Monday was one of the odder days I've ever spent at training camp. It was cool and cloudy, for one thing, and didn't feel at all like August. For another, I was surrounded by parents (mainly dads) and their young children, which gave me some excellent perspective on what is interesting to kids at camp. Much of the first part of camp took place on the second and third field (presumably because the first field is getting a bit torn up,) giving a somewhat less immediate experience, as well as cramps in my arms from holding up heavy binoculars for a long time.
But the very oddest part was due to my own oversight. When I left for Latrobe I went through my bag. Water bottles - check. Sunglasses - check. Diaper wipes - check. (Trust me, they are really useful when someone spills a whole coke on your trousers. Don't ask me how I know.) Steelers hat - check. Anorak - check. (Not necessary today.) Phone with old Car Talk podcasts loaded on it, in case the sports radio guys are really lame during the drive - check. (Very necessary today.)
But I had a vague feeling I was forgetting something important, and I was. My trusty yellow pad and roster were still sitting at home, neatly filed next to my desk. I realized this as I was about to pull into St. Vincent's. Which is out in the middle of nowhere. It would require at least ten minutes of additional driving, each way, to find someplace to buy something to write on. I figured surely I had something rattling around in the car. Or at least the trunk. But no. That will teach me to clean out my car. I literally had nothing.
However, I had a brilliant idea, which was to ask for extra rosters (they hand them out as you walk into camp) and write on the back of them. I figured I was all set, and it wasn't until I had scored five rosters that I noticed they were full of stuff on the back as well as the front. I checked out the St. Vincent's tent where Simonsen works, and he was nowhere to be found.
So I stopped in the outdoor bathrooms—not the port-a-potties but the permanent ones above the bleachers—and fortunately they had the old-fashioned paper towels. While no one was looking I cadged a half dozen of them, and used them to write my notes on:
So Simonsen, if you're reading this, please give my earnest thanks to the fine people at St. Vincent's who haven't replaced paper towel dispensers with blow dryers. (On second thought, maybe we should just keep this as our little secret.)
Sorry for the long preamble. Let's get right to it. As soon as I find page 1...
Today appeared to be kick team day. Prior to warm-ups, Greg Warren snapped a number of balls to Brian Moorman, Drew Butler, and Danny Hrapman. Shaun Suisham was dressed but didn't participate. I also noticed Butler practicing some throws to John Parker Wilson, who I assume was giving him some tips. I guessed perhaps he is practicing for potential option passes, and indeed we saw some of those during the full punt drills later, but only by Butler.
The horn eventually blew, and everyone started the warm-ups. Shaun Suisham may not have taken any snaps, but he does a mean carioca drill. Disconcertingly, I noted Jarvis Jones jogging slowly along the field rather than doing the drills, and in fact he didn't participate in practice at all. He hung out on the periphery, but never put on a helmet. He wasn't limping or wearing any sort of appliance, I'm happy to say.
Troy Polamalu was on the field, but was in a regular t-shirt, and didn't practice either. I don't know whether his birth certificate was still bothering him, or whether he just had another vet's day off, but he never put on a helmet either. He spent a lot of time talking to Ross Ventrone, but whether it was social, business, or both I couldn't say.
Matt Spaeth, however, was back after having his knee drained the other day, although he wasn't involved in everything as far as I could tell. And as we all know by now, Curtis Brown began practice but ended up on a cart. It would sure be nice if the secondary could remain stable for a day or two.
Monday's practice seemed to have a lot of emphasis on people catching things. The linebackers spent a lot of time on a drill in which they had to engage with two iron maiden-type blockers and then catch a ball thrown in their general direction. The TEs had their usual catching drills, and Peter Tuitupou was rather struggling today.
But the big excitement was the punting drills, which were held on the field I think of as Field No. 1, the one closest to the bleachers. Rather than snapping the ball to them, someone just tossed each punter the ball and they kicked it. Moorman and Butler were at opposite ends of the field, so it was hard to keep track of every one, but I tried to time them very informally. Each of them punted at least 15 times. Although there was someone to catch them, the focus of the drill was clearly to see what the punters could do.
So what could they do? Well, each had a short punt of around 45 yards. Moorman had the longest at about 70 yards. Overall his average punt was a bit shorter than Butler's, and he had two go into the end zone, which I presume is not what you want. But man could he kick it high. I would say the hang time wasn't vastly different today, but Moorman's was a bit longer (maybe half a second as a rule.)
One of the mothers sitting near me was obsessed with Shaun Suisham, who was looking on during these drills. She kept trying to persuade her three children to stand up and yell "Hey, Sweet Cheeks" in unison. Needless to say, they weren't having any of it, and mercifully, she forbore to do it herself. Here's a parental tip—don't try to get your kids to do your dirty work at training camp. They are surrounded by sympathetic onlookers, and they know it.
Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for! The horn blew, and the entire mass of players headed for Field No. 1 for 11-on-11s. It was still no pads and no tackling, but it at least resembles football.
My first task was to sort out who was at left tackle, and it appears that Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are still switched, with Adams at Ben's left. Antonio Brown was getting a lot of targets today, and he was making the most of them. Jamie McCoy also had a nice catch.
Once again it seemed to be mainly 1st team offense vs. 2nd team defense, and then they switched. For today at least Matt Spaeth spent more time with the 2nd team offense, and David Paulson was the primary TE. John Parker Wilson was the second quarterback up, and he and Joe Madsen, the 2nd team center, were definitely not on the same page. One snap looked like it might have come from James Harrison. The next was too high, although catchable. The third snap was still a bit high, but Wilson caught it and got off a great throw to Derek Moye.
I didn't notice any further issues with snaps, nor had I noticed any last week, so I found myself wondering whether Madsen was told to do that. Or maybe he was just excited...
Landry Jones then took Wilson's place for a couple of plays against mainly 1st team defensive players. William Gay had a great pass breakup on a throw to Kashif Moore.
It was on to special teams, and Danny Smith ran a drill that I think was designed to try to get at the punter. He seemed pleased with the results. No real punters were injured in this drill, as none were used...
Then Smith upped the ante, sticking the punters (the real ones this time) into the end zone and making them punt. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders caught punts. (Reggie Dunn had a turn, but the punt was badly shanked, I think by Butler. If so, he made up for it by a couple of nice fake punts, passing to Kashif Moore and Justin Brown.)
Everyone moved to the 35-yard line and started over. Brian Moorman punted one to the 20-yard line which may have gotten Air Traffic Control excited. Markus Wheaton also caught a punt or two, and Reggie Dunn had to call for a fair catch on a Brian Moorman punt, as he might have been decapitated otherwise.
The second set of 11-on-11s began, but the natives around me were getting restless. I have to say, though, the oldest of the young lads in front of me, who was 9 or 10 years old at most, knew his Steelers football. He asked his dad who one player was, and the father (who was rocking a throwback Roethlisberger jersey) said "William Gay." "Wait just a minute," says the precocious youth. "Gay isn't with the Steelers anymore." His dad said he was back after spending a year with the Cardinals. The boy didn't seem particularly pleased about this. He's obviously been talking to some of the guys on BTSC.
The defense did a better job of getting to Ben this time around. However, it seemed to be mostly the 1st team defense, so that isn't too surprising. Antonio Brown beat Ike Taylor for a completion, one of several times which led Taylor to eventually scrap a bit with Brown. But after that Ben missed Brown in the end zone, and had to throw the ball away on the next play. Isaac Redman was the first team back today—I'm not sure whether Bell was participating, as I saw him on the sidelines a couple of times with his helmet in his hands, but never saw him during a play.
At any rate, Redman was on fire today. He caught a pass in the end zone. Later he managed to end up by himself in the middle of the field, confounding a number of defensive players, and he had a couple of terrific runs in the final 11-on-11s.
Bruce Gradkowski came in to run the offense, throwing to the usual suspects. Derek Moye had a particularly newsworthy catch, beating out Justin King for a catch which was well over his head. (To be fair, that means it was an extra half a foot over King's head, as he is six inches shorter than Moye.)
I may be way off base, but it looked to me as if Cameron Heyward was acting as the nose tackle for some of the snaps. He certainly seemed to be lined up across from the center. True or not, Josh Victorian beat his man and would have had a great interception if he hadn't dropped it.
John Parker Wilson came in to QB and Haley upped the tempo. Wilson got off a completion to Baron Batch, who made a nice leaping catch in the middle of the field, then rallied his troops to get into place and spike the ball. Wheaton then beat out several defenders for a touchdown.
Next it was the place kickers' turn. Shaun Suisham alternated with Daniel Hrapmann to see who would miss first. The excitement increased as the ball was moved back and each man made his kick. There's no doubt Hrapmann has one heck of a leg. Some of the shorter kicks sailed about 30 feet behind the goalpost.
As the distances got longer and neither showed any signs of flagging, Coach Smith decided to make things more interesting. On "Go!" the holder (one of the punters) and kicker would have until the count of ten to get into position and kick. By this time the kicks were over 50 yards long. Finally Smith made all of the players who weren't representing the kick teams line up, forming a narrow corridor of shouting, jeering men in which Suisham and Hrapmann had to kick. The final kick, from the 48-yard line, making it by my calculations a 65-yard kick, was nailed by Suisham, and the horn blew, so Hrapmann didn't get the opportunity. I have little doubt he could have made the kick, though.
The tension in the stands was heating up, too, as a little girl, maybe four years old at the absolute maximum, had had enough, and began lobbying to go home. She did this in the most direct way possible, by repeating over and over to her father that she wanted to go home now. He attempted to put her off by saying they needed to stay just until the kicking was over. Then they needed to stay through the 7-on-7s. She wasn't having any of it, though, and seemed prepared to say she wanted to go home for the next several hours.
Her father reminded her that she had promised that she would be good if she came. He reminded her that he had taken her to the Steelers Experience and bought her a funnel cake and a number of other things her mother probably wouldn't have approved of. It fell on deaf ears, and finally he gave up and exited stage left.
So here's another parenting hint. Most kids below the age of 15 or so probably don't have the attention span to remain interested at camp for two and a half hours of practice. (Neither do a good many adults, actually.) Most kids under ten probably don't have the attention span to last even an hour. And a four-year-old is definitely not going to be good through a whole practice, no matter how many funnel cakes you stuff her with. So save yourself the trouble and get a sitter, or be prepared to leave as soon as they get restless. At the very least, sit on the grass so they can run around.
On to the 7-on-7s. When Ben was quarterbacking the offense invariably beat the defense. Isaac Redman beat not only his defenders but everyone else within sight, as a force field appeared to emanate from him, completely clearing the middle of the field. It was amazing. Jonathan Dwyer also managed to get quite open. I pitied the defense—you can only cover so many guys.
However, when Landry Jones came in, suddenly the defenders were getting the upper hand, although Kashif Moore did make a nice leaping catch. Bruce Gradkowski didn't fare much better at first, but found his stride, and J.D. Woods and Baron Batch had a couple of nice catches. A throw to John Rabe missed its mark. (Now that I think about it, given the relative experience level of Gradkowski and Rabe it's more likely Rabe was in the wrong place.)
John Parker Wilson had a nice completion to David Gilreath, who beat out the newbie, Ryan Steed. DaMon Cromartie-Smith came perilously close to another interception, but clearly has been attending the Ike Taylor Receiving Institute. Justin Brown ended the drills by getting open for a catch.
Next, the final 11-on-11s. Roethlisberger faked to his left, then threw it to Will Johnson, who was waiting on the other side of the field. Isaac Redman had two spectacular runs, the second in a hole even John Candy could have made it through. Finally, Ben made one of his amazing play fakes that had the whole crowd looking in the air for the ball, but Antonio Brown couldn't get downfield quickly enough to reel in the long bomb. Or Ben overthrew him. Or Josh Victorian, who was staying with Brown, slowed him down. I wouldn't know which it was. It was certainly a beautiful pass, though.
John Parker Wilson took over from Ben, and never even got a chance to pass, as he was chased around on his first drop back. A handoff to Will Johnson didn't fare much better. Wilson's next pass attempt was a repeat of the first, but a delayed handoff to Johnson gained some steam.
Landry Jones came in and began with an electrifying end-around to Reggie Dunn, against mainly the first team defense. Isaac Redman then had another great run, followed by Jones seriously over-throwing his receiver for an interception for either Robert Golden or Ryan Clark, probably the latter. (Clark was wearing #21 today, Golden's number, to honor his murdered friend and former teammate Sean Taylor.)
Practice was pretty much officially over, but they lined everyone up at one end of the field and made them run to the other end, some number of times. They made it more fair by sending out the large guys first, and then releasing the receivers, DBs, and so on about 10 seconds later.
After the first few runs we all noticed a little kid running alongside the receivers. It was Antonio Brown's son, and very impressively, given that he is only five years old, he managed to keep up with the pack for one of the runs. Brown looked pretty proud of his progeny.
After this most of the guys milled about for a few minutes, then headed for the dorms. Antonio Brown headed for the end zone, where a throwing machine was set up for short (maybe 10 yards or less) throws. He took throws over and over before conceding the machine to Emmanuel Sanders. Plaxico Burress was up next, then Jerricho Cotchery, then Marcus Wheaton. As I headed out one other receiver was waiting his turn. I think it was Reggie Dunn, but couldn't tell for sure, as they had all stripped off their practice jerseys to expose their well-muscled arms.
In the meantime, Ed Bouchette was having a heart-to-heart with Todd Haley, so I suppose we'll find out tomorrow what they were talking about. Or maybe not. Perhaps they were exchanging nacho recipes, or hangnail remedies. But I for one will hope for better things.
I'll be back on Wednesday. With any luck, so will some of the faces who were absent today. I'm starting to get nervous about the cornerback situation.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers training camp updates
- Monday Training Camp Recap
- Steelers Injury Report: CBs, LBs highlight list
- Pouncey didn't know tackles had switched
- Allen aiming for season-opener
- Curtis Brown carted off practice field with apparent ankle injury
- Antonio Brown and Ike Taylor 'tussle' after Brown beats him 'several times'
- Tomlin sees Jones as a prototype for the future NFL pass rusher
- Steelers activate Alameda Ta'amu from PUP list
- Why a superstitious Steelers fan feels this could be a good year
- League announcement both good and bad news for the Steelers
- Steelers offensive line depth still a major question after recent acquisitions
- Steelers season forecast with Football Outsiders