I’m back again with another list where I rank stuff with the help of numbers! Numbers always bait you into clicking. You see a regular old article, and you’re like (and I’m paraphrasing) “I ain’t got time to read all that. I gotta make memes about cats.” But you see a headline with a number in it, and much like Ozark, you’re hooked! With that in mind, I’d like to bring you 12 of my observations from the Steelers second week of padded training camp practices at Heinz Field (even though I wasn’t there). By the way, why 12 and not 13, like last week? Because when you have 13 observations, you paint the barn 13. When you have 12 observations, you paint the barn 12, if you will.
- Of course, you can’t talk about any week of Steelers padded training camp practices without mentioning the continued progress of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his surgically-repaired elbow. Much like the previous week, Roethlisberger is still very-much on track to make an epic return in 2020. In fact, as I wrote on Thursday, the Steelers veteran quarterback keeps waiting for pain to return to his elbow, but it just refuses to do so. In case you didn’t hear, Roethlisberger said he actually had a small tear in his elbow for 13 or 14 years and had resigned himself to dealing with it and the accompanying pain before it finally all went to heck in a Week 2 game against the Seahawks last September. Believe that? Yeah, I’m not so sure, either. But the only thing that matters is that Roethlisberger is pain-free today, just weeks before the start of the regular season.
- Speaking of Roethlisberger, you need to check out part one of Bigger Than Ben, a new YouTube docu-series that chronicles the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback’s battle to come back from the aforementioned career-threatening elbow injury, as well as the slings and arrows that were directed his way after the Antonio Brown fall-out that enveloped the entire 2019 offseason. Other than only one episode being released at a time (in the age of streaming television, I want to binge everything), I think it’s really well-done and shows a human side to a person perhaps few have ever really been interested in getting to know. In addition to Roethlisberger, we actually get to know his wife, Ashley, who talks about her struggles in dealing with so much blame coming her husband’s way following the Steelers ugly divorce with Brown. We may not think celebrity-types and their families read or hear the criticisms, but how can they not, especially in this day and age?
- At one point during the first episode, Ashley talks about essentially giving Roethlisberger the permission to retire after he hears the news from team doctor James Bradley that he tore three of his flexor tendons and needs major surgery in order to continue playing. She gave him permission. Can you believe that? Gee, I wonder what would happen if he ever gave her permission to do anything? I mean, I give you advice, and you want to tear my head off. Yet, you have the nerve to give me permission to retire as an NFL quarterback? Will you stop trying to pluck my eyebrows? You know what, give me that razor! There, you happy? One of my eyebrows is now gone! Good, I never wanted to go to that party, anyway. Your friends are stupid, Jessica!!!!........Sorry, I must have had another one of my relationship flashbacks.
- By the way, Ashley is quite the beautiful woman. To think, Roethlisberger managed to pull that off during his bloated and pre-hip beard and haircut days. Must be nice to be the franchise quarterback.
- The second week of padded practices brought us plenty of love for Chase Claypool, the rookie receiver who has apparently already made an impression on everyone from Joe Haden to defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who said he would have to double-team the big-bodied receiver if he had to go up against him for real. Of course, this is all team-generated love, so it’s hard to say if the accolades for the rookie are well-deserved. But hearing Roethlisberger talk about how Claypool picks up on everything right away and rarely asks questions, it kind of reminds you of three summers ago, when head coach Mike Tomlin called then rookie T.J. Watt a “one-rep learner.” We all know how that turned out. I don’t generally get too hyped about rookie receivers because I know how so many of them struggle, but I am now excited to see what Claypool can do right out of the gate.
- Oh yeah, back to Butler, who said he thought Claypool had “brick hands” the first time he saw him in practice. I think we all get what the brick hands sentiment means, but the cool expression is stone hands, as in “Don’t throw it to stone hands!” When I hear “brick hands,” it makes me think of how a dad might say “Snoopy Doggy Dog” when talking about a certain hip-hop icon.
- Speaking of praise, Alex Highsmith, the rookie third-round pick out of Charlotte, drew some from Tomlin, who said he didn’t seem out of place. Does this mean Highsmith will have a chance to do more than just play special teams in 2020? It’s hard to say, but if he can cut into the defensive snaps of Watt, who was in on 87 percent of them in 2019, and Bud Dupree, who was in on 91 percent a year ago, that may tell us all we need to know about the rookie outside linebacker and the prospects of him replacing Dupree in 2021.
- Maybe it’s just me, but do you see a pattern with the padded practice hype during a time when the media doesn’t have the access that it normally would? The first week, it was all about Roethlisberger, Watt, the free agent acquisitions and some recent draft picks, including Terrell Edmunds and Ulysees Gilbert III. This week, it’s the top two draft picks who are receiving praise. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but if Kevin Dotson gets called a learning sponge next week, while Roethlisberger’s eyes just “light up when I see some of the things Anthony (McFarland) does with the ball in his hands,” don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- Former Steelers legendary scout, the late, great Bill Nunn, was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021. This is great news. Nunn wasn’t just a cog in the Steelers Super Bowl machine of the 1970s, he was one of the most important figures in the history of the franchise. We talk so much about the contributions of Dan Rooney, Chuck Noll and even Mean Joe Greene. But without Nunn, and the entree he gave the organization into the small southern black schools that were barely even a priority for most NFL teams prior to his arrival, the Steelers would have missed out on so many of the players that helped to form arguably the greatest dynasty in the history of the league. One of those players was receiver John Stallworth, who Nunn stayed an extra day to work out on his own, after the Alabama A&M youngster failed to impress during his official pre-draft workout—including a slow 40-time. It has been confirmed by more than one credible source that the Steelers went into the 1974 NFL Draft with Stallworth’s better 40-time in their back-pocket. They also pretended to misplace Stallworth’s official college highlight tape when other teams were requesting it leading up to the draft. Stallworth’s future Hall of Fame talents were the Steelers little secret, and that enabled them to draft him in the fourth round.
- By the way, can you imagine, in today’s day and age of very serious football coverage, how the media and fans would react to news that a team deliberately withheld the draft information of an NFL prospect just so it could pick him in a later round? Skip Bayless and/or Colin Cowherd and/or Stephen A. Smith would literally meltdown on national television.
- Both Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner have been getting their butts whipped by Watt on a daily basis. This is apparently supposed to be encouraging news in the battle for the starting right tackle spot—-I guess it’s the whole iron sharpening iron thing. But remember when Artie Burns was supposed to benefit from getting his butt whipped by Brown on a daily basis? That didn’t work out so well for Artie and his career in Pittsburgh.
- It looks like most of the social media threats to boycott the NFL if players [redacted] during the [redacted] have finally died down, save for the comments sections of the Facebook pages for brands like Fanduel, NFL Sunday Ticket and Topdust (whatever that is), where everyone has vowed to hate sports until the end of time. However, I’m inclined to believe many of those folks are bots. Why? Because most fishermen I know aren’t that mean and angry all the time. And not to stereotype, but the typical elderly woman named Gladys who hails from South Dakota and has a profile pic of her Shih Tzu isn’t normally all that into football.
Those are all of my observations from the Steelers second week of padded training camp practices. Will I have another list of observations after the third week? Maybe. Maybe not.