On Friday, Steelers mini-camp began-the only off-season mandatory camp. Â According to the Steelers, there were 88 players in attendance and only one missing, Larry Foote. Â Coach Tomlin considers the mini-camp a teaching opportunity. Â They have just two scheduled practices today and one on Sunday. Among those practicing this weekend are all the â€˜09 draft picks as well as a host of undrafted rookie free agents.
â€œI thought it was a very productive day for us,â€ said Tomlin of the first day of camp on Friday. â€œThese are instructional camps for us. This is a time for teaching, for giving and receiving information. Everybody was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and it was a productive day from that standpoint. We also were injury-free, which is another thing we desire to get done with these camps. I really like the energy and enthusiasm of the group today.”
â€œIt was a good start to our minicamp, but I donâ€™t gauge the success of these weekends, because itâ€™s not football, itâ€™s teaching,â€ Tomlin added. Â The Steelers will play real football later in July when they attend camp in Latrobe.
Looking at the roster, Â it seems that the Steelers have addressed clear gaps and have adjusted the lineup to cover those that won’t return to the Steelers, namely Nate Washington, who signed with the Titans and will likely have a starting WR role there, and Bryant McFadden who signed with the Cardinals. Â
Covering that gap at #3 WR, the Steelers have 2008 second round draft pick Limas Sweed, best known for dropping a pass in what would have been a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII Â theÂ AFC Championship Game against the Baltimore Ravens. However, he did make up for that drop with a nice block a few plays later. The Steelers also signed 7th season veteran WR Shaun McDonald from Detroit this week. McDonald is a 5’10″ 183 lb Â and during the 2007 season he had 99 catches for 943 yaards and 6 TD’s and had 35 catches and one touchdown last season.
In addition to Sweed and McDonald, the Steelers still have starting WR’s Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes as well as third round draft pick Mike Wallace.
According to Ward, the Steelers are being driven by two factors gong into the new season:
- A determination not to repeat the major letdown of their post-Super Bowl 2006 season (when they started 2-6 and finished 8-8).
- A desire to match the three Super Bowls won in recent history by the Patriots (or perhaps even the four won by the Steelers of the 1970s.)
The way Coach Tomlin approaches football makes me think those two factors are addressed through hard work and commitment to the game. Â Last season is last season. The Super Bowl is in the past and the team needs to approach this season the same way they did last year. Grind it out week after week and focus on winning. Â Practicing hard, staying healthy and being focused each week will push the Steelers back into contention for another Super Bowl.
In fact, Willie Parker ran for the first time since the Super Bowl yesterday. Â He took time off to help let his body continue to heal from injuries of last season. Â Parker never really performed up to his usual standards last year. Â He says he feels better this year and under recommendation from his trainer, has added a pilates regimen to his workout.
Parker told the Post-Gazette,Â ”I feel great. I have been doing a lot of Pilates, stretching and things of that nature, to get my body back. I am feeling good. I am headed toward the right direction.”
He added, “I never did [Pilates] before. I am doing it to loosen up my body as a whole, my upper and lower body. It’s kind of girly, but …”
Staying healthy is goal one of this mandatory mini-camp and teaching and learning are additional goals. The Steelers first round draft pick, Ziggy Hood finally met his new team on Friday.
Hood told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh he’s quickly learned that professional players are “a lot bigger, a lot faster, so, I mean, what I used to do at Missouri, I can’t do it no more, because we’re not playing against the scout team. We’re playing against high-level competition out there. Everybody’s doing well of making sure everybody stays safe, but it’s still high-level out there.” (uhh, Yeah!)
Hood could perform in situational roles this season but is “light years” away from playing as he adjusts to the switch to defensive end, position coach John Mitchell said.
The only missing player at mini-camp is Larry Foote. Â His soon-to-be former teammates told the Canadian-Press how he made a long practice seem shorter with a joke or an antic, and replacement Lawrence Timmons said Foote was the player most responsible for breaking him into the NFL.
On Foote’s absence, Tomlin told the Post-Gazette,“We felt like it was the best thing for all parties involved at this point that he not come to this minicamp,” said Tomlin, who spoke to Foote this week. “In terms of speculation on what’s going to happen with him or when, I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Foote cited playing time the reason he wants his release, and Timmons said he’s ready to become the starter at inside linebacker.