2012 Steelers Training Camp Observations: Part Three

July 28, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard Kelvin Beachum (68) blocks against defensive end Jake Stoller (right) during training camp at Saint Vincent College. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The weather got us Sunday. So no real new information, but I'll take the opportunity to consolidate what I saw and to address some of the issues that have been bandied about lately from my point of view. Before proceeding a big caution; 1BlkGldFan said it best in a comment from the Part Two thread, looking at things through "...black and gold glasses." The point being that we all bring biases into the evaluation process, and precisely because there are huge gaps in what we actually know that leaves plenty of room for us to justify our preconceived positions, hopes and fears.

From what I have seen some of the positions and predictions made have been fairly solid, some premature and some simply outrageous. This includes, btw, the claims of some of the professionals who are not invulnerable to the ravages of personal bias, but we would hope, less so than us amateurs. For example, Warren Sapp is a professional, which means, I guess that he gets paid handsomely to act a fool while the rest of us do it more or less for free.. Hopefully, our advantage can be that we have the resources in the community to hold all of us a bit more accountable and collectively elevate our level of discernment.

Quarterback

In spite of all the conversation and angst over Ben's health issues he's looked good to me; both in appearance (no he does not look heavy or out of shape, to the contrary, he looks great) and functionally. Just as important in terms of projections for this position, Byron looks no worse for wear either. So where does that leave Jerrod Johnson? He's a big, strong guy with a powerful arm. We already have two guys like that; healthy and more experienced. Two other things about Johnson that appeals consistently to a certain segment of our community. He is young, which as a quarterback is not necessarily a positive unless that youth is heavily augmented by both talent and a certain precocious wisdom and maturity. And then there is the seductive appeal of the Unknown. They are like that new kid in school who everyone thinks is cool because they really don't know them yet. It takes time to discover the liabilities.

And what about Batch? (Bias Alert! I'm a Batch guy.) Here is the argument against Charlie. He's "87 years old". True, but irrelevant. We're not talking about running back or linebacker, whatever is lost in the atrophy of skills is compensated for by experience. Never has the statement 'Old age and treachery defeats youth and skill' been more appropriate. From what I saw Charlie did as good a job of running this new offense as it is alleged to be designed to be run. He is more nimble of both mind and body than he is given credit for.

But let's also put this into proper context. Ben is a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career. This means if he goes down then there is going to be a significant drop off regardless of who the replacement may be. So the real question is what deficiencies are you willing to live with? Byron and Charlie have both actually led teams and have been the face of a franchise. Both are comfortable with their roles; they understand and appreciate how good a deal this is at this stage of their careers and have the rings to remind them. No budding quarterback controversies here. They are both excellent leaders. Antonio Brown has cited Byron as being one of the most important influences in his success. And what about all the talk about a potential leadership void? Not in the quarterback room. And speaking of biases, Batch is a Pittsburgh guy (as is for example, Colbert, and Tomlin has been credited as achieving honorary status in that regard) that actually means something to the Rooney family. Both players are in good health. And if that remains the case throughout the preseason than why break up the best quarterback group top to bottom in the league? Or do you believe that would be Sanchez and Tebow? Otherwise, unless something is forthcoming in the preseason games Johnson might make the practice squad.

Running Backs

There are some difficult questions here. Fortunately, because of Mendenhall's situation, many of the answers won't have to come until later in the fall. The good and the bad news here is that based on my limited observations there are no charlatans here. Every candidate brings some desirable qualities to the table, and there's the rub.

Three key questions about Mendenhall; when will he return, and at what level of effectiveness? The third question is almost never addressed to my knowledge, especially by those who crave for one reason or another to show him the door. While we have speculated ad nauseum about the struggles of the offensive line and how that may have adversely affected Ben, little mention is made of how that may have impacted the running game and Mendy in particular. So, will the improvements in the offensive line mean the possibility of significant improvement in Rashard's game? If so, do you do what is necessary to keep him? And what are the residual effects of that decision down the depth chart?

So if any of the answers to the above is 'no' then the big question about Isaac Redman is whether he is any more capable than Mendy of being the number one guy. We're pretty sure that unlike Mendenhall, Redman is not likely to be able to score from any area of the field. There is a concern that, given the second Cleveland game from last season, he could have potential issues with ball security. And only time will tell whether he has the stamina to carry a team throughout a season.

Dwyer runs well. but he does not block as well as the other backs which limits his utility. While the light seems to be finally coming on for him, it is flickering somewhat weakly at this point. There are teams in the league where talent is a sufficient trump of discipline, Pittsburgh under Tomlin is not likely to be one of those teams. Clay plays the big back role well, but so does Redman. And Redman can do more than Clay. Do we need two of this type of back?

(Second bias alert: maybe I just have a thing about the name 'Batch'). I agree with those who have Batch filling the third down role vacated by Mewelde Moore. He has the comprehensive skill set, the smarts, and what was clear to me from observation, the necessary toughness (don't let those sensitive social media entries fool you). However, Batch wouldn't be the first training camp wonder who flared out when the lights came on. Think Redman his first year. Those of us who have seen Rainey now know that concerns about his size are somewhat overblown. The only real concern will be durability at this level.

The tragedy is that someone in this group will probably have to go. I vote for Dwyer. But I could understand if it were Clay as well.

Fullback

David Johnson was a beneficiary of the Arians offensive system. He may be a victim of the Haley system. David is a pretty good H back, Will Johnson looks to be a better fullback at this stage of the game. However, if experience and position flexibility is factored in then D Johnson still has a chance. In any case I don't see Will Johnson being thrown on to the street.

Tight End

(Third bias alert: Weslye Saunders) I was concerned about Saunders given his impending suspension. But IMHO Saunders has too much talent and Pope, McCoy and Paulson not enough for that to happen. This is not to say that any of these latter three have nothing to offer. To the contrary, the same difficulties we face with the running backs comes into play here. Heath Miller is not part of this discussion. And does David Johnson re-enter the discussion if he flames out at fullback? McCoy appears to be playing well but his problem is political. The reasons to give either Pope, Paulson or both the benefit of the doubt are more compelling. McCoy would need to blow those two out. Pope has not particularly impressed so far, but his best work is probably going to be seen under game conditions. And, though we aren't familiar with his work, Haley is, so there may be a compulsion on the part of some for him to stand out at this point in the process. However, predictably, some in Steeler Nation have probably already written him off.

Offensive Line

Enthusiasm for Mike Adams has been muted to this point by the surprise and hype surround the acquisition of David De Castro as well as the character concerns. The early thinking was that De Castro's path to the starting lineup would be quicker and easier. Right now the opposite may be the case. It is early, of course, but if Adams maintains and beats Max Starks out for the starting left tackle position that would be the more impressive achievement than De Castro beating out Foster at guard. Understand, I am not taking anything away from De Castro, just saying that we may have underestimated Adams. Having actually had the opportunity of seeing this group it is hard not to get really excited over a Adams, Colon, Pouncey, De Castro, Gilbert line. Yet this is precisely an example of having to wait until they have to work against quality opposition in a game situation before passing judgment.

And what about the backups? Starks, Legursky, Foster, Essex, Beachum; who survives? Too early to tell.

Wide Receiver

What will MIke Wallace do? Hard to say given that what has happened so far is devoid of rationality. Quoting Tomlin, one man's misfortune is another's opportunity. That would certainly apply to Emmanuel Sanders. It would be better to have Wallace, but if healthy Sanders will do better than alright. Brown and Cotchery are as advertised. The more interesting story right now may be at the bottom of the depth chart. I saw Tony Clemons drop a ball he needed to catch, but I think the comparisons to LImas Sweed are unfair. Remember his history. Clemons is a much rawer player at this stage. Let's see what happens after he gets a few more reps under his belt. In addition to Clemons Marquis Maze, Derrick Williams and David Gilreath all have an argument to make as well based upon what I saw.

Defensive Back

The experience gap may make the difference in the battle for the number two cornerback position. In the long term Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown may do as well or better than Keenan Lewis, but I don't think that is the case at the moment. The two younger players are a bit too inconsistent at this juncture. Terrence Frederick had one of the most impressive plays I saw from the position but we need to see much more. I feel confident that he'll be around to do so, either on the active roster or PS. The release of spring sensation Terry Carter demonstrates how quickly things can go south in this process.

Outside Linebacker

(Fourth Bias Alert coming immediately) The discussion over Jason Worilds is spilling over from premature to outrageous. Maybe it is just a coincidence or just dumb luck that the Steelers, as Neal Coolong pointed out on Monday is way ahead of the other teams in the division on the health front at this point of the process. The team has been careful to err on the side of caution on how they have handled the players. Individuals (such as Keisel and Sanders on Friday) have been given strategic days off, others have been given adequate time to recover from injuries (this includes Worilds). I don't know, I acknowledge being maybe a bit stupid, but I'm thinking things are going pretty well for the team. They're taking their time getting Harrison and Worilds back on line. What's the rush? We know what both can do. Carter who was injured last year needs the reps and doing well. Woodley appears healthy. But some are panicking because we need for these guys to kick some ass in...Latrobe...in August...early August.

Sorry. I'm not buying into that kind of pathology.

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