After the first mini-camp of the off season the local media has written extensively on the 3 day, 5 session camp. Since Behind the Steel Curtain didn't have a reporter at the camp, I have thrown together a recap of the sessions news and notes. -DYM-
The Pittsburgh Steelers concluded the first mini-camp of the season on Sunday with Mike Tomlin sending the group home early from the session after three solid days of non contact drills. Tomlin views the mini-camps as an opportunity to teach players, especially the rookies the way that Steeler football will be conducted under his leadership. After the sessions were complete Tomlin stated that he felt the mini-camp was an overwhelming success, not only from a teaching standpoint, but also because the team escaped the camp with virtually no injuries. The only injury of note was from Melwelde Moore, who suffered a sprained ankle after landing awkwardly on another players' foot. After the sessions Tomlin was quoted as saying:
"I don't gauge them because it is not football. It is teaching, that's the way I approach it. It's a good camp if the guys come ready to learn like they did, if they hustle and if they don't get hurt."
While the team escaped the mini-camp with only one new injury, several players did not participate due to previous injuries or surgeries. Hines Ward, who recently received a contract extension that could be worth as much as 22 million dollars is still recovering from the Knee injury that limited him in the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl. Daniel Sepulvada and Greg Warren both were on light duty as they recover from ACL surgery from last season. The only other player to be sidelined for medical reasons was Ryan Clark who is coming off a shoulder surgery. All four players are expected to be 100% in order to start the season.
Willie Parker and Larry Foote have quite a few similarities in their situation in Pittsburgh, both have one year left on their contracts, both are set to make approximately three million dollars next season, and both have young first round draft picks pushing them for playing time. The main difference is that while Foote is asking to be released, Parker is doing everything he can to stay with the organization who gave him a chance as an undrafted free agent from the University of North Carolina. Parker says:
"I am coming off a bad season, but it was a great season for the team. I just have to come out and get ready to play. It's not about holding out. I have to make the best decision, and the best decision is to be around the team and help out the best way possible."
Willie Parker also said that he hasn't done much running in the offseason in order to keep himself rested and get back to 100%, another player that is resting his body is Ben Roethlisberger who said he hasn't throw a football much at all since the Super Bowl in an effort to get healthy for the first time since the beginning of last season. Parker has even went to far as to get involved with Pilates and has done a lot of stretching exercises in an effort to avoid the injuries that plagued him for most of last season.
In terms of the progress of second year player Dennis Dixon, Dale Lolley of the Steel City Insider, and the Washington Observer Reporter, thinks that there is now little to no difference between recently signed veteran Charlie Batch and Dixon. Lolley is impressed with the progress the young Quarterback has made between last season and this season. Having Dixon as the number two quarterback on our depth chart could be important for the Steelers next season if they are looking to get Dixon on the field to help create match-up type problems in a wildcat like formation.
Some other second year players are looking to make an impact including Rashard Mendenhall, Limas Sweed, and Bruce Davis, the team's first three picks from the 2008 draft class that basically red-shirted last season. Mendenhall and Sweed are both looking to improve on the limited about of playing time they received last season and Sweed specifically is working on improving the mental aspects of the game. As far as Bruce Davis goes, it would be pretty hard not to improve in his second year considering he never even recorded a single statistic in his rookie season. He does feel he has improved a lot but is honest in his goals for this season:
"Realistically, am I going to take James Harrison's spot? I doubt it. That's just being real. The way it worked last year, I got to sit back and learn watching the best defense in the game. Until my number is called to make plays on defense, I'm going to play special teams like I'm out there playing outside linebacker. I'm going to go as hard as I can and try to knock some people out."
Not much was heard from any of the team's rookies, but fifth round draft pick Joe Burnett did stop and speak with the Steelers official website about his excitement for the upcoming season and his respect for the organization. Burnett is in a great spot if he is looking to learn, veterans Deshea Townsend and Ike Taylor are both players who have won two super bowls and who will become great mentor's to Burnett is he is looking for it. Burnett said
"I need to learn from the veterans, soak in everything they have been going through and experiencing, being a rookie I am just trying to learn as much as I can."
Nothing ground breaking or earth shattering emerged from the three day mini-camp although a lot of positive comments about young players were made, and escaping any sort of team workout with minimal injuries is a blessing. The Steelers will hold additional voluntary offseason workouts starting in the middle of May to prepare for training camp and the 2009 season that begins in September.