Many thanks to Dale Lolley for taking the time to answer a few questions about the first few days of the Pittsburgh Steelers training camp in Latrobe, PA. Lolley has covered the Steelers for the Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter since 1993. His work also appears on the Observer-Reporter blog, NFL From the Sidelines and elsewhere on the web at Steel City Insider and 4for4.com. Lolley's succinct writing and analysis also appears in my preseason publication this year. - Michael Bean -
1) We noticed your notes on Thaddeus Gibson and how he shined during backs on backers on Sunday. Then Jason Worilds reportedly had a similarly impressive showing on Monday. Can you tell us a little bit more about how those specific drills are conducted? Why Coach Tomlin maybe likes them so much? And finally what your initial take is on the two rookies OLBs?
Lolley: Backs on backers puts a running back in position in front of a quarterback - a ball boy or such - and they have one inside and one outside backer at the line of scrimmage. Linebackers coach Keith Butler, who's standing behind the back, points to which linebacker is blitzing and at the snap, that guy comes, full speed, at the QB. The back's job is to recognize who the blitzer is and k him up. It's heavily weighted toward the defense since they are coming unblocked and the back is stationary. But there are some backs that do well at the drill. They do some similar matchups at the line of scrimmage with the tight ends. Gibson was unblockable in both of those - ala. James Harrison. He's got a variety of pass rush moves and looks good in that respect. He struggled in the pass coverage drills with the tight ends. Worilds struggled at the point of attack with the tight ends on the line, but looked good in backs on backers. He got better, though, the second time they did in-line blocking with the tight ends, showing that he's a quick learner. But then he got hurt. They both show some promise, though.
2) Did Flozell Adams practice any this weekend? If so, how did he look physically? As a follow up, do you think he and Starks are shoe-ins to start at right and left tackle respectively provided they stay healthy?
Lolley: Flozell Adams looks a lot less sloppy than I thought he'd be. In fact, he's an impressive mass of humanity. He's listed as being shorter than Max Starks, but looks to be even an inch or two taller than Starks, who's listed at 6-8. I don't know that he's a shoe-in - Starks is - but he's certainly got the inside track. They'll have to make a decision about whether they think Adams is the answer quickly. If he's on the 53-man roster, his money is guaranteed this year. But by all accounts right now, he's been good.
3) With Coach LeBeau's Hall of Fame induction coming up this weekend, a couple quick questions: have you had a chance to meet/interview LeBeau? I've heard that he's extremely cautious with divulging information about the upcoming week, but is he otherwise a nice man to interact with? Also, any thing you can share about how younger players take to LeBeau? I imagine that once you spend some time around him it's hard not to admire then man and want to play for him, but what about the younger dudes who may not know of his legacy when they first arrive?
Lolley: Dick LeBeau is one of the finest human beings you'll ever meet. Yes, he plays his cards close to the vest in terms of his team and opponents, but he's got more than 50 years of knowledge about the game in his mind and talking to him about some of the old-time players when you're just sitting around with him is a treat. Even the young players appreciate the history that he brings to the field. He's almost like a living legend and the players appreciate that.
4) How many RBs do you think the Steelers might carry on game days most weeks? Can Isaac Redman break through and make the squad this year and contribute?
Lolley: I think they'll carry five running backs and have at least four active on game days. I think Redman has a very good shot of making this team. He's in excellent shape and can do a lot of different things.
5) We haven't read or heard much about Jonathan Dwyer yet? Anything worth noting through the first few days?
Lolley: Dwyer has been hurt since the first day of practice. That's why there's been nothing to report on him.
6) We'll check back with you again closer to the third or fourth preseason game, but if you had to guess today, who starts Week 1?
Lolley: I'm assuming you're talking about the QB situation here and it certainly looks like they're comfortable with Byron Leftwich being the guy.