-10-2009, 08:09 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers auditioning for wide receiver supporting roles

How is Brandon Williams doing in camp? I remember readin that he was the guy at spring drills.
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Old 08-10-2009, 09:23 AM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers auditioning for wide receiver supporting roles

I really hope the light turns on for Sweed this year. I thought he was an ecceptional player at Texas and if he can develope we would have a great reciever with good character and work ethic.
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