Many thanks to Dale Lolley (@dlolleyor)
1) The Steeler secondary looked alarmingly mediocre again against the Redskins, particularly on third down. Should that be a cause for worry?
Lolley: Not really. Troy Polamalu and Bryant McFadden didn't play. Ike Taylor played sparingly before breaking his thumb. So really, you had William Gay and a bunch of guys who aren't going to make this team out there running around. Add very little pass rush because Washington was running a lot of three-step drops, and you have a combination for trouble.
2) Did anyone look good in the game film that we might have missed? Certainly there had to be some guys who did well and completed their assignments? Who were they outside of Isaac Redman and Antonio Brown who obviously played well. Were there any other rookies or young guys that held their own?
Lolley: Tony Hills was excellent, earning himself a shot at the RG starting spot. First-year linebacker Morty Ivy showed up quite a bit, as did young safety Da'mon Cromartie-Smith. Of the rookies, the one who jumped out the most - outside of Cam Heyward - was Miguel Chavis, a defensive end out of Clemson. He's a bit undersized, but could be practice squad material.
3) What's up with Worilds?
Lolley: He, as much as any of the second-year guys, has really suffered from the lack of OTAs in the offseason. Remember, he is a converted college DE and is still learning how to play OLB. He shows some promise at times, but also still has his struggles. He's not Alonzo Jackson - yet.
4) How did Tomlin and the coaching staff handled the ass-whuppin'? Was there any change in attitude, or did they consider the results of the game meaningless? Are they worried that they had a talent competition and nobody won?
Lolley: They didn't consider it meaningless, but they didn't game plan at all for Washington. They were also missing five or six starters, while Washington played their starters the entire first half. It was a preseason game; nothing more, nothing less.
5) Any sense on how James Harrison's back is progressing? Fans understandably just assume that the beast of a backer will be ready to go come September 11th, but multiple back surgeries don't sound too fun or easy to recover from for anyone, let alone a man his age.
Lolley: He hasn't shown his usual explosiveness in the one-on-one drills. And his leg power isn't where it needs to be yet. But he's getting stronger by the day. Thursday's game at Philadelphia will be a nice test.
6) It might just be my imagination, but seems like there has been much less reporting on the work of the special teams this camp. Would that be a correct assessment firstly, and if so, what might you attribute that to? No two-a-days? I ask because improving the play of the special teams was obviously a priority after the '09 fiasco, and that improvement definitely played a big role in the team's success in '10. Is it being emphasized by Tomlin but just not making headlines?
Lolley: In previous seasons, the Steelers did much of their special teams work during the morning practice, which was open to reporters. This year, the morning practice, which is considered a walkthrough, is closed to reporters. They've done some special teams work in the afternoon, but the bulk of it is still in the morning. Hence, less reporting on special teams work.
8) Sounds like Tony Hills is looking good. Buy or sell his chances to contribute as a starter at right guard? What about his chances to hold down the fort much like Jonathan Scott did in Max Starks' absence last year were either Scott or Willie Colon to get injured in '11?
Lolley: Hills has gotten much stronger since arriving here as a rookie. His injury problems at Texas are also behind him. He's got the pedigree and he told me today he spent the offseason doing MMA workouts to improve his work with his hands. I think he could wind up being the starting RG and be the guy who moves out to tackle in case of injury.
9) Seems odd Max Starks isn't on a new team yet. I'm no huge proponent of Starks' ability -- at least not at the pay scale he was previously compensated at. But obviously he's shown enough to find a new job somewhere by now. Still feel like he's a solid bet to be headed back to Pittsburgh?
Lolley: There's still a chance. The Steelers have a little over $4 million in cap space remaining. Some of that could be eaten up by an extension to Troy Polamalu, but some could be used to bring Starks back. Because of the neck injury, he wasn't able to work out in the offseason and his weight got up to around 400 pounds. But he's been working out and is getting back to where he needs to be.
10) I've read conflicting reports now about Chris Carter -- some glowing, some not so positive. The negative reports though did come at the beginning of camp -- has he shown legit improvement and promise in your eyes this last week or so?
Lolley: He seemed a little overwhelmed early in camp. But as things progressed, his quickness started to show. He's got some natural pass rushing ability. That said, he's undersized at this point. He's listed at nearly 250 pounds, but doesn't look the part. He needs to get stronger, but you can see why the Steelers liked him.
11) What changes, if anything, about the team's practice schedule once they head home from Latrobe on Thursday?
Lolley: Once they leave camp, they go to more of a regimented schedule to get them in tune with what they'll do in the regular season. They'll start working off their regular season schedule more and maybe even through in some film study for week 1 against Baltimore as things progress.
12) I was enjoying a beer at my neighborhood bar this evening when I saw some random crappy program on ESPN that was listing the 'Top 5 WR Fantasy Sleepers' for 2011. Guess who was No. 1? Emmanuel Sanders. As much as I might love for that to be true, I am quite concerned about Sanders' lingering foot issues. Any updates in that department? Not to put you on the spot to play team physician, but based on your experience covering the league, are you at all concerned that this injury might seriously limit his ability to even suit up consistently in '11, let alone put up the kind of numbers that would warrant inclusion on any sort of 'fantasy sleeper' list?
Lolley: I think Sanders will be a contributor in 2011, but the foot injury will keep him from having the breakout year he may have had. Antonio Brown has earned the right to steal some game reps from him and the injury forced the team to go out and get Jerricho Cotchery as well. He worked hard in the offseason, but, so did Brown. I don't see him being the breakout fantasy player he may have been without the injury.