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My Case For Limas Sweed

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Okay fine, it's more like my hope for Limas Sweed. But hear me out even if I'm grasping at straws here. By the way, some of you astutely noted that I made no mention of Sweed in my initial reaction to the news of the Santonio Holmes trade. I chose not to because I didn't want to include him in a forecast for this season in order to try to bolster my argument that the Steelers can still thrive offensively without #10 in the mix. Even if Sweed doesn't factor significantly into the Steelers offensive attack in 2010, I believe there will still be enough able bodies at the wide receiver position for the team to make a run at Super Bowl number seven so long as as the defense performs closer to the 2008 version of itself rather than the 2009 rendition. And it would help if Bruce Arians adjusted his philosophy to account for the loss of a gifted playmaker like Holmes by leaning more heavily on the running game and a quick hitting passing game that utilized Ward's unique gifts in the slot, Heath Miller's ability to snag balls in traffic. The latter may seem like an improbability, but the former may very well be a safer bet than many Steelers fans realize coming off of last year's defensive struggles.

It may not have to be that way though if a certain 2008 2nd round draft pick makes significant strides this coming season. We may have been close to never finding out if Limas Sweed would ever contribute as a Steeler, but with the recent trade of Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets, an unexpected opportunity has presented itself for Limas Sweed to finally get this career off the ground after two incredibly frustrating seasons for both him and us fans who were expecting much bigger things out of their 2008 2nd round draft selection.

I'm not going to rehash Sweed's struggles this past two seasons. I doubt you need reminding. I'm also not going to lean to heavily on the fact that Sweed also made a few solid plays as a WR and on special teams in between his memorable gaffes. Though I do feel compelled to make one comparison. If we were talking about basketball, it's not like Sweed can't get his jump shot off or isn't fast enough to play defense at the professional level. If he couldn't, there'd be no point in keeping him around. He can though. Sweed has gotten himself past CBs and Safetys his first two seasons.

How about another analogy? A young recently brought up to the majors relief pitcher looking nothing like the prospect that got him on the mound in the first place. When he gets in, his control is erratic, he gets taken out before getting out of a single inning multiple times, and all of a sudden, his confidence is shattered and fans wonder if he'll ever be able to develop into the player he looked like he'd become.

I don't know. I just think it's hard for every last talented athlete, regardless of the sport, to be expected to take advantage of opportunities on the playing field when they first present themselves. You sit on the bench 90% of the snaps only to finally be inserted and on your first legitimate shot at making an impression, you screw up. Back to the sidelines for another extended period of time - not necessarily because of the mistake entirely, but also because other circumstances have dictated that's where you're niche is for the time being.

With Santonio Holmes no longer in the picture, I think Limas now has a very real opportunity at getting on the field regularly. Had Holmes been around this season, he, Ward and Wallace all would have been guaranteed significant snaps and opportunities in the passing game barring injury. Throw in Antwaan Randle El, who may not be a huge force this year, but will still get some plays designed for him, and the opportunities for Sweed to break out of his funk would again have been few and far between.

The timing of this might be just right though. Give it another year and perhaps it's too late. I've heard rumors and innuendo that Sweed has really struggled psychologically with how he has struggled on the field in his first two professional seasons. He's supposedly in a 'rut', and understandably so. To what extent? Who knows, none of my business to speculate on a delicate matter like mental health.

What's more important to me at least, is that I've yet to hear or read a reason why Sweed may be permanently stuck in that kind of mental funk. During his time on the 40 Acres of the University of Texas at Austin, Sweed did research in his classwork about his family's ancestry. He remains close to his parents from what I can tell, both of whom have been a part of Sweed's life growing up. He has money in the bank and to the best of my knowledge at least, has had no seriously traumatic event or upbringing that might have permanently altered his psychological makeup.

Instead, Sweed is just one of those personalities that gets in his own way by not moving on quickly after making a mistake. And no, this isn't a new development. In 2004 - Sweed's freshman year at UT - he went through some of the same growing pains he's experiencing now as a young professional. He dropped multiple passes as a freshman, and even though his first season as a Longhorn had to be qualified as at least a mild success (23 catches for 263 yards), Sweed fixated on the plays he didn't make. Teammate Tim Crowder, who played 15 games last year for Tampa Bay, recalled how Sweed would get down on himself frequently:

"He dropped a pass in one game, and you could see it was killing him. I went over to him and let him know it wasn't the end of the world. You have to watch Limas because he gets real down on himself. It's all about confidence with him."

Sweed_medium I mention that not to suggest that this is a chronic problem for Sweed. Well, perhaps it is chronic in the sense that it's going to be something that he will always battle internally. But it's not chronic in the sense that it's an insurmountable liability. He's gotten over it before during his collegiate career. So who's to say he won't do the same after experiencing and learning how to deal with failure at the NFL level.

Even when times are good though, Sweed has exhibited a tendency to be too hard on himself. His mother noted that after Sweed's memorable game-winning catch in the corner of the endzone to beat the Ohio State Buckeyes in Colmbus, how Sweed had told her that he didn't feel he'd done enough earlier in the game. Rather than soaking up all the adulation that the world wanted to heap upon him following his clutch catch early in the 2005 season, Sweed found fault in himself and his performance.

The good news though is that he didn't allow some of his mental preoccupations to keep him from working on his craft or tending to business off the field so that he could participate in athletics while he was in college. He's continued to do so as a professional. Not that he deserves a gold star for this, but there's been no reports of Sweed finding trouble off the field. Had that been the case, he probably wouldn't still be in Pittsburgh. And he's continued to be an extremely hard worker, particularly last summer during training camp when numerous reports mentioned how Sweed looked like a new man out there.

There's absolutely no way to say with any certainty that his work on the practice field, in the film room and studying film will help him get over the mental block that's paralyzed him when the lights go on for real during a regular season game. Nevertheless, it's a good thing that he's at least reportedly continued to work as hard as he can to get ready for his next opportunity. Something tells me that he's also spent a fair amount of time by himself working out, getting faster, doing drills to improve this or that aspect of his game so that he can create the necessary separation to at least get open enough for his quarterback to throw him the ball. At the age of 25, his body should be very receptive to such a vigorous training regiment. And he's sustained no injuries or absorbed many hits at all since early on in his senior season before he got injured. Add it all up and I think he's definitely going to play his way into some playing time during training camp and in the team's four preseason games.

So why should you believe he will get over his case of the yips the next time he finds himself open and poised to haul in an important pass next season? I think that because Sweed's going to potentially play exponentially more snaps next season, he'll be able to get into the 'flow' of the game a lot more naturally than he's been able to his first two seasons.Here's his snaps played during the 2009 season:

Opponent Snaps Stats
Tennessee Titans (Week 1) 13/74 0
Cincinnati Bengals (Week 4) 4/63 1 reception, 5 yards
Detroit Lions (Week 5) 8/58 0
Denver Broncos (Week 9) 6/63 0
Oakland Raiders (Week 13) 3/55 0


So, only once did he see the field for more often than 1 in every 6 snaps. It seems like Sweed maybe a touch uncomfortable in his own skin, not one for the spotlight, be it positive or negative attention. It's hard to feel like you're not under a microscope when you're just trotted out there every once in awhile. Or said differently, it's easier to get over yourself and just go play when you're out there enough to do other little things well repeatedly. We've seen him do a couple of nice things as a physical blocking WR, and we've seen him make a play or two on special teams. He's got the size, speed and will to do the important and necessary little things that go into being a complimentary wide receiver on a successful football team. Like say, execute a nice block in the passing game; run deep as fast as you can as a decoy; catch a meaningless 7 yarder on 3rd and 18 following a sack - just trying to be realistic here :)

You know what I'm saying. Limas is an anonymous, worker type who puts too much pressure on himself...not so he can bask in the spotlight. Not for that reason whatsoever it seems. Instead, Sweed demands perfection from himself so he doesn't have to experience that fleeting moment of shame, and of letting down his teammates and the fans.

Sweed will discover though this year (hopefully) that we certainly don't demand perfection from him as fans. Just solid production and him playing hard all the time. He needs a break through game - a 6 catch, 85 yards and 1 TD type game early in 2010 so that he can just go out there and play. The past will be entirely in the past once he has that breakthrough game in the regular season. He most certainly will drop another pass in his career; perhaps he'll even experience another multi-game slump. It happens. But I think once he gets a chance to just find a more regular niche on the offense, then have a breakthrough game where the media makes a big deal about how he's overcome his problems and has arrived as a pro, then I think he'll be able to handle adversity a lot more professionally and appropriately. That being he'll just shrug it off and know that he's got the next one.

I'm not going to make any sort of overly bold predictions about his 2010 season or his career, but I strongly believe that he will get numerous opportunities early in the 2010 season to contribute. The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those rare teams that's able to win while rebuilding for the future most years, but part of the process is finding out what you've got in certain guys so that you can plan your 2, 3, and even 5 year strategies accordingly.

With Santonio Holmes no longer in the mix for 2010 and Hines Ward approaching the twilight of his career, the depth chart at WR is fairly murky after this season, and even more so after 2011 when Ward and Antwaan Randle-El will be two years older. Mike Wallace looks to be the real deal, but even so, the organization will want to be able to pencil in more than just him and two capable veterans when projecting what they can count on in 2011. That begins primarily by seeing if Limas Sweed is ready to get over his struggles and fill a regular role on the offense this coming season. If so, it changes the personnel strategy of the team considerably for 2011 and beyond.