A great take from a fan at Training Camp. Anyone going, we'd love to read your stories and see your pictures. Whatever you do, though, we cannot recommend you yell "Go Green!" at LaMarr Woodley. JD is assuming his own risk with that decision, and is not the responsibility of Behind The Steel Curtain, SB Nation or any of their subsidiaries or editors. - nc
So, had my first experience at training camp today, and it was amazing. Thanks to everyone for all your advice on making the day awesome – we pulled it off like total pros and really enjoyed our time. If you’ve never gone, I encourage you to try it – the whole thing is really organized and despite there being thousands of people, we had no problem finding places to sit and watch practice.
It really is a beautiful place - I really enjoyed seeing the monastery, which looked EXACTLY like what I always pictured Redwall Abbey to look like (if anyone read those books when you were kids), so that was a nice moment for me. The swag was cheap, and I very quickly got in, bought a bunch of stuff (including a nice deep v-neck top for my girlfriend, which I'll probably enjoy as much as she will) with no hassle at all and got back in line.
Parking was easy, the staff helpful, and since I got there early (as you all suggested) we parked really close and made it back to the car just in time to dodge a big thunderstorm which rolled in just as practice concluded. Way to go, BTSC - with your help we did the thing like we'd been there before. Now, in gratitude for all your advice and assistance, I made sure to take note (I forgot pen and paper, so I was forced to resort to texting myself any thoughts I wanted to remember – I felt truly pathetic). Even so, here it goes – please keep in mind these are just my observations of the camp and a little of what other fans were saying.
Obviously, the big story around camp was Antonio Brown, his new contract, and the absence of Mike Wallace. People seemed genuinely excited (and I think all of us are) about Brown being around for a long time, but I was a little surprised at the attitude of the Steeler Nation toward Wallace. Being are quite ready to cut him loose via trade. It’s not my intent to give an opinion on this issue (though if we got decent value for him I’d consider it) but the trades I heard being tossed around were, quite frankly, ridiculous. One seeming "expert" said that he had "heard" the Steelers were shopping him to Seattle for receiver Doug Baldwin and another player (whose name I missed), Denver for receiver Eric Decker, or the Jets for (gulp) Antonio Cromartie. I actually laughed at the last idea, noting that the Steelers weren’t likely to be interested in trading one player who might be developing into a character concern for another guy who not only is a major character concern already, but also is seemingly terrified to tackle. Needless to say, he didn’t appreciate my opinion or critique of his preferred trade option (thankfully, this gentleman had no affiliation with the team) and promptly ignored me. I was fine with that outcome.
Wallace, of course, was not the only absence. Heath Miller, James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall, and Jason Worilds were all out. I didn’t know Worilds was hurt – I have no confirmable information on the matter, only that different fans at different times and places were saying he’s out for a few weeks. No idea on this. In Harrison and Worilds absence, Chris Carter (who was nice enough to shake hands with the fans a bit before practice, including my own, despite most players refusing to do so – only Carter, Ryan Clark, and Cameron Heyward really did any glad-handing before the session) was running with the first team, though I didn’t see much of him.
Also running with the first team were Keenan Lewis, Larry Foote, Steve McClendon, and Ziggy Hood, along with the expected guys. McClendon looks huge – the man is massive, looking almost as big as his new understudy, rookie Alameda Ta’amu. A couple thoughts on Ta’amu. First, the man is possibly the widest/broadest person I’ve ever seen. Once he refines his technique, he’s going to be impossible to move. Still, he looked a little confused today. It was the first padded practice and he’s a rookie, so I’m not concerned – I think he’s just having the usual hesitancy that comes with being a Steelers rookie. A funny moment – a very svelte-looking Chris Hoke showed up at camp (to the resounding cheers of the fans – I love you Steelers Nation) and was hanging around the defensive linemen. Ta’amu had gotten beat in a drill by a 6’ 5", 315 pound defensive lineman (he seemed to be playing nose on the second team a bit with Ta’amu and Casey at end) named Kade Weston. Defensive line coach John Mitchell turned to Hoke and yelled "Hoke! Get in here and show him how to do it!" The fans laughed – I doubt Ta’amu found it as funny. Another Ta’amu note before I move on – the Steelers were working him at end and nose tackle, sort of like Vince Wilfork in New England. I wasn’t surprised, since Ta’amu and Wilfork look like carbon-copies of each other. It could be worse for the young man.
Another quick note on the defensive line – Cameron Heyward definitely looks like the first guy up at end, but Al Woods had a nice play today in one-on-ones. He got lower than Heyward and drove him back. It wasn’t easy for Mr. Woods, but he did it.
Not too much to say about the linebackers because I didn’t see them much, but I do want to address one of the concerns I’ve seen from the nation. Do not worry about Sean Spence and his supposed lack of size. He might only be 5’ 11" (and if he is, Larry Foote looks barely any taller, I don’t care what he’s listed at) and 231, but the dude is stacked. Seriously, that guys packing muscle, with a broad, deep chest and some powerful looking arms. I’m not concerned about him in that area. He seemed to be running with the second team next to Stevenson Sylvester. Conversely, linebacker Brandon Johnson, whom we picked up from the Bengals, seemed thin to me.
Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown were playing on the second unit as well. I was surprised at how skinny Allen’s legs were – my Dad compared them to those little red coffee-stirring straws – but his athleticism was readily apparent, and he definitely has the length the Steelers like in their corners.
Danny Hrapmann was the only kicker working today, and just doing kickoff drills. He looked decent and directing the ball, putting it all over the endzone, and had decent strength – the ball was getting into the endzone, but not very far.
The kickoffs were an interesting drill to watch, just because of whom was working out at returner. I don’t think anyone was expecting Brown, post-contract, to be returning kicks anymore, especially with the return of Sanders from injury, but Sanders wasn’t doing it either. From today’s practice only, the job of returner seems to be a two-man battle between rookies Chris Rainey and Marquis Maze, the diminutive receiver from Alabama. These two guys were the story of the practice for me today, just because I saw them quite a bit – they were standing out, despite being of a similarly miniscule nature. I don’t want to jump to conclusions or cause too much speculation off one very early practice, but there could be an interesting battle developing between two like-skilled players attempting to fill that Darren Sproles/Dexter McCluster role Todd Haley likes in his offense. While Maze didn’t take any snaps at running back, he did make a hell of a play today in 7 on 7s. He was being covered by fellow rookie Terrance Frederick, who immediately went into press coverage on the rookie. Maze beat the jam at the line and sped past T-Fred, beating him to the sideline, and hauling in a nicely-thrown fade pass. Maze kept the burners on after he looked the ball right into his hands and took off for what would have been a touchdown.
Rainey made some good plays as well. He made a really nice spin move against a crowd and gained a few extra yards – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a spin move that tight, so Mendenhall better watch out – before getting taken down after what would have been a first down. He also powered – that’s right, at 180 pounds I get to say he powered – through a few guys for a few extra yards. Again, not a large sample size, but I’m not really concerned about his effort level at this point.
I noticed that the first team opened with Ramon Foster at right guard and Trai Essex at left tackle. Max Starks was there but not in pads, as he presumably still rehabs from his injury. First-round pick and new Nation-favorite David DeCastro looks like a nasty player (in a good way) and was rotating between the first-team and the second team. Rookie Mike Adams was playing on the second team. Obviously the left tackle battle is going to change once Starks gets in there, but from the little I saw of Adams he was doing a good job of mirroring in pass protection.
Charlie Batch’s arm looks disappointingly weak. I still think he makes the roster, but I’m not sure I feel confident about him playing. Of course, we always say that, and we’re always wrong, so who the hell knows at this point. Love the guy.
Sanders and Brown were on the first team of receivers (of course). Sanders definitely looks like he’s back from his injury. He made a nice diving catch to bail out Ben Roethlisberger at one point, and he looks really fast and quick out of his breaks, with a good burst. I didn’t see much from Toney Clemons this practice as a receiver, but he showed a willingness to block, so I’m already beginning to become endeared as I accustom myself to overlooking his regrettable history as a University of Michigan Wolverine. (Side note – as LaMarr Woodley came out, I couldn’t help but scream a "Go Green!" at him. He ignored me completely. Jackass.)
Watching the running backs was interesting – I barely saw Redman play at all. Instead, fan-favorite Baron Batch and Chris Rainey were getting some time on the first team snaps. I saw Batch snag a nice pass and take it up the sideline for a few extra yards, along with a decent run to the outside. He doesn’t look like he’s hampered from his injury, though I’ve never actually seen him play previously. Another note – there were quite a few runs to the outside in practice today. Not sure what to make of that – playing to the strengths of Batch and Rainey, perhaps?
Heath was out, so Leonard Pope was getting the start, though I saw rookie David Paulson and Weslye Saunders getting some snaps with the first team. Didn’t see Pope or Paulson do much of anything, which was unfortunate, but Saunders took a nice slant route for some extra yardage. That guy has underrated speed considering his size – his stride is enormous, and it just eats up ground though it doesn’t look like he’s moving fast. I hope we get him on the roster after his suspension, because he has potential as a receiver.
I didn’t see anything regarding the fullback battle between Will Johnson and David Johnson, though David Johnson is continuing his track record of dropping balls – he dropped an easy one when he was wide open today near the end of practice. Bummer.
One final note – there was a fight in practice today shortly after 7 on 7s and single-play scrimmages started. I couldn’t see who it was or what happened, but it was over pretty quick and I didn’t see any resulting punishment from it, or anything else going on. Nothing to worry about, I’m sure.
So that’s it! I know it’s not a lot to go on, seeing as it was only one practice and only came through what I saw, but I thought the community might be interested to see how things were going early on in practice. I had a great time today, and I regret that I won’t be able to make it back this season. Even so, I’ll be cheering our boys proudly out in Detroit and during my final year at law school in Indiana. (Oh, last thing, Mike Tomlin continues to look like a total badass on the field, and I could hear his voice booming over the entire area. Guy has some lungs on him when he wants to use them.)
Thanks for all the advice on being there everyone, it was a blast.