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Steelers wide receiver update

August 19, 2010 By: Admin Category: training camp

Training camp is starting to wind down, so it’s time to start reviewing what I’ve seen here at St. Vincent College.

Most Steelers fans thought that the wide receiver position was going to be a glaring weakness for the team after the loss of Santonio Holmes.  But surprisingly, I think that the exact opposite is true.  In my opinion, the wide receiver position is going to be one of the team’s greatest strengths this year.

Don’t get me wrong.  The loss of Santonio Holmes definitely hurts.  Holmes was our best receiver after the catch last year.  Holmes was the receiver who was the most elusive after getting the ball in his hands.  Holmes also seemed to be the receiver who worked best with Ben Roethlisberger when Big Ben was scrambling and playing “sandlot football”.

But the Steelers drafted two receivers in the NFL Draft, and then they brought in several free agents, and suddenly, a weakness is looking like a strength.  In fact, I think that this is the position that is going to give coaches the most difficult time when it comes time to decide who will make the final 53-man roster.

Let’s look at the receivers.

Hines Ward - Everyone knows who Hines Ward is.  He holds just about every Steelers receiving record.  This will be Ward’s 13th season in the NFL.  James Farrior is the only Steelers player who has been in the league longer.  However, Ward’s game has never depended on speed or athleticism, so age seems to affect him less than it would other receivers.  Ward will probably lead the team in receiving this year too.

Mike Wallace - This is the player that I am more excited about than anyone else on the Steelers’ roster.  Wallace was amazing last year.  And Santonio Holmes’ departure will mean even more opportunities for Wallace.  Wallace led the entire NFL in yards/catch.  That’s pretty good for a rookie.  Oh yeah, and he also had more touchdowns than a certain receiver who now plays for the NY Jets.  Santonio who?

Wallace was able to rely strictly on his speed last year, since he was typically facing the opposition’s #3 cornerback.  This year, he will be facing the opponent’s top cornerback, so he is going to have to be much more precise in his route running and in his receiving technique.  Wallace has been focusing on this throughout training camp.

Antwaan Randle El - Like Santonio Holmes, Randle El is best remembered for one heroic play in a Steelers’ Super Bowl victory.  But aside from that one play, Randle El’s career as a wide receiver has been rather ordinary.  He has never come close to having 1,000 receiving yards in a season.  He has never scored more than 4 touchdowns in a season.  Last season, he didn’t score a single touchdown despite playing in all 16 games for the Redskins.

When they signed him, I was pretty certain that Randle El was going to be the #3 receiver for the Steelers this season.  But now, after watching all of the receivers in training camp, I am not 100% certain that Randle El will make the final 53-man roster.

Tyler Grisham - I was probably the biggest advocate of Tyler Grisham last season.  I was the first media outlet to write about him.  Moreover, I predicted that the Steelers would keep him on the practice squad before most people had even heard of him.

Tyler Grisham at training camp.

Grisham is still the same gritty, “give it 110%” player that I saw last year.  However, the Steelers have so much talent at wide receiver this year, that I don’t think Grisham has any chance of making the team.  He may be kept on the practice squad like he was last year.  But the Steelers have some VERY TALENTED young players in training camp.  I just don’t see Grisham being able to beat them out for a roster spot.

Emmanuel Sanders - This kid has been the star of Steelers Training Camp.  Take my word for it.  He’s good.  Very good.  If you didn’t read my review of him following the NFL Draft, please click here.

Emmanuel Sanders lines up.

Sanders is both fast and quick.  He has great hands, and he has a knack for getting open.  The impressive thing is that I have seen him catch quite a few passes from Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich during training camp.  That means that the coaches have been playing him with the first team at times.  Not many rookies get that opportunity.  If I were picking the Steelers’ final roster right now, I would take Emmanuel Sanders ahead of Antwaan Randle El.

Isaiah Williams - Williams is the only wide receiver on the Steelers roster who did not play in the preseason game against the Detroit Lions.  That probably says a lot.  I have been impressed by Williams during training camp.  However, there is so much talent at the wide receiver position, that he has just not been able to separate himself from the crowd.  Sorry Isaiah, but you chose the wrong year to be in Steelers Training Camp.

Brandon London - This kid has been the Tyler Grisham of this year’s training camp.  He has played with incredible consistency.  He’s not the fastest receiver on the field, but he is clearly the tallest wide receiver in training camp.  At 6’4″, he towers over all of the other receivers.  And we all know that Big Ben prefers tall receivers, so this may work in London’s favor.

I really like what I’ve seen from London.  But I don’t think that he’s done enough to beat out all of the competition at his position.  He’s too good to simply let him go, but he’s not quite ready for prime time.  I’m going to predict that the Steelers will keep him on the practice squad.  However, because this is technically London’s 3rd year in the league (he was on the Miami Dolphin’s roster in 2008, but was out of the league in 2009), I will have to check the rules to see if he is eligible for the practice squad.

Arnaz Battle - Arnaz Battle’s primary value to the Steelers is as a special teams player.  However, fans got to see what Battle can do as a receiver in the preseason game against the Lions.  Battle caught a 51 yard reception that definitely caught the attention of Steelers fans.

Fans tend to get overly excited about individual plays that are made during preseason.  So to bring them back to earth, I have to mention that this is Battle’s 8th season in the NFL.  He spent the last 7 years with the San Francisco 49ers.  He is a seasoned veteran, but his best years are behind him.

Antonio Brown - Like Emmanuel Sanders, this rookie has been lighting it up at Steelers Training Camp.  I don’t think that he is a well-regarded as Sanders is, because I have rarely seen him practicing on the same unit as Ben Roethlisberger.  Instead, Brown almost always practices with Dennis Dixon.  But this may work to his advantage.  Brown has clearly become Dennis Dixon’s favorite target.  And with the impressive showing that Dixon had against the Lions, there is a possibility that Dixon may actually be the starting quarterback for the Steelers’ first 4 games.  If that is the case, then being his favorite receiver should work in Brown’s favor.

Antonio Brown works with Dennis Dixon.

If you didn’t read my review of Antonio Brown following the NFL Draft, please click here.

As I said earlier, the Steelers are going to have a lot of talent at wide receiver this year.  However, they are not going to have a lot of experience at the position.  It should be interesting.  Stay tuned.


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Fans converge on Latrobe

August 03, 2010 By: Admin Category: training camp

Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, each year hordes of black and gold clad fans descend on Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  They are making their annual trek to Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp.

Fans come from far and near to get a glimpse of their favorite Steelers players.  Like Eric and Heather Higgs, who along with their baby Elaine, traveled all the way from Cleveland to visit Steelers Training Camp.

The Higgs family from Cleveland

Like so many other fans, the Higgs family realizes that Steelers Training Camp is a great way to kick-off a new year of Steelers football.

Training Camp attendees get an early look at the new rookies and free agents.  They get to start formulating opinions about who is going to contribute to the upcoming season long before other fans get their first view of the team.

Not only do training camp attendees get an early look at the team, but they also get a closer view of their favorite players than they can get just about anywhere else.

Tight end Heath Miller

Ryan Clark talks to fans

Troy signs autographs for fans

Ziggy Hood signs an autograph

Rookie Jason Worilds greets fans

The only problem with Steelers Training Camp is that it takes place in August.  So it can get hot at times.  Very hot!  And St. Vincent provides very little shade.  So be prepared to sit in the sun.

Of course, the staff from Parkhurst Dining Services is always ready to help you to cool off.  Just stop by the concession stand to pick up food, drinks, popsicles, or ice cream to help you beat the heat.

Marcus, Jim, and Ben will help keep you cool.

It always amazes me how many Pittsburgh natives have never made the trip to Latrobe.  It’s a short drive from most parts of Pittsburgh.  It’s a fun outing, and it is definitely worth the trip.

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Steelers Training Camp begins

July 31, 2010 By: Admin Category: training camp

The start of  Steelers Training Camp 2010 will be remembered more for what didn’t happen than for what did happen.

What didn’t happen, despite the expectations of many fans, sportswriters, and sports talk show hosts, was booing for Ben Roethlisberger.   Perhaps this should have been expected, since the people who make their way to St. Vincent College for Steelers Training Camp tend to be very loyal, die-hard fans.  They are probably the group that is least likely to boo a member of the Steelers, regardless of what that player may have done.

For the most part, the greeting that Big Ben received was very courteous.  He didn’t receive the loud, ground-shaking cheers that Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward received, but they didn’t boo him either.  In fact, a few female fans could even be heard yelling “We love you, Ben!”

Despite not receiving a hostile reaction from the fans, Roethlisberger’s jersey #7 was noticeably scarce.  There were plenty of #7 jerseys to be found in the crowd.  But many were worn by small children.  Anyone who has been to Steelers Training Camp in the past would have noticed the drastic reduction in the number of #7 jerseys in the stands.  Moreover, I’d be willing to bet that the Steelers organization is noticing a drastic decline in sales of Ben’s #7 jersey.

I’m sure that Roethlisberger was just as uncertain as I was of how he would be greeted.  Once he got out on the field, Ben seemed very loose and relaxed.  He took the first snaps in each of the drills, before turning the ball over to Byron Leftwich.

Roethlisberger, Leftwich, and Dennis Dixon all got a significant amount of work on Saturday.  However, there didn’t seem to be many snaps left over for Charlie Batch.  There just isn’t enough time to prepare four quarterbacks for the season, and Batch is apparently the odd man out.

Other than the aforementioned reaction to Big Ben, and the division of labor among the quarterbacks, the first day of Training Camp  was very uneventful.

Here are a few random observations from the first day of practice:

  • As in years past, Training Camp didn’t feel like it had officially begun until Chris Hoke performed his dance in the middle of the field.  This has become a tradition at Training Camp, and was met with thunderous applause by the fans and the other players.
  • LaMarr Woodley’s ascension as a Pro Bowler was evident.  I noticed far more #56 jerseys in the crowd than I’ve ever seen before.  In fact, there seemed to be more #56 jerseys than #92 (James Harrison) jerseys.
  • #86 and #43 are the most popular jersey numbers by far.  Those two number must have accounted for more of the jerseys worn by fans at St. Vincent College than all other numbers combined.
  • While Stefan Logan took most of the reps receiving punts, Antonio Brown and Crezdon Butler also fielded a few punts.
  • Chris Kemoeatu drew cheers from the crowd when he jumped in front of Mike Wallace and intercepted a pass.  Of course, Kemoeatu wasn’t supposed to be participating in the drill, so Wallace didn’t expect him to jump in front of him.
  • The crowd cheered loudly when Rashard Mendenhall got around the defense and broke a long run to the outside.
  • Emmanuel Sanders’ first catch of the day was a long bomb from Byron Leftwich.
  • WR Brandon London is a big target.  At 6’4″, he towers over the other Steelers receivers.
  • Mike Wallace burned William Gay for a long reception.  Both aspects of that play seemed strangely familiar.
  • Rashard Mendenhall got knocked on his butt by a hard hit after catching a short pass over the middle.
  • Rookie LB Stevenson Sylvester intercepted a pass near the end of practice.

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Steelers Training Camp: Wide Receivers

August 15, 2009 By: Admin Category: training camp

August 15, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is Part 7 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

The wide receiver battle is probably the most intriguing story at Steelers training camp.  The Steelers have a good mix of high draft picks, veteran free agents, and undrafted free agents all battling to make the 53-man roster.  Regardless of who makes the team, I think it is safe to say that Big Ben is going to have some pretty exciting weapons at his disposal.

No other team can boast having two Super Bowl MVPs at wide receiver.  Yet that is exactly what the Steelers have in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.  Their contribution to the team is well-documented, and their places on the roster are guaranteed.  So we really don’t need to spend much time talking about those two.  The real question is “who will take up the other wide receiver roster slots?”

Since becoming Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin has always carried 5 wide receivers on the Steelers’ roster.  Thus, I am going to assume that 5 is the number of wide receivers that Tomlin is looking for in training camp.

Let’s take a look at all of the wide receiver candidates and see if we can predict who will make the final roster.

Hines Ward- As we mentioned earlier, the jaw breaker’s roster spot is guaranteed.  He’s the Steelers’ all-time leading receiver.  He’s a multi-time Pro Bowl participant.  He’s the best blocking wide receiver in the NFL.  He’s clearly a leader on the team, and has the respect of his teammates.  And he probably personifies what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about better than any other current player.

Santonio Holmes- Everybody remembers that final catch in the Super Bowl.  However, it was Santonio’s earlier catches, and his yards after the catch that put the Steelers in the position to be able to pull out a last second win.  That Super Bowl performance will define Holmes for the rest of his career.  His elevated status is already evident at Steelers training camp where the fans cheer any time Holmes makes a catch.  Like Ward, Holmes doesn’t have to worry about making the roster.

Limas Sweed- After getting few chances to make plays during the regular season, Limas Sweed blew his first big opportunity when he dropped a critical pass in the AFC Championship game against Baltimore last year.  That play, along with the fact that he faked an injury afterwards, made many Steelers fans lose faith in Sweed.

Academy award winning performance.

Academy award winning performance.

Fortunately, Sweed has used that as motivation, and has had a very impressive training camp so far.  Moreover, he had two nice catches in the Steelers’ pre-season win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Sweed is a big, fast receiver who is in the mold that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seems to like.  Roethlisberger actively lobbied for a tall receiver, and the Steelers answered him by drafting Sweed.  At 6’4″, Sweed is an easy target for Roethlisberger.  Sweed is the favorite to win the #3 receiver position that was vacated by Nate Washington when he signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Shaun McDonald- Because they were uncertain of what they had in Limas Sweed, the Steelers brought in Shaun McDonald to add an experienced veteran to the wide receiver competition.  McDonald led the Detroit Lions with 79 receptions for 943 yards in 2007.  McDonald lost his position as the Lions’ primary receiving target when they drafted super-human receiver Calvin Johnson.  However, that doesn’t negate the fact that McDonald is a proven NFL receiver.

McDonald has looked consistent but unspectacular so far in Steelers training camp.  But isn’t that exactly what a team needs from their #3 receiver?  After all, if he were spectacular, he would be the #1 or #2 receiver.  When you add in the fact that he can also return punts, I believe that gives McDonald a good chance of making the team.

Dallas Baker- “The touchdown maker” has been anything but since joining the Steelers.  He has scored a grand total of zero touchdowns for the black and gold.  At 6’3″, Baker is a big receiver, so that is a plus.  However, he just hasn’t done anything to catapult himself onto the roster.  Baker spent 2008 on the practice squad, so that says that the Steelers’ coaches believe he has potential.  He has an outside chance of winning the #5 receiver spot, but I don’t foresee that happening.

Touchdown maker?

Touchdown maker?

Martin Nance- At 6’3″, Martin Nance is another big receiver.  He was Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite receiver at Miami of Ohio, so that relationship is probably why he is in Steelers training camp in the first place.  Nance has been very inconsistent in my opinion, and has dropped far too many passes at training camp.  While he is big, he is not particularly fast, and doesn’t get good separation.  He will not make the team.

Steven Black- Going into Steelers training camp I had never heard of the rookie wide receiver from Memphis.  He is 6’3″ and is another big target.  He has caught my attention a few times at training camp.  He has good hands, and is willing to dive for the ball.  However, with all of the competition at WR this year, he has little chance of making the team.

Brandon Williams- Williams is another experienced receiver that the Steelers brought into training camp.  The 3rd year player has been with both the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.  He has never caught a pass in the NFL, and unless an asteroid falls to Earth and kills all of the other wide receivers in training camp, he won’t be catching any for the Steelers this year either.

Tyler Grisham - This kid caught my eyes on the second day of training camp.  I first noticed him because he was so small compared to the other receivers.  But by the end of camp, I was asking “who is that little white guy who keeps diving all over the field catching everything that comes his way?”  When he started putting hard blocks on people, he really caught my eyes.  Some people have said that he reminds them of Wes Welker, but he reminds me of another wide receiver who isn’t big enough, or fast enough, but who is willing to block and manages to catch everything that’s thrown his way.  Has anyone ever heard of a guy named Hines Ward?

Grisham won’t make the team, but this rookie from Clemson has done himself proud in his time at Steelers training camp.  I won’t be the least bit surprised if he makes the Steelers’ practice squad.

Mike Wallace - You probably thought that I forgot about the 3rd round pick out of Mississippi.  Nope, I just saved him for last.  This kid has impressed me more than any other receiver in Steelers training camp.  First of all, he is FAST.  I don’t mean “Santonio Holmes fast”.  Nope, I mean “Willie Parker fast”.  He ran the second fastest time at last year’s NFL combine.  Not only is Wallace fast, but he also has good hands.  I’ve seen him make sliding catches and diving catches at training camp.

Mike Wallace

There is seldom a day at training camp where Wallace doesn’t beat a defensive back…..badly.  He even burns Ike Taylor.  Not many receivers can do that.  I keep having dreams of Big Ben firing long bombs to Wallace.  Each time I have this dream, I wake up with a big smile on my face.

There is a very good chance that this kid could actually come out of training camp as the #3 receiver.  That’s right, I said it.  Mike Wallace might actually win the #3 receiver position.  He’s THAT good.  Even if he doesn’t, he is very likely to become the primary kick returner.  This kid is going to make the team.  No doubt.

Stefan Logans- Logans is primarily a kick returner, but the Steelers have been working him with the wide receivers, so I’ll mention him here.  Logans has NO CHANCE of making the team as a wide receiver.  He will either win a spot as a punt returner, or he will not be wearing black and gold.

So in summary, I believe the 5 receivers who will make the Steelers’ roster will be Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Limas Sweed, Shaun McDonald, and Mike Wallace.

I’ll leave you with one final thought about the Steelers’ wide receivers.  Just picture how exciting the Steelers are going to be in 2-3 years when the starting wide receivers are Santonio Holmes, Limas Sweed, and Mike Wallace.  Yeah, the idea puts a big smile on my face too.

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Pittsburgh Steelers training camp update: 8/8/09

August 08, 2009 By: Admin Category: training camp

August 8, 2009
By Donald Starver

Okay, let me start off by saying that I got lost last night.  There, I admitted it.

Every year the Steelers hold a night practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.  For some reason I, along with about 200 other Steelers fans, thought that Latrobe Memorial Stadium was located at Latrobe High School.  Allow me to be the first to tell those of you who have never been to Steelers training camp that Latrobe Memorial Stadium is NOT located at Latrobe High School.  But at least I had plenty of company at the high school, so I didn’t feel too stupid.

Once I finally made it to the stadium, the Steelers provided an entertaining evening.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights

The Steelers did their famous backs-on-backers drill for the fans’ entertainment.  This is always a lively drill, and reputations are often made or destroyed during it.

As has been the case for the last 3 years, James Harrison was practically unstoppable during this drill.  The rest of the NFL learned last year what Steelers running backs have known all along; Harrison cannot be blocked.

One player who began creating a reputation for himself last night was Frank “the tank” Summers.  Summers did what most thought was virtually impossible.  He stopped James Harrison’s bull rush.  While that was impressive, Summers’ drill didn’t start off quite so well, as he completely missed a block on Andre Frazier in his first attempt at the drill.  Frazier went around Summers like wind goes around a tree.  But after that, Summers came into his own.  Summers completely neutralized Keyaron Fox’s attempt to beat the rookie.  He also stopped Tom Korte dead in his tracks, and then pushed him back 3 yards with a hard shove at the end for good measures.  As the grand finale to the drill, head coach Mike Tomlin called out Summers and James Harrison to be the final combatants of the drill.  As teammates looked on, James Harrison began his charge towards Summers.  I assumed that Harrison would want to bully Summers to show that Summers’ earlier win against Harrison’s bull rush was a fluke.  But instead, Harrison hit Summers with a last second swim move and blew right past him.  Score one for the veteran.

Summers need not feel bad though.  Nobody else has figured out how to stop Harrison either.

In other match-ups, Bruce Davis bull rushed Willie Parker into the next county.  Donovan Woods went around Rashard Mendenhall as though he weren’t even there.  So did Patrick Bailey.  Mr. Mendenhall definitely needs to work on his blocking technique.  Rookie tight end David Johnson stopped Lawrence Timmons cold.  He did the exact same thing to Andre Frazier and then pushed him backwards 5 yards for good measures.  I have been extremely impressed by Johnson’s blocking.  Rookie running back Isaac Redman held off Andrew Schantz and Keyaron Fox.  He also drove Bruce Davis into the ground.  Lawrence Timmons blew right by Sherrod Dezmond, but Dezmond saved face later when he outwrestled Bruce Davis.

Harrison, Summers, Johnson, and Redman were clearly the winners in this drill.

Once backs-on-backers was over, the Steelers moved to 11-on-11 drills.  On the very first play, Troy Polamalu intercepted a pass from Ben Roethlisberger.  Fans were happy to see this, since Polamalu has barely practiced since training camp started due to a hamstring injury.

Most of the excitement in the 11-on-11 drills was provided by WR Dallas Baker.  Baker didn’t excite the crowd with what he did.  Rather, the excitement came from what was done to him.

On one play, Charlie Batch completed a pass to Baker, only to have Baker get drilled by Tyrone Carter (did I mention that there is no real hitting or tackling in the 11-on-11 drill?).  A little later in the evening, rookie LB Andrew Schantz took a page out of Tyrone Carter’s book and clobbered Baker as he made another catch.  I don’t know what Baker did to anger the defense, but they were definitely teeing off on him.

In other news, Stefan Logans and Shaun McDonald took turns fielding punts.  Rookie Joe Burnett was noticeably absent from the drill.  Santonio Holmes has also been participating in punt return drills, but he too did not return any punts tonight.

Both kickers, Jeff Reed and Piotr Czech, were asked to kick progressively longer field goals.  Both kickers made their shorter kicks, but each finally missed on a 58 yard attempt.  Reed’s 58 yard attempt was on line but fell short.  Czech’s attempt had plenty of distance, but flew wide left.

Finally, the offensive  and defensive linemen broke off for blocking drills.  Neo (Tony Hills) successfully held off James Harrison on a bull rush.  He also stopped Arnold Harrison on a similar attempt.  Rookie Kraig Urbik held his own against Jordan Reffett, but was successfully bull rushed by  rookie DT Steve Mclendon.  Rookie Ramon Foster came up limping during the drill.  Not a good thing, with the offensive line already heavily depleted.  Lastly, first round pick Ziggy Hood pushed Jason Capizzi back so far on a bull rush that I thought they were going to credit him with a 2-point conversion.

The night ended with a fireworks display.  When the fireworks were over, the annual Steelers practice under the Friday night lights had come to a close.

Imported Photos 00010

To read more of my recent training camp reports, click the article below:

Steelers training camp update: 8/7/09

A perspective on Steelers training camp

Steelers training camp day 4

10 observations from Steelers training camp day 3

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