A youngster from the Woodland Hills youth football team is thrilled as he wears Plaxico Burress’ shoulder pads as they take the field at training camp July 31. (Courier Photo/William McBride)
Editors Note: This column was written before Plaxico Burress’ possible season ending injury Thursday. Burress will have surgery on Monday to repair an injury in his right shoulder and is out indefinitely. Coach Mike Tomlin called the damage to Burress’ shoulder “significant” but declined to specify the exact nature of the injury. ESPN and NFL.com reported Burress has a torn rotator cuff.
“Not good work today, great work” Mike Tomlin stated after last Saturday’s practice. It was a practice much luck the others that preceded it this training camp, full of hard hitting and tackling.
After spending a few days on the sideline watching the team practice it became apparent they are on a mission in 2013.
Tomlin and his troops were embarrassed by missing the playoffs last year and they don’t want to see that happen two years straight.
The team has been running some great drills that have seen some incredible plays by both offensive and defensive players alike and certainly haven’t been short of bone crushing hits and tackles. Tomlin is working this team, perhaps making them pay for last year’s shortcomings or perhaps preparing them so they won’t fall short again. Either way, the team appears focused and ready to take on the world.
It’s apparent the team will use both young and old players and they seem to be mixing together nicely so far.
Troy Polamalu stated “We have a good mix of experience and youth” and he’s absolutely correct. So far he has looked very good in camp making some plays in Red Zone drills that the Troy of old used to make. To compliment that, Jarvis Jones has been impressive in drills, running with the first team and showing some extreme bursts of speed and ability.
There are still battles to be won and one of those features Jones vs. Jason Worilds for the starting outside linebacker job.
Larry Foote could be seen coaching up Jones before one on one drills, showing him how to make some inside and outside moves and sharing his many years of knowledge with the rookie. Jones did not disappoint as he roughed up many of the running backs and full backs he matched up with.
Worilds is battling a toe injury currently and when asked what he needs to do to become the starter he stated he needs to “continue to play my game”. Worilds has started in the past and has made some plays but after watching Jones, it may be tough to grab that job. Both will be impact players on this squad and will see significant time either way but Jones seems to have the edge right now.
Another key battle is on the offensive side of the ball for the two through four receiver spots. Antonio Brown is the clear number one and continues to be a crowd favorite with his work ethic (he’s the only player I saw who rode his bike after practice to the lunch room vs. taking a golf cart) and his infectious smile and interaction with the crowd.
The two spot seems to be in the hands of Emmanuel Sanders but rookie Markus Wheaton saw reps with the first team as well.
The three and four spots will be battled out between Sanders, Wheaton, Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery.
Burress looked great in workouts making a few impressive TD grabs and mixing it up with the refs even on plays he wasn’t in on. Though no roles have been defined yet, Burress noted “I’m just going to go out and compete, and in the red zone score touchdowns and draw double coverage”. With his height and skill set there is room on this team for him to do just that. Not only can he be an impact on the field but Burress seems to be taking to the idea of helping the young receivers as well. Having been around the league for a while he’s taken it upon himself to teach the younger guys about reading coverage and they seem to be all for it.
LeVeon Bell has looked like the back this team has been missing since the end of the Willie Parker era. He’s fast but has the ability to hammer it home. While he’s battling with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, he has to be the leading candidate at this point to win the starting job.
It’s not all business on the field, the team has done some fooling around to entertain the crowd as well. The QB’s will do a challenge in which they need to throw the ball about 40 yards across the field into a trash can; Big Ben seems to win that one more often than not.
The receivers and punt returners see who can catch the most punt machine balls in a row while holding all the previous balls they caught at the same time. Emmanuel Sanders holds the current record with 6 catches in a row. That’s no easy feat.
Overall the team looks loose, they look fit and they look ready. The true test will be in game action but from a practice perspective these guys look hungry and ready to go and if they want to avoid the pitfalls of 2012, they’ll need to continue the “Great Work” Mike Tomlin described.
Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association http://www.steelnationassociation.com – Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org