Although this may all be old news by now (isn't that an oxymoron?) I decided to post my takes from Thursday afternoon's camp, in the hopes that they might fill out the picture a bit.
Fortunately, my son Adrian (aka acrollet) emailed me before I headed out to Latrobe to let me know that the start of camp had been moved back an hour to 3:55. (Which is another illustration of the breadth of Steeler Nation - Adrian lives in Colorado!) In due time my 14-year-old nephew Richard, who is visiting from New Mexico, hopped in the car and we headed out.
As it turned out, camp was indeed delayed, and didn't begin until about 4:30. It finally occurred to me that the delay was due to the vote on the CBA. Apparently the players were unable to look at the agreement until a couple of hours before they had to vote. The word on the street is that a majority of the Steelers voted no, but this may be presumed to be a symbolic protest.
I found myself wondering if this was a new, improved version of Camp Cupcake. No 2-a-days? Starting practice late? Eventually, however, the players began trickling onto the field and the fun began.
Any thoughts that this might be Camp Cupcake were quickly dispelled. I had the impression that practice was more intense, that more things were going on at once, and that guys were given less chance to rest. And I guess if I were Mike Tomlin and they had just taken half of my practice time away, I would be looking for ways to utilize the time more efficiently. And I noted that practice didn't end until about 7 p.m.
Well, on to the players. Since everything revolves around the star QB, I'll start with Ben. Several things stood out to me. First, he was relaxed, he looked really happy, and he was very fit. I noticed him running some drills on his own when he wasn't needed for other activities. He must feel somewhat threatened by Hines' dancing trophy, because one of the drills consisted of him catching a "snap" and dancing back and forth over the 30 yard line on his tiptoes. There was something else I hadn't seen before - he was hanging out with the defensive players during a break. I don't know whether this is part of the kissing and making up with James Harrison, but it was new to me. As to how he seemed as a player, he looked really sharp. I suppose we have to reserve judgment as to how marriage is suiting him, but so far the signs are excellent.
The running backs were interesting to watch. Although he had a few good drills, Jonathan Dwyer failed to really impress. Baron Batch is definitely a camp favorite, and he is definitely determined. I was surprised to see Mewelde Moore on the field - I hadn't heard anything about him one way or the other and assumed that he hadn't been re-signed. I thought he looked quite good, actually, in the few drills I saw. Mendenhall was not getting a lot of work, which was generally true of the veterans on this day at least. Isaac Redman apparently hasn't lost any of his legendary powers, as he pulled up his shirt to wipe his forehead and the sun went in. This is actually true.
During the wide receiver drills I was particularly interested to watch Limas Sweed and Wes Lyons. Limas made some a few really difficult catches, including a ball that Byron Leftwich badly overthrew. His blocking looked good, too. But he dropped a few really easy passes. This was distressing to me, as I'm one of the people that hopes to see him finally succeed. And now that he's sprained his shoulder, I wonder whether he just saw his last chance fade away. It's a crying shame, and I hope he heals quickly and is able to really take advantage of one more opportunity.
Lyons looks tall. He had some nice catches, but I wasn't blown away. Antonio Brown, on the other hand, was making the most of Emmanuel Sanders' absence and wowed the crowd with some nifty footwork and great catches. My perennial favorite, Tyler Grisham, looked really good as well. I love him because he's such a scrappy little dude. (I'm not convinced he would be thrilled to be described that way, but that's how he strikes me.)
One drill that was run for quite a long time was a go route with a last-minute adjustment - the very same drill that utterly defeated most of us at Women's Training Camp. I was seriously impressed at how well everyone did at these., with only an occasional miss. They're hard...
Mike Wallace participated in some of the drills, but again they seemed to be mostly for the younger players, and I noticed that Hines, who wasn't dressed, as he's recovering from the thumb surgery, spent a good chunk of time working with Wallace individually.
Mike Tomlin, in his black long-sleeved shirt and long black pants, was drawn as usual like a bee to honey by the tight end sled drills. He loves those things, apparently, as he seems to otherwise spend the majority of his time on the defensive side of the field. Heath was awesome, of course. David Johnson looks like an absolute beast. The new guys mostly failed miserably the first time or two before they got it.
Generally speaking, the offensive line drills weren't easy to see from where I was stationed, and the defensive drills were all the way across the field, so I didn't see much of either until they started some scrimmages. During one, William Gay tripped Limas Sweed, which seems like some sort of bizarre karmic thing. Charlie Batch had to run for his life after someone - I couldn't figure out who - blew right through the offensive line.
Ben is still the master of the pump fake, and Wallace can still outrun pretty much anyone. However, William Gay did once manage to stay right with him and drove him OOB to prevent a catch. He was commended by the DB coach. Ike Taylor is merciless to the young 'uns - he plays them like a cat with a mouse. I think he's going to earn every dollar of his shiny new contract.
Well, that's about it for My Day at Camp. My nephew still hasn't converted to Steelers fandom (his family are all Cowboys fans), but at least he had the opportunity to see some Steelers in action. What could be better?