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Steelers training camp: Offensive line

August 24, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

August 25, 2009
By John DeWald

This is Part 9 in a series.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

Part 1:  Defensive linemen

Part 2:  Linebackers

Part 3:  Safeties

Part 4: Cornerbacks

Part 5: Quarterbacks

Part 6: Running backs

Part 7: Wide receivers

Part 8: Tight ends

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for - the offensive line.   Regardless of what Bruce Arians might think, the offensive line did not have a good year in 2008.  During the off-season, they lost their best (although often injured) lineman in Marvell Smith, as well as Kendall Simmons.  The incumbent starters entering training camp are (from left to right) Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig, Stapleton, and Colon.   Added to this are 9 other veterans, rookies, and practice squad players.  Last year the Steelers carried 9 linemen on the active roster and, in all likelihood, they will do the same this year.  So, we are looking at 14 players fighting for 9 spots on the 53-man roster.

Although the line is a much maligned unit, there is ample reason for hope.   Once the current line was in place, they steadily improved throughout the year.  Continuity is very important in line-play, so with an off-season and training camp under their belts, the Steelers obviously hope their play will continue to improve (otherwise they wouldn’t have spent so much money keeping them).  The Steelers would also like to see some of the young backups step up and push the starters.  Without further ado, here are the prospective linemen.

Max Starks - The starting left tackle was a bit of a joke at the start of last season when, as the transition player, he couldn’t even crack the starting lineup.  He more than proved his worth, however, when Marvell Smith went down with back problems.  Starks stepped in and played solid for the rest of the year.  This off-season the Steelers were so thin at tackle (all 4 tackles were either restricted or unrestricted free agents) that he was designated as the franchise player.  Most thought that this would actually act as an impediment to a long term contract since he was guaranteed $8 million for 2009 under the franchise tag.  In June, however, he signed a 4-year contract for $27 million, which is quite respectable for a starting left tackle.

Max Starks

Max Starks

Chris Kemoeatu - is a big, strong, nasty, mauling guard…with occasional temper issues.  He also commits far too many penalties and mental mistakes.  The saving grace is that he is young and this was his first year as a starter.  After signing him to a 5-year $20 million contract, the Steelers obviously hope his play improves.  This contract, however (unlike Kendall Simmons’ contract), had a modest $3.885 million signing bonus, so it offers an inexpensive “out” should Kemo fail to live up to expectations.

Justin Hartwig - is the old man of the group at 30.  He was signed as a free agent last year and was a noticeable upgrade over Sean Mahan.  Probably best known for the safety he committed during the Super Bowl, he actually had a very solid year.  If anything, the biggest knock against him is that he is not Webster, Dawson, or Hartings.  Over 30 years of excellence at the center position creates high expectations.

Darnell Stapleton - was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2008 draft.  He made the team last year as a backup center and proceeded to beat out Trai Essex for the right guard position after Simmons went down.  Stapleton played extremely well for an undrafted free agent just one year out of college.  Coming into camp he was set to compete with Essex and  Urbik.  Unfortunately for Darnell , he suffered a knee injury at the beginning of camp and had to undergo  arthroscopic surgery.  This will essentially keep him out of camp and he will likely lose his starting job as long as either Essex or Urbik prove competent.

Willie Colon - Willie “false start” Colon, the starting right tackle, did not have a very good year last year.  In fact many analysts feel he would make a better guard than tackle.  Even so, as a restricted free agent, he was offered a first round tender at roughly $2 Million.   This is relatively cheap for a starting tackle and, as Colon is still young, the Steelers obviously hope he will improve.  If he does improve, they can sign him long term.   If not, they can let him go or move him inside to guard at a lower cost.  So far in Camp, Zierlein and Arians have been raving about Colon - let’s hope that is an indication of his play and not simply an attempt to pump up his confidence.

Willie Colon

Willie Colon

Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig , Stapleton , and Colon are all locks to make the team.  That leaves 9 people fighting for the 4 remaining spots.

Trai Essex -  A 3rd round pick in 2005, he has been a top backup but has never shown enough to crack the starting roster.  Able to play tackle and guard, he was resigned this off-season to a 2 year deal for about $1 Mill/year - respectable for a guy who can backup multiple positions.  This year, with Stapleton out,  he has staked a strong claim to the starting right guard position and appears light years ahead of Urbik.  If he maintains his play throughout the pre-season he could keep the starting job even after Stapleton returns.  In any case, he seems to have a roster spot locked up.

Kraig Urbik - The guard out of Wisconsin was the Steelers’ first 3rd round pick in this year’s draft.  Urbik has the size and pedigree to be a dominant guard, but it appeared during camp that he is a bit over-matched right now.  He needs time to adjust to the speed of the NFL and, as a high 3rd round pick, the Steelers will likely give that to him.  Urbik may never see the field this year but I project that he will make the team.

Tony Hills - Selected by the Steelers in the 4th round in 2008, last year was essentially a red-shirt year for Hills.  This year he needs to show more to make the team.  Lucky for him the team is rather shallow at tackle.  As Steelers Today has reported, Hills did not start camp off very well.  His play, however, has steadily improved and he appeared to hold his own in the first pre-season game.  He is competing against Jason Capizzi and Jeremy Parquet for the last tackle spot.  I see it coming down between Hills and Capizzi, with Hills currently holding the edge.

Jason Capizzi - played at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is from Gibsonia, Pa.  He was originally signed by the Steelers as a rookie free agent in 2007. He has bounced around on the practice squad of a number of teams before being resigned by the Steelers last December (after Marvell went on IR). He has put in a lot of work in the off-season and is fighting Hills and Parquet for the last tackle spot.  As mentioned above, I believe Hills currently has the edge and Capizzi really needs to impress if he wants to overtake him.

Jeremy Parquet - A 7th round pick in 2005 by the KC Chiefs, Parquet spent time with the Rams before joining the Steelers in 2007.  He was promoted to the active roster in October of last year.  I don’t believe he is eligible for the practice squad anymore so he will probably be on the outside looking in when the cuts come in.

Ramon Foster - was signed this year as an undrafted free agent.   He was a 4 year starter for Tennessee at tackle but projects as a guard in the NFL.  The book on Foster is that he is BIG and could develop into a pounding  guard (or play right tackle in a pinch) but that his footwork is slow.  Foster has impressed during camp and has a decent shot to win the final roster spot.  If not, they will definitely try to sign him to the practice squad.

Doug Legursky - played center for Marshall in College and was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008.  He spent part of last year on the practice squad but was never added to the active roster.   He is competing against A.Q. Shipley, Alex Stepanovich, and Foster for the final backup center/guard spot.  As mentioned above, I believe Foster currently has the edge to make the active roster and Legursky’s fight is primarily against Shipley to make the practice squad.

A.Q. Shipley - The center out of Penn State was the Steelers’ first 7th round pick in this year’s draft.  Shipley is another early fan favorite due to his blue collar work ethic.  Heck, let’s just call him the NFL equivalent of “Rudy.”  His height and arm length are too short to play in the NFL…everyone has told him that but he keeps plugging away.  Unfortunately, I don’t see him making the active roster.  There is a good chance, however, that he will be signed to the practice squad.

A.Q. Shipley

A.Q. Shipley

Alex Stepanovich - A 4th round pick in 2004 by the Arizona Cardinals, he started 34 games in his 5 year career, most of them for Arizona during his first 3 years.   The past 2 years he has been a backup for the Bengals and the Falcons.  He was signed recently as insurance given the injuries to Hartwig and Stapleton.  On the positive side, he has far more NFL experience than Shipley, Legursky, and Foster put together.  On the negative side, there is a reason he hasn’t been able to stick with a team.  At the end of the day, he only makes the team if Hartwig and Stapleton are not healthy at the beginning of the season AND if neither Shipley nor Legursky are able to impress the coaching staff.

So in summary, I predict that Starks, Kemoeatu, Hartwig , Stapleton , Colon, Essex, and Urbik are in.  Hills and Foster appear to have the edge for the final two spots.  Capizzi, Shipley, and Legursky are fighting to make the practice squad and Stepanovich and Parquet are out.  Agree?  Disagree?  Your comments are welcome.

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Pittsburgh Steelers training camp day #4

August 04, 2009 By: Admin Category: training camp

August 3, 2009
By Donald Starver

Today marked the fourth day of the Steelers 2009 training camp.  The crowd was blessed with great weather, and things are starting to get heated on the field.

The competition between the offense and the defense is starting to show, and several fights broke out today.  There was also some non-fight related contact that was harder than necessary.

A couple of players are starting to stand out to me.  They are:

Mike Wallace - This kid is a player.  He has caught passes along the sideline, made sliding catches, and beaten everybody deep (more than once).  Unless the sun explodes, he is going to make the team.  He may even shock the world and win the #3 receiver position.

Keenan Lewis - He has made nice plays everyday.  He always seems to be near the ball.  He has made a few interceptions, and deflected quite a few passes.

Tyler Grisham - I was the first one to write about this kid.  He probably won’t make the team, but if he keeps playing like he is, he may be kept on the practice squad.

#19 rookie WR Tyler Grisham

#19 rookie WR Tyler Grisham

David Johnson - Can’t catch very well, but he seems to be the most powerful blocker  among the tight ends.

Guys who have played poorly so far include:

Martin Nance - Drops too many passes.  He is in last place among the wide receivers.

Tony Hills - It’s hard to believe that this guy was an All-American in college.  He gets dominated far too often.  My new name for him is “Neo”.  You’ll see why later.

Joe Burnett - He is going to have to show something as a punt returner, because he keeps getting beat and dropping interceptions as a cornerback.

With that said, here are my notes from today’s practice.

-Hines Ward is in street clothes again.

Imported Photos 00055

-Team is doing casual drills in their respective units.

3:20PM - Horn sounds and the whole team comes together for team stretching and running.

-Casey Hampton walks through all of the running drills.  He takes a knee and talks during the stretches.  He doesn’t even get down with the other players and pretend to be stretching.  He just sat on his knees talking to the coaches.  I think he was afraid that if he layed down to stretch, he wouldn’t be able to get back up.

Imported Photos 00051

Don't work too hard, big fella.

-Big Snack is not the only one who coasts during running and stretching drills.  Big Ben also walks while the other players are running/jogging.  However, he starts before the whistle blows each time, so he always finishes first.

3:31PM - Horn blows.  Team breaks up into offense and defense.  All units split up to work on drills.

-Quarterbacks and wide receivers have been working on LOTS of short outlet passes.  I think they are going to be a much more important part of the offense this year.  They’ve worked on them everyday so far.

-Dennis Dixon and Mike Reilly both have a very nice spin on their passes.  They throw a tight spiral.

-Big Ben actually throws the wobbliest spiral of any of the quarterbacks.  It’s a good thing he has a strong arm.

-Stefan Logan had been on the PUP list, but he is out there practicing today.

-Martin Nance drops his first pass.

-Once again, I’m impressed by WR Steven Black.  He has good size and good hands.

3:52PM - Defense and offense come together again.

-Dallas Baker beats William Gay for a nice reception across the middle.

-Mike Wallace beats Ike Taylor for a 20 yard reception and the crowd cheers.

-Tyler Grisham beats Ryan Mundy for a catch along the sideline.

-Shaun McDonald beats Ike Taylor across the middle, and Taylor pushes him to the ground HARD.  I don’t think Taylor liked getting beat.

-Mike Wallace beats Roy Lewis and Joe Burnett for a long pass.  He has 4 steps on both of them, and he would have had more if the ball hadn’t been under-thrown.

-Mike Reilly over-throws Limas Sweed on a long pass.  Limas could have had it, but he didn’t even put his hands up.

-Another wide open catch by Mike Wallace.  Is he THAT fast, or are the DBs that slow?

-Limas Sweed catches a pass from Big Ben and the crowd breathes a sigh of relief.

4:02 PM - Horn blows and offense & defense meet at the 20 yard line.

-1st team offense and 1st team defense take the field.

-Limas Sweed catches first pass.  A short out pass outlet pass from Big Ben.

-Dezmond Sherrod dives for a pass but drops it.

-Big Ben throws a pass that is almost intercepted by Anthony Madison.  The WR must have run the wrong route, because there was no WR in the area.

-Charlie Batch takes over and completes first pass to Martin Nance.

-Brandon Williams catches a short pass, but then puts a nice spin move on Joe Burnett that gains him an extra 10 yards.

-Keenan Lewis deflects a pass along the sidelines.

-Mike Wallace makes a nice sliding catch.

-Ryan Clark intercepts Charlie Batch’s pass across the middle.

-The Horn blows.

-Keiwan Ratliff, Joe Burnett, Shaun McDonald, Stefan Logan, Mewelde Moore and Santonio Holmes field punts.

-Isaac Redman wrestles Lawrence Timmons to the ground in a blocking drill.

-Andrew Schantz gets beat badly on a special teams blocking drill and gets yelled at by coaches.

-Tyler Grisham delivers a hard blow on Roy Lewis in a blocking drill.  Lewis meets him after the play and pats him on the butt.

-4:25 PM - 1st team offense and defense take the field again.

-James Farrior is in Ben Roethlisberger‘s face in a nanosecond.  If this were full contact, it would have been a sack.

-Willie Parker beats Lawrence Timmons on an out pattern and actually catches the ball.  The crowd goes wild.  (Note to those of you who are unaware: Willie Parker can’t catch).

-Rashard Mendenhall breaks a long run and the crowd cheers.

-Rookie safety Derrick Richardson dives to break up a pass to Martin Nance.  The crowd cheers.

-Dennis Dixon goes right back to Nance for a completion.

-Martin Nance drops a short pass from Dixon.

4:33 PM -  Horn blows.  Field goal team practices hurry-up drills.

-Jeff Reed boots a 48 yard field goal in 8-second drill.

-Reed boots a 56 yard field goal right throught the uprights.

4:40 PM - Offense and defense take the field again.

-Ben completes passes to Sweed, Holmes, and Mendenhall.

-Dallas Baker misses a long sideline pass from Roethlisberger.

-Joe Burnett makes a beautiful juggling interception off of Roethlisberger.  I believe that is Burnett’s first interception of training camp.

-Shaun McDonald beats Joe Burnett for a short reception.

-Chris Hoke has Tony Hills bent back so far in a blocking drill that it looks like Hills is doing the limbo dance.  The technique is actually effective.  Hoke is so surprised to be dominating a blocker this badly that he falls down.  Coaches take Hills aside and talk to him.

Tony Hill's blocking technique.

Tony Hills' blocking technique.

Or perhaps Hills was practicing his bullet dodging technique like Neo in The Matrix.

Tony Hills dodges Chris Hoke.

Tony Hills dodges Chris Hoke.

-Tyrone Carter puts a hard hit on rookie WR Mike Wallace, but Wallace holds onto the ball and the crowd cheers.

4:51 PM - Dennis Dixon takes over.  Dixon completes first pass to Tyler Grisham.  Dixon and Grisham are becoming quite a duo.

-Mike Reilly throws 2 incomplete passes.  He is 0-2.

4:54 PM - Offense and defense take field for 11-on-11 drills.

-Charlie Batch over-throws Shaun McDonald on a long pass.

-Tony Hills gets into a fight with a defender.  I can’t see who it is.  Mr. Smith maybe?

I'll get you Tony Hills!!

I'll get you, Tony Hills!!

-Charlie Batch over-throws Brandon Williams on a long pass.

That is pretty much all that happened in camp today.  If you want to hear about a particular player, leave a comment and let me know.

If you haven’t read my recap of Day 2 click here.

If you haven’t read my recap of Day 3 click here.

See you guys tomorrow.

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