By Alan Robinson
Greetings from a hillside overlooking Chuck Noll Field.
Nearly one week into the sixth annual version of the Mike Tomlin football boot camp, what have we learned about the 2012 Steelers? Quite a lot it seems, especially for an opening week – not always the busiest of news periods in the football business, before the games are being played, cuts are being made and careers are getting off the ground or are ending abruptly.
Let’s sum it up:
— Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, normally a very patient man, ran out of patience with holdout wide receiver Mike Wallace in a very short period of time. And, in this case, one man’s lack of patience transitioned into another man’s payday. If Wallace wasn’t going to take the $40 million plus the Steelers allocated for Wallace, Antonio Brown was very happy to take it. This is the first time the Steelers have given this much money to a player with a body of work so thin. Three career starts, two touchdowns, a couple of thousand yards receiving and on returns paid off in one of the biggest contracts in Steelers history. If Mike Wallace is to ever get the payoff he thinks it deserves, it might have to be in another team’s uniform.
— Some interesting notes regarding Brown/Wallace, courtesy of ESPN: Brown, despite not starting until late last season, had the second-most first down catches on third down plays. He was eighth in the league in receiving yards from Week 7 on. During the same period, Wallace was 32nd in receiving yards and 44th in receptions.
— Todd Haley’s offense has something for everyone. For Ben Roethlisberger, there’s the promise of virtually free rein to run the no-huddle offense. For running backs Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall (when he gets healthy), there’s the promise of a blocking fullback. (Yes, those are two-backs you’re seeing. It’s not an illusion.) For the wide receivers, there are simpler pass routes that don’t require as much reading as they do reacting. For the linemen, there aren’t as many blocking adjustments as before (at least they’re saying there aren’t).
— The offense seems designed – paraphrasing Haley – to run when it has to run and pass when it has to pass. Roethlisberger , the NFL’s most-sacked quarterback, should benefit from a system that’s designed to keep him upright, in rhythm and on target all while getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Kurt Warner loved the Todd Haley offense, and Haley seems confident Roethlisberger will, too.
— The calmest assistant coach on the field so far has been … surprise, Todd Haley. Not a rumble of thunder yet, even with all of last week’s rain.
— Chris Rainey could be one of the most colorful players to wear a Steelers uniform in a while; he essentially practices in full uniform, complete with a full set of pads and even a towel hanging from his belt that reads “Rainman.”
— Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is going to play a bigger role than might be anticipated given his injury-hampered season a year ago. He is a reliable, tough and proven wide receiver who knows what he’s doing and how to get open for key receptions. (If it sounds very Hines Ward-like, so be it.)
— Steelers fans have heard this for decades, but the tight end is going to play a bigger role in the offense. Haley is a big admirer of Heath Miller, and Leonard Pope didn’t tag along with Haley – he played for him in Arizona and Kansas City – just to throw an occasional block.
— Second-year linebacker Chris Carter is benefitting greatly from the injury absences of James Harrison and Jason Worilds. He’s been taking snaps with the No. 1s, as the players call the starters, and he’s done nothing to show he doesn’t belong there.
— Baron Batch was having a strong camp last year until it was cut short by an injury. He’s having another strong camp so far. He’ll make the team if he proves he can play on special teams.
— With so many teams now employing extra-receiver sets on nearly every down, there should be plenty on on-field time for cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, who are filling the roles held last season by William Gay and Bryant McFadden.
— The defensive players keep bringing up that they weren’t satisfied with their 2011 season, despite finishing No. 1 overall in the league. Obviously, that’s a message that’s coming from above.
And there’s this off-field item:
— Football players, while it might not be evident, are calorie counters, too. At least the Steelers want them to be. Every food item offered at the St. Vincent College cafeteria has a sign denoting its calorie count per portion.