August 5, 2009
By Donald Starver
I attended Steelers training camp yesterday. However, I was not able to take copious notes like I usually do. The reason was that I had my precocious 5 year old nephew with me. Try watching football practice when you are responsible for babysitting a 5 year old boy who has more energy than the Energizer Bunny. He was much more interested in climbing on my back or going to McDonald’s than he was in watching the Steelers.
So rather than give my regular update of what went on at training camp yesterday, I thought that I would do something slightly different today. I want to provide a perspective of what fans should and should not take from my (and other websites’) training camp reports.
Mike Tomlin has been very vocal about his opinion of “football in shorts”. He thinks it is a good teaching tool, but is not particularly valuable for evaluating players. I tend to agree with him. However, there is a little bit of that perspective that also applies to training camp. You see, training camp is not a true simulation of actual game conditions.
I have tried to share what I am seeing at training camp with those of you who are not able to make it to Latrobe. I think that this is valuable inasmuch as most Steelers fans are not present at training camp. After a long off-season, most fans are aching for some Steelers news. I know that I certainly am. Therefore, I try to bring you Steelers updates from training camp.
However, I have noticed from some of the comments that I have received, as well as some of the things that I have read on various Steelers message boards, that some fans do not quite understand what you can and cannot conclude merely by watching players in training camp.
I need to clarify that here at training camp, the players are not going at full speed. There is no tackling going on, and minimal hitting. After all, we wouldn’t want the players getting hurt before the season even starts. Thus, when I report that a receiver made a good catch in traffic, fans need to understand that in an actual game situation the defenders would have leveled the player. It is nice that the receiver held onto the ball in practice, but would he have held onto it if he had actually been hit by a safety while coming down with the ball? Who knows?
Fans are constantly writing to me asking for my perspective on the offensive line. Like all Steelers fans, I too am concerned about the offensive line. However, the defense is not allowed to sack Big Ben right now. Since they are not allowed to tackle Ben, it is hard to evaluate how the offensive line is doing. There have been a few times when a defender has gotten to Ben completely unblocked. That clearly indicated to me that there was a problem on the offensive line. However, beyond those instances, it is hard to draw actual conclusions. If Dick LeBeau were to turn the dogs loose and say “Get the quarterback”, then I could provide a much more accurate assessment of how the offensive line is doing. But since the defense is not allowed to touch the quarterback, the defenders aren’t really going all out.
A few fans have written to me expressing their disappointment in Frank “the tank” Summers because he got leveled by Willie Gay. It’s not fair to pass that judgment at this time. There is no hitting going on at training camp, so Summers was not expecting Willie Gay to level him. Frankly, that was the football equivalent of a sucker punch. In my opinion, that incident made Willie Gay look bad, not Frank Summers.
There are some things that we CAN say definitively at this time. For example:
- Big Ben has been throwing too many interceptions. While I am sure he will work it out, Ben’s accuracy has been an issue. But if you recall, he had the same problem last year during camp and the preseason.
- Mike Wallace is fast. It’s true that the defensive backs can’t hit him right now, but there is no rule preventing them from keeping up with him when he runs down the field.
- Dan Sepulveda is able to get nice distance on his punts, and appears to be 100% recovered.
- Piotr Czech and Jeff Reed can both kick for distance and accuracy. This is making for an unexpected training camp battle.
Beyond those things, it is impossible to draw any definitive conclusions yet. The real test is going to come on August 13th when the Steelers play their first pre-season game against the Arizona Cardinals. That will be the first time the players are actually allowed to hit somebody. Only then will we get our first true glimpse at how the offensive line is doing.
I will keep reporting from training camp. However, I hope fans will now keep my reports in the proper perspective. Steeler Nation can’t get enough of the Black and Gold, so I will continue reporting what I see. However, perhaps I should start off these training camp reports with the same disclaimer that you see on those psychic hotline ads; “for entertainment purposes only”.
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