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Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

For whom the Bell tolls, Dwyer, Redman or Batch?

Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sport

As the first week of Steelers training camp winds down the following storylines are unfolding. The top of the 2013 draft class is living up to the hype, at least on the practice field. The injury bug is back and biting again. Tomlin takes the gloves off with a diet of full contact drills. Much of this goes virtually unnoticed in Pittsburgh as the Pirates run the St. Louis Cardinals out of town. There's a lot going on. So much so that our first item is a little different


If I were to highlight and link all the worthy stories that are being generated on this site it would a very long article, and it would be obsolete before I published it. Obviously there is a bias here but I feel on solid ground in making a general recommendation of our coverage of camp news. Starting with the launch of The Renegade last week, there has been a blizzard of news items generated by managing editor Neal Coolong, SteelerCityRoller and augmented by the remainder of the staff. Fast and furious is a good descriptor of what's going on here now. We make no claims to being news breakers (Rebecca Rollett files her dispatches (here and here) from the bleachers with the rest of the fans), but this is just a quibble about minutes and there is the benefit of the one stop nature of things and the fact that there are usually links embedded with the source material. In addition you're always in good company with discussions with the other members of the community.

At this time of the year the house organ of the Steelers can be particularly valuable and insightful. The live video of Mike Tomlin's post practice press conferences is lure enough. Interviews of players, coaches and other team officials and official updates supplemented with plenty of photos, video and audio makes it a good first source. And the quality of the product is yet another reflection of the meticulous care taken by the Steelers organization to generate a great product and serve their fans in the best manner possible.

The injury bug

If it were a real insect it would be a cockroach because it never seems to go away entirely. But compared to what has been going on at a lot of other camps around the league the injury news so far has not been that severe, but it is understandable if some overreact to what might be characterized as normal for an NFL camp. You just have to trust that this isn't the beginning of another epidemic of fallen warriors and that key members of a thinly spread talent pool aren't targeted.

Cortez Allen

After Larry Fitzgerald scored the go ahead touchdown for the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43, Mike Tomlin told members of his team that 'If they're gonna score that's how you want them to do it, quick.' And if you're gonna have a front line talent suffer an injury that requires surgery then this is how you want it to happen, quick. Allen, who had been sidelined for a few days will be out for about two weeks after undergoing 'minor' knee surgery (I'm sorry, I'm of the belief that there is no such thing as 'minor' surgery) can, hopefully, follow in the pattern set by Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Adams who appear none the worse for wear after their surgical procedures earlier in the spring.

Nik Embernate

The outlook is more grim for the free agent rookie offensive lineman. Thought by many as having an excellent chance of earning one of the key backup roles on the offensive line, it appears that Embernate's season is over. The fact that the first major injury of the season should occur with this unit is unsettling for many fans. But it would be a mistake to believe that this is indicative of or a continuation of a pattern at this time. And while it thins the competition some it doesn't rise to the level of a major blow to the team's ambitions for this season.

Cornerbacks Marcus Van Dyke and Terry Hawthorne are also nursing injuries that are keeping them off the field. Along with Allen this has reduced the crowd at this position significantly and changed the dynamic of what has been believed to be one of the few deep units on the team. For Van Dyke, who is described as dealing with a significant hamstring injury the timing is unfortunate. Like Alameda Ta'amu, this is a player who in no way is insured of a spot on the 53 man roster. His future with the Steelers is probably contingent upon a recover in the not too distant future.

The rookies

Two things about high draft choices. First it is an occupational hazard of fandom to go overboard for a new face with an impressive resume, and to then be disappointed when he doesn't blow you away immediately. Second, the Steelers high draft picks in recent years have been players in positions that often have long development curves as well occupying spots that don't necessarily skew to the spectacular even when performing well. They have had more of their share of lineman for example.

But this year the new guys are making quite a splash. Though there is clearly a long way to go, second round draft pick Le' Veon Bell would win a vote for camp star in a landslide if it were held today. He has performed well as a runner, blocker and receiver, and has drawn raves from both his teammates and the media. It is now being said that it would be a "shocker" if he doesn't begin the regular season as the number one back. Not that he's the only bit of good news to come from that unit. Both Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman reported in the best shape of their professional lives which gives the dominance of Bell that much more credibility. What is clear barring the unforeseen or the unfortunate is that running backs will likely experience a serious upgrade this season.

While it is less clear as to the level of his contribution this year, it is certain that first round pick Jarvis Jones is performing pretty much as advertised. With a steeper learning curve and stiffer competition at his position it is less likely that he'll earn a starting position by the beginning of this season, put he definitely looks to be on schedule to join that tradition of exceptional outside linebacker play that so characterizes the Steelers' defenses of the last two decades. As with Bell, Jones' development has obscured the fact that front liners LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds both look solid and ready for bear, and Adrian Robinson and even possibly Alan Baxter appear set to add quality depth at the position.

Then there is third rounder, receiver Markus Wheaton who came to camp with the disadvantage of lacking the experience gained from the spring workouts, but is rapidly improving and earning reps with the top groups. Nor is he doing this over a group of stiffs. As Plaxico Burress and sixth rounder Justin Brown along with starters Brown and Sanders are making their marks as well.

The second year guys

The progress of last year's top draft choices was blunted by injury. But all indications point to the likelihood of breakout seasons this year. David DeCastro appears to not only be fully recovered from the injuries he suffered last year, he has also shown, surprisingly, that he can be quite chatty. Mike Adams, in spite of the setback associated with the carjacking in May appears to also be on his way. David Paulson and Kelvin Beachum are both slated to fill more supporting roles but their progress is such that their value and improvement are now being viewed as givens.

Emmanuel Sanders

When making comparisons with his more decorated compatriots of the former Young Money Crew it was often overlooked that Manny Sanders was saddled with three leg injuries and the grief of losing his mother over the course of his brief career; challenges that Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace have not had to contend with. So, and I say this from first hand experience, it can be striking when you see Sanders on the practice field and view the strength of his talent. And though no one is comparing his speed to the departed Wallace, it is becoming clear to observers that he possesses enough to be more than a credible deep threat. If he can remain fully healthy the expected drop off among the receivers may not be realized.

Catching up to the Steelers

I'm one of those people who believe that things are best for the Steelers when they are flying under the radar, so I've been not at all displeased that when they have received attention at all it has been in the form of 'how the mighty have fallen...poor Pittsburgh'. Unfortunately, some people may be getting wise. Andy Benoit who had a bunch of good things to say preseason about the 2012 team is one of the few national media types who may be getting bullish on the Steelers. This is what he had to say about Ben

Observers marvel at the electrifying mobility of Michael Vick or the rifle arm of Jay Cutler, but all-in-all, no quarterback of this era has been more physically gifted than the unconventional Roethlisberger. It’s not just that at 6-5 and 241 pounds he can run around, pump fake and make off-balance throws with defenders hanging off him; it’s that he can do these things while keeping his eyes downfield. And they’re not merely off-balance throws—they’re often improbably accurate shots that no defensive scheme could possibly prepare to combat.

And then he goes on and predicts that the Steelers will actually win the AFC North. This is not good. This kind of thing will make it exceedingly difficult to sneak up on our opponents and cut their throats as they sleep. Hopefully it is just an aberration, and everyone will just nod off and then...

The role of the agent in supporting his clients during training camp

This article is particularly timely given what happened to San Francisco 49er cornerback Tarell Brown. Jack Bechta covers a variety of areas where an agent can assist rookies, established veterans and borderline players place themselves in the best position to succeed.

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