Postcard from camp: Steelers
The Steelers have held training camp at St. Vincent College, about an hour due east from Pittsburgh, for the last 43 years, making it one of the longest standing training-camp traditions in the NFL. When league personnel are asked for the ideal camp setting, Latrobe is usually one of the first that comes to mind. That the fields are below the parking lots and fans can sit and watch on the hills makes the setting even more perfect. Latrobe and the Steelers have been a record-setting combination in terms of Super Bowl championships over the years, so I wouldn't expect the black and gold to train anywhere else in the near future. Why fix something that isn't broken?
Even though there was an 80-percent chance of rain and thunderstorms on this particular day, fans waited in a long line to enter the training camp fields two hours before the afternoon practice. I have often said the Steelers have the best fans in the country, and they absolutely did not disappoint as they cheered on the reigning Super Bowl champs, even when it began to pour late in practice. Talk about die-hards. More than half the people in attendance were wearing a Steelers jersey, and the variety of numbers was astounding.
Roethlisberger had a mixed day at practice on Sunday, alternately making outstanding throws and getting picked off. He should be aided this season by a better supporting cast, even though
Hampton's weight has been debated the past couple of years, but it really doesn't matter whether he is 335 or 355 or whatever. His job is to play head up on the center and take care of anything that happens on either side of him in the gaps between the center and his flanking guards. Even if all else fails, he has to take care of the playside gap, or the direction in which the ball carrier is going, letting the inside linebacker stay home for the cut back. In order to help lever the center and maintain his positioning, Hampton lines up almost a full yard off the ball. That's in stark contrast to the casual fans' image of the nose guard who lines up as close to the center's facemask as legally possible.
"I could say that [the negative critique] is a motivating factor, and it probably is to some extent, but we believe in each other and realize that we are all just in this together and ultimately don't really care all that much what the people outside say," said Starks.
As I will point out in my column this Wednesday, continuity and chemistry are two of the most important factors for success along the offensive line, and the Steelers certainly have that. Playing together for another year and the confidence of winning it all should only serve to help this group. Adding young draft picks to the mix like
You know a team feels pretty good about its Super Bowl championship roster when the only real free agent of note is coming in to compete for the third wide receiver spot. The Steelers signed
In typical Steeler fashion, no rookies are slated to crack the starting lineup. The most likely candidate, third-round pick Urbik at right guard, had a slow start, which makes it more likely that incumbent
Hood is athletic enough to play defensive end. However, the beauty of his body type and skill set is that he's also strong enough to hold down the nose tackle position if necessary. That means he will likely get significant snaps in the defensive line rotation as a rookie and then probably man one of the defensive line spots in 2010 since Hampton and
The best part of the scene was how pure the furor was. They were dead serious. They did not want the offense to score and they wanted the young Steeler defenders to know what it means to be a Steeler. The ensuing couple of plays were the most intense of the day. Though the offense finally scored on third down, the real winners were the Steeler fans and everyone who believes the mentality in Pittsburgh is just a little bit different.
• Things are going well for a franchise when it can extend the contracts of two of its starters at the game's highest paid positions, other than quarterback, at well below market value. Both left tackle Max Starks and pass rushing outside linebacker James Harrison signed long-term deals that are decidedly less than what their peers at those elite positions around the NFL are getting paid these days. People have long talked about how the Patriots are able to get players to play or stay for less. Well, the Steelers now have the same dynamic unfolding. "I really just wanted to have some security and know that I was going to a part of a team with legitimate championship expectations every season, and as soon as they gave me something that showed they really wanted me here, I was happy," said Starks.
• The master of defensive ingenuity in the NFL is over 70 and his name is
• The signing of tight end
• New projected starting corner
• It might be a surprise, but the truth is that the Steelers don't really talk about last year's Super Bowl season very much. No talk about defending their title, no discussion about starting anew, they just move on like nothing happened at all. They feel like they get their opponents' best every week because they are the Pittsburgh Steelers, so they don't anticipate this season being any different.