Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders summed the first portion of the Steelers' 2013 training camp, conducted by head coach Mike Tomlin, perfectly.
"He's mad," Sanders told Tribune-Review reporter Alan Robinson, speaking of Tomlin. "We're all mad about 8-8 last season."
Practices are longer, contact and time spent in pads became the norm, not the exception and the Steelers are actually hitting each other this year.
Judging by the lackluster start to the 2012 season - particularly on defense and in their running game - a little contact early seems like the right approach. It also is a weight on the scales of the "this is a younger team" argument. With youth comes energy, but without experience. Signs of longer, more physical practice is suggestive many young players will be asked to contribute this year.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones brings with him a first-round pedigree, something very few of his highly-drafted brethren have seen translate into immediate playing time. Center Maurkice Pouncey (18th overall pick in 2010) is the only first round pick to have started under Tomlin his rookie season. Some - like defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker Lawrence Timmons - barely played at all.
Jones isn't likely to start in the base defense, but the more camp progresses, the more it appears he will see extensive time in sub-packages. The same can be said for fourth-round pick Shamarko Thomas, a safety out of Syracuse who's athleticism and willingness to hit has him in on deep and versatile nickel packages already in his career.
The youth movement is highlighted by running back Le'Veon Bell, who appears to be much more in line with Pouncey's immediate contributory value than Timmons'. He's shown the ability to be a three-down back in this offense from Day 1. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton, the furthest behind the curve in terms of work with the team (he missed all of the team's offseason schedule due to graduation rules), but has shown enough already to think he'll have packages in the offense in which he will get on the field.
This emphasis on the younger players - if that's what it really is, Tomlin insists the camp is not a response to the previous season - is the second phase of a plan to overhaul the roster from the aging group of franchise legends who brought three AFC Championships and two Super Bowl titles to Pittsburgh since 2005.
Gone are the James Harrisons and Hines Wards, the players who contributed to all three of those Super Bowl teams. Whether the current group of rising core players can mirror their success remains to be seen, but it appears Tomlin is pushing them in that direction from a physical standpoint.
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- 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
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