Thursday, July 31, 2008

Sirius/XM Radio at Latrobe

As part of their "Training Camp Tour 2008" Sirius NFL Radio sent the hosts of their "Movin' the Chains" show, Tim Ryan and Pat Kirwan joined 5,000 Steelers fans at St. Vincent College for a look at the Steelers. Here are the highlights (it's interesting that there wasn't a single question about Steelers' ownership situation) :
  • The Offense: Steelers are gravitating to a spread pass offense and a zone blocking scheme on the run. Mr. Kirwan believes that the Steelers are moving away from the "blue collar," helmet-on-helmet blocking schemes of the Cowher era.

  • Wide receivers: Limas Sweed had cramps during the practice -- no big deal -- but he also is having problems with his contact lenses. Mr. Kirwan sees him as a rising star who will have an immediate impact (third wide receiver). Kevin Colbert described him as "very smooth," and good on intermediate routes but not good on the deep ball.

  • Kevin Colbert: Interviewed by Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kirwan, he expressed excitement about the upcoming season. Other items discussed in this wide-ranging interview included:

    As draft philosophies go, whenever the team drafts a junior (see Sweed and Santonio Holmes) "they get them for their senior year" -- i.e. the player will make a bigger contribution in the second season.

    On Willie Colon, he described him as having "a classic guard" body, but because he was at tackle in 2007 the team will keep him there this season.

    He described the competition between Justin Hartwig and Sean Mayhan as "a good battle."

    At running back, Rashard Mendenhall is a bigger, "thicker guy" than Willie Parker who is likely to be called upon to pick up "tough yards" between the tackles.

    The offense will continue to grow around its best player, Ben Roethlisberger who Mr. Colbert believes has not yet reached his full potential.

    Mr. Colbert found Casey Hampton's lack of conditioning "disappointing" that will "hold the team back." The strength coach and medical staff are working with Mr. Hampton in an effort "to get him out there as soon as he can."

    The return of Aaron Smith is great news because he is "critical" to the left side of the defense.

    LaMarr Woodley has "stepped into a starting role" [news to Larry Foote?] but has to prove he can do it over sixteen games; but he's very powerful and is always moving towards the quarterback.

    Lawrence Timmons is going to work inside and outside.

    Bruce Davis is going through a transition from being down at defensive end and up at the outside linebacker -- he is going to be a speed rusher versus a power rusher [think Joey Porter].

    Ike Taylor is moving to right cornerback, but having a good camp. Coach Tomlin likes bigger cornerbacks and that is what has predicated this move -- Taylor's skills and size are good, but he has to work on his hands [no kidding].

    Having Ryan Clark back is huge -- he is a quarterback in the secondary.

    Training camps are being negatively effected by the 80 man rosters -- a change from previous years -- and as a result most NFL camps are less physical than has been the case in the past. Mr. Colbert endorses a plan to have a 90 player roster for camps.

    Daniel Sepulveda is not on IR yet -- because he is not a "vested" player yet he would have to clear waivers in order to make it to IR -- but will be, Paul Ernster is with the team for now, but the team is looking to see "what else shakes out."

    Mr. Colbert is very anxious to see Dennis Dixon play in the preseason, and the team was very fortunate to get him in the fifth round.

  • More commentary from Pat Kirwan on Casey Hampton -- his poor condition puts all of the nose tackles at greater risk of injury. Because Mr. Hampton is not taking reps in practice Chris Hoke and Nick Eason are getting a greater work load.

  • Max Starks interviewed -- he enjoyed the morning off (Coach Tomlin gave everyone a break) and the temperate weather. Other thoughts from Mr. Starks:

    The competition between himself and Willie Colon is "great" but he has had zero reps with the first team, and has no reps against the first team defense, so far this week. He expects to get some next week. His take is that the coaches are trying to determine whether or not he fits into what is still a new system.

    The scheme is much more pass oriented, single back, play action pass oriented.

    LaMarr Woodley has improved his pass rush tremendously from last season, and has had "Kevin Green in his ear for the past four days."

    "G-Power" blocking -- i.e. power blocking schemes -- were installed Wednesday.

    Trai Essex has done "a great job" playing left guard, and the center battle "is pretty heated."

    The Steelers' offensive personnel is still built around hard core running and is transitioning to a "more finesse" style of offense.

    Bruce Davis looks "average right now" but is still finding his way in the system --m he showed flashes in Wednesdays practice.

    Rashard Mendenhall "loves to power between the tackles" and Limas Sweed is "a great vertical receiver."

  • Chis Hoke: Casey Hampton being out isn't having a terribly big effect on the amount of work he's getting.

    Aaron Smith looks good, looks healthy.

    Lawrence Timmons is doing well, he's delivered some big hits -- the competition between him and Larry Foote is very spirited.

    Rashard Mendenhall looks very good.

    The young players did a great job of preparing for camp. They are not making the typical rookie mistakes.

    Dick LeBeau is installing some new blitzes into the defensive playbook.

  • Aaron Smith: He's doing well and feels great.

    Watching the defense struggle at the end of last season was the most frustrating part of the injury he suffered.

    The players are rallying around Casey Hampton, and he's confident that he will be on the field soon.

    Because the defense is a veteran group the camp "seems to be progressing much faster" than in previous years.

    Dick LeBeau draws up plays "that [are] amazing."

    LaMarr Woodley looks great, is transitioning well to "playing in space," has lost weight, and much is expected of him this season.

    Coach Tomlin is doing a good job of pushing the team hard but not too hard. He is someone who the players gravitate towards.

  • Mr. Ryan and Mr. Kirwan posit that Justin Hartwig will eventually be the starting center (once he learns the system), and that Sean Mayhan is going to end up being the backup guard.

    Additionally, Dennis Dixon looked good in the practice they watched -- the knee looks as though it is sound.

    Deshea Townsend has moved to left corner and Ike Taylor has moved to right corner. The reason(s) for the switch are not immediately clear.

  • Heath Miller: The best player on the offense is the quarterback, and the offense is being built around him.

    Willie Parker looks good and will be ready to go.

    Mike Tomlin is approaching his second training camp in a manner similar to his first.

    Matt Spaeth is great blocker and someone who can learn from.

    Ryan Clark is "back with a little bit of a vengeance."

  • Larry Foote: He's feeling very tired and is grateful for the morning off.

    The media is talking about the competition between himself and Lawrence Timmons but he hasn't heard anything from the coaches.

    He's feeling good, feeling quick, and is healthy.

    He declined to discuss the situation with Casey Hampton but did say that he "went through some issues" during the offseason.

    The competition between the offensive linemen ("everybody knows how dirty offensive linemen can be") is very intense.

    "I've lost to the [Browns] once in seven years. When they start winning some games we'll start talking about them."

  • Lawrence Timmons: Is working mostly MAC linebacker (the linebacker who lines up on the open side of the offense), but has worked some outside, and some special teams as well.

    Justin Hartwig is doing well.

    Casey Hampton is "going to be fine" and has "already shown what kind of player he is."

    Dick LeBeau is spending time showing him how to improve his pass rush.

    Rashard Mendenhall reads the field well, is low to the field, and very compact.

  • Bryant McFadden: The schedule is going to be a challenge, and camp is an opportunity to gel as teammates.

    Dick Lebeau's playbook is designed to put players in a position to make plays and take advantage of their abilities.

    Most offenses come out in three receiver sets and that requires that the Steelers defense spend a majority of the time in the nickle or dime package.

    The AFC North has a large number of outstanding wide recivers.

    The mental aspects of the NFL -- i.e. learning schemes and understanding how offenses operate -- is the toughest part of the transition from college to pro football.

    The rules of the NFL make it very difficult to cover receivers.

    Limas Sweed is doing a good job of picking up the offense, does a good job of getting off of press coverage, and has soft hands.

    Rashard Mendenhall has good feet and is having a good camp so far.

    The pass rush is looking good.

    Coach Tomlin is pacing camp a bit differently than last year -- not quite as physical.

  • Tunch Ilkin: So far the camp has been physical and the team looks good.

    Ben Roethlisberger is practicing with great confidence. The offense is featuring lots of no-huddle.

    The Steelers' defense is going all-out to stop the Steelers' offense.

    Despite the changes in the offense, fans can expect the team to play a physical brand of football that will feature the run.

    Willie Colon is run blocking well, but does struggle a little on a defender playing wide. Mr. Colon plays with more attitude than even Alan Faneca.

    Marvel Smith is in good condition and playing well.

    Limas Sweed found out he couldn't see without contact lenses, and is now picking up the ball much better.

    Ben Roethlisberger is only 26 years old and is still improving.

    Deshea Townsend is the best at tracking the ball in the air, and never gets lost going from the ball to the man.

  • Santonio Holmes: Practice is tough but it's going well.

    Ben Roethlisberger is throwing the ball well.

    He feels as though he's practicing better -- i.e. when to go all-out and when not to -- than he ever has before. Hines Ward has taught him how to do that.

    He is improving his ability to scramble with Ben Roethlisberger.

    He's becoming a "2-and-5 guy" (five yards in two strides).

    The Nike Vision contacts cut down glare, especially during day games.

    Ben Roethlisberger is communicating with his receivers much better.

    Hines Ward is a student of the game and a teacher.

    Deshea Townsend "knows everything."

  • Carey Davis: Playing mostly at fullback so far in camp.

    In the stretch play the fullback has to read the defense with the running back.

    Coach Tomlin understands his players better, and camp this year has been different.

    He is playing on every special team.

    Lawrence Timmons "doesn't understand that we're teammates . . . he's a linebacker" [he said with a chuckle].

    The Steelers' defense moves around more than most of the defenses that the Steelers will actually play against.

    Dennis Dixon is doing well -- he is fast and has a strong arm.

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