What starts as the slightest whisper can slowly and steadily gain momentum until it reaches a crescendo.
That's one of my favorite things about Pittsburgh Steelers training camp each year: The phenomenon of the slightest whisper.
Like everyone else without a press pass or the means to spend everyday viewing practices at Latrobe, I rely on the daily tweets and reports from the local sports media entrusted with the task. I ingest every tantalizing tidbit and morsel of information made available by individuals in the know that I deem knowledgeable and trustworthy.
I tend to lean towards those that resist hyperbole, choosing instead to merely share their own observations. Honest and positive reporting tinged with hope from individuals with a vested interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I have learned over the years that three individuals can witness the same practice session, and then describe said session quite differently. Therefore, I have learned to accumulate as much information from these trusted individuals as possible before trying to decipher the data prior to forming a consensus.
Social media has definitely changed the phenomenon of the training camp whisper over the years. In the old days before social media, news of extraordinary camp performances traveled by word of mouth.
Believe it or not young people, we old timers used to converse verbally about sports and stuff. That's how we learned and shared information. Sometimes we would even rush to a phone booth to share the exciting news. If you’re not sure what a phone booth is, Google it.
I can vividly recall getting calls from friends and acquaintances in Pittsburgh about unfamiliar players who were having unexpectedly strong camp performances. Sometimes those early whispers were a precursor of things to come, but more often they were enthusiastic overreaction.
Although the means and methods of sharing information have changed immensely over the decades, the unquenchable thirst for the daily updates remains the same. Thankfully, we now hold the solution in the palm of our hand. But beware, not all information is created equally. In other words, some situations are not as clear, or cut and dried, as they initially seem.
Take former Steelers wide receiver James Washington for example.
Washington was a second-round selection from Oklahoma State for the Steelers in 2018. There were plenty of whispers about his camp exploits at Latrobe right from the start. Washington was a big play machine in college with the Cowboys, showing an impressive knack for getting behind the defense and hauling in long touchdown catches, and bringing down contested catches, although he wasn't particularly tall or fast, according to predraft testing.
Sure enough, in the early portion of training camp, there were plenty of whispers about highlight catches by Washington. I, like many in the BTSC community, was intrigued.
However, there was the slightest of whisper that was audible amongst the deafening chaos.
A trusted BTSC community member shared whispers of his own that he had heard that went contrary to the consensus. He was hearing that Washington was forced to make many of those highlight reel contested catches because he lacked the short area quickness to gain consistent separation necessary for sustainable NFL success.
Admittedly, this was not the information I was wanting to hear, so I chose to focus on the positive. That was my mistake. Four years into Washington's career, that single earnest voice that went against the norm has proven to be accurate. Washington will once again try to prove otherwise in 2022, only now as a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Hopefully, I have learned from past transgressions. At least to consider and contemplate whispers that may go against the grain. If not, shame on me.
I love to focus on the positive success stories about training camp surprises that become sensations. Two guys that immediately come to mind are former Steelers standouts Ramon Foster and Nate Washington.
I had a work acquaintance who was a delivery truck driver that I had the privilege to talk football with on a weekly basis. He was extremely knowledgeable about the Tennessee Volunteers football program. He advised me early on to keep an eye on undrafted free agent rookie offensive lineman Ramon Foster. He admitted that Foster wasn't particularly athletic, but that he was incredibly smart and strong as a bull. Therefore it came as no surprise when whispers confirming the same started to emanate about the "Big Ragu" from camp.
A few years prior, I had formed a friendship with a inside sales representative whose son played football at Tiffin University with the aforementioned Nate Washington. He was ecstatic when the Steelers signed Washington as a undrafted free agent in 2005. He was a trusted source of insider information. He lauded Washington's incredible athleticism and leaping ability, plus surprising solid hands. His son recounted witnessing Washington competing successfully in a high school dunk contest against top level basketball recruits. While I acknowledge that level of athletic ability doesn't always equate success, it definitely piques your interest.
Both of those situations proved to be the calm before the storm, as each man developed into solid professionals. The ember that started the inferno; the slightest of whispers if you will.
Who will generate the most whispers from the early portion of 2022 training camp for the Steelers? Could it be perceived seventh-round long-shot LB Mark Robinson, my early favorite for the coveted Isaac Redman Award. Or UDFA OL Chris Owen, a versatile offensive lineman from the powerhouse Alabama Crimson Tide football program.
Those are just two possibilities, one from both sides of the ball, from a plethora of conceivable options this preseason.
We at BTSC will be sure to stay forever vigilant, listening for the faintest whisper in the wind and always faithful to share our insights with our valued community through every podcast, article, and discussion threads.
After all, that's our job.